A/N: Because the first thing I thought of when Anubis kissed Sadie was, hmm, she might have a thing for another (demi) death god. Also, I own nothing. Both The Kane Chronicles and Percy Jackson and the Olympians belong to Rick Riordan. All I do is write out my headcanon.
Note, as of May 2012: No longer canon-compliant, as this was written before The Serpent's Shadow. :)
All this automatic writing I have tried to understand
From a psychedelic angel who was tugging on my hand
It's an infinite coincidence but it doesn't form a plan
If The Brakeman Turns My Way, Bright Eyes
All Sadie sees of him at first is a flash of black.
In her defense, she's a little too busy dodging the tail of some godforsaken mutant animal to pay much attention to random passerby on the street. Not that anyone's doing much passing by at the moment, what with the giant lion-scorpion thing literally shooting daggers at them in the middle of Union Square. It's an awful mess, and her pack of chocolate caramels (the only reason she's outside in the first place) is squashed on the pavement, trampled by a fleeing group of tourists. She is so not in the mood for this.
She leaps to one side, about to lift her staff, when a figure charges out of the gawking crowd, a long black sword in hand. Sadie bites back a curse as she races after him, this idiotic kid who thinks he can play hero and go after some wild travesty of a genetic engineering experiment with a toy.
"What the hell are you doing?" she shouts, as she lunges to pull him back. He's too fast for her, though, and is already attempting to stab at the thing's tail.
"Saving your ass, mortal," he says, without even looking over his shoulder, and she's offended. First of all, she was doing quite well on her own before he came along. Second, mortal? What the hell does that even mean?
Sadie doesn't have much time to think on it before he shoves her to the ground.
"Oi!" She shouts, sitting up before having to dive back down to dodge another volley of spikes. He doesn't bother to respond, jabbing his sword at the monster instead. Sadie watches in some fascination as he moves around it, evading its tail and spikes with grace and ease and slashing at it with equal skill. Maybe he's a fencer or something. Still, no matter how well he wields it, that toy of his isn't exactly going to do anything, and so she gets to her feet, preparing to end this ridiculous situation once and for all her favourite way — with a well-placed ha-di.
But the stranger beats her to it, his sword finally making contact with the creature's leg. Sadie might be hallucinating — this whole afternoon seems like some strange, grief-induced nightmare — but she could swear that the monster's form is wavering, fading, disappearing altogether, as if it's being sucked in by the blade. Which is ridiculous, yeah, but then again, she's Sadie Kane. It's not as if a sword that can swallow things whole would be particularly out of the norm for her.
Her eyes move from the sword to the boy holding it. That's when she really sees him. And recognizes him: the mop of shaggy black hair, the pale skin, the black jacket and matching ripped jeans — and though she can't see his face, the stupid, heart-stopping brown eyes.
"What the hell are you doing here? I told you not to talk to me!"
"Di immortales," he says, only just now turning to face her, his free hand sweeping his hair from his eyes. "A little gratitude would be nice."
The tension in her chest loosens a little when she sees his face clearly. He's not Anubis, although the two of them look so alike they could be cousins, or even brothers. The same height and build, the same sort of long-ish hair, the same angsty-emo fashion sense, the same pale, almost regal facial features. The main difference is that Anubis never had the confident, self-assured smirk this guy did.
"And as I already told you, mortal," he continues, unaware of her relief, "I was saving your ass."
Her temper flares up again at his words. It's the one thing she's never been fully able to control, even after years of hearing about the importance of patience and control in magic. "Stop calling me that!"
"What, mortal?" He raises an eyebrow at her, cool and a little mocking, and she wants to smack him. "That's what you are, as I don't think any half-blood would be moronic enough to wander around Frisco now — unless —" The blood drains from his face suddenly, although really he's already so pale it's not very noticeable. "Oh, gods, don't tell me you haven't been claimed yet. But you've got to be older than thirteen —"
"I'm sixteen, thanks," she says, although she has no idea what the hell he's on about. He continues talking to himself, though, mumbling words like Mist and Rachel and mortal, and Sadie suddenly remembers that they aren't alone. The people around them are just coming out of shock, rubbing their eyes and staring at them, and before long, they'll be calling 911 if they haven't already. She looks around nervously, searching her brain to come up with some kind of cover story. A strange hybrid animal escaped from the zoo sounds promising, until she glances at the floor and realizes that she's without any strange hybrid animal to show.
