Author's notes: There may be some delays in getting revised chapters up due to the holiday season approaching, but I'll do my best to stay as close to the Wednesday/Saturday updating schedule as possible.
Disclaimer: I don't own Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
Chapter Nine: Slow
In the past six or so years since he had developed a substantial sex drive, Nico had thankfully never had any awkward morning after encounters with any of the parents of the handful of people he had been intimately involved with.
There had been a time in Italy where his dad had appeared, quite literally out of nowhere, but then again, his dad was a Greek god. Walking in on his son getting a hand job was probably the least surprising or awkward thing he had seen in a hundred years.
Of course he would ruin that streak when it came to Rachel. He never seemed to have any luck with her, which was unfortunate, because Warren Dare was one scary motherfucker.
It wasn't that Rachel's dad was particularly buff or otherwise physically intimidating, because Mr. Dare was a fairly average looking guy with a receding hairline in his early fifties.
No, the scary part was that the most powerful man in Manhattan — the one who had just been named the world's most influential billionaire two years in a row and owned more property than a king — was glowering at him from across the room and probably thinking of a hundred different ways to break him mentally, financially, and then possibly physically.
He might not be a Greek god, but Warren Dare was not someone to make an enemy out of, that was for certain.
Nico supposed he was lucky that Mr. Dare had only caught him kissing Rachel rather than in a more compromising position — he had heard rumors that Mr. Dare had connections with the mafia and other shady organizations that probably wouldn't hesitate to break Nico's kneecaps for dabbling with the boss' daughter.
"Um," Rachel said, blushing furiously as she tried to untangle herself from his arms. "Hi Daddy. What are you doing here?"
Rachel gave him a hard shove in the chest, dislodging his hold on her, and causing him to stumble backwards a couple of inches. He regained his balanced after a moment, and ran a hand through his hair nervously, trying to look anywhere except at Mr. Dare or Rachel's mussed hair and wet lips.
"Hello Rachel. I talked to Eric Delano yesterday and he had some fascinating things to say about why the utility bills were significantly higher here than usual last month," Mr. Dare said tightly, glancing at his daughter briefly. "So I wanted to see that reason for myself."
His gaze returned to Nico almost immediately, and Nico gulped. He hadn't even said anything to Mr. Dare, and he could tell that the older man hated him already.
"Asshole," Rachel muttered under her breath. Then louder, she added, "I can't believe you sent Eric to spy on me. Couldn't you have just called and asked?"
"And have you ignore me, as usual?" Mr. Dare asked, moving into the kitchen. His expression was relatively impassive, but his shoulders were tight with tensions. "No, I thought this required a personal visit."
"You still should have called. I have my own schedule — "
"Who's your friend, Rachel?" Mr. Dare interrupted tersely. "I don't think I've met him before.
"Um," Rachel said again, flicking a piece of hair behind her ears and glancing over her shoulder at Nico. Apology was visible in her eyes. "This is…"
"Nico," he said, his voice coming out as a squeak. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Nico di Angelo, sir. It's nice to meet you."
Mr. Dare looked him up and down speculatively, still not betraying an iota of emotion beyond irritation, before he said, "And how long did you know my daughter before you put your tongue down her throat, Mr. di Angelo?"
It was then that Nico wished Rachel had a first floor apartment so he could will the ground to open up and swallow him whole. Gods, he hated parents. Could this get any more mortifying?
"Dad!" Rachel exclaimed, her cheeks turning a spectacular shade of red and Nico knew his face was probably the same shade, if not deeper in color. "Mine and Nico's relationship is none of your business. I'm an adult, you have to stop with this patronizing, overprotective bullshit!"
"I think, as long as I'm paying your bills, I have some say over who you let stay overnight in this apartment," the older man replied, his gaze still focused on Nico. "So, Mr. di Angelo. What's the answer?"
Rachel whirled around, her eyes flashing. Nico felt heat flow through him; Rachel was hot when she was angry. "Don't answer him."
"Um," Nico said, glancing between the two Dares and feeling rather like a slab of meat being thrown to two predators. "Okay."
