Dad looked at me. I think that was when he noticed for the first time how sad I was because he dropped his head.
I started to get nervous. Could this be that moment? I couldn’t hold it in any longer, and I let the tears fall. “Please don’t send me away again,” I said faintly. “Please…I’m so sorry I wasn’t there with you…when you and the others.” I sighed. “I feel so bad, and when you came back…near death…” I stumbled over the word. “Then the others were hurt. I was…I was frightened. I don’t want to leave, Dad. Please?” My head bowed. “All I want to do is fix this. I wanted you to wake up, but you wouldn’t. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there.”
I began to sob, my breath hitching. Moxie squeezed my hand tighter and rubbed my back. I just wanted to curl up in a ball. There was some movement, then I felt a hand on my head. I knew he was near me. I tried to lift my gaze, but couldn’t. I was so ashamed that I hadn’t been there when that awful thing happened. “For the first time in all my existence, I, the Goddess of Victory, wasn’t there for the one thing I was supposed to do…I failed you, Father, and if I’m of no further use to you…if you’re gonna…”
His fingers gripped my chin, forcing me to look at him. “You have failed no one, my little one.”
“Enough of this, Nike! No more! Please, you have done nothing wrong. You didn’t fail me or anyone. Stop this right now.”
I tried to pull my head from his grip, but he held me in that gaze as my tears continued to fall. I closed my eyes. I couldn’t look at him. Regardless of what he said, I knew I had failed him. I lost the one thing I coveted most of all. His love.
“Stop, Nike. Listen to our—your father,” Moxie coaxed me.
Wait, did Moxie just call him Father?
“But I wasn’t there, Dad.”
Zeus knelt to be on the same level as me. “I’m glad you weren’t.”
I still didn’t understand. “Why? Why, Dad? I have fought with you, side by side, for thousands and thousands of years. You have won so many victories with me by your side. I thought I’d lost you for sure this time, and it would be my fault.”
Dad, not wanting to see me in any further distress, yanked me up by my arms and gave me a shake. “NO MORE, NIKE! THIS WAS NOT YOUR FAULT! IF IT WAS ANYONE’S IT WAS…” He stopped shaking me and pulled me close, hugging me gently. “This was not on you,” he whispered. “This one, the old man will deal with, okay? I’m glad you weren’t hurt or worse. You’ve no idea how glad I was that you were not with us.” He kissed the top of my head. I just wrapped my arms around his waist and cried on his chest.
There was a hitch in his breathing, and then a tear fell on top of my head. I gasped. My father was crying!
“I’m sorry, Dad. I’m so sorry.”
“No, it’s me, Nike, all me.”
I noticed Moxie watching us as this long-overdue conversation unfolded. She had assured me that none of this was my fault. But no matter how many times she and the others told me that, the only person I would truly believe was Dad. I knew Moxie could tell we were both hurting. She had mentioned once that I would be the one to help Dad realize that many of us truly loved him.
As my crying slowed, so did his. “Good grief, if I wanted to see a touchy-feely movie, I would have stayed home and watched the Hallmark Channel,” Moxie said. She cleared her throat, a slight smile curving at the corners of her mouth.
Stepping back, I looked up into his bright blue eyes as he gazed down at me. “I’m sorry for wrecking our business meeting.”
Zeus gently sat me back down in my chair. Taking a deep breath and wiping his face, he leaned on the edge of his desk and reached for the other folder. “Nike,Nike,Nike,” he exhaled as he held the folder. “You have been through so much and have rarely asked for anything. You have served me well.”
Tears formed as I started to shake again.
“Wait, it’s not anything bad,” Moxie reassured me.
“Dad, Hermes said you were furious with me.”
“Oh he did, did he? I’ll be having words with him,” he said sternly. “I am not angry with you, or the Wards, either. Let me get that out of the way. You four have proven yourselves worthy and are my most trusted aides. So no, Nike, I am not angry.”
I calmed myself, slowing my breathing down. “If you aren’t angry with me,” I said, tilting my head slightly, “then…”
“Nike,” Moxie admonished me gently, “Give him a moment, and he will explain. Z, you were saying…”
“Nike, you have been with us for nearly 45,000 years, and I think it’s…”
“Dad, I already have my own apartment downstairs.”
“Yes, well, I think it’s time you had one more thing.”
I looked at my father, puzzled.
“Nike, you have worked hard and fought with, I mean, alongside me…well, pretty much all of us. And your mother and I, and a few others, think it’s time you had something else of your own.”
“Dad, I hope it’s not a puppy.”
He put the folder in my hands. “This is yours, Nike.”
“What is it?”
“Look inside,” he replied as he sat on the edge of the desk, watching me.
I opened the folder. On top was a contract. I scanned it and a few words stood out. Proprietary…holder…board voted…Nike of Olympus will now be the legal blah blah blah of Dark Sparks. My eyes grew wide as I scanned the document again before looking up at him. “Dad, seriously? You’re giving me the company?”
He smiled. “Yes, you have proven yourself repeatedly since we returned, from helping your Uncle Poseidon at the Mermaid’s Tale, to running flowers for Chloris. Helping Artemis with the SBF and then stepping in to help with Dark Sparks. Not to mention the financial growth that you brought to the table just now. Some of these ideas are…what’s the word, Moxie?” Dad snapped his fingers at Moxie, which she hated.
“Groundbreaking,” she replied, eyes narrowed at him for his rudeness.
“Yes, that. And from the look of your projections, your tithe will be a sizable one.”
I sat there in utter amazement. I hadn’t thought this was even a possibility. Then something occurred to me. “But Dad, if I’m running the company, what about you? What about the Oath? What about…”
Zeus put up one hand. “Hold on. It will all be fine. The others will be here, and if I need you, you are but a phone call away. With your speed, I imagine one of these days you might be as fast as Hermes.” He smiled.
“He cheats, you know that, right?” I said, rolling my eyes. “Dad, you really need to get a better phone.”
“That reminds me. Moxie, I need to order a new flip phone.” He said and then chuckled.
“But, Dad, this is serious.”
“I know it is. That is why your office is on the 60th floor.” He handed me an extra security key.
“Dad, are you sure?”
“Nike, this is a significant opportunity for you. It will give you something to focus on when you aren’t helping everyone else around here. Besides, you need to have something to do. And so far, you’ve been one of the few that has actually been working with mortals. So we think this is a perfect fit,” Moxie said.
“Hey, where is Mom? I’m sure she would want to see this,” I said, realizing for the first time she wasn’t in the room.
“Yes, well, your mother…she’s otherwise engaged. She’ll be home soon,” he said, though it didn’t seem like a confident statement.
I stood up and collected my things. “Dad?”
“Yes, little one?”
“Are you sure you’re okay with me doing this?”
He stood up and wrapped his arms around me. “Now, you listen and listen well.”
“You can do whatever you put your mind to. I have faith in you. You’re stronger than you know. Besides, you need a hobby. So sell coffee and make me rich, okay?” he said as he gave me a gentle squeeze. “And Nike, I do love you. Don’t you forget that.”
“Sure, Dad. I love you, too.”
“Here, Nike,” Moxie said as she handed me a box. “You’ll need these.”
“A plant, stapler, and other office supplies I thought you’d need. And a list to give Sheba, she’ll meet you downstairs.”
“Thank you.” I put the shoulder strap of the laptop bag across my body and took the box from Moxie.
“Good luck, Nike,” Zeus said as he turned to face the window again.