Will was 11 years old when he coughed up his first petal. It was thin and white and when he asked a child of Demeter about it later she told him it came from a lily.
It made his heart race and his breath catch as he stared at it in horror.
Every child of Apollo knew what coughing up petals meant; it was as ingrained into them as much as a love of the sun was.
It meant he was dying.
He'd run to his big brother Lee in tears and said that he didn't want to die. The older son of Apollo had just ruffled his hair and comforted him.
"Chill little bro. It's just one little petal. It just means you've got yourself a little crush. Who's the lucky little camper?"
Will flushed at the question. There had been a boy who'd caught his eye recently; a newly arrived unclaimed demigod whose excitement over Mythomagic had driven Will into getting in debt with the Stolls in order to get a deck and a crash course in how to play.
Nico di Angelo; a boy who Will had wanted to know since he'd first laid eyes on him.
Just thinking about the other pre-teen made Will's throat tickle as he fought down the urge to blush. Lee laughed at his brother's reluctant redness and ruffled his curls. "You don't need to worry about petals until you're older little bro and only if you have a lot more than just one."
Will let out a relieved breath and pocketed the petal with a smile. "Thanks Lee."
"No problem kiddo. Why don't you go round up the Hermes kids and tell them to head to the archery range for practice?"
Will ran off to find those claimed by Hermes and those unclaimed who were housed among them.
But unbeknownst to him the boy he was most hoping to see most was already gone.
Will was almost 13 when he coughed up his first handful of petals in a fit of tears and rage; fueled by grief and sorrow deeper than any he'd ever experienced before.
Right after watching a giant kill his brother Lee with his club; and seeing the boy he hadn't been able to stop thinking about for nearly a year almost die trying to protect the camp.
Will felt useless and unworthy to even approach Nico di Angelo during the raven's brief stay as he mourned his brother and swore to rededicate himself to the healing arts so that he wouldn't lose another sibling like Lee had been lost.
When Nico left that time Will coughed up so many petals he thought he'd never get to inhale freely again without foliage rising up in his throat. So many that he flinched away from the flowers that laid atop his brother's burial shroud before it was set ablaze.
Will was 14 years old when history repeated itself. When he lost both a brother and Nico di Angelo all over again; when he puked up an entire flower for the first time.
He'd done his duty and healed Annabeth and all the other demigods that he could during the battle. He'd distracted monsters with deafening whistles and set up makeshift infirmaries all over the city to help his friends. He'd even gotten a chance to see Nico in battle; wielding a blade and commanding the dead with an ease that took Will's breath away more so than even the petals in his throat.
Then, to Will's heart's delight, Nico stayed. He stayed at camp and Will knew he was finally going to his chance to actually be with the Italian again like he hadn't been able to be since they were children.
He'd thought he'd have time.
He never expected by the time he'd finally cleared the infirmary of the last of the injured and established himself as the head counselor of his cabin that Nico would have vanished again.
Not until an entire lily landed on the doorstep of the newly made Hades cabin when Will discovered it was empty.
Will knew that letting Nico fade might be the only way to save his own life; that it might be the only thing capable of stopping the petals from suffocating him, but he chose to save the son of Hades anyway.
Because just holding Nico's hand and standing near him as they tried to stop the Romans from invading the camp made the son of Apollo feel like the searing pain in his chest was worth it. That he could endure it just to make sure that Nico was finally with him to stay; finally residing peacefully at camp like Will had always wanted.
So he hid his hacked up petals from Nico and his siblings and prayed that he might be worthy of the only real cure to his affliction.
Nico di Angelo's love.
Will was 16 when he realized that he'd never get to see his 17th birthday; when it became abundantly clear that his poor pinning heart would be the literal death of him.
Though he guessed a part of him has known that from the moment he'd held that first petal in his palm.
He was in love with the only son of Hades; and said prince of darkness could never love him back.
But really, what could Will expect? The last year had been a blissful hell of time spent with the head counselor of cabin 13; hours of banter and bickering between them until the head medic felt certain that his very breath was lily scented.
He hid it as best he could, pocketing petals and sucking on cough drops that didn't do a thing to stop the foliage from rising from within him. Every day he woke up early just to puke his petals up in peace in the cabin bathroom and every night he stayed up late to pull the agonizingly stiff stems from his throat.
Soon he was hanging around the Demeter cabin whenever he could just so that he could drop petals from his pockets between coughing fits during the day without it looking suspicious.
But in the end his siblings found out in the worst possible way.
One night Will just couldn't stop coughing; not after a day spent with the raven teen so total oblivious to his feelings.
He coughed into his pillow until he couldn't breathe and the sound of his choking eventually woke his siblings up; siblings that stared in horror at the pool of petals surrounding their head counselor.
It took hours to calm the little ones down and get them back into bed, but Will's older siblings weren't as easily soothed.
Kayla was the first to drag him onto the porch of their cabin and pin him to the wall with both her arm and her glare. "Who the schist is it Will!? Who in the world are you literally killing yourself over?!"
When Will didn't answer Austin stepped up and put a comforting hand on his free shoulder. "Bro, Kayla's right, this is serious. You're way past a few crushing and infatuation petals at this point. You're into full blown love and you know how quickly it escalates once it gets to that stage."
Will kept his gaze on the ground even as his hand gripped the single petal within it tighter. "There's nothing you guys can do. I didn't want to worry you."
Kayla punched his shoulder hard.
