It had been a week since the battle, and the camp was finally restoring itself to its usual standard. The Romans, although amazingly efficient, had set up their temporary camp on the edge of the woods, but were having slight issues with their SUVs after Gaia had managed to sink them half into the ground.
Together, the Vulcan and Hephaestus cabins had been digging them out and restoring them to their former mafia-style glory. The only issue was that the Greeks had come up with all of these ideas and add-ons to the cars, just to make things even better. And although the Romans had agreed to ten interchangeable CDs and an upgraded engine to begin with, the time it was taking to install these updates was a little too long for their tastes.
Nico knew that if Leo were around, he would’ve done it all in a couple of hours, and probably integrated the Archimedes sphere into the dashboard as well. But he wasn’t there. He hadn’t been for a week since he managed to blow up Gaia.
Octavian had hurtled towards them, caught on his own weapon, and Nico had been toying with where the blame truly lied. No matter what Will Solace had told him as it happened, as the battle finished, he felt that it rested on his shoulders quite comfortably. It was practically murder, what Nico had let happen – but he wasn’t sure if that was the right term for it. Assisted suicide was probably closer.
Even so, no one had given him a bad word about it, and even though he felt Leo’s death as it happened, he had no idea where he went. Surely, as a son of Hades, he should know where the body ended up – shouldn’t he sense the soul? But no, Leo had entirely disappeared to him, and yet the blame of his death and Octavian’s was on Gaia.
Will and Nico had seen each other more than he was sure he wanted since the battle. The first few days then only glimpses of the Apollo child he’d caught was when Will would be running across the green, in the direction of either the infirmary or the bathroom. And although it had been a week, some injuries were worse than others, and Nico watched as Will jogged from the toilet block in the direction of the injured, stopping momentarily to pull his flip flop back on his foot. Nico hadn’t meant to be watching him, but as Jason and he sat in silence on the steps of the Hades cabin – his new home – he found his eyes trailing after the healer.
Jason’s voice pulled him out of his thoughts.
“Are you ever going to tell him?” He said quietly. For a fleeting second, Nico thought Jason was speaking of Will – who Nico hadn’t made his mind up about yet, let alone told the son of Jupiter about.
“W-wha-?” He stuttered. Jason nodded towards the campfire in the centre of the grounds. There, Percy was sitting with Annabeth and Hazel, while Frank wandered around the fire pit, touching the ashes with the tip of his shoe. Nico’s heart beat slowed and he realised that Jason was talking about his now-dead crush on Percy Jackson, something that had vanished over the last few weeks.
It wasn’t like it had just disappeared into thin air, but instead slowly faded as Nico noticed the flaws he’d looked over when picturing the sea god’s son as a hero. Before, Percy Jackson had no bad parts; he was an all-around great guy. But after the final battle, and especially after his time in Tartarus - Nico had sensed a lot about his time there - he’d realised he wasn’t this perfect guy. Percy Jackson was as average as everyone else in the camp – yes, slightly above average with their godly genes, but he wasn’t their saviour or the absolute best guy in the world. Stand-up guy - yes. Perfect – not by a long shot.
Nico looked from Percy to Jason and shook his head. There wasn’t much of a reason he could think of, but he told his new friend what he was certain about. “There wouldn’t be much to tell him,” Nico said, after what was only a few seconds after he was asked, although it seemed like an eternity. “I don’t feel that way anymore – he’s… he’s a friend.” Jason gazed at him warily, and after discerning him to be telling the truth, nodded silently. A few seconds later, he spoke again.
“What made you change your mind about him?” He asked. Nico paused.
“I don’t know,” Nico replied, not sure if he was telling the truth or not. That was the moment that Hazel caught his eye from the hearth, and beckoned the two of them over. As Jason and Nico headed over, the son of Jupiter looked at him.
“Maybe you should at least tell him where you stand,” he said. He continued before Nico could protest. “I think if I were Percy, and we’d had the history you guys did, I would want to know what you were thinking.” Before Nico could answer, Jason had joined the others and sat down by the unlit hearth. Frank was telling a joke, but Nico only caught the punchline.
