Getting used to living alone hadn’t been easy.
After the war ended, Jason found that he didn’t really belong anywhere. Sure, both Camp Jupiter and Camp Half-Blood welcomed him with open arms, but the longer he spent at either place the more he came to realize that it wasn’t home. The only reason he stayed was because of his friends. After his relationship with Piper ended, in an unfortunate public argument, he felt he had to get away from there.
So Jason took a loan from the Bank of New Rome, moved to a small, or rather tiny, apartment in a nearby city and enrolled at university. Living alone was dangerous, but so far the monsters had been the easiest part. It was much harder to deal with the loneliness that came from going home to a quiet, empty apartment every night. He had managed to make friends among the other students, but it wasn’t the same. They weren’t people he could trust to have his back in a fight. He shouldn’t hold that against them, he knew that, but sometimes it was hard not to.
Still, he managed. He still visited both camps regularly, to see his friends and stock up on ambrosia and other supplies. It was amusing, really, that two years after helping to defeat Gaea and saving the world, he was lying on the bed in his shitty apartment procrastinating essay-writing by watching reality shows on television.
Jason startled as the air flimmered and Thalia’s face suddenly blocked his view of the screen.
“Hey,” Jason smiled, turning off the television. “Rare of you to call. What’s up?”
“I have a problem, and I can’t reach Hazel or Percy,” she said. Jason frowned.
“I don’t know about Hazel, but Percy is visiting his father’s palace,” he said. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s Nico,” Thalia said. Jason almost thought he’d heard wrong. Nobody had seen Nico di Angelo since the war ended, and Jason still regretted that he hadn’t been able to stop him from leaving. Nico had told him about his plans to disappear, but Jason hadn't thought he'd really do it. Now he knew better.
“You found him?” Jason breathed.
“It’s a long story,” Thalia said. “But he’s been badly wounded. Think you could come pick him up?”
“Just tell me where you are.”
Half an hour later Jason was on Tempest’s back, on his way toward the Hunters of Artemis. He tried not to imagine what could have happened to Nico. Most likely he had tried to do something heroic by himself instead of asking for help. Jason frowned. He really shouldn’t be out there alone.
Thankfully the hunters’ camp wasn't too far away, and it only took Jason about an hour to reach it. As he landed he saw several tents raised in a circle, but most of the hunters seemed to be standing outside a specific one, talking in lowered voices with looks of concern on their faces. They glared at him as he approached.
“Jason Grace, Thalia’s brother,” Jason introduced himself, a little intimidated by the looks the girls were giving him. “She called me about Nico.”
They nodded, and let him through without a word. He entered the tent, and Thalia walked up to him, throwing her arms around him.
“Jason! I’ve missed you,” she said. “Thanks for coming so quickly.”
“Missed you too, sis,” Jason said. “What happened?”
“Like I said, it’s kind of a long story,” Thalia said, gesturing for him to follow deeper into the tent. On beddings on the ground lay three people, bruised and pale, with bandages all over. Two of them were girls. The third one was Nico.
“One of the giants were trying to gather an army. My hunters had been tracking them for a few weeks. Nico apparently did the same, on his own,” Thalia said. “We ran into each other, and agreed to work together.”
“Really?” Jason asked. “I thought you guys generally didn’t work with boys.”
“We don’t, but Nico’s shadow traveling skill is useful,” Thalia said. “We still made him swear on the river Styx not to touch any of the hunters.”
“I bet he didn’t really care about that.”
“He didn’t. He just said the oath at the spot,” Thalia said. “So we worked together for about a week, before finding an opportunity to attack. We were successful, but Sarah and Alana got trapped underground with the monsters. We couldn’t get to them.”
“So Nico went to get them out,” Jason said, understanding.
Thalia nodded. “They would be dead if not for him,” she said. “Artemis isn’t happy about that. He can’t stay with us anymore.”
“What? But he got injured saving her hunters,” Jason exclaimed.
“The arrangement was one thing, but for her hunters to actually need a man's help...” Thalia said. “It’s an insult, basically. Either we have to get him out of here or Artemis will turn him into a girl.”
“She would do that?” Jason stared at his sister, trying to determine if she was joking. It didn’t seem like it.
“She would. I think she might even want to. Nico would be a valuable asset,” Thalia said. “I don’t like moving him when he’s injured, but we have to get him away from here.”
“Agreed,” Jason said. “How bad is it?”
“His right arm and shoulder is pretty trashed, but he’ll live,” Thalia said. “A steady supply of ambrosia should be enough to heal him, provided he doesn’t exhaust himself.”
“Which he will likely do as soon as he wakes up,” Jason nodded. “Understood. Help me get him on Tempest without reopening his wounds.”
It took a while, but they managed to get Nico securely in front of Jason on Tempest, and they took off. The flight clearly wasn’t doing Nico any favors, so instead of bringing him all the way to Camp Half-Blood, Jason decided to take him home. It made the journey almost an hour shorter, and Jason figured he’d have enough medical supplies anyway. They could fly the rest of the way tomorrow.
When he got home he lay Nico down on his bed and inspected his injuries. They hadn’t bled through the bandages, thank the gods, and the boy seemed more comfortable now that they weren’t moving him around. Jason force fed him some liquid ambrosia, careful not to overdose, and tucked him in under the blanket. Then he walked over to the sink to call Hazel.
“Oh, thank the gods!” Hazel cried when Jason finished telling her what was going on. “I felt him get injured, and went looking for him on Arion. I guess that’s why Thalia couldn’t reach me.”
“Probably,” Jason said. “I’m keeping him at my place for now, moving really wasn’t good for him. You can come visit if you like.”
“It’s pretty late, and I know how small your apartment is. I’ll be there tomorrow,” Hazel smiled. “You have no idea how relieved I am that he’s safe. If he wakes up, do not under any circumstances let him leave, okay?”
“I’m not going to,” Jason promised. “He’s not going anywhere.”
It was night already, but there was no way Jason could go to sleep now. Besides, his bed was occupied. He sat down by the desk to work on that essay he had been avoiding for a while now. He wasn’t completely concentrated, so it was turning out terrible, but he could edit it later. Right now he just needed something to do.
A few hours later there was a whimper from the bed, telling him Nico was waking up. Jason stopped writing in the middle of a word and walked over to the bed. As Jason sat down Nico opened his eyes. For a while Nico just looked at him, his gaze unfocused, then his eyes widened.
“Grace,” he said with a dry voice. “What are you doing here?”
“Nice to see you too,” Jason smiled. “And we’re at my apartment.”
“You have an apartment?” Nico asked, confused. “Wait, what happened to the hunters?”
“They’re fine, you saved them.” Jason said gently. “Thalia called me to come get you so you wouldn’t turn into a girl.”
“What are you talking about?” Nico frowned. Jason explained, and Nico sighed. “That makes no sense.”
Jason laughed slightly. “I didn’t think so either, but better safe than sorry. Unless you want to join the hunters, of course.”
“I’m not that stupid,” Nico muttered, briefly closing his eyes.
“How are you feeling?” Jason asked.
“Everything hurts, and I’m tired,” Nico said.
Jason nodded. “I’ll give you some more ambrosia, and then you should go back to sleep.”
Nico didn’t protest. Jason felt a bit calmer once he was finally asleep again. It didn’t seem like he would try to get way first chance he got. Jason looked down at the sleeping boy. The last two years hadn’t been kind to Nico. He was a bit taller, but not a pound fatter, and pale enough to be mistaken for dead, though that might have been the blood loss. His curly hair had grown long enough to reach his shoulders, but it didn’t look like he was taking care of it very well. There was a small scar splitting one of his eyebrows, and he looked tired even when he was sleeping. Jason frowned. There was no way he was letting Nico disappear again after this.
Jason looked around his apartment, signing as he realized he would be sleeping on the floor tonight. Technically his bed was wide enough for two, but Jason doubted Nico would appreciate that. No need to scare him off already. Thankfully Jason owned a sleeping bag and a camping mat to sleep on. It wasn’t comfortable, but it was better than sleeping directly on the floor. Besides, he’d slept in worse places.
Early the following morning he was woken up by the loud buzzing from his doorbell. Yawning, he went over to open it. Hazel was standing outside, impatiently bouncing on her feet.
“Finally,” she said. “How is he?”
Jason gestured for her to come in to see for herself. She made a beeline for the bed were Nico was sleeping. She looked horrified as she took in his appearance.
“Oh, gods,” she muttered. “Why did he have to leave? This wouldn’t have happened if he had just stayed with us.”
“We’ll just have to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Jason said, sitting down beside her. “He woke up briefly last night, but he’s been sleeping since.”
Hazel reached out to caress Nico’s face, looking like she was going to cry. Nico gave a sound and slowly opened his eyes. He frowned slightly.
