This was not a situation he'd ever thought he be in. Then again, nothing that ever involved Nico di Angelo was ever expected or even completely understood. He just had to suck it up and accept the uncertain, as he had so many times before, and yet…
"… if you're going to stand there like a looming imbecile all night, at least have the courtesy to tell me your name." Reyna didn't turn around, but Sam could hear the venom in her blunt tone. "Which one are you then? Sam or Dean? Di Angelo mentioned it, but I am unsure."
"Sam." He said, swallowing his brief misgivings and moving to sit across from her by the fire. He was a more-than-averagely competent person in these sort of situations, what with his job and his acquired skills throughout his life, and yet he'd never seen anyone set up camp so efficiently as she had. Reyna'd had a fire going in a minute flat, and it was burning happily despite only having been lit ten minutes ago. People don't tend to realize how difficult it is to just settle in to some random patch of grass with no shelter or bed rolls or anything—only an awkwardly beautiful statue to shield them from the weather in the forest they found themselves in. It was harder than it looked, but this teenage girl had taken the task with alarming ease and stern competence.
"You are older?"
"Younger, actually." He said with a sly smile, glancing over to where his brother was pacing around the giant statue of a goddess, carefully examining the night around him. Both brothers had some serious jet-lag—after all, it was only noon or so back home, despite the fact it'd grown dark half an hour ago here.
Nico had actually slipped into an alarmingly deep sleep right in the middle of Reyna yelling at him, something that had startled him and Dean deeply, but Reyna had just rolled her eyes and stalked away angrily. Despite being furious as hell at the younger boy, she did not attempt to wake him, and even tossed a blanket from her backpack on the son of Hades with frustrated reluctance plain on her face. Hedge just snorted and made a loud—and rather rude—comment on how di Angelo was undependable. Sam had not been so amused by that.
The youngest of the group was now passed out curled up onto the base of the statue, oblivious to them all, and since Reyna had not been very forthcoming with information for the past hour and a half, Sam had simply been left to assume that they would wait for Nico to wake up to set their plan in motion. He kept his new celestial bronze dagger in his jacket less Reyna see and say something (or turn her yelling at him instead), but Dean was over in the darkness, pacing around Nico and the statue with his own dagger spinning experimentally in his fingers, as if getting used to the feel.
Reyna lifted an eyebrow at his admission. "Your brother is short." She said bluntly.
His own brow arched. "Funny—most people just call me freakishly tall."
She snorted derisively, using a stick to poke the fire distractedly. He couldn't help but notice that there was no food, and she looked even more haggard than Nico did. She had deep circles under her eyes and quickly healing scratches and bruises all over her face and exposed arms. The jacket she wore was heavily abused, one of the sleeves seeming to have been stained with what Sam really hoped was not blood—and if it was, hopefully not hers. And not Nico's.
How horrible it was that he had to stop and honestly hope that that spilled blood did not belong to the two children he was trying to help.
He glanced over at Nico, whose pale skin was like a beacon in the night. His face looked unrested, even in sleep, and it did not seem as if a month of a coma-like slumber would cure him of his exhaustion. Sam wondered, not for the first time, just what these kids had been through. His own childhood was nothing to boast about, but this… this was something else. This was like not having a childhood at all, not even a second of it. He'd at least had Dean pretending everything was ok and shielding for a time when Dad was gone, but he really doubted anyone had ever done so for these two teens.
He sighed. There were a lot of things he'd change about the world if he could, but it was times like these that he really wondered why he couldn't. Castiel insisted there was a god, and these demigods had gods of their own, so… why did no higher deity seem to care? Surely they wouldn't subject children to this—to fighting wars and going hungry and working themselves to death and being able to set up camp anywhere as if they'd been doing it all their lives.
"I think you misunderstand my anger."
"What?" He broke out of his thoughts quite suddenly as Reyna spoke, her eyes on the fire.
"I think you misunderstand me." She said pointedly, glancing up at him with a look that clearly told him that she thought him a bit slow. "I see you look at us as if we are children, and I see your brother guard di Angelo. You are concerned. Do not forget that I am as well. It is my duty to protect him until our mission is complete. If you know anything about him, you understand that that isn't an easy task."
Sam leaned back a bit. She was talking, but… this was an easy way to get on her bad side and he knew it. He had to be careful, but a part of him wasn't willing to back down from the challenge in her voice so easily.
