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A DemiHero

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She twirls, giggling and stumbling as Bianca still runs from Nico. Mama and Papa are on the couch talking to each other. Probably about adult things, Marinette thinks, putting her hands on her hips. Her new dress swishes with every move she makes, and she twirls again, laughing as the fabric flairs out. Papa always gets her and her siblings gifts whenever he visits.

She's still twirling as her twin crashes into her, both of them falling to the ground. Nico laughs. "Got you!" he says, rolling off of her. She huffs, sitting up and squinting her eyes at him. She got her mama's eyes, she knows that. Mama has bright blue eyes, while Nico, Bianca, and Papa has dark brown eyes.

"Well, you got lucky," she replies. "Next time, I'll be the monster!"

A voice creeps behind them, glittering with amusement. "How can you be the monster," Bianca starts, looking down on them, "if I already am?"

As the eldest sibling lunges towards them, Marinette and Nico squeal and scramble to get up, running away while laughing. Bianca chases them around the room, nearly tripping several times. As she finally catches them, Mama stands from the couch. Marinette notices and briefly stops struggling. "Mama?" she calls out. "Where are you going?"

Mama looks at her and smiles. "Oh, just getting my coat. I'll be back in a minute at most." She walks up the stairs, and Marinette goes back to squirming in her older sister's arm. Nico is trapped by the other arm, laughing. He finally gets free and tugs his twin out of Bianca's reach, and all three of them start chasing each other again. It isn't clear who the monster is this round.

Just as Bianca drags Marinette to the ground, the two sisters trying to get the upper hand over each other, they stop and slowly detach from each other. A look around tells Marinette that her twin is looking around with the same vague apprehension that's copied on the girls' faces. Papa looks like he swallowed a lemon. Bianca reaches out and tugs Nico closer, huddling them together as Papa stays on the couch.

The building shakes as Papa finally moves, throwing a hand out. The di Angelo children fall to the ground.

-

Marinette sighs as she raises a hand to run through her hair, only to let it fall as she remembers the ribbons. Bianca has always tied her hair with some sort of ribbon, ever since Marinette can remember. Though . . . Marinette bites her lip as she brushes her bangs to the side. She doesn't really remember life before the Lotus Hotel and Casino.

Her face screws up as she shakes her head. Why would she want to remember life before the hotel? She has everything she needs here. Nico and Bianca are here, and there's food, and new games being put in every single day! There's also new clothing trends going on with every week! Marinette lets out a sigh as she twirls in place. What else would she need?

"Marinette?" she hears Nico call out. She realizes that her eyes had shut at some point, and she opens them. Nico is looking at her with an excited expression. "Ready to get Bianca's present?"

She smiles. "Of course!"

She looks at the mirror, returning to her previous thoughts. In all honesty, the Lotus Hotel isn't so bad. They get new games everyday and the food is free and the rooms are nice with hundreds of things to do. Marinette giggles as she straightens her skirt. Her reflection copies her, moving this way and that, until Nico moves so that he's in the reflection too.

She stops moving, focusing on her brother, with her hands clutching the skirt fabric. Sometimes she wonders what they would look like if they were both girls. Would they look identical, like the other pair of twins the floor below them? Or maybe they would still be fraternal. Tearing her gaze away, Marinette's nose scrunches as she takes in the now rumpled skirt. Letting go of it hurriedly, she huffs as Nico laughs. No, Marinette thinks, being a boy would be more interesting. At least then Bianca won't tell her that she needed to wear a dress everywhere. Or put ribbons in her hair.

Nico smiles at her, his reflection copying him in the mirror. "You ready, Rin?"

Smoothing out her skirt, she nods. "Let's go get Bee's present."

She doesn't really remember why they need to get a gift. Maybe it's Bianca's birthday. Marinette has trouble remembering those.

Despite her words, Marinette spends another second looking at their appearances. Nico and her share the pale skin and contrasting black hair, but the main difference is their eyes. Nico-and Bianca-have dark, nearly black eyes. Her's are bright blue, something she got from their Mama. At least, they think so. Life before the Lotus Hotel is a bit blurry but-

Marinette shakes her head. Why would she think before the Lotus Hotel? She has everything she needs here. Anyway, Marinette thinks that the dark clothing they wear represents them adequately. None of them really like drawing attention to themselves, and the bland clothing helps them blend into the shadows.

Marinette turns to follow Nico out the door, hesitating briefly before she starts walking.

Life before the hotel, why would she want her life before the hotel? Why is she thinking about it so often?

Because your Mama and Papa were there, a voice whispers in her mind. Because something isn't right.

Marinette shoves the thought away. She knew that family came first, and as far as she is concerned, all her family is already at the hotel. She has Nico and Bianca, and that's all she ever needs.

They end up getting Bianca a floppy green hat.

Bianca ooh's and aah's in front of the mirror, testing how it hides her face. "This is amazing!" she says, spreading her arms. "I love it!"

She tackles both of them in a hug, collapsing on the bed.

The di Angelo siblings lay there, still giggling with leftover laughter. The phone rings, and Bianca picks it up, still smiling. As she listens to the speaker, the twins observe the rapidly changing emotions oh he face, before the older sibling's face smoothes into furrowed eyebrows and thinned lips. Bianca hangs up and turns to Marinette and Nico. "Pack your bags," she says. "We're leaving."

"Leaving?"

