Author's Note: Hello, everyone! This is the first story I have published on this site, but I have a lot more on FanFiction dot net. I may transfer all my stories onto this site, but I don't know yet. I'm entering this in the Fandom 3 contest. If you like it, please review and vote for it!
The days after the war passed as quickly as seconds. Brave demigods and their friends were buried. More and more shrines were made to the minor gods. And, slowly, everything returned to what could be considered "normal" at Camp Half-Blood. With a few key changes. Nico was finally starting to open up to the world. He had true friends now, not because they were afraid of him, not because they pitied him, but because he had earned their respect. His self-hatred was a thing of the past. The Seven, along with Reyna, Coach Hedge, and Will Solace, had cajoled and threatened and pleaded it out of him, and caused such a good-natured, overly dramatic fuss over his well-being that he simply couldn't put himself down any more. His half-sister played a major role in his rehabilitation, too. Hazel could never replace Bianca, but she was a blessing in her own unique way.
Moreover, he had faced his deeply buried fears and vanquished them, without the use of Stygian iron. When he finally told Percy and the others the news of his, er, romantic preferences, no one cared in the slightest. Everyone just congratulated him and moved on with their lives. But just because he was at peace now, just because he had a place to call home now didn't mean that the events of the past didn't weigh heavily on him. He remembered everything with far too much clarity.
His days of treatment in the infirmary passed, and the very next evening, he was back in the Hades cabin. By himself. At night. Surrounded by darkness and painful memories and black sheets pulled up to his chin. It came as no surprise to him when insomnia hit hard. Then the dam burst and exhaustion poured over him, and he couldn't hold out any longer. Nico surrendered to sleep in the early morning hours, and the nightmares began.
Thud, thud, thud, thud. Step after step after step. Will was running through the fields: neat rows of strawberries all around, earbuds in, problems far behind. He liked nothing more than to wake up before the sun and fly, just him and the music and the sound of his shoes smacking the hard-packed dirt. He liked the sweat sliding down his back and the burning in his muscles and the quiet. No siblings to tease him, no whiny campers asking him pointless questions about bruises or sprained wrists, no one, never. The entire camp was asleep. This was the only chance he ever really had to be alone. Of course, he loved his job, and his friends and siblings too, but sometimes it was nice to have only his thoughts for company. Now, the sun was slowly making its way into the eastern sky, pink and orange coloring the horizon. Hello, Dad, Will thought, smiling to himself as he rounded the Big House and jogged back toward his cabin. He pulled his earbuds out- the tinny sounds of Coldplay's latest single could be heard for a moment, resonating in the air- and slowed to a walk to cool down. Then he heard the screaming.
Nico was skulking through the Labyrinth. Like before, he was alone. Like before, he was lost. As he walked, the tunnel walls and ceiling changed from brick to tiled mosaic to concrete to glass and then to other materials. The corridors meandered in no specific direction, but they constantly went downward, so he was descending steadily deeper into the earth. He could have been under the Pyramid of Giza, or back at Camp Half Blood, it would have looked the same. Not knowing what else to do, Nico kept walking. He tried to resist the panic rising in his chest. It seemed like he had been underground for an eternity.
The tunnels gradually grew narrow, and the ceiling became lower. When he tried to turn around, a wall magically appeared in front of him. There was no going back. He tried to shadow-travel, and then to summon the dead, but the Labyrinth's magical energy prevented his father's gifts from working. He couldn't even draw his sword; the tunnel was too cramped. Nico di Angelo was powerless. All he could do was continue his descent.
Then the corridor sloped even more steeply downhill. The floor changed to black stone: dark, unchanging, immobile. The temperature dropped below freezing. His breath was visible in the chilling air. Fear and anger, darkness and evil, grief and abandonment, every horrible feeling Nico had ever experienced was brought to the forefront of his mind and multiplied a thousandfold. His heart dropped out of his chest, which suddenly seemed to be filled with lead. He collapsed to his knees without conscious thought. Screams echoed through the maze.
The Labyrinth led to Tartarus. And there was no way out.
"Nico!" Will burst into the Hades cabin, breathless from the sprint, but ready to fight off whatever was causing the chaos. He hurriedly cast around for something to use as a weapon, but then he noticed that there was no attacker to fight. Nico's cabin was empty, save for Nico himself. The child of Hades was twisted up in the sheets, with his eyes screwed shut. His hair was plastered to his pale forehead with sweat, and he was shaking like a leaf. Haunting, animalistic sounds poured from his mouth. Will belatedly realized that his former patient was having a nightmare. On impulse, he crossed the room in three huge steps and grabbed Nico's arms. At his touch, the howling subsided somewhat, replaced with quiet whimpering. But Nico didn't wake up. Unsure of what to do next, Will sat down on the edge of his bed and shook him gently. "Hey, Nico, wake up. It's Will. You're having a nightmare."
