Even if they were a hallucination, Nico was past the point of caring. If his comfort and only friend and confidant came in the form of an impossible person with wings, then so be it. It was better — it was more — than his small dormitory with empty walls on his side.
Will had said their only function here was to help wherever they could — to whisper suggestions that would alter the course of things.
Nico pretended he understood.
"There is nothing I can really do, Nico." They said one afternoon, sitting on Nico's bed and watching him watching Will. It seemed to be their favorite thing to do, whenever the two were together. "You are not dolls I can play with, otherwise the world would be much better, I think. I'm a guide and a guardian, not a miracle."
Nico silently begged to differ.
The intervals between Will's visits were of months, which Nico understood. They were busy making the world a better place and all. Nico was mostly busy making reasons-to-live lists and trying to figure out if he'd made all the right life choices so far.
Sometimes he thought it might be easier to be an angel, too. Fly around, whisper nice things to people, be invisible to most... But then he wondered if there really was anything easy in life. It didn't seem so.
The monotony of his days was broken the day snow started falling in his city, because it was also the day his dad called and invited him over.
His dad was a busy, lonely man who probably should have read more parenting books, and now was it too late to repair the damage in his son. But they were trying to build something comfortable between the two of them — losing another family member simply wasn't worth it.
So they set a day and time, Nico marked the days off in his calendar, and packed when it was time.
It was snowing when he left and it was snowing when his plane landed. His hometown had white all over its roofs and concretes.
And when he was waiting for his luggage, a shirtless person with golden hair and black tattered jeans walked up to him, smiling all the time.
"Hello, Nico di Angelo." Will found Nico's last name the funniest thing in the world.
Nico smiled back, but discreetly gestured at all the people around them, and Will raised their eyebrows in understanding and nodded.
(Hours after they'd first met, when Nico was less in a state of panic and more in an absurd, scary calm about the whole issue, he had asked Will why he could see them.
"I don't know, Nico di Angelo." They had answered truthfully, as always, and with a small, gentle smile. "Maybe this is your own way of being special."
Nico had found the wording weird at the time, but he came to realize that, to Will, everyone was special in a way.)
Minutes later, after he'd already met his father and exchanged a quick hug with him, Nico stepped inside the car at the same time Will did, entering the backseat. He could see them making faces at themselves via the rearview mirror, and smiled.
Hades made the standards questions about college and life with a dormmate, and in turn, Nico asked about the business and the neighbors. They listened to a classical music station during the rest of the car ride.
Nico's house hadn't changed. His dad had shifted some of the mobile (the couch and the TV), but it was still too full of decorations none of them paid attention to and silent enough that their footsteps were loud in the carpet.
"You have a pretty house." Will told Nico once the two were in the quiet of the boy's room.
A thing Nico had noticed was that Will didn't say "home". He wondered if it had been intentional.
"Would you like me to leave?" Will asked in a low voice. No judgment or hurt. Just a question.
"No. No, please, stay. I like it when you visit, I just—" He paused for a moment too long, but Will just waited, patient, already accustomed to this happening. "It's like there's no 'more', anymore. No 'more' to any of it. Life is just... this."
"And you don't like it." Will guessed.
"I don't like it." Nico confirmed.
The angel frowned his lips while he thought, his wings twitching a little now and then.
"I didn't know you had shared a room." He commented at last, looking at the untouched bed at the other side of the room.
After he'd met Will, Nico wondered if Bianca had become an angel too or whether she was somewhere else. He wondered if he would ever know.
He looked at the bed, silent. Remembering.
"Can you help me with something?" Will broke the silence, and Nico shrugged again.
And then Will stood up, floating a little (it still made Nico dizzy to be around someone who could actually fly), and took Nico by the hand, motioning for him to stand up as well.
"Let's make a snowangel." They said and guided Nico out.
Will didn't like winters in the north hemisphere very much (although they were certainly better than rain), but he liked anything related to what they were.
They tried to make a snowangel (a snowman with wings) and pouted when it didn't work. The wings looked more two shapeless piles of snow behind a snowman than body parts.
"Stop laughing and help me, you traitor!" Will shouted to Nico, who was lying on the snow and clutching his stomach, which ached from laughing so hard.
Moments later, Will dramatically plopped down beside him, arms opened as if ready to accept death (which they never would).
