Will sat with his back against a tree, sitting flush against his boyfriend, the son of Hades. Their interlocked fingers rested atop their thighs as they watched the clouds lazily float by. Will sighed and thumbed small circles into the back of Nico’s pale hand. Annabeth was right, this was the perfect spot to relax. The sun warmed the grass around them and a lethargic breeze kept the air just cool enough. The tree provided the perfect amount of shade that kept the temperature pleasant. The steep hill behind them and the cliff in front of them provided a sense of privacy that still remained pure and opened. He was glad Annabeth told he should bring Nico here today. She was definitely a child of Athena.
“Hey, Nico?” a voice called from behind them. Nico jumped and released Will’s hand as if it had become red-hot iron. Will watched as Nico’s face scrunched up in anger at himself. Will grabbed his shoulder and flashed him a crooked smile, one that said, Hey, it’s okay. We’re taking it slow. Nico pulled the corner of his mouth in a half-hearted smile, guilt still soaking into his dark eyes. Will removed his hand from his boyfriend’s shoulder as their visitor appeared over the crest of the hill and instead started picking blades of grass.
Piper stood at a respectable distance, smiling apologetically. “Hey, sorry to bother you, but there’s an emergency with Mrs. O’Leary and we need Nico’s help.”
“Where’s Percy?” Nico asked, brows pulled together in confusion.
Good question, Will thought, brushing blades of grass off his lap. Piper should have gone to the hellhound’s owner instead of Nico.
“I’m not sure, but Mrs. O’Leary isn’t letting anyone get close to her. She threw Frank into the lake when he tried! We could really use your help,” Piper pleaded, eyes sympathetic yet desperate.
Nico sighed and got to his feet. “Yeah, okay.”
Will rose as well, gently bumping his shoulder into Nico’s as a show of support. “I’ll go with you.”
“No, sit!” Piper shouted. They sat. Their eyes glazed over with a thin veil of charmspeak before they each blinked then shook their heads, as if flinging off her influence. The boys eyed Piper, brows raised. Piper giggled, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “Um, what I mean is, you should stay here, Will. This shouldn’t take long.” She flashed them a brilliant smile and met Nico’s dark eyes. “Trust me, it’ll be okay.”
“Yeah, it’ll be okay,” Nico said. He returned Will’s shoulder bump as he stood again. “I’ll be right back. This won’t take long.”
Will sucked in a deep breath as he leaned forward and clasped his arms around his knees. He held it as he watched his boyfriend disappear down the hill. He rested his forehead against his knees and exhaled, smiling. Gods, he loved being around him. Even if Nico wasn’t ready to do much more than just hold hands, Will still felt giddy every time they were together. It wasn’t often they got to just hang out and do couple-y stuff, even if they were interrupted. Doesn’t matter Will thought. He’ll be back soon and we can sit back, relax, and watch the sunset.
The shnnng of swords being pulled from their sheaths told another story. Will jerked up, eyes wide, and paled. Standing before him in a loose crescent were four overpowered, scary, generally-all-around-badass demigods and one ten foot tall Kodiak bear. And none of them seemed very happy to see him.
Shit, Will thought. His hands clenched and unclenched, as if they could make a bow and arrow magically appear by sheer force of desperation. Deciding he didn’t have to make his death an easy one, Will stood, making sure to keep his back flush against the tree. Swallowing down his fear, Will’s eyes darted between the five famed ‘Heroes of Olympus’. Jason stood in the center, with Annabeth and Percy to his right and Hazel and (hopefully) Frank in bear form on the left. He ignored their grim frowns and clouded eyes and offered a dazzling golden smile. At least, he hoped it was dazzling and golden, not fearful and borderline hysterical. He overlooked their collection of drawn swords, daggers, and claws and said cheerfully, “Hey guys, how’s it going? Beautiful weather we’re having, isn’t it?”
With a grimace, Jason flung a hand out towards the sky. In seconds, dark clouds swirled and blocked the sun. Will’s smile faltered. “Or not.”
Adjusting his glasses (which did nothing to deter the doomy death vibes he was shooting at Will), Jason spoke gravely. “We need to talk, Solace.”
Play dumb, his brain helpfully supplied. Good plan. Knew I kept you around for a reason. Keeping his tone light, almost playful, Will responded. “Yeah? What about? Is there something I can help you with?”
“It’s about Nico.”
Shit, brain. No good. What now? His brain wisely remained silent. Traitor , he thought. Will cleared his throat to stall before asking, “What about Nico?”
Smacking his palm against the flat of his blade, Percy said, “Basically, we’re here to give you the equivalent of a dad-with-shotgun talk. Y’know, the kind usually reserved for a girl’s prom date or something.”
