"I'm staying" said Nico, cutting Jason mid-sentence.
"At Camp Half-Blood." he continued, pausing a little before elaborating "The Hades cabin needs a head counsellor. Have you seen the decor? It's disgusting. I'll have to renovate. And someone needs to do the burial rites properly, since demigods insist on dying heroically"
Jason's face visibly lit up "That's- that's fantastic! Dude!" he opened his arms for a hug, then froze, his face falling. "Right. No touching. Sorry"
Nico grunted "I suppose we can make an exception"
Jason squeezed him so hard that Nico felt the air escape his lungs- or at least that's what he would say to explain why he was out of breath a little after. Of course, the son of Hades wasn't given much time to entertain these thoughts before Jason started speaking again.
"Oh, man," Jason said. "Wait till I tell Piper. Hey, since I'm all alone in my cabin too, you and I can share a table at the dining hall. We can team up for capture the flag and sing-along contests and-"
"Are you trying to scare me away?"
"Sorry. Sorry. Whatever you say, Nico. I'm just glad."
The funny thing was, Nico believed him.
The thing about Jason Grace is that he couldn't just stand for being the exception once, he had to do it again.
Sometime later, during Nico's thirty-second hour into his three day stay in the infirmary, the aforementioned son of Jupiter burst into the sectioned-off corner of the infirmary that Nico had claimed. He had a giant grin on his face and looked like an overexcited puppy; Nico could almost picture the wagging tail and ears on the older boy but refused to entertain that thought any further.
Before he could get a word out to question why Jason was quite so happy, Nico was being bombarded with a stream of words that seemed to flow endlessly out of the blond's mouth.
"Dude!" Jason practically shouted, then, as though realising that he woke up half the infirmary, lowered his voice so that only Nico could hear "I just overheard Percy moaning about how he wasn't your type! You didn't... did you?"
Nico just nodded, a bit dazed.
Jason's grin only grew wider "That's amazing, man! "
Then, without thinking twice, he lunged forward smothering Nico in a bone crushing hug. Normally, Nico would've pushed him away or, at least flinched at the contact but this time was an exception- he was too busy making sure he didn't fade into the shadows to do anything besides resigning himself to the hug and hoping that the contact would be brief. However, moments had passed and Jason had yet to let go. Nico started to panic, fearing that the skeletal butterflies that were fluttering hard against his stomach might somehow make their way out of his body.
Luckily, the boy was saved from Jason's iron grip by a curious tanned face popping out through the curtains.
"No killing my patients with hugs, Grace" said Will as he walked through the curtain, ambrosia in one hand and a heavy duty lantern in the other. "You can leave that for after he's well enough to move without melting into a puddle. Now though, I have to give death boy over here his ambrosia, so if you'd kindly move aside..."
At once, Jason let go looking flustered, he muttered a quick apology before bidding goodbye, leaving the room as quickly as he entered. Nico was left looking dazedly at Will as he plugged in the lamp, placing it on the bedside desk, and shoved ambrosia at his face. The younger boy ate it obediently, knowing full well that the healer would, and undoubtedly could, force it into his mouth if he had to.
"You're going to have to sleep with this lamp on all the time, I had Lou charm this one especially for you, it gives off five times as much light as an average lamp" explained Will as he poked Nico's arm to test how solid he was. He poked it a few more times before smiling "You're recovering pretty fast, looks like I might not have to attach a lamp to you after you're released."
Nico grunted and picked up the ipod that he had been listening to before Jason visited as Will started fiddling with the equipment around him. It was a Harry Potter audio book on a bright yellow ipod that Will had thrown at him a few hours ago. The healer had insisted that he read all about the adventures of the boy who lived before Nico kindly pointed out that he, too, was dyslexic and he clearly was not in a state to be straining himself by reading as well. He had just put one of the ear buds in when Will spoke up again with a smirk on his face.
