Will nods. “Ready.” Then he raises an eyebrow. “And you’re sure you’re ready to—”
“Yes, Will,” Nico grumbles. “I’m ready to meet your family.”
Will smirks. “I meant ready to shadow-travel to Texas, but okay.”
Nico rolls his eyes. “Of course I am, idiota.”
“Ooo, you should speak Italian for my family; they’d love it.”
“It’s not some special fucking talent I can just show off.”
“Fine, but I think it’s cute.”
“I think you think it’s a little more than just cute.”
Will’s face flushes, and Nico can’t help grinning. “Sh—shut up. Let’s go.”
A moment later, they disappear into the shadows.
As soon as they appear in the backyard—as requested by Will’s mother so they wouldn’t be seen by the neighbors—Nico can sense something is wrong.
“Shit,” Will says, dropping Nico’s arm and running toward the street. “Shit, fuck, shit.”
Nico chases after him. “What’s wrong?” Will never swears this much, and all he can see are a couple of parked cars lining the sidewalk.
He whirls around to face Nico again, and there’s a wild look in his eyes. “Listen, Nico, you know how I told you the world is different now? Like, different from when you grew up? That’s true, for the most part, but there are still some people—”
A creaking sound comes from behind them, and they both turn around.
“Will, oh, thank God you’re here, hun.” It’s a pretty blonde woman, hair pulled back in a messy ponytail not unlike Annabeth’s. The panicked look on her face resembles Will’s almost exactly.
She closes the door and steps out onto the the front lawn. Will runs up to her, and they meet in a tight hug. Nico stands a few feet away, and he normally would awkwardly avert his eyes to the ground, but the scene is so adorable that he can’t help but watch with a smile. He knows how much Will has missed his mother.
Over Will’s shoulder, she catches Nico’s eye. “Nico!” she exclaims, unwinding her arms from around her son. “It’s so lovely to finally meet you.”
Nico’s not sure what he was expecting, but certainly not the same bone-crushing embrace she and Will shared. He doesn’t flinch, though, and smiles when he sees Will watching with a grin. “It’s great to meet you, too, Ms. Solace.”
When she finally pulls away, she holds him at arm’s length and looks him up and down. “You’re a good catch. Will, you better hang on to this man.”
Will groans and buries his face in his hands. “I knew this was a bad idea.”
It’s quite clear he’s joking, however—unlike how he sounded just a minute ago. There are still some people—
Ms. Solace turns back to Will. “I’m really sorry, hun. I didn’t know she was going to be here.”
Will shakes his head, shoving his hands into his pockets. “It’s—it’s fine. I’ll just—” His eyes land on Nico. “I don’t know.”
Nico frowns. “What’s going on?”
Ms. Solace sighs. “It’s my mother, dear. She’s not quite as…well, accepting as the rest of the family. And she decided to pop by for a surprise visit this weekend.”
Will frowns. “She’s just staying for Thanksgiving dinner, right?”
She shakes her head. “Unfortunately, I think she’s planning on staying for the entire weekend.”
Will closes his eyes. Nico watches carefully as he takes a long, deep breath. “Okay. So you’re telling me—”
“Will, hun, I wish you didn’t think you had to. You can be yourself, it’ll be alright, I promise.”
His eyes snap open again. “No, Mom, I can’t.” Nico’s not sure he’s ever heard him sound so angry before. “I’m not going to ruin a holiday like that. It’s selfish.”
Putting the pieces together in his head, Nico frowns. “I can leave if you need me to.”
Will turns to him, and his eyes are full of so much pain that Nico feels a sudden urge to wrap him in a warm blanket. “No! Nico, no, this is not your fault. I need you here, more than ever. We’re just going to have to…be careful.”
Ms. Solace puts a hand on her son’s shoulder. “Will, are you sure? I can talk to her. I can try to get her to leave.”
He shakes his head. “It’s fine. It’s…whatever. I’m twenty-one, I can deal with this like an adult.” He reaches out and takes Nico’s hand. “I’m really sorry. I just wanted you to meet my family. I didn’t think we’d have to—”
Nico squeezes his fingers. “It’s gonna be okay. I’ll do whatever you need me to.”
Just then, the door creaks open again.
“Naomi?” It’s a shrill, warbling voice. “What are you doing out here?”
