M O O N L A C E
Night after night, the dreams came.
They were relentless, haunting visions that crept in when he was just beginning to rest. A final curse that still lingered, even now.
He’d been a fool to think that the horrors of Tartarus wouldn’t follow them home. He’d somehow forced himself to believe that the nightmares that plagued him would be left on the Argo II once their final task was accomplished.
If their shipmates had noticed, they didn’t point it out. Truthfully, it wouldn’t have mattered if they did, and maybe they knew that-- maybe they knew that it wouldn’t make a difference whether or not they cared that Annabeth crept into his cabin under a cover of darkness. She would have come in anyway.
They needed each other, now more than ever before.
The first night back at home had been the hardest, somehow. His bed felt too soft, too warm, too inviting. The room was steady, not rocking against the waves. And the most obvious difference: Annabeth, missing from his side.
Sally had been unrelenting when she’d all but demanded that he come home. The last thing he wanted to do was leave Annabeth alone at camp for the rest of the summer, even if it was only a few weeks, but he understood his mom’s perspective as well. Percy had been missing for the better part of a year and she wanted to spend as much time with him as possible before they left for college.
Still, leaving her had been excruciating, and the guilt of it only exacerbated the strength of the nightmares. He fought sleep as long as he could, fearing what he might see if his consciousness slipped below the surface. Midnight came and went, then one o’clock, then two.
At some point, he must have managed to doze off. When he awoke, the sky was grey and the soft sound of rain pattered against the window. The digital clock on his shelf surprisingly read 7:42am, signaling that he’d actually managed to get a few hours of somewhat restful sleep.
He sat up, rubbing his eyes.
- bzz -
Percy looked around, shuffling through his blankets until the phone tumbled out. He glanced at the name on the screen.
- Coming into the city. Can I come over?
- fire escape
He’d barely pressed ‘send’ on the second message when he heard the knock on the glass, looking over his shoulder to see her standing in the rain. She opened the window and slipped inside. Percy moved to close the window as she slid out of her raincoat and kicked off her shoes.
The dark circles under her eyes told him all he needed to know about how her night had gone. She stepped toward him at the same moment he opened his arms. The moment they connected, he felt the tension drain from his shoulders.
It might have been a scary thing, the way they relied on each other, if it had been anyone else. He knew that they were young -- too young, probably, to be so serious -- but what did age matter when they’d lived through the end of the world twice?
They pulled apart long enough to move wordlessly to the bed and lie down. He held her to his chest, arms wrapped tightly over her shoulders and slightly damp hair.
“You can sleep if you want to,” he said softly, feeling her warm body relax in his embrace. She nodded, nosing her face against his shoulder. Percy closed his eyes.
Percy’s eyes flickered open to the sound of a throat being cleared. Sally stood in the doorway with a concerned look on her face. Paul, just visible over her shoulder, looked on nervously.
“Mom?” Percy asked, still resurfacing from the fog of sleep. He moved slowly, pulling his completely numb arm from beneath Annabeth’s sleeping form, careful not to disturb her.
“Percy,” she frowned. “You know better.”
“She can’t sleep on her own,” he said simply. “Neither can I.”
Sally glanced back at Paul who seemed to give her a ‘What do you want me to say?’ look. This was new territory for all of them. And even Sally understood that she couldn’t hold Percy to the same standards as other seventeen year boys.
After a long moment, she finally nodded. It was short, briefly accepting of their current state of things. “Okay,” she said quietly. “But we’ll be having a conversation about rules when Annabeth wakes up.”
That seemed to be a mostly fair offer, even if Percy didn’t like it. He nodded in agreement as Paul disappeared up the hallway.
“Door stays open, Percy,” Sally said before she followed.
❁ ❁ ❁
They did have that conversation, of course. And the conclusion that was reached was one that none of them had really anticipated: wouldn’t it be a better solution for Annabeth to move into the guest room for a while? And so, that’s what they did.
It had taken some convincing, but Frederick Chase eventually gave in. After several long discussions with Sally, he finally conceded that since Annabeth had already decided that she wouldn’t be returning to her boarding school for the fall semester, it made sense. She would move in with the Jacksons and plan to complete senior year at AHS.
The rules were made quite plain and they weren’t at all unexpected. Open doors, wearing appropriate clothing around the house, and so on. It all seemed more than reasonable, and every day, Percy’s gratefulness for his mother’s understanding grew tenfold.
For a while, it was better.
Just knowing that she was nearby helped him to sleep. He didn’t worry for her as he did when she’d been at camp. Maybe she was in another room, but they were at least under the same roof. His nightmares became more rare, his rest growing more beneficial as the deficit slowly cleared.
It wasn’t long after the new living arrangements were settled that Percy once again awoke to his mother glowering at him from the doorway. He shifted to see a mess of blonde hair splayed across the pillow beside him.
