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Percy woke up to a loud thud coming from the living room. Wide awake, he got up and grabbed Riptide off the nightstand, thinking it was a monster, or maybe even a common burglar. Either way, he moved cautiously and silently out of the bedroom.

A person lay on the living room floor, gasping for breath like he was injured or had just run really far. He raised his head to look up, and it took Percy a moment to recognize him.

“Nico?” he exclaimed, barely believing what he was seeing. The son of Hades had left after the celebration of Gaea’s defeat, almost five years ago. He had stayed in touch, though, usually answering when called and occasionally calling himself, though he never let anyone know where he was. Until now, apparently.

“I’m sorry,” Nico said, his voice sounding unsteady. “I didn’t know where else to go. I...I don’t want anyone to see me like this, but I need help.”

“What’s wrong?” Percy asked, moving to turn the lights on. Nico flinched at the sudden brightness, but Percy could finally take a good look at him. He had grown a little taller, though he was probably still about half a foot shorter than Percy. His black, curly hair was up in a messy ponytail, and he was wearing blue jeans and a checkered shirt, which was a change from the all-black clothes he used to wear. He had a little more meat on his bones now than last time Percy had seen him in person, though he looked at least three times as tired, and was sporting a black eye and a broken lip. Judging from the way he was still collapsed on the floor, he might have had more injuries than that.

“Please turn the lights back off,” Nico said, looking away like he was ashamed, which made no sense. After all, they had seen each other injured plenty of times before. Percy did as he asked and turned the lights off anyway before kneeling down by Nico’s side. The boy was as tense as a bowstring, and his eyes kept flickering between Percy and the floor, like he didn’t quite dare to look at him.

“How bad is it?” Percy asked, attempting to help him sit up, but Nico flinched away from him the moment Percy touched him.

“I’ll survive,” Nico said, sitting up by himself with considerable effort. Percy frowned at him.

“What were you fighting?” he asked, but Nico didn’t answer. His face took on a haunted look that simultaneously seemed ashamed.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have bothered you,” he said and seemed to be planning to get up and leave. “I should go, I’m sorry...”

“Wait!” Percy exclaimed, grabbing a hold of his arm in panic. Nico flinched again, more violently this time, like he was expecting Percy to hit him.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” Percy said, backing up a little to give him some space. “Don’t leave yet. It’s been years since anyone saw you, and you’re injured.”

“It’s not that bad,” Nico tried, but Percy didn’t buy it.

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” Percy said, getting a bit angry. “But don’t lie to me either. ”

Nico hesitated, then nodded slowly.

“Good,” Percy said. “Now tell me what you need. You said you wanted help?”

The shame reappeared in Nico’s eyes, and he bit his lip before answering. “I...I understand if you don’t want to, I know I’m asking a lot and we were never really friends and I have no right to...”

“Nico,” Percy interrupted him. “You’re starting at the wrong end. I don’t even know what you want yet, but I doubt I’ll refuse. And I definitely think of you as my friend, so don’t be so afraid to ask.”

“Sorry,” Nico said, looking down. “I need...I need somewhere to stay for a while, and I need you to make sure I don’t leave.”

Percy blinked. “Sure,” he said, surprised. In all honestly he had expected Nico to want him to come with him to fight something. “You can stay here, but why do you want me to keep you from leaving?”

“It’s...I can’t talk about it. You wouldn’t understand,” Nico said, still talking to the floor. “It’s just something I need to stay away from, and I can’t do it on my own. I need help.”

“I’ll try,” Percy promised. “And don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you came to me, but why not go to Hazel?”

“I don’t want her to see me like this,” Nico said dejectedly. ”I didn’t want any of you to, but I can’t do this on my own. I tried, but I can’t.”

Percy nodded, understanding. “You don’t have to,” he said. “I’ll help you if I can, though short of tying you up I’m not sure how to prevent you from leaving. I guess I could make you swear not to, but that could be dangerous.

Nico hesitated. “I swear on the river Styx not to go back without talking to you first,” he said, looking a little calmer when the words had been said. “That okay?”

“I hope so,” Percy said, smiling worriedly towards him. “Come on, let me take care of those bruises.”

“I can handle it,” Nico said quickly, slightly panicked. “Where’s the bathroom?”

Percy pointed it out, and it was obviously painful for Nico to walk over there, but he flinched every time Percy made a move to touch him, so there was no choice but to let him do it himself. While Nico was in the bathroom, Percy prepared the couch. Thankfully, he had one of those couches you could fold out, though it wasn’t nearly as comfortable as an actual bed.

When Nico finally emerged from the bathroom he looked a little better, though the only other time Percy had seen him look worse was just after they rescued him from that jar, more than five years ago. He was really starting to get worried.

“You can take my bed if you want,” Percy said. “I’ll take the couch.”

“The couch is fine, I’m not going to chase you out of your own bed,” Nico said, then looked uncertain. “I don’t really want to go to sleep yet. Is it okay if I stay up for a while? I promise I’ll be quiet.”

“Sure, no problem,” Percy said, glancing over at the clock on the wall. It was a little past four am, and he sighed. “I think I’ll just stay up as well. Want to watch a movie?”

Nico nodded, though he didn’t seem like he had any opinions regarding the choice of movie, and he seemed very hesitant to sit down on the couch (now a bed) to watch it, though he eventually did. Even when the movie started he seemed unable to relax, and seemed to jump at every unexpected sound from the television. Percy was watching him from the corner of his eye, getting more worried every second. Just what had happened to him lately?

Last time Percy talked to him was almost three months ago, and thinking back he had seemed pretty tired then as well, but Percy hadn’t paid too close attention to it. Before that he had always seemed happy, like living away from them was working out well for him. He had even seemed comfortable with his sexuality, which Percy had been pretty surprised to find out about two years ago or so, when Nico announced he was dating a mortal man. It had sounded pretty serious, and they were still together last they spoke, though Percy had never seen him.

“Nico,” Percy said carefully. “Won’t your boyfriend be worried about you?”

Nico flinched, then looked down at his hands. “It’s over,” he said, his voice sounding unsteady. “We’re… we’re not together anymore.”

“I’m sorry,” Percy said sympathetically. “Did he leave you? Is that why you’re here?”

“I left him,” Nico said, almost sobbing. “Please, Percy. Don’t ask any more questions.”

“Okay,” Percy said hesitatingly, studying the way Nico’s hands shook slightly. Through his bangs Percy could still see the bruised lip, though his eyes were covered. Percy stared at him as a thought suddenly hit him. It was Nico, so it was impossible, he would never allow it, but still. Percy had seen this kind of behavior before, with his own mother when she was at her lowest, so he had to ask.

“Just one more question. The last one,” Percy said carefully. “Did he do that to you?”

Nico didn’t flinch. Instead he went completely still, not moving for a long time. “I should go,” he finally said.

