Nico blinked at the sudden brightness the snow brought. This time he knew he was back in New Rome, in his own time. People were bustling hurriedly down either side of the street, holding onto bags and packages as they finished up their last minute shopping. Nico took in a deep breath and let it out. It was good to be back.
"As much as I love traditions," Apollo said beside him, "I'd hate to have to do this again next year so take good care of my son, will you?"
Nico huffed. "Trust me, I have no interest of any more 'bonding trips' with you."
Apollo feigned offense. "And here I thought we really connected back there! Is this what I get for helping my future son-in-law?"
Nico scowled. "Stop saying that!" He peered suspiciously at him. "Wait… I'm not going to find any rings in my stockings, am I?"
Apollo let out a hearty laugh at the suggestion. "Not this year, unfortunately. You kids still have a few years to go. You're only seventeen, after all."
Nico glared. "So what was all of that about then?"
"A few years feels like a few days when you've lived as long as I've had." Apollo hummed. "But it's your life, son of Hades. When the time comes, you will still have the power to choose. Just remember yourself and you'll do fine."
Nico rolled his eyes.
"And one more thing!"
Apollo chuckled. "Merry Christmas!"
And then he was gone.
Nico took a moment to look at the Christmas tree sitting the center of the square and felt a wave of contentment. Sure, the droned-out and overplayed Christmas music and the gaudy decorations still annoyed him, and the groups of kids pelting snow at each other were being too loud, and the overall joy and cheer sort of made him a bit ill, but it wasn't so bad anymore. Not when he had people to look like idiots with.
In order to please the ones you love, you will always have to do things you don't like. Even if it makes you a fool.
"I'm not saying thank you," he muttered, hoping that Apollo could hear him, but grinned to himself and started to walk briskly toward his little cabin.
When he got there, he was surprised to see his sister in the living room. "Nico!" she gasped. "You're back!"
"Hazel?" Nico kicked off his shoes to avoid tracking snow inside. "What're you doing here?"
"Oh, uh… Will sent me." She raised a familiar green costume. It was the one Will had wanted him to wear. "He asked if I would fill in since you—wait a minute, where did you go? Everyone was really worried!"
"Sorry," Nico said, and he meant it. He walked over and pushed a kiss to her cheek. "I'll explain some other time but for now…" He took the costume from her and gave a long, suffering sigh. "I have to go humiliate myself."
Hazel smiled and patted his cheek. "That's so sweet. Will will be ecstatic. He really wanted to spend Christmas with you."
Nico nodded. "Yeah. I know."
"We all really want you to be here," she added. "It just wouldn't be the same."
Nico gave her a grateful smile. "…Thanks, Hazel."
She hummed. "No problem, brother mine. I'll go, uh, check on Frank. Last I checked on him Percy was trying to convince him that he could keep him hydrated if he morphed into a squid or something."
"Octopus," Nico amended. "You'd better run then."
"See you tonight," she said, "and, don't worry, Will isn't the type to force you into anything. He just wants to have a laugh with you."
"I know that now," Nico assured her. "Still doesn't mean I have to like it."
Hazel snorted. "Fair enough. Merry Christmas, Nico."
Nico smiled. "Merry Christmas, sis."
Will walked into his cabin with a yawn, stretching out until his spine gave a merciful pop. "Hazel?" he called. "Are you almost ready? I was thinking we could—" He tripped over a pair of boots in front of the doorway and nearly face-planted. He straightened up, annoyed. Nico always left his shoes in the worst places.
"Nico?" he called, searching the small cabin. "Nico, you here?"
"Back here," Nico's faint voice shouted from the bedroom. "Be out in a minute!"
Relief swarmed through him, warming him from the tips of his fingers to the depths of his toes. He half-ran into their shared bedroom and found that the adjoined bathroom door was closed. The light was on, peeking through the door, and Will let out a breath he didn't realize he was holding. He approached softly, wondering if Nico was still angry or if he was even angrier at Will for his father having kidnapped him. He knocked carefully. "Nico?"
"Dammit," Nico cursed from inside and there was a bang – like he'd hit his head – quickly preceded by another curse. The doorknob turned and it slowly swung open. Will's jaw dropped.
Nico was staring fixatedly at the floor, cheeks bright red. He was wearing the tight green elf costume with all its ruffles and bells. The slightly darker tights clung to his legs in a way that was practically unfair. The hat kept slipping off and Nico grumbled as he straightened it. "Well?" he hissed, daring him to make a cheeky remark. "Why aren't you in your costume? We'll be late."
