On Half-Blood Hill, Will hugged me and I buried my face in his shoulder, promising myself I wouldn’t cry.
“I’ll miss you every day I’m gone, Death Breath.” He was trying to sound lighthearted but I could hear the tears he was holding back.
“I swear to all the gods if you die I’m going to march down into the Underworld and drag you back up here by the ear, Will Solace.” I tried to sound threatening but knew I was failing miserably.
“I won’t, don’t worry Neeks.”
Will’s breath hitched in his throat as I grabbed him and kissed him one last time before he left on his quest with Cecil and an Ares girl.
“Get out of here.” I gave him a little shove and blinked hard.
“Yes, sir.” Will mock saluted and started down the hill. Then he looked over his shoulder and called, “Oh, and by the way- marry me?” in the most nonchalant voice I’ve ever heard. He could have been asking the weather.
“Yeah, yeah, sure.” I answered absentmindedly, too distracted worrying about him, before I realized what he had asked. “Wait- wait, what ? William Solace, you get your fucking ass back here so I can kill you!”
Will whooped as he ran down the hill, stumbling and laughing and screaming, “He said yes! He said yes! Did you hear, he said yes!” At the bottom of the hill, he pitched something small and black at me.
I caught it and opened it, grumbling. Inside was a silver skull diamond ring. Our initials were carved on the inside of the band. As shocked and pissed as I was, it made me smile and I slipped it on.
Jason and Percy were losing their shit in the background as I watched Will leave. He better get back here alive, I thought. He better get back alive so I can kill him and then marry him.
***Three weeks later***
“They’re back! They’re back!” a camper shrieked from outside.
I leapt out of my bed. Back? As in- back ? Good gods, they were back… I could have cried with relief. Instead, I straightened out my ring, which I’d been wearing every day since Will left, and ran to the hill.
Upon getting there, I saw Cecil Markowitz first.
“Hey, Markowitz!” I clapped him on the back in my frenzy. I knew I couldn’t keep a smile off my face so I probably looked slightly deranged. “Where is he?”
Cecil’s face contorted slightly.
“Nico… for one of our trials, we met Aphrodite. And she, well, in order to finish the quest, we needed something from her and she required a sacrifice. Not a human sacrifice!” he added quickly. “She had to erase the memory of the thing one of us loved most. And Will…”
“Yeah, big deal! So Will won’t remember his infirmary, now where is he?” I swallowed down my what ifs and pushed past Cecil to find Will. He wouldn’t forget me, there had to be things he loved more.
I found him hugging his siblings down by the lake. My walk turned into a full-on sprint as I rushed towards him.
“Will! Will!” I called. His gaze snapped to mine as I threw myself at him, hugging him with all my strength.
He tensed and my mind short-circuited. This couldn’t be happening… He slowly pushed me off him and studied me. “Sorry, but- who are you, exactly?”
This isn’t happening, this isn’t happening…
I felt a lump rise in my throat. “Will, it’s me… you remember me, don’t you?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in my life. Who are you?” Will sounded tired and exhilarated. A wound on his cheek was scabbing over and his blond hair was muddy and tousled but his eyes were as bright as ever.
“Will, it’s Nico. He-” Austin started, but Will cut him off.
“I don’t know any Nicos.” He was starting to sound slightly irritated.
I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes and if hearts could shatter, mine would be dust right now. I shook my head and forced the tears down.
“Will… it’s me. You can’t… you’re back- I’m right here… ” I grabbed his arms and shook him slightly. The ring on my finger felt a thousand times heavier. “It’s ME! ”
He tore himself out of my frantic grasp and backtracked, holding out his hands defensively. “S-stay back! What are you talking about? I don’t know you- I’m sorry, but I just don’t!”
Voices were echoing in my ears and everything was going in and out of focus. He doesn’t know you… he doesn’t remember you at all…
The Ares girl who had gone on the quest put her hand on Will’s arm and looked at me pityingly.
“Nico, right? He used to talk about you all the time, about how he couldn’t wait to come back to you. He missed you so much.”
Tears were dripping off my cheeks and sounds were forcing their way out of my mouth.
“It’s ME! Will, why don’t you remember? It’s me! Please… please, Will, please… ”
His annoyance turned to a lost, horrified look that confirmed everything. He didn’t know, he didn’t remember.
I was nobody to him.
I spun on my heel and ran back to the common. I slammed the cabin door behind me and curled up on my bed. I could feel the shadows rolling off me in waves. My mind was occupied by Will, Will, Will.
Will singing horribly off-tune healing hymns to me in the infirmary.
Will throwing that black box at me with that hysterical grin on his face.
Will kissing me every day no matter what.
Will’s sleepy ‘I love you’s.
Will braiding my hair on dates in New Rome.
Will sneezing like a freaking elephant.
Will being there, without fail, every time I had nightmares about Tartarus.
Will nearly burning down the Big House in a semi-successful attempt to make cookies for me.
Will helping me redecorate the Hades cabin.
Will laughing about how over the span of five years he made me love him.
Will and I planning our wedding over Iris message…
Until one day he didn’t call or answer anymore.
I raised my head through a haze of thick tears and broke down sobbing. The cabin door squeaked and I looked up, not even bothering to hide my crying.
It was Annabeth. She shut the door behind her and drew the curtains shut. She walked over and sat down on my bed. Without a word, she passed me a box of tissues and put an arm around my shoulder.
“You heard?” I asked, sniffling.
“I heard. How’re you doing?”
Annabeth paused and looked at me, tilting her head. She brushed the hair out of my eyes and pulled me closer. “Really?”
Annabeth sighed. “Or maybe you’re not and it’s okay not to be okay.”
I was silent for a moment. “I’m not okay.”
“And that’s okay. It’s okay to cry, crying cleanses you. And for what it’s worth, I can help you. You’re not the only one with a boyfriend who lost his memories, y’know.”
“But that’s different, Annabeth!” My voice was catching and tears were running down my face again. “Percy remembered you! Will doesn’t- he doesn’t- I’m nothing to him anymore!” I burst out sobbing again.
Annabeth was there with open arms the whole time. But it wasn't the same, I kept thinking. It just wasn't fair.
When I was done, Annabeth asked me if I had anything I wanted to get off my chest, anything at all, or anything I just wanted to say, for the slight chance she might have an answer.
“I don’t want to be happy anymore. I’m done trying, Annabeth, because when I do become happy, something bad always happens.” I finally said after a moment as she passed me a tissue to wipe my nose.
“Nico… you’re not afraid to be happy. You’re afraid of being sad again.” she answered. “And you keep yourself away from happiness because of the belief that it will plunge you into depression again. There’s a difference, and I should know…”
Her words just bubbled up frustration inside of me. I walked over to my dresser, where I had photos propped up, and picked up the one of Will. With a gutteral outburst of anger, I tore it into shreds and sat down amongst the pieces, head in hands.
“I… I’m sorry.” was all she said. “I know that our situations aren’t the same, Nico, and they never will be. But the spell was targeted to erase the one thing he loved most, and he loved you the most. He had no control, Nico.”
“He did! If he even loved me a little he would have fought it, like Percy did for you.” I whispered, voice shaking like an autumn leaf.
“Nico, you know that’s not true.” Annabeth sighed, putting an arm around my shoulders.
The ring on my finger was like lead, weighing my hand down with its burden. I slipped it off and was going to drop it onto the floor for a skeleton to take away when I hesitated. I couldn’t, I couldn’t, the last piece of Will I had left, I couldn’t throw it away. Instead I dropped it into my pocket and shrugged off Annabeth’s arm.
“Thank you… for your time. But I- I need to go. You know, for a walk.”
“Will you be coming back?” Annabeth’s sharp gray eyes searched mine and for a flitting moment I could understand how Percy fell in love with her over me. It was her very nature.
“I… I don’t know, Annabeth. Promise me you won’t say anything… please?”
She ran a hand through her blonde curls. “If that’s what you really want, then okay.”
“Thank you.” I turned to leave.
“Nico?” I turned around, door knob gripped in my fist. “Stay safe, alright?”
I didn’t answer. I just left.
And on my way out, who would I run into but Will fucking Solace, who was he even to me anymore?
He winced as if he expected me to attack him, then straightened. “Look, I really don’t know you but I’m obviously someone who’s important to you. Everyone keeps trying to tell me-”
“Listen.” The harshness of my own voice surprised me. “You and I- we hate each other. I was thinking we could start over when you didn’t seem to remember me, but I guess not. Just- nothing ever happened. We hate each other.”
He put a hand on his temples, squeezing as if his head hurt. “For some reason I’m getting the feeling we never hated each other…”
“We hated each other.” I said coldly. And god, my heart was breaking, it was shattered like glass on the floor, it was dust. “We hated each other then and we do now.”
I turned tail and melted into a shadow.
And the dust was gone, dissipated, carried away by the wind. Where was my heart? Where had it gone?
I don’t think I had one anymore.
In which Will is very, very confused.
Did he say he was very confused?
He meant VERY confused.
“We hated each other,” he spat at me. “We hated each other then and we do now.”
So why do you look like you’re going to cry ?
The man in black- Nick? No, I think it was Nico… yeah, Nico , gave me one last cold look that didn’t mask his puffy, red eyes and melted into the pool of his own shadow. For some reason I couldn’t explain, I had the strangest urge to yell at him for being so damn reckless with his powers.
I shook my head. I didn’t know this guy.
I decided to go back and run a few shifts in the infirmary to clear my head. When I got there, Austin greeted me with worried eyes and a wide smile and nodded at me.
“Hey, man. How’re you doing?”
“Fine,” I mumbled. “Listen, d’you know where my coat is? I’m taking over the next few shifts for you. You’ve probably been so busy while I’ve been gone, and I-”
“Actually,” he interrupted my rambling. “Nico came by almost every day and helped out. He couldn’t do much healing, y’know, child of Hades and all that but he wrapped bandages and set broken bones and was generally very helpful. It decreased our workload by a lot. I still have to thank him, come to think of it.”
“Why would he come help out in the infirmary?” I asked, locating my coat on the hook ( thanks, Austin ).
“You really don’t know?” I shook my head. “Let’s just say that the infirmary was a very special place for the both of you.”
“But why?” I asked for the umpteenth time. I was getting tired of asking that. Austin shifted his weight uneasily.
At that exact moment, the doors of the infirmary busted open to reveal a very pissed-off-looking Drew Tanaka.
"So.” She marched straight (haha) up to me, shouldering her Prada handbag. “You’re playing dumb now?”
“Excuse me?” I took a few steps back. An angry Drew Tanaka was a force to be reckoned with.