“Shredded tweet!” He said, before letting out a short laugh. The others weren’t laughing exactly, they were looking at him with unsure smiles plastered on their faces, and Hazel nodding encouragingly. “What?” Frank asked, oblivious to how bad his joke was. Percy laughed slightly, leaning a little further into Annabeth.
As Nico sat down a couple of feet away, he looked at the two of them. For the first time, he hadn’t felt a pang in his chest. He didn’t feel regret, or a grudging feeling against Annabeth. He felt like they really went well together, and balanced each other out. Nico felt happy for them.
The afternoon dwindled away, and Nico sat with the crew of the Argo II – bar Leo – until the sun was dipping over the horizon and spilling an orange ink into the watery blue sky. Slowly, Piper – who’d joined them only minutes after Frank tried stand-up comedy – and Jason moved off in another direction to Hazel and Frank. Just as Annabeth and Percy got up to leave before dinner, Nico remembered what Jason had told him. I would want to know what you were thinking. Nico swallowed once and acted out on a limb.
“Actually-“ he started, making Percy and Annabeth pause in their attempt to stand up. “Percy, could I talk to you quickly?” Percy glanced at Annabeth for reassurance and she nodded, smiling happily.
“I’ll see you at dinner,” she told him, heading off on her own. Percy sat back down, and faced Nico, looking expectantly at him.
“So what did you want to talk about?” He asked. Nico’s throat had practically dried up and he instantly regretted this decision. Percy just kept looking at him, waiting. Nico opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out, not knowing how to start. Percy nodded awkwardly before speaking. “How about I talk, and then you jump in when you’re ready?”
Nico didn’t have time to reply, because Percy was already going. “Annabeth and I are going to the same high school,” he said easily, smiling at the thought. Nico didn’t feel jealous, he noticed. “Then we’re going to go to Camp Jupiter, go to college, have our happily ever after – you know, like in those fairy tales.” Percy grinned at the thought, but stopped himself. “But instead, we’ll still be kicking monster’s butts while riding off into the sunset!”
“I’m happy for you,” Nico found himself saying. Percy paused and looked at his half cousin. Nico took this as his chance. “I really am. And I hope we can still be friends-“
“Friends?” Percy asked, sitting up. There was a shadow of a smile on his face, and the son god’s son’s green eyes were alight. Nico nodded.
“Don’t you want that?” He asked. Percy laughed.
“Man, I’ve wanted to know where we stand for a few years now. I mean, you were always running away, thinking none of us liked you,” Percy said, not meeting Nico’s eyes. Nico did feel bad, and what Will had told him earlier in the battle field reached him properly. There were people in camp who had tried to be friends with him. He’d just hadn’t let them. “And, I get that you might find it awkward around Annabeth and I – I mean, with your crush on her, and all-“
“What?” Nico asked, sitting upright. Percy’s eyes widened for a second.
“No – I didn’t mean it was bad or anything; just that we knew about it. I’m not angry or anything like that.” Nico felt a smile appear on his face, something he wasn’t so used to.
“I never had a crush on Annabeth,” Nico said, thinking his words through, and realising what the moment was leading to. Percy raised his eyebrows, leaning back with his arms for support.
“No, I had a crush on you.” Percy practically froze, which Nico found amusing.
“On me-“ Percy stuttered. “Wha-“
“But I’m over it now,” Nico said coolly.
“We don’t really suit each other, and I think you and Annabeth are good together.” Percy eyed him warily, making shapes with his mouth and not knowing what to say next. Nico shrugged. “Anyway, I’m going to head off to dinner.” Nico stood up, and nodded towards Percy, before turning and walking away, feeling something heavy being lifted from his shoulders.
It was later at the campfire that it happened. Not just any ‘it’ – but an ‘it’ that would surprise everyone. Nico included.
He headed over to the campfire by himself, walking between small groups who were heading there. Although it was strange for the campfire to already be lit before arrival, no one was complaining about it. On the other side of the fire, the Apollo cabin sat, talking amongst themselves and plucking the strings of their guitars, ukuleles – and Nico thought he also saw a banjo in there.
To his side, he saw Piper, walking alongside Hazel and Frank, recounting a story about the Zeus cabin. “- and there’s this top level with this beautiful view; and it was just like the night on top of the school-“
“The fake memory?” Hazel asked. Piper nodded.
