There were several different versions on how the two of them met, each alteration depending on whoever it was that spoke of their story. Some said it was one particular hot day in the summer, with the bright sun causing blistering hot temperatures to spread all throughout their neighborhood. The two had coincidentally decided to take both their pets out for a stroll in the park, and one thing led to another, and the next thing they knew, they were exchanging cellphone numbers and flirty teenage glances.
Others said it had happened during winter season. Both of them were invited to a mutual friend's annual Christmas party, and both came with a polite gift to give and a matching ugly holiday sweater to wear. However, the mutual friend they both had had over her own set of friends—people neither of them knew nor felt comfortable enough to try knowing. So they ended up sitting together on the couch, both very alone and very annoyed. And when one started to spit out their irritation, the other immediately joined in, and soon enough, they were very much acquainted with one another, their foggy breaths and wool sweaters mingling together as the snowflakes outside the window continued to fall.
A typical Christmas tale fit for a typical Christmas setting.
However, a chosen few continued to disagree. They met at a local grocery store, they proclaimed, handsomely brought together by a fruity manifestation of a fate herald. Their metal carts stopped in front of one another and their hands were linked by a flimsy grown pear that somehow bore the shape of a mutated human heart. The moment their eyes met, a sparkle passed in between and the two instantly knew they were meant for each other.
More people diverged from the others and said they chanced upon one another in a quiet café, where one of them was sitting beautifully in a two-seater table, writing inside a beige hardbound notebook with an intricate stone bridge printed on its cover. And the other, the lonely dork that he was, gathered his courage and sauntered up to talk to a boy who was hopelessly out of his league. The other was amused, they said, and invited him to sit and discuss matters as trivial as the weather outside. As time passed, the two spent more time together, and discussed deeper than the weather, and eventually fell in love.
A couple more joined in their version, one where the boys met during the neighborhood's annual fair, battling each other off in an epic pie-eating contest and was brought together by twin hospital stretchers and bad cases of stomachaches. They bonded together as they laid at their stiff, horizontally parallel hospital beds, with only a bucket filled with vomit to separate one from the other.
Some romantics offered that the two of them were childhood friends, blissfully ignorant and reverberatingly in denial about their feelings for one another. Both of them forced themselves to think of their growing love as platonic and not at all romantic, until one sunny day when one asked the other if he wanted to be his boyfriend. He said yes.
And yet, there were still some whom begged to differ. They met in high school. One of them fancied the other, asked them out, and started to fall in love—plain and simple.
However, all of those couldn't have been any farther from the truth.
Yes, they first met each other when they were kids. Yes, they chanced upon one another in a hospital. Yes, they spent time in the park, and in the supermarket, and in the café, and in their mutual friend's Christmas parties. Yes, they battled each other in the town's annual fair. And yes, they fell in love.
But their story was anything but plain and simple.
And it all started when Nico di Angelo, the innocent little boy that he was, saw a man plummet down from the top of their city's tallest skyscraper.
The view from his bedroom window wasn't much to look at—just the usual overview of the neighborhood from one story above the ground. He could see his neighbor in the window parallel to his, a girl with curly brown hair whom was roughly the same age as he was, and he held out his hand in a small wave. But her curtains were immediately drawn the moment she caught sight of him staring. Nico wanted to think he was used to it, people shying away from him, but every time they do so, he still found himself feeling a tad bit dejected.
It may have been due to the fact that his wardrobe consisted of mostly dark hues of clothing, or because of the way he liked to decorate skulls on every piece of inanimate object he could find. Maybe it could also be blamed on his unruly dark hair, or the even darker eyes he'd inherited from his dad—whom, speaking of which, was actually a person whom owned a successful funeral firm, so one could probably add that to the list of reasons as well. Though it may also be because of his intense liking for weirdly toned music genres, or because of how he was practically nocturnal.
Or maybe, it was due to the undeniable and commonly known fact that Nico di Angelo could see ghosts.
Really, everyone in the whole city knew of it. And every single one of them made it a point to stay away from it.
And Nico found himself thinking once more, why? Why did they avoid him? Sure, he could see ghosts, but he wasn't a ghost himself. So why did people keep hiding from him? He wasn't that repugnant, was he?
It honestly hurt him more than he wanted to let on.
Nonetheless, he simply let out a little sigh and shook it off. It wasn't that surprising, really. Bianca always was the more agreeable sibling between the two of them—with her kind smile and sweet laugh and warm, welcoming eyes. Nico was just glad she loved him just as much as he loved her, or else he would've probably loathed himself even more.
He looked up at the sky.
It looked just like a watercolor painting, with hues of violet, orange, pink, and red mixing in and creating an astonishing view to paint the dome above the earth. A single building protruded itself on the very middle of the scene, boasting its tall height with stainless steel and spotless glass. The whole scene would've looked immaculate—a perfect tableau for the perfect day—if it weren't for that one person ruining the whole picture.
Nico leaned closer to his window to get a better look at the whole scenario. There was a person standing on the very top of the towering skyscraper, his silhouette donning a color of almost pitch black against the array of colors splashed behind him. For a couple of minutes, the guy didn't move—the figure just stood still and silent, not moving a single inch from where they were standing. Nico almost brushed it off and decided that it was probably a statue or cardboard cutout of some kind. No living person could stay motionless for that long.
And then, they fell.
A small yelp escaped from Nico's lips as he processed what he saw, his wide eyes blinking continuously as his body froze in shock. Did that…did that really just happen? Did that guy really just jump from that tower?
Without thinking much about it, Nico was already on his feet and making a beeline out his bedroom door, running down the stairs and zipping out their house entrance. He heard his father and sister call after to him, but their voices blurred in the background as he continued putting one foot in front of the other. He felt a sudden rush of adrenaline surge all throughout his body, and before he knew what he was doing, he found himself running towards the direction where the tallest building was located.
An ambulance zoomed passed him moments before he could reach his destination, its red and blue lights blinking intently along with the blaring siren resonating all around the street. He could tell the person was already inside the vehicle by the way his skin tingled eerily, and Nico instantly changed his route and dashed after the hospital wagon, uncaring of the multiple stares he received from everyone he passed by.
The moment he reached the hospital however, the van was already empty.
"Shoot," he muttered under his breath. He glanced around, looking for any signs of the recent accident's arrival, but all the nurses and doctors he saw were busy doing something else, seemingly uncaring of the morbid situation he had just witnessed. Immediately, Nico went inside the entrance, making it a point to stick close to a woman's back and pretend to be her son as the security man's eyes followed his own. Nico gave him an innocent smile, hoping he didn't look too suspicious in his ratty Misfits shirt and gray shorts, and fortunately enough, the guard smiled back, proceeding then to scan the other people that went through the building's double doors instead of eyeing him.
Nico let out a relieved exhale the moment he was out of sight.
"Out of the way, coming through!"
All of a sudden, he felt himself being harshly shoved to the side by a man clad in an all-green attire, his face obscured from view by a white face mask. He was part of a group of other people dressed in the same attire as he was, their arms pushing a bed containing a person with a bloody head towards the direction of a room at the end of the hallway.
"What happened?" Nico heard a man in a white lab coat demand, his voice alarmed and urgent.
"Fell off a building," one of the nurses replied, her brown eyes looking right at the doctor's blue ones. "The police are already doing an investigation on the place."
"Alright then, send him straight to the Operation Room."
Everyone nodded in affirmation, evidently responding obediently to the man's obvious authority as they wheeled the body away. Nico wondered how someone could look and speak so calm in the face of extreme horror and danger, how someone could breathe that peacefully and stand that confidently when confronted with something most people would almost immediately respond in utter panic to.
He watched as the man whispered something incomprehensible to a woman by the reception desk before following after the group of surgeons in green, his white coat blown by the wind his swift feet had generated behind him.
For a moment, Nico just stood there, unsure of what to do and where to go. Should he head inside the room as well? Was he allowed to follow them? Why was he even pursuing the man? What could he possibly gain from trailing after him? Did going in the room lead into another hallway or straight inside the ward? What was he going to say once someone caught him?
He had so many questions, so many inquiries that needed to be entertained—but his train of thinking was rudely interrupted by a sudden poke on his arm. "Psst."
Nico turned, eyebrows scrunched up together in a strange mix of thought and annoyance. To his left, a tall boy hid behind a thick green door labeled STAFF ONLY, the stark contrast of his bright orange shirt to his tan freckly skin hurting Nico's eyes badly enough to force him to focus on the boy's face. His mop of blonde hair lightly veiled a pair of bright blue eyes, and the boy raked a hand through it to show his unfamiliar face, making Nico notice the band-aid settled on his nose bridge.
Nico looked around, checking to see if there was any other person the boy could possibly communicate with. Everyone around him was either busy or minding their own business, prompting him to turn back and point innocently at his chest. "Me?"
"Yes, you!" the boy hissed, his hand insistently gesturing for Nico to come closer. "Who else would I call over? Come here!"
Again, Nico glanced everywhere, trying to comprehend whatever potential reason the boy had to talk to him. Were they neighbors? Did a family member of his consult their firm for burial rites? Was he a classmate of his? No, he couldn't have been. Being in too much solitude gave Nico the opportunity to silently observe and take in his surroundings together with the people lurking in it, and he was pretty sure he'd never seen this guy before.
Nevertheless, his curiosity got the better of him and he sauntered towards the boy.
"Who are you to him?" he asked, his blue eyes flickering with immovable conviction, his face scrunching up in dedicated determination.
"Who?" Nico inquired back, glaring with caution. What was this guy playing at?
"The man they just put inside. Who are you to him?"
"Dad," he blurted out without thinking, his mouth sending out the words before his brain could even filter them out. Only when the boy stared wide-eyed at him did Nico realize how horribly disturbing his choice of words had been. "I-I mean, he's my dad," he rapidly amended, "I'm his son."
The boy nodded in both relief and understanding, his head surveying the area in two quick swivels. "Do you want to go inside and look at him?" he whispered, pointing a thumb towards the double doors the green-clad group and white-dressed man disappeared into. "I know a secret way, come on!"
Nico simply blinked, feet planted firmly on the ground as he frowned at him. "But…I don't know you."
"Oh, right," the boy eagerly outstretched his hand towards him and grinned, the dark gap between his two front teeth fairly noticeable amongst the row of pearly whites. "Hiya! I'm Will."
"Will?" Nico repeated, racking his brain for any sense of recognition. "Will wha—"
But before he could finish, the alleged boy already grabbed his arm and hauled him inside, shutting the door behind them as he did.
"What the heck?" Nico exclaimed. "What was that all ab—"
"Shh!" Will clamped a hand over his mouth, effectively shutting the other boy up. "You want to see him, don't you?"
Despite his glare, Nico nodded.
"Good," Will said, bringing his hand down and advancing towards the long hallway the room apparently housed. "Follow me, then. Quietly. And don't say bad words!"
"Heck isn't a bad—"
He stared at the glass separating the room from the corridor, his gaze fixated on the white blanket drooped over the man's body. There wasn't anything attached to him—no IV, no heart monitor, no bandages, nothing. It was as if everyone had given up trying to save him, given up every attempt of letting him live. And though Nico knew nothing of the man, he still felt a hard pang of sadness hit his chest as he inhaled sharply.
He was dead.
"I'm too late," Nico breathed, feeling unusually morose. He felt Will tense up beside him, significantly affected by the sorrowful sight in front of them. "I'm sorry," he said, rubbing the back of his neck bashfully. "If I'd known it was that severe, I would've asked you to go with me soone—"
"It's okay," Nico cut him off, refusing to meet his worried gaze. "Nothing could've been done to prevent this, anyways."
