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an unwavering heart. actually, no. the opposite of that.

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     “Percy put down the goddamn pencil case. I’m not using that!”, Annabeth whispered. Or at least she tried to whisper, but to Nico, it sounded like hushed yelling. Despite her best efforts, people still glanced over in the aisle and stifled giggles. Percy was holding a fluffy pink pencil case and frowned. Nico couldn’t see why Annabeth was so opposed to it. The pencil case was pretty obnoxious. Just like Percy. A perfect fit!

 

     “Nooo, I didn’t mean for you . I want it!”, Percy smirked.

 

     “Percy, we all know you don’t actually want that. Put it down.”, Reyna ordered as she glared at him. Any direct eye contact from Reyna and you know that she’s won. Just give up. Nico had learned that a long time ago. So had the majority of her friends. Sadly, Percy was still as ignorant to it as he was on the first day they’d met.

 

     Hazel cocked her head slightly as Percy went to put it down with a pout. “If you really do want it, then buy it!”, she suggested.

 

     Hazel was Nico’s half-sister. Older by two weeks and three days (shut up , Hazel, we’re basically the same age!) His parents got divorced when he was five, and his father had left with his little sister, Bianca. Nico and his mother hadn’t seen or heard from either of them since, but Hazel’s father married Nico’s mom when they were both ten. He hoped every night that Bianca was still doing alright. Nico didn’t particularly care for his father, but he had hundreds of memories of Bianca and still cried over her (even though he didn’t tell anyone except Hazel) every once and awhile.

 

     “Uh, I’m a little scared of Reyna. But, hey! You’re not in the military yet , so you can’t boss me around!”, Percy boasted.

 

     The rest of them chuckled, except Reyna. “Honey. Yes, I can.”, she gave him a look that could make a baby cry. Percy’s eyes widened and he threw the pencil case down.

 

     He stumbled a bit and saluted her. “Uh… Yes, sir?” Reyna smiled, seeming satisfied.

 

     They heard some people in another aisle start laughing absurdly loudly; it sounded like they were teenagers too. They all smirked and Hazel giggled a bit.

 

     “Do we sound like that to these poor, innocent parents?”, Annabeth gestured around them. “Let’s just keep getting our stuff and try to keep it down.”

 

     “Okay, mom.”, Nico mumbled. Hazel laughed and shoved his shoulder. Annabeth rolled her eyes. But it was true, Annabeth was basically the mom of the group. She brought extra pairs of gloves around in her backpack and gave them to anyone she met with in the winter who wasn’t wearing gloves. Annabeth also had a stash of snacks for people at school who didn’t bring food.

 

     Nico never bought much for school, unlike his sister. And typically nothing fancy, either. When he bought a package of plain HB #2 pencils, she bought five-dollar mechanical pencils with plastic gemstones decorating them. He bought the bare necessities while she went out to find the brightest things she could. Nico was surprised that she still had any money left. The only job they had was babysitting together, and it wasn’t like they could do much else at fourteen years old. She spent a lot when they went to Ottawa ComicCon, too, especially on Voltron: Legendary Defender merchandise and all of that aesthetic jewelry they had.

 

     Hazel encouraged Nico to buy a galaxy pencil case. He pretended not to like it, but he kind of did, so it wasn’t hard to convince him to put it in their shared basket. Galaxy was secretly his favourite print, so he told her (jokingly, but he was actually serious. Hazel could tell.) to look out for more galaxy stuff. He wondered how she always managed to find such awesome stuff, even when it was the day before school started for most kids and most of the nicer Walmart school supplies had already been snatched up.

 

     “Reyna! Do you like this pencil case? Annabeth actually approves of this one!”, Percy shouted over a family. He held up an aqua blue pencil case with a shark on it. Reyna rolled her eyes and shrugged. That was probably the closest to approval that Percy was going to get.

 

     Later on, a galaxy backpack was found by Reyna and she gave it to Nico with pride of being the first person to find one. “Oh my Gods, this is beautiful.”, he whispered and stared at it.

 

     Reyna smirked. “I agree.”

 

     Percy craned his neck around from where he was looking through a bin of packages of pens. “Whooaaa, Reyna approves of something we’re getting!” He received a smack on the head from Reyna and a shove from Annabeth for that comment. “I’m being abused.”, Percy whispered with a pained look on his face.

 

     Some short teenager with thin hair that was closer to white than blonde strolled past and saw Nico holding the backpack. Nico recognized him from his old middle school, but they’d never talked because the guy seemed like a jerk. The boy smirked and raised his eyebrows. “Gay.”, he mumbled. Reyna spun around and flicked him on the back of the head. What came next was Nico and Hazel awkwardly wandering off into another section as Reyna’s swearing was heard all throughout the store.

