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percy jackson { son of the sea god

antistar_e in veritasrecords

Fic: The Last Cry in Hades (Not Guilty), Percy Jackson

Title: The Last Cry in Hades (Not Guilty)
Fandom: Percy Jackson and the Olympians
Characters/Pairings: Percy/Nico
Word Count: 7,350

Done for the pjo_fic_battle! Title comes from song of the same name by Pierrot. Spoilers for the Last Olympian. Contains minor amounts of angst and a vague attempt at plot. [also available @ AO3]





xii. not guilty

Thirteen years old, and the last place Nico expects to be so soon after New York woke up from its nap is Percy Jackson's bathtub.

There is something inherently out of place about the whole situation, and Nico sits there, legs drawn up against his chest, his shoelaces untied and one set of fingers playing with the zipper of his hoodie. His death's-head ring makes a sharp ping on the tub's enamel whenever he moves, or drums his fingers. He reaches out, bumping the faucet with the toe of his sneaker, catching the stray drops as they fall.

Percy kneels beside him, the imprint of him in the bathmat. It's almost six in the morning, and there is color beginning to filter in through the privacy window, but most of the light comes from the shell-shaped nightlight, catching at odd moments on his nose, his gray mouth, the fall of his hair when he leans forward to rest his forehead against the smooth porcelain of the toilet bowl.

They've been here for hours, and he hasn't thrown up, but Nico isn't surprised by this. He went through this stage before, too, once, because how can you empty yourself of loss? That's exactly what loss is: emptiness, an ache so bone deep and black that you can only stay on your knees and pray that you can throw it up, just vomit until that nothing is gone -- and it won't help, it won't make you feel better, but you can hope. And because he's been there, Nico doesn't ask who Percy is grieving for -- maybe all of them, even the double-crossing ones, because most of Percy's friends have betrayed him, one way or another. Silena, Rachel, Ethan, Luke, Nico himself.

At some point earlier that night, before Percy had locked the bathroom door and Nico shadow-teleported himself in anyway, because he was rude like that, he'd looked Percy in the wide, dilated eye and said, "I forgive you," because he's not stupid and he knows that Percy will make their deaths his, and even guilt can kill an invincible man.

Thirteen years old, and Nico di Angelo is stupidly, insanely, unhappily grateful that it hadn't been him. Hadn't been his choice. Hadn't been his prophecy.

He moves again, the rubbers of his soles scuffing against the sides of the tub, simply to make noise, to remind Percy that he's there. He's alive.





xi. guilty

Nico isn't frightened of the end of the world. The heavens at war, famine, world-wide devastation doesn't scare him. He's a teenager, he's a demigod, and he's handled worse.

When he was ten years old, his older sister died and left him with absolutely nothing in the world but a figurine from a card game. There is nothing in this world that is as scary as being young and so completely, utterly, devastatingly alone.

He doesn't remember much from those days. He remembers a ranch with meat-eating horses and he remembers tossing a couple things from the McDonalds dollar menu into a pit to attract the swarms of ghosts, and he remembers Minos's voice whispering, slithering like snake skin in his ear, but mostly it stretches in his memory, a big black screaming yaw, like a fissure had been carved straight down the center of his soul.

And then.

And then, Percy's ams snatching him around the chest, yanking him back out of the way of something that would have dissolved him into dust, and the warmth of the contact made Nico draw in one great, shuddering gasp, his heart lurching like it had just remembered how to beat.

He will always remember that, he thinks. How the world felt like it was tipping and sliding sideways, the fragile china shattering, the flowers tipping, and then Percy caught him.

Percy caught him.





x. (not) guilty

"Do you know what you've turned him into?"

Poseidon is toweringly tall, his sailor's arms folded across his chest, and Nico is thirteen years old and there isn't a lot that frightens him, but he has sense enough to be intimidated, at least, even around and through the bubbling sense of triumph that comes with having just saved the world.

"By making him bathe in the River Styx, you've turned him into a mortal that can't be injured," the sea god's voice is booming, worse than a judge's final sentence, and if Nico had a tail, it would be between his knees right now. "There's no undoing it. Wherever he goes, he'll always be the different one. You've guaranteed that he'll never have a normal life."

"I didn't do that," says Nico, unable to help himself. "You did that."

Poseidon's eyes flash white-hot brilliant like a light bulb exploding, and Nico wonders if this is the end and he's going to be vaporized on the spot or turned into a sea slug or something, and gods, what a horrible way to end the day, but what Percy's dad does is much, much worse.

He says, "Percy is a fool if he ever trusts you again."






ix. guilty

As he grows up, he leaves behind the bomber jacket and the death's-head t-shirts. He is the son of the god of wealth and power, and this is what attracted his mother to his father three quarters of a century ago, and with Hades's newly-instated place on Mt. Olympus, he feels he should dress the part.