“Hazel?” he asked, like he wasn’t sure.
“You idiot. If you weren’t already injured I’d hit you,” Hazel said angrily. “Why couldn’t you at least answer my calls?”
“I wasn’t planning on coming back,” Nico muttered, which was the wrong thing to say.
“Why not?” Hazel asked, her voice strained as she tried to fight back the tears. “Was it something we did? Did I do something? Please, I’ve missed you so much, and I don’t understand why you left! You didn’t even say goodbye!”
Nico looked alarmed when he realized she was crying. He tried to sit up, but hissed in pain before falling back on the bed again.
“It had nothing to do with you,” Nico said. “I was selfish. I didn’t think anyone would miss me.”
“You’re so stupid!” Hazel sobbed. “Everybody missed you.”
“It’s true,” Jason inflicted when Nico looked doubtful. “We even spent a few weeks trying to find you.”
Nico’s eyes widened at that. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly. Hazel smacked him lightly on the head, careful of his injuries.
“You better make up for it,” she said. “Promise me you won’t disappear again!”
“Hazel...” Nico tried, but she just glared at him.
“You’re not getting out of this one,” Jason said when Nico still hesitated. Finally Nico sighed.
“Fine. I swear on the river Styx I won’t disappear again,” Nico said, and Hazel finally smiled at him.
“You’re the only family I have, you know,” she said, leaning down to kiss his cheek. “And don’t think I’ve forgiven you yet, but just concentrate or getting better, okay. Jason will bring you to camp later.”
“I’m not staying Camp Half-Blood,” Nico said determinedly. “Or Camp Jupiter for that matter.”
Hazel frowned. “Don’t be stubborn. You need a place to stay and someone to take care of you while you heal.”
Jason could see Nico wanting to argue. There was something frightened in his eyes, and Jason felt sorry for him.
“Actually,” Jason started, slightly hesitant. “Nico can stay with me for a time if he wants to.”
Hazel considered it for a moment. “Are you sure? This place is really tiny.”
“I don’t mind,” Jason shrugged. “I don’t think the journey would be good for him anyway. If Nico prefers staying, I’m fine with it.”
Nico didn’t look happy, but he finally nodded. “Just until I can walk on my own,” he said. “Then I’ll find somewhere else.”
And just like that, Jason had a roommate. Well, sort of, since Nico probably wouldn’t pay rent or anything. Jason doubted he would be easy to live with, but he had wanted company, hadn’t he? At least Nico was unlikely to start any wild parties while Jason tried to study.
Hazel stayed until Nico fell asleep again. She hesitated before walking out the door.
“Thank you for doing this,” she said. “I’m not sure why, but he really doesn’t want to go back to camp.”
“I don’t mind letting him stay,” Jason said.
“Still, if you change your mind, just call and I’ll come get him,” Hazel said, and then went out of the apartment. Jason looked over at the sleeping boy in his bed and sighed. He guessed he’d be sleeping on the floor for a while.
Jason didn’t want to leave Nico alone for long, but he made a quick run to the convenience store for some food, looking for something Nico could eat. Soup seemed the best alternative.
Nico was already awake when Jason walked through the door. He had somehow managed to get into a sitting position, leaning against the wall behind the bed. It didn’t seem very comfortable. Jason put down the bag of groceries and walked over.
“How are you feeling?” Jason asked, taking a few pillows and placing them behind Nico to make him more comfortable. Nico didn’t look happy about being manhandled, but he didn’t comment on it.
“Could I have more ambrosia?” Nico asked.
“Later. You should try eating some actual food first,” Jason said. “I’ll make soup.”
“There’s no need for that,” Nico said.
“Look, ambrosia is good, but you need to eat for your body to heal properly,” Jason said patiently. “Honestly, when was the last time you actually had a decent meal, anyway?”
Nico looked away and didn’t answer. Jason sighed and went on to make food.
“Why are you living alone?” Nico asked when Jason stood by the stove. It occurred to him then that Nico probably had no idea what had happened to any of the Seven for the last two years.
“I enrolled at the university here. I wanted to get away from the camps for a while,” Jason shrugged, giving Nico the abbreviated version. “Also Piper broke up with me and moved to Hollywood, Frank and Hazel are engaged, Leo is dating the goddess Calypso and Percy and Annabeth are living together in New Rome.”
Nico blinked, apparently not having expected the pour of information. “What about Reyna?” he asked after a long pause.
“Still praetor, running Camp Jupiter with an iron fist,” Jason smiled. “Frank helps, of course, but she’s the one holding the reins.”
“I can imagine,” Nico said, smiling slightly. The soup finished cooking and Jason brought a plate over to the bed. Nico seemed hesitant.
“It’s a bad idea,” he said. “I can’t move my right hand, and my left keeps shaking. I’m going to spill it all over the sheets.”
“So I’ll feed you. It’s not a big deal,” Jason said, and Nico gave him a look that suggested it actually was a big deal. Jason frowned. “Look, you’re injured. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Nico blushed, and didn’t even look at Jason trough the whole process. Jason did manage to get him to eat half the bowl, though. It was a step in the right direction. Jason gave him some ambrosia after that.
“Thanks,” Nico muttered.
“No problem,” Jason said as he went to wash the bowl. He noticed Nico was following him with his eyes. “Something wrong?”
“Why are you doing this?” Nico asked. “We’re not exactly friends.”
“I think we could be, if you’d let us,” Jason sighed. “Besides, you need someone to help you right now.”
Nico didn’t answer. He turned his gaze down. The silence stretched on for a while.
“Want to watch a movie?” Jason finally asked. Nico hesitated for a second before he nodded. Nico fell asleep about halfway through the movie, and didn’t wake up when Jason helped him lay down again. He remained asleep for the rest of the evening while Jason tried to catch up on his studies.
As night fell, Jason lay down on the floor again, thinking that he should invest in another mattress. A few hours later a strange sound woke him up. At first he couldn’t distinguish it, being half asleep and disoriented as he was, then he realized it came from the bed. Getting up, he saw Nico, violently tossing and turning, sobbing quietly with an expression of utter terror on his face. Jason rushed to him, shaking him awake.
“Nico, wake up. It’s just a dream,” Jason urged. Nico opened his eyes wide, and punched Jason in the face. He had used his bad hand, so the blow probably hurt him more than it hurt Jason. Nico hissed in pain, seemingly having trouble breathing.
“I’m sorry,” he said, looking afraid as he hissed for breath. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that, I...”
“It’s okay, Nico. Calm down,” Jason said, wondering if Nico was having a panic attack. “Breathe.”
If anything Nico’s breathing just got more rapid. “I.. I think need to puke,” he managed, and Jason wasted no time sweeping him up and carrying him to the bathroom. By some miracle they reached the toilet before Nico threw up. Jason did his best to hold his hair back as he emptied his stomach into the toilet bowl. He didn’t have much to throw up, and was mostly hulking, still struggling to breath steadily.
“It’s okay, you’re safe. Just breathe,” Jason mumbled, trying to reassure him while feeling completely helpless. He had seen comrades break down before, but this was on a completely different scale, and Jason wasn’t sure what to do. He didn’t even know if Nico thought his presence was comforting or aggravating.
Finally Nico seemed to be finished throwing up, and his breathing was getting calmer, though he was still shaking.
“Sorry,” Nico said so quietly Jason almost missed it. He seemed more embarrassed than afraid now.
“It’s okay,” he said, finally letting his hands fall from Nico’s hair to his shoulders. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“No,” Nico said, the tone leaving no room for arguments. Jason nodded slowly and reached out to help Nico back to bed. He gave a small scream of pain as they stood up. Jason took a good look at him.
“Shit. I think your wound reopened,” Jason said, slowly putting Nico down again. They remained on the bathroom floor as he cleaned and redressed the wound. Thankfully the damage wasn’t that bad. The ambrosia had already worked miracles healing him, though Jason didn’t want to imagine how bad it had been to start with.
Nico blushed slightly but didn’t protest as Jason lifted him up and carried him bridal style to the bed. The boy was hardly weighed anything at all. After putting Nico down on the bed, Jason hesitated. He doubted this would happen again tonight, but what if it did? What if Jason didn’t hear him this time?
With that in mind he moved Nico further towards the wall and climbed into bed after him. Nico watched him, wide eyed, as Jason lay down beside him.
“What are you doing?” he asked, sounding a bit scared. Jason smiled reassuringly at him.
“Just to make sure you’re okay,” he said gently. “Wake me up if something happens, or if you need anything.”
“You don’t have to...” Nico begun, but Jason interrupted him.
“Seriously, just wake me. I don’t mind,” he said, closing his eyes. A while later he could hear Nico’s breathing even out beside him, and Jason relaxed. The bed was so much more comfortable than the floor, and he drifted off to sleep.
