**Author's Note: Yeah, school's starting and all that stuff, so I've been kinda busy. But here's a slightly longer chapter to make up for it! I went with the suggestion of Leo telling Nico about the fortune cookie thing, which was suggested by a few people. An anonymous reviewer named Caitlin and ArtemisApollo97, I think, were the two who suggested it? And I also put in a little bit more ~fluffy~ moments for all the shippers, hehe. Read and enjoy, wonderful people!**
Leo listened to Nico's soft 'thanks' before the kid finally drifted off, leaving the mechanic alone in the darkness. Eyes closed, he willed for himself to fall asleep, but each time he did, it would last for five, maybe ten minutes before his brain would come back into consciousness, like a machine sparking back to life. 'Dude, go to sleep,' he told himself, but his mind had other ideas. Somehow, his thoughts kept wandering to Percy and Annabeth—and naturally, those weren't very welcome thoughts.
The sound of Nico's steady, almost soothing breathing kept him calm, but not calm enough to totally relax. He opened his mouth to wake him up, maybe clear his mind by talking it out, but his voice died at the first syllable. 'Gods, he'd hate you if you woke him up,' he thought, 'but then again, when has anyone ever not hated you?'
Okay, he knew that wasn't totally true. He had friends and people who cared about him and a family back at Camp Half-Blood, but in the dark of the night (even if it was technically day time outside of the room) when he was left alone with himself, it didn't take much for those insecurities to start jumping up on him.
"Nico?" he blurted out finally, unable to stand the silence any longer. He'd been there for what, a few hours, maybe? His voice was shaky, with that kind of whiny tone you get before you start to cry. 'What are you doing?' he chided himself, instantly regretting trying to wake the other up. "Nico, please wake up," he said again, in spite of himself.
"Mmnh," Nico groaned, obviously not happy to be woken up. With his eyes still closed, he mumbled, "Where... oh. Leo... what time is it?"
"About eight in the morning," he answered, a little sheepishly. "Sorry—I know I should be getting rest since we have the nightshift again tonight, but I..." He hesitated, trying to place his words so that he didn't sound like a five year-old. "Ah, I couldn't sleep?"
"Okay..." Nico tried not to sound annoyed, because although he was a little bit peeved that he'd been woken up, he knew sleeping was usually no easy task for demigods; especially in their current situation. "Well, is something bothering you?" It was a stupid question—of course something was bothering him, they were on a ship practically riding full speed ahead to their deaths. Everyone always had something on their mind.
"No, no, of course not, man," Leo said quickly, but no more than a second passed before he let out a sigh. "It's just the average stuff. Y'know, the entire world's fate in your hands, a ship you put blood and sweat into being torn apart by monsters 24/7, stressed out friends who have more important things to worry about than just a stupid mechanic..." The words fell nonchalantly from his lips, like he was trying to play it all off as nothing.
Nico, on the other hand, was concerned by the way he trailed off. "Leo, for gods' sakes, you're not stupid. You said it yourself. You put blood and sweat into this ship? Then use it to keep your friends alive. I can't stand people feeling bad for themselves all the time, especially if—especially if they've got so much to be proud of."
'So much to be proud of?' Leo thought, 'Is this kid crazy? What do I, of all people, have to be proud of?' He knew he could build well, and of course he had the whole fire thing, but as most things in his life are, they were both curses of their own. Building drove him crazy and he'd work for days without end, and fire... well, fire and burning buildings were things he'd rather not think about. "Look, bro, thanks and all, but..." His voice faltered, and he let out a sigh. "Most people, if they got to know me, wouldn't like what they saw."
"Got to know you?" Nico countered, slight offense detectable in his tone. 'What does he mean? I summoned the guy's dead mother,' he thought, wondering how there could really be any secrets past that. Sure, Nico didn't tell him everything about his life, but Leo? He just didn't seem like the type to hide things. "You're saying I don't know you?"
"You know that's not what I meant," Leo mumbled, glad they were in the dark so Nico couldn't read his sad expression. "It's just... Even a guy like me's got to have some secrets, y'know?" He chuckled dryly a bit, hoping Nico wouldn't push him to talk. Sure, he wanted to get this stuff off his chest, but he also wanted Nico to like him. And if he told him about the fortune cookie, and how all of this was his fault, he wasn't sure anyone could like him after that.
