The air outside was cold and bitter, a harsh contrast to the cosy golden light streaming through the windows of a small cafe and bathing the sidewalk with an enticing warm glow. The vast majority of extreme Christmas shopping procrastinators had headed home already, but a few lone stragglers still lingered in the crisp darkness.
Inside the small cafe a dark haired girl stood talking to a tall blond.
“I already told you, Thalia, I’m staying here whether you like it or not. Go home now. I’ll be fine”
Thalia rolled her eyes but picked up her bag anyway, knowing how stubborn her friend was.
“Call me if you change your mind Will, there’s always a place for you at our table.”
With that she left, an action many would see as dismissal, but Will recognised as her own unique brand of caring.
It was going to be a long night, most likely alone, but the cafe was always meant to be a place of comfort even on Christmas, and there was always an unlimited supply of hot chocolate and the feeling that maybe he’d be able to help someone.
The night wore on, long and cold, and the cosy armchairs in the cafe remained empty. Once a woman walked in, but she ordered a coffee with six shots of espresso and left. It was only when the hand on the clock above the door approached 11 when someone came in with the purpose of staying.
He wore a dark coat with the hood up, dark hair partially covering his face. Snowflakes had landed in his hair and Will absentmindedly wondered when it had started snowing when he was abruptly pulled back into the real world by a cough.
“Can I help you?”
“One large hot chocolate, please.”
“Whipped cream and marshmallows?”
A moment of hesitation; uncertainty flashed across the boy’s face.
“No thank you.”
A silent character, then. Time for the signature Solace charm?
Flashing the stranger his most charming smile, he said, “Do I have a name? For the drink?”
“I’m literally the only one here, dumbass. ”
With that, the boy stormed over to a table, withdrew an old, battered laptop, and after muttering curses at it for a few minutes while the fans whirred so viciously Will thought it might take off, started typing, or rather slamming the keyboard in a vague pattern to form words presumably.
“I have a friend who’s great with anything mechanical, he could have that running like the day you got it if you want him to have a look.” No answer.
Having finished making the drink, Will stared at it, then glanced over to the boy. There was a aura of sadness lingering around him, a bone-deep sorrow. Exactly why the cafe stayed open so late on Christmas Eve. A case for extra marshmallows, even though they weren’t asked for.
It was worth the look on his face when Will brought over the overflowing mug.
Will almost missed it, but it made him smile nonetheless. The stranger seemed like he could use the extra sweetness.
The clock ticked on, and it started to snow properly. It would certainly be a white Christmas this year. The atmosphere started relaxing as the night slowly crept on, almost amicable by the time the stranger spoke again.
Will turned around from where he was cleaning the espresso machine in confusion.
“My name. It’s Nico.”
“Oh. Mine’s Will.”
“I know.” Will looked down at the bright name tag attached to his equally bright horrendous Christmas apron.
“Oh.” The stranger - Nico - had already gone back to typing, and his body language indicated that the conversation was over. Will brought over another hot chocolate, noticing that the first was empty.
“You got some whipped cream on your nose, you know.”
No answer. And then, “My sister Bianca used to take me for hot chocolate on Christmas eve.”
Will didn’t reply; it was obviously a sore subject.
“I haven’t done it in so long, but tonight I was fed up with my step-mother’s threats of using me as plant fertilizer, and my dad’s not home until tomorrow. This was the only place open.”
Silence blanketed the cafe again. Will pulled a book out from under the counter but only got a few pages in before his curiosity kicked in.
“What happened?” A pause; Will was worried he had said the wrong thing.
“She died. We had just moved from Italy; she wanted to see things, I didn’t. She left with a group of friends and never came back. It was years ago, but sometimes…”
“My dad left before I was born. I mean, my mom knew it would probably happen, but she thought he might stick around long enough to meet me, but last I heard he had six more children and only talked to one of them. Probably a good riddance, but sometime I wish he had be there for me at least once.”
Nico looked up from the screen briefly, but went back to typing. They both were silent, but when the silence was broken, it was Nico who did it.
"I write for her. She loved the stories my mom would tell us before she died. Now I come up with them for her.”
“You two must have been really close.”
“Yeah, we were.”
Will looked outside; the snow was falling even harder now.
“What do you say we blow this popsicle stand. I’ve got five boxes of mac and cheese, a Netflix subscription, and a really comfortable couch.”
“You’d let a stranger into your house? I could very well be a murderer, you know.”
“I highly doubt it. My experience with people who look like angsty 13 year olds with crushes on Gerard Way is that they probably still sleep with teddy bears and wouldn’t hurt a fly. Mosquitos, though…”
Nico blushed, mumbling, “Doctor Thorn has been a faithful friend for years. I would, however, not object to mac and cheese and Netflix.”
“Great! Let’s go then.”
Will grabbed his coat and scarf, but as he locked up the cafe, he saw Nico start shivering. Turning toward him, Will said, “This is probably going to be incredibly cliché,” and wound his scarf around Nico’s neck. “Better?”
“Better. Thank you very much, for everything.”
“No problem. Christmas cheer and all that.”
Will stopped in front of a plain apartment building, bypassing the elevator with an “it’s been broken for years” and climbed three flights of stairs, finally opening the door to his apartment to let Nico in.
“It’s not much, but it’s home.”
“I can tell.” Will hastily kicked the dirty sock lying on the ground under the couch.
“I wasn’t expecting company.”
A few minutes later, they were both seated on the couch with steaming bowls of mac and cheese, watching the explosive antics of a ground of renegade penguins in New York. If Nico started inching toward Will, well, nobody else was there to see. And if Will pulled the “I’m not yawning I’m just putting my arm around your shoulders” trick, well, nobody was complaining.
And later on, if on New Year’s Eve Nico stumbled into the cafe just before midnight with a smile on his face, Will would not be surprised, because Nico would have asked where he would be then. And if next Christmas Nico didn’t have to brave his family alone, his visit would be a little easier and a little happier.
If Nico melted every time Will flirted with him, if Will flushed every time Nico stole his shirt, if they ended up with too many cats because Nico was a huge softy whose little sister worked at the animal shelter, if they woke up next to each other with a wonderful feeling in their hearts, if they were as in love as they could possibly be, well, that was their business.
And if many Christmases after they first met, Nico rushed into the shop rosy cheeked to see his boyfriend, he would be greeted with a surprise.
1461 days after Will and Nico met
It was snowing big fat snowflakes when Nico opened the door, just as he had done every Christmas for four years.
“Will you ever not work the Christmas shift?”
“You never know who might come in. A few years ago this really hot dude came in, with the prettiest brown eyes. I might get lucky again, you never know.”
“Well I for one think that you might be seeing him quite soon. The usual please.”
Will brought out the same hot chocolate recipe that he brought out all those years ago, although this time the recipient was slightly more agreeable, but this time the cup had a little something extra.
When Nico caught sight of the right tied to the cup handle, he gasped, “Will Solace, is that what I think it is?”
“Nico di Angelo, you came in here slightly grumpy and more than slightly sad 1461 days ago. You left here still slightly grumpy but hopefully less sad 1461 days ago. Since then, you have visited me here nearly every single day the cafe was open. You have made me so, so happy, happier than I could have believe a person could make me feel, and I hope I make you happy too, and so it would be a great honour if you would be by my side forever as my husband.”
If Will proposed on Christmas Eve to a sparkling-eyed Nico, nobody would be surprised if Nico said yes.