AN: OK, so first off, sorry for not writing anything sooner. I finished reading The Serpent's Shadow, and then I didn't really know what to do, because of some of the stuff that happened in it, which I won't say here because I don't want to give any spoilers for the last book. But I will say that a number of my plans for this AU got overturned, so I've been trying to decide whether to keep this AU aligned with the Kane Chronicles books and scrap my plans, or to break away from the canon universe, like I did after the Heroes of Olympus series started to be released. In the end, I decided that I want to keep this AU's continuity aligned with the continuity of the real Kane Chronicles, so I've been going over all of my plans from before reading Serpent's Shadow, cutting out what doesn't fit, and figuring out how to fix it so that it does. And in the course of that, I came up with some things that I liked better than my original plans. And hopefully you guys will like it too. More info about this fic can be read on my profile (for as long as this fic continues to be marked In Progress) so I can cut down the length of the AN.
I'll do my best to update this fic as fast I can, but fair warning, there's likely to be a week or two between new chapters this summer.
Now, onto the story!
Jason forced his hands to remain steady as he pressed two fingers against Nico's throat, checking for a pulse. It was hard to quiet the thundering of his own heartbeat that was pounding away at his temples, to make sure he didn't mistake his own pulse for Nico's. But Nico was frighteningly cold to the touch, and Jason couldn't feel his heartbeat.
Not completely trusting his own evaluation, he grabbed Nico's wrist and tried to find a pulse there, but again, there was nothing.
"No, no, no," he growled, and grabbed the front of Nico's shirt. He tore it open, to make it easier to give the younger boy chest compressions, but as he reached to position his hands directly over Nico's heart, he froze. Because embedded in Nico's chest, right overtop of his heart, was a black stone scarab, and Jason could clearly see that it wasn't just stuck to his skin. The thing was actually a part of him. A very thin, translucent layer of skin had actually grown over the edges of it, and a spider web of black veins radiated outward around it. "What the . . ."
Jason wasn't sure what to do. He'd been planning on trying to restart Nico's heart, but now he wasn't sure if Nico even had one. Or if the scarab thing was some sort of magical replacement for it. Or if he ever even had a pulse to begin with. All Jason knew was that he didn't want to lose anyone else on this assignment, even if Nico hadn't officially been working for him.
He tried to steel himself and focus and think like a commander, and a warrior. This wasn't the first time he'd knelt over a dying or dead friend, and fate wasn't kind enough for him to think it would be the last time either, but it never, ever got any easier.
"Nico?" he asked, because the stone scarab in place of his heart meant that the usual rules for having a pulse might not apply. "Can you hear me? Nico?"
Nico gave no indication that he'd heard Jason, or that he was conscious.
"I was going to give you CPR, but I'm not sure if it will work, considering you might have a stone heart," said Jason. "I'm going to try anyway, because I don't know what else to do. If this is the wrong thing, I'm sorry. And if this doesn't work . . . I'm sorry."
He could almost see Nico scowling at him, reminding him that he was doing what he wanted to do, and not doing any favors for Jason, except maybe telling him what he learned inside the complex, but that didn't make Jason feel like it was any less his fault. He should have tried harder to keep tabs on the kid. But it was too late now, and stewing over it wasn't going to help him.
Jason positioned his hands over the stone scarab, and prepared to start chest compressions, but the sound of rushed footsteps reached his ears. He tensed and was about to reach for his sword, but another teen was already rushing into the room. Another demigod, Jason realized with relief, and one who wasn't one of the poor, broken half-bloods that the complex had been torturing. That much was apparent at just a glance.
This new demigod wore a few pieces of old fashioned armor over an orange T-shirt, and carried a bronze sword, that he clearly knew how to use. His wrists were thick with muscle and he had the graceful, balanced step that only a trained warrior could manage. Several pieces of tousled dark hair fell into, but did nothing to obscure a pair of furious sea green eyes that zeroed in on Jason with deadly intent.
"Get away from my cousin!"
Three Weeks Earlier
"No, no, no!" The shout echoed through all of Brooklyn House.
