Author's notes: Hello! As promised, here's the start of the revisions to Death's Dare. Revision chapters will be posted every Wednesday and Saturday, until all 19 are back online and a new chapter is ready to go. Much of the story will not change and some of the later chapters will be virtually untouched as they're the most recent and consistent with my current writing style. But many of your favorite scenes might be getting an overhaul or new scenes will be added in earlier chapters. I hope you enjoy the revisions - I think they're going to make this story stronger in the end.
And if you're just joining us, hello again! I started Death's Dare in 2009 as a mutlichapter Rachel/Nico fic, and am currently revising it to fit in with new revelations about Nico di Angelo's character. There will be mentions of the Heroes of Olympus series, but for the most, that storyline does not exist in this universe. This is a futurefic set seven years after the Battle of Manhattan.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy the new and improved Death's Dare.
Disclaimer: I don't own Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
Chapter One: The Assignment
"He's going to be my what?"
Usually, Rachel Elizabeth Dare's acidic glares could make grown men whimper and run screaming from the room. Even her father, who had once stared down the President of the United States and made him blink, had been known to back down once she turned the evil eye his way. But the two grown men — well, almost grown in one case — sitting across from her in the restaurant booth remained cool and unaffected by it. Probably because they'd been on the receiving end of glares from furious mortal women for the last few millennia.
Stupid, immortal Olympians.
"Rachel, babe," the younger man said, adjusting his aviator sunglasses and leaning back against the padding seating in the booth. The passing waitress did a double take and almost spilled her tray on the neighboring table. Rachel really hated going anywhere with Apollo when he was in his hot, teenage model form. "I'm only looking out for your best interests. I can't be around to protect you all the time, and since locking young maidens in distant temples isn't en vogue any more, this is probably the best option for you."
"What century is this again? I don't need anyone to protect me. I've done my fair share of training at camp, plus I took several self-defense classes last year," Rachel said venomously. She was probably the only mortal who could get away with such a tone around him; Apollo adored his Oracle far too much flash fry her.
The older man next to Apollo snorted in amusement. He was exactly the opposite of the other god in both looks and temperament, with his crisp, dark suit and slicked back hair. He could've passed for Apollo's father if he really tried, but Rachel didn't dare tell him that because she liked not existing as a pile of dust, thank you very much. They made a bizarre combination, for sure, and she wasn't sure what had caused them to team up to come and talk to her beyond obvious reasons.
"Because your mortal self-defense classes will serve you so well the next time a monster tries to jump you on the subway. You were lucky this time, girl, and I would know better than most," Lord Hades replied, matching her glower with a cool, self-assured stare.
Really, the two of them were blowing this out of proportion. So she'd been attacked by a monster last week ago. Big deal.
She'd known she was being followed for a while, and she'd just had to wait until the creature had snuck up on her to give it a good stab in the stomach with her Celestial bronze dagger, just like Chiron had shown her at camp. It hadn't been a very big one either, and certainly hadn't been expecting her to fight back. Luck had been on her side and she'd escaped with a few scratches all the same, but the two of them didn't need to know that.
"One monster attack in the last seven years is not bad enough to warrant a 24/7 bodyguard," she said, reaching for her glass of lemonade. "It's not like I'm an actual target for them or anything. Not a demigod, remember?"
As she sipped from her straw, she noticed the two gods exchanging a look. Rachel didn't have to be an Oracle to understand what that meant.
"Oh geez. Please don't tell me Oracle is the new special of the day, and monster attacks are going to be a new trend for me. This is so not what I need while I'm finishing grad school."
"Fine. We won't tell you, will we, Apollo?"
Apollo ignored the other god, and pushed his sunglasses up into his hair. His blue eyes were unusually serious.
"I don't want to alarm you, Rachel, but we — or at least, I, anyway — have reason to believe that someone is trying to kill you," he said evenly. "That monster will only be the beginning. I'm not sure who it could be at the moment, since plenty of our old enemies have come out of the woodwork to challenge us since Kronos fell, but they're certainly not going to stop until you're out of the way. You haven't seen anything, have you?"
Rachel shook her head, sitting back in the booth in surprise. She was sure she would've remembered prophesying her own doom in recent days.
While it was a little alarming to be on some immortal's hit list, Rachel was sort of surprised it had taken so long after the Battle of New York to get on there. Percy and Annabeth had been fighting monsters in the mortal constantly since then, but she hadn't seen any sort of action from the enemies of Olympus, outside of her prophetic dreams. Chiron had once told her that monsters found the Oracle to be a bit frightening themselves — even gorgons and Cyclopses didn't want to risk learning what Fate had in store for them.
What had changed then?