Ms. Solace quickly turns around, hand still on Will’s arm. Will drops Nico’s hand, and he wishes it didn’t feel as much like a punch to the gut as it does.
“Will is here, Mom,” Ms. Solace says calmly. “Will, say hi to your grandmother.”
Will swallows visibly. “Hi, Grandma.”
She’s very old, very small, and very…pink. From her feathered hat to her pointed shoes, everything is the same shade of mauve. “Hello, sweetheart, it’s great to see you.” Then her eyes, through pink-rimmed spectacles, land on Nico. “And who is this?”
Will glances back at him. The look in his eyes says I’m so, so sorry.
“This is Nico,” he says. “My…friend.”
It’s a believable story—Nico is his friend from school who couldn’t make it back home to his family in Italy for Thanksgiving break, so Will invited him to stay in Austin. And all the guest bedrooms are conveniently filled by Will’s family members, so Nico will be staying on an air mattress on Will’s floor.
They get a moment alone when they sneak off to Will’s room to “show Nico his old baseball trophies.”
As they walk down the hall, Nico raises an eyebrow. “You played baseball?”
Will smirks. “Little league. In first grade.”
He hurries to lead Nico into the room and shut the door behind them, and then he leans back against it with a groan. “This is going to be a long weekend.”
Nico reaches out to straighten the collar of his flannel shirt. “I’m sure it’ll be fine, Will. How bad can she be? She seemed nice enough.”
Will takes Nico’s hand in his own. “Oh, just you wait. She’s gonna go around handing out prayer cards and asking everyone what their favorite Bible story is.”
Nico laughs, intertwining their fingers. “Seriously?”
“Seriously.” With his free hand, Will reaches up to run his knuckles over Nico’s jawline. “At least I have you, though. And your new beard.”
“It’s not a beard, Will, it’s just stubble.” But he can’t help grinning.
“I don’t care,” Will says before he leans forward to kiss it. “It’s hot.”
He kisses it again, and again, and Nico moves his hands to his waist, holding him against the door, infinitely smug about the few inches he has over him now. Things quickly heat up, and Nico’s hands move even lower, and then—
The doorknob clicks, and Will has about half a second to not fall over. Nico jumps backwards, pulling Will with him, and lets go of him just as quickly.
It’s not Will’s grandmother—it’s his uncle Charlie, to whom Nico was introduced about five minutes prior. Naomi’s brother. When he sees them, he smirks.
“Enjoying Will’s baseball trophies, Nico?”
Nico coughs. “Yes, sir. They’re…very impressive.”
“Good. Well, dinner’s going to be ready in ten minutes, so I’d suggest you come on out and join us in the dining room.” With a final grin, he turns away and walks away, leaving the door open.
Nico turns to Will and can’t help laughing at his mussed hair and red face. “I take it your uncle knows?”
Will groans and drops his head onto Nico’s shoulder. “Everyone knows. Just…not her. And everyone knows that I don’t want her to find out.”
“But why?” he asks, rubbing a hand down Will’s back. “If everyone else is fine with it, why not just tell her and let her be angry?”
“I don’t want to ruin Thanksgiving. It’s like I said earlier. It would be selfish of me.”
It’s the same way he says I need to take the overnight shift or I’m not overusing my powers. Nico takes his chin in his hand and lifts his head. “It’s not selfish, Will. You have a right to be yourself, and if she has a problem with that, it’s her fault.”
Will smiles, but there’s still a heavy sadness in his eyes. “You’re probably right. But I can’t.” He steps away, back out into the hallway. “Let’s go have dinner.”
“So, Will, dear, how is college?”
Will smiles politely as he cuts his turkey. “It’s going really well, Grandma.”
She stares at him through her pink glasses from across the table. “It’s your senior year, isn’t it?”
“Yep. And then I’m onto med school.”
Nico can’t help smiling from the seat next to him. Will doesn’t like to brag, but he’s set to graduate at the top of his class. He’s already secured a spot at Harvard.
“And you, Nico?” Suddenly, the pink glasses are on him. “What do you study?”
Nico swallows. “Um, well, I’m not in school right now. I, uh, work at a restaurant.”
“Really, now, that’s good for you.”
He wasn’t sure what he was expecting, but he supposes that’s a good response. He glances at Will before continuing. “Yeah. I’d like to have my own business someday, so when we move to Boston next year, I’m going to study restaurant management.”