Mr. Dare's eyes narrowed with dislike, and Nico knew that if the whole kissing his only daughter thing hadn't already gotten him there, that response had forever put him on the man's shit list. But he supposed it was better to be on Mr. Dare's bad side than Rachel's, considering he didn't have to live with Mr. Dare for the foreseeable future.
"Rachel," he said slowly, turning his gaze on her and Nico wasn't sure how she didn't wither under that stare. "May I speak to you in the hall? In private?"
"I guess," Rachel said with shrug. She took a step toward her father, but then she paused, as if thinking better of it, and turned back around.
Before he could protest, Rachel hooked her fingers in the loops of his jeans and surged upwards, kissing him fiercely. Nico's knees buckled just a little bit, and he had to put a hand on the counter to steady himself. Gods, where had she learned to kiss like that?
Rachel's father cleared his throat once again, and she released him after a long moment. He rasped her name as she smirked at him and she let go, turning on her heel.
Nico tried not to stare as she walked away and out of the kitchen, swinging her hips wickedly, but damn, it was hard. He caught Mr. Dare's frosty glower, and winced.
"Sorry," he said, leaning against the counter. "You know how she is."
"Unfortunately, yes," Mr. Dare said, rolling his eyes. "Don't go anywhere, Mr. di Angelo. I'll be back to talk to you soon."
Nico gulped and nodded.
Rachel felt like punching something. Hard.
Her father had a terrible effect on her blood pressure, which is why she avoided talking to him as much as possible, especially about topics they didn't see eye-to-eye. Topics like men, and Rachel's relationship with them.
Her father was intensely interfering when it came to the men in her life, and disapproved of any potential romantic interest she hung out with he hadn't already scouted and pre-approved himself. He held the opinion that any man who wanted to spend time with her was just looking for a free meal ticket and couldn't be interested in her for reasons beyond her trust fund. Due to the whole Oracle situation and the lack of boyfriends that came with it, she hadn't had to put up with his demeaning behavior more than a handful of times in recent years, but it was intensely annoying when it did him and ensured that Rachel would not be speaking to her father for the next month or so.
"If you were trying to prove a point, you went about it the wrong way," her father said in a low voice, crossing his arms over his chest and frowning at her. "What was that lewd display, Rachel?"
"Lewd? It was just a kiss, Dad!" she said, crossing her arms over her chest and leaning against the wall. "People happen to do that when they like each other."
"He had his hand under your shirt when I walked in. That was not just a kiss, dear."
"Why does it matter? I wasn't letting him feel me up in public, god," Rachel said, feeling herself blush at the thought. "Maybe if you had called first, you wouldn't have walked in on us and you could've met Nico properly."
Mr. Dare stared at her, confused. "What do you mean, properly? Rachel, that boy isn't your — you're not actually dating him, are you? How long has this been going on?"
It was moments like these where Rachel wished she could tell her father about her role as the Oracle of Delphi. It would just make things so much easier to say, "Hey, Nico's my bodyguard and he has to stay here so I don't die horribly!" than coming up with elaborate lies. However, she had never been able to convince Apollo that it'd be in Olympus' best interests for her family to know.
Mr. Dare knew Rachel was a little strange, with all the blackouts she'd had in school, the way she could predict moves on the stock market weeks before his consultants could, and the summers she spent at Camp Half-Blood, long after other people her age stopped going to summer camp. And he couldn't exactly forget how she'd been as a child either, claiming to have seen monsters and strange creatures, and having ferocious nightmares her parents eventually had to send her to a therapist for. But as long as she kept her head down and stayed out the press, her father was content to ignore her rather unusual personality quirks.
"Not long. Nico is a friend," she sighed, reaching up to rub her temple. "I've known him for years, and he needed a place to stay for a couple of months so I decided to let him live in the spare bedroom. The kissing thing was a recent development."
"Like less than 24 hours, recent. Don't worry," she said sarcastically, catching his slightly horrified look. "The Dare family honor is still intact."
