acoustic shell

Picture a fantasy captured in reality

It is among the rarest of treasures in this hard-hearted universe, as seemingly unlikely as finding a precious lucky charm within the hundreds of bland cereal grains. It is a miracle, with a tale worth telling, when someone’s fantasy becomes their reality.

Most commonly, it starts with a girl, with big dreams and unfathomable odds, waiting for a charmingly perfect man to sweep her off her feet, and carry her to paradise. But see, we usually only see this in fairy tales, as in reality, people are far from perfect, and paradise only exists is dreams, and even there, it is too often haunted by nightmares.

This special tale begins with two boys, and flying pudding.

***

Nico was sitting with Jason and Percy at a table in the dining hall, eyes flying back and forth as the two less civilized of the group started another of their classic food wars. Jason had talked to Chiron immediately after the war with Gaea, requesting an alteration in the seating arrangements in the dining pavilion. As of then, a table for the ‘Big Three’ was created, and no one was to be stuck eating alone, ever again. Percy and Jason had named it ‘The Three’s Trouble Table’, and sure enough, trouble clinged to this particular table, as its tenacious occupants were nothing if not troublesome.

As food flew in his peripheral vision, Nico sighed, exasperated by the childishness of these two powerful heros. He turned his attention to his food and dug in contently. He’d spent too long managing on scraps of food. A stubborn Will Solace had made sure those unhealthy habits were broken as soon as possible. He’d actually gained a few pounds, to compliment his defined muscles developed from years of sword training.

His fork suddenly clattered onto his almost empty plate, ringing eerily, as a slimy brown dessert landed on his face. A scowling mouth and murderous eyes replaced his peaceful features (peaceful features were oddly becoming increasingly comfortable on his face in these last few months). He looked up at two startled faces, etched with apprehension for his reaction.

“You…argh…Is your aim really THAT bad Percy? There’s a freakin’ 90 degree angle difference between aiming at Jason and aiming at me..how..? Are you trying to anger me?!” Nico growled in frustration.

Percy lifted his arms in surrender. “Ahhhh…ah, well, it wasn’t MY fault, Jason was the one who smacked my arm right before I released the pudding…” he stumbled on nearly every word, seeming incapable of forming concrete arguments under Nico’s accusatory glare.  “Look, I’m with you on this one, Nico, Jason is way out of line,” his tone changed to a whisper, then he moved his arm to point a finger above Jason’s head. “He hit my arm purposely in your direction, I tell ya, he’s searchin’ for trouble.”

Jason whined to Percy,“Hey! I thought we were bros.” 

He then turned towards Nico, and looked stuck between guilt and humor, words were on the tip of his tongue but he was disrupted by a loud outburst of laughter, from a few tables over. Nico’s eyes darted around searching for the source of this insulting behavior. Soon, his eyes landed on a crunched over Will Solace, who was choking on hysterical sobs of laughter. Will looked up and caught Nico’s horrified eyes, then choked out, “You…” and giggles erupted from his mouth, “ you…look…”

Nico was beyond embarrassed, then Will added, “like…DUMO!” Then, quickly adding, “Oh, but, ah, scarier of course, and ah, your mouth isn’t freakishly large. And, I highly doubt you’re as soft, but ya never know.” He stopped, probably realizing he was rambling like an idiot.

And Nico started laughing, a carefree, joyous sound. Will was just such a dork! He didn’t even know who Dumo was.

When he realized everyone around him had gone silent, and their eyes were glued to him, he shut up immediately. It hit him like a brick in the face, this was the first time he’d genuinely laughed in years. And, because of Will, and his not-so-funny comment.

Jason ushered Will over, “Why don’t you take Nico to the infirmary and get him washed up, Will?” He proceeded by turning back to Nico and winking exaggeratedly.

