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bonded through trauma (make the scars disappear)

Chapter Text

1. Running.

Leo bursts out of the basement, still choking on blood and holy water and sweat, terror and pain rippling off the boy in near-tangible waves. Teresa is out and he took the chance; he burned his bonds away and picked the lock to the basement door and now he's getting out of this hellhole.

Stay and be punished for your sins, little monster. Fire demon, Satan spawn. Stay and be punished.

Leo tries to ignore the parasitic voice in his skull, Teresa's voice, because nothing good comes from listening to that woman. His self-esteem is already dangerously low and his self-hatred already dangerous high; he doesn't need any help in the ‘hating yourself’ department. He grabs his bag from the kitchen where she’d abandoned it- his clothes, his tools, his everything is in that bag- and steals some food while he’s at it. He’s really not proud of that part, but Teresa is a terrible woman and he hates her and he never has enough to eat anyway so he takes the food despite his reservations. All of it's non-perishable. Leo goes to her garage and takes a few tools, some metal scraps from… whatever, he's not sure where they’ve come from, and he takes cash because he has to. He may hate himself, but he’s not suicidal (not yet, anyway, but he doesn't think about that).

He runs off without looking back, already thinking of places he can go where Social Services won’t look for him- or at least, where they won’t find him. He has run away from three foster homes, and he is nine. He has almost died three times, from inhuman creatures and inhumane people, and he is nine. He is a demon and a diablo and a murderer, and he is nine.

(He is broken, and he is less than a decade old.)

He remembers that hospital stay, the one a few weeks ago, when he’d met Percy and Sally Jackson (a fallen angel and his even more heavenly mother), and his chest hurts with a jagged-edged longing.

Leo sets his jaw and turns toward the bus station. He needs to get to Manhattan.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

2. Broken Bottles

Percy whimpers, backing into a corner, away from Gabe. The man is drunk off his ass, stumbling and muttering and blinking muzzy eyes, and yet when it comes to hurting his stepson, he’s as coherent and enraged as ever.

“C’mere, boy,” the drunk man growls. Percy’s green eyes fill with tears; one slips down his pale cheek, glittering in the dim light of the other room. Gabe sees it, and his eyes widen in outrage.

“You little…”

Gabe thinks that Percy shouldn’t cry, that he should be a man and take the pain like a strong man should. But Percy is ten, is too young and too bruised and hurt and sad, to keep back his tears. He needs some kind of outlet, some way to ease his pain, and this is the way he has chosen.

Gabe grips his near-empty beer bottle, murky eyes dark and glowing with rage. Percy wishes he could say the man’s eyes are red, like a demon- a monster- but he can’t. His stepfather is a man, a human man; there is no outward physical indication of what he is.

Gabe Ugliano is a monster in a man’s skin, and Percy is the only one who ever sees that.

The little boy whimpers. He’s backed up against the door to his mother’s- thankfully empty, since she's taking the night shift at her job- bedroom, hands clenched into white-knuckled fists behind him, chin tipped up and green eyes blazing defiantly even as fat, glittering drops slide down his prominent from hunger cheekbones.

He refuses to show the potent fear boiling in his stomach.

Gabe growls, deep and threatening, in the back of his throat, and takes a step forward. His hand whips out, and his stepson flinches- but the bottle in the man’s hand isn't heading for the boy, not yet anyway. Instead it collides with the wall with a soft tink and glass shards fall to the carpet in a terribly beautiful rain. The room and corridor are dark, light shining in from the vacant living room, but it’s enough to make the brown glass sparkle like the salty liquid staining the young boy’s cheeks. Gabe smirks, the motion more terrifying than anything else, and a choked sound of pure fear rips from Percy’s throat.

His hand raises, jagged edges of the bottle glinting, and Percy closes his eyes. The tears have stopped, and he waits in an awful, shadowy limbo of knowing that something horrible and extremely painful is about to happen to you but you are utterly unable to stop it. He empties his lungs and waits, resigned to his fate, because he knows what’s about to happen.

He takes in a shocked gasp when the broken glass punctures the skin of his abdomen, eyelids popping open and body doubling over instinctually. The ten-year-old looks down, hesitant and horribly fascinated, to see a gaping gash in his torso. Blood is pouring out of him at an alarming rate, but after the initial shock of fiery agony, his body has gone pleasantly, frigidly numb. Percy falls to his knees, arms wrapping instinctively around his abdomen to hold at least some blood in, head tipping back to stare with wide, jaded green eyes at his abuser. Air wheezes out of his mouth and his eyes narrow, anger rippling briefly through the calm pool of his emotions.