"If you could take a break from muttering to yourself, psycho," she whirls back to face him, "We've got about a minute before you have to explain to the police why you're carrying a lethal weapon."
He glances up at her, wide-eyed, then to his sword, before he grabs her hand and runs, and the world fades to black.
When Sadie can see again, she's standing in the parking lot of a Denny's, feeling like she's just gotten off a rollercoaster, her hand still in the stranger's. He drops it, quickly, but not before she realizes that it's freezing cold.
"What did you do, carry a block of ice all the way here?"
That's when it hits her. She's pretty sure her mouth is open as she turns to face him. "Did you open a portal?"
He looks confused, his brow furrowed and his mouth turned down. (It's kind of adorable, actually, not that she'd admit it.) "A portal?"
"Yeah, a portal. You open it, step into it, use it to travel, you know…" His eyebrows draw closer together. "Oh. You don't know."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," he says, stuffing his hands in his pockets. A corner of his mouth quirks up. "I'm beginning to think you're crazy, actually."
"I'm crazy?" She crosses her arms, going into what Carter calls her shouting-match-stance. "You're the one who was running around San Francisco with a sword!"
"Like you were any better, with that stick —"
"For your information, it's a staff!"
He raises an eyebrow at her. "So you are a demigod. Daughter of Hecate?"
She's definitely sure he's crazy now. "Daughter of who?"
"Hecate," he repeats, both of his eyebrows now raised. "Goddess of witchcraft and magic. She's your mother. Right?"
She laughs. Is he on something? "Um, no. My mom's name was Ruby. And she definitely wasn't the goddess of witchcraft or whatever."
He doesn't say anything for a while, instead regarding her with an intensely thoughtful look. She squirms a little.
"That staff," he says, finally. "Where did you get it?"
"None of your business," she shoots back.
He sighs, rolls his eyes. She glares at him. "At least tell me what you were going to do with it before I came."
Sadie hesitates for a bit. Her magic powers aren't exactly the kind of thing she's supposed to be telling strangers about, unless she wants to end up being dragged to some institution. But then again, this guy's clearly got problems of his own. "I was planning to blast that mutant animal thing into a million pieces —"
"Manticore," he says.
"That mutant animal thing." He says it in a high falsetto that makes her want to smack him again. "It's a manticore."
She stares at him.
"You really don't know what I'm talking about?" He has the nerve to sound surprised.
"That's what I've been telling you for the past five minutes, yeah."
Another minute of silence and that uncomfortable stare. Finally he sighs, glances at the quickly-darkening sky, and jerks his head toward the restaurant. "Come on, let's eat. We've got a lot to talk about. My treat."
Sadie can't believe her ears when he tells her. Some days she thinks that the past four years didn't actually happen, and that she dreamed all of it up, hosting Isis and learning magic and battling Apophis. The existence of the ancient Egyptian gods is hard enough to swallow, and now this guy's throwing in Greek and Roman ones?
"So let me get this straight," she says, pointing the straw of her milkshake at him, "Your parents are gods?"
"My dad is," he replies, "but my mom was a mortal."
"She died. A long time ago." Sadie recognizes the look on his face well enough – God knows she's worn it often enough, especially lately – and changes the topic, running a finger across the amulet she wears around her neck.
"Who's your dad, then?" She looks over his outfit again. "The god of emo?"
He laughs. "Close enough. He's the god of death."
"You're joking." As if the similarities weren't already completely ridiculous.
"S'not exactly a joking matter," he says, but he's smiling a little. "Nico di Angelo, son of Hades, at your service."
"What is it with you death gods and black?"
He– Nico – cocks an eyebrow. "I'm not a death god, just the son of one. And I wasn't aware you knew any."
She looks down at her plate, plays with her fries a little. "I might have met your dad's Egyptian counterpart."
"Anubis? The dog?"
"He's a jackal. And only when he wants to be. Most of the time he looks like…" She can feel her cheeks burning. "He looks like you, actually."
Both his eyebrows are up now.
"You have the same hair and build and you dress the same and stuff," she spills out in a rush. "I thought you were him at first."
"That explains a lot." He's smirking. "Is that why you told me to stay the hell away from you? Did you have a fight with the god of death?"