"Doing your duty and caring doesn't necessarily mean the same thing. They can, of course, but they don't have to be." He said slowly.
She scoffed under her breath. "I don't know how you know him, but di Angelo doesn't need protecting. He doesn't want, nor need, my concern, only my protection, to which I am more than willing to provide him with." She dismissed.
He frowned. "He's just a kid," He said softly. Hell, he was an adult and often his brother's concern was the only thing that kept him going—a kid had to feel at least an echo of something similar, considering that the last time they'd talked di Angelo had had no family besides the god of Death on his side (or so far as Sam knew).
"This is not his first war—nor mine." Reyna said, leveling him with a cold glare. "If concern could've kept his or my people from dying, then no one needed have died at all. As it is, he's a brat prince who heralds death as the answer to all and is more arrogant than I can tolerate. I wouldn't care what age he is, for the way he acts is unacceptable."
"You still have to work with him." Sam pointed out.
"A pestering wound in my side-"
Sam bristled at that. "Now wait a second,"
"-and a prideful brute at that. I will protect him, but I see no reason to get along."
"Yeah, well, my brother's a reckless jackass with self-destructive tendencies," Sam snapped, his anger flaring protectively for some strange reason.
Reyna sneered. "Di Angelo isn't my brother, I've no reason-"
"Do you know what I see?" Sam cut in, sitting up straight and matching her glare. And how odd it was, to meet his match in wit and righteous rage in a sixteen year old girl.
Her eyes narrowed like a hawk's. "Few people dare interrupt me," She growled.
"Well I'll be one of the few then," Sam said, suddenly realizing he might've overstepped his bounds—just like Nico didn't seem like a prince considering how young he was, he just hadn't considered that Reyna might be more than she appeared. After all, when it came to the Greek world, it seemed age meant literally nothing if people so young were on the front lines and in positions of power.
But, he quickly brushed it off. He wasn't going to cower before her.
"What I see it two kids, alone in a forest in the middle of nowhere, with no food or supplies in the middle of a war that I can only catch glimpses of. Are you seriously telling me you feel nothing for that kid over there? Because from where I'm standing, he's the only one in this sinking boat you're both stuck on." He said pointedly, jabbing his thumb over his shoulder at the statue where Nico was sleeping soundly. He conveniently left Hedge out of the equation, feeling that the strange coach was a bit more than a nuisance to the two alarmingly prideful demigods the Winchester brothers had found themselves cornered between.
Reyna's lips pressed into a thin line, and didn't answer.
"Look," he sighed, running a hand over his jaw thoughtfully. He glanced pointedly over at his brother, letting her follow his gaze for a moment. "Dean and I fight. He's an ass, and an idiot half the time, but he's dependant as hell and can handle all the… darker stuff, I guess. No matter how old I am, he's my big brother and he's forever got it in his head that he has to shield me from that stuff. But this isn't our first apocalypse, and let me tell you that fighting with him while so much is on the line only makes everything worse."
He caught her eye again and made a point of frowning. "Nico says the Greek and Roman worlds are about to go to war. You're Roman, he's Greek… if you two are trying to stop the fighting, then maybe you could start with each other? He's really not a bad kid, and I'm willing to be you're not either. You're just… at war."
He could've said she was afraid, but he was fairly certain that was a sure-fire way to get a dagger to the eye. Luckily, she seemed to catch his meaning and didn't take any great offense.
She stared at him with a blank expression for a moment, as if considering him.
"How do you know him?"
He blinked. That wasn't where he thought this was going. "I, uh… well, he never stays long to chat, but we've run into him a couple times along the way. He must've been what, nine, ten years old or something the first time? Something like that…. We found him in a forest in the middle of nowhere, begging for us to kill him." He said bluntly.
Reyna's composure slipped a little as her eyes widened.
Sam shook his head. "Nico's history is his own, but can you see where I'm coming from? I don't know him well, but what I do know of him allows me to see him as a kid, and not as some prince or… whatever else he is. I don't know and I haven't cared to look. I just… I have this feeling that no one else has either."
She finally broke from his gaze and let her eyes drop to her lap as she considered that.
"You speak on behalf of his character, and yet you know nothing of him." She mused.
"I don't need to know."
Her eyes flashed up to him curiously.
"… that is quite interesting. And perhaps foolish." She decided briskly.
