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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.
d
“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.

Chapter Text

Nina frowns over her homework as the crowd cheers behind her. She’s upset that her friends somehow convinced her to come and watch, even though she has way too much homework. Having never been to a soccer game before, she’d brought her homework with her, not really thinking that soccer games were lacking the peace and quiet she usually worked in.

“Why do people care so much about school sports?” she grumbles. She flips her short, black hair behind her shoulder, huffing as it refuses to stay behind her ear. “Can I borrow a hair tie?”

She doesn’t get a response as the crowd cheers again. Apparently, someone scored a goal while she was grumbling.

Andrew glances at her, smiling. “I don’t know how you’re doing homework in this chaos,” he says. He taps one of the word problems Nina’s just worked out. “Also, that’s wrong. You divided by the wrong number.”

Nina rubs the eraser angrily over the entire word problem, wondering if she can erase the entire thing and just not have to do it. Andrew gives her a look, and Nina shrugs. She doesn’t know how her friends convinced her that this was fun. This was the opposite of fun.

“Why don’t you watch the game? It’s almost over. Just a few more minutes left on the clock.” Nina shoves her homework into her bag, deciding she might as well. She wasn’t going to get anything done here. She watches the players on the field, all thick leg muscles and sweaty shirts. Nina sees a flash of blonde hair and then the crowd is on their feet and cheering.

“What just happened?” Nina asks. She tries to look at the scoreboard, but the guy in front of her is too tall.

“We just won!” Andrew shouts, jumping up and down. Nina sighs, clapping her hands together. She doesn’t understand what everyone else finds so fun about this, but it is kind of nice to all be cheering for the same thing. Still, why couldn’t they have gone to a girl’s soccer game? They were so much more interesting to look at.

Nina expects them to leave now that the game is over, but her friends apparently have other ideas. Concessions go on sale, and everyone is scrambling to get their share of nachos and greasy hotdogs. Nina settles for some nachos, sitting down on a bench beside the parking lot. She tries to find Andrew or Jasmine in the crowd, but it’s all a mess of school colors and loud cheering.

“Hey,” comes a voice behind her, and Nina jumps. “How’d you like the game?”

Nina looks up, not sure who to expect. What she gets is a blond soccer player, curls sweaty from the game. He sits down on the other end of the bench, pulling off his cleats and jersey. Nina catches the words positioned on the back. Solace. Nina’s heart beats a little faster, and she curses. She’s not falling for a guy. She can’t. She isn’t attracted to guys.

“It was loud,” she says, realizing that she hasn’t answered the question.

The soccer player laughs. “Yeah, usually is when we win.” He shrugs, and Nina has to pull her eyes away from the smooth glide of his muscles. She tries to think of other things, like her last girlfriend or the pictures she’d found on the internet the other day. “I’m Will.”

“Nina.” Will smiles.

“DIdn’t we have environmental together last year?” Nina shrugs. She has no idea. Will’s face is somewhat forgettable if she doesn’t think about the freckles or how blue his eyes are. She looks away again, scanning the concessions crowd for any sign of her friends. “Well, I hope you come to another game.”

Nina just nods as Will stands up, swiping his jersey across his face. Even his back is freckled, Nina notes before she turns her sole focus onto her nachos. They’ve gotten soggy in the cheese, and she’s not all that hungry anyway. She sees Will getting into a minivan before finally spotting Jasmine walking towards her.
-
Nina sighs. It’s another rainy day, and there isn’t much to do. She’d planned on going to the movies with her friends, but they’d all had to cancel last minute. She figures that’s just what happens when her friends are all dating someone, and she’s the only single one left. If only she could find a pretty girl to like her back. Then they could go on group dates. Or at least she’d have someone to hang out with when her friends ditched her.

At least it didn’t happen too often.

Nina sighs again, deciding that she’ll go to the movies anyway. There’s an action movie on that she’s been dying to see, and maybe it’d be better if she didn’t go with her chatty friends. They always liked to talk during movies and were always whispering to pass the popcorn or candy around. Andrew always had to explain stuff or point out inaccuracies. It made it hard to focus on the movie, and there were always so many questions to answer afterward.

She grabs her phone, making sure her hair looks somewhat decent. She’s pulled it back with a simple headband, sighing when some strands still manage to escape. She’d known it was a mistake to cut her hair so short the moment she’d done it, but there was nothing to do but wait for it to grow out now. Besides, she looked cute enough, right?

Despite the spring heat, the rain had cooled the day off. So she grabs a jacket and leaves. The movie theater isn’t too far away, and she manages to catch the bus. It seems that few people have braved the rain, though it’s hardly raining right now. She gets off a block from the local theater, counting her money to make sure she has enough for candy. Candy was a must at movies.

“Hey again,” comes a voice, and Nina turns around. It’s Will Solace, looking somewhat different in a sweater and jeans. For one thing, it hides the soft curve of his muscles, but his freckles still manage to make an appearance. “Which movie?” he asks before realizing that the theater only plays two movies. And Nina’s definitely not seeing the children’s movie.

She steps forward to get her ticket before hurrying to the counter to buy candy. She can’t decide if Will’s presence is unwelcome, though it does stir up those feelings that she’s not so sure about. After all, what’s she doing ogling a guy when she’s not attracted to them?

“Hey, um, did you want to, maybe, sit together?” Will asks, his long stride catching up to Nina. “I mean, if you aren’t waiting for anyone.”

It’s tempting to say that she is, though Will’ll know soon enough that it was only an avoidance tactic. And she isn’t mean. So she nods. They find a spot in the middle of the theater, arguably the best spot ever. Will’s got a bag of popcorn, and he offers to share it with Nina.

“I haven’t been to the movies in forever,” Will says. “Practice was canceled today, though.” He shoves a handful of popcorn into his mouth, and Nina’s pleased that this grosses her out a bit. Fortunately, the movie starts soon enough, and Will doesn’t talk at all through the movie. Nina has to bite her tongue before she almost admits that she misses the annoying whispering that she’s grown used to.

She’s surprised when Will offers her a ride home, but she feels she shouldn’t be. Nina accepts only because it’s raining, and she doesn’t like riding in rainy traffic. He loads up her bike in the back of his truck, opening the passenger door for her. She ducks her head, getting in and fumbling with the seatbelt so she doesn’t have to look at him.

Will doesn’t try to make conversation, only asking for directions. He fiddles with the radio, landing on some classic rock station. As they get closer to her home, Nina wonders if he’ll ask for her number or try to make some sort of move. She doubts it, only because Will’s known for being a gentleman, but she’s not sure why Will’s being so nice to her. She isn’t someone people usually take notice of.

“Thanks for the ride,” Nina says. She lifts her bike out of the truck bed, pulling a piece of hair out of her mouth. She wishes it’d just grow back already. “See you around?” She only adds the last part because she’s not sure what she’s supposed to say.
Will smiles, nodding. “See you around.”

Nina hurries into the house, abandoning her bike on the front lawn. She doesn’t watch Will back out of her driveway, instead trying to figure out why the heck her cheeks are suddenly pink and her pulse faster.
-
Nina remembers the day she “came out” to everyone. It’d been an accident, something she never meant to happen. While she’s finally made peace with the memory, it still sometimes comes back to bite her.

It’d happened in the school library. She’d had a crush on this girl in her English class, a pretty girl with brown curls and hazel eyes. They’d been passing notes for three weeks now, and Nina was finally ready to make her move. She’d pretended to be researching the same topic as her crush, casually moving around her as she scanned book titles.

“Do you need help finding something?” the girl had asked. She’d had a smile on her face, almost like she knew what Nina was up to.

“I think I’ve already found what I’m looking for,” Nina had said. She’d moved like she was reaching for a book, but at the last minute, she ducked her head. Their lips brushed, and Nina felt a giddiness run through her. The girl kissed her back, and Nina had to remind herself that she was in a school library before her thoughts ran away from her.

They’d barely exchanged three kisses, though, before there was a sound like someone sneezing. A boy from their class was staring at them, a look of apparent disgust on his face. Before either of them could move, he’d already run off, telling everyone what he’d seen. And it wouldn’t have been that bad if the girl had stuck around. But she’d denied anything ever happened and hadn’t looked at Nina since.

It wasn’t that Nina was ashamed for liking girls. She’d definitely come to terms with it. And she was proud of it. She liked how some people looked at her, like they didn’t quite understand her, or that they admired her. It was like that Dr. Seuss quote: “Be who you are and say what you mean. Because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

But now, Nina wasn’t so sure. Because if she truly liked girls, if she was really a lesbian, why did she get butterflies in her stomach whenever she thought of Will? Will who hadn’t even done anything but smiled at her. They hadn’t talked to each other since the movies, but Nina found herself creating conversations with him in her head. She felt this urge to talk to him, and she hated herself for it.

“What’s got you all upset?” Jasmine asks. She’s tapping a pencil against the scar on her lip as she tries to work out a chemistry problem. “I mean, you look ferocious and all. It’s not that time of the month, is it?”

Nina raises her eyebrows. If she and Jasmine weren’t such good friends, she’d probably have punched her. “No, I’m just upset. Can’t I be angry for no reason?”

Jasmine hums as she thinks this over. “I guess. But usually, there’s a reason.”

“Well, there’s not one this time,” Nina huffs. She crosses her arms before uncrossing them because she’s sure she looks like a child now. Andrew and Penny sit down across from her, glancing between her and Jasmine.

“What’s up with Nina?” Penny asks.

“I’m right here!” Nina’s about to come back with a clever comment when she catches sight of Will Solace a few tables away. She doesn’t even realize she’s staring before Penny waves a cheese stick in her face.

Penny grins. “Don’t tell me you’ve rediscovered your crush on me.” she teases.

Nina makes a face. “Gross, no. I’ve learned my lesson.”

Penny rolls her eyes. “Hey, now. It wouldn’t be so bad to date me.” She glances at Andrew, kissing his cheek. Andrew pretends to look annoyed before rolling his eyes.

“I put up with you, Seaweed Brain,” Andrew says, but Nina can hear the fondness in his tone. Everyone knows Penny and Andrew are a golden couple, on their way to be the high school sweethearts everyone talks about at reunions.

“I love you, too,” Penny coos.

It’s sickeningly sweet, and Nina wishes she had something like that with someone. But she’s pretty sure she’s doomed to spend the rest of her life alone. Especially if she doesn’t figure out what’s so intriguing about Will Solace. He’s invading her thoughts, and every time she finds herself thinking about him, she gets grumpier.

She’s especially grumpy by the time she runs right into him after the last bell.

“Coming to the game tomorrow?” he asks. He’s got his usual smile on his face, and Nina does her best to keep her blush down. Is it because Will Solace is so pretty? “It’s always nice to see a friendly face.”

Nina’s not sure what about her face looks friendly right now. “I’ve got homework,” she says. Which is true. Will pouts, and Nina crosses her arms.

“Well, I hope to see you tomorrow. Even if you’re not at the game,” Will says, recovering his smile. Nina doesn’t respond, not sure what she’s supposed to say. It infuriates her how Will leaves her hanging for clever remarks. She considers herself a very clever person. Will waves. “See you around, Nina.”

Nina doesn’t wave back. She’s trying to figure out how to convince herself not to go to that game tomorrow.
-
It turns out it’s easy enough. She’s swamped with homework between procrastinating and hanging out with her friends. She’d meant to work on her paper over the weekend, but she’d gone to the movies. And now it was Wednesday, and she had so much to do.

In fact, she’s so busy that she hardly sees Will Solace for the next two weeks. Something she considers to be an accomplishment. If only she could also stop thinking about him. She doesn’t keep up with the soccer games, but Andrew says that they’re probably going to make it to the playoffs at this rate.

She’s trying to convince herself that her attraction to Will Solace is merely a fluke.

It works until she bumps into him at CVS on a Friday night. All she’d wanted to do was grab some nail polish and cheap snacks before heading over to Penny’s house for a girl’s night with Jasmine. Penny had gotten it into her head that they all needed to relive their middle school sleepovers, and neither she nor Jasmine could talk her out of it.

Only now she wishes they’d tried harder because Will Solace is standing behind the counter. He smiles at her, and Nina’s glad she’s only buying junk food and nail polish this go-round. Will scans her items, dropping them into a bag before taking her card.

“Um, hey, Nina, can I ask you something?”

“You just did,” Nina grumbles, not really in the mood for small-talk. She was about to get a whole lot of it in the next few hours, and she needed to save her energy.

Will flushes, hands hovering hesitantly over the cash register. He punches a few buttons before handing Nina her receipt. “Was it hard to tell your parents that you liked girls?” Will blurts out. His eyes glance over Nina’s shoulder for a moment before returning to her face. “I mean, were they nice about it?”

“Why’re you asking?” She’s not someone who turns out their secrets for just anyone, and she definitely wasn’t prepared for that question.

Will fiddles with a pen. “See, I was kind of planning on coming out to my parents this weekend, and I wanted an opinion. I guess. I mean, I’m sure they’ll accept me and all, but it’s still kind of nerve-wracking.”

Nina nods slowly. She’s surprised by the fact that Will’s not straight, though she supposes she shouldn’t have assumed. “Did you want to practice? Just really quick.”

Will looks a bit relieved, nodding. “Yeah, sure.” He pauses, scratching his neck. “So, I think I’m pan. Or at least bi.” He lets out a long breath, and Nina blinks. “Was that bad? I’m still trying to figure some things out, but I want to tell them.”

She shakes her head. “No, that was fine.” Nina smiles, trying to wrap her head around the fact that Will picked her to practice on. “There isn’t really a wrong way to do it, you know.”

Will laughs. “Yeah, but it still feels like a big deal. Which is stupid, but whatever.” Nina nods. She’d told her family over dinner one night, figuring they were going to hear about it eventually what with everything going on at school. “Thanks. That helped a lot.”

Nina was still trying to process it. “Wait. How do you know you’re bi?” She hopes it’s not a rude question.

Will shrugs. “I mean, I like both girls and guys. I know that much. I’m still figuring out the rest.” Nina wants to ask more questions, but she’s afraid that she’ll somehow get the wrong answers or ask the wrong questions. And Penny and Jasmine are waiting for her.

“Um, thanks,” Nina says.

Will smiles. “Have a good night, Nina.”

The whole way there, Nina debates whether or not she should bring this up at the sleepover. Technically middle school sleepovers were all about gossip and who liked who. But this feels somehow more personal. That Will trusted her enough to come out to her in a CVS before he even told his parents. And she wasn’t sure how her friends would feel about her suddenly questioning her sexuality all because of one guy.

Maybe this whole thing was just because Will was really nice and happened to be very attractive. She wants to believe that, but it doesn’t feel right.
-
It’s getting harder to think of Will as a fluke, and she can tell her friends are starting to notice, too. It starts with subtle teasing, and now Penny’s drawing hearts in the air as Nina tries to eat her lunch.

“Go over and say hi to him,” she urges. “It’s not going to kill you to be friendly once in a while.”

Nina huffs. She considers herself a very friendly person when she wants to be. And right now, she’s just not feeling it. “Why would I say hi?” Will’s with some friends of his, eating a banana while one of his friends gestures wildly.

“C’mon, Nina. We’re not blind. We all know you’ve been crushing on him. Put yourself out there.” Jasmine nudges her shoulder, and Nina shoves her sandwich into her mouth.

“Besides, I think he likes you back,” Andrew adds. “I’ve caught him looking over here a few times.” Nina hates that her cheeks go red at this.

“Guys, I like girls. And last I checked, Will isn’t a girl. It’s not a thing.” She’s upset for having to defend herself, and she’s upset that she’s not just defending herself from her friends. She’s told herself this same thing over and over, and it’s getting harder to believe.

This gets her friends to quiet down for a moment. “He is very pretty,” Penny says after a moment. “All blond curls and blue eyes. The freckles really tip it off.” Andrew flicks Penny’s shoulder at this. “Not to say that I don’t love your blond hair and not-blue eyes.”

Andrew rolls his eyes. “Look, Nina. Maybe you like Will, too. Girls and Will Solace. Could be a thing.”

Nina’s not entirely convinced. If it were that simple, she’d already have her answer. Deciding she’s done with her lunch, she packs up and leaves. Her friends all look concerned, but she’s not in the mood to explain herself right now.

She tries to puzzle this whole thing out on her own, googling every keyword she can think of. What Andrew said seems to be a thing, but Nina’s not sold on the idea that Will’s the one and only man who could ever catch her eye. It just doesn’t settle right with her. Everything else that pops up says stuff about being bi or pan or demisexual.

Nina tries saying the words out loud, but none of them hold the same familiarity that lesbian does. She sighs, wanting to throw her laptop across the room. Her friends try to help her out, but she won’t let them in. She hates not knowing; if only she could figure this out, she could finally get some peace.

It’s not until she sees Will hunched over a water fountain during class change that she sucks up her courage and approaches him.

“How do you know you’re bi?” she asks.

Will looks confused for a moment before straightening up. “I like both girls and guys.” He shoves his hands into his pockets. “I mean, I’ve had crushes on guys and girls. I’ve never really dated anyone before.” He says this last part like it’s a secret.

“So, how do you know then? That you really like both genders?”

Will shrugs. “I guess there’s no way to prove it, exactly. It’s just a feeling.”

Nina wants to cry because she’s getting nowhere. “But what if you like a girl? Or if you were dating a girl? How do you know that you’re not just straight? And maybe that the crushes on the guys aren’t real.”

Will doesn’t answer right away, and Nina lets him think. “I guess it’s just because I’m bi whether or not I have a crush on a girl or a guy at that moment, you know? Like, being bisexual simply means that I’m attracted to both genders. It doesn’t mean that I’ll end up dating. Like right now, I’ve got a crush on a girl. But I’m still bi. Does that make sense?”

Nina nods. It seems to make sense. She takes a deep breath. “It’s just that I’ve always liked girls, right? And now I kind of have this big crush on a guy. And I’m so confused.”

Will smiles at her. “Confused is okay. I was pretty confused when I started liking guys. And then liked some girls. And then realized I liked both.”

“I’m just not sure it’s okay that I like both. Because I’ve only ever liked one guy. Is that enough?”

Will shrugs. “Heck if I have all of the answers. But I’d say that one is definitely enough. I guess, it’s about what feels comfortable for you. Like how I told you that I’m questioning if I’m pan or not. The label might change, but I’ve always liked who I’ve liked. If that makes any sense.”

Nina takes a minute to process everything Will’s just said. He’s looking at her so patiently, even though she’s pretty sure she’s frowning and invading his personal space. The bell’s going to ring any minute, and Nina’s not sure if she can summon the courage to have this conversation again, so she hurries.

“I think I might be bi, too. Or at least, lesbian who likes one guy.” She’s afraid Will’ll laugh at her, tell her that the last one makes no sense or sounds like an excuse. But he doesn’t.

“Yeah?” He blushes. “Could I ask who this special guy is? The one who’s got you all flustered?”

Nina wishes she didn’t blush so easily. “Maybe if you tell me who the girl is.”

Will’s smile widens, tugging gently on the end of Nina’s hair. “That’s easy enough. I’ve got this giant crush on you, Nina di Angelo.”

If this were a movie, Nina’s mouth would have dropped open right then. “I guess that’s good,” she says. “Because you’re the one I’m questioning everything over.”

Will gives a pleasant laugh, barely heard over the bell. Nina’s heart is racing. “Would it be too forward to ask you on a date?” Her reflex tells her to say no, but she realizes that the anxiety she’s been feeling the past month or so is finally fading. She can finally look at Will and not have to tell herself to think of other things. “Are you going to leave me hanging? I really do need to get to calculus.”

Nina smiles, shoving a handful of hair behind her ear. “Yes.” Will looks confused for a moment before Nina steps forward and places a kiss to his cheek. “See you later.”

Chapter Text

Will’s always dreamt of falling. Every few nights or so, he’ll wake up in a cold sweat, his hands clammy, his heart racing. Even after years of this, he still needs to flip on the light, clinging to his pillows and blankets. Sometimes, he has to make sure the ground is still sturdy, that it somehow hasn’t turned into the sky.

He wishes he was one of those people who was born with wings, that whenever he had dreams like this, he could just open his wings and fly. But he doesn’t have wings, no matter how hard he keeps wishing for them. It’s just not in his genes. (And no plastic surgery has been one hundred percent successful yet. Not that he’d ever.) So he keeps his feet firmly planted on the ground, a weighted blanket to help him sleep.

Will hates the feeling of falling because he doesn’t know if anyone’s going to be down there to catch him before he hits the ground.

When he wakes up in a cold sweat this time, his roommate simply grumbles as Will flips on the light. Ethan’s more than used to the routine by now, but that doesn’t mean he’s not annoyed. He’s got an 8 am class, and Will wishes that he knew a better way to calm his racing heart. He grabs his water bottle, chugging it down like he’s just run a marathon. Then he bundles himself back up in his blanket, trying to get to goosebumps to go away.

Why wasn’t he born with wings? Why does he fear falling so much? He’s never had a problem with heights, but he can’t even look at an airplane without hyperventilating.

He knows not everyone with wings can fly, but some of them can. He’s seen them on TV and in movies, their wings so powerful and strong that they can lift their own weight. But some people have small wings, easily hidden by a shawl or a backpack. Most people don’t hide their wings, but having wings is just like any other feature. Will doesn’t always like his freckles.

Deciding he’s not going to be getting any more sleep, Will grabs his blanket and laptop and heads to the study lounge down the hall. He hears an appreciative grunt from his roommate as he flips the light back off. He makes sure he has his keys, and then he’s padding quietly down the hall.

It’s almost three in the morning, and Will hopes no one’s sleeping in the lounges. He just needs somewhere to clear his mind, maybe watch a movie. Gods, classes today are going to be terrible.

He’s out of it enough to not realize that there is indeed someone laying on the couch. He almost drops his laptop on their stomach before startling back. He turns the light off quickly, trying to figure out if he wants to go downstairs or just camp out in the hallway.

“What’re you doing?” comes a sleepy voice from the couch. The figure moves, and Will can’t quite tell if it’s a girl or a boy underneath the blankets. “Is it morning already?”

“Sorry,” Will says. “It’s about three o’clock.”

He hears an annoyed huff. “Why’re you here? You’re not Jason, are you?”

“No, sorry. I just needed a quiet space.”

The figure moves again, and Will’s pretty sure it’s a boy now. The voice is deep enough. “You can stay here. If you promise not to turn on the lights again.” He moves, pulling his feet up, and Will catches dark hair and eyes in the bad lighting.

“I can go into the hallway,” Will says, though he really doesn’t want to be alone right now. He still feels a bit unsteady. He hasn’t had a dream feel that real in at least a few months. School had been busy enough that he usually couldn’t remember his dreams after he woke up.

“I’ll feel bad if I know you’re in the hallway. Just take the other end of the couch.”

Will sits down, tucking his feet underneath him. With the soft cushions beneath him, he’s starting to feel a little better. He wraps his blanket around him, opening up his laptop. “I’m just going to watch a movie. Is that okay?”

The boy hums, and Will makes out a shape underneath the blankets that he can’t quite place. Is it an arm? He turns away for a moment to pull up his Netflix account, searching for something light-hearted. He really should go back to sleep, but he’s afraid he’ll have another dream. He’d rather go to class without sleep than all clammy and feeling sick.

“What movie?” the boy asks. “My friends are always saying that I haven’t seen anything.”

Will shrugs. “Probably a Disney movie.” He’s seen all of them on Netflix already, but the familiarity helps. He feels the boy move closer to him, and he jumps a little when he realizes that the boy is sitting up now.

“Would it be weird if I watched?”

“Maybe less weird if you told me your name,” Will says. With his laptop open, he can see the boy’s features more clearly. Black hair, brown eyes, His skin seemed kind of pale, but laptop lighting wasn’t the best to go off of. Still, though, he was breathtakingly beautiful. Even with the bedhead.

“Nico. English and history majors. You?”

“Will. Possibly pre-med, but I might just stick with environmental sciences.” Nico nods. He points to something on Will’s screen.

“Is that a good movie? I think I’ve heard about it.”

Will’s more surprised now that Nico hasn’t seen Mulan than the fact that he’s pretty okay with watching a movie with a total stranger. “It’s a great movie. Here, we’ll watch it.” Will can feel Nico scoot closer as the movie starts. With Nico beside him, he’s starting to warm up now.

Will quickly falls into the movie, not even thinking that it’s weird that Nico’s right beside him. It’s actually kind of fun, listening to Nico’s reactions to the movie. Company’s always helped Will calm down faster, and he’s glad that he’s not out in the hallway.

He can feel something soft brush against his face from time to time, but he just assumes that it’s Nico’s hair. It all makes sense to his sleep-deprived brain. It’s not until after the second movie is over, when Will’s eyelids are starting to get heavy again, that he realizes that Nico has wings.
-
Nico downs his coffee, hoping that it’ll help even the smallest bit. He’s never liked this class, and he’s not even sure why he’s still taking it. It’s not required for his majors or the general ed stuff, but it is one of the few times he can see Jason.

“Don’t tell me you were up late reading again,” Jason says by way of greeting. He hands Nico another coffee, and Nico accepts it gratefully. Jason always knew he was dead in this class, so he brought him coffee if he had the time. Nico takes a long sip before responding.

“Nope, I actually went to bed on time. Around one or so.” He doesn’t tell Jason that he slept in the study lounge yet again. He was definitely going to be getting a new roommate when the changing period came around. While his roommate was mostly fine during the day, he was either drunk or getting there around the time Nico was trying to sleep. Nico wasn’t sure why he couldn’t be like the other thoughtful drunk people and just crash where the party was.

“So, what’s up with the whole zombie look?”

Nico sighs, not sure how to explain whatever had happened this morning. He wasn’t even sure it was real until he passed by the study lounge on his way to class and saw Will fast asleep, movie still playing. He’d hurried by in case Will woke up and tried to apologize or something.

“Luke was drunk again last night,” Nico says. Jason sighs.

“You really need to get a new roommate.” Nico agrees. He wishes his roommate last year hadn’t moved in with his girlfriend. He’d been such a good roommate. What a jerk Jason was.

The room gets quiet for a moment as Drew walks in. She’s added glitter to her wings this morning, and she wants everyone to know. Not that there was any possible way for them to not know. Unless they were dead. Nico sighs, taking a long sip of his coffee. Drew was definitely pretty but in a way that kind of felt like she could carve your heart out and not blink twice.

“I really don’t see why Piper doesn’t like her,” Jason says. Nico shrugs. Heck if he understood girls. He figures Piper probably doesn’t like Drew because of all of the time she spent in her mirror. And also the glitter. But other than that, Drew was a pretty decent roommate. She’d even brought Piper soup last year when she’d gotten sick.

Not that Piper has to worry about that now.

“I’m pretty sure Luke would kill me if I tried to put glitter in my wings,” Nico says.

Jason laughs. “I’d definitely like to see that. The glitter. Not Luke.” Nico rolls his eyes. He never did much with his wings. He’d had them too long for them to be a nuisance. But sometimes he wishes he could go places without having to worry he was molting feathers everywhere. Or that girls would stop asking if they could touch them.

“I think the glitter would distract from the whole zombie thing I’ve got going.” Jason looks like he wants to say something, but the professor finally shows up, and Nico’s trying to drown himself in coffee.

He doesn’t think about Will again until he sees him, leaning against a tree, a guitar in his lap. He’s strumming absently, not even noticing when a few girls stop right in front of him to watch. Nico’s not sure if he should go over there, and he’s not sure if he wants to. It’s weird seeing Will in the daylight.

This morning, he’d been wrapped up in a blanket, only his blond curls and face popping out. And now he was in a T-shirt and jeans, clearly much more at ease than he’d been earlier. Nico’s not even sure what possessed him to ask Will to stay. Maybe he just didn’t want to feel guilty that Will was dealing with whatever it was in the hallway just because Nico’s roommate was an inconsiderate jerk.

Nico decides not to go over there, thinking that Will looked too occupied with his music to want to strike up an awkward conversation. Instead, he adjusts his backpack, stretching out his wings a bit. He hopes Luke won’t be in the room so he can stretch them out for real. For a moment, he just watches Will’s fingers glide over the frets, hoping that their movie marathon did some good. Then he’s putting it out of his mind, heading back to his dorm to do some homework.
-
Will wishes he knew the pattern for his dreams. That way he could plan accordingly. Of course, though, there’s no set schedule for when he’ll wake up panicking and when he’ll wake up like the rest of the normally-functioning population. He can’t remember any of his dreams for at least a week, and he only sees Nico once.

He’d seen him across the dining hall, and he wasn’t sure if it’d be weird or not to go up and thank him for the other night. Instead, he’d taken in Nico’s wings. They were pitch black, like a raven’s or something. And they looked strong, though Nico kept them tucked against his back. They weren’t all that big, but Will wondered what it was like to have wings. He’d heard people complain about backaches and their wings feeling cramped.

He can’t imagine how someone with that much freedom in their hands could ever feel cramped. If he had wings, all he’d want to do was fly. He wonders if Nico can fly.

It’s not until Friday that Will runs into Nico again. It’s late, and the hall above him is having some sort of party. Will will never understand why anyone would want to throw a party in their room. Dorm rooms were much too small to house any kind of fun that involved more than three people. So he grabs his backpack and his blanket and makes his way to the study lounge.

He’s not expecting to see Nico there.

“Um, hi again,” Will says. “I can just go to the one downstairs.”

Nico shakes his head. “You’re fine. I could use some company anyway.”

Will hesitates for a moment before sitting on the couch. Nico looked like he was trying to sleep. “What’re you doing in here?”

Nico shrugs. “Sleeping, I guess. All of my friends decided tonight would be date night, and my roommate’s already drunk somehow. What about you?”

Will holds up his textbook, ignoring the fact that Nico’s single. “Trying to study, but there’s some sort of party happening upstairs.”
Nico hums. “Must’ve been where Luke was. Too bad he didn’t stop by the showers first.” There’s a beat of silence. “So you study on Friday nights?”

“I have a test on Monday.” Honestly, Will just needed something to do. His classes kept him too busy to make friends what with all of the labs and studying and other stuff he was supposed to be doing. Stuff like sleeping and eating and showering.

“Want some help studying? I’m just killing time until Luke falls asleep.”

Will figures he could use the help. His roommate always complained that Will had too much to study and was no help. He hands Nico a pile of flashcards.

“Hey, thanks for the other night,” Will says.

Nico smirks. “You make it sound like we went on a date or something.” He flips through the flashcards, reading a few of them. Will feels his cheeks heat up, though he’s not sure why. Sure, Nico’s gorgeous and really nice. But Will hardly knows him. “So, any particular way you want to do this?”

They go through four sets of Will’s flashcards before Nico calls a timeout. “Okay. If we’re going to continue this, I need some fuel. Want anything?”

It takes Will a moment to realize that Nico means food. “Um, sure.”

He grabs his stuff, hardly caring that he’s about to walk across campus with his penguin blanket. It wasn’t like any of the college kids cared. The cafe is mostly empty, just a few students huddled around bags of chips or cups of coffee. The radio played softly overhead, and Will almost fell asleep to the gentle tap of someone typing.

He orders a muffin, and Nico gets a coffee. They sit towards the back, and Will watches Nico stretch out his wings a little bit.
“What’s it like having them?” Will blurts out. With his lack of friends, his social skills have suffered.

Nico shrugs. “I dunno, I’ve always had them. Kind of like me asking you what it’s like to have blond hair.”

Will hasn’t thought about that before. “Are they heavy? Do you like them?” He pauses. “Sorry, I’m just curious. And it’s too late for my filter to work.”

Nico smiles at this. “I get that. They’re not too heavy, but I guess that’s just something I’ve gotten used to. And I don’t hate them. I think they’re pretty at least.”

Will smiles. He thinks they’re beautiful, but he doesn’t want to sound like he’s just got this thing for wings. He doesn’t; he’s just curious.

“Do other people in your family have them?”

“My mom does. Dad doesn’t. He was pretty disappointed when my wings started growing in. I think he wished he had them, too.”

Will shrugs. “I think it’d be kind of cool,” he says softly. “But I guess I like that I fit in the beds they gave us.”

Nico laughs. “Yeah, that’s kind of annoying. I either have to tuck them in or let them hang over the other side. My roommate always complains I’m too loud when I turn over. I can’t believe no one thought of that here. At least the chairs work.” Will nods. A lot of the backs of chairs were adjustable so that one could have support and not crush their wings. “But I think I’d miss having wings if I somehow lost them.”

Will nods. They fall into a comfortable silence, just enjoying each other’s company. The second time Will almost falls asleep, Nico suggests they head back to the dorms. Nico walks him to his room, and Will has this urge to kiss him as they say goodnight.

“I’ll see you later,” Nico says. “Goodnight, Will.”
-
From there, it becomes a routine. Whenever Will can’t sleep and Nico’s roommate is being a jerk, they meet up in the study lounge to watch movies or study. Nico’s taken to bringing food and Will brings extra blankets. Nico hasn’t really told anyone about these nights/early mornings when he somehow feels most awake.

Will’s funny and nice, and it helps that he’s super easy to look at. Even at 3 am, he’s somehow glowing.

“I just think it’s perfect,” Will’s saying now, “di Angelo. And you have wings. Please tell me I’m not the only one who’s pointed that out.”

Nico huffs, but he’s not annoyed. “I think you’re the only one who’s had the guts to,” he says. “Although, most angels don’t have black wings.” He’s laying on his side in a nest of blankets he’s made, his wings stretched out behind him.

“I wouldn’t know,” Will says. “Black wings are just as nice as white wings.” He smiles at Nico, shoving a handful of popcorn into his mouth. They’re supposed to be working on a paper that’s due in four days, but it’s quickly dissolved into something else. Nico can’t quite put his finger on it.

“What color wings would you want?” Nico asks. Will thinks for a few moments.

“I think silver would be cool. Or maybe yellow.” Nico rolls his eyes. Most wings were brown or some shade between white and black. Few people had wings that were naturally a different color.

“I feel like the yellow would clash with your hair,” Nico says. He’s not sure which color would best match Will, but Nico’s sure Will would look amazing either way. He rolls into a sitting position, grabbing the popcorn bowl from Will. It’s a Monday night, and they really should be sleeping. Nico’s never asked why Will can’t sleep, and Will never hints to it.

“Can you fly?” Will asks.

“Sort of,” Nico says slowly. He used to when he was young, circling his backyard and watching the leaves flutter on the ground. His mom couldn’t fly, her wings too small to support her for any distance. “I haven’t really tried in a while. No need, really.”

Will nods. “I wish I could fly,” he says softly, like he’s confessing something. Absently, he tugs the blanket tighter around him, leaning back into the couch. “I have dreams of falling, and that’s why I don’t sleep a lot. They just feel too real.”

Nico’s not sure how to respond. “I would catch you,” he says after a while. It sounds like some cheesy line from a movie he’s probably never seen, but he means it. “If you were falling, I’d try my best to catch you.”

He’s not sure exactly when he got this protective over Will. He’s only known him for a few weeks, but he suddenly wants to scare these nightmares away. Even if it means that they’d no longer meet up like this. They’ve exchanged numbers, but they’ve barely texted anything.

“So,” Will says, breaking the tension. “There’s this art festival happening downtown this weekend. Would you maybe want to go?”

Will’s not quite asking him out, Nico thinks, but he doesn’t want to miss it if he is.

“Sure.” Will nods, and Nico’s already zoomed ahead in his week to make sure that he’ll be able to clear enough time that day to hang out with Will. He’s not sure what they are, but if this is only friendship, he’ll take it.
-
Will’s trying his best not to yawn as he waits for Nico. When he’d gone to the lounge last night, Nico hadn’t been there. So Will had just watched movie after movie until he fell asleep at some point. He wasn’t sure why he didn’t just text Nico, but maybe he wasn’t sure where they stood. They were friends, Will thinks. But they only really hung out between midnight and six in the morning.

“Hey,” Nico says. Will smiles, stifling another yawn as he tries not to stare at Nico. He’s wearing his usual T-shirt and jeans, but Will feels like he cleaned up. His hair looks neater, and he smells faintly of cologne. Maybe it’s just because it isn’t four in the morning when they’re both supposed to be sleeping. “You okay there?”

Will blinks, nodding. “Yeah, just didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.”

Nico frowns. “You could have texted me. I wouldn’t mind.”

Will shakes his head. “I’m okay. I’ll catch up tonight.” Nico looks like he doesn’t believe Will, and it’s not like Will can guarantee he’ll be able to make up for lost sleep. “C’mon, let’s catch the bus.”

Will wasn’t really sure what kind of art festival it was, but he’d heard someone talking about it in the dining hall. To his best knowledge, it sounded like local galleries were hosting some kind of fundraiser by sponsoring local artists. Will didn’t know much about art, but Nico had mentioned that he dabbled.

“So, where are we going first?” Nico asks. Will shrugs. He’d kind of just figured they’d walk around until they saw something interesting. Some buskers had set up on the street corners and were playing. He feels Nico take his hand, and he does his best not to act surprised. Nico smiles at him. “Let’s go in there!”

He lets Nico lead him from gallery to gallery, explaining this and that. He’s just content to hold Nico’s hand, to feel a brush of his wings, to hope that that smile is for him.

“Let’s get something to eat,” Will says once as they pass a coffee shop. The smell of coffee grounds and baked goods makes his mouth water. “I’m hungry.”

“Yeah, me, too.” They end up in a pizza place, trying to choose between spaghetti and pizza.

“They should have a spaghetti pizza here,” Will says. Nico makes a face, his nose wrinkling. Will laughs. “Well, it wouldn’t be that gross. Just pasta and some bread. The sauce is a given. I think it’d be tasty.”

Nico shakes his head. “Definitely not. I’m getting the spaghetti.”

Will ends up getting two slices of pizza. Nico gets a garlic knot with his pasta, and he refuses to share it with Will. Will tries to steal a noodle or two from Nico to prove that spaghetti on pizza wouldn’t be disgusting, but Nico’s guarding his pasta.

“You are not ruining two of my favorite foods by putting them together, William,” Nico huffs. He’s trying to frown, but the corners of his mouth keep tipping up. Will grins.

“I think you’re just scared to admit what a culinary genius I am.” Nico rolls his eyes.

“I hope you’re never allowed in a kitchen ever.” Will laughs.

“My mom would definitely agree with you.” Nico gives him a look as if to say ‘I told you so.’ “But it’s not for my culinary creations. You should consider yourself lucky. You’re the first person I’m sharing my genius with.”

Nico raises his eyebrows, reaching across the table to lay his hands on Will’s. “I’m saying this as a friend and for all of the world. There’s a reason that spaghetti and pizza are two separate foods. They aren’t the same food.” He pats Will’s hands, and Will manages to keep his thoughts straight.

“Not yet.”

Nico throws his hands up in the air, sighing. “I give up.

From there, the conversation is less controversial. Nico laughs at Will’s jokes, and Will doesn’t even realize how fast time is flying by. Because, somehow, dinner’s right around the corner, and Will’s trying to keep his eyes open.

“Thanks for today,” Nico says as he stops outside his door.

“You make it sound like we went on a date or something,” Will says quickly, blushing. Nico smirks.

“Was it a date?”

“I wanted it to be.” Will glances at Nico, at the blush that’s rising on his cheeks, the way his wings seem a little restless. “What about you?”

“I want it to be a date,” Nico says, “so I can do this.” He steps forward, reaching up on his tiptoes to kiss Will’s cheek.

“Yeah, I like that.” Nico laughs, rolling his eyes.

“Get some sleep, Will. I mean it.”

Will waves him off, not sure he’ll be able to sleep with this running through his head all night. He can feel Nico’s warm skin against his own, that blush, the feeling of their hands locked together. He feels like he’s flying, and, for once, he’s not scared.
-
Nico’s not surprised when Will stumbles into their study lounge around two in the morning. Luke, for his part, had been playing some stupid video game in their room and refused to shut it off. Sometimes, Nico wasn’t sure if he was more annoying drunk or sober.

“Hey,” Will says. Nico scoots over, making room for him. The couch wasn’t the best fit for two of them and Nico’s wings, but they made it work. Will plops down, resting his head in Nico’s lap. Nico’s hands automatically go to play with Will’s hair, getting a content hum from Will.

“Can’t sleep?” Nico asks.

Will shrugs. “Bad dreams.” He squeezes his eyes shut for a moment. “I can’t tell if they’re getting better or worse.” Nico nods. He’d once asked Will what he could do on these nights, and Will had said that he just needed Nico to ground him. Nico pulls Will’s blanket over them, leaning down to kiss Will’s nose. He’s rewarded by a blush.

“Anything you want to do?” Nico asks. He notices that Will hasn’t brought anything with him tonight other than his blanket. “I can read to you.”

Will hums. “What’cha reading? I don’t like suspense before bed.”

“A collection of Eastern fairytales for a paper I’m writing,” Nico says. He lets Will look at the cover before he starts reading. Will curls up on his lap, closing his eyes. He’s so warm, and Nico loves it. He loves how easily they’ve fallen into their routine. There were a few awkward bumps, but stye managed to move through them fine.

It’s not until he’s on the third fairytale does he realize that Will’s asleep. He listens to the soft breaths Will lets out, smiling. He finishes the story he’s on before he leans back against the couch and closes his own eyes. With these nights, he’s been getting less sleep than usual, but he wouldn’t trade these for a full eight hours of sleep either.

Nico starts awake, glancing around the room, unsure of what woke him. He’s scooted down the couch, and Will’s now cuddled into his side, one of Nico’s wings laying over his stomach. The other is wedged somewhat uncomfortably into the couch. Nico tries shifting a bit to dislodge it without waking Will up. He decides that when they do this again, he’s going to take the outside.

He’s just on the verge of falling asleep again when he feels Will shaking against him. Then he remembers hearing a gasp somewhere deep in his sleep that woke him up.

“Will?” Nico asks softly. “You’re okay, sunshine.”

Slowly, Will inches up Nico’s body, and Nico uses the moments to dislodge his wings. He folds them around them, tickling Will’s face with the feathers. Will lets out a relieved breath, resting his head against Nico’s collarbone. Nico rubs Will’s back, cocooning them in his wings. Bit by bit, Will relaxes.

“I’ve got you, Will,” Nico says when Will lifts his head to look at Nico. “I’m right here.”

Will gives him a lopsided smile, kissing his chin before laying back down. He traces shapes across Nico’s chest. Nico tries to gather his thoughts. This is the first time Will’s woken up from a nightmare when Nico’s been there. Two in one night.

“Even though your wings are black,” Will says, “you still look like an angel to me.”

Nico feels a laugh bubble up. “Straight out of a nightmare, and you’re still the cheesiest person I know,” he says gently.

Will snorts, snuggling closer. “I’m sorry I woke you up.” Nico shrugs. Sleep was important, but so was Will.

“Is there anything you need?” Nico asks. He’s not sure how long they were asleep, but he thinks he can see the sunrise beginning.

Will shrugs. “I think maybe you could kiss it better.” Nico does laugh this time.

“Smooth, Solace.” Will tilts his head up so Nico can kiss his nose.

“Thanks for being my angel,” Will mumbles into the next kiss. Despite the cheesiness, Nico can feel his face erupt into a blush.

“Just shut up and kiss me,” he mutters. Will laughs, doing just that.

Chapter Text

Nico groans as he rolls over, burying his face into the pillow. Someone had opened the blinds this morning, and he was not pleased. For a moment, he stills, wondering if the guy he’d brought back last night was still here. Slowly, he opens one eye to check. The bed spreads out empty before him, and he sighs. He’d better not have opened the blinds this morning. Nico was going to have to add that to his list of subtle probes.

