Kiss a Boy in Tokyo Town

A/N: Veritasrecord's livejournal "Pernico" fic reposted here in Fanfiction.

Please Enjoy! And read the original post in Archive of Our Own

Chapter I

See, the thing that's absolute crap is; he's invincible, right, took a swim in the River Styx, yada yada, and here he is, flat on his back with a manly bib over his chest and drool marching down his cheek, because apparently the "immunity to all mortal wounds" doesn't extend to tooth decay.

The absurdity of dentistry is universal, Percy finds, drumming his fingers on the seat control button and remembering a time when using it to make the seat go up and down was cool instead of just obnoxious - playing with dentist's chair stops being permissible somewhere over the age of ten. It's all of that time, energy, and money - not to mention fancy equipment that looks better on the Star Trek set it came from - all going into taking care of your teeth. Of all things.

It's ridiculous, it really is.

What's even more absurd, though, is the fact there is a dessert shop kitty corner to the dentist's building. Percy comes out the door, under instructions not to eat anything for two hours and gingerly probing his new cavity filling with his tongue, and the first thing he sees is a tray of taiyaki sitting out in the window.

Custard-filled. Fresh hot.

It's out to get him, it really is.

He eyes the taiyaki, then turns deliberately and starts off down the sidewalk back towards the station, and his stomach immediately begins to mourn their loss with deep, rumbling whines. He tells it in no uncertain terms that it's a spoiled brat and it can get over it. This conversation lasts long enough for him to get out of danger of buying any.

He cuts through a daiso, emerging on the other side in front of the train station in a way that's so sudden it's still surprising, like he's walked into a wardrobe and come out in Narnia; it just kind of sneaks up on you, like a ninja leaping out of a tree (which, funny story, actually happened to him once.)

If he takes the local train, home is just one stop away, but Percy only has about 16 yen left on his Passmo, so he decides he might as well walk.

It's a nice enough night for it, with only a half-hearted kind of humidity slinking in between the buildings, early enough to be light out but late enough that the neon lights glow in cotton-candy colors in his peripheral, clinging to the corners of the tall buildings like geckos on a tree. While he's standing at a light, a boy comes out of the arcade; the doors whoosh open with a tumbling rush of loud sound and cacophonous music, making Percy jolt a look behind him in surprise, and seals off a moment or so later. The imprint of it is still in his ears when he steps off into the zebra crossing.

He's lived here almost a full year now, and he still catches himself looking the wrong way for traffic.

The sun has almost completely set when he drops into 7-11 just a few blocks from home. He's thankful mainly for the rush of air conditioning that chills the sweat along his spine and seeps into his hair. It's not humid out, but even Percy can work up a sweat walking this far - invincibility doesn't stop that from getting to him, either. He nods to the girl behind the register, vaguely recognizing her face, even if he wouldn't be able to place it if he met her in any setting outside of 7-11. She nods back, continues to watch something on her phone underneath the counter.

He contemplates a row of marked down sweet bread with his back gratefully turned towards the refrigerated section, wondering if it was worth buying some for breakfast tomorrow when he knew his taste was going to be off due to the filling.

Out of the blue, a hand clamps down onto his shoulder and spins him around.

It's still instinctive, the dive his hand makes for Riptide, fight or flight still as hardwired into his ADHD brain as it was when he was young and on the run for his life, but he only has his fingertips around the cap of the pen in his pocket when he registers the grinning face of Chris Rodriguez, whose concept of personal space became kind of hazy and subjective after his stint in the Labyrinth.

Percy relaxes into a grin, removing his hand from his pocket in order to clasp Chris's, do some complicated brotherly handshake, complete with shoulder bump and a "hey, man, how's it going?"

And he doesn't know what to say after that.

For all that they survived the same Olympic catastrophe, they were never particularly close. Yet in place of actual affection, there's a deep feeling of relief at finding a familiar face in a strange land, and Percy hasn't seen Chris for awhile, not since the latter found a job as a teacher and rented out a place on the coast, a good hour's train ride away. You can grow out of being a half-blood, Percy discovered; there's almost nothing about Chris anymore that would suggest he's a demigod. He's just a smiling face, the overhead lights casting a glare off his glasses and two Mountain Dews and a pack of gum stacked in his hand.

"It's been awhile," he nods, agreeing to whatever small-talk comment Chris has just made about him looking older. "You moved to the seaside, like, right after Christmas, yeah?"

"Yeah, man, and it's not too shabby. I'm surprised you haven't yet." Chris shrugs. "I mean, with your dad and all. I thought you'd rather be by the sea."

Percy can't help but smile at that. "Nah. All water's connected, right, so if I wanted to be close to my dad and them, all I have to turn is turn on the kitchen sink. I kind of like the city, anyway, once you get used to it."

"You just like being close to Camp Half-Blood."

"Guilty."

Chris claps his shoulder again, grinning. "Is that where you're headed now?"

"What, camp? No, they don't need me today. Just headed home."

"Huh. Want to grab something to eat, then, maybe? I don't have to be back in Hase right away, I can catch the rapid express at 9:20."

Percy makes a face, thinking, abruptly, of the taiyaki in the window. "I can't." When the grin slides sideways off of Chris's face, he realizes how that must of sounded and hurries to correct himself. "Not that I don't want to, man, it's just. I just had a cavity filled and I'm not supposed to eat anything for awhile."