"How come Jason gets a hug but I don't? I'm blond, and hot too, if I do say so myself" That remark was met with a pillow thrown at his face "Okay! Okay! I'll drop it! Though, I totally think you two looked kinda cute together"
Nico buried his face in his hands as Will walked away, his face hot and dusted with pink.
Later, he would blame it on the lights being too warm, he would never admit that the thought made him feel a little warm on the inside.
Nobody really saw it coming, the break up, that is, but, if Jason were to be honest to himself, he wasn't all that surprised by it. He had noticed that, with the threat of the entire world being destroyed gone, and with imminent danger no longer around the corner, the two of them didn't really have as much chemistry as they had originally thought. There was no denying that Piper was beautiful and he liked her very much, of course, but he supposed that wasn't the right kind of 'like'. Piper was the one who brought it up, she was also the one who ended it. With a sad smile on her lips, her knowing eyes said what her words didn't. She had to go back to go back to school later that week, leaving Jason at the camps to attend to his shrine building duties and to mull over his newly ended relationship.
Honestly, he didn't know what to think, he felt he should be more hurt than he actually was. He didn't realise that he had been spending so long mulling over his and Piper's relationship until, one day, Nico sought him out on his own. The son of Hades was starting to look a lot healthier nowadays. After his stay in the infirmary, Will had been sure to make him stay outside more often, moreover, Jason noticed that the boy had started to eat more, he started to look like more than just skin and bones. Now, he was looking straight at Jason expectantly and it was only then that he realised he had been asked a question sheepishly, he asked the younger boy to repeat the question. Which, contrary to the exasperated sigh he was expecting, was readily and patiently repeated.
"You know, Grace, if there's something on your mind, it would be better to talk about it. You seem to be preoccupied lately."
Jason blinked thrice, unsure if he had heard Nico right but there he stood looking patiently at the blond. Normally people wouldn't have noticed; he had acted as the pillar of hope and strength for Roman and Greeks alike for too long, anything less than a perfect Jason Grace was like a foreign thought to them. But Nico was different; he wasn't looking for perfection nor did he expect it and Jason found himself telling the younger boy everything as though he were sitting on a therapist's comfy chair spilling out his problems but without the fear of judgement or the calculating gazes.
Nico was a very good listener, Jason discovers not long after; he let him speak for as long as he wanted, never betraying a single hint of judgement on his face. By the time that he had finished telling Nico how he felt, he found himself feeling lighter as though a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He looked down at Nico in awe, as though seeing Nico for the first time beyond his prickly exterior.
"Are you feeling better now?" the boy was looking at him intently, his gentle gaze softening the curt words that came out of his mouth.
Jason nodded, smiling to prove the point, only to surprise himself at how genuine it actually was. Looking satisfied with the response, Nico reached up to pat his head before excusing himself to find Will before he starts a witch hunt for him.
When Jason had finally gotten all the shrines built and found time back at camp half-blood, he found that Nico had stayed true to his word and hadn't disappeared from the face of the earth in the time that he was gone. In fact, he exceeded the promise and, over time, the boy started to regain his olive toned skin and, thanks to his newly found appetite after the war, he actually looked healthier than Jason had ever remembered seeing him. Moreover, much to his surprise, he found the boy sitting, albeit a little awkwardly, next to several blond haired campers with notebooks and paper scattered around the floor. It looked like they were teaching him something but before Jason could start getting closer to ask what was up, people started noticing him. Before long, he was surrounded and welcomed back by various campers, as a result, he lost sight of Nico amongst the wave of people. Much to Jason's dismay, Nico had left before the crowd had dispersed and Jason was roped into teaching sword practise for a good hour and a half.
It wasn't until dinner time that Jason caught sight of Nico again. He was making his way to the mess hall with Will, the latter seemed to be lecturing the son of Hades, pointedly ignoring the half hearted death glares sent his way. Jason kept watching the two of them fascinated by their interesting dynamic until the object of his attention looked up and caught him staring. Embarrassed, Jason decided the best course of action was to wave at him instead of hiding his face in his potatoes like he wanted to. He received two waves in response, one enthusiastic one from the son of Apollo, and one far less energetic one from Nico as he made his way towards the Zeus table. He stood opposite Jason and asked if he could sit. With him being the sole occupant of the table, Jason thought the answer would be obvious but nodded nonetheless.
