It was the summer just before College for Percy and Annabeth. Percy had actually done pretty well in his last SAT, and contrasting with Sally’s titanic tray of blue chocolate-chip victory cookies, Annabeth coldly told him it was no more than his obligation, after all the weekends he had made her spend teaching him the basics. The truth was, of course, that she was extremely proud of her Seaweed Brain, and Percy didn’t need her saying it to know. They were going to spend summer in Camp Half-Blood, as usual, and so they arrived there on the beginning of June, excited to see all their friends again.
For once, everyone was reunited. Jason and Piper, Leo and Calypso, Will and Nico. Frank, Hazel and Reyna, who would typically be in New Rome, thought it was a good idea to spend a few weeks with the Greeks, and even some older demigods who had already begun University came to enjoy their summer. Apollo was still stuck as a human, having to obey Meg’s orders, and Rachel, in middle of all the confusion with the oracles, had still managed to be accepted on Princeton’s Art program. As for Grover, Tyson, and over-excited Mrs. O’Leary, how could they miss it?
One day, when everyone had already settled in and were doing their activities, Jason decided to stop by the Ares’ cabin and talk to Frank. He had visited New Rome a couple of times during the semester, but he had still a lot to catch up on. Besides, with the oracles’ problem and Percy’s and Annabeth’s accounts on Egyptian and Nordic gods roaming around, it was never the wrong time to have a proper discussion and try to clear out the ideas a bit. Frank, as the new praetor, was just the right person to go on about serious matters.
As the son of Jupiter approached the Ares' cabin, though, he seemed to hear a familiar tune. Was it… was it what he thought it was? He climbed the steps and put his ear against the door, ignoring the detestable bull-head above him. Red, the blood of angry men! Jason couldn’t help but smile, and tried to open the door. It was locked. He knocked and soon the music stopped. He heard the sound of something falling and then a red-eyed Frank Zhang opened the door.
— Mm… Hi Jason! How can I help you? — Frank seemed very embarrassed, which although was just the way he usually was, didn’t coincide with his height and muscular figure.
— Hey Frank, I just stopped by to see how you were doing and… — Jason inclined his head and quietly whispered — Were you watching Les Miserables?
— What?! No, no, I was just… — he quickly cleaned a tear that had begun falling — I was just looking at some important papers. You know, praetor and everything.
— Frank, I LOVE Les Mis — Frank’s eyes shone and both boys smiled.
A few hours later, Percy and Annabeth, who had been talking to Grover by the beach and had begun sharing some worrisome stories, thought it was best to call the others and have a general assembly. They first went to Zeus’ cabin, hoping to find Jason, but he wasn’t there. So they went after Frank, and when the bull-head made itself visible, Percy said:
— Ugh, can you believe it’s been five years since I made the toilets explode? — it was a nice, calm day. Most campers were away practicing. Percy and Annabeth had the space almost for themselves.
— Sometimes it feels like it was just the other day, sometimes it feels like it’s been a hundred years longer — Percy knew exactly what she meant. All the wars they had had to face and, above all, Tartarus. The scars that had been left wouldn’t go away easily, and to connect to their 12 years-old selves wasn’t as simple anymore. He held her hand.
— How does it feel now?
Annabeth pressed his hand tighter and smiled.
— Like nothing ever changed — and kissed him softly.
— Then I’m glad it’s not true. You terrified me then — this made her laugh.
— C’mon, Seaweed Brain, let’s go talk to Frank.
Hand in hand, they climbed the stairs and found the door half-open. They heard someone sobbing.
— This ending gets me every time — they overheard Frank saying — Why didn’t he tell Marius the truth?
— I know — was it Jason sneezing? — Do you know what breaks me every time? EMPTY CHAIRS AT EMPTY TABLES. You know, for once you feel like you’re the lucky one.
— And Eponine and Gavroche?? You do know they’re siblings, don’t you?
— What?! When do they say that?
— It’s in the book.
— Gods, when you think it couldn’t hurt any more… and do they ever find out?
— Frank, Jason? — Annabeth interrupted, pushing away the door so Percy and she could enter
— Are you guys okay?
Frank and Jason were sitting on the floor, covered by blankets, each one holding a packet of tissues. The only light in the room was the dim blue from the television, which gave their sorrowful, dazzled faces, an even more depressive look.
— H-hi Annabeth, hi Percy — Jason said and awkwardly waved his hand, a gesture repeated by Percy.
— Were you two watching a movie? — Percy asked, trying to make conversation.
— We were watching Les Miserables. Have you guys heard of it?
— Oh, isn’t it the one based on Victor Hugo’s novel? — Annabeth said — I never saw the movie, is it good?
— IT’S BETTER THAN MY OWN LIFE — Frank couldn’t hold back — Annabeth, you’ve got to watch it.
— We actually came here to talk about some important matters…
Jason and Frank broke out laughing.
— We know ALL about the important matters — Jason said — Frank, aren’t the other children
of Ares coming back soon?
— Hmm… yeah let’s go to your cabin. Percy and Annabeth, grab whatever blankets you want. We’re taking you on a journey.
— Haven’t you guys just watched the movie? — Percy said, terrified by the prospect of sitting through a movie whose name he couldn’t even pronounce.
— Jason only got here by the middle of it — Frank responded, as if it settled everything — Let’s go!
He and Jason got to their feet and started tiding up the place, making all the arrangements for another session.
— I don’t really… — Annabeth began saying, but better than any excuse she could give, the alarm for dinner sounded out.
— Oh, that’s a shame — Percy said, grinning.
— Well, I guess we can watch another time — Frank sounded truly disappointed.
— Sure man — Percy patted his shoulder — let me know whenever… — and then left the cabin with Annabeth.
Frank and Jason hadn’t been able to convert anyone that day, but their newly-found complicity gave them strength to assume their passion for musicals open-heartedly. The following week was spent going from one demigod to another, asking them if they had ever seen Les Miserables and, if not, making them finally watch it. Piper was familiar with it, only not as enthusiastic, and ended up correcting their pronunciation as they had a fanboy attack around her. Hazel became an emotional wreckage and Frank had to face a man-to-man conversation with Nico, who got distressed when his sister cried for an entire night before falling asleep. Percy and Leo were seen one day humming Look Down and competing for the best impersonation of Javert, which none of them could do well — the game was over as soon as Apollo decided to join them. Rachel was a great surprise, for she had read the book, and joined forces with the boys on the conversion of the camp. The only person who seemed to be busy whenever they called, was Annabeth.
— Why don’t we make our own presentation of Les Mis? — Frank one day finally gave voice to an idea that for long had been cooking in his brain — If we can get enough people interested, maybe it would work…
— Oh Frank, that’s a brilliant idea! — Rachel was eager to join the plan, and needless to say that Jason got extremely excited also. They spread the news all over the camp and arranged everything to hold auditions in 48 hours. In the meantime, they kept telling the demigods the wonders of Romanticism and encouraging all the somewhat talented ones to try out a role:
— Hey Will, what have you been up to? — Jason approached the son of Apollo as he practiced archery, assisted by Nico — Have you heard about the play Frank, Rachel, and I are organising?
— Hey! Les Mis, isn’t it? — Will was aiming the target.
— Yeah, you should try out one of the roles! You’d make a great Enjolras.
— Hmm… sorry — he let the arch go, a perfect bullseye — I find the show a bit depressive, too many deaths, not my type.
Nico looked at him astonished.
— Not your type?! What am I, a ray of sunshine? — the son of Hades said, scornfully.
— Oh, what can I say? You do brighten up my day — the son of Apollo gave his best fake sweet smile.
Jason held back an appreciation sound and tried to look serious.
— You know, Nico, you should audition too! — the glare the boy gave him said everything — Err… Think about it! Both of you!
On the other side of the camp, Frank tried his luck with Reyna.
— Hey Reyna, what’s up? — it would be expected that after working together for one year, facing all the challenges related to New Rome’s government, Frank and Reyna would have become really close. The truth was, however, that even though they shared mutual trust and respect and worked in perfect tune, that was all they ever did, work. Reyna was now sitting on top of a hill, immerse in thought, and Frank felt nervous as he approached her. He wondered whether he was crossing some kind of limit, stepping into her everyday life. But then, did Reyna even have an “everyday life”? She dedicated her entire being to the safety of other demigods, apparently non-stop. If this works, Frank thought, I might one day introduce her to a certain 10-dollar bill Sir.
— Oh, hello Frank — the praetor had a wearied look, and seemed a bit startled by the other’s approach — Have you… got anything to report?
