Written for: aimmyarrowshigh
Warnings/Spoilers: Nothing comes to mind.
Notes: This took much longer than it should have, but hopefully the end result is worth it. Much thanks to greenconverses for looking it over.
”If I’d observed all the rules, I’d never have got anywhere.” -- Marilyn Monroe
“You do realize who she is.”
It was a statement rather than a question, but Percy nodded anyway as he upended the bottle over his head. The water ran over his face and he rolled his shoulders, sighing in relief even as the liquid evaporated from his clothes without ever actually hitting the ground.
“Of course I do,” he replied, twisting the bottle into a plastic knot and dropping it into the recycling bin standing nearby. “But come on, it’s just the fireworks. What’s the worst that could happen?”
“Apollo could happen,” Nico retorted.
He scrubbed at his face with a damp towel, wiping away the sweat and dirt from an afternoon in the arena, and reached for his own bottle. Even after years of training, the summer sun was draining; the sight of the younger campers dragging themselves away to collapse in sore, exhausted heaps had almost made it worth it, but the last thing he felt like doing was argue over anything involving Rachel Elizabeth Dare and the fireworks. Again.
“I’m telling you,” Percy continued, oblivious. “you should ask her.”
“And I’m telling you: no. She’s the Oracle for Zeus’ sake. I can’t just ask her on a date.”
“Why not?” Percy leaned against the wall and watched a group of exhausted trainees on the other side of the armory struggle with the buckles on their armor. “Just because she’s supposed to be a virgin doesn’t mean she has to stay single forever.”
“…the sun scrambled your brain, didn’t it.”
“All I’m saying is, you should go for it,” Percy continued, pausing only to sock his cousin playfully in the shoulder. “I mean honestly, you’re both going to be there anyway. You’re both lonely—“
“I am not!”
“—you’ve known each for years, and don’t even try to deny that you’ve had a crush on her since you were twelve—“
“Percy,” Nico grated, glancing sidelong at the campers on the other side of the room. “Shut up.”
“—so why not just go together?” Percy finished.
Nico sighed heavily through his nose in exasperation and resisted the urge to rub his eyes tiredly. Percy was watching him expectantly, eyebrows raised as if daring him to find a suitable excuse to back down again.
“Fine!” the son of Hades finally snapped. “But if I get blown up because of this, I swear on the Styx I will haunt you for the rest of your life.”
If Percy’s triumphant grin was anything to go by, his threat wasn’t nearly as frightening as it should have been; he scowled, but the other’s smile just widened even more as he reached out to smack him joyfully on the shoulder.
“That’s the spirit.”
Normally, Nico didn’t much get the point behind fireworks. They were just big, loud, colorful things that blew up in the sky. It was impressive the first few times, sure, but after a while one big rainbow circle was just the same as any other.
Camp Half Blood fireworks, naturally, were quite the opposite.
“I wonder how they do it.”
Rachel sat next to him, a blanket draped over her lap to ward off the chill from the sea breeze, and her face tilted up to watch the gigantomachy currently rampaging over their heads. A brilliant streak of white flashed from Zeus’ hand, sending the starry figure of Polybotes into an explosion of sparks; Rachel’s face glowed gold for a moment as the beach erupted in a chorus of cheers, and Nico only just managed to avoid being caught staring when she turned to look at him.
“The fireworks, I mean,” she continued. “How do they do it?”
Nico shrugged and leaned back on his elbows, looking up as one by one, the giants exploded in the display’s finale.
“Same way Gandalf can blow a ship out of smoke, I suppose,” he answered. “Just don’t let Leo know you think it’s cool, or he’ll gloat for weeks.”
“More than he already does, you mean?” she pointed out. “If I have to hear about how he saved the Acropolis one more time…”
Nico grinned; everyone knew the story of the Seven by now, but that didn’t stop certain members from embellishing their parts with each new retelling, much to the rest of the camp’s amusement.
The campers cheered again as the finale thundered to a close, their calls and whistles barely audible over the booming of the fireworks. Out on the water, a small figure could just be seen standing on deck of the launching barge, bowing dramatically until he was shoved roughly out of the light by one of his siblings. Groups and couples around them began to stand and pick up their things, dusting sand from their legs and chatting amongst themselves.
“We should do this again sometime,” Rachel said suddenly, in the middle of folding her own blanket.
“See the fireworks?”
“No, just…hang out,” she shook her head as he stood and pulled her to her feet. “See a movie or something.”
He hesitated and shook the sand from the blanket they’d been sitting on; Rachel watched him for a moment as he started to fold it more carefully than he needed to, and opened her mouth to say something else when he cut in.
“Make it lunch, and you’ve got yourself a date.”
“A date, huh?” she asked, eyebrows raised.
