I curled inwards, clutching my stomach. I’d been feeling bad all day, so much so that I’d cooped up in my room right after our morning battle and hadn’t left since. Jack floated around me, trying to convince me to get up.
“C’mon, Señor, I’m sure it’s nothing a little food can’t fix.” I groaned in response. “Or is this more complicated… An ailment of love, perhaps?” I threw my pillow at him, relieved when he ducked out of the way. As gross as I was feeling, I didn’t want to watch my sword go to town on my pillow. I’m sure the hotel staff would replace it, but still. “You’d better not trade me in the name of love. That would so break bro code. Blades before babes, dude! We’ve been over this!”
“I’m not gonna trade you for Alex, Jack.” I froze as soon as I said it. I could only hope that he hadn’t been paying attention (as per usual). The more I thought about Alex, the worse I felt.
“Ooh la la, so that’s who has you feeling so down?” Jack teased.
“Shut up, Jack. I’m just not feeling well.” I denied.
“It’s okay, Señor. I’m not one to judge. Honestly, I’m just glad that you don’t have the same taste as your dad. Ugh, frost giants, am I right?”
A pounding knocking at the door interrupted him (thank Gods). “Get out here, Beantown. It’s time for lunch.” Of course. Of freaking course, of all people, it had to be Alex Fierro. My insides lurched. Maybe Jack was on to something when he said this was an ‘ailment of love.’
Jack whispered something that sounded suspiciously like, “Go get ‘em, tiger,” before falling inanimate again.
“I’m not hungry!” I called back, praying to a God I didn’t believe in that she would leave.
“I didn’t ask! Don’t make me kick this door down. I won’t hesitate, bitch!” She cackled at her own Vine reference, and I forced myself out of bed to answer the door.
I slowly opened the door, leaning heavily on the door frame. I was wearing an oversized hoodie and christmas pajama pants. I’ve never been religious, but christmas pajamas are notorious for being the softest, most comfortable pajamas ever. I will fight you on that. It didn’t really matter that it was the middle of summer out there in the living world right now; Christmas pajamas are wonderful at any time of year. I crossed my arms over my chest. There wasn’t much there to begin with, but it made me a little uncomfortable to be in front of her without my binder. “I’m really not feeling good right now, Alex. Go ahead without me.” I forced a small smile.
Alex frowned, studying me with a calculating expression, “What’s wrong? Are you sick? Can you even get sick in the afterlife?”
For some reason, my body chose that exact moment to convulse violently. I bent in half, clutching one hand to my rib cage and allowing the other to cover my mouth as I coughed obnoxiously loud. I tried to force down the bile making its way up my throat. Gross. “I’m fine. I’m sure it’s just a cold. Don’t worry about it.” I assured her after I had finished coughing. My eyes were still watery and my throat felt sore.
Alex scoffed, “Like hell I’m not gonna worry about you after that show.”
“I’m fine, really.” I promised, eager to close the door and get back to my suffering in solitude. Being around her was somehow making it worse, and I could feel my cheeks heating up when I thought about how disgusting I must look.
“I’m calling Samirah.” I laughed. Her tone made it sound like she was threatening to call my mother. Alex glared at me, “Don’t you laugh at me, Bean Boy. This is serious. Something’s wrong with you.”
Doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. “Gee, thanks…It’ll probably blow over soon.” I shifted on my feet. It was weird to have someone care about me this much. Besides Blitzen and Hearth, no one had showed this much concern for me since my mom died. And Blitz and Hearth were always busy at the boutique. They visited maybe once a week, at best. Not that I held it against them. I knew that they had lives outside of mine, just like Annabeth, but still… They’re the only family I have left, so I tend to cling to them.
“I’m going to call Blitz and Hearth, too.” She looked up from the contacts on her phone, “Get back in bed, Cheesehead. I’ll let the others know what’s up. I’m gonna stop by Amir’s to get you some falafel.”
I nodded, dumbstruck. “You don’t have to do all this, Alex…”
“I want to, stupid. Now get back in bed.” With that, she stepped out into the hall, closing the door behind her. I stared at the door for a moment before I felt the bile sliding up my throat and made a run for the bathroom. I kneeled on the floor by the toilet, clutching the bowl as I salivated heavily. I could tell that I was going to vomit soon, or so I thought. When the mass in my throat made its way up, it felt like I was choking on something huge. I coughed, thumping at my chest in an attempt to breath again. I clenched my eyes shut at the pain as I finally cleared my throat. When I opened them again, I was staring at rosy water the color of diluted blood and—my breath caught—petals. Small, barely formed pink petals wrapped around a small bud. I couldn’t recall eating flowers, but then again, it had been a rough day.
