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The Hero Within You

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Chan is angry, and it probably isn’t going to give the other campers a very good first impression.

Neither will his blood-spattered face and practically torn up arm—but first impressions are the last things on Chan’s mind when he has a dead Chimera behind him, still sending out wisps of smoke from where he’d cut its torso open with his sword, now lying on the ground in half. It’s exactly the reason why he is still seething, aside from being greeted not with a warm welcome but a monster on his first day at the camp meant to protect demigods from precisely these dangers.

He takes one last look at the silver-gilded sword he’d gotten from a kind centaur on his way to the camp, mouth turning downwards at the corner. Damn. He’d really liked that sword.

“Oh my god, you’re bleeding!” A boy screeches, and Chan notices that it isn’t the boy who’d been manning the post by the entrance—that coward had screamed when Chan ran in the direction of the gates with a Chimera at his heels, turned right around and fled into the camp. If it was help the coward was seeking, Chan thinks demurely, that help has unfortunately come too late.

The newcomer has a thin sword in one hand and a shield in the other, and despite his heavy steps he seems poised for a conflict—but he drops both of these as soon as he sees the state Chan is in, the ends of his dark brown locks staying in its perfect curls even as he flits around Chan like a nervous dragonfly. He lets out another litany of ‘ oh my gosh’ while inspecting Chan’s arm that sports a massive gash extending from shoulder to elbow.

Normally Chan would flinch away but he feels oddly drawn to the boy's big, worried eyes and incessant muttering; things like oh my god does it hurt, why didn’t anyone call me earlier, god, I take one shift off and stuff like this happens—

“It’s fine—“ Chan starts to say, but the boy shushes him. Apparently he wants none of it.

“You’re not fine , if you let this wound open another second you’ll be dead and that’s the end of it. I’m no medic, but even I know basic survival skills. Let’s take you to the clinic. What should I call you?”

“Wait,” Chan tries to remove his arm from the boy’s grasp, but the excessive blood loss has rendered the limb almost useless. “I don’t want to.”

Seungkwan doesn’t frown, simply nods slowly like he’s processing Chan’s words. “I understand. I know it’s hard to trust someone after what you’ve been through—I’m not sure what’s going on, but monsters have been rife in this area lately. We should have been there to help you out, but please trust me. You’ll love it here."

Chan leans away, narrowing his eyes. “I don’t even know your name.”

“Oh! So rude of me—sorry, sometimes I get carried away.” He smiles, and Chan thinks it’s the nicest smile he’s seen in a long time. “I’m Seungkwan, Boo Seungkwan, and welcome to Camp Pledisia, your new safe haven!”

 


***

 

 

Chan wakes up to a boy frowning down at his arm. There’s a needle between his fingers but he looks incredibly lost and dazed; so naturally, Chan’s first instinct is to try and pull his arm away from this potentially life-threatening, clueless demigod.

“Woah, woah, there!” Needle-wielder attempts to placate him, eyes framed by incredibly nice eyebrows wide in caution, but he doesn’t bring Chan the same comfort the other boy does— what’s his name ? “Please don’t move, I’m trying to stitch your arm up together again.”

“Stitch… them... together? Again ?” Chan asks, breathless, and it’s then that he hears another voice from outside the tent he’s in.

“Hansol! That’s not what you’re supposed to say, you big walnut.” A familiar face emerges from between the flaps of the tent and Chan lets out a relieved breath. Hansol seems to do that, too.

“Seungkwan, you’re back.” Seungkwan—right, that's his name. “Please tell him I’m not about to kill him even though this is probably the biggest stitch job I’ve had to do in a while.”

“That's too much, Hansol, we didn’t need to know that.” Seungkwan sighs before turning to Chan, sitting by the edge of his bed. “Hansol’s an incredibly talented medic, one of the camp’s best even though he doesn’t seem like it.” He ignores the offended look Hansol throws at him. “He just takes a while when he’s patching people up, but that’s a characteristic of his abilities, I guess. It takes time to kick in, like a laggy super-computer, you know? Needs time to reboot. Anyway, it’s dinner time now—a day later since you arrived. You’ve slept off one and a half days away, which is great! How are you feeling...?”

Chan’s head is still buzzing with questions, the overload of new information clogging up his brain functions more than the anaesthesia Hansol undoubtedly dosed him with a while ago—but amongst the haze of confusion, one thing stands out to Chan: he hasn’t encountered a single nightmare in his sleep. In fact, he’s slept so well it feels like he’s only been out for a couple of hours at most even though that clearly isn’t the case.

Chan stares up at Seungkwan and wonders if the boy’s kindness and attention, despite Chan’s irritability on their first meeting, has got anything to do with his pleasant sleep.

“You can call me Chan, Lee Chan. And I'm feeling... better than normal,” Chan admits, and Seungkwan’s entire being seems to glow.

“Ah, so Hansol’s abilities have kicked in a little! That’s great, good job Hansol.”

Chan blinks. "What abilities?”

“Ah—my dad… I mean, I’m the son of Apollo,” Hansol seems to say this with a bit of embarrassment, tinged with pride around its edges. “Among other things, Apollo is the god of healing, so I help out in the medics’ tent every now and then.”

“He’s a part-time doctor, you could say,” laughs Seungkwan. “Full-time everything else; mad archer, natural musician, commander of the sun. I swear children of Apollo are unfairly blessed.”

