Hey, guys! Thank you all so much for sticking with me!
SuzuBells: Yes, that's a great way to describe it! Now I'll pretend that's exactly how I described it earlier.. Oh, sorry. I stole him away for this story :) Thank you so much for your awesome reviews!
CrazyBlueOwl: Um... yeah. Nice I really love run on sentences too but I don't want to put it in caps because this is in bold and bold caps hurt my eyes mm what else can I put here oh yeah THANKS FOR ALL YOUR REVIEWS! (::) whoops I typed in all caps oh well :)
awesomeninja09: I don't even know what to say. THAT WHOLE REVIEW MADE MY DAY (well, I read it at night, but whatever)! THANKS SO SO SO SO SO MUCH (but I'll still murder you :)) And Flawless Heroes... ha. Ha. But no spoilers -.- And I WILL read that mile-long review!
Luna: Cool! Sadly my birthday isn't any of theirs. But who knows, Rick may release more birthdays... I don't know, depends on the specific project, I guess. And wow, thanks! I love reading your reviews, they make me smile/laugh/both every time! I love drama/suspense XD Read this chapter for some implied Solangelo ;) And as for Cassandra Clare... I'm going to start reading them! They're at the top of my rather long to be read list.
BlueOrangeJuice: Aww, thanks :) Here, have some of my blue cookies and blue orange juice (How does that work? Shouldn't it be called blue juice then? But that sounds weird... you know what, I'm going to stop now too.)!
jk just Keegan, Luna Freedom: Thanks so much!
OwlGirl2000: That means a lot to me. I haven't read a fanfiction like that, but I have read actual books like that, so thanks for the suggestion!
Guest: yeah, I procrastinate a lot, so giving you guys a date helps me write without procrastinating too much. Thanks for reviewing, "that person that reviews a lot but still has no name!...yet"
Nico regretted his decision to sleep in. Because come on, it was kind of embarrassing to have fallen asleep in his bed in the Hades cabin and to wake up in the infirmary. It was even more embarrassing to wake up with no clue as to why he was being hugged by Frank—wait, what? Frank? How had Frank gotten there? Wasn't he supposed to be at the Roman camp? And… was that Hazel? Huh? And the rest of the Seven were there too… come to think of it, Nico was pretty sure they weren't all supposed to be in the infirmary, hugging the son of death to death. What had happened? Had he been fighting a monster or something? He couldn't remember.
"You guys shouldn't be up—" Will Solace rushed over to the sterile white bed, Kayla, his half-sister, behind him. Nico noticed that the son of Apollo looked pretty cute in his—shut up, focus! Averting his gaze, Nico noticed that seven beds were empty between him and the next patient (Clarisse, who'd somehow managed to break her arm twice in a week)—so the Seven hadn't just been visiting Nico. They were patients too. Why were they all there, though?
"What are you even doing here?" Kayla voiced his thoughts, staring pointedly at the Roman demigods. "You just appeared out of nowhere, lying on the ground! We brought you here… Frank, you're pretty heavy…. Hey, Nico, what are you doing here? I don't remember bringing you in…"
Weird. The whole situation—just weird. And that was coming from a kid of a Greek god.
Nico's breath came in gasps; he was still being choked by the son of Mars. Until suddenly, he wasn't. The giant group hug slowly dissolved, identical expressions of confusion over everyone's faces. "Wait… Nico just appeared? Not with us?" Annabeth asked, an unreadable expression on her face, glancing at the rest of the Seven. The Seven regarded each other warily, seemingly perplexed. For some reason, that irked Nico. A lot.
"Nico is right here, you know," he coughed loudly, crossing his arms. They ignored him, which didn't exactly add to his mood. Appearing in the infirmary mysteriously, fine. Being hugged? Somewhat tolerable. Keeping secrets and ignoring him, no way.
"Why would he appear with you?" Will looked genuinely bemused. Then, a grin spread over his face as he glanced at Nico. "Hey, did you sneak in here to help me—"
"No, shut up, Solace!" Nico snapped. "What's wrong with you all? What the hell's going on?" he stared expectantly at the seven demigods. As one, they turned to each other and whispered amongst themselves, though Nico noticed that they seemed kind of distant. Nico caught a few phrases—remember, use charmspeak or something, tell him later, but they didn't make much sense. A few moments later, they turned back to face Nico and the healers.
