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Dungeons and Jason

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“Oh, come on, Jason,” Leo said. “It’ll be fun.”

“I don’t know,” Jason said hesitatingly, closing the door to his locker and starting to walk down the corridor. “I don’t think I have the imagination for it.”

“You don’t need imagination. I’ll tell you what to do,” Leo said. “It’s a great campaign, but we need another power house now that Percy had to quit.”

“Wouldn’t it be weird for me to just jump in the middle of it?” Jason asked. ”I mean, you’re following some kind of story, right?”

“That’s not a problem. Come on, please?” Leo said. “I’ll help you roll up the character and everything.”

“Fine,” Jason said, giving in. “I’ll give it a try.”

“Awesome! I’ll let the others know,” Leo grinned. “We’re meeting tomorrow at the game store, so you and I can roll up your character tonight.”

“I’ll come over after practice,” Jason agreed. “My teammates are going to laugh at me for playing Dungeons and Dragons.”

“It’s not D&D, it’s the RP version of Mythomagic,” Leo said, rolling his eyes. “And your teammates suck.”

 

Jason was actually quite nervous when he followed Leo into the game store the next day. He had been in the store plenty of times, enough that Mr. D, the owner, recognized him on sight, but he had never been in the back room where the games took place. There was a large table in the middle of the room, and Piper, Frank and Annabeth were already sitting around it, smiling as he entered.

“Hi, Jason,” Piper said. “Never thought I’d see you here.”

“Leo talked me into it,” Jason said. “Is it only us?

“Nico and Hazel called a while ago to say they’ll be a little late, and that we should get you up to speed in the meantime,” Frank said.

“I thought Octavian was usually part of these games.” Jason said.

“Not when Nico is the gamemaster,” Annabeth laughed. “Octavian hates him.”

“Really? Why?” Jason asked, though he wasn’t surprised. Octavian was hardly the easiest guy to be around. He didn’t know Nico, though he had heard Percy and Leo mention him sometimes, and if he was anything like either of them it was easy to understand why Octavian didn’t like him.

“It’s kind of a long story,” Frank said. “Basically Nico managed to beat one of Octavian’s killer prophesy-campaigns a few months back by resurrecting Hazel’s character. It was the first of his campaigns where everyone survived. He’s still angry about it.”

“Oh,” Jason said, not really understanding. “So am I going to get killed in this campaign?”

The others laughed. “Only if you’re unlucky with your dice, or do something really stupid,” Piper said. “Unlike Octavian, Nico’s always fair to the players when he’s the GM.”

“He can be really creepy, though,” Leo said. “I still have nightmares about that Call of Cthulhu-campaign he held a few months back.”

“Shame you missed that,” Piper told Jason. “It was probably the best game I’ve played.”

“You’re only saying that because your character wasn’t left to drown in his own blood while a cultist sawed his legs off,” Leo said, shivering.

“Which would not have happened if you had bothered to check the room before entering,” a dry voice said behind them. Jason turned around. He recognized the person who had spoken as that weird goth kid from school, a grade below him. Jason had only spoken to him once, after chasing away some bullies from him. The boy had angrily told him to mind his own business. Behind him stood a cute dark skinned girl with curly cinnamon hair and a smile on her lips.

“It was still a dick move on your part,” Leo muttered.

“Nico, Hazel, this is Jason,” Piper introduced them. "Jason, this is Nico and his sister Hazel."

“Nice to meet you,” Hazel said, reaching out to shake Jason’s hand like this was a formal occasion.

“Likewise,” Jason smiled, then turned towards Nico.

“We’ve met,” Nico said shortly, but shook Jason’s hand anyway. “I assume Leo has filled you in on what we’ve done so far in the campaign.”

“On a ship to stop Gaia from raising, right?” Jason said. “It seems interesting, but I’m not really sure how this works.”

“Can I see you character sheet?” Nico asked, eyeing the paper Jason gave him for a while before handing it back. “Have you made up a backstory? Or a name at least?”

“Um...no,” Jason said, a bit embarrassed. “Was I supposed to?”

“Generally it helps the role-playing go smoother,” Nico said. “But for your character, since you’re new, I suggest you have memory loss. That would explain any inevitable slip ups that always occur for new players, despite being the same level as the others.”

“Sounds good,” Jason said, slightly relieved.

“Everybody ready?” Nico asked, sitting down at the head of the table. “This is the scenario: as you travel over the ocean, you come across a spit of land with a small campfire burning low. Curious, you decide to investigate and find an unconscious man by the fire. His head is bleeding, so you take him back to the ship to heal him. When he wakes up, he cannot remember anything, even his own name. He asks who are, and you introduce yourselves.”

Piper’s turn was first, and she presented herself as Helen, the bard, and proceeded to give Jason the name ”Sparky”, which caused laughter around the table. Frank was Shen Lun the druid, Hazel was Jewel, the thief and Annabeth was Alex, the scholar. Leo was apparently “Festus the happy alchemist”. Jason had played enough videogames to understand why they were in need of a fighter character.

Nico then proceeded to describe the silhouette of a shipwreck stuck on a reef in the distance, letting them decide whether or not to go investigate it.

“There could be something valuable there,” Leo said. “I say we check it out.”

“I use my spyglass to look at it,” Annabeth said. “And cast for knowledge, history.”

“Roll a DC 14 Wisdom check,” Nico said, looking briefly at his notes when she rolled eighteen. “You can see the name Medusa’s Wrath on the side of the ship, and know this to be the ship of Chrysator, son of Medusa and Poseidon. There’s bound to be treasure on board, but you also know it will be dangerous if the master of the ship is still around.”

“I still say we check it out,” Leo said, and the others nodded in agreement.

“Right, so we go into the lifeboat and...” Frank started.

“Um...” Jason interrupted uncertainly. “Sorry. Are there other people on our ship, or are we just abandoning it? Shouldn’t we leave someone on watch?”

“You currently have a crew of fifteen men aboard the ship,” Nico said, with an expression that was almost a smile. Jason wondered if that was good or bad.

“Sparky has a point,” Annabeth said. “We more or less bribed this crew into taking us. We might not want to leave them alone with the ship.”

“Good thinking,” Frank said. “We should split up.”

“I’ll take Sparky and Festus to the wreck, and the rest of you stay on guard,” Hazel said. “No one else has the swimming skill.”

“You put points into swimming?” Piper asked Jason, glancing over at his character sheet. “I would have thought you’d pick only the fighting skills.”

“Leo told me you were on a boat. It seemed logical,” Jason said. “What happens when we reach the wreck?”

“The sea is fairly rough. Do a DC 10 Dexterity check first to see if you manage to row to it,” Nico said, nodding when they passed. “You see the wreck is covered with moss and seashells, like it’s been there a long time. The mast has broken and is stuck in the reef beside you. However, the hull still seems stable.”

After a while they manage to climb aboard and started to search the hull. They found a chest containing a large golden mask, which Leo, or Festus, seemed very happy about.

“You can hear a strange scraping sound outside the door,” Nico said. “It’s coming closer.”

“Is there another way out?” Hazel asked.

“No, but the windows might break if you use brute force,” Nico said. “You would have to either swim or climb around the hull to get back to the boat, though. The gold mask gives a Dexterity penalty of -6 in both cases.”

“I draw my sword and kick open the doors,” Jason said, which earned him another half-smile from the GM.

“The strange, heavily armed half-dolphin men are startled by this,” he said. ”Roll initiative.”

The battle was really confusing, and Jason was pretty sure he made a lot of stupid decisions, but they won in the end. It was a strangely satisfying feeling, not unlike winning a football match, despite not leaving his seat. After the battle, they took a break, and Hazel and Frank went to get the pizzas they had called to order a little earlier.

“How are you finding the game?” Nico asked Jason while Leo and Piper were arguing about something in a corner. The benefits of vegetarianism, probably.

“It’s surprisingly fun,” Jason said honestly. “Really confusing, though. I’m glad you’re all being patient with me.”

“You’re doing well, all things considered,” Nico said. “Are you planning on coming back next week?”

“I think so,” Jason said. “I want know how the story ends.”

Nico smiled at that. “You do realize that it doesn’t really have an end, the way books and movies do?” he said. “I plan ahead, of course, but the players tend to go in the direction they want to.”

“That’s what makes it intriguing,” Jason smiled. “Yeah, I think I’ll come back. Unless you kill me off, of course.”

“No promises,” Nico said. “But you can always roll up a new character if that happens.”

“I’m starting to like Sparky, though,” Jason laughed. “I get the feeling he was a commander of some sort. Is he ever going to get his memories back?”

“Maybe in a future game. I could write it into the story if you want,” Nico said. “But you’d have to give me pretty free hands about it, and promise not to complain.”

“Sure, as long as you don’t make me the bad guy,” Jason said, and Nico almost smiled again. They played for another couple of hours after that, battling and somehow defeating a giant turtle in the end.

“Dude, you were so getting into it,” Leo laughed as they walked home. “And did you see the look on Nico’s face when you suggested we leave someone on the ship? You totally prevented a mutiny.”

“Really? I thought he was smiling,” Jason said, and Leo grinned at him.

“That what makes Nico different from Octavian,” he said. “Nico likes it when you play smart, even if it means he has to improvise. He’s really good at it, as well. Octavian would have thrown the Kraken at you as punishment for ruining his plans. He did that to Percy once.”

“Nico hasn’t been in the group long, though, has he?” Jason asked.

“Nah, he joined after Hazel and Frank started going out. They dragged him to one of Annabeth’s campaigns maybe six months ago,” Leo said. “Percy apparently knew him from before, but he surprised us all by solving one of Annabeth’s infamous puzzle dungeons in record time. Then he offered to GM when Percy and Octavian fell out after the Kraken-incident. His first game was actually the beginning of the campaign we’re playing now.”

“I haven’t seen you hang out in school, though,” Jason commented.

“He likes to keep to himself,” Leo shrugged. Jason wasn’t so sure that was true.

 

Percy came up to him the following day as Jason was walking to class.

“Hi, Jason,” he said. “Annabeth told me you joined the group. How was it?”

“It was fun,” Jason said. “Much more interesting than I thought it would be.”

“I know, right?” Percy said wistfully. “If it wasn’t for the swimming tournament and my dad and everything I’d totally have continued. I love Nico’s campaign.”

“Piper said Nico would write you back into the story if you decided to come back,” Jason said and Percy nodded.

“Yeah, don’t know when I’ll have time again, though,” Percy said. “But I still want to know what happens. Annabeth told me about the dolphin men and the turtle yesterday.”

“The turtle was pretty awesome,” Jason laughed. “Leo’s character threw alchemist fire into its mouth. Bad move. It had fire breath for three turns. The ship almost burned up.”

“Yeah, I heard. Shame I missed it,” Percy grinned, clapping Jason’s shoulder. “Welcome to the Gang of Geeks, man. I’ll see you later.”

 

Jason saw Nico as he was walking to football practice after school. The boy was standing with his back against a wall surrounded by five sophomores, who didn’t seem very friendly. Nico didn’t seem scared so much as irritated. It was almost the exact same scenario Jason had walked in on the first time they met. Last time Nico had yelled at Jason for helping him, but Jason couldn’t just stand by and let the bullying happen, either. A different tactic, then.

“Nico,” Jason said, smiling as he walked up to the group. “There you are. I was looking for you. Can I have a word?”

The guys surrounding Nico looked surprised at Jason. He didn’t think it was the same guys as last time, but he wasn’t sure. He didn’t know them, but Jason was pretty sure they knew him. The football team was pretty popular, after all, and he was the captain. Jason watched as a silent conversation took place between the guys, and their leader released his hold on Nico’s shoulder. Nico was looking increasingly irritated as he followed Jason away from them.

