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the Twilight Couple

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It came three months ago. A letter came to his father the King of Delphi asking for one of his children’s hand in marriage to the prince of Erebus. The letter from King Hades specified a few key requirements. The marriage partner had to be male, and he had to have no children yet, no previous marriages or serious romantic engagements, and willing to be married into the Erebus kingdom. The requirements served to cut down the prospects of marriageable children his father had sired and Will was chosen.

Will stared at his royal attire for the engagement party. It was night and the party was starting but Will did not want to dress in such stifling attire. He didn’t want to meet the prince of the dark kingdom. All the gossips he and his siblings heard of the prince didn’t leave much for hoping of a good marriage. It was as though all the sunshine from his life would be sucked in by the prince everyone called the Dark Angel.

“Your Highness, it’s time.” His retainer Travis Stoll, an illegitimate son of his uncle, waved Will’s valet over with the royal garb in hand. Will would have shot Travis a smothering look for speaking to him so, but Travis was just doing his job. On a normal basis Travis was actually a very fun loving guy. There have been numerous times when Travis had snuck out of the palace with him before and ran down the hills laughing alongside Travis’ younger brother.

Will got dressed with the help of his valet, hating every moment of the stifling clothing. He walked down the hall with Travis at his side, wishing he didn’t have to meet his betrothed for the first time at their engagement party and especially in this ridiculous golden garb. Will took in a deep breath and then hardened himself for the bombardments of empty words and fake smiles.

Once he was announced into the ballroom Will was immediately approached by dozens of nobles congratulating him. Will was not first in line, he was closer to the thirteenth or the twentieth. Just as Uncle Hermes has many children outside of his marriage so did Will’s father. King Apollo was generous with his affections but strictly so. If his children didn’t have any value his father almost never remembered they were around. Being showered with gifts such as the expensive custom golden garb Will now wore was very uncommon without meeting some high standard of King Apollo of Delphi.

Will was not a good fighter like his brothers. He was not musical or artistic like his sisters. He didn’t have the perfect aim that his father was known for in archery either. His swordsmanship was average at best. Will was utterly disappointing to his father, and his only redeeming quality had been that Will was of age to be married off to Prince Nico, the Dark Angel.

“William,” a familiar voice reached out to him. Will turned around and smiled fully for the first time at his older brother Asclepius.

“Brother.” Will had always thought he would walk in his brother’s footsteps. When Asclepius’ mother was still pregnant with him she had fallen in love with a different man from their father the king. She had wanted to elope with him but Apollo struck them down in anger. It was then their father did something no one had ever thought of doing to a pregnant woman. Apollo cut the infant Asclepius from his dying mother’s womb and his older brother was born.

Asclepius was not raised by either of his parents. His mother had died and Asclepius would have followed. As a king their father did not have the time to meet all his children. Instead, Will’s father often sent out delegates and heard about his children from teachers and the men he hired. Asclepius was fostered to a trusted ally and then he became one of the most reputed man of medicine known throughout the kingdoms.

When Will first met his older brother Asclepius he had hoped to be able to travel the world with him in the future. Ten years later just before Will could finally leave the palace he was elected to be married off.

“Have you met him yet?” Asclepius asked curiously. Will was about to respond when he followed Asclepius’ gaze to the corner of the ballroom.

Standing alone and out of anyone’s notice despite the crowd stood a young man. He still carried a hint of youth around him. Perhaps it was his eyes. Coal black eyes, wavy black hair, and dressed in completely black formal. He had a black fur cape on and he was staring outside into the night as though there was nothing else more interesting in the ballroom of nearly two hundred occupants.

“That’s him,” Asclepius nodded to the dark haired mystery who Will stared at. “Prince Nico the Dark Angel. They call him the King of Ghosts.”

“King of what?” Will turned to his brother.

“Ghosts.”

“Why?”

“You’ll learn about it eventually. It’s not important now.” Asclepius had this strange smile on his face. For a man nearly forty years old Asclepius sure hadn’t forgotten how to act coy.

“Do you know him?” Will turned back to stare at his betrothed once more. He quickly turned his gaze away, his face burning at being caught in the act. Prince Nico was looking his way. Those dark eyes staring right at him from across the room and crowd of people.

“Blushing because of your handsome fiancé?” Asclepius leaned into his ear and chuckled knowingly. His brother was mistaken. Will was not blushing. He was just embarrassed for being caught staring. It had nothing to do with thinking of his future husband.

When Will said nothing his brother decided to answer his question. “I have met him here and there. He is the only surviving child of King Hades, and he’s been said to be a very ruthless individual.”

“Next you’re going to tell me he killed his siblings for the throne,” Travis rolled his eyes with a sigh. Travis loved hearing gossip as much as the next maid did, but he was often very skeptical about the absolute truth in them.

“Of course not.” Asclepius stared at Travis appalled. “Prince Nico fetched me himself a few times. His life was not an easy one.” Again Will didn’t say anything. He turned back to look at Prince Nico and fortunately the man was back to staring outside the floor-to-ceiling windows out into the veranda and garden beyond.

“Fetched you from gods know where?” It was easy to be appalled and to disbelief such an idea. That young man searched high and low for Will’s brother Asclepius when even their own people took weeks just to inform Asclepius of Will’s engagement. Sometimes it took months just to locate Asclepius from some beast infested mountain, or in some fog-covered marsh, investigating new plants and herb properties for medicine. “He can’t be more than eighteen there’s no way he could have gone to fetch you from anywhere himself.” Travis was quick to deny the possibility but Will and he both knew the truth.

Silence laid between them for a moment. If Travis and his younger brother Connor were able and allowed to go off on their own when they were twelve years old, then even a small twelve-year-old Nico could have fetch Asclepius. It was just hard to believe someone so slight and so young as the prince known as the Dark Angel could travel across lands and sea to fetch Asclepius.

“He did.” Asclepius left the topic at that.

After catching up on what his brother had been up to since they last saw one another a month ago, they both went their separate way. Will wasn’t sure whether he was meant to approach the prince or not but he certainly wouldn’t move close to Prince Nico unless he was ordered to do so.

Instead, Will danced with countless women and with some men but not once did his betrothed approach him. The man stood in the shadows, or would lean by a pillar or stand aloofly in a clutter of people speaking to him. Prince Nico would always stare at him from afar but never approached.

Once most of the guests have finally left Will collapsed into a chair and laid his head into his hands on the table. “I could do with three days of sleep.”

“Considering you’ve been awake for nearly three days getting that impeccably shiny gold uniform made.” Travis pulled the chair next to his out and sat down. Will groaned loudly as he sat up and winced the moment he saw another of his older brothers walking towards him. This one was just a couple years older and unmarried, but because he has had previous children before he was ineligible for marriage to the Prince. No one more than Keith had wanted to marry Nico of Erebus.

“I heard your brother Lee was found in the woods after he left for his hunt this morning,” Travis whispered to him. “Dead,” came the whisper in his ear as Travis stood up in the presence of his brother.

Keith made it to where Will sat. Standing, Will shook hands with his brother in greeting.

“So I noticed you haven’t greeted your fiancé yet,” Keith said to him, but it sounded closer to a sneer. Will looked away. Keith had always been talented but he had twice the level of arrogance their father usually displayed.

“No, it’s been a busy night.” Will forced a smile. Travis hovrtrf closer to him, their shoulders bumped. Will almost wanted to kick Travis in the back of the knee. He was making it too obvious what he thought of Keith’s presence there.

“Excuse me,” a quiet voice came from behind him.

Will steeled his heart at the unrecognized voice and turned around. There stood Prince Nico, the Dark Angel of the Kingdom of Erebus. He wasn’t exceptionally tall, and he was younger in appearance than Will had first thought having seen him from afar. Will stared as Prince Nico walked up to them. His skin was like a woman’s, porcelain in color and seemingly soft like a child’s.

“Nico di Angelo.” The Prince first shook hands with Keith who introduced himself, then Travis, and finally his gaze turned to Will’s. When Will took his hand Prince Nico bent down and kissed his knuckles. Soft lips.

Seeing Prince Nico’s face close to Will’s own skin made him uncomfortable. Will’s hand was tanned showing how long in the sun he spent while the Prince’s skin obviously proved his affinity to be in the shadows. They couldn’t be any more different from each other.

“Apologies,” the dark prince said as he straightened up. He didn’t smile, joy didn’t even reflect in his eyes. It was obvious that although he needed a consort he did not seem to be interested at all in who. “I could not find the right moment to introduce myself.”

Will merely nodded. He turned to Travis to help him. What was he supposed to say to his fiancé? Were there appropriate conversation topics? Were there etiquettes? Travis shrugged back with a smug smile.

“Music is still playing,” Travis pointed out absentmindedly. “Perhaps I shall ask Sir Kahale for a dance. Man never seems keen to dancing at these functions.” Travis patted Will on the back, inching him towards the Prince of Erebus, before walking away and towards where General Michael Kahale of the Roman Empire stood.

Will watched Travis approach Sir Kahale among his friends and confidently bow and ask the man for a dance. Will felt a groan coming on. Dear gods he was going to have to answer to this wasn’t he? Travis wasn’t at the right station to be approaching Sir Kahale on his own or for that matter asking the man to dance, even if he was the illegitimate son of a duke.

Michael Kahale took Travis’ hand in his and led them onto the quiet ballroom floor. Travis turned to Will and winked at him as the Roman General swung Travis into his arm. Will breathed out a sigh of relief.

“Come.” Without so much more than the simple command, Prince Nico put a hand at the small of Will’s back and led him to the ballroom floor.

“But-”

“Dance.”

“But we-”

“Have not danced yet.” Nico, though a head shorter than him, glanced up at him as if telling Will not to say any more. Will begrudgingly quieted and allowed the young prince to lead them into the Waltz.

As they danced Will did everything he could not to stare at Nico. The best thing he could do to keep from gazing down at the prince was to watch Travis and the general’s dance. He kept his eyes specifically on Travis. Normally when he was on duty Travis was well behaved. Not always when they were alone, of course. It wasn’t often Travis relaxed in front of others. He was smiling and laughing as he spoke to the usually stern faced General.

“Our wedding,” Nico spoke quietly against Will’s neck.

“Hm?”

Will couldn’t find his voice. He felt his shoulders stiffen as Nico leaned closer towards him. Suddenly Will was acutely aware of Nico’s fingers on the small of his back, his hand cradling Will’s own, the way Nico moved in a flow just a little off from the formal stiffness of a Waltz, and how Nico seemed to dominate the area around them simply by the way he carried himself.

“There is something I must do before our wedding,” Prince Nico said. Will wanted to ask why or for what but didn’t. The prince was quiet again. Moments past and then the Prince spoke again. “It may take a year.”

“A year?”

Will must have sounded shock because Nico’s hands tightened just a bit around him and then relaxed again. Although his facial expression didn’t tense his body still reacted. Looking closely at his fiancé, Will saw Nico’s tightened lips and the slightest look of frustration on his face.

“Is it too long?”

Will considered it. He wouldn’t have to get married soon. That would mean he didn’t have any more royal duties to rush into. He shook his head.

“Good.”

“A year…”

“Yes.” Nico pulled Will just a little closer even though there were barely a dozen couples on the floor. They continued to dance until the song was over and then Nico lead Will off the floor towards the veranda outside.

“Um, I don’t think we should-” Will turned to head back to the table he previously sat down at. Although Will was of age and they were engaged Prince Nico was still just newly eighteen years old.

“Come.” Nico moved his arm from the small of Will’s back to his elbow and pulled him into the veranda. He felt the chill immediately and braced himself for the cold. His clothes weren’t exactly made to hold in the heat despite how thick and stifling the golden garbs were. “Look, your retainer can see us through the window.” Nico nodded toward Travis where he stood just a couple steps away from the veranda entrance.

Once they stood in the middle of the veranda away from the glass door Nico turned them to face one another. Will felt the way Nico held them apart but close. His hand was still on Will’s elbow. Nico stared up into Will’s eyes and his dark gaze went from hard and cold to that slightly frustrated look.

Nico picked up Will’s left hand and then something warm slipped onto his ring finger. Will looked down to find a simple band around his finger. The gold band had an intricate engraving design of what seemed like a sunset. Will held his hand closer and stared at the design. A sun setting in the middle and spreading elaborate clouds and skies around as the rest of the band.

“Someone I know made it,” Nico said. Will broke out of his trance and looked at the Prince. “I will come back for you.” His eyes stared unwaveringly into Will’s eyes and he found his breath hitching.

“It’s a promise then.”

Will hadn’t meant for it to mean anything more than mere words. Nico’s unwavering eyes didn’t move and he nodded. “A promise.” Then Will felt this bright light spread in the core of him. It was like this hope igniting across his entire body that warmed him in the cold. He shivered from the feelings threatening to overflow in him.

Something warm wrapped around him. It felt heavy around his shoulders and came with a ticklish feel. Will looked around his shoulders to see Prince Nico’s black fur cape set around him. The ruthless Dark Angel of Erebus was very gentlemanly clasping his cape around Will’s shoulders.

“You are cold.”

Will grabbed Prince Nico’s hands to stop him but felt the chill of his fingers. Although he was still warm if they stood outside any longer one of them might catch a cold.

“It’s fall. Summer just past, it might rain.” Will didn’t travel much, he wasn’t sure how the weather was like for Erebus but in their country the transition between summer and fall often was accompanied with rain. This kind of fur cape was meant for winter, he could tell from how heavy and warm it was. “Let’s go inside.” He moved to lead them both back in but the prince shook his head.

“We need to talk,” Prince Nico said as he stepped away from Will.

“About?”

Staring up into the night sky Prince Nico had this contemplating look. Then he turned to face Will and said, “I will be gone and you will be here.” He had a harsh gaze and it confused Will. The tone of his voice sounded quiet and lost but his gaze said he was angry.

“A year.”

Prince Nico didn’t say anything for a moment. “Perhaps longer, but I aim to be back by a year.” And it was like the prince lost his voice when he said those words. Will couldn’t make out of Prince Nico was sad or if he was bothered or if he was glad for the length of time.

“Longer?”

Will couldn’t hope for more. He could avoid all those royal expectations.

“I won’t be around so we won’t have time to be together,” Nico added. He looked away again and stared off into the garden. Will followed his gaze so he would have something else to look at but Nico’s dark and lonesome form. “I am the last heir of Erebus, Prince William. I am not short on enemies. You will be targeted.”

Anxiety bubbled at the bottom of his stomach. Will wasn’t a good fighter. He was proficient with a sword, but not excellent. In a real pinch Will could likely protect himself, but he couldn’t imagine exactly being alert for 24/7 for an entire year. Was this the reason he had been picked to be the betrothed of the Dark Angel? His death would at least be meaningless as he held no real value.

“Travis Stoll is a good fighter, but you may need another,” Nico said. He walked back to Will and this time his cold hand touched his face. “You must stay safe until I return.” Will found himself only able to nod. Nico stood on his tiptoes and kissed Will.

Without realizing Will stepped into the kiss and wrapped his arms around Nico’s waist. His eyes slowly closed as he pulled Nico’s smaller frame towards him.

The kiss was gentle and inviting. It was also warm despite how chilled Nico felt. Will let himself fall into the kiss. It was like a warm light enveloped him and a great heat burned deep inside. And then Nico pulled away. Will immediately hugged him closely, sharing warmth with Nico.

“I have to leave soon. This will be our last meeting until my return,” Nico whispered into his ear. They stepped away from one another.

Will started to unclasp Nico’s cape but the Prince stopped him and told him to keep it as a gift. Will bit his lip.

“What is it?” Nico asked, stepping just a little closer again.

“I don’t have anything to give you.” Will was still the man’s fiancé. On the night of his departure there must be something he could give the Prince. The fact that he didn’t even prepare an engagement gift was appalling.

“A kiss was good enough.”

The Prince said it so easily and so simply that Will stared at him with shock. Seriously? Just like that. No hint of underlining meaning. No look of decadence or wanton meaning. Will felt his face flushed. This young man was serious. He genuinely took a kiss as worth a ring and a fur cape.

“It is time.”

The Prince turned to leave. Then it dawned on Will there was something he could give the Prince.

“Prince Nico.” Prince Nico stopped before the door back into the ballroom and Will quickly stepped towards him. He pulled the pendant from his pocket. “It isn’t much.” Will took Nico’s hand and placed the item into his palm. “You gave me a promise with a ring. I will exchange it for this.”

When the Prince looked into what Will placed into his hand he said, “This is important to you.” The Prince stared once more at the arrowhead pendent tied to a string.

“So bring it back.”

“Okay.”

And that was the last time Will saw Prince Nico of Erebus, the Dark Angel for near four years.

Chapter Text

It was long past a year. Nico counted the days he’d been thrown into the dark pit prison along with the days since he left Delphi. He left from the golden palace of Delphi and traveled for two weeks on horseback into what many called the forbidden lands. The forbidden lands was in actuality the lands bordering between Erebus and the ruined lands once ruled by Kronos. The ruined lands were known as Elysium, and they were essentially a part of King Hades’ domain but there were many who still believed Kronos’ rule should have continued.

Another two weeks after entering the forbidden lands Nico had searched high and low to find the source of the rumor Nico was following. After six months since he left Nico was captured and thrown into the pit prison. It was the exact pit prison King Kronos had thrown his children into. It spread out like a maze underneath the ground, carrying its own cells and beds, even personal items. His father Hades had grown up in one of these cages himself. Kronos himself had also been thrown and imprisoned here before he was pardoned and brought back up before his death.

Ever since Nico left he’d counted the days, but here he was marking the days specifically in the pit. Although the pit prison was difficult to climb because of how far below the ground it was, Nico could still see the light streaming down it almost like the distant moon in the sky. He searched the maze of cells as best he could to find some other way out.

943 days since he left Delphi. 730 days since he’d been in the pit prison.

Nico groaned as he fell off the pit wall the eighth time that day. He also kept track of how many times he attempted scaling up the pit prison known as Tartarus. Sometimes he laid awake asking himself why he just didn’t starve himself to death, but his survival skills were too pressing. Fortunately there were little critters roaming around the maze. Sometimes when he has gone too far into the maze he would find a starving animal, previously thrown into the pit for sport to see what it would do. Surprisingly it survived as Nico had, and he would normally last three days if he felled the animal. He was lucky if he found a predator.

Lately Nico wasn’t quite so lucky. Every muscle in his body quivered against the idea of moving. He laid where he fell and took in deep breaths as if just breathing expended too much energy. He never wished there were insects crawling around than he did now.

“Plants give us life.” His father’s queen’s words haunted him in his half-sleep. Nico’s head ached. Of all the possibilities it had to be the queen who came to him when he was likely to die in starvation. “You may never understand this, as someone who is often so close to death but life is just as important.” Nico didn’t understand why he was remembering the words, but he opened his eyes and looked anyways. “It lets you know you’re alive.”

When he awoke it was night. His muscles still quivered but he forced himself up anyways. He traced his markings through the maze, carrying himself against the rock walls until he found the cell he used for sleep. Nico nearly made it into the cell when his knees buckled and he tripped himself onto all fours. Nico collapsed onto his shoulder and laid on his side staring at the cell entrance.

Is this where I die? Nico stared at a crack on the floor. He stared at it until his eyes blurred and Nico lost conscious again.

Warm fingers touched his cheeks. A kind kiss on his lips. The lips disappeared but the fingers became hands and arms encircling him into warmth. Nico remembered this memory. It was of Prince William—Will Solace. The veranda in the golden palace. A prince dressed in all gold like a statue.

Nico’s eyes cracked open slowly. It took several more tries before his eyes fully opened. His eyes adjusted to the dimness of the unlit caverns. Nico felt heavy. He couldn’t exert the energy to move. His stomach rolled.

“Plants give us life.”

Nico groaned as he tried to stand up again. His eyes moved to the crack on the floor again. He stood up and stumbled into the cell. Nico quickly look through the things he kept in the cell. There wasn’t much but Nico couldn’t concentrate. He kept brushing his hair out of his eyes but he wasn’t sure how long he actually knelt there looking.

Finally he found it, the little sack Queen Persephone had given him before he left for the Kingdom of Delphi. She had sneered at him that it just might save his life but Nico hadn’t understood the meaning until he looked into the sack now.

“Seeds…”

Nico found himself moving back towards the entrance of the pit again. He didn’t know much about plants or gardening, but he knew plants needed light and water. Water he could gather. He’d found a small pond of water, it was hard to get to but Nico could collect days of water from there.

He managed to catch three rats later on. While waiting for it to cook over his small fire, Nico started with the groundwork for planting a few of the seeds. He recalled the queen gardening quite a lot in the Erebus palace when she was back from her long stay with her mother. She often worked on the garden herself, kneeling down, digging and planting. Nico did his best to remember what to do. He didn’t have the best materials to work with. Caverns weren’t exactly the most suitable or possible planting area.

First soften the ground. Why did she dig if not to soften the ground? Nico dug up the ground in one corner of the pit entrance after testing the ground throughout the entrance. He laid down afterwards to catch his breath.

Surprisingly eating rat wasn’t so disgusting. Cockroaches were okay in slow intervals like eating nuts. Skinning the rat always disappointed him but reminded him how cold reality was. He stretched and dried the skinned rat fur and tied them together. Have fur to cut up also helped him to fashion rope when he ran out of scavenged rope. His makeshift ladder he tried to make only went so far as two stories before it started to break under him. Considering his options and the possibility that he was running out of rats, Nico needed other possibilities but he could barely think.

After eating he went to planting the seeds. The queen never planted her seeds closely to each other—not when she was planting edible vegetation. With knowledge of the plant or gardening he guessed the distance for the seeds. Once he got that done he watered the soften dirt. The corner he picked at the entrance of the pit had the softest ground. Hard and compact earth would make growing plants difficult even if he watered the ground every day.

And on it went for a month. At first Nico had no hopes. He thought the few seeds he chanced on growing had died. He kept the rest of the seeds where it was left packed with his things in the cell. Nico made the travel to and back from the pool of water deep in the caverns. He made sure the soil never had a chance to dry up in fear of it hardening and killing the seeds.

Not long after those weeks of hopelessness Nico started seeing changes. By the time a little more than a month had passed Nico could recognize the lush colors of the green leaves. He pulled out a radish, surprised it even grew at all in such ground. Perhaps it was magic. Queen Persephone was known for her plant magic. Nico had never been much for eating healthily but he had never been so happy to see a vegetable.

And so the cycle went on. Nico found himself able to last quite a while with a single radish garnished by the critters he caught. He planted the radishes and cared for them, slowly regaining his strength as he explored further into the caverns. He was also able to collect edible fungi—testing the edibility of any mushrooms he found by first observing the effects it had when he fed a captive rat.

At some point he wondered how he survived two years without vegetables in this damned pit prison. Nico decided not to think about it, he was just fortunate enough not to have other humans around. Gods only know if they got desperate enough the other person would try to eat him. Taste of human would not be something Nico wanted to know in his lifetime. He pitied the person who ever did.

Nico moved slowly through the cavern path, making sure to mark his way through. Fire was something Nico easily managed. For some reason there was plenty of dried wood broken and laid about everywhere. He wasn’t surprised considering this was the cavern maze that raised Nico’s father. All the minimal necessity was around except for food. Water, fire materials, sleeping and living quarters, even clothing.

Nico held his breath as he stood at the corner he had just turned. There in the distance was light. Natural light. Nico almost wanted to drop everything and just run towards it, but instead he found a crack in the wall to stick his torch in so he could find his way back to his turn in the corner. He made a mark in the wall just in case and walked briskly towards the stream of light he saw.

Once there Nico looked up at the light. Another pit entrance. As he had guessed there was another pit entrance. Nico guessed from the light that it was close to evening. He spent half a day walking through the cavern just to find this second entrance. It was then that Nico bothered to look at the walls. Just like him someone marked their days on the wall. They didn’t spend nearly as long as he did, fortunately. He could see scratch marks on the wall of someone trying to scale the walls countlessly. When Nico pressed his fingers against the marks he could see that the other person’s hands were smaller than his. He could also see that the scratches were older than his own. It was nearly faded.

When Nico looked closely to the bottom of the wall a few feet away he could see what trick the last person tried. Nico had tried fashioning a ladder with the spare wood he found but he could only go so far up. Unlike him this person started digging holes into the wall and sticking wood pieces into the holes to create steps. Nico smiled as he stared up.

The wood debris became smaller and harder to see the further up it went. He wondered if the person made it out. Nico decided it didn’t matter. The last person made it so much further up than he ever did.

He quickly tested the way up himself. Half way up the wall Nico could feel the desperation roll off him. The thinness of the wood proved how desperate the person who made the scale also felt then. He could see the person making holes into the wall and he could see the way they scaled up the rest of the wall by kicking their foot into the holes they had made.

Climbing all the way to the top Nico felt a surge of hope run through him. He could escape. Nico’s next obstacle was how to open the bars set over the pit hole. The sun had set but Nico’s eyes could still see in the dimness. He looked around and found that the lock closing the cage of the pit hole had already been busted opened. He would just have to lift the bars open.

Nico tried to climb back down in his quiet excitement. His foot slipped and he fell through the rest of the way. Nico tried to grab for the wall but he couldn’t grab onto any ledge or rock to stop. Of course Nico finally remembered his dagger and pulled it out from holster around the small of his back and stabbed the blade into the rock wall. His descent began to slow enough for Nico to reach over to grab hold of something.

Sighing he thanked the gods that the pit wasn’t complete rock. It was more of a grainy rock like substance which allowed easy marking and carving.

Things could be worse. Nico ignored the bleeding on his forearms, hands and especially the tips of his fingers and nails. Those things would heal eventually. He made his way back down again, this time much more slowly and carefully.

Nico rushed back to his cell. He ate his fill that night, slept, and ate again the next day. He didn’t leave that day as he urgently wanted. Nico decided that now he knew his way out he needed to regain his energy as best he could. So he spent the next week regaining any energy he could by hunting for critters and starving beasts left in the caverns. He ate the radishes and the other edible vegetation he found. Most of the herbs were bitter, and he found he could stomach mushrooms as long as he cooked them first.

Nico also drank as much water as he could. On the day he had planned to leave Nico washed up. Not that he cared who he saw but he found that if he made himself as clean and presentable as possible in this situation he felt more refreshed. He used his dagger to shave off the two years of stubble on his face. Not that he had much, but he would prefer to look as clean as he could. Nico didn’t bother with his mass or curls and waves. Instead he just washed it and smoothed it away from his face.

Nico put on his black travel clothes and cloak. He belted the sword holster and then attached his sword. Next his travel pack with the radishes and finally Nico touched the arrowhead underneath his clothes and the leather vest. He travelled through the night to the second entrance where he found his escape. He could just barely see the light from the mouth of the pit prison when he started climbing the wall.

It took longer and more effort than Nico expected. He was wearing more than he had before and carried a pack on his back. By the time day broke Nico carefully tried to climb the second half of the wall without the wooden steps in the wall. The last person had been much smaller in size than him and it was obvious at how difficult it was to stick the toe of his boot into the holes in the wall as steps.

Once he reached the top of the pit he could feel the warmth of the morning sun. Nico couldn’t toss open the cage above the mouth of the pit but he squirmed his way through by pushing it open. Inch by inch he dragged himself through. He threw his sack off from his back onto the ground before him and continued to drag himself forward. Half way through he heard someone gasp. He quickly pulled his dagger out and looked up towards the sound.

In front of him stood a little girl holding a basket of flowers. Nico sighed. She looked at him wide-eyed and scared, but Nico ignored her and went back to struggling through the cage pressing down on him. He swung his legs over and rolled onto the grass, lying there and staring at the blue sky above him.

He made it.

“1,019.”

“Who are you?” he heard a man shout at him.

Nico rolled onto his knee with his dagger in hand. His pack laid in front of him as he stared at the bulge of a man aiming an arrow at him. The bow itself seemed poorly made. He didn’t doubt by the confidence in the man’s gaze that his aim was true and that he could correct his aim based on the deformity of the bow.

Nico estimated he had enough energy to run but not enough to roll around or climb a tree or carry out a prolonged fight. Someone who used a bow and arrow was either using it to fight from a far distance for a prolonged battle or to end the battle quickly. Nico couldn’t bet on either. He didn’t have enough in him to fight against an execution.

“Where am I?” Nico asked instead. The man was speaking Roman, so that meant he was no longer close to the border of Elysium and Erebus, but closer to Elysium and the Roman Empire.

“The Borderlands.”

Not the Forbidden Lands.

“About 20 klicks west of the Roman Empire.”

Klicks. Military. Or former military.

Nico slowly stood up, he held out his hands to show his non-aggression and slowly put his dagger back into its sheath on his back.

“You climbed out of Tartarus.”

Nico stared at the man still aiming an arrow at him. “Yes.”

“You look healthy.”

Nico wasn’t sure how he looked.

“Why were you in the pit?” piped a little voice from behind the man.

Nico watched as the little girl from earlier appeared from behind the big man. She must have ran off to fetch him, which meant someone lived around here or a village was nearby.

“Kronos loyalists,” Nico answered.

“You mean they threw you in?” the girl asked him.

Nico considered how to answer. “Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m not a loyalist.”

“Why?”

Nico regretted speaking to the girl already. He did admire her courage. Most people would be frightened by a strange man crawling out of the ground.

“In the Borderlands you’re either a Kronos loyalist or you’re Liberator. Of course the former king was overthrown ages ago.” The man stared at Nico intensely. Nico picked up his sack and took the radish from the top of the closed sack and threw it towards the little girl. She caught it and her eyes widened again.

“You have food?” the man gasped. This time his bow and arrow went down immediately. “How did you get food inside Tartarus?” Nico shrugged as he walked to them.

“Feel like trading?” Nico asked the man.

“I’m not a trader, but I can introduce you.”

“Good enough.”

“This way.”

And that was how Nico spent 806 days—over two years in the pit prison known as Tartarus and escaped.

Chapter Text

It was well over two years and there was no word from Prince Nico or from Erebus. Will spent part of the first year getting Erebus culture crammed into his brain. He had tutors and lessons, even dance lessons. Erebus was ruled by King Hades and it bordered Elysium the former Titan Kingdom—or what was left of it, and the Roman Empire.

Will also had training in battle which he often got reprimanded over. He still wasn’t very good at archery although his aim was a little better. His swordsmanship didn’t improve either. After the first year came and went the lessons became staler and less immediate. Will found he was given more leeway as there were even fewer chances of the Erebus Prince coming for Will.

Will decided one night after two years past that he would do what he wanted. So he packed his precious items and snuck out of the palace. He made it two towns over by the time Travis finally caught up with him.

“I knew you would chase after me,” Will sighed. He was so frustrated with everything. He was tired of being called “Prince” or “Prince Consort” when he used to just be “Will Solace”.

Travis smiled at him. “I knew you would leave eventually, and I knew you would go this way.” Travis was dressed in his traveling clothes versus his retainer uniform or a knight’s armor.

“You won’t get to see Sir Kahale following me.”

“If it’s meant to be the man would wait,” Travis nonchalantly shrugged. Then he frowned and his face had that serious look on him that he rarely had. “Besides, he’s too chained down by his responsibilities. I don’t think he even sees me as consort material much less a romantic fling.” Travis’ frown carried a hint of sadness. Will chose not to say anything about it.

“Well, I guess we’re both running away then.”

“Are we?”

Will looked to Travis. He couldn’t answer that question but he didn’t dare ask what Travis meant either.

“It’ll take us about three days to get to the border,” Travis mentioned after a moment of silence.

“I know.”

“Maybe a day and a half if we don’t stop and we change our horses often. After that another two days to the palace.”

“I’m not headed to the palace.”

“I figured.”

Once they made it to the border Will and Travis went at a snail’s pace to explore the lands of Erebus. Will could read books and learn the languages and the culture but he would never really understand it. Instead he traveled through towns and villages, avoiding cities and places with government officials or too many soldiers. He went to festivals, he sang with Travis on the road for loose change, he learned about the things he had always wanted to learn.

A few months past and they finally made it back to the border of Erebus. This time it wasn’t the border between Delphi and Erebus but the border between Erebus and the Roman Empire. The town was one of the quietest Will ever walked into. He and Travis led their horses in on foot and looked around as the townspeople watched them warily.

A child ran into Will and gasped when they realized it was a stranger they’d accidentally stopped. The child quickly knelt down and apologized.

“Stop.” Will bent down and picked the child off her knees.

“I’m sorry mister. I’m sorry. Please don’t take me,” the girl bawled.

“Take you?”

“Mercy!” a woman screamed from their side. She raced to them with a bulging stomach and Travis quickly caught her as she tripped over herself in a hurry. “Please, mercy!” the woman cried.

“It’s okay!” Will shouted at the woman and from the panicking townspeople who started to rush their own sons and daughters into the houses. The men all stepped forward, hands clenched, but it was so obvious how beaten they were with the hate in their eyes.

“Please!” the woman clawed at Will’s arm. “Please spare her.”

The woman and the little girl cried over each other and Will felt himself panic. What was he supposed to do here?

“Travis?”

“Don’t look at me, I didn’t make the girl cry,” Travis shrugged at him. It was clear his friend had already given up. Will shot a glare at the supposed-knight who was clearly enjoying the dilemma, and turned back to the bawling females cowering on the ground.

“What is this racket?” a voice boomed.

Will looked towards the voice. A burly man who looked more like a bear than a man rode in on a horse. Following him was a smaller man who seemed more reptilian than human, this man donned plated armor and looked like his tongue would slither out any second. The fear instilled into the town was fairly obvious with the way the pregnant woman and the little girl huddled together and drew away on the ground they had collapsed on.

“You’s two lookin’ t’get put t’wo’k?” asked the snake-like man. Will was actually disappointed when the man didn’t slither his tongue out or emphasize the s-sounds.

“No!” both the girl and woman shouted desperately.

“Then you best tell me what all this racket is about,” the bear-man sneered at them, his huge ax now in hand.

“She’s pregnant, sir!” Will came to his senses and proclaimed loudly.

“I can see that, idiot!” the bear snapped at Will. “Exactly who are you?” The man didn’t hide the way he assessed the value of Will’s clothes, his horses, and luggage. Not that Will wore anything of quality as a prince might but his His gaze stayed a little longer on Travis, which wasn’t hard to guess why.

“Just a traveler. I’m studying medicine,” Will explained quickly. “I was asking the woman if there might be a place to stay for the night when her contractions came.” Will bent down on one knee and held his gaze with the whimpering woman. After having calmed down by the shock of Will’s outrageous lie the woman gave him a nervous nod. He squeezed her arm and she cried out from the pain, using it as an anchor to cry just as loudly as she did earlier. The little girl didn’t seem to understand but began to cry simply because it seemed as though Will was hurting the woman.

“Well then, finish the damn business,” the bear scoffed. “Then get out of town.” The two men turned their horses and rode off.

“They’re gone,” Travis told Will. The woman stopped her fake pains and heavy breathing, Will let go and stood up. He dust the dirt off his pants and helped the pregnant woman up to her feet.

Now that Will was actually looking at her he realized she was close to being due. She was small, no taller than his chin if just a few steps taller. He wouldn’t be surprised if she did give birth sometime soon.

“Sorry for scaring you,” Will apologized.

“No, I’m sorry sir. We had thought…” the woman drew the girl close to her. “Well, strangers around town these days aren’t usually so…” Words seemed to die as the woman tried to explain.

“Slave trade,” Travis succinctly elaborated for Will’s benefit. “Prostitution.”

“But aren’t you Erebian?” Will asked. Even if this was a border town there had to be patrols or soldiers. “Where are the soldiers?”

“Dead.”

“And no one has sent word to the capital?” Travis asked.

“Let’s go inside.” The woman grabbed hold of Will’s arm. He walked her towards her house and helped her inside.

Once they were seated at the table and the woman had given them each a bowl of soup she introduced herself. “I am Rosa. This is my daughter Daisy.” The little girl who bumped into Will earlier blushed and nodded her head at them in greeting. She focused on her soup.

“So the capital?” Will prompted Rosa.

She shook her head. “The King is in dark and desperate times. He cannot afford to care for us.” She said it so matter-of-factly it was hard to ask if he heard correctly. A king was meant to be strong and to lead his people. When she saw the confused look on Will’s face her mouth gaped and closed a few times. She gasped in shock, “You mean you do not know?”

“Know what?”

“Where have you been for the last year?”

Will had been in Delphi until a little over a month ago. He wouldn’t know what news he should have heard.

“The Prince is missing,” she whispered.

“You mean the Dark Angel?” Travis asked because Will found that he had suddenly lost his voice.

“Yes.”

“Did he runaway?”

“No of course not,” Rose looked appalled as she denied the suggestion. “Prince Nico would never do such a thing.”

“Why do you say that?” Travis asked curiously. This time he smiled in that way he often did when he was trying to flirt information out of someone. “I heard the Dark Angel was forced into an arranged marriage.”

“He’s not married yet,” Rosa promptly declared. Will decided to keep shut and listen to the exchange. He really didn’t know what to say. He needed to process the information.

Nico was missing.

“I don’t care how beautiful his partner is, if he can’t do the same work that the Prince has done for years he is not worth him.” Will heard the words and he would have made a pitiful laugh if he still wasn’t processing that Nico was missing.

“You don’t agree with the arrangement?”

“Some spoiled little brat from the Kingdom of Delphi? They’re all just pompous, arrogant brats with their nose in the air,” Rose quickly condemned half of Will’s siblings. He would have laughed then too but he was still processing the knowledge that Nico was missing.

“I see.”

“Is his partner older than him?”

“He is.”

Rose then added, “And he’s no good at anything?”

“Well…”

“And he’s as ugly outside as he is inside.”

“I wouldn’t-”

“He didn’t even talk to Prince Nico until the end of the ball!” Rosa exclaimed in her loud whispering voice.

Travis broke into stifling chuckles. “I can’t deny that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing at all.”

“You’ve met the prince’s fiancé?” Rosa asked.

“You could say.”

“And?”

“Well, from his father’s standards I guess you could say that the prince-” Travis was interrupted suddenly.

“Prince William, right?”

“Prince William,” Travis amended, “is not as proficient as his Majesty would prefer.”

“I knew it! He’s no good.”

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say that.”

“But you just said-” Rosa started.

“I said his skills weren’t to his Majesty’s preference, but it is also well known that King Apollo does have high standards that borderlines perfection.” Travis was quiet for a moment. Will still hadn’t moved. Internally, he was panicking on his own. There were so many questions he had about Prince Nico’s disappearance. “If need be I think Prince William could hold his own in a fight. Perhaps not as masterfully, but well enough.”

“Oh.”

“Is he as ugly as they say?” little Daisy chirped.

“Now that I can’t really answer,” Travis chuckled in that flirting tone. “Beauty is dependent on the person, yes? He’s not so bad you’ll run away from him, I don’t think. Although you might cry as you did earlier.” Will heard Daisy squeal in girlish laughter at the little joke as Travis laughed and tickled her from across the table.

“Now,” Travis sighed to their hostesses. “Tell me about the lost prince.”

“He’s been gone since he sent word he would be leaving for the forbidden lands after he met his betrothed,” Rosa explained. She went on to explain how the entire kingdom waited a year with no news from him. After that the king fell into despair. He sent out half his troops to search for the prince, even going so far as to post a reward for whoever brings home his heir. Since then very few soldiers have patrolled the border towns and so the towns and villages were often ravaged by thieves and bandits such as the two earlier. Those between the borders of the forbidden lands and Erebus were the ones who felt the brunt worse.

“It’s especially bad in towns and villages like ours,” Rosa said with a quiver in her voice.

“What do you mean?”

“We’re close to the borders.”

“But you’re between Erebus and Rome.”

Rosa shook her head. “We’re between Erebus, Rome and the forbidden lands, mister.” Her wary eyes turned tired and forlorn, and suddenly as Will peeked up he could see the dark suffocating the people. “In the forbidden lands even though the former king is dead they still believe that King Kronos should have ruled. They don’t want to be subjugated by King Hades. Evil sees no laws there.”

“And if you don’t support their cause…” Travis made a sound of understanding. Will understood too.

“Yes, it means you are their enemy.”

“And Prince Nico went into the forbidden lands?” Travis asked. When Will finally looked up and turned to her, Rosa nodded. The look in her eyes were one of worry and fear. “He has always been caring and kind. He patrolled the borders often and spent days here helping the town. He wasn’t here just for appearances or out of duty.” Then in her eyes lit a tiny spark of love. Nico was in their hearts, Will realized. That was why no one complained that no soldiers were around to save them. They thought Nico was worth saving.

“He was a good prince then?”

“Yes. We pray he will return to us alive and safe.”

“He’s been missing so long, and he went on his own?” Travis asked another question Will hadn’t even thought of.

“It is his way.”

“But that’s so dangerous!” Will snapped then. Everyone at the table stared at him for shouting. He couldn’t help it. “Alone? He’s always going out on his own? Who does he think he is? He’s a prince! The only surviving heir. He shouldn’t have been allowed into Elysium to begin with!” Will angrily snapped. His brain was suddenly racing a mile a second but Will couldn’t retain any of his thoughts. Nico was alone and in danger, with enemies he’d warned Will about.

“He never expected to be crowned, so he has always done things on his own,” Rosa explained softly and with a curious question in her eyes. Will averted his eyes, afraid he just might answer. “Even before becoming crown prince he has patrolled the border on his own.”

“I think that’s enough for today,” Travis said. He got up and began to usher Will off his seat as well. “Do you know if there is an inn opened in town?”

“You can stay here,” Rosa told them. “I only have one spare room upstairs but if you two don’t mind.” She started to get up off her chair.

“Rosa! Daisy!”

Suddenly the front door was slammed open. Will and Travis quickly pulled out their swords but then froze when they recognized that the man in the doorway was not a bandit attacking them.

“Leo!” Rosa chided the man in the doorway with a heavy sigh. Seeing the way she was now calm they both sheathed their swords.

“Rosa!” Leo rushed to her and held her tight. “I thought you were…” his words died as he looked down at the little pregnant woman.

For a moment Will held his breath. Desperateness. Fear. Tenderness. Relief. Warmth. He almost choked on a sob. Will might have been a prince but he has only once been felt the way Rosa must have felt being drawn into Leo’s intense feelings. One night over two years ago when he felt like anyone but himself, he had a dark angel give him a promise on a ring with a tender kiss.

Will blinked and the feelings threatening to overflow in him subsided. He pushed the emotions and the dream deep inside him.

“You are not the boss of me, Leo Trovato!” Rosa snapped at the man.

Leo Trovato winced. “I know I’m not a suitable husband.” He backed away a few steps but the young man seemed to have retreated completely. He did seem a few years younger than Rosa. “But I was still worried,” he said quietly. Rosa sighed at the sight of the retreated man.

“He is your protector, then?”

Rosa seemed shocked by Travis’ question. She considered it a moment and shook her head. It served only to dishearten Leo Trovato some more. The man’s face might have simply shown his displeasure but his eyes showed his hopelessness.

“Leo lives here,” Daisy explained chirpily. “He likes mama, but mama says he should marry someone he is suited for. Leo sleeps down here with mama.”

“Daisy,” Rosa shushed her daughter as her face turned crimson. “She means he sleeps in the small room next to the pantry.” She then pointed to the corner of the end of the kitchen was a little hallway. The room hidden in the hallway was the pantry, and the door visible to them in the tiny kitchen was Leo’s small bedroom. He apparently slept on a cot year round from little Daisy’s commentary. For a man Will could only imagine the discomfort in such small quarters, but Leo didn’t indicate any problems.

Rosa then pointed to the door next to the stairs by the kitchen and explained that it was her bedroom. Upstairs there were two bedrooms, and one of them was Daisy’s room. The spare bedroom upstairs was spacious enough for two men if neither of them minded sharing.

“We’ll take it,” Travis agreed without consulting Will. Will shot him a smothering look but his friend simply shrugged it off and asked Leo where he might keep their horses. Leo offered to help with their luggage as well.

Will said and did nothing as he watched his friend step out of the house. Travis Stoll had no obligations to follow or to protect a runaway prince who left his duties and his responsibilities behind. Will had to wonder if Travis was simply following him around the same way Leo could not help but love anyone but Rosa. Travis couldn’t go back—a knight lived on their vow to their lord.

Will quietly followed Daisy up the stairs as Travis and Leo started filing in with their luggage.

Once he and Travis were in their room Travis asked him why he was unusually scowling. Will thought it was unlike him to show his distaste, but perhaps traveling has done him some good. He was so used to always being on guard for propriety sake he might have forgotten what it was like to be himself a little. So he let himself continue to scowl as they set their packs down by the bed.

On their first night sleeping in an inn Travis had warned him never to leave his belongings far from himself. So it became a habit to have pack and sword by the bedside in arms reach. One never know when they might have to take up arms or make a quick getaway. Will had suspected Travis and his brother Connor learned this rule of thumb from having to make quick getaways. They were prone to taking things without asking, or borrowing with an intent to return much later in the future if they remembered. Even Travis’ favorite eating knife, a masterful engraving on its hilt and against the flat of the blade, was an item he’d taken without asking from a traveler in a pub.

Surprisingly in the months they have been traveling, Travis had only caused one commotion which was to accidentally win someone’s daughter in a card game. Apparently bound to marry the girl as he won her, Travis had decided instead to purchase his current cloak and bracers from the blacksmith by trading the girl. Will wondered distantly how the girl was doing married—or enslaved—to a blacksmith. Not something her father would have expected as he had been a rich arrogant man who made his fortune on cheating people out of good products.

Travis’ father made most of his fortune as a traveling merchant in his younger years. Now of course his empire was vastly growing. Travis’ father Hermes was a Duke of Olympus, and had illegitimate children scattered throughout the lands. Sometimes children born from single mothers claimed to be a child of Hermes, taking in the surname Rider. This was often how one identified Hermes’ illegitimate children, especially those outside the cities who have never met their father.

“Travis, you’ve met your father before right?”

“You know he has weekly dinners with his children,” Travis answered as he began to pull off his leather vest and the bracers from his arm by the desk in the opposite corner.

“I mean face-to-face. You’ve have a conversation with your father for more than five minutes in private, where you two are nothing more than just father and son,” Will elaborated. He wondered why he was so fixated on this exactly but somewhere deep down he knew why.

Travis paused from stripping off his vest. He seemed to think for a minute and then finished folding the vest neatly and putting it down on top of the desk. Will looked at Travis’ back. He’d forgotten how Travis have grown and changed. Not long ago they were both just ten years old sneaking out and rolling down the hills outside the city gates. As the years went by, as Will struggled to make himself noticeable to his father, he’d forgotten about his friends.

Connor was off traveling. Many of Hermes’ children were content to simply work in the family establishment, riding out the fortune of their father. Hermes didn’t have a complaint, if they claimed to be his children it would be easier to find employees without advertising. Connor was one of the few who went off on his own. Will couldn’t remember the last time he saw Connor, and even if he did he couldn’t remember if he could remember Connor as clearly as he was looking at Travis now.

Travis had such a broad back compared to when he was ten. It was almost like staring at a stranger. His shoulders were wide, he had a good set of muscles from his work as a knight and a retainer. His hair was cut short because of the military preference but it was growing out. Travis was a good fighter, he’s seen Travis in a few bar brawls as well. The man could drink a pub out of business if he wanted. Travis had always been with Will, but was Will ever there for Travis?

Will was aware that Travis had tried having a fling with General Michael Kahale, but was it really just a fling he’d wanted? Travis could probably explain everything Will felt about his family situation and his slowly burning hatred and rage towards Prince Nico di Angelo right now. Will didn’t recall ever having to actually tell Travis something unless absolutely necessary. Travis just seemed to sort it all out on his own. But Will couldn’t say the same about his friend. He’d never bothered to truly see Travis as his friend but more like someone obligated to be his friend.

“No.”

Blinking Will came back to the present. “How did you tell him you were going to be my retainer?” Will asked then. He was certain that despite being illegitimate, it still required a noble or highly reputed individual’s reference to get the job. Will was not in his father’s favor and would not have been able to plead for Travis’ employment.

“An illegitimate child being the bodyguard of another illegitimate child?” Travis scoffed and shook his head. His back was still to Will. “All they needed was for me to be a squire.”

“Seriously?”

“Did you think a twelve-year-old could be knighted that easily?” Travis asked him. He refused to turn around. “It was just as you expected. You’re a pawn in other people’s agendas, I simply was the first person with a drop of royal blood in me to volunteer.”

“How did you get knighted?”

“I saved your life, remember.”

And so it came to him. Why Connor left and Travis stayed. Connor didn’t want to be part of a system that sneered at the product of their own indulgences and irresponsibility. For the rich, contraception was easily accessible compared to the borderlands. Travis stayed because of Will, and Connor left because he couldn’t agree with that.

“The scar on your back is what gave you this job?” Will asked and a well of emotions flooded him. He was the reason behind those callused and sometimes bleeding hands? He was the reason Travis’ smile became wider but dimmer. Will allowed Travis to put himself in a position to be mistreated and berated by senior knights and officers.

Travis slowly turned around. He had on a smile that wasn’t a smile, and his eyes weren’t lit up with joviality but with this bittersweet glaze. “Friendship isn’t a job Will.”

He’d been lamenting an unfulfilled promise from a prince like a love-struck girl, when he should have upheld his own vow as a friend. Because it was true, he and Travis and Connor had been friends since they were children.

Will might have cried if Travis hadn’t suddenly thrown a towel at his face. “Now shut up and go take a bath. You stink.”

“Shut up, so do you.” Will hugged the towel to his face and braced the tears back. Travis Stoll, son of the Duke of Mount Cyllene, his cousin and probably only friend left in the world—and he could have lost it him because he was waiting for someone who might never return.

Chapter Text

“What was that thing you said?” Frank Zhang, the big man with the bow and arrow, asked Nico later that night. The village wasn’t as worse off as he expected. The houses weren’t burnt or broken, but the evidence of raids was evident. The villagers all kept to a distance and looked at him with wary eyes. Nico wasn’t dressed as richly as he should be considering he was a prince, but even his two-year-old garments were of better quality than what they all wore.

Nico knew the process would be slow. He was originally a prince in name only, he hadn’t been meant to take the throne. Slowly but surely that’s what it came down to. Nico was the last child of the King of Erebus.

“Where am I?” Nico asked.

“I told you, about 20 klicks-” Frank started to repeat.

“No. Where,” Nico repeated. “The name of this village. How close am I to No Man’s Land?” Nico asked. He watched Frank’s eyes widen and then turn into a suspicious gaze before looking away.

Where the three borders met was called No Man’s Land by many but it was known as the Styx for Erebians. When more than three borders met the area around it was called the Styx. No one could lay claim to the middle of the border intersection, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t protect their land as closely as they could. Crossing over the Styx safely was often known as near impossible—even dangerous. Any of the countries defending their borders would suspect another country sending a man out to cross the intersection and could be killed on spot. No Man’s Land because only the dead and their ghosts could cross.

“20 klicks east of this village is the border to the Roman Empire. They’ve started creating walls and travel stations, but the process is slow.” Frank seemed to have ignored the question. Nico wasn’t going to ask again. “About a week’s hard ride to reach No Man’s Land south of here. I’m not sure how long it’ll take you to cross the border to Erebus.” Nico stared down at the food quietly set in front of him by the lady of the house.

There were three children huddling in the corner by the fireplace, all staring at him curiously and warily. One of them was the little girl who had first found him in the forest. The woman was thinning, and she was visibly more frightened of Nico. She shook and backed away the moment he so much as moved his head. Nico was used to people being afraid of him. His reputation had gotten blacker and darker as the years went on.

The Dark Angel, he was called. Sometimes jokingly or lovingly by those who knew him well. Most times it came as a curse, or an insult or a fear-induced utter from others. The title King of Ghosts wasn’t any better. It wasn’t like he had wanted to inherit the title but it was a lot better than the dreadful bastard who had it before. That was one reign of terror Nico was glad to say he successfully ended. Even if it had been the loss of his sister that drove him to such a drastic and dangerous exploit. He also knew the rumors and gossip circulating about the deaths of his half-siblings. A few of his brothers he had been glad to be rid of permanently. They had not been fit to rule. His father did not judge someone until he had heard all the facts, but who would put their fair king to the test against his child? It was why Nico would not have stand for some of his brothers to have been crowned. It was why Nico didn’t mourn some of them, and why sometimes Nico found it hard to face his father.

That didn’t mean he had wanted or orchestrated their deaths.

Certainly Nico was used to being feared, but this fear in the village was not because they knew of him. It was fear because he was a stranger, and strangers in the borderlands have not been so peaceful before. It was hard to trust strangers when strangers have always been threatening.

“Have any officials come through here?” Nico asked. His voice came out like wood splintering. He hadn’t thought about it earlier when was the last time he actually spoke to another person before today? His own voice was foreign to him.

“Officials?”

“King’s men or soldiers, anyone?” Nico asked more directly.

“No. Not for a couple years now. They didn’t make much of a difference then either. They only protect the villagers for as long as they’re here and depending on if the villagers can provide them with food.” Frank looked angry at that knowledge. It was common knowledge that this was how it worked in the borderlands. What wasn’t was that the soldiers only stayed a few days.

Until he had become crowned prince Nico had been unable to enter the forbidden lands or to cross the border into Elysium. At least not without permission and escort. Nico had read the files and reports—whichever ones that made it to the capital anyway. Most of them often detailed staying for at least a month to fight off raiders before moving on to patrol another part of Elysium. By cycling through with different contingents of soldiers and captains there should only be minimal suffering or damages to crops, merchants and civilians.

Nico thought on this. Were the reports falsified? Were the captains simply sending out their men without actually watching over the responsibilities given to them? Where was the corruption? Once his father found out of the way things have been truly handled he would have them all pay for their crimes. Nico wouldn’t be surprised if it was a life sentence of imprisonment before execution, or simply mass execution. Anyone who had allowed the corruption to happen without reporting it would be stripped of their title, their family dishonored and then punishment handed out to them. Nico almost didn’t want to be there to see it. Almost.

If given the chance, Nico would give out the punishment. He liked the thought.

“Is the food not to your liking?” Frank asked curiously.

Nico shook out of his thoughts and turned to pick up the wooden spoon. It was rude not to eat when one imposed themselves in someone’s house.

Looking down Nico inspected the bowl in front of him. One could call it a bowl of soup, but it seemed to be mostly made of water with a few choice bits of vegetables and herbs floating about. Nico then set the wooden spoon down again, hearing movement from the common area where the children and lady of the house waited. They were afraid he might be dissatisfied. He felt their impatient fear grate against his skin.

“Why don’t we eat together?” Nico suggested. He poised the quiet question to Frank Zhang, as he didn’t want to directly ask the family and have them be afraid of answering him.

Frank turned to the family and there seemed to be a silent exchange until the family agreed. Frank moved to sit at the head of the table instead of across from Nico, allowing him to be adjacent to him. The mother sat down on the other end of the table, the two older children sitting down on the bench Frank vacated across from Nico. The youngest boy reluctantly came over next to Nico.

For a moment Nico puzzled over why the boy had a slab of stone in his hands weighing him down. Then he understood and picked the slab up from out of the young boy’s hands and set it down on the bench next to him. Then he held out his hand to the little boy and waited for him to let Nico pick him up and seat him on the slab.

Their mother began to set the table quickly, serving them all the water-thin soup and putting down two stale loaf of bread. Recalling a distant past, Nico instinctively knew this was the most lavish dinner these people have had in quite a long time. Probably just a little better than what he lived off in the pit. Fortunately Nico only had to feed himself, not a family. That was the biggest difference.

Before they started eating Nico stopped them. “Just a moment,” he told them. Fear flashed in their eyes again. Nico bowed his head and pressed his palm to the arrowhead underneath his clothing. He started out with giving thanks for the food, then he said a simple prayer and asked for the gods’ blessings. “Thank you,” Nico said again and this time he looked at the woman sitting at the other end of the table.

Dinner was quiet and awkward. Something Nico was used to. He was used to eating by himself or with people who had no idea what to say to him. As they ate he and Frank refrained from the bread and stuck to drinking their water and sipping on the soup. They were probably the two with the biggest appetite but they both knew they had imposed themselves onto this family.

When dawn came Nico was still awake. He couldn’t bring himself to sleep properly. Throughout the night he had drifted in and out of his sleep. Frank Zhang was up and down the creaking stairs by the time Nico finished washing up. The tall muscular man washed up quickly and took up his bow and arrows.

“I’ll accompany you.”

It didn’t need to be said where they were off.

Nico followed Frank Zhang into the same forest they came out of the night before. Nico had hidden his sack in the woods instead of carrying it inside the village. He needed time to figure out how exactly the people thought and bartered, as well as what trade was like in the Borderlands. The biggest question was whether there was trade or not in a town regularly raided.

“How good is your aim?” Frank asked Nico in a quiet whisper.

“Good enough,” Nico shrugged.

“Have you hunted before?”

Nico pulled out his dagger from his back. Frank stared at it curiously for a moment before turning back to wait for his prey.

“What’s a normal catch for you?”

“A couple rabbits. The village usually isn’t this desperate.”

In other words the raiding have gotten worse and more frequently. The village wasn’t ravished, but it was clear it has met with violence and terror. Food was necessary and it was something the village couldn’t afford. This was Nico’s duty. Even if they denied it, Nico was their prince and therefore they were under his protection.

“Plants give us life.” Queen Persephone’s words hovered over his ear again. Nico shook them away. The immediate concern was addressing the food stores, which meant meat. Crops were after.

Taking a deep breath Nico closed his eyes and pressed his hand to the ground. His skills at reading the land was not as proficient as his other siblings or as the children of Hermes, but they were good enough. There was a stream not too far from them. Maybe half an hour’s hike there. Times like these it was nice to see his cousin Percy, but Nico didn’t bother lingering on the thought.

“What is it? Raiders?” Frank whispered to him.

“No.” Opening his eyes Nico looked around. “We’ll hunt on the way there and back. Let’s head for the stream.”

“How do you know there’s a stream?” Frank asked him, following Nico as he started to make his way towards it. They went quietly and slowly in case they did meet any critters along the way.

“Something I picked up from an acquaintance,” Nico replied. They were just about to cross into a clearing when they heard a rustle in the grass ahead. He stopped immediately with Frank and bent down low into the shrubs.

Frank readied his arrow and aimed at something just out of Nico’s sight. The arrow flew across the clearing and the sound of a wounded animal followed. Frank cursed.

Reacting quickly, Nico threw his dagger across the clearing where Frank had aimed. There wasn’t a chance that could have made it but the reaction had been so natural. He heard a thump seconds later and both of them leapt out of the shrubs and raced across the clearing. They leapt over a couple bushes and found a stag with Nico’s dagger punctured in the back of its head. A lucky hit. Nico hadn’t expected he would hit a hidden target with a dagger and manage a one-hit kill.

“Amazing shot, Nico.”

Nico pulled out his dagger. He still had a mind to catch fish, but here they were with a stag to carry back. He recalled foxes and wolves being some of the critters starving in the pit prison. There might be some dens around, so it wasn’t safe to simply leave the carcass here for later.

“It’ll be fifteen minutes back on foot. Thirty if I’m dragging this thing,” Frank said. The decision was clear. Nico nodded and quickly helped Frank lay the stag onto the sheet of cloth they brought with them to carry their haul. The cloth was too small, but they were able to wrap it around the stag’s body, tie the stag’s legs together and allow Frank to drag the stag off at a slow but uninterrupted pace.

Nico went off towards the stream. Without worry of hunting Nico was able to make it to the stream a lot quicker than anticipated. He took off his boots and socks by the shore. The stream was knee deep so he had to roll up his trousers. Nico had a length of twine with him but it had been a long time since he last tried catching fish with his bare hands.

It took many tries until he was able to get back into the flow and correct momentum. Once Nico was able to slap the fish out of the water or grab it with his hand he started to aim more specifically for the larger ones in the stream.

Nico had caught enough that anymore would had made it difficult to carry the fish back without threading them with an extra length of twine. He counted about eighteen fish hanging off the twine and tied the end to the loop around the mouth of the first fish.

He sat down to put on his boots again when he noticed how quiet the forest was. Nico quickly laid flat on his stomach and pressed his ear to the ground. Closing his eyes to concentrate he reached out into the ground again. Riders on horseback. They were still far away, but Nico wasn’t sure he was going to make it to the village in time. One man on his feet could easily be outrun by rides on horses from kilometers away.

Without time to lose Nico threw the twine of fish around his shoulder like a sash and ran through the forest. In his rush he almost thought he got lost, but then the birds behind him in the trees flew out of their tree nest. The riders were closer. Nico came by the tree where he stashed his sack and quickly climbed it to one of the middle branches. He hung the fish over the branch hoping birds were inclined to thinking of it as food. Most birds in the forest didn’t eat fish anyways.

Nico quickly began to leap down the branches, suddenly thinking better of it when he saw another disturbance of birds flying out of trees. He was five minutes away from the village. Nico decided to jump between trees instead. It made for traveling the distance just a little faster. He didn’t know how but he had beaten the riders to the village. Once he got to the village grounds he was nearly out of breath and he realized Frank and the villagers had still been skinning the deer.

“Frank!” Nico snapped. The man was former military if not current, he should have been well aware of the threat. “Get everyone to safety now! If you can move that carcass than do it!”

“What’s going on?” Frank asked, immediately ordering the men and woman to start moving. Children ran for the forest hidey-holes, the woman abandoned their work for their babies. The men pulled the large sheet from under the deer carcass and carried it away into the forest as well.

Though done hastily Nico recognized that everyone had smoothly hidden themselves into the forest. They were used to the threat. Something inside Nico snapped.

Frank stopped him from walking towards the village entrance.

“Let’s go.”

“If you wish to hide be my guest.” Nico pulled his arm away from Frank’s insistent grasp. Frank stared at him in shock, the question reflecting in his round eyes. Did he really mean to face off raiders on his own? Yes. Was he crazy? Very likely. He had spent 1,019 days in a pit prison by himself with barely anything to survive on but rats and whatever godforsaken animal had the misfortune of being thrown into the pit. That included a tiger for some odd reason. If Nico had to guess the bored bastards probably thought it’ll be amusing to see what the beast would do, but probably lost interest when the tiger got lost in the maze of cells. Nico had been lucky to find the tiger before it found him, and very lucky that the tiger was mostly starved. Killing it nearly killed Nico at the time.

So crazy? Very likely so. Nico kept one of the canines from that tiger in his sack.

“You can’t fight raiders Nico!”

Being told he couldn’t only serve to further push Nico off an edge he was already clinging to.

Well it was true he might have to retreat, but Nico was going to see the faces of the men raiding this village.

That place in him that snapped earlier snapped again in disagreement. No retreating.

“Hide if you want to. Protect the villagers.”

“Nico!”

Nico didn’t respond. Moments later the village entrance was filled with six men on horseback. Nico stared at the men as they didn’t bother to hide their faces.

“We’ve got ourselves a half-starved would-be hero,” one of the men laughed. Two of them were bald, one of them had unruly long hair, and one of them was just too round for likeness. The other two had on bandanas and their faces seemed to make toads look handsome.

Nico kept his weapons sheathed. Although he wasn’t wearing his cloak he was well aware that it would be difficult to guess who he was from his crestless sword. He took his dagger out from the sheath strapped to his back.

His own hair was covered his face so it should have been hard to distinguish his face. He reckoned they were accessing the value of the things he wore. Because he looked small and half-starved they didn’t think he could do much more than stand there.

“I don’t recognize this fellow. Reckon he’s from out of town?” one of them asked with a strange accent. He sounded from overseas, so perhaps someone who was already an outlaw in his own country.

“Probably a homeless beggar. There are loads of those.”

Nico would have laughed at them. They shouldn’t devalue homeless people so easily. They were the best source of information and some of the best spies. Since so many people disregarded them they tend to forget homeless people were around to observe them or learn their secrets. Not many of them had a reason to lie either. Being threatened didn’t scare most homeless people, because they were already living with their life on the line and a jaded outlook of life.

“Food!” Nico decided to shout. He wasn’t one for cheap shots or such masked tactics but he had the advantage at the moment. He raced towards the raiders like a crazy man, shouting random words between the three languages he knew. The fools forgot their horses and were quickly thrown off their frightened horses. “Food!” Nico decided he should chase the horses around as though they were steak. It served to make the men take focus on him instead of the evidence of recently hidden villagers, the deer blood on the ground, or that his main objective was to run off the horses. If one of the villagers were smart they would try to catch the horses before it ran off too far from the village.

“Dammit you fucking crazy-” one of the bald bandits grabbed for Nico. He deftly escaped the grab by pretending to trip over his own feet. He did look like a crazy and unkempt half-starved man, but even the villagers had been smart enough to see the weapons he carried and that his clothes bore him a status higher than theirs. The raiders were so used to the authority afforded them from a frightened, helpless and unprotected village they were too arrogant to notice.

Nico danced around the men pretending to be a crazy maniac who tripped over himself, fell on the floor and rolled around in the dirt. It didn’t take long for the men to lose their temper and to brandish their swords.

He stopped his play and changed the grip of his dagger into a backhand hold. The first bald headed one charged and Nico dodged with an easy sidestep and a slice upwards. The man dropped his sword from the cut on his arm. The second baldy and the plump one tried to flank both sides of him. Nico laughed maniacally to add to their idea of him being crazy. Regrettably it might just add to the villagers’ too.

Nico waited for the last moment before he simply jumped backwards and out of their way. The two ended up knocking into each other instead of stabbing one another. At least they were quick thinkers there. The two seemed to have knocked themselves out with their failed pinched attack.

The first man got back up with his sword in hand.

Spontaneously, in the part of him that had snapped something bubbled inside him. Nico didn’t hesitate or bother to ask what or why.

“Raiders come and raiders go,” Nico started to singsong.

He dodged the first two swings and blocked the third one coming down over his head. He leaned towards the man and laughed manically again.

“A dark rider will drag you below.”

Nico grinned widely and hopefully in a way that scared the man facing him. It hurt his facial muscles to laugh and smile. He considered wearing a mask.

Grabbing the man’s arm with one hand, the sword dangerously almost overpowering his dagger, he kicked out at the man’s thigh. Unfortunately he hit a little too close to where the legs met.

The raider went down on his knees in agony. “A hand you’ll lose for the food you stole.” Nico looked him straight in the eyes, his unruly hair obviously adding to the fact that he just may be crazy. The man realized his fate and began to scream and plea. Nico’s dagger suddenly seemed sharper than before.

“It won’t be pretty when he takes his toll.” Nico hacked at the wrist, purposely making sure his back was to the woods where the children had ran off to so none of them would see the horror. His dagger was sharp but he wanted to deform the bastard as much as possible and to make it as painful as possible.

Nico felt the man struggle beneath him, but he sat on the man and his hand held down the man’s. He easily drowned out the noise from the man beneath him.

He was just about to hack it clean off, already having cut through bone and most of the flesh, when he heard a strangled battle cry. The long haired raider had finally decided to join the fight.

Nico let go of the bald man’s wrist, the hand dangling off it. Nico slashed at the man charging him. Then he changed his sword grip mid swing as he leapt backwards and out of sword reach. The man was exceptionally good at using a sword, but he didn’t seem to expect anything more than a volley of attacks. He always pressed forward and never retreated or tried to regroup. It was obvious that because of his considerable speed the man often won against his opponents with an overwhelming barrages of attacks, but lacked any skills or maneuvers.

“Raiders dance in the fire they play,” Nico absentmindedly sang as he retreated a few more steps and swayed left and right. His singing voice wasn’t exactly good, it sounded broken and often likened to horrifying pleas of burning wood in the fire. Nico was never quite sure what that meant, but his horrible voice and his play on mania seemed to scare the raiders.

Nico turned around to deflect his opponent from behind. One of the bandana men. He moved away from the two men and saw the non-verbal communication. Nico quickly ran to the side and raced towards one of the pots forgotten over the village fire pit. The two charged at him without thinking but the long haired one was the first to see Nico’s intent when he took the pot of water in hand.

The long haired raider lunged to the ground as Nico swung the hot water out towards them. He rolled, only catching some of the water on his clothes and this arm which covered his face. The other man wasn’t so lucky and was scorched from his chest and under arms when he raised them to cleave down at Nico.

“A dark rider to scare them away.” Nico laughed maniacally again. Perhaps he should just get someone else to play the maniac for him. His face was starting to hurt from the laughing and smiling. He leapt over the man scorched by water and sat on top of him. The man struggled but Nico pressed his hand down over his head and held the raider in place.

He looked into the man’s eyes and grinned widely. “A hand you’ll lose for those you betray.” This time he hoped someone was making sure the kids didn’t witness his actions. He stabbed his Stygian dagger through the man’s wrist. He heard the howl and the screech, he even actually laughed when the man started praying to the gods for mercy. He stabbed again and again until the man’s hand came apart from his wrist.

“Lost or broken, he’ll make you pay.”

Nico turned his gaze on the other bandana man. This one was smart enough to be trying to treat the first man who lost his hand. They were already wrapping it up in someone’s shirt and backing away. The other bald one and the plump one were still dizzily getting up. The long haired one was already gone.

The man he was just finished with rolled onto his stomach whimpering and moaning in pain. Nico had no mercy for them. He didn’t care how many cries he heard from their pathetic little voices. He didn’t care how many pleas and prayers he heard. He didn’t care who told him to stop.

“A dark rider comes,” Nico sang as he stepped towards the four men. He stepped slowly as they stumbled over one another towards the entrance of the village. They looked back and forward, clearly afraid. Nico’s steps became wider and faster. “Are you ready for judgment day?” he shouted into their face once he met them at the entrance of the village. He was certain the man he left lying on the ground had already run off the other way. The other four looked so terrified he had to grin at them and chuckle manically, even though it hurt his face.

They ran off shouting how he would regret his actions.

Nico waited until they were no longer visible in the distance. He collapsed onto his knees, dropped his dagger and sighed heavily. Blood on his hands. Blood on his face. Blood on his shirt. He didn’t even kill anyone. He should have killed them. They deserved death. They deserved to die painfully slow for the rapes, the stolen childhoods, the enslaved people, and the misery they put onto others.

No war was being fought. No grudges or feuds. It was simply hatred and arrogant dissatisfaction that such evil continued. It was the selfishness of the privileged, the hobby of the rich, and the pride of the formerly reputed that led this horror.

Nico had never hated being a prince more.

“N-Nico?” Frank’s voice uncertainly called out to him. He could hear the fear that was now in his voice too. “Are you sane?”

“Of course I am,” Nico sighed. He couldn’t bear to look up and kept his head bowed. He decided then and there not to cry until he returned to the one waiting for him. Nico touched the arrowhead underneath his clothes and took another deep breath to gather himself. A tiny bit of warmth, as if it was Will’s presence standing behind him, enveloped him.

Then dread hit once he opened his eyes. Will must never know.

“Is he truly crazy?” someone shouted from behind him.

“What he did…” One voice was drowned out by the crowd. All of them outraged and scared. All of them grateful for they have seen what Nico saved them from but they were just as afraid. They were afraid he was a madman, that he would turn his blade on them. Nico slowly stood. It was time, he supposed.

“Who are you Nico?” the question finally was thrown at him.

Nico couldn’t turn to face them yet.

Will must never know.

“I am the King of Ghosts!” he proclaimed loudly out of the entrance of the village. Suddenly it was quiet. He could only guess the other two raiders were either hanging about or slowly making their escape in the cover of the forest. “I rule over the dead and the soldiers forgotten, lost, and abandoned!” He proclaimed even louder, although his voice threatened to cut off on him. “And I decree, any who harms the civilians of the forbidden lands will answer to the army of Ghosts!”

“He’s totally crazy,” a kid said in the silence but with awe in his voice.

Nico wavered where he stood. He moved around too much trying to pretend to be crazy. At least those in Elysium didn’t know who held the title of Ghost King. He didn’t need anyone to look at him all starry eyed because he was Prince Nico.

“Fish,” Nico mumbled and started towards the forest were he left his fish and sack. He might as well fetch them now. He was going to be around for a bit longer.

“He’s definitely crazy.”

Chapter Text

It took five weeks but Nico was glad to leave the village. The once quiet and stripped village was close to done with rebuilding. It was relatively safe. They had collected five of the six horses from the raiders before, and when a second group—with ten people—came to the village Nico had been ready. He donned his clothes and his black cloak with his hood up. He had a mask on which the children creatively decorated into a relatively creepy white face with a wide grin on.

That second time Nico didn’t bother with singing his made up song. The children had found the song the best part of his first madness. That’s what they called it. The called it “Dark Rider’s Madness” and at the beginning made him say the lyrics over and over every day until they started asking him why so and so word and why such and such rhyme. He had a feeling they liked the idea that Nico might just be a little mad.

Nico ran off three of the raiders simply by standing at the entrance of the village. After he took out his dagger another raider rode off back where he came from just as Nico started walking. As he slowly made his way down the road towards where the raiders had stopped the children had decided to climb the trees from the forest. They started shaking it up and down and sang in perfect wind-like voices. They even had their own Dark Rider rhymes, which admittedly was a lot better than Nico’s and a lot more horrifying. They didn’t change the ending as it was their favorite part.

Nico had pulled out his sword in his other hand by the time he was mere steps away from the raiders. There were still three left on their horses. The children had just about finished their song.

“Lost or broken, he’ll make you pay.”

Nico let the silence stand.

“The King of Ghost?” the apparent leader of the group spat at him. Nico didn’t move where he stood. “You and your ghosts come to haunt us?” he laughed. They knew about the King of Ghost, but no one knew who the title. Anyone from anywhere could easily claim the title, especially when he was a masked man standing alone between a defenseless village and unmasked villains.

That day Nico had stood still and silent, sword and dagger in hand.

“Well, I’m here to raid!”

Nico had told himself no matter how much he wanted it was fear he needed to induce in their hearts, and so he stood there poise. True fear came from the unknown, and it came from fear or of something without structure like madness. The first time he fought the raiders he had been maniac. The second time he planned to be cool and precise.

“I’m here to rape and plunder. To steal your women and sell them into slavery and prostitution! I’ll take your children and-”

It was then Nico did something he would never forgive himself for. He had lunge forward and slashed at the horse’s leg. The apparent leader fell off the horse as it collapsed into the dirt and struggled. The man nearly didn’t manage to get away from the horse in time. Nico turned mechanically towards the leader, standing where the horse struggled and whinnied without moving. He had to show he was insane enough not to fear a thrashing creature.

“A dark rider comes.” Nico asked very precisely and articulately, “Are you ready for judgement day?” Nico pulled his sword up, showing he was ready to seriously fight. The raiders ran off that day and left Nico with the horse.

Since then Nico had personally cared for the horse, apologizing when he approached and being very careful with his movements. Horses were easily scared creatures, but all creatures give people a level of trust that should not be betrayed or taken for granted. Nico knew he had betrayed the horse. It wasn’t at fault, but it had been the victim. He wasn’t proud of it. He wasn’t proud of any of what he was doing.

Time and again the raiders came. Time and again the children hid in the trees and sang the song like ghosts in the wind. The song was always different and he was never sure when they found the time to coordinate the lyrics, but he was glad they had something to smile about.

Not long after Frank joined in. He didn’t have black clothes as Nico did so he wore dark blue clothes he borrowed from the men—the ones that could fit his size anyways. He painted his bows and arrows black and when the raiders came stood next to Nico in his own mask and black cloak.

The children sang and Nico acted. Sometimes he was mad. Sometimes he was calm. Sometimes he acted like a fancy aristocrat, giving them lavish bows before taking out his dagger. He was sometimes on horseback and sometimes not. Frank easily picked up on the change of pace. His acting and variety of expressions was quite a lot better than Nico’s.

“A dark rider comes,” Frank would say in a deep low voice.

Nico would sometimes take off an ear or fingers, he usually aimed for their hands. Once, he had simply stabbed a man and finished the line, “Are you ready for judgement day?”

Yesterday was the night Nico and Frank snuck into the raider camp that had terrorized the villagers, and yesterday was the night Nico had laid siege on them. Most of them woke up right away after Nico had killed a few men. Then he had Frank ring the alarm bell to wake them all. Nico stood in their fortress entrance with his sword in hand, his cloak and hood on and his mask smeared with blood. At his feet laid five of the raiders.

“The dark rider is here,” Nico said and the closest person to him who heard paled. They began to back away as Nico stepped forward. He could hear Frank following at his back, his bow and arrow ready.

“It’s judgement day!” Frank’s clear deep voice then bellowed behind him.

“Have you prepared?” Nico had asked. That time Nico did not act. He fought as himself. He rushed into the crowd of disoriented raiders and fought them. He had his own cuts and nearly lost a limb or two from the frenzy. Fortunately, half of them were already deathly afraid of him. There had been only fifty of them, and half of the bastards spent those precious moments snatching up their gold and goods. Those were the ones who ran. Frank shot down as many of them as he could while Nico had focused on the leader.

When Nico had found him he didn’t bother talking. The burly older man stared down Nico with his battle ax and gave a loud battle cry. Unlike the others he knew how to fight. It took longer than Nico expected. He had worried about leaving a long range fighter such as Frank alone to fend off the rest of the raiders but so many of their numbers had already fled.

“The Ghost King is it?” the old man grinned. He must not have been too old despite his gray hair since he was still holding up against Nico. “Thought he was dead in Tartarus!”

This man had known him. He had known who the real King of Ghost was. Nico didn’t take the bait and deflected the attack following up a jab for him.

With a retreated step the man had smiled, his lost teeth emphasized by the yellowed teeth that blended to the firelight. “The Dark Rider, the King of Ghost, come to judge me?” the man shouted. Nico slashed the man’s arm. The man swung his ax down and Nico had almost missed his timing to jump to the side.

Nico held up his sword and waited.

“Who gives you the right?” the man shouted and charged at him. Nico readied his sword and arm and stepped forward. His sword took the blow and his arm held the ax from completing its swing above his head. Nico quickly pulled his dagger out with his other hand, feeling his sword and arm giving way against the heavier weight and strength when the man added his other hand to the handle of the ax.

He stabbed his dagger into the man’s side, just underneath his chest and through the ribcage. The man’s eyes widened in shock. He hadn’t expected the kill. Nico twisted his blade inside, wiggling it to make sure the deed was done before pulling his knife out.

The man had collapsed onto his other side, dropping his ax beside him. From what he could remember it was like all the fighting stopped. He recalled Frank’s arrow whizz by and hit someone between the eyes. As much as Nico would have wanted them all to suffer, kill shots were more effective.

Nico had knelt down beside the dying man. The man had seconds before he bled out.

Nico lifted his mask up just over his mouth and bent down to the man’s ear. “I am the Dark Angel,” he whispered into the man’s ear and put his mask back in place. He stood up and stared down at the man whose eyes had widen with realization and then a smile. A smile that said it could have been no one else but Nico, which made no sense.

As far as Nico knew as a child he had simply been a target. No one had known his fighting abilities. Even the first time his father had witnessed him kill the assassin that had gone after him his father had looked shock. Curiously, Nico had wondered what the knowing smile was for at that moment.

Then he heard a chorus of shouts and looked up to see the five raiders who were left standing had rush at him trying to circle him in. Frank’s arrow went through one’s neck and the raider went down to his knees. Nico rushed through the opening and turned around. He held out his sword, sheathing his dagger.

“You’ll have them all against you now Dark Rider!” one of them yelled at Nico. “Your day will come.”

He had wanted that night to be done with. Ignoring the rest of their shouts and threats he’d rushed at them and cut off the first hand he could easily reach. The sword and hand went down and the one who lost it simply stared at it. Nico couldn’t even hear the screams. Not for the rest of that night.

“Tell your friends to follow the lost hands,” Nico had said.

He turned his back that night and walked away, sure that Frank would watch his back as he went out the way he came.

Nico kept walking all night. Blood on his hands, blood on his clothes. Blood on his mask.

And Will must never know.

 

He finished thinking of the night before as he brushed the horse down in the stall. Nico said his last apology and goodbye to the house with the sword scar on its foreleg. The horse whinnied and stood as it waited for him. Nico patted the horse before walking away towards his own.

Nico was almost finished packing when he heard that there was a scout at one of the village entrance. Nico put on his cloak and mask and holstered his sword. He walked out and followed the trailed of children.

“Who is the village chief?” a voice asked loudly in a crowd by the entrance. Nico quietly made his way through, led by the children standing behind the adults.

“The last village chief died,” one of the men in the crowd answered.

“Then who leads your village’s restoration efforts?” the scout demanded.

The villagers spat at his feet and the scout went for his sword. “Not any of your likes,” the man who spat answered. The scout stepped forward half way drawing his sword when one of the children bumped into Nico in the back.

“The Dark Rider!” the kids squealed. He waved them away and the children moved quickly. The crowd parted for Nico and he slowly walked forward.

“The Dark what?” the scout looked Nico up and down in a look of puzzlement.

“Three klicks northwest of here you’ll find a burning graveyard. A former raiding fortress,” Nico informed the soldier. The children began to sing their Dark Rider song. The scout looked more confused and appalled by the lyrics of the song and the knowledge of what happened to the fortress of bandits. Two men and a defenseless village managed to do what a platoon and contingent of soldiers could not.

“And I guess you’re going to say you, the Dark Rider, did this?” the soldier asked suspiciously.

“Of course not,” Nico denied. He hadn’t expected to meet someone from his father’s military on the day he was going to leave the village. “The King of Ghosts did. He’s called his ghosts from their tombs and graves. Their mission is clear.” He had prepared what he would say if he met someone who would definitely know who he was, but Nico just couldn’t believe it would be now when he’d expected to quietly leave.

The scout paled. “The King of Ghosts you say?” The way he scanned the villagers’ face and rounded back to Nico made it clear. He realized they didn’t know who the King of Ghost was, and Nico knew what his next question was. “I must ask that you remove your mask, sir.”

“I refuse.”

“Remove your mask!”

“Run back to your captain, scout,” Nico responded coldly. “Tell him the King of Ghost climbed out of Tartarus, he’s called his ghosts and no gods or gold will stop Hades’ judgement. Tell him to spread the word.” The scout swallowed heavily and didn’t stop staring at Nico. “A dark rider comes,” Nico started.

The villagers finished, “Are you ready for judgement day?”

“Run.”

The scout turned to run.

“Should misfortune befall this village again, remind your captain that ghosts will always haunt the guilty,” Nico shouted. The scout didn’t turn back.

Nico turned back and walked to where he left his horse and sack. The children and villagers followed him.

“Are you really leaving?” they asked him as Nico pulled the horse to the other entrance of the village. “Can’t you stay longer?”

Nico tied his sack to the back of the saddle. “I have been gone too long already.”

“A little longer won’t hurt,” someone said in the crowd. Nico swung up into the saddle.

Nico sighed but they probably couldn’t tell because of the mask. He took the mask off and pulled down his hood. “I said a year, I have been gone nearly three.” Everyone whispered and mumbled and looked elsewhere.

“Come again Dark Rider!” the little girl Nico first met in the woods waved to him from the ground. Nico nodded.

“Remember, I’m just a stranger known as the Dark Rider.”

“Nico did not visit,” the villagers all chimed. Nico nodded again.

“Bye everyone!” Frank’s voice sounded behind the villagers. Nico looked up. Did the big man think he was going to follow Nico? Nico had hoped he would stay behind to protect the village.

“Bye Frank. It was nice of you to visit!”

Frank walked his horse up to Nico.

“Visit?” Nico asked as they both rode off together.

“Someone I know asked me to check the pit in case there are prisoners thrown in,” Frank answered.

“Who?”

Frank shrugged.

“You don’t trust me?”

“You climbed out of the pit, I trust you,” Frank said as he looked ahead. They continued on in the silence for a bit. “I just want to know whether they’ll be safe with you.”

“I see.”

“Yes.”

“The Dark Rider wasn’t a very good example,” Nico added. What could Frank have concluded with all the things Nico had done? Remembering all those things in flashes Nico almost wanted to close his eyes from the memories.

Will must never know.

“I think the Dark Rider just became a superhero,” Frank laughed. “These masks are easy to make.” He showed his mask to Nico. Frank’s mask was of an angry face with mostly red up and down the face, pudgy nose, eyes wide, and teeth clenched. Nico looked at his. His was of a white face with a creepy full-teeth crescent moon grin, a sharp nose, and laughing eyes.

“Should we get it commissioned?” Frank joked.

Nico shook his head. “These will do. Let’s ask the children to make other masks like this in the other villages.”

And so that was how Nico and Frank became the first Dark Riders of Elysium, the Forbidden Lands.

Chapter Text

Three years and four months since Will first met Prince Nico. That was the first and apparently the last. Will had traveled around with Travis, he had found that he loved being in Erebus. It was an expansive country with rivers and mountains, far south to it there was the sea, and expanding larger and further than his own father’s kingdom there were cultures and peoples of all walks.

“Will!” little Daisy screamed once he came back into town with Travis. She leapt into his arm and knocked him off balance. They both landed on the ground and rolled left and right as he tickled her. They were just getting off the ground when the first shout of warning came.

The warning bell rang urgently and desperately as someone shouted, “Raiders!” around them. Will quickly got up and turned to look at Travis where the man stood with the horses. With a quick nod Travis gave one of the older boys running around the reins to the horses and made a run to help with the citizen’s taking their hiding spots. While Travis did so Will picked up Daisy and ran back towards Rose’s house. He saw Leo running towards them and quickly knocked on the front door.

Rose unbarred the door and let them in quickly. Her baby was sound asleep in the crib. Will set down Daisy and told her to watch her baby brother.

“Will you be okay?” Rose asked him as he headed back to the door after Leo walked in.

Leo already had the rug moved from off the floor and opened a hidden door from the floorboards. He was shuffling the baby and Daisy down the stairs into the shelter underneath the house.

“Travis and I are fine.”

That was a lie. They had been away longer than they had expected and rushed back as quickly as they could with barely any rest. Will could still fight off raiders and bandits, even if he would acquire new scratches and cuts from the battle.

“Dark Rider!” Daisy exclaimed behind them, obviously having ran up the stairs again.

Will flashed her a smile. “Not today, Daisy.” He said it every time. This were Erebus, and the Dark Riders were in the forbidden lands. In the last few months a strange band of heroes in dark clothes and wooden masks appeared throughout Elysium. Their trademark was the Dark Rider lullaby song and their most famous line calling judgment on villains. No one ever spoke or knew who the Dark Riders were, but their story spread like an epidemic.

Will met Travis at the entrance of town where the raiders usually rode through. They both climbed onto fresh horses provided by the townspeople. By the time everyone had gone into hiding the group of five men was riding towards them.

Moments later the men stopped the horses just outside the town where Will and Travis waited with their swords drawn.

“You two again.”

“You guys again,” came Travis’ easy response. “Ready to get your asses kicked again?” Despite his inflated confidence they both knew it would take them a lot more to get through the battle. And it did.

Although they did run off the raiders with pretty bad wounds, Travis and Will came back with just as many cuts and bruises. The good thing was that Travis had managed to steal their weapons and shields, and somehow even one of their horses.

“Ow!” Travis groaned when Will finished stitching the wound on his bicep. Will rolled his eyes. “I’m tender, man, be gentle.”

Next it was Rose chiding them for their reckless fighting. She mostly reprimanded Travis because she knew he only got hurt because he was too focused on having fun and stealing from the thieves.

As Travis was useless with bandaging, Rose usually had to help patch Will up. It was probably the only reason he had such jagged scars. Although she was a good hand at helping with sewing up the wounds, she wasn’t always around to help him. She was in the middle of reprimanding them when she tightened the bandage around his wound too much and Will cried out. Travis laughed at him and baited him into kicking the man in the leg.

“Oh quit crying you big baby!” Rose came at him. Will clenched his teeth and steeled himself as she started preparing the needle and thread for sticking up the wound on his chest. Travis helped pat a clean cloth around the wound to clean it. “If you weren’t hesitating so much you wouldn’t need to get sown up!” Rose poked into him without warning and Will almost shot out of his chair but Leo and Travis held him down.

Will cried out as she sewed into his flesh.

“I’m going to make you pay for this one of these days,” Will rasped angrily at Travis, tears of pain threatening to overflow from his eyes.

“It’s not even that many stitches,” Leo mumbled next to Will holding down his right side down.

“You know you love me bro.”

“Doesn’t mean I won’t make you pay,” Will said while Rose tied off the thread.

“Quit your whining,” she sighed but then dripped whiskey over the stitches. Will clenched his teeth, grunted out his pain and stomped his foot on the ground as the sting burned through him in long agonizing seconds. “It’s all we have. Medicine is hard to come by here.”

“Hah,” Will rasped again at the irony. He may not actually be a medicine man, but he did help her deliver a baby and did act as the healer in town.

That night he went to sleep staring out the window into the night sky. He could hear Travis in the next room in the house they bought down the street from Rose’s place. Travis was still awake doing his routine exercise before sleeping. Will also knew that every night before he slept Travis studied. Will didn’t know exactly what books he read, but it always varied between all kinds of subjects.

Will fell asleep watching the stars that night and woke up the next day early in the morning to the townspeople greeting Travis outside.

Sitting up from his bed he slowly moved and opened his window to see Travis was already stretching. One of the woman who had been talking to Travis noticed him, waved and greeted him. Will waved back.

“I thought you’ll be sleeping still,” Travis called up when he followed the woman’s greeting up to Will. “You going to make breakfast this morning right?”

“At your command milord,” Will shouted down sarcastically.

Travis gave him a staged bow down to the waist. Will grabbed a stone from a pile of stones he kept by the windowsill and threw it at Travis. He ducked the missile with laughter before going off on his jog.

After breakfast with Travis, Will took a walk out into the woods around the town. He must have spaced out as he was walking because Will ended up hiding in the bushes. Standing just a couple meters from where he hid was a few of the bandits who raided the town. He didn’t know what they were doing gathered in a clearing but Will cursed his luck for nearly walking into it.

Will couldn’t believe he just walked into a conversation evil men were having in the early morning. In his mind he always thought evil people did everything at night. What were they doing up and about early in the morning planning their next evil plot? Couldn’t they all just quickly disappear from the world?

“Boss wants them gone,” the first one hissed angrily.

“They’re going to bring the Dark Rider down on us eventually.”

A familiarly annoying voice spoke up confidently. “De Dark Rida’ only wo’ks in de fo’bidden lands. He ain’t goin’ t’show down here.” Will took in a deep breath to steady himself. Something big was going to happen and Will wasn’t sure he could save the town. Not anymore.

“It’ll take time.”

“To kill two guys?”

“Boss wants the town beaten.”

“Slowly weaken them, then take their hope away,” another voice cruelly explained.

Afraid to move Will sat where he hid and listened. There wasn’t any concrete plans, but the men was in the clearing talking for what felt like hours. Will and Travis needed to disappear, and they planned for that to be in the far future. Will didn’t know when but their plan seemed to slowly overwhelm Will and Travis. After all what could two men do against constant battling that barely allowed for them to heal? Eventually they would be so weak they would lose and die.

It was noon by the time the men left. Will waited a little longer to be sure they were gone. He stood up slowly from his spot and felt himself shaking throughout his body. Gods he needed help. Travis couldn’t die. He couldn’t let Travis die.

Will wasn’t sure how he came back to town. He remembered Travis catching him in the plaza as he collapsed. When he opened his eyes again he was lying in his bed. Turning to look at his bedside he found Travis was sitting on a chair, head down and hands clutched tightly to each other.

“What’s wrong?” Will asked quietly.

Travis looked up and then he smiled. He dropped down from his chair onto the wooden floor and hugged Will as he was trying to sit up.

“Are you okay?” Travis asked, pushing Will back into bed. Travis pulled the chair closer to Will’s bedside eagerly.

“Not really,” Will answered. He sat up again and waved Travis to stop him from worrying. Taking a steady breath Will began to explain what had happened and what he heard. Travis listened, asking specific detailed questions. Although he rarely acted like it, Travis was a knight and Will’s retainer. He was trained for things like this, taking countermeasures, protecting people, strategizing and making plans or reacting right away to hostile situations.

“I’ll figure something,” Travis said shortly and seriously. Will nodded even though he knew what Travis meant when he said it. He’d meant he would fight and protect this town until he couldn’t get up anymore. Will contemplated the best way he could help so no one lost anymore children, men weren’t dead, women weren’t raped, and Travis wouldn’t die because of him. They were so quiet as they both pondered their respectful thoughts that they were both shocked when they heard their front door slammed open.

“Will? Travis?” boomed Leo’s voice from below the stairs. Then Rose, with her baby, and Daisy burst into Will’s bedroom towards his bed.

“Are you okay? Did your wounds open? Were you attacked? What’s wrong?” The bombardment of questions flew at him like a storm. In the quiet silence as Leo came into the room the girls seemed to gape between Will and Travis.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to…” Rose’s face turned red as she pulled Daisy back towards the door.

“What?”

Travis burst into laughter as Rose’s face turned even redder.

“Take your time, we’ll be out here.” Rose forced her family out of Will’s bedroom. Will sat there dumbfounded until Travis started making strange hand signals while laughing.

“She thinks…” Travis was still laughing too hard.

“What?”

“We’re…” Travis kept making hand signals.

Finally it dawned on Will. Gods had everyone thought that?

Travis laughed even harder when he looked at Will’s face for his reaction.

He almost couldn’t bring himself to leave his bedroom minutes later. Travis coughed back a laugh when Will slowly walked down the stairs. He was too embarrassed he couldn’t face the people he and Travis actually called friends.

Once they sat down around the table, Daisy in Will’s lap, Travis took over the role of explaining the situation. Of course he didn’t correct their misunderstanding of their relationship. Will sighed and traced his finger down the chain around his neck to the ring hung by the chain. He ran the gold ring between his fingers, feeling the engraved groves and the cut of the ring absentmindedly.

Prince Nico di Angelo, the Dark Angel, and his fiancé. Or former fiancé. He wasn’t sure whether Prince Nico was dead or not, or whether the engagement was broken because he had ran away.

“There might be someone who can help,” Leo said quietly. He seemed to contemplate whether or not he should have said anything.

“Who?”

“I don’t know if he’ll…”

“Call him,” Travis said. “We need help. If he can fight get him here.”

“He might not answer.”

“Then he’s not worth knowing,” Travis pointed out. Leo nodded.

“The Prince will come,” Rose said with a firm tone. Will looked at her with a question. “Because the King of Ghosts is the Prince. The Ghosts are the strongest warriors Erebus honors.”

“What do you mean?”

“The Ghosts are the ones who have crossed the Styx,” Leo explained carefully. “The Ghost King is the one who leads them, and that would be Prince Nico.”

“But we don’t know if he’s alive or not,” Will pointed out. He hadn’t heard such news traveling anywhere in Erebus when he was out of town.

“But the Dark Riders work under the name of the Ghost King. So they must be the Ghosts,” Rose explained logically. “The Prince is alive, our men are coming home, and those bandits are going to pay.” Rose looked almost excited and triumphant as she declared it so.

Will sat and wondered about the information as Travis asked Rose for more information. The Prince was alive and safe, and he hasn’t returned even now. Somewhere inside he was hurt and felt abandoned even though he was happy about the Prince being alive. They only knew each other for what could be stretched as a mere night and Will couldn’t stop thinking about him for over three years.

“I heard he ran away from home!” Rose announced loudly.

“Who?” Will asked, finally returning to the conversation.

“That Prince William, Prince Nico’s fiancé!” Rose grumbled angrily. She glared at Will. Often she showed this dislike of Prince Nico’s fiancé, Prince William of Delphi and compared Will to him. Hilariously Will was actually that same prince. Not so hilariously, she often told him that Prince Nico’s fiancé should be able to do this or that and it always irked Will.

“Will, if you’re going to get married don’t runaway on the groom like that Prince William.” Rose passed her son Wolf over to Leo and slammed her hands on the table. “He ran away with his retainer! His retainer! Can you believe that? How could he accept another man’s proposal if he was in love with someone else?” she shouted at Travis and Will.