“No, not really. It depends, and I’m not all Seungkwan makes me out to be,” Hansol says, drawing back from Chan’s arm. “Your wound is all good now, buddy. I’ll wash up my equipment, then we can go grab dinner together.”

As Hansol stands up to leave, Chan looks down at his upper arm that now has a clean stitch running along it, done so quickly he didn't even notice Hansol’s been working on it the entire time. Beside him, Seungkwan cleans up a couple of dirty cups probably left behind by other patients.

“I’m making you a cup of diluted ambrosia, okay? Usually they’re meant to improve your condition and treat, uh, well—more life-threatening injuries,” Seungkwan says this casually as if having your arm almost ripped apart isn’t life-threatening in the slightest. “But in a small dose it should be just enough to keep you from feeling under the weather and heal your wound a little quicker."

“Ah—right. Thank you.” Chan can’t get rid of the curiosity itching at his mind. "Um… Seungkwan?”

“Hm?”

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course!” He skips over to Hansol’s vacant chair, clasps his hands together and levels Chan a mock-serious look. “What curiosity of yours may I satisfy, young one?”

“If you don’t mind me asking, who’s your godly parent?”

Seungkwan beams. “Philotes! The goddess of friendship.”

“Oh, that’s cool.” Truthfully, Chan has never heard of the god before—but it makes so much sense. Seungkwan and friendship, being generally likeable seemingly without even trying. Chan can’t tell whose abilities he’s envious of more, Hansol’s or Seungkwan’s.

“Do you know?” Seungkwan’s question snaps Chan out of his musings.

“Know what?” frowns Chan, sipping on his ambrosia.

“I mean—have you been claimed yet?” Seungkwan rocks on the back legs of his chair. Chan feels the heat of self-consciousness rise up his neck.

“No, I have no idea... and my mum… she didn’t have time to tell me—“

“No! It’s okay! Don’t worry about it, there’s no need for you to apologise!” Seungkwan starts to fuss over him again, and by now Chan would usually kick up a fuss in return and refuse to be babied; but there’s nothing in Seungkwan’s concern and care that speaks of condescension and Chan ends up actually liking it. “I wasn’t claimed until nearly five months in. Imagine that! Five months . I was ready to set up my own camp and call myself the Second Miracle since Virgin Mary’s baby.” That pulls a laugh out of Chan. “My mother is a minor goddess, child of the major goddess Nyx, so she probably never really does much. And once I was finally claimed, most people had never heard of her that it was less of a fanfare and more like an ‘oh, okay’ moment."

Chan listens to Seungkwan’s story, watching his face and half-anticipating a sliver of disappointment to slip—but it doesn't come. Seungkwan’s face belies nothing but excitement and fondness, probably of the memory and nostalgia.

“Have you ever…” Chan hesitates. Seungkwan turns to him.

“Hm? It’s fine, ask away.”

Chan tries to rephrase his question, but it’s frustrating to think after a near-death experience that he gives up and simply asks, “Did it ever make you feel kind of bad? Not being claimed?”

Seungkwan’s smile dims a little and for a moment Chan fears he’s stepped out of line, but Seungkwan simply leans back and casts his eyes to the ceiling in thought.

“Hm... I guess in the beginning, it did. You haven’t seen them, but the camp’s dorms are divided according to your godly parent. They try hard to make the buildings monotonous for fairness but… well, demigods are notorious for their overbearing personalities.” Seungkwan chuckles before staring down at his hands, a small smile on his face. “The Demeter building would have these beautiful vines and shrubbery draped around it, the Apollo kids would be the first to get cursed at by the rest of the camp for blaring everything from opera to hiphop in the early hours of mornings, the Hermes kids would put on magic shows that turn disastrous almost every weekend. Everyone had somewhere they belonged, whereas me… well. I stayed in the Commons.”

“The Commons?”

“You ever heard of a common room when you were at school?” Chan nods. It’s a room only the seniors have access to back in high school, so he doesn’t really know what goes on in there—but he knew it was a space free of the teachers’ scrutiny, so he can imagine it must’ve been a safe haven of sorts. “It was the concept they were going for. Basically, everyone who was still unsure of their lineage stayed there, and well—we couldn’t really establish a personality for ourselves because we were all so different so sometimes it felt a little lonely, almost like you had no place in the—“ Here, Seungkwan stops abruptly, a little startled. “Ah, I shouldn’t let my thoughts run too wild since you’ll be staying there, too."

Chan lets out a disgruntled noise. If a place is capable of making Seungkwan feel dejected, it sure as hell will make him absolutely miserable. Seungkwan laughs at this.

“No need for the long face! I have to say, it’s one of the nicest dorms out here—probably because with the exception of me, no one really stays there for long, and there’s not many of us who don’t get claimed after a couple of days in the camp. It’s still spotless, like brand new. Yeah, I had a bad time for a while there, but that was my fault. It took time for me to learn that there’s so much more to me than my goddess mother.” Seungkwan pauses, almost like he’s about to say something more, but he simply shakes his head and grins at Chan. “To hell with that. I’m happy with who I am.”

It appeases Chan, yet he can’t help but feel a little jealous, wishing he could say the same about himself.

 




***

 

 

Despite it being well past dusk, the camp is still alive with conversation and laughter as groups of adolescents and young adults occupy the massive park that sits in the middle of the cluster of buildings, dubbed ’The Central Park’ by the campers (‘I give them minus 5 for creativity’, Seungkwan had grumbled as he relayed this fact to Chan). It’s almost as if the day hasn’t burned up the demigods’ energy in the slightest.