When he glances at Will again, his face has gone pale. Silence falls over the table. He is given about three seconds to figure out what he did wrong before Will’s grandmother speaks again.
“Moving to Boston?” she asks. “With who?”
He frowns. “Well, with—” Then he realizes. “Oh, um.”
Fortunately, Will interrupts. “He means we’re both moving there, Grandma. You know I’m going to Harvard, and he’s applying to some of the other schools in the city. Isn’t that a funny coincidence?”
Nico notices Uncle Charlie snicker as he pokes at his broccoli. Ms. Solace, at the end of the table, purses her lips. Under the table, Will knocks their knees together.
“Yeah,” Nico says, nodding. “Pretty funny.”
“Well,” Ms. Solace says, standing up and resting her hands on the table. “I think it’s about time for dessert, don’t you agree?” She looks pointedly in Will’s direction. “Will, Nico, why don’t you two help me grab the pies from the fridge?”
Neither of them hesitate to stand, push in their chairs, and follow her into the kitchen.
“Sorry,” Nico says as soon as they’re out of earshot of the rest of the family. “I didn’t mean to—”
“It’s fine, don’t worry about it,” Will says. “We’re just two bros, being straight, moving in together, doing straight things.” He accentuates his words with a soft shove of his hip against Nico’s.
“Right,” Nico replies, tone serious. “Very straight.”
Ms. Solace opens the fridge with a pained sigh. “That woman is going to be the death of me. What do you say the three of us ditch them and go out for pizza?”
The offer sounds enticing to Nico, but Will shakes his head. “Remember, dessert makes her sleepy. She’ll be out by seven-thirty, and we’ll have the rest of the evening to ourselves.”
“Fair point,” Ms. Solace says, handing Will and Nico each a pie wrapped in tinfoil. “We can probably hold out til then.”
Will glances at the clock above the stove. “One more hour.” He glances at Nico with a grin. “And then we can be gay again.”
Ms. Solace raises an eyebrow. “I hope you understand that the same rules of PDA that apply to Uncle Charlie and Aunt Jill apply to the two of you.”
“Ew, Mom, of course I know that.”
Will may be correct about the sleep-inducing effects of pumpkin pie, though that hypothesis still remains unproven. Nico is only certain that it makes her talkative and nosy.
“Nico, dear, you said your family lives in Italy?”
Please don’t ask me to speak Italian. “Yeah. I was born there.” Around the same time as you, he almost adds.
She hums as she takes another petite bite of pie. “They’re Catholics, then?”
He freezes. “Well—”
“Oh, it’s alright,” she croaks. “It’s a wonderful thing, I say. So many different religions in this country. I think it’s just great that so many could find a home here and follow the American dream.”
Nico shares a glance with Will, eyebrows raised.
“That’s very—progressive of you, Grandma,” Will remarks.
“Oh, William, dear, I’m not the old stubborn woman you think I am. I’m very open-minded, you know.”
Will shifts in his seat. “Really? Well, then, maybe you’d—”
“Nico, dear,” she interrupts, facing him again. “You’re a very lovely young man. I’m quite surprised some nice young lady didn’t bring you home to her family this Thanksgiving.”
Will chokes on whatever he was going to say and starts coughing, covering his mouth with his hand. Nico swears he hears him mutter fucking hell under his breath.
Nico glances around the table. Uncle Charlie is smirking, and Naomi is shooting him a glare. He has two options here—which one would be more entertaining, he wonders?
He clears his throat. “Well, ma’am,” he adds for extra effect. “I actually do have a nice young lady. She just couldn’t bring me home to her family for the holiday this year, you see.”
“Oh,” Grandma says. “Well that’s unfortunate. Why so?”
Nico sighs. “It’s quite sad, really. You see, she has an awful grandmother, just awful, who would never accept me into the family, because I’m Catholic.”
Will’s coughing fit resumes, and Nico feels a kick to his ankle.
A frown forms on her face, and she reaches across the table, taking hold of Nico’s hand. “Oh, dear, now that just ain’t right. Family is family, no matter what, I say. If I could, I’d have half a mind to give her grandmother a stern talking-to.” She looks back down at her plate, and Nico wonders if it’s over, if she’s finally going to call it a night, when she turns again to Will.
