AN: Sorry this one is a bit late. I was trying to post it on the 31st, but sadly, t'was a loss. This month has been sort of hectic for me, but I'm glad I managed to get this chapter out anyway, though it's certainly short compared to what I was going for. I'll do my best to make up for it later, and I promise I'll have more from Nico's perspective. All that being said, enjoy! As well as a belated Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Blessed Solstice, Happy New Year, and Joyous Any-Other-Holiday-I-May-Have-Forgotten!
Disclaimer: I own nothing that belongs to Disney and/or Rick Riordan.
The truth is balance. However, the opposite of truth, which is unbalance, may not be a lie. – Susan Sontag.
Nico's dream of tan skin, broad shoulders, solid muscles, and warm lips faded as he felt something real and warm and very definitely hard poking into his back. Nico grumbled and turned to see what it was, still wishing he was back in his dream. He was met with a smiling face, though the face was covered in a frock of brown hair, as opposed to raven, and sported dull blue eyes as opposed to warm green.
"Morning, sleeping beauty," the brunette said, smiling as he leaned into Nico for a kiss.
Nico moved his face so the kiss landed on his nose, "Morning, Travis."
Travis sighed as he snuggled closer to Nico, rubbing their groins together, "Up for some morning time fun?"
Nico chuckled wryly as he hopped out of bed, shivering as his feet hit the cold tiled floor, "Sorry, I'm already late for breakfast at Percy's."
Travis sighed as he rolled the sheets around him, "So the spare gets dropped for the real deal, huh?"
Nico frowned and turned to give Travis a sympathetic look as he pulled his pants on, "You knew what you were getting into."
Travis huffed, sounding more tired than irate, "I knew when we started this whole thing, what? Two years ago?"
Nico shrugged, not willing to look Travis in the eye. He pulled his shirt on as Travis heaved another, longer sigh, and got up himself, wrapping his arms around Nico.
"Stay? Please? I might not cook as well as Percy, but I make some mean waffles." Travis whispered into Nico's ear.
Nico turned and pulled Travis's face down, giving the Son of Hermes a kiss on the forehead, "I'll see you later," he said before walking backwards towards a dark corner, forcing himself to look at Travis's depressed expression before shadow traveling to his underground home.
Nico let the shadows wrap around him, pulling him into their embrace. He felt the familiar cold tingle go up his spine before the shadows gently set his feet down in his home, a couple affectionate tendrils lingering on his clothes. He stripped the clothing he had just put on, wanting a warm shower before he headed over to Percy's for breakfast.
Nico tossed his clothes at a skeletal servant, who couldn't move fast enough to catch them. Nico ignored the skeleton as it bent over to pick up his clothes, moving towards the bathroom. The bathroom was covered all marble and inlaid silver, with bones tastefully applied here and there. The handles to the sink, shower, and toilet, for instance, were all bone.
Nico started to run the water so that it would have time to warm up and picked up his bone and boar bristle tooth brush, automatically going through his morning ablutions, not wanting to think about the sad blue eyes of the friend he had left at the apartments.
His relationship with Travis had always been one of friendship, and a couple years ago, they had both tumbled into bed together after a particularly fun night of carousing and a little bit of bloodletting. But Nico, and his traitorous body, had called for Percy even while he had been with Travis. Travis hadn't minded, but after all of this time, Nico supposed it was natural for Travis to think something was developing between the two of them.
Nico tossed his toothbrush back into the cup, gargling with some mouthwash before heading into the now warm shower. He rested his head against the wall as he let the warm water run down his back, easing the muscles that were sore from practice and other activities. He liked Travis, if he was being honest with himself, something Nico made it a point of doing as often as possible. The problem simply was, since he was being honest with himself, he didn't like Travis enough. Travis was kind, and warm, and friendly, and comfortable, but that was it. He didn't love Travis the way he had come to love Percy over the years.
Nico let out a growl of frustration. Why couldn't Percy see Nico the way he had seen Zoë? Why did he have to hurt Travis? Why did that blond bastard, Jason, have to show up? Why? What had he done to so offend the gods that they had decided to curse his life like this? That bitch Aphrodite. She had a hand in this, Nico was sure. He let out a brief prayer to his father that she would dump a jar, or mountain, of dirt on the goddess.