“But so much sweeter, and it was like Jason and I started all over again.” Nico couldn’t help but let out a tiny smile, thinking of Jason and Piper. As much as Jason liked veering the conversation over to Nico’s problems, he spoke often of Piper and his plans for dates, constantly asking for advice from the most romantically illiterate person he could’ve thought of.
Before sitting down on his own near the back, Nico heard someone call him over. He scanned the area for the voice, and found himself meeting the eyes of Will Solace.
Glancing away for a second or so, he made his way over to the Apollo cabin.
“Sit,” Will said, patting the seat next to him.
“I’m not going to sing,” Nico pointed out, still standing. Will just smiled, shuffling along to make space for the Hades child. Reluctantly, Nico sat next to him, and glanced over.
“I haven’t seen much of you this week,” Will said. “No visits to the infirmary-“
“We spoke about this a couple days ago,” Nico told him. Will smiled.
“Yet you still haven’t paid me a visit.” Nico shrugged, looking away and to the fire, which, unlike other days, didn’t seem to be reflecting the campers’ moods at all. It stayed a simple, four foot high fire.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to want me in a hospital,” Nico mentioned. “I seem to attract death. I’ll probably kill your patients quicker.” Will let out a small laugh and Nico glanced at him.
“Well we won’t know until you give me a visit, will we?” Nico shook his head, smiling slightly. Soon, the area was covered in demigods, Greek and Roman alike. Before the campfire started, Chiron addressed the crowd, in his full centaur glory.
“Tonight is the last night the Romans will be with us. Tomorrow they’ll be making the journey back to California to rebuild Camp Jupiter.” Reyna stood, and Nico noticed Frank sitting, watching her carefully, as if trying to glean leadership skills from her public address. He also noticed Hazel next to him, holding his hand and smiling. Even though he was focusing on Reyna, he inwardly smiled for them, still managing to keep things together and even managing to express mild PDA – which Hazel seemed to be against.
“We would like to thank you, Camp Half-Blood, for your hospitality during this time. That thanks does not so much extend to the Hephaestus cabin, who although have given us the capability to switch between ten different CDs on the ride home, have also trashed two of our cars and left them as rubble.” A wave of low laughter spread throughout the demigods, but Nico was just reminded that Leo could’ve done the job single-handedly, and probably would’ve only caused one explosion (although probably one that would’ve taken out the woods as well). “As we go back tomorrow, we will remember you all, and will be visiting often to absolutely crush you all at Capture the Flag.” Another wave of laughter spread. Nico found himself half joining in. “Now, without further ado – let’s have a campfire!”
A cheer raised, but Nico noticed the fire not following the emotion of the crowd. It flickered in the centre of the demigods, but did not change colour, nor size. Nico didn’t know if this was just a new thing for the fire – he had been away for a long time – or if something was seriously wrong.
The Apollo cabin started up their music, strumming on their instruments and singing “Ten Evil Monsters” to the tune of “Ten Green Bottles”. Nico didn’t join in, as promised, just listened to the half-blood sing and laugh, and watched the fire stay the same. He could hear Will Solace’s voice clearly in his ear and acknowledged for the first real time that Apollo had passed down some other talents than just healing. In comparison, Nico thought, he sounded like a dying cat when he sang.
The ‘it’ happened when the group reached three evil monsters. “-Three evil monsters fighting for Gaia, and if one evil monster should get stabbed in the chest, there’d be-“ The campfire rose into a pillar of flame, shooting at least thirty foot into the air. Nico felt the heat pulsating against his face as he jumped away from the flames. He noticed Will Solace standing half in front of him, either as protection, or a misaimed jump.
From the fire, an evil laugh resonated. But it wasn’t so much menacing as it was… laughable?
“MWA HA HA HA HAA!” The voice said, and a shadow appeared in the fire, of a ten foot man, his hands out in front of him, pointing towards the sky as he laughed. The fire rose and grew hotter, but the laugh became less evil and more funny. Then, out of nowhere, the campfire shrunk to thirty centimetres high, and there, in the middle of the fire pit, stood a half cooked Leo Valdez, grinning from ear to ear.