“What’s the matter? Got cold feet after three weeks of being on a quest, Solace? Decided you couldn’t handle the heat?” she snarled.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.” I was beginning to get pissed. I hated confrontational people.
She seemed to explode. “NICO DI ANGELO IS WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT, WILLIAM SOLACE! THAT POOR BOY- DO YOU REALIZE WHAT YOU DID TO HIM? ALL BECAUSE YOU HAD TO VOLUNTEER FOR MOM’S SACRIFICE. YOU HAD TO. AND NOW LOOK WHAT HAPPENED. NICO’S HEARTBROKEN, SOLANGELO HAS SUNK, AND YOU-”
“Drew-” Austin said uneasily. “You have to understand that it’s not his fault. He barely understands what’s going on.”
“NO! You need to make him understand now! I’m the daughter of the goddess of love, and this-” she waved her hand loosely “- it’s not right! This wasn't how it was supposed to happen. Let me explain to you a thing, Austin Lake. People fall in love. Some people aren’t meant to be, so they break up. Some people make it work. They get married, have kids, whatever. But others? Few people are soulmates, and Nico and Will were- were-!”
I cut her off while she was scrambling for words. “You mean that guy in black with the skull rings? What’s it to me if he’s heartbroken? No fucking offense, but I’m an Apollo kid. It’s sad and everything and of course I feel sorry for him and wish he didn’t have to go through that, but I’m a healer. Heartbreak and shit is your job, Drew. Not mine. I don’t do counselling or therapy, unless it’s physical. And furthermore-”
I stumbled back, clutching my face which no doubt had an angry red welt on it from where Drew had smacked me a good one with her purse.
“あなたはとてもクソばかげている、私は今あなたを信じることすらできない！あなたは彼と結婚しようとしていた、あなたは雌犬の息子日当たりの良いお尻！神々、私はママを殺すつもりです!*” she hissed in Japanese. She looked at me like she was about to say something else, then huffed and turned on her heel, slamming the infirmary door behind her.
I turned to Austin. “Explain. What the hell just happened?”
*POV change (Drew)
I fumed as I stalked out of the infirmary. Solangelo was perfect! It was the ship since Percabeth! And they had that rare aura that few people had, the one that bonded them in life and death like with Silena and Charlie!
I chewed my lip, something I normally wouldn’t do (it causes bleeding and it’s a waste of lip gloss). I couldn’t think about my late half-sister. Yeah, I had said some dumb things about her in the past, when Piper first came to our Cabin. The truth? I was hurt. We were all hurt. Silena had done that to the camp- to us !- and then died a ‘hero’ like everything was okay.
But I couldn’t bring myself to truly hate my older sister. She was everything an Aphrodite should be: caring, sweet, considerate, badass, fiercely protective of what she loved. We’re not doing this right now, Drew. We’re NOT. We have bigger things to focus on, like bringing Solangelo together again. This calls for an emergency cabin meeting.
I am not letting this go down. Mom promised to leave Solangelo alone. I seethed as I threw open the door to my cabin.
Panic was ensuing.
Lacy was screaming at Mitchell because he forgot to offer Mom lasagna (she has a thing for it, please don’t ask), Valentina was cursing in French, Greek, and English alike, Piper was filling in Jason, who was the retired vice president of the Solangelo Fan Club, and everyone else was either loudly brainstorming or just plain screaming into the abyss.
“Calling an emergency meeting for all Aphrodite kids!” I said loudly, trying to be heard above the noise.
Little to no reaction. I sighed. I didn’t want to have to do this.
“If you all don’t shut your fucks right this very moment I will break out the Shoes of Shame,” I growled, charmspeak on full blast.
The room became deadly silent, except for Piper, who really couldn’t care less about the Shoes of Shame or charmspeak. She was still explaining our situation to an increasingly horrified Jason. What’s he even doing in here, I thought for a split second, bewildered, but then I shrugged it off. Jason is a Solangelo shipper to rival Reyna.
“Thank you,” I sighed with relief, taking a spot at the front of the room. “Now, I know Mission: Solangelo was declared a success, but as of now, thanks to Mom …” I seethed, taking a moment to compose myself. “Well, we may have to work doubly hard to get Will’s memory back and ensure that those two get married and have demigod babies.”
Lacy frowned, raising her hand. “Drew, I don’t think that’s how male anatomy works.”
“Oh, you know what she means,” Piper said suddenly, waving her off dismissively.
Jason, who was just about in tears, took off his glasses and aggressively cleaned the lenses with the hem of his shirt. (Just imagine him aggressively cleaning his glasses and trying not to cry oml I’m gonna draw this-)
“My ship will get married and adopt their demigod babies, damn you, even if I have to die to ensure it!” (A/N: this definitely isn’t foreshadowing nope not at all) Jason positioned his glasses on his head, nestling his hair in the process. “Outta the way, Tanaka, I’m taking over this meeting.”
Valentina coughed. “But… you’re not in the Aphrodite cabin.”
“My girlfriend is, and since Aphrodite is my future mother in law I may as well be an honorary member already,” he insistd.
Half of us aww ed, half of us squealed and started fangirling, Piper just snorted and kissed his forehead, and I raised an eyebrow in satisfaction.
Hey, I may act like a douche, but in reality? I just ensure that my ships become canon. Jasper, Percabeth, Frazel, Caleo, Solangelo- you name it, I’ll probably ship it. ( Read: Form several lengthy, complicated master plans in order to bait the ships into sailing ).
“Alright Grace, the floor is yours.” I nodded and sat down on one of the beds.
“Mission: Solangelo, 2.0 is a go,” he said in complete seriousness. “We’ll need bait. Someone must talk Nico into attending tonight’s celebratory campfire. The Apollo cabin will probably do some singing, and Will’s definitely going to be there because, well, duh, it’s a celebratory campfire - anyways, we can arrange for them to have seats next to each other, coincidentally, of course, and-”
“Watch the magic happen!” Lacy squealed, cutting him off. “They were both crazy for each other the first time we tried this, and it was only a matter of time before one of them kissed the other. How would it be any different this time?”
“Um, Will doesn’t remember Nico, like- at all.
“Which is exactly why we’re going to work towards a friendship first. You can’t have love without friendship. Then after they become close friends… well, I really don’t know. We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it,” one of our newer siblings, Patrick Kawakaari, said while smoothing back his short, curly afro.
“The saying is ‘cross that bridge when we get to it,’ Patrick,” I said while cocking an eyebrow.
“No, ‘burn that bridge when we get to it’ means I don’t know what’s coming but it’s inevitable we’ll screw it up when we get there. Pretty accurate, I’d say.”
I nodded, thinking before I spoke. “Anyone volunteer for the task? I mean, someone without charmspeak, we wouldn’t want this to be forced. That cuts both McLean and I out.”
Mitchell slowly raised his hand. “Nico and I are pretty chill, actually, since I helped him find a fabric for a new aviators jacket after the war. He owes me a favor, anyway.” He paused, then shook his head. “Do you guys remember how we hung out together so much Will actually got jealous?”
“That was such a scandal,” I agreed fervently, a smile stretching on my face. “Do you remember how when you came to get Nico from the infirmary because you finally convinced him to go shopping, Will gripped the flask of nectar he was holding so hard you thought it would shatter?”
“And how red his face was? I could have sworn there was smoke coming out of his ears,” someone else chimed in.
“GUYS!” Jason clapped his hands, huffing. “Back on topic!"
“Okay, so Mitchell will get Nico to come to the campfire. We can arrange the seating to that Nico and Will just happen to wind up next to each other. Nico can sing, too. That would be a great add on, remember they kissed for the first time right after Nico sang at the campfire a few years back?” Valentina gushed.
“Ah, the good old days,” Piper reminisced, wiping a fake(?) tear from her eye. “When Mom didn’t interfere with the love lives of every shippable couple we’ve encountered.”
Everyone murmured in agreement, grumbling.
“And then I guess all we can do is hope that it might jog Will’s memories. That might not even work. I think we need to realize that in the end, maybe all we really can do is hope that some time will help… I’m not trying to be psycho about this like when we were seventeen. That was a crazy time, and we nearly destroyed their entire relationship by trying to force the concept of loving each other upon them, even if they were so obviously dancing around their even more obvious mutual feelings.” Jason twisted his mouth, looking at all of us one by one as he continued.
“Nico and Will deserve each other. We know that. They knew it. But their love was built off the emotional trust they had built up with each other, the darkness and the light balancing each other out. How Will would make sure that Nico knew it was okay to lay his sword down, that the darkness wasn't such a bad thing, that he was worthy of being cared for and loved. How Nico would make sure that Will knew he wasn't worthless just because he wasn't valuable to the camp in the ways everyone else proved to be, that healing was just as important as wounding, that it was okay to be sad sometimes. Will doesn’t remember any of that- in fact, I’m betting he’s in the infirmary right now, overworking himself.”
“Oh, he is,” I supplied. “I just came from there. He was pissed that he missed so much work.”
Jason raised an eyebrow as if to say, point made.
“Without their emotional trust, any relationship they have will be literal shit. So… I think that before we can help them fall in love all over again, we have to make them friends.”
“It’s not as simple as that, though.” One of my siblings, Jamie Lin, said. “Only the gods know that Will was crushing on Nico ever since he tried to teach him to play volleyball when Nico first came to camp. Will and I arrived at camp together,” she explained, “and we basically stuck together for the rest of our time here, so we talk about everything. He came to me for advice on how to propose, actually. But anyway, he was talking to me about how he was going to continue to teach Nico how to serve the next day, but he never got the chance because Nico ran off. They go way back. I’m talking years of sexual tension building up, guys. Years. ”
“Oh gods,” Jason groaned, burying his face in his hands. Piper swooped in and snatched his glasses from his face before they could break from the sudden impact. “This is going to be harder than we thought. This might take longer than the OG Mission: Solangelo! Years of sexual tension build up, you say? Well, I’m talking possible decades of re-building up that same sexual tension!”
I took a deep breath and forced a smile. “Be right back.”
I marched out of the cabin, pointed at the sky, and started yelling, “You know what? YOU KNOW FUCKING WHAT ? Why do gods even have to mess up so much fucking shit? Like, for fuck’s sake- just stay on your fucking mountain and eat your motherfuckin’ ambrosia and leave people the hell alone- fucking bastards !”
Thunder started rumbling almost immediately, but after a moment it softened and faded as if Zeus couldn’t be bothered to care.
“What’s the matter, Mom? Can’t take the heat? Is it too much to let demigods that deserve it live their lives because they might die the next day?” I taunted. I probably looked like a psychopath, I thought, then shrugged it off. Lately, campers screeching profanity at the sky wasn't uncommon. Besides, I’m pretty sure Jason was this close to joining me.