Nico's eyes cracked open, and they flashed dangerously when they landed on Will. He quickly pushed the older demigod away and sat up, scooting backwards as far as he could to distance himself from Will. He purposefully ignored the hurt expression that crossed the blond's face. Nico leaned against the headboard and drew his knees up to his chest. He refused to meet Will's questioning gaze. "Thanks for coming in and everything, but I can handle this by myself," he muttered. The quiver in his voice said otherwise.
Will would not stand for this. "Uh, no, you obviously can't. You were yelling loud enough to wake up the entire camp. I'm surprised no one else has come in here yet to see what's wrong." He glanced over his shoulder at the door to punctuate his point. "Can't I at least help you-"
"No!" Nico cut him off. "I'm fine, really. It isn't a big deal. Nightmares like this are pretty normal for me." Will opened his mouth to argue. Sensing that the healer was about to launch into a long lecture about the importance of a good night's sleep, he quickly backtracked. "I mean, I used to have nightmares like this. I haven't had any lately."
Will gave him his patented you-are-so-full-of pegasus-manure glare. Di immortales, Nico thought, doing his best to shrink into the sheets. Here comes the speech. "Yeah, that was because you were in the infirmary for the past three days! You were literally surrounded by healers, Death Boy. We all kind of give off positive energy. And you do know that it was blessed by my dad, right? He made it so that patients could rest without having bad dreams. But why didn't you tell me about your nightmares before? We could have done something about it, so that this problem could have been avoided when you were released!"
Nico squirmed, simultaneously annoyed, flustered, and oddly touched by Will's concern. "I thought you would be busy! The infirmary was packed after the war. My problems weren't important, compared to what they were going through!" Then he realized something. He scowled at the boy sitting across from him. "And don't ever call me Death Boy, Solace."
Will smirked, but then his expression softened. The look of genuine concern in his eyes made Nico want to either hide, run away, or throw up. Maybe all three at once. He didn't cope well with highly charged emotional conversations. But then Will got a determined glint in his eyes. He said, "This is what happens when you decide not to take care of yourself. People have to do it for you, whether you're okay with it or not." The healer grabbed his hands (what was it with him and touching people without permission?). Before Nico could process what was happening, he closed his eyes and started humming.
Nico desperately wanted to pull away again. This, whatever it was, made him extremely uncomfortable. What if his hands were really clammy? That would be embarrassing. It also freaked him out that Will could read his vital signs and other things just by touch. And he really, reallywanted Will to stop humming in that terribly off-key, endearing way. Wait, did he really just think that-? No, of course not. That would be ridiculous.
But he was transfixed by what Will was doing. Yellow light traveled from his palms into Nico's, and golden threads traveled up his arms, across his shoulders, and up until they swirled around his head like a miniature hurricane. In that moment, he felt weightless. His past seemed insignificant, a drop of water in an endless sea. Every bad memory was like a dream he could barely remember, from an era long ago. He could finally take a deep breath again.
Will stopped humming and opened his eyes. Nico realized with a start that he had been staring at Will the entire time. But he didn't want to stop. And so he didn't.
"There. That should work, at least for tonight. I might have to do it again every couple of days, though. Would that be... okay?" Will's last sentence held a touch of uncertainty. He was peering at Nico in confusion. Nico swallowed, unable to summon the right words to say. Will was still holding his hands. For some reason, this was obstructing blood flow to his brain. He was helpless; he couldn't look away from those light blue eyes, and he couldn't really form a coherent thought. Will squeezed his hands in alarm.
"Are you okay? Your heart rate just spiked. Nico, say something, at least. You're scaring me." The last three words jolted him back to the present. He hastily averted his eyes and nodded. "Yeah, sorry. I just- what is it that you just did? It feels… amazing. Like I can finally relax."
Will straightened up, visibly puffing out his chest. "That was healing magic, right there. This particular type takes care of nightmares. Courtesy of Apollo's finest." He smirked down at Nico. Nico just rolled his eyes.
"You're an idiota, you know that?"
"Is that Italian for coolest friend ever?"
"You're hopeless." It struck him that Will had just said that they were friends.
"But seriously, do you want me to do it again?"
"Yeah, if that's fine with you. I feel a lot better now. Thanks, Will." Nico mentally patted himself on the back. It was a rare occasion when he thanked anyone for anything.
Will flashed his million-watt smile. Nico's heart went a bit wobbly for reasons he couldn't figure out. "Anytime. If you need anything else, at any time, just ask me. Or one of the other healers. Despite what you seem to think, you are important. To me, and everyone else here. Don't discredit yourself."
Nico blushed to the roots of his hair. "Thanks. For everything. I… I guess I'm not good at admitting when I need help."
Will Solace winked. "That's what I'm here for, right?"
Nico smiled back. "Right."
Will unfolded himself from his cross-legged position, stretching out his lanky limbs as he did so. "Well, see you later, Nico. I'm late reporting to the infirmary. But I can drop by tomorrow night to do the healing thing again, if that works for you."
"It's a date." Nico's eyes widened comically as soon as the words left his mouth. "I didn't mean-" But Will was already headed for the door, and then from outside the Hades cabin, Nico heard him exclaim, "Sounds good to me!"