— Well, actually, I do — Frank sat by her side, having decided to be finally a friend and help her forget about the real troubles, even if for just a few hours crying over fictional ones — I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Jason and I are organising a musical here in the camp, Les Mis. Would you like to take part in it in any way? It’ll be fun.
— A musical? — Reyna laughed with incredulity — Of course, because we really don’t have anything else to worry about. No Roman Emperors coming back, no crisis with the Oracles, no god turned to human, absolutely nothing!
— Err… you see… I know it sounds silly and you probably hate people who tell you this, but sometimes, sometimes, it’s important to take a break. It’s imperative! You need some mental-health to be a fully-functioning praetor, after all.
Reyna looked at him wide-eyed. She seemed about to push him off the hill. Fortunately, someone was climbing up to them, too distracted reading a papyrus scroll to notice that Frank was also there.
— So Reyna, I’m glad you could meet me here. I’ve found some information that might be useful… — Annabeth finally raised her head — Oh, hey Frank! Are you and Reyna discussing praetors’ stuff? If so, that’s good, what I have will interest you too.
— Actually, Annabeth, I was telling Reyna about the play.
— Yes, he was telling me how he and Jason were spending their time, precious time!
— Oh no not Les Mis again — Annabeth looked like a certain prisoner who had been set free, only to find out the whole world was a jail.
— Thank you — Reyna was glad she could always find some common sense in Annabeth — Frank, I understand you want to have some fun now and then but you’re a praetor. You might want to pretend that the troubles outside the borders of the camp have frozen, but in case you don’t already know, problems never take a break. Only Annabeth and I seem to be aware of that, and so we’ve been attempting to find a solution for the oracles’ miscommunication. If you want to assume your role as a leader and join us, you’re very welcome. But if not, I please ask you to leave us aside.
Neither Frank nor Annabeth knew what to say. An embarrassing silence fell over the hill and Frank began to retreat, when he realised the battle was not yet over.
— I get you, Reyna. I truly do. Most of all, though, I’ve got you. I am your friend before I am a praetor, and as a friend, I tell you: you’ve got to rest. We’re demigods, our life is incredibly dangerous and therefore every moment counts, so let’s just for once live in the present. It’s all we seem to have, anyways — he took a breath but did not wait for any of them to reply — What I don’t get, though, is you, Annabeth. I know you put over your shoulders an impossible weight, just like Reyna, but I was hoping, I don’t know, that you’d enjoy Les Mis. Why do you keep avoiding it so much? You’re an architect and the story is a true monument. Why don’t you appreciate it?
Annabeth turned around and hid her face, her heart telling her to let go and finally reveal her awful shame.
— I haven’t read the book — she said in an almost inaudible, behind the teeth whisper — Done, I said it. I haven’t read Les Misérables. I know it’s a really famous story and I should have some knowledge about it but I never had much interest. I’m not a Romantic, I’m a Classicist. I tried to go over it alright, first when I was 14 and the movie came out, and again now, when you and Jason insisted on bringing the fever into the camp. I can’t go beyond the Bishop’s part. It’s too boring. I’m sorry if I’ve disappointed you.
— Annabeth… — Frank was aghast by how seriously Annabeth, one of the wisest persons he had ever met, was taking that whole matter — No one has read the book.
— What?! I thought you and Rachel… — her grey eyes were clouded with confusion.
— Bah, I read the abridged version! And Rachel… I’m sure she jumped some parts.
— Do… do you think? — the glimpse of a smile was passing through her lips.
— For Belona, I can’t believe you two! — Reyna was exasperated — Even you, Annabeth?
But Annabeth was now in another world, one where she could be a normal teenage girl and have her go on theatre. Her mind was on the scenario, on houses that had to be built, light, movable, convertible, but still believable. She knew there was something about a barricade — that would be challenging —, and decided that if, if she was going to actually give a chance to Frank’s childish plea, then she would also make sure the project followed her standards. Finally, she looked at the son of Mars, and the light in her eyes that she couldn’t hide told him everything he needed to know.
It’s needless to say that Reyna too, with a bit more of adulation and being more contaminated by the general excitement that took over the camp than she would ever admit, was also won over. Like the flowing of a tide, Frank thought. The half-bloods were tired, and the play was inevitable.
Two days later, Frank, Jason and Rachel found themselves in a committee table, taking notes and seriously discussing the performances of those who appeared for auditioning. The first one to come was Apollo, sure to be awarded the main part and ready to jam Bring Him Home in his ukulele. As soon as he played the first chords and began singing as if praying to himself, the three reached a decision: his role was silent.
— Err, Apollo… — Rachel was the one closest to him, so it fell on her the difficult duty of telling him the truth — This is a bit hard to say…
— Don’t worry my dear, mortals are often dumbstruck by my angelical voice. Please, take your time.
— Yeah sure, so, we truly appreciate your presence here and your enthusiasm, I think it was obvious for everyone that you feel very passionately about the play-
— Passionately? I was its co-author! Old Hugo would never admit it, but I gave him the best ideas! I even told him to take away that Waterloo chapter of his, but would he listen? No, of course not, always so stubborn! — Apollo was for a moment lost in sweet recollections — So, did I get the part?
— Not really? — Rachel squeaked, and then made use of Apollo’s utter chock to finish her argumentation — You’re the best - The Best, I tell you - we just don’t feel that you’re the right person to play Valjean. You have too much charisma. Too much panache, as you would say it.
— Well, okay — the ex-god tried to remain suspicious but compliments from Rachel always disarmed him — Will I be Enjolras then?
— NO — Frank and Jason screamed at once, and Jason continued — Thank you Apollo, but we will keep your name in mind and tomorrow you can see on the list who you’ve been cast as. Now, if you please, I think some new candidates have arrived.
The new candidates were Piper and Hazel, who had decided to try out a role more as a form of moral support to their friends than by a desire to climb on stage. As Apollo left grumbling about the disrespect and his past glorious life, Frank murmured “Well, at least the hardest part is over”, to which Jason and Rachel nodded in agreement. The three of them welcomed the girls, and the audition day finally had its proper start.
— This so won’t work — said Frank fatefully, as he stared in despair at the pile of notes he, Jason, and Rachel had taken along the day.
— Calm down, we just need some inspiration — Rachel tried to remain positive, but hopelessness was starting to creep into her too.
It was nearing 11pm, and the three directors had reunited on Zeus’ cabin, after an exhaustive day watching and listening dozens of demigods, to set up the final cast list. The auditions had not been bad at all, most of their friends had showed up at one point or another and even if their voices were not the best, their hearts were on the right place — at least when they were able to concentrate long enough to show it. None of them, however, had been able to incorporate neither Javert nor Valjean. The main parts remained open, and Frank took a look for the twentieth time at the list they had prepared so far:
LES MIS CAMP HALF-BLOOD
Mme Thénardier: Annabeth
Young Cosette: Meg
As usual, to read the list brought a somewhat wicked smile to Frank’s face. The casting of Annabeth was a work of his, and even though he would have to adulate her a bit, it was something that he just had to see before he died. Besides, halfway through the auditions, the three had decided that this was their play. For Jason and Frank specially, Les Mis had long been a guilty pleasure, and now that it was out to the world and they had on hands a dream-like project, they felt it was only right to shape the play as they pleased. This was the reason why Jason and Rachel had ended up being self-cast. Of course, they had performed like all others and done very well, so it wasn’t a problem. Frank though, had been afraid to try. He had spent the entire day witnessing a wonderful and yet deadly thrill go through his friends, as they sang by themselves to a judging audience. Now looking one more time at the list, he let out a long sigh, misinterpreted by both Jason and Rachel. They thought he was simply tired; he was, in fact, longing for that not yet filled part, afraid that if he voiced his wish and attempted to perform, he would either be scorned or, worse, get the role undeservingly, just because his position allowed it.
As Jason and Rachel searched their memories for an Okay performance and Frank drowned in self-doubt, someone knocked on the door. Jason opened it and to everyone’s surprise, there were Nico di Angelo and Will Solace. They had been missed during the auditions, and now the three pairs of eyes stared at them curiously.
— Hey folks — Nico started almost whispering, and Jason noticed he was holding Will’s hand tight — I know the auditions are over and everything but, you know, I was just wondering…
— Nico really likes Les Mis — Will finished up for him —- I couldn’t convince him to audition earlier, but as would be expected, he feels more comfortable now that it’s dark and creepy and secretive.
— Shut up — Nico took his hand off and punched Will on the shoulder. Apollo’s kid made the sign for zipping up his lips and throwing away the key, which granted him the intense deadly stare that the son of Hades did so well and that he so loved.
— This is great news, Nico! — said Jason — Is there a particular character you’d like to play?