Seungkwan and Hansol take him on a tour of the dorms, and he manages to marvel first-hand at the intricate floral work of the Demeter kids around the two-story building they occupy. They stop by Seungkwan’s little studio in the Nyx’s family building, a modern built-in kitchen kept so clean Chan is thoroughly impressed. Perhaps Seungkwan has some hidden, non-parent-related abilities too, like keeping things in place.

“It’s because I never cook!” says Seungkwan happily, and Chan’s illusion is shattered.

Hansol’s dorm is one of the medium-sized buildings at camp, and standing from the outside Chan can see boys and girls with musical instruments in their hands while some carry bows and arrows indoors seemingly without a single concern.

“Are weapons even allowed inside?” Chan points out, slightly alarmed. “Shouldn’t there be a regulation for that?" Hansol shrugs.

“Technically no, but the Apollo kids have set up a practice range in one of the game rooms to use for practice when the shooting range on the fields are occupied. Even though some of my half-siblings aren’t the wisest I guess Seungcheol’s turning a blind eye because we haven’t had an accident.” Hansol pauses, sighing heavily. “…Yet."

The buildings are set in a circle around the Central Park, the innermost circle being the buildings for the major gods and administration while the rest of the dorms are situated in a loose outer circle around them. Socially, it’s a good layout as it’s almost impossible not to bump into one or two people on the way to your destination.

As they draw closer to their starting point, they come across buildings remain empty. Chan reads the plain engravings on the awnings of each entryway—Hades, Hera, Ares.

“Why are they empty?” asks Chan. He’s getting a lot more comfortable being inquisitive around Seungkwan.

“Well, no offspring of theirs have shown up around here, but they still get massive buildings because they’re major gods. And if you’re thinking of taking them up as your private suite, forget it—they charge a royalty to rent a building.”

Seungkwan giggles at his own joke, but Chan takes another look at the dark, empty windows with dark shutters and shivers. “No thank you,” he says, averting his gaze. He hopes to any God listening up there that he won’t have to spend his life in one of those dreary, lonely buildings.

They meet Seungcheol, the Archon of the camp with stormy grey eyes and a smile Chan can’t decide is placating or unnerving. Seungkwan explains to him that Archon is just a fancy word for ‘leader’, but something about Seungcheol's presence and demeanour that tells Chan he is a little more than just the alpha wolf in the pack. It relieves him a little, though, that Seungcheol seems nothing but genuinely enthused to have a new addition to the camp, and he says as much as he ruffles Chan’s hair—which he begrudgingly allows because he’s trying to be on the camp’s good side.

Soon, the trio find themselves alone again, and Chan’s curiosity comes creeping back into his subconsciousness.

"How do powers work, anyway?”

“Well, most of the time it’s not so much ‘power’ per se, but think of it like a gift. You know how at school, there’s always that one kid in class who seems like they were just born to be good at Maths or sports?”

Chan nods, thinking of himself. He’s all too familiar with the concept of an advanced student.

“For a lot of us, that’s the extent to our ‘power’—being incredibly inclined to be good at something, like a natural talent. Kind of like Hansol with medicine and archery, and me with resolving conflicts. At least, I’d like to think so,” Seungkwan adds the last bit a little bashfully, clearly uncomfortable talking about his own merits. For all his loudness, Chan thinks Seungkwan is a little too humble for his own good. “They exceed those of normal humans’ capacities, but remain minor enough for us to be able to go about our daily lives pretty normally.”

“That’s a good thing, right?”

Seungkwan shrugs. “It sure is for me; I feel like I get a lot of freedom in terms of what I can or can’t do. Imagine having powers like Seungcheol’s or—“

Seungkwan stops and quickly covers his mouth. “Shoot, I shouldn’t gossip.”

Hansol breaks out into giggles just as Chan’s frown begins to deepen.

"What? What powers do Seungcheol and... who's the other man? What powers do they have?"

“To be honest, you don’t want to know. Suffice to say they can pretty much turn the world upside down if they want to.” Chan’s jaw drops, and Seungkwan joins Hansol in his laughter. Once they settle down, Hansol tells Chan, “What you should do is focus on your own powers instead. Tomorrow you start training—how does that sound?"

 




***

 

 

Chan has always loved being on the move.

Back at school, he had never been content with sitting down. He’d always wanted to be out in the fields—he’d loved sports, loved smashing footballs into goals and putting basketballs through hoops, run until his lungs are on fire and begging desperately for air. Chan is happiest when he is outdoors, his teachers would always say, or when he’s competing in a match. He has a real thirst for winning, and it’s what made him one of the most prized player on every sports team.

But it’s also his weakness—the fury he gets out of losing often puts him in trouble, the satisfaction he sometimes feels seeing his opponents defeated, though it leaves him feeling empty and guilty afterwards, is something many scoff at, claiming bad sportsmanship or even names so vile Chan never wants to recall them again. Competitiveness bordering on greed, selfishness, vanity, a thirst that slowly grew unquenchable.

Once, after winning the football nationals, Chan felt absolutely nothing. He wanted more—at first he couldn’t decide what it was he’d thirsted for, but he realised it was conflict. He wanted more defeat for the enemy; more glory for himself.

