The first time was an accident.
Leo had been working on a motor for a flying life boat, a routine job really, but one involving some really sharp parts. In a moment of clumsiness he managed to cut a deep gash into his arm. The pain was sharp, overwhelming, chasing away any other thoughts running through his mind. Leo watched in fascination as his blood dripped down on the machine, coloring it red. It was like a christening, or an ensoulment. It marked the machine as something truly his. Leo found he liked the feeling.
It became routine after that. Every machine he worked on, he’d cut his arm and let a few drops fall down on it. He started wearing his sleeves down to cover what he was doing, and pilfered ambrosia to heal the scars quicker. Other than that he made an effort to act as he normally did, and nobody noticed the change.
It wasn’t until Valentine’s day that Leo realized it had never been about claiming the machines. The pain was what mattered.
After spending the whole day, and the week before, seeing couples in every corner of camp, hugging, kissing, sneaking off together, Leo was past his breaking point. He felt even worse than he had when Calypso broke up with him, a few months before. At least he had seen it coming then. She was a goddess, after all. Why would she want to date him, even if he had managed to rescue her from the island? The only reason she had liked him in the first place was because she had no alternative. If he wasn’t the only other person around, there was no way anyone was ever going to fall for him. And even then most people would probably become like Narcissus rather than be with him.
The knowledge that he was forever to be the seventh wheel hurt, but the physical pain in his arm made it seem more bearable. He stopped claiming his machines after that, because what was the point? It’s not like anyone knew they’d been claimed, and they weren’t alive to tell anyone about it. The whole thing had just been some hopeless attempt at creating a connection, at having something that was his.
He also stopped taking ambrosia to heal the wounds. The pain lasted longer if he let things go the natural way. Leo was a little afraid someone would notice and realize how pathetic he really was, so he spent most of the days in the bunker, working like a maniac. The work helped him stop thinking for a while, and late at night when he couldn’t work he had the pain to keep him company. It made things easier, at least for a while.
The scars would be hard to hide if someone ever forced him to go swimming, though. Which was one of the many reasons why he loudly refused when the others invited to come spend a holiday with them at some seaside cabins down south. Percy’s idea, apparently.
“Come on, Leo! It’ll be fun!” Piper urged him. “We hardly ever see you anymore. You’re always working. You deserve a break.”
“We literally live in cabins by the beach already,” Leo pointed out. “How is this different?”
“No rules, no curfew,” Percy grinned. “You have to come. It’s going to be a blast.”
“I’ll charmspeak you if you don’t agree,” Piper threatened. “You’re going to work yourself to death otherwise.”
In the end he had no choice but to join them, though he swore not even Piper’s charmspeak would get him into the water. And watching the other’s be all couply for a whole week wasn’t something he was looking forward to.
The “no rules”-agreement became apparent as soon as they divided the cabins. They had rented four tiny two-person cabins, which meant all the others were staying with their respective partner, while Leo was alone. Frank and Hazel did offer to share with him so he wouldn’t have to be by himself, but Leo resolutely declined.
“I think I can live without hearing you two getting it on in the night, thanks,” Leo said, grinning as they both blushed.
“Still, I’m sorry you’re staying alone,” Hazel said. “I tried to get my brother to join us, but I couldn’t reach him. I think he’s still in the Underworld. I left a message for him with Reyna, if he turns up.”
Leo repressed a shudder. Staying in the cabin alone suddenly didn’t seem so bad anymore. Not that he had anything against Nico per se, but the kid still gave Leo the creeps. Sleeping in the same cabin with him would have been a nightmare.
It wasn’t as bad as Leo had feared, at first. All seven of them hung out, played silly sports and generally had fun. Leo excelled when making barbecue. It wasn’t until late in the evening when they were all sitting around the big campfire at the beach that the others started pairing off, and the loneliness returned. Leo knew he shouldn’t resent the others for it, but it was with a sick feeling in his gut that Leo feigned a loud yawn and excused himself to go to bed. He tried not to think about the others and what they might be doing in the rare privacy of their own cabins. Tomorrow he would leer at them and make inappropriate jokes, but right now the thoughts just hurt. Leo used a bread knife to reopen the wound from a few days ago, watching the blood flow as one pain eased the other. For now.
Trying to convince Percy he didn't want to swim was impossible.
“Seriously, Percy. I’m basically living flame. Do you want to kill me?” Leo said, running out of excuses. He was honestly surprised when Percy frowned and asked “Really?”
“That’s not how it works,” a dry voice said behind them, and they both jumped before they realized who it was. Nico di Angelo was standing in the shadows, wearing way too much for such a hot day. On the other hand, Leo with his long sleeves wasn’t exactly in a position to tell him that.
“Nico!” Percy smiled brightly. “Didn’t you bring any luggage?”
Nico looked surprised. “I’m just here to see Hazel. Reyna said she wanted to talk to me.”
As if summoned by magic, Hazel appeared, giving Nico a hug. “Didn’t Reyna tell you? I wanted you to join us on our holiday here.”
“Holiday? In cabins by the sea?” Nico said, raising his eyebrows. “Isn’t that a bit redundant?”
Leo snorted. “See? That’s what I said,” he told Percy, who just shrugged.
“So will you join us?” he asked. “There’s a free bed in Leo’s cabin.”
Nico looked at Leo for a brief second before turning back towards Percy. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said, and despite it being Nico, Leo couldn’t help but feel a bit hurt. “Besides,” Nico continued. “I’m not part of the seven.”
“That’s not what this is about. And you did as much for the war as any of us,” Hazel said, frowning sternly at her brother. “Please, it’ll be fun.”
Nico looked uncomfortable, but Leo knew he was going to agree. Even the son of Hades wasn’t so heartless as to say no when Hazel begged him. Leo was surprised when Nico turned towards him instead of agreeing immediately.
“Would you mind? It’s your cabin after all,” Nico said, and Leo was honestly shocked that Nico had taken his feelings into consideration. Not that he could say no without becoming the bad guy and causing Hazel to hate him. So he shrugged.
“Hey, it’s cool,” Leo grinned. “We can talk about how disgustingly in love everybody else is and complain to each other about not having girlfriends. It’ll be great!”
Nico frowned at him, while Hazel laughed happily and clapped his shoulder.
“Ignore him,” Percy said. “Or help me drag him into the water. He refuses to go swimming.”
“As do I,” Nico said. “And don’t even think about bringing the sea to us instead. I’ll send ghosts to haunt you in your cabin all week.”
“What’s the point of staying by the beach if you don’t go swimming?” Percy complained, but made no further attempt to drag either of them to the water. Leo was surprised, and relieved. Maybe having Nico around wouldn’t be so bad after all, even if the strange looks Nico kept giving him throughout the day were kind of creepy.
The whole “sleeping in the same cabin”-thing was a bit awkward, as well.
“I’ve been sleeping on the lower bed, but we can switch if you want to bottom,” Leo said, wiggling his eyebrows. Okay, so mock flirting might not have been the best way to start this, but Nico seemed distracted and missed the innuendo entirely.