It was Saturday morning, but late in the morning, so most of the magicians in training were awake. Kids and teens lounged around, on the sofa, in the library, in whatever favorite nooks and acloves they'd claimed since beginning their magical education, eating cereal, or eggs, or oatmeal, reading, watching cartoons, practicing magic, or playing a little basketball . . . or in the case of one young penguin-loving magician, and one possessed demigod, playing Mythomagic.
"You're cheating!" shouted Felix. "You have to be cheating! There is no way you could have beaten me fifteen times in a row!"
"There's this thing called 'skill,'" Nico told him calmly. "You're lacking in it."
"I have skill!" said Felix. "And I put together this deck specifically to kill your death god deck. There is no way it could have lost fifteen times in a row!"
"You lost because you slapped together a deck full of any god or creatures with undead resistance or undead killer stats on them, regardless of what kind of energy cards you needed to power them with," Nico tried to explain to the younger boy. "If you don't have the right energy cards to attack me, then your undead killer means nothing."
"But I've still got the undead resistance! That halves your attacks," protested Felix. "You shouldn't be able to win against that!"
"Except my deck is full of dark energy cards, so I'm constantly drawing them, and using them, and constantly attacking. Even with my attacks halved it's still more effective than not being able to attack because I can never draw the right kind of energy for my gods." Nico wished that Felix would get a better grasp of strategy, so that beating him might actually become a bit of a challenge, but good Mythomagic partners were hard to find.
Felix made glared and looked like he wanted to say something against that reasoning, but couldn't think of any counterpoints.
"I could help you put together a sound deck, if you want," offered Nico. "You've got plenty of good cards, and if you put them together right, you could give me a run for my money."
"How do I know you wouldn't just sabotage my deck so you could win even more?" asked Felix.
Nico smirked. "Do you really think I need to?"
Felix pouted and began gathering up his cards. Nico started gathering his own and packing them away.
"Why don't you let me put together a deck for you, then let's go to the card shop this afternoon and see if there's anyone up for a game?" suggested Nico. "You can test it out there."
"You'll take me?" asked Felix, his eyes lighting up.
"Sure. It'll be fun," said Nico.
"Okay, then!" Felix pushed his deck across the table to Nico, then bent down and picked up his box of spare cards off the floor. Then he watched as Nico began pouring over them, planning out a new strategy for him.
"What's going on in here?" asked Sadie, striding into the room where they were playing. "Nico beat you again, Felix?"
"Yes, but now he's helping me come up with a better deck, which I'm going to take and shove down his throat, so nyah." Felix stuck out his tongue at both of them.
"The deck's only half the battle," Nico warned him. "It takes more than a fast car to win a race."
"You better not sabotage my deck then use that as an excuse for why I don't win," said Felix.
"I wouldn't do that," said Nico. "I don't need to."
Felix stuck his tongue out at Nico again then hopped off his chair. "I'm hungry? Is it lunch yet?"
"Still a little early for lunch," Sadie told him.
"I'm going to get more breakfast then. Be right back!" With those parting words, Felix barreled out of the room.
"I'm surprised you put up with him," said Sadie after he was gone.
"Why? Because I'm an evil death god's son with another death god stuck in my head?" asked Nico.
"No. Just because he's so . . ." Sadie waved her hand wildly, which was actually a pretty good indication of Felix's attitude and mental state. "And you're borderline cold, and not all that patient."
Nico shrugged, not denying the accusations. They were true, of course, even if the circumstances that had shaped him into the person he currently was weren't fair by any stretch of the imagination. "I don't dislike Felix. He can be annoying, but . . . well, you probably won't believe this, but I used to be a lot like him."
"You're right," said Sadie. "I don't believe that. Not one bit."
The corner of Nico's mouth quirked to the side in a kind-of smile. "Ask Percy how badly he wanted to choke me when we first met, next time you see him. He'll tell you how bad I was."
He meant to sound light hearted, but he couldn't help but let a bitter note slip into his tone. Sadie picked up on it and sat down in an empty chair beside him. "You need to talk? I'm not a great listener or anything, but . . ."
Nico shrugged. "And I'm not a great talker. But I appreciate the offer, Sadie."
Sadie nodded. She might have said something else, but Nico was distracted by the feeling of Anubis's consciousness growing more alert inside his head. It was either Nico's melancholy thoughts, Sadie's presence, or a combination of the two that had prompted the god, whose soul was fused to his, to start paying more attention to their conversation, but Nico didn't particularly want him around at that moment.
