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He walks with Will towards the infirmary, blood pounding and heart racing with exhilaration. He just told Percy about his crush. HE just told PERCY about his CRUSH. He just TOLD Percy about his crush?! It feels too easy, too simple, as if someone is going to drag him into the spotlight and shout: “Wait! This guy's even more of an outcast than we thought! Stone him!” Instead, his fingers tingle from Annabeth's high five, and several bystanders smile as he walks past them.

Will remains silent, and Nico peers up, throat constricting, because it never even occurred to him that he might have a problem with it, and though Nico was standing pretty far away he knows Will understood what happened, so if-

For once, his naïve forgetfulness doesn't turn on him, because Will is grinning from ear to ear, looking like Christmas came early, teeth so blindingly white Nico has to look away. He clears his throat awkwardly, feeling flustered but pleased, and goes: “So...uh...”. Not his most eloquent moment.

The son of Apollo turns towards him, eyes twinkling, before whispering conspiratorially: “Dude. That was amazing.”

“Shut up.” comes the immediate response, before he winces at his tone, but Will just laughs, opening the door to the infirmary and ushering him in.

Nico stills as he enters it, the traces of dying still strong from the after battle injuries, steeling himself for wary glances, which he receives- but not for the smiling faces and “Hey, Nico!”s that he also gets.

“I see Will's dragged you in here too?” Connor Stoll asks from where he sits next to his twin. Travis, arm bandaged, merely tuts. “We were betting on a few more days before you cracked, dude. Not cool.”

And then a steady stream of greetings assails him, familiar and unfamiliar faces alike calling out and teasing, until Lou Ellen arrives, hands on hips and eyebrow raised. “All right, you lot, what's going on now- Oh, hey, Nico!” “Hi.” Nico says, sounding a little overwhelmed even to his own ears, and making the occupants of the room laugh.

“I was wondering if you'd drop by...Although looking at you, you should have come sooner.”

“I feel fine! Really!” Nico protests as several healers pause to survey him critically.

“Fine isn't good enough, di Angelo!” Will announces as he enters again, carrying a load of boxes that he throws at Clarisse as she puts her head through the door. “Now if you'll excuse us, I have to go and throw the kid into a bed before he tries to escape again.”

“Thanks, Solace. See ya, Di Angelo.” the daughter of Ares shouts, disappearing again as Nico gets steered out of the laughing room. The evil eye he throws them over his shoulder only seems to quieten them momentarily. He ponders over the daughter of Hectate's presence for about two seconds, when three Hermes cabin kids rush past- this soon after the battle, they probably need all hands on deck.

“Dumbasses. Don't know why we bother putting up with them.” Will says, tone too fond to make it sound serious, and Nico can't help but agree.

“What was Clarisse here for?” he asks instead, feeling Will's shrug as their arms knock together. “Not much. Just passing around some ambrosia and nectar- we've still got too many wounded to keep them all here, so the less serious cases get sent out. They just need a bit of supplies to get everyone back into shape.” He pauses, opens the door to a room with five beds in it, and gestures towards the one nearest to the door.
“There you go. Not exactly a Hilton, but it'll do.”

“I've had my fun with hotels, thanks.” Nico says, scanning the room as he perches on the side of the bed. Two of the other people are asleep, and the other two seem to be chatting with each other as an Apollo kid checks their charts.

Then Will's words register, and he turns. “Wait- I'm not a serious case. Someone else needs this more than I do.” Will snorts. “Yeah, right. Someone else isn't nearly as drained as you are. Besides, the moment I told them Nico di Angelo needed a room everyone basically fell over themselves. Jay here would've cut off his other hand to give you space.”

He still feels like arguing, but the welcome feeling he's had since entering the infirmary seems to only have amplified- it's strange being in a place filled with so much noise and agitation that isn't in the middle of a war.

“No way!” the voice startles him out of his thoughts. “You seriously brought Nico di Angelo?” The ginger boy that the healer had been fretting over's face seems to have split in half with the enormous smile he's wearing, directed equally to Will and to Nico. “Holy Hera, man!”

The dark girl next to him is also staring, eyes sparkling. “Woah, Will. I though you were joking.”

Ginger kid speaks over her, voice rising with excitement: “HI! I'm Jay Clarke! Hermes cabin! Is it true you blew up that entire evil wolf army to save praetor Reyna? And did you seriously shadow travel all the way from Greece to here? Cause when I told Isaac he said that it wasn' t even possible and-”

“JAY!” brunet girl says, scandalized. “He's probably super tired! Didn't you see him during the fight? I bet he was going to leave without any help because he didn't want to bother anyone. Will says that he'd probably-” Will coughs loudly as she trails off, embarrassed, and Nico feels his cheeks heat up at the expectant stares of the two demigods. They must be barely a year younger than he is- and yet...

He wonders if Will did this on purpose, put him in a room with two fans- then decides he doesn't care, because looking at their wide eyes reminds him of the way he looked at Camp Half Blood when he and Bianca first arrived, and damn him if he wasn't going to at least talk to people who still look that excited about things. “Hi. That's a lot of things to answer. Well, first of all- Jay, right? I guess I should tell you that the Praetor is much cooler than I am, just so you don't get the wrong idea. But anyway-”

Nico barely notices how the others start coming in, younger kids hovering by the door before coming to sit around the beds, then older ones listening from the hall as the voices call “Nico's telling everyone what happened, hurry up!”. He tries not to make it too boring, and maybe he sort of tries to downplay what he did, but it doesn't work anyway because the younger demigods call him out on it, getting less timid as time passes.