“I’ll take the top, thanks,” he said, looking around the cabin and then turned to frown at Leo like there was something on his face.
“Are you checking me out?” Leo tried to joke, though he was feeling increasingly uncomfortable under Nico’s scrutinizing gaze. Nico’s frown deepened.
“Are you sick?” Nico finally asked.
“What do you mean?” Leo asked with a nervous laugh. “I’m fine. Fit as a fiddle.”
“Then what’s wrong?” Nico said, actually looking concerned. Leo might have been moved by that if he hadn’t been so confused.
“What are you talking about?” Leo said. “Nothing’s wrong with me.”
“No, something is wrong,” Nico insisted. “If you don’t want to tell me, that’s fine. It’s none of my business, but are you aware that your life force is flickering?”
“What?” Leo asked, staring at him. “Flickering how?”
“Like a light about to go out. Usually happens to really sick people,” Nico said. “But as you said, you seem healthy. And in any case it seems...different somehow. Like it’s the soul and not the body that’s giving up.”
“I’m fine,” Leo said, though there was ice in his stomach. “Let’s just go to sleep.”
“I understand that you don’t want to talk to me about it,” Nico said. “But you should talk to somebody. A flickering life force is dangerous. You might die.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Leo muttered. “I’m going to bed, flickering or not.”
Nico nodded gravely, and didn’t say another word until after the lights were shut off and they both lay in their beds.
“Can I ask you one last question?” Nico said in the darkness above him. Leo sighed.
“Can I stop you?” he said. “Fine. Shoot.”
“Do you want to die?”
Leo froze. The question took him by surprise, but given what Nico had just told him maybe it shouldn’t have. Leo would have been lying if he said the thought of slitting his wrists instead of his arms hadn’t crossed his mind on several occasions, but did he really want to talk about it? With Nico di Angelo of all people? They weren’t even really friends.
On the other hand the kid was the son of a death god, and spent most of his time around dead people. He was an expert to the subject of death if Leo was ever going to find one.
“I don’t know,” Leo finally said honestly. “I’m starting to think it might be easier to end it all.”
Nico was quiet for a moment. ”It would not be easier,” he said. “The judges are harsh on those who give up. Best case scenario is the Fields of Asphodel.”
“But I would forget everything, right?” Leo asked. “That’s what the Fields of Asphodel do.”
“In time, yes, you would,” Nico said sadly. “Is that what you want? To erase yourself?”
“Maybe,” Leo said. “I thought you weren’t going to ask any more questions.”
“Sorry,” Nico said. “But trust me, the people you leave behind would miss you. Talk to them before you make any decision.”
Leo didn’t have an answer for that. He lay awake for a long time, staring up at the ceiling. Nico was right. His friends cared for him and they would miss him if he ended it. They wouldn’t understand. They’d probably blame themselves. Leo couldn’t do that to them, even if he wasn’t sure how long he was going to be able to last.
The need for pain became stronger the more Leo thought about it. He tried to resist it, since he wasn’t alone in the cabin, but it was futile. He didn’t even have his tool belt to keep his thoughts otherwise occupied. Nico’s breathing sounded regular above him, so Leo tried to be as quiet as possible as he got out of bed and into the bathroom, grabbing a knife on the way. His pain eased as the blood ran.
He waited until the bleeding stopped before he exited the bathroom. Nico was sitting up in his bed as he came out, watching him. Despite the darkness Leo felt completely exposed under his gaze. There was no doubt in Leo’s mind that Nico knew exactly what he’d been up to. Leo wished he’d just masturbated instead. That would have been less embarrassing.
“Please don’t tell the others,” Leo said quietly.
Nico nodded. “I tried that a couple of times, after B… after I lost my sister,” he said. “It helped a little for a short time. Is that why you do it?”
“Yes,” Leo said, surprised Nico had decided to share something so personal. “How did you stop?”
“I had to. I needed my arms healthy for sword fighting. You don’t want to go into a battle already injured,” Nico said. “It helped that I had ghosts looking over my shoulder all the time. It’s not something you do in public.”
Leo snorted. “That makes sense. You don’t exactly seem to type to like being in the spotlight.”
“Understatement,” Nico said. “Still, I think someone looking over your shoulder might work for you too. Talk to someone. Jason wouldn’t judge you. Neither would Hazel.”
“I’m talking to you,” Leo pointed out. “And you seem to be looking over my shoulder already.”
“I’m not going to stay around after you go back to camp,” Nico said. “I don’t belong there.”
Leo snorted. “That makes two of us,” he said. “Anyway, I’m going to try and catch some sleep.”
Nico nodded. “Have you treated the wounds properly?”
Leo rolled his eyes. “Yes, mom. After all the times I’ve gotten wounded in battle I actually know how to treat them.”
“But no ambrosia?”
“No ambrosia,” Leo nodded. “Goodnight.”
With that he lay back down on the bed and dragged the blanket over his head. Nico sighed above him, but didn’t say anything else. Leo could hear him settle down in his bed again. Leo closed his eyes, trying to go to sleep. Strange as it was, he felt better now, having talked to someone about it. Nico hadn’t even forced him to try to explain why he was doing what he did. Maybe he actually understood.
Leo slowly drifted off to sleep, feeling less alone than he had in months.
Nobody treated Leo any different the following day, so it seemed like Nico had actually kept his promise and not told anyone about last night. Nico himself did remain pretty close to him the whole day, which could have looked suspicious, if not for the fact that they were the only ones staying on the beach. All the others spent the day without changing out of their swimsuits, running in and out of the water.
“I wish I had my tool belt,” Leo sighed. He was sitting just above the beach with Nico, leaning against a tree and watching the others have fun in the water. He felt bored, and a bit sad that he couldn’t join the others. Or he could, but...Well, no reason to spoil their fun, right?
“Is that why you are braiding grass straws together?” Nico asked drily. Unlike Leo, he seemed perfectly content with just sitting still and watching. Hardly surprising. He had spent most of the time aboard the Argo II doing just that, albeit on top of the mast.
“I need to keep my hands occupied, or I’ll go crazy,” Leo said, accidentally setting fire to the straws in his hand. “Could we go do something?”
“Like what?” Nico asked, eyebrows raised.
“I don’t know. Anything,” Leo said. “Let’s go raise the dead. That’s what you usually do for fun, right?”
“I don’t raise the dead for fun. And I certainly won’t do it just to entertain you,” Nico said. “Besides, it works better at night.”
“Fine,” Leo sighed. “I think I saw some board games in the cabin. I’m so desperately bored that even Monopoly sounds interesting right now.”
Nico followed him back to the cabin, where they indeed found a wide selection of board games in the wardrobe. The boxes were pretty tattered, though, and upon opening them it quickly became clear that parts were missing from most games.
“How are you supposed to play Monopoly without 100 dollar bills?” Leo complained. “And half the characters are missing from Clue!”
“The chess board seems fairly intact,” Nico said. “And I think most of the checkers pieces are there.”