Percy says he looks too skinny in a suit, but Nico likes the weight of the blazer on his shoulders, the easy slide of it when it comes off after a long day, the feel of someone else's fingers unknotting his tie. The frustrating part is how hard they are to clean, and Nico dates a kid from the Aphrodite cabin for about three weeks who teaches him how to sew the worse of the rips so the stitches won't show and how to get the dirt and blood out of his suit without ruining it, but he always hates it when they run into monsters with claws or poisonous saliva or both. It always spells bad things for his clothes.

He sticks by Percy's side anyway, even though nobody attracts monsters more than he does, because the downside of being invincible is that everyone always asks him to fight their battles for them. It happened to Achilles, and it's happening to Percy; the steady wear and tear of everyone's expectations sliding against him. So Nico stays as close as possible, because Annabeth was right; Percy's greatest flaw is he cares too much about other people and he still hasn't learned how to say no.

"Why are you always around?" Percy asks one day when he comes home from one such adventure, too tired to be polite. He collapses face-down on the sofa. "Don't get me wrong, it's nice to have friends, but if I wanted you to show up uninvited in my apartment, I would have given you a key."

"Keys, locks, and doors don't mean much to people who can shadow-travel," Nico replies from the kitchen, dumping a bunch of ravioli into a strainer. Percy is going to need food, and then he's going to sleep for half a day.

"No, but really," Percy's voice is muffled by the sofa cushion. "Why are you always around?"

Because. Because. He's done the whole sitting by thing before, leaving the dirty work to everybody else, and when he did that, his sister went off on a quest and never came home. He never got the chance to hug her one last time. He will take eternity in the Fields of Punishment before he lets that happen again.

"You're my friend," is all he says out loud, though. Because the universe took his sister, so it owes him this.

Percy accepts that with a shrug, and nods off without ceremony.

He's never told him where his one vulnerable spot is, but Nico doesn't need to know. He doesn't need that kind of trust.

He doesn't.

(He remembers, foggily, being eleven years old; the smile on Sally Jackson's face when she slides a wedge of blue birthday cake onto his plate. His third, but nobody calls attention to it. She smells like dishsoap, and when Paul Blofis asks him what brings him here this fine night, his guards are down and he answers, "Percy is the only person I know," because it's true, he's out of place and out of time and has no one else to turn to, and the look that Percy gives him is terrified. There's being a hero because there's a prophecy made about you that you can't control, and there's being a hero because you're that important to somebody and you've earned their trust. They're two completely different things.)





viii. not guilty

"What's the matter, Nico, can't you survive without me?" Percy taunts on some other occasion, in the lobby of his apartment building. The words are sarcastic, but Nico catches something in his eyes, a bitter something that hits a little too close to home, and he turns away quickly to dart up the stairs, Nico a half-step behind him.

He wants to shake him, hard, because what does he know about loneliness, and he hates everyone who made Percy this way, everyone who expects him to be their figure of justice. He's important, he's important to the entire world, and he doesn't understand it, doesn't know he's a hero not because he has to be, he's a hero because he saved Nico's life, and it's a very personal thing, the fact that Nico is around to be thinking about it all. He hates them, for taking it away, taking away the importance of what Percy's done because he was supposed to do it, because of something some dried-up old mummy said ages ago. It hits him in a rush of flash-hot anger, a swarm of disgust, despair, determination, and longing, sweeping up under him and making his vision blank out for a moment like white noise.

And then it all goes right through him and the only thing left is the longing, the want that is the basest part of him.

Somewhere in the middle of growing up, the want changed from wanting to be Percy, minus the prophecy because who the hell ever asks for that crap, and simply to wanting him.

Percy makes a startled noise in the back of his throat when Nico grabs his arm, twisting him around and knocking him into the railing -- not a noise of pain, because he doesn't feel it anymore, merely surprise.

Their knees knock together and Nico kisses him hard enough that he almost bites down on his lips, and it makes everything tilt and slide sideways like vertigo, like his entire world was tipping.

After a tense moment, Percy's hands find his hips -- not his chest to push him away, not his hands to unlock his hold, but his hips, half-holding him -- and everything straightens out nicely again, all feeling flooding to that one spot. He pulls back to breathe, and Percy says something very brilliant, like, "um, okay," and his mouth is back, still wet and open on his lips. Nico makes some incredibly stupid noise and kisses him again and again, sloppy with need, not waiting for Percy's attempts to kiss back. His arms snake underneath his to grab onto the stair rail, pushing every notch of his body into Percy's that he can, so that the son of the sea god is leaning so far backwards over the banister he's in danger of falling over.

But Nico will catch him if he does. He will.

When he gets his fill of Percy's mouth, Nico pulls back enough to say, his voice so breathless that even in this close proximity he can see Percy's eyes darken at the sound, "You spent all your time taking care of other people's problems. Isn't it time someone took care of you?"