Silence enveloped them. Will fiddled with the hem of his orange shirt while Nico simply stood in place, his eyes relentlessly digging holes in hopes of uncovering the stranger hidden under the blanket. He let his mind drift. Where was the man's ghost now? Why wasn't he showing up? Usually spirits haunted Nico the moment he got even as much as a kilometer near them, begging, pleading for him to help them cross over to the other side. So why wasn't this one already pestering him?
Nico's head snapped up in attention. Will was still there by his side, his hand rubbing his elbow as he cast his eyes at everything but Nico's own. "I'm, uh, I'm sorry."
The other boy sighed. "Like I said a while ago, it's okay. Noth—"
"No, I get that," Will interrupted, peeping at Nico from behind his blonde fringe. "What I mean is, I know how you feel. Losing a person you love."
Nico gave a slight nod, but otherwise said nothing. He wasn't really in the mood to entertain pity at the moment, especially not when he didn't really lose someone dear to him.
But Will seemed to have other plans.
"I lost my mom just two years ago, when I was seven," he continued, and Nico mentally did the math and silently concluded that the other boy exceeded his age by a year. "She had this disease in the lungs. I forgot what it's called, some big fancy name, but anyways, there was a storm, and this kid was drowning in the river."
Nico gulped. He knew where this was going.
"She dived right in and saved him, but before she could get out, the current became stronger and—" Will's voice cracked, and Nico forced himself to look away as he heard the other boy choke back a sob. Nico was fully aware of the irrevocable presence of death in everyone, of the permanent plot of ending in a person's life. But that didn't make facing it, or any existent factor of it, any less hard.
Especially when it wasn't your own.
"So yeah," Will sniffed, wiping his nose with his shirt sleeve. "I get what you're feeling right now."
And Nico merely glanced back towards the room the dead stranger was at, his senses too used to flinch at the sight of a man with a bloody head standing right beside the very bed his solid body laid upon.
No, Nico thought, goose bumps adorning his arm.
You really don't.
He was shocked by the amount of people that had approached him in school the next day, though he knew it really shouldn't surprise him as much—everyone knew that where there was death, Nico di Angelo was sure to follow, with details and information more in-depth than data the detectives and policemen released to the general public. It was one of the few moments when Nico actually felt a slither of acceptance and importance, but those instances often left as quickly as they came. They ask their questions, and they leave. End of conversation.
But of course, he had to show up.
Nico stopped in his tracks. No way. No way.
He immediately spun around and walked towards the direction he had come from, his route opposite of the adjacent crowd of students around him, uncaring of where he would end up.
"Hey, wait up!"
His casual walk evolved into something of a mix between jogging and brisk walking, but soon turned into a full-on run when the voice kept getting louder with each step Nico took.
Unfortunately, the other boy was faster than he predicted.
Before he knew what was happening, Nico found himself spun right around and faced with a now familiar too-happy-looking boy wearing a too-orangey-looking shirt while sporting a too-eager-looking tooth-gapped smile. "You're the guy from the hospital!" Will exclaimed. "I didn't know we go to school together. Are you in fourth grade, too?"
A couple of students looked at the two as they walked past them, and Nico felt like locking himself up in one of the lockers by the wall. Being constantly interviewed by people who couldn't care less about him was draining enough; he'd had enough attention for one day. And he certainly had more than enough regard from Will. Nico just wished the other boy wouldn't burst out about his little act of pretending to be the dead man's son, or else Nico would never hear the end of everyone's murmurings behind his back.
"By the way, have you heard? There's this guy here that talked to the ghost of your dad! I just thought that since you we—"
It was pure impulse when he clamped his hand over Will's mouth and pushed the two of them inside the janitor's closet. A few cleaning supplies tumbled on their heads, and a couple sharp cries of pain were released from Will's lips, but Nico quickly shushed him. "Shh!" He looked back at the closed door behind him, peeping through the small window situated on the door. Thankfully enough, no one saw their little fiasco.
"Don't ever say that in public," Nico hissed, twisting his neck back in place and pulling his hand away from the confused boy's face.
"The dead man. Being my father. You can't say that."
A shadow of realization settled on Will's features, and his expression softened. "Oh, I see. You don't want other people to know?"
Nico shook his head, sighing. "No, it's not that. He's not really my dad."
He immediately clamped his hand back on Will's mouth when he noticed the boy's attempt at letting out another sound of exclamation. "And before you say anything else, you should also know that I'm the kid everyone's talking about. It was me. I talked to him."
For a moment, Will said nothing. He simply blinked open and close, his blue eyes glowing brightly against the streak of sunlight escaping from the narrow door window, the look of disbelief and surprise unmistakable on his freckled face. Taking his silence as a sign of surrender, Nico unclasped the hand he put on Will's mouth. He expected him to spit out some harsh words, maybe a few which were synonymous to "odd" or "weirdo", or maybe even "freak". It certainly wouldn't be a first.
But Will simply gazed at him, looking almost…hurt. It wasn't something Nico was used to be in the receiving end of.
"You lied to me," he said, sounding genuinely wounded.
Nico blinked, confused. What? "I thought it would be easier for you to let me see him if I said so."
"Yeah, but you didn't have to lie," Will interjected, and Nico looked away, feeling strangely ashamed. "You could've just told me the truth. I would've let you in as easily even so."
The silence that followed was enough to make him feel terribly guilty. He peeked at the other boy from the corner of his eye, but Will's gaze was already directed the other way. He was used to feeling bad by other people's words and actions, but he was never one to be the one sending out statements and doings that made others feel bad; he wasn't familiar with the amendments used to remedy the situation.
And maybe it was for this exact reason that he found himself uttering his next words.
"He was sad, you know," he began, successfully making Will look at him. But his own pair of eyes refused to meet his, sustaining their unmatched staring contest with the right-side wall. "The man, I mean. He had a family. A wife. A daughter."
Will raised an eyebrow. Nico could tell this wasn't one of the details the others had told him; he'd made sure to only give out the background knowledge the dead man wanted to impart. His family was to be left out, he'd said to Nico. If ever people inquired about the reasons behind his jump, he was to tell them it was due to feeling empty and leave it at that.
He took a deep breath. He was probably going to be haunted for the rest of his life because of this, but it was too late to back out now. Might as well finish what he started. "A couple of years ago, his wife caught a rare illness—something she'd inherited from her side of the family."
Will stared silently at him, and Nico tried to ignore how red the boy's nose had gotten from all the sniffling. Lying must've been a sensitive subject to him.
"What's worse was that she was pregnant at that time, and her condition worsened her child-bearing state," he continued. "So the dead man practically scavenged the whole archive of works in the medical field that were related to her disease. But there were really few files about it, and no one knew how to prevent nor cure it, so…yeah, he couldn't save her in time."
Nico focused on the dust particles floating in the air, their appearances made visible by the same streak of light that illuminated Will's features. "He never stopped looking for the answer, though. For years, he devoted his life to finding a fix, an antidote, but he was too wrapped up in grief to continue further," he recited the exact words from the man's mouth. "He kept blaming himself for not saving her, and yesterday was just the point when he realized he couldn't live without her anymore. So he went to the one thing he knew for sure lead to him to her."
"Death," Will whispered, and Nico finally shifted his gaze and looked back at him.
Will stared at him, seemingly scrutinizing every aspect of his face. And as unaccustomed Nico was to the whole thing, he forced himself to restrain from turning away.
"Are you telling the truth now?"
Scowling, Nico rolled his eyes. "Yes. And I only told you about it, so don't go around spreading the word."
At this, Will's face significantly brightened, a toothy grin stretching across his lips, clearly elated by being part of something exclusive. "Oh, wow, thanks! And I won't tell anyone." He put his right arm up in a 90 degree angle. "I promise."
"Good." Nico peered behind him. "Now, I've got to go an—"
"How was it?"
Nico glanced back at Will, eyebrows furrowing as the boy stared at him with an unreadable expression. "What?"
"Talking to ghosts," Will clarified. "How is it? How do you do it?"
For a moment, Nico froze. He studied him, searching his face for any signs of hostility and distaste he usually found whenever people talked to him. But none of those were present in his features—instead, what Nico found was pure attentiveness and concern, as if he was actually interested in how Nico managed to talk to the spirits of the dead, as if he wasn't freaked out by the whole idea of it.
Nico found himself at a loss for words. "I…I don't know. I just, uh, talk to them. They don't go away unless their last wishes as satisfied, so, I just, yanno, help them."
"Oh," Will breathed, the corner of his lip twitching up in an awed smile, "that is so cool."
And as the dark haired lad opened the door and sauntered out into the hall, Nico pretended not to feel the heat that had risen up all the way to his face.
Walking home was always the best part of his day. He enjoyed the way his shoes hit the rough pavement leading up to his quaint little house, the way he could hear his breath coming in and out his nose, the way the sky looked marvelously astonishing in the late afternoon sunlight, the way everything seemed to tone down their sounds and just let the comfortable silence envelop him. Nico always looked forward to those moments in his daily life.
So when the bell rang and signaled the end of dreadful studying hours, he was already up and about and headed out into the beautiful outdoors. He could already feel the sense of tranquility and comfort he often got whenever he went on his solitary stroll.
The moment he got out the school doors however, his peaceful little hike was interrupted by a loud proclamation of an all too recognizable voice.
No sooner than a second later, a familiar figure materialized himself by Nico's side. "Hallo," Will greeted, a cheeky grin adorning his face.
Nico simply scowled and continued walking, half out of annoyance for being pestered during his favorite time of the day, and half out of uncertainty of how to respond. What did he want? It's been three days since their last encounter; was he supposed to say hello back? Or should he smile instead? He probably shouldn't, he'd already had a couple of people run away from him when he smiled. What was he supposed to do then? He'd never had people approach him on their own free will before.
In times of doubt in distress, just shut your trap, was all Nico could think. And so he did. He kept his mouth closed.
And somehow, Will didn't seem to mind at all.
"So remember how you told me all about," the blond glanced around, looking as though he was checking for anyone that might've wanted to eavesdrop on their conversation, "the thing?"
Nico's eyebrows knotted together. "What?"
"You know, the thing you do?"
By then, Nico could understand him just about as much as he could understand fourth-year college Calculus. "What?"
Sighing, Will leaned down closer to him, the tips of his blonde waves tickling Nico's temples, and whispered, "The thing."
Something inside Nico snapped, irritation filling up his body as felt like popping the guy's head. "WHAT THING?!" he barked, far too exasperated to care about the attention they were currently getting from innocent bystanders.
Will, on the other hand, didn't seem fazed by his little outburst in any way. "The way you could talk to ghosts," he breathed, eyes huge and wide—the picture of pure and utter innocence.
"Me talking to ghosts isn't a secret you big dummy," Nico hissed. "The secret is his reason behind jumping!"
Will leaned back, apparently hit by a sudden wave of epiphany from high above. "Ooooh. I get it."
Huffing, Nico continued walking forward. Jesus, if this is what having friends was like, he really didn't get what all the fuss was about.
Will jogged back beside him, although he really didn't need to, considering the fact that one of his long strides matched three of Nico's footsteps. "Anyways, I found this book," Will put his backpack in front of him and fished out a thick leather-bound manuscript. "It's called The Spirits of the Dead and Everything You Need to Know About Them."
