Nico took tentative steps onto the stage, entirely unprepared for the rush of feelings that washed over him as he did. He tried to imagine how the stadium would look later that night, when eighteen thousand people would be in front of him, celebrating Thrice Greek's return.
It had been ten long years since he'd set foot on a stage, and the nervous jitters he hadn't felt in forever made a triumphant return.
He welcomed it. The nervousness was like an old friend laying a hand on his shoulder, something familiar, even though everything else had changed and would never be the same again. Though a faint smile crept up on his face, his heart ached.
He hadn't imagined ever playing in front of a crowd again, but he was happy with the way things had turned out, and here he was, hours away from playing a show in Madison Square Garden, a show that had sold out in hours when news of their reunion had broken.
He took a deep breath, staring out over the empty floor. He was happy to be back, and a big part of him couldn't wait to get on stage and play the shit out of his guitar, letting his emotions out in a way he hadn't been able to for a long time, though there was a smaller part that hurt. It had hurt when he'd arrived at their hotel, it had hurt when he'd been driven through the streets of New York, and it was still hurting now. He wished things were different.
God, he still missed him.
The first months had been rough—especially the weeks immediately after he'd arrived back in the States.
Nico had felt like a shell of the person he'd been only days before, like a tidal wave had washed away all of the parts of him that mattered, leaving emptiness and apathy in its wake. He'd been intrinsically linked to Jason, Percy, and the band for such a long time that he found it hard to see himself as an individual, rather than a part of something bigger. He felt adrift, out of touch with the other parts that made him whole. It had taken him days just to be able to talk to Will, instead of just clinging to him for warmth and comfort.
Will had been sweet, and astonishingly patient—always ready with a smile, a comforting touch, or soothing words, seemingly knowing exactly which one Nico had needed at any particular moment. He hadn't pried—had barely even asked, content to wait until Nico would open up to him, though Nico hadn't missed the curiosity in his eyes every time he glanced over, the worry and helplessness evident in his every move.
He'd found it hard to make sense of everything; it had been like watching a movie, watching his life play out in front of him and having no control over it. He'd been unable to accept what had happened, waiting to wake up, as if it had been a bad dream. His thoughts wouldn't align, a jumbled mess, and more than once he'd found himself looking off to the side, a silent plea for help from Jason, until the cold reality had reared its ugly head.
He'd wanted to talk to Will, to explain what had happened, but every time he'd tried, his throat had locked up, and the words hadn't wanted to come out. He'd gotten increasingly frustrated; at the situation; at Jason; at himself, incapable of letting go of the bitterness that had swelled inside of him, choking him.
The days had been long, seemingly unending, every minute an eternity. He'd barely been able to get any sleep, and most of his days had consisted of waiting for Will to come back from his shift at the hospital, trying to piece his thoughts and feelings together and failing, vowing to himself that he'd talk to Will later that night, only to choke on his words later that evening, his frustration ever growing.
Things had stayed like that for a week, until Will had taken him into his arms after getting home, saying Percy had called him after failing to get Nico on the phone, that Percy had told him what had happened, that Nico didn't need to explain if he wasn't ready for it. It had been like a weight falling off Nico's shoulders, and for the first time that week, he'd cracked a tiny, tired smile.
As the weeks had progressed, he'd started opening up to Will, having started at the very beginning. He'd told Will everything, a little bit every night, but as much as he could force out of himself. He'd told Will how he'd met Jason, how they'd developed an unlikely friendship that had turned out to be forged in steel—at least, that's what Nico had thought at the time.
He'd told Will of Jason's feelings for him, and how he'd returned those feelings, before they'd faded without explanation. He'd told Will about the breakup, and how the breakup had eventually turned to a breakup in name only, and how things had stayed that way for a long time.
He'd told Will how much he'd struggled with his feelings when he'd gotten to know the boy with the stolen guitar, quietly murmuring that it had caused friction between him and Jason, and how Jason had tried his best to take a step back and let Nico have happiness.
He'd told Will of the night Jason had left, of the things Jason had said and how much it had hurt, and he'd watched Will's beautiful face scrunch up in a frown, Will's arms wrapping around him not a moment later.
He'd told Will about the letter Jason had left them, and how a part of him understood, but how a larger part of him was angry at Jason, calling him a coward, cursing him for running away from his screwups and his feelings.
(It wasn't until he'd realized much later that what Jason had done was what he'd been doing for a long time as well, that the anger had started turning to forgiveness.)
Will had listened to everything, taking everything in stride, and it was such a relief to Nico. A part of him had been afraid that Will would leave too, once he found out what a fuckup Nico was.
"I love you," Will had whispered every night, kissing the top of Nico's head and holding him close before drifting off to sleep.
Nico was so happy to have him. Will was the brightest star in his darkest night, guiding him to better days, and Nico loved him with everything he had.
The weeks slowly turned, with the two of them slowly settling into a routine. While Will would be away, finishing up his internship, Nico would stay at home, passing the day by writing in his journal until his hands cramped, by playing the guitar until his strings needed replacing, by texting Percy for a few minutes, and by trying to make dinner for Will, though in most cases it had ended with them needing to order in after all. Nico hadn't minded that one bit. Every night was a repeat of their first date, bringing up happy memories Nico could thrive on for another day.
Nico had wanted to take Will out—to do something nice for Will for once, instead of the other way around—and right when he'd worked up the courage to make reservations at a quiet restaurant, he'd learned that Percy and Annabeth were being hounded by the media, something Percy himself had kept from him. Will had come home that night to Nico desperately trying to gasp for air, trying to shake off a panic attack.
He'd gone a bit stir-crazy, being cooped up in Will's apartment for weeks, only catching fresh air when he stuck his head out the window to smoke a cigarette and occasionally wander onto the fire escape at night.
Will had come home after the last day of his internship to Nico waiting in the hallway with packed suitcases, holding up two plane tickets to Vienna. "You deserve a break," Nico had said. He'd bought the tickets on a whim, thinking it would be a good way to thank Will for being there for him, and to celebrate Will finishing his internship, as well as give himself a chance to get out of the apartment.
They'd shared an amazing week in Vienna, walking around the city with their hands linked, going out to dinner in candle-lit restaurants, sharing a glass of wine before falling into bed together, losing themselves in one another. For the first time since Jason had left, Nico had felt happy, had felt like he was going to be okay.
He just wished things could have stayed that way.
Nico whipped his head around, smiling as he saw three kids running up to him, hugging him from all sides a moment later. "Hey kids. You've grown!"
Tyler, the oldest of the three, threw Nico a bright smile. "Dad said that if we keep eating our veggies we'll be taller than you!"
Nico rolled his eyes, opening his mouth and biting back a nasty comment, but before he could respond properly, Tyler was already gone, climbing up on the riser where Percy's drum kit was being set up.
"Can I see your guitar? Can I play it? Can you play us something?" Max, Percy's second son, tugged on Nico's sleeve, firing questions at him, while Josie, Percy's daughter, hugged his leg.
Nico shook his head. "Sorry, kid. Maybe later tonight, okay?" He ruffled Josie's curls, smiling when she shyly buried her face in his thigh.
Max blinked up at him and pouted, looking exactly like his dad when he wanted something, and Nico was about to give in when Percy appeared on stage, an arm wrapped around Annabeth's waist.
"Max, leave Nico alone- Hey! Tyler! Get off that riser before you hurt yourself!" Percy sighed and turned to Annabeth, smiling sweetly. "Honey. Darling. Sweetie. Would you…"
Annabeth shook her head, lips curled into a fond smile. "Alright," she said, turning to the kids. "Who wants ice cream?" Percy's sons let out a loud cheer and raced each other to the backstage door. Annabeth leaned in to kiss Nico on the cheek. "It's good to see you again. You look good."
Nico smiled warmly and hugged her. "You too. I've missed you." He looked down when Josie tugged on his hand.
"Goodbye, uncle Nico. I have to get ice cream now," she said quietly, flashing him a toothy grin before walking over to her mother.
When Annabeth walked away, Josie holding her hand, Percy put on his puppy face. "So Nico gets a kiss but I get nothing?"