Travis started to cough and Will found himself putting his head down in shame. Gods, that couldn’t be the story going around could it? People thought he and Travis eloped? His father was going to kill him if he was ever found. Not only did people in town think he and Travis were a couple, but most of the citizens thought he eloped with his retainer too.

Perhaps he should just let those raiders kill him.

“I can’t believe that,” Travis rasped after he was done coughing. “Elopement?” Travis looked at Will and turned back to Rose. Their being a couple was funny earlier, but now that it was actually something people talked about Travis was suddenly very bothered. “We didn’t hear that during our travels.” Somehow Will had a feeling Travis was suddenly worried was because of a certain military general.

“He’s been missing for months,” Rose hissed at them. She was thoroughly surprised they didn’t know and reprimanded them for that. “They’ve looked high and low, and now they’re offering his younger brother for marriage. Imagine that.” Will and Travis listened to the gossip and nodded where appropriate and smiled when she reprimanded all male kind in general for their pigheadedness and stupidity.

Rose mentioned that Michael Yew, who may have been a replacement had been found dead weeks after Prince William had eloped. Will was shocked to hear. It was rare for deaths in the royal family, especially violent ones. Michael Yew was older than him, but had been passed up on being engaged to Prince Nico at the time because there was a pregnant woman claiming she carried his child. That was later disproved after Will had gotten engaged to Nico.

A few others of Will’s siblings were found in accidents or having killed themselves. He found that also hard to believe. His siblings were arrogant in their supreme talents, but that was not unfounded for most of them. None of them could have died from an accident—not so consistently after Michael’s death. Next there were the suicides. Again, their deaths were too consistent. None of his siblings who had anything going for them would ever choose to end their life.

“Austin Lake.”

“Prince Austin?” Travis gasped in pure shock. “Are you serious?”

“Yes.”

Austin Lake loved their father in a way children quietly loved something they cherished. He was also at least six years younger than Prince Nico. His younger half-brother was the one they chose to next marry off to Prince Nico who was missing for over four years. Did anyone even know if Prince Nico was actually alive? Will groaned as he put his head down on the table. He couldn’t think.

He should just get killed slowly and painfully by evil bandits bent on taking advantage of this town.

Prince Nico has been alive but never once came back to claim him.

People thought he and Travis were in love.

People thought he eloped with Travis.

His younger brother Austin might just marry his fiancé.

What was next, some stranger was going to appear out of nowhere and steal him away?

Will probably shouldn’t have had that thought, because knowing his lucky it just might happen.

Chapter Text

“So you never answered my question from when we first met,” Frank said randomly as they sat on a boulder in the clearing waiting for the others. Nico kept his silence as he stared at his mask. “Nico?” He ignored Frank.

Almost two and a half years he used this wooden mask, chiseled, repainted and retouched over and over again. He wondered how many times he washed blood off the mask, how often he looked at the frozen gleeful look of the mask and asked himself if he truly was mad. Only Frank assured him he wasn’t insane. Nico often asked the question again anyways.

“Nico, you remember the question?” Frank’s hand wrapped around his arm. Nico put down the mask and took a moment to steel himself. Finally the question came. “1,019. What did you mean?”

“It’s 1,460,” he replied.

“No, it’s 1,019. That’s what you said.”

Nico shook his head.

Frank’s grip tightened on him. Very insistently he uttered rather desperately, “I heard you, that’s what you said when got out of the pit. One thousand and nineteen.” This time Frank’s hand tightened on him.

“1,460 days.”

“Days?” Frank looked at him curiously. Nico didn’t answer back, he simply stared back at Frank. It took a bit of time but Frank gasped as he realized Nico was serious. “Days?” the question came out as outrageous shock.

Nico nodded and Frank was quiet for the rest of the time they waited. Just before noon the first two riders came into the clearing in their black clothes and cloaks. The dust that came off them when they got off their horses told volumes of where they had been before riding towards them.

“Frank, Nico,” the cheerful voice greeted them behind the blue wooden mask. His mask was of a dramatically sad joker face and a single red tear painted down his right eye. The slightly smaller rider in black leather armor waved at them as they walked up. The mask was a simple and serene feminine image.

“Percy and Annabeth,” Frank greeted back with a smile. Prior to this meeting they had all met up once a year ago. There Nico had found out that Frank had known Percy, Prince of Euboea from his time in the Roman Empire. Frank had been Percy’s subordinate but much more a friend than a subordinate.

“So your work is done then?” Annabeth asked Nico as she took off her mask. Nico nodded.

Three riders joined them soon after. One rider had dark brown hair that waved and curled just a little more than Nico’s own. Nico hadn’t known them but he had appreciated that they answered the call with Jason, a prince of Mount Olympus.

“Nico,” Jason greeted him. Jason, although named a prince of Mount Olympus, lived his life in the Roman Empire. Like Nico, Percy and Jason were raised unknown to the rest of the world until they came of age.

They passed on the greetings and spoke for a while before the main issue came up. Percy was the one who asked the question, “Nico will you be going back?”

He didn’t answer. More like he never had the chance to. Leo Valdez who came with Jason on this crusade spoke up.

“Wait, the real question is if he still wants that Prince William everyone’s been talking about.”

“Who?” Frank asked.

Leo turned to Frank. “You know, Prince William. Nico’s engaged to him.”

Frank looked confused. “You are?” Then realization dawned on him again. “Wait you mean Prince William of Delphi. Nico are you the Prince Nico?” He gasped, face turned red, and planted his face into his open palm with a groan.

“What’s wrong?” Piper asked. She got off her horse from next to Jason. Nico watched her take off her mask and pull down her hood. Her braided hair with the different hair ornaments attached to it varied between tribal and cultural areas throughout the continent. Nico watched as Jason got off his horse, walked up next to her and ever so smoothly pushed her hair behind her ear.

Percy and Annabeth naturally took each other’s hands. Nico could see the love and the brightness that each couple carried. He wondered if he would have had that kind of feeling with the older boy he had fallen for if their marriage had never been arranged. He had understood at the time that his father had wanted him to have a good life, to have a family and to have an heir. Nico just could not imagine how his life might be like if they were to marry when neither of them had spent any quality time as adults courting one another.

Conclusively, Will Solace must have gotten tired of waiting. Nico didn’t blame him for running away or eloping. Will didn’t know Nico, they barely spent ten minutes with each other. If anything he was more surprised Will had waited for two years. Again his gaze fell on his mask and he knew it was better this way. Will must never know what kind of person he was.

Ignoring the questions, Nico thanked them for answering his call. They simply said it was their duty as a ghost to answer the Ghost King, but also that friends would always answer when he asked for help. Nico smiled at them as they all rode off.

“Guess it’s just you and me,” Frank said as he walked their horses to Nico.

“You should head back.”

“Back where?”

“You’re part of the Roman Empire.”

Frank shook his head. “I was forced to retire a long time ago. Now I’m just traveling.” Frank grinned at him with that lost look in his eyes he sometimes got when he talked about himself.

“You can’t go back?”

Frank shook his head. “No. The augur exiled me.”

“So you crossed the border and came to the forbidden lands,” Nico concluded. Then a question came to him. “You had a friend who climbed out of the pit.” Frank nodded. He could see that Frank still did not want to name this person. “Why were they thrown in?”

“There’s also an entrance at one of the borders of Rome,” Frank explained. He chose his words carefully. “They were thrown in because of their lineage, although it is unproven.” Nico left it at that. He led them towards a stream as they walked their horses. He remembered the area well.

Frank started talking about the children from the village where they met. They had visited all the places they had liberated from the bandits, but that village was one Frank had frequented before meeting Nico. He visited it as often as he could to check on the pit entrance. Frank mentioned how the kids would miss them now that they were going to Erebus, but Nico only half listened.

They were just a few steps in the forest to the clearing where the town’s stream came down a cascade of rocks into a pool. He stood in the forest and stared out into the stream.

“Ow!” one of the men with their back to Nico shouted.

“Quit being a baby,” another voice chided. This man was knelt next to the other working on cleaning a wound despite his own bleeding out.

“They’re hurt,” Frank whispered. He started to move towards the two but Nico stopped him and pushed him back. Knowing Nico wanted to observe the situation first Frank decided to hang back with Nico and watched from the bushes.

“We should find Rose, you need your arm tended too,” one man said to the other. His voice became too quiet to hear as he said something else to the other man, a concern gesture following his unheard words.

“I’ll be fine.”

“No, you won’t be Leo,” the other one said.

Leo, but not Leo Valdez. Nico knew another Leo from this town. This was the town he first came to when he crossed the Styx, and he spent his time patrolling their borders since then. Leo Trovato, as in Leo the Foundling. Nico didn’t recall Leo Trovato to be so tall or broad of shoulder.

Nico also had to remember four years had passed, and he himself hadn’t been tall or broad of shoulder then.

“Travis, you need stitches but you’re likely to bleed out before we get back. What am I going to tell Will if something happens to you?” Leo snapped. He ripped the hem of his shirt and used it to wrap around the man’s shoulder and underneath his arm to staunch the bleeding.

“He’ll be glad I did my duty.”

“Quit talking like your life means more than his,” Leo snapped.

“But it does,” the stranger named Travis answered.

Nico watched as Leo Trovato smacked this Travis person in the head. Nico thought back for a moment. The name Travis seemed important, he wondered why exactly. He watched the two banter back and forth before getting on their horses and riding away. Nico stepped out of the forest into the clearing with Frank then.

“What’s wrong?” Frank asked him. Nico wondered how it was that Frank always knew when to ask.

“I’ve been gone a long time,” Nico said quietly. Too long perhaps. People were getting hurt by the border of Erebus. His father’s men should have crossed the border back to Erebus, but did they just head out to the capital without checking in on the border towns? Nico thought about things deeply as they watered their horses and took a rest to have a late lunch.

Once they were done resting Nico and Frank got onto their horses and took the forest road towards town. They went at a slow pace as the town wasn’t too far away. Nearly an hour later they were met with a skirmish between three men and a group of bandits. Nico nodded to Frank and the two of them put on their hoods and the masks.

As they rushed into the battle, obviously one where the locals were defending themselves against raiders, Nico heard Frank shout behind him.

“A dark rider comes!” his voice bellowed loud and deep, reaching out to the loud clashing of swords. Frank’s arrow whizzed by Nico seconds later and struck the first raider in the back of the head. He slumped over his horse and then fell as the frightened horse ran from the fight.

Nico could hear the questions from the three confused men as he rode his horse harder towards the skirmish. His sword drawn he cut down the next raider. This was more than a skirmish he realized. There were three men to defend this town against a ten-man group.

Nico was in the middle of fighting off a rather exceptional fighter when a familiar looking hammer suddenly struck down his opponent. He glared at the mallet as it magically returned to its owner.

“Leo!” Leo Valdez’s voice shouted cheerfully and waved the mallet in his hand. He was also in his mask and cloak, along with Jason and Piper.

“Dark Riders!” a shout in the battle interrupted Nico’s thoughts. He deflected a sword and shouldered someone off their horse. He circled the crowd and fought to get towards the three men circled in by the bandits. Two of them had the wounds from the two strangers he’d seen earlier. So one of them was Travis and the other Leo Trovato.

Frank’s arrow took down someone who came in at Nico’s blind spot. He managed to fight back another raider creating space for Jason to ride into the thick of the battle.

Nico brought up his forearm and cuffed it against Jason’s forearm. It was their battle greeting and their proof of friendship.

They circled their horses around each other to keep an eye out for each other’s back. “I’ll take the ones on horseback,” Jason told him.

Nico nodded. “I’ll handle the ones on ground.” They put their arms down and Nico jumped off his horse. He brandished his sword as the men who were kicked off their horses begun to stand.

“Are you ready for judgment day?” Jason shouted loudly as if it was a battle cry. Nico almost smiled, realizing that for Jason and Frank it was a battle cry.

Running in before the men could gather themselves, Nico quickly cut off their sword hand. For the ones who were already attacking him Nico didn’t spare them. It didn’t take long for five of the raiders to lie on the ground, and the other five to run from battle handless or wounded.

He got on his horse and stared at the three men they had just helped.

“Leo!” Leo Trovato greeted Leo Valdez with a smile. Without having to guess the man rode his horse up to the masked Leo Valdez and threw his arms around the man in a bear hug. Nico wondered just where Leo Trovato might have met Leo Valdez, son of the Duke of Lemnos.

Nico turned his gaze to the two men. One of them he could recognize to be Travis, the one who was being tended to by Leo earlier. Although pale he held a fierce glare and held his sword ready for a fight. The other one hid behind Travis, crouching over his horse. Nico moved his horse a few inches to the right and changed the angle of sight he had with the mask on.

“Will, Travis!” Leo Trovato called to the two men. Nico held his breath. Will and Travis? He wondered briefly if he heard wrong, but then the name Travis suddenly made sense to him. Travis Stoll, Prince Will’s retainer.

Will must never know.

“This is him. The one I called,” Leo excitedly told them as he waved his hand to Leo Valdez. “Leo Valdez. He’s a genius!”

“Not such a genius since he sent us in the wrong direction,” Jason responded. Leo and Jason took off their masks and greeted Travis and Will. Will carefully sat up and shook their hands, but it was obvious he was too hurt to be riding a horse.

Without thinking at all Nico rode towards Will, grabbed him off his horse onto his lap, and rode his horse towards town. He could hear the shout and outrage behind him, even Travis chasing him down, but Nico couldn’t stop. He stopped in the town plaza, all the townspeople stepping out of their houses and their hiding spots to see what was happening.

“Healer!” Nico shouted. He jumped off his horse and pulled Will down into his arms. He carried the outraged Will in his arm to the fountain in the plaza and sat him down at its edge.

“I’m the healer!” Will snapped angrily at him.

Nico ignored his protests and carefully inspected Will’s injuries. A cut on his arm, another on his forearm, when his hands touched Will’s chest and inspected his ribs he knew what was wrong. His ribs were either broken or fractured.

“Broken?” Nico asked him.

Will shook his head. “Probably fractured. One of them had a really strong punch.” Nico looked up at him. Even with his mask on Will seemed to catch the unasked question. Really? Finally relenting, Will shrugged and mumbled something about two or three strong punches.

Turning back to the injuries Nico swallowed and felt a bit of relief. “Tape,” he suddenly remembered. Fractured and broken ribs should be taped up. He turned to get back to his horse. He had a small kit for injuries in his sack.

“No,” Will grabbed his hand and stopped him. Will let go immediately the moment he realized what he was doing. “No. Better not to. It’ll heal on its own without the tape.” Will stood up and Nico quickly sat him back down on the fountain edge. “I just need to…” Will gasped and then coughed and then he groaned in a stifled kind of way as if he was trying not to groan.

“Where are you staying?” Nico asked.

Will mumbled a street and address. Nico picked him up and ran down the street. He shushed Will when he tried giving him directions. Nico came to the two floored house that used to be owned by an old man and kicked the door open. Will pointed Nico up the stairs to the room down the hall. He shouldered open the door and plopped Will down in the bed by the window.

Moments after Travis Stoll rushed in with the others. “I’m okay!” Will shouted and then had a spasm of coughs again. Nico pushed him into lying on the bed and told him to stay there.

Nico took off his mask, and judging from the way Will scrunched his eyes at him the man couldn’t tell that it was him. He had four years of facial hair, and his hair was uncut since his capture. Nico doubted he would recognize himself if he looked in the mirror. It was understandable that Will didn’t even bother to remember him. He was gone so long and they only met once.

Looking down at Will’s finger he saw that their engagement ring was missing. Deep down at the pit of his stomach Nico felt a burning kind of anger he hadn’t felt in a long time. Not since he lost his sister. He had thought he would be okay with Will not remembering him. He thought he would be okay that Will gave up waiting. He wasn’t.

Nico took off his cloak and left it over the chair by Will’s desk beside the bed. He left his mask on top of the desk and turned to walk away. This town needed him and Nico finally saw Will again. There were no questions or hesitations. He was staying.

He ignored the questions of the gathering crowd and waved for Frank and Jason to follow him.

“Where are we going?” Jason asked as he rushed to follow Nico down the stairs and out the house.

“Hunting,” Frank answered behind him.

Chapter Text

To the day. Will couldn’t believe it. Four years to the day and Prince Nico the Dark Angel suddenly appeared out of nowhere in front of Will. Why? Hadn’t he given up on Will already? Why had he returned when Will was finally able to forget the only man who had ever found any interest in Will? He laid in his bed lost to the understanding of crazy mad princes who ran off to be superheroes in dark lands.

Oh gods, I’m engaged to a vigilante superhero. Will suddenly laid in bed astonished by the realization. Then another realization came to him. People thought that he and Travis had eloped. It couldn’t be that Prince Nico thought the same. As of that very moment everyone saw Will as a runaway prince who had thrown his duties to the wind and eloped. Will was probably not even a prince anymore. Nico was actually engaged to Prince Austin Lake.

Will closed his eyes, groaning even louder with frustration despite the pain. He pulled his pillow from under his head and stuffed it over his face. Part of him wanted Nico to recognize it was him, the guy all dressed up in that obnoxious golden uniform from that night. Only, Will knew he didn’t look anything like that now, and it was hard to think of someone who went around singing and performing on the road as a prince. Everything was just so difficult to understand. Will should sleep and focus on healing.

He counted back to one from a random number in his head while simultaneously trying to remember lyrics to a song he’d picked up in one of the towns he’d visited with Travis. It gave him a headache, but before he knew it Will was waking up with bleary eyes to the evening sunset.

With a deep yawn Will slowly tried to sit up. He groaned as he looked out the window. There was a huge commotion in the plaza which his room overlooked. Rubbing his eyes with the bottom of his palm he blinked a few more times until his eyes cleared. The pain in his ribs definitely kept him awake.

His bedroom door opened and Will turned to see Travis walk in with a glass of water. Handing the cup to Will he then pulled up the chair from his desk to his bedside and sat down. Travis crossed his legs and his arms and contemplated Will as he drank the water.

“What?” Will asked finally. Travis took the glass and settled it back onto the desk, then helped Will back to lying on the bed.

“Quite the hero, your fiancé,” Travis said in a bland tone. Will gave him a questioning look and tried to contemplate Travis’ mood. “He took Leo Valdez and Prince Jason into the woods and came back an hour ago with three stags and quite a few lines of fish.” Travis didn’t seem excited or happy when he said it. Will wondered why that was. Travis was normally very welcoming of others.

“So he hunts,” Will tried for humor, “At least we’ll never starve.” He started coughing when he tried to laugh and moaned out miserably as his fractured ribs disagreed with him. Travis shook his head. On a more serious note Will added solemnly, “It’s been four years.”

Travis nodded knowingly. “To the day.”

“To the day,” he echoed. Will laid in bed and looked at his ceiling. He wondered what Prince Nico would say to him. He had seemed worried about Will, but he wasn’t sure if that was normal. Dark Riders were supposed to be heroes and caretakers, right? Perhaps that was the usual treatment.

“No one seems to recognize that it’s him,” Travis said in the silence.

“No one?”

“He said to call him Angel, and everyone just went with that.” Travis shrugged when Will looked at him. “I’ve got to say your fiancé has quite a lot of names.”

“What do you mean?”

His annoying friend started to tick off the names with his fingers. “Nico di Angelo. Dark Angel. Ghost King. Dark Rider? Angel?” Travis scoffed with a smile at the last two. Then with a pause he winked at Will. “Think he’ll have a lover at every port too?” Will would have hit Travis for the joke and implication that Nico used aliases with different bed partners, but he couldn’t move much due to his fractures.

“Don’t you remember?” Will asked Travis as he remembered the important bit of news they had heard. It haunted Will sometimes, imagining what Prince Nico’s reaction would be when he found out.

“That Austin was offered to be your replacement?” Travis asked back. His friend shrugged with a contemplative look in his eyes. “Just because they offered doesn’t mean he accepted it. He’s been gone four years.”

“Exactly!” Will exclaimed and then groaned again. He really should stop using so much force. “Four years, Travis. He’s acting like he doesn’t even recognize me. I should just let him be the Dark Rider and ride off into the sunset like some superhero and let this all lie down.” Will didn’t want to hope for anything anymore. It hurt too much to have false hopes of happiness. In fact her hurt even worse when someone made you feel as though you were special and slowly proved that you weren’t.

Travis stood up and bent forward. He put a hand on top of Will’s forehead and gave him a gentle smile. “You are my friend, Will Solace. You could shine brighter than the sun if you wanted.” Will glared at Travis. It was such obvious flattery Will had to smile instead of laugh and scoff. Travis gave him a wide grin just then. “And you deserve to be loved and cherished.”

“And you deserve a shower.” Will pulled his hand up and covered his nose and mouth. “You were helping muck the horses again weren’t you.” Travis shrugged as he straightened up. He promised to return after he’d helped the townspeople with the stags.

As he was at the door Will called out, “Your wounds.” Travis turned back to him. “Who helped with your wounds?”

“Ah this,” Travis looked down at the bandages under his opened tunic shirt. “Prince Jason’s fiancé, Miss Piper seems to know a thing or two.” Will nodded then. “Her stitching is a lot better than Rosa’s, I’ll say.” Will laughed and then groaned again. He really needed less of Travis’ usual humor while he healed. Travis waved at him and left the room as though he knew exactly what Will had just thought.

Will laid in bed, listening to the commotion outside and contemplating what he should do. No solutions came. He only knew he needed to stay away from Prince Nico or his feelings would grow and he wouldn’t be able to stop.

“You’re afraid.”

Will yelped. He stifled another groan and winced as he stared over to the chair at his bedside. Prince Nico sat there, his hair long and wavy, dark eyes and a dark look.

“I heard,” Will said because he needed to say something, “you’re called Angel?” He waited to see if Prince Nico would reveal himself, but the prince nodded. In that moment Will realized that perhaps Prince Nico didn’t recognize his one-night fiancé in Delphi. Or, maybe the Prince didn’t want Will to know it was him because he didn’t actually want Will. In either cases Will should keep his distance until he left.

He felt chilled fingers over his own and looked down at the edge of his bed. Nico’s fingers wrapped around his and touched the bare ring finger of his left hand. A question hung in his eyes.

“What?”

“Married?” His deep voice asked. Will never remembered Nico to have a deep voice, but four years changed him. His hair was longer, his face less child-like and hidden behind a long scraggy beard, and his shoulders broader. He was less boy and more man now, and it only served to distract Will from his own decision to stay away and ignore the prince.

“No,” Will croaked.

There was silence between them for a long moment until the prince asked, “Engaged?”

“No.” Will sighed and figured he would just say it so the clueless prince would leave him alone. “I’m not married, engaged or eloped with anyone. I’m not partnered with Travis, even though everyone in town seems to think that.” Will glared up at the prince then and waited to see if he could remember the forgotten fiancé he left in Delphi four years ago.

“Lover?”

He sighed once more and stared at the ceiling. “I’m not dating with anyone or have bed partners. I don’t have any romantic or sexual partners. Is that okay?” He glared back at Nico again.

“Then you’re mine,” Prince Nico simply claimed. He leaned forward and Will found himself frozen as their lips touched.

At first their lips were merely touching. Inside Will felt himself hyperventilating. Then Nico pressed forward, his hand came down next to Will’s head just by his pillow and Will could feel their body heat mingle. His lips moved over Will’s and a tingle ran through his entire body. The long beard brushed and tickled against Will’s shaved jaw and cheeks. He gasped for breath, eyes opened wide until he saw Nico’s half-lidded eyes gazing down at his own.

Nico’s tongue slipped into his mouth as he laid frozen staring into Nico’s dark eyes. Then finally the questions came to him as he shut his eyes tightly again. Why was Prince Nico kissing him? His heart hurt, he wanted to cry, and at the same time his heart wanted to explode and he wanted to smile. Will was so confused he was actually wondering who was making those quiet little moans until he realized it was him.

Will pushed up at Nico’s chest. He didn’t need a lot of force to move away from Will. The man let himself be pushed away.

Brushing at his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt Will tried to sit up. Prince Nico’s hand on his shoulder made him stop.

“I’m not some toy you can just pick up and say is yours,” Will grumbled. He waved the Prince’s hand off his shoulder and forced himself to sit up on his bed. He glared back at the Prince who was glaring at him. “I don’t belong to anyone.”

“You belong to me,” Nico said in a dark tone. The Prince Nico he remembered four years ago had a quiet voice, not one so deep and rugged or demanding. Of course he had that same commanding tone, but he had never had such a forceful manner before.

“I belong to myself.”

Nico leaned down and forced a hard kiss on his lips. “You belong to me,” he said again in a quiet but harsh tone. Moving in a way that it seemed he was forcing himself to pull away Nico glared at Will. “You are mine.” In a way it sounded like he was saying it more for himself.

“So does that mean you belong to me and you’re mine, and I’m allowed to do whatever I want with you?” Will asked angrily. The Prince simply stared at him without answering. “Am I allowed to hurt you since you’re mine? Can I force you to kiss me or to leave me alone? Can I make you kill someone for me?”

His lips pressed tightly together as if Nico wanted to stop himself from doing something he would regret. Will knew he was pushing buttons but that was what he wanted. How could Nico expect to lay claim on someone when he was already engaged to someone else? Was he that unfaithful? Had Will judged him a different man? Then again Will couldn’t say one waltz and a kiss even counted as a night spent in each other’s company. They practically knew nothing about each other. Why would the Dark Angel feel obligated to keep any promises or to stay faithful?

Since then Prince Nico never said Will was his again. Not with his words anyways. Every other way possible he said it. The way he held Will’s gaze, or the way he stared at Will when he thought Will didn’t notice. It was in the way his hands touched Will, and the way he seemed to just gravitate closer to Will sometimes.

And their days and nights were spent rather quietly and sometimes uncomfortably as Will slowly recovered. Three of the dark riders left after announcing the dispatch of the raiders, but Prince Nico and the man who accompanied him named Frank stayed. While Travis brought him his meals and Rosa visited often with Daisy and Leo, Will found that Prince Nico would not visit him in the day. When the sun went down Prince Nico would visit him in his room, usually around dinner time, just before or after. He rarely sat with Will as he had his dinner. He also seemed to avoid Will when Will was up taking a walk to exercise.

When he judged that his fractures had heal Will had found he was excited to head towards the stream in the woods to bathe. Walking there took fifteen minutes, which he was actually glad he was finally able to do. Since it was so early that the sun was just barely rising no one could stop him from heading into the woods.

If it had been Will’s choice, he would have been up and about two weeks ago. Instead he stayed in his bed for six full weeks to let his fractures heal. Fortunately Travis was still asleep at this hour, and Will had enough time to be on his own and finally properly bathe off his filth.

It would be nice to be able to clean up properly in time for the festival the townspeople were planning. The news that “Prince Nico” would be returning to the palace spread far and wide. Everyone was looking forward to celebrating his return. The town just never realized that Prince Nico was in fact living among them. Some part of him did just want to clean up, put on nice clothes and enjoy the coming festival.

He thought on how busy everyone had been the last few weeks as he stripped and folded his clothes by the bank. Will even remembered Travis mentioning to one of the festival planners that he knew someone in a troupe who could join as entertainment. Will wondered exactly how Travis had meant, because wouldn’t he had also known that person as well?

When Will finally stood in the cold stream butt naked scrubbing himself he didn’t think twice about dunking his entire body into the cold stream. With it all his thoughts and concerns he’d contemplated the last weeks washed away temporarily. When he came up out of the water Will suddenly felt a shiver run through him that had nothing to do with the temperature of the water. Glancing around he noted a silhouette from the forest path he’d taken.

Will cursed as he swam for his clothes by the bank and grabbed for his clothes and sword. The person made no sound, and it was apparent that soundlessness was learned for a reason. He’d learned a long time ago being alone in the woods required alertness and preparedness to either run or fight. Assassination flashed into his mind for a split second but no one but Travis knew Will had royal blood in him. Bandits or raiders was a better guess, but he also highly doubted that considering the frequent patrols between Travis, Leo and Prince Nico.

Prince Nico stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Will, and Will dunk himself into the stream again when he saw that it was the prince. Now the water couldn’t seem to be cold enough. Will’s hand went to the chain he’d kept around his neck even though he’d stripped off all his clothes. He turned his back to the prince hoping he would just leave Will alone in his privacy. Of all the people who could had found him bathing naked in the stream it had to be the prince?

“Are you okay?” the deep voice asked behind him.

Will nodded, refused to turn around or to unclasp his fist around the engagement ring hanging off his chain necklace. Will felt an unnecessary need to pull up his knees to make himself as small and unnoticeable as possible. He knew it wouldn’t help as Prince Nico was standing behind him on the bank staring at him and Will was naked so it was hard not to watch.

“Do you need help?”

Will shook his head. He stood up but kept his hand around the chain still. “I’ll leave.” He suddenly didn’t know if he wanted to sit back down and wait for Prince Nico to leave, or to stand there and just walk out naked and put his clothes on.

“No.”

“It’s fine, I can go.” Was he stuttering? It could just be because the water was cold. Only he didn’t feel cold at all.

“No.”

“But…” Will couldn’t find anything else to say.

“Are you afraid?” the calm question caught Will unexpectedly.

He answered as he searched for an excuse to run away from the prince, “I… I just don’t think…” Will’s brain stopped working the moment he felt a finger slowly run up his back.

“It’s inappropriate?”

Will nodded and then swallowed hard. He inadvertently moved his other hand around his crotch. Even as his body shivered against the cold stream, his body tensed at the heatedness he felt, his lower parts started to rise and fill simply at the close vicinity of the man who had stolen deeper and hotter kisses from him as the nights went. Will was unconsciously aware of the man who laid claim to him with his words and pinning dark gaze.

“Is it?” Nico asked with a soft scoffing voice, as though anything they were doing couldn’t be deemed inappropriate. Well most nobles did think propriety only mattered when it was with other nobles, and that excluded Will at the moment.

His heart hurt still, realizing that Nico was attracted to him but didn’t realize who Will was. It hurt more that he wooed someone he had no intention of committing to or loving.

“Why would you think that?” His quiet voice whispered next to Will’s ear. He tensed and shivered at the same time. Nico had gotten taller in four years. Will could feel it now that they were both standing. Nico simply had to lean forward and bend his head a little just to whisper into Will’s ear, and he could feel the amount of heat the man could generate against his own chilled body.

“I…” Will still couldn’t bring his brain to start working properly.

“I can’t help an injured person bathe?” Nico asked him. Then he pulled away from behind Will.

He turned around slowly to the side and watched as Nico took off his boots and pulled off his shirt. Will felt himself flush and sat down in the deep part of the stream again. Broad shoulders and a black unfitted shirt that hid his chiseled body underneath its folds. It was entirely criminal that Prince Nico was even walking around wearing borrowed clothing.

“Come here,” Prince Nico ordered as he rolled up his pants legs to his knees. He sat at the edge of the stream, his strangely hairless legs hanging over the edge into the streams. He waved again and held his hand out to Will.

Will swam over but refused to take his hand. His own still wrapped around the ring on his neck, Will turned around and put his back to Nico.

“Bend your head forward.”

Will bent his head forward as commanded. Water suddenly cascaded down on his head and down his back. Hands scooping water from behind him and dropping it over his head. Hands rubbing at his back with the washcloth he’d left at the bank earlier. Hands chilled in the cold water dropping water over his nape and running the droplets over his shoulders. Fingers running through his scalp and hair after dousing his head with water. Will closed his eyes tighter and held his breath when he heard the Prince step into the water.

“Turn around,” he said. “Stand up.”

Will did what he was told and stood up. Eyes still closed he turned around.

The Prince of the country washed and scrub Will’s body. He quickly pulled away when Nico tried to go lower under his waist.

“I can do that,” he stuttered, eyes open now that he was afraid of Nico touching him there. He grabbed for the wash cloth but Nico wouldn’t relinquish it. Will couldn’t look him in the eyes for long and turned his gaze away. “Please,” he begged desperately.

“Why?”

Will held his breath. Why? Who in the world asked why? It was common decency. Plus he was a prince even if he didn’t want anyone to know that. And if Nico didn’t want Will to realize who he was, why was he paying so much attention to him? Did he really not remember who Will was? Then why was he doing this? Stealing kisses, touching him but only at night when no one was around to notice they were together.

“Please,” Will pleaded one more time. He wanted to cry but he couldn’t. He said he wouldn’t cry. At least not while Nico was there, and definitely not when someone could walk in on him crying. He didn’t want Travis to be there, he owed the man too much to add another burden on his shoulders. And he couldn’t afford for Rosa or the others to worry over him. Will would rather die than have someone who couldn’t even remember him see him cry.

He couldn’t cry.

Oh gods, was he about to cry because another man wanted to help him wash his lower parts? How ridiculous was that? Will couldn’t be more pathetic.

“Hey…” Nico’s quiet voice called to him but Will refused to look his way. He closed his eyes instead and kept his face turned. He clutched tighter to the ring in his hand and wished the Dark Angel would just leave him alone already. “Hey.” A chilled hand touched his cheek and turned his face towards Nico. “Hey,” Nico’s quiet voice came closer to his face and coaxed him to open his eyes.

Will averted his eyes but Nico called out to him again.

“I will never intentionally do anything to hurt you,” Nico firmly promised him. Will almost wanted to believe him. He truly wanted to, but instead Will felt all the pain he’d hidden deep inside him as the months and years past burst forward. Warm tears streamed down and Will couldn’t stop as he tried not to cry out because of all the emotional pains bombarding against his freshly healed ribcage.

He could hear the prince quietly try to shush and comfort him. Rashly he couldn’t accept the comfort or the hushing coaxes. Instead, anger rather than sadness won out and Will pushed the prince away.

“I hate you!” he shouted impulsively. Will felt the ring still in his hand but the chain had broken when he used his hand and fist to push the prince into the water.

Will gathered his clothes and his sword and ran into the forest naked and crying. He found a rock somewhere in the woods to sit down and finish crying. He couldn’t stop himself.

He had never felt so miserable or so crushed in his life. This was why Will hadn’t wanted to be engaged in the first place. This was why Will had wanted to live his life quietly, become a healer and wander the lands just like Asclepius did. Instead he had been engaged to Prince Nico, he had fallen for him with a kiss and found hope there in a dreamt happiness with a prince. Like a storybook and their fairytale happily-ever-after ends, Will had imagined the perfect prince in Prince Nico.

Then four years happened.

“Will?”

Will gasped and held his breath. He wiped at his tears and glared up to see Frank Zhang standing before him.

“Uh, sorry…” Frank’s face was flushed as he awkwardly turned to the side so he wasn’t directly look at Will. “A-are you okay?” he stuttered. “Are you hurt?”

“Leave me alone,” Will grumbled. Sniffing and wiping the rest of his tears Will started putting on his clothes and his shoes. Once he was fully dressed Will started to walk away.

Frank followed him anyways.

Will stopped in his tracks. “Leave me alone!” he snapped angrily.

“I don’t think you should be alone.”

Angry, Will turned around to face Frank Zhang. “You and your stupid boss can both leave me the hell alone. Do you hear me?” Will snapped at him. Frank seemed taken aback by Will’s sudden burst of anger. Frank had rarely visited Will in the last six weeks, but they had both mutually accepted one another’s existence. Will also envied the fact that Frank was a better archer than he was and that he could speak with Nico so freely. “I don’t know what it is you two want, or what he wants but he sure as hell doesn’t need me in his life does he?” Will yelled. He knew he was taking out most of his frustration on an innocent person but he couldn’t stand it. He couldn’t even cry alone properly, and he thought leaving the palace was supposed to help him.

“I think Angel wants you in his life,” Frank uncomfortably added.

Will took a deep breath. “Yeah?” He felt himself suddenly go cold as Frank nodded vigorously. Sarcastically he quipped back at Frank, “Well, I don’t fucking need Angel the Dark Rider in my life.”

“But-”

“The next time he comes near me,” Will cut in with the sharpest tone he’d ever heard from himself it was almost worth praise, “I will make him regret it.” It wasn’t so much a threat as it was a warning. Will clutched the ring in his hand and felt it lever him in his anger.

As Frank stood their frozen in questioning shock, Will turned around and stomped away. Tired. He was so tired about worrying and caring. He was tired of thinking and tired of wondering why. He was tired of falling in love with Prince Nico di Angelo, the King of Ghost who was so perfect the very sun would be wrong to give him a sunburn.

Chapter Text

Nico left himself floating in the shallow waters of the stream. Will Solace broke down crying and it was Nico’s fault. He had no idea how he was supposed to fix this, or if it could be fix. He only knew that it was his fault.

“What am I doing?” Nico asked to himself. And then, although he hadn’t heard his approach, Nico absentmindedly noted that Frank came up to him by the bank. “Frank, am I crazy?”

A cheerful laugh broke through Nico’s thoughts. Losing balance and sinking into the stream, Nico responded by trying to stand up quickly but lost his footing and nearly face planted into the water. Callused hands grabbed onto him and steadied him.

“It’s been a long time Ghost King,” the familiar voice but unfamiliar tone greeted him. Nico then realized who he had mistaken for as Frank. “Are you the reason my troupe is getting the honor to entertain this town?” Nico looked up and stared at the familiar face with longer brown curly hair braided down his back. Blue eyes gleamed at him with a mischievous glint and Nico’s memory suddenly flashed to the first time he met the man.

Connor Stoll had been a scrawny thirteen-year-old homeless boy playing cards against men in the local pubs of a sea port. Nico had been eleven-years-old and on his own. He’d lost his sister but also resented the world and the one person he had trusted at the time. It was then, as he traveled and patrolled Erebus on his own, that he came across the little conman who had the freest smile he’d ever seen.

“Stoll,” Nico mumbled in greeting as he stepped out of the water drenched. Connor gave him a flirtatious wink and sat down on a nearby rock by the side of the stream. Nico went about his business wrenching out the water from his pants before putting on the rest of his clothes.

“It’s been years since I last saw Prince Will.”

Nico paused and slowly turned towards Connor.

With a careless shrug Connor grinned at him. Nico stared him down. Giving up with a sigh and a shake of his head Connor said, “I hear rumors.”

Nico rolled his eyes as he turned around. “I know those rumors.”

“Prince William eloped with his retainer Travis Stoll.”

“He denied that.”

“And Prince Nico will marry Prince Austin.”

Nico turned around and walked over to Connor Stoll. He grabbed the man by the collar and pulled him up as he leaned forward.

“That’s what the rumors say.”

“I don’t remember accepting the engagement.”

Nico pulled away and ran his fingers through his long hair. He clicked his tongue in frustration when he glanced back at Connor and saw that mischief lopsided smile. Rolling his eyes Nico sat down on the rock next to Connor with a sigh.

“I may not have seen Will in nearly over ten years but that doesn’t mean I won’t defend his honor,” Connor said after a moment. Connor stared up at the sky and Nico turned his gaze to the ground. “I’m going to assume you’re going to rectify what happened here?”

“You know we’re both men.”

“And what, the gods and forefathers aren’t going to like it?” Connor asked with a hint of anger in his tone. Strange how Connor could look nearly identical to his older brother Travis, and yet his personality was strangely much more playful and much more dangerous. Travis seemed subdued in a lot of ways, as though he was afraid of being the way Connor was. Yet Connor didn’t seem to even care at all.

“I’m the only remaining heir of Erebus. Men can’t have children together.” Nico sat and thought about the reason why he’d left four years ago. He and Connor had separated at this spot, Nico entering the forbidden lands on his own and Connor leading his troupe into the Roman Empire.

“You know my troupe is disbanding after this,” Connor said. Nico turned and looked at him then, and he couldn’t bring himself to ask Connor the hopeful question in his heart. Connor nodded with a smile so very like Travis’ when he smiled at Will. A gentle and full-hearted smile.

Nico hugged Connor tightly. He could cry with this bit of news but he wouldn’t.

“So, you’re going to protect Will’s honor right?”

Nico patted Connor’s back and decided the best answer was simply to walk away from him. Connor laughed as he followed behind, and for the first time in a long time Nico felt as if he wasn’t crazy. Connor put his arm around Nico’s shoulder, leaned into him and walked down the road with him as if it was the old days when they first met. Nico used to glare daggers into the conman and hated how close the guy acted with everyone. Eventually he realized the reason why Connor was that way, and Nico stopped caring that Connor invaded his personal space.

Walking into town from the forest with Connor’s arm around his shoulders hadn’t seemed as big a problem. Of course they both realized it was a problem when they saw Will walking by in the empty plaza. Will stopped in his tracks and stared at the two of them, standing close to each other with Connor’s arm around him.

Will didn’t ask. He simply turned around and walked away the same way he had ran away earlier. Nico felt his stomach turn inside out and protest.

“That’s never been a clearer rejection,” Connor said as he took a step away from Nico. Nico felt the frustration piling up in his head, and an irritating heat he was unused to collecting there. “So I hear this festival is in three days,” Connor changed the subject.

Nico nodded and ignored the decorations that were half finished around town. It was weird enough helping the town with a festival in his honor when no one knew he was there. He wasn’t sure how he felt revealing himself to everyone.

Four years have gone by, he lost so much time. Nico couldn’t connect anymore to the people who once meant so much to him. He didn’t even know how to treat the fiancé who had waited four years for him. Nico was lost in life which was ironic.

 

Three days later Nico found himself avoiding Will wherever the man went. The moment he saw Will he turned the other way. Nico hated that he couldn’t approach Will, but now he had to finish what he originally started. After the festival in the evening Nico would have to head back to the palace. He couldn’t afford to drag Will’s feelings along and make him wait again.

“So,” Travis Stoll sat down next to Nico where he was resting. Most of all the hard labor was done, and Nico was tired of being in the sun. “You came on pretty strong.” Nico laughed. Travis Stoll and Connor Stoll, despite how long it may have been since they actually spent quality time together it was obvious they were brothers. Nico could predict the exact words Travis was going to say to him.

“And I stopped showing interest so now you feel you need to do something.” Nico kept his eyes on his hands as he carved the wooden figurine in his hand.

“The interest is still there.” Travis stretched his legs out in front of him and crossed his ankles. Staring into the sky he then said, “You’re pulling away.”

“He’s not interested.”

“How do you know?”

Nico paused and put his carving knife back in its sheath. He looked over and glared at Travis next to him. Nico stood up and started to walk away from the bench. He headed into the plaza and was grabbed by Connor and Frank the moment they saw him walking by.

“Hello Prince,” Connor winked at him. Nico was in the middle of asking them what they were doing dragging him away but Connor shushed him. They turned a corner into an alley and watched as Will strolled by with little Daisy laughing at the man’s off-tone singing.

“This way,” Frank whispered. As he had Nico’s other arm he hauled Nico further into the alley. Connor followed suit, dragging Nico in step to Frank’s hurried ones. “Here.” Frank walked them into a backdoor of a closed shop.

Nico glared between the two before looking around the old shop. There was dust and white sheets covering worktables and benches. It was old, and from the smell, older than Nico had known the town. Decades had passed since this little shop had been used, and he was afraid he could feel the history in it just by moving around.

“Good place,” Connor said quietly. Nico’s sixth sense had him cringing before he even looked at Connor’s lopsided mischievous grin. “Time to get to work.”

“It’ll be refreshing to see how he looks under all that,” Frank commented with a nod. Nico suddenly understood what it was the two miscreants were planning, and he did not like the idea. “You can’t very well meet her like this,” Frank pointed out. Nico was already imagining what he would do if Frank ever let his guard down. A bag of cockroaches down his back seemed like a good thought.

And as Frank went about random chores, stopping in at odd hours of the afternoon, Connor worked on first completely bathing and scrubbing Nico and his hair.

“Must you wash my hair?” Nico grumbled. He preferred doing it himself. He liked being clean, but he didn’t like having to sit in an old wooden tub of hot water getting scrubbed down. He also didn’t enjoy being shampooed three times—both his head hair and his facial hair.

“Yes.”

Frank came in with sandwiches and fruits, which Nico wasn’t allowed to think about eating since he wasn’t done being cleaned up. Nico shouted when Connor started yanking a comb through his hair. Out of reflex he elbowed Connor in the chest and Frank almost choked on his sandwich from laughing. In turn, Connor decided he would eat and Frank could try to untangle Nico’s mess of hair. Nico sat in the tub staring at all the dead floating skin and dirt and dust in the water as Frank ever so gently combed his wet hair.

“The water’s cold,” Frank said in the silence. Nico hadn’t noticed, since he was preoccupied with the ripples of the still water.

“I’ve got water going,” Connor said and pointed at the cobble fireplace in the wall. Frank handed Nico a towel and had him step out of the wooden tub.

Once the water was replaced Nico was back in the tub. Connor was back scrubbing down nearly every inch of skin on Nico’s body. After shampooing and conditioning his hair one more time Connor tried getting a fifth bath in. Nico got out of the bath and glared Connor down.

“I know that look,” Frank chuckled when he came back, sweaty and with supper. Nico sent the glare to Frank who visibly gave up by hanging his hands up after putting the food down on the sheet covered table.

“Alright, time for a cut,” Connor sighed. He pulled out a rolled up leather pack of tools from his knapsack. Nico felt the urge to run but let himself be seated and a sheet wrapped around his neck. Without saying anything more Connor started clipping away his hair. Shorter and shorter and shorter until Nico felt bare and his hair felt unfamiliar to him.

“As good as the old you,” Connor announced. Nico opened his eyes and blinked a few times. Connor took the sheet off him and Nico yawned as he stood up. “I took off that ugly beard too.” Nico felt a chill run through him as he felt his chin for the facial hair that used to be there.

“I’ve never seen him fall asleep so soundly,” Frank mentioned as he carried the tub back inside the old shop where they found it.

“I’ll tell you the secret later,” Connor laughed as Frank came back out of the back room.

Yawning one more time Nico wrapped the towel he previously used around his bare body. He unconsciously ran his fingers through his hair. Instinctively he enjoyed the feeling, recognizing it in a deep part of himself.

“Your clothes for tonight.” Frank presented Nico with dark folded clothes. He took the clothes and stared at the decorated clothing and the quality of the fabric.

“Don’t worry you’re not the only peacock tonight,” Connor laughed loudly. Somehow that didn’t help.

Nico reluctantly put on the garbs. They were strangely identical to the clothes he wore to his engagement ball in Delphi. He pulled on the military-like jacket over the thin silk shirt. He put on the gloves that came with the garb and sighed when Connor gave him dress shoes instead of boots.

Connor was dressed handsomely but very obviously as a commoner and entertainer. Frank came out of one of the empty rooms in military attire as if he was going off into war. He had on armor, even the flowing cape attached to his shoulders. He looked just like a Roman soldier. The two escorted Nico out of the old shop the same way they brought him and directly into the plaza.

Nico felt himself look closer and closer to the ground as everyone stared at him or took a double look in shock. Everywhere he walked everyone started to whisper and recognize him. Nico stopped in the middle of the plaza with Frank and Connor. Everyone was dancing joyfully and Nico slowly looked up. Even through the crowd and all the laughter he could see Will.

Will was laughing in the arms of another man. Will changing partners and grinning down at a woman. Will sharing flirtatious winks and smiles with little girls stepping on his feet. Nico had no idea how long he stood there watching Will dance, but he realized that although he saw Will he was not really seeing him.

“Cut in, quick,” Connor whispered sharply into his ear.

“What?”

Nico felt himself pushed into the middle of the dance area. He bumped into Will and another man. The man recognized Nico immediately and gave him Will without a word. Will stared at him and then glowered before taking Nico’s hand.

“It’s unexpected to see you here Prince Nico,” Will said in a cold tone as they stepped into a waltz. Nico stared into Will’s eyes to see why he would say such a thing. All he saw there was the same thing he saw each time he looked in the last few weeks. “I heard you were already headed back to the palace.” Nico continued to stare into those blue eyes but still saw the same thing. “To your fiancé.”

Nico stopped them in the middle of the dance.

“Are we done?” Will asked. He tried pulling his hands away but Nico tightened his grip. He pulled Will closer to him. “Your Highness,” Will quietly refused him. Nico kept them close to one another anyway. “Please let go.”

“I will not.”

“Your Highness-”

Nico pulled Will so close to him they were practically pressing against each other. Nico bent his mouth next to Will’s ear as they continued to dance.

Slowly he whispered, “I returned to my fiancé.” He looked into Will’s eyes as the song ended and they slowly stepped away. “But he doesn’t see me.” Nico kissed Will’s ring finger just as he did all those years ago. He weaved through the crowd and away from the bustling festival.

Chapter Text

Will stood in the middle of the dance area stunned by Prince Nico’s actions and words. A rush of panic branched from his heart into his veins. He rushed through the crowd as a new song started and excited townspeople exchanged partners.

Once he cleared the crowd Will looked around. As though his veins couldn’t compensate for the amount of panic he felt, it overflowed into his lungs and made it harder to breathe.

“That way.” Someone bumped into him from behind and whispered into his ear. Will turned around to see who it was but they were gone in the crowd cheering as the troupe Travis had called started their acts. Will turned back around and ran towards the way the stranger had hinted.

Will kept running straight, because he couldn’t think to look anywhere else. He couldn’t see the prince but he ran right into the woods and kept going down the forest path. Once he reached the stream Will’s knees were already buckling as he bent down to catch his breath.

He heard water moving and froze where he crouched. Prince Nico stood half naked under the starlight, pants rolled up and completely still in the stream. Will lost the breath he’d been trying to catch as he stared at Prince Nico whose eyes were fixed on the slow moving stream.

Then he saw the fluid movement as the prince grabbed a fish out of the stream and tossed it over to the bank. He did it again nearly two minutes later. He stood so still it was as though he was stone.

Cold.

The strangest thing came to his mind. He wasn’t cold, he was dressed for the cold weather in Erebus and sweating from earlier. It was watching the half-naked prince standing in the chilly waters at night that reminded him of the cold. It was a memory of feeling cold. Will turned away and headed back to town.

He was running through the crowd, trying to get his way through, when he was suddenly shoved forward and out of the crowd. There he saw him and Will felt all the adrenaline in him slowly seep away as he watched him smile and laugh.

Although he was hidden behind a mask that only covered eyes and nose Will knew him. His long golden brown hair lit by the firelight and lamps, his smile so bright and his laugh so unchanged Will knew right away. Will lost his breath one more time and felt all his exhaustion in preparing for the festival hit him at once. He knelt down at the side of the street trying to regulate his breathing.

Connor.

Then Will realized the voice that had pointed him towards the prince had been Connor’s voice. Although it was similar to Travis’ voice he had always been able to tell them apart considering all the years they had spent growing up. It had been over ten years since Will last saw Connor and it made since he hadn’t recognized the deepen voice.

Will watched through blurring eyes as his old friend laughed and smiled. He danced around and around to the music the troupe played. He picked up little boys and girls and swung them in the air. He took young girls around the waist and spun them around back to their fathers and brothers. He pulled men into a short dance before grabbing the hand of another woman and coupling them to dance to the jolly music.

It made sense suddenly, why Connor was there. Although he had never spoken or contacted Will again he had stayed in touch with his brother. Knowing that was a relief but it also hurt him because he didn’t know.

Confusion bombarded him and Will couldn’t think. He decided to focus on one thing. Like shooting an arrow, he had to try and focus on one thing. Will stood up and made his way back to the house and away from the festival concentrating in the plaza. Will collapsed into his bed and groaned. He was still so confused he couldn’t focus on what he wanted.

Will turned onto his back and stared at his ceiling. He fingered the ring hidden underneath his clothes tied around his neck with a leather string. With his eyes closed Will listened to the quiet in the house. His mind spread out to all he was thinking of and feeling, but then he listened and his mind only saw Prince Nico.

In the quiet he remembered the sound of water. The prince stood in the night without moving, his body illuminated by the starlight and the moon. Will sighed, feeling his brain relax.

Will sat up and moved around to the closet in the room. He shoved things around until he found Nico’s fur cape folded on the top shelf behind a few random boxes. Will pulled it down and unwrapped it from the thick cloth he had used to cover the cape. It was heavy and oddly warm.

Holding it to himself he remembered the warmth and hope it had given him four years ago. Will took a deep breath as other emotions entered his mind but he pushed them back. He headed out of the house and went back to the stream, avoiding the crowd and the people as much as he could.

He heard the crackle of a fire once he got back to the stream. At the bank of the stream the prince sat, still half-naked, at a small fire with four fish cooking at the fire. Will slowly walked towards him, and although Nico indicated that he heard Will walking over he didn’t look up from staring into the fire.

Will took off the cape and wrapped it around Nico’s chilled body. He was in the middle of clasping the cape on the prince when the man’s hands came up and stop his.

“Why?” Nico croaked out the question.

Will thought on the one word question. He replied with one word, “Promised.”

He waited.

Nico put down his hands and turned his face away from Will kneeling just beside him. Will finished clasping the cape onto Nico’s half-naked body.

He sat himself down next to Nico. He kept an appropriate distance between them, unsure how close he should be with Nico. He hugged his knees to his chest and stared into the fire.

“You knew who I was?” Will asked.

“Yes.”

“Why did you lie?”

“I didn’t.”

“Your name isn’t Angel,” Will sighed. He tried not to groan as the frustration burned through his brain.

“I knew you knew,” Nico said softly into their silence. Will held his breath at that news. If he had known then why had he waited? “Four years.” Will nodded in understanding. “We only had that one time together.”

Will felt confused again. He tried to make sense of what Nico was trying to tell him. If Nico knew that Will had known he was the prince, then he stayed and did what he did because of what? To test Will? To see how Will would react?

“You’re angry.”

Will rolled his eyes at that comment. “No Prince Nico, I’m just really excited to be sitting next to you in the middle of nowhere.” He hadn’t meant to be sarcastic. Will wasn’t the sarcastic type.

They sat in silence until Nico moved over closer to him. Will started to get up but Nico’s hand took his and held it. He sat back down and kept his face away from Nico’s.

“1,460 days.”

Will turned and looked at him, trying to figure out what Nico was trying to say to him. Nico stared into the fire instead.

“From that night until I saw you again.” Nico continued looking at the fire instead of Will. Will held his breath as Nico revealed something to him that Will was pretty sure Nico hadn’t meant to tell him. “1, 460 days. 806 days in Tartarus. 1,019 days since that night until I got out. 441 days since I got out until I saw you again.” Nico took a deep breath finally said, “46 days since I finally saw you again. And 1,506 days since Delphi.”

Will’s head kept banging against the one thing Nico had revealed that he hadn’t meant to say. “Tartarus?” he asked in a quiet gasp. Nico’s clean shaven jaw tightened and he stared harder into the fire. Will waited for Nico because he couldn’t expect someone who barely even knew him to be willing to answer something so personal and traumatizing.

“I left here into the Forbidden Lands,” Nico started. His voice was that same quiet one that Will remembered from four years ago. It was deep because he was older, but he wasn’t rough in his tone. “I went there to search for the source of a rumor or proof that the rumor was true.” Will didn’t ask what rumor even though he had wanted to know what mission could have driven Nico away from an arranged marriage. “I was caught, and drugged.” Will tried not to imagine the worst possible thing to happen. “The Kronos Loyalists weren’t too happy to hear the Prince of Erebus would be traveling through. They threw me into Tartarus without so much as thinking really.”

“But you got out.”

“I spent over two years there,” Nico sighed. He shook his head and Will knew he was trying to shake the memories away. “Then I found someone else’s exit and I climbed out.” Will closed his eyes and tried not to think and only listen. There were so many questions. What had Nico eaten? What had he drunk? How had he lived in that horrendous place? He did his best to only listen but Nico said nothing more.

He waited but Nico’s jaw had tightened and his eyes stared into the fire with ferocity. Will wanted to say he knew Nico had climbed out of Tartarus a different person, but he couldn’t. He had never known Prince Nico di Angelo, he’d simply met him for a few moments one night four years ago. He couldn’t say that the rage and the anger he revealed through his eyes was unlike him.

“You don’t have to tell me.” Will found his voice quiet and himself a little disappointed. He wasn’t sure exactly why but he had wanted Nico to want to tell him.

“What did you do?” Nico asked abruptly. He turned his gaze from the fire onto Will finally. His eyes had gone from silent rage to one openly curious. Will almost couldn’t help but smile at the younger boy he could remember four years ago.

“While I waited for my prince?” Will grinned. Nico pulled back, his hand taken off Will’s own, as he looked at the ground. Even with the firelight tinting his skin a little yellow and orange, Will could see the light blush that had spread over Nico’s face. The beard he had before would have hidden it, but now that he was clean shaven it was fairly easy to see what his face was expressing.

Nico got up and moved toward the fire. He crouched down and turned over the fish he had stabbed through with sticks and stuck in the ground over the fire to cook. Will watched the way he so easily stood next to fire or touch a stick hot by the heat as if it was nothing. When he came back and sat down Will took his hand and turned it palm side up.

Nico didn’t fight his rude way of examining his hand. Will held the palm towards the light and felt the way Nico’s fingers were rough and callused. He wanted to ask but he couldn’t.  

“It doesn’t hurt,” Nico answered his unasked question. “It hasn’t in a long time.” Will realized what Nico meant then. It was obvious that Nico’s hands were so used to the pain it didn’t register as pain anymore. Nico had always been fighting, he had always been in danger and out hunting for himself and others.

Will wrapped his hands around Nico’s palm and sat awkwardly angled toward him. He decided to say something to fill the void as they sat there with hands enveloped.

“I waited,” he said and stole a glance at Nico’s curious face. He must have been curious as to why Will was enveloping his palm and with what Will had to tell him. It was strange how open he was to simply listen. With Travis, sometimes Will didn’t even have to talk and other times it was more like a back and forth banter than a conversation. “After the engagement party I had tutors come teach me how to be a Prince Consort.”

“You are a prince.” Nico said it as a statement but it was a question.

“Of many,” Will added with a smile he didn’t really feel like giving. Will looked up at Nico and his eyes showed he didn’t understand what Will meant. “My father has many children. In Delphi you have to prove your worth or it really doesn’t mean anything.”

Nico’s curious face turned into a frustrated face of confusion. His eyebrows knitted as he tried to understand what Will was saying.

“You had no value to your father,” Nico said although he meant to frame it as a question. It seemed Nico found it hard to understand how a father would find his kids unimportant unless they were special or talented in some way. Will decided he honestly didn’t want to justify his father’s way of thinking, but he understood it just as well. “That is why you were engaged to me.” Nico came to that realization rather quickly and Will felt somewhat rejected by the idea that Nico finally knew.

“More or less,” Will sighed out. He took in another breath to give himself the courage to say things that hurt to think about. “I was the oldest at the time who fit your criteria.” When he looked at Nico the man’s face was one of pure confusion.

“Criteria?”

“Never married. No children. Of age,” Will listed the first three. Nico seemed to understand it. “Male.” He watched Nico’s shocked expression then. Then he turned his face away again as he blushed one more time. “Why do you look so…?” Will couldn’t bring up the right word to ask for Nico’s reactions.

“I never wrote a criteria,” Nico mumbled. His face turned even redder. He pulled his hand from Will’s and cleared his throat as he faced the fire instead of Will. This time Will was the confused one.

“So your father wrote it?”

Nico shrugged.

“Why?”

Nico put his face into his hands with a grumble. He was turning so embarrassed the tips of his ear had gone pink too. Will smiled and waited until Nico looked up and stared at the hand Will had been holding seconds ago.

“What did you…?” he asked, staring in wonder.

“My only gift is the magic to heal.” Will shrugged and took Nico’s other hand into his own. “Like this.” He showed how he enveloped Nico’s hand and then waited. “Feel how it’s warm?”

“Yes.”

“That’s the magic.”

Will felt happiness bubble up in him as he watched Nico’s confused face turn into one of pure wonder. “It’ll take time,” he laughed and watched as Nico nodded his head in anticipation. It was odd to see a grown man be so childishly boyish, and yet it warmed Will’s heart.

“Tell me,” Nico said, his eyes unmoving from their hands.

“What?”

“Why you accepted.”

Will blinked and froze in place as he thought about it. “I was told,” Will said and realized how that might have sounded. “One day in archery training one of my father’s men pulled me aside and told me I will be marrying Prince Nico of Erebus.” Will thought back to four years ago. “That was two weeks before we met.”

“My father sent the proposal three months before.”

“Yea, but my father had a lot of children,” Will shrugged. He continued explaining what happened in the time since they first met. “I got lessons, and one day I got tired of waiting around for someone who disappeared and never came back.” Nico nodded as if he understood the cruel words. Will removed his hands and showed Nico his healed palm. Calluses gone Will took Nico’s hand and put them up on his cheeks and felt the smoothness of the man’s hands. Nico’s hands were still rough and scarred, but the calluses and fresh cuts were gone.

Will blinked when Nico pulled in and kissed him on the lips. “Smooth,” he laughed when Nico pulled away. Nico didn’t smile. “You’re moving kind of fast.”

“How?”

“First kiss minutes after meeting,” Will reminded him. Nico shrugged it off. “Four years later you just swoop in and save me.” Nico didn’t react. “Then you just decided I belong to you.” Nico looked at him with a blank look, as if daring him to say he didn’t. Will just rolled his eyes and scoffed. “Make me sit and awkwardly talk to you while I’m bedridden.” Nico gave him a little smile from that. “Help bathe me.” Nico turned his gaze to the stream and back, and smiled again. Will shook his head as he laughed at the bold prince. “You move pretty fast, Prince.”

“Four years engaged,” Nico shrugged. He took Will’s hands in his and kissed each palm. “Too long, actually.”

Will laughed. “You know we’re not engaged anymore right?”

Nico looked at him then, and he gave this little contrite look as if Will had just opened a stitch. “I never asked for anyone else.”

“You never asked for me,” Will pointed out.

Nico stared at him for a long moment. Will felt awkward as Nico’s gaze held his. He wanted to pull away but at the same time he just wanted to hide under the covers of his bed.

“I never asked for anyone else,” Nico said again and with more emphasis.

It was then Will realized why Nico had found it odd that Will mentioned being told instead of accepting. Or why he had blushed but didn’t gave a non-answer when Will suggested his father had written the criteria.

“You asked for me?”

“It was an arranged marriage,” Nico said quietly as he looked down at their hands. Nico’s thumbs ran through Will’s palms. “But there were no requirements to meet. There were no deals.” His gaze turned back to Will and he leaned in and kissed Will one more time on the lips. “Just you.”

Will felt his face heat up. He pulled his hands away and stood. Will started pacing back and forth from Nico to the stream and back. Why was he told there was a criteria? Why had his father waited over two months to let him know? And he wasn’t the only one who was misled about this, his siblings had all known about it. Somethings suddenly started clicking to place and Will knew. He just knew somehow.

Finally he looked at Nico. “Do you think your father made a list of conditions to ensure I would be engaged to you?” Will asked but he had a feeling he knew the answer.

Nico shrugged but then shook his head. “I told him who I wanted to marry. He said he would ask.” In other words King Hades would have done anything to make sure his only surviving heir got what he wanted. But then why the criteria?

No. Will stopped as his realizations started unfolding. “No, it wasn’t your father’s intentions,” Will said as it all made sense. “I remember, my father had correspondence between King Hades for a month since the first letter came. That’s when the rumors went around. Your father might have been asking about me specifically.”

Nico’s eyes scrunched and then he asked, “You mean ask if you were already married.”

Will nodded. “Do you have a son named Will?” he decided to echo a possible question King Hades may have wrote. Nico just stared at him. “My father doesn’t remember names unless they’re important,” Will pointed out.

“His interpretation would be: did he have sons?”

Will nodded. “Is he married or in a serious relationship?” That was the next thing that went around during the time. His father would have simply thought it had to be an uncommitted son at the time. “My father decided to find the best match of his sons based on the questions your father was asking him in the letters.” Nico looked confused then. He further tried to explain as he sat back down and faced Nico. “My father doesn’t know my name. He has over eighty children between twenty or so women from just in his harem. He won’t remember who I am, and I’m not very talented.”

“You can heal.”

“My brother Asclepius is renowned for being a great healer and medicine man. My father wouldn’t even recognize me until I’ve reached that level.” Will shook his head as he continued to understand exactly what happened four years ago. “Your father was sending letters asking about me, but my father had no idea who I was. So instead he weeded out a potential son based on the questions your father was asking.” Nico nodded but he didn’t seem as worried as Will was about all of this.

“You didn’t want to marry?” Nico asked quietly and confused.

Will sighed heavily. “Four years ago Travis mentioned that one of my brothers were found dead in the woods.” Will could see Nico try to fit the pieces. “Another one past a few months ago. He would have been the one you were engaged to but someone claimed he was the father of their child.” Nico seemed to understand then.

Finally he spoke the words. “Someone wants to be Erebus’ Prince Consort.” Will breathed a sigh of relief when Nico finally understood where he was getting at. Curiously he asked, “But why?”

“You’re the only surviving heir of Erebus,” Will pointed out.

“So if my father and I die they become the ruler?” Nico asked. Will nodded but Nico broke into a smile and started chuckling. He shook his head at Will. “My father’s queen would rule before I do, and she has her own magic. Her mother is also backed by King Zeus, it would be difficult to try and kill her.”

“That doesn’t mean the person won’t try,” Will groaned.

“Prince Austin,” Nico said then and Will froze in place as a chill ran through him. “People are saying we are engaged.”

“He is in danger.”

“Or it could be him.”

“No.” Will couldn’t believe it. He hadn’t spent a lot of time with him, but he knew Austin well enough. He was just a little too friendly and out there, as most of them were. However Austin didn’t seem to have the inclination of being King of his own kingdom.

“So how do you want to save him?”

The question was unexpected. Will hadn’t thought about it but Austin could get killed because everyone was mistaken about the arranged engagement. If anything it was Will’s responsibility or his family would end up dwindled down by death.

“I’ll ask again,” Nico said and he thought Nico was going to ask the same question one more time. Instead Nico asked, “Will you marry me?” And Will’s mouth went slack. Nico stared at him expectantly.

“What…”

“Will you-” Nico started to ask but Will put his hand over the man’s mouth.

“Not that.”

Nico pulled down Will’s hand. “Is that a no?”

“No!” Will snapped. Then he groaned. “No, I mean… I… It’s not…” Will grumbled and moaned in frustration as he tried to explain himself. With a deep breath Will calmed himself and tried to focus. “Okay, moving too fast again.”

“Four years.”

“Fast,” Will insisted.

“Your answer?” Nico took Will’s hand and kissed the knuckle of his ring finger. The prince had a strange way of showing his possessiveness. It was a strange gentle kind of possession that three out all of Will’s thoughts on barbaric men who claimed people.

“Are you going to leave again?” Will asked. The frozen look on Nico’s face told Will he was, but that Will had also asked his question wrong. He cleared his throat in the awkward silence as Nico put down his hand. “I mean,” he croaked, “how long would I have to wait for you?”

“I don’t know,” Nico answered solemnly in his quiet voice.

Will tried asking something else. “Is coming with you not an option?”

Then Nico looked at him with that childish wonder in his eyes as he had earlier at Will’s healing. And for the barest of moment Will felt like he was seeing the young Nico from four years ago staring at him instead of the grown man. So without really thinking of his future or the consequences Will answered.

“Yes.”

Chapter Text

“I will marry you.”

Nico felt hope sprout from the pit of stomach. Nico laughed as he pulled Will toward him and kissed him one more time. He wrapped his arms around Will and rolled them into the ground.

“Then you’re mine.”

Will smiled at him, with that gentle smile of his that had stolen its way into Nico’s heart. Nico kissed him one more time, but unlike the kisses he gave Will before Nico slipped his tongue in between the slightly parted lips. Once Will moaned and began to push against his chest Nico pulled away.

“Fast,” Will rasped. His lips were red from the roughness of Nico’s kiss, and his looked so dazed Nico actually felt prideful at the slightly ravaged appearance beneath him.

“Four years.”

“Um…” Will cleared his throat. His gaze turned towards where Nico’s crotch sat on top his. Nico followed his gaze and back. “That… um…”

Nico grinned. “You know what that is.” He tried not to move or Will would freeze up underneath him even more.

“It’s just that…”

“You’ve never felt another man’s?” Nico asked and he saw the way Will’s face turned red completely. “Really?” He moved himself off Will and sat down next to the man.

Will wrapped his arms over his face and groaned. He mumbled a few things inaudibly to himself before saying, “Not a lot.”

“Explain,” Nico demanded. He had mixed feelings. He was frightened of Will’s innocence, and yet jealous of the man or men who had the pleasure to share deep intimacies with Will.

His arms were removed from covering his head and he stared up at the sky where he laid. Nico watched Will, studying every part of him and wondering where the others had touched and kissed him.

Did Will’s first man run his fingers down his body, barely able to touch him in fear Will might break apart? Had his past lovers learn his entire body and kissed every blemish? How had they touched him, how had he touched them? Were they rough with him? Had they made him cry until his voice had disappeared? What did they do after? Had they laid with him in bed or wherever it was they had been with him?

Millions of questions ran through his mind and Nico couldn’t stop.

“Travis and I had sex when I was sixteen,” Will said.

Nico choked on air and started coughing. Will burst into laughter as he sat up and pounded on Nico’s back.

“I’m kidding, calm down,” Will laughed. His hand rubbed Nico’s back and then settled down on the ground behind Nico. He leaned in and set his head on Nico’s shoulder. “If you want to know, Connor was my first kiss.”

“Connor?” Nico couldn’t even imagine. Actually, no he definitely could imagine that little conman tricking Will into kissing him.

“Don’t worry Travis beat him up to save my honor,” Will laughed.

“You’re not a girl,” Nico sighed.

“I know, I said the same thing but it’s Travis,” Will chuckled. He lifted his head and kissed Nico on the cheek then. “And it was because he was leaving, it didn’t really mean anything. It was just a good reason to get the first time out of the way.”

Nico decided he was going to have to get back that first kiss from that conman somehow.

“Did you have sex with Travis?”

“No,” Will laughed, and it sounded a lot like he was laughing at Nico. “My first time I was fifteen. It was with a woman.”

“Oh.” Nico didn’t have quite a preference for woman, so he wasn’t exactly sure how to react to that.

“It didn’t feel good.”

“I see.” He kept his voice passive. Nico didn’t want to actually hear about this, and yet he knew he would because he had asked.

“So when I turned sixteen I tried again with a man.” Will explained to Nico how he met him at a pub, and Travis had watched him from afar every step of the way. Will had managed to attract the man and later on that night he had been lead into an inn. They were both a little drunk, but somehow had managed to find pleasure with each other through the night.

“And?” Nico prompted.

“It was nice but I didn’t feel good afterwards,” Will said. He wrapped his arms around Nico’s arm and held on tight. “I thought maybe…”

“You couldn’t have sex?”

“I don’t know.”

Nico leaned over and kissed Will one more time. “Afterward?”

“I tried a couple times but…” Will’s voice carried off and he shook his head. His hands tightened around Nico’s bicep. “It was always awkward or very distant. Just something to make the itch go away.” Will fell silent and Nico knew that it was shame that was hanging over him, but he shouldn’t have to feel shame for carnal needs.

“All we need are witnesses.” Nico suddenly couldn’t wait to be married to Will. He didn’t just want Will sharing a bed with him, he wanted Will to know it wasn’t cold or distant or shameful. He wanted Will to burn underneath him.

“For sex?”

“To marry.”

Will nervously laughed. “Can it count as a royal marriage?”

“Probably not.” Nico reached for one of the hands around his bicep and kissed the knuckle of the ring finger. “But it’ll work to our advantage later.”

“What do you mean?”

“No going back.”

It seemed to take Will some time before he understood Nico’s intent. It would be to their advantage to publically declare their vows so there would be no question who Nico would officially marry later. Once possible and with great haste, Nico would marry Will. With such an intent and promise to marry, there was no way Will could be ashamed for whatever they did together. By being publically recognized as having declared their vows Will would also save any of his single, unattached brothers from being killed.

“Who?”

Nico shook his head with a smile. He unclasped his old cape, walked to his clothes and began putting on his shirt and necklace. Will approached as Nico was slipping the necklace over his head.

“So you still have it,” Will smiled as he picked up the arrowhead hanging around his neck. Nico nodded, unable to choke out a response. “Keep it.”

Running his hand down Will’s neck he found the leather string and pulled the necklace out from under Will’s shirt. “You kept it.” Nico ran his hand over the engagement ring he had made for Will four years ago. Will’s face turned a little red and then he nodded. “It’s yours.” Nico learned forward, unable to help himself even though he said he would stop for now, and kissed Will on the cheek. “Don’t be shy.”

“I’m not…”

“Embarrassed?”

Will didn’t respond. His face stayed red and he couldn’t look Nico in the face.

“We should eat,” Nico changed the subject. He walked back to the fire and took one of the fish cooking by the fire. Nico sat down in front of Will and pulled a piece off the fish. He blew on the hot piece and offered it to Will.

For a moment Will looked between him and the piece of fish held up at him. Then Nico proffered it closer to him and Will’s lips slowly parted, and then Will leaned forward and ate the fish from his hand. Nico continued feeding Will that way, watching as Will’s face was pink from embarrassment and shyness the entire time.

Once they were done eating Nico started to kill the fire. He was throwing dirt over the dying fire when he looked over to Will. The man watched him in a way Nico recognized when he sixteen years old. It was this quiet admiration others looked at him, but Nico had always thought it was because of his small stature but unbelievable skills that people stared at him that way. One man actually approached him once and had asked to take him to bed. But Will was staring at him as though he was trying to remember every detail, admiring every curve and line of his body—or the lack thereof.

Nico finished his cleanup quickly. He holstered his weapons, put on his cape and held out a hand to Will. He pulled Will up then and kissed the man just before he settled on his feet.

“You’re not stopping anytime soon with that are you?” Will smiled.

Nico shrugged. He asked simply, “Why?” Holding Will’s hand in his Nico led the way back to town.

“Well, I don’t know,” Will shrugged as he matched his steps with Nico’s. He mumbled under his breath but Nico still heard, “I’m not used to it.”

“You’ve never been wooed?” Nico asked, and when he did he suddenly knew the answer. Will never replied back to him but Nico could tell Will never had been wooed. He was one of over eighty children of King Apollo. Nico intertwined their fingers together and moved a little faster toward the town.

Wedding.

Married.

Mine.

Nico couldn’t get back to town earlier. He wanted to find the mayor or a priest as quickly as possible. Navigating through the crowds Nico knew everyone was looking at him and Will. He only cared about finding someone of authority to be his witness.

“Mayor!” Nico called out when he found the mayor and his family sitting at one of the tables by the stage in the plaza. The man was able to greet him but was stunned shock when he realized who he was looking at. Most everyone around them was, but Nico ignored that and grabbed the older man and pulled him along with him and Will.

“P-Prince Nico!” the mayor stumbled between words trying to greet him and ask him what was happening.

“Just Nico, mayor.”

“H-How?”

“I’m not interested in explaining,” Nico said as he headed toward his house in town. Nico didn’t have his keys on him so instead he knocked on the door and waited. Once the door opened the maid Marie gasped in shock of seeing him and hurried away shouting for Jules-Albert.

Standing in the main room Nico let go of the mayor. He showed the major his and Will’s hands interlocked. The mayor looked between Will and Nico and seemed to understand.

“I wish to marry.”

“But you are engaged to another,” the major quietly protested. He seemed to stare at Will in a way as if he suspected Will of something.

“I am engaged to Prince Will Solace of Delphi,” Nico announced. He heard Marie, Jules-Albert and the rest of the staff rush into the main room to witness. Nico didn’t mind. He’d been hiding for the last few weeks in town instead of in his own home and everyone was shocked to see him.

“Yes, well now it’s Prince-”

Nico cut off the major. “I proposed to Prince Will of Delphi.” He waited for the major to agree with him by nodding. “No one else.” The major nodded in understanding but looked at Will again. “Let me introduce you.” Nico yanked Will towards him and stared into his eyes. Will understood Nico’s intentions and his face turned a little pink at the thought. “My fiancé,” Nico turned to the major, “Prince Will of Delphi.”

“P-Prince?” the major choked on thin air. He stared at Will bugged-eye and shakily apologized for not showing him the proper respect. Will was flustered and told the mayor not to treat him any differently.

And so they stood there, hands intertwined, in a room full of his staff and the major. First Nico made his vow and then Will. The mayor then spoke the words as their leading witness to their vows of marriage and congratulated them.

“Get my room ready,” Nico ordered his staff. He turned to the mayor as his people started to bustle about and thanked him. “Ring,” Nico held his hand out to Will. Will slowly took off the ring from around his neck and handed it to Nico. Nico undid the leather string and then took Will’s hand and slipped the ring on his finger. He leaned down and kissed Will’s knuckle.

Once the mayor left Nico turned to Will and asked, “Ready?”

“Not really,” Will shook his head.

“Come.” He pulled Will up the stairs to the second floor and passed Marie as he headed for his room. He opened the door and lifted Will into his arms and stepped inside, then tossed him on the giant bed before closing the door.

“This is moving really fast,” Will said quietly as he sat up. Nico unclasped his cape and hung it up on the hanger by the door. He shed off the vest and the tie around his neck. He untucked the shirt from his pants and walked over to Will. “I’m not sure…” Will started to say but Nico leaned down and kissed him. He knelt down on his knees and slowly broke away from the kiss. “Really fast,” Will breathed out and slowly opened his eyes to stare down at Nico.

“Not enough,” Nico replied. He untied Will’s boots and pulled them off one by one. Then he moved to undoing the vest and slipping it off. After he started unbuttoning Will’s shirt he noticed Nico’s clenched hands down at his side. He looked up at his nervous consort and asked, “Fast?” Will just stared at him with that perplexed face as if he didn’t know what to do or what was going on exactly. “Scared?”

“I just don’t know…” Will mumbled.

“I won’t do anything you’re uncomfortable with,” Nico promised. So he knelt there and finished undressing his man, and then he stood up and saw the way Will froze where he sat. “I’m going to undress now.” He took a step back and started to slowly undo the buttons of his shirt. Will watched him, fear and anxiety reflected in his eyes as Nico stripped off his shirt and then undid his belt and pants.

Pausing before stripping down his pants Nico looked at Will and saw the way Will studied him. Nico noted he wasn’t studying his body or his curve as he had earlier when they were in the woods. Will was studying the scars of his body.

“Get into bed,” Nico told him. He gave the man a little push to move under the covers. Once Will reluctantly got under the covers Nico finished undressing until he was completely bare. Then he climbed over the bed and sat on top of Will’s form, the sheets the only thing between them.

“What are you-?” Will started to protest but Nico quieted him with another kiss.

Nico guided Will’s fingers over the big scars on his body. He started with the large scar over his shoulder that had long closed up and had slowly started fading. “I was nine years old,” he explained. “I was grew up in the Styx. Ravagers are common.” Nico explained how his first time hadn’t been as civilized or as drunken as Will’s first time. “My sister and mother always did their best to protect our family, but once we lost my mother it became apparent that I either had to grow up or be forced to.” Nico moved Will’s hand to the arrow wound on his right bicep. “Ten years old I was used as a moving target.” He could see the fear in Will’s eyes as Nico told him.

Steeling himself for the words he had to say, Nico slowly moved Will’s hand to his chest where the scar on his collar bone had started to disappear. “I lost my sister with this one. I was in bed letting it heal when she went out. Someone I once really trusted failed to keep his promise and my sister died.” He didn’t look at Will as he moved to the gaping scar on his abdomen on his left side. “I became the Ghost King with this one. I was eleven years old.” He still didn’t look at Will.

Eventually he stopped guiding Will’s hands and instead let Will examine the scars on his own and ask. Will would run his fingers over Nico’s bared body and guess what the scar was inflicted with. Then Nico would tell him how he got the wound or why it had gotten it.

When Will laid a kiss on one of his scars Nico held his breath and sat very still. Will blinked a couple times before he realized why he’d done and pulled away from Nico. His face flushed red and then he started to apologize.

Instead Nico pushed Will down onto the bed with him and kissed him hard. Nico explored the inside of Will’s mouth with his tongue and felt the heavy heat transfer between them. He heard Will gasp for breath but he didn’t wait long enough until he was delving back into Will’s mouth and kissing that breath away from him. He felt the way Will stretched and tensed under his own body and Nico couldn’t help but revel in a basely instinctive satisfaction that he caused that unbearable tenseness.

Will didn’t realize he was rubbing against Nico on his own at one point. Nico kissed along Will’s neck as he took in his scent. Nico maneuvered his way under the covers with Will, and held one of Will’s hands while he guided the other around his waist. Nico spent his time kissing down Will’s body until Will realized just exactly what part of his body Nico’s mouth would be on next.

“Stop,” he gasped. Nico he his other hand in his, and Will’s other hand gripped at Nico’s hair. He tried to yank Nico’s head away but Nico took his other hand off his head and held it down at his side. He intertwined their fingers to lock his hand in place with his.

“Relax,” Nico breathed against Will’s sensitive skin. He opened his mouth and licked up the length of Will’s manhood. He heard the sharp hiss that escaped Will when Nico licked down the length on the underside to his sac. Nico opened his mouth and took Will’s tip into his mouth.

“Gods,” Will groaned and his fingers tightened around Nico’s hands. “You’re going to…” he tried to speak but ended in a moan as Nico sucked on the tip of his manhood. His body tensed and his knees tried to lock together but ended pressing against Nico’s sides instead. “No,” he mumbled but his knees raised under his legs were around Nico’s shoulders and his ankles locked around each other. He gasped out another sweet moan as his ankles pressed behind Nico’s shoulders and yanked him forward.

Nico opened his mouth and took Will’s manhood deeper. Although Will protested Nico barely moved. Will didn’t realize he was slowly moving himself in and out of Nico’s mouth. Eventually Will wasn’t just moving it slowly, but thrusting incessantly until he burst into Nico’s mouth.

Nico didn’t move until Will stopped all together and his legs slipped over his shoulders. Will was mumbling apologies but Nico was more interested with the cum in his mouth. He spilled the cum onto his hands and moved it over between Will’s legs to his hole.

“I’m going to do something worse,” Nico whispered as he reached up and kissed Will’s cheek. Will stopped apologizing and looked at him with fear and worry, wondering what Nico meant with those words. “I’m going to put my fingers in, okay?” Nico didn’t wait and pushed his finger in. He heard the sharp gasp and then the hiss for breath as he moved one finger in and out. He let Will tightly hold his other hand as he endured the pain.

“No one’s ever…” Will said one he was comfortable with Nico’s one finger. “I mean…” he tried to explain as his face turned bright red.

“Did you like it?” Nico asked, and he knew it was too blunt for his consort to answer. It took a long time as Nico watched him and stopped moving his finger inside before Will nodded. Nico smiled then and kissed Will on the shoulder. “I will do it anytime you want.”

“Not…” Will mumbled. “Not always.”

“Is that right?” Nico whispered against Will’s neck. “Maybe just when you’re very nervous in bed?” Will mumbled intangibly and glared at Nico. He smiled into the crook of Will’s neck and sucked on the skin there and started his ministration with his finger inside Will again.

He heard the gasp as Will’s free hand wrapped around his waist tightly. Nico held his other hand down by their side and pressed closer to Will. He made Will spread his leg out more for him as he continued stretching his hole. The tears brimming at the corners of his eyes told Nico how infrequent sex was to Will. Nico pressed closer until their lengths were pressed to each other.

Nico kissed Will hungrily. He continued massaging the inside of Will’s hole with one finger until Will was moaning and groaning against his kiss. He pulled away from the kiss and sat up. He had Will’s legs spread against his body. He refused to let go of Will’s other hand and moved his digit inside Will to a faster tempo.

“No…” Will groaned, tossing his head left and right. “No.”

“Shh,” he shushed his consort. He leaned over Will and kissed his chest, just over his heart. “Come for me,” he spoke quietly against the flushed skin of his man. He moved his finger in a different angle and pressed himself against the back of his hand. He thrust against his hand, moving his finger inside the way his body wanted to move against Will, and then saw as Will tried to fight it. He knew Will wanted him inside, to have their first night finished quickly but Nico wouldn’t allow it. He watched each moment as Will found climax with Nico’s finger and burst once more onto his body.

“Oh gods,” Will moaned once more.

“Don’t move,” he whispered. Nico kissed down Will’s body again, spending time to lap up all of the semen spilled onto his body. He went at it slowly, taking his time, his free hand moving along with him down Will’s body. Nico memorized each part of Will his fingers touched.

Once Nico was done laving up Will’s spill he laid himself on top of Will. It was silent for a long time and Nico closed his eyes waiting for sleep to take him, but he could feel Will’s anxious energy all around him. He knew what the man wanted to ask before he even asked. Nico smiled into the crook of Will’s neck before he tried to ask.

“What about…” Will stopped half-way from asking. His heart beat raced against Nico’s skin. Nico took a deep breath, taking in Will’s scent, before sitting up on top of Will. “Aren’t you…” Will’s eyes traced down to Nico’s manhood and stared at the thick member.

“Just resting,” Nico promised him with a grin. Will’s eyes scrunched in the dark at Nico’s grin, as if he recognized it for the mischief that it was.

“Oh…”

Nico purposely moved his hand to his manhood and stroked it a few times to watch the way Will’s eyes followed. Will watched him in a curious way as if he’d never seen another man stroke himself, and Nico realized he might not have. Considering that Will told him the complete truth of his sexual experiences, Will’s encounters were always with strangers or with people who had no idea who he was and only looked for a one-night tryst. He released the hand that held Will’s and leaned over Will on his hands and knees. Staring right into Will’s eyes he started stroking himself over Will, and watched as panic first rose in him.

Panic and then comprehension. Then Will’s trembling hands came over his shoulder. Slowly moving down his chest to his waist and staying there. Will’s eyes traveled the same way and watched as Nico tried to find his climax. Nico groaned in frustration and put his head down on Will’s shoulder.

“Touch me.”

“What?”

“Touch. Me.” Nico groaned in frustration and his hand next to his head clenched around his the bedsheet. He waited as Will understood his meaning and a hand moved from Nico’s waist toward his member. Nico grabbed his hand and clasped it around his manhood. First he guided Will’s hesitant hands up and down until Will was comfortable enough to move on his own.

Nico sighed in satisfaction as Will’s hand moved over his member. It didn’t take long before Will became courageous enough to move on his own and tease Nico’s cock. It also didn’t take long before Nico growled and shot out his load over Will’s stomach. He then collapsed over Will’s body.

“Thick…” Will said, holding his hand up into the light of night shone through the bedroom window. Nico chuckled and turned his head to kiss Will’s cheek. “What’s funny?” he asked Nico, sounding offended.

“Four years.”

“And you’re fast.”

Nico laughed. “Four years.” Will rolled his eyes and grumbled. Nico closed his eyes and allowed for rest to enter him. “Sleep,” he told Will just before darkness overtook him and he fell into sleep.

Chapter Text

Will groaned when the light of the morning shone through the window. He pulled the pillow over his head and groaned again as he felt the aches all over his body. Nico had spent the entire night doing all kinds of things to Will’s body between naps, and Will couldn’t believe the different ways there was to embrace someone. He recognized Nico’s arms around his waist but Will didn’t want to turn around and face the man.

“Awake?” Nico asked behind Will.

He groaned out miserably. “I don’t want to be,” he mumbled. He knew Nico wasn’t satisfied yet, and he probably wouldn’t be. Not once had Nico enter Will with anything other than his fingers, stretching and moving them in and out until Will was so tense it was both painful and pleasurable.

“Once more?”

Nico pressed against him and Will moaned. He could feel the evidence rubbing against his back that Nico wouldn’t take no for an answer. Will grumbled to himself. He wasn’t sure how many times he’d climaxed but he knew Nico hadn’t as much. Will traced his hands down to Nico’s around his waist and settled his palms over Nico’s hands. He tried going back to sleep but Nico’s soft kisses made that impossible.

“What time is it?” Will groaned out.

“Past breakfast.”

“What?”

Will pushed away and sat up. He looked around with worry and his eyes landed on the sunlight in the window. Without thinking he moved towards the window and looked out to see that the sun was definitely high in the sky and almost noon. His knees broke down on him so he had to grip the windowsill to stay up. He was certain the pain between his legs and shooting up his back had everything to do with how he fell asleep.

“Hey!” a muffled voice through the glass window called out to Will. He scrunched his eyes down into the crowd walking through the streets and saw Travis and Connor waving up at him. Will opened the window and called down to them.

“If it isn’t out sleeping prince,” Travis grinned up.

“How was your breakfast Your Highness?” Will quipped back at him with a mock tone of servitude.

“Couldn’t have been better. How’d you sleep?”

Will wasn’t stumped by the unexpected but very common question. “Fine,” he shouted back.

“Oh really?” Connor grinned up.

Out of habit Will tried to grab for a rock he kept in a pile on the windowsill to through at Travis. Unfortunately his hand came empty and he also realized he wasn’t in his room. He could feel the heat burning his face as he looked around for something to throw at the laughing duo down in the street as everyone looked on and whispered.

“What are you looking for?” Nico yawned as he sat up from bed.

“Do you need this?” Will asked, hands and knees on the floor as he grabbed the holster of throwing dagger that was piled on the floor under the bed. He ignored the pain of being on his knees and in a stretched out position he was unused to.

“Well…” Nico started in a distracted tone Will didn’t bother to really pay attention to.

“I’m taking two,” Will interrupted. He pulled out two of the obsidian throwing knives and crawled back to the window. He wasn’t good at aiming, he already knew that from his years of archery practice. Will still decided to throw the first and then the second knife at the two brothers. The first one cut through the sleeve of Travis’ shoulder as he’d intended and stopped him from laughing. The second one landed a mere inch from the toe of Connor’s boot and had him jumping away.

Nico had a sheet covering his body when he walked to the window where Will knelt sticking his tongue out at the Stoll brothers. The Stoll brothers were only frozen in shock for mere seconds before sticking their tongue back at Will and started making faces.

“Good aim,” Nico said in a gruff voice. He scratched at his jaw without thinking as he examined Will’s work of his precious throwing knives. “Hey Conman, I need those knives back!” Nico shouted.

“Conman?” Will asked as he looked up at Nico leaning by the window.

“Connor,” Nico said. He point a hand on top of Will’s head before moving towards the knock on the door. He opened the door as Will rushed under the covers of the bed.

The maid from the night before bustled in with a hand full of clothes. “There were only some of your older clothes, so I had Jules-Albert go out this morning to buy your some new ones. I hope they fit dear.”

“Thank you Marie.”

Marie patted Nico’s cheek before turning to Will and giving him a cheery wink. Will felt himself turn red at the realization that basically the entire town knew what happened between him and Nico yesterday night. He groaned as Marie left and locked the door.

“Bath?” Nico asked as he walked to a different door in the room.

“You have your own bathroom?” Will asked in shock. Of course Will had his own in his father’s palace as well, but this was a small town close to the border of Erebus. Who could afford to make such a luxury? Just as Will asked himself that question he mentally kicked himself in the head because Nico was a prince, of course he could afford it.

“Shall I carry you in?” Nico asked charmingly.

“I’m fine,” Will mumbled. He pulled a bedsheet up and around his entire body before walking towards the door. He stumbled a few times until Nico walked up and carried him over his shoulders to the bathroom door. Will slipped in quickly as Nico grinned at him. Will dropped the sheet and leapt into the giant steaming bath, shivering as the hot water soothed his body and his aches.

Nico took his sweet time climbing into the large bath. He waved Will over but he didn’t understand the unsaid command. Nico finally grabbed his hand and pulled Will into his lap. Will sat awkwardly as Nico ran his hands over Will’s back. Nico kissed over the light scars on Will’s back and shoulders.

In the quiet Nico washed Will’s back, fingers spreading out the muscles. Nico kissed Will’s nape and leaned his head down on Will’s shoulder. At some point, either from the heat or the soothing of his muscles, Will closed his eyes for a quick rest. When his eyes opened he was carried in Nico’s arms and settled into the bed.

A thought sprung in his head.

Naked.

Fully awake Will sat up and pulled the blanket over him hurriedly. Nico chuckled as he walked away butt naked. Will covered his face with a desperate groan. Will bashfully watched Nico put on his clothes, tuck in his shirt, and leave the tie as he slipped on a dark vest. Nico sat down on a chair bye door and started putting on new leather boots.

Nico walked back to him once he was done with getting dressed. If an unbuttoned vest, opened collared shirt, no tie, and rolled up sleeves counted as properly dressed. Will liked the look on Nico, although most people of means considered it being unkempt or out of orders. Some might even call it a common look. To Will it was an attractive look.

“Get dressed when you’re ready,” Nico said before bending down and kissing Will’s lips.

“Ready?” he croaked tiredly.

“Husband,” Nico smiled down at him. He looked down at Will with such a soft stare and the warmest smile on his face. His hands ran through Wills wet hair slowly. “The Stoll brothers have been waiting downstairs.”

“Oh…” Will softly spoke but the words hadn’t clicked. “Oh!” Will blinked when he finally understood. He sat up on his knees, holding the blankets and covers around his waist. “They… They!”

“Yes,” Nico laughed and interrupted Will’s panic. He leaned down again, his hand now under Will’s chin and kissing him softly. Will was suddenly panicking for a different reason. He was handfasted to Prince Nico di Angelo or Erebus—and the man didn’t have a problem showing any form of affection in front of other people.

“I-”

Nico interrupted him one more time with a kiss on his forehead. “When you’re ready.” Nico ran a hand through Will’s hair again and left the room with his sword and holster.

Will wondered why Nico kept telling him to take his time. He wasn’t that tired, especially since he fell asleep in the hot bath. Will laid in bed awhile longer until he felt like he should be getting up and out of bed. It was maybe three minutes since Nico left, but it had felt like thirty.

When he had tried to get up on his feet and tried walking to the folded clothes on the desk Will’s lower back nearly crippled him. He crouched down and waited for the pain to stop. It felt like a sprained muscle and it felt like his hips were stretching too far out. None of it made sense. He nearly had to crawl all the way to where the clothes were and sit on the floor as he shimmied on his clothes. Will clenched down on his teeth so as not to make a noise and struggled to put on his clothes without the pain.

“Really?” he growled as he stood up and tucked in the shirt with a wide collar and a half slit down the shirt. Once he bent to sit down on the chair Nico had sat on to put on his books Will knew what was wrong. It explained a lot.

Travis had once mentioned being a part of a young squire a few years ago. This was before Will had been engaged to Prince Nico. At the time the young nameless squire had apparently never had same-sex intimacies before and happened upon Travis. Travis had mentioned the exploit, something the two of them rarely ever talked about with each other. It seemed the boy had to take off work the next day. Travis had explained it as a virgin’s burden.

Although Nico hadn’t entered him, he had still used a finger. Will groaned as his face heated up. Was his body really so fragile that his back would hurt so terribly from Nico’s ministrations? How embarrassing as a man.

Will fought against the pain in his lower back and the aches and pulled on his boots. He forged his way down the hall and then down the stairs. He noted slowly walked towards the main room he’d been in yesterday.

“If it isn’t the blushing bride,” Connor Stoll saw him first and smiled. He stood up from the soft he was sitting on and headed towards Will. Will glared him down until he sat down and cleared his throat. There was a completely different conversation that needed to happen later between them.

“Will,” Travis jogged up to him. He held out his hand and Will took it begrudgingly. He sat down on the sofa across from Connor. He grabbed one of the sofa pillows and used it as a back cushion to ease off the pain.

“Where is he?” Will asked. He looked around curiously for Nico but gave up right away.

“Went out to buy some festival food,” Connor shrugged.

Will glowered at him again and Connor understood to be quiet. He turned to Travis, “How was your night?” He tried for a pleasant tone but his throat was dried.

“Tea,” Travis waved to the table between them. Will nodded and Travis picked up the strange tall cup with a top on it. “It’s herbal tea from the east.” Will recalled his father having some exploits in the eastern continents and in the eastern lands of their continent. He lifted up the top and set it down on the table before taking a sip of the hot liquid.