Rachel smiled and laughed when he offered his arm; he grinned back as they walked towards the cabins with the rest, and wondered what exactly he’d just gotten himself into.
Between being a demigod and spending the majority of (what he remembered of) his life travelling around, Nico had seen plenty of odd and disturbing things. New York alone was full of them, which was really not a surprise considering the people who were attracted to it the most. Out of everything, though, the restaurant Rachel had suggested for lunch was easily within the top ten. Or five.
“Chinese food…and doughnuts?”
“It’s better than it sounds,” she promised.
He stared dubiously at the cheerful neon signs flashing in the window and the simple letters spelling out the name of the restaurant over the front door, mentally analyzing the building and trying to decide if it looked more like a doughnut shop or a Chinese takeout, and wondered if the fact that he couldn’t tell should be worrisome or not.
“I hope so,” he finally muttered.
Rachel grinned and pushed open the door, pulling a still wary Nico after her. Two buffets dominated either side of the main room, one piled high with very American looking breakfast pastries, and the other displaying everything from chow mein to egg rolls. Rachel wasted no time in grabbing a plate and a set of chopsticks; Nico was still hesitant, but seeing the other patrons eating their various lunches without keeling over or gagging, he gave in and followed.
“No chopsticks?” she asked as they sat.
“Nope,” Nico stabbed a dumpling on his fork and plopped it in his mouth. “My fork works just fine.”
“It’s Chinese food.”
“Oh, give me that!”
The Chinese man in the corner glanced at them sidelong as Rachel reached over the table and wrestled the fork out of Nico’s hand, ignoring his squawk of protest. He hid his grin as the redhead grabbed Nico’s hand and manipulated his fingers around a set of chopsticks, pressing and pulling until he finally batted her away and maneuvered the utensils awkwardly around his, dropping the dumplings back on the plate more often than he got them to his mouth.
“There, see?” Rachel grinned triumphantly. “It’s not that hard.”
Nico muttered a curse as he dropped his food once again and skewered the dumpling on a single chopstick, ignoring Rachel’s exasperated groan as he raised it triumphantly to his mouth.
“Huh. Guess not.”
Rain drummed against the roof of the taxi as it pulled alongside the curb, and Nico had barely handed over the fare and stepped after Rachel before a dripping man had dodged inside and pulled the door closed after him. The doorman who had rushed to greet them stood ready with an umbrella over the young heiress’ head, but had barely even spared Nico a second glance.
“Terrible weather we’re having today, miss,” he said cheerfully.
The cheer vanished abruptly when Nico edged under the umbrella as well, shuddering as the runoff dripped down his collar. Rachel watched him with raised eyebrows, daring him to say anything and nodded towards the door.
“Of course, miss. Right away.”
The bellhop shot one last look at Nico and escorted them to the door, holding it open while they stepped inside and wiped their feet. Even with the heated air of the lobby, Nico shivered, rolling his shoulders and grimacing as water dripped from his clothes and hair.
“I’m sorry about that,” a perfectly dry Rachel said as they walked to the elevator. “I’ve tried to get them to be more polite to people, but they’re hopeless.”
The lift came to a stop with a gentle ping and the doors slid open. Nico shrugged and followed Rachel down the thickly carpeted hallway to her door, leaning casually against a wall while she fumbled with her keys and ignoring the small puddle that was forming at his feet.
“It’s fine. It’s not like I haven’t—holy shit.”
Rachel smiled a little awkwardly as Nico stepped through the door and got a look at the penthouse for the first time. He was dripping on the carpet again, but this time, he seemed to genuinely not notice as he took in the main rooms.
“There’s a bathroom just down that hall,” she pointed. “Towels are in the third drawer. I’ll see if I can find anything for you to wear until your clothes dry.”
“It’s not a big deal,” he said, taking one last look before turning towards her. “I can just go home—“
“In this weather?” she snorted. “Just take the towel. I have some sweats and old baggy shirts for painting that should work. You can’t sit around all wet.”
She stepped closer, grinning as she pulled at a lock of his hair which was still dripping from earlier. Nico pulled a face, but she only smiled wider and tugged his hair again despite his grumbling.
“Sounds like a sexy wardrobe you’ve got there,” he quipped.
“My wardrobe is plenty sexy, thank you very much.”
He raised his eyebrows, smiling teasingly at her despite being suddenly very aware of how close they were actually standing, or how she was still playing absently with his hair. He shivered as a lingering drop of water rolled down his spine, and it was odd, but somehow, he’d never really noticed just how green her eyes were before.
“I should…” he started, mouth suddenly dry.
“Right. Towels,” she dropped her hand and rubbed her arm absently, nodding down the hallway. “Third drawer.”
“Right,” he repeated, nodding. He paused for another moment before stepping away, resisting the urge to rub his face as he walked down the hallway. Inside the bathroom, he leaned against a wall and stared into the mirror.