Annabeth only smiled over her shoulder, though Josie let go of her mother's hand and ran back to Percy, who leaned down and got a kiss on the cheek for his effort. "Thanks, princess," Percy said, tucking her hair behind her ear. "Now, go have some ice cream, okay?" He leaned a little closer and whispered exaggeratedly. "Tell mom I said you could have extra sprinkles." He winked at her and smiled as she ran back to Annabeth, squealing about sprinkles.
When the stage was empty save for the two of them, Percy sighed, and Nico couldn't help but chuckle. "I don't know how you do it," Nico said.
"Are you kidding me?" Percy said, grinning. "I get to play with them all day. Take them to the beach to build sand castles, go to the zoo, play soccer in the yard. It's great!"
"So Annabeth buys you ice cream when she wants you quiet, too?"
Percy nodded, before his expression changed into a miffed one. "Hey!" He glared at Nico, though there was no malice in it. "Anyway, I love it. I don't need to work for the money, and Annabeth's got her career, so why not? Stay-at-home dads are totally modern. She's the rock star now, you know."
Nico only smiled, looking out over the hall again, taking everything in.
"You miss him, don't you?" Percy asked after a moment of silence, throwing an arm around Nico's shoulder and leaning against him.
Nico nodded slowly. "Yeah. Just coming back here... " He shrugged and forced a smile. "Let's go get ready for tonight."
It had been one and a half years since Nico had showed up on Will's doorstep after flying home from Europe.
He'd been a complete mess, and even though he felt better, things still weren't the way they were meant to be, the way he'd hoped they'd be.
After Jason, he'd vowed to himself that he'd be better, that he'd work on his issues, that he'd try to handle his anxiety better. Things had worked out differently than he'd expected, much to Nico's annoyance.
The week he'd spent with Will in Vienna had been more than amazing, and just thinking about it put a smile on Nico's face. He wished it could have been like that every day, with the two of them smiling as they walked around the city, going out to dinner together, going to see a show, and all of that stuff that couples did.
He wanted that time back, that week of utter happiness, the week they'd spent with barely a care in the world.
A couple of days after they'd gotten back, Will had started med school, and things hadn't been the same since.
The change had been immediate. From day one on, Will had gotten swamped in work and classes, leaving the apartment at 6:30 in the morning. He'd stop by for a quick kiss and a snack after class, before making his way over to the library to study and make sure he wouldn't get behind on schoolwork. When he finally got back at around seven in the evenings, they ate together and snuggled up on the couch, with Will barely being able to make it through a movie before he went to bed.
Nico understood. Med school was tough, and if Will had been able to live with him having been a rockstar, touring the world, then he'd be able to live with Will putting in long hours as he pursued his dream. He supported Will as best he could, by keeping the small studio apartment clean and by cooking - once Nico's cooking skills had slowly improved.
The days were rough. He'd wake up at six every morning, cursing Will's alarm, before dragging himself out of bed to put together a small breakfast while Will took a shower. He'd kiss Will on the cheek and sighed as the door closed behind Will, silence falling over the apartment like a heavy blanket.
The first few weeks had been especially challenging; he'd been unable to stop thinking about Jason, about what had happened between them, about the band falling apart, every second he was alone. He'd tried to find a cause, tried to lay the blame somewhere it made sense, but couldn't help but have negative thoughts creeping up on him, whispering that it had been his fault, that none of it would have happened if he hadn't been such a mess. More than once Will had come home in the afternoon to find Nico on the verge of tears, blowing off his study hours to hold him in his arms, to tell him that everything was going to be okay.
Nico had felt guilty every time it happened, knowing full well Will needed the time to study, having to sacrifice sundays—the only day they had to themselves—to catch up.
He'd done the opposite of what he should have done. Instead of reaching out to get help, to maybe find someone trained to deal with it, he hid it. He hid the bitterness and the sadness, hid his true feelings, and forced himself to put on a smile. Will had enough to deal with as it was.
Things slowly got better, and while the daytime was the darkest part of Nico's day, he looked forward to the evenings, when he'd be able to spend precious hours with Will. He spent his days writing in his journal, or plucking away on his guitar, and it helped. His journal was always there for him, ready to listen to everything he had to say without judging him. It had been there when he'd been grieving for his mother, when he'd been grieving for Bianca, and it was here for him now that he was mourning his friendship with Jason and the band.
He called Reyna almost daily, hoping that Jason's answer would change, that Reyna would tell him something different, that he wouldn't be able to hear the pity in her voice when she told him that Jason wasn't ready to talk to him yet. It hurt every time, and as the weeks turned to months, he stopped calling her, only picking up the phone occasionally, hoping against hope that the answer wouldn't be no this time.
He didn't go outside unless he absolutely had to, unless Will was with him and the hour was quiet, fearing the panic that would claw at him, fearing that anyone would recognize him, fearing the fear itself. He'd tried, multiple times, but he hadn't made it across the street. He told himself it was okay - groceries could be delivered, and if he really wanted to smoke a cigarette there was always the fire escape, which had quickly come to be his favorite place, his hideaway for when the walls were closing in on him. Some days he'd sit there all day, staring up at the sky, thinking of days gone by and wondering if there would ever be a day when he'd be truly happy in every sense of the word.
One day, he'd browsed the internet and had called Reyna, and a week later, he'd presented Will with a set of keys to a modest apartment in Upper Manhattan, close to Columbia's campus, cutting Will's commute by an hour and a half every day and giving himself a bit more space to move around in, as well as a proper balcony instead of a rickety fire escape.
Percy and Annabeth visited a lot, and when Annabeth had gone back to finish her MA in Architecture, Percy started spending one or two afternoons a week at their place. Having someone around the house when Will was gone was like a breath of fresh air to Nico. It felt great to hang out with Percy again, like he had a little piece of his old life back, and to Nico, it meant the world.
He babysat Tyler a few times, and he treasured it each and every time. They were rare moments in which he didn't feel useless and trapped. He'd play Tyler lullabies and read him stories, lull him to sleep in his arms, quietly shushing Will with a smile on his face when Will would get home. They'd put him to bed together, watching him sleep with matching smiles on their faces.
It felt great to take care of someone, the responsibility on his shoulders more a blessing than burden. He'd considered adopting a dog, to help battle the loneliness, but going outside terrified him still, and so he'd put the thought aside.
The darker days far outnumbered the happy days, the light only making the dark seem darker, and with every passing month, Nico felt more and more trapped. No matter the size of the apartment, Nico still spent all his time between the same walls. Every day, the place seemed a little smaller, trapping him, suffocating him.
Despite wanting to support Will, he found a small part of him growing resentful. He knew Will was working toward a future, that he had a clear goal in mind, something he was a little bit jealous of now that it was obvious his band life was over and done with. He knew it wasn't that Will didn't want to spend time with him, but that he couldn't. He knew all those things, but the bitterness built up inside of him regardless.
He clung to the precious time they could spend together, the two weeks Will would allow himself off in the summer that had passed all too soon, the Christmas celebration at Sally's. He clung to their evenings and sundays together and found himself resenting the saturdays that Will spent holing up in the library, the hours that Will spent studying.
It had gotten steadily worse, and more and more often he heard Jason's words in his head. Those damning words from that night.
"He'll be in med school, and then he'll have a residency for god knows how long…"
"Do you really think it's worth ruining yourself over?"
"He's going to let this thing with Will drag on until it ruins him!"
In his weakest moments, he found himself thinking that maybe Jason was right.
Percy and Annabeth's wedding day was supposed to have been the happiest day of Percy's life.
Two years after Tyler was born, the two of them had started talking about having another baby, and this time, Percy was going to do it the right way, and he'd proposed. He'd called Nico at three in the morning, ecstatic, practically shouting into the phone. "She said yes, Nico! She said yes!"
But when the day had come, things hadn't gone as planned.
"He's not coming, is he?" Percy asked Nico, who was busy fixing Percy's tie.
"I don't know," Nico admitted quietly, smiling ruefully as he tucked Percy's tie into his vest, taking a step back. "I wish I did."
Percy looked down, shaking his head. "He has to show, right? It's my wedding day."
