It took him all of two minutes to balk. When they finally reached the infirmary, Will pulled the door open for him, and Nico absolutely, positively, knew that he could not go in there. This was a place of healing, of recovery. This was where you came to escape death. There might as well have been an “Underworld people not welcome” banner over the door.
Will apparently didn't care.
“Come on, Reaper Junior. Those three days don't include any time you spend loitering on the doorstep, you know.”
Nico had to raise an eyebrow at that.
“Reaper Junior? Really, Solace ?”
The son of Apollo shrugged.
“It's been a long few days,” he admitted. “I'll figure something else out, promise. Now come on.”
He gestured widely with his arm, and Nico, in order to avoid touching him, was left with no option but to duck through the open door.
The reaction was almost instantaneous. The moment people inside caught sight of him, the noise vanished like someone had flipped a switch. Patients and healers alike fixed their gazes on him, the unspoken question hanging heavy in the air.
Which patient's condition was serious enough to warrant a visit from the son of Hades? Who was dying?
The only person seemingly unaffected by the heavy atmosphere, perhaps because he had technically caused it, was Will Solace. Back in his element, he had once again become annoyingly serene. Nico heard the head healer sigh appreciatively behind him.
“Silence, finally. I should've brought you in days ago.”
“Solace,” Nico finally hissed through his teeth. “This is a bad idea. I'm freaking everyone out. I should just go.”
“Don't you dare, di Angelo. You promised.”
“But the others...”
“Will get used to you if they know what's good for them, the dirty traitors.”
The healer raised his voice at the last part, looking pointedly at his nearest siblings, who quickly returned to what they had been doing. Gradually, the patients were distracted and the noise picked up again, allowing the two boys to walk down the aisle between the two rows of beds that occupied the long room. His hand a mere few centimeters from the small of the other's back (Nico still refused to let it touch), Will ushered him into what appeared to be a small office slash exam room, complete with an overflowing desk, padded table and not one, not two, but three enormous sun lamps. Which seemed a bit overkill considering the sunshine already filtering through the huge windows. While the son of Hades was still getting his bearings in the sudden brightness, he heard the door shut behind them with a firm snap.
Too late, Nico realized he was trapped.
“Here,” said Will smugly, throwing him a pale yellow hospital gown from a closet that was managing the feat of being both a mess and nearly empty. “Clothes off, you can change behind that partition while I prep some stuff for your physical exam.”
He was half-way through one of the desk drawers before realizing that Nico hadn't moved, dumbly holding the gown in front of him.
“Sorry, we've gone through most of our supplies, and it's not like laundry is foremost on anyone's mind, so we don't have any smaller ones for you right now,” he explained, as if that was the problem.
Nico decided he wasn't even going to grace the jab at his size with an answer. They couldn't all be stupidly tall sons of the god of physical male perfection.
“I'm not wearing this. And I'm most certainly not getting a physical exam,” he spat instead. “This wasn't the deal. I'm here to cut your bandages, not to let you poke and prod me about, Solace.”
Will straightened up, hands on his hips.
“Um, yes you are, actually. Considering your current state, I'm already remiss for not nailing you to a hospital bed, di Angelo.”
“And what state is that exactly? I've told you already, I'm fine. I'm not hurt, or wounded, or sick. I just need a break. Which I'd be getting if I wasn't here,” Nico felt obligated to point out.
The son of Apollo snorted, striding over.
“Oh really. You're fine, are you? So it doesn't hurt when I do...this.” He reached out and grabbed Nico's shoulder before the son of Hades could flinch away. His grip wasn't all that tight, but his fingers still brushed against the scratches Lycaon had left him with. He'd been able to ignore the burn until then, but the combined surprise and pressure of the healer's touch caused him to yank his arm away, gasping.
He quickly reconstructed his impassive mask though, before glaring up at the son of Apollo, armoring up to face the healer's gloating.
The sight that greeted him, however, was much worse. Will didn't look gleeful, or triumphant. He seemed more frozen in guilt. Nico could almost feel his glare slipping away at the expression, replacing itself with shame. This was one of the reasons why he didn't like hanging around other people. He always seemed to bring out the worst in them.
“I'm sorry.” The words felt thick on his tongue.
Will turned away rubbing his hand over his face.
“Why are you apologizing?” The healer's voice was quiet, frustrated. “I'm the one who should be sorry. I shouldn't have done that. That was wrong of me.” He glanced at Nico again. “I just...I worry about you. Please let me help, Nico.”
Whether it was Will's special ability to defuse tension, the seeming sincerity in his voice, or simply the fact that it was the first time the healer had said his name since Half-Blood Hill, Nico wasn't sure. But the last dregs of his defensiveness just seemed to evaporate, leaving behind nothing but a bone-deep weariness. For the first time in a long time, he didn't want to have to fight anymore.
So he simply stepped behind the partition at the back of the room to change into the stupid gown, wondering why he was apparently putty in this particular demigod's hands.
It was a good thing Nico was not a fast dresser. It gave Will the opportunity to recompose himself, recover from nearly assaulting a patient, and reaffirm his conviction that there was no problem whatsoever in his handling this particular demigod's care personally. None at all. Really.
So what if he'd been in awe of the son of Hades ever since he'd come to the rescue during the Battle of Manhattan? So what if perhaps the admiration had morphed into something more with each glimpse he'd caught of the hero during the year since? So what if his heart twisted painfully with every new scar he spotted on the boy's ever paler olive skin? If his blood boiled whenever the object of his affections came back a little worse for wear running some godforsaken errand for Percy Jackson? It didn't matter that every time Will tried to move on, he found himself imagining dark curls and darker eyes beneath him instead, wondering how Nico's lips would taste even as he kissed someone else. (Not his proudest moments, he had to admit.)
Will was no fool (or at least he liked to think so). He'd lived year round in the Apollo cabin since he was twelve, and been its head counselor since Michael's death in New York. He'd probably told more new siblings about their father's myths than any other camp counselor. Apollo was known for his passion, not his use of birth control.
Will even remembered the first time his brother Lee had warned him, the day after he'd been dropped off at camp by his mother in her current hippie boyfriend's flower-and-claw-marked car, his baby half-sister screaming in terror in the back (it had been an eventful ride), promising that everything would be okay, and that they would write (which they did, every month. Thank the gods his dyslexia wasn't too bad.) Children of Apollo were archers. They were healers, artists and artisans, musicians and painters, poets and dreamers. Given the chance, they were also obsessive fans and stalkers.
Was Will being dramatic by associating his feelings for Nico with the passion that drove his father to pursue a nymph until she transformed into a tree? Without a doubt. (Apollo was, after all, also the patron god of drama.) Did Will care? Not particularly. Did it bother him that any normal hospital would not have allowed a doctor to treat someone so close to their heart (not to mention employed a fifteen year old)? Sometimes, but he rationalized it. Better a healer who was desperately in love with a patient than one who was afraid of them. (Will was still irritated at his siblings' reaction over his bringing in the son of Hades.)
At least that had been the theory, until he'd decided to hurt Nico just to prove a point. Gods, he needed to get his emotions under control. After all, he'd already decided he wasn't going to make a move. Never even minding the fact that he was probably straight, Nico didn't need some lovesick, obsessed guy coming on to him. He needed a friend and a healer, so that was what Will would be. Even if it broke Will's heart.
Speaking of which, his patient was finally coming around the partition, looking a creepy sort of adorable in his too big gown (fine, maybe Will was kind of happy that they were out of smaller sizes). Ironically, it was the sight of the vicious red scars peeking from under the sleeves, as well as his bone-thin legs (whose smooth skin Will tried not to dwell on), that snapped him out of his fan-girly daydream and prevented him from coming across as an idiot. Again, that was. Standing from the desk (his pretty much per default, since most of his siblings refused to do any paperwork unless it helped them snoop on a potential crush – and that was not what was going on here either, Will told himself sternly, nope, not at all), he fixed the patient file he'd prepared to a fresh clipboard.
It proved to be one of the more interesting examinations.
Will could handle the facts Nico gave him. So the son of Hades was born in the thirties. Fine. In Italy. No problem. Nice country, not that Will had ever been. His mom had been murdered by Zeus, for some reason. Sad, but not unheard of. And then his memories had been wiped. Well. It happened. And he'd spent a month in a Las Vegas Casino that had actually been several decades. All right. He'd been to Vegas with his mom once on one of her gigs, back when she still performed. He could relate to the feeling of timelessness of the city. Cool. And then a fury disguised as a lawyer had put him and his sister in a military school, they'd been rescued from a monstrous teacher, his sister had abandoned him for the hunters of Artemis, then promptly been killed in battle, and he had spent the last four years basically on the streets, and oh, who was Will kidding, he was not handling this, all he wanted to do was wrap his boy up in a warm fluffy blanket and never let the world touch him again. But of course that wouldn't have been professional.
ADHD had him wondering exactly when he'd started referring to Nico as his.
But what really brought lines to his forehead (despite one of his exes from the Aphrodite cabin always telling him he was going to get wrinkles from it) was the things he himself observed. The sickly tone of his skin. The purple shadows under his eyes, so dark they almost seemed like bruises. The way all his bones stuck out, reminding Will of pictures he'd seen of famine. The way he flinched away from any contact with Will (and okay, he'd seen Nico hug Jason that morning, and wasn't even going to lie to himself about how much rejection stung). The way he held himself, slightly hunched over, as if expecting to be attacked. The way all the fight had gone out of him just minutes ago. That worried Will perhaps most of all. He was an excellent healer, if he did say so himself. He could put back together just about anybody, given their cooperation. But he could do nothing for someone who had given up. And Nico felt worryingly absent.
Yay, we survived the introduction! Time to get to actual plot!
Chapter 2: Hamlet (without the stabbing)
So, notes on this chapter: according to Wikipedia, there is in fact a butterfly named the Lycaon, jury's out on whether being touch starved is an actual condition, and I swear Kayla and the guys aren't assholes, they're just not wearing the same heart-shaped goggles as Will. Also, know any of those people who complain that after "all that" a character should be dead? Because I'd like to introduce them to Nico.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Casper? Hello? You in there?"
The healer's face swam into view in front of him, looking concerned. Nico realized he'd been dozing off where he stood. He gave himself a shake.
"Sorry. Yeah, I'm listening. What?"
Will looked at him pensively for a moment, before pointing to the numbers on the scale. He did not look happy. Nico had been able to count the lines on his forehead as they appeared while they went through personal information.
"You mind telling me when the last time was that you ate? Or slept, for that matter?"
Nico had to think for a moment. "Um. Buford?"
Will looked confused.
"Leo's table. Oookay. Dooo you want to sit down maybe. You seem a little...tired? Mixed up?"
Nico had nothing against sitting on the padded exam table. It was a bit high for him though, so he moved to jump up on it. Suddenly, a pair of warm hands wrapped around his waist and lifted him instead.
"What the hell, Solace?" he squawked in surprise.
"Sorry. Just don't want you to overexert yourself." Nico thought he might have seen a hint of red in the other boy's cheeks, but dismissed it as a trick of the light. Which, by the way, was still filtering aggressively brightly through the windows. Some part of his mind wondered in aggravation whether it would kill them to put up some curtains.
"No, Buford, South Carolina," he corrected, dropping his glare at the memory. He did not want to think about Buford.
"And that was when?" Apparently Solace was not going to give him a choice.
"Three days ago?” he guessed. Will's frown deepened.
"That's when you last ate?"
"No. That was when I last woke up. I'd eaten before I passed out, though. Three days before that."
What was that emotion called again? Oh, right. Sheepishness.
Will looked about ready to throw his clipboard at him.
"Look, it's not as bad as it sounds. I drank some Gatorade. And I don't really eat much in general."
Nico tailed off at Will's murderous expression.
"All right. Let me get this straight. You spent gods know how long in Tartarus – actually, strike that, not even the gods know, seeing as even they know to stay away from the place. Then you got captured by giants. You were kept in a jar for seven days. Underworld magicked yourself half-way across the planet with two people and a giant statue all the way to Buford, South Carolina. Ate, then spent three days in a coma, woke up, had some Gatorade and came here to fight in a battle?"
“Aren't you supposed to be writing stuff down as you go?”
“Don't try to sidestep, Wednesday Addams, answer the bloody question.”
Actually, to Nico, not talking seemed to be the safest option at this point. (Although he was kind of curious as to who Wednesday Addams was, and who would even name their child that.) Will seemed to interpret his silence just fine, though.
"And then you did not stop and rest, but did the funeral rites yesterday, then spent the night not sleeping, but instead doing what, exactly?"
"Praying to my father," Nico completed quietly. It had been oddly tranquilizing, he had to admit, despite the house of horrors setup. It was peaceful, with nothing but the shrine, his prayers and Hazel murmuring in her sleep behind him. He was going to miss it. Her.
Will meanwhile once again looked like he'd just stepped on some child's sandcastle. He made a gesture with his arms, like he wanted to reach for Nico, but thought better of it. Instead, he clicked his pen, a forced cheer in his voice.
"Looks like we've got our work cut out for us, then. Plenty of nutritious foods, lots of sleep, vitamin supplements, sunshine, hmm, probably a lot of cuddles as well.”
Nico could feel himself blushing.
“What the Hades, Solace? Should I be worried about the last time you've slept?”
Will grinned. “Nah, I'm good. My siblings kicked me out of the infirmary last night, the dirty traitors. Something about too many shifts in a row. Why do you think I was at the cabins? Besides,” he continued, not leaving Nico time to answer. “The cuddles will do you good, if you're touch starved like I suspect.”
“Now you're just making stuff up. There's no way that's a real thing.”
“It is if I say it is. And if it is, then you've sure got it, right along with your actual fading issues. Hm, we'll probably need a couple of sun lamps as well, for your shadow whatever."
"It's called shadow travel, you quack. It's not even that hard to remember." Nico probably should have cared more about how little sting his words held at that point. Truth be told, he wasn't completely against the lamp idea. Spending so much time in darkness had taken its toll during his trip back to camp, and he was still a little wary of it.
"Whatever. Those wounds are definitely going to need attention, though. I could sense them a mile away, they're probably infected. Whoever did those stitches deserves a medical textbook to the face."
"I'll be sure to tell Reyna. You can do the honors." At least at those words, Will paled a little. He recovered soon enough, however, pulling out a small bottle from another pilfered closet.
"The point stands. How you manage to still swing a sword is beyond me. Here, drink this nectar. How did you get the gashes, anyway?"
Nico shrugged and winced as he downed the godly drink. (Damn, now the scratches chose to hurt? Now?)
"Lycaon cornered us in Portugal."
Will froze where he stood, leaning out to examine the stitches.
"Wait a minute. Lycaon? The king of the werewolves Lycaon?"
Nico rolled his eyes. "No, the butterfly Lycaon. How many Lycaons do you think there are exactly?"
"It's scratches, not bites, Solace. You don't have to worry about me transforming and massacring your patients."
Will straightened, pouting. "I know that. You think you're the first werewolf clawing to come my way? No. So I actually happen to know almost firsthand how bad it hurts. Either that, or Ellis is a bigger wimp than anyone would have thought."
Nico managed not to shrug again, stifling a yawn instead.
"It wasn't too bad until about five minutes ago. I've had worse. I can handle it."
He didn't like how compassionately Will suddenly was looking at him.
"How about we get to those lacerations then." His voice was suddenly much gentler. "So we can get you to a bed, maybe some food, and you can sleep for as long as you want."
Nico nodded, yawning again. He wasn't sure how long he'd be sleeping until his nightmares caught up to him though. He supposed he should give it a try. He could feel the tiredness settling in his bones, so heavy that he barely even flinched when Will raised his sleeve to reach for the scratches. As the son of Apollo started humming a low tune, he felt his eyes grow heavy. A rare feeling of peace lulled him to sleep.
It wasn't unusual for his healing hymns to put people to sleep. He may not have the best voice in the Apollo cabin, but he could carry a tune to save a life at least.
Even so, he liked to think that Nico was particularly receptive to his voice. It was a much nicer thought than the alternative, read, the son of Hades just was that exhausted. His eyes had shut before Will had even begun opening the stitches. That was lucky, because it meant the healer wasn't holding any pointy implements when Nico fainted into his arms. (Or fine, more like collapsed where he sat. So sue him, Will was a romantic.)
He hadn't even spent too much time marveling at how perfectly the boy, who could probably dismember him while casually holding a conversation with his skull, fit into his arms. Instead, Will had laid him gently back onto the table, humming on, mentally adding Hamlet references to the nickname list. He smeared some pain-numbing cream over the wounds, then turned his wrath and a pair of scissors on the Roman praetor's absolutely abysmal stitching.
Once he'd replaced the Frankenstein sutures with a neat set of his own, he bandaged them with a disinfectant salve for good measure, since werewolf claws were an absolute breeding-ground for germs. Nico hadn't woken yet by the time he finished, so Will decided to indulge a little. Normally, he'd either rouse the patient so they could walk, or just wheel the table out into the main room. But that didn't seem particularly practical given the state of chaos his precious infirmary had been reduced to during the last few days. Instead, he made a tactical decision to gently lift the son of Hades back into his arms and carry him to the bed he'd reserved. It was both directly under one of the windows, for maximum exposure to the sunlight, and close to the office, so that Will could see it when the door was open. You know, for medical reasons. The same reasons why he'd put off discharging Holly Victor, the daughter of Nike who'd been occupying the spot before with a chest wound that was a lot less life-threatening than her attitude, until the last minute. Her snark was well worth keeping any of his siblings from snatching up the coveted place for a different patient. He didn't even feel all that bad about it, considering how they'd kicked him out of his own infirmary yesterday after his fourth shift in a row. Granted, no one had died while he was out, and he felt a lot better after sleeping in his own bed for once, but still. Such insubordination could not go unpunished.
Thankfully, one of his siblings had apparently taken over Holly's case and already discharged her without committing murder. The bed was empty and awaiting with fresh sheets, courtesy of one of the nymphs that helped them out. Will gently tucked the son of Hades under the covers, careful not to put any pressure on the bandages. He was just making sure the circulation to his patient's limbs wasn't being cut off when his sister – and traitorous second-in-command – Kayla, rounded one of the open curtains partitioning the beds.
"Careful, your crush is showing."
"Is not," was his snappy comeback. "I just don't want him to wake up to a dead arm."
She raised an eyebrow.
"Were you waiting for someone to show up so you could use that pun?"
Will shrugged. "I figured one of you would catch me sooner or later. It's not like you can wait to dump all your patients back on me."
With a last glance at Nico, Will pulled the curtains halfway shut and allowed his sister to drag him across the aisle. He was unsurprised to find the bed there occupied by a dazed Ellis Wakefield, despite the fact that the son of Ares hadn't been among the wounded in the battle.