Nico soaped himself up, muttering curses and prayers against the other Gods and Goddesses that were probably giving him grief. There was no doubt that Poseidon didn't want his child together with some loner. And Percy's Patron Goddess, the Queen Mother of the West, was probably making Nico's life difficult, too.
Nico left off grumbling as he stepped out of the shower, taking the towel that one of his skeletal servants was offering him. He wasn't going to let the gods and goddesses of the world ruin his life. He was determined to have Percy look at him as more than just a friend, he would find a way. But, Nico knew he would probably have to end things with Travis sooner rather than later. He didn't want things to do anything that might potentially destroy his friendship, and if Travis had started to think that things between them were developing in a direction that Nico was keen to avoid, that would certainly do it.
Nico went to his bedroom, rifling through his closet for a moment before deciding on his usual mostly black attire. Nico didn't really think of himself as emo, per se, it was just that he liked the color black. It fit him. Nico shrugged into a shirt reading, "I'll try to be nicer if you try to be smarter," and a dark pair of jeans before dusting heading towards the darker corner of his room and stepping into it, willing himself towards Percy's home.
Nico emerged from the shadows a scant moment later, eye to eye with Percy's stone guard dogs. There was a gravely rumbling as they both turned to look at him. Nico turned his palms towards the two of them, who sniffed at his hands, before they licked his palms and went back to their sitting position. Nico gave them a scratch on the head before calling into the house, "Percy?"
"In here!" Percy's deep voice wafted from the kitchen, along with the belly grumble inducing smell of a hearty breakfast.
"Mmm," Nico smiled as he headed towards the kitchen. "Something smells…" Nico frowned as he saw who else was in the kitchen, "foul."
Xiao Leung gave Nico a smile that was more a bearing of teeth than anything else, "It's always a pleasure, di Angelo."
Percy sighed from where he was cooking, wearing only blue trousers of somekind and an apron that sported a cartoon Cthulhu which was itself wearing an apron which said "Kiss the Great Old One". It was Percy's favorite piece of clothing to cook in. Nico was briefly hit by an image of Percy cooking in nothing but the apron before someone smacked Nico in the back of the head, ending his fantasy.
"Damn it," Nico grumbled turning to glare at Sakura, who was also giving him a conniving smile. Ping stood in the corner of the room, looking on the proceedings with an amused expression, arms crossed, body language neutral.
"Play nice, children," Percy's voice was tired. He hadn't even bothered to turn around, instead keeping his attention on what looked like bacon, some pancakes, and some sort of Asian food that Nico had no way of identifying. All he could tell was that it looked like steam buns.
Nico glared at Sakura, "Annabeth and Luke aren't here yet?" Nico asked instead, wondering why they hadn't gotten to Percy's yet. They pretty much always ate breakfast at Percy's place, even if Sakura and the others were there causing problems.
Percy just shrugged while Leung muttered something under his breath that sounded like it ran along the lines of "good riddance".
Percy said something in Chinese that caused Leung to mutter a response. Ping interjected before Leung could start to mope, as he did whenever Percy stopped him from badmouthing the Children of the West, "Annabeth and Luke were…delayed in their coming. Rachel had to be rather insistent with how she sent them home, last night, when they insisted on taking guardianship of the new Coin Bearer. It left all three of them drained."
Nico turned to Ping and nodded his thanks. Ping simply smiled by way of reply, walking over to Percy to chat more in Chinese, after which Percy scooted over and Ping started helping with the cooking. Nico simply stood off against Leung and Sakura while he waited for backup. Percy ignored the tension in the room, though Nico wasn't sure if it was because of his obliviousness or if he was trying to do so. The waves of animosity that Leung and Sakura were giving off were certainly trying to drown him.
The doorbell couldn't ring quickly enough, and before the sound had even faded, Nico was on his way to the door, "I'll get it," Nico said as he headed towards the entrance. Percy simply grunted an affirmation and waved his hand at Nico, apparently preoccupied with the food.
Nico powerwalked towards the entrance, flinging it open, "Man, am I glad to see–"
"Hello, Nico," Rachel said as she breezed past, an irate Annabeth and Luke trailing behind her.