"No! I called Reyna and told her to tell him that it's all water under the bridge. You've forgiven him, I've forgiven him, so we should be good, right?" He shook his head and sighed. "If it hadn't been for him, if he hadn't scraped me off the floor that night and told me to pull my shit together, I wouldn't be marrying her today. He has to be here."
Nico laid a hand on Percy's shoulder, not knowing what to say to make him feel better. He hoped that Jason would show up, that after two years, things would have cooled down enough for Jason to come back, but with every passing minute his hope faded.
He'd been hoping against hope, after trying to contact Jason again and again. Once the sadness had faded, and the anger that had replaced it had passed, Nico had picked up the phone and dialled Jason's number, finding out that it was still out of service.
He'd called Reyna, updating her on his life, before asking to speak to Jason. "Have him call me," he'd pleaded. "Please, it's been long enough."
Reyna had told him she'd try, but that she couldn't promise anything. Jason was trying to get back on his feet, and she wasn't sure if he was ready to talk to them yet. A little while later, she'd called back. Jason didn't feel up to talking yet, and he'd asked if they could respect that for a little while longer.
He'd gotten the same answer every time he'd called Reyna, but it didn't stop him from trying. After Percy's wedding invite had come in the mail, he'd picked up the phone, but again, he'd gotten the same answer. When he'd asked if Jason was coming to the wedding, the answer had been a tentative maybe.
He shook the memory out of his head and helped Percy into his jacket, buttoning it up with a smile. "He'll show," he said, hoping he sounded convincing.
Percy closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened them again, he stood up straight, lifting his head high, the beginning of a smile on his face. "How do I look?"
Nico chuckled, his smile almost bursting at the seams. "Like you're about to marry the love of your life. You look great, man."
There was a twinkle in Percy's eye, and Nico took a deep breath, ready to sigh at whatever dumb comment Percy was about to make, when there was a knock at the door. He could hear Percy's breath hitch in his throat, and Nico's heart definitely skipped a beat. Percy nodded, and Nico walked over to the door to open it. When he did, he found himself face to face with the biggest bouquet of flowers he'd ever seen.
"This just got delivered for you," Will croaked out, holding a giant vase as he shuffled into the room, while Nico quickly cleared a table so he could put it down, stealing a kiss after he did, unable to resist when Will looked so good in his suit.
Percy frowned, the disappointment obvious on his face, and walked around the table, studying the beautiful bouquet that must have cost a pretty penny by the looks of it.
A bad feeling pooled in Nico's stomach, and when he looked at Will, looking uncomfortable and shifting his weight from foot to foot, his suspicion was confirmed.
Percy plucked a small white card from between the flowers, his frown deepening when he read it.
"Percy," Nico started, but before he could finish, Percy dropped the card, let out a cry and swept the vase off the table. It fell to the floor and shattered, the flowers scattering around Percy's feet, water splashing up against his suit.
Nico bent down to pick up the card, barely managing to avoid Percy's foot as he stomped down on the flowers.
"Who the fuck does he think he is?!"
Nico turned the card over in his hands.
"I'm happy for you. Congratulations." Jason's name was signed on the bottom of the card. Nico managed a small, broken smile. At least it meant that somewhere, Jason still cared. When he looked up, Will had thrown an arm around Percy, trying to get him to calm down.
"It's not worth it," Will said quietly. "You're ruining your suit, and-" He looked up at Nico, eyes pleading.
All Nico managed to say was, "I'm sorry." He laid his hand on Percy's shoulder again, squeezing it. "He wouldn't have sent the flowers if he didn't care anymore."
He was just as angry as Percy was, with a good chunk of sadness in the mix, but today he had to be there for Percy.
Percy shrugged Nico's hand off his shoulder and straightened out his suit, his jaw clenched. "Whatever. I'm done."
"Percy?" Reyna's voice came from the hallway. She stepped into the doorway, her lips pursing when she saw the mess of flowers surrounding Percy. "Come on," she said, motioning for Percy to follow. "Let's get you dried up before you get married."
Percy's bitterness was nowhere to be found once he laid eyes on Annabeth, walking up to the altar in a beautiful white dress. His eyes lit up, and Nico was pretty sure there was nothing that could make the smile disappear off Percy's face anymore, Jason be damned.
The ceremony was short and beautiful, and the party afterwards had been fantastic. Will had convinced Nico to dance, and before either of them had known it, they'd spent half the night dancing, curled up in each other's arms and slowly swaying from left to right at first, later ditching their jackets and really letting go when the party had picked up.
When Nico had caught Reyna leaving the party, he'd pushed Will into Cecil's arms on the dancefloor, and had followed her.
"How is he doing?"
Reyna turned around and sighed. "Nico-"
"Please," Nico said. "I just want to know if he's okay."
Reyna nodded curtly, ever the professional. "He's trying. He's doing a lot better these days. Therapy's helped."
It was a relief to hear that Jason was doing better, though it didn't stop the emotions that Nico had hidden away earlier that day from surfacing again. "Then why isn't he here?" Nico croaked out. "Why won't he call me back?" He tugged at his hair in frustration. "Percy just got married and he wasn't here! For fuck's sake!"
"No! I miss him, doesn't he get that?"
"He'll reach out when he's ready." Reyna shook her head slowly. "That's all I can say, Nico. I'm sorry."
Nico closed his eyes, taking a deep breath, and then another. Then he opened his eyes again. "Does he ever… Ask about us?"
Reyna smiled warmly, walking up to Nico and fixing his hair back into place. "You're the first thing he asks about when I call him." She patted his chest and looked over her shoulder when a car honked. "My ride's here. Look, give him some more time, okay? When he finally learns to forgive himself, he'll call."
"Okay," Nico said, though it came out as a whisper. "Tell him..." he said, looking Reyna in the eye. "Tell him I miss him." He cracked a small, sad smile. "And don't tell him about the flowers."
"I won't," Reyna said, stepping into the car. "He's beating himself up enough as it is. Take care of yourself, Nico. One of these days, he'll call." She closed the door, waving at him as the car drove off.
Nico sighed, rubbing his hand over his face. Two years, and Jason was still giving himself a hard time? God, he wished Jason would take his call just once. He'd tell Jason that he'd forgiven him, that he understood, that they could start their friendship anew, anything to make Jason realize that it's time he forgave himself.
When he'd gotten back to the party, Will had pulled him into a slow dance. Nico had laid his head on Will's shoulder and had let himself be guided, slowly swaying their bodies, surrounded by Will's warmth, his comfort.
As the party had winded down, he'd taken Will's hand and had led him upstairs, needing to forget about everything and completely lose himself in Will. After closing the door behind him, he'd slowly peeled Will out of his suit, letting Will do the same to him. Nico had crawled into Will's lap, had draped his arms around Will's neck, kissing him until his breath had run out. They'd moved together as one, wrapped up in each other's bodies, quiet moans and harsh breathing filling the room.
"That just now… Wow." Will had said, giving Nico a kiss on the forehead after they'd curled up underneath the covers. "We definitely need to do that again on our wedding night."
Nico had chuckled sleepily, lazily draping an arm around Will. "Our wedding night, hm?"
"Oh, yes, definitely. Big beach wedding in the sun. I got it all planned out."
Nico had cracked one eye open, wiggling his fingers against Will's ribs. "I don't see a ring, Mr. Solace."
"I'm still saving up, of course. Med school is expensive."
Nico'd snorted, closing his eyes again and pulling the sheets up to his nose. "Shut up and go to sleep, Will."
Will had chuckled, stealing one last kiss. "Good night, Nico."
"Good night, Will."
A full year passed, a year in which Nico had done some soul searching. The band was done for, the walls were closing in on him, and bitterness tried to overtake him. It had been two years and four months since the band had broken up. Jason still hadn't contacted him, Percy had married Annabeth and they'd just announced that their second child was on the way, Will was making his way through med school, and Nico, he was still the same person he had been that day. He didn't know what he was going to do with the rest of his life, he hadn't worked on his issues even though he'd repeatedly promised himself he would. He'd created a bubble for himself, a safe haven with just enough happiness to make his life bearable. He was stagnant, unmoving, hoping for progress, hoping that a goal in life would magically fall out of the sky, doing just enough to get by and absolutely nothing to move forward.