"Okay, so this might be a bit hard to believe, but we were on a quest for Hera," Piper started. She held up a hand to stop Will from interrupting, and Nico snorted. How typical. Hera poking her (admittedly godly) nose into other people's lives. How rare! How absolutely delightful! Although, Nico couldn't say he was surprised. It was, what, five or six months since they'd defeated Gaea? Obviously, that was way too long to give the demigods a break. "She kind of… well, stopped time and got all eight of us from our camps to join to complete the quest." Eight? I don't remember any quest… Nico didn't fail to notice how subtle charmspeak laced Piper's words. "The quest itself is, um, secret. But don't worry, the quest hasn't got anything to do with the end of the world this time." More charmspeak washed over Nico, though he resisted it. However, Will and Kayla already had a glazed look in their eyes. Why was Piper using charmspeak? And a quest involving the Seven (arguably some of the most powerful demigods in history) that was "secret"? Sounded fishy.
"When we finished, Hera resumed time and sent us all here." Jason took over, though his blue eyes darted around, shrugging. "And I guess she thought it was a good idea to knock us out." Nico raised an eyebrow as Jason smiled wryly. Something was definitely off. Everyone was acting weirdly. Charmspeak. Appearing randomly. How they seemed to expect Nico to remember something. The awkwardness between the normally close-knit demigods. And that "quest", too.
Nico felt like all the pieces to a ridiculously easy puzzle were laid out in front of him, but he just couldn't see the solution. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, the son of Hades saw Hazel wearing a disoriented expression as she slowly stared at each of her friends in turn, like she'd never seen them before in her life. Considering that they were basically the reason she had a second life… yeah, it seemed a tad bit strange. Something stranger? All of them acted like that, and with varying levels of pity, guilt, and surprise as well.
He was jolted out of his musings by Piper. "Oh, and Nico appeared with us." Will nodded listlessly, under the effects of the daughter of Aphrodite's charmspeak. (Despite himself, Nico had to admit that he was impressed by her power, though he wondered why she felt the need to emphasize that. He assumed they would explain once they got rid of the children of Apollo.)
"You guys can all go. You're fine." The healers promptly turned on their heels and walked away, attending to Clarisse, who was yelling in the background about how she needed to be healed, stat, so she could fight some "little punk" who'd apparently disrespected her cabin. Before Nico could do or say anything more, he felt a strong, muscled hand grab his wrist. Slowly, the son of Hades' dark eyes looked up and met Percy's green ones.
"Nico, that wasn't the whole truth, as you probably guessed…" Nico wrenched his arm out of Percy's grip. He didn't want the guy anywhere near him. He'd caused Bianca' death, for gods' sakes! He'd taken Bianca away, and then killed her! Bianca, Nico's sister! Bianca, the only one who really accepted Nico! And not only that, but he—he… wait. Why was Nico thinking like that? He was over Percy. Right? And it'd been so long since he'd thought of Bianca in a sad or angry mood, never mind blame Percy for her death. Something really was off. Those puzzle pieces… somehow, they had something to do with Nico.
Suddenly, he realized that Percy had grabbed his arm again and had been leading him towards the Poseidon cabin. There were only a few campers around; most were at their post-breakfast activities. So nobody was there to see the odd group of eight demigods march towards the empty cabin, presumably for Percy to explain to Nico what the hell was going on. They, along with the rest of the Seven, now stood outside Cabin 3. Although he was internally flinching for some reason, Nico allowed Percy to herd him into the cabin. The others followed suit, and Nico sank down onto a bunk bed. Leo plopped down as well, but a slight distance away from the others (everyone but Percy) who sat there as well. Percy remained standing.
"Okay, since you don't remember, I guess you deserve an explanation…" Percy trailed off, and shifted nervously. He cleared his throat and tried to meet Nico's eyes, but his own darted all around. Hey, come to think of it, everyone seemed… nervous? Tense? No, the word was… uncomfortable, like they were all strangers discussing the weather or something. But that wasn't right—not at all. In fact, after the initial celebration at the infirmary ("We're back!"?), they'd all been avoiding each other's gazes. They seemed wary of one another, or apprehensive, even.