“I can take care of myself,” he said angrily. “I don’t need someone like you to baby me.”

“I’m not babying you. I was actually hoping to run into you,” Jason said. “I wanted to thank you for yesterday. I had fun.”

“Oh,” Nico said, clearly not expecting that. “That’s good. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Are you sure you should be seen talking to me?”

Jason frowned. “Why would I care who sees us talking?” he asked. “What did those guys want, anyway?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Nico said. “I should get going. I need to pick Hazel up at four.”

“Right, see you around,” Jason said, waving as Nico more or less ran away from him. That was weird. The kid had acted so confident at the game store yesterday, and now he seemed almost skittish. Jason frowned. He would try to talk to him again tomorrow.

 

That proved easier said than done. Jason wasn’t exactly looking around for Nico, but he did keep his eyes open and the kid was nowhere to be seen. He didn’t find him until lunch. Nico was sitting at the corner table, alone. Jason could see the guys from yesterday sitting nearby with rude smiles on their faces as they made gestures in Nico’s direction. Jason didn’t know what they were planning to do, but he’d rather not find out.

He promptly walked over to Nico’s table instead. “Hi, this seat isn’t taken, is it?” he smiled as he sat down in front of him. Nico stared at him like he’d asked something incomprehensible.

“What are you doing?” he asked, looking suspicious, like he expected Jason to have a plan of some kind.

“Eating lunch,” Jason said. “Do you hate pasta? Your plate is all fruit.”

“I don’t hate pasta. That slimy mass of wheat isn’t pasta,” Nico said, looking at Jason’s plate like it offended him.

Jason laughed. “Come on, it’s not that bad.”

“I’m Italian. I know what I’m talking about,” Nico said.

“Really?” Jason said, surprised. “I didn’t know. Now that you mention it, I guess you kind of have an accent, but I didn’t realize.”

“We moved here when I was nine,” Nico said. “But dad’s American, so I’m bilingual.”

“That’s pretty cool,” Jason said. “What’s your favorite food then? Real pasta?”

“Pomegranates,” Nico said. “Why are you here? And don’t say lunch.”

“Trying to get to know you, obviously,” Jason said. “What, you’d rather be alone?”

“Are you aware people are staring at us?” Nico asked, and Jason quickly glanced around the cafeteria. It was true. They did turn some heads.

“Are you ashamed to be seen with me?” Jason asked. “I guess hanging out with a jock kinda destroys that mystery vibe you’ve got going, huh?”

“I’ve got no such thing,” Nico said. “And it’s not me I’m worried about.”

“I can take care of myself,” Jason said teasingly, echoing Nico’s words from yesterday. Judging by the slight blush on his face, he noticed.

“Hi guys,” Percy said, suddenly appearing from nowhere with a tray full of food in his hands. He sat down in the seat next to Nico without asking. “‘Sup, Nico? It’s been a while.”

“Not that long,” Nico said, sighing like he realized he’d been defeated. “How’s the swimming going?”

“Great! You just watch, we’re going to win the championships at this rate,” Percy grinned. “So Jason here talked about your game yesterday. I think you got him hooked.”

“It's true,” Jason said as Nico’s ears turned red. It was cute, really. “Firebreathing giant turtles, man. Never seen that before.”

“It wasn’t exactly the plan,” Nico muttered. “Leo is unpredictable.”

“Are you talking about my awesome plan to defeat the turtle?” Leo said, suddenly sitting down by Jason. Annabeth and Piper were just behind him, grabbing extra chairs to sit at the end of the table. Nico seemed a bit bewildered by the unexpected turn of events.

“It was a terrible plan,” Annabeth said. “The ship caught fire and we lost five men.”

“But it did poison him,” Leo grinned. “And if Percy had been there he could have put the flames out.”

“Stop guilt-tripping me,” Percy said. “You know I don’t have time right now. I miss it though.”

“Don’t worry about it. Jason is our Percy now,” Piper laughed.

“Don’t start. I know he can never replace me,” Percy said. Jason had a feeling he was only half joking.

“Actually, he rolled better stats than you had overall,” Nico said.

“No way,” Percy said. “That’s not fair. I’ve been playing longer”

“It’s because you rolled terrible stats in the beginning,” Nico said. “He doesn’t have your sword, though.”

“What sword?” Jason asked when Percy smiled like he’d won that round.

“Percy got a magical sword in the beginning of the campaign, just before defeating the Minotaur,” Annabeth explained. “It was part of a quest.”

“A quest that I had to completely improvise because you didn’t do what you were supposed to,” Nico muttered. “Which is why the sword was kind of overpowered.”

“Wait, you never told us that,” Percy said, looking surprised. “Seriously?”

Nico shrugged. “It happens. I can’t always predict how you guys will act.”

“Like Jason preventing mutiny two days ago?” Leo asked, laughing.

“For example,” Nico smiled.

“You would have left us stranded by that shipwreck?” Piper asked. “Gee, Nico, that’s harsh.”

“You would have gotten out of there. Probably,” Nico said, causing the rest of them to laugh. Jason couldn’t help smiling. This was the boy he’d met two days ago, not that hostile kid he’d sat down by.

“Grace!”

Jason looked up to see some of his teammates standing by the table, gesturing for him to follow. “Strategy meeting,” they said, and Jason sighed.

“I’ve gotta go,” he said, getting up. “I’ll see you guys later.”

“And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I’ve never joined a sports team,” he heard Leo say as he left the table. He smiled slightly as he followed his teammates.

Luke Castellan frowned at him as they walked. “Since when are you hanging out with di Angelo?” he asked.

“Who?” Jason asked, taking a couple of seconds to make the connection. “Oh, Nico? I didn’t know his last name.”

“I’m not telling you what to do, man, but you should stay away from him,” Luke said. “There’s some weird rumors going around about that kid.”

“Like what?” Jason asked, confused. He’d never heard any rumors about Nico, other than the occasional person saying he was “creepy”, which Jason could understand. Pale skin, dark eyes and hair, black clothes, the whole goth assembly. Nico wasn’t exactly making an effort not to be creepy.

“They say he’s selling drugs,” Luke said uncomfortably, looking at the others for help.

“I heard his dad is a mob boss,” Ethan said. “And someone said he’s not selling drugs, but selling himself for drugs, if you know that I mean.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Jason laughed. Maybe he could have believed it three days ago, before the game, but after getting to know the kid even a little bit all that sounded retarded.

“Really? Drew said she knew someone who saw him giving head to the math teacher, Mr. Minos,” Ethan said, like that somehow made it true. Jason snorted.

“No offence, guys, but I think I’ll continue to hang around him,” he said. “He seems like cool kid.”

“All your friends are nerds, Grace,” Luke said. “You wouldn’t know cool if it hit you in the face.”

“Maybe not, but I would know to hit back,” Jason said, staring him down. Luke backed off eventually. There was a reason Jason was team captain, after all.

The next time he saw Nico was the following day, when they happened upon each other by the parking lot. Nico apparently had a motorcycle, which Jason thought was kinda fitting, to be honest. However, when he took his helmet off Jason saw he was sporting a black eye.

“What happened?” Jason asked. There was a sick feeling in his stomach, but Nico just rolled his eyes.

“I got into a fight. It’s no big deal,” he said.

“Really? What does the other guy look like?” Jason asked.

“Not pretty,” Nico said. “Why do you care?”

“I’m trying to be friends with you here,” Jason said. “Of course I care if you turn up looking like someone used you as a punching bag.”

“That’s not how it went,” Nico said. “And I don’t understand why you want to be friends with me.”

“It’s been pointed out to me that all my friends are nerds, anyway,” Jason smiled. “And I’m definitely one myself, so why not?”

“Are you telling me you don’t know what people are saying about me?” Nico asked.

“I heard some pretty ridiculous stuff yesterday,” Jason said. “And it’s not like there aren’t stupid rumors flying around about me too, you know.”

“True, I guess,” Nico said hesitatingly. “They make you out to be some sort of superhero. I heard you got that scar protecting a homeless woman from a rapist.”

Jason laughed loudly at that. “Oh, man. I wish,” he said. “That would have been so much cooler.”

“How did it really happen?” Nico asked, actually sounding curious.

“Promise you won’t tell anyone?” Jason asked, smiling when Nico nodded. “I tried to eat a stapler when I was a baby.”

“Seriously?” Nico exclaimed with a laugh. “Wow. I never would have expected that.”

“Pretty lame, isn’t it?” Jason said. “Definitely not Superman material.”

“I don’t know, you’ve kinda got the looks,” Nico smirked.

“Really? You think I’m good looking?” Jason smiled, surprisingly happy about it.

Nico rolled his eyes. “Sure. In that more-muscles-than-brains kind of way.”

“Gee, thanks,” Jason laughed. “I’ve gotta get to class. See you at lunch?”

“I usually don’t eat in the cafeteria,” Nico said uncomfortably.

“Come on, don’t leave me hanging,” Jason said. “I didn’t bring lunch, so I have to go there.”

“Fine,” Nico said, and Jason beamed at him before hurrying off to class.

If someone had asked him why he was trying so hard to befriend the younger boy, Jason wouldn’t have been able to answer. It felt important, somehow. Maybe because Nico seemed to be alone a lot. Jason did have a “hero complex” according to Piper, so maybe that was the reason.

He ended up a little late for lunch, because Mr. Minos was keeping them overtime in math class. He really hoped Nico hadn’t left the cafeteria yet, so he more or less ran to lunch. He needn’t have worried, though, because Nico was sitting at the same table as yesterday, talking to Percy. Jason was strangely irritated at that, for absolutely no good reason.

“Hey,” he said as he sat down at Nico’s side. “Sorry I’m late. Math dragged on forever.”

“Luckily he had me to keep him company,” Percy said. “And I’m better company than you are, anyway. Isn’t that right, Nico?”

“Jason doesn’t ask me to read his English assignments for him, so not really,” Nico said drily. Percy pouted.

“That was one time,” he said. “And only because you read a lot anyway.”

“Really? What kind of books?” Jason asked.

“A bit of everything. Depends on my mood,” Nico said.

“He reads poetry sometimes,” Percy inflicted helpfully. “Enough to occasionally quote it and laugh at us when we don’t get it.”

“That’s pretty cool,” Jason said, and Nico looked down at the table as he blushed.

“You think everything is cool,” he said. “And I don’t laugh at you.”

“You totally did that one time in the Cthulhu campaign,” Percy said.

“That was in character,” Nico defended himself. “I was doing a mad professor NPC.”

“You’re still a nerd,” Percy said dismissively. Jason just laughed.

“Aren’t we all?”

“Speaking of which, Octavian was talking about holding a D&D game again in a few days,” Nico told Jason. “Do you want to come?”

“I don’t know, I’d have to make up another character, right?” Jason said. “And isn't it another game? Different rules?”

“The rules are pretty much the same,” Nico said. “And I’d make two or three characters just to be on the safe side. Octavian’s games aren’t easy to survive, but it can be fun if you know that going in.”

“So he’s talking to you again?” Percy asked. “I thought he was still mad about the resurrection incident.”

“He is,” Nico said. “So I should probably roll up five characters or so. There aren’t that many other players around, though.”

“I guess I could go,” Jason said. “If it doesn't clash with anything. It would be good to get some frame of reference, anyway.”

“If you’re comparing Nico and Octavian, I can tell you right now that Nico is better,” Percy said, causing Nico to blush again. “Octavian is an asshole.”

“Have you ever been GM?” Jason asked Percy. For some reason Nico started laughing.

“One time. And stop it, Nico!” Percy said. “It’s not funny.”

