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More Solangelo :)

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There was a kid in Nico’s class that no one talked to. He didn’t understand why. There was nothing wrong with the kid. He had yellow hair and blue eyes and freckles everywhere. He helped tie Nico’s shoes, and he let Nico borrow his red crayon when Nico’s broke. Whenever this happened, there were whispers around them, but Nico could never understand them. They whispered insults and snide remarks, but Nico didn’t know why. There was nothing wrong with Will.

“You shouldn’t talk to him,” one boy said. “He has cooties.” Nico frowned, confused. Weren’t girls the ones that had cooties? (Nico’s mom had told him that cooties weren’t real, but Nico had yet to be convinced.)

“He’s got a weird family. His dad isn’t home anymore. He left,” another kid says. “That’s why he’s so . . . ” The kid never finishes his sentence, eyes glancing over to where Will was. He didn’t think he had to finish his sentence. Nico should just know. Again, Nico was confused. What did not having a dad mean? He didn’t have a mom. Did that make him weird? Well, if it did, that meant he and Will were weird together.

Nico likes Will, so he keeps talking to him. “What are you drawing?” Nico asks. Will looks up from where he’s sitting on the ground. He’s got chalk all over his hands, a few smudges on his skirt.

“A dinosaur,” Will says. “It’s my brother’s favorite animal. He’s over there.” Will points to where some older kids are playing. Nico doesn’t know which one is Will’s brother, but he nods anyway.

“Can I draw with you?” Will nods. They draw until recess is over, and then they go into the bathroom to wash their hands. Nico catches Will glancing around as he points towards a stall.

“Could you, maybe, wait for me?” Will asks. He’s looking at the bathroom floor, fingers twisting together. Nico nods. They’ve still got time. Will smiles, darting into a stall. A few other kids come into the bathroom while Nico’s waiting for Will.

“Don’t forget to get your cootie shot,” one calls. Nico doesn’t understand what the comment means, but he does understand the look on Will’s face.
They’re ten years old, and Nico’s just gotten in trouble for punching a kid. It’d been his first fight. He’d never punched someone before; he’d never wanted to before. He’s sitting in the principal’s office, his knuckles sore from the other kid’s shoulder.

“Do you want to tell me why you punched him?” the principal asks. (Nico’s only seen this man once - when they’d had a school assembly at the beginning of the year. He’d liked the man then. Now, he wasn’t so sure. It wasn’t his fault that he’d punched the kid.)

“He was hurting Will,” Nico says. The principal nods, like he’s thinking about something. Nico wishes he’d been given ice for his knuckles. He didn’t know punching someone would hurt so much. TV made it look easy.

“You can’t solve anything by hurting others.” Nico nods. “Even if they’re hurting you. That just creates more hurt.” Nico huffs.

“What am I supposed to do?” he asks. He wasn’t going to just sit back while Will got teased and bullied. Will was his friend, and friends were there for each other.

“You could tell a teacher. They can handle it.” Nico had told a teacher. She’d just tsked, shaken her head, sighed. She’d called one of the bullies over, spoken to him. Then when her back was turned, he called Will more names until Will looked like he was going to cry.

“My friend is getting bullied. So, what are you going to do?” Nico asks. All he knew was that the other kid had been taken to the nurse’s office. Shouldn’t he be getting in trouble, too? He’d hurt Will. And then Nico had hurt him.

“We’re going to have a talk, too. Right after this.” Nico nods, but he doubts that that’s going to stop anything. All of his classes had had talks like this before. All it did was make Will’s smile disappear and the bullies sneakier. It didn’t fix anything. But Nico doesn’t tell the principal this. The adults in his life talked about things, but they didn’t fix things. Nico was going to fix things.
They’re at Will’s house, playing dress up. It’s one of the best parts of having siblings, Will tells him. Will’s already raided Michael’s and Lee’s closets for clothes. They laugh at Michael’s trench coat, Lee’s fedora, the surprisingly fun collection of ties. Nico feels like a detective. Will pretends to be his assistant. Then Will is raiding Kayla’s closet. He pulls out scarves and skirts and sandals. Nico does his best on Will’s hair. Will grins at himself in the mirror. He’s wearing a long pink skirt, a polka dotted scarf, and Lee’s fedora. Nico thinks he looks amazing.

“Liking that look,” Kayla says. She’d just gotten home from some music lesson. “But you’d better not have made a mess of my closet.”

Will just shrugs, swaying his hips to make the skirt swish. He grins wider. “Do you think this matches?” Kayla shrugs, laughing.

“Like it? You can keep it. I’ve been meaning to get rid of it. Too small for me.” She smiles at Will, and Nico can’t help but think how different Will’s family was from the kids at school. If this was what weird meant, he wanted that. He wanted a weird family, one that let him wear skirts if he wanted, that let him have clothes just because he liked them. He liked Will’s family.

“I’m going to wear this tomorrow,” Will says. “But I need a better shirt. This doesn’t match.”

Nico agrees. It takes an hour of raiding closets for them to find the perfect shirt. And then Will spends the next hour modeling it for each of his family members. They all smile, and Nico can tell that they’re not making fun of him. Then they find Nico an outfit. Michael even lets Nico borrow his trench coat.

Nico wants to play dress up every day, if only to see Will smile like that.
Will’s got his knees up to his chest. Nico sits next to him. He doesn’t recognize Will’s room anymore. Well, Will’s half. Michael’s half looks the same as always. But now, Michael’s blue walls expand over onto Will’s side. Gone are the yellow walls, the butterfly stickers, the motivational stickers. Now, it’s just anatomy diagrams and guitar chords. Will’s bedspread is no longer the soft green quilt he’d loved. Now, it’s just a simple green comforter.

“It’s different,” Nico says. Will nods, shrugs. “Do you like it?” Will shrugs again.

“It’s better,” he says, but he doesn’t convince Nico of anything. “Less childish.” Nico can agree with that. The desk is clean, no longer cluttered with collectibles and toys. Will had never been a messy person, but he’d liked organized clutter. Now, it was just organized.

“Do you still want to be friends?” Nico asks softly. That gets Will’s attention.

“Do you not want to be my friend?” They’ve been friends ever since Will had tied Nico’s shoes for him in first grade. Now, they were about to enter sixth grade. “You got into another fight. I don’t like it when you get hurt.”

Nico shrugs. Even though Will didn’t wear his skirts as often, people still said things behind his back. It didn’t help that Will had a crush on one of their male classmates. “I’m fine.” He pauses. “I want to be your friend. If you want to be mine.”

Will nods. “I want to be your friend.” He picks at a scab. “But I don’t want you to keep fighting. I don’t like it.” He turns to look at Nico, unfolding his legs. His eyes land on Nico’s bruised knuckles. Nico doesn’t even feel it anymore. “I don’t care what they say,” he says. His voice cracks as he says it, but Nico doesn’t comment.

“Okay. No more fighting.” Will smiles at him.

“Now, let me get you some ice.”
They’re in ninth grade when Nico gets his first boyfriend. The boy, Mitchell, is on the swim team. He’s got short, brown hair and hazel eyes. Will’s also got a date, a girl named Anne. Michael or Lee drives them to double dates at the movie theater, to roller skating, to the cafe downtown.

Mitchell is Nico’s first kiss. Nico doesn’t think that it’s magical and earth-shattering, but it’s nice. It’s nice to hold someone’s hand and cuddle during movies. Will seems to agree, and Nico’s glad that he’s not going through this alone. Things are better with Will by his side, even navigating the awkwardness of dating.

They’re on a double-date at their favorite restaurant, a cheap place that has good milkshakes. Mitchell has his arm around Nico’s shoulders, and Anne is holding Will’s hand. He’s laughing at something, just short of having ice cream come out of his nose.

“Do you guys remember Mrs. Chestnut?” Mitchell asks. “She always used to give out candy for acing her spelling tests.” Anne nods.

“She was the best. My favorite days were when she’d bring in cookies.” Nico agrees. He remembers those days. Elementary school wasn’t perfect, but it was fun. “There was that weird kid who always screamed when he found a chocolate chip.” Mitchell nods.

“Remember that kid who always used to wear skirts?” Mitchell asks. Nico can see Will tense. Anne doesn’t seem to notice. “He had that pink skirt that he seemed to wear almost every day. He must have smuggled it from his sister or something. My parents would disown me for wearing girl clothes.” Nico can’t decide if he needs to punch Mitchell or just change the topic.

“I always liked pizza Fridays,” Nico says. Anne looks confused for a moment before jumping back in, adding that she also liked when they got free ice cream at the end of the school year. Nico glances over at Will. He’s not laughing, but he’s pulled a smile back on his face.
“Do you think something’s wrong with me?” Will asks. “Am I really a girl? I don’t feel like one.” He curls up in his blanket, eyes fixed pointedly on the television screen.

“You’re not a girl unless you say you are,” Nico says. “Besides, clothes don’t make you a girl. Their only job is to make sure you’re not naked.”

“I feel like people would say less if I went naked.” Nico flushes at the thought of Will naked. (Over the years, he’d been nourishing a healthy crush on Will, and honestly, he wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more of Will’s skin.)

“I liked your skirts,” Nico says. Will glances at him. “You always seemed happy when you were wearing them.”

Will shrugs. “I guess.” Nico smiles, bumping Will’s arm. “I mean, yeah. When I was younger. Now, it just makes me feel wrong. Like, I’m trying to be someone I’m not.” He shrugs again.

“I know we made that deal, but I won’t hesitate to punch someone who says anything.” Will rolls his eyes.

“Maybe it was just a sign that I shouldn’t have worn them.” He shrugs, scooting down the bed. They’re having a sleepover at Nico’s house. Nico kind of wishes that Will would lay his head on Nico’s shoulder. Ever since Anne broke up with Will, Nico had been imagining him and Will in cute little situations. He felt guilty about it, but then Mitchell had left him for some other cute guy. And now Nico was free to daydream.

“I don’t think anyone should care.” Will hums, wiggling his arm out to grab some popcorn. “I mean, it’s clothing. It’s not like you’re endangering anyone.”

“It’s not just that,” Will says. “Maybe I’m just confusing myself. Like, I can’t decide if I like girls or guys.” Nico hopes Will decides on the latter, but he honestly doesn’t care as long as Will is happy.

“Didn’t Lee say you could like both?” Nico asks. Will sometimes went to his older brothers for advice. Nico wishes he could do that. He was too embarrassed to talk to his parents about crushes, and he didn’t have any older brothers. Just a baby sister.

“Yeah,” Will sighs.

“Well, he’s pretty smart.” Will laughs.

“Just yesterday, he put salt in his tea because he thought it was sugar,” Will says. Nico laughs. “He still drank it.”

“Didn’t he date both guys and girls?” It was kind of hard to keep up with Will’s siblings’ lives, but Nico did his best. Will nods.

“Yeah. He’s got a girlfriend now, though.”

“Well, I think you can like both. There’s not a law against it.” Will hums.

“I’m sleepy.” He turns, his head resting against Nico’s arm. Nico forgets what he was going to say before Will changed the subject.

“Good night, Will.” He only thinks about kissing Will’s cheek.
“They all feel tight,” Will complains. They’re shopping for prom which is still two months away. “I just feel weird. Like I can’t move right.” Will’s standing in front of the tall mirrors, turning around. Nico’s mind flashes back to when Will and he used to dress up. He kind of missed those days.

“They have different sizes. You have been working out. You might need a different size.” Will pouts.

“Is that your way of telling me that I’m getting fat?” Nico rolls his eyes, tosses a bow tie to Will.

“Sure. You’re fat, Will. Get over it.”

Will grins. “You’re just jealous that you can’t be fat and look this gloriously handsome.”

“Whatever. Just try on a different size. I’m getting hungry, and my feet are sore.” Will huffs.

“Geez. You’re worse than Kayla. She drags me out shopping only to complain that I’m taking too long deciding what I want to get.”

Will did take a long time shopping. He had to make sure everything fit just right, had to look just right. Nico knew it was part of his insecurities, but Will could hurry it up just a bit.

Will skips out of the dressing room to find a better size. Nico waits by their pile of ill-fitting clothes. He’d found the suit he wanted forty-five minutes ago, and now he wanted some fast food.

Nico goes out to find what’s taking Will so long. Will was a distracted shopper, always looking around even when he’d already found what he wanted. Nico slows down when he finds Will, smiling a little when he sees Will looking at a skirt. It was light pink, flaring at the waist.

“Will,” Nico says softly. He really is hungry. Will turns, jumping as if caught stealing.

“I was just looking,” he says.

“Do you want to try it on?” Nico asks. Will shakes his head.

“I was just thinking Kayla might like it.” Nico nods, even though Kayla’s wardrobe had changed just as much as Will’s had. Nico couldn’t think of the last time he’d seen either of them in pink. Not since elementary school.

“You could get it. Her birthday is coming up.” Will hesitates, scanning through the sizes. Then he nods, a sharp motion, before grabbing the skirt. Nico smiles.

“I’m sure she’ll love it.” Will just nods. They don’t try on any more suits.
Nico completely forgets about the skirt until prom is a month away, and Will still doesn’t have anything to wear.

“Lee has a suit,” Will says. “I could just borrow that. Or Michael’s.” Nico shrugs. If Will had wanted to wear a suit, he’d have gotten one already.

“You don’t have to wear a suit, Will,” Nico says. Will looks confused. “It just says no jeans, leggings, t-shirts, or pjs. You could just wear nice pants and a button-down.” Will shrugs.

“I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t go. I mean, I don’t even have anyone to go with.” Will had asked a few people, but they’d already had dates.

“We’re going as friends,” Nico says. Though he’d really love to just prom-pose to Will right now, now that Will was okay with dating guys. (Will had decided that he was bisexual, and Nico had been proud of him. Labels weren’t everything, but they made Will feel better. He wasn’t just an anomaly.)

Will smiles. “Because you’re too amazing to leave me all alone.” Nico laughs.

“I think you should try it on,” Nico says gently. Will’s been staring at the spot where he dumped the skirt he’d bought just a month ago. It’s not so carefully hidden beneath yesterday’s dirty clothes.

“It’s for Kayla,” Will says. “I just haven’t wrapped it yet.”

Nico stays silent for a moment. “You don’t have to wear it anywhere. But either put it on or stop staring at it.” Will huffs, but Nico can tell he’s scared. “I can leave, if you want.”

Will shakes his head. “Just close your eyes. I trust you.” Nico does as he’s told, feeling Will get off of the bed, hearing the crinkle of the bag. “I don’t know if I got the right size,” Will mumbles. Nico hears a zipper.

Then it’s quiet. Nico can’t tell if Will’s looking at himself in the mirror or crying, but he hopes that Will is smiling.

“You can, um, look now.” Nico opens his eyes, smiling when he sees Will. The skirt hugs his hips before flaring around his thighs. It’s a nice color that complements his skin tone, but Nico’s always thought Will looked amazing in pink.

“I think you’re beautiful,” Nico blurts. He feels his cheeks redden, but Will’s do, too.

“Yeah?” Will asks. He’s still staring at himself in the mirror, turning to look at his legs, his hips.

“How does it feel?”

Will cracks a small smile. “Better than the suit.” Nico grins. “I’m not ready to wear it anywhere,” Will says. Nico nods. It’d been awhile. And people still weren’t the nicest.

“It’s nice seeing you again,” Nico says. “Not that you’re not you without a skirt. But you just look really nice in pastel.”

Will’s still blushing. “I wish I could wear this to prom,” he whispers. They both know he can. What happens after is another thing. Will takes off the skirt, hanging it up neatly in his closet. “Guess I’ll ask Michael about that suit.”
Prom night comes, and Will shows up crying at Nico’s door. Nico’s mother ushers him in, escorting him up to Nico’s room without a word. He’s wearing his brother’s suit, and he looks absolutely handsome. (Even with the tears running down his face, Nico thinks.)

“Will, what’s wrong?” Will just shakes his head.

“I don’t want to go. I feel sick or something.” Nico frowns. Will had been feeling fine at school yesterday. And they’d hung out this morning. “I’m sorry. You can still go. I should have just called you.”

If Will had called, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. But Will’s here, and somethings wrong. And Nico’s going to figure out what it is.

“Is it the suit?” Will shrugs. Nico lets Will curl into his arms. He presses his nose to Will’s hair. “It’s okay if we don’t go.”

Will shakes his head. “No. You should go.” He pauses, wiping at his face. “I’m just overreacting.” He straightens up, blows his nose. “I brought flowers.” Nico smiles, even though he’s still worried about Will. What had just happened?

It takes a little convincing to get them both out of the house. Will still seems reluctant, and Nico’s still not sure Will’s okay. But Will presents Nico with flowers, takes him to Wendy’s for dinner, and then drives them to prom.

Nico didn’t know what he was expecting, but what he saw was not it. The theme of the night was something like “under the sea”, and everything was blue. There were shells and starfish cutouts taped to the walls. Streamers decorated the tables. The food has blue food coloring in it.

“This was not what I was expecting,” Will shouts. It’s loud. The music booms against the floor, against the students already there. “I kind of thought it’d be more romantic.” Nico’s heart jumps at that. He’s got one of Will’s flowers in his handkerchief pocket (whatever that thing is supposed to be called).

“Better than you expected? Or worse?” Will shrugs.

“It’s louder. And shinier.” Nico laughs. All of the girl’s dresses seem to have sequins or beads, and they catch the weird lighting. “Dance?” Will holds out his hand. The music is too upbeat to try and be cute about it. Instead, they find a less crowded area and just dance. Will’s smile comes back, and Nico’s almost convinced that nothing had really happened before.

“I really like your tie,” Nico says when they sit down to rest. They’re both kind of sweaty. The music is still going strong, but they need a break.
Will grins. “Yeah? Kayla found it for me.” Will smooths his hand down his tie. It’s simple, just light pink. It matches well with Will’s eyes.

“So, you okay?” Nico asks. Will’s shoving a cupcake into his mouth, the blue icing staining his lips. Nico’s sure if he kisses Will now, they’ll both have blue lips afterward. He’s willing to test out his hypothesis.

“Yeah. This is better than I thought. It’s more like a middle school dance with better decorations.” Nico wonders if Will thought it was going to be couples all over each other, romance pouring out of the room.

“I hated middle school dances,” Nico groans. Will laughs. “They were so awkward.”

“That’s true. But no one was rumored to be pregnant after them.”

“Is that what you’re worried about? Getting pregnant?” Will rolls his eyes.

“No. I just didn’t want to be pressured into anything.” Nico glances at Will. Was Will worried about sex and drugs? Alcohol? Sure there were rumors, but this was a small town, and anything that happened here was bound to be known by everyone by Monday.

“Like what?” Nico asks. He wonders if he missed the drug deal in the parking lot. Was there such a thing?

“I really want to kiss you.” Nico’s sure Will’s blushing, and he knows he is. It’s hard to tell with the lights dancing over his features.

“Yeah?” Will nods, swallows, eats an M&M.

“I like clichés,” Will says. It’s funny how this is supposed to be romantic, kissing and falling in love. But they’re in a crowded room, the bass pounding against their skulls. They have to practically shout to be heard.

“Okay,” Nico says, and then he’s kissing Will. And, yes. Both of their lips are blue.
They’re tangled up in Will’s sheets, the door open. Will’s mom had smiled at them as they’d come in. She’d made a point that they leave the door open. Will had the decency to blush. Nico was still on a high from their kiss.

“Want to get pregnant tonight?” Nico teases.

Will groans. “I can’t believe you just asked me that.” Nico laughs. “And no. I’ve worked hard for this stomach. I want to keep it this way.” Nico rolls his eyes. Will hadn’t seemed that worried when he’d wolfed down that cupcake earlier. He cuddles closer to Will. They’re both still in their suits, though their jackets are hanging over Will’s desk chair.

“We should change.”

“Into what?” Will asks. “Butterflies? Is this coming out of our chrysalis phase?”

“Sure,” Nico hums. “Why not?”

Will laughs, kissing Nico’s forehead. They’ve been dating for approximately two hours, and Nico can already tell that they’ll be one of those sappy couples. Not that he has a problem with that.

“If we’re coming out of our chrysalis, we should do something. Like a bucket list thing.” Will raises his eyebrows. “Like, eating doughnuts or something.”

“Eating doughnuts?” Nico shrugs. He’s not thinking straight. (Not that he ever was, but especially less so tonight.) “Okay. Let’s change. And eat doughnuts. We’ll have to go to that 24-hour food place.” Nico groans. That 24-hour food place is kind of dingy, but their food is okay.

Nico doesn’t say anything when he sees Will slip on the pink skirt. “Just for tonight,” Will says. He seems slightly less confident now that it’s been brought to attention, but he doesn’t take it off. “Because tonight is special.” Nico just kisses him.

“You’re driving.” Will pouts, but he drives. He’s got both hands on the wheel, and Nico’s never hated him more for being a safe driver.

The 24-hour food place has a sale on doughnuts, so they get two dozen. Will drives them to the playground by the elementary school. This was where they had first met, back when they were just caterpillars. Now, they were butterflies, about to head out Into the real world.

“These doughnuts are stale,” Will complains. He’s got food in his mouth, and Nico should find it grosser than he does. “We should have gotten water or something.” Nico laughs. They’d both been so high on the night that all practicality had flown out the window.

“Well, at least we’ve got doughnuts.” Will nods solemnly. They’re sitting on the swings, though they’re both too tired and lazy to actually swing on them. “I can’t believe your mom let us out of the house for this.”

Will just shrugs. “She loves doughnuts. Even stale ones.” Nico reaches over, tugging on Will’s swing. Will startles, dropping his doughnut as he falls backward. Nico laughs. Will grumbles, dusting off his skirt. “I can’t believe you just did that. We’re going to have to break up.”

