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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 descriptions 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

“What’s your favorite song?” Nico asks. It’d been two weeks since their first kiss, and they’d only kissed twice since. They hadn’t really talked about it, but they’d come to some understanding that they were taking things slow. Which was perfectly fine with Nico.

“River Flows in You,” Will says after a moment.

“Can you play it for me?” Nico asks. He’s sitting next to Will on the piano bench, giving his fingers a little break. By now, he’s mastered most of the major scales, and he’s able to play Heart and Soul without pause. He still hasn’t brought up Pachelbel, but after listening to it a few more times, he’s sure that it’ll be a bit of a challenge to find all of the chords when he needs to.

Will doesn’t answer verbally. There’s the sound of shifting papers. Nico can hear Will quietly humming a melody under his breath. He plays a few practice notes to get his fingers warmed up. Then there’s just music and breath. Nico closes his eyes, wanting to somehow ingrain this moment into his memory forever. He can feel Will swaying beside him, can imagine his tongue sticking out just slightly like Will told him he did. Nico almost doesn’t realize that the song is over until Will nudges him.

“You didn’t fall asleep on me, did you?” Will asks softly. Nico shakes his head.

“You’re amazing,” he whispers. He thinks his words are failing him for a moment. The song is still playing through his head, and he thinks he can almost see Will. Not his physical characteristics but him. His personality, his laugh, his soul. “You’re beautiful.”

This gets a quiet laugh out of Will. Nico raises his hands to place on Will’s cheeks, guiding them together for a quick kiss. Nico can feel Will smiling against his lips. They kiss a few more times, pulling apart so that they’re just resting breaths away from each other.

They’re still awkward around each other, Will navigating Nico’s blindness, Nico learning when to push and when not to. There are things that Nico knows Will is hiding from him, but he figures Will just isn’t ready for Nico to know. And he respects that. He certainly isn’t going to come out right now and tell Will about his embarrassing moon obsession when he was in third grade, when he thought that if he traveled to the moon, he’d be able to see. (By some unexplained miracle.) So, they’re still awkward, but they’re also more confident now.

Nico’s memorized the shape of Will’s face, the curve of his shoulders, the callouses on his hands. He’s starting to hear the more subtle tones of Will’s voice, notice the variations of his footsteps, his breaths.

“Shoot!” Will lets out a jumbled string of curses, rising from the piano bench. “You should be getting home.”

Nico stands, probably waking Mrs. O’Leary in the process. He’s not sure what the hurry is, but he recognizes Will’s tone as urgent. They must have forgotten the time. (It happened like that sometimes.) Will escorts him to Bianca’s car, kissing his cheek.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Will says. He squeezes Nico’s hand.

“I was about to text you,” Bianca says as they’re pulling away. “I wasn’t sure if you two were just having a grand ole time playing the piano or what.” She pokes his side.

Nico shrugs, trying to hide his blush. “We were just talking,” he says. “Nothing like that. We’re taking things slowly, remember?”

Bianca snorts. “Now you are. Since when were you the shy one?”

Nico leans his head against the window. He’d never been shy, and he’s still not shy. But Will makes him feel things he’s never really felt, and he’s still trying to figure out what’s okay and what isn’t. He’s still trying to figure out what he wants and maybe if Will wants that, too.

“You know I don’t care if you two only kiss once a month. I’m just glad you’re happy,” Bianca says. Nico smiles. He knows, and he is happy. He’d teased Bianca plenty about past boyfriends. This was just karma. “I wish you could see the way Will looks at you,” Bianca adds.

“How?” Nico asks. He’d never been too interested in how things looked. He didn’t think it was good to dwell on things that wouldn’t ever happen.

Bianca doesn’t answer for a minute, and Nico thinks she’s just teasing him again. Then, “It’s hard to describe. He just gets this lopsided smile, and his eyes soften. I guess like home,” Bianca says. “Like he’s found something worth living for.”

Nico thinks about that for a while. Will always had this sad undertone in his voice. It sometimes went away when he was talking to Nico. It seemed to almost completely disappear when he was playing the piano. Nico wonders if that was what Will was hiding, behind his quiet voice and behind Nico’s unseeing eyes.
Will almost felt like he was on top of the world. He and Nico hung out almost every day after school. They did homework, listened to music, played the piano. Sometimes they would go for walks or just lay in bed in silence. Will liked that, how they didn’t always need words.

There’s a crash down the hall, and Will jumps. Almost. There was still Will’s dad. Will sighs. With Nico still paying for lessons (he’d insisted), Will was making money, slow and steady. He’d thought about picking up another job, but he was still afraid that his dad would find out (and it’d mean less time with Nico).

Will jumps off of his bed, doing his best to make his expression blank.

“Yes, Dad?” Will asks. HIs father is standing in the kitchen, his shirt untucked, tie askew. His hands are empty of wallet or bottle, and this is probably what sets the alarms off. “What’s wrong?”

“Got fired,” his dad grunts. “Something about unprofessional behavior.” He wrinkles his entire face into something like a grimace. “Those idiots know nothing about professionalism. I’ve been with that company for at least twenty years.” He slams his fist down on the table.

Will feels dread stir in his stomach. Was his dad going to ask him to start working? Were they going to move? Was his dad going to be home all of the time now? Will dreaded the answer to the last question the most.

“How can I help?” Will hears himself asking.

“You?” His dad laughs. “Now you want to help, do you?” His dad kicks at the counters. The doors rattle, their hinges loose from his last rampage. “Well, you could pick up your slack and start being a man.” His dad throws open the door to the fridge.

Will steps back to give him some space. He’s not drunk yet, but he will be.

“I could start working,” Will offers. He wants to bite his tongue. He’d just gotten a dose of happiness for himself. (He supposes that it could only last so long.)

“You could, couldn’t you? Makes me wonder why you haven’t yet.” Will doesn’t bring up that his dad had gotten him fired from his last job. “Making me do all of the work around here. What would your mother think?”

Will feels the arrow hit him right in the heart. He hates it when his dad uses his mama against him. He knows they’re all lies, but sometimes (a lot of times), he thinks that maybe he didn’t really know her. That he only remembered the happy memories that he wanted to. That he used his mama as a defense against his dad, when it was really just his fault.

“I’ll get a job, Dad. I’ll pull my weight around here. I promise.” His dad isn’t listening anymore, both hands full, heading to the couch. Will doesn’t mention that the TV bill is probably half of their expenses. (Beer being the other half.)

Will sits on his bed, tired of scrolling through job offers. He considers texting Nico, but what would he say? It was embarrassing that they needed the money just to get by, that Will had to get a job to pick up after his dad. He didn’t want to make assumptions, but he guessed that Nico had never had to worry about stuff like that. He’d seen Nico’s house, Nico’s family.

Will walked or rode the bus. Nico’s sister had her own car. They had a two-story house, a dog, a large backyard. Will’s room was across from the only toilet in the house. He’d wanted a dog since he was three, and his backdoor opened to a jungle of weeds and mud. He knew none of this was Nico’s fault, wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was just the hand that he’d been dealt. But that didn’t make it any less embarrassing.

