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Courting Death

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It’s the first thing they tell you when you’re claimed by Apollo. It should have sounded silly to you.

“Love at first sight?”

But the weird thing was, it didn’t. It resonated somewhere deep inside of you, like a little gear clicked in your head, setting everything into place. A tall kid named Lee fletcher is the one explaining it all too you, but a couple of the Apollo cabin kids are staring at you too. Some of the ones that look older are minding their own business. You guess they’ve heard this speech plenty of times before.

“Not exactly,” Lee continues. You’d think he would look uncomfortable about this kind of thing, but he doesn’t. Instead he looks pained, like he’s given you one of those ‘prophecies of doom’ you’ve heard so much about. “I think that Love at first sight is a bit . . .” He trails off, looking for the right words.

“Romantic?” some other kid offers. He’s tiny in comparison to Lee, but something tells you that you’d never want to cross him.

“Yeah, thanks Michael.” Michael just nods, and goes back to what he was doing before. You can see that he was organizing music folders. You wonder blankly if he has a gift for music, like some of the other kids you’ve heard. You wonder if you’ll get a gift for music too.

“It’s different then love, but it definitely can become love in some cases, but most of the time . . .” He trails off, that pained look flickering across his face again.

“I don’t get it,” you say “What does this have to do with Apollo? Shouldn't it be something the uh, the Aphrodite kids have to worry about?” At that Michael scoffs a kind of bitter laugh. Lee just sighs, like he’s tired.

“Funny you should mention the love goddess . . . Have you ever heard of Cupid, kid?” You shake your head, not because you’ve never heard of him (obviously you’ve heard of him) but because you don’t know what a tiny plump cherub has to do with this situation and you have the feeling he'll explain it either way.

“Well, he’s the god of love but . . . more the passions of love. He’s known to have a darker side. Once our father Apollo scorned him, and made fun of the love god’s archery skills. He told him that firing arrows of love was useless.

“Cupid took his revenge quickly enough. It’s the story of the laurel tree. He shot Apollo with an arrow of maddening love and desire, and he shot Laurel, a tree nymph, with an arrow of disgust. She fled, and Apollo chased her relentlessly, consumed by his obsession. Eventually, when she was about to collapse from exhaustion, her father took pity and turned her into the laurel tree. Even then Apollo wouldn’t leave her alone. He claimed the Laurel as his sacred tree, glorifying it as a sign of victory.”

Something twisted deep in your gut. You understand now, why some kids in Cabin 11 preferred to go unclaimed. Shame burns up the back of your neck.

“It’s a curse that lingers with Apollo. In a lot of his myths he falls prey to that same obsession. Cupid does not forget easily.” Now you understand why Michael said that ‘love at first sight’ was too romantic. “And, it’s a curse that lingers with his children too. We can become fixated on people who are little more than strangers, and become possessive and jealous when they hardly know our name.” You don’t have to ask to know that there’s some terrible camp story to go with this warning. It takes all your focus to nod. There must be something about the pallor of your face that makes him pause and sigh. “Look, that’s not to say that you’re going to turn into some creepy psycho stalker or anything. It can turn into love, and with a lot of Apollo kids it does. That’s why we warn all the new comers, so they can recognize if it happens to them. And it doesn’t happen to all of us or anything, only sometimes, but . . .” He didn’t need to finish the sentence. You understood.

However, you were also eight years old and that whole day, being claimed by Apollo, it all seemed so surreal. Things as great and terrible as Cupid’s curse seemed intangible to you. 

. . . .

About two years later your camp begins to fall apart. War is brewing between the gods. All you really know is that it has something to do with a thief.

“Hey, don’t look at me!” Cecil protests. He was claimed by the thief god yesterday and really it was no surprise.

“I’m only good at stealing small things.” He holds a pen out in his hand as if the theft is somehow justified because it is just some cheap ballpoint pen.

“Yeah. You’d have to be pretty darned good to steal from the gods.” Lou Ellen rests her cheek in her hand. None of you really have anything to say to that. You’re all sitting in front of the Hermes cabin on the steps like you used to back before you were claimed. 