He grimaced, rising slowly so as not to wake her, and walked across the room. “I didn’t know, mom,” he started, looking nervously back toward the bed where Annabeth slept peacefully. “She must have come in sometime in the middle of the night.”
“Percy,” she frowned. “Paul and I have tried to be very understanding--”
“I swear,” Percy shook his head. “I didn’t know.”
Sally gave him a look he hadn’t seen many times in his life, a look that verged on disappointment. It may have been rare, but it cut him every time.
“Maybe that’s true, but it doesn’t change how this looks. I promised Frederick that I’d keep an eye on the two of you and I don’t intend to be made a liar. What would her father think if he knew that I was letting you two--” Sally waved her hands as if searching for an acceptable choice of words, “fool around under my roof?”
“The door was open!” he said harshly, his voice coming out in an urgent whisper. “Mom, it’s not like that; we would never do anything here--”
She held her hands to her ears. “I don’t want to know about it!”
“It’s my fault.”
They both turned back toward the bed where Annabeth was now sitting up. She looked nervously between Percy and Sally, blushing deeply. “I… had a nightmare and Percy was already asleep,” she explained. “I didn’t want to wake him so I thought I’d just lay here a while until I could calm down. But I must have fallen asleep.”
Sally stared at Annabeth for a moment before she looked back at her son. Her face told a story of a woman that was trying her damnedest to understand, even if she fell short each time. She reached out, her thin fingers covering the trident mark that blazed on his forearm.
In that moment, his superhero of a mother suddenly seemed so strangely small, so painfully human. He found himself saddened by the fear in her eyes and the worry in her brow. He wondered when he’d become so much taller than her.
If only the physical changes had been the extent of the transformation that had occurred in the past year.
“I am trying, Percy,” she said quietly, just loud enough that he imagined Annabeth could also hear. Sally glanced toward Annabeth though her touch remained. “I know that you haven’t been able to talk about what happened… but I think, if you could, it might help me understand.”
Percy’s jaw clenched. He looked automatically to Annabeth who seemed as appalled by the idea as he did. The color had mostly drained from her face, pulling away the blush she’d worn moments ago.
He had never been the type to keep secrets from his mother. Since they’d returned from Greece, it had begun to become quite obvious that secrets were going to be a necessary part of their lives. There were things Sally could not know, if for no other reason than the fear that came from not understanding.
And how could she ever understand what they’d been through? How could they ever adequately explain what they’d seen-- what they couldn’t stop seeing? And even if they could, what could she do?
He shook his head as he returned his attention to his mother. The thought of voicing those memories aloud, of detailing the horrors to his beautifully, blissfully ignorant mother… it was too horrible to imagine. “I’m sorry, mom. I… we can’t.”
Sally dropped her hand. Percy felt a heat rise on his neck as he met her eyes-- they looked at him with a fear he couldn’t quite name, as if she didn’t recognize him. His stomach flopped.
He felt something shatter just then. The fragile symbol of their bond that remained untouched, the final thread that tethered him to something innocent-- it fell away as suddenly as her grasp. The earth shook as the divide between them grew, widening the already deep ravine between them.
As she turned to leave, Percy realized she had tears in her eyes. “Remember the rules.”
❁ ❁ ❁
By November or so, Sally gave up.
It wasn’t that they actively tried to ignore the rule, but it became an unavoidable thing. The nightmares continued, and eventually they found that sleeping in the same bed was the only surefire way to limit them. Percy was fairly certain that it was for this exact reason that Paul and Sally began to turn a blind eye.
“I heard them talking,” Annabeth said quietly as they sat on the couch one night. Paul and Sally had gone to an event at Goode, and as much as Percy had been looking forward to having the apartment to themselves, Annabeth seemed intent on talking about something.
“About what?” he asked, toying with the loose threads on the rip in her jeans.
“About me, I think,” she said. “About what’s going to happen when the baby comes.”
Percy looked up, away from the holes in her jeans and focusing on her face now. “What do you mean? They’re not kicking you out.”
“No,” she shook her head, “It wasn’t anything like that. They were debating on whether it was appropriate for me to share a room with you or not.”
“You stay in my room most of the time anyway.”
“Yes, Percy,” Annabeth sighed. “But it’s different. They’ve been politely ignoring it; it will be different to them if they allow it.”
Percy didn’t really see the difference, but Annabeth seemed to be pretty positive that there was one-- and since she was usually right about these things, he decided not to argue. “It’s only for a few months, anyway,” he shrugged. “Mom’s not due til March, and we’ll be off to California in the fall.”
He couldn’t help the warm feeling in his chest when he saw the smile on her face. The idea of New Rome still felt like a dream. It would be a new beginning, a much needed fresh start. They hadn’t had something to look forward to in such a long time, and it felt surreal.