Although her father was a brilliant and savvy businessman, he could be fairly dense when it came to reading his own daughter's emotions. However, it was impossible for him to miss the bitterness in her voice. His face softened just a bit and he reached out to touch her on the shoulder.
"Rachel, you know that's not what I'm worried about. I just don't want you to get hurt. Men can be vicious, especially when they just want money," he replied, and Rachel might've been touched by his concern, had he not given her this speech a hundred times before.
"Trust me, Nico doesn't need the money," she said. "And he certainly doesn't want it. He wants me, as absurd as that concept might be to you."
Mr. Dare ignored that last jab. "I'm sure you think so, but Eric seemed to think — "
"Eric was busy doing to damage control because his jerk friend called me a bitch. I bet he didn't tell you that part," Rachel said testily. "Whatever he told you probably isn't true, and I can't believe you would trust him over me."
Her father let out an irritated huff.
"Dear, you have no room to lecture me about trust when I had to learn about your new roommate from one of my employees rather than you. It makes it looks you have something to be ashamed of," he pointed out reasonably, and she scowled. "Which, if this di Angelo boy is as decent as you say he is, you shouldn't have. He's not going to screw you over, is he?"
"No, he won't," she said without hesitation. "Nico wouldn't do anything to hurt me."
This declaration did not seem to impress her father at all, and he stared at her for a long time, as if he could get her to rescind her words with just a look. Finally, he sighed loudly and removed his hand from her shoulder.
"I sincerely hope you're right, Rachel," he said, taking a step back from her. "The boy can stay, I suppose. He has been paying you rent, yes? I'm not paying property taxes on this place so he can freeload off us."
"Well, I'm so glad I have your approval," she said sarcastically. "Because it's not like I'm a grown woman who can make her own decisions now or anything."
"I never said he had my approval," her father replied, glancing toward the kitchen speculatively and then back at her. "Are you sure he's your type? He looks a little too rough around the edges for you, and I swear I've seen him around before…"
"He's related to Percy. They're cousins."
"Oh, are they?"
If Rachel had ever hoped to get her father to approve of Nico, she had just blown it by mentioning his connection to Percy. Her father had hated Percy the minute they had met eight years ago, and that hatred had only increased after Percy accidentally destroyed the gold-plated fountain in her family's mansion foyer during her 17th birthday party. Almost everything that was connected to Percy in any way, shape, or form was automatically dismissed as irrelevant or unworthy of his notice… except if it was something like this, it seemed.
"Well, then," Mr. Dare said, straightening his suit jacket in the way Rachel knew meant things were not going to get any better for her or Nico soon. "I guess this means I have even more of a reason to talk to the boy, don't I?"
"Dad — " Rachel protested, but her father had already turned and was marching back into the kitchen where Nico was waiting.
Rachel put her face into her hands and let out a tiny, strangled scream of frustration. She'd be lucky if Nico would even want to look at her again after her father got through with him.
She had been wrong about one thing, at least: Nico did look at her after her father left, but it took him a half a minute to muster up the courage to talk to her and when he did, he simply said, "I am never touching you again," before ducking back in his bedroom to hide from her until she needed to be dropped off on campus for class later in the afternoon.
And even then, he had still been awkward around her. He had insisted on using the subway instead of taking the demon bike, probably because the motorcycle would've put them in too close of proximity for his comfort. When they had been on the subway, he'd sat across from her and had avoided her gaze. By the time they reached her station without speaking once, she'd had enough of this shit crap. Her dad was not that scary, for Zeus's sake.
"Hey," she said, tugging on his arm as soon as they were free from the crowds. He didn't turn or stop walking, but she knew she had his attention. "Don't take anything my dad said seriously, all right? The only reason he gives two shits about me is when it concerns his bank account. He doesn't know anything about me… or anything about you, for that matter. I don't care what he thinks about us."
Nico sighed, and glanced back at her finally. His expression was inquisitive, which was a vast improvement over the grim, shell-shocked mask he'd been wearing.
"So there's an 'us' now?" he asked curiously.
Rachel flushed. She hadn't quite meant for it to sound like that, at least it was getting him talking.