“No. No, no, and no.”
“Oh, come on! It’s perfect!”
“No, actually, it really isn’t.”
“What’s wrong with it?” Rachel demanded, waving the Sonny and Cher costume sets in front of him as if increased exposure would make him change his mind.
“The pornstache, for one,” Nico retorted, crossing his arms stubbornly.
“Ugh, fine,” she huffed and dropped them back to her side in surrender. “What would you suggest, then?”
“I’m sure you’ll find something.”
“So helpful,” she swatted him on the arm. “Stay here, I’ll go look around some more.”
Nico shook his head and leaned casually against the wall as Rachel vanished between the costume racks once again. With Halloween just around the corner, the costume store was teeming, and finding something they could both agree on was proving to be much more of a chore than he had expected when he’d agreed to dress up for once in the first place.
If the rest of the store noticed the sudden appearance of the man now standing next to him, they didn’t show it. Nico tensed slightly and stood straighter, turning to look at the god who was currently leaning against the wall.
“Lord Apollo,” he greeted warily.
Nico scanned the aisles, full of Halloween shoppers and gaudy costumes. A little girl was running between the aisles with fairy wings as big as she was flapping wildly behind her, while a group of teenagers were throwing vampire capes dramatically around their shoulders and speaking in overdone accents; off in one corner, someone had set off the automatic graveyard scene and various ghosts and zombies were busy rising up and muttering things at passing customers.
“I’ve seen better.”
“I wasn’t talking about the store, son of Hades,” Apollo snapped. “I’ve let you play your games this long, but now they need to stop.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Nico stood straight and faced the god, crossing his arms over his chest. Apollo’s hand twitched and he narrowed his eyes slightly, but before either could say anything else, an angry voice cut in.
“Please tell me this isn’t what I think it is.”
Rachel stood with her arms crossed angrily, a pile of costumes clustered around her feet where she’d dropped them. She glared at Apollo, who continued to watch Nico for a long moment before turning to face her. His fingers twitched again and his lips tightened angrily.
“We’ll talk later,” he promised, more of a demand than a statement, and vanished as suddenly as he’d come.
Rachel’s glare softened as she turned to Nico, and she sighed. He stuck his hands in his pockets, unsure of what to say, and for a moment, they simply stood there on the edge of the store, the costumes still piled around Rachel’s feet.
“He doesn’t own me, you know,” she started.
“No,” she cut him off and stepped over the bags towards him. “He doesn’t own me. No one owns me but me, got it? And if I want to do something like this—“
She broke off and tugged him forward by the front of his shirt, kissing him fully on the mouth before he had a chance to protest or push her away even if he’d wanted to. He pulled his hands out of his pockets and raised them slowly to thread his fingers through her hair until an employee standing at the end of an aisle near them cleared his throat loudly and clicked the price gun.
“If I want to do something like that,” she said again. “Then I will. And if Apollo doesn’t like it, he can just go find himself another Oracle. Now…”
She broke away and spun back towards the pile, rummaging through it until she found what she was looking for. When she turned back around, she was holding a pair of sparkly red shoes and a straw hat that sent a feeling of foreboding straight to the pit of Nico’s stomach.
“What do you think of Dorothy and Scarecrow?”
“You’ll have to go on without me. I’m not gonna make it.”
Rachel stared down at the prone form draped over her couch, his hand lolling over the side. With his eyes closed, head propped up by several cushions and even breathing, Nico di Angelo looked much too comfortable to be dying.
“Go,” he waved his hand weakly at her. “Just leave me.”
“It’s fine. My stomach can’t handle the pressure, and the turkey coma should set in any moment now,” he nodded. “You’ll have to go this one alone, Dare.”
“Well maybe if you hadn’t eaten half the turkey…”
Nico threw his arm over his eyes and groaned pitifully; his plate and coffee mug still sat on the edge of the table, both empty except for a few scattered crumbs. Dimly he heard the muffled thump thump thump of Rachel’s food tapping impatiently on the carpet, but with his arm covering his eyes, he couldn’t see her reaching for him until it was too late.
She grabbed his arm and pulled, effectively yanking him off the couch, if not getting him to his feet like she’d planned. Nico hit the ground with a thud and a yelp; the jerk of dead weight pulled Rachel off balance and she fell on top of him with a squeak.
“You could have just asked,” he said after a moment, voice slightly muffled.
She grumbled something back at him and started to push herself up. Nico shook his head and latched his arm around her waist, pulling her back down and rolling them over so she was trapped underneath him. Rachel glared up at him; he grinned winningly back.
“Nico, I told them we’d be there by noo-- no, oh my gods don’t you dare--!”
“Don’t what?” He pinned her down and started tickling her sides mercilessly, laughing as she shrieked and tried to squirm away. “Oh, you mean this?”