Composing myself, I stepped back into the cabin and sat down as if nothing had happened.
“Now, where were we?”
“Talking about how it would be harder than ever to get them back together. The Mission is effective immediately. Anyone know where Nico is?” Mitchell said with a determined look on his face.
It was at that moment that the newly installed Iris Message fountain in the corner of the Cabin burst into a screen of light and colour.
A woman with a long, thick braid down her back, a regal posture, and a positively panicked facial expression was frantically speaking and cursing in Spanish.
“Alright, I heard the news, Jesus jodido Cristo , does anyone know where my fucking dumbass little brother is so I can knock some sense into that thick skull of his for what probably won’t be the last time? Get his ass on the IM this instant or I swear to whoever the fuck I believe in these days I am going to storm Camp Half-Blood and-”
“Reyna!” Piper interrupted her. “Calm down. We’re plotting Mission: Solangelo, 2.0. We have a scheme set up for tonight’s celebratory campfire, and isn’t Camp Jupiter joining us?”
There was a scuffle on the other end of the IM. A very out-of-breath Hazel Levesque burst into the room Reyna was in.
“Where’s Nico ?” she all but shouted, forehead creased with worry.
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out!” Reyna said, frustrated.
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out!” Lacy actually stood up and stomped her foot.
“Alright, who knows his last known whereabouts?” Jason asked, crossing his arms over his chest.
“I think he ran off to his cabin,” Valentina said carefully. “He was pretty upset.”
“Who volunteers to go check the Hades Cabin for him?”
“I’ll go,” Jason offered, taking his glasses back from Piper and standing up. “I’m his big bro. He trusts me.”
“You do that,” Hazel nodded. “If anyone can, it’s you. Go on- hurry!”
He bolted out the door, lifting off the ground almost as soon as he was outside. We waited in anticipation while Jason was gone. It was probably only ten minutes, but it felt like forever. When he came back, he was alone.
“Not there?” Reyna asked worriedly. He shook his head.
“Checked the whole camp. Nowhere to be found. Even asked around a bit. Nobody’s seen him since the encounter with Will."
“It’s nearly dinnertime. Maybe he’ll show up in the dining pavilion. Then we can talk to him,” someone piped up hopefully.
“Let’s hope so. We’ll fill you guys in on it later,” I said to Reyna and Hazel. They nodded firmly. I swiped a hand through the IM and it dissipated and Piper gestured to everyone to get up.
“Let’s get moving, hm? The sooner we get there the sooner we can find him.”
We didn’t find him. Nowhere to be found. Even at the campfire. We weren’t as much worried about the Mission anymore as we were about what happened to Nico di Angelo. Everyone knew how he was before Will- depressed, angry, suicidal when it came to just about everything.
The campfire came and went. Jason was worried sick. He slept over in the Aphrodite Cabin that night with Piper- they didn’t do anything, don’t worry- IMing Hazel, Reyna, and Frank for the entire night, asking them to keep a lookout for Nico in case he came to Camp Jupiter. Hazel shadow-travelled to the Underworld at least once an hour, checking with Hades to see if Nico had shown up there.
He hadn’t. It was like the son of Hades had disappeared off the face of the Earth.
The Aphrodite cabin were, all in all, pretty good friends with Nico. Once Mitchell had taken him out shopping that one time, we found that he liked it just as much as we did. He came and ranted to us about Will before they were together and yelled when we tried to get them together. It had nothing to do with Mission: Solangelo, 2.0. anymore.
In the morning, when the entire cabin stumbled into the dining pavilion with bags under their eyes, which warranted strange looks from everyone, Annabeth Chase approached us shakily. Her face looked pale and her hands were trembling as she gripped the table.
“I have to tell you guys something. It’s… it’s about Nico.”
The entire table started shouting almost immediately before Piper silenced them all with a look.
“Sit down, Annabeth. Take a drink of something, eat some breakfast, and tell us what you have to tell us.”
And so, over a barely touched vegetable omelette and a glass of orange juice, Annabeth explained how she had found Nico in his cabin the prior afternoon positively devastated, how she had stayed to comfort him, and how he had walked out a few hours later with no promises of returning.
We all stared at her, wide eyed as she finished.
“I promised not to tell… but, oh gods, I just couldn’t live with myself if anything happened to him. Because Nico… he’s everyone’s little brother, you know? Everyone collectively adopted him after the war. He’s like family,” she said, voice breaking.
“We know. We’re doing our best to find him, alright? Thanks for telling us. At least we can focus on where he might have gone. Obviously not somewhere we’d check right off the bat. He’s smarter than that,” Patrick said while Jamie put a hand on Annabeth’s back soothingly.
My gaze strayed toward the Apollo table, where Will was sitting with an empty spot on his right. The place where Nico had always sat. I smiled bitterly. Some things would never change. Will’s memory was still in there somewhere, and we were going to find it.
We were going to find it.
We were going to find Nico.
We were going to find them both.
I'm disappointed in you all. I published this at 5 in the afternoon (I live in NY) and by 11:50 the next morning I have gotten 2 comments, 15 kudos and 152 hits. MY WRITING IS NOT THAT GOOD. STOP THIS NONSENSE.
*Translation: You're so fucking dumb, I can't even believe you right now! You were going to get married to him, you sunny ass son of a bitch! Gods, I am going to KILL Mom!
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
The son of Hades hasn't been seen at camp for six months. Will is beginning to fall for another person, and Cabin 10 is slowly losing their minds. An encounter with Aphrodite clears up a lot of things- well, right after Piper convinces Jason and Reyna to untie her- or at least loosen the binds a little.
I'm not going to lie when I say I was more than a little worried about where Nico went. When he told me he would be staying at Camp Half-Blood, I assumed he would actually stay. When he disappeared, I thought, Okay. Give it a few days, a week tops. He'll be back.
When he wasn't, I knew things were serious. Nico had grown to love camp dearly since he was thirteen. He considered it to be a special place for him in many senses, especially since it was the last place Bianca and him had both called home. He would have died to defend the place that was so sacred to him, so I knew that what happened with Will must have hurt him more than I initially thought. Will was the only reason Nico stayed at camp in the first place. To have that anchor torn away from him- it must have had such an unforeseeable effect on him.
I should have been there. Not Annabeth. I could have done something, I should have done something. Now he's gone, and it's my fault. Piper tries to tell me it's not. So does Hazel, bless her soul, but the way I see it, Annabeth had no idea that when Nico turned his back on something, he turned his back for good. I did.
We searched every possible lead. Piper and I went to where Clarisse and Chris are staying today to ask them if they had seen him around. Clarisse was surprised, then angry; turns out she had no idea he was gone. Chris's eyebrows had flown up into his hairline.
"That little rascal left camp? But- he loves that place, he would never just up and leave with no good reason! He sees himself as the bulk of the guard there- which, admittedly, isn't necessarily wrong because almost all the warriors from when Clarisse and I went there as kids are going to college and New Rome- but that's not the point!" he finally sputtered. "He's gone?"
"He and Will were engaged," Piper had informed them, only to be shut up by Clarisse.
"Let me guess," she said with an eye roll, "the gods fucked everything up."
She had sighed and taken a long sip of her coffee. "We'll keep an eye out for the kid. He's the whole camp's little brother, y'know? If we see him, we'll IM as quick as possible."
"No thanks needed. McLean, Grace." She had nodded at us. "You two get back alright."
And that had been that. We had left, no closer to finding our brother than we had been almost six months prior.
Currently we were in Cabin 10 (I seemed to be spending a lot of time there lately) with Reyna, Hazel, and Frank. The Romans had been at Camp Half-Blood for almost a month now. Hazel had tried living in Cabin Thirteen on her own, but couldn't bear to be stuck in what she described as a perfectly preserved freeze frame of someone who was no longer there. It was perfectly captured- the uncapped tube of toothpaste in the bathroom, the half-filled laundry hamper in the closet, the various trinkets and photos scattered across the dresser, the unmade bed, the clothing on the floor- nobody seemed to be able to bring themselves to touch any of it. It was almost like a monument, which made me angry.
Monuments were either for the dead, or for the immortal. No in between.
It was nearly lunch. None of us were doing anything much at all. Piper and I had filled the rest of them in on what went down at the Ruedriguez's, and the same results were logged into a small journal we were keeping in an old, half-used notepad. The closest we had gotten was Leo and Calypso, who had told us he had stopped by their garage for some supplies- a bottle of unicorn draught and two rolls of Ace bandages- before thanking them and leaving. Didn't stay around for small talk, they said.
Everyone was lounging around. It wasn't that we were being lazy, per se, but rather that we were so tired of just trying and trying with fruitless results. No one wanted to face the possibility that maybe something had happened to the son of Hades. Something unimaginably awful.
"Well, come on, Cabin 10," Piper finally said, "and anyone else who wishes to currently associate themselves with us. Let's get rolling to the dining pavilion for lunch."
Everyone heaved themselves off the floor and various pieces of furniture, including Hazel, Reyna, Frank, and myself, and followed Cabin 10 to the dining pavilion.
"You know," Frank said on the way there, "I never knew Nico so well. He was Hazel's brother, and at the time I always felt like he put up with me. Like he thought I was amusing. But I really didn't care, because it was a better alternative to him thinking I was a pushover or a wimp. He was nice. He was a good guy, you know? And he loved Hazel. He put the mission above all else, and I've never really been one to carry rage at the gods, but I think it's a real dick move for them to go and take away the one thing that made the poor guy happy. Because after what he went through with Bianca, and then the wars, and Tartarus, I think he deserved to have his happy ending. Is anyone else starting to wonder why the hell we're even on the gods' side at this point?"
Everyone seemed surprised at this. Frank wasn't known for his strong language- it was actually quite the opposite. Hazel reached up to put a hand on his shoulder. She seemed to realize he was too tall for her to do comfortably that without standing on her tiptoes and settled for intertwining their fingers.
No one seemed to have an answer for him. We took our places at Cabin 10's table (Chiron had long since abolished the 'stay at your cabin's table' rule) and our plates were filled within moments.
I picked at my gyro wrap momentarily before sliding off the bench to put some food into the fire.
"To Dad... if you're not too busy chasing some mortal chick to enjoy it," I muttered.
"For Mom. Honestly, I don't know why we even bother anymore." Piper shook her head in disgust, flipping off the fire. She didn't stomp back to the table like I had expected her to, instead staying to glare at the fire.
"Hey, Dad- you're okay, as far as godly parents go. But I have a brother out there who needs help more than I do. It would be nice if you could show him you're there for him," Hazel whispered, getting off her knee.
"Am I allowed to call you dad? I don't know if you've even earned that title. But whatever. To Mars. Please don't cause any more wars soon. Thanks." Frank nodded once at the fire and scuttled back to the table.