Much to Jason's surprise, only Nico sat down, Will simply reminded the Italian to eat all his food before leaving off to his own table, but not before shooting an exaggerated wink at the two of them. Confusedly, Jason alternated between looking at the two of them as Nico throw what appeared to be Jason's chicken at the blond. When Nico finally got around to getting food on his plate Jason decided it would be a good time to speak up.
"So... Since when did you and Will get so friendly?" He asked casually though, admittedly, he was genuinely interested in the answer.
"Since he insisted on following me around whenever he was free and forcing me to stay in the infirmary once a week" Nico replied sounding less annoyed than he pretended to be."He said it was to make sure I heal properly, even now he tries to order me around by saying 'doctors orders', he hasn't even finished high school yet."
"He seems to be doing a good job, you're looking a lot better now"
Nico scoffed "Thanks." He looked up at the blond "What about you? You seem a lot less stressed than when I last saw you. I take it your work is a lot less hectic now"
And Jason was more than ready to reply, he regaled the younger boy with stories of his experiences for the past few months. He took care to ask Nico about his own experiences too and the younger boy replied with increasing confidence throughout the conversation. They spoke about everything that spanned from the Apollo cabin's 'Educating Nico' scheme to Jason's newly found godly fanbase. Regardless of the topics thrown at each other the two of them found themselves talking until it was time to part ways, easily finding a comfortable connection between them.
When Jason finally left again for camp Jupiter, he felt happier than he'd been in a long time. When Reyna asked him about the stupidly large grin the wore why he flew back to camp, Jason evaded the question, not admitting that a certain fourteen year old son of Hades was the cause of his uncontrollable giddiness.
Admittedly, Jason hadn't thought that Nico would agree when he asked the boy to help him find Christmas presents for their friends. He had, in fact, been fully prepared to go down on his knees and beg the boy to at least give him some ideas for the presents, so it took him a few seconds to process that the idea had not been rejected. Those few seconds, however were enough for Nico to catch on to Jason's train of thought and he sighed.
"Will's been trying to make me go out more so he confiscated the iPod" he explained, his face a mix between exasperation and endearment "He said he wouldn't give it back until I go somewhere other than McDonald's with someone else."
Jason couldn't help but smile as an image of Will bribing Nico into social activities with new technology popped into his head.
"All right" he said, preparing to wrap an arm around Nico "Let's go-"
"Wait!" The younger boy slapped down Jason's arm and grabbed hold of it instead "If we're going now, I'd rather shadow travel; my dad is less likely to shoot you down than yours would me" he said, cringing at the thought.
"But I thought Will said you can't shadow travel yet"
"I shadow travelled to Hazel the other day"
"What he doesn't know won't hurt him." replied Nico his voice hinting a certain cheekiness that Jason had never heard before "Now, where are we going?"
Their shopping trip lasted longer than either of them expected and by the end of it, they returned not only with handfuls of presents for their collective group of friends but also, a scattering of cuts and bruises courtesy of the group of dracanae. (Both Jason and Nico got a scolding from Will for that) It wasn't until Jason was comfortably in his room attempting to wrap up the presents that he realised, not only had he touched Nico without any resistance, but the son of Hades actually voluntarily grabbed his arm. The son of Jupiter would be lying if he said that hat thought did not make him feel special.
Jason decided to stay true to the words he told Nico when he was first told that the young Italian was staying. He waved (or occasionally dragged) Nico over to his table at the dining hall so often that the younger demigod eventually relented. Soon, it became commonplace for the two of them to be sat at the Zeus table at the dining pavilion. Sometimes, when Jason was feeling particularly confident, he would ask Nico to join him in the sing-alongs at the campfire (that is, if the Apollo kids didn't force him to do so first) occasionally, teaming up with Will to force the boy into singing pop-songs out of tune.