Nico pretends to look horrified. “But, Will,” he whines. “I love you.” The words just slip out, and no matter the truth in them, it’s still frightening. Will’s frozen, too, and Nico has half a mind to just run.

“Even though I like to wear skirts?” Will asks.

Nico shakes his head. “I like you. And you just happen to wear skirts.” It takes a minute for their tired minds to process everything. Then Will’s dumping Nico out of his swing. The rubber pellets underneath them aren’t quite as comfortable as Will’s bed, but they’ll do.

“I like you, too.” Will voice is serious, even though he looks like he’s trying not to laugh. Nico sighs. They’ll have other days for romantic moments. Right now, they’re young and in love. And sometimes the best things in life are pink skirts and stale doughnuts.

Chapter Text

The rain pattered against the windows. There was the drip of the incessant leak in the corner of the kitchen. Will was sprawled over the couch, his legs hanging off of the end of it. A book lay closed on his chest. His arm was draped over his face. Nico wondered if he was sleeping. If so, he didn’t mind waking Will up. If he wasn’t, it wouldn’t be as much fun.

“It’s raining outside,” Will says. Nico curses under his breath. He liked waking Will up, liked seeing that sleepy smile. Will usually woke up before him, so he hardly ever got to see that sleepy-affectionate side of Will that then turned into soft kisses and cute dates. (Usually, he got the sleepy-affectionate side as Will was falling into bed, half-dressed and ready to just crash. That was usually just as cute but less fun.)

“Thank you, Sherlock. I thought it might have just been our windows.”

Will removes his arm to look at Nico, kicking his feet in Nico’s direction. “I don’t need your sass,” he grumbles. “Besides, even if it was just our window, it’d still be outside.”

Nico just sticks his tongue out. “I didn’t ask for your sass either.” Will just shrugs, sitting up. His is hair rumpled, and his shirt is riding up, exposing tan skin and freckles.

“We should go to the grocery store,” Will says. Nico raises an eyebrow. He didn’t hate the grocery store, but he’d had other things in mind. “We need food. And I need exercise.”

Nico laughs. “I hardly think grocery shopping is exercise. We could at least go to the mall.” Will pouts, shaking his head.

“Malls don’t have the same appeal.”

Nico nods. “Right. Because the grocery store is where all of the cool kids hang out.” Will nods slowly, yawning. He runs a hand through his hair, effectively rumpling it more.

“I mean, we are cool kids, and that’s where we hang out. So, yes. I don’t see the problem.” Nico laughs.

The two of them had settled into domestic life together quite well. There had been a few disputes (such as who hogged all of the covers, how to properly load a dishwasher, and whose turn it was to return the ever-wandering cat to the lady across the hall), but they’d managed to quell each problem quickly and effectively. Will hated unresolved conflict, and Nico hated being upset with Will.

“I think the cool kid ship passed us by,” Nico remarks. Will rolls his eyes.

“You’re wrong about that. Get your jacket on. The next stop is the grocery store.” Nico sighs, but he gets his jacket and shoes. It’s hard to say no to spending time with Will, even if it is a mundane trip to the grocery store. They’d had plans today, but they’d all been washed out when they both took a four-hour nap in the middle of the day. (Not that either of them was complaining.)

Will drives, and Nico fiddles with the radio. They had yet to preset any of the channels because they both liked a variety of music and could never seem to decide on what to listen to. So the radio chose for them.

“Do we actually need anything?” Nico asks. They’re in the fruit section, Will taking his sweet time to inspect each apple for bruises and any other injuries it could have acquired.

“I didn’t actually look at the grocery list,” Will says. He sets the apple carefully into the bag, picking up the next apple. “I think we needed milk and garlic. And that flour that you like using so much.” Nico nods. He had particular tastes when it came to his cooking ingredients. He figured if he was going to spend time doing something, he might as well do it right. (Will never said anything, but Nico also thought it tasted better with specific ingredients. Not any old flour or chocolate or oil would do.)

“And we should probably get some more cat food. I think Garfield is getting low.” Will nods. He’s found seven perfect apples, tying the bag up and setting it in the cart.

“He’s getting low because he eats so much,” Will says. Garfield was mostly Will’s cat. He’d seen an ad for a cat adoption and had gone without Nico’s knowledge. And then he’d adopted a cat without Nico’s knowledge. (Nico hadn’t actually known that Will had gotten them a cat until the cat had woken him up at three in the morning by knocking a few things off of the kitchen table.) The cat was named Garfield after the comic, and it seemed to fit as the cat was both orange and fat and aloof to anything Will or Nico cared about.

“So do you,” Nico says. He pokes Will’s stomach. Will glares at him before breaking into a smile. Yeah, Will had a little flab, but it wasn’t anything horrible. In fact, Nico rather liked it. He liked that Will was softer, the muscle carefully hidden underneath all of Nico’s good cooking and attention. He felt a sense of pride whenever he knew that he was keeping Will well-fed and healthy.

“You’re not looking so bad yourself.” Will winks. Nico flushes despite himself. They both know that Nico prided himself on his form. He was still thin, but he’d built up muscle and some height over the years. He was now only a few inches shorter than Will. Will was softer lines against Nico’s more defined ones, but it worked. (It more than worked, but those were not thoughts for the grocery store.)

They thread their way through the aisles, occasionally dropping things into the basket. Nico’s careful not to damage any of Will’s carefully inspected fruits and vegetables. Will’s humming to whatever song is playing through the speakers. It’s some pop song, Nico thinks. He’s never been into pop, but he did like the catchy rhythms.

“You should dance with me,” Will says. They’re alone in the canned food aisle. Nico had been trying to find the right kinds of beans he needed to make chili later this week. He turns around to find Will bowing to him, offering his hand.

“This isn’t a slow song, Solace.” He smirks. Will grins, setting the cans in the cart and taking Nico’s hands.

“Slow dancing isn’t just for slow songs, di Angelo. Besides, what if I wanted to tango? Or salsa?” Nico laughs. An older lady passes them, smiling.

“I remember when I was young and in love,” she says. She pats Will on the shoulder, grabbing a few cans and leaving them in peace. Will smiles at her back.

“May I have this honor?” Will asks. Nico rolls his eyes. He knows Will’s not going to back down from this, so he might as well give in. Besides, it won’t be the stupidest thing they’ve ever been caught doing. Will twirls Nico around, careful not to knock off any cans. The aisle is narrow, and they keep stepping on each other’s feet. The song changes, and Will picks up the tempo. Nico follows. Will’s hands are warm and familiar in his, and even though they’re both awful at dancing, it’s kind of fun.

A young father and daughter watch them, falling into their own little dance. Nico smiles. He loves Will’s infectious smiles, his laughter, his out-of-the-blue ideas. Will leans forward as the song ends, dropping a kiss to Nico’s forehead. Nico lets out a whine, and Will laughs.

“Got to keep it PG for the kids.” He winks, and Nico pouts. Will waves to the little girl and her father, pushing the cart and a pouting Nico down the aisle. Once they're out of sight of the family, Will swoops in for another kiss. Nico blushes.

“Will,” he sighs. Will pulls back, turning to the shelves like he and Nico hadn’t just been kissing. It’s not that Nico wants to make a scene in the grocery store, but now Will’s teasing him. He’ll swipe a hand over Nico’s shoulders when he’s getting something off of the top shelf, press his hand against Nico’s back when he’s moving behind him, kisses his cheek when he’s scanning the groceries.

They last until they get home. Then Will’s kissing Nico like he hasn’t been allowed to for weeks. Nico leans into the kiss, sighing. He loves kissing Will, loves the way it makes him feel, loves the way that it can go from innocent to passionate to affectionate.

They’re interrupted by the lady across the hallway. She clears her throat as she unlocks her door.

“I remember when I was young,” she says. “But I didn’t do it for the world to see.” Will blushes, but he’s shaking with laughter. Nico giggles. Garfield comes to join them as they put the groceries away, finding that they did, in fact, have a grocery list and that they hadn’t gotten a single thing on it somehow.

“Guess we’ll just have to make another trip,” Will says shrugging.

Chapter Text

Will had dreamed of meeting his soulmate since he was a little kid. He hoped that his soulmate was very nice and would like him back. He already knew that he would like his soulmate. In fact, he’d love his soulmate with his whole heart. Will knew it.

He’d agreed to go grocery shopping with his mama in hopes that he’d meet his soulmate. He didn’t want to be cooped up in his house with his soulmate wandering around. Will’s mama had taught him manners, had taught him about soulmates. It was important that he touches his soulmate, so Will always made sure to shake everyone’s hand. It was what a gentleman would do.

“I’m going to step into the lady’s room for a moment, Will. Stay right here with the cart, okay?” Will nods. He pushes the cart towards the wall and waits. He looks up when he hears someone coming by. It’s a mother and her daughter. Will smiles, holding out his hand.

“Hi,” he says. “I’m Will.” The mother smiles at him, nodding. She says something to her daughter before heading into the bathroom. Will turns to the girl. She’s got short, black hair and a blue jacket. She stares at Will’s hand, hesitantly reaching out.

“Nina,” she says. Will smiles, shaking her hand. He feels a spark, and the girl’s eyes widen. She pulls her hand away, inspecting it.

“Soulmates?” Will asks. “Are you my soulmate? Did you feel the shock? Are you hurt?” He pauses to take a breath. The girl is just staring at him, holding her hand to her chest. Her mother comes out, and Will looks at her. He points to his hand. “We’re soulmates!” The mother shakes her head, smiling.

“Sorry,” she says. “Nice to meet you.” She’s got a heavy accent, and it takes Will a moment or two to figure out what she’s said. Her daughter says something to her, and she frowns. Then she’s leading her daughter away. Will feels panicked. His soulmate is walking away, leaving. Where is his mama?

The mother and daughter have disappeared down an aisle, and Will can’t follow them because he has to stay with the cart.

“Will? What’s wrong?” His mama is there, and he’s trying to pull her down the aisle while also explaining to her that he’s just met his soulmate. Will wishes he’d gotten a better look at her, had been able to talk to her more. What if she didn’t know about soulmates?

“Soulmate, Mama,” he says. His mama is pushing the cart, trying to follow Will. He’s looking around, but he can’t find the mother and daughter. He wants to check the parking lot, but his mama stops him. They still have to pay for their groceries, and Will can’t just run out into the parking lot.

“I lost her, Mama,” he cries when he gets home. His mama fixes him some hot chocolate, handing him a tissue. “What if I never see her again? What if I never meet my soulmate? I don’t want to be alone forever.” Will’s mama rubs his back, holding him close. He sips at his hot chocolate, hiccuping a little.

He’s dreamed of meeting his soulmate all his life, and he’s finally found her.

“Nina,” he whispers. He needs to remember the name. He needs to find her.
Nico learned about soulmates when he was in seventh grade. The halls were filled with whispers about soulmates. Everyone was speculating who their soulmate could be, when they’d find them, what they’d look like. He learned from the whispers.

“So, it’s basically a shock or something?” Nico asks. Hazel nods. “And I’m not allowed to date anyone other than my soulmate?” Hazel shrugs.

“It really depends. A lot of people are against dating someone who isn’t your soulmate just because it can be messy when you do find them. But it’s really up to you.” Nico nods. As much as he wishes it were that simple, he knows it’s not. He’s seen the looks some get when they date someone they’re not destined to be with. He’s already gotten enough looks to last a lifetime. He doesn’t want more.

“So why do you only get shocked once? What if you didn’t realize it until later?” Hazel shrugs.

“I don’t make the rules, Nico.” Nico huffs. “Besides, would you want to be shocked each time you touched your soulmate? That would be really annoying.” Nico supposes so. Still, it’d make it a lot easier to find his soulmate. What if he’d already bumped into them? For the first ten years of his life, he’d never known what a soulmate was. It wasn’t something they talked about in Italy. Soulmates there were secret things. Here, they were the front-page news.

“I guess.” He’s about to ask another question when Hazel squeals. He covers his ears, glancing down the hallway. “What was that about?”

Hazel grins. “Percy and Annabeth are soulmates,” she says. Nico frowns. Percy was on the swim team, and Annabeth was always hanging out with Piper McLean. As far as he knew, Percy and Annabeth had never talked before. Maybe they’d bumped elbows in the hallway? Brushed fingers passing papers?

“How do you know?” Nico’s watching Hazel watch Percy and Annabeth.

Hazel pauses. “I can, uh, just kind of see it. Like, there’s just this connection thingy.” She frowns. “I’m not sure how to explain it. But it’s there.” She squeals again when Annabeth drops one of her books. Percy bends down to pick it up. Nico knows the exact moment their fingers touch. He can see the shock, the surprise, the moment of happiness fall over their faces. He wants a moment like that.

“Do they have to be close for you to see it?” Nico asks. Hazel nods.

“Kind of close. I mean, I can’t see everyone’s soulmate. That’d be kind of annoying, too.” Nico shrugs. “I haven’t seen your soulmate, if that’s what you’re asking.” Nico doesn’t respond. He’d been kind of hoping that maybe she had just been keeping it from him, like a surprise of sorts. Hazel gives him a smile, pats his back. “You’ll find them. Don’t worry.”

Nico knows the statistics. About seventy percent of people find their soulmates. Nico’s determined to be part of that seventy.
Will yawns. Only two more hours until his shift is over. He glances at the clock. He could take a snack break, he thinks. He thought interning at the doctor’s office would be more interesting. He’d also thought that he’d actually be with the patients. Instead, he’s filing paperwork, going on coffee runs, and checking patients into the office. He still makes sure to shake everyone’s hands, though he knows he won’t feel that shock. He’d felt it when he was eight, and he’d missed his chance.

“Need some caffeine?” comes a voice. He turns to see Kayla holding a mug out for him. He takes it, thanking her. “Only a few more hours. Then I’m off to my date.” Will smiles. Kayla had found her soulmate at some concert she’d been at over the weekend. Will had called her a lucky duck. What were the chances that she’d run into the right person?

“He’d better be a gentleman,” Will says. “If he’s not, let me know.”

Kayla laughs. “He’s a sweetheart.” Will nods. Without his own soulmate, he’d taken to being super invested in other people’s. He figured it was kind of annoying, but he didn’t know what else to do. He couldn’t date someone who wasn’t his soulmate. He kind of already knew who his soulmate was. It’d be betrayal if he hooked up with someone just to bide the time away.

“Um, hi,” comes an accented voice. For some reason, the voice sounds familiar, but Will can’t place it. He looks up to see a patient. He smiles, extending his hand. He knows he shouldn’t expect the shock, but when it’s not there, he can’t help but feel disappointed. “Nico di Angelo. I’ve got an appointment at three fifteen.” Will nods, marking Nico as checked in.

“Alright. You’re checked in. You’re welcome to take a seat over in the waiting room. Dr. Fletcher will be right with you.” Nico nods. He glances over at Nico again once the boy sits down. He’s got dark hair, olive skin, an accent. It all feels so familiar, but Will’s sure he’s just overthinking things. He’s met so many people since interning here. He’s met so many people at college, throughout school. He’s made a point of meeting everyone, so it’s weird that someone new is standing out.

“You okay?” Kayla asks. She pokes his arm. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost. Or a lost puppy.” Will shrugs.

“It’s nothing. Just my overtired brain trying to make connections that aren’t there.” Kayla nods, nudging the mug closer to Will. He picks it up, taking a big sip. He’s still got two more hours of this. He files some paperwork, runs to the bathroom.

He glances over at Nico. He can’t shake the feeling that he’s met him somewhere. Nico looks up from his magazine, flushing a little when he catches Will’s eye. Will looks away. He shouldn’t be ogling someone else’s soulmate. He should be doing his work, not trying to remember something that he’s sure he’s just making up. He sighs. He wonders if he’ll be on his deathbed before he finds his soulmate.
Nico groans, throwing himself on the couch. Frank looks at him, his gaze glancing between Nico and Hazel.

“Something wrong?” Hazel asks.

“Nothing’s wrong,” Nico says. “Everything is dandy. Just fine.” He groans again. He’d just seen the blond secretary again, this time in his math class. He knows he’s not supposed to appreciate other people’s soulmates, but there’s something about that blond guy. He seems so familiar, like Nico could just ask him for coffee and hear his life story in one go. Or maybe it’s just that he’s cute enough for Nico to want to bypass the whole soulmate thing.

“Seems like it. I always throw myself onto the couch when things are dandy,” Hazel teases. Nico glares at her. “Wanna talk about it?”

Nico shakes his head. “There isn’t much to say. I met a cute guy who isn’t my soulmate. I’m going to take a nap now.” He hears Hazel sigh as he heads into his room. He throws himself onto his bed, shifting to remove his binder. He sighs as his chest expands just a little. He’d slowly been growing more comfortable with himself, slowly convincing himself that his soulmate wouldn’t care that he had a girl’s body. It was his body, whether or not it was how he wanted it to look. And he’d worked hard to appreciate that. He just hoped his soulmate would, too.

If he ever found his soulmate.

He didn’t really like touching people, so casually bumping into people was kind of out. It felt odd to introduce himself to everyone he met, though there were people out there who did that. He figured Hazel would tell him if she ever saw his soulmate, but he wasn’t always with her. Nico didn’t understand why this soulmate thing had to be so complicated. Why couldn’t he just have his soulmate’s name on his wrist? Or his number? That’d be so much easier.
He huffs into his pillow, pulling the covers over himself. He’s about to close his eyes when his phone buzzes. Nico groans, reaching over to read the text message. It’s an unknown number, and part of Nico gets his hopes up that this is his soulmate. It’s just his project partner, though, apologizing that he wasn’t in class today, does Nico want to meet up to work on the project. Nico sends a quick message back, ignoring the next texts in favor of sleep.
Will’s grinning when Nico slides into their usual booth. Ever since working on that stupid math project a few weeks ago, they’d somehow fallen into the routine of eating dinner together every Monday night. Will picks up the menu, even though he always gets the same thing.

“What’re you trying this week?” Will asks. Nico shrugs.

“Maybe just something classic this time. The burger?” Will nods. He always gets the chicken tender basket. It reminds him of his mama’s cooking, though it isn’t quite as good. He also likes the seasoning that they use on the fries. A waitress comes to take their orders, and they fall into conversation.

“How’d your history test go?” Will asks. Nico groans.

“I love history. I hate tests. I don’t see what good it’ll do me if I know exactly what happened in 1832. Like, it’s interesting, but I’m never going to need that information specifically.” Will shrugs.

“You never know. It could come in handy.” Nico rolls his eyes.

“I very much doubt that.” Will smiles. He loves Nico’s accent. Nico says it’s grown fainter since he was little, but Will still loves it. He’s surprised at how fast he’s become friends with Nico. Just four weeks ago, they’d barely known each other. Now, Will considered Nico one of his best friends.

“I guess you’ll just have to see.” Nico shrugs.

“Speaking of tests. Did you want to study for the math test sometime?” Nico asks. “I’m free on Saturday. Even have the apartment to myself. Hazel and her boyfriend are away at some festival for most of the day.”

Will smiles. He enjoyed hanging out with Nico, even if they mostly just did homework and ate dinner. Nico wasn’t his soulmate, so it wasn’t like he could try to move things further, even if he wanted to. Which he did, but that didn’t matter.

“Yeah. Maybe around noon?”

Nico smiles. “I can make lunch. I’ve been told that I’m a pretty good chef.” Will smiles. He’d heard about Nico’s cooking skills.

“It’s a date,” he says. The words just slip out of his mouth, but he still tenses. Nico tenses, too. “I mean, a study date. Session. Study session.”

Nico nods. “Of course, Will,” he says. Will’s never been happier to see their food arrive.
Nico was kind of panicking. He’d forgotten to ask Will what he liked to eat, and now he wasn’t sure what he should fix. He’d thought about texting Will, but he knew that Will valued his Saturday morning sleep, and he hated to disrupt that.

He decides that he’ll fix some chicken and pasta. It was simple and general enough. The only thing he’d seen Will eat besides those chicken tenders and fries were fruits and protein bars. He was sure Will ate something else; he just wasn’t sure what.

He’s just pulling the chicken out of the oven when there’s a knock on his door. Will greets him with a bright smile and a bar of chocolate. Nico raises his eyebrows. Had he accidentally texted Will instead of Hazel about the chocolate? He was usually careful about who he texted and what. Will didn’t know he was trans; he didn’t know about-

“It’s a housewarming gift,” Will says. “I’ve never been to your place before. It’s just a gift or something.” Nico nods. He takes the chocolate, smiling when he sees that it’s one of his favorite brands. “So, uh, lunch first?” Nico nods again.

“Chicken and pasta. That okay?” Will beams.

“It’s perfect. I can’t wait to taste this legendary cooking.” Nico laughs. He knew he was a good cook, but he wasn’t sure about legendary. He really only cooked for Hazel and a few close friends.

Will grins when they sit down to eat, his eyes falling shut when he takes his first bite. “This is so good,” he says around a mouthful of food. Nico blushes. He feels a sense of relief, though he hadn’t known he’d been waiting for Will’s approval. “Gods, I think I could die right now and be perfectly content.”

“As flattered as I am,” Nico says, “I need to pass this math test. So I’d appreciate it if you didn’t die quite yet.” Or anytime soon, Nico finished in his head.

Will laughs. He finishes his first helping quickly, moving onto his second. Nico watches him eat, finding the motions familiar and comfortable. He wishes Will were his soulmate, but there hadn’t been a shock when they’d shook hands that first day in class or at the doctor’s office. Nico wondered if Will had already found his soulmate. Talking about soulmates was kind of a taboo topic unless you’d already found them, though, and Will hadn’t said anything.