Nico caught a glimpse of it from the corner of his eye, and twisted his neck to get a better look at the title. "It says 'For Dummies'."
Will immediately pulled the book away from his gaze and hugged it tightly to his chest. "As I was saying," he started, opening the cover and flipping through the colorful pages. "I figured it could help you with understanding your ghost powers and all. Maybe it could even make you understand yourself better!"
Nico rolled his eyes, gripping the straps of his backpack. He doubted anything could make him understand the way his abilities worked, much less himself. "Yeah, sure."
"No, I'm serious!" Will rummaged through the sheets of paper and shoved a page in front of his face. "Look!"
Nico glowered at him, having no plans whatsoever of reading the said content. But the other's insistent grin and hopeful eyes made Nico release a defeated exhale, and he focused his view and read the label. How Come Others Can See Ghosts and Others Can't?
He raised an eyebrow at Will, who only beamed back. "Well?" Will asked.
"Well what?" Nico challenged, stubbornly refusing to admit the growing curiosity he had for the article.
"Well, are you going to take it or not?"
They had a miniature staring contest for a couple beats of breath, with Nico giving icy, suspicious glares and Will providing bold, determined looks. When neither of them submitted to the other's wishes, Nico took a deep breath and snatched the book from Will's hands, feeling a hundred percent done with the whole thing. "Give me that," he growled, cheeks tinted with the same shade of pink it had sported when he had walked out the janitor's closet just a couple of days ago.
Will grinned victoriously as Nico grumbled and shuffled his bag to tuck the book safely inside, and they walked silently together, both unsure of what to offer in a normal conversation. It was when they reached Nico's street that the other boy turned and finally uttered something.
"Wait, where are we?"
Nico fought the urge to slap his palm on his forehead. Was Will really that scatterbrained to not notice the route they had been taking the whole time? "We're in Pluto Street, you dummy."
Will rubbed the back of his neck, a nervous laugh escaping his lips. "Oops, I forgot we weren't neighbors." He looked at him. "Well! I guess I'll see you tomorrow, then."
"It's Saturday tomorrow."
He laughed. "Monday, then."
"Yeah, okay," was all Nico could reply. He really had to know more about responding to other people's offers of friendship. Maybe Will had a book about it, maybe that would explain why he seemed like such a natural at it.
And with one last smile, Will turned and ran to the direction they had come from. Nico was about to walk down the street and towards his house when he heard the other boy call out, "Oh, I almost forgot!" Will spun on his heel and bolted back to Nico, who looked as confused as he had when Will mentioned the thing. The blond held out a hand, not looking the least bit of out of breath from his little dash, and said, "My name's Will Solace."
Nico's eyes went from his face to his hand, then to his face, then to his hand, and then to his face once more. And after a couple of seconds of stunned silence, reached out to shake the other boy's hand. "Nico di Angelo."
Will grinned. "Nice to meet you, Nico. I'll see you tomorrow!"
"Monday, you doofus."
"I'll see you on Monday!"
With that, he sprinted back to his previous path, appearing smaller and smaller with each passing minute, surely headed home this time. But just as Nico thought he had gone away for real, he heard a faint cry of, "and don't say bad words!"
To which he yelled back, "Doofus isn't—"
"See you tomorrow!"
And Nico merely shook his head and walked back to his own way, eyes on his feet, and feet on the ground, smiling despite himself.
He bit the pointy end of his pizza, face scrunching up in disgust as the stale taste of the school cafeteria's insufferable cooking entered his mouth.
"God, you don't have to look so revolted by it."
Nico glanced up, his dark eyes focusing on Will Solace's familiar figure, tanned hands gripping a standard red tray carrying a sandwich, carton of milk, apple, salad, pudding, and every other thing one would usually find in a health nut's lunch.
"I'll stop being repulsed by this school's cooking when you stop eating one food from each section of the food pyramid on a daily basis," Nico retorted once the other boy sat down. As much as he hated Will's choice of being the epitome of perfect health for making him feel like the sickliest person alive, he couldn't help but admire the sense of discipline his friend had about his well-being.
Nonetheless, he snatched the pudding from Will's tray and ate despite the multiple protests and various variations of eating-only-junk-food-and-sweet-stuff-will-make-you-so-poorly-out-of-shape lectures. He simply stuck his tongue out, and Will simply ate what's left of his food.
"Hi Will!" a girl greeted, taking a seat from across where they were settled. "Hey Nico!"
"Ciao, Piper. Where's Ja—"
All three heads turned and was met by a smiling blond boy with a huge grin etched on his face. "Guess what happened."
"You finally got the balls—"
"Nico, language!" Will warned.
"—to try out for the football team?"
"Even better," Jason's smile widened as he stretched his arms out. "I already did, and I got in!"
"Oh wow, that's so cool!" Piper congratulated him, and Will patted his back in commendation. Nico could only offer a small smile of praise, but he knew Jason recognized how he was applauding his friend's little achievement in his own Nico-ish way.
It certainly was amazing what a year or two can change in a person's life. Here Nico was, seated in his usual spot at their usual place in the cafeteria, having lunch with his usual circle of friends, when exactly two years ago, he had been the creepy kid sulking in a corner and munching on his cold pizza all by his lonesome.
He glanced at Will, taking in the way his blonde waves bounced and the way his bright blue eyes twinkled when he laughed at Jason's overjoyed jokes about getting the aggressive football coach. He was extremely grateful for this annoying boy—grateful for how he kept walking with him on the way home even when his house was located at a farther location from Nico's, grateful for how he kept joining him during recess and letting him steal food from his tray, grateful for how he patiently taught him subjects that went way past Nico's head, grateful for lending him all those books about ghosts that did in fact make him understand himself more, grateful for how he never gave up on trying to befriend him despite of how hardheaded and stubborn and amateur he was at friendship. He was grateful. He was very grateful.
But of course, he would never admit that to his face. Not ever.
"Hey Nico," he heard Will call, and Nico snapped himself back to reality.
"Do you think I could maybe study at your house today?" he asked, scooting away from Piper and Jason's awkward attempts at trying to appear merely friendly to each other. Everyone in the whole school knew they should just suck it up and get together already. "Dad said he's gonna be late today, and he forgot to give me the spare key, so I'm basically stuck outside until he gets home, and I was thinking maybe I could crash at your place."
Nico clicked his tongue. "Sorry, I can't," he said, rare sincerity leaking out his voice. "It's Bianca's birthday today, so…"
"Oh." For a moment, Will's face was the embodiment of dejection, but perked up the minute Nico's mouth was about to release another set of apologies. "It's fine, though! I'll just go hang around the hospital's children ward. I miss those kids anyways." He put up a happy smile, and Nico mirrored it, not forgetting to make a mental note to make it up to him later.
The day passed by quickly after that, and Will and Nico walked home together as per tradition.
He opened the door to his house.
Putting his bag gently down by the coat rack, Nico tiptoed around the house, searching for a familiar dark haired girl that had a habit of braiding and unbraiding her hair in times of severe boredom. He found her by the living room, her fingers adjusting the garter tying her long hair together, and Nico swiftly went back to his backpack and snatched the small box he'd been hiding in his knapsack the whole day long. He made it a point to crouch down the floor and approach his sister as quietly as possible, wincing when a traitorous floorboard let out a little creak.
Ah, what the heck.
"Surprise!" he jumped out, arms held up high with the little box clutched in his hand. "Happy birthday, Bianca!" He beamed at her as he held out his hands and offered his gift.
Bianca gasped, her hand letting go of her hair and finding its way to her mouth. "Oh, piccolo, you didn't have to!"
"Yeah, but I wanted to." Nico grinned. "Go on, open it!"
He waited in dreadful anticipation as she slowly untied the thin green ribbon and opened the box. Bianca looked up at her little brother with an amused glint sparkling in her eyes. "A cupcake?"
He nodded in an eager yet smug manner, more than a little proud of his pastry offering. "I baked it myself during Home Economics class."
A sudden thought passed through his mind, and Nico told her to wait in her spot while he ran back to his bag and fished something out. When he returned, he stuck a small candle in the very middle of the cupcake and lit it using a lighter he borrowed from his neighbor, smiling when a flame actually appeared. "There."
Her delightful laugh echoed throughout their empty house as she opened up her arms. "C'mere, you."
And Nico gladly accepted her embrace, trying his best to drown out negative remarks about their father. Really, would it kill the man to come home early for his daughter's birthday celebration? Nico wanted to spit out so much hate about him, to lash all his angry thoughts out of his system, but he knew better than to do so in front of Bianca. She wouldn't want him to say those things. She was far too considerate and caring—even to those Nico was sure didn't deserve it.
"I love you," Bianca murmured softly, and Nico buried his head on her shoulder, cursing the tears that were threatening to come out. She was the only family he had now—excluding the sorry excuse they had for a father—ever since their mother had died a couple of years ago. Bianca was always there for him when he needed her, and Nico always tried to reciprocate it by offering all that he could whenever she needed him. He and Bianca were inseparable, indisputable. She was everything to him, and he knew he was everything to her as well.
"I love you too," he said, tightening his hug a moment before letting her go.
"Now come on," he grinned through misty eyes, lifting the lit cupcake up to level with her equally teary yet joyous face.
"Make a wish."
He'd never went to the town fair before, nor had he participated in any sort of competition prior to his current state of affairs, and Nico was fairly fine with keeping up those two aspects in his life. He always did find crowds too noisy and, well, too crowded for his idea of wasting pleasant leisure time, and he'd never really wanted to prove anything to anyone by winning in competitions, so abstaining from both those aspects was completely A-Okay to him.
But somehow, Will Solace took these inexperiences as a golden opportunity for new experiences, and Nico had but one thing to say to that ideology:
"Come on, it's going to be fun!"
"I said no, Solace."
"But it's a fair!"
"I know that, and I'm perfectly fine with accompanying you, but for the last goddamn—"
"Don't say bad words!"
"—time, I will not compete in a pie-eating contest with you."
Will rolled his eyes exasperatedly. "For goodness sake, Nico, stop acting like you're twelve."
"I am twelve, you dumba—"
"—ss. And stop acting as if you're so high and mighty! You just turned thirteen yesterday. You're practically still twelve."
"Yeah, but I'm thirteen now. Technically a teenager."
"An immature teenager."
For the fourteenth time that day, the two found themselves caught up in yet another glaring contest in order to attest which of their wishes was to be followed. And for the twelfth time, Nico let out an agitated sigh, looked away, held out his arm, and readied himself for total humiliation once more. Will gleefully yanked him out the little fast food chain they had brunch at and weaved through the thick hordes of people huddled about in the park at the middle of the city. A couple of roads had been closed for this one event, and Nico couldn't help but think how inconvenient it must've been to people whom relied on this route for faster and easier access to the various buildings.
Will dragged him through the crowd until they reached the center of the event itself. An enormous banner hung upon two tall wooden poles, a pop of neon lettering labeled Annual Pie-Eating Contest screaming from the white tarpaulin. A stage had been set under it, and there were already nine people situated in each chair behind the long table. Each of them looked comfortable in their own skins, not even slightly unnerved by the amount of people looking at and taking pictures of them.
"Hi, we want to sign up for the pie-eating contest," Will said in front of the woman blocking the stairs leading up to the stage. She scrutinized them from head to toe, looking as though she was assessing whether or not they were fit to enter the competition. "There's only one spot left," she announced after a few moments. "So only one of you can join."