Finally, he just texts Nico that he’d gotten a job. If Nico asked, he’d say it was to save up for college. Never mind that Will would probably never be able to afford college. (Not without that mountain of student debt.) With that in mind, Will settles down to do his homework. He isn’t sure the point of it anymore. He could get almost any minimum wage job without a high school diploma. If he wasn’t going to college, what was the point of even caring about school? He’d probably end up working for his dad for the rest of his life.
Nico can tell something’s wrong with Will. It’s been over a week since they’ve hung out outside of school. Will’s at Nico’s house this time. (Something about Will’s dad, Nico understands.) They’re laying on Nico’s bed, their shoulders down to their legs touching. Mrs. O’Leary is sleeping on the floor as she does every time Will is over.

“Will?” Nico asks. They’ve sat in silence many times before, but this is different. Will feels so far away, and Nico isn’t sure how to reach out to him.

“I got a job,” Will says. Nico nods. That’s why they hadn’t hung out in a while. Nico wanted Will to be able to focus and get used to the job before feeling like he had to be a good boyfriend. “I got a job because my dad lost his job,” Will adds.

Nico fumbles around for Will’s hand. When Will’s quiet like this, it’s harder to find him. Will’s hand is cold, and Nico squeezes it. Nico wants to say something, but he’s not sure what the problem is. He knows Will worries about money more than he does, but he isn’t sure exactly why. Was it simply because he had less of it? Did money have some other meaning in Will’s family? Was it not even about the money? Was this about Will’s dad?
“I don’t understand,” Nico says eventually. He waits to hear Will’s sigh or his scoff, but it doesn’t come. Instead, he feels Will shift so that he’s facing Nico.

“And I hope you never do,” Will says quietly. He cups Nico’s face close to his, kissing his forehead. “It’s just that I had to get a job. Not because I wanted to make extra money or had plans but because I had to. I don’t get a say in it. I can’t just say no. I have to because I’m his son, and there’s no one else to do it for him.”

Nico frowns. “You shouldn’t get a job for him. Yes, the money is for both of you, but you’re not working for him. He’s your dad. He’s not your master.”

Now, Will does sigh, a soft, sad sound.

“It’s complicated,” Will says. Nico nods. That much he understands. He desperately wishes he could help, be able to say something right, but he can’t. He can only be there for Will.

“He’s not the best dad,” Will says. “I think he means well, but he hasn’t really been my dad for a while.” Nico wishes he could see. So he could tell if Will was crying or just swallowing the pain again. But he’s also glad he can’t see. Because he won’t ever have to see Will’s face crumple as the tears start falling down. He won’t ever have to see the angry red marks on Will’s skin that Bianca once told him about. (He’d cried that night. For Will.)

“Do you love him?” Nico asks. Will’s quiet for a minute or so. Then Nico feels him shrug. “It’s okay to not know. It’s okay to not be okay,” Nico says. (It was something his mama used to tell him when Nico got so upset about not being able to see, about not being able to participate and be treated like other people.)

“Do you want to go for a walk?” Will asks. Nico nods, smiling a little when Will gets his shoes for him. Will knows he can manage for himself, but he’s learned that Will’s love was expressed in tangible means. He hugged, he kissed. He held Nico’s hand and brushed his hair. He got his shoes for him, tying them in neat bows, even though he knew Nico could do it himself.

Summer is approaching, and Nico wishes he could just run. (He’d tried a few times, but he’d always been stopped by moving cars or unmoving trees. Or just plain tripping.) He lets Mrs. O’Leary and Will lead. Will hums some song that he’s been working on. He hasn’t told Nico the title (because Nico hasn’t asked).

“If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?” Nico asks, recalling an earlier game they’d played.

“Germany,” Will says, laughing. Nico smiles. The answer changed every time. “You?”

“The beach,” Nico says. “I’ve never been.” He can practically hear Will’s jaw drop. He’s expecting some outburst or laugh or something. Instead, Will’s still quiet.

“I’ve been. Twice,” Will says. “It was my mama’s favorite place in the whole world. She loved everything about it. The sand, the waves, the salt. Her favorite part was at night, when she could just walk along the beach with the moon so full in the sky.”

Nico could see it in his mind, could almost taste the salt with the way Will talked. “I think we would have gotten along well,” Nico says.

This time Will does laugh, soft and happy. “I think so, too. She’d have taken you to the beach in a heartbeat.” There’s a pause. “Let’s do it. Go to the beach.”

Nico turns to look at Will, stopping in the middle of the sidewalk. “Now?”

Will laughs again. “Sometime this summer, I guess. Now would be kind of unreasonable. And then your sister and mom wouldn’t be able to come either.”

Nico smiles. He’d love to go to the beach with Will and his family. “Really? You’d come with me?”

Will ruffles Nico’s hair. “Of course, Nico. I’d go anywhere with you.”
School is just a routine now. He has his schedule committed to memory. He knows the textbooks by heart. He’s even a week ahead in all of his classes. His days are routine. He gets up, goes to school, goes to work, does homework, cooks dinner, goes to bed. He hardly has time to practice the piano, hardly has any time for himself. (Which is kind of okay, Will thinks. Less time to hate himself.)

But, on days without work, he can see Nico. He loves being with Nico. With Nico, he doesn’t have to think about his dad, or work, or school. With Nico, he can just be Will, no expectations. But it’s also more than that. Nico helps Will feel just a little more like himself, the Will from before his mama died. With Nico, life feels less like something he has to do and more like something he wants to do.

Will smiles, looking at his phone. Nico has just texted him a picture of a dog wearing sunglasses. There’s a disclaimer, saying that if the picture wasn’t a dog, it was Bianca’s fault. Will texts back, confirming that it was a dog and that it was very cute.

Work is pretty boring, but at least the ever-changing customers keep things interesting. Will’s working in a doughnut shop now. He’s manning the cash register, which means that he has to smell doughnuts, but he’s not allowed to eat them. It’s harder than it sounds. The doughnuts smell heavenly, and they look so pretty. (He’s not allowed to have any until the shop closes.)

“Hello, welcome to Holy Cow! The only place to get cow-themed doughnuts.” (Will thought the theme was creative but kind of silly. It didn’t help that he had to wear a cow-spotted hat and apron.)

“Hey, Will!” It’s Jason and his girlfriend. “Long time, no see.” Will smiles. They ate lunch together now (along with Nico) when Jason wasn’t being called away for some student government thing or another.

“What can I get you?”

Jason hums as he looks over the doughnuts. His girlfriend (Piper?) rolls her eyes. “He acts like this is the biggest decision he’s ever had to make.” She laughs, poking Jason’s shoulder a few times. “How’re things going with Nico?”

Will blushes, and Piper smirks. “Good. Yeah, really well, I think.”

Piper smiles. “Have you two gone on a date yet?”

Will shrugs. “Kind of? Not like a date-date yet. But we’ve hung out a bunch outside of school.”

Piper rolls her eyes again. “Boys. Seriously. I asked Nico, and he said yes. And then I had to tell him that playing the piano and going on walks were not dates.” Will laughs. He’d kind of considered those dates, too. “I mean, they are, but they’re not official dates. Like going out. But it’s nice to see you two having fun. You two deserve it.”

Jason taps on the glass down at the other end. Will and Piper head down there to see which doughnut Jason’s picked out. “This one looks perfect,” Jason says. “See? I bet it has the perfect ratio of dough to icing.”

Will raises his eyebrows as Piper sighs. “I’m glad, honey,” she says. Will rings the doughnut up. “Well, take care, Will. Tell Nico we said hi.”

Will waves to them before slumping against the counter. He only had two more hours here. He took out some of his homework. (He wasn’t technically supposed to do it, but there wasn’t really anyone around to reprimand him. And it wasn’t like this was a popular doughnut place. Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts were so much better than here.