"Seaweed Brain?" Annabeth prompted Percy, leaning against a bed post. Nico managed not to feel too jealous of the gentle tone she used with her boyfriend, and actually succeeded. It's not his fault; he feels really guilty. Nico blinked. How in Hades had he known that?
"Oh, right," Percy grinned sheepishly, but it wasn't fully genuine. His mouth curled up just a bit too much, and his eyes didn't change expression at all. In an awkward silence, he began to explain—finally. The rest of the Seven chimed in too, adding to the… story. Gradually, their postures relaxed and their muscles loosened.
At first, Nico didn't believe it. But then he did, because what Percy and the others were describing sounded exactly like the kind of ridiculously humanitarian scheme the so-called goddess of family would come up with. And for another thing, everything was too vivid, too detailed, too elaborate to have been made up. And Nico sort of—sort of—remembered some things. But—the flaws. Nico knew his was holding grudges, and he also knew Percy and Annabeth's. But the rest? Wow.
Duty for Jason—it made sense, but it was hard to believe the type of behavior Duty had apparently been exhibiting. Fear for Piper—surprising, but not overly so. Nico didn't really know the daughter of Aphrodite that well, though. (He'd actually gone out of his way to avoid her—she was Aphrodite's kid, after all.) Insecurity for Frank—not that surprising, either, but Nico thought that that would've changed after the praetor's transformation in Rome. Inferiority for Leo—what?! It made no sense; but at the same time, it did. It actually explained a lot of things. Leo's humor—he was overcompensating for his flaw. Kind of like Nico, but Nico just became withdrawn instead of more outgoing. Huh. And Hazel's Guilt… he felt for her, he really did. Blaming others (grudges) was honestly a heck of a lot easier than blaming yourself—guilt. That wasn't to say that Nico didn't have guilt towards certain things or that Hazel didn't have grudges towards others, though.
And the memory-watching. Percy and the others didn't go into full detail there (all of them looked extremely uncomfortable), but… strangely, as they briefly skimmed over some memories, Nico felt a vague sense of déjà vu. But it wasn't until the son of Poseidon described Nico's/Grudge's memories that he remembered.
He remembered the feelings of pain, of shame, of loneliness, of anger. He remembered horror, and aching sadness, and crushing agony. But he also remembered little sparks of joy, fleeting moments of pure happiness, soothing bits of laughter.
He remembered Cupid, Bianca, Percy. He remembered the men in Italy, Akhlys, Tartarus. Everything. And he didn't just remember his own memories—he remembered all of them—everything. And he remembered the secrets and rants and the visions and the dream, too.
He remembered Jason's duty—Annabeth's pride—Hazel's guilt—Frank's insecurity—Percy's loyalty—Leo's inferiority—Piper's fear—his own grudge. But most of all, he remembered who they were without those flaws. Duty-free Jason was disconcerting; pride-less Annabeth was downright scary to see. Guilt-free Hazel was horrifying; Insecurity-less Frank was terrifying. Loyalty-less Percy was impossible; inferiority-less Leo was sad and just a jerk. Fear-less Piper was way too over the top.
But what if he, Nico, had been there too, not just his flaw? What would he have been like without any grudges? He didn't know. But on second thought, maybe he did know. He wouldn't be himself. That was the crux of the matter. That was what Hera—purposefully or not, Nico didn't know—had let them learn. It was the whole point of having flaws.
For a brief, brief moment, he understood. Flaws weren't really flaws, they were just parts of them that could potentially be deadly. They needed flaws, like the gods needed them. Flaws were what kept them anchored. They weren't good, but not bad either. They were impossible to categorize. The whole concept of fatal flaws? A paradox.
He understood, but then that short moment of enlightenment left Nico. All that was left was a feeling growing and growing inside him. He didn't understand it.
"Nico?" Hazel's worried voice broke into his thoughts. "Are you okay?" Nico smiled and looked up. That smile slowly broadened into a grin.