She refuses to look at him, but she can just feel his smirk growing bigger. "He deserved it, alright – "
"And you're still alive!" Oh, he's on a roll now. "Seriously, what kind of gods do you guys have? My dad strikes people down if they so much as look at him wrong! Although honestly he's not that bad, not compared to Zeus – "
Thunder rumbles outside. Nico snorts. "Yeah, yeah," he says, glancing out the window to the heavens. "You just proved my point."
Maybe he is actually crazy. "Um, what?"
His eyes return to hers. "Zeus doesn't like it when you say anything bad about him."
"So he can hear us?"
"He's Zeus," he says, shrugging, as if that explained everything.
"Um, okay," Sadie says, and makes a mental note not to offend Zeus – unless he did anything to piss her off, of course. "So what, does he strike you down with lightning if you insult him?"
"I suppose he could," Nico muses, drumming his fingers against the side of his glass. The skull ring on his finger flashes silver as it catches the overhead light. "Although I've never heard of it actually happening to anyone who wasn't a monster or a Titan or anything – he did turn his daughter into a pine tree, though."
"He turned his daughter into a tree?"
"Yeah, Thalia," he says, as if that kind of thing was normal. She supposes it must be for him – hell, she's experienced things just as strange in the past couple of years. "She sacrificed herself to save some other kids, you see, and he decided to save her from dying."
Sadie blinks. "And getting turned into a pine tree is somehow better?"
"Trust me, it's a lot easier to turn someone back from a tree than to make them un-dead," he says, and it's in the same matter-of-fact, well-duh tone as before. He grimaces a little. "Especially when the rescuee is the daughter of Zeus."
"Why? Aren't Zeus and Hades brothers?"
He laughs. "You don't know much about Greek myth, do you?"
She glares at him. "And I suppose you're a scholar on Egyptian?"
"Touché." He holds up his hands in mock surrender. "My dad and Zeus don't exactly get along."
"Ah." They had something in common with Egyptian gods, then. "But Thalia eventually became human again, right?"
"After a couple of years, yeah, but she was a bit off. Like, being a tree slowed her aging. She was younger than she should have been." He gives her a wry smile."And she wasn't happy about it, believe me."
"You knew her?" She thought he was just telling her some old Greek myth.
"Yup." He steals a fry from her plate and pops it into his mouth. She doesn't stop him. "When we first met, she actually saved me from a manticore like the one we ran into earlier. Dr. Thorn." He shudders a little. "He still gives me nightmares."
"Sounds like a story," she says, laughing. "Was he as nasty as the one back there?"
"Worse." A grin flashes on his face, and her minds blanks for a moment. He might not be the best-looking guy she's ever seen, but he's pretty damn close. She's only human, after all, and a sixteen-year-old girl at that. Plus she's always had a thing for death gods. (Or, you know, sons of death gods.)
It looks like he's about to elaborate when he stiffens. Sadie's a little surprised to find herself suddenly just as tense for no reason at all, the hair at the back of her neck prickling like it does whenever she's in a fight.
"Sadie," he says, his voice low and urgent, his hand gripping her wrist, "Someone just walked in. Describe them to me."
Bewildered and more than a little freaked out (not that she'd ever admit it), she looks over his shoulder to the door, where indeed two very pretty girls are standing, looking around, cheeks red from the cold.
She snorts, relieved and annoyed at the same time. "I am not helping you ogle, di Angelo."
"I don't want you to help me ogle," he hisses, although a flush creeps up his neck. "I don't want to ogle, period. Those are empousa."
"They're monsters," he tells her, his fingers tightening on her wrist.
Sadie glances at the girls before turning back to Nico doubtfully. "No way."
"They're just not in their true form," he says, "Which is a good thing, because it's horrible."
"Uh-huh," she says, looking at them again. They're being led to a table by a clearly flustered waiter. "Well, it doesn't look like they'll be turning into their true form or whatever any time soon. They're going to eat, like, you know, people."
"You don't believe me," he says, an eyebrow raised.
"I'm pretty sure you're winding me up, yeah," she tells him. "Like I'm going to believe that those two are monsters?"
"How do you know they are if they aren't in their true form?" She mimics his facial expression, lifting her eyebrow. She can see why he likes doing it so much.