He would have succumbed to the bitterness a long time ago, if it hadn't been for Will.
Every time Jason's words haunted him, every time he found himself on the verge of agreeing with them, Will had been there at the end of the day, and Nico fell in love all over again. After all this time, after all the hardships Nico had put himself through, Will was still the brightest thing in his life. Full of warmth, full of smiles, full of love.
He loved Will with every fiber of his being, which was why it was so hard to tell him what needed to be said.
They'd just eaten dinner, but instead of snuggling up to Will's side on the couch, Nico sat down on the other end, turning the TV off.
Will turned to face him, a small frown on his face. "Is everything okay?"
Nico swallowed around the lump in his throat, digging his nails into the palms of his hands. He took a deep breath and looked Will in the eye.
"I think we should break up."
Nico's head shot up when he heard the heavy thump of a bag being dropped.
Jason stood in the doorway to the dressing room, looking around the room in awe. "Wow, this is nice."
"Well, well. The prodigal son returns," Percy drawled from his perch on the luxurious leather couch in the corner of the room.
Nico snorted, and Jason rolled his eyes. "After six years, I think it's time you come up with new material."
Percy's eyes twinkled. "How about I call you wedding crasher?" He tapped his chin. "Oh, wait."
"Percy," Nico groaned, sending Jason an apologetic look, but Jason waved it off with a smile.
"Just messing," Percy said, standing up and pulling Jason into a one-armed hug, clapping him on the shoulder. "Good to see you again, man. How was the flight?"
Jason flopped down on the couch, right on the spot where Percy had previously sat, and kicked his legs up on the table for good measure. He raised an eyebrow at Percy to dare him to say something. "A nightmare. Delayed by an hour, and the guy next to me kept trying to hit on me." He sighed. "Should have tried to catch that flight last night after all. Sorry I missed yesterday's rehearsals."
Percy waved it off. They'd run through a full week of rehearsals earlier that month, and they'd have plenty of time to do a last one before the show. "Did you at least get his number?" He asked, smirking. "What?" he added, when both Nico and Jason sent him bored looks.
As Percy started a lecture Jason about needing to get laid (some things never changed), Nico sat back, watching the exchange with a smile.
He'd missed this, the quiet, easy moments before a show, filled with banter, sniping comments back and forth. They hadn't done this for ten long years, and everything was different, but right now, things were the same. It was as they'd never left. He was sure to miss it again.
Tonight, it was time for their last hurrah. Thrice Greek, the encore.
Breaking up with Will was the hardest thing Nico had ever done, but afterwards, the predominant emotion Nico had felt was relief. He loved Will with everything he had, but love alone wasn't enough, no matter how hard it wished for it to be.
Nico wanted to move forward, wanted to become a better version of himself, wanted to make something of himself, and as long as he was holing himself away in their apartment, he knew he never would.
It wasn't that Will was holding him back; Nico had been holding himself back because he had Will. He thought he would be happy, settling down with Will, an anchor to tie himself to in the sea of his emotional problems. He thought things would change for the better, but after two years, Nico had had to admit to himself that they hadn't. He'd only clung to Will much like he'd once clung to Jason, hoping that having some stability in his life would make his problems go away.
It had taken him a long time to realize, but when he did, it was crystal clear. Nobody was going to change Nico but Nico himself, and as long as he had a place to hide away in, a person to hide behind, he wasn't going to be able to muster up the courage to do so.
It was easy to lay the blame with Will, and a part of Nico certainly felt tempted to do so, but he knew it wasn't fair. Yes, Will was working a lot, and he wasn't home nearly as much as Nico would have liked him to be, but Will was doing something he loved, working towards a clear goal, much like Nico himself had done when he'd still been in the band, so there was no way he could fault Will for that. He hadn't allowed himself to prioritize their relationship over the band, and he couldn't and wouldn't ask Will to stop pursuing his dream for him.
When he told Will, he hadn't been able to keep his voice from cracking. His hands had trembled, he'd felt restless and ready to bolt, ready to take each and every word back and beg for Will's forgiveness, but he'd pulled through. He'd kept going when Will's beautiful blue eyes had looked as sad as he'd ever seen them, he'd kept going when the first tears had made their way down Will's cheeks, and he'd kept going when Will asked him to please, please, please reconsider.
Will had insisted they could make it work, had offered to be there more often, to try and study at home more often, to ditch a class here and there so he could have a day off, and Nico had been tempted. He'd been able to see it in front of him, a future in which he and Will would be happy together, a future in which he'd be confident and able to take Will on dates, to be the boyfriend Will deserved, but he knew that wanting something so, so badly didn't mean it would come true, though he wished it would.
They'd talked all night, until their voices had been raw and scratchy, until every nerve lay exposed and raw, but in the end, Will had acquiesced. He still loved Nico, and Nico still loved Will, but they'd agreed to go their separate ways. Will had made Nico promise they would still be friends, had made Nico promise that he'd work on his problems, and in turn he'd promised to always be there for him.
If things had been different they would have worked out. In a different time, different place, they would have been the happiest couple to have ever gotten together, a love so strong nothing could break it, but as sad as it was, they had to make do with this time, with this place, and a relationship that wasn't working out.
Nico blamed himself. If only he'd done things differently, if only, if only, if only.
The next few days had been awkward. After deciding to break things off, Nico had slept in the guest room, alone and miserable in a cold and empty bed. He'd woken up to an empty apartment, and when Will had gotten home later that night, he'd been quiet and distant. It had hurt, and it wasn't how Nico had wanted things to go, but he understood. He'd made the mistake of not making a clean break before with Jason, and a part of him was grateful that Will made it easier, as wry as it was.
They hadn't spoken for two days when Nico decided it was enough. He'd give Will all the time and space he needed, but he wasn't going to let things turn bitter between them, not like that. When he'd gone into their bedroom, he'd found Will packing his clothes into a suitcase.
He didn't miss the way Will's shoulders shook, how Will didn't turn to face him, instead just hanging his head and smoothing the t-shirt he'd just folded into the suitcase.
"You don't…" Nico sighed. "You don't have to do this."
Will shook his head, his voice coming out as a whisper. "I can't stay here…"
"The apartment's yours," Nico said quietly. "I don't… Downtown Manhattan isn't the place for me to be, if I'm going to," he gestured awkwardly. "Get better."
Will finally turned around, eyebrows furrowed.
"It's close to campus," Nico said. "You can turn the guest room into a study. You're working hard enough as it is, I don't want you to worry about finding a place to live, so…" He smiled awkwardly.
"Nico, I can't accept that," Will said, shaking his head again. "I know how much this place costs, and I couldn't." He sighed deeply, looking down. "I'm going to stay with Cecil until I find a place."
"Please, just let me do this for you," Nico said. "I've caused you enough stress, and you've got exams next week and rotations to prepare for. Cecil's place is a shithole, and you need peace and quiet to study. I know things are awkward between us now, but let me do this for you. The place is paid for until summer anyway."
Will sat down on the bed, burying his head in his hands. "This sucks."
Nico walked into the room and sat down beside Will, resisting the urge to lean into him. "Yeah. It does."
Will looked up, fragile blue eyes full of sadness boring into Nico. "Are you sure you won't reconsider?"
"I'm sorry," Nico whispered, shaking his head.
"Where will you go?"
"Sally's. Just for a little while, until I find a place." He smiled faintly. "Percy insisted."
Will frowned. "Percy knows?"
Nico nodded. "Yeah. I told him this afternoon. He called me an idiot for breaking up with you."
"Huh. I guess even Percy can be sensible sometimes," Will said, bumping his shoulder into Nico. When Nico looked up, Will was smiling faintly.
Nico returned the smile. "I guess I deserved that."
"I'll miss you, you know."
Nico looked down, nodding slowly. "Me too. I'm so sorry, Will."
Will shook his head, taking Nico's hand and squeezing it. "It's okay. It sucks and it hurts and I really want to break something right now, but…"
Nico nodded slowly, squeezing Will's hand back before getting up. He wanted to comfort Will, but it wasn't his place anymore. It would be too easy to cross the line of friendship, to take it too far. It would only end up hurting them both. "It's getting late. I'll see you in the morning."