This, if anything, just earns him a weirder look. "Then how come when I saw you, you were staring at the sweet bread like it was rehearsing its wedding vows for you?"

"Was not!" Percy fires back. "I thought I saw it moving, so I decided to investigate in case it turned out to be a baby hydra or something - don't look at me like that."

"Like what?" Chris hums, perfectly innocent. "I'm glad you're playing your part in keeping us safe. Say, let me walk you home, at least. It's not every day I get to see you."

And Percy says, "yeah, all right," because it's true, and really, what plans did he have. The girl at the register tucks her phone into the pocket of her apron with the ease of long practice, bowing to them smoothly as she hands Chris his change. The phone's back out before the door even swishes shut behind them.

Chris catches him looking at him. "What?" he goes, popping a piece of gum into his mouth and absently-mindedly offering Percy one, only to receive a pained look in response.

"Nothing. It's just - what brings you to the metro, man? I mean, I know you don't like the city, so how come I find you in my 7-11? Of all places."

Chris gives him the kind of sardonic smile that says the veiled questions aren't fooling anyone. He hates tight, enclosed spaces: anyone who went crazy and wandered inside the Labyrinth for weeks would, no doubt. It used to make day trips with him to New York City kind of a nightmare, although he'd never been one to complain about it (which, in hindsight, is probably why Clarisse liked him so much.) And as a son of Demeter, the metro has to be death for him: all endless, interlocking buildings, and the rarest real estate is always the green real estate. It'd be interminable for any nature-lover; Percy hasn't seen Grover in over a year.

"I don't mind the city, Percy. I do what I can." He lifts his hand, and above them, a half dozen hanging baskets suspended from the closest apartment complex's balconies are darker, greener, and fuller, as if they'd been ruthlessly attacked with Miracle-Gro in twenty seconds.

Percy gives the gutters alongside the building a little shake, spilling out rainwater and letting it float up to distribute evenly to the plants.

Chris smiles. "I dropped in at camp."

Realization dawns. "Did you talk to Rachel?"

"Yeah." A shrug. "For all the good it did me. Have you ever tried to get a straight answer out of an Oracle?" Catching Percy's look, he waves a vague hand, floundering with the obviousness of that statement, because - duh, Percy Jackson. "I mean. I figured there wouldn't be any harm in asking, y'know."

Percy didn't need to be told what Chris asked. "You wanted to know if Clarisse had decided whether or not she wanted to move out here."

Another shrug, softer this time.

"Well? What did she say?"

"Hell if I know. A lot of stuff about there only being so much room in one's heart, and how she wasn't a magic 8 ball and I should learn how to get the answers on my own." They share an eyeroll; saying that Rachel is a diva is like saying that the properties of methodical calculus are a little complicated. Being an Oracle only made it worse. "I think it means no, though."

"I'm sorry, man."

"Don't be. I think I knew. It's not like anything has changed - I mean, think about it, dude. Clarisse would be absolutely miserable in this country. Everyone's so polite all the time, and she's ... well, she's not, and that's what makes her so ace. Most of her cabin elected to stay behind in New York for that reason, yeah? I can't ask her to leave her siblings or her mom -" He cuts off, awkward, and Percy just nods, because they all left someone behind when moved to the other side of the world. His own mother is still in their apartment in New York; she sends him packages when she can afford it, and they always arrive three weeks later, well beat up from international customs.

He can even sympathize with Chris. Annabeth's back in the States, too. She'd let him leave with a lingering kiss and a, wait for me, Seaweed Brain, okay?

And as much as he misses her like he'd miss a minor internal organ if he ever had to lose one, he knew better than to beg her to leave. There's no way that'd be fair.

Grover, too, doesn't have much time for him, or much of Olympus in general, too busy with his hunt to save the Wild. Knowing that Japan was already a bit of a lost cause, he spends most of his time in other countries, doing protest marches and getting his face splashed on the newspapers occasionally for being an activist. Grover even has his own host of fan websites: Percy knows, because when he's really bored, he'll go and post stupid stuff on them, just for laughs.

Juniper, he sees around Camp Half-Blood, but he draws the line at hanging out with his best friend's girlfriend without said best friend being there. There's low and then there's just pathetic.

They pass a playground, which is basically a small parcel of raked gravel the size of three Porta-potties lined up side by side, containing a single sea-saw and a few little plastic animals whose little plastic faces wear varying degrees of little plastic insanity.

Chris cracks his gum, says awkwardly, "And Annabeth isn't ..."

Percy glances at him. He's a tall man, Chris Rodriguez is, taller than Percy (which, much to the dismay of his ego, is not hard to be, he's learning; the kids at camp who hit their growth spurt within the last year have pretty much outstripped him.) He's losing some of his half-blood-trained muscles, his stomach starting to strain against his shirt. He has the same black hair and wide-set eyes that most children of Zeus's siblings have, and his dark complexion is earthy; when his face stretches into a smile at a little girl carefully following her mother around with a miniature water-pail, his ears shift an inch up his head.

He's shaking his head when Chris looks back to him. "She isn't coming anytime soon," he says. "Her entire family was going to come with her, you know, get a place as close to Mt. Olympus as they could so she could help them rebuild. But after her sister -" he breaks off, shrugging. "- ... well, after."

"Yeah," goes Chris, who doesn't need explanation. "How's Malcolm doing with Olympus, by the way?"

