Summary: Five months he'd lasted. Five months Will had managed to keep Nico at Camp Half-Blood, and after those five months he'd thought it was a given that he would stay for good. Evidently he'd been wrong, because when Nico fled past him as though hellhounds nipped at his heels it was to disappear with barely a glance backwards. What had pushed him so far? Why, after months of change and growth, of building upon a friendship that could be something more, did he suddenly flee? Will wasn't sure. He didn't know if he even wanted to know. Unfortunately, his mind wouldn't give him a moment's piece until he collated an exhaustive list of exactly what could have contributed to such a disastrous conclusion.
The end result? It wasn't pretty.
Disclaimer: All characters, situations and contexts are derived initially from Rick Riodran's Percy Jackson Series - primarily The Blood of Olympus and The Trials of Apollo. I do not make any profits or benefits from this work save for the sheer enjoyment and feels acquired from writing about one of my favourite pairings
This fic is pre-slash mostly but if I write a sequel (which is looking very probable at present), the rating will probably jump up. Sorry if this offends anyone.
CHAPTER 1: What Went Wrong?
~24 th December~
The shadows didn't dispel. They had persisted for minutes that could have been hours, shrouding the dark interior of cabin thirteen and plunging it into even further darkness than was usually encompassed it. Had anyone bothered to peer inside, to glimpse through the door or the shadowed windows, they would have seen nothing but blackness, a veritable impenetrable fog steaming up the windows and clogging the doorway.
Nico hardly noticed. He hadn't noticed much of anything in the passing minutes, the minutes that could have been hours. A chill swept through him, contrasting to the brief, intermittent rushes of warmth that flushed his skin before dying into coldness once more. It took long moments of sitting, legs splayed awkwardly from when he'd slumped to the ground, before he could even process the words that paced around and around and around inside his head. Before he could reach an understanding.
Numbness. Frozen stillness. And only when the words finally sunk in, finally reaching some meaning, did be begin to melt. The blast of emotions that tumbled through him was even more confusing. Finally, finally reality settled.
Nico lurched to his feet. He made an inelegant scramble that he hardly considered for its lack of elegance. He slipped once, nearly falling back to the ground as he threw himself to the door, but barely noticed that either. He didn't even pause to grab his Stygian sword from where it rested, discarded and forgotten in Nico's confusion the moment he'd paused in stepping towards the door from Hades' cabin. The moment it had hit him. He didn't have the time or the inclination to attempt to affix it to his person. He couldn't slow in his onward flight as he burst through the door.
I knew it was going to happen. I knew it would. I've known for a long time that it would only end this way. It was only a matter of time.
The words ran parallel to those that already cluttered Nico's thoughts, touched was shadows and sadness, fuelled by his long-held grief. He didn't notice his surroundings as he sprinted through the camp, across familiar stretches of open, snow-laden grounds, bypassing the arrangement of godly cabins, the armoury that resounded with laughter and the ring of steel as weapons were tossed between campers or tugged from walls for practice. He ignored the starts and glances of the fellow demigods he passed and for once barely even noticed the wariness in their gazes.
Nico had to leave. He had to leave now because… because…
Why am I even running? Stupid! Where am I going to be able to run to? The passing thought that noticed he headed towards the road that ran south-east of the camp gave him direction but… Too slow.
Nico skidded to a stop between the amphitheatre and the volleyball court, a spray of snow kicking up around him. Why was he running? The thought overwhelmed the detached sense of coldness that settled upon his shoulders, but discarded further by the heat, the adrenaline, the mournfulness that coursed through him. To his right a ferocious volley was rebounding between two teams of six. Someone, probably a son of Hephaestus, managed to set the ball on fire to shrieks and curses of stupidity that his teammates called. Nico barely noticed that either. His breath was coming hard, but less from exertion and more from the riot of emotions that raced through him. He could feel the pinprick of tears welling up behind his eyes and knew he had to leave before he could make an idiot of himself by letting them fall.
Or having them fall. Nico didn't think he'd have much of a choice in the matter. He had to leave now anyway, so –
Truncating the thought, Nico grabbed at his shadows. Like a blanket drawn around him, he tugged them forth and wrapped them around himself. The comforting embrace of darkness barely registered to him as he felt himself sink into the darkness of shadow travel. Camp Half-Blood faded around him and –
It was just a fleeting glance. Just a second in which Nico caught a glimpse of Will Solace as he raced across the campgrounds in his footsteps. The son of Apollo leaped in loping bounds, long legs chewing up the distance between them, thickly-jacketed arm waving in a bid for Nico's attention. His face, half hidden with the tangle of blonde curls the flight of his passage whipped into a frenzy, was tight with confusion, with worry, shouting the words "Where are you going?" even as tongue struggled to utter them.
