What happens is, Mrs. Magicowski tries to kill him.
Kendall likes Mrs. Magicowski. As far as old ladies go, she’s cool. She shelled out fifty bucks for Kendall to mow her lawn as fall came to a close when most of the geezers in town palm him a cool five dollar bill and a stale bag of Cheetos if he’s lucky. So yeah, he’s a little bummed that he ends up having to behead her with a rusty weed whacker. But Kendall figures he’d be more bummed if he was, y’know, dead.
He slides in the front door of his house and tells his mom, “I killed Mrs. Magicowski.”
To her credit, Jennifer Knight’s first question is, “Do we need to get out the wood chipper?”
Katie offers to fetch the industrial garbage bags. After spitting out her soda on Kendall’s new Vans.
Still, the familial support makes Kendall feel all warm and fuzzy inside. He says, “Nah. There’s no body. She dissolved. Like Tinkerbell.”
He expects his mom to check his temperature. Instead she heaves herself back on the couch and says, “Oh.”
Kendall sits down beside her, dread locking up the pit of his stomach. “I’m going to need more than oh.”
“We should…we should talk,” his mom says faintly, shock finally sinking in. She pats the couch cushion and Kendall steels himself, but voluntarily scoots closer. If he’s going to get Baker Acted right into an Institution, he’d like to do it with a little dignity.
Katie, who couldn’t care less if Kendall’s in the midst of a mental breakdown as long as he makes a decent footrest, flops down next to him, automatically throwing her legs over his lap. Kendall obediently begins massaging his baby sister’s calves, because this is how he’s learned to survive in a house full of estrogen; giving into the fairer sex’s every whim.
“Mom, before you ship me off to Crazy Camp-“ Kendall begins with all the grace and sensitivity of a rampaging bull, but hey, he’s still got dried monster blood on his jeans. He figures he deserves a bit of leeway.
“What? Oh, no, sweetie. I believe you.”
“You what?” He waits for Katie to echo the sentiment, but she appears to be perfectly happy picking at a loose thread on the hem of her t-shirt. His baby sis, always there with an assist. Kendall rolls his eyes and sounds out, “Soooo. You knew that Mrs. Magicowski was going to try to decapitate me? Because I would have liked that information before I offered to shovel her sidewalk this morning.”
“Of course I didn’t know that the next door neighbor was-“ his mom blusters, red creeping up the delicate line of her throat. “What kind of mother do you think I am?”
Katie opens her mouth. Kendall squeezes his fingers into her instep.
Their mom rambles on, “She seemed so nice, and she made us strudel every Christmas and what kind of monster makes you strudel and then tries to kill your firstborn?” Kendall feels that this is a very valid point his mother is making. Strudel is sacred. She continues, “And at the very least, if I’d known, I would have given you something to defend yourself with, like a kitchen knife, or don’t we have a tomahawk in the garage, and I told you ages ago to clean the garage, Kendall, I said-“
Maybe she really does actually believe him, because her brain appears to be shorting out. Kendall cuts in with his best patented soothe-the-savage-beast voice, “Okay, you didn’t know Mrs. M had homicidal impulses. Gotcha.”
Jennifer sighs huffily, reaching out to ruffle Kendall’s hair. “No. I had no idea, sweetie. I happened to spend a lot of time creating this perfect head of yours.”
“Ew,” Katie interjects, toes curling. “Leave the visuals to health class, mom.”
Their mom exhales shallowly, and this is no good at all. She looks every bit as nervous and agitated as she did before her last online date, and that ended in spilt coffee, blood, and third degree burns.
Mostly on her date’s part.
“I’ve been keeping a secret from you both.”
Kendall waits patiently for her to spill it, because he appreciates the gravity of insane neighbors who dissolve into fairy dust. Katie would not know gravity if it dropped an apple on her head. She supplies, “It’s not a secret. No one believes you cook dinner every night. Just because you stick take out on actual plates before you serve it doesn’t mean we’re stupid.”
Their mother glares. She does a really good glare. Mothers across America wish they had half the intensity she packs into a single eye. Katie cringes.
Kendall clears his throat. He doesn’t really know what to do with serious conversation time. Truth be told, he hasn’t felt this awkward around his mom since she tried to give him the birds and the bees talk after the freshman fall ball, which mostly resulted in tears on both their parts. When his mom takes hold of his hand and looks at him all solemn-like, he braces himself for the worst.
In a way, it is kind of the worst.
“The truth is, sweetheart, your dad isn’t…Kendall, your father isn’t actually your father.”
Of all the things Kendall expected to hear, this never even made the list. He struggles to find his voice, and when he does, asks, “Then who’s my real dad?”
His mom drops her eyes, a gesture so unlike her that Kendall is scared.
What must a man be like to make his mom demur like that? Not a good man. Not a man he wants to be related to. Kendall swallows, hard, trying not to feel unrendered, unmade.
It isn’t easy. His dad, the piece of his heart that pricks too often beneath his breastbone, is suddenly no longer a piece of him. He is a stranger, a man whose dimples are just like Kendall’s, but actually nothing like his in the least. How does he react to that?
Distant-eyed, their mom says, “I met him on vacation at the shore. Your grandparents had a beach house, and we’d go every summer. I was walking in the waves, and the next thing I knew, he was there.”
“Who?” he croaks out, imagining a younger version of his mother; wide eyed, rescuing sand dollars from the surf of an ocean he’s never even seen.
Instead of an answer, Mrs. Knight replies, “He had the greenest eyes, Kendall.”
Completely serious, Katie throws in, “I think mom’s trying to tell you that you’re a merman.”
Kendall squeezes her foot until she squeaks and uses her free heel to kick him in the thigh.
“Not a merman,” their mom objects, smile wan. Kendall hates that expression; he’s the one who killed someone here. He should have a monopoly on sickly-pale. “Kendall, you’re…” She takes a deep, steadying breath, steeling herself. “You’re a demigod.”
There’s this awkward moment where Kendall is torn between the innately cocky response that leaps to his lips- duh- and a hysterical tremor of incredulity. Since his mom did him the solid of not flipping her shit over Mrs. Magicowski, at least not yet, Kendall diplomatically returns the favor. “I don’t know what that means.”
“The mermaid theory’s still looking pretty feasible.” Katie is so helpful. Whatever would he do without his little sister?
“It means your father is an Olympian. A, um, Greek god.”
Half of his mom’s words are muttered through a veil of mortification and the web of her own fingers, but Kendall still catches them. He asks, “Like in those stories you used to tell me?”
“Exactly like that.” She forces another smile, thin, meek. Like she expects Kendall to yell.
He won’t. It sounds ridiculous, but Kendall’s mom has never lied to him. Not when he asked if Santa Claus was really, really real. Not when he asked where babies came from. Not even when he asked if his dad- or the man he thought was his dad- was coming back. Sure, okay, she lied about his father being his father, but…Kendall never really thought to ask if he wasn’t. So as crazy as it sounds, Kendall believes her.
It doesn’t hurt that he saw Mrs. Magicowski’s face, jowls spread, dripping toxic blue saliva and eyes gleaming with murder. Sweet old ladies just don’t try to bite your head off like that.
Katie obviously agrees. She bolts upright, eager. “Sweet, do we have powers?”
“About that.” Their mom pinches the bridge of her nose, and Kendall immediately decides he’s not going to like where this is going either, and Katie’s going to like it even less. He can’t even manage to be surprised when his mom continues, “Katie, your dad’s human.”
“What do you mean my dad? We have the same dad,” Katie protests, her voice pitching high. Kendall digs his fingertips into Katie’s calves, a comforting squeeze this time, but she completely and totally ignores his attempts at good big brotherhood.
“Not so much,” their mom replies, her bright red hair catching the lamplight, burning like fire. She is not ashamed, at least not of her sex life, which is cool, great, fine. Kendall doesn’t have a problem with what his mom does in the bedroom as long as he never has to think about it.
Now he just wants some answers.
“I have a question,” he announces patiently, and then impatiently, because Katie isn’t taking her lack of immortal blood very well. Over her outraged exclamations – “You lied to me, how could you lie to me? I’m going to need the premium cable package and a new bike at the very least to make up for this, mom”- and his mom’s even more outraged answers – “I did not lie to you young lady, how did I lie to you? I hid the truth a little, and that was to your brother”- he calls, “I. Have. A. Question.”
“Yes?” They snap, response simultaneous and rather creepy.
“Who, exactly, have I been visiting in prison all this time if it’s not my dad?”
Kendall thinks of the man who raised him, the quirk of his dimples, the lilt of his laugh, and the way those things look accented by a bright orange jumpsuit.
“Katie’s dad, obviously.”
His mom blinks, like this should have been obvious, and Katie groans. “Ugh, that means I have to keep him?”
Kendall isn’t at all fooled by his sister’s theatrics; she’s relieved in a way that Kendall doesn’t get to be. He remembers being thrown in the air, strong arms and callused fingers. Later, those same hands wrapped around the neck of an old guitar, creating the most beautiful melody.
Alright. His entire childhood was apparently a lie.
He drums against the skin of Katie’s calves and tries to keep all the broken and betrayed out of his voice. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
“Because it sounds insane? Kendall, your dad’s your dad. Except for how he’s not actually your dad. He’s still the one who raised you.”
“Raised,” Katie snorts with only a moderate degree of bitterness, laying her head back down on the sofa arm.
Kendall doesn’t blame her. Their- her- father has been in and out of jail more frequently than most people get the oil changed on their cars. It sucks when someone chooses the next big take over their kids, and for all the good memories that Kendall has, he’s got just as many punctuated by redwhiteblue and the howl of police sirens. All the charm and charisma and good times never really made up for the fact that his dad- his not-dad- is a conman, and that he’s always thought white collar crime is somehow preferable to being an actual parent.
Kendall’s got a lot of that same bitterness as Katie, more, even, but now he doesn’t know if he still has the right to it.
He doesn’t know anything at all.
Kendall’s not the kind of person who likes to poke at open wounds. He makes an executive decision, because he’s awesome at those, and changes the subject. “So, uh. Do I have powers?”
Katie glares at him with the kind of intensity that suggests if he does, he might want to never ever ever talk to her about them.
Their mom says, “I have no idea.”
Which is completely unhelpful. Isn’t that the kind of thing one asks when one is pregnant with god spawn, like do you have any inheritable genetic diseases, will this baby have a third eye, and are they going to blow up my house in the midst of their terrible twos?
She frowns, “I didn’t read the handbook, okay? You’ve always been a special kid. Fast, strong, agile.”
All of that is code for unruly, obnoxious, and temperamental. As a child, Kendall got into a lot of fights at school; really, truly bizarre brawls with other kids and teachers and one time with a giant chicken that chased him around the cafeteria. He got expelled from more than one institution of higher learning, at least until he joined the hockey team and found a cathartic way to channel his anger management issues.
That’s what the school shrink called them last time he was called into the principal’s office, anyway. Kendall doesn’t think he has any anger management issues. The other kids always instigated it, and so did that one teacher, and the chicken definitely started it.
“So no on the powers, then.”
“Well. They told me strength and agility would come with the territory…”
That Kendall has to process. And process. And process, until he reaches a conclusion he really doesn’t like.
“Wait, me being fast and strong is a power?”
“I suppose,” his mom replies, staring pointedly at the chipped nail polish on Katie’s little toe.
Kendall is not pacified. “You suppose? So all this time I’ve been awesome at hockey because I’m cheating at it?”
Somehow this sucks even more than finding out his dad may or may not be the god of drunken revelry or volcanoes or, or, or a fucking fish. Suddenly he’s a cheater. His mom meets his eyes, rushes to say, “No, no, not cheating. Just. Um. You’re unnaturally adept. You have innate skillsets!”
Rephrasing doesn’t make Kendall feel any less deceived. Swallowing past the lump in his throat, he ventures, “What do I do? Is this going to keep happening? Monsters?”
Because betrayal doesn’t mean he’s forgotten Mrs. Magicowski flying at him an hour ago, teeth and claws and eyes full of hellfire. What if it happens again? What if his mom’s there to see it? Or Katie? Or his team?
“There’s a…a camp…” Kendall’s mom drops her gaze again, focusing on the place where Katie’s feet rest against his thigh. “For people like you.”
Ah, so Crazy Camp isn’t off the table. Theatrically, he groans. “No offense, but I don’t think singing kumbaya and making s’mores with other, uh, demigods, is going to keep the blood sucking beasts at bay.”
“Did Mrs. Magicowski try to suck your blood?” Katie perks up.
Kendall squeezes her right knee. “No.”
“Bummer.” Katie puffs out a breath, stirring up her bangs. She slumps even further back against the sofa arm, evidently bored with this entire conversation.
His mom says softly, “The camp is protected.”
“From monsters?” His attempt at keeping the incredulity from his voice fails, miserably.
Jennifer folds her hands carefully in her lap, fingers white as bone. She’s scared for him. For all that she’s been trying to make light of this, she’s clearly fucking scared. “Kendall, I don’t have all the answers. I didn’t ask everything I could have because I hoped nothing bad would happen. I’m sorry.”
Kendall doesn’t know what to do with his mother’s apologies. He forges on, “So, um. Where’s this camp?”
“Long Island, New York?” His eyes widen, his voice emerging on a squeak. Long Island is really, really far. He clutches Katie’s leg until she makes an indignant noise and thinks that New York might as well be the moon.
His mom doesn’t bother dignifying that with an answer, just gives him sympathetic eyes and her brave face. He resents that face. Kendall never inherited that expression, because he is not even close to brave. A virtue like that implies a willingness to sacrifice something other than his own hide, and sacrifice isn’t a word Kendall’s too familiar with. He prefers to cling to the things he loves with the strength and dedication of a koala bear.
If there’s really a chance of someone- something- like Mrs. Magicowski attacking again, he thinks that he’ll need to learn how to let go. Demigod or not, that fight was a closer call than he’d let on, and he can’t lose his mom or Katie. It would drive him insane.
“I guess I’m going to Long Island,” he announces, and hopes it’s the right choice.
In the cool light of dawn, this whole demigod thing sounds ridiculous.
It gets even more ludicrous once he starts googling the phenomena at school, flipping through Wikipedia pages on Hercules and Perseus, Aeneas and Orpheus and Orion. There’s Hanuman and the Pandava brothers, pharaoh sons of Horus, and even Emperor Hirohito, for fuck’s sake. These people didn’t actually exist. They’re legends, or myths, or famous, and everyone knows famous people are practically fictional anyway.
Kendall also finds a whole lot of links on real-time tactical strategy games and an album by some Polish death metal band, but there’s nothing online about this camp, which according to his mom is called Camp Half-Blood and not the Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane.
One thing, however, his research makes perfectly clear.
Demigods have burly thighs. Kendall has skinny jeans. Someone on Olympus obviously screwed up.
He almost changes his mind, dismissing the whole assault via tooth and fang and his mother’s subsequent revelation as a lucid daydream.
Then he goes for tacos.
A normal taco run usually involves Kendall forgetting the guacamole. This taco run involves him ducking the over eager cashier’s tongue from the takeout window, each flick emphasized with catcalls such as, Let me nibble on your nipples, Nougat, and, Mormo only wants to masticate your manly muscles, Muffin Pie!
Kendall’s pretty flattered by the invitation, but the drool and the well-aimed squirts of hot sauce lead him to believe that Mormo’s intentions are less than kosher. His mom’s leather seats are basically ruined, and Kendall has to use two burritos and a chalupa as projectile missiles to aid his escape. Driving away feels a little like running, but sometimes fleeing in utter terror is the better part of valor.
So, that happens.
Kendall walks in his front door, dripping extra picante habanero salsa, sans dinner. He asks, “How much are plane tickets?”
Plane tickets, it turns out, cost a lot. Too much. That night, after singing his baby sister a lullaby he bogarted from the nineties station at work, Kendall watches the rise and fall of Katie’s chest. He can’t take anything away from her. Especially not a couple thousand that the Knight family doesn’t have.
Kendall squeezes his eyes shut and thinks he’ll make it on his own.
Kendall takes all the money he made at the Sherwood Market with him.
It’s not a lot. He regrets each and every one of his most recent purchases; a skateboard, guitar strings, and three video games. All a hell of a lot less useful than a bus pass would be right about now.
Actually stepping out the door is the hardest part. Kendall doesn’t want to steal away like a thief in the night, but he’s also not keen on the idea of monster fangs getting anywhere near his family. He makes it twenty miles out of town on the good graces of a truck driver who spends the majority of the ride bitching about the alimony he owes his ex-wife. From there he walks along the roadside, hockey duffel slung over one shoulder, guitar case clutched in hand.
He’s only a hop, skip, and a jump from home, but he feels like he’s already states away. His mom might actually murder him for this, and unlike Mrs. Magicowski and Momo…Mortimer…Mormo…whatever, she probably won’t fail.
Really, potential serial killers aren’t half as scary as Jennifer Knight, which is why Kendall has zero qualms about hitching a ride a few miles further with a group of college kids road-tripping to nowhere. But after listening to The Wall on endless loop for hours on end, he decides that maybe there is a better way to travel. The bus doesn’t cost nearly as much as the train, and Kendall is halfway-to-camp-crazy-town before he hits a snag in the plan.
That snag being that he runs out of money, which is pretty unfortunate, because he doesn’t have any marketable skills or the time he’d need to get a real job. Prostitution is out, because Kendall’s sexual experience is largely nonexistent, and his prowess- or lack thereof- becomes evident every time he bothers trying to hit on someone his own age. He’s drumming his fingers on the case of his guitar, wondering how much he can get for a kidney, when he realizes that there actually is something he’s semi-decent at, and it won’t involve stitches or latex.
He’s not much of a showman; most of the songs he knows are courtesy of Elliott Smith or The Beatles, and well, busking his way across America isn’t exactly the quickest cash he’s ever made, but it helps. He does pretty okay, a boy and his guitar and a wad of dollar bills from accommodating good Samaritans.
He does so pretty okay that he relaxes his guard, just a tad.
Kendall’s about one town shy of the nearest metropolis when things go horribly awry.
He’s transferring to the bus that will take him to St. Louis, waiting on a bench in the freezing cold. He smells like a hobo and probably looks like one too, but whatever. At least no one’s forcing him to listen to Pink Floyd.
A pretty girl sits down next to him. She smiles. “Where are you headed?”
She has long, glossy hair and a thick accent when she speaks. Spanish, maybe?
“Away,” Kendall replies vaguely. Then he remembers his manners. “You?”
“Same. Away is a pretty popular place.”
On the one hand, Kendall is pleased as punch about the company.
On the other, he’s got wayward stubble sprouting from his chin and giant holes in his jeans and dirt so deeply ingrained beneath his fingertips that he’s going to need an ice pick to get it all out. Why, exactly, is a pretty girl deigning to talk to him?
He eyes her suspiciously. “I guess. Are you going to grow fangs?”
The girl laughs, and the sound is sweet, lilting. She hums her pleasure. “Only if you ask very nicely.”
“That’s okay. I’d rather you didn’t.” Kendall gulps down a tremor. He hadn’t realized how deeply fear’s situated itself in his bones, making him vigilant when hey, there are actually perfectly kind, non-dangerous people out and about in the world. “The bus is taking its sweet time.”
“Public transportation isn’t ever on schedule.” The pretty girl’s lips curve. She has a lot of teeth under that grin, pearly white, but not particularly pointy. She extends a hand. “Selana.”
“Kendall.” He shakes because he is a polite young gentleman, just like his mother raised him to be.
Never mind that it’s been weeks since he’s seen his mom.
Kendall misses her. Since leaving, he’s done a fair amount of research on this whole half-god thing, treading past the first few pages of google into the depths of pdf files of the Odyssey and Antigone.
By the depths, Kendall means the first and last paragraphs, because both stories were boring and also books. Reading has never really been his strong suit. The words always swim on the page with little goldfish tails, flicking and rippling under a haze of water.
Anyway. It hasn’t exactly been happy reading. Demigods are supposed to be heroes, but heroes don’t exist as individuals. They are cautionary tales.
Kendall really doesn’t want the story of his life written like that.
“It is a nice name, Kendall,” Selana sounds it out, purring over each syllable. She draws the consonants out, elongates the vowels, says it again and again until it sounds like a song. The longer Kendall listens, the sleepier he feels, sleepy and warm. It’s midwinter in Middle America, and he hasn’t felt anything like warmth in forever. His eyes drift closed, just for a second, and Selana’s lap looks like a nice, comfy place to crash.
He doesn’t lean down, can’t quite make the inappropriate leap to using a stranger’s thighs as pillows, but. Her fingers card through his hair, and when did she even start touching him?
“I heard you on the…guitar, is the word?” Kendall can’t think, can’t focus. He can hear a noise, like blades against ice, and Katie’s voice, and his mom…He snuffles and leans his head against Selana’s shoulder, unable to help himself between the soothing notes of her humming. She said something about a guitar, right, he’s sure she just spoke, so he makes a noise of acknowledgement, and she continues, “You are talented. So talented.”
A touch to his cheek, and then lower; his jaw, his neck. Her skin is soft and cool, and he is so very tired. Kendall sighs, snuggling into her side.
Two things happen at exactly the same time.
His guitar case tips over, hitting the concrete with a muted clang echoing off the interior of the leather, and there is a raw sting against his throat.
Kendall bolts upright, trying and failing to hold Selana off. “You said you didn’t have fangs!”
Selana’s arms flail in the air, razor sharp press-on nails scrabbling for purchase in his skin, and he can see her incisors; bone white and edgy as a blade. Where was she hiding those five minutes ago? Shit.
She wails, “I never said that. When did I say that?”
“You said- you said,” Kendall pauses and realizes that she really hadn’t denied having pointy teeth, and also he is an idiot. “You said you wouldn’t show them to me unless I asked nicely.”
Selana shrugs expressively, the fluid motion rippling through her body. “You smell good. Like dirt and humanity and dead fish.”
Kendall isn’t sure how to feel about that. He’s never been told he smells like dead fish before, and also she is still trying to bite him.
Unfortunately, there are no useful weed whackers lying around.
Or even condiments.
He’s kind of fucked.
Selana opens her mouth again, to sing, and it is the sweetest thing Kendall’s ever heard in his entire life. He knows it’s wrong, knows better than to listen, but short of stuffing socks in Selana’s mouth to shut her up, he is fresh out of ideas, and why would he even want to make that pretty song go away?
That song, that beautiful fucking song, makes the world fall to pieces.
There are feathers against his cheek, soft and downy and –wet? But more importantly, there is laughter. Katie laughing, eyes bright, and his mom, and his dad. His dad who isn’t his dad, but still is the man who raised him, and for some reason Kendall can’t quite remember why he thinks this man isn’t his father, because they look so alike, right down to the quirk of their smiles.
There’s a checkered blanket spread against metal, a woven basket, and oh, they’re having a picnic, he thinks, right there on the bleachers next to the ice rink where Kendall’s team has won and lost and practices every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
His dad looks…proud, and kind of weird outside of his orange jumpsuit, and he turns to tell Kendall something that is lost beneath the sound of the sweet, sweet song ringing in the air. He strains to listen, hears, “One on one after we eat, son,” and there is a sandwich pressed to his lips and it’s ridiculous, because his dad has honestly never cared about hockey or sports of any kind, but Kendall doesn’t care. He’s got the familiar weight of his stick against one leg and that super charismatic smile of his father’s focused all on him, and finally, finally his dad’s taking an interest.
He says, “Yeah, yeah, of course,” eager to show off. Katie shoves him knowingly, but her grin is happy and open, and his mom has never looked more content. This is the perfect day.
There’s a thump in the distance and the feathers leave his skin, but the wetness is still there, congealing right below his throat. He brushes at his neck and comes back with nothing, his family staring at him expectantly.
“What’s wrong?” Katie asks pleasantly, picking the tomatoes out of her sandwich and not looking much like she cares. Their mom nudges her, and they both smile again.
The Knight family hasn’t seen this many smiles since their last trip to the lake, back in the summer, when Katie pushed Kendall into the water and he emerged covered in algae and pond scum, every inch the creature from the Black Lagoon.
His dad was still in lock up then, and shouldn’t he be now? Kendall tilts his head, says, “Dad…?”
His dad opens his mouth, but there isn’t any noise. Kendall listens, strains for the words, but all he hears is another thump and no more of that song. Where’d the pretty song go?
Something soft dusts his face like dew, and Kendall blinks, blinks again, because his family isn’t there anymore. Katie, and his dad, and his mom; they’re all gone. Kendall is lying on the concrete beside the bench, head aching, and that pretty girl with her strange accent and her glossy hair is nowhere to be found.
But he is being straddled.
The boy doing it, strong, golden, and possibly carved of marble, gives a beatific smile and announces, “This is awkward.”
All Kendall can reply is, “James?” Because oh, hey, what are the chances? Dumbly, he continues, “You’re…tall.”
Both of him, mirrored images of James, one kneeling right next to the other. Their combined breath smells of cappuccino and cherry pie.
Kendall asks, “Why are there two of you?”
Then he promptly passes the fuck out.
Kendall comes to, rising from the depths of a dream about bus station sirens, singing in the middle of an asphalt swimming pool.
Which was real. Right. He wishes that psychopaths would stop trying to kill him.
Kendall rubs at his eyes and attempts to sit up. It doesn’t work. He nearly conks himself out on asphalt, but a hand is there, catching his head just in time. “Whoa, there.”
Twin faces loom over him, hazel eyes flecked gold in the watery sunlight, each equally concerned. The air tastes of man spray, accented by the dry, chalky scent of asphalt. He breathes deep, exhaling on a sigh.
“I’m…” Kendall glances left and right. “How did I get on the ground? And where’s Selana?”
“Don’t worry about her, you’re good. We’ve got you.” A rough-knuckled hand strokes over his hair, and for a moment all that Kendall can see is the kind, comforting smile of James Diamond.
Or not James Diamond. There are still two of him.
Kendall may be concussed.
“You don’t know that he’s good,” the other James, who is a little scrawnier and paler than the first, shoves back into Kendall’s frame of vision. “Are you alright, dude?”
“I’m, uh-“ He blinks away floating lights and the slightly wobbly silhouette of two additional James’ lurking on the edge of his vision, hoping he’s not really sporting a serious head injury. A hospital stay would basically put a real damper on this whole cross-country road trip thing. “-dandy. You’re- one of you is- James Diamond.”
“Somebody’s read the Times,” the pale one says. His lips pinch. “He’s going to turn us in.”
“I actually have no idea what you’re talking about,” Kendall tells them, spots dancing across his pupils. His throat still feels wet, but he can’t bring himself to touch it. “I’m not turning anyone in to anybody.”
The one cradling his head has got biceps made out of steel or something. Kendall resolves to poke them once his head stops spinning.
Muscles asks dubiously, “What if we killed somebody?”
“That’s your business,” Kendall concedes, if only because the two baby-faced kids in front of him don’t look like they would actually even kill flies.
Speaking of flies, there are some serious dots bustling in and out of his vision, great, giant things, getting ever bigger.
Kendall slurs, “You’re pretty. You’re both really, really, pretty…”
“He’s going to pass out again,” the pale one announces, concern buzzing at the edges of his voice, and then, “Oh, look, there he goes.”
There is a warm hand stroking through his hair when Kendall’s vision fades to black.
The second time he wakes up, it’s to the sound of his guitar.
Which is a problem, seeing as he’s not the one playing it.
James Diamond is. Apparently, Kendall didn’t hallucinate his entire existence. Fuck. Great, cool, that’s just fine. James Diamond, or a guy who looks exactly like him, is fingering Kendall’s guitar. That’s totally not weirdly reminiscent of every high school wet dream he’s ever had.
James, or at least the muscley carbon copy of him, is sitting against a wall that’s some horrible, monstrous hybrid color between gray and taupe, strumming his fingers over the strings like he was born to do it.
He looks like sunlight and sex. Kendall wonders if his dick tastes of rainbows.
Wait, no. Off topic. He tries to collect his thoughts. It doesn’t really work.
“Where are we?” Kendall asks, because this is definitely not the gritty bus stop he blacked out at.
Muscles’ fingers pause, a smile stretching his lips.
That smile, hell. The James Diamond that Kendall remembers dated his way through the entire freshmen class and then smiled at Kendall like he was the only person in the room. This version is doing it now, brilliant, pearly teeth and lips Kendall mostly wants to nibble on, and fuck, fuck, fuck, nothing has really changed.
“Home. For now. We don’t really have a home. I mean we do, but we can’t go back.” James-or-not-James tilts his head, something dark flickering in his eyes. “Now my brother’s basically, you know…it’s where the heart is, right?”
There’s something inherently vulnerable about the way Muscles is rambling that the skinny, pale version of him was lacking, and Kendall recalls cherishing that. It’s a rare thing to find on a high school hockey team, sitting amidst the overwhelming stench of testosterone and posturing; sweetness; a compassionate heart. He decides, “You’re James.”
“Ye…ah.” James exhales. “And you’re Kendall. Knight. We, ah. We’ve been away from Minnesota for a while. I knew who you were when we- but, I wasn’t sure. It’s been so long.” He winces. “Sorry.”
Irritation swells Kendall’s veins, but he has enough sense to tamp it down. It’s not James’s fault that he was such a huge part of Kendall’s life- bigger than he’ll ever know- while Kendall was basically one more face in the crowd. They started on the hockey team together at the very beginning of their freshman year, but they didn’t really click until the season was half over, and then James just up and disappeared.
Kendall had heard the entire Diamond family moved, but now he wonders.
“I like your guitar,” James says. “Where’d you get it?”
“My dad.” Kendall pauses. “Or, I guess, the guy I thought was my dad. It’s complicated.”
“Trust me, I know all about complicated fathers.” James’s fingers start up again, plucking out chords too swift and jaunty for the conversation. He sings, “Lovin’ is what I got. I said remember that. Lovin’…”
“You really play.”
“Sure,” James agrees.
Kendall flicks his thumbs against each other and tries to decide on the least stupid thing to say next. He’s saved by the bell, or in this case, James’s brother, clutching a cup of coffee to his chest like a precious treasure. The kid doesn’t really walk into the room so much as storm, and when he slumps back against the wall near real-James, he demands, “Did you ask him yet?”
Kendall glances back and forth between James and his twin. “Ask me what?”
Calmly, James says, “Kendall, this is Shane. Shane, go away, I was getting to it.”
“Great, fine, super, it’s not like we’re in a rush or anything.” Shane crosses his arms and fails to be imposing. He’s skinny as a rail, all soft in the places where James is hard, except for his eyes.
His eyes are flat, dark as flint, where James’s are dappled with sunshine.
James glares at him.
Shane glares right back.
“You had a question?” Kendall decides to ask neutrally. It doesn’t break the tension. “No? Okay. Hey, by the way. The, uh. The girl. Selana. What happened to her?”
“Well.” Shane ticks off fingers. “First James tried to get her number-“
“I did not,” James protests, shifting the guitar in his lap. Then he reconsiders. “She was hot. I should have.”
“She was a mon-“ Kendall bites off his words, unsure of what they know and unsure of what he saw. Retelling the story in his own brain, it sounds like he fell asleep in a pretty girl’s lap and had the best dream in the whole world, the memory an ache in his chest.
“A monster?” James prompts, not unkindly.
Kendall blinks. “You know?”
“If we didn’t, it would have been awfully shocking when she dissolved into gold dust,” Shane drawls, still glaring a little.
Kendall isn’t sure if his irritation is meant for him or James, so he pointedly ignores it.
“She sang,” he says instead, voice soft. He hums a little bit of her lullaby at the end of the sentence.
James’s lips twitch, part approval, part simple acknowledgement. “Sirens do that.”
Sirens. Right. Yes. That makes perfect sense.