"Well, they haven't turned him into barbeque yet, so I assume he's doing something right." Percy, who remembers how it had nearly killed Annabeth to hand her blueprints for the new Olympus over to her second-in-command, grimaces.

Silence falls after that, except for their shoes on the pavement and the ever-present sounds of the city. Then -

"Strange to think we're even here at all, isn't it?"

"It's the last place I would have imagined myself," agrees Percy, who'd been thinking along the same lines.

Somewhere in the distance, a man is yelling, the words barking and foreign, but even that's different than it was in New York City, where, "what are you looking at, punk?" is on par with, "hi, how are you, I like your shirt."

"It all happened so fast, you know," Chris shrugs, voice quiet. "I mean, the United States had been home of the gods since the American Revolution. I don't think it ever occurred to me that I would see it move countries in my lifetime."

"There wasn't anything that we could do," says Percy, with a voice run threadbare from saying it so much - the president had said it, the governors had said it, Zeus had said it, Chiron had said it, Paul had said it to Sally the morning Percy left for good, knowing he'd probably never see her again - there wasn't anything that could have been done. America's decline came too fast, too sudden: it was nobody's fault, just the combination of pent-up things. Crop failures, flu outbreaks, crashing economy, global warming, Wal*Mart: the blame could have been placed on anything.

And the mortals went on believing it. Behind the Mist, nobody actually said it, but everybody looked at each other sideways and knew, knew that this had been the Titan's back-up plan, that they'd walked right into it, that it was closing shut all around them.

If you can't topple the king from his throne, topple the throne from out underneath the king.

Somewhere along the line, the gods of Olympus had been forced to say, we're abandoning ship. And looked for what would be the strongest country, the new top dog.

"And here we are," Percy concludes, tilting his head to the sunset-streaked Japanese sky.

The problems had been endless. It's not like you can just snap your fingers and suddenly everything's installed in another country. To the gods, who had had 300 years to get used to living in a big country, having to fit all their junk into one the size of California had made for one incredibly tense Winter Solstice.

Half-bloods had to choose: to go with their gods, or to stay with their homes, their families. They had to choose between each other. Percy and Chris are here, Annabeth and Clarisse are there, and it's not even an uncommon story.

It never gets easier.

"Wow, Camp looks creepier every time I see it," remarks Chris, and Percy snaps back into himself to realize that they're passing Camp Half-Blood on the right: it's such a normal fixture in his life he doesn't even notice anymore.

An hour outside of Tokyo main, Camp Half-Blood picked the only sizable plot of free land it could find without falling off a cliff somewhere: Atsugi American Military Base. It hadn't been hard to persuade the few remaining Americans living there to leave: it'd only taken a few Cyclops and Ares on a motorbike and they were calling their booking agents. Out of three American military bases in the area, Atsugi was the largest, which fit Camp Half-Blood's needs nicely. From the outside, it looks like an eerie, abandoned set of barracks, an Exchange and strip mall, and a giant golf course. It's surrounded on every side by a fifteen-foot high wall of barbed wire.

The actual boundaries of camp don't start until several feet inside the main gate. If you're standing on the outside, the boundary marker looks like a giant television screen, running ads for upcoming Fourth of July fireworks displays and reminders that to marry a local, you needed to fill out several different forms than for a usual license. Inside, the dragon lay curled around the pine tree, smoke drifting from its nostrils and its flat eyes alert.

The one concession Camp Half-Blood had to make for its disguise is the manned entrance gates: mortal guards who have never been beyond Thalia's tree and don't know there's anything more to camp than a half-abandoned set of barracks for American military. Percy always makes a point of talking to them when he goes through; whatever his Misted military papers say, his rank's apparently enough to get their wide-eyed attention and some very smart salutes, even though he knows they know he's scarcely over twenty. He knows what clubs they were in in high school and the names of their sweethearts and a general idea of what they do when they're not in uniform.

They're very nice young men. They just happen to be very nice young men who carry AK-47s.

Percy lifts his hand to them in greeting and hears a faint call of "good evening, Jackson-san!" in response. Beside him, Chris shivers slightly and averts his eyes, not used to the sight. Percy sees how it could be eerie - men with big guns patrolling a ghost town of a military base, and assumes its part of the Mist working its disguising magic, making people avoid it.

Percy's apartment building is about a fifteen minute walk from there, across the street from a car repair shop. It's an innocuous building, easy to miss, and if you've hit the First Kitchen, you've gone too far.

Their conversation is easy enough to last them until they get to the steps. Percy nods at one of his neighbors, who's locking her bike into the bike park on the building side. She greets him with shy English - she teaches a class to preschoolers and she was the first in the building who really made Percy feel welcome.

"Hey," goes Chris suddenly, after she totters up the steps and disappears inside. He pulls his glasses off his nose, wiping the lenses off on the hem of his shirt. "How about you come by my place in Hase sometime?" He offers a sly grin. "I'll make it a party."

Percy nods once, remembers being seventeen, when, "party at Chris and Clarisse's!" usually meant an absurd amount of alcohol and a lot of pretending they had no recollection of things the next morning. It was one of the worst-kept secrets at camp, and should have gotten them a lecture on underage drinking, at the very least, if only Dionysus hadn't been right there along with them - and usually the first one to start removing clothing. He wonders if Clarisse not being there will mean a proportionate rise in the amount of alcohol, and decides, what the hell, why not.

