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Like Matchsticks

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“Tell about the South. What's it like there. What do they do there. Why do they live there. Why do they live at all.”
-William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!

It all came in fragments.

There was a loud noise which awoke him. It wailed on and on, screeching and continuing to rouse him from the sleep he was almost slipping into unwillingly. Something was sticky, hot, dampening his hair to his forehead and stinging his eye. It hurt, he realized dully. His head pounded like a drum, he could feel scrapes and cuts stinging, dirt gritty in his mouth.

He opened his eyes, his vision was fuzzy and it was hard to see straight because it was dark. The air was thick and heavy and moisture stuck his shirt to his back. He was laying somewhere on the floor on his stomach, and every second he was awake was another he yearned for sleep. It would be so easy, a voice whispered. His eyelids were so heavy, and the world kept shifting and making him feel so sick.

No! The thought was desperate. Falling asleep was the worst thing he could do. He had to stay awake. He knew if he fell asleep something bad would happen. Something terrible. He couldn’t fall asleep. He struggled with his instinct, trying desperately to focus but the wailing continued on and distracted him. Wailing…sirens? Ambulances? Why?

A hitched breath from his side drew his fragmented attention, and kept his frazzled thoughts from escaping him. He had been running from something, been grabbed and pulled away. A baseball diamond and a neighborhood, lightning eyes and darkened skies. The other person’s dark curls hadn’t been matted, but had been swinging in a ponytail as she had grasped his hand. He knew her. He knew her, and so it was terrifying as he watched the crimson puddle that was devouring her grow bigger.

He was shimmying forward, a wood plank’s nails and broken glass making him bleed red. He desperately reached, his fingers trembling, vision swaying as if he was still being wrenched by wind, and none of the pain mattered because he had to save her. He had to stop the bleeding, he had to help her…!

His hand grasped her, cold and limp, and something slipped from within him unbidden but welcomed. It was a good thing, kept in a secret place that he hadn’t even known was safe within him. He shuddered as his fingers warmed, and the hand within his twitched. A good hurt fizzled across his skin and deep from his bones like frosty orange pop, the good hurt of wiggling a loose tooth with your tongue, or stretching a sore arm after too many baseball throws, or cracking toes in sandy beaches. His vision was blurred with gold which radiated like the summer sun, and he had to squint in order to try to see anything.

Something was resisting the golden flood that rushed from him to the girl. The good hurt was beginning to turn bad. He clenched his hand upon hers, desperately trying to regain his grip, but the warmth was turning to burning that seared his fingers and made him clench his teeth, the wailing was closer, everything was too close, he couldn’t hold on—

The noise that came out his throat was blood-curdling. A screech more than a scream, escaping his mouth in a spectacular wave of sound as his pain and anguish was given noise. He lost his grip, his light went dark—

“Will, wake up!”

Will fell off the bed in the throes of a command and panic. He lay for a moment, dazed by pain, and stunned by his sudden wakefulness. Dark eyes were looking back at him, crouched by him and framed by moonlight was Nico di Angelo. He reached out for a moment, as if wanting to touch him and reassure him, but his hand fell back to his side.

“How did you…?” Will asked weakly, sitting up and rolling his shoulder. He resisted the urge to touch his forehead and sooth the phantom cut. “I’m sorry, I woke you up didn’t I?”

“You were having a nightmare,” Nico answered simply, his brows creased in worry. “A bad one. Was it...?”

“No, it didn’t have to do with the battle,” Will promised him before looking at the state of the bed, still covered with DVD covers, the floor still had a half-eaten container of popcorn. It wasn’t uncommon to have dreams of either of the wars he fought in, but that night his mind was digging from an older place. He had a dim recollection of Nick Cage screaming at a woman while holding a burned doll. “I’m sorry, did I fall asleep in the middle of the movie?”

“You were obviously tired,” Nico said with a shrug. “And it was late, I didn’t want the harpies to eat you.”

“Thanks,” Will said weakly, before sitting back on the bed. He realized he was rubbing his forehead and immediately shook out his hand. Nico watched him with the intense disconcerting gaze that Will was beginning to associate with him. It made his skin prickle, and definitely not in the bad way. He gave the best smile he could. “Are you…curious?”

“Unlike some people, I dislike digging into other’s personal business,” Nico said matter-of-factly, giving Will a pointed look without any heat behind it. Will couldn’t help his grin at the insinuation. “But I’ll listen, if you want to talk about it.”

“Well…it’s sort of a long story,” Will sighed before picking at the blanket on the edge of the bed, “it’s not a super happy one either. I mean, not that it really compares to your childhood, but you know…”

“…we’ve got a while,” Nico seemed to conclude.

Will shifted his gaze towards the window, and began to talk.

Will had been born in Austin, Texas to Naomi Lucinda Solace. And he loved her even if he didn’t see her often. That was replaced with daily phone calls that were his joy to make. He supposed what he loved about her the most for was her voice, as his Aunt often put it, it was a voice that made people fall in love. It was husky, sweet, and perfect for lullabies and love songs crooned over static-y truck radios on dusty old roads over acoustic guitars. She had a big top ten billboard hit back in the late 90s, a platinum album after that, and was a relatively famous alt-country singer who always made her way to the CMA every year for singing or song-writing other country singer’s albums. But at least in Will’s view, his mother never let the minor celebrity get to her. She provided for him, and kept him with the family she had grown up with and the little town she had grown up in so, as she put it, he could “keep humble”. And according to the small town of Abundance which was tucked in a forgotten corner of Texas and Louisiana; Will Solace was the unfortunate bastard child of little Naomi-Lucinda Solace who was the daughter of pastor Vernon and his goodly wife Florence Solace and had been the proud Miss Abundance four years in a row in the annual Fourth of July parade before running off to Austin, getting knocked up, and then with the good lord’s blessing making something of herself.

Safe to say, Will did not grow up with any illusions of grandeur. But his childhood, though a little unconventional, was relatively good and honestly uneventful. He had an Aunt and an Uncle, two cousins his age and a few younger, played on the youth football team in the fall and the youth baseball team in the spring, and enjoyed school even if it was difficult with his dyslexia and ADHD. Abundance was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it place. Everyone knew everyone else, everyone always stopped and said hello. If you were Abundance born and bred you knew what a fine pecan pie tasted like, you had been wrangling chickens since you could barely toddle, you sat in Church every Saturday and Sunday saying your Amens, knew the finest thing in life was sitting under the shade of Magnolia Trees and sipping sweet tea, and you always cheered for the high school football team.

That’s what it was: uneventful. That was until that fateful day he woke up in the hospital.

“Will, oh thank you God,” a familiar voice gasped as Will stirred, and opened his eyes. “Thank you, God.”

After his eyes had adjusted to the very white hospital room. Will saw his grandparents standing at his bedside. His grandmother with her laugh lines folded into worry, her blue eyes reddened with tears as she dabbed the corner of her eyes with her handkerchief, her sundress was wet and Will could smell rain and lightning on her. His grandfather stood next to him, wet as his coat was over his grandmother’s shoulders. As always Grandpa Vernon was an impeccable southern gentleman from a long forgotten era of just-colored movie sets, with his wranglers dusted just so, his boots without a scuff, and his blue button up shirt ironed and tucked in. Even if the hospital bed wasn’t enough, Will felt impossibly small under his gaze.

“Mama…? Papa…?” Will croaked as he desperately tried to swallow his panic. He remembered only flashes—a red puddle, a trickle of rain, the creaking of wind, the scratching of metal against metal, and a golden glow. His fingers ached and were bound in gauze bandages, his body throbbed with pain especially his head, but his attention was caught firmly. “Where’s Annie? What happened?”

“Florence, would you please give us some room,” Grandpa Vernon told his Grandmother who nodded and left the room and promised to get him some water. His grandfather sat himself down beside Will’s hospital bed. “I need you to stay nice ‘n steady, Will. There was tornado. Worst one I’d ever seen in all my years. Took apart some of the town including your Aunt and Uncle’s house…”

His grandfather clicked his tongue to the roof his mouth, before reaching over to grasp Will’s good hand. Will desperately tried to keep his breath coming in and out, but found it coming shaky.

“Your cousin’s lost a lot of blood, a piece of metal had cut up her femoral artery,” Grandpa Vernon twanged through the word “femoral artery” so bad, that if Will hadn’t been worried sick he would have actually winced. “You kept your wits about you, Will. Because you screamed they found you two in the nick of time. She should have died, but she didn’t and she’s in surgery. It’s a God given miracle you two made it out.”

“What happened to my hand?” Will asked cautiously.

“They said you’ve got a concussion,” Grandpa Vernon said quietly. “And when the house came down, you got yourself some electrical burns or something. But it isn’t serious. I’m just glad you two left for baseball practice when you did otherwise it could have been much worse.”

“Papa,” Will began, feeling something heavy settling into the pit of his stomach. There was something flitting on the edges of his mind, but with his addled brain he couldn’t grasp it. Lightning eyes and darkness which clung like humidity. “…Something happened. I think there was a reason we left early but I…I can’t remember it. I think something chased us home, I think something—“

William,” Grandpa Vernon said his name like he was invoking the Holy Ghost and Will didn’t dare say another word, but the hand which touched his cheek was loving and stern as he forced Will to look him in the eye. “It is alright. Whatever strangeness you think happened is over, do you understand me boy? Now’s the time for healing, and the time for resting. Our family is full of many blessings on this day, rest and receive them being clear of mind.”

“Yes, sir,” Will said automatically.

“I will sit beside you and pray, we still need to wait to see how Annie’s surgery goes,” his grandfather promised, leaning to kiss his forehead before pulling a chair beside him and grasping his free hand.

While hearing his grandfather murmur from perfect memory the entire first book of John, and listening to the commotion of the hospital, Will was sent adrift into a fitful sleep in the sea of white, and sinking in the pit of his stomach was the thought that something was terribly wrong.

His mother arrived within the next business day. By then the doctors had promised that Annie would pull through and that they had saved her leg, and Will was up and walking around the hospital without getting dizzy. Thankfully he could drink and eat so he no longer needed an IV, and could walk if he was attended by a nurse. They promised, since it seemed like he was doing so well, he would probably discharged by that night.

When he first saw his mother running down the hall way, Will felt like he was having a strange out of body experience. His mother looked like an absolute mess. She had obviously come straight from a recording studio because she was wearing a rumpled blouse and skirt, holding only a purse in one hand, and her heels in the other. Her bun was half undone, her makeup smeared, and she looked like she hadn’t slept at all.

Will!” his mother’s scream of relief washed over him like a cooling tide.

She crashed into him and Will felt whole for the first time since the tornado. Her arms were around him so tight he thought she might be trying to squeeze him into her. She was peppering his face with kisses, being careful of the scab on his forehead, and stroking his curls.

“Baby, oh god baby. I’m so happy you’re okay,” his mother sobbed roughly. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay, Ma. I’m okay,” Will tried to comfort her as he patted her back.

“Oh there you go, trying to comfort me,” his mother drawled as she wiped her eyes but scowled at the mascara on her fingertips. “I know you’re feeling fine if you can do that, but let me be upset would you?”

“Okay,” Will said with his first real smile of the day. “Annie’s going to be okay.”

“I know, and I’m not going to let your Aunt and Uncle pay for a gosh darn cent of the medical bills,” his mother said stubbornly, putting her hands on her hips. “And don’t you worry baby, me and Linda are gonna take care of everything—oh where did she get off too? Ah I was kicking it 110 on the highway so I probably lost her. No matter she’ll get here eventually, where’s your Grandpapa and Grandmama?”

“Naomi-Lucinda,” his grandmother called, and Will let his mother grasp his good hand and tug him over to where the rest of the family was. They all waited for Grandpa Vernon to walk over and embrace her, before taking turns hugging her. His Aunt Cecilia and Uncle Jeff, pale with exhaustion, hugged his mom the longest. She spoke to them quietly in her husky-lullaby voice and Aunt Cecilia burst into tears of gratitude.

Aunt Cecilia and Uncle Jeff stayed at the hospital that day, and his grandparents insisted that Will be driven home in their car instead of his mother’s (probably out of concern for his safety). Driving through Abundance was a surreal experience. Thankfully only a few homes had been wrecked, as was the only gas station in town. The windows were blown out in the church, but he could see volunteers already rebuilding. In fact, Will doubted he had ever seen so many people in Abundance before in his whole life. But it was very odd, seeing buildings he had known having been leveled. Having a new horizon running through Abundance was surreal. But Grandpa Vernon without any dramatics stopped the car for a moment so he could chat with the volunteers and all the various residents of Abundance, who all crowded in to wish Will well, and graciously thank them for their time. And then with little ado they continued their trip home.

The home was set on a tract of land in a clearing from the dapple light of steeple-high pines from The Piney Woods. A white farmhouse with a brown roof with a large front porch and exactly three rocking chairs, blooming hanging baskets, a large backyard which held a chicken coop. However, where Grandpa Vernon’s truck normally sat alone, his mother’s rented Audi was there, and a smaller sedan, as well as what looked like two news crews. His mother was talking with her hands at her agent Linda, who looked honestly just as frazzled.

“In all of God’s green earth…” his grandpa said, looking like he was about to begin gritting his teeth.

“Vernon,” Grandma Florence seemed to remind him with a look. “How about you let me go here and I’ll go in through the back porch and start making something sweet for Will and begin work on some of the things for the volunteers? Anita and I are planning on some pies.”

“Of course, of course,” Grandpa Vernon said as if this was the most understandable suggestion of the day, parking and letting Grandma Florence out and to have her go through the back. “Will, you feeling up to walking?”

“I’m fine, Papa,” Will promised him.

“Always remember Will, the Lord praises good hospitality. As it says in the good book, Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it—Will do you remember the chapter and verse?”


“Good son,” his grandfather said pleased. “That bump on your head didn’t rob you of your looks or your smarts. Hebrews 13:2 to be exact. Mighty fine passage. Now, let’s give our interlopers a proper welcome.”

Will got the feeling from how Grandpa Vernon opened the door nice and slow and set down his boots on the gravel, the coming interaction would be properly something to behold.

His grandfather walked up to his mother, her agent, and the small gaggle of reporters with a sure swagger. Will hung behind him, trying his best to hide in his shadow and skirt around the edge to the porch.

“Good afternoon folks,” Grandpa Vernon said. “My name is Pastor Vernon Solace, the owner of the plot of land you done found yourselves standing on. How may I help you?”

A male reporter with slicked over hair and a clipped tie came forward, a man holding a camera and a crew standing behind him.

“We’re from the Dallas division of Fox, please allow me to first give my condolences about the tornado,” the reporter explained in a way that sounded the exact opposite of genuine.

“Very kind of you to say,” his grandpa said with a nod of the head.

“We heard of course, that Naomi Solace’s son and niece were involved in the incident yesterday and were hoping that to help get the word out we could have a chance to interview them,” the reporter explained.

“And I explained to them, my publicist and I have put out a message on social media, have an online donation page, and are asking for privacy in this time,” his mom nearly hissed.

“Don’t you think it would help to see the face of the di—“

“I understand what’s going on here very well,” his grandpa drawled pleasantly. “I am inclined to believe you come from a good place, but I am going to have to echo the sentiment of my daughter. What my grandson and my granddaughter need is rest with family and for you to respect our privacy. Now please, I’m asking you nicely to get off my property. If not, then I won’t be so nice when I’m looking down the barrel of my hunting rifle which my wife is so kindly loading for me in the kitchen. Now, Naomi-Lucinda, would you take my grandson inside? I’ll make sure these folks find the exit.”

His mother took the opportunity to grab him by the wrist and with her assistant at her heels they pulled him inside. Grandpa Vernon stood guard by the porch as the news cast vans drove away.

“Grandpa’s kind of cool, isn’t he?” Will couldn’t help but ask his mom.

“He sort of is, just don’t let him catch you saying that or he’ll go preaching about the Holy Ghost filling him with the ability to stand firm,” his mom giggled as she kissed his temple.