Will frowns as his phone lights up, signaling another text from Nico. Nico almost never texts him while he’s at work. (Being a good boyfriend, Nico had said.) Will has to try and stop himself from smiling when he sees that it’s a picture of Nico with a large beach hat on. ‘Beach time!’ it’s captioned.

Ever since bringing it up about a week ago, Nico and Will had been planning out a beach trip. Then Nico had gotten his mom and sister in on it. And then planning had been increased because there was actual money and feasible ideas going into the planning. Overall, Will was really excited to go to the beach. He felt a little bad about using Nico’s money, but Nico’s mom (Maria, she’d told him to call her) had insisted.

“You’re Nico’s boyfriend and a family friend. Nonsense,” she’d said. “You’ve got the rest of your life to worry about money if you want. Let me take care of this.” So Will had let her. He just hoped his dad would let him go.

He had yet to bring it up, but he didn’t want to until all of the details were planned out. His dad may be different from the man he’d been eight years ago, but he was still a man of routine. If there was any change to that routine, he needed a full itinerary to be on-board. Will had always respected this, so he wanted to make sure he had everything taken care of before he asked for permission. He hopes his dad says yes.
Nico wasn’t sure where they were going. Will had shown up at his house, a picnic basket and blanket in hand. “It’s not exactly a date,” Will had said. Nico had tried to take his hand, but they were full. So he’d settled for holding Will’s arm. He didn’t know how long they walked, but it couldn’t have been more than a mile or so. And then Will was helping Nico navigate the rocky hill they were climbing on.

“Where are we?” Nico asks.

Will laughs. “I completely forgot,” he breathes. “Nico, I want you to meet Mama.”

Nico’s breath catches. He’s so completely unprepared. He’s wearing the same clothes he’d worn to bed, and his hair is a mess. And he didn’t even brush his teeth.

“Will,” he whines. “You could have at least let me brush my hair or something.”

Will laughs. He helps Nico sit down. Mrs. O’Leary sits next to him, tail wagging. They don’t say anything for a while. Nico thinks Will is crying until he realizes that Will’s just setting up the picnic. Then they try to feed each other strawberries and sandwiches, though the food ends up on their clothes rather than in their mouths. (Will had even brought some treats for Mrs. O’Leary.)

“Can I talk to her?” Nico asks after they’re done eating.

“Yeah,” Will says. He turns Nico’s shoulders so that he’s facing Naomi Solace. He sets Nico’s hands carefully on top of the gravestone. Nico traces the letters carved into the stone, smiling.

“Hi,” he starts. He feels kind of silly, but this is important to him. It’s important to Will. “I’m Nico, but I suppose you probably already know that. Like, I’m dating Will, and we’ve kissed maybe thirty times.” He hears Will laugh. “And I wish we could have met sooner, but maybe now’s the perfect time. And we just didn’t know it sooner.” He pauses, wondering what else. He feels Will’s hand slip into his.

“Your son is amazing. He makes me smile and laugh, and he’s always teasing me about my hair sticking up even though I can’t see it. And he really loves you. And he really misses you. And I wish you were here to hold his hand and hug him, but I guess I can do that for you.” He hears Will sniffle. “I’m not sure what the proper etiquette is for this. Will didn’t tell me I was going to see you today. I’d have brought flowers and brushed my teeth. But from what he tells me, you wouldn’t have cared.”

“I’m right,” Will says. His voice is watery, and Nico squeezes his hand.

“I’m glad he brought me here today. It’s really nice meeting you. Maybe one day I can come back and tell you embarrassing stories about him.”
“Hey!” Will laughs. Nico feels Will’s arms wrap around him. “Don’t listen to him, Mama. He’s just trying to make you love him more.” Nico laughs as Will tickles him.

The laughter dies down after a bit, and then they’re just left in each other’s arms. Will’s got his head resting on Nico’s shoulder, Nico’s fingers running through Will’s hair.

“This wasn’t too weird of a date, right?” Will asks.

Nico smiles. “I’m happy you brought me here. It means a lot.” He pauses. “Thank you for trusting me.”

Will shifts, snuggling closer. “She really would have loved you. And I really do miss her. But I think sharing her with others makes it a little more bearable.”

Nico nods. That made sense. “Tell me about her.”

And Will does, his soft voice carrying through the early-summer air. Nico breathes in Will’s presence, holding him close. Will’s not fragile, but everyone deserves to know they’re loved. So Nico holds him close, and Will keeps talking until his voice goes hoarse.
School’s almost over. Spring break passed awhile ago. Prom had passed without any fanfare (that is, if you didn’t go. Will heard plenty of drama in the halls.) And now it was finals time. They were still a week away, but it was time to buckle down and study. Will wasn’t extremely worried about his grades. He was averaging an A in all of his classes, and he knew the material better than the back of his hand.

So he took advantage of this time to spend time with Nico. Even if they spent over half of it studying. They’d spend the hours that Will didn’t have to be at work curled up on Nico’s bed. Will would read off of the notes that Jason made for Nico to copy down on his Brailler. He’d read a little bit of it, and then Nico would copy it down. Once they’d gotten through that, they’d quiz each other.

This was probably the most fun Will had ever had studying before. And then, when they got tired, they’d retire to the piano to wind down. Nico was doing really well, able to name any note Will played. He’d mastered all of his major scales, and now Will was teaching him the minor ones. Those were a little trickier, but Nico was powering through.

“I never told you the real reason I wanted to learn,” Nico says after he runs through all of his scales. Will places his hand on Nico’s arm to show he’s listening. “I heard this song that Alexa played one day. And it was so pretty I wanted to be able to play it.”

Will smiles. That was so cute. Nico was so cute, honestly, especially the way he always stuck his tongue out when he was trying to learn a difficult part of music.

“What song?” Will asks. He’d been slowly rebuilding his music library since its destruction. He hoped he had whatever song Nico had heard.

“Pachelbel’s Canon in D.”

“If you wanted to learn, I have it,” Will says. Nico grins, his eyebrows jumping up.

“Really? Please! It sounds so pretty but also so hard. And I wasn’t sure.”

Will laughs, smiling. (He wished Nico could see him smile. HIs mama had always told him his smile was one of his best features.) “It’ll be tricky, but I’m sure we can work it out.” Nico grabs his arm, smiling so big.

“Yes, yes! I’m so excited. I’m going to listen to it on repeat now, trying to memorize it. I’m going to drive Bianca and Mama crazy. But it won’t matter. Because soon they won’t be able to tell if it’s me or Alexa.”

Will rolls his eyes. Nico was definitely adorable. Especially when he was excited. He’s about to kiss Nico when Bianca appears in the doorway. (He’s not ashamed. But it’s kind of awkward to kiss your boyfriend in front of your boyfriend’s older sister.)

“Hey, do you mind if I drop you off a little early? I’ve got to meet some people for a group project.”

Nico pouts, huffing in Bianca’s direction. Then he brightens. “I call shotgun!”

Will laughs. Leave it to his boyfriend to not even want to sit next to him. “Nico, you need shoes!”

“No, I don’t. Shoes are for the weak.” Nico flexes, though he’d never been one to work out.

“Yeah, yeah,” Bianca says. “Hurry up, lovebirds. At least if Nico is sitting in the front, there won’t be any making out in the backseat.” Both boys flush bright red.