“Chess and checkers,” Leo muttered. “That’s not boring at all. I can’t wait.”
“What do you suggest, then?” Nico frowned. “This ‘Jenga’ seems complete, but I don’t know what it is.”
“Really?” Leo grinned. “I’m going to kick your ass. I bet my hands are steadier than yours. Come on.”
They set up the Jenga tower on the barbecue table on the beach while Leo explained the rules.
“It’s simple. You take a block from the tower and place it on top of it. If the tower falls, you lose,” Leo said.
Nico nodded. “I understand. You start?”
Getting the first few blocks out was always easy. Leo quickly found that Nico had the advantage, his hands were as steady as a surgeon’s. Leo was somewhat hindered by the pain from his arms, and his hands started shaking if he tried to hold them still for a long time. He actually regretted not taking ambrosia the day before.
As the tower got taller and less stable the others started gathering around them, cheering them on.
“I’ve never seen a tower that high,” Percy mused. “Mine always fall after two minutes.”
“I’ve managed a really tall one once, when I was ten,” Frank said. “But it’s always easier when you’re doing it on your own.”
“Shut it. You guys are making it hard to concentrate,” Leo said, slowly removing another block. The tower swayed, but didn’t fall. “Ha!”
Nico took a long look at the tower before starting to remove a block from one of the bottom rows. Leo looked on in fascination. He would not have dared do that, but the tower held. However, the moment Leo touched the next block, it fell apart.
“Oh, too bad!” Piper laughed. “Better luck next time, Leo.”
“I’d like to see you try,” Leo said. “Ghost boy is a freaking brain surgeon.”
“Don’t call him that,” Jason said, frowning, because defending even the slightest gripe against Nico was something he did now.
“Yeah, he prefers Ghost King,” Percy laughed, and Nico turned a bit red.
“Let’s not bring that up,” he scowled. “Are we playing another game or what?”
“Actually we were thinking volleyball,” Jason said, producing a ball from gods knew where. “We could play in teams of four now. You in?”
Playing volleyball with injured arms turned out to be a really bad idea. Every time he hit the ball there was a sharp pain in his arms, and not the kind he’d come to crave, either. He tried not to let it show as they played on, but he was thankful his long sleeved shirt was dark. Leo was pretty sure the wounds had started to bleed again.
They were playing best out of five, and Jason’s team, including Nico, Hazel and Piper, won, partly because of Leo’s reluctance to touch the ball. Percy wasn’t happy about it.
“Damn,” he said. “Let’s go another round. We shall have our revenge!”
“You’re on,” Jason laughed, and Leo wasn’t looking forward to going through that again.
“You’ll have to do it without me. I’m out,” Nico said, sending Leo a quick glance. Leo immediately understood what he was doing, and honestly he could have kissed him for it.
“That would make us uneven,” Jason said uncertainly.
“I’m out as well,” Leo said, forcing a grin. “Sports -- not really my thing. Besides, I promised His Majesty a chess game.”
“Never call me that,” Nico said, joining him on the walk back to their cabin as the others continued playing.
As soon as they had closed the door behind them Nico turned towards Leo with a frown. “How bad is it?” he asked. “Show me.”
“It’s fine. I can treat it myself,” Leo tried, but Nico’s frown just deepened.
“Show me,” he repeated, sterner now. Leo sighed as he rolled up his sleeves. The fabric had gotten stuck to his bandages where the wounds had bled through. Nico dragged him with him to the bathroom and started unwrapping the ruined bandages. He raised his eyebrows as he saw just how many open and half healed wounds Leo had inflicted upon himself. Leo winced, preparing himself for the lecture.
It never came.
Nico remained quiet as he proceeded to clean Leo’s wounds and wrap them in fresh bandages. He was surprisingly gentle about it, and Leo suppressed a shiver as Nico’s cold fingers touched his skin. It was a strange feeling, having someone take care of him like this.
“I have some ambrosia in my jacket,” Nico said when he finished with Leo’s arms. “You should take some.”
Leo nodded. “Yeah, you’re probably right,” he said quietly, and obediently ate the stuff when Nico brought it moments later. The ambrosia tasted of a chocolate cake his mother used to love, a long time ago. Leo blinked not to get teary eyed. This was why he hated taking this stuff. It took the pain away and made it worse at the same time.
Nico was still watching him in silence. He was frowning slightly, but it didn’t look like he was judging, which Leo felt really thankful for.
“Do you think the other’s would notice if I changed my shirt?” Leo asked, inspecting the bloodstains. They weren’t all that visible on the dark fabric, but they would get uncomfortably stiff as they dried.
“Just say you felt sweaty after the match,” Nico shrugged.
“Good idea. Thanks, man,” Leo said, proceeding to look for a clean shirt. He wondered if Nico realized the idea wasn’t the only thing Leo was thanking him for.
“Whatever,” Nico muttered. “You owe me a chess game.”
“Your wish is my command, Your Majesty,” Leo grinned as Nico glared at him.
The day was pretty uneventful after that. They played chess, pretty evenly matched, had a Jenga tournament with the others which Nico won and sang stupid songs around the campfire. The last thing had been completely spontaneous, when Piper as a response to Leo’s joke about their couple-ness stated singing “Can you feel the love tonight”. This of course led to the other’s joining in, happily blaring out the lyrics from memory. Nico and Hazel were silently looking at each other in confusion.
“Okay, we need to have a Disney marathon for you two,” Leo grinned as they finished the song.
“Annabeth brought her laptop. We could start tomorrow,” Percy said.
“Right, Annabeth was allowed to bring her work tool but I wasn’t. How’s that fair?” Leo complained.
“Because I’m not trying to work myself to death,” Annabeth said.
“She’s right, Leo,” Jason said. “You really seemed like you needed a break. And you look a little better already.”
There was a agreeing murmur from the others, and Leo was honestly surprised. Was he better? Maybe. He didn’t feel as completely alone and worthless right now, but that had little to do with the holiday and everything to do with the pale Ghost King sitting beside him. Nico had made him feel better just by being there, passing no judgement and giving him no lectures or platitudes. It probably wouldn’t last, but yeah. Right there, right then, he felt better.
“Well, you know me. I’m a workaholic,” Leo shrugged, managing to pull off a grin and tricking the others to drop it as he started singing “Almost there”. He didn’t have much of a voice, but neither did most of the others, and they happily joined him anyway.
There were a variety of Disney songs playing in Leo’s head as he and Nico finally walked to their cabin to sleep. Leo was humming “Be prepared” as he made himself ready for bed. Nico looked vaguely irritated by it, so Leo proceeded to hum a little louder.
“Please stop that,” Nico finally said. “I’m trying to fall asleep.”
“Aw, are you sure you don’t want me to sing you a lullaby?” Leo said, and he could picture Nico rolling his eyes at him.
“Your voice is not exactly soothing,” Nico said. “Kindly shut up.”
“Such cruel words. You’re breaking my heart,” Leo laughed. “Fine. I’ll be quiet.”
