This was going to be up last week when I promised but through a fit for some reason and didn't allow me to post it until now. Sorry for the wait. Here is Nico, Alex will be up next.

(X)

The first skirt is on a whim. It's not really 'goth' but a black thing that goes down to her knees with roses embroidered on it. Nico likes it though. A lot more than her usual jeans and button up t-shirts. A friend mentions that it looks like that Lolita style she saw at a convention once.

Nico googles it later. There's too much lace for her tastes but she really likes some of the simpler stuff. There are links to other styles: emo, goth, steampunk, victorian, and so much more. Her parents are knocking on her door and telling her to go to sleep before she realizes she's spent hours clicking through the images.

She book marks a few sites and heads to bed.

The first spells are so simple, Nico doesn't even realize her pain is powering her magic. She's more concerned with the cuts she had to make to get the Staff of One to appear than feeling the energies around her.

She doesn't realize she's getting stronger with every wound she takes, every drop of blood that falls free. She's thinks she is just getting smart, better at knowing what to ask the staff for. In the beginning, it's using her more than she's using it. She asks and it delivers. Being the owner of the Staff of One means the universe is at her disposal as long as she asks nicely and remembers to bleed.

Nico's hooked. She permanently borrows her mom's sewing machine and starts making her own clothes. It starts out easy. Embroidering a pattern on a skirt; adding white cuffs to the ends of some of her long sleeves. That was months ago, now she's making petite coats and dresses and dying other clothes black, grey, and deep red.

Her friends joke that she's turning into one of those emo kids or a vampire. Nico laughs along because it's all in good fun. This is her style now and she loves it. Her parents haven't said a word about against it. She expected more trouble from then to be honest. Maybe a question about her possibly practicing witchcraft considering how often they go to church. All they did was ask if there was anything bad going on and then listen to her chatter that she's okay, this style is just really cool. They are really amused by it and don't bring it up again.

Later Nico realizes her parents thought she was following in their footsteps all on her own.

The Witchbreaker teaches her the meaning of the word pain. Her great-grandmother sets her on fire, tears her apart, stabs her in places she didn't know she could be stabbed in then puts her back together to do it all over again. The old witch monologues while she does so. Telling Nico she is weak and that this will make her better.

"The more pain you learn to take the stronger you will become." Nico tells her she is a bitter old hag. This gets her a dozen knives stabbed into her body.

Nico hates every second of it, but the beat down works. She starts to feel the magic inside of her and the pain that fuels it. The Witchbreaker forces her to speed past the limits she thought she had. Conquering the pain so when her great-grandmother let's down her guard for just a second, Nico blows out of there. She's pretty sure the old hag let her go but she doesn't care. She's stronger now. Better able to protect her family against everything the world throws at them.

One day she might even thank her for showing her just how much she can take.

It's not easy keeping her style on the run. She doesn't have access to a sewing machine or the funds to create things from scratch anymore. She ends up repurposing old clothes that she can find at thrift stores. It gets easier when her magic gets stronger but changing an outfit with the snap of her fingers isn't the same as using needle and thread.

So, she uses magic most of the time and saves some money to get thread when she can. Eventually she's able to scrap enough together to look like herself rather than some darkly dressed teenager. It's a small comfort in a world that doesn't care about them.

The other runaways don't comment on her ever changing and constantly more complex wardrobe or how it drains their funds. They all have their quirks.

The Witchbreaker gave her power but completely screwed over her control. Nico finds this out later. After she's broken up the group, created a zombie monster, and done so much damage that she spends weeks away from everyone trying to regain control. It's not just the Staff of One. Doing spell work without it ends in the same disasters.

It is weeks of failures and disasters as she struggles to make the magic do what she wants it to do. She has no one to teach her. No guidance. No mentor. Everything she knows is a slapdash mix of things that have backfired on her and the few words of wisdom her great-grandmother bothered to mention. At least no one else has to pay for her lack of control while she practices. It's worth the pain to gain it. There's a burn scar on her shoulder and her knee never works quiet the same afterwards, but she succeeds. Now she commands the magic instead of letting it run wild. The Staff of One seems to reward her. It no longer requires her to speak the words out loud though those get the best result.