"Apparently." Bianca's face screws up into a suspicious scowl. Marinette and Nico look at each other, frowns worming their way onto their faces. Bianca starts to grab stuff from around the room.

"What are you doing?" Marinette asks.

"Packing," Bianca replies shortly, shoving a few bracelets and ribbons into a backpack. She heads to the bathroom, saying, "Start packing."

"But wait, who's picking us up?" Marinette calls after her.

"I don't know! They said they would explain when we're down!"

Nico shares a look with his twin before he slides off the bed before her, heading straight for his Mythomagic collection. He starts putting them in the backpack too, before Bianca comes back with their toiletries, pausing at the sight of Nico and his cards.

"Nico, don't you want to get stuff you'll actually need?" she asks.

Nico shrugs. "I do need them."

"Nico, we only have one backpack," Bianca says, as if Marinette's twin is three. Marinette gets off the bed, searching for the photo booth pictures that were taken throughout their stay. Bianca continues, "It'll take up too much space, Nico. Put them back."

"But you get to pack jewelry and ribbons and stuff!" he complains.

"Nico, you won't get it. It's a girl thing." Marinette makes a small face at that while she tucks the photos into her jacket pocket. All that stuff looks nice, but sometimes they feel weird against Marinette's skin. They also get in the way, like when her bracelet fell off during tag and she had to stop to pick it up again. She immediately got tagged when she stopped.

Nico and Bianca both have that stubborn look on their faces, one that could very well make this argument last a long time. In an effort to diffuse the tension, Marinette chimes in, "Maybe Nico can use a pillow case to carry them? We do get new ones every day, I'm sure they won't mind one missing."

Bianca huffs but doesn't bother further, turning around and getting the books together. Her green hat still flops with every move she makes, like a little dance. After a few minutes, they've packed everything they'd need.

The ride down the elevator is quiet. No one is up for conversations, so Nico fidgets with the pillowcase, Bianca toys with the strap of the bag, and Marinette keeps messing with her bangs. Instrumental music plays from the speakers and Marinette frowns when she notices it's a slow song.

When the elevator doors slide open, they're met with the receptionist and a lady that looks thirty years older than Bianca. The receptionist smiles, beckoning with her hands that they come over to the desk. When Bianca tugs her reluctant sibling over, the receptionist smiles. "Hello there," she says. "Are you ready to leave?"

Bianca tugs the twins closer to her. "Why are we leaving?" she asks, narrowing her eyes a bit. "And who's taking us?"

The old lady smiles and answers before the receptionist can: "I'm a lawyer. Your father sent me to pick you up. He wants you three to gain education somewhere else, rather than the classes you have here. My name is Alecto Fury."

Marinette narrows her eyes. She didn't look like a lawyer. The lady had a leather jacket. Automatically makes her not a lawyer. Lawyers don't wear leather jackets, it's against the rules. As she squints at Ms. Fury, there's a flicker. Marinette stifles a gasp as she sees a leathery winged creature, before it shifts into Ms. Fury again. All of that happens in less than a second, making the youngest di Angelo unsure of what she saw.

She pulls closer to Nico and shivers as Bianca tilts her head. Her voice seems distant when she says, "Right. C'mon you two, let's go."

As they walk out the door, Marinette glances back at the receptionist. She looks bitter and resentful, as if someone has stolen her food right in front of her.

-

Ms. Fury takes them to a grand boarding school. Westover Hall. The so-called "lawyer" leaves them with what they packed and a suitcase full of clothes each, before slipping through the front door. Marinette is still waiting for the shoe to drop. She doesn't believe that this comes with no cost.

But weeks go by and Marinette soon forgets about the hotel with new games everyday and fashion trends that change by the week. She doesn't focus in the boarding school, always choosing to spend her time daydreaming.

The first day they're there, an adult barks, "Boys in these dormitories, girls in the other!"

The first week they're there, Marinette finds out that the rule is very strange. Because her roommate whispers in the dark of the night that Jackie doesn't really feel like a boy or a girl. Because a night later, someone swears the entire floor to secrecy before admitting Adam just feels a little more right than Jessica.

The first month they're there, Nico talks about a boy in his science class with a big smile on his face, and a blush near his ears. Marinette watches as her twin gets flustered whenever he sees the boy. She's still watching as another boy a year older gets called slurs because he has a crush on one of his friends back home. When the day's over, everyone knows and Nico comes to her with dried tear tracks on his face, begging her to never tell Bianca about his wrongness. Marinette bites her lip, comforts her brother, and she never says a word about her crush down the hall.

After a few months, Marinette begins to learn. She doesn't learn maths or science. She learns never to ask questions about specific subjects, always raise her hand, never talk back, never disturb Bianca when she's a certain way, and she learns to always be near her brother in case people start turning the direction of the slurs to him.

Dr. Thorn makes her feel sick. There is something in his eye that makes Marinette feel like a shot of adrenaline courses through her system. In a bad way, of course.

In the winter, when there's snow piling on the grounds, there's a dance announced. Marinette hums and plays with her bangs as Dr. Thorn eyes the entire auditorium. Nico's in the row in front of her, and Bianca's four rows behind. Jackie's next to her, looking at Josh Cartman. Marinette isn't really friends with her roommate. She isn't really friends with anyone except Nico and Bianca.

None of them have dates, so they stay in a corner while people dance around them. Nico talks about his new Mythomagic cards he got, waving them around while Bianca slouches against the wall with the green hat covering half her face.