Grandma Florence just smiled and winked as she served the sweet tea, and slid him one of her county-fair famous butter tarts. The hunting rifle sat on the table as if it were a regular fixing, and remained for the rest of the evening.

The world groaned, and sunlight flooded the hole he was laying in. Debris shuddered and fell over like matchsticks. Rescuers bolted down to them, and he couldn’t see any other houses. There was nothing else but piles of wood, busted cars, and half-collapsed homes.

“We need help!” A man screamed to others. “Oh god help us, there are two kids over here! Get the EMTs, get the EMTs!”

Two men jumped, with little regards to safety, down into the hole. One of them was talking desperately into a radio, as the other quickly went to Annie.

“We got two children, one boy one girl. One is definitely critical and bleeding profusely, other is conscious but sustained head injury. We need an emergency vehicle now—now damnit now!” He snapped into the radio, before returning to look at him.

“Help her…please…” he was begging through hoarse throat which ached.

“You did a great job, screaming for help like that,” the man promised him as he helped to move him onto a board. “She’s getting the help she needs now because of you.”

“Please don’t let her die, don’t let him kill her he was after me…!” he was sobbing but he had no tears left, shaking with exhaustion. There was nothing left in that reserve within him—

Will bolted up in bed.

He kicked off his sheets, feeling as if they were full of sand. His hands were shaking, and he winced as he clenched his fingers despite his burned palm. It had faded into what resembled a sunburn, but he could remember that heat coming from him and that golden light that was in the place inside of him.

“…he was after me…” Will repeated, as if saying it made it more real. Someone had been chasing after him and Annie, it wasn’t just his imagination. After all, there had to be a reason why he and Annie had been at her house instead of at the baseball field. He needed to know. He needed to find out for Annie, because she was suffering the consequences.

Will hoped out of bed and went to his desk. His backpack had been lost in the tornado, but his mostly unused planner still sat on the desk along with his baseball paraphernalia and various pens and paper. With his ADHD his teachers often had him keep a planner, not that he used it because he was always forgetting it, but it at least had his schedule written down.

After school Will did two things on Tuesdays, the day that the tornado had hit. He went to help out at the local vet clinic with Annie, and then he went to baseball practice in the evening where they met his cousin Everett. Everett had told Will that he and Annie hadn’t made it to the baseball field. And Will did have a murky memory of Mr. Adkins’ horse Runner who had broken his leg laying in the pasture of the clinic, and running up a dusty road. So whatever happened, whatever or whoever was after him, had to have begun chasing him and Annie after they left the veterinarian clinic and caused him and Annie to run to her house instead of being at baseball when the tornado hit.

He had to find out what had happened, Will thought looking at his hand. If not, then maybe the next time he wouldn’t get off with just a concussion.

Will fell back into a fitful sleep before his alarm clock went off. He pulled himself from his bed, got dressed in a tee shirt and shorts, before quickly making his way to the bathroom to wash his face and brush his teeth. The kitchen table was full, and when Will made his announcement of his intention to return to school it was met with resistance.

“Are you sure you want to go to school today?” His grandfather asked, squinting at him from over breakfast and the newspaper.

“Yeah, I mean, I want to let everyone know how Annie is doing.”

“I think it’s a good idea,” Grandma Florence said with a smile, kissing Will’s temple as she placed down a plate of blueberry pancakes in front of Will and his mother. His mother stared at the pancakes before blinking.

“Please do not tell me you feed my son pancakes every day now, Ma,” his mother half joked, half accused. “You do realize that pancakes and maple syrup every day is so much sugar, and the serving size—“

“Naomi-Lucinda, I believe you once loved my pancakes,” his grandmother chided spilling his mother’s name out like it was meant to run together. “Besides, Will is a growing boy and we can give him some sugar now and again, it won’t hurt him.”

“It’s about healthy eating habits engrained over life—“

“Well you aren’t here all the time to comment—“

“Um, hi! Still here?” Will murmured, feeling his cheeks heat up and wishing to sink into the seat, possibly through the floor, to the center of the earth, whatever would take him first. Whenever his mom and grandparents were together, this eventually became the road the conversations turned down. His grandmother and mother both looked at him guiltily and apologetically as well began to mechanically shove pieces of pancakes into his mouth as quickly as possible. “But yeah, I want to go to school. And I think I’m going to visit with Mr. Ellwood.”

“You call if you need anything,” his grandfather said firmly. “No matter where you are I’ll come get you.”

“Thanks, Papa,” Will said gratefully, watching as his blue-grey eyes glimmered in return.

“Are you sure you don’t want a ride to school?” Grandma Florence asked worriedly as Will deposited his dishes in the sink.

“It’s only up the road, I’ll be fine, promise,” Will tried to sooth but his mother stood up.

“I need to run to the post office since Linda went back to Austin, let me bring you,” his mother told him, and looking at the expression in her eyes he nodded. He got a hug from his grandmother which smelled of baby powder and her perfume, and a nod from his grandfather, before grabbing the backpack he had scrounged from the corner of the closet that only had his planner in it.

His mom pulled out of the drive way, and had her eyes on the road in front of her before giving him a weak smile.

“I’m sorry, Will,” she apologized and Will was taken aback by the suddenness of it.

“About what?” Will asked as he minded the edge of the seats, trying to ignore the new car scent of the rental. His mother tucked a brown lock of hair behind her ear, before sighing.

“I haven’t been around much,” she said as if she was aching.

“It’s okay, Ma. I know you’re busy,” Will tried to comfort her but she just shook her head.

“No, it isn’t okay. This…this situation put it all in perspective. Annie’s in the hospital, and you could have been that way too. I just…I don’t think I could bare thinking that I spent so much time away from you…especially when…”

His mother trailed off, but Will knew what was laying at the end of the sentence that wasn’t spoken.

“You aren’t like my dad, mom,” Will tried to tell her. “You are here…you know, when it matters.”

“I’m barely any better. I won’t make any excuses, your mama and papa raised you right. You are turning out to be such a good young man, Will. I’m so proud of you. And I want to give you as much as I can. For a while I thought it was being with your grandparents, you know, they can give you a good life Will. But Abundance is so small, Will. There’s so much out there. If you wanted to come with me, we could make it work.”

“You mean….live with you? In California?” Will nearly gasped. “I…I’ve only ever left Abundance a few times...”

“There’s a lot of really great schools in California, and you’re in fifth grade. It wouldn’t be so bad, to go to one with a middle school you know. There’s still plenty of time, you can take as long as you want to think about it, okay?” His mom asked giving him a look that was surely not meant to betray how hopeful she seemed.

“Okay, Ma. I’ll think about it,” Will promised her.

His mother pulled on the street by the elementary school. She leaned over to kiss his forehead, brushing a floppy curl from his forehead and tutting when it fell back. They both smiled at each other, their grins nearly matching, before Will slipped out of the shotgun and watched as his mom pulled away from the curb.

With a sense of purpose and determination, Will went to school.

Trying to go to school with ADHD, dyslexia, and a concussion was definitely not a task for the faint of heart as Will discovered. Letters were swimming in Will’s vision, and by second period his history teacher just had Will sit next to his cousin Everett. Everett was a gentle giant, and though he read almost as slow as Will, he tried to help Will follow along and promised to give him a copy of his notes.

It was in the middle of third period when Will noticed the suspiciously empty desk in the corner. Kyle Johnson, a skinny, weaselly bully with shifty grey eyes who would always throw bits of paper at Will whenever he was trying to read, wasn’t there. Which was, first off nice, but oddly concerning as Jessie Quinn and Brett Lockman sat on his desk with little regard. Now that he was thinking about it, none of his teachers had called his name during roster.

“Where’s Kyle today?” Will finally asked Everett. Everett stared at him blankly for a moment.


“You know, Kyle? On the baseball team, really horrible pitch, squinty eyes, you glared him off when he snapped Annie’s strap last Tuesday?” Will tried to jog his memory, but that familiar sinking feeling was coming back.

“I don’t know who you are talking about,” Everett said just as confused, blinking in confusion as if Will had just begun frothing at the mouth and speaking in tongues. “That desk’s always empty. Who’s Kyle?”

“Uh…sorry, must be the concussion,” Will said quickly.

The weirdness and growing suspicion didn’t go away, if anything it got stronger through lunch as he watched Kyle’s group meander along as if Kyle never existed, and to last period in Science when the even numbered class suddenly had an odd number group. Will kept trying to ask people quietly about Kyle, but every time he did no matter who he talked to he got a glazed over look and claims that they didn’t know anyone named Kyle Johnson. By the end of the day, the odd hair-raising feeling had only gotten worst.

Kyle Johnson had lived by the shelter, Will was reminded as he walked up the country road. Sometimes when he and Annie were walking from there to the baseball field, they unfortunately crossed paths. Will could remember him, even if no one else could. The shifty eyes, the sneer, the—good-for-nothing Solace ended up turning out good for something after all—

Will’s head was nearly pounding by the time he walked into the entrance of the shelter.

“Will, what are you doing here?” Mr. Ellwood asked as he nearly sprang nervously from the hallway. He was kind of scrappy looking with dark hair all cowlicked up and hardly-shaved beard, in a flannel shirt, dusty jeans, and heavy work boots. He had a heavy limp too, bum leg from a tractor accident he claimed. But Will had seen Mr. Ellwood deliver twin calves with gunshot steady nerves at four in the morning during a thunderstorm so he knew better than to underestimate him.

“I wanted to see how everyone was doing,” Will said, reaching to one of the cages in order to pet a stray golden retriever which thumped its’ tail.

“How are you doing?” Mr. Ellwood asked seriously, and Will was surprised about his tone.

“I don’t know,” Will admitted honestly. “The concussion, you know.”

“Right,” Mr. Ellwood said with what looked like a weak smile, sounding oddly relieved. “I’m sure the day of the tornado is a little fuzzy, it’s alright. You can come back whenever you want, just take your time okay?”

“Uh, yeah, thank you sir,” Will said awkwardly. “I think I’m going to go visit the cats in the back, did Missy have her kittens?”

“Not yet,” Mr. Ellwood hummed before opening up a cage to retrieve what looked like a rat terrier.

“Just a quick question,” Will tried to ask as offhandedly as possible, “do you know anyone named Kyle Johnson?”

The clatter at the table and the deer-in-the-headlights look that Mr. Ellwood gave Will told him everything he needed to know about Kyle Johnson,

“Wh-who’s that?” Mr. Ellwood stuttered unconvincingly as he tried to wrangle the wound up rat terrier back on the table. Will began to back up, and then sprint out the back his heart pounding in his ears because there was only one more thing he could remember and that should be in the pasture—

Runner was grazing in the pasture with Betsy and Dancer, his dappled coat shining in the sun. He lifted his head and stared at Will, before deciding he wanted nothing to do with him and then returning to munch on grass.

Will felt like the world was spinning, he rocked back on his heels and eventually sank into the grass as a frantic Mr. Ellwood grabbed him by the shoulders.

“Runner’s leg… it was broken on the Calhoun’s fence. It was broken, they were going to shoot him that night!” Will said desperately.

“It wasn’t broken, it wasn’t,” Mr. Ellwood desperately tried to argue, but Will shook his head.

“No it was I…” Will remembered in flashes, Annie crying as she pet Runner’s mane, the pitiful neigh which had torn Will apart. He had been so desperate to do something, he had reached out and touched Runner and then almost collapsed. He remembered Annie half dragging Will out of the field, muttering about miracles and rest, and finally Kyle Johnson staring at him eerily at the fork in the road. “I did something, didn’t I? I…I healed Runner, just like I healed Annie! I did that! And then Kyle Johnson was talking crazy about Gods and then he burst into lightning and wind—”

“Will you’ve got to listen to me,” Mr. Ellwood said forcefully before seemingly muttering to himself. “I thought maybe it wasn’t true, your grandmother’s perfume hid you well, and your grandfather’s influence kept you here and so you didn’t show the usual marks they look for but they got lucky. Oh Hades, it’s always this age. They never get past around this age, I thought maybe the attack and your concussion would give you at least another year.”

“Another year of what?” Will demanded of Mr. Ellwood who just looked at him very intensely. “What really happened to me and Annie? How come no one remembers Kyle and how…did he really turn into that tornado?”

“Did you ever wonder who your father is?” Mr. Ellwood asked him suddenly.

“I…I don’t know. I guess? I mean, I never thought about it,” Will stuttered out from shaking teeth. “I always had Ma, and Papa and Mama. I didn’t really need him.”

“That reasoning of yours is part of the reason why you didn’t figure it out sooner,” Mr. Ellwood said with a grateful grimace. “You never looked for the truth until now. The truth can be dangerous, Will, do you understand?”

“Things like Kyle will keep coming, won’t they?” Will asked, feeling all the blood drain out of him, remembering the popping wind, the flying debris, the cold laughter and lightning eyes which sparked. “They might hurt my family—they hurt Annie.”

“You used magic,” Mr. Ellwood said seriously. “And when you did, it was like firing a flare. Maybe it won’t be an Anemoi Thuelli next time if we get you out of Tornado Alley and we get you above the Mason-Dixon Line. But it does call them, so, we got to get you somewhere safe. That’s my job as a Keeper. I’ve been looking out for you for a while, Will.”

“And I have to leave Abundance?” Will said slowly clenching his hands despite the ache in the palm, the ache he had somehow gotten from using magic. “Otherwise they’ll keep coming for me?”

“Yes, but only for a while. Until you can be trained, and we can make sure you safe,” Mr. Ellwood said. “We’ve got to go, tonight. Before more come for you.”

“Okay, I’ve…I’ve got to go back to my house,” Will said nervously.

“I’ve got my truck, I’ll take you back,” Mr. Ellwood said, as he helped Will to his feet and pulled him along.

The truck started and they were speeding down the backroads as if something was right on their tail. His house was still there, thankfully, but as Will opened the door his grandparents and mother were sitting eerily quiet at the table, with a package upon it.

“William,” his grandfather said his name seriously, and nearly stole the breath out of his mouth.

“Papa, what’s—“

“A package, from…well…” his mother tried to explain. “God, I knew it was weird that I would be getting a package here. But it’s not really for me it’s for you from…”

His mother threw back a shot of whiskey and stood up and looked out the window. She looked like she had been crying, and the absolutely desolate expression on her face and the fact his grandmother was pale and didn’t say a single word about her drinking in the day explained the seriousness.

“What happened to me and Annie wasn’t a tornado,” Will said slowly and purposefully. His grandfather, smoothed his vest and looked up to him with a gaze that tore him open.

“You lived with your mother when you were a toddler,” Grandpa Vernon said as serious as if he were already planning Will’s funeral sermon. “I had just come to visit and was taken you for a walk, when a man tried to scoop you up and drag you away before I fought him off. My Ma had the seeing gift, she swore she always saw the things which the devil himself dragged from the pit. I don’t got it as good, but I can make out glimmers, and I knew the man who tried to take you had one eye.”

“You knew, all this time you actually knew,” Will gasped, feeling his world tilting.

“There’s more in the big cities. Ever since that day we tried to keep you here in Abundance, we kept you safe. But one of them varmints finally found you again. They come after you because you were begotten by an angel—“

“Daddy I’m telling you Will’s father—Will’s not a Nephilim! He’s just a regular boy, he’s just my son!” His mother half-screamed, hysterical at Grandpa Vernon. Grandmother Florence began to rock and pray beneath her breath and say his name as if she needed to pray for him.

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown!” Grandpa Vernon nearly roared at his mother, slamming his hands on the table. “Genesis 6:4. I taught you from the Bible, girl! I taught you of the things in creation, and my grandson is one of them! He is a blessed child, he has the healing touch and was able to bring back Annie! The Lord gave him to us to deliver onto us a miracle, and now He calls him away to work the good work for the rest of the world and you will respect the Lord’s wishes—!”

