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(Im)Perfect Science

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“Nico, you have to help me.”

A tip: if Percy Jackson ever uttered those words to you, especially if his eyes were wide and full-on panicked, then you should turn around and run as fast as you could.

Or, if you were his friend, you should probably follow him and make sure he didn’t get hurt. Which was what Nico had done. Because Nico ended up being the guy’s best friend, somehow.

“Annabeth and I set up a date. But, like, in my place, ‘cause we’re both kind of broke,” Percy had explained via Facetime. “So I said I could cook and we could watch—”

“Wait, what? Dude, what the hell ?” Nico had interrupted. “ You can’t even fry an egg !”

Percy made a face, his nose wrinkled and lips frowning as he was reminded of that tiny piece of essential information.

“I didn’t want her to think I was a loser. Or a slob.”

“So you lied.”

Actually , I told her that I would provide the food. But I really want to try cooking again. Something simple, but romantic?”

“So let me guess,” Nico said slowly. “You promise the impossible to Annabeth, and then recruit me to do it.”

“To help me do it.” Percy corrected. “And only because I know you’re a genius in the kitchen and a great friend.”

Nico had rolled his eyes at this, unimpressed by the cheap flattery. What actually got to him was the fact that Percy’s intentions were more than noble, and he knew this meant a lot for his friend. Of course Percy would love to make something with his own hands to prove to his beloved soulmate that he couldn’t stop thinking about her. And if Nico didn’t help him, he would do something stupid, like trying to light a match on his own.

“Fine,” Nico finally said. “But I get the power to veto whatever idea you had this time.”

Percy’s eyes lit up on the screen and he yelped.

“You are the best!”

Nico gave him a humorless smile.

“So, what were you thinking?” He asked while he got up from bed to put on some pants.

“Hm… I saw this really beautiful dessert on Masterchef last night. Called baklava or something.”

Nico’s neck made a crack sound as he snapped around to give Percy a Look.

“Please tell me you’re fucking with me right now.”

Percy chuckled.

“I totally am.” Wow. Seemed that getting Nico’s help really took all the fear and panic from him. Nico rolled his eyes. “Even I’m not that delusional.”

Nico had his doubts.

“I was thinking,” Percy continued. “Simple salad. Maybe potato or something, ‘cause everyone likes potatoes, right? A pudding for dessert, ‘cause you just have to blend everything and that’s it. And maybe a lasagna for the main dish? I can put it in the freezer and you can help me make it, right?”

Nico shrugged.

“That’s actually a good idea. Your soulmate ,” he may have emphasized the word more than strictly necessary, “will surely be impressed.”

On the screen, Percy’s smile dimmed a little.

“Hey, dude, are you— Are you sure you’re okay with— all this?”

Nico raised an eyebrow.

“Perce, why would I not be okay with you having a soulmate?”

Now it was Percy’s turn to give him a Look. In a way, it was even worse than Nico’s, because it was his trademark ‘As Your Adoptive Older Brother/Best Friend I Am Disappointed In Your Attempt to Lie To Me’ look.

“That’s not what I was talking about.”

Nico sighed.

“I know.”

The actual problem was his lack of soulmark. Lack of soulmate. Because the Universe apparently had the time and the kindness to pair up every single person Nico knew, but not him. He didn’t have a special someone.

Not that he was still hung up about this, of course. Who even cared if now he was officially the third wheel to all his friends? Who cared if he was condemned to be alone in a soulmate-centered society?

Ugh, maybe he should join one of those Soulmateless And Proud (SAP) forums. Let out his bitterness and anger out in the void of the internet.

But then again, he wasn’t alone. He had Hazel. He had all those stupid friends to take care of (and that always took care of him). He had Pop Corn (his cat). He had his therapist. He (or anyone he knew, in fact) never needed a soulmate to live and appreciate his life, or to make him a better person.

So, fine, Nico would never know the happiness of having a special connection with someone, but he could live with that. And he knew that.

It was just hard to swallow that some days, still. Especially now that Percy had found his soulmate.

Nico sighed.

“But I’ll be fine, Perce,” he said. “You don’t have to worry.”

And, unlike the first times he had said that in answer to this particular issue, he wasn’t lying.

“So, now. Go to the grocery store near your place.” He changed the subject. “I’ll meet you there in ten.”

***

Back at Percy’s apartment, they began cooking, and things were going okay until Percy tried to use a sharp object.

Nico had been busy with the sauce while Percy attempted to open a can of tuna and, before they knew it, blood everywhere.

Which led to an unfazed Percy trying to calm Nico down and dissuade him from immediately calling 911.

“I can close this in a bit,” Percy had said. “It’ll stop bleeding in no time!” he had assured.

Well, it hadn’t.

