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There Can Be No Shadows Without Light

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The nightmare is awful.

Nico is in Tartarus again, a thriving tempest of fire and shadows. He drags his legs through a pool of thick lava in a desperate attempt to escape the monsters that shriek and moan somewhere behind him. He can’t turn his head to look back to see how close they are, he can only shuffle forward sluggishly. Nico’s whole body is screaming at him to move faster but he can’t control his own movements. He feels so heavy. It’s impossible to breathe with the weight, with the heat. The lava sears his skin as shadows flurry around his head, whispering their way into his ears, nose, and mouth. The monsters are getting closer. Nico is choking. Falling. Burning. Screaming.

 

***

 

Nico wakes from the nightmare with a gasp tearing from his throat. He knows instantly something is wrong; shadows are writhing around him, clouding his vision as they grasp for him. Fear spikes through his chest, stealing the air from his lungs. Choking in an attempt to regain his breath, Nico tumbles out of his bed onto the floor. Despite the chaos swimming around him, he doesn’t miss the distinct sound of his ring clinking to the floor. He falls to his side on the floor, panicking at the sight of his hands dispersing into misty blurs that blend in with the whirling shadows. Nico drags himself to the opposite corner of the cabin on his elbows as his forearms rapidly disappear. A whimper escapes his mouth in between gasps for air that doesn’t seem to exist anymore. He wedges himself into the corner and hides his face in his knees, throwing what remains of his arms over his head. The shadows are swallowing him, suffocating him as they chill the room enough to make Nico shiver violently. A sob scrapes its way out of his throat as he squeezes his eyes shut as tight as he can.

The cabin door opens with a colossal bang. Nico looks up to see Will standing in the doorway, sunlight from behind him fighting its way in through the cloud of shadows. Will’s demeanor of childish excitement abruptly vanishes as his eyes are drawn to the looming darkness that thrashes around Nico.

“Help,” Nico wheezes, unable to keep the tears from racing down his face. A shudder runs through him as he feels a shadow grasp onto his shoulders, and he knows that it will pull him in to join them in the dark forever. Will rushes forward with bounding strides, falling to his knees in front of Nico. His eyes are impossibly wide, and his hands flutter around Nico without touching him, clearly unsure of what to do. A shadow suddenly screams in his ears, demanding him to join them. Nico squeezes his eyes shut yet again and lets out a wail, unable to bear the frenzy that is literally choking him. Will lets out a cry that makes Nico look up again. A look of utter despair paints his face.

“Don’t give in, Nico,” Will cries, “You have to fight them.”

Nico reaches out for him, only remembering he doesn’t have hands anymore as his forearms pass through Will’s chest. Nico gasps in a panicked lungful of air, frantically looking into Will’s eyes. Then Will hugs him. He wraps his arms around Nico’s shoulders and grips his back, burying his face in the top of Nico’s head. Nico shoves his own face into the crook of Will’s neck, not caring for once that his tears are soaking Will’s shirt and his skin. Nico drags what is left of his arms up to wrap around Will’s back in a vain attempt to hold onto him in return. They are both shaking with Nico’s sobs and gulps for air.

“I’m here,” Will assures him with a shaky voice. “You’re safe, I’m not letting you disappear.” He grips Nico tighter as if to remind him further that he is still solid. Will then begins to sing in Greek, a song that Nico has never heard him sing before. His voice wavers and breaks often, but Nico thinks it is the most beautiful thing he has ever heard. It fills the air around them and chases away the wails of the shadows from his ears. Will’s voice feels like a physical form as he increases in volume, ebbing away at the heavy cold that surrounds them.

Nico can feel his breaths slowing along with his heart rate, the stream of tears down his face lessening. Will finishes his song, and Nico knows without having to look that the shadows are gone. He takes one big, long shuddering breath that shakes through both of their forms as quiet peace finally fills the cabin. The return of Nico’s hands is signalled by the pins and needles that coarse through his fingers, as if they have only been asleep opposed to having actually faded into nonexistence. Nico gratefully drags his hands further up Will’s back in order to grasp his neck on either side. From the warmth that emanates from Will’s skin, Nico can tell that his fingers are cold where they lay on Will’s exposed neck, but he doesn’t offer any sign of discomfort, so Nico stays how he is.

Gradually, Nico settles back into a feeling of calm in Will’s embrace. He comes to the realization that he feels exhausted; he can barely keep his grip on Will, and his body feels like it weighs a ton, all his energy drained. Nico can’t tell if this is due to his involuntary summoning of the shadows, or simply his panic attack. Despite how warm Will is, Nico still feels cold.

“Thank you,” Nico whispers with a hoarse voice, taking in a breath that brings a smell of the detergent of Will’s shirt. It’s strangely comforting. Will runs his hand up and down Nico’s back once in response.

“Are you okay?” He asks softly after a short silence. In truth, Nico worries he will never be okay, but he nods anyway, feeling incredibly grateful for Will.

“I’m sorry for scaring you,” Nico apologizes with the sudden rush of guilt that fills his chest, which is quickly followed by familiar disgust at himself for always carrying such hate and depression that always seems to finds a way to affect other people. However, he can feel Will immediately shaking his head and stroking Nico’s back gently.

“You don’t ever have to say sorry to me,” Will reassures him. “It’s not your fault.”

“Sorry,” Nico quietly repeats anyway, not convinced. Will carefully lets go of Nico and slips Nico’s hands from his neck so he can hold onto them. They both look down at their entwined hands between them, Nico’s pale and skeletal in comparison to Will’s tanned pair that engulf Nico’s.

“Did you have another nightmare?” Will inquires gently. Nico nods slowly in reply and feels his shoulders creeping up his neck at the memory of the unbearable heat and heaviness.

“And when I woke up,” he explains with a trembling voice, “They were everywhere. The shadows. They…they were choking me.” His voice breaks on the last sentence, his throat closing up. He pulls one of his hands free to wipe at his arm, feeling as though the shadows are still clinging to his skin. Will drops Nico’s remaining hand in favour of wiping down Nico’s arms himself, causing him to look into the blue eyes before him.

“Don’t worry, they’re all gone,” Will says, having caught onto what Nico was thinking about. Nico is suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude for Will, finding himself blinking away fresh tears and offering Will a small smile. Will mirrors his smile and coaxes Nico to his feet.

“Can you…will you stay? With me? Please?” Nico asks hesitantly, self-consciously clutching his side.

“Of course,” Will smiles even wider, his face softening.

They both sit on Nico’s bed and lean against each other with a comfortable silence. Nico lets his eyes drift shut as he cuddles into Will, finally feeling safe.