cover art by Opalsong
Splash Free by Style Five
cross posted at amplificathon, my journal, and AO3
"We're here!" Nagisa announced unnecessarily to Makoto and Haru, both sitting behind him. Makoto sighed, he could see that.
Nagisa had his face pressed to the airplane window as they descended into the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. Originally assigned an aisle seat, Nagisa has somehow convinced the man seated next to him to switch, despite the fact that Nagisa spoke hardly any English and the other man was an American tourist who spoke no Japanese.
Haru said nothing, just continued to stare longingly at the Atlantic ocean as it vanished from sight.
“Remember boys,” Coach Sasabe called from his own seat behind Makoto, “we’re here to train harder than you’ve ever trained in your life. I’m paying for this trip from my own pocket, don’t forget.” Beside him Rei was reading up on English since none of them spoke it very well.
“Who’d have thought?” Amakata sighed. “Our own Sasabe Goro was secretly a millionaire.” (Makoto hadn’t been surprised. He’d had his doubts all along about a part-time pizza delivery man whose delivery visits regularly lasted over two hours.)
But from her seat next to Amakata, Gou wasn’t listening, her mind obviously distracted by thoughts of all the muscles she’d see at the international training camp they were headed to.
“Are you sure your parents are okay with this?” Makoto asked Nagisa. “They were really against you coming on this trip.”
Nagisa waved a hand. “I told them we were going to Germany instead. They’re fine. For some reason it’s only America they wouldn’t let me go to.”
“Are you sure it won’t be a problem?”
“Of course!” Nagisa said happily. “Nothing will go wrong,” he added as the plane touched down.
Thirty minutes later, things had gone very wrong.
First, the airline lost their luggage, then while Coach and Amakata were talking to the airline to find it, the airport was attacked by a motorcycle gang. At least Makoto assumed they were a motorcycle gang, they didn’t have motorcycles, but they were all wearing leather jackets with lots of fringe. The gang, about five or six, were punching and kicking anyone who got near. Worst of all, they were working their way towards Makoto and the others.
“Maybe we should have gone to Germany,” Nagisa said shakily.
“Let’s get back to Coach and Sensei,” Gou said, taking charge. Makoto agreed.
Gou moved first, but suddenly Makoto and the others found themselves surrounded, separated from Gou. How had the gang moved so fast? One said something in English. Its voice was raspy and Makoto didn’t understand.
“They’re birds,” Haru stated simply, looking altogether much too calm.
Makoto had no idea what he was talking about. Sure their jackets had lots of fringe. Lots of fringe. And bits of it kept falling off, drifting slowly like feathers. Makoto suddenly felt like he was seeing two things at once, then his vision cleared. They were feathers. The first bird-person spoke again and the others laughed.
Suddenly someone charged into the group of bird-people, swinging a sword. Was this all normal in America? Somehow Makoto doubted it.
The sword fighter was a boy about their age, any time he hit a bird-person with his sword they exploded into dust. A second teenager, a girl, ran up to them and said something very quickly in English. When Makoto and the others clearly didn’t understand, she snapped her fingers. Makoto felt his ears pop like they were back on the airplane thirty thousand feet in the air. When the girl spoke again, he understood every word.
“We have to get all of you out of here!” she said urgently.
“Who are you?” Makoto asked, resisting as she pulled on his hand.
“That’s Percy, he’s the muscle. I’m Lou Ellen, I’m not much of a fighter but I’m the best at magic.” She snapped her fingers again and suddenly her hair changed colour. “Hurry, half-bloods aren’t supposed to gather in a group of more than three, it attracts too many monsters. Come on!”
“We have more questions!” Rei said, sounding understandably terrified.
“Yeah, can I do that?” Nagisa asked, pointing to Lou Ellen’s hair.
“Maybe,” Lou Ellen answered. “First let’s get to Camp Half-Blood, Chiron will explain everything much better than me. Don’t make me use magic on you!”
Makoto dimly realised they were being kidnapped as Lou Ellen bustled them out of the airport.
While the others all asked a million questions, Haru had only one.
“Can we go swimming?”
While Lou Ellen took the new campers to see Chiron and Mr. D for some much needed ‘Demigod 101’, Percy went to his cabin to change clothes since his were covered in monster dust. Taking out six by himself was not too shabby (if he did say so himself) but it left a heck of a mess.
Percy would have much rather gone on the mission with Annabeth, but Rachel, Oracle and future-seer, had called from Clarion Ladies Academy with specific instructions to send someone good with magic, which definitely wasn’t him. It was weird though. Four demigods from Japan of all places, all friends, arriving in America together? What were the chances? Percy sighed; he’d been around god stuff long enough to know that ‘chance’ probably had nothing to do with it.
Still, it was no wonder they’d never faced monsters before, Japan was about as far from Greek influence as it was possible to get. If they’d stayed there, they could have been safe their entire lives. Percy had always been told that Camp Half-Blood was the only safe place in the world for demigods, but it seemed that wasn’t true. If he ever got tired of gods and monsters, he could always move to Japan, providing he enjoyed reality shows where people wearing leotards pogosticked through a room of hungry bears. On second thought, Percy decided he’d stick with the gods and monsters.