And it might have something to do with the fact that Nico had just been kissing him like it was more important than breathing, the kind of kiss that can change plans, and it's Percy's fatal flaw, his need for other people, so he says nothing in reply. He grabs Nico by the tie and pulls him up the stairs.





vii. [guilt]y

Whenever they run into Annabeth in the field, Nico prudently makes himself scarce. The ex-girlfriend thing is entirely too awkward, and let it never be said that Nico doesn't have a survivalist streak a mile wide.




vi. not guilt[y]

In the March after Nico turns sixteen, a half-blood dies on their watch. They were dispatched to help the satyr bring her back to Camp Half-Blood, but they don't even get out of the heavy woods of Maine where she grew up before a monster scorpion gets her, and even when Nico desperately breaks off pieces of ambrosia and feeds them to her, the color drains from her face and she shakes apart in his arms, poison turning her as gray as stone. She's twelve, and she isn't stupid, and when she sees the expression deaden into hopelessness in his eyes, she begins to cry.

"I thought you said you were a son of Hades!" her fingers fist together in his sleeves, and her breath is a shuddering cry. "Can't you do something? Can't you control death?"

He strokes her hair, his fingers catching in a Christmas-colored hairpin that looks like it was made for her by someone very young. Behind him, he can hear Percy dispatching the scorpion with a frustrated yell.

He hopes it has a long time to think about it as it dies. "I wish I could. But my dad is the god of the Underworld, the god of wealth, the god of power. I can't control how or when you'll die any more than you can. I don't think I could handle having to make a decision like that."

"But I will." It's Percy now, kneeling beside them. The glow from Riptide illuminates their faces momentarily when he sets it down beside him. He takes the girl's face between his palms, his face sadder than a statue that spends all its time weeping. "It's easier for you this way, I think."

The crack of her neck breaking is like a firecracker, and Nico closes his eyes against the sound her soul makes on its downwards slide to the Underworld.




v. guilty

"Who made you judge?" This is said half-against and half-into Percy's mouth, his neck stretched out to keep the contact, as Percy's hands slide in between them, slinking underneath the blazer of his suit, pushing it off his shoulders. The door to Percy's apartment clicks shut when he shoves Nico up against it, too angry to be careful and Nico hisses when the back of his skull hits the wood with a solid crack.

South Portland Elementary had a memorial service, since the half-blood girl had conveniently died towards the end of the year and they had a few openings in their schedule. The brochure's in his pocket.

His thoughts derail momentarily when Percy curves his body away in order to pull his orange Camp Half Blood t-shirt up over his head and toss it aside, but he's back just as quickly, the entire warmth length of him against his chest. He remembers his point with some difficulty, given Percy's fingers pulling through his hair, dragging his head back far enough to expose his throat.

"Who said you could make that kind of choice? She was twelve, Percy."

Free hand fumbling at the buttons of Nico's shirt, and Percy's eyebrow is cocked as if to ask, are you going to help me with this or not? "She was going to die anyway," he mumbles, in his best I'd rather not talk about it voice -- and Nico's a teenager, he knows how that goes. "Did you miss the part where she got poisoned? I just gave her the painless of the two ends. Some people would call that mercy."

"Justice and mercy come not from one man," Oh, gods, Nico wishes he could just shut up, especially since his words make Percy's lips go stiff with anger on his Adam's apple. With his libido vehemently protesting, he continues, "You are still a mortal, Percy. Those kind of decisions are not yours to make." You don't have to make them, is what he means, digging his nails hard into Percy's shoulders. Gods, Percy, you don't have to be responsible for everything all the time.

You know, goes a shrewd, piping voice in the back of his mind. It sounds a little bit like Minos, or maybe like Poseidon. It was your idea he bathe in the River Styx to begin with. So technically this is all your fault.

"Nico," says Percy, rather patiently, given the circumstances. "Right now, I am about to go down on you, and I am not coming up until I have rendered you completely unable to even say my name. Do you really want to keep talking?"

"No, I'm okay," says Nico, very faintly.




iv. not:guilty

Nico almost fails eleventh grade that year.

He's still on speaking terms with Paul Blowfis, and like he does with most half-bloods who don't have a living mortal parent and don't want to be a year-rounder at Camp Half Blood, Percy's stepdad pulls some strings to get Nico into the dormitories at Pierson's, so that he can stay in the city, close to Camp Half-Blood, close to Olympus, and more importantly, close to Percy.

He shares a dorm room with three other boys, one of whom is a son of Ganymede, a shy and bumbling boy with thin blonde hair and a weak chin -- Nico got the Ares cabin to stop picking on him for this fact the previous summer, because as mean as the children of war are, the dead are always meaner, and had a loyal friend in the kid ever since.

The other two are so mortal it kind of hurts sometimes.

"What the ... hey, no girls allowed!" one of them complains at the top of his lungs, one overcast afternoon in May, just a couple days before finals, and Nico sighs, knowing if there's a girl in proximity, there will be no studying done on anyone's part and he really needs to actually learn this material, probably for the first time around. He's skipped far too many classes for any of this to make sense.

Then Ganymede's son goes, "Oh, hey, Annabeth! He's in there, door on the right," and Nico has barely enough time to look up and assume a rather unattractive, extremely stupefied face before the girl herself appears in the doorway to his bedroom, orange cap sticking out of her back pocket like a plumber. Then he's pretty sure he just looks like a deer caught in the headlights.

