"Wait," Percy said. "So you mean--"
"Right," Nico said again. "But it's cool. We're cool. I mean, I see now... you're cute, but you're not my type."
"I'm not your type... Wait. So--"
"See you around, Percy," Nico said. "Annabeth."
She raised her hand for a high five.
Nico obliged. Then he walked back across the green, where Will Solace was waiting.
And as he went, Nico’s heart hammered against the thin wall of his chest. What had just happened? Had he really just-- yes, yes he had. He’d confessed his deepest, darkest secret to the person who’d dominated his life for so long. His passion, his curse. His first love.
His hand still stung from where Annabeth had high-fived him as he walked away.
It was fine. He was fine. A little shaky, maybe… but he wasn’t drowning in that wave of sick loathing that so often overwhelmed him. That meant he was healing, didn’t it? It was well past time to move forward.
What he was moving toward , now… that was scary. He had agreed to stay at camp, something he’d never done for more than a week at a time. Which meant he had to figure out how to live with people. Actual, living people. And maybe get a few of them to like him, somehow-- starting with the one waiting for his return with his arms crossed across his chest.
He stopped in front of the Apollo cabin, and spread his hands wide. “Okay,” he said. “I’m ready now.”
Will Solace raised an eyebrow. “I told you, you’re spending three nights in the infirmary,” he said. “Couldn’t you think of anything you might want to bring with you? Toothbrush? Nightshirt? National bestseller?”
Nico blinked at him, his mind refusing to settle on any particular thought. Then he ventured, “...I lost my toothbrush in- in the Underworld, back in June.”
Will raised both eyebrows. “You haven't brushed your teeth since June?”
“Well…” Nico tapped his forehead. “I had one on the Argo II , but obviously...”
“Yeah.” Will exhaled, rubbing the back of his head. Nothing needed to be said about that.
“And while I was traveling with Reyna, I had one in my backpack.”
“Which is where now?”
Nico sighed. “I left it on the boat in the Sound, after Michael Kahale attacked us.”
“Long story short, you need a new toothbrush,” said Will.
“Yes, probably,” Nico agreed.
Will studied him for a long moment, looking as though he had something he desperately wanted to say. At length, all he said was, “All right, then. If that’s all you’ve got, then let’s go.”
Nico fell into step beside him as he crossed the grounds towards the Big House. “It’s fine,” he said. “I’ve always traveled light.”
“You say that like it’s a good thing,” Will said.
Nico shrugged. “I like being unencumbered,” he said.
“So… you always wear the same clothes?”
“I wash them,” Nico said defensively.
“Here and there,” he said. “Laundromats, rivers... Water is water.” Glancing sidelong at Will, he said, “I washed my t-shirt in a public fountain once.”
“You did not,” Will said, disbelievingly.
“At 2 am,” said Nico, in that perfectly serious deadpan that even confounded Hades. “The beat cop was a block away. No one saw me but a stray dog and the local owl population.”
“You try that here, the harpies will eviscerate you,” said Will.
“They can try ,” said Nico. “But don’t worry. I don’t enjoy doing laundry in strange places.”
“Well, good,” said Will. “Then I’d think you were really weird.” He grinned at Nico, then lengthened his stride.
“Hey-- what do you mean, really weird?” Nico demanded, half-running to keep up. “Hey!”
He chased him all the way up the porch stairs and through the side door into the Big House, where he stopped and stared. The camp infirmary itself was just inside the door, a reasonably sized room that typically held three bunks separated by partition curtains, an examination table and a bank of cabinets stocked with supplies. The same random posters that had been up when he first arrived at camp still adorned the walls, hanging over the additional cots and exam tables that had been moved into the space. And the French doors at the far end of the room had been opened into the rec room, which had been set up as a makeshift hospital. The Apollo kids were obviously used to handling a high volume of patients after epic battles; from the look of things, the original infirmary space was dedicated to outpatient treatments and checkups, while the rec room was relegated to patients who were more long-term. And judging from the number of campers he’d seen at dinner in slings and bandages, they’d healed and released as many patients as they currently had in the hall.
“Wow,” said Nico. “Were all of these beds filled?”
“Yeah,” Will said over his shoulder as he set his things down. “Many more than once. Which you might have seen, if you’d come by at all.”
“Sorry,” Nico murmured, hardly listening to himself.