Percy idly wondered if the new kids had been claimed yet. Since the end of the second Titan war, it usually happened pretty quickly. His thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the cabin door.
“Come in,” he called, figuring it would be Annabeth. It was.
“Good mission?” she asked.
“Four new campers, not a scratch on them.” Percy boasted.
“And they’re from Japan? That’s never happened before. I hope one’s a child of Athena, we could use some fresh faces in my cabin.”
“No risk of that here,” Percy gestured to his empty cabin.
As the only child of Poseidon he never had to share with anyone, except sometimes his half-brother Tyson, who was a Cyclops. But Tyson was living with the other Cyclopes at the moment. His friend Grover was also away on Satyr business, which left only him and Annabeth at camp.
“Never say never,” Annabeth warned, as they headed to the pavilion for supper.
Neither Chiron nor the new campers were there. Percy guessed they were still in the Big House getting ‘the talk’.
Supper passed quickly. Along with being solo in his cabin, Percy also ate alone at the Poseidon table, but he was used to it.
As everyone was finishing their meals, Chiron walked up with the four new campers. The one with glasses was still staring at Chiron like he’d never seen a centaur before, but the rest looked surprisingly calm. Strangely, it was Chiron who looked most shaken. He clapped his hands for attention.
“Now that everyone’s done eating, I’d like to introduce to our four new campers. They have all been claimed by their godly lineage.”
“Not parentage?” Annabeth muttered, sitting down beside Percy. Now that the meal was over, campers could sit wherever they wanted.
“First off,” Chiron announced gesturing to the boy with glasses, “Rei Ryugazaki, son of Athena.”
Percy bumped Annabeth with his elbow. She looked pleased.
“Next,” Chiron pointed this time to the shortest boy, the one with blond hair, “Nagisa Hazuki, grandson of Hermes and Aphrodite.”
A surprised murmur went through the crowd. Grandchildren of the gods were rare since most demigods didn’t live long enough to have children of their own. And a grandson of two gods? What kind of abilities would he have?
Chiron silenced the crowed with a wave, then introduced the tallest of the group, a boy with green eyes. “Makoto Tachibana, son of Demeter, claimed by Hera.”
The talk that spread through the campers was much louder than a murmur. No one had ever been claimed by Hera before. As the goddess of marriage she was actually faithful to her husband and never had affairs with mortals.
“How’s that possible?” Percy asked Annabeth.
“Demeter must have pissed Hera off,” Annabeth guessed. “Gave her a child as an apology. We know Hera is jealous of the other gods for their children. She never has heroes to fight for her. Not that she deserves any.” Annabeth wasn’t exactly Hera’s biggest fan.
After a bit of effort, Chiron got the crowed quieted down. “And finally, Haruka Nanase, son of Poseidon.”
Everyone was quiet. Percy’s mind went blank with surprise. Vaguely he noted that Haruka (his brother?) had extremely blue eyes. Drew Tanaka giggled loudly at the Aphrodite table, “They all have girl’s names.”
“That’s right!” Nagisa said proudly, throwing his arms around Rei and Makoto. “We’re a team.”
Chiron continued, ignoring the odd detour in the conversation. “I expect you all to make them feel welcome here.”
Percy tried. He really did. But it didn’t take him long to realise this Haruka guy, or just Haru, as the others called him, was weird. Percy showed him the canoe lake before the nightly campfire and he immediately started taking his clothes off! Who does that?
After campfire things didn’t get much better. Percy was awkwardly showing him their cabin when Nagisa burst in without knocking with Makoto in tow.
“Hi,” Nagisa said cheerfully. “Which bed is mine?”
“None,” Percy answered, maybe getting a little grumpy. “You sleep in your parent’s cabin. Or grandparent’s. Whatever.”
Nagisa sat down on a bed close to the door, apparently claiming it. “They told me I could choose, and I chose to sleep with Haru. Then I found Mako wandering around.”
“Hera’s cabin is creepy,” Makoto admitted. “And there aren’t any beds in there.”
That figures, Percy thought, the cabin was only there symbolically. No one thought it would ever be used. Nagisa, meanwhile, was giving Percy a weird look.
“What’s your name again?” Nagisa asked. “Lou told us at the airport.... You’re... Penny?”
“Percy!” Percy corrected. “Penny is a girl’s name.”
At that moment, Rei also came into Percy’s cabin. “I thought I’d find you all here,” he said, adjusting his glasses.
“Rei! Penny is going to let us all sleep in his cabin.”
“No I’m not! And don’t call me Penny!”
“Penny,” Rei said, respectfully, then he turned to the others. “We should all get up early for training.”
“Yes,” Makoto agreed. “If Chiron told Coach and Sensei we’re at a special private swim camp, we’d better have some training to show for it.”
“Chiron sent Coach and Sensei and Gou to a spa while we’re here, so they’ll have fun too,” Nagisa explained to Percy like he was supposed to know who those people were.
“Will you swim with us too, Penny?” Haru asked.
“NO! And stop calling me Penny! My name’s Percy!”
“But you’re one of us,” Nagisa said like it was obvious. “So you need a girl’s name.”
Only Makoto had the decency to look apologetic. “Nagisa always gets what he wants. You get used to it.”