"Sweet, man," Chris grins when he gives another nod. "How about tomorrow night? You free?"

"Nah, I got a lesson to give at camp."

"No sweat. Day after that, then. Friday night. Surely you can free up a Friday night!"

"Whatever," he rolls his eyes, though they both know it's true. "Yeah, fine, I'll be there."

"That's the spirit. Here, lemme give you my address." After a second of fumbling, he pulls the receipt out of his 7-11 bag, and pats his pockets down for a pen. Percy lifts his hands helplessly to show he doesn't have one either, and Chris goes, whatever, and places his writing hand over the back of the receipt. Spindly Roman characters spring up in a slow, arching scrawl, and Percy smiles: Chris is using dirt as ink.

He listens to Chris give directions, like how because he's white they're going to try and get him to switch to the Enoden line when he's taking the train, which he doesn't need to do; it's the train for tourists and it costs an insulting amount of money, nodding at the appropriate points. They part, then, Chris off in the direction of the station, Percy up the steps of the apartment complex, waving hands in each other's general direction and assuring the other that, yeah, Friday, right? Yeah, man, see you then!

| - | - |

There's a dark figure standing over his bed when he wakes up the next morning.

Percy does the first thing that comes to mind: he punches his intruder in the face, swings himself off the bed, and dives for the pockets of his discarded jeans, coming up with Riptide, uncapped and glowing.

"Owwwww," groans the figure, now lying prone at an awkward angle in the armchair where he fell. "What the hell, Percy, you broke my nose!"

"You were being a creeper!" Percy replies indignantly, lifting the sword so the soft seagreen light illuminated more of his would-be trespasser's features - and then he finally recognizes the congested voice and bony face, and shock wipes everything else blank. "Nico?"

"Hi," says Nico di Angelo, glaring up at him around the hands he has clamped to his nose. "You have a crap apartment. Seriously. Like, I thought you couldn't get any worse than some of the places in New York, but pfffff. Also," he admits somewhat grudgingly, pulling his hands away to inspect them; blood glints redly on his fingertips. "You have a mean right hook."

"Oh, grow up, you're barely bleeding." And then, "Wait, what do you mean, I have a crap apartment?"

He fumes about this for a solid five minutes, which is long enough to get the lights turned on and his sword put away and a pack of fishcake from the back of the freezer unceremoniously shoved against Nico's face ("I saw what you did there," he grumbles, and Percy feigns deafness.) It is not a crap apartment; Percy has been living here for months, and it's clean. There are no cracks in the walls and all the floorboards meet up properly. The hot and cold water faucets actually run the temperature they're supposed to. It's just ... small.

And by small, he means there's two rooms. Only he's gone and made it two and a half by putting up a folding partition in front of the kitchenette; hanging strings of seashells stand as a makeshift door. The rest of the room is desperately starved for free space; there's a cubby right by the door for shoes, Japanese-style, an and end table for mail - only most of the surface is taken up by some crafty thing he got on a whim at an art festival in Shizuoka, mostly because it reminded him a lot of the head of Medusa (good times, those) and also because Rachel would have killed him if he didn't buy anything - and there's an armchair, a folding card table that could pass for a dining room table if it put on airs and a fake accent. There's a bookshelf that doesn't hold much in the way of books; the bottom shelves are mostly DVDs, and the top shelf has the few artifacts he's bothered to save from various adventures - spindly golden remnants of the Fleece, the Mythomagic figure of Hades, his tattered Camp Half-Blood shirt that he wore the day they fought for Mt. Olympus. Next to it is a stack of plastic containers that serves as a dresser of sorts. Just beyond that is the door to the bathroom, which has the distinction of being the second room of the house.

There isn't even room for a bed. Percy has to fold the card table and push the TV into the corner, and then pull the bed down out of the wall.

It is not crap - it's just ... economical.

Percy hands Nico a warm washcloth to mop the blood off his face, taking the frozen fishcake in trade and running it under the tap to clean it off before tossing it back into the freezer. "So nice of you to drop in," he prompts after awhile, when Nico volunteers nothing, managing only enough sarcasm to kill a small rodent. "How've you been?"

"Fine," replies Nico, oblivious. "Why were you asleep?"

"Um, because it's morning? That's what you do in the morning - at least, when you can. Some people work in the morning, I hear, but most sane people sleep."

"Oh." He blinks. "I didn't realize it was that early here."

"Where did you come from?" Percy goes, perplexed. It's been ... hell, it's been years since he's seen Nico - the guy could have been living in a trailer park in Nebraska and he wouldn't know.

Nico shrugs, and stands, going to toss the washcloth into the sink. "The Underworld. Morning, day, night - they don't mean much down there. I guess I forgot."

Percy frowns at him, and for the first time, gets a good look at him.

He's grown up, in a very understated way that you wouldn't notice unless you looked closely - the fact his face has filled out, growing into the features that had been so prominent before; his high, Italian cheekbones and stick-out ears now look winsome instead of just comical. He's gotten taller, too. In fact, Percy realizes with a thrill of disbelief, Nico might just be taller than he is now; standing this close, he can tell there's the faintest of disproportions to the levels their eyes and foreheads are at, and yes, Nico is taller than he is, if only by the faintest amount, and hopefully that's a difference that will be negated when Percy puts on a pair of shoes.

