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Shoot An Arrow Through His Heart

Chapter Text

 

 

Are we recording? Testing, testing, one two three… Nico! We’re recording? Cool.

Hi, I’m Bianca di Angelo. You probably knew that. *nervous laugh* I’m sorry, I’m really not used to… this. Ironically.

I guess I’ll start from the beginning, then.

My parents are Hades and Maria di Angelo. Yes, that Maria di Angelo, the world-famous singer. The “Barbra Streisand of Italy.” That’s how my parents met if you didn’t already know--Papà’s studio, D.O.A. Recording Studios, bought out Mamma’s original label in Italy.

D.O.A. totally stands for “Dead on Arrival!” Papà’s the guy from the Greek myths! He’s an immortal reptilian Illuminati—

Thank yooooou, Nico. Now, kindly shut the fuck up.

Persephoneeee, Bianca’s cursing at me agaaaaain!

You know, I can get one of Papà’s guys to run the audio equipment! … There. That’s a good boy.

Right, so, back to Italy. Papà met Mamma because she was Bellissimi Studi di Canto’s headliner. I like to think it was love at first sight. Nico--my carlo fratello who decided to butt in earlier--and I grew up in this beautiful penthouse in Venezia. I remember it was right over the water, not too far from Piazza San Marco. Tourists would come and go all the time, but I didn’t mind much.

We traveled a lot, too. Whenever Mamma toured, we went right along with her, across Europe, Asia, and, of course, the United States. Papà was usually with us too, but obviously he had to take business trips to L.A. all the time. Mamma didn’t seem to mind. She always said their love was--quote--“a dance of sad goodbyes and joyful reunions.” Besides, Papà never stayed away for very long.

Everything changed in 2013. We were on our way to L.A., flying over the Arizona desert when the plane went down. I remember I was playing Mario Kart on my 3DS when the plane started shaking. I thought it was turbulence, so I kept playing my game. It’s amazing how well I can tune things out sometimes. I just remember Mamma grabbing me, then everything went black.

*Deep breaths, as though Bianca’s about to cry*

You want me to take over? … She’s nodding, folks.

 

I was ten at the time, so I don’t remember as much as Bianca. I grabbed a snack--nice thing about private jets--and then everything started shaking. I fell to the ground and busted my knee. Someone--I don’t know who--picked me up and helped me sit back down. That’s when the lights turned off. I was so scared, I was… yeah, I was crying. Mamma was trying to get Bianca’s attention.

The bad thing about private jets? You don’t have to keep your seatbelt on. Bianca never buckled hers, even during takeoff. That’s probably why Mamma grabbed her, to shake her like she sometimes did to get her attention and tell her to put the damn thing on. But it didn’t work. Bianca flew forward and smacked her head on the opposite wall; Mamma and I were screaming. Without even thinking, I think, Mamma unbuckled her seatbelt so she could pick up Bianca. We both still thought it was just really bad turbulence.

That’s when the plane crashed. Mamma jumped on top of Bianca--or maybe she just fell like that. Either way, it saved Bianca’s life. Mamma… um, Mamma wasn’t so lucky.

I shook Mamma, crying, but obviously she didn’t wake up. She wasn’t breathing. I checked her pulse, and there was nothing. I looked at the cockpit, but the entire front of the plane had smashed in. The pilot was crushed beneath tons of metal; there was no way she was still alive either. Something told me I had to get out of there. The smart part of me said that Bianca had to be dead too, and I should just go, but, somehow, I knew that wasn’t true. I just had a feeling it wasn’t true. So, I pulled Mamma off of Bianca, and I dragged Bianca outside with me. I screamed for help, but it was the middle of the desert. There wasn’t anyone around.

I guess I thought I could walk to civilization, so I did my best to lift Bianca and limped a random direction. It was the right decision. A few minutes later, the plane exploded. The crash must’ve set off a spark in the engine. If I hadn’t pulled Bianca off the plane, she would’ve died.

I’m glad you did.

I am too, B. … Right. So. I lucked out. I realized Bianca still had her cell phone in her pocket. I didn’t have one. Mamma and Papà wouldn’t let us get one until we hit middle school. I checked it, and no bars. Obviously.

In my series of live-saving luck, it was nighttime, and winter, so the desert wasn’t too hot. I carried Bianca until I found this… there’s no other word for it but a ghost town. I wandered around until I saw this big plaque. A little trivia, because I need to stall a bit or I’m going to break too. According to the plaque, the place was called Swansea, it was this mining town that was first settled in 1862, founded in 1908. It started to decline in the 1920s, and the last mine officially closed in 1937.

I knew where I was now. I left Bianca near the plaque and ran around Swansea until, by some miracle, I got a single bar on the phone. I didn’t know what the 113 number was in the U.S., so I called Papà and told him what happened. We kept going in and out, and it was all static-y, and I was crying, but, eventually, he realized what was going on. He called 911 for me and told me to wait with Bianca by the plaque.

It took about an hour for the helicopters to find us. As soon as we were safe, my knee started hurting really bad. It was the kind of pain where all you can think about is how painful it is. They took us to the hospital. It turned out that my knee was completely shattered from my fall; the hospital staff was shocked that I was able to walk around the desert. You hear all these kinds of amazing things your body can do in survival situations. I guess I’m one of those examples now.

They operated on my knee to piece it back together. I still have a brace on it to this day, but you can’t see it through my jeans, and otherwise I got away unscathed. When I woke up from the anesthetic, Papà was sitting next to me. He was crying--that was the first time I’d ever seen him crying. He put his hand to my cheek and kept saying things like, “you’re safe, Nico, don’t worry, I love you, you’re going to be okay,” over and over again.

Bianca was still in the operating table as they tried to treat her injuries. When the doctor came in, he asked Papà to step outside, but he wouldn’t leave my side. “We have news about your daughter, Mr. di Angelo,” the doctor said. I remember Papà asked if Bianca was dead; the doctor asked him to step outside a second time, but he didn’t budge. We both could tell by the doctor’s tone that it wasn’t going to be good news.

I asked how long until she wakes up. I tried to keep asking, but my voice broke, and I started crying. Papà tried to comfort me, but it was like he wasn’t even there anymore.

It was the first of many moments I felt like he chose Bianca over me.

The doctor started going on about something or other about Bianca’s condition, but I didn’t listen. My world was collapsing. My mother was dead, my sister was probably dead too, and my father looked like he was a million miles away. There was an emptiness in his eyes that a part of me knew he would never recover from.

“I won’t pull the plug,” Papà said firmly.

The doctor pursed his lips. It looked like he got that kind of response all the time. He said, “sir, there’s a very little chance she’ll wake. These things can get expensive--”

Papà cut him off. “Do you know who I am?” he demanded. “I have billions, and I’ll go bankrupt before I let her go.”

I had to stay in the hospital another week. Papà practically lived there too. When I had P.T., he would stay with Bianca, and when I was able, I’d go too.

It took three weeks for her to start showing any sign of waking. We were both in the room when she started twitching. Papà ran for the nurse, and, a few days later, B opened her eyes. She was in there another two months, recovering. Papà and I spent every day with her.

*Deep breaths, as though Nico’s about to cry*

Hey? Nico, it’s okay, I think I can take over again.

Thanks, Bianca.

 

People ask me sometimes if I remember being in a coma. I don’t. It’s just black. One minute, I was playing Mario Kart, then I blinked, and I was in the hospital with a bunch of doctors standing over me. And, yeah, let’s talk about that. I started screaming and thrashing. Well, not exactly thrashing, because I was so… groggy doesn’t begin to explain it, but that’s the closest word. I was terrified and confused, even a little angry, though I didn’t know why. I couldn’t form thoughts at all.

I felt like I was swimming. People were saying things, but I couldn’t understand them. My vision kept going in and out, and then it was blurry when it was in. Is that the saying? If I’m saying “in and out,” I guess when I had vision, it’s “in.”

Okay, you know what I mean.

I couldn’t speak for a day or so. My memory’s really, really foggy--I have this one memory of Papà spoon feeding me in the hospital, and another of a physical therapist moving my leg back and forth.

She was a hassle for the doctors, too. She basically had to relearn English, so Papà kept having to fly in doctors from Italy to work with her. It probably cost an arm and a leg, but, you know, billionaire. It took her like six months with a private tutor to speak conversational English again.

I remember that. It was really annoying, to say the least, because, after the plane crash, there was no way we were going back to Italy. The mansion in L.A. that used to be our summer home turned into our new full-time house. We still have the penthouse in Venezia, and we go sometimes, but it’s more of a vacation house now.

Nico and I missed Mamma’s funeral. I think that was for the best, honestly. I don’t know if I’d’ve been able to take it. And Nico was ten; I doubt he would’ve been able to, either.

The first day I got out of the hospital, Papà took us to visit Mamma’s grave. I did my best to be brave for them. I cried, but not hysterically like I wanted to. I said a few words about how she would’ve been so proud of us for getting out alive and recovering, and I promised her that I’d be someone she’d be proud of. Nico was too hysterical to speak. He listened and nodded to me, but I doubted he could even hear what I was saying. Papà looked so far away, too.

When we got home, I went up to my room, made up just like it had been every summer, and I lied in bed, curled up, and cried the rest of the day. I missed her so much. She’d died to save me... that had to mean something.

Our family changed that day. Nico started acting out, he got more aggressive and cold. He would spend hours by himself. We all wore black for a month, but, when Papà and I finally changed out of it, Nico didn’t. He refused to. His bubbly, sometimes annoying energy was gone. He didn’t seem to enjoy anything anymore.

His behavior wore Papà down. As the months went by, he stopped arguing with Nico. He seemed to stop talking altogether. He drowned his grief in his work. Soon, there was a rift between Papà and me. But if ours was a rift, between him and Nico was a chasm. Our family was falling apart.

I kept asking myself every night, why had Mamma died and I survived? Why did I wake up from a coma when the doctor said I wouldn’t? I wasn’t much for religion, but I prayed to heaven for some kind of answer, hoping Mamma could hear me. For months, all I could see was Papà’s and Nico’s faces as we stood by the gravestone. They both looked so… so broken.

And that’s when I knew. I sat up and wiped the tears from my cheeks. “No more tears,” Mamma would always say when Nico or I threw a fit. “Anger and sadness are important to feel, but you have to know when to stop crying. Crying doesn’t make things better, it only keeps you from thinking about the solution.”

“It’s time to stop crying,” I said. “I’ll be strong for you, Mamma. Family was always the most important thing to you. Your death broke Papà and Nico. I promise that I’ll do what you always did; I’ll take care of them like you would’ve, and put this family back together.”

I made good on that vow. Slowly, I took Mamma’s place in our house. I ran the household, instructed our staff to the point where they went to me for everything, even their paychecks. I wrote Papà’s meetings on the calendar and made sure he took a break once in a century. I parented Nico, praised him when he did good, punished him when he acted out, made sure he got to school and did his homework, bugged him endlessly about making friends. But he always said he didn’t need anyone but me.

Our private chef, Sally, has a son named Percy who went to the same high school as us, and that’s basically how I ended up with my current group of friends. There’s him, then his girlfriend Annabeth, Jason--the one guy who could probably turn Percy gay--and Jason’s crush Piper, and Leo, Jason’s best friend. Oh, also Grover and Rachel.

She forgot to mention that she was one of the most popular people at school, if you didn’t get that from the endless list of friends. I think a different guy asked her out, like, every single day.

It was one every other day, thank you very much.

I got pretty decent grades, too, considering everything I’d gone through. It was enough that I qualified to do the junior high team sports in eighth grade. Percy had just gotten together with Annabeth, and she wanted to try the archery team. I decided to join her as a bit of bonding. She dropped out of it pretty quickly, but I stuck with it. The coach, Artemis, told me I should try out for the team as a freshman. I did, and I got on the team. Go Half-Blood Hellhounds!

That’s where I met my best friend, Thalia. She’s pretty intimidating, but, when you get to know her, she’s actually kind of awesome. Then there’s Zoë Nightshade, Phoebe Apollo, Naomi Myers, and Celyn Holly. The six of us are really close, and Coach Artemis is basically our Mom. Yeah, she has a last name, but literally no one calls her anything but Artemis.

And that’s how it was until senior year. My little family, my friends, and my teammates.

Then, one day, Papà called Nico and me into his office to give us the news that would change our lives forever.

He proposed to Persephone!

God, Nico, I was trying to be mysterious!

Chapter Text

I should talk about Persephone.

So, like I said before, my family is super, super wealthy. We live in an affluent neighborhood with a bunch of other millionaires. I mentioned two of them already: Piper McLean, Jason’s crush. Her parents are Tristan McLean, the famous actor--the the King of Sparta guy--and Aphrodite McLean, the model. Jason also lives nearby--his father’s Jupiter Grace, the owner of Zeus Airlines.

Would you like to describe everyone on our street, B?

How many times do I have to tell you to shut up?

Persephone Levesque and her mother Demeter run Levesque Gardening Services. They’re, you guessed it, gardeners, and they do our entire street. Demeter’s a grouchy old lady--I never talk to her--but Persephone’s awesome. She always waves to me on my way back from school, usually gives me fruit from her orchard at home. When I was younger, I babysat her adopted daughter Hazel while she was busy trimming hedges and whatnot. By the time of The Announcement™, Hazel was a freshman and would help with the gardening as well. They didn’t look like they had much money, but they seemed happy anyway.

Papà didn’t tell us when they started going out. He was always nice to her, don’t get me wrong, and they would talk sometimes, but it was more of a friendly employer-employee relationship. It just never crossed my mind that he’d be with anyone but Mamma.

So, flash forward to last August. It’s the last day of summer, a week after my eighteenth birthday. I’m heading into senior year and Nico, sixteen years old, is heading into junior year. I’ve spent the last two months juggling an internship with D.O.A.’s business sector, an online class in marketing, summer practices at the archery range, and keeping the plates spinning at home. Nico, meanwhile, is spending his days vandalizing property and smoking pot in his room.

