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Trailing his finger slowly down a black, marble column— the sentiment behind it— he didn’t know if he could accept, or even believe. This warm reception rang hollow.

He was safe, and more importantly, so were his friends, yet exhaustion still dragged down his limbs and anxiety trembled in the curl of his hands. The new-found ease present in the others hadn’t spread over to include him. He should feel happy, accomplished, anything other than the way he always had. Shouldn’t he have moved past this by now? Why couldn’t he—

A quiet sniffle derailed his thoughts. Hands stilling, he suppressed breath as best he could, straining to hear more.

For who would dare trespass here? They may call him a hero. Yet, shadows still haunted— whatever he did would always take a backseat to who he was.

For a while, there was nothing except for the quiet thudding of his own heartbeat roaring in his ears. Daring to venture closer, he heard what sounded like the choked-up beginnings of a sob.

He didn’t know why. He truly didn’t understand why he did— normally such things would cause him to escape, to run in the opposite direction— but not this time. This time— he ventured ever closer. Huddling in a corner, who came into view was a familiar figure: knees drawn into his chest, hands clenched tightly together with knuckles a stark white, wetness undeniable on his cheeks, and a thousand-yard stare staring into nowhere, Percy looked fragile in a way Nico could have never conceived of if he hadn’t been bearing witness to the impossible scene before him right here, right now.

Nico approached, not even trying to quiet his footsteps anymore, but Percy didn’t turn, didn’t look— he was lost to something Nico didn’t know. And he wanted— wanted to know, wanted to ease hurt off that downturned face.

Settling down onto the floors, next to his friend, closer than he would normally dare, he chewed on his bottom lip, uncertain of what to do, what to say. Mired in indecisiveness, it was a shock, one that rushed straight to his strained heart, when he looked up to see Percy staring straight at him. Being the centre of that focus caused his tongue to stick to the roof of his mouth. Yet with the unhappiness that was only too clear on that face, “What’s wrong?” Nico couldn’t help but ask.

He wanted to.

Let me help you.

For once, let it be me.

Percy struggled for words, mouth opening uselessly once, closing, and then parting again, yet Nico only waited patiently. Eventually, his friend found words. “I just realized. I— we—”

Though that didn’t mean they were understandable. Brows drawing together, Nico echoed, “We?”

“I wasn’t being fair.”

“Percy, what—”

“— I didn’t want to accept it.”

Confusion only rose higher with every other word Percy spoke.

“I thought we could figure it out together, but there are some things you can’t change.”

You’re not making sense— were the words he wanted to scream, but he bit them back.

Percy quieted into silence, lowering his gaze.

However— it was horrible, how pinpricks of happiness crept in deep inside his heart— and he couldn’t stop himself from voicing hope, “Did you and Annabeth break-up?”

The answer was immediate, “We didn’t want to. Gods, I would never want to leave her.” The words were insistent, loud, and lacking any of the shakiness of his previous ones. Percy glanced up quickly after, apology written over his face.

It was the last thing Nico had wanted to see.

Of course. Every time, every time, he allowed hope to rise, it was destined to be sunk. And he— hated himself— for how easily he was rocked by every one of Percy’s actions, his words, that smile. Yet, he had to know— “Then why?”

And what Percy admitted then, it sucked all the breath out of his lungs.

Taking a deep breath in, and racking a hand nervously through messy hair, Percy spoke under his breath, haltingly, words cracking mid-sentence before continuing, “I didn’t want it. I didn’t— they just, I never wanted this, I— I’m immortal, Nico.”

He just didn’t know what to say.

Searching his expression, interpreting his silence, Percy’s expression just— crumpled, cracking wide-open. The composure he had somehow been bearing before finally loosened, proving itself to be a delicate illusion— and Percy

Breaking out of his shock, he opened his arms; his friend easily sought the solace— and that more than anything else, that was what broke through the shroud of unreality enclosing the whole encounter.

They stayed like that for a time. While Percy’s frame wracked with loud, desperate sobs, fingers curled into the back of Nico’s shirt, Nico tried to keep them together.

Ultimately, after cries had become few and far between, and the wetness on his shirt stopped spreading, he loosened his hold. For a moment, Percy stayed where he was before retreating, and gracelessly wiping his face.

Nico didn’t bother asking him if he was okay.

Percy mustered up a half-smile, eyes finally meeting his. “Thanks, Nico.”

Yet, he didn’t respond. Searching those green eyes, he pursed his lips. Should he?

Percy’s smile fell away, face drawing into confusion.

One thing he had to know— the question that had arisen and now wouldn’t leave him alone, he had to know. “Percy.”

His friend raised an eyebrow. “Yeah?”

“Percy, why are you here? I mean— why did you come here?”

The demigod visibly stiffened at the question.

Nico’s heart thud harder inside his chest, breath held in thrall, he waited.

“I,” the demigod swept a tongue over his bottom lip, an action Nico’s eyes tracked eagerly, “wanted to see you. Wanted to see a face who wouldn’t—” Momentarily, frustration flashed, before fading, “— pity me, ask me questions I didn’t want to answer. I just needed—” Percy abrupted stopped talking, averting his eyes.

“What did you need?”

“I guess… someone who understood.” And when that gaze met his own, carrying an emotion he both knew and didn’t, Nico stopped breathing altogether.

Oh Percy, you were always so unfair.

Only when tentative fingers ran over his hand, and warm breath joined his own, did he shutter unbelieving eyes— so, so afraid to wake up from this dream.

A soft touch guiding his chin, the warmth of the hand that clung to his own, and soft breaths were the last things he noticed before thoughts fled. And he wanted to say that he tasted disappointment, but that just wasn’t true; it wasn’t true at all.

Oh, how he wished that was the truth.

An unknown heaviness weighed down his actions, but the sensation that rushed through his veins, fizzled down his spine— he had never felt alive quite in a way like this.

It was just for a moment, but that moment was impossibly soft; twined with a fragility that set his teeth on edge.

It had to end eventually, but when it did, with widened eyes, they gaped at each other uselessly.

Nico brought his fingers to his lips, chasing a taste that was rapidly fading. Percy only stared, but his hand stayed over Nico’s own and he didn’t know what that meant; he was sure Percy didn’t either.