“And you, William, dear,” she says. “How about you? You must have a nice young lady to bring back to us, as handsome as you are.”
“Oh, he does, too,” Nico says before Will can open his mouth. “She’s very pretty. Way out of his league. Really smart, too.” He looks at Will. “You said you’re bringing her back here for Christmas, didn’t you?”
Will blinks. “Um. Yeah. Christmas.”
Grandma’s eyebrows raise above the rims of her glasses. “Well, isn’t that just wonderful. Though, William, dear, you’d better watch your back. It sounds like your friend here has an eye for your girl.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” Nico replies. “She isn’t my type.”
Naomi stands suddenly, and Nico doesn’t fail to notice the twinkle in her eye and the mirth in her smile. “Well, I’d say that’s enough prying into the life of our guest, now, don’t you think, Mom? Let me help you to your room.”
Grandma brings a hand to her mouth, suppressing a yawn, and Will elbows Nico. When he glances at him, he’s grinning.
While Naomi leads her mother down the hall to her guest room, Will volunteers to clear the table and wash the dishes. Nico follows him to the kitchen, carrying a share of the plates and bowls.
Will doesn’t say a word, but after depositing the dishes in the sink, he turns around and shoves Nico against the counter.
“You little shit,” he says in a low voice, hooking his thumbs through Nico’s belt loops.
Nico chuckles. “Just trying to have some fun.”
Will leans their foreheads together, only inches between their smiles. “That was brilliant. I think my uncle almost had a heart attack from holding in laughter.”
“You’re very welcome.”
Will leans upward and kisses him. When he pulls away, he’s frowning. “Wait. Does that mean I actually have to bring a girl home for Christmas?”
“Hmm,” Nico says, reaching up to rub his jaw. “I might have to shave.”
Will gasps, surging forward again. “Never,” he mumbles against his skin.
Later that evening, after a few hours of sitting in the living room with the more blasphemous part of the family, Will’s legs slung over Nico’s lap as he lays across the couch, Ms. Solace’s brother and his wife announce that they’re heading to bed.
Ms. Solace—Naomi, she had insisted Nico call her—sits on the couch opposite Will and Nico. “Any plans for tomorrow?” she asks them.
Will glances up at Nico. “Not sure. Football? Drinking beer? Wrestling in the yard?” He turns to his mom. “What do straight guys like to do?”
Naomi rolls her eyes. “That’s a question for your grandmother, probably. She’d tell you.”
“I bet she’s not as prim and proper as she likes us to think he is,” Will mumbles. “Didn’t she go to an all-girls college? In the sixties?”
“I do not need that image in my head right now,” Naomi says, “and neither does Nico.” She stands up, draining the end of her glass of wine. “I’m going to bed. And you two should soon.”
After bidding her goodnight as she leaves the room, Will looks up at Nico with a shit-eating grin. “What do you say, bro?”
Nico almost shoves him off the couch. Because he’s nice, he kisses him instead.
“Did you mean it when you said you were out of my league?”
Nico groans into his chest. “Go to sleep, Will.”
They’re woken up the next morning by a knock on the door and a shout that it’s time for breakfast.
“At least they knocked,” Will grumbles, burying his face in the side of Nico’s head. “I don’ wanna get up yet, though.”
Nico laughs. “Your family must’ve rubbed off on you. Your accent’s back.”
Suddenly, Will pushes himself up onto his hands, face inches above Nico’s. “Yeah? And what do you think about that, darlin’?”
Nico’s breath catches in his throat, and Will notices. He smirks before leaning down to kiss him, slowly and carefully. Nico practically melts into the mattress. Will’s mattress.
When Will pulls away for a second, he grins. “You ever done this here before?”
Now it’s Will’s turn to be left speechless. “I—um—no.”
Basically cackling, Nico reaches up and brings him back down. “No time like the present.”
They’re late to breakfast.
At least Nico has the sense to suggest they get dressed before walking into the dining room, to make it at least look like they were busy doing something other than—well, each other. But everyone notices. Naomi glares at Will with the same expression Will uses when Nico doesn’t eat his vegetables, his aunt and uncle are both hiding grins through mouthfuls of pancakes, and Grandma—
“Well, you boys must’ve kept each other up late.”
It’s a miracle Uncle Charlie doesn’t choke.