“Sooo, Nico,” is how Jason greets him in the dining hall on Thursday afternoon.
“Sooo, Jason,” he mocks, head cocked to the side, feeling oddly upbeat for someone who has just come from an houir-long lecture on staph infections. Jason is grinning at him even wider than usual until he visibly tries to even out his expression and attempts to stir his soup nonchalantly.
“There’s this friend of mine in psychology class- you know, the one that wrote the song about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs- and he said-” Nico holds up a hand to silence him.
“Jay, I’m gonna go ahead and stop you right there. I appreciate the thought, but I don’t need a boyfriend.”
“I know you don’t need one, obviously, but don’t you think it’d be nice to meet somebody? Just to have fun?”
“That’s what I have you and our loser friends for.”
“He said you were cute.” Nico twirls his spaghetti around his fork, lifting it closer to his face only to stare at it, examining a fleck of oregano as though it is infinitely more important than this conversation.
“No, he didn’t. He’s never met me.”
“Alright, but he said that from what I’d told him about you, you sounded cute.”
“Well, in any event, I hope you’re prepared to let him down easy, because it’s not happening.”
“It can’t hurt,” Jason tries one last time.
“Actually, it can. A lot. So no thanks.” Jason doesn’t really have a retort for that, so he lets it drop for the time being and slides his extra oyster crackers across the table in a peace offering.
Jason makes it four whole days before bringing it up again.
“You know, Will’s a med student too.” Nico and Jason are sitting on the couch in the common room, playing Halo. Jason is ducking and dodging along with his character, as though it will help him to evade the shower of bullets coming at them. Nico calmly lobs a grenade and takes out the gunner.
“Yup. You’re gonna need a good doctor if you don’t leave me alone about this.”
“Oh, ha ha. You’re so funny. Why are you so dead set against this?”
“Because the last time I went out with one of your friends-”
“Okay! I’m sorry, I know it was bad-”
“It was borderline tragic. I had to get Hazel to fake a family emergency to get out of it!” Jason momentarily lets go of the controller to hold up his hands in surrender.
“Fine, okay. That was my bad, I admit it. But Will-” Jason is cut off by Nico’s character shooting him in the head. “Oh, you little shit!”
This time, it is less than twenty-four hours before Jason is at him again, trying to talk Nico into what is sure to be yet another disastrous fix-up.
“Nico, come on, just give it a try!”
“I’m gonna have take a rain-check on that. Papers to write, books to catalog, and I have not forgotten what happened the last time you set me up with someone.”
“I promise promise promise that this is totally different. He’s perfect for you,” Jason insistes, following Nico across the quad.
“Not interested,” Nico called over his shoulder, somehow walking fast enough that his much taller friend lagged behind.
“It’s not even a date; it’s just a phone number! If you don’t like him, you never even have to see his face!”
“I’m sick of hearing about his stupid face!”
“His face isn’t even a little stupid, it’s cute. It’s your favorite type of cute, and you should talk to it.” Nico stops walking and turns on his heel to stare Jason down. The sudden stop combined with the death glare currently shooting up at him is almost enough to knock him over. Nico crosses his arms and rolls his eyes, resigning himself to his fate.
“I’m going to regret this,” he mutters under his breath as he hands his cellphone over for Jason to add a new contact.
Nico opened a blank message seventeen times, and composed forty-two possible greetings between then and the start of his shift at the library. He also attended two classes, wrote three thousand words, and read fifty pages (not counting the latest Captain America comic)- but he doesn’t really remember anything except the anxiety gnawing at his stomach as he tried to figure out how to introduce himself. He was never really sure if he wanted to make an effort to get to know the guy or not, and so he kept faltering at the last moment and deleting the whole thing.
So, when four o’clock rolls around, it is a welcome distraction to find a large stack of dusty encyclopedias waiting to be discarded. He flicks through the pages a bit, skimming a couple of entries before pulling the pocket with the security sensor off the back cover and stamping it with a large black WITHDRAWN.
“Whoa! You know they can take your library card for that, right?” Nico’s head snaps up and the rubber stamp falls to the ground. He bends to pick it up with shaking hands, a blush creeping up the back of his neck. He straighten slowly, trying to breathe deep and regain his composure. Clearing his throat, he fixes the guy in front of him with a look, not amused in the slightest.