"What are–" Nico cut himself off, facepalming and shaking his head. He really couldn't take this. It wasn't that he disliked Rachel, he didn't, but he knew she was here for political reasons just as much as she was here to see Percy. Usually, breakfasts at Percy's only consisted of Luke, Annabeth, Nico, and sometimes Rachel. The fact that Leung, Sakura, and Ping were here practically spelt politics out the wazoo.
This could only be the fault of that blond.
Nico traded looks with Luke before the quartet moved into the dining room, where Percy had already started plating pancakes with bacon, sausage, and steamed buns with other weird Asian looking food for the rest. Percy's plate was just piled high with everything. Percy had apparently decided to eat half naked, as his apron was off and he had decided not to don a shirt. No one really commented, though, as it was relatively common for Percy to walk about his house next to nude.
It wasn't until Nico sat down that he noticed that all the food was blue. "Percy!" Nico groaned, "This color is not natural!"
"For once," Sakura said, with great dignity, "I would have to agree with di Angelo. I…am not certain this is a healthy color for me to be eating, Genbu."
Percy smiled, "Well, I love it, so there."
Luke snorted, "And that's all that matters, is it?"
Percy stuck his tongue out, "My pocket dimension, my rules."
Annabeth sighed, "Very mature, Percy. Well, I suppose we should just deal with the food and dig in, then."
After several almost companionable moments of eating, Rachel, the ruiner of Nico's life of late, decided that the peace was too much for her to handle, "So where's Jason? I was pretty sure I ported him here last night."
Annabeth and Luke gave Rachel sidelong looks, though she largely ignored them. However, rather than Percy, it was Ping who answered, "Yes, we saw him after dinner. Xuan Wu saw him to one of the guest rooms. He's been asleep since." Ping paused a moment to fix Rachel with a smile, "You might be losing your touch, Rachel. I mean, first you almost blow Xuan Wu up, and now you're sending us the divined all but unconscious."
Rachel gave Ping a mock glare, "Hey, I was new to the whole 'Oracle' thing when I nearly blew Percy up. So not my fault. And bite me, pretty boy. All you have to do is burn a couple shells."
"Burn them artistically." Ping said, clutching his chest in mock hurt. Percy covered up a laugh with a cough, but Rachel just rolled her eyes.
"And I say again, bite me," she chuckled, giving Ping a saucy wink.
"Alright!" Nico all but shouted. "I know the Assembly is all for intercultural cooperation, but could the two of you please not eye fuck across the table?"
"Now, Nico," Ping started with a lecherous smile, "simply because you can't get–"
"Okay!" Percy interrupted. "While I appreciate that you're not trying to kill one another and spilling blood over the table, can we talk about something else now?"
"Of course, Xuan Wu." Ping said with a smile.
Rachel arched an eyebrow at the young man, "What's the matter, Percy? It's not like it's nothing you've ever seen before."
Annabeth rolled her eyes, "That's just too much information for everyone. Can someone just go and wake up Jason? I'd hate for Luke to eat all of the food and leave none for him."
"Hey!" Luke exclaimed, "Percy and Leung are eating plenty, too!"
Annabeth eyed his plate, which was stacked much higher than Nico's, and marginally higher than Leung's, before turning her gaze to linger meaningfully on Luke's belly.
"Hey! Are you saying I'm fat?" Luke asked, dropping his cutlery and clutching at his stomach.
"I didn't say anything," Annabeth said.
"I'll show you who's fat!" Luke said, standing up. He started pulling his shirt up, Nico perusing Luke's nicely toned body before Percy just sighed and sat up, leaving the quarreling couple and the gossiping Children of the East, who were exchanging whispers, to go and grab the blond that Nico least wanted to see.
Nico looked on Luke and Annabeth's playful banter a while longer, though he was keeping an eye on Rachel and Ping out of the corner of his eye. Yes, the two of them were ostensibly neutral in any given situation, and were friends more often than not. But Nico didn't doubt that they were here in their capacities as the heads of their respective faiths, not simply as friends and occasional lovers. Sakura and Leung were definitely here with a purpose, although Nico couldn't figure it out for the life of him. He wasn't a morning person, and he didn't really want to put his brain through all the angst and ennui required by such until he had had food.
