Nico didn’t know if it was possible to die from embarrassment, but if it was he was definitely going to be having a family reunion soon. His face had already taken a trip down to Tartarus; it felt like every pore had been infused with the fire river. Judging by how hot it felt, he had no doubt his Italian skin had turned an embarrassing shade of red.
Zeus, Artemis, Poseidon, Hades he cursed. Dionysus, Ares, Hephaestus too. And worst of all Aphrodite.
Why me, he thought to himself desperately. Why does it always have to be me? Part of him couldn’t even believe she had gone through with it, but that part was mostly stuck in denial that the conversation had ever happened. That part had been hoping it had all just been a horrible, horrible nightmare.
“What’s going on?” Someone asked next to him. Nico looked over at the blond Apollo kid who’s mere presence made his heart beat faster. Because he was half sure he had swallowed his tongue, he didn’t offer Will a response.
“Someone left some flowers or something by the cabin,” Will’s brother turned around to answer him, a gleam in his eye. Inwardly, Nico groaned. Why.
“How exciting,” Will smiled. How horrible, Nico thought. He looked back at the giant bouquet of flowers waiting expectantly at the base of the door to the Apollo cabin and prayed that this was just a dream. Other kids were also observing the scene, mostly from the Apollo cabin, but not all. She’d planned it well; lunch had just ended and everyone was walking towards their afternoon activities, right past the scene of the crime. Nico wanted to sprint away, wanted to shadow bend all the way to Antarctica, but his feet felt rooted to the ground in fear. Finally, someone picked up the present and studied it, turning it round and round in their hands. They found a tag, read it and looked up.
“It’s for you Will!” They called. Nico was sure he was going to lose his lunch.
“Really?” Will said, surprise in his voice as he walked over. “Who’s it from?”
Oh gods oh gods oh gods oh gods, Nico thought.
“Uhh, it doesn’t say,” the guy answered.
“Ooh Will’s got a secret admirer!” A girl taunted. Everyone laughed as Will accepted the flowers from the guy. He hefted them up and looked over at Nico with his eyebrows raised, a slight grin playing on his lips. Nico, relieved but incredulous, shrugged back.
What was happening to his life?
He lay in his bed later that night, clothes smelling of smoke from the campfire and screaming thoughts running around in circles inside his head. He wanted to sleep but his brain would. Not Shut. Up. It made him want to punch himself in the face. But he couldn’t let go of what happened today, couldn’t stop worrying that this wouldn’t be the last of her and her malicious scheming. Groaning, he turned over onto his stomach as the event forced itself into his brain, uninvited as always. Everything had been going so great. Almost perfect. Nico spent the three mandatory days of rest by Will’s side, helping out when not being manhandled back in his bed and sternly told get some sleep for Hades’ sake. Three days spent talking to Will about everything and anything, lazy conversations tripping over themselves as he handed medical supplies off and munched on bags of chips. Three days half filled with easy comfort and languid laughs and half filled with skeleton butterflies and a rapid heartbeat. Then, afterwards, he figured he might as well head over there whenever he caught a spare moment. With all of the battle injuries, the medic kids needed all of the help they could get and it wasn’t like Nico didn’t have the time. Nico had a lot of time, alright? So what if Will was there every time he showed up? He was just being nice! Shut up!
After a while though, he became a part of the infirmary as much as the white walls and colorful scrubs, usually with some kind of snack and lounging in a rolly chair. Sometimes he’d cut bandages or prep other medical supplies, sometimes he would just distract Will and make sure the boy didn’t go crazy. Then there were meals with Jason, who had appointed himself as Nico’s new best friend, and Percy, who had appointed himself second in the field. They sat together ever since Nico’s first breakfast out of the infirmary; Jason had just walked over and plopped down across from him as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Percy joined them a few seconds later, blue pancakes crowding his plate. Nico had glared at them fiercely, but they just ignored him and continued discussing their strategy for the next capture-the-flag game. Lately, he’d noticed, his glaring game had been off. Jason, Percy, Piper, Annabeth, Hazel, all of them seemed unaffected by his once top notch glowers. Ever since Will had stared right back that night before the battle when he’d found him executing the sneak attack mission, he didn’t seem to have the energy to form a really good evil eye anymore. Though as he thought about it, he might have even put his scowling days behind him while traveling with Reyna and Coach Hedge, delivering the statue of Athena half way around the globe and learning that not everything was bleak and gray. After the Romans left Camp Half Blood, Nico still remained in contact with both Hazel and Reyna. He wasn’t allowed to shadow travel for a while-Doctor’s orders-but Iris messages worked in a pinch. Reyna had jokingly informed him while they were saying their goodbyes that he wasn’t going to get rid of her easily and if he didn’t keep in touch she would come all the way back and kick his ass. Hazel, overhearing this, heartily chined in. So, not wanting to get kicked in the face, he did as told. Sometimes he even caught Frank in their weekly chats. Even Coach Hedge dropped by sometimes to check up, give him a friendly slap up the head, show off his new baby.
For the first time in a long time Nico almost felt…happy. Like he had finally found his home.