— Hm, just maybe one of the barricade boys-
— He rocks as Javert — Will cut the kid short, and stopped his attempt to deny it — C’mon, you’re great and you know it!
It didn’t look like Nico would say anything else and so Jason suggested that he could sing Confrontation, with Will as Valjean, hoping that now two birds would be killed with only one stone.
— Oh, I don’t know any of it — said Will with no remorse, and Jason and Rachel looked at each other disappointedly. Frank though, sensing the probable only solution for his dilemma, got up.
— I can sing Valjean’s part.
It seemed perfectly acceptable for everyone in the room, and so they gave space for Nico and Frank, both nervous but most of all, excited. The song began playing and soon the two boys were singing, their discomfort drifting away as the debate heated up. Sometimes there was some confusion over the lyrics and the timing wasn’t perfect, as the two would still have to practice together a lot to get it right, but there was no doubt for the others that the casting was decided. By the end of the song, Frank and Nico were flushing with adrenaline.
— Nico! I didn’t know you liked Les Mis so much! When- How- — Frank started.
— In the Lotus Hotel, there was a library. Bianca loved the book, and she’d tell me the story. I was afraid to try out a part, but now I’m glad I did — Nico was feeling strangely comfortable at sharing these details, and he turned to Jason and Rachel — So, how did we do?
— GUYS. That. Was. Incredible. — Rachel’s excitement was palpable — Frank, why didn’t you sing anything before? You’re an amazing Valjean!
Frank’s ears turned as red as the walls of Ares’ cabin. There was unending buzzing in the room, as everyone there praised the performances and made huge plans for the following days. Frank would soon join them, but now he was feeling a bit off, as if watching the scene from afar, from very deep inside himself. Who am I? I am Jean Valjean.
The following day, as the demigods woke up and headed to breakfast, a circle of people, each time more crowded, began forming around a piece of paper placed in front of the dining pavilion. It was the final cast list, and it read as so:
LES MISERABLES CASTING LIST
Jean Valjean: Frank Zhang
Javert: Nico di Angelo
Fantine: Hazel Levesque
Cosette: Piper McLean
Éponine: Rachel Elizabeth Dare
Marius: Percy Jackson
Thénardier: Leo Valdez
Madame Thénardier: Annabeth Chase
Enjolras: Jason Grace
Bishop of Digne: Grover Underwood
Young Cosette: Meg McCaffrey
Combeferre: Reyna Avila Ramirez Arellano
Courfeyrac: Kayla Knowles
Joly: Austin Lake
Grantaire: Will Solace
Jean Prouvaire: Tyson
Factory Girl 1: Valentina Diaz
Old Woman: Drew Tanaka
Thénardier’s gang (Brujon, Babet, Claquesous, Montparnasse): respectively, Cecil Markowitz, Travis and Connor Stoll, Sherman Yang.
Ensemble: Katie Gardner, Miranda Gardiner, Holly and Laurel Victor, Lou Ellen, Billie Ng, Alice Miyazawa, Julia Feingold, Clovis.
Music by: anyone capable of playing an instrument. Really. We’re in need.
— HOLY MOTHERFORKING HERA — Percy was able to shout these expressive words before falling into a laugh crisis, tears running down from his eyes, while those around him quickly turned their gaze from the speech-impaired son of Poseidon and towards the list, to understand the reason behind that little show.
— Annabeth, you were cast?! — Leo was the first to get where Percy’s crisis was coming from, and he rushed to put his arms around the girl, flushed with anger — Everybody bless the landlord! Everybody bless his spouse!
— Up your arse, Leo — Percy said, wiping the tears and knowing that Annabeth would have used these words, had she watched the movie — Gods Frank and Jason, where did you get this idea from?
— That’s what I would like to know — Annabeth removed Leo’s arms from her shoulders and turned to the two masterminds, who had been watching the commotion over their list in eager concern — Frank, when I said I would take part, I meant it in a more behind-the-scenes kind of way! Besides, who even is Mme Thénardier? — Percy gave her an abridged, not entirely accurate summary of the character — Jeez, what makes you think I’d be good as her??
All four boys looked at each other, confirming their shared belief that Annabeth had what it took to be an amazing Mme du Thénard, but Frank thought it was better not to start by that.
— Annabeth — he began — think of all the fun we’d have! I know it’s a bit more than what you had signed up for, but I really wanted it to be something all of us took a good part in.
— I know Frank, and I’m not mad at the casting nor anything of the like (although practicing with Leo everyday does turn my stomach), it’s just that I’m not sure how comfortable I’d be on stage… and “angry thunderous evil stepmother” … sounds a lot more like Clarisse, don’t you think?
— Well… — Jason cleared his throat, searching for the words — Rachel did suggest Clarisse, but Frank and I have seen her just a couple of times now this summer and-
-- She’s terrifying — Frank clarified — we didn’t dare approach her.
— Oh, she’s not nearly as bad now as she used to be! — Annabeth was now smiling confidently, like the smile she always tried to hide when she had figured out a monster’s soft spot — I can properly introduce you two to her, and if we get Chris on our side, she then will be easily bent — none of the boys seemed very excited at the prospect, but Annabeth had now taken up the bridles. Annabeth herself, in truth, didn’t know why she was doing that. She wasn’t so terribly against the idea of acting, dancing and singing - in fact, since her conversation with Frank and Reyna, she had started secretly cherishing this possibility -, but it simply didn’t fit into the conception she had of herself. Admittedly, it was still something she was more likely to do than Clarisse, but in that short conversation, without much time to reflect, the daughter of Athena had buried herself deeper into the shell of her own expectations, and it was much more natural and easier now to follow these previously set rules of personal behaviour, rather than stepping away from her comfort zone. It was a trap she had always found hard to avoid, but since Tartarus it had been happening with much more frequency. Maybe it was Annabeth's way of telling herself that not much had changed, but deep down she knew it to be far from the truth.
Annabeth’s casting, however, was not the only one to provoke a commotion, and just after Piper’s exclamation of “Ew, does that mean I’ll have to kiss Percy?!” and Jason’s not so casual reassurance that “it could be adapted”, a horrified high-pitched gasp was heard by all:
— The Foreman? That scoundrel?! Of all the things Zeus’ stripping of my divinity has brought upon me, this is the most outrageous — Apollo’s eyes were twitching — Could I not even be someone more honourable? Someone I would be proud to bring to life? Someone more like me? Why?! — he held on to Rachel, who had just arrived, sensing she might be needed, and started shaking her shoulders as she muttered words of consolation.
— Well, if it matters so much to you, I guess you can be Fauchelevent as well — Frank said, and Jason and Rachel quietly nodded, while Apollo, realising this almost didn’t add anything to his number of lines, starred at nothing, wide-eyed and completely frozen.
— Dang, I have more lines than you — Meg scoffed, contempt all over her face, walking away without a second glance and absolutely no signs of remorse — Loser — at this, Apollo left his perplexed state and fell on his knees, shouting in complete denial, Skywalker-style.
Having decided that it was better to leave him like this and start checking out buckets from an endless list, the first task of which was to convince Clarisse to play Mme Thénardier, Jason, Frank and Rachel turned around, not slightly worried. It wouldn’t be Les Mis if there wasn’t exceeding drama in it, and above their heads flew an eagle, a sign of good omen.
In the morning, Piper had voiced her opinion about being paired romantically with Percy. Truly, though, that was the least of her concerns. Looking at the cast list, her first thought had actually been: Typical.
So just because she was a daughter of Aphrodite she was doomed to be always seen as the swooning pretty girl, worried about nothing but clothes and her love-life? Piper would fill the part and be who everyone expected her to be, but she was so tired of that. And not the very least surprised. Mulling over these thoughts, she finally decided to go discuss her character with Rachel, and as Hazel was her companion during the last practice of the day - pegasi riding -, the two girls headed to the oracle’s cave right after.
— Hey Rachel, can we come in? — Hazel was the one to ask.
— Yeah sure, sit wherever! — Rachel’s cave was a mess. There was paper everywhere, over the sofa and on the floor, and as Piper scooped them over to sit down, she was able to see that they were all related to the play: sketches for the costumes and scenarios, scripts and music sheets, pages and pages of the book that Rachel had separated for closer analysis. Each of these tasks would eventually be divided and assigned to different people, but as carefree as the oracle seemed, she also had a few standards she’d like to maintain — so, to what do I owe the pleasure?
Piper quickly began explaining her problem. She wasn’t very sure what she expected to get from Rachel. Reassurance that the casting had been totally based on vocal-styles? Possibly to be given a different role? Just someone who would listen and nod and agree that her being a daughter of Aphrodite was incredibly unfair, for it caused her to be constantly patronised as the 16-year-old girl stereotype, when she herself had nothing to do with it? What she didn’t expect was Rachel’s “here we go again” look, and her response once Piper had finished ranting:
— Are you sure that you looking down on Cosette is not the precise reason why you feel that people constantly underestimate you?