They sat in quiet drinking their tea. Will contemplated the taste and wondered what properties the herbal tea he was drinking had. Considering Travis and Nico’s inclination towards stifling Will in their protection he had to guess it was a pain-relieving kind of herbal tea.

“So?” Will prompted again. “How was your night?” He stared at Travis and noted the way his stoic face broke into a flustered look of an inexperienced squire.

“Travis was masquerading yesterday night,” Connor decided to answer for Travis. The man in question cleared his throat loudly and started drinking his tea again. “He happened to meet another man wearing a black feathered hat in a purple cape with a black mask on. They danced the night away.”

“So who is this masked man?” Will asked Travis. He ignored any attempts Connor made to try and talk to him. He appreciated the information on Travis’ night however.

“I don’t know,” Travis shook his head. He went back to sipping on the hot tea.

“You don’t know?” Will asked suspiciously. Having not seen the other man Will could only make assumptions. “Or you have a very good guess who it is but you don’t want to be wrong?” Travis shrugged but the answer was clear. This mystery man reminded Travis of someone he was still thinking of because his face was hidden. Travis didn’t want to ruin the memory of a good night by trying to find the man again. “He might show up again.”

Travis’ face flushed again. Nervously he shook his head. “I don’t think so.”“Why not?”

“He said he was passing through on his travels. He’s looking for someone.” Travis kept his eyes trained on the tea in his ceramic cup. Will noted the way Travis was afraid to smile as if he was afraid to remember the good time he had yesterday. Will recognized that lost look stuck between happiness and reality. Travis was hoping for something and he was afraid his hope would be fruitless.

Will grinned and would have slugged Travis on his shoulder if it didn’t hurt to suddenly move or to reach over. He settled for snorting at Travis.

“What?”

“You’re going tonight.”

“No,” came the quick denial. Will rolled his eyes. Travis pressed further, “I won’t.” It was so obvious Travis thought the time he had with this mystery man was one night.

“Tonight,” Will insisted. “Better yet masquerade again.” This time Travis looked at him in confusion.

“The Festival is three days and three nights. It started yesterday night. Wear a mask and see if he’ll find you,” Will suggested.

Travis blushed and shook his head.

“Do it, Trav.” Connor crossed his ankle over his knee. He seemed to be in deep thought. “I have the perfect costume. Let’s see if he feels the same. If he does he’ll find you and if he doesn’t he’ll be looking at others to take to bed.”

“We didn’t…” Travis’ voice trailed off.

“So it’s a plan,” Connor grinned.

Chapter Text

Nico was walking down the festival street, greeting people with nods instead of saying hello. It was very obvious from the congratulations that the mayor had already told everyone he’d officiated over Nico’s vows. He was looking through the food stalls when a familiar voice shouted, “Angel!”

Frank waved in the thick crowd, standing over most men by half a head in height. Nico met Frank halfway and greeted him.

“Come on, I’ve been looking for you all morning. You can’t skip your exercises.” Frank grabbed Nico’s arm and pulled him through the crowd.

Once they were out of town and back in the forest, in a secret spot by a large tree Nico had always liked, Frank pulled his knapsack from around his broad back. He handed Nico the waterskin from his knapsack. Nico blanched but Frank urged him to drink the warm honeyed water. Nico wondered to himself why anyone would ever put honey in water. He understood honey in tea, he understood honey on bakery goods… but in water? Gods, what went on with idle people and the time they wasted?

Nico drank the water half way but Frank urged him to finish all of it. He grumbled and started drinking the water again. Once he was done Frank cleared his throat and Nico groaned.

“Can’t we just finish this with the water?” Nico sighed.

“No. Remember when we met your good friend Asclepius?” Frank reminded Nico. He groaned childishly and leaned back on the tree trunk. Nodding, he gave up and stood straight in front of Frank. Frank started first.

“Aaah,” he started in a low pitch. Nico opened his mouth and tried to match the note. The note changed seconds later and Nico tried to gradually match that as well. Once Frank was satisfied that Nico was putting effort in he changed the note again. “Aaaah,” came a clearer and higher note. Nico took a deep breath and tried to match it once more. They went up and down for some time as Nico tried to match his pitch and tone.

“Here.” Frank handed him another waterskin. This one had tepid water. Nico drank it slowly and watched as Frank drank his own water and did his stretches.

After a couple of minutes Frank stood up and signaled for Nico to stand too. With a deep sigh he stood and prepared himself next to copy Frank.

Nico almost wanted to turn away with the first weird face Frank made in front of him. Nico tried to copy the face. Next Frank made a strange angry face and Nico really did take a step back. For a slightly attractive man Frank sure knew how to make an ugly face. Nico reluctantly tried to copy it as well. They tried different faces for some time until Nico was too exhausted to do more.

“Alright. Finish your water and we’ll do some humming,” Frank said. Nico rolled his eyes and sat down. He finished the other half of the second waterskin and laid down to watch the afternoon sky. He was waiting for Frank to tell him they were going to start but it never came.

Instead Nico passed the time by staring at the afternoon sky. It was usually a lot colder in Erebus around this time of year. Nico hadn’t expected the cold to be a little milder than usual. It wasn’t biting cold but at least the sky wasn’t gray on this day.

Unlike most people Nico didn’t admire the clouds in the sky. There were only a few in the early afternoon anyways. Nico preferred staring in the blue of sky, getting lost in the abyss lost in the brightness of day. He recalled staring at the distant sky in the pit and thinking of Will Solace. He remembered recalling every inch of Will from his memory. He’d etched Will’s image into his mind from their engagement party in Delphi, and he remembered everything about Will from that night.

“Hey, Prince Nico,” Frank sangsong and waved a hand above him. Nico blinked away the memory and focused in on Frank hovering over him.

“What are we humming today?” Nico sighed as he sat up. He stood up and brushed off his clothes.

“You mean you didn’t realize?” asked Frank. Nico raised a quizzical brow at Frank. First Frank laughed and then slapped Nico’s back in a friendly manner. With a giant grin Frank added, “Nico you were humming this entire time.” Chuckling Frank pulled Nico under his arm and ruffled Nico’s hair.

Nico kicked the inside of Frank’s knee, tripping the large man, and ducked away. He didn’t recall humming at all but perhaps all the forced practicing had made it a habit. He ignored the reason why he might have been humming, knowing exactly what Frank would tell him if it came up in conversation.

Instead Nico jogged away. “Since we’re done, I have other things to do.” He turned around to wave but Frank stood up and shouted at him.

“It’s tonight, Nico!” Frank bellowed. “Tonight!”

Nico stopped and everything in him calmed down. A deep chill spread in him as he thought of what would come that night. He stiffly nodded and walked the rest of the way back in deep contemplation. Once he hit the festival market Nico absentmindedly tried to remember the things he had wanted to share with Will. He bought several snacks and sweets, greeted the townspeople with nods, and found his way back to the house.

“Look who is finally back,” Connor announced loudly. Nico deposited the items in his hand to Jules-Albert, who then promptly brought them to the kitchen. Nico moved to the main room and found Will half lying on the sofa he sat on. Travis was on his feet, greeted Nico and waited for Nico to signal for him to relax and sit down.

“You okay?” Connor asked as he walked over to Nico. Nico ran his hand through his hair.

He walked to the seating area and sat down on the sofa with Will. Connor sat down on the cushioned chair between Will and Travis. Looking down at the table Nico could surmise the three were having tea, and judging from the cups it was an Eastern brand. It was a good choice since it would help with trying to relax Will who this entire morning had no idea exactly why things ached or why he kept stumbling.

“How are you feeling?” Nico asked. He reached over and ran his knuckles over Will’s cheek. Unable to contain himself but knowing they were in the presence of others, Nico took Will’s left hand and kissed the knuckle with the ring on it.

“Could do better,” Will grumbled. It was obvious he’d realized why he felt all those aches. “So, any plans today?”

Nico considered how to bring up his schedule. He glanced at Connor who understood the situation the moment Nico looked at him. Connor cleared his throat and apologized to Nico.

“What Will is trying to ask, is if it’ll be okay if he accompanies my brother and I tonight. There’s a little something we have to do.” Connor winked, and Nico wasn’t exactly sure what the three had planned earlier or who exactly he was winking at. Connor Stoll was the only reason needed to be suspicious of the possible mischief but Nico decided it wasn’t exactly his business to care.

Nico debated on giving his consent until he glanced at Travis Stoll. Unless someone actually bothered to look, anyone would have mixed up the Stoll brothers as the same person or even as twins. If Nico didn’t know the godsforsaken conman as long as he did he might have mistaken him for Travis Stoll the night of his engagement to Will four years ago.

Travis looked down the moment he met Nico’s gaze. A light blush crossed his face. The reaction explained that whatever the three was up to tonight, it had everything to do with Travis. Nico decided it couldn’t be too bad and agreed. Connor and he both knew exactly what Nico had scheduled for tonight, there was no way Nico could wait another day. He had to let Connor keep everyone else too busy to catch on to what Nico had to do.

Will mumbled irritably about how he wasn’t sure he was going to be able to go anywhere. Nico turned and asked again, “Are you okay?” Will nodded, but his face showed that he felt some discomfort. Nico decided once Connor and Travis left he would handle the manner more thoroughly.

They spent the afternoon eating the treats Nico had bought from the festival. Nico observed the way Will tentatively tasted everything. His expression showed genuine awe or surprise. Will turned to him when he tried the last treat.

“This is amazing, Nico!”

Nico smiled, feeling something warm spread over him. Will Solace had a strange effect on Nico, but he didn’t mind that. In fact Nico found he rather liked that he was now married to Will.

“Nico!” Will grabbed his hand.

“I know,” he answered quietly.

“Oh…” Will suddenly quieted and his excitement turned down. “I forgot,” Will blushed as he looked at the bread baked with honey in his hand. Nico waited because he hadn’t quite understood what Will meant. “It isn’t very exciting since you’ve probably already had it before.”

Nico glanced at the Stoll brothers. The two both shrugged with the same smile. He leaned towards Will, cradled the man’s chin under the crook of knuckle and lifted his face up to Nico. Very slowly he kissed Will on the lips and sat back. He licked his lips tasting the remnants of the baked good on his own lips.

“Well, we should head out.” Connor seemed to be able to read the atmosphere. He stood up and forced Travis out the room with him.

Nico stared at Will who looked at him wide-eyed. His prince was probably still thinking of the propriety of kissing in front of others. In Erebus displaying affection was very common in the cities. He watched as Will turned back to the look down at his hands and the honey backed bread. Nico sighed audibly and moved to sit closer to Will until their sides touched.

“Feed me.”

“What?” Will looked at him with full alertness and fear. Nico tried for a smile but he didn’t quite feel like smiling. “I… I mean…”

Nico said it again. “Feed me.” He slightly opened his mouth and leaned towards Will, waiting for his prince to feed him a piece of bread. Slowly Will ripped off a piece of bread and moved his hand up to feed it to Nico. He chewed and swallowed and then smiled at Will. “Good.” Will’s face flushed and he looked down at his hands again. “Again.” Will shook his head. “Again,” he whispered and leaned in closer. Will shook his head again but Nico was aware that the way Will’s body tensed and how his face flushed was evidence Will was feeling embarrassed. It meant Will was highly aware of Nico being close to him. Highly aware of Nico.

“I…”

He took the bread from Will’s hand and put it down on the platter it was served on. He stood up and quickly scooped up Will in his arm. Will yelped and tried to struggle back on his own feet. Nico silenced him with a hard kiss and then shushed him. He took his time carrying Will up the steps and into their bedroom. Nico kicked the door closed and strode to his bed very slowly, looking Will in the eyes the entire time.

His consort on the other hand was too embarrassed to look him in the face. He kept turning his face away as Nico took slow steps and tried to coax him to look at Nico. Once they got to the bed Nico laid Will down and sat on the edge of the bed. Will tried to sit up but Nico pushed him back down.

“Stay.” Nico lifted Will’s leg and yanked off the boots from Will’s feet.

“I can undress myself,” Will sighed out loud.

“How long did it take you to get dress?” Nico asked. Will didn’t give him an answer, and he knew he wasn’t going to get one. Nico quickly undressed the man, folded the clothes and moved them back on the table they had been set on across the room.

“Did you just want me naked in your bed?”

Nico smiled at the little quip his prince just tried on him. “Our bed,” he corrected instead of answer. Nico patted Will’s side and lifted him until he rolled over on his stomach. Will moved under the covers with agitated growls before settling with his arms under the pillow pulled under his face. He faced Nico, watching exactly what Nico was doing next.

Ever so slowly Nico started to strip off his vest and shirt. He unbuttoned his shirt in a slow and careful motion and he carefully watched the way Will’s gaze followed down his body. Nico pulled off his vest and then his opened shirt and tossed both articles of clothing over the edge of the bed. Nico put one leg up on the edge of the bed and undid the laces of his boot. He switched legs and toed off his boots.

“Stay still,” Nico bent down and whispered into Will’s ear.

“What?”

Nico quickly climbed over Will’s back. He settled his crotch just underneath Will’s bottom.

“Hey!”

“Relax.” Nico pressed a hand down on Will’s back and reached over Will’s head. He grabbed one of the extra pillows on the bed and pulled it under Will’s stomach. He fixed the pillow until Will’s bottom was slightly lifted towards him, seating it comfortably over Nico’s own lap as he knelt with Will laying between his legs.

Nico knew he might need some kind of lubricant be decided against it. Will was already tensing under him even though he’d told him to relax. He’d never actually done this kind of thing before, and he wasn’t sure how good it would feel for Will. It was the only solution he could think of Will he would require a long time before he got used to having anything put in a place unused to having anything enter it.

“Close your eyes,” Nico told him. Will groaned and then stuffed his face into the pillow. Nico took it as the best that Will could do. Now he had to think of a way to get Will to relax instead of tense up in fear of what Nico might or might not do.

As his head was running through thoughts his memories flashed back to the vocal practices Frank made him do nearly every day. Nico thought of humming and then he thought of the sky and closed his own eyes.

At first he had only intended to hum the familiar tune. Before long he started to quietly sing the song. He knew he didn’t have a good singing voice, but if he kept it at a quiet tone then even he was a tolerable vocalist. He sang a lullaby he’d learn from hearing passing mothers in the streets of the capital city in Erebus.

“Brilla brilla una stellina,” he started and heard a muffled snort from Will. He shook his head but continued the lullaby, knowing Will knew the tune but not the words. “Su nel cielo piccolina,” he went on, “Brilla brilla sopra noi, mi domando di chi sei.” Will visible relaxed into the pillows and sheets. Nico went on, trying to recall the rest of the lullaby. “Brilla brilla la setillna, ora tu sei piu vicina.” His brain turned over as he tried to remember the rest of the lyrics. He sang the verse over and over again:

“Brilla brilla una stellina

Su nel cielo piccolina

Brilla brilla sopra noi

Mi domando di chi sei

Brilla brilla la stellina

Ora tu sei piu vicina”

When Nico changed the song Will didn’t seem to notice. He wasn’t entirely unaware or asleep, but he was so relax he was in his own world. Nico took the advantage to sing a different song, one with a similar quiet and soothing rhythm and tune. His hands slowly moved from down Will’s waist. He tested pressing his fingers down on Will’s back gently as he sang.

“Ninna nanna, ninna oh

Questo bimbo a chi lo do?

Se lo do alla Befana

Se lo tiene una settimana

So lo do all’uomo nero

Se lo tiene un anno intero

Ninna nanna, ninna oh

Questo bimbo me lo terro”

Nico finished one verse of another lullaby and had found the general area which pained Will most when he moved or when pressed on. He slowly pressed his fingers over the area, just trying to stretch out the tensed muscles before actually massaging it. He pushed up from Will’s hips, finding it hard to tract with the tips of his finger and that his thumbs pressed down more. He pushed upwards, his hands on either side of Will’s spine. He couldn’t tell how well or how bad that felt but there didn’t seem to be any reaction so he continued. Nico hummed for a little bit before he went to the second verse of the lullaby.

“Ninna nanna, ninna oh

Questo bimbo a chi lo do?

Se lo do alla Befana

Se lo tiene una settimana

Se lo do al lupo nero

Se lo tiene un anno intero

Se lo do a lupo bianco

Se lo tiene tanto tanto”

He pressed his palms on either side of Will’s hips, avoiding any of the actual joints on his back. Even Nico knew directly pressing down with his weight right over a joint or bone would prove harmful. He tried staying on Will’s tissues and muscles. That’s what massages were meant to do anyways, right? Relax the muscles. So he pressed his palms down, carefully testing the amount of pressure on Will’s hips. He moved his palms outwards slowly, changing into lighter pressures and then slightly heavier pressures in hopes that might help with relieving Will’s pain.

“Ninna nanna, ninna oh

A nessuno lo daro’!

Ninna nanna, ninna oh

A nessuno lo daro’!”

He switched into a different song. A song he remembered from the festival yesterday night that Connor and his troupe sang to the crowd. It had a soft melody and had seemed to have mesmerized a lot of dancers yesterday. He only remembered parts of the song so he sang the song as he continued massaging Will’s hips.

After a while he took a shot in the dark that the man’s hips weren’t the only thing experiencing intense pain. He sat up on his knees, moving his lap away from Will’s bottom. Slowly he moved his hands from massaging Will’s hips towards the man’s very tempting glutes. Slowly he pressed the two cheeks together and then let go. Will didn’t seem to notice his touch so he cupped his hands over the cheeks and squeezed.

“Whoa!” Will shot up off his pillow and lifted himself off the bed. His legs were still trapped between Nico so Will bounced back onto the bed. He tried twisting around, eyes bleary, trying to focus on exactly where Nico was and glared at him. “D-Don’t d-do that!” he shuttered angrily. His face was a crimson red and he had the strangest look on his face as if he didn’t know how to react to Nico’s touch.

“Do what?” Nico asked as if he hadn’t known exactly what he’d done. His hands were still on the man’s bottom. Will glared at him, his face scrunching up. It wasn’t exactly disgust on his perfect face, but it looked just as annoyed as any woman would have furiously looked at any man who’d squeezed her bottom so intimately. He squeezed Will’s bottom cheeks one more time. “This?”

“Stop!” Will tried to get off the bed again but Nico made sure he was firmly seated on the man’s legs to keep him on the bed. Will then tried to twist away but he moved his hands from his bottom to his hips and kept Will still. “Stop it!” His voice cracked into what sounded like a plea.

“For someone from Delphi, you’re oddly modest and prim,” said Nico. He stretched over Will’s body, his crotch pressing on Will’s bottom once more. He leaned down until his body pressed down on Will’s back and his hands and elbows mirrored Will’s. He encased Will into his body and breathed against Will’s ear, “Would you rather I massage it using my own hips?” He slowly moved his hips into a thrusting motion, his member pushing against Will’s bottom and the gap that separated those very delicious cheeks.

Will turned his head towards Nico and growled back with a fierce but quiet anger, “I’d prefer if you don’t massage me at all.”

“No.” His answer came decisively quick. He turned his own head and bit at Will’s earlobe and tugged at it. Will turned his face away and took his ear back. Nico nipped at Will’s neck and then pressed his face into Will’s hair. He took a deep breath in, taking in Will’s scents as he tried to regain his self-control.

“What are you doing now?” Will groaned with an exhausted sound to his voice. Nico smiled and lifted himself up.

He sat up again and moved down Will’s legs again. “Massage.” He worked on squeezing the glutes and carefully rolling his palms over the wonderful muscle. He could hear the moan and tiny cries Will made when either pleasure or pain shot through him as Nico explored the sore muscles.

After a long time of Nico exploring ways to massage the pain away from Will’s hips and glutes, the man slowly relaxed into Nico’s touch. Now if he could only get Will used to everything else about being married it would be nice. He’d waited a long time to marry Will.

“Hey…” Will called out to him. “Um… Prince Nico-”

“Nico,” he interrupted Will. “We’re married. Just call my name.”

“Oh, right,” Will shyly stuffed his face back into the pillow. Nico knew it hadn’t been by accident. Will rarely just called Nico by his name. He seemed to unconsciously refer to Nico with his title, as though he would be reprimanded for not showing the proper respect. Of course what has Nico expected? This was originally brought to Will as an arranged marriage. That was what Nico had wanted everyone to think. He had thought it’ll make since if Nico had simply said he thought Prince Will of Delphi had seemed a good and random choice because the man had been handsome. He hadn’t expected that Will’s father might not have actually known Will’s name and had to go in a roundabout way to order Will into an arranged marriage.

“Uh, Nico.” Will’s voice brought Nico back to the present. He moved off Will’s body and rolled over to lie down on the side of the bed Will had been in that morning. His hands buzzed in a strange kind of tired way he wasn’t used to. “Will you sing again?”

The question had Nico snapping his head to look at Will. He stared at Will for a long moment before sitting up. He looked around and then turned back to Will. Was he tone-deaf? It couldn’t be he married a tone-deaf groom. Especially considering Will came from the line of King Apollo, the man was known for his love of arts and literature as much as his love for his own perfection.

“Will you?”

“Sing?” Nico asked to be certain. Will nodded. He wasn’t exactly sure why anyone would choose to hear him sing. “I can’t sing.”

“But you were singing earlier.”

Indulging his consort seemed to be something Nico couldn’t stop doing. He laid down, knowing full well it would be even more difficult to properly sing lying down. He thought for a moment on what song to sing. Before Nico realized it Will was moving closer to him, head on his pillow as he stared at Nico with this strange wonder in his eyes.

“What?” Nico asked.

Will stared at him and then he lifted his head up to look down at Nico. “You don’t realize it.”

“What?”

“You hum.”

Nico almost laughed. Instead he smiled and allowed Will to think whatever he wanted. He looked up at the ceiling again and tried to think of a song he knew or could remember to sing for Will. Finally a song came to him and Nico tried singing the first part of the song.

He turned onto his side to stare at Will. He didn’t even make it half way to the verse before Will’s eyes closed and his face visibly showed how he relaxed. Nico stopped singing and pulled closer to Will in the middle of the bed. He slipped under the cover and pulled Will into his arms.

Chapter Text

Nico was worried about how he was dressed. He didn’t want to come off princely but he didn’t want to come off as too casual either. He stared at the sets of clothing that afternoon after his nap with Will. Will winced as he stepped over to where Nico stood in their bedroom and stared at the sets of clothing. He made a considering face as he tucked in his own shirt.

“You’ve got a date tonight?” Will laughed. Nico turned to his consort, bent forward a little and kissed the man softly on the lips. “You really like doing that, don’t you?” Will smiled at him after asking the quiet question. He shook his head at Nico as if indulging in Nico was a ridiculous thought.

“Don’t you?” Nico asked him back.

Will looked back at him and Nico pinned him down with his gaze. Soon enough his prince’s face lit up in pink and Nico smiled. He liked that although Will didn’t know much about him he was very obviously attracted to Nico’s face. That they were married also worked best to Nico’s advantage. He could kiss Will even if Will felt as though kissing was moving too fast for a married couple who barely knew each other.

“You’ll be off with Travis and that conman tonight,” Nico said out loud mostly to himself. He chose the middle set of clothing. The black pants were made for combat and easy movement. The cotton shirt was a simple fitted one he could tuck in. He pulled on the black jacket and sat down on a chair to put on his boots.

“So the warrior?” Will said. He was sitting on the bed already dressed. “Good choice.”

“Warrior?”

“That’s what most soldiers would wear if they were going to a festival too,” Will shrugged at him. “Looks good on you.” Nico smiled and shook his head at Will. He should learn to be careful how he said things so newly into their marriage. Nico was liable to move their physical relationship along a lot faster than Will wanted. Instead he controlled his urges and turned back to finish tying on his boots. “So who are you meeting?” Will asked again. Since waking up from their nap Will had been subtly trying to ask.

Will must never know.

The thought that had sustained him for the last year came back to him. He closed his eyes for a moment and blocked the images from his memory. Nico chose not to answer Will’s question. That also needed to stay secret for now.

“Sun’s still up, come on.” He stood up and moved toward the door. He paused when he felt Will’s stare on his back. It wasn’t a cold or a heated stare. He knew what the look was as he turned around to look at his consort.

“Is this how it’ll be?” Will asked him quietly.

“What?”

“I don’t get to know anything?” Will posed it as a question but his tone came out accusatory.

Guilt pierced him for a moment. Nico hadn’t wanted it to be a political or arranged marriage. Not really. He had wanted it to be a true marriage. He had wanted it to be a marriage that matter. Nico couldn’t look Will in the eyes as he considered his next steps carefully. He had to ease Will’s worry without telling him exactly what was going on. Not yet. He also couldn’t tell Will the things he knew he couldn’t tell Will.

“I just get to live carefree like an idiot the rest of our marriage?” Will asked. Nico bit in the inside of his cheek, racking his brain trying to find something to say. There was nothing but the truth that he knew would soothe Will’s feelings. “I know we’re fairly newly married,” Will said. It had only been a couple days. “I just don’t want this to be the same as our parents’ marriages. My dad has so many kids he doesn’t even know who I am.”

“There is only you,” Nico responded immediately. That was something he could say.

“Well you never know!” Will raised his voice. He stood up from the bed and faced Nico.

“There is only you.”

“You don’t know that!” Will’s raised voice went up a notch. The look on his face was one wrought with sadness and upset.

“Only you.” Nico could see it in Will’s blue eyes. The man didn’t believe him. More like he didn’t believe that he could be the only person for Nico.

He wondered how lonely Will must have felt to believe that about himself. While Nico had desired a family he had never felt unconfident about himself, whereas Will had a huge family but couldn’t be any lonelier and insecure. This had never been something Nico was good at. He didn’t know how to soothe pain or how to treat emotions. He wondered what he could do or say to help his consort from feeling insecure about their union.

“What about kids?” Will asked him.

Nico cocked his head at Will in confusion. He hadn’t expected that. Nico hadn’t even thought about it.

“Nico, you’re the heir to Erebus!” Will groaned. The frustration on his face creased that perfectly handsome face. With a heavy sigh of exasperation Will glared as if Nico was mocking him. “Two men can’t give birth, my prince.”

“Oh!” Nico finally realized what Will was getting at. Then he felt a deep anger squeeze inside him. Gods, was Will actually thinking there was any possibility Nico would ever do such a thing?

Quietly Will asked, toeing the tip of his boot on the carpet, “Doesn’t everyone want children?”

Nico smiled as he found a way to bring the situation back to rights.

He asked his consort, “Do you want children?”

Will looked up at him. It seemed his prince hadn’t thought about the subject himself either. Of course anyone would want a child to call their own, no one really imagined it until they were older. Nico wasn’t desperate enough to do what Will was suggesting however. He could never couple with another person just to give birth to an heir of his own.

“Would you sleep with a woman to give me an heir?” Nico asked him. Will scrunched up his face and glared at him. Nico wasn’t quite sure what the expression was but it could be something between confusion, disgust and anger. If he had to sum it up Will might have felt insulted. He smiled at his consort then, satisfied that his prince understood how he had felt being asked the same thing. Again he insisted, “There is only you.” He waited for Will. The man reluctantly nodded and walked towards him at the door.

“Sorry,” Will mumbled as he looked at the floor. Nico raised his hand and put his into Will’s hand. “Sorry if I insulted your honor.” Nico raised his eyes toward the sky and back trying to find the patience to let his consort apologize to him for no reason. He leaned in and kissed Will’s cheeks once he thought the man was done. “And I’m sorry for questioning your faithfulness.” An ashamed Will was adorable in a way but Nico found he rather liked when Will was blushing from shyness and embarrassment rather than humiliation and remorse.

“You and I have not been together long,” Nico pointed out to Will. It had to be set very clearly that Will shouldn’t have to apologize to him for his insecurity. “If you exclude the time we had together in the last few weeks, we have only spent a few hours of quality time together as two people.” Will slowly lifted his head and looked at Nico.

Finally, he thought. A shy consort was tempting, but he much preferred when Will was comfortably himself. He ran his hand through Will’s soft hair and found himself mesmerized by the golden strands of his consort.

“You are free to tell me when you’re unhappy or worried.”

Just like that Will was blushing at him again. His flustered prince stumbled over his words. “I was… wasn’t trying to… It’s not—it’s not like you haven’t…” Will’s hands gripped at Nico’s shirt in frustration. He was staring at Nico’s chest without looking up at him, apparently frustrated with being unable to express his words properly.

“You are also free to tell me how to make you happy,” Nico added in a softer tone. He watched as Will turned even redder. He grinned and settled his hands on top of Will’s hands. He carefully moved Will’s hands from his shirt and pulled them up. He kissed the knuckles of both hands and smiled down at his consort.

Will stared up at him for a long moment. Those blue eyes searched his face and Nico knew that Will could see he was hiding something. Fortunately Will decided not to press him about it and simply nodded at Nico. A silent understanding passed through them. Will would wait for Nico to tell him his secrets.

“Thank you,” Nico whispered.

“For what?” Will asked.

He smiled and teased Will, “Your compliment. You like warriors.” Will rolled his eyes at Nico’s rib. He chuckled as Will pulled his hands out of Nico’s hold and smacked Nico’s arm. He held up his hands to show his non-aggression and took a step away as Will walked away from him.

“You’re staying out late tonight, aren’t you?” Will asked as he walked toward the wardrobe.

Nico leaned his back against the door. “I won’t be back to the house until later tonight.” He wondered what Will was doing inside the wardrobe until he saw what Will took out from it.

In his consort’s arms as he walked back to Nico was the black fur cape. He pushed off the door and stepped towards Will. Will was going to hand it to him but he stopped Will from telling him to wear it because it’ll be cold. He gazed into those blue eyes again and guided Will’s hands to put the cape around his shoulders. Then he waited until Will finally clasped the two ends of the top of the cape together on Nico.

“And you?” Nico asked him.

“I’ll come back before going out again,” Will said. Nico nodded. “I’ll raid your closet later for something warm.” Nico nodded again. For what must have been the millionth time since that morning Nico thought Will was unbelievably beautiful. “What’s wrong?” Will asked him in concern.

He shook his head. Nothing was wrong. This right here, this was where Nico had wanted to be all those days in the pit. He’d imagined what it would be like, how it would feel to have Will stand in front of him and simply talk of their plans for the day. 806 miserable days in Tartarus and now Nico was unwilling to give up any of his future days left. He had work to do, he had many things to bring to his father including his vows with Will, and he couldn’t afford the luxury of being lost in those blue eyes.

“Prince Nico?” Will asked hesitantly.

Nico smiled and kissed the top of Will’s head. “I told you to use my name.” Will nodded, visibly showing his relief that Nico was no longer looking or acting strange. He let go of Will’s hands and turned to the door. He had to find Frank. They had to talk about Nico’s future plans to get to the Capitol and what Frank’s plans were as well. “Be safe,” Nico as he opened the door. Will nodded. “And stay warm.” Will smiled at him and nodded again. Nico left and closed the door behind him, quickly walking down the stairs and out the house before he turned around and back to Will.

 

Travis followed his younger brother by the hand that pulled his along through the crowd. This night he was dressed in tight black trousers and black leather boots. The white shirt he wore felt a little small on him. He had to be careful about moving about, especially when it came to his arms. A cloak was drawn around him and held together by a golden pin from Connor. This time instead of a simple decorative mask hiding his eyes he was wearing another half-mask make out of wood. His brother had tied a cloth around his head like a scarf and told him he looked just like a pirate with his sword holstered around his waist.

“Here we are, just stay here and see if he approaches you tonight,” Connor said excitedly in a quiet tone. He was dressed in his usual clothes. After all he was there to entertain the townspeople not to enjoy it. And he definitely wasn’t there to dress up like some weird peacock trying to attract another male.

Travis stood around what felt like hours. When he checked the clock tower in town it had only been in hour since he’d been there. Two girls had asked him for a dance and he’d accepted only one dance. A few men came to ask for his time as well but he flustered through his refusal, unsure if by accepting that he might be accepting something else. So there he was standing around for a good hour and a couple dances later.

“Waiting for someone?” a rough voice asked as the owner of said voice came up next to him.

“Yes.” He kept his eyes on the crowd as he watched his younger brother in his element entertaining people.

“A lover?” the man next to him asked.

“No, I don’t…” Travis was in the middle of answering when he turned and looked up at the massive man next to him. He had a good few inches on Travis, and he was wearing that same black mask as he had the night before. He was also still wearing a feathered black hat. Unlike Travis he was wearing a black military coat. It seemed expensive but for all Travis knew it could have been the only costume the man ever wore for any of these masquerade dances.

“Not a lover?” the man asked, his deep voice sounding just a pinch piqued and hopeful. Travis stepped back from the man out of instinct, just as he’d done yesterday night. The man raised his hand to Travis’ then. “Care for a dance, Pirate Lord?” Travis knew it was wrong to see this person a second time.

Yesterday had felt magical and it allowed him to dream for a moment of the night he took a stupidly gigantic chance of asking an outranking officer from another country to dance. It had reminded him yesterday how General Michael had nodded and took his proffered hand. He’d been allowed to be lost in the stranger’s eyes and his gentle smile as he imagined the one who danced with him yesterday was the General. He couldn’t help himself. He accepted the dance and allowed himself to be led into the dance area by the same stranger again.

It was a long waltz they’d walked into. Normally one changed partners, especially in a long song. However, this was a town festival and they weren’t nobles. It was also apparent that his dance partner was unwilling to switch leads with another person. So Travis spent the first part of the song just staring into those eyes hidden underneath the stranger’s hat and mask.

“How did you find me?” Travis finally asked, unable to stand the silence between them.

“Could tell,” came the gruff answer.

“Why did you approach me again?” he ventured asking.

The man seemed to stare into his eyes for a long time. Travis gave up first and turned his face to the side to look away. He just couldn’t look for much longer. His memories of watching the General from afar and the one night he danced with the man had started to overlap with the image of the man he was dancing with now. He was staring to see his lips, that quiet smile, the broad shoulders and rough hands as the same as the General’s from four years ago.

“Because it’s you.”

“What do you mean?”

The answer never came. “Why did you wait?” the stranger asked instead.

Travis shrugged. “I liked yesterday.” Thinking perhaps the stranger might misunderstand he quickly amended, “Dancing. I meant the dancing. I liked the dancing.” Travis silently kicked himself as he stared down at the man’s chest. Of course what else had they’d done yesterday besides share a dance? Travis felt his face heat up for the hundredth time that day.

“You like to dance?”

Relieved the man didn’t think him some crazy person, Travis quickly nodded in answer.

“Are you a dancer then?”

With an awkward shrug he replied, “I had some practice.”

“Where?”

Travis considered how to explain. He couldn’t exactly tell some stranger that because he was Prince Will’s retainer he’d also ended up Prince Will’s dance partner for practice. Travis shrugged and turned his face away to stare at the crowd.

“I understand,” the stranger responded to Travis’ non-answer. “I don’t dance often.”

Travis chuckled then. He’d noticed yesterday that his large stranger was a very careful dancer. They didn’t know all the steps or motions in a dance, but the entire time he tried to follow along. He lifted Travis when it was part of a dance step, and knew a few simple efficient steps for twirling, wrapping a partner, and spinning out a partner. However he wasn’t exactly fluid in all his dancing.

“I could tell,” Travis nodded.

“It must’ve been difficult dancing with me yesterday,” the stranger said. Travis looked up into the man’s eyes. “I’m not very good at leading.”

Travis smiled. The man’s dancing also had reminded him of General Michael. Even a short and simple waltz had been more rigid that it normally was in the General’s arms. Travis had remembered the way the general had stared into Travis’ eyes, the way his eyes sometimes shifted to check on where their feet went. They barely spoke but Travis had found himself smiling and laughing in that short time span. It had been the same yesterday while dancing with this man.

“You’ve a very charming dance style,” Travis grinned at him. He paused for a second as the stranger stared at him, seeming to know Travis had something else to say. He shrugged at his stranger before sighing out in an exhausted tone, “It just might require a certain level of elegance and class.”

“Oh, class is it?”

“And elegance.” Travis mocked a little graceful curtesy mid-step. Then he broke into laughter as the man smiled down at him.

“And what kind of class and elegance would someone need to follow my lead?” the man asked him next, indulging in Travis’ wisecracking. The man stared down at him, eyes still hidden behind his mask and his feathered hat but Travis felt the stare. He wondered why he could tell when the stranger was looking at him and when he wasn’t.

Travis smiled broadly and decided against a clever answer as the song ended. He saw Connor pull a flustered Will up to the small stage in the plaza where they were playing music. He held up his hand and signaled to both of them holding his index and middle finger up together. The two both noticed and knew what kind of song Travis wanted. They’d talked over the signals that afternoon already.

A lively song started to play. A flustered Will stepped up and joined Connor in singing to the lyrics.

His stranger was busy following his gaze to who he was signaling to. Travis grabbed his hand and pulled his stranger closer to the middle of the dancing area as most of the dancers moved out. Not many people were energetic or giddy enough to want to dance to a lively song. Travis twisted back into the man’s arms and smiled up at him.

“You’ve got something planned I see,” his stranger smiled at him. It was obvious he was indulging Travis again. “You’re going to have to be patient with me.”

Travis threw back a laugh before putting himself back in the man’s stiff embrace. “Relax a little,” he said as he settled into the role of the woman. He listened to the rhythm and tempo of the song and began to move rotate his hips sequence. “Do you know the type of dance?” The motion and dance he was basing it off was Latin-Roman, but the song was from Delphi. He wondered if his stiff and awkward stranger would be comfortable enough to dance with him.

“I have seen this kind, yes.” The man was staring even lower down at Travis’ hips. His lips pressed hard together as if he was contemplating something. Travis presumed he was thinking of whether to try and imitate the motion of Travis’ hips himself.

“Ready?” Travis asked, but he wasn’t expecting an answer. He got an answer regardless. His stranger led them into the song, both of them moving to the tempo. The man’s steps were still careful and cautious, but also measured. When they separated and danced around one another. Their shoulders brushed, their backs touched as they turned from one another but pressed close, their fingers touched as they came together side by side and walked together. Travis winked at his stranger before dancing away just as the song ended.

Travis quickly blended into the crowd, pulling the cloak around him again and pulling on the hood. Travis pulled into an alleyway and undid the cloth tied over his head. He undid some of the buttons on his slightly too tight shirt and tied the cloth around his waist. He sat down in the street against the wall and took in deep breaths. Gods he couldn’t do this again. Tomorrow night was the last night of the festival celebrating Prince Nico’s return.

“Who would wait for a nobody, really?” Travis sighed out. His eyes closed tightly as his head spun and a headache pinched at his temples. Travis felt it, the burning need to be close to another body, to kiss someone, to hold them and to reach that peak of oblivion together. Even though he was conscious of the reason why he burned with lust but in his mind’s eye he was seeing another person from the one that had been there with him.

“Was it unsatisfactory?” the deep voice asked, approaching closer to him.

Travis tensed as his stranger came closer to him. He didn’t want to open his eyes and look at that hidden face. He didn’t want to see General Michael’s face overlap with the masked man’s face. It had been four years since Travis danced with the man. Nearly two years since they last past each other in the halls of the golden palace of Delphi. Nearly two years since he and the General last uttered greetings to each other. His heart constricted, his chest squeezed as he felt the larger man crouch down to see if he was okay.

“Are you experiencing pain?” the slightly concerned voice asked. Travis almost said yes, that he was experiencing a pain that he couldn’t heal. That heartache made him lust over a stranger whose face he didn’t even know. Rather than answer he shook his head and kept his eyes tightly closed.

Rough hands tenderly cupped his cheeks and lifted his face up. Travis started to open his eyes when he felt lips touch his own. For long moments their lips were pressed together and Travis couldn’t even bring himself to blink. His heart stopped constricting but something else overtook him.

The man pulled away and looked down at him. It was then Travis could properly see his eyes under the rim of his hat. His eyes were a dark brown like Prince Nico’s, but lighter in shade. Travis saw the want in the man’s eyes. He kissed Travis again but it was not the same chaste smile he’d given Travis just earlier. This kiss was passionate with desire. The man pulled Travis by the edges of his shirt towards him.

He moaned as he couldn’t speak with lips over his own. Travis grabbed at the man’s shoulders to balance himself. Before he knew it Travis couldn’t see quite right. It took him some time to realize the reason he couldn’t see properly had nothing to do with the passionate kiss.

When his stranger stopped kissing him his hands moved to brush tears from Travis’ eyes. It was then Travis noticed that he’d started crying. He wasn’t crying exactly but the tears came unprovoked. After the kiss Travis felt all the hurt inside disappear but everything else flooded him and the tears couldn’t be stopped.

“Sorry,” Travis quickly apologized. He pulled away and sat against the wall again. He brushed his arms over his eyes to try and wash away his tears. “I really don’t…” he was trying to say but found that if he tried to speak he would really start to cry. Biting down on his lower lip he tried to hold back from breaking down.

His stranger pulled Travis up from the ground as if he was a child and set him on his feet. The two of them stood in the alleyway as he tried to stop his tears. Travis felt shame hang over him as he cried in front of another man for no reason at all. His masked stranger pulled him into a warm embrace and held him until his tears stopped.

Travis couldn’t stop his tears for what felt like hours. He wasn’t sure exactly why he was crying but if Travis had to guess it was from pitying himself. He knew the man he hoped was waiting for him wouldn’t be waiting. Travis was a random unknown son of a duke of Olympus. He ran off with his charge and lost any standing he might have gained through his service. Travis wouldn’t even be seeing Michael Kahale again. His only chances of ever seeing that handsome general had been in the golden palace he left behind.

Sniffing as the tears finally dried up Travis thanked the man. He tried pulling away but the man pulled him back into the embrace. Travis decided he would rather have the comfort of a stranger at the moment and relaxed into the strong squeeze.

An annoyed click of the man’s tongue brought Travis back. The man slowly backed away as he stared at another masked person in a hooded cloak staring at them from across the cobbled street. His stranger gave him a bow and kissed the knuckles of his hand. Travis understood the meaning, because it was something done in parts of Olympus and in Delphi. This man either knew where Travis came from or came there himself.

“Tomorrow,” the stranger said softly. He straightened and walked away from the alleyway and crossed the street to the other side. Travis waited until the two strangers disappeared down the street before he moved out of the alley.

He walked himself back to the house he and Will had shared. Now it was just him in the quiet. He locked the door and began to undress as he walked up the stairs toward his room. Travis undressed quickly into his an oversized shirt that went down almost past his thighs. He rolled up the long sleeves to his elbow and crawled into bed after finishing his preparations.

Falling asleep was difficult, as the festival went throughout the night until everyone was so tired they went to their own beds. Travis was used to noise but he wasn’t used to the quiet. He was eerily frightened of the quiet. It was too still, too calm, too structured for him. Travis could hear the quiet in the house and the noise from the outside.

Staring at the wooden ceiling he contemplated the quiet which resembled the unknown. When he thought of the unknown his mind raced back to his stranger. The stranger who wore a mask. Why did someone wear a mask? To hide their identity. So, like Travis the man did not want anyone to know who he was or why he was there. Then the big question was why the man thought to risk being noticed or known by dancing with Travis. If he really thought about it Travis knew the answer. The evidence was they where they hugged.

Lust.

“Tomorrow.”

Travis sat up and looked out the window towards the festival stalls out in the main street. Tomorrow, his stranger had said. Suddenly Travis decided he didn’t want to be found tomorrow. Although he didn’t know enough of the situation a part of him knew he couldn’t put himself in a situation that would compromise the safety of his runaway prince.

He laid down again in the dark and closed his eyes, deciding he would sleep and see tomorrow as any other day and nothing else.

Chapter Text

“Nervous?” Frank asked him.

Nico leaned against the brick wall as he watched the crowd in the dance area. He spotted Connor lead Travis by the hand into the crowd of onlookers. He left his brother there and ran off to join his troupe up on the stage. He watched as Travis passed up the chance to dance with a few men. He did accept one dance from a woman, but it had seemed to be out of kindness that he’d agreed. The young lady had been pushed toward Travis by her friends in the crowd, and it was obvious Travis couldn’t say without embarrassing the girl.

He was well aware Frank was silently laughing at him. Of course he was uncertain with the situation, but he wasn’t going to admit to being nervous about it. Frank on the other hand took his silence as his being nervous and unwilling to attest to it.

“Nico,” Frank whispered harshly at him just then. Nico glared in the direction Frank had nodded. Across the crowd on the other side there were two individuals wearing cloaks. The larger one of the pair took off his cloak and handed it to the other man. The man cocked his feathered hat forward before walking into the crowd.

The mystery man wasn’t dressed any different from Nico or Frank. His dark brown trousers and belted sword weren’t for show, they were the most functional set of clothing a military man could wear. His boots weren’t clean but were well taken care off. His collared shirt was loose so it wouldn’t hinder any movement if he was in an unexpected battle. Like what Will said, it was definitely something a warrior would wear to an overcrowded festival if he wanted to look nice but not deterred.

“Your type?” Nico asked. Frank was a big man himself and Nico had never seen Frank show affect or try to seduce anyone in the time they have travelled together.

Frank rolled his eyes skywards. “My type is the exact opposite.” As in female. For all Nico knew Frank could have a penchant for very huge and muscular women. Not that Nico was really going to judge him. “No, I think I know that man.” With his arms crossed he again nodded to the feathered hat man.

Nico noted the man had taken his time, watching the crowd, watching the troupe, watching the dance floor before he approached Travis. It was almost as if the man didn’t want to be noticed but was highly aware he just might be. Nico observed as Travis spoke to the man before showing a genuinely surprised expression that it was him. So they knew each other. The two were masked, one was even dressed in costume but for some odd reason the two had been able to recognize one another.

With a shake of his head he realized what it was Connor had meant about Will being busy tonight with him and Travis. It was this little set up. Nico noticed how the pants encased Travis’ legs and hips as he danced with the masked stranger. In the weeks he’d known Travis he’d never seen the man wear anything that didn’t fit properly. As a knight and retainer of a prince he normally wore clothes that would give him freedom of movement. It was clear with how deliberate and careful his dancing was that Travis was afraid of exerting any force that might rip the clothing. In other words, Travis would have dressed similar to Nico or his companion given his own choice. Someone else dressed him with the purpose of attracting his stranger to the floor.

His partner in the feathered hat had a cautious and simplistic way of moving and leading. Nico could say he wasn’t much of a dancer, but he at least knew the steps. It was obvious the stranger was self-conscious but had been in enough situations that he was familiar with some of the steps. His movements were efficient but cautious, as if he was aware that his partner was used to dancing the steps and movements in each number. Nico was too far and there were too many people for him to properly observe the stranger, but the gait and measured movements told him the man wasn’t a common soldier. This man was a seasoned warrior with old habits.

“I think I know that man,” Frank said again. He had also been watching the man, but with a suspicion in his gaze. “No, I’m sure I know that man.” Frank’s face turned sour, scrunching up into a hard glower. “But why is he out here?”

“Leave them be,” Nico sighed. He felt a weight of exhaustion hit him when he saw the shy, awkward expression on Travis’ face. That downwards gaze and the quiet little smile told him all he needed to know and Nico just knew he was going to be an ally in this set up of Connor’s. He knew that face Travis was making because he saw it on Will’s face sometimes too. The stranger had caught Travis’ attention. It’ll hurt far less if Frank let it sit as mere dalliance or the effects could cause some of them a world of pain.

“But Nico…” Frank grabbed Nico’s arm. He quickly pulled back when Nico glared back at him. “Sorry.” Frank cleared his throat and looked back at the pair. “Nico that man is dangerous.”

“We’ve got better things to worry about,” he reminded Frank. The remark was supposed to shut down the conversation.

“Okay I won’t tell you who he is,” Frank grumbled as he followed Nico towards the meeting place. “But I’ll tell you he’s the dog of the augur.” Nico didn’t falter or pause, he couldn’t afford to after having made up his mind. So what if Travis fancied some masked man in a town festival, and so what if the man happened to be a subordinate to the moron in office who kicked Frank out of the Roman Empire? Nico had decided he would let Travis have this night, to have his stranger.

He was well aware just what exactly Travis has done in all his time with Will. No one more than Nico owed Travis for his time of service or for his dedication. Without Travis he probably wouldn’t even have seen Will until after another two years. Without him Will might not even be alive. Travis was the one person who protected Will when no else thought to do so.

Nico stood at the house Connor had told him to go. Frank stood with him but quietly waited with Nico. It wasn’t that he was afraid but he wasn’t exactly sure how to act. He wasn’t sure how to verify the rumor even when looking at the genuine article. Would he just know? Thoughts worried through his brain until he wasn’t even sure he was seeing the green door in front of him anymore. He tried to rouse himself to move by telling himself he was a prince of Erebus, that he was the Dark Angel in those feared rumors, that he was the King of Ghosts, that he had survived Tartarus and the Styx so he could survive this, and he even reminded himself of the things he’d done as the Dark Rider. None of it could give him the courage to move up those steps and look at that hopeful rumor himself.

He wasn’t sure how long he stood there but a deep voice called out to him. “Prince Nico.” He knew the voice but he couldn’t believe it. He was the dog of the augur who Frank had mentioned?

Nico and Frank both turned their glares toward the two cloaked individuals. Travis’ feathered hat stranger and his smaller companion approached them from down an alleyway. The pair looked at the door and back to Nico and Frank.

“She belongs to us,” the ear-grating voice of the augur scraped against Nico’s eardrums. He’d only met the augur once or twice in his time represent his father as an ambassador. Suffice it to say he had not enjoyed the interactions.

Nico sneered at the irritating little scrawny figure. “Octavian,” he growled and turned to face the two. Nico stood with his shoulders tensed.

“Who are you?” the ignorant augur asked, lifting off the hood of his cloak to review his angular face. Nico tried not to snarl but he couldn’t help it. Octavian reflected all the outward quality of a son of Apollo if all one used were keywords. He had golden hair, blue eyes, and smooth skin. If one really described him he was like a strange lanky man who had starved himself, his hair hung on him rather than being part of him, and it was very obvious the man had never done any serious work in his life. His skin was so pale it was uncanny how similar in complexion it was to Nico’s, but his skin came from working in the dark too often not from the fact that he never even stepped outside once in his daily life.

Frank scoffed. “Why don’t you try and predict who he is?”

Octavian glared up at Frank then. “Frank Zhang!” he hissed. Frank mocked a bow of his head. “I thought you were dead you traitorous-”

“Insult my retainer any further and I will kill you,” Nico interrupted but kept his voice leveled. He waited for the words to sink in, but the augur still didn’t seem to understand. He looked between Nico and noted the fur cape, and then he looked at Frank and back.

He laughed hysterically as if something was funny. “You found yourself a lord?”

Nico unsheathed the obsidian dagger from behind his back. He attacked the augur knowing the General would block the attack with his own sword. They pushed their blades against each other until they both repelled one another.

“What?” Octavian yelled in outrage. Nico glanced at Frank with a silent question. Frank met his gaze and rolled his eyes with a shrug. Nico sighed out, hoping Frank’s wages as an officer of the Romans had been worth Octavian’s arrogance. “How dare you attack an ambassador of Rome!” the scrawny man yelled.

“I don’t recall inviting you,” Nico responded coolly.

“I don’t need your invitation!”

Frank burst into laughter when Octavian said it. His bellow was so deep and loud he had to crouch down and hold his hands to his mouth. Nico gave up a little smile as Frank started gasping for breath. He’d never seen Frank laugh so hard or so loud. It was clear Frank had an abundance of negativity toward Octavian, but the resentment seemed to have an outlet of dark humor.

“Obsidian blade is only used by one family, augur,” the General’s cold voice informed the ignorant man. Nico held his dagger in the open where it was, making sure it was in the light so Octavian wouldn’t miss it.

“Obsidian?” Octavian asked and turned to stare at Nico’s dagger. He looked at Nico’s sword, staring at the crestless hilt and guard. It was obvious he had no idea.

“Esteemed augur!” Frank stood up as he clasped a hand on Nico’s shoulder. “Let me properly introduce you.” Frank then cleared his throat, stood up straight and gave another mock bow. His usually very serious tone came back. “Meet Prince Nico di Angelo of Erebus. Son of King Hades.” There was a long pause as Nico watched the little augur turn to the General and back at Nico with his mouth agape. “The heir to the throne.” Frank’s smile was so wide Nico was actually wondering if his face might peel off.

“And you just insulted him,” Nico reminded the pale-faced augur. Fear and shock was on his face. It was very obvious what was going on in Octavian’s mind. The rumors of the Dark Angel did reach far and wide after all.

“Trust me your highness,” Octavian started in a very bootlicking kind of tone. Nico felt disgust squeeze the pit of his stomach.

He cut off the little man’s words of appeasement. “You will leave my town,” Nico said pointedly at the augur.

A placating look came on the augur’s face. “Really Prince Nico, you haven’t inherited it yet.” As if trying to remind Nico he had no real authority.

Nico considered the thought for a moment as he put his dagger away. It caused the little man to breathe in relief. He almost pitied the fool.

“How long have I been gone, Frank?” Nico asked out loud.

“Four years.”

“Where was the first place I returned to?” Nico asked. Frank knew him well enough not to answer just yet. “The city?” Nico took a step closer. “The capital?” He took another step. “The palace?”

“Here,” Frank answered.

“This town is protected by the Dark Angel,” Nico growled at the augur. He pushed the little man back a step from him. The fact that he had no idea what the town was named made this exchange even more pitiful. “You will leave my town.”

“You can’t-” the augur started to argue. “I am to be properly…” He couldn’t seem to find the right words when he looked up at Nico. “This is your responsibility!” the augur stomped his foot.

Nico unsheathed his sword next. The General stepped in front of the augur to block off any impeding attack. Nico didn’t care. The General wasn’t his concern just yet.

“I haven’t inherited that responsibility yet,” Nico simply said. It further irritated the arrogant little man who was ever so proud to be a son of Apollo. Gods, were all of Will’s brothers like this? He hoped not. After a long pause of Octavian trying to win in a staring contest with him Nico finally called out and asked Frank, “What is the name of this town?”

Frank paused as if uncertain, then he quietly spoke the name with his inarticulate accent of Nico’s mother tongue. “Bianca di Angelo Cittadina.”

The look of their faces showed that they knew exactly whose namesake was given to the town by the Styx. This was Nico’s town. Most people called in White Angel, but deep inside this was his sister’s town. This was where he had buried his older sister when he lost her. This town was his and though it had its own mayor and its own government of system, everyone who lived in it knew who it truly belonged to. It didn’t belong to the state, to the kingdom or his father. Here was the town of White Angel.

“Now get out of my town Octavian.”

“You and whose army?” came the snarky response.

Frank managed to swallow back a laugh. It was clear the little man would try to wear away Nico’s patience. He didn’t realize exactly just what kind of situation he walked into. This town was his sister’s and here Octavian was, representationally tarnishing the very memory of his sister. Nico turned his back to Octavian and walked to Frank.

“A dark rider comes,” Frank said the words.

Nico turned back to the augur as he held his sword out. He made sure it was pointed towards the ground to show he would use it but that he was not attacking.

“Leave my town, Octavian.” Nico didn’t need an army.

“Fine!” Octavian sniffed, knowing exactly what words would follow if he didn’t leave of his own accord. Once the words were said Nico wouldn’t stop with taking a hand or a foot either. “We’re leaving Mike!” The little man turned around with a dramatic turn and flick of his cloak.

“He stays.”

“What?” Octavian turned back. He stomped his foot again like a spoiled child demanding his desires be granted. “What do you mean?” he snapped angrily, as if he’d already done Nico a favor by agreeing to leave posthaste.

“There’s something here the General needs to finish,” Nico said. He made eye contact with the General and it seemed his meaning was conveyed. Turning his gaze to Octavian he enunciated very clearly, “Your business here is done.”

“But-”

“You said my service ends when we reach where the girl is,” the General spoke up with a very convenient explanation for why he was even there. Nico raised an eyebrow. He had always pegged the General to be a dedicated worker. “We are here.” He couldn’t believe the General had been so dedicated he had agreed to a last mission.

“She is a fugitive!”

“Then she is a refugee of Erebus,” Nico pointed out. Octavian didn’t hide his own disgust. He openly sneered at Nico. “And if her birthright is proven then she is Erebian.” Nico glared at Octavian with a harsh look in his eyes. The real conversation was said between them in silence. “Do not make me repeat myself again.” He waited until the augur turned away and walked back the way he came.

“Your service ended?” Frank gaped then at the General in the feathered hat and mask. A solemn nod was his answer. “How? Why?” There seemed to be a million questions Frank had wanted to ask.

Before Frank could ask Nico heard the front door of the house open. He turned to it and watched as the light from inside the house streamed out onto the street. A young lady with dark skin and round brown eyes faced Nico shyly from behind the door. Her hair was hidden under a handkerchief but Nico somehow knew her heritage and from where the girl’s mother descended from.

“H-Hi,” the girl greeted them. “Hi Frank.”

“Hazel,” Frank smiled and his tension suddenly disappeared. Nico could suddenly see that same soft look he saw on Will reflected on Frank’s face now. He was sweet on the girl. For some reason Nico’s first thought was that this was how it should be and that he couldn’t have expected anything less.

“H-Hello General,” she greeted the General next.

The General gave her a bow at the waist. “My pleasure, Lady Hazel.” She curtsied to him from behind the door. He could see she wore a simple yellow dress. It looked borrowed. She had on an apron and Nico’s next question was whether or not she was a servant for someone. He didn’t like that thought.

“Hello um…” she stared at Nico in question and wonder. “You’re the one Connor wanted me to meet.” He could see the shyness but also that she emotionally backed away from him. It was good that she was suspicious and wasn’t going to trust him right away. Intelligence and a fighting spirit shone in her eyes.

Nico nodded. He looked at the General and then at Frank. It seemed everyone but she had realized the situation. He turned back to her and saw the millions of questions and uncertainty in her eyes.

Nico stepped up and knelt down on one knee for her at the door. “It is nice to meet you finally,” Nico greeted. “Little sister.” He looked at her then and saw the disbelief and astonishment on her face. He tried for a smile and softly spoke the words that came to him, “Bianca di Angelo vi da il benvenuto.”

The Town of the White Angel welcomes you.

Chapter Text

Will might have overdone it a little. The world wobbled in his vision as he made his way back. He grabbed the wall and leaned against it, trying to take a deep breath. A groan hit his forehead like a hammer. Fresh air did not agree with him.

“Will?” Travis hissed. The door opened and he collapsed forward into the opening. Travis caught him as he knew the man would, and hauled him onto his feet. “Gods what are you doing man?” Travis grumbled and lectured him all the way up the stairs. “Damn it all Will, walk would up!” Travis snapped as they stumbled for the fifth time climbing the stairs. For some reason Will found it hilarious and laughed the entire time as Travis struggled getting Will to walk up the stairs.

“What did you do?” Travis asked, half dragging him toward his bedroom. Will groaned out an answer.

His eyes bleared as Travis opened Will’s bedroom door. The lamp wasn’t lit but Travis somehow found his way to Will’s bed on the other end of the room. Will fell into his bed and gave up staying awake. He was half way asleep when Travis started lightly slapping him on the face to rouse him from his slumber.

“Don’t sleep.”

“I’m tired.”

“You’re not sleeping yet,” Travis insisted. Will groaned out with annoyance in his voice.

He could feel Travis removing his articles of clothing. He hadn’t thought about it. It wasn’t as if Travis had never done it before. He was half way into sleep when he remembered something and woke up with a start.

“Jacket,” he mumbled.

“What?”

“His jacket.”

Travis seemed to understand because the next thing he knew, Will was hugging the soft jacket to his bared chest. Travis forced him to sit up and set the jacket down on his side. Will felt the world spin even though his eyes were closed.

“Stay,” Travis commanded. Will must have slipped off into sleep again because he woke up again with a hot wet towel pressed against his skin. “Don’t sleep.” Will recalled asking why but he was so out of it he wasn’t sure if he actually had.

“Wake up!” Travis snapped.

Will opened his eyes and woke up for sure when Travis rubbed hard against his back with the wet towel. He shouted in pain as Travis scrubbed so hard he was sure he’d gone red from the scrubbing.

“What are you doing?” he yelled and turned to face Travis.

“Good, stay up.” Travis stopped scrubbing him. He put the towel into the steaming pan of hot water again and scooped it out.

Will finally looked at Travis. He was wearing that overly large shirt again and his knee length sleep pants. It was already so cold but Travis dressed light when he slept in his own bed. It was then Will realized that this house and that room down the hall was now home for them. This town was home for them.

Travis ran the wet towel over Will’s bared skin again. He watched how diligently Travis washed Will with the cloth. He put his hand over Travis’ hand to stop him from wiping Will’s body down.

“Too hot?” Travis asked him.

“No.”

“You smell like booze,” Travis sighed out. He moved his hand from Will’s and started wiping him down again. “I can’t have the prince find you like this.” Travis dumped the cloth in the hot water again and brought it back up.

“I’ll take a bath,” Will said. Travis turned his gaze on Will with a look that asked Will what he was up to. He sighed at his friend. He had no plans of mischief, especially not against the Stoll brothers. “In the morning.”

Travis stopped then and dropped the towel into the hot water. Crossing his arms he asked Will, “What did you do?”

“How is it my fault?” Will asked, slightly offended that his friend thought Will had anything to do with… that.

“Did you talk to him?” Travis asked next. Will shrugged, not willing to tell Travis he hadn’t. Travis sighed. “I’m only your retainer.” Will wanted to raise his voice and object to that, but he couldn’t say anything as Travis had grabbed the pan of hot water and left. Will sat on his bed and stared at the pile of rocks stacked on his windowsill.

He heard Travis come back in and sit on the chair by Will’s bed. Will felt his stomach churn but he ignored that as he turned completely on the bed so he was facing Travis. Travis was sitting on his chair, arms crossed, and with a very impatient look as he stared at Will.

“What?”

Travis sighed. “I just want to get things straight, okay?” Will wasn’t sure what he was talking about, and he had a feeling something in Travis had snapped too. Normally Travis had a high level of patience and tolerance, but the way he was acting seemed too much like Connor who was spontaneous. “You got engaged four years ago to Prince Nico.” Will nodded. “He was gone for four years, some of that time as the Dark Rider.” Will nodded again. “Four years later—a couple days ago—you two made up your differences.” Will understood where Travis was headed with the questions. “And decided to get married.”

“Yes.”

“So between being gone for four years and discovering who each other was,” Travis said as he used one hand to indicate the four years and the other to indicate a few nights ago. “Where did you two think it was a smart idea to get married?”

“Austin would be in danger,” Will said.

“Austin, your brother?”

Will nodded.

This was where Travis paused. It didn’t take long for him to draw the same conclusion as Nico and Will had. After all he had been the one who told Will what had happened to his other brothers. Someone was after the Erebian throne. The officiated vows made Austin less of a target.

“You drew a target on your back?”

Will wasn’t going to say anything else, about how his feelings had gotten the best of him. He wasn’t going to say that the reason he married Nico had been because of what he felt for Nico. It was clear when he saw the way his friend looked at him, that Travis didn’t need the explanation either. He had surmised it with that strange observant skill he had.

“Just what, your Highness,” he said in a slightly irritated but mocking tone, “were you thinking walking around drunk and dazed in your miserable state of emotions?” Not once had Travis try to ask what Will was going through. He knew Will was hurting inside. He hadn’t asked exactly what Will saw, but knew that he hadn’t confronted Nico about it. Most importantly he hadn’t asked why Will didn’t believe in his own husband.

“Can I sleep now?” he asked expectantly. He wanted to just lie down, close his eyes and drift off.

“Not yet.” Travis leaned forward and ran a hand over Will’s hair. “What are you planning to do tomorrow?” Will pressed his lips together tightly. He had no plans for tomorrow. He just wanted to sleep.

“Should we leave on another trip?” The question held Will in confusion for a second before he came to realize why Travis asked. “Do you want to?” he asked Will again, and Will wasn’t sure. On any other day he would have agreed. Although they had made this place their home in some way, they had always traveled about in Erebus. This was the one place, the one country his father could not reach.

“I don’t know.”

Travis smiled at him then. “Then you know what you need to do, you just haven’t accepted it yet.” Travis patted Will’s head and grinned at him in that bright way he often did. “Now, I’m going to make you one of Rosa’s drunken elixir.” Will groaned as he collapsed back on his bed. Travis laughed as he left again and loudly went down the stairs.

He started at the wooden ceiling and thought back on what he saw. He’d watched Travis’ mystery man leave the dance area. Since he was done singing with Connor he had decided to follow. He hid in the dark of the alleyway and he had listened to the exchange mostly. He couldn’t hear everything from where he was, because he didn’t want to chance being noticed. One the other stranger left, Will chanced looking out into the street. He saw Nico take a knee in front of a petite lady, with a round cherub like face and smooth skin like chocolate. Will’s stomach had flipped over and he turned away, running back into the crowded festival. The rest he could barely remember.

“Regretting it?” Travis’ question invaded Will’s thoughts.

“What?”

“Not asking the prince,” Travis said. He waved for Will to sit up and when he did Travis handed him the hot mug of ominous liquid. Will frowned down at it. “I brought you a sandwich.” He put the plate onto Will’s lap. He groaned as the stench hit him. The smell was too strong, out of instinct of getting away from the smell he toss the plate back at Travis. The laugh of his friend echoed in his ear as he desperately drank the bitter liquid.

“Finish it,” insisted his friend. Will almost threw up but somehow kept it down. Slowly and with Travis’ insistence he finished the mug of soberness. Next his friend pushed the plate of sandwich back at him. “Now try to eat what you can.” Will frowned and tried a bite, but the sandwich and how it felt in his mouth made him want to hurl. “Try.” Will spent a long time picking at the lettuce and tomato, he ate the bread but ignored the turkey. Will handed the plate back to Travis, shaking his head at the insistence of eating the meat or the cheese.

“Fine.” Travis sat up. “Don’t lay down just yet.” Travis went out of the bedroom again and came back with a pillow and blankets. He recognized them as the ones from Travis’ bedroom. He stared at his friend in confusion until Travis folded the heavy blanket up and set it over Will’s pillow. Then he plopped his pillow on top of the blanket and waved for Will to lay against them.

“What are you doing?” Will asked, refusing to lean back.

“You’re likely to throw up.” Travis moved to Will’s closet and opened it. He shifted things around and pulled out another blanket. This one was thin, but Travis folded it up and then rolled it like it was the traveling blanket they carried off with them. That blanket he put underneath Will’s knees. “I’ll be back with a bucket.”

Will was already lying back, part of him elevated and his back comfortably stretched. His stomach didn’t churn as it had earlier. Will almost felt balanced if his head didn’t ache so badly, or his lungs irritable and threatening to make him heave out the contents of his stomach. How his lungs managed that he wasn’t quite sure. Perhaps he was still rather miserably drunk.

When Will opened his eyes again the first stream of light was just hitting the sky. The night was a greyish blue and the streets were quiet. He noticed his blanket comfortably settling over his body. Will turned and found Travis with a thin blanket wrapped around himself as he sat on Will’s desk chair. It was obvious his friend had sat up the rest of the night to make sure Will didn’t suffocate in his own bile.

Sitting up he threw his feet off the bed and leaned toward his friend in the chair. Will grinned as a thought of drawing on his friend’s face came to him. Instead he stood up and tested to see how he felt standing on his own. Once he didn’t feel like he would lose his balance Will wrapped his blanket around his waist and walked barefoot on the cold wooden floor. Will slowly got dressed that morning and tested his balance and his stomach by jumping a couple times.

Satisfied that he would not retch from sudden movement Will walked back to his friend. He wrapped his arm under Travis’ arms and picked the man off his feet. The blanket fell to the floor and revealed that Travis had gotten dressed at some point in the night and put on his belt with his sword holstered to it. Will slowly settled Travis onto the bed he just vacated and took out the sword from Travis’ belt holster. He leaned the sword next to the bed but pulled out the top pillow and blanket from under Travis’ head. He made sure the retainer was sleeping in a good position and not alleviated as Will had been, and threw a blanket over Travis.

“Thank you,” Will whispered in the quiet.

As soundlessly as possible Will moved about that morning to prepare for the day. He remembered promising to bathe in the morning so he gathered a towel and put on his sword and the two daggers Travis often insisted he had hidden on his person. Will then stared as Nico’s jacket and against his better judgement slipped it on before he stepped out into the cold morning.

He started a small fire at the side of the stream and sat there to warm up for a moment. He stared at the stream and almost regretted the decision to bathe in it. Will closed his eyes and took a deep breath, he then stood up and quickly undressed. The cold hit him like the tip of a sword. Will ran for the water and quickly dunk himself into the shallow stream. He curled himself into a ball and waited out the cold before standing up because he couldn’t stand the temperature for much longer.

“Should have waited for the afternoon,” a voice laughed at him. Will didn’t recognize the voice and turned around. He mentally kicked himself because he left his sword with his clothes by the fire—where the stranger stood. The large stranger turned his gaze from the small fire to Will standing nude in the stream. He seemed to stare right at Will, assessing his value as human flesh before gazing up at Will’s face. “You are the missing prince of Delphi.”

“Who is asking?” He tried to act relaxed and unthreatened the way Travis usually carried himself during an impeding fight. Will couldn’t quite bring himself to when faced with a copper-skinned man as large and fitted as Frank Zhang, black hair grown out over his shoulder and dark brown eyes that looked at Will with amusement not wonder.

“You wound me, prince,” the man chuckled as he turned back to the fire. The man ran his large hands through his hair and tied it up with a piece of leather string. He turned to look at Will again and winked at him. “I’m usually much stricter when I’m on the job.” Will felt a cold shiver run through him and it wasn’t from the water. He hadn’t recognized the man because of the long hair and the slightly exuberant tone in his rough voice.

“General Michael Kahale,” Will breathed out the name in shock. He blinked and then noticed the cloak settled down on the log that the General was sitting on by the fire. The feathered hat settled down next to the cloak and the crested sword taken off from the General’s belt. Will felt his stomach turn over and the need to vomit came back up. Travis’ mystery man was the General.

“I’m no longer a general,” the large man said as he stared back into the fire.

“What are you doing here?” Will hissed. He looked around, expecting the entire Roman army to surround him. No one jumped out from the forest around them.

Michael Kahale smiled at Will and poked a stick into the small fire. “I’m here to seduce a servant for a good tousle in the barn.” Michael sent Will a playful wink and laughed when Will glared at him. “Come now, that was what you were thinking.” Then suddenly his face turned harsh and solemn. “Finish bathing and we will talk.”

Will glared at him with doubt, but did as Michael told him. He walked back to the fire naked and tried not to show fear as he put on his clothes in the chill. Sitting down on the ground across the fire from Michael, Will glared at the man’s face. If he imagined the man wearing the feathered hat he could definitely see that he was the mystery man. He even had on the same clothes from the night before.

“What do you want?”

“What do you think of Prince Nico?” Michael asked him instead of answer.

The General was the kind of person who obviously didn’t give one an answer unless there was definitely a straight answer to give. He didn’t play games when he talked—not overly much anyways. It also seemed like his persona as a warrior and general was back on because that free demeanor of his was gone. Will tried to observe and notice everything about the former general but he just couldn’t see past what was right in front of him.

“Don’t know,” Will answered.

“Is he true?” Michael asked.

“Explain,” he responded tersely. He couldn’t give up anything either until he knew the purpose for why the Roman warrior approached him.

“Has he ever lied or disappointed you?”

“Disappointment is based on personal expectations.” Will watched the way Michael nodded as he stared into the blaze. “Nico has never lied. He does his best to keep his promises. I also know,” Will paused because he had to prepare himself to say the words, “Nico struggles when he thinks it is safer or better not to tell me something.” Will kept his gaze on Michael the entire time but kept his other senses opened to their surroundings.

“He left you for four years.”

“I ran away.”

“So it balances out?” asked Michael.

“No. We both did inconvenient things, but we still came back together.” Will couldn’t quite deny that. It was the truth. Somehow they still came back to each other. Somehow they still managed to meet up.

“You don’t think maybe he had other lovers in the four years since he’s been gone?”

Will stood up and glared down at Michael. He was done giving the man information when he didn’t have to do so. He remembered the words that Nico spoke to him at the very spot where Michael was sitting now.

“It was an arranged marriage, but there were no requirements to meet. There were no deals. Just you.” Nico never wavered when he had said those words. Will looked at Michael then and felt a sense of pity. The former Roman general must not have trusted very many people. “There is only you,” Nico’s words from last afternoon rang in his ear.

“He keeps his word.” Will turned around and walked back toward town. He stuff his cold hands into the pockets of Nico’s jacket and walked briskly. He was almost jogging by the time he returned home to the house.

“You could’ve told me to heat up some water,” Travis yawned as he was walking down the stairs.

“I needed the air.” Will moved toward the kitchen in the back as Travis followed him. Will turned on the stove, glad that most of the houses were at least running on electricity or gas in this town. “Breakfast?” Will asked as he tied the apron around his waist and shed off Nico’s jacket.

He busied himself with making breakfast and eating with Travis. Then the two of them walked over to Rosa’s house and spent time with the family there. It helped to past the time and to hide from Connor and Nico.

“Will, I’ve been meaning to ask,” Rosa spoke softly as she sat down at the table with him. She had been strangely toned down from her usual attitude and personality since she confirmed with him that he was indeed Prince Will of Delphi.

“I am still a prince of Delphi,” he promised. Rosa glared at him with a smothering look but he laughed anyway. Daisy had been asking him over and over again if he was truly a prince until Travis and Leo finally distracted her by taking her and her little brother out for a walk to visit the afternoon festival shops.

She pulled her cup of tea into both her hands and contemplated her next words. Will waited until she finally said, “That’s the Dark Angel’s jacket.”

“How did you know?” Will asked. He looked at the jacket but it wasn’t too different from other jackets made for the cold. It had a fluffy cotton fur-like feel on the inside and the outside was made with material that was thick but flexible that kept out the cold and the snow.

Rosa smiled that knowing smile of hers. She clicked her tongue at him and wagged her finger at him as if scolding him. Then she smiled again and cupped her hand to his cheek.

“So are you getting married?” Will asked, and laughed when her face froze on him. He took the hand on his cheek into both of his hands and kissed her fingers. “Is it so bad to marry an orphan?”

Rosa took her hands from his. “I’m an old lady Will.”

“You’re not that old.” She couldn’t be any older than Will was.

She shook her head vehemently. “I don’t even know who my children’s fathers are.” Will could understand why she wouldn’t know the father of her son. It had happened during the time when raiders had their way around the towns and villages. This was where Will understood why Rosa was against marrying Leo or being in a relationship with him but still allowed him to make his presence in her home. “I’m too old to marry, and he still…”

“You think because he’s younger he should marry a woman who hasn’t given birth—maybe a virgin even?” Will almost laughed but he understood what she was going through. He’d been confused too four years ago when he found out he was to be the consort of Prince Nico. After all Nico was only eighteen at the time and had so much to look forward to. “But Leo wants you.”

“But he can have someone better!” she argued desperately. Her eyes told him she loved Leo Trovato.

“He wants you.”

“What more can I give him?” she cried out. The tears came and Will gave her his hands as she sobbed. He knew from those words that aside from an actual swearing of vows the two had done pretty much anything a husband and wife could do with one another. Although they didn’t share bedrooms it seemed Rosa had at some point shared her bed with Leo. While the two weren’t very public with their affections he had an inkling that in privacy Leo had shown his affections for her.

“Do you plan to make him marry another girl and start a family with her, watch from afar until neither of you can hold back and cause an act of infidelity?” Will’s harsh but honest question took her back. He was taken aback by his own question too. He had not thought about it in his own situation at the time when was faced with Nico’s proposal again. The answer was clear however. Neither of them could have been able to stand not being the other person’s partner.

“Leo would never-”

“To you,” Will interrupted her. Rosa started at him with absurdity and bewilderment in her eyes. She couldn’t believe that Leo would be untrue to the woman he married, but she also couldn’t imagine herself being that woman. “He’ll always be true to you because he truly loves you. And because he truly loves you he’ll be unfaithful if he’s to marry someone else.”

“You’re eerily wise this day Will Solace,” Rosa grumbled. She knew she had lost. To begin with it was never really a struggle. It had simply been her own stubbornness. She glanced at him and saw the way Will was mockingly preening at being complimented by her. She laughed and smacked him in the arm. “Go and bring those four home already will you.”

He laughed loudly. “Yes, mother-in-law.” He winked and moved away before she could strike him again. Will left the house then to find Travis and Leo in the market.

As he was walking through the crowd trying to find Daisy, Travis and Leo with the baby he thought back on the conversations. Late last night Travis had told him he’d already made a decision. In the early morning the general appeared from nowhere and asked him questions pertaining to Nico’s character and morals. Just earlier he finished convincing Rosa that she had her answer she was just too stubborn to agree to marrying Leo and truly being a couple.

Will stopped in the crowd just as Daisy ran up to him and hugged herself to his leg. The noise in the crowd filtered out as it finally hit him. His decision had been made as Travis said. He knew the quality of Nico’s character. He simply was too stubborn and hurt to want to act on the decision.

“Will?” Travis’ hand gripped his shoulder.

“I need to speak with Nico,” Will gasped. His friend and retainer smiled because again, without Will really saying anything, he knew what had just happened. Will’s decision had long been made.

Chapter Text

Finding Nico di Angelo was not difficult. Will knew that if he wasn’t at his house in town that the next best spot to find him was at the stream. He didn’t quite know why he knew that. It wasn’t as if Nico had told him that spot at the stream was his favorite spot. Of course he didn’t rush back to the stream. He warmed himself up and the old housekeeper Marie had forced him to drink a very sweet hot chocolate. She then gave him a lecture about being gone throughout the entire night, and then bundled him into a very large dark scarf before she shooed him out the door.

Will took his time walking through the afternoon festival games and the food stalls. He bought the warmer foods such as freshly baked honey bread—which he found he quite enjoyed—and vegetable soup in a metal container he borrowed for carrying. Somehow Will had also ended up with a bag of freshly baked sweet potatoes and Rosa’s pot pie. He decided that if he continued to take his time any longer he was liable to carry lunch and dinner with him to the stream. He juggled the items in his arms and quickly made his way to the stream through the forest path.

Sure enough Will found Nico sitting on the log that Michael Kahale had lounged on that early morning. Nico sat in front of a slightly larger fire than the one Will had built that morning. His fur cape was still clasped around his shoulders. Somehow Nico looked a little darker than he had yesterday. Not that his skin had gotten toned. It was a strange feeling as if he was again that stranger he’d been engaged to who stared at him from across the ballroom. It was as if Nico was the Dark Rider who appeared to him in the middle of battle and whisked him back into town to tend to his wounds.

“Hey.” Will tried for a bright smile and walked up to Nico who looked up at him. His harsh gaze into the fire turned on him and transformed into confusion. “I wasn’t expecting to bring this much back here.” Will nodded his head toward the food in his arms.

Nico stood up as if remembering himself. He walked to Will and took the items from his arms. He put the food down on the ground and sat back on the log. Will considered where to sit. He could sit across the fire again as he had that morning with Michael Kahale. Or, Will could sit next to Nico and the food left on the ground. He decided on the latter.

“So,” Will started to say but noted the way Nico slightly turned his gaze downward and away from him. Will rolled his eyes as he scooted a little closer to Nico. “Pot pie from Rosa.” He moved the dish into his hand and held it out to Nico. Nico shook his head. Will settled the pot pie between them. He then offered the sweet potatoes and then the soup but Nico shook his head to both. Will sighed and put his honey bread on his lap and ripped a piece to eat.

When Will tried to put a second piece into his mouth a warm hand wrapped around his wrist. Nico leaned down and his mouth descended over Will’s fingers. His lips sucked a little on Will’s fingers, and as he slowly pulled away his tongue laved over Will’s fingers. He sat there dumbfounded staring at his wet fingers while Nico chewed the piece of bread in his mouth.

“More.”

Before long they were back in the process of sharing food by having Will feed Nico bit by bit. It made for the eating to be a very long ordeal, and belong long their food had gone cold. Nico simply set the soup over the fire and the potatoes close to the heat. The pot pie couldn’t be helped but Nico urged Will to spoon feed him. It was also a grueling task but Will found he didn’t want to step off on the wrong side of Nico’s desires. It looked like the man could go off on someone any second.

“Scared?”

For a moment Will hesitated. “Should I be?” As he turned his head and looked up at Nico he felt the other man lean down closer to him on the side. They stared into each other’s eyes for a long moment before Nico’s eyes moved down to his lips. Will quickly moved both hands up and covered Nico’s lips as the man leaned in to kiss him. Prince Nico raised an inquiring dark brow at Will but stayed put. “No kissing.” Again he asked a silent question with an inquiring raised brow. “Let’s just eat and talk first.”

Nico pulled back and kept his distance. He moved to gather the heated food and sat next to Will in silence. He ate the sweet potato on his own without prompting that Will feed him. Will finished the pot pie and started on the soup as they sat in their silence. Perhaps rejecting his husband’s advances wasn’t the best way to avoid the man’s anger.

Peeking over at Nico he couldn’t quite help but notice the way the prince picked at his food. The man was slowly working his way at the potato in his hand. Will stared at the eating knife in Nico’s hand. He didn’t have to use it to eat the potato, but had this strange refined way of cutting slices of the potato to eat anyway. The blade of the knife wasn’t straight and curved out like a sword. It was rounded and slightly wide. The blade was engraved with Greek on it, the language of the royal families. He was trying to read the word in the intricate engraving when Nico stopped and stuck the eating knife back into the sheath clipped to the inside of his boot.

“Ready to talk?”

Will blinked a couple times before he was certain what he was seeing and hearing was real. Nico stared back at him and Will knew why he said nothing more. Will had asked for them to talk but Nico was silently telling him that Will was the one who had to start. For some reason it felt a lot more as if he was being accused for something.

“You sound mad.”

“Do I?”

Fine, so Nico actually sounded very cold and calm. That was what was scary. “You seem angry,” he corrected. Nico didn’t reply. Will twisted so he was facing Nico where they sat. “Why are you angry?”

“You didn’t come back.”

It was said so simply without a single change in his voice that Will actually thought he misheard. Never in his mind had he actually thought Nico would be angry that Will wasn’t there. Then for a minute, just for a tiny little moment, he felt that spark deep in him from four years ago. That spark he had told himself not to believe in again. He knew Nico had cared for him and that he had been attracted to Will, but he had never expected this kind of concern that caused someone anger.

Will responded in kind in a leveled voice, “You’re hiding something.”

“I thought you understood the situation.”

“What situation?” Already Will could feel he would be the first one to relent. He just knew he would be the one to start yelling first. He was trying terribly hard not to however.

A sigh escaped Nico rather quietly it almost seemed as if he was exhaling. Nico tossed his leftover into the fire and grabbed Will’s face with both hands. He felt the warmth of Nico’s hands against his cold cheeks and the urge to pull into Nico’s embrace hit him. Trying hard not to he stared right into those dark eyes staring into him.

“The reason I left four years ago,” said Nico. Will held his breath as some things connected. The things Nico had told him had simply been sidetracked circumstances. Nico had a reason for leaving four years ago after their engagement. Then he’d been captured and thrown into the pit, and then he became the Dark Rider until finally he returned. His original task had never been mentioned. Will had simply assumed whatever Nico had needed to be done had already been finished in those four years.

“What was it?”

“I can’t say just yet,” Nico mumbled to him. He lowered his head and turned his face away. The gesture was almost reflecting on the fact that Nico couldn’t look Will in the face and tell him another lie.

“Does it have to do with that girl?” Will finally asked. An invisible hand was suddenly around his heart, testily squeezing at it. He waited for Nico’s answer knowing the pressure against his heart was dependent on it.

“Girl?” Nico cocked his head and thought it through. Realization showed in his eyes as they widened ever so slightly. Will nodded to the question that was already forming. “You followed me?”

“I didn’t intend to follow you.” Nervously he swallowed air. Nico’s hands slipped away from him, the warmth disappeared and it felt as if so had Nico. Will pulled the jacket around him more tightly to keep from the chill of Nico’s absence. “I was following Travis’ masked stranger.” He tried to explain but it was starting to sound a lot more like an excuse. “I saw you kneel before a girl.” Will turned toward the fire and pulled his knees to his chest. He didn’t add the part where he thought Nico was swearing his undying love to her or something similar. Maybe not his undying love but something like his affections. He’d seen fickleness before, he had just never before thought Nico was the type. Part of him still couldn’t believe that of his husband because of what they’d spoken about and because of what Nico had assured him over and over before.

At that moment Will had doubted Nico. He couldn’t deny that. He no longer did, but it was difficult to hold his ground without knowing why he had knelt before her.

“So you thought I was untrue,” Nico summarized. Will felt his face heat up. He couldn’t deny the allegation.

“We only recently said our vows!” Will blurted. He found himself standing up and pacing again. He knew he was making excuses to explain himself, but he had to explain himself. “We barely know each other even though it’s been four years. I don’t know what your favorite foods are, or what you like to do on your spare time, I don’t even know your favorite color or your birthday!” Will pulled his arms around his stomach and paced back and forth between Nico and the fire.

“I know.”

He interrupted Nico. “So I see you kneel before a girl, of course I’m going to react badly. Just that afternoon you had assured me, and then I went and happen upon what seemed like you were proposing or… or…” Will really didn’t want to mention the word love. He pressed his lips hard together and took a deep breath to hold it in. “I got really drunk yesterday night,” he admitted finally. He wasn’t proud of what he did. “And I didn’t want to be in bed and see you just waltz in and then pretend I was happy.” Will tried the entire time not to look at Nico as he paced. He stood in front of the fire and took a deep breath trying to steel his nerves in the cold. The afternoon was warmer but it was still chilly when the wind blew.

Arms wrapped around his waist and pulled him back half a step. Will felt his back pressed to Nico’s chest. He said nothing as he waited for his heart to calm down, because he hadn’t heard Nico behind him. He hadn’t even realized Nico had walked up to him at all. It took longer as he also waited for his blood to stop racing through him.

“I am sorry.”

The words were whispered so quietly Will could hear the remorse. He tried to ignore it for the time being. There was more to the story. He pulled away from Nico.

“I doubted you.” Will sighed out, a part of him relieved he had managed the words. Will turned and looked at Nico, seeing the darkened face and the slightly wounded look in the man’s eyes. “I saw you kneeling before her and it hurt me. You made a vow not just to gods but to me, Prince Nico.” He saw the tick in Nico’s jaw when Will used his title. It was a way of distancing in a conversation. Will knew using the title forced Nico to see something he didn’t want to see.

Nico made a frustrated expression. Will guessed it was the face he made when he really wanted to say something but couldn’t. He was grateful that Nico was holding back from talking over him. He took another deep breath and gathered the courage to say the next thing.

“I know…” Will lost his voice and tried again. “I know with certainty,” Will tried again and this time his voice didn’t quiver, but he did pause because Nico’s face went stone stern. His eyes stared hard at Will, his jaw locked, and it was almost as if Nico stopped breathing. He said the words again, and this time stronger, “I know with certainty that you would never be untrue.” Just like that Nico’s face relaxed, his rigid shoulders softened and there was this smothering look in Nico’s dark eyes.

Nico gazed into Will’s eyes for a long time. Trying not to be rude Will stared back, wondering why it was that Nico looked at him as if he was some kind of miracle. Nico did that sometimes, thinking Will never noticed. Even in the month when Nico sat with him in the evenings for their awkward talks, Nico had those moments where he silently just stared at Will as if he couldn’t quite believe Will was real. He was doing the same now.

“What?” Will finally asked. Nico blinked and the look was gone. “What are you thinking when you look at me so?” Will asked him, surprised at the boldness of his own question. He almost shied away, having never asked anyone such a thing before. Never having ever had anyone stare at him like so before.

“You,” Nico said with that small quiet voice of his. Nico raised his hand as though to caress Will’s cheek but stopped and pulled his hand away reluctantly. “You are…” and for a split second Nico smiled and then laughed before just shaking his head and frowning. “I do not deserve you, Will Solace.”

Will almost laughed. “I could say the same to you.”

Nico shook his head. “No, not our titles or our physical attributes,” Nico said. This time he didn’t stop himself from stepping to Will and cupping Will’s cheeks. Nico stepped closer until Will could smell his scent. “You,” Nico whispered into Will’s ear. “You are warmth and light. You are compassion and kindness. You are patience and perseverance. You are laughter and joy,” Nico said. Will felt his face heat up as Nico stared deep into his eyes and it was as if Nico was looking at his soul. He’d never had someone describe him thus, and he had never felt more flattered. “You are loneliness and fortitude. You are sympathy and perplexity. You are vastness and integrity.” Nico still continued on, and it was very certain in Will’s mind that when Nico looked at him he didn’t see a prince or a political marriage. He had never looked at Will and seen advantages or gains. He looked at Will the same way Will had felt the first time they kissed.

“You,” Nico said with a deep breath and emphasis. Nico bent his head down and pressed his forehead onto Will’s. Nico closed his eyes and took into deep breath before stepping away back to where he had been standing earlier. “You are my love,” Nico said and Will’s world suddenly stopped. He’d never imagined Nico had felt love although he had surely hoped. He had known Nico cared, that Nico had found him a good match but he never thought this was love for the prince. “And I do not deserve you.”

Will blinked a few times. Suddenly his ear started ringing. Love, he’d claimed.

Everything came back to him. “Only you” he had said. “Just you.” As in Nico loved him. The biggest question came then, and it scared Will. He asked without thinking.

“Why?”

Nico stared back at him without speaking. His eyes softened and looked at Will in that same way again, as though he couldn’t quite believe there was such a miracle as Will.

Anxious to hear the answer but also afraid to hear the honest truth that might come out Will stopped him. “Don’t answer that!” he shouted and waved his hands out as a desperate signal to impede any stray words from entering his ears. “I… uh…” Will felt his face turn red. He knew what the appropriate thing to say at this moment was, but he was worried that saying it after Nico had said it would seem less meaningful. Would Nico think him superficial for replying back to his confession? Will couldn’t not say it however. “I think I love you,” he shouted out. Then he covered his mouth immediately afterwards.

“I think”? Will groaned. He didn’t just tell the crowned prince who married him that he thought he loved him. When he peeked out to see Nico’s reaction he was greeted with his indulging smile. He waited for a burst of anger or frustration, even annoyance, but all Nico had was this quiet like smile on his face as if he understood.

Nico spoke first in that moment of silence. “You are my sky,” he said. Will didn’t quite understand and it must have shown on his face because Nico still had that indulging smile on his face.

He understood Nico just used a kind of endearment. In Delphi most people often used phrases such as “you are my sun” or “my sunshine” or even “my light” because his father’s emblem was of the Sun and the Lyre. In Erebus there were very normal endearments, but the most common one had always been “my truth” when it came to true love. While his father was almost religiously obsessed with perfection and the arts, the Erebian king was focused on truth and fairness to the point it could almost be called justice. So to call someone their “truth” was like saying they were that person’s very essence.

Will didn’t have enough cultural awareness to understand why Nico called him his “sky”. He had never heard the term and didn’t understand the history behind it. His confusion seemed to be understood by Nico.

“A story for another day,” Nico promised him. Will nodded. They stood in the silence, neither one knowing how to progress their conversation. Then Nico spoke up. “Thank you.” Will didn’t know why the man was thanking him. “For believing in me,” Nico clarified. “I hadn’t wanted you to see her—not yet. Thank you for believing in my faithfulness.” By saying thank you to show his gratitude Nico was accepting the fact that he made Will insecure and that it was his fault Will had to reassure himself.

Will groaned as he recalled the real situation on hand. “When?” he asked finally.

Nico’s lips pressed hard together into a thin line. Will crossed his arms to his chest and stood there waiting for a response. It felt like hours later but could have simply been minutes before Nico finally answered.

“Soon,” Nico grumbled.

“When is soon?” Will asked next.

Nico looked skyward and Will could only imagine Nico regretting telling Will he was his “sky”. Will tried for a very stern and serious look so he glowered in Nico’s general direction until Nico looked back at him.

“When she’s ready,” was the answer.

“Which is?”

“I don’t know,” Nico sighed out in defeat. Will rolled his eyes. “I only just met her Will, I can’t ask her to meet my consort and just accept the fact I’m a prince.”

“You mean she doesn’t even know who you are?” Will asked in horror. Thoughts floated into his head. “What did you do to her?”

“Nothing!”

“Nico you just said she didn’t know you were a prince!” Will snapped. Gods he hoped Nico hadn’t kidnapped the girl or something. She was petite in size but Will hadn’t looked at her directly so he wasn’t sure how old she was. Perhaps just barely of age? She was definitely a lot smaller. Frank Zhang was like a monster standing next to her.

“Officially she’s a refugee from Rome, okay?” Nico relented. Will moderately relaxed. “Happy?”

“No.”

“Well, are you…” Nico searched for the word in his head, “thinking better of me?” So he was actually afraid of Will thinking less of him? Well, it looked like Nico valued Will’s perception of him.

“Sure,” Will shrugged. Nico shot him a suspicious glare. Will raised an inquisitive brow sharply at Nico. He couldn't expect Will to just play into his hand by melting into admiration and wonder at every little thing.

“But she didn’t know you were a prince.”

“It’s not that she didn’t know before.” This time Nico seemed frustrated, trying to find ways to explain things to Will without giving anything away. Will was surprised he got anything out from Nico. “She just needs time to adjust to the idea that I’m a prince.” Nico definitely looked like he was carefully choosing his words.

“Well tell her to get used to the idea,” Will finally demanded in a selfish tone he did not like using. He copied the way most of his siblings demanded anything from anyone. As if it was his given right for his bidding to be done. “I don’t appreciate my husband having to hide a woman from me.” Nico looked at him with disbelieving eyes, not from the fact that Nico had already proven he was attracted to only men, but from what Will said in its entirety. He just called Nico his husband out loud at the same time providing evidence he did quite love Nico because his statement proved his jealousy.

His face burned red as he glared at Nico. “As you wish,” Nico said with a bow of his head.

Will smacked Nico on the arm. “You are very annoying!” Will snapped.

Nico didn’t reply back.

Angry that there was no response Will smacked him on the same spot on his arm again. “Eat,” Will deflected the conversation. He sat down where he had sat earlier and grabbed for the nearest food.

Nico sat down next to him, closer than earlier and Will fought the urge to distance himself the same way Nico had. Instead he allowed Nico to sit close to him.

“My beautiful sky,” Nico chuckled and kissed him on the cheek. Will felt his face heat up again. Nico was never going to stop with affectionate displays. He had a feeling Nico didn’t want to stop and in some way Will understood why he couldn’t stop. He was still stuck wondering to himself why Nico was in love with him, an unknown prince of Delphi and all-around relatively mediocre in everything. He didn’t want to ask again.

Chapter Text

Nico tried his best to keep a stern look and try not to smile as he walked hand-in-hand with Will back into town. Will was making that adorable blushing face he often didn’t realize he made whenever he felt self-conscious or embarrassed. It was cute, but Nico had a feeling Will wouldn’t appreciate Nico saying so at the moment. So he kept holding his consort’s hand and took his time walking down the street and going through the fair.

“Good morning!” Everyone seemed to greet them as they past. Nico nodded and walked as if minding his own business. In reality he did his best to stall the time it took to walk Will back to the house he shared with Travis. Nico also enjoyed seeing how Will shyly reacted every time he realized everyone was looking at them as a couple. It gave him a strange kind of pleasure he didn’t quite seem to have an explanation for.

Nico stopped at a stall and stared at the wares being sold. Nico greeted the merchant and asked to see his traveling and merchant permit for Erebus. Once he looked them over and verified the man, his products and those he traveled with were not dangerous Nico peruse over the merchandise again. Will stepped a little further from Nico, stretching their intertwined hands further as he looked at the wares. Nico met the merchant’s knowing eyes and turned back to Will. He stepped toward Will and leaned into his consort to see exactly what it was he was so interested in looking at.