The more Jason spent with the son of Hades, the more he caught glimpses of what Percy had referred to as the 'old Nico' forcing its way out of his tight guard. Sometimes he would catch a glimpse of his eyes lighting up during the trivia quizzes or manage coax him into speaking passionately and animatedly about the most unique things. And, frankly, he loved those moments best. So much so that he made it his goal to draw more and more of these special moments out of the boy.
As Nico was sitting on the benches of the arena, watching a certain son of Jupiter teach the campers how to fight with a spear, he found himself pondering their relationship. Nico never really expected himself to grow so close to anyone besides Hazel, heck, he never expected himself to communicate with people on a daily basis. But life has a habit of not going as he expected, going as far as to keep him in camp half blood for a good two years while simultaneously making fewer and fewer people fear him as time went by. That, he could just about accept, but coming to trust and enjoy the company of someone other than Hazel (and perhaps Reyna) was a thought that would have never crossed his mind two years ago. But it seemed that Jason Grace had a knack for being the exception; he seemed to seamlessly integrate himself into the Nico's life without him noticing, and attaching himself firmly to the Italian's everyday life with so much ease it felt as though he was born there.
The son of Hades was so deep into these thoughts that he didn't notice the object of his attention standing right in front of him, his face inches away from his, for a long time. When he did, the shock was so great that he shot backwards hissing at the now laughing blond in front of him. Jason reached out a hand for Nico. The younger boy took his hand brushing the dust off his clothes before starting his own lesson and proceeding to teach the campers method thirteen of hacking each other to pieces.
Jason was sitting in a café in New Rome with Nico sitting opposite him, brownie in hand, just chilling like normal when it hit him. 'It' being a complete revelation that he should not be having while trying to stuff his face with as many chocolate pastries as possible. 'It' was the reason why Piper would wink not so subtly at him when they're together or why Hazel would sometimes look at him and then at Nico as though he were planning to kidnap him. Simply put, 'it' was the fact that he was in love with the boy who was currently sitting in front of him trying to hold in a laugh. That is to say, Jason Grace was in love with Nico Di Angelo and probably has been for quite some time. He was just too oblivious to his own emotions to realise it until now.
"Jason?" Jason was pulled out from his thoughts by Nico's voice and he focused faced a rather concerned looking son of Hades "Are you all right? That's been in your mouth for a long time and your face is red. Do you need some water?"
Normally, Nico's mother hen impression would have been very cute to Jason (and it kinda still was) but right now, it only served to make Jason flush a deeper shade of red, having just realised that he still had a pastry in his mouth that he probably hasn't chewed in a while. He took the offending chocolate treat out of his mouth, quickly chewing and swallowing the bits that had been in there too long and nodded quickly to reassure Nico but he didn't look too convinced. Much to Jason's relief the Italian didn't press on the matter and started talking about something else.
It took Nico two days to start worrying about Jason. He'd gotten used to the oddities of the son of Jupiter long ago but this new wave of strange behaviour was making him worry. The change was subtle but sure, and, maybe he was over thinking it, but there was something quite troubling about the slight changes in Jason's everyday actions. He broke eye contact with Nico too early, the casual touches that the boy had grown used to began being scarcer, more brief- as though extended contact was something painful and that thought made him worried beyond reason. All while a little voice in the back of his head got stronger and stronger, telling him that Jason's change in attitude should be no surprise, that it was only a matter of time before he got bored. Nico was fully aware that he should ignore it but the more Jason shied away from his touch, the more times he saw him smile that smile, the less sure Nico became.
Nico was fully aware that Jason's sudden change in habits should not bother him so much. He'd promised himself not to let anyone (family aside) mean so much to him but it seems that the fates created Jason to be the exception to everything when it comes to Nico. He slotted himself into his life with so little resistance that the son of Hades almost considered the possibility of him being charm spoken into it. Whatever it was, however, the effect didn't seem to fade with distance, instead, it intensified as time went by, and had planted itself firmly into Nico's thoughts, tugged him closer and closer to Jason and, now, it made him want to crawl in on himself and run away again.
