Chapter 1: Zolkh a sheyne mishpochah [Such a lovely family]
Cecil was not a year rounder. Of all the perils he’d faced as a demi-god, from invading Romans to monster attacks, this was what he hated the most. He’d rather face an army of attacking carnivorous centaurs, Hades, he’d rather face the entire Ares cabin bent on revenge after he and his half-sibling cabin mates had pulled off a particularly devastating prank (that time they’d replaced all the swords with squeaky hammers was a classic) rather than to go back to his family at the end of the summer.
It hadn’t always been like this. He remembered when it had been him and his mother. That had always been great. The two of them had been thick as thieves (hah!). Then came the job. She loved Cecil; of that he had no doubt, but she also loved her job. The trouble was, she could never tell anyone what it was. That wasn’t the worst of it for him, though. The worst was that this meant that he had to live with other relatives when he came back from camp, and those other relatives were her cousins.
Ugh! The Markowitz cousins. They didn’t get Cecil. They didn’t like Cecil. Hades, they barely tolerated Cecil. He knew that most demigods had problems with their mortal families, but this! No, he knew how many of his friends had suffered so much worse. On the other hand, he was probably the only one in his cabin who currently had family problems. (“Don’t think about Luke!” he told himself for the thousandth time.) Children of Hermes usually had mad skills when it came to charming people, especially family.
Not the Markowitz family. They were charm-proof. It seemed like they never got out of the shtetl [old world village]. They didn’t like anybody who was different, and Cecil was as different as could be. He didn’t do well in school so they called him narr [stupid]. The first time he’d come back from camp, Uncle Morris caught him trying to pocket a candy bar from the old man’s deli (just seeing how well those lessons Travis had been giving him all summer had taken, maybe he needed to work on his technique), so they referred to him as the gonif [thief] forever after, never mind that he’d never stolen from Morris again (or at least they’d never caught him again).
They flung the Yiddish around, and he knew that they didn’t think he understood a word of it. That was the biggest shpass [joke] of all. He didn’t have the math skills that the rest of the Markowitz family did, but languages came to him so easily. Certainly, that was a Hermes thing, but he also got that from his mother. In fact her language fluency was probably what got the attention of Hermes in the first place. Rachel Markowitz had been working as a translator at the UN when a very handsome courier with salt and pepper hair had shown up. Her family was not so pleased when, nine months later, she’d brought a baby and no chupah [wedding canopy] home, but the last straw was when she’d quit that job and then taken off, leaving Cecil to the tender mercies of the Markowitz clan. They’d kvetched [bitched] no end, but took him in (mishpochah [family] was mishpochah), grateful for the money she sent home, but, since she never told them what it was she was doing, the family assumed that it was at best shady, and at worst illegal.
Cecil knew what his mother’s job was. He also knew why she couldn’t tell anyone, even family what it was. Basically, she was a spy. She’d never told him, but the first time she came back (a hurried weekend visit), he’d done a quick hack on her phone. He knew. She knew he knew. The only words they exchanged on the subject were a whispered “Some secrets have to be kept” into his ear (in Etruscan) the night before she had to fly back to her mission. He’d drummed a quick “Don’t worry, mom” in Morse code on her back as they hugged at the airport, and the look they traded told both of them it was okay.
Cecil knew the value of keeping secrets. Aside from his own parentage, the day that Aunt Rose had grabbed him by the arm and said, “Herst, mumzer! Farshteystu nur ayn vort vun de mameloshen?” [Listen, bastard! Do you understand a single word of Yiddish?] He’d come back with “Wote.” She’d strode off smugly, thinking he’d said “What?” not “All of them” in Swahili.
This resulted in his hearing a lot of things that would have been kept from him otherwise. Mostly he learned that his family had no idea what his mother did, so they assumed that it was something awful. Of course it didn’t stop them from taking the money she sent them, but they referred to it as gelt vun di nafki vor ir narrishe mumzerishe kind [money from the slut for her stupid bastard child]. About Cecil himself, he’d hear “Zayn tate var, vu den, a shaygetz, un mistome a shikker.” [His father was, what else, a gentile and probably a drunk.] Yeah, life with his family sucked.
He didn’t tell his mother about this. Cecil was good at keeping secrets. He also didn’t tell his mother a few other things. Like how many little mechanical problems would occur in the Markowitz house when their insults got to be too much. Although he really didn’t mind it when they referred to him as mumzer or narr or akshen [clumsy], whenever he heard his mother referred to as nafki [slut], the refrigerator would break down, or the car would stop working, or the TV would only pick up the Christian Television Network, not that this had anything to do with the particular skills of a son of Hermes.
Chapter 2: Life at Camp
Cecil definitely prefered his time at Camp Half Blood. There, he could really be himself and not have to put up with the contempt of his mortal relatives. For starters, there was the Hermes Cabin. Admittedly, there were times when it got to be too much. He thought back to his first summer there. It was shortly after his mother had taken the job that meant she had to be out of the country so much.
Ah, those first days at camp. Like all newcomers, he’d been placed in the Hermes cabin, but in the middle of dinner, his father’s sigil had appeared over his head, so everyone knew that he was a “regular,” not an “undetermined.” His bunkmate, on the other hand, was unclaimed. Cecil hoped that the skinny blond kid with the bright blue eyes would turn out to be a true son of Hermes. He liked the guy. Hades, everyone liked Will. The kid was so nice to everybody, and had the biggest smile. Of course, that smile was so guileless that he probably wasn’t a Hermes kid. If he actually was, though, think of the cons he could run just by smiling. Either way, at the age of 10, the two boys were fast friends, even when, a week later, one of the Ares kids had broken her arm during a Capture the Flag game, and Will had run up to her (completely wrecking their carefully planned strategy for making their Ares rivals the laughingstock of the camp yet again), put his hand (which had started glowing, just another normal day at Camp Half Blood) onto the break and sung the girl’s arm back to normal. That (and the glowing sun sigil over his head) had gotten him moved to the Apollo cabin that night. As the blond had packed up his meager belongings, he hugged Cecil and swore that they’d still be best friends forever.
He and Will had indeed stayed best friends, hanging out together, confiding in each other. He was the first one Will had come out to at camp “My mom knows I’m gay,” he’d said. “It’s not a big deal, but she told me to keep it quiet around people I didn’t know.”
Cecil hugged him and swore it was no big deal. The day that Will’s dad showed up at camp with a busload of Hunters, Percy Jackson, Thalia, and the two new arrivals, he saw how his friend kept looking at that new boy, so animated, and laughed. “Will, buddy, I think your gay is showing.” The blond punched him in the arm (never very hard, such a pacifist, that one) and told him to shut up, but his normally tanned face was so very red. Cecil certainly couldn’t pass up such a good chance to tease his friend.
The year after had been harder. He was grateful for Will’s support when the truth came out about Luke. For all of their outward appearance of being the “fun” cabin at Camp Half Blood, everyone in the Hermes cabin was badly shaken by Luke’s betrayal. The Stoll brothers stepped in as co-head counselors, but somehow, their normal pranking behavior developed a kind of a manic edge to it. Then, one day, Chris Rodriguez just wandered off without a word returning about a year later, but so badly broken. By the time the Battle of the Labyrinth started, the tension was palpable, but everyone stepped up, and there were no recriminations. The Hermes cabin was justly proud of all the booby traps they’d planted around Zeus’s Fist (although the aftermath of some of the more destructive ones did make it look even more like a pile of poop when viewed from certain angles). Certainly Cecil got credit for some of the more elaborate snares, even though he’d had to spend some time freeing fellow campers from ones that were triggered prematurely.
When the battle was over, he snuck into the infirmary with an extra large bag of potato chips and a deck of cards and hid in the office, knowing what would happen. He waited until he could see that most of the lights in the wards were out and waited for the sound of flip-flops. This wasn’t the usual bouncing gait of his friend, but something more defeated. When the blond came through the door, his head bowed and his shoulders slumped, the shorter boy didn’t hesitate. He pulled his best friend into a hug and waited for the torrent to begin. He didn’t have to wait long.
“I tried to save them all, but I couldn’t,” sniffed the son of Apollo. Cecil let him cry, just holding his shoulders and making calming noises. Will seemed to quiet down, but he knew that this was just the beginning. Sure enough a wave of sobs racked his frame. “Oh, gods, Lee! Lee is dead!”
This was too much. Cecil knew how much his best friend had idolized the head of the Apollo cabin. With that, they both started crying. This went on for a while, winding down until the blond whispered, “What about Nico? Do you think he’s okay?”
Cecil snorted. “Okay, Solace. If you’re able to ask about your scary dream boy, you’re able to settle down for a junk-food binge and a round of cards.”
“Not for money, Markowitz. I know better than to play Hermes for money.” The two boys settled down and started to play. Cecil knew that what his friend needed was distraction and enough time for the effects of the crying jag to fade. He knew how much the other boy hated the thought of anyone knowing how he’d break down. Honestly, the kid didn’t care who knew he was gay, he didn’t care who knew how he, the son of Apollo and a (somewhat) famous singer couldn’t carry a tune in a basket, but the thought of anyone finding out that he wasn’t smiling 24/7 scared him worse than Mr. D in a wife-beater. (Now there was a sight none of the campers ever wanted to see again.)
