Nico woke up warm that morning, for the first time in what felt like decades.
There was a long, blurry moment of sleepy disorientation, during which he couldn’t really remember where he was. Not in his bed, definitely – his right arm was trapped underneath something heavy, and his face was pressed against something hard and flat. Nico took a slow, stuttering breath.
The world smelled like sandalwood and summertime and salt.
And then Will sighed, shifted, pulled Nico tighter against his chest, and Nico remembered.
He shifted, glanced over his shoulder. The TV was turned off, now – Lou Ellen and Will’s mom must’ve come home at some point during the night.
The clock on the cable box said 8:30. Nico groaned and turned back around, misjudging the distance and finding himself staring right into Will’s face.
Shit, Nico thought, absently.
Will was so pretty, when he was sleeping. His mouth, his messy hair, the color of his skin, the warmth of his hands. His eyelashes, long and sandy, fluttering against his cheeks. Nico was close enough to count his freckles. Close enough to feel his breath against his skin.
He leaned forward, pressed his lips to Will’s throat. Buried his face in Will’s shoulder.
Five more minutes, he promised himself. Five more minutes, and then I’ll get up. Five more minutes of this, and then I’ll never ask for anything else ever again. Just let me have five more minutes.
His phone buzzed in his pocket.
“Solace,” he mumbled, trying to extract himself from Will’s arms, trying to untangle his legs from Will’s. It was like trying to escape from quicksand; the harder he fought, the tighter Will clung. “I gotta get up.”
“Mmm,” Will said.
“I need to go to work, you huge nerd.”
Will’s nose traced along Nico’s jaw. “Hmmm. What time is it?”
“Time for work. Now, get off me.” When Will just pressed a sleepy kiss to Nico’s temple, Nico sighed and added, “I’ll make you breakfast.”
Will shot upwards and released his hold on Nico’s shoulders. Nico squeaked in surprise and teetered, toppling over backwards off the couch and landing with an enormous crash on the floor.
“Fuck.” Nico rubbed the sore spot on the back of his head before grabbing a pillow off the couch and whacking Will with it. “Jackass.”
“Sorry!” Will yelped. “Ah, sorry, sorry, jeez. Have mercy.”
“I’m gonna burn the bacon.”
Will gasped, clasped a hand to his chest. “You wouldn’t.”
Will chased him into the kitchen, Nico dodging gracefully and pulling eggs and buttermilk out of the fridge.
“Waffles?” he asked.
“Waffles,” Will affirmed.
“Do you have whip cream?”
“Do you even have to ask?”
Like the rest of their relationship, cooking with Will wasn’t exactly simple. Nico was too used to having the kitchen to himself – or, at the very least, being surrounded by people who were paid to do as he told.
Will got distracted. He used cooking spray instead of butter. He let his hair fall into his eyes when he stirred. He kept waiting until Nico was busy and then lunging across the countertop to smudge flour on his face.
It was stupid, and clumsy, and nothing at all like anything Nico had ever done before.
Nico never wanted to cook alone again.
They ate quickly, kicking each other under the table every once in awhile, before washing the dishes and getting dressed. Nico hadn’t exactly come prepped for a sleepover – none of Will’s nice clothes would fit him, so he’d just have to wear the same (slightly smelly, absurdly wrinkled) shirt and slacks he wore the day before.
“They’re gonna know,” he muttered while Will helped him fix the knot on his tie. “They’re just gonna look at me, and they’re gonna know, and then I’m going to have to live with it all day.”
Will grinned. Nico leveled a glare at him and he lifted his hands in surrender. “They’re just going to think you didn’t have time to do your laundry, or something. And, anyway, it’s not like we did anything.”
Nico’s face felt a little hot. He scowled down at the floor. “Percy’s probably going to cry tears of joy.”
They winced at each other.
“Let’s get this over with,” Nico mumbled.
He was halfway out the door when Will caught his hand.
“Um,” Will said. His ears flushed that pretty pink color. Nico resigned himself to his fate.
“I wanted to say thank you,” Will continued. “For – for hearing me out about the… the going back to school, thing.”
“Oh,” Nico said, surprised. “Yeah, of course. Are you… are you thinking more seriously about that, now?”
“Maybe?” Will said, scrunching up his face. “I don’t know. It’s still really unrealistic, but I told my mom and Lou about it—”
Warmth blossomed in Nico’s chest. “That’s awesome,” he said honestly. Will’s ears turned a little pinker; Nico fought back a smile. “I’m really happy for you, Will.”