The WWII bomber jacket he remembers from years ago is more worn, cracked at the elbows and unraveling at the hem, and Nico is still too skinny inside of it. He looks like a 90s rocker kid dressed in his grandfather's clothing, with converse sneakers and skinny jeans. Like most half-bloods, he wears a beaded necklace around his neck. It's not the same, though; where as any camper would have one bead for each summer spent at camp, Nico's looks more like something you'd pick up at a tourist dive on a boardwalk, the kind with a discount rack that sells jewelry with common names (Percy never paid much attention to those, for obvious reasons.)

Nico wears his sister's name around his neck.

A lot of what Percy remembers about Nico comes back to him in halting flashes; son of Hades, born during the Great Depression and locked up in the Lotus Casino for seventy years, playing trading card games until it was convenient to let him out (there were worse childhoods, he supposes.) Lost his sister, turned rogue, disappeared off the face of the earth after the Battle for Olympus. Percy had noted his absence kind of abstractly after that point, like a certain silly tradition you had in high school that you remember fondly once or twice after you graduate, or some kid you knew from grade school, but it never really occurred to you that their life would keep on moving too.

"Well, make yourself at home, I guess," he goes, somewhat sarcastically, as Nico helps himself to the bag of gummy candies he has sitting out on the counter.

"Thanks," says Nico, still being deliberately oblivious and popping the gummy into his mouth. "You know, I haven't seen you since ..."

"Since the last time all the heads of cabins got called together, yeah," Percy nods. Being the only living demigod child of Hades made Nico the head and only member of the Hades cabin, and Percy remembers him being there the last time everyone got called together for an emergency, looking young and faintly bemused by everything, like he'd forgotten how people worked. "Wasn't that when Annabeth accidentally triggered one of Deadalus's booby traps while poking around on his laptop ...?"

"Yeah," Nico bobs his head, and they pause for a second, each recalling the event that had them all going cross-country on a Quest to deactivate each booby trap before it brought upon nuclear holocaust - which is just about as non-pressuring and cheerful as it sounds, but oddly, not what everyone remembers about it.

Finally, Nico bites his lip and goes, "Do you remember when ... -"

"By the gods, yes!" Percy returns with a loud laugh, having waited for one or the other to bring it up, because it's just one of those things that can't not be mentioned. And he clarifies, "With the Amazonian girdle? And Thalia had to -"

"With her teeth -!"

"YES."

And they're off, spurting with half-muffled guffaws and laughing like they're out of practice with each other - but the unease fades quickly, because it's not that hard and most people are made to laugh with each other. Nico rocks back on the counter, clutching his stomach and going, "No - no - no, seriously - man, we were so disappointed when they chose not to make that the symbol for the bead that summer."

"No kidding! It was classic." Thalia, of course, is inclined to disagree, and bringing the subject up is surmountable to asking to get an arrow stuck somewhere very tender, but still.

"But," he eventually goes, leaning back against the fridge and scuffing the bottom of his bare foot against the linoleum. "That was a couple years ago. Have you been -"

"Living in the Underworld, yes."

"Why?"

Nico shrugs. "All my family's down there," he says, his grin fading, and Percy flinches, remembering all of a sudden why being around Nico is so uncomfortable and not something he enjoyed a whole lot when he was younger; he just says things like that without thinking. "And as the only living mortal child of Hades, I've got weight to pull. It's a big place to run, and Dad needs what help he can get."

Catching the expression on Percy's face, which he thinks is somewhere between polite interest and pity, he stiffens defensively. "It's not that bad, you know. You get used to the dark and the -"

"The dead people?"

The look that Nico gives him is so flat that Christopher Columbus probably could have navigated it and fallen off the edge of the world. It's like he can't fathom why Percy would find that weird. "Who are very nice," he says blandly.

"... okay, then. What brings you to the upper world?" More importantly, why Percy Jackson's living room-slash-bedroom at a ridiculous hour of the morning?

Nico fiddles with the wrapper from his gummy, swinging his legs back and forth so that his heels rap against the cabinet doors, and Percy's ADHD brain takes great pleasure in distracting him with the fact that Nico's wearing mismatched color sneakers; one green, one orange. And not even a tasteful, muted color that works well with footwear; it's the lurid, dubiously radioactive kind of green and orange color that only really surfaces on or around Halloween.

"Dunno. Decided I might as well try something different. It gets kind of boring down in the Underworld when Persephone isn't there. Dad's sense of humor goes right out the window - also, the three judges that decide whether newcomers go to the Fields of Elysium or the Fields of Punishment get rotated this time of year, and the new kids always take their jobs so seriously, which is no fun at all."

"No, I can see how it'd be easy to get too serious about judging the fates of a person's eternal afterlife."

Nico catches the sarcasm this time, and rolls his eyes. In the sterile white glow coming from the light above the sink, his skin is as translucent and pale as a piece of paper, the circles under his eyes as dark as bruises. By the gods, he looks like a serial rapist, Percy thinks. Do I have a serial rapist sitting on my kitchen counter? He's eating my candy! Hey, stop -

"- that!" he goes, scowling, as Nico pops another gummy into his mouth. "Okay, fine, so dead people are boring. Why does that make it okay for you to play Goldilocks and steal my - did you just take another one?"