“Do I have something on my face?” Will asks. “You’re staring.” Nico flushes, shaking his head.

They move to the couch to study, spreading their books between them. They start with what they know, moving onto what they don’t. Will explains the concepts to Nico, drawing them out in Nico’s notebook. His arm rests on top of Nico’s as he points out various equations and graphs. Nico asks him questions just to keep that arm there, that little bit of skin on skin. It hurts just a bit that there’s no shock, but it’s overridden by the momentary happiness.

“I can’t believe I’ve just spent the last two hours of my life doing math,” Will says. He’s stretched out over the end of the couch. His shirt has ridden up, exposing his tanned stomach, even though it’s just early spring. Nico wants to lay his head on Will’s chest or kiss the cluster of freckles just above Will’s belly button.

“Will,” he asks. He has to know, he reasons. If he knows, he can stop fantasizing. He can get his head screwed on right and stop ogling someone else’s soulmate. “Have you met your soulmate?” He doesn’t look at Will for a moment.

“I, um, yeah. I think so.” There’s a pause as Will sits up. Even though he’s still spread out, it feels like he’s drawing in on himself. “I mean, I have. But I don’t know who they are.”

Nico nods. “What do you mean? They didn’t want to be soulmates?” He’s heard of that happening before. He doesn’t know what he’d do if that were him.

“I met her when I was little, but I don’t think she understood. And then she left.” Will scratches at the back of his neck. “So, I know she’s out there somewhere. But I don’t know where.”

“I’m sorry.” Nico feels his heart drop. He’s not Will’s soulmate. Will’s soulmate is a girl. Will’s already felt that shock. He feels like he should say more, but he’s not sure what to say. What do you say about a lost soulmate? “I mean, that must suck.”

Will shrugs. “Yeah, but it’s nice knowing they’re out there. You know? Like, I can still maybe stumble upon them one day.” Will doesn’t ask about Nico’s soulmate, and Nico doesn’t know what he’d say anyway. He’s not sure if he likes this soulmate stuff. It could take ages to find his perfect mate, and maybe he’ll never meet them. Or maybe he’ll be separated, never to find them again. And which one is worse?
Will’s not sure what’s wrong with Nico, but he’s intent on finding out. Nico had been quieter since their study session, only meeting up with Will for dinner. So Will’s cleared his schedule, made sure Nico didn’t have anything. Then he got some chocolate and headed to Nico’s apartment. Hazel answers the door, smiling.

“Hey, he’s still sleeping. Should he be awake?”

Will shrugs. “Technically, yes, as it’s almost one in the afternoon. But, no. I’m surprising him.” Hazel beams, beckoning him in.

“I’ll wake him. He gets grumpy if you wake him up. Best not to see that side of him yet.” Will shrugs. He sets his stuff down on the counter. Some of Nico’s homework is spread over the kitchen table. What he assumes is Hazel’s homework is stacked neatly by an open book bag. There are dirty dishes in the sink, fresh flowers on the counter. If he didn’t know better, he’d assume that Hazel was Nico’s soulmate, that this was the happily ever after promised to matched soulmates.

“Why’re you here?” Nico asks. He looks so cute Will isn’t even offended.

“I thought we could hang out,” Will says. If soulmates weren’t a thing, he’d have said something more romantic. But he can’t do that. Not with his soulmate out there somewhere, Nico’s out there somewhere. Will’s snapped out of it by Hazel’s beaming face.

“You two are so cute,” she says.

“I’ll get dressed.” He fixes his sister a look before heading back to his room. Hazel’s still grinning.

“He’s so cute with you.” Will blushed, shrugging. He figures Hazel must be one of those few people who doesn’t mind when people take an interest in someone who isn’t their soulmate. “I bet he wouldn’t even try to throw a pillow at you if you tried to wake him.”

“I don’t think I’ll be trying anytime soon.” Hazel shrugs, laughing. Then Nico’s emerging from his room, hair still unbrushed and belt undone.

“Let’s go hang out or whatever.”

Will takes Nico to the farmer’s market first. He wasn’t sure what they could do, but he wanted to avoid anything that felt like a date. He was sure that was part of it, that Will had found his soulmate and Nico hadn’t.

“I really like looking at fruits and vegetables,” Nico says drily. “Thanks.”

Will laughs. “They also have candles and flowers and scarves and jewelry.” He drags Nico through the crowds, past the produce. Here, it’s more art and stuff. He can tell that Nico likes this stuff more, taking more time in each stall. Will gets some peanut butter, and Nico finds a bracelet for Hazel.

“So, where to next? Are we going to tour a farm?” Will just shrugs. He hadn’t really had a day planned. He’d just kind of wanted an excuse to hang out with Nico.

“Wherever you want to go,” Will says. “I’m open to options.” Nico nods, taking a few moments to consider. Then he’s pulling Will into a music store.

“You know, you don’t have to do this,” Nico says. “Feel sorry for me and whatever.” Will frowns. “I mean, just because I haven’t found my soulmate doesn’t mean that I won’t ever. Besides, I’m pretty busy with school and stuff, too. So maybe that’s a good thing.”

“Hey, no. I just wanted to hang out. You’ve been busy or whatever, and I missed hanging out.” Nico blinks.

“Well, okay, I guess.” He pauses, tapping one of the drums. “Can you play anything?”

Will shrugs. “Piano. Some guitar. I can play the drums just because I can keep a beat, but I don’t know the difference between them. The harmonica. The recorder.” Nico laughs.

“Everyone can play the recorder. It was like a thing every elementary school kid had to endure.” Will laughs. He’s so relieved to see Nico smiling again. “But show me. Play me something.”

Will moves to the piano. He hadn’t touched one in a while, but he remembered the basics. He ran a few chords and scales before playing Mary Had a Little Lamb. Nico raises an eyebrow, unimpressed. So Will plays Amazing Grace and then what he remembers of Canon in D. When he stops, he catches Nico smiling at him.

“Can you play?”

Nico shrugs. “A little. I just know scales mostly. I’ve never had lessons. In middle school, I played the trumpet a little.” Will smiles. “Then I quit because I never practiced, which meant I wasn’t very good.” He shrugs.

“Darn. We could have started a band,” Will says. Nico shrugs. “I guess we still can, but you’d have to actually practice probably.”

Nico pouts. “Might be a dealbreaker.”
They hang around until the guy at the cash register asks them to pay for something or leave.
“You’re all smiley,” Hazel says. Nico shrugs. It wasn’t that he didn’t smile, but he supposed he did so less than others. Which was perfectly fine with him. There wasn’t a minimum number of times that one had to smile a day. “Are you two boyfriends yet? Have you two kissed? You promised me you would tell me the details.” Hazel pouts.

Nico’s so confused. “We just hung out. We’re not dating, so we aren’t going to be kissing anytime soon.” Hazel seems disappointed.

“Why not? You’re so cute together, and you clearly like each other.” She pauses. “Are you taking things slow? Because that’s perfectly okay.”

“Slow as in nothing is ever going to happen, yes,” Nico says. He doesn’t know why he’s having this conversation. He was okay that Hazel was dating Frank even though he wasn’t her soulmate, but she knew that he only wanted to date his soulmate.

“Does he not like you? Because I will go and talk to him right now.” She makes a fist, and Nico has to actually stop her before she leaves. “Nico,” she whines. “You deserve happiness. I’m not going to let him stop you.”

“He’s not stopping me, Hazel. He’s just not my soulmate.”

Hazel pauses, blinks, uncurls her fist. She frowns. “Yes, he is.”

Now it’s Nico’s turn to blink. “No, he’s not. His soulmate is some girl he met when he was a kid.”
“What else did he tell you about her?”

Nico shrugs. “Just that he lost her or something. I don’t know. I didn’t ask.”

Hazel’s nodding slowly. “Well, you didn’t come out until you were twelve,” she says slowly. “So, if you two met when you first moved here, you’d still be going around as a girl.” She looks at Nico.

“We’re soulmates?” Nico asks because that’s really the only thing his mind has latched onto.

“I mean, yeah. The connection thingy is there. If I knew, I would have said something sooner. I didn’t realize that you two didn’t know.” When Nico still doesn’t move, she punches his arm. “Are you just going to stand there? You should hunt him down right now and kiss him. And then come back and tell me everything.”

That gets Nico moving. He’s out the door, completely forgetting everything but that Will is his soulmate. His. Soulmate. Will is Nico’s soulmate. He has to keep repeating it, afraid that if he doesn’t, it’ll just be a dream.
Will had just made himself a bowl of popcorn when there was a knock on his door. He’s surprised to see Nico standing there, but not as surprised as he is to find Nico flinging himself at Will. And then they’re kissing. It’s rough and kind of painful, and Will’s pretty sure he tastes blood. But he can’t find it in himself to push Nico off. Because Nico’s kissing him.

“What?” Will manages when they both pull back for air.

“We’re soulmates,” Nico says. “You’re my soulmate, and I’m yours.” He’s practically beaming now, his fingers running through Will’s hair, his lips just inches from Will’s.

“But- what?”

Nico giggles, pushing Will back into the apartment. “Sit down. I’ll explain.”
Will listens at Nico explains, adding a few details from his side of the story. Before Nico’s even done, Will’s crying. Nico’s his soulmate; he’s finally found his soulmate. And it’s Nico. He throws his arms around Nico’s shoulders, laughing.

“It’s you,” he whispers. “I’ve found you.”

“Well, technically, Solace, I found you,” Nico quips. Will pouts, pulling Nico in for a kiss.

“We found each other,” Will agrees. Nico rolls his eyes.

“Yes, Solace. We’ve found each other.”

Chapter Text

Will wakes up to his boyfriend- no, husband shaking him awake, which was a rare occasion. Will grumbles, trying his best to bury himself back into the covers. He was tired. Shadow traveling always drained him, something about a son of Apollo traveling through the darkness. It didn’t do good things to his body.

“C’mon, Will. We’re on our honeymoon. We’re not spending the entire thing in bed.” Will opens his eyes, rolling over. Nico’s already dressed and ready to go. Will pulls Nico down to kiss him, having half a mind to convince Nico to spend just one more day in bed. “Nope,” Nico says. “You’re getting out of bed today.”

Will gets in one more kiss before Nico’s pulling the sheets off of the bed. Will grumbles some more, but he gets dressed. It’s spring wherever they are, but it’s still colder than Will would like it to be. Nico smiles at him, pulling him out onto the streets.

“Welcome to Russia, sunshine.” Will takes in the sights of Russia. He’s never done much traveling, always stuck at camp mostly. This is his first time out fo the country, and he’s already overwhelmed. There are so many people, so many things to look at. It’s nothing like he imagined because he isn’t sure he could have ever imagined something like this. He could almost convince himself that he was back in America if it weren’t for the unfamiliar language and smells around him.

“Have you ever been here before?” Will asks.

“Nope,” Nico says. “Father recommended it.” Will nods. Nico had taken care of all of the planning. Will wanted to help, but Nico wanted to surprise him. Will had eventually stepped back and let Nico sort out the traveling, the destinations, the expense. He was already busy trying to catch extra hours so he could take enough time off.

“So, where are we going?”

Nico shrugs. “Figured we could just walk around a little bit. The Red Square is a must. Every travel book says we should go there.”

Will nods. He and Nico walk down the sidewalk, their eyes everywhere. They pass open supermarkets and look at the food. Will can only guess what everything is. With his dyslexia, reading English can be hard. Russian isn’t any better. They continue down the sidewalk. There are people on their way to work, grocery shopping, talking on the phone.

“I really like the architecture,” Nico says. “It feels old but also not.” Will nods. He wonders if part of the feeling is because they’re descendants of Greek gods. They’ve been surrounded by Greek architecture and artifacts their whole lives. Walking around in old cities wasn’t something new.

“That’s a museum over there. And there’s a church.” Nico pointed out a few more sights. “It’s a lot to take in. We don’t have to do it all today. Or all on this trip.” Will nods. He thinks he could spend forever just in Moscow, though he knows Nico’s planned a few other places to visit. They only have a week, but he’d love to come back and tour Moscow more.

“How about we each pick one or two things,” Will suggests. Nico nods. They consult the travel book. Will smiles thinking that they must really look like tourists, hunched over a book, glancing at all of the signs. “That looks like a fun place to just kind of hang out. We could go there for lunch or something.”

“We’ve got two days here,” Nico says. “So, we could do lunch or dinner here today. Lunch there tomorrow. If you wanted a souvenir, this could be a good place.” He smiles. “I feel like we’re missing so much, but we don’t have a lot of time.”

Will laughs. He feels the same way. “Well, guess we’ll just have to come back next year or something. Like, for each of our anniversaries, we could go somewhere.” Nico smiles. They decide on a few things to do, marking them in the book and on the map. Then they start heading to the Red Square.

“What’s a Kremlin?” Will asks. He says the word slowly, making sure he’s saying it right.

“Like a citadel or fortress,” Nico says. “They’ve got them all over.” They navigate the streets with all of the finesse of a baby taking its first steps. Nico’s better with direction, but being in a new city can be disorienting. “Wait. I think I see it over there.”

Will follows quickly, catching his breath when he finally stops in front of the looming red castle-looking structure. Will just stands there, not sure what the proper etiquette was for being a tourist. Nico takes his hand, nudging Will. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” Will hums.

“So, that’s St. Basil’s Cathedral,” Nico says, pointing to a castle-looking building that looks almost fantastical. Will thought it looked like a building straight from a storybook. The colors were so beautiful, and the architecture was amazing. He was sure Annabeth would have loved to see this in person. He snaps a picture of it, hoping that the photo will do it justice.

“And that’s a giant cemetery,” Nico adds. “And there’s the Lenin Mausoleum.” Will freezes at that. He hadn’t planned on seeing any dead bodies today. “We don’t have to visit him, if you don’t want to. There are a ton of other things to see here.”

Will nods. They walk around, careful not to photobomb any of the other tourists. Nico points out what they’re looking at, attempting to summarize the significance of the statues, the architecture, the location. Will can’t believe that there’s so much history in just this one square. Red Square feels like a completely different world.

They stay there until their stomachs are growling. Nico laughs, patting Will’s tummy.

“Don’t worry, little tummy. We’ll get you some food.” Will rolls his eyes. His legs are getting tired of walking, but he can’t make himself sit down. They’re on precious time.

They arrived on Arbat Street after a short walk. They took a few seconds to catch their breaths before diving into the crowd. It was clear that this was a popular street as it was crowded. There were so many shops and tourists and vendors. Will kept one eye on their bags, the other everywhere else. Nico was doing the same.

They get some food, eating it carefully as they continue down the street. Will gets his mother a Russian doll, marveling at the intricate detail on the tiniest of dolls faces. It’s late afternoon now, and Will’s definitely tired. Nico also seems to be wearing down.

“Hard to believe that we’re walking on history,” Will says. “It all feels so surreal to be here.”

“Yeah. Hard to imagine something older than I am,” he jokes. Will rolls his eyes.

“You may be an old man, but you’re definitely considered young in this city.” Nico laughs. “Let’s find a place to sit down. I think I’m spilling food on myself.”

They find a bench to sit down on. Will feels like the muscles in his legs have disappeared. He’s never had to walk so much in one day. He’s less embarrassed when he sees that Nico also seems exhausted. They spend a few moments just watching the people of Russia, trying to pick out the tourist from the local.

“That guy is definitely a tourist,” Will says. “Look, he’s got a map hanging out of his pocket, and he’s wearing socks with sandals.” Nico laughs. The guy keeps looking at his map to the buildings around him. He tries to ask a few people, but no one seems to understand him.

“I’d help him, but I don’t know what he’s speaking,” Nico says. “The Russian language is so complicated.”

Will nods. It was hard to imagine growing up and just knowing this language, but he supposes the same happened with English for him. They head back to their hotel, intent on crashing the moment their bodies hit the blankets.
Evening found them at the Patriarchal Bridge. The sun has set, and the lights have come on. Will’s hand is in Nico’s. Will loved the reflection of the lights on the water. It made everything feel so magical and dreamy.

“You’re a romantic,” Will teases.

Nico blushes in the faint light. The lights seem to make him glow. He’s definitely gained his complexion back, deepening more with camp activities and training.

“Not any more than you, Will.” Will shrugs. He knows he’s a romantic, but he likes that his husband is as well. He’d always known Nico was cute and sweet, but it had only been in the past few years that Nico had started to show it to others. Which made Will just a bit jealous, but he reasoned that was what happened when you fell in love.

“It just makes everything feel so timeless, I guess,” Will says. “That we’re only here for a little bit, but this will be here forever.” Nico smiles.

“You’re going to give me an existential crisis if you keep that up, sunshine.” Will laughs.

“As if being a demigod hasn’t already given us all one.” It was hard to imagine that once they stepped out of this honeymoon bubble, they’d be right back in the chaos that came with inheriting godly genes. But right now all of that felt so far away.

“Hungry?” Will nods. He follows Nico down several streets, all of them just so beautiful. He couldn’t imagine living here, surrounded by so much history. New York had its history, but it wasn’t anything like Moscow.They settle at an outdoor cafe. Will can hardly read a word on the menu, so he lets Nico order. Nico rolls his eyes, saying that he hardly knows any better than Will. Still, they end up with a few dishes, deciding to share them. Unless one of them has a favorite, then they have to fight for the last bite.

There are dumpling-looking things and bread and soup. Will’s glad he doesn’t have any allergies so he can fully appreciate everything. Nico and he don’t talk much while they’re eating, other than to point to something and nod. By the time they’re both full, the plates are cleared of food.

“I love you,” Will whispers once they’ve back on the street. Nico kisses his cheek. “Happy anniversary.”

“This is a honeymoon, Will.” Will just shrugs.

“Yeah, but it’s also an anniversary. This marks the next stage of our lives.”

Nico smiles. “There’s one last place for tonight.” Will starts to ask where, but Nico cuts him off. “It’s a surprise. Come on.” They take their time getting there, passing more history each step of the way.

“Here.” Will frowns. The bridge doesn’t look to be anything special. They’d passed it earlier, and Nico hadn’t said anything. There are a few couples out, looking over the Moscow River. “I’ll show you.”

They walk onto the bridge. It is a nice spot. The air is quiet and familiar. A few of the couples smile at them. They find a spot, leaning against the railing.

“This is the Luzhkov Bridge,” Nico says. “And those are the Trees of Love.” He points to the metallic trees spaced along the bridge. “Newlyweds come here and write their names on a lock. And then they throw the key into the river.”

Will thinks he’s going to cry. He’d always been fascinated by things like this, the Pont des Arts bridge in France, Mount Huang in China, Brooklyn Bridge in New York. He’d never imagined his own lock being one of these thousands.

He chokes on a laugh when he sees Nico on his knees again, presenting a lock to him. “Hurry up, Will. My knees hurt,” Nico whines. Will laughs, taking the lock. Nico produces a Sharpie from his pocket. They write their names on the lock, Will adding a sunshine on the back. Then they lock it to a tree. Will does cry when they throw the lock in the river.

“Forever,” he says. “You’ve just promised yourself to me forever.”

Nico wipes away his tears. “I did that way before this, Will. Just think, one day, I’ll have loved you longer than I haven’t.” Will nods. He wraps Nico in a hug, just wanting to cement this moment into his memory forever. They’ve still got the rest of their lives to make memories, and Will intends to remember every single one of them.

Chapter Text

It began with a jacket.

Will had been having a bad day. He’d gotten a B on his history test the day before, and his dad hadn’t been too understanding. He’d stayed up all night studying for his biology test, and consequently, he hadn’t had time to pack his lunch. And then on the way out, he’d forgotten his jacket.

It wasn’t too cold outside, but Will was kind of a wimp when it came to cold. He liked warm things: hugs, cozy fireplaces, blankets. The cold just reminded him of his dad. He thought about pulling his sleeves over his hands, but he knew his dad would probably lecture him about stretching out his clothes.

“Hey,” comes a voice. Will looks up, expecting to see some girl. (They were always flocking around him much to his embarrassment.) “You can borrow my jacket.” The boy extends his arm, jacket in hand, towards Will.

“You’d be cold then,” Will says. He doesn’t even know this boy’s name. “Besides, I’m not that cold.”

The boy raises his eyebrows. “You have goosebumps, and I’m pretty sure that sound is your teeth chattering.” Will looks sheepish. He’s freezing. He’s pretty sure he’s going to fail this test just because he can’t move his fingers to write properly. “I’m wearing a sweater, so I’ll be fine.”

Will takes the jacket, surprised at how well it fits. He supposes most jackets would fit a skinny sixth grader, especially one given by another skinny sixth grader. The jacket itself is soft, worn. There’s a hole by the wrist, but Will doesn’t mind. He can already feel his goosebumps disappearing.

“Thanks,” Will says. The boy smiles.

“I’m Nico.” Will likes his smile.

“Will.” He wants to say more, but they have to take a test. He hopes Nico does well.

Things start to go downhill when he gets home, the jacket still around his shoulders. His dad takes one look at him and frowns. Will doesn’t know what’s wrong.

“You’ve got a perfectly nice selection of jackets, Will.” Will nods, starting to explain that he left his jacket at home in his rush to make the bus. “You’ll return that jacket tomorrow morning. You know I don’t approve of childish games.”

Will doesn’t understand. (Not until he enters the ninth grade and sees girls wearing their boyfriend’s jackets.) He hurries up to his room, forgetting again to take the jacket off. He almost grabs the jacket on his way to school the next day, but something stops him.