Leo fell asleep shortly afterwards. He was startled awake in the middle of the night by a loud scream. He sat up in bed drowsy and confused as the screaming abruptly stopped, replaced by heavy breathing above him.
“Nico, are you alright?” Leo asked. It took a moment before Nico answered.
“I’m fine. Just a nightmare,” Nico said, his voice shaking. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Well, it seems to be the thing we do, right?” Leo said, trying to make his tone light. “Want to talk about it?”
“No,” Nico said. “I need to go wash my face.”
The bed made protesting sounds as Nico swung himself over the top bunk and landed gracefully on the floor. Leo thought he caught sight of something wet on his cheek before Nico hurried away to the bathroom. Leo was a bit shocked. He knew Nico had problems, but for something, even a nightmare, to actually make the son of Hades cry…
Leo remained sitting up in bed as he waited for Nico to return. When Nico finally got out of the bathroom, there was a haunted look on his face.
“Dude, you look terrible. Are you okay?” Leo asked, and Nico startled, as if he hadn’t expected Leo to still be awake.
“I’m fine,” he said again, not sounding any more convincing this time. Leo frowned.
“I was honest with you yesterday,” he pointed out. “And you’re not fine.”
“I dreamt I was back in Tartarus,” Nico said angrily. “How fine do you expect me to be?”
Leo blinked. He hadn’t thought about that, but he should have. Suddenly he felt even more pathetic than before, because Nico had gone through Tartarus alone and here Leo was complaining and cutting himself because his love life sucked. Okay, so there was more to it than that, but in comparison it was still pathetic. What right did he have to complain to Nico about his problems?
“Sorry,” Leo mumbled, lowering his gaze. He folded his arms and pushed his thumbs into the wounds on his arms. The ambrosia had worked pretty well, but it still hurt.
“Please don’t do that,” Nico said, sounding tired as he walked over to the bed. “I can feel the way your life force flickers when you do.”
“I wasn’t considering suicide,” Leo said defensively.
“I figured, but you were still hurting yourself on purpose,” Nico said, standing over him. “Maybe it’s because of your affiliation with fire that your life force changes so easily.”
“Sucks to be me then,” Leo muttered. “Don’t worry about it, though. You have enough problems on your own.”
Nico smiled bitterly. “True. But dealing with somebody else’s problems is easier,” he said.
Leo considered it. “Maybe we could help each other, then,” he said. “I mean, if there’s something I can do.”
“Not hurting yourself would help,” Nico said. “When I was in Tartarus, I felt the life forces of everyone I cared about flicker and die. It was an illusion, of course. A bastardised memory, but it’s still unpleasant to be reminded of it.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to do it,” Leo said, but Nico shook his head.
“Not your fault,” he said. “You should try to go back to sleep.”
“What about you?” Leo asked, and Nico shrugged.
“I won’t be able to for at least a few hours,” he said. “It’s fine. I’m used to it.”
“Well, I’m wide awake,” Leo grinned. “Let’s do something.”
In the end they decided to try and combine the elements of the half empty board games in the wardrobe and make something new. Nico had a surprisingly vivid imagination, and Leo was having a lot of fun writing down new, strange rules on a piece of paper.
“Miss Scarlet obtains the cell key and gets out of jail,” Leo said, spelling “key” on the scrabble board.
“The police are going to board up her house at New York Avenue and freeze her accounts, unless you can prove she didn’t kill Mr. Boddy,” Nico pointed out. “Just getting the key isn’t enough.”
“If I can explain ten words in Alias in under a minute, would that count as winning a court case?” Leo asked.
“Maybe if you hadn’t escaped from jail and become a fugitive,” Nico smiled. “Perhaps you should try to get out of the country.”
“Are we including the Risk board now?” Leo grinned. “Oh, this is the best game ever!”
Hazel knocked on the door a few hours later, and found them sitting on the floor in their pajamas arguing about whether or not Mr. Boddy could have faked his own death to frame Miss Scarlet, who was currently raising an army in Papua New Guinea while Nico, playing as Colonel Mustard, had managed to buy pretty much the whole Monopoly board. Hazel looked at the mess for a few moments before sighing and shaking her head.
“You two should come eat breakfast,” she smiled. “And then maybe you will realize that your game make no sense whatsoever.”
“It makes perfect sense,” Leo said. “Whoever manage world domination wins. Unfortunately Nico pretty much owns the states by now. I should send an assassin to kill him.”
“If you can spell it on the scrabble board, then sure,” Nico said, getting up from the floor. “Hazel is right about breakfast, though. I’m just going to get dressed.”
It was raining that day, so they spent the day inside Percy and Annabeth’s cabin, which was bigger than the others for no particular reason. Big enough to have room for a Twister mat on the floor.
“Right hand on red,” Annabeth said, clearly about to laugh as Percy, Jason, Nico and Leo tried to keep their balance and dignity in check on the mat. Frank had ended up on the girls’ team for some reason, and that wasn’t even remotely fair. With the exception of Nico the boys would be much heavier if they happened to fall down on you.
“I’m so much shorter than these two giants over here,” Leo complained as he tried to make his hands reach green and red at the same time. “This is in no way fair.”
“I agree,” Nico muttered, struggling with the same problem.
Annabeth ignored their complaints and spun the arrow again. “Left hand on blue.”
That helped a little bit. Leo and Nico ended up on the same blue. A few spins later all four of them were pretty much tangled up in each other. The first one to fall would likely bring the others down with him. Judging by the determined looks on Percy’s and Jason’s faces neither of them would be the first. Nico, whose face was on Leo’s stomach with one arm on the other side of him, just looked tired. And more than a little embarrassed.
“Right leg on green,” Annabeth said mercilessly.
“I can’t even see the green,” Leo said as the pile of bodies he was part of begun to move.
“It’s on the other end of the mat,” Nico said. “I don’t think...”
He never finished that sentence. As all of them tried to move at the same time it created an imbalance, and it was impossible to say who was the first to fall as the pile came tumbling down. As Leo had suspected, he ended up on the bottom, but the only one falling on him was Nico, his head crashing into Leo’s shoulder as he ended up on top of him. Jason and Percy fell down on Nico’s lower body, effectively pinning him down.
“Ouch,” Nico said into Leo’s shoulder before he made an effort to push himself up. Leo wasn’t sure he’d ever been so close to the boy before, and was surprised to find his heart skipped a beat. The boy had really long lashes around those dark eyes of his. Leo shook his head to clear it as Nico turned as best he could to shout at the other two to get off him. This was a pretty bad situation to realize how attractive his roommate was.
“You okay?” Nico asked, while Jason and Percy untangled themselves from him and each other in order to get up.
“Fine. Just lying here, enjoying the view,” Leo grinned. Nico rolled his eyes and managed to get up. Leo was almost disappointed he didn’t stay longer.
“Not sure who won that one,” Piper laughed. “Do you want a rematch?”
“Absolutely not,” Nico said determinedly.
“Yeah, it’s your turn now, girls,” Leo grinned. “Try not to crush them, Frank.”