“Did you hear that a new camper came in last night?” Cecil pipes up. You hadn’t.

“His spot on the floor is right next to me,” Lou says. “All he had with him was a minotaur horn. Maybe he’s the child of that big prophecy people keep whispering about!”

“Yeah, and maybe you’ll be claimed by Aphrodite,” you joke. Lou pushes you so hard you tumble off the steps.

“Hey, where’d that pen go?” Cecil mutters. He’s patting his pockets and looking around.

“Who cares, it’s just a stupid pen,” Lou gripes as Cecil pushes her over to see if maybe she's sitting on it.

“Yeah, but I stole it from Chiron. That’s a pretty big accomplishment if I do say so myself.” He pouts, giving up on the lost pen. You shrug.

“Someone will find it eventually,” you say, though that doesn’t seem to reassure Cecil. You remember thinking that one little pen can’t matter that much.

. . .

It turns out one little pen can matter a lot, especially when it’s wielded by a child of prophecy. That new camper brings back the lightning bolt. Turns out a child of Hermes did steal it. All you could think when you heard the new was 'thank the gods it wasn’t Cecil'. You don’t know what you’d do without that kleptomaniac.

You come very close to finding out. Everything is fine until the tree is poisoned. That’s when you first realize home is starting to fall apart. You had come for visit during spring break, and never left. How could you? Monsters were beginning to press the magic barrier and kids were leaving left and right to try and find cures. At first, you weren’t sure how you could be of much use. Four years at camp and you can’t say you’re good at much. You’re a good archer, but you’re not the best. That’s Michael. You’re a pretty good leader, but you’re not the best. That’s Lee, obviously. You’re pretty decent at sword work, but Cecil is better.

The monsters don’t seem to recognize this distinction. When they first make it past the border, it’s a disaster. No one had seen it coming. Sure, they prodded and pressed against the barrier, but they had never made it through. You, Cecil, and Lou Ellen are on guard duty. The empousai is so fast; you don’t know how Cecil held out for as long as he did. When she finally gets the drop on him, it’s with her teeth. When it happens you stand there dumb struck for a second, and all you can think of is a passage you once read. Hecate sends empousai to block off roads and devour travelers. In some twisted way, it makes sense that she would go for Cecil first, son of the travel god, even though you’re obviously the weaker fighter.

Then everything snaps into focus, and you’re furious. She lets go of Cecil just as fast as she had grabbed him. He’s bleeding profusely from the juncture between neck and shoulder. Still, he tries to fight. She rakes his side with her claws. You lash out at her, trying your best to make a distraction. Cecil crumples to the ground. Your mind fills with one thought: No, you can’t die, you can’t die. It becomes a tattered litany in your head as the empousai wears you down. Then suddenly, Lou Ellen is at your side. There’s something different about her, you think. You can’t quite place it. Whatever it is, it seems to make the empousai nervous. The monster almost seems reluctant to hit Lou.

“Take care of Cecil,” she says.

“What, but I-”

“Will.” Something flickers behind her eyes, almost like understanding. “I can handle her.” Lou is an even worse swordsman than you, but right now you’re not going to argue with her.

In a second you’re on your knees next to Cecil. There were few times in your life when you felt more helpless. What can you do, what are you supposed to do, you don't know- You slap yourself out of that panic. You are the son of Apollo. You can’t do much, but gods be damned if there really is a single drop of divine blood in your veins you will use what gifts you were given. You don't have much, but you will make it work. That litany of 'you can’t die' turns into 'I won’t let you die'. Soon enough, that turns into a hymn. You aren’t the best singer in Apollo. That’s Kyla. But it works. You pour your heart and soul into that hymn, everything you have as your hands work frantically, tearing away your clothes to make bandages so you can staunch the bleeding. There’s a cry on the hill behind you, and a wind carries the smell of sulfur and a bit of dust towards you. Cecil opens his eyes.

“Will?” he mumbles.

“Shut up, you’re too weak to talk,” you tell him. Then his eyes grow wide as dinner plates.