Great, thought Percy.
While it certainly wasn't what he'd expected, Makoto was enjoying being in America. It was still just a visit however. They all had air tickets to fly back to Japan in three weeks. The other campers might have been all his relatives, in one way or another, but Makoto knew his real family was back in Japan. His parents might have adopted him, from a goddess no less, but he'd never doubted his place there. Nothing that had happened had changed that. Maybe Hera being the goddess of family had something to do with his certainty, but to be honest, he didn't really care.
It had only taken a few days for them to get into a groove at Camp Half-Blood. Morning swim, followed by various training with the other campers, lunch, more swimming, more training, supper, campfire, bed. The swimming was going well, but the other training... Rei had mastered the theory of combat and warfare overnight but was having much more trouble with the practical element. Makoto wasn’t a natural either. For a son of Demeter he wasn’t even all that good with plants. Though he was told they were having more trouble with rabbits eating the gardens since he’d arrived. Nagisa was focusing on learning magic, it wasn’t a speciality of either of his godly grandparents, but he’d made up his mind.
They all slept in the Poseidon cabin, where Nagisa was still trying to get Percy to join their swim group, and Percy was still trying to get them all to stop calling him 'Penny'.
Now though, it was time to get Haru for lunch. Unlike the others, Haru refused to attend any of Camp Half-Blood’s regular activities. As a son of Poseidon, Haru didn’t have the same abilities Percy showed them. Haru couldn’t move or control water at all. But he could, they’d learned, breathe underwater. Since then, Haru only left the lake to eat and sleep, and sometimes not even then. He was an instant hit with all the naiads who lived in the lake.
When Makoto got to the lake, he found Haru swimming along the bottom with the tallest naiad, who seemed to have taken a particular shining to Haru. Makoto stood on the dock and waved, trying to get Haru’s attention, but Haru wasn’t looking up and waiting for him to come up for air was pointless. Makoto was considering jumping into the lake himself when he saw Percy walking nearby, probably on his way to lunch too.
“Percy!” Makoto called, “Can you get Haru out of the lake?”
“Is he still in there?”
Percy dived in and got Haru out quickly enough. Percy stayed perfectly dry coming out of the lake but Haru was dripping wet. Makoto suspected Haru could have stayed dry too if he chose to.
The tall naiad came partway out of the water as they left. “Coming back, Haru?”
Haru waved to the naiad and turned to Makoto and Percy. “Will there be mackerel at lunch?” he asked.
There was no mackerel at lunch.
As soon as he was done eating, Haru headed straight back to the canoe lake, while Percy lingered over his barbeque.
Though it was against the rules, Percy didn't mind sharing his cabin, not really. These new campers were all nice enough (though Haru was still definitely weird). It actually reminded him a bit of his first days at Camp Half-Blood before he was claimed when he slept in the crowded Hermes cabin. He just wished they'd stop calling him 'Penny'. He was afraid it would catch on.
"Penny!" Nagisa exclaimed loudly, "Coming to swim with us?"
Laughter sounded from the Ares table. Had they heard? Percy felt his temper rise.
"No! For the last time, stop calling me Penny!"
"What's wrong with Penny?"
"It's a girl's name."
"I have a girly name."
"Doesn't it bother you? You're a boy."
"I know I'm a boy," Nagisa said matter-of-factly.
Percy and Nagisa had had this exact conversation at least five times in two days. It never went anywhere. Percy decided to try a new approach.
“Look, if I swim with you, will you stop calling me Penny?”
Nagisa made a face like he was thinking really hard. “No.”
Percy’s temper flared again. Fine, diplomacy was never Percy’s style anyway. He decided to go on the attack (and he’d seen Nagisa with a sword. Not pretty).
“If I race you, will you stop calling me Penny?”
Nagisa looked like he’d just found the hidden present under the Christmas tree. “A swim race? OH! A relay! One hundred meters. Our team versus yours. If we win you have swim with us every day.”
“And if I win you have to call me by my actual name.”
“Ok, but if you lose, then everyone has to call you Penny.”
Those stakes seemed a bit high, but Nagisa didn’t ask him to swear on the river Styx. An oath on the river Styx couldn’t be broken. If it was... well, no one had ever stated outright what would happen, but the phrase ‘fate worse than death’ was floated around a lot.
Percy and Nagisa shook on it.
“Great!” Nagisa said, “who’s on your team?”
“Ummm,” Percy hadn’t thought that far ahead. “Annabeth?” He looked over to where Annabeth was still eating at the Athena table next to Rei. She nodded.
It was that moment, Percy realised his conversation with Nagisa had attracted the attention of the entire camp. Everyone was staring at them.
“Well, I’m in!” called a loud voice from the Ares table. Great. Clarisse.
Percy groaned. “Are you sure you don’t just want to call me ‘Penny’ from now on?” he asked.
“Excuse me?” Clarisse responded. “Are you actually saying you think I’ll throw the race? For your information, I did competitive swimming in Phoenix.”
Percy realised she had a point. A child of Ares would never lose on purpose. They'd probably get disowned by Ares himself. And it would be good to have someone who actually knew what a swimming relay consisted of. Percy knew there would be front crawl, back crawl, that one with the splashing, and.... wasn’t there four?