"We need your help," she goes without preamble, and before he has time to even mentally check the pronoun, Rachel Elisabeth Dare glides up next to her, looking worried in her faraway, dreamy, artist-turned-Oracle kind of way.

Great, he thinks. The first time his bedroom has ever even seen a girl, and there's two of them, and yes, those are totally his dirty boxers in a little heap on the floor where he's been meaning to put them in the hamper, and if they have any sense of self-preservation, they will say nothing at all.

"Okay," he says, "but Rock Band is really best if you have four."

"Ha ha," says the daughter of Athena, with understandable sarcasm. "Look. Rachel saw something and called me up, and we need to be in Albany, like, five minutes ago, and you're the fastest method of travel we know."

"So, basically, you're telling me you just want me for my body? Or, rather, the powers my body has --"

"It's Percy," Rachel cuts in, voice serene, and sure, Rachel, big pink elephant in the room, let's just walk right up and poke it in the eye, and Annabeth's lips are white and oh.

Suddenly, he's grateful he's still wearing his suit, because there is something inherently unglamorous about shadow-traveling across the state to prevent something horrible happening to your best friend with whom you occasionally have sex, in the company of the ex-girlfriend of said best friend and former love conflict slash plot point of said best friend, while in pajamas.




iii. gui{lty

He sees Percy before he sees the girl.

Downtown capital city at rush hour and the foot traffic is a bitch, people on every side of them hustling this way and that, and the first person Nico sees is Percy, singling him out so fast it has him thinking some slightly ironic things about Pavlov and his dogs. He doesn't see them -- he's at the wrong angle for that, too busy scanning the crowd, like he's waiting for someone else.

That's when Nico sees the girl, sees the celestial dagger, knows Annabeth sees it in the same moment because she grabs his elbow and yanks him forward, hard, but they can't -- a car turns the corner too sharply in front of them, and they leap back onto the curb just as the girl reaches Percy.

He doesn't look alarmed when she grabs his arm. Why would he? He's invincible and she's a tiny thing, maybe fourteen, with tight black braids and clothes that are either cutting chic or so old they're in fashion again (Nico's ex-boyfriend from the Aphrodite cabin would have a fit and die, and this is why they don't usually bring Aphrodite kids on missions like this.) The dagger flashes between them, celestial bronze, and it disappears up to its hilt in the small of his back and Percy yells, and there is nothing, Nico thinks, nothing he won't pay to never hear that sound again. Annabeth surges forward again, her body wound so tight she can't even cry out, can't make more than a choked, horrified sound, and then there's a break in traffic and they bolt.

Percy and the girl still haven't seen them; the back of Percy's shirt is turning red like a napkin absorbing a spill, and how could this half-blood stranger know what even Nico didn't?

Gods, that's Percy's blood, and Nico hasn't seen it in years, and gods, gods, he's never been so scared. Ever. Nico's never really bothered with fear, isn't afraid of much, but he's never been more terrified, so terrified he can't even hear himself think.

He doesn't know what the mortals see through the Mist, but some people are staring, so the girl wrenches the dagger, jerking Percy's body along with her like a puppet, one skinny hand under his arm to steer him.

He, Annabeth, and Rachel pelt towards them, but there's half-a-block separating them, and someone in a very long dress steps out of the limo parked at the curb in front of the Mariott. She's directly in their path, but half-bloods have practice in hurtling themselves over strange obstacles; Nico and Annabeth launch themselves over the open door, and Rachel ducks underneath the driver's courteously outstretched arm, all ignoring the indignant cries that follow them. There's only one thing that matters, and that's the fact that Percy and the girl who stabbed him have disappeared into an alleyway.

She must have seen them, or been expecting them, because she's facing them when they round the corner, and she yells, "stop!" before they can flatten her first, ask questions later.

Nico and Annabeth are not inclined to listen, because she really is only about five feet tall and looks like she might be able to overpower a platypus if she cheated, but Rachel grabs them both by the backs of their jackets and they stand there at an impasse.

Percy's whole face is gray, and Nico has seen him overpower half a conquering army single-handedly, but he can't seem to move here; his whole body is wrenched back, arching away from the girl and the knife whose hilt Nico can still plainly see protruding out of his back like an ill-placed proboscis, held in that tightly-wound, awkward position like he's ready to rupture out of his own skin just to get away. His fingers twitch towards Riptide in his pocket.

There's a horrible, dizzying thrill of a moment when Nico thinks a dozen alarming things about the locations of spinal cords, daggers, and Percy's vulnerable spot, before it occurs to him that he saw Percy's legs move, so he isn't actually paralyzed-paralyzed.

All this takes place in the space of a couple heartbeats, rabbit-fast against his ribs, and then Annabeth says, "What do you want?"

"What do you think?" snaps the girl, with a low undertone to her accent that puts her somewhere in or near Boston. "I want to kill Percy Jackson."

"Okay," goes Nico, because who hasn't wanted to kill Percy Jackson? His friends want to do it on a regular basis. "Could have figured that one out by ourselves, thanks, what with the dagger, but what for?"