Except for how it really doesn’t. “Don’t sirens live in the, I don’t know, ocean?”
“The Sea of Monsters, usually.” Shane shrugs, and what, there is not an entire sea of fucking monsters. That cannot actually be a thing. “Someone probably sent her after you. Just feel lucky you blacked out before she brought out her beak.”
Kendall can’t keep up with this conversation. “She didn’t have a beak.”
He sounds plaintive, uncertain, and he does not get the reassurance he’s looking for. James wrinkles his nose. “Oh yeah, man. Girl was glamoured, but sirens look like big, nasty vultures. And they really do live in the ocean. I bet she tasted like sea bass.”
Chidingly, Shane informs him, “Sea bass is good for you.”
“It doesn’t taste good for me.” James turns his attention back to Kendall and inquires, “So, did you know you were a demigod or is this going to get awkward really fast?”
Kendall hesitates. Agh, whatever, they obviously already know. “I found out a few weeks ago. Are you guys-“
“Yes,” James admits right around the same time as Shane says, “None of your bus…i…ness. James!”
“Dude,” James frowns at him. “The truth will set you free.”
“I hate it when you pick up strays,” Shane grits out, and Kendall occupies himself by touching his fingers to his own neck. It’s not wet anymore, but when he pulls back he’s got flakes of dried blood against his skin, and it feels like he’s got a semi-massive cut there. He guesses he doesn’t need stitches, because it’s not like, gushing, or anything.
James says, “Kendall’s not a stray. He’s Kendall.”
Kendall would let that make him feel all warm and fuzzy if Shane didn’t rebut, “He’s dangerous, James.”
“I’m really not,” Kendall says helpfully.
“Shut up,” Shane snaps, and James crosses his arms.
“Rude. Why do you always have to be so rude?”
“I’m trying to protect you, okay, I’m your-“
“Big brother of like, three minutes, and in the space of those three fucking minutes you gained the wisdom of the universe, I got it, I know.”
Kendall sighs. “I’m really not comfortable with you guys arguing over me-“
“Shut the hell up, Kendall, I’m defending your virtue,” James growls.
Screw warm and fuzzy. Now Kendall is just annoyed. He sulks at the nearest wall, “I’m perfectly capable of defending my own virtue. I think.”
Shane and James are full on bickering now, absolutely forgetting Kendall’s existence, and when it looks like punches are really close to being thrown, Kendall decides it’s time to intervene for realsies. “So, um. I’m headed to Camp Half-Blood. Wanna come?”
“Pass,” Shane says immediately, finally distracted from James, and under his breath he adds something that sounds suspiciously like I have not had enough coffee for this.
James keeps his mouth shut, considering.
“Pass,” Shane insists, elbowing his brother in the stomach. James swats at his coffee cup in retaliation and Shane hugs it to his chest defensively, inhaling the fumes. “C’mon, James. We’re not going to demigod summer camp.”
“But. We could make lanyards.” James is undeterred by the full on volcanic glower that Shane directs his way. “You really want to leave Kendall all alone out here? We could at least help him get to Long Island, dude.”
“I don’t actually even know where here is,” Kendall volunteers. “You’ve kind of kidnapped me.”
“Ungrateful,” Shane buries his nose in his coffee cup and mutters, “We were making sure you didn’t die.”
“Whelp, not dead.” Kendall smacks his lips together obnoxiously. He decides to try his hand at pestering. It’s something Kendall is really good at. It’s like a real, actual talent of his. “But I could use a lift. Please. Pretty please. Please with sugar and um, cappuccino foam on top.”
“I’m in,” James says.
Shane spares his coffee a wistful glance and mouths cappuccino. “James-“
“Please?” Kendall bats his eyelashes. “With chocolate sprinkles?”
“I don’t-“ Shane objects.
“Please in a super-sized venti coffee cup? Just a little tiny lift.”
Or maybe a massive cross-country lift, you know, depending on how far they’ve absconded with him.
Shane rolls his eyes, and Kendall notices he’s poked holes in the sleeves of his shirt, perfect for his thumbs to peek through. In fact, his whole ensemble is a little threadbare, and Kendall can’t tell if it’s for hipster appeal or because, uh…
Maybe he’s not going to get that ride.
“Do you guys even have a car?”
“Ah,” James says.
He echoes, “Ah?”
“No car. And…we’re a little. Um. Broke. I’ve got, uh. Two dollars to my name,” Shane says sheepishly, cheeks coloring.
Well. That’s not a huge deal. It’s not like Kendall’s rolling in cash. He shrugs. “I’ve got five. I had some coin, but it disappeared with Selana.”
“Sirens like shiny things. It must have dissolved with her.” James plucks out a listless tune on the guitar. “Hard luck.”
“It doesn’t matter. We’re not going to go with you-“
James makes an indignant noise.
Shane hugs his coffee tighter. It’s obviously his only friend in this world. “No.”
“Yes. I’m bigger than you,” James warns, and it sounds like an argument they’ve had a million times before. Kendall suddenly, fervently misses Katie. “Let’s skip the part where I fart on your face ‘til you cave.”
Shane’s eyes get really ridiculously big, caught somewhere between disgust and you-wouldn’t-dare. “But I don’t want to go to summer camp. It’s not even summer!”
James’s lips purse together, pretty as a picture. His pout has the ease of practice, pink lips and soft eyes. “Can we at least take Kendall there, then?”
“How? Do you have any money?”
James grins wide and bright. “Let’s empty my pockets and see what I find.”
They wait expectantly. Shane drinks long, heady gulps of coffee while Kendall picks at a hole in his jeans. James squirms and wiggles like a fish on dry land until finally he slaps down the goods.
In this case, the goods being a sample vial of women’s perfume, a ratty comb, and a penny.
“James,” Shane laments, digging through the loot. “This isn’t even- it’s a Canadian penny!”
James does not look even a little bit ashamed. “I guess we’re stuck in town for the night.”
Kendall frowns. He was sort of hoping to have made more progress in this whole escapade by now. But James mistakes his expression entirely. “We’ve got an extra sleeping bag.”
“No we don’t,” Shane objects.
“Valid, okay, fine, but ours is all big, we can all use it as a blanket and share,” James gives him this look that’s all, dude, seriously? “It’s not like it’s the first time.” To Kendall he hisses, “Watch it, Shane’s a cuddler.”
Wait. Share? No. Absolutely not.
“That’s not at all necessary, guys, I can, uh, sleep on the ground, or something, it’ll be fine,” Kendall glances around and notices that yeah, his duffel bag is gone. Did that dissolve with Selana too?
At least his guitar is safe.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” James says, “I promise we don’t have gnarly BO-“
“-and I am not a cuddler,” Shane protests, flapping his hands a little, sloshing coffee everywhere.
“You totally are, you cling like a baby monkey.”
“James!” Shane makes a face. “Can we just go already?”
Wait, what? “Uh, where are we going?” Kendall inquires mildly.
“Starbucks is giving away half priced mochacchinos, okay, and I need one.” Shane’s eyes go sort of distant and dreamy. His lips purse a bit, as if he’s already sucking down all that deliciousness.
Kendall hates to ruin it. “But we don’t have any cash.”
Shane gives him this sharp, pointy look. “We’ve got seven bucks.”
“Uh. But. You’ve got coffee right there, and-“
“It’s not a mochacchino.”
“Just go with it, man.” James flashes that gorgeous, unfair smile of his, strumming his fingers discordantly across the strings of Kendall’s guitar. “And about the bed thing, don’t worry. It’s all copasetic.”
“Yeah, sure. No big deal,” Kendall relents. James begins humming Local H, appeased.
Except, um, it totally is a big deal. He doesn’t want to spend the night spooning with the guy who made him realize he was bisexual and his cuddly carbon copy of a brother.
Not that they give him much of a choice. By the time Shane’s been re-caffeinated and evening falls, Kendall’s bunching the edge of his sleeping bag in one hand and wondering if he can pull off his best imitation of a rock for the better part of the night. When he does finally drift off to sleep, don’t move, don’t move, don’t move a mantra in his head, he hopes maybe one of his godly relatives is actually listening.
They’re so not.
He wakes up with James’s face buried in his chest and Shane’s head cradled rather uncomfortably against his spine, their hands both weighted across his middle. His cock jerks violently, and yeah, Kendall is not even close to equipped for this. He tries to extricate himself from the handsy twins’ grasps, but that works for about as long as it takes for him to accidentally brush his erection against the front of James’s own growing morning wood.
Kendall glares up at the ceiling, trying to see through to the clouds and mutters, “Why do you hate me?”
James nuzzles into his neck.
Kendall’s life for the past few weeks has become a blur of walls and strange places, but now, even though Shane never expressly agreed to take Kendall to camp, the Diamond twins are a part of it.
Kendall doesn’t ask about their godly troubles, and in turn, James and Shane don’t interrogate him about his. They move pretty quickly between towns on foot, and Kendall’s never really sure if they’re ducking actual monsters or homeless vagrants with hideous fashion sense, but he follows James and Shane’s lead all the same. Whether they talk about it or not, they seem to have a handle on this whole demigod issue.
Shane is smart, like, scary smart. He knows weird factoids about the solar system and physics and the entire population of countries Kendall has never heard of.
James is fun. He is constantly rattling off songs or talking about this celebrity couple or discussing what he’s going to do when they don’t have to run anymore. (He’s going to be famous, he says, and Kendall doesn’t doubt him for a minute).
Kendall gets used to having them around, from the wake up routine where Shane forces Kendall to hunt down the nearest source of coffee before he can form real, English words, to how James sits pretty at wherever they’re calling home, primping until he’s presentable. They make their way across city line after city line, busking for cash. It’s not all that different from what Kendall’s been doing, only now, every morning, James sits cross-legged, tapping out a bongo beat on Kendall’s guitar case as he tunes up, while Shane slides from one foot to the next in a shuffle dance that displays all his nerdy glory.
The whole gig doesn’t make them much money, but it’s weirdly fun, having company.
And at night, they all fall asleep together, like puppies in a pile. When Kendall tries to think of a word for it, his mind lands on weird, strange, bizarre…but in the end, the word his brain inevitably chooses is…
Kendall attempts to work up the courage to call his mom and Katie. He can’t quite bring himself to dial the number.
Shane forages them up some clothes at community center lost and founds. Or, he tries. He’s voted off clothing appropriation when he brings James a carebears t-shirt.
“We are not actually related,” James exclaims, horrified.
Shane actually appears to be hurt. He pouts, “Fine. Next time, you go.”
James turns to Kendall, who is pretty happy with his Rainbow Brite sweater, thank you, and sets about trying to pry it from his hands, moaning, “I thought it couldn’t get worse than plaid.”
“She defeated the King of Shadows and brought color back to Rainbow Land, okay, hey, let go, it’s mine!”
James decides that Kendall is a gigantic dork. Which is fine, because Kendall is a gigantic dork. Back home Katie attests to it frequently and with great volume.
Sure, he’d rather not be a gigantic dork around James, but it’s cool, it’s fine. Kendall isn’t interested in James that way anymore.
They wash in public restrooms, from McDonald’s to the local YMCA. Sometimes they get to take their time, but more often than not, it’s a race against the clock.
The sight of James naked makes Kendall’s mouth go dry.
Of course, it shouldn’t take a month to get anywhere, but not many people are keen on hitchhikers, and making enough cash for three bus tickets is harder than Kendall thought it would be. Especially with the Diamond twins’ vices.
“Coffee. Coffee,” Shane emphasizes through a grumble, making grabby hands at Kendall.
“You know, this stuff will stunt your growth,” Kendall says, handing over the cup he bogarted from the church next to their newest squatter’s nest.
Shane makes a face, “Shut it, short stuff. Ugh, this tastes like piss.”
“Then give it back.” Kendall holds out an expectant hand.
Shane snuggles up against his cup and retorts, “No, it’s mine.”
“What’s yours? The coffee?” James rubs at his eyes, just coming into wakefulness. “Good idea. Let’s go get some more.”
“More,” Shane murmurs happily, licking the rim of his cup.
That is so not natural. Kendall makes a face. “Uh, you know your brother’s chemical addiction to caffeine is driving us straight to the poorhouse, right?”
James just smirks sleepily. That is not fair play at all.
“More,” Shane prompts into the half-full coffee cup, and Kendall sighs.
“Do we really have to? The church smells like mold. And feet.”
“Yeah, duh,” James mumbles, gaze narrow, the last remnants of sweet dreams clinging to his eyelashes. “Don’t lead me on.”
Kendall’s more flustered than he has a right to be, dragging his fingers across the denim of his filthy jeans. “I’m not leading-“
“C’mon. Why do you build me up, buttercup, baby?” James croons in his ear, passing by on the way to the door. Where he’s probably going to take a leak, so it shouldn’t make Kendall’s heart flutter in that really unbecoming, non-manly way.
“Fine, whatever, junkies.” Kendall retorts, watching the strong line of James’s shoulders. He’s just about made it to the door when Kendall notices something glittering in the corner of the room, over near Shane’s stuff. Shane’s inhaling the sensuous aroma of shitty, free coffee, and James is mostly distracted by his bladder, probably, so Kendall doesn’t exactly expect the reaction he gets when he reaches down to grab the whatever-it-is.
Gold, maybe? A tiny, gold nugget that gleams pretty in the darkness of the abandoned house.
“Ooh, shiny,” Kendall decides, about to scoop it up.
“Don’t touch that!” James and Shane yell at the exact same time.
James is standing rigid in the doorframe, while Shane has actually managed to spill half his cup all over his lap. It’s steaming hot, but he doesn’t even seem to notice. Kendal freezes, hands less than an inch away from the pretty-sparkly. His throat works over a sudden lump, clicking when he swallows.
“Uh. Why not?”
They do that thing, that twin thing, where they appear to be talking without words, and Kendall is intensely jealous of how they can communicate like that across a room. If he ever tried it with Katie, she’d probably ask if he was constipated.
“It’s, um. Okay, don’t freak out,” James says, remaining stock still, and has there ever been a good answer that started with don’t freak out? Kendall regards the gold nugget warily.
“Is it like, a demon roly poly?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Shane snaps. “It’s just, you know, cursed.”
“Cursed?” Kendall snaps up straight. “There are curses now?”
Shane sort of folds in on himself, shoulders creeping up near his ears, knees tucked into his stomach. “I guess you could say it’s my superpower?”
“Cursing people? That’s a fucking shitty superpower, man.”
“Hey.” James’s voice is harsher than Kendall has ever heard it, protective, even. Kendall cringes, because he never wanted venom like that directed his way. Not from James. “It’s not his fault.” Kendall waits, still frozen, until James continues, “It’s our dad’s.”
“James.” By contrast, Shane speaks softly. He meets Kendall’s gaze, leonine eyes that are not quite the same as his brother’s, too dark at the center, too hard, too flecked by old gold. “Cursing people isn’t- it’s called geokinesis. And it’s not our dad’s fault, exactly.”
“Is too,” James harrumphs, hand twitching over the door knob.
Kendall says, “I don’t understand.”
“Our mom, she’s…really young. You might have noticed, um. Yeah. No one was good enough for her, back in the dark ages, right? And…when she met our dad, he said he’d grant her one wish.”
“So obviously she wishes for the stupidest thing possible,” James interjects. He is rumpled and unhappy, and Kendall thinks he can see all the songs that have died on his lips.
“She asked for all the riches of the earth, ‘cause you know, diamonds are a girl’s best friend, and she was young, and her company was just getting off the ground and-“ Shane pauses, squeezing his knees together. He spares a mournful glance at his now empty coffee cup and takes a shuddering breath. “When I was born, she figured out I could do this, and it was great, at first, I guess.”
“What exactly is this?” Kendall gestures at the nugget, and Shane’s lips tick up at the corners, humorless.
“I can bring up all the riches the earth has to offer.” He is watching Kendall like he expects him to run, but Kendall has nowhere to go, and no plans to leave. “Except, there’s a catch. It’s all fucking cursed. Bad things happen to the people who touch that,” he waves a hand at the gold, and his tone turns meek. “So, so, just…don’t, okay?”
As far as requests go, it’s not exactly the hardest thing that’s ever been asked of Kendall. James is glaring at Kendall, like he’ll say no, but Kendall shrugs. “Don’t touch the cursed shiny, check.”
That’s pretty much that. James goes to take a leak, and when he comes back, they get more coffee. Kendall is sure to check the ground for suspicious earthly wealth, and he figures they’ve fallen back into this whole unspoken agreement where they don’t talk about who they are or where they came from.
It should be fine, because Kendall’s still got mixed feelings about this whole concept of gods. On the one hand, his mom said it was true, so he believes her, and there’s no reason not to, really. He’s met his fair share of monsters at this point, and who’s to say that gods aren’t next?
On the other hand, demigod or not, Kendall has never felt anything more than painfully human. As far as he knows, he doesn’t have any otherworldly anythings to deal with, and for all the joking he and Katie did, he’s glad for it.
He has to ask though. He can’t just go back to total ignorance, not when there are things like curses floating around in the world.
They’re standing in line at the church, Shane back to normal, bouncing up and down on his feet eagerly as he waits behind a lady in a flower print muumuu for coffee.
Kendall leans over to James and asks quietly, “Can I ask, who is your dad, exactly?”
James gives him a dark look, and Kendall feels like he hasn’t been forgiven yet for something he isn’t even aware he’s done. But he answers, just as quietly. “Hades.”
Hades. Like the god of the underworld, Hades.
Yeah, okay, Kendall’s life is officially fucked.
He can see James waiting for some kind of response, an exclamation of no way or a fuck this, I’m out. Instead, Kendall glances at where Shane has just knocked over an entire pile of napkins. He says, “Maybe we should wean him onto tea.”
“I heard that!”
It turns out James, at least, doesn’t have any powers, unless eating a ridiculous amount of pie counts. He makes them stop at every diner and fresh fruit stand across America, spending the half of their cash that isn’t devoted to Shane’s coffee habit on peach or blueberry or custard or rhubarb- rhubarb, which, “Gross man,” Kendall comments, nose wrinkling as he spits out the mouthful of pie on the damp concrete.
“You’re gross,” James retorts, but then, because he’s actually a really nice guy, he tacks on, “Okay not really, but rhubarb is delicious and I want to lick it all over.”
“S’not weird. I’d lick you all over if you were covered in pie,” James replies happily.
No, bad, Kendall thinks at his dick, and like always it dutifully ignores him. They’re huddled at a bus station, James cradling his pie protectively and Shane sipping from a styrofoam cup, coming back with a foam mustache.
Their set for the day ended with James barging in on the end of Kendall’s thrilling rendition of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, harmonizing the hell out of the very last well that’s one thing we’ve got. He takes a bite of pie and mumbles, “Y’know, we rocked it today. Were you ever in a band, dude?”
Kendall glances up. “Nah. Music’s just…a hobby, I guess.”
James relaxes his hold on his pie plate a little to rest his hand against the neck of Kendall’s guitar. “No one who plays like you do should call it a hobby.”
Kendall isn’t sure what to say to that. His tinkering has never exactly been encouraged before, not even by his mom. He always thought it was because it reminded her too much of his dad – stepdad, whoever – but now? Kendall has no idea. And he’s never really been told he’s good at anything other than hockey, but the way James is staring at him – so open and earnest – makes Kendall think that he means it. His fingers slip over strings. They twang in protest.
James straightens, withdrawing his hand. He says, “You’re an amazing singer, too.”
“Now I know you’re fucking with me. I sound terrible.”
“If you sounded terrible, I’d say so. Tact is for cowards.” James grins, wide and toothy.
Shane apologetically inserts, “He would. He’s kind of a primadonna.”
Kendall shakes his head. “I guess it must be true then. James knows talent, right? Because he’s got it.”
Then he promptly buries his face back in his pie.
Shane says slowly, “So do you. You have talent.”
Kendall smiles fondly at James. “Yeah, no, but…your brother is something else.”
Shane’s eyes narrow. After a pause he says, “Right. He is definitely, definitely something else.”
Kendall wakes up near three in the morning, judging by the track of the moon in the sky. They’re sleeping on the hard cement floor of an office building that’s still mid-construction. The night watchman isn’t super thorough in his rounds, but Kendall is certain that he’s heard a noise.
He glances around, wildly, before he feels James’s hand against his cheek. “Sorry. Did I wake you?”
“I-“ Kendall stops. “What?”
“I was humming,” James explains. “Bad habit.”
Kendall’s heartbeat slows to something manageable. “Couldn’t sleep?”
“Nah. I have dreams about motel rooms, you know. Real beds,” James makes an obscene noise.
“Motel rooms have bed bugs,” Kendall replies, because Shane’s been giving them the statistics on that for days now. It hasn’t exactly made the Motel Six they passed a town before look any less appealing.
“And you probably have fleas. Let me fantasize.”
“Okay,” Kendall agrees, hyperaware of James’s hand on his face. “You fantasize. I’ll…sleep.”
James snorts, pushing his fingers back until they tangle in Kendall’s hair. Shane makes a noise between a snort and a grunt behind them both, but it is familiar now. It is comfort. Kendall whispers, “What were you humming, anyway?”
James nuzzles in close, his eyes luminous, all black and gold. He says, “Something old,” and it is old, it is ancient, it is a song that Kendall remembers from his grandmother’s collection, back before she passed away. James hums the half remembered melody of Moonlight Serenade, and Kendall drifts off, off, off, back into his dreams.
Shane asks Kendall point blank who his godly parent is.
“Oh, uh, I don’t know.” Kendall is embarrassed to admit it out loud. The only answer that pops into his head is Triton, King of the Sea, and that would probably involve confessing how many times he’s actually seen The Little Mermaid.
Plus it brings up memories of Katie snickering at her own merman jokes. It’s been nearly seven weeks since he left home, and he misses her and his mom like crazy.
“You don’t know? I thought you said your mom told you about this whole demigod thing,” James inserts, because Kendall had managed to slip that much into conversation at one point or another.
Shane scowls. “And…you didn’t ask?”
“When you put it that way, it sounds dumb of me,” Kendall objects. He thinks about calling his mom for the eight zillionth time, but then for the eight kajillionth time he remembers that he is for all intents and purposes a runaway. Bad idea.
He’ll call her when he gets to Camp Half-Blood. That is the plan. He is going to stick to it, damnit.
James shoves a plate in Shane’s face, distracting him from whatever mean thing he was about to say. “Try a piece of this.”
Shane does, obediently, allowing his brother to shovel it in his mouth.
He immediately coughs and splutters, clutching at his lungs like it might help. “That is vile and toxic and why would you poison yourself like that?”
“I think it’s yummy.”
“Yummy? That is blasphemy to everything coffee flavored ever, that’s what it is, how could you? Traitor to your bloodline! Traitor!”
Kendall devolves into a fit of laughter when Shane futilely attempts to tackle James and his coffee cake straight to the ground, all flailing limbs and a bright, light thing that spreads through his chest.
He misses Katie and his mom, sure, but this is good too.
There’s a lull in their mostly undecided set, while James flirts with the music enthusiast who dropped them a whole five bucks.
Kendall uses the words music enthusiast lightly, because the girl obviously could care less about their thrilling rendition of Wonderwall. It isn’t exactly a surprise when she’s completely, one hundred percent focused on James.
James is…well. Exactly the same as Kendall remembers.
Which doesn’t mean anything.
Just because he harbored a stunningly massive, impressively ill-advised crush on the boy a few years back doesn’t mean that he’s going to leap into his arms now. That would be dumb, and ruin things, and Kendall doesn’t want to ruin this.
He likes James. As a friend-type-person. He even sort of likes Shane, too. And it’s awesome, because Kendall’s never had friends he instantly clicked with before. He’s never had friends that felt like family.
So really, Kendall doesn’t even mind that they haven’t made it to Camp Half-Blood yet, because he’s got them both, and there’s a kind of freedom on the road that he’s never had before, every broken white line on the asphalt a new frontier. He can maybe put up with this whole partial god thing if it’s going to be like this.
Shane stands awkwardly off to the side, nursing a froufy latte while Kendall tries to master a chord he keeps fucking up – it has nothing to do with James’s flirting, mind you, it fucking doesn’t okay- and eventually the awkward just gets to be too much.
“He is so obnoxiously charming,” Kendall confides, glaring at the twenty something who is peering coyly through her eyelashes at his friend.
Shane nods his agreement, expression wistful. “I have no idea how he does it. The only things I know how to sweet talk are computers.”
The confession catches Kendall a little off guard, because while Shane hasn’t been cold, he hasn’t exactly been especially chatty either. It’s almost like Shane is warming to him.
Kind of. He can dream.
“I hear geeks are going to inherit the earth,” Kendall says consolingly.
“Maybe. The last girl I dated said I spent more time with my motherboard than with her. Girls are weird.”
“So weird,” Kendall agrees.
There’s a comfortable silence punctuated by James’s admirer’s twittering laughter and James’s sleazeball lines. Kendall figures this is about as close as he and Shane are ever going to get; bonded by their mutual lack of understanding of the fairer sex.
Late one evening, just east of Ohio, James drags Kendall on a walk.
“For exercise,” he explains cheerfully, and it’s easy for him to say, with his rippling muscles and washboard abs and lickable everything.
“I feel like we get enough exercise,” Kendall protests, because they really do. Just yesterday, they had a rough and tumble game of ultimate flying disk that ended up with Shane’s nose bleeding profusely and everywhere, and the day before that, Kendall totally spent a good half hour of his day battling off a monster that vaguely resembled an amorphous jellyfish.
Or Scarlett Johansson, in some lights.
…Gerard Butler in others.
There’s also the thing where they’re runaways. It’s in the freaking name. Run-away. So yeah, see, Kendall gets plenty of exercise, and totally resents the implication that he’s growing pudge.
James ignores his sulking, guiding Kendall by the crook of his elbow down empty suburban streets. The leaves lift their faces to the sky, and James points and says, “That means a storm’s coming.”
“How do you know that?”
James lifts one shoulder in the air, trying for nonchalant but mostly succeeding in miserable. “When your uncle is master and controller of lightning and basically despises your existence, you learn to spot the signs.”
“Uncle? Oh. Right. Uh. Zeus, yeah?”
James’s lips twist. “The one and only.”
“Cool. I guess. Have you met him?”
“Nah. He’s not a big fan of his nephews and nieces. I think he tried to hit me with lightning once.” James glares up at the sky and tells it, “Thanks for that.”
Kendall’s not sure how to respond. “Wait, you mean they can actually, like, control the weather?”
“They’re gods, Kendall. They control all kinds of things.”
Kendall wonders if he’s been thinking about this god thing too abstractly. In theory, yeah, he gets that Shane and James are Hades’ kids, but outside Shane’s sparkly curse, he doesn’t really know what that means.
“This is going to be an awkward personal question, isn’t it?” James asks, scuffing his sneakers against the sidewalk. He’s giving Kendall these serious eyes that are more suited to Shane.
“Maybe. Do you ever…see…your dad?”
“I’ve met him. Once.” His face shutters completely. “He can go fuck himself.”
“I see you feel strongly about this, okay, I’ll shut up.” Kendall curses himself, because James probably hates him now and, and, gods, when did he get this insecure? Throw six feet of blazing hot studmuffin at him and he turns into a total child.
James grunts caveman-style. “No, it’s- it’s fine.”
It sounds anything but fine. Kendall keeps his mouth firmly shut.
James says, “I hate my dad, but I’m not like Shane. It doesn’t mean I don’t want anything to do with Olympus.”
Tentatively, Kendall asks, “Are they all bad? The gods?”
“Every demigod I’ve ever met says that their parents treat them like chattel, and every single one of them accepts it because they want them to be proud.” The wind picks up, whipping James’s hair across his eyes. “I get it. They’re our parents. We can’t help it. But Shane and I don’t want to live like that.” James spares Kendall a rueful smile, all lip and no pearly white teeth. “It’s enough trouble trying to impress my mom. Or it was.”
“Do you miss her?”
“All the time. We’d be home if it weren’t for the monsters. They never let up.” James stares at the cracks in the concrete, deftly avoiding each in an attempt not to break his mother’s back. “I hate putting people in danger. It was better when I didn’t know, and I could just play hockey, fool around…hanging out with you.”
“We didn’t hang out that often,” Kendall replies.
Firmly, James answers, “We should have hung out more.”
Kendall flexes his fingers and tries not to let it get to him. James has a silver tongue. He knows exactly what to say to make a person fold into the palm of his hand. It’s part charm, part manipulation, and who even knows how much of it is truth? Kendall thinks James is real with him. His instincts say that he is, but.
Better not to hope.
“What are you going to do when we get to Camp Half-Blood?”
James’s mouth gapes open, stunned.
“I don’t know,” he admits awkwardly.
The wind howls. Kendall can’t think up anything nice to say. “Chattel. That’s a big word. I’m impressed.”
“Shut up. Doofus.” James slings an arm around Kendall’s shoulders and they keep on walking. “You’re mean.”
“Your face is mean,” Kendall retorts, because this, banter, is easy.
“No, my face is pouty because you’re mean.” James squeezes him closer, and even when the storm hits, big fat drops of rain that splat across the bridge of their noses, he doesn’t withdraw his hand.
James is eternally unhappy with their set list because James wants to have more solo parts.
Which Kendall is actually fine with, because he wasn’t kidding around when he said his voice sucked like a Dyson vacuum, but what James seems to keep forgetting is that their set list is less a set list and more a list of songs that Kendall has taught himself on the guitar. He’s open to diversity and everything, but without a computer or a cellphone or access to the whole wide world of the internet, he’s basically learning everything by ear. It just so happens that James hates all the songs he’s learning.
“There’s a solution here,” James announces one day, in the midst of dissecting a pumpkin pie. His smile is a thief. It steals Kendall’s breath away.
“Yeah, we could break all the coffee machines in town, but that would probably hurt us in the long run,” Kendall replies, thinking James is referring to the pile of Shane on the counter in the corner, drooling pathetically at the waitress with her carafe of caffeine.
Kendall almost can’t blame him; he’s developing an unhealthy coffee addiction of his very own. He’s trying to cut back, but it’s hard. Kendall focuses on his French toast, sopping with maple syrup, and there’s comfort there. French toast has pretty much tasted the same at every diner across America. Come to think of it, most of the diners have looked the same too, with faded beige paint and linoleum counters and this whole fifties chic thing that actually is not chic at all. Even the clientele is familiar, from the college kids to the old timers that frequent the same booths like a favored barstool.
“Not that,” James directs Kendall’s attention back to his pretty face, and for a second Kendall thinks that James is watching him with hungry eyes.
That can’t be right. He chocks it up to his own reflection, swimming against the black sea of James’s pupils.
“We should write some songs,” James continues, and Kendall chokes on his toast. “Give me your hand.”
James is brandishing a black felt-tip pen. Where the hell did he get that? He twirls it in the air, slumping back against the booth, and he is inelegant, sloppy, splayed legs and mussed hair, and these are the things that make him so very dear.
Kendall hides his hands beneath his thighs. “What? No.”
“Hey, I’m trying to be a serious song writer, here,” James says. He catches hold of Kendall’s upper arm, tugging it forward until he’s freed a hand, and then begins to scrawl what must be lyrics across Kendall’s skin.
“What are you doing?” Shane asks, settling down beside Kendall with three cups of fresh coffee.
“Song writing. Apparently,” Kendall deadpans.
“Oh. Yeah, James is good at that. If he were ever going to market a talent, it would have to be that one.”
Without looking up, James says, “That’s Shane’s condescending way of saying I’m too stupid for anything else.”
“I am not.” Shane objects mildly. “Sure, no one ever calls song writers smart, but they have such a huge impact on our lives. A physical product is better than a metaphysical one, or at least it’s easier to justify paying for in cold, hard cash. Still, I don’t think it means that one is less than another. William Gilbert and Jimi Hendrix are both heroes, in their own way.”