Nico blissfully clasped his hands together. "That's perfectly fine by me! It's settled then! I'll just go—"
Suddenly, a buzzer sounded, and a loud booming voice echoed throughout the place. "I am so sorry sir, but you are not allowed to eat the pie prior to the announcement of the contest's opening. You are, therefore, disqualified from the competition. Kindly step down from the stage."
A shower of boo's and you cheater's reverberated from the crowd, and the poor guy did as he was instructed, a piece of pie still stuck on the corner of his hungry mouth. "There are now two vacant spots for those who want to still participate in the pie-eating contest!" the booming voice reported to the audience.
From the corner of his eye, he could see Will shooting him a smirk, and Nico tried his best to refrain from strangling the nearest living creature from him. "Oh for fuck's sa—"
"Well, I guess you two could go on up the stage then!" the woman urged, now seeming friendlier than before. Without even waiting for his spiteful retort, Will grabbed Nico's arm and hauled him up the stage with him. The crowd cheered once the two took their respective seats, and one personnel approached Nico's half-eaten pie and replaced it with a new one. He gulped. Why did he even go through with this? They just ate full meals consisting of burgers, fries, and milkshakes. Did they have an evil witch to satisfy with their ready-to-roast fats? Why were they doing this?
Before he could spit his hate out however, another buzzer sounded, and suddenly, everyone in their table dug in to the respective pies in front of them. Nico frantically reached for his spoon and started scooping and eating, choking for about every five seconds. Beside him, he could see Will in fits of laughter over his little disaster, and Nico let out his own set of snickers when the other boy started choking on his own pie.
Someone already finished their plate in under thirty seconds, but the booming voice encouraged the other contestants to finish their pies for formality and finality's sake. Most of competitors slowed their eating down by that announcement, and as Nico was about to follow in their footsteps, he felt someone nudge his right arm.
"Last one to finish gets to buy the other food," Will challenged smugly, and Nico grabbed his spoon with a newfound sense of fortitude.
"You're on, Solace."
Their spoons moved wildly on the plastic plate in a pie-eating frenzy, the determination to win their little race present in both boys' faces. It took them forty-seven seconds to declare a winner, and Nico complacently stood up from his seat and held his hands up in victory. "In your fucking face, Sol—"
He felt the pastry rise up on his throat, his cheeks puffing up involuntarily, and Nico immediately turned and ran down the stage and let it out at the back, away from prying eyes and flashing cameras. A couple of personnel in charge of the competition rushed beside him, ready to offer any assistance he needed.
"Hah!" he heard Will trudge towards him. "In who's freaking face now, di Ange—" His words got caught in his mouth, and before Nico knew it, he and his friend were puking on the ground, clutching their stomachs and letting out several brown oozes of vomit.
The staff ushered the two of them towards a waiting ambulance and settled them in a couple of twin stretchers with only a bucket filled with their bile separating one from the other. Pained groans and curses left the boys' mouths, with the occasional puking segment in between their dialogues. The moment the crew left them to assist the other participants however, both Will and Nico glanced at one another from their beds and guffawed despite their churning stomachs.
"Oh man, you look nasty!"
"Look who's talking! I'm not the one with a piece of almost-digested pie stuck to my hair!"
"Forget my hair, look at your clothes!"
"How the hell did my vomit turn green?"
Howls of laughter emanated from both their mouths, and it took almost all of their willpower not to lie back down and crack up when they found it in themselves to sit up. Will wiped a tear from his eye, still sniggering slightly. "Let's never do that again."
"Are you kidding?" Nico shrieked. "Let's do it again next year!"
And in the history of its long-lived and abiding life, the ambulance they stayed in had never been filled with as much laughter as it did in that moment.
He glanced his watch, frowning as the clock's hands surpassed the desired locations he had set it up for. He was late. That stupid idiot was late.
Nico turned his head to look up at the sky, closing his eyes to calm his nerves. Stay calm, he chided himself. He probably had something important to take care of. He's not president of the Science Club for nothing.
For a moment, he recalled the time when Will had proudly proclaimed his new presidential position to him, to which Nico had simply laughed at. "Science Club President?" he had said in between chuckles. "Really, Will? Really?"
The way the blonde boy's face flashed with hurt halted the chortles coming out of Nico's lips, and he had cleared his throat in shame. "Sorry."
"No, no, it's fine," Will had assured him. "It's just a lame club, anyways."
Immediately, Nico had been filled with the want to wrap his arms around his friend and apologize over and over, but had instantly scolded himself for even thinking of doing so. Will was his friend, his best friend. He wasn't someone he should be thinking about hugging and cuddling and kissing, but somehow, he…was. Somehow, Will was all of those things and more.
Nico shook his head. Get it together, you idiot.
He looked at his watch once more, feeling his eye twitch as he noticed the time. 45 minutes late.
He waited some more and checked his wristwatch. 55 minutes late.
I swear to God, if that fucker doesn't appear in five minutes, I will—
A familiar roar of laughter dragged Nico out his stupor and had him glancing at the school's entrance. Sure enough, Will Solace was walking out the empty halls, his lab coat still on and his goggles safely tucked under the front collar of his shirt. Nico was about to march up to him and demand an explanation as to why he left him waiting there for almost an hour when he realized his friend wasn't alone.
Will's arm was hanging loosely around the shoulders of a girl he couldn't recognize, cackling at something she said. Both of them looked so engrossed in their conversation, so enthralled by each other's presence, and Nico felt a pang of pain stab his chest.
"Hey Nico!" Will called as he caught sight of him, waving enthusiastically as he gave the girl one last squeeze before sprinting up to meet him. Nico tried to steady his breathing, but doing so was a lot harder when Will was smiling down at him like that, looking as though he was the happiest person alive. As if someone just made him the happiest person alive.
Nico wanted to cry.
"You didn't wait that long did you?" Will asked, flashing his stupid charmingly apologetic grin. "I'm sorry, there were some things I had to sort out wi—"
"It's fine," Nico interrupted, forcing his voice to remain aloof and indifferent. "I understand."
But Will was more perceptive than he seemed.
"Are you alright?" he asked, eyebrows furrowing in concern. "You seem—"
"Upset?" Nico suddenly barked, a strange feeling of resentment boiling up from the pit of his stomach. "Annoyed? Exasperated? Angry? Maybe it's because I am, Will. Maybe it's because I am fucking furious!"
"Woah, woah," Will raised his arms up in surrender as Nico struggled to prevent the tears from falling. He reached for his hands. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to—"
"Didn't mean to what?" Nico cried, voice cracking, letting the water flow freely from his eyes. "To leave me alone? To make me fucking wait just to abandon feel like the complete idiot I am? What?"
Will's expression changed from worry to angry confusion. "Okay, why are you screaming at me like that? If it made you so irritated to wait for me, you could've just left! I wouldn't have minded!"
Nico wanted to hit something and shout, the emotional turmoil that had built up inside him flowing out like a dam being cracked open. "It's not that easy, Will! It's not easy for me to just…leave! Especially when I'm leaving you! Don't you understand that, you fucking moron?"
All the bewilderment that had left Will was replaced by pure fury, his blue eyes glinting with annoyance as his ears turned beet red. "What is your problem, Nico? Are you really that sensitive to lash out just because I made you wait? Well, for Christ's sake, fucking leave, then! What difference does it make, anyways? Nothing, that's what! Just leave, goddammit! I don't give a flying fuck if you do!"
Without so much as another word, Nico turned and ran away, wiping the tears that had spilled out his resentful eyes. Stupid Will. Stupid, stupid, stupid Will.
He sprinted from street to street, carrying out his pain in loud sobs that rang bootless in the silence of the setting sun. Were fifteen year olds supposed to feel this much pain? Were they supposed to feel so much self-loathing? Were they supposed to feel so much heartbreak? Why was he even feeling this way? Why was he so mad at Will? So mad at himself? It was unfair. Everything was so unfair.
"Bianca!" he cried as he reached inside their house. "Bianca!"
A faint shuffle of footsteps came from their living room, but instead of his loving sister, Nico was faced with the one person he needed least at that moment.
"Nico?" his dad called, voice heavily laced with concern. "What happened?"
"As if you care!" he spat out, feeling more and more morose by each passing second. "Where's Bianca? I want to talk to Bianca!" He ran around the house, yelling his sister's name on the top of his lungs, desperate for her comfort and solace.
His father bolted after him, looking both hurt and sorrowful. "Nico."
"Bianca, please! I need you!"
His dad grabbed his shoulders. "Nico!"
"What?" he yelled, spinning on his heel and facing his father with damp tear-streaked cheeks and swollen nose. "What do you want?"
"Bianca's dead, Nico," his father told him, his obsidian eyes murky and downcast. "She has been for five years now."
"You're lying," Nico muttered, his voice trembling. "You're lying!"
His father looked at him remorsefully, as if he wanted to believe the words Nico had said himself. "She was with your mother that night of the accident, son," he said carefully, a single streak of liquid falling on the side of his cheek. "Your mother and sister are dead."
"No…" he pushed his father's hands away from him, shaking his head profusely. From behind him, he saw his sister and his mom standing by the door, their faces sad and their clothes stained with blood. "No…no…"
I love you, piccolo, Bianca mouthed.
He desperately tried to reach out to them, but their presence simply dissipated in the air. Something inside him shattered, and Nico di Angelo broke down, knees buckling on the floor, and cried.
He stared at the green wall in front of him. They had always liked green, he and Bianca. He could still recall the hundreds of times they fought over who gets the new green backpack and who gets the blue one, and every time she got the former, he bawled his eyes out until she gave it to him.
It was no wonder she let him use the green ones for the past five years.
Thinking back on it now, he guessed it was quite obvious that his sister wasn't part of the world of the living anymore. In all those times they had celebrated her birthday, not once did she eat the food Nico brought for her. It was always I'm not that hungry or you made it, so you need to eat it; she never accepted it, never even bit it, even if it was her favorite cupcake flavor.
"I miss you," he found himself whispering to the air as he hugged his pillow tight. "I miss you so much."
It's been a week since he last went to school, the initial shock bearing down on him far too heavily for him to immediately continue on living life as he normally would. His sister meant everything to him—she was his pillar of strength, the only reason he had had to continue on with his existence—and finding out she had been dead the whole time was just extremely depressing to swallow down easily.
And then…and then there was Will. Will Solace, the one boy that made him both his best and his worst, made him both happy and angry, made him accept and hate himself. Will Solace, the only known person in the world who fearlessly approached the creepy ghost kid, the single human being that persistently made it a point to include him in everything, the sole individual that tried to change his life for the better—and succeeded.
And Nico just had to ruin everything by developing feelings for the boy.
It was all too much.
There was a soft knock on his door, and Nico buried his face in the cushion as he heard the door open. "Leave me alone," he murmured into the pillow casing, and waited for the footsteps to retreat and close the door on their way back from an unsuccessful expedition.
"Yeah, well, I figured last week was the first and last time I would ever do that to you."
He glanced up, taking in the figure dressed in a hoodie and jeans standing in front of him, closing the door. "Your dad let me in," Will said, answering the unspoken question hanging in the air. Nico looked away, hiding deeper into his blankets.
Will sauntered up to him, sitting on the side of his bed and poked his cheek. "Hey."
"Go away," Nico retorted, facing the other side.
"I missed you."
"That makes one of us."
Despite the whole scenario, Will still found it in himself to offer a small smile. "Nico," he called.