Nico just rolls his eyes when Will tells him he forgot. “You’re really forgetful, aren’t you?” Will just shrugs. “Keep the jacket. I’ve got another one anyways.” Will feels bad for taking Nico’s jacket, but it doesn’t stop the smile from forming on his face. He wears the jacket at home (when his dad isn’t around) until it smells more like him than Nico. Then he keeps wearing it because it makes him smile.
Will stands off to the side, watching as a small group of boys crowds around Nico. Nico’s got his head ducked, already anticipating what’s about to happen. Will’s got his fingers clenched into fists, but he doesn’t do anything. He just watches. He’s not supposed to interfere. That’s what his dad told him.

He wants to turn away as the boys start shouting insults. Even though they’re taunting Nico, calling him names, spitting at him, he feels like they’re looking at him. (He wants to take Nico’s hand, pull him away. Or tell the boys off, stand up for himself and Nico.) He watches as Nico turns his back on the boys, his eyes glazing over Will. His eyes don’t ask for help anymore; they’re blank when they meet Will’s gaze. Will turns away first. He always does.

This has been happening since the beginning of high school, since Nico came out over the summer in a post online. (Will had smiled in the shameful privacy of his bedroom, proud of Nico.) The main bullies were family friends, sons of Will’s father’s friends. They’d formed some anti-homo club, and somehow, Will found himself a member.

They took turns picking on people, but their favorite was Nico. He never fought back, never made a fuss. He always just hitched up his shoulders and took it. Sometimes, the first few times, he’d run and hidden. Will isn’t sure which one is worse: the running and hiding or the taking it like nothing matters anymore. He wonders if Nico cried at night because of them. Will doesn’t like to think about that.

“Come on, Solace. You never pick anyone!” Mitch whines. “There’s got to be someone you hate enough. How about one of those girls who fawn over you all the time? I bet one of them’s gay.” He winks at Will like it’s some secret. Will just shrugs.

“I think you guys have it under control,” Will says.

“I think you’re going soft on them,” Sam says. Will shrugs. (He’s always been soft, he thinks. It’s not something he’s proud of.) “Come on, Solace. How about tomorrow? We’ll even give you an opening.” Will wants to say no, but he finds himself nodding. He can’t disappoint his dad. He can’t disappoint his friends. He’s already disappointed himself.

Mitch and Sam smile, but it doesn’t make Will feel better. If anything, it makes him feel worse. He’s sure he’s in the minority, but he misses middle school. Middle school was easier, nicer to him. He had better friends, cared less about what his father thought. Now, he was caught between disappointing his father and losing his best friend. Though, he was probably well on his way to both.
Tomorrow comes too soon. Will tries to talk to Nico in homeroom, before anyone else gets there. (They’re both always early because of the bus. Most of their peers drive cars now, rolling in just as the bell rings.) Nico ignores him, turning his music up, almost glaring at Will. This is all he’s been getting for the last three years, and it hurts. But he supposes he’s done it to himself, so there’s no one to blame but himself.

“Just go away, Will,” Nico says quietly. There’s no emotion or force in his voice. There’s no teasing smile or even a playful glare. His expression is blank. Nico moves desks as everyone else starts taking their seats. He moves clear across the room, not even glancing at Will.

During lunch, they manage to corner Nico again. When Sam gives Will his opening, Will lets the words fall out of his mouth. They’re automatic, words he was born and raised on. He can see the surprise in Mitch’s face, the grin on Sam’s. He keeps going because he can’t stop himself. He sees Nico completely shut down, turn away. The glare is gone, replaced by an almost haunted look. It’s not until the bell rings that Will shuts his mouth. Then he turns on his heels and walks away.

He’s sick to his stomach by the time he gets home. He can’t get Nico’s look out of his mind, and he’s pretty sure it’ll be there until the moment he dies. His dad is still at work or at a meeting, so Will opens his closet. Back behind all of his suit jackets and nice pants is Nico’s jacket. Will double-checks that his door is closed before slipping on the jacket. It’s a little tight now that Will has grown, gotten a little stronger, filled out more, but it’s still comfortable. It still helps him calm down.

He moves over to his desk, pulling out his notes and homework. He’s got two tests at the end of the week, and he should have started studying sooner. He’s got his dad’s lecture down by heart, and he doesn’t want to hear it again. He tries to memorize the math formulas, only to find himself analyzing Nico’s face. Was he mad at Will? Was he upset? Did he have anyone to comfort him at home?

After middle school, Nico and Will had stopped talking. They’d had a fight in the third week of school, and then Will had somehow accepted membership into the anti-homo club. And now Nico hated him, and Will hated himself. He and his ‘friends’ had made up so many stories about Nico’s childhood and home-life that Will wasn’t even sure which one was the real story anymore. Did Nico’s parents die in a car crash, or only just one of them? Was it his sister instead of his mother? Or did his mother just leave him?

Will wants to rip up his notes in frustration, but he knows that’s pointless. He sighs, softly fingering the zipper of his jacket. He should take it off because his dad will be home soon. Will frowns. He doesn’t want to. He hates that he’s somehow completely erased all traces of he and Nico’s friendship. He hadn’t meant to, but he hadn’t stopped it either.

Will hangs the jacket back in his closet, careful to make sure that his dad won’t find it. His dad didn’t usually go through his things, but he liked to keep Will on his toes. Will skips dinner, throwing himself face first on his bed. What he really needs is a long nap. Things would be better when he woke up.
Things were not better. It’d been two weeks since he’d seen Nico. Rumors had been spread that Nico had killed himself, had transferred, had just simply disappeared. Crazier rumors suggested that he’d been kidnapped, abducted by aliens, or was just haunting the school as a ghost. Mitch and Sam did nothing to stop the rumors, often spreading their own versions.

Will wasn’t sure what to think. Without Nico there, he didn’t have to watch Nico get bullied. (Mitch and Sam moved on to their other victims, but it was never as bad as it was with Nico.) He didn’t have to feel like a piece of trash. But on the other hand, what if something bad had happened to Nico? What if one of the rumors was true?

Will startles as he’s called to the principal’s office. Sam glances at him from across the room. Will wonders if his dad will hear about this. He’s wondering if he’ll be grounded again. He doesn’t mind being grounded; the disappointment is enough.

The principal smiles when Will walks in. Will almost walks right back out when he sees Nico sitting on a couch.

“Will,” the principal says, “we wanted to ask you if you’d be so kind as to help Nico around to his classes for a little bit.”
Will frowns. Nico had lived here his whole life. He knew his way around the school. “What?” he asks.

The principal folds his hands, giving a small smile. He glances over at Nico for a moment. Will does, too. Nico’s sitting on the couch, a piece of paper in his hand. His mouth moves as he reads (a minor thing he also got picked on for). There are scabs over Nico’s arms and face, and he’s got his arm up in a sling. Will pulls his eyes back to the principal.

“There was an accident,” the principal says. “It has resulted in a kind of temporary amnesia. Currently, Nico’s mind has not healed completely. We felt it in his best interests to provide him with a buddy to make sure he doesn’t get lost or something.”

Will’s mind is processing this all so slowly. Nico was in an accident? What kind of accident? If he couldn’t remember things, why was he being allowed back at school? What exactly couldn’t he remember? Why was Will being asked to chauffeur Nico around?

“Me?” Will asks.

“You’re a top student, a model for the well-rounded individual,” the principal says. Will flicks his eyes downward. He was a top student because of his dad. “And Nico says you two are friends, so I figured it’d be okay. If there is an issue, I can find another student. This is a big responsibility.”

Will thinks for a moment. Did he say Nico thought they were friends? Why would Nico say that? Did he not remember-


“Oh, yeah. Sorry. I’ll, um, do it. Help Nico around.” Then he talks more detail with the principal, explaining Nico’s schedule, what happens if any difficulties came up. Will still wasn’t sure Nico should be allowed back at school if he couldn’t even really remember where the boy’s bathrooms were.

He’s about to ask when Nico looks up. He gives Will a shy smile. Will hesitantly smiles back. The principal smiles at the two of them, asking Will if he has any more questions.

Once they’re out of the office, Nico asks to go to the bathroom. He hardly seems hesitant to talk to Will, and Will wonders just how much of the Nico’s memory is gone. He scans over Nico’s schedule. The principal explained that Nico had extenuating circumstances, so Will did not have to help Nico in any more ways than as a navigational guide.

“Sorry you have to lead me around,” Nico says. “I know you’re already pretty booked with all those high-level classes and your dad.”

Will shrugs. “I can make time,” Will says. He wants to be careful with what he says. He doesn’t want to trigger anything that might make Nico not like him again. He’s leading Nico his - their - class. They’ve got history together. He pauses as they’re about to go into the class.

What will Mitch and Sam think? Will they start bullying Nico again? Would they start teasing Will? What would Will’s dad think? Will’s broken from his thoughts when a hand touches his arm.

“You’re thinking too much, giving me a headache. Do we have a test or something I don’t remember?”

Will shakes his head. “Just a lot to process at the moment. I can’t imagine being you right now.”

Nico shrugs. “It’s not too bad, maybe a little embarrassing. But I figure any memory worth remembering will come back, right?” Will just shrugs. “But I’ve got my best friend to help me through this. Promise you won’t fool me into anything stupid, okay?”

Will can’t believe his luck. He holds out his pinky, smiling when Nico does the same. “Promise.”
It’s been a week since Nico’s come back. Will has convinced Sam and Mitch to hold off for a while, until Nico’s memory starts coming back. He’s researched amnesia and head trauma, and he knows that whatever harm they inflict now will be much worse than it was before.

“C’mon, Will. I think you’ve gone soft,” Mitch says. Will glances towards the lunch line where Nico is getting his food. “Besides, you never had a problem with any of this before. And don’t tell me it’s because of those doctor books your dad makes you read.”

Will shrugs. HIs dad wanted him to be a doctor, so he did know a lot of things about human health and whatnot.

“Did your old man find out?” Sam asks. “Because you could just tell him. I think he’d understand.” Will shrugs again. He’d grown up his whole life with the idea that being gay or queer or lesbian was shameful. He didn’t quite understand why, but it wasn’t his place to wonder. If his father said it was shameful, that was the end of the discussion.

“Just, give it another week, okay?” Mitch raises his eyebrows, but he nods. Will catches Sam glancing over at the lunch line before nodding.

“Sure, Will.”
Will sighs. He didn’t to have to take sides. He’d always been friends with Mitch and Sam (more out of convenience than anything). Their families were all friends, so it just made sense. Nico, though, was an outlier. Nico had been the first friend Will had made on his own.

“You’re thinking too hard again,” Nico says, sitting down. Mitch and Sam have disappeared, not wanting to be seen eating with a gay kid. “You know it’s not good to keep things bottled up,” Nico adds.

Will shrugs. “Just a lot on my mind. Midterms are coming up, and I’ve got to ace them.”

Nico makes a face. “You’re the smartest kid in our grade, Will. I’m sure you’ll ace them.” He smiles at Will, offering him a French fry. Will takes it. “Besides, your dad should let loose a little. A B isn’t a bad grade. It’s still above average.”

Will sighs. Nico was being so nice to him. They’d walked home together every afternoon, and Nico always waited for Will by the front steps before school. He told jokes and asked Will for help on his homework. Everything seemed too good to be true.
Will had completely forgotten about Jason.

“Um, Nico. Will’s standing in the kitchen.” Nico glances towards the kitchen from where he’s sitting on the couch. He nods. “What’s he doing here?”

Honestly, Will’s a little scared. Jason was the captain of the soccer team, which meant that he worked out much more than Will did. Which meant that if Jason wanted to beat Will up, he could do so. He was also Nico’s cousin, which meant that he wouldn’t hesitate in protecting Nico from a bully like Will.

“He walked me home. We’re doing homework together.”

“Since when?” This earns him a sigh from Nico.

“I know we haven’t talked in a while, but we have classes together now. So we’re doing homework together. Besides, he’s the smartest kid in class, so he’s bound to be able to explain things to me. Because of my injury and whatnot.”

Jason glares at Will. “Play your little games, Will, but his memory will come back.” Will nods. Jason leaves them alone in the living room.

“Don’t worry about him. He’s just gotten more protective since the accident. Although, he’s not the one with the injury, so I don’t know why he’s acting so weird.”

Will nods. “Um, what was the accident? They didn’t exactly tell us.” Nico blinks, looking at Will. “I mean, only if you want to tell me.”

Nico shrugs. “It anything dramatic. Just got hit by a car on my way home from school.” He shrugs again. “Nothing big. Just a broken arm and some memory fog. Think I came out pretty okay.”

Will nods. “Do you know how much you remember?”

Nico smirks. “That’s a lot of questions, Solace.” Will winces. Only Mitch and Sam called him Solace. Nico had always called him Will. “But I don’t know exactly. I guess when I woke up, I thought I was in middle school.” He frowns. “Glad I’m not, though. Although, I’m sure I’m missing some fun memories from high school.”

“Probably,” Will says. He tries to look convincing. Nico gives him a weird look before smiling again.

“Well, I’m sure they’ll come back.” He’s about to say more when Jason pops his head into the living room.

“Hey, Neeks, did you take your meds when you got home?”

Nico blushes slightly, frowning for a moment. “I think so.” He turns to Will. “Did I?” Will shrugs. He didn’t even know Nico took medicine. Jason walks into the room, humming. He watches Will as he does so. He pulls a sheet out of a drawer, something Will recognizes as a pill chart. He frowns when he sees the list of meds.

“I guess I haven’t been,” Nico says. He frowns. “But isn’t this all left over from when Mom and Bianca?” He glances over at Will.

“You still have to take them now,” Jason says. “See? The prescription is for this month.” Nico nods slowly. Will strains his eyes, reading off of the sheet. Is Nico taking anti-depressants? Is that anxiety medication?

“Huh,” Nico says. “I haven’t really noticed anything different. Why am I taking them again?”

Jason shrugs. “Probably just because of the other stuff you’ve been taking.” Nico nods. He doesn’t seem to notice that Jason didn’t answer his question.

“Well, Will can help me remember.” He glances over at Will as he says this. Will nods. Did Nico take those meds because of him? When Nico comes back over, Will glances at his wrists. He was wearing short sleeves, something Will hardly ever saw him in. And sure enough, there were faint white marks.

He excuses himself to the bathroom to calm himself down. No, those could have been there before. From when Nico’s mother and sister died. Will remembers Nico going on medication then. But these were different medicines now. The marks looked newer than six years ago. Will feels sick to his stomach. He splashes water on his face, tries to stop his shaking hands. Nico was the one hurt, not him.

Will wasn’t sure how much time it would take for Nico’s memory to come back. But what would happen when it did? He’d remember why he had to take his medication, why he had those scars, that Will was the worst friend ever. And then what? Would he go back to hating Will?
It’s only after another lecture and the cold shoulder from his dad that Will decides to stand up for himself. (Well, technically, Nico. But also for himself.)

He’d cried himself to sleep the night before, memories of his childhood and his friendship with Nico running together. His dad had taught him that liking the same sex was bad, was toxic even. HIs dad had threatened on multiple occasions to disown Will if he ever so much even thought about being gay. (Like it was a choice.)

Will drops Nico off at his first class before heading to the principal’s office. His heart is pounding. (He’s never skipped a class before. He’s never almost come out to someone. He’s never done anything to rock the boat.) He knocks on the door, hands shaking. He thinks he might have anxiety with how messed up his stomach feels.

“Will Solace?” There’s a pause. “Is everything alright?”

Will shrugs. “Nico’s being bullied,” he blurts out. “Really badly.” The principal asks him to take a seat in his office. Then they talk it out, Will taking deep breaths before confessing that he was also part of the anti-homo group. The principal looks confused.

“But you just said you never bullied him,” he says.

“Yeah, but I didn’t stop them either,” Will says. He feels like he’s at a confession or in front of a judge. Like they’re going to arrest him, lock him away in jail. “I knew what was happening, but I didn’t do anything.”

The principal frowns. “Technically, we can’t punish you for being a bystander. If we did, we’d probably have half of the school in suspension.” He pauses. “I’ll talk to your peers, okay? I won’t mention you.”

“Okay,” Will says. His heartbeat is slowly becoming more normal.

“It’s clear you feel great regret about this. I think that your confession is enough. This won’t be happening again.” Will nods. Never. He’d never let Nico get hurt like this again.

He gets off with a warning and some breathing exercises. The nurse gives him a worried glance, handing him a pamphlet about anxiety. Will reads the whole thing in the boy’s bathroom. (He’s definitely missed his class, but he has a note.)

Nico. His second crush ever was Nico. HIs first crush on a boy was Nico. Nico with his dark hair and amber eyes. Nico who let him keep his jacket even though he had a closet full of them. Nico who treated Will like a friend even though Will had indirectly hurt him over and over.

Will was falling in love with Nico, and that wasn’t okay.
It’s been a little over a month now. Nico’s regained some of his memory back. He remembers the science fair he won freshman year, the day he dropped his lunch all over himself (though not why), the day that Will rescued a lost cat. Will isn’t sure if Nico realizes that his memory is coming back, but it’s clear that he’s being more careful with what he’s saying.

“You’re hanging out with that di Angelo kid an awful lot,” his dad says one night at dinner. Will nods. Dinner with his dad was a rare thing, and he didn’t want to ruin it by bringing up Nico. (Not that he was ashamed of Nico, but Nico was a difficult concept in the Solace household.)
“I’m helping him,” Will says. “Since he lost some of his memory.”

His dad nods. “You’re aware of his sexuality,” he says. Will’s dad never refuted the idea of other sexualities; he just held the idea that they were inferior. Will nods slowly. He shoves a bite of rice into his mouth. “I heard that some of your friends were suspended. Seems like you’re getting yourself into a lot of bad situations, Will.”

Will sighs. He knew what it looked like. He was his dad’s son. He had to uphold the family name, make it proud, pass it on. “I wasn’t involved in the bullying,” Will says. “And Nico and I are just friends.”

“Well, be careful, Will.” Will finishes his dinner quickly, hoping to avoid any more uncomfortable topics. He’d been doing well in his classes, but that never stopped his dad from giving him a pep talk whenever he could. Will retreats to his room, finding his phone notifying him of texts. He sits down at his desk, pulling out his homework. As he works through the math problems, he talks to Nico over the phone. It almost feels like middle school again.
Even though Nico didn’t really need Will anymore, he still found them hanging out. Nico knew where all of his classes were, and his memories seemed to be coming back with more frequency. He could remember smaller details, more pieces of each memory. He didn’t talk about them, but it was clear when they were in conversation. He’d bring up people Will never even knew Nico talked to, things Will hadn’t even known Nico did.

“My first crush was Percy,” Nico groans. They’re sitting on Nico’s couch, playing some video games. Jason’s winning. “I can’t believe I liked that doofus.”

Jason bursts out laughing. “You were so head over heels. I’m surprised it took you two so long to realize.”

Nico makes a face. “I’m glad he’s with Annabeth, though. I don’t think I could have handled him like she does. They’re much better together.”

Jason nods in agreement. “You two would probably get into so much trouble. At least Annabeth is there to keep the impulsivity down.”

Nico shrugs. He turns to Will. “Who was your first crush?”

“This girl in our middle school class, I think.” Will can’t even remember her name.

“Did you date her? Wasn’t it Drew you dated freshman year?” Will shrugs. He didn’t want to talk about Drew. That relationship had been a mess for multiple reasons. He’d have been fine if Nico had forgotten that forever. He wished he could.

“Yeah, but I don’t think I liked her, really.” Nico looks surprised at this. “Not really my type, I guess.”

“I’d agree,” Nico says. Will glances at Nico.

“What would you say my type is?” He’s honestly a little afraid of the answer, but Nico was his best friend.

Nico thinks for a minute. “Low maintenance, handsome, smart.” Nico looks at Jason for help. Jason just shrugs. “Kind of tall maybe. Brown hair. Possibly athletic.” Nico shrugs. “Someone who won’t let your wear yourself out with all of that worrying you do.”

“That was super specific,” Will says. He’s still caught up on the word ‘handsome.’ It could be a gender-neutral term, but it didn’t feel like it in this context. “Do you think I like boys?”

Nico shrugs. “Not my place to say.” He turns back to the game, starting a new level. Jason groans as Nico moves farther through the game, effectively beating Jason’s character. “Do you think you do?”

Will shrugs. Jason excuses himself to make some popcorn. Nico pauses the game, turning to look at Will.

“I know what your father says, but there really isn’t anything wrong with liking boys.” He pauses. “Do you think it’s wrong?”

Will didn’t know what he thought. He’d never really been given the choice. “I don’t know,” he says. “I don’t think you’re wrong to like boys,” he adds. “But I don’t know about me.”

Nico gives him a small smile. “Well, that’s not quite how it works. Being gay is okay for everyone. Not just those who are comfortable with it. Though that does make it easier to accept.”

“Why are you okay with it?” Will winces at his wording. He hadn’t meant to sound like he was accusing Nico of anything. He just didn’t understand how Nico could be so okay with something that people were willing to beat him up for.

Nico shrugs. “I feel like people should be able to love who they want to love. I shouldn’t have to like girls just because someone told me to. And it’s the same for you. You’re not your father. You don’t have to live life like he does. Or like he wants you to,” Nico adds.

Will shrugs. He didn’t mind how his dad had chosen for him to live. There were a few things, though. Like, Will wanted to be a teacher, not a doctor. And he really wanted a cat, even though his dad said he was too busy to take care of one. And he really liked Nico, even though his dad said being gay was wrong.“It’s okay if you don’t know now, Will. It took me a while to figure it out.” Nico smiles. “And it’s just as okay if you’re not gay. Whatever you are, you’re still my friend.”