Jason was already making breakfast when Nico woke up the following morning.
“Hey, want something to eat?” Jason asked. Nico scowled at him.
“I’m not hungry,” he said. “I need to wash my teeth.”
Jason nodded and walked over to help Nico to the bathroom. He could almost walk on his own now, but it was better not to take any risks. Jason didn’t want him reopening his wounds, after all.
“Shout if you need me,” Jason said, as he left Nico to his own devices in the bathroom. Nico glared at him. The guy clearly had a problem accepting help.
Jason went back to making breakfast, and Nico exited the bathroom on his own a few minutes later. He looked pale and seemed a bit unsteady on his feet.
“I’m fine, Grace. Stop babying me,” Nico said as Jason moved over to help him. Jason frowned as he lead him back to bed.
“You lost a lot of blood,” Jason pointed out. “And you've barely eaten anything. You look like you’re going to pass out. You need food.”
He arranged some pillows behind Nico’s back so he could sit up in bed comfortably. Nico kept his gaze down, avoiding looking Jason in the eyes. He seemed embarrassed by the whole thing. When Jason fed him soup a while later he didn’t even protest, though he barely managed to eat half the bowl again. Jason hoped he would keep it down this time.
“Listen, I have to go to a few classes today,” Jason said. He didn’t really want to, but it was compulsory and he had an exam coming up soon. “Think you’ll be okay on your own for a few hours?”
Nico snorted. “I’ve been on my own since I was ten. I think I can handle a few hours.”
Jason didn’t have a good answer for that. He made sure Nico had everything he might need within reach before he left. He had a hard time concentrating on the lesson, and his university friends noticed he was a bit preoccupied.
“Did you get a girlfriend or something?” Simon teased him, “You should bring her to the party tonight.”
Jason blinked. He had forgotten about that. “Sorry, I can’t go. It’s not a girl. One of my friends is sick and is staying at my place.”
“You have friends? You never talk about them,” Simon said, still teasing. He reminded Jason of Leo sometimes.
“Of course I have friends,” Jason scoffed. “Anyway, I need to go.”
“Sure, man. Go play nursemaid,” Simon laughed. “I’ll totally call you next time I get sick.”
Jason rushed home, honestly worried that something might have happened. When he came into his apartment, however, he found Nico on the bed reading one of Jason’s books.
“How are you?” Jason asked as he walked over to him and sat down. Nico rolled his eyes.
“Miraculously still in one piece, despite you not being here to hold my hand,” he said drily. Jason laughed.
“At least you’re starting to sound like yourself,” he said. “Listen, about last night...”
Nico’s gaze turned hostile. “I told you I didn’t want to talk about it,” he said. “And I swear, Grace, if you tell anybody...”
“I’m not going to tell anyone,” Jason interrupted. “And we don’t have to talk much about it. I just want to know if it’s something that’s happened before.”
Nico narrowed his eyes. “It won’t happen again.”
“You’re lying,” Jason said, not sure how he knew. “It’s something you deal with often, isn’t it?”
“What does it matter?” Nico asked angrily. “I’m not a child anymore. I can handle it.”
“Nobody should go through that alone,” Jason said sternly. “You don’t have to tell me what this is about, but I want you to promise you’ll let me help if it happens again.”
Nico looked at him for a moment, then lowered his gaze. “I know you have a hero complex, Grace, but you can’t help me.”
“At least let me try,” Jason said. “Don’t go through this alone. Please.”
“Fine,” Nico agreed after a long silence. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Jason smiled at him.
The evening passed without incident. Nico obediently ate whatever food Jason fed him, though he never managed to finish his meals, and they watched another movie before going to sleep. Nico seemed a bit uncomfortable when Jason climbed into bed beside him.
“Don’t worry, it’s wide enough for two. I’m not going to touch you,” Jason said gently. “Besides, the floor is uncomfortable.”
Nico scoffed, though he seemed to relax a little bit. “Your apartment is tiny.”
“Says the guy who doesn’t have one,” Jason retorted. “Where did you live the last two years, anyway?”
“Here and there,” Nico said. “I spent a lot of time in the underworld. Occasionally I stayed in the homes of those that had just died, after asking permission. Haunted houses are pretty comfortable as well.”
Jason was speechless for a moment.“If anybody else told me that I’d think they were crazy,” he laughed.
“Who says I’m not?” Nico said, smirking at him. He did have a mad scientist -glint in his eyes, but Jason just kept laughing.
“Well, it’s not necessarily a bad thing,” he said. “Anyone who goes into a death trap to save two girls has to be a little crazy.”
“The attack was my plan. They were my responsibility,” Nico said.
“Don’t let Thalia hear you say that,” Jason said, smiling. “They’re her hunters, after all.”
“Still, it would have been my fault if they died.”
“No, it wouldn’t,” Jason said. “Thalia told me what happened. They succeeded thanks to you. By the way, so did we two years ago.”
“I didn’t do much,” Nico said. Jason sat up in bed to get a better look at him. I seemed he honestly meant it.
“Nico, without you we wouldn't have found the doors if death, and we couldn’t have gotten the statue back to Camp Half-Blood in time to stop the war,” Jason said. “You’re as much a hero as the rest of us.”
“Right,” Nico muttered, obviously not believing him. Jason frowned at him. Despite all the things he had accomplished, the kid apparently had no self confidence, except maybe when it came to battle and arcane knowledge.
“Why did you leave?” Jason asked.
“It doesn’t matter now,” Nico said hollowly.
“It wasn’t just because of Percy, was it?” Jason asked. That’s what he had thought at first, but now he wasn’t so sure.
“Percy had very little to do with it,” Nico said angrily. “I left because I didn’t belong anywhere. Not at Camp Half-Blood, not at Camp Jupiter and definitely not with your little group of heroes.”
“You could have, if you had made an effort,” Jason said sternly. “You’re alienating yourself on purpose.”
“Does it matter?” Nico asked. “Why do you care, anyway?”
“Because like it or not, I actually think of you as a friend,” Jason said. “And I don’t like seeing my friends suffer.”
Nico didn’t say anything to that. The silence became heavy after a while.
“Nico,” Jason said. “I know you care about people, and people care about you too. Let us.”
“Shut up and go to sleep, Grace,” Nico said, his voice thick. He was looking away from Jason, his head turned as far away as he could without lying on his injured arm, but Jason thought his eyes looked wet. Jason smiled, lying down beside him again.
“Goodnight, Nico,” he said gently. Nico just grunted as a response.
Jason woke up in the middle of the night to find Nico sitting up beside him, hugging his knees. He didn’t seem like he was having a panic attack this time, but Jason was still worried.
“Are you okay?” Jason asked quietly. Nico jumped at his words, then turned around to look at him.
“Just a nightmare. I’m fine,” Nico said. “Go back to sleep.” Jason ignored him and sat up beside him.
“You get a lot of nightmares, don’t you?” Jason said gently. “That’s why you always look like you haven’t been sleeping.”
For a moment Nico looked like he was going to deny it, then his shoulders slumped. “It helps if I’m exhausted when I go to sleep,” he said. “Sorry if I woke you up.”
“I told you to, didn’t I?” Jason said. “You should have woken me up immediately.”
“I’m not going to wake you every time I have a nightmare,” Nico said. “It wasn’t so bad. I’m fine now.” As if to illustrate his words he sunk back down on the bed. He really didn’t seem like he was going back to sleep any time soon, though.
“How long have this been going on?” Jason asked, and Nico sighed, apparently realizing he wasn’t getting away from this conversation.
“I’m a demigod, I’ve always had nightmares,” Nico said. “It got worse after Bianca died, and after Tartarus...” he trailed off, but Jason understood.
“It’s pretty much every night, isn’t it?”
Nico nodded slowly. “I got out of there, but I bought a piece of it with me,” Nico said. “I can never truly get away.”
“Would it help if I held you?” Jason asked. Nico stared at him.
“Are you making fun of me?” he asked angrily.
“I’m serious,” Jason said. “I know it helps some people against nightmares. I have no idea if it would work for you, with all you’ve been through, but I wouldn’t mind trying if you want to.”
“I doubt it would help,” Nico said. “Anyway, I don’t like being touched.”
“I know,” Jason said, lying back down beside him. “I respect that. But I think it would be worth trying.”
“You really wouldn’t mind?” Nico asked hesitatingly. Jason smiled as he moved closer, put his arm around the boy and carefully pulled him close. Nico lay completely still, tense and ready to run at any second.
“Relax, I’m not going to hurt you,” Jason said into his hair. “If you want me to let go just tell me.”
He expected Nico to push him away immediately, but he didn’t. It took a long time for him to start to relax in Jason’s arms.