“Can I help you?” he asks. The boy across the counter is looking at him with wide eyes. He’s a good few inches taller than Nico, but nowhere near as intimidating. His wavy blonde hair is sticking up in odd places.
“I have a delivery from the bookstore downtown,” he told Nico, pointing his thumb over his shoulder in what would apparently be the direction of the store. He shifts his weight from foot to foot a couple times, clearly uncomfortable under Nico’s unwavering stare. It takes a moment for him to realize that Nico is waiting for him to hand over the brown paper-wrapped parcel under his arm. “Oh, uh...here you go.”
“No problem,” The courier grins at him, Nico is embarrassed all over again because Oh Styx, he’s cute and his smile is warm enough to make up for the faulty heating.
“Um...do you need somebody to sign for this?” he asks because he needs to a. break the horribly awkward silence and b. remind himself that they’re both at work right now. Nico takes the clipboard that’s offered to him and quickly signs his boss’s name on the order form, just like he’d been doing for nearly a year.
“Thanks.” The other boy tucks the clipboard under his arm. “Guess I’ll be seeing you,” he says, and with one last smile and a quick wave, he’s heading back out the door into the crisp October air.
When Nico stumbles through the door to his and Hazel’s apartment at 11, he’s dead on his feet and long past ready for bed. He unlocks his phone to set the alarm only to find a message from Jason, wondering if he’s texted Will yet. Nico rolls his eyes but replies Yes, mother and opens a new message. As annoying as Jason can be, he’s one of Nico’s best friends, and he can’t bring himself to lie to the big dork. Too tired to be self-conscious, Nico fires off a simple “Hey.” before tossing the phone onto the nightstand and rolling over.
The next morning, Nico’s blaring alarm is cut off by an incoming text. He sees that Jason answered him around two in the morning with a smiley face that may or may not be sarcastic. Then he sees the message time stamped one minute ago: Hi, is this Nico? He puts the phone back down and kicks his legs over the side of the bed. He’s showered and dressed fifteen minutes later, waiting for Hazel with a bowl of oatmeal in front of him when he remembers to reply.
Good morning! Out of habit, Nico fires off a snarky response:
What’s so good about it? and he immediately thinks that he is currently holding in his hand the biggest reason for his perpetual-singleness.
Not a morning person. Noted. It’s a fairly innocuous remark, especially since Nico doesn’t remotely know Will or his sense of humor, but he’s still blushing when Hazel sits down across from him.
“Sleep well?” she asks, taking an orange from the bowl of fruit on the table and trying to get a grip on the peel.
“Well enough,” he tells her, watching her struggle for another moment before getting up from the table to grab her a knife. She smiles gratefully as she takes the handle he offers. “You?”
“I slept like a rock, I was exhausted. Frank and I took a walk after dinner last night, and I think we ended up going halfway to Brooklyn and back.”
“That’s nice,” he says, spooning some oatmeal into his mouth. The phone beside him vibrates and he glances over to see another text from Will:
You fall asleep again? There’s a second of hesitation where Nico thinks that he could just not reply. Just leave it and let Will get tired of waiting and give up. But then he remembers getting into bed last night and feeling the space on the other side tugging at him like he was on the edge of a black hole.
No, my sister and I are having breakfast. That made it sound like Will was interrupting...he went back and added: She was having trouble peeling an orange.
You could say...the citrisetal force was too strong. Nico choked on his coffee a little. Hazel raised an eyebrow at him.
“Who’s that?” she asked.
“Nobody,” he said, too quickly.
“Oh? Since when are you and Odysseus such good friends?”
“Business associates,” he corrected. Another buzz.
You get it? Like centripetal force?
Yeah, I got it. That was really bad. So bad, I just tried to drown myself in my mug. Who even thinks of that?
My roommate is a physics major. They’re shockingly whimsical people. Nico shakes his head, shocked to catch himself smiling at the screen.
“Doesn’t look like a business associate to me,” Hazel teases, smirking into her coffee cup.
“This doesn’t leave the apartment.”
“My lips are sealed.”
