His father gave it to him on his 15th birthday (or 85th, depending on how one looked at it, but Nico agrees that time is a man-made construct and ignores it) and told him, quite bluntly, “This is all I have left of our time with Maria.”
Maria. Nico’s Mama.
So of course, Nico took The Box and shoved it under his bed with his feelings and the rest of the other junk Nico didn’t feel like compartmentalizing in his brain on a day-to-day basis. And there The Box stayed for a whole year; until Will decided that his boyfriend needed to be introduced to the concept of Spring Cleaning.
With a feather duster in one hand and multi-purpose cleaner in the other, Will invited himself into Cabin 13 and set to work. Nico had long ago learned not to get in his boyfriend’s way.
Bookshelves were dusted, counters wiped down, boxes emptied and moved around. And then Will got to Nico’s bedroom, and discovered The Box.
“You want to go through this one, hon?” Will called to his boyfriend, who was currently in the kitchenette, getting them cold drinks.
“Probably,” Nico called back, “don’t touch my stuff.”
Will disregarded him and touched his stuff anyways. He dusted off the top of the box and found the words “Niccólo di Angelo: 19XX- ” written in neat, Palmer-method cursive. The cardboard lid creaked when Will cracked The Box open.
“Ohmygods are THESE YOUR BABY PICTURES?!” Will was exclaiming before he could reel in his emotions. Nico appeared, quite literally out of the shadows, with two tall glasses of iced tea in his hands and a frown on his face.
“Oh,” he said, “you opened it.”
“Was I not supposed to?” Will asked, ready to apologize about the interference of personal space. Nico only shrugged, “It’s fine I guess, I just never have. It’s all the stuff my dad had left from his time with my mom.”
Will picked up the first photo on the top of the stack of papers in The Box. It was Nico and Bianca, maybe about two and four respectively, seated on the front stoop of a Venetian town house with only semi-serious expressions on their faces. It took Will a minute to realize that the man sitting between them was actually the Lord of the Underworld.
“It’s weird, seeing your dad…”
“So normal looking?” Nico finishes for him, “yeah, I know. It freaks me out when he and Persephone sometimes go to Starbucks in Santa Monica together.”
Will giggled, “You were a cute kid, though.”
“Are you saying I’ve only gotten less cute?” Nico asked, raising his eyebrows.
“Of course not,” Will answered, “You’re like a fine wine, better with age.”
“You hate wine.”
“It’s rotten grape juice,” Will confirmed, “do you want to go through this box or shall I put it back where it came from?”
Nico sighed, “Might as well, I should probably know the rest of its contents.”
“Could be some good blackmail material in here.” Will suggested.
“I hate you.” Nico groused, not really upset but having a reputation to uphold. (He however completely ruined this reputation by pecking Will’s check before crawling between his legs to recline comfortably against his boyfriend’s chest.)
“Comfortable?” Will asked, amused.
“Sure.” Nico said. Together, cleaning forgotten, they dive into the contents of the box.
(And Will was right, there were too many cute baby pictures in there for Nico to ever be considered scary again.)
when rowan finally gets to aelin, and she’s probably locked inside the coffin without any hope of ever getting out, so completely battered and broken physically but content because she knows she did everything possible to give her people, her court, her family a chance, and then suddenly she hears some kind of inhuman roar through the iron box that muffles almost all noise, but somehow this sound is loud enough to still hurt her ears even through the box, and screeching as someone physically rips open the box, and she can smell copious amounts of blood in the air and the entire cadre is there, summoned by Rowan for the break in a day earlier and using all of their strength to save the queen they want to serve from the one they deplore, and they shakily lift her out of the coffin but she can’t even be grateful because Rowan’s not t h e r e, and if he’s not with them he must be hurt and oh g o d s what if he’s dead, and she’s starting to lose it because she can handle whippings and beatings and torture but she can’t handle her mate being gone, not having been able to save him– and then there’s a shriek nearby and suddenly he’s there, her mate is there, in the same room as her, cut and bruised and limping but alive, and with him is Maeve, but something is different and–oh gods, her neck is broken, her mate killed the woman who has starred in every one of her nightmares for the last year, the ones that didn’t end when she woke up, when the pain from the bone deep injuries pulled her out of brief unconsciousness, her magic unable to heal so many extensive injuries, and not in an iron box, iron shavings sprinkled onto her tattered skin after her session every day before she could be returned to the coffin, Maeve is DEAD she’s finally gone, and aelin lets out the smallest sound of relief, and then rowan is next to her, snatching her out of his brothers’ arms quickly, but so carefully, tears building up in