“Hey, that's not true!”
“Jason said you were the one with the cup anyway!”
“Hazel said that...”
“I heard Clarisse say she saw you...”
“Coach Hedge told us all about the time you...”
“I was talking to a girl from the 5th and she said Reyna told her that...”
“Besides, Will told us you managed to...”

When he finally gets to the end of his story, he realizes with a flood of confusion that the entire room and hall is filled with curious demigods hanging on to his every word, and that it has gone from being early afternoon to early evening. “...So yeah. That's about it.”

There is silence, and then a pigtailed girl in camo breathes out: “Awesome.” and the entire room explodes with chatter. Nico's heard people speak about him many times, but hearing their voices exclaim about “so badass” and “seriously did that I can't even”, he feels almost dizzy.

As if on cue, someone coughs from the hall, and the voices still. “As you can all tell, Nico here may be incredibly cool, but he's also incredibly stupid as he decided he didn't need any rest after doing all that, so if you guys could let him actually sleep for a while...” They laugh, and then someone asks: “Can we come again tomorrow?” and everyone is chattering again, voices raised, until Will whistles shrilly, making everyone wince.

“Every damn time.” Connor Stoll mutters, gingerly rubbing his ear.

“Hey, if Nico can take on all you brats, then he's a stronger man than I am. But we'll see about that TOMORROW, all right? And if I hear one more complaint, I'm hosting a karaoke.” That sends them running, exaggerated cries of fear echoing from the halls and rooms until it quietens slightly.

“Hey, we're in Nico's room, so technically-” Jay starts, as Maya blinks slyly.

Will pretends to clear his throat, and they both dive into their beds, giggling. Emily and Alec, the older two, merely snort, amused.

“Sorry about that.” Will says sheepishly, running a hand through his hair. “What, the fanclub or the whistling?” Nico asks, suppressing a smile. Will's expression shifts, and he smiles instead. “Both. I didn't quite expect everyone to crawl over here, but apparently the great Nico di Angelo can make even the whiniest patient fit enough to come here.”

Nico only snorts. “Yay for me. Between raising the dead and giving the ill new forces...I'm becoming quite all powerful.”

The other teen laughs, shifting in the doorframe, then frowns: “But seriously, if it's a bother, I can tell them to leave. They won't be annoyed.” Nico considers it, his natural affinity for solitude saying yes and the warm feeling of comfort the group had brought shouting no.

“I think I can deal with a bunch of teenagers after this whole disaster.” he says instead, and Will snorts. “That's what they all say, until they meet them.”

“Oi! We're still in here, you know!” Jay exclaims, emerging from underneath his covers. Will only arches a brow: “I'm sorry? All I can hear is: “Why yes, Will, I would like Nico to go to someone else's room.””

Jay pales and dives back in, as Maya hisses threats at him, sounding suspiciously like “if I don't get to talk to NICO DI ANGELO alone at least once I am cursing you with eternal hunger, I swear to Demeter”.

Nico can't help but laugh slightly, shutting up as Emily looks up in surprise, the room stilling. “I don't mind moving, though, if it bothers.” “No way, man.” Alec says, the first time he's spoken since they came in. “You are sticking with us, now, and no one else gets you.” Emily adds, glaring at Will.

“See what I mean? Little monsters.” the blonde exclaims, dodging the shoe she throws at him. “I'm older than you are, you brat!”

He escapes, laughing and yelling goodnight as he goes, and Nico rubs his arms absent-mindedly as he crawls under the covers, not bothering to change into the pajamas left for him. He can feel the others' curious eyes on him, but it doesn't take them long to quieten and after a while only Emily is still awake, reading light glowing as she flips pages.

He breathes quietly, unused to the bed and the low roof and unable to fall asleep. The light casts strange shadows in the room. He shifts, and then Emily's voice drifts over: “I'll keep watch first.”
“You...what?”
She pauses, turns to him: “It's hard sleeping, right? Feels dangerous? I'll keep watch first, then you can do it tomorrow night.”
He thinks of Reyna, and of sleeping alone, and nods.

His sleep is as troubled as always, but he doesn't wake up until morning.

–---------

Breakfast in the infirmary is just as loud as it is in the mess hall, but considerably less awkward for Nico- there's no Hades table for him to sit at on his own, for one, and for another the four members of his room seem to have decided that he is now part of their lot forever. Which is how he ends up nibbling on some toast, listening to their stories.

Jay is a son of Hermes, eldest of four kids and thirteen years old. His mother is from Australia, which explains the accent, and they live in the suburbs near Portland, so he doesn't see them very often. During the fight, he lost his hand to something no one can put a name on, and has been categorized as a UDC by the campers: officially, an Undetermined Deadly Creature- unofficially, an Ugly Dickhead Creep. Nico likes him from the start, but when Jay waves the bandaged stump around nonchalantly, stating: “Hey, I coulda lost both of them, or my head, so really as long as momma earth is KO'ed and I'm not dead, I can deal with it.”, he decides that the moment Jay can leave, he's shadow-travelling him to Portland.

Maya is a New Yorker, but her dad's from Mozambique and her mother's Demeter. She's still in bed because her leg has been paralysed, but doesn't seem very worried. “Either the Apollo kids cure me, or the Hephaistos kids make me a rad metal leg, so...” She's an only child, but her dad and she are very close. Mr Jwayi is a teacher that plays botanist in his spare time, and funnily enough is the reason for Maya's survival. “Like, I was standing right under where that Octavian creep exploded, so I was about to get both legs roasted off...If Pa hadn't taught me what plants stop what injuries, Demeter kid or not, I'd probably have accidentally grown some apples instead.” For a twelve year old, she seems all too calm about the deaths and injuries she's been exposed to- if Nico himself hadn't been what he was, he would probably be a lot more worried.

