It took him all of two minutes to balk. When they finally reached the infirmary, Will pulled the door open for him, and Nico absolutely, positively, knew that he could not go in there. This was a place of healing, of recovery. This was where you came to escape death. There might as well have been an “Underworld people not welcome” banner over the door.
Will apparently didn't care.
“Come on, Reaper Junior. Those three days don't include any time you spend loitering on the doorstep, you know.”
Nico had to raise an eyebrow at that.
“Reaper Junior? Really, Solace ?”
The son of Apollo shrugged.
“It's been a long few days,” he admitted. “I'll figure something else out, promise. Now come on.”
He gestured widely with his arm, and Nico, in order to avoid touching him, was left with no option but to duck through the open door.
The reaction was almost instantaneous. The moment people inside caught sight of him, the noise vanished like someone had flipped a switch. Patients and healers alike fixed their gazes on him, the unspoken question hanging heavy in the air.
Which patient's condition was serious enough to warrant a visit from the son of Hades? Who was dying?
The only person seemingly unaffected by the heavy atmosphere, perhaps because he had technically caused it, was Will Solace. Back in his element, he had once again become annoyingly serene. Nico heard the head healer sigh appreciatively behind him.
“Silence, finally. I should've brought you in days ago.”
“Solace,” Nico finally hissed through his teeth. “This is a bad idea. I'm freaking everyone out. I should just go.”
“Don't you dare, di Angelo. You promised.”
“But the others...”
“Will get used to you if they know what's good for them, the dirty traitors.”
The healer raised his voice at the last part, looking pointedly at his nearest siblings, who quickly returned to what they had been doing. Gradually, the patients were distracted and the noise picked up again, allowing the two boys to walk down the aisle between the two rows of beds that occupied the long room. His hand a mere few centimeters from the small of the other's back (Nico still refused to let it touch), Will ushered him into what appeared to be a small office slash exam room, complete with an overflowing desk, padded table and not one, not two, but three enormous sun lamps. Which seemed a bit overkill considering the sunshine already filtering through the huge windows. While the son of Hades was still getting his bearings in the sudden brightness, he heard the door shut behind them with a firm snap.
Too late, Nico realized he was trapped.
“Here,” said Will smugly, throwing him a pale yellow hospital gown from a closet that was managing the feat of being both a mess and nearly empty. “Clothes off, you can change behind that partition while I prep some stuff for your physical exam.”
He was half-way through one of the desk drawers before realizing that Nico hadn't moved, dumbly holding the gown in front of him.
“Sorry, we've gone through most of our supplies, and it's not like laundry is foremost on anyone's mind, so we don't have any smaller ones for you right now,” he explained, as if that was the problem.
Nico decided he wasn't even going to grace the jab at his size with an answer. They couldn't all be stupidly tall sons of the god of physical male perfection.
“I'm not wearing this. And I'm most certainly not getting a physical exam,” he spat instead. “This wasn't the deal. I'm here to cut your bandages, not to let you poke and prod me about, Solace.”
Will straightened up, hands on his hips.
“Um, yes you are, actually. Considering your current state, I'm already remiss for not nailing you to a hospital bed, di Angelo.”
“And what state is that exactly? I've told you already, I'm fine. I'm not hurt, or wounded, or sick. I just need a break. Which I'd be getting if I wasn't here,” Nico felt obligated to point out.
The son of Apollo snorted, striding over.
“Oh really. You're fine, are you? So it doesn't hurt when I do...this.” He reached out and grabbed Nico's shoulder before the son of Hades could flinch away. His grip wasn't all that tight, but his fingers still brushed against the scratches Lycaon had left him with. He'd been able to ignore the burn until then, but the combined surprise and pressure of the healer's touch caused him to yank his arm away, gasping.
He quickly reconstructed his impassive mask though, before glaring up at the son of Apollo, armoring up to face the healer's gloating.
The sight that greeted him, however, was much worse. Will didn't look gleeful, or triumphant. He seemed more frozen in guilt. Nico could almost feel his glare slipping away at the expression, replacing itself with shame. This was one of the reasons why he didn't like hanging around other people. He always seemed to bring out the worst in them.
“I'm sorry.” The words felt thick on his tongue.
Will turned away rubbing his hand over his face.
“Why are you apologizing?” The healer's voice was quiet, frustrated. “I'm the one who should be sorry. I shouldn't have done that. That was wrong of me.” He glanced at Nico again. “I just...I worry about you. Please let me help, Nico.”
Whether it was Will's special ability to defuse tension, the seeming sincerity in his voice, or simply the fact that it was the first time the healer had said his name since Half-Blood Hill, Nico wasn't sure. But the last dregs of his defensiveness just seemed to evaporate, leaving behind nothing but a bone-deep weariness. For the first time in a long time, he didn't want to have to fight anymore.
So he simply stepped behind the partition at the back of the room to change into the stupid gown, wondering why he was apparently putty in this particular demigod's hands.