Will turned, and noticed him hovering awkwardly in the doorway. "Come on in," he said, exasperated. "It’s not the Ares cabin. We’re much cleaner, and we definitely don’t have as many booby traps."
"Um, okay," said Nico, wandering into the room. "So... Now what?"
"First, I'm going to give you a physical," Will said. "Shoes off, please."
Nico choked. "Excuse me?"
Will folded his arms. "It's protocol," he said. "I have absolutely no information on you in our files to use as a baseline, so I'd have to do it at some point anyway. Now, take off your shoes!"
"All right!" Suddenly nervous, Nico toed off his sneakers, noticing as he did so what rough shape they were in. Probably, he needed to look into getting a new pair. He pushed them under the exam table with his foot, hoping Will wouldn’t notice.
He needn’t have worried; Will was busy writing on a clipboard. "Step up onto the scale," he said, gesturing to the archaic black metal weight balance hulking in the corner. “I know it’s a relic, but it’s pretty accurate.”
Nico shrugged. “It’s pretty close to what my doctor had, back in D.C.,” he said, stepping up onto the wobbly little platform. Was that the last time he’d been to the doctor? They might have put him through this back when he was first here… “Are you sure I don’t have a file here? It might be under ‘unclaimed’.”
“Eh, this is easier,” Will said, adjusting the height scale until it rested on top of Nico’s head. Automatically, Nico stood up straight. “Five feet, four inches.”
“I’m still growing,” Nico said defensively.
“Uh huh.” Will moved on, moving the sliding weight across the bar until it balanced. He pursed his lips. "You’re still fourteen, right? Even so, you're underweight."
"...I didn't eat much at all during the month of June," Nico admitted.
"Dare I ask why?" Will said, glancing up from his clipboard.
Nico shrugged. "Various reasons. I wasn't hungry, there was no edible food available... I spent several days in a large brass jar..."
Will looked horrified. All he said, though, was, "You said June. July was better?"
“Well, I don't look like a famine victim anymore, so I’d say yes," Nico said. He didn’t think about how terrible that sounded until he heard himself say it out loud. How about you stop trying to be funny, Di Angelo.
“Hmmm.” Will frowned, jotting down a few more notes on his clipboard. “Okay. I’m going to pull the curtain, so if you could put on that hospital gown, right there...”
It was Nico’s turn to be horrified. “You’re joking.”
Will smirked. “Yes, I’m joking.” A dimple flashed in his cheek. “You should see the look on your face. Would that really be such a bad thing?”
Nico scowled at him. “Wearing a backless dressing gown and little else while another camper does Hades knows what to me? That’s not my idea of fun.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Will said breezily. “It depends on that other camper, and what he’s got planned for you, doesn’t it?” He winked- winked!- at Nico, who promptly felt all the blood rush to his head. He dropped his gaze to the floor, searching for some way to respond-- and coming up completely empty.
Fortunately, Will noticed his discomfort. “Still joking,” he said gently, touching Nico’s shoulder. It was a light touch, but Nico instinctively flinched away from it, the way he always did, and Will withdrew his hand. “I always think it’s interesting,” he continued, “which campers will put on the gown, and which ones refuse.”
Nico frowned, still staring at the tops of his stockinged feet. There was a hole in the big toe of his left sock. “Someone actually put that thing on?”
“Mitchell, Son of Aphrodite, practically dove into it,” Will said. “We proceeded to have a very informative discussion about underwear for the next twenty minutes. Most people call me out on my joke; that time, the joke was on me.”
Nico snorted. “Serves you right.”
“Maybe it does,” Will said amiably. He walked over, patting a hand on the exam table. “Hop up here,” he said. “No tricks, I promise,” he said, when Nico eyed him warily. “Don’t look so suspicious.”
Nico grudgingly walked over and climbed up onto the table.
“Now, my disclaimer,” said Will. “This physical is not going to be like a normal one--”
“Because you aren’t a certified doctor?” Nico asked.
Will lifted his chin. “I’m more efficient than any mortal doctor,” he said. “I’ll explain as we go. Fair warning, though: I’m going to need to touch you. Are you okay with that?”
Nico fidgeted uncomfortably. “...maybe?” he said. “Touch me where?”