Will stared at a pristine arrowhead pendant on a silver chain. Engraved on the arrowhead were random symbols from Erebian culture. Nico felt a smile form on his lips as he leaned into Will and whispered against the man’s ear. Will’s shoulders scrunched up when Nico called him, and then his face turned bright pink as he once again became aware of Nico.

“Do you want it?” Nico asked him. Will looked up at him with confusion and then back at the pendant. His mouth went “oh” silently as he understood what it was Nico was asking.

He shook his head. “No, I was just…” His blush deepened as he looked back at the pendant. “I thought you might prefer this one to the one I gave you.” Will raised his hand from his side and picked up the pendant from where it was on display. “It’s nicer.”

Nico glanced quickly to the merchant who attentively stood with his products but smiled politely at them in understanding. He gave a slight nod to the merchant who understood Nico’s meaning with his next words.

“That is a very beautiful piece of work,” Nico said in compliment. Even he could see the perfection in the sharp edge, blunted so it would not cut. It was a nicely folded metal, sleek and reflective. The carving was done nicely with expert hands, although the randomness of each symbol was rather hilarious. From the west of Erebus was a symbol that carried the meaning of love, and from the central Erebus a symbol for trust, while from the north and each a symbol that carried a meaning for betrayal and grudge.

“It is,” Will frowned as he puzzled over the symbols.

“Perfect,” Nico grinned. Will nodded absentmindedly while staring at the pendant. “But not yours,” Nico added softly. He reached under his shirt and pulled out the stone arrowhead. It was jagged and worn out. He held it the arrowhead against the merchant’s ware to compare the two arrowheads together. He put down Will’s arrowhead and put his hand over Will’s hand that held the merchant’s product. “It does not carry your memories, Will. This pendant could be perfect in every way but it has no substance.” Nico put the pendant back from where Will picked it up. “Your gift gave me solace while such a trinket would have gotten me killed.”

Just like that Will grabbed him and hugged him. Nico laughed as Will buried his face into Nico’s chest to hide his embarrassment, and even though he was muffled by Nico’s chest his words were still slightly understandable. Apparently Nico was an annoying menace when it came to public displays of affection. As in Nico had too much of it and Will didn’t like that Nico never cared for where they were and who was watching when he did these things. Whatever it was “these things” were.

Will turned from him and started walking away. Nico didn’t let go of their hands so he followed along in a leisurely pace behind Will. Will didn’t stop for anything. He simply went through the crowd in a rush toward his house. Nico followed, watching the way Will’s embarrassment went up to his ears and down to his neck. It couldn’t be helped that Nico was actually grinning or that people were whispering and watching in shock. It also couldn’t be helped that as Will noticed people’s stares he started moving faster to the point of running, or that Nico wouldn’t let go of his hand so he started sprinting after Will. Eventually Nico was laughing as Will tried to tug his hand away, and tried to run from the crowd looking at the “royal couple” as they spent their afternoon.

Will leaned against the house door gasping for breath, hiding his face against the wooden frame. “I can’t do this,” Will groaned against the door. He was breathing heavily, his breath appearing in the cold air and the red of his face had gone from embarrassment to exhaustion.

“Open the door,” was all Nico could find himself saying.

Will paused for a second, seemed to collect himself, and then unlocked the door and stepped in. Nico walked in after and kicked the door closed behind him. Once inside Will clawed at Nico’s hand and released their intertwined fingers. He walked toward the fireplace and added a log into the dying embers, poking and blowing at it until the fire started up again. Nico stood by the door and waited for Will to turn to him.

“I’m just…” Will started to say, unwilling to stand up or turn from the fireplace to face Nico. He cleared his throat and took a deep breath. Nico recognized it as an unnatural need for Will to muster up the courage to say what he wanted to say. “It’s not something I’m used to.”

“Courting?” Nico asked. In Erebus courting was done differently based on cultures and towns or villages. In this town no one cared, but displays of affections were often encouraged when witnessed.

“That’s called courting?” Will turned around and basically yelled at him. Those beautiful blue eyes stared at him with such shock and disbelief Nico almost laughed. Instead he fought back the urge and smiled at his consort.

Although Nico knew what “proper” courting was like in Delphi and Mount Olympus he asked the question anyways. “How is courting done in Delphi?”

Will blushed. “W-well,” Will stammered as his hands came together. The man started to wring his fingers together nervously. He stared absently at nothing particular on the floor. “There are chaperones.” Nico almost rolled his eyes at the absurdity of nobles these days. Will was of age and a man, threat of his chastity no longer mattered. He had a feeling it was his consort’s preference that if they had courted they be chaperoned. After all Nico was the Dark Angel. “Scheduled times we meet up. Events and activities we do together.” Will continued to nervously list some of the particulars Nico already knew about. “We talk.” Something Nico wasn’t particularly good at, but he had a feeling he did pretty well when it came to Will at least.

He smiled. “Not holding hands and kissing in public.” Those were the words Will were trying not to say. Will swallowed hard and nodded. Nico leaned back against the front door and folded his hands against his chest. He looked right at Will and simply observed. Will had a worry line on his forehead that included the ripple between his scrunched eyebrows. Will was still wringing his fingers together out of anxiety and nervousness. For a man of Will’s tall stature and good body it was so strange how he can sometimes seem a lot smaller than he really was. He would have cut a charming and dashing figure next to a petite woman, but in front of Nico it was as if Will wanted to be swallowed up into the wall.

Uneased by the silence Will opened his mouth but then closed it. He tried again to say something but being so anxious and unnerved Will would stop. Then he would try again and stop himself. Nico simply stood and waited, watching as each time Will was closer and closer to breaking down. Finally Will just turned around and slammed his fist on the mantle of the fireplace.

Nico found he spoke first. “No hugging or touching without reason.” Will turned to look at him and for some reason he was glaring. Not that Nico understood what it was exactly that Will wanted from him. “I assume I shall have to speak with Travis if I wish to take you to the festival tonight.” Will grounded his teeth this time, heated eyes burning holes right into Nico’s neck. “Or perhaps I should send word to your father for permission?”

He dodged when Will threw a cup at him from the table sitting by the fireplace. Nico side stepped out of the way as Will next threw the wooden plate at him. The door opened just as Will threw the metal fork and Nico moved out of the way and away from the door. Travis yelped as the fork struck his neck and then clattered harmlessly onto the floor.

“What was that for?” Travis grumbled as he shut the door. Nico moved into the common area with Travis as Will’s eyes continued to glare at him. “Oh,” he said after noticing Nico. He did a dramatic roll of his eyes and then a heavy sigh.

“What?” Will growled, which sounded a bit more like a hiss. His glower turned from Nico to Travis in that instance and unlike most people who would have shrunken away at the scowl Travis simply rolled his eyes again. Nico moved his hand to his mouth to hide his smile.

“You talked?” Travis asked in a sharp tone. He folded his arms to his chest and with a stern look Nico hadn’t expected, cocked his head at Will. He didn’t wither as Will fumed, his face going entirely red. Travis tapped his foot to the wooden floor as a way to announce he was waiting.

Will turned his back to them and glared down at fireplace instead. Nico leaned against the wall by the window and watched the exchange in interest. Nico knew Travis had always been more than just a retainer, something of a caretaker and guide—like a brother for Will. He watched with interest as Will grumbled under his breath and turned back to Travis with the most interesting face. Nico punched his chest to stop himself from bursting into laughter.

Oh if that was not the face of a spoiled child who was seething with overindulged wrath. Nico pounded on his chest a few more times and gave a little cough to clear his throat. He let Will glare at him and then ignore him. Nico wanted to watch the exchange between the childhood friends without seeming interested in it.

Travis sighed loudly when Will finally nodded at him. “Are you doing that thing again?”

“What thing?” Will grumbled, a hint of shame in his fuming voice.

Travis gave another sigh. “Where you’re angry because you lost an argument, but you just know you’re right?” Travis then turned his gaze to Nico and back at Will. Will followed Travis’ stare and then turned back to stare at the ground. Nico could see that this was something of a reprimand. “Find your words, Will.”

“I’m not a child,” Will groaned. He sighed heavily himself this time and hand his hands through his hair. “And why are you even back?”

“Don’t change the subject.”

Will glared up, and there was a sharpness in his glare. This time Will was the one scrutinizing Travis. “What did you do this time?” Travis’ face flushed and he visibly backed away. Nico hid his smile by cocking down his head. “Travis…”

“Okay, so don’t get mad,” Travis started in an overly cheerful tone. Will growled to a level of beastly and stepped toward Travis. Travis jumped back toward the wall, shocked that the wall was behind him, and turned fearfully back at Will. “Look, okay! I didn’t mean for it to happen!”

Out of patience, something Nico hadn’t expected to see in Will, his consort snapped. “What did you do?” Unlike his earlier burst of frustration, this new emotion was one similar to a father overcome by their child’s incompetence.

Travis took in a deep breath. “Flirted with a teenager, in a bar, got into a fight with the dad, beat up the dad, now the uncles are after me, and I think they want me to get married,” said Travis in one single breath. Nico pinched himself long and hard to fight back the urge to laugh again. These two were an unexpectedly entertaining duo.

“Again?” Will yelled. He groaned, put his head in his hand before glowering back up at Travis. “And in town? You know we live here right?”

“Not anymore unless you want me to get married,” Travis pointed out.

“You’ve been engaged like ten times since we left Delphi!” Will yelled. Nico turned his back to them to hide his smile. He’d heard stories about Travis Stoll’s shenanigans from rumors and gossips, but he’d always assumed they were slightly embellished. If he could he would be laughing now, but Nico forced back the urge knowing full well he would miss the best part if he drew attention to himself.

“Only ten,” Travis pointed out.

“Forced in front of an official fifteen times.”

“We got out of those.”

“You’ve been married four times!”

“They were all annulled,” Travis added.

“How am I supposed to marry you off with that kind of history?” Will grumbled in frustration. It was clearly shown on Will’s face that keeping Travis in order was probably the most frustrating part of his life. If those were just accounts from the time they left Delphi, Nico wondered what happened when they were still in Delphi. The stories he had heard had been throughout the years since before he became a prince. The first time he’d heard one of the stories it had been because Connor had been asking around to hear news of his older brother.

“You don’t have to marry me off!” Travis responded quietly.

Will sighed again. “We’ve spoken about this, Travis. You’re a knight—a retainer to a prince. It is my duty to find you an advantageous marriage.” Travis rolled his eyes again, as if he was some daughter being told he had to be in a political marriage eventually. Nico turned back around to fully face them and watched in quiet interest once more. This time he managed to fully fight down the urge to laugh at the pair.

Travis glared at Will in a truly repellent way. He said, “You’re a runaway prince and I’m no longer a retainer.” All urge to laugh or smile disappeared from Nico then. With a single glance at Will he knew Travis had struck him where it was most hurtful.

His consort’s blue eyes glimmer and softened. His anger receded into a thoughtful sadness. His tension turned into resignation. Will looked down at the floor again. Nico felt the pain as sharp as a knife ripping through his gut. The desire to protect Will from this pain was an urge he couldn’t deny, but before he could step forward and diffuse the situation Will looked back up and his eyes held a level of authority that Nico had never associated with Will.

“I am consort to the Prince of Erebus, and as I recall we live in Erebus. Not Delphi.” Will’s voice was unwavering, his tone measured and with conviction. That was Prince William. “Your conduct is unbecoming of your stature, Lord Travis Stoll.” Travis’ mouth went agape the moment Will used his title. Nico had always wondered why it was that Travis and Connor went around acting as if they were not lords. They never introduced themselves as ones or even bothered to realize that their status was actually of good standing. Even if they were one of many of their father’s children. It seemed the use of his proper title had stunned Travis for he gave no reply.

After a long silence Nico moved from where he was standing and approached the two. “Pardon me,” he said. He moved between them and faced Will first. “I understand you’re angry with him,” Nico started in a careful tone.

Will snapped at him, “Angry doesn’t nearly encompass the level of rage I feel.” His focused was over Nico’s shoulder at Travis.

His grabbed Will’s chin and made him focus on him instead of Travis. “Perhaps you’ll let me handle this delicate situation.” Nico tried to make his intentions sound like a suggestion. He terribly wanted to take the situation out of Will’s hands, but he knew that Will would not concede so easily by being told. Especially when it came to one of his most trusted vassals. Or his only trusted vassal, honestly.

“What part of this situation is delicate?” Will steamed at him. Nico could see that it would take a while for Will to calm down again into his usual demeanor. “Nothing about this is delicate. Everything is crazy when it comes to Travis!” Then as an apparent afterthought Will added, “And you! You’re just the same. You’re got not understanding of-” Nico quieted him by leaning forward and planting a kiss on his lips.

“Later,” Nico whispered against his lips. “I will handle Travis getting married,” then thought better of his sentence and added, “Staying married.” He kissed Will one more time when it seemed like Will would argue. “Then we will talk about your distaste for my affections.” He took Will’s hand in his and led Will to the stairs. “I will come to your room in a moment.” Will gave him a smothering glare before grinding his teeth and setting his jaw and stomping his way up the stairs as if Nico had dismissed him out of turn.

Next, Nico turned to Travis Stoll.

“You’re not really going to make me get married to that kid from the bar are you?” Travis asked with a horrified face. Nico wondered to himself how Will continued keeping this man’s company. Of course, Nico asked himself how he continued keeping Connor’s company. There was no answer, one merely did when it came to the Stolls. “I mean look, I was flirting with him a little but-”

Nico held up a hand and stopped him. Travis looked frightened and worried. Unlike Connor who lived his life knowing he could run away from such consequences as flirting with a protected or claimed individual, Travis knew he would be forced to answer for them. Of course hearing his stories told far and wide, Nico was also certain most times Travis found a way to get out of it. Not that his own reputation wasn’t already dredged up in the mud for it.

“You will marry.”

“But-”

“To the next person who asks for your hand,” Nico ordered, using that deep stern voice that made children giggle and held adults in awe. Travis looked beaten when Nico gave the order. “Granted they can prove themselves capable of providing and handling you in a marriage.” Nico was going to have to tell Connor Stoll what just happened and why it happened.

“But what if they’re like a hundred years old?” Travis started with the ridiculous questions. Nico merely stared back at him. “Okay, well I mean old.” Nico shrugged. If anything Travis would be considered old, as Nico was the younger one here. “Or hideous?” Nico stared blankly back at him still. “What if the person has a penchant for violence?”

“I did say capable of providing,” Nico answered back with a level tone. “That includes your safety.”

“But you also said handling!”

“It takes a certain level of finesse and patience to tolerate your mischievousness, Stoll.” Nico was bluntly honest about it. He was still surprised Will had managed to spend so many years with Travis as a retainer and aide.

The panic in Travis’ eyes were real. “I will run away!” Travis shouted. Nico raised an inquisitive eyebrow at the man who sounded very much like a rebellious child. “You can’t make me marry someone against my will!”

“If you intend to stay on with Will, you will.” Nico walked to the front door and opened it. Before him stood a well-sized angry mob of mothers, sisters, and fathers and uncles.

At the sight of him the crowd shrunk back. Nico stared them down harshly and searched for the youth in their midst. When he found the boy he looked no older than Connor had been when Nico first met him. He was barely a young man. His childhood demeanor was still carried on his countenance.

“You.” Nico waved the boy over. It took several quiet murmurs and a refusal to demand the boy’s presence against before the boy was pushed through the crowd. Nico stepped inside and grabbed Travis by the back of the neck, dragging the man with him to the door. The boy’s face turned pale with a look of horrification that attested to his unwillingness to the matter. Nico noted the apron tied around the boy’s thin waist.

“Yes your Highness?” the boy bowed nervously. Nico waved off the courtesy. The boy took a step back, keeping his eyes closely on Travis before turning to Nico.

“I heard your father and uncle wants him to marry you,” Nico said to the boy. The boy swallowed hard as a chorus of an angry family started shouting and explaining all at once. Nico simply let them rant until they realized Nico was not paying attention to them. He stared right at the boy and waited.

Once it quieted the boy nodded.

“Why?”

Travis made a strangled noise and buried his hand in his face. Nico waited for the boy to muster the courage to speak. He understood not many were comfortable around him. Not even in this town. So Nico waited, the family brimmed with anger and rage reluctantly waited, and Travis kept his embarrassment hidden between his hands.

“If my lord would…” the boy started quietly.

“Yes!” Travis groaned. “And stop calling me that.” Travis tried to twist away but only managed to make Nico push down on his grip. Travis sagged and gave up before trying to struggle more.

“My lord…”

“Just call me Travis, please.”

Nico could already surmise the two knew each other somewhat. The boy’s family prodded him to hurry up, as the prince may tire of waiting. Nico didn’t mind giving the boy time. He would take all the time in the world if he had to.

“Lord Travis was teaching me how to seduce someone,” the boy blurted out. The boy blushed as he stared right at Nico. “He said to get an older person to notice your affections you have to seduce them.”

“Charm them. I said charm,” Travis grumbled dejectedly.

“While you were working at the pub?” Nico asked, ignoring Travis’ side comments.

“Yes, your Highness.”

The next question Nico was careful to measure his words. He asked, “Were you in danger of being taken advantage of by Travis Stoll?” He waited and the boy swallowed hard. He clutched his hands in front of him, then moved them up to his chest. Nico recognized it as an unconscious way reassuring and bracing himself.

“No, your Highness.”

“How do you know this?”

“Oh gods…” Travis groaned loudly and buried his face deeper into his hands.

“Because Travis has someone he likes,” the boy answered. This time he looked straight into Nico’s eyes. Those young eyes filled with wonder and trust, as if he completely believed what Travis told him. “There’s someone he’s waiting to come get him. He told me.”

“And why would he teach you to seduce an older person?” Nico asked. He didn’t need to know more than necessary. The boy didn’t answer him. He prompted the boy’s answer with a question, “Is there someone you like?” The boy shook his head. “Someone you want to marry?” The boy shook his head again. “Then?”

“He was teaching me to seduce someone so I won’t have to be afraid in the future,” the boy answered. A deep blush burned on the boy’s face. This was obviously something a boy reaching puberty and adulthood felt was a sensitive topic. Nico understood that it was uncomfortable to be telling Nico this in public, a mob of his family behind him, and any onlooker allowed to watch and listen.

“I understood it is fairly recent since the raiders were taken care of,” Nico acknowledged.

“I was…” the boy looked down and paused. Nico could see that the boy was suddenly somewhere else in his mind, shaking where he stood.

“He was one of the children who were taken,” Travis spoke up. Nico released Travis and pushed him back into the house. “Hey!”

Nico walked to the boy then and extended a hand. The boy was shocked to see his hand outstretched, and he hesitantly took it. Nico pulled the boy toward him and enveloped him in a hug.

“Fear is not something to be ashamed of.” He found his voice quiet and soft as he spoke to the boy. He felt the boy tremble, wrapped up against Nico’s body with his cape hanging around them in the hug. “Fear lets you know you’re alive. It helps you remember what it is like to be weak, so you know what you need to be strong.” Nico spoke the quiet words no one had ever told him when he was the boy’s age. The things so many of the captured citizens of this town went through because Nico disappeared for four years were unacceptable. Not only as a prince but as their protector he failed them.

“Now, the most important question,” Nico said as he pulled away from the boy. The boy blinked up at him in slight confusion. “Do you wish to marry Lord Travis Stoll?”

“No,” was the quick answer.

“I shall not force you upon an official,” Nico promised. “Do you wish to seek any repercussions from Lord Travis?” he asked next. The boy shook his head.

“My Lord, if I may!” a man fought through the mob. Nico turned his gaze up to the older man. “I am the boy’s father. He is too young to-”

Nico snapped then. “He is old enough to work. He is old enough to be taken by raiders.” Nico reached for the dagger in his back and unsheathed it. He had the handle in his fist, the blade pointed downward. “Your son can decide for himself who he marries and who he gives his body to.”

“He’s fourteen!” the father argued desperately.

“How long did your son spend in the raider’s hideout?” Nico asked angrily. His patience was for this scene wore thin. “Twelve? Eleven?” Nico felt the anger in him boil. “Did you honestly think he spent that time just cleaning their mess and serving them as some maid?” Nico dropped the dagger into the cobble stone road. It stabbed into the dirt better cobblestones and stood upright. “Your son does not desire this union, and if you so much as drag him to take vows you will first have to pick up my dagger.” Nico waited as the man stared between his dagger and Nico.

The man looked at Nico nervously and shifted his foot an inch to the left. Nico then asked, “Will you take the challenge?”

“No, your Highness.” The man backed away into the mob.

“Dismissed.”

Nico waited until they all disappeared, the boy thanking him before running off. He knelt down and yanked out his dagger from the cobblestone road. He put it back into its sheath.

He turned and walked back inside the house. Nico had to a consort and husband to talk to. There was an unfinished conversation about proper decorum for courting one’s own husband waiting.

Chapter Text

Will was still fuming. He felt Nico’s stare against the back of his neck as he pushed Travis forward through the crowd. The last few hours had been spent on Nico trying ask Will exactly how he wanted Nico to ask. Will didn’t feel like answering any of his questions. He shouldn’t have to explain anything about courting or not courting one’s consort in public or otherwise to a prince.

“Stop pushing!” Travis hissed, somehow moving out from in front of him to walk beside Will. Nico was still following them from behind, just a few steps away and he didn’t seem at all annoyed by the fact that Will didn’t want to walk with him.

Will apologized with a sigh. Everything was so frustrating, and it was all hard to come to terms with. It would require some time for him to actually believe Nico married him because he wanted Will. Hopefully not so long both of them were old men.

“You’re still mad about Nico?” Travis asked quietly. They wormed their way through the thick crowd to reach the stage Connor would be performing on with his troupe. Will refused to answer the question. “Very well then. You’re okay with what he said?”

Confused Will turned to look at Travis. “What did he say?”

“You don’t know?”

“What?”

Travis sighed as they broke through the crowd into a secluded spot where they could watch the performance. “I presumed that you two spent the last few hours upstairs talking about this.” Will shook his head. He had refused to speak. Nico had tried to talk to him but had matched Will’s stubbornness with his own. “I’m to accept marriage to the next person who proposes.”

“Doesn’t sound different from what you normally do when you’re drunk,” Will responded. It wasn’t very interesting for news.

Travis grabbed his elbow tightly and whispered, “You are married to this man, Will.” Will gave him an annoyed look. Travis wanted him to do something about it. “He is the prince of this kingdom. He will make me marry the next person who proposes.”

For a moment Will thought on this. Then he remembered something and smiled. “If I were you I’ll rather accept marriage than wait.” Travis glared back at him and then clicked his tongue. Will knew Travis had a quip back for those exact words but Nico was still standing behind them a few steps away.

“What are we doing here again?” Travis groaned. His arms were crossed over his chest and he kept shifting between his feet. He was anxious and it was very obvious why.

“Waiting for your…” Will paused as he thought of a name to call Travis’ not so secret stranger. He smiled at Travis, “Next Proposal.” Travis blanched and then smacked him in the arm. He grinned. “You’re going to say yes.”

“I would rather kill myself.”

“As your good friend just say yes when he asks,” Will sighed, because he knew with certainty Michael Kahale would. He wasn’t quite sure on Nico had known, but Kahale was one of the best options for Travis.

It wasn’t long before Connor’s troupe took a short break from their performance. Connor rushed to them and swung an arm around his brother’s shoulders. Will smiled at him and turned his gaze back to the crowd. Children running up to the troupe members on the dance floor with little gifts, while elders moved along to the slow musical strumming, and young mend and women pulled each other along to dance beside their elders. Will had never seen the town so joyous or so much like a single entity as it had been in the last few days.

“The last night is always the most exhausting,” Connor laughed breathlessly. Connor seemed to give some kind of greeting sign to Nico behind them and then turned back to stare out into the dance area and the gathered crowd. He winked at Will and Travis and added, “More ways than one.” Will couldn’t quite understand the look until a caped individual suddenly stepped in front of him.

The song being played changed into an informal song that could be danced to. Travis’ stranger gave him a proper bow and held a hand out to Will. “May I have this song?” Will had no idea how to respond but Michael Kahale simply waited with his hand outstretched.

Travis gave him a shifty look and shrugged at him, “As your good friend just say yes when he asks.” Will shot him an angry look and just to spite both Travis and Nico he took Michael’s hand.

Michael moved in a measured pace as he led Will into the dancing area. At first Will moved his hand into the follow but Michael shook his head. At first Will was confused but Michael, huge and tall as he was, put a hand on his shoulder and the other into Will’s hand. Will had rarely led a dance unless he was dancing with a woman. Even though he was a prince, as he held no responsibilities when he had been at Delphi he rarely led any dances with men unless it had been with one of his younger brothers or someone with watered down noble status.

“No longer a general,” Michael smiled at him as Will started them into the dance.

“When did that happen?” asked Will, as he remembered he didn’t ask earlier that morning.

“Yesterday night.”

“You can follow?”

He shrugged.

Will glanced over to where Nico, Travis and Connor stood in the crowd. The look on Travis’ face was such a furious and dark look Will almost burst into laughter. Then he saw Nico’s quiet stare. It was almost as if Will was sent back to four years ago. Nico had this strange detachment to the crowd. Will could see himself wearing the golden faux military garb his father had given him, stiffly dancing with nobility as if he was now in the golden palace of Delphi, and pretending as if he didn’t notice the young Dark Angel who watched him from afar.

“He doesn’t look happy.”

“Who are you speaking of?” Will asked, pulling away from his imagination. He led them away from an old couple slowly moving and sashaying just behind Michael’s large back. He let out a breath when they narrowly missed bumping into the two elders.

“Your prince.”

“He’s been like that all day long.” Will tried to wave Michael’s observation away but he couldn’t help but steal another look at Nico. He was wearing his black fur cape and the image was a lot different from four years ago. Nico no longer looked like he was being swallowed up by the fur, now it looked as if the cape was a part of him.

“That’s the expression he had in Delphi.”

“What do you mean?”

“During your engagement party.” It was then Michael clarified something for Will, something he had not seen that night four years ago. In Michael’s perspective he explained, “When you do not look he has this sheer look of death on his face. Not much different from his usual somber expression, but it’s his presence that makes it so different.”

“His presence?” Now Will was looking directly up at Michael, who was well over Nico’s height. A look of death? Will couldn’t quite grasp the meaning.

Michael gave him a dashing side smile. “Murderous intent.” They stared at each other for a heartbeat until Will burst into laughter with him. “You can’t blame him.”

“No?” Will chuckled. Suddenly Will couldn’t stop imagining what Nico’s expression may have looked like four years ago. A look of death full of murder, he couldn’t quite imagine Nico with such a look. The Nico he knew may be angry or sad, but he had never had a violent expression before. Will briefly recalled being rescued by Nico a couple months ago from the raiders but he couldn’t quite recall a murderous look on the man’s face.

“A young man’s first love is a serious thing, prince.” Just like that Will’s smile dropped. First love? He was Nico’s first love? Questions upon questions piled up until Will was a strung up ball of tension. Nico might be affectionate, after all this was Erebus, but he had never quite explained why he thought he was in love with Will. After all they barely knew each other.

“How do you know this?”

“Pardon,” Michael turned and quietly mumbled to a young couple who were excitedly twirling about and had bumped into them. The two laughed and apologized with a flourish and blushes before dancing off. Will led them away again.

For a moment they danced in silence, because Will did not want to seem overly eager by asking again. Then Michael said, “I would like to have permission to ask for Lord Travis’ hand.” Will froze on the spot and a few dancers bumped into them. “Is that permissible?” asked the former general one more when Will gave no answer.

It took him a moment before he burst into laughter. “Very well,” Will chuckled. He slapped a hand on Michael’s shoulders. “It is permissible.” Will turned to look at Travis who was glaring at them suspiciously. He winked at the man and turned back to Michael. “There is, however, some details I would like us to speak on first.” Will put his hand on Michael’s elbow and led them in the other direction out of the dance area.

“Perhaps we should speak in the presence of Prince Nico,” Michael suggested. He didn’t turn to look back when he suggested it, but Will had a feeling the former general had very good instincts. Will felt Nico’s burning glare on the back of his neck and fought the urge to rub there as he escorted the larger man next to him onto the side of the street.

Will pressed Michael against the wall of a house and stepped up to him. “You’re no longer a general.”

“Correct.”

“That would mean Travis is of higher status,” Will said the words as a question. He’d never done something such as finding a marriage partner for someone, but he had a feeling such questions were necessary. He simply couldn’t just marry Travis off to the first person available.

Michael cocked him a sly smile. “Travis is the son of the Duke of Mount Cyllene.” Will nodded. “I am the son of the Queen of Cythera.” Will felt his heart lurch and then stop. The (former) general of the Roman Empire, Michael Kahale, was the prince of the island of Cythera? Will glanced at him up and down in surprise. It would explain the toned skin and the dark hair and eyes.

“That means you are…” Will paused as he processed the thought. A prince just asked for Travis’ hand in marriage. A prince just asked for…

Michael laughed, and it was a soft quite rumble of his chest. Will felt his face flush. The laugh alone gave Will the impression the stern man didn’t have to do much but smile at most people to charm them. Out of instinct he took a precautionary step away from Michael.

“I am one of man sons like yourself.” Michael kicked off the wall and stepped forward. “I wasn’t much for the royal duties.” Will could clearly see that. “Those of Cythera have a tendency of flitting romances, very few of us believe in one constant and true life partner.”

“I’ve heard,” Will waved away the explanation. In Cythera, true love did not hold as much meaning as it did in Erebus where vows were strictly held on to. One day one man could be someone’s true love and two days later it could be someone else. Love in Cythera was better explained as romances.

“I do not wish for you to think I would not be true,” Michael spoke solemnly and softly. Will stood in front of the larger man and it was as though he was standing in the woods by the stream again, and he was staring at Nico instead. “We have not spoken much or known each other very long,” Michael went on, and Will couldn’t help but feel the words hit him in the gut. “But I know this is true and real.”

He cupped his hand to Michael’s face, waited a moment to make sure it was welcomed, and then lifted Michael’s face so he could see it in the light. His face was behind a simple eye mask and under a feathered hat but Will could clearly see what Michael tried to hide. It was the same slightly desperate expression that Nico had when he called Will his sky.

“Do me a favor Prince Michael,” Will smiled brightly up at the man. Michael looked at him with a mixture of hope and caution. “He’ll fight you, you know. He is my friend and I would not seriously force him to do something he does not want.” Michael nodded in understanding. “So you tell him what he means to you. Do not give him a moment to doubt your feelings.”

For the longest moment all Michael did was stare into Will’s eyes. Will stared back seeing the smallest suspicion in the man’s dark eyes. “Your husband is here.” Michael bowed his head and backed away from Will. Will turned around to face Nico who stood a good couple yards away from them.

“Leave,” Nico ordered Michael when he stepped up to them. Michael moved, flashing them a smile before passing them on his way to were Travis stood with Connor.

“Worried?”

“Should I be?” Nico asked back instead of answer. Will shrugged and started to walk away from the stage and the dance area toward the market stalls.

“Will.” Nico’s hand was suddenly on his elbow. They both stopped in the less concentrated street. Will refused to look Nico in the eyes even though he turned around to face him. “What is it really?”

“What do you mean?”

Nico’s hand on his elbow tightened its grip and then he let go. Looking around Nico then also took a small step back. He looked around once more and then turned to Will.

“What are you doing, Nico?” Will asked, confused by the man’s actions.

“I didn’t want to upset you,” Nico answered. “Why are you mad now?” he asked again.

Will was still confused. “Right now I’m not angry.” He stepped around Nico and stared out into the crowd around the stage. He saw Michael’s feathered hat moving around in the dance area. “I believe, as you wanted, Travis will be getting married and staying married.”

Nico turned to look back at the crowd and then back to Will. “I’m happy for them, but I want to know why you are unhappy.”

“Should I be unhappy?”

Nico sighed as if he’d given up. “Might I have your hand?” Nico held out his hand. Will stared at the hand in front of him and then slowly put his own hand into it. Nico pulled Will forward and then wrapped his other hand around the small of Will’s back. Out of instinct Will had quickly stepped into the following role.

“This is very unusual for you,” Will said. Nico twirled him and took all their steps slowly and just a little off beat. Nico moved as Will remembered four years ago, as if he was dancing to his own rhythm.

“Unusual how?”

“You’re normally very firm and…” Will paused as he tried to find the best word to describe him. There really another word. “Rigid.”

Nico shook his head at Will. The distant music which was playing a soft and slow song had suddenly turned very upbeat. Nico pulled Will close until their hips pressed against one another. His knees suddenly threatened to melt under him at that moment as he felt the intense heat Nico generated from his body.

“Men of Erebus are not rigid.” Nico gave him a mocking smile and Will felt the incessant need to punch Nico in the face. Nico pulled in until their chests touch. He lowered his lips down to Will’s ear. “Do you hear the music?”

“It’s Latin-Roman.”

“Wait.”

The song suddenly changed, the upbeat tempo changing into something that fluctuated. Will scrunched up his eyes and glared at Nico’s ear lobe in front of him. They weren’t entirely in a proper form for a slow dance but it was somewhat presentable if they were in a ballroom. They were perhaps standing too close but no one would say anything as they were husbands.

Nico’s hips started rotating and Will stood very still as he felt it echo against him. A woman’s voice sang out into the number using a language Will didn’t recognize. Nico gave him a small smile and pulled Will along with him as they moved. Unlike the usual ballroom rules where the lead should have his hand on the small of Will’s back, instead Nico was leading Will with his hand on Will’s hip. His left hand that held Will’s hand was folded towards them instead of out. Before long, as they were twirling around on the cobblestone street to the song when Nico moved both of Will’s hands around Nico’s shoulder around his neck.

“This…” Will felt his face flush. Nico’s other hand went on his other hip. “Nico…”

“Dancing for Erebian is like love.” Nico grabbed onto Will’s hips, lifted him onto the very tip of his toes and held him against Nico’s body. Then he swung them around a few more times until Will felt his eyes and his mind confuse each other. He wrapped his arms around Nico’s shoulder then, and pulled in close to steady himself.

“A dizzy affair?” Will finally responded once Nico set him down on his feet again.

Nico chuckled. “An uninhibited feeling.” Nico’s hands were still on Will’s hips, and entirely too close to other parts of him. Will quickly followed Nico’s steps. It was strange as the footsteps were of a simple waltz, but Nico followed his own rhythm to it. Will kept his fingers interlocked behind Nico’s neck so he wouldn’t miss a step or lose his balance.

Nico suddenly stepped forward, his thigh pinning itself between Will’s legs. They paused as the song continued. Will held his breath and hoped Nico would ignore the hardness in his pants. Nico simply smiled at him and Will felt his face heat up more than he had before.

“Music still going,” Will quietly whispered. He barely managed the words. Will wanted them to move again, to dance, to go, to do something besides stand in position so Nico’s thigh could feel Will’s hot bulge. His heart thudded so hard against his chest he could barely breathe properly, something he also hoped Nico didn’t notice.

“We’re not in a ballroom, Will.”

“I know.”

“You do not have to follow my lead.” Nico held them in spot. His fingers pressed firmly on Will’s hips.

Will had an inkling to where Nico was going with this. So Will took a step back and Nico followed. When he stepped back and pivoted, Nico followed and swept over. He drew Will close to him again and led their unpredictable dance a few steps to Will’s right.

For the rest of the song they enjoyed trying to lead one another. At least Will found himself genuinely smiling and laughing as they swung one way and then the next. He even rolled his eyes when Nico lifted him in the air and tried to twirl him. Not long after the song ended and Will was so exhausted he was leaning against Nico trying to catch his breath. He was standing in bliss he didn’t even register that they had spectators, and cheerful half-drunks calling it “the Royal Couple’s First Dance”—it wasn’t.

“Shall we head back?” Nico whispered into his ear.

“Don’t you have work?”

“Nothing that can’t wait.” Nico stepped away from Will. He stared at Will with a look of quiet contemplation. It was then Will realized Nico was trying to figure out how best to take Will home.

He held his hand out to Nico. “Shall I lead?” he asked Nico. Nico sighed at him with a soft smile that disappeared quickly. He took Will’s hand and waved Will to take them back.

Will stared at Nico and winked. Nico shoot him a suspicious glare, but Will merely smiled at him. He tightened his hold on Nico’s hand and stared out at the crowd. He rushed at them and for a moment he felt the heaviness of yanking Nico behind him, but not very long Nico was running beside him. They broke through the crowd and ran through the market dodging people in their way. Will pushed faster. It had been weeks since he had a good exercise of any kind, and although he was still quite low in stamina at the moment Will couldn’t quite help the desire to run.

One they got to the front door of his house Will leaned against it as he’d done earlier that day. This time it was to catch his breath. He turned around, still holding Nico’s hand, and his smile disappeared the moment he saw Nico’s hot gaze.

“My sky,” Nico whispered. He put his free hand on Will’s cheek and caressed it with a gentle touch. “May I kiss you?” came the question.

Nico had never asked before.

Will pushed forward and kissed Nico. He smiled when Nico kissed him back. A desperateness struck the both of them as Nico pressed Will’s back to the front door.

Slowly Nico pulled away, and it was like something that was a part of Will was being stretched further and further away from him. Nico pressed his forehead to Will and a deep guttural groan escaped his husband then. Instinctively he touched Nico’s chin and kissed the man quickly one more time.

“My sky.”

Will had no term of endearment by which to call Nico. So he simply sighed out, “Mine.” A strong arm wrapped around his shoulder and pulled him in for a tight hug. Again, in the chilly air and the warmth of their earlier dance and run, Will was cocooned into Nico’s heat and the large black fur.

“Mine,” he repeated one more time. Much for himself as for Nico who had also needed to hear the words.

Chapter Text

Travis wasn’t exactly sure why he was angry when he watched his mysterious stranger bow in front of Will and ask for a dance. He wasn’t sure why he was hurt either, or why when he mocked Will and acted like he didn’t care that it choked him up. To prevent himself from showing what he really felt Travis put on his soldier persona and glared at them instead.

“Rather handsome up close that one,” said his brother offhandedly. Travis watched as his stranger, who had always taken the lead during dances with him, took the follow with Will. While he understood logically in his mind that Will was the Erebian Prince-Consort and thus afforded a high status, he still felt annoyingly irritated knowing that his stranger was willing to give up the lead to Will but not him. Especially when they had shared two dances already and his stranger only this one with Will—and not even a formal song, just simply a jovial informal song one could slow dance to.

“I’ve seen that face before,” Connor laughed.

“What face?” Travis asked noncommittally, as he was still focused on watching Will lead his tall stranger in the dancing crowd.

He hadn’t thought much of it until he realized his brother hadn’t replied. Travis turned to Connor only to be met with a small knowing smile and a glimmer in his discerning eyes. He scrunched his eyes at his brother who then smoothly removed himself from Travis and stepped away a step. Travis turned back watch Will and his stranger dance.

“Oh he’s laughing,” Connor mumbled in narration, as if Travis could not see. Travis hated this. Deep inside at very pit of his stomach he hated watching the person who he was most loyal to, hold the man Travis had decided not to make his. It was, again, illogical and he knew that. Yet he couldn’t stop himself from hating this idea.

“Why are you so jealous?” Connor asked, using that offhanded tone they both learned to use. His brother wanted a reaction out of him, and Travis was determined not to give him one. After all it made no sense why Travis would be jealous over the man he’s always been loyal to sharing one ridiculously informal dance with a man whose face he has never seen. “I mean, if I remember Will telling me the other night you were into General Michael of Rome.” This time Travis shot his brother a side glance. He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his pants to hide his clenched fists. He wasn’t the same fun-loving older brother that Connor remembered. Travis would knock his brother around if it required. “It’s not like that man is your precious general.”

“Don’t talk about him.” Travis looked back at the pair dancing in the crowd. He hated seeing Will and his stranger together but he hated the memory of General Michael Kahale most of all. It hurt too much in a sore spot of him that he couldn’t quite name.

“Why not?”

“Because you’ll regret.”

But oh his little brother knew how to push. “It’s not like your little—well, I guess he is rather huge—crush is around to hear how you shyly tried to get him to notice you like some lowly virgin maid.” Travis held on to the last thread of patience he had with his brother. He could feel Nico shift behind them, as if the Erebian prince was ready to get between them. Either in Travis’ defense, or to save Connor’s life. In all honesty he wasn’t quite sure how Prince Nico and his dear little brother came to strike up such an undesirable friendship. It wasn’t as if they were compatible by nature.

Travis refused to look away from the two. The song was almost ending and Will would return. He had to remember that tonight his duty was to keep Will occupied, as he was still angry with Prince Nico. Only now it was Travis who was angry and at everyone.

His brother went on, almost taunting Travis. “Well, I guess not really a virgin from what Will told me. Maybe that’s why the General didn’t speak to you after…” He drowned out his brother’s words when he saw the two men standing still in the crowd at the end of their dance. Will caressed his stranger’s cheek and lifted the man’s gaze to his. They spoke and laugh together as if they were long-lost lovers. Travis couldn’t help a deep growl that erupted from him, but he didn’t have time to question it as he also noticed a similar deep growl escape Prince Nico who walked right past them.

He saw Prince Nico approach the two, and then saw his stranger leave them. He watched as the feathered hat moved through the crowd toward him and Connor.

“I guess that’s why you’re stuck on this fellow, isn’t it?” Connor was saying.

“What?” Travis finally turned to his brother.

Connor grinned. “Your mystery man reminds you of the General. He’s a replacement for the man who rejected your advances,” Connor said. Travis registered that someone had approached them but Travis hadn’t cared at the moment. He’d instinctively punched his brother for the insult.

The crowd quickly moved away from them. While Connor recovered quickly and brought up his fists for a fight, Travis threw a stomping kick at his younger brother and forced him to the ground. Travis climbed over the suddenly dazed man and punched him a few more times. He, fortunately, remembered not to strike his brother in his face but the man may have a few bruises on his body by tomorrow morning. He was just pulling his brother’s long hair into his fist to yank him up into a better position for beating when someone hauled him off his brother.

“Release me!” he started to struggle angrily. The same someone pulling him away from the crowd and his brother threw him over their shoulder.

At first Travis had assumed it was one of the townspeople—probably Leo—who was part of the defense squad. Of course the further away he was carried from the crowd the less angry he was and the more he realized that Leo Trovato couldn’t be the one carrying him away into the less trafficked area of town. After all Leo Trovato and Rosa were busy discussing their future tonight. He knew this because Leo had asked Travis for advice on how to woo an older woman who didn’t seem to think as a younger man he wasn’t good enough.

So then who was carrying him like a sack of flour over his shoulder?

Once he was set down it didn’t take long for Travis to stare in silence at the man. His stranger, who had just been dancing with Will, was right in front of him. Travis knew the man not only stopped his assault on his brother, but also carried him as if a fully grown man weighed nothing. Not many men were strong enough to do such a feat, especially with how tall Travis was. Of course he was taller, but taller and bigger did not always mean stronger or faster. The man did cut an imposing figure however.

“I never knowingly spurned your advances,” his stranger said right away.

“We weren’t talking about you,” Travis growled. He rubbed the tension from between his brows with the palm of his hand. This was getting to be a very complicated and awkward situation for him. While he might feel lust for this stranger, his heart still belonged to a General far away who didn’t even bother to notice he existed.

“Apologies,” his stranger said in an airy tone. “I assumed you were referring to me as I’ve been trying to court you.”

“You heard my brother,” Travis growled. He looked away from the man. Every time he looked up at the masked face he imagine the General’s face. “You are a replacement.” Whenever he was close to this man he was reminded of the one time he was close to the General, in the man’s arm, somehow fortunate enough to be dancing a simple and quiet waltz in a nearly deserted ballroom. “And I hardly think two dances in two nights is considered courting. Or a stolen kiss while I was need of comfort counted.” Travis’ words were cutting, but how couldn’t they be? It was the damnedest truth that he was using this perfect stranger in replacement for someone else, and he would have continued doing so had he not remembered his place yesterday night. He was the retainer, the bodyguard of a prince—runaway or not.

“Not stolen.”

The man caressed Travis’ cheek and made him look up into the man’s face. He held his breath as their faces came closer until their lips softly touched. As if to prove the man’s words a spark burned through Travis at that moment and he desperately tried to hold onto reason so as to keep his hope contained. He knew what he felt wasn’t really for this man—this man he didn’t know. His masked stranger was simply filling in the place of the real person Travis wanted to be with, and that was unfair to him.

“Do not cry,” his stranger whispered against Travis’ lips when he slowly pulled away.

Confused he asked, “Why would I cry?”

“You cried last night.”

Travis remembered why. It had nothing to do with unwelcomed kisses. Travis have had many kisses in his lifetime at a very tender age. Such soft kisses were uncommon for him however. He’d had similar types of kisses, but none that left such warm feelings inside. None that had opened the gates of his emotions because it had felt as if he would be accepted.

“Not because of you,” he quietly promised.

“I do want you,” said the man. Travis held his breath. Oh gods somehow he had expected this. “Would you consider bonding with me?”

Bonding? He rarely ever heard that term. If he recalled from sitting in Will’s studies, the term was relatively unique to one kingdom or tribe. Travis couldn’t quite recall exactly what it was or where it was from. It was there but refused to be recalled. The word itself was unique in the common shared language, but his stranger was suddenly using an accent different from the Roman accent he had before.

“I’m not sure,” Travis answered. There was a pause and he amended, “No.”

“Why?”

Travis shook his head. He didn’t want to answer.

“You are waiting for someone.” Not a question but a statement. Travis swallowed and gathered his courage, because it required him to confirm what he wanted to hide. He nodded. “Who is he?”

“Why would you think it’s a man?” Travis asked. It could be a woman.

His stranger smirked. “You might know the female body, but what you want is a man.” He said it with such confidence Travis actually wanted to deny it and punch him in the face. Perhaps it was the crudeness. He didn’t think someone who was trying to court or marry him—as everyone have been talking about all day—would speak so roughly or so tastelessly. Travis himself might speak that way but only when it was called for.

Travis refused to give him an answer. Even though he refused to give an answer his stomach clenched as the man stepped closer.

“Besides,” his stranger added, “You said it yourself.”

“No I didn’t.” Travis tried to look away.

“Yes you did.” The man stepped closer. His heat mingled with Travis, and while Travis wanted to step away he defiantly decided against the idea. It wasn’t as if he was thinking with his right mind. He hadn’t for a while now. “You said I was a replacement.”

Travis rolled his eyes. He stepped away, trying to make it as a way of being done with the conversation instead of running away. “Carnal pleasure does not require gender. At least not for me.”

“So you don’t care who your bed partner is.”

“Of course not. Haven’t you heard?” Travis turned around. He assumed the stranger have heard by now. “Just today I was almost force to take vows.”

“By your lord?”

Travis didn’t answer that. He refused to admit in any way that Prince Nico was his lord, even if he shared sworn vows with Will.

“So you’re experienced when it comes to the pleasure of the flesh,” came the next statement. Travis sighed out. Perhaps he was done with this conversation. “It does not matter to you who it is.”

Travis turned back and glared at him. “What is it you are pestering me about? We’ve established no one cares who I take to bed!” He was truly tired of this subject.

His stranger shrugged at him nonchalantly, looking out to the crowd in the distance of the festival. “I merely wonder if you’ve ever met someone who made your heart race and your soul soar.” Travis stared at him in shock. Did the big man really just give him such a line? He said it as if it was fact, as if such a feeling truly existed and wasn’t some childishly fantasy of romance and love from some fiction. “Has it happened that merely touching the person for a brief moment could make you smile and think of better days? Have you ever had someone whose chaste kiss burns a mark of ownership into your very soul? The person you’re waiting for, does being close to him for just a moment feel as if two streams have finally become a river?”

Travis stopped him with a strangled command. He twisted away as he thought of the Roman General.

“How true could a carnal pleasure of that person be to the depths of my feelings for you?” the stranger asked.

Travis took a few wobbling steps away. “Who…” he started to ask, but his voice croaked as it was on the verge of breaking. He tried again. “Who are you to decide what it feels like to love someone?” Travis asked, and although he said it in an angry and quiet tone he knew the words had been heard and that it made the man pause. “For you that might be how it feels, but for me loving that man is like looking up at the stars and hoping to steal it away. Stars look down upon us in the night and grace us with the tiniest glimmer of their brilliance. I could not possibly ask that man to do much more grace me with his presence.”

“He sounds like a god.”

Travis laughed. “He’s not, but for someone like me he might as well be. He never even knew I existed until I first approached him. Then after it was as if he’d simply forgotten. So…” Travis managed to turn himself around to face the man. He gathered the courage to look up and see the way the man’s lips pressed into a stern line. “For you love is like some wonderful fleeting romance in a story of adventure. For me love is seeing him and my heart being so confused it doesn’t know how to operate correctly. When we brush past each other my soul follows his. When I think he might notice me the world stops.” Travis clenched his fists in anger, having to pour his heart out to some stranger and to the wrong man. “Love is harsh and complicated, it’s not some good feeling of wonder and awe. It hurts. It’s like being ripped to pieces over and over again, being thrown against a wall and breaking into hundreds of pieces. It’s agonizing because I’m also the person who has to sit there and painstaking pick up all the pieces and put it together again.”

Silence.

After standing there for too long waiting for a response from a perfect stranger who couldn’t possibly understand his feelings, Travis turned around to leave. He should just go home.

He started running even though a familiar voice shouted for him to wait. Travis ran back into the festival crowd but he didn’t stop. He kept running until he was on the street home, but stopped before he reached the house. Prince Nico was with Will in front of the door. He turned away from them, deciding to run into the woods. He wanted to be alone and somewhere he felt comfortable but he didn’t want to disturb either of them.

Travis ran off and thought he heard someone calling out his name. He knew it wasn’t the princes or his brother’s voice, so he didn’t bother thinking much of it.

Once he finally stopped running, his lungs burning he collapsed onto the ground. He wasn’t exactly sure where he was in the woods but he could hear the stream close by. It wasn’t the usual spot everyone visited but he assumed he could follow the stream back to find his way. At this moment he didn’t care what would happen. He threw his arms around his eyes and face and did his best to forget everything.

He hadn’t wanted to think of the general. Not again and definitely not so deeply. He had not wanted to admit how deep his feelings had been, even though he’d only ever spoke with the warrior once and only ever stolen glances at him. Since a long time again he’d always assumed it had been some infatuation he felt for the man but it grew as Travis grew, and it became unbearable as Travis came to understand the difference between his feelings and desires.

“You’re crying because of me again,” the deep and strangely familiar voice rumbled. It was closer than it should be so when Travis quickly sat up to look around he was immediately faced with the man in the feathered hat already sitting next to him staring right at him.

“Your accent…”

He smiled and changed his accent into one of Delphi. “Good skill for espionage.” Travis glared at him. “Don’t worry,” he laughed with his Roman accent. “I only use it,” he said with the relaxed Erebian tone, “when I need it.”

“Are you here to spy on Erebus?”

He laughed as his accent and tone turned back into that freeing and exotic tone Travis remembered. “Of course not.” He heard it somewhere before but he couldn’t quite remember where. The rhythm of speech, the subtle way certain consonants were blended with the vowels smoothly was a strange calmness he’d known. Perhaps for a short moment, because if Travis had truly known and could recognize it he wouldn’t have such a problem placing the accent.

“So you were masking your voice not just your face.” Travis said it to imply that he couldn’t trust someone who would hide those things.

The man shook his head with a smile. His hand raised up and his thumb rubbed away drying tears from his cheeks.

“Can’t it be me you bond with?” he asked in his strange accent.

“Which voice is really yours?” Travis asked.

“Whichever one,” he said, his accent unchanged. “Answer me. Will you not bond with me?”

“No.”

“You are still waiting for him, your Roman soldier?”

Travis glared at him. “How do you know?”

He shrugged, frowning now and looking away from Travis.

“Did Will tell you?”

“I danced with him to ask him a question,” admitted the mysterious man.

“What question?”

“To ask if he would support me in asking to bond with you.” His stranger’s hand dropped down and covered Travis’ hand. His fingers intertwined with Travis’ fingers, brushing warn callused hands through Travis’ scratched up hands. “May I kiss you?” It was a sudden and out of place question but it sounded urgent.

“If you take off your mask.”

His stranger pulled off the mask and set it aside. He leaned in and kissed Travis again, but very softly and lightly. It was a strange chaste kiss where only their lips touch. He couldn’t quite understand why such a kiss was the big man’s preference, since he seemed like the kind who was driven by passion.

When their kiss broke Travis said, “If you take off your hat I will kiss you this time.” He hadn’t been thinking properly. He was sure somewhere that early morning he’d lost his intelligence and his logic somewhere. Still, the man took his hat off without protest and smiled when he lifted his head to Travis.

Travis stared at the man and a strange acidic burn coursed through him. He rubbed his eyes and blinked at the man a few times to be sure his eyes were not paying tricks on him.

The man laughed. In that exotic accent Travis couldn’t place he said, “I’m waiting for that kiss.” Then finally seeing his face and hearing that accent it clicked into place.

“G-General.”

“Are you still waiting for a man caged by that title?” the Roman General asked. He smiled at Travis. “I’m no longer a general, and I am no longer in service to Rome.” Travis felt his entire body shut down. He didn’t know how to move. He didn’t what to say. He dreaded the realization he was already making. He’d told him how his true feelings. Gods, this had to be some cruel dream. Some joke of the gods. Some trick of the eyes. Some kind of nightmare.

Panic rose in him.

“Michael Kahale.”

“You no longer wish to bond now that I’m not a General?” he asked. By the gods the man played Travis! He should be outraged at the thought, not embarrassed or horrified. He shouldn’t feel happy or relieved the stranger he was drawn to happen to be the man he loved since boyhood. Travis was supposed to be angry and hate him for playing Travis a fool.

“Why…” Travis tried to ask but the question fell short.

His hand lifted away from Travis’ and felt for something in the pocket inside his pants. He pulled out a piece of crumbled paper and unfolded it. Travis wondered where he might have picked up paper, as it was more expensive than parchment and was often imported into Delphi from the east and rarely anywhere else.

“A found this,” Michael said in that mesmerizing accent of his. Travis stared down at it as Michael stopped from unfolding the crumbled paper. “A letter for me hidden away in his room.”

“His?” Travis asked in confusion.

“This young man I had been watching wrote it. I thought perhaps there was something between us but he eloped.” Michael unfolded the paper and turned it around to show Travis. Travis’ mouth fell open. “Then I found this hidden in his room.” This was his letter. The one he wrote with some childish hope before he ran after Will four years ago. This was the letter he hid under the loose floorboard of his quarters. He had a childish hope that if his General had cared about him at all he would find the letter.

“Where…” Travis gasped. He lost his voice. It was somehow hard to breathe as he his hopes were realized.

“I was escorting a delegate to Delphi when we heard the commotion, you see.” Michael looked down at the paper. He picked it up and looked at it with oddly gentle eyes. “At first I was really disappointed. I had thought he was different from the rumors. He was quite charming during our dance.” Travis felt his breath hitch while he was still trying to catch it. He wanted to cry so badly but he needed to keep himself in check. “After some time I decided to sneak into his room. It’d been ransacked to find some clue as to where he might have eloped with his charge.”

Travis broke down. “Stop,” he wrenched out before gasping. Michael’s hand touched his cheek but Travis slapped it away. “Don’t touch me…” Travis pulled away from him. Everything he felt was confused. He didn’t know what to think, how he felt, or what he should do.

“Tell me,” Michael said.

“Shut up!” he shouted. He stood up but was stopped midway from walking away. Michael held onto his hand.

“Tell me why you let me a letter.”

Travis groaned. The tears were threatening to overload.

“Why?”

Travis gritted his teeth. “I need time, sir,” he croaked out. Tears came down and Travis felt shame for crying before another man. “I cannot decently answer you sir. Please let me go.”

“I don’t care if you’re decent. Tell me why you left a hidden letter?”

Travis yanked his hand away. He was about to run when strong arms wrapped around and he was tackled to the ground. He groaned as he had ungracefully landed on his elbows and knees.

“Sorry,” the larger man apologized. Travis ignored the physical pain and tried to squirm out from under the man on his back. “Are you hurt?” He yanked Travis down and turned him around as if it was no struggle at all. Travis closed his eyes tightly and laid still as the Michael Kahale patted him down and quickly examined him.

Travis was waiting for when Michael stopped looking for scabs on his forearm and knees. He jerked when those hands traveled up his knee to his thigh, and from his elbow up to his shoulder. Eyes shot open Travis stared right up at Michael’s half-lid eyes.

“You still owe me a kiss.”

“Will you leave me alone?”

“No.”

“Then why would I?”

“You promised.”

Travis sighed loudly. He could just hold on a little longer until he could be alone.

So with his choice decided on Travis braced himself. As his put his hands on the man’s shoulder, Michael pressed his body closer. His hand on Travis’ thigh guided Travis’ leg around his waist. The hand on his shoulder moved to feather over his neck and jaw in anticipation.

Travis had kissed many people before. He’d touched others in much more obscene places. Yet with this man, as a stranger or as a general, he’d always been unsure like some inexperienced virgin. Travis nervously moved his hands from the man’s shoulders to smooth over the man’s chest and collarbone. The firm muscles against his palm tensed and flexed before relaxing. He was aware of how much closer Michael pressed against him. Their heat mingled.

“This doesn’t feel right.”

“No?” Michael lifted an eyebrow at him, showing he had not expected that.

Travis grabbed hold of Michael’s shirt and pulled him down. Just before Michael might smash lips with him, Travis quickly put both hands against the man’s jaw and deftly locked their lips together. Michael simply held himself atop Travis. It was a big of a struggle but Travis managed to tease Michael’s lips open. Before completely putting his tongue completely inside Michael’s mouth Travis flicked it against the parted lips.

To catch his breath he pulled away quickly, and just as he inhaled pulled back in to lock lips with Michael again. This time Michael’s lips parted without prompting. Travis lapped against the slightly parted lips before pressing forward again to stick his tongue in. He moved his hands from Michael’s jaw to wrap around the man’s shoulders and pulled him closer until there was no space between them.

First thing he did when his tongue moved inside Michael’s, was run along the roof and walls of the man’s mouth. The other man ran his own tongue under Travis’ tongue to tickle it. He shivered underneath Michael but refused to let him take the lead. Travis ran his tongue against the man’s teeth before dueling with Michael’s tongue again.

Not before long a moan escaped Michael and Travis finally relented. He released Michael from his hold and pulled their lips away. He grinned at Michael who slowly opened his eyes again.

“Quite a kiss,” Michael mumbled. They were both breathing heavily, face flushed, and neither of them wanted to move.

“Why do you change your accent?” Travis asked. Although Michael had kept his exotic accent that he still couldn’t place, Travis recalled that Michael most often spoke in a Roman accent. He remembered that Michael used this exotic accent the night they danced together. Although there wasn’t much said, he remembered the few polite responses Michael had said.

“Will you bond with me?”

“Please stop asking.”

“Then don’t ask.”

“Bonding with you is of the same importance as changing accents?” Travis asked in outrage. What kind of ridiculous notion was that?

“It is.”

“I don’t want to bond.”

“Why not?”

“You’re Roman.”

“Not anymore.”

“What do you mean not anymore?”

“One does not need to be native to serve the Roman Empire,” Michael explained. Well that explained a lot about the size of their military and their might. “I was not born in Rome, and succeeding our dance last night was my final service.” Travis cocked a brow at Michael this time. “Still you will not consider bonding with me?”

“What is this bonding you refer to?” Travis asked finally. “Sex?”

Michael laughed. He looked to the side and took Travis’ hand in his. Their fingers intertwined as their palms pressed together. He brought their interlaced hands to Travis’ view.

“Bonding is the term we use where I’m from. It’s something similar to your term for marriage.” Michael seemed to think about it. He nodded as if the explanation was adequate.

“So you become mine and I become yours?”

“That’s a nice idea too,” Michael smiled with a considering expression. He shook his head anyway. “But that’s not what we mean by bonding.”

“No?”

“It means I am with you and you are with me.”

“Always?” Travis blanched. He wouldn’t really want to be tied to the hip with his partner, even if Travis was undeniably attracted to him.

“Not literally,” Michael chuckled. He kissed Travis on the forehead. “But when you want me or need me I will be there for you, and when I want you or need you then you will be there for me. It is not a promise or a vow, as your marriage tends to be. On the Isle, bonding is separate to marriage.”

“How so?”

Michael thought some more, as if he couldn’t quite figure out how to explain. “Marriage is like living life together. Bonding is more about serious. There is only ever one bonding. A betrayal to your partner is a betrayal to the self. While we both can live as individual, we both also live as one.”

Travis didn’t quite understand it but he did understand it a bit. The severity of bonding meant a lot more than marriage. Something Travis found he could quite easily believe in, because he’d seen too many people break their vows or betray their partners.

“Will you bond with me?” Michael asked him the same question again.

“That would me I have only you.”

“And I will have only you.”

“You’re sure about this?”

“I’ve noticed you a long time ago,” Michael chuckled. This time Travis closed his eyes as the man kissed just below his eyebrow. “I would not ask if I was not certain.”

Travis sighed.

“No.”

Chapter Text

“Would you like to come inside?” he’d asked.

Nico had never felt more grateful for an invitation, as when Will had asked him to join him inside. He expected another truth-wrenching conversation from his consort. Instead, when he locked the door, Nico was suddenly pulled along up the stairs. He had asked why Will was in such a hurry, until they reached his consort’s room.

“Will-” he’d tried to talk but was pushed against the back of the closed door. Will stepped up against Nico, encasing himself in Nico’s arm, and kissed Nico hungrily. He quickly relented and allowed his consort free rein.

First his cape had been unclasped. Their kiss broke and then Will started pulling at Nico’s shirt and vest while pulling him toward the bed. Will walked backward and didn’t seem to gauge his steps properly because he knocked into the edge of his bed and ended up sitting down. He had started to get up but Nico had signaled him back on the bed.

Somehow Nico had stripped in the darkness, his clothes messily thrown about the room. Will had hastily undressed as well and pulled Nico down the moment Nico had dropped his belt to the floor. And that was exactly how Nico ended up lying in his consort’s too small bed half naked.

He waited in anticipation as Will struggled in the small space of the bed to lie on the bed with him. Finally Will gave up and climbed over Nico to lie on top of him. Nico smiled into the kiss his consort gave him. It was a warm kiss, their tongues meshing and their bodies pressing against one another. Nico groaned into the next kiss when Will’s pelvis dipped into his and their hardness pressed against one another.

Nico lifted his hands up to cup Will’s lower back. He slid them down to the man’s butt cheeks. Nico laughed into the next kiss when Will pinched his arms.

“Don’t,” Will grumbled irritably. His consort glared down at him.

“You’re too slow.”

“You are too fast.”

Nico gave him a wicked smile. “Four years.”

Will rolled his eyes and dropped his head on Nico’s shoulder. He struggled not to take their recreational activity any further than Will wanted. As earlier expressed, Nico couldn’t freely move out in the way he wanted. Will was a son of Delphi, and lived a relatively unprivileged but protected lifestyle. Patiently he waited, not moving his hands from the two globes they’d taken hold of.

“That can’t be your excuse for everything,” Will finally said. This time his arms rested over Nico’s chest and his chin rested on his arms. He stared up at Nico in a curiously boyish way.

“Of course not.” Nico paused. He waited a bit longer before adding, “Just with you.” He squeezed the cheeks in his hands and laughed when Will yelped.

“Honestly!”

He wasn’t quite sure if that was a demand for an honest answer. Nico answered anyway. “Many years.”

“Four years is really long,” Will agreed. He turned his head down and moved his hands over Nico’s bare chest. He seemed mesmerized by the scars, but even more so by the ridges chiseled by Nico’s muscles.

“Longer,” Nico decided to reveal. Will was just in the middle of testily nipping at Nico’s nipple when he looked up in confusion. The question was in his scrunched up gaze. “There was only ever you.”

It took some time before the meaning sunk. Will gasped out, “You mean…” Words seemed to fail him so he tried again. “You mean as in…?”

His patience wore thin finally. Nico quickly explained, “Yes. I was almost fifteen years old when I first saw you.” His consort’s pretty mouth dropped open. “I had been sent to find your brother.”

“Asclepius,” Will quickly surmised. He nodded. “My brother did mention this. You braved through gods know where, fetching my brother in swamps and mountains.” Nico bit back a laugh. Asclepius, the old man had been shocked the first time Nico had come calling. After all, a young boy such as himself having tracked down the continent’s known wanderer? No one could believe it until it had happened.

“Should you not focus on finding pleasure?” Nico prompted with a change of subject. Will rolled his eyes again with an exasperated huff. He thrust his hips and Will’s face turned red. His consort’s face warped into irritated frustration. Nico pushed against his self-control again by trusting his hips up one more time. He did it again when he saw Will’s muscles waver.

Will sat up on Nico and glared down at him. Nico allowed the man to remove his hands. Next Will crossed his arms to his chest and positively pouted. Nico laughed for a second at the very image. Will Solace, son of Delphi, Prince-Consort of Erebus, and possibly Nico’s only salvation in life—and here he was sulking like a too-often indulged child.

“Don’t laugh.” For a moment Will was resolute with the demand. Then after Nico agreed with a nod, Will’s eyebrows knitted in confusion. This time his pout was less pronounced. This was the more natural pout where it was more about being puzzled and uncertain instead of anger and demand.

“Are you considering a change of position?” Nico asked him.

“It didn’t sound right,” Will mumbled. He slumped his shoulders and pressed his hands down onto Nico’s stomach and chest. Nico waited for the explanation. “When I said ‘don’t laugh’ it didn’t sound right.” That confused and hurt look on Will’s face cracked at something fragile inside of Nico. He wanted to fix it for Will so badly, to take away the pain and wrap Will in his protection.

“Should I leave?” Nico asked. He could see that Will was struggling.

“No!” Will shouted. In the dark Nico couldn’t quite see, but through the dim light from the window he could see Will’s face flushing pink. Fingers quivered against Nico’s abdomen but then balled into fists in an attempt to stop the display of weakness. Only it wasn’t weakness to Nico. “No…” Will sighed out in a calmer voice. He took another breath and Nico waited. “Laughing and smiling,” Will nodded as he said the words as if convincing himself.

“What about it?” Nico hadn’t exactly thought much on the question he asked.

Will’s expression was one of pain but not for himself. “I like it when you smile and laugh.” Nico didn’t understand. “You don’t laugh or smile. Not much. Sometimes I worry you hate your life,” Will admitted to Nico and it was the first time he actually cared when someone told him he should smile and laugh more often.

He couldn’t quite help the sarcasm. “You’re going to tell me I look happier when I smile and laugh.”

Will moved his hands off Nico and held them together to stop their shaking. He was shaking so badly, as if frightened of something. “Not just look happier.” Will pulled his hands apart and pressed each down next to Nico and hovered over him. “You smile and laugh because you feel happy. I want you to be happy Nico.”

“Why?” Nico asked, and with that simple question he just asked the most depressing thing he’d ever asked Will. How far gone must Nico still be stuck in his own sorrow and misery—in the past—that he would question the reason he had to be happy with his consort. He should not have to question his happiness with the man he had wanted to marry. Yet he had—he did.

Then Will gave him the perfect answer. “Because I am your sky.” His gaze didn’t waver from Nico. It was evident in the way Will held himself above Nico and the honest look in those blue eyes that he meant it.

Nico let a smile spread across him and he laughed for a second. Will started to sit up in shock but Nico went against his earlier notion to stay still and grabbed Will. He pulled his husband down and held him tightly against his body, their heat intertwining and their scents slowly mixing.

“You never stop surprising me, Will,” he sighed into the crook of Will’s neck. Will didn’t reply.

“You’re never going to tell me what that means are you?” Will mumbled into Nico’s ear.

This time he quietly laughed. “Not tonight.” He could see Will rolling his eyes even though he couldn’t actually see it. “Were you or were you not endeavoring to ravage me?”

With a quiet laugh Will settled on top of Nico. “Not tonight.” Nico settled for holding Will in his arms uncomfortably in a small bed.

Eventually Nico and Will shifted onto their sides under the blanket, with Nico’s fur cape thrown over the blanket to keep them warm in the night. While Nico was awake the entire time, Will kept napping between the couple of hours they were in bed.

“Travis…” Will mumbled, half-asleep at one point. Will struggled against Nico’s hold and sat up. Nico followed, grumbling with the biting cold of the room as Will opened the window and looked outside. “Something’s wrong.”

“How do you know?”

“Because he’s knocking.”

Nico had heard a knock just earlier, but he’d chosen to ignore it because it was the middle of the night. The fact that Will kept nodding on and off but could still tell it was Travis irritated Nico somewhat.

“Why is he knocking?”

“Kahale is with him.”

Nico wasn’t going to repeat the question. He got out of the bed and started dressing in the dark. Finding his clothes was relatively easy, their clothes were the only things left on the floor. Will sat by the window while slipping on his clothes. Nico finished dressing before Will and left the room to answer the door.

“Travis,” Nico greeted the man just as he opened the door. He looked at Michael, who was no longer wearing his mask or the ridiculous feathered hat. “Kahale.”

“Prince,” Michael bowed his head in quiet reverence. Nico nodded back.

He saw the mixed emotions reflected in Travis’ eyes and pulled him inside away from Michael. “Are you okay?” Nico asked. He leaned in and sniffed Travis. There wasn’t a hint of alcohol on him. Nico grabbed his chin and looked him in the eyes in the dark. Red and dry, but not bloodshot or hazy. His pupils weren’t full or dark either. “Your hand, Lord Travis.” Nico held his hand out. Travis glared at him angrily but put his hand into Nico’s hand as well.

It took a moment, as Nico haven’t done it in a long time—a little over four years, but he felt the emotions take over him. Despair struggling against anger and rage, blanketed by a deep sadness and a sharp cut of betrayal. The betrayal felt a little more like lie, rather than disloyalty or unfaithfulness. Nico could surmise this dejection and hurt expression in Travis’ eyes came from Michael’s reveal. He wondered why it was Travis felt such dark emotions.

“I told you to accept,” Nico spoke softly. He was glad in some sense that Travis didn’t listen to his instruction. At this moment it was evident Michael could do more harm.

Travis pulled his hand away in a quiet, almost tired, manner. “He did not ask for marriage so I had the choice to say no.” Travis moved toward the stairs. “And I’m not ready to marry him just because you think I’m a nuisance for your own union, Prince.” Travis quietly went up the stairs, barely making waves—the opposite of what Nico was used to with the Stolls.

“What did you do?” Nico turned to Michael Kahale.

“I asked him to bond.”

“Bond?” Nico hissed. He pulled Michael inside and shut the door. He locked the door and pulled the man into the common room. With his voice low in tone Nico snapped at Michael, “I suggested asking to marry the man not bond with him!”

“Marriage doesn’t mean anything to me, Prince,” Michael coolly replied. “I want to bond with him.”

Nico fought down a frustrated groan. He quickly informed Michael, “He’s been forced into marriage agreements ten times since he left Delphi nearly two years ago.” Michael’s eyes went from unconcerned into a scowl. “He’s been put in front of an official, nearly married fifteen times. Travis has actually been married four times!” Nico took a deep breath and tried to stop himself from acting on the anger he felt. Normally Frank would be diffuse the situation for him, but he wasn’t here.

“If that’s true why would I ask him to marry me? He’s been married.”

“Those were never consummated, he’s had them annulled,” Nico added. He walked to the mantle and crouched down, deciding it was best if he started a fire to warm the house. He had a feeling he wouldn’t be going back upstairs to Will’s small bed.

Michael asked, “Why are you so concerned over his marriage?”

Nico stopped reorganizing the two logs he’d set into the fireplace. “You were the general, tell me what you know of Travis Stoll.”

“He’s Prince Will’s retainer and personal guard,” Michael answered.

Nico started the fire and poked at it until the ember started spreading over the log. It was a slow process.

“And?” he prompted Michael.

“He was knighted at the age of twelve, not much later became Prince Will’s retainer.” Michael paused for a second, suddenly understanding what Nico wanted him to understand. “He was knighted because he saved Prince Will’s life.”

Nico knew the story. “How much can a twelve-year-old boy do, really?” Nico questioned out loud. Michael’s gaze darkened and anger radiated off him. Nico watched the fire as it started to slowly and steadily burn.

“So you wish to repay him for saving your consort’s life?”

Nico waited until the fire burned hot. He stood up and moved away from the fire. Nico listened carefully and heard the muffled voices from upstairs in Will’s room.

“He is a son of the Duke,” Nico reminded Michael.

“I know this.”

“One of many sons, and as a young impressionable boy he saw the young general of the Roman Empire.” Nico patiently waited for Michael to understand what Nico meant. No one probably knew it, because at the time Travis had probably been one of many young men at the time when Michael first took office and came to visit Delphi. Of course he probably never noticed Travis at the time. “A secret love that grew throughout the years until when his closest friend was to marry and move away, and his own fate uncertain…” Nico moved toward Michael and stared at the man before asking, “What could he do with nothing to lose?”

Michael stepped away from Nico. “I still don’t understand the motive.”

“How did you feel when you heard Travis eloped with Will?” Nico asked. The simple question trigged a flare of anger on Michael’s face. The man released a deep and guttural growl. Hands clenched and unclenched before Michael’s face went blank. “Even if Will and I have an official wedding, Travis would still meet with punishment and prejudice once he returns to Delphi.”

“I know this.”

“When Will had decided to run away from Delphi, Travis had a choice to either bring him back or run with him. He chose to run,” Nico added.

Michael supplied the rest, “He went with Will because a knight decides on the lord he serves, not the other way around.” Nico nodded at that. “But not everyone would find what he did commendable.”

“It is the duty of one’s lord to help them find an advantageous marriage,” Nico added.

“What’s your point here, Prince?”

“You are the more advantageous marriage, and one he has always wanted,” Nico explained. He hadn’t thought he would have to actually give word to the explanation. Michael should have known, since he’d already been aware of it. “A prince of the Isle of Cythera, a former general to one of the world’s largest military, a renowned warrior, and someone Travis wanted. You were the best candidate for marriage.”

“Then why did he say no?” Michael growled at Nico in demand.

“You asked him for a bond, not marriage!” Nico snapped. Even Nico wouldn’t ask Will for a bond when they it was so clearly obvious they barely knew each other. “Think about it.”

“I have been watching him since his debut!” Michael snapped at Nico, not caring about his volume.

“And he has watched you since you became a general at the age of eighteen,” Nico pointed out. Michael glared at him in more cluelessness. “It’s been twelve years, Michael. He’s had three dances with you. The first time was a desperately short dance four years ago, you can’t answer him to do something as severe as a bonding right and expect him to agree.” Nico couldn’t explain it any simpler.

“But he would have agreed to a lifetime in marriage?” Michael asked.

“Travis Stoll will grow more stubborn the more chances you give him,” Nico said with a sigh. There really was no point in continuing this conversation. “You have until my official wedding to get him to agree. I don’t care whether it’s to marriage or to bonding, but I will not let the one person who has stood by Will the entirety of his life go unattended and unprotected into the palace.” With that said Nico walked away, dismissing Michael Kahale and ending this conversation.

Chapter Text

A noise came from the front of the horse stalls late at night. Nico was prepping two of the horses when Will ran through the front entrance.

“Will, what’s wrong?” Nico asked as Will barreled toward him.

“Where is he?”

Nico blinked back at Will. It had only been a couple hours since Nico left Will’s house. He came straight to the stables to prepare the horses. Nico had packed the necessary rations and papers necessary for entering the palace.

“Michael. Where is he?”

“He may have joined the patrol,” Nico replied. It would have been helpful it the man had, as many of the patrolmen were volunteered townspeople. He clenched his fist at the thought that he couldn’t spare any more time to keep the town safe.

Will clicked his tongue in frustration. Then he turned his gaze on Nico and asked sharply, “Where are you headed?”

“Nowhere yet,” Nico answered.

“You’ve horses readied.”

“Frank will be escorting a lady to the palace ahead of us,” Nico quickly informed Will. He didn’t want Will to know about Hazel just yet. Some irrational part of him was certain that if he explained everything to Will now that she too would meet with misfortune.

“You mean her,” Will seethed in a dark tone. Nico sighed out a smile, stepped forward and kissed Will’s cheek. “Don’t try to distract me,” grumbled the stubborn man. Nico shook his head and took the reins of both horses into one hand.

He held out his free hand to Will, who reluctantly took it. Nico led both horses and his consort out of the stables into the chilly night. He could tell the cold was biting, but he turned and smiled at Will who shivered and pulled at the opening of Nico’s fur cape he had donned. While Nico might favor the cape he surely enjoyed the sight of it being worn by his consort much more. Preferably with nothing else on under.

“Angel!” Frank called out in the dark and waved. He casually held Hazel’s hand as he led her down the street. It was much too similar to the way Nico had held Will’s hand—which apparently had been improper. So Nico glared at the familiar and intimate handholding until they came close and Frank noted the way he was staring at them.

“You know you can stop calling him that,” Will said to Frank.

“No way, he’s the Dark Angel you know,” Frank grinned. Nico considered where best to stick his dagger into Frank. He judged himself sorely remiss as he didn’t think to put on all of his weapons to see them off.

“Lady Hazel Levesque of Rome,” Nico started the introductions with a calm he didn’t want to express when he felt such desires of stabbing Frank in his gut, “this is my consort, Prince Will Solace.” Will greeted her brightly and shook Hazel’s small hand.

Compared to when they first met, Hazel was wearing pants instead of a dress. She was dressed like a boy, and if it wasn’t for her curly brown hair that came down past her shoulders Hazel may have passed as a boy. Nico saw the hat in her other hand, the leathered belt with a sword just a little too long for her.

“Frank,” Nico called to the man. He pulled Frank away after handing the reins for the horses to Will. “You vowed you would protect her.”

Frank’s expression scrunched into a terrifying expression. “I won’t let anyone hurt her again.”

Nico caught onto the word. “Again?” The question was really a demand. Frank’s jaw worked for a bit before he peeked over his shoulder back to where Will and Hazel stood. Nico noted that the two stared at each other awkwardly. Hazel was naturally unsure how to speak with Will, and Will likely had the wrong assumption therefore had no words for her.

“It was her,” Frank whispered harshly when they turned away from the other two. Nico waited for Frank to the words of explanations he needed. “She was the one they threw into the Pit.” Frank’s expression was definitely something his dark rider mask couldn’t portray. Anger wasn’t the right word to explain it either. Nico didn’t have to touch Frank to feel the dark emotion radiate off him.

Nico had questions for Frank but he knew it was not the time, and that it wasn’t Frank who should answer them. They both walked back to Hazel and Will who standing by each other in polite silence. Nico cut in front of Frank and helped Hazel up onto her horse. Frank quickly swung up on his own horse with ease after double checking their supplies. Hazel huffed nervously as she sat underneath the powerful stallion whose breed many often confused.

“His name is Arion,” Nico told her. Hazel looked down at him, fear clear in her golden eyes.

“Nico that horse barely let you ride him,” Frank groaned out. Nico ignored Frank’s warning. While he may have bought Arion off a crooked merchant two days ago, he’d known the history of the animal long before he’d met the beast.

“Is the animal… safe?” Hazel hesitant to ask.

Arion huffed at Will when he tried stepping closer. Nico quickly pulled Will behind him. “He’s got a bad temper,” Nico admitted. The look of fear was clear on Hazel’s face, but he assured her Arion would never harm her. “He likes you.”

“How do you know?”

“Because you’re saddling him,” Nico pointed out. Hazel looked confused. “Arion has never allowed anyone to ride him.” Hazel reached her hand out to the bay coat of the stallion and tentatively ran her hands through the beast’s dark mane. Some said Arion was a wild horse of unknown breed, others said he originated from Mount Olympus’s high mountains—an Andravida horse, while others accounted him from off the shores of King Poseidon’s archipelago realm.

“And me?” Hazel asked.

“You, he likes,” Nico assured her again.

“How do you know?” came the question again.

“He’s not trying to throw you off,” Nico said. Hazel opened her mouth to ask another question of him about Arion, but Frank intercepted before it became a routine and mentioned it was time to leave. Nico nodded and then bowed his head to Hazel just before she rode off.

Arion, for his benefit, did start out in a slow trot before he thundered off. Frank, in his own surprise, chased after Arion and the screaming Hazel into the night. Nico clenched his teeth so as not to laugh. He’d never seen Frank as flustered as when he was with Hazel.

Will grabbed Nico and turned him around. “When will you see him again?” Nico thought on the time. It was past midnight so he would assume that Michael’s patrol shift would get in within the next hour.

“An hour,” Nico answered. He stared at Will and tried to read his expression but it was never something Nico had been entirely good at. Will’s brows were furrowed and he wore a frown, but his eyes looked angry, while his nose scrunched up as if he was disgusted. Nico held out his hand and waited for Will to either reject it or accept it. When Will put his hand into Nico’s, he smiled at his consort and fought the urge to lean down and kiss him. Instead Nico kept Will’s hand in his and walked them back to his house in town.

Nico opened the door and waved always Jules-Albert and Marie who came bustling to the front. He looked down at their hands together and reluctantly let go of it. He walked up the stairs and could hear Will trail after him. Nico left the door open when he entered their bedchamber and threw himself unceremoniously onto the large bed.

“You’ve been busy when I wasn’t watching.” Will’s voice was a lot closer than Nico had expected. Only one person had ever been able to sneak up to Nico without his noticing them before. Of course one couldn’t very well expect to outdo their own predecessor.

He felt Will’s weight shift the bed as his consort sat down next to were Nico had collapsed face-down. Nico turned over onto his side and gazed up at Will lazily. It was probably improper in Will’s eyes to be lying about with his outdoor clothes on, his dirty boots uncleaned and still on as he laid on his bed. While Nico liked the luxuries that came to being a prince who could afford it, he had grown up used to the wild and with nothing but his clothes and the ground to make his bed. The time he spent in the Pit only fortified that habit.

“Are you going to bed now?” Will asked him.

“Michael is staying here.”

“In your bed?”

Nico coughed when the urge to laugh and to choke struck him at once. He hadn’t expected Will to misunderstand him at that specific point. He hadn’t meant that he would be sharing his bed with Kahale. Nico sat up as Will reached over and pounded on his back and offered to get him a glass of water. With a shake of his head Nico held on to Will’s arm to stop his consort from walking off on him. Will settled back down on to his bed and rubbed his back even though Nico was done with his spasm.

“I gave him one of the guest rooms,” Nico clarified. Suddenly Nico did feel like sleeping. Perhaps it was cowardly of him to want all of this to sort itself out without him. Instead of going to sleep he occupied his time unlacing his boots and yanking them off. Will stood up and unclasped the fur cape, draping it over the back of a chair by the bed.

“I need to speak with him.”

Nico didn’t even bother to look at Will. He stood up, his feet bare against the fur carpet at the foot of the bed. He’d already given Will the best possible answer he could. Michael would be back from his patrol within the hour. So with nothing to say Nico walked to his dresser and closet by the bedroom door and started undressing. He considered putting on sleepwear but Nico decided against that. Instead he grabbed a fresh set of his traveling clothes and left them folded neatly on his table in the middle of the room. All the while walking around naked—completely indecent in Will’s standards of course—Nico ignored Will’s impatience and set about getting his weapons laid out on the table for his journey in the morning.

When Nico turned back to the bed Will was half naked, boots off, standing with his feet apart and his arms crossed over his chest. Nico wanted to give up already but instead he walked to the bed and ignored his quickly burning desire to come together as one with Will. He slipped into his bed and under the covers, settling into the comforts of the mattress and waited to be screamed at.

He had no idea how to treat Will or how to react when it came to Will. He probably would never know. Will seemed bent on refusing Nico at almost every turn. It was abundantly clear that Will had handfasted with Nico in order to save the rest of his brothers from being assassinated by whatever crazy person wanted to be his prince consort. Will wasn’t entirely closed-minded on sharing more than just a bed with him, but he was skittish over any display of affection. While the man respected Nico’s feelings, he didn’t exactly reciprocate them.

A huff escaped above Nico’s back when Will climbed over him and came under the sheets next to him. Will settled in and stared up at the ceiling. Nico closed his eyes and tried to rest but it wasn’t long before Will started shifting and was sitting up in the bed, leaning his back against the headboard of the bed. Nico gave up and sat up and pulled over next to Will.

“What is it?” He ignored his baser desires to hold Will. Nico was sitting with his legs crossed under him and his bent knee pressed against Will’s thigh and café where his knee was folded up so he could lean his arm over it. For the foreseeable future Nico was probably not going to get any sort of sleep. It would do him well to press hard and fast toward the palace in the morning. It would take at least two days if he kept going with minimal resting. Four days if it took his time even if he rushed. It would have taken a week if he rode in a carriage or cart, being pulled along at leisure. That was something Nico would never get used to doing.

“You’re headed out tomorrow?” Will asked, as if he suddenly remembered that Nico had meant to leave days ago. If the festival celebrating his return hadn’t been held for three nights Nico would have left soon after their first night together. Or perhaps it just hadn’t been as important of topic to recall for Will…..

“Yes.”

After a quiet silence filled the room neither of them spoke. It felt like hours, but Nico knew that it had merely been seconds—maybe minutes. Then atmosphere had changed from impatient and charged into a seething anger that oozed off Will.

The question bit out into the cold of the room. “Were you planning to say goodbye at all?” Nico might have shrunk back if he was a lesser man. It was clear that he was being accused of something. Accused of not inviting Will to the join him on his travel to the palace? Accused of being unfaithful? Accused of tossing Will away? He wasn’t quite sure but the tone spoke true.

Without a clear answer to give Nico merely shrugged. “There’s no need to.” It must have been the wrong answer because although Nico tried not to look, out from the corner or his eye he saw the pain that cut Will before it was covered up.

“Is that right?” Will’s strained voice of anger tried to ask calmly. It wasn’t working out quite as Will had intended, but Nico was not going to risk telling the man that. Nico thought he was supposed to answer the question but thought better of it since Will’s tone made it sound rhetoric.

It was Will who spoke up again. This time anger trickled down from him as he spoke. “So no one in town is important enough to say goodbye to?”

Quiet seemed like the best answer. Nico thought hard on the reason why Will was angry but disgusted. The longer Nico was quiet without response the angrier Will became. He thought on Will’s words and tried to find the hidden meaning behind them. He asked if Nico was headed out, and Nico had answered because he was so used to only speaking on his behalf. Will then had asked if he had any notion to tell others he would be leaving and saying goodbye. He had said no and it was the truth, but that was because Nico was speaking only on his behalf.

“No answer to that either then,” Will sighed out loud.

Nico willed himself to move his body, mostly his mouth. He couldn’t apologize for his mistake since it was so natural of him to be alone—and it had been a long time since he held long conversations with anyone. Frank was often very susceptible to Nico’s thoughts and when he no longer wanted to speak. How could he explain without apologizing or making a fool out of either of them?

He could feel the urgency to speak before Will was even more infuriated. So he quickly opted for honesty. “I assumed you would be leaving with me.” Nico felt his face burn and he turned it away from Will. It wasn’t often but the unsettling itch to run made itself known at the pit of his stomach. This wasn’t a pleasant feeling—it reminded him of days long past that had made him regret many things.

Unexpectedly, although he should have expected this, Will leapt onto Nico and pulled Nico down onto the bed. He sprawled on top of Nico and grabbed Nico by his hair behind his ear, forcing him to stare right up at Will in the dark. If Nico was a lesser man he would have pushed Will away and ran as his body wanted, but if he could survive Tartarus he could face his consort in the dark.

“How was I supposed to know that?” asked Will, his warm breath wrapped around Nico’s chest with a huff. Nico stared up at the ceiling since he had no answer. It wasn’t out of some arrogance or dominant behavior that Nico had assumed Will would leave with him for the palace. It wasn’t that he had planned on making Will feel left behind or forgotten. Truthfully Nico had simply just forgotten that he was responsible for communicating with people and making his intentions with others clear.

“I’m not very good…” Nico paused as he tried to find the correct words. He had never been part of the court scene and was never good at being overly courteous or polite.

“You’re very bad at communicating!”

Nico groaned when Will pressed down on his chest and leaned against him to meet him face to face where they laid. Will quickly apologized and shifted his weight off Nico. He sat up next to where Nico was and hesitantly considered helping Nico.

“Sorry, I’m… I’m not very good at this sort of thing,” Will quickly said as Nico sat up. Nico didn’t know how to respond to that statement. It wasn’t as if Nico had ever been married before either.

“What do you mean?”

Will waved his hands about and Nico dodged the hands before he was struck in the face. “Sorry!” Will gasped again. Nico shook his head and turned to the nightstand by the bed and lit the candle. As the small light brightened the room Will’s features came into view.

“You’re worried,” Nico guessed, but it came out as a statement. He couldn’t quite help pressed his palm to Will’s cheek and trying to rub away the worry with his thumb.

“I’m just…” Will cleared his throat and looked down. He was now on his knees and his shoulders slumped. “I’ve already told you I’m not very experienced.”

“I know.”

Will looked at Nico hesitantly from under his lashes. It was the strangest thing to see. While he had seen many people give him such a look he had never found himself enthralled. He’d also never imagined someone of Will’s physique to have such a bashful look.

“Don’t…” Will grabbed the pillow and the rest of the sentence was muffled as he stuffed the pillow into his face.

“This part of you is surprising and very endearing,” admitted Nico. For a moment he thought saying so may have angered his consort. It took several moments before Will moved the pillow down to his chest and leaned his chin on the top of the pillow. “Husband,” Nico tried for a sweet and indulging tone, “I do believe we are both miscommunicating.” Will nodded, refusing to look Nico in the face. He waited to see if Will would respond and when he didn’t Nico prompted him with the question, “Would you like to explain first?”

A shake of the head came immediately.

“Very well.” Nico then asked instead, “What does your inexperience in bed have to do with this situation?”

Will launched into a long but quick explanation in one breath. “I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do, like if you take off your clothes am I supposed to take off mine or if I can wear my usual sleepwear, and is cuddling allowed because a lot of married couples don’t even share bedrooms and I’m not really sure I’m doing any of this right.” Will took in a deep breath and covered his face with the pillow again. It took a moment to process the words.

“Different topics,” Nico said once he realized it. “Will.” Nico took the pillow from Will and set it back on the bed. “We talked about this before, did we not?” Will scrunched his face in confusion at him. Nico further explained, “Neither of us wants a marriage like our parents’ if you recall.” Nico intertwined their fingers together and brought up their hands so he could plant a kiss on the man’s knuckles. “Just you,” he reminded Will quietly. Will nodded.

Nico sighed out because he knew he was definitely not getting the sleep he needed. “Perhaps you don’t mind sleeping now. We have an early start tomorrow.”

Will nodded again.

Once settled into bed again for the night Nico whispered exhaustedly, “Buona notte, amore.” Which did not mean farewell or goodbye, Will pointed out with a giant yawn and bleary closing eyes.

Chapter Text

“You…” Travis scowled over Will’s shoulder after he swung up on his horse. At first Will was confused but realized it wasn’t Will he was glaring at. He turned to look the other way and saw Michael Kahale leading his own white horse out from the forest toward the stables.

Will turned and glared at Nico who had just finished checking on his sacks. “I told you I wanted to talk to him,” Will said to Nico.

“I told you he was staying in the house,” Nico said tonelessly. He swung up onto his black horse and made a face. Will observed the way Nico took a couple times to settle into the saddle as if he was unused to it, and how he shifted his weight as if testing it… or himself. It had been two years since he returned to human society, but perhaps Nico wasn’t used to completely doing everything the same way as others anymore.

“Morning,” Michael greeted them as he rode his horse to them. He looked at Nico’s luggage and then at Travis and Will’s load. “Traveling heavy there my Prince,” Michael said. Will noticed that he had even less of a load than Travis and Will did.

“My employees seem to think I’m underweight,” Nico replied tonelessly still. Michael shook his head with a smile on his face.

“He thinks it’s funny,” Travis said quietly next to Will. Will still didn’t understand why it was funny. “The Dark Angel is known for traveling anywhere and everywhere. An experienced traveler knows how to travel light.” Will still couldn’t grasp the humor. Travis chuckled and smacked Will on the back.

“Am I supposed to understand why it’s funny?” Will asked as they all started their horses out on the road together. He saw the way Michael winked toward him and turned to look the other way to see Travis stubbornly looking away.

“Not if you’re a prince,” Nico answered next to Will. He stared off into the distance of the forest road they started traveling. Will scoffed, because Nico was clearly a prince so that meant he shouldn’t understand the remark.

He deliberated his response. Instead of some witty reply he simply pointed out, “You’re a prince too.”

“Wasn’t raised one,” Nico said back, his hand casually moving down to his sword he’d holstered to his saddle.

“So I’m the only one who isn’t supposed to understand this because I was raised in a palace?” Will asked. The insult actually stung. “Why do you let your servants overload your horse if it’s such a bad idea?” Will actually didn’t want their first conversation in the morning to be an argument. It couldn’t be helped, he had to get up early but had still managed to get up later than Nico. Then he had to rush back to the house to inform Travis that they were going on the road again in short notice.

“I’m still a prince even if I wasn’t born one,” Nico answered.

Will felt the anger rise up and burst. “What does that even mean?” First Nico was a prince, but he wasn’t one, and then he was one. Why was one simple explanation so hard for the damn man to give him?

“Are you doing this on purpose?” he grumbled at Nico.

“I do seem to have a habit of angering you,” Nico responded, but his eyes were on the road. Will was unused to traveling with others, and especially with soldiers. While Travis might be considered a knight and soldier, most of his career was spent as Will’s retainer. There were times Travis was called out to escort someone across the country or to another estate, but he’d always been a relatively good travel companion. It was apparent that Michael had lost his humor and jabs as they started on the road, and Nico had been on edge before they even left town.

“Are you always this unpleasant?” Will asked, but he hadn’t meant to say it out loud. It came out and he couldn’t take back the words.

“Yes.”

There was no pause to that answer. Nico honestly believed he was unpleasant company and that no one would enjoy a conversation with him. It said a lot—too much. Will wished even harder he hadn’t said a thing.

“Alright newlyweds, don’t make me stab one of you,” Michael sighed out loud. His deep voice resonated in the quiet of the morning and Will let out a yawn.

At first it was quiet so Will had assumed the conversation had died. Then Travis was slapping his arm as he was rubbing the sleep out of his tired eyes. He turned to Nico and Michael who were on his left and noticed the way Nico had grabbed Michael’s arm while the horses kept trotting along.

“Nico?” Will called out to him cautiously.

Nico released Michael’s arm and grabbed the reins tightly. He turned his gaze back to the road and glared at him. When Will called out to him again Nico still refused to answer. Will turned to Travis and the both shrugged.

Late in the afternoon they stopped by a lake to rest and water the horses. Nico pulled a filled sack from off his horse and set it down where they had all gathered to sit down. He opened the sack and toss them each an apple.

“That food is going to perish before we make it to our destination,” Michael said before he took out a knife from its hidden spot in his booth. He peeled the apple, round and round, until the peel came off as one strip.

Nico stared at the apple before squeezing it and then taking a bite out of the apple. He then took the apple Will was about to bite into and exchanged it with the apple he’d just bitten into. Will stared at the apple in his hand in confusion before Travis burst into laughter and bumped his shoulder.

“What’s funny now?” he sighed to Travis.

“He was checking for poison,” Travis chuckled.

Will sighed. “I know. I can check for my own poison.”

“Also true,” Travis admitted with a shrug. “But it’s cute, your prince wanting to protect you.”

“I can protect myself.”

Travis laughed. “No, you can’t.” Will punched Travis in the chest and Travis punched him back. Before long they were both rolling on the ground wrestling each other.

Just when Will thought he had Travis someone pulled him up off the other man. Their arms hooked under his shoulders and held him off the ground. Will could see Travis staring up at them wide eye from the ground as he started to sit up. The question had started to form on Travis’ lips but his voice never came out.