James actually blushes. “Well. Um.” He lifts his eyes to Kendall, rather than acknowledge Shane’s intensity. “That was a good speech. …He likes being the smartest person in the room.”
Shane shakes his head. “You’re wrong, James. There’s always someone smarter in the room. Unless it’s this room.” He grins at the both of them.
Before they leave the diner, Kendall tries to decipher what James has written on his arm. He can only translate one line. “You like my…dimples?”
James beams brighter than the sun. “Yep.” He hops to his feet with easy grace. “Shane’s beating us out the door, we better go make sure he doesn’t drown in his Kona blend.”
Kendall stares blindly down at his own skin and wonders what it means.
The problem with James comes down to one word.
Girls look at him with this glow in their eyes, something caught between adoration and desperation, and Kendall would be lying if he said he didn’t recognize the expression from his own reflection. Naked want was easier to deal with when he didn’t know James so well, when he didn’t spend nights tucked into the curve of his body and days harmonizing on love songs. It’s hard to stay objective when James insists upon filling all the space at Kendall’s side, chasing away his guilt and shame and the loneliness caused by the conspicuous absence of his family.
Okay, so yeah. He’s fucked. Don’t rub it in.
The point is, it kind of sucks when James actually manages to land a date, despite looking like he’s come off the cast of Lost.
It’s a Saturday night, and Shane is trying to distract Kendall by teaching him how to hotwire a car. Useful life skill, right there.
“And why do you know how to do this?”
“Ah-ah-ah, I never give away my trade secrets.” Shane smiles broadly. Then, “James loved that hockey team, you know. Said it was the best thing mom ever did for him.”
Kendall thinks there’s a deeper meaning, here, so he goes for the shallowest interpretation. “Did they not get along?”
“Are you kidding me? Peas in a pod.” Shane allows himself a small smile. “I was the one who was constantly fighting with her, constantly getting in trouble. Mom spoiled James…okay, she spoiled both of us, if I’m being honest, but James is the baby. She coddled him to death. No pun intended.” Shane winces, kicking a pretty decently sized ruby away from his shoe. “But I think it kind of backfired. James thought he could have the whole entire world, and mom wanted him to stay in Minnesota and run her company. That’s where things got tricky.”
“But what about you?”
“Me?” Shane’s hands fumble over wires. “I was the smart one. I was supposed to go out, spend my talent in the world while James held the fort back home. Only I didn’t want that either. I liked home. Home is safe.” He stares at the ruby out of the corner of his eye. “And that was the problem. Mom said my talent would be wasted on the company, but we all knew the company would be wasted on James. He’s got a different skillset, and different dreams, and I didn’t have any dreams at all. Mom was going gray. Not that you could see it under all that hair dye. I think it was a relief when coach attacked James, when we found out the truth, for all three of us. No more expectations.”
“Wait, coach attacked him?” Kendall asks, outraged, because hey, coach never lifted a finger towards Kendall.
“You must not have grown into your scent yet,” Shane says by way of explanation, and of course he knows exactly what Kendall is asking.
But he doesn’t know what Kendall’s next question is. Kendall isn’t even sure if he’s allowed to ask it, but he’s never been much for inhibitions. “What do you think Hades- uh, your dad- saw in her?”
“Mom? Oh, plenty.” Shane grins. “He probably saw her inner demoness. Evil recognizes evil.” He lets out a laugh, but then softens. “James says it’s because she likes to keep things pretty. Forever. I guess that’s what makeup is about.”
Kendall mulls that over, the atmosphere thick and uncomfortable between him and Shane. Maybe that’s why Shane says, “We could just…drive to Long Island,” his hands still up in the foot well of someone else’s car.
“No we can’t,” Kendall replies automatically, because stealing is a line he isn’t ever willing to cross. His mom would be so proud.
You know, if he called her and told her. He swallows down around bile.
Shane nods appreciatively, like Kendall’s just passed a test he didn’t know he was taking. “No. We can’t.”
Kendall and Shane just decide to take their shots back to their current nest and get rip-roaringly drunk on their own.
Shane is a very pouty drunk. “Everyone likes James best.”
“Of course everyone likes James. Have you seen his abs? I want to pour chocolate sauce across his stomach and lick it off,” Kendall replies, totally free of, you know, shame. His head is balanced on Shane’s lap, because he’s had so much that it’s getting hard for his neck to support its weight.
“That’s a visual. You’ve made me slightly ill, thanks.”
“No, no, no,” Kendall circles a finger in the air. “You know why girls don’t like you as much as James?”
“Because I don’t go to the gym often enough, clearly.”
“That not it,” Kendall insists. “Confidence.” He’s got this whole speech prepared about why Shane needs to be more confident in himself, but what comes out is, “Shane, I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, but I have wet dreams about offering myself up to your brother on a silver platter.”
“Right, that doesn’t make me uncomfortable at all,” Shane replies dryly, patting Kendall on the head. He sounds less drunk than Kendall. No fair. “You should go to sleep.”
“Don’t wanna.” Kendall kicks out, foot connecting with a sapphire the size of his fist. It skitters across the floor before coming to rest against a wall. Shane makes a displeased noise and Kendall pouts. “Ow. Shiny hurts.”
Shane murmurs his agreement. They sit in comfortable silence for a while, until he brings himself to say, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m glad James has no powers.”
“You and me both,” Shane agrees, nudging a hunk of silver away with the toe of his sneaker. “You know, if you came onto him, he probably wouldn’t say no.”
“Can’t. It’s a hockey commandment,” Kendall replies, a wee bit petulantly.
“What, thou shalt not get naked around a teammate?”
“Was thinking more along the lines of thou shalt not cop a feel, but yeah, that probably applies.”
“Breaking news, genius, you’re not teammates anymore. You’re not even on a hockey team. So, you know, tap that.”
“This conversation grows exceedingly uncomfortable for me with every passing second. Did you actually just tell me to tap your brother’s ass?”
“How do you think I feel? I don’t usually have to talk people into James’s pants, you know. He’ll go for you. James’s sexuality is, uh, fluid.”
Kendall squints up at him. His face swims back and forth between sharpness and blurriness. “Meaning?”
“Meaning you have a chance, if you want it.”
“Really? That’s your pep talk? Have at my brother because he’s not picky?” Kendall quirks an eyebrow, and Shane doesn’t look even marginally ashamed. “No wonder your mom didn’t sign you up for hockey. The grandeur would have been completely lost on you.”
“The head trauma, you mean?” Shane raps his knuckles against Kendall’s skull. “Sure you’re not part Cyclops?”
Kendall would reply, really, he would, except he’s sort of fallen asleep pillowed against Shane’s thigh.
In his dreams, he pretends it’s James’s.
“Girls only like me for my body,” James complains. “Which, don’t get me wrong, is spectacular, but I’m more than a pretty face.”
“Since when?” Shane demands. Kendall elbows him in the stomach, because James has his solemn face on, and it’s a pretty slippery slope from solemn to outright bitchy, so why not let him talk before it comes to that?
James’s bitchy voice is loud, besides, and Kendall’s head hurts.
“My life is tragic,” James replies, glaring at Shane instead of actually explaining.
“Oh, yeah, easy for you to say. People want to lick chocolate sauce off your abs.”
James appears to be entirely unsurprised by this information.
Kendall, on the other hand, is never telling Shane anything ever again. The back of his neck burns sunset colors, embarrassment heating the tips of his fingers and the curl of his toes.
“Traitor,” he hisses.
Shane simply mouths, tap that.
What Shane doesn’t know, because Kendall didn’t say it, is that he doesn’t just want to have sex with James. What he wants, what he really wants, scares the living daylights out of him, and there are days when he has to go spend time on his own, desperately, to get away from it.
He never can get away from it for long. James keeps sucking him right back in.
Indeed, there is. The bird thing circles overhead, beak gleaming mean in the sun. It could just be a really big freaking hawk, but…
“What are the odds that it’s not a monster?” Kendall asks, deferring to the Diamond twins’ experience.
“Probably about the same as Shane ever getting laid,” James deadpans, supremely unconcerned.
“Hey, you don’t know that. I’ve done serious research on girls,” Shane objects.
“He means listening to a lot of Taylor Swift.”
“Serious. Research,” Shane emphasizes. His glare could cut skin, probably.
“Learned anything?” James crosses his arms.
“Sure. They, uh, they seem to like kissing in the rain?”
“Taylor Swift,” James mouths at Kendall.
Kendall would probably find it funny, except, “You know, you two might be co-presidents of the Junior Monster Hunters’ League, but I have very real concerns here. If a big gold bird eats my eyeballs, I won’t be able to see. I like being able to see.”
James starts, “Dude, did you ever see that video of that Korean chick eating her own eyeball-“
“I fail to see how that’s relevant,” Kendall interjects prissily, even though he did see it, and it was awesome. Also seriously gross, but mostly awesome.
“You used to be fun.” James turns to Shane. “Remember the good old days when Kendall was fun?”
Primly, Shane replies, “Sorry, no, I must have been too busy listening to Taylor Swift.”
James does a great job of completely ignoring that and finally focuses on Kendall. “Yeah, so, it’s probably a monster. Don’t worry. This happens a lot.”
“Really? You’re regularly stalked by furry woodland creatures?”
Shane rolls his eyes. “Welcome to life as a demigod.”
James adds, “Kind of makes you wish your dad kept it in his pants, doesn’t it?”
Kendall very much does not want to think about what is or isn’t in his dad’s pants. He turns the exact same shade of green as his eyes, mouth falling open.
“Don’t be such a prude, Knight,” Shane nudges him, apparently over his addiction to Speak Now. “We’ve got incoming.”
Kendall actually doesn’t need the warning. He’s too busy avoiding what appear to be feathers, raining down over his head like arrows. One slices cleanly through the soft flesh of his inner arm, blood pricking to the surface of his skin much, much too quickly.
“Ow, ow, ow,” Shane is hissing through his teeth, dodging left and right and clutching his knee in this odd little dance.
“Would you stop acting like such a baby for five seconds and focus on the larger picture? Giant eyeball pecking birds!” James flaps his arms frantically in imitation, mostly in an attempt to fend off the thing.
“See, that’s what I’ve been saying!” Kendall protests.
The bird is mean looking, beak glinting metallic in the light, and when James tries to hit it with the meat cleaver of a sword he keeps in his backpack for special occasions – one day Kendall will remember to ask him where he got that thing – it does absolutely nothing.
Kendall goes after it with his guitar case, swatting at the bird ineffectually. It’s pretty intent on all of James’s fleshy bits. Shane starts like, throwing things at it, and if the monsters are going to be so damn vicious Kendall thinks maybe they should start weapons training or take a jujitsu class or something, because Shane’s aim sucks and Kendall’s well placed hits obviously pack little to no punch.
“What. Is. It?” He demands, kicking out at it with one of his Vans.
“That’s your question?” Shane huffs, his breath hard and heavy. He hefts an emerald the size of Kendall’s head, and Kendall’s first thought is where did he? quickly followed by cursed treasure, right, with oh shit, duck at its heels. “How should I know?”
“Little busy here, guys,” James warns, swinging leftrightleft, and Kendall has to jump away to avoid pointy iron.
He pants, “If we knew what it was, maybe it would go away!”
The ball of bronze Shane throws at the bird nearly hits Kendall in the shoulder hard. “Oops. Not a dictionary for monsters, you know.”
“Ack, can you guys shut-“ The knife-sword thing in James’s hand continues to be useless, and when he flails backwards, the bird’s wing hits Kendall right in the stomach.
It’s a big freaking bird, but it’s not a giant, and it shouldn’t be able to knock him off his feet.
But it does.
Kendall’s guitar case hits the ground in a cacophony of noise, strings jarring, sound echoing loudly through the sound hole, Kendall landing right on top of it. And the bird…cringes.
Kendall doesn’t have to be told twice. He unbuckles the sides of the case and takes out the guitar, slamming his hands on the strings, but it’s not even close to loud enough. Shane and James, though, they pick up on the whole theme of noise. Shane gets to put his smartypants street thug cred to use, picking the locks on car doors and fixing them up, which at first Kendall doesn’t get, because hi, James is still in trouble here.
Then the first car radio starts blaring into the open air, and shit, this will attract the neighbors pretty quick, but Kendall runs to help out.
It takes the sound of fifteen car stereos and Kendall nearly breaking the neck of his guitar to scare the bird away. James has cuts all over his body, bleeding shallowly all over the concrete, and people are starting to crowd the streets, cellphones out. They’re calling the police, Kendall knows, but he’s a little distracted, because…There is light.
“What the hell is that?” Kendall frowns at the green, glowy symbol floating over his head, batting at it with his fingers like that might drive it away.
“You’ve been claimed,” Shane says in the same reverent voice he uses when describing the mating habits of Komodo Dragons or whatever; Kendall tunes out at all things scaly.
“By what?” He pokes the symbol, watching it swallow his finger in a puff of emerald. “Am I Sailor Moon?”
Shane makes a strangled noise of protest, but James, clutching a particularly bad cut on his stomach, says lightly, “You’d look good in a tiara. And you have the legs for that whole school girl thing.”
“Did you just say I have girl legs?”
“I think I said I’d like to see your legs wrapped around m-“
“Gods, save the foreplay for later, you idiots. Kendall, that symbol belongs to your father.”
Kendall wants to care. He does. Honestly.
Only, did James actually just legitimately hit on him?
He thinks about asking, except Shane might murder him, and he’s had more than enough violence for the day. Oh and also James is possibly bleeding out. Kendall scratches the side of his chin and says doubtfully, “It’s…a fork? Does that mean he likes to eat? Are there Sunday brunch buffets in my future? Those usually have good spare ribs.”
Shane opens his mouth to answer, but James teeters on his feet. He splutters, “Hey, we’re cousins!”
“Great,” Kendall replies automatically, glancing at the growing crowd around them. He can hear sirens in the distance. He thought he was used to fear by now, but it is uncomfortable, it clings to his skin like wet clothes he can’t wait to shake.
Shane snorts knowingly. “Oh, don’t worry, we were already related somehow, no matter what. The gods love keeping it in the family, but dude, better than being half-brothers.”
“Gross and grosser.” A very large man is walking towards them. Kendall squeaks, “Never mind, who cares? We need to get James to the hospital. Now.”
And that’s how Kendall finds out his father is Poseidon.
Guess he wasn’t so far off with the King Triton jokes after all.
Kendall stares down at it. As far as gifts go, he is not impressed. “Oh. A pen. To write with. Because literacy is fun.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be bedridden?” Kendall asks, pointedly staring at the bandages concealed by his tee.
“Uncap the pen,” James replies breezily. Obediently, Kendall does as he’s told.
Admittedly, he’s not actually expecting anything to happen. The sword that pops out is kind of a surprise.
“Uh. This is a neat magic trick.”
James grins again, bright as the sun. “Cool, isn’t it?”
“Where’d you get Excalibur?” Kendall asks, examining the shaft of the sword. “Wait, not from Shane, right?”
“Har-de-har,” Shane drawls, examining his cuticles in the corner of the room. “We traveled halfway across America with you just so you could touch a cursed weapon. Surprise.”
“I’m interpreting that as sarcasm,” Kendall informs him, even though Shane’s voice is completely flat. He’s been pissy ever since James got attacked. Despite pretenses, Shane is actually a very, very good big brother. “James, sit down before you pull a stitch.”
James, by contrast, is kind of an awful little brother. “I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine. You were bird food like, yesterday, and now you’re giving away family heirlooms-“
James sets his hands firmly on his hips, exactly like the sulky toddler he is. “Riptide is not an heirloom. We got it from that guy. With the thing.”
“That’s informative,” Kendall comments idly, swinging the sword slowly through the air. It whistles and hums in his hands, singing to the world that it belongs there.
It totally does not belong in his hand. He doesn’t even know what to do with a sword, even if he has been brandishing a hockey stick like one for the better part of his life.
James says practically, “Dude, it’s yours. It’s been with Poseidon’s kids for like, ever.”
Kendall takes note of the word kids. He has brothers. And cousins, apparently. And a whole family that is not a family, and is it weird if he’s still hot for James? How incestuous is incest if the blood you share is godly?
“Don’t you need a sword?” Kendall refrains from commenting on the efficacy of the one James has been using, because sometimes, late at night, Kendall thinks James takes it out and talks to it. That or he’s been dreaming James having chats with inanimate things, going, good little hellraiser. You are such a good boy.
“Nah, that’s celestial bronze.” James shows some teeth. “My sword is stygian iron.”
“And also a present from daddy dearest,” Shane deadpans. He tells Kendall, “Neither will have any effect on mortals, but they’re awesome for monsters.”
“You got that thing from your da- I mean, um. Uncle Hades?” Kendall asks meekly. It tastes like sand in his mouth.
Shane makes a noise, put off by being ignored. James goes all Bambi-eyed and mournful. “You don’t have to call him that. In fact, please don’t. We’re not like, relatedrelated.”
“Oh, that made sense,” Shane informs him, a little mean, now. He hasn’t had coffee in a full eight hours. It’s obviously getting to him.
“What’s wrong with being related to me?” Kendall jokes. He caps Riptide, which immediately shrinks back down to pen-sized. “I’ll try really hard not to bring anyone embarrassing to family dinner.”
“Kendall,” James says sharply. “I mean it. Don’t. It’s not a big deal. To me.”
“I’m…confused,” Kendall admits, because he knows why he finds it disheartening to hear that their fathers are bros. He has no idea why James would.
“I’m trying to tell you.” James bunches his fingers in his jeans, watches the glow of Riptide in Kendall’s hands and worries over his lower lip with his teeth. “We’re not family. I mean, we’re family, but not family. Not in a way that matters.”
James is actually starting to hurt his feelings. Kendall frowns. Shane makes a noise somewhere between frustrated and disgusted. “I want you to both to know that you’re idiots.”
“No,” James insists, voice catching. He has the needy, frantic expression of a drowning man. “I need you to understand. This. It doesn’t change-“
Kendall can’t take that look on his face. He promises steadily, “James. I get it. It doesn’t change anything.”
“But wait, it gets gayer,” Shane mutters. “Do you guys want the room?
“Problem, Big Brother?” James rounds on him. He tells Kendall, “Shane hates public displays of affection, emotion, and condensation. He is a robot.”
Kendall snorts, bemused. He doesn’t get how what just happened had anything to do with affection, but it doesn’t matter. James is smiling. James is alive.
All’s right with the world.
“Condensation-“ Shane squawks, gearing up to deliver a vocabulary lesson that no one is interested in hearing. James counteracts this by enveloping his brother in a bone-crushing bear hug, which makes Shane wriggle and squirm like a captured puppy. “No, stop, no hugging, James! You’re going to pull your stitches!”
“The Mist makes mortals see something different than what we see,” he explains with the boring monotone of every teacher Kendall has had in the history of ever. “Instead of a swordfight, they might see a watergun fight-“
“-or a real gun fight,” James adds helpfully.
“-or, I don’t even know, circus clowns.”
“Circus clowns? The cover-our-supernatural-butts fog can’t do any better than circus clowns?” Kendall asks dubiously.
“Clowns are creepy,” James says. “They carry knives.”
“Look, when you’re on the wire, you better hope people are seeing squeaky red noses over a real live sword, or worse. It’s easier for the monsters to eat you in jail.”
“That’s never happened. Tell me that’s never happened to a demigod.”
Shane gives him a dark look.
“Nngha- monsters?” Is Kendall’s eloquent answer. He thrashes around in the sleeping bag, nearly getting Shane right in the face with a misplaced elbow.
“No.” James calms him with a touch, holds his hips down and inquires, “Did you mean what you said? That this doesn’t change anything?”
Kendall blinks. “James. I don’t know that there’s anything to change.”
“But there could be,” James objects, peering up at Kendall through black eyelashes. His eyes are luminescent in the dark.
“What do you mean?”
James shifts closer, and his body is a livewire; he turns Kendall’s veins to powerlines. He hums through his blood, electrifies his bones, and Kendall thinks oh, he is so damn dangerous.
He murmurs, “I could kiss you. That would change things.”
Kendall mouth drops open, a quick inhalation that tells more than anything he could possibly say. He needs words anyway, searches for the right ones and finds himself lacking.
Kendall trembles on the cusp of honor and darkness, where his instincts tell him to take no prisoners, but his upbringing tells him to be irrevocably kind. Shakily, he agrees, “You could kiss me.”
James’s fingers tighten against Kendall’s hipbones, his breathing labored.
He does not kiss Kendall.
At first, neither Kendall nor James is worried. Mostly because they’re both sleeping, huddled into each other’s warmth with a threadbare blanket stretched between them. Kendall comes into reality with James’s leg a heavy weight across his hip, their fronts pressed together and an ache in his cock. He shifts, James’s arm sliding down the ladder of his ribcage, and James’s eyelashes flutter.
“Mm, stop moving,” he croaks, the order less than authoritative for the rasp in his throat.
It’s not actually, not anymore; the sun has climbed high in the sky, and Kendall’s well rested enough that if he had to guess, he’d say it was around noon. Which is great, but weird. Great because he is not at all a morning person, and weird because Shane, who is, usually kicks them both awake, begging for coffee.
Kendall bites down on a smile. Shane probably went out for coffee, he thinks, and doesn’t that sound like a good idea? Warm, yummy, delicious coffee? “We should get up.”
James burrows his head deep into the old t-shirt he’s using as a pillow. “Getting up sucks.”
“C’mon,” Kendall coaxes. “We’ve got so much of Pennsylvania to see. There’s like, Amish people and stuff.”
Before James can say something rude about the Amish, Kendall sniffs himself. “Guess what? We smell.”
“Like man musk and peach pie?” James asks of his pillow.
Kendall smiles fondly. “I don’t know, where does one draw the line between musky and unwashed?”
In a huge concession to wakefulness, James deigns to lift the collar of his own shirt, inhaling deep. “Ah. Yeah. Sponge baths at Starbucks?”
“You always proposition me so nicely.”
James lifts his head. Afternoon light dances across the bridge of his nose, his eyes sparking. “When I proposition you, you’ll know it.”
Kendall’s limbs turn molten, the pit of his stomach drawing hot and tight. He blames the hour and the fit of James’s legs with his for what he mumbles next; “That almost sounds like a promise.”
“Maybe it is.” James grins lazily, and it’s unfair, because the idea that James might be interested, even marginally, is a heady one, dizzying Kendall’s brain, clutching hope close to his heart. James says, “Hey, where’s Shane?”
“Getting his fix, I bet. Whaddyou think the chances are of him bring us back lattes?”
“Without drinking them himself? Uh, zilch.” James’s laughter makes Kendall all warm inside, the spike of lust from before turning languid in his veins.
“We better go find him, then,” Kendall agrees, and he does not know that it will be the last thing he and James will agree on for a long, long time.
They cannot find Shane.
He is not at any of the coffee stores in town. He is not at the community center or the youth hostel or the churches or the temples or the synagogues. He is not in the hospitals, because they’ve triple checked and quadruple checked, and they even dare to hit up the cops for information.
Shane has fallen off the face of the planet.
“He left,” James decides, and he is full out panicking now, his words tumbling over each other, one after another. They are camped inside the same room in the same abandoned house they woke up tangled together in a few days prior, but everything has changed. “Shane didn’t want to pick you up in the first place. He didn’t want to go to Camp Halfwit, and fuck, I told him to- for you, I wanted to-“
Kendall is the master of inopportune timing. He dares, lets his hand rest against the juncture of James’s jaw and his neck. It is a caress, and it is reassurance, and James wants nothing to do with it. His eyes blaze, and there is iron behind all that fire; Kendall suddenly has no trouble at all seeing him as a Prince of Hell. “It’s your fault he’s gone. He never wanted to-”
“My fault?” Kendall’s rage is sudden and uncontrollable, because how is that even fair? “He’s your brother.”
“Exactly. He’s my brother, and I’m going to go find him.”
“Where? Exactly? Because we’ve looked everywhere!”
“Not everywhere. Not the Underworld.”
The word is familiar only from Kendall’s internet searches. He thinks it’s where Hades lives. “That can’t actually be a real place.”
“It is. I’ve been there before,” James says darkly. “To see my dad.”
“So why would Shane go there? He hates your dad.”
“You don’t know anything about Shane! You don’t know anything about either of us,” James yells, pushing up and off the floor, gathering his bags, and Kendall doesn’t even know how he can say that. Kendall knows that they are fierce, that they are wonderful. He knows they’ve run for years to protect their mother. He knows they stuck out their necks to take him where he needs to go. He knows that Shane wouldn’t just up and leave, and he knows that James is making a huge, gigantic, colossal mistake right now.
“I can,” James insists, face blotchy with anger. “He’s all I have.”
And despite himself, Kendall thinks you have me.
If he said it out loud, would it be a comfort or the last straw in their short, rocky friendship? Kendall doesn’t know. He breathes knives, ragged, sharp things that serrate his lungs, raw as uncooked steak, and still James won’t look at him. He says, resolute, “I’m going to find Shane,” and then he storms out the door without even saying goodbye.
“Fine, I don’t need you,” Kendall yells at his retreating back.
But even as James walks away, he is memorizing him, from the curve of his spine to the indents beneath his shoulder blades, the dimples above his hips and the corded muscle of his shoulders. He is taking one last snapshot of James, because he cannot stand the idea of never seeing him again.
Just because he does not need James doesn’t mean he does not still want him.
Kendall sags against the wall, digs his fingers into the sockets of his eyes and tries not to do something idiotic, like cry. James will come back, he decides, because they are a tribe, they are family.
No one ever mentioned how cold it is, being a runaway. Maybe because it wasn’t cold until now.
It scares him, how lonely he is. Each night he walks in nightmares where fear is his only friend. It sings out from his throat, scrapes him bloody and sounds too much like a scream. Morning finds Kendall drenched in sweat, huddled beneath the thin protection of his ratty blanket, the dead shell of his cell phone clutched in one hand.
He always wakes up alone.
He’s dialing his home number on a payphone in front of a Seven Eleven before he’s fully conscious of it. Each ring stretches, feels like minutes when only seconds have gone by. The click of someone picking up is the crescendo of a song.
“Hello?” It’s his mom. She sounds tired, worn and weary. She sounds exactly like home. “Hello?”
Kendall opens his mouth, ready to spill a thousand apologies, but he does not get a chance. His mom’s voice pitches up, “Kendall? Kendall, sweetie, is that you? Kendall, say something, please-“
Kendall hangs up. He hates himself for it, but. If his mom knew he was in the middle of a strange state with less than four dollars to his name, she’d be booking a plane ticket of her own before Kendall could say monster spit. And that would just completely defeat the purpose of him leaving in the first place.
He’s close now. She won’t have to worry, once he’s at Camp Half-Blood. Traveling by himself is so much faster. He does not have to cough up cash for coffee or pie. All the money he makes with his guitar goes straight into bus tickets. And he’d trade it all in, because he hates being alone.
This is just like before, with his dad, his false father. Shane and James are gone, and Kendall is never as important to people as he likes to think.
Kendall groans and buys himself a blueberry slurpee with that four dollars of his.
It does not make him feel better.
The pen sits in the front right pocket of his jeans, and as far as he can tell, reappears there even when he changes jeans. Which is weird, hinky magic that Kendall tries not to question, because mostly it was a relief when he forgot to take it out of the pants he scrapped left of the Poconos and didn’t realize until he was already over the mountains.
Riptide fits in his hand like it has always belonged there. It sings out currents and waves. It tells him, I am here, I am here, you are not alone, because I am here.
It also beheads the angry fire breathing lion-sheep-monster-thing, so hey, bonus.
Kendall’s faced down all kinds of mythical monsters, but nothing beats an angry New York driver at rush hour. So when a cherry red muscle car skids onto the shoulder, stopping half an inch from Kendall’s toes, he reaches for Riptide. Yeah, the sword won’t hurt a mortal, but he can always jab ‘em in the eye with the pointy pen end.
The window slides down, shimmering silver-gray. The driver is a teenage girl, with long, dark, pin-straight hair. Kendall can’t see her eyes behind her bug-eyed sunglasses, but from the curve of her redredred lips, he thinks they must be dancing. “Hiya, Dimples. Need a ride?”
“Hitchhiking’s illegal,” Kendall says, because he likes trudging across unforgiving concrete for miles and miles and miles.
The girl shrugs, nudging her sunglasses up onto her head. Her eyes are kinder than Kendall thought they would be. “Alright. Figured you were headed to Camp Half-Blood, but-“
“You know Camp Half-Blood?”
“Sure do. Headed there myself.”
“How did you know I-“ Kendall stops. “Are you a monster?”
The girl’s eyes narrow. “Seen a lot of those lately?”
“Thought so. You look like you came out the wrong end of a fist fight or five.” Her voice is soft, but her features are schooled.
Kendall feels pathetic in comparison. He protests, “Hey, I won,” and he did, although the last one with the gigantic ghostly horse things passing over the BQE was kind of a close call.
The girl’s lips curve into something that is not quite a smile. “Barely, I’d guess.”
Kendall’s shoulders slump. The air conditioned car beckons. He slides into the passenger seat, decisively. If all else fails, he figures he can get stabby with his magic pen.
“I’m Lucy,” the girl holds out her hand, and Kendall shakes politely, introducing himself in turn. She asks, “Where are you coming from?”
She blinks. “Alright. I’ll bite. I’m curious. Why didn’t you take a plane?”
“Didn’t have the cash. Don’t like enclosed spaces.” Kendall shrugs. “I guess it would have been easier.”
Lucy glances up at the sky. “You’d think so.”
She pushes the car into gear, pulling out into traffic. Kendall says, “Nice ride.”
“Right?” Lucy hums happily, tapping her fingers against the steering wheel. She carries the blackness of caves on the delicate curl of her eyelashes, but the eyes beneath them flash like an electrical storm. Lightning strikes when she laughs. “I stole it from Apollo.”
Kendall chokes on his own spit. “You what now?”
“Guy’s a total blowhard. If I had to listen to one more haiku about my eyes and toffee, I was going to stick an arrow through his eye socket.”
“Apollo writes haikus?” Kendall asks faintly, caught between amused and incredulous.
“And limericks and sonnets and really, really horrible ballads. Do yourself a favor and never get trapped in a small room with him.”
Lucy arches an eyebrow. “My whole life. Same as you.”
“That’s not what I-“
She laughs, “I know what you mean. I left home for Camp Half-Blood at ten. I was there, on and off, until, uh. Last year, I guess?”
“What happened last year?”
This time, when Lucy laughs, it is accompanied by a smile that is almost feral. “I became a Hunter.”
“I swore my loyalty to Artemis. And, uh, became immortal.”
Kendall’s mouth drops open. “You’re what now?”
“Don’t make me have to repeat myself,” Lucy says, and Kendall wonders if maybe he does have to whip out Riptide after all. Human beings don’t just go and get themselves immortality, not outside of fricking Twilight.
Like she’s read his mind, Lucy says, “If you ding my paint job with your toy pen, I’ll make sure dad turns you into stir fry.” And then she yells up at the sky, “Because that’s the least you could do for me, dickhead.”
Kendall tries to see what Lucy is looking at, but he can’t find anything above the Long Island Sound other than endless blue. He asks, “…why are you yelling at the sky?”
“Oh. Didn’t I mention that part?” Lucy asks, and now she is not grinning at all. “My father’s Zeus.”
“So. You just called Zeus a dickhead?”
“It’s part of our unique rapport,” Lucy replies easily, brightening as lightning rumbles overhead. Kendall stares, openly and obviously, because what? “I don’t judge your relationship with…uh, who are you related to again?”