Will just nods. He grabs a handful of popcorn so he doesn’t have to talk anymore. He knew he was at least gay. He had caught himself staring at boys too much to really deny it. (He thought he could possibly be bi. Did he like girls?) His dad had a late meeting. Maybe Will would be able to do some research.
It was definitely clear that Nico was remembering more things now. He functioned perfectly without Will there, so Will decided to relieve himself of his duty to trail Nico around the school. He started to make excuses that he had to study or had club meetings after school.

Mitch and Sam had come back to school, which was complicating things. He couldn’t keep his two lives separate. Mitch kept asking him why he was being so flaky. Sam teased him for going soft. His grades were slipping ever so slightly because of all of his worrying and stress.

Will had started staying up later to study harder for his classes, though he knew from all of his homework that a lack of sleep actually didn’t do him any good. He had isolated himself from his friends (not that he had that many to begin with), so he found himself drawing into himself more. When he did try to sleep, he kept thinking he was forgetting something or that he was wasting time. His dreams were muddled and frenzied, and he couldn’t tell if he forgot his homework in a dream or in reality.

“Will.” Nico’s waiting for him at his locker. “You look like a mess.”

“Thanks, Nico.” Will tries to move around Nico to get his stuff for a club meeting he has later. He was supposed to design a pamphlet for the upcoming fundraiser, but he’d fallen asleep at his desk last night. “Nico, you’re blocking me.”

“I know.” Nico crosses his arms, pushing Will away from the lockers. “Will, look at me.” Will sighs, doing as Nico says.

“I have a club meeting in ten minutes, Nico.”

Nico rolls his eyes. “When was the last time you ate, Will?” Will shrugs. He’d eaten at lunch, hadn’t he? “You’re overstressed, Will. Skip the meeting. Come home with me and play some video games. Or go home and rest.”

Will shakes his head. “I can’t, Nico. I have things to do. I can’t just drop everything.” He tries to get to his locker, but Nico pushes him back again.

“You’re going to drop soon if you don’t rest, Will.” Nico pauses. “And you’ve been avoiding me. I know you’ve had club meetings this whole time you’ve been helping me. And it didn’t seem to bother you then. Why now?”

Will shrugs, which is a pretty bad idea. He flicks his gaze away as hurt crosses Nico’s face.

“I thought we were friends. Do you not like me anymore?” Nico takes a deep breath. “Is it because I’m gay?” he whispers.

Will shakes his head. “No, no. Nico, it’s not that,” he says quickly. Will runs a hand through his hair, something he’d been doing a lot lately. “No, it’s just that I’ve been super busy. I’ve had a lot of tests and club things to do. And my dad has been on me.”

Nico sighs. “If you didn’t want to hang out with me, you could have just told me.” He’s almost glaring at Will now, a look that reminds Will of all those years of watching Nico get bullied.

“I didn’t think you’d want to hang out with me,” Will says quietly. “Because you’re so amazing, and I’m just not.”

Nico raises his eyebrows. “I don’t do pity, Will. We both know you’re just as amazing as I am. I’m not going to force the answer out of you if you don’t want to tell me. But I consider us friends, and friends help each other out.”

“I want to be friends, too,” Will says. (Though he’d much rather be a bit more than friends.) “I just- I’m not who you think I am. I’m not some perfect straight-A student who gets along with everyone. I’m not naturally super smart, and I’m not a good friend, either.”

Nico’s glare softens. “I know about the bullying,” he says. Will feels his stomach drop. “And I know you stopped it. I’m giving you a second chance, Will. Because I think you feel really bad about it, and I think you deserve a chance.”

Will nods slowly. “So you’re not mad at me?”
Nico shrugs. “Maybe a little. I’ve been working it out with Jason. But you’ve always been too hard on yourself.” Will nods again, unsure of what to say. The hallway has cleared out by now, so they’re the only ones there.

Nico’s not mad at Will. They’re still friends (which means maybe they can be more). Will’s so relieved that he just hugs Nico, right there in the middle of the hallway. Nico seems just as surprised as Will, but he recovers first. As they pull away, he kisses Will’s nose.

“Oh, I- sorry, I didn’t mean-“ Nico’s blushing, and Will thinks it’s cute. He thinks he’s probably blushing just as bad, if not worse. Nico just kissed him. Did that mean Nico likes him? Wait. Was Nico apologizing right now?

“It’s okay!” Will blurts. Nico smiles. “I was just surprised. I didn’t know- I mean, I do like you but-“ Nico nods.

“I understand, Will. We can take it slow.” Will takes a deep breath.

“I don’t want to be ashamed of you. I just haven’t really been allowed to be okay with this.” Nico squeezes Will’s hand. “I want to be, though.”

Nico smiles, placing one more kiss on Will’s cheek. “I know. I want to help you, okay?” Will nods.

He figures it won’t be easy, considering all of the articles and things he’s read, but he’s glad he has better friends now. Maybe even a boyfriend. Will summons his last bit of courage for the day and takes Nico’s hand. He’ll have to worry about his dad and his other friends later. But right now, it’s just him and Nico.

Chapter Text

Nico knew the standard procedure for running into a blind person. He’d lived it so many times that he could pretty much predict exactly what would happen. That being said, he’d rather not have to run into anyone, but sometimes people weren’t looking where they were going. This was usually the problem. Nico never looked where he was going.

He’d been caught up in the smells of the bakery he’d just passed, and Mrs. O’Leary must have been also because just as he was about to take his next step, he crashes into someone. He hears a string of cursing and something falling to the ground- papers, maybe?

“Watch where you’re going!” someone barks at him. Nico just picks himself up, dusts off his clothes though he can’t see them. He tries his best to face the direction of the voice that’s just yelled at him.

“I can’t,” he states bluntly. He waits patiently for the person to process that Nico’s blind. He’s got the dog, the cane, the sunglasses. He waits for it to click.

“Whatever,” comes the reply. Nico catalogs it as one of the more rude answers he’s ever received. Most people apologized and made a hasty exit. Some even offered to help him to wherever was going. Others just kind of rambled.

Nico hears mumbling about being late and sheet music. Then it’s quiet save for the normal hustle and bustle of the sidewalk. Nico figures the guy has left without even a good-bye. Nico shrugs. Not everyone can be nice, and he’s not looking for pity. He reorients himself, reaching down to scratch Mrs. O’Leary’s head.

“Let’s go home,” he says. Mrs. O’Leary barks, and then she’s leading him along.
Will misses the last fifteen minutes of his class because he’s trying to figure out how much time he’s got when he gets home from school. He’s got a project and a paper along with his usual homework. But that all has to wait until he gets off of work. And then he’s got to get his homework done in time to make dinner before his dad gets home. And if there’s still time (and his dad is in a good mood), he wants to practice some.

He sighs, glancing at the clock. The bell will ring at any minute now.

His job at the local grocery store is tedious at worst, monotonous at best. He scans items without much of a second thought. He hardly has to card anyone. He just makes sure to pull on a smile for each customer, makes sure they could find everything alright, makes sure to wish them a good day. Most don’t wish him a good day back.

Once home, he has to remind himself to change out of his uniform. His dad doesn’t know he works, and he wants to keep it that way. He’s working for a reason, and it’s not to pay his dad’s beer addiction. Will folds his uniform into a drawer, laying his other shirts on top.

Then he sits down to do his homework. He starts with his usual stuff, knowing the paper and project will take him longer. He’s always been a good student, but it’s not because it’s come easily to him. He’s had to work for it, and now, so close to graduation, he’s not going to let it slip through his fingers.

He’s just starting on the outline for his paper when he hears the garage door. Will freezes, listening for the sound of footsteps. He knows it’s his dad, but he can always judge his dad’s mood by his footsteps. Will allows himself to breathe when he hears the usual pattern.

“Hey, Dad,” he calls. His dad grunts in his direction, heading to the fridge. He uncaps a bottle, chugging for a minute or so.

“What’s for dinner?” Will glances at the fridge. He always planned the meals on Saturday to make sure that he had everything he needed.

“Meatloaf,” Will says. “And mashed potatoes.” His dad grunts again, waving his empty hand. He almost never complained about what Will made as long as he didn’t have to make it himself. It was their unspoken deal. Will sighs as his dad flips on the TV, scrolling through the channels. His dad liked to watch stuff like NCIS and other mystery/cop shows. Will hated the yelling, the sound of gunshots, the crying.

Will starts on dinner. During the commercials, his dad gets up to use the bathroom, to get another bottle, to throw his tie over a chair. Will’s elbow deep in raw meat, everything smelling of onions and peppers. He should have just made roasted or baked potatoes, he thinks. It’d have taken less work.

About three shows have been watched by the time Will announces that dinner is ready. He sets the table, not even bothering to get his dad a glass. He’s on his third beer, and he’ll likely have a few more depending on his mood. They eat their dinner in silence, Will picking at his fingernails in-between bites. His dad reads the newspaper.

“This a friend of yours?” he asks suddenly. Will squints at the picture. It’s hard to see the way his dad is holding it. “Some nerve of that kid trying to speak out against authority.” He shakes his head. “Back in my day, we did as we were told, and we dealt with what we were given.”

Will doesn’t say anything.

“Don’t you be getting any ideas like that, okay?” Will doesn’t answer, but he doesn’t have to. He’s been brought up to be seen and not heard. (And most days he’s pretty invisible, too.)

His dad excuses himself from the table, grabbing another bottle on his way to his room. Will cleans up the dishes, making sure that he’s got enough stuff for tomorrow’s meal. Their house is small, only one floor, three bedrooms, but it feels so big.

Will considers practicing tonight, but he’s got so much homework to do. And he’s sure his dad will yell at him for making so much noise. If he could, he’d quit his job and practice right after he got home from school. As it is, he’s already pressed for time. He doesn’t need anything else on his plate. But he’s got to get out of here; he’s got to make something of himself. (Or else he’ll just disappear.)
Nico liked his life, though he did think it was a bit mundane. There were only so many things you could do without vision. He’d wanted to maybe try to paint or draw, but he’d called it quits after his sister found him sitting in a paint bucket. He’d also thought about being a scientist, but he didn’t like learning all of those chemical formulas and Latin names for things. He’d tried gardening, but he didn’t like how he couldn’t see what he was growing. (According to his reading, that was one of the more fun things about gardening.) So, in short, Nico had tried a lot of things. His closet was like a junkyard of attempted hobbies.

Currently, Nico was trying out music. He didn’t need sight to listen to music. He could enjoy it with his eyes open or closed. Vision hardly made a difference. He’d asked Alexa (a gift from Bianca) to give him a variety playlist because he was trying to figure out which kind of music he wanted to listen to. He thought maybe he could learn to sing or maybe even play something.

He’s laying on his bed, and Mrs. O’Leary is curled up next to him. He doesn’t really need her help to navigate his house, but they both like being close to each other. (Although, he’d accidentally kicked his shoes off, so he might need some help finding them.) There was some country song playing, and Nico asked Alexa to change the song. While country was fun to listen to, it didn’t really speak to him. He didn’t want to sing about girls and trucks and fried chicken.

(Although Nico hadn’t had any recent crushes, he was ninety-nine percent sure he liked boys. He liked their voices and their rough hands and the subtle scratch of stubble. He also didn’t care for vehicles as he could never drive one or see when one was about to run him over [though he suspected no one really wanted to see their death coming towards them at any miles per house]. And fried chicken was good, but he preferred his mama’s pasta dishes.)

“Alexa, play something slower.” Bianca had told him that one of their relatives used to sing opera. Nico wasn’t sure if this was true, but he liked the idea. Mama could sing really pretty, slow and sweet like molasses. She sang in the shower and when she was cooking. Bianca could also sing, though she preferred pop music, something that Nico secretly indulged himself in.

Some instrumental song starts playing, and Nico tries to hum along. He can’t quite get the tune, but he likes the melody. It reminded him of the creek he and Bianca used to play in as kids. The next song almost makes him cry, though he’s not sure why. He’s had a pretty happy life, aside from not being able to see (though he’s never been able to see - so he couldn’t exactly miss something he’s never had). It’s sometime during the fourth song that he’s yawning.

“Alexa, what song is this?”

“Pachelbel’s Canon in D.” Nico smiles. Typical classical song title. It tells him almost nothing about the song. (Even less since he’s never learned how to read music.) Though he does like that the listener can make anything of it. Maybe he thinks of a happy river while Bianca might think of a field of flowers. Nico shrugs to himself.

He’s decided. He wants to learn this song. And since there aren’t any lyrics, he’s going to have to find someone that can teach him piano.
Will’s zoning out again. He’s trying to remember what he’d planned for dinner tonight. He’s also trying to remember if he’s got work today. He doesn’t know why his memory is so bad today. Usually, he can remember everything he needs to do and when it needs to be done by. He sighs, yawns for the third time in two minutes. His fingers drum against his desk, tapping out Moonlight Sonata.

“Hey, can you quit that?” someone asks. Will just stares at him for a minute before he realizes what he’s doing. He sits on his hands, trying to remember what he needs to do today. While he regrets staying up last night, his paper is done, and he’d gotten an idea of what to do for his project. He’d also gotten some late night practice in when his dad left with some buddies to go drinking.

Will glances at the teacher. She’s got her head down, grading some papers. They’re supposed to be doing worksheets, but Will’s finished it. He slides out his phone, pulling up the work schedule. He smiles, silently cheering that he doesn’t have to work today.

Even though he’s not making money, it gives him some time to focus himself. He really needs to get some sleep tonight. The bell rings, and he quickly heads out of the classroom. He’s not looking where he’s going again, crashing into another student.

“Hey, sorry.” Will just shakes his head. He feels so out of it today. Maybe he should just skip his homework and sleep until dinnertime. “You okay?”

Will jerks back to reality. The guy he crashed into is looking at him, holding out Will’s crumpled sheet music. (He’d used the library to print it out during study hall because he didn’t have a printer at home.) Will thanks him, shoving the music into his bag.

“Will, right?” Will nods. “I’m Jason. You okay?” the guy repeats.

Will thinks it’s weird. He nods again. “I’m fine. I’ve got to get home. Thanks.” The guy lets him pass this time, and Will sighs. He’s not sure what that was about. It was weird. Usually, Will went unnoticed. He did enough to be able to get into a good college, but he tried to fly under the radar.

His dad didn’t like the idea of college, of putting all of that money towards more education. If it were up to Will’s dad, he’d stay, get a job, marry a nice girl, start a family. His dad didn’t think he was good enough for college, for something better than being a stay-at-home son (not that his dad really thought he was a good son, either).

Will feels relieved when his dad isn’t home yet. And then he feels guilty. Aren’t sons supposed to want their dads home? Didn’t sons want to spend time with their dad? Will supposes most dads didn’t come home drunk in the middle of the day, demanding that they are fed, only to completely ignore their son.

He rushes upstairs to catalog his sheet music. He was proud of his collection, saving up each week to get a new song. He was saving up most of his earnings for college, some going into savings. The rest was going towards an electric keyboard.

Will decides to leave his homework for after dinner, sitting down at the piano. His dad wasn’t home to complain about the noise, and his fingers were restless from holding a pencil all day. His head was stuffed with music notes, the melody already in his mind. As he starts to play, he feels himself relax.

His mama had taught him to play the piano, had sat next to him every other afternoon to work through a song of his choice. The Moonlight Sonata was her favorite, though Will hadn’t been able to learn it before she’d passed. His dad, on the other hand, had no care for music. Since Naomi’s passing, he’d taken up drinking and television like his life depended on it. Will became a second thought.

Will squeezes his eyes shut, determined not to cry. Mama had been dead for seven years, but he still missed her. Life had been good when she was here, even the bad days. Now, all of the days seemed to run together. School, homework, dinner, maybe some sleeping. Repeat.

And Will tried his hardest, though some days he wasn’t sure why he bothered. What did it matter in the end? Everyone died. It was the one thing everyone could agree on. So if everyone died, what was the point in accomplishing so much? Maybe people tried so hard to live so that they could prove that their lives mattered. Will didn’t know. His mama was the most amazing person he’d ever known, but she’d died. In Will’s eyes, the best people died young. (He thought that since he was still alive, maybe he wasn’t good enough. His dad didn’t think so.)

He hits a wrong note, winces. He couldn’t seem to get this part right no matter how hard he tried. He’d memorized it, even played it. But when he put it with the rest of the song, he always messed up. His mama loved this song so much, and Will couldn’t even play it right. Will closes the piano lid, moving to his bed.

He needed sleep. He tosses and turns, tries laying still for ten minutes. Nothing. He can’t force himself to sleep. He can’t make himself escape reality. (Sometimes he thought about sneaking one of his dad’s beer bottles, but he was sure he’d need more than one. But he’d been yelled at enough for even looking at the bottles that he’d never tried to take one. And drugs? His mama would probably disown him from the grave.)

He thinks he finally gets some sleep, only to be rudely awakened by a crash downstairs. Will flinches and then freezes. He listens for the footsteps. And then his dad is in his doorway.

“Where’s my dinner, boy?” Will glances at the clock. Oh, god, he’d lost track of time. It was an hour past when he usually made dinner, and his dad was drunk.

“I’m sorry, Dad. I can make something really quick. How about a sandwich?” His dad sneers at him, chugging what’s left of the bottle in his hands. When Will gets close enough, he slaps Will across the face, knocking him to the ground.

“Good for nothing. I should have left you after your mom died.” He’s hovering over Will, his breath sour. It’s such an odd picture. He’s wearing his suit still, but it’s obvious he isn’t the sharp young man in his thirties anymore. Instead, he’s got a beer belly and uneven stubble and bloodshot eyes. He steps around Will. “Wasting all your time on school and that darned piano.”

Will tries to say something, but words aren’t working. His dad is rifling through his stuff now, frowning. He tries to toss the bottle in the trash but misses, glass shattering all over the floor.

“Boys don’t play music. Not real boys. Only sissies.” He winks like it’s some secret. “I didn’t raise no girl. If you didn’t fill your head with this stuff, you’d be a lot better off.” He grabs a fistful of Will’s sheet music, waving it around in the air. He glances at it before starting to rip it up.

Will doesn’t say a word. He’s trying so hard not to cry. His dad kicks him on the way out, telling him to clean up his mess, shoving him towards the shards of glass and the pieces of Moonlight Sonata.

Will can’t move. He’d say his heart was breaking, but he’s pretty sure his mama took that with her.
“I put up an ad at school,” Bianca says. Nico turns towards her. He’s been laying on his bed, doing his homework. Braillers were kind of slow, but he supposes that he doesn’t have many other options. He does know how to use a computer, but he’s always found flat surfaces rather disorienting, and he’s never liked the automated voices.

“For piano?” Nico asks.

“Yeah. Hopefully, someone will call.” Nico nods. He’s been itching to learn, asking Alexa to play Pachelbel’s Canon in D until he’s sure he could play it in his sleep, if he just knew how a piano worked. (He’d tried to ask Alexa if she could teach him, but she’d just pulled up a list of articles.) He knows his mama has researched some piano teachers, but most of them are either not taking on more students or are unwilling to teach a blind student.

Nico gets up, smiling when he feels Mrs. O’Leary snap to his side. He doesn’t need her help as much when he’s just wandering around the house, but it’s nice to know she’s there. Mama and Bianca do a good job of keeping everything in order so that he doesn’t trip or misplace anything. He makes his way down the stairs, counting as he goes. He hates the feeling of missing a step. Then he’s in the kitchen.

“Mama got those grapes you liked. They’re just to your left.” Nico smiles as his fingers wrap around the bowl of grapes. “She’s already washed them,” Bianca adds.

Nico nods. He sets them on the counter, taking a seat. He hears Bianca sit next to him. “I think this hobby will stick,” Nico says. He thinks Bianca laughs. “I mean, it won’t be easy, but it could be fun.”

Bianca steals one of his grapes. “I’m sure we’ll find you a teacher.” Nico hopes so. Learning how to do something has never stopped him. What usually stopped him was that he found it boring or pointless. Music, though, was different. It was like a poem or a story or a soul. Nico liked that. He liked how continuous it was, how just a few notes could make someone feel something. Music, to him at least, felt almost living.

Nico hears the front door open. He frowns. Mama shouldn’t be home until later. She’d left a note saying she was going to the grocery store after work, to expect a later dinner.

“I’ve found someone!” Jason calls. Nico rolls his eyes. Jason never knocked, and Nico had a sneaking suspicion that Mama had given Jason the extra house key.

“For what? A girlfriend?” Nico asks. “You’ve already got one of those.”

Jason laughs. “No, a piano teacher.”

“Really?” Nico asks.

“Well, kind of.” Nico raises his eyebrows. He has to double-check that he’s not wearing his glasses to make sure Jason can see them. “I haven’t exactly asked him yet. But I know he plays piano, and I’ve heard he’s really good.”

“Who?” Bianca asks.

“Will Solace.”

There’s a bit of silence where Nico’s chewing on a grape, and Jason’s probably waiting for someone to respond to him.

“Is he that blond kid? The one that’s always tapping on things?” Bianca asks.

“Yeah. And he dropped his sheet music all over the hall yesterday. Pretty complicated stuff. So I’m sure he could teach Nico here to play something.”

Nico can feel their eyes turning to him. “How do we ask him? I mean, I don’t know who you’re talking about.”

“He sits behind you in science, I think,” Jason says. “He’s pretty quiet usually. Hangs out alone. I don’t know much about him. Except that he plays the piano.”

Nico keeps asking questions, but all he gets is that he’s going to have to ask Will Solace if no one responds to the ad by Friday. He’s half hoping that someone will, but he’s also intrigued now. He keeps his ears open for the name, but no one ever says it. He tries to tune into the tapping, but he isn’t sure if it’s Will or some anxious/bored student. Jason’s no help either.