“Papa Vernon! Ma!” Will interrupted him with an uncharacteristic amount of force, and the room fell eerily silent as all of his family stared at him. He held up his hands as he reached over to grab the box which was addressed to him and was stamped with Hermes Overnight Express. Using a serving knife on the table, he opened it up. The first thing he pulled out was a letter with his name written on it and read aloud what was inside,

Dear Will,

So I totally heard about what you did, and color me seriously impressed. After all, it’s not every day that one of mine can use serious healing magic without any proper training. Kudos to you! Well, with proper training you won’t have to deal with the burny-ouchy thing or the beacon-to-monsters thing, but hey. We’ve all got to start somewhere, and you totally started with a running start!

In the package are some things I think will help you on your trip. Good luck! Getting to CHB is sort of like going to a family reunion barbecue, but you know, if that was life-threatening. Which in our family, trust me, it’s always life-threatening. You’ll get used to it. If you make it, like any good masked hero I shall reveal myself to you. But until then, I’ll be rooting for you bud!

Love, A.

P.S. Tell your Keeper to remember that the last time a Satyr made me angry, I made him into a luxury rug so unless he wants to go on Hermes’ auction he should keep you in one piece.

“…is my dad an idiot?” Will asked quietly more to himself than anyone else, but the awkward silence which followed seemingly answered him. He pulled out a new hiking backpack, which had a canteen, two hundred dollars cash, what looked like gold coins, a bag of granola bars, an a suspicious looking sling shot. He put it on slowly, feeling the eyes of everyone in the room on him.

“…are you going to go, Will?” his mother croaked.

“I’ve got to, Ma,” Will told her as he reached to grasp her hands. “I don’t want anything else to happen.”

“You got so grown up all of a sudden,” his mother sobbed, reaching and giving him a rib crushing hug and kiss, before separating herself and going into the backyard as if distance was the only thing keeping her from forcing Will back. His Grandmother kissed his cheek, before going to stand in the backyard with his mother to comfort her.

Grandpa Vernon squeezed his shoulder, blue-grey eyes full of emotions.

“Being your grandpapa has been one of the greatest honors ever given to me,” Grandpa Vernon said softly. “I wasn’t able to say it before, but I’m so proud of you. Thank you for all the gifts you’ve given us, Will, just by being you. Don’t be a stranger now.”

“I won’t,” Will promised, reaching to pull his Grandpa in for a hug. His grandpa patted his back before rubbing what suspiciously looked like tears and motioning for him to get. And so Will got out of the house and went back to where Mr. Ellwood was white knuckling the wheel, his pants off and the bum leg seemingly replaced with cloven hooves.

“Ready to go to New York?” Mr. Ellwood asked.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Will admitted, before watching his house disappear through the tree branches and dappled light.

They raced out of Abundance, Texas, and kept going.

“Was your cousin okay?” Nico asked him, he had curled up under the covers but was still trying to look mostly nonchalant which Will found to be so utterly adorable. Will folded his hands behind his head and hummed contentedly.

“Annie’s great! She’s got a really sick scar, actually. She always kind of brandishes it with pride,” Will explained with a grin. “She and Everett are always sending me letters. And they are both doing awesome just in case you were wondering.”

“…you are an all-year-around camper though,” Nico said, obviously uncomfortable with pushing Will but Will just nodded.

“Yeah, you know, my Papa and Mama have really taken everything in stride. Me being a demigod, my place here as head counselor, and me coming out when I was like twelve. They know that my life is better up here than it would be in Abundance, and let me do what makes me happy even if it means only going home once or twice a year as long as I write to them,” Will explained, the feeling of homesickness, the deep missing of his Grandpa’s ornery smile and his Grandma’s soft hands and sweet looks aching in his chest. “And Ma’s just glad I’m happy.”

“Have you told them about…?” Nico trailed off but his pinked face revealed everything.

“About you? Oh sweatpea my family knows everything about you,” Will said with an exaggerated drawl, a twang which made Nico wince, and a suggestive wink which literally had Nico squawking.

“Oh my gods do not talk like that,” Nico begged but Will could see the twitching of his lip.

“You’ll just have to put up or shut up little sweet thing,” Will drawled, offering up a puckered lip to him.

“I’m glad you made it here, sun baby.”

“You too, Lord of Darkness.”

Nico shut Will’s mouth up with his, and they both laughed into the kiss.

Chapter Text

“Hey, Will! Guess what I just found under one of the floor boards in Hermes Cabin!” Cecil chirped as he burst into the very empty infirmary. Nico was lounging on one bed reading a comic book, Lou Ellen had a book of spells on her lap, and Will was finishing up the infirmary logs as Cecil burst in obviously hopped up on something.

“I feel like that combination of events can only spell trouble,” Nico commented as he looked up from the comic book. Today his eyes which seemed to catch colors daily had seemingly settled on dark liquid brown, rounded and softened with humor, which made his flat tone almost warm.

“Oh Gods please tell me it isn’t your collection of Barbies,” Lou Ellen said as her eyes flitted up.

“Excuse you Barbies are a great avenue for creativity especially if they are lit on fire,” Cecil said sounding genuinely affronted. “And also, hey, peanut gallery, I was speaking to William.”

“Please don’t use my full name. What is it?” Will asked as Cecil held out an old playing mat and a deck of very familiar cards. Nico sat up straight in bed, eyes trained on the Mythomagic cards, before he slouched back into a comically impersonation of teenaged disinterest. “Man, this brings me back.”

“Nerds,” Lou Ellen snickered at all of them.

“Hey, hey, hey, no judgey,” Cecil said before holding up the cards. “You don’t understand, these cards are dated BPJ.”

“BPJ?” Nico asked curiously.

“Before Percy Jackson,” Cecil translated. “Neither of you guys were kicking it at CHB BPJ 4COL so GTFO.”

“Were you just speaking English?” Nico asked with his eyes narrowed into black in a rendition of annoyance and Will took the cards and sat down next to Nico on the bed (just close enough so Nico could scan the cards while still pretending he wasn’t interested).

“Cecil’s just being Cecil, but yeah, seriously woah. That tournament was the weekend after I came to Camp Halfblood,” Will said as he crossed his legs and smiled fondly at the cards as he spread them out. “Cecil taught me to play so he wouldn’t get thrashed by the other kids in the league. I had to have been ten that was such a crazy week.”

“Seriously, though, APJ—after Percy Jackson for you lay folks—all of that stuff that happened seems tame,” Cecil said as he took his seat, looking just as reminiscent.

“I sense there to be a story to be told,” Lou Ellen said, ditching her book and resting her chin on her knees. Nico didn’t say a word, but instead leaned very carefully against him. And that said all that it needed to.

“Fine, fine, I will tell you the totally banal entrance of William Solace to Camp Half-blood, but don’t come crying to me when you get bored,” Will laughed.

Like most days which would follow, it all began when Will woke up in the infirmary.

It had sort of reminded him of all those war films that his history teacher Mr. Marshall always played whenever he wanted to take a nap in the middle of class. He tried to sit up, but his head still fuzzy and ache-y, but it was that ache which immediately brought a flood of memories back.

Kyle Johnson turning into a tornado, his cousin in rubble, a letter, his grandfather’s hug, and then the rush up to Long Island with the town’s veterinarian Mr. Ellwood who had turned out to be a satyr. It was all crazy, ridiculous, but he certainly hadn’t made up the past few days. They had almost been there when suddenly dogs the size of motorcycles had begun chasing the car down. Mr. Ellwood had nearly crashed his car into a tree—or maybe that’s why he felt like he had been hit by a tree.

“You’re awake!” Mr. Ellwood said, sitting next to him. “How are you feeling?”

“Like I fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down,” Will reported with a groan as he cracked his neck. “Did we really get chased down by angry dogs or did I make that up?”

“Hellhounds, must’ve caught your scent,” Mr. Ellwood said before offering a glass of tall apple juice with one of them fancy little umbrellas his Great-Aunt Ann put in her sweet tea. “Here, this ought to help.”

Will took a sip and immediately felt himself physically retract. Will had been expecting apple juice, not his Mama Florence’s county fair winning pecan pie. It tasted like how Mama Florence’s hugs felt, like how Papa Vernon carefully brushed his curls out of his face and the way he fixed Will’s tie dutifully before church and all those little things his grandparents did that made Will love them. He was so comfy and warm that he felt nearly desolate. He had left that all behind in Texas because he had to or else his family would continue to be attacked by monsters, not because he wanted to. And this just made that fact even worse.

“You made the right decision,” Mr. Ellwood promised as he read his face, gingerly taking the glass away from Will who hadn’t even realized he finished the whole glass.

“I know, but it still don’t feel great,” Will said, squeezing his eyes shut to push back his tears before taking a shaky breath and composing himself. It was then that he realized the incessant ache of his concussion was gone, and all his bumps and bruises were feeling extraordinarily better. But he knew he hadn’t done that thing he could do, or else he would have been burned. As if sensing his question, Mr. Ellwood stood up and offered a hand.

“Come on, we’re going to get you to orientation so you can get settled,” Mr. Ellwood told him, helping Will up. He felt better walking than he had in a while, and was certain he had prepared himself for anything when he left the infirmary. However, he wasn’t anywhere near prepared for what met him outside.

It was the ocean.

Will had grown up in Abundance, Texas which was on the corner of Texas and Louisiana. He had visited Austin rarely to see his mother (and by rarely all of three time in his life besides the two years he had lived with her as a baby and toddler). However as Will had recently learned it wasn’t because his mother wanted him to be kept away from her celebrity status as a singer. Instead, his family had kept him in the small town of Abundance to keep him away from the monsters which lurked in big cities. And so he had never seen the ocean besides in movies or on TV. As they turned all Will could see was sparkling blue that met the sky in such vibrancy that it made his eyes water in joy for the first time in so long. The evening sun felt strong and streaked a dazzling array of colors across the sky, the air carried a salty mist which Will just wanted to gulp up. He itched to run into the sand, feel if it was powdery or grainy or hot or cold. The only thing that kept him was the utter insanity of the rest of what he was seeing.

More satyrs like Mr. Ellwood were frolicking around with kids of all ages who wore bright orange t-shirts with the familiar initials of CHB emblazoned on them. Kids were packing up from playing volleyball, weaving between buildings that must have been Greek architecture (which he only recognized because back in Abundance his Mama always rolled her eyes at the Larkins’ over-the-top Greek Revival-styled home), an open-aired pavilion, an amphitheater, cabins which all provided a menagerie of colors and displays, an archery range, and trails which had kids riding on winged-horses. But finally they approached a house with a porch which gleamed in the evening sun. One upon which a man with a white horse’s body attached to his torso and another man in a Hawaiian shirt with a tacky tiger design sat at a table.

“Is this the new camper, Ellwood?” The man in the wheel chair asked kindly. He wore a tweed jacket, had a scraggly beard, and eyes that glinted with mischief and warmth.

“This would be him,” Mr. Ellwood said before giving Will’s shoulder a squeeze. “Will Solace, meet Chiron and—“

“Welcome to Camp Half Blood, have fun in your orientation video,” the other man said grumpily, rolling his bloodshot eyes.

“Orientation video?” Will asked confused (to Chiron, not to the angry man).

“Chiron’s going to give you the rundown of things. I’ll be around if you need me, okay? I’m going to see how my family is,” Mr. Ellwood promised, and a childish part of Will wanted to cling to him because he was the only person he knew. But Will nodded, said goodbye, and watched as Mr. Ellwood trotted away.

“Will Solace is it?” Chiron asked curiously and Will tried not to stare at the horse part of him, because who knows if that was rude in horse-people world.

“Yes, sir,” Will answered automatically. “Do I have to watch a video?”

“Well there is an orientation video for a reason,” Chiron said with a confused tilt of head.

“I have a hard time focusing on videos and movies,” Will tried to explain. “I sort of…zone out or I can’t stay still. It’s my…”

“ADHD, yes, all the children here have it too,” Chiron said before giving a kind smile. “Would you like to walk with me then? It is past dinner, and I suppose getting you to your cabin would be ideal. I know you slept in the infirmary but you still must be exhausted.”

Will nodded and Chiron began to walk (thankfully away from the petulant man who looked like he belonged at the only bar in Abundance at the tail-end of the night after Wayne the bar owner had cut him off from the cheap beer). Will realized Chiron was taking him along the coast of the ocean he had wanted to see so badly, and when Will looked up Chiron just gave him a knowing wink. And then his expression became a bit more subdued.

“I’m sure your Guide gave you some details,” Chiron said quietly.

“Yes, sir. He told me that there were monsters after me because of my father, or because of whatever my father is,” Will told Chiron who nodded and rubbed his chin.

“I always have a hard time of putting this delicately,” Chiron sighed, “but perhaps it is better put bluntly. You see, Will. The gods are real.”

“My Papa’s been telling me that God is real for my whole life, sir,” Will said with a confused frown. “And I go to church twice a week so he can prove it.”

“We don’t tread into the business of big G entities,” Chiron told Will honestly. “Highly classified that is. I’m speaking of lowercase gods. The gods of the Greek Pantheon. The Greek Pantheon, all the myths and monsters, all of it is true.”

“You mean gods from Greece? Why would gods from Greece be living in the US, sir?” Will asked, even more confused than before.

“The gods dwell wherever the West is the strongest. They’ve lived in many countries, but currently Mount Olympus is above the Empire State building. And of course we are here, Will.”

Will had the feeling that he ought to be more shocked than he really was. But honestly this felt more like when any of the older citizens of Abundance went dark when they were talking to you. And by dark, Will meant the mixing of religion and superstition that was unique to the south. It was like how his Papa Vernon, an honest to goodness Southern Baptist pastor, would cringe and warn off boys who dared to go to Abner’s Pond where an unfortunate man named Charles Abner took a drunk dip and never came up. Or how his Great-Aunties went to tarot card readings after DAR meetings with the fine ladies of Abundance that were held by Miss Sadie. Or even when his Mama Florence began reciting Acts at him after Will breathed around the family plot. If you believed Charles Abners were lurking in ponds, or tarot cards could read your future, or you could inhale a spirit by walking by a cemetery, it wasn’t too much of a leap to think that maybe it could all be true. Will was beginning to suspect the reason why his family had taken the news of his parentage so well, though apparently they hadn’t gotten the specifics right.

“So all of Greek Mythology is real, sir?” Will asked Chiron trying to get his thoughts back on track from where they were fraying. “I’m sorry I don’t know much about Greek Mythology. I know some of the gods’ names but that’s about it. And there was a Disney movie right?”

“What do you mean you don’t know much about Greek Mythology? What are they teaching at that school of yours?” Chiron asked looking positively distraught.

“Um, not much I’m afraid, sir,” Will admitted tugging at the collar of his shirt. “My school wasn’t known for prestige. But I’m pretty good at math and science given the problems aren’t too wordy.”

“I see,” Chiron said softly, as if he was accepting a doctor’s note for a test you missed that day. “Will, you know this because of that movie right? Hercules, who was his father?”

“Zeus, right?” Will offered timidly, desperately hoping it was the right answer.

“He was what is known now as a demigod, a half-blood. And you are like him, you are a demigod.”

“So my daddy’s a god?” Will squeaked in a very adult-like manner of course. “But I’m…I’m…”

“Your father is one of the Olympians. I know this must be a lot to take in, but know this. This camp is full of demigods who know what you are going through, and depending on the god you may have siblings here as well.”

“But he has to claim me…right? Mr. Ellwood told me about that,” Will said, feeling himself deflate faster than a balloon at a shooting range. “My daddy hasn’t been interested in me for ten years, sir, I can’t imagine he’ll be changin’ his ways too soon.”

“Unfortunately that is like them,” Chiron said before giving his shoulder a fond pat, and Will knew he meant it and that just made Will feel even lousier.

“I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to sound bitter. My Papa—Grandfather’s always sayin’ I oughtta count my blessings.”

“Your Grandfather sounds like a wise man,” Chiron said warmly. “What you are feeling is normal, it is impossible to understand the gods.”

“The wisest, sir,” Will agreed with a sniff.

“You don’t need to call me sir, Will, Chiron is fine,” Chiron told him and Will rocked back on his heels.

