Nico sat on a crumbling stone bench, with no idea where he was or how he got there. Something about the place seemed eerily familiar: cracked marble columns leading off to nowhere, shells of buildings that had once been enormous, startling bright green grass.
“Hello?” he called out into the empty courtyard. He took a few hesitant steps forward, reaching for his sword. He suddenly realized it was gone, along with the rest of his normal clothes. Rather, he wore a traditional Roman toga and sandals, with no weapon to speak of. What in Hades was going on?
“Whoever brought me here, come out to face me!” he called out. He picked up a chunk of a marble column at his feet, prepared to fight with it if it came to that.
Suddenly he realized where he was. He had come to these ruins the previous summer with Jason Grace. “Salona,” he grumbled. “Favonius! Why’d you bring me here?”
“My little wind god had nothing to do with it, Nico,” a deep voice boomed through the temple, shaking the ground. A god faded into existence in front of him. It was a tall muscular man with a face like fire; beautiful and mesmerizing, but very clearly dangerous. His eyes were bright red, and they almost seemed to glow. Enormous white wings stretched out behind him, like an angel from a storybook. His straight black hair framed his face perfectly, making his face even more handsome. He was leaning on his bow; a fearsome weapon that looked to be carved from olive wood, which was ironic, given that this god was anything but peaceful.
“Cupid. What do you want from me?” Nico shouted.
“I think you know exactly what I want from you,” he said cooly, smirking. Fear began to course through Nico’s body like venom.
“Just send me back to Camp Half-Blood. I want nothing to do with you.”
“Oh, but am I not what you most desire, deep down? Love?” Cupid crooned, stepping forward slowly. Nico backed up so quickly he ran into the bench and fell down onto it. Cupid was upon him in an instant, swooping forward with his powerful wings. He held Nico’s face in his smooth hands.
“Let me go! I talked to Percy already, he knows the truth! Haven’t I appeased you?” Nico shouted.
“I wish to help you, son of Hades. You wish for the company of another soul, don’t you? I’m the only one who can help with that.”
“I don’t want your help. Besides, why do you care about me? I’m just another demigod,” Nico said, doing his best not to tremble in terror. He maintained eye contact with Cupid, though it felt like looking directly at the sun.
“I’ll be honest with you. I want a champion, someone to carry out my deeds on Earth, as my spirit is bound here. I can sense you are the only one who can do this for you. I am willing to give you any prize you wish in return.” Mist suddenly swirled all around Nico and Cupid, and curling in the white fog Nico saw strange visions.
The first thing he saw was Percy and Annabeth screaming at each other. “Would you still have Percy Jackson?” Cupid whispered in his ear. Percy shouted one more thing and ran away as Annabeth faded into mist. “He is tied to the daughter of Athena, but love is quite fragile. It wouldn’t be hard to change his taste in lovers.” Percy ran up to a vision of Nico, and kissed him softly. Nico couldn’t deny it gave him pleasure to see one of his childhood fantasies come true. Percy Jackson had been his dream for a long time. But Percy and Annabeth were good together. Nico didn’t want to ruin that.
He raked his hand through the mist and the image vanished. “Jason Grace, then?” Cupid suggested. Nico suddenly saw the son of Jupiter sitting next to him on his bed in Cabin 13. Jason tentatively reached out and grabbed his hand, a small smile growing on his face. “He was one of your closest friends on the Argo II. He was open to you, and kind. One of the first to accept you as you are. Adding a little romance would only sweeten the relationship.”
“Just stop it with the visions, okay?” Nico shouted, standing up. The mist dissipated as quickly as it had come. He stared at Cupid, resentment boiling in his chest. “I will never be your champion, no matter what you offer me. You are one of the cruelest gods I know, even worse than Ares, for Hera’s sake! Just stick to your little plan. Let love find me when it’s supposed to. If it doesn’t, that’s okay too. Just don’t talk to me again. Now, send me back to camp!” he commanded.
Cupid’s harsh smile faded into a grimace. “You have one chance to reconsider. I would recommend it.”
“Sorry things didn’t go according to plan. Things don’t always work out for people, even gods,” Nico told him.
“You’ll regret this, diAngelo. My offer stays open, but it may not always be the case. Take this with you,” he said, pressing something small and soft into Nico’s palm. “You can use to talk to me when you change your mind.”
Nico looked at it and was surprised to see a rabbit’s foot on a chain. The foot itself was as snowy white as Cupid’s wings, and the chain was pure gold, maybe Imperial Gold. “A rabbit’s foot?”
“My sacred animal,” Cupid explained. “Goodbye for now, Nico diAngelo.”
Suddenly the landscape around began to fall away like chunks of an iceberg, until Nico was standing on a lonely island in the middle of canyon. Even his little plot of land fell away into the pit, and Nico screamed as everything faded to black.
He shot upright in his bed in the Hades cabin. It had only been a dream, though it felt eerily real. With a shock, he realized the rabbit’s foot was still clenched in his hand. Disgusted, he threw it away into the farthest corner of the room. He tried to get back to sleep, but Cupid’s offer kept swimming in his head. And his threat. You’ll regret this, diAngelo. Love was a horrible enemy to have. He lay awake there until morning, the words of the love god echoing in his mind.