Saints and Angels
When Nico di Angelo was young, his mother used to tell him that life never gives you more than you can handle. If he'd been able to remember that, the night Percy told him Bianca was dead, those words would not have brought him any comfort. But he couldn't remember them, or his mother, or anything in his past, as he ran away from Camp Half-Blood that night. He was empty inside in more ways than one.
No memories. No one in the world who cared about him. No place to call home or anyone to turn to. He didn't have a past, and didn't want his future. Not if it meant living alone.
Nico di Angelo was ten years old and ready to die.
He was sobbing even while he was running as hard as he could. It wasn't long before breathing grew difficult. His sides started to ache, and then his chest started burning. Nico could feel his heart hammering against his ribs, screaming for mercy that it would never get.
He wondered if he ran hard enough, could he make his heart burst? It sounded like a painful way to go, yeah, but he was sure that it was nothing compared to the pain of losing his sister. All he wanted was to be with her, but he'd left him. Forever. It wasn't fair!
A strange growling sound reached his ears, and Nico felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. On instinct, he skidded to a stop, gasping, his body revolting now that he'd finally stopped running. He could barely stand up straight.
Eight predatory golden eyes gleamed from the shadows, and even though it increased his odds, Nico felt no better when he saw that all eight of those eyes belonged to one creature. He didn't even know what kind of creature it was. It was insect-like and canine-like at the same time. It was like nothing he'd ever seen on any Mythomagic card. If someone had crossed a wolf with a beetle, this thing would have been the result. Six wolf-like legs bent at odd angles, the way a beetle's would, and a carapace covering made it seem like the monster was armored. A snout full of slavering teeth caught Nico's eyes, but his attention was quickly stolen by the set of serrated pincers extending above them, because one creepy saw-toothed mouth clearly wasn't enough on its own.
Nico wanted to scream at it. He wanted to hit it. But he also just wanted to drop to his knees and let it kill him. Indecision, and his own body's betrayal kept him frozen and panting, just glaring at the monster.
But as it crept closer, keeping its belly close to the ground and letting strands of slobber drip grossly off its ghost-white teeth, Nico found himself raising his fists on instinct. His throat hurt too much to say anything to it and try and warn it off, or else he might have shouted at it to go away. Somehow, he didn't think he'd be able to make the ground swallow it up, like he had those skeleton things. That trick hadn't worked on Percy. So either the enemies he could use it on were limited, or that trick had a cool-down period before it could work again. But whichever it was, he knew it wasn't going to be any help to him now.
Do your worst, he thought to the beast. Do your worst and I'll do mine!
It was almost like the monster could read his thoughts, or maybe it just finally realized how helpless Nico was. All alone and weaponless, with no one in the world who could come to help him, and too winded from running to even stand up straight. As the monster leapt toward him, Nico knew that this would be over very quickly.
But then something happened. Something that he hadn't expected or anticipated at all. From out of the sky something, no, someone dropped down between Nico and the monster and grabbed the beast's face, stopping it with one bloody hand.
Nico gaped, but not just because of this absurd display of strength. The man, or rather the teen who'd saved him, had wings. And not just generic bird wings tacked on like an extra in a Christmas pageant. For one thing, he had six freaking wings. And they didn't look like any kind of wing Nico had ever seen before. Like a cross between a dragonfly's and a bat's was the best way to describe them, he guessed. Parts of them were transparent, and they ranged in shades of emerald green and iridescent gold, and they freaking glowed with their own spectral light.
The fight was over in a flash. With one slash of the winged teen's machete the monster's head fell one way while it's body fell another. A flick of the blade sent a splash of blood to the forest floor before the stranger sheathed it then turned toward Nico. And for the second time that night, Nico felt like maybe he should fall to his knees. Not because he wanted to die this time, but because he just got the weirdest feeling that falling to his knees before some avenging six-winged otherworldly person and averting his eyes seemed like the right thing to do.