So he really shouldn’t have been surprised when Aphrodite showed up a couple months later and ruined everything. His crush on Will had not exactly been slow in development; after spending basically every day with someone a person tends to get pretty attached. But he felt awkward and bumbling, not sure how to deal with this guy who propelled past every boundary he’d put up over the years like they were made of paper. He called him Death Boy for the gods sake. Nico wasn’t sure how to hold himself against this force of nature who’s speech on how Nico had to take better care of himself rivaled that of a general reprimanding his disobeying troops. Plus those eyes could hold their own against anything. Face smooshed in the pillow, a happy smile spread across his face, though he quickly frowned once he noticed what he was doing. Look at him! Look at what this boy was doing to him! He thought he’d kept his crush well hidden, but apparently the goddess of love sees all or something and on the night Will made him eat two s’mores while avidly explaining how one made ambrosia, Aphrodite made a quick debut in one of his dreams. He was standing next to the legendary pine tree, looking down at Camp Half Blood from the top of the hill, a warm bubbly feeling enveloping him.
“Peaceful, isn’t it?” A person said. “But who has time for rest and relaxation?” He looked over at the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, chocolate hair made up in an elegant do and a form fitting toga wrapped around her body. Though he felt nothing but detached admiration, like recognizing that the old woman in the neighborhood who always smelled like mothballs and warned people against alien attacks really was crazy. he raised her eyebrows as if she could read his thoughts.
“Ah yes. I know I’m not exactly ‘what you go for’” her fingers made air quotes around the words. “But what can I say? I can’t turn off my charm.”
“What?” he said intelligently. She rolled her eyes, but in a friendly, gentle way.
“Oh Nico, darling. Do I have plans for you!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Nothing really. Only that I’ve taken a special interest in your love life. You wouldn’t believe how boring it’s getting now that Gaia is gone and Zeus sorted out that thing with Apollo. Plus, you and that boy are so interesting!” She clapped her hands together like a small child.
“Who even are you?”
“Well, Aphrodite of course. But don’t-“
“Wait what?” Nico interrupted. “Like the goddess?”
“What?” He couldn’t get his head around it. Nico+Aphrodite=???. “What do you want with me then?”
“I want to match you up obviously! Help you find true love! With that kid of Apollo especially.” She raised her eyebrows conspiratorially as a smile spread across her perfect features. “You guys are sooo cute.”
“What?” But his slow mind was beginning to catch on and it was filling him up with dread. He was fine the way his and Will’s relationship was going; the thought of Will knowing how Nico felt about him made him want to run away screaming. Hades, Nico had just gotten used to his feelings himself. After the whole Percy fiasco, he was terrified if he even hinted at anything, it would end up with pity feelings and the demolition of their friendship. Sure he felt all tingly when Will called him annoying nicknames. Sure whenever they accidentally touched it sent shivers up his spine. Sure, he’d fantasized about being a little more than friends with the boy, but even the thought of trying to take their relationship further filled Nico to the brim with fear of rejection and paralyzing dread. As panic suffused his senses, Aphrodite stared at him sympathetically like she had a line directly into his head.
“Don’t worry, dear. I’ll take care of everything. You don’t have to fret about a thing. I’ve got a whole plan and-.“
“Excuse me?” Nico said, almost surprised at how angry the words came out.
“Who do you think you are? You can’t just…walk into my life like its your personal fun time and do whatever you want with it!”
“I beg your pardon?” she asked, sounding shocked.
“Gods!” Nico half screeched. “What are your guys’ problem? First Cupid now you…” he let out a frustrated puff of air, mind straying back to that horrible encounter with bow and arrow god from freaking Tartarus. “Listen, I have had it up to here with gods and I’ve had it even further with gods of stupid love making. So piss off please.” And with that, he stalked away from her. He knew he was edging dangerously close to smiting territory but really, how much could a person take?
“Well that wasn’t very nice,” Aphrodite pouted, appearing in front of him. Nico just pushed past her, but she walked alongside him.
“Really anyone else would be elated with my assistance.” Nico didn’t answer, hoping if he didn’t respond she’d leave. “I’m really good at this type of thing you know. Well of course I am, but I do know my stuff I promise you.”
“That’s nice. Please go away now.”
“But it’ll be perfect! I have so many plans! It’s going to be so great!” The goddess whined. “Listen, all I want to do is help you guys out a bit, you know, get the ball rolling. That’s really all. I’m just thinking some flowers, some alone time, maybe a few special moments,” her eyes gleamed. “I won’t control you’re feelings or his feelings or anything. I won’t go overboard or go beyond, unless requested of course, just this one thing. As soon as you guys get it on, I’ll drop this immediately. I just want to see you two together! I have such high hopes for you guys! So what do you say? Let Aunt Aphrodite set you two up?” Nico turned towards her, slightly awed at her inability to recognize when she wasn’t wanted.
“N-“ he started.
“Great! I’ll start immediately. This’ll be so fun! And, I think,” she patted his cheek. “exactly what you need, dear.”
“But!” He tried vainly, but she promptly disappeared.
“Goodbye Nico,” something whispered in his ear.
Then he woke up.
That was a month ago. At first, he’d walked around camp with a haunted look on his face, terrified of what was going to possibly happen in the next second or minute. But as the weeks flew by, he began to become more and more hopeful the dream had just been a cruel joke his imagination had played on him. Though that was before she went and pulled this flower shit.
Oh he was definitely going to punch her in the face the next time he saw her.