It was why he took a detour after his football team had said goodbye to each other. As if sleepwalking, Chan found himself in the dark alleyways of the city, corners no one would venture into past sunsets and following gruff voices that spoke of trouble, meeting every eye in the hopes of picking a fight. These men looked older—he knew they were laughing at the boy who looked like he got lost on the way home. He tried spitting on the ground, actions scaring even himself, but he couldn’t stop.

That was when he met his first monster—a cyclops, disguised as a motorbike rider.

It was also the first time Chan realised that there were forces much, much stronger than him in the world—unarmed, he could do nothing but dodge the attacks the giant launched at him and shout for help. But after the third consecutive bewildered look from a lone passersby it became painfully obvious—no one else could see the monster, and he was on his own.

Being able to do nothing but run as far away as he could, Chan soon found himself lost in the forests at the edge of the city, all alone throughout his journey save for the centaur he met and stayed with for a while. Apparently he wasn’t the first demigod to find himself lost in the forests. It was the centaur who explained the cyclops’ invisibility to the innocent passersby and directed Chan to the camp, though at first Chan refused to leave. Chan loved his mother more than anything, and he wanted her to come with him—but he knew with the possibility of more monsters trawling the nooks and crannies of the city, hungry for demigod blood, there was no going back. At least, not for a while.

Stop!

The shout snaps him back to the present. Chan looks up at the horrified faces staring at him, so similar to the faces back at school when he’d start fights over harmless football matches, but only this time they’re less familiar. His brain catches up to him and he faintly registers the matching T-shirts, the open fields, and relief washes over him—he’s in camp, it’s alright—but as suddenly as it had come the relief is gone, replaced by an acute alertness. Something is bubbling up in him, he’s angry

And he has another camper pinned down by the tip of his sword.

Chan has to forcibly pull himself away in alarm and finds himself shaking as he does so. Fuck . This isn’t the first incident since he’d recovered and began combat training. The weapons had fit his palm so well, his veins had thrummed with anticipation, almost like he’d found himself again.

But it’s only a week since his first combat, and it’s far from being the first time he finds someone at the tip of his sword, looking up at him like he’s about to steal the light out of their eyes. He wants nothing but to drop the sword in his hand, the metal now burning to the touch, but something within him grips it even tighter in his fist.

The crowd that has gathered parts to reveal an anxious-looking Seungkwan with a perplexed Hansol in tow. The sight of them makes Chan’s heart swell with relief, though it quickly turns to shame when he sees the disappointed look in Seungkwan’s eyes. Chan looks the other way, and feels something he’s felt so often before, and despises so thoroughly: embarrassment.

“Hey,” Seungkwan’s voice is soft, but it’s not cheerful like Chan wishes it was. “I think it’s best you stay with us for now, buddy.” Seungkwan says.

Chan jerks away when Seungkwan tries to reach out to him. “Like a wild beast that needs to be locked up? You can kick me out, you know.” As soon as the words leave his mouth, Chan wants to take them back.

Seungkwan is undeterred; he merely swings an arm around Chan's shoulder to lead him away from the battle arena. Behind them, Hansol is saying a few words to the other campers, though they’re too far from the crowd now for Chan to hear.

"No. We just want you to see the camp the way we do now—everyone has a different experience of the place, and I don’t want you to have a bad one because you started off on the wrong foot.”

He knows Seungkwan means it and the shame comes rushing at him in full force once again, and he wishes he can stop himself from snapping so easily all the time. Chan takes a deep, shuddering breath, trying to clear his mind. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what goes on in my head sometimes.”

“Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us,” Seungkwan smiles reassuringly, and coming from him, Chan doesn’t feel like they’re empty words. “But it’s best that you take a break for now."

When Hansol catches up to them he waves Chan into the arsenal garage behind the training grounds. He picks up two sets of bows and quivers of arrows, and Chan raises an eyebrow in question.

“I thought I was taking a break?"

Hansol gives him a reassuring smile. “This isn’t for combat. Come on—I want to take you hunting.”  

 

 

***

 

 

Seungkwan has business to tend to so Chan traverses the forest alone with Hansol—but he’s no longer weary of the older boy despite his tall, lean build, intimidatingly golden hair and eyes that often seem stormy and troubled. The small talk and jokes they've exchanged over the past week are proof enough that the older boy is as harmless as a soft toy.

But in the dimness beneath the forest thickets, Hansol’s eyes turn sharp and the air around him is charged with something Chan can only describe as electric. Not a single word escapes him as they trudge deeper into the forest, and Chan is hesitant to break this zen-like silence if not for his itching curiosity.

“Uh, Hansol… where are we right now?”

“You may have noticed that the camp is surrounded by what looks like pine forests when you first got here.” It’s true, Chan had noticed it, but thought nothing much of it—pine forests are common where they are, after all. “But deeper inside, there's more diversity in the foliage that I had to take several treks with the Demeter kids. And with that comes a range of wildlife."

Chan's eyes widen. "Of the mystical kind?" he asks with a whisper.

Cutting through a series of shrubbery, Hansol laughs. "Unfortunately we'd have to walk even farther for that. No, the wildlife we'll come across for now will be mostly game. Deer, rabbits - and, if we're lucky, wolves." Hansol throws a smile behind his shoulder. "You fine with them?"

Chan laughs, skipping over a fallen branch and slicing at an overhanging vine in his way. "Wolves? After all those monsters chasing me and that Chimera on my first day, I feel like I can take on anything."

Hansol punches him on the shoulder jokingly for it and hangs onto his shoulders like a big, tame wolf himself in his fur coat. “That’s the spirit.”