Emily is seventeen, a daughter of Hegemone (plants and autumn, Nico remembers from Mythomagic cards) and a photographer, raised by her aunt somewhere in Washington and left at the camp at age ten. One of her first friends at the camp was Luke Castellan. She's a bit surly, tired of all the fighting, tired of old and new enemies appearing when she starts to recover from the previous ones, and all she wants is to do after recovering from the burns on her face is to go to uni. “I'll help with the camps, of course, but I'm sick of this. I just want to be able to control my own life, for once.” To her, New Rome is the opposite of welcoming: “I get that y'all wanna keep in touch, but I'd feel suffocated. Time to move on, you know?”

This is an idea that she shares with Alec: the creation of a kind of demigod Facebook, permitting everyone to keep in touch and know where to find other demigods without having to spend their lives around camp. The son of Harpocrates, god of silence, and a loud, social butterfly of a mother, Alec spent much of his childhood trying to find other people 'like him'. Now, the quiet 16 year old wants to make it easier for other demigods by creating a network that registers the address and basic info of all the demigods in the US, to begin with, and only accessible to other demigods. He himself is in the infirmary because of the gash in his chest that doesn't want to heal.

Sitting there listening to them speak, Nico feels almost peaceful. They don't ask him to talk, chatting amongst themselves, but he doesn't feel rejected, or cut off, or different. He feels..Detached, slightly, head elsewhere, but safe in the physical sense, surrounded by people he can trust.

After breakfast, there is a palpable excitement in the air, and though he doesn't ask, Jay answers his unspoken question: “Visitors are allowed in from now to lunch for our half of the ward.” Then, pensively: “I wonder if Rory'll bring me food again...” Maya elbows him, grinning, when Lou Ellen appears at the door.

“Right, then! Rory, Claire- there's the ginger brat. Arthur- Maya. Thomas- no sucking face, please, Emily. And Nia, Jem- don't jump on Alec's bed!”

The guests come in, pausing when they spot Nico, who kind of waves at them. To his surprise, they all seem happy to see him- Rory and Claire, in fact, both run to Jay squealing excitedly as he grins smugly. The four introduce them (Claire's Jay's sister, Thomas is Emily's boyfriend, Nia's Alec's cousin, etcaetera), then interrogate them about “the outside world” as the visitors give news: so and so has left for New Rome, Chiron has announced this and that, they're planning on building a memorial at x spot...

Nico sits on his bed flipping through a book for barely five minutes when his own guests arrive. He only looks up because of the sudden silence, then freezes in surprise.

“Hey, Nico!” Annabeth smiles, Piper behind her as Jason waves cheerfully.

“Holy smokes.” Jay says, sounding like he's about to faint.

“What...What are you guys doing here?” Nico asks, a bit hoarsely.

“Annabeth and Piper are visiting you.” Audrey Williams says sternly as she pops out from behind them, her arms crossed over her healer outfit. “Jason, on the other hand, is leaving, because I clearly remember telling him about the two visitors only rule, and I don't care if you're a sun of Jupiter because so help me I will kick your ass if you don't get out now.” Jason looks vaguely terrified by the freckled girl, and so only mouthes a “See you, Nico!” as he runs off.

Annabeth and Piper, on the other hand, walk in smiling as they pull their chairs to his bed. “I told Percy not to come, but clearly he “forgot” to mention it to Jason.” Annabeth sighs exasperatedly as Piper laughs.

“How's it hanging, Nico?”

“Well, everyone except myself seems to be convinced I need to stay in the infirmary when you all are clearly more wounded than I am, but otherwise I'm ok, I guess.” Nico says dryly, as conversation cautiously begins again in the background.

Piper tuts: “None of us shadow-traveled across continents recently, and/or summoned skeleton armies to kick monsters into the Underworld, so I think you deserve a break, yeah?” From their combined glances, he can also hear the implied message: besides, no one's been through quite as much shit as you, so, yanno.

“How're things going with the camps, then?” Nico asks, steering away from his least favourite topic (himself).

“We've been working with Reyna and co to establish a faster way of travelling between camps- actually, I think the Vulcan and Hephaestus kids want to speak to you about that, for shadow-travelling stuff.” Piper says crossing her legs.

Annabeth nods. “It's been hard, though- a lot of demigods were seriously wounded or even killed, so it'll take everyone a while to be back on track.”

“But we're getting there?” Nico asks, and they both smile: “We're getting there.”

Conversation flows more or less steadily from there, and Nico is actually surprised when the bell tolls for lunch hour. “We can come again tomorrow, if you want?” Piper asks, tentative but hopeful, and Nico finds himself agreeing. Her smile is reward enough, regardless of charmspeak, and it's almost as awesome as when Annabeth stops at the door and goes: “Oh, and Nico? Yesterday? That was incredibly badass.”

Lunch is lively, though he gets restless staying in one place- after Tartarus, he likes to be able to go outside once a day.

He's literally just started thinking about it when Will arrives as though sent by a merciful god, opening the windows and declaring: “All right, sunshine! You and I are going for a walk.”

Nico snorts: “I'm guessing that's an order?”

“Doctor's orders!”

They head out amidst protests of “Will, you never go on walks with me” that he replies to with “Only zombie summoning sons of Hades from the 1930s get those privileges, sorry” and the like.