Will gawked at his boyfriend for a few moments before breaking into a fit of laughter. "Oh m-my gods!" he choked, holding his sides. "Y-you look so adorable!"
Nico flushed a deep red and smacked Will's shoulder hard. "Idiot. I'm doing this for you so I don't wanna hear it!"
Will struggled to contain his amusement, biting his lips and covering his mouth. "Sorry, sorry! It's just… this is why I wanted you to have it fitted first! It looks… ridiculous on you."
Nico scowled. "Great. Thanks."
"Oh, wait until you see me in my Santa suit. I look horrible." Will grinned and eyed his boyfriend up and down. "Those tights, though. To be honest, I'm a bit reluctant to let you walk around in public like that." He gave a low whistle and motioned for Nico to do a spin but got another smack instead. Will laughed as he rubbed his shoulder. "Tell you what, just wear the jacket and hat and maybe the scarf."
Nico looked up at him through his eyelashes, seeming confused. "What?"
"Yeah." Will sighed. "I shouldn't have tried to make you do something you really didn't want to do. I'm sorry."
Nico shook his head. "No, I get it. I mean, I know you weren't doing this to be a jerk or anything. I'm sorry, too. I don't mind celebrating Christmas if I'm with you guys. It's just… been a long time since I've had a good one."
Will smiled. "We can change that, you know."
"Yeah." Nico smiled back and Will felt like he was invincible. "A-and this is about more than just Christmas. I-if you really want to do something then you should tell me. Like, date stuff. And… gods, you know I even rehearsed what I was going to say to you and I still sound like an idiot."
Will pulled Nico into a hug. "Nah," he murmured, "you're not an idiot. Dense, yes, but not an idiot." He kissed Nico's forehead. "Thank you."
Nico returned the hug. "I should thank you. I… I really… you know."
"Yeah." Will tightened his hold and somehow did understand. "I do. And me too."
The whole thing wasn't as bad as Nico had imagined. It was made much better due to the fact that he had actual pants. Will looked absolutely ridiculous donned in red and a fake beard. He had a pillow stuffed under his shirt to make himself look 'jollier'. He wasn't alone, however. Nico was sure he must have looked quite the sight with his pointed hat and fake ears and bright green overcoat with its red trimmings and tight collar while having normal pants tucked into his boots. Separately, they would have looked insane. But, together… well, Nico didn't think he minded whenever Will shot him that hundred-watt smile.
Will, true to his word, made them stop and ask a group of kids what they wanted for Christmas. Nico wasn't sure if he wanted to laugh or hide when Will crouched down and put on a fake low, raspy voice as he talked to the small kids staring wide-eyed at him.
"Are you really Santa?" one of the younger kids asked skeptically.
"Of course I am!" Will proclaimed in his old man voice.
"Who're you?" A little girl pointed at Nico.
"I'm an elf." Nico jerked his thumb at Will. "I'm here to make sure Santa doesn't hurt himself."
The kids giggled at that and Nico was surprised at how good that felt. Especially when Will pouted in mock offense.
"Don't listen to him," Will turned back to the kids. "He's getting coal this year." Nico rolled his eyes. "Anyways, what do you all want for Christmas?"
"A new bow!"
"I want a charm that'll make my teacher forget about homework!"
"A really sharp axe!"
Will's smile became strained. "Those all sound kinda dangerous." His voice slipped a bit. "Why don't I get you guys a football or stuffed animals or something like that?"
A boy with short black hair shook his head. "My dad is Mars! And he promised me the sharpest axe ever!"
Will gaped at the kids for a moment. When he spoke again, it was in his normal voice. "B-but you could hurt yourselves!" He started to flail. "You should be more careful! Weapons aren't toys! Do you know how many demigods injure themselves on a yearly average?"
The boy pointed accusingly at him. "You're not Santa!"
Nico wasn't even trying to hide his laughter as the kids swarmed Will, playfully knocking him over into the snow and shouting. Will squawked and held out a hand. "Nico! Help!"
"Who, me?" Nico pointed to himself. "Sorry, I'm one of Santa's elves. I don't help imposters."
In the end, Nico did help Will from the kids. His beard had fallen off and his hat was askew, suit all twisted and wet from the snow. Nico put a supporting arm around him as they made their way back to the cabin.
"Traitor!" Will sniffled.
"You were the one that told me not to break character."
"In a life or death situation you can!"
Nico snorted. "That was hardly a life or death situation. And you even said 'no matter what!'"