Everything alright? inquired Anubis inside Nico's mind.
Yeah. Everything's fine.
Nico forced himself not to scowl, because he knew Sadie would interpret it as meant for her. Everything is fine. I'm not lying.
You're upset about something, but even looking through your thoughts I can't tell what, said Anubis.
This time Nico did scowl, but directed it at the cards on the table rather than toward Sadie. I'm not upset. I was just a bit nostalgic. Or at least I would be if I thought it was a good thing that I used to act like Felix. But I don't think that. I don't miss being that ignorant one bit. And I was never as bad at Mythomagic as he is.
If you say so.
"Nico?" asked Sadie. "Earth to Nico?"
"Sorry, what?" asked Nico.
"I asked if I heard right that you were taking Felix to the card shop this afternoon?" repeated Sadie.
"Oh, yeah. After lunch," said Nico. "That's okay, right?"
"Fine by me. It's Saturday, so no school," said Sadie. "Are you going to be sticking around for awhile this time?"
Nico shrugged. "For the weekend, at least. Things are going relatively smooth at Camp Half-Blood, so they shouldn't need me for anything. And you guys need all the help you can get, so I'm here."
"We appreciate it," said Sadie. Then she gave him a special smile that Nico wasn't entirely sure was meant for him.
Shut up, Anubis told him.
What? I didn't say anything.
You were thinking it.
I'm allowed to think what I want! It's my head. To Sadie, he said, "I don't want to get sidelined for anymore big fights. Not like last time, when I got stuck in the Duat while you guys were running around the world, getting attacked by every chaos creature under the sun and everything that resembled a snake under the moon. Next time you guys face the big snake and his minions, I'm going to be there."
"And we're going to be glad to have you," returned Sadie.
Nico was one of the few who knew the contingency plan that Sadie and Carter had been working on. And he knew it because they trusted him enough to tell him. As far as he knew, the only other person they'd told about it was Walt, because they'd needed his help for it. Even if they hadn't told Nico, he would have found out anyway, because Anubis and Walt were talking quite a bit these days. Nico felt guilty, not telling Sadie and Carter when he knew that the subject of their conversations was something that Sadie at least had a right to know, but it really wasn't his place. He hoped that one or both of them would have a talk with Sadie and let her into the loop soon, or when she did find out, she was going to blow up on all three of them. And Nico knew they'd all deserve it. Sadie and Carter kept no secrets from him, so in return he tried not to keep any from them. The only reason he was making an exception now was because with Walt's condition, it might very well be his dying wish. Nico had accepted that no matter what way the dice fell, he was going to feel guilty, so he'd been doing his best to make up for it by being as useful as he could for Sadie and Carter. His shadow traveling powers, and his ability to all but disappear in the smallest patch of shadows made him very useful as a spy, so for the past few weeks, he'd been doing his best to track their enemies' movements.
"Do you want to come to the card shop with us?" Nico asked, because he didn't want this conversation to devolve into anything too emotional, or too serious, and so he said the first thing that came into his mind. "Probably not, since you don't play Mythomagic, but they sell other stuff there too. Comics, role-playing game guides, board games, miniatures . . . well, nothing you're interested in, but –"
"What?" Nico couldn't quite believe what he'd just heard.
"Sure, I'll go with you," said Sadie. "I feel like getting out of the house."
"Oh. Okay. Cool."
"Plus, someone has to protect you boys when you inevitably get attacked by either magicians or monsters," added Sadie.
"It's just a trip to the card shop . . . or at least it was," growled Nico. "Now you've jinxed it."
Sadie shrugged. "Sorry, mate. I hate to break it to you, but that's your own bad luck there, and it's got nothing to do with me, or with jinxes."
Nico snorted. "I've never been attacked on a trip to a card store before. But because you said it, it's definitely going to happen now. So thanks for nothing."
Sadie laughed and patted him on the head as she walked out of the room. "Right. I'm just going to make sure my kit is stocked, so I have everything I need to save you."
Nico grumbled as he went back to making a new deck for Felix.
You do know that jinxes are not real, do you not? asked Anubis.
Oh, they're real alright, said Nico.
I assure you, they're not.
Tell me that after this card shop trip goes south.