— What? — Piper couldn’t see the relation, and wondered whether Rachel had really listened to her.
— Have you read the book? — Rachel changed her approach.
— Hmm no, just listened to the soundtrack — Tristan McLean had been one of the final contestants for playing Jean Valjean in the 2012 movie. He and Piper had listened to the album countless times, to help him get into character. After the disappointment of losing to Hugh Jackman, however, her father decided that he couldn’t stand Les Mis anymore, and Piper hadn’t bothered going after the book or even watching the movie later on.
— Well, when it comes particularly to Cosette, I think the musical shows her character as a bit shallow, you don’t get to see her develop as much as in the book. Maybe take a look at it? I have a nice amount of info on her — Rachel went around collecting some of her papers, and handed a heavy sum to Piper — What about you, Hazel? Fantine, right?
— Yes, I really like her — Hazel had been listening attentively to Piper and Rachel’s conversation, and she thought she understood where the two of them were coming from. Hazel hadn’t exactly lived a normal girly life in the 1930s, but comparing her past and present experiences, she realised that back then “girly” implied a lot more of defined limits and assumptions than it did now - so imagine in the 1830s. Women who didn’t fit into the mould were cast aside, and those who did fit were embraced by society in their position as intrinsically inferior to men. Hazel knew that children of Aphrodite were still especially susceptible to this kind of judgement, and understood Piper’s frustration. But like Rachel had tried to explain, the problem wouldn’t go away if “girly”, whatever might be meant by it, kept being attached to “inferiority”. In the end, what determined someone’s value was that they did the best they could, under the circumstances they were given. Like Fantine had done and, Hazel thought with melancholy, like her own mother had tried to, eventually — I really like how far she’s determined to go to save Cosette. For her, love is sacrifice and, well… she wouldn’t really have had to face so much if others hadn't been so judgemental of her, would she? I don’t know, I think she was very strong.
After some more casual chit-chat and a few updates on how the plans for the play were going, the three girls left the cave and headed to the dining pavilion. Piper had a lot to think about, and once dinner was over, went back to her cabin determined to do some proper research.
The first thing that struck her about Cosette was the wretchedness of her life with the Thénardiers. Then, her touching and delicate relationship with Jean Valjean. As Piper read about her late childhood and adolescence, she began seeing what she had taken for vanity and mindlessness to be innocence and candour. Cosette’s openness to loving and being loved appeared to the daughter of Aphrodite as a form of strength as well, and she admired the poor lark’s rectitude, her kind and so truthfully good nature that nothing could alter it. Cosette was still a product of her time - most of all, of Victor Hugo’s mind -, but the young girl had always done her best, and Piper thought that her character was great. The problem was in other people, those who were conditioned to see weakness in Cosette’s strength. A new sense of pride grew inside Piper, and she got the complete significance of Rachel’s words. People wouldn’t begin taking her seriously if she didn’t do so herself, by supporting those that under society’s eyes belonged to the same “category” as her. The following day, tired by the lack of sleep but filled with a recently found vigour, Piper walked out of Aphrodite’s cabin wearing a shirt that read MAM’SELLE CHOSETTE ROCKS, and headed to the first meeting of the theatre club, feeling exceptionally tall.
In the amphitheatre, at least forty demigods were sitting down and waiting for Frank, Jason, and Rachel, who were to let them know of their plans and assign each one specific duties. The three organisers were just coming back from talking to Chiron, who supported their initiative. Although the activities director would have preferred the theatre trend to come back with some performance of Oedipus King or the Oresteia (after all, he had in his library lost texts that literary historians would kill to take a look at and that were just waiting to see the light again), he figured Les Miserables had enough tragic elements to stir further interest later. Of course, Victor Hugo had been one of the first playwrights to break with the Classicist rules, something that still appalled Chiron (in reality, he was just sore that the author had never invited him to one of his soirées, no matter how much Apollo intervened in his favour - spoiler: Apollo had never actually said anything; he already had to compete with Juliette Drouet for attention, no need for Chiron in the middle as well), but if the kids wanted to be even more extravagant and go all the way down with a musical, then sure! Who was him to stop? He gave them 15 days. More than that would be to spoil them.
So the three arrived and broke the news that apparently they had two weeks to learn all the lyrics and choreographies, heat up their rusted acting and singing skills, build the scenario, and prepare all the costumes. There was no time to lose and soon each demigod saw themselves with a list of duties that resembled nothing at all the fun they had been promised.
Clarisse had, for everyone’s utter shock, accepted to play Mme Thénardier, once she found out that this would allow her to shout at Leo and Meg (although they hadn’t known each other very long, you just know when someone very deeply annoys you - that was the reason she gave; the truth was, she had found some interior peace going to University and even joined the theatre club there. Go Clarisse). Like this, she, Leo, Frank, Hazel Percy, Piper, and Nico, who had the main roles, were charged with nothing but focusing on their singing, dancing, and acting. Rachel and Jason were to work intensively on this as well, while keeping an attentive eye on the administration. Valentina, Drew, Apollo, and Paolo were working on the costumes (did Valentina drag Paolo and then he decided to stay after noticing that the ex-god of music was there as well? It is impossible to be sure); Grover and Apollo’s children worked on the score; and the rest, on the scenario, with Annabeth and Calypso leading the team behind the rotating stage and the multi-functional barricade. Annabeth had also taken up the role of Lesgles (she had regretted stepping out completely, and was glad when Frank remembered that there was still one more Ami de l'ABC left), and Reyna, still slightly bitter about all the time they were wasting but also a tiny bit excited, had received from Jason the special task of writing a brief handout about the story’s historical context, so no one would walk out of it talking about “the difficult times during the French Revolution”. And surprisingly, for the following days, things didn’t get more out of control than what could be expected. Apart from the extra layer of hair and drool from Mrs. O’Leary covering most of the site, as the hellhound could not help but follow her friends inquisitively everywhere and see a perfect toy (rightfully) in every theatrical gear, the project marched well.
Frank, Hazel, Nico, Jason, and Rachel had it together. They wanted the play to work and were putting all they had on it. Soon they had total mastery over their lines, and if it weren’t sad, it would’ve been funny to see them get exasperated whenever someone else from the cast turned up under-prepared and not taking the rehearsal 101% seriously. It was mostly Leo. And Percy. They had that magic capacity of leading everything either towards imminent slaughter (especially if the practice included Clarisse - old habits never die) or causal chit-chat (especially if the practice included Piper - as inspired as she was by Cosette now, she and Percy couldn’t rehearse without making fun of each other and falling into crazy fits of laughter. That is, when Piper was not losing her mind trying to get Fish-boy to say “Márrius PonMairrcee” instead of “Mary-us Point-mercy”).
In the orchestra department, Grover and the kids of Apollo were giving their all, but not entirely sure of the path that should be followed. Rachel had to go check on them constantly, to prevent the score from turning too much into jazz, country, or indie rock. Each person wanted to give their own touch, and in the end, it couldn’t be helped but for a panpipe to be heard every now and then.
Going over to the costumes, it was very rare for Valentina, Drew, Paolo, and Apollo not to turn their work into a game of truth or dare followed by blatant gossip - and oh, the tea that was spilled. Apollo always had a thing or two to say about his personal experience with celebrities, and Valentina and Drew listened avidly, hungry for his hot takes on their favourite movie stars, which invariably started with “Girl, let me tell you” and ended with “and that was that, but what can a god do?”. Paolo mostly kept quiet, pretending he didn’t understand what they were talking about (which indeed was the case whenever they got over-excited, speaking at the same time, the daughters of Aphrodite flushed as Apollo got lost in reveries), but he truly enjoyed being part of that group. His cover was good enough that he never had to answer Valentina’s insinuating questions during truth or dare, but he was still sufficiently participative to feel like he was forming bonds with these people. One in particular. And Apollo himself was so entertained that he’d often forget to be outraged on not having been called to instruct the orchestra. The only time he felt indignation growing on his chest was when Meg came to try on her costume, making sure to lock up eyes with him spitefully and to hum “Castle on a Cloud” as slowly and out of rhythm as she could (not that she ever sang it properly). As for the costumes themselves, they were underway. A bit too Greek here, a bit too modern there. Whenever some of them questioned the style, another replied with “well, the story is universal, isn’t it?”. And so it went, and when Jason came to check in on them a few days later, he swallowed his nerd-ness and saw himself forced to give thumbs up to an Enjolras-shirt a bit more revealing than he had expected. It wasn’t historical, but it was fashionable.