"What Will? We were just supposed to think you were fine until we found you dead in your bed with freaking flowers growing out of your mouth?"
Austin nodded gravely in agreement. "Bro, if you tell us who it is we can talk to them, we can explain what's happening-."
"No." Will cut him off sharply. "I won't burden them with this, not when the fake reciprocation would only make it more painful. Plus you don't understand; they could never love me. There's no point in making them feel guilty for something that can't be changed."
"Will if you don't tell them what's happening to you you'll just keep getting worse. Up until your only choices will be death….or the surgery."
All three went silent at the thought of that final option.
"I'd rather die." Will finally whispered into the still night air.
"Will, be reasonable, if it's the only alternative…."
"No." The blonde repeated firmly. "That's not a life worth living Kayla. Not if I can't ever feel love again. I won't lose what I feel for you guys or my mom or….. even them."
Kayla was close to tears as she glared at him. "Then what the fuck are we supposed to do Will? Stand back and watch you die?"
Will reached out and touched her arm gently. "I need you to keep the little ones calm; to put on a brave face for their sakes. I've been getting things ready in the infirmary; my notes on all the campers are all organized and color coded. Elio has been shadowing me for weeks now in preparation for him taking over when the time comes."
"He's 9 Will. You expect him to be able to stitch up the next Stoll brother that loses an arm on the Lava wall?"
"He has some healing power." Will argued weakly.
"Not like you Will. You're the best healer the camp has ever had. Our siblings need you. The camp needs you….Your mom needs you."
Will looked away from her beseeching gaze before it burned him anymore than it already had.
"I've already told my mom what's happening. She knows I want to be here until it's over."
Kayla let out a sound half growl and half sob as she pulled her older brother into a hug.
"Please Will. Please don't leave us. We can find someone else for you to love."
Will held her tightly to chest and tried to offer what little comfort he could.
"Kayla, I couldn't stop loving them anymore than I could stop loving you." Will explained as he stroked her hair. In a quieter whisper he apologized. "I'm sorry to make you lose another brother."
Kayla sniffled before pulling out of his arms. After a long moment of staring at her blonde haired brother she scowled and turned on her heels.
"Screw the harpies, I'm going to the archery range."
A moment later she was just a disappearing spot of red in the darkness as she went to get some of the frustration out of her in the safest way possible. Will offered a ghost of a smile at her retreating back; thankful for her anger. It would keep her going and fuel her in the days to come. Sadness would only slow her down and he needed her to be ready to lead after he was gone.
The thought brought memories back of losing his own older brothers and how he hadn't been able to find the time to cry and collapse until months after they'd already journeyed to the Underworld. He hoped she would have time sooner to grieve since Austin would stand beside her, but it was her he expected to be the one to lead the younger children of Apollo in the years to come.
Austin remained on the porch and stared at his half-brother. "Will…..maybe if we talk to the Demeter cabin they can help. I mean there hasn't been a case of one of the children of Apollo dying of this in decades. Maybe if you pray to Dad-."
"I already talked to him." Will admitted. "There's nothing he can do."
Austin clenched his fists and slammed one against their cabin.
"That's bullshit. Will. He's a god, you're his son, there must be something-"
"Austin…" Will interrupted. "Dad told me he was sorry."
That silenced the other teen as his whole frame drooped.
"Will….you must have known that this could happen. Why didn't you put distance between yourself and them when the first petals came?"
Will sagged against their cabin as he slid down the wall until he was a tight ball of sorrow on the ground. "I thought….I honestly thought that they could love me back."
He'd stupidly thought that he had a chance at winning the son of Hades' affection; had been so arrogant as to think that he was worthy of such a hero's heart.
For the first time in so long tears filled the blonde's eyes at the thought of just how much he loved Nico di Angelo. His laugh, his smile, even his well guarded heart. It just made Will feel more special when he got to see glimpses of how Nico truly felt. But Will knew the truth. Nico only thought of him as a friend and every time the raven reminded him of that Will had to excuse himself to cough up more petals.
He had to flee every time he saw Nico return Jason Grace's hugs or flash Percy Jackson a flushed scowl. Every time he saw the raven lean his head against Reyna's shoulder or trade Mythomagic cards with Frank without flinching away from the bulkier teen's fingertips when they skimmed his skin.
He could have survived longer if those were all he had to bear witness to; if those friendly touches were all he had to endure. But they weren't.
Not when Nico was so clearly in love with someone else.
Will had to close his eyes and purge his lungs after every glimpse of Nico di Angelo and his boyfriend; the bovine faced son of Hypnos who seemed to spend his literally every waking moment with the son of Hades.
It made the flowers grow so quickly inside him to see Clovis dozing atop a hilltop with Nico's head in his lap. It destroyed his hope to see the other blonde run his fingers through his love's hair and whisper sweet nothings into his ear. It sped up his inevitable death so much to see the boy he loved so willing to let another touch him so intimately.
Especially since he'd only been allowed to touch Nico for 4 days out of the 5 years he'd known him.
The day of the battle against Gaea when he'd been allowed to hold his beloved's hands for the first time and the three blissful days in the infirmary he'd demanded of the son of Hades. After a last touch of Nico's hand before he slipped through the infirmary door on his last promised day he never touched Will again.
A year of friendship and Will still wasn't trusted enough to even touch the pale skin that haunted his dreams; to have his fingers graze over Nico's hand when they played Mythomagic or have his shoulder serve as a shelf to the dozing demigod.