He didn't though. Again, all he was capable of doing was standing there dumbly, and for a moment Nico and the winged guy just stared at each other. This guy wasn't quite a grown up yet, Nico noted, but he was a good bit older than Percy. He had green eyes too, but they were completely different. This person's (or creature's) eyes were hard, like emeralds. And though Percy's eyes may have been the color of the ocean, this guy's eyes were much deeper. Nico doubted he'd have noticed it even an hour ago, but there was a wellspring of pain in them. He wore the expression of someone who was fed up with the world, and didn't quite know why he kept on going. A feeling Nico could sympathize with.
"You alright, kid?" the winged guy asked finally. A few strands of messy brown hair fell in his eyes, and he carelessly shook it out of his way.
"Why?" asked Nico.
"Why didn't you just let it kill me?"
There was no way that the winged teen had missed the tear tracks on Nico's cheeks, or his running nose, so why the hell had he even bothered asking a question so stupid? Couldn't he see that Nico was not alright? That he'd never be alright again?
"Probably because I'm not too big on letting hellspawn maul crying children," the guy said. And something happened, as Nico watched. The guy's wings started to dissolve into light, fading from existence. "Yeah, I know, I'm weird like that." Under his breath he added, "Ungrateful little snot."
"I hate you!" shouted Nico. And he knew that he was acting horribly, but at that moment he really did hate the stranger who'd just saved his life.
"Hmmm, well, you can't possibly hate me anymore than I hate myself so I'm strangely unbothered by that," said the teen.
"Sta zitto! Bastardo!" screamed Nico. He didn't realize that he'd switched to a different language until the no-longer-winged teen returned his insult with a worse one, in the same language. It was a good insult too. One that would have made Bianca turn red and want to wash the guy's mouth out with soap. That thought though just made Nico miss her even more, and that was what finally brought him to his knees. He just dropped down to them right there, on the frozen ground and started sobbing uncontrollably.
"Uh, hey, I didn't really mean that," said the guy, actually sounding guilty. "Hey . . . uh . . . Where's your mom?"
"Don't have one," choked out Nico. "Orphan."
The snow crunched as the guy walked closer. "I'd say I'm sorry, but that wouldn't do a bit of good. So instead I'll say this: I can empathize with you."
Nico didn't know what empathize meant, but could guess from the other guy's tone. He could just tell that this guy knew exactly what he was feeling. That this guy had lost his family too.
"My name's Abdiel," the guy said, kneeling down beside him.
"N-Nico," he managed to get out.
He felt something warm drape around his shoulders. When he looked up, he saw that it was Abdiel's jacket. The guy had to be crazy to give it up. It was the middle of winter, in New York, and they were in the middle of a frozen forest, and Abdiel was only wearing a button down linen shirt now, but he didn't look like he felt the cold at all.
"Come on," said Abdiel, looking a little annoyed, but mostly resigned as he offered Nico a hand. "You can't stay here."
Abdiel took Nico to an all-night diner after torching the corpse of the monster he'd killed. Nico was a little confused, because they'd told him at camp that monsters turned to dust when you killed them, but he didn't care enough to ask for details.
"You don't have to tell me anything," said Abdiel as he slid one of the diner's laminated menus toward Nico. "I'll listen if you want to talk, but I'm about as far away from being qualified to give people therapy as you can get. And I'm not taking responsibility for you. I have my own crap to deal with, and most days it's all I can do to deal with that. Just so we're on the same page. The only reason I brought you here was to make sure you didn't kill over in the snow after I left. That would have meant I only did a half-assed job of saving you, and would detract from my reputation as, well, the best."
"Best what?" asked Nico numbly, not even looking at the menu. "Demigod warrior? Spartan soldier?"
"Try gargoyle knight," said Abdiel.
"Gargoyle knight?" Nico couldn't help but be a little interested at that. There were gargoyle cards in Mythomagic, but no gargoyle knights.