The chatter in the room fell and the tension ramped up, however, when Jason walked in, rubbing his eyes. Nico was somewhat disappointed to see that the blond wasn't clutching a teddy bear to his chest and trailing a blanket behind him. It certainly would have brightened Nico's day to see Jason act his age.
"'Mfine, Percy." Jason grumbled as he rubbed at his eyes again. He was wearing some of Percy's Asian clothes. They looked like training attire, and hung rather loosely about Jason's frame.
Percy rolled his eyes and smiled, "Says the dude who almost walked out here without clothes."
Jason glared at Percy half-heartedly, "Hey. I would have noticed eventually."
Leung again muttered something in Chinese, at which Percy laughed and said, "Well, at least you've gotten used to it when I do it, right?" Leung just snorted.
Jason sat down at the table, between Rachel and Ping. He looked like he was still waking up, and when Percy placed a plate of blue western food in front of him Jason took a long hard look at it before blinking slowly, "Um. Maybe I'm still just asleep or whatever, but is my food blue?"
"Sorry," Percy said as, shuffling towards the kitchen, "I forgot to get the orange juice and the water and stuff."
Jason glared at Percy's retreating form before looking at Rachel, "The food really is blue, right? I'm not, like, going crazy or anything?"
Rachel nodded sagely, "Percy likes the color blue. He only really dyes the food blue, though, when we're all together like this." Rachel said as she waved a hand at the assembled scions.
Jason arched an eyebrow at that, "Is there any particular reason for that?"
Percy laughed as he interrupted, holding a pitcher of orange juice and a pitcher of water in one hand, and a pot of tea in another, with a metal grating stuffed under the arm that was carrying the tea, "It's because the only thing any of these guys can agree on is that blue food is weird."
Nico laughed and stood up to help Percy with the beverages, "It is weird, Percy. I don't know what's going on in that blue ridden brain of yours, but most people don't eat blue food."
Percy arched an eyebrow at Nico as the other boy took the orange juice and water. Percy set down the metal grate and put the teapot on top of it before saying, "Your blue blueberry pancakes say otherwise, mister."
Nico nudged Percy with his shoulder, laughing with his friend. He enjoyed these moments of easy camaraderie between the two of them. And, judging by the calculating look Jason had adopted, the blond disliked them just as much.
"Anyway, Percy, you know that we do have some business to take care of this morning." Rachel said as Percy sat down. She turned her head away from Nico as he and Jason traded level gazes before turning to look at Percy, who was sighing as he poured himself some tea.
"I know you have business to discuss with Jason, Rachel. I don't know of any business you would have with me." Percy said calmly before stuffing his face with a piece of pancake.
Rachel arched an eyebrow at him, "You know very well that the Assembly reserves the right to dictate the Patron of newcomers, Coin Bearer or not. And, as the only other Coin Bearer in residence at the Academy, you're the only logical choice!"
Jason tapped Rachel's shoulder, "Sorry if this sounds stupid, but what exactly do you mean by Patron?"
Rachel shrugged, "I mean that Percy has been chosen to show you the ropes, more than just giving you a guided tour, he's going to be your mentor. He would be responsible for your growth and development here."
Leung glared at Rachel, "This would only be the case if Xuan Wu accepted the position. Which he has not."
Percy promptly stuffed more food into his mouth. Jason judiciously decided to follow his example.
Luke was about to say something, but Nico noticed that Annabeth crushed her boyfriend's toes with the heel of her foot to silence him. Luke winced and shot a questioning look at Annabeth, who just gestured her head towards Rachel. It seemed that Annabeth was supporting this, and while it might benefit the Dun as a whole, Nico did not want Jason interacting with Percy on a regular basis.
"The Assembly has final say in such matters," Rachel said as she turned her formidable gaze towards Leung, who met her stare. "The Children of the East have no authority in this matter."
"Well," Sakura interjected, glancing at Ping, "I wouldn't say that."
Ping just shrugged, "I don't see any particular problem with choosing Xuan Wu as the new Coin Bearer's Patron. But for the fact that Xuan Wu isn't a Child of the West, that is, which is technically a requirement for the position."