Nico had half a second to regret, to reprimand, to scold himself that he hadn't spoken to Will first. That he hadn't explained as by all rights he should have because Will would worry. But he had to leave. Now. He wanted to leave, desperately had to go. And the resolution flung him from the light of camp, from Will's gaze, without a backward glance.
Will shook his head, folding his arms as he watched Ellis Wakefield dancing a shambling jig before him. At least, that's what it looked like to him. If Ellis was to be believed, he was in fact attempting to prove that his broken ankle – his still broken ankle – was more than mended enough for him to jump back into training that morning.
"I'm not convinced," Will said. He propped his elbows upon his knees, fingers tapping on the leg of his jeans in a pointedly disapproving rhythm.
Ellis halted in his dancing to utter a whinging groan. His breath blew out in a cloud of fog that temporarily cast an opaque mask over his face. "It's fine. Look! I'm walking on it and everything." He demonstrated what did indeed appear to be walking, taking a turn in a circle in front the Apollo cabin and leaving a ring of footprints in the snow before raising his hands as if to say "tada!"
Will wasn't fooled. "You were limping."
"No, I wasn't."
"Yes, you were."
"No, I wasn't!"
Will sighed, raising his gaze skyward long sufferingly. "Ellis, who's the doctor here?"
"No, I – what?"
"Who has the majority of medical knowledge and experience between the two of us?"
Ellis frowned, pouting. Will instantly recognised it as an expression of defeat, regardless of whether he was stubborn enough to admit it himself. Children of Ares were renowned for being pig-headedly stubborn. "You do," he grumbled.
"Right. And who was assigned by Chiron and Mr D to look after anyone stupid enough to trip into a rabbit hole in the middle of the woods and break their ankle?"
Another grumble. "You."
"And who, exactly, will be the one that has to splint and strap your ankle when you come to me this afternoon after acting like an idiot and admit that yes, you were in fact an idiot and yes, I was right, you weren't ready to get back on your feet yet and yes, you're sorry, Will, you're eternally indebted to me and will forever do what I tell you to because you knew that you weren't fully healed yet and that you'd just do more damage to yourself when you –"
"Alright, alright," Ellis interrupted with a sigh, hands upheld in placation. Though he still frowned, still pouted, his shoulder slumped dejectedly, in actual realisation of his defeat this time. "I get it."
"Do you?" Will raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah. I get it." Ellis grumbled something further unintelligibly beneath his breath before raising his voice enough to be heard. "I still don't understand why I can't just take some ambrosia."
"Of course you can't," Will said, waving off the suggesting as though it were nothing but foolishness. "You know you can develop a tolerance for the healing effects of ambrosia, right?"
Ellis blinked, his disgruntlement fading momentarily into surprise. "You can?"
No, Will though. Of course not, obviously. But Ellis didn't need to know that. He needed to learn a lesson, learn that he needed to take better care of his own body because some injuries weren't so easy to fix as with a cube of ambrosia and a snap of the finger. He nodded. "You've got to take it slow, you know? Otherwise, when you're in a real battle and you really need it, it won't work as well."
"Seriously." Will felt only a twinge of guilt for his white lie, but smothered it easily enough. Apollo was the God of Truth as much as he was of the Sun, of the healing arts, of music and archery, and for that reason most of the other demigods assumed they were ever-truthful and obligatorily sincere. Which was a lie.
Of course it was a lie. But the children of Apollo didn't need to tell everyone that, just as they didn't need to tell anyone that they may just abuse that belief from time to time. Never for malicious or underhanded reasons, of course, but only for when was really necessary. For when such a lie was actually directly beneficial to their wellbeing, like convincing a patient that they needed to reduce their use of ambrosia to avoid becoming too reliant upon it. Or when they added an extra day of medication onto a prescription just in case with the warning that it must be taken. Or when they had to explain that no, cabin seven did not spend every Saturday night snacking on the jellybeans supposedly reserved for the diabetics of the camp while they stayed up late to watch bad medical soap operas. Lies should only be used when truly necessary.
Before him, Ellis scratched at his head, frowning thoughtfully for a moment before he sighed. "Alright, then. But tomorrow?"
Will nodded, already turning away from the other boy. "Tomorrow you should be right. Maybe."