Nico paused before walking through the door, looking over his shoulder. "Hey Will." He waited for Will to lift his head, before smiling faintly. "Thank you."
Will frowned. "For what?"
"For being you."
The goodbye had been awkward. Nico and Will had stood on opposite ends of the hallway in silence for who knows how long. It had felt like days to Nico.
He'd hated having to say goodbye to Will when he'd left for Europe, but this goodbye was worse. Back then, it had been like turning a page over to the next chapter in his life, knowing things weren't over, that there was more to come, but now, he was about to close the book on their relationship. They'd talked it out, they'd agreed to stay in touch and stay friends, but it hadn't felt final, and now it was.
All his stuff was already on its way to storage, his bags had been packed, and all that was left right now was to say goodbye, to turn around and walk out the door.
"I guess this is it, huh?" Will asked.
Nico nodded slowly, taking a deep breath to steady himself. "Yeah," he said quietly. He felt like an asshole. He was the reason for the sadness on Will's face, the reason Will's usually sparkling eyes looked dull.
"Wait," Will said when he picked up his bag. "Can I…" He smiled sheepishly. "A hug? Before you go?"
"Yeah," he said, voice raspy. He closed his eyes as Will walked over, warm arms around him a moment later. He leaned into Will, wrapping his arms around Will's waist, allowing himself to revel in the warm familiarity of Will's embrace one last time.
"I'll miss you," Will whispered into his hair, and when he kissed Nico's forehead, Nico had to squeeze his eyes shut to keep the tears from flowing.
Nico wished they could have stayed wrapped up together forever, but he knew he had to let go. With every passing second, it became harder to leave, and if he let himself linger in Will's warmth, he knew he'd never have the courage to leave again.
When he pulled back, Will brushed a lock of his hair out of his face. "I should go," Nico said, ducking down to grab his bag. When he stood back up, he stood on his toes and pressed a soft kiss to Will's cheek. "Take care of yourself."
Nico tried to swallow around the lump in his throat as he walked to the door, pulling it open. When he looked over his shoulder, Will stood there, shoulders slumped and hugging himself.
He smiled apologetically, said a last goodbye and stepped through the door, pulling it closed behind himself.
Thirty minutes before the show, Nico stood between Jason and Percy, his guitar propped up against his leg. He tried to look as badass as possible, staring over the photographer's shoulder and hoping it would be over soon.
Tonight's show was going to be filmed and recorded, a live album and DVD to be released later that month, and Reyna had informed them that morning that they'd need photographs for the cover.
A few minutes and a few different poses and expressions later, he was looking through the pictures on the laptop.
Nico stopped at a picture taken when they thought they'd been done, smiling fondly. He had enough pictures of the three of them, their band faces on and photoshopped to perfection. This one, however, was candid. Jason had both his hands up mid-gesture, a grin on his face. Nico's eyes were squinted shut in laughter, one arm curled around his stomach, while Percy's eyes were wide, one arm halfway up in the air - he'd lost his balance when Nico had just about doubled over in laughter, a lot of flailing having saved him from falling over. Serves him right for trying to use me as an armrest, Nico thought.
It was a great picture, a true snapshot of a perfect moment. To Nico, it was a far better representation of them than any of the photographs they'd posed for. They were friends first and band members second.
For so long, he'd hoped that things would go back to the way they'd used to be, before everything had gone to shit. Things had changed, and he no longer wished to go back to that time - what he had now was much better - but right there on the screen was proof that even though times gone by were never coming back, some things would never change.
He'd make sure to have a copy printed.
The weeks at Sally had been a blessing.
She and Paul had welcomed Nico into their home with open arms, and Nico had loved every second of it.
Knowing he wasn't alone had made a big difference, as well as the freedom that came with being away from the city. The fresh ocean air had done wonders, and he'd spent countless hours just looking out over the sea, his mind blissfully clear.
Will had texted him occasionally, and while it hurt, knowing there was a friendship to fall back on when the awkwardness would pass made Nico feel at ease.
One night, when Paul had been out of the house, Nico had opened up to Sally, telling her everything that had been bothering him, and how he wanted to be a better person, to try and get out of the hold his anxiety had on him, to try and learn how to stand on his own two feet. He'd told her of all his fears and anxieties, how deep the problems went, his guilt, his doubt, everything. It had been a long talk, but in the end, he'd felt lighter.
He'd slowly ventured out of the house, doing simple things like picking up groceries for Sally, at first looking over his shoulder everywhere he went, telling himself nothing would happen over and over and over, having to call Sally a few times to pick him up, but as he went out more often, things slowly got a little better.
It was a baby step in the grand scheme of things, but to Nico, it was more important than anything, and he felt strengthened by it, and for the first time in a long time, Nico felt like he would truly be okay.
One night, when he'd flipped through Sally's photo albums, he'd come upon the photos of Percy's wedding, and he couldn't help but smile. There was a picture of him in his suit, smiling and holding up a glass of champagne, with Percy and Will to his left. He'd traced the open space between Nico and the edge of the photo, melancholy creeping up on him. There should have been a fourth person in the picture.
Reyna's words had flashed through his mind. "When he finally learns to forgive himself, he'll call."
Nico had closed the photo album and had gone up to his room, digging his journal out of his bag and sitting down on the edge of the bed. If Jason wasn't going to take his call, he'd find some other way to reach out to him.
Nico adjusted the strap of his guitar, taking a deep breath before looking out over the crowd before launching into the next song. The crowd cheered as he played the first chords, illuminated by a single light shining down on him.
Nico closed his eyes, psyching himself up. This was the first time they'd play this song live, and out of all the songs he'd ever written, this was one he still held dear after all those years. Playing Riddles earlier had taken a lot out of him, had brought painful memories back up to the surface. It was hard to sing the song that he'd written for Will when none of the lyrics held meaning anymore, when their relationship had been over and done with for over seven years. He'd kept glancing around for a familiar head of blond curls, a knot forming in his stomach when he'd realized he wasn't there. This song, however, had happier memories associated with it, and he was excited to play it.
"This is a song about somebody else,
So don't worry yourself, worry yourself,
The devil's right there, right there in the details,
You don't wanna hurt yourself, hurt yourself,
By looking too closely,
By looking too closely,
Oh no, no, no,"
He glanced at Jason after singing the first verse and was met with a smile. He couldn't help but smile back, a wide, happy grin. So much had changed over the years, and a lot of things he hadn't had any control over, but getting through to Jason with a song was one of his proudest accomplishments.
"Put your arms around somebody else,
Don't punish yourself, punish yourself,
Truth is like blood underneath your fingernails,
You don't wanna hurt yourself, hurt yourself,
By looking too closely,
By looking too closely,
Oh no, no, no,"
He darted away from his microphone as he played, walking up to the edge of the stage, closer to the crowd than he'd ever dared to go before, letting the cheers fuel him. He threw his head back and let out a loud cry, mouthing along the next words and letting the crowd sing them to him.
"You don't wanna hurt yourself, hurt yourself,"
As he walked back to his microphone, he looked over at Jason again, the corner of his mouth quirking up when the crowd repeated the words.
Instead of launching into the next verse, they stopped playing, having decided on an extended break in the song.
"You know," Nico said, playing the first few chords of the next part of the song. "I wrote this song for a friend when he was going through a rough time." He smiled, eyes flickering across the mass of people, from the floor in front of him, to the upper rings of the stadium. "Sometimes you just need a nudge in the right direction." He fell silent, letting the sound of his guitar fill up the stadium for a few moments longer.
"And I could be wrong about anybody else,
So don't kid yourself, kid yourself,
It's you right there, right there in the mirror,
You don't wanna hurt yourself, hurt yourself,
By looking too closely, no,
By looking too closely,"
As he played the solo, he threw his head back, releasing a guttural cry, channeling every pent up emotion, every raw nerve, every frustration, his loss, his anger, his happiness, everything. He felt liberated, like he was floating.
"By looking too closely,"
He sang as loud as his voice would let him, and when the song ended, the praise from the crowd washed over him like a tidal wave, loud and energetic.
