Thalia comforts the little girl she and Luke have found.
Thalia’s heart had been aching ever since they’d met the little girl.
She wasn’t sure who the girl most reminded her of – herself or that other person. The name she’d sworn to herself she’d never speak again.
The little girl – Annabeth, she’d said her name was – with her tangled nest of hair and her wide gray eyes, had taken to Luke right away. Which was fine with Thalia, because she needed to take it in, needed to reconcile herself with the truth of the matter before she could look at the girl without feeling punched in the stomach.
She looked to be about six or seven – probably just a little older than Jason (who would be six years and two months old today; not that she was counting or anything). Not that that mattered, because Jason was dead and this girl was alive.
“My family hates me,” Annabeth had said, and Thalia couldn’t decide if she wanted to weep in relief that she, at least, had made it out before her parents could sacrifice her, or if she wanted to rage that Jason hadn’t had that option.
Well, maybe he had . . .
Thalia had been older than Annabeth was now. She could have taken Jason and run away. She was smart, and resourceful. She could have made it. And it was her fault, then, what happened to Jason – because she hadn’t run.
Though, with the things Annabeth had been saying all day, Thalia was pretty sure she hadn’t been that smart even when she was older than seven. What with the sharp gray eyes and the intelligence, there was no way the girl wasn’t a daughter of Athena. Thalia was no mythology expert, but she knew that much.
Thalia was on watch; the other two were asleep. Annabeth was curled up under one of Luke’s jackets, which would do as a blanket until they could steal a better one. Luke was sprawled out as he always did when he slept, his blanket only covering half of his body but his face peaceful for once.
“You’re Thalia, right?”
The voice startled her, and she turned. Annabeth was sitting up, wrapping the jacket around her shoulders. Her hair was even more tangled than it had been before, twigs and leaves sticking out of it, but her eyes were clear enough to suggest that she hadn’t been sleeping at all.
“Yeah,” Thalia said, whispering so as not to disturb Luke. The little resentment that she’d felt towards the little girl melted away at one look. It wasn’t Annabeth’s fault that Jason had – that what had happened had happened. “And you’re Annabeth. I remember. Another half-blood?” The last phrase was a gamble, but if Annabeth didn’t know who she was, Thalia could explain.
To her surprise, Annabeth nodded. “Daughter of Athena,” she replied. “Goddess of wisdom, crafts, and battle strategy.”
She sounded proud. Thalia wondered why she’d run away from a father who’d clearly told her all that. It seemed as though she had a pretty good life, compared to Thalia’s and Luke’s.
“Why’d you run away?” She didn’t mean for it to sound so blunt, but Thalia didn’t do dancing around things. Annabeth would tell her, or she wouldn’t.
“My dad and stepmom thought I was endangering my brothers.” Annabeth’s voice sounded much older than she looked. “They love them more than me.”
That last statement was not the whining of an ignorant child; it was a statement of simple fact. And it was probably true. Thalia’s heart twisted. Impulsively, she reached out to ruffle Annabeth’s hair, as she would have with Jason.
The girl stiffened at her touch; Thalia drew back immediately. Maybe they weren’t quite at that level yet. “I’m sorry, kiddo,” she said instead.
Annabeth looked down. “They didn’t want me,” she said quietly. She looked up suddenly, a little panicked. “You probably don’t want me either. I’ll be endangering you, too.”
Thalia paused. It wasn’t that she didn’t want Annabeth – well, yes, it was. It didn’t have anything to do with Annabeth, but how was she, a twelve-year-old, qualified to take care of a child? That wasn’t fair, or right.
But their whole world wasn’t fair or right. And it wasn’t like they could just leave this little girl in the lurch – not when she seemed as tough and smart as Thalia had been when she’d first run away, not when she had nowhere else to go, not when she seemed so much like –
Thalia stopped that thought before it could go any further.
“We shouldn’t have to want you,” she said finally. She knew Annabeth was only seven, but she wasn’t capable of softening her words. Besides, Annabeth was smart. If she didn’t get it, she would eventually. “But we wouldn’t leave you behind. People like us, we have to stick together. What Luke said earlier was true. We’re family now, Annabeth, and we’re not going to let you down.”
Annabeth looked back at her, her eyes filled with trust. “Okay,” she said, and it was at that exact moment that Thalia’s protectiveness radar flared to life.
She looked at Annabeth, and instead of seeing what Jason could have been, she saw Annabeth – a little girl with a strong will and a fierce survival instinct. She saw a girl full of intelligence and overflowing with potential.
