Clarisse was already in the training area when Percy marched his way in there, his body singing with bright anger and his fist clenched around the hit of his sword. Clarisse was easily swinging at one of the straw-stuffed practice dummies, the muscles of her back working as the sun glinted across her sweat-slick shoulders. She barely looked up when he arrived, assuming that he was just another camper in need of relief until he lightly tapped her on the shoulder with the flat edge of his sword.
Brushing her hair out of the way, Clarisse turned to Percy with a confused look and a raised eyebrow, but no ire yet, which Percy was willing to take as a bonus considering their rocky history and the situation they were in. He took a few steps back and gestured at her, making sure she saw his sword. “Hit me,” he said. “Kick my ass if it’ll make you happy, but I just really need to spar with someone who can keep me on my toes before I do something I might regret.”
With a raised eyebrow, Clarisse took in the finely-hidden fury crossing Percy’s face like a sea during the storm, his eyes held a glow that Clarisse didn’t like and his chest was rising and falling as if that was the only thing that was keeping his anger in check. So, instead of speaking, she swung her arm back and aimed for Percy’s head with her sword, and he ducked just in time.
After a while, it stopped being Percy sparing with Clarisse and became something closer to Percy only just managing to keep his sword in front of him to block her attacks, because even though Percy was an excellent fighter, Clarisse was a daughter of Ares, and those kids would always be better fighters.
Eventually, Clarisse spoke the first word since Percy came barging into the arena. “So,” she began. “Is there a reason you’ve come to me specifically to, you know, beat your anger out?”
“Well,” Percy grunted as he rolled across the dirty ground to avoid one of Clarisse’s attacks. “Nico is spending time with Will, Leo isn’t much of a fighter, Hazel and Frank are with Annabeth at Camp Jupiter so she can erect a temple to her mum, Jason-” he had to grit his teeth to keep from saying something he would regret and Clarisse made a note of the notion. “I could always ask Grover, but let’s just say I want to be a little rough today.”
Humming, Clarisse took a lazy step back. “I can understand that. But let me just give you a word of advice-” in one, swift move, so quick and so precise that Percy wasn’t even aware it was happening until his sword was ripped from his grasp and Clarisse was behind him, her sword under his chin and Riptide poking lightly into his side, not enough to hurt but the warning was still there, and Percy raised his hands in reluctant surrender. “If you’re fighting angry, you’re fighting blind.”
Lowering the blades, Clarisse held Riptide out to Percy, hilt up, and Percy took it. He kept his gaze away from her knowing eyes and cleared his throat. “Thanks for that. I think I’m going to go for a swim, so if anyone needs me, tell them I’ll be at the beach.”
He hadn’t made it more than five steps when he heard a long-suffering sigh and Clarisse’s large hand was around his arm, pulling him back to face her. “Come on, Jackson, I knew you were a punk but I didn’t think you were an idiot.” She released his arm and lowered his hand to her side. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but you and I haven’t exactly gotten along. I mean sure, we’ve gotten better in recent years, but you still wouldn’t spar with me unless I was your last resort.” Percy stayed silent, eyes fixed on the space above her head. “Which means something’s happened in your happy little bundle of friends, and I’m willing to guess that it’s the pompous prick from the Roman camp.”
“Jason isn’t pompous,” Percy murmured, dropping his eyes to where his feet were scuffing the dirt but didn’t argue otherwise.
Clarisse tried to stop herself from sighing. “Listen, I know you think that us Ares kids are nothing but brawn and rage and sharp weapons, but sometimes we do talk. Sometimes, we get so angry, that talking is the only thing we can do. We know what it’s like to want to hurt someone or something just because it’s the only thing that would make us feel better- it’s literally in our blood. So if you’re looking for an excuse to talk about what’s made you so worked up, you’ve got one.”
There was a long, audible pause where the only sound was sand and dirt sliding and grinding against itself as Percy ran his foot over it anxiously and the heavy panting of his chest as he tried to regain his breathing after their bout. Eventually, he took a deep breath. “It’s just… Jason.” Percy began and Clarisse felt a spark of triumph. “I love him, I really do, he’s one of my best friends and I would die for him, but sometimes he can be such a pain in the ass.”
While she waited for Percy to gather the courage or the air or the words or whatever it was that he needed, Clarisse drew shapes and pictures with the point of her sword in the sand. “He thinks that just because we went through the same thing that we had the same experiences.” He began. “Hera dropped him on a bus filled with people and a satyr and his two best friends and then he came straight here to Annabeth and everyone else. I didn’t have anything close to that. I was jacking cars and stealing food and sleeping on park benches every night and then when I got to a safe place, I was treated the exact same way I was when I first arrived here. He’s trying to school me on what it means to be Roman, but I’m not a Roman. I’m Greek. I don’t know why that’s so hard to understand.”
