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Ghost King Stories

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Will sighs as he walks into school. The halls are buzzing with the anticipation of the list being posted in just a few hours. Will’s pretty sure he’s not going to be on the list, and he never wants to be. Honestly, he thinks he’d probably faint if he had to stand up on that stage in front of the entire class (well, anyone who cares about the auction) and wait for people to bid on him.

He knows it’s just a school fundraiser, nothing more than some harmless fun. But whatever was wrong with a bake sale or selling coupons?

“Doing okay there?” Lou Ellen asks him. Will rolls his eyes.

“Never better.” She laughs, dumping a bunch of stuff into her locker. She was one of the only people Will knew who actually used their locker aside from just dumping in sport’s equipment or stashing bulky science projects. Will didn’t even remember the code for his own locker; he’d never used it.

“So, you excited?” Lou Ellen presses. “I mean, I know you’re never excited for this, but you did see the list, right?”

“The one they haven’t posted yet?” Will asks.

Lou Ellen sighs. “The prospective list. The one we all voted on. Well, I bet everyone but you.”

Will huffs. He doesn’t tell her that he did, in fact, vote this year. The list of students chosen was always first picked by the teachers. And then the students would help to narrow it down. It was a lot like voting for homecoming and prom king and queen. The popular kids were always chosen.

“What about it?” He knows what she’s getting at, but he refuses to acknowledge it.

She shrugs. “I’m just saying, maybe this’ll be the year you finally make your move.” Will’s not getting his hopes up. She’s been saying that for the last two years, and Will’s still done very little. “I swear, Will, if his name is on that list and you don’t even show up for the auction, we’re having an intervention.”

Will’s never been more thankful for the bell. Of course, Lou Ellen’s not the only one hyped about today’s auction. Everyone’s talking about who’s sure to make the list. It’s not like it’s changed all that much since Will’s freshman year. It’s always the captains of the sports’ teams, the cheerleaders, the ones who put themselves out there. Just raising your hand in class and turning in your homework on time isn’t enough. (Thank goodness.)

He has to turn off his phone for fear that Lou’ll start texting him the minute she lays eyes on the list. He thinks he would hate to be on the list. The only heads up you got would be when you voted for the finalists. Will wonders if any of them ever voted for themselves. He wouldn’t be surprised.

When he finally dares to look at his phone towards the end of lunch, he sees that he’s missed eight messages from Lou Ellen and a phone call. Calls aren’t technically allowed save for emergencies, but Will’s pretty sure Lou Ellen would consider this an emergency.

“Did you see who’s on the list?” she screams when he picks up.

“You know I don’t care.”

“That’s because you haven’t seen it yet,” she says, and Will has to pull the phone away from his ear so he can scroll through her messages. He reads the names off the list. Five girls and five boys. He finds what he dared to hope for right at the bottom in Times New Roman font.

Nico di Angelo.
Nico wonders if he can sue the school. Up until a few minutes ago, he’d loved school. He’s not even sure how or why his name is on that stupid list, but he’s betting it’s all Percy’s fault. All because he’d turned down the last three blind dates. Percy or maybe Jason, someone who was friends with teachers who had Nico.

Nico wants to be mad, but all he is is anxious. Because in just an hour, he’s going to have to stand up on a stage in front of at least half the school and be auctioned off. He’s pretty sure this should be illegal, but maybe this is what happens when the booster club gets desperate and coupon books aren’t selling.

If only he had enough money to sue.

“Neeks!” Percy calls. He’s extra hyper today, skipping down the halls. “Congrats!” His grin doesn’t even fade when Nico accuses Percy of rigging the votes.

“I did no such thing. C’mon, you know I voted for myself.” Nico huffs. He knows how the voting works, and he knows just as well as Percy does that it’s possible to vote for more than one person. Not that he ever votes. He thinks the whole thing is stupid.

“That’s the only thing I believe.”

“And now maybe you can get a hot guy’s number and fall in love and live happily ever after,” Percy continues. “You can thank me later.”