It wasn’t long after that when the camp was thrown into preparation for what ended up being the Battle of Manhattan. For Cecil, it all became a blur. His cabin seemed to feel especially obligated to show their loyalty, and he threw himself into the planning and planting of booby traps that his whole cabin delighted in. Of course, he was better at sabotaging things than building them, but it was all to the good. In the course of this, he found that he had even more useful skills.
Normally, computers, and especially the internet were not allowed at camp. The things had a way of alerting monsters to the presence of demigods in chat rooms and on social media. Of course the Athena cabin had a few that they guarded jealously, but given what he’d grown up with, between all the math geniuses and his and his mother’s linguistic skills, Cecil had no trouble hacking into the web. When he came to Chiron with information on the Titan army’s movements, he was taken to the Hephaestus cabin.
Jake Mason, who was put in charge of the cabin upon Beckendorf’s tragic death, called his sister Nyssa over. “Nyssa, you’re our best hardware person. The two of you can set up a secure listening post.” Cecil was happy to be given an important task, but for some reason he found himself a little disappointed that he wouldn’t be working with the burly head counselor. Nevertheless, he got on well with the Hispanic girl, even trying to flirt with her, even though she wasn’t really his type. Of course they had a good laugh when she told him he (or any of the boys) wasn’t her type either.
Their efforts in intelligence gathering paid off several times, although what they did wasn’t as widely recognized as some of the more overtly heroic acts of the Battle of Manhattan. Nyssa didn’t seem to mind so much, but Cecil found himself wishing he could join in the post battle bragging. Fortunately, at least the head counselors acknowledged his part. Most surprising of all was when Clarisse dropped her usual belligerence toward him. She pulled him aside after lunch one day and said, “Look Markowitz, your intel saved five of my campers’ lives a while back. I’ll still kick your scrawny Hermes ass at every Capture the Flag game, but if you ever need a favor, just let me know.”
Chapter 3: Enter Lou Ellen
As the chapter title says...
About a month after the Battle of Manhattan, Cecil was on gate duty, along with Will’s half-sister Kayla. Gate duty consisted of keeping a lookout for newcomers to the camp, demigods who had recently found out about their divine parentage and were trying to avoid being eaten by monsters before they made it safely inside the barriers of Camp Half Blood. After the deal that Percy had made with the Olympians about opening up the camp to children of lesser gods, the number of arrivals had increased exponentially, so there were almost always monsters in the woods around the camp, hoping for a tasty demigod snack.
Cecil enjoyed sharing the duty with Kayla. She was fun to hang out with when things were dull, and when things got exciting, the girl was a terror with a bow, once taking out three cyclopes with one shot after Cecil had managed to get them into a single line with some well placed booby traps along the road. But this day something new happened. A girl came into the camp. It was more that she sauntered into camp. This was made even more memorable by the fact that a flock of Stymphalian birds was perched in the tree but totally ignored the girl.
This was unheard of, even at the calmest of times. New campers usually appeared in one of two ways. Either they came running at full tilt, pursued by monsters (or, in the case of the Stolls, a police car, siren wailing and lights flashing), or they came in heavily escorted by satyrs and well trained older campers. There was the time that Apollo’s minibus came crashing into the canoe lake, but even that was with an escort. This was unlike anything anyone could remember. Cecil blew on the conch horn he had at his belt, and Chiron trotted up.
“Hi, you must be Chiron,” she said as she walked up to the centaur with a little more purpose. “My mom told me about you. I’m Lou Ellen Blackstone.”
“Pleased to meet you, my dear. How was your trip here? Did you encounter any...difficulties?” he asked, curious about how calm this girl was in the face of everything.
“Not bad,” was the noncommittal reply. “My dad taught me how to avoid trouble.”
“Ah, and your father is…?”
“Oh, he’s a mortal, but he’s also a witch. His name’s Alastair. My mom’s Hecate, by the way. My dad summoned her a couple of times, and they always got on really well, if you know what I mean. At any rate, at the last Sabat, she had a little chat with me about what’s been going down. She told me she wanted me to keep an eye on how things are going with the new cabin.”
“So, I’m guessing that’s why you were able to walk past the monsters without them noticing you,” the centaur continued.
“Yup. My mom showed me how to, what did she call it?, bend the Mist so they just ignore me. It works on everything except the flaming wobblies.”
Cecil was intrigued. “What are flaming wobblies?”
“Well,” the girl replied, “they have fire for hair, and their legs don’t match, so they kind of wobble when they walk. I tried that trick on one once, and it stared right at me. It didn’t bother me, though. It said something about, “You’re one of the mistresses’,” and walked away.”
“That would be an empousa,” said Chiron. “They belong to Hecate, so you should be safe from them, but it’s a good idea to avoid them when you can.”
From the first, Cecil was taken with Lou Ellen, but his first attempt at flirting was met with a “Yeah, no.” His second attempt went even worse.
“Cecil, I have no idea how to fix this,” said Will.
“Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a veterinarian!” quipped the Hermes boy. That got a giggle out of his friend, but Will still had no idea how to treat the pig ears sprouting from the other boy’s head.
“How did you get these, Cecil?”
“That would be me.” Lou Ellen came into the infirmary at just that moment. “He was kind of bugging me, and there was this spell I wanted to try out anyway…”
“I just asked if you wanted to go with me to the fireworks.”
“There was a tone to it…”
“Okay, maybe I was hoping it would be a date.”
“Yeah, sorry, I don’t date boys.”
Cecil reddened at this. “Not again!”
Lou Ellen smirked. “I take it you have a pattern of hanging out with non-boy daters.”
Cecil looked at Will and both boys giggled at that, Will raising his hand. That got a chuckle out of Lou Ellen.
Will, ever the peacemaker, said, “How about, Cecil, you don’t make passes at Lou Ellen, and Lou Ellen, you don’t change Cecil into a pig?”
“What’s wrong with pigs?” Lou Ellen asked.
“I’m Jewish. Well on my mother’s side, obviously.”
That struck the girl as too funny. She collapsed onto the floor, trying to apologize between gales of laughter. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Chapter 4: Double the Chances
Cecil realizes something about himself (This chapter takes place in the time leading up to The Lost Hero)
Camp Half Blood was in a frenzy. Percy had disappeared. Annabeth swung back and forth between a frantic furiosity and icy strategizing. Even though the first mood had the younger campers skittering away from her, it was the second mood that truly terrified the older campers. This was most evident in the head counselor meetings, which were taking place daily. Will had, rather unwillingly, been made head counsellor of Apollo, and Lou Ellen, after her now fabled entrance to camp, had been put in charge of cabin 20. The Stoll brothers were co-heads of Hermes cabin. Cecil was fine with that; he had neither the desire nor the the aptitude to be in charge of anything, and, truth to tell, he enjoyed the omega role.
He did, however, miss his two besties when they were stuck in so many meetings. When Chiron caught him moping around the Big House, he was put back to work at the listening post. He enjoyed working with Nyssa, at least when she wasn’t getting all moony about her Ares cabin girlfriend.
After two days of getting squat all on Jackson’s whereabouts…
“Solace, you’ve got a look to you,” Cecil greeted his friend.
“That’s because his dark angel showed up today,” Lou Ellen put in with a wry smile.
“Nico said he’s joining the hunt for Percy,” said Will, somewhat glumly.
“Wow!” Cecil whistled. “Trying to rescue his rival. Say what you like about the guy, he’s got honor.”
Lou Ellen swatted him and hissed into his ear. “Don’t get him started. You should’ve seen him in the meeting. When Di Angelo strode in like he owned the place, Will almost fell out of his chair. Then when he announced that he was going out to help with the search, Will sprang up and started babbling about equipping him with medical supplies. Well, Di Angelo just kind of ignored him, gave Annabeth a quick nod, and did that thing where he just steps into a shadow and disappears. Oh, man, I gotta figure out how to do that.”
“Okay, enough fangirling, both of you. I’m bored; let’s hang out,” Cecil whined (but in a very manly way, of course).
“Sorry, hot stuff, my cabin is working on weaponizing that pig spell. Unless you want to help with that…” She shot him a nasty smile.
“Enough of your treyf [unkosher] ways, vile shiksa [gentile female] temptress,” he shot back at her as she walked off to her cabin.
“Will?” he said, pleadingly.
“Sorry, Cec, I’m on infirmary duty all afternoon. You’re welcome to join me if you want to help, like, roll bandages. I’d welcome a friendly face.”
“Friendly face, huh?” Cecil batted his eyelashes at his friend. “I’ll bet you say that to all the boys.”
“Not the Ares ones,” Will laughed. (The Apollo and Ares cabins had patched things up at the end of the last war, but occasionally some of them, usually led by Sherman Yang, would start glaring at the Apollo campers, ostensibly for no reason, but Cecil suspected that Kayla’s repeatedly showing them up at the archery range might have something to do with it. They were such sore losers.)