“Don’t you dare!” Percy said half angry, half panicked, then lowered his voice because Nico looked frightened again. “You said you’d stay. I won’t ask anything more until you’re ready to talk about it, I promise. Just don’t go.”

Nico hesitated, halfway up from the couch, then let himself fall back down with a sigh. ”Please don’t tell anyone,” he said.

“I promise,” Percy said helplessly. He wanted to do something. He wanted to put an arm around Nico and tell him it would be okay, and he wanted to pay a visit to Nico’s nameless ex and beat him up, but he couldn’t do either. “You can stay here as long as you want,” Percy said, because at least he could offer that much. ”But you didn’t bring anything, right? We could go get you some clothes and other things tomorrow. Well, later today.”

“Sounds good,” Nico nodded, looking a little uncomfortable. “I don’t have any money, but I promise I’ll pay you back.”

“It’s okay. Really,” Percy said, smiling reassuringly towards him. “I’m just happy you’re here. I’ve missed you.”

Nico’s eyes went wide, then he looked down again. “Don’t say that,” he whispered. “Please don’t say that.”

Percy frowned, confused, but he figured there was no point in pressing the matter. “Okay,” he said instead, turning his eyes back towards the movie. Nico seemed to calm down a bit when Percy wasn’t looking directly at him, though Percy kept stealing worried glances. He really wasn’t sure what to do. He wished he could talk to someone, but Nico asked him to keep it a secret, and Percy didn’t want to betray his trust. Especially not now.

They watched the movie in silence until it ended, then Percy yawned and stretched his arms.

“Breakfast time, I think,” he said, and for some reason Nico immediately shot up from the couch, panicked like there was something important he had forgotten to do. Percy looked up at him in surprise, and Nico seemed to realize he was acting strange. He looked down on the floor again, clearly ashamed of it. Percy figured the most decent thing he could do was ignore the whole thing.

“You hungry?” he asked instead, getting up from the couch and heading towards the fridge. “I feel like pancakes. That okay?”

“It’s fine,” Nico said uncertainly, hanging back to watch Percy cook. When the first pancakes were ready, he could hear Nico’s stomach growling behind him, and he laughed a bit.

“There are plates in the cupboard,” he said. “Could you set the table for me?”

“Sure,” Nico mumbled. He frowned a bit as he opened the cupboard to find Percy’s mismatched set of plates.

“Just choose something, nothing fits together anyway,” Percy grinned, and Nico silently did as he was asked. Soon afterwards Percy was finished. He put the blue pancakes on the table and sat down. Nico was eyeing the pancakes hungrily, but for some reason he seemed to be waiting for Percy to start.

“Go ahead,” Percy told him. “You’re the guest here, after all.”

“Everything is always blue with you,” Nico mumbled as he hesitantly did as he was told and put a couple of pancakes on his plate. He still waited until Percy had served himself as well before starting to eat.

“It’s not real pancakes unless they’re blue,” Percy shrugged, and Nico almost smiled at that.

It was Saturday, so thankfully Percy didn’t have go to work. The aquarium sometimes required him to work on the weekends, but not this time, meaning he didn’t have to call in sick. He was planning on taking Nico to a nearby mall to get him some clothes, though the boy was very hesitant to get into his car.

“Come on, Nico,” Percy scowled as they stood outside. “I’ve had a license for four years, it’s perfectly safe.”

“I just have a hard time picturing you driving,” Nico said hesitatingly, then covered his mouth in horror like he had said something insulting. Percy just laughed.

“I’ll have you know I’m an excellent driver,” he said. “Come on, I’ll prove it.”

He might have slightly exaggerated, but after driving for a while Nico looked a lot calmer. Percy grinned at him as they stopped for a red light.

“Well?” he asked, and Nico rolled his eyes.

“You drive smoother than I expected you to,” he admitted, and Percy took that as a compliment.

Once they reached the store, Percy noticed Nico was only looking at the cheapest clothes he could find, regardless of shape or color.

“I have a pretty well paid job, you know,” Percy told him, frowning slightly. “Don’t look at the price tags, pick something you like.”

“I won’t be able to pay you back for anything expensive,” Nico said uncertainly.

“Its fine. Consider it an early birthday present,” Percy smiled, then frowned again. “Or late. When is your birthday again?”

“January 28th,” Nico said absentmindedly, eyes wandering to a pair of black pants reminiscent of what he used to wear.

“Go try them on,” Percy urged. “I’ll wait until you’re done.”

“Are you sure?” Nico asked uncertainly. “Black clothes are pretty depressing, after all.”

Percy frowned at him. “I always thought they kinda fit you, to be honest,” he said. “At least try them on.”

Nico hesitated, then disappeared into the changing room.

In the end they walked out of the store with the pants and a couple of black t-shirts with skull motifs. Apparently Nico’s tastes hadn’t actually changed that much, and Percy was relieved. Maybe it meant things weren’t as different as they seemed.

At Percy’s suggestion, they went for ice cream afterwards. People walking by was giving him dirty looks, probably because Nico’s face was still bruised. It irritated him a bit that people, even strangers, thought he would do something like that.

“I’m sorry,” Nico said quietly when he noticed, looking ashamed. “It’s my fault. Maybe we should head back.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Percy said dismissively. “Eat your ice cream. Have you talked to any of the others lately?”

Nico shook his head. “Not for a couple of months,” he said. “Are they all okay?”

“They’re all fine,” Percy smiled. “Hazel and Frank finally moved in together, and Jason and Piper are still at university, studying their brains out. Leo’s and Calypso’s garage seems to be doing well, though he complains that there’s too much work. Oh, and Reyna was talking about finally stepping down as praetor and starting university herself.”

“And Annabeth?” Nico asked carefully, like he didn’t want to hurt Percy’s feelings.

“In Europe, somewhere, studying architecture. She seemed really happy last time I talked to her,” Percy said, smiling slightly. It was almost a year since they broke up, after a long, awkward pause in their relationship, and they were better as friends, though it had taken them a while to get to that point.

“Are you happy?” Nico asked quietly, and Percy gave him a surprised look.

“Yeah, I suppose I am,” he said. “The aquarium is a pretty good workplace. I had a long conversation about the meaning of life with an octopus yesterday. Turns out they are really intelligent, though he has a strange accent. I call him Gary. I should introduce you at some point.”

Nico gave him a small, amused smile. “I’d like that,” he said.

 

Percy woke up in the middle of the night again, hearing somebody walking through the living room. He figured it was just Nico, so he tried to go back to sleep. However, the footsteps didn’t stop. They just kept on going, like Nico was wandering around in circles. Curious and more than a little worried Percy got out of bed.

Nico was wandering aimlessly around the living room, his mouth moving like he was having a silent conversation with himself. He looked pretty distressed.

“What’s wrong?” Percy asked, and Nico jumped a bit, like he hadn’t realized Percy was there.