"No, I don't know. Everyone on this ship is counting on each other. If we don't know each other by now, then..." He trailed off, shaking his head and sighing. He was curious about what could be troubling him, and he was also concerned, but he didn't want to seem that way to Leo. No way was he the type to get involved in people's personal business or pry for information—but this felt different to him. Acting on an impulse, he opened his mouth and said, "You can at least tell me what's wrong. I won't tell the rest of them."
Leo raised a brow at this. Nico? Offering to share his burdens with him? Wasn't it just a few days prior to this that the two couldn't stand each other? "Don't get me wrong, that's ah... quite the tempting offer, but I don't really want..." He paused, before admitting, "I like you, buddy. I don't want another person to end up hating me."
Nico felt uneasy at that, like something in the back of his mind was protesting it. Leo liked him? If anything, he thought that what Leo felt for him was a need for companionship, and maybe a little pity. "You're stupid if you think I could ever hate you..." He mumbled awkwardly, before adding in a more lighthearted tone, "You already know too much."
"I still find it hard to believe you've got a sense of humor underneath all that angsty brooding," Leo said, chuckling lightly, "but thanks. I guess it's just..." He wanted to tell him everything, but his voice caught in his throat. "You ever feel like, y'know..." He started again slowly, trying to keep his voice even. "You did something really bad, and you can't stop thinking about it, but there was nothing else for you to do, and everything just—everything is your fault, it's always your fault, no matter how hard you try? You ever feel like that?"
"Uh... yeah, I guess?" he said hesitantly, wincing at the way Leo was talking. "You probably don't want to tell me, but... Leo, what did you do?"
"What did I do?" He shook his head, sinking into his chair. "Yeah, Leo," he mumbled out loud to himself, "what did you do?"
"Are you... okay?" Nico asked, shifting in Leo's bed and sitting up. "You want to sit on the bed? It's probably more comfortable than your chair." He scooted over, making enough room for two people. It was a good thing that both he and Leo were rather skinny.
"Sure," he said softly, hoisting himself up and out of his chair and sitting cross-legged on the mattress across from Nico. A long pause settled into the conversation, and finally, Leo sighed. "It was in Rome. Your sister, Frank, and I were off looking for—" He stopped himself from saying 'looking for you,' because he didn't want Nico to blame himself for what happened. The kid was dying in a jar somewhere, no need for any of this to become his fault.
"Looking for what?" Nico asked, brow raised in curiosity.
"Uh, I forget," he said, wanting to move on quickly. "We got caught in an underground trap by Mother Earth and her stupid eidolon friends. By the by, this was the place where I found all of Archimedes' old stuff." He took a moment to regather his thoughts and take a breath, trying to place his words so that he wouldn't start crying in the middle of it—because honestly, that's how he felt. "Basically, they were going to kill us, and Hazel and Frank were just—they were unconscious, and..." The memory came back to him like being hit by a speeding train, and he had to stop talking.
"Leo?" Nico couldn't exactly see him in the darkness, but as a child of Hades, he could almost feel the things around him. Reaching out and putting a hand on his shoulder, he was startled that Leo was almost shaking—it made him really want to hear the end of that story.
Leo almost jumped when he felt Nico's hand on him, but it brought him out of the memory and back to reality, which he was thankful for. "Yeah, I'm fine," he muttered, before shaking his head to clear his mind and continuing. "We were trapped, and I knew I had to do something, and Archimedes' stuff was still there, so I thought... hey, this stuff might still work."
"Whoa." Nico took his hand away and pulled himself out of the blankets, bringing his knees up to his chest and leaning forward, like a little kid listening to an exciting bedtime story. Sure, this wasn't exactly 'bedtime story' material, but being told tales of adventure in the dark awoke some sort of child in him. "I've spoken to Archimedes. You really got to see all of... That's like the discovery of a lifetime."
Leo, despite his mood, was surprised for a moment. "You talked to him? But he—oh yeah. Hades. Forgot about that." Smiling momentarily at his stupid mistake, it faded when he continued to tell what happened. "So, this guy is basically the inventor to end all inventors—of course he put passcode locks on everything. And when the time came to save Hazel and Frank, well..." He reached inside his toolbelt pocket, feeling around until his fingers wrapped around half a fortune cookie. "You ever met a goddess named Nemesis?"
Nico was caught a little off-guard by the question, but he shook his head. "No. But I'm guessing you have."