Nico huffs again, but inside, he’s scared. Because what if no one picks him? What if he has to stand up there on that stage while everyone else pretends that they don’t have money? He’s heard of years where the class elects someone as a joke. The teachers always swoop in and save the day, but that’s got to be the most embarrassing thing ever.

It’s all he can think of as they’re standing backstage. Percy’s rambling on about something or other with Jason. A few of the girls and some of the guys are trying to fix their hair, complaining that they should get a longer notice. Nico agrees with that statement. If he’d known earlier, he would have just skipped school. But with an hour’s notice and Percy watching him like a hawk, he’d had little chance to escape.

“You’re gonna do amazing, bro,” Percy says, his smile small enough to not be as blinding. Nico snorts. Percy’s got at least fifty fangirls out there, waiting to bid on him. Not to mention that he’s got a girlfriend. (Who won’t bid on him. Annabeth hates this as much as Nico does.)

They go in the order of the list, girl-boy-girl-boy fashion, so Nico’s last. Percy’s fourth up, and there’s a round of applause as he steps out onto the stage. Nico thinks Percy was made for the stage. He certainly looks like he owns it. Nico can’t hear how much is being bid with all of the cheers, but Percy glances back to wink at Nico.

Nico feels like he’s going to throw up.

When it’s his turn to step onto the stage, he’s almost glad for the blinding lights. He doesn’t want to see everyone’s faces and know if he was an accident or a joke. The microphone squeals beside him as one of the school counselors awkwardly asks if anyone will bid.

Nico realizes that he hasn’t heard that question all afternoon. Someone just shouts out a price, and it starts. But no one’s done that yet.

“Anyone? Bidding starts at one dollar! Do I hear one dollar?” Nico thinks she sounds a bit desperate. She looks a bit desperate as she glances at him. Embarrassment keeps him rooted to the stage. There are whispers in the audience, but no one’s calling out.

Just a few minutes ago, he’d thought the most embarrassing thing he’d ever had to go through was his father’s birds and the bees talk, tailored to fit Nico’s sexuality. (Nico’s still not quite sure who’s supposed to be the birds and who’s supposed to be the bees; his dad didn’t seem to know either.) But now he’s pretty this very moment is what’s going to haunt him for the rest of his life.

“Twenty dollars!”
Will’s never hated that he and Lou Ellen have calculus together right after lunch as much as he does now. There was no way he could have stayed behind in that classroom and pretended he didn’t care who was going to bid on Nico di Angelo. Will had heard stories of people falling in love this way. His own parents had started dating and fallen in love because of this.

Maybe that’s why Will’s always secretly liked it.

He’s crowded into the auditorium, Lou Ellen gripping his hand so he can’t run. He’s tried to excuse himself to the bathroom five times, but he’s never actually tried to leave. They both know he can’t stand not knowing.

“I didn’t bring any money,” Will says as his final lame excuse.

“Got you covered,” Lou says. She holds up a twenty. “It was going to be your birthday present, but consider this an early happy birthday.” She slides the money into his shirt pocket, and Will wonders why he even decided to wear a button-down shirt today. Was he subconsciously hoping?

They sit through all of the announcements, the rules. And then Drew Tanaka is stepping onto the stage. Will can’t tell if she dressed up for the day or if she just rolled out of bed like that. But bidding started immediately. Eventually, the auditorium gets quieter as the bid gets higher. Will can’t imagine wanting to spend forty dollars on this. Drew’s looking at her fingernails like she doesn’t care, but Will can see her smiling. He’s known her since kindergarten, and he knows she loves the attention.

The next few people all go the same way. The counselor’s barely announced the name before people are bidding. Percy gets chosen by this blue-haired girl, though Will’s pretty sure he has a girlfriend. Not that it really matters. Most of the people chosen are pretty good sports about this and take their partner on a nice date before going back to their normal lives.

Will’s not even paying attention to the last person up there when Lou Ellen nudges his arm. “He’s up next.” Will watches carefully as Nico di Angelo walks onto the stage. He’s wearing a dark blue shirt and jeans, his usual leather jacket topping off the whole look. He looks like he’s just rolled out of bed, but it’s never failed to make Will want to kiss him.