“I’m so sorry. Did I wake you?” Nico said, sounding slightly frightened.

“It’s okay, I don’t mind,” Percy assured him. “What’s wrong?”

Nico hesitated. “Tom is probably worried about me,” he said. “He gets lonely really easily. He’s not going to know where I am, he might even call the police. I should...”

“Nico,” Percy interrupted him sternly. “Yesterday you told me not to let you go back.”

“But he’s going to be really worried,” Nico said desperately. “And it will be my fault, again. I left a note but I didn’t explain where I went. He’s not going to understand, he’s going to be so hurt.”

“Nico, I don’t know the full story here,” Percy said. “But you left for a reason, and you sound like you have tried to leave before. Do you really want to go back?”

“He needs me,” Nico said helplessly. “He loves me.”

“Do you really want to go back?” Percy repeated, and Nico’s eyes fell to the floor again.

“No,” he whispered. “It’s selfish of me. He needs me, but I don’t want to go back.”

“It’s not selfish,” Percy said sternly. “Trust me, you have to do what feels best for you. How exactly does he need you?”

“He...” Nico hesitated. “He gets really depressed when I’m not there. He hasn’t really got anyone else, and he’s been hurt so many times. How can I do this to him?”

“The question you should be asking is how can he do this to you? ” Percy said, carefully walking a bit closer to gently touch Nico's shoulder. “Look, stay with me for a week at least. Just one week, okay? You can do that, right?”

“One week,” Nico agreed, sounding relieved, maybe because he didn’t have to make the decision by himself. All energy seemed to sip away from him as he sunk back down to sit on the couch-bed. “One week,” he repeated. “I’ll stay one week.”

“Good,” Percy smiled. “Try to relax while you’re here, okay? You don’t need to ask my permission for everything, or anything really. And stop apologizing for every little thing.”

“Sorry,” Nico said, then apparently bit his tongue as Percy laughed.

“Seriously, don’t worry about it,” Percy grinned. “And always wake me up if you start to doubt yourself.”

“I...” Nico stared, then trailed off. He was quiet for a while, then looked up at Percy again. “Thank you.”

“What are friends for?” Percy shrugged.

 

“I think we should go visit my mother,” Percy said the following morning at breakfast. Nico looked surprised.

“Why?” he asked, sounding a bit confused. “I mean, of course you can go if you want to, but...”

“I think it could help you to see her,” he said. “Did I ever tell you about my stepfather?”

Nico frowned. “I met him once, didn’t I?” he said uncertainly. “Blowfish, right?”

“Blofis,” Percy laughed. “Though everybody makes that mistake. No, I’m talking about the guy my mother was living with before him, Smelly Gabe.”

“I don’t think you’ve ever mentioned him,” Nico said. “Why do you call him that?”

“Because he smelled so bad even the monsters didn’t want to come near him,” Percy said. “My mother married him for my sake, so nothing would attack me when I was a kid, but he was an abusive asshole. He used to hit her, though he never did it in front of me.”

“Your stepfather was like that?” Nico asked, wide eyed. “What happened to him?”

“I gave my mother Medusa’s head in a box after my first quest,” Percy grinned. “Mom used it to turn Smelly Gabe into the ugliest statue imaginable.”

“Really?” Nico said, looking amused. “She did that?”

“She did,” Percy confirmed. “And good riddance. So I think talking to her might be good for you.”

“I don’t really want to talk about it,” Nico said hesitatingly. “Besides, Tom isn’t abusive, not really. He’s actually really sweet, underneath. He just...loses it sometimes, that’s all. It’s my fault, I bring out the worst in him.”

“Nico, it’s not your fault,” Percy said.

“Let’s just not talk about this, okay?” Nico begged him. “Could we watch a movie or something?”

Percy sighed, but figured pressing the matter wouldn’t help. “Yeah, we can do that,” he said.

 

Percy was a bit hesitant to go to work the following day, but Nico assured him he would be okay on his own.

“Honestly it will be nice to be by myself for a while,” he said, then immediately backtracked. “I didn’t mean it like that, you’re not bad company. It’s just been a while since I was alone and...”

“It’s okay,” Percy laughed. “I’m not insulted. Try to take it easy, okay? Everything in the apartment is at your disposal, and I left some money on the kitchen counter, as well as the number to my workplace. Call me if… if something happens, okay?”

“If you’re worried about me leaving, don’t be,” Nico said with a ghost of a smile. “I promised I’d stay a week. Besides, I swore not to go back without talking to you first.”

“Good,” Percy smiled, then glanced at the clock on the wall. “I need to get going.”

“When will you be back?” Nico asked hesitantly. “I could make dinner.”

“A little after five,” Percy said. “But Nico, you don’t have to. We could just get take out.”

“Believe it or not, I actually like cooking,” Nico smiled. “And it’s all I can offer to repay you. Let me do that, at least.”

“You don’t owe me anything,” Percy said. “But if you want to, then sure. It’s been a while since I had any decent homemade meals.”

 

Percy was a little lost in his thoughts the whole day at work, and even Gary the intelligent octopus noticed, but Percy couldn’t exactly explain what was wrong. Even if Nico hadn’t made him promise not to tell he doubted the octopus would have understood. Instead he just said a friend was in trouble and left it at that. It was true, after all.

Nico looked slightly distressed when Percy came home.

“You’re a little earlier than I expected,” he said apologetically. “Dinner isn’t ready yet. It’ll take another ten-fifteen minutes.”

“It’s okay. I'm not in a hurry,” Percy said. “I’m just happy someone is actually making me dinner. How was your day?”

“I, um,” Nico said uncertainly, looking down on the floor. “I think slept most of it away.”

“Good,” Percy said, smiling at him. “You needed it. You look a little better already.”

Nico gave him a careful, guarded smile in return, then turned back towards the stove. Whatever he was making, it was smelling really good. Percy couldn’t help but hover above Nico’s shoulder a bit, looking at what he’s doing. A moment later he realized how tense Nico suddenly was, so he backed away again, not wanting to make him uncomfortable.

“What are you making?” Percy asked.

“Tortellini Alfredo,” Nico said uncertainly. “Sorry, I should have asked what you wanted.”

“I have no idea what that that is, but I’m sure it’s good,” Percy said. “It smells divine, in any case.”

That seemed to calm Nico down a bit. Soon afterwards the food was ready and Nico anxiously waited for Percy to take the first bite.

“This is delicious, Nico,” Percy said honestly, smiling with his mouth full of food. “Where did you learn to cook?”

“I lived alone for a couple of years while working as a waiter at a small Italian restaurant,” Nico said, looking slightly nostalgic. “I think I only got the job because I speak the language, but I became friends with the owner and her husband, who was the chef. They taught me a lot.”

“Why did you quit?” Percy asked.