And she says, very on level and very calmly in a way that isn't calm in the slightest, "Ethan."

"Oh," says Nico, because duh. He only met Ethan Nakamura once, didn't bother getting too close a look, considering it was the end of the world and Ethan never did play a very important role beyond dying, beyond being one of several names that curdled, hard and sour, inside Percy's stomach and turned him bitter, but he sees him, suddenly, in the girl's tawny-colored face and almond eyes, glittering hard and sharp. He didn't know the turncoat had a sister.

He wonders if anybody did.

Annabeth is taut as wire beside him, and he knows the gravity of this is lost on her, so he shakes off Rachel's hand and steps in between Annabeth and the sister, and he's not sure who he's protecting from whom.

"You're alone," he says, with the quiet awe of sudden, absolute understanding, and her eyes widen for the fraction of a second. She shifts Percy in front of her like a shield.

"I -" she goes, and then seems to have forgotten her script. "What?"

And Nico's an idiot. A couple years spent spying, living on what he could steal from gas stations, dealing with his stepmother whining about the inconvenience of world devastation and his father try not to look worried, watching a small handful of people close to Percy die, and he thought it was war? Hearing about Titans rumbling, rebelling, seeing one battle happen in New York City while mortals slumbered like they were at a Yanni concert, and he thought that was war? That was nothing. It defined Percy's life, defined Nico's life, but it was nothing.

Because this is the war, the interminable battle fought since the beginning of time without reward, without reprieve, without even soldiers left willing to fight; a child, a demigod, utterly and devastatingly alone with nothing left to turn to.

"I had a sister, once," he tells her, watches her blink, her focus shift, sees her see him. Annabeth clues in to what he's doing; her fingers dig sharply into his upper arm through the fabric of his suit jacket, but she keeps silent, because while she thinks more with her heart than her head when Percy's involved, she's wise enough to know that there's a disconnect here, between her and them. There's a divide between half-bloods like her and half-bloods like Nico, the ones who have full siblings, the ones whose families involve more than a god having a tryst with a mortal.

"An older sister. Her name was Bianca, and she was ... she was everything to me. People say that all the time, I know they do, but I don't think they quite understand the scope of the word everything. I never thought about surviving without her, because I never thought I would have to, but when she died..." he shakes his head. "She was everything."

Silence. And then, "I haven't seen my mother in --" she stops as abruptly as she started, and the ADHD part of Nico's brain helpfully reminds him that Ethan was a son of Nemesis, the goddess of revenge. She takes a deep breath. "I thought that if I avenged my brother's death, she'd remember me." Her voice falls like its wings have been clipped. "That she'd remember I was family, too."

And Nico says, as diplomatically as possible, "Would you like to take a walk with me?"

And yes, it really is that easy. The lonely usually are.

Her name is Cecilia Nakamura, and she'd lured Percy here with an urgent summons from a satyr, saying there was a half-blood in danger, a possible daughter of Poseidon. Even though he still kind of wants to turn her into dog kibble for making him so afraid, Nico is almost impressed she has Percy pegged down without ever having met him, because while Percy loves Tyson, loves having his own cabin to himself when he needs it, and would rather not think of his father with anyone other than his mother, he still wants a sibling.

"It's why he takes all those missions to help get half-bloods to the camp," she says with a shrug, swinging her arms as she walks. "He's hoping he'll meet another child of Poseidon."

They leave Percy with Rachel and Annabeth in the narrow alley, the dagger removed from his back and Rachel's scarf wadded up and pressed hard to his skin to stop the bleeding. They'll be fine there, Cecilia admits, a little reluctantly, because there's something about the bank the alley slips behind that repels monsters, so he doesn't have to worry about a dozen of them showing up while Percy has a great big flashing neon sign saying, "My Achilles heel is here! Finish me off!"

Cecilia, being a fourteen-year-old assassin with no work experience, had done the clever thing and forgotten to poison the tip of the dagger before she struck. Percy would live.

"I just miss everyone," she murmurs, chasing down stray pages from a newspaper that the wind snatches up and handing them back to their flustered reader. "I thought if I did something no one else has been able to do despite a dozen attempts -- kill Percy Jackson -- I'd get some of that back. Family, I mean."

"I know," goes Nico, shoving his hands into his pockets -- you shouldn't have to prove yourself just to get love from your family. He's learned that the hard way, too. "I sold Percy out to my father, too, once, hoping something similar."

"But you're friends with him now?" she blinks at him, absently pulling on the bright-colored band at the end of her braid.

"It's a long story. Justice had a lot to do with it." He barks a laugh, like an old joke suddenly makes sense. "Justice and mercy."

He tells her about Bianca. Everything he remembers, and is surprised to find that simply talking about her, as easily as if he was giving directions to school or naming things in his dorm room, doesn't cut the way it used to. He didn't know when that sting had started to heal.

And it's strange to see so much of yourself in another person, but at some turns in the conversation, Nico can swear it's himself walking beside him, fourteen years old and still blinking at a future that doesn't have an older sibling in it. Cecilia was younger than he was when she lost Ethan, younger still when her father passed away and left them -- for all intents and purposes for those with Olympian parents -- orphaned.