After the game ended (Piper won), they gathered around Annabeth’s laptop to watch the Lion King. Leo entertained himself with watching Nico’s face rather than the movie at key moments, such as Mufasa’s death. Nico didn’t comment on it, just looked at the screen with a disbelieving expression. Hazel, who was sitting on Nico’s other side, gasped and leaned against him for support. Nico put an arm around her and pulled her closer without hesitation. If there hadn’t been tears in Hazel’s eyes Leo might have commented on how sweet they were. And it was sweet, really. Leo just wished Nico would show affection like that to other people as well. Like him, for instance. And this trail of thought never happened and he will deny it until his dying day. But still...
As Hakuna Matata played Leo was going through a bit of a crisis in his mind. It wasn’t about his sexuality, Leo liked girls and always would, but it wasn’t the first time he’d found a guy attractive. No, it was the Nico part that confused him. Leo had always found the son of Hades to be strange and creepy, and he undoubtedly was when he wanted to be, but Leo had discovered that he was also gentle, caring and had a good sense of humor and a strong imagination. Still, he looked nothing like the boys Leo had found attractive before. He wasn’t tall, tanned, muscular or traditionally handsome. Still, there was something very alluring about his dark eyes.
Leo glanced over at Nico again, and groaned inwardly as “Can you feel the love tonight” started playing at that exact moment. Off all the hopeless crushes he’s ever had, this was without a doubt the worst.
Leo slipped away unnoticed while the movie was still playing and went back to his own cabin. The parts from the game he and Nico had made up were still scattered all over the floor. Leo looked down at the mess, and felt a stab of loneliness, despite being the one to walk away. He had achieved a sort of friendship with Nico over the last few days. That should be enough, right? That was more than he had managed with most his crushes.
But it wasn’t what he wanted.
Leo’s hands were shaking while he unwrapped the bandages around his arms. The wounds were almost healed, leaving thin scars behind. They didn’t hurt anymore. Leo frowned. He needed them to hurt.
Leo cut himself open between two scars, closing his eyes to feel. With the pain for company he felt less alone. A while later he opened his eyes again to watch the blood flow from his arm, red dark and rich. His life slipping away, according to Nico. Maybe that really wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
A knock on the bathroom door shook him from his thoughts. “Let me in,” Nico’s voice said, sounding concerned.
“Just a minute,” Leo said, panicked as he started covering the wound up. A stupid gesture, really. Nico already knew, but it still felt like being caught with his pants down. Scratch that. It felt worse.
“If you don’t open the door right now I’m coming in anyway,” Nico said sternly. Leo hesitated, then sighed. He knew when a battle was lost. He unlocked the door, keeping his gaze on the floor as Nico came in. He didn’t dare meet his eyes, afraid of what he might find there. Disgust, maybe. Disappointment. Anger. Nothing.
Nico was silent for a moment, then reached out for Leo’s bleeding arm. “Let me take care of that,” he said. His voice was unreadable, but Leo kept looking at the floor as Nico cleaned and wrapped the wound. Leo tried not to enjoy the feel of Nico’s cool fingers against his skin. Nico didn’t offer him ambrosia this time, probably aware Leo would have refused it anyway. When he was finished he led Leo out of the bathroom and sat down by the small table in the corner, gesturing for Leo to do the same.
“I don’t know how to help you,” Nico said sadly. “I don’t know you all that well, and I realize I’m not the person you want to be around you right now. Do you want me to explain everything to Jason or Piper?”
“They wouldn’t understand,” Leo said to his hands. “They’d try, but they wouldn’t. And they would blame themselves and start walking on their tiptoes around me. I don’t want that.”
“Then what can I do?” Nico asked quietly. “It may be selfish of me, but I need you to stop doing this.”
“Selfish?” Leo repeated blankly, then remembered. “Right, because of bad memories. I’m really sorry.”
“It’s okay. This isn’t about me,” Nico said, and Leo finally looked up at him. He didn’t seem disgusted or disappointed or even angry. If anything, he seemed tired.
“No,” Leo said. “I asked how I could help you last night, and you told me. Then I went and did this anyway. I am the selfish one. I’m sorry.”
“You should stop for your own sake, not mine,” Nico pointed out.
Leo shrugged. “Does it matter, as long as I stop?”
“I guess not,” Nico said, giving him a pale smile that shouldn’t have been attractive, but it was.
“Wait, did I make you miss the ending of the movie?” Leo asked, suddenly remembering what they’d been doing before he left. Thankfully, Nico shook his head.
“No, it just finished. I left while the others were discussing what movie to watch next,” he said. “They might come looking for us soon.”
“We should get back, then,” Leo said, reluctantly getting up from the chair and checking himself for bloodstains. He couldn’t see any. “They might think we’re screwing if we keep sneaking off together.”
To Leo’s surprise Nico blushed deeply at that. The way his ears turned red was actually really cute. Leo made a mental note to make more jokes like that. Well, not exactly jokes to him, but still.
“It would be totally fitting, actually,” Leo continued. “Seeing as the two of us are the only singles on a beach full of couples.”
Nico glared at him. “Are you making fun of me?” he said, actually sounding upset, which wasn’t what Leo had been aiming for at all.
“Why would I be making fun of you?” Leo asked. “I mean, yeah, okay, so I usually don’t need a reason, but I wasn’t. Sorry. Did you just break up with someone or something?”
“No,” Nico said. “It doesn’t matter. Forget it.”
“Now you’ve made me curious,” Leo said. “Is there someone you like? Or..Oh! Are you just upset because we’re both guys? You’re not homophobic, are you?”
“That’s not it,” Nico snapped. “Stop asking questions!”
“Not until you answer me,” Leo pressed on, fully aware he was being annoying, but this felt important, somehow. Like he was on the edge of uncovering a piece of the mystery that was Nico di Angelo.
“Fine,” Nico spat. “I like guys. Happy?”
Leo stared at him for a moment, then grinned. Happy? Ecstatic was more like it. Not that Leo was likely to have a chance anyway, but still. One could dream. “So do I, from time to time,” Leo said, setting himself up for a quick heartbreak. “See? We should totally go out.”
Nico looked at him like he’d spontaneously grown horns or something. No, scratch that. Nico looked far more bewildered than that.
“Very funny,” he finally said, sighing. “Come on, let’s get back to the others.”
Leo frowned as he followed Nico out of the cabin and into the rain. A fitting weather for rejection. Not that it had been a “no”, exactly, but not even being considered wasn’t better. Story of his life, really.
Leo tried not to ogle Nico as he changed into his pajama that evening. He wouldn’t have thought there’d be much to look at, given how skinny the boy was, but it turned out he was covered in lean muscle Leo was aching to run his hands over. Okay, so he was totally ogling. It was hard not to, when Nico was right there. Leo was only human, after all.
“Why are you staring at me?” Nico asked, looking uncomfortable.
“Sorry,” Leo said, thinking fast. Somehow he didn’t think the truth would make Nico any happier. “I was just wondering. You said you cut yourself a couple of times, right? Do you still have the scars?”