Sam sighed a bit. "Yeah, well… I'm not at war. At least, not currently, and not counting me helping in your war this once." He admitted.
Her eyes were the color of chocolate, but they were anything but sweet or warm—they pierced into him with a distinct chill in their intensity. "I can… see and accept your points. However, I maintain that you have no idea what you're talking about when it concerns demigods."
Sam nodded slowly. "I can agree to that." He said warily. "Honestly, beyond fighting it, I understand little about the things I face and endure. Some days I want to, and it kills me that the unknown is such an integral part of our existence, even if most don't know it."
Reyna graced him with a very small smile. "You would be a keen child of Minerva then. Or, ah, Athena, as the Greeks would insist."
Sam raised his brow in interest, glancing behind him at the statue of the goddess in question. "Is it a great likeness?" He wondered aloud.
"I have never met her, but Nico has. You'd do well to ask him." He whipped around in alarm at her words. He'd forgotten for a moment that meeting these gods was an actual option for their children. "I have met one of her daughters though; she's one of the bravest, most intelligent people I know. I would say the likeness is fair," She ignored Sam's reaction and also looked up at the statue of gold and white marble.
He was fascinated, despite the alarming re-revelation that the two kids in front of him had gods as parents. He turned to look at what would be similar to Lady Athena's form, but it lost its interest when he caught sight of Dean hovering over where Nico had curled into a tight ball by the base of the goddess' feet. He looked less rested than he would be if he were merely awake and pretending to be recovered, and it was not lost on the elder Winchester, who seemed at a total loss of what to do.
"Does he usually do that?" Sam blurted out, too concerned and curious about what was going on to keep it to himself. He turned back, and Reyna's blank expression was back in place, but she no longer seemed hostile. Perhaps his words had calmed her just enough for her to be willing to answer. "Pass out like that I mean? And sleep like—well—the dead?"
She rolled her eyes at his choice of words, but then her gaze settled back on the sleeping younger boy blankly.
"I assume he went to America to collect you two. In comparison to what he's been doing, that isn't asking a lot of him, even considering that he had to dodge the Laeri in the Shadow World to get back and forth. Even still… the more this goes on, the weaker he gets with every shadow jump. He sleeps more and can go a little less far each time. I would think that when we reach the coast, we'd need nearly three days of rest before we can cross the ocean. Even then…"
Sam frowned, glancing back at Nico once more. It was a bit more bleak when Reyna said it than Nico had implied earlier, but it wasn't surprising. She was practical and hardened in cold logic, whereas Nico seemed to be a lot like Dean—neither would ever admit they couldn't do something until it'd already killed them.
"Do you think he'll have anything left by the end of the war?" If it already took so much out of him and they still had so far to go…
"Perhaps." But something in her voice caused Sam to turn and give her a curiously demanding look. She pressed her lips together tightly and the unspoken question. "… let's just say… I know where he has been, for the start of this war. Perhaps he will survive this, perhaps we all will, but… I am not so sure he will want to."
Sam felt oddly cold at the foreboding words.
"Where has he been?" He wondered aloud in alarm.
Reyna looked grave, and not about to be light with the subject. "Someplace far worse than hell. Someplace even the shadows fear to go. A place that no soul returns from."
He arched his eyebrows, glancing back at his brother and the son of Hades.
"Be he's here now." He pointed out.
He turned back once more at her grave silence, startled at the look of… sadness almost, on her face.
"Exactly." She sighed, leaning down and attending the fire once more, and Sam just sat there, wondering what the hell all that was supposed to mean.
He frowned, clearing his throat and acknowledging that he wasn't going to get a straight answer—but rather, he focused on something else that he found quite interesting. "…Is that… pity I hear?"
She didn't even look up from the fire. "Di Angelo would have my hide if he caught wind of anything of the sort."
"I'd be careful, some would say you actual seemed concerned." He tried to joke, to lighten the depressing air the conversation had adopted.
"I never said I didn't care. Only that di Angelo would not accept it, even if I did." Reyna said flatly, and Sam felt all his words die on his lips.