Ethan and Cecilia's father's name was Taejo, and in the 1950s, his mother died of complications from the nuclear fall-out of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, an event Taejo himself had only missed by a year. It was a bitterness that he never got over, a resentment that curdled sour inside of him when he moved to America, met the lingering discrimination. It was what attracted Nemesis to him, and together they nurtured that passive hatred, the slow burning for revenge for something Taejo was helpless to stop. They raised their children on it, gave them a hunger for revenge and fed them calcium for strong bones and carrots for good eyesight.

But you can't live on hatred, and Taejo Nakamura died when Cecilia was in the second grade. As the gods are wont to do, Nemesis lost interest in her children and left them behind, and for a long time, it was just Ethan and Cecilia.

"He was at Camp Half-Blood for a while, though, wasn't he?" Nico asks, as they wait on the curb for the light to change. "Why weren't you with him?"

As far as tactless questions go, Nico is pretty sure this is one of his worst, because she blinks and jerks her head away, fast, like she'd been struck, and he's sorry, but not overwhelmingly, because she did stick a knife in Percy's back. "I wanted to forget," she tells the cement and the shoelaces of her trainers. "I liked being normal. But forgetting is the last thing a child of the goddess of revenge is supposed to do, so when Ethan ran away from the orphanage, I didn't go with him. I didn't see him again until just before the whole episode with Kronos, when he wanted my help."

And she did, she'd gone to Luke Castellan's side because that's where her family was. In her mind, it was the right side to be on.

"You should go to Camp Half-Blood," he tells her, less a suggestion and more of a statement.

"I beg your pardon?"

He scratches the back of his neck, feeling awkward, which is silly because he gives this speech a lot. "It's just a thought. They've built a cabin for her now, you know. Your mother. I don't know ... I don't know if you have siblings, but you have a home there, I guess."

A pause. And then, "I suppose. I don't know. I just tried to kill Percy Jackson. Don't you think I'm a little unwelcome there?"

"Clarisse tries to kill Percy every time she lays eyes on him," Nico says dryly. "I think she'd probably want to shake your hand."

She scuffs at the ground with the toe of her shoe, mumbles something that sounds like half a conversation with herself -- or half a conversation with Ethan, because it does sound a little unanswered. "I'll think about it," she settles for, neutrally. "I'm not too bothered by the monsters yet. But yeah, maybe. Maybe I'll go. I suppose it's the alternative to finding someone else to kill."

"Do you forgive him?" he can't help but asking, and she tilts her head in question. "Percy."

"No," she tells him with her calm honesty, her almond eyes folding a little in a smile. "But I won't kill him. He's not the only one responsible for Ethan's death, and if anyone deserves some mercy, it's him. Besides, you love him."

Try as he might, Nico is still just sixteen years old -- he squawks in horror at the mere suggestion, and Cecilia throws her head back and laughs.






ii. n{ot guilt}y

When he gets back, Percy has stopped bleeding, sitting with his back against the brick wall, arched ever so slightly so the wound isn't pressed against it. Rachel's standing guard at the end of the alley, and when Nico appears out of thin air, she's the only one that doesn't jump. He wonders if she knew how this was going to play out even before she and Annabeth came to fetch him.

When he gives them the bare bones of Cecilia's story, Annabeth stands, mumbling something that Nico doesn't catch, and goes to join Rachel, rummaging around in her pocket for a golden drachma. Now that the immediate danger is past, she doesn't look angry, or jealous, just awkward and maybe a little bit wistful, and she politely turns her back when Nico kneels down on the cement next to Percy.

And he wonders, completely off topic, if Annabeth thinks that she grossly misjudged her ex-boyfriend's sexuality. Because she didn't, he knows, and if he was a little bit more tactful, a little less young, he would tell her this. Percy just loves people, regardless of age, gender, or Olympian parent. And maybe, someday, it'll be Nico looking the other way while someone else strokes the hair out of Percy's eyes. (He recalls Percy telling him once that Aphrodite has star-crossed him when it comes to love, and Nico thinks she needs to get a different hobby.)

He knows the son of the sea god isn't feeling his best, because he drags his hands across his face mullishly and he goes, "You know, I think it would have been okay if she'd offed me. It really would have been justice for her brother."

Because Percy fights everyone's battles for them, and it costs half-blood lives -- the war, the real war, the war after the war after the war. He sees himself responsible for the deaths, for Charles Beckendorf, for Silena, for Luke and Cecilia Namakura's brother, Ethan, for the half-blood girl in Maine. Nico knows this for a fact, because he once held Percy responsible for Bianca's death, years ago. He scoots closer, bending his head to rest it on Percy's collarbone.

"It's a two-sided coin, Percy. Justice ... justice is worthless without mercy."

Percy's fingers curl around the back of his neck, stroking the hard nob of his spine like he was petting a cat. "Is that what this is? Mercy?"