Marinette gets a bad feeling in her stomach around the time Nico gets to his new Athena card. She looks up and sees a group of teens near the entrance. Nudging Bianca, she looks away and says, "Bee, do you know them?"

"Who?"

"The kids near the entrance. Nico, you know them?

Nico shakes his head, his eyes tracking the guy with black hair. Bianca stares for another moment before snapping her fingers. "Wait! I think I know the guy next to the girl over there! I'm pretty sure I've seen him staring at us before. . . Then again, he might have been looking at the food near us, maybe."

Marinette frowns, but she hesitantly lets her mind go to another topic.

-

The snow is cold against her skin.

And, Bianca, Marinette, come with me.

Marinette pushes back tears as she stomps from the tent, disregarding the calls of her name that chase after her. How-How dare she?

A new family. Free of responsibility.

But what about their family? Is that all Bianca thought of them? Just a responsibility? Marinette can feel tears pricking her eyes. She roughly wipes them with the palm of hands, still marching through the snow. A body hit hers, and she stumbles back with her eyes focusing on the teen in front of her. It's the other girl, one with brighter blue eyes than her and spiky black hair.

Marinette lets out a sudden sob, pushing past the girl and running to Nico. She wraps her arms around him, crying on his shoulder while he worriedly asks what's happening.

-

Sunrise is approaching as Nico rubs her back, looking taken back on how his twin is. Snow crunches as a person walks up to them. By now, Marinette's tears has dried up and she's just taking comfort in the hug. She keeps her face buried in her twin's neck, as the person finally reaches them.

"Nico," Bianca voice sounds from in front of them, "I have something to tell you."

"Okay, but Marinette's upset right now, maybe we can talk later?"

"Actually. . . I think it may be why she's upset. Nico, I'm joining the Hunters of Artemis."

Marinette can feel Nico shrug as he replies, "Okay, so when are we leaving? And why is Marinette upset?"

Marinette finally lifts her head, wiping her face once more before looking at her sister with bleary eyes. "She," Marinette starts quietly, "she isn't coming with us, Nico. The hunters are an all girl group and I-I didn't join because I wanted to stay with you, and so only-only Bianca is traveling with them."

Nico's face slowly deflates into betrayal and sorrow. "Oh," he says.

-

When they get to Camp Half-Blood, things get a little worse for Marinette. The girl hasn't talked since the bus ride (which was honestly quite horrible, she almost threw up) and the new scenery isn't helping much. There is snow on the ground, and Marinette still shivers.

Nico seems quiet too. But not like Marinette, he seems more resentful or angry. She brushes a hand against his, and he looks at her for a second. He holds her hand, but he doesn't smile, only looking away and tightening his grip. Marinette chances a look at Bianca. The older girl isn't even looking at them.

She doesn't pay much attention to the orientation film.

When Nico bursts into the Big House, she follows, a little more wary since the information from the orientation is still semi-fresh. Nico yells with fresh enthusiasm, "SO COOL! You're… you're a centaur!"

The centaur replies that he tries not to be in that form for first encounters. Marinette stays behind Nico, right at his shoulder, and stares at Chiron. He stares back with a kind if not a bit questioning expression, and the girl looks away, refocusing on her twin.

"And, whoa!" Nico looks at Mr. D. "You're the wine dude? No way!"

Mr. D turns his eyes away from the guy from Westover Hall and gives Nico a look of loathing. Marinette grabs her twin's arm lightly. "The wine dude?"

"Dionysus, right? Oh, wow! I've got your figurine."

"My figurine."

"In my game, Mythomagic. And a holofoil card, too! And even though you've only got like five hundred attack points and everybody thinks you're the lamest god card, I totally think your powers are sweet!"

Chiron opens his mouth, but Marinette interrupts. "You drove people to insanity. In the myths. Didn't you?"

Mr. D looks at her. His purple eyes glint. "Welcome to Camp Half-Blood," he says quietly.

They show her and Nico to the Hermes Cabin, one with worn down walls and crowded inside. Marinette claims a spot near a corner where the lights flicker, while Nico looks with wide eyes.

-

That night is rough, with Marinette not being able to sleep. She turns around to Nico, who's right beside her. She scoots a little closer, trying not to alert the other campers. Tapping his shoulder, Marinette whispers, "I can't sleep."

Nico grumbles and opens an eye to look at her. "I can. Go to sleep."

"But I can't!" Marinette responds, still quiet. "I have a bad feeling, I don't know what's going to happen."

Nico sighs and sits up, blanket pooling at his waist. "No one knows what really goes on next. But hey, maybe they'll let us do weapons tomorrow!" A smile lights up his face. "Do you think we'll get cool swords like Percy?"

Marinette looks up at his face, seeing the type of smile on him. She pulls him down so that he's back to laying. "Nico," she says even more quietly, grabbing his hand. His face pauses then settles to a quiet expression.

"I know," he whispers. "But, I don't-at least, I don't think-I mean-I'm sorry."

Marinette grabs him into a weird, horizontal hug that neither of them pulls away from.

In the morning, Marinette tries to be happier and louder. She and Nico meet the Stoll brothers, and they were given a crash course in Stealing 101. Which involves, but is not limited to, pick pocketing, picking locks, spotting security cameras, and some basics of parkour. After the di Angelo twins struggled with a parkour move, the Stolls laugh. "Don't worry," one of them says. "Enough time here, and you'll gain plenty of muscles."