So Nico had driven Percy to an urgent care clinic, filled in the necessary forms, and now they were patiently waiting for a doctor to come close the still-bleeding wound in Percy’s hand.

Seriously, how had this dumbass survived for 26 years in this cold, dangerous world?

“Seriously, how have you survived for 26 years in this cold, dangerous world?” He asked.

“Takeout and frozen food,” Percy answered, shrugging.

“Elevate that shit,” Nico commanded, pointing at Percy’s hand. The face towel they had brought was now almost all soaked red.

“It’s fine, there’s still some absorption space here.” He chuckled, and Nico briefly wondered if the blood loss was making Percy giddy. “Did Annabeth reply?”

Nico rolled his eyes as he checked Percy’s phone.

“She says, ‘ don’t worry, we can reschedule for tomorrow at my place. I’ll bring pizza this time. Winky face, winky face ’. Wow, Perce, she’s the one for you.” He’d tried to sound sarcastic, but it came out sincere. Mildly impressed.

“I know.” Percy seemed impossibly proud. “Reply with two— no, wait. Four cat emojis. The one with heart-eyes.”

“You two disgust me,” he said, doing as he’d been told. Then he changed the subject. “Why is the doctor taking so long?” He eyed Percy’s hand again. Another five minutes of waiting and Nico was going to go look for a medic himself.

As if the gods themselves had heard his thoughts, a tall, blond guy promptly entered the doctor’s office they were waiting in.

“Hello,” the doctor said. “I’m Doctor Will Solace. Sorry for the wait. I’ll be attending to a Mr Jackson?”

“That’s me,” Percy said, sheepishly raising his injured hand.

Doctor Solace smiled at the two of them. He then sat down beside the bed and put on a pair of medical gloves and a surgical mask he got in the desk drawer.

“It says in the form that you got wounded by a knife.” He made small talk, carefully taking the soaked towel out of the way and examining the gash in his hand.

“Yeah, I was trying to open a can of tuna.”

The doctor didn’t seem surprised in the slightest. He merely raised an eyebrow.

“I see.” Then he looked at Nico. “You… are the one that filled in the form?”

“Yeah,” Nico mumbled.

The doctor nodded, studying him for a moment, then turned his gaze back to the injury.

Doctor Solace proved to be a great choice for treating this particular wound. Nico wasn’t a fan of injuries and blood and needles on skin. So, while the doctor worked efficiently on stitching the wound closed, Nico spent his time studying the doctor.

He was made up of contrasts. Sky blue eyes contrasted with healthy sun-kissed skin contrasting with the golden curls of his hair.

The freckles dusting his nose and cheeks didn’t hurt his appearance, either.

Nor did the concentrated expression on his face. Or his very nice, very broad shoulders.

He was brought back from his ogling when Percy elbowed him using his free arm.

“Dude, Make Siri do something. I’m bored ,” he whined, but when Nico looked at him, he mouthed, ask for his phone number , and made a very obvious head movement toward the doctor.

Nico immediately shook his head, alarmed, and looked at the phone so Percy couldn’t say any more stupid shit.

“I’m almost done,” the doctor assured without looking up, and Nico jumped.

“‘Kay, sure.” “No problem.” Nico and Percy said at the same time, then they all fell silent. Percy nudged Nico once more, but he ignored him.

***

It was after the stitches were all put into place and the painkillers were prescribed that the doctor called him.

“Could I maybe have a word with Mr di Angelo?” he asked slowly, scratching the back of his head.

Nico exchanged a look with Percy, who merely shrugged and gave him a discreet thumbs-up before leaving the office, closing the door behind him. The boy schooled his expression into something neutral before turning to the medic.

“Is there something wrong with Percy, doctor?”

The doctor immediately shook his head.

“No, Mr Jackson is fine,” he assured. “And you can call me Will. If you want,” he added slowly, eyebrows furrowed as if he wasn’t sure where to go with that conversation.

Nico raised his eyebrows in silent questioning, but the doctor — Will — wasn’t looking at him. His heart fluttered with the possibilities, both good and bad. Was Will going to ask him out? Was he a past colleague that Nico was supposed to remember? Was he a stalker?

“Okay,” Nico said, tone neutral. “Why is that?”

Will opened and closed his hands a few times, taking a deep breath before raising his head to look at Nico. Nico felt his face warming up for having the doctor’s — Will’s — eyes focused on him, and cursed himself.

“I, I think—” he started. He visibly gulped, Adam’s apple bobbing with the action. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but… Do you— Have you met your soulmate yet?”

Nico looked away, simultaneously deflating and a bit with the topic, but curious to see why Will was treading into that territory.

“I don’t have one,” he replied.

“Oh.” That was obviously not what the doctor was expecting, but that didn’t surprise Nico. Everyone, in face of those news, had the same reaction of not knowing how to react. “Are you sure?”

That also wasn’t new.