Agitated, the said boy turned to him, eyebrows furrowed and cheeks tinted heavily with pink. "What is it, Solace?"
The amused expression Will had sported evaporated, and his features came together in a serious manner. "I'm sorry," he said, fiddling with a loose string hanging from the blankets. "About Bianca, and about, well, that whole incident last week."
Nico wanted to whip himself back to the other side, but somehow found himself frozen in place, his eyes locked with Will's in a silent plea. What he was pleading for however, that he wasn't exactly sure of.
"Those things I said to you, about how I don't give a…a…frick"—Nico fought back a smile at how unaccustomed Will was to cussing when he came to his senses—"when you leave, that…that wasn't true. Not even a little bit. And I'm sorry for saying those, because I was so mad and I didn't know why you were so mad, so I just…I don't know what came over me and…and I…"
"It's my fault," Nico interjected, saving him from his apologetic speech. "I shouldn't have said any of those things either. I was just…so preoccupied with myself, I guess. I wasn't really mad at you for making me wait, not really. It was…it was more of a metaphor for everything I felt, all the things that were bottled up inside and—and it's stupid," the words tumbled out his mouth straight from his unfiltered thoughts, "I mean, I don't even have the right to be jealous of the girl you were wi—"
"What?" Nico asked innocently, hoping the heat he felt in his cheeks wasn't visible enough on the outside.
"You were jealous with Kayla?"
"Jealous with who? I didn't say anything."
"Why would you be jealous of her?"
"You just said—"
"I didn't. You're being delusional."
This time, a full blown grin erupted on Will's lips, and Nico pulled the blanket over his whole body, a hundred percent sure there was already a red tinge in spreading all throughout his face.
"Oh my god! You were jealous!"
"Go away, Solace," Nico growled, scowling when a smiling Will pulled the cover off of his face.
"Oh, Nico, you don't have to be jealous of her," he assured, a laugh threatening to escape his mouth. "Honestly, man. Kayla's my cousin, for heaven's sake!"
If there was one moment in Nico's life when the earth decided to open up and swallow him in whole, now would've been the perfect time to do so. He buried his face in the pillow once more, biting back the smile widening on his lips. Jesus, what is happening to me?
Chuckling, Will snatched the pillow from him and threw it to the side of the bed, forcing Nico to resort to covering his head with his hands in a futile attempt to hide away from his sight. "Go away, Will," he grumbled, but the other boy simply smiled and effortlessly pried the hands off Nico's red face, compelling him to look at his blue eyes, much to Nico's chagrin.
"Besides," Will started, loosening his grip on Nico's wrists, "girls should really be the least of your worries when it comes to me."
"What do you even…oh." Nico felt himself redden further, and Will managed to let out a laugh even with his equally crimson cheeks, nodding. "Yeah."
Nico felt as though a huge weight has been lifted off his shoulders, and he found himself leaning against the headboard, exhaling a small, nervous laugh. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. You should worry about your puke turning miraculously green instead."
Nico shook his head fondly, a shy smirk adorning his lips. God, he was pathetic. "Are you ever going to let that go?"
Will smiled smugly at him. "Never."
Nico threw his head back laughing, and Will's own laughter somehow harmonized beautifully with his. It felt nice, emitting joy and happiness from a week of doing nothing but staring blankly at the four walls of his bedroom. It felt nice. It felt very nice.
When their chuckles died down, Nico felt Will's hands move from gently encircling his wrists to tracing the lines of his palm with his thumb, an affectionate smile present on his features. Nico's heart thumped loudly in his chest, the sight of the blonde boy's hands atop his own causing all the blood inside his body rush to his cheeks and his ears, filling him up with a tiny blitz of adrenaline and courage as he took a chance and whispered his next words.
"Are you…are you ever to let me go?"
A blur of movement flashed a few steps behind Will, and Nico's eyes momentarily flicked towards its direction. There, just in front of his personal bookcase was his sister Bianca, clad in an immaculate white dress, smiling down at him with misty eyes. She looked proud and contented, as if the mere sight of her brother's happiness was enough for her to be at peace, enough for her to hand over her grasp on his love to someone else's hands—enough for her to let him go.
And just as quickly as she appeared, she vanished into thin air once more, leaving nothing but the faint essence of her contentment lingering in the air.
But for Nico, even just the brief glimpse of his sister smiling down at him like that was enough for him to finally let her go as well.
He glanced back down just in time to catch Will's gaze, a sense of conclusiveness and warmth taking over him as Will shifted their hands' positions and clasped them together, entwining their fingers as he looked at him with all the certainty Nico had ever seen the young boy don in his whole life.
He knew it had been a mistake to come to the party. All around him, people were dancing and whipping their torsos to music that was loud enough for a deaf person to hear, the liquid in their red cups pouring out as majority of them bumped and nudged on each other's various body parts. Some of the couples were already doing who-knows-what in the rooms upstairs, making the chandelier hanging in the middle of the living room rattle on occasion, and Nico almost wished the piece of furniture shook hard enough to fall and squash him on the ground. Anything just to get out of that wretched place.
A drunk girl managed to trip on her five-inch heels and spill beer all over Nico's shirt, and the dark haired boy angrily spat out mean insults and angry cuss words while she simply danced off in an intoxicated daze and tossed her cup onto Nico's head.
To say he was annoyed would have been a grave understatement.
Nico indignantly flicked the cup from his head and inspected the damage the alcohol had done to his clothes, resisting the urge to track the girl down and splash boiling water all over her face. A huge blotch of brown stained the ivory perfection of his sweater, a grim reminder of how idiotic it was of him to let Will talk him into going into Lou Ellen's annual Christmas party.
How about dashing through the no.
Still with his scowl intact, Nico lifted his head and saw Will approaching him with the largest grin on his face, carrying two steaming mugs in his hands. "Look at this!" Nico screeched, gesturing to his tainted sweatshirt. "That stupid girl spilled her fucki—"
"—drink all over me!" Nico continued, ranting on and on about how dumb and ludicrous the whole party thing was, and how he would never understand just how and why people would like attending to "things like this" on a regular basis. Will simply let out a hearty laugh at his little outbursts. "Sometimes it's fun."
Nico scoffed and crossed his arms, face scrunching up in disgust as he felt the damp part of his shirt cling to his skin. "We obviously have very different definitions of fun."
"Mm," Will hummed, rolling on the balls of his feet, and perking up a second later as though a bright idea just entered his mind. "Hey, let's go out."
Nico blinked. "What?"
Instead of answering him however, Will transferred his hold on the mugs, clutching both of it in one hand and clasping Nico's on the other. Nico liked to think it was because of the humid, sweat-inducing air inside the house that made his face heat up and not the way their palms were pressed against each other's grasp.
Zigzagging through the thick horde of people, Will successfully led them outside the house and into the chilly December air, the light layer of snow that had fallen on the ground adding a quaint little holiday decoration all over the neighborhood.
He handed him one of the mugs, and Nico took it without hesitation, gingerly drinking the scalding hot chocolate drink.
"Ah!" Will hissed beside him, sticking his burnt tongue out. "Hot, hot, hot!"
Nico sniggered, shooting him a smug look as he took another sip. "Noob."
They walked in silence for a while, both boys pretending not to notice the way their hands were still clasped around one another's, both boys trying to hide their best to hide their shy smiles, and both boys exchanging amused looks as they somehow managed to wordlessly agree on a mini contest to see who could take in larger amounts of hot chocolate without breaking eye contact. "I bet my tongue can take much more than yours," Nico purred, his lips still lingering on the mug's rim as he shot Will a smirk. "Wanna find out?"
At this, the hot chocolate running down Will's throat screwed up its smooth flow into his esophagus, causing the poor lad to choke and sputter out its sweet remnants while the guy beside him ruthlessly laughed at his expense.
"Foul!" Will yelled, elbowing a guffawing Nico with his shoulder.
"No way!" Nico replied, trying his best not to drown in his own cackles. "I asked a legitimate question!"
Will huffed, puffing out his chest in mock offense. "Cheater."
Nico snorted, taking a sip of his hot chocolate. "What a sore loser."
Their leisurely stroll continued much more quietly after that, with Will refusing to accept defeat and Nico refusing to stop rubbing in his victory by throwing out occasional smug remarks.
"Wow, winning sure is a fun thing to experience!"
"Oh, Will, it's okay to lose. I think. I mean, I wouldn't know, right?"
"It's so chilly out tonight! It's a damn good thing I have my hot chocolate to keep me warm!"
"Remember how you once told me that choking and drowning are the leading causes of death in children? They send in over 16 million kids in emergency rooms each year! Wow! I am so glad you didn't die a while ago, Will!"
"Is hot chocolate a carb?"
And his personal favorite:
"Turns out you choke pretty easily, huh?"
The last one had Will finally giving in to his mirth, erupting into a loud howl of laughter as he shoved Nico with a red tinge spreading all over his freckly face. "Oh my God! Shut up, man!"
Nico just continued sniggering.
By the time they rounded back to Lou Ellen's place, the party had almost died down. A couple of people were passed out on the lawn with their faces on the grass and their butts raised up in the air, Santa hats topping their buttocks off rather nicely. Others were still inside, dancing to death, probably. Or making out. Or puking. Or lying unconscious on the carpet. Or spilling alcohol all over white sweatshirts of innocent lords of grumpiness. Really, it could've been anything.
Almost instantly, Nico's scowl returned. Ugh. Never again.
He felt someone squeeze and tug on his hand, and only then did he realize that he and Will had been pretty much holding hands the entire walk to and from the house, the spaces between their fingers fitting each other's perfectly. It was enough to diminish the frown that had settled upon Nico's face.
Will dragged him to one side of the house where a window was wide open and shockingly not cracked and broken into shards. He grabbed Nico's empty mug and settled it on the kitchen counter situated just on the other side of the wall, making sure to tuck it safely away from the reach of intoxicated home-wreckers before turning back to see Nico leaning against the wall.
"So," Nico started, a sly smile on his lips.
"So," Will replied, a large grin decorating his own, his hands paving their way from Nico's fingers to his waist, "that was fun."
Nico hummed, snaking his arms around the taller boy's neck, and shrugged. "Meh, could've been better."
Will's smile faltered. "Yeah? How?"
The insecurity and anxiousness oozing off of him made Nico's smirk widen even more, though a blush was evidently shown on his facial features. "Well for starters, we could've kissed."
The blonde boy flushed despite the growing grin appearing on his lips. "Yeah," he agreed, "that definitely would've made it better." He leaned down, the tips of his wavy hair tickling Nico's forehead. "Can I kiss you, then?"
"That depends," Nico answered, arching his head just a little bit up, "can I kiss you back?"
Will beamed, a perfect full blown smile erupting on his face as he leaned in further towards him. "I think we can settle on those terms."
And they closed the gap between them, Will bending down and Nico standing up on his tiptoes, both beaming as their foggy breaths mingled together in the cold. It was a sweet, chaste kiss that lasted no more than a few seconds, but the instant they pulled back, Nico found himself leaning up and pressing his lips onto Will's once more, earning a chuckle and a favor gladly returned by the other boy.
"You wanna know what I think?" Nico asked, grinning as he pulled back slightly.
He toyed with a lock of hair at the back of Will's head, twirling it around his index finger. "I think our definitions of fun aren't that different from each other's after all."
And Will laughed, leaning back down and capturing his lips one more time.
He never thought he'd find himself comfortable with leaning onto a person's chest as they sat on top of a slide's platform with their backs against the rays of the setting sun, but if there was one thing about Will Solace that anyone should know, it was that he had a knack for making Nico find himself in things he never thought he'd find himself in.