“I’m always supposed to call my teachers that,” Will said skeptically, almost feeling himself shrink down into his sneakers.

“It is very polite of you, but unnecessary,” Chiron waved off.

“Alright, if you say so,” Will said feeling his eyes dart about as he was sure his Papa Vernon would be hopping out from behind a shrub at any second to give him a tongue-lashing on being proper. But no Papa Vernon was in sight, and Will felt himself relax in spite of everything. “So my Daddy’s a god. One of the Greek Gods, is that what all the cabins are for?”

“Yes, one for each of the Olympians. For now, you’ll be in Hermes Cabin. If you are claimed then perhaps you will move to one of the other of the seven cabins.”

“Why Hermes Cabin?”

“The God of Travelers,” Chiron explained with a knowing shrug. “The head counsellor will pair you up with another your age most likely, and they will show you the ins and outs of camp. And if you have any questions you can always come and speak with me.”

“Thank you, Chiron,” Will said as he gripped the edge of his shirt nervously.

“Good luck, William Solace. I am expecting great things of you,” Chiron said with a mysterious wink.

The cabin looked like a regular camp cabin, which was surprising after the ostentatious gold and barbed-wire cabins and all the other odd ones that Will had passed. But it was old, and wear was obvious upon the creaking wood of the porch and faded paint. When Will entered it was utterly packed with kids, more kids than there were bunks, and Will was very happy that his backpack contained a sleeping bag.

“Welcome to Hermes Cabin,” the boy said and Will immediately felt himself jump, because everyone was staring at him and the whole sensation was making him want to bury himself in the corner. “You are the camper that just got here right?”

“Yeah,” Will nearly squeaked.

“Regular or Undetermined?”

“I don’t know who my daddy is,” Will explained, hearing a chorus of groans but the tall boy in charge just gave everyone a warning look.

“Guys, cool it,” the head counselor warned before giving Will a smile that was a little off-kilter because of the scar on his face, but even Will could feel the calculation that was behind his blue eyes. “What’s your name?”

“Will Solace,” Will introduced and the head counselor stuck out his hand.

“Nice to meet you, Will. I’m Luke,” Luke introduced, and Will took his hand gingerly. “If you have any questions, you can ask me. Hey, Cecil Markowitz, come over here!”

At his call, suddenly, a head of light brown curls popped out from behind the bunks. Cecil was his age and about his height, and was so pale that the sunburn on his cheeks and nose gave him a ruddy color and the bandaids on his shins stood out. He was gangly too, and his brown eyes looked between Luke and Will curiously. But no matter how different he seemed from the tall blonde-hair-and-blue-eyed warrior counselor Will could see the family resemblance in the sharp nose, and the mouth made for mischief that they shared between them.

“What’s up?” Cecil asked, excitedly bouncing on his heels with the sort of manic energy that Will associated with mixing one-too-many pixie sticks and pop.

“Markowitz, you’re going to be Will’s buddy for the first few days. Show him around, get him a place to sleep for tonight, and show him the ropes,” Luke told him before adding a heavy sigh. “And please, don’t get Will caught up in anything dumb.”

“I can’t promise that, but I’ll do my best,” Cecil said with a mock salute. Luke just rolled his eyes and ruffled Cecil’s hair before running over to intervene in a fight that had broken out on the other side of the cabin. Cecil and Will watched him go before Cecil smiled at him, “so, what’s up?”

“A really weird day,” Will admitted taking a deep breath. Cecil immediately reached over to give his shoulder a shake.

“You alright?”

“Chiron scared me so much,” Will explained, his hand over his wildly beating heart. “And…Mr. D? Him too.”

“You were scared of Chiron? And Luke?” Cecil asked as if that were the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard.

“I’m really bad at talking with adults I don’t know,” Will admitted sheepishly. “I just sorta freeze up, my Grandmama Florence says I’m like a deer in headlights. And of course dealin’ with everything else the past few days too. I feel like I’m a cat in a room full of rocking chairs right now.”

“You gotta tell me about that, if you don’t mind,” Cecil said before sitting down cross-legged on a bunk that was obviously his as Will placed down his bags in the space next to it. “Where are you from? You got one heck of an accent.”

“I’m from Texas—is it…is it really weird? I’ve never been up North before,” Will drawled quickly and nervously.

“Trust me, we’ve got kids from all over. And besides your accent is the least weird thing about this place I promise,” Cecil pointed out, obviously looking guilty he had said something that had made Will uncomfortable. Will felt himself smile genuinely for the first time that day—evening.

“It’s alright. It’s just, this whole thing is a lot to take in,” Will explained.

“Hey, I understand. I’m just some brat from Chicago—my mom works for the Illinois Finance Authority. One day I was having some fun, tagging a bridge, the next thing I know I’m being chased by a Cyclops and picked up by a satyr with a very angry Ares kid. We’re all like that, you know?”

“I had a storm-spirit change into a tornado and almost kill me and my cousin,” Will said before Cecil’s eyes went as big as saucers.

“Holy Hera that sounds awesome! Terrifying, but really awesome!”

“I wouldn’t say it was awesome, but I reckon it was certainly something,” Will pointed out before sitting himself next to Cecil. Before suddenly Cecil gave Will a semi-seriously look.

“Do you have anything that you could consider valuable in there?” Cecil asked his voice hushed, looking around as if people could be listening in.

“Uh…some money?” Will asked confused. Cecil lifted the satchel that Will fished from his bag, before placing it in a chest and pulling out a box of granola bars. He locked it, and then handed Will the key and a granola bar both of which Will accepted gratefully.

“Hermes is the God of Thieves,” Cecil told him in explanation with a grin that was bright and honest. “I got a kid in Hephaestus Cabin to make the lock unpickable after he lost to me in poker.”

“Thanks,” Will told him, sticking the key in his pocket beside the letter.

“No problem, any time,” Cecil said before sneaking a few bites of his own granola bar and pulling a deck of cards from under his pillow. “So, since you are from Texas I’ve obviously got to ask you if you know how to play Texas Hold ‘Em.”

“I may be able to hold my own,” Will said as he crossed his own legs.

“You’re going to fit in fine here,” Cecil said before calling to anyone else who wanted to play.

Just as Mr. Ellwood said, Will picked up ancient Greek easily, and was nearly ecstatic as he cradled the book in his hands like a treasure as they walked to the archery range. Will had visited the satyr with a million and one questions, and most of his concerns and questions were answered (also Will met Mr. Ellwood’s wife Ash who was a tree-spirit and had a lovely conversation about gardening). By the time he had been through he was sporting a CHB tee-shirt and sneakers that a Hermes kid had gave to him, as well as using his backpack, and carrying himself with a little more confidence that yes he understood what was happening and wasn’t about to have a meltdown. Will wriggled his toes in the shoes, hoping that at some point he could get a pair of sandals. He would have preferred being bare-foot because he liked his toes to be free, but he also had a feeling that wouldn’t be wise in case there were any supernatural attacks. By the second full day at camp however, that was beginning to feel like a far-off worry.

“I’ve never been able to read so much before without getting a headache!” Will explained, his enthusiasm unbounded as he put his book away in his backpack as he walked next to Cecil. “Do you think I could get regular books translated in this too? I mean, I still need to learn but I could totally get through an entire reading list!”

“Ugh, you’re so cheerful,” Cecil groaned as he gave Will a playful nudge.

“Well, I mean, I know I can’t go back to school right now. It’s just, you know, difficult,” Will tried to explain.

“Don’t go bursting into any show tunes yet, we’ve got archery,” Cecil reminded him with a pat of the shoulder. “I’ll show you the library after, when we have free time.”

“I’ve never done archery before,” Will said as they walked to the range.

It was a group of three girls and two boys. The girls were all tall. Two of the girls had varying shades of blonde hair, and eyes different shades of blue, who looked like they belonged on surf boards in a movie taking place in California. The other was an African-American girl with the body of a gymnast. The first boy was very similar, tall, with blonde hair pulled into a bun, and staring down the end of a bow. Next to him was a boy who could have been his opposite as he was short, with dark hair, tan skin, and dark eyes. Except both boys shared oozing confidence and swagger and the way they held their shoulder and bodies with inhuman stillness that just screamed brothers.

“Who’s going to win it this time? Lee or Michael?” One of the Hermes boys said under his breath.

“Did you hear that boys?” One of the blonde girls called as she swung her legs. “Who’s going to win?”

“It’s never even a competition Lee can’t shoot the side of a labyrinth he’s stuck in!” The boy who was obviously Michael shouted. Lee’s mouth quirked.

“Oh yeah, want to bet? Whoever loses does cabin checks?” Lee dared.

“Oh you are on!” Michael shouted back at him.

Both boys shot their arrows in unison, both striking the bullseye even. The boys looked at the result before laughing and fist bumping.

“Michael, Lee, we’ve got a new camper today,” Luke said, as he pushed Will forward. “Hopefully one of you guys can show him the basics.”

“I’m Will Solace,” Will said with a little wave.

“Solace?” One of the blonde girls said skeptically. “I know that last name.”

“Wait, you would be Naomi Solace’s son?” The other blonde girl asked and seeing Will’s eyes widen suddenly gasped. “You are Naomi Solace’s kid! Her song writing is absolutely amazing!”

“Uh, hi, it’s nice to meet you,” Will said unable to help his embarrassed blush.

“Oh my god you are the cutest little thing,” the blonde girl who had suddenly grabbed his hands gushed. “That accent is adorable, and your freckles!”

“Victoria, he’s a kid not a puppy,” Lee chuckled, and the girl named stuck her tongue out at him. “It’s nice to meet you, Will. I’m Lee Fletcher, the head counselor of Apollo Cabin. The grumpy looking guy over there is Michael Yew. The hyper one is Victoria, the one who looks like she wants to pick your brain for musical purposes is Lizzie, and the one holding her back is Ellen. So you’ve never done archery before? Have you ever done anything similar?”

“My Papa—Grandpa has taken me shooting before,” Will told him. “And I play baseball. I’m an outfielder.”

“Oh really, cool! Then you’ve probably already got a leg up on this,” Lee said before looking through some of the bows and finding one that didn’t look to be Will’s height. “Why don’t we try this one?”

As the other Hermes kids lined up and practiced with the bow, Lee (and occasionally Michael who piped up from leaning against the wall) taught him the parts of the bow and demonstrated how to stand.

“There we go, now just pull back and see how it goes,” Lee said and Will nodded. He pulled back the string, making sure to remember how to hold his shoulders, before losing an arrow. The arrow flew straight into the white between the bullseye and the first circle. Lee immediately reached over and ruffled Will’s hair. “Nice shot, Will!”

“Thank you for showing me,” Will said with a grateful smile.

“You won’t be half-bad with some practice,” Michael noted before nodding his head towards the rest of Hermes Cabin which was practicing with varying levels of success. “You’ll at least be able to show up this motley crew.”

“Stop talking crap!” Luke called back good-naturedly. Michael responded with a rude gesture that had Will torn between biting his lip and laughing out loud.

They finished up archery (after Will had managed to extract himself from the Apollo kids who seemed content to keep him) and moved to the rock climbing wall which was equal parts awesome and terrifying as Cecil so often put it as it included actual lava which left Will feeling properly singed. Finally, Luke gave all the campers free reign before dinner and singalong, and Will watched as everyone walked in their own directions. Except for Cecil who looked at him expectantly.

“So tell me, how familiar are you with Mythomagic?” Cecil asked slowly.

“That sounds like a loaded question,” Will couldn’t help but laugh. “Not familiar, but it sounds like one of the games the DAR had banned from my school district.”

“Dude, how are you even alive in the 21st century and never played Mythomagic?”

“My home town’s a little weird.”

“Okay loser listen up, Mythomagic is this super awesome card game with figurines that’s like all different mythological creatures battling and it’s amazing and you are learning it right now because I’m in a tournament with an Aphrodite kid and a Hephaestus kid and I might have actual human money on the line and these kids know how to throw down.”

“Dude, what the heck—!”

“Okay, yeah I know it was stupid,” Cecil admitted with a rueful grin. “But stupid is sort of what I’m good at.”

“…so you use cards and figurines?” Will asked with a roll of his eyes. Cecil’s face brightened before suddenly he went sheet-rock white and stopped walking so fast that Will almost tripped.

“Markowitz and fresh meat I see,” a voice called.

She was one of the biggest people Will had ever seen, and Will was immediately taken aback. Muscular and sharp, the expression on her face reminded Will so much of the storm spirit who had almost killed him that he almost got sick right there. Obviously she was enjoying his panic because her sneer just got bigger.

“Clarisse, Ellis,” Cecil nearly squeaked. “It’s very nice to smell—I mean see you today.”

“Shut up Markowitz,” an equally mean voice came from a kid their age. “If you know what’s good for you.”

“Debatable,” Will said under his breath.

“Kick me while I’m down why don’t you,” Cecil hissed back.

“You see, we have a tradition to initiate new campers, and Markowitz’s smart mouth earned himself a repeat,” Clarisse said with a gleefully vicious crack of her knuckles.

“Code Blue,” Cecil suddenly said, grabbing his arm as they both took a step back in unison.

“What does that even mean?!” Will asked panicking as he looked between Cecil and Clarisse and her gang of wayward bullies.

“We get dunked in the toliets if we don’t—runrunrunrunrun!” Cecil cried before suddenly they were running and both screaming as Clarisse, Ellis, and Ugly #3 were shouting and lunging after them.

They were sprinting through the relatively busy pavilion while screaming their heads off in a very manly manner, Clarisse and her gooney shouting at them when they ran into a nymph carrying a tray of pudding that splattered and clattered behind them. As they turned the corner, Ugly #3 was hot on their heels, and Will grabbed the first thing he could—being what Will thought to be a bug spray canister and chucked it with frightening aim—hitting Ugly #3 in the eye, causing Ugly #3 to trip and immediately send Clarisse and Ellis tumbling after him into the ground and pudding. Cecil immediately steered Will towards another cabin which looked like Annie’s old Barbie doll house. Cecil banged on the door hard and a girl answered who was beautiful in the way a portrait would be, with eyes a brilliant blue and dark hair settled in a heart-shaped face. She looked between them and Cecil immediately leaned against one of the columns and tried to fix his hair that continued to curl out.

“Hey, Silena, so remember how I totally got that crazy expensive lipstick for you from Sephora because you asked super nicely?” Cecil asked, obviously giving up on trying to fix his appearance and just throwing his hands up in exasperation. Silena just raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, can I cash in that favor? Please hide us.”

“Come in and please don’t mess anything up Cecil,” Silena said with a heavy sigh as she got out of the way and motioned in the cabin. Cecil pulled Will under the bed and Silena carefully smoothed out the sheets, giving their general direction a quirking grin reminiscent of a mother finding her children swinging too high on swings instead of hiding from terrifying children.

“Why are they after us and trying to dunk our head in the toilets?” Will demanded from Cecil.

“They’re Ares kids, being bullies is what they do,” Cecil groaned. For a moment they were both quiet before Will nudged Cecil gently.

“Thanks,” Will told Cecil. “You didn’t have to stick up for me like that. You could’ve just let them take me.”

“Di immortales, really Will? Yeah. No. As if I’m going to sit around and let my bunkmate get a face full of toilet water,” Cecil said with a roll of his eyes. “You can pay me back later by helping me kick some butt in that tournament…if Clarisse doesn’t kill us first that is.”

At that point an incessant banging on the front door shut both Will and Cecil up completely. Silena opened the door and Will strained to hear what was said.

“What in the name of the Gods happened to your shirt, Clarisse?” Silena asked obviously stifling a laugh.

“Silena, did you see Markowitz and the new kid?” Clarisse asked, sounding half-way ready to burst with anger. “I’m about to rearrange their faces.”

“No, I haven’t seen Cecil. And I’m pretty sure the new kid’s name is Will. But Charlie said that one of the Hephaestus kids owes Cecil—don’t ask me what I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know—so maybe check there?”

