There was no sound, everything was quiet. Nico stood in the middle of a dark room, his feet sunk into the soft ground but he couldn’t see what it was.
He took a step forward, his sword hung heavy from his belt but it didn’t make him feel any safer.
The only light in the room came from a flickering candle several feet away. It was in danger of snuffing out at any moment. Nico tried to get closer to the candle but seeming with every step the light got further away.
Looking down at his hands, he could barely see them. A hazy mist was wrapped in a thin veil around his body. A spike of alarm went through his body the longer he stared at his hands and realized that he was starting to fade away.
Nico took a deep breath, his pace quickening as he tried to reach the melting candle. The wax was starting to drip onto the table.
Nico was practically running now, the only light in the room was still getting further away. His feet were sinking into the floor.
Wet dirt clung to his shoes and pants legs as he ran. The smell of rotting corpses filled the air.
Nico opened his mouth to scream or at least cry out but there was no sound. His voice was empty and hollow, completely gone. Tears were starting to well up in the corners of his eyes.
He didn’t want to die.
He didn’t want to fade away.
The candle flickered out.
Nico woke up with a strangled scream, sitting upright in his bed.
Throwing his sheets off he clicked on the lamp on his bedside table, washing the room in a reassuring yellow light. He looked down at his hands, patted his cheeks and arms. He was still solid. He was real.
His chest heaved with sobs and he gasped for breath, feeling like he had run every step in his dream. He could still smell the corpses, practically feel the wet earth.
Nico didn’t get much sleep after that.
In the morning, Nico had barely even sat down at the Apollo table before Will knocked his shoulder against his.
“Hey, you okay?” Will asked.
“I didn’t even say anything,” Nico responded, keeping his voice at a whisper. He tried not to think of last night.
Will shrugged and leaned on his elbow, “you seem off, so are you okay?”
Nico sighed and shrugged, “I guess, yeah.”
“What does that mean?”
Nico pursed his lips and stared down at his breakfast plate. He thought of his nightmare that had prevented him from getting much sleep.
“Not right now, Will,” he practically begged.
“Okay,” Will nodded thoughtfully. Nico sighed with relief. Nico turned to his own plate of food.
“Kayla offered to cover for me tonight in the infirmary If you wanna do something,” Will said under his breath, glancing over at his half sister across from the table.
“You two should take a break, sit by the beach and relax,” Kayla added, despite Will’s attempts for her not to hear.
“Sounds fun,” Nico cracked a small smile, Will examined his face for a second longer.
Nico shrugged and turned to his plate. Will stretched his arms above his head until his shoulders popped.
“It might be nice to have some alone time,” Will said, “at least not just huddled in your cabin like we usually do.”
“I guess,” Nico shrugged again, picking and eating small bites of his breakfast. The corners of Will’s lips turned down with worry but like Nico had asked, he didn’t say anything throughout breakfast.
“Okay, what’s bothering you?” He asked after breakfast, when they were away from the rest of the campers. His tone was soft and every single part of Will’s expression screamed comfort. Yet Nico still hesitated.
Nico thought about the darkness, the way his hands were fading. The candle that he could never reach.
Nico shifted his weight from foot to foot, staring down at the ground as if expecting skeletons to pop out.
A hand on his shoulder jerked him out of his thoughts.
“Hey, you don’t have to tell me anything,” Will removed his hand and smiled, “I just wanna know that you’re going to be okay.”
“I uh…” Nico swallowed thickly, “nightmares…”
“Oh,” Will nodded thoughtfully, “do you wanna tell me what happened? It’s okay if you don’t.”
“Uh…” Nico avoided looking Will in the eyes, “can I tell you?”
“Of course, do you wanna go someplace else? We can sit in your cabin?” Will smiled reassuringly.
Once they were settled in the Hades cabin, Will prompted Nico gently.
“Well… I was in a dark room and… there was this candle… but—but it was really far away,” Nico twisted his skull ring around his finger, avoiding looking at Will, “whenever I tried to get closer… it was still so far away.”
Will took Nico’s hand and squeezed it. Nico squeezed his hand back.
“I was starting to fade… but I couldn’t… reach the candle… and the room was really dark…” Nico blinked away his tears, gritting his teeth.
Will was silent for a long while. Nico didn’t give any more details, he wasn’t sure that he would be able to without crying. He clenched his other hand into a fist, his nightmare was silly and his fear of the dark was childish. Will would probably laugh at him.
But… that wasn’t like Will.
Will looked at Nico with a soft expression, Nico couldn’t read it.
“I’m sorry,” Will rubbed Nico’s knuckles, “I promise you that I would give you all the light in the world just to make sure that you don’t fade away into the shadows.”
Will’s smile was reassuring and genuine, he pressed a small kiss to the corner of Nico’s eye.
“Because personally—and this is just my opinion—I like my ghost king tangible,” Will gave Nico’s hand another squeeze, pressing their foreheads together. Nico closed his eyes, taking Will’s other hand.
“I think I like being tangible too,” Nico said, “and since when was I your ghost king?”
“Since the moment you said you loved me,” Will said, “and I want you to know that you’re here, you’re very much physical and real and you’re so much stronger than you were when you brought the Athena Parthenon, the shadows won’t be able to take you now.”
Tears slipped down Nico’s cheek and Will didn’t hesitate to wipe them away.
“They’re no match for my ghost king,” Will said with a childish giggle.
“You’re the one here to chase the shadows away,” Nico smiled and threw his arms around Will’s neck. Will wrapped his arms around Nico’s lower back and pulled him into his lap.
“Then I think we make a pretty good team,” Will laid down, Nico rested his head on Will’s chest, listening to his heartbeat.
“Thank you,” Nico said. Will buried his hand in Nico’s hair.
“Darling I promise I won’t let you fade away.”
“I love you,” Nico said.
“I love you too,” Will agreed.
“And thank you.”