A series of rustling interrupts their casual exchange and Hansol’s smile drops immediately, his hand picking up an arrow from his quiver and fitting it on his bow with unbelievable speed that Chan has to step back in case he gets in the way. Hansol’s sharp gaze follows movement in the bushes, and he doesn’t take his eyes off of it when he whispers to Chan, “It’s a hare; only the low part of the bush is moving—watch.”

Hansol stays still for a moment, his face a mask of concentration—and then it gives way to a relaxed expression, almost nonchalant as his finger lets go of the taut string of his bow. The black arrow flies in a tight line, straight to the bush and Chan hears a dull thud . No doubt, Hansol has scored.

“That was great,” Chan says genuinely, a little out of breath despite being stationary throughout the entire ordeal. Hansol grins as he walks across to the bush, locating the hare and cleanly pulling the arrow out. When Hansol picks it up, there’s barely any trace of blood, and if Chan hasn’t just seen him shoot his arrow, he would’ve thought the animal was sleeping.

“We hunt for food, but I still hate having to kill these animals, you know? So the best way to kill them is to shoot just behind the eyes or between them—right through its head, so it’s an instantaneous death. No pain.”

Chan wants to ask how exactly Hansol knows where the hare’s eyes must have been—the animal had been hiding in the bushes where Chan could barely make out its tail, let alone its eyes—but then he remembers who Hansol is, what his lineage means, and he refrains, letting himself dwell on the newfound admiration he has for the older boy.

"And oh, and by the way, I would have never known any of these things if it weren’t for the help of everyone else on camp. Even though the older ones can seem scary at first, they really aren’t. It helps, you know. To have friends.”

Chan lets out a huff, kicking a loose stone in his path as they continue walking. “I don’t intentionally try to scare people off, you know,” he mumbles.

“And I believe you, one-hundred and five percent. That’s why we have training.”

Chan grunts, snapping off a branch on the way as he thinks back to the past week he’s spent at the camp. “Feels like these ’trainings’ are designed to amplify my murderous intents, if anything else.”

Hansol stops abruptly and pulls back to stare at Chan, his mouth set in a line and a small frown between his eyebrows. Cursing himself for his stupid big mouth, Chan lowers his gaze and toes at the soil. “‘M sorry. Didn’t mean to be rude.”

“No, no, it’s not that, it’s just—what makes you think it’s meant to amplify ‘murderous intents’?”

“There are two types of combat training I’ve done. Either you get paired up and try to beat each other, or it’s a game of ‘capture the flag’—which also involves taking down members of the other team. You have to walk over people to win.”

“That’s what combat training should train you to do—how to defeat without causing complete havoc. Next time, it won’t be your friend, it’ll be an enemy.” Then, after a pause, Hansol asks, “If you don’t like it so much, why did you choose combat training then?” When Chan doesn’t answer, Hansol continues. “You can spend your day out in the sea with the son of Poseidon, go on horse-riding sessions through the woods with the children of Artemis and even learn proper hunting techniques with them, instead of just archery with me.”

Chan hesitates. “I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else,” he says honestly.

Hansol smiles. “Good. You know what you’re comfortable with—that means you know where your power lies.”

“But I don’t even know who my parent is, how do I know what kind of power is really mine?”

“You make it sound like you’re borrowing someone’s power.”

“Isn’t that what we’re doing, though? Borrowing our parent’s power, like, a portion of it?”

Hansol takes an arrow out of his quiver but doesn’t fit it on his bow, merely holds it like a short cane. “There’s no such thing as borrowed power, Chan. Every single thing about you—every last drop of your power is yours to control. But at the moment you’re letting your power overrun your judgement. You’re letting it control you, and the training is meant to teach you to revert this position.”

“Well, gee, must be great having my power then.” They stop just outside of a clearing and Hansol crouches down behind the bushes—though for what, Chan doesn’t know. He merely follows suit, and finds himself mulling over the two people he knows best in the new, strange place—Hansol and Seungkwan. “Actually, it must be nice being the son of the friendship goddess. Everyone would love you.”

Hansol fits an arrow on his bow, but he keeps his eyes on Chan beside him as he speaks. “I sit in councils sometimes—you know about the twelve Olympians, right? The major gods? Since Apollo is one of them, I had a chance to sign up as a rep. I thought it was kind of cool and somehow got chosen for the seat, and I get to sit in meetings where Seungcheol mostly talks about the general running of the camp and try to solve problems. But sometimes we talk about personal developments of certain members of the camp and… I mean, from my understanding, Seungkwan’s power…” Hansol shakes his head, grinning. “It barely has anything to do with his mother since minor deities aren’t supposed to have such an impact on their children.”

Chan’s eyes widen. “You mean…?”

“Maybe. I don’t know. There’s never any way of truly knowing,” laughs Hansol. “But do you find it hard to believe that Seungkwan is a good person because… well, just because he’s himself ?”

 

 

***

 

 

Between the both of them, they come away with a woven basket full of wild mushrooms, four wild hares, two each of partridges and pheasants and a squirrel—more than half of which Chan took down himself. Naturally, this more than impresses Hansol—but there's something else that seems to preoccupy his attention more than Chan’s admirable hunting skills.

“That wolf—you!” Hansol lets out a loud noise that sounds halfway between a yell and a screech, bouncing around Chan like an overgrown dog. It’s the most excited Chan’s ever seen him. “I can’t believe you used them to lure the hares in! How did you even think of that?”