"Yeah," said Abdiel. "And for the record, I usually don't give people explanations, because most of the time they'd really rather not hear them, but you are handling your first encounter with the supernatural amazingly well."
"That wasn't my first encounter," muttered Nico. He was staring at the tabletop so he missed the way Abdiel's eyes narrowed, worriedly.
"What was your first encounter then?"
Nico shook his head. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Fair enough. You know what you want?"
"Yes," snapped Nico, "I know what I want. I just can't have it."
"I was talking about to eat," said Abdiel patiently.
"Oh." Nico flushed, embarrassed. "I . . ." he skimmed the menu but the words rearranged themselves as he tried to focus on them. "I . . . um . . . uh . . ."
Abdiel took pity on him yet again. "The hamburgers here are good. I ate here last week after taking out a coven of blood mages, so I can attest to that. The macaroni's good too."
"That sounds fine," said Nico.
"Which one? The hamburger or macaroni?"
"Uh . . . um . . ."
"Both then," said Abdiel and motioned for the waiter. When the guy came over, he started rattling off an almost ridiculously long list of food items. So much that even though Nico was completely miserable he couldn't help but be a little amused by it.
"So what's a gargoyle knight?" he asked when the waiter was gone.
Abdiel drummed his fingers on the table and seemed to think for a moment. "Do you know anything at all about blood mages or gargoyles? Or have you just run across screwy stuff like what you saw tonight and kept on running, like most sane people would?"
"Okay. To sum it up quickly, I'm part human, part demon, have super strength, super reflexes, and the power to shapeshift into what some people would consider a monster. But you look like you've seen enough that you know that the real monster are often people themselves," said Abdiel. "I was born that way, with that power. I don't appreciate it as much as I should, I know because . . . well, imagine right now how you'd feel if someone told you that you were going to live forever."
At one time Nico would have thought that sounded great. Now . . . now he knew better. What was immortality if it was just century after century of feeling like this? All alone, with the only people who ever loved you dead? The only spot of hope Nico had left was the knowledge that there was an afterlife. If his dreams could be believed, that was. And he might see Bianca again there. If someone were to take that away from him . . .
"So . . . you can't die?" asked Nico, just to make sure he was understanding Abdiel right.
"Theoretically, I can," said Abdiel. "I'm not going to die of old age, but if I come across an enemy more powerful than me, they might be able to kill me. But I haven't found anyone strong enough to kill me yet . . . and it's not in my nature to just stand there and let someone kill me. I think you can empathize, beings that it's not in yours either."
Nico nodded, remembering the contradictory feelings coursing through him when he'd raised his fists to that creature, knowing that he couldn't beat it, not particularly wanting to live anyway, but still he'd been unable to go out without a fight. "So . . . what kind of enemies are you talking about?" he asked, rather than drudge that topic back up. "What exactly do gargoyle knights do?"
"I hunt down humans who kill other humans to steal their aura, or their life force, to try to give themselves powers like mine. Those are what we call blood mages, if you didn't know that already. I also track down rogue gargoyles, who are blood mages who've stolen so many other peoples' lives that they've gained powers like the ones I was born with, only weaker."
"Is that what that thing you killed tonight was?" asked Nico.
"No, that was hellspawn," Abdiel told him. "It's . . . like an animal from hell, to put it simply. The spells that blood mages use sometimes open vortexes that let hellspawn cross over from the demon realms into our world."
"Oh." That actually sounded kind of cool, but Nico didn't have enough heart to be enthusiastic about much of anything at that moment.
They fell silent again when another diner employee brought them their drinks, which turned out to be two huge chocolate malt milkshakes. Nico's stomach growled at the mere sight of his and he immediately set about trying to devour it as soon as it was set down in front of him.