“You should’ve seen your faces!” He laughed, stepping over the flame and out of the pit. “You guys were so scared!” Leo slapped his knee and grinned round at everybody. “What, did you think I was Gaia, coming to take revenge?” The rest of the camps were in stark silence, gaping at now-alive Leo Valdez, and Nico felt that he was very much alive. Out of the crowd, ran Piper, who tackled him in a hug, and almost pushed them back into the fire. She kissed his cheek before pulling away from him and glaring.
“Where have you been?!” She yelled, but she was drowned out by the rest of the crew from the Argo II running forwards and pulling Leo into a group hug.
“Hang on!” Leo cried from in the middle of the crowd. “There’s enough Super-Sized Mc Shizzle Man to go around!” There was cheering coming from the crowd, and Nico could barely hear Will’s voice, even when the Apollo child spoke right into his ear.
“Didn’t he die?” Nico heard Will ask. Nico nodded, staring at Leo in wonder.
“He did die. I felt it. And there would’ve been no one around to administer the Physicians Cure.” Nico thought carefully, looking to Will and back to Leo again. Hazel and Frank had told him soon after telling the crew of the Argo II that Leo had taken a vial that would bring the dead back to life. Nico had heard of it before, his father had mentioned it to him once, trying to explain why it was so difficult bringing people back, and why what he had done with Minos – trying to trade a soul for Bianca – was not just a bad thing to do, but also ruining the system that he had instilled. Nico shook his head, trying to rack his brain for an answer, when he heard Hazel’s voice.
“So did you find her? Did you find Calypso?” Leo grinned and held up a single finger for one minute. He then turned and walked through the crowd, giving a stunned Jake Mason and high five as he went. Nico watched as Reyna, also standing with the crew, called him over.
Nico walked past the camp fire, still a small roaring flame, and stood next to the Roman Praetor. He looked up at her; she was masking her shock and confusion quite well.
“How did he take the cure?” He asked. Reyna smiled at him, and pointed over to Frank.
“He had been rigging up these arms all over the ship – something to do with that sphere of his. He put one in Festus, too – to give him the cure when the explosion killed him.” Nico nodded, realising the pure genius that Leo had come up with. He was surprised at such a good plan coming from the guy who had forgotten the change the sonar from air to sea, and failed to prevent a sea monster attack.
But Nico also realised how close Leo had been to heading to the Underworld. Leo’s soul would’ve only been dead for a few minutes before seeing a manifestation of Hermes to lead him to his new home. And even then, after going up against the three judges, there was no way that Leo would’ve ended up anyway but Elysium after managing to destroy Gaia, and sacrifice his own life in doing so. Leo had practically stolen and reinvented the title ‘Hero’.
Then, out of the crowd, Festus the dragon loomed, walking along with its automated sounds and bursts of fire, catching the attention of both camps. Leo and a girl sat atop the dragon, smiling down.
“Campers,” Leo announced. “I give to you, a woman who was betrayed by the gods and then accidentally by Percy Jackson-“ a few eyes flickered over to Percy as his eyes widened and he attempted to hide behind Annabeth. “The daughter of Atlas, and the only girl to ever kiss me… Calypso!” There wasn’t as much applause and cheering as Leo had probably wanted, but he didn’t seem to care as he slid down from the dragon, and helped Calypso down behind him.
Nico had to admit, Leo’s girlfriend was pretty. She had long caramel hair tied up and a pure, happy smile as she looked around the place for the first time. It would be so different from her island. And he knew the legend of Calypso, but something was bothering him.
“Leo,” he said, gaining his attention. “How did you get her off the island? The curse is for her to stay there forever.”
“Yeah,” Percy joined in, half moving out from behind his girlfriend. “And I thought no man could ever find the island twice.” Leo grinned, as if he’d been waiting for these questions, before looking over to Calypso. He put his arm around her, smiling, and explained himself.
“I don’t know how she got off the island. Maybe the gods let her go, or maybe it was because I flew a kick-butt dragon into it, instead of just falling from the sky. Bringing your own mode of leaving seems like a decent way to be able to go. As for finding her again,” Leo produced a small device from his belt. “This lovely doo-hickey was attached to Festus, it was powered by crystals from her island. It’s a navigation device that, after the explosion, I would be able to find her by getting absolutely lost.” No one really understood Leo’s story, but they all nodded in amazement, and soon everyone moved back to their seats and Will grinned before announcing a song about a Grandma putting on her armour. The Romans groaned.