“Tom was earning enough for the both of us at the time,” Nico said, looking down at his plate. “And he needed my help around the apartment.”

“Right,” Percy said, trying not to let that spoil his appetite. “Have you thought about maybe becoming a chef yourself?”

“I’m not that good,” Nico said, smiling slightly. “I haven’t really thought about the future at all, to be honest.”

“I’m probably the wrong person to tell you this, but maybe you should start,” Percy said. “I think it would be worth looking into.”

“Maybe,” Nico said hesitatingly. “I’ll think about it.”

 

After a few days Percy decided that living with Nico actually was pretty nice. It wasn’t just that the food was great, Percy really liked having him around. As the days passed Nico started to become more relaxed around him, and sometimes Percy could see parts of the real Nico shining through. Percy loved it when that happened, except that Nico often seemed to realize what he was doing and disappear into his shell immediately afterwards. Still, Percy thought he was making progress.

“It’s been a week,” Nico said hesitatingly when the weekend arrived. “I...I should head back.”

“You don’t have to,” Percy said, more or less pleading. “You can stay here for as long as you want.”

“I need to at least talk to him, and make sure he’s okay,” Nico said, sounding like he was bargaining. “Maybe I could just call him.”

Percy owned an old cell phone that had been altered by Leo and Annabeth so it supposedly wouldn’t beckon monsters, but he only ever used it for work related issues. Still, he handed it to Nico, and went inside the bedroom to give the boy some room. The walls weren't soundproof, though, and even if he couldn’t make out the words he could still hear the emotions in Nico’s voice as he spoke. Sadness. Regret. Guilt. Guilt most of all. Percy thought he heard him apologize at least a dozen times.

Nico was crying when Percy came back, though he was doing his best to hide his tears. “I need to go,” he said. “He’s begging me to come back and he regrets everything so much and he promised things will change and...”

“Nico,” Percy said, gently putting a hand on his shoulder. “Do you believe him? If you go back, do you honestly believe anything will change?”

“He promised, and I want to believe it,” Nico said, sinking down on the floor with his face in his hands. “I’ve heard it all before, but I want to believe it. Maybe if I can keep myself from being selfish and setting him off again... ”

“Whatever it is that sets him off, it’s not you,” Percy said sternly. “And you’re not selfish. The only selfish thing you’ve ever done is leave your sister and your friends behind, but nobody blames you for that. Nico, do you even remember all the amazing things you’ve done?”

“Like what?” Nico asked gloomily. “Getting sucked into the doors of death and getting captured by the most stupid giants ever? Betraying you to my father? Almost getting killed by Cupid because I was too afraid to admit what I am?”

“What you are,” Percy said, carefully putting an arm around him. “is amazing. You went through Tartarus alone, and I know firsthand how hard that must have been. You survived for days inside an airtight bronze jar, you convinced Hades to join the battle against Kronos, and you brought the statue of Athena back to Camp Half-Blood and united the camps. You saved the world. Have you forgotten that?”

“It wasn’t like that,” Nico mumbled, clearly not believing him.

“It was exactly like that,” Percy said, slowly reaching out to bring the boy into his arms. For once Nico didn’t flinch away. Instead he rested his head against Percy’s shoulder, breathing in short, shaky breaths.

“Don’t go. Stay with me,” Percy asked quietly. “Stay another week, then make a decision. Just one more week.”

“One more week,” Nico nodded. “I’m not sure I can do it.”

“You reconciled Hades with his family,” Percy said. “There’s nothing you can’t do.”

Nico’s laughter was at least half a sob, but it was still the first time Percy had heard him laugh since he came back. Percy smiled as he gently ran his fingers through Nico’s hair while the boy continued to cry into his shoulder.

After a while Nico seemed to finally calm down, then he suddenly started laughing again, a hollow, horrible laugh.

“What’s wrong?” Percy asked, startled, pulling away enough to be able to look at him, but Nico just shook his head.

“Nothing is wrong,” he said, smiling bitterly. “It’s just… Do you have any idea what I would have given for you to hold me like this five years ago?”

“What do you mean?” Percy asked, confused.

“I mean that I used to have this huge crush on you,” Nico said. “It was part of why I left, so I wouldn’t have to deal with it.”

“Nico, I’m so sorry. If I had known...” Percy begun, but Nico interrupted him.

“It wouldn’t have changed anything,” he said. “I just thought it was funny, that’s all.”

Percy honestly couldn’t find anything funny about it. Thinking back at everything Nico had done when they were young, everything suddenly made sense, and Percy felt horrible about not noticing. Judging by the way Nico rested his head on Percy’s shoulder again, he was long since forgiven. Still Percy couldn’t help but wonder. If he had known, maybe he could have made Nico stay at the camps, and all this would never have happened.

“Sorry,” Nico said, pulling back again. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I’ll leave, if you want me to.”

“No!” Percy exclaimed, immediately pulling the boy closer again. “I‘m not uncomfortable, I’m just surprised. Don’t leave!”

“Okay,” Nico said, relaxing again. “You don’t have to worry, though. I got over it a long time ago.”

Percy nodded, though part of him wished Nico hadn’t gotten over him. Then maybe he wouldn’t be in this situation. Then maybe it would be easier for him not to go back. Then maybe… Percy shut his eyes tightly, willing the thoughts away. There were too many maybes, and none of them really mattered. He had to find a way to help Nico, not get caught in wishing it hadn’t happened.

 

“Nico, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” Percy said later that night, when they were sitting on the couch lazily watching television. “But how did you end up with this guy?”

“It’s a long story,” Nico said uncertainly.

“I’ve got time,” Percy said, gesturing for him to go on. Nico hesitated for a minute before starting to talk.

“Some time after I left I decided to stop using my powers and live as a mortal. I figured it was for the best, since death powers freak everyone out anyway, and I was so tired of scaring people. There was the occasional monster, but after the war they’re in short supply, and it turns out that the less you use your powers the better you stay hidden,” Nico said. “So chose a town at random, got a job as a waiter and eventually found some friends. It was hard, but fun. I started to feel like I belonged among them. ”

He took a deep breath. “My friends eventually figured out I liked guys, so they set me up with a couple of dates. Then I met Tom in the restaurant I worked at,” he said. “For some reason he became interested in me. I hadn’t really experienced that before.”

Nico paused for a while, looking back at the screen. “It was wonderful in the beginning,” he said. ”I wasn’t even looking for a boyfriend, but he was so kind and sweet and he told me loved me. He spun my head around, pretty much. I moved into his apartment just two months later.”

Nico hesitated, and Percy waited quietly for him to go on. “Things were perfect for a while, then something started to change. I don’t know, I think it was something I did,” he said. “I thought we could make it work, so I stayed. That was about a year ago.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Percy said sternly, and Nico gave him a brief smile.