“Sure,” Nico said, lifting the sleeve of his pajama shirt to show Leo his arm. There were three scars of a type that Leo instantly recognize, but there was also another, deeper one that crossed them. Without thinking Leo reached out to touch it.
“How did you get this?” Leo asked. Nico shrugged.
“Cyclops army a few years ago,” he said. “The good thing about it is that it makes the other ones less noticeable. Not to mention all the other scars I’ve collected over the years.”
Leo bit his tongue before he could ask to see them as well. He realized he was still holding Nico’s arm, and considered letting go, until he looked up to see that Nico was blushing in that adorable way again. Leo was so, so screwed.
“I meant it, you know,” he blurted out. “I totally think we should go out.”
Nico blinked in surprise. “I… Uh, I don’t...” he said, clearly struggling for words, but he was shaking his head, which was answer enough. Leo sighed as he let go of Nico’s arm.
“Hey, it’s fine. I get it,” he said, attempting to smile. “I just figured that since neither of us have anyone else, we could, you know, try. I mean, I kinda find you attractive and shit, but I get that you wouldn’t want to. Who would, right? Anyway, sorry about making this awkward, I’m just gonna go...”
“Hold on,” Nico said, looking confused. “Wait. What are you saying, exactly?”
“Umm...” Leo said hesitatingly. “That you’re hot and I want to date you?”
“You’re kidding,” Nico said, staring at him. Leo frowned.
“Hey, no need for that. If you don’t want to just say so,” he said. “Don’t sound like I’m beneath you.”
“What? That’s not what I meant,” Nico said hastily. “I just… Me? Why would you want to date someone like me?”
“You missed the part where I called you hot just now, huh?” Leo said. “And what do you mean, someone like you? What’s wrong with you?”
“You want me to make a list?”
“Maybe later. Right now I just really want an answer,” Leo said.
“Umm...” Nico said. “Are you sure about this?”
“I’m not asking for your hand in marriage, you know,” Leo sighed. “I’m starting to think your self esteem issues are worse than mine.”
“Undoubtedly,” Nico muttered. “Fine. Sure. We can try it.”
“Well, that was enthusiastic,” Leo said, but he was grinning.
“Sorry,” Nico said, blushing again. “So, umm, how do we do this?”
Leo hesitated. “Can I kiss you?” he finally asked, holding his breath until Nico nodded shyly. The whole thing was pretty awkward. Leo reached out to cup Nico’s face with one hand, not really sure what to do with the other, and leaned in slowly. The kiss was clumsy and chaste, but at least Nico kissed him back, so that was a victory, if not nearly as magical as most movies made it out to be. Still, there were butterflies in Leo’s stomach as he pulled back.
“That was kinda nice,” Nico said, smiling slightly. Leo grinned at him.
“There’s a lot more where that came from,” he said, and Nico didn’t protest when he leaned back in, a bit more confident now. Leo had kissed Calypso a couple of times during the short disaster that had been their relationship, but it had never been like this. Well, it had never been this awkward or clumsy, but it hadn’t felt this good, either.
Leo experimentally put his hand in Nico’s hair to pull them even closer, and he could feel one of Nico’s arms circling his waist. Leo smiled into the kiss. This was definitely a feeling he could get used to.
“Do you think this will work?” Leo asked as they parted, though he stayed in the embrace.
“Who knows? This is all very new to me,” Nico said. “But I think it has potential.”
Leo laughed. “That’s good enough for me.”
There was a silence long enough for things to start feeling awkward again.
“We should probably go to bed,” Nico said, and Leo snorted.
“Getting a little ahead of yourself, aren’t you?” he said teasingly, causing Nico to blush. Man, that was cute.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Nico said.
“I know,” Leo grinned. “Do you want to sleep together, though? Not in that way, just, you know, sleep.”
“I’m not sure I’ll be able to fall asleep with someone so close by,” Nico said, but it wasn’t a no.
“We could try. That’s what we’re doing, right?”
They ended up back to back on Leo’s bed, which wasn’t exactly what he’d had in mind, but still more than he could have asked for. Besides, the feeling of Nico’s back against his was comforting. For once, he didn’t feel alone.
When Leo woke up he was completely disoriented for a moment, wondering why his pillow was breathing. Then, slowly, he realized that the thing he was hugging and burying his face in was not a pillow, but a sleeping Nico di Angelo. At some point during the night Leo had apparently turned around snuggled up to him. Nico probably wasn’t even aware of it, but Leo was still happy that he hadn’t been pushed away. He wondered what would happen when Nico woke up.
Leo would have been be lying if he said he wasn’t worried. Nico had been pretty tired when he had agreed to this, and he might have come to his senses during the night. In fact, Leo thought as he sat up, he probably had. He could do much better than Leo after all. Without really being conscious of it he started pressing down on the wound from yesterday.
Nico opened his eyes, blinked a couple of times and looked up at Leo with a frown. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “Did something happen?”
Leo was confused for a moment before he realized what he was doing and let go of his arm. “Sorry. I was just thinking.”
“About what?” Nico asked, sitting up as well. “Are you having second thoughts? I completely understand if...”
“No!” Leo said quickly. “No. I thought you would have, now that you’re awake and all.”
Nico rolled his eyes. “I’m not sure I’m completely awake yet, to be honest. I haven’t slept that deeply in years. I guess it did help.”
“Really?” Leo grinned. “You don’t mind if I kiss you, then?”
“Um, let me wash my teeth first,” Nico said. “I have morning breath.”
Leo didn’t really care, but if Nico had issues with his own morning breath he probably wouldn’t appreciate Leo’s. The moment they were both clean and dressed, however, Leo dragged Nico close and pushed their lips together. Judging by the way Nico enthusiastically kissed back he didn’t exactly mind. Things already felt a lot less awkward than yesterday.
“So, do you want to tell the others about this or not?” Leo asked when the kiss ended.
“Could we just keep it between us for now?” Nico asked, looking a bit uncomfortable. “I mean, it’s pretty new.”
“You’re probably right,” Leo said, though it would have been pretty fun to flaunt it. “Piper might get over enthusiastic about it, and there’d be a thousand questions. Better to not tell them, for now.”
“Thank you,” Nico said, clearly relieved. Leo tried not to take it personally. Nico probably didn’t mean it that way, in any case.
The day was another beautiful, sunny day, which meant the others were swimming while Leo and Nico stayed on the ground. It suited Leo just fine. It meant nobody noticed when Leo got bored and dragged Nico back to the cabin to try French kissing. It was clumsy at first, but quickly turned into Leo’s new favorite thing. The low groans Nico made as Leo’s tongue stroked the inside of his mouth made Leo crave something more, and he was pretty sure his body was smoking in places. Thankfully Nico’s body was soothingly cool in comparison.
“Gods, you’re so warm!” Nico gasped as they parted.
“Sorry,” Leo said, trying to force his body temperature down. “It’s the fire thing. Does it bother you?”