"Bellona- mother- you are a Roman war deity. Mortal love affairs are not in your nature. But... my brother, Nico di Angelo- he has proven himself to be a true warrior. And war reaps rewards for those who deserve it. If you are truly the spirit of righteous war, of sensible war, of battle with a purpose..." Reyna couldn't finish her sentence, throwing her plate to the ground with a frustrated sob and storming out of the dining pavilion.
As I watched her go, Piper turned on her heel to glare at me.
"Aren't you going to... oh, I don't know... follow her?"
"What? Why? I mean, I care about Reyna and everything but-"
"But what? She isn't going to open up to me or to Frank or to anyone! She's known you since you were- what, eleven? Twelve? Does it matter?" Piper gave me a little shove. "Go. Get out of here. Go comfort her."
"And you're okay with this?" I asked her, bewildered.
"Why wouldn't I be?" Piper was confused. "I'm not like that. I trust you and I trust Reyna. In fact, I weren't in love with you, I would have already seduced her."
"Honestly, it's me you need to worry about," she continued like it was no big deal.
"What- Piper, what even-"
"Oh, I didn't tell you? Most of us in Cabin 10 are some variation of gay, bi, or pansexual. Or aromantic and/or asexual, of course."
"So are you going to dump me for Reyna or-"
"Honestly? No promises." She took one look at my face and burst out laughing. "Kidding, kidding! Now get!"
It wasn't that hard to find Reyna. If the skid marks in the grass and the faces of campers were anything to go by, I had a pretty good idea of where she had gone. I found her not too deep into the forest sitting on a rock and surrounded by monster dust.
She must have heard footsteps and looked up. She saw me and her face contorted weirdly. I heard her mutter "oh, great" as she dropped her head again. I decided not to take offense to that.
I sat down next to her. "Hey, stranger."
We were silent for a couple of moments. Then Reyna spoke up.
"Why are you here?"
"Depends on why you are. You're not okay," I said, stating the obvious. She grunted.
"Can you blame me? Can you really fucking blame me? Yeah, it's been years, but my little brother- the only half of my family that I have left- is gone. He's gone and I don't know where he is. After everything that's happened, everything we've gone through, Aphrodite has to come in and fuck everything up. It was bad enough that you disappeared thanks to Juno-" I winced as she continued rambling. "-when you came back, you had this new girlfriend and no memory whatsoever of me, or us, or New Rome at all, Percy had Annabeth, and the prophecy- the prophecy!"
She had gotten off the rock and started pacing, throwing her hands in the air. "You all ran off to complete some prophecy for the gods, left me to deal with New Rome, and then all of a sudden I'm relevant when you think you need me. I fly in from New Rome, more or less abandon my camp, lose Scipio and the loyalty of my people-" She stopped to take a deep breath, seething.
"And then Nico came along. This small, innocent child who had gone through more than most warriors ever hope to go through- do you know how it feels to see someone's inner turmoil after so much time around them and realize just how blind you've been to everything?"
"Yeah, I do, actually."
"I'm listening to you right now, aren't I?" Her face froze. "It's been so long. It's been seven years. You couldn't tell me that you felt betrayed and hurt and angry because of everything that happened sometime in the past seven years? Hell, I'm feeling hurt and betrayed knowing that you've been stewing over this for seven whole years and you've never even thought to tell me. Do you think that lowly of me? Reyna-" I reached out to take her hands. "-I didn't remember. I wake up almost every day with some random recollection. This morning- the first time I went to the hot chocolate place in New Rome? With you? I remembered that. But you remembered it all. You remembered everything that happened. I care about you, Reyna, even if I'm not a praetor anymore or dating you. You matter to me."
She looked surprised. "Yes, well- I didn't seem to matter to you. When I met Nico, I felt like I had gained a friend. A companion. A brother. And we learned so much about each other during that mission. He came to talk to me about Will. He came to me before even Hazel when he got engaged. And then he just left... I'm tired of people leaving, alright? Of coming into my life and storming out like it's no big deal. It's a big deal to me! He just left, and I don't know where he is or what happened to him. And I'm sure he didn't mean to do this, maybe he was also hurt and angry and betrayed, but I just-"
She stopped suddenly, whirling around to peer into the brush of the woods.
"Is something wrong?"
"We're not alone here."
Chills went down my spine as I focused on the same spot Reyna was staring at. All of a sudden, she yelled and pulled out her Imperial gold spear and dagger and, with a running start, literally did a fucking pole vault into the brush, abandoning the spear to tackle a figure in the trees. Her dogs had appeared somewhere int he middle of it, barking up a storm.
Snapping out of my daze, I grabbed the weapon closest- which happened to be the fallen spear- and charged in after her. I found her straddling a woman on the forest floor, pinning her arms behind her back and spitting blood out of her mouth.
"Quick, knock her out!"
"Knock her out, Grace, hurry up!"
"We don't know who the hell this is, Reyna!"
"I think you know exactly who I am, Jason Grace," the woman said. "I go by many names. You know me best as Venus."
I felt my eyes narrow.
"Perhaps you could convince your friend to le-"
I dropped the spear in disgust after smacking Venus upside the head with it. Hard.
"Wow. You actually did it. You're usually so... moral." Reyna sounded mildly impressed.
"Let's move. I know a group of people who would very much like to have a conversation with this goddess."
The cabin was empty when we reached there.
"They must still be at lunch," Reyna murmured, more to herself than to me. She looked up, lips pursed. "What do we do now?"
"Tie her up- possibly to a chair. The Hephaestus cabin recently perfected their golden netting. You know, the one designed to trap anything inside it? If she wakes up, we'll just knock her out again," I answered without hesitation.
Reyna twitched. "Jason, I don't have a very strong moral compass when it comes to things like this. You know I don't. But isn't this a little... extreme?"
"She took Will's memories, Reyna. She's the reason Nico is gone. Or is that not enough motivation for you?" I said, anger swelling in my chest. Venus- or, should I say, Aphrodite- is the root of all our issues right now. If it weren't for her, we wouldn't be going out of our minds with worry. You can't tell me you haven't lost some sleep wondering if our brother is out there somewhere, whether he's dead or alive or worse!"
Reyna's face was impassive for a long time.
"I'll get the netting," she finally said frostily. "You secure the goddess to a chair- take rope from the walk in closet. I'll be back in a moment."
She left and I got to work, sitting Aphrodite/Venus up in a chair and binding her with ropes. I bound her torso to the spine of the chair, her calves to the legs, and her arms behind the back of the chair. When Reyna returned a few short minutes later, we worked quickly, winding the gold net around her and securing it by double knotting it near her wrists.
We stood back, surveying our work. We hadn't roughed her up too badly, but she wasn't perfectly unscathed either.
"We did good," Reyna said after catching her breath. "What now?"
We must have both heard the footsteps at the same time. I cursed in Latin.
"Jason! Reyna! You won't believe what happened!" a very distressed voice I recognized as Mitchell's called out. "We were wrapping up from lunch and we saw Will staring at that new Tyche camper, Evanna o'Brien, from halfway across the room! Absolute heart eyes, I tell you! Heart eyes!"
The door to the cabin was thrown open in a fit of rage and fury, and the onslaught of words quickly faltered. Piper and the rest of Cabin 10 were standing there, goggling at the scene. And it was quite a scene.
"Jason. Reyna," Piper finally said. "Why do you have our mother tied to a chair?"
"I swear it's not as bad as it looks," I said defensively, putting my hands up. Reyna, on the other hand, glared and tossed her braid over her shoulder.
"Not as bad as it looks? Tying her up was your idea, Grace!"
"You attacked her and told me to knock her out!"
"I didn't think you actually would-"
"I don't know why you're all arguing," Drew said loudly, cutting us both off, "when we could be figuring out a way into getting her to tell us where Nico is and how to get Will's memories of him back!"
Silence fell upon the room at her statement.
"Right, I'll be taking over from here," Drew said, striding forward. Piper reached out and caught her arm.
"Don't you want to figure out what happened to Nico?" Hazel spoke up, a steely glint in her voice. "She knows, I know she does- and if I have to go through with this process myself then I will."
"We're not going to get anything done through force, though. This is a literal goddess we have on our hands. Not that I can't handle one- I mean, I stabbed Khione, but that's not the point! This is out mom. Who knows what she would do to everyone else if we don't do this carefully. What about Percy and Annabeth, Leo and Calypso, Hazel and Frank, Clarisse and Chris- she could fuck up their romances too. And you know she would. We can't trust her."
"Then what do we do?" Lacey asked. The question hung in the air.
"Untie mom first," Piper said after a minute of pondering. "Or at least loosen the binds and the net."
Reyna and I grumbled, but we obeyed.
"Now we wake her up," Piper said slowly, as if she were still figuring out the plan.
Without a word, Reyna grabbed a pitcher of water from the dresser and dumped it on Aphrodite's head.
Several people screeched as the goddess jerked awake. I flicked my wrist and willed the winds to shut the blinds.
"You'd think you'd treat a goddess with a little more respect," Aphrodite sighed warily. "I'll admit, I wasn't expecting to be jumped and knocked out when I sought out Reyna and Jason, but..." The goddess trailed off, rolling her eyes. "Things happen."
"Enough small talk," Drew growled. "Where'd Nico go." It was not a question, but a demand.
"He's perfectly safe. He's recovering steadily from his bout of heartbreak."
"How can you speak of him so easily? Do you not have a conscience?" I hissed. "Doesn't it matter to you that you shattered him inside out when you made the person he loved most in the world forget him? For a goddess of love, you sure seem hellbent on destroying every romance out there!"
"You've all come so far. I'm so extremely proud of you all... and yet, you still don't seem to understand." Aphrodite shook her head sadly.
"Understand what?" Reyna demanded.
"He fought it, you know. He seemed to realize that his memory was being torn away from him and he fought it so hard. He failed, obviously, but he tried. It's in there, somewhere, you know," she continued. "He remembers him, somewhere in there."
"What is any of that supposed to mean?" Patrick growled.
"The thing is, love is just a word until someone comes along and gives it meaning. I so enjoyed their little search for that meaning. Do you want to know a secret?" she prompted. No one said anything, but it was obvious we were waiting with bated breath to hear what she had to say.
"He's going to come back home, eventually. When he learns to let go, he will find that he can hold the whole world in his now empty palms. Remember that." She smiled at us all. "Goodbye for now, my children... the course of true love never did run smooth, but love will find a way in the end." She glanced around at us all, and her eyes finally landed on Reyna.
