Their story had started like a fairy-tale, and for a long time, Nico had believed it would end like one. For some reason, the universe had let him be happy for once, at Will Solace’s side; or maybe there was no universe involved but Nico had let himself be happy and that was the trick. Either way, he should have known Nico di Angelo wasn’t meant to know happiness for so long.
He met Will after the War with Gaia. Properly met, because he did know vaguely who Will was before that, even though he didn’t pay attention to any of the campers at that time. But he had promised Jason that he would stay and enjoy Camp Half-Blood and so he did. And he met Will. Will Solace, who entered his world like Belle entering the Beast’s castle, and forgot to leave, not even trying to search for a way out.
Nico wasn’t at his best when they met, he was fading in the shadows slowly but surely, skinnier than Aurora in the Disney’s adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, covered in werewolf scratches and really, really tired. He was ready to just pass out in his cabin for a week straight then come out and try to mend into the crowd of orange tee-shirts without having to wear one. But Will had dragged him to the infirmary instead, made him eat healthily and regularly (Nico hadn’t even eaten anything in months), but most of all, he spent time with him. And Nico hadn’t had that in a long time. A friend, someone who selflessly cared about him. Nico enjoyed the blond’s presence by his side, even after he’d left the infirmary. It was pleasant and reassuring, it made him feel important. Now it just made him feel self-conscious, and he didn’t understand what had changed.
It’s not like Will wasn’t aware of the mess Nico was at the time. But Will didn’t care, and he repeated it over and over again to Nico every time this became an issue. He didn’t care that Nico had days when he was grumpy and unhappy and wanted to spend his life under his blanket. He didn’t care that Nico had trust issues, he would wash those away with every kiss they shared. Will used to have his special way with kisses that would make Nico feel as if time had stopped and nothing else in the world mattered but the two of them and their lips crashing together. He missed those a lot. Their intertwined fingers used to fit like Cinderella’s shoe. Now the touches they shared were void of emotions, routine kisses and holding hands out of habit, because it keeps you warm better than your own pocket does. But it didn’t keep Nico from clinging to these as if the last seed of pomegranate left in his prison-jar because even though they felt different, he could still pretend nothing had changed.
This was what frustrated Nico the most: nothing had changed. Grumpy, shy, and self-conscious Nico Di Angelo was all he ever had been, all he ever would be. This was what Will came across those years ago, what he had fell in love with and took in in his spiral of smiles and happiness; and now Will was more mature, more adult but Nico was still the little ball of darkness he always had been. Nico was consistent, he didn’t like change, and he didn’t change. He was Snow White in her glass coffin waiting for a kiss from her Prince Charming. Except he had already met the Prince Charming. He wished fairy tales had told him sooner what happened after Snow White gets on the dark horse next to her lover. He should have known Will would move on. Life was like this thin thread tightrope walkers dance on, and Will was skilled and experienced when Nico had barely taken one step and was already looking down and panicking, watching the other walk further and further away from him, all graciously. He didn’t know what to do, he was paralysed.
He remembered painfully how Will used to promise him that he would never leave him. Never. His beautiful blue eyes were shining bright and they were so, so close, Nico couldn’t do anything but believe him. Did he still? Will didn’t exactly lie, because they both walked away. Will spent more and more time at the med school library or with Lou-Ellen or Cecil; Nico at Camp. Will didn’t leave, he was still right there. He didn’t leave. Nico needed to repeat those words to himself like a mantra or he would never be able to trust anyone ever again. He didn’t leave, he hadn’t left, yet.
They were polar opposites, and it used to be something they were proud of. Will was all smiles and blue eyes shining with life and singing old-school pop songs at the top of his lungs whereas Nico was known for being the son of Hades and being pale as a white sheet for staying in his cabin too often. “We complete each other” Will used to claim proudly, looking at him as if this was the happiest news he received all year, and Nico was solely responsible for it. The son of Hades missed Will looking at him like that, or just looking at him properly at all. Because Nico hadn’t changed, and he still loved Will when Will’s feelings seemed to have slowly faded away these pasts few years.
Slowly. This was the key word here. Time. It took time for Will to get this far on the thread without Nico following. He didn’t realise he was losing him before the blond was already too far for Nico to even reach for him. They had been genuinely happy at first. They were here for each other, constantly helping the other even with the smallest things. Nico had used his shadow travelling powers constantly the month Will broke his leg in a pegasi-riding lesson. He’d kissed him better every time the blond was frustrated because he couldn’t use his healing powers on himself. Will had spent the night holding him tight and drying his tears the day of Jason’s funeral. They had had a (very mature) pillow fight on the bed instead of properly unpacking the day they moved in their very first apartment. The very bed was laying in right now, looking at pictures of him and his boyfriend on the wall. Somehow, they felt like they had all been taken a century ago.
Nico’s favourite had been taken by Leo, on a polaroid he had made himself and was trying out on everybody at camp. It was no news that Leo was a very bad photograph, so the picture was slightly blurry and out of frame. But Will still looked beautiful on it, the red lights of the campfire illuminated his freckles as he laughed loudly at Nico’s sarcastic comments about the lyrics of the songs they were singing. When was the last time Will laughed at one of his jokes? They barely talked anymore.
You could see Jason’s face behind Will on the picture. Nico missed Jason, he would have known what to do. Or at least he would have listened to Nico, offered a shoulder to cry on. But Jason was gone, and all of their friends just watch as the two of them crawled apart from each other. They watched in silence, obviously noticing how Will wouldn’t wait for Nico when he’s late anymore, how Nico doesn’t smile fondly at each and every single one of Will’s puns.