“I set him off, somehow,” he said. “The first time he hit me I was surprised, but I didn’t think too much of it. I’m pretty used to violence, after all, and we were arguing. But then I kept making him lose control. It’s my fault, I keep stepping on his nerves. He can’t help it.”

“When did you first try to leave?” Percy asked, trying to hide how his blood was boiling with anger. If he ever saw this guy he would be the one to lose control.

“About four months ago,” Nico said. “I didn’t really have any friends left, so just stayed at a nearby hotel for a while, but then he called me and he was so worried and regretful so I went back and things were great for a while. Then the same thing kept happening and I left again but I always go back in the end. I just can’t leave him. He needs me.”

“Do you love him?” Percy asked, and Nico blinked.

“Yes,” he said, then he hesitated. “I think so. I don’t know. Maybe. It’s complicated.”

“I think you should take some time to figure it out,” Percy said. “If it was up to me, and I really wish it was, I would make you swear never to go back to him, because he really doesn’t deserve you. But it’s not up to me.”

“No, it’s not,” Nico agreed, sounding slightly bitter.

“If you want me to I could ask my mother what she did with Medusa’s head in the end,” Percy offered jokingly, but Nico just shook his head.

“I need to think this through,” he said quietly, and there was nothing else Percy could think of saying. He felt had seldom felt so helpless.

 

Nico seemed better as the week went on, actually genuinely laughing a couple of times. Percy loved those moments, when Nico seemed to truly enjoy something without fearing what Percy or anyone else thought about it. Percy actually thought he might have put everything behind him, but then Saturday arrived.

“I need to get back,” Nico said, sounding determined, and Percy’s heart fell. He played with the thought of tying Nico up to make him stay when Nico continued: “Could you come with me?”

Percy blinked. “Sure,” he said uncertainly. “Why do you want me to come?”

“Because I’m not sure whether I’m going back to stay or to pack my bags,” Nico said. “I keep going back and forth in my mind. I need to talk to him face to face one more time, and I...I don’t want to do it alone.”

“You won’t have to,” Percy smiled, relieved though he knew it was premature. Nico gave him an uncertain look.

“Just don’t do anything to make him angry. I can’t talk to him if he’s angry,” Nico said. “Promise me.”

“I promise,” Percy said, though he knew that if the guy attacked either Nico or himself there would be hell to pay. Part of him was almost hoping for it.

“Okay, then,” Nico said, taking a deep breath before reaching out to grab Percy’s hand. “Let’s go.”

 

They came out in an alleyway, Percy had no idea where. The only thing he knew what that the sea was pretty far away. Nico let go of his hand and started walking towards a tall apartment building and unlocked the door, then waited for Percy to join him. He looked a little green.

“You okay?” Percy asked worriedly, but Nico nodded.

“I’ll be fine,” he said, though Percy saw his hand was shaking as he pressed the button to the elevator. They rode up to the fifth floor in silence.

“If you want to go back...” Percy begun when they exited the elevator.

“I need to do this,” Nico said, sounding determined despite his shaking voice. No matter what would happen inside, Percy had to admire him for that. The boy was clearly terrified, but had resolved to go through with it anyway. Percy really wish Nico could see his own strength.

Nico unlocked the door to an apartment, and Percy followed him inside. It was a pretty nice apartment, but there were a lot of things lying around on the floor, things that had been broken or torn and not cleaned up. Nico’s things, probably. Percy was already fuming with anger when a guy appeared in the doorway opposite them.

“Nico, you’re back,” he said, having the nerve to sound like he had been expecting him and he was late. He was pretty tall and muscular, fairly good looking, though probably at least five years older than Percy. He met Percy’s gaze, and immediately narrowed his eyes in suspicion.

“Who’s this?” he asked, making it sound like an accusation. He really reminded Percy of Smelly Gabe, even if they didn’t look, or smell, anything alike.

“This is Percy. He’s an old friend,” Nico said, and Smelly Gabe II walked up to them in a way that Percy might have found intimidating if he hadn’t been used to far more honest monsters.

“I’m Tom Miller, Nico’s boyfriend, ” he said, putting emphasis on the word as he offered his hand for Percy to shake. For a moment he considered refusing, but he had promised to behave, after all.

“Percy Jackson,” he said, shaking Tom’s hand. Or, well, Tom seemed to try to crush his hand, so Percy returned the favor, then let go.

“Why did you bring him here?” Tom asked, turning towards Nico. “Don’t you think we have things we should discuss in private?”

“I...” Nico said uncertainly. “I didn’t want to come alone. I’m not sure I’m here to stay.”

“Not sure?” Tom repeated in disbelief. “Why else would you come back? Wait...”

His eyes went wide like he had realized something, and Nico took a step back, looking frightened.

“Is that why you brought him? So you could humiliate me in front of him?” Tom exclaimed. “How dare you? How can you do this to me?”

“It’s not like that. I didn’t mean...,” Nico mumbled.

“Well, that makes it okay then, does it?” Tom said, towering over him. “You’re treating me like dirt, but it’s okay because you didn’t mean to? You selfish bitch!”

Percy honestly couldn’t believe what he was hearing, or the fact that Nico seemed convinced it was true. How the hell had this guy managed to get so much power over him?

“I’m sorry,” Nico said quietly, keeping his eyes on the floor.

“Are you really?” Tom asked him, gently caressing Nico’s cheek, though the boy flinched like he’d been hit. “If you’re sorry now, then why did you do it? Don’t you love me? How can you treat me like this, when I love you so much?”

“This is ridiculous,” Percy said, and Tom spun around, looking surprised, like he had forgotten Percy was there as well.

“Get lost!” Tom said angrily. “Nico is mine, and he knows it.”

“Nico,” Percy said, ignoring him. “Think about what he just said. Doesn’t it sound backwards to you?”

“What?” Tom said, turning towards Nico with an amused smile. “Is this clown insinuating that I’m the one hurting you? That’s crazy.”

“I...” Nico said uncertainly, still looking down on the floor.

Percy frowned. “Nico di Angelo. Son of Hades. Ghost King,” he said. “You’re better than this.”

Tom laughed. “What is that? Some stupid, childish names?” he said, but Nico actually looked up at Percy, wide eyed.

“Remember Minos?” Percy asked. “You were barely eleven, but you saw through him, and outsmarted him. You father tricked you, but you defied him and turned the situation to your advantage. Even Tartarus couldn’t keep you. Tell me, do you actually believe what this guy is saying?”

“But...” Nico said, then trailed off, glancing over at Tom, who seemed furious.

“Who are you to come waltzing into my house and accuse me of lying?” he roared. “You want him for yourself, don’t you? You’re filling his head with lies about me so you can fuck him, isn’t that true? Or did you already do it?”

He looked over at Nico. “Did you let this guy fuck you? You did, didn’t you? I bet you liked it, you whore!” he yelled. “But he doesn’t love you like I do. No one will ever love you like I do!”