“Are you sure this is okay?” he asked quietly.
“It’s fine. I don’t mind,” Jason said, running a hand through Nico’s hair. “Go to sleep. You’re safe here.”
That seemed to help the last of the tension leave Nico’s body. Soon Jason could hear him breathing softly and evenly. Jason closed his eyes and followed Nico to sleep.
Jason woke up with black hair in his mouth. It took him a few seconds to remember why Nico di Angelo was sleeping peacefully in his arms, but then he smiled happily down at the boy. Jason didn’t know if it was because of him or because Nico had already filled his quota of nightmares for that night, but he deserved a good night’s sleep, and Jason didn’t have the heart to wake him up. He remained in that position for a long while, drifting in and out of an easy sleep.
Jason noticed immediately when Nico woke up. His breathing hitched and his whole body became tense. Jason ran a soothing hand through his hair.
“Hey. Sleep okay?” he asked gently, pulling back enough so he was able to look at Nico. He must have been using all the blood left in his body to make his face that red.
“Yeah, thanks,” he muttered, his eyes wandering everywhere but Jason’s face. “You can let go of me now.”
Jason did as he asked and sat up, smiling. “No more nightmares?”
“No,” Nico confirmed. “But that was probably a coincidence, so don’t look so smug.”
“So we’ll try again tonight,” Jason shrugged. “Let’s hope it worked. How’s your shoulder?”
Nico tried moving his right arm, and wined in pain. “Still hurts, but I think it’s better,” he said, then frowned. “Don’t you have classes today?”
“Yeah, but not for another...” Jason looked at the clock on the wall and his eyes went wide. “Ten minutes! I’m going to be late.”
Nico laughed at him as he ran out of bed and threw on some clothes. He hesitated by the door, looking back towards Nico, who rolled his eyes.
“I’ll be fine,” he said. “Get going.”
“I’ll be back in a couple of hours,” Jason said then ran out the door and all the way to the university. He was fifteen minutes late when he entered the lecture. Simon laughed as he sat down beside him.
“Private party with your sick friend?” he whispered. “You should have brought him to my place. We had a blast!”
“Sorry I missed it,” Jason said, not entirely truthful. He didn’t mind wild parties, New Years Eve at Camp Jupiter was something even Simon would be in awe of, but he didn’t know these people enough to feel completely at ease with them.
“So, you wanna do something tonight, or are you babysitting?” Simon asked as they made their way to the next lecture.
“Sorry, I’ve got to get home directly after this,” Jason said. “Don’t want to leave him alone for too long.”
“Must be quite the guy, to make the perfect Jason Grace late for a lecture,” Simon laughed. Jason didn’t appreciate the “perfect”-comment. He had gone far out of his way to leave everyone’s expectations behind, but even in this place everybody still expected him to be infallible.
Except Nico. Nico didn’t expect anything from him.
“Yeah, he is,” Jason agreed, smiling slightly.
Nico was watching Disney’s Hercules when Jason came home. Leo had given it to Jason last Christmas as a joke. Jason didn’t particularly like it, as it changed the myths so much, but Nico seemed amused.
“I wonder what my father would say about this,” Nico laughed as Jason sat down beside him. “It’s hilarious.”
“You don’t mind that he’s the bad guy?” Jason asked.
Nico shook his head. “He is the bad guy in most stories he’s in, but they’re nowhere near this funny,” he said. “Besides, it’s not even trying to stay true to history. Hera especially is...well, not quite herself.”
Jason laughed. “That’s true. Also, Zeus as a loving father is pretty unnerving, to be honest,” he said. “And I’ve met Hercules. Believe me when I say I prefer this version.”
“Megara is the only one who’s somewhat accurate,” Nico said, smiling when Jason opened his mouth to ask how he knew that. “My father put her in Elysium. I talked her once.”
“Of course,” Jason said, laughing. ”She didn’t try for rebirth then?”
“Her children did,” Nico said. “But she figured she’d run no risk of meeting her husband again if she stayed. Apparently him killing her was the least of their problems.”
“I can imagine,” Jason said. He actually felt sad to hear that. Achelous had told Piper it was impossible to love a child of Zeus, and in the end he had been right. Jason was honestly starting to wonder if a normal relationship was even possible for him. Thalia might have had the right idea joining the Hunters of Artemis.
“What is it?” Nico asked, apparently noticing.
“Nothing,” Jason said. “It doesn’t matter.”
Nico laughed. “There’s a change. You’re usually all about talking about feelings.”
Jason was forced to smile at that. When it came to Nico, Jason supposed that was true. “Fine,” he said. “I was thinking about my own failed relationship with Piper.”
“Unless you killed her, I doubt it’s comparable,” Nico shrugged. ”How come it ended, anyways? You two seemed pretty close on the Argo II.”
“I guess I wasn’t able to live up to her expectations in the end,” Jason said. Nico frowned at him.
“You helped save the world. What more was she expecting?” he asked.
“Someone who could shoulder responsibility,” Jason sighed. “Someone who could love her completely.”
“You’re saying you didn’t love her?” Nico asked, sounding confused.
“I did. I still do,” Jason said. “But not the way she expected me to. The memories Hera gave her never quite matched reality. I wasn’t the person she thought I was.”
Jason looked down at his knees. “I don’t think I’m the person anyone expects me to be.”
“So you moved here to get away from that,” Nico nodded, understanding. “And then you tell me I was stupid for doing the same.”
“Hey, at least I still keep in touch with my friends,” Jason said. “I still visit them every now and then. I even made friends with Piper again.”
“And you wonder why people expect you to be perfect,” Nico said, rolling his eyes. “If you act like some kind of fairy tale hero, don’t be surprised if people treat you like one.”
“I don’t act like a fairy tale hero,” Jason said. ”And that’s exactly what I told you about scaring people away!”
“How does it feel to have your words thrown back at you?” Nico said.
“I still don’t act like that!”
“Yeah, ‘boo hoo, people expect me to do well‘,” Nico said angrily. “People expect me to betray them first chance I get. How’s that fair?”
“You could prove them wrong,” Jason said. “You have proved them wrong. People would accept you.”
“Really? A moment ago you told me they don’t even accept you,” Nico said venomously. “What chance does someone like me have?”
“That’s not how I meant it!”
“Then what did you mean, Grace?” Nico asked, his eyes blazing. “Tell me. I would love to hear it!”
Jason hesitated. He wasn’t sure how he could explain this so Nico could understand. He wasn’t even sure he understood what he’d meant himself. After a moment’s silence Nico nodded.
“That’s what I thought,” he said bitterly. That just made Jason angry.
“It’s not the same,” he insisted. “I was raised to be and think a certain way. I grew up trying to be what everyone expected me to be. I didn’t come out here to be rid of other people’s expectations, not really. I know they will accept me as soon as I find and accept myself.”
He smiled bitterly. “No, maybe it’s exactly the same,” he said. “You push people away and even act scary because you can’t accept yourself. You don’t let anyone in because you think you’re not worth it!”
“So what?” Nico yelled. “There’s no way you’d understand, so stop trying! We’re not the same!”
“Maybe not. Because I’m actually trying to change things instead of hiding away and feel sorry for myself,” Jason snapped. A second later his eyes widened, and he realized what he just said. Nico was looking at him like he was either going to attack or run away any second.
“Don’t you dare leave!” Jason said, walking past him. “I’m going out for a bit. You better still be here when I come back!”
He didn’t look at Nico for confirmation, afraid he’d snap again. Jason exited the apartment and went outdoors. He walked a few blocks, not going anywhere in particular but vaguely hoping some monster would attack him. When that didn’t happen, Jason got his cell phone out to call Simon. For a moment he almost wished Leo and Annabeth hadn’t invented these monster safe cell phones.
Simon hadn’t made any other plans, so Jason went over there. Simon laughed at him when he opened the door to let him in.
“You look pissed. Did your sick boyfriend break up with you?”
“We had a fight,” Jason admitted. “And Nico is not my boyfriend.”
“Let’s hope not. That would break the hearts of half the girls at campus,” Simon said. “Though maybe then I would have a chance to get a date. Tekken?”
“Why not?” Jason shrugged. Maybe he could get rid of his angry energy by doing some by proxy fighting through video games. The problem was, he sucked at it, and Simon beat him almost every turn.
“Dude, you’re even worse than usual,” Simon said. “What did you two fight about, anyway? I can be your marriage counselor.”
“He’s got zero self esteem,” Jason said, frowning as his character took another hit. If it had been real life, he could have easily dodged that.
“Hardly surprising if he hangs out with you,” Simon said. “One has to have a damn strong character not to get a minority complex with you. Of course, I’m safe.”
