Work Header

A Thousand Ships

Chapter Text

            Helena Jackson would never forget the moment that everything changed—partly because nothing changed.  It would be over a month before she would find out why she stumbled, why she felt like her entire world had shifted on its axis, why she knew, deep in her bones, that something was wrong.

            It started out as a perfectly normal day, thank you very much.  She was at Astoria Prep, her boarding school in the heart of New York City, at the top of a pyramid.  Not an Egyptian pyramid, obviously, but a cheerleading one.  She didn’t even like cheerleading all that much, but the hard workouts helped wear her out enough to sleep through the night, and even helped with her ADHD to some extent.  But her reasons didn’t really matter, so long as she showed up every day and donned her black and blue uniform, so long as she had the perfect ponytail and the white shoes, so long as she was on the team, she would be all in.  She didn’t even like her teammates very much, although she did appreciate the effort that they made to include the twelve year old girl, three years younger than the next youngest member.  But none of that really mattered either, what mattered was that she faltered, for the first time since she’d joined the squad.

            Helena’s position was on the top of the pyramid, since she was by far the smallest girl on the team and unnaturally flexible, and she usually loved it.  Sure, heights freaked her out a bit, but it wasn’t like she was on an airplane or something.  But she’d been their flyer—their top of the pyramid—for months and had never faltered.  But on one unassuming day in April, she did.

            Their coach, Coach Jones, had wanted them to see how long they could hold—it was an exercise she made them do every couple of weeks—and it was an unspoken fact that Helena would never be the one to cave.  But suddenly, out of nowhere, Helena felt like the ground had shifted beneath her, and lost her balance.  She dropped her scorpion hold, would have hit the ground if her spotters hadn’t been so quick to grab her, and she knew that something was fundamentally wrong—and it was probably her brother’s fault.

            Right, Helena, you might say, blame your brother for your fall even though he’s at a completely different school in upstate New York, that makes sense.  But it was true.  Helena had, had always had, a sixth sense for when something was wrong with Percy.

            One time she’d spent the entire afternoon puking, only to later find out that at the exact same time as her nausea started, Percy was setting off a Revolutionary War canon.  Another time, she’d wiped out while trying to sit down in the cafeteria, only to later find out that Percy had accidentally hit a lever and dropped his entire class into an aquarium exhibit.  Another time?  Well, you get the point.  It really isn’t that ridiculous that Helena blamed Percy for this, too.

            Don’t get her wrong, her brother is her favourite person in the world, he always had been.  But Percy was a troubled kid.  And not in the same way that Helena was, with the peer pressure, the cutting class, and shoplifting…  No, Percy was a troubled kid in that no matter how hard he tried, and she knew that he tried, his best efforts were never enough to keep him out of trouble.  She’d often wondered if that was why her mom wouldn’t let them go to the same school, but she’d never gotten a proper answer.

            It didn’t matter what Percy had done though, not really—what mattered was that Helena fell.

            “Jackson!”  Her coach shouted into the megaphone, “what do you call that?”

            “Sorry Coach,” Helena said, as her spotters set her down.

            “I didn’t ask for an apology, I want to know what happened.”

            Her coach was harsh, Helena knew that, but she was right.  Helena didn’t fall, she just didn’t.  And “weird psychic twin powers” definitely wouldn’t be accepted as an answer, so she brushed herself off and looked the woman in the eye.

            “Sorry Coach,” she repeated, “I got dizzy.”

            “When did you last eat?” Coach Jones demanded.

            “Yesterday, lunch,” she said, remembering the apple she’d had more than twenty-four hours earlier.

            “You need to learn to handle that,” her coach told her, and Helena forced an apologetic smile, nodding demurely.

            “Are you fucking kidding me?  I didn’t eat because I felt sick, you shouldn’t be encouraging me to fucking starve myself,” she thought, forcing herself to keep smiling.  “Yes Coach, sorry Coach.”

            “Well girls, thanks to Jackson here, you all get to do thirty suicides.  If anyone falls, you all start over.”

            To Helena’s relief, none of her teammates looked mad at her as they lined up on one end of the gym.


            By the time practice was done, every inch of Helena’s body ached, and she was still worried about Percy.  She had changed out of the now sweat soaked uniform and into her, much more comfortable, black leggings and too-large Montauk hoodie.  Well, technically it wasn’t too large, it was just Percy sized rather than Helena sized, since she had stolen it from him at Christmas.

            She traipsed across campus, limbs screaming with every step, until finally she had made it back to her dorm.

            “Why do you even cheer?” her roommate, a tall blonde named Amelia, asked, as Helena flopped face first onto her bed.

            “Because I hate myself,” she groaned.

            “And you definitely hate me if you’re stinking up our room like this,” Amelia laughed, “go have a hot shower and then do the whole regretting your life choices thing.”

            “Have some sympathy, I’m dying here,” Helena whined, although she did as she was told, grabbing her bathrobe, flip flops, and shower caddy to walk down the hall.

            She showered slowly, taking the time to appreciate how the water reinvigorated her, until she barely felt the slightest of aches.

            Once she was clean and no longer in pain, she finally left the shower, wrapping herself in her soft robe to return to her room.

            Despite Amelia’s instructions, Helena no longer felt the need to groan and regret every decision that led her to cheerleading.  Instead, she grabbed the “child friendly” copy of the Iliad that she had to read for English class and tried to get through as much as she could.  It wasn’t much, granted, with how hard her dyslexia made reading, but she’d made it through one book before Amelia was waving a hand in front of her face and reminding her that it was time for dinner.


            After dinner, the girls returned to their dorm, settling in for their two hours of mandatory study.  Helena thankfully managed to finish the second book that had been assigned, and with Amelia reading the questions out to her, it was much easier to get through the ten assigned questions.

            Once study was finally over, Helena changed into her pyjamas and crawled under her blankets.  It may have been early still, but she had had a very long day and desperately needed the rest.  She would talk to Percy soon, she promised herself, and find out what had happened to make her fall.