The counselor looks nervous suddenly, and Will has a bad feeling in his stomach.
“No one’s bidding,” he whispers. He glances around the room, and he can see people whispering to their neighbors. Nico shoves his hands into his pockets.

“Anyone? Bidding starts at one dollar! Do I hear one dollar?”

“Will, this is your chance.” Lou Ellen places the money in his hands. “Go, get your man.”

Will takes a deep breath. He’s never imagined himself doing this, and he definitely didn’t think the crowd would be so silent. Nico was amazing. Didn’t someone else see that? Will wonders if everyone is just disappointed that the person they wanted was taken.

“Will, say something,” Lou Ellen says.

Nico twitches like he’s going to faint or run from the stage. And then Will’s arm is being jerked in the air.

“Twenty dollars!” The counselor looks more than relieved, but Nico’s expression doesn’t change.

“Twenty dollars!” the counselor cries. “Going once, going twice! Alright, bidding closed.” Will thinks he can feel the whole room sigh with relief. On the way out, Lou Ellen steers him to the side room where he’s supposed to meet up with Nico. His hands are shaking and sweaty as he drops his twenty dollars into the collection bucket. Some of the bidders had jumped onto the stage once they won, but Will was pretty Nico wanted off that stage.

“I’ll see you later,” Lou Ellen says, winking. She pats Will’s shoulder, and then Will’s left to stand there.

“Um, hey, are you the guy who bid on me?” Nico asks.

Will nods. “Yeah, I’m Will.”

Nico gives him a small smile. “I’m Nico.” Will’s not sure what he should say after that. He’s never really planned on what he’d say if he ever had a chance to talk to Nico. In retrospect, he probably should have. “Um, thanks for doing that. If you want the coupon for yourself, you’re more than welcome to take it.”

Will blinks, shaking his head. “No, you should have it.” It takes him a moment to realize what he’s just said, that he’s giving up his free chance to hang out with Nico.

Nico nods. “I guess I wouldn’t mind sharing it. If you don’t mind.” There’s a faint trace of red on his cheeks, but Will refuses to think it’s because of him.

“I don’t mind,” Will says.

They stand awkwardly in line. Will sees Percy wink in Nico’s direction, but he doesn’t have time to wonder what that means. “Hey, Will, is there anything you wanted?”

Will looks at the options. There aren’t too many of them left. Most of the good ones were taken. The coupons weren’t all that great to begin with since the auction itself was a fundraiser. From what Will heard, though, most of the pairs made their own plans.

“You choose,” Will says. He can’t help but wonder if Nico thinks Will bid because he pitied him. But he’s not sure how to bring it up without having to confess his two-year crush.

“McDonald’s coupon it is,” Nico says, grinning, and Will’s stomach flips. “Buy one, get one free. McFlurries.” He pauses. “So, um, did you want to exchange numbers? So we can use the coupon together? I promise I won’t make you eat it with me if you don’t want to.”

Will’s not sure what to say to that. He hands Nico his phone, smiling a little when Nico adds an emoji next to his name. “And I wouldn’t mind if we ate our McFlurries together, Nico. I’ll even pay.”

“No, I’ll pay,” Nico says. “You already bid. My treat.” He says it so sincerely that Will can’t bring himself to refuse.

They awkwardly part ways, not sure what to do. Will waits until Nico’s gone to look at the contact in his phone. A cute little ghost emoji follows Nico’s name, and Will didn’t think Nico could get any cuter. He hesitates as he opens up a new message, typing and retyping when he starts to second-guess himself. He’s had two years to construct the most perfect date in his mind, but now that he’s got an opening, he’s not sure he can take advantage of it.

What if Nico’s just being nice because Will was the only one who bid on him?

Will can hear Lou Ellen’s voice in his head, saying that Nico would think that if Will didn’t hurry up and make his move. Will takes a deep breath, sending the text. Then he shoves his phone into his backpack and tries not to think about it.
Nico’s more excited than he wants to admit. Because he’s going on a date with Will Solace. It’s not that Will’s particularly special for any reason. He’s not the quarterback or the captain of the swim team, but Nico likes that. He likes that Will’s more interested in human anatomy and just why apples turn brown when cut than throwing a ball through a hoop or a net or whatever.