He would have given his last breath to be allowed just to run his fingers though the raven's hair like he so often saw the son of Hypnos do.
But he didn't regret loving Nico di Angelo.
Even if it would cost him his last breath.
"It was stupid, but gods Austin, I wouldn't have traded a second of time with them for immortality itself."
The obsidian skinned teen slumped against the railing of their porch and asked desperately; "What can I do to help you through this Will?"
The blonde thought for a moment before offering his brother a ghost of a smile. "Write me a dirge for my funeral. Something so sad the gods themselves will weep."
Austin stood up straighter at that; accepting Will's distraction as well as the blonde had hoped. "It'll be beautiful brother." The darker teen vowed solemnly before disappearing into the darkness himself to get to the music room and his saxophone.
Will just sat alone on the porch until his father had the sun peaking over the horizon; his gaze never leaving the slightly flickering flames of Cabin 13.
Will knew he didn't have long now. He could feel the flowers blooming inside him and ruining his lungs. It was all he could do to get himself into the infirmary before he collapsed beside a puked up pile of petals on the tiny cot in his office.
He felt so cold. So tired.
He was asleep before he even realized it; his dreams filled with pale skin and shadows.
Will slept the day away while his siblings made excuses to the rest of the campers and threatened the children of Demeter in quiet whispers; but there was nothing the children of the harvest could do. They could only promise to pray to their mother to spare the son of the sun that had saved so many of their lives over the years.
Nico had been the hardest to distract from Will's absence; not accepting the half mumbled answers the children of Apollo gave him.
Finally Austin caved and said that Nico could maybe see Will tonight after the campfire; but only if he attended.
The son of Hades grumbled but agreed; worry evident on his usually stoic face.
The children of Apollo were oddly solemn as they gathered the camp together at the fire that night; their stillness unnerving the campers around them. They weren't used to seeing those who normally sang the loudest so soundless and still; especially not on campfire nights.
The children of the sun huddled around Austin with worry evident in their eyes and when he eventually broke the silence his voice entranced them as much as his music normally did
"We're going to tell you all a very old story tonight. A story about loving and dying, and a son of Apollo."
The campers grew silent as they listened; none more carefully than Nico di Angelo.
"There once was a son of Apollo who was so handsome that he was sought after by almost anyone who saw him. It made him vain and selfish and it drove all his friends away; all but one Demeter girl."
The fire crackled softly as Austin took a breath before continuing.
"She loved the son of Apollo more than life itself. She loved him for reasons that had nothing to do with his beauty. When she confessed her feelings he laughed at her. He said that a homely daughter of Demeter wasn't worthy of someone like him. Yet she still loved him, even knowing he would never feel the same.
In time grief grew within her so strongly that it took physical form. Soon she began coughing and from her lungs came petals. A thousand rose petals and a thousand thorns spilled from her lips every time she saw the boy that she loved; her love sickness making itself known at every opportunity.
He'd stolen her very breath away and it wasn't something that she could survive. Her siblings brought her to her love's brother, Asklepios the god of medicine, and begged that he save her.
The god said he could save her life, but not her heart. If he removed the petals that pained her and the thorns that pricked her lungs she would lose the source of them as well. Her love.
She would lose her ability to love anyone ever again. Not her siblings, her parents or even a partner.
She said no. She…."
Austin paused and seemed to need a moment to clear his throat. His eyes were so bright when he restarted his story.
"She said that a life without love was no life at all and the only thing that would end her pain would be her love's love or death.
So she approached the son of Apollo one last time, her hands filled with physical evidence of her love for him. He was moved by her suffering, for she had been his friend long before she loved him, but he couldn't change the way he felt. He couldn't love her….So eventually the roses within her grew past the point in which she could survive."
A log in the fire gave a sharp crackle as it was consumed by the flames as though to emphasize Austin's words.
"Demeter was angered by the death of her daughter and in her anger unleashed a curse upon the children of Apollo. Any that felt a love that wasn't returned would suffer the same fate as her daughter. And if unreciprocated, die as her daughter had died.
In the end the son of Apollo that had broken the daughter of Demeter's heart fell in love himself. But his chosen didn't feel the same. And so he died like his friend had died; choking on heartache and petals."
Austin put his face in his hands and curled into a ball before the fire. All of his siblings surrounded him and formed a melancholy bundle of children of the sun. All present except for their oldest brother Will Solace.
Nico froze at that realization as one of the younger Aphrodite campers asked the question that was caught in his own throat. "Was that a real story?"
None of the children of the sun answered, so Chiron answered for them.
"I'm afraid so. I knew them both many a century ago. It was truly a tragedy to lose them and even worse to lose the children of Apollo that fell victim to the curse in the centuries that followed."
Most of the campers dispersed to discuss the story in their own little groups, but Nico headed straight for the sad circle of sun children that lingered around the fire.
"Where's Will?" He asked in a hushed and worried voice. Kayla rose red rimmed eyes to glare at him through her bangs. "You've been spending a lot of time with him lately haven't you?" She half asked half accused. "Maybe you know more than we do."
Austin shushed her as he stepped up and motioned for Nico to follow him. "I'll take you to him."
"Austin." Kayla hissed. "We don't know-."
"We know the alternatives." The midnight colored teen answered with his own sharpness. "Even if I'm wrong, they're friends."
Kayla continued to glare at the son of Hades until one of her younger siblings pulled her attention elsewhere.