“Rise and shine, Neeks!” Jason calls, and Nico throws his pillow across the room. He’s satisfied when he hears an oof. “You’re lucky I wasn’t bringing you any coffee.”

“You’d never bring me coffee in bed,” Nico grumbles. He doesn’t remember how many rounds they’d had last night, but he hadn’t fallen asleep until after two. He doesn’t even know when Jason got back. He’s not concerned about what Jason might have heard, but he hadn’t been expecting Jason quite so early.

“Nope. But I did make some fresh this morning. It’s in the kitchen.”

“Did you open my blinds this morning?”

“Yup.” Nico tosses another pillow at Jason. He realizes he’s not going to be getting any more sleep this morning until Jason’s gone, so he shoos Jason out of his room. The quiet only lasts a few minutes before Nico can hear Jason loudly chatting with Piper over the phone.

“Didn’t you guys see each other just this morning?” Nico asks, deciding he has no choice but to get up. Jason was only going to get more annoying. He pours himself the largest cup of coffee he can, moving to make some eggs. Jason’s finally hung up, declaring loudly how much he loves Piper. “Gross.”

Jason just smiles. “Wouldn’t it be less gross if you got yourself a boyfriend? Then we could go on double dates and be at each other’s weddings? Or we could all move in together?”

“Still gross,” Nico says. “And I’m not looking for a boyfriend. It’s college. Not everyone has to marry their high school sweethearts and ride off into the sunset.”

“You’re grumpy in the morning.”

Nico drains his mug, refilling it before starting on his eggs. “I would be less grumpy if you hadn’t woken me up.”

“But you were sleeping so long,” Jason whines. “How was I supposed to know the guy last night didn’t kill you or something?”

Nico huffs. “I’d have told you.”

“You wouldn’t. Because you’d be dead. And then I’d be best friendless.”

Nico rolls his eyes. “You’d still have Percy. And Hazel and Frank. And Piper and Annabeth.” Jason pouts. “I’m just saying you wouldn’t be lonely.”

“What’s so wrong with having a boyfriend?” Jason asks. “I mean, I think it’d be good for you. Human bonding and all.”

Nico dumps his dishes into the sink, deciding to leave them for later. Then he gets dressed and goes for a run. He and Jason have had this conversation at least a hundred times, and it’s gotten nowhere. Nico doesn’t have a boyfriend because he doesn’t feel like having one. It’s not because he’s waiting for The One or some crap like that. He’s just more interested in sex and sleeping than in kissing and cuddling. That’s all.

“Hey, watch out!” someone calls. Nico curses, swerving to avoid a giant ball of fluff in the middle of the sidewalk. He manages to not face plant as he turns to look behind him.

He’s about to say something rude when he realizes what he almost ran over. “Is that a cat?!”

The other boy is now checking his cat over, making sure she’s okay. He picks her up, scratching underneath her chin. Nico can hear the cat purring. In the boy’s arms, she looks like one giant furball of happiness. Nico’s not sure he’s seen anything so strange.

“Yeah, you want to pet her? She’s super friendly.” Nico slowly reaches out to pat the cat’s head. He thinks she smiles. It’s almost creepy if she didn’t look so happy. “Her name’s Gloria.” And Nico can hear the affection in his voice. “Oh, and I’m Will.”

“Nico.” Gloria looks upset when Nico moves his hand away. “Sorry about almost running her over. I’ve never seen a cat being walked.”

Will shrugs, smiling. “It’s either this or claw marks everywhere. She loves being outside.” He sets Gloria back on the pavement, and Nico watches as she sniffs around. She makes herself happy in the grass, waiting for Will to start walking again.

“She’s cute.” Will beams at this.

“I know. She knows, too.” There’s an awkward pause, and Nico glances at his watch. Something in him wants to stay here and talk to Will forever, and he’s not sure why. He’s not sure how to continue this conversation, but Gloria beats him to it. She rubs up against Will’s leg, meowing.

“Well, that’s my cue,” Will says. “I guess, I’ll see you around?”

Nico nods. It’s not until he gets back to his apartment that he realizes he’s smiling, and he’s pretty sure he knows why.
-
Will’s surprised when he sees Nico on campus. It’s not that their campus is all that big, but he’d never seen Nico before. Not that he’d been looking before. But now it felt like he saw Nico everywhere. He wasn’t sure what Nico’s major was or what year he was, so he couldn’t narrow anything down.

He’s not even sure why Nico stands out so much. Sure, Will thought he was super attractive, but he didn’t know if Nico could even reciprocate those feelings. And it’s not like Will’s never seen an attractive guy before. But maybe it was that he hadn’t dated anyone since high school, and he’d recently transferred here with his best friend. Maybe he was ready to get back into the dating game.

“Will,” Reyna says. “You’ve been staring at your homework for the past half hour, and I’m pretty sure anatomy cannot be that interesting.”

Will shrugs. He liked anatomy. He loved knowing how everything worked, what was happening inside his body. “Maybe not to you.”

Reyna rolls her eyes. “Well, I doubt you heard a single thing I’ve been saying.”

Will blinks. “What’ve you been saying?”

Reyna sighs. “Exactly. I was just saying that I got invited to the lake with some friends in my economics class, and they said I could bring a friend. Did you want to come?”

“Gloria won’t be able to,” Will says, tapping his pencil against his face. “She’ll be super bummed. But it sounds fun. Sure.”

“Okay, good. I’ll tell them we’ll be there. It’s this weekend, by the way. Saturday, I think.” Will nods. His schedule was far from full. All he ever did on the weekends was sleep and homework. And walk Gloria. If he could find a cat-proof fence, life would be easier. But he doubted that even existed.

Will wasn’t sure what to expect at the lake. He and Reyna were still getting used to the campus and the town, and they hadn’t really been able to get out much. Will had found the park and grocery store; Reyna had found all of the good places to eat and the quickest ways to get around campus.

Reyna drives because Will doesn’t have a car yet. Public transportation had been a wonderful thing their last college provided, but here everything was too spread out for that. Reyna did her best to brief Will on each of her friends, but Will was still nervous. He didn’t want to just be a friend of a friend.

“Relax, Will,” Reyna says. “I don’t even know if I’m considered their friend yet.”

“They invited you to the lake,” Will points out. Reyna shrugs. They both have to recheck the address when they pull up to a large house instead of a lake. “Maybe we could ask them for directions?” Will suggests when Reyna’s triple-checked.

They head up to the house, feeling severely underdressed in the shadow of such a large and lavish place. There’s a small gate, propped open at the top of the driveway. Two lions stand guard on the posts. The lawn is perfectly manicured.

“You talk,” Will says. Reyna huffs, but she presses the doorbell. They’re both surprised when someone answers in a bathing suit.

“Oh, hey, are you Reyna? I’m Percy. C’mon in.” Reyna glances at Will before nodding. They pull the car into the massive garage and grab their stuff. Will still feels weird to be in a bathing suit in a house that has marble pillars running through it.

“Ignore the fancy stuff,” a guy calls. “Nico’s dad just likes to be dramatic. The backyard is more friendly.” He smiles at them, and Reyna whispers his name is Jason.

The porch is massive, but Will feels better that it’s wooden and not something fancier like glass. There are already towels and food and drinks spread out on the tables. There are stairs that lead down to the water, and Will realizes that someone in the group must own this place. He glances around the room for Reyna, but she’s talking to someone already.

“Hey, long time no see,” comes a voice. Will looks up to see Nico looking back at him. “Will, right?”

Will nods. “Yeah, um, hi. Gloria couldn’t make it.”

For a moment, Will wishes he could just leave. And then Nico smiles. “Well, they do say cats hate water, right?” Will shrugs. Gloria never minded going on rainy walks, though she did bathe right when she got back. “Did you want anything to eat or drink?”

Will realizes that everyone else seems to be having a good time already, so he nods. He follows Nico to where the food is laid out, filling up his plate. He is pretty hungry. Then Nico leads him closer to the water, pulling off his shirt. Will has to look away before he ends up staring. Nico’s not incredibly built, but he is beautiful.

“Like what you see?” Nico asks. Will takes a bite of his hamburger so he doesn’t have to answer. He’s pretty sure Nico’s flirting with him, but he’s not sure if he wants to flirt back. He’s definitely attracted to Nico, but he’s getting the feeling that Nico’s asking for something different.

“The lake’s beautiful,” Will says. Nico, for his part, doesn’t look fazed.

“One of the good things about my father’s money,” Nico says. Will’s not sure what to say to that. He’s working his own way through college on a few scholarships and a bit of savings his parents were able to collect. It’s not that they were unprepared for the demands of college tuition, but it’s hard to plan for what life throws at you. Like Will’s older brother breaking his leg. Or his mom being admitted to the hospital. His dad leaving.

“Do you come here a lot?” Will asks, trying to get back to the present. He doesn’t realize he’s said a classic pick-up line until Nico’s smirking.

“Often enough. What about you?”

Will hopes the sun is a good excuse for his blush. Nico knows he hasn’t been here before. “First time.”

Nico stands up. “Well, let me give you a tour.”

Will’s not sure how to protest, so he lets Nico take his hand. They don’t bother going upstairs because it’s all bedrooms and expensive paintings. But he sees the kitchen, the sunroom, the living room, the front room, the music room. There’s the garage, the dining room, a less formal dining room. Will’s pretty sure he’d get lost in here if he wasn’t holding Nico’s hand.

“And then the lake. Wanna swim?” Will looks around for Reyna, spotting her already in the water with Percy. Or maybe Jason.

“You’re not supposed to swim for an hour after you’ve eaten,” Will says. He’s not sure why he says that. He’s not opposed to swimming, but he’s not sure what to think about Nico. He’s definitely friendly, but Will’s pretty sure he didn’t look that alone.

“I’ll make sure you won’t drown,” Nico says. Will nods. The water’s not exactly warm, but it does feel nice after being in the hot sun. They wade in, and Nico doesn’t push Will any further than he goes. It’s not until Reyna calls him over that he goes out further.

“Having fun?” Reyna whispers. Will shrugs. Reyna nods. “We can leave whenever you want.” Will nods, but he doesn’t want them to leave just because he’s not sure if he’s having fun. It’s clear Reyna is. She’s laughing with Jason and Percy and another girl.

Somehow, they end up playing some sort of game of chicken, and Will manages to snag Reyna as his partner. She convinces Will to climb onto her shoulders, though WIll’s pretty sure Reyna would make a better contender. He puts up his best fight against Percy, and then he watches Annabeth and Nico duke it out.

“I think Nico likes you,” Reyna says as they dry off on the grass. “He keeps smiling at you.”

Will shrugs. He’s not sure if he’s reading Nico’s signals wrong or if there’s something wrong with him. Maybe Will’s just been out of the game for so long that he’s unsure of himself in this situation. “Are you saying I should go for it?”

Reyna rolls her eyes. “Only if you wanted to, but I think you two could work. Jason said he’s a junior. So only a year older than you.”

“What else did Jason tell you?” Will asks. He’s not curious, but he wants as many facts as he can.

“That Nico’s single. And very much gay.” Reyna pauses. “And if you wanted to know anything else about Nico, you should ask him yourself. Nico, not Jason.”

Will pouts. Well, at least he knew it was possible for Nico to like him back. If only he could decide if he liked Nico.
-
Nico sees Will yawning, and he decides that Will looks angelic. His curls are mussed from the lake, and his freckles are even more pronounced from the sun. He’d finally taken off his shirt after getting out of the water, and Nico had to catch his breath when he saw the smooth muscles and even more freckles. Will was gorgeous.

He leans over the couch so that Will can hear him without disturbing the intense chess game happening.

“Bored?” Will shrugs, yawning. Between beating Percy and Jason at Uno, he’d seen Will struggling to keep his eyes open. And he looked so cute curled up on the loveseat, a blanket wrapped around him. Nico feels his heart stutter for a moment, and he’s unsure why. Will probably wasn’t all that different from the handful of hot guys Nico had brought home.

Sure, he was cuter. And shyer. But that was all.

“Reyna’s my ride home,” Will yawns. Nico glances over to where Reyna’s staring intensely at the board while Annabeth makes her move. “I’m fine.”

Nico smiles. “You’d be more comfortable upstairs. Come on, you’re about to fall asleep.”

Will yawns, whispering something into Reyna’s ear. She nods, eyeing Nico for a moment before slamming her hand on the clock. Nico takes Will’s hand, leading him upstairs. He takes Will to one of the guest rooms that he knows is made up and doesn’t have a giant, creepy painting above the bed.

When Will had first walked onto the porch, Nico hadn’t thought much of him. He’d remembered Will as the cat guy, but after seeing him without his shirt off, Nico was wondering if Will could be his next hookup.

“Is this okay?” Will asks. “I can always just sleep on the couch.” Nico shakes his head. Will had been fighting sleep for half an hour on that couch.

“Go ahead, making yourself comfortable.” Will slowly makes his way inside the room. He’s still holding Nico’s hand, so Nico tugs him gently closer. Will’s looks confused for a moment before Nico reaches up and presses a gentle kiss to the corner of Will’s mouth. Will’s cheeks redden, and it’s adorable. Nico goes in for another kiss. He gets in two kisses before Will steps back.

“Wait,” Will says. “You do like me?”

Nico smirks. “Yeah, I mean, you’re gorgeous. Cute and funny.” Will’s blush deepens. “So can I kiss you?” Nico’s itching for an amazing night. He hasn’t been able to find someone who also wanted to hookup in a week, and he feels restless. Will gives a small nod, and Nico connects their lips again.

Will kisses back, and it’s honestly better than Nico had thought. Will knew how to kiss. He was soft and warm and solid. Nico slides his hands up Will’s side, kissing down his jaw. Will lets out a groan. Nico has to do most of the work, kissing down to Will’s neck, but he doesn’t mind. Will lets out cute noises.

“No marks,” Will whines. Nico respects that. It’s not until Nico slides his hands underneath Will’s shirt that Will pulls back again.

“No,” he says, and he sounds almost panicked. “No, sorry.” He runs a hand through his hand, and Nico wishes he’d taken the opportunity to do that, too. He tugs down his shirt.

“No, you don’t like me?” Nico asks. “I mean, I’m kind of okay with that. It’s not a requirement.” He shrugs.

Will looks like he needs a moment to compose himself. Nico adjusts his pants. Will sits on the bed. “No, I just want to do this right. I don’t want to just have sex with you and then never talk to you again.”

“Oh. So, sex and keep talking or no sex at all?” Nico asks to clarify.

“I’m not ready for sex right now. Everyone’s downstairs, and isn’t this a guest room?” Will looks absolutely embarrassed to be having this conversation right now, but Nico wants to make sure he’s not stepping over any boundaries. He never forces anyone to hook up with him.

“Oh, okay. I’ll leave you to rest, then.” Will nods slowly, not moving. Nico leaves the room, closing the door behind him. He can still feel Will’s lips on his, how warm Will was against him. He wants that, but he respects Will’s boundaries. Nico feels a little disappointed that Will isn’t ready, but not everyone was so ready to have sex with strangers. Which was probably good.

“Hey, Neeks,” Jason says, coming into the kitchen. Nico rolls his eyes. “The chess game is still happening.”

Nico glances towards the living room. Both girls were practically head to head. “Well, you guys can spend the night if you need.”

Jason shakes his head. “Piper and I were about to head out. But Percy might need a room. I don’t think anyone’s close to winning right now.” Nico nods. “Hey, where’s Will?”

“Upstairs.”

Jason gives Nico a look. “Were you two talking?” Nico shrugs. They’d talked, he supposes. It’s not that he thought Will would be easy, but he seemed like he’d liked Nico back. And not everyone was looking for something long-lasting. Some people just wanted to have some fun. “Don’t tell me he’s in the bath.”

Nico shakes his head. “No, nothing happened, Jason. Relax. I just let him have a room to spend the night in. His friend’s his ride.”

“You could have offered him a ride.” That hadn’t really occurred to Nico. That and he was opposed to car sex. No point when there were perfectly good beds. And he didn’t have anything to hide. “You must really like him,” Jason adds when Nico doesn’t respond.

Nico doesn’t know. He’s never forced anyone, but something also felt different when he was kissing Will. Usually, he’d be focused on getting past the kissing, moving on to what came after. But all he could think of now was how he was sad he hadn’t run his fingers through Will’s hair, hadn’t figured out which spot Will liked kissed the best, if his neck or behind his ear was more sensitive.

He didn’t know what to do with these feelings. When he left the house that night, he picked up someone at the nearest bar. But when he kissed them, he couldn’t stop thinking of Will.
-
Will’s bussing tables today. It’s not the most glamorous job, but it pays decently well. And he doesn’t have to really talk to people. He can remember all of the names of the bones in the human body, but he has trouble remembering the week’s specials when faced with a group of people.

Which is why he tries to hide when he sees the manager of the shift heading towards him. He tries his best to look busy, which isn’t all that hard to do when his arms are loaded up with dirty dishes.

“Hey, Will, could you get that table over in the corner? Katie had to leave early and forgot to get someone to cover her shift.”

Will’s about to ask if the manager could just do it when he realizes that she’s probably covering Jake’s shift. “Um, sure.” The manager smiles, handing Will a piece of paper with the specials scribbled on it. Will sighs, dropping his dishes off in the kitchen. Then he composes himself. For all of two seconds before his eyes land on Nico.

“Um, hey. What can I get you?” He fumbles for a notepad, realizing he doesn’t have one. He grabs a stack of napkins and a pen from a nearby table. “I mean, welcome to Jupiter. Have you dined with us before?”

“All the time,” Nico says, smiling.

“Really?” Will asks. He’s never seen Nico here.

Nico shakes his head. “Nope. Actually, I’m here because I heard you work here.”

“Um, can I take your order?”

“How about the special? And maybe whenever you get off?” Will’s too flustered to answer. He just writes down ‘special’ onto his napkin before rushing off. He hides until Nico’s order is ready, and then he realizes he’s never gotten Nico anything to drink. He gets a glass of Dr. Pepper, thinking that’s what he saw Nico drinking on Saturday.

“Anything else I can get you?”

Nico smiles around his burger. “If I’m being too forward, please tell me. But I’d like to know when your shift ends.”

“One-thirty,” Will says before dashing away again. Once in the kitchen, he loses himself in a stack of dishes and scalding hot water. His fingers become all pruny, and he barely hears his phone buzzing. Making sure the manager isn’t around, he checks his texts. Reyna’s asking if he can find someone else to give him a ride home as she’s got a last minute errand she needs to run.

And then Will remembers he’s supposed to be waiting on Nico’s table. He rushes back out to find Nico absently playing a game on his phone.

“I’m ready for my check now,” he says, looking up. Will gets it for him.

“Would it be too much to ask for a ride home?” Will asks after Nico’s signed the check. He’s not altogether sure Reyna’s errand is valid, but he’s not going to question it right now.

“Sure. I was wondering if you’d already left. You know your shift ended twenty minutes ago?” Nico’s smiling in that way that makes Will feel like he’s flirting. He waits while Will clocks out and gets his stuff. Then Will’s directing Nico to his apartment.

“Did you, um, want to come up?” Will asks. He thinks that’s the proper etiquette after someone’s driven you home. Nico kills the engine, following Will up the stairs. Will gets them both glasses of water, and Nico sits down on the couch.

Will’s not sure what he should be doing. He wishes Gloria wasn’t sleeping on the windowsill. He doesn’t feel pressured by Nico’s advances, but he’s not sure he’s ready for them. It’s clear what Nico wants, but Will’s not sure what he wants.

“Can I kiss you?” Nico asks. Will nods, hoping it’ll clear something up. He hasn’t been kissed in so long, and it feels good. Nico obviously knows what he’s doing, and Will remembers the rumors he’s heard recently about Nico. How he liked to hook up with guys at parties and bars and around campus. That he was great in bed. Was Will just next?

He’s brought back to reality when Nico nips at his neck, and Will lets out an embarrassing sound. It’s even more embarrassing when Nico sucks on the same spot, and Will has to cling to the couch. He’s been in relationships before, and he’s kissed lots of times. But it’s never been like this.

“No one’s here,” Nico says into his ear, and Will realizes he’s panting now. He tries to get his thoughts straight, but Nico attaches his lips to Will’s neck again. His thoughts become Nico’s lips, and he feels like he’s melting. Nico’s hands are in his hair, cupping his face, playing with the hem of his shirt. It’s not until he feels Nico’s warm hands right against his stomach, under his shirt, that he pulls away.

“Not ready,” he gasps out, and Nico’s hands disappear. “Sorry. I’m not ready for that.”

Nico nods. “It’s okay.” And Will’s surprised at how gentle Nico’s voice is. “I don’t mean to push you. I just get lost in you.”

Will nods. His lips feel swollen. “What are we?” He’s never dove into a relationship like this before, and he’s pretty sure this is why.

“I don’t know,” Nico says. “But I want you, Will.”

“I’m not going to become your next hookup. I don’t want to just be someone in your bed.” Will kind of feels like crying now, and maybe it’s because of all of the emotions.

“But you like me?” Nico asks. Will nods. “What if we were dating?”

“Like an actual date? Not just you setting up cheesy candles and rose petals that lead into your bedroom?” Nico blushes at this.
“Not until you’re ready,” he says softly.

Will nods slowly. “I’d like to go on a date with you.” Nico smiles. He leans forward, pressing a sweet kiss to Will’s lips.

“Me, too.”
-
Nico’s freaking out. He can’t remember the last date he went on. Well, the last successful date. The last date he’d been on had ended up in his relationship falling apart. He realizes he doesn’t really know enough about Will to figure out what Will would like. All he knows is that he’s got to make it as perfect as possible so he doesn’t have to see Will’s eyes get all wet again. Especially because of him.

He can’t believe he’d pushed him that far. He feels so guilty. He’s really glad Will spoke up. He’d feel absolutely awful if he forced Will into anything.

It’s not until the day before that he comes up with an idea. He doesn’t want to just take Will out to eat. He wants to show Will that he means more than just a one-night stand and awkward conversation. He’s managed to gather a little information. Enough to know that Will doesn’t like crowds, doesn’t care too much for seafood, loves cats.

He hopes that Will doesn’t think he’s lazy for not planning anything elaborate.

Nico picks Will up promptly. Will’s wearing a button-down shirt and jeans. “Hey, is there anything I need to bring?”

Nico shakes his head. “Just Gloria. If she wants to come along.” Will glances at Nico before nodding. He invites Nico inside while he gets Gloria’s harness and leash. She meows happily as he clips it on, tail waving as she heads for the door.

“She’s eager,” Will says. Nico smiles. He takes Will’s hand as they head down the street.

“I kind of thought we’d go for a walk?” Nico says.

“Yeah, okay.” Nico tries his best to make conversation as they walk. It’s nice holding Will’s hand, watching Gloria walk in front of him. Nico’s never met a cat who liked to be walked. She doesn’t stop at any of the bushes or flowers, but she seems to like to walk in the grass.

Nico and Will play twenty questions, trying to get to know more about each other. As they get closer to the park, Nico starts to feel nervous again. The walk had been nice. Should he just turn back now or follow through with his plan?

“Nico?”

“Um, I hope you’re hungry.”

Will shrugs, following Nico over to a large tree. The branches spread out above them, and Nico’s set up a small picnic underneath. He hopes the ants haven’t gotten to the food. Or any curious passerby. Will sits down, and Gloria sits in his lap, promptly starting to bathe herself. Will laughs as she almost kicks him in the face.

“This is nice, Nico,” Will says. Nico sets out the food, trying to focus on what he’s doing. He wants to kiss Will, but he wants to make sure Will doesn’t think this is just a way for Nico to get into his pants.

“You like turkey, right?” Will nods. Nico’s brought sandwiches and fruit and lemonade. He’d stayed up all night figuring out the menu. Jason had teased him until Nico started freaking out. Then he sat down and helped like a good friend.

Nico had even brought a small cat toy with some catnip for Gloria. She pounces on it immediately, almost digging her claws into Will’s jeans. Will winces, lifting her off of him and onto the grass. He kisses her head, and Nico smiles. They eat in silence while Gloria kicks up the blanket, almost rolling into their fruit. Will laughs as Nico almost gets a mouthful of her tail.

“This is fun, Nico,” Will says, smiling.

“I’m glad you like it. I think I’ve lost sleep over planning this.”

Will looks concerned now. “Why? You can google date ideas. And I’m not all that hard to please.”

Nico shrugs. “I wanted it to be perfect, you know? To make up for me being so pushy.”

Will’s face reddens. “If I hadn’t liked it, I’d have told you, Nico. I like kissing you. I’m just not ready for sex. With anyone. It’s not you.”

“I know. It’s just, I didn’t mean for you to feel like just a one-night stand. I guess I’m just not all that great at expressing my feelings.”

Will laughs now, and Nico loves that sound.

“How about this?” Will asks. “I like you, and I want to get to know you better. And also, I really like kissing you.”

It’s Nico’s turn to blush, though Will’s face is still red. “I really like you, too. And I’d love to take you out on dates and cuddle and take your cat for walks. And I also really like kissing you.”

Will smiles, and Nico can’t help but lean over and kiss him softly. He’s not expecting Will to kiss him back or tug him closer. Gloria’s fallen asleep in the picnic basket, and Nico’s laying half on Will and half on the grass. It’s a little uncomfortable, but Will makes up for it by kissing Nico.

Nico doesn’t think he’s ever made out in a park before. He doesn’t think Will has either judging by his expression when they finally catch their breaths.

“We should probably head back.” Will gently lifts Gloria out of the basket, holding her against his chest. He kisses her head, brushing off the little specks of dirt. She purrs loudly, licking his hand. Nico wishes that was him, but he supposes that there’s still time.

He walks Will back to his apartment, holding hands the whole way, even if that means he has to lug the picnic basket along with one hand. Will sets Gloria down on the ground, and she meows at him. But Will’s eyes are on Nico. He cups Nico’s face gently.

“I’ve never wanted to kiss someone so much.” He looks completely embarrassed to have said that out loud, but Nico loves it. He doesn’t think he’s ever felt so high just hanging out with someone. Usually, he’d have to be at least on the third round. And then Will kisses him, and Nico clears his thoughts. There might be a time for that, but it isn’t now. Right now, he just wants to take in each of Will’s kisses and kiss him back.
-
Will’s not sure what to expect for their one month anniversary. He’s absolutely nervous, Nico’s somehow taken it upon himself to do all of the planning. So Will doesn’t know what to wear or do. He’s not sure if there’s a fancy dinner involved or a walk downtown. Most of their dates have been cheesy things. More walks in the park, trips to the arboretum, the zoo. Reyna had signed them up for a gardening class last week, and they’d ended up tracking dirt into Nico’s apartment. And spent that afternoon cleaning Nico’s apartment.

And despite this newness, it also felt so natural. Will didn’t feel pressured to text or call Nico. He didn’t feel pressured to hang out with him or guilty for needing some time to himself. Nico never tried to pull him into the bedroom, and when they were in the bedroom, they just kissed and cuddled and watched movies on Nico’s laptop.

“I think I’m falling for him,” he says to Reyna. He’s tried on three different outfits, and he’s still not sure which one is the right one. Currently, he’s wearing pajama pants and a button-down, a tie slung around his neck.

“Well, that’s an interesting outfit choice, Will.” Will huffs. Reyna presses a mug of tea into his hands. “Relax. It’s just Nico, right?”

“Did you hear the first thing I said?” Will asks.

Reyna nods. “It’s okay to have feelings for him, Will. It’s okay to want everything you want. You just have to make sure he understands that, too. That you guys are communicating.”

Will slouches on the couch. “I know. I just don’t want to mess this up.”

“You aren’t going to mess this up. I’m pretty sure he’s head over heels for you. Last I heard, he hasn’t brought someone back since you guy’s first date.” Will chokes on his tea at this. He knew Nico had one-night stands, but he didn’t like to be reminded of that. And also, the topic of sex with Nico just did things to his stomach. He was still figuring out if he liked it or not.

“Thanks,” Will says.

Reyna grins. “Well, if I were you, I’d change into something more coordinated. Definitely lose the tie. Too fancy.” Will eyes Reyna, wondering how much she knew. He knew that she and Jason were talking, knew that Nico had Reyna’s number. Will throws on a sweater, pulling Gloria into his lap. She purrs, snuggling into his chest.

Nico arrives fifteen minutes later, cheeks flushed. “So, um, I was thinking, maybe you could spend the night? I promise this isn’t a way to get you into my bed. Like that. We’ll just cuddle or whatever.” He takes a deep breath.

“Um, yeah, sure,” Will says. He’s thought about spending the night at Nico’s before. He knows Nico most likely won’t jump him, but his biggest fear is that he doesn’t know what he’d do if Nico did. Instead of thinking about that, he does his best to grab stuff for an overnight.

“Can you take care of Gloria, Reyna?”

“Sure, thing. Miss Gloria and I will have a great evening. Don’t come back too early, okay? We value our sleep.” Will rolls his eyes, kissing Gloria goodbye. Reyna pats his shoulder. “Deep breaths, Will. Have fun.”

Nico doesn’t give Will any hints about the date, and Will hopes it’s nothing too fancy. He’s wearing pajama pants and an oversized sweater right now. At least, he’d grabbed shoes.

“So, I didn’t have anything fancy planned, so I hope you weren’t expecting that.” He glances at Will. “Actually, you’re dressed kind of perfectly. I guess I forgot to mention that, didn’t I?”

Will nods. “Yeah, maybe.”

Nico laughs. “Right, well, I was thinking we could spend the night in. Like order take-out and watch movies and maybe make a blanket fort? Is that too cheesy? I’ve never actually done that before.”

Will gasps. “You’ve never made a blanket fort?”

Nico smiles. “Nope.”

They order take-out right when they get to Nico’s apartment. And then Will does his best to teach Nico how to make a blanket fort. Luckily, there are enough blankets and only two of them. And Will has never minded cuddling with Nico. They set up Nico’s laptop, grabbing snacks for later.

“Reyna, Gloria, and I used to do something like this,” Will says. “Whenever we just needed to get away from the world a bit, one of us would make the fort.”
Nico smiles. “I bet Gloria made the best forts.”

Will laughs. “Anything is a fort for her.” Nico kisses Will’s cheeks, and Will thinks he likes these little kisses the best. “Have you made a fort in a while?” Nico asks.

Will shrugs. “Before we transferred here, I guess. Mama had been admitted to the hospital. The doctors had found a tumor. But she’s okay now.” Nico nods, wrapping Will in his arms. He was so much more affectionate than he appeared, and Will always melted into him. “And then Reyna’s turtle died.”

They continue talking until the food arrives, and then it’s just them eating. Will’s more comfortable eating around Nico now. He doesn’t have to worry that he’s eating too much or too fast, that he’s too messy. He and Nico joke around, feeding each other cookies. They’ll probably have to sweep in the morning.

“So, movie?” Nico asks. “I think it’s your turn to pick.”

Will’s not too bummed that they don’t really watch the movie. He’s already seen Moana five times. Nico’s more interesting. Nico finds that spot on Will’s neck that makes him see stars, and Will’s mind stops working. There are cheesy battery-powered candles around the laptop. The snacks are piled in the corner. And Nico’s arms are around Will, his lips on Will’s, and Will can feel him smiling.

“Will,” Nico breathes. His lips are red and swollen, and he’s breathing like he just sprinted up the stairs. “Will you be my boyfriend?” Will feels like there’s a certain significance that he’s not quite catching, but the question thrills him nonetheless.

“Yes!” Nico laughs, kissing Will hard. Will can’t believe he’s gotten so lucky.

“I haven’t done this dating thing in a while,” Nico says. “But I want to do this right with you, Will.” Will’s having trouble keeping a straight face. Nico’s serious expression is contrasted with his bunny-printed pajama pants and dancing skeleton socks.

“Are you saying you want to go steady with me, Nico?”

Nico blushes, covering his face. “Gods, Will. I’m trying.”

Will smiles. “I know. And I’m so happy. This is already perfect.”

Nico nods, cupping Will’s face. “Thanks for taking a chance on me. I know I came off kind of strong.” Will shrugs.

“I think I needed that push, too.”

They end up cuddling the rest of the night before moving to the bed. Just because it was more comfortable than the floor. And their backs would thank them in the morning. Will’s a little nervous to crawl into bed with Nico, but then Nico gives him a nervous smile, too.

“If you’re not ready, we don’t have-“ Will shakes his head.

“No, I want to.” He climbs into bed, curling up against Nico’s chest. “Happy one month anniversary, Nico.”

He feels Nico kiss his hair. “Happy anniversary, Will.”

Chapter Text

Nico was doing his best to keep an eye on his class. The numbers had grown since he’d started only two months ago, and he was pretty sure it was Will’s fault. He and Will had started dating three months ago, and now everyone was slowly realizing that there was more to Nico than just zombies and the smell of death. Not that Nico minded. He liked that people didn’t look uncomfortable when he was around.

“Jake, watch where you’re swinging that!” Nico calls. Jake’s trying to chop down one of the dummies, which isn’t the lesson exactly. “Remember, you’re supposed to be attacking. Not just blindly swinging.”

Nico adjusts grips, ties back hair, hands out water. Most of the kids are getting better each week, and he’s pretty proud of them. And pretty proud of himself. While everyone takes a water break, he allows himself a moment or two to think about seeing Will later.

Their relationship was still pretty new, and it always filled Nico’s stomach with butterflies when he thought about it. They hadn’t even kissed yet, but it was still amazing to hold Will’s hand and sit beside him during the campfire. No more need for doctor’s notes, though Nico was never one to complain about them.

He’s jerked from his thoughts by someone tapping his shoulder. “Um, hey.” Nico looks at one of the newer campers. He was a younger camper, around fourteen or fifteen. “I was wondering if you could show me that one move again? The lunging one?”

Nico nods, grabbing one of the sparring swords. He never used his own during classes. He goes through the motions a few times, pointing out a few things as the camper nods. He can’t remember his name right now. Brendon? Brandon? Jonathan?

“Is this right?” the camper asks. He’s standing awkwardly, his legs too far apart. Nico nudges his legs closer together, adjusts his arms.

“Now relax, and see if you can find that position again.” The camper nods, shaking out his arms before lunging forward. His movements are too choppy, and it seems like he’s holding himself back for some reason. Nico adjusts his stance again.

“Thanks.” Nico nods. It takes a few tries, but the camper gets more fluid. Nico smiles at him, giving him a high five. The camper beams at him, his cheeks reddening.

“Hey, you’re looking a little overheated. Get some water, okay?” The camper nods, and Nico rounds up the rest of his class to get them back to their lesson. He learns the camper’s name when a girl calls out to him.

“Hey, Brandon! I wanna spar you!” She bends her legs, looking like she’s going to spring at him. Brandon stands up, glancing over at Nico. Nico nods. He always encourages his students to spar each other. Sparring was so much different than training. Going through the motions made them muscle memory, but sparring gave you a feeling for how everything works together.

He gets the class to gather around and watch, pointing out things that are good and things that need work.

“Can anyone tell me something that you’ve noticed?” Nico asks. He calls on a younger girl.

“Bea’s got a really good form when she attacks.” Nico nods. Bea liked to be on the offense. Nico hadn’t watched Brandon long enough to know his fighting style, but he was doing a decent job of keeping up with Bea’s attacks. He’d do better if he was more focused, though. Nico wasn’t sure what was taking his attention, but he seemed distracted.

“Focus is key. Know what your goal is. Your thoughts must be in the moment or you’ve already let your guard down,” Nico says. Bea gets another hit in, and Brandon calls a timeout. She grins at him, grabbing some water.

“I’m trying,” Brandon says. Nico nods.

“What’re you thinking about when you’re sparring?” Nico asks.

Brandon’s cheeks are reddening again, and Nico’s wondering if he should send him to the infirmary after this. This summer has been pretty hot, and he doesn’t want anyone overheating. He makes sure Brandon gets some water before he starts sparring again.

After it’s over, Nico walks him to the infirmary. “I just want to make sure you’re okay,” he says. He’s pretty sure Will’s lectures are getting to him, but he’s not risking someone else’s life. Better safe than sorry, Will would always say. “Just a quick check-up, and then drink lots of water.”

Brandon nods. His cheeks are still pretty red.

“Nico, don’t tell me you’ve gotten hurt,” Will says when they walk in. Nico rolls his eyes.

“Nope. Just want to make sure Brandon’s okay over here. He seems a bit too hot.” Will nods, turning to Brandon. Nico sticks around, cutting bandages and running some supplies to Kayla across the room. When he gets back, Brandon’s standing up.

“He’s fine,” Will says. “Drink lots of water!” Nico raises his eyebrows as he notes that Will’s practically shoving Brandon out of the infirmary. When Brandon’s gone, Will grabs Nico’s hand. “C’mon, let’s get lunch. I’m starving.”

Nico doesn’t have time to wonder what’s gotten into his boyfriend as he’s also pretty hungry. He sits beside Will, a few other Apollo kids joining them. They all chatter happily, asking Nico about his lessons and Will about the infirmary. Nico catches Brandon sitting at the Hermes table, and his eyes meet Nico’s for a moment. He smiles, ducking his head quickly.

“Hey, Nico?” Will asks. “Want to go to the lake later?”
-
All Will wanted to do was pull Nico close and kiss him in front of everyone. But he respected Nico’s boundaries, and he knew Nico wasn’t comfortable with that yet. Of course, if Nico was comfortable with that, Will wouldn’t be having this problem right now. The problem being this new camper definitely checking Nico out.

He’d noticed it before, but he didn’t want to point it out until he knew for sure. And then he tried to send signals that Nico was definitely taken, but Brandon seemed to be oblivious. He barely glanced at Nico’s hand in Will’s, how close they sat, how Nico looked at Will. Not Brandon.

“Will? You okay?” Nico asks. They’re at the campfire now, and Will’s trying to think of what he can do to show that Nico’s his without pushing Nico out of his comfort zone.

They’d hung out at the lake all afternoon, and Will had been blessed with a shirtless Nico. They’d splashed and tanned and read in the grass. And then Brandon had come by for a canoe lesson or something, and he hadn’t been able to take his eyes off of Nico. Will pulled his shirt over Nico’s head.

“You’ve been kind of weird all day. Not in a bad way, but you’re kind of glaring.”

Will neutralizes his facial features, though he’s not at all sorry about the glaring. He wanted Brandon to stay away from his man. He can see him over with the rest of the Hermes cabin, every now and then glancing over at Nico. And Nico didn’t even seem to notice.

“Hey, what do you think about that new camper? Brandon, I think?” Will asks quietly.

Nico shrugs. “I don’t know. He’s pretty good at sparring. Has a bit of a focus issue, though.” Will snorts. Of course.

“Well, I’m sure he’d be better at sparring if he stopped looking at you.”

Nico looks surprised, almost dropping his marshmallow into the fire. “What do you mean?”

“Sweetheart, he’s got his eyes all over you. He hasn’t stopped looking at you all week.”

“I’m sure he’s just like the others, Will. No big deal. He’ll get over it.” Will shakes his head. Brandon wasn’t like the little kids who had taken to following Nico around. These kids made crafts and sang songs for Nico. They looked up to Nico. They didn’t follow him around, pretend to be bad at sparring, take stupid canoe lessons just to be around Nico. There was a difference.

“I’m making sure of it,” Will growls, and Nico looks at him.

“Will, I’m sure you’re just imagining it. Why would he even like me?”

Will’s expression soften. He knows Nico still struggles with his insecurities, and he does his best to be there for Nico when the depressive thoughts get too much. “You’re beautiful, Nico. Gorgeous, even. Smart and funny and sarcastic. You’re drop-dead amazing, darlin’.”

He can see Nico’s blush even in the firelight, and Will wraps his arms around Nico’s shoulders. Nico shoves his entire marshmallow into his mouth, but he’s smiling, looking at Will with that adorable expression that means he’s embarrassed but flattered.

“You’re pretty cool, too, Will,” he mumbles. Will laughs. He catches Brandon glancing at them again, and he makes a split-second decision. He leans forward a bit, pressing a kiss to Nico’s cheek. He can feel his heartbeat. He can feel Nico’s blush, but Nico doesn’t pull away.

“You missed,” Nico says, instead. He turns, pressing a short kiss to Will’s lips. Then he turns back to his s’more like nothing happened. But it did happen. And Brandon’s face is all Will needs for proof. His eyes are wide, and he ducks his head the moment he sees Will looking at him. Will glares once more just to get the point across.

“Will, you’re mine, okay?” Nico mumbles. He pecks Will’s nose. “Now, eat your s’more.”

Chapter Text

Nico groans when he sees it — the incredibly over-the-top decorated party hat that Percy should have burned ages ago. Aside from being against everything Nico believes in, it also signals the start of Nico’s least favorite holiday tradition: Secret Santa.

It was started when the original group of friends (Nico, Percy, Annabeth, Jason) had entered high school and wanted a way to stay in touch as their lives got busy. Nico had rebelled to the best of his abilities, but there wasn’t much he could do. So the tradition started.

And now it was seven years later, and their friend group had grown. A lot. (Especially since they all left for college.) Jason now had a girlfriend who had a best friend. Annabeth had met some friends. Nico had also technically met some friends, depending on how one defined friend. And all of those friends had friends. But only the special, most favored ones, got their names in this hat.

Nico wished he wasn’t one of them. He either got stuck with someone he’d known forever or someone he hardly knew. Last year, he’d gotten Piper. The year before, he’d gotten Mitchell, someone he didn’t even know existed until he’d drawn the name. (Luckily for him, Mitchell had graduated and moved on with his life. No chance of pulling him this year.)

“Keep your Grinch vibes to yourself, Neeks,” Percy says. “The council has decided to keep it small this year. Only close friends.” Nico still can’t help but groan. That was still at least twelve people. He thinks about ducking out, but he knows that’ll only make things worse. At least if he picks the name himself, he can’t fault anyone but himself.

So he keeps his grumpiness to himself as he pouts on the couch while everyone starts arriving. Nico takes stock of the people, thinking about what he could possibly get these people. Over the years, the Secret Santa had gotten more extravagant. The entire thing last about three weeks, starting just after Thanksgiving and ending the weekend before everyone left for the official Christmas holidays. Nico doesn’t even want to know how Annabeth and Jason organized everything, what with everyone heading off to different colleges and such.

Honestly, the whole thing was too elaborate to truly explain, especially since Annabeth and Jason had actually taken the time to write out some instructions. Individual gifts couldn’t be more than ten dollars. The final gift, the stocking stuffers, couldn’t be more than thirty. If you weren’t here to draw a name, a name was drawn for you. No switching names. No snitching, etc., etc..

But now they were all crowded into Annabeth and Percy’s apartment, a happy medium for most of their friends.

Nico forgets what he’s so grumpy about when he spots a head of blond hair that’s definitely not Jason’s or Annabeth’s. And then he hears that laugh that he’s pretty much memorized. He glances around the room, hoping no one else has picked up on his panic.

“Gonna do something about it this year?” Reyna asks.

“About what?” Nico huffs. Reyna smirks, rolling her eyes.

“You know they’d approve. He’s here today after all.”

Nico ignores her, and Reyna makes herself at home on the floor. Nico glances over at Will again, looking over just as Will turns his head.

“Nico! I knew you’d be here.” Will plops down on the couch, grinning. “Who do you think you’re gonna get? I just hope I don’t get Percy again. I never want to look at so many blue things in the same room again.”