"Let me guess," the healer asked, eyeing the matching bruises on his patient's shin and face. "The Romans enjoy both kicking and headbutting."
"Daughter of Venus," Kayla confirmed. "I talked to her when she lugged Ellis in. She was cool. Did you know New Rome has a store which sells helmets with matching steel-tipped designer shoes?"
"Sounds like that'll be worth a field trip." He absentmindedly ran a hand over the bruised leg. It felt like a fracture. Assorted with a concussion. He wondered whether he'd have to talk to Chiron about regulating Roman imports. Maybe Nico could help. He'd obviously made good friends with the other camp's leader, Reyna. Which was good. Nico needed people looking after him. It didn't make Will extremely jealous or anything. Much.
He jerked his head up, realizing he'd zoned out, still rubbing Ellis's forehead.
"Sorry, what?" he asked, grabbing the clipboard from Kayla to write down the treatment. Half a square of ambrosia when he came to, and a couple of hours of supervised bed rest to make sure his concussion was under control. Unless they ran out of room and needed the bed, but that shouldn't happen. Not unless someone decided to challenge the Romans to a farewell contest of...well, pretty much anything, actually. Normally, he'd have been willing to give the son of Ares a full square just to get him out sooner and have more time for his new patient, but they were running low on godly foods. He made a note to try and get the Hermes cabin to contact their father about the next shipment, before hooking the chart back on the bed and heading to the next one. Belatedly, he realized he'd missed Kayla's question again.
"Will, are you sure you're okay? You seem pretty distracted. We could take over for you again if you need more rest."
He barked out a laugh to disguise a flash of panic. They couldn't lock him out again. Not when he'd finally secured some time to spend with Nico. (To heal him, of course.)
"Yeah, no, don't think you can pull that again. You have plotted against me for the last time."
Kayla bit her lip, on the verge of retorting, so he made a point to hurry over to the next bed. Billie from Demeter was idly decorating the bandage around her head with a flower wreath. Will suspected it had more than a little to do with Travis Stoll being pretty much handcuffed to the bed across the way. Idly he wondered whose stethoscope the son of Hermes had nicked.
"Will, I hate to bring this up again, but are you sure it's a good idea for...him to be here." Kayla glanced nervously over her shoulder, as if a half-dead sleeping demigod at the other end of the infirmary was going to get up and smite her.
Will felt his face turn to stone as he surveyed his sister over Billie's chart.
"And where else do you suggest we put him, exactly? The supply closet?"
"He could stay in his cabin." Malcolm from Athena and Austin came up behind them, his brother using a paperclip to secure his stethoscope to his scrub shirt. Will mentally checked off a box on the Travis Stoll handcuffs mystery. Out loud he sneered.
"Oh, yeah, way to go treating the hero. Let's ground him in his cabin, and hope the isolation helps with his malnutrition, insomnia, problems with touch and other assorted PTSD symptoms. That's sure to work brilliantly."
Kayla swallowed nervously.
"Look, I know Nico di Angelo is a sensitive subject for you, and he sacrificed so much to help this camp, and we should be grateful, you've told us often enough, but Will, he's freaking out the other patients. I mean, come on. The guy literally radiates death. That can't be healthy for anyone. Not even you."
Will felt his eyebrows raise incredulously. It was like some clown god had decided to practice their grimaces on his face.
"He radiates death? Really? What does that even mean?"
Austin rubbed his face tiredly, and Will made a note to check the rotation chart. His brother looked like he was due for a break himself.
"Come on, man, you know what we mean. It's nothing against Nico personally, it's his aura. Even the temperature drops around him."
Malcolm intervened before Will could snap back.
"Look, no one is saying he'd be alone in his cabin. The infirmary is calming down, we could have someone go by occasionally and check on him," he reasoned. "He'd be looked after just as well as here, and our patients could have their peace of mind back. Hades, he and Jason seem pretty close, we could have him stay with Nico."
Austin nudged Malcolm in the back, and Kayla groaned, but it was too late. The mention of Golden Boy Jason and his relationship with the son of Hades had turned Will deaf to any suggestion he might have been willing to accept.
"Unbelievable." He shook his head dejectedly. " You know, he wanted to leave camp for good. Said he wasn't wanted. And I vouched for us. For you guys."
Malcolm and Austin at least had the decency to look ashamed. Kayla just set her expression mutinously.
"So we're keeping him here out of thanks, or what? Because we've discharged people who were in a much more serious state. There's just not enough wrong with him to warrant inflicting the death aura on the others. This isn't about Nico, Will. It's about our patients."
"Well, Nico is my patient." he retorted. "And if I hear you approach my patient with anything but the utmost kindness and care, you can find yourselves a new place to work." He looked Kayla directly in the eyes, and she glared back.
Luckily, a distraction, in the form of the nymphs from the dining pavilion, burst in with breakfast. Their arrival, combined with the smell of pancakes, managed to defuse the tension around them.
Will turned to look at the boys. "I'm going to go ask Chiron if he knows anything about treating the effects of underworld powers on the user. Malcolm, I need you to check Athena's library for the same." Annabeth's second-in-command nodded. "Austin, you're off the clock. Finish up, then go get some sleep, you need it." Austin gave a brief salute. "Kayla..." He sighed. " You have the infirmary till I get back. Remember to check Jake's jaw before he eats, no one wants to do that after. If Nico wakes up, get him some breakfast as well. Oh, and if you have time, get out some of the sunlamps for him. You know, the ones we used that time the Party Ponies accidentally screwed up the camp's weather system and gave us three days of night. And Kayla," he added as an afterthought. "Not a word."
"I'm the son of Hades, Jason. I might as well be covered in blood or sewage, the way people treat me."
-- Nico di Angelo, the House of Hades (Rick Riordan), Chapter 57
Basically the quote this chapter was born from.
Chapter 3: Fighting Food with Food
About this chapter: first of all, TRIGGER WARNING for mind control and panic attack complete with throw up; second, thanks go to the author of the book "Ella Enchanted", for illustrating what happens when you mix mind control and food (pro tip: don't); third, my apologies to anyone who loves Piper, I just...don't. (Which you can probably tell. On the other hand, if you like !protective Will, this is for you.) But enjoy anyway!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
As usual, Nico jerked awake, reaching for his sword. It wasn't there. As usual, a mini panic attack ensued as he tried to figure out where he was this time. Gentle lighting. Clean sheets. A soft pillow. Warm. That ruled out the labyrinth, various graveyards and most other places he'd spent the night in the past few years. Hmm. Not his father's palace in the Underworld, nor the Hades cabin, the light was too...too golden. New Rome, maybe? But even there, he usually kept his sword close. A ways off to the left, he heard a gentle melody being sung. Ah. Camp Half-Blood. The infirmary. His memories started to come back to him, replacing the usual bitterness of nightmares. He must have dozed off during the check-up. Nico pushed himself up on his elbows, and noticed that his arms had been bandaged. Sitting, he peeked underneath one of them. He had to admit, Solace's stitches were pretty neat.
"Don't loosen those. You'd only be giving Will more excuses to keep you here."
He glanced up to the gap in the curtains around his bed. A child of Apollo (Clara? Carla?) stood there, a dryad with a loaded tray of breakfast foods at her shoulder. The nymph wasted no time in plunking her load down on his lap before skittering away nervously. He didn't mind much. You couldn't expect nature spirits to like the children of death, he told himself. Trigger-happy satyrs with baseball bats not included. The healer (Kayla? That was it, wasn't it?) hadn't moved even when the dryad ducked behind her. She was examining him with a schooled expression. Assessing him. He knew the look. Without a word, he sat back against the pillows, looking over his plate. There was pretty much everything he'd come to associate with American breakfasts on it. Pancakes, strawberries, orange juice. He still didn't have much of an appetite, but he supposed he should eat. He picked up his fork, then hesitated.
"Do you need something?" He glared at Kayla. (Yep. Definitely her name.)
She narrowed her bright green eyes at him, before kneeling down to plug in a bunch of lamps someone had strung up around his bed like Christmas-themed barbed wire. With a buzz, they all flicked on, flooding him in light. Nico flinched, throwing up an arm to shield his eyes.
“What in the name of...”
“Don't,” she warned. “I refuse to give your father any reason to check in here, capisce?”
“What are you trying to do, blind me?”
“Keep you away from the shadows, more like. Will's idea.”
“Of course it was,” Nico muttered angrily.
Kayla shrugged, straightening again.
"His funeral. Just try to keep the death aura to yourself, all right? We're not all blinded by adoration the way my brother is."
Nico forced himself to keep his glare up, though his mind roiled with confusion.
"What do you mean?" he managed to ask.
She just shook her head. "Nothing. Just keep it to yourself, understood, di Angelo?"
She seemed to be waiting for him to agree, or look away, but that wasn't Nico's style. Even though an uncomfortable lump was forming in his throat, he refused to look away, locking them in a glaring contest.
The tie-breaker came in the unexpected form of a tall, blond, blue-eyed demigod. Not the one you'd expect though.
"Everything okay here?" Jason asked, a hard edge in his voice. The daughter of Apollo seemed to transform under his gaze.
"Yeah, fine. Are you here to visit anyone? I could help you find them." Her voice suddenly took on a sunny tone as she tucked a curl of red hair behind her ear.
"That's okay. Looks like we already found him." Piper's voice emerged from behind her boyfriend. "Hey Nico." The daughter of Aphrodite stepped into the curtained area and winked at him.
"Oh. Hey, Piper. Didn't see you there." The daughter of Apollo seemed to deflate.
"Just make sure he eats," she finally tossed out. "Gotta go." Kayla made her escape, ducking out of sight around the son of Jupiter.
Once she'd vanished, Jason relaxed and tugged the curtain shut behind him.
"You okay?" he asked gently, sitting on the chair his girlfriend had pulled up for him.
"Fine," Nico answered, somewhat too harshly. He had to keep himself from wincing. "The usual," he added more softly.
He didn't particularly appreciate the pitying gaze that last remark earned him. But since he was trying out the whole “letting people in” thing, he glared at the tray on his lap instead. The awkward silence stretched on, and he wasn't sure how to break it. Sure, Jason had made it clear he wanted them to be friends, but it wasn't like they had all that much in common. Apart from their insanely powerful fathers. As for Piper, even on the Argo II, he barely remembered exchanging more than a few words with her. All in all, he was having a hard time figuring out why this pair of perfect people were wasting their time on him. Maybe if he managed to break the plate with his glare, they'd leave again.
Piper finally broke the awkward silence. "So what have they got you in the infirmary for? I'm pretty sure you can gain weight elsewhere."
When he switched his glare over to her, she shrugged, seemingly unaffected. "Hey, just stating the obvious. You could use some meat on those bones. So eat up."
He glared some more, then speared a strawberry.
"Seriously though, are you okay? We were worried when Lacy came back from her shift here, and told us Solace had hauled you in. There's nothing else going on, is there? You can always talk to us." Jason's gaze reminded Nico of a puppy's, eyes big and earnest as he leaned forwards.
"Nah." He shook his head. "Just the werewolf scratches and Solace being a pain about my underworld powers."
"Werewolf scratches? Ouch." Jason winced. "Had a couple of those once on a quest. Nasty. Stung like a bi-"He coughed and glanced at Piper, who appeared amused, as well as relieved at the lighter turn of conversation.
"Like a bee?"
He nodded frenetically at the lifeline she was offering, apparently unaware he was being teased. Nico couldn't help but snicker, even as the sight of their casual banter sent a pang of loneliness through him. He couldn't remember -strike that, he could remember exactly who it had been he'd last bantered with. It was strange how his grief over Bianca still sneaked up on him.
He didn't realize he'd lowered the fork until Piper's voice gently brushed against him, the merest traces of charmspeak snaking into his ear. "Nico, eat." As if of it's own free will, his hand once again raised to his mouth. The strawberry didn't taste like anything. He absently wondered whether after his little brush with immaterialness he'd ever get his taste buds back.
"Anyway," Jason started again. "If Solace has you in here, it's probably with good reason, right? He's a nice guy." For some reason his voice seemed tentative.
Nico shrugged, his hand still bringing food to his mouth almost as fast as he could swallow it.
"He's stubborn, mostly. Almost got us killed, arguing about whether I could use my powers while the Romans surrounded us."
Jason nodded. "Is that what he dragged you away for during the battle?"
Nico wracked his brains before remembering. Jason had been fighting by his side when Will had come to fetch him to handle Octavian.
Truth be told, Nico had done his best not to think about the augur after he'd...what? Murdered him? Been an accessory to his death? They still locked people up for that one, didn't they?
Suddenly, the food in his mouth and stomach felt like dirt. Choking him. Nauseating. He felt like spitting it out, throwing it up, putting his head between his knees to quell the sickening lurches.
There was only one problem. His body was still trying to eat.
Panic quickly set in when he felt some previously swallowed pancake rise up in his throat as his teeth simultaneously tried to grind down on another bite. Throwing himself sideways, he fell off the bed, managing to fling the tray of food away from himself. He slumped on the floor, Jason and Piper crowding around and crying out in alarm as he managed to spit out his mouthful. But even then, his hand continued to grasp at whatever food was within reach (including, to his disgust, the stuff he'd previously swallowed), trying to continue to feed him, to EAT.
The world around him started to blur and spin as the air came too fast. He was distantly aware of cries and shouts, and his own body heaving as he fought the charmspeak, but nothing else until a set of warm arms wrapped around him, holding him steady, and a voice heavy with charmspeak yelled out.
The world came to an abrupt halt. His hands stopped scrabbling for food, and his chest stopped heaving. He couldn't be sure, but he even thought for a moment his heart might have stopped beating. Frozen in place, he realized he was on the floor, wrapped in Will Solace's embrace as the son of Apollo, himself immobilized, held him up. Jason was on his other side, while Piper, Kayla, and another healer Nico didn't know crouched in front of them. Chiron and more people were visible beyond the curtains, which had been yanked wide open, allowing the rest of the infirmary to look on as Drew Tanaka planted her hands on her hips, surveying the motionless scene.
"As you were," she finally charmspoke, tossing back her hair.
It seemed like the entire room took a deep breath, released from the command.
Nico in particular suddenly found himself free to finish throwing up the rest of his breakfast. Gentle hands pulled his hair out of the way and rubbed his back as he coughed and retched onto the floor. When his stomach finally settled, Will slowly pulled him up, wiping his dirty hands and mouth on the sheet his patient had pulled down from the bed in his fall. Kayla rushed in, all former animosity seemingly forgotten, and handed him a glass and a bottle of water. Since Nico was still shaking, Will accepted the items for him. He leaned the son of Hades back against his chest before uncapping the bottle and holding it to his lips, murmuring encouragements.
"There you go, love. That's right, rinse your mouth. Here, sweetheart, you can spit it out in the glass. Or on the floor, really, doesn't make much of a difference at this point. Good, that's good, darling. Now drink some, maybe? Can you do that for me?"
Once Nico had taken a mouthful of water and pushed the bottle away, Will set it aside and wrapped his arms protectively around Nico before glaring at the surrounding crowd.
"All right. Anyone want to tell me exactly what happened here?"
Nico had never heard the son of Apollo, or any child of Apollo really, sound that angry. This made Will's showdown with Octavian look like a playground squabble.
The son of Hades apparently wasn't the only one taken aback. No one answered.
Strike that. One person did answer.
"My dear head counselor." Drew Tanaka sounded bored by the whole situation, but Nico thought he could detect a smile on her lips. She was clearly speaking to Piper rather than Will. "Turns out you can't just go around using charmspeak all willy-nilly, especially not in an infirmary. And especially not on a patient."
She didn't even pretend to hide her satisfaction as Will turned his fury on the daughter of Aphrodite kneeling in front of him. Piper recoiled slightly before straightening.
"I'm sorry. I didn't think." To her credit, her voice barely shook. "I just wanted him to eat."
Nico felt the deep breath Will took, the healer's arms tightening convulsively around him. A hand came up to press one of his ears against a firm chest, covering the other, protecting his hearing, before Will suddenly roared into the complete silence.
"Out! Get out right now, get away from him, get out of my sight! OUT!"
So yeah. That was..pretty rough, actually. Don't worry, it lightens up a bit. For a bit.
Chapter 4: Confessions of a teenage demigod
About this chapter: The ancient greek healing methods described here are more or less consistent with those performed at Asclepius's temple in Epidaurus, minus the live snakes on the floor.
Also, since most fics seen to disagree on Will's age, here is my own thought process:
1) We know from The Hidden Oracle that he's around fifteen or sixteen (same age as Apollo).
2) We know he's the oldest among his reportedly numerous siblings,
3) He had only two older brothers, Lee and Michael, both presumably around college and high school age when they died
4) So the younger we let Will be, the bigger the gap between him and his siblings. Sorry, but I don't see Apollo going three or four years without having a kid.
So unless there are other, older Apollo siblings dead in the war (which is possible, since they're basically the redshirts of Camp HB) sixteen it is.
AN: Thanks for the info on Will's cannon age (15). Fic has been updated accordingly
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
He was still having a hard time containing his fury after Piper had hastily stumbled out of the infirmary. Nico probably could sense it, because he didn't protest when Will lifted the son of Hades into his arms and carried him to the bathroom. Either that, or he was still shaken from being charmspoken into throwing up, Will thought angrily.
To an outsider, the infirmary may have seemed like an unofficial, barely regulated extension of the Apollo cabin, but it was actually quite strictly run. Healing was Chiron's primary field of teaching, after all, before even training heroes to fight. There were rules in place for most kinds of power. Children of Apollo had to undergo strict testing and training of disease-related abilities. Hephaestus kids had to submit any new prosthesis they created to a review by the Apollo and Athena cabins. Children of Hypnos had to keep set alarm clocks in their pockets, in case one of them decided to take a nap, or accidentally put the entire place to sleep and cause the robotic arm of a son of Ares(which, ironically enough, had passed the review) to go haywire and start trying to strangle people because the healer in charge wasn't awake to unplug it from the power socket. And children of Aphrodite could never, ever, under any circumstance, charmspeak patients without supervision by someone wearing earplugs or by another charmspeaker.
Shifting his charge to one arm (it was pretty concerning that he could do that), he closed the bathroom door as gently as he could (read, just a few decibels shy of slamming it), then deposited the son of Hades on the counter next to the row of sinks. One of the nice things about the infirmary was its big, old fashioned bathroom, complete with a section for toilet stalls, several showers with enough room for wheelchairs, and a series of practically Jacuzzi-like tubs sunk into the floor. Hygiene was after all one of the cornerstones to Greek healing, as attested to by the shrine to Hygieia in the corner. (Technically his niece, but that was too weird to think about.) Once he'd ascertained Nico was not going to fall off the counter, Will knelt down by one of the tubs.