"Come on Nico." The darker teen whispered as he began leading the way to the infirmary.
They walked slowly and in silence for a few moments before the saxophonist began talking. "You and Will are close right? I mean, he's spent more time with you in the last year than I've ever seen him spend with anyone else."
Nico shrugged. "I get hurt a lot." He offered in lieu of any real explanation.
Austin looked at him with tired eyes as they continued.
"Will takes good care of everyone around him; even at the cost of himself."
"What's this all about? What aren't you telling me Austin?"
The ebony teen winced as his fingers twitched helplessly in the air; as though his hands wished they had an instrument to answer with instead of just words.
With a sigh he admitted "I can't tell you what he won't tell us. I can only hope you're the right one to bring to him right now."
A shiver ran down the son of Hades' spine.
"What's wrong with Will?" He asked more aggressively; the shadows around him flickering from his agitation.
"I can't help him." Austin sighed in defeat before rising his tired gaze to meet the raven's worried one. "But maybe you can Nico."
On his little cot in the infirmary Will Solace dreamed of impossible things.
Things like Nico di Angelo curled against chest at the campfire and silky raven locks between his fingers. He dreamed of a dozing Nico kissing his neck and telling him he loved him.
It was so wonderful, so perfect, that even from within his dream Will knew it couldn't possibly be real.
Yet he let himself dream. He pulled the raven tight against him and whispered words of admiration and affection back against olive skin.
He hoped that if this was the end, if his body was finally overflowing with petals in the waking world, that he might die like this; with at least the image of his love in his arms.
He hoped until a voice shattered his faux Elysium.
Suddenly the campfire was surrounded by Will, his love,….. and his love's boyfriend in the real world. The bovine faced blonde looked vaguely confused and a little upset at the sight before him, but Will didn't let himself feel ashamed for this.
It was his dream; his to enjoy while it lasted.
With that thought in mind he pulled his dream love closer and blocked Clovis's view of him as much as possible. Anger bubbled up inside him like his petals so often did as the son of Apollo glared at the intruder.
"What do you want Clovis?" He hissed angrily as the boy in his lap ran soothing fingers up and down his freckled arms to calm him.
The son of Hypnos shifted uncomfortable under Will's glare for a moment before answering. "I'm called to powerful dreams and dying dreams always tend to be so."
Will winced at the verification that this truly would be his last dying dream.
"I don't want you here. Let me go in peace."
Tears filled his blue orbs as he held his dream love tighter.
"You may have him in the waking world, but here he's allowed to be mine." He mumbled to himself.
The Nico in his arms nodded in agreement and looked up at Will with an adoration that the blonde had never actually seen directed at himself; only glimpsed it when the real Nico offered it to others.
He probably looked so stupid and pitiful to the son of Hypnos; cuddling a dream fragment while the real Nico was probably curled up against Clovis's chest in the Hypnos cabin.
But it would all be over soon, so why should he care what his love's lover thought?
"Just leave me alone." Will begged without looking at the other blonde.
"Wouldn't you rather be awake to be with the real Nico?"
Will stilled at the thought. Even though his lungs were clear here a part of him half expected petals to fill his mouth at the mere thought of seeing the real Nico right now.
If he saw Nico at his bedside, listened to him telling him what a great friend he was and that who ever didn't love him was a fool, it would surely kill him.
"Don't tell him." Will instead begged through his tear choked throat. "He doesn't need to feel guilty about not loving me. Not on top of everything else."
The Nico in his arms caught his tears and smiled sadly up at him this time. The dream figure hadn't said a word since Clovis's arrival, but Will watched him in agony as the raven mouthed the words 'I love you' between them.
"Why are you so sure he doesn't love you?" The bovine faced blonde asked curiously, like it wasn't meant to cause the intense pain in Will's chest that it did.
"Is that supposed to be some kind of joke?" Will growled at the other teen. "Because it's not funny Clovis."
"I'm not laughing Will. I'm honestly curious. What makes you so sure he doesn't care for you that you're willing to die rather than just ask?"
Will exploded at the question and the bland tone that Clovis delivered it in.
In an instant he was on his feet and his Nico was only kept from hitting the ground by Will's arms around him.
Because even as angry as he was he wasn't about to let the other teen go; not when he had only just gotten him.
"Because if he felt anything for me he wouldn't be dating you!" Will screamed at the son of Hypnos.
The reminder made the healer's chest tighten and only the sight of his dream love nuzzling his neck kept him from lashing out against the dreamwalker physically in his anger.
"But Will….." The other teen offered after a pause. "I'm not-"
Will didn't give him time to finish. He might not have been a son of the god of sleep, but this was still his dream, he still had power here.
"Get out!" Will finally shrieked with all his might; the force of it sending Clovis back to his own dream with a hard shove.
The simple act drained the son of Apollo so much that he was grateful when between blinks his surroundings changed. Now he and his Nico were laying together on the younger's bed in Cabin 13 and Will felt like he could get back to his final fantasy.
He took a breath through blessedly clear lungs and let the anger drain out of him when he exhaled it.
"Will?" The dream raven asked softly.
"Yeah Sunshine?" The blonde answered just as gently as he rewrapped his arms around the shorter teen; happy to finally be able to call his love that pet name outside of his head.
"Are you okay?" The raven asked.
Will melted under the concerned gaze of his love and didn't have to lie when he answered.
"I'm…I'm happy Nico. I'm so happy." He finally forced out as the smaller teen leaned forward to bring them closer together. "I couldn't ask for anything more."