Gabe stumbles back, eyes widening as the events of the past few minutes seem to finally impact him. The bottle falls from his grasp and shatters completely upon the ground. Time seems to slow down around it, Percy’s emerald gaze drawn to the instrument of his pain as the brown glass bursts into thousands of tiny, sparkling pieces.

Mom’s gonna have a heck of a time getting those out of the carpet, he thinks dully, mind slowing down just like his perceptions of the world around him. He can hear, vaguely, Gabe’s swears and then him moving to the door, muttering about “faking it” and “break-in” and “attacked m’boy”.

Sneaky asshole, the black-haired boy thinks hatefully, before the world begins spinning and going darker with every rotation. He collapsed forward first, hand planting down firmly on the glass-covered floor and the other tightening around his stomach, before he shifts and avoids faceplanting, stretching out on his back incautiously. The green-eyed boy ignores the dig and sting of the shards in his back, the hot, sticky blood seeping out between his fingers, and his stepfather’s mutters and the accompanying sounds of the wickedly clever man faking a break-in.

Percy knows that Gabe is going to call an ambulance, fake a robbery gone wrong to keep Sally and the cops off his tail, and the boy hates to admit that the man will probably get away with it.

He chuckles brokenly, eyes filling again, blood bubbling from his lips.

I hate my life, the boy thinks bitterly as the world fades out around him.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Run!” Riley screams, scrambling to his feet.

His little sister cries out as the hellhound takes a bite out of her arm and RIley yells in anger, bashing it over the head with a metal pole he found. “Cassie, run!”

“Not leaving you!” she calls back, teeth clenched in pain, hand clamped down over the wound to staunch the bleeding.

Riley growls right back into the hellhound’s furry face and whips his dagger out of his backpack. He stabs it in the mouth and it crumbles with a cry. He collapses to his knees, panting. Cassie curls into her brother’s side and he loops an arm around her small form, feeling her shiver and her blood seep into his shirt. “We’re out of bandages, aren't we?” he murmurs, a slow horror filling his stomach. Cassie nods tearfully.

He swears. Then he gets up, carefully so as not to jostle her, and rips a strip off his extra shirt. Cassie watches him with huge hazel eyes as he carefully wraps it around her bitten arm and smoothes her messy blonde curls. “Lucky Romans didn't have werewolves, eh?” he asks, getting a small chuckle.

He thinks while she sleeps. He remembers their mother, her glittery green-flecked hazel eyes and cheerful demeanor and long red ringlets. Her strange insistence that they learn self-defense. He was eight when she enrolled him in fencing lessons, nine when she added fencing to the list.

Cassie would have started this year, if Mom hadn’t died.

He clenches his fists and rests his head against his little sister’s curls, his own messy golden locks mixing with her own blonde ringlets. Riley used to wonder why his father never showed up; why Mom was pregnant from what was apparently two one-night stands, with the same guy, and yet she seemed totally happy.

“You are my sunshine, Riley,” she told him. “You and you sister.”

Now he knows.

Monsters attacked their house in Philadelphia three months ago. His mother explained that their father is in fact Apollo, Roman god of the sun, and that they need to get to San Francisco, a safe haven for demigods.

Riley is still freaked out, he’ll admit that gladly. His dad is a god?

But after all the monster attacks, he’ll believe pretty much anything.

He’s fourteen. His sister is nine. And their lives revolve around when they can get food and when they’ll be attacked next.

Gods, this sucks.

There’s a clank behind him, in the alley farther down, and he is instantly on his feet.

“Who’s there?” he demands, then mentally slaps himself. If that’s a monster-

“Help,” a small, very much human voice whimpers, and Riley is reminded of his little sister too much not to obey.

“Who are you?” he asks, gripping his dagger.

“That… is that that stuff that kills monsters?” the voice asks.

Riley’s spine curves, shoulders dipping. “Demigod,” he breathes.

“What?” the voice asks, and then there’s a boy coming into the streetlight and Riley has a face for the voice.

He looks younger than Riley, maybe eleven or twelve years old, and incredibly skinny. He’s wearing ripped up jeans and a grimy white shirt under a denim jacket that looks like it’s seen better days. His dark curls are sprinkled in gold dust- monster remains- and his darker eyes are wary. He looks Latino, with pointed ears and a mouth that seems like it should be smiling but is instead twisted into a suspicious, scared grimace.