After much eye-rolling, Cecil relented and accompanied his friend. It wasn’t the first time he’d helped out in the infirmary, so he knew the routine. He was usually assigned to cutting and rolling bandages. On occasion, he’d help lift a patient into a bed. This actually took some skill, and he was actually rather strong, considering how wiry he looked. He was never asked to help with inventory (only a fool would ask a Hermes kid with inventory, best friend or not). The tasks tended to be dull, but the chatter with his best friend made the time pass quickly.
Today it wasn’t dull for long. There was a cry of “Incoming!” and everyone leapt to action. The doors popped open as two Haephestus campers staggered in, bearing their head counsellor on their shoulders. All three of them had burns, but Jake, supported by his half-siblings, looked the worst. His shirt was in smoldering tatters, and he had a knot on the back of his head, which he’d obviously bashed into something.
Will called out, “What happened?”
“You know that bronze dragon we’ve been hunting for? Well, we found it, and the fire mechanism seems to be working.” Jake’s siblings lowered him onto a bed as he continued, “When it blew flames at me, I jumped back and cracked my head against a tree. There is one pissed off dryad out there.”
Will took charge, as was his wont here. “You two,” he said to the other Haephestus campers, go with Austin, He’ll look after your burns. Jake, I’ll check out your head injury first. Cecil, can you help Jake stay sitting up?”
“Thanks, man,” said the burly camper, putting his hand on Cecil’s shoulder.
Normally, Cecil would be watching Will as he worked; the rapt concentration on his friend’s face was a pleasure to see, but instead he kept thinking about the warmth of that large hand on his shoulder.
“No sign of concussion,” said Will after checking Jake’s eyes. “I’ll give you some ambrosia for the headache, but I’d like to check out those burns first. Cec, can you help me get what’s left of his shirt off him?”
“Sure,” came the hoarse reply. Cecil wondered why his throat was so dry all of a sudden.
“Doesn’t look so bad. Good thing you Hephaestus kids are fairly flame resistant, right Cecil?” said Will, as he dabbed burn cream on the worst spots.
Cecil didn’t reply. He was too busy trying not to get caught staring at Jake’s magnificent pecs. Well, years of working the forge did wonders for the physique.
Finally, Will put down the burn cream, washed his hands, and picked up a square of ambrosia and a large water bottle. “My work here is done. Eat this ambrosia, and keep hydrated. Spend the rest of the day in bed. I’ll have a satyr bring you meals. Come, Nurse Cecil, let’s get some food for ourselves.”
As they walked out of the infirmary, Cecil hummed. “Ah Will, I think I’m bi.”
“Well, duh,” laughed his friend, but not unkindly. (Of course, not that Will Solace was ever capable of unkindness.) “Why do you think I asked you to help me get his shirt off?”
Cecil blushed and hoped the other boy didn’t notice him adjusting the front of his pants slightly.
“Just to be sure,” Will continued, “did you get the TALK?”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s normal to be gay, bi, lesbian, trans, pan, demi; gender is who you are, not what other people think you are, you’re not alone, this camp is a safe space, etc., etc. Lee came by and gave our whole cabin that talk years ago. Actually, I think it was about a week before you came out to me.”
“Okay, I’m just looking after you.”
“Thanks, mom. You sure you don’t want to feed me some chicken soup?”
Will, of course, completely missed that last reference. “I’m sure the nymphs would be happy to bring you some, if that’s what you want for dinner.”
“Speaking of dinner, let’s wait until after to break my news to Lou Ellen. I don’t want her spitting spaghetti out of her nose like that time we told her about Drew’s eyeliner mishap.”
So it was as the three of them were exiting the dining pavilion together that Will said, “Lou Ellen, our Cecil has a little announcement.”
“Don’t tell me, you’ve decided to take up juggling, and you want me to grow you an extra arm.”
Will snorted at that.
“Nothing so exciting, Miz Lou. I’m coming out as bi.”
Lou Ellen slapped him on the arm. “Good for you, man.”
Cecil smiled wryly. “Yeah, it doubles my chances for rejection.”
“Well, if the guys you go for are as straight as the girls you go for aren’t…”
“I have a bad feeling about that,” said Cecil. “What do you know about Jake Mason?”
“Mazel tov, dude!” she said. “Jake used to date Jazz.”
“Jazz, your sibling who announces his/her pronouns each morning at breakfast?”
“Well, it saves time to tell everyone at once.”
“So what happened with them?” Will asked.
“Well,” Lou Ellen replied, “you know they were going together long enough that obviously Jake is not hung up on gender, but unfortunately for them, Mist and machines just don’t mix, so it was kind of doomed from the start. You know, Cecil might be the only one of us who isn’t fixed on someone with an issue about what gender we are.”
Will started to say something, but Lou Ellen cut him off. “Bro, you know we love you, but drop the ‘Nico is secretly gay’ thing. Everybody knows he has a thing for Annabeth. Every time he’d see her with Percy, he’d glare, I mean more than he usually glares, and now that Percy’s gone missing, he sighs whenever he sees Chase.”
Will knew better than to pursue this line of discussion, it never ended well for him. Instead, he deflected. “So Miz Lou, is there more you want to tell us about your own gender issues?”
“So, I was dating Serena from Hypnos cabin, and she broke things off when she found out my dream self is male about half the time.”
“Wow, I did not know that about you,” whistled Will.
“Yeah,” Cecil chimed in. “You, Lou Ellen Blackstone, are a deep and mysterious well.”
“What can I say? Hecate, ya know. Mysteries, cross roads, the whole bit. Not the cabin to go to for gender norms.”
It was not long after that Jake was up and about again. Will and his siblings did their usual miracle of healing so that all three Hephaestus campers were left with no new scars, to Cecil’s relief. He tried to chat up the larger boy, but Jake was either too distracted by the hunt for the dragon or seemed to assume that Cecil was just trying to set up more times to work with Nyssa, so that was frustrating.
Lou Ellen was not amused. “I do not need to hear it from you. It’s bad enough to listen to Will moping about his benighted love life.”
“Sorry, it’s just that…”
“It’s just nothing. Listen, Markowitz, I have a plan. You know Rose, from the Iris cabin? She and I are going on a date, and she has a sister, Violet, who might be just the one for you.”
Cecil perked up at this. “Lou Ellen, you are the best!”
“Yes I am, and don’t you ever forget it.”
At first things seemed to go smoothly. Violet was pretty, intelligent and vivacious. At the end of the double date, she and Cecil arranged to go strawberry picking the next day, the classic Camp Half Blood date. The date started well enough. Cecil was charmed by her appearance, her radiant auburn hair, her multi-colored nails so pretty, especially when she picked one of the brilliant fruits. When she bit into a strawberry, the juice brought out the red in her lips so that Cecil wanted to kiss her on the spot, but then the conversation took that turn.
“So,” the girl asked, “you’re friends with Lou Ellen and Will?”
“They’re both head counsellors, aren’t they?”
Cecil could see where this was headed. This wasn’t the first time. The sense of his being the omega rose up again. He didn’t resent his friends, but sometimes he got tired of other people writing him off for his lack of status. It was a little too much like how his mother’s family treated him, and his mother as well, with all their talking about being doctors and college professors, and what was he going to do with his life. While Violet blithely chatted about how it was almost too bad Will was gay, not that there was anything wrong with that (Cecil cringed at that one), or how exciting it must be to hang out with Lou Ellen, or how strong Clarisse must be, Cecil politely offered to walk her back to the dining pavilion. “Great,” he thought as they strolled back, “I’m on a date with (for want of a better word) a starfucker.”
When, next week, she started dating Jake Mason, Cecil was, to put it mildly, pissed. When all of Violet’s multi-colored skirts developed large bleach stains and her nail polish kept mysteriously turning a particularly vile shade of green, Violet was also less than pleased.
Cecil did not have long to mope. The arrival of three new demigods, brought back from Annabeth’s latest quest to find Percy, provided ample distraction even from Jake’s being currently in a full body cast (damn that dragon automaton). Cecil would’ve been happy to ‘help out’ looking after Jake in the infirmary, but for some reason, after talking to that new camper, Jason, Chiron had insisted on Cecil spending even more time at the listening post, although the centaur refused to tell him what he was supposed to be looking for.
Chapter 5: What We Did in the War
The Giant War from Cecil's POV
The bulk of the second half of the chapter is mostly a reframing of those chapters at the end of BOO, obviously, but I think our hero's side of things deserves a hearing.
So, there’s actually a camp full of children of (and grandchildren and great great how ever many generations of) Roman gods as well, but Chiron had sworn never to reveal that camp’s existence. Cecil snorted derisively. The old centaur thought he was so cagey, but the fact was that Cecil’s little internet expeditions had already uncovered all sorts of interesting groups, including a group of magicians in Brooklyn, a fascinating hotel in Boston, and a most amusing group in Florida that made references to having to put up with large family gatherings where Oshun and Iku got into fights. To mortals, it might have passed for cosplaying, but Cecil knew better. He also knew, courtesy of his mother’s sage advice, how to keep secrets even from Olympian deities. The last thing he wanted to see was a turf war between Apollo and Amaterasu over who got to drive the sun chariot that day.
