The tennis ball nearly smacked Nico in the head. It was only at the last moment that he saw it; the tennis ball seemed to suddenly fizzle into existence about four feet from his face. Hissing in surprise, Nico managed to side step the projectile at the last moment.
“Aww.” Lou Ellen huffed with disappointment. “I almost had you that time.”
“That was good.” Nico agreed with a small nod. “If you hadn't thrown it straight at my face, I don't think I would have noticed.”
The daughter of Hecate tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Okay. Let's try again!”
A few years ago, this would have been a strange sight: the son of Hades, helping another camper practice her magic? Ridiculous! However, ever since the battle against Gaea, Nico had strove to be more involved. Sometimes, that meant helping his friends practice important battle skills. Incidentally, Nico had gained many new friends around camp in the year since the battle. This included two of Will Solace's best friends: Lou Ellen of Hecate cabin and Cecil of Hermes cabin.
The classroom began to flicker a bit around Nico, like air on a really hot day. Lou Ellen ducked behind one of the few desks that they hadn't pushed to the corners of the room.
However, before Lou Ellen could begin, the door to the classroom slammed open. Cecil came barreling into the room, breathing hard. “Guys!” He shouted in between his gasps. “Funniest – huff – thing – huff – ever!” Cecil started frantically waving his arm like a blade of a windmill. “You've got to – huff – come now!”
Lou Ellen popped out from behind the desk, a grin of curiosity on her face. “What's going on?”
“I don't have time to tell you! Come on!” With that, Cecil turned on heel and darted out of the classroom. Lou Ellen gave Nico a questioning glance, who shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly before turning to follow.
The two of them ran after Cecil, out of the classroom, and then out of the Big House. Cecil didn't slow down until he reached the stables. Once Nico and Lou Ellen caught up with him, he placed a finger on his lips and hushed them with a shh before they could get out any questions.
“They're just right inside.” He whispered to them.
“Who?” Nico asked, a little apprehensive. The children of Hermes had a reputation around camp for their pranks, and Cecil wasn't excluded from that.
“Will and Lacy.” Cecil replied, grinning deviously.
“Huh?” Lou Ellen asked. “Lacy from the Aphrodite cabin?” Cecil nodded with excitement.
Lacy, daughter of Aphrodite. The only reason Nico really knew of her was because Lacy was a good friend of Piper's. That being said, he had never really spoke to her much. While some of the campers had become very relaxed around the ominous son of death, others – like Lacy – still had trouble feeling comfortable around him. Not that she'd ever told him such; Nico had gotten pretty good at reading people. He could tell when he was welcome and when he wasn't.
The window nearest to the three demigods was one of the few without the head of a horse sticking out it. Nico leaned towards it and peeked into the stables. Sure enough, both Will and Lacy were on stable duty, scraping manure off the ground. It was kind of funny to Nico how Will, despite being covered with dirt, could still look good.
“You've brought us here to watch them clean horse crap?” Nico asked incredulously.
Cecil looked offended. “No, I brought you here to watch Lacy try to hit on Will.”
“What!?” Lou Ellen exclaimed with amusement, her eyes wide. Meanwhile, Nico felt like throwing up.
Recently, Nico had been harboring a crush for the handsome blond. There was something in the way that Will smiled at him that made Nico's day brighter. Ever since the battle a year ago, Will Solace had gone out of his way to include (and occasionally force) the solitary son of Hades in various events around camp. In fact, just a few days ago, Will had told Nico that he was not allowed to miss the upcoming fireworks show.
“Shh!” Cecil hissed at Lou Ellen's outburst, before nervously glancing into the stable. Inside, Lacy and Will were still working, oblivious to the trio outside.
“Sorry.” Whispered Lou Ellen. She leaned towards Cecil conspiratorially. “Lacy is trying to hit on Will?” Lou Ellen strongly emphasized Will's name when she said it, as if the idea of a girl hitting on the handsome son of Apollo was weird. This was strange to Nico, as he definitely couldn't blame any girl for being interested in Will Solace.
“Yea,” Cecil whispered back, “I was working back here on some new – uh – rigging for the stables. That, you know, Chiron totally asked me to do.” (Nico strongly doubted that Chiron had requested anything of the sort.) “Anyways, I was working when suddenly I felt really good. Like, the world was suddenly more beautiful and stuff.”