Like, say, having a picnic date in the town park's local playground. Where anyone could see them. Or worse, anyone could interrupt them. Just the thought of it made him grimace; Nico personally preferred to have his boyfriend's full attention on him during their dates, thank you very much.
Thankfully enough however, the place had been as empty as could be for the whole duration of their stay that day, and the two made it a point to take utmost advantage of this rare scenario by chasing each other around the rides; playing tag on the jungle gyms, kicking the sandbox's contents at each other, competing in an imaginary horse race while riding spring riders, spinning the merry-go-round so fast until one of them turns green in the face, playing hide and seek in the playhouse, pushing one another so high up the swingset and letting their laughter and shrieks taint the quiet afternoon air as they ran around the place, nothing but pure bliss embellishing their features.
Nonetheless, once they'd found themselves out of breath, Will had dragged him to sit on top of the slide's platform, leaning back on the metal railings while Nico's back settled on his chest snuggly.
Will circled his arms around his boyfriend's waist, burying his nose on the boy's shoulder as gasps of breath escaped from his mouth. "How…do you…run so fast…"
Nico huffed a laugh, gently weaving their fingers together in front of him. "Maybe if you stop practically planting your nose in tons of books and actually getting your body to participate in sports, you'd be able to keep up."
"Oh, I don't need sports," Will murmured into his shoulder. "My body looks fit enough on its own."
Nico elbowed him playfully. "Smug little shit."
"You should really stop saying swear words, babe."
"Oh shit, fuck, I'm so sorry. I'm such an inconsiderate motherfucker. I swear I won't do it again. I fucking swear on my grave."
It was Will's turn to swat his boyfriend's arm jokingly as the other boy sniggered in obvious amusement. They resumed and remained cuddling after that, gazing upon the view of the playground from atop the tall slide overlooking it, just quietly enjoying each other's presence.
Nico almost fell asleep in his arms when he heard Will softly call out his name. "Nico?"
"Do you remember that guy who jumped off the building nine years ago?"
The question made all traces of drowsiness drip out of his system, and Nico straightened his back and tilted his head to get a better look at Will's face. "What about him?"
"Well…" Will's eyes were focused on something on his shoe as his fingers fidgeted against Nico's, avoiding his boyfriend's concerned gaze. "Back then, I didn't really get the reason why he would just…you know, waste his life like that. I mean, sure," he shrugged, "it was sad and all to have his loved ones die because of him, but I always figured he could've done much more, you know?"
No, I really don't, Nico thought, eyebrows scrunching together. Where was all of this coming from?
"He could've worked harder, tried better. He'd probably come up with something sooner or later—he didn't have to throw everything away just like that. Think of all the people he could've helped! All the lives he could've saved! I thought it was really selfish of him, giving up just like that." He took in a deep breath. "But now…now I understand why he did what he did."
Nico felt him squeeze their fingers tightly together, and his expression softened.
"If I was in his place, if you were dying, and I—I didn't save you…I wouldn't be able to forgive myself. I'd go insane. I'd blame myself more and more with each passing day that you weren't there with me, smiling with me, laughing with me, living with me, and just being with me, because I knew it in myself that it was my fault. It was all my fault. I took your life away from you. And…and I can't live with that. I could never live with that."
Will exhaled a small humorless laugh. "I've always wanted to be a hero, you know. I want to save people from all the dangers and evil in their lives, rescue them from super villains, defend them from dragons, salvage them from burning buildings, stuff like that…but the best I can do is medicate them. I've never been good at anything else. That's why I want to take up Medicine. Healing people is the one thing I'm pretty decent at, and if…if I didn't get to…" he trailed off, sighing. "I'm no hero. I'll never be a hero."
"Hey," Nico brought a hand up and caressed his face, and Will glanced back up and leveled his gaze with his, guilt swimming his blue eyes, as though he thoroughly blamed himself for something that wasn't his to shoulder. "That's not true."
"Yes it i—"
He put a finger against his lips, effectively shutting him up. "Shush. Stop thinking like that. Listen to me," he lifted his finger off Will's mouth, "a hero isn't always someone who fearlessly thrusts out into a battlefield, or someone who swings his sword at a monster a thousand times his size, or even someone who's buff and strong and indestructible—no," he stroked Will's cheek with his hand, his thumb grazing over the sea of freckles splashed on the other boy's tanned face. "A hero is someone with heart, someone noble enough to put the needs of other's before themselves—not someone who could lift mountains and chuck them into the other side of the globe. And you, William Solace," he tightened the grip he had on their entwined fingers, his other hand still brushing Will's cheek, "are definitely a hero. You've always been one."
Nico could feel his stomach go off into a series of intricate backflips when Will's smile returned on his face, lifting it up brighter than the rays of the orange sun streaking down against his back. Nico felt a sense of achievement spread throughout his whole body; God, he missed that smile. Just a few minutes of not seeing it was already enough to drive him crazy.
"Come on," he called, standing up and sliding down the slope of the slide. "Last one to the playhouse hanging bridge gets to buy dinner!" And he sprinted across the ground, laughing as Will shouted how unfair it was for him to get a head start before running after him, the corners of his lips lifted up into a handsome smile. Nico dashed to the wooden steps and rushed towards the bridge, shrieking when he felt Will wrap his arms around him from behind and spun Nico around to face him.
"It's not cheating when I make use of my advantageous resources!"
"That is cheating!"
Nico was laughing too hard to offer a snarky retort, and Will was grinning too widely to argue with him further. Instead, he leaned in close and pressed their foreheads against each other's, a euphoric smile adorning his face. A mild gust of wind passed through them, gently blowing wisps of Will's sunlight-stricken hair away from his beaming face, and Nico felt his heart skip a beat.
Without thinking twice, he stood up on his toes pressed a soft kiss on Will's lips.
"You're my hero," Nico murmured into the kiss, his lips cracking into a smile.
"You've always been my hero."
He rubbed the dust from his fingers, his face scrunching up when the particles entered his nostrils. "A—achoo!" He sniffed. Ugh. Why did his moving boxes have to be so chalky?
He opened the door to their new bedroom, and almost instantly, was swept up into a person's arms and showered with blithe kisses, and Nico let an airy laugh escape his mouth. "For fuck's sake, Will."
"Language, babe," came Will's reply, not missing a single opportunity to smack their lips together, and Nico went along with it, grinning and wrapping his arms around his boyfriend's neck. He giggled when Will pushed the two of them onto the bed, not even caring about the many boxes surrounding their mattresses that were yet to be unpacked.
"Someone's excited," Nico regarded, pulling away. He smirked at Will's pouty face, pecking his lips and chuckling as he sat back up on the bedding.
"I can't help it," Will beamed once Nico kissed him. "I'm just thrilled to finally live with you."
Smiling, Nico grabbed his face and let their lips graze each other's hungrily, feeling Will snake his arms around Nico's waist. Their breaths mangled the air in between them, forcing them to pull back and gasp for oxygen after a couple of moments. Will laughed heartily even with panted breaths, resting his forehead against Nico's and feeling his boyfriend's breathless exhalation.
Heaving, Nico glanced at Will's moist lips, flushing a deep red when he realized it was because of his own doing, because of his own lips; he did that. To Will. He kissed Will. And Will kissed him back.
An irrepressible giddy smile made its way to his face, and Nico bent his head down shyly. No matter how many times they smooched and hugged and cuddled, he still couldn't wrap his mind around the fact that they were together—that someone as amazing as Will Solace could want Nico just as much as he wanted him.
He chose Will, and Will chose him as well.
Nico looked back up through his dark lashes, noticing the silent smile embedded on Will's face as the beautiful boy stroked his face. They stayed like such for a few minutes, Nico closing his eyes and leaning into his heavenly touch as Will grazed his hand gently on the dark haired lad's features.
"I'm going to marry you someday," he heard Will whisper. "I swear on my life I'm going to."
Nico's eyes fluttered open, a hint of shock swimming in his eyes.
"We could get married now, you know," Will told him, his face instantly perking up and levelling his gaze with Nico's as though he just realized how immaculate his idea had been. "Yeah…yeah, we could, couldn't we?"
The blond sat up straighter, clasping his fingers around Nico's hands. "We could go to Vegas! Tons of people get married there!"
"It doesn't have to be this grand celebration, we could just invite our close friends and family!"
"We could invite Jason, and, and Piper, and Lou Ellen, and Cecil, and Hazel, and Frank, and Reyna, and Percy, and Annabeth, and…and our dads, too! We could invite them all!"
"And then after that we could—"
He snapped out from his babbling stupor, his big blue eyes looking at Nico innocently. "What?"
"Will, I…" Nico paused, racking his head for the right words to come out of his mouth. "I don't want to get married. At least not yet."
The sight of his boyfriend's crestfallen face was enough for Nico's chest to feel heavy with guilt. "Oh…" Will muttered, looking down in dejection, "oh okay."
"Hey," Nico reached his hand out and lifted Will's chin up, his dark eyes bearing deep into Will's own. "Don't look so disheartened. I still want to marry you, and I don't think that wish of mine is going to change anytime soon. But…" he entwined the fingers on their free hands together, "I'm still just 19 years old. And we're both still just in college. We still have so many things ahead of us, so many things we have yet to experience and go through. Hopping straight up on the marriage wagon just seems…a little too much for now."
"Yeah…" Will murmured, squeezing his hand as he offered a small smile. "Yeah, you're right."
Grinning, Nico pressed a gentle kiss on his lips, pulling only about a centimeter away as he said, "I love you."
And Will, mentally rejoicing at the sound of the much anticipated three words, closed the gap between them once more, replying, "I love you too."
He felt weirded out, and it had nothing to do with the way the girl seated in front of him reclined too far back, squeezing his legs inside his seat—although it certainly did offer up as a commendable factor for his strange feeling.
Something was off, he could tell. But he couldn't quite pinpoint the exact location of the source of the eerie atmosphere.
Beside him, Will was mouthing the lyrics to a popular chart-topping song, the left bud of his earphones tucked in his ear as the other bud stayed on Nico's, the upbeat music still blasting from its miniature speakers. Personally, Nico preferred something more along the lines and genres of alternative rock, but he supposed he could suffer through catchy pop songs if it meant having Will happily lip sync both the words and the beats—it was an annoying yet endearing sight to watch.
They had bounded on a bus on the way to the vacation house they had longed so many months for, finally getting some peace and quiet after the hellish events that had been their latest year in college. Will was ecstatic as he practically hauled Nico out of their apartment, lugging their duffel bags and suitcases along with him. Summer vacation after another year in med school certainly had the blonde boy stoked, and what better way to spend it than by hanging out in his inherited villa with his favorite grumpy knucklehead?
Nico just honestly wanted to be with him—he didn't care whether it was at an expensive resort or in their little apartment. Just having Will there was more than enough.
He peeked at the alleged boy from the corner of his eye, smiling as he saw him pretend to belt out the highest note in some famous Broadway musical's song while munching on his favorite strawberry-filled donut.
Their relationship hadn't been a perfect one, that was for sure. They constantly bickered and fought about things as trivial as who ate the last piece of grilled cheese, to heavier issues dealing with not having time for one another, what with their clashing schedules and busy lives. Nico often felt as though Will forgot about him most of the time, with his nose almost always massively buried under an academic textbook. They barely had dinner together anymore, and when they did, Will practically scoffs down his food and hurries to study back in his room. It drove Nico insane. Will knew he hated the feeling of isolation, Will knew he hated the feeling of abandonment. So why did he continuously leave Nico alone to fend off the irrational fears gnawing at his stomach?