At any rate, he was quite happy to help monitor news while the Hephaestus cabin continued to work on their “spanking hot war machine,” as their new head, Leo kept referring to it. He rather liked Leo. For all that the guy was a true son of the god of the forges, there was something in his elfin features that made him seem a bit like one of Cecil’s siblings. Plus, he could find a kindred spirit in the Hispanic boy’s clumsy attempts at flirting. He was happy to be part of the crowd of well wishers as the Argo II set off for Camp Jupiter. (He was also happy to see Jake healed enough to make it to the launch party, although he was less than thrilled to see that Jake’s wheelchair was being pushed by his ex from the Iris cabin, Violet.)
The elation of the launch of the Argo II didn’t last. News of the disastrous events following the ship’s arrival in Camp Jupiter got back fairly quickly. Once again, Cecil was not entirely surprised that there was a strong anti-Greek faction among the Romans. His mortal family had instilled in him a strong sense of “trust but verify” when dealing with groups that had a long history of animosity, although he hoped he was more sane than his Uncle Itzak, who, whenever he couldn’t get a seat on the train, put it down to antisemitism.
His continued computer surveillance did, however turn up some interesting information about a group, Triumvirate something or other, that seemed to be very interested in things related to both groups of demigods. As the situation in New Rome got worse, this shady group seemed to be willing to put up financial support. This piqued Cecil’s interest, so he cast an eye closer to home. Bingo! There seemed to be some interest in the market for local, organically grown strawberries. Cecil was not about to let some shadowy group undermine Camp Half Blood’s financial support, but this required more finesse and business skills than he had. Time to call in the big guns.
“So, Travis, hypothetically speaking, if someone were to express a little too much interest in a certain agricultural interest, say, organically grown, ah, blueberries, ah, what would be a good way to, shall we say, divert that interest?” was how Cecil put it in the post curfew chatter that was the nightly occurrence in the Hermes cabin.
“Oh, little brother of ours, we never concern ourselves with hypothetical questions,” came the reply, followed by Travis pulling Connor aside for some whispered discussion.
Cecil knew that this was Stoll-speak for “The matter will be dealt with in ways you do not want to know anything about.”
Sure enough, later that week his ‘researches’ indicated that whatever the shady organization was who seemed so interested in getting its tentacles into Camp Half Blood’s strawberry business was now getting sucked down the many rabbit holes of the Stoll brothers’ machinations. Potential crisis averted, and if his cabin’s co-counsellors didn’t want to tell him what they’d done, he certainly didn’t want to pass the information onto Chiron at this point. The old centaur had enough to worry about. Cecil also didn’t want to draw attention to the “finder’s fee” that the Stoll brothers had presented him with for alerting them to the “business opportunity.” (That sum would be added to his “college fund.”)
As the Seven’s quest continued and the Roman forces drew closer to Camp Half Blood, Chiron began to make daily announcements about the progress of both. In those meetings, he referred to Iris messages and word from nature spirits as his sources of information, but he never mentioned that a third source of information was Cecil’s solo computer activities. (At this point, the system didn’t require any attention from Nyssa, and she, like all her half-siblings, was pressed into manufacture of weaponry and defensive structures.) The boy appreciated the need for secrecy, but from time to time, he wished he could get a little credit for all his work. He wondered if his mother felt the same way in her job.
“There you are, you slacker. Listen, punk, if I don’t see your sorry Hermes ass at sword practice in five minutes, you won’t have an ass left for me to beat.” That was Ellis Wakefield, Cecil’s least favorite Ares camper, even worse than Sherman Yang. Where Sherman’s malice was broadcast to all and sundry, especially Cecil’s fellow Hermes siblings, Ellis seemed to be more directed in his attacks. (When Cecil had mentioned this to Will and Lou Ellen, they looked at each other and started to giggle. “Oh, Cecil, honey, that sounds like Ares-style flirting.” was Lou Ellen’s response.) At any rate, the tirade of the Ares boy was interrupted when Clarisse grabbed him by the arm and roughly pulled him away, telling him to get back to work. When the other boy muttered something about soft little Hermes slackers, his half-sister just responded by smacking him upside the head.
Well, Cecil had been spending so much time doing his ‘undercover work’ that his absence from regular camp activities might have been noticed.
“So, what’ve you been up to? I haven’t seen you hanging around,” started Will.
“Oh, this and that, ya know.”
“Ooh, when a Hermes boy says ‘this and that,’ you know it’s gotta be no good,” was Lou Ellen’s comeback.
Cecil took advantage of his friends’ assumptions of his ‘nefarious’ activities. Still, he wished he could share some of the news he’d found. On the other hand, there were some disturbing rumors about the fate of his best friend’s crush, and he didn’t want to disturb Will until more was known for certain. Nonetheless, there were some disturbing postings on the Serpentlegs.com site. (Cecil supposed that, since Iris messages didn’t work for giants, they needed someplace to swap gossip, so he created an account with the user name Marrowsucker2358.)
As the days passed, the tension in the camp mounted. Training and arming increased in intensity, and true to form, betting pools sprang up like mushrooms. The fate of the Seven, the progress of the Roman armies, when and where the next giants would attack, it was all fair game, and the Stoll brothers made sure to be the first ones in on the action. Cecil decided to take advantage of some of his inside information to increase his already burgeoning “college fund.” (Very quietly, of course. He doubted that Chiron would take a kindly view of this sort of thing, regardless of how much he could use his Hermes heritage as an excuse.) He drew the line at taking part in the betting on Nico di Angelo’s fate. He couldn’t bring himself to add fuel to a fire that could burn his best friend so badly.
At last, the day came when the battle was at their doorstep. Thanks, among other things, to Cecil’s surveillance, the camp had ample warning and was well prepared, but the immensity of the attacking forces was nearly overwhelming. Cecil was done hiding in his listening post; this was a time for action rather than information. He wasn’t sure what to do, but he knew that if this was the end his best friends would be ready to fight, and he wanted to be at their side. He found Lou Ellen coming out of the Hecate cabin and carrying a flowered bag that was bulging with he didn’t want to know what. Without saying a word to each other, they ran to the infirmary just as Will came out, looking paler than they’d ever seen him.
“Oh gods, oh gods, oh gods!” the healer moaned. “I just delivered a baby! If I wasn’t gay already, I would be now. Sorry, guys, but I never want to see that again.”
“Never mind all that, Will,” Lou Ellen said. “We’re on a mission.”
“If it’s outside and away from the infirmary, count me in. What’s the plan?”
The Hecate camper pulled three black shirts and three pairs of black jeans out of her bag. “Put these on,” she said. “We are off to see if we can sneak behind enemy lines and do some sabotage.”
“Let me handle the sabotage; you guys just cover me, okay?” Cecil said. After all, sabotage was more a Hermes thing.
“You think we can sneak around in daylight by wearing black?” Will put in.
“These outfits are Mist treated. I also have some face paint that will help keep us from being noticed as long as we keep quiet.”
The three of them donned the clothes and smeared their faces. Then Lou Ellen pulled three sets of binoculars out of her bag. Cecil wondered how so much could fit into that bag. Will just thought they looked ridiculous, but as long as he could do something to get his mind off what he’d just been through, he was happy to join in. Somehow, none of them seemed to realize that they could get themselves killed.
They crept over a ridge and crouched down to get a better sense of where they could be most effective without giving themselves away. A lone figure stepped in front of them. Will completely blew their cover by calling out “Nico?”
The demigod spun around and nearly decapitated Will with his sword. Then the two boys began to argue. “Total rom-com moment,” Cecil thought. Lou Ellen took advantage to introduce herself. “Hi. You’re Nico, right?” Cecil could hear the fangirl in her voice.
Nico responded by asking about Gleeson Hedge. Apparently, he was the father of the baby Will had just delivered. Cecil couldn’t tell whether his friend was just still moaning about the delivery or trying to flirt, but then Nico pulled back and told them he had to take off. Oh gods, that put Will into full mom mode. Cecil had seen it so many times when he hung out with his friend in the infirmary, but there was something about the way the other boy responded to it that made Cecil think that maybe, just maybe Will was right. There was just something about Nico’s response to the mothering that seemed slightly like the arguments of an old married couple, and the two boys had hardly spoken to each other before that. As the bickering continued, Cecil noticed that both he and Lou Ellen seemed to have been turned into amused spectators.
Finally, the two boys stopped arguing. Nico seemed to accept that he wasn’t going to be allowed to do any Underworld magic stuff (Lou Ellen looked a little disappointed at that), but he insisted that the others follow his lead. Cecil sighed. Omega again. On the other hand, the Italian probably had more experience in this sort of thing than Cecil’s entire cabin did. As they moved toward one of the onagers, there was a loud ruckus. This distraction allowed them to walk up to the large war machine. Cecil offered to take it out with some Greek fire, but Nico told him instead to sabotage it so that no-one would suspect anything until it was too late. Damn! Apparently this guy was as good at tactics as he was with that scary black sword of his. Well, this was a chance for Cecil to shine, so he set to work tweaking the aiming and firing mechanisms so that only a trained mechanic would notice that the onagers payload would end up interfering with the other machines instead of raining destruction on Camp Half Blood.