“It was funny,” Nico said. “He forgot half his notes and couldn’t read the ones he brought, and he’d armed his underwater soldiers with flamethrowers. It was a mess.”

“Yeah well, it’s not like Piper and Leo were much better,” Percy muttered. “Though that was before you joined. Annabeth’s pretty good, though we tend to get stuck for hours with her puzzles. Frank is a bit too nice to be interesting, though he’s learning. Hazel haven’t tried yet.”

“She prefers playing, but I guess she’ll try at some point,” Nico said fondly. “She’s probably going to slaughter us, though.”

He had finished his meal, only fruit again, and stood up. “I need to get going. I’ll see you two around.”

“Bye,” Jason said, turning his attention back to his own food.

“It’s good to see him interacting with people in school again,” Percy said. “For a while there he was pushing everyone away.”

“He seems to think hanging with him will destroy our social lives or something,” Jason said.

“There are a lot of unpleasant rumors about him,” Percy shrugged. “Not that I know why he’d think we care. I doubt any of them are true, anyway.”

 

Nico was a part of Jason’s lunch routine after that. The first couple of days he had to actively go looking for him and ask, but after that Nico seemed to realize Jason wasn’t giving up, so he was there regardless of whether Jason managed to catch him before lunch or not. The bruise faded from his face, and by the time of the next game it was completely gone.

“Octavian asked me to remind you that his game is tomorrow at six,” Nico said as they were sitting down. “He said it’s going to be, and I quote, ‘much better than the kiddie games you’re used to playing’. Is everyone planning on going?”

“Frank and I have plans already,” Hazel said, but the others nodded.

“Might as well go, I haven’t been brutally murdered in a while,” Leo shrugged.

“I’ll let him know,” Nico said, smiling slightly. “Is everyone ready? Let’s begin then. Now, as you can see on the map, you need to sail between these two spots in order to reach your destination. However, as you approach, you see a lone man standing by the pillars, and your ship inexplicably stops, in spite of the good winds.”

“That man stopped us? What an asshole!” Leo said. “I say we shoot him down. We’ve got cannons. I roll for...”

“No you don’t,” Jason said hastily. “If that man could stop the ship without touching it he’s too powerful for us. Also, he might not even be responsible.”

“I roll for bardic knowledge,” Piper said, getting an eighteen.

“You instantly recognize the man from countless different songs. Heracles, or Hercules, stands guard over the entrance to the Old World, having earned immortality after countless deeds and trials. You will not be able to pass without his permission.”

“Are you kidding? Freaking Hercules?” Leo said excitedly.

“Good thing you didn’t shoot him,” Annabeth laughed. “I suggest we send a team to see what he wants.”

Piper with her charisma skills was definitely the hero of that day's session, actually managing to keep the Cornucopia rather than giving it to Hercules for tribute. Nico looked like he was having the time of his life, despite them foiling several of his schemes. They didn’t get much further than passing Hercules and laying anchor in Old Rome.

“It’s nice to be able to do something for once,” Piper said as they were cleaning up afterwards. “The bard usually don’t get to do much.”

“Well, today you did,” Frank laughed. “I can’t believe Nico let you keep the Cornucopia.”

“I didn’t have much of a choice, did I?” Nico grinned. “She outsmarted me, and rolled better than I did.”

“See, this is why we like you,” Piper smiled, clapping Nico’s shoulder and causing him to blush. The guy really couldn’t take the smallest compliment without blushing. Jason found that really cute.

“We need characters for tomorrow, right? You wanna tell me how it’s done?” Jason asked Leo, who shook his head.

“Sorry man, I’ve gotta run,” he said apologetically. “Ask Nico. He’ll explain it better than I do anyway.”

“Do you have time?” Jason asked, turning to Nico, who shrugged.

“If Frank doesn’t mind giving Hazel a ride home,” he said.

“Of course not,” Frank said, sounding happy. Hazel smiled as she leaned over to give Nico a kiss on the cheek.

“I’ll see you at home,” she said, before following Frank out the door. As Piper and Annabeth disappeared, it was only Jason and Nico left in the back room of the store.

“So um, how do we do this?” Jason asked, strangely nervous all of the sudden.

“It’s pretty simple really,” Nico said, getting a book called Player's Handbook off the nearby shelf and gesturing for Jason sit down beside him at the table. “You choose a race and a class and then you roll your stats and choose your skills. I’ll walk you through it.”

“Race?” Jason repeated. “Mythomagic doesn’t have that, right?”

“Technically you can play as an centaur or a satyr if you want, but it’s easier if everyone are demigods,” Nico said. “D&D is different though. These are the usual races. You can choose others as well, but since you’re probably going to die I wouldn’t do anything too complicated.”

“Oh, there are dwarves,” Jason said. “That’s pretty cool. Can I be a dwarf mage?”

“Not really the best combination, but you could,” Nico said. “Magic is pretty complicated though, and Octavian will get irritated if you hold up the game.”

“Fighter it is, then,” Jason said. “Hey, who are you playing as?”

“I was a human cleric last time,” Nico said. “I’ll probably go with that again, since the character survived, but I’ll have one or two backups.”

“Isn’t it kind of sad, having a character die?” Jason asked as he was throwing dice to determine his stats.

“It can be, if you’ve been playing them for long,” Nico said. “Though resurrection is always an option in magic based games.”

“Are there any games that don’t involve magic?”

“Plenty. I generally don’t like them very much, though,” Nico said. “You have 44 skill points, which is kind of a lot.”

“What do you think I’ll need?”

“Swim and climb are always good to have, but it’s really up to you,” Nico said, watching in silence as Jason tried to pick out some useful skills. He really didn’t know what he’d need, and ended up choosing approximately the same as he had as Sparky.

“You know, I’m still kind of surprised you’re here,” Nico said after a while. “I honestly wouldn’t have thought role-playing would interest you.”

“I was surprised myself,” Jason said. “But I’ve always liked fantasy books and video games, so I guess it make sense. Leo used to say I was a closet nerd.”

Nico laughed at that. “Aren’t your teammates going to make fun of you if they find out?”

“They already make fun of me, but this doesn’t influence my ability to throw a ball, so it’s not like it matters,” Jason said. “Besides, they are the ones that are missing out. This is fun. What should I buy?”

Nico smiled as they went through the list of weapons armor and other necessities, and Jason felt strangely warm inside. Nico really was a pretty nice guy once you got to know him.

 

Octavian, on the other hand, was not. The first thing to happen in his game was an ambush, causing them loose all their stuff. Thankfully no one died in that first battle, but they were all pretty angry.

It was a completely different game from Nico’s campaign. Octavian threw challenge after challenge at them, barely connecting the whole thing to a story at all. It was actually pretty fun, in a frustrating sort of way, but Jason definitely preferred Nico as gamemaster.

They managed to beat the game, but just barely. Jason’s and Annabeth's second characters were the only ones standing when the game ended. Nico had managed not to die before the last battle, amazingly enough, so his was the only one of their original characters to last all the way.

“Good game,” Nico said as they started clearing out. Octavian nodded at him with an air of superiority, like he was proud of having gotten Nico’s character killed. Maybe he was right to be. The boy had a really strategic mind.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Jason told Nico as they parted outside the shop. Nico gave him a brief smile before heading to his motorbike. Octavian frowned at Jason.

“Are you fucking di Angelo now?” he asked. Jason stared at him.

“What?” he asked, stunned. “Why do you think that?”

Octavian shrugged. “There’s a rumor about you two going around in school,” he said. “You know what they say about him already. People figure the reason you’re hanging around him is because he’s sucking you off, for protection or money or something.”

“That’s ridiculous! Who the fuck says that?” Jason asked angrily, feeling his face turn hot.

“Pretty much everyone,” Octavian said. “So it’s not true?”

“Of course not. We’re friends. He’s a good guy,” Jason growled. “I swear, the next time I hear someone spreading rumors about him I’ll punch them.”

“Hey, don’t shoot the messenger,” Octavian said, holding his hands up. “I’ll see you around.”

He walked off, leaving Jason feeling angry and confused. Did people really think he and Nico were together? No, scratch that, that wouldn’t have bothered him. Did people really think he’d use Nico for sexual favors in exchange for, what, protection against bullying? Ridiculous didn’t even begin to cover it.

The worst part was that the rumors weren’t entirely groundless on Jason’s part. He was slowly realizing that friendship may not be the only thing he wanted from Nico after all. He had been uncomfortably aware of the boy from the beginning, and felt strangely possessive over him, despite having absolutely no right to. Nico’s smiles made him warm inside, and his laughter made Jason tingly. He hadn’t connected the feelings with desire until Octavian asked if they were fucking, and Jason, amidst the anger and confusion, came to the conclusion that he wanted to be.

Jason laughed at himself as he entered his house. So much for the perfect Jason Grace. His parents would freak if they found out. His stepmother had already been extremely disappointed in him when he broke up with Piper about a year ago, since they had apparently been “the perfect couple”. She hadn’t talked to him for two weeks. His father just expected him to do perfectly in both academics and sports, but didn’t even approve of Jason and Leo being friends, because he was “so nerdy.” Imagine Jason trying to present Nico to them. “I’m bi, this is my boyfriend Nico. We’re playing role-playing games together, and I like it better than football.” Yeah, that would end well.

It didn’t really matter, though. Jason was pretty sure Nico didn’t like him that way.

 

He would have though meeting Nico the following day would be awkward, but it was much the same as it ever was. It helped that the others were there, as well. Jason could sit back, relax and enjoy Nico’s rare smiles.

They had an accident towards the end of practice that day. Ethan got an elbow into his nose at an unfortunate angle, and Jason and Luke stayed with him until his nose stopped bleeding, at which point Luke drove him home. Jason was left to clean up the blood. He was in the bathroom, having just stopped washing his hands, when he heard the door open, and laughter following.

“Let go of me!” a familiar voice said angrily, and Jason’s insides turned to ice. There was a loud thump of something falling to the floor.

“What’s the matter? You prefer fat old men like Mr. Minos?” someone said, laughing, and this really didn’t seem good. “Come on, you know you want this.”

“I do not! Let go!” Nico’s voice said, and there was another loud thump, followed by some angry swearing from the other guys.

“Hold him!” someone ordered, and that was enough. Jason threw open the bathroom door.

“What is going on here?” he demanded, fury running through his veins at what he saw. There were five guys, the same five he’d seen Nico with before, pushing Nico down on the floor. Three of them had bleeding noses, and Jason felt strangely proud of Nico for that. They looked up at him in surprise.

“This place was supposed to be empty,” one of them said stupidly.

“I’ll give you five seconds to get out of here,” Jason growled. They wasted two seconds staring at him, perhaps weighing their chances, then ran out the door, leaving Nico behind on the floor. Jason had almost hoped they would have stayed. He wanted to beat the crap out of them. Instead he kneeled down by Nico’s side, helping him sit up. His nose were bleeding and he seemed a bit disoriented. Jason gently held a paper towel under his nose to catch the blood.

“Do you need to go to the hospital?” he asked, but Nico shook his head.

“Why are you always around when things like this happens?” Nico asked quietly.

“I was here by coincidence.” Jason said. “Was that what I think it was? Please tell me they haven’t done something like this before.”

“Nothing this extreme, but I should have known better than to hang around in the library after school,” Nico said.

“This is in no way your fault, Nico,” Jason said.

“Yeah, I know. Thanks,” Nico said, grabbing the paper towel and pushing his hand away. “I should get home.” He started to stand up, but then he stopped, looking like he was going to faint. His legs didn’t seem to hold him, and Jason grabbed his shoulders to prevent him from falling down.