“Magnus?” I heard Sam call for me before the door to my bedroom opened; I moved quickly to flush the toilet and get rid of the evidence of my possible case of pica. Was it possible to eat things of non-nutritional value in your sleep? Could that happen? And if so, where the Hel did I find flowers? And in Valhalla, no less. Was I traveling the nine worlds in my sleep? I’ve heard of sleepwalking, but…Wow. I rubbed a hand over my face with a loud, guttural noise that probably would’ve been attractive to a blue whale. Sam was so gonna judge me for eating freaking flowers in my sleep. “Magnus? Are you in here?” Sam peeked her head into the bathroom, “Are you okay? Are you throwing up?”
“I was, before you interrupted me,” I cracked an honest smile at her. Maybe I could do this whole throwing up flowers thing. Weirder things have happened to me. Not the worst thing to throw up, right? At least my breath will smell good, I guess, but the perfume taste is more than a little noxious.
“Did you just throw up once? Do you still feel nauseous?” She asked. “Are you wearing your binder?” I sucked my teeth, looking over her shoulder for Alex. “It’s fine; Alex went to go get you some food. You know she wouldn’t judge you, regardless. She’s worried sick about you. She’s in full mama bear mode, like how she gets with the Chase Space kids.”
I smiled at the thought, but as soon as that image of Alex popped into my head, I gagged again. What the Hel? Why does thinking of Alex make me feel worse? “Just the once, and no, I haven’t worn my binder at all today. I’ve just been in my room, so I didn’t feel like it.”
“Okay, that’s good. I brought you some ondansetron to help with the nausea, but Magnus… I’m worried. You shouldn’t be getting sick like this in Valhalla. You died this morning, right? So your body should’ve reset itself from any pre-existing illnesses. Unless if you’ve somehow obtained food poisoning since then-,”
“I haven’t eaten,” I told her, thinking back to the flowers. How did they get there? If they had to have shown up after I re-spawned…
Sam worried at her bottom lip with her teeth, “Are you experiencing any other symptoms?”
I sighed, “I haven’t been feeling the best all week. I have this weird cough, and I’ve kinda lost my appetite. My throat hurts, and breathing feels kinda uncomfortable… And then, I have these really strange symptoms, too… Promise you won’t laugh?”
“Magnus,” Sam deadpanned, “We’re demigods. Chances are, I’ve heard weirder. Maybe you’ve been cursed.” I giggled, I couldn’t help it. It sounded like something out of a storybook, and at the time, I’d forgotten that most original fairytales end terribly. “Hey, it could happen.” Her voice gained a sharper edge to it, “You could get seriously hurt if we just brush this off.”
“Okay, okay,” I focused my gaze on the floor and mumbled, “I’ve been throwing up flowers.”
She stilled, “Magnus, are you sure?”
I rolled my eyes, “I’m sure. I think I’d know-,”
“Magnus, you need to tell Alex.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, smile fading.
“Magnus, this is-this is…Allah, help your soul… You need to… You need to tell Alex how you feel.”
I coughed harshly before I was able to speak again, “Sam, Alex knows how I feel, and she doesn’t care.” My organs churned, and I felt dizzy from thinking so hard. “She doesn’t feel the same way. She’ll never—,”
“Stop, Magnus.” Sam sounded downright distraught, “Stop that right now. You’re only going to make yourself worse. I’m-I’m going to tell Hearth and Blitz to hurry. Don’t—just—Think happy thoughts, Magnus. Please.” For once in her life, Samirah al-Abbas looked scared and unsure.
“Uh, okay,” I replied, unsettled and confused.
When Hearth and Blitz arrived, Blitzen was frowning deeply and Hearthstone was a flurry of signs.
“Are you sure?” Hearth signed, “Are you absolutely sure?”
Blitz groaned, “Why, of all people, did it have to be the one kid in the world who won’t give you a straight answer?” Blitzen asked. “If I have to trick the answer out of Alex, I will.”