“I’m hardly perfect,” Jason said. If he had been perfect he wouldn’t have snapped at Nico, for instance.
“Nobody’s perfect,” Simon said dismissively. “But you do have that air around you. Besides, perfect is boring.”
“You’re saying I’m boring?” Jason asked, and Simon laughed.
“As player 2, you definitely are,” Simon said. “I could beat you with my eyes closed.”
It was late when Jason finally headed home. He really hoped Nico was still there. Jason had replayed their fight in his head a hundred times in his head over the course of the evening, and realized Nico had been right. Trying to compare their situations hadn’t really been fair, even if they were similar. Besides, what Jason had said last about hiding and feeling sorry for himself… Well, that was part of why he had left, as much as he loathed to admit it.
The apartment was quiet when Jason entered, but he could see the outline of Nico’s body on the bed. He sighed of relief. That meant he had a chance of fixing this.
Jason quickly got ready for bed, then hesitated for a moment before sitting down on the bed. Nico’s eyes were closed, but he didn’t look like he was sleeping.
“Hey, you awake?” Jason asked quietly. Nico slowly opened his eyes to glare at him. He was apparently still angry.
“I’m sorry,” Jason said. “I was out of line.”
Nico was silent for a moment. “It’s fine,” he said grudgingly. “It was mostly true after all.”
“I’m still sorry,” Jason said. “I’m glad you stayed.”
“Where else would I have gone?” Nico said quietly. Jason reached out to touch his shoulder, and Nico tensed, but didn’t swipe the hand away. That meant a lot, coming from him.
“Can I join you?” Jason asked gently.
Nico snorted. “It’s your bed, isn’t it?” he said, moving slightly towards the wall to give Jason space.
“That’s not exactly what I meant,” Jason smiled, lying down beside him. “Do you want me to hold you again?”
“I’ll be fine,” Nico said hesitatingly. ”I’m not a child anymore.”
“That’s not what I asked, Nico,” Jason said. “You promised you’d let me help you, if I could. Do you think I can?”
He reached out for Nico again, running his fingers through his hair. Nico sighed and rolled his eyes, flustered. Then he nodded. Jason smiled as he pulled the boy close again. Nico relaxed much quicker this time, falling asleep. Jason wondered if he had forced himself to stay awake to avoid facing the nightmares on his own. The thought made his heart clench. He protectively pulled Nico a bit closer still.
Jason lay awake for a while, thinking about the sleeping boy in his arms. He really hoped this helped ease his fears, even a little bit. Nico had been through so much, and most of it alone. Jason couldn't begin to understand how hard it must have been. He had been going crazy after living by himself for just a few months. Nico had gone through Tartarus alone. He was amazing, really. If only he could see it himself.
It became routine after that. The next four night Nico slept in Jason’s arms, and neither of them asked for permission anymore. For the most part it kept Nico’s nightmares away. There was one incident when Jason woke up to find Nico trembling against him, but after Jason shook him awake he quickly calmed down. Nico’s arm was slowly healing, and Jason honestly wondered what would happen when that happened. Would Nico leave?
“You wanna go out and eat today?” Jason asked when Saturday arrived. “You’ve been cramped in here for almost a week now.”
Nico hesitated. “I don’t have anything to wear.”
That was a fair point. Nico had mostly been wearing Jason’s T-shirts and pajama pants around the house, and quite frankly he drowned in them. Jason honestly found that cute, but Nico probably didn’t agree with him.
“The neighborhood is crawling with students, so nobody would look twice no matter what you wear,” Jason said. “You can wear some of my stuff, and we’ll go buy you something else at the same time. Sound good?”
“Your pants keep falling off me,” Nico said.
“Well, I washed the ones you were wearing when you got here,” Jason said. “The blood stains are still fairly apparent, though. And there are a few tears.”
“Still better than walking around with my pants halfway down to my knees,” Nico said and went to change. He was a pretty interesting sight when he came back, wearing tight, worn jeans and a purple T-shirt that had room enough for two of him. Jason smiled to himself. Nico had a presence that made you forget how small he really was, but it was pretty obvious when he was wearing Jason’s clothes. The neck of the shirt threatened to slip down over his bare shoulder, and Nico readjusted it with an irritated expression.
“Yeah, I know. I look ridiculous,” he said. “Let’s go.”
“Actually people will probably think you’re being fashionable,” Jason laughed. “How’s your arm? Do you need to bind it up?”
“Nah, it’s pretty much healed,” Nico said. “My shoulder still hurts, though. If anything attacks us, you’re doing the fighting.”
“Agreed. Let me know if the pain becomes too much,” Jason said. “We can come back at any time.”
They went shopping for clothes first. Nico stuck to his old style of black pants and T-shirts with or without skull motifs. They had a bit of a disagreement when it came to paying, though.
“There’s no need,” Nico said. “I’ll just shadow travel out of here.”
“Nico, that’s stealing,” Jason said strictly.
“So?” Nico said. “You just get into a camera blind spot and nobody will notice.”
“Gods, Nico. You can’t just steal stuff,” Jason said. “You’re the son of Hades, not Hermes.”
“They can’t take it with them anyway,” Nico smiled, and Jason rolled his eyes.
“Give it here, I’ll pay for it,” he said.
They went to McDonalds to eat after that. Nico ordered a happy meal, which Jason tried and failed not to laugh at. Still it was a bigger meal than anything Jason had forced him to swallow during the last week, so he wasn’t complaining.
They had been sitting there for a while, talking about nothing in particular, when Jason suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Hi, Jace,” Simon said, grinning down at him. “You on a date?”
Jason rolled his eyes. “Nico, this is Simon. From the university,” Jason introduced him. “Simon, Nico. He’s the friend I mentioned staying with me for a while.”
“I can see that. He’s wearing your shirt,” Simon grinned. “Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Nico said, looking uncomfortable, doubly so when Simon sat down beside him and leaned over.
“So you’re old friends, right?” he said. “Tell me something embarrassing about Jason that I can use for blackmail.”
“Um,” Nico said, looking over at Jason for help. “I haven’t really known him that long.”
“And yet you live with him. Huh,” Simon said. “Really though, when Jason said ‘friend’ I expected another hunk of a bodybuilder.”
“I’m not a hunk. Or a bodybuilder,” Jason said. “And Nico could kick your ass halfway to tomorrow.”
“Well, I don’t doubt it,” he said, getting up from the chair. “I have to go. Unlike you two losers I’ve actually got a real date. With a girl. See you later!”
“That was...weird,” Nico said when Simon had left the diner.
“Sorry, Simon can be a bit overly enthusiastic sometimes,” Jason said. “He’s a good guy, though he wouldn’t know the hilt from the sword.”
“Is it strange, living like a normal human being?” Nico asked.
“Sometimes,” Jason nodded. “I mean, I’ve never done it. I grew up at Camp Jupiter, surrounded by other demigods. This is a whole different set of values.”
“You’re enjoying it,” Nico said, smiling slightly. It wasn't a question.
“I am, yeah. Nobody here cares who my father was,” Jason said. “I have to lie about my background a lot, which I’m terrible at, and monsters occasionally attack in the middle of the street, but yes, I’m enjoying it.”
“Huh,” Nico said, and then nothing more. Jason wondered if he was considering staying, but he didn’t dare ask. Not yet, anyway. They went back home soon after that, and spent the evening watching reality shows on the television and commenting on how bad everything was. When night came they curled up together without a word.
“Wow! That’s not what I expected!”, was the first thing Jason heard the following morning. He felt Nico go still in his arms as he forced his eyes open. Percy Jackson's face was grinning at them through the mist.
“What do you want, Percy?” Jason asked, wondering whether to remain lying down or sit up. Nico wasn’t moving.
“I heard Nico was back and wanted to check up on you two,” Percy said. “I’m happy for you.”
Jason’s eyes widened. “Listen, this is not...”
“You don’t have to hide it, man. I’m cool with it,” Percy laughed. “Kudos to him for putting up with you. Tell him to come visit us in New Rome sometime when he wakes up. You can go back to cuddling now.”
Still laughing happily, Percy broke the connection. Jason stared at the spot where his face had been, wondering if that really just happened. Nico slowly untangled himself from Jason and sat up. His face was completely void of any emotions.
“I’ll call him back,” Jason said, getting up. “I’ll explain he misunderstood...”
“Right,” Nico said hollowly. “Tell him we’re only sleeping together because I’m too weak to deal with my own nightmares.”
“Nico, you’re not weak,” Jason said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Needing help is not weakness. Everybody needs help sometimes.”
“Not like this. Not from things that aren’t even real,” Nico insisted. “Let’s face it, I’m so scared of the boogeyman I have panic attacks. And now everybody will know.”