"Great," Ellis replied, though he hardly seemed enthusiastic. "Looking forward to it." His shoulders only slumped further as he turned and limped away.
Shaking his head, Will went back to slipping his boots on. He'd been readying himself to head on down to a late breakfast when Ellis bombarded him with his enthusiastic display of wellness. The rest of his half-siblings, most of whom took their meals with one another in a show of familial camaraderie, had slowly trickled away as Ellis monopolised Will's attention. They were quite a substantial squad given that it was the Christmas holidays and, as always happened during the holiday period, the residents at camp increased in number exponentially. None of them lingered, however, and though most did offer him sympathetic glances over their shoulder, none stayed to wait for him.
Will couldn't blame them. He wasn't particularly inclined to listen to his patient insist that he was better when he obviously wasn't, that he could run when he obviously couldn't, and that he should be able to accept Sherman Yang's challenge to a fight later that morning with, obviously, he shouldn't. If Will hadn't been head of the Apollo cabin and the primary vitakinetic of the camp then he would probably have escaped Ellis' pleading too.
No, Will didn't blame his friends and siblings. But it would have been nice to have someone waiting to walk down to breakfast with.
The passing thought drew another to the forefront of his mind, and, as he stood and stomped his feet more comfortably into his trainers, Will glanced towards Hades' cabin three down from his own. With dark walls of obsidian, steeple roof and morbidly-strung skull hanging above the door, to say nothing of the flickering green torches that burned constantly on either side of the steps, it was far from being the most approachable of cabins. Far from the most welcoming or even welcoming in the slightest. Not like Apollo's cabin that seemed to radiate light and the warmth of the sun itself.
Even so, Will couldn't withhold the urge to smile that settled upon his lips as his attention was caught by the blacked-out windows, the firmly fastened door that seemed to forbid intrusion. Few would dare to approach cabin thirteen willingly, and Will was quite proud of the fact that he was one of those who did. Someone had to drag Nico out of the dark depth of within every now and then, even if just to ensure he hadn't curled up and died for simply forgetting to eat.
Not that such a reason was the only one that urged Will to knock on the heavy black door every other morning.
He didn't make immediately for the cabin, however, despite the fact that he was almost certain that Nico hadn't drawn himself from the shadows within as of yet that day. He often seemed disinclined to, though more because he claimed that he didn't like the sun than because he wished to avoid the other campers. Who didn't like the sun? What was with that, anyway?
No, Will didn't approach the cabin. For though he smiled he felt a hint of awkwardness at doing so, an awkwardness that had arisen but days before.
Things had changed over the past months, and not only regarding the recovery from the battle against the Roman legions. Will didn't think he was the only one who felt noticeably smaller, more diminutive, with the understanding that the Romans even existed in the first place, but that didn't really alter the overall effect. The world seemed suddenly… bigger. Vaster. More secretive. If the Romans existed, what other secrets did too? Secrets that hadn't yet been uncovered? Was there a kingdom of modern day Mayans secreted somewhere, or some Neo-Vikings hidden undercover in Scandinavia or something?
There were no answers to such questions so solely questions they remained. The only difference was that most campers just happened to be a little more open-minded to the impossible of late. It was probably one of the reasons that Ellis took Will's word about the ambrosia so readily. The gullibility of demigods had certainly skyrocketed over the past few months.
What had changed mostly for Will, however, was the acquisition of his newest shadow. He'd made it his personal vendetta to draw Nico di Angelo from his self-imposed isolation, to tug him from his shell and to show the rest of Camp Half-Blood that, yes, he did appear to fluctuate solely between frowning and glaring much of the time, yes he was a hella-powerful son of one of the Big Three and yes, his social skills left more than a little bit to be desired. But he was more than that. So much more, Will had come to discover since August. A discovery that still set a warm flush seeping through his chest that seemed to deliberately deny the chill of the surrounding winter.
But things had been awkward between them for the past few days. Or at least Will thought that they had been awkward. He hadn't allowed himself to show his discomfort, not around the rest of the campers and certainly not around Nico. That would just make the awkwardness descend into the embarrassment that had very nearly debilitated Will three days earlier.
The worst of it was that Nico… Nico hadn't said anything about it the incident that had taken up residence at the forefront of Will's mind, not when it had happened and not since. Either he'd deliberately blocked what Will considered was as good as a confession of feelings on his part from his mind or he had unconsciously done so. Will wasn't sure which would be worse.