“Don’t touch me! I’ll be fine!” Nico said stubbornly, but Jason ignored him and forced him to sit down on the bench. “I’ll be fine,” Nico kept insisting, breathing rapidly. “I can take care of myself. I...” He seemed to be struggling for breath now. Jason was startled to realize he was having a panic attack.

“Nico, calm down. Breathe,” Jason urged helplessly. “Please, they can’t hurt you. You’re safe. Just breathe.” He put an arm around the boy, continuing to reassure him he was safe, that everything was going to be okay. It took a while, but at long last Nico seemed to calm down a bit. The bleeding seemed to have stopped, as well.

“I’m sorry,” he said, sounding embarrassed. “I really should be going.”

“Wait,” Jason said, pulling him a little closer. “Talk to me. How long has that been going on? Why haven’t you reported it? What can I do to help?”

Nico laughed humorlessly at that. “You can’t help me, but thanks for trying. No one can help me,” he said. “That’s been going on since that rumor started last year, and reporting it wouldn’t change anything.”

“What rumor?” Jason asked, and Nico turned to look at him, frowning.

“I’m sure you’ve heard. About the math teacher,” Nico said. “And even before that, it was the drugs.”

“That’s not true, though. Is it?” Jason asked.

“Not as such,” Nico said. “Mr. Minos tried to get me to suck him off in exchange for a good grade since I was failing his class. I refused, but someone must have overheard the whole thing since that rumor spread anyway.”

“And you didn’t report him?” Jason asked, shocked as Nico shook his head.

“No one would have believed me, and I had no proof,” he said. “Besides, I’ve been studying more and have gotten straight A:s since then. No more trouble with him.”

“Still, for a teacher to...it’s disgusting,” Jason said. “What about the drugs?”

“Depends on what you mean. I’ve been taking anti-depressants for years,” Nico said. “Since I tried to cut my wrists open after Bianca died.”

“What?” Jason said, staring down at him. Nico just lifted the arms of his shirt and removed the wristbands he was always wearing. Jason had never even considered them before, but they were hiding some pretty deep scars.

“I guess you never heard that rumor. It is true,” Nico said, smiling sadly. Jason reached out for his hand, carefully dragging his thumb over the scar. Nico shivered visibly, and quickly pulled his hand away, putting the wristbands back on.

“There, now you know me,” Nico said. “I’m a manically depressed kid who gets panic attacks for no reason and try to hide away in fictional worlds so I don’t try to kill myself again. I’m pathetic, and weak.”

“You’re not weak,” Jason said, putting both arms around him and pulling him closer. “You’re still alive, after all the shit you’ve been through. There’s nothing weak or pathetic about that.”

“Stop being kind to me,” Nico said, tense in Jason’s arms. “I’m a freak. Everyone think so, and they're right!”

“I don’t,” Jason said into Nico’s hair. “I think you’re wonderful. I like spending time with you. You’re not a freak.”

“You should be disgusted by me,” Nico said desperately. “You shouldn’t want to be near me. I’m… I’m gay. That rumor is also true.”

“Really?” Jason asked. “That’s pretty cool. I think I’m bisexual, personally.”

“What?” Nico asked, pushing Jason away enough to see his face. “You’re kidding!”

“I’m not,” Jason smiled. “I realized it pretty recently. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, you know.”

“But...I...” Nico tried, his eyes flickering around like he was desperately looking for something.

“Stop trying to make me hate you, It’s not going to happen,” Jason said sternly, and Nico’s dark eyes fixed on his face for a second. Then he broke down in tears, sobbing loudly and violently against Jason’s shoulder as he pulled him back into a tight embrace. “It’s okay, I’m here,” Jason mumbled into Nico’s hair as the boy kept crying like he had years of held back tears trying to get out. Maybe he did.

“Sorry,” Nico mumbled when he finally calmed down again. “I think I’ve destroyed your shirt.”

“It’s okay,” Jason chuckled. “I’ve got plenty more.”

“Thank you. You know, for everything,” Nico said into his shoulder, sounding incredibly vulnerable.

“Anytime,” Jason smiled. “Can I beat up those guys the next time I see them?”

“That might get you into trouble,” Nico said. “Maybe just glare at them really threateningly?”

“You bet I will,” Jason said. “If they come near you again, though, I will beat their skulls in.”

“I don’t need you to protect me, you know,” Nico said. “Except today. I can usually handle them.”

“You shouldn’t have to do it alone,” Jason said. “There are five of them and one of you. Evening the odds is not a sign of weakness, it’s strategy. And you have friends who’d stick up for you, you know. Trust me.”

“Jason?” Nico asked. “Could you just shut up and let me stay like this for a little longer?”

“As long as you need,” Jason smiled, gently running a hand through Nico’s hair as the boy sighed and relaxed against him. Jason felt a bit guilty over how much he was enjoying this, now that Nico had calmed down and stopped crying.

At long last Nico pushed him away. “I need to go wash my face, and then head home,” he said, not looking at Jason when he got up and walked over to the bathroom. Jason remained where he was and waited for Nico to come back out. He emerged a few minutes later, having managed to wash most of the blood off his face, but he was leaning against the doorway like he was having difficulties standing up.

“My head is spinning,” Nico said, and Jason hurried to his side to steady him.

“Did you hit your head? Is it a concussion?” Jason asked as he lead Nico back to the bench to sit down. Nico shook his head.

“I don’t think so. I think it’s the crying. I haven’t cried for years,” Nico said. “And I had a bad morning so I skipped breakfast and didn’t have a big lunch, so it might be that.”

“You need to start taking better care of yourself,” Jason said sternly. “I’m driving you home.”

“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea,” Nico said, accepting Jason’s help as they finally left the locker room behind and made their way towards the parking lot. There were still a couple of kids hanging around, giving them funny looks as they walked by, but Jason ignored them.

“Your parents must be rich,” Nico commented after sitting down in Jason’s Cabriolet.

“Says the guy with a Harley,” Jason laughed as he fired up the engine. “I don’t actually know where you live, so you’ll have to show me the way.”

After following Nico’s instructions they arrived outside a house large enough to be a mansion. Jason was honestly surprised. He’d thought his own house was big, but this was huge.

“Like you said, my father is pretty rich,” Nico said uncomfortably as he unbuckled his seatbelt. “Thanks for the ride.”

“Wait,” Jason said, reaching for his bag and ripping a page out of a notebook. He dotted down his phone number on it and handed it to Nico before the boy could slip away. “If you feel down or if you need to talk, just call me, okay? Anytime.”

Nico stared at the paper in his hand for a moment, then gave Jason a brief smile as he slipped it into his pockets. “Thanks,” he said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” Then he was gone.

Jason waited until he was safely inside the house before driving home. His stepmother stared at him when he walked through the door.

“What happened? Are you hurt?” she asked horrified, and Jason glanced down at the bloody mess Nico had left on his shirt.

“Don’t worry, it’s not my blood,” Jason reassured her. “A friend had an accident.”

“Oh, thank goodness,” she said. “Which friend? A teammate of yours?”

Jason hesitated. He really didn’t want to start explaining who Nico was, so he nodded. “Yeah, Ethan got a bloody nose during practice,” Jason said. It was true, after all.

“Oh, football is such a violent sport,” she said. “But then that boy has always been a bit clumsy. You should go change into something clean.”

Jason nodded as he made his way up to his room and closed the door behind him. He tried not to spend the rest of the evening glancing at his phone, hoping Nico would call.

 

In the end he never did, and Jason didn’t see him the following day at school either. His bike was gone from the parking lot. Jason was honestly a bit worried, since it was Friday and Jason wouldn’t see him until Monday. He seriously considered asking Leo or Percy for Nico’s phone number, they were bound to have it after all the gaming sessions, but then he’d have to explain why he wanted it, and Jason was a terrible liar.

Jason was scowling at his locker when Drew came up to him.

“Hi, Jason,” she said, smiling brightly. She was wearing her cheerleading outfit despite there not being any practices today.

“Hi, Drew,” Jason said, making an effort to smile at her. “What’s up?”

“There’s a party at Luke’s tonight. Wanna come?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I’m not really in a party mood,” Jason said honestly, and she frowned, though the smile didn’t leave her lips.

“Let me rephrase that. Wanna go there with me?” she said, and Jason’s eyes widened.

“Um,” he said uncomfortably. “Sorry. I can’t”

“Why not?” she asked. “This isn’t about your shadow, is it?”

“My shadow?” Jason repeated, confused. “What are you talking about?”

“That creepy goth boy who’ve been following you around,” Drew said. “Look, I know you want to be nice to everyone, but you really should tell him to go away. Watching him pant over you is pretty pathetic.”

Jason slammed his locker shut with a loud bang. “You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” he said angrily. “And I will not tolerate anyone badmouthing him.”

“Oh, geez. Really?” Drew said with an expression of disgust on her face. “I didn’t believe the rumors, but they are actually true, aren’t they? You’re really fucking him? It’s such a waste.”

“I’m not fucking him. We’re friends,” Jason growled. “But I’d much rather sleep with him than with someone like you!

Jason stomped away from her, too angry to care about the audience they had gathered. He was unable to concentrate on anything during his last classes, and spent the time drawing really ugly battle scenes in his notebook instead. Leo walked up to him after class, looking vaguely amused.

“Is it true?” he asked. “You really said you’d rather sleep with Nico than with Drew?”

“It’s true,” Jason admitted, and Leo started laughing.

“Awesome, man,” he said. “I think anyone who knows them both would say the same, actually. Nico is going to be so pissed when he hears about it, though.”

“I know,” Jason said. “It’s just… Drew was talking shit about him to my face, and I just got so mad at her.”

“It’s not a very flattering comparison for Nico,” Leo laughed. “I mean, she’s hot and all, but even Octavian’s got a better personality.”

“True,” Jason said, amused. “I really wasn’t thinking.”

 

Jason was already in his car about to start driving home when his phone rang. It was an unknown number.

“Jason Grace speaking.”

“Hi, it’s me,” Nico’s voice said. He sounded a bit nervous. “Are you still at school?”

“Yeah, I was just about to head home,” Jason said. “I’m glad you called. I was worried when you didn’t show up in school today.”

“Well, I felt like I could do without people staring at me for a day. I look terrible,” Nico said. “Listen, do you want to come over? I mean, I know it’s Friday night so I understand if you already have plans and all…”

“I have no plans,” Jason interrupted. “Should I come right now or later?”

“Either way is fine,” Nico said. “The house is empty and I’m bored.”

“I’ll be there in a couple of minutes,” Jason said, feeling giddy as he started driving towards Nico’s house. He was probably happier than he should have been, to be honest. He parked on the street outside Nico’s house and rang the doorbell. Moments later the door opened. Jason was struck by Nico’s appearance for a moment. The bruises from yesterday had turned a sickly blue around both his eyes.

“Yeah, I know. I look like a panda,” Nico said dryly as he let Jason in. “This is why I didn’t want to go to school today.”

“Understandable,” Jason said. “Does it hurt?”

“Nah, not so much,” Nico shrugged. “I’ve had worse. Do you want something to drink?”

“Do you have coffee?” Jason asked, following him to the kitchen. “I didn’t sleep very well.”

“Sure,” Nico said, moving to put the coffee machine on. “Are you sure you don’t have somewhere else to be tonight? Cause I understand if...”

“Nico, stop,” Jason sighed. “I like spending time with you, okay?”

“Sorry,” Nico mumbled. “I just figured you’d usually spend you Friday nights at a party somewhere.”

“Well, Drew did invite me to one, but she’s...” Jason trailed off. “Right, I should probably tell you about that.”

“About what?” Nico asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Please don’t be angry,” Jason said. “You know there’s a rumor we’re dating, right? I might have just made it worse.”

“What?” Nico asked, eye’s as wide as his bruises allowed.