“California,” she said, almost dreamily. Annabeth settled into his side as he draped an arm over her. She felt right here-- in his arms, in his home. He couldn’t remember what life had been like before he’d known her, not that he’d care to think about that anyway.
He reached for the remote before he handed it to her, smiling knowingly as she picked a movie they’d seen a thousand times. She pressed play and dropped the remote to the floor before he pulled her into his lap, winding his arms around her waist. Annabeth claimed his lips greedily as her hands held his face gently in their soft grasp.
The movie played on in the background, already long forgotten.
His eyes snapped open as he sat bolt upright. For a moment, the haze of the dark room confused him. They were on the Argo II, weren't they? No… no, they were home. Slowly, the faint shadows of his bedroom came into focus.
Then she cried out again. He looked over, panicked, and saw her eyes squeezed tightly shut as she turned onto her side, her chin trembling. He felt like he could see into her mind, already knowing the details of this recurring nightmare all too well.
“Annabeth,” he said, gentle but firm. “Annabeth, wake up. I’m right here.”
He touched her shoulder and she recoiled, her hands closing tightly around his forearm. She gasped as her eyes shot open. Realization flickered across her features for a brief moment before she dissolved into a sob.
He laid back down beside her, wrapping his arms around her as she wept. She balled her fists in the fabric of his shirt, burying her face in his chest. “You were gone.”
“I know,” he whispered softly, stroking her hair. Her grip on his t-shirt was so strong he thought it might rip. “I’m here, Beth. I’m not going anywhere.”
Through the crack in the curtain, a glint of shimmering silver caught his eye, sending a cold chill up his spine.
It was her fault, after all. It was Calypso’s selfishness that had caused this deep, unhealing wound. Every time Annabeth woke from this nightmare, he was reminded of his failures, of the pain that she had to endure because of him.
He saw it plainly in his mind’s eye.
Tartarus had been a thing worse than nightmares, but the attack of the arai had been the worst of all. He didn’t know how he’d survived it. Maybe Calypso’s curse hadn’t been the cause of all of it, but it had been the reason that he had charged headfirst into such an impossible fight.
He stomached the curses, the poisons, the fires of broken promises. He took each hit, just grateful that it was one less thing that Annabeth would have to face. And when he was dying, when his mind closed itself off and his consciousness began drifting away like a balloon, he’d thought only of her and prayed that he’d done enough.
Calypso’s curse was just the tip of the iceberg, but it was her face that came to mind when he saw Annabeth like this. It was her self-absorbed egotism that had caused this scar.
In his arms, she finally began to calm. His embrace did not loosen until he was certain that her tears had ceased. He loosened his grip, tilting his head to look at her face. It was damp and splotchy but it was Annabeth, still so beautiful and still so strong.
His fingers wrapped around a grey tendril, brushing it away from her face. That streak of lightened hair bound them together in a way that no one else would ever understand. It had faded once before, last summer, but had reappeared at some point during their torturous jaunt through the deepest crevices of the underworld. And so far, it showed no signs of fading again.
There was a part of him that was comforted by that. As painful as the reminder was, it was also something of a symbol of what they’d been through, of what they had survived together.
As she looked at him now, her wide, trusting eyes drinking him in, he thought of little else than the ridiculously strong urge he had to create a new world for her. He wanted so desperately to build her something stable and permanent, something that she would never have to doubt or fear.
Her life had been so nomadic and transient-- never staying in any one place long enough to call it home. Camp had been the closest she’d ever come to having a permanent place, but even that had come with its own set of troubles.
Annabeth was worthy, more than worthy, of a real, safe place to land.
She deserved so much more than Percy would ever be able to give her, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t spend the rest of his days trying. It was all he wanted in this life and if he could just manage to come close, he would die happy.
“What are you thinking about?” she asked, her grip on his shirt finally loosening.
Annabeth scrunched her nose. “What would you wanna do that for?”
It was said in innocence. She hadn’t meant it the way that it had landed. But what he heard was the implication buried within her joking words, the quiet fear that was ever present-- the idea that she wasn’t worth thinking about.
It was devastating, the way she would never see what a marvel she was. He tightened his embrace again, one hand holding the back of her neck.
“I’m never not thinking of you.”
❁ ❁ ❁
Annabeth looked worried, more worried than usual, but he’d promised to give her privacy. Still, as he watched her pace on the icy fire escape, he couldn’t help but wonder what the phone call was about.
Frederick never called. He didn’t call at Thanksgiving, he didn’t call at Christmas. He hadn’t even bothered to call when they’d returned home from Europe last summer, which Percy hadn’t forgiven nearly as easily as Annabeth had.
Maybe it didn’t bother her anymore, having grown up with a dad that seemed happier to simply pretend that she didn’t exist. Maybe she was just used to it. Percy, however, was not.