Nico stood up from the sack of food he had been inspecting. Will could only assume it was Michael that was holding him up. His feet hit the ground as he was set down and he could feel Michael take several steps back from him.

“Will, are-” Travis started to ask as he stood up and headed toward him.

“Stop!” Michael snapped. Travis stopped and they both looked at Michael. He was a big man and he had been a general. It was rare to hear caution and fear in his voice. “Step away from the prince,” Michael ordered. He held out his hand to Travis. At first they were both confused, staring between each other and then realizing the prince wasn’t in reference to Will. They both looked over to Nico who had a dark look on his face—a bloody hollow look.

“Not you!” Michael shouted when Will stepped back. “You walk to him. Travis, come away from them.” He watched as Michael kept his gaze on Nico but waited for Travis to step back to him slowly. When Will turned to look back at Nico the look hadn’t lessen any. Nico still looked like he was liable to kill someone in a moment’s notice.

“Nico?”

Nico’s posture suddenly changed from a threatening stance to a confused one. His eyes cleared and he ran his hand through his hair as if battling with understanding. Nico locked his gaze on Will as if he just saw a monster and then quickly looked away as if disgusted.

“How are you feeling, Nico?” Will asked. His earlier fear dissipated as concern nestled into the pit of his stomach. Was it post-trauma from the Pit? Some disorder he regularly experienced as a child? Or, was this just him acting like the Dark Angel or rumor? Will found himself in front of Nico but had no memory of walking there.

“Don’t,” Nico’s hoarse voice squeezed out as he pulled away. Will slapped away Nico’s hands and put one palm on Nico’s face and the other over his neck. “I’m not…”

“Your pulse is fine, your eyes look normal,” Will said quickly as he examined for any defining factors of a condition. He felt under the man’s jaw and pressed his fingers on the man’s forehead and cheek muscles to see for any pain. There wasn’t any reaction.

Nico grabbed him by the waist and hugged him tightly. Will felt his face flush at the unexpected hug. It wasn’t desire or yearning that commuted from the embrace, it was a desperate emotion that radiated toward Will. He could almost describe this feeling he got from Nico as a fear or loneliness—no, abandonment. The question was why someone who was normally so arrogant and confident so frightened.

“I’m perfectly fine,” he assured. Nico’s gaze turned down at their feet instead of his face. Shame. “Travis and I are old friends, we fight but it’s just fun.” Will tried to assure Nico it was alright. Nico took a shaking breath and then nodded just before letting him go. “It’s safe, Nico. We’re safe.” Nico nodded again.

They heard a noise from the forest and Nico quickly tensed. His hand went to one of his throwing darts on the sash across his chest. Will grabbed his wrist and met Nico’s gaze. It wasn’t that dark look from earlier or one of fear and worry. It was just primal instinct, as if Nico was so used to defending himself it wasn’t just habit it was natural.

Will held his breath and listened as the rabbit bounced off into the forest. “Just a small animal.”

“Critter.”

“What?”

“Nothing of import,” said Nico. He sat down with Will by the sack of food and the things he’d already had laid out. “Can you truly tell when something is poisoned?” Will noted the change in the conversation topic, but he let it be.

“Some poison yes, because they leave traces. Some poison will show up when they’re mixed with silver. Others leave a scent or have a taste. Some change colors. Few are untraceable.” Will stared at the apples laid out by Nico. “You smelled the apples?” Nico nodded. “Anything different?” He shook his head. “No punctures, either I would assume.” Another nod. Will stared at the apples a moment and smiled at Nico. “I’m sure it’s not poisoned. You could wash it before eating, or peel it like Michael had.”

“Smart,” Nico said and it was clear that in his head he had just classified the apples as safe. “What about cooked food?”

“Scent and color,” Will answered. “It’s not always the best indicator but it helps. A lot of people also think that poison will not affect how the food comes out, but it does. It’s not like adding water to something, some poison does change the color or smell. Sometimes it might change the entire texture of food.” Will had gotten used to distrusting the food he ate at the palace, but he’d never really thought about being poisoned since he left. It was always a sort of game to Will, and at some point Will had gotten good at guessing.

“How did you learn this?” Nico asked in a suspicious tone.

“Trial and error,” he hesitantly answered with a grin. The scowl he received could smother a person into apology. Good thing Will wasn’t sorry about it. “Don’t worry it’s mostly a game anyway.”

“A game?”

“I’m a prince,” Will rolled his eyes. Nico scrunched his eyes in confusion but also in quick reprimand. While he may be younger than Will, it was fairly obvious that Nico di Angelo was much more overbearing. “Since young we’ve been fed small doses of different poisons to create an immunity.” This time Nico stared at him flabbergasted, genuinely awed by Will’s confession. “Travis and Connor used to have to test my food before I could eat it,” he pointed out. He looked up where Travis and Michael were standing. Travis was arguing with Michael, although it looked more like Travis was the one arguing because Michael was calmly responding.

Nico stared at the loaves of bread and the wrapped meat. The question was obvious.

“Baked items if you cut a piece and look it’ll be easy to tell. You can’t wash it so it can still be tainted. The types of poison that are untraceable tend to cost a lot of money. So unless someone really wish you’re less likely to be poisoned by those.” Will suddenly was glad that some of his instructors’ teaching managed to stay in his head.

“Cost more?”

“Yes, they’re hard to get so…” Will stopped his explanation when he noticed the confusion on Nico’s face. “Am I explaining it too fast?” Will asked as he broke a loaf of bread in half. First he sniffed but he couldn’t find a strange scent from it. There wasn’t a discoloration either.

“I see, because the quality is better…” Nico mumbled. Will smiled so as not to laugh rudely. Not that Nico was slow, but it was obvious this wasn’t exactly something he grew up into. It was obvious that most of what he knew, fighting, riding a horse, hunting and his learning abilities were picked up along the way. He never had a proper instructor the same way a real prince would have inside a castle or a palace.

“You’re definitely one of a kind,” Will chuckled.

“Hm?” Nico looked at him after trying to examine the second load of bread the same way as Will had. He put the loaf down next to the one Will had just examined earlier. “What conversation are you on this time?” asked Nico.

Will glared at Nico but he could see Nico said it good-naturedly. “I’m talking about you. You grew up in the border towns, didn’t you?”

“We grew up in the Styx,” Nico said as he examined the second loaf. Nico looked up when Michael threw Travis over his shoulder and walked off with him into the forest. Without so much as a concern Nico turned back to the slabs of meat wrapped up in large green leaves. He unwrapped each and smelled them and looked for discoloration.

“We?”

“The Ghosts of the Ghost King are those raised in the Styx,” Nico responded without really sounding as if was part of the conversation. Nico pulled out one of his throwing darts and cup a part of the beef from the slab he had been examining and threw it away.

Styx. He’d heard that term before and Will wasn’t quite sure who had explained the meaning to him. Rosa and Leo had told him about the Styx. That’s what the Erebians called No Man’s Land. Rosa and Leo had said that Erebus honored those who called the Ghosts, the ones who survived crossing No Man’s Land. However, Nico had just said that they were raised in the Styx.

“You didn’t just cross it?” he ventured the question, but wasn’t sure to expect an answer or not. Nico sat in complete silence as he continued examining the food that had been packed into the first sack his servants had given him. “Rosa and Leo from town had said the Ghosts are those who crossed the Styx. And I assumed you were the Ghost King because you said you were raised there.”

“Where is the safest place to send your child to protect them from your enemies?” Nico asked him without answering the question. At first Will thought Nico was dodging the question and had decided not the answer. “You put them where no one can reach them.” Nico started packing all the items back into the sack in the order he had received them.

“Isn’t the best way to keep them with you?” Will asked, but he had already known the answer just as he finished asking.

“Your people call it No Man’s Land for a reason.” Nico finished packing and whistled for his horse. The black stallion sauntered over from the edge of the lake and sniffed at Nico. He reattached the sack onto the horse and took down the second sack to examine the contents. Nico nodded the horse away, and as if the animal understood the command it did just as he’d been silently commanded to do.

“You were left in the middle of nowhere in war torn borders to keep you safe?” Will asked in shock. He couldn’t imagine his father, as irresponsible and indifferent as he was, to do such a thing to any of his kids. The thought of Nico growing up in the No Man’s Land rather than a border town frightened him. He’d been told this before but he’d been busy considering other things the other day. The extent of Nico’s experiences scared him. The scars on his body and the calluses on his hands were small little cracks that hid what Nico truly had gone through.

“Percy and Jason were both left in the Styx too. They were at different ones from the one my sister and I were raised in, but one day Percy came through and tried to cross the Styx where I was raised. He almost died.” Nico very obviously locked his jaw as if he was trying not to grit his teeth. He stopped unpacking the next bag of food and was suddenly lost in his own world. Will wanted to ask but he could tell that the even bringing up his relationship to the other princes was difficult for Nico.

“He’s alive,” Will added because he didn’t know what else to say.

“Yes he is.”

Nico continued to looking over the second sack of provisions. He held cheese out to Will with a question in his eyes.

“Texture, smell and make sure it’s the kind that doesn’t have holes.” Will took the block of cheese. He borrowed Nico’s cutting knife and slicked off the exterior as thinly as he could. “There you go.” Will then stared at the cheese he had scraped off and took his chances at eating it. Since the taste wasn’t different from the cheese he was used to Will assumed it was not poisoned and that the cheese was safe.

Nico sat down next to Will and stared down at Will. At first Will was wondering if he was sitting strangely but then Nico grabbed hold of Will’s cloak. His fingers rubbed against the material in question. The question was very obvious but Will waited for Nico to ask. Something that he clearly had to get used to was the fact that Nico was not used to talking or holding a conversation unless he thought it was necessary.

“Are you warm?” asked Nico into the silence.

“Yes.” Will then reached out and grabbed onto Nico’s black fur cape. “It’s not as warm as your cape here, but I’m okay.” Nico frowned but then nodded.

“We’ve paid our respects,” Michael announced as he and Travis stepped out of the forest. Will jumped up and had his sword in hand. It took him a moment to relax when he recognized Michael and Travis.

“Don’t worry,” Nico said as he grabbed Will’s hand and took it off the hilt of the sword. He kissed Will’s knuckles just before standing up. With a nod Nico told Will to follow him. “I’m here.” Will rolled his eyes skyward at the honesty arrogance of the man.

They trekked through the woods with an unmarked and apparently invisible path that only Nico knew. Finally they came upon a pile of stone, wood, and scraps of metal. At first he’d assumed it was an old dumping ground of unused material, but he saw the overgrown weeds and flowers. It was also apparent from the dried up flowers laid by the pile that this was a grave.

Nico stood at the grave before going down on both knees and kowtowing. He whispered to the person at rest while Will stood and watched. He had no idea whose grave it was or why Nico was so reverently mourning them after the fact. Will observed the man as he sat down cross-legged now instead of kowtowing.

“What was their name?” Will asked into the silence.

“Bianca di Angelo.”

The name of the town. He’d assumed it translated as White Angel in the language of this region. There was a reason Nico was called the Dark Angel.

“My older sister died here.” Nico’s eyes clouded in memory as he hung his head.

The most likely thing to do was give his condolences. He wasn’t exactly sure how long ago it was that Bianca di Angelo past away, but Will had never heard of her. It must have happened before Nico had been announced as a prince of Erebus. He had been really young when he first found Will’s ever wandering older half-brother the first time. At that time Nico had already been known as the Dark Angel, so that meant he lost his sister before that tender age. Will also remembered the story Nico told of growing up in the Styx and about the scars and the experiences there.

While Will was protected by others inside a golden palace where his biggest worry was being noteworthy to his father, Nico fought for his very survival. Will had tutors and teachers who gave him directions and lessons. Nico learned everything as it was necessary. It was suddenly so obvious that Nico was not refined or polite in the conventional way, but he was probably the most genuine and sincere person in the room. If there had to be someone who survived two years in Tartarus it would have been Nico di Angelo, the man that chose Will.

Words were lost to him. Will didn’t know what to say. He sat down on his knees next to where Nico had hunkered down. He stayed close. It was all he could do. Nico carried this sorrow with him since young, and all Will could possibly do was be there to help Nico stand up against the load.

“Percy almost died trying to cross the Styx a second time. During his journey with us he also had Thalia Grace and Annabeth Chase.” Nico’s eyes were still gazing into the past. Will was glad that the man was telling him what had happened in the past, but he wondered if he had simply wanted to tell the story or if he had wanted Will to understand. “They met the Hunters of Artemis.” Will’s aunt, the twin sister of King Apollo. While she held no position or estate of her own she was welcomed anywhere and everywhere. “Thalia and my sister made the decision to join the huntresses before they left with Percy.”

Nico paused and stayed quiet. They sat for what felt like an hour next to each other. Will took in the age of the vegetation and wild flowers around the grave. The rusting metal from the wear of weather and years also gave him an estimate. It had been over ten years since Bianca di Angelo was buried here.

“They were still being pursue. Percy is Poseidon’s only son with the blood of Mount Olympus in him. A lot of people are afraid of what that could mean. At the time Thalia was also the only child of King Zeus the world knew of. While Thalia could be safe by promising herself to the Hunters, Percy had no one to protect him. At the time one of generals of the Kronos Loyalists was out west of here.” It didn’t take much more explanation for Will to understand what had happened. He’d heard the story—even read the news report that followed it. Prince Percy Jackson was known for his exploits and heroism, he was the kind of person who fought for the rights of others. This was before then. This was the story of Percy Jackson as a greenhorn—the story where he lost comrades in battle for the first time.

“They had taken Artemis captive, so one of the veteran Hunters and my sister who had just joined them went with Percy and Annabeth.” Nico’s bare hands pulled at the weeds around them. His finger brushed by one of the wild flowers and Nico looked up at the grave again. “I left the Styx but I was too late.” Nico lifted his hands up to stare at his palms. The urge to hold Nico’s hand couldn’t be held back. Will reached out and gripped one of Nico’s hands. “She died here under armor and stone, holding off raiders and the Loyalists.”

“Your sister was strong.” Will couldn’t quite stop himself from uttering the words. The moment he came into contact with Nico it was as if he could see Bianca di Angelo kneeling where her grave was. He could imagine the scene Nico desperately ran toward, could see the way she knelt unrelenting, her head bowed, sword and dagger in hand. Bianca di Angelo was not the “white angel” her name claimed her to be. She had been a warrior, a fighter, a survivor.

“Yes she was.”

“Will you tell me about her?” Will finally asked. His heart lurched inside his throat as he waited. He felt as if he would burst in anticipation. Perhaps he’d overstepped his bounds.

Nico intertwined their fingers and pulled up Will’s hand again. He kissed the knuckles of Will’s hand before setting their interlaced hands down on his lap.

“She accepted me and loved me enough for the world.” Nico stared at the grave but no tears came. Will could clearly see that he was mourning, but it was as though the tears had dried up a long time ago. “She was smart and beautiful. She took care of me when I refused to grow up.”

“Was there a time when you were a selfish child?” Will tried for a jab but Nico gave him and smile that wasn’t quite a smile. The muscles in his face moved and formed a curve with his lips but it wasn’t a genuine smile of happiness.

“The only selfish thing she ever did was to join the Hunt.”

“You really loved her.” That had been a thoughtless remark. Of course Nico loved his sister. This moment he shared with Nico was proof of that. Even Will couldn’t remember a time in his youth where he felt such an unconditional love.

“She told me someday I would regret not studying to be a proper prince.” Then Nico turned to Will and his smile relaxed into a full grin. Nico bowed his head and bump his forehead onto Will’s shoulder. Will tried to tell him there was no such thing as a proper prince. After all one attempted at being proper but the court system was not always the same everywhere. In a different country the way Will was so reserved with affection could be considered deficient.

“You and I are very different,” Will sighed out. He looked up at the sky and blew out his breath in the cold air. “But I think we’re perfect.” Nico smiled then leaned in slowly to give Will adequate time to realize a kiss was coming. Will decided to lean into the kiss. In Will’s mind, there was no one more unique than Nico.

Chapter Text

Bianca di Angelo had mid-length hair. Unlike Nico’s silky dark waves, hers were a soft black that reflected sunlight like a quiet smile. She wasn’t used to being a princess or being called one, and although she wasn’t a fighter the same way Princess Thalia Grace was Bianca had known her place was with the Hunters of Artemis. It had pained her to make the decision to leave behind her brother but she had never been much of a leader. Bianca had been an older sister, she’d cooked and cleaned, and she had counsel with her younger brother during difficult and vulnerable moments of his life. Most of all she had done many unforgivable things to unforgivable people.

And yet, it had been her decision to leave her brother behind in that unforgivable place with those unforgivable people. He would probably never forgive her. She understood then why it was that they were in this predicament. This was not a punishment, this was her judgment. Before the battle had started Bianca had known she would be giving her life to save her friends. None of them had wanted to leave her behind but she had given them no choice, they’d been a horse short and with her added weight they would never have outrun the villains after them.

She stood in spot, knees bent and weapons readied. Bianca twirled the handle of her Stygian iron dagger in her palm. It was a habit she picked up from watching her brother practice throwing darts. Nico had always been more adept to these things, and it seemed to just come naturally to him. While she had always done her best to take care of her family, Bianca had never been one for fighting. Not like him, and some day he would be a hero.

Bianca felt the earth beneath her thunder. After life in the anarchic Styx, she’d grown accustomed to sensing danger when it approached her. Somehow she could sense how many men were on horses and how many were coming in her direction. It was like second nature to her. Of course she wasn’t experienced in fighting but she was confident that her survival skills would prevail. This was the first and last thing she would do as a princess of Erebus.

It hadn’t been long until the Loyalists arrived on horseback. It was easy for the Loyalists and hired men to recognize her as a member of Prince Percy’s party. After all she’d been the party’s guide out of the Styx and her opponents had followed. Those men had also known she was trying to buy time for her party, yet thought her a good and easy pastime. With their huge numbers there was no way she could hold them all off. But she had.

While she wasn’t an experienced fighter Bianca knew her way around a blade. The way she attacked was like that of an untamed wild beast, but the way she countered was like watching a graceful dancer lost in movement. Bianca took the first man who stepped into her strike zone. She’d swung her sword at his sword arm and quickly stepped into a twirl as if dancing, only to slice open the man’s throat with her dagger. Then without pause she turned her gaze on the rest of the men who came at her in numbers. Bianca didn’t stop, even when her wounds had exhausted her, when her armor had been pierced, when she could barely stay on her feet, Bianca continued to fight.

She should have been dead.

“Is that all you’ve got?” she had roared at her attackers. Now, it was true that the smartest thing the Loyalists could have done was just run back and then go the long way around to catch up to the travel party. However Bianca had been a young lady, this had been her first time out of the Styx, and she had already killed seven of them. So the last of the Loyalists who had tracked them rushed at her instead out of anger.

“You’re dead!”

“I will take you with me.” Bianca took a deep breath and held it in. The carnage of seven of their buddies laid over one another at her feet. She twirled the hilt of the dagger again and watched as the men ran at her all at once.

She had never been adept at fighting the way Nico had been. Bianca lived most of her life growing up faster than necessary. She had seen and done many things in her short time alive, but she had also been glad the last thing she could do was the one thing she had always done. No matter where he was she could always tell, and even in mid-battle it was the same.

When all her attackers had either run back the other way or died before her, Bianca had refused to hang her head. This was not finished yet. She had to protect everyone. Her wounds were too deep and she’d lost too much blood. It was obvious she wouldn’t survive, but she would not show weakness at her first and last stand. This was her judgement.

Out of strength, Bianca had knelt down on one knee. She’d been ready to stand and attack but she had already slain the last of the Loyalists and the raiders who attempted to cross her path. The blood that had been dripping from her forehead to her eye had long since dried itself up. All she had left was to stay where she knelt with the last bit of her strength. The pain had long gone numb too, and that was never a good sign.

“BIANCA!”

She had tried to move but she could not. That was okay however, because she no longer needed to go anywhere. Not with the Hunters, not with the travel party to rescue her new mistress, and not to fight or to run. Ever since young and even during her last breath Bianca did the only thing she had always done.

She smiled and greeted her brother. “Hey there Nico.”

“Bianca!”

She closed her eyes even when she saw that he was running toward her from the thick of trees he’d been combing through the last hour. And so her judgement had arrived. Bianca hung her head but refused to fall. She went to sleep still kneeling over the piles of bodies around her. Although she couldn’t hear or see Nico, a distant part of her felt his warm touch on her cheek.

 

Will opened his eyes and quickly sat up from where he’d been sleeping. He looked around, recognizing the little overgrown clearing as Bianca’s gravesite. As he tried to rack his brain for the memory of how he ended up there he was gravely aware of the fact that he’d been defenselessly asleep in the middle of the woods and it was already dark.

A shiver ran up from his shoulders and Will this time glared and looked around him. It was cold but he hadn’t felt cold when he’d woken up. His hand felt something coarse but soft underneath it. The touch was familiar and warm.

He blinked a few more times in hopes his eyes would adjust to the dark. Will traced his hand further, following the source of the heat.

“Nico?” Suddenly a well of emotion struck him. Will could remember the dream so clearly and it confused him. It’d been beautiful and horrifying at the same time. He couldn’t remember all of it just yet, but it was strange. There was a name on the tip of his tongue and he felt like breaking down into tears thinking of this.

A hand grabbed his and pulled him back down where he’d been lying. “Don’t touch there,” a rough voice grumbled into his ear. Will blinked away the tears and gasped to strangle back a sob.

“Nico?” he called out again and his voice sounded more strangled to him than before.

“Hm.”

“I can’t see.”

“It’s night.”

“What happened to the day?” Will felt himself being pressed into Nico’s board chest. It comforted him but as a man it shouldn’t. In all honesty Will had probably always needed the closeness that Nico had always boldly been able to express. A man shouldn’t feel comforted by being embraced or hugged, but the idea that Nico was watching out for him made him relax.

“We fell asleep.”

He could smell Nico’s scent, which wasn’t at all a musky scent as most would expect from a man. Nico had this fresh woodsy scent on him, a subtleness that seemed out of place for someone his size and personality. Weren’t men supposed to be spicy and musky? Not only did Nico have a strange ability to make Will feel like a vulnerable child incapable of protecting himself, his scent was unbelievably attractive.

“Aren’t you worried about Michael and Travis?” Will tried to look up but only managed to crane his neck to stare at Nico’s jawline and chin.

To Will the proximity to the heaviness of male scent often didn’t sit well with him. Nico became a large man in the four years they had been separated and yet his scent wasn’t heavy or musky. It was a light scent of nature which Will was immensely attracted to, and probably why he liked being near Nico even though he normally felt uncomfortable with such closeness.

 “They came by earlier. We’re camping here.” Nico’s arms wrapped around Will tightly and crushed him to Nico’s chest. Nico’s knee pushed in between Will’s knees and their legs intertwined.

“You know I’m not very used to this,” Will confessed.

“Sleeping outside?” Though it sounded like Nico sighed, it was certainly Nico’s version of a yawn.

Will pinched Nico, but all Nico did was flinch. “THIS,” he insisted. Then added, “It’s not really romantic to be sleeping next to a grave.”

“Don’t worry I properly asked permission to share the space,” Nico assured, which wasn’t something Will had thought of but also frightened him. Was it normal to sleep at a gravesite? Was it a custom to ask for permission from the dead to share their grave space? While Will thought of these things in growing horror, Nico chuckled into his ear and made the idea all the more embarrassing.

“I didn’t realize I was being judged for romantic deeds,” Nico whispered into his ear.

Judge.

Will struggled against Nico. It took a moment before Nico allowed him to sit up.

Judgement.

The emotions swelled up inside him again. The dream flashed through him and it was as if he was standing in this clearing a little over ten years ago watching the scene. He turned his gaze in the dark to the grave were the large pile of stones laid. Will rubbed his eyes and blinked a few more times. She was there. She was kneeling there, a smile on her face and her head bent down.

“BIANCA!” a child’s voice shouted in his ear. He swiveled around and watched a young boy with short black hair rush through the clearing straight to where she was kneeling.

“Bianca…” Will whispered. His mouth fell open.

“Hey there Nico…” had been her last words.

Will had dreams sometimes. Most of his siblings did. Dreams were important in their culture. He just never thought he would dream of something unrelated to himself.

“Will?” Nico sat up and touched his face. Will pulled away, he couldn’t concentrate on the irrationality he felt from his Nico. The dream was still happening and the younger Nico was still in his fresh in his mind.

“BIANCA!” young Nico shouted. Will stood up and stumbled over to Bianca’s grave. He knew it wasn’t real, he was seeing a memory from his dream but he didn’t remember this last part. His dream had nothing to do with Nico after he found Bianca.

Nico had been eleven maybe twelve years old when Bianca died. He remembered the stories of Nico’s scars and wondered which ones were before and which ones were after this moment. Will found it hard to believe this was a figment of his imagination.

“You promised!” young Nico yelled out to the night. He held Bianca tightly to his chest but she never fell from her kneeling stance. “You promised me Percy Jackson!” Nico had shouted but there was no answer. Will could feel the pain resonate into him. This moment was when Prince Percy lost a comrade for the first time, but it had been Nico who had lost his world forever. “GIVE HER BACK!”

“Will?” his Nico was kneeling next to him. He wondered why his voice sounded so urgent. “Will!” He grasped for Nico’s arms, unable to fall into the man’s embrace but unwilling to have him far away either. But why was Nico so alarm? His hands released Will’s elbows and reached up to his face. “You’re crying Will. Where does it hurt?”

Will almost wanted to laugh. His prince thought he was crying because of some physical pain. Sad to say it was being of a memory in a dream brimming through his eyes. Will pulled Nico closer and wrapped his arms around the man’s shoulders into a tight hug.

“It hurts to see,” Will gasped for breath, because of course he was crying. His tears were the reason Nico’s hands were on his face. He crunched his fingers and dug his nails into Nico’s back. “Nico, it hurts to feel.” He opened his mouth to try and breathe from his sobbing. Out of instinct Will bit down to stop from making any noise.

Nico’s arms around him tightened the moment Will bit down on his neck. He made no noise but Will could tell it must have hurt because it was unexpected. Will pulled his teeth away and quietly apologized. Nico pulled him closer.

“I’m right here and I won’t leave,” Nico whispered softly. His head fell onto Will’s shoulder.

The desire to sketch and draw the image burnt in his head was powerful. To paint it was even stranger. Will decided not to tell Nico exactly what he was thinking. Instead he said, “She went in her sleep, on her knees, waiting for you. She waited.” Both of them waited until Will calmed down and his tears were dried.

“She didn’t go in her sleep,” Nico finally spoke up. His hands were on Will’s hips, pulling him closer until their bodies felt as if there was no space between them. Nico kept his head on Will’s shoulder. “She died in carnage. She died fighting. She died alone.”

No, she did not.

“She went off to be a hunter, to be a hero and she died alone with no one there!” There was rage in the quietness of Nico’s voice. Not hatred toward anyone, just frustration over what he could not control.

“Everyone dies alone, Nico,” Will admitted. Despite all the poetry that was the honest truth. “But she waited for you.” Will bent his head down and kissed the top of Nico’s head. “She must have been happy to see you before she went.”

“Maybe.”

“She didn’t abandon you.” Somehow he just knew that deep inside Nico felt abandoned. In his head he had resolved this event and his feelings a long time ago, but inside he had not resolved anything yet. Inside he must still feel abandoned by the one person he had always counted on.

“I know.”

“She loved you.”

“I know.”

“I won’t leave you,” Will added. Nico simply nodded his head into Will’s shoulder. “So don’t let anyone take me.”

“I will protect you.”

“I can protect myself.”

“No, you can’t.”

“My personal safety is not up for your judgment, prince,” Will defiantly responded. It was starting to get irritating that everyone around him treated like he was a pampered royal. In a sense he was but he wasn’t entirely unworldly. “I am very capable of protecting myself and my honor, and it growing infuriating to be told otherwise.” Will relaxed into Nico’s hold and leaned back.

Nico looked up and grinned at him, the sadness and frustrated anger loss in his expression. This was not the abandoned brother left behind in a cruel world. This was Will’s handfasted prince. He could tell just exactly what kind of mood Nico had suddenly turned into.

Will repeated with insistence, “I am capable of protecting myself.”

“Yes, you are,” Nico agreed. There was that dark glint in his eyes that Will didn’t quite trust. “But I do it better,” he said and Will almost wanted to slap the man across his cheeky face. Rather than indulging in the impulse, Will struggled out of Nico’s hold and started out through the woods as Nico’s deep chuckle resonated through the quite night. He followed the small red flare illuminating the night, assuming it was where Travis and Michael had set up camp. That cheeky handfasted husband of his followed in quiet, slow pace a few paces behind him.

“Admit it,” Nico’s whisper was suddenly in his ear. Will felt his heart drop into his stomach. He hadn’t felt Nico’s presence at all. He had assumed Nico was still a few paces behind him, but he wasn’t. Somehow the man had crept right up to him without him even noticing. “I do it better.”

Will glared at Nico’s gaze. Something in those mysterious dark eyes said Will had to be careful with exactly how he answered. Nico wasn’t merely speaking about Will’s protection.

“Better than any other man you’ve ever had with you.”

Will’s face flushed.

“It’s true,” Nico insisted. He wasn’t being cocky. He didn’t sound cock in the least. The man saw himself as the better.

Will felt scandalized thinking about it. How dare Nico bring up a subject? He knew exactly how many partners Will had before and how inexperienced he was. Was he trying to embarrass Will or was he just trying to put out how lacking Will was? Was this some kind of way to tell him that he hadn’t done his duty in satisfying his husband? Will was too offended with those thoughts, but he didn’t want to react recklessly and brashly again.

With the greatest attempt to cool his own anger Will smiled at Nico using the most practiced “princely” smile he’d ever been able of gracing another person. In the most arrogant way possible he responded in the tone his brothers and sisters liked to use when speaking to people of low stations as if he was indulging in them, “That is for me make judgement on isn’t it, Prince Nico?” Then he turned and continued towards the camp, ignoring Nico’s reaction and expression and hoping he could keep his arrogant attitude up until he got back to camp so he could hide his embarrassment under a blanket.

Chapter Text

Will woke up with a sneeze. Nico barely slept at all. He kept waking up in the middle of the night highly aware of any sound and movement. Whenever Travis turned in his sleep or a critter scurried somewhere in the woods Nico would wake up. He’d never really spent the night out camping here, so close to where his sister had died.

Nico had already started the fire when Will started to turn over and then sneezed. Nico was too tense by the night to find it amusing so he continued to tend the small fire. Michael had gotten up thirty minutes before dawn broke and had gone into the woods to scout around the area. Nico had found it unnecessary. He was certain no one was around as he had been up most of the night. It was, however, Michael’s job to prove his worth as a potential candidate for general of the Erebian military. Considering the four years he had just spent in the forbidden lands, Nico was starting to think a different position would work best for Michael.

At dawn Travis had gotten up and started what seemed to be a morning routine after helping Nico gather firewood nearby. Then just a little later Will sneezed after turning over, and Nico just was not in the mood to be trying to seduce his consort. It seemed yesterday night Will had not appreciate his arrogant boastfulness in being able to satisfy Will’s sexual needs. Nico wasn’t entirely disheartened by the reaction of his consort, but he wasn’t exactly encouraged by Prince William’s cold aloofness either.

“Good morning, sleeping prince,” Travis crouched down in front of Will with a bright smile. “You cooking breakfast?”

Yawning first Will then answered, “What is your preference this morning milord?” Nico wondered if this was also some strange intimate routine of theirs. In the last few weeks Nico had witnessed this similar kind of dialogue more than once. Travis would call Will something similar to a sleeping beauty but then referenced Will doing a servant’s job. Then Will would answer in a haughty tone and call Travis something like his lord or prince.

“Surprise me.”

Nico stood up and whistled for his horse. It amenably trotted over from where it was grazing. He didn’t have a preferred horse but Nico had to admit that Frank had a knack for animals. While on the other hand most animals hated Nico. The reason this horse didn’t mind Nico was because it had originally belonged to Frank and was mild tempered. After four years the horse had gotten used to Nico, but that didn’t exactly mean it trusted Nico either. He wouldn’t bet his life on its loyalty the same way Frank did.

He put down the sack of food by Will and walked his horse back to where it was grazing. He had a headache and while he could still ride and stay alert, Nico was in the worse kind of mood and not in a very helpful manner. Since Frank had such a forbearing character the man had gotten used to working around Nico’s dark moods. He brushed down the horse and rethought the route back to the palace, simultaneously doing his best not to display his dark mood.

Somehow instead of the route he lost himself to his task brushing down his horse.

“So you sing?”

Nico stopped what he was doing. Michael Kahale walked up to his own horse next to Nico. With a quiet demeanor and gentleness in his gaze Michael held out an apple to the white stallion. Since he didn’t want to talk about his habit Nico ignored the question.

“I’ve heard that Delphian’s love music, but I never imagined you to be a singer.” Michael patted his horse and whispered to sweet nothings to it. Nico ignored the comment. Although he grew up in the Styx, Nico had been raised as an Erebian. Music might be considered a refined taste for Delphian’s but for Erebians, especially in the north western parts of Erebus, music was part of the body and soul. It was a part of life. It wrapped around stories and legends, it encompassed life and death, religion and culture, and it was the core of each person. So while Erebians did not display music and song the same way Delphians loved presenting theirs, Nico could confidently say Erebian’s music was much more genuine.

“That song you’re humming,” Michael started to talk again. Nico fought back the groan and roll of his eyes. He had wanted to be on his own. With a chuckle Michael held out his hands, “I’m sorry, I just wanted to add something.”

“Fine,” Nico sighed. He gave up on his silent brooding. He patted his horse and walked toward Michael and the white stallion.

“I know that song,” Michael said as he walked away from his own horse. They took slow and small measured steps to prolong returning to the two cooking by the fire. “I heard it once when I first travelled into the Capitol.”

“I know the title,” Nico sighed out again. He was tired of this conversation already. “How’s your quest?” He tried changing the subject and knew Michael would allow it.

“I cannot settle for less than a bond.” Nico held back a groan and rubbed the part between his eyes. Michael Kahale was not making things easy.

“You have until we get to the Capitol, Kahale, or I will be forced to find another match.” Kahale said nothing else but gave him a terse nod in understanding the deadline was very short. Nico couldn’t stand the idea of putting Will in danger, especially knowing that the news that he’d already handfasted the prince had travelled wide and far. His father would be expecting him back in the Capitol for an official wedding, while the person hidden in the shadows of the death of Will’s brothers would be drawing near.

“Breakfast is ready!” Travis announced just as the two of them came into earshot of the fire. Nico sat down next to Will and picked at the eggs and bacon. Travis talked on and on about towns and routes. Will joined in and Michael added comments here and there. Nico had no desire to speak so he simply listened. He could see that Will found it unnerving, but he also didn’t have the heart in him to explain that nothing was wrong. Nico’s focus couldn’t be on the emotional wellbeing of his consort while they travelled to the Capitol.

Once they had started on their way Nico took the lead. He couldn’t afford the leisure of going slowly for anyone and so their horses stampeded through the forest road. He needed to report back to his father as well as meet up with Frank and Lady Hazel. In his mind Nico kept trying to find the fastest route back to the palace. If he could push them to continue at a fast pace then reaching the Capitol would take nearly three to four days. Considering that he was not traveling alone Nico would have to add an extra day to that estimate in cases of mishaps and emergencies.

Once they reached a small village Nico reined in his horse and the others did the same. The villagers meekly poked out of their homes. Once they began recognizing Nico everyone started cheering. Nico took down the food supplies from his horse and handed it to one of the men to share among the villagers. He gave his reins to a young stable boy and Nico walked the same route he had four years ago to the blacksmith.

Nico nodded in greeting to the many younger siblings of the blacksmith. Then he took a deep breath to salve off his annoyance before knocking heavily on the door of the blacksmith’s hut. He could sense that the others stayed back but in close proximity to the hut. He heard some shuffling but Nico could tell that the conman had made it ahead of him.

Nico pounded on the door twice and then shouted, “Connor Stoll if you do not relinquish my blacksmith this instance I will have Kahale bond him this instance!” Just like that there was a crash inside and then some sort of struggle.

“What can I do for you Prince Nico?” Jake Mason greeted him. He leaned into his door, his other hand holding up a spread of fur around his waist. Nico looked down and then slowly up and then into Jake’s flushed face. “Your Highness?” Jake nervously called out to him. He was naked and there were three strangers standing out on the street staring right where Nico was standing at his door. Jake had never been an adventurous person so being confronted in the late morning during an intimate moment was rather embarrassing. Jake Mason was about the only person Nico trusted in making his weapons.

Nico glared the taller man down. Jake stepped back and cleared his throat. Nico nodded a greeting to Connor on the cot with a large fur covering half his naked body. His braid was undone, which was rare in the long years he’d known Connor. The man had grown his hair out for one specific reason and he had always kept his hair in a braid as a promise to himself.

“What, no quip?” Connor shouted at him.

“Was it consensual?” Nico turned and asked Jake. Jake’s face turned even redder but Nico waited for an answer. Jake finally nodded. Nico turned to Connor then. “He has more value than you,” he warned Connor. The man glowered at him, whether that was in hatred or because of his insult Nico wasn’t quite sure. He didn’t bear it any mind either. “You break him and I’ll be sure to break more than you.” Nico stepped away from the hut. “Get dressed.”

When Nico reached the three waiting for him the first to ask him something was Travis. “My brother is in there?” Then he asked next, “Was that a man at the door? A naked man?”

“Jake Mason is my blacksmith.”

“Your blacksmith?”

“I’m employed by Prince Nico di Angelo,” Jake answered from behind him. He had dressed quickly, pulling on trousers, a shirt, and his boots. “His personal blacksmith.”

“Doesn’t the palace have its own blacksmith?” Michael asked, suspiciously glaring Jake up and down.

“Are you in a relationship with my brother?” Travis asked next.

Jake’s face flushed again. For a man his size and built it was amusing that he could be rather meek in personality. Nico took out one of his throwing knives from the holster strapped around his chest. He handed it handle first to Michael. The man looked at it, immediately discomforted by the seemingly prefect throwing knife.

“Throw it.”

Michael turned and threw the knife right at a log. Michael stared at his hand, clenching and unclenching it.

“My throwing is off,” Michael said, still showing confusion.

Nico handed the next one to Travis. Travis threw it at the log, but while Michael’s landed on the far right, his landed on the far left. Travis made a dissatisfied face. Nico didn’t offer a throwing knife to Will, because he’d seen the man’s skill. Instead Nico threw the knife himself as it landed in the middle of the log.

“Is this some trick?”

“His weapons are made to his preference,” Jake explained. “It feels unbalanced or strange for you, but Prince Nico is entirely comfortable with the feel of the weapon in his hand.” Jake rubbed the back of his neck. He sent a shy grin at Nico when one of his younger siblings brought back the throwing knives to him.

Nico took the knives back and holstered them. He patted Jake on the shoulder and then the man’s younger sibling on the head. “You’ve got work to do,” Nico said to Jake. Jake nodded and turned around. Sparing a quick glance at his consort Nico could see the confusion and the disappointment in the man’s gaze. He ignored it for now, as he had no idea how to address what Will felt. Instead he focused on Connor Stoll now stepping out completely dressed.

“Of all the stars,” Connor was grumbling as he had his hair slung over his shoulder and halfway braided. Connor glared at Nico but then his eyes slanted and he stared between him and Will. “So, you could not have given me an extra day?” he asked with a sigh, ignoring the situation just as Nico.

“No.”

Connor whispered under his breath but Nico ignored it. Everyone stood in silence as they all waited for Jake Mason to finish dressing and packing. Nico was still thinking about how long it would take to travel on horseback to the palace when Connor grabbed his elbow. He turned around in the direction Connor was turning him and saw the woman walking through the crowd with the woven basket in her hand.

“Milady Mason, good morning,” Connor shouted a greeting to her as she approached them.

“It’s nearly afternoon now Connor,” Jake’s mother greeted with a bright smile. She gave Nico a curtsy which he then responded with a bow of his own. “If it is not the lost prince.”

“Lady Mason.”

“Do stop with that,” she laughed at him. While she was a low born commoner she was also Jake Mason’s mother, and Jake was also a son of a duke of Olympus. Lord Hephaestus was the Duke of Lemnos and Jake Mason’s father. That made her a lady in Nico’s perspective.

Nico originally met Jake Mason when he first started travelling after his sister’s death. Connor Stoll and Jake Mason were among few of the people whose abilities he found most helpful. Jake Mason, while not as gifted in creativity as Leo Valdez, was adept at one particular skill. Nico had no formal teacher in combat or survival so his skills were self-taught through observation and practice. Jake was the only blacksmith who was capable of making a weapon fit perfectly with Nico. His particular skill was more valuable for someone like Nico who needed the weapon to fit to him and could not adjust his skill to work with the weapon.

“You’ve come to take my eldest,” Lady Mason puffed out in recognition of his travel party. Nico nodded in answer. “Very well, I am expecting an invitation soon.” Lady Mason eyed Prince Will and then smiled sweetly just as Jake approached them.

“I would prefer a quiet affair,” Nico responded.

“You would, but after being gone for four years do you really expect it to be?” Lady Mason asked rhetorically. Nico bent down and allowed her to give him a kiss on the cheek. “We’ll be heading out in our own time for the Capitol then. Make sure my son lives.” She gave a not too discreet glance toward Connor Stoll.

“I can protect myself Mother,” Jake quickly said.

“That’s not what she meant,” Connor added.

“Be careful or I’ll cut off those locks,” Nico warned Connor. He bowed to Lady Mason once more. “We will be taking our leave.”

“Be safe.”

Jake whistled loudly and before long the stable boy was leading their horses back to them. Nico swung up on his horse and gave Connor and Jake the signal. They both nodded, Connor took the rear and Jake took the lead. He stayed behind Jake and everyone else travelled behind him. He knew that they were riding too hard and fast, and that they would exhaust the horses long before nightfall. Nico needed to cover more ground, as much ground as possible.


 

“What are you afraid of?” Will finally found the time and courage to ask Nico. It was dusk, night just disappearing, and since that morning he could see that Nico had been wanting to keep to himself. They were resting at a small lakeside, their horses tied to trees and resting. Nico had separated from the group, everyone having gone off to look for firewood or for their dinner.

Nico sat by the lakeside and gave no answer. Will sat down next to him and waited the man out. He could hear everyone else in the back but still waited. Connor and Travis were building the fire and laughing over the stories they had to tell each other over the years. Jake and Michael simply skinned the rabbits they’d caught in silence. Now and then Jake and Michael would ask each other a question about the other’s profession or home. Still Will sat and waited.

“I fear I may lose you,” Nico finally said quietly. Will turned his head and stared at Nico in bewilderment. Where did Nico get such an idea? They were already handfasted and promised to one another, they’ve done things that neither of them could go back from, and yet Nico was still worried Will might leave him. “There is something I must never tell you, that you must never know, and I fear that when you learn of it that I may lose you.” Nico didn’t look at Will at all. The saddened prince stared off into the still lake before turning his gaze down at his own lap. “I’m also afraid you could be taken from me before we make it to the safety of the palace.”

“That’s why we’ve rode so far so quickly.”

“Yes.”

“So then we just have to relieve you of that fear,” Will decided quickly. After all there was no better medicine for such a thing that to prove it groundless. It was a splendid thought but Nico’s face had turned into pure rage and confusion. “What’s wrong now?” asked Will, concern that Nico hated the idea.

“You wish for me to tell you the one secret I know will have me lose you.” Nico shook his head. Defiantly he declined Will’s offer to talk. “I do not wish to lose you, Will Solace.”

“I thought the Dark Angel feared no place or person.”

“I fear no place or person,” Nico answered indignantly. He finally turned his gaze on Will and leaned over so their noses nearly touched. “I fear losing you.” He pulled back then faced the opposite way. “You cannot understand the depths of my feelings for you.”

The words Nico had said desperately at the stream came back to Will just then. “You are warmth and light. You are compassion and kindness. You are patience and perseverance. You are laughter and joy. You are loneliness and fortitude. You are sympathy and perplexity. You are vastness and integrity.” Then Will remembered the first time they kissed, the first time they’d met at their engagement. Out on the veranda in the cold they had shared an almost too chaste kiss, and while at the time it had been between promised strangers it had been the most amazing feeling. “You are my love.” Will had thought he understood how much Nico loved and cared for him, but he had truly had no idea. Nico looked at him with almost devout reverence. The very idea that Will would reject him, would turn away from him or be taken from him was tantamount to Nico’s very life ending.

“I can’t understand why someone who says he loves me does not trust me.” Will waited for Nico to shamefully turn back to him. His frustration shown on his face. He was angry at Will for saying so but confused by the truth of it. “I am a man, Nico di Angelo. You seem to forget that I do not need you to make decisions for me.” Will stood up and walked back to the group.

For the rest of the night Nico did not move from his spot. Will laid awake staring at the stars even after everyone else had gone asleep. At one point he got up and moved to lean against a tree and watch the group in the night.

Jake had gone to sleep at the other side of the where the fire had been, very purposely sleeping on the opposite side of where Connor and Travis had gone to sleep. Later in the night Connor had gotten up, stumbled out into the woods for some privacy and then came back. Instead of hunkering down with his brother he rolled up against Jake’s back. Not long after that Jake had turned over and pulled Connor closer, throwing part of his fur over Connor’s shoulder. To past the time he wondered on what Connor expected out of Jake Mason. He was rather flighty and while his interaction was a way to hide his fear of commitment Will just could not read the two’s interaction together.

Michael and Travis didn’t budge from their spots. Michael laid away with a fur thrown over his stomach and his sword next to him. He went asleep with an arm under his head and did not move at all. Travis had a piece of fur folded under his head. It was a bad makeshift pillow but at least it was better than hard ground. Travis had his cloak and someone else’s cloak laid out over him. Will looked over at Michael again and wondered at what point in the night he had managed to cover Travis with his cloak.

Will didn’t know when he fell asleep but he woke up he was being carried over to the group. He felt fur underneath him as he was being laid down. He tried waking up but he couldn’t quite open his eyes. Nico’s subtle scent tickled his nose. A cold hand ran through his hair before his own cloak was pulled over his body. Will forced his eyes open and gasped.

Nico was staring right at him, so close their noses nearly touched. “Excuse me.” He started to move away.

“You’re cold.” Will held on to Nico’s hand so he couldn’t run away. Nico refused to turn his way but Will believed he could at least convince the prince to lie with him. “Lie down.”

“I will, in a bit.”

“No. Here.”

“In a bit.”

“Now.”

Nico sighed out loud.

“I want you.”

Will chuckled at the response. “Here, around our friends, on the ground in the cold and dark?” He laughed at Nico’s bashfulness.

“Of course not.”

“Good,” Will laughed. He tugged on Nico’s arm until the man hesitantly laid down next to him. “Good boy.” Nico made an irritated sound but civilly laid staring at Will. He patted Nico on the shoulder and threw half of his cloak over Nico. For a while they stared at one another. Will gazed into Nico’s dark eyes and wondered exactly what Nico was thinking.

“What is it?” Nico asked him.

Will touched Nico’s cold cheek. “You’re right here.”

“Yes?”

“But stars away.”

“Thinking.”

“Why?”

Nico sighed as he put his forehead to Will’s. “We’re too different, but I want you.”

Will laughed. “You’re saying we’re as different as water and fire.”

“Yes.”

“But even those two things have something similar.” Will grabbed Nico’s hand and held it close to him.

Nico gave him a confused look. “Water nurtures life and fire destroys everything it touches.”

Will chuckled and quickly kissed Nico. “A person can drown in water and fire can keep someone from freezing to death.” Nico sighed frustratingly. “Water can cleanse and we drink it to quench our thirst. Fire can keep us warm and can cook food for us to eat. Water can drown a person and fire can burn a person.” He waited to see the clarity in Nico’s understanding. He smiled then and bent his head down to kiss their intertwined hands. “If I am the untouched sky and you are what lies beneath the earth, then what lies between us is the world.” Nico gifted Will with a soft, quiet little smile. “And that’s only distance.”

“Thank you,” Nico whispered, kissing Will before tightening his grasp on Will’s hand. Will was glad he managed to convince Nico of forgetting about an invisible obstacle.

Chapter Text

Will woke up with Nico gently waking him from his sleep. He quickly turned away and sneezed. His body felt warm but parts of him felt cold too. Will grumbled, got up on his knees, yawned, and then rubbed his eyes. Nico shook out Will’s cloak then wrapped it around him. Will watched Nico’s blank expression as he busied himself rubbing Will’s arms to warm him up.

Before long Nico noticed him watching. “We need to talk,” he said.

Will nodded, stood up and brushed himself off. He shook the cold out of him with a shiver. Nico was picking up his fur cape when Will took it from him. He refused to be the only one being taken care of like he was a prince.

“Come.” Will signaled for Nico to stand. Will shook off the heavy fur cape then wrapped it around Nico. He then brushed off the fur for any loose dirt on it. When he looked up he saw a strange tenderness in Nico’s eyes he hadn’t seen before. Perhaps it was vulnerability and not tenderness. It took a moment before he understood the reason Nico looked so discomfited. “You’re not used to this,” he blandly stated.

“No.”

His only reaction had to be a smile. Will then burst into a snicker. “Don’t get used to it. I’m not about to be the female in our relationship.”

Nico’s confusion plainly showed on his face. “There is no female in our relationship.” He said it so very straightforwardly and plainly that Will had to presume he was serious. Will laughed again. He walked to the bank of the lake and sat down where they had at night. Moments after seating himself Nico sat down next to him.

“So, what is it we have to talk about?” Will asked. This time he was the one staring off into the stillness of the lake. Dawn was just breaking so Will watched as the darkness of the lake slowly receded and began reflecting the sky.

“You wished to know my secret.”

Will stopped pulling at the grass beneath his knees. He turned to Nico who was staring right at him. Of course he’d expected this revelation to come some time later when Nico was ready. He hadn’t meant his comments yesterday to coerce the man into telling him a secret he was not prepared to state. Had he perhaps given Nico the implication he would definitely leave him if the secret wasn’t told? Will panicked. Their relationship couldn’t stand on coercion, especially not from Will. Will didn’t look at their relationship or their vows as some business deal but as mutual understanding. If he at any point blackmailed or strong-armed his way into Nico’s confidences neither of them would be standing on equal grounds.

“I think you should wait,” Will impatiently blurted out before Nico started talking. He knew it was confusing the man. First Will wanted to know and now it sounded like he didn’t. Holding a hand up, he stopped Nico from talking or asking him anything. “Let me explain.” Nico waited, staring right at him as Will shied his gaze away. “We’ve a mutual and equal partnership, correct?” he started with a question. Nico stared at him almost dumbly before nodding. “While it is frustrating the way you are so private about everything, I also understand that your feelings for me are real. You’ve many secrets, Prince Nico, but all of them will be revealed in time.” Nico’s confused expression relaxed into one of understanding. “It would seem what I said yesterday night might have convinced you that without revealing your secret I would no longer reciprocate your feelings or uphold my vow.” Will ran his thumb against the gold ring on his finger, spinning the ring in spot. His heart thudded in his chest as though there was a horse stampeding through the forest. “If ever one of us forces the other to do what the other wants our relationship would no longer be of equal or mutual partnership. I don’t wish for you to feel forced to tell me something you are no ready to say.”

The man’s only reaction was to take Will’s hand and kiss the ring on his finger. This was a strange penchant of Nico’s but Will didn’t exactly dislike it. The gesture was oddly endearing even though it was uncustomary to kiss a man’s hand to show one’s feelings. When Nico looked up at him again he had a smile on his face. Will could only smile back.

“Ever since I became the Ghost King I have never been forced to do anything I didn’t want to.” Nico leaned in this time and kissed Will on the cheek, lingering there to take a soft whiff of his neck. Will tried not to laugh at the ticklishness. “I want to tell you this now, or it will haunt me the entire time we must rush to the palace.”

“I understand.”

“And I hope it will not change your opinion of me.”

“We both hope not.”

While Nico found the voice to speak on whatever matter it was he had on his mind, Will made sure to hold Nico’s hand where they sat. He held it tightly and stared off at the lake while he waited. He could hear Travis and Michael waking up. Both of them were quiet, moving about the camp without as much as a greeting. Will on the other hand could hear his heart thudding against his chest still.

Fortifying his thoughts Will made the decision to try and see things from Nico’s perspective. While he didn’t know much of Nico’s past a deep part of him believed in the person he’d seen across the ballroom four years ago.


 

Nico tried to organize his thoughts. Will held on to his hand tightly and quietly waited for him. He reached for his chest where the stone arrowhead hung around his neck. Strength and courage spread through him as he remembered a distant memory.

With a deep breath he started to explain. He told Will how out of place he felt when he climbed out of Tartarus. At first Will had tried to comfort him, tried to tell him that everyone who has been locked up or separated from society felt out of place. Nico shook his head and explained further. It wasn’t just about being self-aware or feeling as if he didn’t belong. Nico himself had felt out of place. The person he became down in Tartarus was different from the person he was before he was thrown in.

“I did everything I could to survive on my own down there,” he admitted quietly. Nico couldn’t even look Will in the face when he said it. “I’ve starved, I’ve killed, I’ve eaten starving animals, and I’ve eaten things most people wouldn’t imagine as food.”

“You were trying to survive Nico. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Nico felt no shame for what he did down there. “I know it wasn’t wrong, because I was down there and I needed to survive. But something has changed while I was down there and I’m not sure I can change back.” Somewhere deep in his heart the words kept resonating like an echo. Will must never know.

“Do you like the person you were before?” Will asked him.

Despite the thrumming of the words deep inside him Nico forged forward. “The person I was then is the not the person I am now, and I do not like who I am now.” He still couldn’t find the courage to look at Will. Instead Nico hung his head and his hand clung at the arrowhead tightly.

There was no reaction from either of them after that. Holding his breath was all Nico could do while he waited for some kind of response. Since there was none Nico struggled to hold his breath. It wasn’t as if he’d done it consciously. He’d never thought he would be so anxious or so terrified Will’s reaction.

“806 days.” Nico finally gasped for breath, as if saying it had him drowning in water. “Over two years I spent in the Pit. I found a nearly broken village my first day out. A village raided over and over again by raiders.” Will’s hand tightened on him. Reciprocating the hold, Nico took in a deep breath once more. “The second day I was in that village…” Nico took in a deep breath as he remembered what happened that day. “It was the day I realized I was different.”

Nico explained how he’d lost himself in playing the Dark Rider. As if it was some costumed excuse for him to hurt others, a way to justify the thirst for blood boiling in him. He could so very easily think of killing a person in ten different ways just by looking at them. Hate and anger had bubbled up in his so deeply and Nico had enjoyed bidding his time until he had the raiders in his clutches. Whenever he thought back on the things he’d done Nico felt shame and sorrow. Shame for what he’d done and sorrow for the sense of self he’d lost.

His consort tried to comfort him with words, tried to give him a reason to feel better for what he’d done. Nico interrupted him from sincerely trying to console him. He was wrong after all, what he did was not okay and it was not in the name of fairness or justice that his father stood for.

“Somewhere deep inside I enjoyed it,” admitted Nico. Then he waited for Will to give him some response. What could Will say now when Nico had clearly stated that he enjoyed hurting others.

First Will let go of his hand. Nico didn’t bother looking when he felt Will stand up and leave. He sat where he was, dread filling him up. Although he’d already known the outcome somehow he had still hoped for Will to accept him as he was. An amount of emotions he could not contain or describe welled up and Nico did not know how to control it or conduct himself under it. So this was fear and anxiety—so this was love, he’d thought.

A hand gripped his shoulder after a while and Nico looked up as Will knelt down beside him. Shocked at the man’s approach he noted the knapsack Will had set down next to him. Nico turned toward Will and stared down where Will was reaching.

“You’re bleeding, Nico,” Will whispered softly. Nico let him gingerly take his hand and open his tightly clenched palm. Will picked out the arrowhead Nico had been holding onto and let it drop against his chest again. Will dipped a piece of cloth into the lake water and then carefully dabbed at the cut on his palm. “It’s not the best made arrowhead but it’ll still cut if you hold it that tightly.” For what felt like a long time Nico simply watched as Will continued cleaning his cut, wrenching water and blood out of the cloth and wetting it again to clean his cut.

Afterwards Will examined his wound in the morning light. Nico flinched when Will pressed a clean gauze on his wound. He accidentally pulled Will into his lap and for a moment they both stared at each other. Will laughed nervously before pulling back and knelt next to Nico.

“What are you thinking?” He asked the question without thinking about it.

Will was focused on pressing down the wound to stop the bleeding. Then Will put down the gauze next to the used cleaning cloths. Will reached inside his knapsack again and pulled out a small wooden container. When he looked up his eyes cleared.

“Oh.” That was Will’s only reaction so Nico just stared at him. The both of them blinked at each other. “You…” Will smiled awkwardly when he finally spoke, “You were talking to me.” Not a question as if he expected Nico was having a conversation with others, but as a statement as if he’d never even heard the question.

“Later,” Nico told him with a smile he couldn’t really stop. This was his Will Solace after all, the man who healed and comforted. Nico’s sky. “Please.” He held his hand toward Will and encouraged the man along with his work.

“This might sting,” Will informed him as he untwisted the cap off the wooden container and swiped up the ointment in the container with his end fingers not holding the cap. With the hand holding the container Will settled Nico’s hand on the free space of his palm and wrist. Nico watched with fixation as Will gingerly spread the ointment around Nico’s wound. The man tried to spread the ointment as closely to the wound as possible without pressing down too hard or hurting Nico. He’d seen this face of Will’s before, a long time ago when Nico was nothing more than a skinny, tiny little kid.

“Does it hurt?” Will asked him with concern.

“No.”

Will blew a cool breath against Nico’s palm. “Don’t close your hand.” Will removed his hands from Nico’s and twisted the top back on the container. Nico put his hand down on his knee and left his palm open as Will had instructed. He watched Will put the container back into his knapsack and look through the gauzes and rolls of cloths to dress Nico’s wound.

A distant memory from his past crept up inside his mind. He usually tried to tamp down memories of Bianca, but he let this one unfold. Nico remembered her walking into their hut that one raining day in the Styx where they lived. He’d been nine years old, it was how he’d gotten the scar on his shoulder. Nico clenched his teeth, not because of the pain, but because he recalled her reminding him who his father was and despite whatever disgraces he experienced he had to overcome them. He remembered the way she brushed her wet hair out of her face and tried to smile even though she was holding back her sobs.

She had gone out into the cold and in the rainstorm to search for the herbs she needed for his wound. Nico had laid on the cot in the hut broken and crying. He’d held back his voice and the tears had dried but his body had been cold and he’d given up on everything. Bianca had sat by the light of their tiny fire and grounded her herbs into a paste. She’d helped him sit up and with trembling hands applied the paste on his wound. She’d ripped up her only dress to dress his wound and held him the entire night and mourned the carefree child he once was.

“Nico?” Will was staring at him, holding his hand out for Nico’s. He put his hand, palm up, into Will’s hand. Will leaned down low and blew gently on Nico’s hand again to dry out the ointment. To him it was almost like a kiss on his palm.

This time Will pressed down a fresh gauze from his knapsack onto Nico’s palm. He pressed down gently before reaching for his knapsack again. He pulled out a rolled up strip of bandage and started to wound it around Nico’s hand and firmly over the gauze. Nico watched the practiced way Will wound the bandage so Nico might still have use of his fingers and part of a fist but not so much Nico could completely close his palm.

Will cut off the excess bandage, rolled it up into the knapsack again, and then secured the bandage on Nico’s hand. “Tell me if it bleeds through,” the man ordered. Nico nodded.

Will packed his medical supplies away and set his knapsack aside. He sat down by Nico and picked up the arrowhead pendant from hanging against Nico’s chest. There was blood smeared on it from where Nico had cut his hand. Will pulled the necklace until the string gave way and snapped from Nico’s neck. He examined the ragged edges, the rough surface and nearly chipped away sides.

Then Will dipped the arrowhead into the lake and washed the blood away. He shook off the water from the arrowhead and retied the string.

“I think I know why they call you the Dark Angel,” Will said as he stared at the arrowhead one more time. Nico gave Will an inquisitive expression when the man glanced up at him. With a knowing smile he said, “It’s because of your dark mood.” Will laughed when Nico didn’t understand. Then he slapped Nico on the shoulder and laughed some more.

“I’ve always had a dark mood.”

“You brood too much Nico,” Will smiled at him. Nico didn’t understand why Will was pointing out the obvious. Of course Nico worried a lot. “It’s not healthy brooding so much.” Will slipped the necklace back onto Nico. He took Nico’s wounded hand in his again and stared at with an emotion Nico didn’t quite know. It was not simply affection but it also was not pity or sympathy. “You said somewhere deep inside you enjoyed hurting those people,” Will quietly spoke as he ran the back of his hand over Nico’s bandaged palm. It was a strange but comforting gesture. “But you would not be hurting so much inside as to hurt yourself if that was true.”

Nico stared at Will with awe rising up in his heart. The man believed in goodness. He couldn’t see the bad until it was staring him right in the face.

“Revenge is best eaten cold,” Will said as he put Nico’s hand down. He’d heard the phrase before, but Nico wasn’t much for literature. Will took one look at his face and smiled as if he was indulging a child. “It means to enact revenge one must be cold and unfeeling like the dead. To feel rage or wrath is to allow the heat of the moment from your emotions to sway your decisions, but revenge requires a clear head and calculation.”

“You see me as unfeeling?” Nico asked. He knew he wasn’t good at expressing himself and he did not express himself very often, but he’d never thought he came off as completely unexpressive.

Will laughed out loud, a genuine belly roaring laugh. It was so strange for Nico to see Will in this way and yet Nico couldn’t help smiling as he watched Will. He could clearly see that this was Will as he normally was. He realized then that Will rarely frowned and worried the way Nico did. This laughing person in front of him was who Will really was.

From the fire which had been restarted Connor shouted at them, “This isn’t time for courting!” Then Travis burst into laughter as Jake and Michael chuckled to themselves. Will was still in a fit of laughter to the point it seemed he couldn’t breathe and was about to cry. Nico was worried the man might be choking but he was waving his hand up as if to signal he was perfectly sound.

Once the laughing had quieted and Nico had glared Connor back to making breakfast he turned to Will. The man smiled at Nico but burst into giggles before he could even say a word.

“Is my question amusing Prince Will?”

He was starting to think that it was Nico he was laughing at and not the question he’d asked. When Nico said his title Will immediately sobered from his bout of laughter.

“It was very funny,” Will admitted with a gasp for breath. Then Will took Nico’s wounded hand in his again and held on to it. He could feel warmth spread over his hand, and the wholeheartedness of Will’s healing spread into his heart. “Nico di Angelo, the Dark Angel, the surviving prince of Erebus, the Dark Rider, the beloved prince of his people…” He looked at Nico’s bandaged hand with a soft smile and rubbed his thumb softly over Nico’s palm. “I admit before we met, you were just some prince who sounded cruel and dangerous. There were not many good rumors about you. People told me you may have killed your older siblings for the crown. They’ve told me you were the cause for rebellion in the forbidden lands. They’ve told me you were violent and tried to kill Prince Percy.”

“I did.”

“What?” Will looked up at him in unexpected shock.

“I tried to kill Percy,” Nico confessed. He smiled as he thought back on his past. “It’s how I became Ghost King.”

“Oh.” Will cleared his throat. “Despite that,” Will tried again with a deep breath, “To do what you did, I think you had to be without emotions.” Nico stared in wonder. It was clear Will truly believed that Nico was good. He believed what Nico did was not some insane justification to hurt and kill others. “You are a person who loves and cares so deeply, if you did not you would not have done what you did.”

“What I did was not for my people or for you,” Nico reminded him. While he did not deny that he truly loved and cared for his people and Will, what he did as the Dark Rider proved that he had no humanity in him. “It was a selfish joy to hurt them, to taunt them and kill them. I might have covered it up as some hero or savior but it was not a pure ambition.”

Will laughed one more time, this time more quietly as if he was simply amused by Nico’s retort. “No ambition is ever pure. So you might have other reasons for what you did, for why you killed others, because you’ve an anger and hate you’ve never felt before. A sorrow so deep inside for an understanding of what your father was submitted to—and yet you’re not happy or rejoicing at striking back at your enemy.” Will patted Nico’s hand and put it down. Will leaned forward and with a smile quickly kissed him on the lips. “Instead you’re here not just worried I might leave you, but feeling remorse at the things you forced yourself to do. Revenge is eaten cold because it must be, but cruelty is a habit of a corrupt soul.” Nico tried to explain that it wasn’t remorse but he had no words in reply. “I’m glad there are some moments where I get to be the older one.” Will grinned before grabbing his things and leaving Nico by the lakeside.

He sat there with Will’s words rattling him.

Chapter Text

They took the road with Jake in front as before. Travis had tried asking his brother what his relationship was exactly with Jake but he never really got around to asking. They rode fast and hard with Connor watching their backs. He ignored the irritation he felt with the knowledge that he had to ride side by side with the former captain. Instead he zoned in on Will’s back, watching the prince more intently than he’d ever had before. More than once Will had felt his stare and glared back at him with a silent, irritating request in his eyes to stop doing what he was doing.

His charge had always had a knack for noticing when he was being watched. When they had been younger Will used to find it a game to try and escape from his watch. Fortunately Travis had been more ingenious—it also helped that he was the one who had taught Will how to elude others and to know when he was being spied on. Not that it wasn’t fun to lord it over his friend.

Travis noticed a few leaves falling from the side of the road up ahead. No one else seemed to think much of it. It was normal for animals to scurry about in trees and cause such disturbances, but all he could hear were the hooves of their horses pounding into the dirt. It was second nature for wild animals to quiet and run from predators and danger. The unusual silence was a sign. It was a sixth sense by now for Travis to sense danger when it came to protecting Will.

He waited until Will turned around again to glare at him. Then Travis flicked his gaze up ahead. Will got the message very quickly, turning around then before turning to face Prince Nico. It took a moment before the Dark Angel glanced at Will but he didn’t seem to respond at all to what Will was trying to tell him. When Travis turned to look at Michael the former general was already looking at him. He then turn his gaze back to the front, cutting Travis’ concentration.

They knew. Travis sighed in relief and then steeled himself. He had to remind himself that Prince Nico had operated with Jake and Connor for a long time, they knew what they were doing. Michael was hired by Prince Nico so none of them had the illusion that this was going to be some simple travel party. Travis waited until they hit the passing point of where he noted the leaves falling and then he yanked on his horse to make an abrupt stop just like the rest of the party.

As they stopped Jake reached for his sack strapped to his horse. Travis put his hand on his sword and kept his gaze to the forest instead of the road. It wasn’t uncommon to be attacked while traveling. However he wasn’t so uninformed he hadn’t already guessed the reason behind the deaths of the Delphian princes. He’d been secretly investigating it long before the royal engagement had been announced. Travis hadn’t gotten far because he was a young knight and an insignificant prince’s retainer. He’d been in the middle of starting his investigations again when Will had formally become Nico’s fiancé but that hadn’t panned out well. Then here they were. So he knew the present danger now that Nico had returned from the supposed dead.

Jake tossed a wooden ball onto the road. It rolled a ways but then something suddenly snapped. He watched as two large logs swung up from either side of the road and crashed into each other. Travis blinked. He could imagine the contraption. It’d been built to feel pressure from underneath the road. There wasn’t trees large or tall enough to hide large spiked logs swinging down, a spring loaded contraption must have been built to volley the logs up from the ground.

“That’s a pretty elaborate trap,” Michael commented. His white horse pawed at the ground.

“They’re good,” Jake said next. “But they’re not that good.” He sounded confident, something he hadn’t pegged the large but overly polite and modest man to say.

Travis kept his eyes open for any disturbances around them. Someone had to be watching. At first he considered drawing his sword but he knew that was the wrong choice. He slowly had his horse walk further up toward Will. He made sure Will was perfectly out of range from being attacked from behind. Whoever was behind the deaths of the Delphian princes wanted Will dead even if it meant declaring war against the Erebian kingdom by killing the prince-consort. Travis moved his hand down from his sword to the dagger he kept strapped inside his boot.

“Travis?” Will looked at him in wonder. Travis smiled at him. Will turned around without reaction. Nico glanced at Travis once and then at Michael. So they all knew.

“Jake,” Nico called out to the blacksmith.

“We just need to remove the contraption from the road.” Then Jake rummaged through his bag once more. Nico looked at Travis first, nodded tersely, then he had his horse back away.

“You’re going to want to stay away,” Jake told them. He jumped off his horse and handed the reins to Nico. They all made sure to back away a fair amount. Jake had a strange glass bottle in his hand with liquid inside it. It was closed off with a stopper on top. Jake threw it at one of the logs sitting in the way and suddenly it all burst into fire.

“Whoa!” Travis shouted and then laughed. He hadn’t expected to see something burst into flames. He quite enjoyed the destructive sight but he was also aware of the repercussions.

“That idiot!” Connor snapped, pulling on his horse and forcing it to fight him before turning around in a circle.

“How are we supposed to put out the fire now?” Michael sighed. Then he quickly added, “He just gave away our positon.”

“They knew we would come through here,” Nico said as if no one knew the fact. “Don’t worry, he’s played with fire before.” Nico was confident, with almost no doubt in Jake who was running back to them. The man climbed back onto his horse and grinned wildly. “Let’s go. They’ll be coming.”

“The forest won’t be burned down,” Jake assured them. Then he veered his horse off the road and they were navigating their way through the trees and shrubs following him. When Travis looked back he could see the smoke piling up behind them, but it also wasn’t long before he heard shouts.

“I told you!” Jake yelled behind them.

“What?”

“They can’t risk being reported and investigated for the aftermath of a forest fire,” Nico explained. It made sense what they were getting at logically. These assassins were working under in the shadows. As to not bring awareness to themselves they would have to consistently make sure nothing as large as a forest fire burned through Erebus, the country famed for not just controlling the south but the west. King Hades was revered for his control and fairness, and to go against him would be judgement and punishment.

Once the smoke started disappearing into the sky, and Travis was certain the fire had been stopped the party came to an abrupt stop after clearing the forest. Travis gasped at the sight but then also realized they were standing at a cliff. He looked through the gorge as the waves crashed below them. His eyes scanned the length of the opened earth scar and found a bridge not too far. He doubted it could hold the weight of their horses.

“Below,” Nico instructed. He turned his horse right, the opposite of the bridge, and headed to what seemed like the end of the cliff and the forest. Then suddenly he turned his horse and it was walking down what was a ledge that Travis hadn’t seen before.

“Cunning prince,” Michael chuckled.

They followed slowly behind Nico. The path became thinner and they all had to eventually get off and lead their horses. The sun was burning high up by the time they reached the bottom and hard rock and sand was beneath their feet, waves crashing at their feet every few seconds.

“Are we supposed to swim?” Travis asked, staring once again at the bridge.

“Just wait.”

They sat and waited. Travis stared at the sky until a shadow loomed over him. At first he assumed it could be a storm cloud, but then the shadow was too big and the waves were suddenly less incessant. He sat up from where he leaned on the rocks and stared in awe at the black ship that had just poked its hull into the mouth of the gorge.

The hull was a large carving of the head of a horse. Or so he assumed. He stared at it but the majesty of the beast in the front of the ship wasn’t just any horse. He realized so when his eyes followed the shouting to the top where someone was calling down to them. Waving his arms where he stood was Prince Percy laughing down at them. Where he leaned over wasn’t the mane of the horse carving, it was a black wing.

“The Pegasus,” Travis gaped. No, this couldn’t be the rumored magical ship that led the navy fleet for the Olympians. Percy Jackson wasn’t in charge of the Olympian fleet or the Euboean fleet. It could have been carved in likeness to the rumored winged ships however.

Once they came on board and the men helped load the horses inside the hold, Prince Percy finally approached. Travis stood still and noted that Connor did just the same. So he hadn’t had the honor of meeting the hero of Olympus either.

“Welcome abroad Blackjack,” Percy grinned. The ship started moving backwards to pull out of the gorge. “It’s not a large vessel but it’s one of the fastest and sturdiest.” While there were some crew members who seemed to be doing something, there wasn’t nearly enough of them working for the ship to be moving. It was almost as if the ship really was moving on its own, but that was impossible.

“Percy,” Nico sighed quietly. Percy looked at the other prince for a moment and in the silence finally understood.

“Oh, right!” Percy guffawed. Travis expected introductions but instead the adventurous prince said cheerfully, “We’re not pirates!”

“Except you are,” Nico sighed.

“Just because I refuse to be under the thumb of any kingdom doesn’t make me a pirate, I don’t rob or pillage anyone!” Percy argued with a pouting face. Travis just stared. Nico had more to say was but unwilling to say it. That was plainly obvious from the way Nico seemed to immediately give up with the same expression he often had with Connor.

“Everyone,” Nico sighed as he stepped up. He patted Percy on the shoulder. “Prince Percy Jackson, son to King Poseidon of Euboea.” Percy grinned and waved at them. “He’s also a Ghost.”

“Oh, hey wasn’t that supposed to be a secret?” Percy whispered loudly.

“Everyone on this ship is a Ghost,” Nico replied. He started to walk past Percy. “And these people can’t kill you so knowing who you are won’t affect anything. Now come, we have to talk.” Nico sounded irritable more so than usual. Travis followed after, putting himself just slightly in front of Will and nearly shoulder to shoulder with Connor. Michael followed behind everyone, opting to be rather interested by the whole of it all on his own.

“Travis,” Nico called to him the moment he cleared the door into the captain’s cabin. Nico stood next to Percy behind a large desk. There were maps rolled up and set standing up on the side of the desk, secured by what was a fishing next fastened as a bag. Nico stared right at him while Percy peruse their course on another map laid out on the desk.

Travis stepped up, suddenly aware that everyone else was standing to the side. He looked around to see unfamiliar individuals and his own group mates being told to set away from the center of the cabin. Michael on the other hand shook someone’s arm off and stepped up behind him. It wasn’t as comforting as it should have been. Knowing Michael was standing right behind him actually made him more aware and less relaxed.

“You noticed the trap before anyone else,” Nico said to Travis then. The statement was not praise. Travis knew he wasn’t being accused of being part of some sort of ambush, but his pride still felt somewhat offended. “Connor has a knack with traps and locks but this was different. Before Connor or Jake saw the trap laid out you knew.” Travis didn’t respond just yet despite feeling as if he was being asked to defend himself. “What exactly told you there would be a trap?”

“Nothing,” Travis answered honestly. “I assumed we would be ambushed.” Considering the couple assassination attempts Travis had presumed it would be the same. His back tensed involuntarily in thought to someone attempting to take Will’s life.

“That would make sense,” Nico sighed. He moved from behind the desk and walked toward Travis. “What made you think we would be ambushed?”

“Because Delphian princes have been killed before,” Travis answered without wavering his gaze. He had to stay compose. While he had no station whatsoever he had always been the one who stood to protect Will. “Ever since the letters started coming from this kingdom. Each were supposedly asking a question to weed out a prince-consort for the Erebian crown. When two kingdoms join in a royal marriage it’s in the best interest to know their reason behind it. Marrying a Delphian royal into the Erebian royal family means an alliance between kingdoms, the most powerful position to be in would be the one who joins the two kingdoms.” Travis let his gaze flick over to Will and quickly back at Nico. He waited for Nico to understand what he was actually saying.

“That’s because of Apollo’s misunderstanding,” sighed one of the black masked individuals. Travis shot the person a glare. He nearly drew his sword had Michael not stayed his hand. “Ah, don’t worry, I have every right to disrespect your king.” Travis schooled his face and turned away from the masked man. “He is, after all, my father too.” He could hear a pinch of resentment in the voice but it wasn’t his place to address it.

“Too?” Will walked from across the room toward the man.

Nico quickly grabbed Will’s hand and stopped him. He shook his head at Will who stopped, but Nico didn’t let go of the wrist he held onto. It was a good choice because Will would not have been able to stop himself from trying to find out who this brother of his was.

“I’ll be back,” Percy waved at them with a smile. He walked out of the cabin with his rolled up map and disappeared. Travis almost wondered exactly what his presence was supposed to mean. Of course he was the captain of said ship so he needed to be there, relevant or otherwise.

“Ours wasn’t meant to be a true political marriage,” Nico supplied then. Travis found that unbelievable so he waited to hear the man out. “We never offered anything to Delphi and Delphi never offered anything back. I paid no bride price and received no dowry,” Nico informed Travis very solemnly. Travis bit the inside of his lip and pinched his leg so he wouldn’t burst into laughter. Connor was trying to stifle his own laugh. “I told my father who I wanted to marry, he in turn asked the father of that person, and my proposal was accepted. It cannot be helped if outside agents believe it to be something else.”

Travis understood the explanation for what it truly meant. Nico proposed because he wanted to marry Will Solace, not a prince of Delphi. He was glad that what he had suspected was true, that Nico truly cared for and possibly loved his dear friend he’d always protected.

Travis flexed his back shoulder muscled and straightened his stance. He recalled the wound on his back and thought back on other encounters as well. For an insignificant prince Will sure had a few close encounters with assassination and poison. Not just him but a variety of his brothers and sisters had as well. All of them insignificant since they were in the younger children of King Apollo.

“You haven’t answered my question.”

“I saw movement in the trees, so I assumed an ambush,” Travis answered very honestly this time. Perhaps omitting how he came to believe such an ambush could happen with only a few falling leaves.

“You’ve been highly aware of Will’s circumstances for some time,” Nico stated rather than question. Both of them knew exactly what Travis would do for his friend. He’d been with Will for far longer than anyone standing in the room. “Who do you think would want him and his brothers dead?”

“It’s not my place to say,” Travis simply answered. Even if he had his suspicions he wouldn’t voice them out so easily in front of strangers and masked men. While Nico might trust these supposed Ghosts, he did not. “If I could be so bold, what exactly is your plan to get us to the Capitol?” Travis asked. He’d assumed from the way he’d observed Nico the last couple days that the prince had been considering a land route. He wasn’t exactly sure if there was a sea route.

There was a sudden rocking to the ship and everyone grabbed for a sturdy object. Travis felt strong arms wrap around his waist and clutched on. Michael was holding on to the heavy netting on top of the captain’s cabin. As they were all seemingly being lifted off the floor as though the ship was capsizing he quickly reached up for the netting as well. Just as he finally got his fingers around the next and a breath of relief escaped him he looked forward and found Michael staring right at him.

One hand was still wrapped around his waist, and Travis was flushed right against Michael’s hard body. Travis held his breath and couldn’t quite stop staring at Michael. He’d never really had the chance to simply stare or be so close to the object of his affections before. Now it seemed almost too real to believe that Michael was holding on to him and they were practically floating in the air together. If he could fly this was probably how it felt. Endlessly thrilling and charged.

Not too soon afterwards, everything and everyone righted into place and he let go of the net. He looked around, wondering exactly what had caused them to nearly capsize. Only he wasn’t looking at the horizon out at sea. Travis blinked a few times before rushing to the windows in the cabin with Will.

“I’ve heard of these,” Travis said with a smile he couldn’t hide. Will was staring out the window at the sky with him as if they’d both just rediscovered their favorite hiding spots in the palace. “Ships that can sail in the sea and the air.” He grabbed Will’s shoulder tightly, the excitement barely contained in him. Will turned and smiled, barely contained himself. The others were laughing in the background, very well aware by their reaction that neither of them have ever been on a similar ship.

“It’s from old magic,” Nico explained as he came by the window. The window had a perch wide enough that Nico could sit himself on it and twist his body to stare out the window. “The ships themselves are more or less alive. They choose their captains and will only fly on their command.” In other words Blackjack wasn’t the name of the ship, it was literally the name of the ship. This ship was a living entity from the olden days of gods.

“May I be dismissed?” Travis asked Will. He waited patiently, noting how Will first looked at Nico for confirmation before smiling and nodding. Travis almost made a very unmanly noise of excitement but swallowed it down and ran out of the cabin.

He was on a flying ship! A ship of legend and magic. Travis almost smiled as he walked out on deck again.

Chapter Text

“Travis Stoll!” Prince Percy suddenly wrapped an arm around his shoulders. He was abruptly pulled to starboard and pressed against the railing. Travis didn’t hold back the smile on his face. He loved the rush of cold air on his face. It was slightly stronger than a breeze but it was exhilarating. “If you must vomit please do so now.”

Travis looked at Prince Percy with a question he couldn’t ask. He wondered exactly why he was being warn when the prince broke into laughter. He patted Travis’ back as if trying to conjure the bile up. Then he leaned on his elbows over the wooden railing of Blackjack and nodded his head back. Travis followed gesture and saw Connor walking out with his hand clutching to Jake Mason’s shoulder.

“Your brother there spewed all over my main deck the first time,” Percy laughed. The Prince then bent his head and stared straight down. Travis followed his gaze again, seeing the sea distantly below. “I love the sea, but sometimes it is faster to travel by air. Of course my uncle on the other hand has warned me never to fly in his seas or his kingdom again.” The prince sent a dashing grin Travis’ way and he could clearly see just why nearly every man hated him despite respecting him. He’d only seen Prince Percy in passing at a couple royal events, but he’d never been introduced to the youngest Euboean prince. The man’s charm was endearing rather than intoxicating, which served as something to easily fascinate oneself on.

“Percy you’re doing it again!” someone from above them shouted. Travis looked up at the sails but he couldn’t quite see who it was so he ignored it. Percy was guffawing, youth spreading throughout his very face despite being the same age as Travis. Somehow when Percy smiled and laughed he seemed younger than he was, as though he transformed back to that same twelve-year-old from the stories everyone described him to be in his adventures.

“Hey, don’t worry. We just happened to be near so we signaled out to see if your party made the checkpoint yet,” Percy assured Travis. He didn’t quite understand the explanation since he didn’t quite understand the relationship between Percy and Nico. He understood that Percy had switched the topic of the conversation to avoid whatever his crew had shouted. Not that it was something concerning to Travis or Will’s safety. While he was interested he wasn’t curious enough to impose himself on one above his station.

“Is it true Prince Nico tried to kill you?” Travis blurted out. He’d always wondered if that tale was true and it was the only one he cared to ask while he still had the prince’s attention. While there weren’t many stories told about Prince Nico, all he’d ever heard were the bad ones.

Percy’s face turned from jovial to stern. He nodded without looking at Travis. “Nico was raised in the Styx, but most of the Ghosts still have memories of where we came from. Sometimes we’re just a little too young to remember, but we at least have a memory or a feeling of coming from some place warm and safe. Nico didn’t have that. All he had was the Styx.” Travis didn’t ask for the man’s life story. He didn’t ask for some excuse either. He’d asked whether Nico had been—is capable of killing a comrade. “I made a promise and I broke it, and Nico came to collect. That was all.” Percy didn’t say anymore, as if the subject was taboo to him. He wondered exactly what that sadness was in Percy’s eyes. He saw a hint of regret but didn’t quite understand why it was there. After all he was the great Prince Percy, one of the pioneers in both great wars of the continent.

“Should we talk?” Michael approached him the moment Prince Percy walked away. He had a mind to loudly decline but found that to be more stressful. He didn’t need any of these strangers to know about his personal problems dogging him. Rather than honestly answer he nodded and followed Michael down into the hold where, for some odd reason, no one was around but the cargo and horses. He could see that the cargo was netted onto the walls and corners so the items wouldn’t move around too much. Travis moved closer to the animal pen where the horses were and wondered how the animals managed to stay righted in place.

“They get roped to the walls when the ship takes to the sky,” Michael said as he put a hand over the leftover rope around one of the pen’s cage door. Travis then noted all the metal fixings to the wall of the ship where rope could be looped through. Or chains. This wasn’t just an animal pen for live cargo it could also be used as a prison.

“Say your piece,” Travis sighed then.

“It will take us a day’s flight to a clear landing spot for Blackjack. Then we have approximately two day’s ride to the Capitol from there,” Michael tersely reported. Travis tried not to show an outward irritation. Of course Nico would speak to Michael about his travel plan but leave the rest of them out of it. He appreciated being told the plans but he was more irritated by the fact that Michael was treating this like a job he was unwillingly doing rather than sharing the information. “I’m just relaying the message, don’t get angry,” Michael said next as though he’d read Travis’ mind. He glared at the man in reaction and watched as he sat down on one of the hammocks hanging off a beam. “Nico hadn’t expected Blackjack to be around, but he said as we were making our way this morning he’d noticed a signal from the Ghosts. I’m not sure what signal he saw.”

Travis thought back to his own observations. There wasn’t some kind of smoke signal or otherwise that he’d noted. Nico did seem to go off into his own word but it wasn’t exactly as if the man was a mind reader or one of the rarer Mist-users. He wondered what form of communication the Blackjack crew had used to inform Nico of their whereabouts.

“He originally planned for us to go a little further ways with Jake before rounding back around to that gorge to meet up with Blackjack.” Michael was giving him explanation but all Travis could focus on what replaying that morning in his head. Nico and Will had a private conversation that resulted in Nico’s hand being bandaged. Then once breakfast was done they’d packed up, Nico had dwindled by the lakeside for some time before he’d come by for breakfast. Then he’d taken his time brushing his horse and getting on it.

“What’s wrong?” Michael’s thumb was on his lip and Travis realized that he’d been chewing on it. Travis wondered why the other man was staring at his lips but then he quickly stepped back. This man was dangerously used to seducing others. Even he’d heard of some of the man’s exploits. Travis took a deep breath and took another step away. Travis was flighty when he wanted to be but he couldn’t as smoothly change himself from a steadfast soldier into a seductive courtier.

“I’ll be perfectly fine if you’ll stop taking liberties,” Travis responded as coldly as he could.

“You still refuse to bond.”

“Would you want a strange man you barely know asking to bond with you?” Travis snapped back at Michael.

Michael faced him directly then and his face lost all expression but the sternness it carried. He froze in place and stared in awe. A word popped into his mind then. Roman General. As he thought so Michael responded, “A bond is never made nor offered lightly Travis Stoll.” The weight of those simple words hung in the air.

Although he had no words in response Travis still managed to glare back at Michael Kahale. “I can say the exact same thing. No one accepts a bond just as lightly, Michael Kahale.” The man had the audacity to smile at him as if he was amused.

On the other hand Travis was actually offended that Michael was so stubborn about bonding with him. It was evident that neither of them knew each other enough to bond. Didn’t a bond at least require some kind of understanding or acceptance of one’s partner? From what Travis understood a bond was more than a partnership, unbreakable like a marriage, and was like melding two characters and personalities into one. Both of them had to at least understand one another’s point of view in life first to even consider bonding. Yet here Michael was, allowing himself to be swayed by the fact that Travis was in love with him.

“If you don’t bond with me you will be married to someone else by Prince Nico’s choosing once we get to the palace,” Michael informed him. Travis felt the cruelty of the words slice through him deeper than they should have. This was the man he’d pined for all these years? This was the man he’d loved? A man who could so very easily dig up Travis’ hopes and secrets, ask for a bond, and just as easily hurt him. It hurt even more to be practically told by the one person he loved that he must accept bonding forever with someone or be forced to marry.

“I would much rather be drowned and forever lost at sea than to be bonded with a man who would throw an ultimatum at their prospective partner.” Travis left the conversation at that. He ran up the stairs out onto the deck. He would not allow himself to be manhandled, intimated or manipulated into any form of contract with another human being. He would never bind himself to Michael Kahale if all it meant was that it would benefit others and supposedly make him an honest man. Even someone as lowly and pathetic as Travis had his own dreams and resolves. Even he had something more important than himself.

 

“What’s wrong?” Will sat down with Travis at the steps of the deck closest to the hull of the ship. Will handed him a slice of bread and a chunk of cheese before ripping the hard bread and chewing it. Travis watched his prince eat slightly stale bread and old cheese. He smiled, thinking of the small everyday life his friend had finally, truly experience. Not many princes who grew up in a palace experienced hardships and poverty, and yet his prince had not even once complained. He’d heard stories of many royal children experiencing some kind of suffering as minute as skipping a meal and crying for hours. He was proud to say that his prince and friend was one who could endure far greater sufferings.

“Travis?”

“Yes?”

“We haven’t eaten since breakfast, the sun will set soon. You should eat,” Will said. Travis thanked him for bringing his share and started to eat. It didn’t take long for the question to come up again. “What’s wrong?”

Travis tried not to let it show. He was frustrated and angry about his problems with Michael. He was also sad and unable to express his feelings honestly with various other situations. Right now he was no longer just Travis Stoll as he’d been in the past months. He was in some sense once again Prince Will’s retainer and royal guard. He was a knight and he couldn’t show his weakness when it was his duty to protect Will. So Travis hardened his expression and tried to shrug off the question.

“You’ve been on edge lately Travis,” Will commented, perfectly comfortable with carrying on the conversation when Travis didn’t respond. “You’ve also been acting strange.” Travis still didn’t answer. He focused on eating. “I gave Michael permission to ask for your hand but considering the atmosphere I would say it isn’t going very well for either of you.” Travis almost choked on the stale bread. Will laughed as he patted Travis’ back while he coughed. “Isn’t he the man you’ve always wanted?” Again Travis didn’t answer. He wasn’t sure if he knew what to say. He wondered at all if he was simply in love with the idea of Michael Kahale and not exactly the actual man. Being in love with the idea of love was perhaps the most pitiful thing that could happen for someone as pathetic as him. He was without family, without home, without kingdom and now even his position was dubious at best.

Travis felt his back flinch. His scar normally didn’t itch or hurt unless he felt like he was under a lot of pressure or stress. He was normally very conscious of how much stress he had incurred. Travis inwardly grimaced when Will’s gaze turned half-lidded with suspicion. His back muscles tensed even more at the thought.

“Your back is hurting,” Will very simply and darkly stated. The one thing Travis would never be able to beat would be those very observant eyes. Will had the gift of healing like Lord Asclepius.

Travis tried to laugh it off. “It’s probably just going to rain.”

“The changing of the weather does not affect your scar,” Will said in a menacing tone of suspicion and warning. Travis tried to laugh it off and started to stand. Before he could get away Will had already latched onto him and was pulling him down into the hold to the end where the crew shared one space as a sleeping quarter. He hadn’t noticed that area earlier, but the hold did have poor lighting and the door was well hidden behind the abundant of cargo netted to each corner of the back wall.

Will slammed the door close, and most of the crew inside who were either sleeping or taking a break didn’t even notice. They were used to men walking around making a racket and being loud. No one bothered them until Will seated Travis down at the table and pulled his shirt and travel vest off.

“You know your scar only starts to cause trouble whenever you are stressed,” Will sighed loudly as if complaining about a misbehaving child. Travis yelped over the back of his chair he’d been leaning into when Will slapped his back. He listened to Will grumble as he felt familiar hands rub ointment onto his back. The scent of the ointment worked around Travis and forced him into a complacent mood. Before long Travis was slumped over the back of the chair sighing into the relaxing smell and the soft touches rubbing away the knots in his back. Will had never massaged him before but he’d seen the prince practice often. He’d almost been a victim of it once but had luckily been called away before being forced to such a pain.

“That’s a new face,” a familiar voice taunted. His eyes slowly opened and Travis couldn’t even make himself glare at his grinning younger brother. Connor looked like he might throw some kind of jab at him but seemed to decide against it. Travis was certain whatever his brother had thought of saying wouldn’t have been able to ruin his mood at that moment.

“His usually very harsh expression eased away so easily,” came another voice. He turned his gaze and saw Nico and Michael standing by the table. It finally came to attention that everyone in the room and including those that followed was watching. Will kept on rubbing and evening his hands gripped Travis’ lower back. He stood up immediately and pulled away. He never knew he’d been so tender in that spot but it wasn’t somewhere he was comfortable with his friend touching.

“I’m not done,” Will grumbled at him. He stood up and pushed Travis back down on the chair. “Your scar’s going to ache again if you don’t relax.” Travis didn’t understand such a logic but then again it was just as peculiar an idea as an old wound aching just before it was to rain.

“Ho, he’s got a pleasant face when he isn’t arrogantly staring at someone,” someone said in the background. Travis ignored the curious voices and tried to relax again. Travis instead tensed whenever Will’s fingers rubbed his back in a particular place he hadn’t expected to be so tender.

“Right. Could be because he was raised in that pompous kingdom.”

“You mean he’s one of those stuffy knights who paid their way through their stations?”

“No way. He’s got Connor as a brother remember?”

“Hey, I resent that!” Connor laughed.

“So you’re saying he’s a poor kid who groveled his way to the top?”

Travis almost fell asleep listening to the insults thrown about the room to provoke him. He was used to this after all. He’d heard worse when he was a squire and when he was knighted and became Will’s retainer. The bantering was almost like a sleep potion. Until he heard a loud crash after someone said something and the room broke into laughter.

His eyes shot open and he saw Will standing. He looked around the room, Nico having already moved to shoulder himself in front of Will and the crew. Michael was being pushed back by Connor. Travis stood up and looked around again. It was obvious the room was split between their party and the crew members, and it seemed Will started it by throwing a chair at someone.

“Take it back!” Will snapped.

“Will,” Nico whispered.

“You stay out of this!” Will yelled at Nico and pushed him to the side. Will stepped forward and demanded one more time, “All of you take back what you said!”

“You’ve no right to order us around!” someone yelled from the crew. “You’re just a cowardly prince who ran away from home!” Then he heard the drawing of steel and quickly stepped forward. Travis didn’t care what they said about him, but that insult wasn’t thrown at him and he wouldn’t stand for it. He wasn’t going to let anyone threaten Will either.

He shuffled Will behind him and lowered his center of gravity. “I’ll kill anyone who points his sword at Will,” Travis snapped. He could see some of the crew members moving back but some of them stepped forward as if to take his dare.

“You and what army?” someone taunted.

Travis thought better of drawing his sword and instead drew his dagger from his boot. The room was a little too tight with so many of them. It was best to use a shorter weapon. Travis kept trying to push Will back but the man kept pushing himself forward.

“Withdraw or I will kill all of you,” Travis warned them one more time.

“You think you can take on Ghosts?” Connor shouted as he struggled with holding Michael back.

This time Travis felt the anger in him burst forward. “You think that because I was raised in a palace that I’ve never had hardship such as yours?” Travis growled at them. He glared at his brother especially. “You think that because I’ve never traveled as far or seen as many sights that I don’t understand the world?” Travis turned his gaze on the crowd again. “You call me arrogant and naïve, you think I hold my chin up and glare down at you as undeserving don’t you?” Travis heard no response so he took it as validation of his point. “Yet who throws insults and laugh as if they have the right? Me or you?” Travis squared his shoulders and pointed his dagger to the ground in the same form he’d seen Prince Nico do the same. He’d at least remember this lesson from Will’s historical cultural lessons.

He let his dagger drop and the blade stood upright on the wooden floor. Everyone stood still and silence filled the shared quarters. He could feel all eyes staring at him and at the dagger.

“Pick up the dagger then and take my challenge if you think you can best me.”

“You’re just an arrogant noble’s son,” someone spat. This man pushed himself out from the crowd and lowered themselves to pick up Travis’ dagger. He pulled the dagger out from the wood and handed it back handle first to Travis. He took the blade and glared at the young man, unrelenting until the man’s gaze turned to Prince Nico.

With a dark and forbidding look Nico responded very officially, “One match. You’re either thrown out of the ring or you yield.”

“I won’t yield,” the man huffed.

“Ghosts don’t surrender, they survive.”

Travis shot back just as arrogantly, “Knights don’t concede, they die.” Everyone looked confused until Nico snapped at them to move the battle above deck.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Will growled when everyone left. The only ones left in the room were him, Will and Michael. Even Connor couldn’t bear to look him in the face, instead shaking his head morosely before leaving with the crowd. He could hear the activity up on top, things being shuffled and moved about to create the ring. He could also hear the bets and the crowd it was gathering.