"That's it, Nico. I give up. The snowangel making business is not for meant for me." They pouted at Nico, who smiled cheekily at them.
"What about snow angel making?" Nico proposed, his breath foggy.
Will frowned, trying to understand what Nico was talking (and smiling so much) about.
And then their expression lighted up with comprehension (they even let out a small gasp; how adorable were they?) and they smiled at Nico, the sparkle in their eyes even more vivid than usual.
"Check this out." Will said, their hands atop of their chest. "...And... you should move away."
Nico rolled through the snow three times, putting some distance between them.
Then he had to stand up in order to get a better view of Will's wings opening and closing several times on the snow while his body floated slightly. Now Will laughed at Nico's dumbfounded expression.
"I— I didn't know you could do that." He mumbled after Will had stood up, floating above his creation — the huge wings in the snow.
Nico didn't contest. He just lied down and started opening and closing his arms and legs until it seemed enough.
It looked nothing like Will's, in the end, but they seemed right, somehow.
Will looked at their friend.
"I think you should invite Ms. Levesque and her daughter for Christmas."
Marie Levesque had lived in this neighborhood for as long as Hades and Nico had. She was a talkative woman, her eyes were always wide and she never seemed to just stop, unlike the di Angelo men — and unlike her daughter, Hazel.
They'd been childhood friends. Bianca, Nico, and Hazel — the Three Musketeers, which were the only cool trio they knew at the time.
After Bianca's death, Nico had gotten away from everyone. It had been a gradual thing, but one that he had never bothered to reverse. At the time, he simply didn't have the energy to keep moving forward like everyone around him seemed to do. And they all said they understood, but none of them could make the pain go away or suffer with him. Life hadn't been destroyed for them.
But it was true that he missed Hazel, something that hadn't changed to this day.
Convincing his dad to invite them had been frustrating. Hades kept asking things like, "That's a good idea, but why now? Did I miss something?" and "I thought you didn't like, uh, company?".
What he really wanted to know was why Nico was voluntarily socializing.
And the reason why was that listening to Will seemed to be a wise decision, despite his initial aversion to the idea.
("It's like..." Will had tried to explain one day. "You know when you were watching that TV show, and you kept yelling, 'Kill him, Judith!'? It's like that. The humans might hear or not. I imagine trying to suggest things to you will be fun, seeing as you can always see and hear me and argue back.")
(Inviting Hazel over was the first suggestion Will had ever gave him.)
So Hades made the phone call while Nico sat beside him on the couch. Marie spoke so loudly that Nico could almost make out her words from where he was.
"...It would be an honor! If... Hazel would probably go eat with her friends and I might be all alone..."
"Eh... she should bring them over too, if she wants too." Hades recoiled on the couch, making a grimace at the idea of so many people in his small, quiet house.
"Oh, that'd be great!..."
The call ended after minutes, Hades looking more and more uncomfortable and silently desperate with each moment. Nico felt sorry for him and, at the same time, wondered how his dad would survive Christmas Eve if talking over the phone already tired him this much.
The silence afterward was both welcome and somewhat tense.
"Young man, you know what?" His father said. "I have no idea what you were thinking, but just know that you're in charge of entertaining three people your age."
Nico wasn't sure what Will was thinking either, but he trusted them. He didn't know for how long Will had been here doing this job, but he knew they were good at it.
So they both searched recipes on the internet, made a grocery list, and went to the market together for the first time in what felt like forever. Nico had to control himself not to burst out laughing as he read the list.
He eventually started giggling anyway and, to his surprise, his dad accompanied him, their laughter filling the previous silence of the car. The most anti-social people in their neighborhood hosting a Christmas Eve dinner to old friends. What was Will thinking?
They had decided to make a salmon salad, seafood gnocchi, and biscotti for dessert, so finding all the ingredients took a fairly long time, even with each man going separate ways so they'd be faster.
He was almost done with his list, the only ingredient missing being the almonds, when someone in the aisle approached him.
"Hm, Nico?" The man called, unsure, and Nico looked up to find familiar eyes staring at him, lit up with recognition. Nico had spent a good part of his high school years trying to decide if they were blue or green, until he'd settled on sea green.
Percy was still the same, smiling widely at Nico as if he was a pleasant surprise. His brown skin, unlike Nico's, was not pale, even in this winter. He glowed with health, carrying a heavy-looking basket with ease.
"H-Hi. What are you doing here?"