"There's always been a general 'us,' in regards to the whole bodyguard thing. We're obviously in that together," she explained, following him up the stairs to the street level. She took a deep breath and continued, "But we haven't really talked about whether or not we want it to become a different sort of 'us.'"
Nico paused and she bumped into his back, causing her to wobble a little precariously on the stairs. He wrapped a hand around her elbow to steady her, and stepped down beside her. A subway station was probably the worst place to have this conversation, what with all the people milling about and bumping into them, but it was what needed to be said, especially after the events this morning. They needed to honest with each other, in terms of what they were expecting from here on out.
"Hasn't this already been decided for us? Your one rule is that you can't — "
"Have sex, not that I can't have a boyfriend," Rachel interrupted, her heart pounding loudly against her chest. "The rule is that I have to remain a virgin, nothing more, nothing less. I've never really considered any other options because… well, because there's never really been a reason before now. I'd be willing to try, if you would."
Every little bit of that was true. She hadn't felt this strongly for another person for… well, ever. Not even her crush on Percy could compare. It wasn't just physical attraction to Nico either. Under all her exasperation and frustration, she had found she genuinely liked the son of Hades, and she wanted to see if what they had between them could be more than just quick, stolen kisses in her kitchen. If there was anyone she was going to test the limits with, she wanted it to be Nico di Angelo.
"You're sure?" he asked, tracing the skin on her arm with the tips of his fingers. "Because this is bigger than me just telling your dad to fuck off, which I would never do, by the way, because he is creepy — "
"My dad is nowhere near as creepy as yours," she quipped, and the look he gave her implied that he certainly didn't think that was true. "And I wouldn't have brought it up if I didn't know what I was getting into. I just want to us to try. Is that too hard?"
Nico sighed, and let go of her arm. He shoved his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket and motioned for her to start moving up the stairs again.
"Don't take this the wrong way, but I just need some time to think about it," he replied, falling into step beside her.
"Did my dad freak you out that badly?" she asked, puzzled. She was sure if she would've asked Nico the same question just a few hours earlier, he would've said yes in a heartbeat. Had her father's lecture made him realize that maybe she wasn't what he wanted after all?
"Not really. It's just… the last day was sort of a mess for us, you know? Everything's happened pretty fast, and I think it'd be best to let things settle down first. As much as I like kissing you — and trust me, that's a lot," he said, leaning to whisper that in her ear and making her shiver, "I'd like to have some time to think about it."
"You mean brood over it."
Nico frowned at her as they reached the street level. "I don't brood."
"Liar. You're the king of brooding," she said, knocking shoulders with him playfully. "It's all part of your creepy, 'I talk to dead people,' package.
"Whatever," he rolled his eyes as they exited the subway and started walking along 8th Street. "All I'm saying is that we don't need to jump into something right away. I'm not going anywhere. We can take things slow and see how things develop from here. I'm still your bodyguard, and you'll have to put up with me if things don't work out, you know."
Rachel nodded reluctantly in agreement. The last 24 hours had been a roller coaster of emotion for the both of them, and right now, they could be on an extreme upswing. For all she knew, they could be back to barely tolerating one another by tomorrow night.
They stopped at the intersection, waiting for the light to change, and Rachel let out an restless huff of air.
"I understand. That's actually a pretty good idea," she said.
"Alert the media," he interrupted dryly. "You just admitted I had a good idea."
"Shut up," she said with a playful glower. "I suppose I just got a little worried, with my dad and all. He likes to scare my friends away from me, and most of the time he succeeds."
Nico reached for her, threading his hands into her hair as he pressed his lips to the top of her forehead.
"I'm not scared off that easily," he said, and she could feel his lips curving into a smile against her skin. "How else do you think I was able stand being around you this long?"
"Oh, very funny," Rachel replied, pushing him away from her. "Come on, bodyguard, let's see if you can walk me all the way to campus without running into something really scary."
The light changed as she spoke, and as they walked, Nico looped an arm with hers and Rachel couldn't quite help the ridiculous grin that crossed her face.