Chapter no 49

The Sun and the Star

The next time Nico opened his eyes, everything was blue.‌

A soft breeze wafted over his face, and the stars came into view: tiny pinpricks of light poking through a navy blanket of sky. He

wasn’t sure which part of the Underworld this was, but he lay there for a few moments, just existing.

Until a seagull spoiled it all.

When it cawed loudly, Nico bolted upright. He’d somehow made it to the stern of the boat, and his Cocoa Puffs chirped at him as he looked around.

Will and Bob were both awake, sitting together on a bench in the canoe, facing front. That’s when Nico figured out where they were, because on the horizon the sun was beginning to rise over the Long Island Sound.

They were out of the Underworld. They had made it!

Well, they could thank Bob for that. Nico stretched his arms above his head, and Will turned at the sound of him yawning.

‘Morning, sleepyhead,’ he said. ‘Welcome back to the land of the living.’ ‘Ha-ha,’ said Nico. ‘Funny joke.’

Will scooted over to join Nico on the rear bench. ‘You missed Bob’s waterworks display.’

‘Another one?’ Nico said, leaning his head on Will’s shoulder. ‘I feel like I need to cry some more to catch up to him.’

‘You are welcome to join me,’ said Bob, running his enormous hand over Small Bob, who was curled up in his lap. ‘This view is worthy of a good

cry. I did not think I would see the sun or stars again.’

The Titan lifted his head and took a big whiff of the brisk sea air. ‘To be alive in the world once more … It is beautiful.’

He quietly wept while Small Bob purred.

Nico examined Will’s face. His boyfriend looked significantly better. His skin was no longer waxy, and the bags under his eyes were starting to fade.

‘I’m guessing I don’t look like I’m close to death any more,’ said Will. ‘That’s right,’ said Nico. ‘But I still find you attractive anyway.’

‘I’m pretty sure I spent the last few days looking like a pile of melted Play-Doh.’

‘Nonsense. You were more like soggy ambrosia.’

‘Your little pile of soggy ambrosia,’ said Will, blowing Nico a kiss.

Nico watched as the north side of Long Island grew in the distance until he could make out details on the shoreline. Trees. Docks. The garish, impossibly huge houses of rich families, their estates sprawling along the coast in both directions. And there, far, far to the west, he could see the

outlines of skyscrapers and towering apartment buildings. He couldn’t make out the Manhattan skyline, but that didn’t matter. Those were buildings.

Buildings constructed by humans.

He truly was back in the world of the living.

Bob guided the boat through Long Island Sound to the beach, to Euros Creek southward into camp. Each sight they came upon – from squirrels rushing up the trunk of an oak to reeds wavering on the banks – thrilled Nico. He wouldn’t say he was becoming a nature person or anything like

that, but he was overjoyed to be back in a world that wasn’t actively trying to kill him or Will.

Nico finally let loose his own waterworks when he saw Peleus trotting alongside them in the forest.

They were home.

They were home!

The dragon that watched over the Golden Fleece at Camp Half-Blood kept pace for a while, then darted off into the trees. Next two dryads cried out in shock at the sight of the boat and its strange inhabitants. They ran off, too, probably to tell the others.

The others. Oh, Hades, who else was at camp right now? How much time had passed since they’d gone through the Door of Orpheus? The air was

chilly but not freezing, so it had to still be autumn.

Will tapped Nico’s arm. ‘Look,’ he said, pointing ahead.

The creek was coming to an end at Canoe Lake, and there, standing on the edge, was Chiron.

Nico had never been so happy to see his centaur friend. He didn’t even

wait for Bob to guide the boat to shore – he hopped over the gunwale, water soaking his boots, and splashed his way over to Chiron. He wrapped his

arms around the activity director’s waist.

‘Nico,’ said Chiron. ‘You’re … You’re hugging me. Are we hugging now? Is that a thing we do?’

‘Shut up, Chiron,’ he said. ‘Just hug me back.’ The centaur did.

It felt wonderful.

Chiron stepped away, and his eyes went wide. ‘Oh, my.’

Bob the Titan stepped out of the wooden boat, and it was then that Nico remembered just how ridiculously tall Titans were. He loomed over all of them, and one of the nearest trees came up to his chest.