She saw a girl who was not her lost brother, but who could be her little sister, if she was willing to let her.
So she reached out to stroke Annabeth’s hair again, and this time Annabeth let her. “First things first,” she said, as gently as she knew how. “We’ve got to do something about that hair.”
Rachel comforts Annabeth when Percy goes missing.
Rachel didn’t know which had come first: the prophecy or the intuition.
To rephrase that, she didn’t know if she’d been born with the gift of reading people and subtext because she was always fated to become the Oracle of Delphi, or whether she was just naturally clearsighted and intuitive and the Oracle had been drawn to her because of it.
But one thing she did know was that she didn’t need either of these to know that she had to find Annabeth.
After waking up and regaining her strength from her prophecy – it was annoying that the spirit of Delphi drained her so much – she’d listened to the whispers going around and from there it had been pretty easy to piece together what was going on. Jason, Piper, and Leo – the three newcomers – were heading off on the quest. The camp was in chaos.
And where did that leave Annabeth? Knowing her, somewhere off by herself, brooding. And Rachel was pretty sure she knew where.
She found her on the beach, of course. Her knees were drawn up to her chest, her hands tucked around them, and she was staring aimlessly off into the waves.
“Hey.” Rachel approached her, her feet crunching the frozen sand, and sat beside her. “Aren’t you cold?”
Despite the fact that she was only wearing a Camp Half-Blood T-shirt and ripped jeans (not even a coat!), Annabeth wasn’t even shivering. She stared resolutely forward. “No.”
Rachel shuffled around until she was facing Annabeth. “I’m surprised to see you here,” she remarked, hoping to get a rise out of her. “I’d expected you to be off driving yourself to exhaustion.”
“I’m heading out again tomorrow morning,” Annabeth responded tonelessly. “Chiron” –here her voice took on a bitter edge – “convinced me to wait and see the questers off before I leave.”
“You’re mad because he’s not telling you something,” Rachel guessed.
The flash in Annabeth’s eyes confirmed her suspicions. “He doesn’t keep things from me, ever,” she said. “And to start now, while Percy’s off gods-know-where” –
“That’s the question, though, isn’t it?” Rachel interrupted. Glorying in the lack of manners instructors telling her to “sit like a lady,” she eased herself into a cross-legged position. “Do the gods know where?”
Annabeth opened and closed her mouth a couple of times. Then she shrugged. “I would think so,” she said, “considering that this all coincides so well with the gods’ decision to shut Olympus. Not to mention that vision – and the whole Hera thing – it all seems a little too connected to me.”
Rachel shrugged. “You’re probably right. I just wish Apollo would send me a sign.”
“Have you heard from him? Since the shut-down?” Annabeth sat up straighter, her eyes flaring with that manic energy that was more familiar to Rachel than this exhausted despair.
“He leaves me random presents, sometimes,” she offered. “Nothing useful – a drachma under my pillow, a sun drawn in the corner of a painting – ruined some of my best work, too. I think it’s just to show that he can subvert Zeus’s orders. You know him.” Apollo was basically a teenage rebel – a very powerful, very attractive teenage rebel with his own sports car and a penchant for bad poetry.
Annabeth’s hands tightened into fists. One of her eyes was twitching. “I wish I could do something!” she raged, her voice suddenly loud. “If there were some better – some sign that isn’t totally misleading – I just feel so helpless! I hate not being able to do anything.” Her head sank down so that her chin was resting on her knees. “I wish I could just leave now, to look for him. But . . . I don’t know where to look.”
“Do you want me to come with you, when you go?” Rachel offered spontaneously. “I’m pretty good at finding things.” She winked, a reminder of that summer in the Labyrinth, when they had first gotten to know – and immediately dislike – one another.
Annabeth smiled at the memory, but Rachel couldn’t help but notice how exhausted it looked. The corners of her mouth barely turned up; dark bags shadowed her eyes. “I – won’t Chiron want you here, in case something happens?” she hedged, probably trying not to let her hopes get up again.
Rachel lifted one shoulder. “Considering that we just sent out a quest . . . I doubt anything important will happen anytime soon. Besides, they can get word to us if they need us.” The truth was that she wanted to find Percy, too. She hadn’t gone crazy about it like Annabeth – but he’d been her gateway into the mythological world, and he’d wormed his way into her heart and established himself pretty firmly there. The romantic desires may have winked out as quickly as the Oracle spirit had set in, but Rachel loved Percy, too.
Annabeth hesitated for only another fraction of a second. “Then . . . then yes. Please come with me.” The corner of her mouth started to tremble, but then her jaw clenched and she held her face firm.