"But why?" she sputtered, "Why me? I'm an art history major, for cripe's sake."
"Oh, but you're much more than that, darling. You're our one and only Oracle, and bad things happen when our Oracles get themselves killed," Apollo said matter-of-factly. "You're like our early alert system. You get taken out and the Oracle's spirit is no longer anchored to this world; sometimes it takes years for me to find her again and settle her into a host. We used to have three girls to avoid that problems, but with the budget problems and downsizing…" He switched subjects upon seeing the glazed look appearing on Rachel's face. "Without an Oracle, there are no heroes to go on quests, no tips on how to save the world, no helpful, rhyming advice. Nothing. You understand why it's important to keep you safe?"
Rachel sighed and nodded reluctantly. She supposed she should've been grateful that her duties as the Oracle of Delphi hadn't conflicted with her mortal life as much as they could have in the past seven years. Yes, she had to spend her summers at Camp Half-Blood, but that wasn't exactly a death sentence and it got her away from her father's watchful eye. She'd lived a rather normal life since she became the vessel of the Oracle, and there was some part of her that was itching for a change.
"I understand," she sighed, giving in. "But why does it have to be Nico di Angelo? Can't I have a Hunter or someone?"
Hades stirred in his seat, beginning to radiate a deathly glow. "Do you have a problem with my son, girl?"
"Besides the fact that he's a boy and boys are off-limits for the Oracle?"
Truthfully, Rachel didn't know all that much about Nico di Angelo. They'd been in the Labyrinth together and she'd seen him hanging around Percy at Camp Half-Blood, but they'd never been friends. He was younger than her, a bit of a brooding loner who never stuck around long, and they'd only ever talked a few times. She'd heard all the rumors and terrible stories about him, of course — that he was a creep who communed with the dead, could kill you with a glare or curse you if you looked at him wrong, and blah blah blah. Rachel didn't necessarily think they were true, per say, but it made her a little nervous to be sharing her apartment with a near stranger all the same.
"We're making an exception to rule in this case," Apollo said hastily, as if he could sense Hades's growing ire. "Lord Hades owes me for putting the curse on my last Oracle — "
"Bah," Hades said, waving his hand dismissively, as if dooming a young girl to a horrible fate as a mummy in outdated clothing was a trivial matter.
" — and who could be a better bodyguard than someone who can see death coming? Additionally, Lord Hades has assured me that his son understands the boundaries and requirements of his position. Besides," Apollo said, lowering his voice conspiratorially, as if the god sitting next to him wouldn't be able to hear, "his kids aren't all that big into romance. Must be something about being around death all the time. Doesn't exactly make them good lovers, if you get what I'm saying, so I don't expect to have any problems with him."
Hades glared at him, but Apollo didn't appear bothered by it. He shot a wink at the waitress that did make her drop her tray this time, and Rachel sighed in defeat.
Well, she supposed there were worse things the sun god could've asked her to do. Having a demigod live with her couldn't be that bad, especially not compared to the security her dad had tried to hire when she was younger. Even if he was a son of Hades.
"I suppose I'll have to make my couch ready for habitation," Rachel relented. "When can I expect him?"
"He's in Italy at the moment with some of his mortal relations. I told him what was expected of him, and he should be arriving sometime tonight," Hades said, and then he frowned. "And surely you can afford better accommodation than a couch, Miss Dare. He's my son, not some wretch of low-class minor god with limited talents like this one over here."
Rachel sighed. If Hades's attitude was anything to judge Nico by, she was in for an exhausting next few months.
After her lunch with the two gods that morning, Rachel decided to spend some time with her mortal friends in the Village. She'd thought about visiting Percy and Annabeth first to tell them the news, but she figured they'd hear it from the di Angelo kid eventually. Besides, the last time she'd visited without advanced warning, the two of them had been otherwise engaged in the bedroom and that was something she never needed to see or hear again.
She and her friends were gathered around a table at an outside café — Jenna and Monique were arguing about the mayoral election while Angeline was listening to them with one ear and a Podcast on surrealism in the other. Rachel had her head tilted up the sky, trying to catch some last minute summer sun, when a shiny black and silver motorcycle pulled up next to the curb. The rider, wearing a black helmet and faded leather jacket, glanced over at their table and killed the engine.
A prickle of awareness ran down Rachel's spine, the same kind of prickle she got when she could feel a monster nearby or a gap in the Mist. She pulled her sunglasses away from her eyes and pushed them up into her hair to get a better look at this person. Whoever the rider was, he didn't look like any sort of monster she could remember, but then again, they usually didn't at first glance.