Nodding, Clarisse swung her sword and bursts of dust rose from the ground as she scrapped across it. “That’s why it’s difficult for me to get along with Frank sometimes. Technically, he’s my brother, we have the same father, but we don't. We weren’t raised the same. I was raised for war and he was raised for strategy. Sometimes, I get annoyed when he doesn’t fight like the rest of us, but I have to remember that we’re not the same people.”
Percy took a deep breath. “I don’t mean to get so annoyed with him. He’s helped me a lot, ever since we met. I don’t know why he just gets me so worked up sometimes. Maybe it’s just because he’s the son of Zeus and I’m the son Poseidon. That’s why I haven’t always gotten along with Thalia, anyway.”
“When you came back, didn’t you mention something about you and Jason fighting to the death on horseback? It sounded terrible, but so, so cool.” Clarisse said and she was quietly proud of the smile she got out of Percy.
“We did,” Percy agreed with the face of someone recounting a powerful and special memory. “Eidolons sent by Gaia made us fight each other, and it worked so well I think because our parents don’t really like each other, Greek or Roman.”
“So maybe it’s not your fault,” Clarisse reasoned as Percy began to pace, his sword shrinking back into a pen. “No offence, but your sort of known to have a bit of a temper at times. It’s understandable to lose it every now and again, even if it is at a friend.”
Running his hands through his hair, Percy sighed so roughly it was almost a growl. There was a bright spark of green in his eyes, but it faded so quickly, it could have been a trick of the light. “It’s just… he’s done so much for me the whole time I’ve known him, even just lending an ear or waking me up when I have a nightmare so I don’t destroy the camp with a tidal wave, so I feel like I don’t have any right to be angry.”
Clarisse watched him pace for a while, hands running through his already messy hair and his lips twisted into a mockery of a frown. Shaking her head, Clarisse made her decision, and she seethed her sword as she turned away with Percy. “We’re not talking here,” She said in reply to the confused sound Percy made. “Come on- we’ll go somewhere more comfortable.”
Slowly, Clarisse picked her way down the path that led to the beach, making sure that Percy was following behind until her feet were sinking into the white sand and the lapping waves against the shore were loud in her ears. Glancing behind her, she watched as Percy stepped foot on the sand and immediately, his shoulders relaxed and his tense face morphed into something calmer if not less angry. “I thought you’d be less likely destroy the training area and anyone watching if you were with the water.”
She was right, of course, and Percy obviously knew she was too because he took a deep breath and nodded slowly, watching the sea foam roll over the sand. “We wouldn’t want that,” he joked. But even though Clarisse had brought him to the sea to help him open up, Percy seemed content to watch the sea roll in and lap over his toes.
So, in an attempt to get the ball rolling on the conversation, Clarisse began once again. “When I came to camp, Annabeth and Luke were my first friends outside my own cabin, and the three of us have known each other for a long time.” Percy glanced over at her, but Clarisse kept her eyes on the horizon and the roiling sea. “When I found out that Luke had betrayed the camp, betrayed his family, betrayed us for Kronos, I was so angry. Who cares what the gods had done or not done- they’re gods, what else do you expect? They’re busy.” She took a deep breath. Percy was still watching her.
“When I found Chris after the Labyrinth, I almost killed him for what he had done, but then I saw how raving crazy he was and suddenly I didn’t care about what he had done or whose side he was on- all I knew was that I needed to help him because I was the only person who could,” it wasn’t often that Clarisse took about personal things, but something told her that Percy needed to hear it. “Eventually, I stopped being so angry with him and what his betrayal and when Mr D cured him of his insanity, he apologised and I easily forgave him. I still do, and he’s loved me when nobody else has had the stomach to.”
“Clarisse…” Percy began uneasily, feeling like she was divulging long-kept secrets to him when he honestly didn’t deserve it. “You don’t have to bear your heart and soul to me just because you want to make me feel better.”
She held her hand up to stop Percy from continuing. “I’m not done,” she said and Percy fell silent. “For a while, with Chris, with Silena, hells- even with you guys, the anger I had felt towards Luke and even the world at that point started to quiet and I could almost live my life as if nothing had happened.” Clarisse paused and took a shaky breath, closing her eyes against the sea-spray. “Luke had been my family when I had none. He and Annabeth had been by my side since the very beginning even when we didn’t like each other. So I didn’t want to fight him when he had challenged us in New York. I didn’t want any of my brothers and sisters to fight a war we wouldn’t win. I didn’t want to see the twisted thing that Luke had become.”