Percy raised his eyebrows, amused.
"I mean, in the city."
"Oh, just visiting family. Doing some last-minute shopping. I swear I would have forgotten all of these, but by some miracle I remembered. I guess you're doing the same, uh?" Percy said, tossing a small jar of almonds from the shelf into his basket. "These are really good."
"Y-yeah." Nico took the same brand Percy had gotten, setting it carefully in his own basket.
"And you'll make a Christmas dinner?" He looked at the groceries with interest in Nico's hands with interest.
"Yeah, i-it's our first year doing something like this." He admitted. "We're having guests and all."
Percy nodded in understanding and smiled at him, honest and knowing.
"Good for you. My mom always does these things too, so maybe next year you can come spend the Christmas Eve with us."
"T-That'd be nice."
"So how's life?"
Where to start?
"College is going okay." Nico lied in a meek voice.
They talked for about five minutes, Percy conducting the conversation. He seemed to notice Nico was somewhat tense, so they exchanged phone numbers and Percy promised they'd properly catch up before Nico went back to college.
"And I know Jason would like to see you too, man." Percy added, referring to Jason Grace, who used to be the quarterback in their school. Now he and Percy were dating.
Nico wished he could say he was surprised, but he wasn't. The three of them hadn’t been exactly best friends in high school, but Nico knew them well enough to know their teasing and competitiveness would eventually lead to, well, this.
Truth be told, he was more surprised about Percy wanting to see him again.
The next day, Nico was surprised to find that he liked cooking with his father. None of them really knew what they were doing, but they tasted the food now and then and it seemed edible.
By the time their guests arrived, Nico had just finished putting the salad bowl on the table. Both men had dress shirts on, hair brushed back for once, and the biscotti were in the oven. Their house was clean and cheery Christmas carols played in a Pandora station. Everything was as well as it could be.
Hades opened the door and Marie's loud voice immediately echoed through the house. Because of her heels, she was an inch taller than Hades.
"It was so kind of you to invite us over, Mr. di Angelo."
"Eh, Hades. Please."
Marie laughed. She had a full body laughter, throwing her head back and all.
"Of course. Merry Christmas!"
Hazel entered the house much more quietly than her mother, and Nico would probably have missed her entrance completely, hadn't he been so nervous about seeing her again.
A shock of cold went through him when she looked at him, his stomach turning.
The wild cinnamon curls he remembered were tucked in an elegant side bun. She was wearing make-up and an ochre dress with too many buttons on the front, the skirt going up to her mild calf. Hazel looked like an adult.
More than anything she could have said, her own appearance was an evidence of how much time had passed — how much Nico had missed.
His eyes stung for a minute, but he blinked until the sensation went away and forced himself to smile at her.
She smiled back, politely, and walked up to him.
Before he knew it, she had enveloped him in a hug. He automatically hugged her back.
"It's good to see you again, Nico."
"It's good to see you too." He said, honest, and they broke the hug.
"I was surprised by the invitation." Her voice, while sounding happy, allowed no space for doubt that she knew that inviting them had been Nico's decision.
Behind her, a tall man put a hand on her shoulder, accompanied by a brown-skinned man as short as Nico. The latter was smiling so widely that Nico feared there was something funny about his clothes.
Hazel wasn't fazed.
"These are Frank and Leo. My... friends." She introduced.
"We brought a plant for you." Leo, the short one, said, handing a small pot with a cactus on it. "We've heard they are hard to kill, so we'll be offended if it's not here when you invite us again next year."
"Leo!" Frank and Hazel hissed, not seeming shocked despite their stern glances at him.
Polite greetings went around and, after an awkward silence, Hades finally invited them all to eat.
Frank pulled the chair for Hazel, and Leo immediately said, "Why don't you do that for me too? Feeling very unloved here, Zhang." Frank ruffled the shorter boy's hair in response and blew a kiss at him, looking at him with as much affection as he showed Hazel.
"Children." Nico heard Marie snickering to Hades on the other side of the table (Nico was right in the middle).
So Marie didn't know Hazel was dating these two men. Either that or she thought Hades would have a problem with it — Nico could guarantee his father wouldn't.
The dinner went by faster than Nico had anticipated. For his surprise, his father actually managed to contribute to the conversation Marie and him were having.