As soon as Jason noticed the increased amount of time Nico spent with Will, helping him out in the infirmary almost all summer long, he decided to investigate the situation. It was becoming very difficult for Nico to keep any secrets these days; his persistently annoying friends were to blame. His friends. It was a strange idea to him, having friends to share secrets with, to look to for advice, to joke around with, friends that made him smile. And a particular Apollo boy who could, apparently, make him laugh too. Jason had inconspicuously, or so he thought, spied on him and Will through the infirmary window. Nico, later, cornered him for a grilling, which ended in an embarrassed half-confession of his still denied romantic feelings towards Will Solace.

Nico was occupied glaring at Jason, and Will ended up behind him, placing both hands on his shoulders, chanting happily, “Follow me, zombie,” and after a second, he added in a serious tone, “a zombie with an abnormally adorable laugh.”

This pulled him out of his staring contest; Jason’s puppy dog eyes versus his attempted evil glare.

Adorable, Will found him adorable.

Jason smiled wide at Nico upon hearing those words, and Nico followed suit, unable to hold a grudge against Jason. Maybe Nico had developed a soft spot for him, he was the first person to know of both his crushes.

“Lead the way, sunny day.” Nico stood, ready follow Will, and Jason mouthed, can’t hide in shadows forever. This made his face burn, which made him grateful for his pudding mask. Thoughts were running a marathon in his mind. He’d always considered the shadows his home, where he belonged. But Jason understood from experience, life is a pyramid constructed by choices. Your parents, your birthplace, your appearance, your past, or anything out of your control should not define you. You must define yourself. Jason chose to be Greek even though born a Roman, he found where he belonged. Where did Nico belong? If it were really the shadows, why does his time spent there seem so dreadful. Bianca used to pull him out of the shadows, and since then, he’s been trapped. Will was a son of the sun god, he may be the person to shine light on Nicos path out of darkness.

Will pulled him out of his thoughts. “What was that about?” Curiosity filled his words.  

“Ugh…well, you see…” Nico hesitated. They’d arrived at the infirmary and Will was searching for a clean cloth.

“C’mon, I thought we were over this. You almost died in a freaking jar and you told me all about it. I mean, you can tell me anything, I won’t judge.”

“Well, this is different, it’s about…”This proved more difficult than any battle Nico had endured.          

“And trudging through Tartarus was easier to explain!? I can’t think of a single thing you can’t tell me.” Will’s tone changed from accusatory to inquisitive. “Unless… It involves… a particular boy, whom you often refer to as sunshine?”

Nico’s eyes widened, as his face flushed. For an expert at hiding, his emotions sure loved to betray him when he was nervous. He didn’t trust his voice enough to speak.

A few moments of silence followed before Will said, “you should laugh more, ya know. I like the sound of it, music to my ears.”

“Huh, you would know, you’ve got the musical talent of a snail.”

Will laughed. This comment would have hit him hard if it had come from almost any other person, but Nico knew they had now developed a friendship where even insults could cheer each other up. “Hey! Snails happen to have excellent acoustic shells, perfect for a good beat.”

“It’d be my honor to be the first viewer of your incredible snail shell spectacular.”

“I would not dare disappoint!”

“Oh, I’m sure you wouldn’t! It would cause the best laughing marathon of the century!”

“No, really! Did you know that you can hear the sound of the ocean from within shells? All I’d have to do is hold up the microphone, and voila! Relaxing waves to sooth your mind!”

“You do realize that only applies to seashells, right? The only thing I can picture coming out of a snail’s shell is slime.”

“Ohhh, yeah…Well, I’ll have you know that slime covered or not, I could put on a fantastic show with my devilishly good looks.”

At that, Nico could not find an argument.

Will had found a green cloth, dampened it and moved to the entrance of the supply closet where Nico stood almost a foot shorter than him. Will looked unsure for a moment, but then placed a hand behind Nico’s head, sending heat waves coursing through his body, and used the other to carefully wipe the pudding off of Nico’s face. This made Nico blush fiercely. Will always took care of him with such consideration. It made him never want to enter the shadows again, but it also terrified him, inciting him to run as fast as he could and never leave the safety the shadows provided. But, he could not imagine a life without this, though he was unsure of what this was.