Kendall shrinks down in his seat. Outside, heavy woods and flashes of clapboard houses rush by. Assholes with vanity plates swerve in and out of lanes. This conversation is fucking surreal. “Poseidon. Apparently.”
“Oh, hey, Uncle Fish Breath. Nice.” She holds her fist out to bump, and Kendall does, a little tentatively. “I met him once.”
“I haven’t. And I don’t have a relationship with, uh, him for you to judge.”
“Color me surprised.” Something must show on Kendall’s face, because Lucy softens. “Look, it’s not that our parents don’t…love…us. They’re gods. They have big, important, godly things to do with their time.”
“Is that the party line?”
“It’s better than blaming yourself,” Lucy explains, and the car shakes as she hits a cattle guard briefly. “Also, good call on nixing the plane. In fact, let me give you some advice, Knight. Stay away from air-travel.”
“Let’s just say my cousins don’t have the greatest track record. Our parents hate each other, and besides. The Lord of the Sky thinks you’re all loud mouth upstarts.” She says Lord of the Sky like she might say dirty gym socks.
Kendall considers. “He’s probably not wrong. You, uh. Did you know a son of Poseidon before me?”
“I’m a Hunter. I’ve been around.”
“Did you ever meet any sons of Hades?”
“Hades doesn’t do rugrats. He’s gotten with a few human women- which, having met the guy, I can authoritatively say gross, by the way- but it’s rare. He’s gaga over Persephone. She’s got him on a tight leash.”
A muscle in Kendall’s back pinches. He tries not to squirm.
Lucy perks up, gaze sharpening. “Do you know something?”
“Are you sure?”
Kendall wants to change the subject now. “When you say sworn to Artemis, you mean…?”
“I mean, sworn to Artemis. I travel with her, hunting…oh, all kinds of game. It’s an honor.”
Kendall wonders what that must be like, having an actual purpose. Even if it sounds like a fairytale. He’s never wanted anything but hockey before, and he’s beginning to think that what with all the monsters, hockey is no longer an achievable goal. “Maybe I should look into that.”
“Guys can’t be Hunters, sorry.” Lucy doesn’t sound sorry. “You have to be a maiden.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Untouched,” she clarifies. “Devoted. You can’t fall in love.”
“Oh.” Kendall bunches his fingers in the knees of his jeans and tries not to think about anything at all. “I guess I couldn’t do that then. Is it really nosy if I ask why you wanted to, um, Hunt?”
Lucy shrugs, her expression turning fierce. “The alternative was staying here and playing pawn for the gods. You’ll see what it’s like, once you’re at camp. I tried, for a while, but…I am not a toy. So I took myself out of the game.”
“Is this the part where you kill me?” He asks, only half-joking.
Lucy claps him on the shoulder. “You’ve got bigger things than me to worry about.” Laughter sits at the corner of her lips, but her words are dead serious. Kendall’s hands fumble over the fastener for his seatbelt.
Outside the car, Lucy is considerably shorter than Kendall thought she would be. She barely comes up to Kendall’s shoulder, but it doesn’t make a difference; she is still regal. She holds herself like a queen.
Lucy starts up the hill, and Kendall can’t quite figure out where they’re going. He can hear a distant crash, rhythmic in its repetition, but he cannot see the source of the sound. Nothing else makes a peep; no birds, no crickets, no cars, even though the highway is not far from here. He could scream at the top of his lungs, and it is likely that no one would be able to hear.
The sky overhead is the kind of white-blue that is characteristic of midwinter, like the atmosphere is evaporating up into space. Yellow-brown grass still crunches beneath Kendall’s sneakers, stiff with frost. Then they reach the top of the hill, and the landscape changes completely.
It is bitterly cold.
Then it is not.
Kendall cranes his neck back, forwards, and back again, but the cognitive dissonance does not right itself. To his back, it is empty, barren, winter-cold and desolate. At his front, life is in full swing. The grass has turned green, green, green, crisp and new, despite lying beneath a thin layer of powdered snow. The sky is suddenly this ridiculous blue, the color that makes a person think summer will never, ever end, wholly at odds with the slight chill in the air. The Long Island Sound is a sapphire sparkling in the distance, and between there and the hill, Kendall can see meadows rolled straight from a fairytale, spotted here and there with architecture that he only knows to be Greek because of that report he did in sixth grade on the Parthenon.
Abruptly, he can hear the giggle-shriek of children, the thwack of wood on metal, cicadas and birdsong, all overlaid on the previous track of thunder, which Kendall thinks must be the crash of waves. He’s never seen a real ocean before, never seen anything larger than the Great Lakes, and the Atlantic calls to him like nothing ever has.
Kendall breathes deep. The air smells of sea salt and strawberries. Lucy says, “You should see this place in July. It’s deserted right now, but once school’s out? Demigods everywhere.”
“It doesn’t look that empty to me,” Kendall tells her, spotting a group of kids playing kickball right at the foot of a big clapboard house, the only thing that isn’t white graceful pillars for miles.
“Some kids can’t leave, even during the school year. Monsters get a whiff of them the second they step foot outside of camp.”
Kendall’s not dumb. He spots the way Lucy’s body language changes, extrapolates from how James and Shane were too scared to go home. He sees the implications, here.
“Is that why my mom didn’t want me to come here?”
“She probably thought you would never be able to leave. You’re lucky, though, you know. That you didn’t come into your powers until now. Most demigods start figuring it out by the time they’re twelve, and once you’ve figured out who you are, the monsters can scent that knowledge on you.”
“Why do they even care?”
Lucy shrugs. “Some monsters were created to destroy heroes. Some are ordered to.”
“Who would order-“
“The hierarchy of the gods is complicated, Kendall. They treat us like chess pieces, and they’re all huge cheaters. They like nothing more than to knock a few rooks off of the board. Come on, you’ve got people to meet, and I’ve got a mission to fulfill.” She is brisk, she is clear; the subject is officially off limits.
Kendall changes tracks, “Which is what, exactly?”
Lucy starts off down the hill, big black boots completely out of place amidst the golden sun and sudden soft snow. She calls over her shoulder, “If I told you, I really would have to kill you.”
This is mostly because he’s never met one before.
Wait, he’s getting ahead of himself here. Camp Half-Blood’s activities are run by a man with shaggy blond hair and a well-trimmed goatee. He is also part horse. Apparently.
“It’s rude to stare,” Lucy tells Kendall, laughter rumbling in her throat, her tiny shoulders shaking with mirth.
“Uh. But. Are you seeing Seabiscuit, here?”
“My name,” the horse-man intones gravely, “Is Chiron.” He stares down at Kendall like he’s considering making him his new stable boy.
Kendall decides to get with the program quick, because he absolutely did not travel halfway across the country to work with manure. He introduces himself posthaste, with a lot more respect than he started out.
Chiron does not stop looking disgruntled. “What have you brought me, Lucy?”
“I found him walking on the Expressway like a sad, lost puppy. Figured I’d give him a lift. Kendall is Poseidon’s son.”
“Is this true? Are you sure?” Chiron leans in close, like Kendall might remember the right answer with increased proximity.
“Um. I mean, I guess. The floating green fork could belong to some other god, I guess. Which one’s in charge of cafeteria food?”
Chiron settles back on his haunches, making a displeased noise that is halfway between a snort and a whinny. “I think you best start at the beginning.”
“Right,” Lucy decides. “You two play nice. I need to go talk to Mr. D.”
“What’s a Mr. D?” Kendall asks blankly.
“The Camp Director.” Lucy grins. “You have so much to look forward to.”
“Why doesn’t that sound encouraging?” Lucy just laughs, disappearing into the Big House while Chiron watches Kendall expectantly.
With a sigh, Kendall tells horse-dude his story, but he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t distracted most of the time by the hypnotic swish of the centaur’s tail. So he’s a little preoccupied when a new voice breaks in.
“Not another one.” The man speaking has narrow, watery eyes. “We’re closed. Go away. Get lost.”
“We are not closed,” Chiron tells Kendall gently, because he must have flinched.
“I suppose this is your fault,” the man accuses Lucy. She smiles serenely. “Ugh. How philanthropic of you.”
He says it like he finds charity abhorrent. The man doesn’t appear to find much agreeable, actually, so Kendall does his best not to overreact and like, punch him in the face.
“Down, boy,” Lucy tells him, unfooled. “Mr. D doesn’t like anyone.”
“Untrue,” Mr. D chimes in, focused completely on the glass he’s got cradled in his hand. He’s wearing a Hawaiian shirt, Kendall notices. It bulges around his belly. “I’m quite fond of Francis Ford Coppola.”
“That better not be wine,” Chiron warns.
“It’s strawberry juice. Killjoy.”
Kendall is confused. Lucy explains, “Mr. D is, uh. You know.”
“I…don’t think I do?” Kendall scratches his head.
“You do too,” Lucy insists. “Wine. God. Of.”
Ohhhh. Kendall’s eyes get very, very large. Mr. D smirks.
Lucy rushes to change the subject. “We- uh, the camp sells the strawberries to different markets in the city. It keeps Chiron and Mr. D rolling in cash, so we’re never short on supplies, and there’s zero effort involved.” At Kendall’s questioning look, she continues, “Plants like Mr. D. Which is good, because no one else does.”
“I heard that. Brat,” Mr. D says mildly, but his eyes are sharp. “How fortunate that you’re my sister’s problem and not mine. The Big House is in need of an attractive lawn ornament.”
“And yet, Lady Artemis requires my service, so you’ll have to endure,” Lucy tells him cheerfully.
“Lucy,” Chiron warns, but there is too much affection in his voice for it to be a true chide.
This is Lucy’s family, Kendall realizes. This is the place she grew up. Kendall wonders how she ever worked up the resolve to leave.
“Oh, fine,” Lucy agrees. She faces Kendall, and behind her, the windows of the Big House reflect blue, as if the glass is cut from patches of sky. “Let me give you the tour.”
Together, they bound off the sprawling front porch of the Big House, which reminds Kendall exactly of his grandmother’s, from the creaky wooden floorboards to the overlaying odor of must. Across the thin trickle of a creek, Kendall can see a field of leafy green, spots of blood-red peeking out from beneath the powder cover of snow. Strawberries, even though they shouldn’t be alive in the midst of winter.
To his right are empty volleyball courts, and the arts and crafts center, the amphitheater, and the climbing wall, with real lava and at least eighteen other safety hazards that Kendall can spot on sight. Past the strawberry fields are the stables, the armory, the arena, the cabins and the mess hall, lined by the woods, and beyond that, the sea, glittering blue. Kendall thinks that Camp Half-Blood is not at all what he expected, beginning with how it’s an actual summer camp.
Lucy starts the tour with the cabins, breaking each one down in turn.
Zeus’s looks like it belongs in a cemetery, all black marble and the flicker of lightning across the imposing doors. “You used to live here?”
Ruefully, Lucy replies, “I wouldn’t call it living.”
Standing right inside the doorway is an attractive blond boy, an orange shirt with Camp Half-Blood written in black, block letters stretched across his chest. He notices Lucy almost immediately, and the cheery color of his shirt does not match the unimpressed tilt of his head at all.
“What is that? What’s wrong with its face?”
He’s talking about Kendall.
“That is a boy, and his name is Kendall Knight,” Lucy replies airily. Conversationally, she informs Kendall, “And that is Jett, also a son of Zeus. I try to pretend we’re not related.”
She starts walking away. Jett calls, “Don’t lie, you love me, Big Sis.”
“Stop calling me that, doucheface.”
Next is Hera’s cabin, a graceful structure of white marble, flowers, and fruit.
“Hera’s place is for show,” Lucy explains, “Because Hera is a frigid bitch.”
“That’s not actually the reason.”
“No, fine, it’s because she believes in the sanctity of marriage.” Lucy lets out a breath. “Which is why she’s not super fond of her step-kids.”
She flips off Hera’s cabin and keeps walking, skidding to a stop in front of the next building, a long, low, sea-shanty of a place, and Kendall knows instinctively what it is before Lucy even bothers announcing, “Home sweet home.”
The walls are curved sea stone, and an assortment of shells line the rough molding of the door. Kendall is struck again by the epiphany that if his father has a cabin, that must mean that Kendall has half siblings. Who aren’t Katie.
“Do you want to go in? Check it out?”
Kendall bites his lower lips so hard that he draws blood. “Maybe later.”
Lucy doesn’t seem surprised.
“Okay. So your neighbors, over here, are Demeter’s kids. They’re all eco-freak hippies, but they’ve always got organic vegetables in stock if you’re craving carrots or something.” She leads him past a bramble shack that’s been mostly reclaimed by nature, tomatoes sprouting off the walls, the ceiling made of grass.
It stands in stark contrast to the monstrosity next to it, garish red paint slapped on walls that shake with the reverberations of a wailing guitar. A beady eyed boar’s head looms over the entry.
Lucy rolls her eyes. “Ares, obviously.”
Kendall doesn’t know how that was obvious, but he has a feeling he’ll find out soon enough. The gray cabin following Ares’ belongs to Athena’s children, and then there is a glowing gold thing that is the property of Apollo.
“Ostentatious dickhole,” Lucy mutters.
The tiny silver cabin next to Apollo’s abode belongs to, “The Lady Artemis. I’d be staying here, you know, if I was staying.”
“I’ve got places to be, monsters to hunt.” Lucy waves her hand dismissively. “Anyway, I’ve…outgrown this place, I guess. It’s not home anymore.”
Kendall tries not to let that get to him. He’s just met Lucy. It’s not like he should care that she’s walking away already.
The line continues with a miniature factory (Hephaestus) and a log cabin that reeks of Chanel No. 5 (“Aphrodite,” Lucy says, disgusted). Cabin Eleven is overrun with kids, and Lucy explains, “Hermes reproduces like a rabbit. You should see it in the summertime.”
“I don’t know if I want to,” Kendall replies, wincing. The brown cabin with its peeling paint is not very inviting. “They all squeeze inside there?”
“Kids whose parents haven’t claimed them live in Cabin Eleven too. It gets…crowded.”
Dionysus’s cabin is the last in the row, and it is covered in grape vines. Kendall can’t really imagine who would want to reproduce with Mr. D.
“Wait, what about Hades’?” Kendall asks, because his mind is never far from James or Shane these days.
“Hades doesn’t get a cabin. He doesn’t know how to play well with others,” Lucy replies, “And neither do his kids. Seriously, Knight, what’s with all the interest in Skeletor? Are you holding out on me? “
Kendall folds his arms over his chest. “Why would you think that?”
Lucy snorts. “Alright, sassypants. I’m not here to pry. Let the magic and wonder continue. On your left, you’ll see the arena. …why do you not look impressed?”
“No, this is…nice. I’ve never been to a camp that has its own Coliseum. Will I be fighting someone to the death now, or is that an after-dinner treat?”
“Suck it up, Knight. No one will make you play with the big boys if you don’t want to.”
In the middle of the arena is a girl wearing a halo of blonde curls and who appears more than a little satisfied with herself. She’s pretty, the kind of pretty that’s hard not to appreciate, but what really grabs Kendall’s attention is the sword balanced in her hand.
She’s using it to beat down a boy about the same age and height, and she’d doing that particularly well. He’s whimpering and whining, trying to dodge her hits and failing hard.
Lucy watches the girl with the sword, breath held. Kendall asks, “Are you okay?”
She doesn’t answer. They watch the girl in silence, her graceful, lethal movements more like a dance than anything Kendall has ever managed with Riptide. He turns to ask Lucy if he’ll learn to us a sword like that, except she is no longer there.
“How the fuck…?”
The words have barely left his mouth when the pretty warrior girl and her sword are up in his face. “Were you with Lucy Stone?” she demands, sweaty, curls flouncing everywhere.
“Uh, yeah.” Kendall replies, searching beneath the rows of bleachers, like maybe Lucy is playing hide-and-seek.
The girl looks crushed. “And she left, already?”
Kendall winces. “Is that bad?”
She shakes her head, blonde flying back and forth. “No, it’s just- you’re new here, aren’t you? I’m Jo. Jo Taylor.”
Kendall reaches out to shake her hand, but before she can take it, something else catches her attention.
“Uh, can we put a raincheck on this conversation? Rook’s about to stab himself in the eye. Mitchell, what have I told you about form?” Jo calls across the courtyard, and even from this distance Kendall can make out the flush that stains Mitchell’s skin. He adjusts his grip on the handle and only succeeds in smacking himself with the flat end of the blade.
Jo shakes her head. “Is it just me, or does he just get progressively worse? Don’t answer that, it’s rhetorical, you just got here and I am going to fix this. One day.”
Kendall volunteers, “I have a sword.” Probably because he also has a death wish.
Jo’s head swivels back towards him, her face lighting up. “Oh, do you now? Know how to use it?”
Kendall says, “Yeah, of course.”
He is lying so hard.
In a row.
“Maybe I, uh, need practice,” Kendall tells her sheepishly.
“You think?” She smacks Kendall in the calf with the flat of her sword. “Your stance sucks.”
“Who cares about my stance?”
“Legwork, Knight. It’s all about legwork.”
“I thought it was all about skewering monsters with sharp pointy things before they skewer you.”
“That too. You’ll get better.” Jo grins, her hair haloed by sunlight. “Probably.”
“Hey, I haven’t had a coliseum to fool around in,” he responds, a little miffed.
“It’s not the Coliseum, yeesh, mind your mouth.” Jo is up in his face, her tiny palm pressed tight to his lips.
Kendall mumbles, “I don’t get it,” but it sounds more like ai-yeon-ge.
Jo understands anyway, because gobbledygook is a language in her repertoire. “The Coliseum is Roman. Romans were jerks.”
Mitchell- who is actually named Logan – nods sagely from where he’s been sitting on the sidelines, enjoying Kendall having his ass handed to him.
“Oh. Uh. Sorry. I don’t-“ Kendall folds his arms across his chest and tries very hard not to feel helpless. Riptide shrinks back to pen-sized in his palm. “I didn’t know. I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be doing here.”
Jo stares at him, pink lips parted with concern. She says, “You’re safe. At Camp Half-Blood, the only monsters you’ll find are the ones stocked in the woods-“
“–and we can teach you how to protect yourself. You won’t have to run anymore, Kendall.”
“Running wasn’t so bad.”
“Maybe,” Jo plops down on the stone floor of the arena and wraps an arm around her knee. “But eventually you run out of places to go.”
Which ends up being more food than Kendall’s seen in months. He tries not to fall upon his meal like a ravenous beast, but it takes all of his self-control, and he can’t understand why Logan guides him from the buffet line away from the table that they tell him is his.
Because he has his own table.
Where he has to sit alone. Summer camp is fun!
“Why are we going to the fire? I don’t want to go to the fire. I want to eat,” Kendall whines at Logan, possibly drooling on his potatoes.
“You can, you will. You just have to offer some to the gods first.”
“Why do the gods want my chicken? Do they eat? Do they even have mouths, or are they just giant blob creatures? Because that’s what I see in my head when I think of my dad. A giant blob.”
“It’s a sign of respect,” Logan chides, nervously searching the mess area to see if anyone’s heard. He tugs on Kendall’s arm so hard that he almost drops his tray.
Kendall digs in his heels. “Respect? Why should I respect them?”
“What? I didn’t even know my dad was my dad until like, a week ago. What, exactly, has he done for me?”
“You’re lucky your father claimed you,” Logan says seriously. “Some never do.”
“I don’t feel lucky,” Kendall pouts, but he obediently offers up a potato to the fire. It sizzles into the flames with a smell that reminds Kendall of a thousand delicious things.
He still sulks his way through his entire meal.
How his mom would stare out at the water for hours on those lazy, hazy days, and Kendall had thought once or twice or a million times that someone could snuff out the sun and she still wouldn’t notice.
The idea makes him mad, and the empty cabin makes him madder, because it is so strange. It feels nothing like home.
Which reminds him. Jo did tell Kendall how to call his mom. Kendall thought she was joking, but she, apparently, was not. Which is how Kendall finds himself tossing a Greek coin he finds at the bottom of the fountain into the rainbow coming off the spray from the spout. He feels like an idiot, muttering, “Oh, Iris, goddess of the rainbow, accept my offering.”
He feels slightly less stupid when, in the shimmering wall of water, he sees his mom. She doesn’t notice him for long seconds on end, so long that Kendall has to clear his throat loudly. Her eyes widen, and oh, gods, Kendall has missed her.
“Kendall?” His mom reaches for him, and Kendall closes his eyes and pretends that he can feel her fingers soft against his cheek, that he can smell the sweet undertones of her perfume clouding his nose. “Where have you been, young man? Do you have any idea how worried sick I was? Never, ever, ever take off like that without telling me ever again, I thought you were dead in a ditch somewhere and do you know how many hospitals I’ve called? Do you know how many hospitals there are in the state of Ohio, because I do, and I called them all and –“
He interrupts her mid-tirade to say, “Mom, I’m sorry,” and his voice is choked raw with how much he really does.
“Oh, sweetheart.” His mom’s voice hitches, and Kendall’s eyes snap open. He can’t tell if she’s crying or if all the distorted wet from the Iris message – that’s what Jo called it – is throwing him off. “Did you make it to camp okay? Have you been eating? How have you been eating?”
Kendall tells her everything, from the monsters to James and Shane, and when he finishes, his mom looks like she could spit nails. “He just left you in the middle of Pennsylvania? Do you know what happens in the Poconos? They eat people there! There are actual cannibals, it was on the news, I always knew that James Diamond was no good. Do you remember when he came for dinner and you two spent the entire meal talking about that horrible game, and then you fought, and you wouldn’t just go play outside?”
She props her hands on her hips, clearly full of opinions on James and his manners.
“ Mom, I- “ a shadow in the corner of the spray catches Kendall’s attention. “Katie?”
Katie walks into the frame of the water, her small shoulders rigid. She stands tall and still by their mom and announces, “I’m not talking to you.” Her lower lip wobbles. “Although if I was, I’d ask if you were okay. But I’m not talking to you.”
“I’m fine,” Kendall says carefully. “I’m great.”
Katie turns her head into their mother’s shoulder and doesn’t answer. Kendall spends the rest of the call listening to his mom’s voice, right up until she shimmers into nothingness. There are no more ancient drachmas at the bottom of the fountain, and it is late, so late that he’s not sure who or what in this strange camp will be awake. He thinks of Jo warning about monsters in the woods and decides to try to sleep instead.
Only, the cabin is big and empty and lonely. He does not think he’ll be able to shut his eyes.
But cradled inside the netted hammock, he can hear the crash of waves from the Sound, the rough-and-tumble thunder of water hitting sand, and it is a lullaby he’s never heard before.
He is out before he knows what’s hit him.
As far as he can tell, though, Jo has more beads than anyone.
Kendall likes her. A lot. She’s tough, strong, and so, so smart. Her mom is Athena, the goddess of wisdom and battle, and Jo perfectly embodies both. Aside from being able to gut a man’s organs with deadly accuracy, she can process information about nine times faster than a normal person can. She’s a total genius.
“Wait, so your gigantic brain is your superpower? That kind of sucks,” Kendall complains, picking at a loose thread in his over-shirt. He’s been able to pick up some new clothes at Camp Half-Blood’s store, and his mom managed to send a care package full of all his favorite flannel. No more digging through charity bins for flea-bitten, raggedy hand-me-downs.
He’d wear a muumuu if it meant James or Shane would contact him, somehow, but old lady clothes probably won’t help.
Jo dimples, face turning impish. “I might have one or two other tricks up my sleeve.”
Logan spends a lot of time hiding in the strawberry fields with a book in hand, and sometimes Jo accompanies him out there. Kendall starts tagging along too, because he’s got nothing better to do. Most of the other kids at camp look at him like they might a foreign invader, except for Jett, who freaks him the fuck out. Sometimes Jett will smile at him, teeth gleaming like polished pearls, and Kendall will get all angry and itchy beneath his skin. He will think he does not owe James anything.
So yeah. He stays away from Jett.
He’s lying on a blanket amongst iced over strawberries, talking to Jo and Logan about this whole supernatural heritage thing. “You guys keep saying son of Poseidon like it’s a big deal. Why is that?”
“It is a big deal.” Logan folds his hands behind his back in parade rest. His whole body is at attention, as if this is a history test and he very much wants to pass. “The Big Three – uh, Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus – made this pact to stop having kids back in like, the forties.”
“Um. Well. Your big brothers and sisters and cousins might have, y’know. Started World War II. I’m sure it was an accident!”
Kendall opens his mouth.
Kendall closes his mouth. He tries to breathe through his nose.
“Are you okay?” Logan squeaks.
“I think I hate my life,” Kendall replies, because okay, that was more information than he expected.
Jo peers up from the gigantic text book she’s brought with her, written entirely in ancient Greek. “The camp has a support group for that. They meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
“If Poseidon said he’d stop having kids, how do you explain…me?” He feels his cheeks color, and he hates this, hates it worse than having all the kids make fun of him for having a dad in prison, because now he’s got a dad who’s not just a rule breaker; he broke the rules by letting Kendall exist. “Or Jett, or Lucy?”
Or James and Shane, he wonders silently.
“The short answer is that all the gods are total horndogs,” Logan says apologetically.
“The long answer,” Jo chips in, nose still buried in the book, “Is love.”
“Love? You really believe that?”
Jo cocks an eyebrow prettily. “Don’t you?”
She reads him like Ancient Greek, because yeah, okay, maybe he does. Kendall’s still not sold on the idea of gods, but he does believe in love.
Mostly because he’s not stupid. His mom moved them as far from the ocean as humanly possible, but their house was still surrounded by a million lakes, so much water that it’s always been hard to remember it’s not the sea. Kendall hasn’t ventured out to the Sound yet, hasn’t quite worked up the courage, but he’s dreamt of it once or twice, of it stretching bluer than blue ahead of him. Of curling his toes in the sand, breathing deep and trying not to think words like home.
“Sure,” Kendall agrees. “I believe in love.”
“Chiron and Mr. D control the weather within the confines of the camp. That’s why it never gets too cold. They’ll keep the snow around until the end of winter; they think it’s festive.”
“I think it’s a lawsuit waiting to happen,” Logan frets, picking his way across the path with the care of someone used to falling on their butt too often.
Jo and Kendall both throw snowballs at his face.
Kendall’s been at Camp Half-Blood for roughly one week before his first game of capture the flag.
“It’s more fun in the summer,” Logan says, face flushed with equal parts excitement and nerves.
“What’s the big deal? It’s just a game.”
“It is not,” Logan objects, settling his hands on his tiny hips. “Capture the flag is about honor! It’s about dignity! It’s about kicking the Ares cabin’s asses.”
Kendall only met one or two kids from Ares so far. Neither of them was very nice. “I can get behind that.”
Jo gets proclaimed team leader one, since the Athena cabin has the second biggest group of kids at camp, following Hermes’. Ares is third, and the last winner, which means that their head counselor, Oz, is the opposing team leader. The other cabins side with whoever bribes them best, by taking on chore duty, gifting them with weapons, or whatever else suits their fancy.
Kendall does not need to be bribed. Jo’s frighteningly competent, and Kendall can’t imagine her ever losing at anything. Obviously he’s Team Athena, all the way. Logan, on the other hand, swears up a storm when Hermes all goes with Oz in exchange for a month of no laundry, muttering, “Styx, Styx, Styx,” under his breath.
It’s cursing for Logan, okay?
“I don’t want to be on Team Ares,” he complains.
“Guess that means we have to kick your ass.” Kendall kicks him in the butt with one muddy sneaker.
Logan squeaks indignantly, “You can try.”
Capture the flag, Camp Half-Blood style involves weapons and strategy and gigantic banners with godly crests on them. Kendall tries not to be too miffed when Jo stations him out in the middle of the woods on his own, with stern instructions not to do anything stupid.
“Do I look like someone who does stupid things?” Kendall asks irritably.
“You look like reckless is your middle name, Seaweed Brain,” Jo replies fondly, ruffling Kendall’s hair. Which is a little insulting, seeing as she’s like, a foot shorter than him.
The woods are situated squarely between the strawberry fields and a good portion of the Long Island Sound. The trees are tall, spindly things that have grown much too close together. Overhead, branches tangle, lovers bracing each other against the cool winter winds.
Ares, the red team, is clear across the forest, and Kendall’s insanely bored.
Still. He’s totally being a good little camper, trying hard to guard his rugged patch of land and keep a lookout for the bright, blood-red banner that belongs to Ares’ cabin, minding his own damn business. That’s what makes it so distressing when stupid Jett Stetson (that’s his last name, Stetson, because apparently he comes from a long lineage of cowboy hat makers on his mom’s side), wanders up to him. Smirking.
Well. Okay, so before Jett comes, Kendall starts toying with Riptide, trying to run through the patterns of swordplay that Jo has been showing him.
He hasn’t been feeling quite so bitter or competitive towards her since he found out that she’s the best swordswoman Camp Half-Blood has seen in at least fifty years. Now he’s mostly just proud that he managed to hold as much ground as he had the last time they went up against each other.
In the midst of his truly fierce and heroic thrust, Kendall’s foot hits a squishy pit of dead leaves and mud, sinking deep. Kendall curses up a storm as mud seeps into his tennis shoe. That’s probably really what lures Jett over.
Not that it matters. Kendall hates Jett, which he figures must be the byproduct of the whole supernatural cold war going on between their dads. It’s the only real explanation for the way Jett’s stupid smirk sets his teeth on edge, works a knot between his shoulders and his forces his toes to curl in his sneakers.
Jett’s got a sword lashed to his side with a leather belt, a pair of sunglasses perched on his perfectly coiffed hair, and a predatory gleam in his eye. Kendall shifts his grip on Riptide. “What do you want?”
“We’re playing a game,” Jett replies with a shrug.
“I don’t have the flag,” Kendall says, because hi, obviously. The big gray Athena banner with its wise looking owl is nowhere in sight, and down a ways in the forest, he can hear the clash of swords and loud warrior yells. Jett should be in the midst of that fray, not here, being all…obnoxious.
Jett looks him up and down, from his mud-splattered shoes to his messy hair. Kendall spent the morning having a canoe race with Logan on top of the chilly lake, right up until some playful nymphs (because those are totally a real thing, Kendall’s learned. Satyrs, too) decided to upturn them both. He didn’t really have a chance to pretty himself up before Chiron made the announcement that it was Camp Competition Day.
“You know, for a kid raised by porpoises, you’re not unattractive.”
Kendall’s first instinct to being told he’s not bad looking probably shouldn’t be to cringe. “Just go back to whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing, please.”
“What I’m supposed to be doing isn’t important. Do you think this game really matters?” Jett asks, completely dismissive.
“It matters to the other campers.”
“Like their opinion is worth anything."
”That makes Kendall mad, because okay, sure, he only really knows Jo and Logan so far, but he also knows guys like Jett, who think they’re above it all. They’re bullies, and cowards, and everything he’s been opposed to for his entire life. “What about your teammates?”
“They don’t deserve to be on a team with me,” Jett retorts, easy as that.
Kendall can feel his ears burning. Birds call in the trees, and the grip of Riptide in his palm is slick with sweat. “Seriously? Does it make you feel better about your life to call other people unspecial, or are you actually enough of a jackass that you think you’re superior to everyone else?”
“Both, I think,” Jett replies uncaringly.
“You’re disgusting.” It rips from his throat, those words, full of venom. He regrets them the second they’ve left his lips, because he doesn’t know Jett, not really, and it isn’t fair of him to say something so mean well into their first conversation, but, but, he’s just so freaking angry. It’s like electricity is crawling under his skin, like all he wants is to draw his sword and drive it home.
Jett sees that. His smirk turns into a full-on grin. “Not at all. We’re bigger than they are, Ken-dork. We’re faster, we’re more powerful. Our fathers are the root of each and every one of their parents, their powers. Do you know what I see when I look at you? Aside from really ill-advised fashion sense?”