The rider got of his motorcycle and walked toward them, reaching up to take off his helmet. The helmet came off, revealing a familiar scowl, dark eyes and messy brown hair. It took a moment for Rachel to recognize him, and when she did, her jaw dropped.
He definitely wasn't the awkward little kid she remembered from Camp Half-Blood. Whoever the god of puberty was, they'd gone overtime on this kid. He was tall — taller than Percy and with a broad chest that his gray T-shirt stretched over nicely. His black jeans, slung low on his hips, hugged his long legs like they had been made for him and the motorcycle boots completed whatever badass look he was trying to go for.
"Oh my god," Jenna, who had a thing for bad boys, whispered as she noticed his approach. "Hottie, dead ahead."
Oh, she had not idea how right she was about that dead part.
Rachel fought off a growing blush as he approached her and said in a deep voice she wasn't expecting, "Rachel Dare?"
He had a bit a scruff on his face, and a jawline that she'd kill to sketch in several positions. The only thing that hadn't changed about him was the intensity of his dark eyes.
He stuck out his hand. He was wearing fingerless biking gloves and a tarnished, silver skull ring. She remembered that ring.
"Nico di Angelo."
Rachel took his hand, and felt a different sort of prickle going up her spine. Not of fear or revulsion, but the slightly unfamiliar prickle of attraction.
Oh, this was going to be a problem. A big problem.
Nico di Angelo was was fucked. Big time.
When his dad had appeared at his aunt's villa in Venice a few days ago and demanded that he get his skinny, ungrateful ass back to Manhattan so he could guard Apollo's Oracle, Nico had been less than thrilled. Hades had elected to stay out of Nico's business since he turned eighteen, and Nico had gotten used to his freedom and had been tempted to tell his dad where he could shove his crazy demands when he'd shown up again.
Then again, Nico rather liked being alive, and this was probably the easiest request his dad had ever thrown at him. Protecting the Oracle from monster attacks? Cake compared to talking Cerberus for a walk, interning with Charon for the summer, or surviving a Christmas dinner with Demeter and Persephone without being turned into a blooming plant.
However, the Oracle was Rachel Elizabeth Dare. She had a bit of bad habit of getting herself into ridiculous and dangerous situations, if he remembered correctly. With her around, it was unlikely that his job would be all that easy.
Plus, there was the pesky fact that he'd had a bit of a thing for Rachel Dare during one of the summers he'd managed to stick around at camp. It had something to do with the way she threw blue plastic hairbrushes at Titan Lords, had enough confidence to keep up with her demigod friends in spite of her ability to terrify them witless, and was generally a pretty nice girl to everyone she met. She'd also had that cute redheaded thing going on and Nico had sorta liked that.
He hadn't had much of a chance with her since she was the Oracle and all, and he hadn't impressed her with any of the conversations they'd had, especially not that painfully awkward one about MythoMagic they'd had in line for lunch one day. But she'd been a safe person to admire from afar while he was trying to figure out who he was, someone he knew couldn't break his heart, unlike the disaster of his first confused and ultimately unrequited crush.
His attraction to Rachel had been brief and he'd moved on to others after that summer, so when he agreed to become her bodyguard, he had been confident that attraction would not be a problem between them. That was, of course, before he saw her again.
As a teenager, Rachel had been cute. Not particularly pretty compared to some of the wannabe models that ran around camp, but cute in a down to earth, paint splattered jeans sort of way. As an adult, he still didn't find Rachel pretty — she was downright gorgeous.
Her creamy white skin glowed in the afternoon sunlight as she sunned herself, her long red curls tumbling down her back and as bright as a flame. Her pink lips were pulled into a smile as she listened to her friends, and she had the smattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks that he suddenly found absolutely delectable. It didn't help that she was wearing a blue tank top that clung to her soft curves or a short skirt that showed off her long legs too.
Fuck, fuck, fuck. This was not good. Why had someone not warned him she looked like that now?
Nico took a deep breath, and got off his bike. Rachel's eyes didn't flare in recognition until he took his helmet off, and then she got a weird expression on her face, like she couldn't believe what she was seeing. Nico hoped his dad had at least told her that he was expected otherwise this was going to be one awkward exchange.
One of her friends leaned over to whisper something to her, but her green eyes were only concentrated on him. He stopped in front of her and held out his hand; he wasn't sure why he felt the need to introduce himself. It wasn't like she didn't know him, after all.
"Nico," Rachel whispered, and the husky sound of her voice made his knees just a little weak. "Um … hi. I – I wasn't expecting you until later."
She probably hadn't been expecting him to ambush her in front of her mortal friends, but Nico's timing had sucked for most of his life. She was lucky he hadn't popped into her apartment while she was showering —
Oh gods, if he wanted to last a week in this job, he could not start thinking of her naked.