"And you. You, Praetor of New Rome, Hero of Olympus. You are already complete. What a beautiful thing, is it not? And yet, you will meet someone who will break you down and rebuild you. Walls erode, you know." With a burst of rose petals and dove feathers, the goddess disappeared and reappeared by the door.
"Heed my words, children. Just remember, you will always have my blessings as long as your intentions are true. And if not..." She paused, eyes flashing dangerously, letting the sentence sit in the air heavily. And then she was gone.
"Well!" Jamie said. "That did not go as planned. Like, at all."
We nodded in agreement.
"But at least we know Nico's alright," Valentina pointed out. "For now, at least..."
I suddenly remembered something and turned to Mitchell. "What were you saying when you came in?"
"Oh." His expression turned a strange combination of sour and stormy. "I think... I think Will's falling for someone else."
Eight months and they've all but stopped looking. Clarisse convinces Reyna to go visiting with her. Unexpected discoveries are made.
On another account, Evanna o'Brien doesn't understand why an entire cabin of Aphrodite kids, a Pluto kid, a Jupiter kid, a Mars kid, and a Bellona kid are so frosty towards her. And why that Apollo kid keeps making heart eyes at her, come to think of it...
"So, I was thinking... we haven't seen Coach or Mellie or Chuck in a long time," the daughter of Ares had told her gruffly over a Roman hot chocolate. "I think it's about time I paid them a visit. A surprise one, of course, because why the fuck not?"
"I didn't know you were the type to go visiting, much less a surprise visit." I had smiled and taken a sip of my own drink as Clarisse continued talking.
"People change, praetor. Besides, Coach IM'd me a few months back saying if I didn't visit, I'd have to answer to his Louiseville Slugger. Thing is, though... I think you should come along. It'd be good for you."
I hadn't said anything in response. It didn't feel right to go on what would essentially be a vacation. Hedge wanted us to come over for a week, meaning I would have to leave New Rome in the hands of Frank- which were very capable, mind you, but how could I go vacationing when there were so many other things going on? That would just be wrong.
"Clarisse... you know I can't," I sighed, shaking my head.
"Listen. You're that kid's very own Katniss Everdeen. He positively adores you and the ground you walk on, Ms Roman. If you're not gonna go for Mellie and Coach, go for Chuck. Come on."
"It's... not that," I whispered, gripping my cup. Clarisse tilted her head and gave me a look that said, quite plainly, get over yourself.
"Alright Ramirez-Arellano, listen up because I'm only gonna tell you this once. I haven't seen Coach since last June, and it's April now. Chuck's going to turn... what, how old again? Six? Seven? Well, something along those lines, in a few months. Chris and I have talked, and we think that seeing him will do you some good. Frank agrees and Jason is more than willing to step in as praetor for a week. Look, I know you're worried about him. But you can't just keep holding on to the hope that he's just going to randomly come back. It's been eight months, Reyna. Thanks to Hazel's report from her father, we know he's alive and well. But if he hasn't come back on his own, then you can't force it to happen by not doing anything but searching and waiting. If he wants to come back, he'll come back. None of us can force this, even if it is in his own best interests."
"Do you realize what you're saying?" I asked dangerously, gritting my teeth.
She adjusted her bandanna, cocking a brow at me. "Probably something you need to hear. Don't give me that look, you know it's true. Reyna, I'm not saying abandon all hope or forget him. I'm saying that none of this is up to us, or up to you. Losing sleep and overworking yourself is not going to make your brother come back, Reyna. It's not going to. But when he is ready, he will."
I didn't realize there were tears welling up in my eyes until I was blinking them away. "And what if he doesn't?" I asked shakily.
"Then it won't happen. But you know the kid- he's a rambunctious little spunk with a heart of gold. You're his big sister and everyone knows it. We all know how hard it was on him when his biological sister died. Trust me when I say that he wouldn't ever, ever knowingly put you through everything he went through, because he knows where you stand in his life and the role you've played. Have some faith, RARA."
"Don't call me that."
"RARA," she deadpanned. Then her expression changed. "So... you coming to visit the coach and his family or not?"
"I guess I have nothing to lose."
That was a week ago. That was why I was standing outside Coach Hedge's house with a small suitcase and a backpack of supplies with Clarisse next to me.
"Ladies first," she grinned, gesturing to the steps.
I harrumphed but walked up the steps anyway, freezing up as my hand hovered over the doorbell.
"Gods, are you really going to do this now? Out of the way, praetor." Clarrise [gently] shoved me to the side and rang the bell.
No going back now.
Mellie answered the door, briefly looking shocked then engulfing us both in an enormous, motherly hug.
"Clarisse, Reyna, what a surprise! It's been so long- Clarisse, have you gotten taller? Come inside, Chuck'll be so excited to see you two!"
"Hey to you too, Mellie." I half-waved and stepped inside. They had moved out of camp a while after Mellie had given birth, into a nice four-bedroom suburban. It suited their little family very nicely.
There were a few toys scattered here and there, and a bag of what I perceived to be freshly laundered clothing in the corner. The TV was blaring and I spotted a few dishes in the sink. It felt like home would feel. I took a deep breath and looked at Mellie.
"It smells delicious in here."
"Gleeson's baking brownies," she answered. "He cooks, I clean. It's better that way, really." She shook her head.
"Wise. He was the main reason we didn't die of starvation during Gaea."
"Speaking of that old goat, where is me?" Clarisse craned her neck, looking around anxiously.
"Gleeson, we have some surprise visitors. Get your hooves in here before I kidnap your baseball bat again," Mellie called down the hall, looking over her shoulder and winking at us mischievously in response.
"You will not lay a finger on Crusher, woman!" Coach bellowed as he clomped down the hall. "She is our second-born child, how could you even consider-" He stopped ranting suddenly as he saw us. Then his face broke into a face splitting grin.
"Cupcakes! Well, it's about time you two showed your faces around here! I was beginning to think you forgot about us!" He came over and gestured for us to lean down, giving us each a noogie as soon as we obliged.
"I've got something for you, Coach. You too, Mellie. And Clarisse and I both joint-invested in something special for Chuck, since it's been so long," I said as soon he stopped the assault on our heads. I opened my backpack and rummaged through it, finally pulling out two wrapped bundles.
"Speaking of Chuck, where is that little dude?" Clarisse asked, looking up from digging through her own pack.
"Here you go. Enjoy." I passed the bundles to Coach and Mellie.
"You didn't have to. Really, you girls are too sweet," Mellie said fondly as she unwrapped the bundle.
Coach gasped a little as he saw the contents of the bundle. "A one hundred and fifty pack of silverware? Miss Roman, you are too good to me!"
"Authentic Roman silverware," I said proudly. "Had it crafted just for this trip."
"Hey now, punk. Don't steal the spotlight," Clarisse teased as she passed them her own gifts. I thought I saw Coach Hedge shed a tear upon seeing his new baseball bat.
"Is that-" His eyes widened as he further inspected the wood, and Clarisse nodded.
"Had to pull a few strings, but there was a Chuck Norris signing near mine and Chris's place. And I thought, why the hell not?"
Mellie, on the other hand, was admiring the instant camera I had gotten her and the thundercloud necklace that Clarisse had chosen. I never thought Clarisse would be one to choose jewelry as a gift, but here we were.
"Come have a seat. To answer your question, love, Chuck'll be back in a few minutes. He went out this morning with-"
She was interrupted by the sound of the door being thrown open and Chuck's gleeful voice ringing through the halls.
"In here, Chuckie," Coach responded. "There's a surprise for you!"
"Reyna! Clarisse!" He shrieked with glee as soon as he saw us, barreling into our legs and squeezing as tight as he could. "I just came back from the park- there was a new swing and a slide and a sandbox and sprinklers too. But Mama said I couldn't go in because-"
"-because you had to come back and have lunch, buddy. And besides, the weather isn't good enough yet," Coach said mildly, leaning over and brushing a streak of dirt off his cheekbone.
"Did you go all by yourself, little man?" Clarisse asked him seriously. He looked up at us with his big brown eyes and pouted.
"No, Mama said I'm too little. But I'm not, Clarisse. I'm a big kid- I even have my own baseball bat!"
Mellie shot Coach a withering glare and he pointedly looked away, chewing on a fork.
"She made me take a chap-err-won," Chuck explained.
"Chaperone, Chuckie. And speaking of chaperones, where is-"
"MELLIE! COACH!" A distant voice yelled. "TELL YOUR KID- THAT HE CANNOT-" The voice broke off, wheezing. Then it picked up again. "MAKE A BREAK FOR IT AS SOON AS WE LEAVE THE PARK! BY RACING, I DID NOT MEAN LEAVING ME IN THE DUST!"
Mellie raised an eyebrow at Chuck, who had the decency to look ashamed.
"I thought he was right behind me," he explained, wincing.
Someone clomped into the room, huffing.
"I'm not mad at the kid, but tell him to slow down for the love of the gods! I have old bones, Mellie!"
"Why are you soaked?" Coach asked, raising his eyebrows suspiciously.
"Because I had to run through the-" He leaned over and clapped his hands over Chuck's ears before he burst out, "Motherfucking godsdamned sprinklers!"
"How come Uncle Nico got to go through the sprinklers?!" Chuck exclaimed, looking at his parents in betrayal.
"Uncle... Nico?" I asked softly, looking at the stranger.
It couldn't be. I had spent eight months waiting. I had spent eight months waiting and waiting and it couldn't be here, now that I finally-
"R-Reyna?" he asked softly, sounding a little terrified.
No. Not after eight months and not here. Not after all the hours of sleep I had lost. Not after all the frantic IMs that had been ignored. Not here, not here, not here-
"So. You managed to find me."
This was just plain irritating now. It's been half half an hour and all the Aphrodite table's been doing is glaring daggers at me. Not only the Aphrodite table, but a handful of other miscellaneous kids that Cabin Ten seems to have adopted were all looking at me as if they wanted to turn me over to the cleaning harpies.
It frustrated me, not gonna lie. I hadn't done anything at all to those kids. I haven't even been here for that long! Just two months. Two months in an empty cabin, two months at a deserted table, two months with no friends or family or anyone at all. And, out of nowhere, this ragtag group of kids decide they hate me.
Just my luck. Ironic, really. A child of Tyche, goddess of luck and good fortune, with the worst luck in the world. Sometimes I wonder how little Evanna o'Brien managed to earn the nickname Seven (a popular lucky number, apparently) back at the orphanage.
Seven for being born on the seventh day of the seventh month. Seven for the number of freckles splattered on her left cheekbone. Seven for the time it was when a faulty telephone wire sparked and an old house caught fire. Seven for the amount of times her father had tried breaking down their door, with all that debris piled up in front of it. Seven for the amount of minutes they had been trapped before the fire department came. Seven for the amount of times she had screamed for them to not leave him behind when her father had shoved her into the arms of someone who had been dusted with ashes and reeked of smoke. Seven for the number of seconds it collapsed after she had been removed from the building. Seven stood for so many things in Evanna o'Brien's life.