They head out to the car, all of them kind of singing to the radio. None of them can really sing unless they’re trying to, and there’s no one to impress. They stop outside of Will’s house, and Will’s blood freezes. HIs dad’s car is parked in the driveway like usual, now that he’s taken to living on the couch. But it’s the fact that his dad isn’t on the couch that makes him paralyzed.

“Will, do you want to come with us?” Bianca asks. She’s got her eyes fixed on Will’s dad, her hands on Nico’s. Will shakes his head. It’s just his dad. He shouldn’t be afraid of his dad. He feels ashamed.

“It’s okay. Bye, Nico. Thanks, Bianca.” He kisses Nico’s shoulder before getting out. He waits to hear Bianca pull out, but she doesn’t.

“So this who you’ve been hanging out with? Instead of working?” his dad asks. “Which one of them is your boyfriend? Didn’t realize you were a fairy.” His words cut, and Will’s paralyzed once again. “Answer me!” His hand comes stinging across Will’s face. He doesn’t have time to react. He just stumbles, falls.


Will’s vision is swimming, but he thinks he hears the car door open. It takes him longer to realize that it’s Nico getting out, not his dad leaving. He tries to stand, but he’s lost his balance somehow.

“Nico, get back in the car!” Now Bianca’s getting out, trying to drag her brother (and Mrs. O’Leary) back into the car. “He’s okay, Nico. He’s fine.” She looks at Will, pleading.

“I’m fine, Nico. It’s okay. I just tripped.” He can tell Nico doesn’t quite believe it, and he isn’t sure he believes it either. His voice wobbles, and he’s sure he’s bruising somewhere. “I’m okay. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

There’s no response, just the car door shutting, another door shutting. He hears the doors lock, the car taking off. He feels his dad kick his legs. He blinks. His dad is hovering over him, disgust written all over his face.

“Should have left you with your mother,” he says. “I didn’t raise no fairy.” Then he’s heading back into the house to watch more TV and drink himself into the next day. Will just lays down on the driveway and tries not to cry.
Nico’s been trying to text Will for the past three days. He’s turned his phone’s volume all the way up to make sure he doesn’t miss anything. He even has Bianca check just to make sure he’s not missing anything. He’s not sure how to feel anymore. Should he be worried? Scared? Upset?

He’s not even sure what happened. He’d just heard that sickening slap, the choked sound Will had made, something hitting the ground. Then he’d gotten out of the car. He had to make sure Will was alright. He could hear Will’s dad yelling at him, spitting at him. He wasn’t sure where Will was. He’d gone silent again. And then Will had spoken, but he’d been far from okay. But maybe he wanted to be left alone, so Nico let Bianca take him back home. Where he’d cried himself to sleep before trying to text and call Will all night.

And now it was Saturday, and he hadn’t heard from Will at all. He hadn’t heard him at school. Both Bianca and Jason said they hadn’t seen him either.

“Do you think he’s okay?” Nico asks. He’s been sitting at his keyboard for over an hour, trying to play. But his fingers keep stumbling, like he can’t even feel right. He doesn’t know why he’s so upset. It wasn’t him who had a horrible father. It wasn’t him who had gotten slapped, gotten yelled at. It wasn’t even his fault. Was it because he didn’t know where Will was? Was it because he thought that maybe Will was ignoring him?

“He’s okay, Nico,” his mama says. She runs her fingers through his hair like she used to do when he was young. “He just needs some to recover. He’ll text you when he’s ready. And you’ll be there for him.” Nico nods. He’d be ready.

He’d been doing research, about depression, about abusive relationships, about anxiety, about grief. He didn’t want to be fumbling around anymore. He wanted to be able to help, to really be there for Will, someone Will could depend on and trust.

“He may not be used to having friends or someone he can turn to.” Nico nods. He supposes that’s true. He doesn’t know what he’d have done if he were in that situation.

“What if he never texts back?” Nico asks. The thought scares him. First: he’s worried that Will’s not okay. (Though, he’s not sure Will was ever okay. Not since he’s known him.) Second: he’s worried that Will will try to ignore him.

“Maybe he’s broken his phone,” his mama says. Nico sighs. His fingers spasm, and he plays a G. His mama moves to sit next to him. “Play for me,” she says. “Show me what you’ve learned.”

So Nico does. He plays all of the scales he knows. He plays Mary Had a Little Lamb. He plays Heart and Soul, even though Will’s not there to play the duet and his mama doesn’t know it. He plays other songs that Will had taught him, right up to the part that he hasn’t learned yet. And then he starts all over again. Because he’s starting to understand why Will plays.

It wasn’t about the skill or the actual song. It was about the music, the silence, the emotion. It was communication without words, a way to reach into someone’s soul, even if they were far away. Will played for his mother. Nico played for himself and for Will. He played for them.

He doesn’t hear from Will until Sunday afternoon. He’s heading out to walk Mrs. O’Leary when he runs into someone.

“We’re going to the beach together,” is the first thing Will says. “We’re going, and I don’t care if my dad tries to stop us.”

Nico nods. He knows Will still cares, knows it still hurts. He hears Will step back, letting him walk down the steps. “Do you want to join us for a walk?” Nico asks.

“I have to go to work,” Will says. Nico nods again. He wants to ask Will if he’s okay, if he wants to talk. But he doesn’t. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” Will adds. Then he kisses Nico’s cheek. Nico smiles. Will may not be okay right now, but he’ll be okay.
It’s the first day of summer break, and Will’s laying in Nico’s backyard. They’ve got blankets spread out beneath them, and they’re wearing matching sunglasses. Mrs. O’Leary even has a pair, though she refuses to wear them. Nico’s brought his Alexa outside with them, and she’s playing one of Nico’s playlists.

They’re laying in silence, as neither one of them is quite sure what to say. After the incident with Will’s dad, Will had decided that Nico deserved to hear the gist of what life with Will’s dad was like. He’d told him about his mama dying, his dad picking up the nearest bottle instead of him, his dad continuing to choose the bottle over him. Will doesn’t get into the details, not sure if Nico wants to hear them or if he wants to share them. (Some things he isn’t ready to talk about yet.)

After Will had finished talking, Nico had crawled into Will’s lap, cupping Will’s face. He’d looked right into Will’s eyes and had told him it’d be okay. He’d said that he was still learning about this stuff (which had almost made Will cry on the spot because Nico had actually researched this stuff), that even though he may not completely understand, he wanted to be there for Will. He wanted to be someone Will could talk to, even when he was scared or not sure.

“No one’s perfect,” Nico had said, “but I think we can navigate this together.” It was nice because he hadn’t promised that everything would be okay, that he’d help Will fix things, didn’t try to make Will’s dad the bad guy. He’d simply listened.

“I want you to know that I’m not ashamed of you,” Will says. He moves to take Nico’s hand. “That wasn’t why I ignored you those days. I just needed to clear my mind, and I wasn’t sure if you needed that space, too.”

Nico nods, chewing on his lip. “I think I did, even though I didn’t realize it. Because I think I would have overreacted if we’d talked sooner.” Will hums. Will had thought of breaking up with Nico after that. He didn’t want Nico to be exposed to his dad, didn’t want his dad to hurt Nico. He also hadn’t wanted to feel like a burden on Nico, like he was only dating Nico because Nico could make him feel better about himself. (Which wasn’t true at all.)