Rachel’s heart broke a little. She leaned forward and put her hands on her friend’s shoulders. “It’s not shameful to be sad, you know.”
“Yes it is,” Annabeth insisted. “Because that would imply that I’ve given up on him. And I’m not giving up.”
Rachel snorted. “Does that apply to sleep? Have you slept at all in the last three days?”
“Yeeeees . . .” Annabeth tugged on a curl. “I had to, to get that dream vision I told you about.”
Rachel rolled her eyes. “You can’t fool me, Annabeth. That was not you sleeping. That was you literally passing out from exhaustion.”
“How do you know that?”
“I’m the Oracle of Delphi. I know stuff.”
Annabeth raised an eyebrow.
“Fine, so I talked to Will. But it doesn’t change the fact that you haven’t let yourself sleep since Percy disappeared. How about food? Have you eaten?”
“Does coffee count?” Annabeth had the grace to look a little abashed.
Rachel sighed and stood. “Okay,” she said, “this is what we’re going to do. Dinner’s over, but we’re going to go to the Hermes cabin and bribe – or threaten – them into giving us some food. Once you’ve eaten, we’re going to go to my cave and sleep, so I can keep an eye on you. I will make sure you get a good night’s sleep – and if we have to, I’ll get something from Clovis. Tomorrow morning, we will see the questers off, tell Chiron I’m going with you, and head out to look for Percy.” She reached out, taking Annabeth’s hands, and drew her to her feet. “And then we’re going to find him and poke him with sharp things for disappearing on us.”
Annabeth let out a reluctant laugh. “Okay,” she said, “fine.” She put up no resistance as Rachel tugged her around and led her back towards the cabins. “And Rachel?”
Rachel looked over, to see the gray eyes softer than usual. “Yeah?”
“What are friends for?” She bumped Annabeth affectionately with her shoulder.
Annabeth bumped back, and Rachel knew they would be okay.
Annabeth consoles Hazel.
Hazel hadn’t been sitting in her cabin alone for very long before Piper came in. Hazel still didn’t know the others on the ship very well; she felt most comfortable with Frank and Percy, but Piper had a calming presence.
The first thing she said was that of course they were going to look for Nico, no matter what Leo or Jason said – they weren’t just going to leave Hazel’s brother in the lurch – and those words, or maybe the way she said them, made Hazel relax immediately. She was warming up to Piper quickly.
But Piper hadn’t been there for very long before the door creaked open. Hazel stiffened, afraid it was going to be Jason or Leo or even Frank – none of whom she particularly wanted to see. But instead it was the person whom, of everyone on the ship, Hazel had least expected.
Annabeth didn’t come all the way in; stood in the doorway, leaving the door open. She directed her gaze at Piper first; those gray eyes really were unnerving, but Piper didn’t flinch. “Hey,” she said, “can you go talk to Jason and Leo?”
“Why do I have to do it?”
“Because you have more control over them than anyone else.” Annabeth braced one hand on the doorframe, waiting.
“Not true,” Piper protested. “Jason’s been scared of you ever since you knocked him out that one time during sparring practice” –
“It was the oldest trick in the book; he should have seen it coming” –
“And Leo is just terrified of you in general,” finished Piper.
Annabeth smirked; that crafty smile was almost scarier than her death glare. “That’s true,” she allowed. “But it’d still be better coming from you. You know you’re better with words than I am.”
Piper inclined her head, seeming mollified. “That’s also true.” The bedsprings groaned as she stood. “I’m off to scold the children. Seriously, Hazel” – She met Hazel’s eyes; hers were many-colored and kind. “It’s going to be okay.”
Hazel wasn’t sure if it was charmspeak or just Piper’s earnestness, but either way she believed it. She swallowed and nodded. “Okay.”
When Piper had left, Annabeth sank into her vacated seat. “Hey,” she said, tucking her legs under her and turning to face Hazel. “I’m sorry about earlier.”
“Don’t be,” mumbled Hazel, “it’s not your fault.”
Annabeth shrugged. “I don’t think I’d blame you if you were mad at me, just by virtue of connection with” – she waved a hand – “all that.”
Hazel made a noncommittal noise. She didn’t really know what to think about Annabeth yet. Obviously she was smart – and even though she didn’t have powers powers, she radiated an aura that was scarier than Percy’s. She had become – with no deliberation or even discussion of the matter – the uncontested leader of the quest. And despite the fact that Percy had mentioned her so many times, Hazel still barely knew her.