Nico snorts. “It’s a fool-proof plan, you know.” Will nods. He’s got himself a mug of hot chocolate, and Nico wishes he could bring himself to get up and get some. As it is, it’d ruin his whole moody vibe if he got some. Grinches don’t drink out of cheery reindeer mugs.

Nico should have expected Will, but he’s honestly still surprised. Will’s first Secret Santa had been two years ago, their sophomore year. Annabeth had insisted, and Jason had practically begged. And then they’d gotten the rest of their friends to beg Nico to invite Will over.

The problem wasn’t Will, exactly. Nico liked Will. A lot, actually. Which was the real problem. Because they were just friends. Good friends. And Nico didn’t want to ruin the first actual friend he’d made since coming to college. Sure, he had a few other friends, but none were as persistent (or attractive) as Will.

Will scoots closer to Nico as the room starts to fill up. “Want some?” He offers his mug to Nico, and Nico takes it because he really is starting to regret not getting up. Will smiles at him as Nico takes a sip or two (or five). “You can go ahead and finish it. I know how you love your chocolate.”

Nico wants to stick out his tongue, but he’s too busy drinking Will’s hot chocolate.

Annabeth calls everyone to attention. Then Jason reads out the instructions, adding a few that Nico doesn’t remember from last year.

“Is everyone clear on the rules?” Annabeth asks. “There’s no limit or minimum on the gifts, but don’t go overboard. And you at least need to get a stocking stuffer. That’s kind of the whole idea here.”

Everyone nods in unison. Then Percy gets his hat. One of these days, Nico’s going to burn it. (And then be temporarily excommunicated from the group.)

“So, because she was awarded the best gift-giver last year, Reyna gets to start,” Percy announces. Nico had once again gotten the Grinch award. It wasn’t his fault that Reyna was good at giving gifts.

Reyna makes an elegant show of picking a name. She smirks as she reads the name before pocketing it. The names go to the left. Will’s fourth. He winks at Nico. “I’ve got this,” he whispers.

“No sharing names!” Annabeth calls.

“Nico’s turn,” Percy sings. Nico grumbles as he reaches in. Piper’s made the name tags this year, and she’s made sure that they’re all the same size and feel. Nico grabs blindly. When he reads the name, his heart stops. So many ideas of gifts run through his head, and he shuts down the thoughts quickly.

“Who’d you get?” Will asks, wiggling his eyebrows. He leans on Nico’s shoulder like he’s trying to read the slip of paper, though Nico’s got it closed in his fist.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Nico replies.

He has no idea what to get Will for Christmas.
-
Will had felt so confident when he’d pulled out Nico’s name, but now he wasn’t so sure. For starters, what did you get someone who had the money to get whatever they wanted? And secondly claimed they didn’t want anything? Will knows what Nico likes, but he also knows that none of those things will fit into the budget that he’s been given. Which is probably good considering the fact that he’s working to pay for gas and food.

“Who’d you get?” Reyna asks. “And don’t lie. I can sniff out liars.”

“A friend,” Will says. He’s been pacing through their living room for the past twenty minutes, and he knows Reyna’s getting annoyed. “I’m just trying to figure out what they’d like, you know. Like you should be doing.”

Reyna shrugs. “I already know what I’m getting them. Who’d you have last year?”

“Percy,” Will sighs. Now, compared to Nico, Percy was super easy. “Everything and anything blue. Until Annabeth tracked me down.”

Reyna laughs. “I remember that. You looked so scared that she’d throw you into the lake.” Will pouts.

“You never know. She might’ve.” He sighs again. He’s having ideas for what his final gift, the stocking stuffer, could be. But he wants to lead up to it. It’s gotta be good this year. This could be one of his last chances.

“I think you’re thinking too hard, Will. Go with your gut.” She pokes his belly, and Will sticks his tongue out. “What’s the first thing you’re thinking of?”

Will wrinkles his nose, and Reyna shoots him a look. “Mittens,” Will says. “Okay, fine. But you can’t give it away, yeah?”

Reyna waves him off. “Like I’d ruin whatever you’re planning. But it’d better be cute. I don’t want all of this thinking to be about which tool you think Leo would like the best.”

“If only.”

Will ends up going shopping with Reyna that weekend. He’s seen Nico twice since drawing his name out of that ridiculous hat, and he’s done so well at not slipping up. Will’s thinking about how cute Nico had looked, bundled up in a scarf and two jackets, even inside the warm coffee shop. Then Reyna nudges him so hard he almost flies into the next aisle.

“What was that for?”

“You said you wanted to go shopping. Not daydream. I’ve already got my stuff. Chop, chop.” Will pouts as he follows her to the clothing section. He’s not quite sure what kind of mittens Nico would want. Or if he’d prefer gloves, actually.

“How about these?” Reyna asks. She holds up a pair of mittens, a soft pink color. Will shakes his head. Nico would hate him if he got those. Reyna holds up a few more pairs that Will vetoes. He’s got to get this just right. He wants Nico to love them.

“Will, I’m starting to believe that you lied to me about the friend thing,” Reyna says after the seventh try. “Either you know nothing about them or they’re more than a friend.”

Will does his best to hide his blush at this, but he’s always been bad at hiding his feelings. Reyna’s expression softens a bit at this. “I just want it to be perfect, you know?” He’s never gotten Nico a real Christmas present before. The first year they’d been friends, they’d exchanged cards. Then last year, Nico had gotten Will a small stack of books he’d been eying for months. And Will had immediately rushed to the store to find something equally as good for Nico.

But this time, he could plan it out.

“Well, I’m sure they’ll love it, Will. Because it’s from you. Now, hurry up. I’m getting hungry.”

Will tries on a few pairs to make sure they’re the right size before he sees the perfect pair. “I found them!” he announces, and this lady in the next aisle over gives him a small smile. Will quickly ignores her, grabbing the black mittens. They’re incredibly warm, and upon closer inspection, Will can see a cute little cat face embroidered on them. And they’re only four dollars.

“Hallelujah,” Reyna mumbles, but Will catches her smiling.

Will, true to his overthinking, has to create some elaborate plan for how to get the mittens to Nico without anyone figuring out who’s behind it all. They don’t have any classes together this semester which isn’t really a problem. Except, Will wants to see Nico’s face when he opens the gift. So, naturally, he gets Cecil to deliver his gift.

He and Nico are on their way to hang out at Nico’s place, and Will’s doing his best to act natural. If all went according to plan, Cecil’s already dropped off the mittens. Now, hopefully, Leo’s minded his own business and hasn’t snooped.

“Remind me again why I roomed with Leo?” Nico’s asking now. “I mean, he’s fine and all. But I’d really like to remember what it felt like to fall asleep without fearing the fire alarm.”

Will shrugs. He’d thought about offering to room with Nico last year, but he’d been to scared to say anything. And then Leo had offered, and Will didn’t have the guts to counter. At least Reyna was a decent roommate.

“We should have been roommates,” Nico grumbles, nudging Will’s side. “I bet you don’t set things on fire just because you’re trying to figure out how the oven works. Or flood things because you think you can somehow upgrade a perfectly functioning washer.”

Will’s saved from having to reply because they’re finally at Nico’s apartment. Will holds his breath as they step in. Nothing’s on fire or flooded which is a good sign. Leo’s nowhere in sight.

“Don’t worry about Leo. The robotics club is having a meeting right now.” Will nods. “Oh, hey, what’s this?” Nico walks over to the kitchen table where Will’s poorly wrapped package is waiting. “I’ve completely forgotten about the Secret Santa thing.”

“Really?” Will asks. “Isn’t this like the biggest thing happening right now?”

“And finals,” Nico says, raising his eyebrows. “But I guess who cares about those.” He rolls his eyes, and Will shrugs.

Nico turns the package over, squinting at the handwriting on the label. Will had Lou Ellen do it because Nico always made fun of his handwriting and would be able to recognize it. “I sure hope this isn’t one of Leo’s pranks. The last time I fell for one, I’m pretty sure I almost lost an eyebrow.”

Will laughs. He remembers that incident. Nico had shown up at Will’s apartment, fuming. Will watches Nico unwrap the gift carefully. He never ripped into it like everyone else. Will’s surprised when he sees Nico’s cheeks turning pink as he pulls the gloves out. Carefully, he slides them onto his hands, and Will has to stop himself from squealing. Because Nico looks so adorable right now.

“They’re warm,” he says. Will laughs.

“That’s probably the point. Mittens keep hands warm.”

Nico huffs. “I bet you’re just jealous that your fingers have to freeze now.” Will resists the urge to grab Nico’s hands. He swallows the cheesy pick-up line.

“Well, I’m sure my Secret Santa won’t let me freeze,” Will says. Nico tenses for a moment, and Will wonders if Nico had actually forgotten about the whole Secret Santa thing.

“Knowing how much you love the cold and all,” Nico teases, punching Will’s shoulder lightly. “C’mon, let’s get some food before Leo sets it all on fire.”
-
It’s been just over a week, and Nico’s still kind of freaking out. He feels like he should at least get Will one gift besides the big one. Not that he has an idea for either one of them. He knows what Will likes, that isn’t the problem. The problem is giving Will a gift that won’t automatically point to Nico. Because Nico knows Will shares way more with him than say Piper or Leo.

So now he’s laying on the floor, going through a list of things he could possibly get Will. He’s already gone through books, movies, and video games when Leo walks in with a bunch of junk in his arms. Nico doesn’t bother moving, really hoping that Leo was going to go dump that stuff in his own room and not just leave it in the hallway.

“What’s up with you?”

“Thinking,” Nico mumbles. He’s got finals to study for and papers to write, but nothing feels as pressing as this. Also, he knows his professors probably won’t hunt him down if he ignores him. He knows for sure Will will.

“Well, could you think somewhere else? Your thoughts are killing my vibe.” Nico raises his eyebrows. Also, Leo’s dumped his pile of junk on the kitchen table. Nico’s never trusting the five-second rule ever again.

“What is all that stuff? And get it off of my table.”

“Dude, we share this space. Our table,” Leo says, further spreading out his things.

“My table. I paid for it.”

Leo points something that looks like a crowbar at him. “Is it the Secret Santa thing? I’ve got mine all figured out already.”

“Congrats to you,” Nico says.

“You know, if you’re really stumped, you could just invite them to go shopping with you. See what they look at and all. That’s how I figured out what Drew wanted that one time we included her.” Nico shivers at that memory. He doesn’t even remember why they’d let her in on the tradition except that it was possibly because she and Piper were still talking then.

Nico sighs, rising from the floor. “Fine. I’ll take your advice. But I don’t want to see a single scratch or speck of grease on that table. I do have to eat off of that.”

Leo snorts. “I don’t know about you, but I use plates, man.”
Nico flips him off.

Thirty minutes later, he and Will are walking through the mall. It’s not that weird for him and Will to go shopping together. They’ve gone grocery shopping about a dozen times together, and they’ve shopped for their families together for birthdays and holidays. But Nico’s never invited Will along when he was shopping for him.

Of course, he’s never drawn Will for Secret Santa either.

“What’re we looking for?” Will asks. “Anything in particular? Or is this just to scout for ideas?”

“Ideas,” Nico says. “I’m having a bit of a creative block.” Will nods.

“Well, we could go in there. I usually find cool stuff for my sisters and stocking stuffers for my parents.” Nico nods. He’s wearing his new mittens today, and he’s still dwelling in the warm feeling he got when Will complimented them. Nico’s never been inside this store, and he’s not even sure what it’s called. But there’s definitely a lot of stuff in here. It kind of looks like a bit of everything.

There are candles and ornaments, toys, video games, gift baskets, scarves . . . Nico looks around for Will. Like a nerd, Will’s found the book section, and he’s scanning the spines. “Anything look interesting?” Nico asks.

Will shrugs. “Just looking. I’ve still got a stack of books that I’ve been meaning to read for a while.” Nico nods. He scratches books off of his list. He sees a kiosk with phone cases, scanning them. Will could use a new phone case. His current one was beaten up and scratched from all the times he’d dropped it, but at least his screen wasn’t cracked.

Or he could get Will a plushie. He knows Will still sleeps with a stuffed rabbit he’s had since he was a kid. The gifts leading up to the main stocking stuffer never had to be serious. Last year, Jason had gotten Nico a black T-shirt and some rainbow shoelaces.

He and Will find a few more stores, but Nico keeps getting distracted. Either by his thoughts or by Will just being Will. Like when Will insists that he and Nico should do an impromptu photo shoot in the Disney store or when Will grabs his hand because something’s just caught his eye and Nico needs to see it now!

All in all, they end up eating lunch at a cafe before Nico can come up with an idea. They’re eating inside because Will’s insisted. He’s ordered tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. Nico’s got a turkey and bacon sandwich with chips. Will keeps stealing his chips.

“So, can I at least get a hint of who you’ve got?” Will asks. He dips his chip into his soup, and Nico’s not sure if he finds that gross. “I mean, I feel like I’m doing them a great service by keeping you company while you shop. And I wouldn’t want to lead you astray.”

Nico rolls his eyes. “No hints. You could be a spy.”

Will pretends to look insulted, and Nico laughs. He keeps telling Will to minor in theater. Too bad Will’s already got a full schedule. “I’m loyal only to you, Nico.” He’s got this goofy expression on his face when he says this, but Nico can’t help but think Will’s being sincere.

“Still no hints.” Will pouts, stealing two chips this time.

A waitress comes by to refill their drinks. “Can I ask a question? Excuse me if I’m being impolite.” Nico glances at Will. Will shrugs. “How long have you two been dating? You’re just so cute together.”

Nico’s never seen Will’s face redden so quickly, and he’d laugh if his own face weren’t doing the same. “We’re not dating. Just friends,” Nico manages.

The girl’s face reddens now. “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s cool,” Will says, working up a smile. “Better a boyfriend than a spy.” This last part is aimed at Nico. The waitress nods, excusing herself quickly.

“I think a spy would be way cooler.”

Will huffs. “That just shows what you know.” Will leans over the table, smirking. “What if I were both?”

Before Nico can answer, Will steals the last of his chips, shoving them in his mouth. “Hey! You owe me, like, three dollars for those. You have your own food, mister.”

Will laughs, and it shouldn’t be as attractive as it is. His mouth is full of food, and his freckles are just starting to poke out again as his blush fades. But Nico’s stomach flutters like it’s been doing for the past year or so now. He decides that maybe he really shouldn’t be thinking so hard about this first gift. The best part of his friendship with Will is that it’s fun.
-
So far, Will’s gotten a plush dinosaur and a doctor dress-up kit meant for a kid. Reyna made him put it all on (except for the coat) and posted the picture on social media. Will pretends to take the dinosaur’s temperature and listen to its heartbeat. He’s named the dinosaur Fred. Will never thought that a plush dinosaur would make him so happy, but somehow it does.

“So, what’s your next move?” Reyna asks. She’s clearly figured out who Will drew. Will can tell by the smirk on her face, the way she’s suddenly so interested in what Will’s doing. Last year, she never bothered to even ask if Will was going shopping.

“This isn’t a chess game, Reyna.”

“You’re making it seem like one.”

Will shrugs. “I don’t know.” He’d been so ridiculously happy to see Nico wearing those mittens when they went shopping together. “I wish I knew who he was shopping for. Do you know?”

Reyna shakes her head. “I only know who you and I’ve got.”

“How do you even know?” Will asks.

Reyna looks at him. “Will, I was there when you bought those mittens. He wears them everywhere. I’m not blind.” Will’s not even going to point out that it could be a coincidence. “So, what’s your next gift? Or what’re you thinking for the stocking?”

Will shrugs again. Honestly, he’s been a bit busy with finals stuff. He’s just finished a paper yesterday, started another one. He’s got a project and a lab report to write. And then he went shopping with Nico. He should have been paying attention to what Nico was looking at. Though, maybe that wouldn’t have helped since Nico was shopping for someone else.

“I mean, I had an idea. But it doesn’t fit the budget.” Reyna raises her eyebrows. “It’s a collector’s item. Kind of pricey.”

Reyna nods. They all know about Nico’s “secret” Mythomagic collection. “I’m sure Hazel will manage to find one for him.” Will nods. It was kind of a bummer that Hazel and Frank were too far away to participate in the Secret Santa exchange. Will knows how good Hazel is at giving gifts, would give Reyna a run for the title. “Besides, anyone would know he wants that card or figurine.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Will says. He knows the final gift has to be special. “I could make him cookies. For the mini-gift, I mean.”

“And you’re going to let me help,” Reyna says. “I don’t want the neighbors complaining again.” Will groans. One time. That’s all it took before his reputation in the kitchen was ruined forever. Reyna pats his back. “I know you’ve gotten better, but Nico has standards.”

Reyna was right about that at least. Since Nico was pretty much a master in the kitchen, he was kind of picky about foods. Will always teased that he could be a food critic. So between writing a twelve-page paper and procrastinating his other homework, Will makes cookies.

It takes two tries. The first time, he’d forgotten the sugar, and they’d tasted kind of gross. The second time, he adds an extra scoop of chocolate chips to mask any mistakes he might have made. Reyna gives him the thumbs up.

“You know, he’d love me forever if I got him a cat,” Will says. “Too bad you can’t hide a cat too well in a stocking.”

Reyna snorts. “Not to mention, I’m pretty sure a cat and Leo could not physically share the same space.” Will shivers at the thought. Leo never meant to start fires, but it was a result of too much curiosity and a distracted mind.

Will reaches for a cookie, and Reyna slaps his hand. “You can’t eat all of the cookies, Will. Unless you want to make more.” Will pouts.

“This is my second cookie.” Reyna just looks at him. “Okay, so it’s my fourth. They’re really good.” Reyna laughs.

“Better wrap them up. At this rate, I’m about to finish them all, too.” Will gets Cecil to deliver them again. Last year when Cecil had been included, Will had had to take care of these secret drop-offs himself. What a mess that had been.

After that’s all taken care of, he curls up on the couch with Fred and Ginny (his stuffed rabbit) and pretended to write his paper. Really, he was trying to figure out what to get for Nico’s stocking. He had almost a week to make up his mind and carry through. He really doesn’t want to mess this up.

“So, what’s the goal?” Reyna asks. She’s divided up the leftover cookies between the two of them, and Will’s keeping an eye on his to make sure she doesn’t betray him. “Make him happy or get him to confess his crush? Or, even better, you confessing your crush.”

“Um, happy,” Will says. “But if one of us confesses that’d also be okay.” He pauses. “You think he likes me back?”

Reyna sighs. “You know what, I’m going to let the two of you figure that out yourselves.”

“Thanks for the help.”

“I am helping. You know what makes Nico happy, Will. It doesn’t have to be this whole complicated thing. I mean, whoever got you that dinosaur understands this. Fred makes you happy, right?” Will nods. “Well, there you go. You make Nico happy, so whatever you get him is sure to make him smile.”

Reyna finishes up her share of the cookies, brushing off crumbs. “I’ll sweep later. Don’t overthink this. I’m going to class.” And then she leaves Will there, still trying to figure out what she means when she said that Will makes Nico happy.
-
Nico’s more nervous than he’s ever been for the Secret Santa unveiling. Christmas music is playing in the background, and everyone’s celebrating the end of finals. Percy’s manning the bar, no alcohol available. He’s got on this goofy Christmas sweater that Nico can hardly appreciate because he can see Will’s stocking just in the other room.

They’d all had to drop off their stockings last night at Sally’s apartment so that no one would know who was giving who what. Because Annabeth and Jason had gone to great lengths to make sure none of the surprises were ruined before the actual unveiling.

“Who’s ready for some fun?” Leo shouts as he walks in. He’s practically glowing from head to toe. His Christmas sweater lights up, and so does his hat. His shoes have jingle bells on them, and he’s holding something that looks like mistletoe on a cat toy.

Will arrives after that, a cute penguin on his sweater. He grins at Nico before grabbing them both some hot chocolate. Nico smiles at him, scooting over so Will can sit next to him.

“Ready for this?” Will asks. Nico shrugs. “I’m sure you got a great gift.” All Nico can think is how Will’s lips would taste if he kissed him right now. Will smells like cinnamon and chocolate, something that only happens around the holidays.

Annabeth calls them all to order. Jason drags out the stockings. Each of them has been perfectly sealed so that nothing escapes. “So, as always, we draw.” They all pull straws. Percy goes first. Nico does his best to act natural each time. Percy gets one guess to try and figure out who his secret Santa is.

“Jason?” Percy guesses.

“Sorry, man. Close.” Jason points to Piper, sitting on his lap. “I did help, though.”

Percy smiles as he pulls out a receipt for a fencing class he’d been talking about for ages. “Thanks, Pipes. You guys better watch out.” He waves his straw around like a sword, nearly poking Leo in the eye.

Piper goes next as tradition states. Nico wonders if Will’s scooted closer to him. It feels like he. His right side feels warmer than his left. Piper guesses Leo who groans.

“Sorry, Leo, but no one else would have been able to make something like this.” She pulls out a music box that plays her and Jason’s song. To prove her point, she gestures to the bottom where Leo’s carved his initials.

Leo guesses Annabeth when he gets a book. “Spanish and English,” he laughs. “Perfect.” Nico doesn’t listen to who Annabeth guesses because he’s distracted by Reyna winking at Will. What does Reyna know? And why did Will just blush?

Nico assumes that Jason was Annabeth’s Secret Santa because he’s now unwrapping his gift. “Awesome.”

“Telescopes are too expensive, so I hope the book suffices,” Reyna says, laughing.

Jason smiles. “It’s a good start. Maybe next Christmas.”

“Keep dreaming.”

And then it’s Reyna’s turn. And there are only so many guesses left. Nico knows it’s not him. “Well, I guess that leaves Percy,” Reyna says, smirking. Will shifts beside Nico, and Nico can’t believe it. Will’s his Secret Santa? They got gifts for each other?

“I vote they open them together,” Percy’s saying when Nico tunes back in. He hands Nico and Will their stockings. Will’s already blushing, and Nico doesn’t think he’s doing much better. He tries to unwrap his gift as slowly as possible which isn’t too hard since Will’s used a lot of tape.

“Oh my gods,” Will breathes. “Nico, this is amazing.” Nico completely forgets he has a gift as he watches Will flip through the scrapbook he made of the two of them. Their friendship. He’s pretty sure Will’s tearing up. “I love it, Nico. Thank you.”

Will hugs him, and Nico thinks that he could die happy right now. “Open yours, Nico,” Reyna says gently.

Nico had forgotten about the gift in his lap. It’s kind of heavy, and he doesn’t figure out what it is until he’s got it mostly unwrapped. “Will,” he whispers. He can’t believe it. He’s never liked snow globes that much, but he knows he’ll treasure this one forever.

“It’s not too much, is it?” Will asks. Nico shakes his head. Instead of the usual random landscape, it’s a miniature model of his hometown in Italy. It’s decorated in the fake snow of snow globes, and Nico feels like he’s about to cry happy tears.

“It’s beautiful, Will.” Will beams.

“I kind of got Leo to help, too. Apparently, it plays music.”

“Yup. The twisty thing is on the bottom.” Nico notices that the room has gone completely silent around them, but he doesn’t care. Right now, it’s just him and Will. He twists the knob, and he actually does tear up when he hears the song. It’s a lullaby that’s always made him think of his mom.

Will gives Nico another hug, and Nico can’t believe he has such an amazing friend. “You really outdid yourself, Solace,” he mumbles. “I think you definitely win best gift-giver this year.”

Will laughs, handing Nico a tissue. Nico blows his nose loudly, and then it’s like the party resumes. Percy’s refilling drinks. Jason and Piper are cleaning up the trash. Annabeth’s collecting stockings. Reyna’s turning up the music and pulling Leo into a dance.

“The scrapbook wasn’t quite all,” Nico says when he’s composed himself. He glances around the room, but no one’s paying any attention to them.

“Yeah?” Will asks.

“Yeah. I kind of wanted to say something, too.” Will nods. “So, um, you’re my best friend. And I really like you. Like, I have a crush on you.” He’s watching Will’s face, watching Will’s freckles disappearing underneath his blush.

“I really like you, too. Wanna be my boyfriend?” Will asks.

Nico laughs, nodding. “Is this the part where we kiss?”

“Yup.” They both look up to find Leo standing in front of them, holding the mistletoe above them. “I’ve been saving this all night. Now smooch.”

Nico rolls his eyes, pulling Will in for a quick kiss. He’s about to pull away when Will kisses him back. There’s a round of applause and some cheering going on around them, but Nico’s too happy to care that everyone’s watching.

“Merry Christmas, Will.”

“And a merry happy Christmas to you, boyfriend.”

Chapter Text

Nico sighs as he pushes play on the music video for the fourth time today. He’s not ashamed that he makes up at least three percent of the views on this guy’s YouTube channel. It’s not his fault that Will Solace is basically a god who can sing straight into Nico’s soul.

He scrolls through the comments, smiling as he reads them. He’s read most of them, even posting some of his own (under a screen name, of course). Most of the comments are just compliments and people gushing over Will and his band. But some of the comments, the longer ones that most people probably don’t read, are what Nico’s looking for.

He finds a new one, clicking on the more button. As Will’s voice washes over him, he reads the comment. It might be a little creepy to go hunting through someone’s YouTube comments, but it’s refreshing and kind of therapeutic for Nico. It’s nice to know that Will’s not just some great singer with good looks. It’s crazy because Nico’s never met Will, but he’s proud of him.

Nico feels his heart drop as he reads the comment a second time. People left heartbreaking comments all the time, but this one hit something inside of Nico. He’d been there, too, he wanted to say. And music had also helped him out of that dark hole. Before his emotions can get the best of him, he quickly switches over to his playlist.

His apartment is set up in a way that he has plenty of floor space without fear of running into anything. The furniture is pushed against the walls of the living room, and the chairs are pushed neatly underneath the kitchen table. Nico waits for that first note to strike before he moves.

While he’s a professional dancer, he feels he does his best work off-screen and off-record. That’s when he lets the emotions flow through him, channeling them into something physical. On-screen, he can’t do that. He can’t get himself to be that vulnerable with everyone’s eyes watching him.

Will’s voice echoes off of Nico’s walls, and Nico pushes himself harder. He doesn’t think about anything except his breaths. In and out. Breathing is what keeps him alive, but dancing is what gives him something to live for. Dancing and music.

After who knows how long, his muscles start to ache. He keeps getting scolded about overworking himself, but he can’t find the words to tell his coaches and instructors that he needs to dance. It sounds cliché, but weren’t things cliché for a reason? Wasn’t there some truth in them?

Nico smiles at the picture on the album cover. It’s Will hunched over a piano, his normally golden curls dulled in the black and white filter. Nico loves this particular album cover because Will looks like a fallen god, pouring his heart into something as humble as a piano. Honestly, Nico could write poetry about Will for days. Not that he’d ever admit that to anyone.

His phone rings, disrupting his peace. He answers, sure it’s something important to someone.

“Hey, Nico, I need your times stat. When are you available?” Nico sighs, moving into the kitchen to find his calendar. Since he kept a pretty normal life aside from the professional dancing, his schedule was pretty much wide open. “Does Saturday work? Probably around two. We have to do that sound check thing now. Big pain in the butt.”

Percy rambles on, and Nico tunes out. Percy was always complaining about his job, though he’d probably defend it at gunpoint, too. Nico understands that, but it doesn’t mean he wants to listen to it. He tunes back in when he hears Percy slow down.

“Saturday works. Good luck.” He hangs up, grabbing his coat and glasses. He, thankfully, doesn’t have to try that hard to get privacy. Despite his increasing number of fans, no one ever seems to recognize him when he’s just out and about. He supposes that could be because when he’s not performing, he’s no one.

Nico di Angelo: party of one instead of Nico di Angelo: famous dancer.

Hazel meets him at the cafe, sitting by their usual window. She’s already ordered a grilled cheese and tomato soup, and Nico pouts when he sees her eating.

“I ordered for you already,” she says before standing up and hugging him. “But I was also hungry, so I’m eating now.” Nico laughs. He loves his sister, and he loves how some things never change.

He gets his food quickly enough, and then Hazel’s launching into a story about her and Frank. Nico smiles, settling into the familiar cadence of his sister’s voice. He loved these weekly meet-ups with her, how he could always count on her for a dose of normal.

“I can tell you didn’t shower this morning,” she says now, wrinkling her nose. Nico huffs. He hadn’t really had time. Besides, he doesn’t think he smells all that bad. He just got a little sweaty from dancing. “Let me guess, you were snooping through Solace’s channel again.”

Nico can’t even blush because he’s too enamored to be embarrassed. He’s pretty sure most of Will’s fans would say this, but if Will were to ask Nico to marry him, there’d be no hesitation. He would marry that man on the spot. Hazel’s laughing now, and Nico pretends to be offended.

“He’s got good music,” he says. “And he’s not bad on the eyes.”

Hazel rolls her eyes. “Not bad on the eyes as in you want him in your bed and his ring on your finger.” Nico twists up his face at his sister’s words. It’s true, but that doesn’t mean he wants to hear his little sister say that. “I think you two would be cute together. My broody older brother and everyone’s god of the sun.”

“Gross.” Though he’s flattered. “Besides, that’ll never happen. I’m sure he’s got a girlfriend already. Or maybe a boyfriend. Someone that’s not me.” Ever since Will had posted a coming out video, Nico’s imagination hadn’t stopped running.

“What would you do if you met him?” Hazel asks. Nico’s about to answer when he bites his tongue.

“I don’t know. I mean, I’ve imagined it a hundred times, but I honestly have no idea.” Hazel’s smiling at him, clearly amused by Nico’s more-than-crush. It’s true he’s never become obsessed with anyone like this, but no one else has made him feel so seen. Even through music. “Do you think he’s really that great of a person in real life?”

Hazel shrugs. “You’re an even better person in real life, so who knows?” Nico leans over to gently punch her shoulder.

“Well, I’m still dreaming that whenever he gets married, I’ll somehow get an invitation.” Hazel just grins.
-
Will always knew that the behind the scenes stuff was chaotic, but he didn’t think it could be this chaotic. Everywhere he went there as music blasting and people shouting to be heard. He pokes his head into some of the rooms, watching the dances move. He wishes he could dance like that, but he was born with two left feet, clumsy.

His sister grabs his arm, dragging him down the halls. “Will, you were supposed to meet us half an hour ago. Should have known you’d go snooping.” Will sticks his tongue out. He wasn’t snooping. He was just curious. It wasn’t every day that you got invited to perform on a dancing show.

“Kayla, remind me again why I’m doing this?” It was a big honor, but Will preferred smaller crowds and more homey places. A dance studio that was basically operating out of an abandoned warehouse was not his usual style. And his nerves were basically confetti in his stomach.

“Because it’s good coverage. And more people will want to work with you if you put yourself out there.” Will shrugs. It’d never been his goal to become famous. He still operated mostly from his YouTube channel, not really wanting anything else. But since his siblings had started backing him up, it’d turned into something more. Now, he had a few deals with labels and two albums. Honestly, he wasn’t sure how he was still functioning.

He sighs with relief when he sees where they’re headed. He sits on the stool, sliding the headphones over his ears. Instantly, the background noise fades away. Kayla gives him a smile and a thumbs up. He can see Michael and Austin’s reflection in the glass. He waves to them.

“Just give us a chorus or something. I’ll do the rest,” the sound technician says. Will nods. He sings a few runs to warm his voice up before launching into a Christmas carol. It hadn’t quite been intentional, but he wanted to embody the holiday spirit today. Especially since the holidays were always tough.

The guy gives him a thumbs up, and Will slips the headphones off. He doesn’t bother to see what they’ve done, trusting them. Michael leads him to another room, and he collapses on the couch. A cold glass of water is pressed into his hands, and he chugs it down.

“I’m tired,” he mumbles. This gets him a laugh.

“Yes, we all heard you grumbling about how you had to get up at seven in the morning,” Kayla says. “Did you know that some of us have jobs that require us to be somewhere at seven?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Will says. With his two albums, he’d been able to quit his night job and start focusing on school again. And music. He runs a hand over his face, feeling the couch dip when one of his brothers sits down.

“You’re going to be great out there, Will. Just don’t think about the audience. Or the camera.” Will nods. He was on the show as one of the five guests that the show had brought in to spice things up. He’d watched this season, trying to see what they’d have him doing. From what he could tell, he could do anything he wanted shy of giving an entire performance.

“I just want it to be simple. I don’t want to be famous.” Even though he hated big spaces, he’d moved to a city to be incognito. In a small town, everyone already knew your face. And now they had something to put with it.

“It’s a little late for that, man,” Austin says. “You’re already kind of famous.” Will sends a half-hearted glare his direction.

“Do you think you’ll see that one dancer? What’s his name?” Kayla asks. Will huffs. She knew exactly who she was talking about, and she knew almost as much about him as Will did.

“Something like Nico, maybe?” Will says, but he knows he’s awful at lying. Kayla smirks.

“Yeah, Nico. Think you’ll see him?”

Will shrugs. He has no idea. He doesn’t even know why watching Nico is so captivating. Sure, Nico’s gorgeous, but it’s more than that. Will hasn’t quite found the words for it, yet. He hadn’t thought of the possibility of seeing Nico today, and now he feels his nerves give another punch.

“Stop making him anxious, Kayla,” Michael says. He pats Will’s knee. “Forget about everyone else. Just pretend you’re in your bedroom.”

Will’s not sure he can do that. If he were in his bedroom, no one would have to see his face. He wouldn’t be wearing so much makeup. He wouldn’t be in clothes that he’d bought a week ago. And he definitely wouldn’t feel like throwing up right now. He finishes off his water.

There’s a knock on the door, and Will jumps. “Ten minutes,” someone calls out. Ten minutes until Will goes on stage. He hates that this is a live performance. In his bedroom, he can record something as many times as he wants. Whenever he does gigs, no one’s really there to listen to him. They’re there for the food, the drinks, the night. Here, everyone’s tuning in for him, eyes on Will.

Honestly, his performance is a blur. He remembers his fingers hitting the keys. He’d decided on a song weeks in advance, but he can’t remember if that’s what he plays or not. He’s sure he sings because no one gave him a funny look. And then he’s back in that room, gulping down another glass of water, trying to get his fingers to stop shaking.

His siblings aren’t there, so he lays down on the couch, legs hanging over the end. His body and mind are still buzzing from everything that’s just happened. He goes through is breathing exercises, wondering how he didn’t think that today would involve so many people.

There’s a knock on his door, and he doesn’t bother to sit up. “Oh, sorry, am I intruding?”

Will shifts to look at who’s just walked in. “Um, hi.” He had half a mind to say that he was about to go to sleep, but now he looks like an idiot. “No, I’m not busy. Come in.” For some reason, Nico doesn’t seem to be other people.

Nico sits down in a chair across from Will, looking a little uncertain. “Your performance was good,” he says. “I mean, it was amazing, actually. That was one of my favorite songs of yours.”

“Thanks,” Will says. “I don’t actually know which one I played.”

Nico gives him a weird look before nodding. “Sometimes I have those moments, too. Where I can’t remember if I actually danced or not. Or what dance. I like to think it’s because I’ve gotten so caught up in what I’m doing that it doesn’t matter. But it’s also kind of embarrassing to realize that everyone else can remember when I can’t.”

Will nods. He’s not trying to be rude, but he really is tired. Anxiety and getting up semi-early will do that.

“Oh, I’m Nico di Angelo,” Nico says. “Sorry, I meant to introduce myself earlier.”

“Will Solace, but I guess you knew that.” Nico nods.

“Yeah, I’m kind of a fan. Sorry if that’s awkward.”

Will runs a hand through his hair, sitting up. “A little, but it’s nice to know someone’s out there, I guess. Being noticed wasn’t one of my goals, though.” He shrugs. He’s not sure why he’s telling Nico all of this. It’s not like Nico cares, and he’s probably already familiar with this. “Do you have a performance soon?”

Nico blinks. “Am I overstepping? You can tell me to leave, I won’t be offended.”

“Oh, no, I just wanted to watch maybe. I’m kind of a fan of yours.” He’s not sure if he’s blushing or if it’s suddenly gotten warmer. Nico blushes, smiling.“Oh, well, yeah.” He pauses. “I’m actually using one of your songs today. Kind of a coincidence since I didn’t know you were coming until I heard you singing.”

Will laughs. “My siblings dragged me into this. If not for them, I’d still be in my bed.”

Nico smiles. Then he looks away for a moment. “I have to be on stage in ten minutes. Wanna walk with me?”
-
After that first meeting, they met up several times more, and Nico somehow managed to keep his cool. It was so easy being with Will; he just felt so down to earth and real, nothing like Nico had really expected. Not that he quite knew what he was expecting. They’d started with a coffee date and then a leisurely bike ride through some park. Nico was slowly becoming even more enamored with Will the more time they spent together.

“How many instruments do you play?” Nico asks. They’re sitting in Will’s apartment, a spacious space if you didn’t realize that he shared it with his three siblings. Nico never imagined Will sharing his room with his brother, but Will had explained that they’d all called dibs while he was in the bathroom. And sharing a room was better than the couch.

“Three?” Will says. “Piano, guitar, and flute.” He blushes at the last one. “I’m trying to learn the violin, but I’m scared that the neighbors will start complaining.”

Nico laughs. “You can’t be that bad.” Will shrugs. He picks up the guitar by the bed, strumming it a few times. He adjusts a few of the strings before strumming it again. His fingers hadn’t stopped moving since they’d sat down, and Nico wonders if that’s how he looks when he hasn’t danced in a while. “Play something for me?”

Will seems uncertain, and Nico’s learning that he’s shyer than his stage presence portrays. Honestly, it’s a little relieving. After a few moments, Will starts strumming with more confidence, picking out a little pattern that makes Nico smile. It’s playful and a little goofy, clearly made up. Nico claps softly when Will finishes.

“When will you dance for me?” Will asks, now just strumming casually. Nico shrugs. Will smiles at this, reaching up to brush his curls out of his eyes. “How did you hear about me? I mean, my music’s not exactly like the other stuff you listen to.”

Nico thinks about his answer for a moment while Will keeps strumming. It had a calming effect on him. “I was going through a rough time about two years ago,” Nico starts. “And I stumbled across this post my sister emailed me. Some blog by this guy who listened to your music. He talked about how music had helped him with his depression and had made a playlist.” Nico ends with a shrug, not sure if he should keep talking.

“Your sister?” Will asks. Nico nods. He’s not surprised that Will knows. Anyone who’s ever looked up Nico’s name would know. His tragic backstory is old news. Will nods, putting the guitar down. “I started writing music after my brother died,” he says softly. “Maybe that’s why it speaks to you.”

Nico blinks, looking at Will. Even though he’s heard plenty of condolences, he knows how empty they can be. Instead, he reaches across the bed and takes Will’s calloused hands. He offers Will a small smile. “I bet he’s proud of you.”

Will laughs a little at this. “Hope so. After all, it was his idea to start a band. I’m, like, the least musical person in my family.” Nico rolls his eyes. Will’s apartment is a mess of instruments. His expression falters for a moment. “But I wrote that first song for him, and I haven’t been able to stop. It sounds stupid, but it’s kind of like my way of talking to him.”

“I get that,” Nico says. “My sister’s the one who taught me to dance. She was never any good, but it was impossible to not smile whenever she moved.” He pauses. “So, was there something you wanted to do besides music?”

Will looks down at their joined hands, and Nico gets the sudden urge to kiss him. Right where Will’s freckles make that lopsided heart on his cheek. “I’m in school for medicine right now. Still figuring it out.” Now, Will’s face breaks into a small smile, and Nico goes for it. He leans across the few inches and presses his lips right against Will’s warm cheek.

He can feel it warm more with a blush as Will leans into him. Then he’s kissing Will’s lips, and they’re chapped just like he thought they’d be. Will sighs softly, and that right there feels like a song that Nico could dance to. He unlaces their hands so he can run his fingers through Will’s hair. He’s imagined this moment for ages, and it feels so real.

“I never thought kissing involved so much air,” Will laughs when they pull apart. Nico lets out a breathy laugh. He’s more winded than he thought he would be. “But I guess it’s like eating.”

“What?”

Will laughs again. “I have no words, Nico. You’re too amazing.” Nico has to kiss him again after that. He loves hearing his name on Will’s lips. He presses Will gently into the mattress, smiling when Will’s curls fan out around his face. He kisses the lopsided heart on Will’s cheek, the constellations that soar across his jaw. Then he pulls Will close and just listens to their heartbeats.

“You didn’t kiss me just because I’m a nerd who has a dead brother, right?” Will asks. He’s got his head on Nico’s shoulder, his hair tickling Nico’s chin.

Nico shifts so he can see Will better. “No, I kissed you because I’m in love with your music, and now I’m falling in love with you. You also just happen to be a huge nerd and have a dead brother.”

Will hums. “Do people still bring their boyfriends home to their moms? Or is that old-fashioned? Would you want to meet my mom? I promise she’s nice.”

Nico feels giddy. “I’m going to be scared out of my mind, but I’d love to meet your mom, Will.” He kisses Will’s hair. “But do you maybe want to get pizza first? I’m getting really hungry right now.”

“I swear you eat more than any human is capable of eating.” Will’s hand glides over Nico’s stomach before coming to rest on his back. “But you’re also insanely fit.”

“You’ve got muscles, too,” Nico says. He’d honestly been surprised the first time he’d seen Will’s arms without a shirt covering them. He’d definitely been pleased to see the smooth curve of muscles. “You’re in shape.”

“I’m human-shaped,” Will laughs.

“I’d hope so,” Nico says, pulling them both up. He really is hungry. “Order in or go out?”

Will leans in to kiss Nico’s nose. “Let’s go out. There’s something I wanna show you.”
-
Will really hopes Nico will like this place. He’s never taken anyone here before, and he’s always thought of it as his own place, even though he’s probably trespassing on someone’s property. They’ve had their pizza, and they haven’t been swarmed by photographers or adoring fans. Will always wondered how no one ever noticed Nico when Will could do nothing but.

“Where are we going?” Nico asks. He’s sitting in the passenger’s seat of Will’s old truck. It’d been his brother’s before his, and it was getting on in years. He’d probably have to get a new one in a few years. He couldn’t always manage public transportation with all of its people and loud noises.

“A secret place,” Will says. He’s honestly more nervous about Nico seeing this place than he is about Nico meeting his mom. He knows his mom will love Nico, but he’s not sure if Nico will like this place.

“Very informational,” Nico says. “Is it far? I should’ve brought snacks.”

Will rolls his eyes. It is a bit of a drive, and he hasn’t brought food. He should’ve thought about that. It takes them just under an hour to get there, and then Nico’s squinting in the sun. He looks almost out of place here in the tall grass. His beanie and sunglasses don’t fit in, but Will’s okay with that.

“Here.” Will throws out his arms in a gesture more awkward than grand. He runs a hand through his hair, taking a deep breath before running towards the big oak tree in the distance. He catches Nico’s confused look before racing past him. He doesn’t look back to see if Nico’s following.

“So, here,” Nico puffs when they’ve made it to the tree. He’s taken off his sunglasses, and this is how Will likes him. Not plain but open.

Will nods. “Yup, here.” He’s not sure what to say about it. Other than it’s the one place that he’s been able to find that reminds him so overwhelmingly of home that he doesn’t have to remind himself how to breathe. Although, since meeting Nico, things have gotten better.

“Are the leaves pretty?” Nico asks. It takes Will a moment to understand the question. He nods. “Is this where you write your songs?”

He’s close. Will can write his songs almost anywhere — most often in the shower. “The air smells like home,” he says, hoping Nico will understand. The tall grass was a little scratchy and brown. The tree trunk was rough but solid. There were no more leaves left on the branches, but that was okay.