It was around six o’clock. I was helping Sally make dinner when Thanatos Mors came into the room. He’s the C.O.O. at D.O.A. Recording Studios.

“There you are, Bianca,” he said.

I looked up from the vegetables I was chopping. “What are you doing here?” I asked.

“Bianca!” Sally scolded.

Thanatos smiled, amused. “I doubt she meant it like that. I was meeting with your father.”

“He’s home?” I asked. He never stayed home from work, ever, unless he was sick enough that I forced him to.

“He wants to speak to you and your brother immediately,” Thanatos said. “He’s in his office.”

“Go on,” Sally said. “I’ll finish without you.”

I made my way to Papà’s office. It’s a big room with wood panel walls, thick carpets, and a diamond chandelier on the ceiling. Papà’s desk is on an elevated platform, so he literally looks down on anyone that walks in. He’s like a king on a throne behind that desk. It’s supposed to be intimidating, and it is... to anyone but me. Papà talks a big game, but he’s harmless deep down.

“Where’s Nico?” Papà asked.

“I thought he’d already be here,” I said.

“When was the last time he listened to anything I say?” Papà muttered.

I sighed and said I’d call him.

I pulled up my favorites on my phone and hit THE GHOST KING. The phone rang three times before he answered it. “What do you need?” Nico asked, his voice gravelly for some unknown reason.

“You know exactly what I need,” I chided him. “Get your butt down here right now.”

I could hear Nico rustling on the other side of the phone. “I’m busy,” he said.

“Whatever you’re doing, it can wait,” I told him.

“I don’t want to fucking talk to him. Leave me alone,” Nico snapped.

I covered my phone with my hand. “I’m going outside for a sec, okay?”

Papà waved me away. I went into the hall and shut the office door, then continued in a low voice, “Nico, the sooner you come downstairs, the sooner it’ll be over.”

“But if I don’t come downstairs it’s over now,” he replied.

I grit my teeth, but I knew to keep my cool. “For me. Please. Or I’ll tell Sally no dinner for you.”

There was silence on the other end. I knew I got him. If there was one thing he loved, it was Sally’s cooking.

She puts crack in her chicken I swear.

Honestly, that wouldn’t surprise me.

I smiled triumphantly as I hit the end call button on my phone. I ran to the back stairs in time to meet Nico thundering his way down.

“You smell like smoke,” I noticed. Nico shrugged. “I thought you said you quit?” He shrugged again. “Dad’s gonna kill you.”

“See if I care.”

“Come here.”

I pulled him into the guest bathroom and gave him some mouthwash. While he rinsed out his mouth, I sprayed some perfume to get rid of the smell of cigarettes. He coughed, dribbling some mouthwash down his chin. “That smells like ass,” he said.

I threw him a towel to wipe his face. “Tough. I don’t want an argument tonight, but this is the last time I’m covering for you. I’ll buy you Nicorette if that’s what it takes to wean you off, but no more smoking.”

“You let me smoke pot,” Nico huffed. “What’s the difference?”

“Pot won’t give you cancer,” I answered. “Besides, I don’t like pot either. Go change your clothes and meet me in Papà’s office. If you’re not down in two minutes, I’ll drag you there myself.”

“He’s on his way,” I announced when I walked back into the office.

Papà said, “Thank you, Bianca,” and I swear he almost smiled.

Nico sulked in after a few minutes.

That’s not how you use that word.

Well, that’s the way you were walking. You stomped in with that pouty look on your face and dive-bombed onto the couch with your arms crossed. How else would you describe that?

...fine.

“I want to talk to you two,” Papà began. His voice was cold in an authoritative sort of way. He usually sounded like that.

“I thought you wanted to sit here and stare at us,” Nico muttered.

Papà’s eyes flashed. I glanced at him with one word in my eyes: ‘don’t.’

Papà cleared his throat. “Thank you, Nico. As I was saying… you two know Persephone Levesque.”

Nico snorted. “What, is she not chopping the hedges right? Is that what’s so important?”

Nico,” I warned under my breath. He rolled his eyes but didn’t say anything else to piss Papà off, which was all I could really expect.

“She won’t be chopping our hedges anymore,” Papà said. He closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. Is he nervous? I thought.

“Is something wrong?” I asked. “Is she all right?”

He forced himself to smile. “She’s all right. She’s… she’s better than all right. Bianca, Nico… I’ve asked her to marry me.”

You could’ve heard a pin drop. Nico and I sat there and stared at him. Nico was pale; his mouth was hanging open. I doubt I looked much better.

“I know it’s a shock,” Papà continued, “but neither of us wanted to say anything to anyone until we were sure. We’ve… discussed things, and decided it’s best to proceed in this way.”

“Please tell me Demeter’s not moving in with us,” I blurted out.

Papà’s lips curled into a small smile. “I wouldn’t wish Demeter on anyone, even Jupiter and Poseidon.”

I’ll get to them later.

Oh, really? No long aside about a random detail? Who are you and what have you done to my sister?

I’m going to ignore that.

I did something between a nervous laugh and a gasp. Papà’s smile faltered. “Persephone and Hazel are going to move in with us. Our marriage affects you children, and we both want you two and Hazel to be comfortable with it. We’ll take things slow, make sure everything works out.” He folded his hands on his desk. “Understand, this is your decision too. If Persephone can’t get along with my children, she has no place in my home.”

“I don’t want another mother,” Nico growled.

Papà started to shake slightly. “Nico, she isn’t meant to replace your mother.”

“Then why are you doing this?!” Nico shouted. “I can’t believe you’d do this to Mamma!”

Papà’s eyes flashed with anger. “Your mother--”

“No!” Nico screamed. “How dare you! How could you?! I can’t even look at you!”

“Nico!”

“I HATE HER! AND I HATE YOU!” Nico shot up and ran out of the room, tears in his eyes.

Papà stood. “Nico!” he shouted.

I stood too, stoic. “I need to go.”

I left without another word. I collapsed halfway up the stairs and burst into tears. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t move. I didn’t know what to think or say or do. Things were never as good as when Mamma was alive, but in the years since the plane crash, we’d come to some kind of normal. I promised Mamma I’d bring the family together, and, while I hadn’t, I’d tried, I’d worked so hard, and, at the very least, I’d held us all together. But how could we get past this?

I woke up in my bed to someone adjusting the pillows below my head.

“Papà?” I croaked.

“I came in to check on you, and you weren’t in your bed,” he said. “I found you asleep on the stairs.”

“Why would you check on me?” I asked.

Papà took my hand. “I do it more than you think.” He laughed to himself. “I shouldn’t, I know, you aren’t children anymore.” His hand shook. I turned on the lamp and saw that he was crying. I hadn’t seen him cry since I woke up from the coma.

I sat up. “Papà…” I whispered. He wrapped his arms around me and held me close. I pushed down the lump in my throat. Papà was never weak. I had to be strong for him.

“I still have nightmares,” he admitted. “I see you and Nico in that plane, I hear the doctor tell me you’d died, I find out Nico--” he stopped himself, or maybe he just couldn’t go on through his tears. “I need to see you sometimes, honey, I need to see you’re still breathing.”

“I’m here,” I said, “I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.”

“Do you know how afraid I am?” he asked. “Do you know how much I love you? I wish your mother never died, but she did, and I have to go on. But I can’t go on without you.” He pulled away, looked me in the eye, and cupped my cheek. “Bianca, you and Nico, your happiness, it means more to me than anything in this world. Persephone and I knew this might happen, and it’s okay. I’ll tell her in the morning things didn’t work out.”

He… he really said that?

Yeah, Nico, he really did. He was going to break up with her for us. I was so shocked I didn’t know what to say. I grabbed him, and I pulled back into the hug. “Can I sleep with you tonight?” I asked. I hadn’t done that since I was twelve.

“Of course,” he said. He picked me up and carried me to his room. I fell asleep in his arms.

I woke up to his alarm blaring at six in the morning. I sat up and turned it off. Papà smiled apologetically. “Early meeting today. At your school, in fact; we’re organizing a scholarship and I have a stake in it. How are you?”

“Better,” I said. “And that’s awesome of you. It’s fine you woke me up, I have school today, remember? Jules-Albert would have to leave at 6:45 anyway for us to get in on time.” Jules-Albert is our personal chauffeur.

Papà honest-to-god grinned at me. “Good. Which tie should I wear?”

I laughed and flung myself out of bed. I ran into his closet and picked out a suit and tie and laid it in the bathroom. I half-watched a rerun of The Wonder Years as he showered, scrolling through some texts on my phone. Thalia’d texted me last night, complaining about her boyfriend, Luke. They lived together in the slums. Luke was constantly in and out of jail for stealing things and keying cars. I’d said for years that she should dump the loser, but she always insisted things weren’t as bad as they seemed. I texted her back:

         DAT PINE TREE DOH

         What did he do this time?

         Some stupid graffiti.

         They took him to the station over that?

         There was profanity or some shit, I have no idea. You know the cops hate him anyway, they’d arrest him over a can of beer. I have to bail him out as soon as I get dressed.

         Do you need to borrow cash?

         Nah, I’ve got some in a jar marked “my idiot boyfriend.” I’ll see you at school.

I x-d out of the conversation and pulled up Nico’s recent messages.

         THE GHOST KING

         Wake up, brother dearest.

         Go to hell.

         If you aren’t downstairs in twenty I’m coming in with a bucket of cold water.

         I hate my life.

         Tell that to the starving orphans in Africa.

         And now I feel like crap. Thanks for that!

My phone buzzed. It was Jason, sending me a picture of himself.

         GOLDEN BOY

         Do I look OK?

         You look fine. What’s the occasion?

         Piper’s in AP Lit with me. We’re discussing Romeo and Juliet. Fucking Romeo and Juliet!

         Good. Ask her out.

         (…)

         Ask her out, Jason. It’s the most romantic play of all time.

         It’s about two idiot kids who know each other for like two days and multiple people die.

         Good, that can be your pick-up line. “Hey, Pipes, do you want to do better than Romliet? Great, pick you up at six.”

         I gotta go.

         Course you do.

 

         SEAWEED BRAIN

         Piper’s in your first period, right?

         Yeah.

         Can you get, like, written proof that she likes Jason so he’ll stop freaking out?

         JASON LIKES PIPER???????

         HOW DO YOU NOT KNOW THIS HE WAS AT HER HOUSE EVERY DAY THIS SUMMER

         I WAS IN MONTAUK REMEMBER
          OMG OMG OMG
          FUCK FUCK FUCK
          YES I WILL DO THAT
          OMG THEY’RE GONNA BE SO CUTE

 

         WISE GIRL

         Annabeth, text your boyfriend, I think he’s having a heart attack.

 

         SEAWEED BRAIN

         MY BRO HAS A CRUSH OMG
          HOW DID NOBODY TELL ME THIS

 

         BEAUTY QUEEN

         Wanna walk to school together?

         Sure, I’ll meet you at the stop sign at 6:30.

         Cool. Is Nico gonna come with us?

         He’ll probably take the limo.
         If he even goes to school.

 

         GOLDEN BOY

         Piper and I are walking to school together. We’ll be in the caf around 6:45. Think of something to say, OK?

         You’re my savior and I love you.

 

         COMMANDER TOOL BELT

         Jason and Piper are meeting up this morning. Find him before we get to school and by god give him some balls, please?

         I thought it was my job to get golden boy laid?

         Yeah, well, you’re shit at it so I’ve gotta take over before Percy does.

         Hey! It’s not easy! Not everyone is as hot as me.

         Just do it before Percy screws it up, okay? I love him but he’s clueless.

         You got it, chica.

 

         SEAWEED BRAIN

         BIANCA WHY ARE YOU NOT SAYING ANYTHING?????
          Fuck hold on Annabeth’s texting me.

 

         WISE GIRL

         I’ll take care of Seaweed Brain, you get ready for school.

         Thank god, I think he’s literally crying right now.

         Out of happiness or because his brofriend’s finally taken?

         Probably both.

         Grover’s on his way to Percy’s. He’ll take care of it.

 

         LORD OF THE WILD

         Thank you for diffusing the Percy bomb.

         I’m used to it. Just don’t set him off next time.

         IT WAS SO NOT MY FAULT

 

         THE ORACLE

         Why is Percy asking me for relationship advice?
          Is something wrong with him and Annabeth?

         Nah, he just found out about Jasiper and ships it hard.

         I think he’s going to try to set them up.

         Oh dear lord no.

 

         SEAWEED BRAIN

         I’M TOTALLY GOING TO SET THEM UP
          THIS IS GOING TO BE SO CUTE

 

         LORD OF THE WILD

         HURRY UP GROVER HE’S GOING CRAZY

         Underwood to the rescue in T-minus five minutes. I’m almost there.

Papà emerged from the bathroom in the suit I’d picked out for him. “How do I look?” he asked.

“Your hair’s still wet,” I said.

He laughed. “It dries quickly.”

I put my phone away. It was still buzzing with the current crisis, but I had other things to worry about. Namely, resuming my duties as Papà’s P.A.. “Sally made that fruit salad you like for breakfast, and I packed a lunch for you for the office, it’s sitting on the dining table.”

Papà kissed me on the cheek. “Thank you, Bianca. Have a good day at school.”

He had his hand on the doorknob before I got the courage to speak. “Papà?”

“Yes?”

“Does Persephone make you happy?”

“She does. Very much.”

“Then-- then I’m okay with it. And don’t worry about Nico, he’ll come around eventually.”

Papà turned to face me. “I don’t know about that, honey. It’s like he’s somewhere else. When I look at him, I think he hardly sees me.”

“Help Persephone and Hazel move in,” I insisted. “I’ll take care of Nico.” Papà nodded gratefully and walked out the door. I glanced back down at my phone, where my friends were still updating me on the Percy situation.

         THE GHOST KING

         I’m fucking downstairs where are you?