“Of course I did.”

“No you didn’t!” Michael snapped angrily. “You could have died, Travis!” He’d never seen him angry. He’d seen Michael snap at his subordinates when they were in the wrong and discipline them but he’d never seen Michael truly angry. Travis almost smiled at this, knowing he’d made Michael show him an expression he normally wouldn’t show.

“I won’t die,” Travis promised. He knew it sounded arrogant but he couldn’t help but say it. After all he could see what none of these Ghosts couldn’t. Everyone was too busy looking through their hearts rather than with their actual eyes.

“You just said you would rather die than yield!” Michael yelled. “Why would you do this?” Michael grabbed both of Travis’ shoulders and shook him back and forth. He let the larger man do so because it seemed to somewhat comfort him. “Don’t throw your life away because they insulted your charge, Travis. It’s not worth it! He’s not worth it!”

Travis didn’t even think when he slapped Michael across the face. Actually he was surprised, he looked down at his hand in wonder. It’d moved on its own, as if his feelings sprung up and controlled it by impulse and his brain had been too slow to even comprehend it until after the fact. Michael and Will were both silent and in shock. Slapping wasn’t exactly something men did to other men, probably.

He pushed Michael’s hands off his shoulders and stepped away. This man would ask to bond with him and yet knew nothing. He knew nothing about Travis’ life or his goals. He didn’t know Travis’ dreams or his hopes. He didn’t even know the extent of Travis’ love. Yet he would ask to bond, to be two entities that were essentially one. How frustrating this was, to realize he loved a man who couldn’t even respect his decisions. Not that he could help loving the man.

“You might have sworn an oath to a worthless leader, Michael Kahale,” Travis said hollowly and he felt empty inside as he scorched Michael with his gaze, “But don’t profess to understand my aspirations for standing here today, and don’t ever disrespect my friend again.” Travis turned and stomped away. He could hear them follow him out but he didn’t have time to worry about their thoughts. He had to train his focus on his challenge. He stomped up the stairs and pushed his way through the crowd until it gave way and he could stand inside the drawn ring.

“Try not to hurt the poor knight too badly. He doesn’t even have a shirt on!”

Travis, despite his focus, could hear Prince Percy give out a whistle before saying to Nico, “I’ll bet Travis shows our young Ghosts a thing or two.”

“You made a bet?” was Nico’s reply.

Travis kept his eyes on the younger man who took his challenge. He followed his opponent with his eyes and watched the way he walked around, circling Travis like an animal.

“Of course.”

“And?” Nico prompted.

“Bet on the underdog every time.”

The man charged. He was light on his feet and he was fast, but Travis was used to this. He quickly drew his sword and blocked the attack, deflecting it. Travis took the chance and forged forward. He swung his sword before pulling out his dagger and cutting the man’s arm. It wasn’t a deep wound but it surprised the man.

It didn’t take long for the battle to end. Travis punched the man, unbalanced him and kicked him out of the ring into the crowd. He took in a deep breath, stepping back and glaring at the silent crowd. Then all of a sudden a dagger was thrown at his feet. It stood upright.

Someone stepped into the marked ring. “Pick up my dagger if you take my challenge,” they said, and this time no one was throwing insults and jabs. They were angry that some lowly arrogant knight had bested one of their own. Travis still had a few frustrations to rid himself of as well. So he bent and picked up the dagger.

He handed it back handle first. They both stepped back and once against Travis went into battle. When he won the match by throwing his opponent out of the ring someone else would throw their dagger or knife in challenge. Travis would pick it up and again start a battle. Eventually the crowd became less jovial, everyone was sitting back, and watching intensely. It was clear that their principle was to protect the honor of their comrade. Each time someone lost then someone else would challenge him and it was only a matter of time before Travis was completely worn out.

“This is your ninth fight already, surrender,” his next opponent advised him.

Travis spat blood out onto the floor. His sweat, their sweat, his blood and their blood was all over the wooden board. He could see that Michael stood at attention, watching everything as if he owed it to Travis to watch until the end. Will did the same, as though it was his duty to watch. Nico sat where he had observing and cueing in to announce the result of each match.

“You know that Ghosts don’t surrender,” his opponent reminded him.

“I heard,” Travis said tiredly. “You survive.”

His opponent nodded and stared hard at Travis. “You’re not made of that stuff. I admit you’re strong and you’ve endurance to survive this long but you’re not a Ghost.” Travis let the man go on. He focused instead on when the man would attack. He wasn’t stupid enough to think that just because the man was calmly speaking that their fight haven’t already started. Even battles could be won mentally. “If this was a battle to the death you would have lost the first time.”

Travis laughed when he heard the man. He laughed so hard he had to wipe the tear that almost shed from his eye. His fingers shook when he unclenched them to wipe at his eyes. Then his entire body was shaking and he was laughing even more manically. Someone commented that he might have gone crazy from being knocked around too much. It was already dark and he could barely see, but Travis could sense where his opponent was very clearly.

“You think this is a joke?”

“You said ‘if this was a battle to the death’,” Travis laughed. Then he swallowed and calmed himself. “Do you think I’m here bleeding and sweating because it’s fun?” he yelled at him. No one responded and he could tell they were all staring at him. “You think I’m here trying to prove myself to you all?” he snapped next. “I don’t need to prove anything to you idiots.”

“He’s definitely gone crazy, he’s trying to start a fight while he’s still in a fight,” Connor said from somewhere he couldn’t see.

Travis clenched his sword and straightened himself into a fighting pose once more. “I told you, knights don’t survive, we die!” Travis lashed out, his opponent was so surprised they barely had time to lift their sword before Travis knocked it out of his hand and kicked him out of the ring.

Travis groaned loudly as he stood in the middle of the ring again. He shouted this time at the top of his lungs, “Don’t you dare look down on me!” Travis wasn’t fighting because he was trying to defend himself. He was fighting because they were looking down on his friend, and he wasn’t going to allow anyone to assume they had the right to judge Will. “You think because you were in No Man’s Land that it makes you a better and more honorable fighter?” Travis stabbed his dagger into the wood himself this time. He barely had the energy to get off his knees but still he shouted. “You think because you’re called Ghosts that I should be afraid of you? That you’re not men who can die?” Travis yelled even louder, “If all you think about is surviving then nothing would ever be so important you’ll give up your life for it!”

Someone stepped into the ring but Travis couldn’t see them anymore. He could see their silhouette approach. They knelt down and put their hand on the dagger and on his shoulder. The person pulled Travis close and hugged him tightly.

“Thank you for your hard work,” Will said and he could tell the man was smiling at him with that lonely smile of his.

Travis grabbed hold of Will tightly. He wasn’t able to see Will because it took too much energy to open them. Travis took in a deep breath and could smell Will’s familiar scent, herbs and ointment mixing around him and relaxing him. “Friendship isn’t a job Will.” The tension left him.

“I know,” Will patted his back.

Travis held only as tightly as he could. “I’ll be here for you…” Though he tried Travis to stand knew he’d already lost himself to the darkness of sleep.


 

Will shouldered Travis up. He’d fought so hard he’d actually knocked himself out. He turned his gaze on the remaining crew members then.

“If any of you wants to take his challenge it’ll have to wait until tomorrow.” No one responded. No one moved. They watched as Will glared Michael down from approaching and shoulder his way back down to the hold. He’d even told Connor not to help. He knew Travis had felt hurt and betrayed by everyone who’d not only mocked him but also didn’t believe in him.

He put Travis in the hammock hanging in the hold instead of the shared quarters for the crew. There was only one hammock in the hold, he assumed because it was supposed to be for whoever was in charge of taking care of the livestock they may be transporting. Will retrieved their things from the quarters and began treatments of Travis’ wounds and bruises. No one came to bother them, everyone quieted when they came by or would glare but didn’t talk to them.

“It’s late,” Nico said when he came down. Will didn’t look up. He was still applying ointment to the last cut on Travis’ arm. He’d bandaged Travis up as best he could. Fortunately no one had gotten a serious injury, but if it’d gone longer Travis would have probably died from blood loss alone.

Nico brushed his fingers over Will’s cheek. He looked up into dark eyes staring down with concern for him. Will pulled away then, refusing to be lost in wonder when he had to take care of his friend.

“Are you angry I didn’t stop him?” Nico asked.

Will shook his head.

“Are you angry that I let him fight?”

He shook his head again.

“Are you upset because they were my people?”

Will didn’t know how to answer. He looked at Nico again and could see the genuine concern. He also understood what Nico wasn’t saying. It’d been out of his hand to do a thing. Will had pushed him away when he tried to protect him from the crew’s lashes. It’d left him with limited options the moment he’d done so. He couldn’t show favoritism for his consort or for the crew either, because he was the Ghost King as well as the Erebian Prince. If he’d made any kind of decision it would have been a conflict of interest.

“Did I make the wrong choice to act as moderator?” asked Nico.

“No, it was the right decision,” Will said. While Nico might never think himself ready to truly be a prince, he was in fact fit to be king and a part of him was proud about that. He quickly turned back to Travis and concentrated on trying to put the man’s shirt back on.

“Ghosts can’t understand men who would fight to die,” Nico said without so much as an invitation to talk about the subject. He listened while trying to sit Travis up in the hammock and slip the shirt on. “We are people who have always fought to survive no matter the circumstances. It is what makes us Ghosts. People who have survived traveling through or even living in the Styx, in No Man’s Land, are Ghosts because no human man could survive.” Will understood. No Man’s Land meant it was the land of the dead—ghosts. It wasn’t exactly encouraging and rather a morbid idea. “The Ghosts uses to be led by a terrible person. He made it part of their mindset to believe they must always do anything to survive.”

This time Will looked at Nico and he didn’t care who was listening or wasn’t listening or passing by. He simply questioned Nico, “A person who can give up anything to survive worries only for themselves, but a person willing to die is one who thinks of others.”

“Someone who can only solve a problem by dying is only worth the life they can give up,” Nico retorted very stubbornly. At least it seemed like a stubborn ideal. He could see Nico didn’t quite believe it to be true either, he was saying it because he knew this was the way his people thought. “It is best to live to fight another day.”

Will sighed. “I pity the people who cannot give up their life for something that means more to them than themselves.” He looked back at Travis and smiled. Travis taught him this after all. “A bodyguard is only worth the life they give up. A knight will never surrender but instead will die, it is because they are willing to die for a cause much larger than themselves.” A question came to mind and Will hesitated. He knew it would be offensive to ask. When he peeked at Nico the man was waiting to hear what he had to say. So Will ask very deliberately, “Would your Ghosts die for you, the King of Ghosts? Or would they let you die the same way the previous Ghost King died?”

Nico stared at him with that awe-inspired look of his again, as if he couldn’t believe Will was truly existing. The question had been sound however. It was unsaid but it was obvious that the previous Ghost King had been killed by Nico, and so Nico became the King of Ghosts. That also brought up a bigger question, how a child Nico’s age managed to do so if not for the idea that one must survive on his own merit. It was illogical to believe in someone to fight alongside another when they would so easily let their own leader die on his own.

“I wouldn’t ask them to die for me.” Nico skirted around the question, and they both knew he did. The truth of the matter was that Nico would never rely on the Ghosts, because he hadn’t rely on them when he rode into the Forbidden Lands. If he had Nico wouldn’t have been thrown in the Pit. The Dark Angel preferred working alone or with very few. It was a lonely existence.

“What cause does Travis fight for then?” Nico asked.

“It’s not a cause he fights for,” Will chuckled, his thoughts immediately returning to his friend. “The scar on his back is his proof of friendship.” He almost wanted to cry when he remembered the night he realized. Nico had not always been by Will’s side. His family had always seemed so distant. Even Connor had left him. “Throughout my entire life Travis has always walked down whatever path I’ve landed on. He saved me by doing the only thing he could.” Will remembered that day well. His young friend had leapt right out in front of him as an assassin slashed his sword down. Even with such a large wound and such a small body his friend had gotten back up, pulled his sword and rushed at the amateur who’d been too shock to recollect himself fast enough.

“He was your shield.”

“And today he was my sword.”

“He doesn’t have to be so forever.” Nico pulled Will forward and hugged him. Will let himself be embraced tightly. He could feel Nico’s worry and his fear. He could feel his regret and sympathy. He was hurt to hear that Will had gone through such ordeals with Travis. “I’m here for you.”

“You don’t get it,” Will laughed. He understood that Nico wanted to be there, to protect him, but Will no longer needed coddling or protection. Everyone treated him like something fragile that needed protection. “He’s not fighting because I’m his charge or his prince.” Will looked up to see Michael standing at the top of the stairs listening. He looked back to Nico. “He fights for his friend, and I would do the same.” Will walked back over to Travis and sighed. “I thought he got this scar by saving me and in turn he was knighted and became my retainer. It’s such a huge burden for someone at that age to carry. I never really thought twice about it.”

“Friendship isn’t a job,” Nico repeated the words. Everyone had heard Travis’ weak declaration. “He would die to prove his friendship, but why does he feel the need to prove it?”

Will laughed again and shook his head at Nico. “Would you sit idly and watch Prince Percy die?” Nico looked taken back by the question. “Could you stand and watch Percy be persecuted for pirating when no one knows the circumstances for him roaming free in the seas and sky?”

“I see.”

“It’s not that he’s proving his friendship, it’s that he’s honoring it. One does not simply say ‘we are friends’ and yet do nothing.” Will began to pack his things away again. “Even your Ghosts continued to challenge him for their comrade’s pride. Was that not the same as what he did, fighting to defend me from their biases and hate?” With that Nico had no response. “This man has done more for me than I could ever repay all in the name of friendship.” Will didn’t say the last part of his thought, that Travis was also the only one who never left him alone or abandoned him. He was the constant affection in Will’s life that he’d always needed.

Chapter Text

By early morning Will woke up and sneezed. He shivered, shaking out the chill that had settled around his shoulders. The ship creaked, and it was a lot quieter than it had sounded earlier. He stood up and stretched, waking up his stiff muscles from sleeping up against the hard cargo. Will rubbed his eyes, without stopping the yawn that erupted from him, he strode over to the hammock where he’d left Travis sleeping. He did a quick check to see that none of Travis’ bandages were bleeding through. He sighed out of relief knowing that all the wounds were definitely simple flesh wounds and none too deep.

Will went up the stairs tiredly, hoping if he walked around the deck he would wake up. When he made his second round around the deck he saw the first light of dawn stream out from the horizon. He ran to starboard and stared in amazement. He’d always loved seeing the twilit sky, he’d always found the way the colors of the world blended to be uplifting.

Something was set on his shoulder just then. Will looked to his left and his right to see the black fur cape on his shoulder, and arms wrapped around him to attach it on properly. He waited for Nico to move from behind him before he smiled a greeting at the man.

Nico stared at him before moving closer and setting his forehead on Will’s shoulder. “What’s wrong?” Will asked Nico in wonder. It wasn’t rare for Nico to show affection, but it was rare for the man to be seemingly vulnerable.

“I haven’t slept yet.”

“Why not?”

“I was standing guard.”

“Standing guard? We’re on a flying ship,” Will said just before turning around. Then he saw Michael standing stock still. As the light became brighter he noticed more of the crew getting up and moving around the ship and deck. Michael glared at anyone who came by or approached him, forcing them to back away cautiously.

“Michael just relieved me,” Nico yawned.

Will’s gaze went to the floorboard where Michael stood. They weren’t guarding the ship but guarding Travis’ dagger. No one had removed it. It was one thing to challenge Travis, it was another when the opponent was Nico the Dark Angel or Michael of Rome.

“Sleep,” Will told Nico. He begrudgingly agreed, although first he tried to sway Will into bed with him.

Will had no job to do after getting up and checking on Travis’ bandages. Michael still glared at anyone but Will who approached, including Prince Percy. Aside from the short dialogue he shared with the Euboean prince about breakfast and their destination Will had no one else to talk to. It was clear that while he was a proficient healer and many of them had wounds none of the Ghosts members were willing to accept his aid.

He’d been exploring the rest of the ship when he found his way into the captain’s quarters. Unlike the captain’s cabin it wasn’t exactly a room for war council. Will was about to knock on the ajar door when he heard the quiet voices from beyond become louder and angrier.

“Why does it have to be him?” a voice from behind one of those Ghost masks yelled. Will put his back to the wall by the door and listened. He didn’t peek inside because he already knew this was Percy and Nico’s shared room. He’d seen Percy up on deck taking charge so the only reason unfamiliar voices were coming from beyond the ajar door would be because the Ghosts were speaking to Nico.

After a moment of silence the same voice shouted louder, “You could have chosen anyone else! Why couldn’t you have chosen someone more competent?” Will held his breath. He knew he wasn’t exactly the perfect marriage candidate but he’d never guess that Nico would be directly confronted with complaints. Will might not have ever thought of himself as a perfect candidate for consort but he’d assumed he’d at least been adequate. Perhaps he’d taken too many freedoms and liberties. A consort was supposed to be self-sacrificing for their partner’s cause after all.

“Watch your tongue,” another voice warned the first one. It was that deep voice from the one who’d spoken up the day before about being Apollo’s child too. Will gasped but held his breath again. Were the complaints coming from his half-siblings? He’d been judged as inadequate to marry their Ghost King by his own half-siblings? He curled in his fingers to form a tight fist. No one else would have had more right than another Apollo child to judge him. Shockingly he didn’t feel betrayed. He felt as if his worries and insecurities had been validated.

“Why? He’s such a pampered prince!” snapped the first voice again. It sounded younger but fully if not mostly grown. A boy who’d recently stepped into manhood—yet another younger brother.

There was silence again. Will took in a slow and deep breath. Nico's quiet voice sounded in the silence. He very simply said, "Speak."

"Even I know life wasn't easy in the Golden Palace. You shouldn't judge a person based on rumors," the deep voice sighed out dejectedly. Will slowly unclenched his fists. "I can at least attest that Will Solace was not much of a fighter or the sharpest child." This person spoke as if they knew him personally. Will tried to recognize the voice. There was a pause before the man added, "I do know he aspired to be a wandering healer like our older brother. I'd always assumed when he ran away that he'd finally done what he had always wanted."

"That is another point. He ran away, that means he ended the engagement," the younger man chimed in. Will sighed heavily next but was careful not to make any noise.

"So Will should have just stayed waiting two, three, four years until someone officially tells him Nico died?" The older one asked. Will was quickly annoyed. What decisions he made was no business of theirs. Everyone made it sound as if everything that was wrong was because of Will. It wasn’t his fault someone had such evil ambitions. It wasn’t his fault that Nico was the only known surviving heir to Erebus. It wasn’t his fault either that Nico had suffered the Pit. “Apollo’s children were dying and he would have died too if he hadn’t left.” There was a long pause after that because no one had an answer to why Apollo’s sons were all being killed.

“But why him?” the younger one snapped again. “He’s never killed a person. He has a retainer for a friend. The only thing he can do is heal!” Will was angry and frustrated at first, but then he decided after hearing that last part that it wasn’t worth his anger or being insulted. “How exactly is he the best choice to stand next to the King?”

“Who would be best?” Nico quietly asked.

“Anyone would have been better than him!” the younger voice shouted.

“Be clear,” Nico quietly ordered. While his voice might have been quiet Will could hear the underlying frustration hinting from beneath the calmness. Was it possible no one but Nico and King Hades had known that the true intent had been to ask for Will’s hand in marriage four years ago? The bigger question was why Nico wouldn’t simply clear up the misunderstanding. On second thought it was perhaps better not to have Nico professing his feelings for Will to unrelated parties.

Someone cleared their throat and broke the tension. “I believe what my short-tempered younger brother here is trying to say,” the older one interceded, “is that he would have preferred someone with better talents and quality to be your marriage partner.”

“They just had to be a child of Apollo. You could have chosen anyone,” the younger quietly grumbled. Will sighed as he pressed the back of his head to the wall. “You could have chosen someone who could fight beside you, someone who would never betray you or run away.”

“Someone strong but unwilling to take direction. Someone smart but not willing to dominate. Someone who doesn’t need to be protected.” Nico’s voice echoed in the quiet atmosphere. He couldn’t hear any movement but Will could tell from the chill running up his spine that Nico was moving towards the younger man. “That does sound ideal for a wife, but I have no need for those who are incompetent.” Will shivered, the cold he felt running deeper than he expected. Will quickly but quietly walked away.

He would solve this himself. All he had to do was prove he had talent and quality. Will stomped up the stairs and veered toward the middle of the deck where he knew Michael was still in the drawn circle with Travis’ dagger. Everyone turned and look at him. He bumped into others without apologizing, he headed straight for Michael and Michael saw him too. Will snatched the dagger from inside the circle before Michael realized what he was doing.

“I am Will Solace!” he shouted.


 

Nico rolled over in his sleep but paused when he felt an unfamiliar heat next to him. He glared before his eyes even opened. Nico growled under his breath as he turned back around and sat up off the bed. Disgust and bile erupted from the pit of his stomach as he quickly tied on his boots and slipped on his shirts and leathers. While he’d never been uncomfortable sharing space he found it unsettling now that he’d formed an intimate relationship with Will.

“You’re awake,” Percy yawned loudly from the bed. Nico decided against biting out that Percy shouldn’t have gotten into the bed next to him no matter how big the mattress was. “I’ve been lying here waiting for you to wake up.” Nico quickly turned around and glared at Percy openly. The both of them had an unspoken rule that while they shared the room and the bed that it was never occupied by either of them intimately at the same time. Whenever Annabeth was on the ship Nico had always slept on the hammock in the hold. Or when Nico was sleeping Percy had always found something to do in the office.

Percy laughed before running his hand over his thick stubble covering his jawline and chin. Nico didn’t respond. Unlike with Leo Valdez it didn’t require the threat of burying him alive to get Percy to explain himself.

“He picked up the dagger and declared to the entire crew…” Percy projected clearly as he stared up at the ceiling, “his name was Will Solace and as Travis’ best friend would challenge anyone who thought he was unworthy.” Nico started to move to kill Percy but just as quickly stopped himself. This was not about killing Percy—not yet. He had to find Will.

Quickly dressed Nico rushed through the ship. He knew what would happen. At least he presumed the outcome, but when Nico made it up the steps onto the deck what he saw was something else.

Twenty minutes. He’d been sleeping for twenty minutes and this happened. He could hear Percy coming up the steps behind him at a leisurely pace.

“They’ve been doing that,” Percy sighed next to him.

In the challenge circle stood Michael and Will, both glaring at one another. Will held the dagger in his hand tightly. Everyone else had went on their business. No one would have accepted the challenge from his consort. Nico had known no one would because it would give Nico the right to fight in his place and no one dared. Challenging or accepting Will’s challenge was the same as going up against Nico. None of the Ghosts would have agreed.

“Apparently they both feel as if they’re being challenged,” Percy clued Nico in.

This had not been what he was expecting. Of course he should have seen it coming. Michael Kahale had been exasperatedly failing at courting Travis and Will felt insulted if not shared annoyance with the fact that Michael went about it all wrong. On the other hand Michael felt that Will was the reason why Travis wouldn’t bond with him among other things.

“The dumbest thing you could do during your courting period is start a fight with the one man who can get you married.’ Nico focused his annoyed gaze at Michael as he walked into the circle. The both sent searing glares his way. Nico ignored Will for the time being and turned his attention on Michael. “Get downstairs, move your little lord to my bed and tend to his wounds,” Nico ordered. He didn’t often issue orders specifically or by intention. Michael stifled him with a quiet but intense look. Nico waved him off. “Courting requires romance and professing your undying love,” he hinted. Michael muttered something in his mother-tongue before walking back down the stairs.

“Subtle,” Percy commented.

Nico sent him away with a look. The man was fortunate he didn’t have the luxury to prioritize their conversation on Percy’s comfort level in sharing a bed with him.

“What do you want?” asked Will once Nico turned to face him. His voice sounded strained and tense. His shoulders were rigid. His consort’s entire posture announced his anger and frustration to the world.

“Just you,” Nico spoke quietly.

Will glared at him, a vulnerability reflected in his eyes. He was unsure of Nico’s intentions. Obviously Nico wanted him to relax and step away from the circle, to end the open challenge. That wasn’t what Will wanted. The effect of his words undid Will into more than relaxation, it would slowly break down his bravado. Those vulnerable eyes told him all that. Those eyes at the brink of tears pleaded him not to do it unless he wanted to suffer the consequences.

The answer was simple. Nico was willing to suffer any consequences. He was willing to suffer all the consequences. He’d waited years, nearly starved to death, nearly ran away, thought himself unworthy countless times and still did, but he was still willing to selfishly claim Will for his own.

“Only you.”

Will shook his head slightly. His eyes threatened to shed the tears shining in his eyes.

“Always you.” Nico heard a distinct sniff as Will dropped the dagger and it clattered to the floorboard.

Running a hand through his messy hair, Nico took in a deep chilling breath. He picked up Will’s hand with the gold band, the engagement ring he’d had both Leo and Jake design and create for him. He bent low and kissed the knuckle of the ring finger.

“Always just only you,” Nico whispered once he straightened up. He held his arms out slightly and Will barreled into his embrace. A deep breath allowed him to take in Will’s scent, his cool brisk air scented hair and dried sweat.

“How does your heart manage to live under the expectations of others?” Will asked him. His face was buried into Nico’s shoulder, refusing to look up at Nico. “How do you bear it?”

Nico laughed, genuinely laugh. It hurt him a little, his voice strained. He’d never laughed so hard. “My heart is ruled by no one save the gods, and even then my life is too insignificant.” He waited until Will gave him a chuckle before continuing. “Do you recall what you told me by the lakeside?” Will shook his head. He repeated the words, “If you are the untouched sky and I am what lies beneath the earth, then what lies between us is the world.” Yes, the entire world could be against their union and yet that was simply an obstacle. It was nothing they couldn’t overcome. “And that is only distance.”

The man’s face turned bright red at hearing his own words repeated back to him. “Did I really say something so embarrassing?” Will stepped back and covered his face in his hands.

He removed his consort’s hands and nudged the man’s chin so he would look up into Nico’s eyes. If his consort hadn’t been such a shy person when it came to intimacy in public Nico would have kissed him already. Rather, he found he’d been fortunate the mood had even allowed him to so publically declare his love for his consort at all.

“I’ve gone to the Pit and crawled out for you.” Nico didn’t let his gaze waver and he waited until Will realized what he meant. Nico had literally been thrown into Tartarus and had crawled out, and while he’d been sidetracked he had done it all so he could see Will again. Even if that meant he would have to watch Will from afar. Even if that had meant that Will would reject him for making the man wait four years. “I’m not a man of many words Will,” Nico added for his own benefit. He’d never been really, but he’d spouted poetry and love words and even sang if that was what it took to court Will Solace.

Will chuckled. “Courting requires romance and professing your undying love.” Nico grinned when he heard his own words thrown back at him. He nodded. Will stepped up to Nico until the toes of their boots touched. “Do you think your poetry will dissuade me every time?” came the question.

Nico couldn’t help but lift an inquisitive brow.

Will shot him a suspicious stare before side stepping away from Nico and out of the drawn circle. Nico picked up the dagger and handed it to Will. For a moment there was a glint in his consort’s eyes, a playfulness that quickly disappeared when Will noted a crew member rush by. It was then that everything changed. All the plans he had made, all the answers that would have simply solved everything, came crumbling down in front of him at that very moment.

A crash struck them on port side and everyone nearly toppled over. Nico instinctively wrapped his arm around Will’s waist and pulled them both up on their feet. At first Will was confused but then he just as quickly bounced on his feet.

“We’re being boarded!”

Planks sounded on both sides of the ship. He heard a snarl and turned to watch as Percy stalked down from the helm of the ship where he’d been navigating. Nico noted right away that seeing the hard expression on Percy’s face and curse from his lips cued everyone into defending the ship. Percy pulled the bronze cloak pin from its placement, his cloak fell onto the ground but the pin magically changed into his sword.

“Is that…” Will gasped as he stared at the bronze sword that had changed from the pin.

“The legendary sword.” Nico stared at the image of Percy quickly jumping into battle with the pirates. He’d always been captivated by Percy’s natural ability to lead but mostly he’d admired the man when he was fighting. “Anaklumos,” Nico whispered the name.

Nodding in knowing Will whispered, “Riptide.”

“How’s your swordsmanship since the Golden Palace?” Nico asked as he drew his own sword.

Will drew his own sword from his waist in response. “I defended your town didn’t I?” Nico smirked at the curt if not snide response. Will quickly dispatched the pirate in his way and threw him over the ship. “Now why are we being attacked?” Nico looked at the ship that had crashed into them, hooked itself to their portside and came in a ravaging loud onslaught. Will followed his gaze before ducking to dodge a stray arrow.

He looked up and saw the insignia of the ship’s flag. The golden Gorgon with curved tusks told him exactly what he needed to know. This was Chrysaor’s pirate ship. Very few people had ever bested Percy, and his half-brother Chrysaor was one of those few people.

It came crashing down on him immediately. Percy was never one to simply run away from battle, and the few times he had run had been by the advisement of the man’s fiancée. Instinctively he knew it would be a harder battle to persuade Percy to run this time. Nico wasn’t much for running away in battle either, but fear gripped him as he rushed to Will. It was then that Michael and Travis rushed out of the hold onto the deck with the other crew members.

Weapons brandished everyone started to fight to defend the ship. Arrows flew between both ships. Percy was already mounting his own attack on the other ship, taking down the enemy’s frontline before they could board theirs. Nico get a tight grip of Will’s wrist.

It took him longer than expected to focus on Will again. He realized his husband had been trying to get his attention.

“Let go, I need to fight!” Will yelled at him over the noise of battle around them.

“No!”

“What?”

Nico pursed his lips tighter. He hadn’t meant to answer so vehemently. Will looked hurt, as if Nico had just stabbed him in the gut after professing love to him. He probably had.

“The captain of that ship is Percy’s half-brother Chrysaor,” Nico explained as he gazed back to the enemy ship. He slowly forced himself to let go of Will’s sword-arm. “He won’t run.”

“Then we defend the ship.”

Nico shook his head solemnly. “Even if we do we will still have losses. I cannot…” Nico gritted his teeth. He’d experienced many losses in his life. The one he couldn’t afford was Will. “I need you to run.” His eyes landed on Michael Kahale and Travis Stoll battling their way to them.

“Run?” The single word was more than a question of Nico’s statement. It was a question of Nico’s character and his expectations in their marriage. Of course Nico would protect Will, but he had no doubt that Chrysaor wouldn’t miss Nico’s one weakness.

He stiffly nodded before turning around and blocking an attack from behind. Michael’s sword swung down on his opponent’s arm, disarming the man literally. Michael grabbed the screaming man by the collar and threw him off the ship.

“You,” Nico grabbed Travis by the shoulder. “Take Will and run,” he barked. Travis blinked at him, the same questions that were in Will’s voice shone in the man’s eyes. Then the man turned with the same questions in his eyes to Will.

Their conversation paused as they fought to defend themselves once more. Once the four of them came together again Will sent him a heated glare before turning to address Travis. “We’re fighting Percy’s brother, Chrysaor.”

Michael immediately turned to Nico, the wild look in his gaze asking him for confirmation. Nico nodded. “We must leave.” Michael’s voice was stiff, and his original accent slipped out.

“Why?” Will demanded angrily.

“Chrysaor is not one you take lightly,” Michael responded for Nico. He hadn’t the heart to explain. “He is one of the generals left to the Loyalists and he leads in cruelty. He especially carries hatred for Prince Percy who bested him.” Nico glared away. Neither of those brothers would want anything more than the settle the score.

“I will not run.” Will gritted his teeth.

Nico grabbed Will by his shirt and pulled him close. “This is not up for discussion.” He could see the anger flash. “You will run. Travis will keep you safe.” Will shook with anger and the look in his eyes wasn’t just fury but mixed with sorrow. “I cannot risk losing you.”

“We are flying on a ship!” Will snapped at him. He pushed Nico away. “Where would you suggest I run to Prince?” The anger spewing from his mouth caught the attention of the clashing battles around them. The fights continue but Nico was aware that everyone else had an ear to their dispute.

“Anywhere!” Nico yelled at him, pulling how his dagger and stabbing someone from behind him. Nico kicked back and dropped the body, wiping the blood on his pants before sheathing his dagger again.

“Where?” Will yelled back at him. He ducked down as Travis swung his blade across their circle and cleaved through the middle of an attacking man. Michael didn’t hide the admiration in his gaze or the way he licked his lips when Travis met his stare. Nico rolled his eyes.

“Where would you have me go?” Will demanded again, taking a step toward Nico. This time it was his consort who grabbed him by his shirt and pulled him close. “Don’t dare think you have any authority over me. I made a vow before a witness, before the gods and on this ring that I would stand by you. I did not vow to follow your command but to walk beside you. You would ask me to abandon those vows mere days after making it?”

“I would rather be thrown into Tartarus again than have you die over this civil war!” Nico snapped honestly. “I would sacrifice everything for your life,” he admitted.

The set of Will’s jaw was the sign of anger but also stubbornness. It was Travis that spoke up. “Fear is not something to be ashamed of.” Nico recognized those words. Those were his words. Word he told himself and words he had said to the boy in the village. “Fear lets you know you’re alive. It helps you remember what it is like to be weak, so you know what you need to be strong.” Travis tapped a hand on Nico’s shoulder. While neither of them enjoyed the others company, and while Nico had been trying to marry the man off both of them also had an understanding. This was the one time Travis had acknowledged Nico. “Shouldn’t you at least trust Will’s ability to survive?”

Nico pushed Travis’s hand away. “Do as you wish.” He would just have to finish this battle away from Will.

Chapter Text

Michael couldn’t keep his gaze off Travis. While he took down his enemies he kept Travis in his line of sight. The man had been something of a beauty, his smile and laugh had been infectious too. His vicious style of fighting on the other hand was pure magnificence. That wasn’t the only reason Michael kept his eye on Travis. He could see the outcome of this battle and it rested on him to be certain Travis survived. Nico might not have been able to give up Will’s life enough to ask the man to run. Michael realized he wasn’t very different from Nico but he wouldn’t ask Travis to run because he was already watching the man run into the thick of battle.

It was not very long until Percy Jackson jumped onto the railing of the enemy ship, his back to his crew. He faced the enemy hoard he’d been fighting and stomped his foot on the ship in a steady rhythm. It wasn’t long until everyone on their ship paused. The man always had a knack for drawing attention.

He held himself balanced on the railing holding one of the ropes hanging from the ship’s sails. Percy held his sword in the same hand with the rope, and in his other hand held a blue painted mask. Soon enough the ship they were on started humming in union and Michael recognized the tune.

Someone wearing a hooded cloak jumped onto the railing of Blackjack standing next to Percy. Percy had slipped on his mask. Michael suddenly noted that the ship was free of boarders.

“A dark rider comes!” the crew shouted.

“Are you ready for judgment day?” Percy and the cloaked individual responded.

The two turned to each other and knocked their forearms together. Half the crew including Will and Travis were busy throwing the corpses of their intruders overboard. Michael saw Chrysaor glaring at Percy and then to the other Dark Rider from where he stood in front of the helm. He brandished his own sword and snarled.

Michael lifted the sword in his hand and frowned. He was used to a heavier sword, a long sword or a heavy blade, but he was carrying a standard issue Roman golden sword for travelling purposes. He’d also given up all his assets when he retired from services and whatever he had kept from his time in the service he’d sent back to his home. Michael hadn’t anticipated he would be going into service so soon after his last mission or be chasing after his potential bond partner. With the sword in his hand he felt inadequately prepared for this battle.

“You do not hold the right for judgment,” Chrysaor snarled as he stepped up on deck. Percy and the Dark Rider—Michael suspected it was Nico considering the Stygian iron sword—jumped down onto Chrysaor’s ship. Michael noted one of the iron spears on the floorboard. He moved closer to it, making sure he and it were standing at a perfect angle from his target.

“You are in Erebian air space, Chrysaor,” Percy answered back.

“So are you.”

“My ship harbors royal passengers. You will remove yourself.” Percy’s demand went on deaf ears as expected.

“You mean this one?” Chrysaor was suddenly on Nico. While Nico had his dagger on Chrysaor’s throat the man had Nico hanging over the railing in one grip. “The Dark Angel loses his wings in the Pit and crawls out the Dark Rider, am I correct?” Chrysaor’s twisted smile showed viciousness, but his eyes to Michael told a different story. The Loyalists general wasn’t just vicious or cruel, he would drop Nico into the water without a warning. Nico himself didn’t seem to care. He kept his hand where Chrysaor’s hand was on his throat and the other held his dagger right on the man’s throat.

“What happens if I drop him?” Chrysaor feigned letting go and everyone gasped and moved forward. Michael stood where he was, his knees relaxed and slightly bent as he waited. “For the lonely Dark Angel you’ve sure got many people who value your life.” Chrysaor pulled off Nico’s mask and dropped it. “What is the price of your life, Prince?”

“Return him,” Will demanded.

“Ah, the runaway prince.” Chrysaor’s smile slowly turned into a wicked smirk. His gaze turned onto Will standing at the railing of their ship across from Chrysaor and Nico. “You have a price on your head.”

“I suspected,” came the reply.

“Oh.”                                                                                                                                                

“I know someone wants my place in the marriage with Prince Nico.” Will dropped his weapon onto the floor. “Give us Nico back and I’ll come with you.”

A chorus of No’s came from the two Princes and the Stoll brothers. Michael wondered for a brief moment, as he’d been wondering for a while now, what made Will Solace so special. Percy Jackson barely knew Will Solace and yet he had just moved his sword to Chrysaor’s back. Nico was obviously in love with the man so that made sense. The Stoll brothers grew up with Will but he couldn’t imagine why they would give up this life for a man willing to trade his life for someone else’s. In fact Michael wondered why they couldn’t respect Will’s wishes a little more. It was almost as if everyone was smothering the man in a wall of overprotectiveness that wasn’t necessary.

“Your life definitely has more value than Nico’s death,” Chrysaor considered the exchange thoughtfully. He didn’t even seem to care that Percy was inching closer. “Or I can just kill him and take you.”

“If you drop him I will jump in after him.” Will’s voice was steady. He climbed up onto the railing and took a step onto the plank connecting the two ships. Will stood in the middle of the plank. “I’m not afraid to die.”

“No…” Nico struggled. Michael could see the moment coming. He knelt down and waiting, his hand on the spear. When he cast a cursory glance around the only person who seemed to notice what he was planning to do was Jake. As the two outsiders in the tight-knit group both of them could easily read the situation. It happened just as Michael predicted.

“Pull him in,” Percy growled. He had grabbed Chrysaor from behind and his sword’s blade on the man’s throat. “Don’t think I won’t kill you.”

“Oh I know you will little brother,” Chrysaor snarled. His eyes flitted to Travis quickly, and Michael noted that Travis kept the bow and arrow behind his back. The arrow now had a length of rope tied to it and Michael could see the plan the two friends had formulated. “The question is if you’re ready to die with me.” Chrysaor’s free hand held his sword backwards, pointing right at Percy’s side.

In this tense situation Nico kicked Chrysaor. Both Percy and Chrysaor fell backwards and Chrysaor lost grip of Nico. Everyone shouted but paused in shock when Will had jumped from the plank. Will held his hand out and Travis threw the bow and arrow to him. Will shot the arrow right onto the main sail of Blackjack, his hand gripped the rope before he swung and grabbed onto Nico before either of them disappeared.

“Dammit!” Chrysaor cursed once he regained his standing. He saw the rope, the only lifeline keeping both princes from falling into the middle of the sea. Travis was in the middle of pulling the two up over the railing when he noticed Chrysaor’s intent.

The Loyalists general jumped from his ship to theirs and cut the rope. Travis shouted in desperation, grabbing the last yards of the rope before Will and Nico were lost. He bent over the railing, both hands busy trying to keep a hold while Chrysaor now stood on their deck snarling at all the crew members. Everyone timidly held their weapons to the Loyalists.

“Move!” Michael bellowed. Everyone turned and leapt out of the way. Michael threw the spear and before Chrysaor could dodge the projectile it had pierced him in the heart. The force of Michael’s throw had always been strong. He watched as Chrysaor flew overboard, but not before he knocked Travis over. Michael had already started running the moment he’d thrown the spear. He had known the moment both Dark Riders came out that this was going to happen. Someone was going to be loss, but he couldn’t afford it to be anyone but him.

Michael leapt over the ship after Travis and the two princes. He was putting his bet on the fact that the armaments had been brought out onto the sides of the ship in case of a gun fight.


 

Travis had no regrets. He was going to fall into the sea with Nico and Will but he had no regrets with his possible death. A part of him seemed to believe he was going to live but he could tell just from staring down at the height they were falling. There was no way anyone could survive such a fall. He couldn’t imagine it. So why did he have such a sense of security at the face of his death in these first few seconds?

An arm wrapped around his waist. He knew whose arms it was long before he turned to look. Michael pulled their foreheads close together. He took in a deep breath before pulling away.

“Michael?” Travis gasped. Strong hands tossed Nico and Will up but the throw wasn’t strong enough and the two merely floated in air above them. “What are you doing?” he shouted. Before he could even assess the situation of all four of them falling he was already thrown into the air after Nico and Will. He was thrown over a cannon and the rope wrapped itself around the cannon. Nico and Will suddenly were hanging on the other side of the cannon next to him.

His elation only lasted a second. He looked down and saw the large man who’d thrown him stilling falling. “MICHAEL!” The name left his lips before he realized he’d shouted by instinct. “MICHAEL!” he cried. Travis bit his lips and stifled the tears and the sobs that wanted to escape him. This wasn’t the time to cry. They were somehow miraculously saved by Michael’s sacrifice. He couldn’t waste it.

Travis couldn’t think. He watched as Michael’s body kept falling. He watched as the man fell further and deeper. Then Travis couldn’t even see if Michael had struck the sea’s surface. He’d simply disappeared. The gods had cruelly forbid him from watching the one man he’d ever love be taken from him.

Sadness had settled in his heart for mere moments before anger overtook it. Travis waited until the crew above them threw down a rope ladder. Once they climbed up he noted that everyone had moved back to their own ships. Chrysaor’s ship was in disarray as they inspected their dying leader.

A spear was protruding out of the man’s heart and he’d somehow been thrown from the side of their ship and thrown into his own. It must have been Michael. Travis had never seen anyone make such a powerful throw but Michael. His anger soared.

“Travis,” Will spoke softly and tried to give him comfort. He shrugged off his friend’s hand. Travis grabbed the nearest sword available to him then walked the plank to the other ship. He stood over Chrysaor’s body and snarled back at any of the man’s subordinators.

“You…” Even dying the man twisted his evil smirk. “The loyal and unbending servant. There’s a price on your head too.”

“Well if someone wants it they can come claim it,” Travis growled. His voice was low and dark. He couldn’t afford tears or sadness. His anger was too great. His sorrow too deep. He’d lost something that never was and it made him angry. “But you are the reason he’s dead.”

“Oh, that was intended,” Chrysaor laughed. “All of you have a price on your head.” Travis cocked his head. He almost didn’t care but he knew he still had to. Before he even asked for the details Travis saw it in the evil pirate’s eyes. The man hadn’t care whose bounty he’d taken, so long as he’d gotten one of them. “Nico di Angelo by the Loyalist. Will Solace and Travis Stoll by the Kingdom of Delphi. Connor Stoll by relations.”

“And Michael?”

“Michael Kahale by the Roman Empire.”

Rage colored him. Travis swung the sword down and pierced it into Chrysaor’s jugular. The man was dead and he stood, blood sprayed all over him. He didn’t care. He glared at anyone who so much as even looked as if they were going to attack. He crossed the plank and kept walking. He didn’t care that his muscles were sore from yesterday night. He didn’t care about the little wounds he’d aggravated or that everyone gave him a wide breadth.

“Travis,” Will walked up to him. He couldn’t care less what Nico or Percy was doing or how they were handling taking over the ship now that its captain was dead. “Travis…”

“We’re going to take you to the Erebian palace,” Travis sighed. He fought the stutter that urged its way into his body.

“Yes, we will,” his friend agreed softly.

Travis made eye contact. “Then I’m going to Rome and I’m going to kill the person who ordered Michael’s death.” Travis couldn’t stop the rage in his body. Will pulled him close and held him tight. He closed his eyes, knowing what the hug really meant. It was Will’s gentle way of reminding him to calm down and rethink. Only, the grief and the anger wouldn’t stop itself. Not yet anyway.

When his eyes opened again Travis was in the room Michael had brought him into earlier before the battle. It was the room that Nico and Percy shared as co-captains. For a brief moment he wondered what he doing there but knew he had probably fainted again. He sat up and saw his brother sitting on a chair reading a book. His braid was thrown over his shoulder and he played with the ends of his braid in his other hand.

“Awake finally sleeping beauty?” Connor laughed.

He didn’t have the heart to talk to his brother or to answer back. Jokes no longer made him laugh or smile. There was no joy. Travis suddenly understood what Will must have felt waiting for Nico all those years. Faced with a similar situation he found he wasn’t as strong as his friend.

“I know the feeling,” Connor admitted in the silence. Travis stared at his brother. Was he serious? “I loved someone too and they were taken from me in the first Civil War with the Forbidden Lands.” Travis hadn’t known that. Will had been kept far from the battlefields even though he’d been a medic at the time. They both were only in the back of the battle for a whole month before they were called back. It’d felt cowardly for both of them but they couldn’t overturn King Apollo’s orders. It was one of the experiences that had turned Will to healing.

Connor put his book down on the bed next to Travis. His brother crossed his legs and leaned back on the chair leisurely. Both hands played with the ends of his braid.

“Your hair…” Travis finally noted.

“In memory of my love,” Connor smiled. “Katie was a spitfire.” He mentioned her name with a softness in his eyes Travis didn’t recall his brother ever having. “Her hair was beautiful. So I decided to grow mine. Stupid I know.” Romantically sentimental. What was the use of that, Travis wondered. Before Michael had fallen he might have found it sweet but now Travis had a bitter taste in his mouth thinking about it. He had been looking for more of a connection but Michael had offered him a bond, something even stronger than marriage and he had given that up. Travis regretted that most now that he had time to think of all his wrongs.

“It’s nice,” Travis managed to give his brother a paltry comment. His brother snorted.

Connor continued to play with his hair. “Did you know that Prince Nico has a special power?” Travis turned a skeptical gaze on his brother. Connor grinned. “The three sons of the former king were each endowed with god-like power.” It was a legend, yes. No one had any substantial evidence or proof of such things. Sometimes it was also rumored that the children of those three were also gifted with parts of their abilities.

Travis turned away from his brother and stared out the window on the other side of him. He wished his brother would stop stalking around the main issue.

“Nico can sense the land and walk the shadows.” Connor didn’t seem bothered or deterred by Travis’ indifference. “Percy on the other hand,” Connor announced loudly. Travis turned to his brother again and saw the mischievous smirk on his face. “Our charismatic captain has a way of communicating with water.”

About anything else Travis might have been elevated or happy. Instead he just felt pity settle down at the pit of his stomach. While he was miserable and felt many other emotions deeply about losing Michael, he himself couldn’t spare the time to be excited over false hope. He couldn’t believe in anything else. Not at this moment. It wasn’t sorrow that gripped him tight. It was just emptiness.

“Percy said he couldn’t tell exactly but he said he had asked for the sea’s help. We couldn’t see where he fell. There’s a chance he’s alive.” Connor smiled at Travis indulgingly. Travis sighed and turned away again. He couldn’t bother himself with hope or dreams. Not anymore. Connor moved from the chair and sat down on the bedside. A hand brushed through his bangs and played with his parted hair. “You’ve given up.”

He didn’t bother to talk about it. Travis knew his brother could tell what was wrong and what Travis wanted. He’d never been one for hiding his feelings, which was why he’d always kept himself hidden from Michael. Until the one night he had found the courage to ask Michael for a dance even though he knew it had been out of line.

Connor cupped his hands on both of his cheeks. Their eyes met and Travis turned his gaze away from his brother quickly. “Tell me Travis,” Connor softly urged him. “Have you given up on him?” Travis refused to look back at Connor and he refused to answer. He had, at a point, wanted to stop loving Michael but how could he? His love just couldn’t be measured and first loves always took longer to heal.

Chapter Text

Will swung up onto his horse when he looked over to note that the white horse was empty of his rider. He’d forgotten that Michael was no longer with them. Travis was staring at the stallion from on top his own animal and there was an impassive if not absent look in his gaze. Once Will led his horse over to Travis, he brushed his knuckles lightly over his friend’s hand. Travis turned over his palm and accepted Will’s hand in his. While this was not something men usually did, while emotion was something their people had always used words for but never physical contact, he understood that his friend merely needed his reassuring presence and none of his empty words.

“We’ll find him,” Percy’s solemn voice said. They both looked down to find him standing in front of their horses. Will would have thanked him but he saw Travis shake his head. “I know you don’t believe he’s alive. You watched his fall and I know what it must feel like think you’ve lost someone.” Will had almost forgotten the first story about Percy Jackson. Before he had found out he was a prince, Percy had lived in one of the places known as No Man’s Land. His mother had been taken from him when they were making their way to his father’s domain, and that had led him on his first journey when he’d heard that she’d died.

“What, pray tell, Prince Percy could you possibly know about how I feel?” Travis asked, and while his voice sounded calm and quiet it was harsh and filled with hatred. Percy held his hands up and took a step back. “Do you know the one truth I recognize in the stories about heroes such as yourself?”

“No.” Percy recognized Travis’s mourning had turned into anger and he calmly tried his best to pacify Travis.

“You all make empty promises.” Will followed Travis’ eyes from Percy on to Nico mounting his own horse. “You go on adventures, you make promises, you break those promises or you don’t uphold them and even without intentionally or consciously doing so you ruin the lives of everyone you touch.” Travis grabbed the reins of the white stallion, turned his horse away from them, and rode slowly away. Will sighed and gave a small bow while on his mount to apologize. Percy bowed his head in response.

They rode in silence, having separated from the Ghost pirates. They rode past lunchtime into dusk. Will noted that while Nico was leading the group this time that he was paying attention to the ground and trees rather than the road. Jake stayed right by Nico’s tail alongside Connor. For now Will was content to watch Travis following behind aimlessly.

Nico led them right towards someone’s campfire in the woods and off road. Once they could no longer ride comfortably he stopped their progress, got off the horse and slowly led it through the trees. They followed in silence.

Nico whistled a short tune before he was given a response from a bird call. Nico walked through the trees into the little clearing where the small fire was crackling. Frank and Lady Hazel were sitting on a log together, their horses tied to the trees behind them grazing. Frank relaxed, his posture seemingly collapsing on itself.

“I thought we were going to have to fight again,” Frank sighed heavily. Lady Hazel patted his shoulder and assured him they were fine. It was then Will noticed the bandages on Frank’s arm.

He leapt off his horse and pulled his medicinal bag with him. “May I?” Will asked, knowing that it was paramount to look over wounds while they were still fresh. Frank blinked at him, his straight posture returned now that Will was kneeling on the ground before him. “Your wounds.” Frank spared a look behind Will, likely to confirm with Nico, before nodding his assent.

While Will busied himself looking over Frank’s arm he could hear Nico and Travis silently tying the horses to the trees and unloading. When Lady Hazel caught his attention he wondered why she didn’t just speak, but then she was making pointing eyes at Frank. Will turned a questioning glance to the man’s chest and saw what he’d been trying to hide. His face might hide the pain but it must have been unbearable.

Will nodded to her once Frank was distracted by Nico’s questions. Once Will finished bandaging the left arm he moved around the other side of the fire where Travis had seated himself. Will let Nico and Frank sit and talk to each other to catch up, but now and then Nico would turn his gaze quickly to Will. So he’d noticed too.

“What is it?” Travis asked, his voice still dark and brooding.

“Remember that time Connor rolled down the eastern hillside?” Will smiled at his friend. Jake had been sitting silently next to him with Connor still reading a book he’d carried with him from the ship. Jake seemed interested but Travis had simply nodded in understanding.

“Let me join,” Connor said chirpily. He patted Jake’s knees and Travis patted Will’s shoulder. He nodded. Nico looked at Will and this time Will nodded.

Without so much as a signal both Travis and Connor leapt over the fire. Lady Hazel yelped before scurrying off to the side and getting caught in Jake’s arms. Travis pushed Jake down and held down his left shoulder. Connor grinned as he held the squirming and confused man’s legs down.

“Sorry,” Will quickly breathed out the apology. Relaxing himself but keeping a firm grip on Frank’s shoulder and arm he put himself into a blank mood. He’d done this countless times in the frontline, he could tell the difference between a broken arm and a dislocated shoulder. Smoothly and in motion, even as Frank was asking him not to, Will steadily pulled and in no time at all relocated the shoulder.

“Ow!” Frank groaned.

“It doesn’t hurt that bad you big baby,” Connor laughed. Everyone put themselves back where they were.

Worriedly, Will kept a hand on Frank’s shoulder to make sure he’d set it properly. He wished his elder brother had magically materialized to help him inspect the set. It had been a long time since he’d relocated dislocations, and he had none of the materials needed to be certain that Frank would be okay. Most dislocations didn’t always require check-ups but it was always better to be on the safe side. Frank circled his shoulder to show Will it didn’t hurt anymore and it was perfectly fine.

The rest of the night moved on quietly and slowly. Will sat down by the fire, spending his time looking over his supplies of medicine. He made a quick checklist in his head for the herbs he would need to collect or alternatives. He’d never tried this close to the Capitol of Erebus so he wasn’t uncertain exactly what kind of herbs he could collect. Travis kept to himself, setting far from the group close to the horses and where they’d set down their travel luggage. Jake and Connor spoke softly to each other, Jake listening to the story Connor was recounting of how he’d dislocated his shoulder in his youth. Jake laughed at the appropriate moments and seemed to genuinely care more about conversing with Connor than the way Connor was playing with his huge callused fingers. Nico and Frank were the only two who spoke without correcting their volumes.

“We’ve gone through a lot of towns still celebrating your return,” said Frank. He was in the middle of chiseling a wooden board. It didn’t take long for Will recognized he was remaking Nico’s mask.

“News travel fast.”

Frank shrugged. “Considering you all but announced it yourself before we crossed the border.” Lady Hazel sitting next to Frank seemed to busy herself looking through a bag of pretty stones. “The only place I haven’t heard in celebration is the Capitol.”

Nico nodded in understanding. “My father does not celebrate very often.” Then Nico seemed to turn his gaze to Lady Hazel before falling silent again. “He was looking forward to my wedding.” Now Nico’s gaze turned to Will and stared at him unwaveringly across from the fire. Will bristled and turned his gaze away, occupying himself with his inventory again.

“So it is normal?”

“They will not celebrate until I’ve stepped onto palace grounds. Prematurity has never been something my father has known for.” Nico assured Frank of the quietness from the Capitol. In other words they may find it easier to make their way through the Capitol so long as their arrival wasn’t announced. Frankly, Will would prefer that. He wasn’t exactly sure where he stood on grounds of marrying Nico when it came to the Erebian royals. After all Nico was the crown prince now.

“Do you want to add anything to your list before we bed down?” Frank asked. He pulled his pack closer to him and shuffled through the contents. He pulled out a small leather-bound book and flipped the pages.

Once Frank produced a quill and pen from his pack and was ready to take notes down, Nico visibly settled from his stiff posture. Will stared in wonder, sketching the image into his brain. He’d never seen Nico relax so easily in front of someone, looking so openly distraught and try. His head hung low as he stared at nothing particularly on the ground. Frank avidly listened poised to jot down anything Nico said as if he was a scribe and not Nico’s companion.

Will memorized each piece of the scene, recognizing that Nico had been like this with Michael Kahale. While he wasn’t entirely trusting of the man to relax in front of him, the way his voice came out quietly and tiredly without posturing as he would as a strong prince told Will all he needed to know. Nico hadn’t chosen Michael at random to be Travis’ marriage partner, he’d honestly chosen someone who he had trusted enough to take the role. It dawned on him that Nico’s trust and confidence in a person was entirely independent of their station in life or their commendations, rather in their character and what Nico himself witness. All of a sudden Will remembered that Nico was the Prince of Erebus, son of King Hades, the most renowned man in their continent for his fairness and his impartial judgment. The same set of values of honor, pride, honesty and trust that were set in Erebian law and justice were instilled in Nico.

“What is it?” Nico asked Will, finally noticing that he’d been staring. Will shook his head as he often did whenever Nico asked him why he was staring. Will often tried to memorize what he wanted to draw or sketch later, as he didn’t have a sketchbook in hand when he found something he terribly wanted to draw. So instead he remembered the strokes in his head by drawing them in his mind. He didn’t feel up to telling Nico however, as he wanted to keep it a secret.

Lifting an inquiring brow but unwilling to push for an explanation Nico let his silence go. He turned back to confirm with Frank on the details of transgression, the number of victims, estimated price for reparation, and countless items before telling Frank he could rest for the night. Once that was done Nico walked to their packs and where Travis was. He spoke to Travis for a moment, the man nodded before leaning his head back and closing his eyes. Nico dug into his sack and pulled an extra blanket out.

“It’s time for bed,” Nico said. Will took that as a command to listen to and not a suggestion. He stood up and threw dirt into the already smothering fire. Frank took the blanket from Nico and laid it out on a soft patch of grass. Will watched in amusement as Frank saw to Lady Hazel’s comfort, urging her to lie down and sleep. He sat down at the edge of her feet, sword held up between his legs. His eyes closed and his head bent forward a fraction as if he was merely meditating.

“You too.” Nico grabbed him by the waist. His voice was quiet, almost a whisper. Will then noticed that Connor and Jake had both fallen asleep long ago. Jake had laid down, one had between his head and the log he was using as a pillow. Cuddled to his side was Connor who was unceremoniously using half of Jake’s body as a mattress.

“Would you like to sleep in my arms tonight?” Nico asked him quietly. Will didn’t react scandalously as he would have mere hours ago. Somewhere along the lines he’d gotten used to Nico’s prodding about romantic and intimate expressions. “No?” Nico responded mockingly. He sighed as if giving up. “Very well, I shall survive this cold night on my own.”

Will rolled his eyes. “You’re staying on watch aren’t you?” As if he hadn’t known. Travis had always insisted in taking the first watch unless someone relieved him of that duty. The only reason Travis had his head thrown back against a tree trunk and his eyes closed was because Nico told him to sleep. If it had just been the two of them Travis Will wouldn’t even have the chance to imply taking first watch.

“Ah, so you’ve caught on,” Nico responded. He was still using a playful tone. Will was unused to this as well. Nico was playful at times but this kind of Nico who seemed as if he was politely trying to flirt wasn’t one he expected. Will could play along be he wasn’t sure he wanted to treat Nico the same way he would have with all the others the many years ago who had attempted to suit with him.

“Caught on to exactly what?” he asked suspiciously instead.

“I was trying to get you to sleep so I might easier fondle you,” Nico admitted. He said it loudly enough that Lady Hazel actually snorted and giggled. She squeaked when she realized they’d heard her and turned the other way so she wasn’t facing them. Will pinned Nico down with a smothering look but Nico just grinned at him innocently.

“Husband are you trying to scandalize me or Lady Hazel who, if I must remind you, is under your protection and therefore under mine?” Will crossed his arms and tapped his foot as he often seen Rosa do to Leo to pull the guilty story from his lips. It didn’t seem effective against Nico who simply shrugged. “We might be in the middle of nowhere Nico but she is still a lady.”

“Considering her station it might do us some good that one of us is well verse in propriety,” Nico suddenly said as he was off in his own independent thoughts on the subject. “Come now.” Nico pulled off the thin cloak he’d been wearing and laid it flat on the ground before them. He undid the black fur cape from Will’s shoulders and sat Will down on his cloak with him. He pulled Will into the crevice of his arm and pulled him close to his side. The fur cape came was thrown over Will like a blanket and they sat in silence.

For a time it felt as if everyone else had gone to sleep. He was comfortable where he said, almost leaning completely into Nico. Then Nico’s other hand brushed the top of Will’s head before it fell down into his lap.

“What is it now?” Will asked.

“She is my sister,” Nico said quietly in a whisper.

He was going to ask who when he realized exactly who. “Is that so?” Will responded. He took in a deep breath of fresh air. “And?”

“We may not have children,” Nico said next. Will snorted. Of course they wouldn’t. “I mean not biologically.” Will held his breath and his hands tightened into fists. Was Nico, the crown prince, suggesting they adopted? His heart swelled but at the same time it felt like it would break and panic rose. Nico was crown prince. “When my father asked me what would make his last remaining child happiest I had simply answered that I wanted you. He had suggested we inquire about your availability and such through his nephew.” That explained the letters and the requirements for marriage, Will already knew the story. “Once that had been settled I asked my father how his kingdom would fare if I became king and there were no heirs in our match.” Will blinked. That had been a point of contention he avoided when he could. “He said it would not matter as he had many relatives through his brothers and sisters. He would be fine with anyone who could follow in our laws and had the same sense of justice we upheld.”

“Right.” Only that was so very few and far. It was loathing to admit but even Will’s father was a partial judge and easily influenced.

“The Queen imparted me with a knowledge she’d kept hidden from my father,” Nico finally said. Will moved his hand slowly from between his knees where he’d kept it warm it. He brushed his knuckles into Nico’s open palm in his lap before entwining their fingers together. “For some reason the King and Queen never had children. All of my father’s children had been from other women. My father has always shown how much he loves the Queen so it has always been a mystery to me about his faithless endeavors.”

“And?”

“Right,” Nico sighed as if he’d realized he’d gone on a tangent. “Not long after I was born my father met another woman, a shady and greedy woman with designs to the Queen’s throne. The Queen admitted to me that it was not so much love as manipulated desperation that resulted in this union with the fortune seer.”

“A seer?”

Nico shrugged. “She claimed to be at least.”

“The Queen told me that she handled the situation having understood that this was the first woman to have not fallen for the King but for the throne.” Nico paused to give a heavy sigh. Will asked why he seemed so heavily burdened. “It is nothing. As I was saying, the Queen handled the situation before any plot came to fruit.”

“Ah, I understand.”

“Right, the Queen told me this story because she suspected there was another child with royal blood out there,” Nico sighed heavily. Will stared at Lady Hazel, suddenly no longer thinking her as just Lady but as Princess. Then it struck him now that he was thinking of titles. Sister-in-law. Will felt embarrassment pinch his cheeks. Oh dear he was not sure exactly how her first impression was of him.

“Might I continue before you fall into a pit of despairing propriety and manners?” Nico chuckled. Will slapped Nico’s chest but it only caused the man to laugh again. “That was why I left four years ago after our engagement.”

“To find her.”

“While the letters were still being exchanged the Queen had heard that my marriage partner would be a man,” Nico explained. His hand holding Will’s tightened and his thumb rubbed the inside of Will’s palm. It seemed to be a nervous reaction not to comfort Will so much as for himself. “She decided then to confess that their might be another who could take my place when it came to the throne.”

“You want her to become the future Queen?” Will gasped.

“I’ve told her already that I’m marrying you,” Nico said. “She understands that while I have searched her out because we are blood related, that a part of the reason I searched for her in haste was due to the fact that we were marrying. She knows and accepts that her child will become the next crown prince or princess.” Then Nico sighed again.

“You seem disappointed.”

“I do not wish to burden my only remaining sibling with such heavy duties,” Nico explained. His eyes turned to where Frank sat dutifully at Hazel’s feet. Sometime in the hour they’ve sat in silence Frank’s own cloak and blanket had shifted from his shoulders to cover the midsection of Lady Hazel’s already blanketed form.

“And yet…” Will let his sentence fall short.

Another sigh escaped Nico. “And yet I know it would bring joy to my father that I not only marry for my own happiness but bring him his long lost child and another chance at carrying his bloodline in the future,” Nico admitted. Will smiled and pulled up their intertwined fingers to lay a kiss on their joined knuckles. “What is this, you are quite amiable recently.”

Will rolled his eyes. He scooted further down and laid his head on Nico’s lap without asking. He found it quite comfortable enough. He switched the hand he was holding with the one closes to his head so he could comfortably lay their hands over his chest without obstructing his view of Nico’s jawline.

“Are you finally open to my displays of affection?” Nico smiled down at him playfully.

Will snorted and averted his gaze into the stars. “Not quite, I’m just growing used to your strategy of teasing as a way to distract from the truth.”

“Oh, what truth?”

“That you, dear husband,” Will beamed at Nico staring down at him expectantly, “have no decorum and was likely raised by wolves.” Nico barked into that genuine and rare laughter of his. He bent down and kissed Will’s forehead. “Oh, how rare you usually aim for my lips.”

“Don’t tempt me my Sky,” Nico whispered hotly, “I’ve enough sense not to debauch until we’ve held our wedding before my father.”

“You wish to debauch me in front of your father?” Will teased with as serious and as curious a tone as he could muster. “Is this some strange Erebian custom I’ve not heard of?”

“If it is I would rather forego such a custom,” Nico replied without skipping a beat. Then his hot melting voice came back. “I would much rather have you writhing under me for only myself to see the way your body convulses under our passion.” Will’s face burned as well as the lower part of his stomach at the words. Nico didn’t stop his sultry description there. “I wish to be only one to feel your body burn underneath my touch as your soul breaks apart from its constraints.”

Will pulled up his knees as he felt a knowing heat rush lower to his groin. Dear gods his husband could wax poetry when he dared. He almost regretted they were sleeping indoors in some unknown inn even though the rational part of him knew it was dangerous to be in a place they could be recognized and easily found. Will put his free hand between his legs and cupped his hardening piece to try and ease the building excitement. It was the wrong decision as it only fanned the flame of desire for release. A moan escaped him as and he pulled up Nico’s hand from his chest to his lips to strangle off the moan.

His husband moved his hand from Will’s lips and bent even lower to whisper against Will’s lips without kissing him. “I want to hear your begging cries as you search for release and break apart.” Will pressed his lips together and turned his face to the side, strangling another moan and nearly bucking just then to search for pleasure in his own hand. Just then Nico’s other hand pressed down over Will’s hand but stayed over the fur instead of slipping inside it to touch Will directly. His hand gripped firmly over Will’s and began to rub. Will gasped. “That’s it,” Nico said against Will’s cheek. “That gasp and that whimper, I want it all. Every love cry and every passionate tear…”

“Nico…” Will sighed. He had to stop this.

“Yes?”

Will opened his mouth in a gasp but turned and bit on Nico’s forearm. Nico flinched without shouting in pain and stopped his movements. Will breathed easier as the tension broke, not because Will had found release but because the pain had overridden pleasure and Nico’s shock had eased Will’s intensifying desire.

“Did you just bite me?” Nico huffed at him.

“Were you not just trying to debauch me while we had an entire crowd sleeping around us?” Will asked in his own huff. He was actually out of breath.

“Point taken.” Nico settled back lazily where he was sitting. He licked his lips in a suggestive manner regardless before running his tongue opening over his top canines. His gaze turned down to gaze at Will at an angle and it made him a very animalistic but ravishingly indecent rake. The glint in his dark gaze in in the starlight told Will it was deliberate to catch Will’s regard.

Will pinched him this time but decided not to squirm or move away as if he was inexperienced or a virgin. He was inexperienced but he also knew Nico was still teasing him.

“Like I said,” Will yawned. He released Nico’s hand long enough to rub over the deep bite mark on Nico’s strong forearm. “You’re just distracting from the truth.” He was quite distracting to look at when he was trying to catch Will’s attention. It was strange to think Nico so intimate and teasing when four years ago Nico hadn’t even approached him until the end of their engagement party. Of course they’d been practical strangers at the time.

“Ah right, I have no decorum and was raised by wolves,” Nico said. Will nodded before closing his eyes. Nico softly laughed. “Considering I was the one bitten which one of us was raised by wolves again?”

Will yawned, sleep falling over him quite easily now although the lower part of him was still rather heated. He responded lazily before he fell asleep, “Biting seems a good way to beat back a hungry wolf.” He fell asleep the soft but deep chuckle of his consort.

Chapter Text

Once they made it close to the walls of the Capitol their party stopped. Nico drew his horse close to Will and then took off the fur cape from Will’s shoulder. He didn’t ask why because he’d already suspected. A fur cape was normal to see but Nico was also known for having worn it and being easily identified by it. They folded the cape and stuck it inside one of their travel bags. Nico then took off the cloak he’d been wearing the entire time they’ve been traveling and offered it to Will.

“I’m certain I’ll survive the ride into the palace walls.” Will declined the offer by pushing Nico’s hand back.

Nico stared at him silently, imploring and waiting for him to take it.

With a sigh Will took the cloak. He wrapped it around Nico again and pulled the hood up over his head. “You don’t want to be recognized but you’re the only one of us the Capitol is looking to recognize.” Nico nodded, relenting in Will’s own decision on the matter. Will stared down at Nico’s left forearm. His long sleeve was pulled down and his bracer was now covering his forearm so the bite was hidden. For some odd, primal reason Will found he quite like the idea that Nico was carrying his mark on him. Even if it was temporary and would heal over.

Finally they passed through the gate check, Frank handing over a rolled up parchment that served as their identification. The gate guard who was given the parchment quickly stared up at Frank and paled. Will had wondered why Nico had asked that Will ride up next to Frank but by the looks he was getting from the guard he had a feeling the parchment was about him.

Clearing his throat the guard asked them to wait. He quickly waved up a squire to his side and demanded the young boy brought their captain. Their party waited as other travelers were checked and allowed passage through. Once an armored man of age finally rode through the gates he quickly demanded an explanation for why he was taken from his dinner so hastily.

The wall guard handed the parchment in his hands to the captain. The man perused the parchment, his eyes widening but that was only notable by the lift of his bushy eyebrows. Will took in a breath to instill his patience. It was dusk already and just as the captain had just sat down for dinner, Will was also quite tired from riding throughout the day. He was inching to get off his horse and rest.

“If I could ask…” the captain pulled his horse closer to Will and asked quietly. He waited until there were no more passerby to pose his question. “When might we see our prince home?”

Frank cleared his throat.

“My apologies,” the captain snapped and seemed to recall some sense of etiquette Will was unfamiliar with and moved his horse back. He kept his gaze lowered.

“What is your name?” Will asked.

“I am Captain of the Wall Guard, your Highness,” came the answer. Will raised an eyebrow, he hadn’t asked for his title. When the captain seemed to realize that his answer was insufficient he quickly amended it in a reserved tone. “Alan Rivers.”

Will put the name and face to memory. He smiled at Captain Alan. “I’ll let you in on the secret.” He winked once the captain met his eyes. The older captain blushed, his graying hair, the neatly trimmed beard and bushy thick eyebrows didn’t seem to cover any of his embarrassments. Will imagined he was quite childlike when he wasn’t acting as a soldier. Will glanced at Frank who was making an uncertain face at him. Will leaned forward on his horse and in a quiet voice he’d heard many ladies at court use for gossip, told the captain, “I’m sure my consort has secreted himself into the palace already. He is quite cautious after being away so long.”

“Of course,” the captain breathed heavily, “Rightly so.”

“Though that does seem to say something about the security of the wall guard doesn’t it,” Frank interjected. He held a stiff gaze but not a reprimanding one at the bewildered captain. It was a comment meant to not flame any questions. No one would ever admit they failed at their duties even if that’s what the comment seemed to belie. Taking it as insult in of itself would prove their incompetence. After all this was Erebus and one’s actions and achievements spoke for themselves.

“Of course,” Captain Alan seems to understand exactly what Frank was silently not saying. He then waved and invited their group in. Once past the gate they got off their horses and walked down the main road stretching towards the palace.

“Exactly what is the plan about going inside the palace?” Frank asked. It was dusk so the day market had begun to close. The inns, pubs, and night clubs were all still opened. Children were still screaming and running down the cobbled stone street as working parents made their way home. The Capitol didn’t seem much different from the small town Will and Travis had settled into in Erebus, but it was apparent that it was more modern, fresher, and better cared for as it was the capital of the realm. Will was certain if he found the slums he would be disillusioned right away.

“There’s no need to pretend once we get to the palace gates. Just tell Charon that the children of Hades has returned,” Nico instructed. So they took their time walking down the main rode, Will etched the essence and the beauty of the street and the local shops into his mind. Before long he recognized that Travis was walking a few paces behind him with the white stallion and his own horse. Nico had somehow inched his way to walk next to Will and it didn’t take a genius to realize what the two were doing. He almost wanted to sigh but instead shared an indulging and irritated glance with Connor who shrugged at him.

At the palace walls they were stopped by a different uniformed guard. While the wall guards were worn heavy armor as they were the first line of defense, the palace guards wore leathers and a more decorated uniform to differentiate themselves. Frank this time flashed the same parchment in the guard’s face before he could turn them away as his squinting eyes had been about to do. Then Frank quickly demanded for Charon.

This time it didn’t take as long to get Charon. The guard himself moved quickly to retrieve the man after seeing the parchment. Will was suddenly curious as to what was exactly written on the parchment. He assumed it had something to do with Frank’s authority and Will’s station but what exact authority had Nico supposedly granted Frank in the parchment to make everyone pale and quickly do his bidding?

Charon walked down the paved road at his own leisure while the guard rushed back to the gate. Will held his breath and stood stock still as he suspected Travis did too. Since both of them had always admired men more than they did women they both stared at Charon’s unexpected image before him. The man had dark caramel colored skin and blond hair shaven to a fashionable style based on the usually boring military cut. His hair fluffed up but was straight and perfect. His eyes were gold, a color he’d never expected to have existed in eyes. Will was conscious to tighten his jaw so it wouldn’t slacken. The man was handsome, tall and elegant. He wasn’t big and muscled in the same image as Michael Kahale or Frank Zhang were despite his rank in the military. His shoulders were wide but his waist was definable. The man wore his light tan training trousers and high boots, he was also wearing a loose tunic with the collar strings untied and his sweat glistened chest slightly revealed to them. The man’s muscles were defined but not overly bulging and he carried confidence in his slow and measured stride. His poise and posture spoke volumes on his confidence and authority.

“Who summons me to the palace gates?” Charon’s clipped and annoyed tone cut at them and snapped Will from his daze. While he was attracted to the man’s look and his voice was also catching it was just that. He appreciated the man’s existence to be looked upon but Will found like all his other experiences that he wasn’t sexually interested in the man.

Frank sighed as he seemed tired with the self-explanation of his own station. He repeated the words Nico had given him. “I was told to tell you that the children of Hades have returned home.” Charon gave each one of their group a stifling inspection from where he stood without so much as changing his annoyed and bored expression. He regarded the cloaked Nico and Lady Hazel longer than the rest of them.

“Open the gates,” Charon ordered, his harsh tone unchanging. Once the gate opened and they were let in Charon ordered the stable boys to take the horses and the squires to take the luggage into the audience chamber. Everyone snapped to their jobs without question or delay. Charon turned to lead the way, ordering them to follow him by simply waving his hand to signal them to do so.

As they followed Hazel stumbled over nothing in particular and Frank caught her before she tumbled forward. She had made a noise as young woman were likely to do and caught Charon’s attention. He paused and turned around to regard Frank and Lady Hazel in what seemed to be a close embrace.

Raising a curious eyebrow Charon simply said, “You’ll do well to realize that you station requires you to conduct yourself in reservation and subtly.” To whom he was saying those words to none of them were sure. Charon turned around to lead the way again without any further explanation but it was clear that he had just cautioned Hazel and Frank. The two separated awkwardly and walked further apart from each other than before.

“Nervous?” Will stepped up next to Hazel. She sent him a timid glance before nodding. He offered her his arm and she gratefully took it, latching on tightly as though afraid he might retract his proffered escort. “I am too,” he comforted her and patted her hand on his arm. She smiled then. “Although I suspect meeting your own father for the first time might be a bit more nerve-racking.”

In her strange accent that seems to displace her she replied, “I was told he never wanted me or loved me.” Nico made a growling noise behind them but seemed to reserve his opinions to himself.

“I’m sure that’s not the case,” Will tried to assured her. Charon stopped them in front of the large doors of the audience chamber. He told them to wait to be announced and walked down the hall presumably to enter from a side door closer to the throne in the back to speak with his majesty first.

“Everyone says he’s fair and never maliciously unkind or unjust in his decision,” Hazel confided in him quietly. She seemed to not care for the fact that their entire group was pretending to not hear her concerns and fears. Of course it was very obvious at this point that all the men had already formed a circle around Hazel and Will as she was so anxious to meet her father that they simply unconsciously created a barrier to protect her. “I’m just not sure how that goes with his own personal affairs.”

Will considers this for a moment. He smiled then. “Do you think he was unjust in his decision to allow Nico and me to marry?” Like that Hazel snapped her head up and shook her head wildly. She admitted she found the idea to be quite romantic and mostly refreshing. Not many nobles or royals were allowed a love match since much of their marriages were based on politics. Will pretended to consider her answer just then. “Then I’m sure he would feel elated to meet his only other child left.” Will smiled and winked at her as they were announced as Prince Nico’s traveling party.

They walked down the long aisle until they reached the two thrones in the front of the room. The King had dark hair that resembled Nico’s own but while Nico’s hair was wavy and had a tendency to seem almost wild the King’s was straight and grown down to his shoulders. His eyes seemed dark as if not even darker than Nico’s own eyes, almost as black as the night. His eyes held a hint of deep intelligence and consideration as he peered down at their group but his expression revealed none of his thoughts. His beard was trimmed neatly and short to cover just his face but so it wouldn’t be in his way. The man tapped his fingers rhythmically over the arm of his throne.

They’d all been on their knees for some time before the Queen, sitting poised in her own throne in a silver and blue dress, cleared her throat. Finally realizing everyone had been waiting, the King waved and told them to stop with the pleasantries. His dark, bored and hollowly deep voice made it sound as their “pleasantries” were unnecessary before someone of his stature. Nico simply shrugged at Will when he turned a questioning stare to him.

Hazel steadied herself and put her hand on Will’s arm. She was trembling from her anxiety. Charon stood next to the king with another soldier and both seemed to disregard the entire situation and the group.

Pulling her long blonde hair over her shoulder Queen Persephone said to the King, “Perhaps you might comfort the young ones and let them know they’re welcomed home?”

The King stood from his throne then and came down from the dais. He walked over to the group, the men tensed and inadvertently inched closer to the princess. Will shot Nico a glare when he almost stepped towards Will as if to protect him as well. Nico smiled indulgingly and fixed his stance to where it was before.

King Hades regarded each of the men first. He greeted Jake and Connor and it seemed he’d simply been inspecting them because he’d misplaced their names in his mind. First he settled on Travis, glanced at Connor to take note of their familial resemblance before moving on. He then stared Frank up and down, visually and very purposefully indicating he was measuring Frank with some checklist he’d drawn up in his mind that he hadn’t been using with the others earlier. He then stopped in front of the princess who quickly took half a step back. The King just as hastily took her hand and pulled her forward a full step.

“Hello there,” his voice turned gentle as he greeted her. Recalling that the Queen had been the one to send Nico out on the search for the missing princess he turned his gaze up to see her reaction. She had a gentle and serene smile on her face but it was unreadable to him. Any queen was supposed to be gentle and serene or fierce and unmoving. It said nothing of exactly how she felt with the King being reunited with another child he had with a different woman.

“H-Hello fa-” Hazel stopped herself. She cleared her throat and took a huge breath of air to calm herself and steady her voice. “Hello your Majesty.” She curtsied quickly.

“What’s your name?”

“Hazel,” she replied. She seemed to purse her lips as she considered giving her surname.

The King didn’t seem to realize she was his daughter. Once he stepped away, reluctant though as it did seem there was a question in his gaze before moving on, King Hades smiled broadly when he saw Will.

Without warning the Just King—as people had coined him—pulled Will into a quick but firm hug. Will wasn’t expecting a sudden intimate encounter but he mentally disparage himself. This was Nico’s father after all, the very manifestation of intimate expressions in public.

“Will Solace!” the King smiled broadly. “Finally!” He seemed to touch Will as if inspecting him but really out of curiosity. The taller and older man pulled Will forward and stepped up next to Will, apparently to present him to the Queen. “Our new Prince-Consort, my love!” he announced to the Queen who simply nodded in acceptance. Will stood dumbly at the reaction and the sudden change of disposition from the sternness from earlier.

King Hades ran his hand through Will’s hair, frowning just a little at the length of his hair, then pulled down at Will’s cheeks to peer into his eyes. “Blue just like my brother and nephew,” he said with a smile. Will swore the man was actually trying to peer into his soul through his eyes the way he pulled at Will’s lower eyelids so strongly. Perhaps he was just unaware that he was being a little too rough in his joviality. His soon-to-be father-in-law squeezed his shoulders then his biceps, elbows, and forearm. Then nodded to himself as if satisfied Will had no defects there.

“Tell me, how old are you again?” the King asked as excitement carried in his tone. “My nephew did seem quite unsure in his letters. I was surprised to realize he had completely ignored your name in my first letter and assumed I was looking for a suitable partner from his many children,” the King said as he patted down Will’s chest. When he was about to go lower in his frisk inspection of Will’s physical health Nico growled. “Right, of course,” he seemed to remember himself and stopped there. Will like out a relieved breath. “How old did you say again?” the King asked again, without seeming to realize that Will never answered.

“Nearly 25, your Majesty,” Will finally answered.

“Nearly? When?” the King asked then. He made Will twirl around with his arms stretched out. Then he waved and had Will twirl the other way. Then he nodded in satisfaction and had Will put down his arms.

“In about two months’ time,” Will answered without giving a proper date. He wasn’t sure how interested the King actually was on his date of birth.

The King smiled then and walked back up the dais to sit on his throne. “Perfect!” he said loudly.

“Your Majesty?”

“We’ll have you two married on your date of birth!” the King announced. And that was how his wedding date had been determined in a single ten minutes’ scrutiny by the King of Erebus. Will almost went slack jaw if he hadn’t noted the way the Queen hung her head and shook it as if she had half-expected this by couldn’t believe her husband had actually just done it. The King didn’t seem to notice or at least seemed to ignore the disappointment from his wife.

Will quickly turned to Nico for some kind of help, some reaction or assistances. He couldn’t possibly think it was best they matched the anniversary of their marriage on the same date as the day of his birth. Nico simply raised a disinterested brow and kept silent. Will almost thought about slapping his husband if it wasn’t so unbecoming in front of others.

“You’re discontent?” the King asked, reading Will’s body language.

Nico seemed to perk up as if the King had given him a way in. “Father, we’re already handfasted.” He flashed Will a quick smile as if that would absolve him from his earlier unhelpfulness.

“Ah, that is of no consequence.” The King waved the statement away. “This is a ceremony we are talking about, son, for you and your consort. You two might legally be wedded in a sense but we must make it binding in all ways. The best way to avoid future dispute is to do this is properly.” Quietness settled over the room. The King’s voice turned dark and hollow again and he asked, “Or is the reason you’re handfasted is because you don’t wish to properly marry him?” The King inched forward in his seat. He almost snarled in anger. “Have you gone against your word?”

This time Nico flared in anger and growled openly. The man standing next to Charon stepped forward with his hand on his sword. The King held out his hand and stopped him.

“I see you take offense to that statement,” the King said in recognition. “You will marry in spring.” It was no longer a well-meaning suggestion. It was an order. It was an announcement.

Nico seemed still too angry to register his King’s order. Will grabbed Nico’s shoulder, then slid his hand down and grabbed Nico’s hand in his. The King and the Queen both observed this quietly as Nico visibly relaxed and nodded his understanding to the order.

The Queen called for a maid and from a servant’s entrance a young woman with perfectly tied back hair stepped out. She curtsied and awaited her orders.

“You will show our guests to their rooms, and please make sure that Prince Nico and Prince Will are in separate quarters,” the Queen ordered. Nico growled again. Will almost wanted to ask why Nico was being so fiercely animalistic when he was in front of his royal parents but stopped himself. The Queen raised a brow at Nico. She asked icily, “While I understand that you do prefer your lowly birthright I expect you have enough honor to marry your betrothed before ruining his reputation.” It sounded like a polite suggestion but really was a cold, harsh and brutal judgment on the fact that Nico openly wanted to share a bed with Will.

The maid coughed but Will noted a smile behind her fist. She was definitely laughing but she wasn’t reprimanded for finding this situation at all comically.

“Nico,” Will sighed quickly. The man looked like he was imagining how many ways he could try to kill the queen. “It’s two months. How different is it from four years?”

Nico sighed dejectedly. “If that’s your wish,” he said to Will quietly.

“Very well then.”

And that was how Will ended up in the eastern wing of the palace in a bedroom larger than his own quarters in his father’s Golden Palace. It was even larger than the one he’d been moved into as the future Prince-Consort of Erebus. It was decorated in earth tones and seemed masculine in every design from furniture to décor. Will smiled and thanked the servant boy who had carried his single bag of luggage and his medicine sack to the huge room. His possessions almost seemed stunted and unimportant in comparison to the wonderfully gorgeous room.

The servant bowed and told him who was expected at dinner in an hour. Will blinked in response.

“Ah…” Belatedly he realized he was supposed to respond so the servant could leave. “Dinner, right.” Perhaps it was bad form to say he was exhausted and would have prefer to sleep in. “Is there a bathroom I could refresh myself in?”

“I shall send for the bathing maids,” the young servant spoke in a distant tone.

“Bathing maids?” Will nearly choked. There was such a position? He’d known of women who supposedly assisted men in washing their backs in castles, some inns and bath houses had that but they had always indicated some form of extra service. He’d heard the practice was common in the Roman Empire but he’d never been told this was part of Erebian culture.

“Yes, your Highness.”

“Can I forego the bathing maids?” Will asked.

The servant looked up quickly at him then turned his gaze down with a crimson blush across his face. “I can find some servant boys if that’s your preference,” he stated quickly.

Will groaned. What was palace life like for Nico? Did he have bathing servant boys to enjoy in his baths too? He hoped this wasn’t some idea he had to follow for the future onwards.

“Would you prefer older men, your Highness?” the servant boy quickly asked in response to Will’s groan.

“No. NO!”

“My apologies,” the boy quickly apologized for no good reason at all. Will hated being a prince. He was perfectly fine living on the road, traveling and singing, and learning medicine along his travels.

“I am fully capable of bathing myself,” Will said, his own face burning up to likely match the boy’s embarrassment.

“Of course, your Highness,” the boy bowed his head. “Then…” the boy shuffled. “Perhaps you’ll like for me to send for one of your companions to assist you?”

“I don’t need assistance in the bath!” Will snapped, his patience finally short with the boy. “I would like to be told where the bathroom is so I might bathe and am fully capable of doing so myself without assistance. If anyone so much as comes in and tries to help me I swear I’ll skewer them, do you understand?” The boy’s crimson face turned pale and he nodded quickly in understanding. Will felt guilty he scared the boy in his outburst of anger but he wasn’t going to apologize for it. Perhaps all the guests before had always expected to have some sort of bathing partner or assistance. Perhaps sometimes that included extra services and sometimes not. Will just wasn’t one of those people. “Now, before you tell me where I might bathe,” Will said in a relaxed tone, “What am I required to wear to dinner?”

The boy sighed at a question he could respond to in perfect manner. “It is not a formal dinner, but the King and Queen does request your presence. As long as it is presentable and proper anything you have on is perfectly fine.” The boy then thought better of his response. He added very quickly, “Should I have someone bring in formal attire in for you?”

“You said anything was fine,” Will said in reply. He also wasn’t ready to wear another golden debacle such as the night of his engagement. He said in a composed tone, “I’m sure my spare travel clothes will do.” The boy hesitated. Will knew it wasn’t actually proper to attend any dinner, formal or not, with the royal couple in travel clothes. It was much too casual. However, Will wanted them to see him as he was not as some dressed up once-was prince from the Golden Palace of nearly a hundred princes and princesses vying for their father’s favor in competition and financial regard.

“Understood.” The boy then gestured to a door at the far right end of the room. “Through that door is the bathroom. Everything you might require to wash up is already inside.” The boy then gestured toward the door on the left end of the room and closer to where they were standing. “This door is your closet. There is another door through there that joins this room with your valet.”

“I don’t have one,” Will said absent-mindedly as he undid the button of his leather travel vest. “I’m also capable of dressing myself so I’m sure I won’t be needing one except during the occasions when I’m required to be a peacock.” The boy seemed to jerk a smile down at Will’s words. So servants did share some of his sentiment about being overly dressed as a peacock for show. “If that’s all you’re free to leave.”

The boy bowed. “I’ll return before the hour to bring you to dinner.” He then left the room.

Once the door closed Will let out a deep sigh. To himself he mumbled, “Gods save me from ruining this.” With all that happened just recently he wasn’t sure he had much patience for anything related to the usual courtly dialogue.

Chapter Text

The dinner was quietly polite. Instead of chairs the long dinner table had benches. Instead of a dais for the royal couple, the two sat together at the head of the largely long table. Nico seated to the right of the King and Will next to Nico. On the left side of the Queen sat Hazel and then the man from before, later introduced as Thanatos and next to him was Charon. Next to Charon was Frank, and across from Frank was Travis. Next to Travis was Connor and then Jake. They ate silently, polite conversation quietly spoken only when the queen or king so much as had something to ask or something to say.

The King asked into the quiet, “Nico, tell me of your adventures.” Nico didn’t put his fork down, instead continued to move it to his mouth. Once Nico was done chewing he took a sip of water and straightened.

Will held his breath, knowing that in the Golden Palace that keeping the king waiting was equivalent to spitting in the king’s face. Nico took a quiet breath and glanced to Will before he stared at nothing in particular in front of him. “I got engaged and then I went to Elysium. I was captured and thrown into Tartarus. I spent over two years there before I finally managed to crawl out.”

“How did you escape the Pit?” the King asked without so much as showing interest or emotion. Will released his breath and very slowly moved his hands again to busy himself. As he worked in the act of politely and quietly eating he noted that the Erebian King didn’t seem to have noted Nico’s earlier belated response as an insult. While he knew customs were different depending on regions and countries he’d never seen a royal who disregarded hierarchy and mannerism.

When he peeked over to the man sitting next to him, Nico had turned his eyes to Princess Hazel before looking back at nothing in particular. “Someone crawled out before me, I simply followed their traces.” While everyone at the table fully understood Hazel’s role no one seemed to want to acknowledge it. He knew it wasn’t his place to point it out, and no one in their party had to right to speak about it. He wondered what it was that made it so difficult to entirely acknowledge Princess Hazel as a family member even as she was received and welcomed as a princess and even seated next to the royal couple as a family member.

Dinner fell into quiet again. Will took a deep breath once the fourth course came. After so many months he’d gotten used to eating little and simply. Nico didn’t show an ounce of fatigue from travel or from eating. Will did his best not to express his own fatigue during the long dinner.

Once dinner was over Will was escorted by the same boy as earlier back to his quarters. Before the boy left him for the night he asked if Will required anything else—clearly uncertain about asking specifically if Will needed assistance getting ready for bed. Will smiled at the boy and made his request to the boy, asking him in a hushed tone to keep it a secret from anyone. The boy nodded when Will made it a point that Nico specifically shouldn’t be told.

The weeks went by quietly. He often went through the palace garden in the late afternoon before dinner with the family. It seemed that because Nico didn’t usually spend a long time at the palace the King and Queen made it a point to eat dinner together often. Considering that Hazel was brought back to her father, the King wanted even more chances to spend time with his children although the conversations were always polite and never intruding.

Most of the time any conversation revolved around plans for their wedding, expectations of the both of them as the crowned couple, and Will’s studies of Erebus. One thing he surely didn’t miss were the lessons about Erebus although everything seemed to move quite smoothly since he had experience Erebus for himself. Most of his lessons were more discussions and debates with his teachers about what he experienced rather than memorizing texts. Whenever he was asked to relay said conversations at dinner to the King it always man the older gentleman laugh heartily.

In the weeks that have gone by Will had kept mostly to himself since he wasn’t sure where his boundaries were as the Prince-Consort. The queen normally left her garden a couple hours before Will ever visited and he was also careful never to head there early. With one week before their wedding Will spent less time in the garden and more time secluded in his room when he wasn’t required for any wedding preparations. He’d been careful—at least he thought he’d been.

“I’ve heard you visit the garden during this time,” the Queen’s voice carried from above a flowerbed Will had squatted down to see. He stood up and gave her a polite greeting. “My husband is happy,” she simply stated.

Taken aback by the statement he tried not to show he was at a loss for words. “He is very cheerful compared to the rumors,” Will mildly replied, hoping it was both polite but not misleading.

“His children died one by one from illness, assassination and on the battlefield.” She waved away his slight bow of deference. Will nearly swallowed his tongue at her straightforward statement.

Will didn’t know how to respond to her statement so he didn’t. He wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to give condolences to the bastard children her husband fathered with other women. Her relationship with Nico seemed like a polite one between strangers who recognized each other.

“At some point people believed I was the reason his children died.” This time her regal statement sounded more like a scoff. She walked around the flowerbed and stood in front of Will in her sky-blue dress. Her gentle hands touched his cheek and lifted his face into her eyes. “By the week’s end you will officially be the Prince-Consort.”

“Yes, your Majesty.”

The woman shook her head with an indulging smile. “Understand that you are first our son-in-law before you are the Prince-Consort, and before being our son you are Nico’s home.” Will stood there a bit moved but also scattered. He had expected her to say he was Nico’s husband or his other half or even his shield. Instead she had said he was his home. “You seem at a loss for words.”

“I wasn’t expecting you to describe me as such,” Will answered honestly. He took in a deep breath so he wouldn’t shudder and break into a thousand pieces.

She smiled again as if indulging him. “Becoming King of not just Erebus but Elysium is a heavy responsibility. A palace is not a home, Will. The loss of my husband’s many children will attest to that fact. A home is where he can feel safe and welcomed.” The Queen stepped back to distance herself and looked up to the second floor of the palace. His eyes followed and saw Nico standing at the wall-length window staring down at them from his office. “Not once has he complained about anything here. In truth, I don’t think he had ever expected to become king.”

Will didn’t respond. He had conversations with Princess Hazel constantly about their roles in the palace. She was also highly aware that her children would be the ones to inherit the kingdom from Nico, as a male pairing would not be able to have children from their own blood. She tried not to express it but it was easy to see that Princess Hazel was worried about her future partner. A princess in her position didn’t often get to choose who would be their husband. While there would be qualifications to become her husband, Will couldn’t see Nico or the Just King forcing her into a political marriage.

Did being his “home” mean a place where he could rest without worry? Perhaps that was the reason he’d been chosen by Nico in the first place. While it was both embarrassing and out of bounds to ask, he’d always wondered to himself what made Nico claim to have fallen in love with him. With the Queen’s words perhaps it had to do with his role of being Nico’s “home”. Once he thought a little deeper on his role as the Prince-Consort he remembered that Nico hadn’t ever mentioned being a home.

“Your Majesty,” Will locked eyes with her for a moment. She waited for him to ask his question. He steeled himself with a quiet intake of breath. “Exactly what is the meaning of the endearment ‘sky’?” he asked her.

“Sky?” The Queen cocked her head slightly and her brows knitted in confusion. “Endearment?”

“Nico often calls me his sky, I’m not sure what the meaning is,” he elaborated hastily. His nerves were suddenly buzzing all throughout him.

She thought on this a moment. “Did Nico ever tell you about his experience becoming the King of Ghosts?” He shook his head.

Will never heard the story from Nico. He’d heard the story from Travis long ago and from others. It came as more of gossip and each version was always different. It was also a tale that came in bundle with Prince Percy’s adventures and wasn’t very well elaborated on. Simply enough, Nico had wanted Percy to pay for what he’d done (whatever that was, no one had known at the time) and had first allied with the Ghost King of the time to plot against Percy. Apparently, Nico saw the injustice of many people and in short backstabbed the previous Ghost King and took the man’s title.