The teen in front of him tilted his head and flashed a hint of the smirk that Will so dearly loved.
"Not anything?" The raven asked as he brought their faces closer together.
The shrinking distance made Will's heart race as he glanced down at the pale peach lips that he'd found himself staring at a thousand time over the course of the last few years.
He'd been in love with Nico so long that there had never been anyone else. No one to cuddle with him like this.
No one else to kiss or even imagine kissing.
Not until now.
The blonde unwound his arms from Nico's neck so that he could cradle the Italian's face between his palms. He'd wanted this for so long; to have his love lean into his touch and stare longingly at his lips. To feel like he was wanted by the one he'd loved for so long.
But even here he couldn't escape the pain of his pining heart.
The teen in his arms that so obviously wanted to be kissed wasn't the real Nico. He wasn't the one Will's heart was literally breaking over. Just a poor recreation made from Will's wishes and memories. Not the real person Will wanted to give his first and final kiss to.
The thought brought tears to the blonde's eyes as he moved to cling to the dream lying beside him. He pressed the other teen to his chest and wept into raven hair as he prayed that the pain would end with his heart's last beat.
When Will was drained of tears and tired down to his very soul he pulled back enough to look at the teen of his dreams.
The raven looked confused and maybe a little scared as his eyes scanned Will's forlorn face.
"Will?" He asked uncertainly.
The blonde just offered a faint smile and brushed a stray strand of hair from the Italian's eyes.
"Yeah Sunshine?" He whispered tiredly.
Chocolate eyes widened at the touch as pale peach lips asked in a whisper "Is this really a dream?"
"Of course." Will assured him with sadness evident behind his smile. "Where else would I be allowed to have you like this?"
The faux Nico seemed to want to squirm beneath his tired blue gaze and that just made Will smile more; if only because it reminded him so much of the real Nico.
"Why…?" The raven began before looking down with a blush. "Why me?" He whispered between them. "Out of everyone at camp, out of all the demigods you know, why did you pick me?
The question didn't surprise the blonde; not when he'd asked it of himself a hundred times over the years. If anything it just made him smile a small melancholy smile.
"Of course you." He assured the trembling teen in his arms. "How could anyone else compare?"
Will pulled the younger teen close until Nico's face was hidden against his neck and Will's chin was atop his head.
"Who could ever be called braver or stronger or more self-sacrificing than you Nico? Who could say that they've done more for the mortal and demigod world without the duty of prophecy upon them to save it? Who else could possibly have a laugh that puts siren songs to shame and a smile that could brighten even the darkest places in the Underworld?"
As he spoke Will allowed his memories of Nico to wash over him like spring sunlight after a long dark winter; the comforting warmth seeping into his tired bones.
"I knew since we were kids that you were it for me; that you would be my future or my end. Even if I could do it all again, even if I could change things so that we never met, I wouldn't. I'd just enjoy falling in love with you for a second time."
"You love me." The Italian echoed back in disbelief. "You love me so much it's killing you."
Will huffed a light laugh against the younger's hair as he tightened his grip.
"I love you so much Nico di Angelo that I would never risk telling you in the real world. Not with how Demeter's curse affects me and my siblings. I would never put that kind of burden on your shoulders; to try and make you love me out of a sense of obligation. You're so noble that you'd try and end up carrying the guilt of not being able to long after I was already dead."
Will felt a last few tears escape his tear ducts as he remembered the one last good thing he'd done with his life. He'd never hurt Nico with his feelings. He'd resisted being selfish and trying to get Nico's affection any way that he could.
"Do you think I did enough good in my life to be worthy of Elysium?" He asked softly. "Enough good to go where the real Nico will go in the end?"
The teen in his arms was still trembling and Will started stroking his back to soothe him. "It's okay. This has been a good enough dream to have to make up for it if I end up in the fields. Just to touch a dream version of the person I love is a joy I never expected to have."
Will pulled back enough to look at his Nico's face and see the tears streaming down it. Yet even sad he still looked so beautiful.
"Shhhh, don't cry." Will whispered between them as he reached out to wipe away his love's tears.
The raven caught his hands and pressed them against his still damp cheeks.
"I thought you didn't want me." He half sobbed between them. "I was so sure that you'd only ever see me as a friend; that I'd cave if given even a single touch."
Will stared at him curiously as his dream love seemed to grow more and more upset.
"Shhh, Sunshine no need to fret. No need to lie." Will comforted.
If anything that just seemed to make the raven's fit worse. "I did this to you." The shorter teen sobbed. "I made you suffer because I was too much of a coward to tell you how I felt about you; too much of an idiot to see how you felt about me."
Will just continued to smile at the other teen with a tired and detached look on his face. He knew his dream was just trying to comfort him with the illusion that the real Nico loved him, but he was too aware of his setting to truly believe it.
Not when he knew that only in a dream could Nico di Angelo ever claim to want to be his.
"He deserves to be happy." Will argued lightly. "I….I know that Clovis makes him happy."
"Clovis?" The raven echoed in startled bewilderment. "What does Clovis have to do with any of this?"
Will closed his eyes against the false confusion on his love's face as he withdrew his touch from the Italian's skin until there was a good inch of space between them.
"If I were braver…..If I'd talked to the real Nico more in the beginning…Maybe I could have caught his attention first." Will whispered with clear regret in his voice. "But Clovis is a good demigod. He's kind and a good leader to his brothers and sisters. He does what he can with his powers and I can't hold a grudge against him for being what the real Nico wants."