They waited for their food in silence for awhile. Abdiel didn't press the kid to talk. He didn't know exactly what had happened to him, but he knew the look of someone grieving. And he knew that this kid's grief was still raw. Whatever happened to him had happened recently. Possibly even that night. Abdiel didn't even know why he was trying to help Nico. He knew perfectly well that there wasn't a thing he could do that would really help him. He couldn't bring whoever the kid lost back from the dead. He didn't have any profound wisdom to offer that would help him cope. Hell, Abdiel was probably the worst person in the world to be trying to help other people through their grief. The scars on his wrists were testament to that. The only reason Abdiel hadn't killed himself was because it was damn near impossible for a gargoyle as strong as he was to kill himself. But he had tried. A number of times.
Thinking about it rationally, if he wanted to help Nico he probably should have put as much distance between himself and the kid as possible. Except if he'd done that, the kid probably would have ended up dying in a snow drift before dawn.
A half-remembered quote drifted through his mind. Something his mother used to tell him when he was young, about how sometimes when things are especially bad life, or fate, or maybe it was God that she'd said, would send you someone to help and guide you.
"My sister died. She was the only family I had." Nico spoke suddenly, with no prelude, surprising Abdiel. He really hadn't expected that the boy would open up to him.
"I wish there was something I could say that would make it better, but there's not," Abdiel told him. "I know. I lost my sister too."
"Does it ever stop hurting?" asked Nico softly.
"No. Not completely," said Abdiel. "At least not for me. But that might be . . . never mind."
"I said never mind."
"But I want to know," said Nico. "I want to know if there's a way to get rid of this horrible feeling, or what might make it so that it never goes away."
Well, when he put it like that, he had a legitimate reason for wanting to know instead of just being nosy, so Abdiel relented.
"What I was going to say," Abdiel told him, "is that it was my fault Eden, my little sister, died, and that might be why, or part of why that feeling's never gone away for me."
Nico's mouth formed an O and he looked like he might start crying again. Abdiel decided to elaborate, not sure if that would help the kid reign his emotions in or make them worse, but he figured that if he didn't try something, Nico was going to burst out sobbing again in the middle of the diner this time.
"She was only four. I was eight. Our mom was hunting a demon, but it got wind of her and came after us. She told us to run, so I took Eden . . . but the demon killed my mom, then came after us. I tried to fight it. I failed. Eden died, but I lived. And there is not a day that goes by that I don't think about that," sighed Abdiel.
Nico's eyes were glassy as he stared down at his milkshake again. "I . . . I . . ." He swallowed. "I wasn't there when my sister died. She went . . . on a trip . . . and there was a guy who said he'd watch out for her, but he didn't, and she died."
The kid hiccupped, and Abdiel felt really bad for him. But there wasn't a damn thing he could do to make anything better, and he knew it.
"How do you deal with it, Abdiel?" Nico asked tearfully several seconds later. "I don't know what to do. I don't . . . I don't want to do this without Bianca. I just want to die and be with her again!"
"No, you don't," Abdiel told him.
"No, you just think you do, right now," sighed Abdiel. "Believe me. I've been there. I know. For a long, long time I thought that I wanted to die too. But what you want isn't to die. What you want is for someone to give your life meaning again. The way your sister, your family gave your life meaning. And you're probably too young to get this right now. I don't think I could have understood it when I was your age, but whatever. I'm telling you anyway. No one is going to just seek you out and try to fix you. You have to fix yourself. You have to try to find the people who'll give you a new reason for being."
In his mind he could see Kiyo's face. And Tsuna's, and even Tobias's. Thanks to the three of them, Abdiel was a lot better than he used to be. The guilt and depression were always there a little bit, but most days they didn't feel like they were crushing him anymore.
Surprisingly, Nico remained silent on this point. Abdiel took that to mean the kid was actually thinking about it. That surprised him. Honestly, there was a lot that surprised him about this kid, and a lot of things that weren't adding up about him. For starters, how he'd found the boy in the middle of the woods out in the middle of nowhere. As far as he knew, the only real place out there was a rundown strawberry farm. Then there was the fact that the kid was running around without a coat. Throw in the fact that he was apparently bilingual, and Abdiel didn't even know what he was dealing with now.