“Dance with me,” Nico says. He’s got a small smile on his face, his hands stretched out.

“I think I said, dance for me,” Will says. Nico rolls his eyes.

“And I said, dance with me, Will. C’mon. I don’t care if you step on all of my toes.” He pulls Will close, not really bothering with hand positions as he takes the lead. Will follows. He’s pretty sure that what they’re doing isn’t really considered dancing, but Nico’s the expert.

Nico’s humming something, his singing voice rougher than when he talks. It surprises Will a little bit, but he soon sinks into it. Nico gently pushes him away, their hands still clasped together. He gives Will a smile before spinning him around. Will almost trips, landing softly against Nico’s chest.

“I could dip you,” Nico says. That’s all the warning Will gets before he’s falling backward, Nico’s hand firm against his back. Nico’s smile follows, almost teasing now. He pecks Will’s nose before bringing him back up. Then he attempts to show Will a waltz.

“Is this supposed to be romantic?” Will asks.

Nico shrugs. “It’s what we make it. Romantic, goofy, whatever.” He kisses Will’s cheek this time before darting away. Will has time to catch Nico’s wink before Nico’s taking off across the field. Will huffs, sucking in a breath as he chases after Nico. He’s definitely sure they’re trespassing now.

Nico’s faster, built for motion, but he’s also playful. Will catches up soon enough, tackling Nico when his foot slips out from under him. The ground is hard beneath them, and Nico’s cushioned Will’s fall. “I’m pretty sure that’s way more romantic in movies.”

Will laughs, brushing back Nico’s hair. “Tell me something about yourself.”

“I hate pickles.”

“What?”

Nico giggles. “I hate pickles. They’re gross. I don’t know how anyone could eat them.”“You’re ridiculous,” Will laughs. “And I also hate pickles. I can’t stand the smell. Tell me something else.”

“I can speak Italian.” Will hopes he doesn’t look too surprised by this. He’s noticed a faint accent to Nico’s words, but he never thought to ask. “Tell me something about you now.”

“I am only fluent in English. I’ve never kissed a girl. I have a plush jellyfish named Jerry.”

Nico bursts out laughing now, and Will can feel it vibrating through him. “Anything else?” His eyebrows have quirked up now.

“I’ve fallen completely in love with you, Nico di Angelo.”

“Yeah?” Nico asks. Will nods. “I have one more thing.”

Will leans closer, though they’re still laying on top of each other in the dirt.

“I want to marry you, William Solace.”

Will blinks, his heart racing, his insides melting. Then he wrinkles up his nose. “I can’t believe you just called me William. No one calls me William.”

Nico snorts, pushing them both into a sitting position. “Is that all you heard?”

“I don’t see a ring.”

“How about this?” Nico asks. He holds up his hand, tugging off the ever-present skull ring. He’s even got a tan line there. “William Solace, will you marry me?”

“Only if you never call me William again,” Will laughs. He’s pretty sure he’s going to start crying in about three seconds. Nico smiles.

“I’ll take that as a yes.”
-
Nico remembers almost nothing from the wedding until his feet hit the dance floor. Will had walked down the aisle, gorgeous as ever. The pastor had said some words. And then Will was sweeping Nico off of his feet, towards the reception area. Will hadn’t let go of Nico’s hand yet, and Nico hopes he never does.

There’s a small round of toasts before Nico decides it’s time to cut the cake, smearing a bit of frosting on Will’s nose. Will laughs as Nico licks his fingers. Then he’s being led out onto the dance floor. Though they hadn’t really talked about it, Nico’s expecting the traditional husband and husband dance that he’s heard about from other weddings. Only, Will’s no longer beside Nico.

For a moment, Nico panics, thinking that this has all been a dream. Then he sees Will standing on the makeshift stage, a keyboard across his lap.

“This is for my husband, a man who makes me so happy.” There’s a chorus of clinking glasses, and then everything hushes as Will starts singing. Nico feels the words sink into his bones, and for once, he’s not sure what to do. Moving doesn’t feel right at the moment. All he can do is wipe his face as he cries, smiling as Will turns his soft gaze towards him.

There’s an awkward moment as Will hands off the microphone to Kayla, and then Will’s taking Nico’s hand. “May I have this dance?” Nico can only nod. He finds his footing again as Will pulls him gently around the dance floor. Other couples join them, and Nico catches Naomi Solace smiling at them over her husband’s shoulder.

“You wrote a song for me,” Nico says.

Will nods. “Yeah, wasn’t sure if I’d get it done before the wedding.”

Nico laughs. “You know, I’ve imagined this moment a hundred times in my head.”

“How does this compare?”

“I never thought there’d be this much snot.”

Will laughs, pausing their dance to grab Nico a handful of tissues. Nico’s glad the now upbeat music hides his hideous nose-blowing sounds. When he no longer sounds like he’s got a cold, he turns back to Will.

“So, other than the snot, is this a good wedding?”

Nico rolls his eyes. “Will, it’s perfect. Even with the snot. Don’t think I didn’t see you blowing your nose while the preacher was droning on.” It wasn’t a storybook wedding where everything had run smoothly and without makeup running or no tissues present. There were tissues and sniffling everywhere, and Hazel had had to run to the bathroom just before the reception to fix her makeup before the pictures.

“Well, I just wanted to kiss you. And I don’t think he’d have like it if I cut him off.” Nico shrugs. He didn’t care. This was their wedding. He pulls Will into a kiss, effectively stopping their dancing.

“Wanna get some pizza? I’m absolutely starving.” Will looks like he hasn’t heard Nico right, and Nico’s sure he’s smirking.

“There’s food here,” Will says, looking around the room. There’s chicken and green beans and cake.

“Yeah, but it’s our wedding night, and I want pizza. Don’t tell me you aren’t tempted, too.”

Will rolls his eyes. “You’re impossible. But I love you.”

“I call shotgun!” Nico calls over the music as he walks off the dance floor. He can hear Will laughing, can see him shaking his head. They get into Will’s truck and drive to their favorite pizza parlor. Both of their phones buzz in their pockets, but they ignore it.

Nico settles into the booth, lifting his glass. “Would it be too cheesy to quote your own song to you?” he asks.

“Depends which one,” Will says.

Nico leans over the table to kiss Will. “Well, I won’t do that then. To love, music, and pizza.”

Will snorts, lifting his own glass. “We’re going to get in so much trouble. To love, music, and pizza.”

Chapter Text

Will tiptoes up the stairs to their apartment, opening the door as quietly as he can. He knows he’s being dramatic and probably looks like he’s in some super low-budget spy film, but he thinks it adds to the effect. He holds his breath as he closes the door, glancing around the living room. He’d gotten off of work early, and he wanted to surprise Nico.

Soon, he realizes that he didn’t need to be so dramatic because Nico definitely hadn’t heard him. Will can hear him now, singing loudly in the shower. Will smiles as Nico’s voice echoes around their apartment. They’d recently gone to see a performance of Wicked for Nico’s birthday, and Will knew he’d quickly become obsessed.
Already, Nico had bought the CD, listened to it enough times to memorize the lyrics, and sing them everywhere. He’d gotten a shirt to wear, and Will watched as their YouTube channel’s recommendations had a familiar pattern. Will knew it was coming. Nico was a huge theater nerd, and he always got sucked in immediately before and after a performance.

Will changes into something more comfortable while he waits for Nico to finish his shower concert. He makes tea and warms up some banana bread Nico had made earlier. Nico’s still singing as he walks down the hall, suddenly cutting off when he sees Will.

“Oh, hey, when did you get home?” His cheeks are pink, and Will just grins at him.

Before Nico can say anything, Will picks up where Nico left off. His voice is nowhere near as smooth as Nico’s or as precise, but he’s heard these songs enough times over the last week to have a good sense of the rhythm. Nico’s cheeks turn a bit pink as he rolls his eyes.

Will finishes Glinda’s part, gesturing for Nico to continue where he left off. Nico grumbles something under his breath before taking a big breath and singing. Will joins in on the chorus, spinning Nico around the room as they become too out of breath to finish singing the song.

“You’re ridiculous,” Nico says when he’s caught his breath.

“And you’re adorable.” Nico rolls his eyes, but he leans up to kiss Will’s lips.

“When’d you even get home? I didn’t hear you come in.”

Will laughs. “About twenty minutes ago. I was going to surprise you. So, surprise!”

Nico huffs, but he’s smiling as he wraps his arms around Will. “I wish I could see it again. It was just so amazing and wonderful. And they’re all so talented!”

Will hugs Nico back, kissing his hair. “Well, it seems that your father and I had the same idea for your birthday,” Will says slowly, watching as Nico’s eyes widen. “Only, he decided to show me up. So, I guess all of your wishes are coming true.”

He reaches into his pocket, pulling out an envelope addressed to Nico. Nico quickly rips it open, gasping as he reads the letter. Suddenly, he’s jumping up and down around the living room, narrowly missing the coffee table. Will laughs as he tries to get Nico to read the letter.

“Backstage passes! And a tour! Oh, my gods!” He pauses in his jumping. “Wait, how did you know about this?”

“Your dad called me a month ago and asked which play you were most excited about seeing. I only found out about this part recently when he called to make sure we didn’t have anything planned that day.”

“It’s next week,” Nico says. “What’ll I wear? Do you think they’ll care? I can’t believe I’m going to meet the cast! Would it be rude to ask for an autograph? Like everyone? Even the sound crew and tech staff?” Will smiles, wrapping his arms around Nico to rein him in.

“Well, you know how dramatic your dad is. Always has to go for the home run,” Will says. “He said he’s going to pick us up in a limo. Even though I insisted that we can drive.”

Nico rolls his eyes. “I’m so excited. I don’t know how I’m going to sleep.” He pauses in the middle of the living room. “Sometimes it’s great being my father’s son.”

Will snorts. “I would say. My dad gave me a harmonica for Christmas. And we both know how bad I am.” Nico winces, nodding.

“Well, there are four tickets, so I’m assuming he wants you to come along.”

“He’d definitely better,” Will laughs. “I cleared my schedule for this.”
-
In the next week, Nico’s completely obsessed. He tries on every outfit he owns, goes shopping. He’s even more excited when he hears that Hazel will be coming along. Will thinks it’s good that Nico works from home or else he’d be a complete mess in an office. He’s got all of the songs stuck in his head; he can’t even remember what other songs sound like.

But it’s worth it to see Nico so happy. Hades managed to keep the limo sleek and simple, smiling as Will and Nico got in. Will’s eyes widen when he sees that Hades also has on a Wicked shirt.

“Happy birthday, Nico.” Nico beams. Will almost wishes they’d somehow worn matching T-shirts. They pick up Hazel next. She squeals, giving both Nico and Will a giant hug before plopping a wrapped present on his lap.

“Sorry, it’s late. But I had to make sure it was perfect.”

Nico rolls his eyes as he opens the gift. Then he laughs. It’s a little handmade bobblehead of Nico, dressed as Elphaba. “I see what you think of me now,” he teases. Hazel just shrugs.

“Well, Will does have the blonde hair and sunny personality.” Will sticks out his tongue, and Nico flicks his ear. He hears Hades sigh, but he’s smiling.

The actual performance is amazing, even better since Nico’s practically ready to jump out of his seat. He hums along with all of the songs, probably annoying anyone sitting near them. And then they’re backstage. Nico’s eyes are wide and round and everywhere at once. He’s gripping Will’s hand, dragging him around as they get to look at everything.

Nico asks everyone he sees to autograph his program. And then Will’s when he runs out of legible space. Will thinks Nico’s going to faint when they meet the cast. He goes from gushing to super polite as he gets their autographs and asks them questions.

“We do have one small performance planned for you,” Elphaba says. Will glances over at Hades. Hazel also seems confused. And then the cast bursts into an upbeat happy birthday, and Nico practically melts. They bring out a small cake for him, and Will’s pretty sure Nico’s going to have a heart attack with how much excitement he’s containing.

Nico’s given his own witch’s hat, and he wears it around as they finish up the tour. And he’s talking non-stop on the way home. He hugs everyone, even his father as they part ways, and Will can tell Nico’s running purely on adrenaline at this point.

“I never want today to end,” he yawns. Will smiles, helping Nico towards the shower. “I feel like I’m on cloud nine. The angels are singing, and I’m in heaven or something.” Will laughs, kissing Nico’s cheek. It’s been quite a day, and he’s exhausted. He’s pretty sure Nico would collapse if Will weren’t helping him.

“Time for bed, Neeks,” he says gently. Nico pouts, but he lets Will wash off his green make-up and gets into the shower. He hums quietly as he bathes, his voice kind of rough from all of the singing and talking he’s been doing today.

“Today’s been great, but I want to spend the entire day tomorrow in bed. Just sleeping and cuddling. And listening to my CD on repeat.”

Will laughs. Nico’s eyelids are already drooping, and he’s yawning with almost every word. He changes into his Hamilton pajamas, humming as Will tucks him in. Then Will’s curling around him, kissing Nico’s hair. He thinks Nico’s asleep until he hears a sleepy mumble.

“Thanks for being my Glinda. Even if you can’t sing as good as her.”

Will snorts. “Love you, too, baby.”

Chapter Text

Will’s only plans for the night had been to dance a little, keep his siblings from getting too drunk, and then slipping back to the house for a quiet evening with a book. He’s not even sure why his mom still makes him come to these things. He’s never liked them, and his siblings complain that he’s such a drag. Which he is. Because he’d much rather be at the public library than in this dance hall. Would it look so bad if they just left him home?

“Will, don’t think you’re going to be sneaking out tonight,” his mom says. She hands him a cup of punch. He takes a hesitant sip to make sure it’s not alcoholic. “Well, at least not alone.” She winks at him, and Will groans. She’s been trying to set Will up with a numerous amount of people for the last three years. Some have been better matches than others, but they all ended the same way: them finding someone else, Will finding himself alone.

“No, Mama. I’m not going on another blind date. Or even hooking up. That’s more of Michael’s thing.” Naomi frowns at this. She didn’t like to be reminded that another of her sons was constantly hitting the dating pool with nothing more than flighty interest.

“Tonight’s not about him,” Naomi says, waving her hand.

“No, I think tonight’s about whoever’s picture is up there,” Will says, gesturing to the top of the stairs. He’s been to so many formal events the last few years that he can’t even remember which was for what. He thinks tonight’s guy might be some wealthy donor. Or maybe a scientist?

Naomi sighs. “Yes, but that’s not what I meant.” She pulls him off to the side, under the illusion that they’re surveying the snack table. It’s a little bit of everything, food for anyone who might have been invited. One of the perks of having a lot of money. “I have a mission for you.” Will sighs. He hasn’t gone on a solo mission in forever, and he can tell he’s not going to like it.

“We’re having a bit of trouble right now, and we could really use some inside intel,” his mom continues. “That man is like a walking textbook.” Will resigns himself to listening. Missions are important, and he can tell he’s not going to be able to get out of this one. His mom has specifically targeted him for some reason.

“Wait, what?” Will asks. “I need to seduce him?” He glances between himself and the man. The man is gorgeous. Naomi had said he was a warlock, but that did nothing to diminish his beauty. And then there was Will. Who while he had inherited his parents’ aesthetic features was super awkward and bad at small talk. A walking disaster in a room full of distinguished guests.

“I have faith in you, Will. Just seduce him a bit, gather his secrets. I hear he’s a great cook. Maybe he can satisfy that rumbling belly of yours.” She pats Will’s stomach. “This is important, Will. We need this information.”

“But Mama-“ Will starts. She cuts him off with a quick shake of her head.

“I’ve chosen you. Your siblings are less than qualified for this mission.” Will sighs. If only his siblings weren’t either in functional relationships or huge flirts.

“Fine, Mama,” Will sighs again. He wishes she’d just sent him to the library with a long list of things to look up. If only these answers could be found in a book. Instead, warlock secrets were often very precious and only passed down through word of mouth.

Naomi nudges him, handing him two glasses. Will takes a moment to compose himself, putting on what he hopes is a decent smile. Then he’s walking across the floor to greet Nico di Angelo to convince him to spill all of his secrets just because Will’s so dashing. Will doesn’t think this plan is going to work out for either of them.
-
Nico looks up when his view of the band is blocked. “I was watching that,” he says. The stranger smiles nervously at him, extending his hand.

“Will Solace,” he says. “Care for a drink?” Nico raises his eyebrows, but he accepts the drink. It’s possible it could be poisoned, but this feels more like an awkward situation than a fatal one. Unfortunately. Nico was hoping for an excuse to leave. Even if someone had to call an ambulance.

“Could you move a bit? You’re blocking my view.” Will seems startled before moving to stand beside Nico. He’s gripping his own glass, hardly a sip gone from it. “And while you’re at it, care to explain why you came all the way over here to offer me a drink? I doubt I looked that thirsty.”

Will splutters for a moment, and Nico’s reminded again why he never talks to people at these things. Either they think he’s too off-putting or they blabber about for hours until Nico not-so-politely excuses himself. He holds up his hand, and Will goes quiet. He’s glancing back and forth between Nico and the band, probably trying to figure out if he should say something.

“I like this song,” is what Will ends up saying. Nico finds it slightly endearing that he looks so embarrassed afterward. “I mean, it’s a good song. I’ve never heard it before.”

Nico nods. “Probably Mozart or something. Who knows. I don’t know why we continue to listen to the same old guys when we’ve got other music. But humans think that this is the highest point of evolution or something.” Nico smirks, looking at Will. It’s clear he’s either a human or very good at disguising himself. Though there would be no need here.

Will doesn’t seem to have a response to this. Nico’s about to excuse himself when there’s a murmur through the crowd and everyone goes quiet. Nico groans, looking at the host of the party ascend the stairs. He’d been hoping to sneak out before this. The speeches always seemed to get longer, the older or wealthier the host was, like their words had to amount to the sum of the money they were parting with. Like a funeral for their funds.

Nico glances at Will. He doesn’t seem particularly pleased to still be here either. “Wanna get out of here?” Nico asks. Will looks startled for a moment. There’s still a soft whisper going around, everyone getting in their last words before the host reaches the top of the stairs. Nico grabs Will’s hand, pushing him through the crowd. He goes by a blond lady who smiles at him. Will’s hand in his tightens a bit.

And then they’re outside. Will lets out a long breath. He’s still holding his glass. Nico takes it gently from him, setting it on one of the marble pedestals.

“So, um, thanks,” Will says. He’s got his arms crossed over his chest like he’s cold.

“Care for a stroll through the gardens?” Nico asks. He’s not quite ready to go back to his large, lonely house. And Will’s not awful company. Besides, it’d be a bit rude to ditch him right here without having asked for his consent to leave in the first place.

“I’d love to.” Nico almost smiles as Will takes Nico’s extended elbow, stepping through the sculpted archway.
-
Will, for the life of him, can’t remember exactly what they talked about. He remembers they covered quite a lot of ground, both literally and conversationally, but he can’t remember what the subjects were. He thinks they might have talked about school and work and magic and how dreadfully dull parties were. But those were not his main thoughts.

While his mouth was on autopilot, his brain was fumbling through awful poetry about Nico’s facial features, his lips, his jawline, his arm. Even underneath the jacket and shirt, it was clear Nico was very fit. And his voice was deep enough to send chills down Will’s spine whenever he whispered. He hadn’t stopped holding Will’s hand the whole way through, even when they got a bit lost in the hedges.

Will knows that the mission was to seduce Nico, but maybe he’ll be more willing if he’s already falling for Nico himself. And maybe his mom will be pleased, too. Two birds with one stone. Even if that stone was thrown by his mom.

And now Will had an invitation to Nico’s house later today. They had talked about books and music, Will’s sure of it. Because he’s sure Nico mentioned something about a library and how classical music was cliché. When Will hadn’t been able to give a complete report of everything that had happened, his mom had only sighed. One of his brothers had clapped him on the back with a smirk on his face.

Will’s more nervous than he should be as he rides up to Nico’s house. He’s had to take his bicycle as his sister has taken the truck. And the other car was for emergencies only. This wasn’t exactly an emergency, though Will’s not sure how proper it is to show up to a first date on a bike. Not that this was a date.

Will’s not sure what he was expecting when he saw Nico’s house. An old Victorian mansion wasn’t quite it. Nor were all of the very up-to-date appliances in the house. He’s read so many books on the relationship between magic and technology, and most of the experts agreed that it wasn’t a mutual friendship.

“Warlock secrets,” Nico whispers when Will’s caught looking. “This definitely took some work. Magic can only get you so far, and I hate washing the dishes.” Will smiles at that. Nico’s house was that kind of messy that told people he lived here. There were stacks of books everywhere and cats and doodles laying about.

“You have a lot of cats,” Will says. Nico smiles, shrugging.

“I’m not sure if I’ve somehow opened a portal into some cat world or if they just invite their friends over. I swear, I only about maybe ten yesterday.” Will doesn’t have anything to say to that, so he keeps his mouth shut. Nico gives him a cursory tour. When Nico had said library yesterday, Will had been imagining a large room full of books. But Nico seems to have meant a large house full of books. Which suits Will just fine.

“I love your house.”

Nico grins. “That’s good.” Will wants to ask why it’s good, but he doesn’t. This is the first date after all. Nico leads him into the kitchen. “I, uh, made some lunch. I hope you’re hungry.”

Will nods. He hadn’t been expecting lunch, but they had agreed to meet up at noon. And for some people that was lunchtime. Will’s already eaten, but he doesn’t say so. Instead, he sits down while Nico sets plates on the table. Nico seems a bit shy as he sits down.

“This all looks amazing,” Will says. He thinks Nico blushes, but it’s hard to tell with his olive complexion.

“I wasn’t sure what you liked, but I stuck with human food. Thought that was probably safe.” Will nods. He wasn’t too adventurous when it came to his food. “Also, I’ve got some wine. I don’t know if you drink.”

“Not really, but I wouldn’t mind a taste.” Nico nods, pouring him a small glass. Lunch is relatively quiet. Sitting here, Will remembers a little better what they’d talked about last night, and he can’t think of any new subjects. Nico seems content to just be here. Will hopes that means he’s succeeding in seducing Nico. He doesn’t really have a lot of tricks up his sleeves.

“If you’re interested in books, I think you’re going to like this a lot,” Nico says. He brushes their dishes into the sink before leading Will to a door they’d skipped over earlier. Will had assumed it was just Nico’s bedroom or a bathroom that didn’t need pointing out, but now he wasn’t so sure. Was this where Nico kept all of his secrets?

In a way, yes. Because behind those doors were even more books. Nico smiles when he sees Will’s face. “These are my more prized books,” Nico says. “The ones that I try my best to keep in good condition even though I read them too much.”

Will laughs. They’re organized in a way he assumes the ones scattered around the house are not. Beyond the books, the room is furnished comfortably: big, cushy chairs, a fireplace, lamps, and big windows. There are even ladders with wheels. Will moves around the room, reading some of the spines. It’s amazing how Nico can have so many favorite books.

“You’ve read all of these?”

Nico nods. “Some more than three times.” Will laughs again. Nico seems proud of his collection, and rightfully so.

“I love this,” Will says. Nico blushes at this, and Will realizes how close they’re standing. It feels so cliché, but here they are. Possibly falling in love over a room full of books.
-
Nico’s not sure why he keeps inviting Will over and out to do stuff. It’s possible that he’s desperate for company that isn’t some wannabe-apprentice or other people who just come to him for advice or magical help. Will’s definitely different from them. He’s far from serious, a little awkward, honest. He always shows up in cargo shorts and a T-shirt, paired with flip-flops. Nico’s kind of betting Will’s got some kind of flip-flop collection. Somehow, it’s becoming endearing.

Whatever the reason, he’s hung out with Will about six or seven times since that party. And Nico doesn’t even hang out. It’s probably the most social interaction he’s had all year. He’s surprised to find that he enjoys it so much, even more surprised to find that he’s looking forward to seeing Will on his doorstep.

Nico wants to call Will his friend, only his thoughts seem to stray a bit from the friendly side. Sometimes, he’d very much like to push Will against a wall and just kiss him silly. Or even hold his hand, trace those sun-kissed freckles. He feels insanely proud whenever he makes Will laugh.

“Hey, Nico!” Will calls. Nico’s pruning his garden. He’s neglected it this year what with him being so busy and all. Between hanging out with Will, he’s got to also bring in enough money to buy more books. And answer all of those annoying letters and emails everyone sends him. If only they’d figure out how to balance technology and magic, they could google these answers for themselves.

“Hi, sunshine.” They both blush at the nickname. It’s something that slipped out earlier, and now Nico was kind of addicted to it. He still loves Will’s reaction to it.

“I was wondering if we could do something today?” Will asks. Nico looks up, brushing the dirt from his hands.

“What do you mean?” They always technically did something. Whether that was read together or garden or just walk through the park. Last week, they’d gone into town and looked in the shops.

Will looks a bit nervous. “I kind of wanted to maybe cook something with you,” he says. “That’s probably an odd request.” Nico shrugs, though he kind of agrees.

“Any particular occasion? Don’t tell me you forgot your mom’s birthday?”

Will shakes his head. “No, I just hear that your cooking is amazing. And I’m basically chaos in the kitchen. So maybe you could give me a few tips.”

Nico nods slowly. “Anything you wanted to make?”

Will shrugs. “Something sort of easy? I really am pretty bad.”

Nico thinks for a moment. He’s got a collection of family recipes and such. “How about spaghetti?” Will beams. “We’ll have to get some groceries. I don’t think I have any tomatoes on me at the moment.”

Everything feels so domestic now. Going grocery shopping, riding in Will’s car with the radio turned up. Nico’s never done this with another person before. He’s always been so solitary. It’s really nice hanging out with Will. Even when he tries to get already-made cookie dough.

“We can make our own cookies, Will. And they’ll taste better.” Will rolls his eyes, but he puts the box back on the shelf. Nico gets all fo the ingredients, ignoring anyone who tries to flag him down. He supposes that’s another part of why he loves hanging out with Will so much. Will never tries to bother him about magic or spells. He’s curious, but isn’t hounding Nico for answers. It’s refreshing.

Nico learns quickly that Will’s not kidding when he says a disaster in the kitchen. He’s hopeless in a way that Nico finds endearing (though he’s sure he just finds everything about Will endearing at this point). Still, it’s fun in a way Nico never imagined it would be. Even if the kitchen is an absolute mess when the cookies are finally in the oven, and the spaghetti is plated.

“I’ll do the dishes,” Will says, “since you did most of the cooking.” Nico smiles. He’s even more pleased when Will makes this groaning sound as he takes his first bite of spaghetti. “By the way, your cooking is beyond amazing.”

Nico shouldn’t be as flattered as he is, especially since Will’s got sauce dripping off of his chin, but he is. And then the cookies are coming out, and they end up sitting on Nico’s porch just talking and eating an entire plate of cookies between the two of them.

“Hey, Will?” Nico asks. “Why haven’t you asked me about magic yet?”

Will looks confused for a moment, then almost frightened. Then Will shrugs. “I don’t know. I mean, I guess I’ve grown up with magic all around me. It’s always been there, like the sun, and I don’t ask about that.” Nico rolls his eyes.

“Yeah, but isn’t there something you want to know?”

Will’s quiet for a moment, and Nico thinks he might have pushed too hard. He’s not sure why he even cares. If Will doesn’t care about magic, why should he make him? It warms Nico’s stomach to think that Will’s been hanging out with him just because he enjoys it.

“I’d like to know” Will starts, and then he’s so rudely cut off by Will’s cellphone. Will curses, flipping open the phone. “I’ve got to take this. Mama’s not too patient.”

Nico nods, hoping that he can hear Will’s answer when he returns.
-
Will’s moping, and he thinks he’s doing a pretty good job of it if his sibling’s disgusted faces are anything to go by. His mom, on the other hand, is kind of angry. Angry at Will for not shaking Nico for secrets, angry for falling in love instead of going undercover. She’s always said Will wore his heart out on his sleeve. Maybe she’d thought he’d outgrow it.

Will reads the note again, his heart clenching as he does. He’s got an idea of what he might’ve done, but he’s not sure. And the not knowing hurts just a little more than Nico’s message. He can’t believe he was about to ask to kiss Nico, and then he’d been rudely shoved out of the house with a scrawled breakup message.

He blames his mom, but he knows it’s not quite her fault. If he’d just followed her directions, he wouldn’t be in this mess. If he’d just been honest with Nico, he wouldn’t be in this mess. If he’d done everything differently, he wouldn’t be in this mess.

Will’s eyes prick, and he’s tempted to cry. Only, he’s kind of angry, too. Because Nico hadn’t let him explain himself. Yeah, he was there to gain Nico’s trust and betray his secrets, but he wasn’t going to go through with it. He’d been thinking he could somehow present the problem to Nico and work it out with him. And then they could kiss some. Of course, those dreams were dashed.

“Mama says to stop moping,” his brother says. “Also, she’s made lunch.”

Will shrugs. He’s not all that hungry. He knows he’s being a bit dramatic, but it really does hurt. He’s read books on how emotional heartbreak can lead to physical sensations, and right now it feels like his heart is wringing itself out. He blames Mama for calling when he did, for him answering, for Nico possibly overhearing.

He doesn’t know how long he mopes. Only that his brothers and sisters are in and out, searching for what Will never gained. His mom avoids him, only knocking on his door to tell him that food is downstairs. Like Will can’t smell it. Gods, Will can’t remember ever being this grumpy. And it kind of sucks. Really sucks.

“Will.” Will peels his face from the bedsheets. He’s been such a disappointment these last however many days, but he can’t bring himself to try and fix it yet. “There’s something waiting for you downstairs.”

Will frowns. He can’t smell any food, and it’s not lunchtime. In fact, it’s dark outside, and his mom seems more disheveled than she had earlier. She raises her eyebrows, nodding. Will gets up. He’s sure he looks like a mess, unwashed, uncombed, in sweatpants and an old shirt, but Naomi doesn’t comment.

He’s not sure what he was expecting, but it’s not Nico. Especially not Nico tied to a dining room chair, looking completely displeased with the situation.

“I had nothing to do with this,” Will croaks. Both Naomi and Nico frown at him. “I’ve been moping. That doesn’t give you the right to go and kidnap someone,” he snaps.

“Well, we need the information, and you needed a reason to get your butt out of the room. Two birds with one stone. I’ll leave you two for a moment.”Will pouts, and Nico huffs. What a pair they make. “You lied to me,” Nico says. “You could have just asked, you know.”

“I didn’t lie.” He crosses his arms. He’s sure he looks childish, but he doesn’t care. “I just didn’t tell you why I came up to you in the first place.”

“That’s lying, William.” Will makes a face.

“Well, I guess I should probably let you go,” Will sighs. Nico looks surprised. “I mean, it’s not like I’m going to get anything out of you. And I’m pretty sure you don’t want to see my mom again.”

“So I really meant nothing more than an information source to you?” Nico bites. “You’ve been moping all week, and it’s all because of your mom.” Will unties the knots, and Nico glares at him.

“Do you need something?” Will asks. He’s so tired of playing games.

“Yeah, I do,” Nico says. He stands up, glaring at Will. “I want to know if I was more than just a human Google. That you weren’t just faking it every time we hung out. That making spaghetti and cookies wasn’t just some kind of ploy.”

Will winces. “No, that was my birthday.” He can see Nico’s expression falter for a moment before the glare returns.

“All of it? Because you can get spaghetti and cookies anywhere.”

Will glares back. “No, I never lied to you, Nico. I said I didn’t care about magic, and I don’t. Everything we’ve talked about was true. If I hurt you, I’ve also hurt myself. Is that what you wanted to hear?”

“What about that last day? What you wanted to know.”

Will can’t believe he’s actually blushing now. It doesn’t work with his glare. “I was gonna ask if you’d let me kiss you. But I guess I already know the answer.” He turns to leave, but Nico grabs his arm, spins him around, and kisses him. Right there. It’s not romantic or gentle or cute. If it’s anything like fireworks, it’s explosive and captivating. Their teeth clash, and Will almost bites his tongue.

“I say yes,” Nico says, pulling back. Will’s embarrassed that he’s out of breath.

“Yes? Like in the present tense?” Will asks. Nico nods. “As in you’re not mad anymore?”

Nico smirks. “I’m still a little mad. But we’ve got to get out of here, and I believe you said you’d do the dishes. And I’ve been cooking non-stop since you stabbed me in the back.”

Will rolls his eyes. He feels like he’s walking into another mess, but he can’t stop himself. Instead, he just leaves a note on the kitchen table.

“They might hunt us down, but I don’t care.”

Chapter Text

Will wasn’t sure what was happening. When Nico had called him about an emergency, he’d assumed it had something to do with a monster attacking camp or Nico being hurt. He’d expected someone to be hurt or about to be hurt, and he expected that he was getting called in for assistance. Apparently, he was very wrong.

Firstly, because no one was hurt. Secondly, he’s definitely not sure what he can offer.“I’m a medic. I treat people,” Will says. He points to the bundle in Nico’s arms. “That is not a person.”

Nico huffs. “Don’t offend her.” He tilts his arms away from Will like he’s shielding whatever that thing is from Will. “She’s precious. I can’t have you insulting our baby. Besides, she’s not hurt or sick.”

“Our what?” Will asks. “I don’t think I agreed to this anywhere.” He’s wishing there was someone else around to witness this, just to make sure that he isn’t somehow hallucinating. Nico huffs again, raising himself to his full height. Even though he just comes up to Will’s chin, it’s a little terrifying how intimidating Nico can be.

“Our baby, Will,” Nico says. “Look at her. We need to name her.”

“This is what you called me for?” Will had been taking a much-needed break from the infirmary. In fact, he’d been indulging himself in a very long nap when his phone had started ringing. He was starting to think that maybe these monster-proof phones were more of a curse than a blessing.

“Who else was I supposed to call? You’re my boyfriend, aren’t you?”

“The one and only,” Will yawns. He’s still failing to see the point of this situation.

“Well, who else am I supposed to raise a baby with?” Will’s pretty sure his brain is short-circuiting right now. “Certainly not Jason or Percy. Can you imagine those two with a baby?”

Will shrugs. “Percy’s pretty good with his baby sister,” he points out. He’s starting to grasp the situation a little better, but he still thinks he’s somehow wandered into a parallel universe or something. Because just yesterday Nico blushed a brilliant red when Will kissed his cheek after training. And now he was asking Will to raise a baby something with him.

Of course, PDA and parenting weren’t quite in the same department, Will realizes. But that’s beside the point.

Nico’s oblivious to Will’s inner confusion as he presses on. “So, she really needs a name, Will. What do you think?” Now he tilts the bundle closer to Will. Upon closer inspection, Will realizes he’s looking at a bat. A baby bat. He has no idea where Nico got it, and he’s not sure he really wants to know.

“How about Batty?”

Nico glares at him. “It would be cute if that literally wasn’t what she is.” Nico coos at the bat before looking back at Will. “How about Bella?”“Like Twilight?” Will asks. Nico blinks at him, and Will remembers that Nico isn’t completely caught up on pop culture yet. “Bella is beautiful.”

“I know,” Nico says, smiling. HIs voice has turned soft as he looks at his- their baby. “Welcome, baby Bella.”
-
Bella’s growing on Will more than he’d like to admit. At first, it’d been Nico doing all of the fussing and worrying. He had done all of the research, picked out the best spots in the forest and around his cabin. He took care of feeding Bella and making sure she was happy.

Will hadn’t even realized he’d started caring until he woke up in a sweat one night. He’d quickly called Nico (to the annoyance of his siblings).

“Nico!” he whisper-yells into the phone. “Is Bella safe from the harpies? Will they eat her?”

It takes Nico a moment to answer, and Will’s trying to remember exactly where Bella sleeps and where she flies. The harpies were there to keep everyone in their cabins after curfew, but Will had never thought about animals. They didn’t have owls like wizards did, and the harpies never strayed into the forest. But Bella flew back and forth from the forest to Nico’s cabin in search of food.

“Will, she’s perfectly fine. I’ve talked to Chiron about them.” There’s a pause. “But I’m happy to know you’re looking out for her.”

Will smiles, nodding, even though Nico can’t see him. He’s not sure he’ll ever tell Nico this, but Bella was kind of cute. She was fuzzy and had nice wings and round eyes. What swayed Will the most, though, was how Nico softened so completely whenever he was talking about her.

“So she’s safe?” Will asks.

“Yes. She’s perfectly safe. Those harpies wouldn’t dare to harm her.” Will’s not sure he wants to know the details of that, so he doesn’t ask. He’s pretty sure Nico’s smiling right now.

“Hey, Nico?” Will says. “I don’t hate her.”

Nico yawns into the phone, and Will’s pretty sure he’s about to get cursed by one of his siblings. “I know you never hated her. She’s too precious to be anything but loved.” Then Nico hangs up, and Will’s left wondering just what all he’s gotten himself into.

As soon as possible, he needs to do some research. If he and Nico are going to raise this chicken, they’re going to do this right.
-
Word gets around camp, and soon Nico and Will are known mostly by their child. Will assumes this is what it feels like to be a parent. During all of his lessons, the younger children ask about Bella and the older children also ask about Bella. He and Nico have become the resident bat experts by default, and Will’s not too upset by this.

Bella’s grown into a beautiful fruit bat, and she’s spoiled by everyone. Will and Nico keep insisting that she needs to be able to hunt for her own food as it’d be helpful if the camp is ever under attack or either of them has to go on a quest. Despite this, however, they both find pieces of fruit left on the porch of the Hades cabin, and neither Will or Nico have the heart to say no.

“I can’t wait for Hazel to meet her,” Nico says. The Romans were arriving in just under an hour, and Nico hadn’t stopped physically vibrating with excitement since breakfast. Bella was sleeping, and Nico would have been sleeping if they weren’t about to have visitors. “Do you think she’ll love Bella?”

Will smiles, taking Nico’s hands. “How anyone not love her?” Nico beams at this. Even though Bella wasn’t more than an average fruit bat, she had quickly become one of Nico’s prides and joys. (Will still hoped he was close in the running.) “And maybe Frank can talk to her.”

Nico’s eyes widen at this. “Oh my gods! I hadn’t even thought of that before. That’d be so cool!” Now he’s jumping up and down. He’d probably be more embarrassed if he weren’t so excited. “I can’t wait until they get here, Will. Everyone will get to meet our baby, and they’ll love her so much!”

“Nico, maybe we should go for a walk or something. I’m sure your jumping is waking Bella up.” At this, Nico casts a glance toward the Hades cabin. They’d been waiting on the porch for almost half an hour, and the Romans were taking their time.

“But I don’t want to miss them,” Nico says.

“We’ll just walk to the lake and back, okay?” Will’s pretty excited about everyone meeting Bella, too. He’s already got way too many photos of her on his phone, even though most of them are of her sleeping and eating. Of course, most of his pictures of Nico are of the same activities. Clearly, they were made for each other.

They’ve just gotten to the lake when the Romans arrive. Nico grabs Will’s hand, tugging him towards the mass that’s gathering near the Big House. Everything’s organized chaos as everyone says hello and gifts are exchanged. Nico pulls Will through the crowd until they’re standing in front of Hazel. Then Nico drops Will’s hand, pulling his sister into a hug.

“Hazel, you’ve got to come and see Bella,” Nico says. He glances around. “Where’s Frank?”

Hazel smiles. “Nice to see you, too. Hi, Will.” Will gives a wave. “Frank went to find Jason. I think he had an idea for one of the shrines.” Nico seems impatient with that idea.

“Well, he’ll just have to come later, then,” Nico says. “Right now, I want you to meet Bella.”

“Is she the beloved bat I’ve been hearing so much about?” Hazel asks. Nico nods. “Well, we’ll grab Frank and go meet her.”

Nico hops up and down, trying to find Frank. Some of the mass has scattered to other parts of the camp, but most people are still right here. Then Nico’s eyes light up, and he’s dragging both Hazel and Will through the crowd.

“He’s sure excited about this, isn’t he?” Hazel asks.

Will laughs. “I’m pretty excited, too. I know you’ll love her.” Hazel fixes him with a soft smile, nodding.

“If she’s made her way into my brother’s heart, I’m sure I’ll fall instantly.”

When they’re all finally assembled in Nico’s cabin, Nico calls softly to Bella. Even though she sleeps mostly during the day, she’s got a giant soft spot for Nico and will come whenever he calls. Perking up, Bella flies over to hang upside down above Nico.

“Hey there, precious,” he coos. “Meet my sister. And Frank.”

Hazel waves, smiling, and Will feels a surge of pride. He laces his fingers with Nico’s, smiling. “Her name is Bella,” Will says, and he can’t keep the affection out of his voice. They’ve had her all of four months, and he loves her more than he thought he could.

“You three are so cute,” Hazel says. “What an adorable family.”

“So, can you talk to her, Frank?” Nico asks. Frank’s eyebrows jump up as he scratches his neck.

“I mean, I might be able to, but I’m not sure what I’d say to her. And I don’t want to freak her out.” Nico pouts. “You know, in the Chinese culture bats are symbols of good fortune and happiness,” Frank adds quickly.

“How so?” Will asks.

“The words are pronounced the same: fú. 蝠 for bat and 福 for good fortune.”

“I knew she was special,” Nico says. He beams at Bella, rubbing her head gently. She seems to smile at him, tapping her head playfully against Nico’s finger. “Alright, baby, you can go back to sleep.” Nico watches her go back to her roost before turning to Hazel.

“I knew she was a good sign,” Nico says.

Will kisses his cheek. “I’m glad you found her,” he says. Nico frowns, then, looking at Will.

“Did I not tell you how I got her?” he asks. Will shakes his head slowly, glancing at Hazel and Frank. “I didn’t rescue her, you know. Huh, I thought I mentioned it. That’s a story for later, I guess.” He shrugs, not explaining any further.

Chapter Text

“Wait, wait. Let me get this straight,” Will says, holding up his hands. Nico huffs. He’s told this story at least four times now, and Will seems to be missing the point. “So you don’t get along with donkeys?”

“Where would I even keep a donkey, Will?” Nico asks. They’ve been going over these little details, and Nico just hopes Will eventually gets to the point. “And it shouldn’t be all that surprising. Remember when I tried to rescue that cat?”

Will nods slowly. “I guess so, but why a bat?”

“Because they like the dark,” Nico says. In truth, he’s not one hundred percent sure why Hestia had gifted him a bat specifically, but he wasn’t complaining. In fact, he and Bella got along perfectly. Aside from when Nico tried to hide the gifts of fruit from her. “And she doesn’t seem to put off by my aura of death.”

Will makes a face here. “You don’t give off an aura of death.” Nico gives him a look. “Okay, so maybe just a tiny one. But it’s not like it’s a huge deal. I guess humans just aren’t as sensitive to those things.”

Nico shrugs. He doesn’t point out that plenty of people were pretty sensitive to it when he first came back to camp. Having the god of the Underworld as a father wasn’t exactly the kind of lineage Nico would have asked for, but it did come in handy sometimes.

“So, are you good now?” Nico asks.

“I think so,” Will says. Nico almost feels the relief settle in when Will’s eyes widen again. “Wait, no. I’m not. Can I just run through this? Just one more time? I promise I’ll shut up afterward.”

Nico nods. They’d been at this for almost an hour, and Nico just wanted to eat. And he was sure Bella was getting annoyed at all of their noise.

“So, you and Hestia are friends,” Will starts off. Nico nods. That wasn’t a new fact. “And as a gift, she gave you- us- a bat. As like a pet-slash-child. For us. Because she approves of our relationship.” Will’s cheeks have gotten really pink now, and Nico’s working hard not to look the same.