"Oh yeah? Where's yours?" Marinette shoots back, panting. Nico lets out a soft, breathless laugh as he sits down in exhaustion.

"Woah there," the other one says, raising his hands jokingly. "Calm down! Like my bro said: a few weeks here and you'll have the body of an athlete. And most likely paranoia."

Capture the flag went a little south. Percy and Thalia were fighting during it, the weird hippie skeleton came out, and the game was canceled.

-

Marinette lays awake while the others in Hermes Cabin sleep on. She's thinking about Bianca, and the hunters. It isn't really her sister's fault. Marinette thinks that Bianca just wants the safest route in this mythology life. What she said. . . What she said is just a mistake, in a rush of the moment. Mind made up, and decidedly more calm, Marinette gets up quietly amd heads to where Nico has told her he will go.

She can see him hiding, and she creeps behind him, lightly tapping his shoulder when she gets to his side. He looks at her and puts a finger to her lips. Quiet.

"It cannot be cured," Zoe is saying. "Not quickly, at any rate."

"But how did it happen?" Bianca asks.

"A foolish prank," Zoe growls. "Those Stoll boys from the Hermes cabin. Centaur blood is like acid. Everyone knows that. They sprayed the inside of that Artemis Hunting Tour T-shirt with it."

"That's terrible!"

Marinette shivers and looks behind herself quickly, feeling as if there is another person with them. Seeing nothing, she turns back.

"She will live," Zoe says. "But she'll be bedridden for weeks with horrible hives. There is no way she can go. It's up to me. . . and thee."
"But the prophecy," Bianca says. "If Phoebe can't go, we only have four. We'll have to pick another."

"There is no time," Zoe says. "We must leave at first light. That's immediately. Besides, the prophecy said we would lose one."

"In the land without rain," Bianca says, "but that can't be here."

"It might be," Zoe says, though she doesn't sound convinced. "The camp has magic borders. Nothing, not even weather, is allowed in without permission. It could be a land without rain."

"But-"

"Bianca, hear me." Zoe's voice is strained. "I… I can't explain, but I have a sense that we should not pick someone else. It would be too dangerous. They would meet an end worse than Phoebe's. I don't want Chiron choosing a camper as our fifth companion. And… I don't want to risk another Hunter."

Bianca is silent. "You should tell Thalia the rest of your dream."

"No. It would not help."

"But if your suspicions are correct, about the General—" Marinette is getting curious. Who is this General?

"I have thy word not to talk about that," Zoe says. She sounds really anguished. "We will find out soon enough. Now come. Dawn is breaking."

Nico scoots out of their way. Marinette quickly follows. As the girls sprints down the steps, Zoe pauses, eyes narrowing. Marinette squints but she can't find what the huntress is looking for. Zoe's hand creeps to her bow, but Bianca says, "The lights of the Big House are on. Hurry!"

They leave the pavilion. Marinette and Nico share a look before getting up to race after their older sister. Marinette gets a few steps before a voice calls out. "Wait."

She whips around and has to catch Nico as he almost slips on the ice. Brushing off her hand, Nico says, "Where did you come
from?"

Percy shrugs. "I've been here the whole time. Invisible."

Nico mouths the word invisible. "Wow. Cool."

"Why are you here? Did you follow us?" Marinette asks.

Percy shakes his head. "No! No, I was just walking. Couldn't sleep. So, you all thinking about following them on the quest?"

"How did you know that?"

"Because if it was my sister, I'd probably be thinking the same thing. But you can't."

Marinette straightens in defiance. "Because We're too young?"

"Because they won't let you. They'll catch you and send you back here. And… yeah, because you're too young. You remember the manticore? There will be lots more like that. More dangerous. Some of the heroes will die."

Nico's shoulders sag. He shifts from foot to foot. "Maybe you're right. But, but you can go for me," he says to Percy.

"Say what?"

"You can turn invisible. You can go!"

"The Hunters don't like boys," Percy reminds him. "If they find out—"

"Don't let them find out. Follow them invisibly. Keep an eye on our sister! You have to. Please?" Marinette joins in.

"Guys—"

"You're planning to go anyway, aren't you?" she reasons.

Percy hesitates. "Yeah," he says. "I have to find Annabeth. I have to help, even if they don't want me to."

"I won't tell on you," Nico promises. "But you have to promise to keep our sister safe."

"I… that's a big thing to promise, Nico and Marinette, on a trip like this. Besides, she's got Zoe, Grover, and Thalia—"

"Promise," Nico insists.

"I'll do my best. I promise that."

"Get going, then!" he says. "Good luck!"

The older kid purses his lips. "Tell Chiron—"

"I'll make something up." Marinette smiles in relief. "I'm good at that. Go on!"

The di Angelo twins watch as Percy walks away, wind becoming loud in their ears for a second. Marinette grabs Nico's hand before tugging him to the Aphrodite Cabin. "C'mon," she whispers, "that's out of the way now, so let's practice the lock picking skills and steal some stuff. Make them freak in the morning!"

"I think you're becoming a kleptomaniac," Nico whispers back, keeping pace with her.

"That one girl pushed me earlier today, so really, it's her fault."

-

A muffled sob wakes Marinette up, and she turns her head to her twin. Nico's twisting in his sleep, and she gently shakes him up. His eyes open and she hugs him, gently shushing.