“What’d you call me?” he asks again, raising an eyebrow.

“You see the monsters,” Riley says.

“Yeah?” the boy says. The eyebrow goes higher.

“You’re like me and my sister. A half-blood.”

“A what now?”

Riley explains what his mother told him before she died. The Latino kid looks skeptical for a while, dark eyebrows hiking ever higher, but when Riley winds down he just sighs and plops down to the ground, shrugging.

“May as well believe it,” he says, looking up at the older boy. “Works as well as anythin’ else, I guess.”

Riley realizes he has a slight Texan accent.

“How’d you get from Texas to Jersey?” the blonde boy asks, sitting down and pulling his sleeping sister closer to him protectively.

“Huh? Oh- the accent, huh?” The Latino doesn't wait for Riley’s confirmation before continuing. “I’m a foster kid. Ran away four times- well, four different houses. I’ve tried to get away from the same crazy woman three times.”

“Really?” the blonde teen asks. “What makes her so crazy?”

The boy’s face crumples and his mouth snaps shut.

Riley curses himself internally. “Any idea who your godly parent is?”

“No,” the boy mutters bitterly. “No idea what Roman gods even are.”

“I could explain-”

“Don’t. Knowledge gets in the way of my insanity.”

“That’s.... nice.” Riley struggles for something to say. Then he slaps himself in the face- mentally, of course- again.

“What’s your name?”

The Latino looks a little surprised. “L-Leo. Leo Valdez.”

Riley reaches out and shakes Leo’s grimy brown hand. “Hey, Leo. My name’s Riley, and this is my sister Cassie. Our lives are terrible.”

“Welcome to the club,” Leo mutters, dark eyes glinting.

Riley tosses his head back and laughs, and Leo grins.

Chapter Text

4. Welcome to the Neighborhood

Leo sighs and rubs his hand over his stomach. He hasn’t eaten in maybe three days, except for a slice of bread yesterday morning, and his stomach is protesting the rough treatment by attempting to rip free of his body.

It. Freaking. Sucks.

But hey, this is the ninth time in five months he’s been homeless again, so it’s not exactly unfamiliar. Horrid, yes, but not unfamiliar.

Leo groans and stands, walking out of the sheltered alley he spent the night in and stretching his arms to the sky. He yawns, tosses his messy brown curls, and blinks several times as he settles his small backpack more comfortably on his shoulders and takes out a few pipe cleaners from the 50-pack he stole from Walmart the night before. He’s hoping that today, he’ll be able to maybe sneak some M&Ms and a soda or something.

When you haven’t eaten in two days, you stop worrying about balanced meals. Leo knows this.

He tips his head at the young African girl curled against the wire fence on the other side of the street, and she lazily flips him off. He laughs.

Leo’s spent maybe two and a half months in this city, learning the ins and outs so he doesn’t get caught or returned, so he knows the majority of the homeless people here. The girl who just flipped him off is named Asha; her mother died when she was little- a drive-by shooting- and her father left her and her brother behind in his search for work.

She survived the first winter and her brother didn’t. She is eleven.

Leo is ten.

There are more familiar faces as he walks down the street. Mikey stands at the corner like he always does, with his hand-made cardboard sign:

VETERAN

HOMELESS

ANY ASSISTANCE WELCOME

GOD BLESS YOU

Too many people drive him by; Leo’s hidden in a corner and just watched the old man for nearly two hours. He got exactly three donations.

Leo had left then, disgusted with his species.

The Melmans are huddled together under the bridge, with Aaron and his dog Butch and then Cole there too, on the other side. The Melmans are a family of four, with brunet Eliza and auburn-haired Robert and their redheaded twins Katy and Lynn. (Seriously, Leo thinks, how did that even happen?) They were evicted because they used the rent money on Katy’s hospital bills after she was mugged and injured a year earlier.

Aaron, apparently, has a form of autism; he doesn’t really like anyone touching him and he hates yellow food. (Leo has no idea why, he just does.) He refuses to be separated from Butch at all costs and has been on the streets for about five years now. He’s blond and dark-eyed and scruffy, and he has dirt on his face at all times. Leo likes him.

Cole is like Leo: a ‘nobody’s child’, one of those orphaned or rejected kids who are on their own and surviving anyway. Like Asha, but then again, Leo’s pretty sure Asha is trying to kill herself from starvation, so that’s a little inaccurate. Cole doesn’t talk about how he became a nobody's child anymore than Leo does, and Leo has never told anyone about what happened in the machine shop that night. Cole is dark: thick, greasy black hair and skin the color of milk-deprived coffee and eyes the almost-black blue of midnight skies.