I smiled as I texted him back. “I’ll fix it, Mamma, somehow,” I said out loud. “I always do.”

Chapter Text

I met Piper at our usual spot. Like most New York suburbs, our town is completely covered with trees. If you cut through the woods behind our houses, there’s a narrow, overgrown trail that leads to a small creek in the middle of nowhere. Or, at least, it feels like the middle of nowhere. In reality, it’s like half a mile from the road.

I think the trail used to be for horses because it’s too big to be a foot trail but not big enough for off-road jeeps. I doubt anyone knows about it but my friends and I. Percy, Grover, Thalia, Zoë and I found it a few years ago while we were searching for Annabeth. There was an… incident with Nico, mythomagic, a giant boar, some skeletons from science class, and Coach Artemis. It’s too long of a tangent to get into now, even for me.

The trail doesn’t lead to anywhere in particular, but I know those woods like the back of my hand after all the years I’ve spent exploring them. Piper and I know how to cut through the woods to get to school; we usually walk together if it’s a nice day and we have a bit of extra time on our hands. Some of our best conversations come when we’re alone. And I was happy we had this morning because I had a lot on my plate.

“Morning, Bianca!” Piper greeted me.

“Morning!” I chirped.

Piper looked at me skeptically. “Okay, what’s wrong?” she asked.

I groaned. Piper was too good with people for her own good. “Is it that obvious?” I asked.

“To me,” she said. “Now, spill.”

I kept my eyes on my feet as I explained about Persephone, Papà, and Nico. My excuse was that I had to keep myself from tripping over the stray branches, but Piper didn’t buy it. The truth is, sometimes, like Nico, I need to hide from the world. When I put my head down and my hair falls in my face, it’s like a little protective cage around me. It makes hard stuff easier to take.

Is that weird? It sounds a little weird.

Are you actually asking me a question?

Yes, Nico, I’m actually asking you a question.

But I thought I’m supposed to sit here and shut up?

You are a sarcastic little shit and I hate you. Now did that sound weird or not?

Bianca, we’re recording an exposé that mostly consists of your high school social interactions and, spoiler alert, my love life. So, no, I don’t think the fact that you put your hair in front of your face sometimes is the weirdest thing they’re going to hear.

There’s a lot more to the story than that, but solid point.

“So, what are you going to do about it?” Piper asked.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I don’t want Nico to spiral even more than he already has. Junior year’s so important, you know? And I’m afraid about next year when I’m in college, and he’s by himself. If he keeps going like this… well, I don’t want him to end up on the side of a road somewhere.”

“That’s not going to happen,” Piper assured me. “Things aren’t that bad with Nico. I think he just needs a friend.”

“I’ve been telling him that for years!” I reminded her. “I know he needs someone else to look out for him, but he won’t put himself out there at all.” I sighed. “Even if I find someone for him, what if they enable it? I don’t know everything about everyone in the school! What if he ends up on meth or something because I picked a drug dealer?”

“You need to stop worrying,” Piper said. “We know who the crackheads are. And, let’s be real, I don’t think Nico’s going to start doing anything hardcore.”

“That’s the thing,” I said, pushing down a lump in my throat. “After yesterday, I’m not so sure that’s true anymore. You didn’t see the-- the look in his eyes. They were so empty. Even Papà’s given up, stopped sending him to therapy, any of that. He’s been getting worse this summer, he knows I’m leaving, and I think it’s killing him.”

Piper pulled me into a hug. “We’ll figure it out,” she whispered in my ear. “Nico’s our friend, too. We’re not going to let him fall.”

She lifted a stray tree branch for me to crouch under. I ducked through, pushed back some more leaves, and there it was: Half-Blood High. Three lanes of cars zoomed past at the bottom of the hill, stopping every now and again at a crosswalk to let students through to the other side. The high school was a blocky, three-story brick building surrounded by stone paths through the college-like campus. Various sports fields hugged the side of the road, sprawling into the distance. Let’s just say the school got plenty of funding.

I shot a quick text to Jason that Piper and I were on our way to the dining pavilion, then made my way down the hill to the crosswalk. Five minutes later, we were back in the white tile halls of the suckiest place on earth. I missed summer already.

Twenty feet from the dining pavilion, Percy and Grover assaulted us in the hall. “Piper!” Percy said a little too loudly. “Let’s go to English together! Now!”

Piper looked at him, confused. “But we still have ten minutes--”

Percy cut her off. “We might get lost! Or… something… come on!” He grabbed her arm and pulled her back the way we came. She had no choice but to follow, stuttering as she tried to get a grip on the situation while Percy rambled about nothing.

I turned to Grover. “Let me guess, Golden Boy’s having another freakout?” I deduced.

Grover nodded.

I pushed the doors forward and walked into the open-air pavilion. Jason was leaning on a table, head hanging over the side, heaving like he was about to throw up. Leo, Annabeth, and Rachel stood beside him, Leo with a hand on his back.

“Please tell me he didn’t puke,” I asked as I rushed over there.

“Close, but no,” Grover informed me.

As we got closer, all I could hear was Jason repeating “I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this,” over and over again as he hyperventilated.

“If Percy could ask Annabeth out, you can ask Piper out,” Rachel said. “Annabeth’s a million times scarier than Piper.”

“You ask her then,” Jason said. He stopped retching. “I’m good, I’m good,” he panted. “All good.”

“Crisis averted,” Grover announced. “Piper’s on the other side of the school.”

Jason groaned. “Why can’t I do this? She’s just a girl! A really cute, smart, better-than-me-in-every-way-- ahh, dammit!” He threw his glasses onto the table and rubbed his temples.

“Look at it this way,” Annabeth said, sitting next to him, “if you don’t do it, I’m pretty sure seaweed brain’s going to do it for you.”

Jason groaned again. “I’m a weak human being,” he moaned.

Leo got his usual troublemaker twinkle in his eye. “Do you know why we’re best friends?” he asked Jason. Jason answered with another incoherent grunt. “We’re best friends because when you don’t have balls, I’m more than happy to lend you mine.”

I elbowed Leo in the shoulder. “Don’t make fun of him. I still remember Khione.”

Leo grabbed his shoulder, wincing. “So this is what I for trying to cheer him up? Friends hurt.”

“Nah, thanks man,” Jason said, coming up from the table. “He’s right, Bianca. I just need to do it. And I will, but it’s… not the right time.”

“It’s never going to be the right time,” Annabeth said. “Jason, you need to get over yourself and ask her.”

The warning bell rang, signaling five minutes until first period. We all gathered our things, waved good-bye, and went our separate ways to class.

I walked all the way to the back of the Biology II classroom. If there was one thing I hated, it was the feeling of thirty eyes on the back of my head. I’ll admit that I’m shy outside my group of friends, even if I am pretty popular. I slid in the furthest seat from the door, threw my backpack next to me, and shot a text to Nico, asking if he made it to school. When he texted me a ‘no,’ I locked my phone and threw it onto the desk without saying a word. He’d know how angry I was if I gave him the silent treatment, and that would probably be enough to get him to school tomorrow.

Can I just say how weird it is to hear myself talked about in the third person?

Are you stalling? Oh my god, you are! He’s blushing, guys, he’s honest-to-god blushing! This is so cute, where's my phone, I have to take a picture and send it to--

No phones in my recording booth.

We're not even in a recording booth. And that equipment isn't yours, it’s Papà’s.

Papà isn’t your sound engineer.

You know what? I’m not going to let you stall anymore! So, I throw my phone down on the desk, and it slides right off and falls onto the floor. I bend forward to pick it up, but a certain someone beat me to the punch. I saw a hand grab the phone, and when I turned to look up, I saw a boy with blond hair and a smile brighter than the sun. I said something super smart, like “Um-- oh!” and shot up a little too quickly and banged my head on the bottom of the desk. That only made me more embarrassed. Like I said--shy, and not that good with people either.

“Ow, that looks painful,” the boy said.

I couldn’t think of anything to say. What do you say to a super gorgeous guy who just watched you make a fool of yourself?

The boy dropped my phone on the desk and sat next to me. “I’m Will Solace, I’m new here,” he said, holding his hand out to me. My head was still level with the side of the desk, my hair was in my face, and one hand was on my forehead where a bump was already forming. If there was any way to look like more of a fail, I wouldn’t know.

I managed to say “Bianca di Angelo,” without stuttering.

Will smiled at me sheepishly. “I’m so sorry I caught you off guard! I didn’t mean to hurt you!”

“I, um, I did this to-- to myself,” I stuttered. The boy had a slight southern accent like he was from Georgia or North Carolina. And his smile was so damn distracting. I didn’t like him, for the record, but shy girl plus hot boy doesn’t exactly equal a successful conversation.

Will looked at me with concern. “You’re stammering a lot,” he said, his voice on the panicked side. “Do you think you have a concussion? I can take you to the nurse if you don’t think you’re okay.”

I laughed nervously. “No, I just suck at talking,” I said. “And I haven’t had a good morning.”

“Is that why you threw your phone on the floor?” Will joked. I nodded. If his smile was like the sun, his friendliness was even sunnier.

Beautiful, Bianca. A+ description. Very poetic.

I’m complimenting your boyfriend, jackass, stop being snarky.

You get mad at me for spoiling the Persephone reveal five seconds before you say it, but you give away the biggest spoiler in the entire story!

It’s not a spoiler when everyone can guess it within five minutes of you two meeting each other.

You didn’t! None of our friends did!

Yeah, well, as they’re going to see, we were all kind of busy.

My phone buzzed, and Will saw THE GHOST KING flash as Nico tried to call me. He held the phone up to me, but I shook my head and said, “I don’t want to talk to him right now,” so he pressed the lock key to silence the phone and put it back on the desk.

“Can I sit?” he asked.

I nodded. He slid in next to me with that infectious grin on his face. I couldn’t help but smile a little too, just by being near him. I’m sure Nico knows what I mean. … Oh, if I could describe the face he’s making right now.

“Boy trouble?” Will joked. I laughed.

“Oh, I wish,” I said, “boys would be easier. No, it’s my brother, Nico. He’s… he’s something else. I love him, but…” I lowered my voice so only Will could hear. I didn’t know why, but I trusted him. He was so easy to talk to. “Are there moments you just want to grab someone and scream ‘let me help you?!’ at the top of your lungs?”

Will nodded. “I’ve been there,” he said. “But, I’ll tell you something I’ve learned: you can’t help someone who isn’t willing to help themselves.” He glanced at my phone, still lit up with Nico’s profile picture. “This is him, I assume?” Will asked, pointing to an eight-year-old Nico.

“Yeah,” I said. “That’s us at la Canalazzo, the Venetian Grand Canal. It was back when we lived in Italy.” I picked my phone up and scanned the photograph. I’d seen it so many times; I’d memorized the way Mamma’s eyes lit up, how Nico’s eyes were scrunched mid-laugh, the way my hair flew in the wind like a model’s, the hint of Papà’s shadow in the water as he stood behind the camera, the smudge of a moving gondola in the back right corner, and the little lens flare that came from the setting sun.

The image faded back to my normal lock screen when Nico was sent to voicemail. “Everything was so innocent then, so perfect,” I whispered. I felt a lump forming in my throat.

Will took my hand, a concerned look in his eyes. “Bianca, what’s happened to your brother?” he asked. “You can talk to me. I know I just met you, but sometimes strangers are the best listeners.”

Class had already started, but Mr. D cared so little that he let us talk through her announcements. In the next twenty minutes, I laid all my fears on Will: the drinking, smoking, and (probably) drugs Nico had done that summer, how Papà had basically given up on him, how Nico had basically given up on himself … and Will listened. He was so good with me, I got the sense that he was better with people than even Piper, at least, in his own way.

I told him so when I was done pouring my heart out to him. “I like listening to people and helping them,” Will explained. “I’m going to be a psychiatrist one day.”

My heart started to pound with adrenaline… I’d gotten the best idea of my life.

“Will,” I said slowly, “how would you like your first client?”

Will ran a nervous hand through his hair. “Seeing how I’m a junior in high school without a license, I don’t think I can give anyone Adderall yet.”

I spoke quickly. “If Nico won’t get help, and if I can’t help him, why don’t we send help to him? If you could get past my defenses, I think you could get past Nico’s. We’ll make it a regular thing, a few times a week, we’ll make sure you run into each other for an hour or two. Talk to him, like you would any client.” I pulled a fifty dollar bill out of my purse. “There’ll be money in it for you,” I promised. “We’ll only do it for a little while, until he’s ready to help himself.”

Will eyed the cash. I could tell from his ripped clothes and patched bag that he didn’t have much money coming in. I knew it was a slimy thing to do, to bribe a kid to be my brother’s friend-slash-secret-therapist, but I didn’t see any other option. Will was my last hope.

“When can I meet him?” Will asked hesitantly.

I slipped the fifty into his palm. “Nico usually comes home with Percy and me after swim team and archery practice. I’ll get his butt to school during my free. Make sure you’re out front by 4:30.”

Chapter Text

After Mr. D’s class ended, my day got a lot normaler. Normaler? More normal? Whatever.

Point is, there were no super hot new guys I paid to be my brother’s secret therapist. I was definitely proud of myself for coming up with that plan. I knew in my heart of hearts that Will was just what Nico needed to get through Papà’s marriage to Persephone, and, eventually, me moving away to college. He’d finally have someone to talk to.

By second period, I had come up with my super solid five-point plan:

  1. Introduce Nico to Will.
  2. Stage a few “chance meetings” until…
  3. Will’s visits are a regular thing Nico doesn’t question.
  4. Get updates from Will in Bio, where Nico can’t overhear.
  5. Know exactly how to help him before Nico’s too far gone to save.

Step #1 would either be the easiest or the hardest on the list. See, Percy and I went back to my place every day because his swim practice and my archery practice got out at the exact same time. Percy would spend the afternoon at our place, then Sally took him home after she finished making us dinner.