"Forgiveness," Nico corrects, and presses a kiss to the side of his face. Not Cecilia's, and probably not Ethan's, but Nico's. Nico's permission for Percy to forgive himself.




i. (guilty)

Percy goes with Annabeth and Rachel back to Camp Half-Blood the slow way to report to Chiron and discuss what happens next with Cecilia, and Nico, tired to the bone, teleports to the first point in Manhattan he can think of and takes the subway back to his dorm room and wonders if he has a prayer of passing any of his finals at this rate, which seems an incredibly stupid thing to worry about, considering he just saw one very angry girl about to kill a man who should be invincible.

He doesn't expect to see Percy for awhile, what with one thing or another, so he's surprised when he hears one of his mortal suitemates go, "god, not again, some of us are trying to study," just as his door rattles, hard.

He jumps, startled, his pencil making a streaky graphite mark across his geometry formulas, which is fine because he doesn't have a prayer of memorizing them anyway. He hasn't even been home for a couple hours yet -- he never gets visitors. He pushes the book to the side. "Hang on, it's locked," he goes, because he'd learned his lesson about having it open when he was trying to study.

It's Percy, still pale but looking much more alert, looking right at him in a way that has him thinking really silly things, and Nico probably will not pass eleventh grade. Just to let you know.

"Wow," says the hero of Olympus in his usual way, "And I thought my apartment was small."

Nico points to himself. "Still in high school, remember? I have to rely on your dad for my digs. Stepdad," he corrects quickly, because unless he'd like to spend the next forty years of his life as a sea slug, he should go out of his way to avoid offending Poseidon. Again. "And I have a Geometry final on Tuesday, so if you want, you can sit on my bed and watch 24, the DVDs are in the box underneath the --"

He should have seen the kiss coming, because Percy has been looking at him kind of like he hadn't seen anything like him before, like he'd watched Nico eat three slices of blue birthday cake, break them out of the Underworld on pain of death, kiss him on the staircase, and cook him ravioli, but had never really seen him, and he backs him up against his desk, which is economically attached to his bed because his room really isn't much bigger than a flat-rate box from UPS with superiority complex, his hands fisting together in the unbuttoned fabric of Nico's shirt. Somewhere in the midst of a tongue in the back of his throat, enough neurons in Nico's brain get together to fire a message to his foot, getting it to kick his door closed. It's as much privacy as he can afford them.

Their teeth click together unsettlingly and their noses bump hard and it's sloppy, artless, which means that Percy isn't doing it for fun, isn't doing it for the sensation of it, the distraction, for what he can get out of it -- he's serious, serious about this, out of control and Nico has brought him to this point and it's enough to give him that swooping, tipping feeling inside, the one where he's falling, falling, falling in love, rushing down until Percy's hands around his ribs catch him.

"Is this what's going to happen every time we brush up against death?" he asks with a breathless chuckle, as Percy goes for his neck, licking a long stripe up his pulse that has Nico thinking in blank static. "Because let me tell you, I'm a son of Hades -- I brush up against death a lot. It's kind of in the genes."

"I like the suit," Percy mumbles back, skinny fingers hooking into the knot in Nico's already-loosened tie and tugging. "Don't think I ever said that."

And though he will never admit it, Nico is just grateful he has learned what it is to no longer be alone, to want something so hard he thinks he could die from wanting it, and then have it, and want it still.

"Besides," the son of the sea god continues, "I got a bone to pick with you about the justice/mercy thing."

"Well, I'm very good at picking bones," Nico wraps his arms around his shoulders, pulling his mouth back up to his. They kiss for awhile, the shameless, interactive kind of making out that you don't do in front of your grandmother, with open mouths and licking tongues.

And then Percy says, the movement of his lips against Nico's sending little aftershocks rippling all across his skin, "If one figure standing alone cannot deal out justice, then how can mercy come from you alone? We're two sides of the same coin, with the same limitations."

"I never said we weren't," Nico replies. "And you're right. I cannot channel mercy like you can channel water. It's not something that can be controlled. Not even by the gods." He hooks a leg around the back of Percy's knees, twisting them around so they fall back onto Nico's bed, crushing the contents of his backpack and the wrapper from his lunch. Nico settles back onto his heels, Percy pinned into the covers beneath him, lips strained as the wound in his back stretches. "To quote the dead guy who looked after me that one time Persephone turned me into a geranium, 'it droppeth like gentle rain from heaven.'"

Percy looks up at him, one hand resting on his thigh, and Nico will never understand why half of heaven wants to ignore this boy, shuffle him under the rug simply because they aren't fond of feeling indebted to someone, put an unofficial price on his head for desperate people like Cecilia Nakamura, because who can walk away from Percy Jackson? Who would want to?

And he's here, he's right here with Nico, who wants nothing more than to simply fall into him like a grave.

Percy pushes himself up onto his elbows, kissing his lips, the bridge of his nose, his eyelid, the touch as cool and gentle as ... well, as raindrops. "I forgive you," he whispers into the flesh below Nico's cheekbone, and Nico isn't sure what he forgives him for: for making his life hell after Bianca died, for selling him out to Hades, for leaving no other choice than to bathe in the River Styx, but the joy that hits him makes him bubble with laughter and say, "That's the spirit."