Once out, Will turns to him, head tilted: “Right, where you want to go to? Sorry for dragging you out, by the way- it's my lunch break and you looked like you were suffocating.” Nico pauses, swallows, because it's a bit difficult speaking when a pair of bright blue eyes are fixed on you, then makes up his mind: “To Thalia's tree?”

–-------

The walk is mostly silent- Will hums, the only musical talent he has, according to him, and Nico muses, sitting down under the tree with a view down into the valley. The air is fresh and clean, sunshine lightly seeping into his permanently cold limbs, and he breathes out comfortably. He steals a glance at Will, who's sitting with his legs crossed, fingers fiddling with the bracelet around his wrist and gaze distant.

In the sun, his hair gleams like molten gold, brighter than the heavy jewellery in Pluto's kingdom, while his freckle-dusted cheeks seem almost bronze. His eyes remind him of the Mediterranean- bright, clear blue and looking straight at him. He jumps slightly, embarrassed about the poetic and clichéd tangent his mind was wandering off on, but Will seems worried about something, chewing slightly on his lip.

“Listen, Nico, about what I said before Octavian came...”

Nico's stomach plummets. There it is. He knew this was coming.

And he knows what he'll have to do. Because no matter how nice Will Solace is, and no matter how endearing, and, ok, no matter how cute, he is never going to enter a poisonous friendship again; and if Will has decided to once again invalidate everything Nico knows is perfectly valid trauma, then Nico is kicking him out as fast as you can say “Holy crap, is that a zombi-aahhhhhhh”.

Will continues, however, before he can interrupt, and Nico has to steel himself again because ugh, he is not allowed to look so cute while being an ass.

“I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. I was a giant dick. Look..You're not- I mean- You've been through the most shit of all of us, and as someone who has to deal with everyone's shit, that's saying a lot. And there is literally no one else I know who could have dealt with all that and still done all the incredible stuff you've done. And like- the others- they have rejected you, and been frankly horrible to you, so saying that that was all just you was really stupid. I don't- there's no excuse for ignoring that, seriously, so like..Even if I was stressed or whatever, life has been a bitch to you, and the camps have been a bitch to you, and I've been a bitch to you, so...I guess in the end what I tried to tell you was to surround yourself with people who cared about you, but pretending the camp had always done that was stupid, and I acted like a giant ass about it, so I'm sorry. And as a healer, or even anyone with a brain, I'm supposed to know that invalidating people's shitty experiences is a terrible way of making friends with them, so- generally, I'm sorry for being a terrible person, and I hope you don't feel obliged to stay just because of me bullying you into doing it, because I'd really like you to stay for a while at least, and I'll just shut up now, oh my Artemis what is wrong with my mouth.”

He looks like he wants to disappear into the ground (or maybe not- not after the Gaea thing), and Nico is simply to stunned for a moment to put him out of his misery.

When he does recover his ability to speak, he of course does the stupidest thing ever, which is start off at the wrong point: “You're right. You were a dick about that.”

Nico's never kicked a puppy, contrarily to popular belief at one point, but he's pretty sure it would look like the way Will winces, pulling on the bracelet, so he rushes to continue: “On the other hand, I get what you were driving at. And if..if you promise not to pull the “you're just angsty” card again, I'd...quite like to...be your friend too.”

To this day, Nico swears he was temporarily blinded by Will's smile after the words sunk in, but to be honest he did remain stunned a few moments too long for it to be just the Apollo powers affecting him, so maybe Will's dimples have something to do with it too.

“Oh, thank Apollo- I really am sorry, you know, it was a major dick move-” Will pauses, breathless. Nico holds up his hand: “Hey. Calm down there, Edward.” “Edward?” “Yeah. You sparkle in the sun and have shitty methods of making friends.” There's a moment of scandalized silence before Will roars: “You did not just Twilight reference me!”

“You started it with the “death boy”.”
“That was sarcastic!”
“So's this. Although it has quite a ring to it, don't you think?”
“Don't you dare, sugar.”
“Oh, woah, no, no Southern terms of affection, Barbie.”
“Does it bother you, sweetie?”

They end up glaring at each other after a grande finale of Hannah Montana versus baby cakes (ok, that one won, Nico feels like puking), until Will breaks down, laughing hysterically. “Oh, Zeus, I just called someone baby cakes, I'm going to turn into my mother.” Nico feels his lips twitch, laughter bubbling up until he can't help but let out a few startled laughs, while Will is bent over giggling; and just when he seems about to stop Nico whispers “baby cakes” and sets them both off again.

It feels ridiculously alien to laugh, and yet familiar, and Nico can't quite stop himself, so they both sit there laughing for maybe five minutes until they fully calm down.

Will is smiling brilliantly, rubbing at his eyes, and the way they sparkle make Nico's stomach flip. He looks away, feeling trapped (Nico di Angelo just laughed, call 911), but Will doesn't call him out, instead standing up and looking upwards.

“Shit, I'm going to be late- shift starts in three minutes.” At his questioning glance, he smiles sheepishly: “Son of Apollo, remember? I can tell the time by looking at the sun.”

Then, after a pause, lightly: “I got all the little gimmicks and none of the important ones.” “That's not true.” Nico says, feeling irked. Will only smiles wryly, scratching his side. “You coming?”

He decides to let it drop for now, because if Will can leave him be sometimes then so can he, so he pushes himself up. Will extends a hand, then freezes: “Oh, Athena- no contact, sorry-”. In a stunning display of character development (more like giving in to the demand after all the hugs he's received recently) Nico takes it and hoists himself up.