Chan doesn’t understand why it seems to amaze Hansol so. “There were too many hares around us, we couldn’t have gotten them all on our own without scaring half of them away and I could tell there were wolves around. Luckily they were pretty close to where the rest of the hares were so it made more sense to expose one rabbit to them, let them chase it and scare off the other rabbits simultaneously so they’d run to the clearing—and we shoot.” Hansol is still grinning giddily at him, and Chan feels pride bubbling in his chest even though he doesn’t think his idea is particularly smart at all. “I like efficiency, I guess?”

“It was your first hunt. We learn not to scare animals away on our first hunt, not to use that to our advantage—“ Hansol laughs again, the sound explosive and sending jolts of satisfaction down Chan’s spine. It feels good, being acknowledged like this. “I think I’ve found my new favourite hunting partner.”

The tips of Chan’s ears redden with glee, and he tries to hide the grin on his face by ducking his head down, but there’s no way of dampening his excitement. “You know, your arrows—they’re kind of slow. No offence.”

It piques Hansol’s interest even more, if that’s even possible. “Yeah? Tell me.”

“Promise you won’t laugh?”

Hansol puts a hand on his chest. “Promise.”

“Between us, I think we have good reflex, but the time it takes for us to pull the bowstring and for the arrow to fly—I think the delay is too long.”

Hansol grips his shoulder, skipping a little in his step. “Good, you just assigned yourself some homework—if you can find an alternative or improvement on our hunting method, I’d really like to know."

Chan groans exaggeratedly, but in all honesty this is one homework he doesn’t mind having. Then a thought occurs to him. “You know that deer we came across on the way back? We could’ve easily taken that deer down, if we ambushed it properly. It was quick, but we could’ve been quicker. It was big, too. Why did we let it go?”

“There’s no need to be greedy in one day—this is more than enough to eat, and if we need anymore we can always go hunting again tomorrow. Hunting for sustenance,” Hansol raises an eyebrow, wagging his finger. “Not hunting for sport.”

They stop by the main building to drop off game meat in the butchery as a portion of the camp's dinner, and that’s when Chan sees them.

There’s a man standing in the doorway of the main tent near the central headquarters building where Chan had met Seungcheol after his recovery—and sure enough when the man steps back Seungcheol is standing there, too, though Chan almost doesn’t recognise him with the dark bags around his eyes looking like he's in complete distress, so different from the calm and subtly intimidating face Chan saw just over a week ago. There’s tension there, tension that keeps Chan riveted on his spot as he watches Seungcheol struggle with words—there’s something powerful about this tension that draws Chan in, makes him want to get closer.

Then the man storms away, brushing his blonde hair away from his face furiously while Seungcheol shouts an angry Jeonghan! after him before running to try and catch up—and the tension that has been wrung so tautly snaps. Chan grips his bow and means to take one large stride in their direction but something— someone— pulls him backwards.

“If it’s none of your business and they’re not hurting anyone, don’t try to step in.” Hansol’s voice is quiet but firm, just like the hand on Chan’s shoulder. “You have to choose your battles carefully.”

Battles . That’s right. Even social confrontations are battles of another form themselves.

 

 

***

 


With a skip in his step, Chan weaves through the thinning dinner crowd to the Apollo building, where he knows Hansol will be— every Thursday night, the older is on shift to clean up in his building’s mess hall. Chan has thought about what the older had said all week and has finally come up with an improvement for the arrows: a lighter species of wood he’d come across during the many solitary walks he now takes. Though rare, the wood can often be found as thinner pieces of the trunk or twigs—saving them from having to invest manpower in splitting large chunks of wood—and is easy to fashion into weapons if one has the right skill for it. As much as he wishes to possess such skill for intricate work, Chan does not, but he knows Hansol does. Spending time with Seungkwan and Hansol has not only improved his work ethic but also his morale, and Chan won’t hesitate to say his past week has been one of the happiest in his life.

He’s been impatient all throughout dinner, fidgeting in his seat before dashing off the second his plate was clean, and it’s with a light and buoyant heart that he skips over to Hansol’s room. The door is only slightly ajar.

He’s about to burst in when he hears a voice that is clearly not Hansol’s, and it makes him pause for a moment.

“—saw it. He’s really, really skilled. I mean, he’s definitely got a keener eye than most when it comes to strategy.” Chan sighs in relief. It’s only Seungkwan, but he feels a little silly to walk in on praises, so he lingers outside for a while, smiling to himself.

“Tell me about it. Have you seen the way he misled the other groups on his last capture the flag? And managed to take the red team’s flag without a single casualty in his own group?” Hansol’s voice is full of wonder. “It was impressive.”

“Very impressive!” replies Seungkwan animatedly. "Not going to deny he’s one of our most talented fighters out there.”Chan can’t help but preen a little. It’s a strange sensation, to be praised by someone.

“He could be Athena’s.” Hansol’s words sends Chan’s heart into a flurry of excitement and disbelief. Him? A son of Athena?

He’s met one of Athena’s children—Mingyu, whose handicrafts, strategic knowledge and courage is held in high esteem in the camps. If Chan could be like that—if he could be Mingyu, minus the goofiness and clumsiness he’s often associated with, as highly regarded as a brother to a camp’s favourite would, maybe he’ll stop the look of caution in many of the campers’ eyes, like traces of trauma leaving behind a stubborn residue.