When she finally returned, her worried eyes looked tired. She sat on the edge of the bed, laying back against the mattress. “I have to go to Boston.”
“Boston?” Percy asked, surprised. He sat down beside her. “Why are we going to Boston?”
“Not we, Percy,” Annabeth corrected. “Me.”
Percy didn’t like that answer but he didn’t dwell on it. He could work on changing her mind later. “What’s in Boston?”
“What’s a Magnus?”
“I thought your cousins were dead.”
Annabeth shook her head. “Different cousin. Remember? I think we talked about them when we were in Greece.”
Percy dug deep through the cluttered corners of his mind for the name but came up empty handed. He felt like a bad boyfriend for that-- it’s not like Annabeth talked about her family often. You’d think he would remember when she did.
“I don’t remember.”
“Magnus’s mom -- my dad’s sister Natalie -- died a few years ago,” she explained. “Magnus was supposed to be living with my Uncle Randolph in Boston, but apparently he’s actually been missing for a couple of years and Randolph never said anything.”
Percy noticed that she didn’t seem as upset as he might have expected, but he didn’t point it out. Family had always been a difficult thing for Annabeth, and her father’s siblings had only made it that much more complicated.
“But they’re worried now?” he asked, trying not to let his confusion distract him from the immediate issue: Annabeth was leaving. “Why do you have to go?”
“They need help handing out flyers. I told my dad I’d meet him in Boston on Monday.”
Percy took her hand and pulled it into his lap. “When’s the last time you saw your dad?”
“Bit over a year ago,” she said automatically, as if she’d already been thinking about it. “When he was in town for that conference last winter and we had dinner with him at Gramercy Tavern, remember?”
Percy remembered. Vividly.
It was the first time he’d been around her father after he and Annabeth had actually begun dating. It had been an exceedingly uncomfortable night as Frederick attempted to cram sixteen years of parenting into one evening, channeling all of his frustration into his obvious dislike of his daughter’s boyfriend.
Which, even then, hadn’t made any sense to either of them. Percy’s few experiences with Frederick up to that point had been pleasant enough, if not a bit tense. But with the word ‘boyfriend’ on the table, suddenly the man decided it was time to act like a father. He’d poked at Percy in a way that had made them both uncomfortable.
And a week later, Percy had been rudely kidnapped and held hostage across the country for six months. True, that part wasn’t Frederick’s fault. But the events sort of blurred together in his mind. Any memory of that window of time gave him a bad taste in his mouth.
Instead of bringing up his own bad memories, he simply answered, “Yeah.”
“I have to leave in the morning,” Annabeth continued. “He got me a ticket for the ten o’clock train.”
He nodded, abandoning his previous charge to try and change her mind. First of all, he couldn’t really afford to miss school if he didn’t absolutely have to (see: the aforementioned kidnapping). Second, he had no desire to spend any amount of time with Frederick Chase.
“Can I drive you?” he asked. Penn Station wasn’t that far -- she could take the 6 train to Grand Central and transfer easily -- but he’d much rather see her off.
Annabeth smiled, letting her eyes close as she squeezed his hand. “You'd better.”
❁ ❁ ❁
- BZZZZZ -
Percy looked over his shoulder toward the noise and saw Sally already making her way over to the intercom by the door. He looked back down at the trigonometry book in his lap, the numbers swirling antagonistically at him as if they took joy in his struggle.
“Yes?” Sally asked pleasantly, a tinny static echoing back.
“Hello,” an unfamiliar voice said. “This is Apollo.”
Percy reeled around, looking over the back of the couch. Sally’s eyes were as wide as saucers. She looked at him expectantly, as if he was supposed to know what to do.
“The god Apollo...” the voice went on. “Is Percy home?”
The color drained from his face as he shook his head furiously. ‘No,’ he mouthed to his mother. ‘I’m not here.’
“We can’t just lie,” she said quietly.
“Fine,” he said, tossing his textbook aside and getting to his feet. “I’ll leave by the fire escape so you don’t have to lie.”
“Percy,” she chastised, giving him that look -- the look that said his day was about to get a whole lot harder.
“Fine.” He groaned as Sally hit the buzzer to allow the uninvited guest into the building.
A few minutes later, there was a hard, rapturous shave-and-a-haircut knock on the door. Percy flung it open, his eyes dark. He didn’t bother hiding his annoyance. “Why?”
Apollo’s appearance was surprising. It was so distracting that he almost didn’t notice the young girl that was with him as she hid behind him.
“Percy Jackson,” the not-Apollo version of Apollo said loudly. “My blessings upon you! I am in need of assistance.”
‘Absolutely not,’ he wanted to say. But with his mother still hovering a few feet away, he knew better.
