The sound of his footsteps against the ground fell too heavily in his ears, the loudness it emitted as it clashed elements of hard leather shoe soles and rough gravel being too unfamiliar to what Nico was accustomed to hearing.

He'd always been a light footed person—with steps as graceful and silent as a cat's—yet somehow, today, he allowed his movements to be a little bit more cluttered than usual. It may have been because the polo he was wearing felt too tight around his neck, or because the new shoes encompassing his feet felt too stiff to walk comfortably in, or even because his phone was proven too large to fit snuggly in his pants pocket.

Or maybe it was because of the incontestable fact that today was the much awaited celebration of Valentine's Day.

To his left, booths of every kind were lined up; stalls selling delectable chocolates, aromatic flowers, adorable stuffed toys, polished guitars. And each and every one of them had paper hearts and paper balloons spewed all over their own enclosed area, each and every one making their booth stand out with their own sense of creativity and style. Loads of people horded them all, either buying or bargaining or simply striking a conversation with the vendors possibly in hopes of gaining themselves a valentine. A guy was serenading a beautiful girl by the candy booth, a little kid was laughing with a child dressed as Cupid, an elderly couple was chatting with an equally elderly vendor, polite smiles and genuine glee exchanged in their conversation.

Love, it seemed, was wafting everywhere.

Though what really caught Nico's eye wasn't the colorful decor, nor the interesting dialogues between the people—what caught his eye was the sight of a young teenage girl giving another a bouquet of white carnations, to which the other blushed and looked away, but not before offering a quick, chaste kiss on the other girl's cheek.

It made Nico's heart flutter, his stomach flip over, his lips turn up into a delicate smile—and he was suddenly taken back to another time, another place.

Another person.

He was 16-years old then, a lonely dark haired boy with a cynical view on the world, and an even more cynical view on love. He had been sitting on the beige couch located in his shared apartment with his younger sister—whom, speaking of, had gone out on a date with her boyfriend—when he heard the doorbell ring.

Curious as to who the intruder may be, he sauntered up and opened it. He expected it to be a girl scout selling cookies, a salesman offering vacant house and lots, maybe even a prankster with nothing better to do on Valentine's Day. Instead, what greeted his face was an array of colorful flowers bundled up neatly into a tight bouquet.

"And wherever you may go," a theatrical voice said from beyond the flowers, "whatever you may do, as you gaze into these flowers, I hope and pray that you—oh shit."

He heard the suspicious sound of shuffling papers and imbalanced footsteps, and he tried leaning his neck to the side to get a better view of the guy. Unfortunately, the petals continued blocking his view.

"Stupid paper and their stupid—ah! Here we go!" The boy cleared his throat, and Nico could practically hear him straighten his back. "I hope and pray that you may always think of me."

The flowers were then brought down low enough for Nico to finally get a glimpse of him, and almost instantly, the sound of the other boy's voice rattled the staggering silence enveloping the quiet neighborhood all around.

"Happy Valentine's Day!" the boy greeted, his eyes falling back down on the small card attached to the neck of the bouquet. "I hope you have a nice one…Brittany?" he looked up at Nico. "Your name's Brittany?"

Irritated that someone actually thought a question like that was excusable enough to ask a person, Nico snapped, "Do I look like a Brittany to you?"

"Well, I dunno," the boy mumbled and scratched the back of his head, confused. "It says here it's for Brittany who lives in 536…"

"Give me that," Nico growled, snatching the bouquet from the other boy's fingers and examining the handwriting engraved on the floral scented card.

And wherever you may go, whatever you may do,

As you gaze into these flowers,

I hope and pray

That you

May always think of me.

—Brittany, 530

He scrunched his nose up from both the strong aromatic stench and the cheesy love poem. "It says 530, not 536, dumbass." He shoved the garland back to the blonde boy's chest, exasperation heavily leaking out of his voice.

"Oops. Sorry 'bout that. I hope you still have a great Valentine's Day, though!" the guy said, ears reddening and mouth upturning into an apologetic smile. And Nico responded by slamming the door shut.

It was Valentine's Day when they first met.

The next year, Nico avoided the house. His sister and her boyfriend decided to stay in and watch all the cheesiest RomComs they could find within the apartment, inviting Nico to stick around and watch with them, but he politely declined. He wanted many things that Valentine's Day, but he sure as hell knew he didn't want to be a hopeless third wheel. So he dressed up, grabbed his essentials, and walked to the nearest distraction he could find.

Which happened to be the mall.