“Get out of my face.”
“No.” Jett steps in closer, reaches out, and when he touches Kendall’s cheek, cradles it, really, Kendall does not flinch away. “You have the sea in those eyes. I see thunder and ferocity, and you don’t even know it yet. Yes, we are better than the rest of them, and I’m not going to stand here and pretend that each and every camper here is a unique, special snowflake, but also all equal in the end, because neither is true. You get to choose one or the other. People are lame across the board, or stuck in a hierarchy of preeminence, and either way, you and I are on top of the curve.”
Kendall gets what Jett means, is the awful thing. He saw something in Lucy, and he sees it now, in Jett; lightning streaking across the sky, crackling over the surface of his flesh when they’re near. They are not just the children of gods; they are the products of nature, of untamed storms and wild catastrophe. And now, here Jett is, telling Kendall he’s the same, and maybe he’s right. How many times, when his anger has overtaken him, has he felt like a tsunami, a flash flood, a cyclone of power with blood and salt on his teeth. He broke one kid’s arm during a hockey game in the midst of that exact feeling, and afterwards everyone said it shouldn’t have been possible.
Jett leans in close and adds, “Also, you know, I’m the best looking person at this camp.”
Kendall blinks. He was not expecting that. “Uh. If you say so.”
“I do.” Jett raises his chin, the haughty tilt to his neck strangely reminiscent of James. It’s their smiles that are different; Jett has shark’s teeth where James wore kindness. And sometimes, cherry pie.
Kendall can’t really see Jett burying his head in crust and preserves any time soon.
He knows he’s supposed to say something. He just isn’t sure what. Kendall settles for snarking, “I might see it, maybe, if you didn’t wear so much hair gel.”
He is too busy ferociously challenging Jett’s steady gaze to pay any attention at all to his weapon. It’s a Celestial Bronze sword, not half as nice as Riptide, but sharp enough that it slices through Kendall’s skin butter-smooth.
At first, Kendall cannot acknowledge anything other than the stab of pain along his ribs, the spring of hot-wet-dripping. For all his fighting monsters, his serious injuries have been few and far between. And this, it could have been worse. Jett didn’t aim for any vital organs, didn’t try to do anything but temporarily debilitate Kendall, but why? He isn’t threatening anything by standing guard for snow-damp soil and browned-over leaves.
Kendall stumbles backwards, and Jett laughs, the freaking psychopath. “Oops. I meant to do that this way,” he twists the sword in his grip and jams the hilt of it straight up, towards Kendall’s sternum.
Kendall leaps back, feints left, and then jabs forward with Riptide. He tries to smack Jett with the flat of his blade, but it’s beyond ineffectual. Jett dodges, well-trained. The next time he thrusts forward, Kendall grunts and parries, just like Jo showed him. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize your hair meant that much to you.”
Jett snorts. This time, when he dives for Kendall, he makes the mistake of sinking straight into the soft mulch Kendall had sunk into earlier. He staggers, trying to free his foot, and Kendall takes advantage of the misstep, bashing the hilt of Riptide right up against his skull.
Jett crumples like an aluminum can meeting a frat boy’s forehead.
“You don’t sneak attack a man like that,” Kendall tells Jett’s body, and he is panting, hard. Isn’t this stupid camp supposed to teach him to be better at this? Less winded? Less wounded, maybe? Kendall clutches his side. “It’s not cordial. It’s not polite. Didn’t your mother raise you with manners?”
He’s got more to his tirade, but his vision’s growing hazy, and he doesn’t know if he has it in him to retaliate in the event of Jett waking up and vying for round two. Kendall blunders forward, crashing through thin branches and crunching over dead leaves, walking blindly. He has no idea where he’s walking, no sense of direction other than away. He limps over twigs, dead leaves, the slimy sludge of snow melted into mud slowing his progress. He doesn’t even notice he’s thundering into a tiny creek until he’s there, panting, clutching his side.
The water is a shock of adrenaline to his system, a caffeine-high and a pain killer all at once. When he looks down, he sees why; the wound near his kidney is closing in front of his eyes, leaving only the ragged edge of his t-shirt and the deep red of the blood already spilled. That’s…
New, is what that is.
Experimentally, Kendall backs up the embankment. He’s immediately overtaken by exhaustion, right down to his marrow. His fingers are still slick with blood, stained so deep that Kendall thinks he’ll have to take five showers to scrub it out, but the wound stays healed. It’s only the tiredness that remains, free of the creek. He lunges back for the water, for energy, for life.
Maybe this demigod thing isn’t all bad.
A snap in the wind catches his attention, so very reminiscent of the crack of towels against skin in the locker room. His head tilts towards the sound, and there it is. The reason Jett sought him out and started a fight. Strung up in a tree, unguarded, exactly where no one would think to look.
Footsteps pound hard towards him, a girl’s voice calling softly, “Kendall, Kendall, are you okay? We found Jett passed out and- oh my gods, are you bleeding?”
Kendall grins up at Jo when she bursts through the trees. “I’m better than okay. We are so going to win this thing.”
It didn’t hit him, but it ended the call pretty thoroughly, so.
Up close, the ocean is charcoal steel and coal, navy blue darkness that he feels too deep in his soul. Kendall digs his feet into the sand, waves lapping at his toes. They’re too tiny to knock him over, even when he wades deeper, up to his knees, but he can’t look down without thinking that this place, the whole damn Atlantic is threatening to drown him at a glance. It has gunmetal teeth with black gums that will never truly let go.
He knows, consciously, that the water is freezing cold, but he can’t quite feel it. He can’t even feel the wet. It’s like there’s a bubble of warmth keeping him safe from hypothermia. This is a gift from his dad, he thinks. It means his dad cares.
But when Kendall tries to feel something other than the gentle rush of power seeping into his bones, maybe some hint that his dad’s actually out there, thinking about him?
It doesn’t work.
Following the whole capture the flag thing, Kendall decides he’s really not into Zeus as a general whole. The god’s barred him from air travel for like, ever, his kid’s a total a-hole, and also Kendall has this weird, sneaking suspicion that he might be gunned down by a lightning bolt for you know, knocking said kid out with his magic sword.
“You’re being paranoid,” Jo tells him when he admits to that little theory out loud. She is sharpening her own non-magic sword, this rough looking stone in hand, sliding the blade rhythmically off the surface until the edges turn gleaming and deadly. Kendall wonders how many different ways she could gut him with it.
“Uh, crazy Uncle Z doesn’t hate you. You’re like his-“ Kendall thinks, “Granddaughter. He probably wants to give you cookies and pinch your cheeks.”
“You don’t know that he hates you. Admittedly, Zeus’s history with Poseidon’s children isn’t fantastic, but you could be different,” Jo replies. She is not showing the appropriate level of concern for Kendall’s wellbeing here at all.
“I knocked his child out.”
Jo shrugs. “That happens.”
Logan is watching Jo with an expression of pure fright, probably trying to choreograph his next sparring match with her and her newly super sharp implement of death in his head. It does not appear to be ending well for him.
He has nothing useful to contribute to the discussion of Kendall’s imminent demise.
“At least I got to hit Jett before I died,” Kendall moans. “He’s such a dick.”
“He’s not that bad,” Jo replies patiently, and this time she actually glances up to meet Kendall’s eyes. Hers are warm, the color of honey. “He’s a little, arrogant. And vain. But you get used to it.”
“He’s not as bad as Aphrodite’s kids,” Logan finally pipes in, watching the hypnotic saw of Celestial Bronze against stone. It’s not a special weapon, but it is nicely crafted. And again, pointy.
“Hey, I like Aphrodite’s kids more,” Kendall rejoins, and he does. Aphrodite’s kids spend a lot of time staring at themselves in flat, reflective surfaces. So does Jett. But Kendall doesn’t mind it that much with the former.
His favorite of the bunch are the Jennifers, who are bossy to the point of terrifying, but are also shockingly smart when it comes to things like hostile corporate takeovers and the many, many ways the Oscars are rigged. Kendall met the three of them when they tried to wrangle him into choosing which was the prettiest at swordpoint, but they backed off quick when they realized he was more interested in checking out Jett’s ass while he sparred with Oz across the way.
Which he will not admit to doing out loud, by the by, not ever.
But seriously, that’s the great thing about Aphrodite’s kids; they might be shallow and vain, but they love love. No matter what form it comes in.
Not that Kendall’s in love with Jett, mind. Kendall’s not even in lust with Jett. Jett attacked him, viciously, and told him that they were better than other people.
Jett just has a really shapely butt.
“You have a dopey look on your face. You must be thinking about me.”
Speak of the devil.
“Go away, Jett.”
“Don’t be like that. All’s fair in capture the flag, and besides, you don’t even have a scar.”
“Jett, you’re blocking my sunlight,” Jo says seriously. Jett moves to the side, and Jo continues sharpening in peace.
Unfair. Jett doesn’t listen to Kendall when he tells him things. Things like go away, which he is not doing. “Go away,” Kendall repeats, just for the sake of trying.
“You’re really rude. Isn’t he rude?” Jett inquires of Logan. Logan, the traitor, nods. “You know what happens to rude boys, Knight? Dragons eat them.”
“There’s no such thing as dragons,” Kendall scoffs.
No one answers him.
“Wait. Guys? There’s no such thing as dragons, right?”
Jo, Jett, and Logan continue to totally ignore him. Now who’s being rude?
Jett says, “I was thinking-“
Jo stands up, immediately. “Logan, come on. I’ll teach you how to make cupcakes.”
Logan puts up a token protest. “I’m a man, I don’t need- ooh, wait, can we put glitter sprinkles on them?”
Alright, it’s barely a token protest.
“I’ve got gold and purple,” Jo confirms.
“Purple!” Happily, Logan follows Jo away.
From Kendall and Jett.
Where Kendall mostly does not want to be.
He yells after them, “Why are you abandoning me?”
“Jo’s so insightful,” Jett marvels. “Don’t you think she’s insightful? She’s stellar. Say, have you ever seen my cabin?”
The next time the opportunity arises, Kendall turns the tables. Jett makes a much better bottom bitch anyway.
When Kendall forces him to come, he can swear he hears Zeus strike up a tornado outside. Whatever effect it’s supposed to have, Kendall’s positive it’s intent is not to make him nuzzle into Jett’s neck and say, “Sleeping here tonight, kay?
Jett grunts and pulls him closer.
Kendall can’t even pretend to know what the underworld looks like, but he dreams about it anyway.
Jo says that all the heroes who’ve been there call it a wasteland, a bleak, sterile stretch of black filled with the souls of the dead. Hades lives in an imposing castle of a place right off the Asphodel Meadow, where he can watch mortal souls suffer through all sorts of misery.
Kendall can’t really imagine the Diamond twins coming from anywhere like that.
Jo tells him that there are other places too; the Elysian Fields, where good men go to rest, and the dark pit of Tartarus, where the titans are sealed. But those are not the locales of his nightmares.
When he closes his eyes, some nights, even in Jett’s arms, he sees James wending his way between the five rivers of the Underworld; Archeron, Cocytus, Phlegethon, Styx, and Lethe.
Those dreams are dark, bitter, and James searches for Shane until he no longer can, until the water of Lethe, sparkling hematite silver-black, becomes too tempting.
In the landscape of Kendall’s mind, James loses himself there, and in the process, he loses Kendall, too.
Admittedly, Kendall basks in it. She’s pretty and she’s smart and she can do some major damage with a sword. Besides, it makes Jett crazy jealous, which makes the sex hotter.
It doesn’t make the nightmares go away, though.
It’s not quite forgiveness, but it keeps his head warm, and Kendall wears it everywhere.
He’s growing more familiar with Camp Half-Blood with each passing day. He doesn’t even spend all of his time with Jo, Logan, or Jett anymore. Kendall takes archery lessons from Jenny, a daughter of Apollo who is basically a living, breathing, catastrophe until she walks onto the range with a bow in hand. Her abrupt grace does not get passed onto Kendall, who can’t hit the broadside of a barn, no matter how many times he tries. He picks strawberries with Annie (short for Anemone), a nymph who takes pity on him on one of his lonelier days. He does not try his hand at the stables, mostly because they are very noisy each time he passes by; he figures they must be an especially popular destination. But Kendall does attempt metallurgy with TJ, a son of Hephaestus (that doesn’t end well), and playing pinochle with Chiron and Mr. D (that either), and he manages to avoid fights at least eighty percent of the time (that guy Wayne, from the Ares cabin, is a jerkoff). No monsters make any appearances, and Kendall is starting to buy into the brochures.
This place might really be something like safe.
“What’s impossible?” Kendall asks, nudging Jo with his shoulder. They’re seated in the gigantic amphitheater, waiting for Chiron to announce…well, something. Kendall wasn’t really paying attention to the proclamation over dinner, too busy digging into his food to do something as menial as listening.
“No one has had a quest in years,” Jo replies, worry flickering over her pretty features. She’s wrapped in a fluffy yellow scarf that accentuates the caramel notes in her big brown eyes.
Jo folds her hands in her lap and stares blankly at the ground. “The last one didn’t go well.”
Up front, Chiron and Mr. D are wearing their serious faces, pacing back and forth in front of their attentive audiences.
Their mostly attentive audiences. Jett, squeezed in close at Kendall’s other side, is very concerned with the state of his cuticles. It almost makes Kendall smile.
Almost, but not quite.
He’s never had a steady boyfriend before, but with each passing minute he grows more comfortable around Jett. Sometimes he thinks he could be happy if this thing, whatever it is, keeps on.
Then he remembers James, and guilt floods his system, turning him headachey and nauseous. It’s not even close to fair; he only traveled with James for a little while, but somehow he managed to poison Kendall’s own heart against him. All it took was that incandescent smile and a forkful of pie.
There is a fire burning in a makeshift pit at the directors’ backs. Rough edged stones keep the flames in line, but they flicker and dance bewitchingly, orange-blue licks of heat throwing off golden sparks. Gravely, Chiron intones, “I’m sure you’re all eager to hear the news. The gods have requested that we remove the Apple of Discord from its current location in Los Angeles and return it to Olympus.”
“What’s the Apple of Discord?” Kendall hisses.
Jett’s forehead wrinkles. “An Apple that causes Discord, maybe. Who cares, it sounds delicious.”
Someone else saves Jo the trouble of explaining, which she was totally going to; Kendall can see the furrow between her eyebrows that means she’s awed by someone else’s stupidity.
The person in question, a camper Kendall’s never met, asks Chiron tentatively what the apple is. He sighs. “The story goes that Eris stole an apple from the Garden of the Hesperides-“
“The Garden of Herpes?” Jett demands incredulously. Jo shushes him, and from her right side Logan shoots him an irate glare.
“-and inscribed the dratted thing with the words to the fairest. She then tossed it in the middle of the wedding of Peleus and Thetis.”
Kendall frowns. “Whosawhatsit?”
“Achilles’s parents,” Jo whispers, tugging her scarf more tightly around her neck. “Zeus held a banquet in their honor. Most of Olympus was there. Eris was not invited.”
“Oh my god, she’s Maleficent. Is Sleeping Beauty in this story too?” Kendall asks excitedly. Then he realizes that he has just confessed to an unhealthy knowledge of Disney’s finer works.
“No.” Jo cocks an eyebrow. Jett smothers a laugh in his hand.
Oblivious, Chiron forges on, “Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera all wanted the Apple for themselves. They demanded that Zeus choose which goddess the Apple would go to, and, uh, I believe the common vernacular is that they-“
“Threw hissy fits,” Mr. D provides helpfully.
Chiron is not super grateful. He says through gritted teeth, “-were very upset when he would not.”
“Talk about Toddlers In Tiaras,” Logan mutters, and suddenly Kendall is not making the most embarrassing pop culture references in the amphitheater.
“Zeus, in his infinite wisdom, chose Paris as a judge.” Chiron does not sound like he thinks Zeus is very wise.
“Wait, Paris, like the guy from the Trojan War?” Someone in the far corner calls. It sounds like one of the Jennifers. It also sounds like they’re giggling about how dreamy Paris was.
“I’m getting to that. The goddesses confronted Paris –“
“Naked,” Mr. D again interjects.
Chiron turns on him. “–Is that really important?”
“Nudity is always important. My sisters were running amok with Stepmommy dearest, all their bits hanging out. I was scarred for life.”
“Fine. The goddesses confronted Paris, naked, and each offered him a bribe. Hera promised to make him a king. Athena offered boundless wisdom. And Aphrodite offered the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen.”
“Helen of Troy?” Kendall inquires softly. He thinks he knows where this story is going.
Jo nods, grim.
“Paris accepted her offer, and when he went to retrieve his prize, a great war began.” Chiron apparently isn’t willing to say more, at the risk of offending the higher-ups, but for Kendall’s benefit, Jo takes over.
“Hera was so enraged that she sided with the Greek forces, and the battle went into overdrive, and, well. They’ve been fighting over this stupid Apple for thousands of years. The last rematch resulted in the War For the Roses. It needs to stay hidden.” She stands up and asks respectfully, “Sir, why are they moving it now?”
Chiron sighs. “The position of the Apple has been compromised.”
“What do you mean, compromised?”
“We believe that Aphrodite has learned of its location. It will be only a matter of time before she sends someone to retrieve it.”
“So the goddess is hungry. Big deal,” Jett yells.
Logan makes a noise like a dying cat. “Does he ever pay attention to anything? How can you stand to be naked with that?”
“That has a great ass,” Kendall replies easily.
Chiron is not quite pouting, but he is definitely unhappy with Jett’s insolence. Dionysus appears to be considering what a fine, fine toadstool the son of Zeus would make. “She doesn’t want to eat the Apple, Stetson.”
“Why not? They’re nutritious.” Jett tilts his head, considering. “If the other goddesses want in, why can’t they hit up a grocery store?”
“This is not up for discussion.” Mr. D rolls his eyes skyward. “The quest is on, and let’s be honest. It’s barely a quest. More of a paid vacation, really. You brats should be begging for the honor.”
Chiron clears his throat. “Fortunately, no one has to beg. We’ve already chosen the person who will lead this mission. Kendall Knight.”
“Me? Why me?”
“I agree,” Jett says emphatically. “Why him?”
“Your faith in me is overwhelming.” Kendall glares. It’s not like he’s eager to hit the road again so soon, but still. A little support wouldn’t hurt.
Jett is not in a supportive mood. “You don’t want to go.”
“Why? I mean, on a scale of one to don’t go, they’re going to bury your body in the back yard, how bad is it over there?”
“It’s Los Angeles, gods, haven’t you seen 90210?”
Before Kendall can answer, Chiron cuts in. “You were asked for. By name.” He’s got a shifty look on his face, if shifty is the same on a centaur as it is on a human.
“Who asked for me?” Kendall asks. The whole camp is staring. He doesn’t get stage fright, but that doesn’t mean this is exactly comfortable.
“That’s unimportant. Choose your companions.”
Jett stares at Kendall expectantly. Kendall knows from all the time he’s spent paying attention to Jo, which is always if she’s sharpening her sword, that he can bring two people along for the ride. That’s easy.
“Jo and Logan.”
Jett squawks, “What?”
“I’m not taking you, you told me I’m going to fail,” Kendall reasons.
“You can’t take Jo, her mom wants the Apple.”
“Oh, so you were paying attention,” Kendall says at the same time as Jo protests, “Hey, no, I am an unbiased observer.”
“Your mother’s Athena-“
“Un. Biased. Observer,” Jo emphasizes, teeth grit. Fearing for his soft parts, Jett backs down.
Chiron nods, all majestic and horsy. “As you wish.”
Logan raises his hand. “Do I get the option to say no to this?”
Kendall tries to force a grin. “Come on, hey, it’ll be fun.”
“Oh yeah,” Jo agrees, not even bothering with a smile. “It’ll be a riot.”
“It used to be that you’d have to go in alone, but the new Oracle likes the company,” Jo explains, guiding Kendall straight for the Big House. Night is falling over Long Island, dusky purple, and even though it is still midwinter, the air is balmy and sweet with the taste of fruit.
“I’m not coming though,” Logan says quickly.
“Camille’s pretty,” he hisses, as if that’s any kind of explanation.
“Okay, so, uh-“
“No, she’s too pretty. I can’t look at her. I have to avert my eyes or I’ll, I’ll –“
Kendall’s beginning to worry, “You’ll what? Go psycho-stalker on her?”
“No, of course not. I’ll possibly maybe uh, um, pass out.” Logan averts his eyes, shame burning bright on his cheeks.
“Pass out? You pass out when you talk to pretty girls?”
“You don’t pass out when you talk to me,” Jo objects.
“You’re Jo. You hit me with sharp, pointy objects on a regular basis. You’re a du-“
“If you imply that I’m a guy, I will cut off your testicles,” Jo tells him cheerfully.
It turns out that the Oracle is indeed a very pretty girl with a head full of brown curls and dark, laughing eyes. She lights up when she sees Jo, throwing her arms around thin shoulders and hugging her close. “Long time, no see.”
“Same, stranger.” Jo sits primly beside Camille on a paisley print quilt. They’re in the attic, for reasons Kendall can’t quite discern, surrounded by the junk and litter of thousands of heroic lives. There are things with labels like Bellerophon’s Bridle, all written in painstaking Ancient Greek. “You don’t visit enough.”
“Eh.” The Oracle wrinkles her nose. “School. I hear you need a prophecy.”
Jo nods, blonde curls bouncing with each shake of her head. “Do we get the green light?” She almost appears to be hoping the answer is no. Maybe Kendall should have chosen Jett as a companion; he’s the only one who really seems to want to go.
The girl considers them both, taking Kendall in from head to toe. “Yep.”
“Tell me that was not the prophecy,” Kendall says, and then as an afterthought adds, “I’m Kendall, by the way.”
“Camille,” Camille replies sunnily. “And what, do you want me to make a production about it? Thou shalt travel west for the apple of shining gold-“
“Don’t mock. The old Oracle liked to speak in code. It was a thing.” Jo sniffs. “I miss it.”
“The old Oracle was a mummy,” Camille explains for Kendall. “I don’t miss it.”
“Come on, Cam,” Jo wheedles. “You can give us a little more than yep.”
“What do you want me to say? Aphrodite, Hera, and, uh,” she spares Jo a careful glance, “the other goddess are going to mess with you. Probably. This isn’t an exact science, you know.”
“It’s exact enough that it’s lasted thousands of years.”
“When you put it that way, you make me feel like I’m losing touch with my Delphic heritage.” Her gaze snaps to Kendall. “Hera won’t play fair, and the best way to avoid her traps is to avoid her altogether. Athena-“
“-won’t try to stop us,” Jo says firmly, certainly.
Camille doesn’t comment. At least not on that. “And the best way to keep out of Aphrodite’s grasp, from what I’ve heard, is to remember your soul mate and hope for the best. That woman is a hurricane.”
“Wait, excuse me, your what?” Kendall gapes.
“Your soul mate. Don’t look at me like that, newbie. If there are things like gods and destinies, why can’t there be soul mates? Why can’t there be one person out there in the whole world who just…completes you?” Camille asks sensibly.
“I know why,” Jo says miserably, and she sounds sadder than Kendall’s ever heard her. He isn’t sure why this quest thing is bumming her out so much. “Our lives are too short, too meaningless. The gods use us.”
Camille shrugs, head falling against Jo’s shoulder. Their legs are tangled together in that familiar way that best friends have, so comfortable with each other that touching isn’t even a conscious thing any longer. Kendall has always, always wanted that. He thought he’d found it with Shane and James, but…he can’t keep thinking about them. He can’t. It’s killing him.
Camille says, “Maybe. But people created the gods.”
“Don’t let them hear you say that.”
A ghost of a smirk wisps over Camille’s lips. “We created the gods, and they create for us. Aphrodite wouldn’t exist if people weren’t meant to love. Have you ever heard the old story, the one about soul mates?”
“I don’t think so,” Kendall says, and Jo doesn’t appear to mind hearing it again.
“Once upon a time, before the gods.”
He hears his mother’s voice overlap Camille’s, a quiet whisper in his head. He’s suddenly sure he has heard this story before. Camille’s eyes have gone distant and dreamy. Jo’s gaze has turned hard.
Reverently, Camille continues, “The sun, the moon, and the earth bore children. Although their parents were celestial beings, each child was human, as were their children, and the children of their children. The progeny of the stars grew and thrived, and the gods looked down with envy, because among the universes, humans were unique. They had four arms and four legs, four hands and four feet, two faces and two hearts, but only one soul. They were complete in a way the gods could not be, and they were powerful, strong creatures.”
It sounds like a lullaby, like a memory, even though Kendall is certain he hasn’t heard this bedtime story since he was very, very young.
“When they began bearing arms to defend themselves against the wilderness, the chimeras and the griffons, the sphinxes and the more mundane, Zeus’s fear grew so large that he could no longer stand it. He proclaimed to the denizens of Olympus that something had to be done.” Camille’s voice catches, shadows playing over her face, darkening the hollows beneath her eyes and the corners of her lips. “And so Zeus and the gods attacked humanity, not aiming to kill, but to separate. They struck each child of the moon, sun, and earth down in turn, halving them so that each had only two hands, two feet, two arms and two legs, one face and one heart. Their power was dimmed, and so were their souls.”
Camille bows her head, solemn and gorgeous. Jo’s hand snakes around her waist, urging her onward with a squeeze to the hip.
“The plan worked too well; few humans ever attempted to rise up against the gods. Most of us are too busy, searching the earth for the other halves of our soul, which calls to us, even now. It is our primal instinct; we remember being complete.”
Mr. D barely acknowledges their presence, and his words of farewell are, “Dead heroes are so much paperwork.”
Jo, who is much closer to Chiron than Kendall ever hopes to be, doesn’t hear. She’s too busy running a hand across his flank and murmuring tiny, secret things into his ear. Logan on the other hand, is listening, and his pallor turns white as the marble pillars outside of Hera’s cabin.
Mildly, Kendall replies, “I’m touched by your concern.”
Jett does not come to say goodbye, but Kendall is okay with that. He doesn’t really know where he and Jett stand, and he thinks the best part about this quest might be the breathing room it grants him.
Outside the camp, winter is in full swing, a bitter chill seeping into their bones. They’ve got the use of a taxi, specially ordered by Chiron, and they crowd into the backseat, falling all over each other to get close to the heater. The taxi driver smokes a big, cherry scented cigar, which probably violates eight million health codes, and he keeps the windows cranked down to accommodate all the smoke. If he finds it bizarre that he’s been asked to pick up three teenagers by the side of a deserted hill, he doesn’t say so.
Jo carries a bookbag packed full of snacks, maps, weapons, and little baggies filled with golden brown squares that she calls ambrosia.
“For if we get hurt,” she explains, and Kendall doesn’t quite get how snackage is going to help.
He’s got a knapsack of his own, squished in between his body and Logan’s, and he tries to inch it up his shoulder. “So, uh. How do we get to LA, exactly?”
He didn’t think to bring his guitar. Busking is definitely out, this trip. Cheerfully, Jo replies, “We fly.”
Amused by his sudden search for jetpacks, Jo offers, “On a plane?”
Red alert, red alert, no. “Uhhh. I feel like being trapped in a pressurized deathtrap in the sky is not the way to go here.”
“Don’t be a baby. The gods want the Apple just as much as we do, so they’ll make sure we’re safe. At least, on the trip out.” Jo’s face darkens. “The return trip’s going to be long.”
“What if a monster gets on the plane?” Logan murmurs nervously, craning his head over Kendall’s lap, and how did he even end up in the middle anyway?
Jo brightens. “Then we won’t have to worry about the return trip, will we?”
“You’re bad at this comfort thing,” Logan squeaks.
The taxi drops them straight off at JFK, which is a little disappointing. Kendall thinks he might have liked to see New York City before Zeus swats them out of the sky. At least his headstone will be interesting.
Here lies Kendall Knight, smacked down by the hand of a god.
Jo paid for the tickets, presumably with money straight from Camp Half-Blood’s strawberry funds. Kendall climbs onto the plane with utter trepidation, but he does not turn back. He has this unfortunate affliction where he thinks he can do anything. It’s still a close call, once he’s squeezed into his seat, Logan shaking like a leaf beside him. His entire body is screaming for him to run.
Airplanes, he finds, are cesspools of bad smells and uncomfortable invasions of your personal space. “Eurgh, oh, that’s funky,” Jo wrinkles her nose at eau-de-piss-and-recycled-air. Then she begins to chew on her salted peanuts, supremely unconcerned with what a bad idea this is. Logan, at least, has the decency to spare the clouds a worried grimace before burying his head in the pages of the flight safety manual.
The flight attendant’s take off spiel is not even a little comforting. Kendall listens with utter terror as she thanks them for flying Sky Blue, and forges on with announcements such as, “Admittedly, we have the seatbelts of a Fifty Seven Chevy, but we’d still prefer you keep them buckled until the captain gives you the all clear to move about the cabin.”
Kendall tugs at his seat belt, which does not make him feel very secure. The peppy flight attendant chirps, “If our breathtaking good looks give you trouble breathing, a mask will drop down from the overhead compartments, providing a steady flow of alcohol- I mean oxygen.”
Logan is unimpressed by her practiced giggle. He says, “You can’t breathe alcohol, geez. That’s a dumb mistake.”
“I think it was a joke, dude,” Kendall says doubtfully. Flying is serious business. He would rather less jokes be involved.
“If you have children, please secure your mask before attending to theirs. If you have more than one child, assist the one most likely to graduate college first.” The stewardess taps her chin cutely and waits for the polite laugh that gets before forging on, “If you would like to see a lunch menu, you should have gone to Denny’s. Please write all requests on a twenty dollar bill and pass them forward.”
And on, and on, and on she goes. Kendall digs his fingers into his armrests and tries not to absolutely freak.
He tells Jo and Logan, “I think this was a bad idea.”
Jo pats his hand and focuses on the movie she’s watching on the tiny TV that is set into the ceiling.
Then, like magic, the clouds clear away.
Of course, that would be when things start going horribly awry.
The plane lists left, knocking Kendall’s free soda all over Logan’s lap. Logan shrieks louder than a toddler, simultaneously trying to sponge up coke and hugging the window for dear life. The seatbelt light glows golden-orange, and the captain comes over the intercom and apologizes for the sudden turbulence.
Turbulence is okay, kind of. Kendall can deal with turbulence. He presses his palm to his chest and tries to calm the rapid beat of his heart. The plane balks again, and Kendall’s butt nearly leaves the seat. Jo cranes over Logan’s lap and taps her finger against the thick-paned window. “Guys?”
Outside, the sun is shining, the wind is still, and there is no real reason for the plane to be bucking over pockets of air like a bronco. At least not if you can’t see the hideous, drooling monster jumping up and down on the wing.
Kendall can feel his face turning green. Logan is already fumbling for a paper barf bag.
Jo, true to form, is completely unperturbed, her only comment being, “Sooner than I thought.”
“Wait, you thought we were going to die?”
“We’re not going to die,” she replies calmly. “Look. That’s a Hippalectryon. He can’t do much more than unbalance the plane.”
“And send us spiraling to our deaths.”
“Please, he’s not quite heavy enough.”
“He looks determined to try,” Kendall argues. Jo’s right about the size of the monster; it’s slightly bigger than a normal-sized horse. And it even looks like a horse, discounting its back half, which is distinctly rooster-esque. The total improbability of the thing’s existence isn’t stopping it from bouncing up and down on the wing, grinding its hooves and talons into the metal, wings ruffled in the breeze.
The stewardess’s voice warbles over the intercom uncertainly. “Due to, uh, extraordinary turbulence, we will be making an emergency landing outside of Prescott, Arizona. The captain asks that everyone remain seated, and we apologize for the-” Her voice cuts out as the plane gives a vicious jerk and begins its descent.