It was a good thing Nico was not a fast dresser. It gave Will the opportunity to recompose himself, recover from nearly assaulting a patient, and reaffirm his conviction that there was no problem whatsoever in his handling this particular demigod's care personally. None at all. Really.
So what if he'd been in awe of the son of Hades ever since he'd come to the rescue during the Battle of Manhattan? So what if perhaps the admiration had morphed into something more with each glimpse he'd caught of the hero during the year since? So what if his heart twisted painfully with every new scar he spotted on the boy's ever paler olive skin? If his blood boiled whenever the object of his affections came back a little worse for wear running some godforsaken errand for Percy Jackson? It didn't matter that every time Will tried to move on, he found himself imagining dark curls and darker eyes beneath him instead, wondering how Nico's lips would taste even as he kissed someone else. (Not his proudest moments, he had to admit.)
Will was no fool (or at least he liked to think so). He'd lived year round in the Apollo cabin since he was twelve, and been its head counselor since Michael's death in New York. He'd probably told more new siblings about their father's myths than any other camp counselor. Apollo was known for his passion, not his use of birth control.
Will even remembered the first time his brother Lee had warned him, the day after he'd been dropped off at camp by his mother in her current hippie boyfriend's flower-and-claw-marked car, his baby half-sister screaming in terror in the back (it had been an eventful ride), promising that everything would be okay, and that they would write (which they did, every month. Thank the gods his dyslexia wasn't too bad.) Children of Apollo were archers. They were healers, artists and artisans, musicians and painters, poets and dreamers. Given the chance, they were also obsessive fans and stalkers.
Was Will being dramatic by associating his feelings for Nico with the passion that drove his father to pursue a nymph until she transformed into a tree? Without a doubt. (Apollo was, after all, also the patron god of drama.) Did Will care? Not particularly. Did it bother him that any normal hospital would not have allowed a doctor to treat someone so close to their heart (not to mention employed a fifteen year old)? Sometimes, but he rationalized it. Better a healer who was desperately in love with a patient than one who was afraid of them. (Will was still irritated at his siblings' reaction over his bringing in the son of Hades.)
At least that had been the theory, until he'd decided to hurt Nico just to prove a point. Gods, he needed to get his emotions under control. After all, he'd already decided he wasn't going to make a move. Never even minding the fact that he was probably straight, Nico didn't need some lovesick, obsessed guy coming on to him. He needed a friend and a healer, so that was what Will would be. Even if it broke Will's heart.
Speaking of which, his patient was finally coming around the partition, looking a creepy sort of adorable in his too big gown (fine, maybe Will was kind of happy that they were out of smaller sizes). Ironically, it was the sight of the vicious red scars peeking from under the sleeves, as well as his bone-thin legs (whose smooth skin Will tried not to dwell on), that snapped him out of his fan-girly daydream and prevented him from coming across as an idiot. Again, that was. Standing from the desk (his pretty much per default, since most of his siblings refused to do any paperwork unless it helped them snoop on a potential crush – and that was not what was going on here either, Will told himself sternly, nope, not at all), he fixed the patient file he'd prepared to a fresh clipboard.
It proved to be one of the more interesting examinations.
Will could handle the facts Nico gave him. So the son of Hades was born in the thirties. Fine. In Italy. No problem. Nice country, not that Will had ever been. His mom had been murdered by Zeus, for some reason. Sad, but not unheard of. And then his memories had been wiped. Well. It happened. And he'd spent a month in a Las Vegas Casino that had actually been several decades. All right. He'd been to Vegas with his mom once on one of her gigs, back when she still performed. He could relate to the feeling of timelessness of the city. Cool. And then a fury disguised as a lawyer had put him and his sister in a military school, they'd been rescued from a monstrous teacher, his sister had abandoned him for the hunters of Artemis, then promptly been killed in battle, and he had spent the last four years basically on the streets, and oh, who was Will kidding, he was not handling this, all he wanted to do was wrap his boy up in a warm fluffy blanket and never let the world touch him again. But of course that wouldn't have been professional.
ADHD had him wondering exactly when he'd started referring to Nico as his.
But what really brought lines to his forehead (despite one of his exes from the Aphrodite cabin always telling him he was going to get wrinkles from it) was the things he himself observed. The sickly tone of his skin. The purple shadows under his eyes, so dark they almost seemed like bruises. The way all his bones stuck out, reminding Will of pictures he'd seen of famine. The way he flinched away from any contact with Will (and okay, he'd seen Nico hug Jason that morning, and wasn't even going to lie to himself about how much rejection stung). The way he held himself, slightly hunched over, as if expecting to be attacked. The way all the fight had gone out of him just minutes ago. That worried Will perhaps most of all. He was an excellent healer, if he did say so himself. He could put back together just about anybody, given their cooperation. But he could do nothing for someone who had given up. And Nico felt worryingly absent.