“Okay, one more,” Nagisa said. “Lou, want to swim with us?”
“Sure,” said Lou Ellen from the Hecate table.
Not who Percy would have picked, he was hoping for someone from the Apollo cabin, since they were all athletic.
“Wait,” he tried to protest. Too late, this swim race was a runaway train and Nagisa was the crazy conductor.
“We’ll need starting blocks and bulkheads for turns, exactly 50 meters apart.”
“We can set that up,” offered someone from the Hephaestus cabin. “Give us half an hour.”
Nagisa looked at Percy like they were about to fight a duel to the death.
“We’ll show you no mercy,” he warned.
Percy had seen death glares before. On Nagisa it looked adorable.
Nagisa left it to Makoto to find Haru and tell him about the plans for the relay, not that it took much looking. Haru was already in the water swimming with the same naiad as before. At least Haru was at the surface this time, since he was expecting the others to join him for more training.
Makoto waved Haru over.
"Nagisa arranged a relay, our team versus Percy and some other campers," Makoto explained. "If we win, we get to call Percy 'Penny' and he has to swim with us."
Behind Makoto the Hephaestus cabin had shown up carrying all sorts of tools and sheets of metal.
"I can swim free?" Haru asked.
Makoto smiled; like there was any doubt.
The naiad meanwhile, started splashing Makoto as he stood on the dock, a little more than playfully. Makoto did his best to ignore him.
"I'm going to get my better swim trunks. Rei should be here soon, will you help him stretch?"
Haru got out of the water without hesitation. Makoto knew him well enough to know this meant he was excited about the idea of an actual race, not just the exercises they'd been doing.
The naiad pulled on Haru's hand. "Don't race with the others, stay with me."
"We're a team," Haru said gently and went to meet up with Rei.
Fortunately for Percy, Clarisse took control right away. Normally this would bother him, but Percy was finding out fast that he didn't know a thing about speed swimming. Thank the gods he was a son of Poseidon or they'd be screwed.
"The order is backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and freestyle is last. I'll do butterfly, because it's the hardest," Clarisse boasted.
"Can I do backstroke?" Lou Ellen asked. "I always feel like I'm drowning when I swim with my face underwater."
"That's because you don't breathe right," Nagisa interjected. "When you train with us, I'll show you how."
"Nagisa," Percy sighed, "shouldn't you be with your own team?"
"Right, good luck!" Nagisa walked away.
"If we lose we all have to train with them?" Lou Ellen asked, "I thought it was just Percy."
"I'm pretty sure Nagisa is making it all up as he goes," Annabeth said.
"GUYS!" Clarisse shouted, "Let's get back on track. I'm butterfly, Lou Ellen is backstroke, Percy you'll do breaststroke because it's the next hardest. That leaves Annabeth to finish on freestyle. Freestyle means you can swim however you want as long as it's front crawl because it's fastest. Got it?"
Breaststroke! Percy thought, that's the fourth one. "Is that the one with the weird circle kick?" He mimed it in midair with one leg. Clarisse looked at him like he was some kind of mould.
"Have you even taken swimming lessons?"
"The school I went to for grade four had a pool attached," Percy recalled.
"Okay, new plan," Clarisse said. "Percy, it's water. Try not to suck. Annabeth, I'll get you a lead, don't lose it."
"And me?" Lou Ellen asked.
"Swim in a straight line."
"We're ready," called Jake Mason from Hephaestus cabin. The diving platforms and bulkheads were complete. And in true Hephaestus style they were tricked out way more than necessary.
"You can turn off the rotating knives," Makoto said, getting into the water.
"Aw," someone called.
Lou Ellen joined him and Jake Mason blew a whistle to start the race.
Lou Ellen did surprisingly well. Percy thought she was going decently fast and she was definitely swimming straight, but compared to Makoto... it was no contest at all. Percy knew he had to make up the time when he swam next. He had his pride as a son of Poseidon, damn it! Plus, if they lost, he'd never hear the end of 'Penny'.
As Percy got himself into a diving position on the starting block, Nagisa lined up beside him. Of course.
"Good luck, Penny!" Nagisa said as Mokoto touched the bulkhead under Nagisa's feet and he leaped into the water. Anyone else would have been sarcastic or cheeky, but Nagisa was totally sincere.
Seven seconds later, Percy joined him in the water. As always the moment he touched the water he felt invigorated and strong. Percy pulled and pushed his arms and legs in the circle motion that he only vaguely remembered. Percy had been counting on his water powers to kick in and give him instant ninja swimming skills when he needed them. They didn't. Nagisa was actually pulling ahead even more.
Percy swallowed his pride as a sportsman, and cheated. He might not be able to propel himself in the water very well, but he could propel the water itself.
It's not really cheating, Percy thought, I won't slow Nagisa down, I'll just speed myself up. If you don't want water powers, don't swim against a son of Poseidon.
Percy moved the currents in the water around him, and drove himself forward. Nagisa still reached the turn ahead of him, there he did some kind of lightning-fast mid-water summersault and was suddenly swimming the other direction.