Fridays are Nico’s day off from classes, and had he any sense of self-preservation, he would use that day to catch up on some much-needed sleep. Instead, he usually picks up extra hours working in the archives department. He doesn’t have to do much; if something is brought in, he leaves it in the supervisor’s office to be reviewed, he occasionally has to add the reviewed objects into the catalog, but it’s mostly a lot of sitting around waiting for a frazzled history major that just can’t get a straight answer from Google. Those are few and far between, however, so most of the time, he uses it to take notes for his Organic Chemistry class.
“Hey!” It’s by far the loudest sound Nico’s heard all day and he jumps, the highlighter in his hand dragging crookedly across the page of his textbook. “You startle really easy,” the intruder informed him. Nico glances up only to find the same delivery guy from yesterday giving him that warm, easy grin.
“I do not,” Nico shoots back. “You’re just too loud. This is a library. Shush.”
“Sorry,” he says, and actually has the nerve to look like he means it.
“It’s fine. So, what’ve you got for me today?” The courier hands him another brown paper package.
“Dunno what’s in it this time.” Nico signs Mr. Medina’s name on the delivery slip again. When he hands it back, he waits for him to leave, but he’s just standing there, watching.
“Aren’t you gonna open it?” the courier is rocking on the balls of his feet, looking like it’s Christmas morning. Nico is immediately suspicious.
“Do you seriously not have a clue what’s in here?” he asks, narrowing his eyes.
“Does it really matter to you what’s in here?” The kid shakes his head.
“Just curious. So, you gonna look or what?”
“You swear this isn’t, like, a bomb or something?”
“Pinkie swear,” he tells Nico, reaching out to hook his little finger around Nico’s. There’s barely time to realize the flash of warmth before he’s been let go. Nico fumbles with the string that binds the package closed, and he swears he can hear the courier whistling “My Favorite Things” and damn it if that isn’t adorable. Nico pulls back the paper to find an old photo album.
There’s a letter resting on the cover addressed to Henry Medina. He sets it aside and opens the album to find sepia-toned photographs of smiling men in uniforms. Somebody’s old World War II album, filled with shots of a whole division, names and dates penned neatly below each one. The courier leans over the counter to see the pictures, his demeanor sobering as he watches faces disappear and uniforms grow wrinkled and dirty. They sit in reverent silence, staring at the final shot, the only one that shows the photographer: two young men, one of them the photographer’s best friend and a frequent face all the way through, both of them standing with arms slung over each other’s shoulders, grinning at the camera held out in front of them.
“Wow,” the courier finally says, breaking through the quiet that’s settled between them. “So you get to look at stuff like this all day?” he asks, turning to Nico, who still can’t take his eyes away.
“No,” he says, sounding half in a trance. “This would be a first. I’ve never opened one of these before.”
“You’re kidding! How come? This is really cool.”
“Nobody’s ever been interested, so I just never bothered.” Nico shrugs, trying not to let it show just how painfully curious he had always been about the boxes that came into the library.
“Well, consider me interested,” the guy says, and Nico isn’t sure if he’s imagining the double weight that the words carry, but he’s blushing anyway, stunned into silence until he finally manages to stammer out a “N-Noted.”
“Good. Catch ya’ on the flip-side,” he tells Nico, finally withdrawing from where he’d been leaning, which Nico realizes is entirely too far across the desk, and backing toward the stairwell to take him back to his bike.
“Yeah, see you.”
When he gets home, he finds another greeting from Will, and by the time Hazel walks in with her boyfriend Frank and a couple of pizzas, he’s completely forgotten about cooking dinner.
“Hey,” she greets him, smiling knowingly as she walks past. “You didn’t reply when I asked you if you’d made dinner yet.”
“Oh, sorry. I just-”
“Got completely distracted texting that boy you very adamantly did not want to be set up with? I figured as much, hence...” Frank holds up the pizza to illustrate her point.
“Hazel,” he whines, then stops himself, because honestly he sounded like a teenager, and he’d hated every last one of his teen years. “I’m sorry,” he apologizes, standing up to squeeze her hand and kiss her on the cheek.
“Don’t be,” she tells him, patting his cheek as she moves towards the kitchen with Frank. “It’s been awhile since I saw you smile like that; you’re always so serious these days.”
Nico’s phone goes off, and he leans against the counter, letting Hazel and Frank make their plates first (He’s just being nice, really. It has nothing to do with the fact that Will was on the other side of the text.)