“Who’s your friend?” Percy asked instead, eyeing the mop of messy dark hair.
“This is Meg McCaffrey,” he answered, “a demigod who must be taken to Camp Half-Blood. She rescued me from street thugs.”
“Rescued?” he couldn’t stop himself from blurting out. Percy looked over his face, the bruises that were beginning to appear on the skin, the blood dripping from Apollo’s nose. “You mean the beat-up teenager look isn’t a disguise? Dude, what happened to you?”
“I may have mentioned street thugs...”
“But you’re a god.”
“I was a god.”
Percy blinked. “Was?”
Apollo glanced nervously up the hallway. “Also, I’m fairly certain we’re being followed by malicious spirits.”
Of course they were being followed by malicious spirits. And now they were here, in his home. Because nothing in his life was ever easy.
He didn’t want anything to do with this, but what choice did he have? Percy groaned, running a hand down his face. “Maybe you two should come inside.”
Apollo had barely made it three steps into the apartment before he was yelling again, something about Sally being deformed. Percy closed the door roughly, stepping into the kitchen. “Apollo? She’s not cursed. And could you not mention Hera?”
It was an unofficial rule of the Jackson home: that name wasn’t spoken here. Apollo was just lucky that Annabeth was still in Boston-- she really didn’t like Hera.
After several more minutes of awkward, stilted conversation, Percy deposited Apollo in the bathroom with an arsenal of first aid supplies and retreated into his room. Eventually, the gangly teenage form of the once mighty god emerged and shared his side of the story.
He explained how he’d lost a chunk of his memory -- something that struck a bit too close to home -- and how he’d ended up in the care of Meg McCaffrey. And then, as Percy had been expecting from the moment the name ‘Apollo’ had come filtered through the crackly speaker, the request came.
“That’s why I’ve come to you for help.”
Percy sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “Look, man--”
“Would you please refrain from calling me man?” Apollo interrupted. “It is a painful reminder that I am a man.”
Percy rolled his eyes. “Okay… Apollo, I’m fine with driving you and Meg to camp if that’s what you want. I never turn away a demigod who needs help--”
“Wonderful! Do you have something besides the Prius? A Maserati, perhaps? I’d settle for a Lamborghini.”
“But,” Percy continued, “I can’t get involved in another Big Prophecy or whatever. I’ve made promises.”
Percy laced his fingers. “I lost most of my junior year because of the war with Gaea. I’ve spent this entire fall playing catch-up with my classes. Spring term starts tomorrow, and if I want to go to college with Annabeth this fall, I have to stay out of trouble and get my diploma.”
“Annabeth.” Apollo seemed like he didn’t remember the name, which was especially annoying considering how much Annabeth had done to assist the gods. “She’s the blond scary one?”
“That’s her. I promised her specifically that I wouldn’t get myself killed while she’s gone.”
Percy waved vaguely toward the north. “She’s in Boston for a few weeks. Some family emergency. The point is--”
“You’re saying you cannot offer me your undivided service to restore me to my throne?”
“Um…yeah.” He pointed at the bedroom doorway. “Besides, my mom’s pregnant. I’m going to have a baby sister. I’d like to be around to get to know her. I can’t go off on another world-stomping quest. I won’t do that to my family.”
Percy glanced toward his window. On the edge of the fire escape was a potted plant with delicate silver leaves-- moonlace. It had once been a reminder of the mortal blood that coursed through his veins, of how easily he could lose the precious life he had been given.
He’d thought for sure that he’d been dead when he awoke on the shore of Ogygia, and then, years later, he learned that what he’d felt then was nothing compared to true pain. Fighting the arai, shielding Annabeth from their attacks, had taken everything out of him.
That was pain: the feeling of uselessness as Annabeth suffered.
Now, the flower only reminded him of the pain that he’d caused, of the curse Calypso had put on Annabeth, of the fact that death didn’t really feel like the worst thing that could happen to him anymore.
“I’ve already given my mom enough heart attacks for one lifetime,” he sighed, managing to pull his eyes away from the flower that seemed to continually gloat at him. “She’s just about forgiven me for disappearing last year, but I swore to her and Paul that I wouldn’t do anything like that again.”
“My stepdad. He’s at a teacher in-service today. He’s a good guy.”
“I see. You do understand that I must find a way to return to Olympus,” Apollo said. “This will probably involve many harrowing trials with a high chance of death. Can you turn down such glory?”
Percy stared at him for a moment. Once again, he was struck by the overwhelmingly uncomfortable realization that Luke Castellan hadn’t been completely wrong about the gods and their mistreatment of demigods. Even now, as Apollo stood here every inch a mortal man ( boy, really), he asked Percy to put his life on the line to save him.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I can,” Percy said, shaking his head. He was getting really fed up with this conversation. Helping the gods wasn’t very high on his list of priorities at the moment. “Sorry.”