“I know Nico, you know,” continued Annabeth, seeming to figure that Hazel wasn’t going to answer. But those words – though they probably shouldn’t have, considering Percy’s connection to Nico – surprised her.
“Really?” she asked.
Annabeth nodded. “I don’t know how much you know about the Titan War . . . I guess Nico told you about it, or someone else – but he fought for the Greeks in Manhattan. He was the one who eventually convinced Hades – your dad – to help us.”
“He did?” Nico hadn’t told her about that – he’d mentioned the Titan War in the vaguest terms, obviously so he wouldn’t have to mention the Greeks.
“Yeah.” Annabeth smiled at her reassuringly. “Leo and Jason and all the others – they don’t really know. But Percy and I were there. We know he always comes through for the right side. And that’s why we’re going to save him.”
Despite herself, tears sprang to Hazel’s eyes. Nico was the most important person in her life. He had saved her – now it was her turn. “Sorry,” she sniffed, dragging her hand across her eyes. “Just – I owe him a lot. Nico – he’s really important to me.”
“Of course he is.” Annabeth didn’t move toward her, maintaining a respectable distance, but her eyes were warm. “I have half-brothers, too – demigods and mortals. I get it.”
Hazel clenched her teeth, her anger not quite spent. “But Jason and Leo” –
“Are just being stupid,” Annabeth finished. “I would say they’ll get over their idiocy, but who knows. Boys can be ridiculous sometimes. I mean, don’t even get me started on Percy.”
“What has Percy done?” Hazel sat up straight, completely distracted. He’d seemed so . . . well, together, on their quest. So powerful – but she supposed if anyone could put him in his place, it would be Annabeth.
Annabeth laughed. “Where should I even start?” She sat back on her hands, tipping her head back. “Well, if it’s stories you want, there was that time he blew up the toilets at Camp Half-Blood . . .”
Annabeth and Reyna share an understanding.
When they finished eating, Reyna was suddenly struck by a desperate need to be alone.
The others were dispersing anyway; under the guise of gathering her things for the trip she was about to embark on, she stood and slipped away as well. Her things were in the stable – where she’d landed before realizing that Scipio wasn’t going to make it.
Packing didn’t take long – she had everything together as it was. She’d only been there a few hours, and already was about to leave again . . . but this time, without Scipio.
His halter was with her things; she gripped it in one hand and tried hard not to cry. She’d had enough of that for one day.
Looking at all the others, she couldn’t help but feel achingly lonely. Percy and Annabeth had seemed glued together as they ate – sides pressed together, fingers interlaced. Frank – her new co-praetor; that would take some getting used to – was so attentive to Hazel. And Jason . . .
Jason had barely even acknowledged her. Had stuck by his girlfriend’s side the whole time, and aside from praising Frank to her he’d acted as though he didn’t even know Reyna.
It wasn’t so much that he didn’t care for her the way she cared for him. It was more that he didn’t seem to care for her at all anymore. As though their friendship and comradeship had counted for nothing.
She looked down at Scipio’s halter in her hand and sighed.
“Hey.” The voice came from the entrance to the stable, from someone she hadn’t even heard approaching. She looked up with a start; Annabeth was standing in the doorway. “Mind if I join you?”
Despite her earlier desire to be alone, Reyna suddenly decided that she didn’t mind Annabeth’s company at all. “Feel free.” She gestured to the spot next to her.
Annabeth crossed the stable and slid down to sit beside Reyna, pressing her back against the wall. “Thanks.”
Reyna looked over at her. She looked older than she had the last time they’d seen one another – in Charleston, the same place Reyna had had that devastating meeting with Venus. She supposed that that prophecy was coming true now – despite her efforts to pretend that it wouldn’t.
“How are you doing?” Annabeth broke the silence; she was looking down at the halter in Reyna’s hands. She placed a hand on it, squeezing, and Reyna felt the companionship and support as though they were traveling through the leather.
She sighed. “Shouldn’t I be asking you the same question?”
Annabeth’s face tightened. “Maybe, but I really don’t want to answer it.” She paused. “I guess I understand if you don’t want to, either.”
Reyna shrugged. “Isn’t the answer self-explanatory?”
Still holding onto the halter, Annabeth turned and met her eyes. Reyna could practically see her own weariness mirrored in the stormy gray. “I guess.” Then Annabeth fixed her gaze on her knees.
“It doesn’t really matter, anyway,” Reyna said, surprising herself with the fact that she was still talking. “A praetor puts her legion first.” Although she knew that she would sacrifice anything for her legion, she couldn’t swallow down the bitter taste in her mouth.