Nico didn’t do anything after school, but he hated being at home when I wasn’t. Half the time he had detention anyway for talking back to a teacher, smoking on campus, something like that, so he got out around the same time as the sports kids. On the days he didn’t, he spent those two hours alone somewhere, doing graffiti, drinking, smoking… aka all the things I didn’t like. But he always showed up at the front door at 5:30 to meet Percy and me. It was the only thing I could guarantee.

After third period gym with Coach Hedge, I had free for the long block. So I texted our chauffeur, Jules-Albert, asking if he’d taken Nico anywhere. Of course, the answer was no. That meant step #1 would be significantly harder because there was no way Nico was still at home. He had a few usual haunts, but it would take longer than an hour and a half to search them all. Still, I had to get him to school, not just because it was important, but also so that I could introduce him to Will. I was sure he’d meet me at home after practice--I mean, he knew what time I got back to the house--but there’d be questions if this random kid appeared at our front step with no explanation. If Nico thought he was my friend, there went any chance of him considering him his friend. No, it had to be at school. And it had to be today, before Persephone and Hazel showed up and Nico isolated himself completely.

I opened Nico’s texts for the first time. There were half a dozen, all various excuses why he didn’t go to school and begging me to talk to him. That’s what always happened when I gave him the silent treatment. He clung to me because he needed me. When someone’s your world, you can’t take silence for long.

I called him. It didn’t take more than two rings for Nico to pick up. “I’m mad at you,” I said.

“I know,” he said. “I’m sorry, B, but I didn’t feel well and--”

I cut him off. “You and I both know that’s code for ‘hungover.’ It’s your fault, which means you have to face the consequences. School’s your job.”

“But it sucks,” he complained.

“Sometimes you’ve got to tough it up,” I told him. “Where are you? I’ll pick you up, I have free.” There was silence on the other end. “Nico,” I pressed, “do you want me to hang up this phone?”

“No,” he grumbled.

“Good,” I said.” Now tell me where you are, please.”

There were another few seconds of static, then he said, “the alley.”

I took a quick glance around the hallway. There were still kids coming and going. So, I switched to Italian and hissed, “You’re smoking pot again?! I know that’s where you meet Alabaster Torrington.”

“C. Torrington,” he reminded me, “don’t forget the C.”

Alabaster was his dealer, for lack of a better word. Or maybe it isn’t, because I wouldn’t put it past him to give Nico other drugs. He was my age, but he’d dropped out of school halfway through sophomore year to run with the Titans, the gang that had taken over most of the slums. Thalia and Leo told me about them all the time. They dealt drugs, robbed banks, gun ran, and got into shootouts with the police and rival gangs. If I were Thalia, Luke, or Leo, I’d fear for my life every single day, living in the middle of their territory.

“Stay there,” I said. “I’m coming to get you.”

The alley where Nico met Alabaster was on the edge of the Titan’s territory. It was far enough from the heart of the slums that it wasn’t as dangerous as it could be, but I still low-key feared for my life any time I had to meet Nico there. The last thing I wanted to do was draw attention to myself, so I grabbed an Über instead of using Jules-Albert and his super-obvious limo.

When I got to the alley, the entire place smelled like pot. I told the Über driver to wait, climbed out, shouted, “Inside, now!” and watched Nico get into the car.

We rode back to campus in silence. I saw guilt in Nico’s eyes. I couldn’t understand it; why would he keep doing this if he always felt guilty? Was it an act so I’d be more lenient when I caught him? Was he addicted? Was it even possible to get addicted to marijuana? What about the guilt he felt when I caught him stealing or vandalizing or cussing out a teacher? You couldn’t get addicted to that!

I told the driver to drop us off at the woods on the roadside across from the school. We walked through the trees until I was satisfied that no one could see or hear us. I held my hand out to Nico. He pulled his baggie of pot leaves out of his pocket and gave it to me. I spilled out the contents and ground the leaves into the dirt.

“What’s our rule?” I demanded.

Nico got a sudden interest in his sneakers. He mumbled, “No getting high on weekdays.”

“I’d rather you do pot than smoke, but this is ridiculous,” I told him. “You can’t skip school to get high. You can’t go to school stoned. You shouldn’t be risking your life with Alabaster to get this. And this is the second, no, third week in a row where you’ve smoked pot every day. If you don’t get your shit together, I’m not going to let you do this at all.”

“You’re not the boss of me,” Nico muttered.

I sighed and replied, “But you know I’m right.” I squeezed his hand. “I care about you. I want you to be safe.” He still didn’t look up at me. “Are you high right now?” I asked. He made a “mmm” sound and motioned so-so with his hand. “Good enough,” I said. “Let’s get back to school, okay?” He shrugged.

He kept his eyes on his feet all the way back to school. I knew why. He only hid from me when he was about to cry.

In silence, we climbed the stone steps to the front door of Half-Blood High. I walked him to his class, pulled him into a hug that he didn’t return, begged him to try for me, and watched him step through the door.

The rest of the day, I checked in with Nico whenever I could sneak a text on my phone. He didn’t always respond, but I knew that hearing my voice would be enough to keep him going when he was in such a bad place.

You can’t say ‘hearing my voice’ and ‘texting.’ They’re mutually exclusive.

It’s a figure of speech.

One that makes no sense in this context.

You’re just saying this so you sound smart by saying “mutually exclusive.”

Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. They’re not mutually exclusive.

Fine then, Mr. Grammar Police, you want to take over?

I can’t believe you passed up the opportunity to make an “Officer Grammar” joke…

Dammit! Can we rerecord--

I told you, one take. It’s your fault for saving this for the last minute.

Damn.

 

I got through school fine. I felt pretty shitty, being half-high and chewed out by my sister, but I’d promised her I’d get through the afternoon and I was determined to do it. I didn’t take that much seriously back then, but Bianca was my exception. I loved her, and when I made a promise, I kept it.

The pot wore off pretty quickly. I’d barely lit up before Bianca called, and I didn’t have the stomach to smoke anything after I knew she was on her way. You want to know if I was doing anything hardcore? Yeah, not gonna reveal that shit before the statute of limitations is up. If I get locked up, it’s going to be for something more impressive than doing ecstasy, heroin, or whatever.

And no, that’s not a confession either.

You’re technically revealing you broke the law by underage drinking, smoking, and doing pot in a state where it’s still illegal.

Yeah, but they don’t throw you in jail for that.

Whether or not I was doing any of that other shit, back then, I needed something extra to face the world. What I had? Depression doesn’t cut it. It was like the universe or god or whatever was against me and every goddamn day I had to be stronger than Hercules to get out of bed. No one liked me or believed in me. The only exception--the only thing that kept me going--was Bianca. I was terrified one day she’d wake up and realize I was a loser too… but she never did.

And I never will.

That didn’t stop me from worrying about it. And that wasn’t the only thought in my head that I couldn’t control. There were so many demons whispering in my ear that I listened. I gave up.

Walking home with Percy and Bianca was both the best and worst part of my day. I dreaded it the entire day, but as it got closer my heart would pound with excitement. Why? Simple. I had a massive crush on Percy Jackson.

“But isn’t he straight?” you ask.

And I answer: exactly.

I wasn’t out to anyone, not even Bianca. I was ashamed, terrified, I felt like something was wrong with me. While Papà made sure we got our privacy, the press was usually sniffing around, and I could only imagine the headlines about Hades di Angelo’s queer son. He would disown me for all the bad press, and the kids in school would beat me to a pulp. I would’ve given anything to stop feeling that way, to stop dreaming about Percy dumping Annabeth and saying he’d never loved her or anyone but me. I’d catch myself staring at him and get this rock in my stomach, this pain that wouldn’t go away no matter what I did.

Even Bianca would say that Percy was the only one that could make me smile. I hoped she’d never find out why.

I got detention for being so late to class--no good deed goes unpunished--so I sat staring at nothing for two hours until they let me go. At 5:30 on the dot I was outside the building. I fixed my hair and clothes like I always did--had I even brushed my hair this morning? Probably not.--And then I smelled my breath on the off-chance Percy’d declare his love for me and kiss me. Like that was ever gonna happen.

I finally saw him in the distance. I told myself to be cool. My arms suddenly felt awkward hanging at my side--who invented arms, anyway?

That’s when someone tapped me on the shoulder.

I jumped. “Ow!” they said. “You socked me in the nose!”

I turned, ready to deliver an A+ comeback about invading my personal space, but when I saw his face, the words caught in my throat. He had the blondest hair I’d ever seen, the tannest skin, the bluest eyes, the whitest smile. He looked like an actor or model. Those eyes… I couldn’t stop staring at those eyes. I had a sudden urge to run my hand through his hair.

That’s so stupid, I told myself. I don’t even know him.

“What?” the hot boy asked.

“Shit! Did I say that out loud?” I asked. I could feel my cheeks getting hot.

The boy cocked his head to the side, thinking. “Well, I heard words come out of your mouth, so you must’ve said that out loud, but, since I couldn’t hear what those words were, I’m ready to pretend that no words were said.”

I stared at him blankly. “Umm… thanks?” I managed.

The boy grinned at me. “No problemo.”

“Never say that again,” I deadpanned.

The boy laughed. “Yeah, I sound like a dork. I’m not, I promise.”

I heard Percy shout my name. I waved at him; my heart started to pound in my chest. “I gotta go,” I said.

“Wait!” the boy cried, desperate enough that it stopped me in my tracks. I was dumbfounded. Why would he want to talk to me?

Would you cut the ‘the boy’ crap, Nico? They know it’s Will.

Fiiiine. Will it is.

Before I could say anything, Bianca came running up to me, breathless. “Nico!” she cried. “Sorry I’m late, practice ran over.”

I raised my eyebrows. “You’re not late,” I said. “It’s like five minutes past 5:30.”

She just smiled at me through her panting. She waved to Percy, which turned his walk across the lawn into a jog. I did my best not to stare. I failed.

“Will?” Bianca asked, surprised. “What are you doing here?”

“You know him?” I asked.

“Lab partner,” Will explained. “Funny seeing you here, Bianca!” I couldn’t help but smile a little when he said that. It was so awkward it became cool again. But I quickly wiped it off my face. Why was I smiling over some stupid stranger?

“What’s up?” Bianca asked.

“I’m…” he glanced at me nervously, but it was so quick that I assumed I’d seen things. “I’m, uh, stranded. Here. Um… my dad’s holed up at work, and…” his voice trailed off.

“I’m here!” Percy announced. “What’s up?” Bianca introduced Will and explained the situation. “We can drop you off?” Percy offered.

“Yeah!” I agreed readily, eager to catch Percy’s attention. “Where do you live?”

“It’s too far from here,” Will protested.

“Then come home with us!” Bianca offered. “Your dad can pick you up at our place.”

It was a little weird to me that Bianca jumped to that so quickly, but she was such a caring person, and if she wasn’t tripping over her words she had to know him well enough to know that he wasn’t a serial killer. So, I went along with it.

Jules-Albert picked us up a few minutes later. Will’s eyes widened when he saw the stretch limo. He literally gasped when he went inside. “Is that velvet?” he asked, running a hand over the seats.

“I know, dude, I know,” Percy said, patting Will on the back. “I felt like that the first time, too. You never get used to it.”

“Help yourself to anything,” Bianca said. “Water?” She held a water bottle out to him. Will chugged it in seconds flat.

At first I tried to talk a little--mostly for Bianca’s sake, she hated it when I was antisocial--but something sapped the life out of me again. And, for once in my life, it wasn’t Percy. I don’t believe in love at first sight, but from the moment I saw Will, I liked him. Our conversation hadn’t been much, but it had been the best moment of my day. There was something to that smile that lit up my world. Deep down, I wanted to get lost in those eyes and never be found again.

The problem? I’d seen the way Bianca’s eyes were lighting up when he spoke to her. I’d seen the way Will was constantly fidgeting and grinning at her. He hadn’t taken his eyes off her once during the entire ride. I knew this was why Bianca was so eager to invite him over. If they weren’t dating already, they would be soon.

I’d fallen for another straight and taken guy… this time, taken by my own sister.

Jules-Albert parked the limo and opened the door for us. Will’s shoulder brushed against mine as we shuffled out of the car. I pretended not to notice the tiny spark at the point of contact. There was no way he felt it too.

The moment I climbed out of the limo I wanted to crawl back in. Because in front of me was a moving truck. A few men carried boxes into our mansion, directed by a familiar face. Jet black hair pulled into a ponytail, brown skin even darker than normal from being baked in the sun. Her usual dirty jeans, long-sleeved t-shirt, sneakers, and gloves were replaced with a white sundress and flip-flops.

She turned when Jules-Albert slammed the door closed. She smiled and waved as she walked over to us, but, to me, it looked like the snarl of a she-wolf. “It’s wonderful to see you guys! How was school?” she chirped. “Don’t worry, my mother isn’t here. Hazel’s already inside if you want to say hi.”

Will held his hand out to her. “Will Solace. I’m new. What’s your name?”

She laughed. “Aren’t you cute! You don’t have to be so formal. I’m Persephone Levesque, Bianca and Nico’s soon-to-be stepmother.”

My vision went red. I can’t tell you all the things I wanted to say to her… but Percy, Bianca, and Will were all standing right there. I didn’t want Bianca to be disappointed with me, and I sure as fuck wanted to make a good impression on Percy and Will. So I bit my tongue and stomped away.

I passed through the kitchen on my way to my room. Hazel sat at the breakfast bar munching on some cheese and crackers. She tried to say hi, but I just rolled my eyes at her and pushed through without a word.

It wasn’t until I got to the stairs that I started to run. Why was our house so big? There were too many hallways from the kitchen to my room.

I slammed the door shut and blasted the first song that showed up on my phone. I grabbed the first thing I saw--an empty bottle of vodka--screamed, and threw it at the wall. It shattered into pieces.