"I talked to Chiron about your case," he explained as he turned on the taps. Steaming water gushed into the tub. He added some bubble bath and soon the surface was opaque with hot pink froth. He really needed to speak to the Aphrodite cabin about that. As soon as he thought he could face their counselor without pouring the stuff down her throat, that was. He attempted to redirect his mind towards more peaceful thoughts.
"Turns out there's not much documentation on children of Hades and their assorted ailments, but he recommended the treatment usually prescribed at my brother Asclepios's temple. First, we treat your physical state." He turned off the taps when the bath was full. "Through foods and baths." He spread some herbs into the water, then straightened up. "Then we try to treat your mental state. With the proper sacrifice, Asclepios himself might even come by in a dream. Gods know your case is interesting enough. This okay with you?"
Nico still hadn't said anything when Will walked back over to him. The son of Hades had leaned his head back against the fogged up mirrors, looking exhausted, and Will's heart clenched again, the same way it had when he'd returned to the infirmary with Chiron to find his patient heaving on the floor.
"Hey." He barely hesitated before reaching out a hand to brush against Nico's cheek. The boy opened his eyes. "I'm going to go get you a towel and a clean gown. Try not to fall asleep in the bath, all right?"
Nico nodded. Will was about to turn away when the son of Hades cleared his throat.
"I'm sorry. For the mess."
Will froze in place, fury coursing through his veins. It took all of his talent at acting (thanks, dad), to school his features before he could smile and turn back.
"Hey, it's not your fault. Don't worry about it, happens almost every day here. Nobody minds. We just want you to get better, all right, Zombie King?" He reached out again to squeeze Nico's hand.
The small smile he was rewarded with made the effort worth it.
"You're getting worse and worse, Solace."
Will smiled back softly. "Don't worry. We'll find you the perfect name yet."
Outside the bathroom, he was glad to see someone had already cleaned up and changed the sheets on Nico's bed. The windows were open and a light breeze was clearing the air. He briefly stopped to thank Drew for her swift action (the girl was no one's favorite person, but you couldn't say she didn't know what she was doing), before ducking into his office.
Where he was promptly ambushed by a certain son of Jupiter.
Normally, Will quite liked the hero. They'd spent a lot of time together while the Argo II was being built, Jason a welcome support when the healer nagged everyone about sunscreen. Today, however, he was in a hurry to get back, so he didn't have time for chit chat. He grabbed a fresh gown from the nearly depleted closet (another size larger of course), and tried to duck out again.
A sudden gust of air slammed the door in his face. Apparently, this conversation was happening.
He turned exasperatedly to the son of Jupiter, who was leaning against the wall, arms crossed.
"How's Nico?" Jason asked.
"Apart from protected by doctor-patient confidentiality? He's okay, I think, no thanks to your girlfriend. But I'd like to get back before he passes out and drowns in the bathtub."
Jason's frown deepened.
"You're going in there while he's taking a bath?"
Will felt his cheeks redden in spite of himself.
"I'm a healer, dude. It wasn't weird until you decided to bring it up. But yeah. Besides, don't you Romans have naked public baths?"
"That's not the same," Jason protested. "I'm not an idiot, Solace. Love? Darling? Do you use those terms of endearment for all your patients?"
Will straightened. "I'm from Texas, bro, don't judge."
Mirroring his actions, Jason stalked forwards, cornering Will against the wall.
"Don't give me that. You've lived here since you were a kid, you don't even have a southern accent anymore. And in case you've forgotten, I was here when you were dating both Chiara and Connor, and I don't recall you ever using those particular words with either of them."
Will cursed his past self internally. Of course he'd had to go through two of his "getting over a guy he'd never so much as spoken to" phases in plain sight of Nico's new protector. Neither relationship had lasted more than three weeks, but he got that that didn't necessarily leave the best impression. The break-up with Chiara, after a series of dreams he'd had about Nico, both the normal, teenage ones, and others of the vastly more terrifying, child-of-Apollo borderline prophetic quality, had been particularly messy. Of course Jason hadn't been there to witness that. Will decided to play it cool.
"Look, it wasn't the same. Those were just flings. It's different with Nico." He immediately wanted to whack himself for the cliched line. Jason's brow furrowed dangerously.
"No, you look, Solace. Nico may be one of the most powerful demigods in existence, but he's pretty vulnerable emotionally. I'm not about to allow you to jeopardize what little self-acceptance he's managed to gain about his sexuality."
Will at that moment felt like he could have kissed the son of Jupiter.
"You mean he's gay?" His blinding smile immediately sent Jason reeling back in a panic.
"That's not what I said! I mean, no!"
Will smiled smugly, pointing his thumbs at himself. "Son of the god of Truth, remember? You're totally lying right now." He pumped his fist, unable to contain his exuberance. "I can't believe it, I actually have a shot!"
In the next moment, he felt a hand wrap around his throat and bodily nail him to the door.
"No." Jason snarled in his face. "Don't you dare. I am not letting you hurt him like that. He's been through enough."
Right as Will thought he was going to run out of air for sure, the hand released him, and he stumbled back down on his heels.
"No, no, no," he gasped, coughing. "I mean it when I say it's different." At Jason's incredulous look barely ten centimeters from his face, he tried to explain.
"Have you ever heard of Daphne?"
"You mean, the nymph Apollo was obsessed with?"
"Yeah, her. Well, Nico is my Daphne."
Jason's expression darkened again, and Will scrambled to amend his statement.
"I mean, not in a creepy, stalkerish kind of way. In an adoring, head over heels, love-at-first-sight kind of way. I would never hurt him. Believe me."
"So...you're in love with him?" Jason clarified.
"Pretty much. Ever since the battle of Manhattan. Man, he was so badass, you should have seen him."
"And you still dated other people."
"It's not like I thought I stood a chance. I mean, the guy grew up in the thirties. In Italy. Do you know what they did to gay people back then? And I wasn't about to spend my life pining over someone who didn't love me back. I mean, sure, I'm always going to stand by him. Protect him, give him anything he wants. I'll always be happy just to be his friend, or healer, or whatever he needs from me. Even if he's not into guys, or not into me in particular." His grin returned. "But you can bet I'm going to take a chance, since you say he's gay..."
Jason sighed. "Yeah, don't tell him I told you. I only ever found out because that thug Cupid forced it out of him when we ran into the guy in Salona."
They both sobered up at that thought.
Finally, Jason looked back up at him. (From a distance, they could have passed as twins, Will realized, all the way down to their height.)
"Solace," he started, his voice suddenly official. "Swear to me you're telling the truth. That you won't ever hurt him, or push him into something he's not comfortable with. That you'll always be just what you told me. Whatever he needs."
Will couldn't even find it in himself to be annoyed at the underlying insinuation of the son of Jupiter's words. "Unless it's something that he needs for his health and well being, sure."
He looked Jason straight into the eye. "I swear on the River Styx."
Distantly, thunder boomed, and the two boys jumped apart, blushing, when Malcolm opened the door of the office, an old book tucked under his arm, to find them practically nose to nose.
Throwback to when thunder boomed pretty much whenever anyone said anything.
Chapter 5: Judging books by their covers, and other fun stuff
In today's chapter, Nico is clueless, Chiron's seen it all before, and we kick off a long list of times Will gets interrupted.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It was a while before Will came back, even though Nico had hurried out of the soiled gown and into the hot water. For a moment, he was afraid the steamy heat was going to give him a Tartarus flashback. But the warmth of the water wasn't like that. It was soothing instead of searing, emitting a flowery scent rather than a sulfuric one. Though the foam's shade of pink was pretty violent. Nico leaned back and closed his eyes in the watery bliss. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had a bath. It was nice. He made a mental note to check if there was a tub in the bathroom of the Hades cabin. Then tiredness started to overtake him again, and his mind drifted. He couldn't believe it had been barely a few hours since he'd come to the infirmary. So much had happened in the brief amount of time, and his brain was working too sluggishly to process it all.
In the end, Will had to touch his shoulder to bring him back to himself. He jerked at the contact, but the water quickly lulled him back to a state of peace. Absently he noted that Will seemed happier than when he'd left, nervous but also excited. He wondered what he'd missed.
"How's the bath, Nico?", he grinned, taking a tailor's seat at the edge of the tub.
He gave a lazy sigh in response. "Relaxing. I could get used to this."
"Well, you're welcome back here any time you want, angel. Speaking of which, you don't actually mind me being in here, do you?"
Nico shook his head slowly, and Will seemed to relax. Belatedly, the son of Hades wondered what was coming over him. Normally, he'd have been mortified to be covered by nothing but hot pink soap bubbles in front of someone like Will. But right now, with everything processing at half speed, it just seemed silly.
Will cleared his throat, pulling a book Nico hadn't noticed until then onto his lap.
"So, I asked Malcolm to look through the Athena cabin's library for anything related to countering the effects of Underworld magic, and he came back with this." The book was old, at least as old as Nico, and bound in cracked black leather. What looked suspiciously like blood stains blotted the sides of the yellowed pages. Nico wasn't particularly reassured.
Will seemed more optimistic. "It's actually weird they have this, since Chiron himself didn't know much, and he's like, the expert, but hopefully, we can find something to keep you from melting into a puddle of darkness."
That was interesting enough for Nico to crack an eye open and lean over. His eyes widened slightly when he caught sight of the title. It sounded strangely familiar.
In the mean time, Will had already opened the book and started flipping through it.
"Look here's something. It's literally titled "Keeping them in a physical state. Sounds promising. Let's see." He scanned down the page.
"In order to prevent losing Child of Hades to shadow travel, keep light on them at all times, from all directions. Any shadow, even that of furniture, yours, or their own could serve as an escape route, – wait a minute, escape route? – so be careful not to come too close. Ideal setup was found to be a suspended cage surrounded by lights, as it has the additional benefit of keeping them from summoning skeletons or using earth as a weapon. Be advised that cage must be made of wood, as any stone or metal can broken open – what the actual Hades?" Will sounded dismayed. "What is this, prohibition-era medicine?"
"Actually, I think I know that book. Minos gave me a copy once, when he was teaching me how to use my abilities. It's a guide to fighting children of Hades."
Will looked over at him uncomprehendingly. Nico shrugged.
"In a sense, Malcolm wasn't wrong. It is about countering Underworld magic. Just...not....in a healing kind of way. More of a "keep them from killing you" kind of way."
"And you got it from Minos?"
"Well, yeah. It's just common sense. "Know thine enemy", and all that. He's a judge of the Dead for a reason, you know."
He did his best to ignore the disgusted look on the healer's face. Minos may have misled and betrayed him, but in the end, his teachings had saved Nico's life a thousand times over.
A thought struck him, and he leaned over to the book on Will's lap. "Actually, I forget, is there a chapter on containing auras of death? Your sister Kayla mentioned something about that."
Now Will looked angry as well as dismayed. Nico decided to shut up.
"Do you think the Athena cabin would mind very much if I dropped this thing in the bathtub?" The son of Apollo held the book out over the water. "We could say it was an accident."
Nico rolled his eyes. "Relax, Will. I'm sure the Athena cabin has a book on fighting pretty much anything in existence, including other children of Athena. And, like, half of them have photographic memories. They could just make themselves a new copy, one that's not bloodstained. Or buy one. It's not even that uncommon. I know the library in New Rome has it. Maybe the Amazons even sell it."
Will sighed, dropping the book on the side of the tub. "Whatever. It just makes me mad, you know? I try so hard to make you feel welcome here, to prove to you that some people actually want you to stay, but every time I turn, something like this shows up." He gestured at the book.
Nico exhaled softly.
"Look, Will. You don't have to try so hard. I know I have friends here, and that I should try harder to be friends to them. Reyna and Jason made me realize that. It's okay. I'm not leaving."
He looked up over his shoulder at the healer, who had pulled his legs to his chest, looking depressed.
"Why do you care so much, anyway?" The question had been nagging at him for a while now.
Will looked down at him, infinite gentleness in his eyes. Slowly, softly, as if afraid to spook the son of Hades, giving him plenty of time to move away, he stretched out a hand and brushed it across Nico's cheek. To his surprise, Nico found himself wanting to lean into the caress, instead of shying away.
"Do I need a reason?" Will asked softly. When Nico looked up at him, he felt a strange tension in the air, unlike anything he'd ever experienced before. (And it had nothing to do with the feeling of sitting in a tub of hot pink bubble bath.)
The moment was shattered by the sound of someone clearing their throat. The two boys flinched apart, looking guiltily over at the door. Nico wasn't even quite sure why. Chiron sat in his wheelchair by the entrance, an amused smile on his lips.
"I was just coming by to consult on Mr di Angelo's treatment, as you asked me to, Will. I hope I'm not interrupting anything?"
Both boys shook their heads frenetically. Will's cheeks were shining red through his tan, Nico noticed.
"Very well." The centaur wheeled himself forward next to Will, and Nico checked to make sure the bubble bath was still adequately covering him. It had hardly dissipated even a bit, he was relieved to see, and was a more garish shade than ever. He realized it must have come from the Aphrodite cabin.
"I see you've already started with the hydrotherapy, Will. Excellent, although you should come out before the temperature cools too much, Mr. di Angelo. His gaze fell on the book by the edge of the water, and he frowned curiously.
Will hastily shoved it behind him. "Yeah. My mistake. I thought it might have some advice on healing, as opposed to, you know."
Chiron nodded understandingly. "I can see how the title could be misleading. Doubtless the author never dreamed anyone might want to study the opposite." His brow furrowed pensively. "However, if you are looking for more literature, I wonder if Hades himself might be persuaded to go through his archives. He was always one of the more attentive gods where his children are concerned – he had so few, after all. Yes, if anyone has books on curing Underworld afflictions, it would be him. That, or we will simply have to start writing our own."
"Then that's what we'll do." Will stated determinedly.
Chiron hummed in agreement.
"In this interest, then, might I make my own assessment, Mr – "
"His name's Nico," Will blurted out suddenly. The son of Hades raised an eyebrow at him.
"So now you know my name?"
Will scowled and looked away, cheeks once again red.
"Of course." Chiron came to his rescue. "I completely trust Will here, but in this particular case, a less – ah – involved opinion might come in handy. Although I must admit it has been many centuries since I last even came into contact with a child of the Underworld. Your hand, if I may, Nico."
The boy in the bath tub shrugged and raised his arm. Chiron grasped it, and seemed to concentrate. When he opened his eyes again, they were troubled.
"Well, it seems Will is on the right track. We may not know much about the darkness that lingers in you from your overuse of shadow travel, but it makes sense at least to nurse your body back to health, to help ground your physical being. However, the events of this morning have shown we must proceed with caution. Your body is currently too malnourished to accept the large amounts of food it needs, so we will start out small." The centaur looked to Will.
"You have him here for three days, correct?"
Will nodded. "I can draw up a meal schedule for that time, and then another for after he's back at the dining pavilion."
"Very well. As for sleep, it is, as ever, just as important. I take it you dream travel to avoid nightmares?"
Nico nodded in turn, and Chiron hummed. "Dream travel in itself can get in the way of proper rest, but on the other hand, nightmares are not much better. Would you perhaps agree to a child of Hypnos monitoring your sleep for a night or two? They can steer you clear of any dreams, so you can recuperate properly."
Nico shrugged. "I guess. Clovis already drags me into his dreams sometimes, I wouldn't mind if it was him."
"Actually," Will interrupted, a look of irritation twisting his features, "maybe it would be better if one of his siblings did it? You know, since Nico already had nightmares even when Clovis was around?"
Chiron seemed both chiding and amused at the suggestion. "Any other sibling at all? But Clovis is the best nightmare monitor they have. Is there any particular reason, perhaps emotional, why you'd rather Clovis didn't do the job himself?"
For some reason, Will flushed. "No, Chiron. You're right. Clovis is the best."
Chiron nodded, satisfied.
"In that case, we will go and make the necessary arrangements. Nico, I believe it is best if you get out of the bath within a few minutes, I think at this point a cold would still kill you."
So, turns out you can't just stick someone in a jar for a week with only seeds as food, and not expect there to be consequences. Who knew?
Chapter 6: Doc, Sleepy and Bashful
Warning in this chapter: mild sexual innuendo (like, blink and you'll miss it mild). And oh, look, I figured out how to use italics. (Did I mention this took way too long considering I study Computer Science?)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Will volunteered to go find Clovis. It wasn't that he was wanted to. But he knew if Chiron thought he was letting his feelings negatively affect Nico's treatment, his patient would be handed off to some other healer faster than a party pony could finish off a barrel of root beer. And the idea of say, Kayla, being put in charge of his baby was more than he could handle. He had already decided to give her the Apollo cabin bathroom-cleaning patrol for what she'd said to Nico.
Plus, if he was the one to give Clovis his instructions, he'd be able to set down a few ground rules. Like, no flirting in his dreams, or talking, or touching. Will rolled his eyes at himself as he climbed the steps to the Hypnos cabin. He knew he was being ridiculous. Just because he suddenly was a part of the restricted pool of people Nico might be willing to date didn't mean he had to preemptively get rid of any potential competition. Still...
The Hypnos cabin was nice and cozy as usual. Will had taken the precaution of wrapping a hairband he'd nicked from Lou Ellen at some point around his wrist. The pain of snapping it against his arm usually managed to wake him up again if he caught himself dozing off due to the cabin's atmosphere.
Clovis, for once, had swapped his feather bed for a rocking chair by the fireplace. (Will didn't get that. It was shaping up to be a sweltering day outside, what did they need a fire in here for?) The son of Apollo reached out and none too gently shook the other boy awake.
"Wha...Oh, hi Will." He yawned and Will snapped the hairband. "You need me in the infirmary for something?"
"Yeah, come on." He pulled the son of Hypnos up and out, hoping to get him away from his siblings before he gave Clovis the jealous boyfriend talk. Gossip didn't spread nearly as fast out of the Hypnos cabin as from, for example, Aphrodite, but when it did, it tended to be more often believed. He did not want the news that the son of Hades, with his big dark eyes and tragic backstory, was free game for any other gay and bisexual campers, to become common knowledge. For totally selfless reasons of course.
Clovis nodded, stumbling slightly over the rocker. "S'good. I want to steer clear of my own bed for a few days anyway. Some of the Hermes kids have been dreaming about filling my mattress with firecrackers. So who's it about?"
Will waited until they'd reached the bottom of the porch to speak.
"You know Nico di Angelo?"
Clovis gave a sleepy smile. "Oh, sure. Great dream traveler – he'd have to be, with his nightmares – but a bit on the cold side. Always snaps at me when I accidentally drag him off course."
Will tried his hardest not to grimace.
"Well, he's not allowed to dream travel right now, he needs some actual sleep. Chiron wants you to make sure he doesn't get nightmares."
"And you want to make sure I don't get into his pants."
Clovis dropped the line without any judgment, just yawning again. Will found himself automatically reaching for the hairband as he sputtered.