His mind turned to the darkest possibilities. Child trafficking, kidnapping for ransom, Italian mafia dealings . . . Abdiel had seen the worst of humanity and knew that anything was possible, but somehow he got the feeling that what he was dealing with now was something new. He couldn't put his finger on it, but somehow Nico didn't feel quite human. Abdiel was certain that Nico wasn't a gargoyle. And he definitely wasn't a blood mage. Abdiel would have been able to clearly sense if the boy was either of those. This was something else, Abdiel was pretty sure. Something he hadn't come across before. And if he was lucky, something he'd never come across again, because his life was complicated enough without adding more supernatural crap to his To Do list.
Finally, their food came, and Nico and Abdiel both dug in. Eating was a good excuse not to have to talk. It kept the silence between them from becoming too awkward and gave Abdiel time to think . . . for all the good it did him.
He didn't have a clue what to do about Nico. He didn't even know what he was morally obligated to do about the kid now. The boy couldn't have been more than ten. He was too young to be alone . . . yet alone he was. Abdiel could tell. His eyes had the look of someone who'd lost everything. Abdiel was positive that any family Nico had ever known was dead. So what was left for him?
Foster care or life on the streets? Neither one seemed like a good option. And Abdiel couldn't take him in himself. He wasn't even out of his teens yet, lived on the other side of the country and had no way to get Nico there, was prone to near-crippling depression and self-destructive tendencies. Even with all that aside, his track record at trying to watch out for younger kids sucked. His attempts at watching his two younger adoptive siblings had been disastrous to say the least. In fact, the last time had resulted in one of them dropping a mineshaft on both herself and Abdiel.
Abdiel fought back a sigh as he watched Nico eating, and knew that whatever he ended up deciding to do about the kid, he was going to end up feeling like he'd made the wrong choice.
Abdiel's words rang through Nico's mind again and again. "No one is going to just seek you out and try to fix you. You have to fix yourself. You have to try to find the people who'll give you a new reason for being." Those words might have been the most profound thing that anyone had ever said to him. There was only one small point that Nico thought needed to be adjusted in them. Rather than find a new reason for being, why not find a way to get his old one back?
Gods were real. Monsters were real. Heroes and myths and legends, everything he'd ever seen on a Mythomagic card . . . or at least every Greek thing he'd ever seen on a Mythomagic card. All of them were real. Which meant that it was possible to get Bianca back. It had to be possible. And he would find a way to do it. Even if it meant he had to read every book of Greek myths he could find. He would find out how other heroes had done it and then he would do it himself. He would bring his sister back to life.
Before too long, their food was gone. Abdiel paid the bill then looked at Nico apprehensively, and Nico . . . it was like some part of his brain that he'd never used before had opened up and he was starting to really see things for the first time. He could tell what Abdiel was thinking. That it was wrong to just let a kid as young as Nico go wandering off into the night, knowing that he had no one to turn to. But Abdiel also didn't know what he could do to help Nico, or really what he even should do. And right then Nico learned that he was capable of being calculating. He was pretty sure it wouldn't be too hard to convince Abdiel that he would be OK on his own. All he had to do was pretend to be confident about having a plan and a direction to go in. Though now that he thought about it, not that much pretending would be required.
"Thank you, Abdiel," said Nico, meeting Abdiel's gaze and holding it. "What you said . . . it really helped. And I know what I need to do now."
Abdiel looked a little bit surprised and a little bit suspicious. "You do?"
Nico nodded, keeping his onyx eyes locked onto Abdiel's emerald ones. "Yes. I do."
"What I said wasn't that deep or profound."
"It was," insisted Nico. "The only ones who wouldn't think that don't know what it's like to lose everything."