They've been having too many nightmares lately.

-

"Did you hear?" a Hephaestus kid says, poking his head into Cabin 11's door frame. "The campers from the Hunter quest are back!"

Marinette looks up from her Ancient Greek study guide, watching as Nico shoots up from his seat. She grabs his arm before he can start running. "Wait, Nico!"

She hurriedly gets up and grabs the cash they stole from the Aphrodite Cabin. In defense, they "forgot" to give it back. Nico watches in confusion. "What are you doing?"

"I have a bad feeling Neeks," Marinette says as she grabs some Mir from the Stoll's secret stash. "Alright, let's go!"

They race to the Big House, stumbling a bit before Marinette shoves the door open, not bothering to knock. "Bianca!" she says, before stopping as something registers with her.

"Hey! Wait. . . where's Bee?" Nico stops beside her, both of them taking in the somber faces in the room.

Percy Jackson gets up from his seat and walks towards them saying, "Maybe it's best if we talk in private."

-

Nico takes the Hades figurine as Marinette stares at the men's satchel. It's black with silver accents. She takes it while Percy stares at both of them with nervous eyes.

"You promised you would protect her," Nico says.

Percy looks pained. "Nico," he says, "I tried. But Bianca gave herself up to save the rest of us. I told her not to. But she-"

"You promised!" Marinette spits out, grip turning white on the satchel. She doesn't look up, knowing that she'll find Nico with a betrayed look on his face.

"I shouldn't have trusted you," Nico says, voice breaking. "You lied to me. My nightmares were right!"

"Wait. What nightmares?"

Nico flings the the god statue to the ground. It clatters across the icy marble. "I hate you!"

"She might be alive," Percy says desperately. "I don't know for sure—"

Marinette feels it. She can't describe what it is. But she knows Percy is lying. It's an ache in her mind.

"She's dead." Nico closes his eyes. His whole body trembles with rage. "I should've known it earlier. She's in the Fields of Asphodel, standing before the judges right now, being evaluated. I can feel it."

"What do you mean, you can feel it?"

Marinette hears a hissing, clattering sound. Percy's eyes widen in recognition and he draws his sword, whirling around. Four skeletons were behind him, with weapons and armour. Her mind stutters to a halt. "How did they get in?"

"You're trying to kill me!" Nico screams at Percy. "You brought these… these things?"

"No! I mean, yes, they followed me, but no! Marinette, Nico, run. They can't be destroyed."

"We don't trust you!"

The first skeleton charges and Percy knocks aside the blade. He tries slicing one in half, but it knits itself together again.

"Run!" he yells. "Get help!"

"No!" Nico presses his hands to his ears.

Marinette's face screws up in distress at all the sounds and sensory input. Tears prick her eyes as she shuts them, rocking on the balls of her feet a bit. Though she can't see it, shadows whip across the floor, changing shapes, stretching.

"No!" Nico shouts louder. "Go away!"

The ground rumbles beneath her and she slowly opens her eyes to see the skeletons freeze. Percy rolls out of the way as the ground opens at the feet of the skeletons, swallowing them with a crunch.

A twenty-foot-long scar stretches across the marble floor of the pavilion. There is no sign of the skeleton warriors. Percy turns to the di Angelo twins, awe in his face. "How did you-"

"Go away!" Nico yells. "I hate you! I wish you were dead!"

Nico grabs Marinette's arm and pulls her out of the trance-like state she is in. They run to the woods, the cash in her pocket, and the satchel hanging from her arm.

Marinette just wants her sister back.

Chapter Text

It's been a few weeks and Marinette has only talked a few sentences, and even that's pushing it. Everything she says is coming out stilted, not lasting longer than a few words. Marinette vaguely remembers that muteness can be a side effect of a traumatizing event. Nico. . . Nico changed too. He's been a bit more quieter, though he still talks a lot. Sometimes he rambles to his twin.

 

Marinette’s a bit glad she payed attention to the Stolls. Although they grabbed some cash before checking the Big House, the twins still don't know how long they'd be on the streets. That considered, they don't want to spend it all too soon. While winter still rages on they head to shelters and churches. Marinette wonders if they're allowed to even be near them. In the hours after the sun sets and they're given blankets, Marinette wonders if there are other gods.

 

If she's a Greek demigod does that mean she automatically goes to the Underworld? What about demigods that believe in a different religion? If there are other religions does that mean they're real too? What makes gods gods? Are they created by mortals? Why would mortals shift and create different religions? If mortals did, in fact, create the gods, then--

 

Right now the twins are in Boston. “Nico,” Marinette mumbles, tugging on his sleeve. Nico follows her gaze towards the person towering over the entrance of the alley. He positions himself in front of Marinette, blocking her a bit.

 

“Who are you?” he bites out. The person comes a bit closer and Marinette can now see her blonde hair spilling over the girl's shoulders.

 

“My name is Alyss,” the stranger says.

 

“Your voice is deep,” Nico observes.

 

“Well some girls have deep voices. Now, what are y’all’s names?”

 

The twins stay silent, and Marinette feels her brother grab onto her wrist. That always signals that they're preparing to run.

 

“It can’t be comfortable here,” Alyss says. “There’s a place a few streets down that has some garbage can fires.”

 

“Why are you telling us this,” Nico demands.