He’d been completely flattered when he’d found Bella, curled up by the fireplace that night. It was so rare to get a good gift from the gods, and it was even rarer to hear that they approved of something he did. But Hestia had always been kind to him.

“And she didn’t want to give you a donkey because that would be impractical.”

“Correct,” Nico says. That had been in the p.s. of the note. “Same goes for a cat.” He’d honestly really wanted a cat, but he supposes Small Bob was more than good enough. “Are we really good now?”

Will nods. “I think I’ll have some questions later, but we can go eat now,” Nico says goodnight to Bella before taking Will’s hand and tugging him towards the dining pavilion.
-
The three of them had fallen into a routine quite easily. During the day, Nico and Will would do their thing while Bella slept. Sometimes, they had to dispose of the fruit pits and clean the sticky juices from the porch, too, if Bella got messy during the night. And then after sunset, Bella would go out and hunt for food. She never stayed out too long, probably knowing that Nico worried about her. There were monsters out there. And though the harpies wouldn’t dare to touch her, the other creatures didn’t have the same morals.

So she was always back in by the time Will had tucked his siblings in and snuck into the Hades cabin. Though Nico suspected Bella took her time exploring once Nico and Will were asleep. As long as she came back safe, he wasn’t going to mention it.

But one night, none of them could fall asleep. Will ended snuggled deep under the covers, wide awake. His restlessness was keeping Nico from sleeping, and he was also a bit cold as Will was hogging all of the covers. And Bella was nibbling on some fruit.

“I wonder if she can do tricks,” Will says.

“She’s not a dog,” Nico argues.

“But she can still do tricks. Maybe. If she wanted.” Will sits up, dragging all of the covers with him. “Bella, want a treat?”

Nico sees her perk up, her face covered in the sticky juices of a peach someone had left. Will beckons her to them, and she hangs from the light above their heads. Will gives a triumphant look, scooting closer to the middle of the bed. Nico huddles close to Will, trying to sap some body heat from him.

“So, what’s she going to do?” Nico asks. “It’s not like sitting or flying is anything special to her.”

Will shrugs. “What if we taught her to fetch? Or to fly in cool patterns? Like those planes, you know?” Nico glances between Bella and Will. She still seemed interested.

“Okay, so how do we do that?”

Will pauses for a moment. “Maybe we could get a stick or a light or something that she could copy? And then if she does it right, we give her a piece of fruit.” It sounds plausible. It could be fun to try. The worst thing that could happen was that Bella got bored and flew back up to her roost.

“What should we try first? Like a circle?” Nico asks. He’s rummaged through his nightstand and found one of Mrs. O’Leary’s toys: a bone. Nico figures it’s as good as things are going to get tonight. He waves it in what he hopes is a decent enough circle to follow. Bella cocks her head at them. “How do we get her to follow it?”

“I dunno. Maybe we need to find a word so she knows what we’re talking about. Like, say circle when you want her to make a circle.” Nico looks at Will.

“What if she doesn’t speak English?” Nico shrugs. How was he supposed to know what language his bat spoke? Hestia hadn’t given him that information.

“Um, circle,” Nico says, drawing the circle again. Will holds out his arms, flapping them a bit. Nico rolls his eyes. “Can you do that, Bella?”

It seems that she could. She flies in a smooth circle, looking expectantly at them when she’s finished. Nico looks at Will. Will huffs, getting up to find where they had stashed the day’s fruit. Bella hadn’t yet learned how to open the fridge. She looks pleased with herself as she sucks the juices out of the peach.

“Okay, maybe something a little harder this time,” Will says. “Ooh, what about a figure eight?”

Nico draws one in the air, feeling a little stupid as he waves the bone around. He hopes Bella gets the idea. He also hopes she won’t ignore him tomorrow for this, but she seems to be enjoying herself as they try out a few more shapes. The training ends when Will starts slumping against Nico and Bella gets full.

“We should do a show or something,” Will mumbles as Nico tries to pry the blankets from him.“You’re such a hog, Will. Hand them over.” Will just rolls closer to Nico, burying his face in Nico’s shoulder. Nico huffs, but at least he can feel some warmth sinking into his bones.
-
“Nico, do you think this is a good idea?” Will asks. Nico shrugs. He’s not sure if it’s a bad idea, but there are definitely better ideas. Like getting a bat-sitter. Although, those were in short supply for a number of reasons. “I mean, I’m sure Mama will be fine with it, but will she be safe?”

Nico glances at Bella. She seemed pretty content in her little makeshift cage. Both of them had hated putting her in there, but they definitely did not want her freaking out when Nico shadow-travelled and flying away. Bella doesn’t look back at Nico as she’s sleeping.

“I think she’ll be okay. We saw that bat the last time we were at your house, right?” Nico asks. Will nods slowly.

“Yeah, but that bat grew up there. Bella didn’t. I just don’t want her to get lost or something. Or eaten.” Nico was a little worried about that, too, but he was more worried about leaving her behind. “Maybe we should ask Chiron or something?”

“I think Hestia will take care of her. Goddess of the home and hearth, right? Besides, Bella’s smart. We’ll just make sure she gets home every night.”

Will still seems a little worried, but Nico’s got faith in Bella. They’d been practicing their tricks every few nights, and Nico felt confident in saying that he had the best bat in the world. He pets her gently while Will makes sure they have everything.

“Are you sure Jules-Albert can’t take us?” Will asks. Nico shakes his head. His father had Jules-Albert on some kind of mission of sorts, and Nico really didn’t want to get involved. “Fine, but you know what you’ve got to do.”

Nico nods. He’s well aware of how overusing his powers can lead to him fading out of existence, something quite possibly even worse than death. He gestures to his backpack where he’s got a few Gatorades and granola bars, some ambrosia and nectar, and his Mythomagic cards stashed.

He hardly lets Will have any time to protest before grabbing his arm and Bella’s cage. Then he’s shadow-traveling them to Will’s mom’s house for the weekend. Nico’s glad that he manages to land on his feet. He sets Bella’s cage on the ground, making sure Will and their stuff arrived with him. Then he dutifully pulls out one of his Gatorade.

“I think I’m starting to get the hang of it,” Will says. He’s a little paler than usual, laying in the grass like he was just the one to travel them halfway across the country. Nico rolls his eyes. When he’s finished his Gatorade, Will seems to have recovered.

Naomi greets them fondly at the door, ushering them in. “Are you two hungry? I’ve just made some biscuits.” Nico has never understood Will’s obsession with biscuits, but he knew Naomi’s cooking was amazing. They set all of their stuff down, Will digging in. Nico takes his time spreading jam over his biscuit.

“And who’s this?” Naomi asks. Nico glances at her face.

“That’s Bella. She’s a fruit bat and Will and I’s baby.” As soon as he’s said it, he wishes he could take it back. Here he is, barely sixteen years old and declaring that he and Will have a child together. Although demigods seem to age differently due to many life-threatening hardships, it still was probably weird.

“She’s so cute,” Naomi says. She pats Will’s shoulder, easing the blush off of his face. Nico now shoves his biscuit into his mouth. ‘Does she need anything? I’m not sure what we have around here, but we can maybe run to the store.”

Nico shakes his head. “We’ve brought everything she’ll need. Though she likes peaches, so we may have to get some more of those.” He pauses. “Also, she’ll be safe here, right? Like no animals will try to eat her.”

Naomi purses her lips before answering. “I can’t promise that she’s completely safe, but a lot of animals don’t really come into neighborhoods because of all of the people. We’ll just keep an eye out for her, okay?”

Nico nods. He wishes he knew of some kind of protection spell or enchantment that he could put on Bella. Maybe they should have asked Chiron. Well, it was too late now. They just had to trust Bella.

The rest of the day goes smoothly, just catching up and playing some games. Bella hangs out on Naomi’s porch, and Nico leaves some fruit out for her. He watches through the windows for a few minutes to make sure she’s okay.

“Trust that she can take care of herself, Nico,” Will says. “Whatever’s at Camp Half-Blood has got to be scarier than anything she’ll see here.” Nico supposes that’s true. But he still finds himself sitting up when Bella goes out to hunt for the night.

“Bat watch?” Naomi asks, startling Nico. She drapes a blanket over his shoulders. “Would you like any tea or hot chocolate while you wait? Is Will down here?”

Nico shakes his head. “Will’s sleeping.” Naomi smiles. He can hear her making something in the kitchen now. A few minutes later, she comes back with some hot chocolate for the two of them.

“Parenting is a little nerve-wracking, isn’t it?” Nico nods. Life was a little nerve-wracking. “But it’ll get easier. And then harder. And then easier again. It’s all about trust.” She pats his hand. “I remember when I sent Will to camp for the first time. I was so scared I’d never see him again, but I’m so glad I did it.”

Nico smiles. He’s glad Will went to camp, too. If not, he might still be a giant ball of darkness or even worse. It wasn’t everyday you met someone who lit up your life (sometimes literally). Something flies past the door, but it’s not Bella. She was certainly taking her time tonight.

“Thank you for letting us visit this weekend,” Nico says. It’s become a sort of tradition. For those who had family outside of camp, Chiron would let them visit a few times a year. Usually, Will just went home by himself, but sometimes Nico came along.

“Well, I’ve got to meet my future son-in-law somehow, right?” Nico blushes. He and Will had been dating for just about a year now, but it still felt so new. They hadn’t even really kissed yet. But they had sleepovers and cuddled and raised Bella together. “All teasing aside, I really do love having you here, Nico.”

“I like being here, too,” he says. And it was true. He didn’t have too much of a family to visit, so it was nice knowing that he did have someone he could visit outside of his demigod life.

“I think your little girl has come home,” Naomi says softly. She pats Nico’s hand again, standing. “Don’t stay up too late, sweetie. Good night.”

Nico heads out to the porch, smiling when he sees Bella tearing into a peach. He has no idea what she might have gotten herself into tonight, but she’s home safely now. It shouldn’t be so cute to watch her suck the juices out of a fruit, but Nico smiles. This is his little girl. His and Will’s. Bella looks at him, and Nico feels like she’s smiling at him.

“Stay safe, okay, little girl?” Nico yawns. “Good night, Bella.”

Chapter Text

Nico’s just gotten back from a concert, and all he wants to do is crash. Only he can’t. Because he’s got to wash off his makeup and change out of these sweaty clothes and get his roommate somewhere more comfortable than the kitchen table. It’s a testament to how tired Will is and how much Nico cares for his roommate that he’s awake while Will is not.

“Will,” he says softly. “Get your butt up and into bed.” Will grumbles, his head moving from the table to Nico’s shoulder. Nico’s too tired to deal with this. Sleepy Will is one of his favorite Wills, and it’s just not fair that Will can do this to him. “I should just leave you here,” Nico grumbles.

“No, Nic,” Will whines. Nico huffs. He definitely can’t do this. Will’s too beautiful even when he’s drooling, and Nico’s too tired to really watch his filter. If things were different, Nico would wrap his arms around Will and kiss his hair and not even care that they fell asleep at the kitchen table. As it is, he’s resisting giving into Will’s cuddly mood.

“Well, you’ve got to get to bed. Or I’ll let you sleep right here on the kitchen floor.”

Will pulls some sort of face before yawning. “‘M waiting up for you.” Nico rolls his eyes. He’s told Will time and time again not to do that. A lot of his concerts went into the early hours of the morning, and he wouldn’t get home until hours after that. And Will hated staying up late.

“And I’m here now. So we need to get to bed.”

Will huffs, finally detaching from Nico. He stretches, and Nico moves his gaze away when Will’s shirt rides up. It’s both a blessing and a curse to live with Will. He can’t cook unless he dirties every dish in the kitchen, is always mumbling passages from textbooks, and gets up way too early for Nico’s taste. But he also knows how to fix any injury, knows just how to make Nico smile on any occasion, and is the most beautiful person alive.

Nico watches as Will just collapses onto his bed, already ready for bed. Nico wishes he could do the same. He’s gone to bed straight after concerts, but he always regrets those mornings. So he goes through the routine of transforming back into a regular guy before face planting into his pillows.

He can hear Will’s soft snores, and he relaxes into the sound. Whenever he travels, he always has to use a noise app to make it feel more like home. Hotels are always too clean and too quiet for his liking. For a moment, he wonders what it’d be like to fall asleep in Will’s arms on purpose. Then he shakes the thought from his mind. That was never going to happen.

Finally, exhaustion takes over his fantasies of kissing Will, and he drifts off.
-
Will definitely regrets staying up so late when his alarm goes off. He feels like he’s just gotten into bed, and that might possibly be the case. He can’t remember what time Nico got home, but it was some time this morning. Sometime no one should be awake. Why couldn’t concerts start at five and go until nine or something?

He does his best to be quiet, but his sleepy mind didn’t always register that he couldn’t walk through tables or chairs. After stubbing his toes and banging his knee, he slips quietly out the door. His classes pass in a blur. He’s hoping someone else was taking notes because he hardly got anything down.

“What’s up with you?” Lou Ellen asks as they walk to the campus coffee shop.

“Stayed up too late.” She sighs, jabbing a finger into Will’s arm. Will yelps, glaring at her. She simply shrugs.

“Studying or Nico? Because either way, it’s going to get you before old age does. And then I’ll have to get a new friend who doesn’t stay up to ungodly hours.”

Will huffs. “All hours must be godly or they wouldn’t exist.” He doesn’t feel like answering her question, and she’s already nailed it. “I just need some coffee. And a long nap.”

“What you need is to just ask him out already. And an actual night’s sleep.”

“I’ll sleep more this weekend.” Lou Ellen raises her eyebrows but doesn’t say anything. They both know Will won’t get that much sleep this weekend. On top of midterms, Nico’s also got two concerts. “And I can’t ask him out. Remember we’ve talked about this?”

Lou Ellen sighs again. “Yeah, yeah. But I think you two could work it out. I mean, you guys already live together. And he wouldn’t have to expose you to the press. They leave him alone pretty well.”

“Yeah, because of his father. No one wants to get sued just for taking a photograph let alone leaking a rumor.” Will runs a hand through his hair. Why were the lines always so long? There were much better places for coffee, but Will had always had a particular fondness for this place. He supposes everyone else does, too.

“I’m just saying that this all happened two years ago. And maybe a drunk Nico isn’t the best one to ask for relationship advice.”

Will shrugs. He’d accidentally approached the subject of the two of them dating to Nico once. And, though Nico was usually a decent drunk, it still hadn’t sorted the blow that they would never be a thing. Because Nico was famous, and Will never wanted to be. To date a famous singer was to become famous by default. Will valued his privacy as much as Nico did, but he didn’t have an influential dad to scare everyone. And between school and having somewhat of a social life, he didn’t have time to go with Nico to everything that was expected of him.

“It wasn’t like he said anything wrong, though,” Will says. “And now I know not to get my hopes up.”

“Well, sounds like you should move on, then.” Will frowns. He can’t just move on from Nico. They’d been friends for years. Will just hated that the only reliable barrier between them was that Nico was famous and Will didn’t have time for that. As evidenced by last night.

“Why not ask her out?” Lou Ellen says, nudging Will up in the line. There’s a cute girl at the counter. It’d be so easy with her probably, just the usual fumbles of dating anyone.

“Um, hi,” Will says. He glances at the menu, though he knows what he wants. “I’d like one of your numbers,” he says. “I mean, specials. One of the specials. And a hot chocolate.” He wants to hide, but Lou Ellen’s right behind him.

The girl smiles. “I’m Katie.” Will nods. He needs sleep.

“That wasn’t too bad,” Lou Ellen says as they wait. “It was much better than when you asked that one guy out. Remember that?”

Will wishes he didn’t. He’d tried to be romantic and brought the guy flowers, only to realize that the guy was allergic. And that pollen was actually really hard to get rid of. They’d only lasted a few dates, and now Will winced every time he saw him on campus.

“Do you think she even realized what I said?” Lou Ellen smirks, pointing to the cup with Will’s name on it. Will glances towards the register. Katie’s tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. Her cheeks turn a little pink when she catches him looking. “Let’s just get out of here.”

Fleeing from the scene, he arrives home in record time. Thankfully, without Lou Ellen. She was great, but after this morning, Will just needed to limit his social interaction. He drains the last of his own drink before setting Nico’s on the counter. He always tries to get Nico something the morning after his concerts. He was never in the mood to cook or even make coffee, as he did on other mornings.

“For me?” Nico asks, coming into the room. Will nods. Nico doesn’t even check the temperature before taking a large sip. “Thanks. Last night was too early.”

Will rolls his eyes, dragging his bag towards the couch. Nico’s already made a nest of the blankets and pillows. Will makes room for himself, pulling out a textbook. While he’d really like to sleep, he needs to get this information somehow. If only osmosis applied to more than just water. And studies said studying before bed was the best way to go.

“Mind if I turn on some music?” Nico asks. He’s snuggled back into his end of the nest. Will shakes his head.

“I’m just studying.” Nico’s already got his eyes closed.

“Don’t think too hard. It’ll interfere with my sleeping.” Will doubts that. Nico could sleep through a hurricane or a buffalo stampede.

“Whatever. Good night, Nico.” Nico doesn’t respond, somehow sleep already. Will relaxes into the playlist, humming along to whatever comes on. He’s familiar with all of Nico’s playlists, though he never really sings in when Nico’s around. Being surrounded by people who had way more musical talent than he did made Will a little self-conscious of his singing. So he never let Nico hear him.

Instead, he waits until Nico’s asleep. He tucks Nico in, cracking open his textbook. He does his best to get lost in the information. All the better to ignore how adorable Nico looks, curled up right against Will’s thigh. Maybe Lou Ellen was right. If he couldn’t be with Nico, he needed to move on.
-
“Dude, I think you need a bigger space,” Jason says as he walks into the apartment. Nico shrugs. The apartment was small, but he and Will had agreed to both pay the rent. So they had to compromise. Not that Nico minded. He didn’t want to become like those other famous musicians who just kept collecting stuff.

“I bet you wouldn’t believe most of this is Will’s,” Nico says. He gestures to the piles of blankets, the plants by the window, the clutter of books everywhere.

“I also bet that those two guitars and that keyboard is yours.” Nico rolls his eyes. Jason had been to the apartment before, but they usually met up at Jason’s place or at the recording studio. But Piper was hosting some sort of girl’s day at Jason’s, and the recording studio was already booked. “You sure we aren’t bothering Will?”

Nico glances towards Will’s closed door. Will never seemed to mind rehearsals. In fact, he was way more into it than the rest of the apartment who sometimes complained. “As long as we keep it acoustic, I think we’ll be fine.” Nico knew Will had midterms coming up, so he did his best to make sure Will could study or sleep or just relax.

“Why’re you guys still here, anyway? I thought you were thinking of moving?”

Nico shakes his head. “Decided not to. Will continued with school, so this still works out best. Besides, I like my privacy.” Jason shrugs.

“Whatever, man.” He shoves over a pile of books so he can pull out his guitar. “Got anything new? Or are we just workshopping?”

“Workshopping. I haven’t had time to write.” Jason nods. While their band consisted or more people, those were more for extra hands than anything. Nico did most of the writing, and Jason always helped him. The rest just fiddled around with the harmonies and filled in space. Not to say that they weren’t important, but they also worked with other bands and had tight schedules.

“So, how’s the thing with Will going?” Jason asks as he strums some chords. They’ve been playing along with the melody for a bit now, but they hadn’t found one that worked yet. “I mean, tell me you’ve gotten somewhere.”

Nico shrugs. “Hardly anywhere.” He pauses. “Actually, maybe somewhere but nowhere closer.” Jason looks at him.

“What’s that mean?”

Nico sighs, glancing at Will’s closed door again. He probably had headphones in, knowing that Jason was over and that they were working. “He’s been talking to this girl lately, so I don’t know. I mean, he hasn’t said anything, but he’s been texting her and hanging out, I think.”

“That’s tough, man.” Nico shrugs again. He and Will hardly talked about things like that. Mostly because they never had anything more than crushes. But Nico remembered Will’s past dating experiences, and he’s sure Will remembers his past dating experience. “But maybe she’s just a friend. Is she in one of his classes?”

Nico shakes his head. “She’s a barista or something. I think he said she was majoring in environmental science. Doesn’t matter anyway. He never liked me.”

Jason pats his shoulder. “Well, however this works out, maybe it’ll be a good song.” Nico huffs. He hated writing those sappy lyrics about falling in love. He was slightly embarrassed that he had an entire notebook dedicated to songs that Will had inspired. Only a few were actually seen by someone else, and Will remained oblivious that he was the sole inspiration.

“I guess it’s for the best. With his school schedule and my touring schedule.”

Jason doesn’t say anything, just going back to the scribbled chords from their last session. Nico wishes that even in his fantasies dating Will worked out. But he wasn’t sure how it’d work, if it would all feel too forced. Besides, he and Will were perfectly good friends and roommates. He didn’t want to mess that up. He was mostly content to just crush on Will from afar.

They make some progress by the time Will emerges from his room. He’s in sweatpants, his curls sticking up. Nico tries not to track him as Will makes his way to the fridge.

“Hey, Nico, are you making anything? Or is it a take-out night?”

“Take-out. Unless you want a salad or that leftover pasta.”

Will pulls out a Tupperware. “I think the pasta is not a good idea.” Nico nods. “I’ll call. Chinese? Jason?”

“I’m heading out. Piper’s texting about getting groceries.” Will nods, already dialing. They hardly ever change their orders, so they know each other's order by heart. Jason winks at Nico as he heads out, and Nico sighs. Nothing’s going to happen. Will was talking to a girl. Nico was just a roommate and friend.

Nico’s still convincing himself of that when Will comes back with the food. They spread it out on the kitchen table, reaching over each other as they grab food. Will looks exhausted, and Nico thinks about how much Will’s been studying lately.

“School good?” Will nods, yawning. He shoves some noodles into his mouth. “How’s Katie?”

Will shrugs. “Good, I guess. Midterms are next week, so everyone’s tired and stressed.” He gives a little laugh. “I’m mostly just tired.” He must be because he pokes himself in the nose with his chopsticks, forgetting what he was doing.

“Well, I’ve got concerts this weekend, and you’re definitely not staying up for me, okay?”

“Isn’t it nice to see a smiling face when you get home?”

Nico laughs. “It would be if that’s what I saw. Instead, I have to peel you off of the kitchen table or tuck you into the couch.”

Will pouts, and Nico resists the urge to kiss it away. “Well, maybe I wouldn’t sleep if you let me come to one of your concerts.”

“Anyone can come to my concerts. Well, provided you buy a ticket. Besides, I thought you didn’t like concerts.”

“But I’m your roommate and best friend, Nico. Can’t you just let me into one? I promise I won’t ask for an autograph or demand a selfie.”

Nico rolls his eyes. “Fine. Just one. Because you seriously look like you’re about to face plant into your lo mein.”

“And then you’d put those good roommate skills to use and save me.”

“I doubt you’d die from inhaling lo mein. You do it, like, twice a month.”

Will pretends to look offended. “I can’t believe you’re hinting that you’d write a song about my untimely death by lo mein instead of saving me.”

Nico shrugs. “I’m definitely not the doctor of this household.”

Will bursts out laughing then. Nico’s not sure what’s funny, but WIll’s laughter is contagious. And Nico loves Will’s laugh. He wishes every night was like this. While he loves his music and life, he also wishes he could share more of it with Will. Like when he goes on tour and spends those long days and nights alone. Will always hid little gifts or notes in his bags, but it was never the same as having the real, live, breathing Will right there.

“Earth to Nico?” Will asks, waving a hand in his face. “Who’s in a lo mein coma now?”

Nico sticks out his tongue. “So, you’re cashing in your roommate-slash-friend ticket right now?”

Will nods. “Yes. And I want backstage access and everything. The whole deal. Ooh, and a badge. That’d be cool.” Nico laughs. Will was so ridiculous, and if only he knew that Nico would give him anything if he just asked.
-
“Relax, Nico,” Will says. He’s never seen Nico this nervous before a performance, and he can’t help wondering if it’s because of him. “I really don’t have to go if you don’t want me to. If it disrupts some kind of balance or whatever.”

Nico shakes his head. “No, you’re coming. It’s just that I realize how you’ve never come to a concert of mine. Isn’t that weird? Aren’t friends supposed to come to friends’ concerts?”

Will shrugs. “I guess if said friends had money they would. But I am merely a poor college student with much debt. Not to mention, I buy you hot chocolate and breakfast every other week. So I think I’m putting in my share of work. I also don’t like crowds.”

Nico doesn’t respond, bouncing up and down again. It’s probably a good thing he’s not completely focused right now or else he’d notice how Will was practically staring. He’d seen Nico before concerts before, but Nico was always rushing around. Now, he was confined to a car, and Will could sneak actual glances at him.

At Nico’s eyeliner and hair and his nervous smile. His fingers kept forming guitar chords on his arm. Will takes his hands to keep Nico from digging his fingernails into his skin. Nico seems surprised, stilling for a moment. Will’s about to take back his hand when Nico squeezes it.

“Yeah, thanks. I’m not usually this jumpy.” Will smiles. He’s known Nico for at least six years, before Nico was even famous. They hadn’t really gotten to know each other until they moved in together, more out of convenience than anything. And then because they couldn’t imagine it any other way. Or, at least, Will couldn’t.

“So, what am I supposed to expect?” Will asks, hoping it’ll distract Nico.

“Well, this venue is a bit smaller than most of them, so it’ll be more personal, I guess,” Nico says. “But still, crowds and people. You’ll be backstage, so less crowds and people. I think we’re doing more acoustic versions this time. Because it’ll be smaller. Less equipment is always a plus, too.”

Will nods. He’s really never been to a concert. He’d been meaning to go, but school had kept picking up and sleep was prioritized. And it wasn’t like he didn’t listen to Nico’s music. He knew all of the songs by heart, every version of them.

“I’ll take care of you. Won’t let you get trampled,” Nico says, smirking at Will.

“Well, you’d better not. You’d be out a perfectly good roommate.”

“I’m sure someone else will step up.”

Will pretends to look offended. “That’s too much work. Much easier to just keep me around.”

Nico laughs. “I guess you’ve convinced me.” Will doesn’t realize that they’re still holding hands until they try to get out of the car. Will’s blushing, and he can’t see Nico’s face. Jason greets Will, but Will doesn’t know the other guys as well. He’s thinking Jake or Alex might be one of them.

“Here’s the perfect spot,” Jason says, getting Will a chair. “Just don’t pass this line or the crowd will be able to see you.”

Will watches as everyone hustles around. He’s got to admit that this is a bit exciting. His siblings were always going to concerts and getting into music, but he never thought he was good enough. Now, he watches as they go through the last sound check, get everything into place. Nico shoots Will a thumbs up before taking the stage.

Will cheers along with the crowd, smiling as Nico starts singing. This is one of his favorites. He knows all of the songs, singing along when the crowd starts participating. Will kind of wishes he could be in the crowd, but he’s loving being backstage. He could catch all of the subtle glances Nico gave him without everyone else seeing. And it felt so special. Like maybe his feelings were reciprocated and Will wasn’t just a friend to him.

There’s a brief intermission, and then Nico’s standing right in front of him. “So, what’re you thinking?”

“It’s amazing,” Will says. “You’re amazing.” He thinks Nico might be blushing. “Jason was amazing, too, but don’t tell him.”

Nico laughs. “I won’t.” He pauses. “So, you’re okay? Don’t need any water or snacks or the bathroom?”

Will shakes his head. “Nope. Just enjoying the concert.”

“Well, you’re infinitely less demanding than the rest of the fans.” Will shrugs. “Also, I arranged for the car to take you home and then come back for me. So you can sleep and not have to deal with the crowds.” Will smiles. That was actually really thoughtful of Nico. “And you’d better be in bed by the time I get back.”

“Yes, sir,” Will laughs. Nico pretends to punch his shoulder. “Behave. I’ve got to go back out.”
-
Nico takes a deep breath. He’d been nervous that Will wouldn’t be enjoying himself, but seemed to be okay. Nico had caught him swaying along to the songs, smiling whenever Jason did something showy or stupid. He hadn’t realized how big it was to have Will had one of his shows. Before, it’d been perfectly that Will hadn’t come to any of his shows. They were long and late and often enough.

But now Nico kept finding himself glancing towards the curtains just so he could watch Will. He’s heard Will listening to his music before, but this was different. Will hadn’t been swaying, clapping along, laughing. And was he singing? Nico thinks he can hear Will singing.

Jason gives him a weird look as Nico gets up, still strumming his guitar. He’s never heard Will sing, knowing that Will was self-conscious about it. But he knew Will’s family, and no one from that family could ever be born with a bad voice. So he had to hear Will singing. He creeps closer, not even thinking about the crowd now.

“You can sing,” he blurts out, forgetting that he’s supposed to be sneaking. And also giving a concert. Will jumps, eyes snapping open as he looks up to see Nico standing before him. “Um, yeah,” Nico adds for no reason.

“Is the concert over?” Will whispers. Nico blinks.

“Shoot. I completely got carried away.” He winces as he remembers his microphone, still tucked into his collar. He pulls it off, turning to Will. “Will, you can sing.”

Will shrugs, and Nico thinks he can see a faint blush on his cheeks. He can also see Jason giving him a weird look.

“Sorry, folks, Nico will be right back.” Then Jason turns back to Nico, winking.

“Um, Nico?” Will asks.

“Will, you have to sing with me. Please? At least one song? Just one?” Will doesn’t look as uncomfortable as Nico would have thought. “I promise I won’t make this a regular thing. I just think you’d be perfect for the last song we’re doing.”

It’s sort of a lie. He’s changing the set in his head as he speaks. He’d planned on ending the concert on a more hyped note, but if Will was willing to sing, they could sing this duet. A duet meant for him and Will. Even though Jason usually filled in.

“I mean, I can sing, but,” Will starts, “I’m not all that good.”

Nico shakes his head. “Will, you’re good. Your voice is perfect for this. Please, just trust me.”

Will still seems hesitant, but he nods. Nico beams. Back on stage, he lets the band know what’s happening. “You know this song, right?” Nico asks Will.

“Yeah, I do,” Will says. He’s got a small smile on his face now, and Nico’s feeling even better about this. He hadn’t meant to put Will on the spot like this, but it’s Will’s smile and laugh in his head every time he sings this song. At least Will didn’t have stage fright.

“Hey, everyone,” Nico says to the audience. “Sorry about that little confusion, but inspiration strikes and I must follow.” This earns him a couple of laughs. “So, here’s my good friend, Will. And he’ll be singing a duet with me tonight.”

And then the song starts, and everything else melts away. Will seems a little nervous, so Nico scoots closer, taking his hand. Jason picks up the chords Nico’s dropped, stripping the song to the bare minimum. At first, Will’s voice is a little pitchy and breathy, but then he seems to relax into it.

Nico thinks it feels like those awkward dates where you can’t stop smiling and everything is awkward but perfect somehow. He might be making a fool of himself and ending his career, but he just cares about Will’s smile and blush and laugh when he accidentally jumps to the chorus instead of singing the bridge. And they’re still holding hands even after the song is over and people are clapping.

Jason winks at him again, and Nico glances at Will, only to blush harder. Nico hurries them off the stage, needing space to breathe. He can’t stop smiling, and then he feels someone’s lips on his cheek. He starts, thinking he might just faint when he realizes it’s Will.

“Will-” Nico starts.

“Nico!” Jake, the drummer, calls. “Nico! You have to get back out there. They’re calling for you.” Then he’s grabbing Nico’s arm and pulling him back to the stage. Nico tries to grab Will’s hand or ask if him that kiss meant anything, but he doesn’t have time.
-
Will’s freaking out just a bit. He hadn’t meant to kiss Nico, but all of his emotions had just gotten the best of him. And he didn’t regret it. Even if maybe Nico didn’t reciprocate those feelings. He could always write it off as a friendly, just performed for the first time ever kind of kiss.

He wants to wait for Nico, but then the car is coming to get him and he really hates crowds. He arrives home, taking a few deep breaths. Tonight had been so much more than he’d ever expected. He was so tired, but he needed to know where he and Nico stood. He wanted that kiss to mean so much more than just a split-second decision.

Will realizes he’s fallen asleep when he wakes to Nico shaking him. “Hey, you fell asleep.” Will blinks, looking around him. He was always fuzzy when he woke up. He’s suddenly aware of how close he and Nico are. If he wanted to, he could just lean forward and kiss Nico’s lips.

“The concert was amazing,” Will says. Nico smiles.“I’m glad you liked it.” He pauses. “Thank you for doing the duet. I’m sorry if you felt pressured.”

Will shakes his head. “No, it was fun.” He can’t stop glancing at Nico’s lips.

“So, that kiss,” Nico says softly. “I’m okay if it was just something you did because of the emotions or excitement or whatever. But I was also kind of hoping that maybe you meant something more? Because I’ve had this stupid crush on you forever. Even though I doubt you like me back. And you’ve been seeing that girl and everything. So it’s perfectly okay if that kiss didn’t mean anything. Even though I wish it would.”

Will blinks. He needs to be more awake for this. “What girl?”

“Katie, right? Aren’t you seeing her?”

Will shakes his head. “Seeing her as in I buy coffee way more than I should because I’ve been staying up to greet you after every concert.”

“So you two aren’t dating? And you don’t want to.” Will nods. “Oh.”

Will’s still running through everything Nico’s just said. Why did they have to do this at three in the morning? “So you like me?”

Nico’s face erupts into a giant blush. “Caught that, did you?” Will nods. “Well, yeah. I do. I really like you.”

Will’s grinning now, a stupid smile so big he doesn’t think he can talk properly. “I really like you, too. Which is why I kissed you instead of Jason.”

Nico punches his shoulder. “Jason also has a girlfriend.”

“I also don’t like Jason in that way.” He grabs Nico’s hand. “Nico, I like like you. I wanna date you.”

Nico rolls his eyes. “Will, you’re a dork. And you need sleep. But I like like you, too. And we’re going to go on so many amazing dates.”

“Kiss me, then?” And Nico does. It’s a little sloppy. They’re both way too tired and giddy to function correctly. Nico almost falls over, and Will starts falling asleep.

“We seriously need to go to bed,” Nico yawns. “I can’t even kiss you properly.”

Will huffs, wrapping his arms around Nico. “But you owe me kisses in the morning. So many kisses.”

He feels Nico kiss his hair. “Good night, Will.”

Chapter Text

Nico wishes he didn’t feel annoyed when Will sits down next to him. It wasn’t Will’s fault that he sought Nico out, but it was still kind of annoying. They hardly knew each other, and Will had somehow decided that he and Nico were going to be best friends.

“Hey, did you get the homework for pre-calc? I’m so lost.” Nico shrugs, handing over his notes. One plus to having an older sister was that she’d already gone through this and could help him whenever he fell behind. “Thanks, man. Why can’t all math programs line up perfectly?”

Nico’s had the same thought for years, but he doesn’t say anything. He knows he should be trying to make friends, trying to get along with everyone else, but he can’t really find the motivation to do so. More than likely, he’d be moving in just a few months or a year. Then he’d have to say good-bye all over again.

Move. Settle in. Say goodbye. Repeat. He’d done it at least five times already, and he could have his suitcase packed in a matter of minutes. It wasn’t a skill he was proud of, but it did come in handy when they hardly had any notice.

“You don’t say much, do you?” Will asks. Nico shrugs. He knew they were in the same boat, the lifestyle that a lot of military families led. Still, it didn’t really matter to Nico. Will wanted to make friends, say goodbye, repeat, that was his choice.

Nico had been here for two months before Will got here. He’d moved in two weeks ago, and their principal had called Nico to the office to show Will around. He knew what the principal was up to, and Will had been absolutely delighted.

“What’s the coolest place you’ve lived?” Will had asked.

“Italy.” Nico hadn’t wanted to answer, but he didn’t want to come across as rude. “I was born there.”

Will’s eyes had lit up, and that’s where Nico assumes he’d gone wrong. “That’s so cool. The best place I’ve ever been has probably been Canada. Or maybe Germany? But I was pretty young then.” Nico had just nodded.

“Well, here’s your first class. The halls are labeled, so it’s pretty easy to get around.” He could tell Will wanted to talk more, but Nico had made some lame excuse about getting back to class. After that, Will seemed to have memorized Nico’s schedule and tried to hang out with him whenever possible.

“How’re you so good at math?” Will asks now. Nico shrugs. He’s decent at math. He was definitely not looking forward to calculus. Especially since Bianca was so far away now. Math was much harder explained through a pixelated computer screen or over the phone.

“My sister tutors me sometimes,” Nico says after a moment of silence.

“I wish my siblings would help me. Too bad they’re busy with their own lives.” Nico would like to be busy with his own life, too, but he couldn’t bring himself to just walk off. He didn’t care what those pamphlets said, about trying to make friends and making every place a home. His home was family, with Mama and Bianca. And Father, whenever he was home. “How many siblings do you have?”

“One.”Will nods. “I’ve got two older brothers.” Nico expects him to keep talking, but he looks back at Nico’s notes, copying them into his own notebook. Nico leans over to check his progress. The bell was about to ring, and Nico didn’t want to give Will an excuse to meet up later.

“Thanks, Nico,” Will says, handing the notebook back. “See you later!”
-
It was his mom’s idea, and Nico couldn’t quite say no. He just wishes Bianca were here to buffer whatever awkward conversation is sure to come his way, but she was off in Europe having the time of her life. So Nico’s stuck to endure this family dinner alone.

“Nico, come welcome the Solaces!” Mama calls.

Nico lets out a sigh, fixing his collar before heading downstairs. He’s not sure what he expected Will’s family to look like, but they’re very blond. He can definitely see where Will got his facial features. Mrs. Solace — call me Naomi — gives them a pie. Then one of Will’s older brothers steps forward to shake Nico’s hand.

“Michael.” Nico nods. He’s used to formalities, but he’s not sure if he should now shake Will’s hand. Will makes the first move, waving.

“Hey.” Nico attempts to dodge his mom’s gaze. She’d been upset with him when she’d found out about another military family through some FaceBook group rather than her own son. Especially when she learned that Nico already knew of them. “Nice house. Dinner already smells amazing.”

Nico shrugs. He makes sure everyone takes off their shoes before leading them into the kitchen. His mom is busy fussing over the stove, the pie sitting on the counter. Michael offers to get glasses of water for the table while Naomi offers to help with any final preparations. Which leaves Nico and Will awkwardly standing in the hallway.

“Long time, no see,” Will says. “My mom was pretty excited to hear there was another family in town.”

Nico nods. He knows his mom always does her best to learn the feel of each new place they end up. Nico never cared much. If he was going to be an outsider, he’d rather it be on his terms. He’s more than glad when the table is finally set and his mom is setting out the food.

He does his best to listen to the conversation. It’s mostly about what stores to shop at, which places have the best pizza, where to get your hair done. And then they start talking about their kids.

“Mom!” Will whines as Nico works to control his laugh. Will’s face is red as his mom tells a story of when Will had tried to adopt a baby squirrel into the family. “I was, like, six!”

Naomi just laughs. “It was both amusing and horrifying to find him hugging that poor squirrel.” Mama laughs, and Nico’s sure she’s about to tell some embarrassing story about him next.

“Hey, Mama, can I be excused?”

She smiles at Nico. “Why don’t you show Will your room?” Nico glances at Will’s brother, but it’s clear that he’s going to stay at the table. Even Will seems annoyed by this, but he follows Nico down the hall.

“Ignore my brother. He likes to pretend he’s older than he is.” Nico shrugs. He remembers when Bianca was like that. Now she kept saying that she wished she was Nico’s age again. At least at her age, she wasn’t dragged around the world against her will. Nico would have gladly stayed in Italy.

“Nice room,” Will says. It isn’t much. Nico never fully unpacks, and he doesn’t have that many things anyway. Instead, he’s got a few trinkets on his nightstand and school supplies littered on his desk. “One thing I wish I could do is paint my room. I think I’d like yellow.”

Nico snorts. “Your eyes would be burning.”

Will grins. “What color would you paint yours?”

“Black.” Will rolls his eyes.

“You’re grumpy, but I don’t think black’s your favorite color.”

“What’s my favorite color, then?”

Will takes a moment to think. Nico kicks a pile of dirty laundry into an empty corner. Yes, he’d known they were having company, but he hadn’t thought Will would be in his room. In the past, they’d kind of all hung out in the living room playing board games or cards. He also supposes that none of the other families ever had kids this close to his age before.

“Blue. I think you really like blue.”

“Blue’s okay.” Will smiles.

“It’s okay to admit that you’re not always grumpy.” Nico shrugs. Will’s looking at his trinkets now. There are a few action figures, a pin from a camp he’d attended, and a deck of cards. “Ooh, do you play? I’ve seen this game before, but I never had anyone to teach me.”

“No one plays Mythomagic,” Nico says. The deck had been a gift from his sister a few years ago after he’d lost his original one.

“Could you teach me?” Will asks. He’s more eager than Nico wants him to be. He’s never taught anyone to play before. His family had all learned together. It was just one of their things. And to let Will in on that seemed like a bigger step than being his friend.

“I don’t remember how,” Nico says. “Like I said: no one plays anymore.”

Will sort of pouts, and Nico almost feels bad. “That’s a shame. Well, do you have any games that you do know how to place?” Nico goes over to his closet, pulling out a regular deck of cards. Will’s smile comes back.

“So, Old Maid. Go Fish. War? Anything sounding good?”

“Let’s just play Old Maid,” Nico says. He doesn’t really want to have to think. He’s just waiting for this night to be over.
-
“Hey!” Will calls. School’s just let out, and Nico’s planning on having a relaxing afternoon with his mom. They were going to try out a few places downtown and get dinner together. It was one of the few things he allowed himself to indulge in. It felt kind of stupid to say he’d been somewhere if he never got a taste of the food or the shops.

“Hey,” Will calls again. “Do you want to come over sometime this week? My brother just got one of those new gaming systems, and he says he’ll let us try it out. Or we could go downtown. My mom heard that there’s some kind of celebration happening this weekend.”

Nico shakes his head. “I’m pretty busy,” he says. Will’s shoulder slump a bit.

“Oh, well, maybe another time, then? We could exchange numbers, and then you could text me. Or you can just find me in the halls.” Will holds out his phone, and Nico stares at it. “Or do you want my number first?”

“I don’t really want your number,” Nico says. He lets out a slow breath as he waits for that to process. “I don’t really want to hang out with you. I don’t get why you’re trying so hard when there are so many other kids in our grade.”

Will shrugs. “Well, you know what it’s like, you know? To move so often and to have to make friends quickly.”

“Only to say goodbye just as quickly,” Nico says. “You hardly get to know someone.”

“Well, not like this, I guess. But it’s worth a shot, right? I don’t know if I’ll be here two weeks or two years, but it’s a lot easier with a friend, I think.”

Nico huffs. “I disagree. You just meet someone only to have to leave forever and never see them again. What’s the point?”

Will kicks at the ground, scuffing the toe of his shoe. “Well, I guess there isn’t one to you, is there?” He glances at Nico. “Sorry for wasting your time.”

Nico’s still kicking himself by the time he gets home. He wants to be mad at Will, but he has to admit that he’s a little mad at himself, too. But at least now Will would stop hanging around him. Maybe he’d go make some friends or maybe he’d see that Nico was at least a little bit right.“Nico, what’s up with you?” Mama asks. She’s frowning as she tilts Nico’s chin up. “You didn’t get into a fight, did you?”