"For later!" Nico replies hotly, pocketing the package and holding his hands up, showing that he could, in fact, keep them out of the candy. "Stop being so anal. And I apologized already, what more do you want? Persephone told me it wasn't healthy that she was my only friend I spent any time with, and I should go visit some of my friends in the upper world."

"Thanks a lot. Most people usually call ahead when they're going to be - hang on, Persephone's your friend?" Percy boggles for a moment.

Nico gives him a look that says his grasp of the facts is a little late in arriving. "Sure. Don't look at me like that. She said she was sorry she turned me into a geranium. She even gave me a pet - a fear demon Phobos created for her as a belated birthday present. Besides, we have a surprising lot in common. Putting up with Dad is pretty high up there."

"- Persephone?" says Percy again, like he's hoping they're talking about some other goddess of the Underworld. "You're friends with your stepmother?" He's seen Amphitrite, like, twice in his entire life, and both times she looked at him like she was hoping he was some small, runty sea slug she could step on with a pointy heel.

Nico wrinkles his nose. "Ugh. Actually, it works a lot better if I don't think of her as my father's wife, but rather as a daughter of Demeter. That makes her our cousin. Once you think of her like that, she's a lot cooler to be around."

And ... it's kind of too early in the morning to work out the logistics of that remark.

"So, yeah, we hitched a ride to the upper world together," continues Nico, running his thumbnail along the seam of the counter. "And I got here and I realized I didn't actually know anybody." He rubs at his nose. "Except you."

There is no reason that should make him pause. But something in the way Nico says it makes it skip inside Percy's brain like a record briefly caught off track, but it's gone before he can catch it. "You know Rachel," he finds himself saying.

Nico widens his eyes at him, like, duh. "Yeah. Um, and she's not the virgin Oracle of Delphi or anything. I can imagine nobody would raise any eyebrows if I dropped into her bedroom at a weird hour of the morning."

"Good point." As off-putting as Nico is, nobody actually wants to see Apollo vaporize him on the spot.

"Speaking of raised eyebrows, how come you were alone in bed?"

Scratch that. Percy would be very pleased if Apollo vaporized him on the spot. "Excuse me?"

Nico holds up his hands defensively. "No, hey! That's not what I meant. It's just - where's Annabeth? I thought I'd find you slumming it here with her, or something. Weren't you two, like, locked at the tonsils at one point?"

Percy closes his eyes and sends a brief prayer to the gods for patience. "Okay, first of all, no. Second of all, I am savior of the world, thank you very much, and we don't slum."

"Wow," says Nico, looking pitying. "Please don't tell me you actually use the 'savior of the world' schtick. That is ... that is wow, kind of sad."

"Lay off," Percy snaps. "For your information, Annabeth is home with her family, you ass. Her half-sister got diagnosed with childhood leukemia and Annabeth would rather be there with her while she goes through chemo than - how did you put it - slum it here with me."

Nico has the decency to look ashamed. "Oh," he says, softly. "I didn't mean - er, how is she?"

Percy sighs. "The Chases are extraordinarily strong people, Nico, even the mortal ones." Unbidden, he smiles, thinking of the last active update he'd gotten from Annabeth; a video on her Facebook page, of her and her half-sister doing some kind of informal ballet routine to an Imogen Heap song in their living room - something Annabeth never would have been caught dead doing under normal circumstances, but it looked natural on her, the slippers and high bun, and the smile on her face when she stood next to her sister, whose bald head caught shinily even with the poor exposure.

When he looks back over, Nico is watching him with a wary kind of hopefulness, like he just kicked a puppy and he's sorry and he wants to know he didn't hurt it too much.

Percy sighs again. "You picked a fantastic time for a visit, I guess. Isn't the upper world grand?"

"It's falling apart," says Nico baldly. "Why do you think I chose to live down under? Even Dad says so - pretty soon, the Underworld's going to be the only place that runs efficiently, anywhere. Japan is the new top dog in this world, now that America and China have toppled, but how long is that going to last?"

"Bad times can't last forever," murmurs Percy, repeating something Chiron always told the campers whenever they got homesick, Rachel looking white and nervous behind him, like a little girl caught in a lie.

"Yes, well, no one's working very hard at saving it. The U.S. is a mess, China has stopped accepting international aid, and Australia was named the number one vacation spot last year, which just goes to show in what a bad state the world really is. I wish I could do something, but -" he shrugs, helpless. "All I'm good at is killing things."

The kitchenette is small enough that Percy can reach out and bump Nico's shin with his knee. "Hey. I don't think I can single-handedly save the world - tried doing it once, lot of people wound up dying, and Luke had to go and save the day in the end - but, at the very least, I can be your friend here in the upper world. What do you say we go to Camp Half-Blood - see if anybody actually remembers you."

Nico blinks at him, like Percy's gone and deviated off a pre-arranged script he had organized in his head. The grin happens too quick for him to bite it back, and Percy returns it without thinking.

"Yeah, all right," Nico goes. His grin broadens into a smirk. "You should probably change first, though."

Percy looks down - notices, with a vague, detatched kind of horror, that he's wearing a really, really old pair of Spongebob Squarepants boxers.

"Right. Yes."

| - | - |

If there's one thing moving to a foreign country has taught him to appreciate, it's how far the Mist goes in covering their asses. He's pretty sure Hermes hasn't even stopped for a cup of coffee in twelve months, too busy smoothing over the merging of mortal and immortal worlds.