When Percy reached turn he spun the water around him, somehow managing to knee himself in the face, but he turned around. On the second leg Percy worked the water currents even faster, he closed most of space between him and Nagisa, but Percy still reached the starting bulkhead a full two seconds behind.
And just like that, his part was over. Clarisse and Rei were in the water swimming their best. Clarisse was swimming like she was trying to clobber the water in a gruesome battle to the death. And she was winning! Clarisse reached the turn ahead of Rei and was on her way back. Annabeth and Haru, meanwhile, were lining themselves up for the last leg of the relay as Percy climbed out of the lake.
When Clarisse touched the bulkhead, she'd gained nearly five seconds on Rei and Annabeth went into the water with a solid lead. Annabeth swam like she fought, with grace, confidence and strength. Percy's heart swelled to see her.
Then Rei reached the end of his one-hundred meters and Haru started swimming. He wasn't controlling the water like Percy had been, Haru didn't have that ability. He didn't seem to have any gifts from Poseidon except breathing underwater. He didn't swim like he was fighting the water, he swam like he was dancing with a partner, like he was half of a whole and the water completed him.
Oh, and he was fast.
Annabeth's head start was gone before she reached the turn. Percy started to panic. He could hear the whole camp calling him 'Penny'. Chiron. Clarisse. Annabeth. Oh gods, Mr. D.
It was too much, he moved the water with his mind, pushing the currents around Annabeth to propel her forward the same way he’d moved himself. She’d forgive him for cheating. Probably. With a little boost, she could catch up to Haru and take back the lead.
Nothing happened. The water didn’t respond to his demands. Looking down in the water, Percy saw the tall naiad staring up at the swimmers moodily.
Are you blocking me?
At that moment a shrill buzzer sounded. Haru had reached the end of the race. He’d won.
Suddenly Nagisa was hugging him. “Penny!”
Haru left the water too and joined them. “You’ll swim with us now, Penny?” he asked.
Percy sighed. They’d shook on it after all. “Yeah.”
Makoto found the rest of their time at Camp Half-Blood flew past. After the relay there wasn't much more action. At least, no monsters attacked the camp, which was apparently a thing. Makoto and Rei got marginally better at sword fighting and Nagisa could now conjure small items. Haru slept in the lake as often as he did the Poseidon cabin, he’d even made himself a small bedroom in an underwater cave.
The swim training had gone well too. Makoto felt they could present their progress to coach with confidence when they got back to Japan. Nagisa had gotten not just Percy, or Penny as everyone called him now, to join their training but Percy’s entire relay team. Nagisa had taken Lou Ellen under his wing as a student, since it turned out she had a natural whip kick.
It had been fun, Makoto decided, as he packed his suitcase for their return flight the next day. They were all in the Poseidon cabin: Makoto, Haru, Nagisa and Rei, getting ready to leave. Percy and Annabeth were there as well. After all, in a day Percy would have the cabin all to himself again.
Haru was digging through his almost-packed suitcase, making everything messy again.
“Forget something in the lake?” Percy asked.
“Yes,” Haru said simply, leaving to go get whatever-it-was.
Annabeth turned to Rei. “You have the list of books I gave you?”
“It’s here,” Rei gestured to a piece of paper that was right on top of his neatly packed suitcase. It was surprisingly long.
“Good,” Annabeth said. “You should know as much as you can about our mom and the rest of the gods. Keep up with sword practice too, you’ll never know when it will come in handy, especially as a half-blood.”
“So that must make your dad an academic,” Percy said to Rei. “That’s who Athena goes for right, brainy types?”
“My parents are both professors. But they adopted me,“ Rei added casually, “so I guess my human parent could by anyone.”
“Are you sure they adopted you?” Annabeth asked, interested. “Maybe they just didn’t know what to make of a goddess dropping off a baby.”
Rei froze, like a huge new idea was dawning on him all at once. “They told me the story when I was four. A woman did drop me off. She said I was their baby. My parents assumed she was insane, but they kept me anyway because it felt like the right thing.”
Nagisa sighed wistfully, “They loved you right away!”
“But then one of them must have met her before,” Percy said.
“They had,” Rei went on. “Earlier that year, they’d both gone to Chicago for an academic conference. On their last night they met an interesting woman who spoke perfect Japanese, they spent all night debating together.”
“Your dad and Athena? Or your mom?” Percy asked.
“All three of them,” Rei said. “Athena told my parents I was theirs and... it’s true. They’re both my human parents.”
Makoto smiled. There was nothing wrong with being adopted, he knew that better than anyone, but finding out you grew up with your biological parents all along, that would be nice too.
Annabeth on the other hand, looked like she wanted to dissolve into the floor.
“Moooooom,” she moaned, embarrassed.
“What is it?” Percy asked.
“I’m happy for you, Rei,” Annabeth said, “but hearing about my Mom’s three-ways...”
Everyone laughed at that for a while, even Annabeth smiled about it after a while. She obviously held Athena to a very high standard.
When Makoto looked at this watch he realised it was a lot later than he thought.
“Haru should be back by now.”
Percy volunteered to get Haru since the others were still packing. It wasn't like there was any question about where to look for him.