“I understand,” Apollo said, defeated. “You will at least escort us to Camp Half-Blood?”
He sighed but nodded as he rose to his feet. “That I can do.”
❁ ❁ ❁
Getting Meg and Apollo to camp had been a lot harder than expected-- though maybe that was Percy’s fault for not expecting it to be difficult in the first place. When a god shows up at your door, you should probably go ahead and prepare for the worst.
As a precaution, the cops that discovered the wrecked Prius had insisted on calling Percy’s parents. Apparently, whatever Sally had said had been enough to get them to believe that he wasn’t a juvenile delinquent (which probably wasn’t exactly true) and they let him leave.
Paul hadn’t exactly been happy about the state of the Prius. It didn’t really seem fair, given that it hadn’t exactly been his fault. But Percy felt pretty confident that he’d come around once the initial shock wore off-- Paul was unusually understanding for someone that couldn’t even see through the Mist.
Sally had really not been happy when Percy told her that he’d promised to return to camp the following weekend to check in on Meg and Apollo.
After a very stern talking-to, Percy retreated to his room to find a bottle of carpet cleaner and a heavy duty scrub brush had been left for him. He had to admit that scrubbing Apollo’s blood out of the carpet was a pretty mild punishment, all things considered.
On top of all of that, he had now come down with the mother of all head colds, compliments of Apollo’s friends, the plague spirits.
After a hot shower and a hearty bowl of Sally’s famous chicken lentil soup, Percy finally settled into bed. He was achy and tired, and he wasn’t sure if it was from the cold or from the exertion of fighting to nosoi. He was just beginning to doze off when his cell phone vibrated.
- Still no sign of Magnus
- How’s it going?
- awful. plus I have a cold
- come home??
- Soon I promise
- What happened?
- Apollo. it’s handled for now. I’ll explain later
- Are you okay?
- are u sure u can’t come home
- I’ll be home as soon as I can
- Don’t die before I get back
- You promised
- I’ll try my best, u too
- miss you
- I miss you too
- Love you ♥
- goodnight. I love you
Since Annabeth had practically moved into his room, the nights had been easier. It had been a few weeks since he’d woken with nightmares.
Tonight, however, was not being merciful to him. She was in Boston, far away from her home. The empty spot at his side felt ice cold.
Really, he’d half expected it. The run-in with Apollo had stirred up a lot of emotions, most of them not very good. The anger he’d felt toward the gods, the fury he’d fought to bury, it was all reinvigorated by the god’s surprising arrival.
His eyes burned, begging for sleep, but the still silence of the room made it impossible. He rolled onto his side and that’s when he saw it. Bile rose in his throat at the sight of the glowing, silver flowers on the edge of the fire escape.
He felt something slip, his vision twisting in a horrifying way.
And then he was there again. The red sky boiled over him, sulfur filling his lungs. His muscles felt sore from exertion and his skin burned from the poison air. And there she was, blindly staggering toward nothing, moving further from his grasp each time he reached out to her. Her panicked voice made him burn with rage.
“Why did you leave me?” Annabeth cried. The voice was seared into his mind. She screamed like someone was pressing a hot iron to the soft soles of her feet.
It wasn’t bad enough that she had to endure the brunt of the curse that should have been for him. It wasn’t enough that Annabeth was the recipient of that misplaced rage. It had been engineered to be the most devastating attack possible.
Did she know?
Had the sorceress known Annabeth’s deepest fears even then? Was her curse designed to hurt them both in the most intimate way? Had she known that the idea of failing her was his worst fear?
Percy practically jumped from his bed, crossing to the window and throwing it open. In one motion, he took the pot and flung it over the edge. It tumbled through the air in a blur of bioluminescence until the terracotta shattered on the sidewalk below with a satisfying crash.
It didn’t help. He tossed and turned, resting off and on but never for very long.
After an unbearably long time, the sunrise began to cast a dim glow over the room and he was relieved: grateful that he didn’t have to lie there any longer, pretending to be at rest when he was haunted by the reminder that he may never actually know peace again.
There was a soft tap at the door. “Percy? Are you awake?”
He sat up. “Yeah.”
The door creaked open slowly. Paul stood in the doorway with a frown on his face. In his hands, he held a large piece of broken terracotta, still dusted with soil. He glanced at the shard then back to Percy.
“This was on the sidewalk,” Paul answered, clearly a bit startled by the harshness of Percy’s tone. He looked back down at the broken pot. “I don’t know--”
“Throw it away.”
He met Paul’s dark eyes. After a terse moment of silence, he nodded, pulling the door closed as he turned away. Percy fell back against the pillows again, staring up at the ceiling.