"Yeah. Not a nice lady." He sighed, shaking his head. "But she gave me this fortune cookie, saying I'd need it, and I pocketed the thing not knowing what she was talking about. Then when the time came, I didn't think and I just opened it—I had to save them, Nico. I couldn't let my friends die."
"Nemesis, goddess of balance," Nico said aloud to himself. "You know, her son, Ethan Nakamura—"
"Gave an eye to change the world. Heard all about it," he finished for him. "But when she gave me the cookie, she said I'd have to pay a price, too—not an eye, something worse. Then... I used the fortune cookie, but I didn't think the price I had to pay would be—I didn't think she would take away—" His voice broke, and he didn't finish his sentence before burying his face in his hands.
"Would take away what...?" Nico began to ask, but his voice died as the pieces fit together in his mind. The goddess of balance? It only made sense; save two friends... lose two. "Oh."
Leo would've said something, or cracked a joke, or really done anything to break the silence that had settled in after Nico's soft 'oh,' but he knew if he started talking, he'd start crying. And why would he want to make himself look more pathetic, after just admitting that Percy and Annabeth falling into Tartarus was really all his fault? Holding out his hand, he ignited a small flame for light, glancing up at Nico's face.
For once, the eyes of the child of Hades were kind, almost gentle. "Hey..." Nico could almost feel his heart break at the way Leo was looking at him. Pulling himself over to the other side of the bed next to Leo, he hesitantly wrapped an arm around him, trying his very hardest not to be awkward about it (and failing quite miserably). "It... It's uh, not your fault." Realizing that the whole 'comforting people' thing was not his strong suit, he pulled his arm away.
Though Leo was surprised at Nico even wanting to get near him, having his arm there did make him feel better. "It kind of is. But what I don't get..." He put out the flame so that Nico wouldn't be able to see the tears streaking his face. "...is how any of this is fair. Nemesis wants things to be fair, right? How is tossing two of our best friends into hell fair?" he asked, not really expecting Nico to be able to answer that.
"It's not. Nothing is ever going to be fair for us, and you know that. She's the goddess of balance. In some ironic way, this is balanced. Hazel and Frank... for Percy and Annabeth." Nico shook his head, trying to think of something a little less depressing to say. "Don't be so mad at yourself. We all blame ourselves for one reason or another, honestly."
"Yeah, but I..." Leo tried to protest, but his voice broke and he didn't bother to stop himself from crying.
"Stop it, Leo. I'm telling you again, this isn't your fault. It's no one's. So stop." Nico cut him off, not knowing what to do to make him feel better. "Don't... um, don't cry, Leo..." He tried patting him on the shoulder, but that was just as awkward as putting his arm around him. 'How do people do this? This would be so much easier if Hazel was here...' he thought, sighing at himself and inching away from Leo.
"You're really bad at comforting people, aren't you?" Leo mumbled, and he wasn't sure if he was being serious or not. Even if Nico thought he was doing a terrible job, it still made him feel a little bit better. "Just c'mere..." Leo leaned over, pulling him by the arm into a warm hug.
"Huh? Wh—" Nico began to ask, before his face was buried in Leo's shoulder. Shifting a bit so that his arms were around Leo properly and his face was out of his shirt, he held onto him tightly. He hadn't realized how much he really needed a hug until then; seriously, Leo gave the best hugs. "Yeah. I'm bad at this."
"That's okay," Leo said with a soft laugh, which was a little strange considering he was crying at the same time, "I'm glad I finally got that off my chest. You're a good listener. And despite what you may think, you're pretty good at giving hugs, too."
"Shut up, Leo," Nico grumbled, but he couldn't really muster up the energy to be mad at him, especially after the whole conversation. "Are you going to go back to your chair and finally get some sleep, or should I let you have the bed tonight?"
"Ah, don't be like that, the bed's big enough for two," Leo chuckled, pulling himself into the blankets. "Just go to sleep, kiddo."
"Funny you're telling me to sleep, when you're the one who woke me up in the first place." In spite of himself, Nico did pull himself into the sheets, a lot more tired than he'd let on during the conversation. "Night, Leo."
"It's not technically nighttime, but g'night to you too," Leo mumbled back, voice slightly muffled by the bedsheets, before feeling himself begin to drift off, too. "Thanks..." he said in a half-conscious voice, before completely knocking out.