It was mid afternoon and the sun was bright but the lake was empty, all the other campers were doing sword training or dodging lava on the climbing wall. When Percy got to the dock he looked down into the clear water, no Haru in sight. But Percy wasn't concerned, Haru was probably in his cave room. Percy jumped into the lake and swam to the cave entrance.
At the very edge of the cave door Percy hit wall of something cold. Percy looked closer but there was nothing there. Going forward again tentatively, Percy found he couldn’t pass the threshold. It wasn’t a wall, it was a change in the water, from something life-giving to something spiteful and freezing, and Percy couldn’t get through.
Percy was just about to go forward anyway, take a running start (as it were, actual running underwater didn’t tend to work very well) and force his way through when someone came forward calmly out of the cave. It wasn’t Haru, it was the tall naiad that was always swimming with Haru. According to Haru, the naiad’s name was Flow.
“Haru’s decided not to go back to Japan,” Flow said. “He’s going to stay here.”
Percy had never actually seen the naiad up close before, Flow always stayed a distance away from their swim training, waiting at the bottom the lake until Haru was alone again. Like all naiads, Flow had a slender figure and delicate features, but there were differences from other naiads besides height. This naiad had broader shoulders and... no boobs?
“You’re a dude!?” Percy said surprised. He’d never seen a dude nymph before.
Flow made an angry face, but otherwise ignored Percy’s comment.
“I know you, you’re Penny. Well, I already told you, he’s staying here.”
“Can I talk to Haru about this?” Percy asked.
“No. He’s decided.”
Percy uncapped Riptide, his celestial bronze sword. “I don’t believe you. You can’t keep him to yourself, so step away from the cave. Swim away, whatever.”
Flow’s face twisted. “You don’t understand. This isn’t about me, Haru’s the only one who understand water, he has to stay!”
“I understand water,” Percy said, “I’m a son of Poseidon too, don’t forget.”
“You don’t understand water. You control it but you don’t listen, you’re the worst kind of half-blood. You’re surprised that I’m male? Lots of naiads are male, you just don’t notice because you don’t care. Now get out of my lake.” A blast of cold water hit Percy from all directions, Riptide was swept away.
Percy always thought that in an underwater fight he’d be unbeatable, but he realised he was at a disadvantage. Percy was very good with a sword: on land. Underwater sword fighting in a three dimensional field was not something he’d trained for. As for water powers, this dude nymph could control water too, plus he could change it somehow. In a straight battle of power, Percy was confident he could win, but this nymph was holding Haru somewhere. Percy could hear Annabeth’s voice in his mind, counselling him on battle tactics, a straight fight right here might not be the best way.
The dude nymph seemed to have the same idea.
“How about a race, Penny, son of Poseidon?” he asked. “Show me how your training has paid off. If you can beat me in a race, I’ll let Haru go and never bother you again, I swear it on the River Styx.”
Percy smelled a rat. It was too easy, no one would swear so quickly on the River Styx unless they were planning something.
Seeing Percy hesitate Flow added, “If you don’t agree, I’ll kill Haru. I can do it from here, right now.”
Percy wasn’t sure if he was bluffing, but he wasn’t willing to risk it.
Flow smiled. “Great. Let’s make it a two hundred meter relay, bring your whole team.”
There was a tense silence as the group stretched and warmed up. They had already attracted a crowd of spectators. Weird, dangerous things happened all the time at Camp Half-Blood, but nothing quite like this.
Makoto knew it was up to him to take charge, he was president of the swim club after all, not to mention Haru's oldest friend.
“It’s a two hundred meter relay,” he told the others, “A lap is fifty meters, so that’s four laps of each stroke. We can switch out swimmers so each person only does two laps, but we’re not going to.”
“What!” said Lou Ellen. “Then I don’t get to swim, right? That’s not fair, Haru’s my friend too!”
Makoto shook his head. “We can’t afford to lose. We need our strongest team. Penny, will you fill in for Haru on free?”
“Are you sure?” Percy asked.
“You’ve been training really hard,” Nagisa said, “you’ve gotten a lot better.”
“And you’re a son of Poseidon,” Makoto added. “I think Flow is planning something, we’ll need you to counter whatever it is.”
“Good plan,” Annabeth nodded admiringly.
“Thanks,” Makoto said. “Here’s the order then: me, Nagisa, Rei, and Penny.”
“No way!” shouted Clarisse, “I’m stronger on butterfly and you know it. You just said we need our strongest swimmers and that’s me.”
“Rei has been swimming with us longer,” Makoto said. “The strongest team is more than the strongest swimmers.”
“I’ve improved too,” Rei pointed out, adjusting his prescription goggles. “My time is almost equal to yours.”
Annabeth put a calming hand on Clarisse’s shoulder “We’ll still be ready to swim if anything happens,” she said to Makoto.
Makoto nodded. “Right. Let’s go.”
Makoto took his starting place in the water. The lake seemed colder than usual or maybe he was just nervous. This wasn’t like swimming in a tournament. If they lost a tournament, it just meant being disappointed.
They couldn’t lose this race.
Flow took his place next to Makoto. Makoto had always thought of Flow as shy and maybe a little immature. He’d never seen the naiad look smug before. It made him more nervous than ever.