“No,” Nico said. “I actually...Um, I kinda like it.”
Leo grinned widely as Nico blushed. “Really?”
“Don’t let it go to your head,” Nico muttered. “We should head back before the others notice we’re missing.”
“In a minute,” Leo said. “We’ve got a minute, right?”
With that he closed the distance between them again. Nico didn’t complain.
The next two days passed much in the same fashion. They slept in the same bed, they sneaked off to steal kisses while the others were too busy to notice, and Leo’s arm healed. However, all good things must come to an end.
It was the last night before they returned to camp. They were lying in bed, side by side, when Leo voiced the question that had been bothering him for a while.
“Will you come with me back to camp?”
Nico hesitated before he answered. “I can’t. I promised my father to help out in the Underworld, and I’m already late,” he said apologetically. Leo didn’t really care about the reason. He sat up in the bed looking down at his arms. He would be alone again.
“I’ll come visit. It would only be a week or so,” Nico said. “Please don’t do anything rash.”
“I’m not sure I can make it,” Leo said quietly. “It’s easy when you’re here, but the moment you’re gone I’m going to start again. I don’t want to, but I will.”
“If I could do it, you can as well,” Nico said, sitting up beside him. “And I honestly think you need to prove that to yourself.”
“I don’t think I’m strong enough. Not yet,” Leo said, lifting his gaze to look at Nico. “Can’t you stay with me a little longer? We don’t have to go back to camp. We could go somewhere else.”
Nico mercilessly shook his head. “I can’t,” he said. “But I think you are strong enough. You don’t need me to look over your shoulder.”
“What if I fail?” Leo said weakly.
“You won’t,” Nico said, reaching out for Leo’s arms and lifting his sleeves. Even the latest wound was just a fresh scar now, and Leo shivered as Nico dragged his cool fingers along it.
“What did you do?” Leo asked. “When it got unbearable, what did you do?”
Nico shrugged. “Anything I could, anything I had nearby to distract myself until it passed,” he said. “I talked a lot with random ghosts at the time, asking for their lives’ story. It helps not to be alone.”
“There won’t be any ghosts at camp, though,” Leo smiled slightly as moved closer to Nico to lean on his shoulder.
“You could just talk to your friends, you know,” Nico said, apparently hesitating before putting an arm around him. “You don’t have to tell them anything about this.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Leo said. “I’m not going to manage to convince you to stay, am I?”
“No, but I can arrange it so I can stay longer when I get back,” Nico said. “If you want me to.”
“Well, I don’t know. All my other boyfriends might get jealous,” Leo scowled, putting his hands on each side of Nico’s face. “Of course I want you to,” he said, pulling him into a kiss. Nico willingly opened his mouth to allow him entrance, and Leo practically climbed into his lap to bring them closer. They kissed each other desperately for a while. Leo’s hands started to wander downwards, from Nico’s face to his chest and under the rim of his shirt. Nico gasped into Leo’s mouth as his hands touched bare skin. They hadn’t made it even this far before, but Leo wanted to take it further, wanted some sort of confirmation that this, whatever this was, was real.
However, the moment Leo reached inside Nico’s waistband the boy pulled back.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said, blushing darkly.
“Why not?” Leo asked. “I mean, if nothing else, it’s past time we got rid of our virginity, right?”
He was surprised when Nico’s face darkened and he looked away. “Wait, you are a virgin, right? I mean, I don’t care if you’re not. It doesn’t really mean anything, which I now realize goes completely against what I just said about getting rid of it, and I’m rambling, aren’t I?”
“A little,” Nico said. “And truth be told I’m not sure. Tartarus was...strange. I’m still not entirely sure what was real and what wasn’t.”
“What, so you’re saying you found a nice monster down there and...” Leo trailed off, suddenly feeling sick to his stomach. “That’s not what you’re saying.”
“No,” Nico said. ”But it’s all very vague. I don’t know if it actually happened. Tartarus played with my mind a lot. I saw and felt a bunch of things that seemed real but wasn’t, and the other way around. Like I told you about the flickering.”
“If it seemed real, then it doesn’t make much of a difference, does it?” Leo said, bringing him closer. “Gods, Nico. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay. My memory isn't exactly clear. Just thought you should know, in case I freak out at some point,” he said into Leo’s shoulder. “Don’t tell anyone else.”
“I promise,” Leo said, running his fingers through Nico’s hair, hopefully in a soothing manner. He was bad at things like his in general, but this was on a completely different scale. How was he supposed to handle this? What was he allowed to do? Leo had no idea.
“Um...” Nico said. “Sorry, are you repulsed by me?”
“What?” Leo said angrily. “Why would I be repulsed by you? Don’t say shit like that.”
“Sorry,” Nico said quietly. “It’s just… you’re acting different.”
“I don’t mean to be. If anything, I’m repulsed with myself,” Leo said. “You’ve been through so much shit, and you still indulge me about my petty problems. You deserve so much better than me.”
“Stop it,” Nico said. “You can’t compare pain. If Tartarus though me anything, that was it.”
They were silent for a while, just holding each other. Finally, by mutual decision, they lay back down on the bed, still wrapped around each other. As Leo closed his eyes to sleep, he swore he would make it through. Nico deserved someone better than him, and Leo was determined to become that person. He had ran away for the last time.
The parting the following day was quick and anticlimactic. Hazel and Frank returned to Camp Jupiter on Arion while Nico melted into the shadows to go back to the Underworld. For the rest of them there were pegasi sent from camp. Leo preferred flying boats to flying horses, but there were worse travelling methods, and he was too busy trying not to start missing Nico already to notice much of the journey.
The following days were torture. Leo felt alone and abandoned, and found himself doubting the sincerity of Nico’s promise to come back. Any sharp object in his vicinity were practically singing to him to pick them up and slash his arms, or wrists when things were particularly bad. Leo tried to ignore them, and followed Nico’s advice to keep himself busy, and when possible, not alone. He worked in his cabin rather than the bunker, giving advice and helping the younger campers. He even talked Jason into teaching him swordplay, figuring getting beat up might help without being self-inflicted, but Jason was much too patient to allow Leo to get hurt. He spent the nights in the bunker, avoiding sleep to avoid his own thoughts.
On the third day all his friends were busy, so he did as Nico had said and started talking to random people. Living people, mind. Not ghosts. It turned out that when you asked anyone from the Aphrodite cabin, other than Piper, what was new you ended up having to suffer through half an hour of gossip. Suddenly Leo knew about the love lives of people he didn’t even remember the names of.
“What about you?” the Aphrodite girl asked when she was finally finished talking about everybody else. ”Is there someone you like?”
Leo hesitated. He and Nico were seeing each other, but the word “like”, let alone “love”, had never entered their conversation. Leo was attracted to him, clearly, but he wasn’t sure how Nico felt. He would have said they had gotten together out of convenience, except that there hadn’t been anything convenient about it for the son of Hades. If anything, Leo had just managed to screw his life up even more, but Nico hadn’t complained. The image of the other's blushing face was stuck on the inside of Leo’s eyelids, and he missed him in ways that had nothing to do with convenience.