"It's like I'm dating a fucking rock!" Nico had screamed, the emotions that had built up inside him finally bursting out. "You're never really there for me anymore!"
"I have a lot of things to do, Nico!" Will shouted back, obviously feeling as equally distressed about it as he did. "I thought you of all people would understand that!"
They continued arguing, voicing out their damaged feelings through numerous yells and outcries. And at some point, Will finally had enough. He stormed out of their apartment and stayed away for a good 24 hours, leaving Nico with enough time to reflect and realize his mistake, prompting the younger boy to whip up his phone and dial anyone who could've known where Will went off to. When none of them had an answer, Nico wasted no time in hurrying to the door in an effort to start searching for his missing boyfriend, trying his best to shake out the worry and fear building up inside of him. Just as he swung the wooden plane open and attempted to saunter out however, the said boy was shown standing just on the other side of it, his hand raised in an interrupted endeavor to knock on the flat surface.
And Nico couldn't help it, he tackled him into a tenacious hug, crying out his apologies and gabbling on and on about how stupid and insecure he was for not even considering Will's point on the matter. The other boy wrapped his own arms around Nico's body as well, babbling the same set of words Nico were uttering, offers of remorse and declarations of shame and guilt lacing up his sentences.
And when they were finished, they had silently remained in each other's embrace, both too afraid and too determined not to be the first one to let go.
Nico found his lips curving up into a smile as he leaned back onto his stiff bus seat. Yeah, they sure weren't perfect.
But they didn't have to, to be happy.
The bus halted into a stop, and the lady seated in front of Nico stood up and got out, hauling her backpack and paper bag along with her. He almost let out a fairly audible sigh of relief, but another person came in and took the recently emptied space, and Nico felt like screaming bloody murder.
Then something inside him tingled, and he felt as though the last missing piece of the puzzle clicked into place. We need to go. He felt goose bumps appear on his skin, the hair on his arms rising up like static. We need to go now.
Before he could turn to Will and tell him to grab their bags, the person seated in front of him lurched up and snatched a gun from his back pocket, blindly shooting towards every possible direction inside the bus. All around him, passengers screamed, ducking and doing their best to shield themselves from the array of bullets hitting the windows and the seats. Nico yanked Will's arm and hid themselves against the recliners in front of them, his heart pounding like crazy.
The bus driver slammed on the breaks and attempted to run for his life, but the man pointed his gun at him, shooting the space just above his head. "Drive."
"P-Please, I have a family to support, a-and—"
And the poor driver scampered back onto his seat and stepped on the pedals, too terrified to protest and do otherwise.
The man turned back to the passengers, aiming his gun at an innocent crying boy and heartlessly pulled the trigger. Everyone gasped and did their best to obscure themselves from his sight, scared of getting to suffer the same merciless fate as the young lad did. The gunman steered his gaze and honed in on an old woman.
"I'm begging you, sir, p-please don't kil—"
The man fired his gun with the same casual ruthlessness as though he was simply using them for target practice.
Nico felt a surge of different sensations flow through him, feelings ranging from fear, to anxiety, to anger, to worry. But as he watched as the man searched the faces of crowd for the next person to kill, he felt only one emotion stand out amongst the others: hate. Nico was infuriated by the way the gunman murdered two people in harsh, cold blood. Those people had friends, had families, had dreams, had their lives to nurture and attend to. How dare this man simply walk in and take them away from them without so much as a bat of an eye?
Nico knew too much about the consequences of someone's death, the depressing and harmful residues it leaves to the people that still had the chance to live. He knew. He already experienced too much of it—both from his own life and the lives of the people around him. And he wasn't going to let anyone suffer through the weight of those heartbreaking circumstances, not if he could help it.
So when the man settled his finger on the trigger and pointed his gun at a shivering old man, Nico leapt and tackled him to the ground, slapping the weapon away from him and sending it skidding over to the door.
He made the mistake of turning his head to certify the irrational fear that somehow Will was going to be captured by the man's hidden accomplice, earning Nico a sharp jab on his stomach as the gunman pushed him off and ran after his weapon. Will immediately rushed to Nico's side, his shirt tainted with the powder and strawberry filling from his forgotten pastry sweet.
"Nico, are you okay?"
And then the man was there in front of them once more, pointing his regained gun towards Nico as his eyes glinted in absolute madness. "Sayonara, you little punk."
Before he could take Nico's life however, Will jumped and bounded on him, and Nico let out a piercing scream as the sound of a gunshot filled the air, ringing loudly in his mind. "Will!" He hastily scrambled to his feet, ignoring the pang of pain he felt on his stomach, his eyes wide and his heart pounding, the rush of blood roaring in his ears. "Will!"
And the bus lurched sideways into a repetitive imbalanced topple, causing what was left of the vehicle to shatter and crush into pieces. And the last thing he saw before blacking out completely was the sight of someone's hand falling limply on the floor.
His dark eyes fluttered open in the harsh hospital light, his focus still adjusting from the blurry state it had previously lingered in. He could feel the bandages wrapped all over different sections of his body, and he resisted the urge to reach over and scratch the itchiness it dragged along with it. The television was open in front of him, showing the country's most famous news anchor spout out various information about current events that were and had been happening all over the globe. Something about a Hollywood celebrity getting married again. He honestly couldn't care less.
He whipped his head to the side so swiftly he heard his joints crack inside him, a smile widening on his face when he saw a familiar freckly-faced boy sitting on a chair beside his cot. "Will," he breathed, the relief and happiness flooding all throughout his body.
Will grinned. "Thank goodness. I was starting to think you would never wake up."
Nico grabbed him by the shirt collar and pulled him down, capturing his lips in a quick, fleeting kiss before pushing him off and firmly smacking the boy's head.
"Ow!" Will complained, rubbing the sore spot Nico had hit. "What was that for?"
"For scaring the fuck—"
"—out of me and jumping on the gunman and being the stupid little moron you are!" Nico huffed, glaring at him. "Honestly, you could've died!"
"Eh," Will shrugged casually, leaning down and pressing his lips against his scowling boyfriend's forehead. "You're worth it."
"Don't give me that sappy shit."
Will chuckled, playfully poking Nico's cheek. "You know you love it."
Nico rolled his eyes. "You're lucky I'm hospitalized."
"I'm also lucky you're hopelessly in love with me."
"Love you too, babe."
Nico opened his mouth to retort, but before he could do so, the door to his room opened, and inside came pouring in his family and friends. Will politely moved aside to allow them more space.
"Nico!" Hazel called, concern laced in her features. "Oh my God, we were so worried about you! Are you hurt?" she put her hands against his head, neck, and arms. "Are there any severe injuries? Did you get a concussion? Are you—"
"I'm okay, Hazel," he interrupted, clasping his hands around hers and smiling in assurance. From the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of Will looking happily at them with the warmest expression he'd ever seen, and Nico made sure to look at him straight in the eye as he said, "I'm okay."
He opened the door and squinted at the light emanating from their refrigerator door. He scanned its contents, his mind disagreeing with all the types of food he saw while his stomach desperately approving everything it could get a whiff of. You're not even hungry, said the former. I don't give a fuck, eat everything, retorted the latter.
In the end, after a few good minutes of staring at the food storage, his brain won the argument.
Nico groaned and sat on one of the chairs by their dining table, feeling far too lazy to bother with closing the refrigerator door. He put his head on his hands and tried to clear his mind of all the thoughts raging within it, all the memories rushing inside of him.
"P-Please, I have a family to support a-and—"
Stop thinking about it, he chided himself.
"I'm begging you, sir, p-please don't kil—"
"Sayonara, you little punk."
He glanced up quickly, a deranged look present in his eyes as he tried to steady his raspy breathing. Will was standing by the entryway to their kitchen, still clad in his pajamas, the light coming from the inside of their refrigerator casting an almost ethereal glow on his concerned face.
Nico forced himself to look away, blinking back the water that had somehow formed in his eyes. He didn't want to have Will worry about him any further than he already did. I'm fine, he had kept telling everyone that fretfully asked about his condition, never letting anyone see how shaken up he really was about the whole thing—all the ghosts that came to him, that haunted him in both his dreams and his reality.
Everyone believed him. Even Nico wanted to believe himself, as well.
But Will knew better. Will always knew better.
No. You're not.
He wholly expected to hear the movement of wooden chair legs against their kitchen floor as Will sat down in front of him and asked what was wrong, but none of those expectations came. Instead, Nico felt familiar arms wrap themselves around his neck from behind, a comforting fragrance filling up the air around him as Will settled his chin atop Nico's head snuggly.
"It's okay," he heard him softly say. "I'm here."
Nico let a tear roll down his face as he heard those words, a mixture of gratefulness and solace washing away the fear and trauma eating up his whole being. News of the bus gunning incident had spread all throughout the world by the time Nico was released from the hospital, and people from every networking station and news gathering firm contacted him for an exclusive interview regarding the unfortunate happening. Over and over, the public regarded him as a hero, someone who selflessly risked his life just to save everyone else's, and over and over, Nico told them he wasn't the only one, that Will Solace, the guy who leapt at the person who almost killed him, was also a person to endlessly thank and look upon.
But for some reason, no one paid attention to Will—especially not when Nico told them he was his boyfriend.
He tilted his head up, smiling at Will appreciatively. I love you, he wanted to say, but somehow, he knew the words weren't quite right. Somehow, he knew it wouldn't be enough. What he felt for Will was much stronger than the impact those three words contained, something so indescribable and yet so undeniably strong. He wouldn't know what to do without him anymore, couldn't imagine living without him any longer.
And by the look of pure endearment that settled upon Will's face, Nico knew he was thinking the exact same thing.
"Come on," Will said, pulling back and tugging on his hand. Nico raised an eyebrow, but stood and followed wordlessly as Will moved towards the old fashioned cassette player settled on the counter beside the refrigerator.
"Why is it even in the kitchen?" Nico had asked the first time they arrived in the vacation house, curious at why something like such would end up in a place where food was usually made and eaten.
"Granmama loved cooking, and she loved listening to music while doing so," Will had answered, and Nico was smiling too widely at how cute it was that his boyfriend called his grandmother a rather adorable nickname, the topic of weird furniture and gadget placement already beginning to get lost in his head.
Will grabbed one particular tape from the top drawer and put it in the cassette, not letting go of Nico's hand the whole time. And when the first few notes came, Nico almost burst out laughing. "Are you serious?"
Grinning, Will shifted their positions and put Nico's hands around his neck while putting his own on his boyfriend's waist. "Dead serious."
And suddenly they were swaying to the sound of the lyrics, tranquil smiles on their faces as they gazed lovingly at each other in the dead of the night, with the light of the open refrigerator door as their only source of illumination.
You're lovely, with your smile so warm.
Nico reached out with one of his hands, stroking a stray lock of hair from Will's face, and he felt as though he was going to erupt in sheer joy and happiness. How did he get so lucky?
And your cheeks so soft.
Was it possible to love someone this much? To feel such euphoria just by being in someone's arms?
There is nothing for me but to love you.