"Let's just say I've ran into enough of them to last for a lifetime." He grimaces.
"Like it's such torture to be hounded by pretty girls," she mocks, not entirely sure of why she's doing this to him. He's obviously in earnest. But she still can't help the words from rising to her tongue.
He rolls his eyes, and she's half-relieved, half-irritated that he's brushing her stupid, unwarranted nastiness aside. "Let's get out of here," he says, standing up, throwing a couple of bills onto the table and shrugging on his aviator's jacket. "Before they figure out we're here."
"How are they going to do that?" she asks, following him to the door farther from where the two girls — monsters, whatever — are seated.
"They can smell us Greek half-bloods." He casts a glance at her over his shoulder. "Not so sure about Egyptian whatever-you-ares —"
"Egyptian magicians," he repeats dutifully, continuing, "But they'll sniff me out, if they haven't already." With this he moves just the slightest bit faster, although he hadn't seemed much in a rush before.
"So what now?" she asks, as they step out into the late afternoon air. "Do we just go back to San Francisco? Are we even out of San Francisco?"
"We're near its airport," he tells her, glancing around the parking lot. "But believe me, it's about the last place you want to be right now. Or ever, if the same rules apply to Egyptian magicians."
"Why? What's wrong with Frisco?"
"It's a little too close to Mount Othrys," he says. "The Mountain of Despair, home of Titans and monsters galore. Not to mention the Romans."
"Aren't you guys sort-of siblings?"
"There's a reason they tried to keep us from running into each other after the Civil War," he says wryly. "Although I suppose we're on a lot better terms than we would've been, thanks to that bit of trouble last year."
"Long story," he adds in response to her questioning look, but he doesn't seem very reluctant to share. But before he can say anything else, the two girls from earlier step outside.
"See, I told you, Ashley," says one to the other, her eyes raking over Nico's form. Sadie stiffens. "Yummy."
"Very," her friend says, winking at him as they walk (really, Sadie thinks, stalk) towards them. "What's your name, gorgeous?"
"Um," Nico stammers, that flush flooding his cheeks again. He looks utterly helpless.
"Oh, for god's sake," Sadie mutters under her breath, grabbing his arm and pulling him towards her, ignoring the tingles running up and down her arm. "Sorry," she says to them, forcing a sweet smile on her face, "He's taken."
"By you?" Ashley asks, her nose wrinkled as she gives her a dismissive once-over. Bitch. "Please. Listen, gorgeous, why don't you ditch her and come with Mandy and me instead?"
"We'll make it worth your while," Mandy says, with another over-the-top wink. Sadie feels like gagging. "Come on, Nico. Give us a kiss."
Nico, who Sadie thought would've been on red alert by now — um, hello, two obviously psycho strangers somehow knowing his name? — looks stupefied. The two girls are walking faster and faster now, and Sadie forces down the urge to run.
"Nico," she whispers. "Pull it together."
He stares her dazedly. "What —"
"Monsters, remember?" She shakes his arm a little. "Empoosoo, or whatever you call them —"
"Empousa," Ashley and Mandy growl at her together, and is it just her, or are their eyes turning red? She blinks and decides that it's not her imagination, because as crazy as it can get, it's nowhere near crazy enough to make up two girls suddenly having both a metal and a donkey leg.
"Just one kiss, Nico," Mandy purrs again, her lips pouting in a way that Sadie supposes would be seductive if, you know, her fangs weren't protruding from them.
"Snap out of it before I make you snap out of it, di Angelo," she hisses at him, yanking his arm.
This seems to get through his stupid thick skull —threats of violence have always served her well in the past, and this is no exception — because his eyes suddenly widen.
"Shit," he says, staring at the rapidly-nearing empousa. The sight of them hobbling, dragging their metal leg behind their hairy, hoofed one, is simultaneously hilarious and horrifying. Nico's hand finds her wrist. He spins around and sprints away, dragging her back into that shadowy tunnel where they run so fast that Sadie thinks her skin's going to peel off. Both of them are laughing.
Sadie's still laughing as they emerge from the tunnel. "That's the most fun I've ever had travelling," she says, flopping to the ground.
Nico follows suit (although with much more grace, she thinks, eyes following his form). "You're insane," he says. "If you think that is fun."
