“So, um, what am I doing here?” Nico asked hesitantly, sitting on a bed in the infirmary.
“Resting,” Will Solace replied, cutting bandages to a uniform length. Nico shifted uncomfortably.
“Right...” Nico replied. “But I’m not tired.”
“But you are weak.”
He shrugged. “I don’t see how sitting on a bed is going to help, but I guess you’re the doctor.”
“I am,” he agreed. He stacked the gauze on a tray next to a scalpel and some other nasty looking tools. He gave Nico a sidelong glance. “Though, I guess if you’re not tired... You squeamish?”
Nico snorted. “I have a zombie chauffeur. What do you think?”
“Great. You can make yourself useful,” Will replied, picking up the tray. “Let’s go.”
Nico hopped off the bed and followed Will down the corridor, wiping his sweaty palms on his jeans. Why were his hands shaking? He took a deep breath and told himself to pull it together. The chances that Will - no, he wasn’t even going to think about it. Nico was just here to help. Doctor’s orders.
They entered a curtained off section of the ward where a girl lay sleeping under anesthesia. A wide gash marred the flesh of her calf, and it was oozing some kind of weird green substance. It didn’t look good. Will surveyed the wound with an impressive calm.
“Who is she?” Nico asked.
“Kerry Bulivar, from the Athena cabin,” he replied, marking something down on a clipboard.
Nico’s mind flashed back to the twinkle in Annabeth’s eyes when he had blurted out the truth to Percy. He could still feel the high five stinging his hand, and Percy’s bewildered face was fresh in his mind. You’re not my type. Nico couldn’t hold back a blush. Will glanced up, and Nico quickly turned away, his ears ringing.
“Disinfectant?” Will asked, holding out a hand as he leaned in to get a closer look.
“What?” Nico replied, blinking.
Will looked up at him. “Pass me the disinfectant?”
“Oh, right.” He handed over the plastic bottle. Will doused a square of gauze in the liquid and dabbed it over the wound. He then straightened and reached into his deep pocket, pulling out a ziplock bag of dried herbs. Squinting to make out the messy scrawl of his writing in black sharpie, Will pulled the bag open. He dropped a pinch of herbs into a nearby stone mortar and pestle and added a splash of water. “Mash that up for me?”
Nico accepted the little stone bowl and got to grinding with a scowl. “Wouldn’t you be better off with an Apollo assistant?”
The corner of Will’s mouth twitched. “What, bored already?”
“N-no, it’s just-”
Will cut him off with a laugh. “Just messing with you. I sent most of my cabin mates off to get some sleep. They’d been up all night.”
Nico frowned. “Did you get any sleep?”
“‘Course.” Breezily, he moved on. “You done?”
Handing him back the bowl, Nico nodded.
“Awesome, thanks.” Will took the paste and spread it on the gash with deft, gentle fingers. Nico watched, idly wondering how many people those hands had saved in the past twenty four hours. Will saved lives, Nico took them. His stomach turned. “Her wound got a little infected, but this ought to do the trick.”
After washing his hands, Will picked up a needle and thread. Holding it up to the light, he jabbed the thread at the tiny eye, but missed. He tried again, moving jerkily, and missed again. He sighed in frustration, blinking hard. “Gods, I’m terrible at threading needles.”
“Let me do it,” Nico offered. Will looked skeptical, but handed him the needle and thread. As he did so, their fingers brushed, and Nico felt a spark that he immediately and forcefully quenched. Narrowing his focus, he got the needle threaded on his first try.
“Nice one,” Will said. “Sewing a hobby of yours?” he teased.
“My sister Bianca used to mend all of my clothes. She taught me,” Nico blurted. What the heck was that? he chided himself. He never talked about his sister, at least not to anyone but maybe Reyna. And he certainly didn’t just offer personal information like that. What was wrong with him? Nico clamped his mouth shut, determined not to say anything else that could potentially compromise him.
“Oh,” was all that Will said, leaning in and shifting his focus to stitching up the broken skin. He worked in silence for a minute or two, and Nico looked determinedly away. “Crap,” Will blurted as the needle slipped and scratched a light, jagged line across Kerry’s leg.
Nico looked over as he continued, and noticed, for the first time, how badly Will’s hand was shaking. He could hardly grasp the needle to pull it through the other side. Nico studied Will’s face, and saw the bags under his eyes that he’d somehow missed before. They may have won the battle, but had taken quite a toll on Will Solace.
“Will,” Nico said, his voice coming out softer and quieter than he’d intended. Will looked up sharply, probably at the change in tone. Nico cleared his throat. “Your hands are shaking. Are you sure you got enough sleep?”
Will went back to stitching. “There’s too much work to be done.” His stitches were getting sloppy. “Besides, who needs sleep when you have coffee?”
Will let out a hollow laugh and tied off the end of the string, snipping it with scissors. He laid the needle down and surveyed his work with a frown. “It’ll do.” Will turned to the tray, wiping off his equipment with a wet wipe before tossing it in the sanitation bin to be cleaned by the harpies. He picked up the tray and turned to the curtain. “Got to set a broken finger next,” Will said.
Without thinking, Nico reached out and grabbed Will’s arm. Remembering his rule about no touching, he let go quickly, but Will had already turned with a questioning look on his face.
“You need sleep,” Nico said, his voice hard. “You can’t run off caffeine and now your work is starting to suffer.” And so are you, he added in his head. “Go get some rest.”
“You’re not,” Nico protested. “If I don’t trust the state of the doctor, I might ignore his orders and leave the infirmary,” he blurted before he could stop himself.
Something flickered over Will’s face. “Wouldn’t want that,” he mumbled vaguely. “Fine. But I’ve got to set this bone or it’ll start to heal improperly.”
“Then go wake one of the other Apollo kids. They’re probably rested by now,” Nico pointed out. He waved towards the door. “Go.”
Will sighed, but set the tray down and walked out. “You’ll send someone to wake me in just a few hours, right?”
“Thanks, Nico,” he said. With a nod, Will disappeared.
“Sure,” Nico repeated to the empty room, feeling something flutter in his stomach when Will said his name. It was a good thing he wasn’t in the infirmary for a case of butterflies, because Will was doing a terrible job at curing those.