Which is how he finds himself outside of Will’s locker on Friday. Nico shifts his weight. He feels kind of awkward standing here. He’s sure people are glancing at him as they shuffle towards their cars or the bus. He wishes he’d had something he could fiddle with while he waited. He wasn’t actually sure of Will’s schedule, so he was taking a chance that Will even stopped by his locker.

“Um, hey,” comes a voice, and Nico’s sure he’s heard it before. “You may be lost. This is my locker. I think yours is down the other hall.”

“Are you Will Solace?” Nico asks. He can hear Mrs. O’Leary sniffing at Will’s shoes.

“What’s it to you?” There’s a roughness that Nico can only define as defensiveness.

“I heard you could play piano,” Nico says. “And I was wondering if you’d be willing to teach me. I can pay.” That was the good thing about coming from a well to do family. Money wasn’t really much of a limit to him.

“Get lost.” Nico hears a locker opening near him, and he steps back to give Will some room. He’s sure he’s heard this voice before. Both in class and somewhere else. He can’t quite place it yet.

“Twenty per lesson,” Nico offers. He isn’t sure why he’s so desperate for Will to teach him all of a sudden. He’s sure his mama can find someone to teach him, someone way more qualified. But maybe it’s because Nico hardly knows anyone who goes to this school. He knows Jason (and Jason’s girlfriend, Piper) and Bianca. He knows a few other people, people he’s worked with on projects or forced to work with in gym or as his blind buddy (someone to help him get around - before he got Mrs. O’Leary). But he’d never had a real friend.

He waits for an answer, but he realizes that Will’s walked away.
Will throws his stuff onto his floor before moving to pick it up again. He hates a messy room, a messy life. But that’s what he’s got. What with his dad raiding his room every now and then for money or alcohol or secrets. He isn’t sure which one his dad would be more happy to find.

He peels off his uniform, carefully folding it. He’d just gotten his third paycheck, and it still surprised him how far away from getting out of here he was. With college application expenses and buying food, he’d hardly saved anything worth leaving with.

He turns to his box of sheet music. He’d tried taping up the pieces as best he could, but when he’d played it, it didn’t sound right. He’d eventually given up for the day, moving on to his homework.

His arms feel weak from stocking at work, and he’s having trouble focusing. Nothing seems appealing at the moment. Not homework, not sleeping, not even piano. He hates that his father has poisoned even that for him. He rests his head against his drawers, trying to motivate himself to get up and do something. But his mind keeps telling him to just lay down, close his eyes, dream himself away. Except, he can’t sleep.

Will’s mind seems to be running at one hundred miles per hour, skipping from one thought to the next. One moment he’s thinking about the time he tried out for soccer in middle school, then his sixth birthday party, his fourth-grade class play, the day his dad bought him a tie, the day his mama died. And then it stops, pauses, freezes.

And Will’s trapped in the hospital, not able to walk away or even move to hold his mama’s hand. He’s frozen in his chair, watching the monitor. There is a flurry of doctors, his dad’s rough hands, salt. He honestly doesn’t remember too much from that day. It’s all a blur, one terrible nightmare.

He’s crying he realizes. Big, fat tears are trailing around his nose, down his jawline. His nose is running, and he can’t stop his mind from replaying his dad’s yelling, his mama’s eyes closing. He wants to throw something, break something, just lie down and never get up. He wants to disappear, leave, not exist.

Will’s looking around his room for something when he hears his dad’s footsteps. He freezes, his mind going completely blank. He hears the fridge open, hears the footsteps move down the hall. Then a door slams, the signal of a bad day. Will’s never been so relieved to not see his dad. And he should be overwhelmed with guilt and disappointment, but he’s not.
Nico’s surprised when he hears Will’s voice. It’s after school, when he’s on his way to meet up with Bianca. Will’s voice sounds slightly different than it did last time he’s heard it, but Nico’s learned that emotions can change a person’s tone.

“Did you still want those piano lessons?” Will asks. Nico has to nudge Mrs. O’Leary to make her stop sniffing at Will’s shoes.
“Um, yeah. Are you offering?” Nico’s not sure that this isn’t a joke.

“Yeah. Twenty dollars a lesson. However often you want starting at once a week.” Nico smiles.

“Okay. Deal.” He pauses. “I don’t have a piano. Is that okay?”

There’s a bit of silence, maybe where Will’s thinking or has forgotten that Nico’s blind.

“Yeah. As long as you can do lessons right after school or something. I have a piano.”

Nico can’t believe this is happening. He’s going to learn piano. (And he might even make a friend.) “You do know I’m blind, right?” Nico asks.

“Yeah, but if you want to learn, I can work with that.” Nico smiles. He holds out his hand, and he feels a warm, slightly calloused hand slip into his. They shake. “I can do Thursdays right after school. I don’t drive, though, so I don’t know how to get you to my house.”

Nico shrugs. “My sister can drive me.” He’s sure Bianca will be okay with that. She’ll be so excited that Nico had found a teacher. He feels a slip of paper being pushed into his hand, and he’s sure it’s Will’s address. “Thanks, Will.”

“Sure.” Nico can’t wait.

Thursday doesn’t come soon enough. It turned out that Will had given Nico his address and number, so Nico had made sure to confirm that the piano lessons were still happening. He didn’t know what he’d do if they were just a joke.

Bianca doesn’t say much as she drives Nico to Will’s house. She just wishes him luck, walks him to the front door, and leaves once Will shows up.

“I tried to clean up a little,” Will says. “I’m sorry if you trip on anything.” Nico manages okay, only stubbing his toe twice. Will explains where they’re going, making sure to orient Nico. Nico wonders if Will had been reading up on what to do with a blind person.

“I don’t have any experience at all,” Nico says once they’re in Will’s room.

“Okay, here.” He takes Nico’s free hand, setting it on something cool and smooth. “This is the top of the piano. Just, um, get a feel for it.” Will leads Nico around the piano slowly, talking him through what he’s touching. Then Nico makes it to the keys. Will situates him on the bench, letting him find the pedals, letting him press the keys. Nico smiles when he hears the clear notes.

“Is this right?” Nico asks. He has no idea how he looks. He lets Will adjust his fingers, curving them as he’s told. Will’s hands are positioned over his. Will taps Nico’s thumb, letting a note ring out.

“Middle C,” Will says. Nico plays it a few more times, trying to get the note in his head. “I could probably find some stickers or something for you to use. To be able to orient yourself without my help.” Nico smiles. Will was a good teacher so far.

Will goes through the rest of the notes, letting Nico hear each of them. He explains the octaves, plays a few things for him. He lets Nico test out his skills, though Nico’s sure Will covered his ears during that part of the lesson.

“I think that’s a good lesson for today,” Will says after a moment of silence. Nico’s fingers are still resting over the keys. He’s trying to make sure his fingers are curved, his back straight. Just because he can’t see his posture doesn’t mean that it isn’t important. “You’re a quick learner. You’ve got a good ear.”

“Thanks.” Nico’s not sure what else to say. Should he get up?

“I think this will work,” Will says. “That was kind of fun.”

Nico shrugs. He’d found it more than fun. He loved the sound of the piano, of the chords, of Will’s playing. Will’s music, whatever it was, was so fluent and expressive. Nico wonders if he should tell Will his whole reason for wanting to play the piano. He decides he’ll do it later, after he’s learned a scale and can find middle C. Small steps.

Will walks him out, says that he’ll see Nico tomorrow. Nico hopes that Will is smiling. He’s only hung out with Will for an hour, but he thinks Will would be a good friend. Even if he does seem kind of grumpy sometimes.
Will’s visiting his mama this morning. He’s packed himself a lunch and his homework. His dad is passed out on the couch as usual. Will’s not even sure when he got home last night. It’s almost a spring day, the sky clear and a little chill hanging in the air. Will wraps his jacket around himself, lugging his backpack up the hill.

HIs mama was buried between a magnolia tree and another gravestone. Will didn’t know his mama’s neighbor, but he hoped they were nice company. He props himself up against the tree, placing his flowers by the grave. Coming here, even seven years later, felt weird. It felt strange to him to hang out with a stone slab bearing his mama’s name, but that was all he had of her.

After her passing, his dad, in a drunken rage of grief, had gotten rid of most of her things. Only her piano, some other sheet music, and her wedding ring were still in the house. Will had also managed to save some of her pictures. But every other memory of her was gone, almost like she’d never existed. Even Will’s dad seemed to have forgotten her, except when he was insulting Will. He drunk himself silly every night only to hook up with someone and stumble into the house at odd hours.

Will tries to clear the bad thoughts away, wanting to focus on the more positive memories. He’d brought his mama’s favorite sandwich, even though he didn’t really care for deli ham too much. He’d also brought her favorite flowers: Carnations. He wishes he could have played her something, but it wasn’t reasonable to drag a piano out to a graveyard. And he still didn’t have Moonlight Sonata learned.

“Hey, Mama,” he whispers. He isn’t sure how to continue. It’d been a while since he’d visited. He’d gotten busy, though that was just an excuse. Honestly, he just wasn’t sure if she’d want to see him. Not with how he kept messing up lately.

His dad had found out about his job, cashing most of the money under his own name. And while it was a really stupid thing to do, Will had quit. He didn’t want his dad raiding his room for his paychecks, demanding money he knew Will had. And Will still had yet to replace the sheet music that had been destroyed.

Will tugs on his sleeves, trying to hide his biggest mistake. He hadn’t meant to (well, he kind of had), and he wasn’t quite sure he regretted it. Except, it felt shameful. It felt so shameful to hate yourself that much that you didn’t even want to exist anymore.

Will feels like his mama already knows, but he wishes she didn’t. If she were here, this wouldn’t have even happened. His dad would still be Dad, and Mama would be there to make them both smile. Will didn’t blame his dad for drinking or forgetting him. He understood that his dad was coping, was trying to make sense of what had happened. But Will needed a father. He needed someone to love him and to let him know that things were going to be okay. Because he didn’t think they were going to be.

He tugs at his sleeves again before taking a bite of his sandwich. His mama didn’t want to attend a pity party, especially not one for him. She never let him dwell in pity, always trying to make him smile or letting him cry. But she didn’t do pity.

“I’m teaching this kid at school how to play piano,” Will says. He’d been doing lessons for three weeks now. Nico was a fast learner, partly because of his ability to hear the notes so well. Just this past week, Nico had played the C major scale perfectly, his nimble fingers moving along the keys. Will wondered if it was easier to play when you don’t have to rely on sight. He wasn’t sure.

Nico had seemed so proud of himself, smiling so big. His dog had jumped up into his lap, licking his face. Will had smiled, too. He wondered if the warm, kind of fuzzy feeling in his chest was what his mama felt every time he did something amazing. He hoped so.

“His name is Nico. I think you would have liked him.” Mama would have spoiled Nico, making sure he knew where everything was, that he was allowed to come over at any time, that he could stay for dinner whenever he wanted. She would probably have also gotten a set of dog bowls just in case he ended up becoming good friends with Will.

Will sighs. It’d been a while since he’d been close to anyone. After his mama died, he’d transferred schools. And then he’d closed himself off, appearing rough so that no one would mess with him. He was already reprimanded for being a disappointment at home. He didn’t need it at school. So he played the part of the straight-A student who didn’t care. Though he wasn’t sure if it was so much an act anymore.
“Should I go to college, Mama? Dad says it’s a waste.” Will understands that their finances are kind of falling through. Part of that is because no one taught Will how to make a good budget. The other part is that at least a third of what his dad makes goes to his addiction.

“I mean, I don’t even know what I’d study.” At this point, he always imagines his mama coming up with things that he could study. Things like music or teaching or being a doctor. He loves music because he loves his mama. It’s just a part of life. But he doubts he’d be able to make money doing it. He’s not that good.

And then Will also feels kind of guilty for leaving his dad. Isn’t he supposed to love his dad? Want to take care of him in his old age? Want to take care of him even if he hits Will, rips up his music, criticizes him for caring? Will believes in the Golden Rule, but his dad is too far gone to even consider it. Should Will care? Is it even his fault? Will wishes the first answer that came to his mind wasn’t yes.

Will stays with his mama for the better part of the afternoon. He does his homework, gets caught up on everything he’d procrastinated on. He feels better this morning, well-rested and more clear-minded. He wonders if it’s because he’s finally talking to his mama again. Or if this is just the top of the rollercoaster and he’s about to plummet downwards.
“You should invite him over for dinner,” Bianca says. Nico shrugs. Will was his teacher. He hadn’t made too much progress on the whole friends front. While Will was friendlier at his house than at school, that didn’t mean that Will wanted to be his friend. He always made sure the lessons were an hour exactly, no more. He never touched Nico more than necessary, and he didn’t really laugh at Nico’s jokes (which Nico thought were funny).

“I guess.” He can feel Bianca glaring at him. “Fine. I’ll invite him over.”“It’s the least you can do. I don’t think I’ve seen you smile so much in months.” Nico sticks out his tongue. He likes hanging out with Will, even if Will is quiet and kind of grumpy. Will treats him like a regular person, no different than he treats anyone else as far as Nico can tell.

Will greets him at the front door, walking him into the house. “We might have to have a shorter lesson today,” Will says. “My dad is supposed to be home earlier.” Nico nods. He isn’t sure what that has to do with it, but he understands he’s not supposed to ask.

They go through the scale, adding a second octave. Nico picks it up pretty quick. He’d been practicing learning the notes on a program his mama had found. It’d play a note, and then he had to guess what it was. He was right about 80% of the time. Some of the octaves were a bit tricky for him to hear.

“Maybe we can start a short song today,” Will says. “Any requests?” Nico shrugs. He isn’t sure what a short song would be. “How about Mary Had a Little Lamb?” Nico nods. Will waits while Nico positions his fingers. (Will had put a sticker on middle C to make it easier for him.)

Nico smiles when he feels Will’s fingers hover over his. Will hums the tune slowly as he presses Nico’s fingers down. He goes phrase by phrase, asking Nico to echo him as he goes. Nico feels proud of himself when they get the whole way through, Nico slowly playing one octave while Will follows in the octave above.

“I can probably record it for you, if you want. So you can listen to it. Though most versions are the same.” Nico shrugs. Will plays the song with the chords, and Nico smiles. He loves hearing Will play, even if it’s something as simple as a nursery rhyme. “We have time for one more song, if you want.”

Nico nods. He wishes he had a piano at home so he could practice. He’d practice every day if he could. Nico thinks Will is smiling as he positions his fingers again.

“This one is a little longer, but I think you’ll like it.” Will plays it first, and Nico smiles. The tune was kind of bouncy, but it seemed fun. “If I record it, I think you’ll have it in a few weeks.”

“What’s it called?”

“Heart and Soul,” Will says quietly. “When you learn this part, I can play the chords. It’s a duet.” It’s a little more tricky for Nico as he doesn’t say in C position the entire time. Instead, he has to feel the space between each note to figure out where to place his fingers next. He gets about half of the song before Will tells him it’s time to go.

“This has been really nice,” Nico says as Will walks him out. “I was wondering if you’d like to come for dinner sometime.” He can feel Will freeze once the question’s out.

“I really can’t,” Will says.

“Maybe lunch, then?” Nico asks. “It’s completely okay if you don’t want to. I just want some way of thanking you. Other than just paying you.”

He hears Will shift, like he’s uncomfortable or nervous. Nico doesn’t know Will good enough to know which yet. “Maybe lunch,” Will says. “Maybe Saturday? I’ll have to check for sure.”

Nico nods, smiling. “You can text me, okay?” He thinks Will nods, and then Mrs. O’Leary leads him to Bianca’s car. As they drive away, Nico hears a car zoom past them.

“Are you alone with Will when you guys do your lessons?” Bianca asks. Nico nods. “I think his dad just got home.” Nico wonders if Will just doesn’t want his family to meet his friends or maybe his family doesn’t like the repetition of a beginner on piano. He understands. But he also feels like Will is holding in some big secret that he’s not allowed in on yet.

“He agreed to lunch or something. Said he couldn’t do dinner.”

“Hmm. Maybe his family is kind of weird.” Nico turns to face Bianca. “I just mean that he seems super nice but also sad. And he’s also super smart, but I don’t think he’s looking at any colleges or anything. That’s just kind of weird to me.”

Bianca had started the college search ages ago, and now she was trying her best to decide which school she wanted to go to. She’d gotten acceptances into her top three choices, but she was having a hard time deciding which she liked best.

“Not everyone has to go to college, Bi.” Bianca sighs. “I mean, there are other things to do.”

“Not much in this town.” Nico shrugs. He liked this town. Part of that was because he hardly knew much about other places. His family didn’t travel, and he couldn’t look up vacation sites and see which were the prettiest. He could only imagine, really. So he was content with what he had. The people were nice, and there were things to do on weekends. So he didn’t have too much to complain about.

“Well, hopefully, he’ll come to lunch or something,” Bianca says. Nico nods. The more time he spends with Will, the more he wants to know about Will. He finds himself smiling at the thought. Which is kind of weird. He is not getting a crush on Will Solace. He’s just looking for a friend and some piano lessons. Nothing more.
Will wasn’t sure what to do. He wanted to go to Nico’s for lunch. He wanted actual friends, actual hobbies. He wanted to be able to have dinner at a friend’s house without having to worry if his dad would throw a fit because someone wasn’t there to make dinner for him.

He groans, pushing his homework away. Glancing at the clock, he figures he’s got an hour before his dad gets home. He slips on his shoes, deciding to go for a walk. When he was little, his mama and he used to go for walks whenever she was upset with his father or whenever Will got restless. It was a way to release stress and energy and a way for them to talk.

They had their own route that they’d take each time. It was about a mile or so round trip, and Will always loved those walks. Sometimes if they couldn’t find anything to talk about, they’d race each other from stop sign to stop sign, trying to see who was the fastest.

His mama usually won until she didn’t. When it became harder for her to breathe, and she had to stop more often on their walks, Will would ask if they needed to turn around. When she’d shake her head, he held her hand, making sure to go slow enough that she wouldn’t have to catch her breath too often.

This is the first time he’s taken this route by himself. He finds his feet steering him along without any prompting, his eyes taking in the familiar sites. It’d been so long, but he can still imagine the feeling of his mama’s hand in his. He can still hear her breathing, quiet so that she wouldn’t worry her.

He passes the house with the yellow door, the one with the million bird baths in the front lawn, the one that looks like it’s been abandoned ages ago. He smiles a little, feeling a little better than when he’d started. HIs mama may not be here anymore, but this walk still seemed to have its magic.

He passes a family having an early dinner, smiles on all of their faces. It looks like something out of a movie, with everyone laughing and passing food around. Dinners at the Solace house used to be like that. Will misses that so much. He used to think his life was a movie because it’d seemed so perfect, even with the occasional yelling and bad grade. But that was okay in movies. Usually.

He finds himself talking his phone out, opening the message box to type in Nico’s name. They hadn’t texted much, mostly just Nico confirming his lessons. Will types out his message, hitting send before he can change his mind. He continues on his walk as he waits for Nico to respond. He’s almost to his house when he feels the familiar buzz in his pocket. He smiles.
Meals on the weekends were always hit or miss in the di Angelo household. Sometimes people were around to share it with, sometimes there were not. This time, however, everyone was gathered in the kitchen. Nico was filling water glasses, his mama was cooking. Bianca was setting the table.

Nico answers the doorbell, surprised when he feels something touch his hand. He wraps his fingers around it, not quite sure what it is.

“It’s chocolate. I wasn’t sure what I should bring,” Will says.

Nico smiles. “This family loves chocolate.” He leads Will into the kitchen. He can hear his family immediately surround Will, welcoming him. Then they’re all seated around the table.

“Will, we just wanted to thank you for helping Nico learn piano. He’s been so excited. I can’t wait to hear him play.” Nico hadn’t thought about that. Each week, he’d tell his mama and Bianca everything he’d learned, but he’d never played anything for them. He wonders if Will would let them come in for a few minutes to listen to him.

“He’s doing really well,” Will says. Nico makes sure to focus on eating so he doesn’t make a fool of himself. Usually, he was good, but sometimes he missed his mouth when he got distracted. He listens to the conversation, to Mama and Bianca asking Will questions. He pays attention to the answers, wanting to make sure he doesn’t miss something.

“Thinking of college?” Maria asks.

“I’m not sure,” Will says. “I’ve been looking into some, but I haven’t decided yet.” There’s a pause like maybe Will was going to say more, but he doesn’t.

“Well, there’s still some time to decide. You don’t have to apply until the fall.” Will probably nods. “So, how’d you get into music?”

“My mama,” Will says softly. Nico can hear the fondness in his voice. “She taught me to play when I was young. And I’ve just kept at it, I guess.” Nico imagines Will shrugging here. “It helps me clear my mind,” Will says quietly. Nico thinks he hears something in that, like a confession or a cry for help. He can’t quite place his finger on it.

“We’d love to meet your family sometime,” Maria says. “Meet the people of such a nice young man. “ Nico can feel the tension rise.

“My mama’s dead now,” Will says. “And my dad isn’t much of a people person.” Nico can hear the clattering of some plates, and then Maria is announcing dessert.

The questions become less personal, more about favorite foods and colors. Nico can tell his mama is embarrassed about asking about Will’s family, but it wasn’t like any of them knew. Nico smiles when he hears Will compliment his mama on her cooking. He knows she takes pride in being able to cook good food. Bianca says she always blushes when she gets compliments.

“We’d love to have you again sometime,” Maria says. She’s clearing the plates, shooing Nico and Will towards the living room.

“You don’t have to leave just yet,” Nico says. It’s quiet for a moment, and then Will says, “Okay.” There’s more silence as Nico tries to think of something that would interest Will also. He doubts Will wants to listen to audio books or listen to music.