“But with swords, daggers and a bear instead of shotgun? And for Nico?” Will asked, smiling wryly. “I’m guessing this is why Annabeth suggest I bring Nico here today, huh? So you can ambush me?”
“Well, yeah,” Percy answered, rolling his shoulders in a half shrug. “The dude doesn’t really have a lot of family—”
“—Except for Hazel,’ Hazel interrupted.
“Right, except for Hazel,” Percy amended. “And the dude has really been through a lot and well, I guess even if he doesn’t think it, we’re his family. We don’t wanna see him get hurt.” Percy gave another half-shrug, as if it didn’t mean anything, but his eyes darkened and held a seriousness in them that Will didn’t think the son of Poseidon was capable of. His intense eyes reminded Will of dark waves crashing over a drowning man’s head, sucking him down to his death without a care. It reminded him that no matter how easy-going the water may be, the ocean wasn’t always safe, and neither was Percy Jackson.
Something dark and angry curled in Will’s gut. Fuck him! Fuck. Him. Where the fuck does he get off after everything he’s done to Nico?! He smiled darkly and took a dangerous step forward, his fists shaking at his sides. “Excuse me? Who are you to talk about not hurting Nico? You—”
“Look Will, we don’t think you’re a bad guy,” Hazel interrupted, sheathing her gold sword and holding both her hands up in front of her, as if to push back Will’s anger. Annabeth and Jason both grabbed Percy’s biceps, preventing him from lunging at the son of Apollo. Will held his breath for a second. Then two. He exhaled deeply and forced his hands to unclench. He nodded for Hazel to continue.
“It’s just,” Hazel bit her lip and glanced away. Her gold eyes darted back to his, wide and sincere with thinly veiled worry shimmering behind them. “Nico’s been through so much. He’s been alone for so long. And now, he’s finally learning to trust people again. He’s finally feels like he’s worthy of love, after years of thinking he could never deserve something so precious. And, it’s just such a fragile thing that we—we just want to make sure…” she trailed off, her eyes distant and glistening.
“We just want to make sure he’s going to be alright,” Bear-Frank finished, morphing back into a tall Asian-Canadian demigod. He placed a hand on Hazel’s shoulder and she held it, smiling up at him.
“Will, we don’t mean to gang up on you like this,” Jason said, his eyes pleading. “It’s just, man, I don’t know if you understand the severity of this all. I know Nico seems strong—and he is! He’s one of the strongest demigods I know, way stronger than me— but he is also fragile. He’s been broken, and he’s finally starting to put himself back together, but the cracks are still there. It’d only take one hit to shatter him completely.”
Will stared into Jason’s sharp blue eyes, searching for… he didn’t know what. It hurt, to know none of Nico’s friends trusted him.
“It’s not that we don’t trust you Will,” Annabeth said. Her voice was calm and practical, but soft enough to convey her sincerity. Will briefly wondered if Annabeth could read minds. He decided she could probably read his thoughts on his face. Nico liked to say his wore his heart on a billboard, wide and open for everyone to see. “Look, Will. I saw in Tartarus terrible, heart-crushing things. I almost died more than once. I nearly lost my damn mind . That was with Percy and our friend Bob there to help me.” Her voice broke and she choked back a sob. Percy laced his fingers with her and nuzzled her shoulder with his chin. Annabeth cleared her throat and continued with a shaky breath. “Percy understands because he was there with me. Nico was alone . Tartarus… it can do terrible things to a mortal’s mind.”
“I think what we’re all trying to say,” Jason interjected, eyes sympathetic. “Is we’re Nico’s family and we just want to make sure you understand the gift you’ve been given. The beautiful, precious, delicate gift. Nico trusts you.” Jason’s eyes darkened and his voice turned hard. “It’s a big responsibility. We just want to make sure you understand that before things get any more serious.”
“And also, you break his heart then we break you,” Percy promised, pointing Riptide at Will’s chest.
The rest of the demigods nodded in agreement. Hazel walked forward and gathered Will’s hands in her own. They were a soft sienna color and warm, so different from Nico’s pale and cold ones. She offered a watery smile and said, “I know this whole situation is crazy, but Nico is very precious to me. He’s the only relative I have left. He’s taken care of me since I’ve returned and now it’s my turn to take care of him. It’s hard for me to trust that someone else can take care of him too.” She squeezed his hands. “But Nico trusts you. So I’m going to trust you too.”
Will’s breath caught in his throat. He swallowed the lump in his throat and gently squeezed back. Her smile widened and with one last squeeze, she stepped back to rejoin her friends. The silence stretched on and Will realized they were waiting for him to say something. Will wasn’t sure he could. His thoughts and feelings were all disoriented and stumbling over each other. On one hand, who were these people to corner him like this and unleash a torrent of judgments and threats? On the other, they were people who cared for the son of Hades just as much as he did.