“Nobody will know anything,” Jason said. “I don’t even have to call Percy. I just figured you wouldn’t want him thinking we’re together like that.”
Nico laughed, a horrible, empty sound. “I gave up on Percy a long time ago,” he said. “And you were always urging me to tell everyone my secret anyway. I don’t care what he thinks, but don’t let yourself be tainted by my reputation.”
“What?” Jason asked. “I’m not going to be tainted...”
“I should go. I’ve imposed on your kindness long enough,” Nico said. “Call Percy. Clear your name.”
“Nico, wait!” Jason yelled, attempting to grab him, but it was a second too late. Nico melted into the darkness, and Jason let out a scream of frustration.
In the end he never called Percy back. He wasn’t sure how to explain the situation without telling Percy about Nico’s nightmares. Percy would have understood, but if Nico didn’t want anybody to know then no one would. Besides, a few days later he was pretty sure everybody at both camps had already heard the news. Jason didn’t mind. At least this way Nico could see that people really didn’t care about stuff like that anymore.
A week passed, and Nico was nowhere to be seen. Jason tried calling him a few times, but there was no answer. When he spoke to Hazel, however, she told him Nico was speaking to her regularly. She had been sorry to hear they weren’t actually together.
“I was shocked when I first heard about it, but I was already getting used to the thought when Nico told me it wasn’t true,” she had said. “He seemed surprised about the rumor.”
“Next time you talk to him, could you tell him to call me?” Jason said. “I really need to speak to him.”
Hazel had agreed, but another week passed without him hearing a word from Nico. Jason had essays and exams to keep him busy, but he couldn’t concentrate properly. His apartment was suddenly too big and too quiet, and Jason started to hate it. Even his bed seemed colder than it used to be. Strange as it seemed, he had really gotten used to Nico’s presence in his life, and he missed him.
“Dude, you’re acting like you’ve been dumped. Snap out of it,” Simon told him one day, and Jason supposed he was right. He tried not to let his melancholy show after that, but he was still lonely, and worried about how Nico was doing on his own. Maybe he had found someone else to hold him at night. Jason should have hoped so, but found he couldn’t.
Two weeks after Nico’s disappearance Jason was lying in bed, trying to fall asleep. He was hugging a pillow, but it really wasn’t the same. Still, he was just drifting off to sleep when he heard a loud bump. Wide awake, Jason sat up in bed and turned on the lights, ready to fight whatever monster had come for him.
It wasn’t a monster. It was Nico di Angelo, kneeling on the carpet and looking like he had trouble breathing.
“Jason, please,” he choked out between breaths, and Jason was out of bed and by his side in an instant, taking hold of his shoulders.
“I’m here,” he said. “You’re safe now. I’m here. Breathe.”
For a long while they sat there as Jason tried to make Nico calm down. At long last his breathing returned to normal, and he collapsed against Jason’s chest. Jason lifted him up and carried him to the bed, holding him tightly.
“I’m sorry,” Nico mumbled into Jason’s neck. “I tried to deal with it on my own. I really tried. I can’t do it anymore.”
“You don’t have to,” Jason said, gently kissing Nico’s forehead. “I’m so glad you’re back.”
“Can I stay?” Nico asked, barely audible. Jason chuckled into his hair.
“If you knew how much I’ve missed you, you wouldn’t ask that,” he said. “You can stay for as long as you want.”
Nico relaxed and put his arms around Jason, which was new. Jason smiled down at him, surprised, but Nico already seemed to be falling asleep. Jason closed his eyes as well, feeling like he was home for the first time in weeks.
Jason actually had classes the following morning, but he decided to skip them in favor of spending a lazy morning cuddled up with Nico on the bed. It wasn’t just about keeping nightmares away anymore, but they didn’t talk about that.
“How is your shoulder?” Jason asked, looking at the boy laying on his arm.
“More or less healed,” Nico said. “There’s going to be an ugly scar, though. Speaking of which, you’ve never told me how you got yours.”
Jason laughed. “There’s an embarrassing story if Simon ever asks you again,” he said. “I tried to eat a stapler when I was a baby.”
“What?” Nico said, laughing hard against Jason’s chest. It was one of the sweetest sounds Jason had ever heard. “I always figured it was a battle scar.”
“Most people do,” Jason said. “I’m probably the most accident prone demigod there is. I don’t even know how much of the journey to Athens I spent unconscious.”
“Not nearly as much as I did, I’m sure,” Nico chuckled. “When do your classes start today?”
“Half an hour ago,” Jason said, lazily playing with Nico’s hair. “I can afford to miss one or two lectures.”
“Who are you and what have you done to Jason Grace?” Nico said, looking up at him with a surprised smile. Jason shrugged, which didn’t work well because Nico was still lying on his arm.
“This is nicer,” he said. “Have you thought about enrolling yourself next semester?”
“I’m barely eighteen,” Nico pointed out, and Jason laughed.
“I’d forgotten about that. I bet you could still do it if you wanted to,” Jason said. “Camp Jupiter would help with the paperwork.”
“We’ll see,” Nico said. “For all we know another threat might come up to end the world.”
“Positive thinking,” Jason laughed.
The problems started with the dreams.
Not nightmares. Nico slept pretty calmly close to Jason, though there were still the occasional incident. No, these dreams were Jason’s, and they weren’t nightmares. Quite the opposite in fact.
Nico woke him up the first time it happened, and being woken up by the person you just had a wet dream about was extremely embarrassing. He was sitting up in the bed, looking down at Jason with one hand on Jason’s shoulder.
“You were making strange sounds,” Nico said. “Did you have a nightmare?”
For a moment Jason had just looked at him, confused, slowly realizing that this Nico was not the same one that had been sucking him off a moment earlier. Jason felt his cheeks grow warm as he mentally slapped himself. Where the hell did that dream come from anyway?
“Sorry, did I wake you?” Jason said, unable to look him in the eyes. Nico frowned at him.
“Why do you look so embarrassed? I have nightmares all the time,” Nico said, and Jason sat up and buried his head in his hands.
“It wasn’t a nightmare,” he said.
“Oh,” Nico said, and Jason felt his hand quickly disappearing from his shoulder. “Oh. Well. That happens, right?”
Jason turned to look at him. Nico’s face was a deep red, and he was looking down at his hands, fidgeting with his rings. Jason tried not to think about how he had looked in the dream, all flustered and naked and...Jason shook his head to clear it.
“Sorry,” Jason said again. “I didn’t mean for it to happen.”
“It’s fine,” Nico said. “Let’s not talk about it.”
He turned and slept about an arm's length away from Jason the rest of the night. Jason barely slept at all.
The following days were torture. Before the dream Jason and never really seen Nico in that light, not consciously, but now he couldn’t stop looking. The toned muscles in his arms, the curve of his back, those impossibly dark eyes… It was driving Jason crazy, and creating a rift between the two of them.
Jason wasn’t sure whether or not Nico knew the dream had been about him, but he doubted it. The boy still hung around, after all, even if he was almost as afraid of Jason touching him as he had been in the beginning. He even slept by himself for the most part now. Jason couldn’t blame him for that. As much as he wanted to touch him it was hardly innocent anymore, and Jason felt he had betrayed Nico’s trust, even if he hadn’t meant to.
The dreams wouldn’t leave him alone either. Instead they kept getting more graphic, and Jason woke up hard more often than not. Sometimes Nico woke him up, though he refused to look at him. Other times Jason woke up to an empty bed. In the end, they both knew the situation couldn’t last.
“I should go,” Nico said one day, not looking Jason in the eye. Jason wasn’t exactly surprised by the suggestion.
“I’m really sorry about this,” Jason said. “I don’t want you to go, but if you feel you have to, I understand.”
“Well, this way you’ll have an empty bed to invite whoever you’re dreaming about to,” Nico said, clearly making an effort to seem dismissive of the whole thing. “Good luck with that, by the way.”
He was already getting his things together, and it physically hurt Jason to watch it. He sighed deeply, figuring it was over anyway. He might as well come clean.
“It’s you,” he said. Nico didn’t stop packing.
“What’s me?” he asked, slightly preoccupied.
“The person I’ve been dreaming about. It’s you,” Jason said, and Nico stopped dead in his tracks. He slowly turned around, looking panicked.
“What?” he demanded, eyeing Jason like he’d just told him the world was flat.
“Look, I didn’t plan for this,” Jason said. “I didn’t mean for it to happen, and I’m not going to do anything you don’t want. But I am attracted to you.”
Nico stared at him in silence for a while. “Why?” he finally asked, choking on the word.
“I know you don’t believe it, but you are quite good looking,” Jason said. “Especially when you smile. But it’s not just that. I like you, I like the person you are.”
“You’re lying,” Nico said. The pace of his breathing was increasing rapidly. “There’s no way… Someone like me couldn’t...”