“Drew was asking me to go with her the party and I said no, and then she said some bad stuff about you, so I kind of snapped,” Jason said. “She thought we were sleeping together, and I said that wasn’t true, but that I’d rather sleep with you than with her. Sorry.”

Nico stared at him. “What?” he repeated, his voice strained. “Why would you say that?”

“I was angry,” Jason said. “And it’s been pointed out to me that comparing you to Drew was kind of insulting to you, so I’m sorry for that too.”

“Insulting to me?” Nico said, sounding confused.

“The point is that you’re a much better person than she is,” Jason said. “But I know you don’t like rumors, so I’m sorry about causing more gossip.”

Nico laughed hollowly. “What is one more rumor to me? Add it to the pile,” he said. “Aren’t you worried?”

“Why would I be worried?” Jason asked. “I don’t care what they say about me, and I know my friends will stick by me.”

“It must be nice to be you,” Nico said, turning his back to fetch cups from the cupboard.

“They are your friends too, you know,” Jason said. Nico didn’t answer him, and Jason sighed, falling silent. He was trying to come up with something else to talk about.

“Did you mean it?” Nico asked quietly, then shook his head as Jason looked up at him. “Forget it, that was a stupid question.”

“Did I mean what?” Jason asked, but Nico kept shaking his head.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said, and Jason could see him turning red.

“Oh, you mean about rather sleeping with you than Drew?” Jason said, understanding. “Yes, I meant it.”

Nico turned even redder, and Jason had to repress the urge to walk over there and kiss him. It was a stupid thought. He would only freak Nico out.

“Milk or sugar?” Nico asked later, when the coffee was done. That, at least, was a safe topic.

“A bit of both, thanks,” Jason said, smiling when Nico put a steaming cup down in front of him moments later. “You drink it black?”

“For the most part, yeah,” Nico said, sitting down in front of him. An awkward silence filled the kitchen again.

“So, um...What did you have in mind for tonight?” Jason finally asked.

“Nothing in particular,” Nico shrugged. “I was fairly certain you’d say no.”

“I’m sure we'll figure out something to do,” Jason said. “Do you play video games?”

“Sometimes,” Nico said, getting up and taking his cup in his hand. “Come on, we’ll go to my room.”

Jason followed him up the stairs, looking around and frowning as they entered Nico’s room. It was about as big as Jason’s room, but seemed larger for the lack of things lying around. Nico had a large dark bookshelf full of neatly organized books, a desk with a laptop on it and a queen sized bed with black sheets. There was a fairly large television set and a PS3 in the corner of the room, easily watchable from the bed.

“Is this your room?” Jason asked, which may have been a stupid question, but the room was somehow too neat, too clean. Like a guest room no one actually lived in. There was nothing out of place, no posters on the walls, nothing that said Nico at all. “Is it always this tidy?”

“I may have OCD,” Nico shrugged, but Jason had the feeling that wasn’t the real answer. Still, he didn’t want to push. There had been enough awkward silences for one day. Instead he went over to inspect Nico’s bookshelf. Like Nico had said, there was a wide variety of authors and genres, classics and contemporary stuff. At the lowest shelf stood his game collection.

“I don’t really have any multiplayer games,” Nico said apologetically. “I mostly play for the story elements.”

“So do I, except for a few fighting games I play with Leo,” Jason said. “Hey, you have Portal. I’ve never played that.”

“Do you want to?” Nico asked. “The first one isn’t very long, unless you get stuck.”

“Wouldn’t it be boring for you to just watch?” Jason asked hesitatingly, but Nico smiled.

“Nah, it’ll be fun to see you figure out the puzzles,” he said. “And I get to feel smart since I already know the answers. Besides, it’s one of those games you kind of have to play.”

He placed the disk into the console and handed Jason the controller, gesturing for him to set his coffee down at the bedside table. Jason opted to sit on the floor rather than the bed for his own sanity's sake, and Nico threw him a couple of pillows, not questioning it. He settled down on the bed behind Jason, though.

“Hey, is that me?” Jason asked after playing for a while. “I’m a girl? I didn’t know that.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll keep your secret,” Nico teased him from behind.

“Funny,” Jason said. “Have you ever played a female character in any of your role-playing games?”

“As GM, I do people of all genders and races,” Nico said. “But as a player, no.”

“It could be pretty interesting to try,” Jason said. “Annabeth and Piper both played male characters in Octavian’s game, so maybe I should try as well.”

“If you want to,” Nico said. “But a game like that leaves little room for character development, so gender doesn’t really matter. Maybe Sparky was a girl all along.”

“I think the others would have noticed when they rescued him from that island,” Jason said. “Maybe in some future game. How the hell do I bring this cube to the button? There’s nowhere to shoot a portal!”

“Isn’t there?” Nico said, sounding amused. “Look at the pictures on the wall where you came in.”

“Oh!” Jason said. “That’s clever.”

“You’re doing much better than I thought you would,” Nico said as Jason placed the cube on the button to advance to the next level.

“I’m not just some dumb blonde, you know,” he laughed, looking behind him at Nico, who rolled his eyes. He was lying on his stomach, watching the game popped up on one elbow. Jason was almost glad he looked so beat up, or the sight would have been arousing.

“You’re going to feel like one soon enough. The game has that effect when you get stuck,” Nico smiled. “It’s all the more satisfying when you figure it out though.”

“I think I’m stuck already,” Jason said helplessly. “What am I supposed to do?”

The sound of Nico’s laughter was worth any humiliation he might have suffered.

They had been playing for a few hours when Hazel looked inside.

“Hi, Jason. I didn’t know you were here,” she said happily. “Frank and I are heading out soon, but we were thinking about ordering some pizzas first. Want some?”

“Yes, please. I’m getting hungry,” Jason said.

“Okay,” Hazel said, turning to Nico. “I’m getting one for you as well. No complaining.”

“Fine,” Nico said, rolling his eyes.

“You guys playing Portal?” Frank said, coming up behind Hazel. “I love that game. How far are you?”

“About halfway,” Nico said. “Jason haven’t played it before.”

“Good thing you’re educating him, then,” Frank said. “I actually like the sequel better, you have to make him play that one as well.”

“Let’s see if he can make it through this one first,” Nico smirked, and Frank and Hazel went off to order the pizzas. A while later they called for them to come down and eat.

Nico only ate about a fourth of his pizza, which Hazel scolded him for. Frank gave Jason a look like this was something that happens all the time. When they had all eaten, Hazel and Frank prepared to head back out. While Frank distracted Nico with something, Hazel took Jason aside.

“I’m glad you’re here,” she said. “I worry less that way. He spends too much time on his own.”

“I’ve noticed,” Jason nodded.

“Do you know what happened yesterday?” Hazel asked. “He refuses to tell me about it.”

Jason hesitated. “Not really my story to tell,” he finally said. “But I’m doing my best to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

“Good,” Hazel said, at which point Nico noticed them talking. Hazel walked over to kiss Nico’s cheek before walking out the door with Frank, leaving Jason and Nico alone again.

“What was that about?” Nico asked.

Jason shrugged. “She wanted to know what happened to you yesterday. I didn’t tell her, but maybe you should.”

“I’m not going to tell my little sister that some guys dragged me into the locker room to beat me up,” Nico scowled as he walked back up the stairs.

“Beating you up didn’t seem to be the only thing on their mind,” Jason said as he followed. “I think you should talk to someone about this.”

“Not Hazel. It’d only make her sad,” Nico said determinedly. “Besides, I’m talking to you, aren’t I?”

“You realize you should report them?” Jason said. “I can be your witness.”

“You want me to go public with the fact that five guys in my year tried to rape me?” Nico said. “No thanks. Even if someone believed me, it wouldn’t lead anywhere since they didn’t actually do it. I doubt they’ll try again, anyway.”

“It’s your choice,” Jason said tiredly as he sat down on the floor again and picked up the controller. They played in silence for a while.

“Can I ask you a personal question?” Jason asked, and Nico snorted behind him.

“Since when do you ask permission?” he said. “Go ahead.”

“Why does your room feel like you don’t live in it?”

Nico was silent, and Jason paused the game to look around at him. Nico was sitting up on the bed, staring at his hands.

“It’s okay,” Jason said, getting up from the floor to sit beside him on the bed instead. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”

“No, it’s just...” Nico said. “I had almost forgotten. It’s turned into a habit. My father calls it OCD, but that’s not really what it is.”

“Then what is it?” Jason asked quietly. Nico looked up at him, and took deep breath.

“I told you yesterday that I tried to commit suicide once, about four years ago,” he said, holding his wrists. “This started before then. I was determined to make it easy for them to clean up after me, when I was gone. So I kept everything in order. Even after I returned from the hospital I continued, since I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t try again. It’s become a habit.”

“Do you still want to die?” Jason asked, and his relief when Nico shook his head was indescribable.

“Not for years now,” he said. “Doesn’t mean I’m not occasionally so depressed getting out of bed is impossible, but I don’t want to die.”

“Good,” Jason said. “Can I hug you?”

“What’s with you suddenly asking for permission for everything?” Nico said, giving him a pale smile. Jason took that as a yes, and moved to put his arms around the boy and pull him closer. Nico was tense, but didn’t resist. A while later he relaxed, resting his head on Jason’s shoulder.

“You’re a very physical person, aren’t you?” he said with an undertone of amusement.

“I’m an athlete, what do you expect?” Jason said. “And I think you are too, deep down.”

“Perhaps,” Nico admitted. “Now get off me. You have a game to finish.”

Jason remained on the bed beside Nico for the remainder of the game, shoulders and knees occasionally touching.

“Damn it. Again?” Jason groaned in frustration as the game’s boss beat him for the third time. Nico chuckled.

“You just have to be faster,” he said. “It took me a couple of tries the first time too, don’t worry.”

“You’re enjoying her poisoning me with neurotoxins,” Jason accused him.

“Maybe a little,” Nico laughed.

“You just watch. I’ll get her this time,” Jason said determinedly, starting the battle again. “You know, she kind of reminds me of my stepmother.”

“Really?” Nico said. “Do your stepmother usually try to incinerate you and poison you with neurotoxins?”

“No, but the psychological part is similar,” Jason said. “Oh my god, did you see that? That wasn’t fair. She’s going down!”

“Good job,” Nico said, clapping him on his back as the boss finally went down. “Well, what did you think?”

“Awesome game,” Jason smiled at him. “Frustrating, but awesome. I definitely want to play the sequel. And I kinda want cake.”

Nico laughed at that. “Sadly I have no cake to offer,” he said. “But there might be ice cream in the freezer.”

“That’ll do,” Jason said, and Nico went to get some while he watched the credits roll. He came back a few minutes later with two bowls, handing Jason the fuller one. His own bowl had only one small ball of ice cream in it.

“So what’s up with your eating habits, anyway?” Jason asked. “And please don’t tell me you think you’re fat.”

“I know I’m not. I’m fully aware I should eat more,” Nico said. “I did have anorexia when I was younger, though. Just another way of dying. I’m long past it now, but I’ve never really been able to eat normally afterwards. Some days are better than others.”

“Sorry,” Jason said. “You’ve really been through a lot.”

Nico shrugged. “Everyone has problems. What’s yours?”

“I don’t have any,” Jason said, because compared to Nico, he really didn’t.

“Yeah, that’s fair,” Nico muttered. “I’ve answered all your questions, but you refuse to answer even one of mine.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Jason said. “It’s just that I’d feel like a whining little kid after what you just told me.”

“It’s not a competition,” Nico said, smiling slightly. “Tell me.”

Jason sighed. “My parents kind of demand a lot from me,” he said. “They expect me to be perfect, and no matter what I do I never feel like it’s good enough. The only reason I joined the football team in the first place was because my stepmother more or less demanded it.”