And then Will’s hands were cupping Nico’s face, and they were kissing, Nico’s fingers closing in the fabric of Will’s shirt automatically. Will’s mouth was soft and warm and earnest, and Nico’s heart felt too large for his chest.
Will pulled away first, still cradling Nico’s face. Their noses bumped, and Will murmured, “Sorry. No impulse control.”
“It’s okay,” Nico whispered back.
This was dangerous.
This was so, so dangerous.
Because it truly was beginning to feel okay.
Will breathed, very close to Nico’s ear, “We could call in sick today.”
Nico laughed shakily. “I thought you said you weren’t trying to seduce me, Mr. Solace.”
Will pouted. “That was last night.”
“Is that so.” Nico tugged him down again, tried to burn the feeling of Will’s lips on his into his mind. Will sighed, his mouth sliding open against Nico’s, dragging his tongue along Nico’s bottom lip.
“Eager.” Nico smiled.
“Just thirsty,” Will corrected.
Nico snorted. “Dork.”
“You know, when I first met you, I thought you were going to be old and bald,” Nico said.
“I might be bald someday,” Will pointed out. “I think I could make it work. Although I haven’t rocked that look since I was about two.” He paused thoughtfully before adding, “I thought you were going to be some greasy rich wannabe.”
“Looks like we were both wrong.”
“Well. I was sorta wrong. You were more wrong than I was.”
Nico shoved him. “See you later, sunshine.”
It wasn’t until he was halfway to work that he remembered that Lou Ellen and Will’s mom were in the apartment, too.
In a shocking turn of events, Nico arrived at work a little late; in the kitchen, Percy and Annabeth were debating some new menu expansion heatedly, Jason was pulling his chef’s smock on over his shirt, and Micah was perched on Piper’s knee, playing with the feather braided into Piper’s hair.
“Uncle Nicky!” she cheered when she spotted him, holding her arms out. He lifted her up and spun her around a couple times before setting her back down on Piper’s lap.
“Hey, kiddo. You keeping all these people in line for me?”
Micah puffed her chest out proudly. “Yep! I’m in charge!”
“That’s my girl.” He ruffled her hair while Piper muffled a giggle behind her hand.
“You’re a little late, boss,” Jason observed. “Everything okay?”
Nico nodded, crossed the room to grab his own chef’s smock off a hook on the wall. “All good. I overslept a little.”
(Across the room, Percy waggled his eyebrows at Annabeth and she slapped him on the back of the head.)
“You have been working a lot lately, sir,” Annabeth said, still glaring at Percy severely.
Nico shrugged. “I love my job,” he said, simply. Then he turned to Piper and added, “Speaking of jobs, don’t you have one?”
“Sorry,” she said. “Micah’s really cute, though. I wanted to say hi.”
“She was telling me about Princess Will!” Micah announced. “Did you know his favorite color is gray? And his favorite food is—”
Micah carried on while Nico met Piper’s eyes over the crown of her head. He whispered, “Gray? Really?”
Piper laughed and tickled Micah’s feet. “The color the sky turns just before a sunset.” Nico rolled his eyes and Piper nudged his leg with her foot. “Micah absolutely adores Will. The only other person I’ve seen show so much interest in him is you, Nico.”
Nico groaned. “Okay, that’s it, out of my kitchen. I get enough of this from my actual employees.”
Micah grabbed Nico’s sleeve. “Are you and Princess Will in love, Uncle Nicky?”
Nico seriously contemplated sprinting out of the room.
And then the back door swung open, and Nico was practically being tackled to the floor.
“Hazel,” he managed, before she started covering his face with kisses.
“You haven’t called me in weeks,” she accused. “I was worried, Nico, I thought you were sick and dying—”
“I’m fine,” he coughed. “I’m great. Um, could someone please—?”
“Sorry, sorry!” Frank’s voice said, and then Hazel was off him, one of Frank’s arms around her waist instead.
“Missed you too, sis,” Nico grumbled, massaging his throat. “Jesus fucking Christ.”
“Language,” Annabeth said sharply.
“Micah knows not to say bad words, right, Micah?”
“What bad words, Uncle Nicky?”
Nico smiled at Annabeth innocently. “See? All good.”
Hazel reached down and helped him to his feet, brushing imagined dust off his shoulders. “I wanted to come by and check in on things. Dad said he was going to try and stop by to go over some financial things with you today.”
“Yeah, I got that text this morning,” Nico said, nodding towards his office door. She followed him in, and he collapsed onto his chair. “How’s school?”
“Same as always. Busy. Tiring. Fun. How’s your boyfriend?”
“Same,” Nico said without thinking. Then he paused. Blinked.