"Really?" She doesn't give him time to respond before asking, "What is that, exactly?"
"Shadow travel," he says. "Also known as, I'm told, the Rollercoaster Ride From Hades." He pauses, brow furrowing a little. "Which is actually sort of true, come to think of it. It's an… inherited ability."
"And you don't like it?"
"I'd like it a lot more if it didn't make me want to curl up and sleep for a year every time I do it," he tells her, closing his eyes, and she realizes how dark the bags under them are. "The first time I tried it, I was out for a week."
"Wimp," she scoffs.
He smiles, his eyes still closed. "Hey, you try it. Bet you'd be out for two weeks."
"Would if I could," she sighs. "But we non-children of Hades have to rely on more primitive methods of travel."
"Guess it does beat calling a cab." He yawns and links his hands behind his neck. "What about the portals you were talking about earlier, though?"
Sadie snorts. "Bloody useless. First you need to find one— and that's not very easy, let me tell you — then you need to wait for the right time to open it, and then the thing still needs to cool down before you can use it again. I'd rather take the cab."
Here she expects Nico to laugh, or at least comment, but there's no response. A glance at his stretched-out form finds him sound asleep.
"Speaking of bloody useless," she mutters, but her heart's not in it. She sweeps his hair away from his eyes — seriously, when's the last time he's had a haircut? —settles on her back, and watches the clouds drift in the sky, playing with the shen symbol resting on her chest.
Sadie wakes up to the very unpleasant feeling of being poked in the side.
"Go away, Carter," she mumbles, curling into a ball.
He laughs. "I'm hurt. A few hours of sleep and already you can't remember my name?"
She opens her eyes slowly, groaning as the black-clad figure leaning over her comes into focus. Nico is smirking at her, his finger relentlessly still prodding her ribs. She slaps it away.
"Good morning, sleepyhead."
"Says the bloke who conked out in two seconds," she retorts, sitting up slowly and rubbing her eyes. Despite his greeting, it's not actually morning — the stars are out and she can see a tiny sliver of the moon. "What time is it?"
"A little past eight," he says. "Come on, we'd better get moving." He offers his hand to help her up. She ignores it.
"Wait, who said we were going anywhere?"
He rolls his eyes. "We can't stay in San Francisco —"
"Maybe you can't, but I don't smell like half-Greek god —"
"No, but I'm betting you reek of magic, which might be just as bad," he cuts in, raising an eyebrow at her.
She glares at him. "You can't tell me where to go. I like San Francisco, I'm going back there, monsters with weird-ass smelling powers or not."
"It's dangerous, Sadie —"
Oh, bad move. If there's one thing she hates, it's being told something is dangerous. (Makes it all the more interesting, right?)
"I can take care of myself, Nico," she says, crossing her arms. "I don't need you to play the knight in shining armor, thank you very much."
He runs a hand through his hair. "I don't want to play the knight in shining armor, idiot. In fact, normally I'd be perfectly happy to let you go to San Francisco and fend for yourself — don't look at me like that, I'm not being sarcastic!"
She just looks at him, channeling Carter at his most-disbelieving-and-exasperated-with-Sadie because she figures this is what he feels like. (Although she doesn't think she could ever be as irritating as Nico is right now...right?)
"No, really, if there was any girl stupidly stubborn enough to actually want to stay in San Francisco and survive to say I told you so, it would be you."
She can't decide whether to be offended or oddly touched.
"Well, Annabeth, too," he muses, she supposes to himself because she has no idea who he's talking about. "But she's already done it, and she's not stupid so —"
Offended it is, then.
"Better quit while you're ahead, di Angelo," she says, quite pleasantly, if she does say so herself. He shuts up immediately, backing up a bit. Sadie supposes it's the completely not non-threatening grin she feels creeping onto her face.
He clears his throat. "Anyway, my point is —"
"Sorry, there was a point somewhere in that partly-incoherent, mostly-insulting mumbling you had going on earlier?"
The boy can glare. Must be all the Hades in him. "Maybe I should let you go to San Francisco."
"Like I need your permission," she scoffs.
He sighs. "Look, you can go some other day, alright? Just… not tomorrow. Please."
"Why? What's happening tomorrow?"