Annabeth shrugged. “Maybe that’s why Jason isn’t praetor anymore.”
Reyna flinched – she couldn’t help it. “I suppose so,” she muttered anyway.
“What was he to you?” asked Annabeth. She didn’t seem as though she were prying or pitying – she seemed sympathetic and open. Maybe that was the reason that Reyna didn’t close up right away. “Or would ‘is’ be a better word?”
Reyna sighed again and dropped the halter, pulling her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. How could she sum it up so that Annabeth would understand?
“I trusted him,” she said finally, simply, and when she dared to meet Annabeth’s eyes she saw understanding there. The other girl reached out and touched her hand, and Reyna, instead of flinching away, let her.
“I see why it hurts, then,” Annabeth said after a moment, and a metal ball surfaced in Reyna’s throat.
“That’s not important, though,” she managed, trying to swallow it down. You are the praetor of Rome, she reminded herself. Get ahold of yourself. “The war is important – and finding unity between the camps. A good praetor sacrifices for her legion.”
“Yes,” Annabeth mused. “You’re a great praetor, Reyna. The legion is lucky to have you.”
“I broke their ancient laws. I effectively betrayed them.” If it had all been for nothing –
“No,” Annabeth corrected. “You’re saving them. They’ll realize it eventually, and things will resolve themselves.” She hesitated, and then forged on. “You and Frank will make a good team. You’ll be the leaders they deserve.”
“I hope so,” Reyna murmured. She leaned against the wall, brushing her hand against Scipio’s halter again. “I hope this doesn’t end up the way it always has in the past. I hope we can resolve our differences without war.”
“I believe we can.” Annabeth’s face was steely. “I – Percy and I” – She stumbled over her words, but eventually spoke again. “The reason we made it out – we were helped by a Titan and a giant.”
“A Titan and” –
Annabeth’s eyes were too wide and bright. “Yeah. I can’t – we would have died down there if not for them.” She blinked fast; took a shuddery breath. “My point is that things don’t have to be so black and white. We don’t have to stick with what’s always been true in the past.”
She fished around in her pocket for a moment, and pulled out a silver coin – something older than a denarius. “My – my mother gave me this, when she sent me on the quest to save her statue. Now I think it needs to go to you.”
“Annabeth . . .” Reyna hesitated. Despite herself, she held out her hand.
Annabeth pressed the coin into it. “It’s a sign that things can change,” she said. “A Roman, righting millennia-old wrongs. The Mark of Athena is yours now.”
Reyna closed her fingers around the coin. It was warm – maybe from Annabeth’s pocket, or maybe from some kind of godly blessing. For whatever reason, she knew it was important. She slipped it into her pouch. “Thank you,” she said.
“I don’t know what you’ll face on your journey,” Annabeth admitted, “but you’ll have Athena with you. Maybe the coin will bring you luck.”
“Thank you,” Reyna repeated. She felt as though Annabeth had entrusted her with more than just a coin – she’d passed on the safety of her camp, the one that meant more to her than any other place ever had, to Reyna. Suddenly, Reyna felt a new duty settle over her – more than just to her legion, more than just to Rome. A duty to Annabeth. A duty to her friend.
But this was one duty she didn’t mind having.
Their eyes held for another minute, and Annabeth smiled – a weary and sad smile, but one nonetheless. Reyna felt the corners of her mouth pull up as well. Maybe the end of some things could mean the start of others.
“Hey!” Another voice broke in then, a rough one. “There you are! I’ve been looking for you!”
That crazy faun – satyr – who was now Reyna’s traveling companion had burst into the stable, clutching a bag and a baseball bat. Reyna tried not to wince.
Annabeth stood up awkwardly. “I’ll . . . uh, I’ll leave you two to get your stuff together.” She gave Reyna an apologetic grimace. “See you in a few minutes.”
Reyna took a deep breath and looked down at the halter one last time. There was no reason to bring it with her. She left it lying on the floor of the stable and hefted her small bag. “Ready?” she said to the coach.
“Ready?” he barked. “I was born ready!” He brandished his baseball bat; Reyna ducked. Together they headed up the hill to the others.
Everyone was standing around, bidding them goodbye and good luck. Reyna saved her farewell to Annabeth for last. She wrapped her arms around her, and Annabeth gripped her back just as firmly.
“We will succeed,” Reyna promised, wanting Annabeth to know that she realized how much she was trusting her – and how determined she was not to betray that trust.
Annabeth pulled back and held Reyna’s shoulders. Her face was calm and understanding.
“I know you will.”