I opened a new bottle and chugged it until my insides felt like they were on fire. I grabbed the only picture I had of Papà off my nightstand: him and me with Bianca the day she woke up from the coma. “How could you do this to me?!” I shouted. I punched the glass frame until it broke and ripped him out of the photo. I pulled out my cigarette lighter. One little click and my father burned to ashes.

Nico! You could’ve set the house on fire! Are you kidding me???

*A deep breath*

I watched the flames gobble the photo as my mind drifted back to a different fire, the one on the plane that took Mamma away.

Bianca was happy. Papà had moved on. New singers had become the face of D.O.A. Recording Studios. Was I the only one who still remembered Maria di Angelo?

Chapter Text

I’m going to take over now, Nico.

Go ahead.

So the beginning of phase two didn’t go according to plan. When Nico ran into the house, Will made a move to go after him, but Percy held him back. “You need to give him time to cool off,” he explained.

Persephone looked hurt, but, to her credit, she didn’t say anything more than, “Hades warned me he’d be tough. Why don’t you three go inside; I’ll make sure the movers stay out of your way.”

So, we did. Will gawked at everything he saw. I knew he didn’t have a lot of money; this was probably the first time he’d ever been inside a mansion. We made our way into the kitchen, where Hazel was munching on some cheese and crackers. Her eyes were glued to the laptop in front of her, and there were headphones in her ears.

I waved at her to get her attention. Her eyes lit up when she saw me. She pulled the earbuds out and ran to give me a hug. “Bianca! It’s been so long!”

I laughed. “It’s good to see you, Hazel. Still making your way through The Hunger Games?”

“Yup!” she said gleefully. “I’m on the last few chapters of Mockingjay--I’ll let you know when I’m done, I’m so excited to talk about it with you! Peeta’s character arc is--” she cut herself off. She looked at Percy and Will with guilt. “I’m so sorry, I’m excluding you from the conversation. I’m Hazel.”

Percy and Will introduced themselves. Then Sally walked in, made some pleasant conversation, and sent the three of us away to do our homework. We set up camp on the living room floor and took turns reading from Adams vs. Jefferson: the Election of 1800. It was the most boring book I’d ever read; I swear it scarred me for life. It was just like Mrs. Dodds to give us a book report in the first week of term. After an hour, Sally called us in for dinner. I went to grab Nico.

To my surprise, his bedroom door was half open. I stepped inside, and a half-empty bottle of vodka confirmed my suspicions--he’d been drinking. Concerned, I rushed to the bathroom where I found my brother kneeling in front of the toilet, throwing up. I pushed the hair from his face and said words of encouragement. It didn’t take long from him to finish. While he washed out his mouth, I shot a quick text to Percy explaining the situation and saying neither of us was going to make it to dinner.

“Can you walk?” I asked. Nico shrugged, his eyes half closed. “I’m going to take that as a no.” I closed the bathroom door. “Take off those clothes, Nico, I promise I won’t look. I’ll get the water running for a bath. We’ll clean you off and get you to bed.” I grabbed a plastic cup from the closet and filled it with water. “Drink, and when you’re done, fill it back up. I don’t want you to get a hangover tomorrow.”

He didn’t argue. I washed his hair for him, helped him brush his teeth, and got him into his pajamas. It was slow work; Nico was really drunk and helpless. I decided he’d sleep in my room tonight--I had a second bed for when my friends spent the night. He passed out by 8:30. Will and Percy were gone by then, and Hazel and Persephone were already in their rooms. Papà, as usual, was nowhere to be seen. I took my food and backpack to my room to eat and finish my homework while keeping an eye on Nico. He threw up again around two a.m.. It goes without saying that I didn’t get much sleep that night.

“Nico?” I called. He responded with a grunt. “I’ll help you, mio fratello , but you have to go to school today.”

It took us longer than usual to get up and get out the door. Jules-Albert got us to school right when the warning bell went off. I walked Nico to class, told him to be good, and headed to bio.

“How is he?” Will asked when I got to my desk.

“Hungover again, but all right,” I said. “Sorry about that. That was… a lot, even for him.”

Mr. D started class. I made my way through the day with a splitting headache. I thought about taking a nap during lunch, but my phone kept going off.

         WISE GIRL

         Crisis in the caf. Get here asap.

All I wanted to do was sleep. I needed to sleep. But my friends also needed me...

         I’m on my way.

When I got to our usual table, I found Annabeth and Percy in a heated debate. All I caught was Annabeth saying, “Because you can’t do that , Percy, that’s why!”

“Yes I can!” Percy protested.

“Can’t do what?” I asked.

Percy shushed me. “Not so loud! I don’t want the queen bee to hear us.”

“Queen bee?” I asked, confused.

Annabeth rolled her eyes. “Piper. He’s insisting on codenames.”

Of course, I thought. I turned to Percy. “And beauty queen doesn’t work because…?”

“She already knows that name!” Percy hissed.

I sighed. “You still haven’t answered my question. What can’t you do?”

Annabeth crossed her arms. She gave Percy a sideways glance and said, “He wants to throw a party at Jason’s house so Jason can ask out Piper.”

“Why does it have to be a party?” I asked. “You’re not planning to get him drunk, are you?”

“No!” Percy protested. “And it has to be a party because if we plan a party, we have time to come up with a plan to get them alone. We can control all the variables. You can’t do that at school.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Umm… ‘control all the variables?’ ”

“He’s been watching a lot of cop shows,” Annabeth explained. “Point is, you can’t force this. Jason has to do it on his own. He’s not a guinea pig.”

“I don’t think it’s such a bad idea,” I said. “Well… not the ‘control all the variables’ part, but the party. He’ll be more relaxed when he’s not at school. It might work. One condition, though.” Percy gestured for me to go on. “I want to do it at my place, not Jason’s. That’s the only way Nico will come, and I want him to socialize a bit. And I want to bring Will too.”

“Done,” Percy said.

Annabeth wasn’t convinced, not by a longshot, but she agreed anyway.

The next event in the neverending drama that is my life came at archery practice. I was on the late side--again, super tired--so when I got there, Zoë, Phoebe, Naomi, and Celyn were already chatting. I threw my backpack on the grass and joined them.

Zoë was going on about something some stupid boy said in her African Studies class. She was on an ‘all men are idiots’ phase. The spring before she’d started dating this guy, Heracles, even had sex with him (it was her first time), but he broke up with her less than a month later. We found out he'd been using Zoe to cheat on his girlfriend Meg, and Zoë was crushed. Ever since, in her eyes, all men were slime, and nothing anyone said would convince her otherwise.

Coach Artemis came onto the field, “All right girls, let’s get started!” she called.

“Hold on!” Celyn said. “Where’s Thalia?”

She was right, Thalia was nowhere to be seen. That was really weird, because as captain of the archery team, she made a point to always be on time and ready to go. She hadn’t missed a practice in forever.

“Was she at school today?” Coach Artemis asked.

“Yeah, I sat with her at lunch,” I said. “She looked fine, too, definitely not sick. Let me shoot her a text, hold on.” I ran to my backpack and pulled out my phone. We waited for a response for almost ten minutes. Nothing.

Coach Artemis decided we’d start without her. But no matter how many drills we ran or arrows we shot, our game was off. We were all worried about Thalia; this wasn’t like her at all. Coach Artemis gave us a stern talk about not losing focus, then let us out at 5:30. I made my way to Nico and Percy. I didn’t talk in the limo, I just stared at my phone, waiting for the little “delivered” to turn to “read.” I shot her another text, but still nothing. I called her, but I got voicemail.

Nico asked me if everything was all right, and so I explained about Thalia. Percy was good friends with her too, so he was as worried as I was. “Do you think it’s Luke?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “If it is… I wish she’d dump the bastard. I don’t know why she’s staying with him with all the trouble he gets into. Like, how much money has she spent on bail? It’s insane.”

“She’s in love,” Nico said. “Love makes you stupid. Look at Percy.”

“Hey!” Percy protested. He playfully punched Nico in the arm. Nico jumped a little.

I didn’t sleep easy that night. My dreams were full of Thalia and Luke with a bit of Nico and Persephone mixed in there. It had only been three days since Papà told us about Persephone. How could so much go wrong in three days?

At least Wednesday morning I could go back to my normal routine. No waking up in Papà’s bed, no hungover Nico that I had to take care of. I showered, got dressed, brushed my teeth, dragged Nico out of bed, and made my way downstairs to help Sally with breakfast.

“You look exhausted,” Sally said.

I laughed. “Good morning to you too.” Sally was almost finished with the fruit salad, so I started on Papà’s coffee. “Life’s been crazy,” I told her. “What with the whole Persephone thing. And Nico’s been acting out, running into Will, there’s some drama with Jason and Piper, and now something’s wrong with Thalia but I don’t know what.” I ground the coffee beans a bit harder than I should’ve. Sally gently pushed me away.

“Sit down, and try to relax,” she said. “Things will work themselves out. And I’d rather you not break the French press.”

I made it to the dining room in time for Hazel to join me. If it was possible, she actually looked worse than I did. “Hey, is everything okay?” I asked her.

She nodded. “I’m fine, just tired. I didn’t think high school would be this hard,” she said. Her phone went off. She checked it, and her face lit up. It wasn’t hard to guess why.

Hazel typed her response while she walked to the table. When she sat, I nudged her and said, “Okay, who’s the boy?”

She put her phone on the table. “His name’s Frank Zhang. He’s a friend of Reyna’s, they were in Latin together last year, and now he’s in my gym class, and…” she couldn’t finish her sentence, she was smiling so hard.

“Bring him over sometime,” I said. “I want to make sure he’s right for my little sister before you do anything... drastic.”

Hazel giggled. “Little sister?”

“Our parents are getting married, which means you’re my sister now.”

Her smile faltered and her eyes fell to the table. “Nico doesn’t think so.”

I squeezed her hand. “Listen, Hazel, he’s taking all this pretty hard. It’s not you. He’ll warm up to you, I promise. Think positive; you’re good at that. And--” I leaned in and grinned mischievously. “--we’re having a party on Friday. Bring Reyna and Frank. I get to meet them, you get to spend time with Frank, and Nico will be there, so you can get to know him too. He’ll be less, um, angry at the party.” Her phone went off again. I let her answer it, then asked, “Is Persephone around?”

Hazel shook her head. “She’s still got the gardening business, we have early-morning clients. She’ll be back for dinner.”

“Okay,” I said. “Speaking of, how are you guys settling in?”

“I’m getting there, but it’s a shock,” Hazel admitted. “I’m used to a house with five rooms and a tiny yard and a single car. We didn’t even have a living room because Grandma needed her own bedroom when she moved in.” She gestured to the table. “And our table was in the kitchen ‘cause we didn’t have a dining room. All this, it’s pretty overwhelming.”

“I remember when we moved from Italy to the U.S.,” I said. “Obviously it was a different kind of culture shock, but I do remember how hard it was to adjust. Give it time, and you’ll start to think of this place as home. I know it’s big, but it won’t feel so big after a little while. We’ll fill it up with love.”

I heard a phone beep. I looked at Hazel, but she told me it was mine. I glanced at the phone. Thank god, it was Thalia.

          DAT PINE TREE DOH

         Hey, sorry I’ve been silent. I had some stuff going on yesterday and had to leave right after school. I’ll be at practice today promise.

         What kind of stuff?

         Long story, I’ll tell you later.

         Was it Luke?

         No. Other stuff. Don’t worry about it, it’s not BAD it’s just stuff.

         K I trust you.

         BTW, we’re having a party this Friday at my place. You wanna come?

         (...)

         (...)

         Luke?

I thought for a moment. I didn’t want to see the douchebag, but I had the feeling she wouldn’t go without him, and the party would be the best time to talk to her.

         Sure, you can bring him. Don’t want his friends though. Papà will kill me if the house gets wrecked, and you know Ethan and Chris.

         Done. See you later.

         See you :)

Sally brought me Papà’s lunch. Back to my usual morning. I dropped by the office, kissed him hello, packed his work bag for him, and reminded him of his 3 o’clock meeting with Charon. When he was out the door, I grabbed Nico, gave him his breakfast, and dragged his ass into the limo. Jules-Albert drove the two of us and Hazel to school. She went off to Frank and Reyna, and Nico and I went into the caf to join our friends at the usual table. We (as in my friends and I) chatted (thankfully) about the party, pure fluff, until the bell went off. Nico spent the entire time on his phone, earbuds firmly planted in his ears. When the bell rang, I made my way to bio and invited Will to the party.

“You’ll be my date,” I joked.

He laughed. “Sure, I’ll pick you up at eight.”

I rolled my eyes. “It’s my house, jackass.”

He gave a cheeky grin. “I know. I’ll come home with you after school--I need more limo in my life.”

The rest of the day flew by without anything dramatic happening. Papà signed off on the party--Percy practically jumped for joy--Nico actually ate dinner, and we finished our homework without much trouble. I actually got to bed early-ish.

Thursday went the same way. Then Friday. By the time practice was wrapping up, I actually let myself hope that the party would go smoothly. Maybe Nico would actually talk to Hazel. Maybe Jason would finally ask Piper out.

But I should’ve realized my luck wouldn’t last.

Wonderful, Bianca. More twist. Much suspense. Shyamalan called, he’s suing you for copyright infringement.

*Bianca laughs*

Tune in next week for the continuing adventures of Bianca di Angelo! And by next week I mean literally a few seconds! Because this is an audio recording, not a T.V. show!

Even if it feels like one.

Chapter Text

Right, so, the party.

I met Percy and Nico at the usual spot when practice ended. I was running a little late, so Jules-Albert was already waiting for us. Percy was getting into the limo. I yelled at them to wait as I sprinted to the car.

“You didn’t have to run,” Nico said, “it’s not like we’re going to leave without you. It’s just fucking hot, and you were taking forever.”

“It’s not me I’m worried about,” I said. “We’re waiting on one more.”

Can I butt in?

You’ve never asked before. … Yes, Nico, that means yes.