his eyes at the sight of her in so much pain, shaking with rage at quite how much blood and muscle is visible, and her mouth starts to move, and she wants to apologize for not telling him about the mating bond and for sacrificing herself and not telling him, but he can see it in her face and cocks his head in the way she knows means don’t you dare apologize, Fireheart and gods she has missed this effortless communication, and Rowan, everything about Rowan, her husband and consort and mate, and they’re both grasping each other tightly to assure that they’re real, because Rowan has seen his mate’s face day in and day out in battle strategy discussions next to Aedion and in the nightmares that never seem to end, and Aelin never thought this suffering would end but he’s here, he came for her even though they both knew he shouldn’t have, and she can’t stop looking at him, at that face she loves, and then he turns to face her directly and for a moment she thinks she’s seeing double–but no, there’s that scar above his left eyebrow, so the only thing that makes sense is– “You got a new tattoo.” her voice is quiet and hoarse, but still so unequivocally Aelin, and he wants to both laugh and sob into her because of course, of course that’s the first thing she notices, the first thing she says to him, the first thing his mate says to him after being apart for a year, so he nods and clears his throat, “I–our story needed to be represented there too. I mentioned the idea to Fenrys the morning you–the morning after our ceremony. And then you were gone, and…” his throat felt swollen shut, but he continued speaking. “and then it seemed only right that you had a place next to Lyria’s, even though I hadn’t learned my lesson and…” he trails off, but she can read the “failed you, failed you both but here again Maeve went right by me and I failed you” “Buzzard,” she says, and she could tell him all the same with her eyes and her face but after so long of nothing escaping her mouth but screams, it feels so good to talk, “I can’t have you taking credit for my abduction when we both know I’m simply too clever of a mastermind for you to have realized what was happening. And you’re here now, and that…I could never have asked it of anyone. You came.” “Of course I came,” he can’t stop looking at her, hands still wrapped gingerly around her emaciated frame, and if he hadn’t already rutting killed Maeve and Carn he would lose it right now at feeling her ribs poking at skin where there used to be layers of muscle. “I’m not just anyone.” his voice cracks, and he so so hates displays of emotion and mushiness but he needs her to hear it, to know. “I love you, Fireheart. You’re going to have to get used to the idea that I’m never going to let you go if we’re going to be mated for the rest of both of our fae lifespans.” and she’s laughing and crying, because of course she is, and this arrogant, territorial male is hers for all of that time, and she wants to ask after Aedion and Lysandra and Elide and Dorian and Chaol and Nesryn and the thirteen, but she knows he wouldn’t leave them defenseless for anything, and her mate is here and he knows he’s her mate and gods is she so glad to have the ridiculous buzzard in her life. He gets her out of the dungeon, out of the palace and she can feel him tense when they get into the sunlight and the iron in her wounds is visible, and he starts to growl but restrains himself when the sound makes her cower the tiniest bit, and he presses his lips to her temple but she can feel the wind delicately removing the tiny metal bits from her back, and her magic slowly, slowly starts to knit the skin back together, cell by cell, and then she’s in a featherbed sleeping finally because she knows there’s no way in hell he will take his eyes off of her for the next century, and a few hours later she opens her eyes because something thumps onto the deck of the ship, and she startles and clenches her fists because they must have found her, but then her door is thrown open and Lysandra is there, running to her with tremendous sobs, and she can smell the cadre in the hallway, and Chaol runs in too, but they’re both thrown out of the way by a volatile Aedion, and she knows something must be wrong because Dorian and Manon and Elide aren’t there, oh gods not Dorian, and she knows well enough that war comes with sacrifices, but it was supposed to be her, not her book loving best friend, and of her a moment they’re all crying together before Lysandra pulls a sealed envelope from her pocket, addressed to her in that regal script, and she bursts out laughing because of course he left her a note, of course he’s going to tell her he chose this, it’s so very Dorian, and she spends days like this, crying and laughing and healing and trying not to flinch at every noise and voice, wrapped in Rowan’s arms and catching up on hundreds of hours of sleep deprivation, until one morning he’s shaking her and she groans in opposition, but he pulls her to her feet and helps her to the deck, and her breath catches because she can smell it already–pine and snow and love and happiness and oh gods, they’re finally– “Home,” Rowan breathes in her ear. “We’re home, Fireheart.”