Nico stumbles back to her family exhausted and in the tattered rags that had once been a dress. They don't talk about why she left. Klara asks her if her witchcraft is working correctly now and that's it. It's a relief to be honest. She's been attacking herself for weeks trying to figure out why things are blowing up, what's she doing wrong, that she's not sure if she could handle the rest of the team poking at her right now.

She collapses on her bed and sleeps the day away. When she wakes she sheds her clothes and takes a shower. Once done, she spots that her favorite dress is laid out. It's freshly washed with a note from Victor saying that her family has gone out to fight a supervillain and, don't worry, they will be back soon. Nico worries anyway. They are back before she can go find them though. The team brushes off their bruises and gets pizza to celebrate their victory.

Nico shows them that her powers are now under control by creating an illusion of faeries and centaurs without the help of the Staff of One.

Her style changes over the years. It comes as no surprise. She's no longer the fourteen year old that first surfed the web for ideas. Her clothes get a distinct new victorian look to them with thick skirts that only go down to her knees, corsets just for her waist, and lace trimming the edges of her collar and cuffs.

She finds herself moving away from the crimson and white with a bit of black to black and burgundy. Maybe a little white thrown in there to outline the sleeves or hem. Nico doesn't think about it. Her clothes keep her sane. Magiking the material and then putting them together soothes her heart and gives her something to do that won't end in disaster if she fails.

Like she failed Alex and Gert and Xavin and Chase and so many people. No deaths were caused because she missed a stitch or measured wrong.

Grief, Nico finds out, is its own kind of power. Like all her revelations it comes too late to do any good. The explosion has ripped through Victor and she can feel the shockwave miles away back on earth.

She screams for him. For her lover, boyfriend, father of her kids, and the too good for her man that he is. He doesn't come back. Brothers of the Serpent are still fighting them but not for long. Grief is pain and pain is her power. Nico unleashes it on them and doesn't care how many of them don't get back up when she does.

The team retreats to bury Victor except there's nothing left of him. He's been vaporized in space and the few specks remaining have already been scattered across the cosmos. Nico wishes she had learned this lesson with Cindy. When the bitch had killed Klara and almost done the same to her kids. Instead there had only been a cold fury that had swamped her.

"Do you know what we do to traitors Cindy?" She remembers saying. "We rip their damn hearts out."

Nico remembers holding the liar's heart in her hand and being satisfied. She doesn't feel satisfied now. She feels alone and devastated. She sinks to her knees in their bedroom, now her bed because Victor is gone, and mumbles through her prayers. The words are all she has now. Nico grips her faith tightly even though she has blood on her hands and a darkness in her heart. These prayers aren't for her so maybe God will listen to them.

Afterwards she goes to Maria and Charlie and doesn't leave their side. Xavin takes over field command without a word, the lasts bits of her family listen to him/her without complaint.

In her final year, Nico's wardrobe doesn't change. There's no longer any white in it. Only greys, blacks, and reds. People had joked before that she looked like she was in mourning but they say nothing now that she is.

In mourning for her family, her friends. Dressed in black for the dead, grey for the guilt of her mistakes, and red for the blood on her hands. She stops stitching clothes for herself. Her children are the only reason she picks up a needle and thread. For them she'll add purples and blues and yellows to their shirts and pants. For them, she'll try to remember a time when she dressed this way because she liked it. When she appreciated the way the fabrics contrasted and not how it made people uncomfortable around her.

She's dressed for death and she's not afraid to make it yours if you come near the remains of her family.

Nico's death is a bullet to the head in mid-incantation. She's twenty-four, a mother, leader, and sorceress. She has revived the dead, bested supervillains and heroes, and survived more dangerous situations then this. She has led her family for nearly a decade and it shows. Which is why the villain went after her children to distract her while his minion came up from behind.

It doesn't matter. Nico is strong and master of her pain. The spell finishes without her being alive. Time stops. Her enemies freeze. Maria and Charlie can still move as they are right next to her. Her son catches her falling body. Her daughter begs her to wake up. When its clear Nico won't, Maria grabs the Staff of One and shouts her first true spell.

It's 'Stop it!'

Nico will never know. Twenty-four is a lot more birthdays than most runaways have but it was not enough. It was never going to be enough.