Nico smiled at Paolo, trying not to flinch when he clapped the son of Hades on the back. Paolo’s grin was infectious, and soon Nico’s previously deserted table was crowded with red team campers. Lou Ellen still gripped the blue team’s flag tightly in her hand, but it had been a two-person effort to ensure the red team’s victory: Nico had snuck into the blue team’s base and snatched it up, then tossed it off to Lou Ellen, who ran it over the border.
The red team victors celebrated, tossing around smuggled-in sodas and blabbering on about how epic that sneak attack was, dude, but eventually, Nico got bored. It felt like something was… missing.
Of course. Where was Will?
Nico glanced around the dining pavilion, but his boyfriend was nowhere in sight. The rest of the Apollo cabin was accounted for, and they probably wouldn't let Will go back to the cabin alone. So that left the infirmary. Nico stood up, making excuses to his teammates and slipping away toward the big house.
The infirmary was dark and silent. Surprisingly, there were currently no injured demigods crowding the beds of the place, so really Will should have had no reason to be there. But Nico knew his boyfriend well. When he passed by one of the private rooms in the back, he noticed that the light was still on. He knocked three times.
“Will?” Nico called. “Are you in there?”
The door opened, and Will stood there, a not-quite-right smile on his face. “Sorry,” he said. “I didn't realize it was you.”
Nico glanced around nervously, even though he knew the infirmary was abandoned except for the two of them. “Will, are you okay?” Nico asked when he was sure no one was eavesdropping.
“Yeah, yeah, I'm fine.” Will moved back into the room, allowing Nico access through the doorway. Will bustled about, arranging this pill bottle and that, checking things on clipboards and labels and charts taped up onto the walls. He might seem fine to someone else- a little preoccupied, sure, but fine. But Nico saw how he was flexing and unflexing his fingers, how he kept losing his focus and doubling back to check and re-check the same shelves. He was clearly upset about something. Nico stepped forward and took Will’s hand.
“You know you can talk to me about anything, right?”
Will smiled a little. “Aw, Nico, you’re sweet. But really, it’s fine. It’s not that big a deal.”
“So something did happen,” Nico said.
“Well-” Will struggled for words. “It’s just- in that capture the flag game just now, some of my siblings and I were attacked by a hellhound.”
“Some of my younger siblings, I mean,” Will continued.
Nico’s eyebrows screwed up. “Did anyone get hurt?”
“No, no. They’re all fine. It’s just…” Will sighed. “The monster appeared, and immediately, they all had weapons whipped out and were ready to attack. And they did attack. And they killed the monster. And I just stood there- I didn’t even help at all.”
“So, you were slow on your reflexes for a certain battle? That’s nothing to feel bad about, Will. Happens to the best of us.”
“No, this happens all the time. It’s not just that my reflexes were slow. I’m just no good on the battlefield.”
“That’s not true,” Nico insisted. “You know your way around a bow.” Will didn’t look convinced, so Nico pushed on. “And besides, who cares how well you fight? You’re a healer. You’re the other half of the equation.”
“I know, It's just-” He let out a frustrated sigh. “I've been here for years, I'm a counselor, for the gods’ sake! I’m supposed to be a leader! I’m supposed to be caring for my little siblings- and yet more often than not, I'm relying on them for help. Because I can't- I can't fight. I can't do anything.” He buried his face in his hands. “What am I even good for?”
Nico stared in disbelief. “Will, are you serious?” He scooted forward, grabbing Will’s wrists and pulling them down. “You’re the best healer of this generation. Almost everyone here owes something to you- many people owe you their lives! And you ask what you’re good for?”
Will shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. If I can’t protect anyone-”
“You do protect people! You save lives! Isn’t that better than destroying them?”
Will met Nico’s eyes, and they were both silent. “...I guess you’re right,” Will said finally. “But, still…” His eyes drifted down to his palms. “You all go out and play capture the flag and fight and win . The only way I win is by not seeing another kid die. That’s my victory. I just wish… that I could do more.” He looked at his hands with distaste.
Nico was still holding onto Will’s wrists. He lifted one of Will’s hands gently, turned it, and pressed a kiss to his palm.
“You do the most of anyone in this camp,” Nico said softly. He kissed Will’s other hand. “You do. Your hands heal, they repair, they comfort- they don’t destroy.” Nico started rubbing small circles into Will’s palms. “Your hands are strong, Will. Not in spite of the fact that they don’t fight, but because of it.”
Will’s blue eyes were open wide. He stood frozen for a second, then suddenly pulled Nico into a tight hug.
“Thanks,” Will said quietly into Nico’s ear. His voice was tight. “I needed that.”
Nico squeezed him back. “Anytime, love.”