Nico did seem… difficult. More difficult around Reyna and Hedge than he'd been when he was alone with the Winchester brothers—and he hadn't exactly been very pleasant then either. It was Sam who'd noticed earlier that he'd confessed his true reasons for bringing mortals into this to them and not to his supposed partner on this quest, but…
What did Sam know of Nico di Angelo? Not a lot. Thinking about it now, he saw that the boy had a lot of issues. When they'd first met, he'd had everything he loved taken away from him, and so far as Sam could see, he hadn't regained any of it. It was hard to imagine Lord Hades as anything like family, and Reyna had said earlier that the Greeks wouldn't accept him, and judging by his attitude towards Romans…
No, but Reyna had also mentioned a sister. Not the one who'd died all those years ago obviously, but a new one, sort of. And he'd said something about cousins. That was good, right?
But Sam had a feeling it wasn't all copasetic. Not when he saw the look of deep unease on Nico's face, even as he slept. There was just so much he didn't know about the guy. All he had to go on was that he seemed to be a lot like Dean on the surface—and as the brother to the elder Winchester, Sam knew that meant absolutely nothing. Dean was a maze of confusion and deep thought beneath that idiotic, irrational, confident mask, which meant that Nico could be… anything. He just didn't know, and Sam would bet heavy money that no one else did either.
Which left Reyna in an interesting position. What was it like, to be stuck with someone she could never truly know? To be tasked with keeping him alive, when the odds...
"… is there nothing we can do for this war besides fight these snakes?" He said, and her eyes flickered to him in something like amusement. He could tell she was wondering how he'd jumped to this topic, but he wasn't likely to voice his inner observations about the two teens. He suspected she'd just roll her eyes and Nico could very well just toss him into a shadow rather than deal with emotions and things—just like Dean, now that he thought about it.
"It is pure happenstance that you can even help with the Laeri. How would you expect to fight something you cannot see?" She challenged.
"It wouldn't be the first time," Sam admitted, earning himself a dryly entertained look. "Nico implied you didn't have a great opinion of Mortals, but I'm not completely useless you know."
She snorted rather ungracefully for her composed nature. "Di Angelo doesn't deal with fools, I know that much of him. He wouldn't have brought you here if you weren't useful to us." She declared.
"I'm flattered." He deadpanned. "And yet, you doubted him because…?"
"He's intelligent and strategic—to a ruthless extent. But I've also noted he's irrationally emotional and utterly unpredictable, considering…" She trailed off, her eyes flashing over towards the boy in question and then quickly cleared he throat. "Ah, well… a level of PTSD is to be expected." She said bluntly, and Sam felt himself pale. He wanted to know, but at the same time, he really didn't. "I saw him react poorly to meeting the Laeri the first time—let's just say I didn't trust his judgment on a snap decision made directly after that."
Again, it sounded like Dean.
"That amuses you?" Sam blinked out of his thoughts at her demanding tone. Obviously she didn't find it funny, and he hadn't even realized he'd started to smile.
"No, it's just… he sounds like Dean. The more I learn, the more Nico sounds like my brother, and it's all just… well, I mean, they've both spent time in hell and are still standing. I find this all terribly ironic." He confessed.
She blinked at him for a long moment and then went back to the fire. "You are impossibly strange." She commented without looking at him.
He rolled his eyes. "And I'm sure you're much nicer when not under so much stress." He said with only a hint of sarcasm.
She scoffed. He frowned a little, observing the way that that her forehead creased despite her show of apathy. "I don't know exactly what you're going through," He caught her attention, her eyes flickering up to him as he spoke. "-but I can imagine it's hard. Apocalypses tend to be that way." He tried not to sound pitying, more sympathetic than anything.
She stared at him impassively for a moment and then returned to the fire without a word.
They spent so long in the silence, Sam had already picked out several constellations in the clear night sky by the time she spoke again.
"I hope you are competent. You're rather intelligent and quite tolerable, it would be a shame if you died." She decided succinctly, and Sam slowly lowered his head from the stars to give her a wide-eyed look. That was… an oddly ominous comment, despite the positive compliment-like tone it implied.
"Um… thank you?"
She rolled her eyes and returned her gaze downward, but no sooner than it took to complete that motion, a sharp gasp caused them to jerk upwards in alert. Sam was more than a little impressed at how fast Reyna was on her feet, a long knife in her hand that seemed to have materialized out of nowhere.
The danger was elsewhere for the moment though, because the sound was only Nico waking up sharply. He seemed to jerk himself out of a not-so-pleasant dream, and would've tumbled straight off the statue had Dean not been standing there to grab his arm and hall him upright.
"Wha-?" di Angelo slurred, blinking rapidly and glancing around the night quickly to regain his bearings. His eyes landed on Dean—who still had a grip on his arm—and it seemed to come back to him.