“Alright. Fine. But if you see them, tell Markowitz and the new kid that when I see them they’re dead.”

The door was closed and Silena sighed before Cecil and Will popped their heads out from under the bed.

“What did you guys do to Clarisse?” Silena asked, sounding half-worried and half-impressed.

“Ran away, she was trying to dunk our heads in the toilets,” Cecil told Silena with a shrug.

“I threw a can of bug spray and then all of them fell into chocolate pudding,” Will admitted sheepishly.

“I wish I could think you guys were kidding, but I know better,” Silena said with a chuckle and a shake of her head. “Well, you guys should probably hide until at least dinner to give Clarisse some time to cool down. And thankfully my cabin is all coming back from canoeing and really desperately want to try out the new summer palette from Urban Decay before dinner.”

“Maybe we should’ve let Clarisse dunk us after all,” Cecil muttered under his breath.

Will couldn’t help but laugh a little nervously.

“Castellan, I’ve got a bone to pick with you,” an older kid around Luke’s age growled as he stalked forward towards Hermes’ table. Will and Cecil had managed to wash the makeup from their face and make it to dinner and squeezed into the table, however waiting there had been the glowering of the entire Ares table which was made up by kids who looked like every bone in their body was mean.

“What’s up Henry?” Luke asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Markowitz and the new kid made a fool of my cabin, you give them up for their initiation now,” Henry growled as he got up in Luke’s face, all of Hermes Cabin stared at Cecil and Will who looked helplessly between themselves and Luke. However unlike Will who probably would have crumpled, Luke held his ground.

“The only people making fools of their cabin are you and your cabin,” Luke said quietly. “Now back off or else—”

“Or else what, Castellan? You going to threaten me?”

“Or how about I challenge you?” Luke asked him. A spark lit up in the other counselor’s eyes, an angry and yet determined spark. A smirk settled across his features.

“Fine! Ares Cabin challenges Hermes Cabin in capture the flag!” Henry decreed, and cheers of excitement went up from all the tables. “Make your alliance and come at us with all you got. We win, you give us Markowitz and the new kid. We lose—“

“We redecorate your cabin and you have to keep it that way for a week!” The voices of the Stoll twins came up, and shouts of excitement came up from everyone in Hermes Cabin.

“You up for it?” Luke asked Henry. “We swear on the River Styx. You swear it too.”

“We swear it on the River Styx,” Henry growled as battle cries and table-thumping went up from Ares’ Table. “Meet us on the battlefield, losers.”

Henry walked away, and Luke gave his back a withering look before turning back to the table. Will immediately felt sick to his stomach.

“I’m really sorry—“ Will tried to say before one of the older kids slung his arm over his shoulders.

“It’s alright, dude. Ares Cabin has got a monumental stick up their butts,” the older kid said. “That tradition is stupid anyways.”

“You’re just saying that because you got your head dunked when you got here, Chris,” Travis Stoll snickered, causing the older boy to elbow him.

“We got to figure out what Cabins we’re going to be allying with,” Luke said with a sigh as he sat back down across from Will.

“Allying…for capture the flag?” Will asked feeling very out of the loop. He knew capture the flag from gym class, usually played on a soccer field and with dinky color-coded shirts. Will got the feeling that capture the flag was a different affair at Camp Half Blood.

“Usually Ares and Athena Cabins lead capture the flag, war and strategy and all that,” Cecil translated. “So we should probably try to get Athena Cabin.”

“I don’t think we’ll have much luck with Athena Cabin considering last week’s Sunday Newspaper Situation,” Luke said before casting a look towards the Stolls who both gave Luke an incredulous look back.

“Hey! How were we supposed to know that they cared so much about those schematics? We thought the Snoopy Comics and Mythomagic manuals would be a nice change of pace for them considering they are so serious all the time!” Connor Stoll whined.

“Their entire cabin was set on fire!” Chris groaned back as he put his head in his hands.

“Listen Hernandez, don’t give us that sass. We put it out after a half-an-hour didn’t we?!”

“Did you really just—“

“I’m glad that your cabin is always like this and it isn’t my fault,” Will told Cecil under his breath as Chris Hernandez and the Stoll brothers began arguing in earnest and the whole cabin melted down into bickering. Cecil gave Will a sheepish grin back.

“On the whole we kind of can’t help ourselves,” Cecil said with a nervous laugh.

“Guys!” Luke’s authoritarian voice cut through the bickering. “Chris and I will handle the alliances. Everyone else, I’m trusting you all to train up and come up with the best strategies you can alright?”

“Yes, Dad,” a bunch of the kids said in unison causing Luke to huff and Chris Hernandez to hide his laughter under his hand.

“Don’t you just love some wholesome camp activities,” Mr. D commented from his folding chair as he took a sip from his glass. “Logan Carter—“

“It’s Luke Castellan, sir.”

“Right, right. You better show me a good fight.”

Will got the sense that was wholly sarcastic.

Luke was noticeably missing from Hermes Cabin as the next day drew to a close. Will had been getting trained in using a sword, but had very little luck with anything but a bow and arrow. As hasty alliances were made, and glares continued to be thrown towards him by Clarisse, Ellis, and Ugly #3 (who Will found out was actually named Sherman), Will couldn’t help but feel his very pacifist nature come up and bite him. Guilt had been eating him that he had dragged the entire cabin into this, and so with little else he could do Will set out to find Luke.

As he walked along a sudden sound from behind a tree made Will look. A girl around his age looked up at him, steely grey eyes not revealing anything as she clutched a baseball hat in her hands.

“What are you looking at?” The girl asked him immediately.

“I’m sorry, I’m looking for Luke. Have you seen him?” Will asked, hands up in surrender. An unreadable expression passed over her face and she looked towards the edge of camp.

“He’s on Half-Blood Hill,” the girl said quietly. “What do you need him for?”

“I don’t need him for anything I just wanted to talk to him, about the capture the flag match,” Will said gently, getting the feeling that the last thing this girl wanted was for him to interrupt Luke with whatever he was doing. So instead, Will took up a different direction and stuck out his hand. “I’m Will Solace. We haven’t met yet.”

“Annabeth Chase from Athena Cabin,” she said warily, taking his hand and then staring at him with that intense gaze. “Wow, your hands are really warm.”

“My Mama Florence is always calling me a space heater,” Will said with a smile that seemingly disarmed Annabeth’s attempt to scare him off as she released his hand. “What are you doing out right now?”

“I could ask the same from you,” Annabeth fired back.

“I told you, I’m looking for Luke,” Will said trying to bite back his chuckle. “If I can I’m going to try to convince him to just let the Ares Cabin dunk me.”

“Why would you do that?” Annabeth asked, her eyes narrowing.

“Well, I don’t think it makes much sense for everyone to get caught up in my problem.”

“You guys are in a good position tomorrow. You shouldn’t just quit something half-way,” Annabeth told him. “I mean, obviously Ares and Athena are great teamed up together. But Luke personally asked Silena Beauregard and she can charmspeak—“

“What does that have to do with anything?” Will asked and Annabeth gave him the patented ‘are you really this dense?’ look that only girls his age knew how to give.

“Silena likes Luke, so getting Aphrodite Cabin to join was easy. And Beckendorf likes Silena so their cabin is going all in too. Hermes is the biggest cabin so you’ve got manpower on your side but—ugh I shouldn’t be explaining this to the enemy why are you so easy to talk to?” Annabeth said, kicking a rock. “Anyways, if you are looking for Luke head to Half-Blood Hill. And don’t get killed tomorrow, Clarisse’s really got it out for you.”

Annabeth Chase turned on her heel and walked away, casting one sad last look towards Half-Blood Hill, and Will got the feeling that she had been out there for a very similar reason as he was but perhaps a little different. After all, Will wasn’t really that dense.

Will climbed up the Hill and saw Luke seated looking towards the strawberry fields which lined the valley for as far as you could see. In the evening sun which warmed Will’s face, the tinge of gold and red set the world sparkling almost magically and made the huge tree upon the hill look as if it had just burst into spring-leaf. Luke was sitting looking out towards it, before taking note of his presence. The clouded look on his face lightened at his presence.

“Oh, hey Will. What’s up?” Luke asked before standing up.

“Well, I was coming here to try to convince you just to let Clarisse dunk me. But…I kind of had a change of heart,” Will admitted with a sigh. “I don’t know. What’s more cowardly, not wanting to fight but dragging people in to your fight, or not fighting even though people want to fight?”

“Good question,” Luke said his eyes trained on the valley ahead. “I think trying and failing is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s nothing to pity either. Whenever you fight, you should fight to achieve honor no matter if it’s to honor no one but yourself.”

There was a venom in his voice which made Will’s ear perk up and his hair stand on end. Will didn’t need to ask what Luke was referring too, the answer to whatever question he might have was carved into Luke’s face. Luke caught Will’s expression and his look became unreadable.

“I don’t really know what honor is,” Will said quietly. “But my grandfather is always saying it’s important to uphold your own convictions. And to honor your promises.”

“Promises, huh?” Luke said thoughtfully. “Tell me something, Will. You’re new here, and are new to all of this. I want your opinion, what do you think of your dad?”

“My dad’s an idiot,” Will said immediately, the letter in his pocket weighing a thousand pounds. Luke’s laughter cut sharp and sudden and Will immediately scrambled to explain. “Well, my Papa Vernon always goes to all of my baseball games even when they don’t matter you see. And my Mama Florence is like a mind reader she always knows what’s wrong and how to cheer you up. My Ma once drove 12 hours through the night so she could make my birthday. My cousins Annie and Everett are the funnest—I know that isn’t a word—people I know. Those people are my family, and my Daddy didn’t want to be a part of that so he’s an idiot. And if I have siblings, I’m sure they all have families too that anyone would be proud to be a part of but I get to be a part of them so I’m lucky and he’s an idiot and Gods this isn’t making sense I’m sorry.”

“No, that makes a lot of sense,” Luke said, wiping a tear from his eye which had been brought forward by laughter before becoming serious. “Do you hate your dad, Will?”

“It’s hard to hate someone I don’t know and if I began talking about hatin’ people my Grandpapa would be disappointed in me,” Will pointed out. “And I’ve been thinking, he’s a god, right? That means that maybe he doesn’t think like us. He doesn’t understand what we think is important because he’s on some huge scale. It’s not an excuse, but my cousin Everett’s parents are both deployed so he doesn’t see them. And you know, they’re doing an important job like my Daddy probably is. But I’m lucky because my Daddy’s a god so I don’t need to worry about him anymore.”

“You really are a good kid, Solace,” Luke said with a wince and a rueful grin that gave Will a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. His intuition was hardly ever wrong. “No matter who your dad is, he doesn’t deserve you.”

“Luke?” Will asked, trying to keep the depth of his concern out of his voice.

“Don’t worry about it,” Luke said as he gave Will a pat on the shoulder. “If you ever stop feeling that way, you can always come talk to me.”

“Alright,” Will drawled slowly.

“Now come on, I’m sure the Cabin is wondering where we are, and if we don’t hurry the Harpies might try to eat us,” Luke said walking forward.

Will drew back a few steps, and followed him towards Hermes Cabin.

Will slept fine on Thursday night, though he was very sore from his failed attempts on the field with a sword which everyone could easily smack out of his hands. He had even been fine at practice. No, Will began to slightly panic when he was handed actual armor. Seeing his obvious distress, Cecil dragged over Michael Yew whose usually hardened expression softened as he saw Will fumbling with shaking fingers.

“Hey, Solace, relax a bit,” Michael said as he walked over to help with a clasp. Michael immediately took stock of the bow he was holding and immediately grabbed a different one that Will knew fit his hand better. “No sword?”

“I’m horrible with a sword,” Will explained as he tried to shake out his nerves. “I’m only any good with the bow.”

“Don’t let any muscle head tell you that’s something to be ashamed about,” Michael said firmly before glaring not at him but generally as if the idea insulted him. “I’ll punch them into next week for you. You’re coming with me. We’re putting the archers on defense and you’ll hang with us.”

“Thank you,” Will said gratefully before looking towards Cecil who was holding a sword and a bag which looked full of balls that Will knew from experience were definitely not just that. After all, if the colorful green smudge on his face, his wicked grin, and the reapplied camouflage bandaids on his knees were any indication then Cecil was ready to do what he did best: mess things up.

“Going on defense?” Cecil asked him, and when Will nodded he smiled. “Good. If you get the opportunity, give Ellis a good thrashing for me if he comes this way.”

“Thanks, save some of Clarisse for the rest of the cabin,” Will said, as they both bumped fists.

The forest was divided evenly into West and East, with Hermes-led side taking West and Ares-led side taking East. By the time the horn was sounded by Chiron to signal the beginning of the game, Will was perched up in the trees with the other defensive Apollo archers. Lee Fletcher who was leading the offensive archers, gave Will a few encouraging words, before joining Luke and the large swath of Hermes Cabin. The strategy was decidedly un-strategic, mostly because as Cecil had explained Ares and Athena were blood thirsty together and could set any number of nasty traps. So offense archers acted as scouts to spot traps while a main force went in head-on, attempting to dare the hot-headed Ares into a full-on brawl.

And so Will hung back with those guarding the flag. Distantly, he heard fighting, but stayed perched until Ellen hopped across branches with the grace of a dancer.

“I see two smaller teams converging on our location,” Ellen explained, “they must have snuck past the main force. The larger force is being led by Malcolm.”

“Tell Hermes to cut off the one coming in from their side and tell them to throw everything they’ve got at them, get them flustered. We’re meeting the other group as long as we have the element of surprise,” Michael said firmly. “Apollo Cabin, fall in!”

The three Apollo kids who were with him jumped over. Will hung back and Michael looked at Will before he blinked and an odd look seized him. It was as if he had forgotten that Will didn’t belong to his tight knit click of siblings for a moment.

“Will, you’re coming with us, aren’t you?” Michael asked, sounding as confused as Will felt.

“Yeah, yeah I am,” Will said, gripping his bow.

“Good, I don’t want to leave you with the peanut gallery,” Michael said with a jerk of his thumb towards the Hermes kids who were heading off with Chris Hernandez.

They crept, keeping towards the high ground. All of the siblings fell into step like a pack well-trained coonhounds as they followed Michael, and Will did all he could to keep from tripping over his feet. He didn’t have Michael Yew or Lee Fletcher’s almost super-human stillness and dancer-like steps, but he was finding it oddly easy to do a good impersonation.

And then they stopped, and as soon as they did Will saw why: Henry leading five campers, and dragging another one. Michael’s arrow as well as the other Apollo kids’ arrows were already slung and aimed, and Will did his best to catch up.

“Hey! Michael, Chris! Guess who I have?” Henry called as he hoisted up a squirming camper by the back of his shirt, and the other Apollo cabin kids groaned as Cecil kicked and squirmed.

“You’ll never get me to talk!” Cecil cried out as he kicked feebly, favoring one arm. “Viva la Resistance!”

“No one’s interrogating you, Markowitz, but I would be happy to shut you up,” Henry growled at him. “If any of you cowards try to shoot, Markowitz will be getting a few inches off—“

Henry didn’t finish his sentence because Michael stuck his fingers in his mouth and whistled so loud that all the Ares kids and what looked to be Dionysus kids and Demeter kids dropped.

“EVASIVE MANUEVERS!” Cecil suddenly screamed shrilly as he dove out of the way and grabbed his bag.

“MARKOWITZ SERIOUSLY DO NOT MAKE ME REGRET NOT SHOOTING YOU!” Michael shouted back as he and the other Apollo kids began peppering the small party with arrows. Will shot a few arrows, having varying levels of success but after seeing one of Dionysus Twins moving a tree Will slid down the ridge and nearly ran into Cecil.

“Solace!” Cecil said before he gasped, “Holy Hera—duck!”

Cecil tackled him out of the way of a very angry looking oak tree which had begun peppering them with projectile acorns. Cecil handed him a ball from his bag and Will threw it without even thinking about what was in his hand. Suddenly a bomb of pink glitter went off, and the Dionysus kid went down groaning as he tripped over one of the moving tree roots he had summoned looking like he had just escaped a rave.