That was right, the Ghost King himself grinned. Because Hazel was worried. And not just her. Everyone. They were all united. Hell, they'd had literal split personalities and managed not to decapitate each other. That was a pretty damn good achievement. Percy leaned forward, a concerned expression on his features. Frank seemed worried as well, like he thought that they'd accidently pushed Nico over the edge or something. Jason whispered something to Annabeth, who nodded; they both stared intently at the son of Hades. Eerily, they looked like siblings. Leo and Piper seemed a bit more wary, but they, too, held Nico's gaze. His smile stayed.
Because, in other words, his friends—friends—were back.
And then, suddenly, he was being hugged from all directions. Again. He nearly fell off the bed. The bed wasn't big enough, and so Leo toppled over, but climbed back up, grinning crazily. He held out a hand to Piper, who pressed a dollar into his hand, rolling her eyes.
"Told you he would remember!" the son of Hephaestus crowed. They bet on it?! Jason laughed and squeezed Nico tighter, while trying to put his arm around Piper simultaneously. Percy smiled mischievously and tugged Annabeth to the side. And then, a moment later, they attacked.
With tickling. Within a minute, Nico was laughing so hard he felt like his stomach was going to burst. "Stop—stop—stop tick—argh!" he tried to fend them off, not really succeeding. But they only stopped when he was in a state of half-hysterics, and proceeded to start a pillow fight with each other, including some makeout sessions that didn't make Nico feel uncomfortable. For once. Hazel buried her face into his neck.
"I'm glad you're okay," she whispered. And Frank? Well, the guy really liked hugs. Nico felt like he couldn't breathe—or maybe he was just laughing too hard. (If anyone asked, it was from being tickled.)
If that scene had been a movie, epic crescendo-ing music would have swelled just then. As it was, the Stolls were actually playing "We Are the Champions" somewhere in the distance, probably after pranking the Demeter cabin for the fourteenth time that week (they'd taken to playing the song so that running away from the wrath of Katie seemed more dignified).
And then Will Solace's voice drifted over. "Chiron wants his CD player back, Travis! Nico, where the Hades are you? I need you to help in the infirmary, remember?" Maybe, just maybe, Nico smiled a bit bigger. But only maybe.
Nothing much changed in camp. The Stolls got dishwashing duty for a month. Leo fixed Piper's defective closet (strange…). Will got Nico's case about visiting him in the infirmary. Dionysus rolled his eyes at the demigods' explanation of Hera's "quest", but Nico could've sworn that the god regarded them differently after that—with some more respect?
Actually, scratch that. Some things did change.
The demigods let the flaws do what they needed to do, but kept them in check.
They made sure Jason didn't feel as pressured, but also told him that his duty wasn't something to be ashamed of.
They let Annabeth know she could rely on them, and take a break when she needed to—anytime.
They helped Hazel deal with her past, and nudged her on the path to accepting her own deeds.
They showed Frank just how important he was, and supported him in anything he undertook.
They told Percy that nothing he'd ever done was in vain, and that he'd done the best things he could.
They never, ever, ever took Leo for granted, and made sure he always felt like he belonged.
They didn't ever dismiss emotions and the power of instincts, so that Piper would feel comfortable.
And for Nico? All he knew was that they respected what he wanted, but that they were always there when he needed them, whether he wanted them or not.
Because even if they were heroes, they were flawed. But maybe the best kinds of heroes were the flawed ones. Nico liked the sound of that.
And as he sat on the beach, water lapping at his feet as the Seven, Reyna, and Will sat around him, laughing and enjoying themselves at the Argo II's monthly reunion party, he smiled. Why? Hey, couldn't a guy just smile for no reason?
Actually, there was a reason.
Everyone, even heroes, were flawed.
Thank you all so so so much for reading, reviewing, favoriting, or following. Or all, or some. It means a lot. A ton. Please review, even if you've never done it before. Because, hey, it's the last chapter :)
In a few days, I'll be making a poll on my profile and you guys can vote on what type of story you want me to write next! And I'm also developing my own story idea, which is cool :)
Thank you guys again!