 

“Woah, watch the tone, little kiddo. Just thinking that y’all could need some help. Not easy being in the streets this young.”

 

“What if we don’t want to go?”

 

Alyss shrugs her shoulders. Marinette can just barely make a bump on her neck going up and down. “Just a suggestion, kiddo.”

 

She starts walking away from the alley, just barely leaving their view before Marinette gives an urgent look to Nico. He looks at her before swearing, somethings that people yelled at them before. “Wait!” he calls out.

 

They jog to the entrance and Alyss is leaning against the wall, tattered jacket pressed against the bricks. “Y’all comin’?”

 

They walk down the streets, and Marinette’s shoulders are a bit hunched. When is Alyss gonna demand her to speak? Will she try to use ASL? Marinette doesn’t know ASL! But to her surprise Alyss never even talks until Nico asks, “Are you from the south?”

 

The older teen shoots a sideways glance at him. “What?”

 

“Your accent,” Nico says. Marinette absentmindedly gestures to her own throat.

 

“Yeah, I guess you can say that.” Alyss lets out a sigh. “Lived in Virginia my whole life. Like, the northern south state. Then when I was fifteen my folks kicked me out.”

 

They reach the place a few seconds later and Alyss guides them to an empty corner. Kicking a can out of the way, she sits on the floor as the twins follow her lead. “Why were you kicked out?” Nico asks.

 

Alyss huffs. “Ya know, some folks would stab ya if you asked that ‘round here. But”-she shrugs- “my family didn't really like that I was trans.” Here she looks at them closely. “You even know what that means?”

 

Marinette makes a ‘eh’ gesture and grips Nico’s sleeve tight.

 

“Means I was born with guy parts, but I’m a girl. That means I'm called a trans woman. Or preferably just woman. And then there are people exactly the opposite of me. Girl parts but they're a guy. Trans men. And then there are people who are outside the gender binary. Honestly, what I'm tryna tell you kids is that gender is meaningless and just use whatever name, pronoun, label you'd like.”

 

Marinette huddles close to Nico and whispers, “Why is she telling us this?”

 

“Why are you telling us this?” Nico repeats, louder.

 

“Because a lot of those kids are on the streets and one of them would likely take offense, no offense.”

 

Only one?

 

Alyss levels a look at them. “It's better to be prepared on the streets.”


While they stay under a bridge, they bump into two men. One of them is short and dark, while the other is the opposite. They introduce themselves, and Blitzen asks, “Have you seen a blond teen? Long-ish hair? Name’s Magnus?” For a split second, Marinette worries if they’re looking for Alyss; if Magnus was her deadname and the two men were transphobic relatives looking to take her back. She squeezes Nico’s hand and they share a look out of the corners of their eyes.

 

The other one (she thinks Blitzen introduced him as Hearthstone) does something with his hands, facing his companion. Blitzen nods in acknowledgment and says to them, “Can you guys hear me?” while moving his hands slowly so they can see.

 

Nico squeezes her hand and they both nod slightly. Blitzen drops his hands and asks, “Can you understand me now?”

 

Another two nods.

 

Blitzen slumps. “You guys really haven't seen a Magnus running around? Blonde hair, grey eyes? Loves the place around the corner?” Marinette doesn't exactly know where the older man is talking about but the description throws her off. Grey eyes? Alyss doesn't have grey eyes, she has really pretty brown eyes, like firewood. Hearthstone gestures again with his hands, this time looking at them.

 

“We don't know sign language,” Nico says. The two men sigh and Blitzen says a gruff ‘thanks anyways, kids’ while he and Hearthstone run around the corner.


Sometimes the twins are able to get enough money to buy some food. They usually get fast food, cheap, and they usually get rid of calories by not being able to eat for a few days.

 

Marinette looks at the windows while she chews on a fry. The outfits are slim and have the same hour-glass figure Mary from down the hallway wanted so badly at Westover. Marinette can still hear the vomiting and sobbing. Nico’s right next to her and he drinks his chocolate milk quietly.

 

She tugs on his hand and they both start walking again. Marinette fiddles with the satchel strap with her free hand as they walk. There are purple and black lighters pressing against apples, water bottles, and Lunchables in the satchel. Marinette can feel their weight while she and Nico speed walk across the street.

 

They keep their heads low as they cross the street. To low, it turns out.

 

“Ah!” Marinette yelps as she hits an obstacle. A human obstacle, she finds out as Nico helps steady her. A very annoyed looking obstacle, she gulps.

 

The woman looks at the di Angelo twins with disgust twisting her face. A man, obviously acting as a bodyguard, stands next to her. He looks like a walking cliche with sunglasses and a suit. “Ridiculous! Utterly ridiculous!” the woman shrieks. She turns to the bodyguard. “When we return, you're fired! Letting street urchins touch me!”

 

“Sorry ma’am,” Nico mumbles, silently pulling at Marinette to say that they need to leave. Marinette scrunches her nose at the lady before walking with Nico away from her.

 

“Sorry ma’am,” Marinette mouths silently.

 

“Letting me be touched by street urchins!” the lady repeats as they get further away. “Ridiculous!”

 

Marinette watches her walk away, until she disappears around a corner. She then bumps shoulders with Nico and whispers if they can go to the park.