“See, we’re landing, aren’t we?” Jo squeezes Kendall’s shoulder. “Stop panicking. Breathe.”
The plane comes to a rocky stop in the middle of a deserted airfield, and then and there Kendall makes the executive decision that he will never, ever, ever be doing that ever again.
Now that it’s on solid ground, the Hippalectryon is having a much easier time of setting it off balance, tilting the aircraft off the landing gear. Jo murmurs, “I’m thinking we might want weapons,” and begins digging them out of her bookbag. The Mist helped them smuggle all the sharp and pointy past security, and Kendall really, really wants to know what the TSA saw on their little x-ray screens.
The Hippalectryon senses it isn’t making any progress in turning the plane into a yo-yo. It hops off the wing and sits on its rooster haunches, clearly stumped. “It’s just a rooster horse. How bad can it really be?” Kendall asks, watching it whinny pathetically.
Jo rakes a hand through her golden curls. “We’re about to find out.”
When the flight attendants finally, hurriedly allow them to take the emergency slide down and out of the plane, Kendall glares up at the sky and mouths, You’ve made your point at the clouds. He’s not sure whether or not he imagines the answering rumble of thunder.
“Oh, look, the storm’s back. That’s exactly what we need, here. In the middle of the barren desert-lands of Arizona,” Logan says idly, clutching a knife rosary-close. A nearby disembarked passenger gives him a strange look.
The Hippalectryon finds its footing.
“Nice pony-rooster,” Logan soothes, edging away from the crowd and the plane. Kendall and Jo take his lead, trying to lure the monster towards the minimum casualty zone. It paws the ground and snorts, except the snort sounds more like a cluck. “Nice, nice pony-rooster.”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the flight attendant announces, and she probably follows it up with an apology and information about booking another flight to reach final destinations. Kendall is a wee bit distracted by the whole crow-and-charge thing that the rooster-horse does.
“Look at that. A horse that doesn’t speak horse.” He draws Riptide back, fully prepared to swing.
The Hippalectryon soars over his head, talons raking against Kendall’s skull, and ow, ow, it totally just ripped out a hunk of his hair. He hacks at whatever he can, flailing a bit uselessly, but determined to avenge possible premature baldness. On the rebound, the thing dives straight for Logan, impressive wings spread wide and downy, and Logan sort of stands still and lets it come.
“Just try to hit it, damnit, remember what I showed you,” Jo yells, and Logan thrusts his knife forward, nicking its forepaw.
Mostly this just makes the monster cluck loudly.
They’ve got the full attention of the plane’s passengers now, most staring, some with their camera-phones whipped out and wow, Kendall really hopes the Mist works on all electronic equipment.
Jo tackles the Hippalectryon from behind, clinging to its tail feathers with one arm while trying to saw into its hide with the other, which is a stellar plan, except for how it is a winged pony thing, and decides that now would be the opportune time to take flight. It launches up into the air, weirdly graceful, despite its strange silhouette.
“Jo!” Kendall and Logan shout, trying to lunge for her, but she’s already in the air, too high to let go or to save.
Not that Jo Taylor needs to be saved; she somehow manages to maneuver up the back of the rooster’s sloped rump, and judging by the fistful of very large feathers that nearly hit Kendall in the face, she’s got a pretty solid grasp on the creature’s furry, feathery butt. It swoops back down, raging mad, matted with blood all along its side, but Jo can’t scrabble up any further to inflict any kind of significant damage. The gigantic bird-horse rears back, throwing her in an undignified pile in the dirt, and comes charging straight at Kendall. He steadies his stance, lifting Riptide in the air, trying to breathe through his nose. The horse’s sinew and tendons stand in clear relief beneath glossy brown fur, the auburn, green, and indigo shine of its feathers catching the sun. Then, right before it reaches Kendall, it skids to a total and complete halt.
Knives jut into the creature’s shoulders, its stomach, its kidneys. It collapses into itself and dissolves, dusting gold glitter across the fallow dirt.
“Alright,” Kendall demands, gawking at the precision of the throws. “Who has a secret past as a ninja?”
Jo and Logan aren’t paying him any attention, frantically searching for whoever threw the knives. Which Kendall takes to mean it wasn’t them. Oh, fuck. He stands on his tippy toes, craning to see over the heads of the sobbing, innocent bystanders. Being the tallest person in their little three man crew has to count for something.
He spots a boy standing near the edge of the hysterical crowd, a dust covered, golden-skinned guy who winks at Kendall from across the field, and then begins walking away. “I see him,” he says, “It’s a kid, but-“ Kendall thinks he hears something about a gun, which is not going to work out in their favor at all. He remembers Shane telling him about the Mist and jail time.
Kendall announces, “New plan. Follow him.”
“But we need to change planes,” Jo protests, glancing between the distraught passengers and Kendall.
“They’ll arrest us first. Besides, if you think I’m getting into another one of those things, you are clearly on the good drugs.”
She crosses her arms and huffs, “Jett’s right, you are rude.”
“But also I am correct,” Kendall says, eyeing an advancing man of very large stature, who has evidently decided to intervene in this…whatever he thinks it is. “Time to run.”
“I agree,” Logan grabs her by the elbow. “Running is a kickass plan. Let’s go.”
Kendall really hopes the rest of their quest goes better than this.
The boy, who they’ve finally caught up to, beams. “Surprises build character.”
Logan, lying in the dirt at the base of a cactus, glares impotently. “My character was fine the way it was.”
Jo is barely winded, because Jo is a showoff. “Whiners. And you, you helped us out back there.”
“Happy to help.”
“I don’t trust helpers,” Jo responds, expression fierce. “Who are you?”
“Carlos Garcia.” He holds out his hand to shake, still preternaturally happy. Probably because he didn’t have to run from suitcase-wielding civilians. Or deal with an impromptu plane landing. Why is the universe so unfair?
Jo does not take Carlos’s hand. “You’re a demigod.”
Carlos beams even wider, outshining the sun. “Son of Hephaestus.”
“You do have very muscley arms,” Logan agrees, as if that’s a prerequisite to being Hephaestus’s kid.
Okay, Kendall went to the Hephaestus cabin a few times at camp. It kind of is.
“What are you doing in the middle of the desert, Carlos?” Jo demands, undeterred. Kendall clutches his stomach and wonders if he’s ruptured a lung. Some lady threw a purse at him before. Who even does that?
“You know,” Carlos shrugs, and it isn’t at all an answer. “You should come back to my campsite. I’ve got s’mores.”
“We don’t want your s’mores. Jo thinks your s’mores smell of betrayal,” Logan says from the ground. Kendall wonders if he’s concussed. That could be slightly problematic. Kendall tries very hard to care, but oxygen continues to ask to be prioritized. His hockey coach would be horrified by how out of shape he’s gotten with all the canoe rides and weapons training. For shame.
“Do they? I think they smell of graham crackers,” Carlos replies, meeting Jo’s gaze head on. He is a brave man.
She is not fooled. “You’re after the Apple.”
“Apple?” His eyes widen innocently. Kendall considers the cactus and wonders if there is water inside it. He’s heard that’s what people do in deserts; tap cactuses like kegs and drink the contents. That would definitely help with the stitch in his side.
“Don’t play games.”
“Fine,” Carlos allows. “I’m after the Apple. But hey, it’s not like you’re useful to me until you’ve got it in hand, so. Uh. Have some marshmallows, have some chocolate.”
“I like s’mores,” Logan volunteers.
“You are consorting with the enemy right now, Mitchell.”
“I don’t see why I’m the enemy. You know, rightfully, they’re Hera’s apples. I don’t like the lady, let me tell you, but they were her wedding gift, in her garden, and Eris was all up with the trespassing.”
Jo lifts an eyebrow. “Preach. You’re working for Hera? Why?”
“I owe the lady a favor.” Carlos shrugs, glancing up at the sky. “Come on, have some s’mores. Stay the night. I promise not to slit your throats in the middle of the evening or anything,” he says that last part quite cheerfully.
“I feel so reassured,” Jo deadpans.
Logan curls into the dirt. “No more quests. Next time, I’m staying at camp and learning how to do macramé.”
There are s’mores, but nobody sings kumbaya. Jo does exactly the opposite, crafting a spear for Logan because, “If you’re going to freeze in the middle of a fight, you might as well have a weapon with range to clutch while you whimper.”
“I don’t get it,” Logan is saying to Carlos, mouth sticky with chocolate, “Why would you work for Hera?”
“That, my friend, is a long, long story,” Carlos replies, munching happily on marshmallows. He hasn’t brought much else; a box of graham crackers, a few bars of chocolate, a sleeping bag, and a package of puffy white fluff.
“We’ve got time,” Kendall tells him. He thinks they should build a fire. In school, he vaguely remembers them saying that deserts get cold at night.
“Nah, see, me and Tía Callida have a long history, and you guys are perfect strangers.” Carlos wags a finger in the air reproachfully.
“And yet you’re willing to steal from us,” Jo says, her eyes lit with starlight and the purple haze of dusk.
“It’s nothing personal, and it’s not stealing.” Carlos props his elbows on his knees. “It’s repossession.”
“Do you even know what the Apple is? What it does?”
“Don’t care. I owe Tía a solid.”
Kendall makes a grab for the pack of marshmallows. Carlos snorts and pulls it away, but when Kendall makes puppy eyes at him, he gives it up easy. For a thief, he seems pretty laid back. “How’d you get out here, anyway?”
“Drove my papí’s truck. He leant it out ‘cause I’m all responsible and shit.”
“Cool. Well, maybe, since you’re planning on petty theft and you know, stalking, you could do us a solid and give us a ride.”
Carlos considers. “I could do that. LA, right?”
Kendall waits for Jo to object, because judging by the suspicion she’s been wearing, she is the opposite of Carlos’s biggest fan, but she stays shockingly quiet. Logan’s the one who says, “I’m not sure that’s the best idea.”
“You’ve got chocolate on your chin. And do you know how hard hitchhiking is? How many cars do you think come down the roads around here? We’re not exactly in Phoenix.”
Outside, Kendall is talking all sensible. Inside, he’s thinking I cannot listen to The Wall on loop again, I cannot listen to The Wall on loop again.
He slips up by asking Carlos, “You’re not a Pink Floyd fan, right?”
Logan joins in around the border of California.
Jo simply grits her teeth and mumbles things that sound vaguely homicidal under her breath.
“For a backstabber, he’s not all bad,” Logan says mildly, and it is kind of hard to hate someone after you’ve camped under the moon and then spent six hours in a car with them, so Kendall can’t disagree.
He examines the building in front of him. “I thought it would be…Greek-er.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, the center of power in Olympus follows where Western civilization thrives. Very little of it will actually look Greek,” Jo pauses. “The Underworld’s nearby.”
Kendall’s breath catches in his throat, and he has to physically clap his hand over his mouth to keep a where from tumbling out. It all comes back to James, and he will not screw this up. Not with Jo and Logan and the camp depending on him. He can’t.
He lowers his hand. “Right, so are we going to do this?”
“I still vote no,” Logan says immediately. “We’ve barely been gone a day, and we’ve already got one super-nice enemy and a monster on our tails. What do you think is going to happen once we’ve got the Apple?”
“Man up, Mitchell,” Jo barks. “This is our chance. We could be heroes.”
“We could be failures,” Logan shoots back.
Kendall sighs. He’s inclined to agree with Logan here, but he’s been team captain of his varsity league for close to three years. He knows better than to naysay. “Jo’s right.”
“Of course I am.”
“She is not!”
“Well, either way, we have no choice. We’re going.”
Actually obtaining the Apple is shockingly easy. In a bland room that looks exactly like a doctor’s office on the fifth floor, they show their Camp Half-Blood credentials to a quiet man in a gray robe. Kendall’s not quite sure what their credentials are, which is odd, seeing as he’s leading this quest and all, but Jo’s got everything well and hand. Creepy Monk Guy appears satisfied, anyway.
He hands them…well, an apple. It’s gold. It’s shiny.
“Can we eat it?” Kendall jokes.
Jo glares. She must have left her sense of humor back at camp. “No, we can’t eat it, why would you even ask that?”
“Well, it’s an apple.” More seriously, he adds, “And wouldn’t it be better if it just, you know, stopped existing?”
Jo slaps his wrist. Ow. Why is everyone constantly hitting Kendall? Between the Hippalectryon, Jo, and his last sparring match with Jett, his bruises have bruises. He tucks the Apple into his knapsack and hopes it doesn’t collect lint down there or anything. “Fine, okay, no, we’ll take it back to New York. At least getting it was easy.”
Jo’s eyes get freakishly large. “Why would you say that?”
“Because…it was easy?”
“You totally jinxed us,” Logan hisses, glancing back at the man in the gray robe and at the door in front of them. Kendall liked it much better when he was examining the laminated posters detailing the dangers of arterial disease on the taupe-colored wall, ignoring them both.
“We’re demigods. From what I can tell, we’re already jinxed.” The only person who seems to agree with him is the smiling model on the cover of a women’s health magazine on the nearest coffee table.
“Now we’re double jinxed,” Logan says emphatically, face scrunching up.
Kendall feels supremely picked on today. Road trips obviously make Jo and Logan grumpy. “Okay, I take it back, yeesh. Don’t give yourself an ulcer, there, Logiebear.”
Jo elbows Kendall in the ribs this time.
“Will the pain never stop?” Kendall might hear Gray Robe Dude snort, or the air conditioning could have let loose a particularly loud gust of air. It’s hard to tell.
They burst out into the hallway, bickering and poking at one another, jostling towards the elevator. Jo punches the down button, but it doesn’t light up.
“It must have broken,” Logan reasons. “In the last five minutes. Weird.”
They head towards the stairwell, sitting squarely between more long, plain beige walls, and Kendall is already pondering how they’re going to get back to Long Island. Maybe they can hold the Apple for ransom until Mr. D zaps them home. He’s a god; that is totally within his power.
Of course, he might also turn them into snails. Best not to try.
Logan’s mulling over the same problem. He demands that Jo give him the map of America she brought, because they are modern and sophisticated demigods who didn’t think to bring a working cellphone with GPS.
Or, no, it’s not that they didn’t think to bring one, it’s just that there’s no outlet in Kendall’s cabin for him to recharge his, and besides, the camp doesn’t get reception anyway. He’s not even sure Logan and Jo own phones, to be honest.
A brief scuffle ensues, as Jo doesn’t want Logan touching her stuff, and Logan doesn’t grasp the part where she’s about to kill him like, at all. Once Logan’s got his prize, Jo takes the lead, bounding down the steps towards daylight and air that does not smell of antiseptic. Logan trudges behind her, clinging to their wrinkled old map like it’s a life line and mumbling about latitude and longitude lines. His makeshift spear is clutched tight in his other hand.
“This doesn’t look strange at all,” Kendall mutters, but he pads carefully after them, intent on being back-up guy in the event that Carlos is waiting to ambush them on the way out.
He does not get to find out if Carlos managed to find a parking space anywhere close by, because they only make it to the second floor landing before Kendall runs face-first into the back of Logan’s head, which is firmly implanted in the back of Jo’s.
“What’s the hold-up?” Kendall whines. Logan’s skull is hard and his face does not like this new development at all.
“Back up the stairs. Slowly,” Jo instructs. Logan stands on his tippy-toes, trying to see around her. “What? What is it?”
Kendall hears a hiss of air, much like a tire with a hole. Or, maybe, a snake. He begins backing up the stairs, slowly. “It’s a monster, isn’t it? Please say it isn’t a monster.”
“It’s a monster,” Logan says dully. “This is not fun, Kendall. You promised questing would be fun.”
“What do I know, I’m new to this. What do we do, Jo?”
Jo, warrior girl extraordinaire, replies amiably, “We turn and run or we stay and fight.”
Logan squawks, “We’re choosing to fight?”
“I hate running.” Jo pauses, and there is a rustling sound at the bottom of the stairwell. “But, um. That’s a Hydra down there.”
Kendall gives into his curiosity and cranes over the railing to look. He immediately wishes he hadn’t. So far, the things he’s dealt with in the demigod world have been vaguely recognizable, in some way. Mrs. Magicowski and Selana were humanoid, sort of, Mormo was flesh colored, at the very least, the Symphalian Bird and other monsters that assaulted him and the Diamond twins were all animal shaped, mostly, and the Hippalectryon had animal parts. There is nothing earthly about this thing, not even a little bit.
Maybe, from above, the Hydra could resemble a nest of angry snakes, if snakes had the spotted collars of raptors, trunks the size of an elephant’s thigh, and one big, solid body with thighs of its very own. It is a thing spliced from a child’s nightmare, and Jo, Logan, and Kendall have its full attention.
“I think the stairs are stumping it,” Logan says unsteadily, his grip on the spear white-knuckled. Kendall uncaps Riptide, and the sword grows to full-length, glowing gold and humming with power.
“That won’t work.” Jo is pale, nibbling at her lips. Her weapons stay tucked away in her bookbag. “If you cut off a head, two more will just grow back. It’s an impossible monster. Fire’s the only thing that can kill a Hydra, and lighting a match in here is not a good idea.”
“So running’s the best plan?”
“Running would be good,” she agrees. “I think it’s starting to figure out the stairs.”
In unison, the three of them turn tail and bolt. On the top floor of the building, there’s an exit onto the roof. They push through it, out into a rather pathetic garden sanctuary with a few sad potted plants. From there though, Kendall can’t see any place to run.
The Hydra thunders after them, roaring with exertion and rage.
“In all honesty, what can that thing really do to us? Bite us to death? We could chop off enough heads to at least buy us some time,” he suggests, brain working in overdrive.
“Its breath is poison,” Jo pants.
“That puts a damper on the plan,” Kendall agrees. “Um. Hide!”
Logan ducks behind the most hideous lawn gnome Kendall has ever had the displeasure of seeing. It is also a completely inadequate hiding place. “That’s not going to work.”
“There,” Jo calls, gesturing wildly over the edge of the roof. About five feet away is the ledge of what looks to be a concrete parking garage adjacent to them.
“You want us to jump? Are you insane?” Kendall asks incredulously.
“Tell me, oh mighty quest leader, do you have a better plan?”
Kendall considers Logan and his hideous lawn gnome. “Jumping’s good.”
Logan is not in agreement with the plan. “The fall is seven stories!” he protests, eyes bulging from his face. “I hate heights.”
This is not a surprise, because Logan hates everything. He cowers and quivers until Jo goads him to his feet.
“Too bad. We’re doing this together, or not at all,” she replies decisively, dragging him along by his elbow. She catches Kendall’s with her other hand, and they stand back and away from the edge of the roof. “Running start, on three?”
“One,” Kendall counts. His blood is rushing in his head. He can feel his heart, pounding kickdrum loud.
“Two,” Logan says shakily.
“Three,” Jo finishes, and she whoops, and they’re off, feet pounding the pavement for a few breathless seconds before they leap. The jump takes forever, and also no time at all, and they land rather badly on the hood of an old Mustang, denting the metal.
Kendall moans through the ache in his everywhere, “We should probably pay for that.”
Logan whimpers, “Should we leave a note?”
“Get up, get up,” Jo rushes them both, “It’s coming,” and she’s right. The Hydra forces its way through the skinny door on the roof garden, and it is definitely, definitely time to get on with the running. It screams, the sound sending shivers up and down Kendall’s spine.
“Please tell me it can’t fly.”
“It can jump,” Jo replies grimly, and she is a mess. There is rust on her cheek and blood on her neck and the pretty fabric of her red shirt has ripped unattractively at the sleeve. Logan looks much the same, and Kendall can’t imagine he’s come out of this particularly pretty either. He’s breathing hard, adrenaline pumping through his veins. It’s just like life before Camp Half-Blood, with much too much fear.
He misses James. James would know what to do, or Shane would, and James would be cracking jokes, and that would make this so much easier, somehow. But Kendall is not alone, and Logan and Jo are not poor substitutes for the Diamond twins, not at all.
“We need to go down,” Jo is saying, tugging them along, but Logan is shaking his head.
“This place is closed for construction. The exit’s sealed off with fences downstairs, I saw it when we went into the other building.”
“Then we’ll have to go down to the second story and jump,” Jo reasons.
Logan, as always, disagrees, “We’ll twist something.”
“Guys,” Kendall tries.
“Soldier up,” Jo bites back. “Do you want to be Monster Kibble?”
Kendall says, “Guys, really.”
“I didn’t want to come on this quest in the first place, you both made me and I want new friends-“
Both Logan and Jo spin to face him, snapping, “What?”
“There’s a horse. With wings. Parked next to the motorcycle.”
“You can park a horse?” Logan asks.
“Does it have chicken claws?” Jo asks. It’s a much more sensible question, in Kendall’s opinion.
“No, it’s, uh. All horse. I think.” Kendall points to the sleek brown stallion standing docilely between painted white lines halfway down to the next floor. He’d almost missed it, except for the flick of its ears as they rounded the corner. Carefully, the three of them shuffle towards it.
“Aw, it really is a pony,” Logan says once they’re closer, utterly delighted. “Can I pet him?”
“Try it and I’ll kick you in the face,” the horse snorts.
“That’s not nice,” Kendall chides.
A second late he realizes that the horse just spoke.
Logan’s lips tick down. “What’s not nice?”
Kendall is confused. “He said- didn’t you hear him?”
“Hear…wait, you can talk to the pony?” Logan’s eyes get all big, and it’s right about then that Kendall notices he’s clutching something to his chest. To be precise, he’s clutching the hideous lawn gnome from the roof next door. “What’s he saying?”
“Uh.” Kendall stalls. “Uh.”
Kendall is not very good at stalling.
“Close your mouth before you catch flies,” the horse says, and Kendall’s mind stutters to a stop. That break with reality he expected months ago is obviously happening right now, when they’re about to be gunned down by poisonous not-snake breath. “Name’s Gustavo, kid. Why’s your face all red?”
“Uh,” Kendall says eloquently.
“Real conversationalist, you are.”
“Never mind what he said,” Jo interjects, glancing between Kendall, Logan, and the winged horse, “This is a Pegasus. He can fly us out of here.”
“Just because he’s a horse with wings doesn’t mean he can actually fly and support our weight at the same time. Scientifically speaking, Pegasi are totally improbable,” Logan responds, because he is the most disagreeable boy on earth.
Gustavo, the talking horse, dislikes Logan’s contrariness. “Oh yeah? Maybe I should stick my improbable hoof up your –“
“Gustavo,” Kendall yelps, and hey, that’s a word that is not uh. He’s making progress.
Jo frowns. “Who’s Gustavo?”
“I’m Gustavo,” Gustavo makes a disgusted noise.
Jo, unable to hear it, asks, “Is he Gustavo?” She runs a hand soothingly across Gustavo’s flank. He whinnies, but does not kick her, and considering the murderous glare he’s aiming at Logan, Kendall decides that’s a distinct possibility.
“What, what’d he say?” Logan asks again, more focused on Kendall’s new horse-whisperer abilities than whether or not the Pegasus has a name.
“Uh. He promises he’s not a figment of your imagination,” Kendall answers diplomatically.
“Great, good, now can we get on the damned horse, because I’m not seeing a lot of options here.” Jo mounts Gustavo with easy grace, pulling a grumbling Logan up behind her.
Gustavo makes a pained noise in Kendall’s head, emphasized with an actual whinny of total displeasure. “You know, none of you have introduced yourselves, or actually asked for a ride.”
Kendall slaps his butt. “Soldier up. We’ve got to fly.”
He flails around a bit before settling on Gustavo’s rump, wrapping his hands firmly around Logan’s stomach.
“This is more closeness than I’m comfortable with,” Logan announces. Kendall nuzzles his face in Logan’s neck, just to be an ass.
Jo tangles her fingers in Gustavo’s glossy brown mane. Authoritatively, she yells, “Go, go, go.”
Gustavo remains firmly put. He tells Kendall, “I’m really not seeing what’s in this for me.”
Much, much too close, a loud roar resounds. It chills Kendall from the inside out, an icicle pressed to his spine. Gustavo gives a frightened neigh. His tail swishes, his eyes go wide.
Quickly, he decides, “Yep, you’re right, I think we should go.” He flaps his wings, continuing conversationally. “Who wants burgers? Burgers are good. Let’s got to In-N’-Out.”
They’re sitting outside a burger joint that is situated between the seediest mini-golf course Kendall has ever seen and an adult video store that has Logan entranced. He’s staring at the window display, eating a burger but mostly missing his mouth.
“You’re not a person- no, Gustavo, don’t…eat...the grass, no, it’s Astroturf!” Kendall tugs on his hair, but Gustavo ignores him, munching happily away on the fake lawn. “Why did I buy you these animal fries if you were just going to eat the ninth hole?”
Jo is unimpressed with either the idea of getting saddle burn or Kendall’s persuasive skills, and is thusly poring over the map for the safest alternate route across the country.
“M’not a pack mule,” Gustavo contends.
“Come on,” Kendall begs. “Please? We’re on a quest. It’s for the gods!”
“Heroes. You’re always on quests for gods,” he says dismissively through a mouthful of fake grass. Kendall tries not to get discouraged. “Never met one I could talk to before, though. You’re strange.”
“I’m not strange,” Kendall balks.
“You’re kind of strange,” Jo mutters without glancing up from her map. She’s got the concentration skills of a champion, that girl.
“It’s not Pick On Kendall day, I checked my almanac and everything,” Kendall sulks. “I don’t know why I can talk to you, okay?”
“Probably because Poseidon created the first horses. In a contest with my mom, actually,” Jo provides. “It was for the dominion of Athens. My mom won, obviously.”
Kendall pretends she doesn’t sound smug about that. “Stop eavesdropping on my conversation.”
“Technically I’m only eavesdropping on your side of the conversation. All I’m getting from Gustavo are varying levels of-“ Jo imitates one of Gustavo’s snorts, which is hilarious.
“Do it again,” Kendall commands.
Jo sticks her head back in the map. “No.”
Well, then. “Gustavo, please? I’ll buy you more burgers?”
“I am a dignified Pegasus. I am not susceptible to bribery.” Gustavo raises his head. “Also, I’m sick of burgers. What else have you got?”
Kendall digs through his rucksack. “I…have some Swedish Fish. Here.” Kendall thrusts the bag in front of Gustavo’s nose.
Gustavo makes a miffed noise, but scoops up a gummy between his big horse lips, all the while mumbling, “I don’t want some Swedish- what are these?” He makes a sound that would be absolutely obscene from a human, “They’re better than grass and tacos and carrots.”
Kendall wrinkles his nose. “Everything’s better than carrots.”
“Bite your tongue,” Gustavo snaps, but he’s got the bag of Swedish Fish snagged between his teeth.
“Is this how I get you to do things from now on? Ply you with sugar?”
“I am a creature of honor. Coercing me will not work and hey, let go, gimme gimme gimme,” he tugs more insistently at the bag.
“Right, yeah, you’re possessed of magnificent dignity.” Kendall lets go. “Does that mean you’ll take us?”
“I’ll consider it,” Gustavo says, gleefully gulping down the rest of the little red fish.
“Right, that’s one problem down. Logan! Stop looking at porn and get over here.”
Logan blushes bright red and scurries away from the window of the adult video store. “What?”
“You can’t keep the gnome.”
Logan blinks. “Yes I can. I’m naming him Augustus.”
Jo has something to say about this. It is not anything helpful. She grits out, “You can’t name give him a Roman name. They invaded our land, Logan.”
Kendall marvels, “How are you still taking the downfall of Greece personally?”
No one listens to him. Ever. Logan pouts, “But Augustus is-“
“Betty. His name is Betty.” Jo reaches out and pats the lawn gnome on the head.
“Betty is not a boy’s name.”
“Well maybe it should be.” Jo props her hands on her hips. “I had a schnauzer named Betty back in North Carolina, and he didn’t seem to mind.”
“This argument is completely invalid,” Kendall tells them both, “Because the gnome isn’t coming with us.”
Logan hugs Betty-Augustus to his chest. “I’m not leaving him. He saved my life.”
Kendall frowns at the gnome’s pointy red hat. “He’s a lawn gnome.” He neglects to point out that when Logan met Betty, the Hydra wasn’t even on the roof yet.
Logan actually appears to be super offended by this blunt statement of fact. “Gnomes have giant noses. Augustus-“
“Betty,” Jo inserts, back to peering at the map.
“ –Betty doesn’t have a nose. Your argument sucks.”
“This is the worst quest ever,” Kendall announces loudly.
Jo retorts, “This is the only quest you’ve been on.”
He hates it when she’s all smart and shit.
They spend the night in Joshua Tree National Park, surrounded by these weird little scrub plants with spiky bark and spiky leaves. Gustavo is curled around the base of one, snoring, Betty tucked beneath his chin. Kendall is sandwiched between Logan and Jo, as if he needs to be protected from the rest of the world. He cuddles closer to them both, thinking of James and Shane, thinking of a time before them, even.
He used to go camping as a kid, laid out beneath the stars with his mom and his dad and Katie. Those memories are laced through with the scent of wood-smoke and the sound of eerie ghost stories, the crackle of fire and his dad’s deep, rich laugh.
His dad who isn’t his dad. Yeah, Kendall’s still having trouble with that one. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever stop, honestly. Poseidon is his father in name, the reason water heals his wounds, the reason he can talk to Gustavo, but Poseidon is also nothing more than an idea. He’s an empty cabin at Camp Half-Blood and a giant hole in Kendall’s life.
He wonders if bringing the Apple of Discord back to Olympus will make Poseidon proud.
He wonders if he’ll even care.
“Maybe if your girlfriend would lay off the sweets,” Gustavo grunts, skimming low to the ground.
“Leave Jo alone.”
“Jo?” Gustavo sniffs and cranes his neck around to glare. “I wasn’t talking about the blonde.”
Kendall decides not to repeat that one to Logan.
What happens is, Kendall, Logan, and Jo have split up. They’ve known for three states that Carlos is tracking them; the rusted hood of his father’s truck is pretty distinctive, and also, he’s waved.
More than once. Carlos doesn’t appear to understand the meaning of stealth. Or personal space.
So Kendall hands off the Apple to Jo, who takes to the air with Gustavo. Logan splits off in one direction in a small, Texan town, and Kendall heads in the other. The general idea is that Carlos can only follow one of them, and it will most likely be Kendall, because somebody – Logan – let it slip during their car ride to LA that Kendall was the leader of this quest.
Kendall figures Carlos will confront him, he’ll knock Carlos out or tie him up in his car or something, and then he’ll regroup with Jo, Logan, and Gustavo the next town over. They’ll take to the sky before Carlos can catch their scent again, right? Right.
It’s an awesome plan. Kendall thought of it himself.
Which is why he’s a little put out when the person who slides into the diner booth across from him is definitely not Carlos. “Can I sit here?”
Kendall wants to say no, because he has a slice of cake (not pie, pie tastes like ash to him now) and a cup of coffee and a thief to wait for.
He wants to say no, and also he does not, because the intruder is a woman, and she is beautiful.
What’s weird is that Kendall can’t exactly pin down why she’s beautiful. Her cheekbones are high, her skin glows, and her sooty, dark eyelashes shade irises that are the loveliest violet he’s ever seen.
Wait, no. They’re blue. And her eyelashes are blonde. Her cheeks are fuller, her skin darker, her lips more of a cupid’s bow than they were seconds ago. She tilts her head exactly like Jo, and her hair cascades in ringlets down the delicate arch of her neck.
Only, when he looks again, it’s shades darker, blonde-auburn, and there are flecks of gold in her hazel eyes, but they are kind, and turning browner by the second, a blush high in her cheeks.
He croaks out, “I think you’re already sitting,” and she laughs, as if he is the funniest, most interesting guy to have ever existed. He is warm, inside and out. He hopes he can make her laugh again, soon.