“We’re not fucking,” Nico said desperately, but Tom ignored him and turned towards Percy again.

“I taught him everything, you know,” Tom said. “I’m all he’s ever known. Even when he’s sucking your cock, remember that I was there first. He will always be mine!

“He’s a person, not your property,” Percy said, gritting his teeth, wanting so much to just smash the guy’s brains in. “I wish he would remember that.”

“Nico’s mine, and I’m not letting you take him!” Tom yelled with a mad glint in his eyes. Percy was hoping he would attack. He was just waiting for a chance to hit him.

ENOUGH! ” Nico suddenly shouted, demanding it with more authority than Percy had heard in a long time. They looked up at him in surprise, and the surprise quickly turned into fear. Nico looked absolutely terrifying, and the plants dying on the shelf behind him only enhanced it. Tom backed up against the wall, covering and looking scared shitless, but despite the fear radiating off Nico Percy only felt proud of him.

Nico’s angry expression suddenly fell, and he looked confused as he dropped the fear aura. “I didn’t mean to...”

“You freak! ” Tom suddenly yelled, angry now that the fear was gone. “What are you? How dare you do this to me?”

Nico looked like he had been slapped, but Percy walked up to him, placing a hand on his shoulder with a smile.

“That’s the you I remember,” he said. “Never taking bullshit from anyone.”

Nico looked up at him, still a bit confused, but with a ghost of a smile on his lips. “I haven’t done that in years,” he said, and Percy grinned towards him.

“About time, then,” he said.

“What are you two talking about?” Tom demanded. “What sort of demon are you?”

“You never told him?” Percy asked, a little surprised.

Nico shook his head. “I tried a couple of times, but he thought I was joking,” he said. “And I’ve barely used my powers since I left, so it didn’t matter.”

“It’s part of who you are, Nico,” Percy said gently. “You shouldn’t have to repress it.”

“You are crazy!” Tom yelled. “Get him out of my house! And you, you freak! ” He pointed towards Nico. “Never do anything like that again! Look at this mess you caused! Look at the plants! You need to clean this up right away!”

Nico blinked, staring at him in silence for a long while.

“No,” he finally said.

“What?” Tom asked dangerously, but Nico met his eyes.

“No,” he repeated. “No, I think I’m going to go pack my things. Percy is right. I'm better than this.”

“You’re not thinking straight,” Tom still tired. “He’s turning you against me.”

Nico ignored him and turned towards Percy again. “Wait here, I’ll be right back. I don’t have that much to pack.”

“Take your time,” Percy smiled, then placed himself in the Tom’s way so he couldn’t follow Nico as he disappeared into the bedroom.

“You can’t keep him from me,” Tom said, probably attempting to sound threatening.

“I doubt I’ll need to. He can take care of himself,” Percy said. “You tried to break him, but I don’t think you’ve realized just how strong he really is.”

“Strong?” Tom scoffed. “Nico? He cries all the time. He needs me to take care of him. He’s nothing without me.”

Percy laughed in disbelief. “You don’t know him at all, do you?” he said. “He’s one of the strongest people I know. Just two weeks ago he did one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen.”

“Really?” Tom scoffed. ”What?”

“He asked for help,” Percy smiled.

Nico reappeared a few moments later, carrying a backpack over his shoulder and a familiar black sword at his hip. “I think that’s all,” he said, then turned towards Tom. “Goodbye then.”

“You’ll be back,” Tom said, sounding certain, but Nico shook his head.

“Not this time,” he said, handing Tom what Percy assumed was the key to the apartment. Tom stared at it in disbelief.

“You can’t do this,” he said. “I need you. I love you.”

“No, you don’t,” Nico said sadly. “I think we both know that.”

He grabbed Percy’s hand, holding on so tight it hurt when he dragged them back into the shadows and let the darkness swallow them.

They came out in Percy’ dark bedroom, and Nico immediately fell to his knees, breathing heavily.

“You okay?” Percy asked, kneeling down beside him with a hand on his shoulder, gently drawing soothing circles with his thumb.

“I don’t know,” Nico said between breaths, half a laughing and half a sobbing. “I’m exhausted, and I’m ecstatic, and I'm terrified. I don’t know how to feel.”

“Well, I can’t help you with that, Percy chuckled. “But I’m proud of you. You were amazing back there.”

“Thank you,” Nico said, looking up at him. “Thank you for coming with me. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without you.”

“All I did was stand there, and say a few things,” Percy said with a smile. “The important part you did by yourself.”

“Maybe,” Nico said uncertainly. “I’m worried that I’m going to change my mind.”

“You won’t,” Percy said, but Nico shook his head.

“That’s what I thought last time, and the time before that,” he said with a pale smile. “But if I do, you have my permission to tie me up until it passes.”

“Done,” Percy laughed, putting his arms around Nico and pulling him into an embrace. “But I don’t think I’ll have to. You can do this.”

Nico let his head fall down on Percy’s shoulder, sighing deeply. “I’m so tired,” he said. “I haven’t used my powers this much in years. I forgot how exhausting it is.”

“Go to sleep,” Percy urged him, and Nico nodded, slowly untangling himself from Percy only to fall bonelessly down on Percy’s bed.

“Will you stay?” Nico asked sleepily, and Percy smiled as he joined him on the bed, pulling him into his arms again and placing a gentle kiss on his forehead.

“For as long as you want me to,” Percy assured him, and Nico moved a little closer, then relaxed against him and fell asleep.

 

The next week was completely different from the ones before. Nico still cooked for him, but he seemed braver about it, doing complicated dishes and desserts just for the heck of it. Percy didn’t always enjoy everything all that much, but nothing he made was bad. And all desserts were blue, which Percy really appreciated.

The real difference was that a weight seemed to have been lifted from Nico’s shoulders. He talked more, and laughed more, and even made a few jokes at Percy’s expense. Percy loved seeing him like that, light hearted and in a good mood, but he didn’t hesitate to comfort him when he broke down, which still happened more than once. However, Nico never talked about going back.

A little over a week after Nico packed his bags Percy came home to find his apartment empty. His initial reaction was to panic, but looking through the house he could see that Nico’s things still were there, so wherever he was he was probably planning to come back. Barely half an hour later Nico emerged from the shadows.

“I’m so sorry, I lost track of time,” he said when he saw Percy. His eyes were red and his cheeks puffed, like he had been crying a lot, though he didn’t seem sad. Percy still got up to bring him into a hug.

“It’s fine. I just got a bit worried,” he said. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Nico said, smiling slightly. “Hazel sent me an IM, and she realized I was at your apartment and demanded to know what was going on, so I ended up shadow traveling over there. I told her everything.”

“How did she take it?” Percy asked, still holding on to him. Nico didn’t seem inclined to move, either.