He held out his hand to help Will. The son of Apollo jumped to the ground and wobbled for a second.

‘A real-life Titan,’ said Chiron. ‘At Camp Half-Blood.’

Nico wished he could have bottled the gasp Chiron let out when the

Cocoa Puffs hesitantly emerged from Gorgyra’s boat. The one with antlers peeked over the edge, then hopped over and scurried to Nico’s side.

Chiron reared, then slammed his front hooves down on the ground. ‘Nico, what are those?’

‘It’s a long story,’ he said. ‘But … uh, Chiron, I’d like you to meet my Cocoa Puffs.’

Chiron’s mouth dropped open. ‘Your … what?’

More and more of Nico’s cacodemons poured out of the boat until they formed an inky blot of a group at his feet. A couple of them yipped and jumped up towards his hands.

‘Sorry, Cocoa Puffs,’ he said. ‘I don’t have any food.’

He raised an eyebrow and turned to Will. ‘Wait, what do they eat?’ ‘You’re asking the wrong person,’ said Will, shrugging. ‘I didn’t even

know anything like them could exist until a few days ago.’

Nico turned back to Chiron. ‘How long have we been gone?’

‘A week,’ the activities director said. ‘A very long week, I imagine.’ ‘Very, very long,’ said Nico. ‘And it would have been a lot longer if we

hadn’t had the boat!’

‘Um …’ said Chiron uncertainly. ‘Do you by chance mean the one that’s now drifting away?’

Nico spun and saw that Gorgyra’s white canoe was indeed floating out on the creek, heading towards Long Island Sound.

Will groaned. ‘That’s the second time we’ve lost that boat,’ he said. ‘I hope Gorgyra isn’t mad at us.’

‘You need not worry,’ said Bob. ‘These things find their way back home.’

He knelt so he was closer to Nico’s height. ‘And I must go find mine. It is time for me to leave.’

‘Stay a while,’ said Nico. ‘Let me show you around the camp.’

‘Yes, you are very much welcome to,’ said Chiron. ‘I, for one, would love to chat with you about all sorts of things.’

Bob shook his head, and Small Bob leaped into his arms. ‘I must head west. It is where I belong.’

Then he smiled. ‘No, that’s not quite right. It is where I want to go.’

He hugged Nico tightly, then held his arms out for Will. ‘Thank you, Will Solace, for helping me obtain my freedom.’

‘It was my pleasure,’ said Will. ‘Well, actually, I was miserable most of the time, but, Bob, I’d do it again if it meant saving you.’

Small Bob meowed loudly at Will. ‘And you, too, Small Bob,’ he added.

‘Where exactly will you go, Bob?’ Chiron asked.

‘I have no idea.’ The reformed Titan rose and looked to the west, and when he did so beams of sunlight hit the back of his head. Nico thought

they looked like points on a crown. ‘But that is the best possible reality for me. I now have choices when I used to have none.’

He raised his hand to Will, Nico and Chiron, and then he strode off through the forest, Small Bob glowing at his heels.

After a short silence, Chiron cleared his throat. ‘You boys managed something impossible,’ he said. ‘Mr D and I are eager to hear how you accomplished such a feat, but first let’s get you both a nice hot meal.’

‘Yes, please,’ said Will. ‘I’m tired of nectar and ambrosia.’

‘There will be more of that in the future to facilitate your healing,’ said Chiron, scanning their faces. ‘I see you’re both a bit dinged up.’

He reached down and lifted Nico’s chin. ‘Do you need to visit the infirmary first, son? I’m sure we can fix that slash on your cheek.’

‘Nah,’ said Nico. ‘There’s nothing to fix. I like it how it is.’

‘In the meantime, though, how do bacon, eggs and toast sound?’ ‘Sunny-side up?’ asked Nico.

‘I like my toast dark,’ said Will. The demigods grinned at each other.

Chiron looked down at them with a serious expression. ‘I just want to say how deeply, deeply proud I am of both of you. Dionysus will probably not

admit as much, but he feels the same way.’ ‘Thanks,’ said Nico.

He reached down and laced his fingers between Will’s. Will sent a warm glow into Nico.

And Nico accepted it.

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