“How did you know where he was that was awesome?!” Cecil asked suddenly.

“I didn’t my arm just moved!” Will said back giddily, adrenalin kicking in his veins.

“SOLACE, MARKOWITZ!” Henry roared.

“You pepper him and draw him left, I have an idea!” Cecil cried, he was still pale, and favoring his arm, but the motivation in his eyes made Will hold back any of his concerns.

“Is it stupid and might get you more hurt?” Will immediately asked as Cecil shoved more glitter bombs into his hands.

“Yes! Totally!” Cecil said with a manic grin as he nearly disappeared into the shadows with the quiet of any thief worth his salt.

“You better be right!” Will said as he did what he could and threw the glitter bomb, knocking the helmet off of Henry. Henry was bright red with rage as he charged after Will like a raging bull, but thankfully Will had real life experience with farm animals and was able to dive out of his way. The second glitter bomb Henry deflected off of his shield, the third that exploded on his chest did nothing but cause him to charge left.

Will jumped, and Cecil pulled taunt a rope. Suddenly Henry cried out as he pitched down a hill clanging and swearing the rest of the way, and the rest of the kids were backed together—

A horn blew, signaling the end. By the time everyone cleared out of the forest, Luke was holding the other team’s flag high. Michael Yew gave Will a clap on the back, and Will turned just in time to see Cecil leaning against a tree looking sick.

“Get Lee or Chiron,” one of the other Hermes campers said quickly as Will immediately sat next to him.

“We totally did it,” Cecil said with a weak but happy grin as Henry burst past the clearing, limping and brushing off the kids who tried to approach. “I totally call painting Ares Cabin Baby Boy Blue with yellow duckies.”

“And you totally smashed your arm, what happened?”

“I got a body-full of Clarisse’s shield. Not pretty,” Cecil laughed but winced. “My ribs don’t feel so good either.”

“Cecil, give me your hand,” Will said, holding out his own.


“Listen I…I’ve done this like twice before, and both times I kind of did it without thinking. But I think I can help,” Will promised. “Trust me?”

Cecil nodded resolutely and gave Will his hand.

Will took a breath. Before the gold-magic had just come out of him, but now there was nothing but a vague warmth glowing in his chest. He tried to think back. Both times he had been panicked, desperate to save both the horse who had broken its leg and was fated to die, or save his cousin who had been bleeding out as a tornado brought down the house around him. But he had to dig deeper, deeper—

—a white hospital room, the beeping of machines, eyes half dazed in sleep—

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails—“ Papa Vernon’s voice faltered and cracked and for a moment Will could feel his hand tighten around Will’s. “Love never fails. Please oh Lord don’t let it fail…please bring my children back to me…”

Oh Papa, Will wanted to say as tears burned in his eyes. You were right. The answer really was that simple.

Will reached in love to squeeze Papa Vernon’s hand, touch Annie’s fingertips, run over the horse’s muzzle one last time, and press against Cecil’s palm; the wellspring of gold within him answered. The fountain overflowed, gold bubbling and fizzing and singing with the joy of being used to heal. He released a shaky breath as that loving ache escaped his bones traced his veins and pooled into Cecil. It was good; a release of tension, a gentle subsiding of pressure like coming up from a warm bath. It was dripping through that path, soaking into Cecil, following along until it reached resistance. Will gritted his teeth, the warmth beginning to grow hot as he tried to direct the stream which was slowly becoming a flood. It was beginning to stop resisting him—only a little more—

“Someone stop him, he’s burning himself up!” Lee Fletcher’s voice came panicked and distant.

Will let go, unable to bear the burning any longer. Will tumbled backwards, his vision swimming in faded gold which escaped into the air in flecks that floated like dying embers. There was no strength left in his limbs, no gold left within him but a firefly spark, and instead he lay facing the sky with the grace of an abandoned doll. It would be nice to sleep, Will thought absently as he struggled to keep his eyes open.

“Oh Hades, is he going to be alright?!” Cecil asked before suddenly Will felt himself being shaken. “Will, are you okay—“

Cecil shut up, and Will opened his eyes to see a symbol floating above him. It was the symbol of the sun

“Hail, William Solace. Son of the Sun God Apollo,” Chiron announced.

Will might have commented on that fact, if he hadn’t fainted immediately after.

“Welcome to Cabin Seven!” Lee Fletcher announced before suddenly Will was half-mobbed by his apparent half-siblings as he walked through the door of the ridiculous gold cabin. Somehow between Will entering the infirmary for over exerting himself, and getting out of the infirmary the morning after capture the flag, all of Cabin Seven had managed to put together a banner and Ares was sporting a rather nice Baby Boy Blue with yellow duckies and Christmas lights.

“Give me my five drachmas I totally called it,” Michael Yew said as he ruffled Will’s curls with one hand and held his hand out his arm to Lizzie who rolled her eyes and slapped the coins in his hand.

“You guys bet on me?” Will asked confused, looking between the rest of the kids in the cabin.

“You are a cute kid, I guessed Aphrodite,” Lizzie sighed.

“The whole Naomi Solace thing was a total give away though,” Victoria pointed out, giving Lizzie a fond elbow to the side.

“That healing was amazing! I’ve never seen anyone do it without an incantation,” Ellen noted looking impressed.

“I already promised Chiron we would get on that right away,” Lee said with a wide proud smile. “Trust me, you think that you can heal now, Will? Wait until we add some lyrics to that tune. But most importantly, we’ve got activities. Archery before lunch! Will, throw your bag on any open bunk and it’s yours.”

Will was walked with his siblings to the archery field where Lee and Michael began their warm up shots. Hermes Cabin meandered over, and Will looked around to find Cecil. Noting he had taken a spot towards the back, Will walked over to greet him. When Cecil saw Will approaching he looked up, surprised.

“Hey, what’s up?” Will asked him and Cecil kicked a rock.

“Nothing,” Cecil said, and with that being the least amount of words that Cecil had ever said to Will, he immediately knew that wasn’t true.

“Sure doesn’t seem that way,” Will pointed out, and Cecil made a face. “You can tell me, we’re friends.”

“…it was my fault you ended up in the infirmary—“ Cecil tried to say but Will just cut him off.

“Because I wanted to heal you. That wasn’t your fault.”

“And now you’re Claimed, you know. I’m…” Cecil seemed to be struggling with words before he gave up and just let his shoulders fall obviously crestfallen. “You don’t need to feel like you have to hang out with me, you know. I’ve gotten you into enough trouble.”



“Don’t be stupid,” Will pointed out to him. “You wouldn’t be you if you pulled out of the Mythomagic Tournament, and I’m your best shot of having you win your actual human money back. We’re far from through, and I’m nowhere close to being ready to quit.”

“You aren’t?” Cecil asked with a grin fighting to worm itself back on his face.

“I’m not,” Will said firmly.

“Hey Will?”


“You’re the coolest sun kid I know,” Cecil said lifting up his hand.

“That was awful, Markowitz,” Will snorted, giving a bump.

“If you two are done with your heart to heart, it’s time to start shooting arrows into targets,” Luke Castellan called back to them, Chris Hernandez and the Stolls fighting back their grins.

“Let them be cute, it’s adorable,” Lee snickered as Michael rolled his eyes and shot another arrow.

Will gave Cecil a look, and he returned it with a smile, before they joined their siblings together.

”Is it hard to remember all of them…you know, before everything happened?”

Nico’s question was quiet and unassuming as they walked back to the cabins. Kayla had taken up what was probably shaping up to be another uninteresting shift, and Lou Ellen and Cecil had gone to see what snacks they could bribe off the Demeter kids. The left them alone, not like Will minded. And Will knew that Nico would have never asked unless they were alone, which just made Will’s heart squeeze (and he resisted the urge to run full throttle towards the sea and declare for the whole world to hear that he loved Nico di Angelo, only because he knew Nico would definitely not appreciate such PDA.)

“What do you mean?” Will asked, feeling the brisk autumn night nip at his nose. The air felt clean and Will could almost taste the fallen leaves and the tide heavy upon the air.

“I wasn’t here before Percy, so I don’t know…it seems like everything was so peaceful,” Nico said, and Will knew the sound of guilt and could almost hear what Nico left off.

“It was never peaceful at Camp Half-Blood,” Will chuckled before thinking back fondly. “I don’t know…I mean, I miss all of them. Some of them got older and graduated from here, some of them left early to a better place. But you know, I guess I was just grateful I was able to meet them. It made me stronger.”


“I never needed a song to trigger my healing, Nico. Because my trigger has always been my feelings,” Will admitted. “With the more people I care for, the more it grows. It’s stronger now than ever because of a certain special someone.”

“Huh, I wonder why?” Nico said, ducking his head quickly. Will immediately reached over to scoop up his hand in his own, noting the stain of red upon Nico’s cheeks but feeling it unnecessary to point it out. Nico’s hidden blushes were one of Will’s secret pleasures in life, and he would like to keep them all to himself.

“Hmmm, I wonder why as well,” Will chuckled as he squeeze Nico’s fingers in his own, for a moment Will could feel his magic as it meet the coolness of Nico’s hand.

“You are a sap,” Nico commented, not pulling away as Will leaned over to kiss the top of his head.

Will hummed and swung their hands between them, perfectly content with that.

Chapter Text

“I would like to head home for a few days,” Will announced to Chiron suddenly, making Nico nearly choke on his spoon. Everyone in ear shot quieted as Kayla and Austin looked at each other before look at Will as if he had just grown a second head.

“Well, that’s surprising,” Chiron said, probably the understatement of the century. “What brought this on?”

“My grandma fell,” Will said with a heavy sigh. “So, I would like to go back home. Just for a week, to see if there’s anything I can do.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Chiron said, giving Will’s shoulder a pat. “Leave as soon as you feel ready to, I’ll gather some supplies for you.”

As soon as Chiron left the lunch pavilion, Will released a sigh and sat down on a bed in the infirmary. Nico couldn’t help his annoyance which prickled against his skin. Nico immediately grabbed Will by the arm and pulled him into the backroom, closing the door behind him.

“When were you going to tell me about this excursion?” Nico asked Will, the sound of his voice coming out harsher than he wanted.

“When do you tell me about half the stuff you do?” Will asked with a laugh, and Nico felt the tension in his shoulders wash away a singular degree. “A little hypocritical of you, isn’t it? Plus I wanted to get permission from Chiron before I made any plans. I need to make some preparations at the infirmary. Besides, I was going to ask.”

“Ask what?”

“Do you want to come with me back home?”

Nico immediately shoved his hand on Will’s forehead to check for a fever. Will squawked with laughter which just made Nico’s concern even greater. If Will wasn’t sick there was only one explanation, and Nico was half-ready to run and get a Dionysus kid to fix the problem.

“Will, I think you need to sit down,” Nico said very slowly and clearly. All of his concern just seeming to make Will’s determination even greater.

“Nico, you are no fox in the hen house here,” Will reminded him sternly. “Listen, I barely ever go home. Only on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and occasionally the Fourth of July. Seeing my family is important to me, just as important to me as my job here. But with everything going on sometimes I can’t even go home on those days. Things are weird, yes. But quiet. I’m not trying to jinx anything, but at least for a little while I don’t think anything major will happen, and this gives me time to see my family then I’m happy for it even if I am worried for my grandma. I would like for my family to meet you. They’ll all love you, I swear. And besides, aren’t we trying to go for normal as possible here? Isn’t meeting your boyfriends’ parents normal?”

“Well yes—“

“And if you didn’t come with me, don’t you think you’d be even more worried?”

“Okay, yes I would be,” Nico grudgingly admitted.

“So will you come with me? Please, Nico?” Will asked softly, taking his hands and squeezing them. Nico was in trouble then, and he knew it. He had been buried in his own grave. Nico really and honestly couldn’t say no to Will when he was giving him his best puppy dog stare. Nico felt his resolve crumbling and bit his lip in order to maintain his sanity. Maybe Will wasn’t the only one who needed a Dionysus kid to look at him.

“I’ll get Jules-Albert to drive us down,” Nico murmured under his breath. “And we are only staying a couple days, right?”

“Oh Ghost Boy, you ol’charmer you,” Will said exuberantly as he pulled Nico into a bear hug, his lips pressed against the top of his head in an exaggerated kiss.

“You’re an idiot,” Nico told him, muffled in Will’s tee-shirt but he was sure that it still came out fondly.

“But I’m your idiot,” Will told him with a playful mussing of Nico’s curls.

Nico rolled his eyes and pressed up on his tippy-toes, shutting Will’s mouth for him.

“Come on Ghost King, what are you scared of? How could you possibly be afraid of people related to Will? That’s like owning a golden retriever and being afraid of golden labs.”

It was the day that he and Will were leaving for Texas, breakfast time to be more specific. Nico had perched himself on the Apollo table, tucking his knees to his chest and glaring at the runny eggs which seemed to send his bacon floating off to the side. Kayla, obviously picking up on his great mood, made it a point to prop her hand under his chin and speak her mind. Normally Nico appreciated that about Kayla, today he didn’t.

“Damn Kayla, that was poetic,” Austin hummed obviously impressed, tapping out a rhythm with his fingertips on the table.

“I’m not afraid,” Nico muttered under his breath feeling a twinge of annoyance.

“Sure you aren’t,” Kayla nearly dared, and Nico couldn’t stop himself from huffing up like an insulted rooster as his ears went hot.

“Aren’t what?” Will asked good-naturedly. “What’s up guys?”

Will’s voice immediately deflated Nico, and he sat himself properly on the bench. He kept his chin jutted away, and his eyes steered clear of Will’s stupidly pretty eyes and the dumb cute freckles on his face as Will carried both of their duffle bags towards the table even though Nico hadn’t asked Will to get his. Nico wasn’t about to let Will use his looks to his natural advantage in the midst of an interrogation. Will, being as dense as usual, smiled his sweet smile (from what Nico could see out of the corner of his eye, it’s not like he was actually looking).

“I’ll bite, what’s going on with Nico?” Will whispered conspiratorially towards Kayla and Austin.

“He’s nervous about meeting your family,” Kayla told him immediately.

“Traitor,” Nico hissed at her.

“Since when are we on your side?” Kayla asked sticking her tongue out at him.

“Hey Kayla I kind of enjoy having legs and I’m pretty sure you do too, so we’ll just leave you guys to it, have a good trip,” Austin said, before reaching over to grab Will into a hug. Will returned it, same with Kayla. Austin saluted, and then took that very apt moment to grab Kayla by the back of her sweatshirt and nearly pull her away physically.

Will and Nico watched both of them go with varying levels of amusement before Will slid into the bench next to him. Both of their bags were sitting next to Will, where he had grabbed them, and Nico mechanically reached to grab his own.

“Are you ready to go?” Will asked kindly, not bothering to ask him dumb questions they both knew the answer to.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Nico grumbled as he slung his bag over his shoulder, and re-hitched his sword hilt to the chain on his belt. “Do you have your bow and arrows?”

“Packed in the bag, also my med-kit,” Will said as they walked through camp, waving goodbyes. “How about you? Bring your toothbrush? Comb?”

“Yes, mother,” Nico said flatly.

“Don’t you sass me, young man,” Will said with an exaggerated twang.

They made it past Thalia’s tree and onto the road, where Nico whistled for Jules-Albert. Just like always, Jules-Albert rolled up. Except this time in the back seat was Lou Ellen and Cecil waving out the window, and the type of car had Will nearly on the ground laughing as Nico stared in horror.

“Will, I told you to get the car!” Nico nearly cried. “Why would you give my dad’s credit card to Markowitz of all people?!”

“Because it was the best idea ever!” Cecil said excitedly as he popped out, and enveloped the still-laughing Will in a hug before giving Nico a pat on the shoulder and handing back his credit card. “Man, you gotta get me one of those zombie chauffeurs that dude’s awesome.”