But then, at least Nico wasn't ignoring him. He acted the same sarcastic, faintly surly and largely socially inept self he always did. Will supposed he had that to be thankful for at least. Besides, he'd come to the understanding that Nico simply did that sometimes; he was unlikely to confront a significant issue without thinking it over in the privacy of his own mind.
Well, Will thought, tightening his scarf around his neck. It's been three days. Surely that's long enough, right? And despite his nervousness, he smiled as he firmed himself and made his decision. Yes. He would ask Nico. Today, and there was no way that the son of Hades could avoid him. Maybe it was a good thing that Ellis had waylaid him, so that the rest of his half-siblings would leave?
Will was halfway across the square between the cabins, bypassing Hestia's hearth when the door to Hades' cabin burst open. Will paused in step at the sight of Nico, smile widening and already raising a hand in greeting before he realised that Nico didn't even notice him. He leapt down the steps of the cabin, dressed in little more than his usual black bombers jacket and jeans, and took off at a tearing pace. The shower of snow kicked up by his passage was testimony to the speed of his flight. Will was left blinked in stunned confusion for a moment as he watched the familiar figure of Nico di Angelo disappearing across the campgrounds at a remarkable pace.
Only for a second, though. Only for a second he remained before Will was springing into a run himself, falling into Nico's footsteps as he did. He'd only caught a glimpse, but he didn't like the expression he'd seen upon Nico's face. It was grief-stricken and overwhelmingly heartbroken, even physically pained. What had happened? What could make him so upset and urge him to flee in such a hurry?
It wasn't… it wasn't because of Will, was it?
The thought drew an upwelling of fear from Will and he immediately urged himself to run faster. Not that it made much of a difference; toothpick that Nico was, he still seemed capable of running at a ridiculously fast pace when he felt inclined. Will barely glanced at the demigods he tore past, raising a hand in acknowledgement of the half-heard words of "Will, where are you -?" and "Hey, are you al -?"
Seconds into his chase, Will saw Nico skid to a stop in a snow flurry as though he'd hit a brick wall. He saw him freeze but for his heavy breathing that shook the taut lines of his back as though he was shivering. And he saw the shadows spring into life at his feet, curl with reaching tendrils around him in their familiar embrace as they drew him from sight.
"Nico!" Will cried out, raising a desperate hand and hoping his voice didn't sound as mournful as he felt. His feet carried him forwards without his further instruction. Not that it made a difference. It didn't matter how fast he ran; he was too slow.
Nico glanced towards him at the last second, and Will was nearly thrown to a halt but his expression once more. Drawn and pained, Will could swear that Nico was on the verge of tears. The faint glisten to his eyes only emphasised the impression and Nico… Nico never cried. He made a point of swearing he'd never cry around another person, with the unspoken again heard but unmentioned. But it was only a brief glimpse, a picture-snapping moment, and then the shadows swallowed him entirely and he disappeared.
Will skidded to a stop in the mess of snow Nico had left behind. He was breathing heavily, though more from distress than from the short flight he'd undertaken. He stared blankly at his feet for a moment before, in slow motions, he turned on the spot. Gone. Yes, Nico was definitely gone.
He barely heard the questioning exclamations of the campers at the volleyball court to his right as they asked him what was wrong. He didn't glance up at Lou Ellen's call from the amphitheatre in the opposite direction where she tossed around bright sparks of magic with her half-siblings. Will felt nothing but numbness that faded slowly into horror barely stemmed from overwhelming him by confusion and just a little anger.
Nico had left. After months of Will striving to make him stay, he'd left. And Will didn't know exactly why, what had caused it but…
It must have been him. It must have been what had happened but days before. Nico's reply was finally given, he'd finally broken their mutual silence and spoken, and Will felt himself, as he so rarely did, sinking with muddy despair.
Of each time that Will had messed up – or thought he'd messed up – he thought that this one was the most to blame. Was it just the one, or a culmination of things that Nico, with his blank-faced hesitancy to accept anyone's friendship, couldn't handle?
Will's mind clambered and pointed accusingly at each and every time that he had messed up, each time he'd thought he'd messed up, and he cursed himself for it. Biting his lip to withhold his own upwelling of sorrow and regret, Will turned back towards cabin number seven. It hurt. It hurt to have a possibility stemmed before it had a chance to take root, even if it was only just a possibility. It hurt that Nico didn't like him in the way that he did, didn't like him enough to stay.
Will found he wasn't so enthusiastic for breakfast as he had been but moments before. Not for the food nor the company. For the first time in a long time, he found he didn't much want any company at all.