“Lou. . .” he says. You turn around. Above Lou’s head there’s a burning torch. She looks at her hands, then up above her head. Tears well in her eyes.

“Five years.” She says. She sprints over to you and Cecil and falls to her knees. You throw your arm around her shoulder, and Cecil weakly reaches up to take her hand. Then she begins sobbing in earnest.

That is the day you learn that nothing is given. You must earn everything. You spent so much of your time wondering why you weren’t given gifts like your brothers and sisters in Apollo, why they were so much better at things than you were. Suddenly you feel like a fool.

“You’ll do Hecate proud,” you say, and she nods, a bright smile on her face under the tears.

Quietly, you promise to do Apollo proud too. You’ll get better. You’ll work harder. Healing, you decide. You’ll be a better healer than anyone can imagine. 

. . .

In the years to come that promise does you well. The time you don’t spend with your nose in a medical text, learning healing from Chiron or the nature spirits, or practicing on kids in the infirmary, you spend with your friends. Mostly you hang out in the Hermes cabin with Cecil and Lou, but it’s surprising you how much being a doctor has widened your social circle. The Apollo kids are social by nature, but it never really hits you how social you are until one day Lou comments on it.

“Wow you just know everyone,” she says, rolling her eyes as you wave to yet another person.

“That was just Katie Gardner,” you say dismissively.

“And how do you know Katie?”

“She stopped by the infirmary for some burn treatments after the Stoll brothers set the Demeter cabin on fire.” She stares at you for a moment, and then shakes her head. “What?” you ask.

“I swear, you could make friends with a rock,” she sighs.

“Or something even more stubborn and unfriendly, like a hunter of Artemis,” Cecil snickers. Where he had come from you don’t know. At this point you’ve kind of stopped asking.

“Don’t be mean,” Lou admonishes.

“I’m not being mean Lulu.” Lou’s fingers twitch towards her sword at the mention of her pet name. That starts them bickering and you zone out for a few moments. Over near the dining pavilion, you spot one of the new campers. He’s sitting by the hearth, and if you didn’t know better you’d say he was talking to it.

“That’s Nico,” Cecil chimes in. You start, looking over at the other two. They’re staring at you now. You don’t know why. Lou has one of those looks in her eyes that reminds you she’s lived nearly six years in the Hermes cabin.

“Really?” You say for the sake of being polite. You don’t really care.

“Nico di Angelo,” Lou adds. “He came in with Percy and Thalia and the Hunters.” That gets your attention.

“Really?” Now you’re a bit more interested. According to one of the children of Rumor, Percy and Thalia had gone up to get some pretty powerful demigods. You look back at Nico. He’s smiling brightly, like the fire is an old friend.

“Yup, he’s ten,” Lou says. That’s only two years younger than you. “That’s only two years younger than us.”

You hum an acknowledgement of her statement, because the fact that she practically guessed your thoughts is only slightly less freaky than the fact that Cecil didn’t bring up that he’s actually three years older than Nico. Cecil is always such a butt about the fact that he’s three months older than Lou, and five months older than you. You’re no child of Athena, but even you can figure out that they’re both looking for a reaction. You squint at them, eyebrows scrunching up in concentration. Finally you give up. You can’t figure out their motivation.

“You two are being weird.” You say. They exchange looks, then shrug, and go back to bickering. You stroll past the dining pavilion, and can’t help but look back once. For a second, you could swear there was someone sitting next to Nico. But then it’s gone, and you decide it must be a trick of the firelight. You brush the whole thing to the back of your mind.

A couple weeks later you hear he disappeared from camp, but you don’t think much of it. A lot of people disappear.

. . .

The day your camp truly falls apart, Lee brings your cabin together for a quick meeting. Defenses against the Labyrinth are almost complete. Soon, Luke’s army will be here.