 

     “At least she’s looking out for you..?”, Hazel tried to suggest some positive outcomes from the situation. Nico was used to comments like that, even at his age. It seemed to be common at his old school. Even Hazel, who was one-hundred-percent straight had been called lesbian on many occasions because she hugged girls a lot (she hugged everyone!). They said it as if it were an insult. She always shrugged it off. But as someone who was actually into guys, sometimes it was difficult to ignore when Nico’s own orientation was used to try to insult him.

 

     Nico forced a smirk. “I guess.”

 

     Hazel frowned. “Are you okay? Don’t let that jerk bother you.”

 

     “Yeah, alright. Ohー it seems like Reyna has calmed down!”

 

     “I don’t hear her anymore. But, jeez. Where does she learn all those words?”

 

     Nico shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe Urban Dictionary?”

 

     “But those impeccable roasting skills?”

 

     “Inexplicable.”

 

     “Agreed.”

 

     The siblings went over what they still needed to pick up. Nico needed to grab some pens, highlighters, and erasers, and Hazel needed highlighters, pencil crayons, erasers and scissors. Nico found four highlighters for himself, and Hazel took a pack that had about ten different colours. What kind of person needs that many highlighters in so many colours? Nico decided not to comment on that.

 

     While they were both looking at pens, a tall Asian teenager tapped Hazel on the shoulder. “Uh, hey. You’re Hazel and Nico from camp, right?” Two other people were peeking out from behind him. One small Latino guy andー Ugh. A cute curly-haired blonde guy with glasses and a lot of bracelets. He was quite tall too, compared to the Latino. Or maybe Nico was just short. That, too. There was also a tall brown-haired girl sipping tea off to the side. Nico wasn't certain if she was with them or not.

 

     Nico nodded and tried to place who it was. He definitely recognized him from the art sleepaway camp that he and Hazel had attended for two weeks that summer.

 

     “Oh, Frank, right?” Hazel saved Nico from his forgetfulness once again.

 

     “Yeah! These are my friends Leo,”, Frank gestured to the Latino, who waved and bowed dramatically, “Will,”, the blonde guy grinned, “And Calypso.” The girl, who to Nico’s suspicions was , in fact, part of their group, nodded slightly.

 

     Leo ran up and hugged Nico. His eyes widened and he awkwardly patted Leo on the back. Hazel giggled, she knew how weird Nico was with hugging. “Fellow short bro…”, Leo whispered and let go of Nico (finally). Nico smirked. They were quite similar in height, with Nico being about two centimetres taller.

 

     “You finally found a person your height to date!”, Calypso exclaimed and took another sip of her tea.

 

     Leo frowned and stuck his tongue out at the girl. “No thanks, I’m not into short guys. Or guys at all. But… You know…” Leo turned to Will and wiggled his eyebrows.

 

     “Uh… What..?”, Frank said, seeming confused.   

 

     “ Leo .”, Will warned. Nico guessed that he was trying to act intimidating, but he just looked like a cinnamon roll.

 

     “Will might be into him!” Nico blushed. He hoped that no one noticed. At least now he knew that there was a chance that Will wasn’t straiー What?! No! Nico definitely wasn’t thinking about that. He didn’t like this cute stranger at all. Maybe they could be friends, but he was much too smiley and outgoing for Nico’s taste. Well... He is pretty.

 

     “Leo, shut up.”

 

     “But aren’t you into short gー” Leo was cut off by Will slapping a hand over his mouth. Will grinned innocently at Nico.

 

     "Hello, there. My name is Will."

 

     “Hi? Uh, I’m Nico. This is my sister, Hazel.”

 

     “Nice to meet you.” Will offered his other hand for Nico to shake. Nico nodded and they shook hands while Will kept his other hand over Leo’s mouth. He did the same to Hazel.

 

     The rest of Nico’s gang popped in and there were some strange introductions. The people in Frank’s group were all somewhat scared of Reyna, as they’d seen her screaming at the rude teenager that had insulted Nico. They found out that they were all doing the same thing, shopping for school supplies a day before school started, and they were all going to Olympia High. Just like in Nico’s group, how Reyna, Percy and Annabeth were the “experts” on the school (they were going into grade 11), in Will’s group, Calypso was the “expert” (she was going into grade 10). They found out that Nico was going to be in Will’s drama class, and that both Annabeth and Calypso were trying out for the volleyball team.