It also helps that Will’s especially easy on the eyes. He reminds Nico of a golden retriever in the best way, strong but cuddly and loyal. (Not that Nico’s ever thought of cuddling Will Solace.) It’d taken Nico a bit of convincing from his sister to believe that Will hadn’t just bedded on Nico out of pity. If he pitied Nico, he wouldn’t have asked him on a date. He’d just have taken his McFlurry and left.

So Nico’s excited. Because he’s always wanted to go on a date with Will Solace, and now it’s finally happening.

Will picks him up just after lunchtime, and Nico does his best to not stare. Will’s not wearing anything special, but Nico’s always liked it when he wears blue. It brings out his eyes. For Nico’s part, he’s also wearing blue. His sister insisted.

“Ready?” Nico nods. The drive to McDonald’s is a little awkward. Nico’s not sure what to say, and it’s clear that Will’s in the same boat. “So, do you have to be home by a specific time?” Will asks as he parks.

Nico shakes his head. “Nope. Just before midnight, I guess. Don’t want to turn into a pumpkin.” Nico wants to slap himself for that, but Will smiles.

“No pumpkins on my watch,” he says. They each order their own McFlurries and get a medium fry to split. It’s not until Will dips a fry into his ice cream that a conversation starts.

“You do that, too?” Nico asks. Will blushes, shoving the fry into his mouth. “My sister does that, and I think it’s so gross.” He wrinkles up his nose, huffing.

Will laughs, dipping another fry into his McFlurry. He makes a show of eating it, and Nico forces himself to look away from Will’s lips. “Delicious,” Will says, wiggling his eyebrows. “Sweet and salty. Like a chocolate covered pretzel.”

“I can’t believe I’m surrounded by people who think that’s good,” Nico groans.

“You must not be doing it right, then. It’s about proportion. Can’t have too much salt or too much sweet. See, like this.” Will demonstrates, swallowing with a satisfied look. Nico shakes his head. “Here, try it.” Will dips in another fry, this time holding it out for Nico to take a bite.

Nico’s pretty sure he’s blushing as he leans forward to accept the fry. He doesn’t actually know what it tastes like, his mind trying to process Will’s fingers being so close to Nico’s mouth. Will’s grinning as Nico chews and swallows. Nico just rolls his eyes, not trusting his words.

“I bet you secretly love it,” Will says. “You can thank me later.”

After that, the conversation turns to more general things. Most of the stuff, Nico already knows. Either from Will’s social media or just from knowing Will in general. Will’s not a very secretive person, and he’ll talk to almost anyone who wants to.

“So, can you tell me where we’re going after this?” Nico asks. Will had dropped hints, but they were so vague that Nico was having a hard time putting them together. “And saying that it’s a place with AC and lights isn’t exactly helpful.”

Will shrugs. “But it eliminates every outdoor activity. So you know it’s indoors. And in a relatively modern building.” Nico snorts. He doesn’t point out that Will would be the kind of person to consider a lava lamp and hand-held fan to be lights and AC. “And no more hints. I’ve already given you so many.”

Nico pouts, but Will’s not budging. “Fine. When are we going?”

“Right now if you want.”

They’d finished their food half an hour ago, and Nico can’t believe that time’s flown by like that. He doesn’t think he’s enjoyed McDonald’s so much, and he already loved McDonald’s. Nico watches the street signs, trying to figure out where they’re going. Unfortunately, he’s not all that great with directions, so he’s pretty much lost until a sign catches his eyes.

“Wait, Will, are we going where I think we’re going?”

Will smirks. “Care to share your thoughts with the class, di Angelo?” Nico huffs to hide his blush. His thoughts are confirmed when they pull into a parking lot, and now Nico’s more excited than ever.

“How’d you get tickets?” Nico asks. The history museum had just opened a week ago, and only people with advanced tickets were getting in now. Nico had tried to get tickets, bud he’d ended up falling asleep at his computer, waiting for them to go on sale. He’d resigned himself to wait another month like the rest of the public.