"You good, kid?" Dean dropped his arm and Nico straightened up hastily, collecting himself.
"I'm fine." He dismissed a bit snappily.
Dean snorted loudly. "Yeah, and I'm about to go fight a giant snake while two kids go fight a war. I'm fine too."
The Hunter and the demigod shared a brief look, and some sort of understanding passed.
"Well, let's get on it then." Dean cleared his throat. Nico just nodded absently, zipping up his jacket more tightly against the night's chill and slipping off the statue. He had to keep his hand on the marble to keep his knees from giving out, but then he was upright and firm—or at least making a good show of it. Dean didn't comment either way, nor did he offer a hand, which the son of Hades obviously appreciated.
"Here," Reyna joined them and put a metal water bottle in Nico's hand, which he quickly took a sip of and handed back to her. Both Winchester brothers were struck by the oddly mother-like motion from the vicious teen girl, before being completely distracted by di Angelo as his pallor went from grey to merely pale in the span of half a second after taking a sip.
"Dude, super juice." Dean commented, his eyebrows arched high as Nico stood up a bit straighter as if his weariness had been cured just by that tiny sip.
"The nectar of the gods. Same thing I suppose." Nico smirked, and Dean chuckled a little.
"Sure, nectar of the gods, whatever else, I'll go with it." He shrugged a bit tiredly. "So are we doing this now? Big snake things, we just gotta kill them?"
"Yes, we'll jump somewhere we know the Laeri are watching, and then immediately jump again, leaving you two behind to deal with them," Reyna got on board with the plan she'd obviously figured out for herself without Nico's input. He didn't seem up to arguing anymore, still looking exhausted and half-asleep. "The question now is exactly where," She turned to Nico as she said this and the son of Hades slipped his eyes closed as if he were sleeping again.
But after a second or two of silence, he nodded slowly, opening his gaze again to look at the fire. "We're just north of Paris now, but if we head to Laon we should be able to find a place and the Laeri should catch up. We'll then head to Berck, and you two will need to find and take the N2 southeast and get to the Charles de Gaulle Airport if you survive. It's international, so it should be able to take you back to the US." He bent over stiffly and pulled a small black pouch from his boot, slipping out a black plastic card and tossing it as Sam uncaringly. The younger Winchester caught it, blinking in surprise at the foreign credit card he didn't recognize.
But then, he saw the golden lettering beneath the numbers was definitely not English, and if he had to bet, he'd give a wild guess that it was probably ancient Greek.
"Get first class, courtesy of Hades." Nico said, his words being marred by a yawn he tried to stifle.
"Sweet," Dean decided happily, while Sam just wondered if this was somehow related to Hades also being the god of wealth.
"Won't he notice…" He frowned suspiciously.
Nico just shrugged. "Not until his insanity is cured, and if you defeat the Laeri and head straight back, the war won't be over by then. I'd say you've got about two weeks of unlimited shopping to do before I recommend not using it." He half joked, and Dean grinned while Sam just looked even more suspicious.
"That is, if the earth doesn't eat all of humanity before next Monday." Reyna said rather dryly, and both brothers did a double-take.
"Excuse me?" Dean's voice tilted slightly higher in incredulity, and Nico snorted.
"So, are we ready to go?" The son of Hades ignored him, lifting his hand out towards Reyna as he placed his free palm on the base of the statue behind him. Coach stomped on the fire to plunge them all into darkness and then shoved the confused brothers towards the statue too.
"No, wait, back up a minute—what's this about the earth?" Sam demanded as Reyna took di Angelo's hand and then used her other hand to hold tight to the Athena Partheons too.
"Do you really want to know?" Hedge chuckled way too happily in a sort of vindictive way, his disembodied voice from the other side of the structure kind of eerie in the darkness. Though he wouldn't see it through the shadowy night, Sam shot they guy a wary look as Dean grabbed onto his younger brother and pushed them both to copy the kids' motions and grab tight to the giant marble statue.
"Probably not," Dean grumbled.
They heard the smirk in Nico's voice through the darkness as he, again, ignored them.
"To Laon we go then. The Laeri will probably be waiting for us, and my advice is to aim for the eyes. Oh, and watch out for the tusks—I'm fairly certain they're poisonous."
Dean groaned, thunking his head against Athena's foot.