He lets his hands drop to his sides, his gaze following them. "It's the Winter Solstice. Kind of like the Ancient Greek version of Halloween. Evil's at its strongest — there'll be monsters everywhere —and Frisco's going to be especially bad. Even the Romans keep to their camp."
It's still a bit thin, if you ask her. The Winter Solstice variety of monsters can't be much worse than the day-before-Winter-Solstice variety of monsters, and she can handle those, even if they are mutant animals or ridiculous-looking half-horse girls. But —
Maybe it's that she doesn't really feel like fighting more monsters. Or maybe (and, okay, this is the more likely reason) it's how tired and vulnerable he suddenly looks, fiddling with his ring and not meeting her eye, his hair sticking up and the shadows under his eyes a sharp contrast to his pale skin. She caves in; sighs, tucks her hair behind her ear. "Fine. I'll take a portal somewhere else then. Or a cab. Whichever's faster."
Nico's answering grin is quick and startlingly bright. And her mood swings are supposed to be bad? "Or you could shadow travel. With me."
She ignores the slight tingle that runs up her spine at his words, instead asking, "Where are you headed?" like she hasn't already decided, at the first sight of that smile, to go with him, even if it's to Antarctica or the Underworld or the restaurant at the end of the universe. It wouldn't matter, not really (not if she's with him, but that's something she voices only in the corner of her mind).
"New York," he says, and she stiffens, thinking of the big limestone mansion in the middle of it. Thankfully he doesn't seem to notice her reaction, continuing, "The Empire State Building, actually. All the gods are in town for the solstice, and they want the head counselors to go too."
Manhattan, not Brooklyn, she thinks, resisting the urge to sigh in relief. "Counselors? Like, for summer camp?"
"Camp Half-Blood. And it runs all-year round."
"A boot camp for demigods?" she asks, laughing.
"Yeah, sort of."
"And you're a head counselor?"
"Of the Hades cabin, for his children," he smiles, "which is basically me."
"You mean you're an only child?"
His smile fades quickly, and Sadie immediately wishes she could take the words back. She's about to apologize, change the subject, when he says, quietly, "I didn't use to be."
It's the look on his face that breaks her heart. Because she knows it. God, she knows it. If she hasn't actually seen it before — that's only because she didn't go near mirrors after Walt died.
"Nico —" She's not sure what to say. Sorry's trite and stupid and possibly the word she hates most in the entire world. She's heard enough sorrys to last her a lifetime.
"Bianca," he says, raising his eyes to meet hers, saving her from saying anything. "It was years ago, in a quest. Her death anniversary was yesterday."
Sadie can't stop the jump of her hand to the amulet around her neck. "December 19?"
He nods, and she lets out a shaky breath. "Yeah, that date doesn't hold the greatest connotations for me either."
His eyes follow her fingers, half-tangled with the chain, tugging at the symbol of eternity. "Boyfriend?"
"For two years." She's not sure why she's telling him this. But he's there, and his eyes are the softest she's ever seen, and she just knows that he gets it, more than Carter or Anubis or anyone ever did. "He died last year. Tutankhamen's curse."
Nico's brow furrows a little. (Alright, worst possible time to think it, but… it's still as adorable as it was earlier.)
So she pulls him down with her as she sits back on the grass, wrapping her arms around her knees. And they talk about what feels like everything for what feels like hours — he tells her about being trapped in the Lotus Casino and his sister's death and about how he felt so alone for so long. How sometimes he still feels alone, even after building Hades' cabin at Camp Half-Blood and having friends he knows genuinely care for him. Sadie tells him about Anubis and Carter, about Walt and how he was her complete opposite but how she loved him all the more for it; shows him her shen amulet, tells him about his promise not to leave her, about how he left her anyway. About the bracelet he gave her when they got together and the way he made her a new charm for it every month, about how she flung it into the Hudson River the day he died and nearly drowned herself trying to get it back.
And finally, when she's completely spent, her throat and her cheeks finally dry, he tangles his fingers with hers and tugs her forward again, until she's running and running and running, her hand warm inside his, and she never wants to stop.
They come out in Brooklyn, right across the street from the abandoned warehouse she knows so well. Sadie stares up at it, remembering sitting with Carter and Walt on the terrace by the pool, all those sleepless nights of those last two weeks when they all knew what was coming.