“Pick a hero,” he says, and at first none of us understand. “This especially applies to the ones who’re going to be in the trees. Pick a hero to defend. For the first few waves, feel free to fire into the mass of monsters if you can, but once they push up towards our defenses you need to pick a hero. Archers are for support. Think Ajax and Teucer. Our warriors will be crazy out numbered. Watch their backs as best you can, and try to give them relief where they’re fighting immediately. We can’t afford to lose warriors.” Perhaps it was meant to be mumbled to himself, but you hear him say “Plus it keeps us from all firing in the same place.” That’s the problem with Apollo kids. They all want to kill the big monster, and unless they’re in immediate danger, they don’t pay much attention to everything else.

“Be careful though,” Michael warns, and you feel like his eyes linger on you as they scan across the room. Sometimes you feel that Michael has more of your father’s gift for prophecy than he lets on. “Remember, you’ll guard them, but they won’t know. It’s your job, nothing else.”

You all nod. It’s smart plan. You end up in the trees, scanning the soldiers bellow. Who to pick? The obvious answer would be either Lou or Cecil. Maybe not Lou, because she and Kyla have become really good friends recently, so Kyla will probably cover her. Part of you is a bit jealous of their friendship, but on the other hand you’re really happy for Lou. She isn’t as social as you are, and aside from you, Cecil, and one or two siblings, she doesn't really have a lot of friends. Plus, it's good that she has a girlfriend she can talk about things she can't talk to you and Cecil about.

Before you can find Cecil all hell explodes. Somehow you missed the quest group bursting out of the tunnel. That’s what you get for daydreaming in a time of need. Oh well, it’s kind of hard to miss the flood of monsters. Somehow you thought there would be more time between when the monsters rush out and when the warriors on the ground are overwhelmed. You hear one of your sibling drop from a tree on your right, but don’t have the time to look over at what knocked them down. Now there’s no way you’ll find Cecil, and instead you fire into the tick of the monsters, trusting your muscles, while your eyes search for an unguarded hero.

You’re not quite sure why, or how, but your eyes find a face you recognize. Nico. Part of you feels a little jaded that you didn’t know he was back, but that part is quickly squashed by a mix of other emotions. Without thinking you begin to guard him. The trick he does with the dead people freaks you out for a few seconds, but that washes away too. More than fear, you feel a kind of awe. His moves are fluid and strong like he’s been sword fighting for ten years instead of a couple of months. For a second you’re tempted to just sit and watch but then there’s a boulder hurdling towards your tree and you’ve got to make a quick escape.

Now that you’re on the ground, you play a different game. Your bow is exchanged for a pouch of ambrosia and a canteen of nectar. Regardless of the danger, you’re ducking and weaving into the mass of clashing bodies to retrieve injured soldiers. You’re a doctor after all. That’s your job.

Occasionally you catch glimpses of Nico through the fray but it’s not much. He leaves almost immediately after the fighting. You’re sad to see him go, but you convince yourself it’s just the fact that he’s a child and he’s all alone out there. Somewhere, deep in the back of your mind, alarm bells sound. Grief turns them off. You can hardly think of anything at all when they burn Lee’s shroud.

. . .

When the war goes to the city, you can’t help but feel like life is ending. You and your siblings sit scattered around the base of the bridge, watching for monsters. Michael sighs at your side. It sounds like he's got the world on his shoulders. 

“It’s stupid you know.” He kicks at a piece of rubble lying in the street. It goes flying into a car nearby, leaving a dent. He doesn’t seem to care.

“What part?” you ask, because everything seems pretty pointless and stupid to you right about now.

“They don’t even know,” Michael says. He looks behind himself, east, towards camp. “They don’t even know that we save their lives, perched on rocks like little guardian angels.” His voice is so bitter, that you know exactly what he’s talking about.

“Clarisse was your hero,” you say. He looks up at you, eyes questioning before he slumps in a sigh.

“At the Battle of the Labyrinth, yeah.” For some strange reason, Nico flashes into your head. You guess it must be because you were talking about the battle. There’s nothing really you can say to that, but you try your best.

“Well, you’re here now, and she’s not. Pick a different hero, and watch their back,” you say. Michael looks at you with that same lingering gaze that always makes you think he knows more than he’s letting on.

“Yeah, you’re right. There are better heroes to stick my neck out for.” He grips his bow a little tighter and stands up straight. At the end of the bridge, you can just begin to see the forms of monsters moving towards you. “Hey, Will?”