The group that seemed to be making the most progress was the one responsible for the scenario. Annabeth and Calypso were a great team, and if anyone was able to boss out a dozen demigods amidst which Meg and Harley didn’t even distinguish themselves as particularly insubordinate, and put them to work, it was these two. The only thing to be reported is that one day, while the two girls got side-tracked by a fascinating conversation on the accuracy of Homer’s description of Odysseus, Harley made a suspicious movement towards the construction site. Neither of them noticed and soon resumed their activities, but there was a dangerous glitter in the eyes of the young son of Hephaestus.
And so 15 days flew by, and the demigods could hear the beating of the drums.
The great day came, and chaos prevailed. Since hearing about the play, Mr. D had got secretly very excited, imagining that alas, after two thousand years, the theatre cult for Dionysus and its related processions would again be performed. He could smell the sacrifices, and images of swirling nymphs and satyrs sweetly tip-toed in his mind. If any of the demigods remembered this detail, however, they quickly dismissed it, not being able to take seriously the idea of honouring their camp director, and thinking that, if he were offended, then at least there was nothing the god could do, not being in possession of his full powers. When it came to theatre, the half-bloods would keep it secular, just like the Romans. Maybe it had not been the smartest idea. Maybe there had been a slight misjudgment of Mr. D’s possible influence. Or maybe it was just the way things always were.
The participating demigods walked around the camp in a frenzy, as everything that just the previous night had seemed to be in perfect order began now to fall apart. Violin strings broke at the slightest touch. As the actors tried on their costumes, sleeves were ripped and final adjustments had to be done on top of final adjustments. The rotating stage made a strange noise whose cause neither Annabeth nor Calypso had been able to identify, and it wasn’t clear whether it would function properly once it had to carry the weight of the barricade and most of the cast. For all the combat and intense situations these kids had faced, they couldn’t help but feel panic, like this, a project they had undertaken for no other purpose but their own entertainment, was the defining moment in their lives. It was fair to say that whatever went wrong, it would be solely felt by those who had worked on the play, as the rest of the camp had remained in a state of content oblivion and calmly come to terms with the fact that they would have to sit through three hours of their head counsellors singing. Even so, every single detail suddenly gained extreme importance, and missing items, victims of constant misplacement, were granted the full significance of portents of doom. Inexperienced in theatre as these demigods were, they didn’t know that no play could ever be successful if it didn’t border on disaster at every second of its premiere. Much like a battle, theatre was the realm of Eris, even before being Dionysus’, and the goddess rejoiced at every half-blood that, instead of making a decision, started running around in panicky circles. After all, things couldn’t and wouldn’t go as planned, and to make the proper improvisations, as situation after situation demanded, the demigods had to be in a chaotic state of mind as well.
Frank was the one to suffer the most from the influence of Eris. As the days progressed, he had come to care about this project with a passion strange to himself. It wasn’t just his inner fanboy in action; practicing the songs and choreographies with his friends, he had perceived a potential to something great, that couldn’t go wasted. Even more: inside him, had grown a deep, unexplainable sense, that the play was needed, and not just as a break from the dangerous demigod world. He could see that, among his friends, Jason and Rachel had come closer to this realisation, but to a degree in which they were still able to remain functional. Frank, tormented by insanely high stakes that he hadn’t yet fully identified, just spent most of his time breathing quickly into a paper bag kindly provided by Leo. As much as he had developed as a leader during the past year, now he was the face of anxiety.
— Frank, you’re up in 15 minutes! — Hazel’s wigged and heavily made up face suddenly appeared at the door of the tent. By the amphitheatre, there were now a dozen little orange tents, erected day by day in order to serve as dressing and storage rooms. It was not all that different from an army’s camp, and Frank, in his uneasy position of general, looked up to Hazel as if leaving a trance.
— Is it time?
— Yes, that’s what I just said — hearing this, Frank miserably laid his head on the dressing table and covered it with his arms. Hazel smiled compassionately and approached her friend.
— Hey, I know you’re nervous, but all will be well.
— Said Enjolras on the 15th of June — Hazel raised one eyebrow at this sprout of sassy-Frank.
— You do realise that even if everything goes wrong, the play will still be a success, don’t you?
— Why would you say that?
— Well, you put us all together, we came all this way in 2 weeks, and even if it doesn’t get to the audience, I would say Les Mis has already touched all of us who took part in it.
— But something better, something greater, something that I can’t allow myself to miss, will happen if it all goes perfect — Frank noticed a shadow of puzzlement go through Hazel’s face, and shrugged his shoulders — I just know it. Something that everyone here needs.
— Then get up and make it happen! Be like Valjean and just do what you have to do! If you go up there and play your part, even if everything else around you is crumbling down, it’ll have already been great, because you know that we need this and took the first step — Hazel’s exasperated expression turned into the smile of someone who had just discovered a debate’s winning argument — As you love us, really, there’s no other choice but taking action, is there?
— Hazel, are you really not completely terrified?
— Of course I am! But you needed someone to shake you up! — Frank got up and gave the girl a bear hug, just as Jason passed through the tent.
— Guys, 10 minutes! Frank, you’re on go! — fully dressed up and wearing contact lenses, Jason was a perfect Enjolras. He will lead us to glory, Frank thought, but I need first to give this journey a start. Valjean’s sacrifices go unperceived, and are all the greater for it. I’ll do what I have to do. His mind was now completely made up, and only one more event would take place before the play could begin.
— The Huntresses of Artemis are here! The Huntresses are here! — a multitude of voices spread the news, and the already sitting audience squeezed itself in order to let the newcomers enjoy the show as well.
All over the tents, half-bloods cheered and encouraged one another, as those about to enter the scene had their final anxiety attacks. But time had to pass and the play had to start, so when everyone and everything were as much in their places as they would be, and the audience seemed to have calmed down enough, the curtains went up, the dry-ice machines made by the kids of Hephaestus started functioning, and a familiar hum accompanied by pickaxes was heard. Look down, look down, don’t look ‘em in the eye. Nico stepped in.
— Now bring me prisoner 24601! Your time is up and your parole’s begun! — Nico’s voice faltered a bit, and the boy was glad that nervousness made his expression even more stone-cold than usual, which was perfect — You know what that means…
— Yes! It means I am free… — and so it began, and could not be stopped. As the kids warmed up, it got better and better. Sometimes there were faults, as when Grover couldn’t help but baa a little during the bishop’s speech, but all in all Frank’s first great solo arrived with no bigger concerns, the rotating stage working just perfectly. What have I done, sweet Jesus what have I done… did much of it even make sense to pagans? One could only hope so. There had been a debate on whether to adapt the Catholic references to a Greek context, but in the end Annabeth and Jason were able to convince everyone towards historical accuracy. And even if some of the demigods flinched a bit at the mentions (Chiron didn’t have the best history with Paul), the deeper, universal meaning, was still clear to most.
At the end of the day came and there was some bumping into one another by the part of the dancers, not to mention Apollo’s overly dramatic and attention-seeking Foreman, but Hazel’s I dreamed a dream broke everyone’s hearts. And as the girl sang and was touched by her own words as if listening to the lyrics for the first time - now Hazel was back to dreaming dreams, but she had felt just as hopeless as Fantine for so long -, an event worth mentioning took place back in the tents.
Apollo had just left the stage and was preparing to put on in a hurry his Fauchelevent costume, when he noticed eyes starring intensively at him.
— Paolo, is that you? — the former-god turned around and saw his friend, who nodded and smiled with a hint of melancholy — What is it? Would you like to talk about something?
— Good job — Paolo’s English was rusty, but he could say a few words when he wanted to.
— Thank you! — Apollo’s eyes glistened, as they always did whenever someone recognised his talent — I wouldn’t call it my best job - you should have seen me as Hamlet; guess who was the mystery boy in Shakespeare’s Sonnets? - but truly not bad, not bad!
— Nice there? — and for a short, essential second, Apollo forgot about his self-absorption and truly looked at Paolo, putting the pieces together and understanding what was the problem.
— Would you… would you like to take part in the play, Paolo? I… I can give you my next role!
— No! No! — Paolo shook his hand vehemently in a negative — Your role! No need!
— But if you want to have a go, then you should totally have it! I’ve done my share of theatre, it’s no great deal! — in reality, Apollo had fully embraced his consolation prize and practiced to perfection in the mirror Fauchelevent’s despair at being crushed and few thankful words, but now, he didn’t even remember that. Paolo usually put himself in an outcast position, and if he was tired of that and wanted to fully join the team, then there was no reason for him not to — C’mon! Put on these clothes and… do you know the lines? — Paolo starred at him a bit confused, and as he put on the costume, Apollo and he practiced energetically the few words — M’sieur le Mayor, I have no words
— Messire le meri, ai ravi no uordis
— You come from God, you are a saint
— Iu comi from Godi, iu ari a senti
— M’sieur le Mayor, I have no words; you come from God, you are a saint!