Annabeth interjected this time, before Rachel could say anything, "Percy is a Son of Poseidon. He's just as much a Child of the West as Leung is a Child of the East."
Ping shrugged, "Xuan Wu is half spirit, on his father's side, yes. And yes, that spirit happens to be western. But, like most Children of the East, Xuan Wu has also been chosen by one of the Gods to champion their cause. Neither I, nor Xiao Leung nor Sakura have a single drop of divine blood, and yet we all wield enough power to rival scions such as yourselves, hm?" Ping's gaze was relaxed and calm, and Nico could see the tension at the table mounting.
"What does that have to do with anything? None of that changes the fact that Percy is a demigod." Luke said before ripping a strip of bacon with his teeth.
"It means, Castellan," Sakura said as she daintily placed her chopsticks down on her plate, "that Genbu is also a Child of the East. He may not be a scion of Eastern origin, but we have never had a particularly high population of scions to begin with. As a Child of the East, the Forbidden City has just as much a say in who Genbu teaches as the Dun."
"Ping," Rachel said, addressing her counterpart directly, "this is insane. We don't want the Dun and Forbidden City fighting over Patronage now, as well. As the Oracle, I am allowed to decide who is to take on Jason. Not the Dun. Not the Forbidden City. Not you."
Ping shrugged, "I never disputed that. I'm simply saying that Xuan Wu is not a child of a single domain. And if you decide such things unilaterally, for fear of political scrambling in the Dun, you could very well offend some of the Children of the Four Quarters. Arrow Song may not sit on the Assembly proper, but her brother does. I would not wish to anger either her or Dancing Bull, would you?"
Rachel ground her teeth, "If we sit on our hands with this issue, who knows what could happen. This is the first Coin Bearer who's position isn't in question for over a century!"
"Um," Jason interjected meekly, almost raising his hand, "I thought Percy was a Coin Bearer, too. Did you have to go through all of this?" Jason addressed the last at Percy, who shook his head.
Percy appeared to debate, for a moment, whether to give Jason a thorough answer or maintain the safety of a full mouth. Unfortunately, Percy being the kind hearted person that he was, decided to throw the blond a bone, "Since I was a Child of the West, but had an eastern coin, no one really wanted me. They just sort of dumped me in the Mixed Quarter, and they don't really care about the whole Patronage thing there. Teaching newcomers there is sort of a community thing."
"Which is how it should be in the West," Sakura interjected. Percy heaved a sigh and stuffed his mouth as Sakura continued, "Give Jason to your vaunted Council or Moot. They can decide what to do with him."
Jason shook his head, "Do I get no say in this?"
Rachel heaved a sigh, "Usually, yes, you would be. But high profile newcomers can be a source of…contention."
Jason rubbed at his face, staring longingly at his food, "Contention how?"
Annabeth shrugged, "A lot of people want the benefit of a potentially powerful ally in the future. The best way to ensure that is to start when that potentially powerful person first arrives."
Jason arched an eyebrow at the girl, "Oh? You don't want to just get rid of them all off the bat?"
Percy almost spit out his food, "What? Who said anything about getting rid of anyone?" Percy's voice caused the walls of the room to tremble, though the shutters were closed, something outside was causing them to rattle as the house matched Percy's state of agitation.
Luke piped up then, "Look, Perce, Jason, we didn't mean we were trying to hurt you or anything. It's just, we haven't really had a Roman Coin Bearer in a while, and, well, being a Roman makes things complicated."
Percy gave Luke a look that could freeze water, "So better get rid of the complicated stuff now, right Luke? You know, your brother felt the same way."
Luke flinched, but Annabeth came to his defense, "This is completely different, Percy!"
The ground started to rumble as Percy met Annabeth's grey eyes with calm disdain, "Really? Funny. I don't see it that way."
Jason looked sort of shocked that this was a big deal for Precy. But, when the blond glanced askance at Nico, the Son of Hades knew he had to beat the blond to the punch before he let out that Nico had been one of the ones who had wanted Jason gone.