Will felt so tired as the weight of his feelings and his regrets settled upon his still form. "He'll keep Nico's nightmares away and make sure he sleeps, and….." Will couldn't continue as a sob rose up in his chest. "And I'll just dream this beautiful dream until the end."
Will had closed his eyes at some point during his speech, so he was startled when cool hands cupped his face between them. He opened red rimmed blue eyes to find a set equally as tear-stained and tired as his own, but that wasn't what held his attention.
No, the only thing his mind seemed to truly register was the bright smile on his love's beautiful face; one he hadn't seen since both of the di Angelo siblings had arrived within Camp Halfblood.
"Will, gods above you idiot, why didn't you just ask me? I would have told you that Clovis was just a friend. That he helps me with my nightmares whenever he's free during the day with dream magic. He's the one who puts sweet imaginings of you into my dreams. He gives me a reality where we're together in a way I thought we'd never be. Gods above Will, he's the one who sent me here!"
The blonde was too tired to try and make sense of the raven's rambling, so he just continued to enjoy the joy on his dream love's face.
When Will didn't react Nico pressed himself closer to the blonde. "Don't you understand Will? Your love isn't one sided. I feel the same way about you. I've felt this way ever since you trapped me in the infirmary for those three days after the war."
Nico looked expectantly at the blonde through his eyelashes after his speech and was seemingly startled to see Will's expression remain in a sleepy smile.
"You look so much like the real Nico." Will whispered dreamily. "You even have his sweet siren voice."
Nico literally growled at the medic's continued disbelief and before Will could even think to stop him the raven had him flat on his back and caged between his werewolf scarred arms.
"I am the real Nico." He hissed. "Austin came and got me to see if I…..If I could possibly be the one you loved." Nico hid his eyes behind his dark bangs as he continued. "I didn't think I was until Clovis burst in and began rambling about you having a dying dream and….and that I was in it."
Despite the angle Will could just make out the edge of a blush on the raven's cheeks.
"You wouldn't wake up, so Clovis put me to sleep too and sent me to your dream. To try and convince you that you're dying over nothing Will. Because…"
Nico lowered his head to whisper his next words right against Will's ear.
"Because I love you Will Solace. I love you and I want you to wake up so that I can spend the rest of our lives together making fun of you for not realizing I was in love with you sooner."
Nico was silent and still for a moment as he allowed his words to sink in. Then after a dozen heartbeats Will reached up and cupped Nico's hovering face between his hands.
"I'm much more creative than I gave myself credit for." He noted dreamily. "That almost sounded like it could have really happened."
Nico let loose an even angrier growl as he jerked out of Will's grasp and leaned back onto the blonde's torso until he was practically sitting in his lap.
"Seriously Will?!" He shrieked down at the blonde.
Will just laughed lightly up at him as he watched the raven get redder and redder.
"You're so cute when you're angry." He complimented.
The son of Hades scowled as he stared down at the blonde in contemplation.
"What can I do to convince you I'm the real Nico?" He asked more to the universe than Will himself.
The blonde laughed at the question. "Wake me up I guess."
The shadow traveler considered his words for a moment before a flushed scowl raced across his face.
"Fine. If that's what it takes."
Will didn't get a chance to respond to that with another laugh, not because he didn't want to, but because his lips were far too occupied for that as the raven dove down and pressed them together into a bruising kiss.
"I love you." Nico panted against his lips when they parted. "I love you and you're going to live long enough to love me back in the real world Will Solace!" He swore before diving back down into a kiss.
"Nico." Was all Will could say as his mouth was ravished by the raven.
Cool blunt tipped nails dug into scalp as a lithe pale body slip up his in a maddeningly pleasurable way.
Will could only resist for so long before his want overrode his guilt.
He wanted this. Even if the teen atop him was just a vision of his love, even if he would go to the fields for using Nico's image like this, he wanted it enough not to care anymore.
He grabbed twin handfuls of Stygian hair and opened his mouth more to let the raven deepen their kiss. He tasted like pomegranates and french fries and everything Will had ever wanted.
"Wake up Will." Nico urged between kisses. "Wake up and be with me." He begged over and over.
Will pulled back enough to look into the raven's beseeching eyes as cool fingers continued to card through his hair. "Come back to me." The son of Hades finally breathed against his lips.
"Will you still love me if I wake up?" The son of Apollo asked with so much fear in his voice.
"Will the petals finally stop?" He inquired in an even smaller choked voice.
Nico cupped his face and offered him a beatific smile. "Do you love me enough to risk it?"
The last word to leave Will's lips as he slipped back into the waking world was a firm and confident "Yes."
Will awoke to a voice and light and clearer lungs than he had ever breathed with.
"Nico." He gasped as he tried to sit up; only to have firm hands press him back down onto his cot.
"Easy now bro, easy. You're okay. We've got you." Austin assured him gently.
"Nico." Will breathed out in panicked despair as he struggled weakly to get up.
"You're okay Will. He's here, he's right here."
As soon as the darker son of the sun god finished speaking Will felt the shifting of warm breath on his shoulder. He barely dared to breathe himself as he turned to see the son of Hades tucked tight to his side and sleeping so beautifully beside him.
"Clovis had to put him in a really deep sleep to reach you." Austin explained in a whisper. "We didn't even know if it worked until you stopped choking on petals."