"Your brother's probably worried about you," Nico says, because now he knows that she ran away three weeks ago, making a pilgrimage of sorts through all the cities she and Walt had visited. (He was into museums and architecture and history, all the classy cultural things he and Carter both liked; she was more interested in the local music scene and wandering around the streets aimlessly — San Francisco had been their favourite city by far.)
"Carter's smart," she tells him, feeling something kindle in her again. "He knows I can take care of myself."
"Doesn't stop him from worrying."
Sadie takes her gaze off the building to look at him. His hands are in his pockets, his shoulders hunched up against the cold.
"You'd better go in," he says, giving her a wry smile. "Before you catch your death."
She laughs. "I have connections with death gods," she says. "From two different worlds. I think I'm safe."
"Not so different." His hand escapes his pocket and hovers awkwardly by her cheek. She can practically feel his fingertips brushing against her skin.
But Nico's a bit of a wimp — like most boys, she's come to find — and he drops his hand, making a slapping sound against his jeans. Sadie rolls her eyes (discreetly, of course) and decides to punish him a little.
"Right, I guess I'll be going now," she says, as cheerfully as she can, starting to turn back to the house. "It was nice meeting you, Nico."
He looks vaguely panicked now, his eyes wide and his hand outstretched towards her again.
"Thanks for the ride back," she continues, starting to walk forward. "Have a happy Christmas!"
She keeps on going on, resisting the temptation to look back as she moves farther away from him. Just when she starts to think that Nico's a bigger wimp than she thought, his hand is around her wrist, tugging her around to face him.
Sadie looks at him expectantly. He's spinning his skull ring around his finger, determinedly avoiding her eyes. "Do you think you could save the happy holiday wishes until it's closer to Christmas?"
He flushes. "It's just, Thalia — Zeus' daughter, the one who got turned into a tree —we're throwing her a birthday party the day after tomorrow, and — and maybe you'd like to come along?" He dares a quick glance up at her. "I mean, your brother can come too, if he wants, Annabeth will probably want to hear all about your gods and stuff — it's just in Percy's apartment in Manhattan, so it's not far — I can shadow travel you guys or you can take a cab, whichever you want —"
She kisses his cheek, and he trails off, eyes wide as he stares at her. "I'd love to go," she says. (She can't remember the last time she's smiled like this.)
"Oh," he says, before breaking out into a grin that she supposes matches hers. "Good — great! That's — that's really awesome —"
She cuts him off before he starts reciting a litany of adjectives, scribbling her cellphone number on his hand and telling him to call her about the details. Nico smiles again — really, it's much too bright for someone who wears so much black — and actually touches her cheek this time (she resists the urge to say, that wasn't too hard now, was it?).
Then he's gone, in a flash of black.
Nico picks her up at Brooklyn House two days after. They take a cab — he'll collapse if he has to shadow travel one more time, he tells her — and their knees bump every time they turn a corner. His friends all greet her warmly, especially Percy, who shoots Nico an you-so-owe-me glare before he hands her a familiar bronze bracelet with twenty-two multi-coloured charms dangling from it. She's cornered by Annabeth in the kitchen and interrogated about Egyptian mythology for half an hour before being rescued (if you can call it that) by the birthday girl, who tells her to kiss Nico before he makes her throw up with his "spot-on imitation of a love-sick puppy".
Sadie ignores Thalia — who she rather likes, actually, meddling aside — and helps with the cooking, before Percy's mom kicks her out with a knowing smile, telling her to enjoy the party. She finds Nico out on the fire escape, staring at the sky, fingers playing with the leaves of a silver plant.
He looks up, smiles. "I actually saw Percy planting this," he says. "Just before the Battle of Manhattan. We had blue birthday cake."
Sadie sits next to him, finding it absurdly easy to rest her head on his shoulder. "Sorry, blue birthday cake?"
"You already owe me two long stories," she tells him. "About Dr. Thorn and your friendship with the Romans. What's another one?"
"It'll take a while," Nico says, but his hand is already on her back, warm and steady as if to anchor her.
"We have time," is all she says in reply, the amulet on her neck glinting silver in the moonlight.
A/N: Hope I didn't suffocate you guys with all the fluff at the end. :) A huge thank-you to runawaymemories for Beta-reading. Please don't favourite without reviewing, thanks. Even a short smiley (or frown-y or angry, whatever) face. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks for reading!