❁ ❁ ❁
The rest of the week passed by relatively uneventfully. Percy found himself feeling grateful for the cold, surprisingly. Between his illness-induced exhaustion and the copious amounts of cold medicine that he was ingesting, it had become easier to sleep without dreams. And slowly but surely, he began to feel better.
By the time Saturday rolled around, he wasn’t even sniffling anymore. Unfortunately, when he arrived at camp and realized what was happening, he almost wished he’d been able to call in sick. Naturally, he walked into the middle of an attack on the camp.
The good news was that Apollo actually did have things mostly under control and his role was minimal. The hardest part had been calming Mrs. O’Leary after discovering her fear of heights. Somehow, they all managed to survive the attack, even if half the camp was now sick with hay fever. He’d undertaken the arduous task of hauling off the remains of the fallen Colossus which had been exhausting, even with the help of an entire fleet of dolphins and whales.
He, Apollo (Lester?), and Rachel gathered to discuss the prophecy that Apollo had been given, and for once, he was relieved to hear that it didn’t seem to have a single thing to do with him. He wondered if that was how other campers had felt each time they skirted destiny. It was kind of fun.
And then, suddenly, something that Percy had long since given up on: an answered prayer. From the horizon, a glint of bronze slowly grew larger and larger.
Joy bounded in Percy’s chest as he let out a real, genuine yell of excitement. Leo really was alive. Truthfully, he hadn’t really believed it. But now, as Festus grew closer, he realized just how much he’d missed the guy.
And then, another form came into view, a second passenger.
Percy’s eyes narrowed as he continued to stare and slowly, the face came into focus. A pit formed in his stomach as recognition settled in. Long caramel hair and dark eyes-- the unmistakable, cruelly beautiful face of Calypso.
The joy that had ebbed in his heart moments before seemed to be sapped from him in an instant. He hung back as the rest of the camp greeted the new arrivals and the Cabin 9 kids took to caring for Festus. The bustle and general uproar were distracting enough that no one seemed to notice how he hovered on the fringes of the assembly, eyes looking out over the sea.
He stood on the edges of the crowd as the campers each took their turn welcoming Leo, which of course included taking out their frustration for his disappearance. Maybe he had saved the world, but he’d also scared everyone pretty good. Even Chiron got a hit in.
As the crowd thinned, the inevitable seemed to draw nearer. He felt it growing, his father’s short, explosive temper boiling inside him. He should have gone back to the city when he had the chance to slip out quietly. He should have swallowed his anger and taken the high road for a change.
But he didn’t.
Percy balled his fists at his side as he rose to his feet and started across the green. Leo seemed to notice him first but he didn’t have time to stop it. “Calypso,” he said coldly, coming to a stop in front of the goddess. “We need to talk.”
She turned, looking somewhat annoyed by the intrusion, which only served to make Percy even angrier. “About what?”
“You know what,” he snapped, stepping closer and lowering his voice. The cheerful mood of the reunion and return vanished in an instant. “I’m sure Leo’s told you all about our adventures last year-- including the wonderful field trip that Annabeth and I got to take to Tartarus.”
The final word silenced the last flames of conversation around them. Calypso raised her chin as he spoke. “I’ve heard, yes.”
“So you know about our run in with the arai,” Percy continued, his eyes narrowing. His gaze felt severe even to him as the flames of the underworld flickered in his irises.
Realization seemed to dawn on her then but still she said nothing. He saw her jaw tighten, the movement of her throat that revealed her nervous swallow.
The anger that had been haunting him since last summer all seemed to come to a head and she was the unlucky target. When Percy saw her face, he saw Annabeth-- blind and terrified, screaming from loneliness and despair. He tasted blood, smelled sulfur on the wind. As he looked at Calypso, he heard Annabeth’s heartbroken pleas and the unadulterated agony in her voice.
He remembered the pain that followed: how he’d taken curse after curse for her, anything it took to protect her from as much pain as he could. And somehow, it didn’t even matter, because the one curse that Calypso had so dutifully engineered for her was so devastating, it overpowered everything else.
Leo raised a hand. “What--”
“Why did you do it?” Percy growled, stepping closer as Calypso took a step backwards. “Why did you do that to her? You knew that it didn’t have anything to do with her.”
“If you were angry, you should have cursed me,” he said, his voice growing louder, eyes darkening. “But you were jealous and petty and you directed your anger at Annabeth. You cursed her in the worst way possible, all because you were angry with me.”
As he had stumbled and fought, Annabeth had wailed in fear. She’d cried out for him, always just beyond his reach. The curse was breaking her, and that was destroying him. Just the thought that he could ever hurt her in such a way-- it was too much to consider.
The wind had picked up quite a bit, the waves of the Sound chopping angrily against the shoreline. The few campers that remained nearby had begun to retreat back up the hill.