“No, Mama. I’m fine.” He pulls on a smile. “I just have a bit of homework before we can go downtown, okay?”

Mama smiles. “Okay, but no rushing just so we can leave sooner. Promise?”

Nico grins. “Promise, Mama.”

Despite his promise, Nico does breeze through his homework. Most of it was simple enough, and Nico had always been good at keeping on top of his studies. Perks of having no friends was that he could devote all of his friendless hours to studying and catching up.

Then he and Mama are walking downtown. He’s seen most of these stores before someplace or another, but it’s still fun to be out and about. Mama drags him into a few of them, trying to buy him some clothing or a trinket.

“Mama, I already have enough,” he says. She just shakes her head.“A growing boy needs to live out of more than just a suitcase,” she says, clucking her tongue. “How about a book?”

Nico shrugs. While he’s still excited about the afternoon, he can’t help thinking about Will. Had he hurt Will’s feelings? Had he discouraged Will from making friends forever? What if Will told his mom and his mom told Mama? She’d always encouraged Nico to make friends, probably more disappointed than Nico when he never did. But she’d agreed to this lifestyle, marrying Nico’s father even though he’d chosen this path. Nico hadn’t had a choice.

“Why don’t we eat now? I think that barbecue place is just around this corner.”

Nico can tell that his mom is watching him, so he pulls the menu up a bit higher. He already knows what he’s going to get. A little bit of brisket with a whole lot of mac and cheese. He does his best to appear fine when he has to give up the menu after ordering.

“So, are you going to tell me what’s wrong? Or are we just going to sit in silence?” Mama asks.

Nico sighs. He’s done this before, and she always won.

“Do you remember Will?” Mama nods. “Well, we kind of got into this argument today, and I told him I didn’t want to be friends.”

“Is that true?”

Nico shrugs. “I thought so. But now I just feel kind of disappointed, I suppose.”

Mama smiles. “It’s not a bad thing to want friends. I know we’re probably going to have to move again, but we’ve got to enjoy this time why we have it. That’s why I love going on these little trips with you so much. Because it’s the same old thing but in a new town every time.” She shrugs. “And I have you to share it with.”

Nico huffs. Why did his mom have to make so much sense?

“But we’re just going to have to say goodbye. And no one ever keeps in contact afterward.” He’d tried with a few friends when he was younger, but it was just too hard. He never seemed to have enough time to make a lasting connection.

Mama pats his hand. “I’m not saying it won’t be hard or hurt, but isn’t that a sign that this meant something? You don’t want to go through life never feeling or experiencing just because it’s not permanent. Nothing’s permanent. And that can either make you really scared or motivate you.”

“Or both,” Nico says. Mama nods.

“I was really scared when I first married your father. I had no idea where we’d end up or how things would be. But it got easier the more I just embraced the chaos of our life together. I only wish that you and Bianca had more of a choice.”

Nico shrugs. “I guess it’s not the worst thing ever.”

Mama smiles. “Now, where’s our food? I’m really hungry.”
-
Nico felt really nervous. He’d never done this before. He hopes his hands aren’t too sweaty and that he hadn’t hurt Will’s feelings too bad. He’s already chickened out a few times this past week, attempting to go up to Will before quickly turning around. Will never seemed to notice, talking to someone else or studying.

“Hey, Will,” Nico starts. Will looks up from where he’s rooting around in his locker. “Um, you dropped this.”

“Oh, thanks.” Will takes the pen from him, tucking it into his backpack. “So, how’ve you been?”

Nico takes a deep breath. “I wanted to say sorry. For being rude to you when you were just being nice. I guess I just have a hard time understanding this whole thing the way you do. But I want to try.” He takes another deep breath. “So, will you give me another chance?”

Will fidgets for a moment. “Like you want to be friends?” Nico nods. “Is your favorite color blue?”

Nico rolls his eyes. “It’s such a cliché color but yes.”

Will grins. “So’s black.” Nico smiles back.

“So is the video games offer still open?”

Will nods. “Yeah, but maybe we could also learn how to play Mythomagic together? I really want to learn.”

Nico hesitates before nodding slowly. He debates whether or not to tell Will right now, but he decides that he can save that for later. After all, friendships aren’t built in a day.

Chapter Text

Will yawns. After staying up late last night to study, pulling another late night wasn’t the greatest idea. Still, he’d worked hard to get this job, and he was determined to keep it. He didn’t want to give his parents the satisfaction of knowing that he couldn’t quite juggle all of his priorities. He knows exactly what the first suggestion would be, and he can’t give up yet.

He’s running around, cleaning surfaces, setting up equipment. For such a small show, there was a lot of stuff that needed to be done. The space wasn’t that big, but Will was still proud of it. His older brother had worked super hard to buy it and make it what it was. And now musicians from around the country were booking the location to perform.

“Hey, Will, I need a quick soundcheck!” Lee calls. Will rolls his eyes, nodding. He slides in behind the soundboard, pulling the headphones over his ears. His brother tests all of the equipment they have so far. The band was bringing their own stuff, but it was good to make sure the speakers and microphones worked. Will gives him a thumbs up.

They’ve got about an hour before the band is supposed to arrive, some up and coming group that’s about to make it big. Though Lee kept his cool, Will knew how excited he was about this. Their parents hadn’t initially approved, but they were proud of their oldest son and his work.

“Take a break, Will. You’ll be working all night,” Lee says, patting his shoulder. Will disappears into the back, grabbing a water bottle and collapsing on the couch. He just needs a quick nap right now. He’s already finished all of his homework, clearing his schedule in case any emergencies came up today. Bands could be unpredictable sometimes.

Will’s woken up all too early, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes as he stumbles into the main room. Three guys are walking around the stage, plugging in instruments and doing sound checks. Will takes his place at the soundboard again. Lee was talking to one of the guys, nodding and smiling. “Soundcheck!” someone calls. Will does his best to keep up with everything. He’d taken this job over the summer when Lee had needed someone on short notice and had learned on the job. At least he’ll be able to sleep in tomorrow.

He settles into the music, smiling. He hadn’t had time to really delve into this band’s music before, but he liked it. It was catchy, had a nice rhythm, the lyrics were amazing. The guys were young, probably between Lee and Will’s age, but it was clear that they had talent.

By the time the actual performance is about to start, the venue is filling up. Lee’s tuned into his professional self, smoothing his button-down shirt and slipping a headset over his ears. It wasn’t completely necessary, but it was useful when they needed to communicate quickly. Texts messages were too easy to ignore, and headsets looked more professional anyway.

Will’s blown away by the concert. He almost forgets to do his job. While most of the prep-work was taken care of, there were a few things the band had asked specifically for. Will takes his cues, and Lee brings the lights down. The slower songs are probably Will’s favorite. Not just because it gives his ears a break from ringing, but the lyrics are so soulful. He loves their voices, the blend of harmonies.

Growing up in a musical family, Will had been taught to appreciate it to the best of his ability. He wasn’t quite as musically gifted as his siblings, but he didn’t mind. Being part of the tech crew was good enough. And he could appreciate the music without having to worry about how it was made.

The cheering and applause bring Will out of his thoughts. Opposite him, Lee’s beaming, clapping along with the crowd. It’s crazy to think that only a few years ago, this record store wasn’t even known by the locals.

After the band gets off the stage, Will’s mostly done for the night. The rest of his job takes place after everyone else has already left. So he takes advantage of his break to slip outside. The summer air was quickly turning cold, but it was still nice outside. Especially after being surrounded by three hundred of his closest friends.

He’s thinking of going to get some food when he sees someone hunched down just a few feet from him. Frowning, he recognizes the guy as one of the band members.

“Hey, man, are you okay?” Will asks gently. He crouches down, keeping a little distance from him. The guy turns to look at him, expression guarded. “I can get you something to eat or drink if you need. Or a jacket.”

The guy shrugs, tensing when someone passes by them. His eyes follow the person until they’ve crossed the street. Will sees him relax for just a few seconds before someone squeals.

“Nico di Angelo? Is that really you? Oh my gods, I need your autograph!” Will glances between Nico and the newcomer, quickly taking stock of the situation. He sees Nico shrink back, eyes darting around for an escape. Then Will’s moving between Nico and the girl.

“I’m sorry, miss. Autographs are inside. You must be mistaken.” But it’s no use because the girl’s squeal has gotten other people’s attention, and now they’re all flocking over. Nico looks like he just wants to escape. Will considers trying to get him back into the store through the back, but he quickly realizes that Nico’s having a panic attack.

“I need space,” he calls, moving to sit right in front of Nico. He hopes the crowd will get the message and leave, but he’s never been all that lucky. Reacting on his feet, Will gets Nico as much privacy as he can before handing him a stress ball Will always keeps in his pocket. Nico’s hand clamps down around it, and Will whispers gently to him.He’s read all about these things, and he’s even experienced these himself. But he’s never had to calm someone else down. So he does what works for him, hoping for the best. He wraps Nico in his arms, and he’s surprised when Nico latches on after a few moments. Will can feel the crowd around them still, and he wishes there was a way he could get rid of them without upsetting Nico further.

His phone buzzes, and Will manages to fish it out. Quickly he types out a message to his brother, and then he’s back to holding Nico close. Nico’s shaking, but at least Will can feel the puffs of breath against his neck. Distantly, Will hears his brother breaking up the crowd. After that, it takes Nico a few minutes or so to calm down, slowly relaxing his grip on Will.

Then he’s leaning against the wall, squeezing the stress ball. Will scoots back to give him some space, but he doesn’t leave.

“Um, thanks,” Nico says after a while. His voice is rougher than Will had been expecting. When he sang it was so smooth. “I’m not good with crowds.”

Will smiles, shrugging. “I’m just glad I could help. You can keep that if you want. I have, like, maybe five more at home.”

Nico looks at the stress ball in his hands as if just realizing he had it. “Are you sure?”

Will nods. “Yeah.” He pauses. “I’m Will.”

“Nico. But you probably already knew that.”“Would it be rude to say that I don’t want your autograph?” Will blurts out. He’s never wanted to be famous, and this whole ordeal has cemented that. He can’t imagine having to go through that every day.

Nico lets out a snort. “Relieving, actually.” He leans his head back. “I should probably go back inside. Percy’s going to chew me out if I make them pack up again without helping out.”

“Would it help if I knew a secret passageway?” Will asks. Nico raises his eyebrows.

“Anything to avoid the crowds. My worst fear is being trampled to death.” He shivers then, and Will extends his hand, helping Nico up.

He leads them through the backdoor, slipping away when Nico’s bandmates move to swarm him. Will can hear them bickering, and he smiles. Lee presses a hot mug into his chest as he heard into the main room.

“Guess all of those textbooks paid off, huh?” Lee asks.

Will rolls his eyes. His parents want him to be a doctor, so he always got a textbook for his birthday, along with another gift. “More like going to therapy.” As traditional as his parents were, they could be flexible in certain areas. Will had thought therapy was going to be a battle, but his parents had instantly agreed to pay. If only they had that same enthusiasm for other things Will wanted in life.

“Good you were here tonight. In fact, your shift is over. I’ve got Charlie to help me clean up for tomorrow. Go on before I have to kick you out.”

Will rolls his eyes, but he is exhausted. And he’s got class tomorrow. He considers checking Nico one more time, but he doesn’t want to come across as annoying. Nico had trusted him, and he doesn’t want to break that trust. He had his friends now, he’d be okay. Lee makes a shooing motion when he catches Will dawdling in the doorway.

If Will doesn’t leave now, he’s going to end up spending the night here.
-
Nico wasn’t sure if things were good or bad. They’d played two more shows since he’d had a panic attack in front of a complete stranger. (He’s actively ignoring the people who caused the panic attack.) The whole time, he’d been unable to keep his eyes off of that blond-haired boy who had helped him.
Will.

After each show, Nico had somehow ended up cleaning up with Will. He would like to blame it on Percy or Jason, but they haven’t seemed to notice Nico’s growing crush on Will. It’s not just that Will practically saved him from a mob of fans, but he’s just also cute? And handsome and funny. And he takes cues, unlike most people.

Nico keeps meaning to bring up the whole press thing because apparently, nothing about his life was private anymore, but he wasn’t sure how to. And Will must’ve seen it, right? He certainly hadn’t said anything about it. Although, maybe Will was one of the few people who didn’t seem to care about the tabloids and magazines that had celebrity’s faces plastered all over them.

“Is there a dress code here or something?” Nico asks one night. Will looks confused, glancing around the room.

“What do you mean?”

Nico wills himself not to blush. He’s not sure how to phrase this without admitting that he’s been noticing more things every night about Will Solace. “You always wear button-down shirts. But you never tuck them in.” Currently, Will had his sleeves rolled up, something Nico found quite attractive, but he doesn’t say that.

“Oh, there’s no dress code. I mean, Lee’s wearing a leather jacket and a T-shirt he got for donating blood.” He shrugs, smoothing a hand down his shirt. It’s rumpled tonight, and Nico wonders what Will does during the day. School wouldn’t make it that rumpled, would it? “I guess my parents just dressed me like this, and I haven’t quite stopped.”

“That’s okay,” Nico says because he feels that he’s just made Will self-conscious. “It suits you.” And it does. Nico had a dream the other night about getting to unbutton one of those shirts.

Will smiles, running a hand through his hair. It makes his already messy curls stick up more. Nico wants to reach forward and touch them. He doesn’t know what kind of power Will Solace has to make Nico feel so head over heels so quickly.

He prides himself on not having attachments. He and his father have an agreement that Nico will visit on holidays. He visits his sister whenever he can. He travels with his friends. But he doesn’t get into relationships. He doesn’t make new friends, promise to see his sister when he knows he won’t be able to, doesn’t adopt a cat no matter how tempting it is.

But here Will is, making Nico consider staying in New York for a while longer.

“So, how many more shows do you have here?” Will asks.

“I think six more? Jason has the schedule. So we’ll be here at least two more weeks.” He glances at Will, hoping he gets the idea while also wishing he won’t. He doesn’t know what’s after this stop or if there is even anything after this stop. But it doesn’t matter. Will’s in school. He can’t just pick up his life for Nico. College classes don’t work like that.

“Well, if you ever want to know the best places around, just ask. Tourist spots are always super crowded which can ruin the experience. Though you guys found this place, so I guess you’re doing pretty good.”

Nico doesn’t tell Will that they booked this place because other places wouldn’t take them. Although, it’s turned into a sweet deal. Will and his brother were easy to work with, and they kept bringing in a crowd every night. Though Nico thinks his favorite part so far is this short time that he and Will can just talk.

“How can I ask?” Nico asks. Will blinks at him, not understanding. “I mean, I don’t have a way to contact you.” He’s never been his upfront, but maybe it’s the time or just how quickly he’s grown to looking forward to these moments that makes him do it.

Will blushes. “I can give you my number. Or my email. Whichever works.”

Nico pulls out his phone, and Will plugs his number into it. He puts a sunshine emoji by his name, and Nico thinks that’s adorable. He really shouldn’t be doing this. Their band is on the way to getting big, and Nico can’t be getting distracted by a cute boy. As reasonable as that sounds, Nico finds himself smiling at Will.

“I’ll be looking for a good burger place soon,” he says. “I’ll give you some time to think.”

He finishes packing up, Jason and Percy practically dragging him out of the store. Nico thinks he catches Will’s brother smirking at them, but he could be wrong.

The next morning, he wakes up to a list of five restaurants and a question.
-
Will couldn’t believe that he was doing this. In Lee’s store, none of this felt wrong. Surrounded by his brother’s successful dream, everything felt possible. However, sitting in his apartment with Nico felt kind of wrong. He wasn’t sure if they were dating or not, but it didn’t matter. He was pretty sure his parents wouldn’t approve.

He’d come out as bi his last year of high school, and his parents had barely reacted. But then they started hinting harder at finding a girlfriend at school, getting his degree, settling down. They wanted grandchildren and success, and Will could follow in that path. But Nico held other options. His parents’ indirect disapproval was worse than the outright, he thinks. He doesn’t know if they secretly pray for him or something else, but it makes him feel guilty whenever he hangs out with Nico.

“Hey, you okay?” Nico asks. He nudges Will’s leg with his foot, and the action feels so mundane and domestic. Will can imagine spending lazy afternoons like this, and he quickly shuts down that thought.

“Yeah, just thinking about stuff.”

Nico doesn’t press. Instead, he pulls off his jacket, hanging it over the back of a chair before hopping up onto the counter. That alone does things to Will that he definitely knows his parents won’t approve of. He kicks his legs out a bit, smiling at Will.

“You said we were going to bake cookies. Or was that just a ploy?” Nico asks.“Yeah, cookies are good,” Will says. Nico smirks, turning to open one of the cabinets. “You have a tattoo?”

Nico twists to look at Will. “Yeah. Got it when I turned eighteen. My dad was pretty upset for a bit.”

Will can imagine. “Did he come around, though?” Nico nods.

“Yeah, he says as long as I don’t do anything I regret, he’s okay. And I’m still pretty in love with this tattoo.” Will smiles, looking at it. It was a skull, flowers blooming from the empty eye sockets and nose.

“My parents would skin me if I got a tattoo.” Nico raises an eyebrow, looking at Will.

“I can see why, I guess. Your skin is too pretty to mark up.” Will flushes under Nico’s gaze. Clearing his throat, he moves around the kitchen, pulling out ingredients and a cookbook that his mom had gotten him. Until he got himself a girlfriend, he needed to know how to cook for himself. Cecil, his roommate, was absolutely no help in the kitchen.

“Chocolate chip?” Will nods. Those were his favorite.

Cookie baking doesn’t quite play out as Will had imagined. He’d thought it’d be something relaxing and mundane (and domestic) to do together, and Nico had said he hadn’t had homemade cookies in forever. Instead, Will was pretty sure they were hard-core flirting. Nico kept licking his fingers, smearing flour everywhere, bumping ‘accidentally’ into Will. It made it hard to think properly.

By the time the cookies were in the oven, the kitchen was a mess. Will thinks about leaving it for later, but he knows he’s definitely going to regret that. So he dives in, and Nico grabs a rag to dry.

“Hey, um, Nico?” Will asks. He’s just remembered something. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

Nico flushes, shaking his head. “No, why?”

Will wishes he could just know how this conversation is going to turn out. “I heard something on the radio earlier today, and I was wondering. They mentioned something about you and this other guy, getting caught somewhere together or something. I didn’t catch the whole thing.”

Nico huffs. “First of all, never listen to the journalists. They’re always wrong. Second, I’m not dating anyone. Thirdly, it’s kind of because someone caught us on camera that first night.”

Will nods as he processes this. “Wait. They have a picture of us? Together?”

Nico nods. “Yeah, you holding me or whatever. I don’t actually remember too much of that. But other people do. And now it’s something they like to gossip about. If I’m dating someone or whatever.” He throws his hands up in the air, sighing. “They don’t know it’s you if that’s what you’re trying to ask. And I don’t talk to reporters or journalists.”

“So, you’re not dating anyone?” Will asks, just to clarify.Nico snorts. “Is that all you got from that?”

“The main bit. I’m also glad that they’re not going to hunt me down or anything.”

Nico sets down the towel, stepping closer to Will. “Is there something you want to tell me, Will?”

Will thinks his heart is going to fail him right now. Or his knees. Honestly, he hasn’t had a celebrity crush since he was thirteen, and he knew that was never going to work out. But this is something different. Nico’s standing so close to him, as if daring him.

“Um, we’ve got a lot of dishes to do,” Will says. He starts to turn back towards the sink, but Nico’s tugging on Will’s collar.

“Later,” he mumbles before bringing their lips together. Will instantly forgets about the dishes. Nico tastes like cookie dough and mint and coffee, and Will’s never thought that combination would be so intoxicating. He’s not that experienced at kissing, but Nico doesn’t seem to be either. So it’s just a lot of bumping their faces together and trying not to giggle. They have to pull apart when the oven goes off.“Cookies!” Will announces. Nico rolls his eyes. His cheeks are red, and Will thinks he likes that color. “Also, are we, you know, dating or something?”

“Do you want to?” Nico asks, suddenly looking nervous.

Will nods, shoving a cookie into his mouth. It’s hot and burns his mouth, but he’s already thrown logic out the window. “I’d like that very much.”
-
Nico knows there’s something wrong the moment he steps into Will’s apartment. Will’s curled up on the couch, staring at his phone, his expression blank.

“Sunshine?” Will looks up, starting a little. “What’s wrong?”

Will shakes his head, leaning his head against Nico’s shoulder when he sits down. “Nothing really. I guess I just thought my parents would be happy for me. Though I can’t tell if they’re more upset that you’re a guy or a rockstar.”

“I’m not a rockstar, Will. Our music isn’t that loud.”

Will shrugs. “Doesn’t matter too much, though. You’ll be leaving in a week or two. We’ve got to keep our relationship a secret to avoid the press so we can’t visit each other. And now my parents don’t approve of it. They want me to quit my job at the record store.”

Nico’s new to this whole relationship thing, but he caught on quickly that Will liked being touched. So he scoots closer to Will, wrapping an awkward arm around him. Will seems to get the message, curling closer. He sighs. Nico runs his fingers through Will’s hair, wanting to kiss him but thinking that this may not be the right moment.

“We’ll figure it out,” he says. “I’m still in New York for at least a week, and we’re only two shows. So plenty of time to hang out.”

Will shrugs, and Nico’s not sure how to make it better. The press still hadn’t figured out who the mystery guy was. There were too many blond-haired guys running around New York and any of them could have come to the concert. But if Will and Nico went out there would definitely not be a question anymore. The last thing Nico wanted to do was jeopardize Will’s studies and privacy.

Will had talked about his parents some, and Nico had gotten some hints by the way Lee and Will referenced them. They didn’t seem like bad people. They weren’t homophobic. They just wanted what was best for their children. And dating a girl and coming off as straight was easier than not. Especially since Will was attracted to girls. Especially since Nico couldn’t give them grandchildren (if things ever got that far).

“I’m sorry, Will. We can still visit my family. My sister’s super excited to meet you.” Nico had been unable to contain his excitement, and he’d told everyone he talked to. Which was Jason, Percy, and Hazel. “And maybe your family will come around.”

Will nods. “I guess. I kind of thought that they’d at least fake it.” Nico’s not sure what else to say. “Wanna help me study? I know that’s not exciting, but I really need to do well on this test.”

Nico smiles. Studying isn’t his favorite thing either, but it’s more fun with Will. And he’s pretty sure it’s a workout just lifting all of those textbooks. Cecil comes in around lunchtime, holding up two giant bags of takeout.

“Didn’t know we’d have company. Good thing I got extra.” Nico sees Will roll his eyes at this. Will’s explained Cecil’s dislike of cooking so much that he always made sure he had leftovers just in case.

“So, you two are officially dating, right?” Cecil asks as they sit down. Will nods.

“Yes, but please tell me you don’t have a bet going with Lou.”

“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” Cecil says. “You know the drill. So, spill. Who asked who?”

Will sighs. Nico pats his hand. “I kissed him first, but technically Will asked.”

“Before the kiss or after?”

“After the kiss.”

Cecil wrinkles his nose. “Gods, Will. Couldn’t you have been more smooth?” He crosses his arms, glaring at Will. “Lou’s beat me at the last three bets!”

Will shrugs. “Maybe this is a sign you should stop betting on my love life.”

“Well, at least I had faith in you. Lou was doubting you, and I defended your wimpy butt.”

“Actually, he’s got a very nice butt,” Nico says quietly. Both Will and Cecil turn to face him, their cheeks red.“That was more than I needed to know.” Nico just shrugs. Will’s still blushing by the time Cecil has counted the money he’s about to lose and the leftover food is packed up in Tupperware.

“Doing okay, Will?” Nico asks once Cecil’s gone. Will nods, hiding his face.

“Now they’re going to make another bet,” he groans. Nico pats his shoulder.

“If it makes you feel any better, Percy and Jason had one, too. Spoiler alert: I won.” Will wrinkles up his nose, but he lets Nico kiss him. “But, see, you’ve got people who support our relationship.”
-
When Will first gets the news, everything feels bitter. He thinks, of course, this would be the time that his parents actually decide to support him. When everything felt so complicated. The press had somehow gotten ahold of a picture of Will, plastering his face everywhere. He’d had to mute his social media, make them all private, just to get some sort of privacy.

Luckily, most people around town didn’t actually care too much aside from the random fan or two. At least Will wasn’t being mobbed, though he could already feel his patience and sanity wearing away with every new notification he got. Some people just didn’t seem to have lives of their own.
Will calls Lee first, ducking into the record store when he was sure it’d be empty.

“If this is about you and Nico and next steps, I don’t want to know,” Lee says, looking at Will’s face. “In fact, if a fan would want to know it, I probably don’t.”

Will rolls his eyes. “You’re worse than me, so don’t even pretend to be all pure or whatever.” He jumps onto the counter, stopping Lee from leaving. “It does have to do with Nico and me, but it’s good news, I promise. Nothing gross.”

He hands Lee the letter he’d just gotten in the mail. His parents didn’t trust technology all that much. They only used phones to call people, but big news waited for letters. Honestly, Will was probably going to hear about their funerals via letter.

“This is good,” Lee says, smiling. “I’m proud of you. And them. I can’t imagine what struck this change of heart.”

Will shrugs. He doesn’t really care as long as his parents really mean it. All he ever wanted was for them to love him as he was. And now he knew for sure that they did. He grabs the letter back, reading it again just to make sure he didn’t miss anything. He was still trying to process the news.

“I have to tell Nico,” Will says. “We can work things out.”

Lee pats Will’s shoulder. “I can’t believe you guys left this for last minute. He’s leaving in two days.” Will pouts. He doesn’t want to think about it. A lot could happen in two days. His parents had accepted him. He’d become some sort of a star. He hopes that’s a thing that ends in two days (or less). He kind of wanted to go back to posting stupid pictures online without getting six thousand likes and messages.

They’re having their last in-person date (for now) when Will brings up the news. “So, I guess all of this publicity has one good thing,” Will says. He slides the letter across the table, letting Nico read it.

“Will, this is amazing,” Nico says. He kisses Will’s hand, and Will almost bumps him in the face with how happy he is. Nico laughs. “Though I can’t really see them reading the tabloids.”

Will shrugs. “I mentioned it when I called them, and I think they’ve been keeping an eye on everything to make sure I’m okay.” Will smiles, pocketing the letter. He was probably going to frame it now. “But I guess at least the journalists did one thing right. They showed how happy we are together.”

Nico smiles. Will’s parents had mentioned seeing an article about Will and Nico. The whole article was fake and mostly speculation, but the look of happiness on their faces in the photos was real. And Will’s parents had written to him saying that they were happy for him and that they were going to do their best to be more supportive and caring in the future. It wasn’t the most perfect letter, expressing unconditional love, but it was a start. And Will was going to take it.

“So, you’re leaving tomorrow,” Will says, coming down from his high. Nico nods. “Promise that we’ll call each other at least every week? Or Skype? We can even write letters. Probably by email, of course.”

Nico laughs. “I promise. And when we’re someplace cool, I’ll make sure to send you tickets.” He squeezes Will’s hand.

“I’ve never really done a long-distance before,” Will admits. The longest distance between him and anyone he’s ever dated was about ten miles between their houses, seven miles if they met up at school. “Do you think it’ll work out?”Nico nods. “We’re going to try at least. I’m not ready to let you go yet, but I’ve also made a commitment to this band.” He pauses. “The fans might start dropping when all they get is sappy love songs and sad ballads about missing you.”

Will snorts. “Don’t sabotage your career just to see me.” This isn’t quite the happy ever after that Will had pictured when he was a child, but this wasn’t the end either. There was still so much ahead of them, and they were willing to see what was out there.

“I’m going to miss you.”

“I think we should go make out on the couch now.”

Chapter Text

Nico was really nervous. He’d never done this kind of thing before, and he wasn’t sure how it should go. Was this supposed to be a formal thing? Or was it more relaxed now? Nico only vaguely remembered the standard courting rituals from when he was young, and he wasn’t sure how many of those things were still around.

“Nico, breathe, I’m sure he’ll love me,” Will says. Nico knows Will’s nervous, too, but he wasn’t about to let that stop him.

“Remember everything I told you?” Nico asks.
Will nods. “Don’t stare at the bones. Don’t stare at the gold. Don’t touch or talk to the souls. Don’t eat any Underworld food. Don’t insult anyone.”

Nico nods, trying to think if there’s anything else he should have told Will. Those were the big things, the things that got you stuck in the Underworld way before you wanted to be. Will takes his hand, smiling.

“He wants me to be happy. He’ll like you, right?” Nico asks.

Will nods. “What’s not to like about me?”

Nico finally relaxes a bit, reaching up to kiss Will’s cheek. They’d been dating for over a year, and it still amazed Nico that he was able to kiss Will whenever he wanted. “It’s just a lunch thing. No pressure.”

They both take a deep breath before Nico’s shadow-traveling them to the Underworld. Nico lets Will catch his breath for a moment. Shadow-traveling still disoriented him a bit, but that was understandable. Not everyone’s bodies were built for dissolving and then re-solidifying.

“We brought the food, right?” Will asks as he stands up. Nico nods, holding up a large to-go bag.

Nico leads Will through the halls to the throne room. Hades is lounging in his chair, absently throwing a ball around for Cerberus. The room shakes as the dog leaps for the toy, his three heads fighting over which one gets to bring the ball back. Nico catches himself before he slips on some drool.

“Father,” he says. Hades looks up, long fingers wrapped around the bright green drool-covered ball.

“Ah, you’re finally here. Persephone’s hungry.”

Nico rolls his eyes, heading towards the dining room. Will sets the table while Persephone looks him over.

“Quite a handsome one you’ve got, Nico,” she says. “And he brought me flowers!” She fusses over finding the perfect vase for them while Nico sets out the food. It’s nothing elaborate, but his father hardly ever ate in his presence and Persephone was rather picky about her food.

“So, how is camp?” Hades asks, sitting. Nico hopes he’s washed his hands. “That Jackson kid hasn’t started any more wars, has he?”

Nico sighs. “Percy’s fine, Dad. He’s taking some time off to visit his little sister.” Hades nods. He liked to pretend that he wasn’t caught up on the affairs upstairs, though Nico knew he had eyes and ears everywhere.

“William Solace,” Hades says. “I haven’t heard a lot about you, though Apollo has been bragging ceaselessly since you two got together.”

“I told you not to bet on Nico,” Persephone says.

“What?” Nico asks, looking up from his food.

“Your father here got himself into a bit of gambling. Had money that you were going to ask sunshine over here out.”

“It’s not uncommon to root for your son,” Hades grumbles.

“Anyway, he lost a bit of money since Will asked you.”

Nico groans. “You’re taking bets on my life?” Hades shrugs. Nico catches Will trying not to laugh. “At least you’re the god of wealth. You couldn’t have lost that much.”

“Just my dignity,” Hades says. “Apollo didn’t need a boost to his ego.”

Everyone nods.

Lunch returns to safer topics. They talk about camp and the weather, and Persephone gives Will some gardening tips. Nico does his best to steer the conversation away from anything that could get ugly fast, but his father seems to be taking a quick liking to Will.

“I need to let Cerberus out again,” Hades says, standing up. “He gets so restless at his post.”

“Can I come with you?” Will asks. Hades looks surprised, but he nods. Persephone grins, shooting a wink towards Nico. “Are you coming, Nico?”

Nico groans. He loves Cerberus, but he hadn’t exactly been planning on becoming a chew toy today. Still, he gets up and follows them down the halls. Will’s eyes are everywhere, but Hades doesn’t seem to mind. He talks about the architecture, how he’s planning on modernizing some things. When he starts going into accounts of some of the newest souls, Nico cuts him off.

“Can we not talk about death for maybe five minutes?” Nico asks.

Hades looks offended. “If I can’t talk about my life, what should I talk about instead?”

Cerberus greets them all passionately, giving them many kisses. And then they’re playing some sort of game of catch with Cerberus in the middle. Nico was a little worried, but Will’s aim was decent, and Cerberus never minded. It probably helped that he was so big that there wasn’t really a way to throw it where he couldn’t get it immediately.

By the time they’re all covered in drool and smelling like a wet dog, Nico announces it’s time to go. His dad is smiling and talking with Will, and Persephone keeps grinning at them. And he wants to wrap this up before everything falls apart.

“I’ll be keeping an eye on you, William Solace,” Hades says.

Will nods quickly. “Yes, sir.”

Hades smiles. “You make my son happy, and that’s definitely hard.”

Nico huffs. Will grabs his hand, kissing it. “See you later, Father.”

Persephone waves to them as Nico shadow-travels them away. They land on the porch of the Hades cabin.

“Shower time!” Will says. “I feel like I just took a bath in a dog’s mouth.”

Nico makes a face. “We basically just did.”

“But I think that went okay, yeah? He didn’t smite me or anything.”

Nico rolls his eyes. “That’s more of Zeus’s thing. My dad would probably just intimidate you to death or something.”

Will nods. “Good to know.”
-
“Nico, I am disappointed in you.” Nico groans. Couldn’t he just sleep in for once? They’d had a capture the flag game three nights ago, and Nico was still catching up on his sleep. Because Will had been so busy lately, Nico had taken the opportunity to sleep in as late as he could before Will found out.

“Thanks, Dad. Can I go to sleep now?”

“Not until I tell you that I do not approve of you dating that Solace boy.”

Nico sits up, rubbing his eyes. “Wait, what?”

Hades is standing at the foot of his bed, black robes looking crisp and clean. He looked like he was here for official business, and he looked upset. “I don’t want you to keep seeing the Solace boy. He’s not good for you.”

“Why not?” Nico asks. “You approved of him just last week.”

“That was before some things came into light.” Nico frowns. Will hadn’t done anything he could think of that would upset his father.

“He hasn’t done anything.”

“Exactly,” Hades says. “Were you aware that he cannot shoot an arrow or use a sword?”

Nico doesn’t know how to answer that. He knows Will isn’t all that adept at using weapons. He’s still thinking of an answer when there’s a knock on the door. Before Nico can protest, Hades has answered the door.

“Um, hello, sir,” Will says. “I’m just here to get Nico for breakfast.”

“Before you go train.”

“Well, I’ve got a shift at the infirmary, actually. Nico might train.” Will glances at Nico, looking confused.

“Come in. We’re having a talk,” Hades says. Will sits beside Nico, looking worried.

“Are you aware that you cannot fight?” Hades asks. “It has recently come to my attention that you cannot use a sword or a bow. What kind of demigod doesn’t know how to protect themselves? And how am I supposed to trust you to watch over my son when you can’t protect him?”

“Father, that’s unfair,” Nico says. He can see the way Will’s shaking slightly now. He’s always been insecure about his inability to fight as well as others at camp. “Fighting doesn’t make you a demigod.”

“Even Demeter can boast of strong fighters, but my son has picked you.” He pauses. “I promised Maria that I would protect Nico and do what I could to make sure he lived a good life, so I cannot approve of this relationship. If this camp were to be flooded with monsters, you would not be able to protect him, am I right?”

Will nods slowly, blinking. Nico takes his hand.

“Father, that’s enough.” He stands up, looking Hades in the eyes. “Will isn’t a strong fighter, but he’s got other skills. You might have heard that he’s the best medic we’ve got. He almost never freaks out or lets someone die if he can save them. Not everyone needs to be a fighter, Father.”

“But he can’t protect you or his friends. He can only help them after they’ve gotten hurt,” Hades says.

“No one’s invincible,” Nico says. “So someone’s going to get hurt. And that’s not really our faults, is it? So it’s a really good thing that we’ve got a skilled medic here who can heal our injuries and make sure we’re okay when we do get stabbed or poisoned or whatever.”

Hades doesn’t look convinced yet.

“Not to mention that Will cares for me in ways that you haven’t ever. He makes sure I eat and exercise and talk to people even when I don’t want to. He’s there when I get nightmares or when I hurt myself. He’s there to keep me from doing stupid things.”

“I suppose,” Hades says.

“So what I’m trying to say is that Will’s an amazing person, and he shouldn’t be judged on how well he can handle himself in a fight. Because without him a lot of us wouldn’t be around to fight. And then who would the gods have to do their dirty work?”

Hades sighs. “Very well, Nico. You’ve made your case.” He glances at Will. “I’ll withhold my judgment, son of Apollo. My son clearly cares for you, so I shall try to see you as he does. Maybe the Underworld would be less crowded if we had more people like you.”

He gives a small smile then, and Nico’s so relieved when he leaves.

Nico’s kind of in a daze until he hears Will let out a small sound. He pulls his boyfriend into his arms, sighing. “I’m sorry you had to hear that. He was wrong about you. You’re not useless, and you’d never let me go without a fight.”

Will sniffles. “I just wish I could protect you, you know? Before you got hurt.”

Nico cups Will’s face gently in his hands. “You do, though. You make sure I eat and rest and don’t overexert myself. And you don’t let me get too down on myself. You make me happy, Will. So happy.”

Will nods, settling into Nico’s arms. “You make me happy, too.”

“And at least my father got one thing right. Maybe there would be fewer wars if we all didn’t have to fight. Strengths come in many different forms, not all of them physical.”

Will smiles. “When did you get so wise?”

Nico kisses Will’s hair. “I learn from the best.”

Chapter Text

“Have you guys gone to the music class yet?” Lee asks. “It’s taught by that old satyr who likes to play his pipes at the bonfires. I can’t remember his name.”

“That sounds fun, right, Nico?” Will asks, nudging his arm. Nico shrugs.

“Sounds like school. Besides, I’m plenty involved already.”

“But this could be something fun to do,” Will says. “Like a couple activity. We could do duets together.”

Lee laughs. “Don’t feel pressured by him,” he says. “But I do think you guys would like it. The class is pretty chill, so you don’t have to have any experience or knowledge. You just show up and have fun.”

Will grins. “I’m trying it out. Please, Nico? At least one class.”

Nico sighs. “Fine. But remember, this was your idea.” Will beams, kissing Nico’s cheek.

“You won’t regret it.” Nico shrugs like he was still unsure, but Will’s just happy Nico agreed. He’d heard Nico sing before. He had such an amazing voice. And maybe if people saw Nico participating in camp activities other than training, they’d start to feel less anxious around him.

Their first class is by the lake, and Will’s already excited. The old satyr is playing some song on his reeds, and Will wishes he knew how to play an instrument. He can manage a few chords on Lee’s old guitar, but it’s nothing special. He definitely can’t play songs people would actually want to listen to.

But maybe he’ll learn some in this class.

Will looks around for Nico. He hadn’t met him in the infirmary as they’d planned, so Will had walked over here alone. He assumed Nico was just cleaning up from training earlier this morning, so he wasn’t worried. When more people start arriving, and he still doesn’t see Nico, he gets a little anxious. Did Nico know they were meeting by the lake? Was he still waiting at the infirmary? Was he sick? Dying?

Will’s about to get up and find Nico when he spots the mess of black hair. He sighs, sitting back down.

“Sorry, I’m late. I’d have shadow-traveled, but I didn’t want to scare any kids.” Will smiles, looking Nico over. He looked perfectly fine if not a little flushed from the heat.

“What are you holding?”

Nico fidgets a little, sitting down. “Um, a violin. This is the music class, right?”

Will nods, grinning. “You play an instrument? Can I hear you? Please?”

Nico shrugs. “I haven’t practiced in a while. I was late because I had to visit the Underworld to find it.”

“Did you drink a Gatorade?” Nico nods, sticking out his tongue.

“See? My tongue’s even red.”

Will leans forward to kiss Nico’s nose. “You’re cute. Was that a yes? I don’t care if you aren’t like Mozart.”

“Mozart played the piano, Will.”

“Well, this is just proof that I need this class.”

Nico laughs. “Good thing you’re a quick study.”

They settle down when the satyr calls them to quiet. He introduces himself and then the purpose of the class. “While this class doesn’t require experience, we’re going to have a little show in a few weeks. Anyone can perform, even those not in the class. But my hope is that each of you will feel drawn to something and perform something during the show.”

Will turns to Nico. “You should perform.”

“Maybe.”
-
Nico finds that he’s really enjoying the music classes. They’re super laid back with the instructor helping them all find something they might like. Will’s working on learning some more guitar, and Nico’s working on remembering the fingerings for the violin. A few other kids have started a singing group, and this Demeter girl is rocking the drums.

“When do I get to hear you?” Will asks. Nico’s never really practiced around Will. He usually escapes to the quiet of his cabin to practice. The first few times he tried to practice during class, Will had listened to him the whole time and hadn’t gotten any of his own work down.

“When I’m not distracting you,” Nico says.

Will shrugs. “I don’t mind. I’ve almost got happy birthday ready.” He strums out a few chords, and Nico smiles. “Just in time for my birthday, too.”

Nico rolls his eyes. “Your birthday isn’t for two months.”

“I know. Gotta practice.”

Nico laughs, kissing Will’s cheek before letting Will practice. Nico’s still deciding what song he wants to play for the show. He’s still pretty rusty as he didn’t practice while he was hooping between camps. And then he’d gotten too busy and forgot about his violin at all. But now he wanted to get back to it.

With Chiron’s permission, he spent a lot of his time looking on the internet. While everything sounded amazing, he had to keep in mind that he hadn’t played in maybe three years and only had a few weeks to learn something. So he picks a short song he thinks will be good and prints it out.

Then he gets to work.

He’s definitely nervous the night of the show. In honor of the occasion, Chiron had insisted on a special bonfire. They were all seated in the amphitheater, and Nico’s really glad that he didn’t know about this until today. Or he might have backed out.

“I’m a little nervous,” Will says, holding Nico’s hand. He’d already stolen Nico’s jacket in the cooling summer air and was now working on soaking up body heat. “Are my hands shaking?”

“I’m a little nervous, too. I didn’t think it’d be such a big deal.”

Will hums. “But I know you’re going to be amazing.” He smiles, patting Nico’s violin case beside him. “Even if I haven’t been able to listen to you practicing.”

Nico smiles. He taps his fingers against Will’s palm. His new callouses felt weird, but he was proud of them.

They both watch and listen to the performances before them. Everyone is so good, and Nico thinks he shouldn’t be so surprised. These people had fought wars against gods and titans. Of course, they could also dance and sing. When it’s his turn, he takes a deep breath, walking down the stairs.

He hadn’t worn anything special, but he had combed his hair. He takes his time, pulling out his violin, making sure it’s still tuned. Then he sets the bow to the strings and pulls. He gets lost in the music, hoping no one notices when he fumbles a note in the middle.

He knows he’s done when there’s applause. Nico smiles, giving everyone a small wave. He can make out Will in the middle of the crowd.

“That’s my boyfriend!” Nico rolls his eyes, packing up his violin. He moves back to sit beside Will. “You were amazing. I loved it so much.”

“Thanks.” Will hands him a flower, a little daisy. Nico smiles, tucking it behind his ear. Will beams. When it’s Will’s turn, Nico squeezes his hand.

“You’ve got this.”

Will nods. He sits on his stool, strumming a little before starting. He plays through a series of short songs, getting the crowd clapping and singing along. Nico smiles. He was so proud of his boyfriend, and it was clear that Will was enjoying himself.

“I’m booked for the rest of the night, so no autographs,” he jokes as he walks back to his seat. Nico sees Lee clap him on the back.

“You’re the audience’s favorite,” Nico says. Will laughs.

“No flower for me?” he says, pretending to pout.

“How about a kiss?” Will blushes.

“I won’t say no.”

Nico rolls his eyes, kissing Will’s cheek.