"Sorry, my flight got in early," he said, and that was more or less true. "I probably should've called first."
"No, no, it's fine. I'm just finishing up here, and we can go back to my place — "
"Rachel," said the short blonde with pink highlights in her hair, leaning forward and batting her eyelashes at him. "Who is your cute friend?"
Nico couldn't help the blush the flooded his cheeks. He still wasn't used to women — especially older women — paying him any attention that wasn't met with a wrinkled nose and a huff of disgust, and his usual quick tongue got tongue tied pretty fast. Sauve, he was not.
"Jenna, this is Nico," Rachel said, gesturing at him as she picked up her cup and reached for the bag slung across the back of her chair. "He's going to be living with me for a while."
"What, like living living with you?" one of the other girls blurted out, her eyes going wide. "Oh my god, Rachel. When did you get a boyfriend?"
"I'm not — "
"He's not my boyfriend," Rachel replied shortly, glaring at Nico as if this was entirely his fault. "He's a… a friend of Percy's from summer camp that needs a place to stay for a couple of months, all right? Gods know I have more than enough space at my place."
Nico couldn't help but feel a bit slighted by her tone. Hey, it wasn't like he had wanted to come back to New York to babysit her either; she could at least be grateful that he was going to keep her ass safe for the foreseeable future.
"Whatever you say, Rachel," Jenna said with a laugh. She turned her gaze to Nico and winked. "If you need another space to share, Nico, my place is more than open."
"Um… okay," Nico said, earning himself another laugh from Jenna as she flipped her hair over her shoulder.
Rachel stood abruptly, shifting her bag onto her shoulder.
"Bye girls. Call me about going for a bar run later this week, all right?"
Rachel didn't wait for their reply and grabbed Nico by the arm, whirling him back around toward his bike. Nico glanced over his shoulder and waved at the three girls, who giggled and ducked their heads together. The redhead at his arm gave an insistent tug.
"Don't pay any attention to them," she said. "They're miserable flirts."
"Like they'd want to date me now. 'Just a kid from camp'? Lame," Nico said, glancing at Rachel. "Couldn't you have at least said I was your demigod bodyguard of death? It sounds much more dangerous."
"Unfortunately, my friends don't know I'm freakish enough to warrant a demigod bodyguard of death, so you're going to have to live with being a brat from camp," she paused and glanced at his motorcycle. "Do I really have to ride that?"
Nico bristled. His motorcycle was pride and joy. It was a vintage Harley he'd rescued from a scrap heap, and had spent two years rebuilding and customizing with Leo Valdez and some kids from the Hephaestus cabin. Didn't she know how hard it was to make objects as large as a motorcycle shadow travel?
"Better get used to it. This is going to be your primary mode of transportation for however long I have to be here," he said, swinging himself onto the bike. He noticed she was eyeing the skull he had airbrushed onto the side, and grabbed her wrist as she reached out to touch the glittering ruby eyes. "I wouldn't touch those if I were you. They're cursed."
Rachel snatched her hand away from his as if he had burned her, her eyes wide. "Do I even want to know why you have cursed rubies on your bike?"
"Keeps the thieves away," he said with a shrug. "They were a birthday present from Persephone. I think she was hoping I wouldn't know what they were and would put myself in a coma for 20 years. I'm starting to think she likes me a little better now."
"And here I thought my family was messed up. You demigods always known how to show a girl up," Rachel sighed, eyeing the bike again critically. "So how do I get on this thing?"
"Right leg first. You can put your hand on my shoulder if you need to balance," he directed, turning to watch her get on. He made sure to keep his eyes focused on her face and not on the skirt that was inching higher up her thighs as she moved. He felt her settle behind him, shifting until she got comfortable. "All right. Now, make sure your feet are on the foot pegs and not anywhere near the muffler — just a little to the left there, okay, you've got it."
"I'm not going to fall off this, am I?" she replied, looking squeamish. She reached back to tie her hair behind her head, and Nico admired the long line of her neck for a brief moment.
"Nah. Just hold onto my hips and lean when I lean, and you'll be fine," he said, handing his helmet to her. "You'll probably need this too. I don't have an extra yet, so it might be a little big."
Rachel slipped the helmet over her head without complaint, adjusted herself on the bike once more, and then reached out to put her hands on him. Nico repressed a shudder as her fingertips brushed against a section of bare skin between his jeans and t-shirt, and nearly jumped out of his skin when she pressed up against his back after he started the engine. It figured the first person on his bike in months would be both hot and completely unavailable.
If this was any indication of how the rest of this assignment would be going, he was going to be so, so screwed.