“Hands are ok. No giving birth excuses needed.”

They end up being late anyway because Will refuses to let go of his hand and slows them down. Nico finds he doesn't really mind.

–--------

Because he isn't actually invalid, they decide to let him help out with the wounded, which he enjoys much more than sitting in the room. It's nice, helping people get better for a change- feeling life become stronger rather than weaker, and everyone seems to appreciate it, no matter who it comes from. Will drops by to help a few times, and they bicker and chat for a while, passing on food and bandaging legs together until he goes again, which seems to amuse the other healers and the patients alike.

When evening comes and Nico finds himself surrounded again, he ends up explaining Mythomagic to the group, and though he really does try, he still ends up geeking out about it, especially when everyone gets into it. The group is ushered out by nine, requesting promises for future matches, and then it's just the five of them plus Will and Lou Ellen, who whispers something to Will as she leaves that makes his ears flare scarlet. Her laughter echoes down the hall as he scowls.

“Don't you think Nico looks ill, Will?” Jay asks hopefully for the 28th time in five minutes. “I think he should stay another day. Leaving tomorrow night is a terrible idea. I think-”

“He said three days, Jay.” Will replies, shooting Nico an apologetic glance. “I'll come and visit anyway.” Nico adds, surprising himself as well as the rest of the room. “It's not like I'm leaving camp.” “Really?” Jay exclaims, Maya shooting up from behind him. “Sure. I'm not leaving until one of you losers beats me at Mythomagic.” Nico says easily, feeling his doubts disappear when the two start cheering.

“Thanks for asking for permission, by the way. I feel touched.” Will adds sarcastically. He feels bad for approximately two miliseconds until he notices his smirk, so instead he goes: “Yeah, sorry, it's a democracy and I have too many friends here. Outvoted.” Will sighs melodramatically and flings the door open: “Very well, then, tyran. Come and disrupt my poor infirmary.” Nico snorts as he settles on his bed:

“Goodnight, Nurse Jackie.”

“Goodnight, darling.”

Nico splutters and throws a pillow, but Will is long gone by the time it hits the door.

He chooses to ignore the cheering coming from the other campers.

–-------

The third day, breakfast is a bit calmer. Emily's face is almost fully healed, so she gets to leave in the morning with a 'see you around' and a hug that surprises him but that he returns stiffly. He guesses he's a hug person now, or something- seems like his family and friends made up his mind for him. They jump apart when there's a loud crash from a few rooms away, followed by shouting, and Nico would be impressed by everyone's rapid reaction if he himself hadn't also ended up with his sword raised in less than a milisecond.

The crash is followed by loud cursing, and when Dave from Apollo cabin comes running past, he only shouts a “don't worry about it!” in the direction of the startled demigods before demanding mops. Then there's Lou Ellen's angry voice, raising above the others: “..DON'T GIVE YOURSELF A SINGLE BREAK, WHEN'S THE LAST TIME YOU HAD A PROPER MEAL OR SLEPT THE NIGHT-NO, COFFEE DOES NOT COUNT-” A pause as another voice speaks, and then: “YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE A MEDIC, FOR THE LOVE OF OLYMPUS, I DON'T CARE WHAT STUPID SELF-ESTEEM PROBLEM YOU HAVE! IF YOU DON'T START TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF-”

Her voice lowers gradually, and then everyone sort of awkwardly heads back to their beds, silence falling in the infirmary.

Will stomps past, eyes stormy and bandaging his bleeding hand almost aggressively.

Cautious conversation begins. In Nico's dorm, everyone is silent.

“Well. That makes for a dramatic exit.” Emily says dryly, nodding at them as she escapes. She narrowly misses hitting Lou Ellen on her way out, as she enters the room scowling.

“So...uh..What was that all about?” Jay asks (that kid has zero tact, Nico swears, he's almost as bad as Nico used to be), cowering as she glares at him.

“Nothing. Everything. Will Solace.” Her shoulders sag. “He dropped some stuff he was carrying and cut himself because he was too tired to see straight.”

She bites her lip: “He's always trying to...Compensate for his own problems by making everyone else better or something- and he...I...”

She looks genuinely pained when she finishes: “I'm not saying he's some angst-ridden emo either...But he needs a break. All of us do. I mean, no offense to you guys, but we've had to watch over the whole camp this entire time, with or without any personal issues, so none of us are all chipper either.” Nico thinks of Will's none of the important ones and suddenly feels the need to punch something.

It's weird- he feels like he suddenly has something to do, and he only needs to...

He pauses almost mid-thought. Di Angelo, what the hell are you on about? Since when do you go around taking the first step in friendships?

Nico di Angelo has been through a lot.

Nico di Angelo has had a really, really shitty time these past few years.

Nico di Angelo is tired of having a really, really shitty time.

Nico di Angelo has made some pretty great friends recently (like Annabeth Piper Hazel Reyna Jason Frank Percy? Percy Hedge Jay Maya Emily Alec).

So when he opens his mouth, Nico has made up his mind: “I'll get him to take a break.”

And then, when everyone turns to him, brows raised: “Trust me.”

–-----------

Annabeth and Jason drop by at visitor hour this time, because the latter had insisted on coming.

“Now that you're almost out, I thought you might like helping us with the whole inter-camp thing, seeing as you did figure it all out in the first place.” Annabeth declares casually, grey eyes guarded.