“My brother helped in the planning process, so he got me tickets,” Will says. “I heard you really liked history.” Now it’s Will blushing, and Nico decides he really likes this.

“Oh my gosh! This is amazing!” He grabs a map and a few brochures for later, quickly scanning the exhibits. The tickets they had were all-access, so everything was open to them. Nico was pretty sure he could spend hours in here. “Oh, um, do we have a time limit?”

Will smiles. “Nope. Just before this place closes at eight. I’d rather not get locked in here.” Nico doesn’t think he’d mind too much, honestly. “Lead the way, Nico.”

Without thinking about it, Nico grabs Will’s hand, dragging him to the first exhibit.
Will’s quite proud, if he does say so himself. He’d heard through the grapevine that Nico was really into history, wanted to major in history in college, so he’d begged his brother for tickets. And now here they were. Nico’s eyes were so big, and he was gripping Will’s hand as he rattled off names and dates and stories. Will had never really paid much attention in history class, but he was very interested now.

Nico insisted that they go through every exhibit in chronological order. They watched all of the videos and did most of the games. The entire museum was about three stories, and while it didn’t tell the entire world’s history, there was still a lot. Will liked that it wasn’t just the Western culture’s history but that it also brought together stories from the other continents.

They took a break after covering a couple hundred years to get some food. Nico’s poring over the map, tracing over where they’d go next.

“Thanks, Will. I thought I’d have to wait until summer to see this.” Will smiles. It was amazing to see Nico, so normally reserved, ramble on about all of this. Will didn’t remember half of it, but he was having fun nonetheless. “Are you having fun?” Nico asks.

“Yeah,” Will says. “I totally don’t remember all of the stuff you’ve told me, but it’s pretty cool realizing that all of this stuff happened. Or is still happening. Kind of helps the world make more sense.”

Nico nods. “That’s kind of what I love about it. HIstory’s like a puzzle. It’s not always a pretty puzzle and a lot of the pieces are missing, but it’s still fun.” He tears off a piece of the giant soft pretzel they’d gotten.

They head back in, licking the salt from their fingertips. It’s another hour and a half before they make it to the gift shop. Will’s head is spinning with dates and names and fact, and he has no idea how Nico keeps it all straight. But, then again, most people couldn’t name all two hundred plus bones in the human body.

Nico gets a book of old maps, and Will gets a keychain.

“Um, hey, did you want to get something for dinner? It’s cool, though, if you just want me to take you home,” Will asks.

Nico smiles. “Dinner sounds good. I’m pretty hungry.” Will laughs. They go to a lively Mexican restaurant and order the nachos to split. Will tries not to think about how it is that they’re both so comfortable with each other already. While they’ve gone to school with each other for a few years now, they hadn’t really talked before.

“Hey, Nico, is it too early to ask you on a second date?” Will asks.

Nico laughs. “I’ll accept, but I want to plan the date.”

“Deal.” They shake on it because they’re goofy like that. They argue over the check, and end up splitting it since Nico paid for the McFlurries and Will the pretzel.

“I had a great time,” Nico says as Will stops outside his house. Will grins. It’s a classic line, and he’s kind of always imagined himself saying it.

“You stole my line,” Will pouts. Nico sticks out his tongue.

“Maybe next time.” At this, they both grin at the anticipation of a second date. “Thanks for bidding on me. I don’t think I’m ever going to forgive our PTO for their horrible idea.”

Will shrugs. “Or maybe you’ll start thinking of it as the moment that you met the most amazing guy in the world,” Will jokes.

“I’m pretty sure I’ve already taken that title, Solace.”

Will rolls his eyes. “We’re both pretty amazing. How about that?” Nico pretends to consider for a moment before leaning over and pecking Will’s cheek.

“We’ll see when I come up with the most perfect date ever,” he whispers. Then he’s getting out of the car and walking across the grass before Will can even respond. But Will doesn’t really care because he’s going on another date with the most amazing guy in the world.