“Wait, are you telling me you don’t like football?” Nico asked, looking bewildered.

“I don’t dislike it,” Jason shrugged. “I just have no passion for it. I don’t like studying either, but if I ever get even a B my dad gives me this disappointed look, and barely talks to me.”

“I can relate to that,” Nico said. “My father used to do the same thing to me. After Bianca died, he started telling me how much better she was, or would have been, at everything.”

“How did you make him stop?” Jason asked.

Nico gave him a bitter smile. “I don’t think you should follow my example.”

“Oh!” Jason said, eyes widening in surprise. “Was that when you…? What happened afterwards?”

“I think he gave up on me, to be honest,” Nico said. “He hasn’t demanded anything from me since. Of course, he’s almost never home, so I don’t see him much. He and his wife are always on business trips to wherever.”

“That sucks, man,” Jason said.

“I’m used to it,” Nico shrugged. “Have you ever tried rebelling against your parents?”

“Not exactly. I broke up with Piper against their wishes, but that was a mutual decision,” Jason said.

“They’re seriously trying to control who you date?” Nico asked, wide eyed.

“Why not? They control almost everything else,” Jason laughed. “They don’t approve of some of my friends either, Leo mostly, but I’m not letting them influence who I spend my time with.”

“Obviously. They definitely wouldn’t approve of me,” Nico said. “What’s the endgame? Are they trying to make you president or something?”

“Or something,” Jason laughed. “I think my stepmother wants me to become a senator. She was pretty disappointed I didn’t join the student council, but I didn’t have time then.”

“And what is it you want, Jason Grace?” Nico asked, smiling encouragingly at him. Jason stopped himself the moment before he said “you”. That would have ended well.

“I don’t know,” he said instead. “I’ll probably go to college, but I’m not interested in politics. History, maybe. Or literature. After that, who knows?”

“You’re not going to follow your parents plan, then?” Nico asked. “They’ll be disappointed.”

“I know,” Jason sighed. “But I’m so tired of trying to be perfect.”

“If it helps, you’ve been doing a pretty good job so far,” Nico teased. Jason laughed at that.

“I haven’t been trying with you. This is really me, playing video games for hours and eating junk food, hanging around doing nothing with my friends,” Jason said. “I feel like my friends accept me as I am.”

“Wow,” Nico said. “If this is really you then I can’t even imagine how perfect you must act among others.”

He rolled his eyes when Jason frowned at him. “I’m mostly teasing you, but really? You may not be perfect, but you’re pretty much the nicest guy I’ve ever met.”

Jason could feel his cheeks grow hot at that.

Before he could say anything, there was a knock on the door, and Hazel looked in.

“You guy’s still up? It’s 2 am already,” she said, smiling bemusedly at them. Jason looked at his phone and realized she was right.

“I didn’t realize it was so late,” he said. “I should be getting home.”

“Thanks for coming,” Nico said, collecting their bowls and cups and bringing them down to the kitchen as Jason was leaving.

“Anytime. Really,” Jason smiled. “I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?”

“Okay,” Nico said. Jason wondered if he was blushing, or if the dim light downstairs was playing tricks on him. He resisted the urge to kiss Nico goodnight, and left. The night air was cold as he walked to his car.

 

They talked over the phone a couple of times during the weekend, but Jason didn’t see Nico again until Monday in school, when Jason sat down in front of him at lunch.

“Your eyes look better,” he commented. The bruises were still visible, but not nearly as much as they had been on Friday. Nico gave him a brief smile.

“Thanks. Hazel offered to cover it with makeup, but I didn’t think it was necessary,” he said. “Besides, I doubt she’d had anything matching my skin, anyway.”

Jason laughed at that, which was when Percy sat down beside Nico. He looked irritated.

“Dude, I just saw your locker,” he told Jason. “Who the hell would write something like that?”

“Something like what?” Nico asked, and Jason really wished Percy could have kept his mouth shut. Nico didn’t need to know about it.

“Someone has written ‘cocksucker’ in red on Jason’s locker,” Percy said, and Nico paled.

“It’s no big deal,” Jason said hastily. “It doesn’t bother me.”

“Well, it bothers me,” Percy said. “I don’t care if you two are together, nobody messes with my friends like that.”

“We’re not together,” Jason said, and Percy almost looked disappointed.

“Oh,” he said. “Well, the point still stands.”

Nico actually laughed at that. “If writings on lockers make you angry, you should see mine,” he said. “It’s practically a work of art by now. I call it ‘slurs of the modern world at sunset’.”

“Really?” Percy said. “I’ve never seen your locker. That’s horrible!”

“Nah, it’s kind of pretty, actually. So many colors,” Nico shrugged, then turned to Jason. “It’s different for you, though. Are you sure it doesn’t bother you?”

Jason gave him a reassuring smile. “Of course not,” he said.

“It’s probably just wishful thinking by someone who wants you to suck their cock, anyway,” Piper said, appearing behind him and clapping his shoulder. Leo and Annabeth were right beside her.

“Yeah, what would we guys do if all the people willing to suck our cocks suddenly disappeared?” Leo grinned. “Hi guys, I just heard some really juicy rumors about you two.”

“Leo, stop enjoying this. It’s not funny,” Annabeth said sternly.

“No, this one is funny,” Leo insisted. “They’re saying your parents paired you two together for business.”

The table was silent for a moment. Nico was the first one to start laughing, and Jason joined soon afterwards, quickly followed by the others. Their laughter turned a few heads at the surrounding tables, but they didn’t care.

Jason got some funny looks as he went to practice that day, but he went on as he always did. It wasn’t until the end of practice that someone dared open their mouth.

“So, Jason, are you playing for the other team now?” Dakota asked. He sounded amused rather than mean, but some of the others didn’t look so friendly.

“I’m playing for the same team I’ve always played for, Dakota,” Jason said.

“That’s not an answer, Grace,” Philip said. “Is it true you’re gay?”

“Not that it’s any of your business, but no. I’m bisexual,” Jason said, and there was a shocked murmur among his teammates. Jason stared them down, daring them to say anything.

“You are fucking di Angelo, then?” someone asked.

“No, I’m not. We’re friends,” Jason sighed. “I’m getting tired of having to say that.”

“Well, who cares, right?” Luke unexpectedly spoke up. “We’re a football team, not a gossip club for old ladies. I for one have better things to do than discuss who likes who.”

People were nodding in agreement, even if some of them still looked uncomfortable. They went their separate ways after that.

“Thanks, man,” Jason told Luke as they walked out the locker room. Luke shrugged.

“It’s none of my business who you sleep with,” he said. “Though you and di Angelo really should do it if you haven’t already. The googly eyes you’re making at each other are disgusting.”

“It’s not like that,” Jason tried, but Luke just rolled his eyes.

“Whatever, man. See you.”

Jason was left behind, wondering if his feelings for Nico really were that transparent.

 

They had another game session the following day, rescuing a person the others had encountered before from a bronze jar, guarded by two crazy giants. Jason had seldom laughed as hard as he did when Nico, in a dry, no nonsense voice described one of the giants wearing a tutu.

The session dragged on pretty late, because they had some bad rolls and the fights took a lot of time, but it was a lot of fun. Jason was humming happily as he got home. He didn’t expect his stepmother to be waiting for him. She cornered him as soon as he entered the house, crossing her arms over her chest and looking stern.

“Where have you been?” she asked.

“Hanging with my friends,” Jason said. “Why?”

“I tried calling you,” she said. “You didn’t pick up.”

“Sorry, I must have left my phone on mute,” Jason apologized, despite that he had done it very much on purpose. “Did something happen?”

“I was talking to Kayla, whose son is on your team,” Juno said slowly, her eyes piercing into Jason’s. “She told me the most peculiar things. Things that I’m sure can’t be true.”

“What things?” Jason asked tiredly. He should have expected this conversation, really.

“She said, that her son had told her, that you had told the entire team you like boys,” she said. It sounded like a challenge. Jason sighed.

“They asked me if I’m gay, and I told them I’m bisexual,” Jason said. “Which is true, by the way.”

Juno's smile stilted. “Then there was that other rumor, about you dating some drug addict prostitute boy.”

“He’s not a drug addict, nor a prostitute,” Jason said angrily. “And we’re not dating.”

“But there is a boy,” Juno concluded, her eyes narrow.

“Yes,” Jason confirmed, still angry. “I’m in love with him. I don’t know how he feels about me.”

“Silly boy. You will grow out of it, surely,” Juno said, smiling again. “You just need to meet the right girl. How about that athletic girl you spent some time with a while ago. Reyna? Yes, she would be good.”

“Reyna is in college, and she’s dating a girl called Circe,” Jason pointed out. “And it wouldn’t make me stop liking Nico.”

“What makes this boy so special, then?” she asked, clearly getting angry.

“He’s smart and kind and tells the best stories,” Jason said, unable to help the smile. “He has a hard time accepting help, but he’s really brave, even if he doesn’t believe it.”

“How sweet,” Juno said, voice dripping with sarcasm. “And how did you meet, pray tell? In school?”

“The first time, yes. But we really only talked after my other friends dragged me to a role-playing game, where he was the gamemaster. It was really fun,” Jason said, feeling like it was only a matter of time before she heard about that as well. Might as well come clean.

“Role-playing?” she repeated, eyes wide. “I should never have let you hang with that Leo boy. He’s changed you. Come, dear. This isn’t you.”

“This is me,” Jason said. “I like role-playing. I like stories. I’m thinking about taking history or literature at college, actually.”

“You’re taking political science,” Juno said sternly. “That is the plan. It’s the best way for you to become a senator.”

“I don’t want that kind of power,” Jason said. “And I’m not interested in politics.”

“Jason, be reasonable,” Juno said. “We only want the best for you. And this Nico is clearly a bad influence. You should stop seeing him.”

“I refuse,” Jason said. “You can’t control who my friends are, and I’m tired of trying to be perfect just to please you. I’m not perfect. This is me.”

She looked at him for a long time, then started to cry. “They’ve turned you against me. They’ve changed you.”

“Or maybe you’re just seeing the real me for the first time,” Jason said tiredly. “I’m sorry if you can’t accept it. I’m going to my room.”

He felt bad about leaving her crying there, but he’d been through this before. The only difference was that he’d actually managed to say what was on his mind before she started crying this time. If he tried to comfort her she’d just make him promise something he’d regret later. That’s how he’d joined the football team in the first place.

A few hour later he heard he father come home, and Juno apparently ambushed him immediately with her news. Jason could hear her yelling. His father was quiet. That was a really bad sign.

Moments later his father yelled for him to come down.

“Juno’s told me everything,” his father said. “Is it true? You would throw away the future we have planned for you?”

“It’s not my future,” Jason said simply.

“All this, for a boy?”

“Nico’s got nothing to do with it,” Jason said. “He just asked me what I wanted, and I realized it wasn’t this.”

“You’ve let that boy turn your head around,” his father said. “Juno is right, we cannot allow this to continue. You’re not to talk to that boy, or any of the geeks you call friends, again.”

“They are my friends, and I won’t stop seeing them,” Jason said firmly, meeting his father's eyes with a courage he didn’t know he possessed.

“I am your father. You will obey me!”

“It’s my life, and my friends,” Jason said. “Face it, father, I’m not going through with this. I will find my own future.”

“Get out,” his father said.

“What?”

“Get out of my house!” his father screamed. “You’re not my son! Leave!”

His father hit his fist into the wall, leaving a mark. Jason glanced over at his stepmother, but she seemed frozen. He made one attempt to get back upstairs, but his father was standing in his way. He had no illusions about what would happen if he stayed. This was why Thalia had run away, after all.