And he tilts down to kiss his mouth, quick as a silver dime flashing.








-fin

Comments

LOVED. THIS. SO. MUCH.

Nico's narration was lovely, and I liked the subtle changes you showed in him over time and the way he cares about Percy quite like no one else does. All the scenes flowed together spectacularly, and there's just way too much I loved about it to list it all here. Awesome job!

You have no idea how mad I was when the message alert popped into my inbox at work and I couldn't read it right away! It was torture, I tell you!
fgjsuigfuso This was so, so, SO AWESOME. I loved Nico's voice and I love everything about it and... I have no words. I just think this was awesome. I will have to leave you with that. <3
Uh, day late and a dollar short with the comments, but... wow, Um. I think I love you for writing this. Just how you read Percy and how other people see him, the way Nico is and the happy little fangirl inside of me is waving pom-poms right now it was just a fabulous little set of interactions and great job!

(Anonymous)

hi

this was uper cool but since wen are Percy and nicos
gay. anywhoozerz I liked it
I am really loving how you write Percy and Nico. They are wonderful growing up. <3
I think this comment is more epic than my fic, actually. I don't even have words for how hard this made me blush and flail. fduishfrjkshkjc, thank you! Have an Internetz, from me to you :DDD
'He wants to shake him, hard, because what does he know about loneliness, and he hates everyone who made Percy this way, everyone who expects him to be their figure of justice. He's important, he's important to the entire world, and he doesn't understand it, doesn't know he's a hero not because he has to be, he's a hero because he saved Nico's life, and it's a very personal thing, the fact that Nico is around to be thinking about it all. He hates them, for taking it away, taking away the importance of what Percy's done because he was supposed to do it, because of something some dried-up old mummy said ages ago. It hits him in a rush of flash-hot anger, a swarm of disgust, despair, determination, and longing, sweeping up under him and making his vision blank out for a moment like white noise.'

This paragraph really really struck me. It not only illustrates how Percy's been taken for granted, how he himself takes it as a norm because of his fatal flaw, but also how much Nico cares about him, and recognises this as absolutely dispeakable and heart-breaking, and feels so enraged by it. This links so increadible well with the angst of the opening scene, and everything just FIT together, including Nico's own subsequent guilt over 'making'Percy invulnerable even more different.

I also loved how you explored the relationship between justice and mercy: "It's a two-sided coin, Percy. Justice ... justice is worthless without mercy." Got me thinking, that.

In short, your fic posesses awesomeness in epic proportions. Thank you so much for writing it! I enjoyed it very much indeed. :)

Damn, this is one of the best fics I've read in the fandom.
um, the whole percy's achilles' heel thing. In TLO, Luke gets a small gash on his weak spot and dies in under 5 minutes. But somehow Percy, who got stabbed with a dagger in his weak spot, is going to be okay, just because she didn't use poison? I mean, there was no poison on the dagger that killed Luke. It's a really great story overall, but it just seems kind of inconsistent with the books.
Makes sense to me, hun, since I don't own the books and had nothing to double-check. Thanks for the comment!
Fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. So bloody fantastic it's ridiculous how fantastic this is. I think this is the first piece I've read where Percy actually gets hurt, I might add. I love all the wonderful details you added in. I love the entire philosophy of justice vs mercy. I love Nico sticking to Percy's side no matter what. I love the clash of human and immortal in Percy and how you've made them play out so clearly and succinctly. I love Nico's dry, sarcastic streak in the way you write him. I love flat-rate fedex boxes with superiority complexes. I love the idea of Nico in a suit.

Basically, I am in love with this fic. The steamy parts are just that: steamy, and you haven't even written them all the way! That's pure talent! Also, Percy's line: "Right now, I am about to go down on you, and I am not coming up until I have rendered you completely unable to even say my name. Do you really want to keep talking?"

Oh my goodness. I would have reacted exactly the same way as Nico, just so you know. That was so classic and for some reason completely summed up Percy in this fic to me. And it's absolutely fantastic.

Please keep writing. Don't ever stop. I'm most definitely in love. :)

Very nice

That was lovely. Really beautifully written. I've only recently read the books and Percy/Nico leapt out at me as a worthy pairing. But I had nearly despaired of ever finding well-written fanfiction in this fandom. And then I found this. My favourite among many fantastic lines:

"And he's here, he's right here with Nico, who wants nothing more than to simply fall into him like a grave."

Well done!
This is brilliant. I really love it. Your characterization is spot on, especially Nico's. I love Nico talking about Bianca to Cecilia. I love that he wears suits. I love everything about this fic <3
amaaazing (:
Thank you!
no problem :))
This fic is beautiful. I loved it. Very much.
Oh my gosh, thanks so much! :)
I am in an extremely fragile emotional state as of now. This was pure beauty with humor and amazing ness, while I just sit crying in a corner due to your fabulous writing and the FEELS.
dragonmen

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