"What, you think I've never seen your dreams? They're nice, by the way. Very sweet. Nico is a lucky guy."
"What the Hades were you doing in my dreams?" Will was finding it hard to sound self-righteously indignant when he was busy blushing madly. If Clovis meant the dreams he was thinking of – oh gods, he didn't want to complete that thought.
"Remember when the council asked us to ferret out any Roman spies? You were there. I think. I'm having a hard time remembering, actually. Waking memories are so hard to keep track of." Clovis had taken the lead, presumably lured by the thought of a firecracker-safe bed. Will trailed behind him, still trying to compose himself. Now that he thought about it, he did recall something about counter-espionage. He hadn't been particularly attentive during that meeting though.
He'd been busy going through a messy break-up with Chiara from the Tyche cabin, who'd spent the entire time glaring at him from across the room, flipping a coin threateningly.
"Don't worry, though, Solace. I don't like him that way. Well, I might if I gave it a bit of thought – those dreams were really very nice – but I won't. I value my peace and quiet. And I've heard the Hermes cabin being cursed with 24/7 disco. Literally. My siblings would set fire to my pillow if I gave Apollo cabin reason to curse us." Apparently under the impression he'd been reassuring, Clovis softly patted the healer's shoulder before heading into the infirmary.
Shaking himself, Will pulled open the supply closet by the entrance. He wheeled out one of the portable cots they used if patients needed 24-hour supervision. They weren't particularly comfortable, but if Clovis complained, he could always provide Cecil with the ingredients for firecrackers. He was still running over Clovis's comment about liking Nico. He also made a quick excursion into one of the fridges where they kept the perishable medicines and the soda.
As he walked down the aisle, pulling along the bed, he noticed with satisfaction that despite his only handling one patient really seriously since his return, the infirmary was already half empty. He decided to find out what kind of funds he had access to for throwing his staff a party. They'd really outdone themselves, and pride felt warm in his chest.
The son of Hades had already returned from his bath (looking more adorable than ever, in his now much too big yellow gown, with wet curls framing his thin face, and Aphrodite, there was really no fighting this for Will, was there). Apart from Clovis, who, apparently exhausted from the two-minute walk between his rocker and the infirmary, had passed out in one of the chairs, he also had two other guests.
Praetor Reyna Ramirez Arellano was probably intimidating in pink pajamas and Will's youngest sister's fluffy bunny slippers. Dressed in armor and a purple cloak, with her hair braided down her back and and an empty sheath in her boot (thank the gods for the infirmary's "No weapons" policy), she was downright terrifying. Will felt the urge to grab a scalpel when she looked at him, clearly sizing him up. Then, surprisingly, she smiled.
"So you're the one."
(The ADHD part of his brain absently wondered whether he was about to be invited to leave to Matrix.)
"The one who got him to stay in the infirmary," she clarified at what was no doubt a pretty clueless expression on his face.
Centurion Hazel Levesque piped up from where she was sitting on her brother's bed.
"Yeah, how did you do it? I can't even get him to eat."
Hazel Levesque was, in Will's opinion, exhibit B in the case he was making that, for some reason, Hades kids were the most adorable ever. One of his younger sisters had the same thick curls and golden skin as the daughter of Pluto, but she could never have pulled off the same aura of innocence that Hazel did, especially not in her own set of camo and combat boots.
He shrugged and grinned. "He wasn't bad. You just can't give him any room for argument."
Nico glared at all of them indiscriminately, although Will noticed he seemed a lot less closed off around the girls. "Are you done talking about me like I'm not even here?"
Will laughed, glad to see some of the fire back in his patient, and handed out the juice box he'd grabbed from the fridge, along with some crackers.
"Well, it's true. I've had worse patients. Travis is handcuffed to that bed for a reason, you know."
At Nico's slightly wary expression upon seeing the food, he added, "just eat slowly, at your own rhythm, and you'll be all right. We need your stomach to get used to doing its job again."
Nico finally nodded, taking the snacks, and Will, satisfied, snapped open the portable cot, waking Clovis with a jump.
"Oh, hey everybody. Good to finally see you physically, Nico. Man, you look a lot worse than in Will's dr– "
"These are Reyna and Hazel, Clovis, " the healer interrupted loudly. "They're Roman. You guys, this is Clovis, the head counselor for Hypnos – Somnus to you – and our resident dream-catcher. He's just here to make sure Nico doesn't get nightmares while he rests." He glared at his fellow head counselor. "And that's all."
"Right, right." Clovis yawned again before stretching out on the cot and immediately dozing off. At Reyna's unimpressed expression, Will nevertheless felt the need to defend the son of Hypnos.
"He's extremely adequate. Really."
Reyna gave him another appraising look before turning back to Nico.
"Well, it looks like you're in good hands.
Nico smirked. "Will wants to talk to you about your stitches."
The son of Apollo paled when she turned back to him. "Um, well, they weren't bad, considering the circumstances -"
"That's not what you said this morning," Nico interrupted. Will shot him the stink eye.
"Look, nothing personal, praetor. Reyna. You could maybe stop by sometime, anytime, if you have time, and I can show you some more effective techniques, and maybe we can practice together?"
He realized he was stumbling over his words when Reyna's eyes flashed with mirth. Though for some reason, Nico didn't seem half as amused as he had been before he'd decided to feed Will to the wolves (almost literally).
There was no doubt about it, Reyna was smirking. "Well, as nice as that sounds, I'm afraid I'm leaving with the rest of my troops in –she checked her watch – five minutes. We actually only came to say good-bye. Besides," she added. "No offense, but I make it a point not to date sons of Apollo."
Will felt his face warm as he went over his words again. Oh. He shot a desperate glance at Nico, (did he dare read anything into the son of Hades' sudden sullenness?) protesting his denial.
"That's really not what I meant, sorry. I mean, it's just your stitches are complete crap."
At her raised eyebrow, he sped on, aware that he was just wading into deeper water with every word.
"I mean, not complete crap, just, you know, a bit crooked, and heavy-handed maybe. Besides which, while you're pretty and I'm sure you're a lovely person, I just got out of a relationship with a girl – who actually looks a lot like you, now I think about it – and it was a nightmare, so I'm really just sticking to guys – I mean, like the one guy I like – for now, and oh gods please stop me from talking."
He ended up clapping his hands over his mouth in a effort to keep the word vomit in. Horrified, he peeked between his fingers, trying to assess the damage. The strangest sound then met his ears.
Nico was laughing. And it was beautiful, like bells, and Will was so, so in love, he was at least glad his face was already bright red.
Reyna and Hazel seemed just as surprised as him, to the point where Hazel joined in out of what seemed to be just pure delight. Reyna glanced back at Will with the happiest smile, gently removing the juice box from Nico's hand to keep it from spilling.
"Well, hermanito, it really does seem like you're in good hands. Keep up the good work, all right, doctor?" Will resisted the urge to snap a salute as she stood from her chair.
"Hazel, we need to get going. This trip is going to be enough of a nightmare without starting out late." She shook her head. "And we still need to do headcount. I swear, either we're still missing people, or those idiots from the treasury sent an entire extra SUV, and if they did, they're going to hear from me. We're not exactly rolling in funds after Octavian's shopping frenzy."
Whatever she'd said automatically sobered Nico up as she reached to pull him into a hug.
"Stay in touch, all right? Don't be a stranger."
She stood back and allowed Hazel her turn. For once, Will didn't feel the need to wrench Nico away as the siblings clung to each other.
"Come and visit us soon?" Hazel murmured. "God, I'm going to miss you."
"Same," Nico answered. "Tell Frank bye for me, and that I'm going to ki– that I'm going to see him when I come." Hazel swatted his arm playfully, (though Will and Reyna both flinched when she came close to the bandages), gave her brother a last kiss on the cheek, and climbed off the bed.
"Take good care of him for me, doctor," she told Will earnestly.
"Promise," he replied, loading his words with all his sincerity. She gave him a sweet smile, and the last Romans departed from his infirmary.
When he noticed Nico following them wistfully with his gaze, Will decided some preventative measures were in order. It wouldn't do for the kid to go running off to the other side of the country now, would it.
"So, were you actually trying to get me killed or are you just one of those people who like to introduce their pet snakes to everybody? If you had a pet snake, I mean."
"Speaking from experience, Solace?" Though Nico's voice was steady, it no longer held any of its former mirth.
He shrugged. "Asclepios once thought our infirmary might need some of his sacred ones. They were in the plumbing for weeks."
Nico shook his head, and Will hoped to the gods that upturn to the corner of his mouth was a smile.
"Reyna's not that bad, really. She just has a tough job and a tough life."
Will nodded. "Tough."
Nico punched him in the shoulder. For a small, malnourished kid with clawed-up arms, he still packed quite a lot of strength. Speaking of which...
"Let me change those bandages before you sleep, all right? They might be soggy from the bath. And you should probably have some more ambrosia." Will pulled over the closest medical cart, which luckily still held a couple of rolls of white linen. The godly food, however, was all but gone. Will cursed Hermes and his "two to four day" delivery time in his mind.
However, Nico was busy sitting up and pulling a backpack from the side of the bed. Will hadn't seen it before, so he assumed Reyna or Hazel must have dropped it off. The son of Hades flipped open a side pocket and pulled out a small gourd.
"Actually, Reyna left me some of the last of their unicorn draught. It works a lot better on me than Greek foods."
Will nodded, his mind whirring. He'd seen the effects of the draught firsthand, watching some of the Roman healers who'd invaded his sanctum use it on their patients. Although it didn't seem as potent, it worked over longer periods of time and was apparently less...volatile. (At first, one of the Romans, ironically another child of Apollo, had mistaken a flask of nectar for it. He'd managed to step in before she burnt up her patient. But after that, he had made sure to keep the Greek godly foods away from them).
"Fine, take some of that." He reached for Nico's arm, when the son of Hades suddenly flinched away. The son of Hades quickly recovered, while Will stayed frozen.
"Sorry." He looked angry at himself, glaring at his knees under the sheets.
Will sighed and relaxed.
"No, Nico. Again, I should apologize. I never even asked to be allowed to touch you. But...can I ask? What's the limit? You seem okay hugging some people. Hazel, Reyna, Jason." Will tried his hardest to keep the bitterness out of his voice.
Nico twisted his fingers, and Will had to hold himself back from taking them in his own.
"I'm not sure. With hugs, or other stuff I see coming, it's okay, I can prepare myself. I'm just not used to it much. I haven't really...touched anyone these past years."
Will nodded. “Like I wrote here on your chart. Touch-starved. And there's only one cure for that.” He leaned in again and wrapped his hand around Nico's arm. Surprisingly enough, there was quite a layer of muscle, he found, despite the fact that his fingers touched at the tips. The son of Hades stiffened, but didn't pull away like before, so Will counted it as a win. And if he hummed a little tune under his breath while he changed the bandage, until Nico relaxed enough to lean into his touch a bit, well, who needed to know?
So I know some of you were looking forward to Reyna giving Will another shovel talk, and I fully intended her to, buuut then this happened instead. Don't worry though, said shovel talk is still in the works. It's simply been given to another badass female demigod warrior and leader who's the daughter of a goddess of war. (Three guesses who.)
Chapter 7: A rose by any other name
Let's face it: I don't speak Italian, most of you don't speak Italian - let's just say the stuff in italics is Italian.
Basically, Nico starts getting a clue, Will is still being interrupted, and we witness the start of the gossipification of their relationship (and if that's not a word, then it should be).
Also, warning for the use of exactly one curse word.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Nico wondered if at some point he should tell them that he did in fact speak Italian. On the one hand, it did seem like a bit of a no-brainer. (Exhibit A: his birthplace. Exhibit B: his name). On the other hand, he was really beginning to regret that they thought he couldn't understand their conversation.
It had started what he estimated to be a couple of hours after the Romans had left. With Clovis around, he'd been less nervous about trying to sleep once Will had changed his bandages. Still, his rest was fitful at best. He kept jerking awake, never staying under for more than an hour. At one point, Clovis had even woken up and suggested that he needed to be forced back into the routine of regular rest. Of course, according to the son of Hypnos, regular meant close to sixteen hours a day, so Nico had declined his offer of using his godly powers to let him have a longer nap.
Which had brought him to his current situation, curled up on his side under the covers, telling himself that he wasn't in fact watching Will hurry back and forth between patients, as he mused on his relationship with the son of Apollo.
He knew he was pretty inexperienced in matters of the heart – his only knowledge on the subject came from his toxic four-year combo of hero worship and hatred towards Percy. But he wasn't dense enough not to realize something was going on. The skeletal butterflies in his stomach, how comfortable he was around the healer, how easily he gave in to his demands...
And then there was the way Will himself was acting. It had been a long four years, but Nico still remembered protectiveness. It was one of the things he'd lost with Bianca. One of the things he'd cherished in his interactions with Percy, whenever they fought together and the son of Poseidon had called out to him to get out of the way, to run.
But Will took it to a whole new level. The way he'd held Nico after he'd thrown up, like he wanted to shield him from the world, the feeling of arms around him, lingered in Nico's mind and on his skin. His memories of the moment were not quite sharp, but he could remember gentle words, a gentle hand against his face. Even now, whenever Will stopped by to feed him a snack – and that was a lot – he was above warm and beyond caring. One time Nico had had to threaten to strangle him with his own stethoscope when the healer had playfully tried to spoon-feed him some soup. (Nico may have been both drained and confused, but his self-respect still had to draw a line somewhere.) And although he told himself that Will probably treated all his patients like that, there were other things as well, things people had let slip, which he was only slowly coming to make sense of.
Which was why, he told himself, he was only spending the time he should have been sleeping, instead watching the son of Apollo as he interacted with the other patients. To try and figure out whether he was treating them any differently. So if his chest gave a little shiver whenever he saw Will smile, well, he was probably still cold after getting out of the bath.
It was around that point that the argument had started. The girl was pretty, Nico could tell in an disinterested sort of way, with a short pixie-cut and dark eyes. She had come in leaning on Austin with what looked like a tent pike through her foot – maybe one that had been left behind from the Roman camp. Will had just been bringing Nico his fourth small snack – a pile of rice cakes this time – in as many hours. The curtains had been open, and when Will had seen her, the son of Hades thought he saw a brief flash of panic cross his face. Before Nico knew it, the healer had hurriedly stood from where he'd been sitting on the bed, shoving the cakes at Nico, and stepped out of the partitioned section, muttering a quiet curse as he pulled the curtains firmly shut behind him. He may have left Nico with nothing to look at but white cloth (and Clovis snoring on his cot), but the son of Hades could still hear them clear as day. Apparently, Austin had seen fit to settle her in the bed two down from Nico's, since it had been vacated earlier by the daughter of Demeter with the forget-me-nots wreathing her bandaged head. (Nico hadn't been able to help noticing that Will waved her out with barely a second glance as he messed around with Nico's soup bowl, "just making sure you're not going to burn yourself, Ghost Rider". Nico assumed that was another nickname from some book or movie he didn't know.) The bed was close enough that Nico, and probably all the other patients within a three-partition radius, could hear almost every word. Presumably Will knew this, since he immediately switched to Italian.
Nico hadn't even known Will spoke his mother tongue, though when he thought about it, he realized it made sense. Italian was the language of music and opera, after all, one of Apollo's domains, the same way French was part of Aphrodite's.
At any rate, the conversation was clearly private, and Nico was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. Somehow though, he still couldn't stop eavesdropping.
"So what happened?"
"Isn't it obvious? I stepped on a bloody tent pike."
Someone else, possibly Austin, piped up, in Italian as well.
"Kind of unlucky, isn't it? I thought children of Tyche were supposed to be shielded from this sort of thing."
A hiss and a sudden squelching sound informed Nico that the pike had apparently just been removed.
"Well, maybe I wasn't feeling in the mood for dish washing duty tonight."
"You know this is exactly why you guys are the only cabin with a fixed schedule, right? If we left it up to chance, you'd never do anything."
"Relax, Will, I was kidding. I don't want to fight, do you?"
The sound of rustling bandages stopped for a moment. Then, as if to make up for it, the sound of crinkling foil came up.
"Here, have some ambrosia. You're lucky, of course, that's almost the last of it. Austin, I see Alice and Julia are visiting Travis. Go remind them to check if our new shipment is here yet."
The sound of footsteps moving across the room followed.
"As for you, I can give you a pair of crutches, and you can be out of here in, oh, fifteen minutes."
"So eager to get me out. Won't you at least give me a tour of the office, for old times' sake? We could revisit the chair, or the wall, or the desk. Oh, you never did show me that supply closet."
The girl's voice sounded teasing through what was clearly a mouthful of godly food, in opposition to Will's, which had hardened.
"Don't. Just...don't, Chiara. I know it was a messy break-up and all, but it was with good reason. And I'm not looking back, so neither should you."
The voice of the girl – Chiara, apparently – suddenly turned venomous.
"Who says I'm looking back? That I don't have a new toy, like I heard you do?"
Will's voice also shot up another degree of poisonous.
"Don't you dare. I don't care what you do to me, but leave him out of this."
"Tch. So dramatic, Guillermo. You do realize that you just confirmed all the gossip swirling around camp, and revealed your weak spot in one."
The sound of someone sitting up, the slap of a hand against a shoulder, and the daughter of Tyche had switched back to English.
"Thanks for the bandages. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to visit some friends in the Aphrodite cabin."
Will's voice was hard and angry.
"You bitch, I swear -"
"Let her be, Solace."
Nico didn't know the camper whose voice interceded, but from the direction of the sound, he imagined it was the son of Nemesis catty corner from him. What was his name again? Darius? Dmitri? Nico was starting to wonder whether fatigue was affecting his memory.
"It's a classic revenge story. A pathetic ex trying to get payback. They love that in Aphrodite."
It was hard to judge what was going on from behind the curtain, but Nico thought Chiara might have turned towards the son of Nemesis.
"Of course. You're just the specialist on Aphrodite, aren't you, Damian? Tell me, are you the default rebound guy for all the break-ups in that cabin?
There was a growl and the sound of footsteps.
" At least they're pretty. I wouldn't do it for you, lucky duck."
"Damian, stay down. You're not well enough to get up yet." Will had clearly moved to the son of Nemesis's side as uneven footsteps made for the door, and its silent whoosh indicated it had opened.
Damian's voice was low. "Good riddance."
Will sounded tired. "Thanks for that, man. You don't think she's going to go through with it, do you?"
Cloth rustled again, as if someone had shrugged.
"Nah. Those Tyche kids are all talk. They can't handle actually trying stuff and having it go wrong."
Will sighed again. "I think you're underestimating Chiara. But thanks again, anyway. Don't talk too much, you'll pull the stitches in your cheek."