“What answer?” I asked, sitting up. “What are you guys talking about?”
“You went and got yourself freaking Hanahaki disease, you dumb, lovesick-,”
Hearth raised a palm to silence him, “You’re sick because you think Alex doesn’t love you back.”
“I know she doesn’t.” I faltered, “Wait, what? Is that a thing?”
“It is for demigods,” Blitz explained, “and for dwarves, and elves, and—,”
“I think we get the point,” Sam interrupted. “What do you think, though? Why did it regenerate with him? Can it kill him here? Will he just regenerate if it gets to the final stage?”
“I’m dying,” I echoed emptily. I suddenly understood Samirah’s fear. “I’m dying because I had to go and fall in love with someone 10,000 leagues above me. Great. This is great. Do I get a fast-pass to Valhalla if I die nobly again?” I ask dryly.
“Stop saying that, Magnus. We are going to fix this. You aren’t-you can’t-die,” Sam’s voice breaks.
“Stop acting like the Fierro kid is another species. Stop belittling yourself,” Blitz scolded.
Hearth’s lips were set in a thin line as his hands moved thoughtfully, “I think that the disease will stay with Magnus no matter how many times he dies. He shouldn’t be able to actually die in Valhalla, but he will suffer while the disease lasts. If he leaves Valhalla, he could die. For real this time.”
As always, Alex Fierro picks the perfect time to make his appearance. “Sorry it took me so long. Amir was gushing with those heart-eyes, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was in a hurry.” Samirah blushed and pointedly looked away.
“You have a heart to begin with?” Blitz asked, perhaps with a gruffer tone than usual.
“He has a heart, Blitz. It’s just cold.” And void of me.
Alex pursed his lips, fighting a grin as he moved to hand me my falafel. “I don’t know how you do that, Sunshine, but it kinda pisses me the fuck off. Your gender radar is scarily accurate.”
It was such an Alex statement that I felt like my lungs were going to collapse and the air was kicked out of me. I forcibly swallowed down the flowers in the back of my throat.
“So, what’s with the party?” Alex inquired, soft multicolored eyes never leaving mine.
I froze. How do you tell someone that they are the reason you are going to die without making them feel guilty? You don’t.
Sam spoke up, “Magnus’ illness has…Magical roots.” I tried not to crack a grin at the unintentional pun. It sure does have magical roots. And they’re currently trying to strangle me because Alex won’t stop being adorably concerned for my wellbeing.
“What do you mean?” Alex’s easygoing smile faltered. “Sunshine is a healer, right? This will go away with time, won’t it? Can’t he heal himself? He can’t—,” His voice cracked, and I watched him wrap his arms tightly around his midsection.
Hearth laid a supportive hand on his shoulder. Blitz opened his mouth, brows still furrowed, “In my experience, there are only two ways to treat this.” He shared a look with Hearth and Samirah, “I have a feeling Magnus won’t be a fan of either, and both are risky.”
Sam inhaled shakily, “Alex, Magnus can’t die in Valhalla, but he’ll be in a lot of pain. If he leaves Valhalla…”
“He won’t.” Alex said with conviction. “I’ll make sure of it. Nothing will happen to him. I’ll find a cure myself if I have to.”
“We should go talk with Hunding. He might be able to help with this.” Hearth signed. He turned towards me with a stony expression, “Magnus, no cure is without cost.”
I closed my eyes, “Well, the one cure is definitely a dead end. There’s no way…He can’t help me, guys. It will only make things worse.”
Sam pinched the bridge of her nose when my eyes fluttered open again, “Magnus, you don’t know that. Give him a chance. I’m sure if he knew the stakes… You have to try.”
Blitz sighed in exasperation, “Stop shrugging your life off, kid. You can’t just die without testing all options. We’ll visit again after we figure some things out.”
Blitzen turned to open the door, but not before Hearth signed, “I love you. Please don’t die.”
Sam was the last to leave. She stared me done with a fierceness I’ve never seen in her, “You are going to get through this, Magnus. One way or another, we will get through this. Don’t do anything stupid.” I averted my eyes. “Magnus, promise me.”
“I promise,” I mumbled defeatedly.
“Don’t even think about,” She paused, looking at Alex before switching to sign language. Alex had been working on learning the language, but he was proving to be a bit of a slow learner. Spoken languages came easily to him, yet sign language proved to be more of a challenge. “Don’t even think about wearing your binder. Wear a sports bra if you have to. Your binder could make things worse.”