Jason quickly grabbed his car keys as he hurried out the door. It was the only thing he managed to bring with him.

He drove away from the house, wondering what to do. The banishment probably wasn’t forever, but it could very well take his father a week to calm down. Jason didn’t have his wallet or his phone, but he could get those tomorrow while his father was at work. In the meantime he had to find someplace to sleep.

Leo was his first thought, but Leo lived with his aunt and her family in a tiny apartment, and she wasn’t overly fond of her nephew. Jason showing up there would only bring him trouble. Percy was a possibility, or Piper. He was considering the possibilities as he realized he had driven to Nico’s house without thinking about it. Suddenly he really, really wanted to see him.

Jason got out of the car and rang the doorbell. It was already after midnight, so they might be asleep. A while later the intercom buzzed.

“Who is it?” came Hazel’s voice, sounding tired, but not like he’d woke her up.

“It’s Jason,” he said, and moments later the door opened. Hazel was standing in the doorway, wearing a purple pajama and frowning at him.

“It’s really late, Jason,” she said. “Did something happen?”

“My father just threw me out of the house,” Jason admitted. “I was wondering if I could stay here for tonight.”

Her eyes widened, and she threw her arms around him. “Of course,” she said. ”You can stay as long as you want.”

“Thank you,” Jason said, returning the hug.

“Come on,” Hazel said as she pulled back. “Let’s go wake Nico up.”

They walked up the stairs, and Hazel knocked on the door to Nico’s room. There was no answer, but Hazel opened the door anyway. Nico was sitting on his bed, reading a book with headphones on. He looked up at them in surprise.

“Jason? What are you doing here?” he asked, startled.

“His parents threw him out, so he’s staying here for a while,” Hazel said. Nico’s eyes widened, and he looked at Jason, who made an attempt to smile at him, but it fell pretty flat.

“Right,” Nico said, getting up from the bed. “We’ll need to make the guest room ready. Nobody has slept in there for years and it’s full of boxes, but there is still a bed in there.”

“It’s okay, I can just crash on the couch,” Jason said. “It’s late. I don’t want to trouble you.”

“I’ll go get some of father’s old pajama for you to wear, I doubt any of Nico’s stuff would fit you,” Hazel said, giving Nico a pointed look before she left. Jason wasn’t completely sure what that was about.

“Hey, are you okay?” Nico asked, placing a hand on his arm. It was such a small gesture, but tired as Jason was it almost moved him to tears. He let his head fall down on Nico’s shoulder, taking a shaky breath.

“I don’t know,” he said. Nico tensed at the contact, then slowly and awkwardly put his arms around Jason, apparently realizing how much he needed it.

“Can I stay here with you tonight?” Jason asked weakly into Nico’s shoulder. “Please. I just need someone.”

“My bed is wide enough for two,” Nico said, sounding hesitant, and Jason couldn’t even begin to describe how relieved he felt. He didn’t think he could deal with the darkness alone right now.

Hazel returned with a dark grey pajama a few minutes later. She smiled sadly at the position she found them in, but didn’t comment.

“There should be some unused toothbrushes in the bathroom cabinet,” she told Jason. “I’ll go to bed now. Goodnight.”

She walked off, and Nico pushed Jason into the bathroom to wash his teeth and change. The pajama fit him surprisingly well. Nico was already back in bed when Jason returned.

“Turn the light off,” Nico said, putting his book away. Jason obeyed, then walked over and joined Nico on the bed. Nico didn’t say anything about it.

“Thank you,” Jason said after lying still for a while. “Thank you for doing this for me. I know you must hate it.”

“I don’t hate it,” Nico said. “Well, I hate that your parents threw you out. Why did that happen? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“They found out about everything I was trying to hide from them,” Jason said. “But mostly because I told them I wasn’t going to follow their plans anymore. My dad couldn’t accept it.”

“I’m sorry,” Nico said sincerely, and Jason nodded tiredly.

“I should have expected it, really,” he said. “Would it be weird if I held you?”

Nico was quiet for a while, and Jason was afraid he’d crossed a line. Then Nico gave a single nod. “A little,” he said. “But if you need it then I don’t mind.”

“Thank you,” Jason said again, reaching out for Nico and pulling him closer until Nico’s head was right under Jason’s chin and their chests were almost touching. Jason buried his face in Nico’s hair, breathing him in. At least there was still someone who accepted him, even if even Nico didn’t know the whole story. With his arms around the boy he loved, Jason fell asleep.

 

The bed was empty when he woke up, but it didn’t bother him too much. Especially not when Nico came in and sat down on the bed a few minutes later.

“You awake?”

“More or less,” Jason murmured. “What time is it?”

“Half past six,” Nico said. “Are you planning on going to school today?”

“Yeah,” Jason muttered, sitting up and rubbing his eyes, trying to wake up properly. “I don’t have much else to do. I need to go get my stuff from my house afterwards. Is it still okay for me to stay here a couple of days?”

The corners of Nico’s mouth moved upwards at that. “Of course. I’ll call my father about it later, in case he decides to drop by, but I doubt he’d care.”

“Thanks, man,” Jason said. “I really appreciate it.”

“It’s fine,” Nico shrugged. “Now get up. Hazel is making breakfast.”

It was a much more comfortable breakfast than any Jason had ever had at home. It was cold out, so he offered to give them both a ride to school in his car rather than Nico’s motorcycle. They gladly accepted.

“It’s so much warmer,” Hazel said appreciatively. “But it does lack the thrill of speed.”

Jason laughed. “You’re a biker chick, huh?”

“Sometimes,” Hazel smiled. “I actually prefer horses, if given a choice.”

“She spends a lot of time in the stable outside of town,” Nico provided. “Always comes home smelling of horses.”

“You’ve never complained before,” Hazel frowned, and Nico smirked at her.

“I’m not complaining, just stating facts,” he said, causing her to hit him gently.

They dropped Hazel off at her school, then drove on.

“I’m a little jealous, you know,” Jason said. “You two get along so well. I’m lucky if I get to talk to my sister once a month.”

“I didn’t even know you had a sister,” Nico said, surprised. “Is she in college?”

“Yeah, half a country away,” Jason sighed. “And even before that she went to an all girls boarding school. She and my father never got along.”

“I’m sorry,” Nico said sympathetically. ”I didn’t know Hazel existed until a few years back, when her mother died. She showed up on the doorstep one day, with a letter from her mother and a birth certificate.”

“Wow, that must have been weird,” Jason said.

Nico nodded. “It was. And father was in London at the time. I was alone with my stepmother, and she threw a fit and walked out. It was just Hazel and me for a week after that.”

Nico smiled fondly at the memory. “This was only a few months after I got back from the hospital. Before Hazel arrived I was planning on trying again first chance I got, but I couldn’t leave her alone. She saved my life.”

“Does she know?” Jason asked quietly.

“Yeah, I told her some time ago. She got mad at me for even considering killing myself,” Nico said. “I told her I was gay at the same time, and she accepted me immediately. I know I’m incredibly lucky to have her.”

“She’s lucky to have you, too, you know,” Jason said, causing Nico to blush. They reached the school shortly afterwards, getting some funny looks as they stepped out of same car. Jason really didn’t care. He was tempted to throw an arm around Nico’s shoulders when walking into the school building just to make a statement, but opted against it. They weren’t actually a couple, after all.

Nico had offered to come with him to collect his things from home after school, so they met by the parking lot after Jason finished training. He had been reluctant to ask Nico to stay in school to wait for him, but Nico had just rolled his eyes and told him he could take care of himself. Still, Jason was relieved to see he was unharmed.

“Ready to go?” Nico asked, and Jason just gestured for him to get into the car. He was a bit nervous about this, and thankful Nico was coming with him. If nothing else, he might need the emotional support.

They pulled up outside Jason’s house and Jason took a deep breath before stepping out of the car. Nico gave him a worried look.

“Are you going to be okay?” he asked.

“Yeah, it’s just strange,” Jason said. “I mean, it’s my home, but it’s not.”

“I understand,” Nico said. “We can come back later if you want.”

Jason shook his head. “No, let’s just get this over with.”

Jason unlocked the door and stepped inside. It didn’t seem like anyone was home, and he breathed out in relief. Nico followed him up the stairs to his room, looking around.

“You keep your room very clean,” he noted, and Jason chuckled.

“Look who’s talking,” he said, opening his wardrobe and bringing out a large travel bag. “But yeah, my stepmother always make sure I clean my room. She hates messy things.”

“That sounds annoying. My stepmother usually just tries her best to ignore us,” Nico said, moving to inspect Jason’s bookshelf. He was suddenly ashamed of how few books he actually owned.

“I tend to borrow a lot of books from the library,” he said, and Nico gave him a smile.

“I wasn’t judging,” he said, sitting down on Jason’s bed. Jason’s heart skipped a beat, because Nico being in his room was kind of a fantasy come true, even if the circumstances really weren’t what he had imagined. He turned back to the wardrobe to hide the fact that he was blushing.

He quickly filled the bag with all the clothes he could fit, then added a couple of other things and picked up his phone and wallet. He had a few missed calls, but mostly from people he’d already talked to in school.

“Ready?” Nico asked, and Jason looked over at him, which turned out to be a mistake. Nico was lying on his stomach on the bed, popped up on one elbow, looking like someone had just cut him out of one of Jason’s dreams. He frowned when Jason didn’t answer.

“Jason? Are you okay?” Nico asked, and Jason took a deep breath. This was getting out of hand, which meant he had to come clean. It wasn’t fair to Nico, just leaving it like this.

“I have to tell you something,” Jason said, sinking down in the chair by his desk. Nico’s frown deepened, but at least he sat up. That made it a little easier.

“What is it?” Nico asked carefully.

“I need you to know that I’m not expecting anything, and I’m not pressuring you. And if you don’t want me to stay with you after this, I understand. I can find someplace else,” Jason said.

“Jason, what’s this about?” Nico asked, sounding confused and a little scared.

“I’m in love with you.”

Jason watched as Nico’s jaw dropped. He looked utterly shocked, like the thought had never entered his mind. The silence stretched on for what seemed like forever.

“Please say something,” Jason begged quietly. If Nico hadn’t even considered him, then it was pretty clear he had no chance, but he needed to hear it.

“I just...Are you serious?” Nico asked breathlessly.

“Yes,” Jason said. “I love you.”

“But...but why me?” Nico asked, sounding desperate. “I mean, you could do so much better. Anyone would be better. I’m not even… I’m just...”

“Nico,” Jason said sternly, moving to sit down beside him on the bed. “You are one of the bravest people I’ve ever met. And you’re kind, selfless and a damn good storyteller. Stop putting yourself down.”

“But you’re you!” Nico exclaimed, which made no sense. “I mean, you’re amazing. I still don’t understand why you would like me.”

“I just told you why,” Jason frowned. “And I realize it’s not really fair to corner you like this, but I would kind of like an answer.”

“Do you really have to ask?” Nico said, looking like he was going to cry. “I thought it was pretty obvious. I mean, the whole school already knows.”

“I don’t really listen to rumors,” Jason said, his heart beating fast in his chest. “Is that a ‘’yes?”

Nico rolled his eyes. “Of course it’s a yes,” he said, and Jason leaned in to kiss him. It was strange and awkward at first, and they were holding on to each other like drowning men, clinging desperately. Still, it was everything Jason had been dreaming about for weeks. His mind was muddled with the sensation, and he wasn’t sure whether he pushed Nico down on the bed or Nico dragged him, but suddenly he found himself on top of the boy. It was around that time that Nico opened his mouth, and Jason found an entirely new realm of pleasure. He had kissed people before, and he wasn’t even a virgin anymore, but it had never been like this.