Marinette bites off a piece of the McDonald’s chicken nugget, turning the corner that leads to the park. Nico is off doing. . . something, Marinette’s not sure. She squints at the sun. It’s been getting warmer lately. Still, she pulls her stolen jacket closer, and finishes the chicken nugget.

 

Lost in her thoughts, she wasn't paying attention enough to see the teenager in front of her. With a “Oomph!” Marinette stumbles. Blinking, she looks at the teenager. “Sorry,” she says, “wasn't looking, I guess.”

 

The girl looks at her and something glints in her eye. “It’s okay, Marinette di Angelo. I've actually been waiting a while to meet you.”

 

The name set off red lights in the younger’s head. Instead of a young blonde--really pretty, Marinette distractedly thinks--teenage girl, the monster forms into a way more ugly version of herself, including fires and a hoof.

 

“What the heck are you?” she breathes out.

 

The monster bares her teeth. “An empousa.” She grins at Marinette before lunging. The girl lets out a shriek before jerking to the side, falling down. The empousa tumbles a bit before getting back up and whipping around to face Marinette.

 

Marinette, of course, does the sensible thing and throws an abandoned pipe at the monster. Which doesn't do much. The monster only swats it to the side in irritation. Out of options, Marinette does Plan B; she starts screaming and running. The monster is faster and it blocks the alley entrance. It gets closer and closer and Marinette closes her eyes, bracing for injury. But all she gets is the feeling of powder landing on her.

 

Marinette opens her eyes and sees yellow dust everywhere and a giant spike of the ground extruding from the floor.


Marinette looks at the jackets. There's an aviator one, and a dark, nearly black, red hoodie. The red hoodie must've been ladybug themed since there's black polka dots on the cuffs. The demigod looks around her suspiciously before grabbing the jackets.

 

Her worn-down sneakers thump against the floor as she walks out of the store, two jackets shoved into her bag, and with the same amount of money she had before she walked in.


Nico tosses another Mythomagic card into the fire, briefly turning it blue. Marinette watches, absentmindedly rolling her sleeves up to her elbows. Her bangs are cut jaggedly, uneven. Unlike his sister, Nico didn't cut his hair, leaving it to grow shaggy.

 

Marinette watches her twin toss another card in the fire. Her black skinny jeans keep the rocks from scraping too much of her skin. “Useless,” Nico says. “Can’t believe I've ever liked this game.”

 

Marinette grimaces a bit.“You loved it when Bee got you those cards,” she whispers to herself.

 

Nico still hears, shooting her a sour look. “Well, Bianca's dead now, ‘Rin. At least I don’t keep stupid ribbons in my hair, like that would bring her back,” he says harshly.

 

“I’m not-” Marinette’s mouth clicks shut and she looks at the ground with slightly burning eyes.

 

A pause, then: “Sorry, ‘Rin. That-that was mean.”

 

Marinette shifts her gaze to the River Styx. “You're right.” Her voice is quiet. “Bianca won’t come back because of some stupid ribbons.”

 

Nico watches as his sister takes the ribbons out of her hair, regret heavy in his mouth. Marinette drops the ribbons on the ground and takes a pair of scissors from their bag, cutting her black hair even shorter so that it’s a poorly done pixie-cut. She tosses the ribbons into the Styx and leaves the hair on the ground while she sits next to Nico near the fire, the scissors in her pocket.

 

“You’re correct,” Minos says, after she has sat down. “It is a childish game, master.”

 

Nico scoffs. “I've failed-”

 

“We've failed,” Marinette corrects.

 

“There's no way to get her back,” Nico mutters.

 

Minos kept silent. Marinette tilts her head. “Is there? Speak!” she commands.

 

“There may be a way,” Minos admits. “But it’s never been done before.”

 

“Tell us,” Nico orders. In the light of the fire, his eyes shine.

 

“An exchange,” the ghost says. Marinette fingers her newly cut hair. “A soul for a soul.”

 

“We’ve offered that before,” Marinette says coldly.

 

“Not any of yours,” the ghost says. “You cannot offer your father a soul he will eventually collect anyway. Nor will he be anxious for the death of his children. I mean a soul that should have died already. Someone who has cheated death.”

 

“Oh not again with the murdering,” Nico says. Marinette takes out the scissors and stabs the ground with them, bored.

 

“I'm talking about justice!” the ghost says. “Vengeance.”

 

Marinette points the scissors at Minos. “Those, my good sir, are not the same thing.”

 

Minos laughs dryly. “You both will learn differently as you get older.”

 

Nico stares at the flame. Marinette focuses her own gaze at the Styx. Beyond that is Papa’s kingdom. Papa. . .

 

“Why can't we at least summon her? We want-we need to talk to her. She’d help us.”

 

Minos flickers from the corner of Marinette’s vision. “I will help you. Have I not saved you many times? Did I not lead you through the maze and teach you to use your powers? Do you want revenge for your sister or not?”

 

Nico turns from the fire, and Marinette can see a trace of a tear running down his face. Her own face has twisted into a grimace. Her brother says, “Very well. Your plan?”

 

Minos sounds very pleased when he answers.


When Marinette falls asleep, her head gets filled with screams and dying voices.


The graveyard is dark and gray, with the sound of shoveling filling the air. Nico’s sword lays on the ground while Marinette plays with her own Stygian iron knives. Nico’s aviator jacket is behind her, letting her lean against a gravestone without hurting her back too much. She lets out a breath. It's warm and humid, and if the frogs croak one more time she's throwing herself into the grave.