When Nico hesitates, she adds: “You don't have to, of course. But Reyna was wondering if you'd like to upgrade your position as ambassador of Pluto?” “I'll help.” Nico says, thinking of Reyna sitting by herself with her two dogs, and Annabeth smiles gratefully.

Jason takes over, then, speaking of “expanding camp” and “reaching out” and other boy-scout ish terms that make Nico feel vaguely offended by their cheesiness (luckily for him, Annabeth seems to agree, if he can judge by her expression). He's so genuine about everything Nico feels like patting him on the head, which he of course does not do. He has a reputation to preserve.

It's nearly lunch hour when he turns to the others and goes: “Oh, Jason, Annabeth? These are my, uh, friends Jay and Maya. They'd quite like to meet you.” Alec winks at him as the two blondes go to chat with the duo and their friends, who are all practically jumping up and down with excitement (ok, maybe not the one who's actually paralysed, but still), and by lunch break the room has once again been infiltrated with groupies.

When they leave, Jason punches him lightly on the shoulder and Annabeth pecks him on the cheek. Nico smiles.

–-------------

He gets ready to leave the infirmary around three after having yet again engaged a match of Mythomagic, promising many rematches as he goes. There's a collective shout of: “See you, Nico!” as he exits, and it's strange how everything has changed- he thinks maybe it's because it's finally over, no more Kronos or Gaea to deal with.

Lou Ellen catches his eye and raises her eyebrows, and he nods, heading to the room he can hear Will speaking from. He peers through the door, finding Will sitting next to a girl he thinks is Aphrodite cabin. He's telling some sort of story to distract her from her shots, Nico guesses by the half-amused, half-pained expression on her face.

To his credit, Will doesn't jump when Nico goes: “Hey.”, finishing the shot with the most steady hand ever, before turning to him with a scowl. “Try maybe announcing your presence before making me stab my wounded patient?” Then, relenting: “So, you're leaving now?” Nico nods: “And you're coming with me.”

Will freezes, twists, questions, then asks: “What?!”

The Aphrodite girl looks infinitely amused, eyes flicking from the one to the other as Nico puts his hands on his hips a l'italienne and glares: “No “what's”. You owe me three days for the three I spent here. And then that squared because reasons.”

A thousand emotions flicker through Will's eyes, then he settles on indignation: “Nine days?! Are you completely insane? Not only is your reason completely invalid, but I can't leave camp for nine days! I have work to do!”

“You've been doing work here since you arrived. It's time you had a break. Sides, everyone else can manage. You do have a fairly competent backup.” Nico says firmly. The other Apollo kids give shouts of 'hear, hear', having forgotten to pretend they weren't eaves-dropping.

Will's face contorts, and he lowers his voice: “Nico, listen. I can't. Healing's the only thing I'm actually good at. I can't just-”

“Bull. Shit.”

“Wha-”

“That is complete and utter nonsense, Will Solace, and I can get every single person in this infirmary to tell you so. There are an infinity of things you can do, and one of them is get out of here and go to New Rome with me for three days.” There's a “hear, hear!” from the Stolls, and then cheering from the rest.

Will looks almost teary-eyed, ears burning, and Nico feels like hugging him or buying him a puppy or something.

“Fine, damnit! But don't come and whine if this whole place falls apart the moment I leave! And I still have to find a-” Will starts, but the others all start whooping loudly, so he gives up and laughs silently, raising his hands in surrender.

Nico bites his lip and drags his eyes away, skeletal butterflies having decided to perform a samba for no apparent reason. Aphrodite kid's eyes are twinkling, too, so he thanks the gods that he doesn't blush easily.

Will sighs loudly, getting the room to quieten, before announcing: “OK, right, just give me five minutes to pack a bag and we can go.” “Don't forget your curlers!” Connor calls, cackling, as Will flips him the bird and exits.

Nico snorts, amused, then finds the entire room's eyes on him.

“Dude.” One Apollo kid says fervently. “Are you an angel or something?”

“We've been trying to get him to leave for, like, months.” Another one interjects.

Lou Ellen beams at him from the door: “Good going, Di Angelo.”

He smiles, flustered, twisting his ring, and doesn't really know what to say. “What are you going to do with the other six days?” Aphrodite girl asks, voice amused. He shrugs, nonchalantly, refusing to give in to her mind games. “Don't know. I guess I'll save them for whenever.”

A voice in his head, however, is painting a picture of travelling around, as a tourist for once, going to Europe- “Still in there, sunshine?” Will calls, and Nico gives a crooked smile before walking over. “Don't call me sunshine.” And then he extends a hand.

–-----------

“Well, Camp Jupiter is much nicer without Octavian, I'll give you that.” Will notes as they wander around New Rome. Reyna had been extremely pleased to see them, but forced Nico to go have a break before any kind of work (“I remember what shadow-travelling did to you, Di Angelo, so go eat some ice-cream or something or I will name you the new praetor.”) The Romans, much like their Greek counterparts, seemed to have relaxed around Nico, which Will found amusing: “To be honest, I think they're more suspicious of me than of you.”

That, of course, doesn't stop a gaggle of girls from giggling as they walk by, reminding Nico why he hates being around attractive people. Will grins, waves at them, and Nico peers at him through his lashes, jerking his head away when Will turns.

“Oh, yeah, they're friendly all right.” Will says under his breath, before asking aloud: “Excuse me, could you tell us where we can find ice cream around here? Us Graecus scum need it to function.” They laugh, some of the less air-headed ones smiling wryly, before the designated leader shows them where to go to, adding: “So, you know, if you want to take us out...” as the rest of the group giggle again.