Makoto focused his thoughts as someone started a countdown. At the sound of the whistle, they were off.
Makoto started strong. He could hear Nagisa leading a chant with the other swimmers, and in his mind he could hear their Coach, the demon, who was probably relaxing in a spa in New York right now, shouting at him to be better. Between the two, Makoto took strength and pushed himself to swim faster than he’d ever swam in his life.
Flow was either saving his strength because he was racing the whole relay by himself, or he wasn’t a strong swimmer. Makoto hoped it was the latter. Either way, after thirty meters, Makoto was already ahead by a significant margin.
But something was wrong. The water wasn’t just cold, it was freezing and kept getting colder. He hadn’t even reached the first turn yet and he felt as tired as if he’d been swimming in the ocean for hours. By the time he’d done the turn and was starting his second lap, his muscles were shaking with fatigue and as hard as he tried, he was slowing down. The water seemed to pull him under and it was getting harder and harder to keep his face above the surface.
The naiad had caught up to him, was now passing him.
Annabeth was shouting something from the shore but Makoto couldn’t make out what it was. He gasped for breath but found himself choking on water, he’d been pulled under again. Dimly, he saw Annabeth getting into the lake as he neared the second turn. Was she planning to swim? But it was his race, he had to finish. As he approached the bulkhead for the turn, hands reached down and stopped him, pulling him out of the water. Makoto wanted to tell them to let go, but he didn’t have the strength. It was Nagisa and Rei, looking terrified. Then his vision went black.
It only lasted a moment, and when Makoto woke up his mind was clearer, but his body was so weak he could hardly move. The naiad had done something to the lake, the water was poisonous somehow.
Makoto tried to pull himself up to look, but he couldn’t manage it. Rei and Percy were sitting next him. Nagisa was back at the edge of the water, leading another chant, but this time it had a different edge, there was no celebration in the words.
“She’s doing well,” Percy assured him, but he looked scared. “She caught up to him.”
“I need to see,” Makoto managed to say. With Rei and Percy’s help, he was able to sit up.
He’d only been unconscious for a few seconds, Annabeth was only just past the turn, but she was already visibly struggling. She’d gained a lead on the naiad, but she was starting to lose it as the water leached her strength.
“Penny, can’t you stop this?” Makoto asked. He’d wanted to ask it angrily, but anger needed more energy than he had right now.
Percy shook his head. “I tried while you were swimming. He’s changed the water into something else. I can’t even move it, let alone change it back.”
“Right,” Percy said, leaving Makoto’s side again.
“Looks like it’s my turn,” Nagisa said shakily, taking his place on the starting block. Then he turned to Makoto. “Don’t worry, we’ll win.” He leapt into the water as Percy carried Annabeth out, though unlike Makoto she managed to stay awake.
“Are you okay?” Percy asked, concerned.
“I’ve held up the sky,” Annabeth said, “this is nothing.”
Nagisa also gained a lead on Flow before losing it on his second lap as the water poisoned him. He also had to be pulled out of the water and Lou Ellen took over breaststroke.
A pattern was quickly forming: a swimmer would start strong, gain a lead on Flow then lose it. That meant it was all going to come down to the last swimmer: Percy. And with no other swimmers to relieve him, he would have to swim the entire two hundred meters by himself.
“Penny,” Makoto said, as Clarisse was struggling through her last lap and the rest of their swim team was unconscious or unable to move, there was no one chanting now. “You have to win this.”
Percy smiled. He was trying to look cocky, but Makoto could see the worry in his eyes. “Water is my element, it can’t hurt me.”
Makoto hoped he was right.
As Percy started his first lap strong, he gained quickly on Flow, closing the distance between them. But it wasn’t enough. Before they’d even reached the first turn, Percy was already visibly exhausted. Flow had increased the poison in the water and it was affecting Percy as much as everyone else. The rest of them had barely been able to swim two laps, there was no way Percy could make four and live, let alone win the race.
Makoto wanted to get up, wanted to stride over to the lake and take over. He wanted to finish the race himself, to show that naiad that nobody could take Haru from them, but he couldn’t stand up, he could barely move.
Makoto closed his eyes. Would they ever see Haru again?
A shadow fell over Makoto's face. He opened his eyes and saw an ankle wrapped in seaweed. His eyes moved upwards, he saw more seaweed caught in black hair and blue eyes looking down at him.
“Can I swim free?”
Percy barely made it to the end of his second lap. If anything he found the poison in the water was affecting him more than the others, not less. So much for Poseidon water powers. Thanks Dad.
Every time he had to lift his arms it felt like they were hung with lead weights which kept multiplying. He understood now why Annabeth had compared it to holding up the sky.
His vision was starting to go fuzzy around the edges (and in the middle, with weird little moving spots) so when Percy somehow reached the bulkhead at the end of his second lap and saw the shadow of someone jumping into the water above his head, in a perfect diving entrance, he one hundred percent thought he was hallucinating.
Dimly, Percy decided that he’d take a moment to rest between laps. Lacking even the fortitude to keep himself above the water, Percy sank to the bottom of the lake. There was no one left to pull him out of the water anyway. He could still breath underwater, barely. It was like breathing with a cloth pressed over his face. Breathing this can’t be good for me, Percy thought vaguely as his limbs went numb.