“Yeah?”

“You’re a good kid.” 

Your mind goes blank for a second. 

“Oh,” you say. Michael snorts and rolls his eyes like your shock is funny to him. You guess he never realized just how rarely he gave out compliments, how precious they were to you and your siblings.

“One more thing,” he says as he draws his bowstring. “You know never to pick the same hero twice right? ” He doesn’t look at you while he says it, but you can still feel his gaze. “Focusing on a single person, pouring everything we have into watching their back . . . It’s dangerous for us.” His eyes flicker over to you just briefly, and you nod.

Michael fires his arrow and you think about Nico. 

. . .

You spend day after day fighting death in the infirmary, and night after night fighting it in the streets. It had drained you. You look down at your hands, at the cracked sidewalk of New York City's streets. You're tried. Gods, you are so tired. Somewhere high above, in the sick bays of Olympus Cecil is scowling with a dislocated shoulder and multiple fractures in his leg. You had to leave him, knowing that no healing would do any of them any good if you all got slaughtered. 

To your left, you see Lou. She cut her hair. You guess that keeping it long was too much work in war. It’s boy short now, and somehow you think that it just looks right like that. She waves to you through the crowd, and you exchange a few words of parting before backtracking to your position by the doors.

You feel the hope drain out of your body when Kronos himself comes. It’s like something in you breaks, and you just . . . can’t. You have one arrow left. In front of you and to the right, you can see Lou, fighting for all she’s worth. It never ceases to amaze you how much she’s grown since her mother claimed her. You guess that you weren’t the only one who learned how to work for things that day. The mist dances around her, obscuring and twisting her figure so enemy attacks slash and miss. All you can think about is how she’s going to die soon. How you’re all going to die.

Then like three years ago, you slap yourself back to reality. You’re not dead yet. If Kronos and his goons are going to get inside, you’re going to take out a chunk of them first. And just as you notch your last arrow, it happens. A path splits down the middle of the attacking army, and there he stands.

Nico di Angelo walks like nothing in the world can touch him. The tip of his blade scratches against the ground once, twice. The sounds of it makes the monsters on either side of him flinch. He speaks to the titan lord so calmly; you almost believe that it’s just Luke and Nico fighting. Then the lord of death himself rumbles down the alleyway and comes to a stop next to his son. You don’t know if Hades intended this, but the way he pulls up at Nico’s side almost makes Nico look like a god too.

It hardly even fazes you when Kronos throws the wall up, cutting off all but the best heroes from the rest of the army. In fact, it kind of makes you smile. Kronos is afraid. He wants to run to Olympus while he still can. You look at Nico, and now you definitely smile. He raises his sword, and with it comes an army of the dead.

Michael’s words ring in your head: never choose the same hero twice. But you can’t help it. For a moment, Nico looks like everything. He’s the underdog, the outcast, the one no one paid any attention to. As he stands there sword raised, he is every story and every hero you were ever taught to love. He’s the hero who bested the odds, who defends the people who scorned him, who made a name for himself despite the odds, who saves the day. And he doesn’t even know that you stand atop a pile of rubble, firing arrow after scavenged arrow, like a guardian angel.

In that moment, that shining gauze of hero worship melts away, and you see a kid. For the first time it hits you that he’s twelve. When you were twelve, the most frightening thing you had to face, was an empousai and the possibility of your friend dying. Nico is fighting to save the world, every last living camper and he’s doing it at the head of an army of the dead. The more you think about it, the more you realize that there’s nothing glorious to this. It’s tragic. It’s all fucking tragic.

Still, you can’t help but stand there, firing arrows and feeling hope surge back through your arms at the sight of him. It’s tragic, but damn if it isn’t inspiring. Hard work, you think. That kid’s put in some damn hard work.

. . .

You see him at camp a couple of times. He comes to the infirmary, but they have you stationed in the critical ward, so you don’t get the chance to talk to him. You only manage to see him a few times, but he’s sleeping. He looks like an absolute angle when he sleeps, which is fitting as his last name is di Angelo.