Jason thought he did a good job of acting normal afterwards, huge revelation in mind. He avoided staring at Nico for extended periods of time when possible and even avoided being all touchy feely for fear that it might betray his feelings. He wasn't going to ruin a perfectly good friendship just because he went ahead and fell in love and he was doing a great job hiding it.
He held on that belief until Nico, flopped down to sit beside him casually. The boy drew in a deep breath and sighed "You, know, you're not very good at being subtle, Grace"
Jason could feel himself deflating; he hasn't been called ‘Grace' in a long time. He felt his confidence and resolve going as he started "I-"
"I'm sorry for whatever I did that made you uncomfortable." Nico cut in, avoiding Jason's shocked stare. "But you don't have to worry about that anymore."
"I think I've stayed too long here" he continued, oblivious to the devastated look on Jason's face "To be honest, I kept coming back because of you. You were just so warm and welcoming and... homely. I wanted to stay."
A thousand thoughts were running through Jason's head. First, Nico stayed for him and he couldn't help but feel slightly giddy at the thought. But that was overshadowed by the thought of Nico leaving because of him, because he couldn't hide his feelings and made Nico want to leave again. He had to say something, anything to fix this but his mouth felt dry and the words were caught in his throat. The result was an awkward silence that drew on for longer than either demigod was comfortable with.
Nico sighed, shadows swirling around him in a near comforting manner "But it seems I've overstayed my welcome. I really wished that you wouldn't turn into another Percy. I tried so hard. But I guess you've figured me out and I'm sorry for that."
And then it dawned on him- Nico liked him. In any other situation Jason would have jumped in joy at the revelation if it wasn't painfully obvious that Nico thought the feelings weren't returned, that he'd found another Percy. "Nic-"
"So I'm leaving now; you shouldn't have to suffer every time you visit Camp Half Blood and it yours more than mine."
With that, shadows started surrounding the son of Hades and Jason grabbed his arm in panic.
"Don't go" he pleaded weakly, he knew that he would definitely not be able to find the younger boy again if he left.
"It wasn't your fault I was being awkward"
"…You don't have to lie for my feelings, Grace, I know-"
"But you don't know the whole story" Jason said before things could take a turn for the worse. He took a deep breath, preparing himself to just say it out loud "It's mostly my fault… I was being an idiot and didn't want you to feel uncomfortable around me because of how I feel about you. But I guess it didn't work and now you're trying to leave me and I don't want you to because, gods, Nico, I only just figured out that I like you and I can't lose you now."
"You… like me?" Nico asked finally, he did not just hear that- he couldn't have. But his traitorous heart held on to those words like a life ring despite his mind telling him that he was mistaken. How could Jason like him of all people, after all? He lifted his gaze up to the son of Jupiter. His face was flushed red; he was avoiding Nico's gaze as though he had a reason not to.
The reply came in the form of a hesitant whisper "…yes"
"Really?" Asked Nico, trying to find any trace of disingenuity in the blond's face; he was still holding out for all of this to be fake.
"Yes." this time, the reply came out firmer, more earnest, and Jason looked Nico directly in the eye.
And Nico could see it, he's known Jason far too long to know whether or not he's lying and- gods he was serious.
"and now you know I like you too" he could feel the colour rising in his own face.
Jason's face turned an even darker shade of red "I do."
"So what does that make... us?"
"Whatever you want us to be. We can stay friends or-" Jason paused slightly, averting his gaze "boyfriends, if you'd like?"
Nico's breath hitched in his throat. If he'd had any reservations about the proposal, the hopeful look that Jason was giving him right now would've made him change his mind.
"Y-yeah" Nico choked out "I'd like that"
When Nico found out that he didn't like girls, he thought that he'd never find someone who would love him back in that way; when he found out his godly parentage that belief was solidified. And so he decided to avoid showing those kinds of feelings at all cost and shun anything that even hinted at romantic interest.
Jason was the exception to all that.