In her ears, Clarisse heard the gentle and familiar giggle that she missed so much, the kind and sometimes chiding words of her favourite daughter of Aphrodite, of pointless gossip and heartache and the need to be taught how to fight. So unlike any other from Cabin 10. “But Silena made that decision for me, and when she died, I felt that anger come back again. But it was so much worse. I didn’t care who it was at. I didn’t care that I was fighting Luke, someone I had considered a brother and who had done so much for me. All I knew was that he needed to pay for what he had done to my home and my family.”
For the first time since arriving at the beach, Clarisse met Percy’s eyes, and there was something so sad and heartfelt in them that she felt like throwing up. “It’s ok to be angry at someone who matters to you. I’m frustrated with Chris all the time. I’ve tried to kill you loads of times and I wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for you. Just because someone is your friend, it doesn’t mean that you always have to put up with their shit.”
Percy pursed his lips before letting the breath he was holding out in a sigh that ended in a weary, tired chuckle. “Look at us,” there was faint laughter in his voice. “Having a heart-to-heart about our feelings. It feels like just yesterday you were trying to shove my head down the toilet and I burst the pipes in your face.”
“You’ll still always be that punk little kid who came to camp and acted like you owned the place just because you killed the Minotaur.” Clarisse laughed, and oh, that felt so good. She reached over and shoved Percy in the shoulder, not hard enough to knock him onto the ground but just enough to rock him where he stood.
“Twice,” Percy corrected. “I’m the punk little kid who killed the Minotaur twice.”
Rolling her eyes, Clarisse took a half-hearted swipe at him, but Percy easily dodged out of the way with his hands in his pockets and a laugh on his lips. It was hard to imagine him as anyone but the boy who only ate blue food and drowned his pancakes in too much syrup, but Clarisse had seen the other side of him, and she knew that he was much more than just a childlike troublemaker with a penchant for humour. “You’re never gonna let any of us live that down, are you?”
There was something buried deep inside Clarisse that told her to let the conversation go, to drop the topic, the moment had passed and transformed into something merrier and light-hearted between them that they never really got, but she just couldn’t leave it. “I meant what I said before. If you’re fighting angry, you might as well be fighting blind, and nobody wins when they’re fighting in the dark. You’re going to get yourself killed if you’re fighting with your head in the sand. Believe me- I’ve got the scars to prove it. Make sure that when you find yourself in battle, you fight with a clear head. And never forget who you’re doing it for.”
Percy kept Clarisse’s gaze for a few moments before he nodded, all trace of their previous humour gone. “I will,” he agreed and for some reason, Clarisse felt something heavy unclench in her chest. “I promise. Thank you. I think I needed to have this talk with someone more than I thought.”
“Make sure you remember it because it’s never gonna happen again. Now get out of here,” Clarisse snapped, but she was smiling larger than she could remember, so it was obvious that she didn’t mean it. Percy raised his hand to his head in mock salute and turned on his heel, skipping back towards the camp. “And bridge the gap you've made with Jason! I don’t want to have a side dish of sexual tension while I’m eating my lunch!”
While faint and far away, Percy’s laugh was loud enough and genuine enough to make something light flutter happily in Clarisse’s chest. It was only when Percy’s bright orange shirt and raven hair disappeared behind the crest of the hill that she called out. “You can come out now, Chris. I know you’ve been watching us since you saw us leave the training area.”
Two pairs of arms wrapped around Clarisse’s torso as a familiar chuckle tickled her ear. “You know I can’t resist watching you when you’re training,” Chris laughed into her skin. “Colour me curious, but you two seemed awfully chummy. I thought you hated each other.”
“It’s less of a hate and more of a mutual dislike,” Clarisse amended, leaning some of her weight against Chris, who held her tight. “He’s not exactly on my top 10 people list. He might be a close 8.”
“It didn’t look like it,” Chris snorted and buried his nose into Clarisse’s neck and making her force down the smile that threatened to pull and overtake her lips. He always was the more affectionate of the two, before and after they had returned to camp for the school break, and some part of her was grateful for it. “It seemed like the two of you were the best of friends. Inseparable.”
Clarisse couldn’t help but laugh. “Is that jealousy I’m hearing?”
“Of him? Not a chance.” He snorted. He fell silent, apparently lost in thought, and Clarisse was happy to give him that moment to think, content with just being held in the comforting circle of his arms around her. “Did you mean what you said back there?
Closing her eyes, Clarisse concentrated on the sounds of the waves behind them and the feeling of Chris’s heartbeat pumping against her back, and realized that she hadn’t felt so peaceful in a very long time, and she wasn’t sure if she had Chris or that annoying son of Poseidon to thank for it. “Every last damn word.”