“I still missed you, though,” Nico adds. “I wished you’d have at least told me that you needed space. Then I wouldn’t have worried so much.”

“Sometimes I forget that there are other people,” Will says. “Because I get so caught up in my head. And sometimes it’s hard to get out and remember that there’s a whole world out there.” He stares up at the clouds, the blue sky, the trees. “Sometimes, it’s just hard to know if I’m pushing people away because I need space or because I’m afraid that they’re going to leave me instead.”

Nico squeezes Will’s hand. “I think I understand.” There’s a pause. “But I think that it’s important that we communicate. I can give you space if you need it, but I don’t want you to think that I’m doing it because you’re being a burden. You’re never a burden, Will. Needing help isn’t being needy; it’s being human.”

Will wonders how Nico had gotten so wise. Yeah, he knew there was a lot of stuff out there on the internet, but that didn’t account for how Nico could choose his words so carefully as to know which ones Will needed to hear and which ones would upset him.

“Like you needing help to see,” Will says. After Will had come out with his story about his dad, Nico had told him the rather anticlimactic reason for his blindness. (Genes.)
Nico hums. “I used to be really self-conscious about it. People would just bump into me or I’d trip on things, and I thought it was my fault. But sometimes people just aren’t nice. And so I got Mrs. O’Leary, and I started thinking how cool it was that I was the only kid who was allowed to have a dog at school.” Will smiles.

“But the biggest thing I learned was that I’m not my blindness. Bianca told me that. I think she ripped it off of a movie or something. I’m Nico, and I happen to be blind.” He pauses, turning to face Will. “And you’re Will, and you happen to have a dad who isn’t really a dad. He’s not your story, and he isn’t you.”

Will laughs. Because it’s crazy that out of everyone he could have run Into that day on the street, it had to be Nico. And out of everyone who could have seen him drop sheet music all over the hallway, it had to be Jason. Sometimes life was the chance of one in a million. Sometimes it was hard luck (the chance that Will’s dad became a drunk), and sometimes it was miraculous (the chance that Will had found Nico).

“Thanks,” Will says softly. He kisses Nico’s cheeks before moving down to tickle Nico’s stomach. Will loved Nico’s laugh, especially when he didn’t have to hold back, and this was one of those times. “Enough serious talk. Did you ever decide on your bathing suit?”

“I’ve been told that I have a blue bathing suit with no ridiculous patterns on it waiting for me in my room. If that’s not the case, I guess I won’t know any different.”
Will laughs. Nico had insisted that his swim trunks be blue, though no one was really sure why. He’d also insisted that he has no patterns after Will had mentioned that his own pair had tiny seahorses on them. Will was kind of bummed that Nico insisted on being so plain. He thought that Nico would look amazing in swim trunks with tiny seahorses on them.

“As that’s the case, I won’t tell you until we’re there,” Will says.

Nico looks shocked. “I cannot believe this betrayal. I knew Bianca roped you into her scheming. I swear, those shorts better be blue, and they’d better be plain. I don’t want to look like an idiot.” Will laughs again. Nico’s sitting up, waving his hands around as he describes exactly how he wants his shorts to look.

“Fine, fine. You want to go and check right now?”

Nico huffs. “Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you, Solace. I’m watching you!” Will rolls his eyes. “I can see into your soul,” Nico teases.

They race upstairs, Nico winning because Mrs. O’Leary got in Will’s way. The shorts are laying on Nico’s desk. Nico feels around his bed for a minute before heading over to his desk. He picks up his shorts, holding them to his waist.

“So?” he asks.

“Hmm. It’s hard to tell if they’re blue with all of the pink seashells on them,” Will says. Nico’s smile twitched. “But they do look rather nice on you.”

“Don’t lie to me, Solace. I know where you sleep.”

“Yeah, yeah. In a bed. Just like you, Nico.” Nico huffs. “Your blue swim trunks are absolutely perfect, Nico,” Will says. Nico thinks for a moment before smiling.

“Thank you. Do you want some ice cream? Mama made some.”
The lazy dog days of summer pass by quickly. Nico stays up as late as he wants, either texting Will or reading or playing on his keyboard. (There are perks to not having to rely on lights to do things, though he’s not allowed to annoy those who do rely on lights.) Will works five to six days a week, so Nico sees him on an odd schedule. Some days, Will works late enough that Nico doesn’t see him at all.

Piano lessons become even more informal. Will’s started teaching Nico to play Canon in D. It’s as hard as Nico thought it’d be, but he can’t exactly describe the feeling of being able to play the first eight chords. He’d almost cried the first time he did it without messing up.

Bianca was packing for college, and Nico was sure he’d miss her. The house would be so quiet without her constant movement and flurry of activity. Nico could tell their mama would also be sad to see her go. But Nico was proud of her. She’d worked so hard to get into the school she’d wanted, and now she was going to follow her dream. Nico couldn’t be happier.

But they still had their beach trip.

The first day happened to be on one of Will’s quiet days. He’d simply squeezed Nico’s hand as a way of hello before packing his stuff in the car and sliding in next to Nico. He didn’t say much the way down to the beach, but every now and then he’d touch Nico’s hand to let him know he was okay. (It was their system. Still in progress, but working well so far.)

The trip there was uneventful. Traffic was good, and they only had to stop for lunch and one bathroom break. Will had fallen asleep on Nico’s shoulder, and though Nico was sure Will would have a crick in his neck when he woke up, he wasn’t about to disturb Will’s sleep. (He could feel Will’s eyelashes against his collarbones, the soft snores comforting.)

They spend the first day at the beach just hanging around the house. It’s a two bedroom, one bathroom place with a cute kitchen and cozy common space. Nico and Will get the room with the king-sized bed because of Mrs. O’Leary. At first, Nico thinks it would be awkward to share a bed with Will. He’s never shared a bed with anyone before, and he and Will have only ever cuddled. But then Will shifts in his sleep, his nose pressing into Nico’s collarbone, arms snuggling Nico closer, and Nico throws that awkwardness out the window.

The second day is better. Nico puts on his blue swim trunks and holds Will’s hand as they brave the surf. Nico isn’t sure what to expect, but the water is kind of cold. The sand is soft (and hot) beneath his feet, and he can sometimes feel shells or seaweed touch him. He’s determined not to let it surprise him anymore. The first time he’d felt something, Will had laughed so loud (after checking Nico over to make sure he wasn’t hurt).

“I told you I’ve never been before!” Nico whines. It’s not his fault that he didn’t know things could touch his feet in the water.

“But things live in the ocean,” Will says. “Like fish and stuff. Don’t worry, sweetheart. I’ll protect you.” (Nico definitely does not blush at the pet name.)

Mrs. O’Leary seems to like the beach a lot. Nico lets Bianca take her while Will holds his hand. They go to where the water is up to Nico’s knees. He can feel the power in the waves as he sprays him, can taste the salt, the sand. One of the waves almost knocks him over, but Will catches him.

“Falling for me?” Will quips. Nico sticks out his tongue, but he ends up getting a mouthful of saltwater. Will laughs while Nico spits in the ocean. When they head back to the sandy part, Will places seashells in Nico’s hands until Nico finds the perfect ones. There’s sand sticking to almost every part of Nico’s body, but he doesn’t mind too much. It’s just part of the experience.

“There’s sand in my bread,” Will says. “It’s a sand-wich.”