“And of course when Cecil sets his mind to something, it’s hard to fight it,” Lou Ellen said as she slid smoothly from the back seat of the black Cadillac CTS which was as luxurious as ridiculous as they came. She gave Will a kiss on the cheek. “Have a good trip now, you lovebirds.”

“Also if your dad gets a charge for three boxes of Girl Scout Cookies from an eight year old named Kelsey, a fifteen-pack of foam pool-noodles, five cases of Monster, a membership to Cat Fancy magazine, and weird herbal potpourri, just let him know that it’s all going to a good cause!” Cecil called back as he pulled Lou Ellen into a near run up the hill.

“I’m going to kill both of them,” Nico hissed as both Lou Ellen and Cecil disappeared beyond Thalia’s tree and into Camp Half-Blood and Will popped open the trunk and loaded in their bags.

“Oh no you won’t, your life would be too boring without them,” Will said as he closed the trunk. Jules-Albert opened the door to the side and Will and Nico slid in.

“Abundance, Texas,” Nico said to Jules-Albert, who began driving.

“You better buckle in,” Will warned him as he slung an arm around Nico. “We’re in for a long ride.”

Nico at some point drifted off, after all, Will was very comfortable and warm and it wasn’t because he enjoyed it for any other reason. The good thing about having a zombie chauffer was that he never needed to take breaks, and appeared to know the way to go without running into much traffic. So by the time Nico stirred from his rest and Will was hungry, they were already outside of Baltimore and just hit the first truck stop they came too. Luckily no monsters bothered them, as was Nico’s vehement hope, except for two Stymphalian Birds who had been pecking at an empty McNugget carton outside a McDonalds in Kentucky who quickly became dusted by a well-placed strike of his sword.

After driving all the day and through the night, by the time morning came once more they were passing through Louisiana and into Texas, and Nico was hit with a wave of anxiety that he had sworn he wouldn’t get. Will, who of course had been awake since dawn, noticed his sudden rigidness and leaned against him.

“Don’t be nervous,” Will soothed, his voice husky from sleep and warm as sunlight, rubbing circles into his back.

“I am not nervous,” Nico said immediately.

“Sure, just know this,” Will said quickly. “My Grandma is going to faun over you and try to feed you so much you gain fifteen pounds. My cousins will both love you. My Aunts and Uncles will be wary but nice because you aren’t from Abundance. My Ma, if she’s there, will be ecstatic. The only one who’s a wild card is Grandpa Vernon.”

The way Will said the name made Nico blink. Will said his Grandfather’s name like one would say, “The Declaration of Independence”, “Free Breadsticks at Olive Garden”, or “Lord Hades”. There was a sort of hallow resonance and respect there that was almost feasible, and that just made Nico break out into a cold sweat.

“Do you think he’ll…you know, dislike me?” Nico asked worriedly.

“It’s not really that, how do I explain this?” Will asked, palming the back of his neck. “Grandpa Vernon knows I’m dating you, I just imagine that you coming to Abundance and being real will be a little odd. Also, you know, since he’s the pastor of our congregation I don’t really know how he’ll take the ‘son of Hades thing’, since he thinks all demigods are Nephilim I’m sort of concerned he might think you are the literal son of Satan.”

“You grandfather is a pastor?!” Nico gasped. “Why didn’t you tell me?!”

“Why does it matter so much—whoa hold up, I feel like you are getting weirdly upset at the wrong part of what I just said, Nico,” Will pointed out.

“Won’t your grandfather be…you know…about us being—“

“Boyfriends? No he’s fine with that, I promise. I’m just worried that he’ll…you know, not be okay about the son of Hades part.”

“Oh, I’m not worried about that,” Nico said with a roll of his eyes. “Come on, what could your grandpa do about that?”

“Nico, never underestimate my grandfather,” Will said warningly. “He fought off a cyclops that was trying to eat me when he was fifty-five, knows the DA, is a card carrying member of the NRA, and is always packing bible verses. I honestly think he can do anything he puts his mind too.”

“He fought a cyclops?” Nico asked incredulously.

“Like I said, Vernon Solace can do anything. So just, maybe when we’re in Abundance try to lay off the summoning zombies and stuff unless it’s absolutely necessary. I mean, my family should know everything about you, but keeping it toned down is probably vital.”

“Trust me, I’ll try,” Nico said with utter certainty. Honestly, the last thing he wanted to do was freak Will’s family out. But unfortunately, Nico had a tendency to unnerve most mortals (and demi-gods) by just his mere presence. Most people (beside infuriatingly sweet sons of Apollo who were too damn sunny to notice anything) could almost sense the death on him and shied away. However he had a feeling that if he tried to explain that to Will he wouldn’t take it as anything besides Nico’s self-depreciating nature. Not that Nico didn’t have one of those, but he was absolutely sure from his experience of life thus far that he certainly hadn’t been imagining how people reacted to him naturally due to some self-esteem issues for the past however many years.

It also didn’t help as Will broke out into a wide smile at the sight of a sign that said clearly, “Welcome to Abundance”. At that point, Nico had half a mind to ask Jules-Albert to pull over so he could throw up. The only thing that kept him from doing so was his pride (as throwing up outside a town’s sign hardly was a good impression).

Will directed Jules-Albert through Abundance, and Nico was immediately struck with how little there was to it. There was a church, gas station, a line of shops along the main road, a post office, what looked to be a government building, and a school. People seemed to be out and about, but no matter what they were doing they looked towards the car which was extremely odd. But maybe that’s just how the car looked to them, it was breaking whatever routine there was in this town.

Thankfully they pulled off the main drag quickly. Suddenly they were crunching through dust and gravel, and in the shade of trees. They turned down a fork in the road, and for what seemed like an eternity and a moment there were nothing but pines and canopy, until it finally opened up. On top of a hill was an estate, like one of those homes that a person sees in one of those terrible Gone With The Wind styled movies. Annabeth would have loved to come see it, Nico thought dryly. It was a gorgeous federal styled plantation manor, with white columns and sides, wide bay windows, French doors, shaded verandas, and a brown roof with a chimney popped out.

“What does your family do again?” Nico asked wryly as Jules-Albert pulled up the hill.

“What do you mean?” Will asked with a confused crinkle of brow and blank blink.

“I mean…your palace of a house,” Nico said awkwardly, as the car stopped. As Nico slid out, stretching his legs, he noticed a few cars in the drive way. He quickly de-summoned Jules-Albert, after making sure he hadn’t blocked any of the cars.

“Oh, the house has been in the family since pre-Civil War,” Will said with a dismissive shrug.


Ohmigoodness Will!”

“Annie, wait up!”

Nico watched as suddenly Will was tackled. Will’s laughter immediately cut Nico’s first instinct (which was to possibly to fight off any threat), as he spun the girl who was in his arms before placing her down. The boy who jogged behind her, tall and somewhat imposing, caught up and immediately grasped Will’s hand and pulled him into a bear hug of his own. They were both dark haired, with eyes varying shades of blue. They were both obviously dressed to work, in muddy jeans and boots. But it was the fact that they both had Will’s smile that clued him in that this was the infamous Annie and Everett, Will’s cousins.

“Why didn’t you say you were comin’ down, Will?” Annie demanded not sounding angry at all, nearly bouncing on her heels like an excited child.

“Well, Mama asked so here I am,” Will said with a grand gesture. “How’s she doing?”

“Oh Mama’s fine, you’ll see,” Everett said, slowly and softly, fixing his cowboy hat which had been knocked slightly askew. Everett squinted at Nico, who suddenly was wrenched from his onlooker position by the attention of Everett’s thoughtful gaze. “Who’s this?”

“Everett, don’t be rhetorical,” Annie twanged the word “rhetorical” like she was plucking a guitar, and before Will got a word in edgewise. “You’re Nico aren’t you?”

“Yeah, I’m Nico,” Nico said awkwardly and flatly despite his best efforts, trying his best to smile but feeling it physically pulling at his face. Annie immediately ignored the obvious oddness of his expression and grasped his hands and began shaking them nearly violently.

“Oh Will you shoulda told us your boyfriend was such a cee-utie, look at him!” Annie said with a brilliant smile that was bright and honest and fit her heart shaped face like it was meant to be there.

“Annie, you’re half-tearin’ his arms off,” Everett reminded with an amused chuckle and a pat of his shoulder. “It’s nice to finally meet you Nico.”

Yes, Nico thought, these two were certainly related to Will.

“It’s nice to meet you too,” Nico said honestly.

“We might want to get to the house before Papa and Mama wonder what’s going on,” Will said with a smile. “We’ll see you there?”

“Just as soon as we finish cleaning out the chicken coop,” Everett said as if reminding Annie, who made a face before waving. Both of them disappeared back behind the house, and Nico was left exhaling a breath he hadn’t even known he was holding.

“See? I told you,” Will said with a teasing knock of his shoulder against Nico’s.

“Don’t pat yourself on the back yet, you haven’t given me the opportunity to royally wreck everything,” Nico warned him.

“Sweetums you are especially cheery today,” Will said before motioning forward, and Nico rolled his eyes so hard he might have given himself a concussion.

“Oh yes, there is no reason why I might be on edge,” Nico said back with a bite.

“You are always on edge, Lord Edgy McMy-Chemical-Romance,” Will pointed out, before cackling at Nico’s affronted expression. They climbed the porch, before Will knocked on the door-knocker. For a moment Nico watched Will’s expression cloud, before something determined blossomed in his eyes. And perhaps that was one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen.

The door opened, to reveal a middle aged woman whose gaze softened as she saw who was behind the door.

“Will, oh my—“ she said before reaching to envelope Will in a hug.

“Hi Aunt Cecilia,” Will greeted with a smile.

“Hey there, it’s nice to see you! Ma, Daddy, guess whose home?” she called behind her as Will with little regard nearly dragged Nico through the threshold before Nico could even think about trying to get away.

“Oh, my good gracious—!”

The exclamation came out like a force of nature from an old woman who stood in the door way of the beautiful kitchen. She wore a sundress and a cardigan, her grey hair was pulled back into a bun, and she held her heart as if she were about to pass out from sheer joy. She looked great for someone who had been injured. In fact, the only thing wrong with her was the brace on her wrist. She reached for Will like he was offering a miracle by just existing and the way she peppered his face with kisses made Nico feel like he was intruding.

“Mama, I thought—“ Will broke off before pulling away slightly and looking at his grandmother suspiciously and searching her for injuries. “Papa said you were hurt.”

“Oh yes I was, very much so,” his grandmother said with a slight twinkle of mischief in her eye as she held up her braced wrist. “A fractured wrist is quite the hassle, dear.”

“Mama I was really worried about you,” Will half-groaned.

“William Elijah Solace, don’t you dare give me attitude, a white lie never hurt anyone,” his grandmother chided from a place of sweet love.

“I’ll take care of it later, Mama,” Will promised, giving her forehead a kiss. His grandmother just swatted at him playfully.

“Now, now. No need for you to do that,” his grandmother promised. “Just you being here is enough, and with company no less!”

“Uh—hi?” Nico said, obviously so smooth that everyone was surely amazed by his superior social skills.

“Mama, let me introduce you to the infamous Nico di Angelo,” Will said motioning towards Nico with a fond look, but Nico felt like he was being offered to a lion. “Nico, meet my grandmother Florence Solace.”

“And you didn’t even think to call beforehand,” his grandmother said, wiping off her hands upon her sundress and giving Will a look at wasn’t critical as much as fond. “Where did your manners go? And I didn’t even clean up the house at all!”

“Mama, you know how phones are with me,” Will reminded her. His grandmother just shook her head at him, before approaching Nico. For a moment Nico thought he was going to pass out, his heart was pounding in his chest, and he could feel himself itching for whatever escape route was closest. He wasn’t sure what he was mentally preparing for, but Will’s grandmother’s gentle touch quieted it. She was what grandmas were really supposed to be, smelling of floral perfume and vanilla extract, with soft hands, and a warm smile.

“It is so nice to meet you, Nico,” Grandma Florence said gently, looking at him like he was the most important thing in the world. “Thank you for looking out for Will.”

“No problem,” Nico said before trying to manage a smile that felt strangely wobbly. “Thank you for the cookies by the way, they were wonderful.”

“Will told me you liked them, I’m so glad he wasn’t just saving my ego,” Grandma Florence laughed like warm summer days and the breeze through flower gardens. Suddenly her eyes widened and she began to rub Nico’s hands worriedly between her own, only fueling his anxiety about his death-ness oozing out. “Oh goodness, your hands are so cold, dear. And are they feeding you right at that camp of yours? Skin and bones, skin and bones!”

“I’m sorry, it’s just me,” Nico tried to explain, as he pulled his hands away but Grandma Florence wasn’t having it.

“Nonsense, I’ll get you warmed up and fed in no time,” Grandma Florence tutted. At this point Nico was sure his eyebrow was twitching. Apparently being heartbreakingly sweet was something Will had inherited. “You know what they say, cold hands warm heart.”

“I’m not really sure that will help, really I’m sort of always like this—“

A back door opened and his words died in his mouth.

The whole house went quiet. Will’s Aunt and Uncle stood in the kitchen, while Will’s cousins seemingly slipped in behind the gentleman who walked through the door. He was dressed like a clergyman in the black shirt and pants and shiny shoes, and Nico felt like he was about to faint. For a moment the man seemed to be taken aback before crossing the room in a few strides and grabbing Will into a hug which Will returned.

“Now this is quite a surprise, were you aiming to give me a heart attack, son?” He asked as he pulled away and gave Will’s shoulder’s a few pats.

“I was the one who almost had a heart attack, Papa! The way you wrote that letter made me think Mama was on death’s door!” Will groaned and his grandfather rolled his eyes.

“Well excuse me for not sugar-coating it, but I’m glad you came home even if it’s for a little while. A few days I suppose,” he asked Will suspiciously.

“I can’t stay away from the infirmary too long,” Will seemed to remind him. Finally the man turned towards Nico, and Nico took him in fully for the first time. He exuded a quiet, unassuming, determined authority. With close cropped grey hair, and blue-grey eyes settled in a face that seemed drawn towards seriousness. Nico got the feeling that this was the man in charge of this household, and everyone else was in deference to him.

“You must be the boy who’s going out with my grandson,” he said not sounding angry or uncomfortable, but rather seeming to be dissecting Nico by the moment.

“I’m Nico di Angelo,” Nico said, sticking out his hand. Pastor Solace’s grip was firm, steady, and warm.

“I’ve heard a lot about you. I’m Pastor Vernon Solace. Allow me to welcome you to Solace Manor, and to Abundance. It may not be much, but it is ours to share with you for as long as you are here.”

“You own Abundance?” Nico asked dumbly.

Suddenly any tension in the room broke with the outburst of laughter that came from every corner of the room. Will was physically hiding his laughter behind his hand, and Pastor Solace’s eyes were glinting with amusement. The message was clear in that twinkle and the way the family reacted: yes, just as the Underworld was Hades’ domain, Abundance was Pastor Solace’s.

“Why, I don’t know where you got that idea from,” Pastor Solace drawled congenially.

“Oh yeah, I really wonder why,” Will said, sitting at a chair at the kitchen table lazily, swinging his long legs over the sides and resting his head on the backrest. Pastor Solace gave Will and affectionate swat, and Will sat properly.

“And to both of you,” Pastor Solace said clearing his throat before swearing with a deadly serious look in his eyes, “if anyone even looks at you funny, you let me know, and mercy ain’t the only thing they’ll be beggin’ for tomorrow.”

“Saturday?” Nico inquired. “What’s going on tomorrow?”

“Southern Baptists go to church on Saturday and Sunday,” Will translated.

”Oh, really?” Nico asked curiously.

“Will you two be coming, dear? I’m sure the whole town would like to see you,” Grandma Florence said cautiously.

“I’ll go,” Will said before turning to Nico. “What about you? You don’t have to.”

“I haven’t been to church since I was a kid, it’ll be nice to go I think,” Nico said with a shrug before looking towards Pastor Solace. “I have to ask you something though.”