Will put his hands up in front of him. “Usually I use the palm of my hand, or the tips of my fingers. I’ll tell you each place as I go, and you can tell me if it’s all right or not. Okay?” After a moment, Nico nodded. “Okay. First, temperature.” He turned his right hand sideways. “Forehead.”
He didn’t move, and after a moment Nico remembered he was waiting for permission. “That’s fine,” he said.
Will’s hand was cool against his forehead. He only held it there for a matter of moments before he announced, “Good. That’s normal.” And he went to make a mark on the clipboard. Then, he came around, standing in front of Nico, who stared at the front of his shirt. “As long as I’m here, I might as well do the rest of the EENT now,” Will said, crouching down until he could look Nico in the eye. “I’m only going to use the tips of my fingers. May I?”
“Ahh…” Nico said faintly.
The corner of Will’s lips quirked slightly. “I promise not to stick them in anything.”
Nico closed his eyes reflexively. “It hadn’t crossed my mind,” he said. “But… I guess that makes me feel better? Okay.”
“Okay.” Will lifted Nico’s chin with his thumbs, checking his sinuses, ears and throat with the lightest, most clinical touch of his fingertips, tilting his head from side to side while Nico desperately worked to keep his face from flooding with color. “You have allergies?”
“Mostly spring plants and pollen,” Nico grumbled. “I blame my stepmother.”
“Ah.” Will turned Nico’s face straight again, then leaned down, looking deeply into his eyes. Instinctively, Nico looked away, uncomfortable, but Will caught him firmly by the chin. “Nuh-uh,” he said. “I’m not done checking your eyes. Look right here.”
His eyes were so blue. Not an ocean blue, or the color of ice, his eyes were a cloudless summer sky… rimmed with lashes like golden smoke... they were so pretty. Nico found himself squirming again, almost as though Will could read his thoughts and knew what thought train he was riding.
But all Will said was, “Man, you must suck at staring contests.”
The challenge in his tone snapped Nico right out of his discomfort. He glowered at the son of Apollo, meeting his gaze squarely, as if determined to intimidate him into submission-- or being just as inclined to look away.
Will quirked an eyebrow. “Scary,” he said. Then he grinned. “But your eyes are fine. So that’s good.” And he turned to make another note on his clipboard.
Nico released the breath he was holding as quietly as he could, not wanting to draw attention to how rattled he was by this entire experience. Did Will really do this for every camper?
“Lungs next.” Will extended a hand, waited for Nico’s nod of approval, then rested the palm of his hand against Nico’s back, telling him to breathe deeply, in and out.
Nico cleared his throat. “Shouldn’t you have a stethoscope for this?” he managed.
“No need,” Will replied. “Your lungs are clear, and your heart sounds fine.” He started to slide his hand down Nico’s back, then paused. “Permission to check your other organs?”
“It’s fine,” Nico said. “You can stop asking.”
Will nodded, then slid his hand down to Nico’s lower back. “Most regular doctors will do a lot of poking and prodding during a physical,” he said. “Checking organ size, seeing if there’s tenderness or fluids in various parts of the body. Stuff like that.” He lifted his hand, and shrugged. “I’ve never needed to do that. Your organs are all working properly, which is good. Your heart rate is a little elevated…”
Gosh, I wonder why, Nico thought to himself, fervently hoping that he wasn’t about to start blushing like a fool again.
“... And your body is still producing a ton of adrenaline and cortisol, like you’re still on the run from something, even though the threat has passed. Also, I get the feeling you haven't been sleeping…”
“I didn't sleep at all last night,” Nico admitted. “And the night before that wasn't great either.”
Will raked his hands through his hair, then sighed, staring at them. “Now I have to wash these again,” he said. “Do you always have trouble sleeping?”
Nico shrugged. “I slept an awful lot while we were transporting the Athena Parthenos,” he said.
“Yeah, I heard all about that, remember?” Will said. “It’s the whole reason you’re here.”
“You wanted to know how I sleep,” Nico retorted. “I’m just giving you the facts.”
Will gave him a sour look, but he dropped the subject. "Any wounds or serious injuries, past or present, that I should record in your chart?"
Nico hesitated. "Well, there's this..." And he pushed up his sleeves.
He thought the wounds looked a lot better, but Will sucked in a breath. “Nico…” he said. Without hesitating, or asking permission, he reached out and took Nico’s arm, pushing up his sleeve with one hand and gently turning it to get a better look. “What did this to you?” he asked. “When?”