When Will finished, he noted with a sideways grin, “Someones face is awfully red. I don’t believe pudding leaves red stains.” He then contemplated, “I wonder what could’ve caused such an intense color to paint your face, hmm…?” Will placed a finger on his chin thoughtfully.

Nico’s first instinct was to glare and stammer out an oblivious retort, but he stopped himself. He thought for a second before replying, “M-maybe it’s you, you’re so sunny you gave me a sunburn!”

Will looked shocked, then giggled, staring down at Nico warmly. Nico added, “And you giggle a lot, like a girl.”

It seemed Nico’s method of giving compliments was covering them with weak insults. By the way Will was looking at him, Nico knew he understood.

They stayed in silence for awhile, comfortable and happy to be in each others company.

Doubts about Will’s feelings towards him plagued his mind. I mean, he knew Will was attracted to guys. It was made very clear to him one afternoon when Lou Ellen had decided to intrude in their relationship with her dearest pig balls.  He had heard a knock on the door of the Hades cabin, and had opened it to find a very excited Lou Ellen. Slung under one arm, she had held a pig, with a label stuck to its head. This label had been the opposite of discrete, and held the words, ‘very much gay pig’. Lou had exclaimed cheerily, “look, I got you a pig! Will you watch him for me this afternoon, pretty please with a big fat cherry on top?” At first he had thought it was some sort of sick joke. But, soon he had recognized the pig as Will Solace, because of its electric blue eyes. And the label had been explained as very much true. It had taken him eons to wrap his mind around it. It took him so long that Lou had asked him if he even knew what the term ‘gay’ meant, since he was plucked from the forties. He had grumbled “of course. I was just…shocked. I didn’t think there was anyone like me here.” Now that had to win a record for the worlds most awkward afternoon. Or maybe for the strangest babysitting experience ever.

Nico looked up to find Will staring down at him, his eyes boring into Nico’s soul. They were awfully close, and Will’s eyes were trying to will something out of him.

“Um… I gotta go.” Nico started to turn.

“I don’t even get a thanks? Or a goodbye?”

“Thank you, my knight in shining armor.” He said sarcastically.

Will giggled. “Is that so? Then I suppose I deserve a much better apology than that.” Was that a dare?

Nico jerked back towards Will, a goal in mind.

He envisioned it so well in his mind, he would lean upwards and plant a beautiful kiss on a beautiful mouth. He hurriedly leaned upwards, on the tips of his toes, then was caught off guard once again by Will’s stunning face. This second of hesitation threw the whole plan upside down. His heart decided to beat up his chest, like a world champion combat fighter, and his dizzy head was spinning the world in circles.

He ended up planting an awkward kiss on Wills perfect little nose. How embarrassing.

At the sight of Will’s wide eyes, Nico started to dissolve into the shadows. He’d stepped out of his comfort zone enough for one day. He needed time alone to think over this hectic afternoon. Just before he disappeared though, he heard Will’s melodic laughter, then heard his name, but did not catch what followed. Nico brought a few fingers up to his mouth as the shadows enveloped him, Will had a very soft nose, he thought.

***

That night just before curfew, Jason was worried as to why Nico had not returned or been seen since the pudding incident. He ventured around in search for Nico, and was surprised to find him with Will, beside Thalia’s tree. Will was sitting against the tree, with Nico’s head resting on his upper thigh, and Nico’s arms were wrapped around Will’s waist. Will gently caressed Nico’s head, and stared down at him with intense admiration.

Jason was ecstatic, jumping up and down with joy. This was a perfect time for pictures, Jason thought mischievously.

***

Weeks later, Nico found the pictures. He would have been angry at Jason because of this intrusion but instead, stopped to admire one in particular, one that captured the moment when he had finally leaned up and planted that perfect kiss on Will’s mouth. It looked like a picture found in fairy tales. Maybe fairy tale-like stories would be found more often in reality, if only one took a leap of faith. Or, incidentally got pudding catapulted towards their face.

It had since become a ritual of sorts, for Nico and Will to smudge pudding on each others faces. A reminder of how lucky they are to have found each other.