As more footsteps sounded, Nico hastily closed his eyes. The curtain rustled.
"Give it up, Hamlet. I know you're awake."
Nico made a show of rolling his eyes at the healer as he opened them and sat up, but Will looked so frazzled he held back the sarcasm biting at his throat.
"What was that about?" he asked instead.
"Oh, nothing. Just some friendly inter-cabin rivalry. Since we haven't had Capture-the-Flag lately to take it out on each other, I guess it was bound to build."
Will didn't lie easily. He ran his hands through his hair a lot (Nico didn't want to do the same, shut up), and wouldn't meet his eye. It was only in its absence that Nico realized how much he usually liked Will looking at him.
"She was from Tyche?" His question was tentative.
Will sighed again and thumped down on Nico's bed, narrowly missing his legs.
"Yeah. Chiara Benvenuti. Head counselor."
"Sounded like you knew each other pretty well."
Will looked up. "Why would you think...Oh." Horrified realization flashed across his face.
"I'm an idiot, aren't I." He sounded so resigned Nico discarded the idea of gloating almost immediately.
"Maybe a little," he smiled timidly. He hadn't realized how much he missed speaking Italian.
Will's own face had split into the gentlest grin at his words, context momentarily forgotten.
"Oh my gods, I love your accent. It's like from an old movie, or something."
"I guess it's aged a bit since I learned it." At the mention of movies, a memory of some he'd seen as a child came up, and an idea struck him. The girls in those stories did always get the guy. Not that he associated himself with the girl. But still. He swallowed, then looked up shyly from under his lashes. "Maybe you could help me catch up?"
Will's smile could have given Nico a tan. "No way. I wouldn't let you lose that accent for the world. But don't worry, we have plenty of other things we could do. Austin alone would lock you in our cabin if he knew you haven't been educated in the fine art of Rock and Roll."
They both paused and listened to Austin humming loudly as he made his way through the infirmary. It didn't even sound like music to the son of Hades.
"So you did know each other pretty well then." Nico didn't particularly want to spoil the moment they were having (they were, right?), but the thought was nagging at him.
Will ran a hand across his face.
"Yeah," he said, switching back to English as well. "We dated for like, three weeks. Actually, the break-up may have lasted longer than the time we were together."
"Didn't work out? I thought Tyche was supposed to bring good fortune." Nico hoped to the gods he sounded casual enough.
Will shook his head. "Honestly, that would have required my cooperation. You can't get lucky on a roll if the dice are loaded. In the end, she was right to be mad at me. I agreed to go out with her, even though in my heart, I knew it wouldn't work out." He looked up at Nico. "Not while I only had eyes for someone else."
It was another of those moments, pure and fragile as a soap bubble, and Nico could barely breathe for fear of ruining it, like he did everything, in the end. Will's sky-blue eyes seemed to gaze into his soul, and Nico was terrified of what this perfect boy would find. And yet at the same time, how liberating it was for someone to see all of his faults and fault lines, and not run away screaming.
Finally, it was Austin who broke the spell as he burst into what sounded to Nico's ears to be a particularly violent tune, using a chart as a pretend guitar. Will shook himself and looked away.
Nico really did miss his gaze.
"Get some more sleep, angel." The tension and energy once again seemed to seep away from Nico as the healer leaned over and pulled the blankets around him. He hunkered down on the mattress.
"My mother used to call me that," he mumbled sleepily.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to-"
"It's fine." Nico yawned. "I kind of like it. Makes me feel safe."
Distantly, he felt a hand brush away the hair from his forehead as he dozed off.
Austin in this chapter was a last minute addition. I'd like to dedicate his impromptu air guitar session to HonorH, who pointed out the flaw in my timeline - sorry about that - and whose Solangelo series is amazing (and features air guitar playing sons of Apollo). Like, what more could you want?
Also, warning about Chiara: we are veering into majorly grey territory here, headcannonwise. All I'm going on is that in Hidden Oracle, she seems kind of pissed off at the Apollo cabin (and Damian, of course.) But the whole Italian thing was too much fun to resist, so here we are.
Chapter 8: Sleeping Beauty and the Hypnos kids' multidreamer platform
Oh look, more Italian stereotypes. And Hypnos kids.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Will knew he was pushing it, taking a double shift just a day after having been kicked out for that exact offense. But he didn't feel comfortable leaving Nico alone on his first night in the infirmary. And not just because he didn't want him to stay with only Clovis for company.
So he'd brokered a deal with Kayla. Once she'd realized he knew about her little conversation with Nico, cooperation had been easy to obtain, and she had agreed to let him doctor the shift board, switching out his name for hers. It was win-win, really. Will got to stay with his angel, as he'd taken to calling the boy in his head. Kayla wasn't stuck on bathroom duty for the rest of the summer. And no one was the wiser. She even had a cover plan for why he wouldn't be back at the Apollo cabin to call lights out, a supposed party in the Hebe cabin. She'd also somehow talked Austin into putting the younger kids to bed.
Will was beginning to realize that after this was over, he'd have to start checking exactly who was in the infirmary when more carefully.
The rest of the day had been pretty calm, anyway. By mid-afternoon, only a third of the beds were full, and most patients were just there for observation. When the nymphs had come by with dinner, Clovis had briefly woken up to shovel down some spaghetti before passing out on his empty plate. Nico had complained about the pasta being overcooked, the sauce tasteless and the plate too hot, but he'd nevertheless eaten most of his small portion. Will was feeling optimistic about upping the size of his meals. He'd already made a schedule for when Nico would inevitably leave the infirmary. Though with Hazel gone, it would be tough to make sure the lone user of the Hades table followed it. Hm...
As the end of Austin's shift neared, Will quickly ducked out to his cabin to shower and get some books to keep him awake before his brother left for the night. (And if he grabbed one of his younger siblings' copy of Divina Commedia to brush up on his Italian, well, that was no one's business. They wouldn't miss it for one night.) It was lights out by nine thirty in the infirmary, Travis' handcuffs were loosened and Jake Mason's leg cast was lowered so they could rest more comfortably, after which Will settled down for the night. Luckily, the bed opposite Nico's happened to be empty. Ellis had left that afternoon, completely recovered from his run-in with the fashion-conscious Roman, so he was able to sprawl out there.
The first few hours went all right. He got up a couple of times to keep a tossing patient from falling out of bed and reopening their stomach wound, or feel Nico's forehead to make sure he hadn't spontaneously developed a fever. The son of Hades looked like an angel out of a painting, all dark lashes on pale skin and ebony curls spread out on the white pillow. Needless to say his temperature was invariably below average.
It was around midnight that he was roused from a dreamy contemplation of Nico's rosy lips by the sound of whimpers. To his surprise, they originated from directly in front of him, in Clovis's cot. He'd never known the son of Hypnos to have his sleep troubled, not even when he was warding patients. It was worrying enough that the healer reached out and shook him awake.
Clovis immediately sat up, grasping at Will's arm like a lifeline, gasping for air. Will's frown deepened.
"Clovis? You okay, man?"
The son of Hypnos looked around wildly before his gaze finally settled on Will.
"Oh, right. The infirmary. Yeah."
He gave a shuddering sigh, trying to calm his breathing.
"Just a little trouble with your boy's dreams, is all."
"What do you mean? You've never had any problem before."
"Well, Nico's nightmares are a cut above your average Demeter camper's, okay?" Will had never heard a child of Hypnos snap at anyone before either, but Clovis's tone was unmistakable.
"Those Tartarus dreams, I tell you, Will." He shook his head. "They're like black holes. A second of distraction and they drag you in."
Just then, the door to the infirmary banged open. Will winced, but luckily none of the patients woke, that he could tell. Jake murmured sleepily about "stupid killer robots" and Miranda blinked a couple of times, but didn't seem to regain consciousness. Through the door trouped what looked to Will to be the entire cabin fifteen in matching nighties, minus their head counselor.
"Clovis? What happened? Suddenly you were just...gone. We were worried." The girl in the lead, Frieda, looked more awake than Will had ever seen her.
Clovis shook his head.
"Sorry, everyone. Difficult patient. Go back to sleep."
Most of the younger ones nodded and turned to leave, but the rest stayed, shifting uneasily.
Will glanced back at the son of Hades. He wasn't moving, but the temperature near him seemed to be dropping.
"Wait, so if the lot of you are awake now, does that mean Nico's on his own against his dreams again?"
"Actually, you guys, can I have some reinforcements? The son of Hades here can be the test case for our new multi-dreamer platform."
"Just a second now, what do you mean, test case – " The son of Apollo was interrupted by a chatter of excitement from the Hypnos children.
"It's a new thing we've been working on," Clovis explained as he pointed to the siblings he wanted. Will noticed approvingly that he was sticking to older ones, Frieda and a new camper that had yet to fall out of bed and require medical attention, so the healer didn't know his name. "Basically, we all go to the same place when dreaming, then guard a patient in shifts, like you do at the infirmary."
"And you've done this before? It works?"
"Mostly. Remember when that Athena kid complained about getting stuck in a five-year long dream during a twenty-minute nap? But we think we've smoothed that out."
Will would have protested some more, but looking over, he could see beads of sweat forming on Nico's forehead.
The two siblings Clovis had chosen stretched out on a couple of the empty infirmary beds, the rest trouping out tiredly.
"Remember, just don't let the nasty pulsing dreams come near you, they'll suck you in," reminded their head counselor as they dropped off.
Will was surprised when instead of joining them, Clovis then moved to settle in a chair.
"Mind if I keep you company?"
"Aren't you going to help them?"
Clovis shook his head, and then uttered the words Will never thought he would hear out of a Hypnos child's mouth.
"After that, I don't want to got back to sleep right away."
The respite lasted all of three hours.
Clovis turned out to be surprisingly good company when he wasn't dozing off all the time. At least Will now knew more about his fellow campers than probably even the Aphrodite cabin. A few months ago, or even a few days, he would have been pressing the son of Hypnos for more. The information that Chiara and Damian routinely featured in each other's dreams in a very different way than how they acted awake was worth drachmas in peace of mind to Will. He'd still felt a bit guilty about not being honest with the daughter of Tyche where his feelings were concerned.
Now however, even that precious nugget of gossip couldn't hold more than half his attention. The other camper's presence meant he was no longer creepily looming over Nico's bed like some sort of tan vampire, but he still kept his eyes near the son of Hades.
"Yeah?" Will's vitakinesis was picking up irregularities in his patient's heartbeat, which had him on edge.
"You've really got it bad, Solace."
Will flushed, glancing away for a good three seconds before he gave in and returned his gaze to the bed opposite.
"Something's going on, his pulse has picked up. Your siblings know he shouldn't be having any dreams at all, right?"
"Relax. They're probably just switching shifts. Or maybe Nico is moving into another phase of sleep."
Will frowned. They'd actually managed to have quite an interesting conversation on the physical aspect of sleep earlier. He shook his head.
"No. It's different. More urgent than that, like he's gearing up for a fight."
Clovis followed him when he swung his legs down from the bed and crossed the aisle, leaning over the sleeping demigod. He'd already noted throughout the day that Nico, like most half-bloods who'd been on the run at some point, was a particularly still sleeper. It was like they'd trained themselves not to attract attention when they were vulnerable. Right now, the son of Hades was stiff as a board, curled on his side with his hands fisted. Will had to fight to open his fingers and hold them in his own in order to keep his nails from drawing blood. Vitakinesis worked better through physical contact, and he could tell now that something was definitely wrong. Not only was Nico's heartbeat racing, the shadows Will had first noticed on Half Blood Hill were also more active, twisting and curling like vicious tentacles. If he concentrated hard, the healer could even see slightly through the thin fingers wrapped in his hands.
Clovis leaned over to pull at Nico's eyelids, revealing that his eyes were twitching wildly. He grimaced.
"REM. That's no phase change." Will saw him glance over at his sleeping siblings. They didn't appear to be affected.
"Maybe one of the nightmares slipped past them," Clovis muttered. "I'd better check."
The son of Hypnos stretched out on his cot, taking a deep breath.
"See you on the other side, Solace," he yawned, dozing off. Will rolled his eyes, returning to his contemplation of his patient. He gently ran a hand over Nico's forehead. It was even cooler than usual, though he could feel sweat gathering on his fingertips.
It felt like one of the longest half hours of his life, kneeling on the son of Hades's bed, holding his hands and slowly stroking his hair, occasionally rubbing his back in an attempt to get him to relax. He wasn't used to the inactivity. Usually, he always had his hands full, whether it was on the battlefield or in the infirmary. He didn't like feeling useless. It was what always drove him to the archery range, firing arrow after arrow in practice, even though he was a disgrace of a son of Apollo where target practice was concerned. It was what pushed him to stay up long after he'd put his siblings to bed, poring over medical textbooks in an attempt to learn something, anything, that would one day help him save people. He hated this sitting around waiting. And yet he still found himself praying to Apollo that none of his other patients would need him. He didn't want to have to leave Nico's side.
It came suddenly. Like lightning had somehow hit the inside of the infirmary, jolting awake absolutely everyone at the same time. Patients and children of Hypnos alike sat up in their beds, the former blinking and disoriented, the latter gasping for breath. Clovis was doubled over like he was going to be sick. Of course Will only noticed this after a few moments. The first seconds he was busy trying to get his bearings as the world suddenly tilted under a force that knocked him over, holding him down. He looked up to find Nico straddling him, hands wrapped around his throat, pupils blown wide.
It was a little bit different from when they ended up like this in his dreams.
When Will didn't move, forcing himself to relax and appear generally non-threatening, Nico's breath seemed to flow out of him all at once, and he slumped down on Will's chest, shuddering. Ever so slowly, Will pushed himself back in a sitting position, cautiously wrapping his arms around the shaking demigod.
So I generally try to avoid creating OCs, mostly because I suck at it and invariably hate them. That's why the Hypnos kids in this chapter are a generally faceless crowd with a name stuck on the person at the front for good measure. In case anyone was wondering.
Chapter 9: Catharsis
So a lot of psycho-babble here, mostly from one Sigmund Freud, whose theories included the ideas, in a (very tiny) nutshell, that all your mental problems can be traced back to your childhood, that said problems resurface as dreams, and that talking about them could make them go away. (Also all that sexual stuff, but you'll forgive me if I'd rather leave out that portion of his work.)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Tartarus blossomed out of nothingness.
One moment, Nico was sleeping peacefully, his mind dark and dreamless. Clovis had done good work, and the son of Hades could feel himself sinking deeper, through layers of Mist, to a place beyond what could be seen. Soothing.
It was through this darkness that they found him again, the children of Nyx, the monsters of Tartarus. They reached for him, clawing and snapping and taunting, and Nico's strength was waning, his sword ever heavier in his hand, his head spinning. He couldn't remember the last time he'd slept, or eaten, or rested, even without taking into account the timelessness of the Pit. With every new wound, some more of his armor was cut away. He was losing the walls he'd built around himself since he'd had to learn to rely on himself alone. Alone. He was just a child again, alone and wishing for his sister, his mother. He tried to tell himself that it was a dream, that he'd left this place behind. The child didn't believe him. Tartarus laughed, sending tremors through the ground, and the child fell to his knees. Blood rolled down his arms as he unscrewed his bottle of water from the Phlegeton, tried to drink, but the child was running out of resolve. Wanting to curl up and rest, to give up. The ground shook again, and the shadows beckoned.
"Join us," they called, promising peace and an end to the pain, and the child reached out to them in spite of Nico, coming closer, wrapping around his arms...
Nico jolted awake, his body acting before his mind, knocking down the figure leaning over him, reaching for its throat, eliminating the threat – Oh. It was Will.
His other senses gradually caught up. Someone had flicked on the overhead lights, so the infirmary was brightly illuminated, despite the darkness pressing at the windows. Apparently, he hadn't been the only one to hear the wake-up call. Patients were sitting up, several children of Hypnos he didn't remember from the night before milling around, putting them back to sleep. And of course there was the not-so-small matter of the son of Apollo he was sitting on top of. He forced himself to relax his hands, pulling them away from the healer's throat as the memories of the nightmare washed over him. With a shuddering breath he lifted his fingers to his face. Was he still being influenced by the dreams, or did he see his fingers flicker again? Nico didn't realize he was shaking until a set of warm arms wrapped around him. Once again, he found himself melting into Will's embrace. It was both so much worse, and so much better than earlier that day. (Or the day before, he guessed.) Worse, because with no Piper or Drew or dizziness, there was nothing to distract him from the healer's soft scent of soap and disinfectant, from the rough and soft of his scrub shirt and skin, and Nico didn't know anymore how to deal with this much...touching, and gentleness as warm hands rubbed his back, stroked his hair and squeezed his fingers, reassuring him that they were still there, grounding him. Better, because...Nico had no reasons. Because the child in him was still sobbing, wanting to be held and comforted. And in the end the child won out, and he clutched at the front of this luminous boy's shirt, keeping close.
Luckily, Will seemed to understand. He pulled Nico closer on his lap, arms tight, resting his chin on the other boy's hair. Even when he was busy issuing instructions over Nico's head to the children of Hypnos, the pressure on his back never lessened. Gradually, the infirmary quieted down again. Jake was untangled from the web of casts he'd torn down when he'd fallen sideways off the bed. The lights were switched off, leaving only the pool of sun lamps around Nico's bed, and someone the son of Hades recognized by his shuffled walk as Clovis came back up to them. Despite him, the child in Nico made an unwilling sound of protest as Will finally pulled back a little to look at him.
"Sh, it's all right angel, I'm not going anywhere," the healer cooed. "We just need to figure out what happened."
Nico viciously tugged control back from the child, and forced himself to slide away, out of Will's lap and back against the pillows, knees tucked to his chest. A flash of something like disappointment crossed Will's face, but Nico didn't have the energy to try and puzzle out what he'd done wrong this time. Clovis wasn't alone. Two of his siblings Nico just knew from his occasional dream travel through the Hypnos cabin were standing by the bed, exchanging anxious looks. It was weird seeing them so alert.
Will finally broke the silence with a sigh, rubbing his hand over his face tiredly. A pang of guilt stabbed Nico's chest as he realized how exhausted the healer looked.
"So what happened, exactly?"
The girl from Hypnos shook her head. "It was really weird. Everything was fine, I had a good handle on his dreams – scary stuff, by the way, Nico," she added in the usual Hypnos way, all fact and no judgment. "And then suddenly – something just started yanking him away from me."
Nico felt realization dawn.
"It was Nyx."
The healers looked up at him. He tried to explain.
"The primordial Darkness. It was dark where I was, and that must have allowed her to reach out and drag me back into Tartarus."
Horror crossed Will's face, and he reached out to squeeze Nico's hand. "You were back there. Are you okay? Do you want to talk about it?"
The son of Hades just shook his head. Quite apart from not wanting to burden the healer any more, he wasn't sure the handle he had on the child would hold if he started thinking about that place again.