A shaft of golden sunlight broke through the storm clouds and enveloped Will. It was as if his dad was saying Hey, don’t worry kid. I got your back.
Thanks Dad, Will prayed. He stood taller and said confidently, “Let’s get one thing clear. I would never hurt Nico.”
“For your sake, I hope you do not,” a deep, gravelly voice echoed from everywhere . Goosebumps broke out on Will’s skin as it felt like icy hands caressed their way up his arms and down his spine. The grass withered and frosted over as darkness pooled between Will and the five heroes. Tendrils of black smoke lazily arched out as the Lord of the Underworld rose out of the shadows. Hades met his eyes and Will backed up into the tree, hitting his head. “I believe I would like a word with the boy,” Hades spoke. The demigods hesitated behind him. Hands clasped behind his back, the Olympian glanced at the crowd from the corner of his eye. “Alone.”
As if that word were made of electricity, the heroes of Olympus jumped and scrambled to get away. The ray of sunlight piercing through the clouds immediately disappeared, as if Apollo was saying Lol jk, good luck kid.
Thanks Dad, Will thought miserably. Face pale and head throbbing from its meeting with the tree, Will eyed the Lord of the Underworld. He gulped and, not knowing what else to do, bowed as he stuttered, “H-Hello Lord Hades. Mister Lord Hades, sir.”
Meeting your boyfriend’s parents is intimidating. Meeting your boyfriend’s parent who happened to also be the dark Lord of the Underworld without said boyfriend to act as a buffer? Downright terrifying . “Rise, child,” Hades commanded, amusement shimmering just under his words.
Will stood upright and hoped the tree at his back would do him a solid and just swallow him. That sounded good. He gripped the bark behind him to keep his hands from shaking. Clearing his throat, Will remembered his manners. “H-Hello sir. I-I’m Will Solace, son of Apollo and, uh, Nico’s...um, friend.” Normally he’d go for a handshake, but Will wasn’t convinced he’d get his arm back, so he dipped his head in a quick bow.
“Friend,” Hades repeated and Will feared pissing his pants. The word dropped from the god’s mouth like a guillotine, sharp, quick, and ready to cut Will’s throat. The blond demigod’s legs started shaking and he leaned more firmly against the tree. It was the only thing keeping him from falling to the ground in the fetal position, Will was sure of it. A million thoughts zipped through his head at once. Had Nico come out to Hades? If he hadn’t, it wasn’t his place to say anything! Oh man, he was so screwed and—
“Peace, child,” Hades ordered, flicking his wrist. Between them, dark shadows boiled and bubbled. They coalesced and climbed, weaving together to form a round, ornate Stygian iron table, like the small kind found outside cafes, and two matching chairs sitting across from each other. The dark god sat and gestured to the empty chair. “Sit, son of Apollo. I have neither much time nor a shotgun.”
Will felt sweat beading on the back of his neck. Arms and legs like jelly, Will sat.
“People wonder why I don’t like being outside,” Nico griped as he wiped hellhound slobber off his face. It turned out, Mrs. O’ Leary’s favorite red ball had gotten wedged in her collar, simultaneously upsetting the hellhound and making it impossible to get close enough to dislodge it and placate her. Piper had been incredibly unhelpful, shouting out charmspeak commands like “Rollover” and “Lay down” whenever Nico got close to the ball. Nico was convinced she was sabotaging him, but couldn’t say anything when confronted with her sincere smile and earnestness to “do better next time, Nico!”
Ugh, people are weird , Nico thought, trekking up the hill where his boyfriend sat. Speaking of people, Nico rose his brow as Jason, Hazel, Annabeth, Frank and Percy made their way down the hill, glancing over their shoulders every now and then. “Uh, you guys alright?” Nico asked. The group jumped, startled to see him. Their eyes went wide and faces paled.
Finally, Jason said, “Oh, uh, yeah we’re good.”
Huh , Nico thought, staring as the demigod heroes refused to meet his gaze. “What were you guys doing?”
“Oh nothing!” Hazel chimed despite the panic in her eyes.
“Oh, yup, nothing. Nothing at all. Definitely not threatening your boyfriend!” Frank laughed loud and nervously. “Hah! Yeah, nothing like that!” Frank squeaked. Percy elbowed him in the ribs and shot him a hard glare.
Nico froze. “Oh, you guys didn’t. Please tell me you didn’t.”
“We didn’t?” Percy offered, smiling sheepishly.
“Percy!” Annabeth cried, punching him in the arm.
“Ow! Annabeth!” Percy mimicked. “It’s not like we maimed him!”
