It always came rushing back to Nico in his dreams.
When he’d first confessed to Will that he was hearing a particularly haunted voice from the Underworld, Nico worried he shouldn’t have
said anything. Sometimes Will didn’t seem to understand what it meant for Nico to be … well, Nico. The Underworld spooked Will, to be frank, but Nico needed to tell someone what was happening to him.
Months earlier, Nico had sensed his friend Jason Grace’s death, which had sent him into a tailspin of grief and rage. By the time Lester and Meg had arrived at Camp Half-Blood at the start of summer, Nico’s emotions were so volatile that he’d raised the dead more than once by accident. (There is nothing more disconcerting than waking in the morning and finding a freshly incarnated zombie standing over you, ready to take your breakfast order.)
Will had listened to him attentively, like he always did. Afterwards he’d posed a few questions, mostly about whether the voice had anything to do with the flashbacks Nico had also been having lately. Will had stayed quiet for a while and then asked, ‘Are you sure it’s not post-traumatic stress disorder?’
Sometimes Nico’s brain thought of a joke and it came out of his mouth a second later without any sort of filter at all. That’s exactly what happened when he blurted out, ‘My whole life is a disorder!’
Will hadn’t laughed at that.
Instead, he’d suggested that maybe Nico should talk to Mr D. For all Dionysus’s faults, he was an Olympian god with experience in these matters: dreams, visions and altered states of consciousness.
He’s also the god of madness, Nico thought. He tried not to dwell on that, or the implications of Will making such a suggestion.
‘I’d rather do almost anything else,’ Nico countered. ‘Can the guy even make it through a single conversation without sarcasm, an insult, or a
combination of the two?’ Will grinned. ‘Can you?’
Nico had spent the rest of the day trying to recover from Will murdering him with those two words. Still, there was some truth to what Will had said. This wasn’t the first time Nico had dealt with flashbacks or PTSD. He remembered coaching his sister Hazel Levesque through her own devastating flashbacks after she’d spent time in the Underworld. He’d even had a frank conversation with Reyna Avila Ramírez-Arellano about post-traumatic stress and how it related to the memories of her father. Yet he’d never really turned that gaze inwards. Was he dealing with the same kind of thing? Honestly, how could he not be? But he was sure the voice was
After dinner on the day he’d confided to Will, Nico got up the nerve to speak with Mr D. He told the director about his flashbacks during the day, the repetitive dreams, the voice from deep within Tartarus. (He did not, however, tell Mr D the details of the Oracle’s prophecy. That still felt too raw, too personal for a first conversation.)
Mr D sat back in his deck chair, turning his can of Diet Coke in his fingers. With his unkempt black hair, blotchy complexion, and wrinkled leopard-pattern camp shirt, Dionysus looked more like a hung-over Vegas conventioneer than a god.
To Nico’s surprise, Mr D didn’t tell him to go away or make any snarky comment at Nico’s expense.
‘We need to get to the bottom of this.’ Mr D’s violet eyes were unsettling, like crystallized wine … or blood. ‘I want to see you each morning at breakfast. You are to report on your dreams and keep me apprised if
anything new comes up.’
The ball of darkness in Nico’s chest pressed against his stomach. He would’ve preferred Mr D being dismissive and rude. Seeing the god so serious was disturbing.
‘Every day?’ he asked. ‘Are you sure that’s necessary?’
‘Believe me, Nico di Angelo, I’d rather not have my breakfast spoiled with your silly mortal problems, but, yes, it is necessary if you’d like to
keep your consciousness intact. And try to have some interesting dreams, will you? Not the usual boring I was flying, I was being chased, I was
singing onstage in my underwear tripe.’
So it had become a routine. Mr D talked to Nico each morning, the god’s plate piled high with sausage and eggs while Nico’s was usually empty
except for a few strawberries. That too concerned Mr D, who, as the god of festivity, disapproved of anyone not enjoying food. ‘I know you’ve got the whole gaunt-and-pale-son-of-Hades thing going on, but you’re still human. You need to eat.’
Nico shrugged. ‘I guess I’m used to being hungry. It doesn’t really bother me.’
Mr D grunted. ‘But your appetite is getting worse. Along with the flashbacks, and the voice in your dreams –’
‘It’s nothing I can’t handle,’ Nico insisted.
Mr D pushed his plate away. He turned his whole body towards Nico. ‘Look here, boy. After living in exile at Camp Half-Blood all these
wretched years, I’ve learned that you mortals are surprisingly resilient.’ ‘Exactly –’ Nico began.
Mr D held up a hand. ‘I’m not done. You may be resilient, but you’re still
human. There is no need to punish yourself with hunger just because it’s what you’re used to. For your mind to heal, your body must also.’
Nico grumbled. Then his stomach followed with some grumbling of its own.
Some days, Nico couldn’t share his dreams with Mr D. They were too painful, too vicious, dredging up old memories he didn’t want to examine. But other times Nico had to admit that talking helped. He found that he didn’t have to sugarcoat anything with Dionysus. The same crudeness he’d found annoying in the camp director was actually really helpful when Nico was recounting his flashbacks.
‘My goodness,’ Mr D once said after Nico described a spate of dreams that had less to do with singing in his underwear and more to do with
simultaneously being burned, drowned and crushed inside a giant bronze vase filled with ants. ‘That’s marvellous! I must remember to give my worst enemies that nightmare.’
But none of the talks got to the heart of the matter: why were these visions happening to Nico?
Did he deserve them?