And just like any other place that day, it was packed with love-themed decorations and products. Couples all around were snuggling and cuddling and doing all the lovey dovey things couples did on dates, and Nico wanted nothing more than to stay away from the lovesick frenzy of it all. He circled the place in search of a solitary shelter—preferably one with food and air conditioning and people who minded their own business—when he stumbled upon a familiar vase of flowers placed in front of a bright flower shop.

They were vibrant and colorful—with hues ranging from gold, to orange, to yellow, to violet, to pink, to white—standing out amongst the sea of red roses and purple daisies. He walked closer, the intimacy the flowers oozed pulling him in until he was near enough to recognize them.

"Good morning, sir! Welcome to—hey! It's you!"

Nico lifted his head from the blossoms, and his dark eyes met bright ones. And there he was again, that boy with the flowers, unmistakable with his wavy blonde hair and tanned freckly face. Nico tried for a scowl, a glare, maybe even a cuss under his breath, anything to indiscreetly tell the boy to buzz off and let him wander the mall in peace.

"I haven't seen you in ages!"

That was a grave exaggeration, and Nico knew it. He wanted to snap at him, to tell him how idiotic and stupid a comment like that was, yet somehow, he couldn't bring himself to say it. Maybe it was because he'd never met someone stupid enough to mistake a blatant zero for a six. Maybe it was because he couldn't really care less about him. Maybe it was because he was too uninterested in the boy.

Or maybe it was because he was. He was interested. A little too interested.

He recalled the way he stayed standing on his feet when he'd shut the door during their first meeting, his heart pounding in his chest and his brain shouting all kinds of stupid nonsense at him.

He's cute, isn't he? Dumb, maybe. But cute, nonetheless.

Just the kind of boy you'd find yourself crushing over.

And you two met on the International Day of Falling in Love, how romantic is that?

Way more romantic than the time Percy rescued you and your sister from a thief.

It's never too late to like another boy that's hopelessly out of your league, Nico.

He'd forced himself to shut it out, to shut it all out. He knew fairly well what the consequences of liking someone he barely even knew brought, and still he had trudged along that bumpy road, filled himself with delusions of acceptance and happily ever afters, only to find out the destination on his map wasn't even there in the first place.

He had sworn to himself that he never wanted to experience that kind of heartbreak again.

And yet, the minute he had shut the door and sat back on his couch, Nico thought of him. Throughout the hour, he had thought of him. Throughout the day, the week, the month, the year, he had thought of him—of the blonde boy with bright eyes that mistook zeroes for sixes.

And he knew then and there that he was absolutely, positively, most definitely screwed.

"I don't see why you would've seen me otherwise," Nico retorted, indignantly crossing his arms in front of his chest in hopes of pushing down the blush threatening to spread on his cheeks.

The boy shrugged. "Eh, I dunno. Thought you went to my high school or something."

Thought? He had been…thinking of him? About him? Him?

Nico tried his best to ignore the way he felt his heart thump loudly in his chest.

"So anyways!" the boy exclaimed, clapping his hands together enthusiastically. "It's so weird, huh? Us always meeting on Valentine's Day, I mean."

"Yeah," Nico offered, frowning when it sounded more of a giddy squeak than an aloof indifference. He cleared his throat and repeated it, mending the tone of his voice to something more suited for his external disposition.

"I bet you were following me, eh?" the boy teased, winking playfully at him. "Searching me up on social media, asking about me around the neighborhood. Well, today's your lucky day, my friend. Because I'm here to save you from your misery and tell you my beautiful name," he put an outstretched hand out, flashing a cheeky grin that made Nico's breath catch in his throat, "my name's Will Solace, nice to meet you, Valentine!"

And while Nico very much wanted to whack this guy in the head for being so comfortable towards a topic he was personally sensitive about, he did nothing but deepen his grimace. Because while the other boy joked and made good humor with those "searching me up" sentiments, Nico knew it in himself that he had been very much tempted to resort to doing so—as relentless and determined he was at denying it.

And now, he finally knew his name.

Will Solace.

Even just those three syllables were enough to spark a rush of adrenaline all over his veins.

He just hoped and prayed that his face wasn't as red as it felt.

But it certainly didn't help that Will burst into melodic laughter. "Hey c'mon, lighten up, dude!" He withdrew his open palm and punched Nico gently on the shoulder, and Nico bit back the standard "don't ever touch me again" lecture and swallowed it down his throat, replacing it with, "I'll lighten up when you start reading numbers properly."

The blonde boy put a dramatic hand on his chest in mock offense, his face feigning one of pure theatricality. "Why I've never—in my defense, the handwriting on the card was totally messy."