"Look," Nico said. He didn't usually like speaking when everyone was so riled up, but he couldn't stand the smug looks on Leung and Sakura's faces any more than he could stomach the idea of Percy getting upset with him for wanting Jason out of the Academy, "Annabeth, Luke and I were talking about some of the problems that might pop up when people started gossiping about who Jason's father is. You know Octavian and Reyna. They're going to be all over this. And, well, since Jason wasn't even sure if he was staying here, we were talking about how we might help him get back home and wipe his memories and stuff. Just some base covering stuff. Jason just walked in on the conversation and misunderstood, is all." Nico gave Percy a pleading look as he spoke, willing the older male to understand.
After Nico finished, the rumbling in the floor and walls began to subside, "I…suppose that's reasonable, yeah." Percy admitted grudgingly.
Jason looked a bit miffed, "So, this whole Patronage thing isn't decided until I figure out if I want to stay here or not?"
Rachel was giving Nico a measuring look, but answered Jason's question anyway, "That's right. Unless you decide you actually want to attend the Academy, whether or not you have a Patron, let alone if it's going to be Percy, is all a moot point. I had hoped," Rachel's teeth gritted as her eyes practically spat fire at Nico, "to get all of this settled early on. We can never know what the future has in store for any of us. It's usually best to be prepared."
Ping frowned as he looked at Rachel, and Nico felt a chill run down his spine. Had she seen something in their future that had made her want to do this? Had he changed the outcome? What was she getting so worked up about?
Percy sighed, "Well, if it's alright with you guys, I was kind of hoping to enjoy my weekend a bit before training starts up again tomorrow. Jason and I will drop by the Dun later after I finish the dishes up and show him around the house, yeah?"
Sakura coughed delicately into her fist. Percy rolled his eyes, "And I'll come by temple services later, Sakura, promise."
Sakura smiled, "Your, ah, admirers have been complaining to me that you don't spend nearly enough time at the Forbidden Palace of late."
Percy groaned and dropped his head into his hands, "I'm sure they don't. Anyway, goodbye, everyone. I want to mope and skulk at the prospect of arranged marriages and fangirls in peace, thank you."
Leung and Sakura laughed as they headed towards the door, Luke and Annabeth following. Nico made to go after them when Rachel caught him, glanced back at Percy, and then pushed him down a hallway near the entrance of the house, Ping following close behind.
"I'm warning you, Nico. Don't interfere with this again. I understand why you don't want Jason near Percy, okay? I get it. I really do. But we all know the stakes this game has. Zoë lost. And, Nico, if you keep this up, none of us are going to win." Rachel's eyes were bright with fey light as she pushed Nico up against the wall.
"Why? Just tell me, Rachel, what did you see?" Nico was desperate, at this point. He had to know why he couldn't pursue Percy now, of all times. Rachel had never interfered with his ambitions for Percy. She had usually been one of his few allies. Why was she changing her tune now?
Ping walked up behind Rachel and placed his hand on her shoulder. She shuddered and turned away from Nico, sighing as she buried her face in her friend's shoulder. Ping looked up at Nico, "You should know that she can't answer that, Nico di Angelo." Nico shivered as Ping said his name. "Those of use with the gift are not allowed to share what we see, or why we see it. We tried that. It didn't work out."
Nico glanced down the hall, watching Percy and Jason talk, both of them no doubt assuming all of the guests had already left, "What harm is there in telling me anything? The Oracles shared the future for centuries."
Rachel snorted, "Yeah. I'm sure Oedipus is real glad the Oracle decided to share his prophecy." She looked up at Nico, and with Ping standing behind her, she could see how the Assembly was able to remain independent from the West or East. They practically radiated power at that moment. "All I can tell you, Nico, is that you are standing at a crossroads. Push too hard, and you'll prevent the future you seek. Push to little, and you're desires will be stolen out from under you. You are working against Fate, Nico di Angelo."
Ping nodded, "And when you seek to shatter the threads with which Fate has bound us, you must walk the path of prudence. Your opportunity will come, Nico di Angelo, and you will know it when it does."
Nico just stood there, dumbfounded for a moment as Ping and Rachel walked out the front door. He quietly retreated into the shadows and traveled to the safety and comfort of his home, where he could only wonder how exactly to go about shattering his and Percy's fates.