**DISCLAIMER: I need to stop putting my disclaimers in my summaries for things. I also need to write better disclaimers than "nothing's mine," because obviously, the writing is mine. I would go back and fix the other stories I posted, but… too lazy. So yeah, I don't own Nico and Leo or any of the Heroes of Olympus. Enjoy this little friendship (or romantic ship ;D because c'mon, how cute are these two?) fic.**
Nico's dark, tired eyes shot open and he bolted upright in the bed, somewhat disoriented. Another nightmare, what a surprise. Cold nighttime air made him shiver, even in his blankets… 'No,' he thought, 'these aren't mine.'
It felt wrong, sleeping in Percy's bed. Everything about the room made his heart ache—the unmade, blue sheets that smelled of salty ocean air, the candid photo of Annabeth taken at Camp Half-Blood pinned to the wall, the old fashioned rope hammock in the corner—it was too painful a reminder of what he was trying (and very possibly failing) to save.
Curse Leo for only making eight bunks. Hazel said he needed rest and even offered him her own room, but as soon as he saw the look in her eyes, he knew what that meant. And staying in Annabeth or Percy's empty room would simply be too cruel for him to do to his little sister.
Everything since Tartarus felt like a dream—being imprisoned in the bronze jar, being rescued, losing Annabeth and Percy—all of it felt so unreal, or maybe too real, compared to what he'd seen in there. They were just things you did not forget. 'The maddening nightmares don't help,' his thoughts reminded him.
He bit down on his lip, swallowing back tears. 'Deep breaths. That's what Hazel said to do when you got nightmares,' he reminded himself, shakily inhaling. A stab of pain went through his lungs from the icy air around him, and he coughed so hard he was afraid he'd suffocate. 'Breathe, Nico. This would be a stupid way to die, compared to your alternatives.'
Hesitantly, he opened the door to his bunk. He didn't have to worry about waking the others up; all of them slept like rocks. If Leo was still awake—which Nico suspected he was (did that guy ever sleep?)—he'd be out of earshot, probably too engrossed in what he was doing to notice Nico anyway.
For a second, he debated waking someone up just so he could break the tense midnight silence that had settled on the ship. There was Frank, who had been kind to Nico the entire time. But waking up someone like Frank was just plain mean. Nico wouldn't do that to him just because he felt lonely.
If Percy or Annabeth were here, he could've gone to them. They both knew who he was, where he came from. Annabeth was wise like an older sister, she could give advice or just listen and it would be more than enough. Percy was like the annoying, idiotic older brother that Nico still loved even after all their arguments.
'Stop it. You have things to focus on. Thinking of Percy and Annabeth will only make you sad,' he scolded himself, as his eyes caught Hazel's door.
He knew the other demigods were his friends—they had to get along, there was no choice. He was their guide to the Doors of Death. But a lot of the time, he felt like Hazel would be the only one who ever understood him.
It wasn't just growing up in another time period—no, Nico had been in this century for longer than he could remember and he was fine with life here. The past was a part of him, and he'd already grown to accept that. It was an issue he was done facing.
No, what set Hazel apart from the others was the fact that they were the same. Children of Hades, Pluto, whatever— both doomed to a life of despair. She was the only one who could share such pain.
Other than Bianca.
Stressed out from thoughts of Percy and Annabeth, the prospect of facing Gaea's forces at the Doors of Death, and trying to work things out in a team that was falling apart as they went along, he thought less and less of his late sister. He felt bad ignoring those thoughts, but the memory of her face was just too painful for him to bear without breaking down. And he couldn't afford to do that. Not here, not with everything else already breaking down around him.
With a sad and almost pathetic sigh, he walked into the bathroom and splashed his face with water. He stole a quick glance at the mirror and flinched—he looked almost as bad as he felt.
His reflection's eyes burned into him with such horrifying intensity that he didn't blame people for avoiding him. His cheeks and eyes were sunken in to the point where he looked almost like the skeletons he summoned, and the ghostly white skin didn't help either. A tangled mess of black hair hung in his face, and he didn't bother to fix it.
Shuddering, he dried his face and got out of the bathroom as fast as possible (which wasn't very fast, considering how weak he still was) and accidentally ran into someone. He hoped it was Hazel or Frank, or really anyone other than—
"Whoa there, buddy," Leo chuckled, patting Nico on the shoulder—which almost made him fall over. With a goofy grin and a raised brow, he asked, "Where're you heading off to in such a hurry at this time of night?"
"Nowhere. I couldn't sleep." He hissed, turning to leave, but Leo tapped him on the shoulder. "What do you want?" he croaked, really wishing his voice sounded a bit more authoritative.
"Hazel told me to keep an eye on you while she slept. Didn't want you stressing yourself out too much," he said simply, shrugging. He wasn't sure how to approach Nico—he was a scary guy, nothing like his sister. Leo sighed. "Look, I know we're not really the best of friends yet, but you're Hazel's brother, and if you're cool with her, I guess you're cool with me."
Nico glared at him, then remembered his reflection and softened his gaze to a simple frown. "Stressing myself out?" He shook his head, not believing what he was hearing. "That's stupid. If anyone's stressing themselves out here… it's you."
At that, Leo wanted to bolt. He knew in his heart that Nico was right. He'd been working for what, something like two days, maybe? He didn't let himself sleep longer than a few hours at time; he felt a constant need to be manning the ship at all times, attaching new machinery and checking the systems time after time after time—it was maddening and repetitive work, but his fingers wanted to move.
Even right now, his vision was slightly blurry from reading Archimedes' works and trying to construct four new weapons at once. He wanted to say something funny or cool like, "Hey, you're in Leo World now and Leo World doesn't take breaks," but instead he just stared absently, his brown eyes sadder than Nico had ever seen them.
"Hey." Nico raised a brow at him, recognizing a certain pain in his eyes. It was what he saw in his reflection just moments ago. "Leo."
"Wh-What?" he stammered, before clearing his throat and standing up a little straighter. "Whoa, sorry. Zoned out for a sec, there." Leo blinked and tried for a smile, but the sad look didn't leave his eyes.
"Uh…" On Nico's list of things he wanted to do, a long philosophical talk with Admiral Valdez was pretty low. But somehow, he couldn't stop himself from saying something like, "If you're not too busy with whatever you're doing, do you want to talk?"
Leo's eyebrows rose, and he almost smirked. "Well, I'm 92% sure that if I keep trying to read Archimedes' messy handwriting, I'll go blind. So let's get going."
Nico just nodded in response, which confused Leo even more. The two were never very eager to be around each other—"how can he be so serious?" "how can he treat everything like a joke?" "it's scary when he glares!" "he'll probably just make fun of me…"—they had endless reasons to avoid each other, but here he was, offering to make conversation at three in the morning as they rode to certain death.
'Wonderful time for bonding,' Leo thought to himself.