Fun Fact: I’m minoring in medieval music.
It’s such a weird thing to like, and Nico finds it completely endearing. But, true to his character, he covers it up with a thick layer of snark.
How is that even a minor?
Klingon is a major, one of my friends just traveled three hours to compete in a regional Quidditch tournament and medieval music is what you’re gonna criticize here? He huffs out a laugh, rolling his eyes at the screen.
All that stuff’s useless too.
Fuck you. Nico’s heart leapt into his throat. Oh no. Oh no. Ohnoohnoohnoohno. This is why he hated texting. Sarcasm does not come across on a cellphone screen, and now he’s gone and offended Will, this great guy that actually seemed to like him, and he’s sort of starting to panic and on the verge of maybe even calling him to word-vomit a massive apology when his phone vibrates in his hand.
I’ll have you know that this is important stuff. If it weren’t for people like me, the art of the jig would die out. Nobody would ever be “jiggy with it” again. Is that what you want? This time, his laugh is loud and unrestrained, echoing off the cabinets. and making Hazel shoot him a raised eyebrow over her shoulder. Nico just smiles widely in response.
Nico is now officially conflicted, and completely dreading his shift because of it. He’s hoping that the bike courier drops by again so that maybe Nico can finally learn his name (and maybe phone number) and when he thinks about it, his stomach turns in guilt. He and Will definitely aren’t dating or anything. They haven’t even traded photos; Nico quite literally could not pick him out of a lineup, but whatever this is with the bike courier still sort of feels like cheating. And so he’s really hoping that he can make it through the next few hours without feeling like he’s got to choose one or the other, and maybe - just maybe - get through one measly shift with just him and the books.
He’s fine for the whole first half of his shift, happily stamping cards and flattening dog-eared pages. Nobody asks him for so much as directions to the bathroom, and he’s content in this quiet.
It’s all shot to hell when a familiar face slides a book across the desk. A grin stretches across the courier’s lips, and Nico’s mouth goes dry. He clears his throat and looks away, feeling his cheeks warm. “Do you-uh, do you have your student ID?” he asks, glancing up from under his bangs.
“Yeah.” He pulls the card from his wallet and passes it across to Nico, who takes it gently and scans it, handing it back without turning from the computer screen. The guy’s name flashes across the screen, and Nico fumbles the book in his hand. Will Solace. He wracks his brain, furiously trying to recall if Jason had mentioned a last name. It’s too weird to be coincidence. Will isn’t that common of a name. He scans the book, but what he offers back is a shaky hand, and
“I don’t think I’ve ever properly introduced myself. I’m Nico DiAngelo. Nice to meet you.” He won’t deny that he gets a bit of satisfaction from the way Will gapes at him, but he can’t feel too smug once Will reaches out to shake his hand weakly, and Nico’s fingers tingle like they’ve just been stuck in a wall socket.
“You-you’re-I mean, isn’t your name...I thought you were Henry Medina?” Nico breathes a laugh and shakes his head.
“No. Uh, that’s my boss’s name. He just told me to sign for stuff when it came, so...” Will points at Nico, still sporting a dumbfounded expression.
“So, you’re the Nico that I’ve been texting?”
“Are you the idiot Will that’s minoring in medieval music?”
“It’s an interesting subject!” Will protests. Nico throws his head back and laughs, flashing a mischievous grin when he looks back at Will, who is still holding his hand, and all of a sudden, Nico’s world is tipping.
Because Will has tugged him forward, and Nico’s free hand is slammed on the keyboard to keep him from tumbling off of his stool and Will’s fingers are winding into his hair, and Will is kissing him. His lips are warm and pliant, and Nico is on fire, but it’s more like a campfire- a gentle, comforting heat radiating out from his chest. When he pulls back, Nico leans forward a little farther, trying to chase the feeling, but Will presses their foreheads together.
“So,” he starts, out of breath and voice soft. “How do you feel about Italian food?” Nico lets a small smile slip out and tells him,
“I feel that my shift ends at six.”
“It’s a date.”
And then Will is withdrawing back to his side of the desk, scooping up the book, and pecking Nico on the lips one last time before he pushes his way out the door.