— Messiê le mer, ai rave no uords; iu come from God, iu ar a seinte!
— That’s it! Perfect! Paolo, I could kiss you. Just be run over by the carriage, wait for your moment, and say the lines! What am I saying, you saw us practice, you know how it goes. Now hurry! That’s how great stars are made!
Paolo laughed heartily, his eyes shining and his heart beating fast from the moment of enthusiasm he had just shared with Apollo. Now on his full costume, he approached the god.
— Você é uma boa pessoa, Apolo. Acho que estou um pouco apaixonado por você* — and kissed him on the forehead.
Apollo blushed, and for the first time in a long while, felt like a teenager again - and not just because he was now one. He froze for a bit, and just as Paolo was about to leave the tent and march towards his path to stardom, said:
— Quebre a perna* — to which the son of Hebe nodded and, realising after a second the language in which it had been said, blushed even more than his friend. They smiled to each other, and when Paolo climbed on stage and performed capably, Apollo was watching in the audience filled with tenderness, not giving a thought to how naturally a kind deed had come to him. If, indeed, in his whirling state of mind, any thought had been able to take shape in words, it was ‘still got it’.
* You’re a good person, Apollo. I think I am a little bit in love with you.
* Break a leg.
Back to the stage, there was a note of pride when Frank sang I am Jean Valjean… 24601!, which made up for his struggle maintaining the high note. His performance on Come to Me, however, alongside Hazel’s, were extremely emotional and well-acted, resulting in, after Confrontation (which was also exceptional, now that Nico felt more comfortable), Frank kneeling down to Fantine’s bed and whispering to Hazel: you were wonderful. This time, Sister Simplice was not the only one to notice the appearance of a posthumous smile on the lips of the deceased woman. Hazel’s part was now nearly completed, and she already felt like she could rest knowing that Frank’s ambitions would come to fruition.
Then, of course, the scene changed and new characters came into the spotlight. There was Meg, with a broom, a doll made of rags, dirt all over her face, and the out-of-place glasses she had refused to take off. One day during rehearsal, Piper had come to talk to her and discuss their character.
— Hey Meg! So, we’re both playing Cosette… What do you think of her?
— She’s alright — as usual, the daughter of Demeter was not up for much conversation.
— Oh, that’s good! I really like her. Is there a trait you’re thinking on working up the most?
— Rachel said she has a little knife to cut the heads of flies. I like that — and that’s what people got from Meg’s interpretation of Cosette. It was hard to take her seriously, as her forcefully honeyed voice stretched through the notes and her eyes starred at the audience a bit too fiercely. But even though she would never admit to anyone, Meg did find the lyrics of Castle on a Cloud beautiful. I know a place where no one’s lost, I know a place where no one cries. Meg was still searching for this place.
Clarisse’s appearance as Mme Thénardier caused great commotion among the demigods, as none of them would have believed it had they not seen it with their own eyes. She was terrifying in a brilliant sort of way, now that she had matured more and left behind a good deal of that childish pride that made her see offences in every corner. Meg, unfortunately, still then refused to look too afraid of the inn-keeper, but Clarisse’s impact had stricken the viewers. And when Leo came for Master in the House, his energetic dancing and comedic singing won over everyone. Despite the entrance of Holly and Laurel Victor pushing each other (they were playing young Éponine and Azelma, the latter having to be included so the daughters of Nike wouldn’t cause severe damage to anyone as they competed for the one role), the whole Thénardier passage could be described as a success. Leo and Clarisse had developed during the two weeks a relationship of love and hate, in which love meant that Leo had no greater pleasure than finding ways to annoy his senior, while Clarisse, who despite her personal growth, still considered the boy’s behaviour as deserving of a punishment, always held back before a fatal blow. Like this, strangely enough, they ended up forming a charismatic evil couple, even if there was still some stiffness in Clarisse when it came more to comedy.
Frank and Meg now an implausible father-daughter duo, Nico found himself alone in the stage, ready to sing Stars. The young boy enjoyed Javert’s songs more than the character himself, and yet he could see that previous mistakes he had committed in life came from the same place as Javert’s now in the story. Inability to forgive, a blind belief in the righteousness of his actions. They both had believed that the universe existed in perfect order, but while Javert saw himself as its guardian and utmost example, Nico thought that him, and solely him, had been cast out from that otherwise prevailing serenity. As much as he tried to set a right course, the universe always came with a new, exclusive, unfair rule. Only after accepting that there was no proper way how things should be had Nico been able to find some peace, and so in a way he had been successful in the quest where Javert had failed. You know your place in the sky, you hold your course and your aim. There had been a time when Nico envied the stars, when he wished he could have a place among them. But Javert himself said, even as they fell, they were beautiful. And if you fall as Lucifer fell, you fall in flames. Nico now thought that the world was made of falling stars, aimless, and all the more fascinating for it.
Closing up Stars, came the long time jump, with its changing tides.
Harley, Percy, Rachel, and Jason had now their moment. Harley was just a perfect cast for Gavroche, as his eyes glittered a bit too realistically with mischief. He was charismatic, and all the kids of Hephaestus cheered at his clever remarks, proud of their little brother but also ready to make fun of him later. Percy, of course, would be much made fun of as soon as the play was over, with his swooning interpretation of Marius that bordered on the comic. His blindness to Éponine’s attention won many side-glances from those who remembered how dense he had been in respect to Annabeth, and so Marius quickly made an impression on everyone as another authentic seaweed brain. As for Rachel and Jason, they were very invested on their characters. The emotion Rachel brought to Éponine made it more acceptable to the others that she should be wasting her time on some boy who was not half as much as she deserved. And Jason, while he was usually very calm and well-centred, had been able to bring a hot-blooded boldness to Enjolras that inspired leadership and revolt. He had a dream and the will to accomplish it, and it was clear to everyone that he would do whatever it took, even if it meant that he would not be there to enjoy the fruits of his deeds.
Piper made her first quick appearance, and throughout the audience it had to be explained by whispers that she was indeed the same girl as Meg. Then, came Red and Black, where Percy’s, Jason’s, and Will’s exchange was filled with as much tension as it should be (although, if it must be said, those who were watching the play for the first time would never have guessed the speculations there are about Enjolras and Grantaire. Enjolras and Marius just made much more sense then), and Do you hear the people sing, where Reyna, Calypso, and Kayla had their moment in the sun. Most of all though, the song did its job of stirring the audience. If anyone was not interested before, they were now. When the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drums. The demigods could feel it, and especially those who had taken part in the previous wars, understood the need of joining the crusade.
But the world where people were striving towards a larger goal and where their little lives didn’t count at all was soon juxtaposed to the everyday life of Valjean and Cosette, where the individual relationships were at the centre of the scenario. Piper’s sweet voice reminded the half-bloods that the sigh of a faraway song that told of a new world could be just as important as the music of the people looking for a life about to start when tomorrow comes. If, in Marius’ and Cosette’s love duet, they could sing of a heart full of light, a night as bright as day, wasn’t this a microcosm of what Enjolras had meant when he spoke of a world about to dawn and the night that ends at last? These thoughts came closer to crystallisation in One Day More, when everyone’s concerns were put at the same level, their shared cluelessness at what the future would bring and never-ending hope. And like this, the First Act came to a close, a success.
The Second Act, however, would face a few more difficulties.
Back in the tents, the demigods laughed at each other with relief that they had been able to make it half-way through, but there was no time for celebration yet. They changed costumes, added a bit more make up, and headed back to the stage. Jason, Annabeth, and Calypso were specially aware of the technical issues involved in the next part, and shared nervous looks, knowing that right now all they could do was hope for the best. Jason had noticed that Thalia was in the audience and was eager to go talk to her, but knew that it would have to wait until all was over. Part of him still searched approval from his big sister, and he hoped that by the end of the play everyone would still be in as enthusiastic a mood as they were now.
So 15 minutes passed and the actors went back to the stage. Slowly the barricade was built, and the tension on what would be the fate of these students ready to give their lives for a vague cause (wait, what is going on. why is there chemistry between Javert and Grantaire. Solace, what the Hades, get ahold of yourself), this father whose daughter was slipping through his fingers, and that girl whose only comfort in life was a made-up love, grew. The demigods didn’t have to wait up for long to figure out how things would end, though. The people hadn’t risen, the students were alone, and Éponine had been shot.