“She was angry, but not so much at me,” Nico said, then hesitated. “There’s a guest room in her and Frank’s apartment. She asked me to come live with them for a while. I said yes.”

“When are you leaving?” Percy asked, a little sad, but it was for the best, wasn’t it?

“Tomorrow. Is that okay?” Nico asked. Percy ran a hand through his silky hair, smiling slightly.

“Yeah. I’m going to miss you, you know,” he said. “Promise you’ll stay in touch?”

Nico laughed a bit. “I doubt I could avoid it if I wanted to,” he said. “But yeah, I promise.”

 

The apartment was depressingly large and quiet with Nico gone. Percy had known he was going to miss him, but he wasn’t prepared for just how much. He ended up calling Nico almost every night, telling himself he wanted to make sure the boy was okay, but in reality he just wanted to hear Nico’s voice. It took some time for Percy to realize how deep his feelings really went, and even then he wasn’t sure what to do with them.

“Remember Nico di Angelo?” Percy asked his mother when he visited her a few weeks later. She frowned for a moment before nodding.

“Yes, he was at your birthday party once, right?” she said. “What about him?”

“I think I’m in love with him,” Percy said, and his mother looked up at him in surprise, before smiling gently towards him.

“Have you told him yet?” she asked, and Percy shook his head.

“No. I’m not sure if I should,” he said. “I need your advice on that.”

“Is he straight?” his mother asked sympathetically.

“No, he’s definitely gay,” Percy said, smiling briefly before turning serious again. “But he only just got out of an abusive relationship.”

His mother’s smile disappeared, turning into a frown as she sat down in front of him. “Tell me everything,” she asked seriously, so Percy did. It took a long time before he was finished.

“The poor boy,” his mother mumbled. “But I’m proud of how you handled it, Percy. You really helped him help himself.”

She was quiet for a while. “I don’t think you should tell him, not yet,” she said. “Give him some time to find himself again, but don’t stop being his friend. He’ll need all the support he can get, but he doesn’t need a lover right now.”

“I understand,” Percy nodded.

“I hope it all works out for you two,” his mother said, smiling sadly. “But you should know that even if he says yes when you finally ask him, he probably won’t be easy to live with. Abuse always leaves marks. Are you prepared to deal with that?”

“I think it would be worth it,” Percy said, getting up to give her a hug. “Thanks, mum. I’ll give him time, like you said.”

“And bring him over for tea sometime,” his mother said. “As a friend. I would want to see him.”

“I will,” Percy promised.

 

Despite talking through the IM almost every day, it took almost four months before Percy actually saw Nico face to face again, at a dinner party at Hazel’s and Frank’s apartment including all of the Seven (except Annabeth who was still in Europe), as well as Calypso and Reyna. The party was pretty fun, catching up with everyone and hearing what they were doing. Nico got some surprised looks when he told them he had started studying history at college. Leo even laughed at him.

“Isn’t it cheating, since you can just talk to the dead guys who were there?” he asked teasingly.

“You’d be surprised how different history often is from what actually happened,” Nico smiled. “People tend to interpret things their own way.”

Percy didn’t like the way a shadow passed over his face as he said that, and was itching to talk to him privately. After dinner people started spreading out in the apartment, and Percy saw his chance.

“How have you been?” Percy asked, sitting down beside Nico at the table and offering him a drink. Nico accepted with a smile.

“Good,” he answered. “College is hard, but it’s a lot of fun as well.”

“Not really what I meant, but that’s still good to hear,” Percy smiled.

Nico sighed. “I’m fine,” he said. “Though I still can’t believe he actually convinced me it was all my fault.”

“And you still managed to break free,” Percy pointed out. “I still wish we could have, I don’t know, beat him up or something.”

“I thought about going back to do that,” Nico admitted. “But I figured it wasn’t worth it. He would never realize he was in the wrong anyway.”

“But he might trick others into the same situation,” Percy pointed out, but Nico shook his head with a smile.

“He won’t. I asked a couple of ghosts to see to that,” he said. “If he ever starts to mistreat anyone again they will start haunting him, and I left a letter for them to deliver to any new partner he gets, just to warn them.”

Percy stared at him in surprise, then laughed and threw an arm around him. “That’s the spirit,” he said happily. “No pun intended.”

Nico blushed slightly as he smiled back. “It’s not Medusa’s head in a box, but it’s something,” he said. “And last time I talked to my father he indicated Tom had a worse fate waiting for him, so there’s that.”

“He deserves it,” Percy said, sighing. “I kinda miss having you around, you know. You should stay over again sometime.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Nico smiled, though Percy thought he seemed kinda sad.

“So,” Percy said, clearing his throat as he let go of Nico. “Any new boyfriends on the horizon?”

Nico shook his head. “Not really. I’ve gone on a couple of dates, but I think I’m a bit paranoid. I over-analyze everything they’re saying, to make sure they aren’t trying to manipulate me” he said. “Besides, I don’t think I’ve been all that into them anyway.”

“Oh,” Percy said. “So there’s no one that you like?”

“I didn’t say that,” Nico said, looking down at his glass with a bitter smile. “But no one interested. It’s okay, though. I’ll get over it.”

Percy’s heart fell a bit, though he tried not to let it show. “You’ll find someone,” he said, trying to sound reassuring. “And whoever it is you like, it’s their loss if they aren’t interested.”

Nico gave a bitter laugh. “Is it?” he asked. “I’m not exactly a catch, am I?”

“Of course you are,” Percy said, frowning. “Anyone who can’t see that is an idiot.”

“You do realize you’re calling yourself an idiot, right?” Nico sighed, and Percy stared at him. “Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for this to happen again, and I didn’t plan to tell you but you should probably know. I like you.”

“Really?” Percy asked, stunned. “I mean, you told me you used to like me, but...”

“But I stupidly fell for you all over again,” Nico said bitterly. “Don’t feel bad about it. I got over you once, I can do it again.”

“What if I don’t want you to get over it?” Percy asked, and this time it was Nico’s turn to stare.

“What?” he asked, stunned. “Percy, you don’t have to force yourself to...”

“I’m not. The only thing I’ve been forcing myself to do is not make a move,” Percy said. “It kinda creeped up on me slowly, but I like you too. I have for a while now. I just didn’t want you to think it was just pity or that I’m using you after all you’ve been through. I was planning on waiting longer before I told you.”

“But...” Nico said, looking completely confused. “I thought you didn’t like guys.”

“Not really,” Percy shrugged. “I like you, though. It’s more about the person than the gender, I guess. So, um, is it okay if I kiss you?”

“If you want to,” Nico said hesitatingly. “Yes, I mean. It’s okay.”

Percy smiled widely as he gently cupped Nico’s cheek and moved closer. The boy trembled a bit, obviously nervous, maybe even scared. Percy frowned.

“If you don’t want to, just tell me,” he said, but Nico shook his head.