He put his guitar down on the stand and opened his arms, Jason and Percy joining him a moment later, wrapping their arms around his shoulders. The crowd cheered on as they bowed, and when they let go of each of each other, waving at the crowd, Nico was overcome with a sense of calm, a sense of right.
Nico had bought a house in a small town in upstate New York, only a few hours away from the city, but far enough away that he felt free from the massive crowds and the constant pressure a big city like NYC put on him.
His house was quaint and small, and absolutely nothing like his rockstar persona, but it was cozy and quiet, surrounded by nature, and Nico loved it.
He'd had the shed behind the house transformed into a small recording studio; the only thing he'd really splurged on. And right now, he was putting it to good use.
Before deciding to move, he'd written a song, and after settling in, the first thing he'd done was go through his archive of demos, listening to each and every one of them intently, trying to find the one that would be perfect for the lyrics he'd written, since obviously, getting the band to record a new song was out of the question.
When he'd found it, he'd recorded his lyrics. The only songs he'd sung since the band had ended were lullabies, and sometimes he'd quietly sung to himself when Will wasn't home, but here in his new studio, with no one around to hear him, he could truly let himself go, could sing at the top of his lungs, and he'd felt empowered by it.
He'd spent a full week tweaking the song to perfection, and he'd enjoyed every minute of it. Spending his time working on music in a serious manner made time fly, kept the bad thoughts out of his head, and allowed him to go to sleep feeling accomplished every night.
He'd been nervous when he'd posted the song on YouTube under a false account, hoping he wouldn't get caught (though Reyna would know he'd be responsible for it, but he'd deal with that later), that the press would be on his side for once and help him spread the song, and that it would reach Jason.
A few days had passed, and he'd been yelled at by Reyna for over an hour shortly after he'd 'accidentally' leaked it, but when he heard Looking Too Closely on the radio for the first time, he couldn't help but smile. It was out of his hands now, all he could do from here on in was wait.
He'd hoped the phone would ring the very same day, or maybe the day after, but aside from the occasional text from Percy, Reyna, and Will, nobody contacted him. He'd tried not to feel too disappointed. Maybe Jason hadn't heard the song yet, maybe he hadn't gotten the message embedded in the lyrics, maybe he'd misunderstood.
Two weeks passed, and Nico had all but given up hope when there was a knock at his door, and when he opened it, his heart dropped into his stomach.
Before him stood Jason, his hair a little longer and neatly combed, and maybe a little taller, but otherwise looking the same as the last time Nico had seen him, almost three years ago.
"Hey," Jason said quietly, barely able to look Nico in the eye. His stance was cautious, and his fingers twitched, as if he was ready to run at a moment's notice.
Nico couldn't believe it. He had half a thought to close the door and open it again, to see if Jason would still be there. He only blinked, opening and closing his mouth, hoping to find the right words every time he opened his mouth, and failing.
Jason squirmed uncomfortably. "Say something?"
"It's you," Nico croaked out. "It's really you."
Jason smiled sheepishly, nodding slowly. "In the flesh. Nico, I'm so s- Ow!" He stepped back, trying to avoid Nico's fist flying at his shoulder again, without success. "Will you stop- Ow! Stop it!"
Nico punched him in the shoulder two more times, aiming for the same spot with every swing, and then he stopped, hands clenched into fists, his arms trembling, his face scrunched up. "You deserved that, you asshole," he cried out as he shot forward, wrapping his arms around Jason's midriff and burying his face in Jason's t-shirt. "Do you know how much I missed you? How worried I was?"
Jason stood frozen, and the seconds ticked by before he tentatively draped his arms around Nico's shoulders. "I'm sorry," he whispered into Nico's hair. "I'm so, so sorry."
Nico trembled as he let go of Jason, looking pained. He was happy that Jason was finally, finally here, after going so long without any form of contact, but it also dredged up a lot of feelings he'd buried away. His anger at Jason for saying those things, for leaving, for refusing to pick up the damned phone. His sadness at being left without his best friend to fall back on, at the loneliness Jason had imposed on him.
The anger hadn't passed, the sadness was still there, but Jason was here now, and that was a step in the right direction, a step towards healing. It was time they finally had the conversation Nico had been wanting to have for a long time.
A little while later, they were sitting in Nico's modest living room, staring at each other rather awkwardly, both waiting for the other to start talking.
Jason took a deep breath. "I don't even know where to begin." He smiled sheepishly, a crooked half-smile that would have been playful under different circumstances. "How are you?"
Nico didn't know how to respond to that. He'd been doing alright, not good, but not bad either, but now that Jason had shown up, he didn't know the answer. "Fine, I guess," he said, shrugging.
Jason gave him a look that said he knew better than that, apparently still well attuned to Nico's body language and mannerisms. Nico kind of resented him for it. He didn't get to just pick Nico apart with a single look, not after fucking off to California for three years. Except Jason wouldn't have been able to, if Nico had grown into a new and better person, so he sighed in defeat and started at the beginning. He told Jason about how hurt and betrayed he'd felt when Jason had left, how big a mess he'd been for those first few months, but how he'd slowly gotten better, though he'd never quite achieved the happiness he'd hoped for.
He told Jason how hurt he'd been every time he'd called Reyna in an attempt to restore contact, how disappointed he'd been when he hadn't even showed up for Percy's wedding—not forgetting to mention that Percy was still very much angry about that, at which Jason had nervously smiled.
"I just needed a fresh start," he said when he'd talked about breaking up with Will. "The walls were closing in on me, and I felt alone, and I couldn't stand in the way of his dream. I just had to get out of there."
Jason mumbled his umpteenth I'm sorry of the day, cringing minutely every time he said it, as if he knew it was empty and that it wouldn't make Nico feel any better.
"So I stayed at Sally's for a while, then moved out here," he said quietly. "Trying to pick my life back up without getting anxious about everything. The quiet here helps."
Jason nodded in understanding. "Have you, uh, looked into getting help?"
"Yeah," Nico said. "It's just…" He shrugged helplessly. He'd been entertaining the thought, and deep down he knew he should, that there was nothing to be ashamed about if he did, but it still felt like quite a step - too much of a step. There were days that he felt better, days he took as a sign of improvement, as proof that he didn't need the help, only to have the cycle repeat. He told Jason as much, realizing how silly it sounded when he said it out loud.
Jason sat upright, taking a deep breath. "I've been seeing a therapist. A couple of them, actually. After… After what I said," he said, his voice laced with guilt, "I realized I needed help. What Percy said back then was right. I made mistakes, and I was a mess too, and I wasn't going to get out of that hole without someone to pull me out of it."
Nico looked down. "We would have been there for you, you know that, right?"
"I do, but…" Jason shook his head and sighed. "That's one of the mistakes I made, you know? Thinking I could help you by being there for you, by trying to, well, fix you." He grimaced. "I should have helped you get help, instead of thinking I could do it myself." He hung his head low, speaking in a whisper. "It's why I haven't reached out to you before now. I was terrified of falling back into my old patterns, and the things I said… I was convinced I'd screwed up so badly that you'd never want to see me again, and even if you did, that you'd be better off without me. It took a long time before my therapist drilled it into my head that I'd never know if I didn't at least try to contact you. And the song… it helped."
When Jason cracked a small smile, Nico mirrored it. "I forgave you a long time ago. Don't get me wrong, you hurt me, and you leaving hurt even more, but…" He licked his lips nervously. "Parts of what you said were true. I mean, you didn't have to say them the way you did, but..."
Jason frowned, shaking his head. "No, Nico, I was a total fucking jerk, and-"
"Jason, stop," Nico cut him off. "You were right. I wasn't ready for a relationship with Will, though I'd convinced myself I was. I shouldn't have moved to NYC, I shouldn't have thrown everything I had into a relationship." He smiled sadly. "You said I'd let it ruin myself, and I nearly did. I still love him so fucking much but it wasn't working. Maybe if things had been different… I don't know."
"Do you regret it?" Jason asked, barely louder than a whisper.
Nico thought about it for a moment. Did he regret it? "No," he said firmly, shaking his head. "No. I don't. We didn't last, but I don't regret trying, not for a second. We did have something great, and it fucking sucks that things ended, but…" He shook his head. "No regrets."
"For what it's worth," Jason said quietly, "I'd really hoped things would have worked out between you two."