“Yeah,” Leo finally said. “There’s someone.”
Considering how hard it was to get the Aphrodite girl to stop pestering him to tell her who it was, maybe he should have kept quiet.
Three days later, Leo was walking to dinner when he saw something familiar. He stopped dead in his tracks, staring in front of him. Nico was standing there, talking casually to Jason and Piper like he’d never been gone at all. He was rolling his eyes at something Jason said. For a panicked moment Leo considered running away, then he closed his eyes and took a deep breath, plastering one of his standard grins on his face. He could do this.
“Hey, Nico! When did you get back from the Underworld?” he said loudly, walking up to them. Nico turned towards him, looking surprised.
“Just now,” Nico said, frowning at him for some reason. Leo fidgeted a little. He had forgotten how easily Nico saw through his masks. “I was just about to come look for you. I need to talk to you.”
“Do you?” Leo said, trying for nonchalance though his heart skipped a beat. “Sure, I’ve got time.”
Piper and Jason were giving them funny looks, but Leo ignored them and followed Nico into the Hades cabin, which was, unsurprisingly, painted black on the inside and dark even with the lights on. Nico stopped in the middle of the floor and turned around to face him.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
Leo snorted. “Apart from the fact that you abandoned me for a week and then didn’t bother telling me when you got back? Not much else, really.”
“I told you why I had to go back,” Nico said. “And I literally got back ten minutes ago. I ran into Jason and Piper while looking for you.”
“Really?” Leo asked, feeling stupid.
“Yes,” Nico said, rolling his eyes. “How have you been?”
“Lonely,” Leo admitted. “But I’ve managed. Look.”
He folded up his sleeves. He still had scars, of course, but the wounds were all healed by now. Nico smiled at him as he took a gentle hold of Leo’s arms, running his fingers down the scars. Leo shivered at the familiar touch.
“I knew you could do it,” Nico said. “See? You’re stronger than you thought you were.”
Leo blushed at the praise, and the honest way Nico delivered it. “It’s barely been a week,” Leo said. “And it’s been hard. I don’t know if I can keep this up.”
“I’ll help you,” Nico said, then seemed flustered. “I mean, if you still want me to.”
Leo laughed at that, closing the distance between them and bringing their lips together. The response was instantaneous. He could feel Nico’s tongue moving against his lips, and quickly opened his mouth to allow access. Gods, he had missed this. So fucking much.
“Does this mean you’re staying?” Leo asked as they parted, both a little out of breath.
“For a while, yeah,” Nico said. “I’ll have to go back in two weeks or so.”
Leo grinned. “I can work with that,” he said, bringing their foreheads together. “I bet you didn’t miss me at all when you were gone.”
“I came back a day early, in case you didn’t notice,” Nico said pointedly. “And you’re just fishing for compliments, aren’t you?”
“Maybe a little,” Leo laughed, running his fingers through Nico’s hair. “I don’t get them very often.”
“Because you let them go to your head when you do,” Nico smiled, closing the distance between them again. Nico kissing him was the best kind of compliment in the end, Leo supposed. He pushed forward to deepen the kiss.
Which of course was when the door opened.
“Are you two okay? You’ve been gone for...Oh!”
They quickly pulled away from each other, to see Jason and Piper standing in the doorway with stunned expressions on their faces. Glancing at Nico, Leo could see that he seemed frozen in place and was blushing violently. It was both cute and alarming at the same time.
“So this is what you meant when you told Alana you like someone,” Piper said, smiling widely. Leo could have killed her. “Sorry to interrupt. Carry on.”
“I’m happy for you two,” Jason added, grinning at them before the door closed. Leo and Nico both remained frozen in place for a long moment, not looking at each other. Finally Leo cleared his throat.
“So that happened,” he said, trying for a laugh. It wasn’t very convincing. “I guess the conversation about telling people is mute now, huh?”
“You like me?” Nico asked, because of course he wouldn’t just go along with pretending that didn’t happen.
Leo sighed, nervously running his fingers through his hair. “Well, yeah,” he said. “Obviously. I’m not really sure why you agreed to all this...” he made a vague gesture between the two of them. ” But yeah, I like you.”
“Oh,” Nico said, surprised. “Sorry. I kinda thought… never mind what I thought.”
“You know, some kind of answer would be nice,” Leo said.
“I wasn’t aware a question had been asked.”
Leo rolled his eyes. “Now you’re just being mean,” he accused. “I don’t care if you’re only in this for… whatever you’re in this for, but I’d still want an answer.”
“Do you honestly think I’d let you kiss me like that if I didn’t like you?” Nico asked, raising an eyebrow.
“You thought I did!” Leo said, but he couldn’t help the grin spreading on his face.
“Your way of asking me out kind of indicated it,” Nico said. “‘We’re the only two singles here, we should totally go out’, or something along those lines.”
“Like you were any better. 'Sure. Fine. We can try it,’” Leo imitated in his most disinterested voice, causing Nico to blush. Leo would never get over how cute that was. “So kissing is still okay, right?”
“Sure. Fine,” Nico said sheepishly, and Leo laughed as he threw himself back into Nico’s arms, making a good attempt to kiss him senseless. There was something new between them now, a desperation that hadn’t really been there before. The kisses were more heated, and Leo could feel Nico’s cool hands wandering on his body, almost as much as his own hands did. Lifting Nico’s shirt had been an experiment, but one that Nico had repeated on Leo’s side, even if having to part long enough to drag them over their heads was a nuisance.
Nico gasped loudly as Leo let his hands run over Nico’s nipples, exploring the unfamiliar territory that was his bare skin. When Leo reached the waistband of his pants, however, Nico pushed him away.
“Sorry. It’s just...could we take this slow?” he asked, blushing furiously. “Please?”
Leo was a little disappointed, but it wasn’t like he didn’t understand. He nodded. “Sure,” he said. “I’m in no hurry anywhere. Can I still sleep here tonight, though? I kinda miss it.”
Nico nodded. “I would like that.”
That night, when they were both lying in bed in the Hades, Leo held on tightly to Nico, reluctant to let him go. Ever. Nico was running his fingers through Leo’s hair, smiling slightly.
“So I was wondering, can I call you my boyfriend now and show you off to people?” Leo asked, grinning at Nico, who rolled his eyes.
“Yes to the first, no to the second,” he said. “I’m not much for public displays of affection.”
“Well, I am, so you better get used to it,” Leo laughed. “We can’t let the others have all the fun, right? We should pay them back for years of being couply around us when we were single.”
Nico snorted at that. “I doubt they would care,” he said. “And I was actually going to suggest another vacation, just the two of us this time.”
“Okay, that sounds even better,” Leo admitted. “What did you have in mind?”
“How about Italy? We never really got the chance to look around last time,” Nico said.
“Deal,” Leo said, reaching up to kiss him. “But a little later, okay?”
Nico nodded, a wide smile on his lips. “Later sounds good.”