Nico snorted, the corner of his lip turning up just the slightest. "It was printed. In Times New Roman, nonetheless."

Will laughed, putting his hands up in the air. "Alright, alright, you got me. I'm stupid and laughable."

"Damn right you are," Nico scoffed, his mouth lifting up even more when Will exploded into another set of hearty chuckles. Goddammit, why was he even bothering with this boy?

"Say, my shift's gonna be over in about 8 minutes, and my best friends just hooked up with each other and left me all by my lonesome today," he put his hands in his back pockets (quite adorably, Nico might add). "So I was thinking, if, you know, you wanna go hang out with me? Like, for lunch? Food's on me."

Nico wanted to say no, to back off, to distance himself from him as far as humanly possible—but he also wanted to do the exact opposite. He knew a thing or two about being left behind by friends who valued romance before anything else—even worse, when the said friends doubled his suffering by coupling up with one another—and he certainly wasn't one to refuse such a generous offer of paying for the entirety of his lunch.

Especially when it came from a boy he'd been daydreaming of for a year.

So, trying his best not to look too eager and sound too excited, Nico gave a measly shrug. "Beats paying for something to eat."

Will looked like a kid who was told they were going on a sudden trip to Disneyland. "Wait, really? Awesome!" he glanced at the clock in the shop, bouncing on the balls of his feet. "7 more minutes. Not that lo—"


"Woops, duty calls." He turned back to Nico, a red tint sprinkled all over his freckled face. "Wait for me?"

Nico chewed the inside of his cheek to prevent from smiling. Why was he even smiling? How pathetic was he? "Sure, whatever."

Will beamed. "Coolbeans. I'll see you later, Brittany!"

With that, he rushed back inside the store.

And Nico couldn't help it, he looked down at his feet, let his fringe cover his face, bit his lower lip, and grinned.

It was Valentine's Day when they started dating.

He ran around the apartment, rummaging through the cabinets sprawled out all over the place. Books and clothes were cluttered everywhere, and usually, Nico would've stopped whatever he was doing and made it a point to clean the mess up. But not today. This particular day was different.

"Where is it?" he muttered, opening and closing several drawers in growing irritation. "Christ, it can't be lost now."

He cursed himself under his breath. Frankly, this wasn't his first time losing something important on the specific day of its enhanced importance. There was that one time when he and Will went on their first official date as a couple, and he promised to be the one who would pay for everything. Of course, he had to forget his wallet and lose his car keys, and Will had to conjure up his own cash for their date and their cab ride home, and Nico swore he was going to pay for the next one. Will simply laughed and told him it was okay.

And that other time, during Will's 19th birthday. He made him a miniature music box (courtesy of humongous help from Valdez, of course)—knowing how much Will loved handcrafted things and music in general—only to lose it thirty minutes before the party. Nico was absolutely sure he put it safely in his bag. He was absolutely sure of it. And Will just laughed and hugged him, telling him how much he appreciated it, and how just having Nico there was already enough.

And that other time, when Nico wanted to surprise Will by getting them an apartment in New York together, only to lose the keys to the house just as they stood in front of its door. Nico, being Nico, made himself promise to make it up to him. And Will, being Will, merely laughed once more, thanking him and teasing him and kissing him, and later, dialing Cecil up later to crack the lock and get them a spare key.

And that other time, when Nico lost the one thing he had spent months saving up for, lost the one thing he had spent a lifetime searching for, readying for, wishing for.

Which was, of all times, now.

"Argh!" he kicked one of his flannels off the ground in frustration, rubbing his palms on his agitated face. Think, he chided himself. Think, you idiot, where did you put the damn thing?

He looked around the place, and his eyes met an ivory vase situated atop their dinner table. The bright hues of the flowers within it provided a splash of color to the dark colors their apartment sported, and Will himself had been so adamant to regularly replace the blossoms with new ones once they started to wilt and wither away. They lighten the place up, he had said. It's too gloom-and-doom without them here, Neeks.

They argued about it, of course. What with Will saying that they needed more nature in their lives, and Nico claiming he chose New York exactly because of the lack of nature it gave their lives. It was a ridiculously shallow fight, if he were to be completely honest with himself. In the end however, Will won him over, and Nico sucked it up and endured living with such a strongly scented plant—heavily refusing to admit that over the years, he slowly came to adore the sweet aroma.

He gingerly walked up to it, his fingers gently feeling the soft petals, his tense shoulders visibly relaxing the minute he caught a whiff of the blossoms.

And he saw it.