Jason looked in alarm as Nico stated hissing for air between words. “Nico, calm down. Breathe,” Jason said, walking over to him. “I’m not going to hurt you, I’m not going to do anything. Please just calm down.”
Nico flinched when Jason touched his arm, and Jason tried not to be hurt by that. Of course Nico wouldn’t want Jason touching him now that he knew Jason’s feelings. “Please, Nico. This doesn’t change anything. I’m still your friend. Trust me. Breathe as I do.”
It took way longer than it should have, but finally Nico started breathing normally again. He seemed embarrassed.
“Sorry,” he muttered. “I panicked.”
“It’s okay,” Jason said gently.
“What you said...Is it true?” Nico asked, narrowing his eyes at Jason, who nodded.
“Every word,” Jason said seriously. “I like you. ”
Nico sighed. “I have to go,” he said. “I need time to think about this.”
“I understand,” Jason said sadly. “I just hope we can still be friends.”
Nico nodded. “Me too,” he said, then melted into the shadows, taking his stuff with him. Jason sat down on his empty, overly large bed, covering his face with his hands, trying not to sob. At least now Nico knew.
About a week later Jason woke up in the middle of the night as the bed shifted. He lay still for a moment, because he was desperately hoping and it couldn’t be!
“You awake?” came a low whisper from beside him. Jason sat straight up, because it actually was Nico.
“I’m not sure. Maybe I’m dreaming this,” Jason said, and Nico chuckled as he put his sword down beside the bed and took his shoes off.
“Are you still serious about what you said?” Nico asked, looking at his shoes.
“Yes,” Jason said. “Maybe more so than before. Is that okay?”
“Okay?” Nico repeated, turning to look at him. He seemed uncomfortable. “I don’t know. I thought long and hard about it, but it just kept going in circles. I don’t understand how you could want someone like me.”
“Someone like you?” Jason said. “You mean someone brave enough to face Tartarus alone, kind enough to raise a sister he didn’t even know, loyal enough to remember friends others had forgotten about?”
“That’s not...” Nico stated to say, but stopped. “Is that really how you see me?”
“Among other things,” Jason said. “For me personally, I like how you’ve never expected me to be or act a certain way. And I like that you don’t try to be smooth about telling me when I do something stupid. I like that you can laugh at me.”
“You like that I laugh at you?” Nico repeated in disbelief. “You want to be humiliated?”
“Of course not. I just like how you don’t pull punches,” Jason smiled. “And I like your laugh in and by itself.”
“You’re a sap,” Nico concluded, and Jason laughed.
“I suppose I am,” he said, offering Nico his hand. “Are we cool?”
Nico hesitated, eyeing the hand. “Um,” he said, suddenly void of confidence again. “What if… what if I told you I like you too?”
Jason froze, staring at him with wide eyes as Nico blushed. “Are you just asking, or do you mean it?” Jason said breathlessly. “Because you know you don’t have to...”
“I mean it,” Nico interrupted. “Why do you think I got so jealous when I thought you were dreaming about someone else?”
“Then why didn’t you tell me before?” Jason asked, still not quite daring to believe it.
“Because I didn’t fully realize it at the time. I don’t think I wanted to,” Nico said, flustered. “I thought there’s no way it would happen anyway, and I didn’t want to go through the whole Percy-thing again. I couldn’t. I can’t.”
“It’s not the same,” Jason said, carefully putting a hand on Nico’s shoulder. He didn’t shake it off. “I like you. If you want to do this, we could.”
“You would regret it,” Nico said gloomily. “It would end badly.”
“Maybe, maybe not, but I still wouldn’t regret it,” Jason said, moving closer. “No more excuses, Nico. Do you want this?”
Nico hesitated. “Yes,” he said, barely audible, but the word lifted Jason’s heart. He pulled the boy close and placed a hand in his hair, running his fingers through the curls as he leaned down to push their mouths together. It took a moment for Nico to start responding, and he pretty obviously didn’t know what he was doing, but Jason didn’t care. It was Nico, and all the technique in the world couldn’t replace that.
Nico made a surprised sound as Jason’s tongue entered his mouth, but he didn’t bite, thankfully. He was clearly a quick learner, and Jason couldn’t help but moan appreciatively. Nothing existed but the two of them, all mouths and hands and foreign sensations.
They were both breathing heavily when they parted. Jason looked into Nico’s eyes, and they seemed happy, for once. Happy, hungry and impossibly dark. Jason swallowed. The dream-Nico had nothing on the real thing. Jason’s pants felt uncomfortable as he moved to kiss Nico’s neck.
“I want you,” he whispered into Nico’s skin. The boy suddenly grew tense in his arms.
“Um,” he said quietly, like he expected to be scolded. “I don’t really know what to do.”
“There are no rules,” Jason smiled, placing another kiss on his neck. “Anything you want. And if I do something you don’t like, just tell me.”
“I don’t like it when you stop,” Nico murmured, and Jason chuckled. He moved on to suck on Nico’s neck, fully intent on leaving hickeys on the skin. Nico’s breath hitched and he moaned loudly. Jason could feel Nico’s hands tugging at his shirt, and he untangled them to remove it. Nico was eyeing his naked torso appreciatively.
“Do I pass the test?” Jason smiled. Nico blushed deeply.
“Just barely,” he said, shyly running his hands over Jason’s muscles. Jason leaned in to kiss him.
“Take off your shirt,” he urged as they parted.
Nico hesitated, looking uncomfortable again. “I think I’d prefer to keep it on,” he said, protectively holding his stomach. Jason frowned at him.
“Come on, that’s not fair,” he said.
“What’s not fair is you looking like a Roman statue while I...” Nico scowled. “Well, let’s face it. I look dead.”
“Only when you’re really trying to,” Jason said. “And I changed your bandages a few weeks back, I know what you look like. You have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Nico didn’t say anything, but when Jason moved closer to move his arms out of the way and pull the shirt over his head he didn’t protest, though he immediately moved the arms back to cover himself.
“Nico, it’s okay,” Jason said, gently pulling his arms away again and taking a long look at him. Nico was still painfully thin and his ribs were visible, but toned muscle surrounded them. There was a large scar from his recent injury on his right shoulder, and Jason leaned forward to kiss it.
“You’re beautiful,” he murmured. After a moment’s silence Nico gave a choked laugh.
“Shut up, Nico,” Jason said against his skin. “Just let me love you, okay?”
Nico was quiet after that, save the gasps and moans he made while Jason explored his skin. Nico’s hands were entangled in Jason’s hair, and Jason wasn’t even bothered by the fact that Nico wasn’t touching him nearly as much as he did. Nico was new this, after all, and Nico was new to Jason. He wasn’t giving him much time to concentrate on anything but himself.
Jason hesitated with his thumbs inside Nico’s pants, looking back up at him. “Do you want to?” he asked gently.
Nico chuckled nervously. “That should be fairly obvious,” he said, but Jason could feel his hands tremble. He moved back up to kiss Nico again. He didn’t expect Nico to suddenly push him backwards, causing him to fall down on the bed. For a second he was hurt that Nico pushed him away, then Nico’s lips were on his, while the boy practically climbed on top of him. Jason really had no complaints about that, except the increasing discomfort of his pants.
Fortunately Nico seemed to be heading in that direction as soon as he ended the kiss. “Tell me what to do,” he urged quietly into Jason’s belly button, and Jason found it impossible to think.
“Anything. Hands, mouth, I don’t care,” Jason breathed. “Nico, please.”
Nico chuckled nervously as he tugged his fingers into Jason’s pants and dragged them downwards. When Jason lay naked before him, he hesitated. Jason opened his mouth to tell him he didn’t have to if he didn’t want to, but the words turned into a loud moan as Nico’s hand curled around him. Then Nico brought his mouth down, experimentally tasting him, and it was all Jason could do not to come right then.
It was clear Nico had never done this before. He was nervous and a bit clumsy and occasionally let his teeth too close, but on the other hand he kept experimenting, and seemed to remember what made Jason moan the loudest. However, the main thing was that it was Nico. Nico di Angelo was sucking him off. Like in that first dream Jason’d had, only so, so, much better.
Jason screamed Nico’s name loudly as he came.
Nico was looking a bit lost when Jason had collected himself enough to focus again. Jason smiled, sitting up to kiss him deeply. He tasted of Jason now, and Jason would be lying if he said that didn’t make him happy.
Jason moved back to sucking Nico’s neck as his hands found their way to Nico’s pants again, this time managing to get them open and pulling them down. Jason had fully intended to return the favor, but after just a few strokes Nico came undone with a whimper.
He rested his head on Jason’s shoulder as he tried to catch his breath. “Sorry,” he muttered, clearly embarrassed. “That just kind of happened.”