“Is it deep enough yet?” Nico asks, irritated.

 

“Nearly, my lord,” Minos says. Marinette squints in the ghost’s direction for a second before focusing on a restless shadow near her shoe. “But, my lord, I tell you, this is unnecessary. You already have me for advice.”

 

Marinette digs her heel into the ground idly. “We need a second opinion. And you are not two people.”

 

Nico snaps his fingers and the skeletons climb out of the hole. Marinette eyes them, just in case they somehow lunge at her brother. Although, Nico has better control over the dead, hers is always shadows. She blows a bit of bangs out of her face as Nico dismisses them. “Thank you,” the twins say.

 

Marinette gets up and walks over to her brother, taking the Coke out of the Wal-Mart bag.

 

“You might as well thank the shovels,” the ghost complains. “They have as much sense.

 

Marinette ignores him and pops open a can, pouring it into the grave.


“Let the dead taste again,” the twins murmur in sync. “Let them rise and take this offering. Let them remember.”

 

Marinette drops the rest of the Cokes into the grave while her brother pulls out the Happy Meal. He turns it upside down and shakes the fries and hamburgers into grave.


“In my day, we used animal blood,” Minos mumbles. “It’s perfectly good enough. They can’t taste the difference.”


“We will treat them with respect,” Nico says.


“At least let me keep the toy,” the ghost counters.


“Be quiet!” Nico orders.

 

Marinette fingers her hair as they empty more sodas and Happy Meals into the grave. She stands next to Nico as they both chant in Ancient Greek. Nico may have more power over the dead, but she has some power too and Nico will probably pass out if he does it alone.

 

The brave starts to bubble and frothy brown liquid rises to the top. The mist thickens into a dense fog, and the damned frogs stop croaking. Dozens of figures lift from the gravestones, bluish with a vague glowing outline.

 

They've done it.


“There are too many,” Minos says nervously. “You don’t know your own powers.”

 

“We got it under control,” Marinette grits out, trying not to stagger in place.

 

Nico grabs his sword from the ground and holds it warningly. The shades retreat at the sight of it. It takes Marinette a few more seconds to do the same with her knives.


“One at a time,” Nico commands.


A single figure floats forward and kneels at the pool. It makes slurping sounds as it drinks. Its ghostly hands scoops soggy French fries out of the pool.


“Who are you?” her twin asks. “Speak.”

 

The shade frowns for a moment. Marinette has a split-second of panic, thinking they did something wrong. Then the shade speaks in a dry and raspy voice. “I am Theseus.”

 

Marinette tilts her head. He seems. . . younger than she thought he would be.

 

“How can we retrieve Bianca,” Marinette says, cautious of the legend in front of her. His eyes were glass and just as lifeless.

 

“Do not try. It is dangerous.”

 

“Just tell us!” Nico demands.

 

“My stepfather died,” he remembers. “He threw himself into the sea because he thought I was dead in the Labyrinth. I wanted to bring him back, but I could not.”


Their own ghost hisses.“My lord, my lady, the soul exchange! Ask him about that!”


The hero scowls. “That voice. I know that voice.”


“No you don’t, fool!” Minos denies. “Answer the lord and lady’s questions and nothing more!”


“I know you,” the shadow of a man insists, as if struggling to recall.

 

Interesting.


“I want to hear about our sister,” Nico says, gesturing to Marinette and himself. “Will this quest into the Labyrinth help us win her back?”


The shade is looking for Minos, but apparently doesn’t see him. Slowly he turns his eyes back on the twins. “The Labyrinth is treacherous. There is only one thing that saw me through: the love of a mortal girl. The string was only part of the answer. It was the princess who guided me.”


“We don’t need any of that,” Minos says. “I will guide you both. Ask him if it is true about an exchange of souls. He will tell you.”


“A soul for a soul,” Nico asks. “Is it true?”


“I—I must say yes. But the specter—”


“Just answer the questions, knave!” the ghost says.


Suddenly, around the edges of the pool, the other ghosts become restless. They stir, whispering in nervous tones. Marinette narrows her eyes warily.


“I want to see our sister!” Nico demands. “Where is she?”


“He is coming,” the hero says fearfully. “He has sensed your summons. He comes.”


“Who?” Marinette demands.


“He comes to find the source of this power,” the shade says. “You must release us.”

 

The crowd of shades starts talking louder and louder. Marinette shares an uneasy look with her twin. Marinette opens her mouth to talk, but no words come out. No, no, no! This is one of the worst times to go silent. She catches Nico’s eye, and gestures first to the shades, then she points down. Let them go.

 

Nico, thankfully, gets what his twin is trying to convey and hurriedly dismisses the crowd of shades, grabbing Marinette’s hand. “Let’s get our stuff and book it.”


 

 

They hurriedly pack up and grab the trash while Minos silently watches. ”Theseus confirms it,” Marinette mumbles as they sit on a bench. Any other person would scold her for mumbling, or mock her, or ask her to speak up, or repeat it, or pronounciate. Nico just nods and runs a hand through his black hair. Marinette mirrors the movement with her own short, raven locks.

 

“He looked like--” Nico breaks off. Marinette makes a small noise of acknowledgement. She wonders if they look like previous children of Hades. She wonders if she and Nico look more identical now that her hair is short. She has always look androgynous, a bit more than Nico.

 

She wonders if they look like Papa.