Nico glares, glad for once that his glare literally makes things shrivel up and die, before realizing he's acting like he's jealous or something.

He's not. He's not. He is so, so not.

“Earth to Di Angelo?” Will asks, amused, waving his hand in the air.

He's hot. He's h- aw, screw it.

“Sorry, Will's taken at the moment.” Nico says, pulling him away from the frozen group as Will snorts, then starts laughing as he pulls him away.

He only stops, out of breath and eyes shining, when they arrive in front of the café: “I'm taken? I didn't know.”

“Shut up, Solace. You know what I meant.” Nico groans, tugging at his hair in embarrassment, before Will grins. “No, don't worry about it, sugar. I wasn't about to let them steal my hot date.”

“Lemon, please.” Nico says to the bored girl behind the counter, before adding: “One, I am not
anyone's hot date. Two, I am most definitely not your hot date. Three, even if those girls were interested in someone who turns fifteen in a couple of months, it's not like I'm interested.”

“Mango.” Will says, beaming at the girl, who seems rather more awake. He smiles a lot. He also looks wistful a lot. Nico is starting to think he wouldn't mind seeing both a lot.

He pays as Will takes a bite from the ice cream (their trip having been sponsored by the praetor, who'd ignored their mutual protesting), finally answering his previous comeback: “Yeah, I guess you'd be more into someone with a slightly higher IQ. Which is why the whole Percy thing is kinda surprising.” His tone is teasing, but tentative, and his eyes read “tell me to stop if you're not ok with it”.

Nico, however, has had a healthy dose of Annabeth making jabs at her boyfriend and Nico's “lucky escape” after the incident, and instead finds his lips quirking up ever-so-slightly. It still stings, it really does, and he's not over Percy- but he's decided he will be, and he's moving on. So he replies: “Give me a year and I'll actually be full-on laughing at that.”

Will, spoon in his mouth, snorts, looking equally amused and relieved. “'S that the plan? Evil Greek infiltrates Roman camp, turns all the boys queer with the power of his cute face?”

It's funny; instead of being all cloyingly cheerful like Nico used to expect, Will's actually pretty sarcastic.

He likes it.

“They wish. I'm going to find myself a rich guy, murder him in his sleep and inherit all his money.” The banter comes easy, maybe a little by surprise- all the hanging out with people like Annabeth and Piper and Reyna and- his friends has gotten him edging closer to saying all the sarky remarks he makes in his head out loud.

Will nearly chokes to death on his ice cream, and Nico is about to jump up in alarm oh sweet mother of persephone how do you do cpr again before he realizes that he's laughing.

Laughing excessively hard.

Will has an annoyingly catchy laugh.

The girl behind the counter starts laughing.

So do the three other customers.

Will takes a big, gasping breath, wheezes- and then he's off again. “Oh, Artemis, I'm sorry-” more laughing “I was not ready, Zeus almighty” and Nico's lips twitch more, before he's kind of quietly laughing too, because what the hell. He's in a café eating ice cream, most of his friends are alive, they won, screw Percy, and Will's laugh is really really hard to resist.

He laughs.

Of course, just at that moment, Hazel and Reyna show up, so by the time Nico surpresses his brief laugh he is punched in the gut by the triple combo of their smiles.

Incredulous, delighted, Nico is laughing smiles, which for Hazel means the widest and most adorable humanly possible smile, for Reyna a brief but sincere grin, and for Will a full-force laser bright one that makes someone go “watch the eyes!” from behind. Nico feels like disappearing into the shadows and hugging them at the same time.

“Nico!” Hazel says first, still beaming. “Reyna told me you'd stopped by! How are you?”

“I'm fine. You?” is his reply, swift but fond. He loves Hazel.

She scowls: “Do you know how sick I am of anyone telling me the word fine? Hey, Hazel, I'm about to explode into darkness. I'm fine though.”

And then, eye turning critical: “Although you do look a tiny bit better, dare I hope?” That'd be thanks to you...?”

Will pulls out a chair, looking like Christmas came early.

Oh, shit, he should never have let them meet, he'll never escape now.

“Name's Will Solace. Nice to meet you, Hazel Levesque. Nico seems mighty fond of you.” Hazel sits, looking just as sickeningly pleased, and of course his accent turns more southern and finishes with a charming “fawnd o' ya.” that absolutedly no one can resist, of bleeding course.

Nico stares in despair as they chit-chat for a moment, then Reyna sits down next to him and Hazel pauses: “Oh, I'm sorry. This is our praetor.”

“Reyna Almirez-Ramiro. Son of Apollo, then?” She says, regal as always and watching him intently.

“Trust me, I know.” Will laughs. “And don't worry- I'm quite fond of graecus scum and have no interest in dissecting bears, live or stuffed.”

Reyna nods towards him, still inquisitive: “You're the one who got Nico to stay on at the infirmary, I hear.” Will snorts: “Most popular kid in the place, I tell you. I'll get kicked out and replaced in no time- he's already gotten the revolution to start while I'm away.”

“Next thing you know the Stolls'll be in charge.” Nico adds wryly, smirking at Will's dismayed expression: “Unless you actually want me to have a heart attack, sugar, I'd not let the conspiracy theory grow.”

The girls laugh, and he blinks, having forgotten they weren't alone. Then conversation starts, and it isn't until much later they remember there's a meeting on. Reyna jumps up and practically hauls him away, Will and Hazel's laughter following them as they go.

