Once Percy and Peyton were asleep, after we talked for nearly an hour, I snuck out of the cabin. Nico was waiting for me, leaning against the side of the Hades cabin, looking very sad. I frowned and made my way over to him. “What’s wrong?”
Nico stood up straight and smiled. “Nothing.”
“No seriously,” I said, wrapping my arms around him and leaning my chin on his shoulder. “You looked so sad.”
Nico hugged me back. “I dunno. Emma has been spending her nights in the nursery, and it’s just a little lonely, all alone in my cabin. Makes me miss my dad.”
I let go of him and took his hand, leading him in the direction of the beach. I knew how an empty cabin felt, and I knew how it felt to miss my dad, but I was pretty sure that this was different, since Nico Sr. was human and could have been with his son all along. “I’m sorry. Maybe…” I hesitated. “Maybe if Hera gives us babies, we can sleep in the nursery together. And maybe one of them can be claimed by Hades, so you’ll never be alone again.”
Nico smiled and squeezed my hand. “I’d really like that.”
“Me too,” I said, smiling and kissing him on the cheek.
“Do you really think that Hera would give us a baby?”
I shrugged. “We’re almost six. Maybe not yet, but when we’re just a little older.”
“We already help with everyone else’s babies,” Nico said. “But I guess it would be harder having our own.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “It probably would be good to wait until we were a little older. Eight, like Emma and Jason.”
Nico nodded in agreement. “I know what I want to name my son already.”
“What?” I asked.
“I want to name him Carter Kobii. And we could have so many nicknames for him, like Cart and Kobii and Kobs and Terii.”
I smiled. “I think Terii is really cute.”
Nico looked at me. “You really think so?”
I nodded, smiling. “I want to have a boy and name him Thatcher Collin. We could call him Thatch. Or TC.”
Nico stopped walking and hugged me. “That would go so perfect with Terii.”
We started walking again, still holding hands, and talked about baby names, even after we sat down at the beach. For girls, Corina and Rylinn. And if we had more than four, which was crazy talk for sure, we could use Izea, which I came up with, and Keegan, which Nico loved. And for girls, if we had more than four and they were girls, we could use Hayden and Leyson.
After a couple hours, the harpies began approaching us, calling out and making their bird-like noises. Nico and I ran off of the beach, hiding behind trees and buildings when we could. We made it to our cabins safely, giving each other one last kiss goodnight, and then parted ways.
The next morning, Percy had to shake me awake. I stumbled behind him and Peyton to the Pavilion for breakfast, feeling as if I had barely slept, which did not bode well for my upcoming shadow travel-journey home.
After I ate, smiling at Nico and making funny faces, I felt a little stronger. Nico and I ditched our plates at the same time, leaving our siblings at our cabin tables. We took each other’s hands and ran to the cabins, where Nico helped me clean up.
“I was thinking,” he said as he shoved my dirty camp clothes into the clothes basket under my bed, “that I could come with you. To your house.”
I smiled down at my Greek workbook and battle strategy notes, which I had organized into a neat pile. I pushed them under my bed next to the clothes basket. “Just for today?”
Nico shrugged. “Depends if your mom lets me stay, I guess.”
“More like if Bob lets you stay,” I said, rolling my eyes. “He doesn’t know I’m a half-blood, but he still hates kids like me and Jacob.”
“Then why’d he even marry your mom?”
“Because he really likes my mom, I guess.”
Nico nodded. “I guess.”
“I think we should tell my mom about us,” I said sheepishly.
“Really?” Nico asked, his eyes lighting up.
“Yeah,” I said, smiling. “If we’re going to be together forever, she should know.”
Nico nodded, smiling so big that it filled up his face. We made my bed, then ran to Half-Blood Hill. We stood in the shadow of Peleus and the tree with the Golden Fleece for a few seconds as Nico and I closed our eyes.
“Three,” he said.
I took a breath and we said together, “Two, one,” and then the shadows swallowed us.
Because we had pooled our power, Nico and I both felt pretty good when we arrived in the shadow of the tree in front of my house.
“We did it,” he said, grinning at me. I pulled him into a hug, then let go, blushing, remembering where we were.
“We can do that more after we tell,” Nico said, reading my mind.
We walked to the front door, and I wished that I could be holding his hand. When I knocked, the door flew open almost immediately. My mom, with Jacob on her hip, pulled me into a big hug. “I’m so glad you made it safely.”
“Hi, Jakey,” I said, reaching for my brother. My mom put him down, and he gave me a hug with his chubby, untrained toddler arms.
“Who’s this?” Mom asked, looking at Nico warily.
“He’s my best friend, Nico,” I said. “Son of son of Hades.”
“Hi, Nico,” Mom said, still seeming nervous.
“We may attract a monster,” I said, “but with both of us, it’ll be no biggie. Right, Nics?”
“Right,” he said, grinning.
My mom didn’t look very comforted, but she let us in anyway.
“Your dad is just getting dressed in his Christmas clothes,” my mom said.
“Not our dad,” I said, taking Jacob’s hand as we went up the stairs to the living room.
My grandpa, son of Zeus, and grandma, descendent of Ares, Aphrodite, and Apollo sat on opposite sides of the couch. My grandma held out her arms as soon as she saw me, and I let go of Jacob’s hand and ran to her. Though she had never been to Camp Half-Blood, as a god had never claimed her and monsters had never come after her, she knew a fair amount about it. “How’s my girl?”