I knew she meant Will. My heart sank--that was the second time in a week she’d brought the guy over. Sure, Bianca brought friends back to our place, but not this often, at least not during the week. “School’s important,” blah blah blah. If it was Will, they were closer than I realized on Monday. They were already on their way to being a couple. And that hurt. At least I didn’t have to watch Percy and Annabeth get together in front of my face… and at least I could think about them breaking up without feeling so guilty… but this was my sister. If anyone deserved to be happy, she did. Any time Will crossed my mind--and, even with my expert denial skills, that had happened a lot that week--I felt awful. This was Bianca’s happy ending. I knew I’d never get one of those.

And Will and I didn’t make the situation better.

You didn’t know.

I know I didn’t know, but that doesn’t mean I can’t feel bad about it.

So, I told Nico we were waiting on one more. I didn’t realize how crushing that was to him. He was good at hiding his emotions. He stiffened slightly, enough that I noticed, but no one else on the planet would’ve been able to tell. I didn’t say anything, though. Stupid me assumed he was nervous about the party.

I didn’t know about the party yet, smart one.

Yeah… not my best moment.

“Will, right?” Nico asked. I nodded.

And my heart broke so bad I decided I was never going to talk to him again. It was the only way to keep this from becoming another Percy situation.

Will flew down the hill, breathless. My mom instincts kicked in, and just in time, too. He was going down the stairs way too fast, so, of course, he tripped, and would’ve smacked his head on the concrete if I wasn’t there to catch him. “Easy,” I said, “we’re not going to leave without you.”

Will was panting hard. “Thanks… sorry… I…” he took a second to catch his breath. “I have this thing about being late. It’s rude.”


Okay, we’re back online.

What happened?

Logic Pro crashed. It gets touchy when you go over the two-hour mark.

What were we at?

122 minutes. I opened a new file; I’ll edit them together later. Um… let me playback, see where we were. I’m gonna turn the mic off, one sec--


 

Will showed up.

Kay, we didn’t lose much, then. So, um… yeah. Will showed up, and we got into the limo. It wasn’t until then that Percy and I finally broke and told Nico about the party. I wanted to do it in front of Percy because, well, Percy had a bit of a calming effect on Nico. He usually didn’t act out as much when he was around. I didn’t realize it was because he had a crush. I assumed Nico just looked up to him, you know? Idolized him a bit? They’d known each other since Nico was ten. I figured it was the same kind of situation Hazel and I had--this older person who you’ve known most of your life and want to impress.

Nico, like I hoped, didn’t start grumbling or yelling about the party. He nodded, said, “Ok, fine, whatever,” and threw some headphones in his ears. That was pretty much the best I could’ve hoped for.

Yeah, but, inside, I was freaking out. Watch my sister get together with my new crush while the straight guy I was in love with got drunk and made out with his girlfriend? That’s exactly what I needed!

Would you stop being sarcastic?

I’m a sarcastic little shit and proud. Lay off.

Nico ran into his room the moment his feet touched the ground. I told Percy and Will to throw their stuff down. I did the barebones of my usual Friday activities. The rest I could save for tomorrow.

I came into the kitchen just in time to catch Sally. “Be good,” she was telling Percy. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

Mom,” he complained.

“It’s only because I love you,” she said. She kissed him on the cheek, told me to have a good weekend, and headed out the door.

I sent Percy and Will to get ready for the party in Percy’s usual guest room, then I went to check on Hazel. She was still in her school clothes. She’d laid five different outfits on her new bed, but I guess none of them looked right. “Busy night?” I asked.

Hazel nodded. Then, a Puerto Rican girl popped her head out of the closet and said, “Who are you?”

I screamed. The two of them burst out laughing. “She didn’t mean to scare you!” Hazel cried. She ran over and hugged me. “Hi, Bianca! How was school?”

“Good,” I said, still a little breathless. I turned to Hazel’s friend. “I’m guessing you’re Reyna?”

Reyna came all the way out of the closet.

*Nico snickers.* Get it? ‘Cause she’s gay?

I wasn’t making a-- she literally-- Nico, stop laughing!

I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Continue.

Reyna’s… intimidating, even for a freshman. She has these sharp eyes that look like they could, like, reap your soul. She has this proud way of doing things, this self-confidence that makes everyone jump out of her way. And if you didn’t, well, let’s just say she’s a black belt and has no time for the people who piss her off.

Isn’t there that whole rule about never fighting unless you need to?

Again, it’s just a saying! Wait… you’re stalling again.

I can neither confirm nor deny this. Although I want to go on record saying that this was one of the worst nights of my life and I should get fucking credit for helping you do this.

I already thanked him a bunch of times, guys. Told him he didn’t have to do this either, but he’s the one who said yes. Which means it’s totally unfair for you to hold this over my head.

Now who’s the one stalling?

I’m rolling my eyes.

Reyna explained that Hazel was freaking out a bit because she wanted to look nice for Frank. Reyna’s not exactly a tomboy, but she isn’t into the makeover kind of thing. She’s like… I don’t know, Xena: Warrior Princess. So, I told Reyna to get herself ready, then I pulled Hazel into my room. It was time for us to have a bit of sister bonding time.

“None of your clothes are going to fit me,” Hazel pointed out.

Instead of answering her, I pulled a plastic zip bag from the shelf above my closet. “Clothes from when I was a freshman,” I said. “I keep meaning to run this to Goodwill, but there’s never any time. Look through it. See what you like. General rule: whites, golds, and dark purples work best with dark skin tones.”

We went through them together, laughing at the bands I used to listen to and that one collared-shirt phase I had in eighth grade. We even came across this floppy green hat I’d bought a few weeks before the plane crash.

Gee, what a thing to say. Do you think it’s, I dunno, foreshadowing?

Shhh. I’m trying to find that picture of Hazel on my phone. … Here it is.

We found a gorgeous off-the-shoulder top, dark purple, but so dark it looked almost black. It had a scoop neck, with an attached collar that looped around like a necklace and buttoned in the front. The button was a silver pendant with a diamond set in the middle. We paired it with a set of light faded jeans and flats.

I told her she looked beautiful. She was smiling too much to say anything back.

It took me about an hour to get my clothes on and hair and makeup done. The music was already blaring when I was ready to go. My hair was braided and pushed to one shoulder, then I put a diamond clip in my hair, crescent shape, and matching diamond crescent earrings. I wore a white shirt, silver jacket, silvery camo pants, and black combat boots. It was my favorite outfit. That’s how I got my nickname, ‘the Huntress.’ My friends always said I looked like a markswoman in it. And that’s why I loved it--it gave me confidence.

We should talk about that. Our friends all have stupid nicknames--

No stalling, Nico. We’re on a time limit, remember? I’ll get to the nicknames if they become relevant. A lot of them have a long story behind them, and we don’t have time.

At that point, Percy had already got the party well on its way. Will, Hazel, and Reyna were already downstairs too, from what I could tell. Papà had taken Persephone out to dinner. He’d warned Percy and I that he’d be back by two a.m. and if the party was still going, if the house was destroyed, or he smelled alcohol, I’d be grounded for life and Percy would be permanently banned from our house. Point is, I knew where everyone else was, except Nico.

I knocked on his door. He opened it. He looked exactly like he had at school. I sighed and elbowed my way into his room. I grabbed him a clean shirt, the aviator jacket I’d bought him for Christmas, and the only pair of black skinny jeans he owned that didn’t have holes in them. “On,” I said. “And brush your hair. And teeth, this place smells like weed. You can keep the sneakers, I like them. Up. Now.” He groaned at me. “You are going to have fun, even if I make you,” I pressed. “I’m going downstairs. If I don’t see you in ten minutes, I’ll drag you down myself.”

Another incoherent groan.

As soon as I got to the stairs, I ran into Will. “Just the guy I wanted to see,” I said. “Having fun?”

We chatted a bit; as usual, I smiled all the way through it. I was glad to have a friend like him and even more glad that Nico would. He was smart, funny, dorky, and had the biggest heart I’d ever seen. My own confidence grew whenever I spoke to him--I’d never become such good friends with a stranger before; normally, it took weeks to get past my defenses. He’d done it in seconds.

“Nico should be down any minute,” I told Will. “Look for the aviator jacket.” I discreetly slipped him a fifty. I didn’t need any rumors spreading; I knew what Half-Blood high could come up with. “Enjoy yourself, but make sure Nico has fun too,” I told him. “And, if possible, try to get him to talk to Hazel. Just for an hour, then you’re free to do whatever.”

“Got it, no problem,” Will said as he slipped the money in his pocket.

I kissed him on the cheek, and said, “Thank you. You’re going to be a huge help, I know it.” And, no, still not in a romantic way. It’s an Italian thing, so lay off.

It took me a little longer to find Percy. We had an open invitation, so a lot of kids were currently at my place. I was keeping my eyes out for alcohol, but, luckily, I didn’t find any. I don’t think I had it in me to kick anyone out, but that was where Nico came in. Most of the school was afraid of him, and he can be mean when he wants to be.

My phone buzzed.

         THE ORACLE

         PERCY’S DOING THE THING SEND HELP PLEASE
         I CAN’T REACH ANNABETH OR GROVER

         I’m on it. Where is he?

         TCPT

TCPT is short for “the conveniently placed tree.” That’s a really long story. TL;DR, it’s a pine tree outside my house. Thalia was mad at Percy (that happens a lot), so I told her to hide so she wouldn’t start something. Where to hide in the middle of a lawn? The conveniently placed tree. The rest is history… and how she got her nickname.

There, you see Nico? We got into the backstory of two, mine and Thalia’s. I'll even give you two more: Percy's an idiot sometimes and on the swim team, and Annabeth is basically Einstein if he was a girl.

I made my way outside. Percy, Jason, Rachel, and Piper were talking by the tree. By the looks of it, Jason was about to start hyperventilating again, and Piper was getting annoyed. I cursed under my breath. If she got angry and left, it was all over.

“Percy! There you are!” I shouted. The four of them stopped talking, thank god. “Hey, Jason, Leo’s looking for you.”

“Nah,” Percy said, “He’s with Cally.”

Cally, full name Calypso, was his on-again-off-again girlfriend. Well, less girlfriend, more fuckbuddy, but they argued so much that half the time they weren’t even that. I had to guess the sex was, like, the best thing ever, because, otherwise, I had no idea why he stayed with that girl.

“They had another fight,” I said. “He’s looking for you, Jason, why don’t you go find him?”

“I-- I’d better do that,” Jason stammered.

“And, Piper, maybe you could help, too? Talk some sense into him? You’re good with relationship stuff,” I prompted.

“Sure,” she said. She gave Percy one more annoyed look. Jason mouthed ‘thank you’ to me, and the two were on their way.

I shot Leo a quick text explaining the situation, prayed that he’d see it before Jason and Piper found him, and turned back to Percy. “What. Did. You. Do?” I demanded.

“All I said was that Jason should climb the tree!” Percy protested.

“What? Why?” I asked.

“He’s all athletic, so when Piper’s impressed he’ll have the balls to ask her out,” Percy said.

I rubbed my temples. That week was too much.

“How did you even come up with that?” Rachel asked. “Percy, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Just get them alone together, and keep getting them alone until Jason gets more comfortable.”

“So, what Bianca did...” Percy realized. “Oh.”

“I don’t have time for this,” I said. “Percy, I love you, but I need to do some sleuthing of my own--Thalia and Luke are around here somewhere. Rachel… make sure he doesn’t fuck this up, okay?”

“Let’s dance, seaweed brain,” Rachel said.

“You sound like Annabeth,” Percy joked. “But, I guess I like you. Sure, let’s go.”

Now alone, I texted Zoë, Phoebe, Naiomi, and Celyn, asking them to help me find Thalia and Luke. After a bit of searching, Naiomi overheard Octavian mention that they’d gone upstairs. We met at the top of the back stairs and split up searching. A few minutes later, Zoë texted us saying she’d found them in one of the guest rooms and something big was going down.

She wasn’t wrong. I decided to audio record their conversation because we clearly needed to have an intervention about Luke with her. We figured if she heard the way he was talking to her in a different setting, she’d realize how worthless he was. And when she heard how she tried to justify everything… well, she wouldn’t be able to justify it anymore. Nico?

Note to self: cut out audio in three, two--


LUKE: I have to, you know I have to.

THALIA: No, you don’t, Luke. And, more to the point, you shouldn’t.

LUKE: Do you want to live in the projects forever? Or do you want our lives to fucking mean something?

THALIA: I want you to stay out of prison! How do I-- how do I know you’re not robbing banks?

LUKE: So you don’t trust me.

THALIA: I trust you, but I don’t trust this side of you, no. You’re better than this, I know you are.

...

LUKE: You’re right. You’re always right… I’ll be better for you, Thalia, I promise.

THALIA: I love you, okay? We’ll get through this together.

LUKE: And we’ll be better than our shitty parents.

THALIA: Now you’re talking. Come here.


Aaaand we’re back, folks!

The four of us ran into my room. A) we didn’t want to hear Thalia and Luke have sex, and B) we had a lot to discuss.

We all knew that there was only one thing Luke could’ve meant by “We’ll be better than our shitty parents.” The only thing big enough to make Thalia skip practice.

She was pregnant.

Chapter Text

I’m going to take over for a bit.

Yeah, sure, go ahead, Nico.

So, last time you saw me, Bianca threatened to drag me down to the party. I did not want to go, like, at all. I hate people most of the time; I wasn’t in the mood to talk--I’m usually not--and the last thing I needed was to see Percy with Annabeth or Will with Bianca. It’s way easier to bury your feelings when you aren’t put in a situation where you have to feel them. I know Bianca thought she was trying to help, but I knew I was going to have a lousy time.

And boy was I right.

I didn’t need my big sister embarrassing me, so I got dressed and forced myself to go downstairs. I decided I’d find Bianca so I could prove I came to the party, stay five minutes, then sneak back upstairs and try to ignore everything. I should’ve known that was wishful thinking. I would never be so lucky.