“Okay,” I said aloud. “I understand.”
“Good,” Sam said as she followed Blitz and Hearth out the door. “I’ll let your hall mates know about the situation.”
“Okay,” I repeated, feeling empty. Samirah closed the door and encompassed the room once again in dim light. The brightest light in the entire room was the little sliver of light underneath the door from the hallway lights.
Alex collapsed on my bed. He grabbed my hand and scooted up to be at my side, “I don’t like how you guys use sign language to exclude me.” His voice was quiet. He was trying to hide how upset it made him feel.
Of course he’d notice that. I wanted to smack myself for making him feel bad. “I’m sorry for making you feel excluded,” I apologize. I focus on his hand in mine, grounding me. My heart aches knowing that Alex is only doing this because I’m sick. There will never be a reality in which I’m not sick or dying that Alex will entertain these stupid feelings. Don’t get used to this, I remind myself. “The reason why Sam and I did that was because there are things about myself that I don’t feel comfortable with you knowing. I promise it’s nothing big or bad; I just don’t like a lot of people knowing about it. It’s not because I don’t trust you. I’ve just never felt ready to tell you.”
“Okay,” Alex said, “I understand.” He wrapped an arm around my shoulders, bringing me into his side. He pressed his face into my hair. My heart was racing. “Why don’t you want to get better, Magnus? Why are you so against the cure—Whatever it is? What did you mean when you said, ‘he’ can’t help you? Who can’t help you? Why won’t he help you?” His voice took on a menacing quality, “Do I need to make him help you?”
I chucked wetly as the threat was murmured into my hair, “No. I’m sure he’d want to help me, Alex; he just…Can’t. Curing this disease is tricky. If he says the wrong thing, which I know he will if I take the risk, it will kill me. You can’t make him. It’s not his fault.”
“I feel dumb.” Alex said, “I don’t understand anything right now, just that I could lose you. I can’t lose you, too. Abuelo, Adrian, and now…” His breathing shallowed out. “Now, you’re dying, too, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
I wanted to lie. I wanted to tell him I wasn’t dying, that I would be okay. But I didn’t like lying to Alex, so instead, I just nodded weakly. “Yeah,” which is probably the worst thing I could’ve said to him. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault, Maggie.” I wanted to tell him it was, but the nickname made revulsion wriggle in my gut.
“Don’t call me that,” I said.
“Why not, Maggie?” Alex teased. He was trying to make me feel better. I knew that. He didn’t know why I hated that name, because I’d never told him.
I could feel my body tensing up. “Just don’t,” I ground out, trying to sound threatening.
“What are you going to do about it?” He asked with his signature smirk. I turned away, burying my face in my pillow to try and stop the tears from coming. “…Magnus?” The laughter left his voice at once, “What’s wrong?”
“Please don’t call me that,” I sniffled. I hated how weak I felt.
“Hey,” He rolled me over, “Talk to me.” He looked at me with painstakingly obvious remorse, “I didn’t mean to make you sad. I was trying to make you laugh. I didn’t realize-I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have teased you. I should’ve listened the first time when you told me not to call you that.”
I felt so stupid. He was apologizing even though I hadn’t explained the situation. He was so-so good. And I was crying because I wasn’t brave enough to tell him. Then I thought, maybe I can’t tell him I’m idiotically in love with him (it’s unmissable, I’m sure he knows, after all we’ve been through), but I can tell him this. I know he won’t hurt me for this. I knew it was safe all along, but coming out is such a personal thing. Sometimes, even when I know its okay, I just don’t feel comfortable with coming out to that person yet. It’s hard to explain, so I just started talking. “I’m transgender. I was born Margaret Chase. I used to go by Maggie. It’s a dead name for me, and it still makes me feel dysphoric to hear it. I should’ve told you earlier.”
When I finally looked up at Alex, there were tears in his eyes. “I’m sorry, Magnus.”
“I forgive you,” I whispered, trying to calm my racing heart.
“So, are you gonna eat those falafels, or—?”
“Oh, no, don’t you even think about it, Fierro!” I laughed, rolling over to snatch the takeout bag first. I was so distracted that I almost didn’t notice how it was getting harder for me to breathe.