As they headed for the second machine, unfortunately, one of the guards noticed. As he alerted the other Romans, Will took off, trying to draw them away. The boy could run pretty well, but if any of them were descendants of Hermes, no, Mercury, his friend was in trouble. With that, Lou Ellen pulled something out of her bag. Cecil knew too well what it was and hoped that none of the Romans was concerned with keeping kosher (or their human form for that matter).
Nico appreciated that trick, but Cecil pointed out that Will was still being chased. Nico gave a spectacular eye roll and set off. Cecil whistled in appreciation of the skill that the son of Hades showed in fighting dirty. Whoever Will’s equivalent was in the Roman camp would have a lot of crotch kicks and black eyes to heal after this battle. While most eyes were on that brawl, Cecil did his dirty work on this onager’s mechanics. Unfortunately, by now enough Roman reinforcements had arrived that they were going to have to fight.
The odds were evened considerably when Nico summoned up five skeletons to aid them. It was a shame that the effort made him almost pass out, so he was out of the fight. His collapse also meant, surprise, surprise, that Will was too preoccupied to be much good. Of course, he was never much of a fighter. Cecil understood that his friend’s empathic powers meant that he would feel pain every time he inflicted pain, so he was actually glad that Will was not really going to raise arms against anyone. Besides, even after missing sword practice because of all that time at the listening post, Cecil could hold his own, and Lou Ellen, even without any more pig balls, was someone you did not want to get into a battle with. Even though, to a casual observer, she seemed to be waving her sword around randomly, Cecil knew that she was weaving the Mist around the Romans so tightly that they’d be lucky to get free any time in the next month.
It looked like they were going to be able to get away when even more Romans came up on them even more heavily armed and led by some robed high muck-a-muck. The guy seemed to have an escort of six of those dog-headed monsters. Right, that must be Octavian. Cecil had read up on him online. He was a descendant of Apollo, but many generations removed. Cecil could see a faint resemblance to Will, but this Octavian looked like a poor copy, washed out and somewhat disheveled. The dog men advanced; Octavian had ordered them to attack.
Gevaltgeshriggener! [This one doesn’t really translate, but think of it as Oy vey! on steroids]. That fakokteh [that one can be translated, but it’s dirty, so my grandmother would prefer I didn’t] whistle of Will’s rent the air. Cecil’s ears rang, but the dog men were more seriously affected. Like completely incapacitated. After some stereotypical over the top bad movie villain ranting, Octavian ordered the onagers to be fired. Nico shot him a worried look. Cecil hoped he returned it with a “not to worry” look.
As Octavian’s minions raced off to do their master’s bidding, Cecil watched the interplay between Nico and the two descendants of Apollo. Of course the Roman continued to overplay his Dr. Evil role, Will made what would seem to the uninitiated to be a play to Di Angelo’s sense of decency, but what to Cecil and Lou Ellen as practically a marriage proposal. Cecil took note of the Italian’s response and began to wonder whether the boy might actually not be as straight as everyone thought. Well, this could be useful in upcoming betting pools, assuming they survived to place those bets.
Those thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the mid air detonation of all six of the onagers’ payloads. Score one for the Hermes kid! His redirection had been perfect. Octavian tried to order his troops to reload and reaim, but they seemed to balk. Meanwhile, the forces of Camp Half Blood appeared on the ridge. It looked like the final battle was about to begin when Will cried out, “DON’T BE STUPID! LOOK!’
Cecil thought he’d never seen anything so beautiful. Six pegasi were carrying an ivory and gold statue through the air. That must be the Athena Parthenos that Di Angelo had risked his very substance to bring halfway around the world. Better yet, the flying horses, all of whom he recognized from the stables at camp, seemed to have an honor guard of Roman eagles. The day was saved.
Never say that, never even think that. Of course it was then that the voice of Gaea rang through the heads of both Roman and Greek forces, announcing her awakening and promising death to all. The very ground seemed to clutch at all of them. Just as the figure of a twenty foot tall goddess tore itself free of the earth, a huge metallic dragon flew out of the sky and seized the goddess in its talons. No-one on the ground had the time to take that in as the monsters spawned by the earth goddess fell upon them. It seemed that the common enemy united the two camps; they fought well together, but Cecil didn’t know how long they could hold out.
Just as he seemed to lose hope, there was a roaring noise as what looked like golden comet with a bit of purple trim was launched skyward from one of the onagers. Strangely, it seemed like there was the sound of a very human scream as it flew up. Then there was a huge glittering explosion in the sky, followed by a rain of flecks of gold and sand. Whatever it was seemed to cause about half of the monsters to disintegrate on the spot and the other half to flee in terror. The war was over, the demigods had won.
Chapter 6: After the War
Things calm down, but poor Cecil still can't get the girl.
It started with the party. Of course, the party. Say what you like about Romans, they knew how to party. And what better reason to party than simultaneously preventing the end of the world and discovering a whole new bunch of demigods. Not that everything about the party was great. The hangovers were just as epic as the partying. And the head healer wasn’t much help, since he seemed to be too preoccupied with just one patient (not to mention names, but rhymes with Pico) to be singing hangover curing hymns. It didn’t help that Cecil’s fabulous luck with romance seemed to be on form.
“So tell me about yourself,” he said to what seemed to be the prettiest girl in the group of Romans, who also seemed to be interested in him. They pulled each other closer.
“Well, I’m in the Sixth Legion, I’m studying tactics, and I’m a daughter of (wait for it) Mercury.” She leaned in close, ready to kiss him. His response did not please her.
“Oh, gods, no!”
“What?” she said, rather angrily.
“I’m a son of Hermes.”
The mutual cries of “Ewww!” certainly got the attention of everyone within earshot.
Not everyone was doing as badly. A few days after the Romans had left (with promises to return, to the delight, especially of the Dionysus cabin), Cecil and Lou Ellen were in their usual after-lunch hang out spot. The third member of the usual trio approached for the first time in days.
“Look who’s finally out of the infirmary,” said Lou Ellen.
“I had a patient who required special care.”
“From that grin,” Cecil put in, “I can only imagine what kind of care. Is it who I think it is?”
Will turned a bright red but nodded. Cecil stuck his hand out toward Lou Ellen. “I believe someone owes me five drachmai.”
“Well apparently my gaydar doesn’t work so well on boys. Thank all the gods I do better with girls. So, when do your mother” she pointed to Cecil “and I get to meet this new feller of yours, son?”
“Guys, guys,” Will gestured as if to shush them, “Nico’s really shy. He’s not out yet. For the love of all the gods, don’t mess this up for me.”
Cecil put an arm around his friend in what would have been a parental fashion if it weren’t for the fact that Will was about six inches taller than he was. “Will, Will, we’d never do that to him. To you, on the other hand, we make no such promises. You know, since you’ve done so well, maybe I should embrace the male side of my orientation. Do you think I have a chance with Butch?”
Will and Lou Ellen shook their heads in unison. “Oh, Cecil, honey,” said Lou Ellen with mocking sadness, “you’re too late. He and Clovis have started going out.”
“Yeah,” added Will, “he’s gone from stuffing pencils in Clovis’ nose to…”
“William Alexander Solace, do not finish that sentence!”
As the weeks went on, Nico began to hang out with the three of them. He was still very shy, but Cecil found that he rather liked the son of the underworld. For all of his fame/notoriety as one of the heroes of the last three major battles, the Italian was a sweet kid, kind of a nerd at heart, although he did have his moods. Once he became familiar enough around the three friends (and Lou Ellen stopped gushing about his occasionally creepy powers) to actually show some affection to his boyfriend, Cecil came to appreciate how the good effect the shorter boy had on his best friend. He could see that Will’s tendency to have private breakdowns every time he couldn’t cure every little scratch and wound subsided, and Nico seemed to bask in the easy atmosphere (at least in private) that the three (now four) friends had established. Plus, Cecil discovered that the son of Hades enjoyed the sarcastic sense of humor that his mother had raised him with.
It wasn’t long after that, when an incident at the campfire made the boys’ relationship public. Not to go into too many details, but a little hand holding turned into a little smooching which turned into mutual inhaling of each others’ faces. The two boys were so into each other that they didn’t notice the stares until the entire Aphrodite cabin gave them a standing ovation. Nico jumped up at the sound of applause, let fly with a string of Venetian street language (Cecil was quite impressed and filed the vocabulary away for future reference) and plunged into the nearest shadow, leaving poor Will sputtering incoherently. Cecil quick-wittedly called out, “Wow, Lou Ellen, that was a spectacular illusion,” but he doubted that anyone bought that story.
The next day, Will cautiously peeked out of his cabin, expecting the worst, not knowing whether it would just be catcalls and smoochy noises from the entire camp or a legion of zombie warriors ready to rend him limb from limb. Instead, it was Nico, sans zombies but looking slightly amused.
“Your friend Cecil is a genius at distraction. You might have to re-attach his arms and legs at some point, however, when the victims of his attempts to take focus off of us catch him.” The son of Hades gestured toward the Ares cabin. Somehow, the barbed wire and minefield that normally surrounded the cabin had been replaced by silly string and whoopie cushions. Needless to say, that (and the subsequent assaults on the entire Hermes cabin) replaced the “campfire incident” as that week’s topic of camp gossip.