The other two demigods stared at him in confusion.
“It's what I felt.” Cecil explained with a shrug. “So, I stop working and look into the stables, and I see the most beautiful girl I've ever seen!”
Lou Ellen rolled her eyes and let out a small huff.
“And then I realize it's just Lacy. She's just got her Aphrodite charm up to, like, max. Which is why I could feel it even though it wasn't directed at me.”
“So wait,” Lou Ellen asked, frowning curiously, “She's trying to use her Aphrodite charm to woo Will?”
A large, dorky grin was plastered on Cecil's face as he said conspiratorially, “She may not be the brightest, but she is persistant." Okay, now Nico was confused. Why was it weird for a pretty Aphrodite girl to pursue Will?
Before Nico could ask, Cecil nodded his head to the window. Both Cecil and Lou Ellen giggled as they crowded at the window and peaked their heads over. Nico sighed in frustration, before joining them in their spying. The surrounding air shimmered as Lou Ellen laid some mist on them.
Inside the stables, Lacy and Will were talking as they worked. There was strong magic radiating off Lacy, just like Cecil said, but it didn't really effect Nico. Despite Lacy's love magic, Will Solace was still the more attractive of the two by leaps and bounds, as far as Nico was concerned.
Right when the trio gathered at the window, Will had been in the middle of speaking. While Nico didn't catch what Will said, he did hear Lacy's high pitched laughter and her comment, “Wow Will, you're so funny!”
Will looked a little confused, but he still smiled at the compliment. “Thanks, I guess. But no joke, my dad really used to wake us up every morning so that we could watch his glorious ascent into the sky. I kind of miss it.” Even after all these months, no one knew what the gods had decided as punishment for the sun god Apollo. As a demigod who visited his father somewhat regularly, Nico felt sympathy for the Apollo cabin kids. It had to be hard to not know what the fate of their father was.
Lacy paused her shoveling so that she could pull off her gloves and run a hand through her perfect blonde hair. “Yea, it sucks what happened and stuff.” A perfect, sorrowful frown adorned her make-up-ed face.
The feces made a disgusting plop as it slid off Will's shovel and landed into the trash cart. For a moment, Will's smile flickered like it might be a trick of the mist. But, it was only for a moment. Before Nico could really wonder about it, Will was smiling big again. “Oh well, life goes on.” Will puffed optimistically.
Lacy dropped her shovel, which landing loudly on the cement. Will hesitated in his shoveling to glance sideways at her. That's when she began to walk towards him. Every step she took, as she approached him, was perfectly graceful. On top of that, there was a subtle swish to her hips and her pretty blond hair swayed almost artistically with each step.
Nico couldn't help but feel strangely jealous. Here was a girl who had everything as far as looks were concerned, and she had her target set on his crush.
To his right, Cecil let out a soft, “Ouch!” Blinking in surprise, Nico turned to find Cecil rubbing his shoulder. “What'd you do that for, woman?” Cecil whispered fiercely, glaring at Lou Ellen.
“Well, you looked like you needed to be punched.” Huffed Lou Ellen defensively, her cheeks pink. “Also... you were drooling like she's some sort of piece of meat.” The two began to bicker quietly among themselves, much to Nico's annoyance.
Distracted by Cecil and Lou Ellen's back-and-forth, Nico missed some of what happened in the stables. When Nico looked back through the window, Lacy had a comforting hand on Will's shoulder. He had stopped shoveling.
“- and, like, you can always come to me if you want to talk or something.” Lacy was saying, as she twirled a finger in her hair.
“That's nice of you.” Replied Will, still smiling his brilliant smile. Or you could always come talk to me. Thought Nico bitterly.
“Anything for you, Will.” Lacy said sweetly, batting her eyelashes.
“Okay.” Will laughed, before lifting his shovel and starting to work again. However, Lacy didn't go back to her work. She stood next to Will, love magic peeling off her in thick layers. That's a lot of magic. Nico thought in surprise, his eye brows shooting up. How on earth was Will resisting her?
Lou Ellen had returned to watching with Nico, but Cecil was now sitting on the ground between them, looking grumpy. “I can handle a little Aphrodite magic.” Cecil huffed to himself, but he didn't stand back up.