 

     When they started chatting about sports, Will got excited. “I’m obviously going to try and get on the volleyball team! It’s my favourite! But also, I’m thinking of trying out for the badminton team.”

 

     “You won’t have much trouble. It’s just a bunch of dorks who can’t play any other sports.” Reyna deadpanned and shrugged.

 

     Everyone laughed, except Frank. He looked a bit insulted. Or, at least, as insulted as a teddy bear in human form can look.

 

     Hazel cocked her head at Frank. “Are you alright? Did we insult you?”

 

     “It’s just, uh, I don’t classify myself as a dork, but I play badminton.”

 

     “Competitively?”, Hazel asked.

 

     “Yeah. Wanna see some videos?”, Frank pulled out his phone. Everyone agreed that they wanted to see those videos. What Frank showed was not anywhere close to what anyone had expected. He was extremely aggressive and kept smashing the shuttlecock faster than the camera could properly record. Once, he even managed to hit the opponent in the head with it.

 

     After the videos were shown, Frank was congratulated properly. Nico was really impressed, and was somewhat convinced that he might end up trying out for the sport as well.

 

     Will was grinning like an idiot. “Fraaaank. You never told me you played! Now we’re gonna be badminton bros.” Frank’s jaw dropped and he hugged Will.

 

     “Badminton bros forever.”, he whispered.

 

     “Hey, Nico, you should try out too! You’re really fast and I’ve seen how good you are at tennis!”, Hazel suggested with a huge smile.

 

     A larger smile formed on Will’s face. Damn, that boy was always so happy. Nico figured that he was lucky that he looked great smiling, or else Will would’ve been in trouble. “You really should try out if you’re speedy like my buddy Frank! It’d be great to see you more often… uh…” Nico noticed Will’s face turning pink and felt his own grow warm as well.

 

     “Uh… Yeah. I will…”, Nico managed to stutter out. Hazel snickered under her breath.

 

     The decision was made that everyone would be trying out for the badminton team (it was open for anyone to try out) when the time came later in the fall.

 

     Reyna, Will, Nico, and Hazel eventually went off in their own direction. They silently determined that they were the only ones who were serious about getting things done (except Annabeth and Calypso, but no one wanted to mess with them).

 

     “Reyna, if I may ask, why were you screaming your lungs out at that small child?”, Will piped up as he looked for a yellow ruler in the huge box of rulers. Nico snickered. “What!?”

 

     Will seemed genuinely offended that Nico had laughed at him. “Nothing.”, Nico replied with a smirk. Reyna glanced over at Nico. She seemed concerned, perhaps wondering if he wanted her to tell him what had occurred. Honestly, Will seemed like a great guy (even if he was annoying), so Nico wouldn’t be too bothered if she told him.

 

     “No, seriously! What were you doing? Abusing a child because he took the last binder with a bloody skull on it?”, Will asked and crossed his arms.

 

     Reyna scoffed. She turned to Nico who gave her a slight nod, letting her know in their weird friend language that it was fine to tell Will. “First of all, that guy,” Reyna put a package of pencils in her cart, “Is actually a teenager. He’s just tiny and immature as hell. Anyway, he was being really stupid and homophobic… Honestly, he’s a huge, self-centered jerk. I was just putting him in his spot.” Reyna shrugged.

 

     Will raised his eyebrows. He seemed impressed, but quickly went back to searching through bins of supplies. “You seem like really close friends.”

 

     “We are!”, Hazel piped up. “Despite our age differences. I mean, between Nico and I, I’m only older by just over three weeks. But Reyna is two years older than us.”

 

     Nico groaned. “Do you have to mention to everyone that I’m younger? You’re such an annoying sister. We’re basically the same age!”

 

     “Waitー Sister?”, Will looked up, seeming confused.

 

     “Uh, yeah? Couldn’t you tell?”, Nico gestured between them, as if it were blatantly obvious. Will looked concerned and his cheeks were tinted slightly pink. Reyna, Nico and Hazel burst out laughing after a moment of silence and Will chuckled nervously. “Dude, chill, she’s my half-sister. I know, we look nothing alike. Practically polar opposites. That’s what everyone says.”, Nico affirmed with a smirk.

 

     “O...kay?”, Will said.

 

     After over fifteen minutes of searching, Will finally found a yellow ruler, and Nico and Hazel had checked most things off of their shopping list. Reyna took Hazel off to look at the cheap quality Walmart clothes and to chat about what she’d encounter with the boys at Olympia High. Despite Nico trying to let them know that he didn’t want to be left alone with Will, they left him anyway, and left his shared basket with Hazel there, too.   