Seven stood for so many things in my life.
Not that anyone knew most of what had happened. Imagine my surprise when the day after my thirteenth birthday, the woman who lived next to the orphanage had struck up a conversation with me in the pasta isle of the mostly deserted supermarket.
"Seven. Not such a bad number, and definitely not a bad nickname to have," she had said sympathetically.
"How do you know my nickname?"
"I know more than you'd think, Evanna o'Brien. Just remember- luck will always be on your side, in the end. "
"If luck was on my side," I responded bitterly, "my father would be alive and my mother would have cared enough to stick around."
She had winced and pressed something into my palm. It had been a coin. It looked like a copper penny, with the year 1777 engraved on the back.
"Luck will always be on your side, in the end," she had repeated, and I had turned back to the shelf for a box of spaghetti. When I turned back around, she was gone.
Little did I know that that was my mom's way of claiming me, and that the copper penny she had given me was a weapon. A six inch switchblade- Celestial bronze, I had found out later- that never dulled. It came in particularly useful during my various escapes from the foster homes. I felt kind of bad for the parents, looking back. But adolescent me had a way of not looking back, the same way twenty one year old me had a way of not looking ahead.
That was probably how I wound up literally bumping into Piper McLean, flanked by the rest of her cabin and their friends on the way back to my [empty] cabin.
"We have to have a talk."
"This is where you've been for the better part of the past year?" I growled, gesturing loosely around me.
"No note! Bed empty! Jules Albert gone! You could have been attacked by monsters, you could have overexerted yourself shadowtravelling, you made us all lose our minds with worry and this is where you've been?" I shouted, voice gradually raising.
"You never told them that you left?" Coach asked.
"Do they even know about Will? Did you bother telling them? Do you know?" I demanded, turning on Coach and Mellie.
"Why would I tell them?! You know that they would make me go back and confront him about it and you know I can't! You know I don't have it in me to face the face that he doesn't remember again- you know that, Reyna!" Nico yelled back.
"Mama, what's going on?" Chuck asked nervously, tugging at the hem of Mellie's shirt.
"Maybe you two should go yell it out in the attic or something," Clarisse offered. "We'll bring you brownies when you've gotten over yourselves."
"The brownies!" Coach bleated, darting into the kitchen. "Come on, cupcake!"
"Duty calls." Clarisse saluted. "Good to have you back, di Angelo. If you'll excuse me..."
"Come on, Chuckie." Mellie scooped up Chuck and positioned him on her hip. "Maybe today we can have dessert first... just this once."
"Bye Reyna! Bye Uncle Nico!"
"Uncle Nico?" I inquired softly, turning back to him. He flushed a little.
"Coach Hedge introduced me to him as that and it sort of stuck."
"I just don't understand why you would do that to me- to us. Jason and I kidnapped Aphrodite to find out where you were, fuck dammit!"
"Wait- you what?"
"We jumped Aphrodite in the forest and kidnapped her to inquire about your whereabouts. And also to make her give back Will's memories."
"Did she?" Nico asked after a moment.
"Did she what?"
"You know... give back his memories," he said faintly. There was a sliver of hope in his voice, and it crushed me to squash it.
"I'm sorry, Nico."
"It's- it's fine. I was expecting it, anyway." He swallowed thickly, voice warbling.
"Why did you leave?" I was trying not to let anger slip back into my voice. I didn't want to scare him away. Not again.
"I couldn't deal with it, alright?" he snapped. "I've never been the best at dealing with anger, but at least anger can fuel you. When you're bitter and angry and pissed off and you let it show, people don't fuck with you. They don't try to get close. That's why after Bianca died, I held onto being angry and bitter because being miserable for the rest of my life was better than another person leaving. My mother was murdered. Bianca sacrificed herself on that quest. Midas took advantage of me to get revenge on Daedalus. Percy never loved me back- and yeah, I'm over him, I'm not the impressionable kid I was back then. But it still hurts, alright? And Will- Will- il mio raggio di sole, la mia luna e tutte le mie stelle..." He broke off, pressing his trembling lips together. His chin was quivering. He looked like he was going to cry.
"It all goes to show you that this son of Hades isn't destined for anything but a tortured existence, Reyna. Everyone I love gets hurt. Everyone I care about leaves. I didn't want- I didn't know what I wanted, alright? But I didn't want to stay in that place, where the person I loved for eight fucking years barely knew I existed. I needed something to keep me from completely losing my mind. So I came here... Coach and Mellie were so glad to see me and I didn't even realize how long it had been since I had visited. I didn't even know I was trying to come here, truth be told." He shrugged, eyes glazed and faraway. "I thought of home and here I was. When I got here, the first thing I did was hug Chuck and play dinosaur ballerinas with him... and I guess that was the moment I realized that I owed a debt to more people than I thought. Chuck deserves to know his uncle. Coach and Mellie deserve to at least get an IM every now and then. I had been so off the radar while Will was on the quest that I forgot about so many other people that I loved and cared for, and if there comes a day where I end up like Bianca or like Will, then I want them to have the best possible memory of me. I don't want them to be at my funeral or something and think- Nico? Nico di Angelo? Oh yeah, him. He barely visited us after the war even though we saved the world together. Never even bothered to visit his own nephew."
"I... don't even know what to say," I said, taking in the way he looked haunted and so at peace at the same time. How was that possible?
"Don't say anything, then. But please- please don't hate me for leaving."
"I could never hate you, Neeks."
"Glad to hear it," he said jokingly, but relief was evident in his voice. "Some things just never change, eh?"
"Eh. Bring it in?" I opened my arms expectantly, hopefully as he took in the gesture.
"Bring it in." He surged in, closing his arms around me, still a head and a half shorter than I was just like when we were teenagers.
"If you two cupcakes are done hugging it out, I made brownies!" Coach said from the kitchen. "Come get em while they're hot!"
"Race you." I turned to him, smirking.
"Oh, it is so on."
"Home sweet home," I muttered, switching on the lights. "Good old Cabin 19."
"Don't you have any siblings? Where are they?" A girl piped up. I think her name was Sequin- no, I think it was Velvet. Yeah, Velvet.
"Lacy," one of the Aphrodite kids hissed harshly.
"Don't have any. It's just me in here." I opened the blinds and gestured to one of the many sofas in the sitting room we were in. There were three others, but this one was closest and also largest.
Slowly they sat down, glancing at the furniture as if it might be rigged. Please. Me? Rig furniture? What, for shits and giggles?
"What do you need to speak to me about all of a sudden? Also, how long is this going to take? I have archery lessons at seven. Two months' worth of dirty looks might take a while to address," I said meaningfully, taking a seat on my bunk. They suddenly became very interested in their sneakers.
"It's- you noticed that?"
"I'm pretty sure the gods felt those daggers all the way up from Olympus."
The guy speaking- a blond dude with a scarred lip- looked embarrassed, and I softened a little.
"It's fine. I don't blame you. New kid at camp and all- and I'm pretty sure you don't get twenty year old campers these days."
"Actually, they're more common than you think. Even now, eight years after the Second Titan War, demigods around your age are still showing up. The older ones are all moving to New Rome, though," explained a boy with sharp hazel eyes and brown hair. Mitchell, I think his name was.
"What do you need to speak to me about?" I interrupted, not meaning to be rude but wanting to get this over with. I hated confrontation.
"Do you know Will Solace?" someone finally said. "Apollo Cabin, twenty two years old?"
"Yeah. He and I have archery together, actually."
"What do you think of him?"
"He's a nice dude, I guess. A bit sunny, practically radiates light and quotes vines way too much. But he's cool. We're cool," I answered, wondering what they were getting at.
They glanced at each other nervously, and someone burst out, "You can't date him!"
"You can't date him," the same person enunciated, slightly stronger this time. "He went on a quest last summer and proposed to my brother before he left. On the quest, he met Aphrodite, who needed a sacrifice for them to succeed. And that sacrifice just happened to be the memory of the thing Will loved most- my brother. When he came back, he didn't remember him at all. My brother left camp and it's been eight months and we haven't found him."
"That sounds... awful." The looks of pain on their faces were fresh and raw as if this all had happened yesterday. Wasn't Aphrodite their mom? Wasn't she on their side?
"But my point is... until we've exhausted every source of trying to retrieve the memories and finding my brother, you can't date him. I'm sorry, but we have to try. They dated for seven years before the quest. They love each other," she continued almost desperately, as if trying to convince me. It was almost comical. In spite of the tension in the air, I burst out laughing.
"You think this is funny?" a Japanese girl demanded.
"Yes. I think it's extremely funny."
"And why is that, you-"
"I'm a lesbian, buddy. I don't exactly swing that way," I managed to respond somewhat coherently.
Collective silence fell over the room. Finally, Piper McLean spoke up.
"Well, that makes things very awkward. I apologize. Wanna come hang in Cabin 10 for a while?"
I mulled the offer over, and ultimately decided, fuck it.
"I have forty minutes until archery, so why the hell not?"
"Coach, do you have any peach preserves?" Nico asked, hovering over the pan with a knife.
"You haven't lived until you've tried brownies with peach preserves."
"Um, gross-" I began, but Chuck shrieked, "AWESOME! Can I try too?"
"Absolutely not," I said at the same time Nico said, "Sure, why not?"
He and I glared at each other for a moment as Clarisse sighed.
"So, di Angelo, you plan on coming back anytime soon?"
"Not sure," was all he said before turning back to his brownie. Clarisse shot me a quizzical look.
"Hazel is really worried about you. So is Jason," she continued. "I mean, I'm not good at all the touchy feely B.S. but even I can tell that they're, like, uber worried. Especially Jackson- for some reason he feels responsible for you and he's been a wreck. And if there's one thing I hate worse than Jackson in general, it's an emotionally unstable Jackson. I'm not above dragging you back to camp by your ear, you know."
He only grunted. I began to panic internally. He was shutting down again, and last time he shut down like this he ran away and I had lost him for eight months.
"So," I said quickly. "There are lots of new campers, which is why Chiron, Frank, and I have teamed up to give them the traditional joint tour of both camps. We're changing it up a little, though- we're planning a reunion in late June for the two camps. It's going to be roughly two weeks long with campfires every other day. And parties, of course," I added before Clarisse could open her mouth. "We Romans invented parties."
"Objection!" Coach said loudly.
"You can't do that!"
"I'm Praetor of New Rome, Coach. I do whatever I want," I said slyly.