I found her talking to Will. I stopped in my tracks. I didn’t need to see this, I didn’t want to see this, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away. I couldn’t hear what they were saying over the music, but they were both smiling a lot. They seemed really comfortable with each other. I hated it, and I hated myself for hating it. This was Bianca, my sister, the person who practically raised me. She’d never hurt me in my life, never put herself first. Why did I want to take away someone who made her so happy?

She gave him something, but I couldn't see what. My heart sank; she never gave gifts unless she was super close to the person. And then she kissed him.

On the cheek!

I know that. But it still hurt beyond belief. Like she said before, it’s an Italian thing, but when I already thought they were going to get together… this felt like my proof. She’d kissed him. She’d kissed him. And he had this nervous, awkward smile that was so adorable I wanted to scream. I backed away, desperate not to cry. I hadn’t hurt this bad since I found out Percy already had a girlfriend. No, this hurt even worse than that.

I bumped into someone. He shoved me back and said, “Watch where you’re going, creep!”

It was Bryce Lawrence, the meanest kid on the football team. I hated that guy. He was a bully, a loser. The year before, he’d asked Bianca out, and when she said no, he started harassing her, spreading rumors about her, calling her a slut and a whore, all that douchebaggery... until I told Percy and Jason, and they punched his lights out.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” I growled. “Get the fuck out of my house!”

Bryce laughed. “Yeah, right. What are you going to do about it? Go hide behind your friends, loser.”

I clenched my fist. “You wanna go? I can take you in a fight, easy.”

You’re five foot nothing with spaghetti arms.

Shut up.

I don’t remember exactly what happened next. He cussed at me, I yelled back, and soon the crowd had formed a circle around us, chanting “Fight!” Soon my jacket was on the floor. And my fist made contact with his face.

Papà had forced Bianca and me to take some self-defense classes in middle school. I remembered enough to know that you always go for the temple. Bryce staggered backward, and I punched him in the stomach and kneed him in the crotch. I punched him in the cheek, the mouth, wherever I thought would hurt the most. I may be small, but I’m quick. For a while, Bryce couldn’t get a hit in.

Then, I heard Hazel shout my name. I turned on instinct, just for a second, but that second was enough for Bryce to punch me in the back of my neck. It hurt. I stumbled. He kicked the back of my knees, and I fell to the ground. He walked to my front, grabbed me by my shirt, and said, “You’re going to pay, you son of a bitch.” And he went to town.

It only ended when Hazel and Reyna pulled Bryce off of me. Reyna threw him on the ground and kicked him in the nose and yelled at him to get lost. Terrified and in pain, Bryce scrambled up and ran out the door.

“He’s going to come after us again,” Hazel said. “There’s no way he’s letting this go.” She sounded pretty scared, but I was too angry to care.

“How could you be so stupid?” Reyna demanded. “He’s twice your size!”

I spit out some blood. “I was doing just fine before Hazel distracted me!” I yelled. “Just-- just leave me alone!”

I pushed my way into the crowd before Hazel could stop me. She called out my name, but I didn’t look back. I ran up the stairs with the full intention of going back to my room and drowning in vodka. But I heard someone stomping up the stairs after me.

“Get off my fucking back, Hazel,” I spat.

“I’m not.” It was Will.

I turned. I couldn't help it. And I hated myself for it. I kept thinking, don’t talk to him, you’ll make things worse for yourself, but I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t help it.

“Let me clean you up,” Will said. “My brother Michael used to be an army doc. He taught me a few tricks.” He smiled, trying to reassure me, and my heart stopped. It should be against the law for someone to be so perfect.

I tried to tell him to get lost, but all I could say was “Umm...” I must’ve sounded like an idiot. Will scrunched his eyebrows the way he does when he’s concerned. He asked if I had a concussion. I told myself to run and lock the door, but my feet wouldn’t budge. Say something, anything, I thought. I could’ve said a simple “no,” maybe “leave me alone,” but instead I went with, “You don’t want to see my room; it’s a mess.”

Will laughed, and my heart went from not beating at all to beating double time. “You’ve got enough guest rooms,” he told me, “So, pick one.”

Again, I should’ve run out of there, but instead, I heard myself say, “Okay.”

I’m gonna regret that “okay” for the rest of my life.

Nico, he’s literally your boyfriend. Why would you regret this now?

We would’ve gotten together eventually; you made sure we saw each other all the time. This is why I regret it:

Will did that thing where he slung my arm around his shoulders to help me walk. I kept saying that I was okay, I could walk on my own, but he was too stubborn to listen. I directed him to the nearest guest room--luckily, no couples were making out in it. Will walked me to the bed. He ran to the master bathroom to grab first-aid stuff, leaving me alone for a bit. I spent the entire time calming myself down. I saw that kiss every time I closed my eyes.

Will came back. He locked the door behind him. “So we don’t get interrupted,” he said. For half a second, I indulged myself. I pictured a different situation, where Will was saying that to me for a different reason, a romantic reason.

That was the moment I knew I was fucked.

Will asked to take a look at me. For once in my life, I didn’t argue. He inspected my face, asked me to open my mouth, stuff like that. “I don’t think anything’s broken,” he told me. “I don’t think you’ll have to go to a doctor.”

I was definitely relieved. If Papà found out I’d gotten into a fight… it wouldn’t be pretty.

“Can you take your shirt off?” Will asked. “I want to make sure you aren’t bleeding.”

My face got hot. I should’ve sent him packing, but my stupid mouth wouldn’t let me say it. I did it without a word.

Will took out an alcohol wipe and started to clean my wounds. Then, he tossed the wipe and took out a wet washcloth. He dabbed at my wounds; he was so gentle I didn’t feel a thing. It felt… I guess there’s no other word for it but intimate. It felt so right. But it couldn’t feel right. I wasn’t out to anyone, and this was a straight guy, my sister’s crush.

But I couldn’t get myself to push him away.

He wrapped gauze around my chest wounds. “Why’d you do that?” Will asked. He didn’t sound like he was accusing me, he sounded more… like he actually cared about me, not the scary emo kid or Bianca’s little brother. Bianca was the only other person who’d ever spoken to me like that. It felt good. I hated that.

If you haven’t noticed, though, I had no control over what I did around him. To anyone but Bianca, I would’ve been out the door in a second. I told myself to leave, I remembered my promise that I wouldn’t talk to him anymore until whatever I was feeling went away. Get out, just go, it isn’t rocket science, I thought, but my feet wouldn’t move.

I had to say something, or he’d get mad at me. I didn’t think I could take that. But what was I going to say? “I saw you with Bianca and started feeling things because I keep thinking about you, oh, by the way, I’m gay?” He’d run out the door. He’d tell people. How could Bianca ever look at me again? How could Percy?

I didn’t want to lie to him, though. So I said, “You’re new. You don’t get it. Bryce is a creep.”

“But he’s twice your size,” Will pointed out.

“I’ve heard,” I snapped. “Look, I haven’t had a good week. I just lost it, okay?”

Will finished with the gauze. He rummaged around for some band-aids for my face as he talked. “Bianca told me your dad’s getting remarried. That… sucks.”

“Papà doesn’t care,” I said. “Couldn’t he at least wait until I’m gone before he betrays Mamma’s memory?”

“I don’t think that would make it any better. You’d still have to see her when you get back from college,” Will pointed out.

I laughed bitterly. “Could you imagine me in college? I’m barely passing.”

“Then what are you going to do?” Will asked.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “One thing’s for sure, though: once I leave, I’m never coming back.”

“He’d track you down eventually,” Will pointed out.

I rolled my eyes. “He wouldn’t care. Hell, I don’t know if he would notice, he spends so much time at the office. Persephone proves that he doesn’t care about anyone but himself.” Will pulled out the bandages. I watched him rummage through the box to find the right sizes. “Bianca’s my family,” I continued. “She’s the one who raised me, she’s the one who loves me. I don’t need anyone but her.”

We didn’t talk while Will put the bandages on me. That was, again, the worst thing that could’ve happened, because it meant I had time to think. My own words echoed in my brain. I knew what I had to do, even if it killed me. All her life, Bianca had taken care of me. I had to put her first.

After he was done with the band-aids, he said, “You’re good,” and started to clean everything up. I took a deep breath. This was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do.

“Will?” I said. “You should go for it with Bianca.”

His back was to me, so I didn’t see his reaction. “Go for what?” Will asked.

“Ask her out,” I said. Every word stabbed me. I took another deep breath. I had to do this. “You make her really happy. I think you’d be a good couple. You guys get along great; I’ve never seen her open up like that to a stranger so fast.” And it’s obvious she likes you, I thought, but I couldn’t bring myself to say that.

“You think?” Will said. He was still crouched over the first-aid kit with his back to me, but he turned his head. He had this sort of half grin on his face. “Thanks. I’ll find her when I’m done here.”

And my heart broke in two. “You do that,” I forced myself to say. “I’m going to, um, rest a bit. Tell Bianca I’ll be down at one to force people out and help her clean up.”

“Sure,” Will said. “See you, death boy.”

“Death boy?” I asked.

Will laughed. “I saw your contact on Bianca’s phone. ‘The Ghost King’ kinda sounds weird when you say it out loud. I like ‘death boy’ better.”

“I’m Nico,” I protested. “Don’t call me ‘death boy.’ ”

“Aight, death boy.” Will smirked and headed out of the room.

TL;DR, that night wasn’t the best for me. I spent the next hour in my room with a cigarette, chanting don’t cry in my head.

I need a break. I’m gonna grab some water. Be right back.

Sure. I’ll finish off the night.

 

So, Zoë, Phoebe, Naomi, Celyn, and I were in my room, freaking out over what we just heard. Thalia was pregnant. Pregnant.

“I can’t believe it,” Naomi said over and over again.

“I can,” Zoë scoffed. “That’s what happens when you trust a guy. He ruins your life.”

“I don’t think a baby will ruin her life,” Celyn said.

“She’s dirt poor, living on her own in the projects, and the baby daddy is in and out of jail; now she’s going to have to see him for the rest of her life,” Zoë replied. “I think that’s enough to ruin it.”

“Wait…” Phoebe said. “She won’t be able to shoot in the spring. What about Jupiter’s?”

Every year, Coach Artemis took two senior varsity members to San Francisco to represent the school at Camp Jupiter’s Shootout, a month-long national archery tournament. It was a huge deal. There were tons of recruiters there for colleges, trainers, even the Olympics. Last spring, when we had tryouts, Zoë and Thalia won the spots. But Thalia would be nine months pregnant in May. There was no way she could go now.

“You came in third, Bianca,” Zoë said.

“I can’t go,” I protested. “You think I could leave Nico alone for a month?” Or Papà, I thought, but I couldn’t say that. He had an image to protect.

“We’ll think of something,” Celyn said. “Coach Artemis will come up with a plan.”

“You do realize we can’t tell her,” I said. “Thalia can’t know we know. She’d be furious. I don’t want her to stop being friends with us when she’s going to need us the most.” And, on a personal level, I didn’t want to lose my best friend. I continued, “Look, guys, it’s not worth it to sit here and freak out. What’s done is done. We just have to be there for Thalia, support her, because we all know Luke and he’s not going to be her rock. There’s nothing else we can do right now.”

They agreed with me. We headed into the kitchen to grab some much-needed food. Will found me a few minutes later.

“Hey, Bianca, can I talk to you?” he asked. My friends raised their eyebrows.

“Sure,” I said. “I’ll be right back, guys.” He took me to an empty room and shut the door. “This is about Nico, right?” Will nodded. “Great! Did you get him to talk to Hazel?”

He told me about the fight, Hazel and Reyna, and what Nico said when Will was tending to his wounds.

“This isn’t how I wanted the night to go, but I’m not surprised,” I said. “I’m glad he opened up to you; you’re doing a great job.”

Will rubbed the back of his neck, nervous. “He’s also trying to set us up.”

I laughed. “That’s sweet of him.”

“I think we should do it.”

My face fell. As gently as I could, I said, “Will, I’m sorry, but you know how busy I am. I don’t have time for a relationship right now.”

“I know that,” Will promised, “But Nico doesn’t.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“If I keep randomly popping up, he’s going to catch on,” Will said, “But if I’m your boyfriend, I’ve got a reason to go home with you every day. And he’s got a reason to be nice to me--he’s protective of you, and he’ll want to make sure I’m a nice guy and treating you well. It’s the perfect excuse.”

“Just to clarify, you want us to fake date?” I questioned. Will nodded. I thought for a moment. I know how stupid this sounds now, but, at the time, it actually seemed like a good idea. I swear I’m not crazy! It just… you weren’t there, okay?!

“Ground rules,” I said, “I am Bianca, no pet names. You can kiss my cheek and hold my hand when you have to, but put your hands on my body, and I’ll kick you where the sun don’t shine.”

“Done,” Will said. “Also... no parents. And I can’t take you to my house.” I wanted to ask why, but he hadn’t questioned my demands, so it felt rude to say anything. He held out his hand and said, “Do you have a deal?”

I took it. “Deal.” We shook.

I warned you Will and I didn’t make anything better for Nico.

Chapter Text

I’m back, bitches. Where you at, B?

The whole fake dating thing.

Oh, yeah. That’s so weird to think about now. Why did you agree to it?

Because it sounded like a good idea at the time. How the fuck was I supposed to know you liked him? You weren’t out to me yet, and you were the one who was trying to set us up in the first place!

Excuses, excuses.

Whatever. I’m getting on with the story.

Nico came down around one to help get everyone out of the house. We started cleaning around 1:30. All my friends helped us out; Hazel and Reyna chipped in, too. I found the opportunity to pull Hazel aside and talk to her about Nico. I explained that he was having a bad night, and she shouldn’t take what he said to heart. She kept nodding and saying “okay,” but I don’t think she really heard me. She looked miserable.

“How did things go with Frank?” I asked her, trying to lighten the mood.