Nico rolls his eyes. He’s a little ticked off that the sand has made it into his food, but he supposes he can live. Just another joy of being at the beach. They’re back in the house after their morning adventures. His mama made them sandwiches, and they’re on the front porch, eating them. Nico can feel the sun on him, and he wonders if he’ll have to apply another round of sunscreen.

“Are the sunsets prettier here, too?” Nico asks. Will had woken up this morning, wanting to see the sunrise. They’d watched the sunrise together, Will trying to explain how it looked. (Nico was pretty sure a sunrise would forever remain a mystery to him, but he appreciated Will’s attempt.)

“I think so,” Will says. “Prettier than back home, at least.” Nico nods. He doesn’t understand sunrises and sunsets - only in the scientific sense, which isn’t very interesting to him.

They finish up their sandwiches. “C’mon. There’s a keyboard in the common room.” Nico lets Will lead him. He’s become good at it, guiding Nico around obstacles with ease. (Nico can’t tell if Mrs. O’Leary is enjoying the vacation or not.) “It’s a little broken, but broken pianos can still play, right?”

Nico shrugs. He supposes so. He winces a little at the first note. It’s kind of out of tune, and the sound is all wrong, but it plays. He hears Will chuckle as he plays an upbeat melody. Then Will lets Nico play as he messes around with the settings on it. Only four of the settings actually work, and after a while, they all start to sound the same.

“Broken pianos still play,” Nico says, “but this one is kind of beyond broken.” Will laughs at that.

Then they go and take a nap, mid-day. Because hanging out at the beach can be hard work. (After they shower, of course. Because Nico will personally wash the sheets every morning if he has to sleep in sand.)

Nico snuggles close to Will, smiling when he can almost hear Will’s heartbeat against his ear. He hears Will fall asleep before him, and he takes his time, just tracing Will’s fingers, his hand. Nico’s goal is to memorize Will. (He’s almost there.)

But Will’s soft snores and the soothing crash of the waves outside are gently pulling Nico into sleep.
Will thinks he’s dreaming. Nico’s rolled over on top of him, arms flung haphazardly across Will’s chest. HIs legs are in two opposite directions, and Mrs. O’Leary has moved to Will’s side for refuge. Nico hums in his sleep, something Will had learned just two days ago. It was off-key, and there wasn’t any particular melody. But it was cute. Will can’t decide if he should pee or just hold it and spend more time with Nico.

If Will closes his eyes, he can almost imagine that he’s here with his mom. The seagulls are still scavenging for food. The waves are still going about their own business. The beach feels so unchanged since he was here last. He carefully untangles himself from Nico’s grasp, heading to the bathroom.

He splashes water on his face, staring at himself in the mirror. He has his mama’s smile, her freckles, her complexion. It was funny how little of his dad he carried around. Still, it was there if one looked. It was in the way Will held himself, the hand gestures he had, the scars on his body. (Will was sure Nico knew about the cuts on his wrist. He could tell the way Nico’s fingers brushed over the skin there.)

Will heads out onto the porch. Mornings on the beach were his favorite. He loved seeing the world bathed in that nostalgic yellow, to see the beach so empty and calm. To him, it felt like a whole other world. The beach had no expectations, no itinerary. It just welcomed.

Will hears footsteps, tensing for a moment before he remembers that he’s not at home. (His dad had been less than thrilled to hear that Will was going to the beach with his boyfriend and that he had no say in the matter.) He expects to see Nico, but it’s Maria.

“Beautiful morning,” she says. She smiles at him, handing him a mug of tea. He wonders if she knew he was up or if she also loved this time. “Penny for your thoughts?” she asks.

Will shrugs, sipping the hot beverage. “I don’t know,” Will says.

Maria smiles at him. “It’s okay not to know.” She pauses, turning to look out at the waves. “No thinking. Just feeling.”

Will closes his eyes, letting the waves envelop him in memories. He remembers holding his mama’s hand as they walked down the beach. She’d pick up seashells, naming each of them. Once, they’d found a jellyfish, stranded. Will had been scared to touch it, but his mama had somehow helped it back into the water. He remembers walking in town, marveling at all of the bright colors. His hair had stuck to his cheeks, and he’d had sand everywhere. But he hadn’t cared. His mama laughs at something.

Will can’t remember where his dad was. Was he even there? Had he been on another business trip?

“I don’t know,” Will says again. He opens his eyes. Maria is sitting on the small porch swing beside him. She places her hand on top of his, something his mama used to do.

“I’m really happy you came with us,” she says. “I know you know Nico enjoys having you here, but Bianca and I do also.” Will nods.

“I can’t seem to hate him,” Will whispers. His mind is still caught up in those memories of the beach. He’s still trying to figure out where his dad was. “I feel like I should.” He’s afraid to look at Maria, afraid of what he’ll look like. He’s not used to being so open, but it hurts shutting it inside.

“He’s your father,” Maria says. “I remember when my husband left. I was so angry at him. I yelled and screamed and threw things. He was the one I fell in love with, the one I had given my whole life to. But then he was just gone. And I still love him. Some days it hurts, and some days, I smile. Because I remember all of the good things.”

“You’re not supposed to love or hate someone. You just do, Will. The heart is fragile because it’s open to so many emotions, and sometimes we can only protect it so much. It’s okay to still love him, and it’s okay to be angry at him. What you can’t do is give in to him. You can’t let him control you. That isn’t love. That’s fear,” Maria says.

Will nods. “And what about me?” Will asks. “What if I hate myself sometimes?”

Maria gives him a soft smile, squeezing his hand. “Do you love yourself the other times?” Will shrugs. “You’re just human, Will. We’re far from perfect. We have messy feelings, messy relationships, messy lives. But life would be pretty boring if it wasn’t.”

“Would be easier,” Will mumbles.

Maria chuckles. “True but not as fun.” She waits until he turns to look at her. “Sometimes love is tricky, but it’s the most powerful thing out there. You give out so much love, Will. But, I think that you forget that you deserve just as much back.”

Will sniffles. He misses his mama so much, but he thinks that, maybe, she’s here right now.

“I’m not saying it’s easy to forgive and let go, to just love yourself. But don’t forget that you deserve love and are capable of being loved.” She squeezes his hand again, and he holds on for a moment or two longer before relaxing. He feels tired all of a sudden.

“I’m going to make some breakfast. Any requests?”

Will’s about to shake his head, but then he asks, “Blueberry pancakes?”

After breakfast, they head down to the boardwalk. Will’s not sure exactly what’s different, but he feels lighter, freer. His smile comes easier to him, and even Nico seems to notice.

“What was in those pancakes, Mama?” Nico asks, laughing. He’s skipping along, he and Will’s arms swinging between them.

“The usual,” Maria says. She winks at Will. “Pancake mix, blueberries, and love.”

Will’s not sure if Nico’s even paying attention anymore. He’s darting forward, pulling Will along with him. “Do you hear that? What’s that?” Nico’s asking.

Will laughs. “Saxophone. Sometimes they have street performers.” Nico’s mouth forms a tiny O, and Will just has to snap a picture. (He already has so many photos of Nico, and Nico and him, and Nico and Bianca and him.) Nico tugs Will towards the saxophone, and Mrs. O’Leary and Will do their best to keep Nico from bowling people over.

They stop just in front of the saxophone player. Nico stills, his hand dropping from Will’s. “What’s he playing?” Nico tries to whisper.

“Careless Whisper,” Will says. He’s glancing at the sheet music, but Nico doesn’t need to know that. “Like jazz?”