Percy’s and Rachel’s A little fall of rain brought tears from many. The first to fall upon the barricade had not done it for the cause, but for love, and the demigods knew too well that they were now enjoying this afternoon because of sacrifices from gone friends. But they also had the certainty that all of them would be remembered. When Will sang Will the world remember you when you fall? Could it be your death means nothing at all? Is your life just one more lie?, there was a cultural confusion at Grantaire’s questioning. It was clear for the heroes that they would all be honoured and live forever in stories; not that it was any great consolation, but they were sure that whatever they did, if motivated by love, would not be in vain. At the shrine of friendship, never say die. This part they liked better.
Bring him home was also very well received, and singing it, Frank thought about his conversation with Hazel. The sacrifices of Jean Valjean went unperceived, he didn’t think about the dangers surrounding him, he knew he had already been doomed from the moment Cosette took wing. But to die before assuring her happiness was not an option, so he would just do whatever was necessary, and nothing could stop him. For a very long time Frank had been afraid of death, and earlier this day he had been frozen by the possibility of failure. However, if Hazel believed that there was some of Valjean in him, then he would never let her down. It just wasn’t an option.
According to the progression of the story, the battle continued, and Gavroche met his fate. A poignant, heartbreaking moment, but it struck Annabeth quite differently. She had spent most of the time half focused on acting, half exchanging glances with Calypso, paying attention to the funny noises made by the stage, and giving the barricade little touches here and there, as it didn’t look as sturdy as it should be. She didn’t truly think, however, that things would blow up as they did - that is, until she noticed the dangerous glitter in Harley’s eyes as he quickly turned around to throw the ammunition bag to the students. In the second during which the bag flew towards them and Harley fell to the ground, Annabeth understood what would happen. And before she could realise that Harley hadn’t thrown the bag with as much strength as they had practiced, leaving it just by the construction, on its outer side, the daughter of Athena screamed: Everyone, duck!
People starred at her with annoyance for a quick second, not comprehending why she had disturbed the play, and simply continued acting. Only Percy and Calypso kept an inquisitive look, the first for knowing Annabeth well enough to realise she must have had a reason, and the second for knowing the structure well enough to suspect what reason might that be. There was nothing, however, that they could do.
The show went on. Jason climbed on the barricade, red flag in hand, and had his moment. Let others rise to take our place until the earth is free. Could there be progress without sacrifice? Are we doomed to simply place a stone in a city we will never get to see, a city that in truth might never be finished? But Jason, inspired by Enjolras, didn’t see it as a burden, as one of those paradoxes of fate. Right then, looking at all of his friends, he thought that if only he could indeed place a stone in this impossible city, then it would be an honour, his duty, the best and only option. Until then, every single action he had taken had been for the well-being of the demigods, to give a future to those he loved. Saying his words, Jason realised that this would never change, that this would always be the guiding principle behind each of his decisions, and felt tremendous joy. And so immersed was he on that moment of clarity that he didn’t feel the barricade shacking under his feet, and next thing he knew he was meters above the ground, not flying as usual, but falling in utter surprise, as a clamour nothing like the expected fake gunshots echoed in his ears.
To understand what happened, dear reader, we must once again go behind the scenes.
Meg had always been suspicious of Harley. Not that she was ever unsuspicious of anyone, but since she and Apollo had been forced to run a deadly three-legged lap in the labyrinth on her first day in camp, she had decided that he was not to be trusted. She did admire his inclination towards chaos, but all in all, he was just an annoying little psychopath. So, when Meg saw him go behind the stage, his part having been finished, rubbing his hands and laughing maniacally, she decided that she would find out what he was up to.
The path Harley took went below the stage, to the big machine that kept it rotating. And on Harley’s hands, a clock counted down 59 seconds. Above them, Jason’s voice echoed, let us die facing our foes.
— Step away from the bomb — Meg said, glaring at the boy.
— This little thing? I hardly call this a bomb — Harley looked like he was living his best life, proud of his newest invention — This is a wireless trigger! What I placed inside Gavroche’s ammunition bag, now that’s a bomb — and began laughing nervously, eyes shining, full of childish eagerness.
— Why though — as usual, Meg preferred to keep her conversations in a matter-of-fact tone.
— Because it’s fun!
— But here you won’t even get to see the explosion — why did crazy villains have to make such flawed plans?
— Hmm, you’re right. Guess I thought it’d be more dramatic. Wanna go watch with me?
— Wait, wait. Is anyone going to get seriously hurt? — Meg was against murder and torture. Her sensibilities didn’t stretch much further than that.
— There are always the kids of Apollo — Harley shrugged, and that settled the matter.
— Okay then. I’m tired of this play anyway.
And side by side, they quickly climbed up to a seat, with the simple intention of admiring havoc from the privileged position of not being one of those caught up in it.
As soon as the countdown reached 0:00, the barricade rumbled, and suddenly, giving no time to anyone, went up in the air. The explosion was so strong that the construction’s sheds reached the tents behind the stage. Percy, Annabeth, Reyna, and Calypso were thrown to the floor, and like this, escaped greater damage. The others, however, got too high, and even though Jason quickly regained his sense of direction and made a safe landing, he only had time to help Kayla and Will. Tyson and Austin fell over the tents, and among the chaos that reigned, Frank, who just moments before had been immersed in thoughts about the need to take proper action, required a few seconds to shake off the surprise and come up with a plan for how the show could go on. In the audience, Harley laughed and clapped his hands vehemently, while Meg, taken by mixed feelings, seriously rethought her decision.
— Hazel! Hazel! — as the situation was, Frank could only think of one way out.
— Mist? — the daughter of Pluto had thought the same thing, and gotten to her friend’s side before he could even notice.
— Yes, do you think you can control it? I’ll go and check if anyone’s hurt — Hazel nodded, and at this, Rachel and Jason approached them.
— Frank, you have to be Valjean now! Jason and I will check on people. Hurry, go!
Frank and Hazel looked at one another and took their positions. It was counter-intuitive to worry about a play when one of their friends might be in danger, but the need to complete Les Mis had outgrown everything else. Frank went back to the stage, and Hazel, calling up Lou Ellen, daughter of Hecate, held in the entire audience’s mind an illusion that the barricade still stood, long enough for Frank to carry Percy’s body towards the sewers and for Nico to see it.
The show continued. Over the tents, there were greater problems.
The shreds of the barricade had hit a few storage rooms and the girls’ dressing room. Inside it, were at the moment Alice Miyazawa, Julia Feingold, Miranda Gardiner, and Clarisse. They had not come out without harm. At best, scratches and sores, at worst, broken arms and legs. Clarisse, alongside Tyson and Austin, who were quickly found by Ella, had undergone the most. Tyson quickly recovered, being a Cyclops and everything, but Austin had a broken leg, and Clarisse, besides a broken arm, had also had a concussion from a shred that fell right on her head. Will quickly arrived and tended to their injuries, but the effect of ambrosia was not quick enough for Clarisse to perform her last appearance as Mme Thénardier. Jason exchanged looks with Rachel, and they didn’t know what could be done about the play. But then the Oracle, remembering Frank’s original casting and thinking that, if she knew her friend as well as she believed, there might be a way out, went after Annabeth.
The daughter of Athena was just on her way to the dressing room, looking ready to thoroughly scold a young son of Hephaestus but also with the attentive gaze of someone who knew her way across a battlefield and who could jump at once at whatever situation appeared in front of her. Finding a punishment for Harley could wait (the bathrooms did need to be cleaned); now, what she had to do was help wherever she was needed. In this state of mind, Annabeth found Rachel, who quickly voiced her idea.
— Annabeth, can you be Mme Thénardier? — Rachel’s eyes were imploring, and Annabeth could only tell the truth.
— Yes — after regretting passing on the role and seeing how much everyone was enjoying the rehearsals, Annabeth did the only thing she could do, which was to over-prepare and learn every single line and movement from all characters, in case substitutions were needed. Now that felt a lot like something she would do.
While the Mme Thénardier situation was solved and Annabeth got into character, Nico sang Javert’s Suicide. Even with the disturbance of Harley’s little prank, the actors had kept their positions, and with the help of Hazel’s and Lou Ellen’s Mist, the audience forgot about the disaster and turned their attention again to the plot. My heart is stone and still it trembles, the world I have known is lost in shadows. As Nico sang it, he thought with joy and relief that, as much as he had tried to separate himself entirely from any feelings, his heart had refused to freeze. Maybe, if he had been successful, he would have found himself in Javert’s situation. But his friends had made it impossible for him, there was no way he could remain distant. Percy, Hazel, Jason, Will. Thanks to them, when Nico finally awoke to the disorder that prevailed in the world, it had not been like losing himself amidst shadows, but walking into the light. The stars, even if as black and cold as Stygian steel, welcomed him, invited him to live, laugh, and cry, in a world that beautifully could not hold. For Nico, there was no void. Now, he always knew where to turn.