Noise drifted lazily from the surface. The crowd that had gathered to watch the race had been hauntingly quiet when he’d jumped into the lake himself, but now they were starting to cheer again. That was weird, he wasn’t swimming. Were they cheering for Flow?
As the strong afternoon sun dappled everything under the water, Percy's vision actually starting clearing slightly along with his mind.
Then came the panic. He wasn’t swimming. His mind felt better but his strength was returning much more slowly. Flow was too far ahead, there was no way he’d catch up now. But loyalty was always Percy's fatal flaw, Athena had told him as much to his face.
Every muscle in his body felt like it was on fire as he turned himself towards the surface. He could see Flow above him, and... wait what?
For an instant Percy thought he was seeing double, because there were two swimmers in the water. And the other swimmer was Haru! As happy as Percy was that Haru had escaped, he knew he had to help. Haru might be a son of Poseidon but he had no powers other than breathing underwater. Haru didn’t stand a chance against Flow.
Except he was winning.
Haru was on level with Flow and was pulling ahead. Instead of slowing down as the poison spread through him, Haru was speeding up.
Above him, the cheering had taken on a frantic, rhythmic quality. Percy could just imagine Nagisa, too weak to stand, leading the crowd in a chant from flat on his back.
Haru meanwhile, kept pulling ahead, gaining more and more distance between himself and Flow. Haru was already past the turn while the naiad had only now reached the bulkhead.
Around Percy, the water was clearing of poison and he could feel his full strength returning. He could have easily swam against the naiad now, not that he was needed.
Watching Haru swim from under the water, Percy finally understood his true powers. The poisoned water which wouldn’t listen to Percy, was responding to Haru, because Haru was asking nothing from it other than to simply be water. He wasn’t controlling it, but he didn’t need to. And we thought Haru was weak.
Flow didn’t stand a chance.
When Haru reached the final bulkhead to end the race a roar went up from the crowd that was so loud it hurt Percy’s ears from under the water.
Testing the water, Percy found he could control it again. Now that he understood Haru better, Percy had no doubt he could easily cancel out Percy’s powers without effort. Oh is that what happened last time?
Percy pushed the water under him with the force of a rocket, sending himself shooting upwards out of the lake in an explosion of water. Hey, Percy could show off too.
Percy was ready to let that naiad have it, but stopped himself when he saw the hurt look Flow gave Haru as a roar of celebration continued from the crowd. Haru might understand water, but Flow didn’t understand Haru. Like water, Haru had to be free. Or maybe Flow did understand, and that was the tragedy. Either way, Flow had sworn on the River Styx to let him go. It was over.
“Good race,” Percy said admiringly, walking over to Haru.
“Thank you, Penny. You too.” Haru answered.
Together they made their way to the other swimmers. Makoto, Nagisa and Rei, as tired as they obviously were, were all struggling to get up.
“Haru!” Nagisa shouted. In lieu of standing on his weak legs, Nagisa threw himself at Haru and Percy, throwing is arms around their necks, hanging off them limply in a very wet hug. “We won!”
Makoto and Rei joined him and soon Percy and Haru were supporting the weight of all three.
That night, supper was mackerel.
One of the first things they'd learned at Camp Half-Blood was that it was dangerous for demigods to leave camp in groups larger than three, so of course the whole team came to see Makoto and the others off at the airport. Coach Sasabe, Amakata and Gou waited patiently at the security line while they all hugged and said goodbye, exchanging final swimming or sword fighting tips.
“Will you come back to visit?” Lou Ellen asked tearfully.
“How about you come to Japan next time?” Rei suggested.
“How about it?” Annabeth elbowed Percy playfully.
“Sounds great,” said Percy.
“You know,” Nagisa pointed out, “we never did find out what Haru forgot in the lake before the race.” Everyone turned to look at Haru.
“This,” he said, pulling something out of his pocket. It was an Iwatobi-chan keychain, the rock-headed bird mascot of the Iwatobi swim club. He handed it to Percy. “For you, brother.”
Percy smiled, “Thanks.”
“Where’s mine?” Clarisse demanded, mostly joking.
“Right here!” Nagisa said, magically conjuring three more out of thin air.
“Aw, it’s wearing tiny armour,” said Lou Ellen, giving Nagisa a high five. “Great job!”
Gou approached the group shyly; Makoto realised that to her it probably sounded like they were all talking English really quickly. He waved her over and introduced her to their group as their manager.
“Oh, we need a manager,” said Lou Ellen.
“How about Tyson,” Annabeth suggested, “He’d love to be on the team.”
Clarisse didn’t look impressed but Percy laughed. “That’s perfect,” he said.
Then it really was time to leave. They all hugged one last time and Gou lead them to security.
“Think we’ll see them again?” Nagisa asked sadly.
“Of course we will,” said Rei. “We’re a team now.”
“Wait up!” It was Clarisse running toward them. “I almost forgot. My dad sent this, I think it’s for you guys. I dunno, I can’t read Japanese.” She handed Makoto a sealed letter with the symbol of Ares in the corner instead of a postage stamp. Makoto stared dumbfounded at the name written in kanji on the front.