But Clovis was shaking his head in the opposite direction.
"Nico, you need to. The more you bottle your feelings up, the more power your dreams have over you."
Nico felt a tremor wrack his body. "No." They couldn't keep pushing him, not on this particular issue.
The girl looked about to protest, but Will came to his defense first.
"Can't we do that tomorrow, though? Could you just give him one night of sleep, a couple more hours?"
Clovis grimaced. "If Darkness is the problem, I'd try and maybe set up a couple of lighter dreams, childhood memories, stuff like that, but well...the Lethe didn't leave me much to work with." He turned to the son of Hades.
"Nico, I know it's hard, but you need to do this. For your own good. You just need to be strong one last time."
Rebellion surged up in Nico's chest. Strong. They always needed him to be strong, didn't they. Bianca, his father, Percy, the seven. Always pushing him for more. He was useless to them without his strength. But the child didn't want to be strong. It wanted to be held, cuddled and comforted, be told that everything was all right and that he didn't need to worry about it. And Nico didn't have any strength left anyway.
It was like Will could read his mind, shifting forwards on the bed to pull him into a crushing embrace, letting him hide his face in his chest. Nico hadn't cried in years, not since Bianca had died. Back then, he'd curled up in the woods under a tree, sobbing his loss, until a hell-hound had attacked, drawn by the scent of his tears. He remembered now. That had been the day he'd buried the child.
But now it was back, and it wasn't long until Nico was shaking and heaving, soaking Will's shirt in tears and snot even as he clutched at it. All the events of the past four years were surging through him, demanding their share of the waterworks. And when he ran out of those, the way Will's hand cupped the back of his head as he sent the Hypnos children away was enough to draw a fresh round of sobs from him.
In the end, Nico didn't know how long he cried. When he finally pulled away, a dark stain extended from Will's shoulder to halfway down his chest. But the healer didn't seem to mind, just shifting Nico till his head was resting on his dry side. He pulled a handkerchief out of gods knew where (Nico later found out it was in fact the cloth to clean out Austin's tuba), and Nico used it to wipe his face. His eyes stung and his nose was clogged, but the knot of bitter resentment in his chest had loosened. And so, cheek resting against Will shoulder, staring at nothing in particular, he started to talk.
He didn't know how long he talked either. It was like the seal on his emotions had broken, washed away by the tears, and the words started pouring out, not just about all that had happened, but his thoughts and feelings as well. He talked about waking up with no memories at the casino, and the kids at the military school, his wonder at how the world had suddenly changed and finding out he was a demigod. He talked about losing his sister and running away, his fear of his love for Percy and of his own powers. He told Will about the labyrinth and Minos, and how he sometimes wondered about Daedalus. He even smiled a little when he talked about gaining his father's approval, about Hazel and the Roman camp. The tears came back when he mentioned Tartarus and the jar, not going into details at first, but Will held him more securely, and the torrent of words sped up once more.
He was deathly afraid of telling Will about killing Bryce, but he knew he couldn't stop now, not when he'd come so far, and so he forged on, but when the time came, Will just cupped his face and pressed a kiss to his temple.
"It was him or you," he whispered, speaking for the first time since the Hypnos kids had left. "I'm glad you chose you." At that, Nico just couldn't help but break into tears again, and Will started rocking him back and forth soothingly.
It was when they finally breached the topic of Octavian that Will interrupted him again.
"Oh don't you dare, angel. There were four of us there, don't you dare try and take all the responsibility."
Nico actually pulled his head away in surprise.
"I thought you'd be mad about Octavian. Aren't healers supposed to, you know, keep people alive? Besides, he was a legacy of Apollo."
Will reached down and laced his fingers through Nico's, studying them. "I honestly don't know. On the one hand, yeah, all it would have taken was the words "Octavian, your bathrobe is tangled up in the onager". But then what? Either the Romans sided with him against the Greeks and more people got hurt, or they sided against him and he got executed and died anyway. In the spur of the moment, it seemed wrong of us, but ultimately..." He shrugged. "I understand what you meant when you said we couldn't stop him. And as for being a legacy of Apollo, well." Will looked up at Nico, a foreign expression in his eyes. "Octavian had his obsession. I know what that's like. Which means I understand that we wouldn't have been able to help him. There's just no coming back from something like that. They say my father still loves Daphne after three thousand years. We would never have been able to curb Octavian's love for himself."
Nico snorted unexpectedly, breaking out into giggles. Immediately, both boys froze in disbelief.
"I...don't know where that came from," Nico admitted. "That just surprised me, I never thought of it like that. But I don't usually giggle."
Will shook his head, smiling. "You should. It's adorable."
Nico tried to work up a scowl, but he knew it was halfhearted at best. "I am NOT adorable," he hissed.
Will just smirked at him, then suddenly lunged, pinning him to the bed. Nico was about to protest, when he felt fingers digging into his sides, tickling him. He couldn't help it. He gasped, the same giggles bursting out of him again. Will was merciless, attacking until they were both red in the face from laughing. Finally, he flopped down on the bed next to the son of Hades, trying to catch his breath.
"See? Adorable," he wheezed.
"Shut up," Nico shot back, equally winded.
Once they had calmed down, Nico looked hesitantly over at the son of Apollo.
"Thank you," he murmured hesitantly. "For everything."
Will looked back at his, his blue eyes more serious than usual. "Always."
And...goodbye faceless Hypnos children. You will not be missed.
Chapter 10: New Dawn - Don't worry, no vampires
Hey, look, I made an OC. I know I said I wouldn't, but isn't she cute? Mom, dad, can I keep her?
Also, I didn't learn Italian overnight, so it's still just italics, folks. The slightly random language pattern will be familiar to anyone who grew up bilingual with siblings. True story.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The word seemed inadequate, laughable in the face of how much more Will meant. But he couldn't think of a better one, and he didn't feel like interrupting the comfortable silence between them again. Instead, he slowly stretched out his hand, brushing his knuckles across Nico's cheek, trying to convey his meaning through the gesture. The son of Hades sighed softly and closed his eyes. His face was still tear-stained and splotchy, but to the healer's vitakinesis, his aura felt so much better already. The shadows had retreated, and he seemed more solid, more grounded, in a good way, rather than just weighed down with pain. It was more than worth the horror of discovering not only the boy's traumatic past in vivid, detail, but also that he'd had a crush on Percy Jackson, of all people. Will reassured himself though that Nico's words rung true when he'd told the son of Apollo that that was definitely over.
After a long while spent comfortably sprawled out on Nico's bed, Will finally forced himself to nudge his patient.
"You feel like trying to sleep again?"
Nico shrugged. " 'm tired, but I don't think I can yet."
Will understood. After the events of the night, his mind was still racing as well, trying to process all the new information. They needed a distraction of some sort. Looking across the infirmary, where thankfully, all his other patients were once again asleep, he got an idea.
The sound of protest Nico made when he got up from the bed warmed Will's heart in the best way.
"I'll be back in a second, promise," he whispered, practically racing across the aisle to the bed he'd been using, grabbing the book there and jogging back.
"Want to read together? I borrowed this – well, borrowed is a big word – from my sister. You could tell me everything that Dante got wrong about Hell." He brandished the book in front of Nico, who squinted at the title.
"The Divine Comedy? Seriously, Solace. That book was old when I was born."
Will shrugged unconcernedly. "The classics never go out of fashion, angel."
Nico still hesitated. "I'm...not a very good reader. I haven't practiced Italian for years, and my dyslexia was bad to begin with."
Will nodded, understanding. "Of course, you being Big Three and all." He paused and thought for a second. The next idea he had probably made a light-bulb appear over his head.
"I could read it to you? Until you fall asleep."
Nico eyed him critically, then shrugged, moving over to make room for Will on the bed again.
"It's not that boring either." Will caught him muttering. His grin widened.
Will was pulled from the book a few hours later by the sound of a camera going off. He glanced up, startled. Nico had nodded off two circles of Hell ago, curled up in the crook of Will's arm, his own clutching the healer's waist, a position he'd assumed in his sleep.
"Adorable," Kayla mouthed at him, smirking. "Hey, is that Dolly's book?"
Will considered throwing it at her, but he didn't want to wake Nico. Besides, she'd probably catch it. His cabin was good with projectiles.
"What are you doing here?" he mouthed back instead.
"Chiron's probably coming to check on the infirmary soon, and you're not supposed to be here."
"Damned." He struggled up, trying to stand while gently unwinding Nico's arms without disturbing him. The son of Hades wasn't having it though, whimpering in his sleep and holding on more tightly.
"You are indeed," Kayla chuckled. She moved to his side though, trying to help.
"He is pretty sweet when he's sleeping," she admitted, studying their patient.
"Coming around, are we?" he asked jokingly. "Don't get any ideas, he's mine. Also, Italian's not going to work, he speaks it."
"Relax, William, I'm not one to interfere. Besides, my tastes run more into the "heavier than me" category. But honestly," she shrugged, her expression turning serious. "I guess if he had been charmspoken in his cabin yesterday, Drew wouldn't have been around to help. So it was good he was here. So this is my way of apologizing." She sat on the bed and gently slipped between Nico and Will, allowing the son of Hades to cling to her instead. "You were right and I was wrong."
Will briefly pressed a kiss to his sister's cheek, although he pouted when he noticed how easily his role of teddy bear had been usurped.
"Don't worry, he probably doesn't realize I'm not you. It must be a heat thing. We Apollo kids do tend to run hotter than most people."
Will pouted some more. "I guess." He leaned over to brush some hair out of his angel's eyes, press a kiss to his forehead as well, when the clatter of hooves sounded from the hallway.
He and Kayla froze. "Damn."
"The window, quick! No one can see it, and if you're fast enough, it's a straight shot to the dining pavilion."
"Okay, seriously, how often have you done this?"
"Out, just go!"
With a last glance at Nico, Will went.
After stopping by the dining pavilion to grab some breakfast, Will dragged himself back to his cabin, crashing on the bed and falling into an exhausted sleep. He woke a few hours later with a warm form pressed against his side.
He was briefly disappointed that the shape was not one of a small, dark Italian, but it wasn't easy to stay down long when faced with the brilliant smile of Apollo cabin's youngest camper.
Eight years old, three apples high (including her bushy curls), and with enough energy to light up a small city, Sybil had come to them just a few months ago, but already her energy was a force to be reckoned with.
"He's awake! Will, you're awake!" she screeched happily across the cabin. On the lower bunk opposite his, Austin groaned and knocked his forehead against his pillow.
"Thank the gods. Will, you're up for babysitting duty.” In a flash, he had grabbed his tuba from under the bed and zipped off across the room, slamming the door in Sybil's indignant face.
"I'm not a baby," she pouted, collapsing dramatically over Will's covers, and him in the process. "I'm not."
Will sighed, rubbing his hand across his face.
"Of course not, " he said soothingly. "You're a big girl, who can keep up great with all her siblings. Speaking of which, where is everybody? Aren't you supposed to be in..." He mentally ran through the days of the week and his cabin's activity roster. "...Arts and Crafts right now?" Usually, when he was working in the infirmary, one of his non-healer siblings took over leading the others, but he still liked to stay on top of where they were. Especially Sybil, since she had a tendency to storm off dramatically and get lost.
"It burned down in the fight, remember? Hephaestus is still rebuilding, so Chiron said we get the afternoon off." She rolled over, batting her big doe eyes at him pitifully. "And he said I should stay with Austin, but all he wanted to do was play with his stupid tuba."
Will had to fight a smirk. If this was how Sybil had spent the afternoon talking about their brother's current favorite instrument, he wasn't surprised he'd been so eager to dump her on someone else.
"And what do you want to do?" He leaned over and checked his alarm. Barely two o'clock. His sister, however, was jumping up and down now, shaking the bed.
"I wanna go to New Rome and see the unicorns!"
Will blinked, slowly sitting up to avoid being landed on. "Unicorns."
"Yeah, like the Romans have. They showed me pictures! And they said, when we go visit, we can see them, and maybe pet them! Can we go see them Will? Can we?"
Will smiled in spite of himself. They'd managed to shield the youngest campers from the worst of the fighting. He'd personally assigned his sister to stay with Ellie the cloud nymph and her baby during the battle. It was nice to see someone with an opinion about the other camp unclouded by the recent hostilities.
"We'll see. I think Chiron wants to organize field trips, or something. In the mean time, while I get dressed, why don't you draw some?"
The pout was back. "I can't. All the sparkly pens were in the Arts and Crafts cabin."
Will thought for a second. A plan was forming in his mind.
"You know, I think Butch from the Iris cabin is on rounds in the infirmary today, letting patients talk to their families via his mom. He probably has sparkly pens."
To be honest, Will wasn't quite sure that Butch hadn't finished his rounds yet. He was pretty sure the buff camper didn't have any sparkly pens. And he was positive that if the other head counselor found out who had given his sister the idea that he did, there would be psychedelic hell to pay. But if he could somehow distract Sybil when they got there, he'd have a perfectly legitimate reason to hang around till dinner. Hades, he'd been meaning to start introducing her to healing anyway.
At any rate, Sybil liked the idea.
"Yay!" She jumped up from the bed, pulling some colored papers from under her own bed. "Let's go!"
"Hold on, kiddo. Let me get dressed first," he laughed looking down at his rumpled scrubs. Not very hygienic. "Here." He threw her the pen he'd been using on patient files from his pocket . "Why don't you already outline the unicorns while I take a quick shower, and then we can go."
It ended up being one of his longer showers. He rarely ever brushed his hair, or cared about what he was wearing, but then he rarely ever got to spend an entire afternoon with Nico di Angelo.
When he finally made it out in his last ironed scrub shirt and the good jeans he normally never wore to the infirmary, Sybil had already outlined an entire herd of unicorns. The girl had a gift.
The walk to the infirmary was usually pretty short from the Apollo cabin. However, that was without factoring in his best friends Lou Ellen and Cecil.
"What are you wearing? Will Solace, is that shirt ironed?"
Will was about to snap back that he wasn't always a slob, when Cecil interrupted.
"Seriously Lou, didn't you hear? Will's boy toy is in the infirmary."
The son of Apollo blushed, especially when Sybil chipped in, tugging on his shirt.
"Will, what's a boy toy?"
"I'll tell you when you're older." Ignoring her protests, he covered her ears before hissing at his best friends. "Stop corrupting my baby sister's innocence."
Cecil looked from the son of Apollo to the daughter of Hecate. "You're not denying it. He's not denying it, Lou."
Lou Ellen narrowed her eyes thoughtfully. "No, he's not. So there's more to the rumors than just Chiara's weird and creepy attempt at getting back at you? I thought there was something going on during the sabotage mission."
Will felt the blood drain from his face. "What rumors?"
Cecil shrugged. "Just that you're banging Death Boy in the infirmary bathroom. Don't worry, Damian from Nemesis has pretty much spread the word that it's just your ex being vengeful."
Lou Ellen nodded. "Yeah. Is it me, or is there totally something going on between those two. Like, prank war turned sexual tension?"
"Guys!" Will had to interrupt, "Back to the point, please? What the Hades am I supposed to tell Nico? If he finds out, he'll freak! And disappear again!"
Cecil smirked. "Um, how about the truth? Like, 'hey, people are saying we're hooking up, want to?'"
Lou Ellen punched the son of Hermes in the shoulder and he flinched away, whimpering. "Relax, Will, it's not like people believe it."
Will shook his head. "Whatever. Cecil, has Hermes gotten our shipment of ambrosia yet? We're really running low."
Cecil grimaced. "Nah, sorry man. It's like something intercepted it. We've been trying to get in contact with some of dad's minions, but they insist they handed it off to a camper. Couldn't say who of course, so we might need to get the Hypnos kids on the case. There's been food going missing too."
"That's why we're on our way to the Big House," Lou added. "Hermes and Hecate, you know, stealing and hiding."
Will ran a hand through his hair, promptly messing it up again. Of course they couldn't go an entire four days without some sort of drama. "Fine. Let me know how it goes."
As he and Sybil branched off from the path to the Big House and towards the infirmary, Cecil called back. "Will do! In the mean time, go get yourself some sugar!"
"Will, can I have some sugar?"
"NOT until you're older, Sybil."
Once in the infirmary, Will was relieved to find that Butch Walker, the definitely non-glittery-pen-carrying son of Iris, was nowhere to be seen. Sybil was disappointed of course, but between her ADHD and the stethoscope Will gave her to play with, the unicorns were soon forgotten. He noticed Nico was no longer sleeping, but sitting up and fiddling with what looked like a crystal. In fact, there was a whole pile of them next to his bed. The head healer was about to stroll over when Kayla intercepted him.
"Hey. I see you survived all of ten minutes in Storm Sybil."
"Aren't you supposed to be off duty? As far as everyone else is concerned, you were here all night."
"I had the morning off for archery, Malcolm took over for me then. He's just gone to find a book about pegasi kicks. But back to you, are you sure it's a good idea for Sybil to be here?"
Will shrugged. "She's old enough to start learning, don't you think?" They glanced over at their youngest sister, who was running from bed to bed, wildly measuring people's heart rates. Will noticed with approval that she had managed to figure out which side of the chest the organ was in. Also, Clarisse was astoundingly patient with her.
"Wait, why is Clarisse here? She only had a cut from the battle, I slapped a band-aid over it like three days ago."
"Yeah, well, you know how activities are starting up again?"
Will felt his eyes narrow. "Yeah?"
"Apparently she was reading up on how to defeat the Romans, and, well, the only people who really succeeded were the Huns."
"You mean, as in Attila the Hun?"
"That's the one."
Will groaned. "I changed my mind, I don't wanna know why she's here."
"Butch says the pegasi almost stampeded. Why did you think Malcolm's looking for a book about pegasi kicks?"
Will groaned more loudly and dropped his forehead against the door of the supply closet. "We're still dealing with casualties from a bloody war, can't they wait just a few more days to start with the normal injuries?"
Kayla smirked. "You're just annoyed because it means a bigger audience for your gender-bent recreation of Romeo and Juliet."
Will was done denying it. "With a happy ending, of course."
His sister nodded. "Of course."
"How's he doing, anyway? What's with the rocks?"
"He woke up pretty fast after you left. Had a mini freak out when he realized he was hugging someone, almost fell out of bed. Ate a raisin more than usual at breakfast, I'm counting that as progress. Then the hottest guy in camp came by to visit, " – "hey, I wasn't anywhere near here this morning" – "shut up, you know I mean Jason. He stayed for about an hour, talking about Roman exchange trips. Not that I was eavesdropping, of course, but your honey's bandages needed changing. Those werewolf scratches are going to scar, by the way. Then Butch came by with his portable rainbow set, so the patients could talk to their families."
"Did Nico contact anyone?"