“Yeah, Hades is gonna take care of that for us,” Jason murmured. He rubbed the back of his neck as his eyes trailed up the hill behind him.
Nico paled. “You left him with my dad!?”
“Nico, when the Lord of the Underworld tells you to scram, you scram,” Frank reasoned.
Hazel stepped forward and gathered her brother’s hands in her own. “It’ll be okay, Nico. Dad won’t hurt him. If he does, he’ll have to deal with me, okay?”
Nico stared at his smiling sister and felt touched by the sentiment. He gulped. “Yeah, okay. But I better get up there, just in case.”
Hazel squeezed his hands once before letting him go. Nico climbed to the crest of the hill, Will still out of sight, before his father’s dark figure stopped him.
Nico bit his lip. He usually felt more defiant when facing his father, but now all he could focus on was whether or not his boyfriend was slowly gurgling out his last breaths at the top of the hill. So distracted, Nico jumped when his father stood at his side, facing downhill, and put his hand on his shoulder. Nico met his father’s eyes and his breath caught at the small smile tugging at the edges of his lips. Hades said nothing, only gently patted his son on the shoulder.
Hope crackled in his chest, as small and fragile as an ice crystal. Nico offered a small, delicate smile back. Hades released his son and melded into the shadows as Nico raced up the hill, the sun quickly breaking through the clouds.
“Hey, are you okay?” Nico cried, seeing his boyfriend slumped against the tree.
Will’s head shot up, wide and wild. Nico feared what happened to him until Will met his eyes and his glowing warm smile broke out across his face. Though his face was a few shades paler, his voice was still strong and confident. “Hey! Yeah, I’m alright!”
Nico stood in front of the blond demigod, studying his face. Will cocked his head to the side and gave him a lopsided grin. Eyes shining, Will offered his hand. Thinking he wanted help up so they could return to camp, Nico grabbed it. He yelped as he was pulled to the ground and pressed into Will’s chest. Nico froze, his heart hammering. He slowly relaxed as he felt Will’s arms around him, firm but not so tight Nico couldn’t break free if he wanted to. The son of Hades nuzzled his cheek further against his boyfriend’s chest, relishing in the healthy tha-thump of his heart. Will rubbed absent-minded circles into Nico’s shoulder. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, a lazy smile forming on his tan face.
“So, what did everyone say to you?” Nico asked timidly, pushing himself up to meet Will’s eyes.
Will peeked one eye open, his smile widening as a chuckle bubbled out of his chest. He closed it again as he gently pressed Nico back against his chest, nuzzling his dark hair with his cheek. “Just the usual family-threatening-the-boyfriend stuff. Y’know, dads with shotguns and stuff.”
Nico tensed. “My dad brought a shotgun?”
Will laughed. “No, he didn’t need one to be scary.”
Nico waited for the rest of the story, his head rising and falling with Will’s deep breaths. When nothing came, he frowned and asked, “And what about the others? Jason, Hazel, and the rest?”
Will buried his face in Nico’s hair. “Like I said, usual family threatening things and shotguns. Or rather, Celestial Bronze and Imperial Gold. They just wanted to make sure I wasn’t some creep.”
Nico huffed in amusement. “I’m creepy enough for the both of us.”
“You’re not creepy, you’re cute,” Will asserted. “And you got a good family watching out for you. A bunch of badass demigods ready to skewer cute sun god demigods if they make you cry.”
Nico tightly gripped Will’s shirt as his lungs constricted. He heard the words, knew that Will would never lie to him, but it was still hard letting them sink it. Nico swallowed the emotions lodged in his throat and pushed those emotions aside for another day. “What’d my dad say?” he rasped, picking at a stray thread on Will’s shirt.
“Not much. He said he didn’t have a lot of time. We sat down and chatted.”
“Did he threaten you?” Nico inquired carefully, fearing the answer.
“Well, yeah, of course!” Will laughed. “I’d be insulted if he didn’t! He’s really good at it by the way. Definitely gonna give a five-star review on Yelp.”
A sound that was half a scoff, half a laugh burst from Nico’s chest. The image of his boyfriend sitting down and writing a review of Hades’s threats was just so ridiculous. Nico decided to let the subject of Will’s interrogation drop and smiled into his chest. Soon he was heaving deep, slow breaths that matched his human pillow. Sleepiness caressed his cheek and whispered for him to close his eyes. Almost on the edge of sleep, Nico felt Will’s chest rumble as he said, “Your dad said his children rarely have happy lives. He hopes you can be the exception.”
“Yeah, I know,” Nico mumbled, sleep creeping over him.
“He said you could use a little more sunshine in your life.”
Nico held his breath. The small, icy crystal of hope in his chest melted and blossomed into something beautiful and warm. He sighed through his nose, hugged Will tighter, and let sleep take him.