He continued tickling her until she finally managed to pull an arm free and push him off; he rolled onto his back, both of them still panting for breath, and she reached out to swat him on the chest.
“Turkey coma, my ass.”
Snow lined the windowsill and clung stubbornly to the cracks and chinks in the sidewalks. Nico’s breath fogged the glass panes, and even with his hands jammed into his coat pockets, his fingers were so cold it hurt to move them. Rachel peered inside at the shop display, snugly wrapped in her coat and scarf, and didn’t seem to notice the chill of the windowpane as she cupped her hand over her eyes and leaned close to see past the glare.
“I know it’s shiny,” Nico said. “But you don’t think Saks is a little…much?”
“What do you mean?” Rachel pulled away and looked at him with a puzzled expression on her face, and Nico sighed quietly.
“It’s just a bit expensive, don’t you think?”
“It’s not that bad.”
He gave her a look and shook his head. The dresses the mannequins were modeling in the window were probably worth more alone than everything he had in his apartment, and as much as he loved his friends, he didn’t relish the idea of starving for a month just to get Annabeth a dress she’d probably only wear once in her life anyway.
“Seriously, Nico,” Rachel continued. “It’s fine. I can get it.”
“But I can’t,” he reminded. “And this is supposed to be from both of us, not just you with my name written on the tag.”
Rachel turned back to the display, and he watched her reflection in the window as she stared pensively at one of the dresses. He had no idea how much it actually cost, but it didn’t take a genius to figure out it was worth more than he had to give.
“C’mon,” he said, and reached for her hand. “Take her shopping for her birthday. I’m sure she’d like it a lot more if she got some time with one of her best friends out of it, too.”
“Alright,” she sighed in defeat and laced their fingers together. “But then we still need to find something for them. Any ideas?”
Snow started falling again as they set off back down the avenue hand in hand. Nico cocked his head slightly in thought for a minute, before nodding decisively.
“…a toaster. You’re serious.”
“It’s perfect!” he nodded energetically. “Annabeth will love it, you know she will. Practicality is key and all that.”
“What about Percy? I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have ‘new toaster’ written on his Christmas list, Nico.”
“Well, yeah,” he nodded, conceding the point. “But just imagine his face when he opens it.”
Even this far from the square, Nico could hear the noise of the New Years’ crowd and the sound of Rihanna’s voice as he handed Rachel a cup. With only a few minutes left in the year, Times Square had turned into a cheering crowd with enough people to populate a small country.
“I thought I told you,” Rachel took her coffee gratefully and nodded towards the noise. “Only tourists go to Times Square.”
“If we were going to Times Square, I would have dragged you out hours ago,” he pointed out. “I have something I want to show you. And no, I won’t tell you what it is, so don’t ask.”
“Fine.” Rachel huffed, but her grin took the annoyance out of the noise.
“C’mon,” Nico took her hand and led her down the street, ducking into the first alley he saw and checking to see if anyone was standing near enough to see. “Now hold on tight, and don’t drop the coffee.”
He wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged her to his chest, taking care not to spill how own drink down the back of her coat. Rachel frowned slightly in puzzlement, but he only smiled at her, and tightened his arms.
“Close your eyes,” he murmured.
She hesitated another moment before hiding her face in his chest. It felt ridiculous, clinging to her boyfriend in the entrance of an alley in the middle of Manhattan on New Year’s Eve, but before she could pull back and ask what exactly he was doing, the alley vanished around them.
With her eyes closed, she couldn’t see it leave, but she didn’t need to see to hear the rush of air in her ears, or to feel her hair and clothes whipping around them. The smell of the alley was gone, replaced by the scent of Nico and coffee, and instead of celebrations, all she could hear was the wind screaming.
It stopped as suddenly as it’d started. She pulled back slowly, blinking, and almost dropped her coffee after all in shock.
“It’s a much better view at night, don’t you think?”
Nico grinned and stepped up to the chain link fence that surrounded the observation deck. Rachel stared out over the city, taking in the lights and the glamor that had captivated the world for centuries. A few blocks north, she could see the glow of Times Square as the ball prepared to drop, though they were too far to hear the crowd chanting a count down.
“The Empire State Building,” he reached out his free hand, inviting her up to join him at the edge of the deck. “I know. I shadow travelled us up here.”
She clutched her coffee and stepped closer, pressing against him as if trying to find an anchor. The sight of Manhattan sprawling out beneath her feet was something she had seen a hundred times before, but somehow, seeing it from the Empire State Building on New Years’ Eve with her teleporting boyfriend gave it an entirely new perspective.
“This is…” she shook her head, trying to find words, but before she could, the square erupted in a frenzy of sparks. Nico settled his arm around her waist and looked down at her, smiling.
“Happy New Year, Rachel.”