She says, “You’re the boy with my Apple.”
That stops Kendall cold. “You’re not human.” Of all the things he could have said, that’s probably not the stupidest.
“I’m not,” she agrees. She grins coyly, her eyelashes red as sunset, a mole above her lip exactly like Camille’s. “I’m Aphrodite. Maybe you’ve heard of me.”
“Your name might have come up.”
“Then you know that you’ve got something that belongs to me.” She leans across the table, and Kendall has a magnificent view of her spectacular cleavage, which she must have stolen off a Victoria’s Secret model, because it’s not from anyone he knows. It gets more enticing with every second he stares, and he has to force his gaze back up to her face, which now has a smattering of freckles across her skin, like the girl he dated all through the fifth grade. He thought he was going to marry her.
“I can’t give it to you,” he explains, and he isn’t happy about it. The thing is that he wants to make this very, very pretty goddess happy. He wants her to smile that smile that belongs to his fifth grade girlfriend and his eighth grade crush, to Jo and Jessica Alba and Camille. Her lips jut out, fuller, like Jett’s, and oh, she is wearing him down.
“That’s not very nice.”
“I know,” Kendall agrees, falling all over the linoleum table to appease her.
Everyone in the diner is staring, he’s sure, but Aphrodite only has eyes for him. She purrs, “You’re in love.”
“It’s just sex,” Kendall explains patiently, because Jett means nothing to him, and she has his mouth, his eyes, his cocky, jutted chin. “I’ll leave him for you.”
“I’m sure you would,” Aphrodite smirks. Kendall can see long, lazy nights of sex and chocolate and champagne kisses in the curve of her lips. “I don’t mean with Zeus’s progeny. I can see him in your eyes.”
Her smile holds secrets and mischief, and it’s so familiar it makes his heart ache. “Dear boy. Sweet boy. Give me my apple, and I’ll make sure that James falls into your waiting arms.”
“You can do that?”
She quirks that smile that is so like and unlike James’s, “I can do anything. And, it’s my Apple,” Aphrodite says, breathy, up in his face. He glances back at her cleavage, but it isn’t there; her chest is smooth, androgynous, golden and lickable. “Don’t you want me to have what’s rightfully mine? You do think I’m the fairest…?”
“Of course,” Kendall says immediately, willing to say whatever to make this gorgeous woman smile. She does, albeit a little sadly, and it reminds him, weirdly enough, of Katie and his mom.
“Then you’ll give it to me?”
He shakes his head, knowing he can’t, because common sense is a thing that he has. “That wouldn’t make Hera or Athena very happy.”
He’s supposed to be talking to someone else. Carlos. Where is Carlos? He glances around the diner, but there is nothing but antique wagon wheels and tacky art prints, the smell of Belgian waffles and sausage.
“My mother’s an old bag,” Aphrodite says dismissively, and her mouth is nothing at all like James’s; it’s fiercer, and more closely resembles Lucy’s. Her eyes flash with lightning. “And Athena has no use for beauty. Give me the Apple.”
“Can’t,” Kendall says. Then, because it feels wrong to lie, he adds, “I don’t have it.”
Something flickers across Aphrodite’s face, an expression that he’s never seen on anyone, not ever, and suddenly she is not Lucy or Jo or models or James. She is as distant and gorgeous and foreign as a statue. He has made her mad. “I want it. Now.”
“Can’t,” Kendall says again. “I really don’t have it.”
She sits back in her seat, and for the first time Kendall notices that she’s wearing something tight, flashy, and designer. Weird, he could have sworn she had a sun dress on before. “Then who does?”
“Jo? Athena’s brat? You gave my Apple to a child of Athena?”
“Well. I didn’t give it to her,” Kendall explains, bewildered and still more than a little bewitched. “You don’t have to yell.”
Aphrodite softens. Her features melt back into something he wants to touch, something he yearns for, those eyes and those lips, and why did James go away? It hurts beneath his ribs, and in his fingers and his toes. She says, “You miss him.”
“More than anything,” Kendall replies fervently. He wants to reach out, but he’s scared that he will melt away, because she is a goddess, she is beauty and she is love, and both of those things have the most jagged of teeth. They tear at his insides, at his heart and at his soul. They leave scars where he cannot see, and where they can never fully heal.
“He may come back yet.” She holds her head high, her graceful neck pale and too exposed. “I’ll keep my eye on you two.” She slaps down a few coins for the food she made Kendall forget all about and stands. Kendall is hypnotized by the sway of her hips.
And her words, her words are important too. They sound exactly like a promise.
Kendall is sure the story of how Logan managed to subdue Hera’s kept-boy is really awesome and important, but he can’t quite focus on it. He’s too busy singing, “Love, love, looooove. I’m in love,” right up until he comes face to face with Jo. “Oh, uh. Hi, Jo. You’re very…Jo.”
Right now, being very Jo involves an expression of complete befuddlement.
“He had a run-in with Aphrodite,” Logan tells her archly. “Now he’s in love.”
“Shhhh,” Kendall tries to clap his hand over Logan’s mouth and misses. He is punch-drunk on Aphrodite, but Jo is having a super-sobering effect on him. “Don’t tell her that. She’s jealous of my loooove.”
“Is that right?” Logan lifts an eyebrow. “Jealous of Jett, Jo?”
“I’m not jealous of Jett,” Jo barks with laughter. It shakes her words. “Gods, no.”
“Really?” Kendall is feeling a little put-out by her laughter. It feels mean. “Then why do you get all bitchfaced whenever we’re hanging out together?”
Jo is still laughing. Hard. But she manages, “Kendall, it’s glaringly clear that you’re not into Jett the way he wants you to be. I don’t think it’s very nice that you’re leading him on, is all.”
“Oh.” Kendall tastes something sour in his throat. His Aphrodite-high is definitely wearing off. “This is only mildly humiliating.”
“I’m sorry I don’t have a crush on you,” Jo says, finally calming down a little. She’s still giggling into her palm. It’s really uncalled for.
“You, uh, really don’t?” Kendall’s forehead pinches. “Are you sure? For sure, sure?”
“Oh yeah. I’ve read the myths. I know better than to fall for boys with magic swords.”
Kendall’s mouth drops open. “You can stop making fun of me now.”
“No, really. Relationships aren’t a good idea. What with the whole monster swarm thing.” Jo pats him on the cheek. “Also, I’m sure you’d make a great boyfriend, but your swordsmanship sucks.”
“Is that like, a requirement to date you? Good with a sword?”
“Honestly? I don’t know. I’m not really ready to settle down.” She smiles, but it takes on an edge. “Now why don’t both of you give me a status report. Immediately?”
“Yeah.” Logan starts, “About that…”
They’re camping out in the shell of an old train car, and it’s well past midnight. Kendall can’t sleep, too caught up with thoughts of Aphrodite, and love, and James.
He’s not really in love with him. Probably.
No, definitely. Aphrodite was wrong. It’s pathetic to be in love with a memory.
“I can hear you thinking from here,” Logan groans, hugging Betty tight to his chest.
“Are you thinking about what Jo said? Don’t take it personally.”
Jo snores, lightly. Gustavo nickers. He’s probably dreaming of Swedish Fish.
But Logan? Logan waits for an answer. Kendall can see his eyes, gleaming in the moonlight. “No.”
“You’re lying. I can tell. Look.” Logan lowers his voice to a whisper. “Jo, Lucy, and another demigod, a daughter of Nemesis, came to Camp Half-Blood together.”
“I’m not really sure.” Logan shrugs. “Lucy joined the Hunters. And Kat…no one really knows. They never said, but. Jo’s the only one left.”
“Why didn’t she join the Hunters too?”
“I don’t need immortality,” Jo interrupts, voice cracked with exhaustion. Kendall and Logan flush guiltily, sunburn red beneath their skin. Kendall is grateful for the cover of night. “At least, not right now. You have to give up a lot of things to run with Artemis.”
“Like what?” Kendall asks, overcoming his embarrassment.
“Like love, for one.” She meets Kendall’s eyes, and there is no real meaning there, at least not for him. Jo is beautiful, brilliant. She does not need anyone to make her dreams come true. “And the thing with Kat is…Logan, it’s none of your damn business.”
“Sorry,” Logan squeaks.
Jo shoves her head back onto the pillow of her arms. “Go back to sleep. Idiots.”
A monster attacks them in Arkansas. This time, they are forced to fight it until its dead.
Right before it dissolves back into the ether, Kendall spots a glint of gold from the distance, like someone is watching.
He says, “I think Carlos has found us again.”
Logan blushes right up to his hairline.
His mother’s exasperated smile and the rough swell of her knuckles when she tries to cook.
His sister’s slightly psychotic lilt when she laughs.
James’s eyes shiny and wet with accusation
But also Jo’s lethal grace and Logan’s neuroses, Jett’s ridiculous arrogance and Shane’s hands shaking as he reaches for a coffee cup.
Kendall’s home is scattered across America, and he doesn’t know how to feel whole anymore without any of them.
Kendall steps outside of the convenience store and drops his plastic bag of goodies right on the ground, because there is a man in a whole lot of black leather pointing a sword straight at Jo.
Worse, Jo actually looks intimidated.
Logan, by Kendall’s side, freezes up. “That doesn’t look like Carlos.”
“I’m thinking it’s not, unless Carlos joined a gym,” Kendall hisses back.
The man and Jo are arguing. He can’t hear what Jo says, but the man’s laughter sparks and flares like a sodium light, a short, sharp bark that dies as quick as it came. “I’ll take it from you. I will kill you, if I have to.”
“You can’t,” Jo yells, and this time, Kendall hears it. He takes a step forward. Something about this man is getting to him, pissing him off, forcing his hands into fists. He wants to scream and he wants to throw a punch, and anger management issues or not, Kendall usually has a better hold of his temper.
“Of course I can. You are whispers in the conversation of history. Why would anyone care if you disappeared?”
“Fine,” Jo grits out. “Go ahead. Kill me.”
“Well, now you’ve just taken all the fun out of it.” The man hefts his sword and lunges at Jo, and before Kendall can even move, can even shout, Logan of all people is bolting for them both. He knocks into the man and sends them sprawling to the ground.
Kendall runs up to catch Jo’s shoulders in his hands. “Are you okay? Did he hurt you? Why aren’t you fighting-“
“Kendall, that’ s Ares,” Jo says, eyes wide with panic, grabbing at him. “He wants the Apple, for Aphrodite. Oh gods, he’s going to kill Logan. We have to stop him.”
Ares is already on his feet, looming over Logan and his broken spear, and Betty, and his wallet, lying open on the ground. He raises his weapon, telling him, “That will be the last stupid thing you’ll ever do-“ when he happens to glance down at the asphalt. He stops, sword hovering in mid-air.
Kendall isn’t sure what Ares is staring at. Logan’s wallet is an ancient, beat up leather number. The only thing he’s got inside is an expired driver’s license, a library card, and a picture of his mom tucked into the flap.
Logan waits. Kendall holds his breath. Jo’s nails dig into his bicep.
Gustavo, who has a wonderful grasp of gravity and solemnity, sneaks a bag of Swedish Fish from where Kendall dropped it on the sidewalk. Kendall doesn’t see him, but he can hear the munch of his teeth.
Ares looks at Logan. He squints. Logan stares back, terrified. Then Ares says, “That was your mom? Whoa, now, lady does shots like a pro. We had one wild night back at the coast guard reserve.”
That is not what Kendal expected to hear.
Logan, evidently, wasn’t expecting it either. “What?”
“We partied like rockstars,” Ares explains, a grin splitting his face.
Logan’s eyes get bigger. He blinks, rather spastically. “No, but. What?”
“How do I say it more plainly?” Ares cocks his head, smiling widely. “Hey, kid. I’m your dad.”
Logan cradles his face in his hands. “This is not happening.”
Kendall decides it’s safe to go to him. He kneels down on the asphalt and begins rubbing soothing circles on his back. He tries to shoot his most intimidating glare at Ares.
His most intimidating glare is way less intimidating than Jo’s everyday glare, so Ares is way more interested in acknowledging her than Kendall. “Hey, so, I guess you’re my kid’s friend. That makes killing you a little awkward. No hard feelings?”
Jo continues to glare.
Ares raises an eyebrow, “You know, you’re pretty cute. How old are you?”
She gags out loud. Kendall demands, “Are you kidding me?”
“Gods aren’t exactly known for their sense of humor,” Jo says dubiously, watching Ares like he might decide to jump her. “Wreaking havoc, jealous fits, and drunken revelry are more their thing.”
Ares nods. “It’s true.”
Logan chants, “I am not related to the god of war, I am not related to the god of war, I am not related to the god of war.”
“Hey now. Take pride in your heritage. Would you rather be mortal?”
“There’s nothing wrong with being mortal,” Kendall protests, because he knows some perfectly good mortals. His mom and Katie, for example.
Ares’s nose twitches. “I’ll take your word for it, person-thing-friend-of-my-son’s.”
“Logan, son of Ares. Listen, it even sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud,” Logan hyperventilates.
“You are such a spectacular douchebag, I hope you know that,” Kendall tells Ares, because he’s never actually seen Logan this bad. “I mean, not only did you try to kill Jo, but look at Logan. He’s been waiting for you to claim him, oh, I don’t know, his whole life?”
“Yeah.” Ares actually appears to be guilty, hunching into his shoulders a bit. “I’ve got a lot of kids. But I’m sorry about- I’m just sorry. Logan? Your name’s Logan, right?”
He gets down on the asphalt, and that is new. Kendall has seen Dionysus simper and whine, and he has seen Aphrodite seduce and demand, but he has not seen either of them do something that could almost be construed as…well, nice. And it’s even stranger coming from this man, this burly giant of a god who radiates heat and brutality, who makes anger rage beneath Kendall’s skin.
Kendall backs away, because he will not listen in on this private conversation, but he does hear one thing, the last thing that Ares decides to say to Logan. And it almost sounds like, “Make me proud.”
So the upshot of Kentucky is, Logan’s got a dad, and he does not decide to murder them.
At least not on that day.
Gustavo, naturally, freaks out and tells them that he cannot continue to function in this hostile environment. Then he dumps them all on their asses in the middle of a field and flies off to do whatever Pegasi do when they’re pissed off.
“It’s always Pennsylvania,” Kendall mutters, dusting off his butt. “I fucking hate this state.”
“Tell me about it,” the boy with the arrows says, and he is actually not Carlos at all. “The humidity is hell on my hair.”
“Who are you?” Kendall squawks indignantly, because seriously, who now? “And why did you try to shoot us?”
“Because tracking you is boring, and you barely ever land except to sleep. I can’t shoot you while you’re sleeping, that’s not good sportsmanship. I’m Dak, by the way.” Dak is a very attractive boy who has arrows strapped across his back and a predatory gleam in his eye. Kendall is getting really sick of attractive people wanting to injure him somehow. It’s bad for his self-esteem. “My mom wants me to kill you.”
“Yeah, but, the problem there is that I really enjoy living,” Kendall replies. The wind rustles the long grass and corn stalks surrounding them. He would not be opposed to a helpful storm from Zeus now. “And I think Jo and Logan will agree with me on this one.”
Jo and Logan nod, frantically.
“So I’m thinking our modus operandi here is that we’re going to have to skip the introductions and you know. Run!”
Dak falls over a root or a scarecrow or a hole in the ground, Kendall doesn’t know or care; his only concern is that they get some distance between them and the Katniss wannabe. They run right up until they come to a giant ass warehouse with a very familiar logo on the side. “Normally I’m really against breaking and entering,” Jo says, “But why don’t we break and enter here?”
“Agreed,” Kendall says, searching for a way in.
“No, not agreed,” Logan protests, because Logan is fond of laws. He hugs his gnome close. “Betty thinks that’s a bad idea.”
“Betty is an inanimate object and therefore does not get a say,” Kendall retorts, and aha, there is a lock and he distinctly recalls Shane showing him how to pick one in between hotwiring cars and building on his caffeine addiction.
He gets to work on that.
There are footsteps coming from the field they just came from, a heavy thud of sneakers on dirt, and shit, shit, shit- there. “Let’s go.”
They creep inside the warehouse, which is filled with shrink wrapped objects of all shapes and sizes, and begin searching for a place to hide. Kendall keeps a careful eye out for cannibals, because his mom knows her shit. Their new friend Dak follows them in like the fearless contender for the Hunger Games that he is.
Kendall knows because he is not particularly good at stealth, and keeps yelling, “Come on out, heroes. Come out, come out, wherever you are?”
That’s not very wise, considering the whole trespassing bit. Dak’s mom is probably not Athena.
Hera doesn’t have children, so. Aphrodite. It must be. That totally explains all the pretty.
Kendall turns to tell this theory to Jo and Logan, but they’re giggling like schoolchildren over the new E-Reader, sitting on a shelf right next to Kendall’s knee. Dorks.
Cursing under his breath, Kendall herds Jo and Logan away from the source of their geeky joy. An arrow through the heart is just not his idea of a good time, and to be honest, he’s hurt that Aphrodite has sent Dak to try. What kind of divine creature pays for your cake and then attempts to murder you? He thought they were connecting, man.
The whine of a forklift shakes him out of his funk, because he knows that sound; the Sherwood Market had one in the stock room for heavy things. And if there’s a forklift, there’s probably a forklift operator, and what that means is that they’re so very screwed. Kendall ducks into the nearest aisle, Jo and Logan shadowing his every move. It’s a game of hide-and-seek, slipping between towering industrial shelving, each row a new land of books or DVDs, jewelry or kitchen appliances.
They manage to avoid both Dak and forklift-man for close to half an hour, a half hour that is fraught with tension. They are loud, too loud, from the squeak of their shoes to their ragged breathing. It is almost a relief when Kendall’s next turn in ring-around-the-warehouse takes them straight into danger.
Danger, in this case, is a boy wearing an orange jumpsuit that might have come from Kendall’s not-dad’s personal collection. Kendall makes frantic hand gestures, trying to sign back the hell up, now. Only Logan, son of Ares, chooses that moment to demonstrate some of the grace that makes him so skilled with a sword, and bumps into a collection of what appear to be glass ballerinas.
Everything spirals into chaos.
The guy in orange spins on his heel, spooked. Jo grabs for Logan, pulling him back to his feet and bolting off down the aisle with him. Kendall has bounced up on the toes of his sneakers, ready to dash, but then he…doesn’t.
Because Jumpsuit Dude is Shane.
Kendall stares at him. Shane stares back. It is one big long game of sharing until Kendall manages to choke out, “Why are you wearing a collar?”
The tension between them breaks, and Shane surges forward, wrapping Kendall in one of the tightest hugs he’s ever had the pleasure of receiving. Into Kendall’s neck, he mumbles, “What are you doing here? You can’t be here, you can’t-“
Kendall is babbling back, “We couldn’t find you, we tried, we did, and you weren’t anywhere-“
It’s all very touching and beautiful, a moment straight out of a Hallmark card. It’s a shame that it ends so quickly. A throat is cleared, and it does not belong to either of them. Or Jo or Logan. Or even Dak.
The owner of the voice is a gorgeous girl, no older than they are. She looks like she stepped out of the pages of Playboy. She asks, “Slacking on the job?”
The question, Kendall assumes, is directed at Shane, because Kendall has never seen this girl before in his life. Or the one standing behind her, who is equally pretty, very smartly dressed, and staring woefully at the mess Logan has made like she eats, breathes, and sleeps inventory. “Shane, what happened?”
Shane opens his mouth.
The first gorgeous girl flips her white blonde hair and says, “Who cares? It’s coming out of his pay.”
Kendall immediately goes on the offensive. “Who are you? What have you done to him?”
“The question here, is who are you?” The blonde retorts prissily. “Shane, you’re violating all of our security protocols.” She turns to the other woman, whose dark, glossy hair is done in a knot. “We’ll have to ready the execution chamber.”
Kendall steps forward, uncapping Riptide. “I won’t let you hurt him.”
The blonde stares down her nose at him. “Am I supposed to be impressed? I’ve seen bigger.” She whips out a sword of her own, lashed onto a holster behind her back. “In fact, I have bigger.”
“Mercedes,” the other woman says calmly. “What have I told you about whipping that out in public? You’re going to give this poor boy a complex.”
The blonde girl snarls, “He’s threatening me.”
“I think,” the other woman says softly, “He’s trying to protect our Shane.”
“Our Shane?” Kendall bites out. “Shane, what the hell is going on?”
“Uh. Kendall. I work here. Please put Riptide away, I don’t think that’s covered by worker’s comp, and also Mercedes is my girlfriend. I don’t want her to kill you.”
Kendall licks his lips, trying to figure out what’s wrong with that entire speech. He settles on the last part. “Girlfriend?”
“She doesn’t look like a computer.”
“All woman, baby,” Mercedes replies flatly, eyeing up Kendall like she is wondering which internal organ she can rupture the easiest.
“Mercedes, this is Kendall. He’s my brother’s boyfriend, so I’d like it if you maybe didn’t turn him into a shish kebob,” Shane begs.
“Shish Kebob? Why is everyone convinced that I’m going to lose this fight?” Kendall blinks and backtracks. “Wait, boyfriend?”
“No, I…you have no idea what’s happened, do you?”
A note of panic enters Shane’s voice. “What’s happened?”
Kendall isn’t sure what to tell him, how to explain the way that James marched straight out of his life and down into the depths of a place Kendall can’t even think about without cringing. He’s saved by the bell. The bell being Jo and Logan, dressed in armor they have constructed from bubble wrap. “Kendall!”
“Oh,” the woman in the snazzy business suit says. “There’s more intruders, stealing our supplies. Also coming from your paycheck, Shane.”
“Yes, Kelly,” Shane agrees miserably.
“Kendall,” Logan repeats. “What’s…are we going to jail?”
“I have no idea.” Kendall throws up his hands, nearly stabbing a shelf with Riptide. Shane squeaks in horror. “No one’s telling me what’s going on.”
Dak is hot on Logan and Jo’s heels. He sends an arrow flying towards Jo, but she ducks, lithely, and it flies straight at Kelly’s head.
Kelly is not concerned. This is because Kelly has superhuman reflexes, and actually catches it.
Logan says, “That is the coolest thing I have ever seen in my life, ever.”
Mercedes says, “Oh, hey, Robin Hood’s kind of cute.”
Dak says, “Hi there, lovely ladies.”
Jo says, “Someone needs to start talking, right now.”
“I agree.” Kendall steps in close to Shane, catching his gaze. “Is this where you’ve been, all this time? Why didn’t you call? Why didn’t you tell us?”
Logan’s mouth drops open. He tells Jo, “I think they know each other,” with about as much subtlety as a neon pink baboon.
“Hush up, Mitchell. It’s story time.”
Shane bites his lip. “Right, so. Um. I woke up that morning, to go get coffee. On the way back, I was drinking this watered down excuse of an Americano-“
“Is this part of the story important?” Dak wonders aloud, holding another arrow at the ready. “I’m on the clock.”
“Cute boy, no talkie,” Kelly instructs. Dak, miraculously, stays quiet, and looks pleased to have been acknowledged.
“So I’m drinking my Americano,” Shane continues, “Which sucked, and then I see these two gorgeous girls changing their tire on the side of the road. I went to go help, and next thing I knew I was wearing a collar and stuffed in a trunk.”
“Don’t forget the part where you sucked at changing the tire,” Mercedes adds, propping her sword against her hip. Kendall decides that’s as much of a ceasefire as he’s going to get, and caps Riptide. “Kelly had to do it all by herself.”
“You could have helped,” Kelly puts in.
“Queens do not kneel to automobiles. It just doesn’t happen.”
Dak says, “I’d have helped.” Then he proceeds to flex his muscles very unsubtley. Kendall chokes on his own spit.
“Queen of what, exactly?” Jo inquires, all serious business and professionalism.
“Oh, yes.” Kelly smoothes down her skirt and clears her throat. “Welcome to Amazon, home of the Amazons! This is Queen Mercedes, and I’m her executive assistant, Kelly. How can we make your day brighter?”
“By existing,” Dak sighs happily. “You’re so pretty.”
“What I’m getting here,” Kendall says carefully, “Is that you were kidnapped, and now you’re…what, a man-slave?”
“Pretty much,” Mercedes agrees, and then she pets Shane behind the ears. Shane breaks out into a grin, leaning into her touch. “Why, do you want a job too, friend-of-Shane? We have very competitive salaries. Our benefits are top-of-the-line.”
“No, thanks.” Kendall replies, “What I want is to take Shane and leave.”
“That will not be happening,” Mercedes says apologetically. “Your options here are really enlist or die. Except for you, blondie,” she stabs a finger at Jo. “You’ve got the makings of top management, I can tell.”
“Kendall,” Shane says. “James will kill me if I let you die.”
“We’re not going to die. We’re going to leave.”
Shane pouts. “Who says I want to leave?”
“You…don’t?” Kendall asks incredulously. This is not going even a little according to plan.
“Why would he want to go anywhere?” Mercedes demands. “We keep him fed. We keep him happy. We bathe him daily.”
“I want to bathe daily,” Dak interjects, all goopy-eyed.
Kelly cocks an eyebrow. “Your friend is strange.”
“He’s not our friend,” Logan and Jo chorus, bubble wrap popping as they shift.
“You don’t understand,” Shane insists to Kendall. “They have an espresso machine.”
“You’re giving up your freedom for Italian coffee?” Kendall hisses, ignoring how closely Jo and Logan are following the conversation. Shane shakes his head vehemently. He shoves his hands deep in his pockets.
“Kendall. They know who I am, and what I can do. I can’t cause any damage here. I can’t hurt anybody.”
“No, okay, now you don’t understand,” Kendall growls back. “James thinks it’s my fault you left. He went searching for you.”
Shane gapes. “And you let him go?”
“What was I supposed to do?”
“I don’t know. You’re the one who’s in love with him! Figure something out.” Worry creases Shane’s forehead. “Where is he now?”
“I have no idea,” Kendall admits, and his stomach knots, just like always. “He thought you might have gone to the Underworld.”
“Why would he think that?” Shane snaps.
“Maybe because he was scared you were dead in a ditch somewhere?” Tiredly, Kendall rubs a hand over his eyes. Even though James never said it out loud, Kendall knew it had been his secret fear. “I think he wanted to beg your dad for your life.”
“James,” Shane whispers. “Fuck.”
“I’m bored with this conversation,” Mercedes announces. “Shane, you’ve got cleaning to do. We need to behead your friends.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Jo jumps in, bubble wrap squeaking as she gets up in Mercedes’s face. “Look, we didn’t mean to trespass. We’re really super sorry. But you should let us go, because, uh, we only came to bring you a gift.”
Mercedes brightens. “A gift?”
“Mmhmm,” Jo agrees. “We brought you him.”
She points at Dak. Dak lowers his bow and arrow. “Wait, no, that’s not why I’m here.”
“Sure it is. You told us that you thought Queen Mercedes and Kelly were the prettiest, strongest, fiercest women you’d ever seen, right?”
“I-“ Dak hesitates. “They are, but-“
“And you said that you want to bathe daily, and have three meals a day, and ooh, Dak, I bet they have sparkly bathbombs and great hair product,” Jo encourages him. She’s making cooing noises, talking to him like he’s a dog. Weirder yet, Dak’s responding to it, just like he did when Kelly told him no talky. “We figured that a willing…man…slave…is so much better than an unwilling one.” Jo finishes brightly. “Take Dak in exchange for our freedom. We only brought him to honor your beauty and ferocity anyway.”
Dak nods eagerly, his lip jutting out in a puppy-pout. “I really want to come work at Amazon.”
“No one’s ever asked to work for us before,” Kelly objects, confused.
“Right.” Mercedes adds, “And what about the bubble suits?”
“Latest fashion,” Jo explains with a completely straight face. “We found it in aisle eight and couldn’t help but try it on.”
“Who put the bubble wrap in aisle eight?” Kelly demands. “I need to deal with this.”
“I suppose we could let you go,” Mercedes decides. “Since you brought such a handsome gift. But you can’t have Shane.”
“That’s not optional,” Kendall steps in, grabbing Shane’s elbow. “Shane, come on. You can’t just agree to stay kidnapped.”
Steely, Shane replies, “I’m staying. It’s safe here. I told you before, Kendall. I’m not cut out for the world.”
“What about James?”
“You’ll find him.”
“What if I don’t?”
“You will,” Shane responds with absolute certainty. “He cares about you more than you think.”
“Blah, blah, blah,” Mercedes makes accompanying hand motions to emphasize her words. She curls her fingers around the back of Kendall’s neck. “Sure you don’t want a job?”
“I’d rather eat my own small intestine.”
“Suit yourself. Shane, new slave boy, come along. You’re going to give me foot massages while I lunch.”
“Shane,” Kendall tries, one last time.
“Find him, Kendall. He doesn’t know how to be alone,” Shane says, but he is following Mercedes, down the rows of industrial shelving, with Dak trailing in his wake. Jo and Logan are flanking Kendall’s sides, and Kelly is offering to show them the door. Kendall wants to dig his heels into the concrete floor, to stay until Shane agrees to leave with him, because without Shane, James won’t ever come back.
What is Kendall supposed to do now?
Kendall may sulk right up until the border of New York.
“You’re insufferable,” Jo tells him fondly, crossing her legs. They’re eating subs on the outskirts of a small town, hoping to make it into the city later that evening. Logan is still inside the shop, deciding between chicken parmigiana and turkey and cheese. “From what I can tell, that guy was our age. Old enough to make his own decisions.”
“His decision was dumb.”
“Yeah?” Jo smiles winningly, tilting her head back to soak up the sun. “It didn’t sound so bad to me, being pampered twenty four seven.”
“He was wearing a collar, Jo. They were treating him like a pet.”
“Some guys like that. Take Dak.”
Kendall makes a disgusted noise and buries his head in his hands. “Life sucks.”
“Life does not suck. You’re a drama queen.”
“It really sucks. I’m an utter failure at leading this quest – the only reason we got through any of it is because of you, you know – and my friends would rather wear dog collars than come with me, and my baby sister still won’t talk to me, and-“
“I’m hearing a lot of me, me, me here,” Jo says, amusement lighting her coffee colored eyes.
“I usually am,” Jo agrees. “But as far as this quest goes, you’re not an utter failure. We’ve got the Apple. We’re all alive. Trust me,
things could be much worse.”
“How do you know?”
Jo tugs a lock of her own hair, nervously. “The last quest, the one that didn’t go well…it was mine.”
Kendall perks up, setting his sandwich down in his lap. This is probably not a conversation meant to be had while he stuffs his face. “What happened?”
“Logan told you I arrived at Camp Half-Blood with Lucy and Kat, right?”
“Did you see Kat while you were there?”
“I don’t think so.”
“There’s your answer.” Jo’s lips press together in a thin white line. “Things rarely turn out exactly the way we expect them to, Kendall. Days where you get to be the hero, where everyone is whole and happy and safe, even if they’re not exactly where you want them to be? Those are the good ones.”
Gustavo finds them at the very same sub shop, prancing up alongside Kendall and asking, “Do you have any Swedish Fish?”
“Oh, hey, it’s nice to see you too. Thanks for leaving us to die, dude.”
“That pipsqueak wasn’t going to kill you,” Gustavo replies nervously, nuzzling Kendall’s hand. “You’re a hero.”
Kendall hands him a packet of Swedish Fish. “Flatterer.”
They sit tight until Logan has finished with his monster sub, before hitting the road. “I think we can hop the bus the next town over,” Jo says excitedly, “And from there it’s a straight shot to the City.” Gravel crunches beneath their feet as the trek carefully up the side of some farmer’s land. Kendall saunters along beside Logan, who is clutching Betty and babbling endlessly about the best time to seed crops. Jo sits astride Gustavo, whispering things in his ear that make him nicker happily. Kendall can only guess that she’s offering him a whole store house of Swedish Fish if he will never run away again, because Jo is persuasive that way.