"Nope. He did, however, point out that some of the crystals had flaws. Offered to correct them."
"Wait, correct them? The flaws in the rocks?"
Kayla shrugged. "Apparently, crystals fall under Hades's domain. You know, precious minerals of the earth and all. In his own words, he's not as good as his sister Hazel, but Butch seemed pretty pleased with the first one, so he left the rest to be fixed."
She glanced around, then leaned closer. "Don't tell anyone, and I made sure to discharge Travis Stoll before he could notice, but I think di Angelo's turning them into diamonds."
Will raised an eyebrow disbelievingly. "He lived in the streets, Kayla. I'm pretty sure if he was able to turn random crystals into diamonds, he'd have been able to afford a hotel at least."
"Well, I imagine there's a learning curve to this sort of thing. But you can go look for yourself if you don't believe me." She glanced across the infirmary. "Actually, you might want to get over there anyway."
Following her gaze, Will had to smile. Sybil either didn't know or didn't care who Nico was, and had climbed onto his bed to take his heartbeat. Through his shoulder. Nico was looking at her with a kind of baffled wonder, like he couldn't understand that this kid wasn't afraid of him.
Jogging over, Will called out, grinning. "Good work, there, Doctor Sybil. How's the patient coming?"
They both looked over, Sybil like she was assessing whether he was teasing her, Nico like a rescued kitten. Will filed the latter sight away in his memory.
His sister frowned, looking back. "He's too cold. Right?"
Will smirked, leaning over and putting his hand on Nico's forehead, making sure to telegraph his movements so their patient had plenty of warning. He was pleased when Nico didn't flinch, closing his eyes instead.
"Hm, you appear to be right, Doctor Sybil. It seems our patient needs another blanket. You know where they are?"
She nodded enthusiastically, then jumped off the bed, making for the office. Halfway through, she turned, ran back and pointed severely at the patient, the way Will sometimes did, he realized. "Don't move."
He was only somewhat relieved when the miniature healer ran off. On the one hand, he had absolutely no clue how to handle children. On the other, he was now left alone with the one and only Will Solace, who last night had found out more about him than almost anyone on the planet, apart from maybe Reyna. And who then, instead of running away screaming, had hugged him. And read him to sleep. And then apparently hugged him some more, if Kayla was to be believed, right through the night and until morning, when he'd had to sneak out, and the only way to pry Nico off had been to use Kayla as a substitute. Nico didn't even like touching people, and now he was hugging them in his sleep? These Apollo kids were seriously messing him up. Especially the one currently present.
Will had dropped onto his bed, removing his hand from Nico's forehead. The son of Hades figured in a few years, he might even be able to admit to himself that he missed the touch.
"You okay, there, Death boy? Long night, wasn't it?" His hand had started tracing patterns on the sheets, distractingly close to Nico's leg.
He drew a shaky breath, risking a glance up from his hands. "Yeah. Longer for you, probably."
Will frowned. "I wasn't the one with the nightmares, angel."
Nico twisted his fingers in the sheets. "Not after you read to me." It was true. He'd slept almost dreamlessly through till morning while Will was holding him. He couldn't even remember the last time he'd done that.
Will smiled gently. "That's good. We'll have to make a habit out of it."
Nico could feel himself blush. "Even after...what I told you last night? You don't mind?"
The healer shook his head, blond locks flying. "Mind cuddling with a hero like you? Not a bit."
There was no doubt now, he was definitely blushing.
"Hey." Suddenly, Will's hands were there, pulling his out of the sheets he'd twisted them in, straightening them, lacing their fingers. "Believe me, I'm the son of the god of Truth. I love being here with you."
As per usual, their moment (this time Nico was sure they were having a moment) was interrupted, perhaps luckily, by a tiny child-of-Apollo shaped catapult dragging an enormous red blanket like a cape. Will had to jerk back to avoid being knocked over.
"Hey, you found one," he laughed, and Nico couldn't help but smile. He wondered whether maybe Hazel had looked like this when she was younger.
Sybil climbed right up onto the bed, shoving her brother aside.
"Here," she grinned triumphantly. "It's the biggest one there was, I checked." As she pulled the blanket up to his shoulders, struggling under the sheer weight of it, Nico almost laughed at the expression on Will's face. It had suddenly turned worried, like he was wondering what state he was going to find his closets in.
"That's great, sis. Now how about you go find Kayla and ask her about painting butterflies on Jake's bandages."
"Okay!" she replied cheerfully, racing off the bed. Right past two people Nico hadn't noticed had come in and were standing by the curtains around his bed. One daughter of Athena and one son of Poseidon.
Annabeth laughed as the daughter of Apollo disappeared around the hangings.
"Wow, that takes me back. She's even younger than I was when I started helping out here."
Memories of the last time he'd talked to the couple rose, unbidden, in Nico's mind. Well. This was going to be awkward.
Percy seemed to be looking anywhere except at Nico.
"Really? Is this where you learned to make splints with scotch tape?"
She nodded. "Yep. It was a different head healer back then, though. Speaking of which, hey Will."
"Hey." Was it Nico's imagination, or did the son of Apollo seem less than enthusiastic about the visitors?
"Mind if we have a seat?" Without waiting, Annabeth dragged Percy forwards by the arm, pulling up two chairs.
"Sure," the healer answered belatedly. He was examining Percy with a sullen expression, the son of Hades noticed.
Oh. Right. Nico had told him about his former crush.
The tension in the room seemed hard enough to resist celestial bronze, but Annabeth Chase had never been one to let hard things get in her way.
"We heard from Malcolm you were here," she informed them."He's looking for you, by the way." Her words were directed at Will this time. "Something about Pegasi?"
Percy nodded. “Yeah, they were all freaking out this morning. Said someone was trying to do target practice from their backs.”
Will rolled his eyes, muttering something about “not wanting to know” under his breath as he started to get up. "I should..." Nico quickly shot him a pleading look, though, and he seemed to understand. "Actually, I still need to change Nico's bandages. Malcolm will find me."
Nico internally sighed in relief. Kayla had changed his bandages not two hours ago, but he didn't mind as long as he wasn't left alone with his visitors and and their pet elephant in the room. Plus, there was something soothing about Will's hands on his shoulder.
Annabeth, he noticed, was frowning, looking between them. "Okay. It's good, actually. We were just looking through some pamphlets the Romans left about the university in New Rome. You might be interested in their Medical Program."
Will looked up at that. Then down at Nico. Then back at the daughter of Athena. Nico suddenly realized. Will was older than him. Well, not in actual years since his birth, but in physical age. He was what, fifteen? And the son of Hades knew from word-to-mouth what a powerful healer he was. The Romans would probably accept him with open arms, regardless of his age. On the other side of the country. Far away. Nico didn't understand why the thought seemed to upset him.
Again, it was like the son of Apollo could sense his distress. He merely shrugged, rubbing his patient's arm. (He wasn't even remotely changing the bandages, Nico noticed.)
"I'll think about it. Depends on the exchange program with New Rome, and who's staying here, or going. That's part of what you're working on with Jason, right Nico?"
The son of Hades felt something akin to relief flood through him. "Yeah. Reyna too. She wants to set up a test run by next summer, I think."
Annabeth's gaze had turned a little too knowing for Nico's comfort. "Right. So you'd be going there together."
Nico absolutely did not want to blush, but the gentle pressure Will was applying to his arm was making it hard.
The day was saved, as usual, by Percy Jackson.
"Dude, are these real diamonds?" he exclaimed. Nico had completely forgotten about the pile of crystals on his bedside table. He hadn't actually meant to turn them precious, but the son of Iris had seemed so pleased with the first one, exclaiming something about fire and refraction, that he'd agreed to repeat the process. It was a part of his powers he wasn't used to using – Hazel probably could have done in a second what he did in an hour – but it was oddly relaxing, using something that wasn't related to the shadows. He'd even started experimenting with the cut, changing the facets to redirect the light.
"Oh, yeah. I guess. It was sort of an accident."
Will chuckled. "Just don't tell the Hermes cabin, or you'll be the new centerpiece of their diamond smuggling industry."
"We won't," Annabeth assured, smiling. "We actually just came by to see how you were doing. And...Percy has something to tell you." She looked severely at her boyfriend. He looked back pleadingly, before sighing. "Yeah. I do. Guys, do you mind giving us a moment?"
Will looked about to protest, but before he could, Annabeth stood and grabbed him by the arm. "Of course. Will and I need to discuss something anyway. Something about stampeding Pegasi and people getting trampled."
Nico noticed the son of Apollo pale as he was dragged away, but unfortunately, he had his own problems to deal with.
The two boys sat there in awkward silence for a second as the curtains fluttered shut around them. To Nico's relief, or perhaps discomfort, it was Percy who finally broke it.
"Look, about what you told me a few days ago..."
"You don't have to say anything," Nico interrupted. "I just needed to get it off of my chest. So, yeah, I just – "
"No, listen, Nico." Percy cut in again. "I spent a lot of time thinking about...us. About how we behaved towards each other through the years, how I treated you and what I could have done differently. And, I guess I just came to the conclusion that I have a lot to apologize for."
Again Nico tried to interrupt, but the son of Poseidon held up a hand. "I do, really. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm still kind of pissed that you sold me out to your dad, or that you didn't help me out when I had amnesia in New Rome. But I always understood why you did it, and I guess, knowing how you felt, it makes even more sense. And honestly, I did probably kind of have it coming. I let you down a lot, Nico, and I'm sorry for that."
"I'm sorry too," Nico murmured, looking at his knees. "For those things. I was a stupid kid, and I didn't think."
Percy sighed. "See, that's what I mean. You were just a kid, and I promised your sister I'd look out for you, and I didn't. Hell, I promised you I'd look out for her. I broke that promise too. How about I stop making promises?"
Nico laughed, but his voice was shaky. "You couldn't keep your promise because I ran away, remember?"
Percy looked pained. "You know, I think about that sometimes. If I'd just grabbed you, not let you go that day – "
"You would've just made things worse," the son of Hades cut in. "I was already so confused, and messed up. And it's not like I would have been exactly welcome, what with my powers appearing and my parentage becoming known."
The son of Poseidon frowned. "Yeah. I'm sorry about that too. Sometimes I think Rachel got lucky, the fates lifting your father's curse on the oracle. We didn't exactly do much to deserve it."
"You did," Nico corrected. "You made them build me a cabin here." He looked down at his hands, grimacing. "I was just too stubborn to use it. You made it really hard to stop loving you, " he added more quietly.
The silence settled awkwardly between them again.
"Sometimes, I wonder what it would have been like." Nico said suddenly. He wasn't sure where the words were coming from, but he thought, if anyone could have understood, it was Percy.
"If I wasn't alone in my cabin. If Bianca had stayed with me. Do you think she'd...she'd be okay with...with me?"
He clenched his fists in the sheets, unwilling to specify exactly what he meant, but the son of Poseidon seemed to catch on.
"You mean, would she have been okay with you being gay."
Nico nodded, tensing. Just because he was coming to terms with it didn't mean he was completely comfortable with even the word being spoken out loud. The feeling of being threatened, of revealing a weakness still plagued him. He hoped it was something that would go away with time. He was so, so tired of it.
"Nico, honestly, I think she knew. She told me she wouldn't have joined the hunters if she hadn't known I was there to look out for you. Percy grimaced. "Not that I did, I really should leave a sacrifice at the Hades altar for that. But I know she loved you. She really did."
Nico hunched his shoulders, trying to shield himself from the deluge of emotions. "Then why did she leave me?" he choked out. Percy looked slightly panicked, awkwardly standing and attempting to pat him on the back. Luckily, just then the curtains were pulled aside again, as Annabeth held them open for Will bearing another snack (man, did the healer have timing). He immediately set the food aside in favor of sitting down on the bed and taking the son of Hades into his arms. The son of Apollo was just as warm and soft-smelling as Nico remembered from the previous night, and he gratefully burrowed in his scrub shirt. He was probably rumpling it, but at least the material seemed to stave off his tears, as the son of Apollo slowly rubbed his back.
"I think you guys should go now," Nico heard him tell the visitors.
Remember that one time Nico had enough power over the Earth to rip crevisses in marble floors and pull down Kronos's temple on top of him? And then for some reason never used those powers again?
Chapter 11: No offense, it's just politics
This chapter is mostly inspired by a joke my history teacher once made: What was the leading cause of death among Romans?
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Really, Will thought to himself. Did no one at all trust the children of Apollo? They were healers, for gods' sakes! They wouldn't intentionally harm anyone. Really. Unless they deserved it. Which Nico didn't, and even if he did, Will didn't think he had it in him to hurt a hair on the younger boy's head.
So why was this already the second time in two days that he was getting a preemptive shovel talk? He hadn't even gotten around to asking the son of Hades out yet.
At least Annabeth wasn't nailing him to any walls by the throat. No, the daughter of Athena apparently considered herself above that kind of brutality. Instead, she had started talking about Capture-the-Flag, of all things. Will and his infirmary were not yet recovered from the war, dammit. Lou Ellen and Cecil hadn't dropped by, meaning they must not have located his missing ambrosia. The head healer didn't even want to think about what kind of casualties the friendly and wholesome fun would bring.
"So I was asking around, and turns out, the Apollo cabin is pretty well-loved as an ally for the game. Isn't that right," Annabeth casually stated, leading them down the room. "Not too many rivalries since you became head counselor. Good job with that."
Will nodded. The last time Apollo had had a really serious issue with another cabin had been during the Titan War, back when his brother Michael was head counselor. Will sometimes wondered, when he was feeling down and depressed, whether certain people might still be alive if they hadn't had that spat with the Ares kids over the flying chariot. People like Silena Beauregard. He had really liked Silena. He tried not to think those thoughts to often.
"Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that I think it would be too bad if that were to change." Annabeth examined her nails in a way suspiciously reminiscent of Drew Tanaka. "Say, if someone in the Apollo cabin were to emotionally hurt a person considered a friend by the heads of several other cabins. You know, Athena, Poseidon, Zeus, those. It really would be a shame if everyone were to turn against a certain cabin, and ensure they never win a game of Capture-the-Flag ever again. After all, we both know how much some campers enjoy winning."
That they did. Will held back a shudder at the thought of Kayla losing anything. But what he couldn't hold back was a certain amount of snark pushing up his throat, fuelled by his irritation.
"If you mean you'll exact vengeance from anyone who hurts Nico, you might want to look up your friend Piper. Or is she exempt?"
Annabeth frowned. "You know she's really sorry about that. She wanted to come by and apologize, but I talked her into coming tomorrow."
Curiosity won out over irritation and Will looked over.
Annabeth smiled guiltily.
"The words, "Get in line" might have strayed into the discussion. After Nico told Percy he used to have a crush on him, my Seaweed Brain was really blind-sided. He basically spent the first half of the day trying to work his mind around it, and the second guilt-tripping himself about everything he should have done differently."
She sighed, her gaze becoming distant. "And that's not a road most of us want to go down. I finally persuaded him to just come by and apologize. But of course in that case, it couldn't right before, or after Piper. Otherwise Nico will start thinking we're only being nice to him out of guilt."
Will acquiesced. From what he'd observed of his patient's behaviour, that was without a doubt the thought the son of Hades would jump to.
"Is that what he's doing right now, then?"
Annabeth nodded. "Yeah. I was also thinking of offering to help him remodel his cabin. Jason mentioned he wanted to."
She smirked. "Of course, that was before I found out he's busy being wooed by one of the most popular guys in camp."
Will was about to blush and playfully deny it. (Untruthfully of course. He was well aware of his status among the other campers.) However, a voice cut in playfully, interrupting his attempt at modesty.
"Who's Jason wooing now?"
He mock glared at Kayla instead. "Aren't you supposed to be off your shift already?"
His sister shrugged. "I was just getting ready. Whoever Austin talked into covering his shift is taking their time showing up, apparently."
As if on cue, Mitchell from Aphrodite came skidding into the room.
Will groaned, rubbing his forehead. Right. That was something he'd wanted to deal with. He reached out and grabbed the son of Aphrodite's arm to steady him before he crashed into a cart full of scalpels.
"Look, you can't just go around swapping your shifts like cards at a poker game. I know things have been a little hectic lately, but it's important to have structure in my infirmary. We need to be able to keep track of who's here properly.
Mitchell at least had the grace to blush (though hopefully not just because Will was still holding his arm, modesty be damned in his own head), but Kayla just snorted.
"Right. We'll keep that in mind, Doctor "let me take over your night shift so I can cuddle with my crush".
"Ooh!" Mitchell's eyes widened. "Did he really?"
Kayla nodded smugly as Annabeth let out a hum. Will glared at his sister.
"Oh, thanks a lot, Kay. Now you get to watch the daughter of the war goddess destroy me."
The Athena head counselor merely smirked. "It's all right. As long as you don't hurt him, we'll spare you."
Meanwhile, Mitchell, infirmary duties apparently forgotten, flung an arm over Kayla's shoulders and led her down the hall. "Tell me everything," Will distinctly heard him say.
"You should be healing people!" he yelled after the pair. "Oh, why do I bother?" He slunk over to one of the fridges to grab another snack for Nico.
"Say, Annabeth," he risked.
"Your cabin wouldn't have access to some sort of camera I could rig to make sure the right people are on duty, would it?"
The other head counselor shrugged. "Sure. Espionage is a vital part of building a strategy, after all. I can have Malcolm bring a couple by tomorrow. I know disorganization always bothers him anyway."
"Thanks," Will replied gratefully.
"Any time." As he closed the fridge door and turned, though, he suddenly found himself face to face with a pair of startling gray eyes. "Seriously though, Will. We've known each other a pretty long time, and I've never seen you be anything but kind. But with Nico...just be extra careful, all right? The kid's been through enough."
Will nodded, a little bit because she was intimidating, but mostly because he wholeheartedly agreed.
"Of course. Jason already made me swear on the Styx – and he didn't phrase it nearly as nicely as you, by the way – but regardless. Hurting him is the absolute last thing I would ever do."
Annabeth smiled, and suddenly, the tension dissipated.
"Great. Then let's go rescue him from my boyfriend's stuttered apologies, shall we?"
The rest of the afternoon passed by in a flash. After he'd interposed himself between Nico and the back-patting of a slightly panicky Percy Jackson (Will made a mental note to have him enlisted in the infirmary for a bit, so he could learn proper bedside manner), he'd spent a happy, albeit slightly guilty few minutes cuddling his baby comfortingly. At that point, Mitchell had ducked in, Sybil hanging off him like a Christmas ornament, and demanded he take his babysitting duties seriously. Sybil had bitten the son of Aphrodite in retaliation for calling her a baby, Will and Nico had attempted to pry her off, and the whole thing ended with the daughter of Apollo being punished with bandage cutting while Will disinfected Mitchell's hand. Nico had wordlessly moved to help Sybil with her chore, the two of them sitting on his bed while she chatted away. Will considered protesting that it wasn't much of a punishment if someone was helping her, but decided against it. Nico had apparently taken a liking to the younger demigod, and far be it from Will to deny him anything.