By the time your work has lightened up, he’s already out of the infirmary. You still don’t see him very often, but every once in a while he comes to the archery field. He’s really bad, but you kind of find it endearing.

“Keep both eyes open,” you tell him while he’s trying to sight the arrow. Your voice only seems to start him, and the shot is so wide he nearly sticks Kyla. His face is bright red.

“What?” he asks. When he turns to look at you, he doesn’t actually look at you. His eyes are trained to the ground.

“When you aim your bow, keep both eyes open. Otherwise your depth perception will be off,” you say, watching to see if he takes your advice. Nico shuffles his feet, but pulls another arrow out of his quiver, notching and drawing. His arms are like boards, locking in tight to his shoulders. He’s too stiff, but you don’t think telling him that right now would really help him relax. You watch the way his chest rises and falls as he takes one deep breath. When he fires the arrow, it sticks into the outer most ring of the target. You prepare to console him, but when he turns to you his face is bright, maybe a little bit awed. This time, he looks you in the eye and your chest swells with a kind of strange pride.

“I hit the target,” he says. The only thing running through your mind is: cute.

“Yeah, way to go.” You guess being in Apollo gives you a skewed idea of what’s a ‘good’ shot.

“Thanks,” Nico blurts, and then looks embarrassed. You smile at that.

“No problem.”

“I’m Nico di Angelo by the way.” I know, you think. He sticks out his hand, and you shake it.

“Will Solace.” Before you can say anymore, one of your brothers is calling you over. “I gotta go, but keep practicing. Oh and, relax a bit. It’ll help with your aim.” He looks down at his bow as if your advice is some kind of riddle the weapon will answer. Then he nods. His expression is still the same. You stare at him for maybe three more seconds before your brother calls you again.

. . .

“Over here!” Lou waves to you from her spot at the campfire. Beside her, Cecil is bartering stolen goods with one of the other Hermes kids. He nods to you briefly before going back to his work. It seems he’s trying to sell a six-pack of coke in exchange for some firecrackers. Technically speaking you’re supposed to be leading the campfire sing along, but you passed this duty off to Kyla. She likes to do it more anyhow.

“You’re looking chipper,” Lou comments lightly, but she has that look of no good mischief.

“Just had a good day,” you say with a shrug, which is kind of true. You had to pull an arrow out of one of your siblings, but that happens a lot (Apollo kids usually get stuck tutoring kids with really bad aim) so it’s kind of stopped affecting you.

“Oh really? Any particular reason you’re bumming around out here with us instead of leading the sing along?” You’re so flustered by the question that it doesn’t occur to you how stupid it is to be flustered. After all, you sit with them a lot. It’s not like this is a new thing. She has no reason to suspect that you’re hoping to be in the vicinity of someone. That would be ridiculous because you’re not.

“Your girlfriend is a better singer,” you say. Lou flushes red up to her ears. She sputters a string of ‘it’s not’ and ‘I mean we’re’ and other words that don’t quite make a complete thought but communicate the general idea. Then, to your surprise she takes a slow calm breath and frowns.

“You know what, yes. I do like Kyla. Unlike, someone, I'm not going to be afraid of admitting that I have a crush,” she says. That hits you like a freight train, because you don’t have a crush, certainly not one you maybe stare at all the time, what on earth is she- Suddenly Nico comes out of the shadows like he was there the whole time and you nearly leap out of your skin. You look over to Lou Ellen only to see that her eyes are as wide as dinner plates. Somewhere in the back of your brain you’re incredibly thankful that she’s too shocked to make some joke.

“Speak of the devil,” she mutters, side eyeing you. You think that statement is totally inappropriate and you have no idea why she would say that. 

“What?” Nico asks, and she looks even more startled that he might have heard her.

“Oh nothing.” She laughs nervously, and waves a dismissive hand. Nico glances around at you all. You’re frozen in a bit of panic. Out of the corner of your eye, you can see that Cecil has shoved his firecrackers behind his back, and is looking everywhere but the demigod that suddenly appeared. Lou keeps looking between you and Nico like she expects you to say something. Something flickers over Nico’s face and he looks back at the ground.