“No, Han.” Seungkwan’s voice is quieter this time, as if he’s moved closer to Hansol and drawn his undivided attention. “I think he… I don’t know. But with his temper and impulsiveness…” Seungkwan pauses, heaves a breath. “What if he’s Ares’ son?”

“Oh,” is all Hansol says.

Ares. The terrible, abhorrent war god hated even by his own parents. The god so vile no one believes he’s even capable of seducing a human mortal, so bloodthirsty rumours have it that he’d eat his own offsprings if it meant securing the glory of war. Ares, one of the dark, abandoned buildings they came across on the camp.

Chan feels sick, the dinner from his hard-earned game curdling so unpleasantly he feels the urge to throw up. He can’t stay there—he stops listening and runs back in the direction of the park, thoughts about arrows and victory and the possibility of self satisfaction burnt to cinders by the shame he feels.

That’s right. The more he thinks about it, the more everything fit—his temper, his cravings for competition, his affinity for combat training. Everything feels too good to be true because it is.

Once he reaches his room he slams the door closed, not caring that he may have woken up others in the hall and tucks himself into bed, suddenly disgusted with himself and refusing to curl up. Chan ends up burying himself under his duvet, hoping that no one can hear his small wracking sobs.

 


***

 

 

It’s the first time that Chan wishes Seungkwan wasn’t so good at being a great friend, because then maybe it would’ve taken him longer to find Chan’s room and realise the lone white lump of duvet in the room is housing a disgruntled teenager.

“Hey, Chan. You feeling okay?” When he doesn’t answer, he can hear Seungkwan step closer to his bed. “Your partner for combat training must be wondering where you are.”

“I feel sick,” says Chan in a loud, clear voice that even he knows he’s doing a piss job at faking it. He doesn’t even bother masking it with a cough. The edge of his bed dips as Seungkwan is most probably leaning on it.

“Okay, but breakfast is almost over. Better get up now or you’re going to have to go a whole day withou—“

“I’m not hungry.”

He hears Seungkwan sigh heavily, expecting a light scolding or maybe a little more coaxing; but to his surprise he feels the weight at the edge of bed disappear and footsteps shuffling away.

“Alright, then. Get well soon, Channie.”

Wait. That’s it? He’s not going to try and ask me what’s wrong? It’s not like Seungkwan to give up on someone so easily, and while Chan knows he’s being a bit of a brat it has never discouraged Seungkwan from drawing him out of his shell before. Confused and slightly startled, he peeks out of his duvet fort at the door—only to see the older boy charging at him full speed.

“AH!”

“WAKE UP!” Seungkwan throws himself at Chan’s bundle and somehow manages to wriggle a hand inside despite the younger boy’s infallible cocoon and tickles him until Chan is a laughing, screeching mess, trying desperately to wrench away from Seungkwan’s hold.

“Wake up, wake up, or face the punishment of a lifetime ,” Seungkwan belts out in opera-style, grabbing Chan’s torso when he attempts to step out of the bed and shaking him like a maraca. “Wake up or I’ll tell Seungcheol—“

“Oh my god—I’m up, I’m up! ” screams Chan. When Seungkwan finally lets go he slumps to the ground in a breathless heap, traces of a giggle still bubbling up his throat. He pushes his hair back and sees Seungkwan sticking his tongue out from the edge of his bed.

“That was cheating.”

“You cheated first,” Seungkwan rolls his eyes. “You were sick? Really? Just yesterday you took down an entire platoon of demigods without lifting a pinky.” Sliding out from the massive pile of blankets, Seungkwa settles beside Chan on the floor and throws an arm around his shoulder. “I know something’s bothering you. What is it, bud?”

Chan shifts in his place, picking at the lint on the floor and wondering how much he should let on.

“You can be honest, it’s alright,” says Seungkwan placatingly like he’s read Chan’s mind. He takes a deep breath.

“I heard you and Hansol last night.” Beside him, Seungkwan stiffens slightly, but he continues when Seungkwan gives him a small nod. Go on . “About how… I could be Athena’s son. Or Ares’.” Chan draws his knees closer his body and hugs them, staring at the window on the wall and the blue sky outside. “I know about Ares. Athena is the brains of war, and Ares… is the bloodthirsty monster in battles. The ugly side of it.” Chan shuts his eyes, his voice dropping to a whisper. “But I want to stop being a threat here. I don’t want to scare people away. And you, Hansol—I don’t want—"

Seungkwan doesn’t say anything as Chan struggles with a few more words on his tongue, but eventually he gives up and looks at Seungkwan, who looks slightly troubled, but not unhappy by any means.

“Did you hear what Hansol said after that?” he asks softly, and Chan shakes his head. He doesn’t tell Seungkwan that he’d been too ashamed of himself to stay a second longer.

“After that he told me: 'Then nothing. He stays as our friend and brother’.” Chan feels tears well up behind his eyes, but even before he manages to blink them away Seungkwan draws him in for a gentle hug. “‘And nothing about his lineage will change that.'”

He can’t help it—Chan’s hands find the edges of Seungkwan’s shirt and holds on, thankful for the shoulder to bury his face and lean on because he thinks his heart might burst from the weight of his relief and gratitude that luck has, for once, chosen to follow him to camp, led him to meet Seungkwan and Hansol with whom he wouldn’t know what would become of him. He thinks he manages to keep his tears at bay, but when he finally pulls away from Seungkwan’s shoulder after a long while he sees a damp patch on his pink shirt.