The more they all hung out together, the more at ease Nico became with showing signs of affection to Will, at least when it was only the four of them. Cecil and Lou Ellen appreciated this, and showed their appreciation by keeping their cooing and “aws” to a minimum. Cecil in particular was glad that at least somebody was having some success when it came to romance. It made a nice change from the Hermes cabin where he couldn’t even sulk about his own romantic problems because his normally ultra-cool brother Connor was getting way too moony about his fixation on one of the boys from the Aphrodite cabin.
It was on one of those afternoons where the four of them were hanging out together that Piper and Lacy ambushed them with the news that Will and Nico had been named “cutest couple of the year.” Cecil thought di Angelo’s response to that news may have been the funniest thing he’d ever seen. The poor kid just about came unraveled. Then he revealed that he’d never been given the TALK (about acceptance for all LGBT+ campers). Technically, it was Will’s duty, as head of the infirmary, but Cecil stepped in, of course giving it in his own (probably not Chiron-approved style). Then it was revealed that there were those who were less than pleased with the boys’ relationship (Lacy referred to it as “Solangelo” which was a term Cecil at first resisted, but then realized could translate to “Sun Angel” so he came to love it and use it to excess) and wanted to break them up. This would not do. Hermes cunning was called for, and Hermes cunning came to the rescue, only involving a bit of humiliation and nudity.
[AN: The author steers those who have not read it to “Perils (and Benefits) of Poaching” for more details on this.]
For his part in it, Cecil knew that even more of his fellow campers were grateful to him, but he asked them not to make a big deal about it. As far as Nico went, Cecil was happy just to help his best friend’s boyfriend. He knew that Lou Ellen would never spill his role in the actions that resulted in Mitchell ending up with Connor, but he didn’t know about Lacy keeping quiet until he approached her at lunch.
“Well, I thought about dropping hints to Mitchell about your part in this; I figured he’d be grateful, and the you could definately use the gratitude of a child of Aphrodite,” the young girl offered. “But if word ever got back to Drew about you telling Nico to sic those zombie squirrels on her, she’d cut off your junk and hang it from the front door of your cabin.” Where did such a sweet young girl come up with such disturbing images, Cecil wondered. Kudos to Connor, he thought. He’d never have the nerve to date anyone from Aphrodite, no matter how pretty they appeared.
Well, there were plenty of other cabins to choose from. Maybe Demeter. Billie Ng. She was cute. She was also kind of feisty. Cecil remembered her swinging a mean scythe at some of those carnivorous centaurs during the Giant War. When he first approached her, Billie didn’t seem to know who he was, but her head counsellor, Katie (who was dating Cecil’s half-brother Travis) introduced him.
“Oh, right,” she said, hesitantly at first. “You’re Will’s friend. So he and Nico…” she started. He braced himself, either for the ‘your friends are so impressive and who the Hades are you?’ or the ‘ooh, creepy son of Hades.’ Instead she just said, “Gods, they are just sooo cute together.” Well, big points to Billie for that. They agreed to a date.
It may have been a cliche, but they met up to go strawberry picking. Certainly, it was tried and true, but the children of Demeter did like that sort of thing. It actually went quite well. She actually took his hand as he walked her back to the her cabin. But then…
“ACHOO, ACHOO, ACHOO.” Oh schist! That last sneeze sprayed her hair.
“Do you by any chance have allergies?” she asked, surprisingly calmly.
“Oh gods, I’m so sorry.” he wheezed.
“Look, Cecil, I like you, but…”
“I know, I know,” he gasped. “Daughter of Demeter and all, it would never work.”
Perfect. He was still single, and, to cap it off, the summer was over. In two days, he’d be going back to stay with his mother’s charming-as-a-root-canal family.
Chapter 7: Cecil’s Big Adventure
Our boy on a rescue mission!
Brief use of a homophobic epithet. As my mother used to say, "People who use words like that aren't telling anything about you, but they're telling you plenty about themselves, and none of it is good."
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
He’d been back with his family for about a week when it happened. He’d been griping to Will in an Iris message, so Will and Nico decided to pay him a visit. Unfortunately, his Aunt Lillian caught sight of them.
“Hat ir zen di feygelim?” [Did you see the fags?],she said to her daughter Julia. “Dos iz vos di mumzer khangz oys mit” [This is who the bastard hangs out with]. Then the old hag had the nerve to smile at him and tell him (in English) that his friends seemed nice. Wait for it, Cecil thought.
“How did this happen? My kreplach [dumplings] are ruined! What will we eat for Sukkot?” [Fall harvest holiday]. Somehow, the freezer in aunt Lillian’s basement had broken down just after she’d filled it in preparation for the holiday. Cecil couldn’t imagine how that had happened, not that he minded being spared his aunt’s cooking. Somehow, everything the old woman made tasted like it had been marinated in a Gegene’s armpits.
The next day, the repairman came by to pick up the freezer. He heard his aunt’s dulcet tones as the man carried the machine up the stairs on a hand truck. “If you so much as scratch the finish, I won’t pay you a cent! I need it back by tomorrow, and I’m not paying storage fees.”
“Yes, ma’am. We’ll have it back to you tomorrow working just fine.” That was a familiar voice. Cecil saw that the coast was clear and then ran out into the street as the repairman was getting into the cab of his truck.
“Hey, Cecil, what are you doing here?”
“That charming piece of work is, unfortunately my aunt. This is where I spend the school year.”
“I’m guessing you had something to do with the repair job I’m about to start. I thought I recognized that Hermes touch.”
“Sorry, man. She kind of pissed me off.”
“No problem. You know, my uncle Alan described some of the repairs he’s been doing for them over the years, and I thought I could help out. I take it from the last three years of your handiwork that you don’t get along with your mortal family.”
“My mom’s great, but she’s overseas, so I have to stay with her cousins, and they really love (he stressed that word) anybody who doesn’t fit in with their limited world view. Let’s just say they are a little less than thrilled to have a family member who somehow couldn’t produce a nice Jewish wedding before she produced yours truly.”
“I hear you, man. Most of my mortal family is great, but there are a few of them that after family reunions I have to go hammer some dents out of a few hundred shields to calm down.”
A thought struck Cecil. “Listen, Jake, can I ask you a favor?” He thought to himself that there was more than he wanted to ask the other boy than a favor, but there was something he needed to do, and he needed some special materials to accomplish it.
“Sure, anything.” Jake smiled, and Cecil thought he liked that smile a lot.
“If I give you a list of computer parts, could you get them to me? It’s part of that thing Nyssa and I were working on.”
“No problem. She and I have been sharing schematics, so anything you need I can probably knock together in about five minutes.”
“Great.” Cecil proceeded to name the items that he would need to upgrade the cheap laptop that his uncle Itzhak had begrudgingly given him last year while keeping the monsters from detecting his snooping. There was something he thought he’d caught a whiff of while taking advantage of his high school computer lab, but he needed more sophisticated hardware to continue the search undetected.
The next day, Cecil was a bit distracted. He’d found more disturbing information, but this would require some careful investigation before proceeding, so he really needed those components he’d asked about the day before. It was about 4:30 that afternoon when he looked out the window to see Jake’s truck pull up. He heard Julia shout “Ma, the narrishe bulvan [stupid oaf] is back.”
His aunt Lillian was pleased to hear Jake say, “This one is on the house,” as he brought the repaired freezer down the steps to the cellar. No matter. If his family kept bad-mouthing his friends, the Mason family’s repair business was going to make plenty of money off them this year. Cecil watched as Jake came back out and pulled his truck around the corner out of view. He slipped out the door to meet with the Hephaestus boy out of view of his aunt and cousin.
“Jake, man, did you get those parts?”
“Sure, Cecil.” The larger boy passed him a bag. “Listen, are you free this weekend? You wanna grab a bite this Saturday night, say seven?”
“Sure, man, sure. Listen, I gotta run.” Cecil was so focused on what he was about to get into that he didn’t notice the series of expressions on the other boy’s face, first when he’d agreed to meet and then when he turned and left so quickly and distractedly.
Whatever. He’d seen a notice near the elementary school down the street earlier that week and wanted to check up on it. It was a notice that read, “Problems at school? Problems at home?” It was some support group for young kids with learning disabilities who were from single parent households or had a step-parent. Now that could mean nothing, but something about the wording that made him wonder.
Later that night, his suspicions were confirmed. Using the components Jake had given him, he was able to render his laptop undetectable to monsters. Using all his Hermes skills, Cecil was able to find connections between this support group and both that shadowy Triumvirate and to the Serpentlegs.com site. So far the organizers just seemed to have been collecting names, but tomorrow they would be having their first meeting shortly after school let out.
The next day, he put together a few items that he knew would come in handy for a reconnoitering mission; Into his satchel, he placed a pair of celestial bronze daggers, a collection of throwing knives, a small package from Lou Ellen that he was very careful not to jar, a few random electronics, and oddly, a package from Aunt Lillian’s newly repaired freezer. He remembered Percy Jackson’s story of how his first step-father’s vile body odor masked his demigod scent, so he figured some of his aunt’s equally vile smelling knishes (what did that woman put in them, uncle Morris’s gatkes [underwear]?!) should do the same. He snuck out before his last period class (really, what child of Hermes couldn’t get out of school whenever he wanted?) and headed over to the former factory turned lofts where this meeting was supposed to take place. He hadn’t been inside the building more than a few minutes when he heard rough voices.