Nico was still sitting with Will, but the crew from the Argo II had moved to the row behind him, so he could look over as they were talking. And he was glad of the conversation he caught. Percy was smiling sheepishly at Calypso, who was half glaring back at him.
“I’m really sorry for leaving you on that island,” Percy said. “I asked the gods to release you but I guess I just didn’t follow up on it.” He was rubbing the nape of his neck with his hand, struggling for the right words. In his desperation, Calypso smiled.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “Leo has told me how you apologised before, and it’s alright. I forgive you.” Percy’s eyebrows almost shot off his forehead.
“Of course. If I hadn’t stayed on the island, I would never have met Leo anyway – however annoying he may be.” Leo scoffed, rolling his eyes.
“No one else thinks I’m annoying,” he said, looking over to his girlfriend. Frank piped up from along the bench.
“Not true!” The crew of the Argo II laughed, and Nico watched as a thought formed in Calypso’s head. She leaned forwards, looking over at Percy.
“How is the garden doing?” She asked with a smile. Percy looked like he’d just remembered it after a long time and grinned back at her.
“Last time I saw the flower, it was doing amazing. My Mum is really taking to it, I think.”
“How long ago was it that you came to Ogygia?” She asked. Percy counted back on his fingers.
“Two years? Possibly?” He replied. “But I haven’t seen my Mum in about five months, I think the flower’s still doing well.” Nico watched as Annabeth studied her boyfriend.
“Have you even spoken to her since we got back?” She asked. Percy paused and slapped his forehead.
“Holy Hades,” he said. “I knew there was something I was forgetting.”
The next morning, Nico decided to pay Will Solace a visit in the infirmary. When he’d risen from his bed, at about eleven o clock, he saw the healer walking across the green, and Nico remembered what they’d spoken about. He picked up a packet of crisps on the way, and walked into the infirmary, immediately being overwhelmed with the sense of death. He was amazed how much of it hung around somewhere so white, but as he passed rows of beds – some people who hadn’t even fought in the battle were lying in them – he was able to take note of how close people were to death.
He didn’t see Will when he walked in, but instead found Leo, sitting on the edge of a bed, playing with a scalpel.
“Those things are dangerous, you know,” Nico said as he reached him. Leo jumped, which Nico was used to, and the Hephaestus son looked from Nico to the medical instrument.
“I’ve handled worse,” he said, nodding and putting on a smile.
“What are you doing here?” Nico asked.
“Will Solace – that Apollo guy – asked me here to get checked up. He doesn’t believe I’m alive,” Leo said, shrugging.
“That’s because you died,” came Will’s voice as he walked over. “I have reason to believe that you’re not alive.” Will smiled and looked from Leo to Nico. “And hello – didn’t think you’d pay me a visit.” Nico hesitated and then held up the packet of crisps.
“Uh, thought you might get hungry,” he mumbled. Will grinned at him and took the crisps with a thanks before moving on to checking Leo.
“You should be dead,” he said as he worked. He said it a few times, as Will tested his blood pressure and tried to decide whether or not he needed any ambrosia.
“I can sense he’s not though,” Nico ended up saying. “He’s more alive than the kid near the entrance.” Will paused and looked over to him.
“What do you mean?” He asked. Nico shrugged, glancing from him to the beds behind him.
“There’s a load of people in here close to death, is all,” he said. Will studied Nico for a few seconds.
“You’re sticking around here, right? To help with the death rituals and everything?” Nico nodded. He wanted the dead to get proper send offs, and actually end up in the right place, which he’d noticed with all the spirits he’d come across, wasn’t happening. “Well do you think that within your busy schedule of hanging out with the dead that you could come around here and tell us who’s most in danger of dying?” Nico paused, shrugged then nodded.
“I guess so.”
“Because we’re fairly certain that the kid in the end bed will be fine in the next few days.” Nico took a few steps towards the entrance and felt around for the soul. Then shook his head.
“No. Close to death. His soul is trying to escape his body, really – barely holding on.” Will stood in shocked silence and then smiled at his new friend.
“And you said no one around here needed you,” Will said with a grin. And Nico realised what he meant.