“Wait. Wait, what? My what?”
Hazel laughed. “I was talking about the food truck guy from this summer. Who were you talking about?”
Nico buried his face in his hands. “The same guy.”
“You guys are actually together, then?”
“Sort of? Kind of. I don’t… know.”
“But you like him.”
“I—” Nico nodded, looked down at his lap. “Yeah.”
Hazel’s eyes widened. “You love him,” she gasped, and when Nico nodded again, frowning this time, she reached across the desk and squeezed his hand. “Then it’ll work out.”
“It turned out well for me and Frank!” Hazel said. “And we’re the two densest people on the planet. So if we can figure it out, I know you can.”
“Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence, sis.”
Hazel giggled, the bridge of her nose scrunching up a little bit. “I knew he’d be good for you. You always were good at picking them.”
“Back then, I wasn’t picking him.”
Hazel shook her head. “Honestly? I think he was picking you.”
Nico met with his father around noon to go over the bills from the previous month; Hades stared at the food truck across the street like he was planning to off Piper, Leo, and Will in a triple homicide.
Nico tried his hardest not to look over there at all.
(“What are you doing?” Jason asked, when he got up to grab some paperwork from the office.
“My very best,” Nico hissed back.)
And then, about half an hour into the meeting, the bell above the front door chimed cheerfully, and Nico and Hades both turned to watch Lou Ellen stride in.
She wore her hair up in a messy ponytail today, and a black blazer over a dress instead of the tattered jeans and army coat from the night they met. That was something, at least. Her expression still felt like a challenge, though, and Nico felt Hades bristle at the intrusion, even from across the table.
“Oi, di Angelo, I’ve got a proposition for…” She trailed off, eyes landing on Hades, and grimaced. “And I’m interrupting. Again. Wonderful.”
The bell chimed again and Will sprinted in, shouting, “Lou, you can’t just barge in… Oh. Hi.”
Nico’s stomach had vacated his chest cavity and was now residing somewhere in his throat.
(Will’s eyes were bright and his hair was tousled, his cheeks reddened with cold, and his jeans hugged his hips stupidly well, and, like always, Nico wanted to touch him. Wanted to brush his fingertips across Will’s face, memorize the slopes and lines of his constellations of freckles.
Wanted, wanted, wanted.
All Nico seemed to do nowadays was want.)
“Hi,” he said, as calmly as could be expected considering the circumstances.
Will’s smile softened slightly and he repeated, “Hi.”
Lou Ellen’s eyebrows shot upwards and Nico thanked his lucky stars that Percy was on break in the back.
Hades cleared his throat.
“Nico, are you going to introduce us?”
Nico said, “Do I have to?”
Hades’ eyes crinkled upwards slightly in the corners – the smallest suggestion of a smile, just barely noticeable, but definitely there.
“Fair enough.” He got to his feet swiftly, easily, and crossed the room, holding out his hand for Lou Ellen to shake. “My name is Hades di Angelo. Am I correct in surmising that you two are friends of my son?”
Will blanched. Your father? he mouthed at Nico.
Nico shrugged helplessly.
Lou Ellen took Hades’ hand and said, “Actually, Will and I are co-proprietors of Food for the Sol. The truck across the street.”
Hades’ smile froze in place.
Will looked just about ready to keel over dead.
“Oh?” Hades said, softly. “Is that so?”
“Yep! And they were just leaving!” Nico said, probably a little more loudly than was strictly necessary. “Isn’t that right, William?”
Will slung an arm around Lou Ellen’s shoulder and grinned so broadly it looked like it hurt. “Yep! We’re headed out! Right now! Let’s go, Lou!”
Lou Ellen ducked underneath Will’s arm easily. “Actually, it’s probably better that you’re here, Mr. di Angelo. My proposition affects you, too.”
Hades raised an eyebrow. “Really, now?”
The temperature in the room seemed to plummet. Nico threw Will a wide-eyed, rather desperate glance, but Will looked just as baffled as Nico was, and almost as horrified.
Lou Ellen turned to face Nico and said, very calmly, “I’d like to suggest a partnership.”
Will reached forward and grabbed Lou Ellen’s shoulder, hissing, “I told you, it was just an idea. We can’t… I don’t…”
Nico blinked. “Wait. Hang on. What are you talking about?”
Lou Ellen lifted Will’s hand and removed it from her shoulder primly. “This trip to New York will be my last. I’m going to be moving back home for the foreseeable future.”
“Oh,” Nico said.