“Want to go for a walk?” Nico asks. He leads Will outside, moving so that Mrs. O’Leary is on his left, Will on his right. At first, it’s a little awkward. Nico isn’t sure how to start the conversation, and he can tell Will’s kind of nervous.

“We could play twenty questions or something,” Nico says. When Will agrees, he asks, “If you could have any superpower, what would you want?”

Will thinks for a minute. “Invisibility, I think. Or time travel. One of those.” There’s a pause. They cross a street. Nico isn’t sure if Mrs. O’Leary is leading or Will. “If you could be any animal, what would you be?”

“Dog,” Nico says. He doesn’t have to think about it. He loves dogs. He’d love to be a dog with soft fur and a big, wet nose and floppy ears. “They’re so cute and amazing.” Mrs. O’Leary nudges him like she knows he’s talking about her. “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?”

“Asking hard questions, Nico,” Will says. He gives a small laugh. “I don’t know. I’ve never really imagined life outside of this town, I guess. Which is kind of sad. I’d love to be anywhere but here.” There’s a pause that Nico’s not really quite sure what to do with. “If you could have your sight, what would be the first thing you’d want to see?”

Nico huffs. There were so many things he wanted to see. “Mama and Bianca,” he says. “And then colors. Because everyone says they’re so pretty.” He pauses. “And you. Because it seems like you talk less with words and more physically. And so I miss out on a lot.”

“Do you want to see me?” Will asks. Nico nods. He’d just said that, right? Then Nico feels his free hand being lifted. He touches warm skin. “If you move forward just a bit, you’ll touch my face.” Nico can feel Will’s breath on his hand. He remembers doing this when he was younger with Bianca and his mama.

He moves, his hand coming into contact with warm skin. It’s slightly greasy, like his, but the nose is more pointed. The lips are a little dry. He can feel when Will smiles, and he likes that. He runs his fingers along Will’s eyebrows, the curve of his nose, tracing his jawline. Then he moves back up, trying to memorize Will’s face. It all feels so intimate and personal, like he’s seeing Will for the first time. He thinks they must look weird, two boys standing in the middle of a sidewalk, one touching the other’s face.

“How do I look?” Will asks quietly.

Nico laughs. “You look handsome.” Nico hasn’t touched many people’s faces, but from description he’s read in books, he can tell Will must be gorgeous. He hears Will laugh, a sound caught between amusement and bitterness.

“I’m really not. But thank you.”

“You’re more than looks,” Nico says. “That’s what makes you handsome.” Nico thinks he’s blushing. He’s never really tried his hand at flirting before. He’s always been too awkward, too shy.

“I’m pretty sure you’re the only one to think that,” Will says. Mrs. O’Leary nudges Nico to tell him to start moving again. Nico hadn’t heard Will start walking. “But thanks. I don’t know if you care or not, but you’re pretty handsome yourself.”

Nico’s definitely blushing.
It takes a few more weeks before they hang out again outside of piano lessons. Will’s still busy with avoiding trouble with his dad, and Nico’s busy doing whatever he does. Will heard that Nico’s family had gifted him a keyboard for his birthday. Will was still trying to figure out what to get him. He felt that since they were friends (they were friends, right?), he should get Nico something. But he wasn’t sure what.

He eventually decides on a blanket. It was soft and warm, and it was Nico’s favorite color (blue, the color of water). He wrapped it carefully, stepping quietly out of the house. He rides his bike over to Nico’s house, not giving himself time to overthink anything. Nico would like his gift, and even if he didn’t, he would pretend to like it for Will’s sake.

“Will?” Nico asks when Will greets him. “Come in.”

Once they’re in the living room, Will hands Nico his gift. Nico looks surprised, then happy, as he tears into the gift.

“I hope it’s not breakable,” he says, laughing. Will laughs. Things were better with Nico, Will thought. “Oh my gosh! It’s so soft!” Nico immediately wraps himself in the blanket, burying his face in it. “I love it so much!”

Will thinks he might combust with happiness. Then Nico is hugging Will, the blanket still wrapped around him. “You didn’t have to, but I’m glad you did,” Nico says. “You’re a good friend, Will.”

Then Nico’s stepping back just slightly. He’s still grinning, his eyes closed as he smiles at Will. Mrs. O’Leary is sitting on the couch.

“I have a present for you,” Nico says softly. “If you want it.”

Will’s confused. “Any present from you, I’ll take,” Will says.

Nico blushes. His hands rise to Will’s shoulders, and then he’s standing on his toes to kiss Will. Will kisses him back, moving his hands to guide Nico’s mouth to his. Nico giggles, pulling back. “Did you like it?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Will breathes. “That was nice.”

Nico rolls his eyes. “Come on. I want to play something for Mama and Bianca. Help me?” Will knows Nico doesn’t need help, but he follows along anyways. Nico sits down in a chair in front of his keyboard, taking great care to make sure his fingers are in the right place. Will smiles at him, wondering if Nico can tell Will’s smiling. He wonders if Nico knew how happy he makes Will, even on the bad days.

Nico starts playing, and Bianca and Maria are smiling. Nico smiles as he plays, turning to try and find Will behind him. Nico, Will thinks, was worth staying in town until graduation. He was Will’s friend, and maybe as they got to know each other better, Will could start to trust Nico more, open up more for him. But that was later. Right now, he could just enjoy the moment.

Chapter Text

There’s a knock on the Apollo cabin door, and everyone inside groans. Will sits up, knowing it’s his responsibility to answer all calls off hours. (Not that the Apollo medics really had hours, but it was nice to dream.)

“If someone’s not dying, wake me up in two hours!” he calls. Despite the rumor that Apollo children are morning people, there are exceptions. Will is one of those exceptions. Though, staying up late the night before trying to treat some flu-like symptoms probably had an affect on his mood this morning.

“It’s your boyfriend,” is the reply. Will curses, wondering what Nico got himself into this time. He always figured mornings were safe as Nico was famously known for sleeping in until someone came to wake him for lunch. “There’s been a slight problem.”

Will throws on a sweatshirt before answering the door. Lou Ellen looks kind of guilty as she launches into a quick explanation. Will’s tired brain gets almost none of the explanation except that Nico’s not hurt.

“So yeah,” Lou Ellen finishes. “We should have an antidote ready by tomorrow at the latest. We just thought that since he trusts you the most, you’d be the best option.”Will yawns. His siblings are looking at him strange. He wonders if they were paying better attention. “Best option for what?” Will asks.

“Babysitting,” she says slowly. It’s then that Will notices she’s holding a bundle of blankets. He guesses there’s a baby in there.

“Remind me never to go near that cabin again,” Will says. “Give me ten minutes.” Polite as he is, he shuts the door in Lou Ellen’s face.

“Another Hecate spell gone awry?” Kayla asks. Will nods. He throws on some actual clothes before opening the door again. Lou Ellen is bouncing baby Nico in her arms. “He’s a cute baby,” Kayla says, glancing over Will’s shoulder.

Will sighs, accepting the baby. Judging by the reaction he gets, he can guess Nico is closer to one or so. He seems capable of holding himself up and waving his limbs around. He smiles when Will’s face comes into view, reaching up and trying to grab at Will’s necklace.

“Still adorable, di Angelo,” Will mumbles. Of course, Nico was a cute baby. “What am I supposed to do with him?” Will asks Lou Ellen.

“Take care of him?” Lou Ellen says. “Watch over him? Babysitting stuff, Will. He’s a baby.”

“I know, but I kind of have to run the infirmary and the Apollo cabin. Does anyone else know about this?” Lou Ellen shakes her head. “Well, first breakfast. And then to the infirmary. If anything, maybe it’ll improve his immune system.” He starts walking to the pavilion, ignoring Lou Ellen mumbling something about Will’s care-taking abilities. (His powers were for healing. Not taking care of children. And he was tired. Not good for babysitting.)

Nico seems to be an easy enough child. He eats his applesauce without complaint, and he lets Will clean him up without any fussing. Will thinks it’s kind of funny that Nico’s clothes shrunk with him, so now he’s wearing a little skull jumper. After breakfast, Will heads to the infirmary. He’s not exactly sure what one’s supposed to do with a baby here. The camp doesn’t exactly have a nursery.

He ends up making a makeshift playpen area for Nico, grabbing some toys and blocks for Nico to play with. Nico crawls around a little before picking up one of the blocks. He makes sure Nico’s comfortable before making his usual rounds. He feels kind of bad for leaving Nico there. He knows how important playtime with kids is, but he’s also got to do his job. He’s about halfway through his rounds, about to give a patient a shot when Nico starts crying. Will shoots his patient an apologetic look before heading back to where he’d left Nico.

Nico reaches for him, and Will picks him up, holding him close. He rocks Nico gently back and forth, cooing softly in his ear. He hums the lullaby that always got Nico to sleep, even as a fifteen-year-old. Baby Nico also seems to like it as he quickly calms down, sucking on his thumb. (Will notices that Nico’s skull ring is gone, and he can only hope that Lou Ellen knows where it is.)

Will’s about to see if they have one of those baby things that attaches the baby to your hip when Jason enters the room, and Will’s never been so happy to see Jason.

“Gods, he’s cute,” Jason says, laughing. And even though Nico’s a baby, Will feels a bit jealous. (He gets rid of the thought quickly.) “Need some help?”
Will sighs. “Yes, please.” Jason smiles, starting to play peek-a-boo with Nico. Nico smiles, breaking into laughter. Will feels some of his stress draining away as Nico giggles. It wasn’t too far from grown Nico’s laughter, just a bit higher pitched.

“Wanna go for a walk?” Jason asks Nico. “We can see the lake and some pretty flowers. And some sparring.” If this were any other baby, Will would be absolutely against letting Jason take a baby to watch sparring. He hands the baby off to Jason, smiling.

“I’ll take good care of him, Will,” Jason promises. Will nods. He’d better. He waves bye to Nico, smiling when Nico seems to wave back.
The morning went pretty smoothly without having to babysit both Nico and his patients. He took care of the most annoying of patients and then worked his way back to those who were just here for some rest. He liked working in the infirmary, even though it was stressful on a good day. It kept his mind occupied, and he was helping people. (Though, he did kind of wish that the camp had fewer dangerous contraptions just sitting around for campers to play with. This was supposed to be a safe place, right?)

He takes a break for lunch around one, heading to the pavilion. Kayla smiles at him as he plops down.

“Long morning?” she asks. Will shrugs.

“As usual, really. I think I should speak to Chiron about that climbing wall, though.” Kayla laughs. Both of them had many words to say about the dangers and recklessness of the climbing wall. Or, at least remove the lava and spikes or whatever. Life was already dangerous enough.

“How’s Nico doing?”

Will shrugs. “Good, I hope. Jason came in to watch him.” Kayla smirks.

“Couldn’t handle your boyfriend? Was he too cute for you?” She giggles as Will blushes.

“He’s adorable, but no. It’s just hard to take care of whining patients and whining babies. No matter how cute they are.” Kayla nods.

“Well, maybe you should go and check on them. I haven’t seen Jason all morning, and I’ve been leading the cabin around activities.”

Will frowns. That was pretty odd. Jason had said they were going for a walk. Kayla should have seen them somewhere, right? The camp was big, but it wasn’t that big. Not unless you went into the woods, and Will would kill Jason if he went in there with Nico.

“I’m sure they just got caught up in playing or something,” Kayla says, trying to reassure him. Will shrugs.

“I’m going to check on them.” He ignores Kayla’s teasing as he heads to the Zeus cabin. He hadn’t been in there before, never really had a reason to. It was kind of intimidating, honestly, even after spending so much time in the Hades cabin. He knocks on the door, expecting some kind of answer. When there isn’t one, he knocks again. Then he presses his ear to the door. He’d expected some kind of sound to be heard, laughing or crying or talking. Instead, there was silence.

Will knew he had a tendency to overthink, so he took a few deep breaths. Maybe they were at the lake or still walking around. Or maybe they were sleeping. In which case, he didn’t want to wake them up. He’d had enough experience in waking up Nico that he didn’t want to do it now.

He’s about to head back to his cabin for a change of clothes when the door opens. Jason blinks at him for a moment before yawning.

“Never knew it took so much energy to take care of babies,” Jason says. “I tried to get him down for a nap, but he wasn’t having it.” Will laughs. Nico never slept when you told him to. “So, we played peek-a-boo for about an hour. Went for a walk until he got hungry. And then we looked at blocks. He slept maybe an hour. Whatever Hecate did, he’s definitely not a normal baby.”

Will laughs. “Maybe he’s just not comfortable,” he suggests. Nico only slept when he felt comfortable enough to.

Jason smiles, winking at Will. “Show me your magic, Solace.” Will blushes. Yes, he and Nico cuddled quite often, and he’s been told that he had a nice shoulder for sleeping on, but that didn’t mean anything. Jason opens the door wider, letting Will in. Nico’s on the floor, chewing on a block. When he sees Will, he lets out a happy shriek, arms reaching up.

Will smiles, picking Nico up. “Nap time, bud. Sleepy?” Nico just giggles again. Will rolls his eyes. “Well, I need a nap. So let’s see if you can take a nap, too. Sound good?” Nico grabs Will’s nose, smiling in delight when Will sticks his tongue out.

“A nap sounds great,” Jason says. “I never thought watching a baby would be more tiring than fighting a war.” Will shrugs. Both sound equally exhausting. He wonders what exactly turned Nico into a baby. He was definitely baby-like, aside from the fact that he had yet to sleep for most of the day.

“Oh, and here. Chiron got some stuff.” Will pouts when he sees that it’s a baby bag. Diapers, wipes, baby powder, food, etc. Will had forgotten about that part.

Will takes Nico back to the Hades cabin. He figures it’s darker and less likely to have people just barging in. He’s not exactly sure how to make sure Nico doesn’t fall off of the bed. Nico usually doesn’t move around a lot in his sleep, but now he was smaller, and falling off the bed would be way worse.

Will positions pillows around the edge of the bed and some on the floor (just in case). He then realized that he was probably going to have to change Nico’s diaper. He figured Jason had already done it at least once, but that wasn’t quite a line he thought he’d have to cross until they were old and grey.

Sighing, Will takes Nico into the bathroom. He quickly removes the diaper, wipes Nico’s butt, and then folds the new diaper and attaches the sticky parts. He tests to make sure it’s not too tight before kissing Nico’s forehead.

“Ready for a nap?” Will asks. He certainly was. After being awakened so abruptly and then taking care of patients all morning, all he wanted to do was take a long nap. But first, Nico. He finds a pair of pj-like clothes in the bag, and he does his best to dress Nico. It’s hard when Nico keeps giggling like Will’s tickling him. When he’s finally got Nico dressed, sets him on the bed. Will crawls in next to him, pulling a blanket over them.

He’s not sure if he should hold Nico, if he should even try to sleep. He definitely doesn’t want Nico to fall or just wander off. Nico lets out a yawn, rocking so he’s laying down. He coos softly at Will, tangling his fingers in Will’s hair. Will hums a few lullabies, smiling as Nico’s eyelids seem to get heavier and heavier. He doesn’t stop until he’s sure that Nico’s definitely asleep.

Will tries his best to stay awake, but he’s just so sleepy. And Nico’s so warm and soft right next to him. If he closes his eyes, he can almost imagine he’s cuddling with grown Nico. But baby Nico is nice, too. Will feels his eyes slipping shut, and he’s pretty much powerless against the sleep that’s washing over him.
Will’s awakened by a loud scream. He scrambles into a sitting position, quickly checking to make sure that a monster isn’t trying to break into the cabin. Then he remembers Nico. He sighs in relief when he sees Nico still on the bed, though his face is red.

Will checks the clock. Three hours. They’d slept for three hours. Nico was definitely in need of some food and a diaper change. Will settles Nico in his lap, trying his best to get the food out while also calming Nico down. He tried to make funny faces while he attempted to unscrew the lid of the food. Will wasn’t sure what a baby should be eating, but this mashed food was all he had.

He tries to spoon some into Nico’s mouth, but he spits it back out. Will sighs, trying again. Did Nico just not like mashed bananas? He tried the applesauce again, but the same thing happened. Will sets the food aside, deciding to change Nico’s diaper. After that, Nico seemed to calm down some. He was still fussing a little, though. Will tried the applesauce again. This time, at least half of it went in.

“Open for the train!” Will calls. Nico giggles. “Choo Choo!” Will feels kind of silly doing this, but Nico seems to enjoy it. He tries to make the train sounds, too, though it comes out more like spitting. Will’s glad he’s just wearing an old camp shirt.

After Nico stops opening his mouth for the train, Will decides that he’s probably full. “Want to play?” Will asks. Nico makes a gurgling noise in his throat, and Will thinks he’s going to spit up on him. Will pats Nico’s back a few times. Nico lets out a wet burp, and Will sighs as he wipes it up.

Nico’s cute, but he’s a handful. Will’s just glad that Nico hasn’t tried to walk yet. He’s not sure how old Nico’s supposed to be, but he’d guess anywhere from eight months to a year. Nico can definitely crawl, though he seems to enjoy Will carrying him around more often than not.

Will takes Nico outside to the porch, deciding some fresh air would be good. He grabs a few stuffed animals and some toys, bringing them so Nico can play with them. He smiles when Nico chooses the stuffed elephant, making him stomp along the ground. Nico made his spitting noises as the elephant moved along the length of the porch.

“Hanging in there?” Annabeth calls. Will nods, giving her a thumbs up. Nico’s eyes grow wide for a moment as she gets closer, but then he goes back to playing with his elephant. “He’s pretty cute.”

Will smiles. “Yup.”

“Do you know how long?”

Will shrugs. “Lou Ellen said tomorrow at the latest, though today would be great.” Annabeth laughs. “He’s great and all as a baby, but I do miss fifteen-year-old Nico.”

Annabeth nods. “Well, if you ever need a break, just let me know.” She crouches down, picking up a stuffed flamingo and making it walk towards Nico’s elephant. He lets out a happy shriek, tossing the elephant at the flamingo. Then he’s crawling to get the elephant to do it all over again.

“He’s certainly active.” Will nods.

“Yup. Way more than I feel like being.” He’s only fifteen, but watching baby Nico, he feels so old.

Annabeth stays for a bit longer, adding more animals for Nico to throw his elephant at. Every time, he would shriek and then burst into laughter. A few other campers would stop by to play, and Nico soaked up the attention. He crawled across the porch getting his stuffed elephant and the blocks. Then he’d show them off. He babbled and laughed, and Will couldn’t help but wonder if Nico would still be like this if he hadn’t gone through war. (Less baby-like, but just as happy.)

He could tell it was time to feed Nico again and maybe change his diaper when Nico’s elephant started sliding along the ground, and Nico wouldn’t laugh every time. Will excuses the two of them, taking Nico inside to clean him up a little. This time, Nico does eat the mashed bananas. Will makes it an airplane. Then Nico’s yawning, and Will’s yawning. He’s ready to go and get the first camper outside the door to come and watch Nico for a bit.

As if reading his mind, there’s a knock on the door. Will’s surprised to see Percy standing there, but he’s happy for any help at this point.

“I brought you some food. Annabeth said you’d been watching him most of the day.” Will takes the food, stopping just short of shoving the sandwich into his mouth. He glances to make sure Nico’s still on the bed.

“He’s just going down for a nap, but if you’d take him after, I’d be forever grateful,” Will says.

Percy laughs. “Sure, just come find me when he wakes up, yeah?” Will nods. Nico goes down without a fuss, the (now kind of grimy) elephant clutched in his hands. Will just wants to lay down and sleep with him. He finishes his food first, and he’s about to lay down when an IM appears over Nico’s body.

“Hey, Will!” It’s Hazel. “How’s watching my brother? I hope he’s not being too feisty for you.”

Will laughs. “He’s good. Sleeping now.” Will tries to stifle a yawn. Hazel smiles. Will shifts so that Hazel can see Nico sleeping. She coos, smiling wider.

“He’s so cute! Oh my gods. I wish we could get a picture. He’d never believe he was ever so cute.” Will laughs at the thought. Nico would deny his cuteness to the grave. (It just didn’t mesh with his Ghost King reputation.) “Well, I just wanted to say hi. And that I hope he’s not driving you crazy.”

Will shakes his head. “Nope. He’s a little angel.” Hazel smirks.

“I’ll let you go now. You look like you’re in need of some sleep, too.” Will nods. He’s about to fall asleep sitting up. He doesn’t know why he’s so tired. All he did was watch Nico. He didn’t even play with him for that long before everyone else joined in. He can’t imagine being a parent. No wonder the gods just stayed up on Mount Olympus. (Though, did they really need sleep?)

Will waves as the IM dissolves. Then his head meets the pillow, and he’s out like a light.
This time he wakes to a stream of babbling. For a moment, he’s confused as to where the sound is coming from. Then his mind catches up.

Nico’s chewing on the elephant now, and Will smiles. It was probably hard to look adorable while chewing on an elephant, but Nico made it work.

Will checks the time, seeing that it’s a little past dinner. He’s got some time, and he hopes that Lou Ellen has that antidote ready.

He dresses Nico for outside, deciding that he’ll take him to hang out with Percy. Since being more open about dating Will, Nico and Percy had started hanging out more. They were friends now, and Will was glad that Nico had been able to move on and have a good relationship with Percy. (No matter how oblivious Percy was, he really did mean well. And he was a way better sparring partner than Will.)

“Hey, man,” Percy greets. He must have just cleaned up from sparring. His hair was wet, and he kind of smelled like the ocean. “Hey, Nico. Good nap?”

Nico just reaches for Percy’s necklace. Will hands Nico off.