“Of course,” Pastor Solace said.

“May I have your permission to date your grandson?” Nico asked very seriously.

“Nico, what—“ Will have squawked before Nico gave him a rueful look.

“Sorry I just, I have to do this,” Nico admitted before standing in front of Pastor Solace. “I know I should have asked before…well, I’m not really sure how things work here. Or now. But since you are Will’s family, I just want it to be clear that I, Nico di Angelo son of Hades, want permission to date your grandson and that even though our relationship isn’t conventional I will do everything in my power to make him happy.”

For a moment the entire Solace family was very quiet before suddenly Will’s Uncle slapped Will on the back hard.

“Thank goodness, and here we all were thinking that you were going through a rebellious phase,” Uncle Jeff chuckled heartily.

“Wait, why?” Will asked just as confused as Nico was.

“Your boyfriend dresses like one of them goth kids,” Aunt Cecilia admitted. “You know, Annie went through a phase like that with that belly ring of hers so we were all a little worried. But it seems like we have nothing to worry about.”

“You are an upstanding young man aren’t you?” Pastor Solace said, rubbing his chin. “Son of Hades, hm. Well, it don’t matter much to me. You’ve done proved yourself a good man, Nico di Angelo. It takes courage to be a respectful young man in this world, and that’s all I want for my grandson. Be good to him.”

“I will.”

“Oh, and just so you know,” Pastor Solace said squinting at them, “this here is my house. And I’ll have no funny business in my house. Florence will make you a separate room, and I expect you to stay in that room otherwise I will shoot you.”

“Yes, sir!” Nico said very hastily before sitting next to Will. Will just laughed.

“Aw, he likes you. If he didn’t like you he would have threaten to shoot you when you walked into the house,” Will pointed out with a conspiratorial whisper.

“That’s a weird family tradition you have there,” Nico said flatly.

“I’m about all fired up now,” Grandma Florence said rolling up her sleeves. “And here I thought we was goin’ to have a nice little dinner, but I’m ready to make a feast. Will and Nico, dears, would you grab the bag of sweet potatoes? But be careful, it’s a bit heavy—I’m going to need some help mashing them with my wrist being what it is.”

And just like that it seemed that Nico was adopted.

Nico stuck to Will’s shadow so close that he could have easily slipped into it as they walked down the street.

“Stop looking like a monster is going to hope out at any second, they won’t, we’re just going to see my Great Aunts.”

“As far you know,” Nico hissed, tucking in still behind him because obviously he wasn’t hiding from the rest of Will’s extended family.

Will’s three Great Aunts were his Grandfather’s older cousins, but as Will explained, everyone just called them The Sisters or The Aunts. All three were nearing a hundred, lived together after running through about three husbands each that they had collectively lived past (which made Nico feel oddly better since he wasn’t the oldest person around here at least), and seemed to exist on out of pecan-pie-covered-spite for any Comcast representative who dared to change their TV settings. When Will knocked on the door, it was jerked open.

“William, oh girls William’s here! Sweetpea, Lillian’s been looking for her glasses all day and we just can’t find them,” the first old lady told him, grabbing his face to give him a kiss.

“Charlotte, stop nagging I’m fine!” Lillian snapped back.

“Yes, fine with my glasses!” The final sister said.

“Oh Susannah stop talkin’ fightin’ words unless you want one!” Lillian said before Susannah shuffled over and snatched her glasses from Lillian’s fingers. Nico quickly interceded, scooping the pair of glasses behind the TV and offering them to Lillian. “Oh my, oh my, what a good lookin’ young man.”

“Have some shame, woman!” Charlotte cackled. “That’s just like Lillian you see.”

“Um,” Nico said awkwardly. The sound of his voice caused the three sisters to pause and look at him more resolutely and with focused attention.

“We’ve come to bring you to church today,” Will said, attempting to shift the focus. His Great-Aunts weren’t having it.

“Are you William’s friend?” Susannah asked as she pushed her stroller forward. Charlotte gave Susannah a well-earned swipe.

“He’s not William’s friend, Vernon said that they’re in a relationship,” Charlotte reminded both the other sisters as if feeling the word “relationship” in her mouth. “Like a boy and a girl are.”

“That we would be,” Will chuckled good-naturedly.

“I’m Nico di Angelo, it’s nice to meet you,” Nico introduced, trying not to feel his nerves build up.

“What kinda last name is that?” Lillian asked, her eyebrow quirking up.

“Italian, I’m from Italy…though I’ve been living in New York for a little while,” Nico explained. The three sisters shared a look, as if Nico being gay was not as concerning as him being an Italian Foreign Yankee.

“And you both met at this camp of yours?” Charlotte asked, looking between them.

“Yes ma’am,” Will twanged with ease before throwing his arm around Nico and giving him a squeeze. “You can say he stole my heart away.”

“You are ridiculous!” Nico scoffed.

“It’s good to meet you then, dear,” Susannah promised. “I’m sure that you’ve been taking care of our Willie—“

“Willie?” Nico asked with a crooked eyebrow and Will had the audacity to grin.

“He has a penchant for getting into trouble,” Charlotte said with her hand on her hip. “Like eating all the Elmer’s glue in the cabinet—”

“—Throwing up on poor Vernon’s Sunday shoes—“ Lillian continued.

“Setting the Christmas tree on fire and blaming it on a dragon-dog—“ Susannah recalled.

“Okay I was five and there were outstanding circumstances,” Will groaned, smacking his forehead and with glee Nico realized that his ears were red. He had never seen Will downright embarrassed, Will tended to go with the flow. But Nico would be cataloging all this for a later date.

“Speaking of dogs! Actually, Willie, we’ve got a favor to ask,” Susannah said as she looked troubled. “We’ve lost Lee!”

“Who’s Lee?” Will asked sounding very confused.

“This sweet, sweet puppy that we found all abandoned after coming home from bingo. He ran off into the woods chasing after something and we haven’t been able to find him since then,” Susannah explained as Charlotte wiped her eyes with an embroidered handkerchief.

“Does Papa know?” Will asked suspiciously.

“Oh you know how Vernon is!” Charlotte muttered under her breath.

“So you got a dog without telling Papa or anyone else,” Will said with his arms crossed over his chest. “Did you even take him to the vet?”

“He was so sweet and tired, and after he had some bacon he perked right up! Was doing good work around the house too! He chased out the raccoons from the bin!” Lillian explained.

“Okay so you didn’t,” Will translated as he pinched the bridge of his nose. “Well, we still need to find the dog, it might belong to someone. If we find the dog we are taking it to the vet.”

“He’ll be wearin’ a red collar,” Susannah explained as she grabbed her purse.

“Alright, let’s go so we aren’t late,” Will said, offering his arm to Nico. “Shall we?”

Nico rolled his eyes and took it, this time walking besides Will.

Nico was so stuffed after dinner that he wasn’t sure he would be able to move for approximately five years. He was sure that buttermilk chicken and gravy and mashed potatoes would be coming out of his ears if he turned himself sideways.

He took a moment to duck out of the house and send an iris message to Hazel with the hose on the side of the house, thankful that she could spend a few minutes chatting before returning to her duties. Afterwards he found himself sitting on the top of the stairs, noticing how full Will’s house was. His whole family was there, they were crazy but they were warm and friendly and just like Will. He felt stupid for being afraid of meeting them, but he was still afraid. Afraid because he didn’t have the same to offer to Will.

He was so enthralled with his thoughts that he didn’t notice the door open until the creak sent Nico’s battle ready instincts in high gear. His hand went to the sword on his hip, before he saw Pastor Vernon coming outside.

“Want a coke?” Pastor Solace asked, offering him a can. Nico took it gingerly as he released his grip on the sword at his hip and took the can. “That’s a mighty fine looking sword you got there.”

Nico stared at Pastor Solace, mouth agape.

“You can see it?”

“I can see a little, just a little,” Pastor Solace hummed as he sat down on his rocking chair. “Not as well as my Mama, but I thank God every day I can since it saved my boy from some terrible things. I haven’t needed to do that so much, but I get the feeling you have picked up some of that burden.”

“Not too much,” Nico said shortly.

“I’m not a fool, boy,” Pastor Solace said, giving Nico a critical look. “I fought in Vietnam.”

Nico stared at Pastor Solace who sighed and rocked on the rocking chair thoughtfully. Nico tried to swallow the dryness of his throat.

“I’m sorry I…”

“I’m just saying, I can at least appreciate what you and my grandson have been through. I was also a few years older when I went to war, I wasn’t so young. So I can only appreciate just how bad you have had it,” Pastor Solace told him quietly. “I couldn’t protect Will from what I feared the most, but, you have. So, I owe you a great debt, Nico.”

“You don’t, I would do it anyways—“

“All of you who are blessed are someone’s child, someone’s brother or sister, someone’s something. Let me do what I can to repay you,” Pastor Solace told him before his mouth turned up into a smile and his grey-blue eyes softened. “I’m thinking about adding another chair to my porch. What do you think?”

“Thank you,” Nico croaked, trying to work through the tightness in his chest and the burning in his eyes. He tried to breathe through it, as best as he could, and felt a gentle pat on his shoulder as Pastor Vernon sat down next to him.

They didn’t say anything for a while, but just sat there together.

“So are you coming with me or not?” Will asked as he popped his head into Nico’s room. It was midday Sunday, and Will had just changed his clothes back to his usual jeans and tee-shirt (though, Nico could say with some confidence that a proper button up and dress pants suited Will far too well).

“Where are we going?” Nico asked.

“To go find Lee, I put one of the Aunt’s handkerchief’s in the woods to hopefully he’ll have been there,” Will said as he put his hands on his hips.

“Animals don’t like me, I’ll scare him away,” Nico tried to explain.

“Do you really want me going into the woods by myself?”

With that logic in mind, Nico put his boots on and walked with Will down the path into the woods. They found the pinned handkerchief and what looked like dog tracks surrounding the base of the tree.

“Come here Lee!” Will called into the forest. “Come here, puppy!”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Nico said before bending down and touching the earth. He felt the dead beneath him answer his call and stir. Dog, Red Collar, Nico communicated. Nico felt something tugging at his mind a bit to the left. “He’s this way.”

Nico grabbed Will’s hand and began pulling them through the woods. Will’s fingers curled around his, and it felt so comfortable. Will’s warmth, the fresh scent of pine, the warmth of the midday sun that filtered through the canopy.

“Whatcha thinking about?” Will asked curiously, his head tipped back slightly, absorbing the sun that looked radiant in his curls.

“It’s warm here,” Nico answered gruffly.

“Liar,” Will teased, beginning to walk side by side with Nico, swinging their hands between them. “I’m thinking about this too. This is nice.”

“It’s nice,” Nico agreed, feeling his ears heat up.

“I want to kiss you, can I kiss you?” Will asked curiously. Nico’s ears heated up even more.

“I thought we were looking for the dog.”

“We can multitask,” Will pointed out.

“I’m not sure those are things we can do together.”

“Is that a challenge I hear?” Will laughed, his voice sound so light and free.

Nico stopped and pressed up on balls of his feet, Will leaned down only slightly. Their mouths slanted together, and warmth soaked into Nico’s mouth. He curled his fingers around the back of Will’s neck, Will’s arm hugged Nico’s center. Nico had to agree with Will, Nico thought absently as Will eagerly kissed him, this was nice. It was so nice, that Nico didn’t want it to end—

“Did you hear that,” Will asked as he pulled away and leaned back.

“What?” Nico asked, still feeling like he could have popped or been blown away, his face was still hot, his mouth still felt the phantom pressure of Will’s. But Will’s archery-tuned senses were a step ahead of him.

Nico heard the barking, or rather, the subtle roar. Nico’s hand was on his sword and he was about to draw when suddenly a blur of dark fur the size of a bear burst through the forest. Will yelped and Nico drew, only to see the creature begin to lick all over Will’s face.

“Get it off! Get it off!” Will gasped between his laughter.

“How the heck is that a dog?!” Nico cried as he yanked on the red collar. It looked like an Irish Wolfhound crossed with an actual wolf with a bear. However, on the collar it did say Lee. He had to hold the dog with all of his strength and Will got up, in disarray, and hooked the flimsy looking leash on Lee’s collar.

“The problem is that Lee is actually a she,” Will told Nico as the very happy hell beast barked at the name and tried to jump on Will. Will gave the dog a fond pat on the head. “And my Aunts definitely can’t keep her, she’s way too—“

Suddenly the dog barked so loud that Nico’s ears hurt. Will yelped as suddenly there was a rustle in the bushes and out popped what looked like a fox but it was way too big to be a fox. Lee suddenly took off, with Will and Nico running after them and suddenly Will had a revelation.

“That’s not just any dog, that’s Laelaps!” Will explained as they kept running.

“+50 attack, makes the other play reveal two cards in their hand!” Nico said in returned as they continued to run. “Then the fox is the Teumessian fox, -50 attack and allows you two redraws. If you play them together you can make the other player pass their turn!”

“You are really cute when you are being nerdy!” Will translated and Nico scoffed and his chest ached.

“It’s a dog that will always catch, and a fox that will always escape. Their existence is a paradox! Somehow they must have gotten loose from the sky! We have to get them back or they might tear the town apart!”

“What do we do?”

“In the original myth they got turned to stone!” Nico told him. “If we can get them caught then—“

“On it,” Will said, pulling out his bow from bag and a rope. As he quickly ran he tied two arrow heads with rope and his teeth and cocked his bow sideways. “Be ready to catch them!”

“Wait what—?!”

Will shot the arrows, lining them up between two trees and creating a trip wire of some sort. Both the dog and the fox, running too fast, weren’t able to avoid the rope and fell over it and launched into the air. Nico dropped down pressing his palms against the earth, and the earth responded and snapped both the dog and the fox up.

Will remained standing while Nico sat back on his haunches.

“I need to call my dad now, so, you know, he can take care of this,” Nico pointed out to Will. Will burst out laughing before kneeling down to the ground and kissing Nico again.

Their kisses were all laughter and warmth and everything he ever wanted.

“Oh it was so nice to meet you, and thank you for helping Lee, I’m so happy he was able to find his way back home,” Aunt Charlotte said as all the sisters wiped their eyes.

“Yeah, sure,” Nico said as he awkwardly cleared his throat. “Sh-he’s found his way back home.”

All of Will’s family turned out to say good bye, and Nico got more hugs within a short time than Nico could ever remember. However, an extra moment was given to Will’s grandma and grandpa, who lingered.

“Are you sure you don’t need anything? Food? Blankets? Pillows?” Grandma Florence asked Will, holding his face in her hands and searching as if trying to memorize his features.

“We’re fine, Mama. I’ll miss you,” Will told his grandmother.

“You can always come back, always,” Mama Florence told him, before whisping something in his ear and squeezing him in a hug which Will returned with equal force (Nico noted, of course, the lack of brace on her arm). She approached Nico, smoothing out his hair to his surprise. “You too, Nico. You are always welcome here.”

“Thank you,” Nico said honestly.

“Bring him back for Thanksgiving,” Mama Florence said sternly.

“Alright, Mama,” Will laughed, before Pastor Solace pulled Will into a tight hug as well. They held a look that was private between them that seemingly said all that it needed to.

“I love you, Papa,” Will said quietly.

“I love you too,” Pastor Solace said, before offering his hand to Nico. “Don’t be a stranger now.”

“Thank you for everything, Pastor Solace,” Nico said as he met Pastor Solace’s gaze.

“Call me Vernon, I ain’t your pastor,” he said with a chuckle as he patted Nico’s shoulder, he couldn’t help but feel his lips pull up in a smile.

They loaded up into the car, with Jules-Albert driving them out of Abundance. Will was quiet, and Nico just leaned close.

“Thanks,” Will finally said.

“I had a good time,” Nico told him.

“Yeah, me too,” Will said, his eyes soft and longing.

Nico leaned himself against Will’s side as the sign faded out of sight, content and full, if only for that moment together. In the end, it was these little moments that all added up.