Will laughed. "Whatever. Man, I'm tired."
"You ran around like a madman all morning and got mauled by five angry children. I'm surprised you're still able to hold yourself up."
"I had fun, though."
Nico could feel Will's eyes on him, gauging his expression. He squeezed Will's hand. "Yeah. Me too."
That night, Nico and Will joined in on the festivities in the dining pavilion. Percy, Jason, Annabeth, Piper, Frank, Hazel, and Reyna were all there along with the rest of Camp Jupiter. Will was right at home with his Roman siblings, talking about medicine and music and other things that just went over Nico's head. He preferred to talk to Reyna about battle tactics.
Dinner had been like nothing Nico had ever experience. He had Will on one side and Hazel and Frank on the other with Reyna, Jason, and Piper across from him and Percy and Annabeth along the side. They laughed and joked and reminisced, passed around dish after dish of all sorts of food. Nico wasn't sure he ever felt so welcome anywhere in his life.
"Present time!" Percy announced once they couldn't stomach another bite. Nico didn't feel like moving – Will's arm was wrapped snug around him and he was about to slip into what Will referred to as a "food coma" – but Percy was off like a little kid towards the large pile of gifts at the front of the hall.
Annabeth sighed and lowered her glass. "He'll open every single one if we don't go."
There was a murmur of agreement and they all managed to shuffle down to the other end where Percy was waiting impatiently for them.
Nico was surprised by the amount of gifts he received – one from Jason, one from Percy and Annabeth, one from Hazel and Frank, one from Reyna, and a separate one from Piper. A few from the other campers at Camp Jupiter made its way onto his pile. Will handed him another with a big smile. "Open mine first?" he pleaded.
Nico did and immediately closed the box again. "Will!" he hissed. "I can't open this in public!"
"It's nothing to be ashamed of!" Will protested. He leaned in and whispered, "We can use it tonight if you still want me to hold up my end of our deal."
Nico was pretty sure he couldn't blush any darker. "…Fine," he muttered. "But, seriously, if anyone found out—"
"So what? If everyone found out then they wouldn't freak out if they walked in the Hades cabin and saw—"
"Oh my gods, Will, shut up. Shut up right now."
Will laughed and kissed his nose.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Hazel said, "but open mine next! It's for both of you!"
Desperate for a distraction, Nico tore open the wrapping paper and held out a very familiar-looking ugly Christmas sweater. It had Santa in his sleigh, being drawn by two reindeer. Will held up a matching one with the rest of the reindeer – Rudolph included.
Nico's eyes widened and his lips parted.
"You have to promise to wear them whenever we come up to see you guys for Christmas sometime!" Hazel exclaimed with a mischievous wink. "Frank and I have ugly ones, too."
"Thanks, Hazel," Nico managed to say, still marveling that he was actually holding the sweater he'd seen in Apollo's game. Strangely, happiness started to bubble up inside him until he had to fight to keep the smile off of his face. If Apollo had gotten the sweaters right then what else could be? He glanced at Will and finally let the smile crack through.
He couldn't wait to find out.
By the time they'd gotten back to the cabin, it was late and they were exhausted. Nico was ready to collapse into bed, but Will had other ideas. "So," he drawled as he hung up his coat, "about that thing…"
Nico shook his head in exasperation. "You're serious about this, aren't you?"
"Well, you get so happy whenever we do it!"
"Did you even bring your stuff?"
"Of course I did!"
Nico sighed and looked at the box Will had gotten him. He opened it again and spilled the contents onto the coffee table. Countless Mythomagic cards from every series and every character fell out, glittering tauntingly at him. He looked up at Will's smug expression. "I still don't get why you won't let anyone know you still like this game."
Nico scoffed. "It's embarrassing! Ghost King, son of Hades, still plays a kid's game."
Will sat down across from Nico and picked up a random card. "I think it's sweet. No one would give you crap for it, either."
"That's not the point."
Nico sighed, defeated. "Just… just go get your cards, gods damn you."
Will laughed but first pulled Nico close to push a chaste kiss to his lips. "Merry Christmas," he whispered.
Nico would deny the goofy grin that spread across his face for the rest of his days. "Bah humbug," he teased and leaned in to kiss his boyfriend again.
A/N: AND YOU THOUGHT THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT SOMETHING DIRTY! MWAHAHA!
Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to everyone! Also, Happy Birthday to Kakesu Wolf! :3 And now, I'm off to eat ham and brownies until I can't move! Addio!