“I want to,” he said, and Percy gently pushed their lips together. It was a bit awkward, but they got used to each other pretty quickly. Nico made a very attractive little moan when Percy deepened the kiss, and he really wanted to hear more of it.

Suddenly the room was filled with applause, and they pulled away from each other, startled to realize they had an audience. Their friends have gathered around them, smiling as they clapped their hands. Leo even wolf-whistled, and Nico turned redder than Piper’s dress.

“About time,” Jason grinned, and Piper elbowed him with a smile.

“We’re really happy for you,” she said.

Hazel came forward to give Nico a kiss on the cheek and Percy a glare. He didn’t need her to give him the if you hurt him- speech to understand what she meant. Nico had been hurt enough for several lifetimes already.

Percy took Nico aside first chance they got. “Do you want to get out of here?” he asked, and Nico nodded shyly before grabbing his hand and bringing both of them back to Percy’s apartment. He hadn’t cleaned it in a while so he was a bit embarrassed about the mess, but Nico didn’t seem to notice.

“Is this really okay?” Nico asked, sounding vulnerable.

“I should be the one asking you that,” Percy said, reaching out to put an arm around him and bring them closer together. “Are you sure you’re ready for this?”

“I don’t know,” Nico said breathlessly. “But I’m not going to let him ruin this for me. I know you, and I trust you. I want this.”

“Good,” Percy smiled. ”Still, if I do anything you don’t like, anything at all, just tell me. Okay?”

“Okay,” Nico nodded with a shy smile, then hesitatingly reached up to bring their lips together again. The hesitation disappeared, and Nico was kissing him desperately. Percy was more than happy to answer, but when he felt Nico’s hand inside his shirt he slowly pulled back.

“What’s wrong?” Nico asked, looking a bit scared again.

“Nothing's wrong,” Percy said, giving him a reassuring smile. “Are you sure you want to go further already? I don’t mind waiting.”

Nico frowned. “Are you saying you don’t want me? Or am I being too clingy?” he asked, sounding worried, and Percy blinked in surprise.

“That’s not it. Of course I want you,” he said, slowly running his hand down Nico's back. “Gods, I want you. I just don’t want you to feel pressured to have sex with me.”

“I want to,” Nico said, almost begging. “Please don’t say no. I want this so much.”

Percy smiled and took a hold of his hand. “Bedroom it is, then,” he said.

By the time they reached the bedroom both of them were already shirtless, and Percy was attempting to open Nico's pants while simultaneously kissing him senseless. Nico was having better luck, and Percy's pants were loose around his hips, with Nico's hands reaching down his underwear. Percy was walking backwards, and his legs collided with the bed, so he sat down slowly with Nico in his lap, never breaking the kiss.

"How do you want me?" Nico asked, pulling back just enough to form the question. His eyes were dark with lust, and Percy swallowed, suddenly a bit nervous.

"I'm not sure," Percy said. "I've never been with a guy before. I think you should take the lead."

Nico looked surprised for a moment, then a smile slowly spread over his lips while he slowly pushed Percy down on the bed, kissing him deeply. "Please tell me you have some kind of lubrication somewhere," he said, and Percy nodded.

"Nightstand," he said, and Nico climbed off him to fetch it. Percy moved a bit so he was lying fully on the bed, watching Nico rummage through his things until he found the little bottle and some condoms. Then he proceeded to take his own pants off, looking slightly uncertain as he sat back on the bed completely naked. Percy couldn't take his eyes off him, and reached out to gently run his hands down Nico's back, all the way down to his ass. Nico trembled a bit at his touch, though he smiled.

"It's been a while," Nico said as he handed Percy the bottle. "I'm going to need you to prepare me for this. Or I can do it myself if you don't want to."

"Tell me what to do," Percy said, sitting up beside him to give him a kiss. Nico took his hand and poured lube over his fingers, then moved the hand towards his ass. Percy didn't really need further instruction. He recaptured Nico's mouth with his own, then put his first finger in. Nico made an appreciative noise against his mouth. Percy probably took it slower than he needed to, taking a long time between each finger he added, but he wanted to make sure he wouldn't hurt Nico by being too eager, even if all he really wanted to do was to just bend Nico over already. Eventually Nico got impatient as well.

"That will have to be enough," he growled, pushing Percy down on the bed before finally removing his pants as well. Nico just looked at him for a moment with a small smile on his lips.

"What do you want me to do?" Percy asked him breathlessly, but Nico shook his head.

"You asked me to take the lead," he said. "Just lie still."

Percy wasn't sure he was going to be able to, especially not when Nico climbed on top of him, gently running his fingers over Percy's erection to get in position. It was all Percy could do not to thrust upwards when Nico placed the tip of Percy's cock just against his hole, but a moment later Nico moved downwards, slowly taking him in, and Percy grabbed the edge of the bed for some sort of stability. When Percy was fully inside him, Nico paused, closing his eyes and taking a moment to adjust, and Percy was insanely thankful for it. Had he started to move immediately Percy would have come, and he wanted this to last for a bit. And he wanted Nico to feel as good as he did.

On a whim , Percy pushed himself up a bit, to be able to put a hand around Nico's erection. Nico opened his eyes, surprised, then moaned in pleasure when Percy started to stroke him.

"You don't have to," Nico said, gasping.

"I want to," Percy said, unable not to give a little upwards trust with his hips, and Nico gave a small whimper before starting to move, upwards and then down again. Percy tried to keep his hand moving at the same pace, but his brain was muffled with pleasure. In the end he wasn't able to keep his hips still, either, but Nico didn't seem to mind. Pretty soon he came within Percy's hand, screaming his name, and Percy followed immediately afterwards.

Nico collapsed on top of him, then rolled off, breathing heavily. For a while they just lay there side by side, then Nico slowly moved closer to him again.

“Is this okay?” Nico asked uncertainly as he cuddled up to Percy, still sounding a bit out of breath. Percy smiled as he turned to put an arm around the younger boy, holding him close.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said, leaning down to place a gentle kiss on Nico’s eyelid. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Nico said, smiling a little. “Strange. It’s been a long time since that word actually meant something to me.”

“Are you okay, though?” Percy asked. “I mean, you hadn’t been with anyone else before, so I understand if you associate this with him.”

“I was a bit afraid I might, but I don’t. You are far too different,” Nico said. “And thank the gods for that.”

Percy chuckled. “Yeah, I certainly hope so,” he said. “Sorry I mentioned it.”

“It’s okay, I can talk about it now,” Nico said. “Though I’d rather leave it outside the bedroom in the future.”

“Agreed,” Percy said, smiling towards him. “So how long until you can go again?”

Nico laughed happily into Percy’s chest, and Percy brought the boy just a little bit closer. He really loved that sound.

Being with Nico probably wouldn't always be this easy, but he had a feeling it would always, always be worth it.