Jason chuckled into his hair. “It’s okay. I’ll do it properly later,” he said. “You were amazing.”
“I don’t know about that,” Nico mumbled. “But I feel amazing. Is it okay if I go to sleep?”
“Sure,” Jason said, letting himself fall back down on the bed and taking Nico with him. He brought Nico’s face up for a long, lazy kiss before settling in and closing his eyes as Nico curled up against him. Nico fell asleep immediately, but Jason lay awake for a long time, reveling in the feeling of the boy’s naked body beside him. He honestly couldn’t believe he had gotten what he wanted. He just hoped Nico wouldn’t regret this.
When Jason woke up the following morning and found the bed empty his initial reaction was to panic. He rushed out of bed, stumbled on something and fell flat on his face. Swearing, he turned around to see what had made him fall, and realized it was Nico’s shoes. Relief flooded into him and moments later the bathroom door opened.
“Why are you on the floor?” Nico asked, raising his eyebrows. He was wearing Jason’s pajama pants and no shirt. Jason grinned at all the red marks he’d left on Nico’s skin.
“I stumbled on your shoes,” Jason said, getting up and walking over to throw his arms around him. Nico blushed, but didn’t push him away. “I was afraid you had left.”
“There was a moment when I thought about it,” Nico admitted quietly. “But I wouldn’t do that to you. Besides, I was kind of hoping...” he trailed off, turning a deeper shade of red as he reached out to touch Jason’s hair. Jason grinned happily and leaned in to kiss him. Nico pressed up against him, and Jason could feel him growing hard against his leg. He ran his hands over Nico’s ass, squeezing slightly.
“Hoping for what?” Jason teased him when they parted, his hands still caressing Nico’s butt.
“You know what,” Nico said, flustered. “And you said you would.”
Jason chuckled, briefly sucking on a red mark on Nico’s throat before kneeling down in front of him. “Anything you want,” Jason said, pulling his pants down. He took a moment to appreciate the sight in front of him. Nico was hard and trembling in anticipation, because of him. Jason smiled happily as he finally took a hold of Nico and brought him to his mouth.
It was harder than Jason thought it would be, and he tried his best to remember what felt good and what didn’t. Nico seemed to enjoy it, and the deep moans he was making shook Jason to the core. If he hadn’t needed his other hand to steady Nico’s hips he wouldn’t have been able to resist touching himself as well. Nico lasted longer than the night before, but he still came pretty quickly, screaming Jason’s name and collapsing down into his arms. Jason kissed his temple, pulling him closer and waiting for Nico’s breathing to return to normal.
“Am I supposed to say thank you?” Nico asked, and Jason laughed slightly.
“I doubt it,” Jason said. “But if you want to return the favor I’m definitely up for it.”
Nico rolled his eyes. “Very funny, Grace,” he said dryly as he pushed Jason down on the floor.
It didn’t even occur to Jason until several hours later that he had actually had lectures that day. By that time they were lying in bed again, lazily pretending to watch a movie, but Jason had no idea what the plot was. He kept getting distracted by the boy in his arms, stealing kisses and cuddling under the sheets. Neither of them had bothered getting dressed yet.
“Wow, I did not need to see that!” Leo’s voice suddenly rang out in the room. Jason pulled away from Nico and turned around to see Leo’s face in the mist, looking like he was going to start laughing any minute. “Seriously guys, it’s twelve o’clock already. I thought I’d be safe from things like this.”
“What do you want, Leo?” Jason asked.
“Haven’t heard from you in a while, so I figured I’d call,” Leo grinned. “I wanted to see if the rumors were true. I guess got my answer, huh?”
“Sorry I haven’t called,” Jason said. “I’ve been busy.”
“I can see that,” Leo said, laughing. “But bros before… well, demigods who will definitely kill me if I complete that sentence. Anyway, I’m supposed to tell you that we’re all meeting up in New Rome next week to catch up, since some people have been out of touch for a while.”
“We’ll be there,” Jason promised.
Leo nodded, then leered at them. “I’ll leave you two alone then. Remember to use protection. And lubrication.” Laughing, he ended the message.
“You okay?” Jason asked Nico, who had remained quiet through the whole conversation.
“I’m fine. Everybody seems to be taking this pretty well,” Nico said, frowning slightly. “Although, bros before what, exactly?”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s a silly expression,” Jason said, moving closer to nibble at Nico’s neck. Nico was running his hands through Jason’s hair.
“What did he mean, lubrication?” Nico asked. Jason hesitated.
“Erm,” Jason said. “It’s needed for...certain kinds of sex.”
“Oh, right,” Nico said, blushing slightly. “I should have realized.”
“I wasn’t really planning on bring this up yet,” Jason said, getting up on his elbows to have a better view of Nico. “But I would want to do it with you, if you’re open to it.”
“Do what, exactly?” Nico asked, smiling teasingly at Jason. He clearly knew exactly what Jason was asking.
“I want to be inside you,” Jason said, moving so his face was right above Nico’s. ”I want to fuck you.”
Nico reached out to press Jason’s mouth against his own. Jason took the opportunity to climb on top of him. “Do you want to?” he whispered as he pulled back, looking straight into Nico’s dark eyes. Nico swallowed nervously.
“Yes,” he said. “But it seems a bit...uncomfortable. Will it hurt?”
“It might. I’m not really sure. I’ve never actually done it like this,” Jason said. “But I’ll try to prepare you properly.”
“Prepare me how?” Nico frowned as Jason got up to fetch the lube. He was suddenly very, very thankful for the box of sex toys and supplies Simon had gotten him for Christmas as a joke.
“I’ll show you,” Jason said when he returned to bed. “Just try to relax.”
“This feels strange,” Nico said into Jason’s neck after Jason had put two wet fingers inside of him. Nico was sitting in Jason’s lap, which wasn’t an ideal position as Jason couldn’t really see what he was doing, but Nico had flat out refused to turn around and bend down. Jason suspected he found it too embarrassing.
“Good strange or bad strange?” Jason asked, pressing further in and moving his fingers a bit.
“I’m not sure yet,” Nico said, wincing as Jason put another finger in.
“Did it hurt?” Jason asked, taking all his fingers out. Nico shook his head.
“No, it’s just weird. Go on,” he said, then gasped as Jason’s fingers entered him again. “I think I’m starting to like it.”
“Good,” Jason smiled. He continued stretching Nico out for quite a while, watching as the boy gradually became more into it. By the time Jason figured he was ready Nico was actually moving his hips against Jason’s fingers, moaning slightly. He protested a bit when Jason took his fingers out and gently pushed Nico down on the bed, spreading his legs to make room for himself between them.
“This would probably be more comfortable for you from behind,” Jason said hesitatingly.
Nico scowled at him. ”I’m not letting you fuck me without seeing your face,” he said. “Do it already.”
“If it hurts, if you want me to stop, just tell me,” Jason said, stealing a kiss before placing his hands on Nico’s hips, lifting him up a bit to get a better angle. Then he slowly slid into him.
For a moment Jason closed his eyes and tried to imagine something horrible, or else he would have come immediately. Nico was tight, way tighter than Jason expected him to be, and it took a while before he dared to even open his eyes. Judging by what he saw he should never have shut them.
“Shit, does it hurt?” Jason said, alarmed at Nico’s pained expression and the threat of tears in his eyes. “I’m sorry, I’ll...”
“I’m okay,” Nico said. “Just move, damn you. Move.”
Jason did as Nico said, slowly at first, then faster when Nico asked him to. At some point Jason regained enough sense to reach out to stroke Nico in the same rhythm as he was pounding him. There were tears rolling down Nico’s cheeks now, but he was moaning loudly, begging Jason not to stop. He started rolling his hips, and Jason didn’t last long after that. Fortunately, neither did Nico. They came mere seconds apart, screaming each other's names. Jason pulled out and collapsed on top of his lover, holding him tightly and never wanting to let him go again.
“I love you,” he murmured into Nico’s skin, and the boy tensed for a moment.
“Really?” he asked quietly, sounding so vulnerable Jason had to push himself up and look at him. Nico was looking back, tears still in his eyes with an almost frightened expression on his face. Jason leaned in to kiss him briefly.
“I mean it. I love you,” Jason repeated, watching as Nico’s frightened expression turned into a shy smile. Jason could have looked that smile all day. “Be mine?” he added, causing Nico to chuckle at him.
“I thought I already was,” Nico said. “Are you?”
“Yours, for as long as you want me,” Jason smiled gently, reaching out to stroke the remains of tears away from Nico’s cheeks. Nico smiled at him, and Jason leaned down to kiss him again.
No one would have expected this to happen, but Jason didn’t care. For the first time he felt like he truly belonged.