"Yeah. Thanks. Me too."
They talked for the rest of the day, and when dinner time had come Nico had driven them to a small burger place in town where they'd eaten in silence.
A part of him hoped they could fall right back into the easy friendship that they'd always shared, picking up where they'd left off after talking things over, but it wasn't that easy. Jason was wary and distant, seeming to think everything over three times before saying or doing something, and Nico was terrified of saying the wrong thing, of doing something that'd make Jason leave again. Not to mention he was still a little angry.
The bond of trust they'd once shared had been broken, but not beyond repair. Nico had no doubt that they could learn to trust each other again, but it wouldn't happen overnight. In time, they'd learn to get comfortable around each other again, to forge their friendship anew, stronger and better than before.
He honestly couldn't wait.
After the show, Percy had given Annabeth and his kids a kiss goodbye, and had joined Jason and Nico on the way to their dressing room, where they'd found Reyna waiting for them, holding a bottle of champagne.
"Great show, boys. Here's to many more to come."
Nico snorted, running a towel through his sweat-damp hair. "We barely finished this show and already you're pestering us for more? What's next, a third album? A world tour?"
The corner of Reyna's mouth twitched, and Nico raised an eyebrow. "We agreed on one show."
With the exception of the bottle of champagne, things hadn't changed a bit. Sure, they were older and probably wiser now—Percy definitely was—but the calm after the show, those moments where they'd quietly linger in the pleasant buzz caused by the adrenalin from the show felt exactly the same. It was like they'd never stopped playing. Nico made sure to commit it to memory.
"Seriously, though," Reyna said. "Think about it. You do kind of owe me one more album."
Percy laughed, shaking his head. "I don't mind playing a show or two here and there, but I've got kids to worry about," he said. "Nah, the touring life is over for me."
"Same here," Jason said, sipping on his champagne. "I've got the foundation to keep me busy. I'm raising a lot of donations, and we're having new music centers built soon. I won't let those kids down by pouring all my time into Thrice Greek."
Reyna turned towards Nico, raising her eyebrow. Nico smiled. "I guess we've grown up," he said, his smile growing bigger, a hint of pride in it. "Besides, I've produced eight top ten albums for your clients in the last seven years, I think you're good."
"So, this is really it? No more shows?"
Nico, Percy, and Jason shook their heads in unison. "Thrice Greek is over," Nico said calmly. He felt calm, too. This time, the decision had come after careful deliberation, and mutual agreement, instead of being forced upon him. They'd do one more show, and go out on their own terms, all three of them able to close the book on Thrice Greek without hard feelings. "Who knows what'll happen in the future?"
"Yeah," Jason chimed in with a smirk. "For all we know, Percy could go broke and we'd have to make a new album to bail him out."
Percy threw a sock at Jason, earning himself a withering stare. "I'm not the one who sunk all my money into a charity, Jason."
"It's my charity, you asshole!"
The two of them started bickering, and Reyna sat down next to Nico. "How are you feeling?"
Nico pondered the question for a moment. He was still enjoying the aftereffects of the adrenalin, he felt lighter now that they'd finally agreed on Thrice Greek's future, he was excited to see what the future might bring, he was happy to share this last show with his two best friends, so he was doing pretty well, right? "I'm good," he told Reyna. "Didn't think it'd feel this good to be back, you know? I'll miss it."
"You know I'd sign you in a heartbeat if you decided to go solo, right?"
Nico shook his head. "Nah, I'm good. I'd just miss those two jerks too much," he said, jerking his chin towards Jason and Percy. "And believe it or not, I actually like being a producer. I get to spend all my time around music, I get to mentor the young musicians a little, and I don't have to worry about the media banging down my door or getting mobbed when I go into town. It's perfect."
"Can't blame me for asking," Reyna said, patting Nico on the shoulder as she stood up. "I'll see you tomorrow." She looked up at Jason and Percy, who were still bickering. "Make sure those two don't kill each other."
With a last smile, Reyna was out the door, and Nico pulled his legs up onto the couch, watching his friends. He'd missed the casual and easy banter between them. There'd been a time when he'd seriously wondered whether things would ever be okay between Jason and Percy, but after a long talk, lots of apologies on Jason's side, and a promise that if he'd ever got married, Percy would skip the wedding and send him the biggest, ugliest bouquet he'd ever see, it hadn't taken long for things to get back to normal.
He never expected that at the age of thirty-one, he'd have his life together. Sure, there were minor bumps in the road every now and then, and his life wasn't complete, but it only gave him something to strive for. But he was relatively happy; After Jason had given him the nudge he'd needed to go see a therapist, his mental health had improved to the point where he was a functional human being, able to handle his anxiety more often than not; he had a warm and safe place to call home, and a job that he looked forward to doing. Still, sometimes, when he was sitting on his couch at night, with only his dog to keep him company, the losses and the misses, the mistakes and the screwups, the what-ifs came bubbling up again.
"Earth to Nico," Percy said, shaking Nico by the shoulder, jerking his chin towards the door once he had Nico's attention. "Our ride's here."
"Yeah," Nico mumbled, standing up and grabbing his bag and coat. "I still don't get why Reyna insisted on booking us a hotel," he said grumpily. "I could have made the drive down again tomorrow easily."
Percy shrugged. "Beats me. Probably so she can drag us out of bed tomorrow to yell at us. You know, for old time's sake. Besides, where would Jason stay?"
Nico chuckled. "I'm sure Tyler would love a roomie for the night."
"Oh, no!" Jason cut in. "I'd end up waking up with a moustache drawn on me in sharpie. Or get treated to a 6 AM drum solo. I'll pass, thank you."
"Hey!" Percy huffed.
Nico shook his head, smiling fondly as he walked behind Jason and Percy, who were bickering once again. He tuned them out as best as he could, stifling a yawn. He honestly couldn't wait until he was at the hotel, so he could snuggle underneath the covers and sleep until well in the afternoon. He'd forgotten how intensive playing a show was, and he'd been rusty to begin with.
"...believe it? That guy's got some balls."
"Did he really think this fake thing was going to fool us?"
Nico caught bits and pieces of a conversation, and when he looked up, he saw three security guards standing in the hallway, laughing at something or the other. He smiled politely when he passed them, stumbling to a halt so abruptly he nearly tripped over his feet, sneakers loudly scuffing the floor when he heard it.
"Any idiot can see this isn't a real one. Triple A, my ass."
"Nico?" Jason said, voice sounding far away. He and Percy must've kept walking after he'd stopped. "Everything okay?"
Nico only stared at the security guards, his heartbeat pounding in his throat.
"What's going on?" Jason asked when he came closer. "Is there a problem? Nico?"
"Just get him and let's go! I want to grab a burger before we get to the hotel!" Percy shouted down the hallway.
Jason looked from Nico to the security guards, waiting for an answer.
"We were just talking about this guy who tried to sneak backstage earlier," one of them said.
"Yeah," another said, snorting loudly. "Thought we wouldn't notice that this was fake," he added, holding up a rectangular piece of laminated paper.
Jason snatched it out of his hand immediately, looking it over. His eyes went wide before he handed it to Nico, who took it with trembling hands.
On the paper was an old picture of Thrice Greek, and underneath were three letters.
AAA. Access All Areas.
The world spun, or maybe that was just Nico. Did this- Did it mean-
"When did you get this?" Jason asked.
One of the guys shrugged. "Like five minutes ago?"
"Hey, Nico," Jason said, but Nico didn't respond. Jason clapped him on the shoulder, and Nico's eyes snapped up.
"Go," Jason said with a smile. "I'll get Percy."
Nico dropped his bag and didn't look back as he ran down the hallway.
His eyes scanned the floor when he burst out the backstage entrance like a man possessed. The music was turned off and the harsh fluorescent lighting was on. There were still small clusters of fans hanging around, and it didn't take long for them to notice him. The tension in Nico's body reached its peak, and ten years ago he'd have frozen on the spot, but not this time. He wasn't going to miss this chance.
He squirmed through the small crowd that was forming around him, muttering apologies, when he spotted a blond head of curls. He started running, as fast as his feet would take him, nearly bowling the person over once he'd reached him. "Will?!"