“To stop Luke, to stop Kronos,” Percy interrupted, seething. Everything inside him wanted to scream, to grab her by the shoulders and shake her until she understood. “Did you ever consider that? Did you ever take a moment to think that maybe me leaving Ogygia didn’t have anything to do with you? Has it ever once occurred to you that you’re not as important as you think you are?”
Her eyes were filled with fear but she still showed no remorse. It didn’t matter to him that she was afraid-- she should be afraid. She’d crossed a line, a major line, and he wanted her to pay. He wished Leo had left her to rot on Ogygia, wished that she would wander the beaches alone for the rest of time.
This time, when Percy stepped toward her, she didn’t back away. His green eyes glowed with fury, his voice no longer belonging to him. “Didn’t you wonder?” he sneered, his face barely an inch away from hers. “Didn’t you ever think maybe you deserved it?”
“You can’t talk to her like that,” Leo said, stepping in at last.
As overjoyed as Percy had been to see Festus soaring toward the camp, it paled in comparison to the rage he felt now. He was blinded by it, thinking only of the agony that they had all felt in his absence, of the anger that had come when they’d learned that he’d been planning this all along. How he’d forced Hazel and Frank to lie for him, to cover his stupid, stupid idea.
And what’s worse? It had worked. And now Leo was getting the satisfaction of reveling in the fact that his ridiculous plan had actually succeeded. It made Percy sick.
He rounded on Leo, laughing dryly. It was a dark sound, something unhinged in its tone. “Don’t get me started on you, Leo.”
Leo seemed extremely disarmed by Percy’s reaction, taking a staggering step backward.
Percy turned his attention back to Calypso, taking a step toward her with one finger pointing to her chest. “You’re a selfish, heartless monster,” he glared. His voice was harsh, deep in his throat. “You deserved to stay on that island forever.”
Calypso looked pale and her eyes were slightly watery. Leo looked like he was ready to explode-- and given that Leo had a tendency to do that, Percy decided that it was as good of a time as any to walk away.
“Good luck, Leo. Try not to die again,” he called as he turned toward the beach and walked into the ocean.
❁ ❁ ❁
One of the best things about the Sound was it’s connection to the many rivers of New York, which made it an exceptionally convenient mode of transportation. Percy swam, adjusting the currents as he went, and soon the murky water of the East River began to surround him.
It would have been disgusting if the water had actually been touching him (being a son of Poseidon had many perks), but he probably wouldn’t even have noticed tonight. He navigated the channels on autopilot until he safely emerged just south of the Ward’s Island Bridge and began the short trek home.
He walked up 105th with his hands in his pockets. The January wind bit at his ears, sobering his thoughts and bringing a wave of clarity. He shouldn’t have attacked them like that. He didn’t feel any better about the situation having said his piece, and he doubted that anything he’d said would inspire a life-changing revelation for Calypso.
His words -- however deserved, however true -- were probably best left unsaid. But that didn’t matter now, did it?
Percy typed in his entry code and pulled open the door to the building. The five flights of stairs felt impossible to tackle but he had little choice. Slowly, he climbed, each step seeming more difficult than the last.
When he entered the Jackson home at last, he was surprised to find it quiet inside. He glanced at the clock and saw that it was around dinnertime-- perhaps his parents had gone out. Either way, he turned the deadbolt and walked into the kitchen and poured himself some water which he quickly chugged before setting the glass in the dishwasher.
Then, somewhere deeper into the apartment, he heard a noise. It was a heavy thud, as if someone had dropped something. The hair at the back of his neck stood on end as he uncapped Riptide and walked slowly toward the hallway. With each step, the dread in his stomach seemed to thicken.
He reached his room, the last door on the left. The door was cracked open and he could hear someone (or something) moving around inside. He took one steadying breath before he kicked the door open.
Annabeth screamed and dropped her textbook, her hand drifting automatically to the spot on her thigh where her knife would have been. Riptide clattered to the floor as he surged forward, wrapping his arms around her waist and lifting her off of the ground.
“Annabeth,” he breathed, squeezing her tightly.
Her arms wound around his neck, returning the embrace with the same enthusiasm.
“I came straight back after the funeral,” she said softly. Her fingers played absentmindedly in his black hair. “Is everything okay? You looked upset.”
The past few weeks, the mysterious death (and reappearance) of Magnus, the fight at camp. How had so much happened in such a small window of time?
He hadn’t realized how their time apart had affected him until now. Sure, the nightmares had been unrelenting, but even that had been more tolerable than her absence. Lemon and vanilla and something so distinctly her filled his lungs and he couldn’t remember the reasons for his anger earlier in the night.
He held her close, resisting the urge to press his lips to every square inch of her perfect face as he stared into those storm grey eyes. “No, everything is fine,” he shook his head, leaning to touch his forehead to hers. "I'm just so happy you’re home.”