He felt all the worry and anxiety wash away from him, all thoughts of the traumatic incident whisked away with every step on their kitchen floor, every sway to the calm music, every second passing by as he stayed in Will's arms. Nico shed all the negativity off of him, feeling as though he was wiped free from all the things that had happened. To him, nothing else existed but that moment, nothing else mattered but him and Will, dancing harmoniously to the sound of their heartstrings entangled in one another's love.
And Will bent his head down and touched their foreheads together, the blissful smile still etched in his face as his mouth moved along to the words of the song.
And the way you look tonight.
He played with Will's fingers on the table, smirking as the other boy complained about how all his favorite characters kept dying, and how authors could be so heartless as to kill them off after all the pain and suffering they made them go through. Nico honestly couldn't relate to a single word he was saying, but the exasperation on his features was enough to make him fairly entertained, laughing at the way his boyfriend squeaked in distress.
It had been a year since they decided to settle in the vacation house permanently, taking a well-deserved break from all the stress of going back to their lives before the incident. Nico truly couldn't care less about whether or not his university would still take him—he was far too happy by just being there with Will. And judging from the way the other boy stayed with him, it was safe to assume he felt the same way.
There was a knock on his bedroom door, rattling Nico from his train of thoughts. He glanced over at Will, silently asking whether he invited anyone over, but he looked just as confused as Nico was. Puzzled, Nico stood from the table by their bedroom window and sauntered to the door, shock filling up his features when it swiveled open before he could approach the knob, his friends walking in with equally morose expressions on each of their faces.
"Woah, what're you guys doi—"
"Nico," Hazel interrupted, looking at him determinedly. "You need to go."
His eyebrows scrunched together in confusion. "What?"
Before she could answer him however, another voice spoke up, and Nico glanced over and realized his father was among the crowd as well, with Will's dad trailing just beside him. "Son…" he said somberly. "Son, it's time to move on."
"Move on? Move on from what?" Nico asked, genuinely baffled. "If this is about the bus incident and you guys are worried about trauma and whatnot, I'm fine. I have Will here with me. We're doing fine. We're okay."
Everyone exchanged worried glances amongst each other, their still silence carrying much more words than the sentences they had previously uttered. It was as if everyone wanted to tell him something, but no one was brave enough to do so. Had he gone mad? Was he really in a mental hospital, trying to heal from the heaps of damage his mind suffered and is currently suffering through? Were they there to break the delusional reality he was living in?
"Nico…" Will's dad stepped closer towards him, grief and anguish painted on his features. He reached for Nico's hand, and Nico was alarmed at how much he reminded him of his son. "Nico…you have to let him go."
"Let him go?" he spat out in disbelief. "What're you even talking about? I love him!" he yanked his hand away from him as he turned towards Will. "Why would I le—"
And he froze.
There, standing by their bedroom window was Will, looking at Nico with a remorseful expression, his blue eyes sparkling with tears. Nico wanted to ask him what was wrong, demand an explanation as to what was going on, when he saw it. Will was wearing the same shirt and khaki shorts he had worn on the bus on their way to the vacation house, the strawberry filling stain still decorating his orange shirt. But this time, something else tainted it.
Nico's fingers shook as he took in the sight of a bullet hole on his boyfriend's clothing, a large blotch of blood tarnishing the area around it. He felt his chest grow heavier by the second, realization dawning on him as his dark eyes stung.
No. No, no, no, no.
"I'm sorry," Will whispered. "I'm so sorry."
Tears flowed down Nico's cheeks as he managed to croak out a small humorless laugh, silently cursing at how life cruelly played with him, how it mercilessly toyed with his head, with his heart.
With his love.
Memories flashed inside his head; Will accompanying him home from school, Will reading and researching about ghosts with him, Will enthusiastically listening to his stories about talking to spirits, Will eating with him every lunch and recess, Will introducing him to his friends, Will dragging him to participate in school events, Will yanking him through the annual town fairs, Will encouraging him whenever he failed a test, Will celebrating with him when he got into the college he wanted, Will staying in with him whenever he was sick, Will cheering him up during his depressive episodes, Will being there every time he needed him.
Will always being there, even after his own death.
"You always were there for me," Nico's voice cracked, a pained smile adorning his lips as he tried to control his sobs. "Always liked taking care of me, always liked saving me."
And Will smiled back sadly, a single tear escaping his eyes. "I love you."
And as Nico watched as he turned his back towards him, he felt his heart shatter into a million pieces, feeling the single ray of happiness that held his life together be ruthlessly snatched away from him. "Will," he called out, desperately trying to engrave the memory of Will's face in his mind.
Will turned, his spirit already starting to fade. Nico reached out to him, hopelessly wishing for one last chance to feel his comforting embrace, to bask himself in his reassuring touch, but the moment his hand reached him, his presence dissipated, and he was gone.
And Nico was left with nothing but the faint essence of his lost love lingering in the still air.
He walked down the grassy field, clutching a single flower in one hand and a paper bag in the other. It was a nice day out; the sky was the bluest he'd ever seen, with small puffs and wisps of clouds passing by then and now. The sun was shining just right—not too bright, and not too gloomy. Even the wind seemed to be agreeing with the first two, mellowing down into a gentle breeze that hit Nico with a pleasing degree of balanced coolness. Everything about the day was just perfect.
He knelt down in front of the stone marker standing on the ground and settled the paper bag in front of it, huffing proudly as he ruffled through its contents and produced a small box in his hands. "Happy birthday!" he announced happily. "I baked it myself. I'm still trying to perfect it, but…the frosting is strawberry flavored! You know, your favorite."
He placed the cupcake on the little stone elevation and rummaged through the bag once more. "Oh! And I also brought that pie you love so much." Nico put the foiled pan next to the delicious piece of frosted pastry and smirked. "And no, my puke doesn't turn green whenever I eat it anymore."
He opened the paper bag and gazed inside. "The others are letters from our friends and family. I asked them to write it all down on paper 'cause I know how much you love handwritten notes over half-assed digital messages. Here, lemme read them to you."
Shifting into a crossed leg seating, Nico stuck his hand in and fished out a card. "Okay first up is Lou Ellen." He cleared his throat. "Happy twenty-fifth birthday, Will! We all miss you so much, you little nutjob. I got accepted into this top rated magician firm with Cecil. He's gonna work as my part-time assistant for now, yanno, while he struggles with his student loans. The people in the enterprise were a little skeptical about having a dude be my assistant, 'cause it's usually a female-dominated area. But once they saw him rock the sparkly tights, they practically dragged us to every magic show in the whole country." Nico burst out laughing, remembering the way Cecil kept prancing around his house wearing the dreaded outfit with pride, proclaiming how he had better legs than Lou Ellen could ever wish to have. "But anyways, we hope you're doing okay wherever you are. We love you so much, and don't you forget it!"
Nico turned to the gravestone. "Oh man, there was even one time Cecil's outfit ripped in the middle of a show. And let's just say the night outside the theater wasn't the only thing that could be classified as a full moon." Still snickering, he put the letter by the stele and dug out another card.
"Next is Reyna's," Nico told him. "Dear William—oh Jesus Christ, I told her to stop with the full-name-calling, but whatever—happy birthday! I helped your boyfriend bake that cupcake—ugh, what a flaker—which, knowing him, he'd probably claim to be his own creation. Everything's going well here the company. Hylla and I somehow managed to cut our inherited domains in half, and now I'm handling Sales and Marketing, among others. We wish you nothing but the best up there. Happy birthday!"
Nico placed it next to Lou Ellen's letter and got another one from the bag, still grumbling on about how he'd talk to Reyna about keeping her mouth shut about him always asking for her help.
"Now for Percy's: Hey Will! Hap—what the fuck?" he held the card and showed it to him. "Look at this! He just crossed out the Congratulations on your baby label in the card and replaced it with Happy Birthday! What an assho—" he stopped, catching himself, "I mean, what a jerk."
Nico laid it by the stone. "Sorry, I keep forgetting to stop swearing."
He got another card. "Aaaaand, this is from…oh, there we go, this one's from your dad. Yo, Willy boy! I—oh wait, sorry." Nico cleared his throat and deepened his voice. "Yo, Willy boy!" he turned to the tombstone. "Did I do a good impersonation? Personally, I think you do it better, but eh." He grinned, focusing back on the card. "I can't believe you're twenty-five now! I still remember the night I turned your age, your mom and I were in our little apartment, making out in the kitchen with our tongues mingling with each other—no, Mr. Solace, just no—haha! I'm just kidding! Business has been slow these past few months, but hey! That means not a lot of people are getting sick nowadays and that's a good thing, right?" Nico smiled. He sure was a lot like his son. "Anyways, I hope you're having a hell of a good time partying up there in heaven! Or in Elysium, or in your reincarnation as a chicken, I don't know. Anything that fits your belief on the whole matter. Happy birthday, son! I love you!"
"Damn, he uses a lot of exclamation marks," Nico said as he put it next to the others. "Kinda like you, to be honest. Except you use smiley faces more often."
He read a couple more, laughing and retorting on some topics their friends and family discussed. After reading Piper's message about creating—"Her words, not mine," Nico had clarified—more attractive babies, he fished out the final card settled at the very bottom, opening the clean piece of scented paper.
"Oh, this last one's from Annabeth. Happy birthday, Will! Sorry about Percy's message, he's not really one for those heartfelt sentiments, and Nico probably wants to rip out his insensitive card right now—damn right, I do—but just know that he misses you a lot. I once found him alone in our room, clutching an empty bottle of pills in his hand. I asked what it was for, and he looked at me and said it was the medicine you gave him to cure his migraines, telling me this lame joke about how much it sucked to not have more of it, but I could tell it wasn't the real reason he was holding it." Nico's expression softened. "We miss you a lot, Will. We hope you're doing okay."
Nico stared at the card for a couple of quiet moments, feeling a jab of pain stab his chest. He knew he wasn't the only one that was affected by Will's death, but he never realized just how much the others must've suffered upon hearing the news, just how much they tried to swallow the hard truth of never seeing their friend anymore down.
He placed the card on the stone, a strange mixture of joy and sadness filling him up as he glanced at the way the different colored cards decorated his grave. Wrapping his fingers around the long stem of the flower settled beside him, he brought it up, letting the rays of sunlight peek through its narrow spaces as he slowly spun it around to face the sun.
Nico gingerly placed the sunflower on his stone marker, a pensive look decorating his features.
"Oh hey, did I already tell you about how my book got labeled as a worldwide bestseller yet?" he asked, grinning widely. "I already got booked for several interviews all around the globe! Of course, there were some people who insisted I was a fraud for claiming to see ghosts, and sometimes their comments get a little too harsh for me to take and I get really depressed, but…but I figured, you wouldn't like it if I let it get to me. You'd be all 'oh c'mon, your book is the number one bestseller in the whole world, what's there to be sad about?' and keep spouting more optimistic junk at me, and…" his voice cracked, "and I'd feel much better."
A tear escaped from his eyes, and he let it fall freely, not bothering to wipe it with his sleeve as a pained laugh emanated from his throat. "We should've gotten married in Vegas," he mewled in the sad silence of the cemetery, the weight of what could have been bearing down on his solitary state.
Nico swallowed the lump forming in his throat as he reached over and placed a hand on the tombstone. "I miss you," he whispered softly, leaning down and kissing the stele as more tears rolled down his face. "I miss you so much."
And he pulled back and traced the lettering engraved on the stone, feeling the rough inscription create friction against his olive skin.
William Solace. Beloved son, friend, lover.
A wistful smile settled upon Nico's lips as he let his fingers trail over the last word, a single bead of tear streaking down the side of his face.