Will lowered his eyes. “I can’t run the truck in the winter,” he said, quietly. “So I’m going to have to close for the next couple months anyway. But I probably can’t manage to re-open alone. Lou always was the brains of this operation. And I… assuming everything goes okay, I think I’m going to start reapplying to university medical programs this December.”
Lou Ellen cast an unusually serious look at him before looking back to Nico. “This leaves my employees in a tough spot, you understand. Will and I have considered selling, but our family can’t afford to lose the income from the truck.”
Hades looked rather like she’d smacked him over the head.
“I don’t understand,” he said, very slowly, “how this affects my son’s business in any way.”
Lou Ellen’s eyes were steady on Nico’s. “I’d like to propose that you employ Leo and Piper during the off-season, and then use the truck during the summer as an extension of Fantasma Re. You take fifty percent of the truck’s profit, we take the other fifty.”
“Lou would manage everything from Alabama,” Will said. “So it wouldn’t be any additional work for you.”
“Partners,” Lou Ellen repeated, like that cleared up everything.
Hades opened his mouth to respond, but Nico cut him off.
“I’m going to need to think about it,” he said, getting to his feet to stride forward, stand in front of Lou Ellen, so that they were eye-to-eye. “And I’m going to need to see your paperwork, your licenses, and the terms of the contracts for your employees. This would be a rather large step for Fantasma Re, and I’m not willing to make any decisions without knowing what I’m getting into. Do you understand?”
The corner of Lou Ellen’s mouth twitched upwards. “I knew I liked you for a reason, di Angelo.”
Nico managed a small smile back. “We’re going to need to meet to work out the rest of the details.”
“I know, I know. You have my number.” Lou Ellen waved him off, turned for the door. “Sorry for interrupting your lunch. It’ll be a pleasure doing business with you. Will, what do you say?”
Will was staring at Nico, wide-eyed. He said, “Please take care of us,” and suddenly, with an earth-shattering, ice-age-inducing blow, Nico understood.
If Fantasma Re and Food for the Sol were partners, now…
If Will and Lou Ellen weren’t competition anymore…
If Will was just another med student, and Nico was just another restaurant owner…
“Thanks for coming by,” he heard himself say.
Outside the window, the front door shut behind him, Will punched the air with his fist and shouted, “Yes!”
Nico forced himself to finish the day as usual, but he carried the enormity of what had just happened on his shoulders, sticking to his skin, beating in his veins. When it was closing time, he went out the front door instead of the back, in his wrinkled, twice-worn clothes and a too-thin coat.
It was snowing, just a little. The light from the streetlamps and from Fantasma Re made the flakes look golden.
People were watching him from the doorway. Jason, at least. Probably Annabeth. Percy. Nico couldn’t bring himself to care.
He crossed the street and knocked on the back door of the truck. It swung open immediately, and Leo Valdez beamed at him, in a way that made Nico want to duck and cover.
“Looks like you’re my boss now,” Leo said.
“Looks like,” Nico answered, evenly.
Leo’s grin softened slightly and he stuck his hand out. Nico hesitated for a split second before taking it.
“You’re a good dude,” Leo said cheerfully. “But I won’t be taking it easy on you.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” Nico raised an eyebrow. “Is Will around?”
“One sec.” Leo winked and spun around, sticking his head back in the truck. “Oi, Will! Some hot, angry dude in a suit is here to see you.”
Will emerged almost immediately, offering a sheepish wave and a smile. Leo bowed him out of the truck with a flourish, and Will hopped down, shaking his head tiredly.
“He hasn’t changed at all,” he sighed.
Nico shook his head, shifted from foot to foot. He opened his mouth – probably to say something stupid – but then—
“So,” Will said. “I guess we’re not rivals anymore.”
Nico laughed. “Guess not.”
And then Will’s arms were around his waist, and Nico’s face was buried in Will’s shoulder, and the world was tilting, spinning on its axis. They hit the pavement hard, the breath going out of Will’s lungs with an oof, and Nico was laughing (God, these days he could never stop laughing). They kissed with a quiet sort of need, with snow falling around them, with cold hands and noses and lips, with the entire city watching.
The universe made sense, in those seconds. Everything, everything made sense.
Nico was vaguely aware of Leo making a noise that sounded like a victory screech, of Jason shouting, “Oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God,” of Percy gasping and telling Annabeth to cover Micah’s eyes.
“I love you,” Will whispered, against Nico’s lips. “I love you.”
Will’s tongue tasted like summertime, like doomed rivalries and careful glances and knees bumping below tabletops.
“I’m glad you parked in front of my restaurant, asshole,” Nico said, when they parted.
Will smiled at him, wide and genuine and so, so Will.
“Me too,” he said.