“Yeah.” Nico lifted one shoulder in a careless shrug, looking back to the doctor. “No soulmark.”

“Oh. I.” Will looked perplexed. Then he frowned in confusion. “That shouldn’t be… possible.”

“Yeah, I get that a lot. There are actually some forums online—”

“No, I mean.” He licked his lips slowly, which shut Nico up immediately as he followed the movement with attention. “You signed Mr Jackson’s form. There—there’s your signature there. And your signature is in my hand.”

Nico didn’t process the words at first. Then it was his turn to frown.

“What?”

Will took a step forward and pulled his sleeve out of the way. Not that he needed to.

It was there in his left hand, in the place where wrist became hand. Nico di Angelo , written in cursive as if he had just signed it there. But he hadn’t.

Nico’s heart stopped, his head — his entire body — suddenly too hot to be normal.

“How is that possible?” he squeaked.

The doctor caressed the letters with his fingertips.

“I don’t know? I really— I don’t know.”

“I don’t have a signature in me.” Nico repeated to the doctor, heart racing with the possibilities. “Maybe… Maybe there’s another signature out there that’s exactly like mine?”

Will frowned, cocking his head to the side and studying Nico in silence for a moment.

“Here,” he finally said, turning around and getting a paper and a pen from his desk. He carefully wrote something in it and handed it to Nico. “Recognize that?” His tone was hopeful.

But in the paper were the words Will Solace , written in careful, readable handwriting that Nico had never seen in his life. Much less on his skin.

“No.” he whispered. He noted, with not a small amount of alarm, that his chest was heavy with burning disappointment and his vision was mildly blurred, which was bad . He had not allowed himself to hope for anything (or so he had thought, apparently) for this exact reason. He passed the whole broken heart deal ahead. No, thank you, Universe.

The doctor seemed to hesitate for a second.

“How about this one, then?” Will then took the paper from him and scribbled something else. The paper was once again in his hands before Nico even had the time to think of saying no, I don’t wanna see it, I don’t wanna think about it, I can’t handle that .

But he didn’t say it. Because in the paper was a—

Well, it was a line, curved twice. Like a snake doodle. Or the Harry Potter scar, but smoother, more rounded.

“It’s S,” the doctor explained, shy. “For Solace.”

And.

And—

“It’s my birthmark.” Nico croaked, rather pathetically, but Will jumped.

“It’s on your skin?” His voice was all hope joy hope again.

“It’s on my hand.” Nico was out of breath. He showed his left hand to Will, and there it was. Will’s signature, exactly where wrist became hand.

They both stared at it, not breathing, until Will gently touched it with his shaking fingertips. Then the spell was broken, and Nico was furious .

“Holy—” Will was saying, still mesmerized and heedless of his fate.

Then Nico punched him in the arm.

“What the fresh fuck is this ?” He shouted. “What kind of unique , easily recognizable signature is this ugly fuck symbol that you decided to have?”

“What—?”

“Did you ever stop to think that this is not considered a signature by, like, anyone ? How was I supposed to find you? I thought you didn’t exist—”

“Mr di Angelo—”

“I thought I was going to be alone forever and that the Universe hated me—”

“Dude—”

“I thought it was a birthmark ! That’s how unrecognizable it is! I hope your explanation for this is really good, or I swear by my life that I’m gonna kick your—”

“Nico, hey.” Will put his hands on his shoulders, still beaming despite Nico’s palpable anger.

(That diminished slightly at the sight of Will looking at him, radiant.)

(But nobody needed to know that.)

“I’m really, really sorry for putting you through all that.” He did sound sorry, despite his never-waving smile. “Can I somehow make it up to you?”

Nico looked at him. Took in his happy, gentle eyes and his smile and his freckles and his soulmate soulmate soulmate soulmate—

“Dinner,” he croaked. “No, wait. What time do you end your shift? We could. You know. Go out? And talk?” He poked Will repeatedly in the chest. “Because we have a lot of catching-up to do because someone had the most generic signature ever?”

Will laughed.

“Will you hold that over my head forever ?”

“Well, I hope to.” Nico crossed his arms and raised his chin, waiting to see how Will would react to those words. Was this too forward? Too soon? Was he assuming too much?

It wasn’t a perfect science. Having a good relationship with your soulmate was good for all involved, but it didn’t mean they were destined to stay together. They were destined to meet, not fall in love, not stay .

But, gods, Nico wanted to. He had wanted that choice , of having something — a relationship — that he could fight for and work on and have. He wanted the ‘I think I might love you someday’ feeling that everyone talked about, and the love itself. And he desperately hoped Will wanted the same.

Will only beamed again in response. Then he gave Nico a mirthful, knowing look that chilled him — and simultaneously fired him up — to his core.

“I hope so too, Nico di Angelo.”