–---------
–------------
several summers later

He knocks on the door of the office, watching Will's expression brighten as he sees him. “Hey, di Angelito! I thought you were due tomorrow!”

“I wasn't,” Nico laughs, “But I didn't want to ruin the surprise party by coming before they could finish the preparations.”

Will raises a brow as he steps out: “So, what, it's our secret? Nice.”

Cecil's head pokes through the door, going : “Who is-” and cutting himself off when he spots Nico. Nico waves, and he winks and disappears, mouthing have fun and wiggling his eyebrows.

They wander down the trail to the forest.

He's lucky, he supposes- Will's only been back at camp for a couple of days, and he could very easily have been somewhere else- imagine the horror of having to confront the Apollo cabin and their all-knowing smirks to try and find him.

“How'd you find out about that party, by the way?” Will asks, the fiery sunlight playing with his hair.

“Oh, please.” Nico says, “As if anyone here can keep a secret. I iris-messaged Jason and he didn't even notice Piper coming in with the food, so I improvised and said I was coming on Thursday.”

It isn't the greatest plan, but if they can finish his party and be pleased then he'll be too. Suprise parties...He's had one every year since he turned fifteen, but he enjoys them just as much as he did back then, if only for the effort.

“Everyone's dropping by. Percabeth, Reyna- the whole shizam.” Will replies, pausing: “How's your flat coming on?”

They sit down by the edge of a cliff. Nico shrugs: “Well. It's much too big, but I like it.”

And he does: it's clean and has wide windows and it's quiet, but he can look out into the busy New York streets and feel the humming of the crowd; and it's his. He has guest rooms and he's hung up his pictures and he can play his music and he hasn't told anyone but- “I'm thinking of, uh. Going to college.”

Will is silent.

“I mean- you are, and Annabeth, and - I think it'd be pretty interesting. My flat's actually pretty close to where I want to go and I've been doing some research and Chiron says they have documents-” Nico can tell he's rambling, but he waits for a reply, and when he looks at Will he looks so fiercely proud that his chest aches.

“Nico. That's fantastic. What are you thinking of studying?”

“Law, maybe. I...was thinking of doing language, and well- anyway. It's just an idea.”

“That's amazing.” Will says again, looking at the sunset, before looking up sharply. “Hey, wait. Where did you say your flat was?”

He feels his pulse speed up, because he should have known he'd guess it faster than expected, runs a hand through his hair, still unused to the undercut- and tells him.

Will's eyes widen. “That's like three blocks away from my college- did you-”

“I was thinking. Maybe. If you wanted to share the flat.” Nico says, and he may have changed in the past three years but right now he feels as nervous as he was at the start of their friendship.

Will stares, eyes wide, and for a moment looks much younger than his nineteen-turning-on-twenty years should allow.

Nico's heart skips a beat.

And then, sounding almost pained: “Dude. Yes.”

His insides seem to explode with relief.

“I mean, as long as you don't furnish the place like your cabin.” Will adds, grinning.

Nico scoffs: “Hey, if we're going to be picky then Star Wars marathons are only allowed if we get to watch Star Trek afterwards. Oh, and Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings are obligatory. Also, if the neighbours come to complain about the music-”

“Nico Di Angelo,” Will says, tone gut-wrenchingly fond, “I might be a little in love with you.”

Nico stops mid-sentence and breathes.

Turns. Looks.

He kisses him, and Will smiles against his lips and pulls him closer- he kind of hopes he never lets go.

 

–-------

Will quite literally glows with happiness, which is how they get caught out. A huge group of the campers, it seems, has sneaked up on them (ok, or maybe he was a little distracted).

“Goddamn solar flare going on or some- Nico?!”

Nico goes “hey”, voice maybe a little too breathless, and Will laughs, hair a little too messy.

Watching everyone's face change is probably one of the most hilarious things he's seen in a while.

–-------

The younger kids practically fall over their own feet to go and tell everyone about it.

Will and Nico walk behind, silent.

Nico keeps sneaking glances his way, catching his eyes and snickering- he can't help it.

It turns out, indeed, that the entire camp is a sad, sad bunch of losers who are very attached to their power couples- which is why when they walk in and a little one screeches: “THEY KISSED!” the entire camp turns toward them in a milisecond.

There's a brief moment of wait, what followed by a nico's here early, and then Nico goes: “hey” and the camp goes bat-shit.

There is loud whooping. There are congratulations. The Stolls sob loudly, whipping out dainty handkerchiefs Nico knows they stole from the infirmary. Hazel hugs Reyna in excitement. Annabeth and Piper wolf-whistle. Jason and Percy cheer. Frank transforms into a bear.

It feels like an eternity that they stand there for, grinning while everyone panics.

“You should've brought popcorn.” Nico says under his breath.

Will mock gasps: “Oh, of course! A popcorn machine! I forgot to bring one when I was preparing for my list of things to bring in case Nico shows up unexpectedly the day before his birthday party, tells me that he's going to my college, offers to share a flat and kisses me.”

He stops. “We need a popcorn machine. Can we get a popcorn machine?”

Nico snickers, then realizes the noise is stilling.

Oh, shit. Awkward question time.

He turns to Will, who looks to him with a grim expression. “I don't suppose we can escape this for a few more days?”

“Try hours.” Nico replies dryly, then pauses: “Wait-”

“I'll distract, you get us out.” Will says, before he even tells him anything.

His smirk is contagious.

“Ready?” “Ready.”

Glowing, Will swoops in and kisses him. The camp explodes.

Grinning against his lips, Nico snaps his fingers.

Questioning can wait.