Abdiel inclined his head slightly, acknowledging what Nico said, but the gesture wasn't quite a nod. He studied Nico for a moment longer, then finally did nod, like he was satisfied that Nico would be okay . . . eventually.
"Oh, here's this back," said Nico, shrugging off the jacket that Abdiel had loaned him, hiding his regret. It was an extremely cool jacket, made of dark, dark brown leather with brass buckles instead of buttons. It looked kind of like something a pilot would wear. It even had a brass pin shaped like wings with a gear welded onto it pinned to the lapel.
Abdiel held up a hand and shook his head. "You keep it. I can't feel the cold, so you need it more."
"You sure?" Nico could hardly believe the crazy teenager would just give his jacket away like that.
Abdiel nodded. "You have enough cash to get to wherever you're going?"
"Yeah," lied Nico. He didn't know where he was going, and he didn't have any money on him at all, truth-be-told, but he'd feel bad about taking anything else from Abdiel. The gargoyle knight had done enough for him for one day.
Abdiel handed over one more thing; a business card with his phone number, email, and website address printed on it. Nico struggled to make sense of the words at the top of the card. "Steam . . . punk and fant . . . fantasy ar . . . tist. Abdiel St. Jube?"
"St. Jude," Abdiel told him.
A long forgotten memory crept into Nico's head and was on his tongue before he even realized he was speaking. "St. Jude, hope of the hopeless, pray for me, for I am so helpless and alone. Please help to bring me visible and speedy assistance. Come to my assistance in this great need that I may receive the consolation and help of heaven in all my necessities, tribulations, and sufferings, and that I may praise God with you always. Amen."
Abdiel cocked an eyebrow but looked impressed. "Huh. Most people don't even know who St. Jude is, let alone his prayer . . . in Latin, no less. You Catholic?"
Nico shook his head. "No . . . but I think . . . I think my mother might have been."
Abdiel nodded his understanding, and thankfully didn't ask anymore questions. Nico was grateful. He didn't feel like trying to explain that he had some kind of weird amnesia and couldn't remember . . . almost anything.
Abdiel nodded and stood to leave. "If you get into trouble . . . or even if you just . . . I don't know, need to talk to someone who's been where you are now, you can give me a call. I'll try to help."
They headed outside, back into the cold, where they said goodbye. For the time being. But Nico had the feeling that, even if he didn't call or email Abdiel, they'd run into each other again someday. The odds of them meeting at all, in the first place, had been so phenomenally low, it should have been impossible. The odds of them sharing the exact same sorrows, even more so. Yet somehow, despite it all, the gods, the Fates, or the universe, or whatever was pulling the strings of his destiny had seen fit to throw the two of them together, and Nico was grateful. Because if there had ever been a time he needed someone to help him, that night had been it.
That thought brought another kind-of memory into Nico's mind. Something else that he'd heard long ago . . . maybe from his mother. But he couldn't quite recall it. Not completely. All he knew was that it was some sort of quote about how once in awhile, when things got really bad, someone would be sent to help you through it. Someone like a saint or an angel.
The End (For Now)
AN: This chapter is the first of three times where Nico di Angelo and Abdiel St. Jude end up crossing paths. I've been wanting to write a fic about the two of them meeting for awhile now, because of the similarities between them. Both of them lost their mother and their sister, and never really knew their fathers for the first part of their life. Then Abdiel learned that his sister was still alive, and that the people who'd adopted him had separated them and lied to him about her being dead for years, and just watched him blame himself and struggle to get through every single day. And Nico learned that he had another sister other than Bianca, who had died in the 40's and been sentenced to the Fields of Asphodel . . . so he went behind his father's back and smuggled her out of Hades and gave her a second chance at life. So basically both Nico and Abdiel got a second chance at being a brother, and both are determined to do a better job this time around. Next time they meet is going to be a couple years later. Abdiel's going to get an explanation about demigods, and one of our heroes is going to have a sister again.