Nico hums, nodding. “He listens to it all the time,” Bianca says. She tugs on Nico’s arm. “Come on. There’s this really cool shop down there I want to look at.”

Nico grumbles something about looking at shops, but he lets them lead him along. Will feels a little bad. There is really only so much Nico can do. He can’t look at the art, the jewelry, the souvenirs. There are too many people for them to just pretend they’re going for a walk. There’s a Ferris wheel, but Will doesn’t think Nico enjoys heights too much.

They end up waiting in line for a table while Maria and Bianca finish shopping. Will’s gotten his souvenir: a shell necklace. He and Nico got matching ones, like the sappy couple they were. They get a table outside, and it’s not too crowded as it’s still early.
“Do you like it here?” Nico asks.

“Yeah. You?”

Nico smiles. “I love it. I wish I could live here.” Will laughs. He could imagine Nico living here, maybe being a street performer on the weekends or evenings. “It’s like a warm hug. A warm, sandy, salty hug.” Will rolls his eyes, planting a kiss on Nico’s cheek. Nico tries to kiss him back, but he ends up catching Will’s shoulder.

Bianca and Maria join them shortly, and Nico tries seafood for the first time in his life. He claims that he was waiting for this moment to try it, even though Bianca claims it’s because he hated how squishy it felt. But Nico ends up loving shrimp, cleaning his plate. Will has yet to understand how Nico can fit so much food into such a small body. (Not that Nico’s small. But he’s smaller than Will.)

They head back after lunch, everyone tired of walking and wearing sunscreen. Nico brought Alexa with him, so they listen to some music while just relaxing. Maria and Bianca start a puzzle, and Nico tries to get Will to join them.

“No, I just want to cuddle with you,” Will mumbles. He’s feeling extra needy today, needing Nico’s touch, his kisses. Nico laughs, settling Will in his arms. Will knows how they look, like that couple who can’t seem to get enough of each other, practically tangled together. Bianca makes kissing noises at them, and Nico sticks out his tongue.

“Get a room,” she laughs.

“We have a room,” Nico says. “You’re just in it.” Will kisses him until he’s quiet. (He’s clearly moved past the point of being embarrassed in front of Nico’s family.) They cuddle on the couch until Nico’s leg falls asleep. Then they try a new position, Will’s head resting in Nico’s lap. Nico’s fingers pull through Will’s hair, his other hand tracing down Will’s back. Will isn’t sure why he likes this so much, but it keeps him grounded.

“I love you,” Will whispers. He’s always been afraid to say it, even to his mama. But he realizes it’s something that needs to be said. Nico needs to hear it, needs to know how much Will cares for him.

He feels Nico lean down, kiss his cheek. Will turns so that he’s facing Nico. “I love you, Will.” He pokes Will’s nose, laughing. “My handsome, sappy boyfriend.”

Will darts up, kissing Nico’s mouth, surprising him. He hears a groan behind him, and he remembers that they’re not alone. He glances behind him, turning red when he sees Maria smiling at him. Bianca’s rolling her eyes.

“We should cook dinner tonight,” Nico says. “I can cook.” Will’s surprised to just be hearing this, but he figures Nico is a man of many talents. It also helps that neither Maria or Bianca protest.

“Alright, chefs. Dinner is in your hands.”

They end up making spaghetti, Nico being the bossy chef, while Will had to run around the kitchen trying to find everything. Nico did stir the sauce and the spaghetti, but Will still had to cut everything up and put it in the pots. He does have to hand it to Nico, though. The spaghetti is heavenly, and he may have to steal the recipe for later use.
Nico’s awake. He’s tempted to ask Alexa what time it is, but he doesn’t want to wake Will. He’s warm and cozy, the blanket laying over him perfectly. He pauses, turning to feel Will’s side of the bed. Will was always such a blanket hog. It was empty. Nico waits for a moment, listening. He hadn’t quite gotten used to the sounds of this house yet, but he could get around fairly okay. When he doesn’t hear anyone in the bathroom, he pulls the blanket around his shoulders. Mrs. O’Leary jumps to his side.

He holds up his finger to ask her to be quiet before slipping out of the room. The house is quiet, just the lapping of waves and some crickets. He’s in the common room now. Still no Will. He considers calling for him, but he doesn’t want to disturb any of the peace. If Will were out of bed, there had to be a reason.

“Nico?” He startles, his mind coming back to him. “Sweetheart, what’re you doing out of bed?”

Nico orients himself. “Looking for you,” he whispers. He smiles when he feels Will hug him, his body warm against Nico’s. He feels Will lead him out to the porch, sitting him on the porch swing. He wants to ask what Will was doing out here, but he doesn’t. Though Will isn’t talking, he’s not quiet. He seems to be buzzing with some kind of energy, something alive. He feels Will sit down on the swing beside him, hears something gently drag across the floor.

There’s more silence, and Nico almost falls asleep. Then he hears Will’s voice, so quiet in the night.

“Hi, Mama. Remember when we came here?” There’s no response, but maybe there is. The night feels charged, like there’s electricity or magic in the air. And then Will starts playing that clunky keyboard. And it’s funny how the notes seem to blend into the night so effortlessly.

Nico thinks he recognizes the song, but it doesn’t matter. Because he’s sure Will’s mom does. So he just sits quietly beside Will as he plays. The music seems to play on even as Will hits that last note, and the world seems to hold its breath.

It’s just the waves and the piano and Will. Nico doesn’t think he could ask for more. And it’s perfect.

Chapter Text

It’s summer now, the leaves turning a brilliant green and the flowers blooming (at least according to Bianca). Will’s holding his hand as they walk down the street. It’s one of Will’s spare days off, and he’s spending the whole day with Nico. He says it’s to make up for all of the dates that have been postponed due to his work schedule and his dad, but Nico doesn’t care.

He’s missed the way that Will’s hand feels in his, the way that Will understands how to communicate with him. With Will, he feels like a real person, not like a blind person. Just a person. He holds Will’s hand, Mrs. O’Leary on his other side. He doesn’t know where they’re going. Just that Will says it’s a surprise. He’s tried to see if Will was wearing anything special or if he was holding anything, but Bianca had accused him of groping Will in their living room.
So he had to settle for the surprise.

“Can I at least have a hint?” Nico asks. “I mean, it’s not like I can see where we’re going.”

Will laughs. “Well, that’s the point. I’ve blindfolded you.” Nico rolls his eyes. Yes, instead of his usual sunglasses, he’s got on a sleeping mask. He supposes he probably looks stupid, but he doesn’t care. “We’re almost there, anyway. No peeking.”

Nico giggles. He feels grass brush his ankles, and he hears talking. There are other people around. He feels Mrs. O’Leary moving closer to him, hugging his legs are Will navigates them. Nico wonders if Mrs. O’Leary can guess where they’re going.

“Okay, just stand right there,” Will says. Then he’s releasing Nico’s hand. Will keeps talking as he does whatever he’s doing. Nico can hear him getting things out, arranging things. He hears Will curse under his breath, and he stifles a giggle. Mrs. O’Leary nudges him as some people walk by.

“What time is it?” Nico asks.

“Time for a surprise,” Will says. He’s right in front of Nico now. “Okay, so just over here. Now, sit please.” Nico does as he’s told, smiling when he feels a soft blanket beneath him.

“Is this a picnic?” Nico asks, smiling.