“I’m going to clean up and see if Lou Ellen’s got that antidote. Here’s his stuff in case he needs anything.” Will smiles at the image of Percy with a baby and bag. He’d probably be a good father, Will thinks.

Will waves at Nico before heading to the Hecate cabin.

“Hey!” Lou Ellen calls. “Almost ready, we think. This should make things normal again. Or turn him into an ostrich.” She shrugs.

“Human preferably,” Will says. Taking care of a baby was one thing, an ostrich an entirely other thing. Will wasn’t about to sign himself up for that job.

“That’s the goal. Now go relax or something. I’ll come find you when it’s ready.”

Will nods. He wishes he could relax, but he’s got another shift in the infirmary. When you lived in a place where people got hurt at about the same rate they moved, a medic’s job was never done.

His siblings greeted him as he walked in. They had a good routine that they all stuck to so that no one was really ever holed up in the infirmary and no one had to be overexposed to any sickness that may prove to be contagious.

“How’s Nico?” someone asks.

“He’s good. With Percy now.” Someone smirks, but Will ignores them. He has no hard feelings against Percy. He was sure Nico and Percy were having a grand time.

Will gets so caught up in helping patients and organizing the medicine cupboards that he almost forgets that Nico’s a baby. It’s not until he glances at the clock and realizes that it’s almost time for the campfire how late it is.

“Will! We’ve got it!” Lou Ellen’s just come through the door, annoying some of the more difficult patients. “Where’s Nico?”

They have to search a little for Nico, but he’s in the Hades cabin with Percy. Will laughs when he sees that they’re both passed out on the bed. (He kind of wishes he could take a picture of the two of them cuddling.)

“You wake him up,” Will says. “It’s your fault. I don’t even want to know why you have stuff that makes people babies.”

Lou Ellen just shrugs before shaking Nico gently. He huffs before starting to cry. Percy shifts, his arm reaching out blindly to try and comfort Nico.

Lou Ellen presses the bottle of antidote to Nico’s mouth. “I’m not sure how much of this he actually needs to drink,” she mumbles.

Will sighs. Here’s to hoping, he thinks.

Percy seems to wake up just as there’s a puff of smoke.

“Um, guys, what’d you just feed him?”

“Where you in my bed?” comes Nico’s voice. He’s staring at Percy, his eyebrows wrinkled in confusion. “Why are all of you even in my cabin?”

Everyone looks at Will. He sighs. “I’ll explain. If you tell me why you were up so early this morning.”

Nico looks confused still. “I think I couldn’t sleep. I thought a walk would help.” He shrugs. “But that doesn’t explain why you’re all here. I’m not hurt or dying, so what’s going on?”

“Well, I’m out of here,” Lou Ellen says. Will glares at her back as she makes a hasty exit.

“Right. Well, it was fun hanging out with you, bro,” Percy adds. “See you around.” And then he’s leaving.

Nico turns to Will, eyebrows raised. “I’m waiting.”

Will rolls his eyes. Even slightly ticked off, Nico was adorable. Will sighs as he launches into the explanation. He watches as Nico’s eyebrows rise towards his hairline and his cheeks get more red. (It really is cute.)

“I’m definitely never going near that cabin again. Or outside again, for that matter,” Nico says. He’s covering his face.

“Aww. But you were so cute.”

“And I’m not now?” Nico huffs. Will laughs, pulling Nico in for a quick kiss.

“You’ve always been cute to me, Nico.” Nico huffs again, but he allows Will to kiss him again.

“Good. But you can’t tell anyone.”

“I promise, Neeks.” Nico nods. He leans up to kiss Will’s cheek.

“Thanks for taking care of me.”

Will smiles. “You can thank me by letting me crash right here, right now.” Will pulls his shoes off, his face hitting the pillows. He hears Nico laugh as he pulls a blanket over Will, kissing his forehead.

“My turn, Will. Sweet dreams.”

Chapter Text

The atmosphere was far from what Will usually entertained. He was more of a quiet person in his spare time, preferring to leave the chaotic stress to his work. The bar was somewhat dim, the walls a deep red, the counters a dark wood. It was clear that this was one of the nicer bars in town, and Will was grateful for that. He hadn’t come here to get drunk, only to drink a little to take the edge off of a hard day.

His eyes catch one of the bartenders. He simply orders a beer. He can’t really remember the last time he’d drunk. He was sure it hadn’t been a pretty picture. (It probably involved high school and some stupid party. He was happy to leave those memories behind.) Now, he was actually legal and could drink like any respectable adult.

He sighs. He wasn’t lonely exactly, but he wasn’t quite overflowing in the friends department. He’d left most of them in America when he’d moved across the ocean. It had been an impulsive choice, one he had never quite regretted. Sure, it was a big decision, but he needed a change of scenery. High school had left a bad taste in his mouth, and he’d rather be far away from everything that reminded him of it. Somehow, fleeing to the opposite end of the country didn’t quite do that. So he’d tried feeling across an ocean.

So now he was friendless in Italy, which wasn’t exactly a problem. Venice was beautiful with its historic architecture and its canals. Will had always loved the ocean, and he loved the canals that crisscrossed the city. Venice was a place where he could escape just by walking down the street, and he loved that.

“Haven’t seen you in here before,” comes a voice. It’s heavily accented English, something Will’s gotten quite good at understanding. (He’s ashamed to admit that his Italian is horrendous. He’s been trying to learn, really, but he’s never had much of a knack for languages. His English isn’t anything to brag about, either.)

“Just stumbled in here,” Will says. The bartender nods. He seems to blend into the atmosphere, his dark clothes and hair, the olive complexion of his skin. Will thinks he sees eyeliner and maybe a piercing. He’s not sure. The lighting really is kind of dim. “Any recommendations?”

The bartender smirks. “Never drink alone. It’s never as fun.” Will shrugs. He’s not technically drinking alone. The bar isn’t overcrowded, but it’s full. It’s clear that this is a popular bar, has a good reputation. “Here. Try this.” He slides a mug towards Will.

Will takes a sip, liking it instantly. It’s rich and has a slight taste of coffee underneath something almost sweet. The bartender cracks a lopsided smile, raising his eyebrows. “Good, yeah? It’s one of my favorites.”

Will smiles. Throughout the night, the bartender keeps coming back, more for conversation than to refill Will’s mug. He seems to understand the idea of casual drinking, something Will’s high school classmates never seemed to. (He’s sure it has something to do with cultural differences, but he’s too tired to think about that right now.)

He learns that the bartender’s name is Nico, that his family owns the bar. Nico’s going to school online, and he loves to draw. Will offers up very little information, quite sure that his life is nowhere near as interesting as Nico’s. And then Will is heading home, only slightly buzzed. He waves to Nico, though he isn’t sure Nico sees him.
Nico likes this new patron. He’s blond and has bright, blue eyes and can make Nico smile just by existing. He isn’t sure exactly why. Maybe it’s because Nico’s never really seen anyone like him. He’s never been out of the country, or even out of the town, really. He grew up down the street, went to school a few blocks over, works here. Will, on the other hand, is from America. And America, Nico’s heard, is so much different.

So he’s enamored, to say the least. He likes listening to Will talk, though getting him to talk is a bit of a struggle. Will seems more content to let Nico do the talking. Nico huffs at that. He’s determined to get Will to talk. He doesn’t care about what, but he wants to hear what Will calls a southern accent because he thinks it’s cute when Will loses himself in the conversation.

“So, how’d you get here?” Nico asks. He watches as Will drains his glass, and he’s sure there’s some underlying conflict there. “You can lie if you want,” he adds. He finds that even though he’s interested to know, he respects Will’s privacy.
“Just got tired of things. Needed a change,” Will says. “America seems big, but sometimes it’s not.”

Nico nods, though he can’t say he understands. Venice is his own little corner of the world, and he’s never really had to share it with anyone. He sees people he knows, but their lives don’t really overlap. They just co-exist. America sounds so different. Nico imagines people bumping elbows and waving and striking up conversation in the streets.

“What’s it like living here?”

Nico shrugs. “Same as always. Born and raised here. Can’t really say too much.” Will smiles at that, tipping his head towards Nico.

Nico likes when Will sits up at the counter. His eyes catch the light, and then Will seems less tired. Nico’s not sure why a man like Will Solace comes to a bar so late every night, but he’s not ready to ask. He’s learned from past experiences that men don’t divulge their life stories after a few drinks. It takes a few more than that, and Will’s never gotten more than slightly buzzed.

“Tell me about your family,” Nico says.

“Not much to tell. I’ve got about seven half-siblings,” Will says. Nico’s eyebrows raise. “My father’s not too good at commitment. My mama’s great, the best, really.” Will smiles, and Nico wonders if Will ever gets homesick. He seems like he doesn’t, but Nico can’t imagine being so far away from his family. “I had a cat before I moved out here. Had to leave her back with my sister.”

“I have a dog,” Nico says. “Mrs. O’Leary. Very Italian name, you know.” Will laughs at that, and Nico wants to know the secret to making Will laugh so he can hear that sound over and over again.

Nico’s starting to feel a surge of annoyance when other patrons need to be helped. He doesn’t like it when he has to be reminded that he’s working, not just sitting at a bar with a friend. (He isn’t sure he’s allowed to call Will a friend.)

Will leaves around one in the morning, and Nico hangs up his apron soon after. His sister winks at him, but he doesn’t respond. He isn’t flirting. He’s just being friendly. (It’s nice to talk to someone who isn’t doing so only to hit on him.)

“Don’t worry, Nico. I’ve heard some Americans are kind of oblivious. A few more drinks.” Nico nods. He’s not sure of the courting rituals in America (and he’s honestly not sure of them here either), but he likes Will. And he’s willing to wait.
Will’s late tonight. He’d gotten caught up at work, standing in front of the office, wondering if he should quit. He’s getting tired of working there, looking for something else. He isn’t sure why he’s so restless. He hates that he can’t just stay in one place like everyone else. He can’t be content to just be somewhere.

“You okay?” Nico asks. Will nods. He’s fine. His legs bounce up and down beneath the counter, restless energy flowing through them.

“I’m quitting my job,” Will says. Nico nods.

“What do you want to do?” Will shrugs. He’s never really had an idea of what he’s wanted to do. He’s just always been told what to do. Moving to Italy was the first thing he’d done that hadn’t been preplanned by someone else. “What’s something you like doing?”

Will hopes the dim lighting hides his blush. The only thing he hasn’t gotten tired of yet is talking to Nico. He feels like he could come in here every day and just listen to Nico talk, or even just watch the practiced way he fills drinks, slides them across the counter. Everything about Nico seems so new and fresh, even though it’s the same routine he’s been watching the past two months.

“I don’t know,” Will says. “That’s kind of always been the problem. I try something, don’t like it. Try something new. Repeat. It’s a broken cycle.”

Nico shrugs. “Maybe you just haven’t found the right thing yet.” He pauses. “Like, I love working here. I get to meet new people, and it’s easy. But it hit me a few years ago that this isn’t what I want to do with the rest of my life. So I tried so many things. Cooking, juggling, math, drawing.” He smiles.

“Did you find something?” Will asks.

Nico nods. “I think so. Right now I want to be an artist. Maybe nothing big like being in a museum, but drawing is something I love to do.” He refills Will’s glass. “And maybe it’s not what I’ll be doing in ten years, but I don’t think that matters. I do what I love because life is short.”

Will thinks about that. He’s never had hobbies. He’s always been relatively good at everything he’s tried (his friends and siblings were always jealous of that). “Could you help me?” Will asks. He’s not sure if he’s just getting that desperate or if he’s just looking for an excuse to spend time with Nico.

“Sure. My days are usually free. Here’s my address.” Will feels something kick at his heart, and his legs stop bouncing. He takes the slip of paper, smiling. He stands up, deciding now’s a good time to leave. Tomorrow, he’s going to quit his job.
Nico’s cheeks are still red from the looks he’d gotten from his family on his way out. He’d never been embarrassed by his family, really, and he’d always been fine with people seeing his house. But somehow, this felt different. Will’s walking beside him, eyes straight ahead. Nico wonders if he knows where they’re going.

“So, what have you tried?” Nico asks. He wasn’t sure if Will was serious about Nico helping him, but here they are.

“Medicine, law, music, sports, makeup, writing, office stuff,” Will says, ticking each off on his fingers. “Drawing, anything art, really. Being a taxi driver, tour guide, farmer. My last job was another office thing.” He shudders.

Nico only caught half of that list, instead focusing on how much more alive Will looks out in the sun. His hair is brighter, his eyes bluer. He’s got this tan that brings out freckles Nico had never noticed.

“So, any ideas?” Nico snaps back to the task at hand.

“Not yet. Maybe just walk around and see if anything catches your eye?” Will nods. Nico’s honestly not sure what kinds of things Will would be interested in. He wonders if Will’s just unhappy in general, if that’s what’s making it hard for him to be content. He wonders if Will’s afraid of getting stuck somewhere, so he keeps moving to make sure he doesn’t. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t really know Will Solace, yet he feels some kind of connection to him.

They walk down the streets, along the canals. Nico notices how Will eyes the canals. He seems to enjoy looking at them, watching the water flow along so effortlessly. Every now and then a gondola will pass by them.

It was late afternoon, but neither of them had eaten. So they stop by a nearby cafe to get some sandwiches and pastries. They find a park bench to sit down and eat. Nico’s struck by how much of their time has passed in silence. He’d always been relatively social (it came with being raised in a bar), so he’d never thought about the fact that you could learn just as much about someone by their silence.

He wondered if maybe Will wasn’t looking so much for something but someone.

“Oh, follow me.” Nico makes sure Will is following him before he starts walking through the streets. He knows when Will has seen it, watches the way his eyebrows raise, his eyes widen.

“My Italian is awful,” Will says. “A bookstore, yeah?” Nico nods.

“Libreria Acqua Alta,” Nico says. Will smiles. He’d told Nico before that he loved Nico’s accent, so maybe Nico showed off a little. The aisles are a little cramped, so Nico takes to following Will around. Will seems in awe, and it makes Nico’s heart beat a little faster. Will picks up a few books, flips through the pages, sets them down again. He even seems interested in the bathtubs and the boats.

“This is so crazy wonderful,” he says, laughing. Nico smiles. “My sister would love this.” They wander around for a few more minutes before heading out. “I’ve never seen a bookstore like that before.” He laughs again, and Nico thinks some color appears on Will’s cheeks. Is this what Will looks like when he’s alive?

They walk around some more, heading into shops and doing a lot of window shopping. Nico notes the way that Will looks at everything so closely, as if trying to hold it in his memory. Nico remembers the way that Will had gazed at the canals. He wonders if it’d be overstepping anything to book them an appointment. Against everything telling him not to, he leaves Will in a shop and schedules an appointment for later that evening. He decides not to tell Will until later.
Will’s never felt so connected to a city. He loves their architecture, their art, their paving. It’s so ridiculous how he thinks he’s falling in love with this city. He’s been here almost two years, and he’s never once thought of it as a place of wonder. Now, it all seems so different. (He wonders what else he’s been missing out on.)

“I never fully answered your question from earlier,” Will hears himself saying. Nico slows down to keep pace with Will.

“Yeah?” he asks.

“About why I came here. I did need some fresh air, and it was completely random that I ended up Venice. But I was mostly escaping,” he says. Nico nods. “My family is great and all, but I guess I wasn’t happy. I thought if I got far enough away, maybe to a place where people didn’t know my name, it’d be better.”

“Better how?” Nico asks.

Will shrugs. “I don’t know. Just better.”

“Is it?” Nico’s smirking now.

Will sighs. He’s standing in one of the most beautiful cities with the most beautiful person he’s ever met. He still doesn’t know what he’s looking for, but something in him is quieting. He thinks that maybe it’s not as important anymore, though he never knew what it was.

“Yeah, I think so.” Nico nods, just one time, and turns around.

“Come on. I have a surprise.”

Will’s not sure what to expect. He’s thinking maybe Nico will lead them to a bakery or a restaurant or maybe kiss him. (Not that he’s hoping, of course.) But he doesn’t. (And maybe Will’s a little disappointed.) And then they’re standing in line to board a gondola.

“Surprise!” Nico says, laughing. “Come on, Will.” (Will’s knees go a little weak at the way Nico says his name.) They get into the gondola. There are three other people with them, aside from the gondolier. The sun is starting to go down, and it’s that clichéd romantic time. And Will’s starting to feel the effects. The lights start coming on, and a gondolier from another gondola is singing. (Their’s is not, but Will’s okay with that.) Nico’s sitting close enough that Will can feed off of his warmth, and he really wants to slip his hands into Nico’s. (He doesn’t.)

The gondola ride lasts maybe forty-five minutes, and Will almost thinks he’s fallen asleep with how magical everything feels. Nico whispers little things to him, places they pass, little stories from his own life, that he used to be scared of the gondoliers. Will eats it all up, needing, for some reason, to be closer to Nico. He needs to know this man sitting right next to him.

“I want to stay here forever,” Will breathes. He’s not sure where here is, exactly, and he’s not sure why he has to leave. But he doesn’t want to.

“Then stay,” Nico says.
It’s been three days since they’d hung out. Will had still come in for his usual two drinks and conversation, but he seemed quieter. He’d told Nico that he’d gotten another job, just waiting tables at a bakery, something to pay the bills. They hadn’t really talked about that day, though Nico had so many questions. (Were they friends now? Did Will like him as much as Nico liked him? Did Will’s job mean he was staying? Would it be inappropriate to just kiss Will right now?)

He’s broken out of his thoughts by a new presence. It’s a man, tall and tanned. He’s got a crooked nose, searing green eyes, and brown hair. Nico doesn’t like him at all.

“Hey, I’ve seen you around. Let me buy you a drink?” It takes Nico a minute to realize that this guy is talking to Will.
“I don’t think I know you,” Will says. He shifts, and Nico can tell he’s uncomfortable.

“Right, sorry. Bryce,” the man says. He smiles, but there’s something off about it.

Will smiles back. “Will. Nice to meet another fellow American.” Bryce nods. Nico waits on other patrons as the two start to talk. They talk about life in America, about their families, about their jobs. Nico’s secretly pleased to hear that Will tells Bryce even less than he’s told Nico.

“How about a drink?” Bryce asks, which is Nico’s cue. “Something good for this young man,” Bryce says. Nico nods. He wonders if he should get a drink that Will won’t like just so Will can leave. (But he doesn’t want Will to leave.) He finds something he knows Will likes, but it isn’t one of his favorites.

He slides it across the bar. Will catches it, taking a sip. He smiles at Nico. Nico fills up Bryce’s drink just so he won’t have to come back for a while. (He doesn’t like Bryce.)

“May I have a taste?” Bryce asks. Will shrugs, pushing the drink towards Bryce. Nico glances at Will, trying to ask if Will wants Nico to get this guy to leave. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Bryce put something in the drink. Nico glances at Will again. Will doesn’t seem to notice, zoning out a bit. After Bryce puts the drink down, Nico gets a rag to start cleaning the counters.

“Want to take a walk?” Bryce asks. Will shakes his head. “It’s a lovely night. They’re having some sort of music thing by where I live. It’d be fun to check it out.”

Will shrugs. “I’m okay. I’ve got to be up early tomorrow for work.” While they’re occupied, Nico switches the drinks. If he could he’d just dump out the contaminated one, but he’s not sure he can do so without drawing attention to himself. (And if Will really doesn’t mind Bryce, he should just let them be.)

“We don’t have to be out too late. Just for an hour or so,” Bryce says. Nico watches in morbid fascination as Bryce takes a drink. He seems surprised when it tastes different. Nico hadn’t remembered what Bryce had originally ordered, but he supposes it’d taste different from Will’s. He wonders if Bryce would be stupid enough to put something with flavor in Will’s drink.

“I’m sorry,” Will’s saying. “Maybe another time. I’m just really busy right now.” Nico rolls his eyes. He knows Will’s probably the least busy person in this town. He leans on the counter, feeling warm when Will smiles at him.

“I think I might leave soon,” Will says quietly. Bryce has gone kind of quiet, almost like he’s staring at nothing. Nico hadn’t been paying attention to how much Bryce had been drinking. Bryce is mumbling something, everything. Then he passes out. Will startles, jumping up. “Oh my gods,” he mumbles.

Nico sighs. He ducks into the backroom to call his parents. He feels bad for bothering them, but he’s so done with this guy. He focuses on comforting Will while his parents take care of Bryce.

“Did he- did you? I mean, what? I-“ Nico cuts him off.

“Yes, yes. He tried to drug you. He’ll be fine. Sit down.” Will does as he’s instructed, plopping down at one of the tables. He runs a hand over his face, accepting the glass of water Nico gives him. He chugs about half of it before breathing out.

“I need to go home,” Will says. “I just need to sleep this off. Tomorrow will be better.” Nico nods. He’s not sure he wants Will wandering alone in the streets. He hadn’t really thought that while he found Will attractive that other people would too. Now he’s kind of paranoid.

“Would it be too much to ask if you could walk me home?” Will asks. “Not that I can’t. But I’m just kind of-“ Nico nods.

“It’s not too much. Come on. Let’s go.” He gets Will up, not minding that Will’s leaning on him a bit. Will gives him directions. Nico’s sure he’s never felt so protective over someone. (Aside from his family, of course.) He makes sure Will gets into his place, waiting to hear the lock turn. It doesn’t.

“Will?” he asks.

The door opens. Will’s face is flushed, but Nico’s sure he’s sober. “I’m probably not thinking straight, but here goes.” And then Will is kissing Nico. It’s a little sloppy as Will almost drops the door on them, and then Nico’s hands are shaking because he doesn’t want to mess this up. They pull apart.

“Yeah?” Nico asks. Will smiles, nodding.

“I found you.”