For months, there are only dreams.
She wants so desperately to see him that her mind creates stories in her sleep—memories relived, hopes fantasized, daydreams brought to Technicolor life. For those moments, he is back. Over time, the tangible memories, those things that really happened, become less frequent than the hopes and somedays that she had once dismissed as distant possibilities—or, more often, impossibilities.
Sometime in the second month, she is suspended underwater, hand clasped in his so she can breathe. His hair floats in a black halo, his eyes the color of the water. She says, "I'm dreaming."
He doesn't speak, but the skin around his eyes crinkles into fans: one of his not-smiles. The water hums against her ears and lifts her. "I'm lucid dreaming," she says, and in her sadness her grip loosens, and the water rushes in. She chokes, flailing, and he reaches out. She breathes again when his fingers brush her wrist, the water in her lungs evaporated.
Her tears add salt to the sea, and she curses her mind. Now her dreams will rip her soul more than waking, because before she'd temporarily believed he was with her. Now she is conscious of her theatrics, that the touches belong to a ghost.
He frowns, eyes searching her face, and he reaches out as if to brush away the dissolved tears. Maybe he can sense the difference. His center finger touches her cheek, so not real, and in the pain she whispers, "I want to wake up."
One corner of his mouth curls up as he says, "You have."
Reality reverses: consciousness but a long dream, a waiting; he is her waking. Not all her dreams are lucid, but the majority are. She leads him through an idealized future: a summer in Greece and a wedding in the Parthenon, a life of angles and buildings and shapes sketched on blue, water filling the spaces she creates. She'd dared not think of these things before; they were a little girl's fantasies, hardly applicable to a young man with more scars than skin and an ocean in his eyes. But in these long months, she has only his dream-form.
And so dreams become her reality, and at some point, he becomes He.
Once, while she's teaching Him the constellations under an Argentine sky, she falls asleep. She lifts her head from the desk, scattered with sketched homes and temples and a ship, and cries at the ache in her chest, pleading for the nightmare to end.
In the fourth month, she wakes in a rusted desert. He is on His knees, blood slipping down His bare chest, and she cries, "Why are you here? There is no water!"
He gulps, the seas in His eyes distant. "Are you suicidal?" she says, grabbing His arms. Even the sky is rusted, the horizon unclear. "You need water."
Dust spills into the cracked earth and stains her jeans. His legs are covered in it. He rasps, "I miss you."
She freezes. Unwilling to shatter her constructed reality, she says, "I'm right here, Seaweed. Stay awake; I'll find water."
"I'm waking up," He says, voice scraping against dry air. "I'll have water then." He seems lower, and she realizes his legs are not just covered in dust, but turning to dust, his form eroding away.
And then her sense returns after four months of wonderful madness: the world flips around, and she recognizes this dreamscape. It is but the inside of her mind, as they all were; there is no prophecy, no supernatural link. She presses her jacket to his bleeding chest, the wound over his heart; it strikes her that this desert is cold, and she shivers. A wind raises bumps on her arms, and his hair is flecked with rust, his fingers orange around the nails.
"But what will I have?" she pleas.
He—no, not He, just he—chokes on the dry air, hand clawing at the sand. He breathes moisture, not oxygen, and cannot survive this drought in her soul.
"What will I have!" she cries, and he opens his mouth to speak, but then he turns to dust, the particles blowing away and spilling through her fingers. She cries to the wind, "I am a desert!"
She wakes, her shout echoing off the walls of Poseidon's cabin. She doesn't remember coming here, much less falling asleep in his bed. For a moment, her lungs seize, panicked because she can't breathe without his contact. Then she remembers that is only true underwater, and the ripples along the walls are just from the fountain.
Still, her hair clings damp to her neck. The water murmurs a familiar song.
In the fifth month, she stops dreaming. She locks away the hopes and memories and plans—they were digressions, fooling her from the raw possibility that there may be nothing left to find. She is haunted by the image of the master of water crumbling to dust. She doesn't know where to look, all leads fallen silent, but she seeks prophets real and phony, and only sleeps in mechanical increments.
Grover has closed a door on the empathy link, long numbed. "I can open it later, to check. It's just in case," he says. Shutting a door, blocking the silence from his consciousness, is a concept she hasn't considered; time hasn't numbed her, but sharpened every thought, every drop of water, to electric shocks. But this may save Grover's life; she can't begrudge him giving up.
She still wants to steal it, to hold that thread and follow until she spills into his mind. But maybe the string would snap under the strain.
Month six, and she lurches up from a dream. She can't recall details, but the wind sighs in-and-out, the curtains floating. Her heart beats, and it feels like the lapping of waves.
She smiles, the disused muscles stretching.