“Not just any picnic, but that’s for later.” Nico nods, feeling Will pull off his sleep mask. He closes his eyes, feeling the fabric brush over his face. He keeps his eyes closed as he searches for where he’s put his sunglasses. “Are you going to open your eyes?” Will asks.

“I can’t see either way, Will,” Nico says.
“I know, but it’s just weird, I guess.” Nico feels his sunglasses being placed in his hands. “It’s okay if you don’t want to,” Will adds.

“Did you want to see my eyes?” Nico asks slowly. He usually wears his sunglasses whenever he can. He’s gotten comments before on his eyes. How they’re ‘weird’ because they’re unfocused and lazy. They don’t track things, and if Nico doesn’t focus, one of them kind of wanders off to do its own thing.

“I do,” Will says, “but it’s okay if you don’t want to show me.” Will sounds like he’s frowning, so Nico reaches out to take his hands.

“I’m just not ready for that yet,” Nico says.”

“Okay.” There’s a pause. “Well, can I interest you in some sandwiches or fruit while we wait for the second part of the surprise?”

Nico grins. He’s not sure how many other people are around them, but it’s not like he really cares. He’s got Will and Mrs. O’Leary and a picnic. There’s a slight breeze, so the day isn’t too hot yet. Will feeds him strawberries and sandwiches. Nico can feed himself, but he enjoys it when Will feeds him, likes the feeling of Will’s fingers brushing his lips, the intimacy of it all. And he also feeds Will, Will’s lips softly caressing Nico’s fingers.

It’s like kissing, but it’s completely different.

They’ve been eating for a few minutes when there’s the sound of feedback from a mic and then there’s this guy talking. Nico can’t help the smile forming on his face as the guy announces that they’re all at the sixth annual Mozart in the park.

“It’s not all Mozart,” Will says softly. “He’s just pretty well known and all. But they also do modern classical and arrangements and whatever, really.”

Nico nods, still excited. Will’s taken him to a live concert. He’s always secretly dreamed of going to a live concert, but he was always kind of embarrassed about it. He closes his eyes as the music starts to play. He always waits for everyone else to start clapping before he does. Since he can’t see the conductor, it’s a little embarrassing to be clapping during a moment of silence.

He leans into Will’s side, relaxing completely when Will’s arm folds around him. Will smells like summer, like the honeysuckle and a little like sweat. Nico hopes he smells at least as good. He doesn’t know how many songs they play or how long they’re sitting there.

During Moonlight Sonata, Nico can hear Will sniffling. He hugs Will tighter. There are songs Nico recognizes and songs he has to get Will to read off from the bulletin he’s got. He gets Will to tell him how many of each instrument is on stage, to describe what’s happening. He likes hearing Will’s voice, likes hearing how Will describes things for him.

“String instruments, so violin, bass, cello. There’re two flutes. Some clarinets. There’s a tuba. A lot of percussion stuff. I don’t know all of the names. There’s a grand piano in the center.” Will goes on to describe the gazebo, the outfits, the people around them. His voice is low and smooth, just heard over the music.

Then the music ends, and it’s just the soft murmur of people packing up their stuff and leaving. Nico hears Will do the same after kissing Nico’s cheek. Then he’s taking Nico’s hand. Nico expects them to be headed back home. He thinks it’s about two or three in the afternoon.

“I think my favorite was that ‘Rhapsody in Blue’,” Nico says. Will hums. “I’ve always liked jazz.”

“Do you want to play the piano?” Will asks. Nico turns to face him. “I’m gonna ask if we can play the piano.” Nico opens his mouth to protest, but he remembers how Will described the piano. He wants to play it, at least touch it. It sounded so amazing, notes so crisp and clear.

Nico hears Will talking to someone, a man. At first, the man seems hesitant. Then Will plays a few bars. Nico smiles as he hears ‘River Flows in You’ pour from the grand piano. It feels like it absolutely surrounds him, vibrating against his heart.

“Just don’t let the dog onto the bench,” the man says. “We’ll pack up the piano last.” Nico doubts that that is the best way to pack, but he doesn’t care. Will guides him to the bench, moving it so Nico can sit properly. Nico walks his fingers down the keys, finding where he wants to be.

“What should I play?” he asks.

“Whatever you want,” Will says. Nico smiles. He takes a deep breath. His fingers shake a little, just because he’s never played for the world to hear. When he plays at home, he usually keeps the volume down or plugs in his headphones. But now there were no boundaries.

He starts playing, letting the music wash over him. He can feel Will smiling. They trade off, each playing whatever they want, anything from Mary Had a Little Lamb to Canon in D. Nico thinks his heart is going to explode with this feeling of amazement. He never knew a piano could sound like this. (Sure, he knew that professionals played these things all the time, but recordings were so different from live performances. And listening to them was so different from actually producing the music.)

There’s a spattering of applause that jerks Nico from his reverie. He feels himself blush, but he’s also proud of himself.

“Alright, boys,” comes a voice. “Sorry to say this, but we need that piano.”

“Maybe you two can come back and play for us next time.”

“Thank you,” Will calls. Then he’s leading Nico down the stairs. He presses a kiss to Nico’s cheeks. Nico can feel the smile. “That was amazing,” Will says. “I cannot believe that they actually let us play.”

Nico laughs. “It felt so real.” Will hugs him close. They walk back in silence, Nico’s fingers still tingling from playing the piano. While Nico’s gotten very comfortable at the piano, it’s never felt like that. He doesn’t know if it was the piano itself or the fact that he was performing for an audience.

They make it back to Nico’s house, Nico getting them some apple juice and popsicles to snack on. They sit in the air conditioning of the kitchen.

“Will?” Nico asks. Will taps his hand. “Do you really want to see my eyes?”

“Yeah, but you really don’t have to show me if you’re uncomfortable.” Nico shakes his head.

“I’m not. Just unsure. Because they’re not like your eyes probably. I mean, they don’t work like your eyes do.” Nico feels Will cup his cheeks, running his thumb over Nico’s skin.

“May I?” he asks. Nico nods. He feels Will slip his sunglasses off slowly, giving him time to say stop. Instead, he just closes his eyes. He hears the sunglasses being placed on the counter. He feels Will kiss his cheeks, his nose, brush back his hair. “You’re beautiful, Nico.”

Nico lets his eyes flutter open. He knows Will’s right in front of him, but it feels weird to be looking right at him without that barrier. Before, he could pretend that he was staring at Will all he wanted. Now, he feels exposed.

“You’re so beautiful, Nico. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.” Will presses a kiss softly to Nico’s lips. Nico smiles, his hands moving to touch Will’s face. Will’s hands slip to his shoulders. He can taste the orange flavor of Will’s popsicle. For some reason, it mixes okay with the cherry one Nico had.

“You’re beautiful, too, Will,” Nico whispers. He’s never seen Will, sure, but he can feel it, in the way that Will smiles, the sound of his laugh, the way he makes Nico feel beautiful and loved.

They kiss for a few moments before Nico lays his head on Will’s shoulder. “I’m not comfortable walking around like this all the time,” Nico says. He can feel when his eyes grow unfocused, and he knows how people react to it. “But it’s okay with you. Sometimes.” He hears Will hum, the vibration comforting.

“That’s okay, Nico. I love you regardless of how you look. But it’s a bonus that you’re super adorable and gorgeous.” Nico blushes, turning to kiss Will’s neck. Will shivers.

“I love you, too.”