The day is the kind of cold that sits heavy in a person’s bones, but all the walking is warming Kendall from the inside out. He’s got all these vague ideas about what he’s going to do when he gets back to camp. Hit up the stables, maybe. He’s beginning to think all that chatter he heard coming from within them were the voices of the horses, and he’s eager to see if it’s true. He’ll have to have a long talk with Jett, of course, because Jo’s right. Leading him on is unkind. He wants to call home and try to fix things with Katie once and for all, and he’s thinking he should give archery another try. If Dak can do it, Kendall totally can too.
Those are all the thoughts fluttering through his head when the world tears away.
Can a person’s heart short-circuit? Because Kendall’s has.
He can’t breathe. He can’t even move. Beside him, Logan has stilled. “I don’t suppose that’s a scarecrow screaming?”
“Probably not.” Jo wends her fingers into Gustavo’s glossy mane. “Let’s go.”
“Jo,” Logan warns. “We should be careful. It could be a trap. It’s probably a trap, actually, and- Kendall? Kendall!”
There are cornstalks around them near as tall as he is, golden in the dim afternoon sun, and Kendall is off and running through them, pounding straight for the source of the sound. Because that voice; he knows that voice, and the screaming won’t stop. It’s in his ears, it’s in his marrow, it’s bouncing around in his ribcage and reverberating until he’s screaming too, until he’s yelling at the top of his lungs, “James? James, fuck, hold on, James.” He bursts out into the clearing of a field, anxious and overwrought.
What’s waiting for him is a monster, just like he knew it would be. James is never coming back, and Kendall constantly hoping he will is poisoning him, body and soul.
The thing that’s lured him in has cloven hooves, the body of a stag and the head of a lion. It whimpers, “Help me,” and then it has the audacity to laugh, like anything about this is funny. Maybe to the beast, it is, because humans are so very easy to take advantage of; they all love so damn much.
It tackles Kendall to the ground in a flurry of teeth, claws, and fur. He struggles to reach for Riptide, in the front pocket of his skinny jeans, but his pockets are too far out of reach. It’s a fitting ending, in a way; seduced to his death by the siren song of James’s voice, when a siren song is how they met again, except no. Kendall is done with this, with being convinced that he’s going to die every other day. He fights. He squirms. He yells for Jo and Logan at the top of his lungs.
And they are the best, his friends and his saviors. Jo mounts the monster in a single, magnificent leap, driving her sword into its neck, right up to the hilt. Simultaneously, Logan hefts Betty, his constant companion, and dashes it down onto the dirt. The ground around the creature’s feat burst into flame.
Defeated, thoroughly, it explodes into nothing, so that Jo is looming over Kendall with her sword pointed straight at his chest, the air around them igniting. Kendall yelps, “You turned Betty into a Molotov Cocktail?”
“He wanted to be useful,” Logan explains, across the ring.
Gustavo is dancing from foot to foot behind him, demanding, “Does anyone else see the fire? Guys? Guys?”
“We need to get out of here,” Kendall yells, the crackle of flames drowning half his words. Logan obediently clambers onto Gustavo’s back, and Jo is behind him in seconds, but when Kendall tries to climb up, he finds that he is hurt.
“I can’t,” he says, pressing a palm to the ugly gash on his leg. What he wouldn’t give for a good creek right now.
“We can’t just leave you!” Jo shouts.
“You can,” Kendall insists. “You have to!”
He’ll limp to New York, it’s no big deal, it’s fine. The field is ablaze, and Kendall can see poor Gustavo struggling to keep Jo and Logan aloft. He’s mumbling something that sounds a lot like lay off the ambrosia.
Jo is practical, but she isn’t really cold hearted enough to abandon Kendall to his possibly impending death, and he can tell that Logan will never leave. The more they pussyfoot around, the more of a chance there is that the blaze will spiral completely out of control.
“Gustavo,” Kendall shouts. “Go!”
He expects that to work, he honestly does. Instead Gustavo shakes his head nervously, “No, not a chance.”
Jo works herself around on Gustavo’s midsection and commands, “Give me your hands. I’ll pull you up.” She’s as good as her word, and the three of them are lifting into the air, up, up, and away.
Kendall has been waiting for a lightning bolt, for a monster or a man to strike him down. He has not been waiting for a fall, right over the Hudson River. Blood loss and exhaustion turn him dizzy, and his grip on Jo’s waist grows loose. He is done waiting to die, he decided, so it is somewhat natural that it would happen this way. He falls, and falls, and falls, and the last thing he hears before he hits water is Jo screaming his name.
Kendall wakes up in blackness. Too much for it to merely be a river in New York. This is Cocytus, or Phlegethon, he decides. He is in the Underworld, and he is being taken to James, perhaps. Or no, maybe he will just float here, because of one thing he is very sure. He is underwater.
He is underwater, and he can breathe.
Turns out, he’s not so much dead.
He’s also not so much in New York. Kendall actually has no idea where he is, except that it is an ocean, and he’s in the middle of it. He swims, because apparently he can do that for hours at a time, now. The massive gouge on his leg is gone, healed, and each kick further fuels his energy. He has no idea where he’s going, but the currents tug and pull until he thinks that maybe someone is trying to show him something. So he follows along, in the company of silver fish and darker shadows that might even be sharks, but he is not scared.
Being without Logan and Jo is strange. Kendall misses the constant nagging and neuroses. But he loves what it is like beneath the sea. When he gets tired, too tired to swim, he settles down on the rocks on the ocean floor. It shouldn’t be possible, but neither should breathing underwater, and from what he can tell, no pressure is too deep. When the depths grow too dark, spiny, strange things come to light his way, and he thinks this is what it means, to be a child of Poseidon. The ocean, the water; it’s all his. His to command, his to rely on, and his to give up in, if he wants.
He will not give up. He’s still got the Apple, in the torn remains of his knapsack, and he’s got a quest to finish off. It’s just as Jo said; everyone he knows is safe, and whole. He is alive, and it is a good day.
There is an island, up ahead. Kendall knows it is an island, because he can feel how the currents part around it. He senses the reef bordering its shores, the bounty of life there, and he knows that this is where the waves have been guiding him, all this time.
Kendall strokes towards it and stumbles out onto the shore. He has not been above the surface in a while; the fresh air tastes stranger than strange on his tongue. He collapses into the sand, content to rest there and wait for…whatever he is supposed to wait for, really.
Overhead the stars are bright, bright, bright, flung out against the canvas of night like glitter. After so long beneath the surface of the water, Kendall isn’t used to so much clarity, to light that does not have an algae green glow or the slow burn of ember-orange-gold. He listens to the sound of water on sand, the gentle breeze rustling palm fronds, and thinks that this place is warmer than he expected it to be. He closes his eyes and listens, listens, listens…
“Shh.” Someone is cradling his head, and Kendall feels like the Little Mermaid, washed ashore. “You’re on Ogygia. You’re safe.”
His eyes flick open, struggling against the haziness of sleep. “James?”
It’s another dream. It has to be. But Kendall doesn’t so much mind, because James smiles at him, face lit with happiness. “You’re here. I’ve got you.”
“Where’s here?” Kendall pushes up onto his elbows, sand mounded uncomfortably beneath the small of his back. The island, now that he’s paying attention, is every bit as beautiful as the sky. The beaches melt into a lush jungle landscape, silvery flowers dotting the border, wild and untamed.
“Ogygia,” James repeats, and it doesn’t make any more sense to Kendall the second time around. “How did you get here?”
“Ugh, I don’t even know.” Kendall rubs at his forehead, trying to ease away his confusion. Who sent that last monster, he wonders? “Hera? Eris? Aphrodite? Take your pick.”
“Hera?” James yelps. “Like the goddess?”
“No other,” Kendall agrees, grinning fuzzily. “This is a really good dream.”
James laughs, loud and delighted. “It’s not a dream.”
“Nope. Come on, up you go,” James wraps his hands around Kendall’s forearms, pulling him to his feet. It’s been a while since Kendall had to walk; he is coltish and unsteady. He grabs for his knapsack, and James scoops it up for him. “You’ve been busy, if you’re pissing off the goddesses”
Bewildered, Kendall asks, “And you’ve been…here? All this time?”
“Not…all….just.” James bites his lower lip, eerily reminiscent of Shane, in the Amazon warehouse. “I went to visit the Underworld, but dad talks in riddles and kept trying to shove pomegranate pie in my face and I may or may not have…uh.”
“Uh?” Kendall prompts, returning to alertness. He’s in the circle of James’s arms. James is here.
He explains, abashedly, “Persephone’s really cute.”
Kendall trips over his own feet. “You hooked up with your stepmom?”
“It was only a kiss!” James protests, refusing to let him fall. “She seduced me, okay, she’s a hot lady-cougar.”
Kendall snorts. James is as unchanging as rock, when it comes right down to it. “So what happened?”
“This happened. I guess you could say I’m grounded? That, or this is dad’s way of setting me up on a blind date. I mean, Calypso’s smoking hot.”
Kendall rolls his eyes, fond. He’s missed the way that James can find the silver lining in things like exile. “Who’s Calypso? And what’s keeping you from leaving?”
James shrugs. His face is painted with moonlight and starshine, but his eyes have gone dark and distant. “Shane left. All on his own. And then you. There didn’t seem like a reason to leave. I wasn’t sure if there was anywhere to go to.”
Kendall settles against his side, leaning into the heat of his body. “We found Shane.”
James starts. “Is- is he okay?”
“He got kidnapped by some crazy Amazons who work at Amazon – don’t ask – and apparently he really enjoys wearing a collar, but other than that, he’s fine.” Kendall reconsiders. “Great, actually, the kinky bastard. He misses you.”
“I miss him.” James squeezes his eyes shut. “I shouldn’t have walked away from you. I was mad, and scared out of my mind, and-“
“No, you don’t know. Kendall, it’s always been me and Shane. I’ve never let anyone get in between us before. No girls. No guys. Just you.”
“James, you don’t have to explain-“
“I really do. I.” He opens his mouth, breathes deep, strange, exotic flowers and belladonna. He exhales, “I was so into you in high school.”
Kendall falters. “Um. What?”
“I had a massive crush on you.” James is completely unashamed. “Then we had to leave, and it was- it sucked, actually, but it was just a crush and I was devastated about my mom, and you kind of faded into the backdrop. But then you showed up, out of nowhere. It was like fate.”
“There’s no such thing as fate.”
“Shhh, don’t let them hear you,” James glances left and right, searching for eavesdroppers.
“The Fates? Three old ladies. Scary knitting needles? Trust me, you do not want to piss them off.” James tugs Kendall closer, hugging his shoulders. He is up in Kendall’s personal space, his face pressed into Kendall’s neck. “Don’t leave.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Kendall promises, folding into him, murmuring endearments into the intersection of James’s neck and shoulder. “I won’t leave you. I wouldn’t. I couldn’t.”
Because James has a crush on him. Had a crush on him? Does it matter? He’s holding Kendall tight, and this is all he’s wanted forever. He opens his mouth to tell James everything, about what he means to him, about how dearly he’s missed him, when James stiffens.
“You smell like rain.”
“What?” Kendall has to check the urge to smell himself.
“You smell like rain,” James repeats, like it makes any more sense the second time around.
Kendall lifts his face, meeting James’s eyes. They are narrow, they are angry. “Okay?”
“You were with Jett.”
Kendall doesn’t even consider lying. He’s too startled. “How did you-?”
James lets Kendall go, and that isn’t what Kendall wants at all. He folds his arms across his chest, getting distance between them. He looks healthier than the last time Kendall saw him, better fed, but somehow more vulnerable, his knees pale where they poke through holes in his jeans. “I smell rain and singed hair gel, all over you.” That’s only a little bit creepy. Kendall obviously needs to use more soap. “Is he your boyfriend?”
“James,” Kendall tries, because who does he think he is mocking anyone’s hair gel preferences anyway?
James’s lower lip juts out. “I can’t believe you’re fucking Zeus’s kid.”
“It’s not like I could fuck you,” Kendall retorts crossly. “How do you even know Jett, anyway?”
“Is that really the important question here?”
“What do you want from me, James?”
“An explanation, maybe?”
“I don’t owe you that! You weren’t here. You left. And it’s not like you were thinking of me along the way, dude, you were hitting on your fucking stepmom!”
“I was thinking about you,” James protests, “Don’t even say I wasn’t thinking about you. Fuck, you’re all I ever-“ He rakes a hand through his hair. “Okay, you know what? Fuck this.”
Kendall is ready to be yelled at. He’s ready for James to walk away.
He is not at all prepared for James’s hands soft against the hollows of his cheeks, pulling him into the softest, most chaste kiss he’s ever been on the receiving end of.
And this is why Kendall could never get completely onboard with his relationship with Jett, because if Jett is feral and capricious as the sky, then James is sturdy earth beneath his feet, an undomesticated tangle of wild vines and night blooming flowers that sparkle like rubies beneath the moon. He is the diamondesque glitter of starlight against quartz, the crack and tremble of fault lines, the anchor that keeps Kendall from spiraling off into the atmosphere. He is black, white, gray, and all the colors in between, and Kendall’s fondest wish is that he could disappear into each and every one of his colors.
If Jett puts lightning in Kendall’s eyes, then James puts lightning in his veins, and he is the only name that Kendall’s heart knows.
Kendall is all octopus arms, sucking James in, and James mumbles against his lips, “I don’t want to fight with you, not now, not when I’ve finally found you again.”
“Okay, alright,” Kendall agrees fervently, “No fighting. We’ll do something else instead, what do you want? Whatever you like, anything, anything.”
“Weeell. I like orgasms,” James pouts into the dark, kissing along the corner of Kendall’s lips and down, tracing his jawline and the soft flesh beneath his threat. “And I don’t understand why you’re not giving me one right now.”
Kendall does not need to be told twice.
“God, fuck, yes, c’mere,” James says eagerly, falling back into a patch of land, sand and flowers, and Kendall crawls up over him, settling in his lap. He loses time in James’s hands on his biceps, on his hips, on his thighs. James’s hands are cleverer than Kendall ever gave them credit for; he handles Kendall better than a hockey stick, than the neck of a guitar. He strums sounds from Kendall’s mouth that have never existed before, because James is a demigod, a god, he is creation packaged inside a boy. It builds between them like wedding bells and Christmas morning, the ribbon at the finish line of a race, both triumphant and sunny, sweet, bright. Kendall’s thighs slip against his hips, and James shifts inside him, a little to the left and exactly where he belongs.
James’s gaze is magnetic. Kendall is locked in his orbit, even when he surges forward and pants in his mouth, open lipped and sloppy. His name is an incantation that Kendall says in the dark of night. James, James, James. His lips curl around a sound, a sweet note he doesn’t even know he’s making until its left his mouth, and Kendall is coming, coming, totally gone.
“How exactly do we get off this island?”
“Beats the hell out of me.” James lies back in the sand, running his hands through Kendall’s hair. “We could stay.”
“I thought you wanted to find Shane.”
“You found Shane,” James points out. “But I would like to see him. Also, not sure that Calypso is really going to dig the way we trampled her garden.”
“How was I supposed to know it was a garden? It looks like weeds! Weeds.”
James quiets him with a kiss, his breath whispering soft against Kendall’s lips. “I’m glad you found me. Even if it wasn’t on purpose.”
Kendall shrugs, shifting. “I was looking for you. I hate that you were mad. And I hate that we can’t just stay here.”
“Why can’t we?”
“I’m in the middle of a quest. Did I forget to mention that part?” Kendall smothers a laugh in James’s skin. “We have really fantastic timing.”
“Hey.” James objects mildly, “I’ve been waiting for you to make a move for four years. The timing is all on you, buddy.”
“You could have told me,” Kendall complains, pressing his lips against James’s pectoral.
“No, I couldn’t. You’re the brave one, dude. You’re Kendall Knight.”
“Yeah, I am,” Kendall agrees, and for all this demigod business, he guesses that’s the one thing that hasn’t really changed.
They leave Ogygia the same way they came, once Kendall figures out he can extend his magic underwater breathing bubble to James. Superpowers are awesome.
James is delighted, and Kendall is happy to show him this new world that he’s discovered, this place that is all his; the ocean, endless, green.
It is everything. He can feel it in his blood.
Kendall gets it now.
Calypso’s magic island is located somewhere roughly off the coast of Florida.
“No way I swam all the way here from New York,” Kendall protests, staring at the sign that Welcomes them to Miami.
“Sounds like you had a little godly help,” James says, and Kendall remembers waking up in a place that was not a river, in darkness that felt like the Underworld. Yes, he thinks. That sounds absolutely right.
The two of them manage to hitch a ride all the way up to South Carolina before running into a problem. In this case, the problem appears to be a gigantic fox. It is endearing in that way that monsters have, where it wants to eat them. Kendall is trying to keep it at bay with Riptide, while James is battling it off with his Stygian Iron sword, but their progress is not super progressive until, you know, a horde of zombies falls upon the fox and tries to eat it back.
“The fuck is that?” Kendall exclaims, staring at the skeletons shambling around, totally lacking direction except for brain-chewing.
“I have no earthly idea. There’s dead people under Charleston?”
“Who cares that they’re there? Where did they come from?”
Kendall’s question is answered the second the fox disappears into the ether. The skeletons, and corpses, and dead things of all varieties turn as one. Expectantly, hungrily, they watch James.
“Uh.” James stares at his hands. “I didn’t do this, did I?”
One of the skeletons nods, empty eye sockets and yellowed bone. It advances towards Kendall, like he is an enemy, like he might hurt its master. James’s hands clench into fists, and the ground trembles beneath Kendall’s feet. He says, “Oh hell no, no more, we are getting out of this town. James! Could you, uh, call off the Confederacy? I think they’re still mad about the War of Northern Aggression.”
“I don’t know how?” James mumbles, and wow, his new skill might have broken him. He is a little occupied with being in shock, so Kendall has to forcibly drag him along, yanking at his clothes and skin until he gets the hint to sprint.
The zombies follow, rattling bones, waving bits of uniform like flags.
Carlos catches up with them right outside Washington D.C. He’s a bit worse for the wear, dirtier and less smiley than when Kendall last saw him. “Just hand over the Apple, and nobody gets hurt.”
James sets an entire cemetery after him.
“Where have you been? I’ve been searching for you for ages,” Gustavo complains. “Every time I try to go back to New York, your annoying little friends send me away.”
“Sorry?” Kendall winces.
“Why are you talking to a horse?” James asks. Kendall decides he will explain later.
To Gustavo, he inquires, “I don’t suppose you want to give us a ride to Olympus.”
“That depends. Do you have some Swedish Fish?”
Kendall sighs. “James, we need to find a Seven Eleven.”
“We don’t have any money,” James protests.
This is true. Kendall tries to form a plan of action. “How do you feel about singing? For old time’s sake.”
James never turns down a chance to sing. He belts out a melody so amazing that they earn a few dollars in less time than it would take to visit an ATM. Kendall watches, entranced.
His beauty could start a war. It could sink ships. It could twist Kendall’s insides until they are unrecognizable, and it does, it does, it does.
“You can’t just land here,” Kendall hisses, digging his fingers into the strong, corded muscles of Gustavo’s neck.
A boy around Katie’s age is staring at them in open mouthed awe. Kendall loosens his death grip on the Pegasus’s tangled mane just long enough to wave, but that has a completely adverse effect. Through the thick paned window, the kid’s panic attack commences. He tugs at his mother’s arm, trying to direct her attention to the boy and his horse on the wing.
“Gustavo,” Kendall warns.
“Okay, okay, yeesh, lemme catch my breath. Lugging your butts around ain’t a picnic.” Kendall stares at the ground and tightens his stranglehold on Gustavo’s glossy neck, lest he go sliding straight off his butt and plunge to certain death, dragging James down with him. “Stop giving me Labrador eyes. I hate mutts.”
“This is so cool,” James enthuses, absolutely fearless. He leans his chin against Kendall’s shoulder, trying to see everything.
Thunder rumbles ominously in the distance, and Kendall nearly jumps out of his seat. “Yeah. Cool.”
Gustavo glances up at the sky and mutters, “Zeus always has his panties in a twist.”
New York City is busier than anything that Kendall has ever seen, and he sticks close to James’s side, scared he’ll lose sight of him in the crowd.
“I don’t understand why we’re here.”
“This is Olympus.”
“This is the Empire State Building. I’m from Minnesota, not a cave.”
“I’m also from Minnesota,” James reminds him. “And they might as well be the same place. Come on.”
He tugs Kendall inside, and to the back, to an elevator. “We want the six hundredth floor,” he tells the man operating it, and instead of giving them crazed eyes, he punches a plain, unmarked button. Kendall doesn’t expect anything to happen, but it swoops them up, up, up until they are above the clouds. It slides open on a bridge of cumulus that most certainly doesn’t look safe, except that there is a folding metal chair sitting dead center on it.
Lucy crosses and uncrosses her legs lazily over the side of the chair like it is a throne. She looks like a queen, like a bored warrior queen. She looks like barely restrained electricity and danger. “You’re late.”
“I took a detour,” Kendall explains. “I didn’t know you’d be here.”
“Everyone’s here. Thanks for sending Hera’s pet on ahead of you with bite marks on him. She’s so very unhappy,” Lucy sounds pleased about the fact. “And I’m glad you’re not dead.”
“Me too,” James agrees, leering at Lucy, and Kendall tries not to be jealous.
“We would have had rain for weeks.” Lucy motions for them both to follow her across the clouds, which is simultaneously scary and the best thing Kendall has ever done.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s the only good part about having a god for a father. When you’re sad, the sky cries for you.”
The Olympians hold court in a throne room. It is gold and gilded, columned and filled with stars. It is massive, bedecked with art and sculpture, nature and beauty. Twelve gigantic thrones occupy its center, arrange in a U, much like the cabins at Camp Half-Blood. Logan and Jo are there, and Gustavo has flown up to meet them, and hey, Lucy’s right, there’s Carlos too. A few of James’s skeletons managed nibble on his arms, but he’s none the worse for wear.
The occupants of the thrones are the sight to behold with in the enormous space, gigantic enough to fill each chair, but still distinctly human shaped. Kendall recognizes Aphrodite, with her ever-changing features, and Ares, dressed in leather. There is Dionysus, a woman wreathed in fruit that has to be Demeter, and two shining twins that have to be Artemis and Apollo. Lucy goes to a flock of girls wrapped in silvery clothes beside Artemis’s throne; Kendall supposes that must be the rest of the Hunters. They are as terrifying as promised, all glaring at the men-folk and their dangly bits. Kendall decides against venturing near.
Jo is sitting at the feet of a woman robed in gray that Kendall supposes is Athena. She smiles brightly at Kendall and mouths something that looks like good luck. Logan echoes the sentiment, standing near a man with winged feet that Kendall takes for Hermes, in total defiance of his dad.
Carlos sits at the bottom of a throne belonging to stately woman in Greek dress. Hera, most definitely. One throne is empty, paved with skulls, and from the way James defers to it, Kendall guesses it belongs to his father. Zeus wears a pinstriped suit and a black fedora, and Kendall knows instinctively who he is because of his resemblance to Lucy and Jett. Storms crackle in his eyes, and he does not appear to be impressed with Kendall at all.
That leaves one more giant chair, and the man sitting in it is nothing like what Kendall imagined. He’s dressed in a stained Hawaiian shirt, sandals, and board shorts. His hair is black, darker than even Lucy’s but his eyes, just as promised, are green as peridot, green as Kendall’s when he stares in a mirror. A bronze trident is holstered at his side, and he is staring down at Kendall like perhaps he is something precious.
“Reunions are so touching,” Aphrodite intones. “Where’s Dak?”
“Amazonian love slave,” Kendall replies, without glancing away from his father’s face. There is so much to take in, from his sun-weathered skin to the bristle of scruff on his chin.
“He certainly is my son.”
“How was your quest?” Poseidon asks, staring just as blatantly at Kendall.
“I, uh. I have the Apple of Discord.”
Poseidon smiles, softly. “I knew you would,” he says, and for the first time, Kendall wonders if maybe it was his father who asked for him by name.
“I’m feeling supremely neglected,” a voice booms, and that is Zeus. He’s got all of Jett’s brass, all of his arrogance. “I’m the master of this throne room, am I not?”
“Right, yeah. Hi?” Kendall tries, because what do you say to someone who may or may not have been involved in orchestrating the details of multiple assassinations? The Hippalectryon wouldn’t have been on the wing of that plane unless Zeus had allowed it. Kendall chooses not to say so, because tact is something he can totally do. He pulls the Apple out of his knapsack carefully, holding it up. “Who do I give this to?”
“That’s for you to decide,” Hera says, and wait. That was not the plan.
James puts a hand on Kendall’s shoulder, squeezing tight. The instruction to relax is clear.
“You have the Apple. It is for the fairest,” Aphrodite trills. “Whom among us do you think is the fairest?”
“I…wasn’t expecting a pop quiz,” Kendall splutters.
“It’s a simple question, boy,” Hera pipes in, her gaze imperious.
“Because you don’t have to answer it,” Kendall rejoins, and oops, that was rude. He winces and waits to be turned into a ferret. James’s grip on his shoulder is steel.
When nothing happens, he opens his eyes. Hera says, “He doesn’t have the strength of will for this task. He’s just a child.”
Carlos, of all people, pauses in picking his zombie scabs and frowns. “That doesn’t mean he’s not strong.” He faces Kendall. “Come on, dude. You can do this.”
“You can,” Jo agrees, and above her, Athena appears proud.
Logan nods his agreement, cheeks pink, and he manages to squeak out, “Be brave.”
James leans in close and whispers, “Choose.” His voice is laced with laughter and faith and something that Kendall hopes might be love.
“Choose,” Athena says calmly.
“Choose.” Hera reclines in her chair. Zeus raises his lightning bolt threateningly.
“Choose,” Aphrodite yells.
“The person I think is the fairest,” Kendall repeats. He has three breathtaking, irate goddesses sitting in front of him, red faced, bosoms heaving. They are all stunningly beautiful.
But they do not make Kendall’s heart jump into his throat. They are not chiaroscuro lovely, and he would not like to live in the negative space of their smiles.
He leans back into James’s touch, and decides that this is actually a very easy task, indeed.
“I choose James.”
Poseidon’s eyebrows arch up. Way, way up. The hall is quiet. Then Zeus laughs. It booms around them, echoes from wall to wall to wall. “Brother. Your son’s a queer.”
Kendall flushes, but he hands the Apple to James all the same. James takes it, really confused. “Uh. Thank you. I think?”
Aphrodite makes a strangled noise, but she is a goddess. She does not throw a hissy fit the way Mr. D previously lead Kendall to believe she would. Instead, she says haughtily, “Humans die. Your beauty will fade, boy. And then the Apple will go where it belongs.”
“Yeah, I’m thinking not,” Kendall decides. He pecks James on the cheek. “Mind if I borrow your trophy?”
James hands it over, still very obviously unsure as to why he has it in the first place.
Kendall stalks over to Gustavo, running a hand along his muzzle. “Hungry?”
Gustavo eyes him. “Always.”
“Here you go.” Kendall holds the golden Apple of Discord up enticingly.
It took an entire quest for Kendall to get the goddamned thing, but it only takes Gustavo half a minute to gulp it down. In the horrified silence that follows Kendall announces, “And that, ladies, is that.”
They’re milling around the throne room, allowing the gods to discuss whether or not exiling Kendall to outer space for his insolence is a good idea. Kendall, James, Jo, Logan, Lucy, and Carlos are discussing…well, nothing, because Kendall is sick of life and death being the only topics of conversation.
“I could be a Hunter,” Carlos says. “I’d be really awesome at it.”
Lucy does not appear to agree. “No.”
“I could be a lady on the inside. You don’t know.”
“I know,” Lucy says. “Although, we’d take Logan.”
Logan stomps his foot, “I am not a girl!”
The whole of the Hunters do a slow turn on him, eyes glowing.
“Um. Not that there’s anything wrong with…being…a girl. I’m just. Not. Also I like sex, ‘kay.” And then, in a move that shocks the fuck out of Kendall, at least, he hugs Carlos tight.
So that’s what happened in Texas.
“That’s my boy,” Ares interjects, the eavesdropper. “Kind of. We’ll work on the other parts.”
Logan objects, “I can hold a sword now.”
“Your own doesn’t count, baby,” Carlos mumbles into his neck, and oh my god. Kendall glances at James and mouths are you seeing this? James smothers a grin.
“Not what I meant,” Logan replies indignantly.
“But a useful skill to have,” Carlos snorts.
“Garcia, take your vulgarity off Olympus.” Hera sniffs. “We’ve come to a decision.”
Carlos doesn’t move. “You invited me here, Tía.”
“Invitation rescinded. Unless you’d like to be flayed.”
“Kendall!” Logan squeaks.
“Flaying isn’t the decision, is it?” He ventures.
“No. You’re to go back to Camp Half-Blood. And never show your face here again.” She makes a face that is totally unsuitable for the queen of the gods, and Kendall assumes she totally voted for flaying.
“Darn,” James sulks, wrapping his arms around Kendall’s waist. “And I was so hoping to stay.”
Kendall shrugs one shoulder, trying to stifle a laugh. “You probably can. But Aphrodite might claw your eyes out.”
“Yeah, no, let’s go,” James says quickly.
Jo leads the way out, Lucy at her heels. “I’ll walk you down.”
They trade tentative smiles, and Logan and Carlos links hands. Kendall guesses he's over his crush on Camille, then. Logan announces, “As far as quests go, that one didn’t end too badly.”
Kendall leans into James’s chest, the steady thrum of his heartbeat against Kendall’s spine. “Nope.”
“It’s never a bad day when I get told I’m the fairest,” James agrees, chuckling.
Jo pauses and exchanges a glance with Lucy, loaded with meaning.
Kendall stops in his tracks, James nearly tumbling over him. “Oh nonono, what’s that?”
“What?” Jo asks innocently.
“The look. What is the look?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Lucy says. “Knight, did you bump your head?”
“Tell me,” Kendall pleads, and Jo sighs.
“Fine. So, I sent an Iris message to Camille, and it turns out the quest has a teensy bit more of a prophecy than she told us.”
Kendall blinks. “And what would that be? Wait, no, don’t tell me. I am making the executive decision – I’m awesome at those – that I don’t care. James, take me back to camp.”
“Happy to,” James replies. “I want to have a talk with her brother anyway,” he glares at Lucy.
Lucy makes a disgusted noise, “He’s not my brother! Not really.”
James laughs, and when he meets Kendall’s eyes, it is the best thing in the world.
They are both translucent, hearts and muscles and veins; they are iridescent with all this unspoken love.
The End. ...Or Is It?
“So you’re not going to tell them?” Lucy asks, chastising.
She is always the leader, always telling Jo what to do. Ever since Kat, and Jo wonders if Lucy still blames her for it. She demands, irritably, “How there’s just this teeny tiny prophecy about how the children of the Big Three are never going to reach their nineteenth birthdays? No. Let them have today.”
“I guess you’re right. They’ll find out soon enough.” Lucy tilts her head, and she is also always, always beautiful. Kendall called James the fairest in the room, but Kendall is obviously blind. Jo swallows, hard. “Um. It’s been a while. What do you say we go get ice cream? To catch up?”
Jo’s heart thuds, painfully. “I’d say…yeah. Let’s do that. It’d be nice.”
And that’s what she and Lucy do, heading out into the sunlight, out of the Empire State Building and away from Olympus: ice cream. There’s not really any place that Jo would rather be on this day, at this moment.
Before the world ends, and everything.