The human guards take what Percy tells them is Nico's guest pass and study it carefully. In reality, it's a blank sheet of paper, and when Percy had first dug it out of a mess of things in the kitchen, Nico had cracked, "So, what, do we walk up there and say, 'these are not the droids you are looking for'?"

"Believe in the power of the Force, Luke," Percy says sagely, as the guards hand the paper back to them and wave them through. He wishes them have a nice day, tells the one to give his best to his daughter on learning her alphabet.

"Wonder what this paper made you out to be," he muses to Nico, tucking the Misted paper up and tucking into his back pocket.

"Probably something like a sergeant lieutenant officer of the third degree or something, I don't know, I never followed that stuff."

"Huh. Sounds like you're a real ponce, then."

Nico looks at him like he's a moron. "Dude, your name's Percy, okay. You do not get to talk about poncy names."

About twenty feet inside the gate, there's a familiar tug at the pits of their stomachs at the move from one plane of existence to the other, and around them, the base disappears; barracks and golf courses becoming the white columns of the Big House and the practice fields, Thalia's pine tree tall beside them. Instinctively, Percy breathes deep, loving the smell of it - horses and pit-fire and the scent of what is probably the Hermes cabin switching the Hephaestus's cabin's petrol with tomato juice.

Beside him, Nico tenses almost imperceptibly; none of his memories at Camp Half-Blood have ever been particularly fond.

"Percy!" it's the youngest Aphrodite girl, Kitty, coming up behind them, the beaded cornrows of her hair swinging around her shoulder blades. She carries a package in her arms, well beaten up from its long journey; gifts, he hopes, from her family back in the States. Proof that they're all right. "Hey, did you see Michael Yew on TV last night?"

"Yeah!" Percy grins. Michael Yew, who'd been head of the Apollo cabin during the battle for Mt. Olympus, now has his own game show - he fits in Japan like he never did in the United States. It probably has something to do with him finally finding a world where his piddly height is average. "He almost killed me with that crack about MTV - I know, right, who knew he could be funny? I'm glad the show was a success, though. It's always good to see half-bloods making names for themselves."

"Oh, real subtle, Percy," Kitty rolls her eyes. She's one of the ones that rarely ever leaves camp.

He waves her off. "You know what I mean. Go on - go and open your package. Practice is in thirty minutes, all right?"

The day Dionysus and Chiron called the meeting in the pavilion and told them that in light of recent events, Olympus was going to have to relocate to Japan, they were given a choice. All half-bloods under the age of thirteen would go home, and those out in the world who'd never been to camp, never been claimed, would remain so, oblivious for the rest of their lives that they were descended from the Greek gods. Moving countries meant that the monsters left, too, so it was up to each and ever half-blood to decide for themselves: stay here, in America, where nothing is certain, or to go with their god parents to Olympus, where there would always be monsters to fight.

For many of them, it wasn't a choice at all.

I know you love me, Sally Jackson told her son without a tremble in her voice. But that camp made you who you are, Percy. To take you away from it, from that world - you wouldn't be my son anymore. And she'd kissed his cheek, then, softly, like she'd already said good-bye.

A loud, booming bark catches his attention. A huge, dark shape bounds towards them across the grass, tongue lolling in delight at the sight of them, and he should really head off imminent disaster.

"Mrs. O'Leary!" he yells, flinging his hand up. "GIRL, SIT."

The school bus-sized hellhound skids to a stop seconds before she would have pounced on them, her butt hitting the ground with the sound of an anvil dropping. She flattens her ears back against her head and whines, edging down onto her elbows and stretching her neck forward. She sticks her tongue out, rolling it out to its furthest length so she could lick feebly, joyfully, at the toes of their shoes.

"Good girl," says Nico, reaching down to pet Mrs. O'Leary's tongue in a fond manner, like, oh, hey, giant scary-looking hellhound, how cute.

He then proceeds to wipe the drool off on Percy's shirt, which earns him a dirty look and a, "how old are you?"

"You know, I don't actually know," says Nico honestly.

"You don't know - what?"

"How old I am. I mean," he continues, catching the look Percy's giving him. "I have a vague idea, of course, but time runs differently in the Underworld, so who knows. I know I'm old enough to be legal."

Percy can't help but leer at that. "Legal for what, exactly?"

The tips of Nico's ears flush. "I don't know, just ... legal."

With Mrs. O'Leary happily loping behind them and Percy still making off-color jokes, they head for the practice fields. They pass a group of campers heading in the other direction, carrying a small wading pool, a couple gnome-looking lawn ornaments, and three gallons of milk. Percy decides he really doesn't want to know, but he starts pointing out half-bloods for Nico's sake.

"- and that's Jerome, head of the Nemesis cabin. You might remember him - he was ten and unclaimed when the Titan army stormed Olympus, and he looked real stupid in armor that was too big. Looks scary now, I know, but usually he's a really friendly guy. He used to be real thick with Rochester, the girl from Zeus, and hasn't really been the same since she got - er - you know -"

"I know," says Nico softly. "I saw her in the EZ Death line."