 

     “So… Uh, do you need to get anything else?”, Nico asked.

 

     Will looked into his basket and back at his phone (which Nico assumed had a list of what he was planning on purchasing). “Nope! Doesn’t seem like it. You?”

 

     “I think I’m done, yeah.”

 

     “Well, uh, what do we do then? It doesn’t seem like anyone else is finished.”, Will replied and glanced around at the others in the section.

 

     “I dunno.” Nico hoped that someone from either group would come and rescue both of them from this horribly awkward situation.

 

     “Want to indulge in some shitty fast food?”, Will suggested. “I think there’s a McDonald's in here. Or we could stop off at the Starbucks near the cash and be really hipster.”

 

     Nico was tired; he had only slept for five hours the previous night. Caffeine sounded pretty good. “Starbucks sounds great, actually.”

 

     “Cool, it’s a date.” A date?!   Will grabbed Nico’s hand and pulled him along until they found the Starbucks. Nico prayed to all of the Gods that Will wouldn’t notice the flaming colour of his cheeks. There was a spot provided for customers to put their carts and baskets. Will took Nico’s basket and set it next to his own.

 

     “Wanna grab a seat? I see a group of girls coming in this direction, and they’ll probably take all of the spots.”, Nico informed Will. “Quick, what do you want? I’ll order for you, bro.” Wow. Smooth, DiAngelo. “Bro”. , Nico thought to himself and cringed.

 

     Nico casually teased Will for wanting a Pumpkin Spice Latté, but rushed off to the line as he saw the giant groups of girls approaching. He ordered a boring plain coffee, but if he weren’t with Will, it probably would’ve been an Iced Caramel Macchiato.

 

     He brought the cups back to their little table and Nico noticed that they’d spelled his name wrong. “Hey, Will, apparently my name is Nick now.” Seriously, it’s a four-letter name. It’s not that hard!

 

     Will looked at his cup and laughed, nearly spilling his own drink. “That’s awesome. Nice to meet you, Nicolas.”

 

     “Oh, shut up.” Nico smirked.

 

     Halfway through a very exciting conversation about their childhood full of Pokémon, Nico frowned as he struggled to hear the cute blonde over the screaming of the teenage girls at the three tables surrounding them.

 

     “I can’t hear you. They’re too obnoxiously loud.”, Nico grumbled.

 

     “They probably heard you.”

 

     “No, they’re too engaged in their own conversation.”

 

     “True, true.”

 

     Nico decided to move his chair so it was next to Will’s instead of across from him. That way he could hear him better.

 

     “Yeah! So it was really cool. Leo was such an idiot, he didn’t even know that he had a shiny Pichu, he thought it was normal, so I got it for a Wurmple. I can’t beliー” Nico got lost. He was trying to listen, but kept staring into Will’s eyes and not being able to focus. “ーvourite game?”

 

     Oh, shoot, he asked a question. Wake up! Stop staring into his eyes!

 

     Nico blinked rapidly. “Huh? Sorry. I was, uh, zoning out a bit.”

 

      “Ah, no, it’s fine. I asked what your favourite Pokémon game was.”, Will repeated.

 

     “Probably Pearl? It was the first one that I ever got really into.” Nico had over three hundred hours logged into that game.

 

     “Oh, cool! I always loved Palkia. Such a cool Pokémon.”

 

     Nico wondered what was taking the rest of the group so long. "Agreed."

 

     “Hey, you’re actually really cool. Even if you seemed kinda creepy when I first saw you. I’m glad that they left us alone.”, Will said. Nico must have looked surprised. “Shit, sorry, that came out of nowhere. I just thought, y’know, I should tell you?” Will put his hand on Nico’s shoulder.

 

     “Um, it’s alright. I agree. You’re a pretty cheery sunshine child, perhaps a bit too cheery for me, but you seem really awesome. I’d love to, uh, spend more time with you… and stuff.” Nico shrugged. Wow, so cool, Nico.

 

     Whatever Nico had said somehow gave him a burst of confidence, because he suddenly decided to give Will a chaste kiss on the lips. When he pulled back, Will looked absolutely shell-shocked.

 

     “S...orry?”, Nico whispered and looked down. Will gently took Nico’s jaw in his hand and pulled him back to return the light kiss.

 

     “It’s all good. I guess it’d be alright to spend some time with you, too.” Will grinned and Nico chuckled back. Both of their faces were completely flushed pink.

 

     Leo whooped from somewhere in the background. “Let’s go, Sunshine Boy! Get some!”