“Thank you,” Chan says instead of apologising, because right now his appreciation far outweighs his guilt. “I’m not great with words but—thank you for taking care of me.”

Seungkwan laughs, wiping his cheeks and brushing the hair out of his face. “Nothing to thank me for. We're always here if you need anything alright? But right now, I’m kind of hungry.” Seungkwan smiles. “What do you say to a picnic?"




***

 

 

“What the fuck.” Seungkwan never uses profanities, but apparently whatever is in the picnic basket has aggravated the deep throes of his anger.

Chan chances a look, and practically howls in laughter.

“Han. I told you to make us some food.”

“I did! I made you my favourite food!”

Now Chan is halfway to dying of laughter on the grass.

Seungkwan closes his eyes and pretends to count to ten. "Listen, dearest, son of Apollo—precious demigod born under the blessed rays of the burning sun itself, one incredibly superior mortal!" He dramatically throws open the picnic basket to reveal a ceramic bowl wrapped in cling film. Inside is a collection of what looks like a bunch of garden vegetables thrown together—tomatoes, lettuce, sliced cucumbers, grapes—sprinkled with browned croutons…

and bathed in shiny, white Greek yoghurt.

"What is this! Are you kidding me?" Seungkwan shrieks as Chan continues to try and stifle his explosive laughter—in vain, of course. "Do we look like livestock to you? Are we going on a picnic or a graze?"

Hansol feigns a pout. "It's delicious, okay. You haven't even tried it."

"I don't know if I even want to, to be honest. Chan?" Chan covers his mouth but the chuckle he's been trying to hold in still spills forth. "Mind going on a quick hunt to get us some game meat?"

"Oh, come on, Seungkwan, maybe Hansol's food isn't so bad."

Hansol puts his hands up. "Thank you."

“For the deer, I mean." Now it's Seungkwan's turn to cackle, and he exchanges a proud high-five with Chan that Hansol laughs off, shaking his head in amusement.

Thankfully, Seungkwan has managed to coax one of the Hestian kids to cook them up a modest, but awfully delicious lunch of Korean homemade food that Chan misses so much. He's halfway through devouring another roll of kimbap when Hansol starts humming to himself and swaying on the spot, lost to some music only he can apparently hear.

When he sees Chan's raised eyebrow, Seungkwan shakes his head. "He does that sometimes. Means the Apollo kids are on track to make yet another mixtape. They're usually pretty badass." It's not meant to be a direct compliment, but Chan can see the smile growing on Hansol's face.

They stay like that all afternoon, eating and talking about themselves and the camp—the people, the gossip and the training, though Chan doesn't pay attention to much else other than accounts of past Capture the Flag games. He finally manages to tell Hansol about his arrow idea, and it was received with such enthusiasm Chan cheekily hopes there will be more mistakes in Hansol’s hunting techniques, just so he can re-adjust them and see the proud smile on his face again. And with every hour spent is more distance put between Chan and his troubles, more weight lifted off his chest that Chan finds it easier to breathe, easier to laugh, easier to let himself bask in the thrum of happiness coursing in his veins.

“How have your first couple of weeks at camp been for you, then, Chan?”

He takes one look at Seungkwan and Hansol, so at ease as they lie on the grass and smile at Chan that he says, without a second thought, "Perfect."

With the sun beating down on their patch of grass gently, Chan can't help the way his eyelids grow heavier and his breathing slows down to a steady rhythm, feeling contented to simply lie on the grass and let the sky move past him. Everything seems so peaceful and Chan decides, even out in the open where he would normally be alert, that it's safe enough to drift off sleep.

Although both Seungkwan and Hansol insist their powers are minor, almost negligible, Chan knows he’s not imagining the way the sunset lingers a little longer over the horizon, at an angle that makes the rays of orange hit Seungkwan’s face just right, illuminating him—and during this time Hansol does nothing but rest his chin on his knees, eyes never leaving Seungkwan’s animated form, too busy talking to notice the sun’s temporary pause. Hansol’s intentions are clear, and even Chan has to agree—bathed in golden light and warmth, Seungkwan is beautiful.

Just as he’s dozing off, he catches a glimpse of Hansol leaning into Seungkwan as he says something and the pair breaking into laughter afterwards, faces close together. There’s something in their eyes that makes Chan smile just as his eyes slip to a close.

 

He doesn’t have to be a child of Aphrodite to know love when he sees it.

 

 

 

 

 


***

 

 

 

 

 

Epilogue

 

A loud knock on his door pulls Chan away from his current preoccupation of setting up battle formations to the tune of Hansol’s newest mixtape, and he glances at the clock. It’s a few minutes past noon.

“Coming!”

Chan slips on his sandals and runs across the wide reception that is still bare of furniture, footsteps echoing in the large, empty space. He wrenches the door open and is greeted with Seungkwan and Hansol’s grinning faces, boxes piled high with cans of paint, DIY tools and what look like stolen vines from the Demeter building.

“Hey, Chan!” Seungkwan says chirpily, bouncing a little on his spot. “Ready to decorate your new home?”

“I’m always ready,” replies Chan without missing a beat, earning him a noogie from Hansol in jest.

While Hansol and Seungkwan file in to drop their boxes off in the reception room, Chan smiles as he chances a glance at the curved plaque at the entryway of his building, just above the short awning. He may not need to fear loneliness, but he’s going to have to get used to seeing the name.

Ἄρης.

Ares.