“It… didn’t work out,” Hazel said. Her eyes were on the floor. I wanted to press her for more, but I also knew how bad heartbreak hurt. So, instead, I hugged her, told her everything would be all right, and let her get back to Reyna.

Everyone crashed at our place, except Jason and Piper. They lived close enough to walk home, and Leo convinced Jason to go. We were all crossing our fingers that he’d finally ask her out. All alone on a warm summer night with the stars and a full moon? Classic rom-com.

I tried to convince Thalia to sleep in my room, but she wanted to spend the night with Luke. Eventually, I had to let it go--she’d get angry at me if I insisted. Besides, Thalia talked a big game, but she could be… fragile about certain things. I knew she was in a bad place right now. It wasn’t worth it to upset her.

We decided that Nico would stay in my room, and Percy and Grover would have his. I expected Percy would want to spend the night with Annabeth, but I think it was a “bros before hoes” situation.

It ended up being a good thing, though, because Nico and I finally got to talk.

I couldn’t sleep, despite how late it was. I couldn’t stop thinking about Thalia. How could I help her? Was Zoë right? Would it ruin her life? Not if I could help it.

I thought Nico was asleep, until he said, “Do you know what this reminds me of?”

“What?” I asked.

He rolled over so he was facing me. I did the same. “When we were kids, how I’d sneak into your room sometimes when I had a bad dream. Do you remember?”

“I’d take out a flashlight and make shadow animals to cheer you up,” I said. “Then you’d tell me stories about… that game, what was it called?”

“Mythomagic,” he reminded me. He laughed, and I teared up. It had been a long time since he laughed. “God, I was obsessed with that game,” Nico said. “I had all the action figures, except Hades.”

“Mamma, Papà, and I looked for you,” I remembered. “I saved up all my allowance so I could get him. But he was so rare, even in America. We couldn’t find it anywhere in Italia.”

My voice cracked, and I started to cry. I couldn’t help it. I heard Nico get out of bed. The next thing I knew, he was hugging me. “Whatever it is, it’s okay,” he said.

“I miss being happy,” I whispered. “I miss being an actual family.”

“Me too,” he said, “but at least we have each other. I swear, Bianca, you’ll always have me.”

“How can you be sure?” I asked. “After what happened to Mamma and me, how can you be sure about anything?” I tried to wipe the tears from my cheek, but they kept coming. “I just want my family back together again.”

“Me too,” Nico said.

“Then why do you do this?” I asked. “Nico, why don’t you try?”

“I-- I don’t know,” he admitted. “Do you ever… like, feel like you forgot how to be happy? Because I do, all the time.” He took a shaky breath. “"I know we've never talked about it, but… do you know what happened to me while you were in a coma? I needed Papà, but-- but he kept pushing me away. It was like, he looked at me, and all he saw was Mamma, all he thought about was you. I-- I tried to get his attention, and you know what he did? He told me he couldn’t handle me, and he threw me in the psych ward. When the doctors told him I could come out, he kept saying, ‘Are you sure? I have a lot to do for my daughter, could he stay a little longer?’ He didn’t want me anymore. He doesn’t love me, Bianca, he loves you.

“That’s not true!” I protested. “He told me we were his world, Nico. Both of us.”

“Actions speak louder than words,” he said bitterly. Silent tears fell down his cheeks. When he spoke again, his voice was higher pitched, more vulnerable, more terrified. “I want him back so bad, but every time I try... And now he goes and does this. I hate Persephone. She’s ruining what little we had.”

“Talk to him,” I begged. “Tell him what you’re telling me. Don’t let him slip away.”

Nico sniffed. “He’s already gone.”

Nothing much happened in the next few weeks. Jason, of course, had chickened out again when he walked Piper home. Percy got more and more determined to get these two together. He came up with this plan where he’d slip notes into Piper’s locker as her “secret admirer,” hoping that she’d be on the lookout for someone who had a crush on her and finally pick up on Jason’s not-so-subtle hints. Piper assumed someone was messing with her, so this did absolutely nothing.

Thalia still didn’t tell anyone she was pregnant. Every day at lunch I waited for her to say something, but she never did. Zoë, Phoebe, Naiomi, Celyn, and I had more than a few meetings before practice to discuss the situation. We did our best to be supportive, but what could we do when she wouldn’t tell us anything? We almost caved and asked Coach Artemis for advice. Almost.

Will became a regular visitor at our house. My friends, of course, tortured me to no end about my new “boyfriend.” Thalia did the whole “if you hurt her, I kill you,” (Will was terrified), Annabeth offered to do some detective work on his life in North Carolina (I told her no, that was probably illegal), Piper and Leo offered me relationship advice (I passed Piper’s on to Jason), and Jason did everything in his power to make Will feel welcome (read: went completely overboard). Percy and Will became pretty good friends, too.

Unfortunately, every time Will tried to talk to Nico, it would go south pretty fast. It was like he was avoiding him.

I was.

I know. If anything, things were getting worse with Nico. He outright refused to talk to Persephone or Papà, said barely anything to Hazel, and I was seriously concerned he had a drinking problem with how many times I caught him drunk. I was desperate. In my head, I kept hearing Will’s advice from the first day of school: “You can’t help someone who isn’t willing to help themselves.” What if he was right?

I was dreading Thanksgiving. It was the one day a year that Nico and Papà were forced to look each other in the eye. Now, Persephone and Hazel would be there, and Demeter, too. At least Percy, Sally, and Sally’s husband Paul would be there--Percy was usually a calming influence on Nico--but I doubted that would be enough. What was going to happen?

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I decided I had to talk to someone. I had a lucky break. Coach Artemis noticed something was wrong with Thalia and pulled her aside. I hung around after practice and watched their little meeting. Coach Artemis took her hand and said something, then Thalia hugged her hard. I was relieved. It looked like she’d finally told someone about the baby. Even if she wasn’t ready to open up to the rest of us, she had someone looking out for her.

I called Thalia’s name when she passed by. “Are you coming to Thanksgiving this year?” I asked. She and Luke usually did since both of them were estranged from their families. Thalia’s dad left her unstable mom pretty early on. When she died in a drunk driving incident, her stepmother refused to let Thalia step foot in their house. Her dad didn’t stick up for her. She was twelve. She lived in a foster home for a bit but ran away pretty quickly. Now that she was eighteen, the government couldn’t do anything about her anymore. I didn’t know Luke’s story, but I imagined it wasn’t a happy one either.

Yay! More tangents no one cares about!

I thought you were done with the shitty commentary.

Neveeeeeerrrrr!!!

Thalia told me she and Luke would be there. I asked if we could have a private conversation, and she agreed without a second thought. I told her about my worries with Nico. She listened carefully. It was nice to have my best friend back, even if it wasn’t long. She’d been so distant lately.

“What’s going to happen will happen,” Thalia told me. “You’re good at diffusing situations and you know Nico better than I do. If things get ugly, you and Percy can handle it. Invite Will, too. He’s good with people.”

“Thalia,” I said, “That’s a great idea.”

I raced to the front of the school. I was so excited--this was the perfect opportunity for Will and Nico to bond. Nico would be avoiding the adults so much he’d have to talk to Will, if for no other reason than to look busy. I knew Will would agree to have Thanksgiving with us. From what I could tell, he wasn’t very close to his dad, and he’d told me that his mom couldn’t afford to come up, and he couldn’t afford to go home. I’d offered to lend him the money, but he refused.

Will agreed to spend Thanksgiving with us; he was pretty happy about it like I’d predicted. I told Percy and Nico as soon as Jules-Albert slammed the door shut. Percy was ecstatic. Nico didn’t say a word.

I was freaking out. I’d already have to spend Thanksgiving with Percy, and now I’d have to deal with Will too. Both of my crushes in the same place for the entire day… it was hard enough riding in the limo with them, and I got to go to my room as soon as my feet hit the ground. I’d have to watch Will and Bianca be all lovey-dovey at dinner. It was gonna be torture.

Would you like to take over, then? I think they’d love to hear about your torture.

Sure.

 

I swear, one day cameras are going to pop out of the walls, and some announcer is going to tell us our entire lives have been a reality TV show. We can’t go two weeks without something insane happening. Usually, it’s bad, and it’s happening to me.

That’s not-- okay, yeah, it’s totally true.

Ha ha! My sister finally admits it!

Get on with the Thanksgiving from Hell, or I’m going to take over again.

Now that would be a tragedy.

Sarcastic asshole.

I’d spent all week mentally preparing for Thanksgiving. I was super stressed about it; I’d gone through an entire pack of cigarettes in, like, three days. Part of me wanted to smoke some pot and go through Thanksgiving high, but Percy was going to be there. I could never make a fool of myself in front of Percy.

Because Bianca decided to stay late at practice, it was just Percy and me alone waiting for Jules-Albert. My heart was racing the entire time. I’d thought about this moment for weeks. I knew I’d never get Percy to look at me the way I looked at him, but that sure as hell didn’t mean that I didn’t try.

I fixed my hair and clothes and checked my breath like I always did. Then, I ran to meet Percy as he jogged across the grass. “Hey, Percy!” I called. My hands were already shaking.

“What’s up, Nico?” Percy replied.

When we reached the road, I knelt on the ground and unzipped my backpack. I couldn’t look at him as I talked. “I, um, I got you something. ‘Cause, you know, I’m thankful you’re my friend.”

“You didn’t have to do that!” I looked up. That was a mistake-- he was grinning at me. I almost fainted.

I grabbed the envelope from my bag and threw it into his hands. I watched him open it. He pulled out two tickets, and his mouth fell to the floor. “Oh my god, Nico, I can’t take this. This must’ve cost you a fortune.”

I told myself to act natural. I forced out a very unnatural chuckle, but Percy didn’t seem to notice. It was a curse and a blessing how oblivious he was sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, Percy’s incredibly smart, but when it comes to other people… yeah, not so much.

The word you’re looking for is “slow on the uptake.”

Those are four words.

Don’t start this again. It’s. A. Saying!

“My father owns a record label,” I reminded Percy, doing my best to sound casual, like I was teasing him. It didn’t work. “I talked to Thanatos; he knows Fall Out Boy’s manager, it was super easy to get backstage passes. Don’t worry about it.”

That was a lie. In reality, I broke into Papà’s office when he wasn’t home--he never was--and went through his contacts until I found the right people. I had to pretend to be him, make up some bullshit story, and it cost an arm and a leg to basically bribe their manager, but it was in the name of love. Stupid, destructive, fucking love. Two All-Access tickets to Fall Out Boy. Percy’s favorite band.

I was hoping he’d ask me to come with him. It would be like a date. Maybe it would even turn into one.

“Thank you, Nico!” Percy said. “Annabeth is going to love this!” My heart sank. Then, to make things worse, Percy corrected himself and said, “Unless you want to come. We’d totally have a great time.”

“No,” I forced myself to say, “Take your girlfriend. Enjoy yourself.” All the magic of the moment was gone. “You know what?” I said. “I think I’m actually going to walk home.”

“It’s freezing,” Percy protested.

“It’s fifty degrees,” I replied.

“That’s still too cold,” Percy said. “C’mon, man, I don’t have a jacket or anything.”

“You want to come with me?” I asked, startled.

“Sure. Besides, Bianca would freak if I let you go on your own.” He pat my shoulder. My brain went completely blank; I might as well’ve been dead.

Because, as usual, I couldn’t say no to Percy, I went into the limo. Bianca told us that Will was coming for Thanksgiving. I felt miserable. I tried not to look at Will holding Bianca’s hand. I failed.

As usual, I ignored Persephone’s “hello” when we walked through the door. I went straight to my room, ready to drown my problems in alcohol of the umpteenth time, when I heard crying from Hazel’s room.

The door was slightly open, so I could see inside. Hazel was on her bed, staring at her phone. She texted someone something, threw her phone down, and buried her face in her pillow.

Hazel was, hands down, the sweetest person I’d ever met. When I snapped at her, she’d ask me what she could do to help. When I was drunk, she’d give me water and text Bianca. She’d warn me when Papà was home so I could sneak up to my room and avoid a fight. She cracked jokes, and sometimes I’d smile.

It was at that moment as I watched her cry that I realized how much she’d grown on me. My blood boiled. I vowed then and there that I would figure out the jerk that was hurting her and make them pay. No one messed with my sister.

I decided to do something I’d never done before: talk to her.

I had to say her name three times. When she finally looked at me, I saw that her eyes were red. She sat up and tried to smile at me.

“Like that’s going to convince me you’re all right,” I said. She looked hurt until she realized I was teasing her. She laughed a little, but more tears leaked out. I sat next to her. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

I thought she’d tell me to get lost. Then, she said, “What do you do when you have to hurt someone?”

“What kind of hurt are we talking about?” I asked. “No offense, but I don’t think you can take anyone in a fight.” Hazel bit her lip. “You don’t have to tell me everything,” I said, “But give me an idea of what’s going on.”

“Frank asked me out at the party in August,” Hazel said, “But I said no. And now there’s this other guy. I don’t want Frank to hate me.”

“Do I know this guy?” I asked.

“Maybe. His name’s Octavian,” she told me.

“He’s your grade’s secretary, right? In student gov?” I asked. She nodded. “I heard he’s a slimeball.”

“I know the rumors, but I have to give it a shot,” she said.

“Do you want to, though?” I asked.

She looked at her lap. “Yeah.”

“You’re a terrible liar,” I said.

“I’m going to say yes,” Hazel told me, her voice breaking. “I just have to!”

“Fine,” I forced myself to say. I knew I couldn’t change her mind. “If something feels off, you gotta break up with him, okay? I don’t want you to get yourself hurt.”

Hazel’s eyes teared up again, but, this time, it wasn’t ‘cause she was sad. She jumped on me, hugging me hard. Then, just as quick, she pulled away and apologized. “I know you hate people touching you.”

I grinned at her. “I don’t mind so much when you do it.”

She hugged me for a long time after that.