"Not under my roof you don't. You may be guests, but you still have chores. Reyna- you're doing the dishes after dinner. Clarisse is going to vacuum the living room, and Nico's going to dust the house. Chuck, you have to clean your room. Gleeson and I are going to do the laundry," Mellie concluded, looking at us all as if daring us to complain. "Any objections?"
Nobody said anything. Chuck huffed a little, though, and tried to take another brownie. To my surprise, Nico swatted his hands away from the pan.
"Uncle Nico," he whined, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Chuck-ie," Nico said back in the same tone. Then he laughed and ruffled his curls. "Sorry kid, but your mom's got a point. You can't finish the whole pan right now..." His volume level suddenly dropped and he glanced around suspiciously. "And anyway, don't you want some left over for our secret midnight snack?"
Chuck's mouth formed a silent o of understanding, childish features becoming serious just like that. "Oh yeah... right. That."
As soon as Chuck looked away Nico winked at Mellie and the Coach, and I knew that they knew Nico and Chuck were having what they called their 'secret' midnight snacks.
Coach went to the stove and started divvying vegetable soup into bowls, humming a little.
"Hey, Reyna, did you forget? We have something for Chuckie after dinner," Clarisse said meaningfully.
I played along, nodding enthusiastically. "Oh, yeah! That thing!"
"What thing?" Chuck asked impatiently, leaning forward on his elbows.
"Elbows off the table, Chuckie," Mellie said casually, leaning forward to wipe some crumbs off Chuck's face.
"You'll just have to wait and see."
"No fair, Clarisse!"
"Dinner's ready," Coach rumbled, dishing out bowls of steaming soup. "Broccoli and cheddar soup with a hint of cayenne pepper for a kick."
Nico took a careful sip of his soup. He seemed to be thinking about something carefully. "When did you say you were having the reunion?" he finally asked. "Mid June?"
"Late June," I corrected. "Why?"
"I want to see Hazel," he said plainly but firmly. "I want to see my sister and Jason and the rest of Cabin 10. I... I miss them."
"We can arrange that," I said softly, not bothering to elaborate past that. I think he was grateful that I didn't.
*A month and a half later*
"Who's that coming up the hill?" I asked Piper.
"Probably the Romans. After Reyna and Clarisse came back from visiting Coach Hedge, Mellie, and Chuck they finalized the plans for the reunion between camps. You haven't seen Camp Jupiter before, right Evanna?"
I shook my head. "I heard it's more of a boot camp than a summer camp."
"A little bit of a and a little bit of b. The Romans do do things differently than us, after all."
Something dropped down in front of us out of nowhere. I yelped and jumped backwards while Piper only sighed.
"Sorry, Pipes. The Roman vans get crowded and I needed some air!" He seemed to notice me still recovering from shock. "Ooh, sorry. Evanna, right?" He offered his hand and I shook it.
"Cabin Nineteen, right?"
"And you're the only one in your cabin?"
"I think you'll like this news, then- we have four new Fortuna kids with us. Three boys and a girl, ages 9, 13, and two sixteen year olds."
"So... like siblings?"
"Exactly!" He grinned and I began to feel excited. Other Tyche- well, Fortuna kids- meant I wouldn't have an empty cabin anymore. There would be a reason to stay at my own table now instead of joining Hermes or Aphrodite.
"Holy shit." Piper's eyes widened and she pointed behind us. "Is- is that-" She cut herself off, clapping a hand over her mouth.
"GUYS! It's him- it's Nico!"
I whirled around, hoping to catch a glimpse of the guy who had dated Will before his memories were taken. I remember he had tried asking me out. I had firmly but politely rejected him, explaining that I was a lesbian. He seemed embarrassed but soon recovered, saying that he was sorry if he had offended me and that he himself was bisexual and that he hoped we could still be friends.
Nico di Angelo was a short man with black hair and olive toned skin. He was wearing a half-buttoned button down tucked into black jeans and combat boots. He sported an undercut, but it was obvious that his hair had been unruly and shaggy before he had cut it. He had a child- a young satyr boy, I think- straddled on his hip and he was laughing about something the boy had said.
"NICO!" Jason whooped and took off, flying over to where said man was. Piper was also running towards them, waving and laughing. I was glad for them- I knew that their friend had been missing for a really long time.
I made my way over to where they were and Jason promptly introduced me.
"Neeks, this is Evanna o'Brien, a Tyche camper. She's new around here."
"Pleasure to meet you." He nodded at me, but his eyes were looking over my shoulder at a farther off place.
"I've heard a lot about you, Nico di Angelo."
"Same over here. Reyna made it her personal responsibility to fill me in on everything that went on at camp while we were at Coach and Mellie's." He adjusted the squirming, overexcited kid on his hip. "Hold on there, buddy. I'll show you on a tour in a moment."
"Oh, look- there's Reyna right now, actually." I followed his gaze over to a woman who was a few feet away from us, chatting with Hazel Levesque and surveying the crowd with sharp eyes, wiping sweat from her brow as her gaze passed over us.
Be still, my gay heart.
"Hazel!" Nico suddenly called out with glee. "Sorella! Over here!"
Hazel broke off from her conversation with Reyna and glanced in the direction of his voice.
Nico had just enough time to put the kid down before Hazel tackled him onto the grass. They rolled around for a few seconds, laughing and crying.
"If you ever leave like that again I will personally grab you by your ear and drag you back to camp," she said tearfully, pinching his arm and then hugging him.
"You and Clarisse both," he mumbled, but he was smiling.
"They truly are two of a kind, huh?" I looked up from watching the two siblings and saw Reyna. My mouth suddenly felt very dry.
"Yeah," I said eloquently, immediately cursing myself after.
"Reyna Ramirez-Arellano." She half-smiled and held out her hand. I accepted, almost immediately cursing myself again because my hand was fucking sweating, goddammit, she must think I'm so gross!
"Nice name. You're a Tyche kid, right?"
"Nah. I'm an Apollo kid- don't you see the blond hair and blue eyes and freckles?" I said, gesturing to my face and its distinct lack of blond hair and blue eyes.
She looked surprised, than laughed. "You got me there for a second."
"Reyna! Come here!" someone called. Reyna rolled her eyes, smirking.
"Duty calls. I'll see you around, o'Brien, hm?"
"Yeah. I'll- I'll see you around too."
I stood there for a few minutes like an utter fool, trying to stop my heart from beating so fast.
"So." A voice inches away from my ear said. "You and Reyna?"
"W-what?!" I gulped, glaring furiously. Thank the gods I don't blush easily. "No. No. How could you even insinuate such a-"
"For the record," Nico di Angelo said, examining his nails, "she was totally flirting with you. Not a surprise since she's gayer than me, but she really doesn't flirt around a lot."
"Really?" I squeaked.
"Uh-huh. Go get em, o'Brien. I call being best man at the wedding. Just one thing." He leaned in close, smiling sweetly. "You hurt her and I will end you."
I believed him; I had heard horror stories about this guy before Gaea. Well, I say before Gaea. What everyone actually means is before-
"Evanna! I'm teaching Chuck archery, you wanna come help?" Will Solace asked earnestly. I saw all the colour drain from Nico's face out of the corner of my eye.
Will's expression changed almost completely. "It's you."
"It's me. And why are you holding hands with my nephew?"
"Reyna asked me to show him the archery course."
"It's my first time here," Chuck said solemnly. "Reyna and Clarisse brought me to visit for the first time as a surprise- isn't that cool?!"
"Very." Nico nodded. "Listen, I'll take him from here."
"But Reyna told me-"
"He's my nephew-"
"How about," I said loudly, "I show him archery, Will goes to oversee the coming of the Romans, and Nico goes to eat something. It's been a long trip, after all."
They looked at me as if I was kidding, but I'm sure the look on my own face told them that I was deadly serious.
"Come on, Chuck," I said as I slipped my hand into his smaller one. "Let's get going."
On my way to the archery course I passed Reyna, who was conferring with two people in CHB shirts and one person in an SPQR shirt. She stopped speaking momentarily, then winked at me and went back to dictating her point.
And... yep, there was the blush. I hadn't blushed since I was seven.
I was officially fucked.
There'll probably be one or two more chapters of this. Just a heads up my dudes. Also, please ignore the huge plothole with the penny and the year 1777, even though the first U.S. coin was minted in 1792. thanks :)
Originally it wasn't supposed to end on that note, but looking back I feel like this is a good place to end this chapter. I'll try to have the next one up soon because I'm actually very eager to finish this. Thanks to everyone who reads this. I love you and I appreciate you and you guys are the best.
It's the last campfire of the reunion and Nico's been summoning the strength to come to terms with his past for the past two weeks.
He thinks he's just about ready to let go.
Look, don't tell me I fucked up. I know I did. I know it.
There was something going through my head that day that I left. I can't quite explain it, looking back- if I did, I would only succeed in sounding completely ridiculous. But when I left, I didn't know where to go. I was in the shadows for so long before I was quite literally spat out of them, right in front of a house. It had been Mellie and Coach's house. I don't know why I was transported there. All I can remember was that I was thinking about someplace safe, where I wouldn't have to think about anything that just happened.
I remember hesitating in front of the door. Finally I had knocked, and Coach had opened it, armed with his baseball bat.
"Hey, cupcake! A surprise visit, eh? You shouldn't have, really, but since you're here- bring it in!" He had dropped the bat and opened his arms. I had stood there, not sure what to do. He took one look at my face and went, "Hey, kid- you alright? You don't look so good."
And before I knew it I had been crying. I had broken down right there on his doorstep even though I felt like I had cried all the tears I had to cry back in the Hades Cabin with Annabeth. Coach had hugged me- surprising, I know- until I stopped sobbing, lead me inside, given me a cup of hot chocolate, and explained that Mellie was at work and he was committed to the stay-at-home-dad lifestyle with Chuck. I told him I needed a place to stay, and he told me I was welcome in his home as long as I needed one.
But what I didn't tell Reyna that day that she came to visit was that I realized in the span of time I was there that yes, people left.
People lost their memories.
People were murdered.
But people also stayed. There were people that shared no blood but may as well have been blood-family. And I had those people. And to be honest, I was miserable after Bianca died, when I had only Minos and my own self loathing. I didn't want that again, especially since I knew what it was like to be happy... and it was such a wonderful feeling.
I had family. Not everyone would leave. And I think it was when Hazel tackled me onto the grass on Half-Blood Hill, when Jason had picked me up and squeezed me until my breath came short, when Piper had grabbed me and kissed my cheek and threatened me through her tears that I realized I did have a family, that losing people was inevitable and if I wasn't going to enjoy the time I had with them then it was better not to love them at all.
What was worth it was worth all the while, Bianca used to say. I never understood that saying, not even after she died. I think I understand it now.