The elder son of Apollo was barely listening as he turned on the too tiny cot to look at the boy he loved. And who, to his utter amazement, claimed to love him back.
"You're lucky he got you to wake up. If you'd died while he was in your dream you would have taken him with you to the Underworld. He knew that going in Will. That you would either wake up and be with him or you would both die."
Austin smiled a tired smile at them both as he grabbed a blanket from nearby and covered the shorter teen with care.
"He must really love you."
Will found himself reaching out and brushing stray black locks from his love's face as he let that all sink in.
"I…..I think he really does." Will finally breathed in amazement.
Austin stood with care as he pushed a small tray closer to their cot. "I've got a bit of Ambrosia and Nectar here for when he wakes up." He handed Will a little cup filled with Nectar and his own piece of Ambrosia. "But I want you to take some too. We don't know what kind of damage might still be left over from the petals."
"None." Will assured him even as he ate and drank the offered items to stave off dehydration and hunger just a little longer. "I've been able to feel ever bit of damage they were doing as it happened and know exactly what was being hurt. My powers make self check ups pretty easy and…..I don't sense anything wrong anymore." He finished with wonder.
Austin seemed to relax even further after that.
"Then I'll go tell the rest of the cabin that you're going to be okay. You should probably wait here until Nico wakes up so you can talk." Austin's voice grew exasperated as he continued. "You know this could have all been avoided if you two had actually Talked to each other. Hell, if you had told me it was fucking Nico di Angelo you were crushing on I would have told you that he was one day in the infirmary away from confessing his undying love for you."
Will blushed at his half brother's words and offered only a single sentence to the boy before he disappeared out of Will's office and left him alone with the only son of Hades.
"We're going to work on it."
Because they had time now. They had each other.
With care so as not to disturb his bedmate Will laid himself back down beside him and took a deep unhindered breath of Nico. The raven's scent was upturned earth and campfire smoke; clover and winter air.
Each breath seemed like a minor miracle as Will tried to grasp what had happened. How much Nico must have loved him to risk everything like that for him.
And it had to be real love; or else Will would have already been swallowed up by the petals in the face of a false confession.
"I really owe Clovis an apology." He thought absently before snuggling up with his love. "He sent Nico in my darkest moment to save me."
Will suddenly felt bad for every bad thought he'd ever had about the son of Hypnos. He'd have to get him a new pillow or something to make up for it.
The blonde snuggled into his own pillow with that thought as he lifted Nico's blanket enough to share its warmth.
Once he was settled Will wondered if he was allowed to hold Nico now that they'd both confessed, if it would be okay for him to wrap his arms around the raven and never let go.
After all, his touch hadn't been welcomed in the past by the son of Hades; so he wasn't sure what was permitted, but he didn't have time to decide one way or the other before the raven began to stir.
"Wake up." Will whispered softly. "Wake up and be with me Sunshine." He requested the same way Nico had to him in his dream.
"Will?" A sleep Italian accented voice asked from the edge of the pillow.
"Yeah Sunshine." Will whispered back. "I'm here."
Cool arms snaked around Will's middle as the other teen buried his face against the son of Apollo's chest. "I thought I was going to lose you." He admitted against Will's orange camp top. "I was so scared."
Will nuzzled his face against the raven's hair and made soft comforting sounds in response. He knew how much the son of Hades hated showing his vulnerably to others and he couldn't help but feel honored to be allowed to see Nico like this.
"I'm sorry I put you through this Sunshine. I never wanted to cause you any pain."
Nico pulled away to look at him with large brown eyes that held so many things within them. Hope. Fear…. love. So much love.
How had Will missed that for so long?
"Will..." Nico began with resolution thick in his voice. "I understand why you didn't tell me. That you did that out of love for me too; so that I wouldn't feel obligated to love you because of your condition but…That doesn't change the fact that you almost died." Nico's voice cracked at the end as emotion seemed to overwhelm him. "I could feel it. By the time I got to the infirmary you were already so close to dying it was like a thick miasma all around you."
Nico's grip tightened as he continued. "I would have gone with you rather than be without you Will. The second Clovis told how what I could do and what the risks were I told him to do it. I didn't think about Hazel or my friends, or anyone else. The thought of a world without you was too much to bear." Nico really was crying by the time he spoke again. "I can't lose anymore people I love."
Will's heart did back flips in his chest at the words.
"You have to know how much I love you too Nico." Will answered softly. "I've been puking up proof of it everyday for a very long time after all." He joked to lighten the mood. "Beautiful lilies as pale as your skin."
"I could have spared you that." Nico muttered in regret. "If I'd been brave enough to say something you would have never gotten this bad."
"I wasn't exactly brave about it either." Will reminded him. "Though I had the excuse of thinking you were with Clovis."
Nico snorted in disbelief even as his eyes still shone with tears. "Really? You think I'd look twice at Clovis when I have you around? How could anyone else compare?" He echoed Will's earlier question.
"You let him touch you." Will defended. "You let him stroke your hair and touch your face and…..Gods above it was literally killing me to watch Nico when you wouldn't even let me graze my fingers against your skin."
Nico's eyes softened at that. "You touched me during those three days in the infirmary." He explained. "And it did funny things to my heart and I guess I just didn't want to have to feel like that all the time. I was afraid it would be too much."
"You're letting me touch you now." Will pointed out gently.
"I…..I think I can handle it now. Especially since I know how you feel about me."
"Does it help? Knowing how I feel?"