Right there, just behind the vase, was the small, red box he had been looking for for hours on end.

"There you are!" he exclaimed gleefully, swiftly snatching the miniature container and dashing out from their apartment door, leaving behind the mess and clutter surrounding their humble home.

It was always Will doing the work, he realized. It was always Will giving more than he was taking. And Nico—as he had repeatedly stated—wanted to make it up to him. And he thought, what better way to do so than to proclaim his love on the day of celebrating love itself?

So he got them a reservation at the most expensive restaurant in the city, the place with food he knew Will was simply dying to get a taste of. He settled all the necessary factors for the arrangement, as well; the music, the lightning, the table setting—everything. It was a small price to pay to compensate for all the times Will had accepted him, had cared for him, had understood him.

Had loved him.

"Ready to order, sir?" a waiter inquired, burgundy clipboard and menu in hand. Nico politely declined despite the growl he heard from his whining stomach. He was going to wait for Will, he promised himself he would. His hunger would just have to wait with him.

He sighed when the waiter went away, his gaze finding its way to the floral centerpiece situated on the middle of the table. They were the same flowers back at home, the same flowers in front of the mall flower shop, the same flowers Will had accidentally shoved to Nico's face 6 years ago.

"They're pansies," Will had told him in one of their dates. "They're supposed to symbolize loving thoughts."

Nico had raised an eyebrow, amused. "Loving thoughts?"

"Yeah," Will had said, laughing softly as he held Nico's hand. "Legend says that the flower was originally white, and blushed bright purple where it was pierced by Cupid's arrow. Which is, I guess, where the people started the whole flower's reputation of bringing thoughts of loved ones."

"That's really stupid."

"Hey, I like it. Seems really romantic, yanno? And even more so when you think about how it's kind of like the flower of our lives."

"God, Solace, stop being such a sap."

They had continued strolling through the park with playful retorts and laughter after that, enjoying the warmth and happiness that had been brought along by basking in each other's presence.

And as he sat on the table inside one of New York's fanciest restaurants, Nico couldn't help but lift the corners of his mouth up in a pleasant smile, the memories of their love and contentment washing over him like a bright ray of sunlight seeping through the cloudy day.

It was Valentine's Day when they fell hopelessly, desperately, madly in love.

He checked the clock. Five hours. Will was five hours late.

Most of the people that had eaten in the restaurant went out and about their daily lives already, and all that was left inside was Nico and his table of empty, untouched silverware.

"Ready to order, sir?"

"Not yet, thank you."

Five and half.


"Ready to order, sir?"

"Not yet, thank you."

Six and a half.


Seven and a half.

He heard his phone ring. Almost instantly, Nico fished the gadget out of his pocket, the anxiety and worry in his expression fading away as soon as he caught sight of Will's name being flashed on the brightly lit screen. He clicked answer, and waited for the long round of excuses concerning his medical work.

But they didn't come.

It was Valentine's Day when Nico wanted to propose.

And it was Valentine's Day when Will died.

The sound of his footsteps against the ground fell too heavily in his ears, the loudness it emitted as it clashed elements of hard leather shoe soles and rough gravel being too unfamiliar to what Nico was accustomed to hearing.

He'd always been a light footed person—with steps as graceful and silent as a cat's—yet somehow, today, he allowed his movements to be a little bit more cluttered than usual. It may have been because the polo he was wearing felt too tight around his neck, or because the new shoes encompassing his feet felt too stiff to walk comfortably in, or even because his phone was proven too large to fit snuggly in his pants pocket.

Or maybe it was because of the incontestable fact that today was the much awaited celebration of Valentine's Day.

The line of booths outside the cemetery finished the a couple of meters from the entrance itself, and Nico picked the pieces of his heart up from the ground and walked through the stone arch and into the grassy field littered with stone markers of every shape and size. He zigzagged through the maze of tombstones, careful not to step on or nudge someone's plaque.

Until finally, he reached his.

Nico said nothing. He was afraid that if he opened his mouth and started to speak, the tears would continue flowing down once more, and his world would crumble back down to ashes, and he would have to start over the whole process of moving on.

And Nico couldn't. He couldn't let him go.

Not yet.

Not ever.

So he did the one thing he could manage: he kneeled down and put the bouquet of colorful pansies on the stele marker next to his name, clenching his trembling fist to prevent himself from breaking down.

And with a heavy, broken heart, he got up and walked away, leaving behind a single card nestled in between the ribbon wrapped around the stems of the flowers.

And wherever I may go, and whatever I may do,

As I gaze into these flowers,

I hope and pray

That you know

I always will be.