If something was truly worth it then you would never regret devoting a second of your life to it, no matter how long it lasted. It puts things into perspective, I think.
Would I ever regret a second of the seven years that I spent with Will, whether it was as his friend or as something else?
Was it worth it?
I have trouble with this one, sometimes. But then I think about Hazel's laugh, Jason's bear hugs, Reyna's smile, the Aphrodite Cabin's sheer spirit. I think about Will's everything.
The freckles. The giggle. That radiant smile. The blue of his eyes.
I look at it all, I hold it within me one last time. And, as willingly as Bianca died for her companions on that quest, I kiss it goodbye.
Was it worth it?
Roman and Greek campers alike were crowded around the last campfire of the reunion before the Romans have to go back to their own camp. I saw Evanna o'Brien talking with a couple of her Roman siblings across the clearing. She broke away from her conversation for a split second to wave to me. I waved back.
I turned around and Jason was there, beckoning me over.
"What's up, Grace?"
"Come sit with us," he said simply, and I didn't deny him his request. I sat sandwiched between him and Reyna. Piper was on Jason's left, and Hazel was sitting with Frank on the far end of the bench, laughing as they roasted marshmallows together. Chuck sat with Clarisse and Chris, who were a little to our left. The scamp had enjoyed his stay to the fullest and then some.
"Alright, everybody!" Annabeth Chase stood up on a rock, grinning. Everyone fell silent almost immediately. "Thank you for attending the last campfire of this reunion. As you all know, in a couple of months we will mark the seventh anniversary of the alliance of Camp Half-Blood and Camp Jupiter. It was a hard battle we fought when Gaea awoke. Many sacrifices were made. Many lives were lost in the effort to send Gaea back into her slumber-" Annabeth choked a little. Percy, who was sitting in front of her, started a little like he was going to go up there to comfort her, but she looked at him meaningfully, cleared her throat and went on.
"But we made it through. And we came out with new friends, new family. So if my good friends Reyna Ramirez-Arellano and Frank Zhang would like to come up here and maybe speak a few words, the campfire shall commence shortly."
One person whooped and started clapping and everyone joined in as Annabeth pulled Reyna and Frank up to stand with her.
"I still don't exactly know how we managed to make peace long enough to put Gaea back to sleep," Frank began, laughing a little, "but we did it. And every day I wonder about it and it makes just a little bit more sense. We rose up together to put our differences aside and fight against a more dangerous power. Ultimately, we decided that our mutual hatred for Gaea, the giants, and the monsters that Octavian brought to our camps greatly outweighed out hatred for each other. And once we realized that, I think we realized we didn't hate each other quite as much as we thought we did. But I credit both my fellow praetor Reyna and my friend- if he will allow me the honour of calling him that, that is- Nico di Angelo for bringing the Athena Parthenos here. It was a huge step in uniting us, and if they hadn't then I don't know where we'd be right now."
Frank's last few words were drowned out by more clapping and cheering. My cheeks reddened and Reyna smirked and held up a hand to silence them, then continued.
"I agree wholeheartedly with Frank. My brother played a huge part in bringing the camps together. But I guess what we're both trying to say is that us? We as a whole, as a people? As not just "Greek" or "Roman" but us? That is a beautiful thing, demigods. It deserves to be celebrated. Without further ado, let the campfire begin!"
Reyna plunked back into her spot, exhaling deeply. Frank sat back down next to Hazel, who praised his speech. Annabeth took her seat next to Percy, who kissed her cheek and offered her a visibly burnt marshmallow. She laughed at him but accepted anyway, smushing it between two graham crackers and a square of chocolate.
I watched as she carefully broke it in two and offered him half with a teasing grin on her face. He took it with a determined look on his face and crunched down with such resolve that it was all too amusing when his features twisted and he swallowed with great difficulty. Annabeth shook her head at him and stuck a couple of fresh marshmallows on the end of a stick, saying something to him that I didn't catch. He stuck his tongue out at her in response.
Their playful banter didn't make my chest throb, for some reason. At Mellie and Coach's place, watching the two so obviously content with each other and the life they had built for themselves would make me long for something I couldn't have. Similarly, I once felt that way about Percy and Annabeth's relationship. But now... now I felt nothing but happiness for the two, just like when I was fourteen after the war. They deserved to be happy and alive together.
"Are we still on for tonight?" Jason whispered. I jumped a little, then relaxed.
"I can't see why we wouldn't be," I answered.
"I thought that maybe you would have changed your mind or something," Jason said uneasily.
"I'm putting it behind me tonight, Jason. I'm not holding on any longer," I said firmly, setting my jaw.
A moment of silence. And then:
"I'm so proud of you, Nico."
"You sound like a proud parent," I scoffed, but inside I was touched by the praise.
"That's because I am one. You've grown so much... you're not that scared kid from back from the Ruins of Salona."
"Any time, bro."
I turned my attention back to the campfire. An Athena kid was leading everyone in a verse of The Story of Tonight while Percy and a Fortuna kid aggressively played the kazoo in the background. Astonishingly, they managed to carry the tune remarkably well.
They finished up the song quickly and another person started to lead. After that, someone sang a solo. Three more solos, two more leads.
We went through Riptide, Twenty Dollar Nose Bleed, Love Story, and a couple of others. A few people played instrumentals. Evanna o'Brien broke out a piccolo at one point and played a sharp, upbeat little number.
Finally, Jason nudged me.
"You should go soon."
I nodded and stood up shakily, praying my knees wouldn't buckle.
"I'd like to sing something," I said.
"Go on, Nico," Hazel said encouragingly. A few people murmured in agreement, looking up at me in eager anticipation. I had sung at a few campfires before, and it had resulted in one of the loudest rounds of applause I had ever heard.
I scanned the faces before me. My eyes landed on Will and for a split second, I froze. Then I remembered why I was doing this.
"Now I know
That I can't make you stay
But where's your heart
But where's your heart" I began quietly, eyes closed, mind in a different place.
"But where's your~
And I know
There's nothing I can say
To change that part
To change that part
To change~!" My voice was rising steadily now. The entire clearing was silent now, entranced and still.
Bright lights that cast a shadow
But can I speak?
Well, is it hard understanding
A life that's so demanding
I get so weak
A love that's so demanding
I can't speak!" My eyes flew open, and I hit the high note at exactly the right moment. I saw the awe on everyone's faces, and maybe that's what egged me on.
"I am not afraid to keep on living
I am not afraid to walk this world alone
Honey, if you stay
I'll be forgiven
Nothing you can say can stop me going home..." I breathed out, letting out a shuddering huff of air. I faltered briefly, then carried on. I had to do this. I had to.
"Can you see
My eyes are shining bright?
'Cause I'm out here
On the other side
Of a jet black
And I'm so weak
Is it hard understanding
A love that's so demanding
I get weak
I am not afraid to keep on living
I am not afraid to walk this world alone
Honey, if you stay
I'll be forgiven
Nothing you can say can stop me going home!" I broke off, taking a large gulp of air, ready to pick up again almost immediately.
"I am n-"
A sharp gust of wind flew past, causing the fire to sputter and falter. A guttural growling tore everyone's attention to Half-Blood Hill. In the dark of night it was hard to see, but we could make out figures hooded in shadow on top of the hill, coming down, down, towards us.
"Did Chiron invite the Party Ponies?" someone murmured.
"I'm afraid I did not," our instructor said gravely, something terrible in his voice as he stared up at the hill. A growing urgency, a reawakened fear.
We were all staring at him now, waiting for a reaction. The campfire had long since died out from the sudden wind and we were sitting rigid and tense, ready to move at a moment's notice.
Something in Chiron's gaze seemed to snap.
"Half-bloods, draw your wea-" An arrow whistled past us in the dark and caught the old centaur in the upper chest. His words died out and he staggered and crumpled. The reaction was instantaneous.
"NO!" I screamed as people leapt up, reaching for their swords and running to get arrows and bows. More arrows began to fly.
Annabeth unleashed a howl of pure rage, drawing her bone sword and charging them head-on. Percy shoved Chuck into my arms. Then he ran after Annabeth, a flash of bronze letting the entire camp know Riptide had been uncapped.
"Get the younger campers to safety!" Reyna yelled, her braid whipping around as she turned shouting directions. "Pontifex Grace- get them to the Big House. Praetor Zhang, take the First, Fourth, and Fifth Cohorts- you know what to do. I'll take the Second and Third. Legiones march- plena! Ut latera ad sinistram! Initiate War Strategy 3.4!"
A howl cut through the night and the figures on the hill began to move towards us.
I grabbed Jason's arm as he was flying past.
"Take Chuck," I told him, drawing my sword.
Then, on instinct, I spun on my heel and stabbed a monster in the chest. People were already falling, blood was already being spilled. The Apollo kids were doing their best to get to all the wounded, but there wasn't enough of them.
How could the monsters have gotten in through the border? They need permission from someone inside the camp- they can't just walk in. Someone let them in.
I ran through the carnage, grappling with a monster at every other turn.
I had just killed a werewolf- how on earth were there werewolves here- when I saw the unmistakable flash of Riptide plunge and a figure loom behind the wielder.
"Behind you, Percy!" I called out, already starting towards him. I wasn't going to make it in time-
The son of Poseidon turned too late.
He yelled out as he fell to the ground, trying to shake some freak of a monster off his back. It wasn't one I could recognize easily or could have ever recalled seeing on a Mythomagic card.
Annabeth, who was nearby, whipped around at hearing his anguished cry.
She and I reached him at the same time. Her eyes flashed dangerously in spite of the tears welling up in them and threatening to spill over. Without hesitation, she threw her sword at my feet and rolled up her sleeves. I didn't watch as she jumped both her husband and the monster and strangled it with her bear hands.
"First Chiron-" I heard her choke out, voice trembling," and now you-"
"Hey, Wise Girl." He coughed and it was wet, like he was coughing up blood. Judging from Annabeth's horrified face, that wasn't far from the truth.
"Don't worry about me, alright? We have to win this," he insisted before his head lolled to the side.
"No- no- Seaweed Brain, stay with me- Nico!" She turned around. "Go get a medic- the best one you know, Nico- I can't lose him-" She was begging more with her eyes than her voice, and I didn't think that was possible.
I turned up both my palms.
"Rise, beings of the Underworld, servants of Hades. Serve me," I commanded as skeletons pried their way out of the earth. "Protect Percy Jackson and Annabeth Chase. Your goal is to kill the enemy. No mercy."
Four skeletons went to surround Annabeth and Percy and the others scuttled off into the fight. And me?
I had to find the best medic I knew.
So much for putting everything behind me.
*sighs and shrugs*
I had to do it. You know I had to.