"Yeah." Nico admitted softly. "It…it helps a lot."
"Then let me say it again just so you're sure." Will offered with an affection softened smile. "I'm in love with you Nico di Angelo." He breathed into the raven's ear. "I want to hold you and kiss you and touch you. You have no idea how badly I've wanted to-" Will was cut off by Nico leaning up enough to breathe into the blonde's own ear.
"Then touch me Will."
The blonde's blue eyes widened at the request. "We don't have to do that. You're here and that's all I really need."
Nico continued to blush as he unwound his arms from Will's waist and caught his hands within his own. "I want you to. It's okay." He consented as he brought Will's hands to the edge of his own black T-shirt. "I want to make sure that you're still really here."
Will blushed even as he let his hands slip under the Italian's top. Even his chest was cool to the touch; a perfect balm to Will's constantly overheated skin.
"You feel so warm." Nico praised with pleasure closed eyes. "So alive."
"Don't ever get that close to leaving me again." The Italian then threatened in a hushed voice between them.
"Okay Sunshine." Will promised as he slid the top up Nico's chest and over his head. Lily pale skin met Will's hungry gaze as the blonde leaned down to place blistering kisses on every bit of exposed skin his lips could reach.
"Dizzy." Will muttered against his collarbone. "You make me dizzy with how much I adore you Nico di Angelo."
The raven looked smaller and more vulnerable than Will had ever seen him as the blonde pulled back to catch his onyx eyes. "Burning." Nico offered back softly. "You make me feel like I'm burning Will Solace."
"In a good way?" Will asked.
"In a very good way." Nico confirmed before drawing the boy down into a soft kiss.
Before either boy could shed more layers or even break their kiss a loud knock sounded against the door to their little sanctuary.
Nico pulled back until Will could see his fearfully wide eyes from beneath his bangs.
"We're okay." Will promised as he gently untangled himself from his love and reached down to bring the blanket up to his pale chin. "Just pretend to be asleep." He whispered before placing another affectionate kiss to the raven's temple.
Nico's face was still flushed when Will called for their visitor to come in, but no one other than the blonde was close enough to see that.
"Hey Will." Kayla whispered as she took note of the 'sleeping' raven at his side.
The son of Apollo smiled at his sister in greeting before he started running his fingers through his love's hair; if only because he couldn't stop himself from touching the raven now that he knew he was allowed to.
"di Angelo huh?" His sister teased as she took a seat in Will's office chair not far away. "I should have guessed it. You got into Mythomagic way to suddenly for there not to be a reason that you learned how to play."
Will blushed as he saw the corners of Nico's mouth twitch.
"I'm sorry I worried you." He answered instead. "If I'd just talked to you guys, if I'd just said something sooner…..this never would have had to happen."
Kayla rolled over until she was right next to their cot. "We should have noticed sooner Will. All of us Apollo kids are just so used to you being the strong one that we didn't want to think it was possible that you could need help too."
"I never wanted to be a burden." Will argued. "I never wanted you to see."
The red head sighed as she looked at Will with her tired eyes. "We love you Will." She promised. "You're never a burden to us."
The blonde felt tears sting his eyes as he looked at his sister. He'd loved Nico di Angelo so much that he nearly died from it, but it had been his love for his family that had kept him going so long. Without them he would have been swallowed up by the petals long before now.
"Thank you Kayla." He whispered with a bowed head. "I want you to know that I didn't choose the surgery just because I wanted to keep my feelings for Nico. I didn't want to lose my love for you guys either."
"That," Kayla began as she stood to leave. "Is something I already knew big bro."
She flashed Will a final two finger salute before leaving him alone with his love and his thoughts.
"You must get that compassion from your mom's side." Nico mumbled from his half pillow covered face. "Any other son of Apollo would have done anything to get the one they wanted."
Will laughed as he laid down parallel to his love again. "Well my mom is pretty awesome." He admitted proudly. Then he paused. "I want you to meet her someday." He added in a hushed voice. "I want her to know the person I love enough to choke on petals for."
Nico looked a little wonderstruck at the suggestion. "You want me to meet your mother?"
"I love you." Will reminded him just to feel the joy of saying it out loud again. "And I want you to know everyone you share my heart with."
Nico hummed softly at the thought. "I'd like that."
"Good." Will whispered as he rewrapped his arms around the raven. "You look tired Sunshine." He assessed as he drew them close again. "Why don't we take a real nap before I have to face a dozen children of the sun and tell them exactly how you saved me."
Nico blushed. "Maybe not exactly." He suggested sleepily. "You might want to cut out the part where we started making out."
"Hey," Will breathed back happily. "That's my favorite part."
"You're such a dork." Nico insulted him around a yawn. "Go to sleep before I go get Clovis and tell him all about this big love affair you thought we were having."
It was Will's turn to blush as he buried his face into his pillow. "I owe him an apology pillow or something anyway. I wasn't exactly nice when he interrupted my dream of you snuggling in my lap by the campfire."
Nico gave a half horrified look at the suggestion. "Snuggling?" He asked incredulously.
"You're the perfect size for it." Will explained as he pulled Nico closer until the raven's face was tucked under his chin. "See?"
The raven's only response was a single tender kiss against the skin of Will's throat as he 'reluctantly' snuggled closer.
"May your dreams be sweet Sunshine." Will whispered into the raven's pitch black hair.
If Nico hadn't already fallen asleep he would have told the blonde to dream of their future. One that Will finally believed that he had.
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