Nico gritted his teeth, resisting the urge to pull away. He tried to distract himself by recounting the days since the attack. “We were attacked by… by a wolf in Evora, maybe… twelve days ago, now? He dug his claws into my arms.”
“Almost two weeks, and the scratches are still so red,” Will said. “Don’t they hurt?”
“It’s fine,” Nico said. “They’re a lot better than they were.”
Will sighed. “It is not fine,” he said, his fingers hovering just above the raised pink wheals surrounding the stitches. “I don’t think there’s any infection, and the wounds seem mostly closed, but I’m still going to clean the sutures and put something on them.” He stood and headed for his work table, near the wall.
“You don’t have to--”
Turning, Will leveled a finger at Nico’s nose. “You are in my house now,” he said. “It is my job to make you feel better. So, rather than stoically dealing with the pain, you will have to stoically deal with my treatment. Capisce ?”
“ Io capisco, ” Nico muttered automatically, a little surprised. He wondered where Will had learned this random Italian term. Did he speak Italian? “ Neanche tu riesci a capire una parola, vero? ”
“Sorry, were you saying something?” Will asked a little too sweetly, as he pulled on his gloves. “I hope you weren’t complaining over there…”
Apparently not. “Niente, ” Nico said, mimicking his tone. “Not at all.”
“Good.” Will picked up the bottle of topical antiseptic and a medical swab and sat down on the stool next to the table. He made quick work of cleaning the sutures, the liquid feeling very cold against the heat of the inflamed skin. “How does that feel?” Will asked.
“Fine,” Nico said automatically. Feeling Will’s disapproving stare on the back of his neck, he amended, “I mean, it’s cold, and it stings a little in some places, but not too bad.”
Will nodded. “Okay,” he said. Spinning on the stool, he tossed the swab in the trash can behind him, then came back around. In his hands now was a plain white container of some sort of cream. Or was it technically a paste? He put some on his fingers and spread it over the wounds on Nico’s biceps, humming softly. When they were fully covered, he rested his hand over the whole area, and sang the rest of the song he’d been humming. He didn’t sing very loudly, so the words were difficult to decipher, but Nico heard enough to figure out it was a prayer to Apollo, god of healing-- and Will’s father.
And then, amazingly, his arm stopped hurting. The pain had been a constant ache, mostly tolerable and barely noticeable after the intense pain of the first few days, but Nico could tell when it stopped. “Oh,” he said.
“Uh huh,” Will replied, switching to Nico’s other side. “Amazing how that works, isn't it? If you use medicine, things feel better!”
“Imagine that,” Nico murmured. “Where were you two weeks ago?”
“Not in-- Evora? Where is that, even?”
“Portugal,” said Nico.
“Yeah,” said Will cheerfully. “Never been there.”
“Never been where?” The door creaked open, and Nico heard the footfalls of another camper as he walked into the office. “Oh man, Will, you weren't doing a baseline physical on another patient, were you? You promised!”
“It's still early,” Will said reasonably. “Most of you weren't here yet, and no one is really awake either. And this patient is staying at Camp, so I'd have to do it eventually.”
The son of Apollo walked around the front of the table, leaning over to see who was sitting there. “Oh, it’s Nico! ” he said. “Good morning.”
“Hi,” Nico said. “Austin, right?” The younger boy grinned, tapping two fingers against his temple in a little salute.
“I'm almost finished here,” Will told his brother. “Then we can talk through the transport assignments.”
“Take your time,” Austin said. “I'll check the lists for this morning, see if anyone is awake and ready for checkout.”
“Thanks, Austin,” said Will.
Nico watched him round the corner, then said, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
Will raised an eyebrow, closing up his jar of healing salve. “You feel up to helping? Sure you don't just want to get a little more sleep?”
Nico shrugged. “I'm awake,” he said. “Might as well make myself useful.”
Will considered that. “Okay,” he said. “I could use more bandages, if you're willing to cut them. But with all the packing we’re going to need to do, I don't have a ton of space available.”
“You can put me anywhere,” Nico said.
“I was hoping you'd say that,” Will said. “I'm going to set you up on one of the empty bunks, with a tray table, if that's okay.”
“Lead the way,” Nico said.