“Good,” I said, pulling away and turning to Nico. “This is my grandma. She knows about everything.”
Nico smiled shyly and held out his hand. “Nice to meet you.”
My grandma shook his hand and began a conversation as I moved on to my grandpa, who patted the couch next to him. I sat down.
“How’s it going, kiddo? Everything okay in the crazy world?”
I smiled. “Everything is good. Pretty calm since the end of the war.”
“Good to hear,” he said, smiling. “You know, I’ve been thinking about visiting camp recently.”
“Everyone would love that,” I said, beaming. My grandpa had hardly been allowed to leave camp as a kid, especially on a quest, since Poseidon and Hades had been very angry about his existence, but he was still something of a legend among half-bloods. “You could show us your lightning tricks.”
My grandpa smiled. “I dunno about that. I haven’t tried one of those for decades now. And considering no one really comes after me anymore, I don’t think I would have my powers anymore.”
“I don’t think that’s how it works,” I said. “You’ll always be a son of Zeus, no matter what. Monsters just don’t come after you because they don’t want easy fights with old geezers.” I couldn’t hold a straight face, so I laughed, and he laughed too. “Don’t underestimate me that far, now.”
“Who’s this?” Bob asked, coming out of the hallway and glaring at Nico. “This is supposed to be a day for family only.”
“He is family,” I said, jumping off the couch to stand in front of Nico. “He’s my cousin.”
Bob eyed me skeptically. Just as he was opening his mouth, my mom came out of the kitchen and stood between Bob and I. “He really is,” she said, wringing her hands. “He’s her second cousin. Or something. From Paul’s side.”
Bob narrowed his eyes. “I didn’t think that she knew any of Paul’s relatives.”
“I never said that,” my mom said. “I told you that she had lots of family over there. Even half siblings.”
Bob scowled. “Well I didn’t invite them into my house.”
“Just one day,” I begged. “You can’t let Nico be alone on Christmas.”
“How’s he get here, anyway?”
“I didn’t want her to be alone on the train,” Nico said quietly.
“Oh, let him stay, Bob,” my grandma said, putting a hand on Nico’s arm. “He’s just a kid.”
Bob’s eyes darted between everyone, then he sighed. “One day.”
Nico and I grinned at each other.
In the evening, when my grandma, grandpa, and Aunt Nicki left, Bob turned on Nico and I. “Time to go, kid,” he said, looking at Nico.
“Nuh uh,” I insisted. “You promised one day. A day is twenty-four hours, if you didn’t know, and it hasn’t even been twelve.”
Bob’s face turned red, but my mom said, “She’s right, honey. You promised one day. You have to at least let Nico stay the night.”
“The little punk better be gone before lunch,” he said, storming away to his bedroom.
“Katelyn,” my mom said from the table, where Jacob was eating some crackers with peanut butter. “You need to respect him. No talking back, okay?”
I rolled my eyes at Nico, who smiled sympathetically. We headed over to the table and sat down across from my mom and Jacob. Nico eyed the crackers wistfully, so I passed him some.
“So,” my mom said, watching Nico slather peanut butter on his crackers. “You two are best friends?”
Nico looked at me, and I shrugged. Now was a good a time as any. “Actually, we’ve been meaning to say… We’re boyfriend and girlfriend.”
My mom sighed and looked at Jacob, who smeared peanut butter on the table. “Honey, I think you’re a little too young for that.”
I looked at Nico, who shrugged and shoved a cracker in his mouth.
“Mom, I know we’re not. We’re little in mortal time maybe, but we’ve been through a lot together. We’re bigger and stronger than--”
“That doesn’t mean that you’re older than you are,” my mom said. “You’re only five, and--”
“Nearly six,” Nico said through a mouthful of peanut butter and crackers.
I nodded. “Mom, you don’t know what it’s like at camp. Our friends have babies that are theirs. They’re only eight themselves, and--”
“I’s true,” Nico said, spraying cracker crumbs. He blushed as he chewed quickly and swallowed. “My sister Emma has triplets. Their names are Martin, Kayla, and Colton, and they’re adorable. We babysit all the time.”
“The point is, Mom, that we have to grow up,” I said. “Even if you didn’t let us be boyfriend and girlfriend, Hera knows we’re in love, and she could give us a baby when we’re eight.”
“Even if this is true…” my mom sighed and rubbed her face. “I knew that sending you to camp was a bad idea, but your dad said--”
“There was no other option,” I insisted. “I was in a prophecy, Mom, in case you forgot. A really important one. There was no stopping the Fates from getting me to camp, okay? There are just some things you can’t control. But we can handle it, right Nico?”
“Right,” he said, smiling.
My mom looked at me, sadness filling her eyes. “Don’t cry,” I begged.
She shook her head, a tear hitting her cheek. “I just don’t know what I’m going to do when both of you are old enough that you’ll want to be at camp all the time.”
“I won’t be at camp all the time,” I said, putting my hand on hers.
“But you want to be.”
I grimaced at Nico, who frowned. “Mom, I think I wouldn’t want to be at camp so much if my friends and siblings were allowed here.”
“Bob would never allow that,” my mom said, crying harder now.
I moved around the table to comfort her, anger boiling up inside me. Why had she had to marry that scumball mortal anyway?