The Queen sighed once Will told her the summary of the story he knew. “That is a very condensed story.” Shaking her head, the Queen led them to a bench and sat down. She then gestured for him to join her. “He thinks I don’t know the full of the story, but I will tell you.” The Queen angled herself on the bench to face Will properly. “Nico’s reasons for joining the King of Ghosts was not a very smart one, and I expressed as such the one time we met during that period. I told him should he seek this unjust revenge on Percy Jackson that he was not welcomed here. Nico left. He stayed with the Ghosts for some time but would often return only if he was summoned by his father. Because of that conversation he seems to believe he is not welcomed here and that I don’t like him very much.

“Nico had no idea exactly what the nefarious man who called himself the Ghost King at the time would do. Originally, the King of Ghosts was a title given to the strongest leader or the elected leader of those who have survived the Styx. They were vigilantes who protected those in and around the Styx.” From what he’d witnessed Nico had expanded the Ghosts in that image. Of course, they were known by many other names now, such as dark riders and pirates. “Once he realized that this was not the ideal the Ghost King was following, Nico killed him and took the title before Percy Jackson could have done the deed himself.”

“Before Percy?”

“Percy was also a Ghost at the time. You can challenge for leadership,” the Queen quickly answered. She waved her hand to dismiss further questions on the matter. “Simply, Percy Jackson was already a renowned and respected hero. He was the lost son of Poseidon in the northern isles, and inherited enough of his father’s traits to command water. He was powerful and at the time already made a name for himself for the things he had done in the name of the kingdoms. The King of Ghosts is as the title stands.”

“A king of ghosts…” Will whispered. He understood the meaning. Ghosts were unseen, forgotten, and vengeful—in this sense, they avenged those who had been wronged and no one would be none the wiser who had done the deed. In other words, Percy Jackson was much too prominent in presence to take up the namesake. Meanwhile Prince Nico was infamous for being surrounded by the death of his family, known as the Dark Angel, and most importantly no one liked him because he tried to kill Percy at that time. No one would have suspected he would lead the Ghosts in the direction they were originally intended and no one did. Everyone still assumed Nico went around killing people at random.

“It is believed that a real ghost does not see much of the world,” the Queen said. It took him a moment of confusion before he realized she was trying to answer his original question about Nico’s endearment. “This peculiar endearment Nico has coined for you is uniquely his own.”

“I see.”

“I suspect the reason he calls you his sky is simply because he probably spent many days and many nights staring up at it—especially as a wandering ghost with no home.” Just like that suddenly the entire conversation with the Queen made perfect sense. Will felt his heart warm a little at the thought of what Nico meant when he called Will his sky. He couldn’t help the obvious blush that crimsoned his face. “I will take my leave now.”

“Thank you, your Majesty,” he mumbled quietly and stood up as she left him.

It wasn’t very long after that conversation that Will was hiding in his quarters again, sitting on his large bed with his sketchbook and drawing utensils. He was deeply concentrated in drawing the images of the Capitol he’d burned into his mind his first day there that he hadn’t heard the knock on his veranda door.

“Is this what you’ve been hiding all this time?” Nico’s amused voice asked from beside him. Will yelped, rolled over onto his stomach to hide the sketchbook and then buried his face into the bed. He hadn’t even heard Nico coming to sit down right next to him. “Show me,” Nico coaxed him gently.

“No.”

“Is it so bad?”

Will swatted Nico’s hand. He seethed when Nico poked and prodded his side. He was on the brink of laughing but did his best to hold back from relenting. Finally, the man gave up and threw his feet on the bed to lie down next to Will.

“I seem to recall you’ve a distaste when it comes to the arts,” Nico said with a smile as he turned his face to Will. Will sat up and closed his sketchbook. He gathered the scattered drawing materials. In haste before Nico decided on trying to look again, he threw everything under the large bed.

“I have a distaste for judgement of the arts,” Will clarified in a haughty and noble tone. When Nico shot him a suspicious glance Will slowly smiled down at him. His hobby was drawing and singing, but he wasn’t exactly fond of furthering his skills to impress his father or others. It was all simply a hobby, something which pleased his heart and soul.

“A purist.”

“What ever do you mean, husband?” Will mocked in a gentle but sarcastic tone.

Nico chuckled, eyes closed and neck completely bare as if he hadn’t a care in the world. He’d never seen Nico act so unaware of his surroundings, but Will had come to learn just how well Nico could feign naivete.

“You’ve always worked hard for the sake of yourself. It’s admirable.” He rolled onto his side and snuggled closer to where Will was sitting on the bed.

“Not always,” Will sighed. The way Nico said it didn’t make it sound admirable at all. It made him sound selfish, which he genuinely had been feeling for some time.

The man lying down next to him covered his mouth as he yawned, excused himself, and then cuddled closer to Will’s body heat. In the last couple of months Nico had been almost gentlemanly. He didn’t try to push Will too far or take many liberties. Aside from sneaking up to Will or walking into his room without permission the man had been perfectly courteous. It was unnerving.

“What exactly are you planning?”

“You should get as much rest as you can this week.” Nico stretched out over his back. “At week’s end we will have our wedding ceremony, a tiring long party with parades and festivities.” Nico seemed to have rolled his eyes underneath his closed eyelids, which made for a childish act he hadn’t yet seen on the man. While his body was much larger in the years they’ve been apart, Will suddenly recalled the suspicious, dark and brooding young fiancé he’d been first engaged to four years ago. If they’d been given the time to properly court he wondered if this would have been a side of Nico he would have been fond of, or if it would have been a part of Nico that would have captured his heart.

“What is it?” Nico quietly asked, dark eyes staring straight into his own suddenly. Will blinked and moved away from Nico. Nico swiftly followed, pushing Will down onto the bed and easily laying his head on the soft pillow. Their eyes locked again and Will suddenly lost the ability to breathe. “If you continue to stare at me so I won’t stop myself.” His voice failed him when Will parted his lips to speak.

A slow smile crossed Nico’s handsome features. Nico leaned down and captured Will’s lips in his own. Will pushed at his shoulders until Nico finally relented and pulled away. He caught his breath, a competitive drive surging inside him which hadn’t been there before, and he turned a determined gaze on Nico’s mischievous one. Not thinking of what his actions could mean at all, Will pulled Nico down by his shirt collar and kissed Nico one more time.

A rumble echoed against his chest and for a moment Will wondered if that had been him. When Nico pulled away from his lips and looked at him again he realized the rumble had been a guttural chuckle from Nico that had echoed against their skins. Bewildered, finally, by his own actions Will’s gaze scattered from Nico’s and towards the ceiling and the walls of his quarters.

“You’re quite the rose there,” Nico chuckled as his knuckles brushed Will’s cheek. He flinched, heat spread wherever Nico seemed to touch him. It reminded him of the night they had vowed to one another, in Nico’s bed, when the man had attempted to consummate their marriage.

“I…” Will tried to speak but his thoughts were as scattered as his gaze. He breathed in and out again, trying to still his own breath and fortify himself. Why was he so heated at the mere touch of this man? It wasn’t a lustful thought as it’d been before. There was a squeezing in his chest he couldn’t relieve except for the brief touches between them and the weight of Nico on top of him. Yet Will couldn’t bear to look the man in the eyes any longer and his thoughts wouldn’t gather themselves as they should.

“Take you time,” Nico softly said. Hands cupped his cheeks and turned his face to Nico. Slowly and very carefully Will looked at Nico. Clear eyes stared back at him full of affection and love. All he saw in Nico’s eyes was himself and it baffled him. What made the man love Will so much, he often wondered. No matter what Nico told him, no matter how many times Nico had proven his love and affections Will just couldn’t believe such a great man could love him.

Crushed by his own thoughts and confused by why he had such thoughts his honest words left himself without forethought. “Do I love you?”

When his words hung in the silence he realized exactly what he’d just said and asked. He pulled his hands up to cover his mouth and closed his eyes tightly. He twisted and turned and buried his face into his pillow. He felt Nico’s weight on his back and arms wormed around his waist. Not long after he felt something hard press against his lower back. He shuddered and felt his flesh rise in cold sweat. His heart, however, rose in anticipation.

“My beautiful sky,” Nico whispered into Will’s ear.

Chapter Text

A yawn escaped him as he laid down on the stone bench in the palace courtyard. Travis played with the fruit knife between his fingers. He was facing the sky but wasn’t looking at anything in particular. He used to make stories out of the clouds with Will, but now he found it hard to see anything in the white sky foams. Travis stopped twirling the knife’s blade between each finger and gripped the fruit knife by its small handle.

“Relax,” came Frank’s quick call before approaching him any further. Travis sat up but kept the fruit knife in position in his hand. Lately, whenever he saw Frank’s face he wanted to punch the man in his jaw. If he was being honest, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to punch the man or hug him in gratitude.

“I promise I don’t have another assignment for you yet,” Frank vowed with hands thrown up. Travis glowered but shifted his eyes downwards. In the weeks since they arrived at the palace, Travis had somehow ended up as a major-general under Frank. Nico refused to appoint someone as his new general. Frank became the lieutenant-general which forced both of them to take up more responsibilities than was originally necessary as they had no superior to report to or take on other tasks.

Frank sat down and leaned his shoulder against Travis’ back. Travis leaned his weight back on Frank’s strong shoulders with another yawn. He’d been up all night and barely had any sleep because of his duties. He had to oversee the night training for the new recruits, and there were so many new recruits to the army because of Prince Nico’s investigations while in the Forbidden Lands. Travis rolled his shoulders back to try and remove the knots and stiffness. Another yawn escaped him and he leaned his head back onto Frank’s shoulder with his eyes closed.

“I’ve heard we had to let go of some more recruits.” Frank’s voice was just as exhausted and unmoving in tone as Travis’ own. They were both too tired and had no time for small talk. “Your training is too harsh.”

“Half of them will be sent out to the Forbidden Lands once their training is done,” Travis responded. He knew it wasn’t an actual answer but what else could he say. If he didn’t work day and night he couldn’t forget. If he wasn’t completely exhausted he would dream of Michael in his sleep. The current situation made him glad he had something to be constantly occupied with, but by nature, Travis wasn’t a diligent individual.

“That’s planned for the next year.”

Travis rolled his eyes even though they were closed. He could hear the bustling from the front of the palace with all the wedding gifts arriving for the wedding tomorrow afternoon. Travis yawned again but sat up straight and opened his eyes. The numerous gifts would come through the courtyard any minute now and Travis was in charge of escorting the gifts to be officially received by the royal couple.

Once they saw the large presents being tolled in by various servants in large carts the two realized just how huge the task would be to overwatch the gift receiving ceremony. The two silently agreed to do the task together, walking in with the first cart of gifts and escorting in the servants who came to present them. Sitting on a luxuriously designed chaise sofa on top of a dais in the great hall, the two princes both expressed opposite moods.

Prince Nico looked comfortable, lying back on the throw pillows and leaning onto the armrest of the chaise. His eyes showed disinterest but had a hint of danger and warning to them. Meanwhile, it was Travis’ prince who looked uncomfortable. He sat upright and straight with a nervous glance between Travis and all the gift carts lining up to be presented to him. If he was faced with the same situation Travis might have felt overwhelmed. Fortunately, Travis didn’t carry the title of prince, and even his official title was merely just that—a title. He had nothing to his name, no land, money, or position. He could live as free as he wanted if he wasn’t so devoted to his poor friend who happened to be a prince.

Travis and Frank saluted the two princes. He stood at the foot of the dais on one end, Frank on the other, and accepted the parchment from one of the servants. He read the accounts of the gifts as the servants began to present each gift. Frank inspected the items and boxes the gifts were stored in meticulously before allowing them to be taken in.

It felt like a century had passed as Travis droned on without thought. Travis ignored the various gifts that were presented to the royal couple. There was a range of gold, silk, high-quality items, even slaves, and servants, someone not only sent musical instruments but also musicians to accompany the instruments. He did his best not to sigh when he announced the next gift was a crate of opium poppy and similar drugs from the Lotus-Eaters tribe. Since it was a gift Travis and the others couldn’t express their distaste or the fact that the drugs were banned from most kingdoms including Erebus. Similarly so were slaves, so while the gifts might be accepted it was a headache later to get things situated to free slaves due to the sheer number of them.

He folded the parchment as the account of gifts were finished when he looked up and noticed the large crate on the cart. A large cloth was thrown over it but the shape underneath it easily identified what it was.

“What is this?” Travis demanded tiredly. He almost wanted to pinch the bridge of his nose and massage his temples from the headache.

“A last-minute gift added from a prominent man from our tribe,” the representative from the Lotus-Eaters answered. He bowed his head and arched down at the waist to show reverence in his apology. “This is a special slave raised from our tribe.”

“Raised?” Nico suddenly sat up from where he’d been lying comfortably on the chaise. He ran two fingers over his bottom lips and hummed as he stared at the veiled cage. It was the first gift that had caught Nico’s attention and that put many of the others in the great hall on alert. Nico was still the Dark Angel to others, and many of the gifts had to do with either trying to appease Nico or Will without really knowing what either would have wanted.

“Yes, he’s been a slave all his life,” answered the representative.

Travis then knew why Nico’s interest was piqued. A slave who was born and raised a slave was normally unimportant. When a “raised” slave was given to another it really meant a sex-slave taught to pleasure others exactly as they wanted. The supposed prominent man capable of sending a “raised” slave from the Lotus-Eaters could only be the owner of the most infamous brothel of the Lotus-Eaters.

“Where is this prominent man now?” Nico coolly asked.

“He is staying in the Capitol,” answered the representative.

Nico considered the response, making a show of it to everyone. “Show me,” Nico commanded with a wave of his hand. Frank walked up to the cart and pulled the cloth off.

A naked man sat in the cage, obviously dazed from being drugged. His shaggy hair was unkempt and he sat slouched as if exhausted. The man shivered and huddled up to the nearest corner of the cage.

Travis recognized the body without seeing the face. His heart squeezed when he saw that the man was in chains. Nico had the man taken out from the cage and he was roughly dragged out and thrown at the foot of the dais. There, Travis saw him more clearly.

The name nearly left his lips but Travis kept it locked away in his heart. Sun-kissed copper skin, dark unfocused eyes and hair, perfectly toned muscles, a flawless frame, and a handsome face. Travis couldn’t be dreaming, he felt like he could be easily struck down this instant. Yet there he stood stunned because this man looked too much like Michael Kahale for it to be some dream or magic. Or, maybe he had fallen asleep while doing his rounds on the palace walls and was dreaming that Michael was alive.

“You swear this man has been a slave all his life?” Nico asked as he stepped down from the dais. The representative assured that it was what the prominent man had declared. “You claim he’s a raised slave, then surely you would recognize him,” Nico pointed out. Travis’ heart suddenly leaped up his throat. His fists clenched as he waited for a response.

“He is not a native of our isle,” the representative admitted. “I was told he was traded in.”

Travis couldn’t watch this ridiculous show anymore even if it was some illusion. He took off the cape attached to his ceremonious armor and walked over to the man who looked just like Michael. He threw it over the man’s body and knelt down to help him up. The moment he touched him the man pushed him away. It was just a moment but Travis knew immediately that the man was Michael Kahale.

“Calm down.” Nico stepped between the man and the whip from one of the handlers who transported the slave cage. “Hand me his papers,” Nico commanded, opening his hand. The representative slowly walked forward and presented the rolled parchments to the prince.

Travis took the keys from one of the handlers and glared them down until they backed away. He slowly approached Michael. His head was bent low and he was barely able to stand on his own two legs. Travis very deliberately showed the keys in his hand and even more slowly reached out to unlock Michael’s hands and feet. His mind stopped working and lost focus. Travis just wanted to get him away from everyone. Travis wanted it to all to be real.

“I think I’ll keep him,” Nico said in a content tone. He looked at Travis then with a smile and a wink, which scared Travis. Was this really a dream? “I’ll give him to you, Travis.”

“He’s not someone you can give, your Highness,” Travis grounded out.

“But he’s yours all the same,” Nico chuckled.

Travis almost snarled, He’s always been mine. It took a lot not to bite back and to keep his mouth shut. Dazed eyes, unfocused, light sweating, shivers—he remembered the symptoms. He had them memorized because such drugs weren’t banned in Delphi. It wasn’t just a hallucinate drug, depending on the purity it could be used as an aphrodisiac. It was uncertain how much Michael was aware was happening around him.

“We’re very happy you are pleased with this gift, your Highness,” the representative interjected.

Nico’s eyes turned icy just then. He turned to face the representative and his group of handlers. Standing properly as his station expected, Nico handed the papers in his hand to Frank. Travis turned back to Michael, silently trying to convince him that he was safe with Travis. He could feel that the room had gotten colder, as though like the rumor Nico did have the ability to change the temperature of the room.

“I never said I was pleased.” Nico walked back up to the dais and sat down beside a rather confused Will. “Tell the man who claims to be his slave master I want this man’s possessions returned to me. If he refuses he should consider the consequences. We’re done here.” Nico grabbed Will’s hand and the two left the great hall.

Travis looked around until Thanatos approached him. “He’s your responsibility now. Take him. I’ll finish here.” Travis bowed his head and then grabbed Michael by his shoulders. At first, he struggled but Travis managed to drag him along until they reached his quarters in the palace. Fortunately, as a general, Travis had a room of his own. instead of being stuck in the barracks overcrowded by too many bodies everywhere The palace was certainly much more peaceful than being stuck in the overcrowded barracks.

Travis sat Michael down on his bed and could barely contain himself. He wanted to brush his hands through the man’s unkempt look, look into his eyes, hear his voice, and ask why and how he ended up as a slave. Was this really the same person? Was this truly Michael Kahale? Instead, Travis busied himself by looking through his sparse set of clothes in his closet dresser.

“Here, wear this.” Travis set the clothes on Michael’s lap. The man was silent and still seemed to be dazed. He was obviously afraid and the worried expression was something Travis had never thought he would see on Michael Kahale’s face. “How did you survive?”

Michael shook his head.

“Are you…” Travis started to ask but his words faded when Michael started to look around the room. Michael stood up and began to tear through the room. “Stop!” Travis rushed after him. They struggled but it was clear that Michael didn’t have the same strength as he did before. Travis threw Michael onto the bed but Michael continued to struggle.

“Did they drug you?” When he asked that Michael calmed down. Travis already knew the answer but it was the question that snapped Michael out of his rage. His eyes were still dazed and the darks of his eyes blown wide.

His voice was very quiet and gentle when he spoke. “There are no drugs here.” The statement allowed Michael to instantly calm down, it was a different reaction from most addicts.

Michael relaxed into the bed. It didn’t take very long before Michael had fallen asleep. Travis stayed up with him through the evening and into the late night and morning. Neither his duties or responsibilities could have torn him away from the man he once lost. Fear constantly gripped him awake whenever he dozed off with the thought that it was simply all a dream. The idea that there could be a vulnerable Michael, the youngest general in the history of the Roman Empire, was inconceivable. It was even more inconceivable that such a man needed him whenever he woke up in his own bout of fear and drug withdrawal.

Thus, Travis who was already sleep deprived and exhausted from his work continued to be so as he stayed with Michael.

“…Love you.”


 

Anger seethed at the bottom of Nico’s heart. He knew it was no one’s fault. In fact, he understood that it was just the nature of the job. He couldn’t very well punish a slave trader or a slave master simply because it was frowned upon or because they lied about the nature of their slave. He had never felt more useless in his entire life as a prince than at this very moment. Although he didn’t depend on his title as Crown Prince of Erebus, it still should have held some kind of weight or influence—some form of reliability. Yet here he was angry at no one more than himself.

Nico fumed silently, sitting at the desk in the office of the Crown Prince—his office. It never felt like his, but it undeniably belonged to whoever was crown prince. Nico couldn’t return to his own quarters as the servants were busy moving his sparse belongings into another chamber which would be considered the rooms he shared with Will. Meanwhile, he couldn’t very well be caught in Will’s room any more than he had already. So, there he was sitting silently and fuming to himself at his office desk.

 A quiet knock-pause pattern in three successions sounded on his door. Nico looked up without commanding the other person to enter. Will slowly creaked the door open, slipped in and just as gently closed the door. He slowly made his way to Nico and sat on Nico’s desk facing Nico. He was so close in arm’s reach and so wide open that Nico was tempted to forget his anger by pulling the man off his desk and right into his lap for another of their “wedding night training”.

Rather than allow himself to be tempted at this time, knowing that this was the eve of their marriage, Nico kept his thoughts on the biggest problem before him. Michael Kahale was found alive, drugged, weak, and clearly not coherent. Something was clearly off about the situation. Michael should have been exempt from becoming a slave. He was well over the age limit to still be considered someone else’s property or dependent. In fact, Michael was very obviously too likely to be a guardian rather than a dependent even if he was still a child. Unless he put himself in such a situation someone of Michael’s status shouldn’t have been found as a slave.

“How’s Travis?” Nico asked in as gentle a tone as he could. He didn’t have the heart to express his anger in front of Will. The anger he felt inside him was the same rage from when he first crawled out of the Pit. However, it was not the Dark Rider’s problem to face. The injustice wasn’t to the citizens of the land or vengeance on the unjust and evil. It was the problem of Prince Nico, the Dark Angel. It was the concern of not just one of his own people but a man who he owed his life. This was a matter of duty and pride, and knowing that because he was late and irresponsible in the matter of Michael’s recovery he’d failed the man was what hurt him the most. It was what made him angriest the most.

“His reaction worries me,” Will admitted into the quiet. “Normally Travis would be furious or do some outrageous act. Instead, he’s locked himself in his chambers with Michael, and he’s not crying or sad. It’s as if his mind and emotions are absent.”

Nico understood what Travis must have been feeling. It wasn’t as if Travis had lied to himself about Michael’s death. He had truly mourned the loss of Michael’s life. He had managed on his own to try and live on without the love of his life. When faced with a man in Michael’s state, drugged and dazed, how could he have felt any other emotion? If anything, Travis was probably in disbelief and hoped that it all wasn’t a dream. The emotion he felt most of all was fear that Michael wasn’t really alive. Exactly how should Travis have expressed such a feeling?

Finally, he put the question to Will, “How did you react when I came back from the dead?”

Will’s face went blank. Then he answered slowly, “Confused. Shocked. Mostly wary.” Nico nodded and made a gesture to express that Will shouldn’t have expected more from Travis. “I didn’t exactly believe you were dead. Pretending to be dead felt more believable.” Nico threw a smirk at Will for show. Will reacted by pulling a fist but instead of dodging it Nico simply grinned at his groom-to-be. Will immediately gave up with a roll of his eyes.

Taking the other man’s hand, Nico pulled until his future consort awkwardly sat on his lap. At first, Will’s face expressed that this wasn’t the time for their usual playfulness. Nico ignored the expression because that wasn’t his intent either. He pressed his forehead into Will’s chest and took in a deep breath. Will’s sweet scent from being immersed in the garden too long filled Nico up with a sense of comfort and relaxation.

“What should we do?” Will’s soft words fell heavy into the quietness of Nico’s office. He didn’t know the answer. Nico took in another deep breath and slowly exhaled into the crevice of Will’s neck.

He was uneasy. He wanted to fix the problem. He wanted to correct the wrongs. He wanted to make everything perfect and peaceful just for Will. Gods, he wanted all the worries and fears hidden deep in Will’s heart to disappear. Nico knew the calm before the storm had passed. With Michael Kahale’s revival from the dead, Nico was certain misfortune and more obstructions would follow.

“…Love you…” Nico whispered desperately into Will’s shoulder. Will patted his back to assure him that he’d been heard. Ever so slowly the patting became rubbing circles on his back. Nico didn’t mind. He closed his eyes, laid his head on Will’s shoulders, then closed his eyes, and counted backward from the number 1,460, repeating the words onto the skin of Will’s neck and shoulder after each number, “… Love you.”

Chapter Text

The official ceremony was said to be unbelievably shorter than the entire morning it took to prepare for it. Before dawn, Will had been driven from out of his bed. Will was bathed for an entire hour and a half, scrubbed down three times and his hair washed and soaked the entire period. Travis and Connor were both with him at his side, but their bathing process and care were not nearly as tedious and rough. Travis was thankful for that, because the hot bath almost had him going to sleep.

Chuckling with amusement plastered on his face, Travis’ younger brother said, “I’m suddenly struck with the memory of our prince taking a bath, getting shaved and his hair cut just for his wondrous bride.” In the past Travis might have smiled and laughed. Today was not the day. He wanted to be in bed with Michael, not soaking in a bath being told to scrub himself down until the dirt and stench of the weeks of work were effectively washed off. The bathing attendants were rather opinionated about how ineffective Travis was at bathing.

Will had on such a transparent smile that Travis nigh couldn’t help himself from throwing the bar of soap in his hand at Will. Fighting against his own impulses, Travis lathered suds of the luxury item into his hand and began to scrub himself anew. As he scrubbed every inch of himself raw for the fourth time, Travis’ mind once more began to worry over how Michael was faring.

While he had been dragged away in the dark and cold morning to prepare for the wedding ceremony, Michael had been forced in the opposite direction by Frank at Prince Nico’s orders. Michael hadn’t seemed to acknowledge much, fighting over nightmares and hallucinations, as well as the withdrawals of whatever drugs he’d been forcibly administered. It’d been apparent in that moment that Michael had grown accustomed to being led and told what to do while in such a staggered state.

Travis hadn’t been allowed to follow. Frank had blocked his way and then he’d been coldly told by both Charon and Thanatos that each prince had their own marriage shadows and at this stage none were to be in communication. Therefore, Travis forbidden from stepping foot into Nico’s wing in the palace until after the bathing process—or as some whispered, the “cleansing” process—was finished.

Travis tensed when the bathing attendant approached him from behind. He took in a deep breath to remind himself it wasn’t an enemy. The younger male knelt down behind Travis and made himself known. The meek notice that the boy would be rinsing him off assured Travis the person behind him wasn’t a threat. He closed his eyes and hung his head. Careful and timid hands began to lather the hair washing ointment into Travis’ hair. Then a slow trickle of water was poured over his head as the hand helped rinse out his damp and clustered hair. Travis exhaled and lifted his head up, rubbing the water off his face before opening his eyes.

“Have you seen your wedding formals?” Connor’s question echoed against the tiles of the bathing chamber. The question was posed to both Will and him, but Travis didn’t want to answer. He had seen the wedding formals for both the princes.

“I have not.”

Will’s engagement attire had been a gaudy golden ceremonious uniform fashioned after a military formal attire. It’d been ridiculously absurd and at the time made Travis laugh. This time around the attire was not pure white, or the same blinding gold, or some light color to denote that Will was the one marrying into the Erebian royal family, as was the usual custom in most cultures. He recalled that when they first arrived, Will and Nico were told it was custom for their region in Erebus to gift part of the wedding attire to one’s marriage partner. Usually it was the bride’s accessory piece or the groom’s neckwear. Sometimes it might be the headwear or even a shawl or sash. Nonetheless, if the groom was wealthy he might gift the bride her entire wedding attire even.

“The wedding shadows are supposed to wear gray or black in Erebus,” Connor reminded them unnecessarily. He was already dipping himself into the bathing pool again after having just been washed down. Travis joined them as Connor finished saying, “I heard you two spent the last few weeks designing each other’s attire.” Connor laid his head back against the ledge, visibly relaxing himself defenselessly into the pool.

Travis felt his eyes wander and his tension build again. Ever since Michael’s death—or his fall into the sea—Travis had been on edge. It was hard to break out of his obvious habit. Whenever he felt someone’s presence where his eyes couldn’t see he tensed up and grabbed for the nearest possible weapon. Whenever he felt uncertain or unsafe he looked around for the best possible escape route and how to get his charge to safety. If Travis ever had free time but wasn’t exhausted to the point of sleeping he trained, because he didn’t want to dream of Michael or have nightmares of his death.

“Isn’t your information gathering skills a bit too rusty to hear about that so late?” Will chuckled as he settled further into the depths of the pool.

Not very long after saying such a seemingly noble comment, Will ducked his chin into the surface of the hot bath water and blew bubbles into water. Some days Travis was proud of his prince being so hardy in the wild, other days he was ashamed to call Will the prince he served his whole life.

Connor splashed water in their general direction. Travis reacted on instinct, pulling Will towards him and then behind him. In that moment everything stopped and all eyes went on him. The battle on the flying ship flashed in his mind anew. Travis tried to stop the memories, but he couldn’t stop remembering the weapon in his hands, the jump off the ship, or Michael saving them. Before he realized it, Will was crouched in front of him trying to look into his face and calling out his name to calm him down.

“S-sorry,” Travis stuttered out. He wasn’t exactly sure what was wrong with him, he was just certain that he wasn’t at ease. He’d never felt more discomfited or agitated than now.

“Take a breath, Travis,” Will calmly instructed him. He nodded and did as was told. “Sit down.” Again, slowly Will helped guide him into place. “One second at a time. It’ll be alright. Promise.” Travis nodded, his head jerking as he did so instead of moving smoothly in motion as he’d hoped.

“Just sit in the bath a little longer. After this we are going to get groomed,” Connor spoke next. He sank into the bathing pool once more.

Rather than answer his brother’s jab, Travis closed his eyes and followed Will’s directions of taking in slow and deep breaths. For a moment it did help clear his mind, but the heat of the bath further pained his headache and grew his fatigue.

He didn’t know when he had slipped into sleep. Travis woke up to both the prince and Connor carrying him out of the bathing area, each of his arms pulled over their shoulders. Slightly groggy, Travis removed himself from them and followed them down the hall to the next room.

With more exhaustion than he expected, Travis dropped down onto the chaise in the dressing room. He pulled the robe closer around his body. Neither of the men who had carried him out had considered properly drying him off first. Travis shivered as his damp body caught the chill. One of the attending boys approached him with a warm towel and motioned towards a smaller adjacent room separated by a curtain as a dressing area. Another boy approached him with underclothes neatly folded in his hands. He didn’t have the energy to respond nicely, so he simply took the clothes and towels before heading to the changing room. He rolled his eyes at Connor who gave him a playful wink as he stood outside his own changing room adjacent to his.

Travis took in a deep breath of the still air to strengthen himself one more time. It was going to be a long morning. Hopefully it’ll be a quiet night as well.


 

Nico stared at the ceiling as he stood in the middle of the room naked. He wasn’t embarrassed of his body or uncomfortable being touched by the attending boys who were simply doing their jobs. He did have to send a few glares down a certain boy’s way whenever his hands suggestively caressed Nico rather than massage the scented oil as was attended. Genders definitely didn’t mean much when it came to marriage in Erebus but it was evident that faithfulness was not common in marriages of royals and nobles. The behavior of such servants even on one’s wedding night was enough proof of that.

After the boys finished, Nico stood in place as he kept his eyes on Michael Kahale. It was very obvious from the way the man stared at everything in awe that he’d lost his memories. He didn’t speak out of fear and whenever an adult approached him Michael became defensive and withdrawn. Fortunately, there were enough servant children in the palace to keep Michael from feeling too threatened. Nico could only guess at the mistreatment Michael must have faced while in the hands of the Lotus-Eaters. They weren’t exactly the most decent people to end up with.

The amnesic former general was still going through withdrawal from the drugs in his body. Nico was surprised that after simply one night the man was faring far better than most addicts. Whether the drug addiction started consensually or not, Nico had not known one to hold such resistance from withdrawal symptoms. It could be that after so many years Michael was inherently more determined than others in areas concerning going against one’s natural instinct. A trained solider trusted their instincts but a great solider could withstand it.

There were times when Michael’s state of vulnerability was obvious. His eyes glazed over and he would flinch whenever anyone approached. If possible, Nico would have postponed the wedding until Michael was at least physically capable of being one of his shadows. For the sake of putting Michael back where he belonged instead of leaving him as a “slave” Nico had to introduce Michael back into society as not just one of his wedding shadows but as his general.

Nico quickly approached Michael and pulled away one of the attending boys. It was the same boy who had been suggestively touching him earlier. He glared the boy down until he kneeled and apologized fearfully. Michael let out a deep breath and hurriedly stuffed his dress shirt into his pants himself, ignoring the flustered boys who had been attending him earlier.

“How are you feeling?” Nico waved the boys away after his clothes had been brought out. Michael nodded, not having spoken a word since he’d been taken from Travis. “Don’t worry, enslavement is banned in Erebus.” Michael’s eyes turned slit and glared at him, the stony face a ghost of what Michael once was like.

Nico pulled on the cloth based armor he had fashioned as an undershirt. He patted down the outer layer of silk traded from overseas, pressing his fingers in to feel the different layers of leather, fabric, and cloth. It was slightly heavier than he had expected but he’d worn heavier armor before. It was unexpectedly lighter, more flexible, and easier to move in than he thought when he first mentioned the design to Jake Mason.

“You seem to have a fear of water as well,” Nico added on the side as he pulled on his dress shirt. He hadn’t seen Will’s design of his wedding clothes before but he hadn’t expected to be dressed in all black attire. Not that Nico didn’t mind being dressed in black, he just never thought Will would have picked such a color for his groom.

A black dress shirt with a silver design stitched into the collar and cuffs. Nico stared at the design for some time, wondering if it looked like night clouds passing under the moon or smoke trails. Perhaps this was what Will had been secretly drawing into his sketch book all this time. Nico stuffed his shirt into his pants and smiled again.

“You look like your heart just melted,” Frank said absently. He kept himself busy looking over Michael’s clothes. Shadows normally wore black or gray, but for this occasion Nico had decided on dark blue and gold clothes. Both Frank and Michael were dressed identically, wearing long sleeve gold dress shirts with a blue vest with gold lining designs.

Nico schooled his expression and stared at thee black leather belt. It also came with holsters for Nico’s sword, even the leather vest he was to wear over his dress shirt were meticulously designed so he could put on a chest holster for his throwing knives and his daggers. Nico put on the belt holster then sat down to pull on the new black boots and tied on the laces.

Frank approached him with a tray in his hand and a new set of weapons. Nico’s stygian sword had been cleaned and polished. First, he holstered his sword to his waist and tested each knife and dagger in his hand before holstering them to his chest. Nico paused on the last knife, unlike the others which were either made out of steel or stygian iron this one was made out of tungsten and inscribed with gold on the blade. The wispy design on the blade was similar to the design on Nico’s shirt collar and cuffs.

He reached for his jacket and was stopped by a knock at the door. Thanatos walked in wearing his military formals, dressed head to toe in black. Nico wondered if Thanatos’ image could get any darker. In the years that he’d known Thanatos, the man’s skin had always been the same shade as teakwood and his hair while soft as cotton was long and dark as the night. He was lean and muscular and never seemed to grow old. He had same bright golden eyes as Charon, but just as Charon has never aged since Nico’s youth their golden eyes glimmered with the hint of a far-off past.

Nico leaned his head to the side to outwardly show his interest to the side of Thanatos’ head. Normally, the older man had his long hair tied up or let loose regardless of the event. Today, Nico was graced with Thanatos’ three braids on each side of his head pulled back and tied to look like the kind of style islanders or the desert dwellers across the sea seemed to prefer. There were times Nico wondered if perhaps Thanatos came from that dry desert place across the far sea where owning slaves was revered and palaces were painstakingly built into strange upright triangles. The rare hairstyle furthered concurred with the idea.

Thanatos glowered at him, visibly showing he found it disrespectful that Nico was openly staring. “Is your Highness displeased?” Thanatos asked with anger seething into what sounded like a calm tone. Nico shrugged nonchalantly and ran his own hand through his damp hair.

“Nearly two hours just to bathe, of course I’m displeased,” Nico finally responded. He sat down on the chaise in the middle of the room and stared up at the ceiling. Nico absently touched the fabric of his dress pants. Most dress pants were tight or stiff and unyielding. Will must have put a lot of thought even when choosing the fabric. Outwardly the dress pants seemed like any other but it was actually very conforming. If Nico had a need to fight or run the pants wouldn’t be much of a hindrance.

“Are you displeased with your clothes as well?” Thanatos asked, having caught on to Nico’s small obsession with his wedding pants.

“How could I be displeased with anything my consort has given me?” Nico asked in return. He stopped touching the pants and turned his eyes back on Thanatos. “How are your duties?” he asked the older man.

Thanatos eyed Michael with a cursory glance, the other man flinched but stood his ground. “It’ll be less taxing once your general starts taking up his duties.” In other words, Nico had been inconveniencing everyone because he refused to believe Michael had died. Of the many people who knew Nico’s status and ability, Thanatos was one of the few who were willing to openly reprimand him and treat him as another spoiled brat. It was oddly refreshing considering he only had his sister when he was younger who treated him to casually.

Once they were properly dressed they had to sit through getting their hair styled. Nico had always just let his hair dry whichever way the wind blew. His hair was so unruly that regardless it would have returned to its original state. Today there must have been real magic, after an entire hour once he looked at himself in the mirror his hair had definitely been properly cut, combed and styled handsomely. He looked like a proper prince from some other kingdom, Nico was amazed at the skill.

After all this, Thanatos led him and his shadows down the halls of the palace. This part of the wedding procession was what annoyed Nico most of all. He had to sit atop a horse followed by his two shadows and parade through the Capitol until afternoon. It was the most open and vulnerable tradition of a royal marriage in Erebus, and considering that someone has been after the role of his prince-consort and consistently attempted to kill Will he was too worried to go on the parade separately.

“Your worry is unnecessary,” Thanatos mentioned as he held the reins of Nico’s black stallion. Nico threw back his fur cape so it wouldn’t hang off the side of the horse and deter his ride. “Just as I, your father’s lieutenant, have to accompany and lead the way, so does Charon.” Nico remembered Charon was also one of the few people within his father’s kingdom who were trusted nearly unequivocally. Thanatos had been with his father since the kings and queens had left the Pit, and he had been a loyal warrior by his father’s side since. Throughout all the realms while King Hades was feared, hated and even avoided he was still respected as the Just King. Beside him as his right hand was Thanatos, the man who lived up to his name and once coined as Erebus’ Shepherd.

“With the god of death leading the way what could I fear?” Nico responded. He left his face blank as Thanatos leaped onto his own horse and led the way through the palace gates.

Drums sounded and a bell was rung ten times as they started their parade. Cheers sounded and many people shouted congratulations. Nico kept his eyes straight ahead and slowly counted down from 1,460 each time they passed an intersection, crossed a bridge or went through a gate from the inner walls of the Capitol. Once or twice he would catch a glimpse of the end of his prince-consort’s parade but never his consort.

It wasn’t until the sun was high in the sky that Thanatos finally led his parade back to the gates of the palace. As his horse past through the gate he twisted around and stared up into the sky. Unlike his time in the Pit staring up one single hole up at the caged sky, Nico was now staring up at a vast expanse of light blue and clouds. A smile plastered itself on his face and Nico fought down the laughter that bubbled up.

“Are you that happy?” Frank asked him. Nico turned to him with a question in his expression. Frank shook his head in amusement. “You had this bored face on since the parade started but now that we’re back it’s very obvious you’re an impatient groom.” Nico rolled his eyes at the other man. “You were counting again, weren’t you?”

“Again?”

This time Frank rolled his eyes. “I’ve been next to you since you crawled your half-dead body out of that cursed pit,” Frank said as they halted the parade in the courtyard where they started. “I know you count down from that particular number of yours as a well to calm down.” Nico didn’t respond. He hadn’t counted earlier because he wanted to calm down, it was so he could be patient.

Once they dismounted Nico moved himself behind Michael Kahale and pushed the man forward. It’d been months since they man survived falling thousands of leagues into the sea and was mistreated as a sex slave, riding a horse for hours would have been taxing to his body. As Nico predicted the man wobbled and nearly fell over. Nico pushed him forward, forcing him to stumble forward and catch his own balance without collapsing onto the cobblestone or embarrassing himself as a capable man in front of the public eye. A royal wedding was one of few occasions when nobles and commoners alike were free to enter the palace without scrutiny.

Nico counted his steps into the great hall until he stood at the foot of dais where his father stood at the podium waiting. He didn’t bother to notice the guests sitting in the great hall or the decorations. The moment Will showed up at the doors of the great hall Nico felt his heart beat pause.

“57,” the number slipped from his lips quietly. He felt Frank jab him in the side with his elbow but Nico couldn’t stop staring. He continued to count down from Will’s steps.

Nico had chosen a quiet but light blue color for Will’s wedding formal. Unlike others who usually chose white, red or a cream color to represent purity and some other meaning for marriage, Nico had chosen the color that best resembled Will’s existence in his life. The blue that was like the sky, touched by his golden hair and eyes, matched Will better than Nico had first imagined. His dress shirt was a dark blue like the sky during midnight, his neckwear was a crimson like orange the same color as the sky at sunset. Both his vest, his dress pants, and his jacket were the washed out blue of the sky at noon. The sash he had chosen was also a purple-blue color he couldn’t quite describe but was similar to the sky a sunrise. Will had his sword neatly tied and tucked into the sash. His golden hair seemed to shine more than Nico remembered it to be, but that could be the afternoon light shining onto it from through the high windows of the great hall.

“11…” he counted under his breath. Will gave him a suspicious look with his eyes when he heard Nico counting his steps. Then he smiled and stood beside Nico. “4.” Nico sighed quietly as they turned to his father. The King stared his long wedding speech before getting to their vows.

“Why are you counting?” Will whispered to him. Nico turned slightly to his consort, his eyes looking to Will’s left where Connor and Travis were dressed in grey dress shirts and black pants and vests. The two had on the same purple sash as Will and orange necktie. Nico tried not to laugh as the two looked properly like twins standing next to each other.

Will jabbed him in his side. “No reason,” he lied under his breath. Will elbowed him again before glancing to Nico’s side where Michael and Frank stood. Will’s eyes scrunched and then glared at Nico. He flashed a smile before looking at his father.

“Michael looks exhausted. Does he even understand what he’s doing standing up here?” Will asked under his breath with a tight tone. Nico smiled. “You know Travis is going to kill you.”

“He can try but we both know I can bury him alive,” Nico replied, unfazed by the warning or the meager threat that was Travis Stoll. Will sighed out and jabbed him in the side again. “If I’m going to die, it’ll be in your arms,” he promised. This time Will elbowed him even harder and he stumbled a step to the side. His father glared up at him, annoyed that he nearly lost his place reading the passage that he was forced to do so in the wedding scriptures. Nico stood upright and flashed his father a playful grin before winking at his annoyed consort.

“I stopped at 4,” he said to Will quietly. His consort turned to look up at him. “I was counting down from 1,460.” Nico smiled at Will. The usually bright man standing next to him stared at Nico for a time without an expression. He opened his mouth to explain but Will turned his gaze away and stared ahead instead. Uncertain what that meant, Nico went back to listening to his father without speaking another word.

“I do,” Nico said at his father’s prompt a few minutes later, “accept Prince Will Solace of Delphi as my partner in life regardless of status, gains and losses, and will hold none above him in my heart.” Nico turned to Will then and waited.

Will repeated the words. “I do…” Will suddenly paused. He bit his lower lip in concentration. Nico waited and felt a heated knife poke itself against his heart. Will cleared his throat loudly, the crowd that he hadn’t noticed before were suddenly whispering so noisily it was impossible not to notice.

“What’s wrong?” Nico murmured.

Will shook his head. He took in a deep breath and proclaimed again, “I do,” and the words held such power Nico heard nothing and no one else but Will. “I do accept Nico di Angelo,” Will said, purposefully excluding his title, “of the Styx,” he added as he looked up into Nico’s eyes and it was then Nico understood that Will was looking at him from both his past and his present, “I do accept Nico di Angelo of Bianca di Angelo Cittadina,” Will’s smile spread widely, “Nico di Angelo of the Ghosts, Nico di Angelo of Erebus, Nico di Angelo of Elysium—I do accept this man as my partner in life regardless of status, gains and losses, and will hold none above him in my heart.”

The smile that break on his face was one of pure happiness. Nico couldn’t stop himself, his tears wanted to overflow and he wanted to smile and laugh. He didn’t know if he wanted to hold Will or kiss him.

“You stopped at 4.”

“What?”

“3.” Will stepped forward. “2.” He pulled Nico by the arm until he leaned forward. Their lips came together and Will held him by his neck and jaw as he kissed Nico in front of their entire wedding guests. He was uncertain what happened exactly. He was certain Percy Jackson was likely shouting cheers at the top of his lungs while his own fiancée tried to stop him. He was certain Frank was laughing behind him while Connor and Travis both were making side comments. He was certain his father was smiling at such a public display while the Queen was shaking her head at such misconduct of royals in front of their guests. He was certain everyone was talking about how outwardly they displayed their attraction to each other.

Nico was uncertain, however, if any of this truly occurred. He was too busy holding tightly to his man’s waist and kissing him back. Nico’s eyes closed tightly and he took in a deep breath as he pulled Will closer when the man tried to pull his lips away. With this kiss, they sealed a promise of love for life. This kiss marked the start of officially being husband and consort in the public eye. This kiss made Will his and no one else’s.

“1,” Will gasped once Nico let the both of them pull away from the kiss. He laughed and looked up at Nico, the back of his hand rubbing at his lips. Nico caught the hand and pulled it to his lips, kissing where his lips had just been rubbed. He wouldn’t allow his kiss to be rubbed away and it seemed Will understood because he laughed and struck Nico with his other hand. “I do,” he said again with a smile as though he was making a promise to a child.

“I do,” Nico whispered back, his lips still on Will’s hand.

And so that was how their wedding ceremony ended, in complete and utter silence and shock from everyone but the two of them. Nico hadn’t known that their deep kiss and passionate embrace had shocked the crowd and created such uproar and gossip until much later when Connor retold them all to him. He hadn’t cared at all, because Will was finally only his.

Chapter Text

“Ouch,” Will groaned out after being backed up into the door of the bedchambers. He and Nico had made their way running from the wedding ceremony. The moment they were in the west wing and down the hall from their bedchambers Nico had grabbed him by the waist and carried him the rest of the way. As Nico had carried him the man had pulled at Will’s collar and kept nipping and sucking on the crevice between his neck and shoulder.

Once inside, Nico pushed Will against the back of the door and held him up against the door. His feet never so much as touched the ground. He held himself up on Nico’s broad shoulders and grumbled as the man bit on his neck.

“Calm down,” he hissed into Nico’s ear. The man had the audacity to shake his head no. Will bit on Nico’s ear then until Nico pulled away and looked into his face.

“I want you,” Nico said, his eyes full of desire and nothing else.

“Are you going to have me against the door?” Will asked, embarrassed that he had to ask at all. While it wasn’t the first time Will had sex, or the first time he’d had Nico touch him so intimately it would be their first time truly being connected. It was, in his opinion, undesirable to have it done up against a door. Despite the fact that Nico could care less where he was when he finally inserted himself into Will.

A smile spread on Nico’s face, an expression of happiness lit in his eyes that hasn’t left since their vows. Will rolled his eyes when Nico picked Will up over his shoulder and carried him to the bed. He threw Will into the bed and sunk himself on top of Will. A suffocating kiss stole Will’s breath.

Nico’s hands undid the neckwear around his neck and threw it aside. Will was about to do the same but Nico pressed his hands into the mattress. He shook his head at Will and seated himself on top of Will.

Nico ripped off his own clothes and threw them aside. Will was about to complain but Nico did the same to Will’s clothes within an instant. He barely had time to yelp when Nico pulled him up and sat him on top of Nico’s lap. His shirt and vest were thrown away and he wasn’t sure when Nico had taken off their belt and sash, but the weapons were laying sprawled by the door along with their holsters. His pants were pulled off him entirely the moment he was thrown back onto the bed.

“Let’s see how our training these past days have helped,” Nico smiled at Will mischievously. Will shouted in refusal when Nico pulled his legs and wrapped them around Nico’s waist. His hand slipped between Will’s lower cheeks right away and then two fingers were inserted into his lower entrance.

“Nico!” Will gasped loudly, unprepared. Nico grinned but ignored Will’s pleas. The two fingers pushed further without notice and alternatively moved to stretch Will’s inside. He squirmed and gripped tightly to Nico’s shoulder and forearm. “Remember this, Nico di Angelo!”

“What?” Nico chuckled amusedly.

He knew Nico was hurriedly, so he was doing everything impatiently and hastily. However, Will was definitely going to make Nico regret it.

Nico slipped a third finger in. Will groaned and turned his face away when Nico tried to kiss him. Nico’s eyes glimmer at Will’s challenge, and he moved his lips onto Will’s shoulder. Slowly his lips moved lower, suckling onto Will’s chest and kissing the small buds there. Will’s knees tightened around Nico’s waist in response and a groan escaped him. He twisted around, trying to hide his front from Nico’s lips.

“My beautiful sky,” Nico whispered into Will’s ear. A soft kiss fell on Will’s nape. Another kiss softly caressed the crevice where his neck and shoulder met. A hand brushed along the curves and etches of his shoulder and back, eliciting a shudder from him. Another kiss warmed the curve of his shoulder. One more on his shoulder blade. Will stretched out in response, his entire body bent forward and then back. Before he realized what was happening, Nico was firmly holding him from behind and the fingers inside him were moving in and out.

Nico’s lips stayed pressed to the middle of Will’s back. The warmth of those gentle lips on his flesh spread out, rushing through him to his lower regions. Will felt Nico’s hand pressed against his chest, holding his back in place against Nico’s chest. His heart thumped loudly. Now he wanted to turn around to face Nico but Nico had him set firmly on the bed.

“Tell me if it’s uncomfortable,” Nico whispered. The pace of Nico’s fingers moved faster. Will gasped, his hands clenching tightly against the pillow underneath his head. He fought with his need to gasp or say Nico’s name to plead him. “It’s hardened quite quickly.” Will bent his ear to his shoulder, shuddering at the whisper in his ear. Nico softly chuckled at his reaction.

He buried his face into the pillow in embarrassment. He was now glad he wasn’t facing Nico because he would not have had a way to hide his face from the erotic man.

The lustful man’s hand stroked Will’s member slowly and teasingly. Will lifted his head up and gasped for air. Nico’s hands move expertly, as if he knew just the right way to elicit a response from Will. Of course, he did, since he spent most of the week touching Will’s lower region with the excuse of training him for this very moment. Will assumed he would also have something to show for it, something to make Nico weak at the knees.

A moan escaped him and then another. He couldn’t help his hips from moving in time with Nico’s hands. Each time his hips thrusted back he bumped into Nico’s fingers and the man’s crotch. He would feel the slight pressure of Nico’s hard dick and his body would instantly respond by moving faster.

“Ni…co…” the gasp came out compulsorily. Will buried his face into the pillow as his inner vision lost all sense of color.

Once Will regained himself he let himself easily be turned onto his back. He blinked a few times as he stared up at Nico on top of him. The man slightly smirked as he ran his fingers through Will’s bangs. There was sweat all over Will’s body but he could also see that Nico had been exerting himself.

“Are you…” he started to ask, weakly reaching toward Nico. Nico shook his head and pull away from Will’s hand.

“Give it a second,” Nico instructed him. Will nodded and closed his eyes. He relaxed into the sheets when a stretching, hot and almost sharp pain struck him. Will shouted in what could have been agony. “Sorry,” Nico laughed into his ear.

Will bit into Nico’s shoulder until the pain disappeared. The other man didn’t say another word or made any move until then. Once Will removed his teeth from Nico’s skin, without even asking, the man started moving. Will gasped as his legs were pushed up and bent at the knees. He glared up at Nico who seemed too concentrated to know that Will found it uncomfortable.

Nico’s hand touched Will’s cheek and brushed his thumb under Will’s eye. “Sorry, please let me,” Nico spoke quietly. He couldn’t say no to such a desperate tone of voice. Will let Nico moved as he wanted, regardless of how far over the edge he brought Will before pulling him back. Once Nico grabbed the back of Will’s neck that was when he knew the pleasure-torture he’d been experiencing throughout the night was finally over. Nico locked them in a deep kiss before finally thrusting his release into Will. Even after, when the two of them were just laying still in the aftermath, Nico continued to kiss him. He’d started out desperately and hungrily but moved on to deeply and longingly kissing Will.

Will pushed at Nico and the man easily allowed himself to flipped onto the bed. Taking in deep, clear breaths he hadn’t been able to since Nico’s long kiss, Will made it a point to emphasize how difficult the entire experience was.

Nico pulled Will into his arms, kissing Will’s shoulder. “Go to sleep.”

“You know it’s afternoon.”

“The ball is at midnight.”

“There’s a ball?”

“Yes. Now sleep.”


 

Michael was uncertain why he’d been bathed, dressed, put on a horse and added into a wedding procession. He was a slave after all. It was fortunate that he’d been given to a master who didn’t require his services in bed, and everyone did seem like they were serving their masters willingly. Unlike his experience, no one was being drugged or being forced to do things they didn’t want to. He felt sore all over from being on the horse for hours, but the ordeal was a lot easier than he had thought. Perhaps he had ridden a horse before. He wasn’t afraid to approach such a big beast.

His master had run off after the ceremony with his marriage partner. Michael was unsure what was expected of him, but the other man who seemed to regard him in an oddly respectful manner led him off once the crowd had left the great hall.

“How are you feeling?” the man dressed similarly to him asked once they stood alone in a hallway. Michael shrugged, uncertain exactly how he was supposed to be feeling. “Are you scared? Have questions? Did anyone do something to you? Are you hurt anywhere?” The questions were suddenly bombarding him and Michael had to take a step back. “Ah, sorry,” the man quickly apologized. He rubbed the back of his neck in a way reminded Michael of first time customers who were too nervous because of his body size. “Nico did say you have memory loss.”

Michael hadn’t spoken a word since he’d been brought to this place. He didn’t respond as should have been expected at this point. His head still hurt and his stomach was twisting up in knots. He was afraid that eventually it’ll all be a lie and someone was going to force him to take drugs soon. While the drugs did ease the pain away it also slowed his mind and made him do things he didn’t really want to do. The drugs were something his body was starting to depend on and Michael didn’t want that.

“You know your name is Michael Kahale, correct?” the man asked him in a slower pace that earlier. He wasn’t sure if that was for his own benefit or because he assumed Michael was slow. He nodded. “You know you’re not a slave, correct?” Michael nodded again. “You were never a slave to begin with.” At this point Michael was confused. He understood that his new master had decided to call him Michael Kahale and for some reason the man he slept in bed with together yesterday night was in charge of him. He wasn’t exactly certain why this new man was telling him he was never a slave. If he wasn’t a slave he would still be at his home in the beach catching fish and fixing boats.

The man sighed heavily and groaned. The man turned a sharp glance at Michael and he flinched by instinct. Whenever someone gave him such a glare it was because he’d done something wrong or because someone was angry at him. He tensed and braced himself for punishment.

“You understand what I’m saying, don’t you?” the man asked him. Michael nodded. “Stand at attention and about face!” The man snapped the order so harshly Michael did as he was told without thinking. “At ease!” Michael relaxed and took one more step away from the man. “If you were from the Lotus-Eaters and never left how come you can understand the language of Rome?”

The man waited for Michael to answer but he didn’t have one. His head hurt when he tried to remember his past, and his family on the beach had told him that because he worked on the sea and traded sometimes that he’d picked up words and phrases from a lot of different languages. However, nothing the man had said sounded like words or phrases someone needed to know to trade fish or trinkets.

“Kahale, I know you’re still sick and you’re wary of everyone around you.” The man sounded exhausted as he said this. “This may be too much to take in, so please understand that I’m telling you this ahead of time so you don’t get tricked.” Michael shrugged. He didn’t understand much of anything. “You were the youngest general of Roman history. You led their entire army. You retired.” The man sighed, this time he sounded annoyed. “You were probably tired of being forced to do everything that sightless augur wanted.” Michael had no context for the sentence so he didn’t pay it much mind.

The man, later introduced to him as Frank Zhang, explained to him part of his identity. He was Michael Kahale, the former general of the Roman Empire. He was promised the position of the general of the Erebian army after its been put into reform by the prince, however he had supposedly died before they reached the Capitol over two months ago. He had been pursuing a relationship with Travis Stoll but perhaps of the method he had employed the other individual was against the union. Michael was, by birth, a prince in his own right. His mother was the famed Queen of Cythera known for her many romances. Most of his wealth and possessions from Rome had been back to his isle home.

Michael wandered down the halls on his own deep in thought. Frank, who was supposedly his direct subordinate, had been hesitant about explaining how he supposedly lost his memory. Michael couldn’t quite believe he was such a wonderful person. Perhaps he just happened to look like the real Michael Kahale. There could be another explanation as to how he knew the language of Rome, but if he had really supposedly died from drowning Michael would assume he had a fear of water. As far as he knew he was unafraid of water. Nothing happened when he was near water. After two months, he should have some kind of memory recalled but he didn’t.

He found himself out in a garden. He walked the stoned path through the grass, not particularly caring where he was headed. It was late afternoon and many of the guests were elsewhere. It was nice to be left alone and free. Michael rubbed the chain marks on his wrists. They were bruised and scratched. He couldn’t remember a time he hadn’t been held captive since his family on the beach sold him.

“How old are you?” a voice asked curiously.

“Twenty,” he answered automatically. That was the number he’d been given from his family on the beach. Frank had told him earlier that he was nearly twenty-eight years old. Michael had never really looked at himself to determine his own age. “…Eight,” he added weakly. Then he looked around and found the person who had asked him.

“You really have forgotten,” the beautiful woman smiled. She was dressed in cerulean blue and while she was beautiful, like many others she didn’t move him at all. If it hadn’t been for the drugs Michael wouldn’t have reacted to any of the customers who were forced on him. “Perhaps it’ll be best for you to have no recollection.” Michael tried to place her face in his memory. He was certain she held a higher station than most yet could not recall.

The woman smiled knowingly. “I am Persephone, Queen of Erebus.” Michael quickly greeted her but she waved away the courtesy. “Wouldn’t it be more interesting to see where your real emotions are?” Queen Persephone smiled slyly as she walked around him. Michael tensed at her assessing gaze but she snuffed at him and took a couple steps away from him as if he was unworthy. In Michael’s mind, he was still a slave, so to even be standing so closely to a queen was unbelievable.

The Queen turned back to him and smiled in a way that made Michael think it was both calculating and amused. Then she said, “Not remembering anything about your past yet standing in the same spot you once were—wouldn’t it be the best opportunity for you to test how you truly feel?” Michael had no idea what she meant. Why did she keep talking about his feelings? “Who you truly love, if you truly love. Why you’re here, if you really want to be here. These things. Don’t you question your true intentions? Don’t you wonder what it was you were after that you were willing to risk your life and the horror of being buried at sea?”

Michael hadn’t thought about any of that, but since the Queen mentioned it he was curious. Why would the Michael Kahale everyone remembered retire when he was the youngest general of the Roman Empire? Why had he chosen to follow Prince Nico when he had already prepared to return to his home isle? Why or how had he fallen in love with Travis Stoll? Why did he sacrifice himself in a battle at sea? Michael was curious why all of this occurred. He wanted to understand General Michael Kahale’s thoughts—if he was the real Michael Kahale.

“Well then,” the Queen waved her hand absently as she said those two words and left. Michael watched her walk away.

“Michael!”

He turned around at another voice calling him. He watched the man he’d spent the last night with. Travis Stoll sprinted towards him from off the garden path he’d been following. The slightly smaller man ran up to him and grabbed him by the shoulders.

“I’ve been looking for you for the last hour!” The man’s hands gripped at him tightly. Michael couldn’t hide the pain and tried to pull away. He was too used to being hurt by others. “Sorry!” Travis quickly apologized. “Does it hurt? Are you bruised anywhere? Have you been enduring it all this time? Should I get Will? Wait, no he’s busy.” Within that split-second Travis was an overactive individual too confused by his own amount of energy. “A doctor! Or… or a healer?” Travis grabbed his hand and tried to pull him along to find someone to heal him.

Michael pulled back, stopping them. Travis turned around to rush him but Michael shook his head in response. Michael took Travis’ hand off his and stepped back.

In another split-second Travis’s worried and confused expression became pain, awkward, and clear. With a cheerless laugh Travis apologized once more. “Sorry. I keep forgetting you must have gone through a lot before you got here. Frank told me he had your room prepared earlier, it’ll take a bit more time until it’s ready.” His words left his mouth quickly and without confidence. The man tried not to look Michael in the eyes, and as if trying to stop himself from touching Michael he kept his hands held behind his back. “If you’re tired I can let you borrow my bed again. It seems you can withstand your withdrawal symptoms very well, but it might still be a better idea to rest. You could experience them in bouts.”

Michael wasn’t a slave to this person, he suddenly realized. With the way the man treated him it was almost as if he revered the existence of this so-called Michael Kahale. So, he asked his question while the man was mid-sentence.

“Do you love me?”

Travis stopped talking immediately and looked up from the ground at Michael. He stared into Michael’s eyes for a long time and his expression was something Michael could easily identify even though he was unfamiliar with it. It was the expression of utterly unbearably agony. He didn’t know how he recognized it, and he felt like he should know the cause but didn’t. He just knew his question was what made Travis show such an expression.

“Is that…” Travis looked down again and tried to hide the tears behind his bangs. Michael didn’t approach him or tried to stop him from crying. “Is that something someone like you can ask?”

“What do you mean?” Michael asked.

“You haven’t spoken to me at all since you got here,” Travis said. He raised his hands and rubbed the tears away from his face. The tearful man looked up at Michael again. “Not one word.” Travis took in a shuddering breath and laughed. “What gives you the right to ask whether I love you or not?” Travis turned around and inhaled deeply. Michael wondered why the question hurt him so much. Shouldn’t the man have understood Michael asked because he wasn’t sure and didn’t know.

“Stay here, I’ll have Frank accompany you.” The man dismissed himself, walking off briskly and angrily.

He wanted to say that even if Michael was to rest in whatever room they prepared for him it would have been difficult. The man had already gotten out of earshot so Michael decided not to say anything. In the weeks of being constantly drugged in his sleep, forced to have sex as his body became dependent of drugs, Michael had found it difficult to sleep. It had gotten to the point that Michael would stay awake for nights on end until he collapsed and became a health risk. That was the reason the slave master had decided to get rid of Michael. Why he wasn’t traded off and instead was presented to the princes was a mystery to him.

With the knowledge that he would be trying to sleep in an unfamiliar place surrounded by unfamiliar people, Michael crouched down to his knees and groaned out loud. He wasn’t bruised or cut anywhere but his insides definitely were fighting against its natural instinct. The withdrawal from drugs were hitting him in bouts. His eyesight had been blurry the entire time he’d been in the wedding procession. Fortunately, he had only to follow someone everywhere he went. His eyesight was sharpened erratically as if it were a window constantly being dirtied and cleaned. His breath caught in his throat. It hadn’t been as bad earlier, but now that the headache was starting he was suddenly finding it hard to breathe.

Michael wasn’t sure how long he’d crouched there in the garden trying to withstand his symptoms on his own. It wasn’t long until Frank Zhang was kneeled before him, wiping his sweat off with a handkerchief and asking him how he felt. Michael shook his head, his mouth too parched for him to answer. His head hurt too much for him to think of a coherent answer. All he could do was clutch tightly to Frank’s stable body and have the man help him down the halls to a room that had been prepared for him in advance.

He didn’t have the time or focus to notice the room or the bed he’d collapsed on. Michael pulled off his clothes and when Frank tried to help he shouted at him. His head pounded loudly and his body shook from the pain. He could barely hear what Frank was telling him so all he did was grunted as he stripped out of the clothes he’d been forced to wear. Michael climbed back into the bed and wrapped himself into the sheets.

He didn’t know when he had fallen asleep. He wasn’t sure what he’d done in his fits and bouts. Michael woke up and noticed the mess in the large bedchamber he’d been provided. The furniture had been upturned or thrown across the room. Drawers were pulled open although there was clearly nothing in them. He heard the water running from a room attached to his chamber, realizing that he had his own bathroom.

Once he looked toward the window—realized he had a balcony—he saw that it was night. Michael stumbled out of the bed with the sheets pulled around his waist. He walked to the balcony door and stared out into the night. Had he been incoherent since the late afternoon until the night? Michael sighed out, wondering when his body would stop searching for something it didn’t need to survive.

Chapter Text

It’d been days since his wedding, but Nico still couldn’t believe how many guests were still within the palace walls. It was customary that guests stayed as long as a fortnight to celebrate newlyweds when it came to marriages in nobility and royalty. It was also expected that a palace was always entertaining some guest or another. However, in all his years Nico had never had to greet so many guests in one single morning or had guess specifically in the palace just to meet with him.

Suddenly so many people had business to speak with him and news or gossip to tell him. Nico sorely missed the times he’d been disregarded because he’d been coined as the “Dark Angel”. He was busy reforming the entire army from the top down, then there was the mystery to who had been willing to kill to become his prince-consort, as well as Michael Kahale’s enslavement and memory loss.

Currently, Nico was waiting on one of his Ghosts to meet him in the training grounds for the new recruits. Around this time in the late afternoon just before evening was when the training grounds was least occupied. Nico was fortunate enough that no one but a few squires who were cleaning up after the recruits were around.

“Nico!” Percy and Jason approached, fists held up. Nico greeted them, holding his fist in the arm and bumping forearms with them.

“Why are you two still here?” Nico asked them before either could speak. The two laughed and slapped him on the arm.

“We caught one of ours out and about and decided to do their mission for them,” Percy informed him. Nico sighed. Originally, Nico hadn’t thought about asking the Ghosts to help him with this particular problem. After all it was the Ghost King’s problem, it was Prince Nico’s problem.

“Hope you didn’t mind we scared them a bit,” Jason grinned at him.

“Scared or half beaten to death?” Nico sighed.

“Is there a difference?” Percy grinned and handed over the clothed parcel he had in his other hand. Nico too the item and undid the cloth tied around it. Percy and Jason peered over his shoulders curiously. It wasn’t long before the question came. “Clothes?”

“They don’t seem to be your preference.”

Nico sighed. “These are Michael Kahale’s clothes.” His weapons—whatever that fell into the sea with him—were gone. Nothing that couldn’t be easily replaced, since Michael had once mentioned that he held nothing of important value with him when he first accepted Nico’s contract.

“If that’s the case let us know if anything is missing.” Jason patted Nico on the back and then picked up the leather vest. He stared at the tears and stitches. “Are you certain this belonged to Kahale?”

“I heard he was thrifty,” Percy mumbled as he then picked up Michael’s shirt. After inspection Percy stared between the shirt and the vest confused. “This shirt is good quality, and I do recall he was wearing this color on that day.” Percy then took the vest from Jason and stared at it in confusion. “And I didn’t think about it at the time but I do remember he wore this as well. The insignia is unmistakable.” Nico nodded. Kahale had worn these clothes. “This vest seems out of place.”

Jason stared at Michael’s pants in Nico’s hands. Touching the fabric Jason also seemed confused. “These are standard issue fatigues for Roman soldiers. The vest is outdated and worn. The shirt is newer and good quality.” Jason and Percy both stared at the clothing pieces between themselves in confusion.

“Considering he was wealthy but frugal, let’s assume he only replaced his clothes when deemed necessary,” Nico concluded. The bracers, belt and holster were underneath the clothes. He pushed the clothes onto Jason and Percy and crouched down to settle the accessories onto the ground. He knelt on the grass and examined the bracers. They were worn but in perfect condition. Like the vest, the insignia was burned onto the bracers. Nico could see that outwardly the bracers looked like normal leather but if one had an eye for quality the bracers were not just expensive but a superior armguard.

Jason and Percy had knelt down beside him. The two came to the same conclusion as him. Michael Kahale definitely had one of the most prized possessions with him, and surprisingly no one had seen past the fake exterior.

“It’s an artifact.” Jason’s jaw slackened. His hands reached out to the bracers and held one in his hands. Nico nodded to confirm the statement. “How did Kahale get his hands on an artifact from the olden days?” Jason put the bracer down on the cloth. The other man took in a deep breath. “First, a flying ship. Then Percy’s sword. Now…” Jason waved his hand over Michael’s bracers.

“I don’t think it’s such an important artifact,” Nico mentioned. Considering that the leather Michael had sewn over the original leather was a way to hide the artifact, Nico had to assume the reason was because the artifact itself unnaturally durable and never worn out. “Would you ever find it necessary to make a magic armguard?” he asked monotonously.

“Need I remind you about Achilles’ shield?” Percy sighed annoyingly. Having once before gone into battle to retrieve the artifact, Percy wasn’t exactly one who enjoyed facing artifacts.

“Achilles had an entire set or armor,” Jason reminded them. Nico looked up then. It couldn’t be… “Despite owning an entire set of armor blessed by old magic the man still died.”

“Honorably,” Percy said as he made a revering symbol of respect to the dead. Nico nearly laughed but he kept it in.

Jason and Percy’s ramblings had led Nico to a new thought. It could be this was the reason he’d been ordered to be killed by the Roman Empire. Nico had originally thought the assassination had been ordered by the augur because he’d felt slighted by Nico and Michael. If an artifact that originally belonged to the set of armor Achilles had been gifted belonged to Michael and someone who was obsessively collecting weapons and building an army for war found out the consequences were not desirable.

“Jackson.” Nico looked towards the seaman. The youthful face stared back at him with full attention. “Have you been attacked more frequently?”

“No.”

“Have you been approached with any new propositions or partnerships?”

After thinking back on his recent exchanges, Percy answered, “A couple. None too different from the usual.” Percy had long since learned which adventures were best taken when it came to the sea. Nico didn’t have to worry about the man’s recklessness and uncommon good luck to find him trouble. “I’ve gotten a few offers to join expeditions but we’ve been busy with the Dark Rider operation.” Percy asked Nico the question without speaking, instead his eyebrows scrunched in confusion.

“Anaklusmo is an artifact.” Nico sighed as he began to pack the items back onto the cloth. He wrapped the items up and pinched the bridge of his nose. This situation was getting more complicated than he had hoped. Percy naturally touched the pin of his cloak. Nico turned to Jason as well. “Ivlivs is also an artifact.”

Jason nodded. “I meet new people every day as the Pontifex Maximus in Rome.” Nico thrummed his fingers onto the handle of his sword while in thought. “However, no one has approached me about artifacts or have shown interest.”

“That’ll be too suspicious.” Nico sat down on the ground and eyed the trainers walking through with a couple of the new recruits. “This may be the ideal situation.”

“First, explain how finding the person collecting artifacts has to do with Kahale’s enslavement.” Percy sat down on one side of him and Jason on the other. Nico sighed heavily, again recalling just exactly what he had to deal with. He started counting all the problems on his fingers when both men clapped their hands on his back.

He looked up to see the two leaning into his shoulders. “It must be difficult being the only of us cousins to be a crown prince,” Percy chuckled as he threw an arm around Nico’s shoulders. Nico rolled his eyes.

“Oh, that’s right. Both of our fathers have enough children and neither of us are legitimate,” Jason chimed in. Nico sighed, this time because he was already tired from the two prodding him with pointless humor. “I was the second born from a repeated offense with a traveling troupe performer. Percy, here, was hidden away in the Styx after his father sworn off concubines.”

“Don’t say that as if you weren’t abandoned in the Styx because your father’s queen hadn’t demanded it,” Percy snarled. The smile on his face showed that the remark wasn’t heated. After so many years of fighting with each other and nearly dying for the other, the two had long since learned to enjoy what life had given them. Nico, on the other hand, still wondered what he could have done for the fates to have written him as the crown prince of Erebus.

“Regardless,” Jason waved away the playfulness of the insult. Nico looked up from his thoughts. “Our crown prince here should realize that he has many subordinates and followers, as well as friends willing to stand with him.” Nico rolled his eyes. Not that he hadn’t already known he was going to receive another lecture about learning to rely on others. He had simply hoped it wasn’t Jason who was giving it to him. Percy had a way to explaining things, while Jason was ungodly adept at lectures. Oddly, while Percy was good at explaining logic and common sense he was entirely bad at consoling. Jason, however, was awful at explaining common sense in interacting with other humans but was strangely reassuringly quiet and capable when it came to consoling other individuals.

He sat in the training grounds, watching the trainers and new recruits start their evening practice as he listened to Jason’s longwinded lecture. While he dreaded the lecture, he didn’t mind trying to drown most of it out in deep thought. The lecture was much more preferable than the numerous guests staying in or visiting the palace to supposedly congratulate him. Once he had gotten his thoughts aligned Nico would have to meticulously comb through all visitors to see who were likely suspects in the number of cases that have somehow landed in his dossier.

Nico’s mind naturally went blank. He’d somehow managed to connect Will to the problems he had to solve, and whenever he thought of Will his mind went blank. A hand clapped him on the shoulder and Nico let out another deep breath.

“How is married life?” Percy grinned at him.

Without answering, Nico stood up and started to make his way across the training ground. The two men followed as they walked through the grounds. He kept an eye out for any specific recruits who were overly cautious of the three of them. He heard the term “Legacy of the Three Masters” which he hadn’t heard in quite a long time. At some point Nico had forgotten that their fathers were considered the three most powerful kings on the continent, or that their fathers were considered masters of elements.

“The two of us have been faithful to one person for years, have been engaged longer than the man, and he still managed to get marry before us,” laughed Jason. Nico ignored the fact that his relationship was considered a swift one. While it could have been counted as shorter than Percy’s time with Lady Annabeth or Jason’s time with Lady Piper, his time with Will had not been a smooth one. Even at this moment Nico was still floundering to stay off the cliff. He couldn’t afford another misstep as four years ago which forced him to stay separated from Will and the loss of precious time to court Will.

Nico stopped walking one they reached the exit of the training grounds. Percy and Jason surveyed the area before asking him what was wrong. Nico sighed heavy one more time. He never remembered sighing so much his past.

“We didn’t even have a proper courtship,” Nico grumbled. Anger at himself started to seep through. The two laughed loudly as they threw jokes and words of comfort.

“It’s a good day when a man doesn’t have to win their intended’s heart,” said Percy as they walked through the gates into the back of the palace walls. They were greeted by a couple palace guards before Nico could muster the strength to talk again.

“We are talking about King Apollo’s children,” Jason added as they started walking the perimeter of the palace walls. “I heard most of them are rather fastidious when it comes to courtship etiquette.” Many of Apollo’s children were used to a mastery of certain skills. It was logical that those who sought to court any of them had to be able to support them.

Percy snapped his fingers. Excitedly, the man said, “Oh, I heard Will was so angry about being made to wait so long he ran away from home with his retainer!” He laughed and dodged Nico’s strike. “Come now, Nico. You know that wasn’t said in earnest. How much truth is there in a rumor?” Percy tapped his temple. At that, Nico and Jason both groaned loudly. “Let’s say that Will was angry that you left him alone for four years. How did you get him to marry you so soon?”

They walked in silence for some time. He tried to figure out the best way to explain in the least amount of words.

Once they were half-way around the perimeter of the palace walls, now standing in the front of the palace gates, he stopped walking. Ignoring the greetings by visitors and passerby he turned around to Percy and Jason. The two stared at him expectantly.

“Be sincere.”

Chapter Text

Michael had spent the last week and a half quietly observing his surroundings. While he was the general of the army, it was in name only. He’d taken notice of quite a few things about himself. He wasn’t illiterate but Michael couldn’t seem to care about doing any of it and often got lost when he tried doing paperwork. The moment he held a weapon in his hand however, Michael knew exactly what he was doing. If he was sparring everything came naturally. Perhaps he was a warrior before he’d lost his memories, but he couldn’t say for certain he was the Michael everyone was searching for when they looked at him.

While he couldn’t handle any paperwork or anything serious such as escorting dignitaries, Michael was apparently skilled when it came to training. There was one specific job he’d been entrusted with, and it was something he could easily do. It was to observe all the new trainers and trainees. Michael had plenty of observation opportunities. Everyone seemed unreserved when they realized he was an amnesic general and held the position in name only.

In the last week and a half, he also had chances to quietly watch Travis Stoll from afar. He sat with a group of trainees and their direct commanding officer on top of the northeastern battlement of the city wall. The group was gossiping about the Prince and Prince-Consort. Michael kept an ear to the conversation as he looked out into the forest on the ledge he sat on.

“Kahale, what are you looking at?” one of the more relaxed trainees called out to him. He was watching their corner of the perimeter as they were meant to, and looking for Travis’ scouting party to return. He’d noticed that Travis had gone out from the eastern gate on the list of sign-outs for the morning.

Michael chose to ignore the fact that the trainees thought he didn’t know they were being disrespectful by not calling him by his military title. If he was the real General Michael Kahale he might have been stiff enough to care. Instead, he would rather beat the respect into the trainees during their trainings personally. Even their direct commander didn’t seem incline to correct their lack of discipline. He didn’t blame Travis for being the monster he was when it came to recruits and trainees. Especially when all it took to lose all respect was being amnesic.

“Kahale?”

When he sensed the scouting party’s return, he inadvertently smiled. Once Travis and the two accompanying him cleared the trees he nodded in the man’s general direction. The moment Travis surveyed the battlements he glared right at the group Michael was with. Since their group on the eastern battlements were the only ones caught unaware, idle and not at attention, it didn’t take an amnesic to realize what would happen soon on the training grounds.

Perhaps seeing Michael’s face made him angrier than he normally was, because Travis immediately shouted orders for the group to report to the wall’s training ground. The group immediately answered and stood stiff until Travis disappeared through the gate beneath them before groaning loudly to each other.

“You did that on purpose, didn’t you?” one of the trainees snapped at him. Another, recognizing why Michael hadn’t warned them, jabbed the other in the ribs and cleared his throat loudly.

“Shush, he’ll get you in more trouble!” the third in the group hissed.

Michael hadn’t intended on getting them into trouble. He’d simply found the spot to be the best vantage point while waiting for Travis’ return. He hadn’t spoken a word about Travis’ return mostly because he’d expected at least one of them to have been paying better attention when they noticed he kept staring off into the trees.

“General Kahale, I expect you to escort that group down personally!” Travis’ loud shout boomed from the other side of the wall. Michael smirked. The man had been angry at him ever since his innocent question about love. It’d been a week and a half, and still the man’s anger had not been sated.

Travis had kept his distance but it had been strange how Michael always knew when the man was looking. He noticed Travis as if he was Michael’s own shadow. At those times, when he’s highly aware of Travis even when he wasn’t looking at the man, Michael wondered if he had secretly loved Travis at some point.

Michael gestured for the group to follow him. Heads hung low, only the direct commander walking proudly as a soldier, the group walked with him down the walls of the battlements. He leapt down the last flight of stairs and searched for Travis around the eastern wall training grounds.

“Duck!” Michael rushed back to the group. First, the group looked confused, then shocked, and finally each of them threw themselves to the ground. Michael tackled down the man in the middle just as he felt an arrow hiss by his ear. He had his arm under the man’s head to block him from getting a head injury when they both went down.

Jumping up, Michael drew his sword. He’d gotten used to naturally giving orders and responding to alerts in the heat of a fight.

“On me!” Michael snapped. The group gathered themselves behind him. “Do not cluster!” Michael ordered without looking. “Spread out, stay close. Do not advance unless I tell you!” Michael sensed the trainees and their supervising commander make a wedge formation with him on point. His eyes trained on Travis and the two men he had go scouting with him. Travis’ face was hard and unmoving.

The three drew their bows and aimed at Michael’s group again. Michael took in a breath and waited for the arrows to be released. He rushed forward and threw the dagger he had strapped to his chest. Michael saw his dagger knock down the far-right arrow. He leapt forward and although he had never done this before, somehow Michael kicked the middle arrow off course and cut down the last arrow.

“Advance!” Michael shouted, the word came out in Erebian. He paused as the group rushed past him and shouted a war cry. Michael touched his lips, confused about where the word came from. He had realized that he understood a strange multitude of languages but he himself had never spoken anything but the common language.

He stood up, ignoring the men getting struck back. Michael sheathed his sword and wondered how he’d been able to speak a language even nobles didn’t use without cause. He stood in place pondering more about the knowledge he didn’t recall having, when he felt a sense of danger.

Michael sidestepped out of the sword’s range and grabbed the arm of the man who had attacked him. He pulled the man’s arm and then swung his elbow out to hit his attacker on the side of his head. While his opponent was still disoriented, Michael disarmed him of his weapons. Angry now at being interrupted, Michael threw the sword he’d taken from the downed man in front of him.

The sword landed inches between Travis’ second companion’s legs. The sword stood straight, glinting in the afternoon sunlight as if to tell everyone how close it was from piercing the man. While the man stood shocked, Michael rushed forward. He ignored the trainees groaning on the ground before him. Michael jumped again, this time he swatted away the sword of his opponent by using his bracers. He heard a loud clang as if metal had clashed. In his fury, Michael ignored it and punched the defenseless man as they both went down. Michael sat on top of his opponent and struck him repeatedly until someone grabbed him from under his arms and pulled him off.

“Michael!” Travis came from behind him. He took in a deep breath and stood up, pushing Travis away from him. “It was just battle training!”

Michael nodded. He had known that. He’d known but he had been unable to reel in his anger.

“Michael!”

Travis forced him to turn around but Michael couldn’t look him in the eyes. At this moment, he wasn’t concerned about Travis and what misguided or misinterpreted love interest they had for each other.

“Look at me!” Travis demanded, and his eyes moved up into the man’s eyes. He could tell that Travis wanted to help him with whatever ordeal he was going through. The man never thought twice about helping Michael with his amnesia and the pains of fighting off his dependency on drugs.

“Do your job, Stoll,” Michael growled back. The anger in him was unnatural. He reminded Travis that he had to report to the prince about his scouting mission. Michael walked off fuming, unable to control the heated emotion building in him and he couldn’t understand why.

Once Michael found himself in the garden he followed the familiar path until he found the spot under the large tree at the edge of the garden. He sat down, nearly collapsing against the tree. Michael took in deep breaths, the piercing headache assaulting him and the sick feeling came again. He tried to take in deep breaths but his muscles started to tremble on their own. It took effort for him just to bend away toward the grass as he emptied his stomach.

The pains and the sickness in his stomach had started to shorten in durations. Originally, he didn’t feel any after effects for long periods since he’d stopped taking the drugs from the brothel. However, when the desire became too strong he was often unable to recount much of what happened and the time in that state had also been rather lengthy. Lately the time had shortened and he started staying aware of himself. If he gave it a couple more days, Michael was certain he would no longer feel any symptoms.

Michael had been resting against the tree after spewing on the ground next to him. When his eyes opened he noticed his head was resting on someone’s shoulder. He sat up and looked at the person, quickly recognizing Travis Stoll. It was evening and the sun was already setting. Michael looked around to survey the area.

The vomit he’d spewed had already been washed away. He presumed Travis had cleaned it up and had decided to join Michael. As he was trying to get up Michael felt a light tug on his hand and sat back down.

He stared down at Travis’ fingers intertwined around his own. Michael hadn’t noticed at all that they’d been holding hands. Although he had no recollection of the feeling, the act seemed to be natural. Michael moved his left hand over his heart and rubbed his chest as if he could sooth the ache from the surface.

Michael hissed as his headache worsened suddenly. His vision blurred and it felt like needles were stuck in his eyes. Michael groaned and curled his knees to his chest. Something in his mind was trying to break apart. Michael tried to suck in a breath as a faded sound of a laugh brushed past his ears. A smile he couldn’t quite recall accompanied the sound of a child’s laugh.

“Michael Kahale!”

He grabbed onto Travis. Burying his nose into the crevice of the man’s neck, he took in a deep breath. The man’s scent was sweat cooled after training, woodsy from his patrol in the morning, and a hint of sweetness from the flowers in the garden. The pain started to recede as he took in more deep breaths.

“Kahale,” whispered Travis as he patted Michael’s back.

He slowly released the other man and leaned back against the tree. The pain receded but his headache had gone from piercing to a heated irritation.

“Do you need water?” asked Travis, hands on Michael’s cheeks and lifting his head to face him.

Michael’s eyes were half closed and he could barely make out Travis’ face, and yet he knew it so well already. Wavy brown hair that shimmered like gold in the sunlight kept a little too long for a military man, bangs that hung over beautiful blue eyes, upturned eyebrows and soft lips he couldn’t stop thinking about.

Michael had never felt sexually attracted to anyone before, whether it was the few customers he could remember or those around him when he’d been coherent. He didn’t recall being attracted to anyone he’d been forced to have sexual relations with, or even with those who had wanted such favors from him. He’d always thought the interest in Travis was because the man was the first one who touched them without wanting anything. Travis had also been the first one to express the importance of Michael’s safety and care. Travis had also been the first to reject him despite obviously being attracted to him.

“Do you need medicine?”

The question brought Michael back from his thoughts. He shook his head. Prince Nico had gotten both the Prince-Consort—as well as the famous medicine man the Prince-Consort called his older brother—to prescribe him medication but he’d refused. At best, he was given natural remedies which could ease the symptoms of pain and sickness but it didn’t always work.

“No?”

Michael shook his head.

“I will get you water.” Travis stood up and rushed off down the stoned path. As he watched the man go, Michael slumped further down against the tree and fell asleep again.

In his dream Travis appeared again. Nothing was ever a complete image. Bits and pieces, specific images of the man’s blue eyes glittering with laughter or anger, or the sound of his laugh. Michael had spent days observing Travis from afar, it wasn’t strange to think he would remember such things in detail.

Lately, in his short bouts of sleep he kept dreaming of those soft lips. Michael didn’t know how he knew the lips were soft. It may have come from imagination or even desire. It would be a lie to say that Michael’s body wasn’t starting to react to Travis. The feeling was familiar but different. It wasn’t a reaction the same way the drugs induced it, but a reaction that was nearly unbearable because his heart especially pulled at him.

Michael dreamed that Travis had his eyes closed. He caressed both cheeks in his large hands. In his dream, there were tears brimming at the corners of Travis’ closed eyes. He bent his head down and pressed their lips together. He didn’t understand the hardness in his heart or the joy he felt in the dream.

When Michael woke up from his dream he was staring up at Travis walking away again. It was dark out, a tray with a cup and jug of water sat next to him, and a warm thin blanket had been thrown over his body. He sat up and pulled the blanket up to his nose. The heat spread over his face as he breathed in the warmed blanket. This had also felt familiar to him but he had no concrete memory of it. In the months of memories that he did have, he didn’t remember ever being warm until he’d fallen asleep in Travis’ bed that first night. Even in the weeks that have passed, Michael was so afraid of what could happen while he was unaware that he never had the time to fully appreciate being warm in a comfortable bed.

He sat there long after the warmth of the blanket had cooled away. He stayed even longer deep into the night even after he’d finished the jug of water.

The same question rose in his mind as he watched the night sky. Why? Why does my body continue to react this way? His body often felt cold when he looked at the stars even when he was watching from inside the palace or by the warmth of a fire. His heart would race as if he’d been running himself. His very being felt as if he was soaring through the sky. Often, deep inside, he felt as if he was missing a part of himself more important than a memory.


 

Days after Travis had left Michael water and rushed back to his duties, he caught himself sneaking a glance of Michael training with the newest recruits. He would never admit it, but even an amnesic Michael Kahale was astonishingly exceptional at his job as a soldier. Michael’s body remembered fighting and training so efficiently that Michael often seemed perplexed by his own abilities when faced with it. His tracking skills were still intact, his language skills were still ingrained, and even all his little habits were still a part of him.

It should be embarrassing to say he used to stalk Michael so he could recognize him anywhere. Even now, watching the way the man handled the training his eyes were already tracing Michael’s movements before the man himself did them.

Michael still juggled his weapon from his right hand to his left hand and back again before taking up his arms for sparring. He always walked with his right leg first, and unlike most male soldiers he never took off his shirt even when he was sweating buckets or was under the sun in undying heat.

Travis turned away from watching Michael spar against the recruits using just a shield. It had been a habit to spy on the General since he was a young lad. Now that Michael had forgotten everything, it was best for him to keep his distance as he once used did. He couldn’t concern himself with Michael’s personal or private life as he had done days earlier. He couldn’t care that Michael was fighting by himself against his body’s dependency on the drugs from the Lotus-Eaters. He should tell Nico to stop reporting to him about the progress on making the Lotus-Eaters compensate for forcing Michael into slavery without the right to do so. He, especially, needed to stop worrying about the stories of court ladies and noblewomen alike in the palace who were often trying to catch Michael’s attentions. He couldn’t get angry by himself thinking about Michael with someone but him. Yet he did care, because at Michael had once asked to bond with him.

Still angry and bothered by himself, he walked away towards the palace library. He slammed the doors open, fortunate that in the early afternoon before lunch no one bothered to be in the library. He found the book he’d been reading the last couple months since he’d first arrived at the palace. Travis plopped himself on the couch, laid down unceremoniously and unbecoming of someone of his rank and station, and began to read where he’d left off.

As he tried to read, the words would float through his mind but his mind would run off on its own. Travis would try to reread the sentence and still never managed to comprehend it. His mind continued to run off to the times he’d secretly watched Michael as a young soldier, and how he kept secretly watching the man even as he quickly rose to the rank of the army general. Travis groaned out loud, frustrated at himself as he tossed the closed book on the coffee table in front of him.

Travis sat up and threw his head back. He blew out a deep breath and tried to relax as he kept his eyes closed. The moment he closed his eyes he was assaulted with the memory of crying by himself in his little room years ago. It was the first time he’d seen a maid with Michael as a young knight in a dark corner in the palace. The pain had hurt him so badly and he hadn’t wished to tell anyone of his secret one-sided love that he’d struggled through that night on his own. Travis bit his lip, the memory brought the crushing pain back anew. Anger rushed forward to mask the pain, and so he kicked the coffee table and stood up.

Travis shouted in anger. He threw the books that had been left out at wall. He yelled again and stopped himself from throwing another book. Control slowly came back to him as he took in deep breaths and stayed his hand. Even now, while he knew Will was worried about his emotional state, Travis couldn’t bring himself to find comfort in his friend. There was no story between Michael Kahale and himself.

“Why would he remember a nobody?” Travis whispered to himself. Normally he didn’t put himself down so much, but these days he couldn’t stop comparing himself to others with a title and power that came with it. He was a duke’s son but he might as well not have a title himself even if he was a lord. Travis started to clean up the library from the small mess he’d made. Aside from the short trysts he’d had, Travis had never truly had a deep or a long relationship with another.

Late that night, Travis was finishing off his patrol when he came by the empty courtyard. Connor and Jake were sitting on the ledge of the center fountain piece. Connor had out his stringed instrument and was tuning it when Travis stopped to watch their interaction.

Jake sat with the smallest instrument Travis had ever seen in his large fingers. He was staring at the piece before bringing it to his lips to play a tune. Travis could tell from the steady and clear notes that Jake was testing out the small wind instrument. Once Jake started to play a song it was then that Travis recognized that the instrument was an ocarina. It didn’t take long for Connor to join in and started to sing the song most often heard played by folks in the villages.

Travis broke into a smile. He suddenly remembered his time traveling with Will in Erebus. He’d met so many people, seen so many things, and had been able to be a part of himself he hadn’t been in a long time. Travis remembered the song the two were playing so cheerfully all on their own in the dead of the night with no audience.

Travis joined into the singing as he walked up to them. The two smiled at him as a way of greeting. Travis continued to sing and laugh with his brother. Connor stood up, the string instrument in his arms didn’t deter him from dancing around Travis. He smiled even brighter at his brother, beginning to clap the beat of the song. He sang and laughed as he danced around with his brother. His worries slowly flew away with each word he sang.

Deep into the night there were ladies, servants, nobles and soldiers who all joined them. Their music became louder and stronger, their song more vibrant and their dancing more joyful. Travis forgot about his pain and his anger, all that was left during that time had been the happy memories.

Once, in his innocent youth, Michael had caught Travis staring. The young knight at the time had held his gaze and acknowledged him before turning away. That had been the first time Travis had realized the reason he watched the young knight was because he liked him.

Travis sat down on the ledge of the fountain and clapped along to the latest song. He sang loudly and cheered for the dancing couple in the impromptu circle created by their spectators.

Another memory surfaced against his wishes. On Travis’ first intimate night as a very young man, he’d been caught out in a dark alley propositioned by an older man. He hadn’t originally planned on having his first experience that night, but Michael Kahale had appeared in the alleyway accompanying a group of Delphian patrolmen. They dragged the man away from Travis, but it had angered him more when Michael had been emotionless and indifferent about the exchange. He hadn’t even been disgusted as the patrolmen had expressed or even angry. He’d walked away with the patrolmen staring straight ahead as if Travis hadn’t even existed.

That night long ago, Travis had gone inside a bar and found himself a young barmaid. It’d been satisfying until he made his way back to the palace and the feeling of emptiness filled him. He’d found Michael training in the courtyard. As he had walked passed by, stealing glances, he heard the other spectating knights whisper about how Michael had returned from the patrol angry. Just like that, Travis’ first intimate experience became an unforgettable memory—because Michael had been angry for him.

Travis bid everyone a good night and made his way quietly through the palace to his own chambers. As he walked through the long halls he remembered all the times he was so glad to catch a glimpse of the visiting envoys, always hoping to find Michael Kahale in the crowd. He remembered how happy he’d been when he’d heard the news of Michael being the youngest general to ever hold the title in Rome. He remembered the first visit Michael paid Delphi as a general, and how he had imagined himself congratulating him even though it had never happened. As much heartache that he’d experienced in his one-sided love, there had been equal the amount of happiness.

Travis stopped when he felt the presence of someone following him. He quickly turned around, his hand on his sword and ready to fight. Nico had stood exactly where he was without even reacting. Travis straightened himself and greeted the crown prince.

“Stop that,” Nico growled. He walked past Travis as a sign that the two of them should walk together. “Is your workload lighter?” was the first question. He nodded, he knew that the question was really gauging how Michael was doing without his memories. “Any signs?”

“No.”

Nico sighed. “Percy managed to track down what Michael has gone through in the hands of the Lotus-Eater, but his last message mentioned that getting the full story without any distortion was unlikely.” Travis smirked but hid his laugh. The idea that anyone could get an undistorted story in the island of the Lotus-Eaters was amazing enough. “His memory loss may be temporary.”

Travis sighed. He knew that eventually either Nico or Will would speak to him about Michael. He just hadn’t expected it to be Nico of all people. Neither of them had a very comfortable relationship with one another. Travis did his best as a knight of Erebus, but honestly once things settled down he hoped Frank would be able to take his job and he could return to being Will’s personal retainer. It seemed unlikely however.

“I’m not waiting for him,” Travis admitted. It was best he made his intentions clear before Nico came up with any bright ideas. “I hope you won’t tell the general about the decision you made prior to his memory loss. I also hope that at this point you’ll be kind enough to allow him to make his own decisions in the future. If you feel that I am still too irresponsible to be left to my own devices…” Travis couldn’t force himself to finish the sentence. He was humbling himself to even suggest allowing Nico to find him a life partner because he didn’t want to keep Michael shackled to a promise neither of them made.

“I will begin finding another match,” Nico responded. He sounded unconcerned as if he’d predicted Travis’ response.

The quiet night hung between them in the hallway. They walked in silence for a time before Nico spoke up again.

Travis nearly lost a step when Nico asked him, “Are you certain you wish to burden yourself with your shared memories by yourself?” He hadn’t thought of Prince Nico to be one who cared about his emotional burdens.

They reached the door to his chamber and Travis turned around to meet the crown prince’s gaze. Never in his life had he thought himself to confide about his non-existent love-life to the infamous Dark Angel.

He responded to Nico’s question in a quiet tone unlike him, “I’ve always kept it all to myself.” With a single nod, the other man acknowledged Travis’ confession.

For him, his love had always been from afar. He wasn’t at all surprised that it didn’t change even after becoming the second-in-command of the Erebian army. His love was as cold and unknowing as the brilliance of the faraway stars in the sky. One didn’t expect it to envelop them in warmth, and one certainly didn’t expect the stars to recognize them either. Travis stepped into his chambers and quickly went and collapsed face first into the bed.