On the other side of the table, the for young adults mostly kept talking about important but unimportant things. College, politics, future plans... Leo, despite the idiotic jokes, seemed to be some kind of genius, and he got flustered whenever Frank and Hazel mindlessly rambled on and on about his qualities.
The conversation ended when smoke started coming from the kitchen.
The di Angelos cursed as they ran into the kitchen, hurrying to turn off the oven and take out the now black, inedible biscotti.
Their guests watched wide-eyed from the doorway.
"So," Nico said, breaking the awkward silence. "Anyone has a problem with store-bought panettone?"
While Hades was saying goodbye to Marie near the doorway, Nico called Hazel aside, because he knew that if he didn't do it now, he would never do it (or do it over text, and it wouldn't be enough to convey what he felt).
"Hazel," He started. "I-I'm sorry."
"For not talking to you during all these years." He explained, trying to keep his eyes on hers, but it was hard, especially when she didn't visibly react. "I-It was unfair of me to you. I mean, you lost her too, and I know that now, and yet I— I couldn't— I wish things had been different, I guess." He sighed, recoiling. "I'm sorry I ruined our friendship like that."
Hazel considered this — him — in silence.
"I accept your apology, Nico."
He looked up to find a small, sad smile on her face, and hesitantly hugged her. She hugged back just as tightly, less like strangers and more like old friends once again. Warmth bloomed in Nico’s chest at the feeling.
Before leaving, the Levesques and co. promised to host the Christmas Eve next year, and the Di Angelos promised to attend.
The silence in the house after their guests had left was deafening. Hades immediately lied down on the couch and covered his eyes with his arm.
"Let's never do that again, alright?" But he was smiling, and Nico knew that, somehow, he'd had fun too.
When Nico woke up the next morning, his window was foggy due to the cold and there was a message written there.
"Check your phone, you doofus.- W", it read.
"Not even a 'Merry Christmas'." Nico noted, tsking to himself.
Because he had no friends other than an angel who definitely didn't have a phone, Nico usually didn't check his too often. But he turned the screen on only to find six messages. His heart almost stopped.
The first had been sent by Hazel.
"Merry Christmas, Nico! When will you leave back to college again? I wanna take you to see how beautiful the city decorations are this year. Tell your father I sent Merry Christmas too!", she had sent. Nico reread the message five times before moving on to the next one, sent by Frank.
This one was shorter, "Merry Christmas, Nico! =D I hope your day is great! Thank you for inviting us over last night!".
The next one was Leo's, which was just a bunch of Christmas-related emojis and a "Merry Christmas" gif.
Marie had sent her Merry Christmas all in caps lock, like his father sometimes did by accident.
Then there was an unknown number.
"Hey, Nico! It's Jason Grace here, from high school. Percy gave me your number. I hope that's okay. I just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas (or just Happy Holidays in general, in case Christianity/Christmas is not your thing. Hope we can catch up sometime. ^^", it read, and Nico raised his eyebrows, surprised.
The last one was from Percy himself.
"MERRY CHRISTMAS NICOOOO!!! Peace, man" and a peace sign emoji. Nico wasn't really surprised, but it was nice, nonetheless. He was smiling by the time he looked up from his phone.
Will was already there, smiling as wide as Nico as they approached the bed and sit beside the boy.
"Enjoyed your Christmas?" The sparkle in their eyes told Nico they already knew the answer.
Nico nodded nonetheless, wiping away a stubborn tear.
"I don't think it could have been any better."
Will tugged him close, making Nico rest his head on their shoulder and cuddling with him.
"How was yours?"
After a moment of silent contemplation, Nico said, "Thank you."
Will kissed the top of Nico's head, absentmindedly.
"For giving us things like these, like my Christmas. That was all you wasn't it?"
Will didn't miss a beat. "Who invited Hazel over, Nico?"
He shook his head, putting some between them so he could look at Will.
"You know what I mean."
In response, Will just smiled. Their eyes had more emotion than Nico thought humans could express.
"Everyone deserves a miracle now and then, Nico di Angelo." It was all Will said.
And for a single brief moment, Nico understood it all. He felt peace settling in his muscles, and saw life through Will's eyes — a miracle after a miracle after a miracle, no end in sight. It didn't seem so bad, when he thought of it this way.
"Thank you." He repeated, firmer this time, and Will laughed quietly, then leaned in and kissed Nico on the forehead, then on the cheek, the on the corner of his lips.
"Merry Christmas, Nico."