When Nico put a hand on his chest and forcefully pushed him back, he was disappointed and a little hurt, until he realized where Nico was looking. Then he was terrified.

His father stood in the doorway, with his arms crossed across his chest, calmly looking at them. It was the calm that scared him. Things were always worse when he was calm.

“So,” his father said. “I take it this is the boy you mentioned.”

“Um, yes,” Jason said, carefully stepping off Nico to place himself between his father and him, glad the shock had killed his boner. “I just came to collect some of my things. We’ll be leaving now.”

“Ah, yes, and to get a quick tumble while you were at it, I see,” his father said, smiling dangerously. “What is your name, boy?”

“Nico di Angelo, sir,” Nico said, standing up beside Jason. He didn’t seem frightened in the least by Jason’s father, who raised his eyebrows, probably a bit thrown off by the boys calm demeanor.

“Di Angelo,” Jason’s father repeated. “Not a familiar name. So you’re dating my son, huh? You are of course aware that he has no future ahead of him, and no prospect of getting any of my inheritance.”

“With all due respect, sir,” Nico said, with a tone that suggested that he thought no respect was due. “I believe Jason is perfectly capable of finding his own future, and I have no idea why you’d think I’d have any interest in knowing about his inheritance.”

“Do you know who I am, boy?” Jason’s father asked, and Jason could see his calm facade falling apart in front of Nico’s indifference.

“Jupiter Grace, owner of the Olympus cooperation,” Nico said, sounding bored. “One of the most influential men in the state, according to some.”

“Then you know why crossing me is a bad idea,” Jason’s father said. Nico actually rolled his eyes.

“We really should get going,” he said. “It was nice meeting you, sir.”

“Careful, boy. I could destroy your life with one phone call,” Jason’s father said. Jason stared at him. One person opposed him, and he was reduced to this? Suddenly Jason wasn’t so afraid anymore.

“Threatening a minor. Throwing out the son you’re legally required to provide for. Attempting to control your son’s life. Psychological abuse. Homophobia,” Nico said dismissively as he reached down to pick up Jason’s bag. “The press would have a field day. Ready to go?”

“Yeah,” Jason said, cautiously watching his father and making sure he remained between Nico and him at all times. Nico had won the verbal fight, amazingly enough, but if his father snapped Nico didn’t stand a chance. Nothing happened until they were about to walk out the door.

“Boy, what is your father’s name?” Jason’s father asked from the stairwell.

“Hayden Lowell,” Nico said, and Jason saw his father’s eyes widen. “Good day, Mr. Grace.”

Jason was quiet as he threw his bag into the car and drove away. Nico gave him a worried look.

“Did I make it worse?” he asked quietly. “I’m sorry. I just got so angry at him, treating you like that.”

Jason chuckled, reaching over to touch Nico’s hand. “You were amazing. I’ve never heard anyone talk to him like that. Is that really what you’re like when you get angry?”

“Sometimes. I get it from my father, I think,” Nico said.

“Speaking of, why did my father recognize your father's name?” Jason asked. “I didn’t.”

Nico shrugged. “My father is pretty famous in certain circles. He’s a lawyer. Maybe they’ve met.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Jason said, though he had a feeling there was more to it than that.

“I talked to him during lunch break, by the way. He’s going to be in Washington DC for another week or so, but he doesn’t mind you staying with us.”

“Will that change, now that we’re dating?” Jason asked. Nico blushed slightly, but shook his head.

“I doubt it,” he said. They arrived at Nico’s house and Jason carried his bag inside, a bit unsure where to put it. Nico apparently noticed.

“It’s probably better if we clear out the guest room for you,” Nico said. “I mean, you’re going to want privacy, right?”

“Not really, but I guess you’re right,” Jason said. They spent the rest of the day making the guest room livable. Once that was done, Jason started getting restless. He was itching to reach out and touch Nico again, but then Hazel came home, vaguely smelling of horses as Nico had said, and Jason was pretty sure Nico didn’t want him to do anything in front of his little sister.

Thankfully Hazel went out after dinner. Jason had a feeling she left them alone on purpose, and he was grateful for that. Still, Nico kept avoiding looking Jason in the eyes, and he was getting worried.

“Can we talk?” Jason asked as Nico was making coffee for them.

“What is it?” he asked.

“It’s just that I really want to kiss you again,” Jason said. “Can I? Or did I go too far earlier?”

Nico blushed, but he had a small smile on his lips as he turned around. “Things did go a little far,” he said. “Not that I’m opposed to it, really, it’s just a bit...strange?”

“Good strange or bad strange?” Jason asked, carefully approaching him. Nico let him put his arms around him without protest.

“Just strange,” he said. “Maybe because I’m not used to stuff like that?”

“Do you want to get used to it?” Jason asked playfully, stroking Nico’s cheek.

“Yes, I’d like to,” he murmured, and Jason leaned in to kiss him.

The kiss wasn’t as desperate this time. Jason was taking it slow, giving both of them time to get a feel for each other. Nico was clearly nervous and didn’t really know what he was doing, but Jason didn’t mind. There was a strange, selfish pride in probably being the first person Nico had kissed like this.

They parted when the coffee machine beeped. Jason didn’t want to let go of Nico, to be honest, but the boy pushed him away to get coffee.

“So, I was wondering if you wanted to continue with Portal 2,” Nico said with his back turned, pouring a bit of milk and sugar into Jason’s cup. The fact that he remembered made Jason smile.

“Sure,” Jason said. There were plenty of stuff he’d rather be doing, but if Nico wanted to take it slow then Jason wasn’t going to push. The boy had been pushed enough for several lifetimes.

They spent the rest of the evening on Nico’s bed. Jason was playing Portal 2, while Nico alternated between watching and working on something involving two heavy books and a lot of paper. When Jason asked what he was doing he smiled secretively.

“Preparing for next week’s game session,” he said. “It does take some work, you know.”

“I don’t suppose you want to tell me what happens,” Jason smiled, and Nico rolled his eyes at him.

“No spoilers. Besides, not even I truly know,” Nico said. “I’m trying to be prepared for different possibilities, but you guys tend to surprise me. And with Percy coming back there’s no way to predict what might happen.”

“Wait, Percy’s coming back? He didn’t tell me,” Jason said, frowning at the television screen as he died again.

Nico nodded. “He talked to me after school, while I was waiting for you. Said he finally had time again. So I have to figure out a logical reason for him to come back, story-wise.”

“Sounds like a lot of work,” Jason said, pausing the game and turning around to look at him. “You mind taking a break from it?”

Nico blushed, but obediently put his papers aside and let Jason pull him close again. Jason leaned down to capture his lips, and Nico pushed against him with more urgency than Jason had expected. The kiss turned sloppy as Nico’s hands begun wandering under Jason’s shirt, and Jason slowly pushed Nico down on the bed again. Nico moaned into his mouth as Jason stroked his naked stomach, then moved on to kiss his neck. Judging by the sounds Nico was making he appreciated it.

“Jason,” Nico said between gasps. “I think… we shouldn’t...”

Jason moved back to give him one last, deep kiss on the mouth before reluctantly stepping off him and sitting up on the bed. Nico remained on his back for a little while, breathing heavily, and Jason reached out to gently run his fingers through Nico’s hair.

“Sorry. I keep taking things too far, don’t I?” Jason said.

“It’s okay,” Nico said. “Thank you for stopping. I mean, I want to, but...”

“I get it,” Jason said, smiling down at him. “We’re not going to do anything you’re not comfortable with. You don’t have to explain. Just let me know when to stop, and I will.”

Nico sat up beside him, putting his head down on Jason’s shoulder. “I don’t deserve you,” he mumbled, causing Jason to frown.

“Don’t say stuff like that,” he said sternly. “You deserve happiness as much as anyone, and I just hope I can make you as happy as you make me.”

“That’s so cheesy,” Nico laughed against his shoulder. “But thank you.”

 

Things felt different the following day at school. Jason and Nico arrived together again, and this time Jason did put an arm around Nico’s shoulder as they walked in. Nico blushed slightly, but didn’t push him away, so that was a victory. Someone had written “Fag” in bold letters on Jason’s locker, but it didn’t really bother him. Hell, finally getting somewhere with Nico meant he probably walked around with a silly grin the whole day.

Leo was the first to notice his good mood.

“You and Nico finally did it, huh?” he grinned.

“We got together, if that’s what you mean,” Jason answered, slightly flustered.

“Man! I’m so envious,” Leo sighed, and Jason looked at him, surprised.

“What do you mean? You’re not into Nico, are you?”

“No, not like that,” Leo laughed. “But with his skills for improvisation and role playing you’re going to have the most interesting sex-life ever! You need to tell me everything about it.”

“I doubt Nico would appreciate that. And there’s nothing to tell, yet,” Jason said, rolling his eyes. Still, Leo made an intriguing point. Jason stuffed it away for a hypothetical “later”.

“Really? That’s disappointing,” Leo said, and Jason laughed.

“Yeah, but you should have seen him when we ran into my father while fetching my stuff yesterday,” he said. “I swear, I’ve never seen anyone so wholly unimpressed with my father before. Even he was completely baffled.”

“Seriously? He told off your dad?” Leo said, wide eyed. “Who’d have thought? Though I guess he’s pretty used to handling bullies.”

“Fair point,” Jason nodded.

 

Going to Nico’s house instead of his own after school was still a bit strange, but Jason had seldom felt so relaxed anywhere. Nico and Hazel had zero expectations for him to live up to, except for Hazel’s whispered threat that he better treat Nico right, but Jason was a bit uncomfortable by the fact that he hadn’t met their father yet. Nico told him not to worry about it, but Jason couldn’t help it.

He was in the middle of homework when Nico knocked on his door, holding his mobile phone.

“My father wants to talk to you,” he said, handing the phone over. Jason felt nervous as he took it and put it to his ear.

“Hello?” he said.

“Nice to finally talk to you, Jason Grace,” said a deep voice through the phone. “Could you be so kind as to tell me why your father called me this morning, accusing me of taking revenge on him through you?”

Jason was stunned. “I..I don’t know, sir. I didn’t know you knew my father,” he said.

“We go way back, but that is not important right now,” Nico’s father said, sounding vaguely amused. “Still, his phone call raised an interesting question. What exactly are your intentions towards my son?”

“Um,” Jason said, hesitating. “I realize it probably doesn’t mean much to you, coming from a high schooler, but I do love him.”

Nico’s eyes went wide, but he didn’t interrupt.

“I see,” Nico’s father said. “Enough to run away from home to be with him?”

“It wasn’t about that. My father threw me out because I didn’t want to go along with his plans for me anymore,” Jason said. “Nico didn’t have anything to do with it.”

“Until yesterday, apparently. Old Jupiter sounded quite upset,” Nico’s father said, laughing. “Who knew the boy had it in him? I look forward to meeting you, Jason Grace. Good day.”

He hung up before Jason had a chance to reply. He was still for a few seconds, wondering what had just happened, then handed the phone back to Nico.

“I think your father just gave us his blessing,” Jason said uncertainly. Nico made a face at him.

 

That night Jason was woken up by a light touch on his shoulder. He forced his sleepy eyes open to see Nico sitting by his bed, looking uncertainly down at him.

“Hey,” Jason said giving him a surprised smile. “Is something wrong?”

“I had a nightmare,” Nico said. “I was wondering if...” he trailed off, blushing slightly, but Jason understood what he meant.

“You don’t have to ask. Come here,” he said, reaching out for him. Nico lay down beside him, a little nervously, but once Jason pulled him close he quickly relaxed. Jason went back to sleep with his face buried in Nico’s hair.

He didn’t know what the future would bring, but as long as they were together, he would be okay.