“Sorry,” he mutters, and then it’s like he’s gone again, blending with the shadows as he finds a different place to sit. Something in your heart twists. You sock Lou in the arm, not terribly hard.

“Nice going Lulu,” you say. Maybe you're a little too bitter. 

“Well you could have just invited him to sit with us," she says. When Kyla starts to sing that pout melts right off. Even you forget about the little fiasco.

. . .

Nico leaves a week later. You didn’t see him at the campfire again. You only know he left because Percy was talking to Chiron loudly about it, insisting that he be allowed a quest to look for the son of Hades. No one else had heard anything (which you know because you must have interrogated every gossip in camp). Somewhere in the back of your mind you’re a little frustrated that Nico didn’t tell you he was leaving. You brush it off.

. . .

If there is anything more horrifying than being under siege by an army of two hundred Romans and three times as many monsters, it’s delivering an angry satyr baby while the jittery father brandishes a baseball bat and eats your medical equipment. There was so much screaming. So. Much. Screaming.

As soon as you can, you get the fuck out of that building. Outside Lou and Cecil are waiting for you. They’re both snickering at your misfortune.

“So glad you came to show your support,” you gripe at them.

“Is it a boy or a girl?” Lou asks.

“Boy. Clarisse has been named godmother,” you reply, heaving a sigh and running a hand through your hair. “I think I’m going to be scarred for the rest of my life.” Lou rolls her eyes and Cecil snorts a laugh.

“Don’t be such a baby,” Lou says. You look her dead in the eyes, face grave.

“I’ve seen things, terrible things.” Cecil clutches his stomach and nearly keels over from laughing. Lou laughs as well. You’re barely able to keep your face straight for a few moments.

“The miracle of life aside,” Cecil says, as he tries to school his expression. “We’re here to recruit you for a super top secret mission.”

“Lay it on me.”

“We’re going to spy on the enemies,” Lou jumps in. Cecil looks perturbed, but only momentarily.

“We’re going to mess with Romans,” he says.

“We are not going to mess with Romans.”

“Well you might not, but-”

“I’m in,” you say before they get carried away with their bickering.

. . .

You are an idiot. It’s not a feeling you’re used to since you decided you were going to become the camp’s head medic. But now, looking at Nico while he stares back at you incredulously, you can’t help it. You are a complete and total idiot. Lee’s words that first day in the Apollo cabin circle in your head. The realization that Nico doesn’t actually know who you are, and that you don’t actually really know him hits you like a freight train. Then you’re angry with yourself, and with Nico and with everything. This is all stupid and it’s all Nico’s fault, him and his stupid adorable face. That thought only makes you angrier at yourself, and you scowl. Stupid crush. Stupid boy.

“Hey, we’re scouting the enemy. We took precautions.” Because really, you can’t believe that the son of Hades would go on a solo mission like this totally unprepared. He’s so conspicuous. You could spot him in the middle of a crowd. Seriously look at that face. Like hell no one is going to notice him.

“You dressed in black,” Nico notes, “with the sun coming up. You painted your face but didn’t cover that mop of blond hair. You might as well have been waving a yellow flag.” You really aren’t used to feeling stupid, and it doesn’t occur to you to mention that you’ve actually been out here since before the sun was coming up. It also doesn’t help that his stupid face is scrambling your brain. You really want to grab his hand and tug him down next to you (and maybe kiss his face).

“Lou Ellen wrapped some Mist around us too.” Lou looks more than a little flustered being put on the spot like that. You feel a bit bad. She had been covering all three of you on and off for a while now, her Mist is probably thinning.

“Hi,” Lou says, waving at him shortly. “You’re Nico right? I’ve heard a lot about you.” She has that look on her face, and you take back what you said about feeling bad. You give her your most vicious ‘knock it off’ look and you know she can see it out of the corner of her eye because she quickly continues speaking. “And this is Cecil, from Hermes cabin.”

You hold back a sigh. It’s going to be a very long and very romantically and sexually frustrating night.