It is like waking from a coma. She steps outside and blinks in the glare, seeing everything anew. She is no longer fighting a current, trying to swim back to the beginning, but tumbling downstream.
She finds Grover on her porch, carving panpipes and eating the wood scraps. She realizes that he has met her every morning for the past… how many months? She cannot remember. "Can you feel him?" she asks.
He blinks. "What?"
"I dreamed," she said. "Your link, did you feel anything?"
"I haven't tried," he says. "I've kept things shut. But I can look, if you really think…" He twists the pipe, brushing away shavings, and there is fear in his brown eyes. The repeated crushing of hope will drive a person to despair; to cope, he has stopped looking, and now can't bear the thought of finding not just silence, but emptiness.
"Please try," she says, softening the demand but not the urgency. Because she is so very, very awake, and this current must carry her somewhere. "You don't have to undo everything. Just see if something's there."
Grover wraps both his hands around the pipe, resting it on his lap. "I can have a peek," he says, "But it's been so long, I may not be able to tell." He shuts his eyes to the cabins and sky. She stands on the porch and watches; she can't breathe so far from the sea.
The wood snaps in Grover's hands, and she sucks in a great gasp of air.
Grover comes round a few minutes later, pupils so wide they nearly swallow the irises. She has dragged him to her bed in the cabin, and the other children flutter about, tittering like birds.
"What happened?" a boy asks.
Grover rubs his hands against his temples and says, "I forgot what… wow. Ow."
"The link's back?" she asks.
He looks at her. "My mind was washed away in his flood."
Month eight, and she dreams of a foggy field. She is running, but then awareness clicks and she stumbles to a halt, spinning in the white. This is the ephemerality of a psychic dream, and her skin crawls in wait of a god or goddess to shake the ground.
He darts through the fog, panting, a dark blur from her side, a breath of air along her left cheek. She chases after and cries his name, and he skids, eyes widening. He looks awed, as if encountering a goddess for the first time, the glow shrinking him small. There's a new, pink scar across the back of his hand and his eyes sink deeper, the ocean darker; this is flawed, aged reality.
"Thank gods!" she cries, running. He stares; takes a step forward, then back. Fog swirls around his knees like creeping spirits.
"Are you real?" he asks.
She runs—Yes, you'll feel me crash into you—but he gets no closer, so she shouts, pleads for him to stay because they will find him, she will reach him because, gods, he is right there, lost but alive. But the fog swirls between them, and she reaches out to his fading form.
She wakes, the waves in his eyes sharp in her mind once again, and her heart pounds quick as a flood.
During her eight-month sleep, they built a ship. They tell her it will fly. She stares at the furled sails and says to Grover, "It can't be a coincidence."
"No," he agrees. "Will you go with them?"
The ship is destined for Rome, and her skin itches at the thought. Her stepping onto Roman soil is like him flying in a plane, she imagines. And they don't really know he's there; they could have the rug ripped from under their feet one last time.
This past week has been trying. A few days ago, he vanished completely: Grover's link fell numb, her dreams evaporated, and his trail was lifted away near a runway strip. If he were here, she'd throttle him for the stupidity of taking a plane. But then he burst like a supernova in Grover's mind: the satyr passed out for over an hour and upon waking ran straight into the sea, only coming to his senses after reaching the sandbar.
"It was like he wasn't fully him, before," he said. "He was awake, but he wasn't…" He waved his hands, struggling for words.
"Like he had amnesia?" she asked, voicing one of her theories, and Grover's face lit.
"Yeah, exactly. But I can't figure out why the link went so dead." He grimaced at the word choice. "It wasn't just silent, like before; there was a hole. It was as much the shock as the strength that knocked me out when he came back."
Now, she watches Greeks climb the boarding plank. She rocks her feet, the sand giving beneath, and her gaze follows the water to the horizon. She says, "Of course I'm going."
They land, and she worms through the crowd of Greeks to press her stomach into the rail as she leans over, searching the mob of togas below. She can barely make out faces, and the sky shines blue as the sea and glares off shining hair.
There is a man (a purple cloak, seriously?) that the crowd steps aside for, and really, it would be just like him to make all of Rome part…
She isn't sure, not from this distance. His hair is black, and his skin is pale like bleached coral, but there have been so many coincidences, so many liftings of her heart only to crash when she realizes no, that's not really him…
He lifts his face, and she sees the oceans in his eyes. And then he smiles. Only he smiles that way, and only for her. Even her dreams had failed to recreate that smile.
Somewhere behind, she hears Grover laugh and say, "Ye gods, the link is singing," but she's swimming, and her heart, shrivelled for so long (Was it eight months? The memory is already sinking into the depths), is finally floating on his salty sea. She lifts her arms to Percy, beckoning, and pulls the tide into her soul.