"Yeah. Hey, see them over there?" he jerks his chin to where two really tall boys stand ready just outside the practice arena in old Greek armor, their heads bent together over the newest handheld Nintendo knock-off; they look similar in some ways, but completely different at the same time; one looks better placed at a Hawaiian surf shop, and the other one looks like he's been pressed-cut for an Ivy League interview. "That's Justin and Justin. I call them Justin C. and Justin P. They're brothers - yes, with the same first name, doesn't that suck? - and kind of my closest friends here. If I go anywhere, it's usually with them."

"What cabin are they -" starts Nico, walking half-turned around, but at that moment, he runs directly into a girl who's practically two feet shorter than him. She staggers back a few steps; she's tiny, Japanese, and dresses like she'd picked out whatever apparently to clash the most from her closet. She focuses on Nico and bows quickly, mumbling "excuse me" and scampering off.

"I'd get someone to test your food and drink for poison for a few days if I were you," says Percy dryly, when she's out of sight.

Nico frowns at him. "Who was that?"

"Jennifer Matsueda," sighs Percy in the tone most adults use when describing the children who can't seem to get it into their heads that they're not supposed to punch the other kids when they don't share their milk. "She's the only girl from the Ares cabin who elected to come with us to Japan. She is so obnoxiously passive-aggressive, but she was also the one that taught us the language." And nobody really likes her, he doesn't need to add, because you need to be a stronger person than he is to like a child of Ares, but everyone thinks she's lucky: she has family living close-by, and doesn't have to spend nights in her empty cabin if she doesn't have to.

"So wait, what are we doing now?"

"Most weekday afternoons, I run practice. Sword-fighting, hand-to-hand combat, you name it."

"You run practice."

"Yeah, man. It's where my salary comes from, but it also means I usually get stuck with chaperone duty on our field trips." Catching Nico's blank look, he explains, "Everyone lives year-round at camp now, and will be so until, like me, they're old enough to move away and start their own lives. So every now and then, we take planned trips places, both local and far away. It's always risky, having so many half-bloods in one place - and Dionysus has to okay all of them, ever since that debacle at the Cherry Blossom Festival - but usually pretty awesome. Now excuse me, I need to kick some half-blood butt."

With the exception of the field trips, and the occasional package from home, it's sparring practice with Percy Jackson that everyone at camp looks forward to the most. Even Dionysus takes a break from moaning about his job and the stupid kids to show up to watch, because there's fighting and then there's fighting, with no holds bar, flat out with the intent to hurt and maim, and Percy cannot be injured, and nobody has to control themselves with him. They can look at his friendly face and not hesitate before running their blade through his heart; they can strike him with moves to break his bones, they can play as dirty and as mean and cheap as they want, and it won't matter. Percy comes out each day without a scratch on him.

He's the world's best punching bag. He's been on the receiving end of so much pent-up frustrations and helpless anger, over messy break-ups and grief from news of illness and poverty back in America, seen the darkest sides of the campers, and he doesn't mind. This is why he moved. This is who he is.

At one point, after the blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl from Hebe, Miranda, bows out, breathing hard, he turns around and finds himself facing Nico, who grins.

"Come on, cousin," he goes, bringing his fists up into boxing position. "Let's see what you got."

"After you." Percy lifts his sword and brings his shield into position. "How'd they do it in the 30s?"

A laugh. "Well, you know what they say. If you can't stand the heat, stay out of hell!"

Percy moves, but Nico's hand is already snapping downwards in a movement like he's breaking an egg, and the ground quakes. He hears, in the background, the shouts of surprise from the campers in the stands as the whole arena shudders, and he leaps and rolls to the side to avoid the fissure that cracks the earth beneath his feet.

He uses his momentum to push himself upright again, but in that moment, Nico's on him. In each hand he grips a human thigh bone like a club, and he's already spinning into Percy, one of them whistling right for his head.

It's a blur, after that, of point and parry, attack and counterattack. Nico's not wearing armor, which is against camp rules, but nobody is actually stopping the fight to tell him this. Percy has forgotten what it's like to battle a child of the Big Three, how much more powerful they are than the average half-blood. When children of the Big Three fight, all the forces of nature respond.

He's not sure how long it lasts. Not long, he doesn't think: Nico is out of practice with beating people up for sport and Percy's already exhausted from previous fights, but neither of them can actually get the other on his back and both of them are too stubborn to give in. They push right on through the buzzing in their ears and the blackness edging in on the corners of their vision.

They break apart after awhile, circling each other with slow steps. Percy's helmet is gone, knocked off in a glancing blow from one of the bone-clubs, and Nico is -

"- woah, hey!" he yelps, as Nico sways on the spot and then sags forward; the bones drop from his hands, and Riptide and his shield fall from Percy's in the same movement so he can catch Nico on the downward slump. The weight of him is enough to make him stagger to his knees, Nico's arms hap-hazardly flinging themselves around his neck and his nose pressed into Percy's shoulder.

"Well, hi there," Percy huffs with laughter, half-holding him, on their knees in the arena. "How are you?"

"M'allright," mumbles Nico. Each inhale he takes expands his chest against Percy's, a warm and solid pressure. "Think I might stay awhile. In Japan, I mean. Get a job or something. Trading card capital of the world here, isn't it? I used to be king at Mythomagic. Could kick butt, you know."

"I believe you."

"Dunno my way around, though. Dunno where to get started."

Percy grins against the side of Nico's head, slow as melting butter, starting at one corner of his mouth and stretching to meet the other. Arms still braced around him for balance, he promises, "Nico di Angelo, I will show you Tokyo."