"Whipped," Mitchell mouthed at him, grinning, as the healer wrapped a freshly cut bandage around his fingers."Shut up," Will hissed back, yanking the bandage tight. Nico looked up at the two of them, and Will prayed to the gods that he hadn't heard them.
By the time dinner rolled around, there were only four patients left in the infirmary: Damian and his nasty unidentified claw marks, Clarisse and the pegasi hoof shaped dents in her skull (she'd been remarkably lucky, considering what Malcolm's book had turned up about the kicking powers of flying horses), and Jake Mason with his, well. Everything.
And Nico, of course. For the rest of them, Mitchell had been glad enough to sign whatever discharge sheets Will shoved under his pretty nose, relying on the head healer to make the right call. Eventually he'd left Will alone for the night shift, since the other demigod technically hadn't been on duty that afternoon. He'd even promised to take Sybil back to the Apollo cabin and hand her over to her siblings. As he did so, however, he leaned conspiratorially into Will and slipped something into his hand, winking. When the son of Aphrodite picked Sybil up from where she'd dozed off on one of the beds (making sure to keep his hands away from her mouth), Will looked down at the object. It was a strip of condoms. Will considered throwing them at Mitchell's head, but one, he didn't want the guy to drop his little sister, and two, he was pretty sure they'd come from the infirmary closets to begin with. So instead, he just rolled his eyes demonstratively and headed back to his office to put them away.
It was around midnight when it happened.
It started with Damian jerking awake, looking around wildly. Will rose from his seat on Nico's bed, where he had maybe taken place to pull his angel's head onto his lap and stroke his curls, hoping to ward off any other nightmares. When the son of Nemesis saw him, he raised a hand to the scar across his cheek.
"Do you have any weapons?" he whispered.
"No, Damian, you're in the infirmary, remember? No weapons allowed. Why, what's wrong?"
The patient grimaced, stretching his stitches.
"Something's about to go down," he said ominously.
"What do you mean?"
As if on cue, the door banged open, revealing three shadowy figures.
The first thing Will noticed was that they were Roman. Okay, that was a lie, the first thing he noticed (especially since Damian had been kind enough to point it out) was the practically ludicrous amount of weapons they were loaded with. Swords, knives, daggers. Just pick one, Will wanted to argue. Of course it might have simply been that he was feeling rather vulnerable, the only thing between the fighters and his patients being him and his flip-flops.
But yeah, the second thing he noticed was definitely that they were Roman. The girl in the lead was wearing a not-so-subtle golden breastplate with the letters SPQR engraved on it. The two boys flanking her were less opulently decked out, but impressive nonetheless, with polished armor and plumed helmets that reminded Will uncomfortably of the cleaning harpies. The Roman on the left had dark eyes and dark hair braided over his shoulder, tattoos twining down his bared arms, while the one on the right was shorter and stockier, with a mass of half-healed burns across his face that the healer was itching to treat.
The girl in the front though, well. With her pale gold tresses and paler blue eyes, she would have fit right into the Apollo cabin. Even the self-assured strut was one Austin on occasion adopted.
"Hi, can I help you? You seem a bit lost, the other Romans left days ago. But we could try and contact them for you?"
Will tried to adopt a non-confrontational tone, even though his senses were screaming danger at him.
The girl sniffed. "Do not mistake us for those cowards. They have forgotten what Rome truly stands for."
"And what's that?" Damian on the contrary was making no attempt to veil the tension in his voice. It was again the girl who answered.
"This does not concern you, Graecus scum. We did not stay behind, hiding ourselves in your midst and subjecting ourselves to your godly food, to explain the world to barbarians."
Will would have been more offended if his mind hadn't stuck on the first part of her statement.
"Hidden? How is that even – " Realization dawned as his mind, working overtime, recognized the burns on the buff guy's face. He'd seen that kind of injury countless times, though to a lesser extent. And the tattoos. Some of those symbols – they were carved in the columns of the Hecate cabin, Lou Ellen had once explained them to him. Words of power, incantations. His friends' joke came back to him from that afternoon. Stealing and hiding.
"You're the ones who've been stealing our supplies, aren't you!" he snarled. "I know what causes those burns. You drank too much nectar. That stuff was for my patients!"
"And you're a son of Hecate." Damian had apparently come to the same conclusion concerning the other boy. "That's how you've been concealing yourselves, with the mist."
The warlock gave a mock clap. "Very good. Though my mother should strike you down for your insolence. She is the Roman goddess Trivia. Nothing like your puny Hecate."
As far as Will knew, Hecate was actually more powerful in her Greek persona, but he currently had more pressing problems, namely that the Romans had all but reached them.
"Clever," tittered the girl. "If you stay out of the way, we might leave you alive yet. To better send our message. After all, blood only goes so far."
As she turned off, pulling a dagger from her belt, Will realized who she was headed for, and jumped into action, attempting to put himself between her and Nico's bed.
"No!" he yelled, when he felt arms wrap around his torso, pinning his hands. The stockier demigod had taken advantage of his distraction to get behind and restrain him, and he struggled helplessly as the girl stepped up to the side of the bed, dagger glinting like gold in the light of the ever-present sun lamps.
"So innocent looking," she mused, gazing at the sleeping son of Hades. "You really never can tell with traitors. Octavian must have felt it, though. He was so perceptive, the best of us."
"And now he's dead! Because of this spy! The ambassador and that traitor Kahale, they tricked him. Finish him, Daria. Then we can deal with the rest of them." The son of Hecate (sorry, Trivia) was over by Damian, restraining the son of Nemesis, not that he was much of a threat with his cuts and his still healing arm. Will desperately cast about, looking for something, anything, that could help him get to Nico.
"Don't worry, Cai. We have plenty of time. The death of the infiltrator will spark a rebellion against that fool Reyna. Our friends will understand that our cause is not dead. And once we have the people on our side, we will regain control, mobilize the armies, and conquer once more! Revenge will be ours, and my cousin's visions will become reality!"
As she raised the dagger dramatically, all Will could think was, " – Wait, cousin? Octavian was your cousin? You're a legacy of Apollo?"
She lowered the dagger, distracted. "Yes?"
"Are you kidding me? Is the entirety of my Roman family insane?!"
She looked at him oddly. "You're a legacy of Apollo as well?"
He glared back, still trying to shake off the demigod holding his arms back.
"As I told your megalomaniac cousin, I am a SON of Apollo. And you're all crazy if you think Octavian's visions had any truth to them whatsoever. My father hasn't spoken to anyone in weeks, and you know it!"
The grip on his arms seemed to slacken.
"Is this true, Daria? The god Apollo hasn't actually been talking to you guys?"
She hissed in frustration. "Of course it's not true, you idiot. Are you really going to believe some barbarian over me?"
But Will sensed more than saw her two accomplices exchange an uneasy glance.
"Daria...you know my godly ancestor patrons con artists, right? Why are you lying to us?"
The girl swore and honest to gods stomped her foot. "Guys! We spent three days planning this, and now you're going to waste our chance by arguing about technicalities?"
"Anyway," the legacy interrupted, turning back to the sleeping demigod. "Let's get this over with. Nico di Angelo, I name you traitor to Rome, and sentence you to die!"
Will screamed as the dagger came flashing down.
And then he died. Lol, no, don't worry. I need him alive if this turns into a series.
Chapter 12: Moment of Truth
Sorry about that last cliffhanger. Oh, wait. In the words of Rick Riordan, "No, not really. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
He woke to the sound of voices yelling. One was clearly Will's, and he sounded distressed. Three others were strangely familiar to his sleep-muddled mind.
It was a scream from Will that had him snapping his eyes open in time to see a dagger flashing down, and he reacted on instinct. Sitting up, he thrust his hands out at the cold metal, calling to the particles of imperial gold. Reminding them of the past, when they had been one with the Earth, with his father's realm. The dagger stopped abruptly a hair's breadth from his chest.
The second of shock from the wielder gave him enough time to take in the scene. Two Roman soldiers – he remembered seeing them in California. The son of Trivia had several times approached him to ask about shadow travel, while the legacy of Mercury was a courier for the augurs. They were holding hostages, Damian, and, to Nico's horror, Will, who was clearly fighting. And at the side of his bed – Nico took a brief second to breathe an "of course" – Daria. He remembered the girl from the Roman senate, one of Octavian's most fervent supporters. Reyna had once joked with Jason that she must have had a crush on the augur.
Then the moment was over, and Nico flung himself to the side, rolling off the bed and away from the threat as he desperately ran through strategies in his head. He managed to duck the older girl's renewed jab, throwing the sheets in her face while he cast around for a weapon.
Luckily for him, by then they'd apparently made enough noise to wake a comatose rhinoceros. Not a bad comparison considering Clarisse's chosen method of attack, which consisted of tackling both Will and the legacy holding him. They went sprawling across the aisle as Nico flinched back again, barely avoiding the tip of Daria's dagger. He wasn't so lucky the next time as she cornered him against the wall, her dagger plunging down again, when a flash of silver whirled through the air, catching her in the wrist. She screamed as the scalpel effortlessly cut through tendon and muscle, but Nico was no longer paying attention because Will was there, dragging him out of the corner and away from his attacker.
It was a shout that made them all freeze. Clarisse was on the floor, pinning the legacy of Mercury, Will with his arm around him, and the son of Trivia holding a curved knife to Damian's throat.
"That's right, don't move, now," he threatened, pulling back the patient's head by his hair. Damian let out an angry gurgle, but seemed to know better than to protest. Nico knew they needed to act fast. Once the Romans regained control of the scene, they would be done for. Already, Daria was pulling herself up by the bed post, panting as she clutched her wrist. Nico's gaze met Will's, and his beautiful blue eyes widened as he realized what the son of Hades was doing.
"Nico, no –" But the sound was cut off as Nico faded into his own shadow. The darkness greeted him like an old friend, embracing him until he could barely be sure were it ended and he started. It was so easy to move through it, effortless as he called for Daria's dagger, laying in the cobwebs under a bed, aiming for the shadow cast by Damian's curtains, stepping out behind the son of Trivia and swinging the dagger up, the squirt of blood – before darkness took him again.
Will had never in his life found it so easy to ignore gushing blood. The son of Trivia could have been missing limbs, for all he cared, as he cradled Nico in his arms, desperately chanting in his ear, trying something, anything, to keep him from fading completely. Not the sound of clattering hooves and bare feet, as those woken by the commotion swarmed in, nor the confused orders of his siblings tending to the bleeding Romans could break his focus towards pouring all his energy, his power and his love into the son of Hades's body.
But it wasn't going to be enough, he could tell. He needed more, he needed something else, something to attack the shadows directly as they swirled around him. Reaching deep inside himself, he issued a last desperate call, a prayer, not so much to any god in particular as to the universe as a whole, and himself.
He didn't hear the gasps of the people around him, as his skin lit up, sunlight at the darkest moment of the night flooding through his veins, burning the shadows away. All he could focus on was the gradual solidity returning to his angel's face, his eyes regaining color, his nose sharpening, his lips... Will could feel his energy waning, could feel the draw on his lifeline rushing him towards unconsciousness, but there was one thing he wanted to do before he went. Without much thought, he dipped his head down and pressed a simple, chaste kiss to his love's lips, before he gave in to the light.
Nico awoke feeling warm. It took him a while to come to his senses, content for the most part to simply float in the golden haze surrounding him. It didn't feel like Elysium, but then after everything he'd been through, he often wondered whether Asphodel was so bad. Not remembering. Thoughtless bliss. Perhaps his father had taken pity on him.
Though he would miss this golden light. It reminded him of blond curls, and blue eyes, and laughter and warmth. He would miss that. Him. He screwed up his face, trying to remember Will's voice, the feeling of his arms, when a soft touch to his nose finally caused him to open his eyes.
"Hey there," Will whispered softly, smiling. "Welcome back."
Confused, Nico pushed himself up, looking around. He was laying in a bed with soft sheets. Pearly white curtains waved gently in a breeze. Soft murmurs filtered from neighboring cots. Last time he'd been in the Underworld, it had not looked like the infirmary. Which meant he was not in the Underworld. Which meant...
"I'm not dead, am I," he mumbled, more to himself than anything. Will shook his head, curls brushing his cheeks.
“How? I felt the shadows take me, I felt...”
“You came close, love. I had to pour a lot of my healing into keeping you here. And you better not fade on me again, angel, 'cause Chiron's put me off my powers, same as you."
Nico looked down at his hands, examining them. They were entirely solid, not a hint of shadow in them. When a tan hand wrapped around his, lacing their fingers, he lifted his gaze to Will, words suddenly stuck in his throat.
"What happened after I..."
"After you decided to attempt a real-life version of David Copperfield's vanishing act? Well, I wasn't paying too much attention myself, trying to keep you there and all, but apparently, Jake Mason used a cell phone prototype he'd hidden in his cast, and was secretly working on, to contact his siblings, and they brought back-up. Though by the time they got here, there wasn't much left to do apart from tying the Romans up. I think the Ares kids got a couple of extra punches in, and Kayla conveniently mislaid the key to the anesthetic cabinet, so healing their wounds wasn't exactly a pleasant experience. But ultimately..."
"What about the son of Trivia. Was he okay?" Nico's memories of the attack were slowly starting to return, but he drew a blank at the fate of the demigod. Considering the last time that had happened, with Bryce Lawrence, he was kind of worried.
"Oh, him? He's fine. Well, as fine as anyone can be when a bunch of angry Hecate kids keep you transformed into a teacup pig so you can't use the mist to escape. Though I hear he was quite popular among Sybil and the younger campers." He rubbed Nico's hand reassuringly, seeming to understand his concern. "You didn't hurt him very badly, just his shoulder. He'll regain full use of it. If he ever regains human form that is." The healer grimaced. “Better even than the Roman I maimed with that scalpel. She'll be lucky if those tendons knit back together correctly.”
Nico nodded. “Thanks for that, by the way. You saved my life.”
Will shrugged, blushing slightly. “No problem. I may suck at archery, but I know my way around medical equipment all right. Besides, if she'd gotten to you, my fabulous healing these past days would have been wasted.”
Nico elbowed him in the ribs, and the healer smirked. However, his expression soon turned serious. "We contacted Reyna and Frank about the assassination attempt. She came back here with a couple of loyal soldiers to take them into custody, and Lou Ellen sent her oldest brother to help out with, well. I guess, he's also their brother."
"She left already?" Nico felt his heart sink at the thought. Barely three days, and already their relationship was fading, as usual. Will allayed his fears, however.
"I wasn't awake either for that yet, but apparently, she wanted to stay until you came to. After twelve hours, though, she had to get back."
Nico's head whipped around.
"What do you mean, twelve hours?"
Will gestured at his arm, and for the first time, Nico noticed there was a tube feeding into it. He had to fight the urge to rip it out.
"You were unconscious for almost twenty-four of them, angel, even though you were solid. My siblings decided to feed you intravenously."
Oh. So that was why he felt so well rested.
"You didn't approve?"
"Oh, I approve," Will countered. "You'd have starved to death by now otherwise. No, my siblings were the ones to decide it because I only woke up a couple of hours ago myself, and because the second I did, Chiron slapped me with my own power ban and accompanying forced vacation. So I didn't really have a say anyway."
The son of Apollo looked down, rubbing Nico's hand between his. "Speaking of which, Nico, there's something we need to talk about."
The son of Hades resisted the urge to pull back. Those words had never boded well for him.
"About when I healed you," Will continued. "I...kinda did something."
“No kidding. I can sense when people are dying, Solace. I know I was.”
He looked up at the son of Apollo.
“But you brought me back. How?”
Will shook his head.
“Photokinesis. I didn't even know I had it. But it was effective. Burned the shadows right away.”
Nico frowned. “Isn't that dangerous? You said Chiron put you on a power ban?”
Will nodded. “He said for a second there, I was just as far gone as you. I just...I had to try it.”
Nico felt a sort of frustration, laced with no small amount of fear, rise up in him.
“Why would you do that? You almost died!”
“Because I can't live without you.”
Will immediately looked remorseful for having shouted, but Nico was too dumbstruck to notice. He just stared, frozen, as Will bit his lip and continued more gently.
"Just...listen. Nico. I know you're not used to hearing this, and I know you're going to have trouble believing it even when I do say it, so I want you to know, I swear on the river Styx that I am telling you the truth. Truly."
Nico paled. Distantly, he heard thunder rumble.
"Last night, I kissed you, Nico. Because I couldn't bear to die without knowing what it was like. Because I've always wondered, for as long as I've loved you. Years, now. I love you, angel. I want to hug you, and cuddle and kiss you. I want to spend every day sitting here beside you, nagging you to eat. I want to hold you close and never let the world hurt you again. I love you."
Nico felt like he was back in Kronos's temple, time losing all its meaning, barely processing the words. True, he'd wondered if there was something going on between them, but he'd never imagined this.
“You kissed me?” he murmured, raising a hand to his lips.
Will nodded. “Yeah. Sorry about that.”
Nico shook his head. He knew he should feel upset, or even just disappointed. Will had stolen his first kiss, and he wasn't even conscious for it. But for some reason, he just...wasn't.
“Guess that takes the pressure off,” he found himself joking quietly.
The look in Will's eyes when he raised them to Nico's felt like it was worth all the first kisses in the world.
“You mean you...”
“I mean, I...don't know whether I feel...all that, for you yet. But I do...like you. I'd like to find out. Eventually. Slowly.” Nico didn't quite understand where his bravery came from. Maybe it was the way Will had put himself out there that inspired him to do the same. At any rate, the son of Apollo looked like Nico had just hung the sun for him.
"Of course. No problem, none at all. I know you're probably not ready for this, and that's okay. I can wait. However long you want. I'll be whatever you need me to be. A healer, a friend, a shoulder to lean, or even cry on. I'll be here all the way, angel. There's no pressure. You just take as long as you need."
To say Nico was feeling pretty overwhelmed was an understatement. He knew in some corner of his mind that Will was right, that he'd need some time to process, to go over this all. But for know, he was content to just lean into Will's arm. Because it felt right.
"Okay," he whispered. "Just...stay here with me?"
"Always," came the answer. “Oh, and by the way...the entire camp may, or may not know.”
“What!” Nico shrieked, trying to sit up. He was immediately pulled back down into the healer's arms however. “Sh...Just rest, angel. It's gonna be okay.”
As calm washed over him once again, he felt a soft kiss being pressed to his temple.
And that's a wrap, folks! Until probably June, when you can tune in for the optional follow-up I've started, since I am now apparently a fanfiction-writing addict.