The ensemble sang Turning as well as they could, the girls still recovering from the shock. It added to the hopelessness of the song. Then, came Percy’s solo, Empty chairs at empty tables. If in his romantic scenes Percy hadn’t been able to help but to be comic, now he put his heart and soul into the song, and all the demigods felt it. Oh my friends, my friends forgive me, that I live and you are gone; there’s a grief that can’t be spoken, there’s a pain goes on and on. Percy wished he could not identify as much. In every battle there were sacrifices, friends who succumbed without him seeing it, only to receive the blow later. And as ready as Percy felt to give his life for those he loved, there was this insane voice inside him that told him to live, to find a way, to be there to see that the great city Jason thought of was constructed. He asked for forgiveness, because he was glad to be alive, to be with Annabeth, with his mother, with his friends. Percy never flinched to risk his life, but then, he never believed that he would die anyway. Recklessness and over-confidence were fatal flaws that walked alongside his hubris, the need to always put those he loves first. For the past months, he had constantly worked on building a future, a future so different from the one most demigods had. And he felt the need to apologise, because he didn’t have in him the strength to wish he could exchange places. But with the strength Percy had, he would set a new example for demigods, one more full of hope, one where, after all, they could still be happy.
Marius finding purpose in life again with Cosette, the story progressed into the wedding scene. As Percy and Piper completed the dance steps they had practiced for hours and hours, the former always uselessly stepping on the feet of the latter, Leo awaited for his partner in crime by the entrance to the stage. Someone approached him and he looked to the side, expecting to see Clarisse. But when, after squinting his eyes through layers of white makeup and a ridiculous wig, he saw Annabeth, the boy’s jaw dropped, as someone who is about to burst into laugh but is in too much shock at the moment to do it.
— Don’t you dare — Annabeth glared at him and a smile, first of mocking, as Leo made as much a figure as she did, and then of personal content, passed through her lips. She was still trying to understand and accept all the crazy coincidences that had brought her there, but all in all, was excited to have her great go just like the others.
— Wouldn’t dream of it — Leo made with his hands the signs of the three monkeys who won’t say, hear, or see a thing, and then quickly turned his face away to let it burst into a silent, frozen laugh. The Baron and Baroness du Thénard wish to pay their respects to the groom! That was it — Will the Baroness concede me the honour?
— I’m glad some things only need to be done once in a lifetime — Annabeth said this not absolute truth and, placing her hand on Leo’s extended arm, walked towards the stage.
Percy didn’t look at Mme Thénardier immediately. He was focusing at one thing at a time, and so, only after finishing his exchange with Leo and hearing Annabeth’s forcefully thin and cranky voice, was that he realised what had happened. At first, he couldn’t hide his confusion at not seeing Clarisse, but as understanding slowly made its way through the seaweed swamp that was his brain, an expression of utter delight and adoration filled his face. That was it, he loved her. He had known it for a long time already, but for some reason, seeing Smart Girl attempt comedy and wander around in that ridiculous costume, Percy felt like he was falling in love with her all over again. Their eyes met and both smiled in perfect mutual comprehension, but Annabeth quickly brushed it away, not wanting to lose her chance and leave character just because of silly old Percy. Each thing at their own place, at their own time. For the moment being, she was an actress, and never a Mme Thénardier had raised as many eyebrows at a Marius as Annabeth had to do now, to remember the boy to maintain composure and keep focused on his character. Gladly enough though, not many people in the audience seemed to notice the silent discourse they both kept while, incredibly, still uttering their lines.
Then, for the shock of unbelievers, the Finale arrived. And remember the truth that once was spoken, to love another person is to see the face of God. As much as “god” had a different, less transcendental meaning to the demigods, the lyrics still struck them. Percy, Annabeth, Jason, Piper, Frank, Hazel, Leo, Nico, Reyna, Rachel… they all had, in a way or another, experienced this truth, and without knowing it, lived by it. No decision, coming from true love, is ever wrong. In this respect, the half-bloods had a peacefulness of spirit that not many people get to know. Due to their uncertain life, filled with sacrifices, when they loved, the loved fully, unrestrainedly, humbly. By following their hearts, they were able to climb to the light, walk the Right Path, as diverse as it may be.
And like this, at a high note, the play came to a close.
Once the applause ended and everyone left their seats, Frank came to a quick realisation: there was one Hades of a mess for them to clean up. Chiron had since the beginning decreed that it was not the Harpies’ job to help with demigods’ personal undertakings, and so the members of the play began working soon after the show was over. To make it easier to take out the tents, all of the shreds of the barricade were put together in one place, making the construction look even more amorphous and unsafe than it originally did. Without being really useful but supremely cute, Mrs. O’Leary leapt around, wondering when would one of the demigods finally realise the obvious and use one of the shreds to play catch with her. Being eventually forced to resign, the hellhound lied down to chew a corner of the barricade, hoping that this naughty action would go unnoticed. After a while, Apollo and Meg, inspired by Mrs. O’Leary’s laid-back ways and being thus the first ones to decide that it was time for a break, sat down in the grass side by side, looking at the slowly descending sun.
— I made out with Paolo during intermission — Apollo stated in the monotonous tone he knew to be Meg’s favourite.
— I helped Harley explode the barricade — the girl continued in the same voice.
— I’m proud of what I did.
— I’m not — and like this, in silence, both acknowledged each other’s actions and whatever it is that they might have learned from them.
The other demigods kept cleaning the area, and the seven had just placed the last shred of the barricade together, when Thalia approached them, teary-eyed. The Huntress locked glances with Jason and ran to embrace him. They hadn’t seen each other in so long…
— Jason, that was incredible — Thalia wiped out a tear and smiled at her brother, thinking that he had grown taller and more mature, something she would never do.
— How did you guys get here? If I’d known sooner… — Jason was filled with joy.
— We were hunting down a chimera around these parts and ended up meeting Argus at a convenience store… long story. He told us “the kids had gone mad”, and I just had to see it for myself.
— Well, I’m terribly glad you came, there’s so much we need to discuss.
— Yes — and a worried look clouded Thalia’s previously exhilarating expression. She glanced towards the barricade — Mind if we sit down for a moment? Whatever we have to say, it can wait until tomorrow.
So they sat upon the barricade and soon the others joined them, glad to see Thalia. Nico, Will, Clarisse, Reyna, and Rachel came over as well, looking for a break from all the intense work they had been up to. They kept the conversation simple, talking about little life details, Percy’s SAT grades, the food in the camp, Piper’s last holiday surfing with her father, funny stories about the lares in New Rome, the truth behind the explosion. They didn’t give much attention to this last one, Harley would probably get away with it, they just laughed at how unpredictable people and life were, the impossibility of ever being ready. The conversation with its short statements and light jokes continued, the kids talking about whatever was mundane, whatever didn’t remind them that the following day they would be back on demigod duty. Only Frank kept quiet, starring at the horizon with a bemused look. At this, Chiron approached them, and seeing Frank’s expression, went up straight to him.
— So, Frank, was the play just what you had hoped for? — Chiron, in his millennia-old wisdom, had guessed how the story had affected each of the demigods.
— I don’t know, Chiron… For some reason, I had expected something, I don’t know precisely what, to happen… But it’ll all be back to the same, won’t it? — having spoken, Frank looked up to the centaur and noticed that his eyes were wet, but whatever tears he might have to shed, were not from sadness.
— Well, I wouldn’t precisely say so — and, taking a long glance at the picture in front of him, his dear demigods sitting upon a broken barricade, the activities director did what he had come there to do. He extended in front of the kids an ancient flag from camp half-blood, and placed it in the mast where the red, revolutionary one, used to stand — I wouldn’t say so at all, indeed — and went back to his other duties, leaving the children to figure out the meaning on their own.
The half-bloods looked at one another and, smiling lightly, held each other’s hands. Camp half-blood had stood for thousands of years, and it would continue to do so. Demigods didn’t really have a choice when it came to joining the fight: they needed to, in order to survive and protect those they loved. But they could always choose not to give up, to dare to be happy and to make plans about the future, no matter how dim the situation seemed. Because, sometimes, the great city they had to build could be at an extended hand’s distance, at the glance of a loved one. As long as they believed, hoped, and followed their hearts, dreams of the impossible would survive. And so, together upon the barricade, the demigods watched the sunset in a silence filled with music, welcoming a night that would be as bright as day.
Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing,
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It’s the future that they bring
when tomorrow comes!