“Sprocket, what is that smell?’
Gevalt, [interjection implying catastrophe], cyclopes!
“Sorry, I think Pinion spilled some of his lunch.”
Great, the knish camouflage did the trick.
“Never mind, is the net in place?”
“Yeah, and I made sure the door locks are set to my remote control. I don’t see why we can’t just lock the brats in and have a barbecue.”
The first cyclops roughly cuffed the other two. “Idiots! Pinion’s contacts will pay a bounty for any of those half-bloods that we don’t eat. And, don’t forget, they want at least fifteen brought in alive. We’ve got about 30 of the brats signed up for this meeting, so there’s plenty for us to eat and still make a pretty penny. All that celestial bronze wasn’t cheap, but we’ll make all that back and then some if this works. Now let’s get those disguise charms on. Those kids will be here in half an hour.”
Sure enough, when the three cyclopes put on the wigs they had with them, they looked like perky social workers even to Cecil’s trained eyes. He had to work fast. Fortunately, cyclopes liked complicated machinery, which was Cecil’s bread and butter. He scoped out the room where the meeting was being held. Sure enough, there was a celestial bronze net (perfect for holding either demigods or monsters) suspended over the half of the room where the children would be sitting. The net was held in place by a series of hooks and levers that would fling the net down when triggered. Well, that only took a few adjustments. Next, he found the master control for every door lock in the building. Again, the monsters’ love of overly complicated machinery served well. Now all the locks were set instead to the remote control he’d put in his bag. All that remained was to wait.
No sooner had he pulled himself into one of the cupboards than a crowd of children poured into the room. They were followed by what was obviously one of the disguised cyclopes.
“Hey, kids! How do you like the free cell phones?” the cyclops called out in an excessively cheerful voice. This was probably Pinion, their leader. “Fully equipped with unlimited data!”
Great. Cell phones and demigods. Even if any of them got away, they’d be easy prey for any monster on the street to find and devour.
“Now,” the cyclops continued smoothly, “if everyone could take a seat, I’d like you to meet the other members of our team.” The other four creatures came into the room, their disguises even hiding their usual lumbering gait.
“Great, we’re all here. Now for a big surprise.” Pinion touched a button on the wall. This released the net in the ceiling, which was supposed to drop straight down onto the unsuspecting children, but Cecil’s tampering had altered the release mechanism so instead it flew to the front of the room, trapping the four cyclopes and, conveniently, dislodging the wigs so that their true misshapen forms were revealed.
As screams from the terrified kids filled the air, Cecil hopped out of his hiding place and started throwing bronze knives at the trapped cyclopes. Fortunately, (in spite of Ellis’s taunts) he had kept up on his training, so before they could free themselves, all four had been reduced to glittering dust.
“Time to get out of here, kids. But first, drop those phones. They’re booby-trapped.” Cecil called out. Fortunately, these kids were so scared that they threw the phones down and headed for the door.
“Not so fast.” Another cyclops, this one female, burst into the room. She jabbed at a remote control, ostensibly to lock the door, but Cecil’s sabotage had rendered the device useless. The intended victims poured out the back door. The cyclops shrieked in frustration, but still managed to grab Cecil by the ankle as he paused to make sure the children had all gotten out safely. As she hoisted him into the air, he dropped the satchel with his supplies and weapons. He managed to pull one dagger out of his belt, but the monster just laughed at him as he brandished it (as well as he could as he swung upside down from her grasp.
“Your little toy doesn’t scare me, lunch.” (He didn’t care for that nickname at all.) “I’m under a prophecy. ‘Neither blade nor fire shall be your end, but only axe.’ And lunch, I can see that you don’t have an axe.”
“Well, that’s convenient,” said a voice from the window. Mitchell, of all people, came through the window, brandishing a can of aerosol. As the cyclops turned toward him, he sprayed it directly into the creature’s large bloodshot eye. She dropped Cecil, clawing at her orb, and then erupted into a shower of glitter.
“How did that work?” Cecil asked, and then noticed the brand name on the body spray. “And what are you doing here?”
“Jake brought in some back up for you. He had a feeling you were getting into trouble, so he built some kind of monitoring circuit into those computer parts he gave you. I guess he really wanted to make sure you don’t miss that Saturday night date.”
Cecil decided to process this information later and focus on getting out safely for now. He grabbed his satchel and ran for the door, Mitchell at his heels. As they rounded a corner, they saw three dracaenae waiting for them at the end of the corridor. He didn’t hesitate, but reached into his satchel and plucked out Lou Ellen’s gift to him, a chalky white ball. He threw it at the three snake women, but they ducked. “Misssssed.” hissed one of them, but then the ball struck the wall behind them and shattered into a white dust that misted down covering the monsters, and when it cleared, there were not serpent women but three startled looking chickens.
“Shouldn’t they be pigs?” asked Mitchell.
“Lou Ellen made this one special for me. I guess she wanted to spare my Jewish sensibilities.”
The two boys emerged from the building only to see that the fleeing children had been cornered by more cyclopes and dracaenae. Cecil knew that he and Mitchell were no match for that many monsters, but the other boy just smiled. “I’m not the only one Nico traveled here to back you up.” That explained what Mitchell was doing in Cleveland.
Sure enough, a number of demigods ran forward to come to their rescue. Sherman and Ellis from the Ares cabin jumped into the fray, swords swinging. For all their bluster, the children of Ares were good with swords. Then Nico di Angelo came forth swinging that black Stygian sword of his. He seemed a little subdued after shadow traveling the others with him from Camp Half Blood, but even at less than full strength, the son of Hades was a terror on the battlefield. The monsters were reduced to glittering dust in short order.
There was a cry of “Hey little bro!” and Connor Stoll emerged, firing the gods only knew what from a slingshot at the monsters. Whatever it was seemed to do the trick. Cecil heaved a sigh of relief, but was suddenly seized from behind.
“Drop your weapons, demigods, or I rip his arms off,” came the voice of the cyclops who’d seized Cecil’s arms. He could feel the strain as the hulking beast pulled on him.
“I don’t think so!” came a triumphant cry from behind them. Cecil was dropped unceremoniously to the ground. He looked up to see that Jake Mason had buried his sledge hammer in the monster’s skull. Cecil just had time to see his friends vanquish the last of the monsters before he passed out from exhaustion (and maybe just a little terror).
It seems seven chapters isn't enough for our boy Cecil. He deserves an epilogue after all that he's done.
Chapter 8: In Shtub Vider [Home Again]
Our hero gets his own
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Cecil woke up in a strange bed to the sound of snoring. When he opened his eyes, he saw a familiar shaggy blond head over his. Will Solace was looking down at him with a smile. His first thought was that he was in the Camp Half Blood infirmary, but that wasn’t right. He didn’t recognize the bed or the room.
“You seem to be okay,” Will said in what Cecil recognized as his friend’s ‘soothing healer voice.’ “Nico brought me here to check on you after the battle.” That explained the snoring. The son of Hades was passed out in a chair in the corner, exhausted from all the shadow traveling (as well as some fairly badass sword work).
Cecil sat up. Will helped him to his feet. “You’re good to walk?”, he asked quietly. “You’ve got friends who want to talk to you, and, trust me, you do NOT want to wake Nico up.” Cecil just nodded at that and let himself be led into the front room.
When he saw the group of demigods in the next room, Cecil asked, “First off, where am I? Second, what are you all doing here?”
Jake answered first. “This is my mom’s house. We thought it would be a good place for you to recover. I called these other guys in after Nyssa and I found out what you were up to. I figured you could use some back up, and they all owed you.”
Seeing Cecil’s puzzled look, Mitchell started. “Lacy told me what you did. If you hadn’t told him to steal that coin of Hazel’s, we might not be together now.” He put his arm around his boyfriend for emphasis. Connor just shot him a classic Stoll grin and muttered, “I owed you, li’l bro.”
Sherman then said, “Look man, Clarisse told us about how your intel saved our lives back in the Titan War. Ares owes you.”
Ellis interrupted his half-brother. “We’re still gonna kick your ass for that stunt with the silly string.” Gods! Did he wink at Cecil when he said “kick your ass?”
Jake scowled at him. “Look guys,” he said, “maybe you want to find somewhere else to be for a while. Eight demigods in one house is just asking for monsters to attack, and I just redid the kitchen for my mom’s birthday.”
“Not to worry,” Connor said. “Mitchell and I are off to Starbucks. Call us when our ride home wakes up.” Connor pointed to the bedroom where Nico’s snores could still be heard.
“Hey Sherman, I saw a Planet Fitness on the way over here.” That was Ellis. He flexed his biceps ostentatiously, shooting Cecil a look. “These guns could use a workout.”
Jake, whose blacksmith’s physique could put any Ares camper to shame, just rolled his eyes. “Yeah, whatever. I’ll come get you when Nico’s ready to take you home.”