The person turned around, frowning deeply, eyes widening when he saw just who'd run into him.
It took a moment for Nico to process the confusion. The shaggy blond hair, it had to have been him, but it wasn't. Maybe it hadn't been Will to begin with, he thought, but when he looked down at the laminate in his hand he discarded the thought. It had to be him.
"Sorry," he muttered, smiling awkwardly at the guy he'd just smacked into, before he turned around, eyes flitting across the floor once more, focusing on the groups of people clustered around the exits, but there was nobody who resembled Will. He was too late.
He trudged back towards the backstage door, accepting a sharpie from Jason when he got there. There was only a small group of fans, and after blowing them off a couple minutes before, the least he could do was sign a few autographs.
"Couldn't find him?" Percy asked, after smiling brightly into a girl's camera.
Nico shook his head, managing a meagre smile when the girl pointed his camera towards him.
"I think I'm going to head out," he told Jason a few minutes later. "You guys coming?" He didn't wait for an answer, instead heading towards the backstage door. He'd already pulled it open when a hand came down on his shoulder.
"Sorry, but I have a favor to ask…"
That voice. Nico whipped around, coming face to face with gorgeous blue eyes, sparkling and joyful. Will was grinning. "I'm a fan, and I've got this guitar, see…"
Nico couldn't believe it. "Will! What are you doing here?"
Will shrugged, his hands in his pockets. "Thought I'd come see my favorite band. I was feeling nostalgic." The grin faded, being replaced by a warm smile. "You look good. I like the hair."
Nico chuckled quietly. He'd had his hair cut shorter, and now spent five minutes every morning trying to gel it into perfection. "It was time for a change. Yours, too, I see."
Will ran a hand through his hair. It was shorter than it had been since they'd last spoken. Less boyish and more professional. He was still the same person, though the lines around his eyes when he smiled were a little more pronounced.
"I can't believe you're here," Nico said. "God, how long has it been?"
The smile slipped off Will's face, and he scratched at the side of his head, his voice quiet when he spoke. "Three and a half years."
Guilt welled up in Nico. Somewhere down the line, their best intentions to remain friends had stayed just that: intentions. Separated by time and distance, they'd slowly seen less and less of each other, only sending the occasional text before they'd stopped texting altogether, until Nico had felt too long a time had passed to casually start texting Will again. Nico had told himself it was for the best, that having their friendship peter out was the closure they'd both need, but he knew it was just an excuse.
"I'm sorry," he said, looking down. "I wanted to-" He shook his head. "Why didn't you just text me? I'd have put you on the guest list."
Will shrugged. "I didn't want to be that guy who calls after nearly four years and asks for tickets." He chuckled. "I just got up at seven in the morning and yelled at my computer when I tried to order tickets like everyone else."
"And then you decided to just try to sneak backstage?" Nico laughed.
Will blushed a little, the faint freckles on the bridge of his nose standing out more clearly. "I hadn't planned on it, but… you know," he gestured, "I was here now and I thought I'd say hi, if I could."
"I'm sorry," Nico said, struck with guilt over letting their friendship dissipate. "I should've-"
"It's okay," Will said. "It's not like I had all the time in the world, you know?"
Nico wasn't sure whether they were both talking about the same thing.
Will fell silent and smiled, an easy smile that had always come as natural as breathing to him.
Nico didn't know what to say—or rather, he didn't know where to start. Seeing Will again brought everything up to the surface again; but this time, it didn't have the bite that it used to. He felt a little awkward, standing in front of the boy—man—he used to love, the man for whom a little corner of his heart still yearned, and not knowing how to behave.
He wasn't Nico the rockstar anymore, despite having just played a show, and Will wasn't the slightly awkward med student he used to be. They had known each other, inside and out, and had drifted apart after life had dealt them a shitty hand. Wrong place, wrong time.
He didn't know what they were. He was Nico, and Will was Will; they were old friends, and older lovers, and maybe that was all there was to it, or maybe they were back at square one, maybe time had erased everything they'd known the other to be. Nico himself had certainly changed, what was to say Will hadn't?
"So," Nico started. "How've you been?" He grimaced a little at the question.
Will chuckled soundlessly, a shake of his shoulders. "Pretty good. I'm a few months away from finishing my fellowship, but I'm officially a surgeon now. Got a nice place in Yonkers. I can't really complain."
"You're still studying?" Nico asked. "Damn."
"Good thing we broke up, huh?" Will said, but the tone of his voice didn't match the cheeriness with which he'd said it. He cleared his throat. "Anyway, how've you been? Still living alone, out in the boonies?"
Alone. Was Will asking whether he'd found someone new, or was Nico reading too much into it?
He didn't quite know how to answer that one without sounding awkward. What if Will hadn't meant for it to sound that way? He decided to ignore it and smiled. "Yep. It's home."
It still felt a little weird to say it. He'd never thought of a house as his home before. Home is where the heart is, and Nico's heart had been with Jason, with the band, with Will. Now, his quaint little house in the foothills of the Adirondacks was home in every sense of the word. He had his dog, a kitchen that he'd had built just the way he'd wanted it, an amazing view whichever way you looked, and his pride and joy: his studio, which had only gotten bigger and more professional over the years, having been host to many bands who'd decided to work with him.
Saying it provoked a smile from Will, and Nico smiled in return. "So things have been good," he said. "Really found my calling in producing. I'm happy."
"That's great to hear," Will said, smiling, then looking over Nico's shoulder.
When Nico looked behind him, he saw Jason and Percy beaming at him, with Percy holding up both his thumbs. Jason gestured that he'd call Nico before he steered Percy through the backstage doors, leaving Nico alone with Will.
"I guess I should go soon," Nico said, digging into his pocket, and pressing the laminate into Will's hand when he'd found it.
Will stared down at it, nodding slowly. "I should, uh, get going too." He pointed over his shoulder, but made no attempt to move, and neither did Nico.
The silence lasted for five, six, seven seconds before Will took a deep breath. "Okay, listen. I- We- How do you feel about coffee?"
Nico raised an eyebrow, then grinned. "I still take mine with sugar, if that's what you're asking."
"You're hilarious," Will said, his voice level but the blush on his cheeks growing a little redder. "I meant grabbing coffee. With me," he added hastily. "Because, uh, I know a little diner not too far from here, and the coffee's pretty awful but I have some good memories of the place, and if you don't want to that's okay too, but I thought it might be nice to catch up, seeing as how we're uh, in a different time and a different place—okay the place might be the same because we've been to that diner before, but you know what I mean, right? Anyway-"
Nico thought Will's face was going to burst, and he couldn't help but laugh. "Will, you're going to give yourself an ulcer."
Will looked even more embarrassed, wringing his hands together and looking everywhere but at Nico. He let out a shaky breath.
Nico closed his eyes and shook his head, his smile unwavering. When he opened them again, his smile only grew. "I'd love to. Just let me get my things, okay?"
Will was visibly relieved, the tension in his body draining away with every breath he took. "Great! I'll meet you… Where exactly?"
"Right here, five minutes?" He walked to the backstage door and pulled it open, looking over his shoulder at Will for confirmation.
"Okay," Will said, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. "Okay. Five minutes. It's a date." When he realized what he'd said, his eyes widened. "I mean-"
Nico laughed, a wave of his hand cutting Will off. "It's a date," he said, before walking through the door and pulling it closed.
Ten years ago, his life had turned upside down, and the road to happiness had been long and arduous. He'd loved and he'd lost, he'd broken and he'd mended, but in the end, he'd come out a better person.
He'd made choices, both mistakes and right calls, he'd grown and he'd learned, and he'd finally gotten his life on track again. He'd learned to cope, learned to heal, learned to rely on himself instead of solely on others.
Ten years ago, Thrice Greek had been everything, encompassing his whole life, and tonight, he'd officially closed the book on it. It was time to start a new book, a fresh page, and look towards the future.
Starting with the person waiting on the other side of the door.
This was the last chapter of the story. I really hope you enjoyed it, and please, do let me know what you thought!
I can be found on Tumblr as Carpedm87, so give me a follow and get an update on future fics! (I also have more fics up on Ao3 under CarpeDM)