Chapter Text

Stacks and stacks of papers covered the top of his desk. For the last couple weeks since Nico had resolved to solve all the problems that had arisen in his personal life, somehow his duties as crown prince had decided to retaliate. His eyes and neck hurt from staring down at documents for hours on in one position. Nico had signed so many documents that his fingers had gone numb and his hand shook. Holding a pen was very different from holding a sword. He should be fortunate he had been provided with ink and a quill, and not a clay tablet and a stylus.

Nico spent more time rejecting proposals and certain official documents than the number of acceptance. His hand hurt from signing his letters of rejection which he had his aide write down for him. He felt bad for the quiet girl but she didn’t seem bothered with the writing. In fact, at times she seemed to enjoy dictating Nico’s letters.

“Would you like a cup of tea, your Highness?” his aide gently asked. Nico thanked her but told her no. Nico liked her quiet demeanor but he didn’t exactly trust her either. She was not someone his father or he had chosen, therefore not someone they trusted.

Nico called it a day and sent the young lady home, knowing it would be dark in a couple of hours. While he didn’t classify the responsibilities of woman and man, many other people did. For someone as young as her, it was expected for her to be learning the responsibilities of taking care of her home and family while looking for a marriage candidate. Meanwhile, a man of her age would be encouraged to earn a living and spend his free time frolicking with women of no consequence. As such, despite the amount of work he never had her stay after dark. He wasn’t fool enough to think because he was the crown prince that everyone in Erebus accepted the fact. It wouldn’t do for rumors of untoward actions behind closed doors to start flowing about when he’d just married.

He stayed in his office long after she had gone. He waited for the patterned knock on his door and smiled when Will walked in. His consort beamed at him brightly before walking to him and handing him another stack of paper. Nico sighed dejectedly at the presentation of one of his worst enemies. Paperwork.

“Don’t worry, they’re just reports and complaints about Michael and Travis,” assured Will with a chuckle. Nico didn’t feel any better.

“Together?”

“Separately. A lot of soldiers think Michael should be demoted from a general due to his memory loss. Just about everyone knows he returned without any memories. We were fortunate to have silenced any gossips or rumors about his time as a slave.” It’d only been weeks since Will became Nico’s consort as seen by the eyes of the public, but the man had already fitted himself perfectly into the role of supporting Nico. Running a country—a monarch, at that—was a lot more difficult than most people would imagine. There were hidden foes everywhere, especially those who were elected to help the royal family run the government.

“And Travis?” Nico asked, unconcerned and uninterested. Travis hadn’t had any problems since arriving in the palace and taking up these extra duties. It had almost been rather worrisome, as Nico had always seen Travis as a copy of the menace Nico had met years ago. There had been times when Nico gleaned a hint of Connor Stoll’s mischievousness in Travis, but not lately. It was unexpected to hear complaints about Travis.

“The usual,” Will faux sighed with a roll of his eyes toward the ceiling. Nico shook his head as a smile hinted at the corners of his lips. “His training is much too harsh or too difficult. The other day he nearly hacked a recruit through with an ax.” Nico raised an eyebrow with interest. He’d never seen Travis wield an ax. He often forgot that Travis had been one of the youngest knights in the Golden Palace, and not only that but had been a squire beforehand. His road had not been easy and if past conversations held true, Will had expressed Travis to be a hardworking and diligent retainer and knight.

If his intuition was correct as it had been months ago when they first met, Nico suspected Travis held a rather unpolished skill for leading warriors. His training was harsh and difficult, but even Michael who had participated in them didn’t complain. In passing, Nico had asked what Michael thought of Travis’ training but all the man expressed was that it felt familiar. Travis had potential in leading, but perhaps not an army. Nico felt another idea tingle at the back of his mind as a web of thought began to connect itself.

“What are you planning?” Will asked him suspiciously. Nico blinked away his thoughts in that moment. “Oh, don’t tell me the mysterious Dark Angel thought no one could read his dark expression?” teased the man.

Rather than respond, Nico started to look through the paperwork Will had handed him. Not that he didn’t completely trust Will or was unwilling to share his thoughts. He simply found Will rather endearing when they played this game.

While he didn’t necessarily need to read through these papers himself or respond to any of them, he had found it sometimes enlightening to do so. Nico ignored Will’s jabs as he leafed through the different quality of pages in front of him. He smiled nostalgically at the complaint written using nothing more than ash on cloth.

“If you grew up in the Styx, who taught you to read and write?”

Nico paused. He looked up from reading the ash-written words at Will. Will stared down at him and then his face turned red. The man profusely apologized for asking such a sensitive question. Nico allowed his consort to finish his rambling apology for asking a question out of interest. Although Nico’s past may have been uncomfortable, he was still glad to know that the man he loved wished to know more about him.

“My mother taught Bianca what she could, and Bianca taught me.” Nico turned back to the words on written on the piece of cloth. He chuckled at the complaint about Travis threatening to throw the protestor into over the palace walls.

“Oh…” came the hesitant response from Will.

“I learned a bit here and there once I left the Styx. It wasn’t until I was in the palace that the Queen suggested I seriously pursue my learning.” Nico folded the cloth and set it aside with the other complaints he’d read. The next one was on expensive parchment, and he could tell that whoever wrote this must have been from a wealthy family. The legible handwriting using ink pointed towards an educated person who may be from a noble family. A wealthy family with no status in nobility was more eager to perform well in the military rather than complain about their mistreatment.

“I realize we don’t really know much else about each other,” Will said next to him.

Nico decided not to pay too much attention to Will’s worry. He’d expressed something similar when they had reunited. Four years ago, when their arranged marriage was agreed upon, while elated he had also known that Will was the type to worry over such little things.

“We have the future to talk about that, but our present is strived with assassination, plots, and the love affair of two of our trusted confidants.” Nico read the complaint, bored at the two pages of parchment detailing all the mistreatment the protestor had experienced by Travis. The protestor even spent three paragraphs explaining that it was inexcusable for Michael Kahale to be receiving wages by the state for a position he was currently unqualified for in his mental state. It was a well-formed complaint if not for the pompous attitude the protestor also managed to convey to Nico. He slapped the parchment down with the rest he’d already read.

“If I was a naïve and sensitive bride, I would think you didn’t care about me,” Will teased. Nico shot Will a slanted look. The man was getting better at teasing Nico about their marriage. Not many crown princes married men, and not many of them were willing to have another sibling’s future child before their heir either.

Nico put his hand on Will’s thigh without any forewarning. He squeezed the hard muscle and grinned up at his consort. Will’s face flushed immediately and even knowing no one was around, he still turned his head to check that no one had seen such a public display. Nico chuckled and then shook his head at his consort. The man’s teasing surely had gotten better, but his flirtation when it came to physical desires had not.

Resting his temple on his fist, propped up by his elbow on his desk, Nico lazily smiled at his husband as he moved his hand innocently up and down Will’s thigh. The other man’s face turned between a series of embarrassment to agitation. Nico peeked out his tongue and swiped it over the top of his lip, watching the way Will’s breath visibly hitched as the man watched his tongue. He had no doubt Will was recalling exactly how Nico had kissed him this morning before they left their chambers to start their early day.

It wasn’t long before Will pinched his hand and made him remove it. Nico sighed in disappointment, knowing he had to return to work very soon. He was beginning to get a headache from glaring down at parchment all day.

“You’re allowed another hour before we meet for dinner,” Will told him very matter-of-factly. Nico didn’t recall a promise to meet for dinner tonight. He did recall pleasuring Will in bed later tonight, however. At the look of confusion on his face, Will explained to him, “The King and Queen would like to speak with us about our future plans over dinner.”

Nico coughed. The King and Queen? His father’s Queen had been a strange and reluctant guidance in Nico’s life. The prospect of actually speaking to her about decisions in his future, however, made him cringe. Not many things made him cringe anymore, but just the thought of this bothered him.

“Come now, Nico, it can’t be that bad,” laughed Will.

“The last time the King and Queen had dinner with me about my future, we ended up engaged and I had to travel to Elysium to investigate the Loyalists,” Nico admitted darkly. Although he definitely didn’t want to be stuck in the crown prince’s office any longer than he has been, Nico wasn’t looking forward to another such mission. Will’s smile promptly dropped.

As expected, dinner with his father and the Queen was most uncomfortable for Nico. The only comfort he had to the ordeal was that Will was seated next to him and continuously found ways to touch Nico reassuringly. What he found disconcerting was that his half-sister had been asked to join them for dinner. She looked as about uncomfortable as he did.

“Your father and I,” the Queen started and Nico immediately stopped. He forced himself to put the piece of meat into his mouth and chew as she went on. “Wondered if you’ve found someone you wished to marry.” Nico quickly looked to Hazel whose eyes had widened.

“She’s too young to marry,” Nico spoke up. Hazel’s relieved eyes sent him a thank you. She continued eating, continuously trying to hide her face with her long curls. He was certain that there was a hint of a flush on her face, but considering the dim lighting and her dark coloring it was difficult to be certain from a mere glance.

“Most marriage talks are not as short-lived as yours, Prince Nico,” the Queen calmly and primly reminded him. Nico fought back a sigh and managed a quiet smile to his consort, who out of worry, had put a hand on his knee. “She has yet to be formally introduced as a princess of Erebus, as per your wishes. When she is, it would be prudent she is already engaged.” Nico understood the warning in the clipped tone. Hazel was likely to be put in harm’s way or even kidnapped should she be left unsupervised. Currently she was precariously in the supervision of a lady-in-waiting and a governess. Not to mention the number of would-be suitors who sought to put their own bloodlines onto the throne.

“I have someone in mind,” Nico quietly mentioned. It had been an absent thought at the time, and he had hoped to simply see if a relationship would form. However, seeing as the Queen was concerned he couldn’t very well allow Hazel to sit in comfort for many years to come. “I would like to take my time to see how well suited this man is in terms of being a part of the royal family.”

“Very well,” the Queen promptly dismissed the subject. Nico breathed a silent relief, but Hazel was staring at him with concern he couldn’t address right away.

Nico thought getting married had been an ordeal. Now he had to solve the problem of marrying Hazel off when he’d just found her. His biggest concerns at the moment had nothing to do with her marriage. He hadn’t even found the time to sit and speak with her. Neither of them had found the time to spend quality time as siblings. Nico had never bothered trying to get too close to any of his half-siblings when they were still alive. However, Hazel was different. Like him, Hazel hadn’t been picked up by their father. Instead, she had somehow found her way to the palace. She had been a child his father never knew of, and he had been a child his father had been forced to abandon.

Dinner finished in heavy silence. Nico was just about to get up with Will when his father called out to him.

When Nico sat down again his father said, “You cannot solve all your problems all at once.”

“Yes, your majesty,” he replied.

The king sent him a stifling glance to warn him of the use of such language. King Hades wasn’t one who stood on ceremony when he considered something a private matter. While he was always king and must act as such, he didn’t expect that of those around him. The fact that Nico was putting a title between them was also proof of the distance he was measuring between them, and his father knew that and despised it.

“Yes, Father,” Nico amended.

“Well?” His father waited for Nico’s response.

“I may not solve all my problems at once, but should a few of them have the same mastermind I would be remiss not to take advantage,” Nico answered. He then excused himself and Will, led Will out of the dining room and escorted his consort the rest of the way to their chambers.

Once the door to their chambers was closed and locked Will rounded on him. “Do you really think the same person is behind all of this?” He stared up at Nico expectantly, hoping for some kind of explanation. Nico understood that this was something that had truly been stressing his consort.

Nico caressed the man’s cheek, leaned in and gave him a light peck on the lips. “I am sorry to burden you so.” Will shook his head and leaned his forehead down on Nico’s shoulder. “I know you wish it all to end quickly.”

“I just want us to be happy.”

“We are.” Nico wrapped his arms around Will’s waist. With a slight lean forward, Nico breathed in Will’s scent.

“I don’t wish for you to worry about when I might be murdered.” Will’s arms wrapped around Nico’s chest and under his arm until hands were pressed at his back shoulders. “I want us to grow old together. I want this to be a funny story we get to our grandkids.”

“Ah, I’ve married a romantic,” Nico teased as he spoke skyward. Will bit into his shoulder to express his distaste in his jest. In the quietness of their room Nico then asked, “So how are you planning to give birth to my children?” He burst into laughter as Will’s hand struck him hard on the shoulder. “Should we consider bringing a woman to our bed?” He raised a single eyebrow suggestively, which he knew would not only scandalously embarrass Will but anger him. Nico quickly moved to the other end of their bed to get out of Will’s strike range.

In his rage, Will found the closest thing to throw at him. Nico followed Will’s pointed gaze at the bowl of fruits on the table. As Will made his way for the fruit bowl, he made his way to the head of the bed for one of their many pillows. Just as an apple came flying at his head, Nico held out the fluffy pillow as a shield. The apple bounced back and harmlessly landed on the floor.

“Come now,” Nico coaxed Will from behind the safety of his pillow-shield. He dodged a banana that flew haphazardly close to his left eye. He shielded himself from the onslaught of two apples and the simultaneous missile projection of grapes. As he continued to dodge and block projectile fruits, he slowly made his way toward Will at the other end of their large bed. “You might find you enjoy a woman’s embrace.” Not that Nico hadn’t been worried years ago that Will had a preference for women. If he hadn’t seen the way Will fell asleep in his arms after being thoroughly satisfied late into the night, he likely would not be joking about Will taking someone else to bed.

“Nico di Angelo!” Will snapped. Having run out of fruits his held up his fist at Nico now that they were steps away from each other.

Nico kept the pillow in front of him, but swooped in quickly and wrapped his arms around Will’s waist. The pillow was snug between their abdomens. He smiled at Will, and it must have been effective because the other man lost all energy to strike at him.

“Will Solace, my beautiful husband.” With the endearing words, Will glared at him suspiciously. Nico bent his head down until his nose nearly touched Will’s, and their breaths tickled the other. “Would you, very sincerely, consider adopting children with me?” He knew the question was much too early for him to ask. He knew that Will was preoccupied with his consort duties, learning about Erebian culture, language, and history, as well as worried over the problems that have followed them back to the palace. Yet, since they were finally wed and Will became his, Nico’s heart had been too full that he couldn’t possibly hope to hold such happiness inside him without finding another outlet to share in his happiness.

“What do you mean?” Will gasped.

It wasn’t quite the reaction he’d expected. It was neither a denial nor a consent. If anything, it was much more troublesome because it sounded like the prelude to Will explaining that it was much too early to think of such things and he did not wish to have children even if they were adopted.

“Well…” Nico started but paused when his eyes fell on Will’s face. The man was staring at him with eyes searching his own. His lips were pressed into a tight line and his eyebrows nearly knitted together.

“Are we…” Will started to say but his voice turned hoarse and he seemed to have lost the means to speak. Will took in a deep breath and his hands tightened on Nico’s forearms. “Are we allowed to adopt children?” Will asked. Before Nico could answer, as this was something he recalled mentioning before, Will shook his head. He gave out a short laugh and lifted a hand to rub the tear from his eye. “I mean, I know we’re allowed to adopt children. I just… didn’t think we had a decision in it.”

Nico pulled Will into his arms and held him tightly. He’d forgotten how ignored Will’s existence had been in the Golden Palace. Nico had been abandoned by his father, forced to grow up in the harshness of the Styx. However, King Hades never forgot about him. While he couldn’t have been there, the King had at least always made sure he knew where Nico was and had been aware of Bianca’s death long before they finally met face-to-face for the first time. In fact, the first thing his father did was apologize to Nico for Bianca’s death and his failure in protecting them.

Will, on the other hand, had been a prince among many royal children in Delphi. King Apollo had been handsome in his youth and his prime. Even as he was getting older he still turned heads. There were many rules set in the Golden Palace because King Apollo had too many children, and such privileges were only allowed to the children with the best quality or those who married families with status. He was sure that Will had likely never been shown much care or love until he’d been engaged to Nico.

“Of course,” Nico whispered. He held Will closer, wishing the man could understand how much Nico had needed and wanted him. How he wished he could promise that he would never have such aspects of his life controlled again. Becoming Crown Prince-Consort was a position wrought with regulation. “If you should ever tire of this palace life, we can always runaway.” This was a promise he could keep.

Chapter Text

The city was bustling more than usual. People who didn’t normally talk to him were wishing him good luck. Travis had a sick feeling some massive prank had just been pulled on him and he had yet to find out. His behavior wasn’t outstanding in the recent months, but it hadn’t been outrageous either. Nico had even seemed like a proud father for the fact that Travis hadn’t nearly been forced to marry someone’s daughter again.

As he was walking the straight path down the pavement toward the palace, Travis started listing the likely possibilities anyone would be wishing him luck. 1) Someone was looking for a fight. He hadn’t gotten any death threats as of late. Not to his face at the least, so Travis had no reason to believe he would be getting a challenge any time today. 2) A forced marriage. He’d been celibate and had been nearly cordial with most women so he wasn’t about to be threatened into matrimony. 3) A visit from the Duke of Mount Cyllene. He’d sent his father a letter to explain his whereabouts and his four-year absence. There had been no reply, and his father usually sent word first. He could rule out a sudden visitation from his family. 4) A cuckolded husband. His brother had mostly spent his time glued to Jake Mason or flirting with married women in the palace. A challenge from a cuckolded husband to his brother couldn’t have been issued between this morning and his return from patrol outside the capital. 5) Letters of complaints sent to the princes. He’d beaten down nearly all the new recruits and many of them had grievances, but those were usually submitted at the end of the week. It was the middle of the week so he wasn’t going to get any lectures just yet.

He wondered what new gossip had been spread throughout the city for everyone to suddenly recognize him on sight. It was rather daunting. In his childhood, he’d made it a habit to be a troublemaker and grab attention from others. In his adulthood, he focused more on his freedom and his best friend’s happiness. This was new to him, being in the middle of everyone’s curious gaze when he wanted anything but to be.

“Ouch.” Travis stepped back after bumping directly into what felt like a matted wall. It didn’t take long to notice it was a man’s chest. He was about to rebuke the man when he realized it was Michael.

Travis sidestepped out of the man’s path. He’d kept his distance from the amnesic Michael Kahale as best he could. Michael did his duties efficiently and without complaint. If he was ever confused about anything, he would ask anyone with a relatively high rank for an explanation. Unsurprisingly, he was only ever confused when it came to the formal paperwork.

“My apologies, Sir.” Travis was about to walk away when Michael grabbed him and pulled him back. He glared at the hand on his arm until it released him. Travis stepped back to keep a proper distance between them.

After a quiet breath to calm himself, Travis made eye contact. “What might I assist you with, General?” It took all he had to hold his gaze.

“It seems you have not heard,” Michael said in that quietly gentle voice he’d adopted. It was a tone he couldn’t quite associate with the man he’d always known as the General. Another reminder that Travis was no one to General Michael Kahale.

“I have been patrolling the wall all morning.” Travis had been on his way to the canteen to see what he could grab for lunch before heading to his office. He still had some paperwork to look over, most of which regarded the assessments on the new soldiers. He wasn’t looking forward to sharing his short meal reprieve with his assessment reports. This exchange with Kahale was not helping.

Michael looked left and right, his eyes roving the empty training area. It was lunch time so most soldiers were either eating or filling in for others on their break. Travis sometimes caught himself etching the man’s profile into his memory and would often make himself look the opposite direction. He did the same thing just before Michael cleared his throat.

Michael began, “The Crown Prince sent out a notice.” Well, that wasn’t explaining very much to him at all. Nico sent out an announcement or some form of proclamation with his father’s approval nearly once every two days. His four years of investigations in Elysium weren’t for naught. They’d done an extensive purge of soldiers, the regiments, and even amendments to some of the military laws. “He also sent out invitations to all the kingdoms in the continent.” At this, Travis did blink. Nico wasn’t one to invite just anyone into his space unless it was clearly necessary. “He’s holding a mock war battle as entertainment and a ball in celebration of his marriage.”

The grumbling that erupted from Travis was hard to cover up. He sat down on the nearest pile of sandbags and sighed out. Michael sat down next to him. There seemed to be more to the story. Clearly, this mock war battle had to do with why the entire city was wishing him luck.

“You will be leading the kingdom’s forces in the mock battle,” Michael finally revealed. Travis sat there stunned. Him?

“Against me.”

“You?” Travis twisted around. The man’s face was solemn and unmoving as he nodded. “What is that overbearing prince thinking?” This was why everyone had been wishing him luck. He had to lead a group of warriors against Michael Kahale, the famed youngest general in Roman history. This was too ridiculous. Exactly what could have possessed Nico to orchestrate such a thing?

He felt another headache assault him. Travis ground his teeth, sucked in a sharp breath, and silently cursed Nico. He already had enough to do as it was, as well as the fact that he’d been trying to avoid interacting with Michael as much as possible. Considering both of their current stations, he was surprised by how often he ran into Michael. Back in his youth when he secretly admired the man, he had to make the effort to sneak away to steal glances at him. These days, he had to constantly move or he was going to keep gravitating to Michael by instinct.

“Are you okay?”

Travis flinched when he felt Michael’s big hand reach for him. The two of them froze in spot to his reaction. Michael sighed audibly, and put his hand down at his side. As though giving up, Michael simply turned his gaze forward to avoid Travis’ eyeline. He’d never seen Michael look so disappointed—or should he say vexed?

“It is just a headache.” He tried for a reassuring smile but he found it harder these days to lie so nonchalantly. Travis knew why he was getting headaches. He was overworked but wouldn’t admit it, and he was unnecessarily overworked. The stress was getting to him and eventually the headaches would become more crippling.

“It’ll be in a week.” Michael turned his face away from Travis this time. Travis didn’t think too much on it. It would be better if Michael didn’t take any more notice of him more than necessary. “Anyone who wishes to join either of our groups has until the night before to enlist.”

“It seems you’ll be losing your position very soon then,” Travis said with a heavy exhale. Even he could tell that the only reason they were having this mock war battle was to prove whether Michael could lead an army in his current state. However, because Travis and Frank had both been covering for Michael it would mean whoever fought against Michael’s faction would be challenging Michael for his position. Since Frank’s name wasn’t mentioned it would mean that Travis would become the new general if he won. It wasn’t what he wanted.

“Is that what you want?”

The question came unexpectedly. No one had ever really asked him what he wanted.

“What do you mean?” His voice was unmoving and quiet. He couldn’t show anyone how unsettled he was about everything. He had to just do his job even if he disliked it.

This single knowledge that he would be fighting Michael for his position, a position he didn’t even covet, was harder than all the days he’d suffered to become Will’s retainer. It was harder than being a no one to Michael.

“You are not happy being my stand-in.” Michael stared up into the afternoon sun. Travis studied the man’s face, eyes closed and basking in the sunlight. This was a sight he never got to see when it came to General Michael Kahale. He’d seen the man’s many fighting postures but not his poise as just a man. Ever since he’d danced with Michael in the border town, Travis discovered several things he didn’t know or recognize about the man.

“Don’t presume to know my feelings, Kahale.” This wasn’t very different from the Michael who had found him four years after he’d run off from his post. Ever since their meeting again, Michael had liked to act as if he understood everything about Travis. Not that he was denying Michael was ever wrong. Moreover, Michael couldn’t be right.

Michael smiled and Travis felt his heart tug at him. He’d forgotten how he’d longed to be so close to the man, to be able to study his face without being noticed. He’d always worried what the general might think of him if he became aware of Travis’ feelings… When did he start thinking so little of the man? The general he admired, the soldier he’d fallen for, had always respected the feelings of others.

“I’m not happy,” Michael said in a strong tone of proclamation. The previously closed eyes opened and his face turned to Travis, “…to be my stand-in either.” There was a smile on his face but a broken emotion in his gaze. Travis knew this gaze in a heartbeat, he’d seen it once and his fingers instinctively went to his lips.

Michael stood up from where he sat. “I will play along with this battle, even if I stand on my own.”

“Why?”

“Because when I win,” Michael’s hand brushed Travis’ cheek, “you are free.” The emotions he’d locked away rose inside him and Travis couldn’t keep them in check. A tear broke through but he tried to blink it away. Michael’s thumb brushed it away. “I will free you of the man known as General Michael Kahale,” the conviction and sternness in his voice reminded Travis of when Michael from asked him to bond, “even if I stand alone.”

Travis tightened his fists. His heart screamed not to let it happen again. Not again. Travis clenched his teeth to stop him from shouting the words. He couldn’t budge. Michael assumed he was setting Travis free, but it had always been Travis letting him go.

Unable to keep himself composed any longer, Travis stood up and quickly walked away without being dismissed. Each quick stride carried him further into the palace. He wasn’t thinking of where he was going. He still felt that haunting memory from the past, and Michael’s words chasing after him.

“Whoa, there.” Large hands grabbed his shoulders and stopped him in his tracks before he plowed right into another human wall. This time Travis was staring at the blacksmith, Jake Mason.

“Mason,” he tried for a breath that came half as a sniffle. Jake bent over a few inches and peered at Travis’ face as if he was staring at a child hiding behind thick hair. Travis made an uncomfortable face. “Oh, pardon me.” Jake realized his own blunder and moved away with hands held up. He rubbed his sooty oil smeared hands on his work apron and apologized one more time. “Your hair…” The large man waved his hands at his own face as if indicating something.

Travis touched his hair, trying to understand what Jake was trying to tell him. What was wrong with his hair?

“It’s very similar…” Jake cleared his throat. He belatedly realized his hand gestures weren’t a helping aid and decided to fold them behind his back. In what seemed to be a boyishly bashful manner for an overly large-sized man, Jake kicked the floor in front of him. In what seemed to be the most embarrassing way anyone had ever likened him to his brother, Jake said, “It reminded me of him… your hair… I mean… So I didn’t… Sorry.”

Never in his life would he consider this a situation for being mistaken for his younger brother. It was certainly true that Connor and he resembled each other and their father quite a lot. From their angular nose, cheekbones, the shape of their eyebrows, the color of their hair and eyes, as well as their body shape. Yet, the thought never crossed his mind that he would be apologized to because his brother’s intimate partner nearly took the liberty of invading his personal space out of habit with his brother. Somehow it was more embarrassing to know such a large man could treat his mischievous younger brother so tenderly, like a fragile child who required coaxing to get out of their shell.

“I’m sorry, are you very angry?” Jake asked, suddenly crouching lower again as if trying to match heights with Travis. The large man’s shoulders were hunched forward, his head clearly angled so he was staring downwards instead of directly at Travis. He wondered why he hadn’t noticed before, but Mason seemed completely uncomfortable and out of place in the palace. Perhaps he’d been a little too focused on the troops.

He laughed without meaning to, but at the first burst Travis couldn’t quite help himself and started laughing harder. He grabbed for his stomach, he hadn’t laughed in so long it felt like a difficult exercise. As he laughed, Jake seemed to relax and smiled gently.

Travis found that they were standing in the hallway leading to the forge. He grabbed Jake by the sleeve of his shirt and briskly walked into the forge with Jake. Jake quickly apologized as the other blacksmiths stopped their work at Travis’ entrance.

“Don’t worry, it’s not an official visit,” Travis waved them away. Everyone quickly turned back to their work. “Where’s your station?” Travis asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Your work area,” Travis demanded.

“I don’t have one.”

“Clarify.”

“Well, I’m the prince’s personal blacksmith—but that was long before he was crown prince... or very princely.” Jake nervously eyed the other blacksmiths and turned back to Travis. Travis tried for patience. “When I’m here it’s just in case the prince needs me to upkeep his weapons or requires a specific commission. Normally I just work in my room with my tools.” Travis sighed, he couldn’t even believe the level of flippant care Nico gave his own personal blacksmith.

“Very well, we will have this conversation in my office then. It seems you’re being taken advantage of at both sides.” Travis started to tug Jake out of the forge.

“That’s not necessary, sir. I’m sure…”

“Jake Mason!” Travis reared back at the man. His patience was shortening.

“Yes?”

“Everyone in this palace knows my brother has you in the palm of his hand, and for the life of me I don’t understand why. It’s not as if you’re stupid, you’re fairly intelligent, you’re good with a sword, and I’ve seen you in a fight.” Travis stepped forward and Jake quickly took two steps back. Now, the man was acutely aware of the distance between them. “Obviously you carry a sentiment towards my brother while he could care less. As his older brother, I’ve cleaned up quite a few of his troublemaking already. As such, I cannot allow someone my brother has been continuously taking advantage of over the years to be without some assistance. I’ve seen your family’s home.”

“It’s really not so bad, and I’m quite satisfied as is.”

“I am not talking about what you two decide to do in bed,” Travis snapped. He should feel bad for blurting out Jake’s private affairs inside a room of the man’s peers, but he didn’t. Everyone knew exactly what kind of relationship Jake and Connor had. Connor made no secret of it and Jake was so amicable one could bend him backwards and he wouldn’t complain. Even the trysts that Connor had with married women in the palace didn’t bother Jake. “Let’s not mention the fact that you are under the personal employ of a crown prince and yet live like a peasant. There are limits to Prince Nico’s irresponsibility in this manner.” Travis almost wanted to ask why Jake allowed himself to be so easily exploited. The words stuck deep where they first form in his mind, because he had no right to ask considering where he was coming from with Michael.

“I don’t think that’s really your-”

“It is my place,” Travis cut off Jake’s protest again. The man was too humble for his own good. “Jake Mason, you may have forgotten but before I took over this miserable position I was originally Prince Will’s retainer. Prince Nico is married to the man I’ve spent half my life serving. It would be unseemly if Prince Will is the consort of a man who can’t even properly afford to give you proper living arrangements. Do you understand?”

“Y-yes…”

“Now, if you would kindly shut up and follow me to my office.” He commenced to drag Jake Mason back to his office.

Travis came back to the palace with the intention of eating lunch while working on his assessments on the new recruits. Now he was skipping lunch while doing the assessments and putting out a proper contract for Jake Mason’s affairs under Nico’s employ. Why was he finding more work for himself?

Chapter Text

Nico drummed his fingertips on the top of his desk. He couldn’t stop smiling as he watched Will leafing through the documents in his hand. The memory coated his vision.

At the tender age of twelve, Nico had been announced to the world as a prince of Erebus alongside his older sister. However, they never reached the capital of Erebus together. Instead, his sister died not very far after leaving the Styx. Nico had reached the palace and was welcomed a prince, but he left it a confused and vengeful ghost—a mere imprint of himself.

Not very long after he became the King of Ghosts, Nico found himself seeking refuge in the forests surrounding the capital of Delphi. He’d been severely injured during one of his missions out on his own. At that time, Nico gave out orders but rarely connected with any of the Ghosts.

He had collapsed underneath a tree, his back barely found support on its trunk, when a melodic humming approached him. He tried to force himself to get up and hide only to realize his injury was too severe. Nico had tumbled forward and before he’d realized what had happened he was already lying down on the grass face up. Will was the person who stared down at him, eyes bright like the sky above him. Nico had been dazzled by those eyes. To this day, he continued to wonder if those eyes were beautiful crystals or orbs containing a piece of the sky themselves. That was how Nico met Will Solace of Delphi.

Of all the random directions Will could have gone on a stroll, he had chosen to walk in the direction Nico had collapsed. Out of all the strangers he could have stumbled upon it had been Nico. And out of all the possible things he could have done after Nico had fainted he’d chosen to treat him. At first Nico hadn’t thought much of any of it at the time. The next day, when Nico had been about to leave his hiding, he stumbled upon Will again.

Against his better judgement, Nico spent his time observing Will. Of course, Will had already forgotten his good deed of treating Nico’s wounds. The older boy had gone on with his life, forgetting Nico in the woods. Nico had continued to wonder if those eyes were crystals or a piece of the sky.

Through the years, Nico had secretly spent his time in the woods of Delphi when he was between missions. He stalked the city by the palace walls and sometimes snuck in. Nico was never able to bring himself to approach Will Solace. To begin with, he had never thought he would love anyone again. The betrayal he felt and the time it took him to learn to forgive had taken too long and he thought he’d lost the chance to feel for another person. Yet, Will’s smile at the little joys in life had slowly bloomed inside him an emotion he’d long since given up.

“Nico, are you still here?” A hand waved in front of his face. Nico quickly caught the hand before it returned to its owner. He smiled up at Will, the memories of his time secretly watching Will receded to the back of his mind. His eyes turned to the hand in his and he leaned forward to kiss the knuckle wearing the gold band.

“Nico?”

Ti voglio bene.” He hadn’t meant to express his feelings but the words came out.

Will stared at him blankly. It was clearly obvious that the man hadn’t expected Nico’s profession.

Coming back to himself, Will cleared his throat and set down the sheets of documents down on his desk. A smile slowly spread across Will’s lips, he leaned down and pressed a soft kiss on Nico’s lips. Nico pressed forward, turning the innocent kiss into a deeper one.

“Nico!” A gasp escaped Will as he pulled away, hands braced on Nico’s shoulders as leverage. Nico smiled back at Will.

Senza di te non posso piu vivere,” Nico admitted, scooting his chair a little closer to his office desk so he could be closer to Will. Will’s face brightened red. “Sono tuo! Sono tutto tuo,” he exclaimed, “Sei l’uomo della mia vita.

“Stop it.” Will pushed his hands over Nico’s mouth. Nico continued professing his love muffled by Will’s hands, which in his opinion was mediocre in comparison to the “poetry” spouted by most Delphians on a regular day. “It’s embarrassing. Please stop.”

Nico put one hand on top of both Will’s hands, slowly he removed the hands from his mouth. He put up one finger. Will understood this indication and bashfully nodded.

He smiled. “Tu sei il mio cielo…” Will’s smile wavered and quickly bloomed into a giant beam that evolved into laughter. Nico settled his head onto Will’s lap and closed his eyes. His headache suddenly flew away as his arms wrapped around Will’s waist.

Will bent down and gently blew into his exposed ear. Then he spoke softly, “This isn’t getting you out of explaining what you’re planning.”

Nico groaned. The moment shattered as he sat up, back straight, and remembered he was the Crown Prince of Erebus.

Will walked toward the wall where a settee sofa was settled against. He watched his consort settle down and unceremoniously he undid the string that held his shirt collar close. Nico felt his blood quickening. Will pulled at the string and loosened the clasps, his collar bone fully exposed. It would seem his consort was rather adept when it came to seductive techniques. Unfortunately, this game was wholly different from the game Nico was playing with the man out to kill his consort.

“I will forgive you some of your secrets, if,” Will said with a sharp glance at Nico. Nico felt himself pull back as if he was being threatened with a knife. Instead, he was getting threatened very early in his marriage life with a cold bed in a single look. Will gave him a cold smile Nico had a feeling could fell an entire nation, “you tell me what your plans are with Travis and Michael.”

Nico sighed and threw his head back. He closed his eyes tight as a feeling of relief ran through his entire body. Heavens bless his beautiful lover. It was a miracle Will grew up without a vicious bone in his body. If the man desired, he could rule the entire continent just by promising to never seduce another person but Nico.

Nico stood up out of his chair and walked to the windows. He stared out into the training grounds where two soldiers were stationed to take in the names of anyone fighting in the mock battles under Travis or Michael. There was one day left, tonight would be the deadline for anyone signing up. The last he checked no one had volunteered to be in Michael’s army, but Travis had close to thirty members.

Everything went as expected. Most of the guests had arrived that morning, and the last of expected guests should be arriving for dinner later. Nico dreaded the amount of people he was “entertaining” tonight. He had to stand up and give some boring speech… or whatever his father called it, a “formal welcome” at dinner. While he’d been in the middle of planning this wonderful masterpiece of a charade, his father and the Queen thought it was a smart idea to introduce Hazel to the world. Not that no one knew she was the princess, but since it hadn’t been officially announced yet she hadn’t expected at all to be standing with him.

“My plan is to do what’s best for them.” Nico looked at Will who glared at him openly and suspiciously. His collar was still unclasped and Nico couldn’t help himself. His tongue swiped over the front of his teeth, the desire to bite on Will’s collar bone nearly undoing him. It was hard enough keeping himself from constantly stealing the man away in some dim corner of the palace.

“Care to elaborate on that plan?”

“Travis fell in love with the general,” Nico said. Will stared at him for a few minutes until realization came to him. Nico nodded. “For some inexplicable reason, he’s been rejecting the man.” Nico shrugged, walked over to where Will was sitting and plopped himself down next to him.

“Why didn’t I see it?” Will quietly asked himself. Nico laid down on the rest of the sofa and rested his head on Will’s lap. “I should have seen it. When we were children, I assumed that his love didn’t go any further than that of an admirer.” Will’s hand started to play in Nico’s hair, a strange penchant Will picked up since their first night in bed together. Nico didn’t mind the gesture, but Will didn’t seem to have taken note of it as a habit. He usually did it while he was worrying or deep in thought, such as he was at this moment. “I assumed that was why he kept rejecting Kahale.”

Nico chuckled. He looked up into Will’s eyes as the man stared down at him.

“I know true love when I see it, Will.” Nico sat up and then pulled close to Will. He turned his body to face him. Their eyes locked again. “I don’t think either of them knew what it was the other felt for one another until this all began. Unfortunately, Michael’s amnesia is forcing Travis to accept something he hasn’t yet come to terms with.”

“You don’t mean…”

“Travis has the mind of a commander, but the insecurity of a meek village girl when it comes to being courted.” Nico ignored the exaggerated turn of Will’s eyes. There wasn’t much to convincing Will when it came to the subject of his best friend, and Nico had no reason to fight such a useless battle. After all, he aimed to win this war and hopefully regain the man he lost to the oceans. “The amnesia factors a bit of a situation.”

“Speaking of Michael…” Will snapped his fingers to signal a triggered memory. “He once said something about your first love, but it didn’t sound as if he was speaking about Prince Percy.”

Silence stood between them just then. Nico wasn’t quite sure how safe it was to explain a first love to Will. He, also, wasn’t quite sure what Michael meant when he brought up the topic with Will of all people.

“I need more explanation.”

“He said that a young man’s first love was a serious thing, but from the rumors I’m quite certain I wasn’t your first love.” Rather than looking for some sort of confirmation from Nico, it seemed as if Will was truly curious.

“Perhaps you can ask him once he’s regained his memories,” Nico suggested. He wasn’t looking to walk into a battle that would potentially kill him, or get him into a cold bed tonight. Nico valued his marriage life with Will more than most would think.

“If he regains them.”

“He will.”

“If you believe so, then it must be.”

Nico could not afford for anything else to go wrong. If anything, he needed everything to go right. Just as tonight and tomorrow. Michael’s amnesia allowed him an excuse to open Erebus’ doors once more, and unlike the confusion of a wedding ceremony he was much freer to play the game of conspiracy with his enemy. The attempts on Will’s life were not something he took likely.

Chapter Text

The celebration for their wedding began immediately once the doors into the grand hall closed. It was the second time he’d seen it decorated and furnished for a dinner for a large group. He wondered if it would be part of his job in the future to decide on decorations and colors and meals for such large events. Will might have studied quite a lot to become the Erebian prince-consort, but he wasn’t entirely thoughtful about decorations and details.

Nico stood up from where he sat on the dais. There were other guests, some who were seated in the round tables around them and various close relations with the honor to sit in the front on the long table facing the dais. Everyone slowly drew to a quiet, and Nico waved up his glass of wine with a nod of acknowledgements to all their guests. Everyone responded in kind.

“As Crown Prince of Erebus, I know that my absence has thrown the country into turmoil. Likewise, our king—my father sent troops throughout the lands in search of me.” Everyone murmured for a few seconds in reaction to the truth of the matter. The Just King truly loved his only surviving son. “As we all learned from my father’s earlier speech, I was sent out to search for my missing sister. During my search, I was captured and imprisoned. Obviously, I escaped and returned to the palace.” Nico’s voice turned harsh and deadly, his eyes went from quiet to threatening, and his anger surrounded the room. It was the kind of anger that chilled the room into a winter, a deep cold surrounding them all and waiting to swallow them whole.

Will reached up and quietly slipped his hand into Nico’s hand. He knew that Nico was thinking of all the other things that he couldn’t mention to the masses of aristocracy and nobles. Nico reassured him, first by holding his hand tightly and them by glancing down and smiling.

“Thanks to many factors I was able to find a love that’s as true and as unbreakable as my vows with the man sitting beside me.” Nico smiled again. People giggled and chuckled, amused by their affection as a married couple supposedly started as a political move. “So, in celebration of our new life together, please enjoy tonight and hopefully you may just find yourself a love just as untarnished as ours. And tomorrow, in celebration of a new military force, we hope you will enjoy a showcase of the abilities of our new general in the Erebian military.” Nico bowed his head, people clapped, he raised his glass and drank and so did others. Will, on the other hand, watched the way a tiny spark in Nico lit underneath the darkness of his near black eyes.

“Our entire engagement started because you were headed out to do something and couldn’t tell me,” Will said to him quietly when Nico turned to him. Nico’s forced smile quickly disappeared. “Will our marriage require me to wait for you and your secrets, as well?” Will wasn’t really looking for an answer, but he liked making Nico feel unbalanced.

“Only when it involves you being threatened,” Nico whispered back. There was a pause and then Nico leaned in and whispered again, “And if I’m ordered to.”

“How many people can order the Dark Angel to do anything?” Will retorted with a grin. Nico picked a grape from off a fruit platter in front of them and held it in front of Will’s lips. Will glanced at the people in front of them, many very obviously watching, and then he looked back at Nico with a silent question. Nico urged him with the grape in response. Will sighed and opened his mouth and ate the grape.

“Sit and wait. Enjoy the show.”

Will turned his glance back to the celebratory dinner in the grand hall. He was used to having the strange family dinners in the large room, but he was never going to get used to the amount of people he had to stare at during these large events. Even as a prince of Delphi, he’d never been a guest of honor or a host. He’d always been part of the crowd of guests. Will took in a deep breath and looked around the room for familiar faces.

He found some comfort in the crowd, especially those at the long table facing the dais. There was Prince Percy and his fiancée Lady Annabeth Chase. Oddly enough, Will found their proper attire for the court to be stranger than the usual clothing he’d seen them wear before. On the other hand, Prince Jason and his fiancée Princess Piper McLean looked perfectly in place next to the Percy and Annabeth. Perhaps it was Will’s perception of their personalities and characters. Jason and Piper felt more like a couple one would expect to have met at court or some such events. The rest who sat at the long table was the Duke of Mount Cyllene, Queen Aphrodite of the isle of Cythera, surprisingly Frank sat at the long table as well, and a few others Will hadn’t been introduced to but knew about.

“Why is Frank sitting at the long table?” Will asked Nico. He thought he was speaking quietly but Princess Hazel who sat at Nico’s other side chirped up.

“Frank is the son of Prince Mars—I mean, Ares.” Hazel leaned over and waved her hand to him with a smile. Will waved back and smiled. “I believe his father asked him to take his place at the table of honor.” Will didn’t have many memories when it came to Prince Ares, especially as he wasn’t very close with his own father who was Prince Ares’ half-brother. His reputation preceded him, much like Nico’s did.

Nico leaned over to Hazel and quietly said, “Is that pride I hear?”

Will nudged Nico’s side. “If you keep teasing her, the rest of the world is going to realize who’s going to be your brother-in-law.” Nico leaned towards him next, a little too close for propriety.

“I’m just matchmaking another pair, seeing as you’re quite against my ideas of Travis and Michael.”

“I never said that.”

“But you always agree with Travis.”

“Are you looking to argue with me over this?” Will asked him next. He wasn’t going to back down, and he didn’t always agree with Travis on various things. He just didn’t believe he should have to force his best friend to marry anyone. He also knew that Nico found this banter exhilarating and simply wanted to continue.

Nico’s smile indicated the man quite liked the underlining feelings of their conversation as well. Will took a quiet breath and tried to keep himself in check in front of all their guests. Not to forget that his father sat on the other side of him.

“It’s not as if you wouldn’t choose to save Travis instead of me if you had the choice,” Nico pointed out with a challenging smile.

Will almost laughed out. He patted Nico’s hand and leaned back on his chair. What an amusing thought.

“When would you need me to save you, the great Dark Angel?”

“You’ll be surprised how often you’ve saved me,” Nico said. This time it wasn’t in the same tone of playful banter he had before. He could see Nico’s entire demeanor change, his eyes trained onto something or someone.

Despite his earlier expression, Nico relaxed into the chair and smiled. His hand on the table started thrumming. Will looked at Percy, Jason and then Frank. The three people Nico had trusted since his return from the forbidden lands didn’t show any changes from Nico’s reaction. Will noted how each of them stared intently at the thrumming fingers, seeming to understand the code. The thrumming stopped, and Nico went back to picking at the food on the table.

“I swear, Nico di Angelo, should you start a battle during this dinner and embarrass me in front of my father, I will personally make you regret marrying me.” Will’s quiet threat went unnoticed by others.

The first response he received was Nico’s hand patting the top of his in reassurance. Then, Nico said as he continued to survey the crowd, “I would never regret marrying you.” Without removing his gaze from their guests, Nico leaned into Will’s space and added, “And don’t worry, tonight’s the bait. Tomorrow’s the trap.”

“Husband,” Will whispered to the man politely. Nico leaned his head slightly to the side to indicate he was listening, his eyes never leaving the crowd. “You’re not being very reassuring.” Will didn’t need a further response on the subject, he knew that it would be a pointless banter that Nico would find rather flirtatious and endearing. For Will, it was growing rather annoying. He was not looking to be part of a public spectacle.

“Enjoy your time with your father.” Nico nodded to someone he’d made eye contact with. Will tried to train his eyes onto which guest but he couldn’t find anyone he recognized or someone who seemed out of place. Silently, he cursed himself for having such a secretive spouse. However, he didn’t feel as alone as he’d first thought when he was told he would be engaged to the man.

Will turned to his left and stared at his father. The man could almost be confused as Will’s older brother. He’d never seen someone so youthful at the man’s age. Long wavy golden hair, light sun-kissed skin that Will never managed no matter how long in the sun he’s been in, and blue eyes. His father turned to him and smiled, the wrinkles around the corners of his eyes when he smiled was the only proof of the man’s age.

“Are you happy?” his father’s deep voice asked him. For the first time, Will was graced with his father’s gentlest smile. The father in his memory wasn’t cold but was also disinterested, he was always bored and never easily paid attention to anyone.

“I am, Father.”

“I am glad.”

Will wondered what his father meant by saying he was glad that Will was happy with Nico. Of course, every father wanted their child to be in a happy marriage. His father, however, wasn’t like every father.

“What are you glad about, Father?” he found the courage to ask. He said it softly so his spouse next to him wouldn’t notice the conversation.

“Many things,” King Apollo answered. His father didn’t so much as look away from their guests who were all having their own conversations and eating their own dinner. “I ran out of excuses to give my uncle when he first sent that missive.” Excuses?

Will’s face must have plainly shown how puzzled he was from his father’s explanation. The man chuckled and patted Will’s head.

“Prince Will Solace, number 20, mediocre in most areas of study,” Apollo said without so much as looking at Will at all. He seemed busy looking at something else entirely. As if anything was more important that explaining to Will what any of this was all about to him. “Has an odd aim, strong perseverance, a knack and love for healing, and most importantly the integrity of an honest and caring heart.”

Will sat speechless, staring at his father. He’d never heard such… compliments—not from anyone—besides from Asclepius, Travis, and lastly Nico. How was he to have expected that on such a night his father would pay him, perhaps, the highest compliment his father had ever paid any of his children. The very acknowledgement of them in his mind. He felt loved.

“Asclepius spoke highly of your skills in medicine. I thought it would be a waste were you to be married to my young cousin there.” His father gave a light nod of his head toward Nico who was leaning to his other side speaking to Princess Hazel. “And then he disappeared, and it was quite a struggle trying to break off your engagement.”

“You wished to dissolve our engagement?” Will nearly gasped. He gave a cursory glance around the room to make sure no curious ears were listening—especially Nico.

“The best I could offer was handing a substitute. I had hoped they would reject the offer and dissolve it themselves.”

Will felt as confused about what he was learning just as when he first learned that there wasn’t any criteria and Nico confessed. Out of necessity, he grabbed Nico’s hand that was resting next to his and squeezed. He felt Nico squeeze back, but could tell that Nico was still in the middle of having a conversation with Hazel.

“And then, of course, you went and got married.”

“You were not… happy with the idea of marrying me to Prince Nico?” Will asked, slowing his words so he wouldn’t say more than he needed. He hoped by doing so, he would assuage his panic. “It is a good idea as a political marriage.”

“Yes. It’s not very often one could get backing from Erebus, the kingdom of darkness and shadow.” His father agreed nonchalantly but in the indifferent tone that Will recognized quite well.

After he officially became prince-consort, Will realized that it required a certain level of indifference and detachment to be the crown of a country. Will could see now, that the indifference and high expectations from his father had been a kingly decision not a fatherly one. Will smiled, entirely too aware that the fatherly decision was allowing his children to grow up and to “require” his children to excel in different levels of studies.

“Not every father would wish their child to marry someone infamously known as ‘the Dark Angel’, either.” A soft sigh escaped King Apollo’s lips and he turned to face Will again. “I will be the first to admit that I am not the best example when it comes to fatherhood. I’ve also agreed to a few political marriages whenever your brothers or sisters were offered a suitable match. However…” Apollo’s face turned stern and his indifferent expression changed into a saddened one. His father touched Will’s cheek with the knuckles of his hand. It was an unsure and tender touch. “I don’t wish for any of my children to be unhappy the rest of their life. Even if it could save the whole of the kingdom.”

“Truly?”

“Mostly.”

Will laughed. It was unbecoming of a king to claim to be unwilling to give up one of his many children to save the kingdom and its citizens.

“A prince unhappy in marriage is more likely to cause problems for the kingdom. Erebus is strong, but even it will fall were you or my young cousin unhappy.” Apollo patted his head and leaned back in his chair. “I wasn’t present after the beginning of the engagement party. Now I can see it very clearly in his eyes.”

“What?”

His father didn’t look at Will again, but he had a smile. “It’s a prize one doesn’t win, a trophy one stores in their chest, and a treasure no one can steal.” Those were familiar words he embarrassingly recalled from his youth. “Love is a medal bestowed unconditionally and freely.”

“How did you…” Will couldn’t finish the question. It was a piece of failed poetry he attempted when he was young. He felt his face flush, heat rising.

“It definitely needed quite a lot of work,” his father agreed when he glanced at Will’s obvious embarrassment. “And yet, I don’t think it was something to throw away in shame.” Apollo grabbed a few grapes from the bowl set in front of him on the table. He popped a couple grapes into his mouth and chewed. Will threw his face into his hands and groaned. His father picked up such an embarrassing piece and of all things waited until after he was married to reveal it to him in a room full of people during a public event. Of all things, the very event dedicated to him and his spouse was a bait for the mastermind behind one of his brother’s murder and the bounty on their heads.

Apollo, once again, put his hand on top of Will’s head. He bent over until their faces lined up. “Love is never something to be ashamed of or to be thrown away, just like that piece you wrote.”

Unsure how to respond, Will nodded.

“I have had many lovers,” his father admitted as he pulled away and sat properly in his chair again, “but not once was it simply because I thought it was fun or new. Love is sometimes short, sometimes long, sometimes it’s boundless, and in many instances restrained. I am glad you are happy.” His father finished chewing another grape. “And in love.” Will wished he was buried deep in a hole and not sitting on a dais with large masses of guests witnessing his embarrassment with no clue as to why he was—and Will desperately wished to be in hole. 


 

After his short conversation with Will, Nico turned to Hazel on his right side. He knew she felt overly shy about being a part of the center of attention so soon.

“Don’t worry, once the show is over you’ll be more relaxed,” Nico whispered to her.

“Is there a show after dinner?” Hazel asked, eyes widened, afraid she’d gotten the schedule wrong.

Nico gave her a smile. “We are the show.” He waved his finger between her, him, and Will. The crowned male couple of Erebus and the lost princess, what could have been more interesting and gossip worthy? He held back his amused chuckle when Hazel’s lips turned into an O-shape and her eyes lighted with comprehension.

“I’m not very reassured,” said Hazel in her gentle and quiet voice.

Hazel was using her fork move the food around on her plate as means to busy herself in her anxiety. On any normal day, Nico wouldn’t really care. However, he knew that the Queen and many others would appraise her badly for playing with her food. Nico slowly reached his hand out and grabbed her hand, but to make it seem as if he was stopping her, he moved her hand towards him and turned her palm up.

Nico released her hand, and she left her palm open in front of him. He noted how she often wore long sleeves or had a bracer covering her forearm and wrist. Hazel didn’t often speak about her time in Rome, and whenever Nico spoke with Frank of it the man would change the topic of the conversation.

Nico leaned in towards Hazel as he searched for the item he had hidden in the inside of his royal court jacket. He took the knife out, turning it in his hand so the blade would play in the light. It caught many people’s attention. With a small toss, he turned the blade into his hand and set the handle of the knife into Hazel’s hand.

“Anxiety will look better when you’re playing with an eating knife rather than a fork.” He took out the knife hidden in his arm sleeve. He swiveled the knife and then tossed the knife between its blade and handle. Next, he swung the blade and quickly caught the handle as the knife kept rotating. Then, he stabbed the knife upright onto the top of the table in front of him.

Hazel considered the eating knife in her hand. She turned it over in her hand. Her hand opened and closed, and he could tell she was appreciating the feel of the way the eating knife fit into her hand.

“Rather than let others sneer at you for your discomfort, use it as a tool to make them fear you.” Nico glanced up at the people he knew were watching the Erebian royal siblings. He felt Will’s hand on his. Nico had purposefully not listen to the conversation his spouse was having with his father, but the hand holding his told him Will was getting quite nervous. He squeezed Will’s hand to reassure him.

“What... um…” Hazel’s quiet words stumbled in her uncertainty, “Prince Will mentioned earlier… uh… about Fra—Lord Zhang.” Nico chuckled. She was trying to ask about what they had meant when they spoke about Frank being his brother-in-law.

“No one will force you into a marriage you don’t desire,” Nico told her. He watched as she continued to play with the knife in her hand. A glance up at the people watching her, who had commented on her being mousy or worse, had all stopped their gossip. Their eyes filled with superiority were not filled with fear and horror. It wasn’t every day a princess casually played with an eating knife in her hands, looking as if she could easily kill someone with disinterest in her eyes.

“M-marriage?”

“Your child will become our heir, as it’ll be the only descendent of royal blood.” Nico was reiterating what was already said before. She simply nodded, as she had before. “I wish you happiness, most of all. When I had been sent out to look for you, I remembered my older sister.” Nico normally didn’t speak of Bianca, not to anyone—not to Percy or Jason. It had been an easy but difficult decision when it came to Will.

“Bi…Bianca?”

Nico nodded.

“What reminded you of her?”

His head turned and looked right at her. “I didn’t want you to die,” Nico admitted. He saw the understanding light up in her eyes, and then the pity seeped in. “I wanted you to be happy and safe. So, I promised myself that if you were happy and safe I wouldn’t bring you back here.” He’d told Connor those precise parameters when he sent him on and allowed himself to be the bait taken in the Elysium.

“Well, I was happy when I was younger. After the wars, not so much.” He could tell she didn’t wish to speak of her experience after. He knew what her experience had been. After all, he’d been trapped in the same prison she’d been thrown into. It was the escape route she’d created that he had found a way to climb out of Tartarus.

“Then I will do everything in my power to make sure you are happy and safe,” Nico said confidently. Then he smiled as he leaned toward her once more and whispered to her, “And I’m fairly certain Frank makes you happy.”

“Nico!” she exclaimed, but quietly, as she didn’t wish to startle the Queen sitting next to her. She leaned in as well and whispered sharply, “That was very inappropriate.”

“I merely observed that our Princess Hazel Levesque of Erebus blushes quite often in the presence of our new lieutenant-general.” Nico chuckled when Hazel’s face flushed. Due to her darker skin tone her blush was harder to see right away, but the way her eyes glazed and the embarrassment that immediately raised up just like her tinted cheeks. “I like him, if that comforts you about your possible relationship with him.”

Hazel didn’t respond to him. She sat in her spot in the proper posture she’d been made to learn as the princess of Erebus. The rest of dinner she played with the eating knife he’d given her as a way to busy herself and to stop her anxiety. He had a feeling it was also an excuse for not responding to his last statement. Not that he minded, Nico rather liked knowing that she knew he would agree to marry her to Frank if the question came up. He looked forward to the day Frank realized he had to first seek Nico’s approval.

His eyes connected to Percy, Jason, and Frank. They gave him a slight nod and he responded by tapping his index and middle finger twice on the table. Will looked up at the fourth person he’d placed in the room. Their response was a nod, as well. The bait was set.

Chapter Text

Many could say that Michael was out of place in the ballroom and they would be correct. Dinner had been an easy affair. While it was expected for one to make conversation with their neighbor at dinner, since everyone knew he had amnesia no one had much to talk to him about at the military tables.

There wasn’t very polite topics to talk about. No one could ask him, “How is holding your position with virtually no memory of how to perform your responsibilities?” That was disregarding that he could see the question in their eyes. No else one dared to ask him about what he would do during the mock war battle the next day either. Since every topic anyone could bring up was uncomfortable and inappropriate, Michael could tell that no one could manage to speak with him. Aside from the small polite conversations and short banters most soldiers normally had, Michael occupied his time picking at his food and observing the room.

Perhaps Prince Nico had expected that no one had the courage to hold a conversation with him. At least, not anyone tactful. The Crowned Prince had ordered Michael earlier that day to keep note of specific key guests he had invited. When the Prince showed him a few of the hand signals he would be using to give Michael directions and orders, Michael memorized it quite quickly. Prince Nico had a knowing look in his eyes but spoke nothing of it.

The targets he had to pay attention to had gone about their business without knowing Michael was watching their behavior. He noted their expressions, as he’d been told, based on Prince Nico’s actions with his consort and with the princess. He kept the details in his mind for a later discussion with the prince.

Once he walked into the ball, Michael was reminded for the third time that night how he didn’t belong in the setting. The uniform he had to wear felt uncomfortable and confiding. All of his insides were twisting and flipping. Shame settled at the pit of his stomach like a sourness he couldn’t rid himself of no matter how much he tried. That shame made him feel even more ridiculous in the ceremonious uniform he was told he had to wear as the general of the Erebian army.

Once he settled on those degrading thoughts, his memory of his time with his captors rose to the surface. His stomach started to turn inwards. The withdrawal symptoms had slowly begun to lessen, but the memories and the clear knowledge of what he’d done while in compliance to the drugs given to him had slowly returned. Michael felt the tightness in his chest grab hold of him and it made it even harder to breathe.

He looked up to see the royal crowned couple enter the dance floor first. The two danced the first song before others joined them. Michael moved away from the group of people he’d spoken with and pulled himself behind a pillar. Closing his eyes, Michael leaned on the pillar and bent over to tried to breathe.

“Would you like some help, Kahale?” It was a woman’s voice but when he opened his eyes, he only saw a purple cape covering the legs standing in front of him.

Michael straightened and looked up at the guest who approached him. The woman had her hair up with a perfectly loose but unmoving braid. He noted she wore a soft lilac colored dress which covered her legs. The fabric and dress itself were ideal for a woman who expected to unexpectedly run in it. Michael wasn’t quite sure why he would have such insight, as he wasn’t a woman and would never have to consider the practicality and efficiency of a dress. Leather bracers proved to him she was a warrior, and where her neckline and cleavage would be expose was a gorget. The design on the metal made it decorative and seem as neckwear accessory. The piece was a foreign exchanged armor likely from off a pier.

“For someone who has always been blessed by the sun, you look as if you’ve just faced a thousand ghosts,” the woman jested. Michael felt as if she was saying more than she was truly saying. How was he blessed by the sun? What did she mean he had faced a thousand ghosts? As he didn’t respond, the woman continued, “So it is true.”

“Yes,” Michael sighed.

“You get this quite often?” she asked him with curiosity. The question itself came out as more confirmation than question.

Michael leaned back onto the pillar, losing his composure again. The woman seemed familiar with him so he didn’t stand on ceremony. Michael was still trying to recover from his cracked memory with the Lotus-Eaters.

“How is it?” she asked him.

“Who are you?” he responded instead.

“My apologies,” the woman bowed her head. “I’ve forgotten. My name is Reyna.”

She seemed to be greeting him in similar station to a lord or someone of higher status. Michael was certain for her to be invited she had to have had a high status herself. To show such a quiet respect meant Michael had, when he knew her, been of a higher station than her.

Michael could tell she purposefully didn’t fully introduce herself. He could respect that, as there were many reasons he didn’t wish to call himself “Michael Kahale”. He had never thought himself so important or so well-known to require a full name or a title. The name itself always came preceded with his title “general” which he didn’t quite felt belonged to him.

“And what is our relationship?” Michael asked her. It was inappropriate and rather straightforward, but Michael didn’t wish to bother with a façade. Just walking from the grand hall to the ball room, he’d been approached by at least five people claiming to be his lover.

“Nothing more than comrades, if you must know.” Reyna smiled out of amusement. She waved her hand with a shake of her head and a hidden laugh, indicating she knew why he’d ventured asking her. “You were the youngest general of the Roman Army. I was a legate during your time with Rome.”

“Rome…” The country’s name was a word that felt familiar to his lips. He had been told he had once been the general of the army of the Empire of Rome. In his head the words echoed. The general was called the Imperator, and the word legate was the lieutenant. Her position at the time would have been similar to the current position Frank Zhang held in the Erebian army, the only difference was that there were at least 30 other lieutenants under the general. Whereas in Erebus, there were perhaps a handful—seven if he counted correctly. However, Frank was considered the lieutenant-general, which mean he was directly in the command of the military general if not the royals themselves. Had Michael really been the general of such a large army it required 30 lieutenants? That meant that the military politics were complicated and competitive, and that corruption grew in it like mold. All he had were more questions piling on each other, rather than answers.

“You were missed in our army.”

Instinctively, Michael stared at the marking on his arm. The recollection of his blurred time on the Lotus-Eaters’ island reminded him of a memory of the people he had first stayed with. They had discussed his arm. He’d been lying on someone’s cot in their hut, and he distinctively recalled that they had taken notice of the meaning of the tattoo on his left forearm. When he’d been sold into slavery the family had looked worried, not just because they had begun to care about him but because they worried about his arm. Even when he’d entered the brothel and the drug den, the enforcers had first tried to cut off his tattoo. For some reason, they did not. The men who had first drugged him had instead put some powder on it to cover it and then wrapped a cloth around it to hide the tattoo.

“It’s a symbol of status—or former status,” the woman named Reyna told him. She had an accent he recognized as an islander. She pointed at his forearm. “First, these symbols by your wrist,” she started and was very careful not to be too close or to touch him, “They stand for: Senatus Populusque Romanus, it means-”

“The Senate and People of Rome,” Michael translated. She smiled, the look in her eyes hinting with the confidence that she’d known he would know. “Your family symbol is the dove, as indicated here,” she also pointed out. It was the next symbol after the letters. A simple but mesmerizing image of dove was next down his wrist. “A child of Venus—or Aphrodite, as she’s known in most of the mainland.”

“And these bars?” Michael pointed next, which lined up on his forearm.

“Years of servitude in the Roman army.”

“And this?” Michael traced his thumb over the long horizontal line which ended the tattoo on his forearm. It was more like a half-band, thicker than the small vertical strokes that layered up his years of service.

“End of service.”

“A horizontal line?”

“Many people put a different imagery or tattoo to indicate their end of service. Any tattoo directly underneath one’s years of service bars means they are no longer counting years because they longer belong to the Roman Army,” Reyna explained to him. She turned around and leaned against the pillar, standing next to him.

Michael considered this knowledge.

“This is a symbol of my status?”

“Former status,” she corrected. “The Empire of Rome is well known to take prisoners of wars as slaves. There are also many instances of someone who may have had a status higher than you to fall in society and become a slave in your household. However, to be a soldier of Rome means your status would never change—even if you have ended your service.” Reyna waved her hand to tell him to pull down his sleeve and to hide the tattoo. As he didn’t want to ruin the ceremonious uniform he was suffocating in, he corrected his sleeve very diligently. “The only way a soldier of Rome, out of service or not, loses their status is if they were captured as a prisoner of war and became a slave. Or, other exceptions such as switching country affiliations.”

All of this told Michael that he had been taken advantage of when he lost his memory. Someone, despite knowing exactly what status he held, had seen Michael as a slave. Like Prince Nico had said earlier that evening, there was a mastermind who was determined to weave a web of deceit and hidden agendas to reach some delirious goal of ruling Elysium and Erebus. Someone who wanted Michael to not only fall beneath himself in dignity and honor, but to descend into incompetence and helplessness by being drugged.

“There’s not much difference.” The unsolicited comment seeped through his thoughts. Michael gave Reyna a curious expression to her comment. “You are part of the gossip for those who are in attendance tonight, in case you were unaware,” she reminded him. Oh, Michael was fully aware of it. The guests were also all very polite about not angering him by asking unnecessary questions. That didn’t stop many of them from conversing amongst themselves with him as the topic. “And one of the stories going about the gossip and rumor mill is that, Michael Kahale lost his memory after a battle due to the amount of stress it requires to be a soldier.”

His immediate reaction made her laugh. Michael didn’t try to hide it. The story was preposterous. Soldiers didn’t lose their memories at will because they were tired of the job.

“Something about hiding who you really are, and acting as you truly want to act.”

Michael didn’t respond to her explanation of the rumor. For someone to have come up with this specific story, they had to have known him for some time but not on a very deep level to have made such an assumption. Unless, as the former general of the Roman army he had never been close or intimate with anyone. He categorized this piece of information for his later discussion with the prince.

“The idea that one loses their memory—and in essence, one’s former identity of ‘self’, would mean that the person wanted to return to their roots—the very being of who they were.” Reyna smiled as if she had a scheme. “Or, so goes the comments in the rumor mill.”

“And you mean to say who I am now is not very different from the general you knew?” asked Michael. He had assumed he wouldn’t care very much for her response. At first, he hadn’t. He’d simply needed the conversation with her to continue so he could forget the blurred memories of his time with the Lotus-Eaters, and to calm his inner panic so he could do his duties during the events of the night.

“Who you are now is the rawest form of the man I came to know as Michael Kahale,” assured Reyna. She smiled, and this time it was a gentle and genuine smile. Her eyes smiled with her as if she was recalling a nostalgic memory. “The saddest thing is, he doesn’t remember the woman named Reyna.” She bid him farewell with a curtsy this time, a formality and respect even higher than her initial head bow of recognition.

Just as she was walking away Michael almost wished to speak words out but he stopped himself. He didn’t know his true relationship with the woman named Reyna, but he didn’t wish to tangle himself up in a complicated web that would have him betray the people of the country he now served. So, even as his body moved to say one last thing he stopped himself and watched her weave through the crowd.

The word nearly left his lips, but it was there. Begotten.


 

Travis had entered the ballroom much later than he’d been ordered to by his father. When he spotted his father, the Duke was standing by the staircase with Connor. His father seemingly commented on his son’s long hair, but Travis didn’t wish to confirm the topic of conversation by moving any closer. He made a few greetings, smiled away a few good lucks for tomorrow’s mock battle, and found a pillar to hide behind.

When he peeked around the corner to the wall side of the pillar to see if anyone else was hiding out, he hadn’t expected to see Kahale speaking to a caped woman in a light purple dress. The color of the dress told him the woman must have been the new general of the Roman army. The confounding man had no idea he was speaking to someone who had the power and opportunity to kill him if she wanted. After all, Kahale had been the reason she hadn’t been the Roman general much earlier in her own career.

The two seemed somewhat intimate, if not carefully gauging one another. Miss Reyna was known for her military expertise, having been Kahale’s biggest rival when they both contended for the job of becoming the army general years ago. Due to the rumors that Michael had been sponsored by the centurion-turned-augur Octavian, Travis always assumed that the woman had been on bad terms with Michael.

General Reyna leaned against the pillar, standing quite close to Michael’s side. The man had been uneasy with people being close to him since his time with the Lotus-Eaters, yet with Reyna—a woman he supposedly didn’t know or recall—he seemed perfectly comfortable. The knowledge annoyed Travis, but he told himself that all of that was none of his concern. Michael wasn’t his concern.

He secretly watched the two continue the conversation. When she turned and left, Michael had reacted reluctantly. The man had attempted to go after her but had stopped himself and watched her disappear into the ballroom.

Travis wasn’t quite sure why he was so perturbed with the idea of General Reyna and General Kahale being together. Even in his youth he had seen them together yet never came to such a conclusion before. He had known they were close, or at the least polite company to one another. Some days they worked well together and other days they were each other’s greatest aggressors. Travis knew, from his past of watching Michael from afar, that they weren’t romantically inclined toward each other. Reyna had been more interested with Prince Jason when he’d been part of the military rather than Michael. However, as they’d gotten older Travis had less time to see the two during official visits and had no idea what history they may or may not have had.

He hadn’t expected Michael to turn around so soon. The man stared right at Travis, still half-peeking out from his side of the pillar he’d been hiding behind. Michael walked toward him and panic quickly rose. The two of them hadn’t spoken much lately and he had no idea what to say.

“H-hello,” he tried. The greeting had an unsure tone and Travis wanted to dig himself a hole and bury himself in it.

“Good evening,” Michael replied.

They stood in silence. Travis still racked his brain for something to say. There wasn’t much he could bring up, and Travis wasn’t exactly someone who was used to polite conversation. It had always been a part of him to be impolite.

“Do you intend to continue hiding behind there peeping all night?” asked Michael, a small smile on his face as he stared down at Travis.

Immediately, he straightened and then stepped out from behind the pillar. Michael’s smile blossomed as Travis did so, and he stepped toward Travis a little closer. Travis ignored his heart’s reaction to it and tried hard not to let his face show exactly how self-conscious he felt from the closeness.

“I have a question for you.”

“What is the question?” Travis asked nervously.

He held himself back from stepping away. Which was all he could think about—next to Michael’s broad shoulders, how nice dashing he looked in an Erebian uniform, or any uniform, and that voice of his which had been using an Erebian accent since he started speaking properly to just about anyone.

“What is a bond?” was the question, and Travis’ entire wall he had built up in the last couple months completely shattered.

“Will you bond with me?” Michael’s voice which had constantly asked him floated through his ears again. The one standing in front of him wasn’t asking him the same question but it was like he was reliving all the moments the man had asked him.

“W-what?” Travis’ voice quivered, and he felt the rest of him slowly breaking down just like the wall he’d built around himself.

“The word ‘bond’ keeps coming up,” Michael said. He turned back to stare at the crowd where General Reyna had disappeared into. Travis quickly shook out of stupor.

“Wait.” Travis felt his heart suddenly lurch and crash itself against his chest. It was a painful feeling and he knew exactly why he felt this way. “General, are you telling me that the word ‘bond’ comes up when you look at the new Roman General?” His hands shook but he balled them into fists. Compose yourself, Travis Stoll. He pursed his lips and patiently waited for Michael to turn back to him and answer.

“Her name is Reyna,” Michael said when he did make eye contact with Travis. “She said I’ve forgotten her, the woman named Reyna.” The man was explaining to Travis with a calm and leveled expression, that before his memory lost Michael hadn’t known her just as a comrade but as a woman?

Travis felt anger rise. What had been all those words when he’d tried to get Travis to bond with him? Were the words the man had said, the bonding and the chasing after him, all had to do with Nico’s intentions to marry off Travis as a social responsibility to someone else?

He wanted to kill the man standing in front of him. Yet he couldn’t blame him, because the Michael standing before him had no such memory of doing such a heinous act to Travis.

Deep breath.

Travis made himself smile reassuringly.

“You once explained it to me as something similar to marriage from your home, Cythera.” Travis remembered every word Michael had said to him since they met each other in the town by the Styx. He’d also spent his sleepless nights in the palace library reading books with short excerpts of that bond that Michael spoke about. “Something about two souls becoming one. You didn’t explain it very extensively to me.” Travis thought that would be the end of the conversation, but Michael seemed more curious and at the same time confused.

“Did I ask her to bond with me?” Michael asked. It was an innocent, but one that hurt too much.

“I wouldn’t know, we weren’t very close.” Travis quickly excuse himself and turned away. He could at least tell that Michael wasn’t following, the man didn’t know anything was wrong. He had no idea how Travis felt at all. That was fine—that was how it had always been.

Chapter Text

He walked briskly and didn’t look back. How could he look back? Travis had no idea whether Michael had once asked “the woman named Reyna” to bond with him or not. He had no idea whether Michael had been rejected or just never asked. Was he worried or was this just a fit of jealousy? He wasn’t sure anymore. There were so many things he hadn’t been able to clear up with Michael, so much more he could have spoken with the man but… all those chances were gone.

If he’d been more decisive in the matter like Will had been, he would have simply accepted Michael and be done with it. Travis should have followed suit, taken what the fates and fortunes had given him, and accepted Michael’s offer. It seemed rather easy, considering Will and Nico got married nearly a day after Nico confessed. Will had just followed the wind and tides on that and looked where he was, happily married and a prince-consort.

None of this had anything to do with Will or Nico. To be fair, it had about nearly as much to do with Nico as it had to do with anything. He was nearly sure that Michael would never had… never had asked him to bond if Nico hadn’t tried to throw Travis off as some unwanted social responsibility. Which, he would admit, him and his brother were pretty much always someone’s social responsibility if not each other’s.

While in his chaotic and panicked thoughts, Travis had walked into the palace ballroom veranda. He was alone in the dark of the night. Being alone was a welcomed reprieve, a luxury he looked forward to these days. He’d kept himself so busy just so he would sleep into a deep slumber of darkness—just so he wouldn’t dream or think. Things that made him sad and angry tended to creep up when he had too much time alone.

He tilted his head and stared up at the stars. The stars always made him sad, yet he couldn’t stop himself from staring up at them. He never forgot how vast the world felt, how invincible he felt, whenever he looked up at the night sky. These days they made him even sadder than the memories and the illusions he had when he was by himself.

Desperately, he struggled to remind himself that, “It’s not very different from all the other times, Travis.” He fought back the tears and hung his head low. His heart hurt, he felt shattered to thousands of pieces, and most of all he knew it was all his fault. Michael had no memory of what he was to Travis. They were nothing to each other. Once again, as always, he tried to pick up the pieces of himself that had been broken.

Travis reprimanded himself because he could have told Michael some things. At the least, the stupid man would have had more tact than to ask him innocent questions that hurt. Travis kept his eyes closed. Bracing the slight chill of the night, he took in deep breaths and hoped he could put himself to rights again before he had to go back into the ball. He’d done it many times before without anyone even noticing he’d been broken. This time wasn’t much different.

Travis knew no one was there, but he felt warmth close in on him. He let out the breath he’d been holding in. It was his imagination again. The memories of his time with Michael assaulted him, but there were days and nights where Michael would visit him and speak to him as a lover. He couldn’t stop himself. In his youth, it’d been a wonderful thing to daydream, but now it just hurt him whenever he imagined what Michael would be like were they truly lovers.

Arms that weren’t truly there wrapped around his waist and the imaginary Michael’s warm body pulled in from behind him. This wasn’t real, but it was a delusional comfort that Travis could afford. One that made him sadder and angrier once the illusion was gone and the memories resurfaced.

“You’re crying because of me,” Michael’s gentle voice whispered into his ear.

“I’m not crying.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I’m not crying.”

“I do care about you,” Michael assured him. His imaginary Michael always said so. He always spoke words of comfort and affection when Travis was at his weakest points.

Travis couldn’t build the wall back up. The one he used to keep himself from desperately clinging to Michael—the man who remembered nothing. The hurt and the sadness gripped at him too tightly. He felt too vulnerable because the actual man had spoken the one word that was Travis’ biggest weakness.

The imagination disappeared. It was all too much.

“I love you,” escaped his lips desperately. The tears stung his eyes. Travis couldn’t control anything anymore. “It hurts so much…” Travis gasped. He reached out to grab the railing to support himself. He felt a hand underneath his. Travis opened his eyes and stared blurringly at the familiar hand.

“What…”

“I’m sorry,” Michael apologized. The genuine article was standing beside him. The man looked the world panicked and confused, seeing as another man had just broken down in front of him. “I came to see how you were doing.” Michael’s other hand reached up and caressed his cheek. Travis flinched.

Travis hastily stepped away. “W-why are you here?” His voice quivered as his lungs began to shrink. Questions assailed him in rapid succession. What did you just hear? How long had you been there? Were you actually the one I’d just been talking to just now? Did you manage not to freak out when they dressed you in that uniform for the ball? Why are you so handsome when I hate you so much right now? Why are you here again? All the questions that were coming to him were useless and needless.

“I told you,” Michael said in that gentle voice of his—that gentleness he hadn’t heard in months, “I came to see how you were doing.” Michael took a step closer.

“That’s…” Travis stepped back once more. How long were you standing there? “I meant…” Travis gasped for breath. His lungs didn’t seem to have the capacity and he kept trying to gather more air. Did you hear me confess my feelings? Are you going to pretend you didn’t hear my confession? Are you going to tell me you’re in love with Reyna? Am I not someone who can say they love you? No, I no longer have that right. “Why did you follow me?”

Michael stepped forward again, for all the world he seemed genuinely concerned. “To see how you were doing.”

Travis scoffed. Did you know I was talking to you? His hands shook and he couldn’t bring the strength to ball his fists again. He couldn’t hide his vulnerability any longer. All he could do was back away as Michael advanced on him.

“I mean, you should have stayed inside so why did come out to see me,” Travis tried once more. The words came out shakily but none of his words fumbled or was lost to him. He ignored all the useless questions that were begging to slip out of his mouth.

“I told you,” Michael said once more. “I came to see how you were doing.” Michael advanced in two large steps and quickly shifted to lock Travis in.

He backed up onto the railing of the veranda, holding his breath. Michael was uncomfortably close, both arms set down on the railing blocking Travis inside the man’s closeness. Travis held his breath and tried his best to stay apart from Michael. Their closeness made Travis feel more vulnerable than he’d felt when he’d cried out just earlier.

“I’m saying, Travis Stoll,” Michael’s husky voice drew closer to him as the man stared straight into his eyes, “I was concern about you and followed you here.”

Travis turned his eyes elsewhere.

“Do you wish I remember?”

The question was one that Michael had never once asked anyone. Travis knew, because everyone consistently reported to him about Michael’s condition as if he was the man’s warden. Everyone had told him that while Michael was curious about some things, he never seemed to poke around when it came to his past self. He never wondered why the old Michael liked eating things or doing certain things a certain way.

“Does it pain you that I’ve forgotten you?” Michael asked him. Travis turned back to Michael and anger flared up. Michael didn’t register Travis’ anger even one bit. “I know I had been pursuing you. I once asked about your feelings but you told me I didn’t have the right to ask. Does that mean if I remembered you I have the right to ask?” Michael’s eyes were determined.

Breathing became easier. Travis bunched up his fists.

“If I never remember, does that mean I’m not allowed to pursue you?” Michael asked next. The man determinedly stepped forward, his knee went right between Travis’ legs. He hiked himself up, trying to pull away from Michael’s intimacy as much as he could. He hoped the man’s knee didn’t move a few centimeters higher or he would feel the unmistakable bulging heat in Travis’ trousers. “If I never remember, does that mean you don’t love me?”

His fist flew out before he could stop himself. The punch connected on the man’s jaw and Michael laughed.

He watched in bewilderment as Michael backed away from him. He nodded, as if Travis’ punch had been the expected answer. It hadn’t been. It had been an angry reaction to an insulting assumption on Travis’ character.

“Tomorrow,” Michael said as his gaze flicked up to Travis again, “I will free you of everything.”

“What?”

“I will become General Michael Kahale,” he said, his tone harsh and forbidding. “I will make sure you are free from him.”

Travis’ anger subsided as the realization hit him. Michael intended to…

He grabbed Michael by both shoulders. “Are you saying you’ll never remember because of me?” he shouted angrily. The selfish man couldn’t force himself to continue to forget. Memories… There were memories that…

“I know that some memories will never be forgotten forever,” Michael said. He grabbed Travis’ hands and pulled away from Travis. The distance suddenly made him cold, and it suddenly felt strangely different. It was as if Michael was telling him he had no right to love the man even from afar. “But to see you like this…” Michael stared at him as a whole and his expression told Travis exactly what the man thought of him, “it’s pitiful.”

Travis took a deep breath to calm his nerves. Then he prepared himself.

“Do you think love is supposed to be something beautiful?” he snapped at Michael. “Is it supposed to make my heart race and my soul soar?” he shouted in anger at the man before him. He didn’t bother to gauge the man’s reaction, because now he wasn’t looking directly at Michael. “Am I supposed to smile and think of better days by merely touching the person I love?” he yelled next. He remembered the words Michael had once used to describe his feelings. While he was uncertain if Michael had ever meant anything he’d said to Travis, he at least knew that the man’s view on love had been entirely different from his. “Is a kiss supposed to stamp their ownership of me in my soul?” Michael didn’t have the time to respond before he shouted, “Love isn’t so beautiful that just a moment with that person feels like our two souls merged into a single shared one!”

“And is it supposed to be so cold and unfeeling?” Michael finally asked him in response. “Is one’s love supposed to feel like you’re drowning in the cold sea, lost and forgotten?” Michael didn’t move where he stood.

Travis gritted his teeth and stopped himself from attacking the man. Yes, he knew that this had been what he was waiting for. He had wanted Michael to stop pursuing him, he had rejected Michael’s bond offer, he had refused to let Michael know how much he’d loved him. Travis had done everything contrary to how he truly felt. What frustrated him, was the fact that it was the Michael, who had known nothing about any of this, telling him to turn away from all of it. It was the Michael who didn’t even remember caring about him telling Travis to free himself from the pain he’d put himself in.

“If someone who remembers nothing becomes ‘General Michael Kahale’, then you will be free of everything that is unresolved with him,” Michael said. What form of logic and rationality was this man running on? To begin with, Travis was the one who remembered it all. It had nothing to do with Michael who couldn’t remember anything. “Because I will not remember anything from our past, no matter what it is you wished had never happened I can grant it. If you wish that I never pursued you, I simply will not pursue you now and you can forget that your general ever did such a thing. If you wish that I never got close to you or showed concern, I can stop myself now before I get any closer. Then you will never have to feel suffocated or uncomfortable that your general cares. If you want it to be as it was before he ever pursed you, I can keep my distance and treat you as someone unimportant in my life.”

Travis was angry and confused, he was hurt and he was oddly touched. The man didn’t understand how much of a contradiction all of this was, at all.

“If I become General Michael Kahale, then your general will cease to exist. He would have died in the sea where you mourned him. I’m simply a man who was him but walked a different path.”

“You’re such… an idiot…” The tears came again, and he felt embarrassed. He didn’t use to cry so easily. This was all Michael’s fault. Everything was his fault. Whether it was now or before the idiot fell into the stupid sea saving him.

“Well, I don’t remember anything so that is a valid assessment of my intelligence,” the man answered honestly.

“Such an idiot…” Travis laughed, the tears still running down his eyes. He sniffed and wiped his nose with the handkerchief that had been stuffed in the pocket of his military uniform’s jacket. “A moron.” He shook his head. “You don’t even have anyone fighting with you tomorrow and you think you’re going to be able to win and do whatever you want? This isn’t some romantic love story from Delphi.”

“I will win,” the man answered honestly. “And I will free you.”

“Shut up, you idiot,” Travis laughed. He wiped the tears with the cuffs of his shirt sleeve. “You don’t get to give ultimatums.” But then Travis remembered why he’d been crying in the first place and why he’d run out into the veranda. “And the only reason you pursued me was because Nico ordered you to marry me so I’ll be your responsibility. It has nothing to do with your feelings at all. You can just turn around and go pursue the woman you’ve forgotten—her name’s Reyna.” Travis didn’t wait for his response, this time he intended to not be followed. He rushed past the man, slipping away when he attempted to grab Travis’ arm.

He rushed into the ballroom, weaved through the large crowd and made sure Michael had lost him in the crowd. He quickly turned and exited the ballroom into the corridor where others who were taking a rest from the ball had also stepped out. He walked in a more leisurely pace and took many turns in a roundabout way to return to his own bedroom. He’d forgotten about his father, but he didn’t bother. He didn’t wish to see anyone.

Chapter Text

Nico sighed. Will had gone off after Travis and now he knew he was supposed to play the supportive role and check in on Michael. He stepped out into the veranda, waving away the palace guards he’d sent to stop anyone from interrupting the two earlier. The guards bowed and quickly moved to return to their stations around the ballroom.

“What did you do this time, Kahale?” Nico asked as he walked to the man standing at the railing. If his tone was any indication, the other man should have known that dealing with his romantic situation was not at all part of his priorities.

“I told him he’ll be free when I win tomorrow,” Michael answered. There were no signs that Michael had caught on, or that Nico had been trying to subtly tell him to not do something stupid like this at such a crucial time. It seemed that communication of exacting phrases was something Nico was going to have to get used to, seeing as no one could read the atmosphere.

Michael sighed loudly and turned his head upwards to look at the night sky. “I heard you like to call the Prince-Consort your sky.”

“He is.” Nico moved and leaned his back on the short railing. He gave up anyone satisfying his desires this night. Instead, he relented in playing the role he was expected as more-friend-than-prince. He bumped his shoulder to Michael’s shoulder but the man still stared at the night sky. He laughed.

“What is it?” Michael asked, still staring up. “You think it’s funny to make one’s love cry?”

“Oh, so now you know you love him?” laughed Nico. Travis and Michael had quite an amusing love affair, some days Nico wished he didn’t have to resolve it so he could continue watching.

“He’s the only one I’m comfortable around. I’m not afraid of him. I trust him. I look for him when he’s not around. I worry. I know when he’s watching me…” The man’s list went on, as Nico had heard similar observations throughout the last few weeks as they’ve spoken to each other. He often made side comments about Travis, not realizing how genuine his concern for the man was—perhaps, until much more recently. Nico had always been careful about how subtle he could point out Michael’s obvious fixation on Travis Stoll.

Michael sighed again. Nico chuckled. So, even amnesic Michael knew exactly the cause of those symptoms. Slow but at least not late. It was good Michael hadn’t done anything irreparable.

“And I know he loves…” Michael’s lips pursed and he looked down. His hands turned into fists where they were on the railing.

“He loves…?”

“He loves General Michael Kahale.”

“Hm.”

“But I’m… I’m not him.”

“So, you’re going to win tomorrow and become him,” Nico surmised.

“I know I’m not the same person,” Michael admitted. “If I take that role he’ll be able to let him go. Then maybe he’ll forget, and I…”

Nico stopped him from finishing his sentence. “I don’t really need to know the exact details of your heart torn romance,” he told Michael honestly. He hadn’t been one for heart-to-hearts except with Will, and in all honesty Nico still found it a little difficult. He appreciated how much trust and faith his partner had in him.

“Right, sorry. I’m just…” Michael paused again. “I’m trying to finish what he—I started.”

“I’m quite sure you’re undoing not finishing,” Nico commented. Michael didn’t reply. There really wasn’t any reason for Nico to be interested in helping Michael’s love life or how he wanted to ruin it. However, Nico had a very strong impression that Will was going to threaten him—for the fifth time that night—with a cold empty bed for the rest of his natural life.

“You mean he would have forced Travis to marry him?” asked Michael in bewilderment. Well, it was a comfort to know that in the least the man wasn’t one for forcefulness and abusing his partner. That was something completely ingrained into Michael’s very bones it would seem.

“Before you died, you were not in the middle of trying to get Travis to marry you.” His reply was roundabout but he couldn’t quite help that. For some reason, he felt like if he was the one who told Michael “bond” that he would be making things a lot less easy for the current him to figure out.

Even if Nico didn’t quite enjoy Travis, which heavily extended from his immense distaste of the Con-man, the Stolls were people his consort was deeply rooted to. He couldn’t, by honor, just let someone who was uncertain of their love be the one to form a pair with him. Marriage had been one thing, but when Michael had wanted to bond with Travis that had required Nico’s strict assessment of the man’s true character. Michael’s loss of memories played an unexpected but helpful part in that assessment.

“Then what were we?” Michael’s frustrated question burst forward into the night. “I’ve been trying not to wonder or to ask but it’s clawing at me, Prince Nico.” Michael clutched at his chest, where his heart was. “Some days, when I’m in a daze I find my feet leading me straight to where he is. I stop myself and turn around or try my best not to be seen. I don’t know if I can even confess my feelings!” Michael shouted into the dark. “He obviously cares about me, but everyone’s told me that I had been refused. All the rumors…” Michael stopped himself and took a deep breath. “The man works himself to exhaustion. I can’t stand to see him overwork himself just so he won’t have nightmares!”

 “What do you mean nightmares?” This was the first Nico had heard of it.

“You recall I spent my recovery period in the man’s chambers,” Michael reminded Nico. He scoffed then, “Of course I would have been there when he was sleeping. He didn’t sleep very much.”

“So how do you know he gets nightmares?”

“A few times he’s held me to sleep and fell asleep himself. Most of the time he’s sleeping just fine but he holds on to me like as if he’s afraid I will disappear.”

Nico tried not to laugh. The man only knew he’d been lost at sea and people thought he died. He hadn’t known that he’d saved three people by jumping off a flying pirate ship and plummeting into the middle of the ocean with no prospects of surviving.

“You know something,” Michael glared at Nico’s amused expression.

“I didn’t think you were interested in your history,” Nico shrugged nonchalantly.

Michael grabbed the collar of his formal jacket. He pulled in close and growled. Nico wasn’t the bit intimidated.

“We watched you fall into the middle of the sea—you didn’t just drown.” He kept his voice leveled and indifferent. He didn’t give Michael all the details. “He watched you, the man he loves, fall so far down he couldn’t even see where you crashed into the water.”

“That’s why he has nightmares.”

“Possibly.” One of the most frightening ways to die was by drowning or being lost at sea. No burials, no mourning mounts… nothing. Without a doubt, Travis would have nightmares. There was nothing and nowhere he could have done or gone to mourn Michael. Nowhere but his memories, and for someone who loved as deeply and faithfully as Travis that was worse than torture or death.

Michael pulled away from Nico again. Another sigh escaped him. Nico stared up at the night sky this time to ignore the melancholy exuding from the amnesic, love-struck man next to him.

“Sometimes he’s restless, he cries and shouts…” Michael grumbled to himself. “I can’t stand watching him like that.”

“Michael,” Nico called out to the man next to him. Michael turned his head to look at Nico. He asked in an even tone, “Are you… still sleeping in his room?” That hadn’t been something he’d been told about.

“My room is next to his,” Michael said in as much of an even tone. Then he turned away and guiltily added, “It’s not very hard to jump a balcony or to climb through a window.”

“Ah, it must be very easy to unlock a window too,” Nico added. He turned his head to face Michael who had turned to him with a guilty smile. Nico’s hand shot out and he grabbed Michael by his jaw. His controlled himself from crushing Michael’s jaw, because he knew the man was allowing him to easily threaten him. “I’m looking forward to your report on all the faulty locks throughout the palace. Catalogued, of course, first by floor, locks, rooms, and then parts.”

“When would you like them by, your highness?”

“Seeing as you’ve a match tomorrow afternoon, I’m looking forward to it in the morning,” Nico smiled. He released Michael’s jaw and took a breath to calm himself. This was not the time for his anger. “Now, explain to me how you think it makes sense to make the man stop seeing you as the man he’s in love with?” Nico moved the conversation along. All the side topics were giving him an extra headache he didn’t currently need.

“Because I am not the man he’s in love with.”

Nico’s eyes went upwards toward the sky. Heavens save him from idiotic masculine men who believed they knew what was best for their loved ones. Even Nico realized he was at fault for the same actions when it came to Will, but he would at least ask for his consort’s input first. Except it came to someone threatening Will’s life.

“But you love him?”

Michael didn’t respond even though they had already established this fact earlier.

“How is it that you can love a man and not believe in his love for you?” Nico asked in exhaustion. That seemed to be the problem Travis—and now Michael—was dealing with. He couldn’t quite understand it really. It wasn’t like they had any time in their line of work to be playing with people’s hearts. Well, except Travis who found trouble just about anywhere he spent more than ten minutes.

The admission had been one Nico guessed. Very timidly Michael grumbled, “I can’t be certain he loves me as I am now and not who I was then.”

This time Nico sighed audibly to give himself the strength to preserve. Then he asked, “What makes you think you’re any different?”

“Everyone treats me differently.”

“Just because you’re not the same as you were doesn’t mean you’re different.” How was he stuck with explaining such a simple logic? Well, now that he thought about it he was starting to sound a lot like all those old men sitting on their thrones in their palaces. They often like to say things in a cryptic way or in a way that made no sense.

As Michael didn’t respond he found the opportunity to explain. “You don’t remember, but I wasn’t always this tall.”

“Well, no one was ever as tall as they were in their youth,” Michael said. His expression seemed to question Nico’s intelligence and his sanity all at the same time.

Nico gave another prayer to the heavens to save him from idiotic masculine men—which he now realized the description included him.

“Will and I were separated for four years, if you recall.” Michael nodded in answer. He had been told the story somewhere or other which saved Nico from recounting the events. “When we did encounter each other, I looked nothing like how I did when we parted. We’d only met each other once before I’d gone.” Michael nodded to show he was following the story. “I wasn’t the same me that he knew of his past. Yet, why do you think that he still recognized me when we met even though I looked nothing like how I did and introduced myself as someone else?”

“You’re going to tell me it’s because of love?” Michael said with a bored expression.

Nico flicked Michael’s forehead. “Only naïve little girls believe in those love stories sung on the streets of Delphi.” Michael made an expression he was frustrated with Nico’s long story that didn’t seem to draw to the point fast enough. Further confirmation he’d definitely become one of those old men sitting on those dusty old thrones. “Despite all the odds, he remained unbiased and he had faith.”

“Unbiased?”

“Do you think Travis looks at you and continues to think about you as the same person you were when you fell into the ocean?” asked Nico finally. “Or, do you perhaps not hope that despite all the lost memories he looks at you and still loves you?” Now that was the real question. Nico could see the devastation in Michael’s eyes when he asked the question, but at the same time a small glimmer of hope. The man secretly wished Travis would profess his love to him, the him standing here now who remembered nothing.

“You know…” was the only response Michael had for him.

Nico let himself laugh this time. “I know. You told me yourself the reason you went on your last mission with Rome was so you could find Travis.”

“What does that have to do with this?”

“You loved him then, and despite having lost your memories you still love him,” Nico said. He couldn’t believe he had to actually say the words for Michael to finally have clarity. “If Travis looks at you without bias, then you can be certain he loved you then and he still loves you now.” He could see the first question rising. The first thing the man wanted to say was that he had no memories at all. “As much as your loss memories are a reason for this stupid decision of yours, it’s as much a reason for his stupid decision—which before you spend the next five minutes finding a way to ask me, is the decision to allow you to be free from all your responsibilities here. It hadn’t been your intentions to become my army general in the first place.” Nico sighed, he hadn’t spoken this much in such a long breath in a while. One of these days those two were going to regret giving Nico such a headache.

“I still would rather free him of me, I’m not someone who can make him happy,” Michael mumbled. Somehow he still gave up on hope after being confident and certain of his and Travis’ feelings.

“Then let us return to why Travis is so angry. There much be more reason than just the old news of you two not trying to be in love with each other.” Nico tried not to yawn but it still escaped. He was getting tired of all the pleasantries and if anything, he would much rather move this to his office. Michael turned around finally and seemed fixated on finding someone in the crowd. It couldn’t have been Travis, as the man left the ball immediately after exiting the veranda.

“I met a woman earlier,” Michael admitted finally. He didn’t sound guilty but Nico was certain any man of Michael’s features had never truly dealt with their lover’s jealousy. “She said I had forgotten her.”

“I’m sure you’ve met a hundred women and men claiming to be your forgotten lover,” Nico assured him. It was old news. Nico had dealt with quite a few of those people early on, which resulted in more people believing in