Chapter Text

Nico’s pretty sure he’d be an awful parent. But it isn’t his fault that he’s now one. Technically. Did having a dog count? Well, whatever. Because he had one now, and he was just going to have to deal with the consequences.

In his defense, this was not Nico’s choice. As much as he loves Mrs. O’Leary and as much as she loves him, it was not his decision to watch over her for the next several of weeks while Percy and Annabeth went on their I-need-a-real-vacation honeymoon. But that was what was happening, so Nico was trying to make do the best he could.

The only problem was that he lived in a kind of small apartment, was a full-time student, and had a job he needed so he could pay for the former two things. Not to mention other necessities that seemed to be important to living such as food and water and electricity. And now he had to buy tons of dog food, too.

So now he was hiring a dog walker because while Nico probably needed the exercise, he didn’t really have the time or energy to do that. Luckily, he’d found a seemingly good service. The website was tacky, but the information seemed to be genuine. Nico had gotten an email back just this morning that said that someone would be by to walk Mrs. O’Leary between ten and one every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

And the best part was that Nico was in class or eating lunch during those times, so he didn’t have to talk to anyone. Maybe he should have been more worried about giving his keys to a total stranger who could steal not only his best friend’s dog but also his Mythomagic collection, his nice mugs, and his printer. But the reviews were really good, and Nico decided that if he was going to trust the world, he might as well start now.

So on Monday morning, Nico explains to Mrs. O’Leary that someone was going to come by to take her on a walk, and she should only try to eat them if they were mean. He thinks she understands when she gives a big woof and tries to rub her butt against his freshly washed jeans.

“Be nice, Mrs. O’Leary. Remember, people aren’t chew toys unless they’re mean!” Nico slips his spare key under the doormat (that he’d bought specifically for this, not noticeable at all).

“How’s Mrs. O’Leary doing?” Jason asks. Nico rolls his eyes. As his other best friend, Nico thinks that maybe Jason should be more invested in Nico’s life than a dog’s.

“She’s doing quite fine. Stole one of my good pillows and went through more dog food than a dog should be able to. I’m going to have to buy more, and she’s only been with me for a week!”

Jason laughs. “Yeah, Percy spoils that dog. At least he’ll only be gone for a few more weeks, right?”

“He’d better not forget to pick up his dog. Any longer and I might be sleeping on the couch while she’s got the bed.” Nico punches Jason’s shoulder when he laughs again. “Laugh all you want. Just wait until you’re the next one who has to take care of her.”

Jason has shirked Mrs. O’Leary duty because she liked Nico more, and Percy wanted to make sure she had a choice in this process. Never mind Nico’s.

“Which will never happen. Because after these few weeks, Percy’s never going to part with her again. They just didn’t want to go through the hassle of taking her on a plane. But he’s not above letting her take up the entire backseat of his car.”

Nico groans. The number of times he’s had to wipe drool and dog hair off of his clothes was startle to make him feel hopeless.

“Well, maybe she’ll at least be less hyper today. I’ve hired a dog walker for her.”

Jason grins. “Aww, you’re such a good uncle.”

Nico wants to bang his head against the desk, but his professor walks in just then and it’s still too early in the semester for him to look crazy.
-
When Nico gets home, after colliding with this kid who wasn’t paying attention to where he was going, Mrs. O’Leary looks energetic as ever. She rushes through the living room, scrunching up the carpet, her tail knocking into the lamp before she almost runs over Nico.

“Hey, girl! How was your walk?” Nico has to calm her down, letting her know that they were not going for another walk.

Nico walks through the apartment, making sure nothing is out of place. A few things have shifted, but Nico’s gotten used to it. Mrs. O’Leary didn’t care to be graceful when she could just tornado her way through life. Heading into the kitchen for something to eat, Nico spots a sticky note on the counter.

‘Hey, Mrs. O’Leary was great. She made a lot of new friends today and even shared her ball with Gerald (a German shepherd). Looking forward to our next walk! -Will (the dog walker)’

Nico rolls his eyes at the name Gerald, though he’s not sure he really can when his dog’s name is Mrs. O’Leary. Well, Percy’s dog. Who apparently had a nice walk today and is a lot nicer to people who aren’t Nico. Nico slices some cheese, grabbing a sleeve of crackers and settling on the couch. He had a lot of homework, and he hopes Mrs. O’Leary will get the message.

She does eventually, plopping down right on top of his feet while he tries to think of the perfect thesis for his paper. By the time five o’clock rolls around, Nico’s got a plate of spaghetti for himself and a giant scoop of dog food for Mrs. O’Leary. He frowns as she gobbles it down, leaving a small trail of slobber along the rim of her bowl.

Percy had instructed that Nico eat with Mrs. O’Leary, that it made her feel a part of the family and whatnot. Nico had absently agreed, but now he was really rethinking his decisions. It was hard to think his dinner was appetizing when Mrs. O’Leary so clearly enjoyed her. He lets her out into the small courtyard behind the apartment complex while he finishes his pasta.

She runs around, chasing her tail, sniffing every single bush once again. She’s a cute dog, a little gangly, but she was a good dog. And Nico loves her despite all of his misgivings about taking care of her. That night, when she tries to shove him out of his bed, he manages to hold his ground. She casts a disappointed look at him, curling up in her memory foam dog bed.

Honestly, maybe Nico and she should trade beds. Nico doesn’t even remember when he’d gotten this mattress.

“Night, girl,” he whispers.
-
They quickly fall into a routine. Nico has classes every day, work on every day but Tuesdays and Sundays. Mrs. O’Leary gets walked every Monday, Wednesday, Friday. By the second week of this routine, Nico’s come to expect the silly sticky notes he gets from Will (who seems to be the regular dog walker).

Because of this, he’s extremely concerned when he gets home on Wednesday to find that there’s no note, and Mrs. O’Leary looks sad.

“What’s wrong, girl?” he asks, patting her head. She wags her tail, nudging him. Nico checks his email, thinking maybe he missed something. He didn’t have any notification of why Will missed today. It was Wednesday, right? The key was still under the doormat. After he’s checked that it isn’t his fault, he clips on Mrs. O’Leary’s leash and heads out.

“Sorry, girl. I hope he’s okay.” She barks in agreement, taking Nico down what he assumes is the regular path. There’s a small park by his apartment where he goes in the warmer months to do homework. Mrs. O’Leary takes her time leading him around. Nico wishes he’d brought some of her toys. Usually, he leaves at least one of them out for Will to take if he wants to.

While Mrs. O’Leary does her thing, Nico thinks about the notes. They were all kind of silly and miscellaneous. They were just updates about what Mrs. O’Leary did on her walks, if she tried to chase a squirrel, if she made friends, the time she tried to steal some lady’s sandwich. Will said almost nothing about himself, but Nico felt like he was getting to know him.

Sometimes he left little doodles if the note was short, just stick people and stick dogs and a few scribbles that Nico assumes are supposed to be trees. The notes are endearing, and Nico finds himself upset at the thought that Will probably leaves notes for all of the other dogs he walks. Which is silly. Since Nico’s never even met the guy.

“Hey, nice dog,” someone says. Nico gives a small wave. He’s seen the guy around campus, but they don’t have any classes together. “My friend walks a dog like that. He’s always going on about her. And all of the other dogs he walks. Oh, I’m Cecil.”

“Nico,” Nico says after a moment when it’s clear Cecil’s not done.

Cecil smiles. “My friend likes to take selfies with his dogs,” he continues. Nico just nods. He’s not sure why Cecil’s talking to him, and he’s not sure why he wants him to keep going.

“Sounds like a dog person,” Nico says. “This isn’t really my dog. Just a friend’s.”

Cecil nods. “These aren’t my friend’s dogs either. He just walks them.” Cecil tips his phone to show Nico the pictures. There are at least ten different dogs, the same blond-haired guy smiling in all of them.

“Does your friend go to school near here?” Nico asks. Cecil nods. “I think I’ve seen him around.”

“Probably. He’s pretty hard to miss. Like a walking neon sign sometimes.” Nico laughs. Now that he’s seen the picture, he can put it together. Bright orange shirts and tie-dye and plaid.

“Is his name Will? That’s who walks Mrs. O’Leary sometimes.”

Cecil nods. “Yup. That’s cool. He’d be over the moon to know who you were. Only because he likes meeting people. And he feels weird about going into empty houses to steal people’s dogs. Nothing weird about that.”

Nico laughs. “I would, too.”

Nico’s stomach flips at the thought that maybe not everyone got notes. Maybe Nico only got notes because Will had never met him. Not that that made him special. That just made him kind of rude maybe. Still, Nico would be lying if he said that he didn’t keep every single note.

Mrs. O’Leary tugs on her leash, and Nico sees her trying to head towards this family with a small dog.

“Sorry, girl. They don’t look like they want to pet you.” Nico turns to Cecil. “Hey, thanks for letting me see the pictures.”

Cecil smiles. “Yeah. And Will’s pretty awful when he’s sick, so sorry if he didn’t let you know.”

Nico nods. When he makes it back to his apartment, he pulls out the notes again, looking at them. He was trying not to be obsessive. But it was hard not to when he could put a face to a name. He and Will had only had one class together, some freshman writing class a few years ago. But Nico wished they had more.

He didn’t exactly have a crush on Will, but he kind of did. Based purely on the fact that Will was like the literal sun in human form. Last year, he’d stopped to hand Nico a bandaid when he’d somehow gotten a paper cut shoving his homework into his bag. And last semester, he’d lectured Nico on drinking too much coffee. And Nico would drink more coffee just to hear the lecture again.

So maybe it was more than a crush.
-
Now Nico was leaving notes for Will. He was starting to feel a bit desperate since Percy would be back in just a week. He’d tried to look for Will around campus, but he supposes whatever pre-med hole Will had fallen into was really keeping him from Nico. And Nico couldn’t just skip class to be home when Will came around.

So now they were communicating by sticky note. Will had admitted that he had seen Nico around campus. The guy with the son of Hades looks and rainbow shoelaces, as Will had described him. Nico was flattered that Will had paid attention. They’d been going back and forth for two weeks now, and Nico had bought Will a pair of gloves.

It wasn’t random. Will had complained that one of the dogs he walked had chewed up his last pair and that his hands were freezing. So Nico had gotten a pair of gloves when he’d also been out buying milk and more dog food. He was starting to hate that smell. His whole apartment smelled like it now.

Nico kept writing sticky notes, putting his number at the bottom before ripping it up and throwing it in the trash. He didn’t want to be too forward, though he had been the one to make the first move. (He’d said something along the lines of wishing that Will got better soon, that he’d run into his friend Cecil.) And from there it had turned into a small conversation that Nico looks forward to.

“Are you going to make your move?” Jason asks. He’s been watching Nico crumple up sticky note after sticky note. There was only so much space to say what he wanted. And he wasn’t sure he could do that.

“There is no move to make,” Nico says. “We’re just pen pals.”

“Right,” Jason says. “Nothing that sounds like flirting over here. You just casually buy your pen pal gloves when they mention that they don’t have any.”

“I was out already.” Jason hums. Neither of them mentions that the store that sold gloves was across town from the grocery store and pet supply place. “Besides, I couldn’t have him freeze. How is he supposed to walk Mrs. O’Leary?”

“Because it’s all about the dog,” Jason says.

Nico nods. This was all about Mrs. O’Leary who had finally wormed her way onto Nico’s bed. He woke up every morning covered in dog hair, smelling a bit like a dog. He now showered in the mornings. Mrs. O’Leary perks up when she hears her name.

“It’s not dinnertime yet,” Nico says. He pats her head, scratching behind her ears. “Can’t I just be pen pals with my dog walker? Why does it have to be something?”

Jason smiles. “It doesn’t, but you want it to be.”

Nico huffs. Jason was right. He wanted Will to jot down his number. Unfortunately, looking on the website, there was only the company phone and email, and Nico didn’t want to seem like a creep in asking for Will’s number. He was hoping that Will would just do it casually. Like, in case you need to cancel or let me know something, here’s my number. Maybe that’s what Nico should do.

“Well, nothing’s going to happen. And then Percy’s going to be back. And I’ll be alone again.”

Jason shakes his head, clearly amused. “Suit yourself.”
-
It’s a Tuesday when everything happens. It’s the last week. Nico’s decidedly not counting down the days until Percy gets back. (He’ll be back Sunday, but it won’t matter.) Nico’s exhausted, having pulled an all-nighter to finish the paper he’d procrastinated too long. He just wants to go home and sleep.

“Um, hey,” comes a voice. Nico stops. Will Solace is standing in front of him. The Will. Dog walker Will.

“Hi.”

“You’re Nico, right?” Nico nods.

“Well, I just wanted to give you this. Just in case you wanted it, you know.” Will scratches his neck, though it’s more of a nervous gesture since he’s wearing gloves. The gloves that Nico bought him. “Also, thanks for the gloves.”

“You’re welcome,” Nico says. He takes the light blue sticky note from Will’s hand, unfolding it.

He thinks his brain is tricking him. Because this can’t be happening.

“You don’t have to say yes,” Will says. “You can just pretend that it’s for Mrs. O’Leary.”

“She doesn’t have a phone,” Nico says. Then he groans. Will laughs.

“Was that a yes?”

Nico smiles, looking down at the numbers in his hand, Will’s handwriting just above them: will you go on a date with me? He’s even drawn two stick people holding what looks like ice cream cones.

“It’s a yes. But we’re not getting ice cream.”

Will laughs again. “I’m more than okay with that.” He gives Nico a little wave, smiling as he heads to his next class. Nico waits until he’s out of sight before he calls Jason.

“Guess who just asked me out?”

Chapter Text

“Have you noticed Percy watching you more lately?” Will asks. Nico shrugs. He’s eating breakfast at the Apollo table, attempting to listen to one of Will’s sisters gush over some comic that she’s reading. Nico’s never been one for comics, despite his other nerdy passions, but he’s starting to think that this one might be worth checking out.

“What do you mean?” Nico glances around the dining pavilion. Percy’s over at the Poseidon table, Grover and Annabeth with him. Since it’s not summer, Chiron was more relaxed with the seating arrangements. “Like he’s been looking at me?”

Will nods. “Yeah. He keeps looking over here, though I doubt they’re talking about you. Annabeth and Grover seem to be in some kind of debate. But it also happened at the campfire last night. And the other day at lunch.”

Nico glances over again. Grover and Annabeth were leaning forward, seemingly unaware of Percy between them. Then Annabeth gently slaps Percy’s shoulder.

“What’s up with you lately? Don’t tell me you got hit with another potion or something.”

Percy shakes his head, blinking. Nico looks away, shrugging.

“I haven’t noticed. Besides, Percy’s out of school now. He’s probably just bored.”

Will hums. “Have you talked to him recently? Maybe he feels left out.”

Nico snorts. “I doubt that. He’s pretty much the resident hero of camp. Everyone’s always trying to spar with him or talk to him. Plus, he’s got Annabeth and Grover and Tyson to hang out with. It’s not like Percy and I ever really hung out.”

Nico thinks back to the time when they had to work together to save the world. Sure they’d gotten a lot done (they had saved the world after all), but Nico had also been harboring a major crush on Percy Jackson. And now he was over Percy. They were just friends.

“But you guys went through a lot together,” Will says. “Like the wars and Tartarus.”

Nico shivers, and Will rubs his back comfortingly. “I guess, but so did he and Annabeth. And they seem pretty happy together. So I doubt he’s suddenly fallen in love with me. Besides, I’m with you.”

Will nods, kissing Nico’s cheek. “I’m not jealous, baby. I’m just trying to figure out why he keeps looking at you.”

Nico rolls his eyes. “Maybe because you keep looking at him, yeah?”

Will shakes his head. “No, he started it.”

“Okay, Will. Whatever you say.” He smiles as Will kisses his cheek again.
-
Nico was starting to think that Will was on to something. Since he’d pointed it out, Nico had started noticing Percy’s eyes on him. It was strange. After so many years of wanting Percy’s eyes to follow him, now it was just kind of annoying. They were friends, right? Couldn’t Percy just spit it out? After coming out to him, Nico didn’t really think the two of them had much to hide.

He catches up to Annabeth after one of his lessons.

“Hey, have you noticed anything weird with Percy lately?”

Annabeth sighs. “So you’ve noticed, too. I have no clue. I was kind of hoping maybe you’d know. Since he’s been rather obsessed with you lately.”“But why? I’m not doing anything different than usual.” Nico pauses. “Don’t tell me he’s doing that shipping thing again. Will and I do not need any help with our relationship.”

Annabeth shrugs. “Beats me. I’ve tried to talk to him about it, but he always tries to change the subject. I don’t think it’s the shipping thing or he’d probably be overjoyed to talk about it.”

Nico laughs. When he and Will had gotten together, Percy had been ecstatic. He’d thrown them a little party, going a bit overboard as he threw them into the lake. And then he’d kept himself updated to their growing relationship until Nico had kindly asked him to back off. He was glad everyone was encouraging of his relationship, but he didn’t want to be the poster gay couple.

“Will says I should talk to him, but I’m worried it’ll be super awkward. How do you start a conversation with your ex-crush about why he might be obsessively watching you?”

“Well, my advice is that you should probably be as straightforward as possible. You know how Percy is.”

Nico nods. Percy wasn’t stupid, but he could be oblivious. “Do you think I should have Will there? Or you?”

Annabeth shakes her head. “I think whatever it is is between you and Percy. If you ask me, he seems a bit embarrassed about it.”

That was news. Nico couldn’t remember the last thing Percy had been embarrassed about. Maybe that time Clarisse had bested him during Capture the Flag, but that had only lasted a few hours before Percy was back to his usual self. What about Nico did Percy have to be embarrassed about?

Nico huffs. “Well, he’d better have a good reason because I really hoped we were over this awkward stuff.”

“Me, too.”
-
It isn’t until a few days later that Nico can get Percy by himself. While Percy seemed to be actively seeking Nico out, he also seemed to not want to talk about it. But with Percy on cabin inspection duty, he had no choice but to talk to Nico.

“Hey, since it’s just Nico in here,” Clarisse says, “I’ll go ahead and check out your cabin, okay?”

Percy looks like he wants to protest before nodding. Clarisse sends Nico a thumbs up before leaving. So apparently everyone knew that something was up. Nico shouldn’t be surprised.

“So, I just need to look around a bit,” Percy says, clearing his throat. Nico nods. He’s sitting on the bed while Percy looks into the bathroom. “Nothing seems to be out of place. Pretty clean aside from that laundry pile.”

“Hey, Percy, there’s nothing weird between us, right?” Nico asks. Percy looks up, his eyes a bit wide.

“I don’t think so. Why?”

Nico shrugs. “Just that you seem to be avoiding me lately. Even though I haven’t done anything at all.”

Percy marks something on his clipboard. “It’s not really you,” Percy starts, and Nico holds back a groan. “It’s maybe Will.”

“What?” Nico asks. If Nico hasn’t done anything, Will definitely hasn’t.

“Not like that. I mean, it’s like this.” Percy huffs, sitting on the bed across from Nico’s. “It’s just that I thought we were friends, right? And then you dropped that bomb of a crush that you had on me only to say that you were over me. Which is fair. I have Annabeth, and now you have Will. But then it didn’t really feel like we were friends anymore, and I guess I felt sad that I’d somehow ruined things.”

Nico nods. “And this has to do with Will because?”

Percy taps the pen against his leg. “Will’s the reason you decided to stay at camp, right? I mean, he’s the one who convinced you. I’m sure you’ve got plenty of other reasons now, too.”

“He’s the one who first made me feel welcome,” Nico says slowly. He’s not quite understanding.

“Right. And this is gonna sound completely stupid, but I kind of wanted to be the reason that you stayed. Like, we’ve fought together, gone through all of this mess, and then you confess that you’ve liked me this whole time. And at first, I was confused. And then I felt guilty that I hadn’t noticed. And then it was like you completely forgot about me. Even though I don’t really deserve any of your attention since I ignored you for so long.”

“So you’re jealous of Will?” Nico asks.

Percy shrugs. “Kind of. Jealous that he was the one who saw how amazing you are and convinced you to stay. I just feel like that was my job. And now you spend all of your time with him.”

“It’s okay that you didn’t notice me, Percy,” Nico says. “I mean, it hurt, and I hated you and Annabeth for it. But I know it’s not your fault or hers.”

Percy shrugs again, tapping the pen faster. Nico was really hoping that this was a regular pen and not Riptide. He didn’t really want to be skewered in the middle of this conversation, no matter how awkward it was. “I know, and I thought I was over that guilt. But then you started dating Will, and maybe I’m not quite over it.”

Nico’s not sure what to say to that. He was barely good at coping with his own feelings let alone someone else’s. “So you still feel guilty?”

Percy shakes his head. “Not guilty exactly.” His leg is tapping now, and Nico wonders if Clarisse is actually still doing her job. “This is going to make me sound like a jerk now that I think about it.”

Nico waits. He wishes he’d watched Will more, learned how he dealt with these sensitive topics. But Nico wasn’t Will. “I kind of already think you’re a jerk, so you might as well spit it out.”

Percy gives him a small smile. “Really know how to make a guy feel better, don’t you?” Nico shrugs. “I think I have a crush on you, Nico.”

Nico resists reacting with his first, second, and third thoughts. “What about Annabeth?”

Percy smiles. “I still love her, and I’m not breaking up with her. But I think I also like you. I know that doesn’t make sense. And it makes me a jerk for only noticing you now that you’re with Will.” He groans, running a hand through his hair.

“So you like me, but you also like Annabeth. You’re jealous of Will because he noticed me. And this is why you’ve been staring at me for the past several weeks.” Nico was definitely not prepared for this conversation.

“Um, basically.”

“Do you mind if I talk to Will about this?”

Percy hesitates before shaking his head. “No, I should probably talk to Annabeth, too.”

Nico smiles. “Well, thanks for telling me. I’m not sure if you feel better or not.”

Percy shrugs. “But you’ll think about it?”

“Yeah, but no promises.”
-
“Am I allowed to say that this is a lot to take in?” Will asks.

Nico nods. “It’s definitely not what I was expecting.”

They’re laying on Will’s bed because Nico didn’t want to go back to his cabin. It’d been about a day or so since he’d talked to Percy, and he wasn’t sure how to fix this. Or if it could even be fixed.

“If I’m understanding this right, he basically asked to be a part of our relationship.” That’s the part that Nico’s not as sure about. He’s gotten over Percy. They’re slowly rebuilding their friendship. But he doesn’t think he really wants a romantic relationship with Percy anymore. And what about Annabeth?

“Once upon a time, this would have been a dream. But now it feels kind of weird.”

Will runs his hand down Nico’s arm, nodding. “Yeah. Personally, I have my own thoughts, but I want to hear yours first.”

He waits while Nico gathers his thoughts. “I don’t really feel comfortable letting him into our relationship. I’m perfectly happy with just the two of us, and I think either breaking up or adding him would complicate things.” Nico pauses. “I guess Percy and I will just have to deal with the awkwardness a bit more.”

Will hums. “I think Chiron does some kind of counseling if that would help. Or maybe if you guys set some boundaries that would also help things a lot.”

Nico nods. He and Percy were still adjusting to a more stable life after all of these years. Boundaries weren’t always the same when you had to be constantly on the move, on guard, and living in close quarters. But now they could come in handy.

“I just don’t want to make this worse than it is.”

Will brushes back Nico’s hair. “It’ll only get worse if you guys ignore it. And this time you’ll have friends to help and support you.”

Nico smiles. “I do.” He kisses Will’s nose, closing his eyes for a moment. He wishes he could stay like this forever, but he does have to tell Percy his decision.

The whole thing is awkward, but he has a feeling that they’ll get through this. Nico’s just glad everyone else had decided to mind their own business for once. They’re all sitting together at Nico’s table. Annabeth is holding Percy’s hand, and Nico’s holding Will’s. Honestly, being a demigod is so weird.

“No hard feelings, man,” Percy says. “I’m glad you two are happy together.” He turns to Annabeth. “And I’m very thankful for you.” He kisses her cheek, and she smiles.

“To friends?” Will asks, holding up his glass.

Percy rolls his eyes. “To friends. May our lives stop being so complicated.” Everyone casts a nervous glance towards the sky before tossing back their drinks.

“Gods, Percy. Now we’re jinxed,” Annabeth groans.

Percy shrugs. “We can just consider this a bonding activity.”

Chapter Text

Nico smiles when Will appears. He’s been cutting bandage and sorting through the medicine cabinet for at least an hour, and he’s really getting tired of the show tunes that Will’s siblings swear have healing powers. They’re not bad, but after the fifth rendition of “Defying Gravity,” Nico’s pretty sure people are just leaving so that they can hear something else.

“Please tell your siblings to sing something else or I’m going to start raising the dead.”

Will gives him a fake glare. “Don’t you dare. I’ll talk to them.”

Nico nods, stacking the cut bandages while Will works out some kind of deal with one of his brothers. Nico smiles at Will’s back. The feeling wasn’t new, but it was definitely welcome. After moving on from Percy, Nico had quickly started nursing a crush on Will Solace. At first, the feelings had been nothing more than annoyance at being sentenced to bed rest for three days.

But Will had made the days bearable, and then Nico felt some kind of disappointment when Will finally released him. The disappointment lasted only a few days when Will reappeared on Nico’s porch, upset that Nico hadn’t stopped by to say hi again.

“My friendly face?” Nico had asked.

“Yup,” Will had smiled. “Your friendly face. You are Nico di Angelo, right?”

Nico had rolled his eyes. “Fine, but don’t blame me if people start complaining. A son of Hades really doesn’t belong in the infirmary.”

Will had simply shrugged. “Life and death are more connected than they understand. Besides, if they see you hanging out and having fun, they won’t be as scared of you.”

“Maybe I like being intimidating,” Nico had pressed.

“I think you’re a cinnamon roll inside,” Will had smirked. Nico had refrained from protesting. “Don’t forget that I’ve seen you drool while you were sleeping, and I know it was you who stole the plush chicken from the supply closet.”

Nico had glanced behind him, edging the door a bit more closed. Not that it helped much. Will had already walked in on him cuddling the plush chicken after a particularly bad nightmare. (And he hadn’t run or even hesitated as the shadows threatened to send them both to hell. He’d just wrapped a blanket around Nico’s shoulders and talked to him until Nico had calmed down.)

“Don’t you dare tell anyone.”

Will had only winked. “Then I’ll expect to see your friendly face tomorrow?”

Nico huffed, but he’d shown up the next day. And the day after that. And now he was just as much a part of the infirmary as Will.

“Daydreaming again, di Angelo?” Kayla asks, grabbing the scissors he’d been using. “You should just tell him, honestly. That boy is oblivious.”

Nico shakes his head. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Kayla shrugs. “Suit yourself, but stop drooling over the clean bandages.”

Nico quickly checks his chin, huffing when he finds it dry. Kayla just grins, moving towards the supply closet. Will comes back shortly, sighing.

“I’ve made some sort of compromise, I think,” he says. He smiles at Nico. “Did you finish?”

“I guess so. Kayla took my scissors.”

“Great. I was thinking we could go eat lunch now.”

Nico raises his eyebrows. “Didn’t you just get here? Don’t tell me you’re skipping out on your responsibilities.”

Will shrugs. “Nope. I just came to see if you wanted to get lunch with me. They’ve barely let me in here since I pulled an all-nighter a few days ago. Something about rest and relaxing.”

Nico hopes his cheeks are warm as he glances around the room. No one was back here in the quiet corner of the infirmary that Will had claimed as his “office.” It was basically a card table with Will’s name taped to the front. A discarded yogurt cup held several pens and pencils, and a handmade filing cabinet was filled with the small amount of paperwork that actually got done.

“Will! Are you still in here?” Kayla calls.

“Whoops, gotta run now,” Will says. Nico doesn’t even register that Will’s grabbed his hand until they’re halfway to the dining pavilion. Will seems to notice then, too, as his cheeks flush and he drops Nico’s hand with a small smile. “Sorry, I just didn’t want them to curse us.”

Nico shrugs. “Might improve your poetry.”

Will pouts, and Nico has to tell himself to not look at Will’s mouth. Instead, he glances over Will’s freckles, his blue eyes, before finally moving towards a table. He hopes Will didn’t notice the staring.

“I’ll have you know that my poetry is amazing. After all, my dad is the god of poetry.”

Nico rolls his eyes. “Whatever you say, Will.”

They sit at the Apollo table, eating their burgers. Nico wonders if this is what it’d feel like if they were dating. Everything would be the same except maybe Will would hold his hand on purpose, and Nico could think about kissing Will without being embarrassed about being caught.

“Hey, did you want to go to the lake? Like a walk? I think it’s still too cold to swim.”

Nico shrugs. “Sure.”

Will smiles, running a hand through his hair. He grabs a cookie from his plate before getting up. Nico follows him, wondering if now would be a good time to tell Will about his crush. He’s thought about it, but every time he gets close, he gets nervous. What if Will didn’t like him back? Would that ruin their friendship?

“Nico?” Nico blinks. “You okay? You got quiet there.”

Nico nods. “Yeah, just thinking. The lake’s pretty.”

Will hums. “It is.” There’s a slight pause, and Nico suddenly gets the idea that Will’s nervous. He glances at Will, taking in his posture, his mussed hair, his smile. It strikes him that he’s gotten to know Will well enough to notice when he’s nervous. “Hey, can I just talk for a moment?”

“Go for it,” Nico says.

Will nods. They’ve stopped walking now, just kind of idling between the lake and the safe part of the forest. Will runs another hand through his hair, making his curls stick up. Nico tamps down the urge to tame them.

“Well, we’ve been friends for a while now,” Will starts. “And I’m really glad you stayed at camp. I think everyone’s starting to warm up to you which is good. You’re not as intimidating. Or, well, you’re not always as intimidating. I know you can be still. Which is a good thing.”

Nico smiles. “Will, where is this going?”

“I’m trying to get there.” He pauses, takes a deep breath. Then his gaze slowly moves just over Nico’s head. A small frown appears on his face, and Nico turns, trying to figure out what Will’s looking at. “There’s something in the bushes over there.”

Nico’s instantly alert. He moves a hand towards his sword, ready to protect himself and Will if there’s a monster in the bushes. He creeps closer, feeling his powers rise as he prepares for an attack.

“Don’t hurt me!” comes a voice then, and Nico startles as something jumps out of the bushes. It’s not a monster, but it’s bright and kind of hurts Nico’s eyes.

“Dad?” Nico hears as he’s blinking at the sunspots that have appeared in his vision. “Were you spying on us?”

“Zeus refused to let me use the televisions. Apparently, he’s got another crush, but this is more important than that. Zeus is always horny, but I can’t always spy on my son and his boyfriend.”

Nico’s too embarrassed to enjoy how red Will’s face becomes. “We’re not boyfriends, Dad.”

Apollo turns to Nico. “Could you excuse us for a moment? I need to have a father-son talk with my son.”

Nico kind of expects Apollo to take Will to the lake or further into the woods, but he just turns around so his back is to Nico.

“Dad, he can still hear us. This isn’t exactly a personal conversation.”

“Well, it’s not my fault that you haven’t said anything yet.”

“You can’t just spy on Nico and I. That’s not in the good parenting book.”

“Please, Will. I’ve been a father long enough to not need a parenting book. What can it teach me that I don’t already know?”

Nico has a few ideas, but he keeps them to himself. Apollo still has his back to Nico like that’s all it takes to have a private conversation. To give Will some more privacy, Nico heads closer to the lake. It’s a nice day outside, even though the water is still too cold.

He sets about making a sand castle, not sure if he should be waiting for Will to come back. He knew how the gods were. They didn’t quite have the same concept of time that humans did. Must be a side effect of being immortal. Nico’s just gotten the foundation of his castle built when a sheepish-looking Will appears.

“Um, hi, can I sit here?” Nico nods. “This isn’t quite how I wanted to do this, but you know what they say about best laid plans.”

“That they often go awry?”

Will nods, tipping his head slightly towards the trees. Nico has a feeling that Apollo’s still here.

“So what were you trying to say earlier?” Nico asks.

Will clears his throat, taking a deep breath. “I was trying to say that I really like you. As a friend and as more. Or I would like to be more. Like boyfriends.” Will pauses. “Nico, I want to go on a date with you. Because I really like you.”

Nico smiles. “I’m really glad to hear that,” he says. “Because I really like you, too.”

Will’s face clears as he smiles. “Really? I have the perfect idea for our first date.”

“And I will chaperone,” Apollo says, grinning.

Nico stifles a laugh as Will groans. “Dad, no.”

Apollo pouts. “Fine, I’ll be supportive from a distance, but you’d better be prepared to tell me every detail.”

Will runs a hand over his face, looking at Nico. “Just this once, I’m begging you to shadow-travel us away from here.”

Nico laughs. “Sure thing, sunshine.”

Chapter Text

It had been an accident, though Nico didn’t regret it at all. He’d noticed something was off when Will started heading to the arena after his shift. At first, Nico hadn’t thought too much of it. Will was an active guy, and the infirmary was a stressful place. It made sense that Will would go there to work out and release some stress.

What caught Nico off-guard, though, was what Will was doing. He wasn’t training with a bow and arrow, his primary weapon. He wasn’t even throwing knives, something he’d taken up in the past several months after seeing it in a movie. Instead, he was taking lessons.

Jason had told him about a week into the lessons.

“Maybe he just felt like now was a good time to learn,” Jason had said.

Nico shrugged. It wasn’t that he wasn’t supportive of Will learning sword fighting. It was just that the sword wasn’t really Will’s weapon of choice. Will preferred long-range and/or shorter weapons. He claimed that he didn’t really need a sword on the battlefield because he’d never be in the thick of the fighting.

“It could be useful if he needed to rescue someone, I guess,” Nico had responded.

“True. But a dagger or a knife isn’t any worse in that case, and he’s already pretty good at that.”

Nico didn’t know. He didn’t really ask Will because he didn’t want to come across as unsupportive. He knew Will was insecure about his combat skills, his healing skills way more impressive. But Will didn’t need to know how to kill someone. He just needed basic defense skills. Nico would never let anyone harm a single hair on Will.

It’s a Saturday, and Will’s having another lesson. Because it’s the weekend, the arena is pretty busy. There aren’t any classes, and everyone’s gearing up for the unofficial tournament that gets going every other weekend. It wasn’t an official competition, but everyone acted like it was. Medics were even present because someone always got hurt.

“Are you gonna enter today?” Jason asks Nico as he brings Will some water. He’d forgotten it in the infirmary, so Nico had gone back to get it.

“Maybe. I really need to beat Clarisse. She kicked my butt last time.”

Jason laughs. “She definitely did.” He glances around the arena. “And I can see that she’s completely fine with doing it again.”

Nico pouts. “I can take her.”

Jason pats his back. “You gonna enter, Will?”

Will shrugs, trading his sword for his water. He takes a long sip, about to answer when someone interrupts him.

“Only if he wants to get killed,” someone calls. Nico glances over to see some stocky Athena kid frowning at them. “Everyone knows Solace can’t handle a sword. Would probably accidentally stab himself or something.”

This earns the guy a couple of snickers, and Nico sees red. The comments aren’t all that mean, but Nico knows how some words just bury into people’s minds and don’t let go. He knows what buries itself into Will’s mind.

“Leave the fighting to your boyfriend, Will!” someone else shouts.

“Ooh, the tournament is about to start. Better go grab your first-aid kit, Solace!”

Nico knows he’s done a lot in the past several months to convince everyone that he’s not some dark, brooding, scary son of Hades, but that was all before someone tried to hurt Will. His sweet, precious Will who could kick some serious butt if he wanted. Without Nico’s help.

But since Will looks like he’s about to cry right now, Nico’s stepping in. He can feel the anger filling him up. The sky is dark now, clouds pouring in from who knows where. The wind has picked up, and a steak of lightning almost hits the guy who first insulted Will.

Nico glances over at Jason, realizing that he looks about how Nico feels. Well, good.

The water fountain nearby starts shooting water everywhere, and Nico almost rolls his eyes. Percy always wanted to be in on the show. Well, the more the merrier, right? Because Nico’s about to unleash hell on this guy for hurting his boyfriend.

The ground splits, running a large crevice right between the guy’s feet. He shrieks like a little girl, his hands over his ears as thunder rumbles in the distance. Nico’s so angry he hardly even sees what happens next, but somehow it’s all over.

The guy is now on the ground, hair messy and his clothes muddy. His face is pale, and he’s quite literally kneeling at Nico’s feet.

“Don’t you ever insult Will again,” Nico says, his statement punctuated with a streak of lightning. It’s overdramatic and probably way too much, but it gets his point across.

The guy just cowers until Will moves to help him up. “C’mon, man, let’s get you some chocolate.”

The whole thing should make Nico satisfied, but he’s still angry. That guy was a complete jerk, and Will’s just so nice. He can still see Will practically carrying the guy to the infirmary, probably saying nice things to him the whole way there.

It’s not until later that week that they can actually talk about what had happened. They’re laying in Nico’s bed, Will curled into his side.

“By the way, you totally didn’t have to scare that guy. He was just being a jerk,” Will says softly. He’d been pretty shaken up about the whole thing, but it just made Nico angrier that Will was more hurt by the words than the whole arena suddenly becoming a disaster zone. “I mean, it hurt. But everyone says stuff like that.”

“Everyone?” Nico asks.

“Well, not literally. But it’s nothing new.”

Nico hums, carding a hand through Will’s hair. “But enough people to hurt your feelings,” he says. He’s significantly calmed down since the whole event, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still make him angry that people go out of their way to upset Will. Everyone knew he was insecure about it. No need to rub it in his face.

“I guess. But you don’t have to frighten them all,” Will says. Even though he’s trying to be serious, he’s got a small smile on his face. Nico kisses his forehead.

“Well, the good news is that I think the other day did the trick.” Will hums, laughing.

“I’d agree.” Since the other day, everyone’s been either super nice to Will and Nico or been very quiet. Just yesterday, Nico had been upset because someone had taken the last muffin, and then some very buff and totally intimidating kid from the Ares cabin came up and handed him a blueberry muffin. He’d immediately apologized and then hurried back to his table.

And no one said anything when Will had his lessons. In fact, everyone made themselves scarce like they were afraid they’d say something offensive. Nico was just glad Will was still giving lessons a try. It was clear he wasn’t going to become some great sword fighter, but he was definitely improving. He’d even disarmed Jason twice.

“You’re not saying I have to apologize, are you?” Nico asks.

“I wasn’t going to, but that does sound like a great idea.”

Nico huffs. “But I don’t wanna,” he whines.

Will smiles, snuggling closer to Nico. “I know, but mistakes were made. And while he was in the wrong, you were kind of, too.” He bumps their noses together. “Even though I’m completely flattered that you were about to strike down someone for insulting me. It was very cute.”

“Cute? I do something like that, and you call me cute?” Nico protests. “I expect hot or sexy or even flattering.”

Will rolls his eyes. “Maybe after you apologize.”

“Fine.”

Which is how he ends up in the Big House, sipping lemonade just so he doesn’t go and sink this Athena guy into the Underworld again.

“So, I’m sorry,” Nico says. He glances at Will. “For getting mad and maybe trying to send you to the Underworld.”

The guy pales. “Yeah, and I’m sorry for insulting your boyfriend.”

“You should apologize to him,” Nico says. He knows apologizing is the right thing, but it’s not making him feel better. Why did they have to interrupt their cuddling session for this?

“Right. Um, Solace, I’m sorry for insulting you. You’re, um, a great medic.”

Will smiles a little at this, and that does help Nico to feel better. He knows Will’s a great medic. Only so many people would sit around and watch TV and eat chocolate with a guy who’s just touched on one of his greatest insecurities. And Will had. Nico doesn’t know what he did to deserve Will.

“You’d better remember that,” Nico says. He stares the boy down. “Don’t come near my boyfriend again unless you’re bleeding out or have something nice to say.”

The boy doesn’t respond, just nods.

Nico smiles, knowing that even as he links fingers with his sunshine of a boyfriend, he’s still pretty intimidating. Will kisses his cheek.

“That was pretty hot, baby,” Will whispers. “Up for some more cuddling?”

“Oh, yeah?” Nico asks.

Will grins, kissing his cheek. Nico can’t shadow-travel them to his cabin fast enough.

Chapter Text

Nico watches his boyfriend run from bed to bed. There’d been a monster attack on the edge of the camp today, and Will had just been about to end his shift. However, with the sudden influx of injured people, Will had stayed around to help. Nico was cutting bandages and ambrosia and filling cups of water. Most of the injuries weren’t too bad.

But there had been some kind of poison in one of the creatures. Nico wasn’t sure. He hadn’t been in the skirmish, just getting back from a meeting with his father when the fighting was wrapping up. He’d just been able to assist in scouting the area after the fight to make sure nothing else was lurking nearby.

Nico can see sweat gathering on Will’s forehead as he sings some ancient lullaby over an Ares camper. Her skin was a faint shade of green from the poison, and she was gripping Will’s hand tightly. Nico wants to go over and pull Will away, tell him that he’s already done enough, that he needs to rest. But he can’t. Because Will is the only camper they’ve got who can heal like this.

If not for Will, the poison would be working too fast for anyone to be saved. Luckily, only three campers got hit with the poison, and the girl Will’s tending now is the worst. Will’s siblings have managed to stop the flow of the poison for the others, but they haven’t been able to extract it.

Nico can tell Will’s absolutely exhausted by the time the girl’s skin flushes red again, and she’s asleep. Will’s own face is pale, his hands shaky as he sits beside the next patient. Nico wants to be the one holding Will’s hands, to somehow extract the poison from wherever Will’s holding it before he releases it.

“Hey, Nico! Can you help me here?” Nico turns towards Kayla, following her with an armful of bandages and ambrosia. He winces as he watches her stitch up someone’s arm. It’s one thing having it done to you. It’s a completely different thing watching it happen to someone else. Nico’s so glad Will has yet to try and teaching him stitching.

Nico doesn’t know how many water glasses he’s filled up and distributed by the time the infirmary goes quiet. All of the patients are sleeping in their beds now, the night crew coming in early to relieve everyone. Will’s in the cot furthest from the door.

“Hey,” he mumbles when Nico gets there. “I saved them.”

Nico smiles. “I’m proud of you, sunshine.” He kisses Will’s cheek, running a washcloth over Will’s forehead. No one’s quite sure how Will’s powers work, but it’s clear that it certainly takes physical skill. Nico’s own theory is that Will holds some of the injuries in himself before he can completely dispel it. Right now, Will’s skin is tinged a faint green under his now pale skin. His eyes are red, and he’s having trouble focusing.

“I’m so tired, Nico,” Will says. Nico smiles.

“I know. You should sleep.”

Will nods, letting Nico tuck him in. Nico’s only a little worried that the green is sticking around. Sometimes Will is too tired to dispel the injuries away from him, but his body is more immune to injuries and poison than other demigod’s. Nico’s not sure how long he watches over Will as he sleeps.

It’s well into midnight when he feels Will’s pulse stumble and then steady and then stumble, stumble, stumble.
-
Will wakes up with a crick in his neck. Which he realizes is because he’s somehow fallen asleep in a boat. Or on a rock. There’s not really much of a difference here. Wherever he is. Everything is cold and dark and kind of grey. There aren’t even any street signs to tell him which way to go.

Will pops his neck, feeling a little bit of relief. And then he pauses. Now that his head is clear, he knows exactly where he is. And he’s pretty sure this can only mean two things: either Nico messed up or Will did. Will starts running, following the now vaguely familiar signs. A right past the creepy lake, a left past the garden that Persephone had just installed, another left through the intimidating iron gates.