Hazel told him once that he shouldn’t be passive and let life write his own story. She told him that he should draw his own path and give it a meaning. So he tried, he fought with all his heart, giving everything so that their relationship didn’t fall apart. So that Will would love him again (love him still?). He talked to Will, he took on him to explain how he felt, and Will listened. He knew how hard it was for the Italian to talk about feelings, so he listened. He promised to try and change, give Nico more attention, spend more time together. But whether he tried or not, it obviously didn’t work.
And maybe it was also Nico’s fault, maybe he should have realised sooner that he too was falling out of love. Maybe instead of focusing so much on Will and overthink as usual, he should have listened to his heart telling him how he didn’t give in to all of the blond’s wishes all the time anymore, how he could fall asleep without feeling the blond’s strong arms around his waist, how his habit of mumbling song lyrics when washing the dishes was annoying Nico now when he used to find it endearing. It was like waking up and looking at another man in the mirror, as if suddenly, Genie’s magical metamorphosis that had made Nico happy had disappeared and the son of Hades was left with someone he had forgotten how to be. How did this happen so fast?
In a matter of months, they had crawled from this perfect relationship that everyone envied to a life of fragile lines, where Nico didn’t dare say a word in case everything would shatter in front of his eyes. It only takes a second and the flutter of a butterfly’s wings for the most elaborate house of cards to crumble down. Nico would have gladly made sure all butterflies on the surface of the earth were dead if it meant for Will and him to go back to who they were. Those same butterflies that used to explode in his stomach each time Will laid his eyes on him.
This is how he ended up on a Sunday morning, his bag set and ready by the front door. Nico looked at the bedroom for the last time while Will washed the dishes in the kitchen. Or was having breakfast. Or just cleaning up. Either way, he couldn’t have missed Nico’s travel bag waiting to be picked up in the middle of the corridor. If he cared. Nico shook his head, of course Will cared. He hadn’t become a monster in the span of four months, they’d only drifted apart, but they still cared.
He considered leaving without a word, just grabbing his bag, ignoring the world around him and just leaving. Denying that the reason for his escape was partly his fault, because he got distracted and lazy for a minute, and the house of card, that he’d built up with much time and effort, had finally crumbled down. He wanted to leave without acknowledging the mess he left behind.
Instead he took a deep breath and turned to Will on his way out. The blond was already looking at him. “I think I need to go.” He whispered, because his voice apparently decided to abandon him too.
His (ex?) boyfriend nodded quietly in approval. They didn’t really need to say anything more. He could read on the boy’s face how sorry he was, and Nico felt sorry too, although he wasn’t sure why. What else could he have done? What else was he supposed to do? All house of cards end up as a pile on the ground, they are bound to be, and not even the most experienced architect can make sure it will survive the next blow. It was both their faults, and none. It was just another game that they had to experience and make mistakes and learn from; except this time both their hearts were on the line. And both got hurt.
There was nothing to say, so Nico took a step forward and hugged Will, one last time. He only realised he was crying once the tears had already left a patch on Will’s shirt, but he trusted the blond for pretending he hadn’t noticed. This was the moment he could pretend nothing had changed and they still were two boys scared of their feelings for the other. And so he cried as he held the boy for the last time in this life. This life he had tried so hard to give entirely to Will. There were the days he had thought too hard of Bianca and he didn’t have the energy to even get up, but Will burst in his cabin to bring him breakfast in bed, as if he’d sensed something was wrong without even seeing the other. There were the days where the sole sight of Will’s smile made him grateful Jason and Percy were forcing him to go out. There were the days when Will was the one feeling down and Nico had dropped everything and devoted his day to make his boyfriend feel better. And now he had to learn to live for himself, and it scared him. Nico wasn’t good with words, but Goodbye was the one he always had the hardest time saying. Goodbye meant everything was over and there was no going back. Goodbye was a word he had sworn to himself he would never have to say again.
He walked down the streets, his mind silent for once. He’d forgotten how it felt to be on his own, and it was a strange feeling. He used to spend days alone, or with the sole company of another lost ghost, and now he was the one being lost. He was alone. He walked aimlessly, he didn’t want to go anywhere, and he wanted to go somewhere. He wanted purpose, he wanted to have a goal, but he was lonely, and lost. He could shadow travel back to camp, to Hazel’s, the Percy and Annabeth’s and yet he continued walking under the morning sun. People around him were moving fast, knowing where to go. He looked at their faces. They looked so sure of themselves. How were they so sure of everything? Didn’t they know that life was so fragile, and the smallest mishap could end the strongest relationship in a matter of weeks? He caught the sight of a mop of blond hair. He thought about Jason. Then he thought about Will. And then he thought about something else. Will used to be the first one, the only one. The only boy he would see in a crowd, the only thought wandering his mind all day, and often at night. And now he was one besides thousands of others and that scared him. Did he miss Will, or did he miss being in love with Will?
He remembered falling in love with the boy, and how they were both scared to lose each other. He had put so much energy into it, and he’d lost Will anyway. But as he walked past the hospital where his now ex-boyfriend worked, he couldn’t bring himself to regret. He’d fallen in love, and out of love. It hurt. It also allowed him to know Will, to experience life with Will by his side, a life he would have never thought he’d have to abandon one morning. Will changed, and Nico forgot to do the same. They weren’t completing each other anymore, but there was a time when they would. Where Nico would end, Will began; they wrote their story together. Now it only left room for Nico to continue drawing his own path, on the thread. There was a time where he thought he would tell their story, and even though the ending wasn’t the one he hoped, it still sounded like a good story to tell.
Because, no matter how much he wished that wasn’t true, he knew fairy tales didn’t end in a happy ending.