“If you need me, I’ll be looking after Nico.” Will walked back into the bedroom. “Be safe, you two.”
“So,” said Jake, not quite meeting the other boy’s eyes, “you wanna go for a walk or something?”
“Ah, sure” Cecil stammered out. Why was his throat so dry? He was surprised when Jake, instead of heading for the front door, led him further into the house and then out a back door into a well kept garden.
“I thought we could just walk around the yard. You know, for a little privacy.”
Great, now Cecil could hardly breathe. So he went his usual route, self-sabotage.
“So, you and Violet…?”
Jake flushed a little. “Yeah, that didn’t end well. She kind of lost interest when Leo showed up.” His face fell a little when he mentioned his dead [AN: This takes place before Leo’s scroll announcing his survival appears] half-brother. “Seems she only wanted to go out with the big dogs. I’m so through with that.”
Cecil laughed (not bitterly at all, but breathing more easily). “I know what you mean. She pulled the same thing with me.”
Jake started at that. “Oh man, I’m so sorry. If I’d known you and she were exes, I never would have dated her.” On those last words, he’d taken hold of Cecil’s hand, which he didn’t mind at all.
“It’s okay, it was only two dates, and I kind of dumped her when she started talking about nothing but my two head-counsellor best friends.”
It was Jake’s turn to laugh. Then he took Cecil’s other hand and looked him in the eye. Suddenly, Cecil’s breathing problems came back.
“Cec, you know, I always really liked you. No, I’m serious. You’re always there to back up your friends, you always try to hide what you’re doing, it’s like you’re not the big shiny figurehead, you’re the gears inside that actually make the machine work.” Cecil grinned a little at that last bit of Hephaestus-speak.
Jake continued. “You know, I really wanted to ask you out after that time you were helping Will in the infirmary when we came in with all those burns, but I didn’t know if you were into guys.”
“How did you…” Cecil started to ask.
Jake flushed a little. “Will might have dropped a few hints. You know, I’ve been spending kind of a lot of time in the infirmary, and I might have straight out asked him.”
Cecil smiled at that. Yeah, his best bud always had his back.
Jake leaned close toward him. “I’m a sucker for that Hermes grin. Do you mind if I…?”
Cecil just pulled him close. He’d never kissed a boy before. The bit of stubble, the firm lips, those strong arms wrapped around him, oh yeah! He never wanted it to stop.
“Yo! Markowitz. We’re takin’ off. Tell Clarisse we paid off her debt to you.” That was the ever-eloquent Sherman Yang. Ellis just glared at them. Cecil couldn’t tell whether it was some hint of homophobia at the sight of two boys kissing or jealousy. (He suspected the latter, and figured he might make some money of the next CHB betting pool.)
“I guess Nico’s awake and ready to run his Shadow-Uber service,” cracked Jake.
“Yeah, maybe we should go in and see them off,” Cecil said, not at all trying to hide his disappointment at the interruption. They headed back into the house, Jake’s arm still draped over his shoulders. Mitchell and Connor came back to the house at the same time, and Mitchell, indicating Jake’s arm around Cecil with a grin, mouthed “Very nice. Connor, dear, do you want to tell Will or shall I?”
After Nico had taken the other five demigods back to camp, Cecil looked up at Jake.
“I can’t believe all you guys came to my rescue. Oh man, I would’ve been demigod tsimmis [stew] if you hadn’t pulled my butt out of the fire.
“You seemed to be doing pretty well on your own, but I, for one, like that butt very much.” Jake gave the aforementioned item a light squeeze for emphasis. (No, Cecil did not emit a high-pitched squeak at that.) “I told you, man, you’re always trying to help people on the downlow, but people, the smart ones anyway, know what you’ve done for them. Your brother, Mitchell, the whole Ares cabin. Clarisse told me about the debt Ares owed you, so she told Sherman to suit up and come along. Ellis overheard, and volunteered to come along, and let’s just say, I’m glad I was faster at making a move than he was.” Another butt squeeze, another undignified squeak. Which led to…
Cecil straightened out his shirt, which although not removed, had gotten turned around considerably. He also had to readjust his pants and noted with satisfaction that Jake had to do the same. He looked out the window and saw how dark it had become.
“Oh crap, what time is it?”
Jake looked at his wrist and said absently, “Where’s my watch?”
Cecil blushed and pulled it out of his back pocket. Jake retrieved the watch and smirked. “Hermes boys.” He pressed a button on the watch.
A voice intoned, “The time is 11:43 pm. The temperature is 53 degrees. Your weight is…” Jake blushed and pushed the button again, hastily silencing the device.
It was Cecil’s turn to smirk. “Hephaestus boys!” Then he paled. “I gotta get back to Aunt Lillian’s. She’s gonna give me six kinds of Hades for being out this late.”
“Get in the truck; I’ll drive you.” Jake to the rescue. When they got to Aunt Lillian’s Jake let Cecil out and waited in the car. “Just in case,” he said. Cecil wasn’t sure in case of what, but he was glad of the other boy’s support.
When he got to the door, cousin Julia opened it as if she’d been waiting for him. She had that ‘you’re gonna get it’ look that Cecil knew so well.
“So, the nogoodnik finally decides to come home.” Ah, the dulcet tones of Lillian Markowitz. If she’d been at Jericho, Cecil thought, Joshua wouldn’t have needed trumpets to bring down the walls. “Bad enough you keep us up half the night, but this nice young man has been waiting for you to get back for the last hour.”
“Not a problem, madam.” A familiar voice came from the next room. Chiron rolled into the room, seated in the wheelchair that concealed his centaur hindquarters. He was accompanied by Uncle Morris, Aunt Sadie, and, worst of all, Uncle Itzak. Great, the whole mishpochah was here to give him grief. Julia looked at him suspiciously, but he held up a blank piece of paper as if he were presenting her with an ID badge. (AN, if Time Lords can have psychic paper, why can’t Chiron have Mist paper?).
“Detective Brunner, Human Trafficking Division,” she said, as if reading it from the blank paper.
Chiron continued, “I’m sure your nephew was delayed because the debriefing ran late. Mr. Markowitz here is quite the hero. He’s been working with us on a case, and tonight it was only with his help that we were able to keep about thirty local children from being abducted.”
Cecil could hear the grunts of disbelief from his aunts and uncles. Although they forced smiles, he heard his Aunt Sadie mutter, “Di mumzer a held? Nit mistome!” [The bastard a hero? Not likely!]
“Ah yes, before I forget, Officer di Angelo asked me to give you this.” Chiron passed a folded note to Cecil who opened it and saw the elegant spidery handwriting that screamed ‘Ghost King.’
You’ve been in the shadows long enough. Take it from someone who knows, it’s time for you to come out.
Chiron addressed the assembled crowd of Cecil’s family. “You must be very proud of your nephew. I know that it will grieve you not to have him stay with you during the school year, but we’d like to offer him a full time residency at our special operations training facility. What do you think, my boy?”
“I’d love to, but before I go, I’d like to have a word with my family.” Cecil could see the eager looks on their faces. Before they got the satisfaction of getting rid of him, he’d like to see those smug looks fail.
“Toyre mishpochah, fur di letze finf yar hob ik gehert irn zilzulim, un ir idyots hot nisht traktn ik farshtaynen a vort fun zey.” [Dear family, for the last five years, I’ve listened to your insults, and you idiots didn’t think I understood a word of them.] He watched their faces curdle as the Yiddish rolled off his tongue. “Ir genomen meyn mamas gelt un gerufn ir a nafki. Nimmer mer. Nisht a zloty fur keyn vun ir. Ir gerufn mir a muzmer. Dayenu! Her mikh. Bin ik Zvi ben keyner vet als trefn, ik bin a held un ir kenen ale geyn kakn af in yam!” [You called my mother a slut and took her money. Never again. Not a penny for any of you. You called me a bastard. Enough! Hear me, I’m Cecil, son of nobody you’ll ever meet, I’m a hero, and you can all go fuck yourselves.]
While his family stood there, dumbfounded, Cecil took the handles of Chiron’s wheelchair and pushed it out the door. When he got outside, he started to apologize to the centaur for their hasty exit, but was stopped by a raised hand. “No need to explain, dear boy. By the way you have quite the way mit di mamaloshen [with Yiddish]. I’ll be seeing you at camp shortly, but it looks like Mr. Mason would like a word with you.” Chiron wheeled the chair around the corner and out of sight, but Cecil could hear the sound of hoofbeats receding into the night.
Jake came up to him with a questioning look. Cecil said, “Jake, I’ll be needing a place to stay tonight, and tomorrow, when everybody’s at work, I’ll be coming by to get my stuff. Your mother might be seeing rather more repair work fairly soon, by the way.” There was a hint of that Hermes grin again. “I’ll be heading back to camp for the rest of the year. See you there?” There was a nervous question in his voice, but Jake just smiled back.
And that's the story of Cecil. I hope you've enjoyed it, and I have a feeling there will be more to tell at a later date. (On a personal note, the Hebrew version of Cecil's name that I chose (Zvi) also happens to be my own Hebrew name.)