After a couple of long seconds, Lacy cleared her throat. “Hey, Will.”
Once again pausing in his work, Will replied with a confused, “Yes, Lacy?”
She giggled nervously, before launching into a small speech. “So like, I think we get along really well. You're a really great guy and I would really like a chance to get to know you better. So I was thinking that that we could, uh, totally go to on a date to like a Starbucks or something out in the town and get some coffee and talk or something.”
Nico's heart sank. Yea, he knew this sort of thing was going to happen sooner or later. Just like how Percy found Annabeth, Will Solace would eventually find some pretty girl to love. Suddenly, Nico didn't want to watch any more.
All he wanted to do was curl in his bed and hid under the sheets.
Contrastingly, Lou Ellen started to snicker like crazy. Cecil, from where he was sitting on the ground with his ear pressed to the stable wall, also began to snort-laugh so strongly that he rolled onto his side. If Nico hadn't been so distracted by his two friends laughing so vigorously, he would have turned and left. It was a good thing he didn't, though.
From inside the stables, there was a long pause. “Um. Lacy, you're a great girl, but, uh...” Will sounded very awkward when he spoke. “I'm gay.”
Nico had experienced a lot of great moments during his short life. Defeating Kronos? Fantastic! Stopping a war between the Romans and the Greeks? Splendid! Destroying Gaea? Wonderful! Each of those events had given him a strong sense of relief and even joy. This moment was surprisingly similar to those. The only main difference was the heat the rushed through him, reddening his cheeks as his jaw dropped open.
“He's gay?” Nico mumbled in shock, his eyes unfocused.
“Um, obviously?” Lou Ellen snorted in between her giggles. When the blushing Nico couldn't find the words to reply to her, she stopped laughing and became sober. “Wait. You seriously didn't know?” Even Cecil stopped laughing and peered up at Nico in confusion.
“Uhh. No?” Nico didn't like the way the two other demigods were looking at him, as if he had suddenly grew a second head. If Lacy with her love magic had made that mistake, why was it so crazy that he didn't know? It's not like gaydar was an actual thing, after all. Nico was just a human with human perception.
Lou Ellen and Cecil shared a cryptic look. “But...” Lou Ellen spoke delicately, her brow furrowed, “Aren't you gay too?”
The self proclaimed Ghost King just about died. “How do y-you -” He began to splutter, embarrassed. There were only three demigods who he had told about his sexuality, and two of them had already left the camp early this year to begin preparing for college. “- uh... I mean, what... um.” 'What gave it away?' was just too embarrassing for Nico to say.
Luckily, the two demigods understood. “Well, no offense, but you stare at Will. A lot.” Cecil said, matter-of-factly.
Oh gods. Nico thought as he buried his face in his hands, absolutely horrified.
“Also, straight guys don't wear pants that tight.” Lou Ellen added helpfully as she waved towards Nico's skinny black jeans. “But don't worry!” She added quickly, “I know for a fact that Will really likes them.” If Nico could melt from embarrassment, he would have been a puddle on the ground.
While he couldn't melt, Nico could shadow-travel. Which was exactly what he was considering, as both Lou Ellen and Cecil grinned at him. Nico hadn't shadow-traveled in several months; the last time he tried, about three months after the battle with Gaea, he had landed himself in the infirmary for a week. Still, a long time had passed since then... he was probably fine to shadow-travel now.
“Dude, Will's been pretty obviously flirting with you for awhile now-” Before Cecil could finish the rest of his giddy comment, another voice spoke over him.
“Cecil!” Will Solace was standing at the stable window, looking particularly annoyed. Lou Ellen had dropped her control of the mist - not that it really would have helped, with how loud the three of them were. How much did Will hear? Nico wondered in complete shock.
“Oh. Uh. Um.” Cecil's mouth hung open, as if he wanted to say more, but didn't know what to say. Will's face was bright red. Whether it was with anger or embarrassment, Nico wasn't sure.
Nico didn't hang around to figure out. Feeling cornered, the flustered demigod did what came naturally: he shadow-traveled. Before anyone could stop him, he leaned towards the shadows of the stable and let the tendrils of darkness embrace him. As he vanished, he heard Will shout, “Dammit Nico -!” But Nico slipped away before he could hear the rest.