And now he’s getting bathed in slobber by Cerberus.

“Hey, buddy,” Will laughs. “Nice to see you, too. Wish I could stay longer, but I really need to see Hades.”

He heads into the throne room, looking around for Hades. He can see the god huddled over a table. A short, shadowy-looking man is standing beside him. From where Will’s standing, Hades looks bored out of his mind. The short man is rambling on about something, and Hades keeps glancing towards the large doors behind Will like something more interesting will hopefully appear.

“Um, sir,” Will tries. Hades doesn’t even pay attention to him. It’s possible, Will thinks, that he’s definitely a ghost. He hadn’t been feeling too great when he’d gone to sleep, so it’s very possible that he’s somehow woken up dead. Great.

Will glances around the room, wondering if he can send a message to Nico, let him know that he’s okay (for being dead) and not to worry too much. They’ve talked about this before, one of them dying. Being a demigod, dying any day was a very real possibility. But they had both hoped it’d happen far in the future. Will guesses far in the future is today. Or yesterday. He’s not sure how time moves down here.

“Yes, I’m very aware of all of this,” Hades’s voice booms. “What I’m not aware of is why my son’s decision to suddenly throw open the gates of the Underworld. He’s nothing if not dramatic, but we’re not at war.”

“Um, sir,” Will tries again. This time his voice comes out louder, and Hades looks up. He sighs.

“Great. Cancel all of my previous appointments for today. I have to take care of something.”

Will suddenly feels a bit nervous as Hades walks over to him. He’s met Hades before, had several family dinners, walked through Persephone’s gardens. But he’s never showed up dead on Hades’s doorstep before. That’s definitely a new one.

“So I’m sure you’ve heard that Nico’s been raising the dead all day. Looks like you’ve been taking good care of him since he’s yet to tire himself out.” Hades rubs his head, sighing again. “Really just creates more work for me, you see. Now I’ve got to wrangle them all back here, and it’s like herding cats. No one really wants to spend an eternity here.”

“The gardens are helping, I think,” Will says.

“Yes, that’s Persephone’s doing.” Hades massages his temples, and Will wonders if it’s possible for gods to get headaches.

“Anyway, now that you’re here, you’re going to go and fix this whole mess. I admit it’s quite impressive how Nico’s built up his powers, but I’m already behind as it is. And now I’ve got to refile everything.”

“Right. Well, I don’t see what I can do exactly. I’m kind of dead,” Will says.

Hades lets out a frustrated huff that sounds so much like Nico’s. “Over my dead body,” he mumbles. And then he’s picking Will up, throwing him over his shoulder. Will lets out an undignified shriek, but he doesn’t protest as Hades storms out of the palace.

“Someone else clean up the paperwork,” he calls behind him. “My son’s throwing a tantrum.”
-
Jason watches as Nico raises yet another skeleton army. So far, that’s three skeleton armies, two zombie armies, and a dead boyband. Not to mention the other random once-dead people that are now wandering around.

“Should we say something to him?” Piper asks.

“I don’t know what we’d say,” Annabeth says. “Sorry your boyfriend just died, stop raising the dead?”

“Wouldn’t hurt,” Percy says.

Jason sighs. He knows they’re all worried. Will had passed yesterday morning, and Nico had gone straight out to raise the dead. They were all just waiting for the realization to hit him and for the inevitable breakdown. It was clear how much Nico cared about Will and vice versa.

“Hey, Nico?” Jason calls.

“Yeah?”

“You want to come eat? Um, I’m sure raising the dead takes a lot of energy.”

Nico pauses. “I guess I could take a break,” he says. Jason looks at the others. Nico seems fine. He really does. Aside from the aggression and mild violence, he seems to be taking Will’s death pretty well.

“Want some tacos?” Percy asks.

Nico shrugs. He accepts the food, pausing when he sees everyone’s eyes on him.

“What?”

“It’s okay to be hurt, Nico,” Annabeth says.

“I’m fine, guys. Stop worrying.”

“Nico, we’re just worried that you’re denying your feelings. We know how much you loved Will.”

“I do love Will,” Nico says, taking a bite of his taco.

Jason frowns. He’s not really sure what to say. Nico wasn’t displaying any signs of grief except maybe denial and anger. But it didn’t seem to be directed at Will or anyone in particular. It was nothing like when he lost Bianca or even during the last war. Nico had locked himself in his cabin for a week, only letting Will inside.

Nico finishes his tacos, immediately resuming his previous activity of raising the dead.

“I really don’t think he’s okay,” Piper says. Jason nods.

“He won’t let anyone touch Will’s body,” he says. After Will had died, Nico looked like he’d attack anyone who even thought about moving Will’s body. “There’s definitely something. Maybe it’s just too soon for him to process it all? Maybe we should just give him some time?”

“You know, I can hear you guys talking about me,” Nico calls. He’s just raised another group of skeletons before casting them aside. “I told you I’m fine. Will’s not dead.”

This earns a glance around the group. Denial. Definitely.

“Um, Nico-“ Percy starts.

Nico cuts him off. “No, just wait. Patience is a virtue, Jackson.”

Percy starts to say something else, but Annabeth cuts him off.

“Just let him get this out of his system, “ she says quietly. Nico’s already turned around, talking to some zombie general. “We’ll be here for him when he needs us.”

Jason just hopes that’s soon. Because he’s really getting tired of all of these zombies and skeletons and ghosts. And he knows the rest of the camp is, too.
And then Hades is standing in the middle of the dining pavilion, a boy thrown over his shoulders. Nico doesn’t look surprised at all. He just looks annoyed.

“That took forever,” he says.

“Well, I was a little busy. You couldn’t have just sent a note?” Hades huffs. “Dear, Dad. Boyfriend just died. Please send him back to the land of the living.”

Nico shrugs. “Too much work.”

Hades sighs. Jason’s pretty sure he’s not the only one surprised when the boy over Hades’s shoulder turns out to be Will. Who looks mostly okay. He’s grinning, hugging Nico now. Nico kisses him on the cheek, smiling.

“Thanks, Dad.”

Hades nods. “Next time, just send a note.”

Nico snorts, waving his hand. The zombies and ghosts and skeletons all disappear, and Jason can see Hades visibly sigh before he looks around the camp.

“No one better die in the next year and a half,” he says tiredly. “I’ve got so much paperwork to do.” He turns back to Nico. “So here’s your boyfriend. Try not to lose him anytime soon.”

“Will try,” Nico says, kissing Will again. It’s clear how much happier he is. Jason sighs in relief when Hades is gone.

“Nico, your dad is gonna kill you for the mess down there,” Will says.

Nico laughs. “I’ll go help him sort it out later. Right now, I just wanna spend time with you.”

Will rolls his eyes. “Okay, baby.”

When they disappear down the hill, Jason turns back to his friends. “I need a nap.”

Chapter Text

Will’s favorite moments were ones like this. When he and Nico didn’t have anything to do and could spend their time as they pleased. Currently, they were laying in the sun behind the Apollo cabin. The Hephaestus cabin had just built them a nice patio, and Will was taking advantage of his time off to use it.

They were cuddled up in a hammock, the sun filtering through the trees. It’d been a compromise. Will would have preferred the hammock in the full sun, but Nico had drawn his line. And then he’d made a pretty convincing argument about skin cancer and UV rays, so Will had no choice but to give in.

Really, that’s what Will gets for educating his boyfriend so well.

Nico yawns, and Will smiles, dropping a kiss to Nico’s forehead. He loves sleepy Nico. Which was good because it seemed like Nico was either sleepy, sarcastic, or grumpy. (And Will loves all of them.) Will was playing the big spoon today as he was the taller of the two and needed room for stretching out. It also served the purpose of keeping the hammock from tipping over.

“Bet you’re glad we didn’t go swimming now, Solace,” Nico mumbles.

Will rolls his eyes. “I still wouldn’t have minded. But this is really nice, too.”

There’s a breeze now, and it tickles Will’s chin with a few of Nico’s hairs. “Feeling up for the campfire tonight, baby?”

Nico hums. “Maybe. Or we could have one here.” He gestures to the fire pit that’s been installed. No one had used it yet since it was the summer and the big bonfire was an almost daily occurrence.

“True. But then we’d miss seeing our friends.”

Nico shrugs. “But then we wouldn’t have to worry about them interrupting us either.” He opens his eyes, smirking at Will.

“What would they be interrupting?” Will asks, grinning.

“Nothing if we go,” Nico huffs. Will laughs, kissing Nico again. It was hard not to when Nico just looks so adorable curled up in his arms. He was finally not wearing black today, instead wearing a light grey T-shirt with some kind of Pokemon on it.

“Is that a bribe, Nico?”

“Not at all. Just considering options.”

Will grins. Nico’s accent was stronger when he was sleepy, and Will loves hearing it. Most of the time, Nico was too self-conscious about it for more than a hint of it to slip out. But right now, he was too tired and relaxed to care.’’

“So, option one: we go to the campfire and only minimal kissing. Option two: we stay here and kiss all we want. Is that it?” Will asks.

“Yup. Short and sweet, Solace.”

Will pretends like he’s thinking. They both know what option he’s already picked. They haven’t had a moment of alone time in ages. Someone was always interrupting. Either Nico needed to take care of something or someone had injured themselves and no one else was around who could heal on such short notice. The most they had done recently was hold hands for five minutes and a few kisses here and there.

Especially since Chiron had caught on to them after Will had been caught sneaking into Nico’s cabin. (It wasn’t his fault that Nico was too cute to resist. He really had meant to leave before the harpies came out.)

But now they finally had some time to themselves.

“We’ll have to get dinner sometime,” Will says.

“Don’t you have food in the cabin?” Nico asks.

“Yeah, but it’s mostly snacks. And emergency reserves.”

“There hasn’t been an emergency in ages,” Nico says, looking at Will.

“I know, but we like to be prepared.”

“So what about the food that isn’t for emergencies?”

“It’s not really dinner. It’s not like we have vegetables just laying around.”

“We don’t have to have vegetables for every meal.”

“It doesn’t hurt,” Will counters.

Nico huffs. “Well, you know the moment we move from this spot, we’ll be swarmed. And dragged to the campfire.”

“You’re so dramatic, Nico. We won’t be dragged.”

Nico raises his eyebrows, and Will almost caves. “What if you shadow-traveled to the dining pavilion?”

“Are you asking me to use my underworld-y powers to get dinner?”

Will flushes. “No?”

Nico grins. “I think you were. Too bad I’m too comfy right here.’

“Nico,” Will whines. His stomach grumbles. He’s getting hungry talking about this food. He wishes he’d thought of this before they got all comfortable out here.

“Will,” Nico says softly, and Will pretty much melts. He loves it when Nico uses his first name, rolling the one syllable. Especially when Nico’s accent is so obvious, the way that he makes Will’s name rhyme more with reel than with ill. He loves it, and it makes him weak everywhere.

“You’re playing dirty.”

“I’m hungry.”

“So am I.”

“Well, get the snacks. Everyone’s eating dinner.”

Will huffs. “Fine.” He crawls out of the hammock, immediately missing Nico’s warmth beside him. He glances through the windows before grabbing a handful of snacks and rushing back to Nico. Nico’s sitting up now, brushing his hair back into a small ponytail. Will smiles.

“Dinner is served,” Will says.

“Finally,” Nico huffs.

They lay it out on the patio. It’s definitely not the healthiest dinner they’ve ever had. It mostly consists of chips and dip and cheese and dried fruit. But they’ll have a full meal tomorrow. Right now, they’re just enjoying each other’s company.

Will leans over to kiss Nico’s cheek. “I love you, baby.”

“I love you, too, Will.”

Chapter Text

One of the worst things about having a sister who sided with the Romans was that she was often too far away to visit regularly. And since Nico was on a shadow-travel restriction, he wasn’t allowed to go and visit her whenever he wanted. Which is why when he hears that Hazel is coming to Camp Half-Blood, he immediately clears his schedule.

“Wait, but we can still hang out, right?” Will asks, pouting.

“Of course, sunshine,” Nico says. He reaches up to kiss Will’s lips. On a normal day, he wouldn’t really give into Will’s PDA seductions, but today wasn’t a normal day. Hazel was coming to visit, and Nico was feeling extra affectionate. It didn’t hurt that his grand show of power the other day was pretty cathartic. Maybe he should talk to Will about having one of those every now and then.

“Are you still thinking about that poor Athena kid?” Will’s expression is amused now.

“Maybe,” Nico says. “It felt good. I mean, not the part where he thought he was gonna die. But the part where I just let go.”

“Okay, Elsa.” Nico huffs, but the effect is lost when he suddenly bursts into a smile. There, over the hill is a familiar mess of curls. He takes off running, pulling Hazel into a hug before she can even say hello.

“Hey, big brother,” Hazel says, laughing when Nico pulls back. “I’ve missed you, too. Hi, Will.”

Will gives her a hug, smiling.

“Let me carry that for you,” Nico says, reaching for Hazel’s bag. “I finally got all of Will’s stuff cleaned up, so you can have your own space.”

Will rolls his eyes. He hadn’t completely moved into Nico’s cabin, but there was definitely more space there than in his own. He wasn’t confined to his bunk and three tiny drawers underneath. Instead, he could have a whole dresser and not even have to worry about people using them as stairs to get into their own bunks.

“It’s nice that you two are living together,” Hazel says.

“We’re not living together. It’s a matter of convenience,” Nico says, but no one misses the smile on his face as he says it. “Will’s got too many siblings, and I have plenty of space to spare.”

“Of course.”

After giving Hazel time to put her stuff down, they head to the Big House to get some snacks and drinks. Will had spent all morning trying to make the perfect lemonade, and Nico had baked cookies. Persephone had also stopped by to provide fresh flower arrangements, though Nico kind of thought they were a bit overkill.

“It’s just a snack break,” he’d said, but Will knew he was secretly pleased. He loved when Hazel came to visit, and he wanted to make sure that everything was as perfect as possible. No one had to know that Nico had fiddled with the flowers until he deemed their arrangements perfect, despite being created by Persephone herself.

They sit out on the back porch, overlooking the city a bit. It’s late afternoon, and Will’s feeling sleepy. The sun is hitting them just perfectly, dousing everything in that golden light that he loves so much. Nico’s chatting happily with Hazel, and he’s content to just soak it all in.

“How’s the infirmary been?” Hazel asks, turning to him.

“Pretty busy but not too bad.” They haven’t had a capture the flag game in a while and no monster attacks. Really, the majority of his patients have just been poor demigods trying to scale the climbing wall or victims of some prank war that was happening. Will didn’t really want to know the details. (To know was to be in the war.)

“It’s been pretty calm around here.” Nico knocks his knuckles against the table beside him. “We did have some kind of incident the other day, but I took care of that.”
Will snorts. “That’s an understatement.”

Hazel looks between them. “What happened?”

“Nico made this poor kid pee his pants,” Will says.

Nico huffs. “That wasn’t my fault. He was being a jerk. He should have known better than to mess with me.” He crosses his arms and then thinks better of it when he can’t bring his lemonade to his mouth.

“So what happened?” Hazel asks again.

“Some guy was making fun of me, and Nico pretty much unleashed hell,” Will says. “They apologized, though. Both Nico and the guy.”

“It was weeks ago,” Nico adds. “The effect’s kind of worn off at this point.”

Which was kind of true. It was clear that some people were still pretty scared of messing with Nico while others were starting to feel confident. One perk, though, was that they had yet to be roped into the prank war. Will did not need to be a part of another one of those. He was done with them, thank you very much.

“I’m sure it was quite a sight,” Hazel says. She’s smirking, and Will has to laugh.

“Definitely was.”
-
It’s been a few days since Hazel’s arrival, and she and Will are eating lunch in the dining pavilion. Nico was going to join them later after he took a shower. He and Jason had gotten caught up in a sparring match this morning, and Nico was never one to back down from a challenge.

“He’s gotten a lot stronger since I last saw him,” Hazel says.

Will nods. “Yeah, he’s been practicing a lot. Can’t tell you how much it both terrifies and amazes the younger kids.”

Hazel smiles. “I bet. I get that a lot, too. Back at home.”

Will’s seen both of their powers firsthand, but he wonders what it’d be like to hold that much power within yourself. Sure, he’s got great powers, too. But nothing he could do was terrifying. There was a pretty good consensus that Will’s powers were only positive. It wasn’t like he could actively kill someone with his whistle or accidentally sing his healing hymn wrong.

Will takes a bite of his fruit salad, enjoying the peaceful day. These were few and far between in the summer when everyone was here. There was always something happening, and it could sometimes get annoying when all Will wanted to do was read a book without getting distracted or called somewhere.

“Look, the witch came to visit.” Will jerks his head up, spotting two campers walking towards them. He wasn’t sure which cabin they belonged in, but that didn’t really matter.

“Just ignore them, Will,” Hazel says under her breath. She’s probably heard this and worse before, but that didn’t make it right.

“I guess it’s true what they say,” another kid says. “All witches are ugly.”

Will can see Hazel’s face flush at the words, but she manages not to do more than blink.

“What did you just say to my sister?” Will can see everyone freeze as the temperature plummets. Gone is the summer. It feels more like autumn now. Will can feel goosebumps on his arms.

“Said she’s a witch,” some brave and stupid soul pipes up.

Will sighs as he watches Nico’s eyes darken with the sky. Nico’s stalking across the pavilion, and Will jumps up to stop him.

“Hey, Nico? Hey, we don’t want ta repeat of last time, right? Remember, that was a bad idea.”

“He hurt Hazel,” Nico grits out. From where they’re standing, it’s clear the effect the words have on Hazel. She’s holding back tears, eyes wide as she glances between Will and her brother.

“Right, but it’s not right to hurt other people back,” Will says.

He can feel Nico’s muscles taut under his hands, can feel the way that Nico’s powers are practically shaking just under his skin. He knows Nico’s mad. He’s mad, too. But he also knows that Nico can’t just explode like this every time. Something was going to give eventually.

“Nico.” Nico’s gaze darts over to Hazel. She’s got a small smile on her face. “I can take care of myself.”

Will watches as they have some kind of secret conversation, and then Nico nods. He sags gently against Will’s side, huffing.

“Fine. But only because I know that she can punch that dude just as hard as I can,” he says. He stalks over to the table, scooping up a bite of Will’s fruit salad and shoving it into his mouth.

“Aww, did the big scary son of Hades just get put in time out?”

At this, Hazel’s out of her seat in a flash. Will can see the fear passing over the guy’s face, his face paling.

“Want to repeat that again?” she asks. “Because I know you didn’t just insult my brother.”

Will glances over at Nico, who’s just watching this happen like it’s a movie. He’s eaten more than half of Will’s fruit salad, and Will isn’t sure if he’s happy because Nico’s eating fruit or upset that Nico’s eating his fruit. Oh well. More important things to worry about right now.

Hazel crosses her arms. “Give me one reason why you shouldn’t have to meet my father tonight.”

The guy stutters out something before dashing off. Hazel rolls her shoulders, sitting across from Nico. He gives her a smile, rolling his eyes.

“Good team we make.” Hazel laughs.

Will plops down beside Nico. “Nope,” he says. “I know what you’re thinking. And it’s not gonna happen. Eat your fruit, baby.”

Nico pouts, but he brightens up when Will kisses his cheek.

“So no more intimidating people at camp?” Will asks.

“Only if people stop being so stupid,” Nico grumbles. Hazel shrugs as if in agreement.

“I’ll take that as a maybe,” Will says. He’s satisfied with that. Until the next time this inevitably happens.

Chapter Text

It’s ridiculous, honestly, how being often they seem to get into trouble. And not even real trouble that involves yelling and lectures. But trouble like they just didn’t think through something far enough. Like the time that Nico dared Will to climb up this tall tree, and Will did. Until they remembered that he had this fear of heights, and Nico had to shadow-travel them both down. Or like the time that Jason dared Nico to eat that hot pepper, and he thought he was going to die.

So, they had a bit of a track record for doing stupid stuff. But at least they had fun together. If listening to each other rant about how they were not going to do that again was considered fun. (It totally was.)

Which is how Nico ends up under his bed. His plan is to jump out and scare Will. Just a harmless little prank. He knew Will hardly walked around armed, so that was a plus. He wouldn’t accidentally get a knife in the face or worse. He hopes. Honestly, Nico’s not sure what will happen other than Will will hopefully jump in surprise, and then they can have a good laugh about it later.

Nico quiets his breathing when he hears Will knock on his door.

“Nico!” There’s a pause. “You’d better not be sleeping again. It’s almost noon!” He hears a huff, and then Will is coming into the room.

Nico watches his feet as he gets closer to the bed, inspecting the lump that Nico’s placed there. It’s just a pile of pillows, but Nico thinks it’s pretty convincing. When Will’s close enough to the bed, he pushes himself forward.

“Boo!” he gets out, holding back a hiss as his hip catches on something. At least Will does jump. Quite a bit.

“Nico,” he yelps. “Not funny,” he pouts as his face turns pink.

Nico smirks. “Gotcha.”

“Yeah? You gonna get out from under there so I can kiss you?”

Nico rolls his eyes, scooting forward again. But this time, he realizes. He’s stuck.

“I’m, uh, stuck.”

“What?” Will asks. He crouches down beside Nico, looking under the bed. He probably can’t see too far, though there isn’t much to see. It’s mostly just Nico and the bottom of a bed. “On what? How did you even get there in the first place?”

“I shadow-traveled myself,” Nico says quietly. He’d never liked the idea of scooting along the floor, and he wasn’t going to get dirty just to scare Will for five seconds. “Here, I can probably shadow-travel myself out.”

“No,” Will says. “You were training this morning, and you already did it once. If you do it again without proper preparation, you could pass out. And I’m not carrying your butt to lunch again.”

“That was one time, Solace. And I’ll be fine.”

“We can work this out the old fashioned way, right? I mean, is it comfortable down there?”

Nico shrugs as best he can. “It’s decent. I wouldn’t say comfortable. Definitely not the end of the bed I’d like to sleep on.”

Will sighs. “Gods, why do we keep getting ourselves into this kind of mess?”

Nico lets out a giggle. “Because we’re teenagers?”

“I can’t wait until I’m twenty-five,” Will mumbles.

“What happens then?” Nico asks.

“My brain will be fully developed then,” Will says. “And maybe we’ll start actually thinking these things through.”

“Or we could stop daring each other to do stuff,” Nico suggests. They look at each other for about five seconds before laughing. “Like that’ll ever happen.”

“Not with Percy and Jason around, no,” Will adds.

Nico rolls his eyes. It’s was ultimately Percy’s fault. He’d started the whole daring thing, and now it was just a competition. And they were all very competitive.

“Anyway, any bright ideas on how to get me unstuck?” Nico asks.

“Maybe you can deflate a bit?”

Nico shoots him a look. “Is that you calling me chubby?”

“It’s me calling you full of hot air.” Nico swats at Will, but Will only laughs. He relaxes his muscles, slowly pushing air out. Then he tries to scoot. He only manages to get out a bit more. “C’mon, Nico. I’m hungry.”

“Well, so am I.” He scoots a bit more, stopping around his hips. “I blame you. In my previous scrawny state, I’d have been able to pull this off no problem.”

“Oh, gods, sorry for making you healthy,” Will shoots back, ducking down to kiss Nico’s nose.

“You’d better be. Now get me off this floor. I really should sweep more.”

Will wrinkles his nose at this, but he looks under the bed again. “Maybe I could lift the bed a bit? It doesn’t look like you need too much more room.”

Nico supposes not. He’s definitely been in smaller spaces, and they’ve definitely been way less pleasurable than this. His stomach grumbles. And at least he’s not doing this on a full stomach. Though he does have to kind of pee now.

“Okay, so I’m gonna lift this. And you’re gonna shimmy out.”

“I don’t shimmy, Will.”

“Then you’re gonna stay stuck.”

Nico huffs. He knows Will’s right. He feels Will lift the frame a bit, and he scoots the rest of the way out, flopping on his back, his feet still under the bed.

“I’m tired,” he announces.

“Oh, no, you’re not,” Will says. He pokes Nico with his foot. “You’re coming to lunch, and we’re going to make a rule that says no more hiding underneath beds.”

“Fine.” He lets Will help him up. “But I knew you’d get me out of there.”

Will kisses his lips. “No matter how stupid the situation, I’ve got your back, baby.”

Chapter Text

Call Nico what you want, but he’s not a quitter. Just maybe a bit of a sore loser. Because, seriously, those Apollo archers make this look so easy. They just press the arrow against the bow, pull back, and let it fly. And most importantly, it hits the target.

Nico has yet to hit any of the targets scattered around this area of the arena. But he’s made progress. At least now he can hold the bow with the arrow and not just pretend he knows what he’s doing. Because he knows what he’s doing. Or at least, he knows what he wants to be doing. He’s read some books, watched a lot of the archers.

But he has yet to put any of that into actual practice. And now he’s starting to get annoyed. His arrows stick out of the ground, out of the wall. Some weren’t even launched fast enough to actually stick somewhere and just lay littered on the ground like he’d thrown them. Actually, he’d probably be better at throwing them than trying to shoot them.

He’s got one more arrow left, and he tells himself that if he makes this one, it’s not such a lost cause. After all, he’s doing this for Will. To impress Will. Because Will’s such a good archer, and Nico would like to be at least a quarter as good (reduced from half since this morning). It’s not that he has to be better than Will, but he doesn’t want Will to think that he’s just good with the sword. He’s multi-talented. After all, Will’s good at archery, healing, and even throwing knives.

Nico gets the next arrow ready, taking a deep breath. He can do this. He pulls back, attempts to let the arrow fly. It makes it about as far as a defective paper airplane before nosediving to the ground with an anticlimactic swoosh. So Nico’s not proud of what he does next, but it had to be done.

He throws his bow down, careful not to damage it. He just wants to get out some of this frustration. He picks up an arrow, throwing it. It sails further than the previous one, but it, too, nosedives. Nico lets out a frustrated grunt, spinning around.

Which ends up being a mistake because Will’s there. He’s leaning against the doorway, a smile on his face. When he realizes Nico’s noticed him, he bursts into laughter.

“Will,” Nico whines. He’s embarrassed, and now his boyfriend is laughing at him.

“I’m not laughing at you, sweetheart. You’re just kind of cute when you’re mad.”

“I thought it was hot.”

Will shrugs. “Cute. Hot. I love you the same.”

Nico’s finding it hard to be mad after Will says something like that. He crosses his arms, though, huffing.

“C’mon, Nico. Here, I’ll teach you. You’re not too far off, but your technique could use a little work.”

Nico watches Will pick up all of the arrows, checking the bow over. Then he nocks an arrow and lets it fly. Of course, it hits the target. It’s not the bullseye, but it’s close enough to have made the kill. Nico pouts.

“Come here, Nico. It’s not too hard once you get the form.” He demonstrates before giving Nico the bow. Then he shows Nico how to properly fit the arrow. “It’s really your form. Ideally, this is how you’ll want to stand. In battle, it could be more like how you were standing earlier.”

“I thought you were helping. Not making fun of me.”“Sorry, but it does need a lot of work.” So Nico stands there while Will adjusts his legs, his shoulders, the tilt of his head. It all feels very precise, and Nico’s not sure he’ll be able to resume this position again without help. “It just takes practice. It’s like muscle memory, you know? Just like sword fighting.”

“Only way different.”

Will shrugs. “Well, we can’t all be masters with swords and shadows.”

Nico sticks out his tongue before moving his head back to the proper position. He eyes the target.

“Now, just envision the target. With practice you’ll start to understand how much power you need for what distance, but right now, this should be good.” Will’s hand is over his as he pulls the bowstring back. It’s a gentle movement, the slow version of the pluck that Nico’s always imagined.

“And now I let go?”

Will hums. “Very gently.”

Nico lets go. The arrow sails way over the target. Nico looks at Will.

“Well, your aim is also important. But you got the distance this time. And your technique was good.”

Nico grumbles, finding another arrow. Will still has to help him with his form. His knee is bent too much or not at all, his elbow is sticking out too much or too close to his body. He’s wrinkling his nose, and Will just has to kiss him. It’s all very delicate, really. Nico’s starting to understand why this is something Will’s good at. He always paid attention to the details Nico didn’t, the smaller things that made the bigger difference. Nico wasn’t subtle.

“Okay, this time, make sure your arrow is pointing where you want it.”

“I thought it was last time.”

“At the last moment, you tilted it up a bit,” Will says.

Nico huffs. He goes through his mental checklist of his posture, his aim, his distance. And then he lets the arrow fly. This time it sticks into the wall between two targets. Progress.

All in all, it’s about two hours more before Nico’s able to hit anything he actually intended to hit. Will’s brought him snacks, massaged his shoulders, shot off a couple of his own arrows. He’s hit the target every time.

“Hey, not all of us can have under-worldly powers,” he says when Nico pouts.

“Jealous?”

“I will be when you hit that target,” Will shoots back.

And that propels Nico forward. It’s not that he wants Will to be jealous, but he’s not a quitter. And he’s actually improving. He’s gotten fourteen arrows to hit the walls around the targets. It doesn’t matter that Will could have probably landed all of them.

“Okay, this is the one,” Nico says. It’s the last arrow again, and if this isn’t it, he’s just going to call it a day. His muscles are aching, and he’s tired and hungry. And Will’s threatened to slather him with sunscreen if they stay out any longer. He is feeling a little more tan than this morning.

“I believe in you, baby.”

Nico ignores the pet name. He loves them, but right now he needs to be focused. Will’s sitting on the bleachers, and Nico sets up the scene by himself. He can see the target, can feel the bowstring, breathes deeply. Lets the arrow fly. He’s not sure who’s more surprised when the arrow actually hits the target. It’s nowhere near the center, but it’s on the target nonetheless.

“I did it!” He jumps up and down, and Will’s laughing again. It’s bright and sunny, and they’re sweaty, but Nico couldn’t care less. “Jealous now?”

“Only proud, Nico. I’m always proud of you.”

“And sappy,” Nico says, rolling his eyes.

“Well, only for you.” He gives Nico a soft kiss, smiling.

“Let’s get food. I’m hungry.”

Chapter Text

Will wasn’t sure what to think as he looks at the napkin in his hands. It hadn’t been there only three minutes ago when Will had gotten up to sharpen his pencil. But it was here now. Folded carefully underneath his coffee mug. He glances around the room, taking note of everyone in the room already. Which didn’t help at all since he’d been running late this morning when he’d remembered some homework that he hadn’t finished.

But this was the second note he’d received. And there was definitely a pattern. Will squints at the handwriting on the napkin. Not that it did any good. Will was absolutely terrible at reading anything that wasn’t English, and this note definitely wasn’t English.

Nope. It was in Mandarin. If the half a semester of Mandarin had taught him anything. Clearly not enough, though, judging by this napkin. Who even wrote love notes in Mandarin besides people who were fluent in Mandarin? Which was no one Will knows. He sighs, tucking the napkin into his book bag. He’d have to figure this out later. Right now, his class was about to start.

It’s not until he’s in the student union that he pulls the napkin out again. It’s a little crumpled, but whoever left this napkin knew what they were doing. Will pulls out his phone, pulling out the translator app. He’s so glad that he upgraded it recently so that it could take a picture of his note. He’d never know what it said otherwise.

有你的每一天,都像一整個夏天. — Every day with you feels like a whole summer.

Which was cute, but Will wanted to know who was leaving these notes. He feels it should be obvious. There couldn’t be that many people that were fluent in Mandarin and would leave notes in Mandarin. Why not French? Or Spanish? Will could string together more than a few words of those languages.

“Hey, what’s that?” Will looks up to see Nico sitting down. He’s got a large mug of coffee in his hands.

“A note. Someone must think I know Mandarin.”

“You don’t?” Nico teases.

“Nope. Do you?” Nico shakes his head. “Darn. I was hoping maybe you could help me out.”

“What kind of note?”

“Well, if google translate is any good, it’s probably a love note. Or at least a like note.”

“You’ve got a secret admirer?” Nico asks. He’s smirking now, and Will really wishes that Nico knew Mandarin. Then, he could be Will’s secret admirer. But Nico was fluent in Italian and he’d never showed much interest in Mandarin at all, so it couldn’t be him.

“Jealous?”

Nico shrugs. “Not really. Seems like whoever’s leaving these is putting in a lot of effort, though. Writing on napkins isn’t easy.” Will nods. It was true.

“I just wish that it was more obvious, you know?”

“I think that’s the point of it being a secret admirer.” Will pouts. Nico rolls his eyes, shoving a muffin towards Will. Will gives Nico a grateful look before taking a bite. It was blueberry, Will’s favorite. They must have run out of chocolate chip because Nico detested fruit in his baked goods.

“Enough about me,” Will says. “Do you have the notes for our mythology class? I wrote down all of the names, but I think I misspelled everything.”

Nico snorts when he sees Will’s notes. “Yup. But good try.” He passes his notebook to Will, and Will takes a moment to marvel at the neatness of Nico’s handwriting. Seriously, it looked like a font. And it was so organized. Just another reason why Will had a big crush on Nico. Will’s handwriting was verging on illegible.

“Hey, you can return that to me tomorrow, okay? I’ve got a meeting with my advisor soon. Hopefully, I get my schedule straightened out.”

Will nods. “Good luck. And thanks for the muffin.”

Nico gives him a wave, and then he’s gone.
-
Will’s just come back from the communal bathroom, freshly showered and ready to just dive into a bowl of popcorn and never resurface. This week was kicking his butt, and he’d been studying almost nonstop for the past three or four days. He’d been ignoring all texts and unimportant emails in favor of getting a good grade on his test today. And he felt okay about it. But now he was just drained.

Until he sees something taped to his door. It’s a sticky note, bright yellow, his name written neatly at the bottom. He pulls it off the door, almost running into his roommate.

“Hey, did someone leave this here?”

His roommate frowns at the note. “Is that Japanese?”

“Mandarin.”

“Whatever. I’m heading out.”

Will huffs at the uselessness of his roommate. He was here for some physics degree, but Will wasn’t sure how he was passing his classes since he’d never seen the guy crack open a book. He wasn’t even sure if he’d seen a physics textbook anywhere in their small room.

縱我不往,子寧不嗣音 — Even if I didn't go to see you, why haven't you sent me a message? (I haven’t seen you for a day, but it feels like three months.)

Will has no idea what this one means. Maybe it’s one of those proverbs. Will would look it up, but he doesn’t have the brainpower. He can barely think straight in English. He’s just thrown a bag of popcorn into the microwave when his phone buzzes.

Nico: want to grab some pizza tonight?
Will: too tired, movie night?
Nico: I’ll bring pizza.

Will grins. He changes into his pjs, not caring if Nico sees him looking like a bum. It’s college, and he’s exhausted. He’s not even sure he’ll make it through the movie, but it’s worth a shot if Nico’s coming over. And he’s bringing pizza.

When Nico gets there, Will spreads the box out on his little TV tray table that his uncle had gifted him. He and Nico are curled up on Will’s bed, close together only because Will’s bed isn’t built for two people. Not that Will minds. Nico’s elbows are bony and his body temperature is always cold, but it’s worth it to pretend that he’s cuddling with Nico.

“You got another note?” Nico asks. He’s just set his drink on Will’s nightstand.

“Yeah. Someone left it on my door.”

“Someone must miss you,” Nico says.

“I have been a bit busy lately.”Nico snorts. “That’s an understatement. I don’t think I’ve seen you for a week, aside from our mythology class. I’ve had to eat my muffins alone.”

“Did they have chocolate chip this time?” Nico nods. “Well, then, you wouldn’t have shared anyway.”“Still nice to have company,” Nico pouts.

Will laughs. “I’m free this week, so you can eat all the muffins you want in front of me.”

“I might share,” Nico says. “If you ask nicely. It’s not like I’ve never shared.”

“That’s true. I got two bites of the chocolate chip muffin last time.”

“Better than Jason got.”

Will supposes that’s true. “But you share with Hazel.”

“She’s my sister.”

“Guess I can’t compete with that.” Nico gives Will a funny look before turning back to the movie. Will doesn’t even remember what he’s put on, but that doesn’t matter as much. Nico looks perfectly content to be squished to Will’s shoulder, eating greasy pizza on a too-small bed.

“Hey, Nico?”

“Yeah?”

“Does Frank speak Mandarin?”

“If Frank is leaving you love notes, I’m gonna kill him,” Nico mumbles.“No, I just mean, maybe he can translate them for me. Make sure I’m doing it right. Google is great and all, but it’s definitely not the greatest.”

Nico shrugs. “I don’t know. We don’t ever really talk about it.” Will supposes that was true. Frank was Hazel’s boyfriend, and from what Will could tell, he was a little intimidated by Nico. Probably had something to do with Nico’s overenthusiastic shovel talk.

“I guess it wouldn’t matter if he could read them anyway. He wouldn’t know who was sending them.” He can feel Nico tense against him, but he just assumes it’s from the movie. He’s not sure what’s happening, but Nico’s been watching pretty intently.

“Maybe they’ll show themselves when they’re ready,” Nico says after a few minutes.

“Maybe,” Will says, but he really hopes not. Because he really only likes Nico, and he would hate to disappoint anyone who’s put this much thought into a note.
-
Will finds the next note in his textbook. He’s not super creeped out since he’d been studying in the library. And it was pretty clear which chapter he was on with all of the sticky notes piled inside. He’d just come back from refilling his water bottle to find a scrap of notebook paper wedged between the pages.

我不必祈禱,太陽就落下到身旁。多好。— Sun falls beside me without me saying a prayer. How good that is.

The messages were getting more intimate, Will thinks. He’s not sure how to respond. He glances around the library quickly, wondering if the note-leaver was still around. He hopes that his expression doesn’t look disappointed. Since that movie night with Nico, he’d been kind of hoping that they’d show themselves. He doesn’t want to lead them on, but he can’t exactly let them down if he doesn’t know who they are.

And he didn’t understand Mandarin at all. What if he was missing the entire message? What if it was just poetry? But that still had to mean something, right? No one just left poetry for someone else without it meaning something. Will sighs. Maybe he’s been studying too long.

He packs up his things, deciding to head to the quad. It was late afternoon, and Will liked to just sit in the grass and relax. A couple of people were throwing Frisbees around, and someone was walking their dog. Will finds a spot underneath a leafy tree and lays down.

“Did you put on sunscreen?”

“Did you?” Will asks, opening his eyes. Nico’s smirking at him, a book bag slung over his shoulders. He’s probably coming back from his literature class.

“Nope. But I’m not the one sunbathing.”

“I’m working on my freckles. Besides, I’m in the shade.”

“That’s exactly what I said over spring break, Will,” Nico says. He plops beside Will, shading his eyes from the sun. “And you were all like, it doesn’t matter how shady if the sun’s out. The UV rays can still get you.”

Will laughs. “It’s true.”

“Well, then, where’s your sunscreen?”

Will shrugs. The whole reason he’d brought up the sunscreen, other than the fact that UV rays could get to Nico, was that he just wanted an excuse to touch Nico. In a non-creepy way. And Nico had let him, grumbling the whole time. And then he’d insisted on putting sunscreen on Will. So overall, it was a good plan.

“Back in the room, I guess.”

“Guess we’ll burn, then,” Nico says dryly. Will rolls his eyes.

“Some sun is good for you, Nico.”

Nico shrugs, flicking an ant off of his knee. “Well, I’m already sitting beside you.”

Will raises his eyebrows. “What?” Nico’s face flushes a soft pink.

“You’re like the sun, Will. I mean, you’re even wearing this ridiculous orange shirt. How are you not blind?”

“I like this shirt, thank you very much.” Will knows Nico’s teasing. “It won’t kill you to wear colors, you know?”

“Maybe it will.”

“That’d be too bad.”

Nico shoves Will’s shoulder playfully, reaching into his bag. “Here. I can hear your stomach growl a mile away.”

Will huffs, but he accepts the muffin. It’s blueberry again. “Do you have a pact with the coffee shop or something? I mean, if you don’t like the muffins there, you don’t have to buy them.”

Nico shrugs. “Well, you like them, so I don’t think it’s exactly pointless. If that’s what you’re saying.”

“But I can get my own muffins.”

“You never do, though,” Nico says, and it’s true. Will never gets his own muffins. For some reason, it never occurs to him. Even though muffins are basically his favorite food after Nico’s homemade spaghetti. Maybe it’s because he’s living that broke college student life.

“Well, thank you, Nico. For funding my muffin supply. I’m eternally grateful.”

“You’d better be, dork. If it were up to me, blueberry muffins would be banned.”

“You’re evil.”
Nico cackles at this, and Will can’t help but join in. Nico’s laughter is infectious.
-
It’s not until one early morning that Will finds out who’s leaving the notes. He was heading to the bathroom to take a shower before everyone else used up all of the hot water when he almost runs into Nico. Nico who didn’t live on his hall or get up before eight unless he had to.

“Um, what’s up?” Will asks. He’s clutching his towel and shower caddy to his chest like Nico had just been about to attack him. Even though Nico was only holding his book bag and a sticky note.

“Nothing. Just walking by. They ran out of toilet paper in my hall.”

“So you came over here?” Nico nods slowly.

“Yup. Because you always have toilet paper.”

“Your whole building is out of toilet paper?” Will asks.

“Crazy, right?” Nice asks.

“What’s that there?” Will asks. He gestures to the note in Nico’s hand, hoping that he isn’t about to make this too awkward. He’s just got a gut feeling, and he really hopes he’s right. Because he’s got a giant crush on Nico, and why else would Nico be here? Was it really possible that his whole building ran out of toilet paper?

“Um, a note,” Nico says. “For class. Want to read it?” Their hands are shaking as they pass the note off. Will stares at the characters, black against the pink sticky note.

“I can’t read Mandarin,” Will says. “That would have been way smoother if I could.”

Nico lets out a soft laugh. “Yeah, it would have. Do you want to know what it says?”

Will nods slowly. “我為你剖開心臟,挪出這個位置,你怎麼遲疑坐下?” Will just looks at him blankly. “It’s a little violent-sounding, I guess, but I thought it was nice. Because it gets the point across, you know? How you’re so special to me? And how you’d never return my feelings, but it was nice while it lasted. The notes, I mean.”

“Nico, Nico, slow down,” Will says. He reaches forward to hold Nico’s hand which have been gesturing wildly. “I’m really flattered, but I don’t know Mandarin. Maybe you could translate?”

Nico flushes red. “Oh, right. Sorry. It’s basically: I sliced my heart open to make a room for you. Why do you hesitate sitting down?”

Will smiles. “You’re right. A little violent, but I think it suits you.” Nico huffs, bumping their joined hands gently against Will’s chest.

“So you’re not disappointed?” Nico asks.

“Surprised, yes. Disappointed, no. Gods, I’ve had a crush on you since we met at freshman orientation.”

“Yeah?” Nico asks.

“Yeah.” They’re both smiling like idiots now, and Will has to awkwardly set down his shower stuff before he can hug Nico. “But why the Mandarin?”

Nico shrugs. “Thought it’d be less obvious than Italian. And Frank is way more romantic than I gave him credit for. Plus, it’s been nice bonding with him.”

Will coos, and Nico gives him a half-hearted glare. “Don’t frown. I like seeing you happy,” Will teases gently.

“既見君子,云胡不喜?” Nico breathes. He reaches up to give Will a quick peck on the cheek that does nothing good for Will’s heart rate. “Since seeing you, how could I not be happy? Go on a date with me, sunshine?”

Will grins. “Yes.”