Leo can see his ribs through his shirt, but it’s not like he’s one to talk.

He ambles through the city, just walking. Not like he has anything better to do, now is it?

He walks and walks and walks, expending his nervous energy and letting his mind drift, until sundown. By then, he’s nearly to the town border.

He sits down in an alley and leans his head against the wall, feeling his curls catch against the rough brick, the pebbles underneath him dig into his legs, the dust in the dry air creep into his lungs, and he coughs. Wipes his hand over his mouth. Thinks about where to go tomorrow, and then stops thinking entirely.

Leo closes his eyes and lets sleep take him away from his life.

 

 

Chapter Text

Leo never expected to have a family after his mother died.

He never expected to have another friend after he revealed his powers to Percy.

Yet somehow, he’s gained both within a week.

Riley and Cassie are very close, anyone can see that. Riley is trying to fill both positions of mother and brother (and maybe father too, but none of them have ever had one so Leo can’t talk) to his little sister and he’s doing pretty well, all things considered. But it’s taking a toll; Riley is fourteen to Leo’s eleven and Cassie’s nine. They are all just kids; kids trying to survive in a world that’s trying to kill them, and it’s hard. So hard Leo (and the other two, he knows) sometimes want nothing more than to just… give up. Give up and let the monsters win.

But the other two pull them back from that dark place, the edge of a cliff looking down into nothingness, just by being there for them. When Riley has a panic attack about not being able to keep his sister alive (“oh gods i’m a failure leo i’m gonna get her killed and she’s all i have left i can’t lose her leo”), Leo is there to talk him out of it. When Cassie wakes up whimpering because she sees her brother(s) being ripped apart in her dreams, Leo or Riley is always there to calm her down; to stroke her messy blonde curls and hug her and reassure her of their vitality.

And when Leo wakes up screaming at the top of his lungs (or whimpering like a wounded animal) because Teresa is back, stalking him though his scarlet-spattered dreams with a belt and a vat of holy water and hissing like a snake about devils and demon-spawn, his two siblings are there to wrap their arms around him and calm him down and show him that he left Teresa (and the others) behind long ago.

The problem with Leo’s problems is that his fears are different from theirs. Riley: understandable and maybe even well-founded, but not really as likely to happen as you might think. He’d kill himself- literally, like throw himself in the monster’s path or something- before he let something hurt Cassie. Cassie: again, understandable and linking back to said brother’s self-sacrificial tendencies- but as as long as both of them fight well enough to stay alive, their fears will remain unfulfilled.

Leo’s is a different matter. He’s already been dragged back to Teresa twice, and his fear of being police-napped and taken back to her custody is not as much a fear as anticipation of a repeated event. Besides, Teresa isn’t the only one who haunts his dreams, and he’s lived all over the country. Wherever he goes, he will always be close to somewhere he wants to never be near again.(There are entire states he’s marked off-limits. Texas is a maybe, but Houston itself may as well be a nuclear weapons factory for how close he’ll get. Michigan, too, is not-to-be-entered territory; and Virginia, and Maryland. Actually, he’s not too fond of most of the East Coast.) But he swallows those fears (for the most part) to get Riley and Cassie where they need to be: San Francisco, California.

(They think he’s going with them to the safe haven. He lets them think that.

As much as he doesn’t like the East Coast in general, California is worse; and he doesn’t even know why. He’s never been to California.)

He’ll get them there and then he’ll leave. Go back to Chicago, maybe; or Denver. Denver was nice: the place helped him develop his breathing skills for running long-distance. Leo’s staying. For now.

(They’re just in Indiana right now, there’s plenty of time.)

He’ll stay as long as they let him, or until they get to California. Whatever comes first.

(It’s probably the former, but, you know. He’s allowed to hope, right?)


Chapter Text

Percy is honestly surprised at the sheer amount of obliviousness around him.

I mean, he goes shirtless more in one summer than he does in his entire childhood, body a map of dark nights and jealous stepfathers and terrified little boys, and what do people think? Monster attacks.

And, okay, he’s got a fair share from them too. But some- the one across his stomach, for instance- they’re pretty clearly manmade. So what is it? What’s going through people’s heads?

And while it’s not like he wants them to figure it out- the great hero Percy Jackson, terrified of a overweight statue? Yeah, that’ll go over great- it’s also a little ridiculous. The Athena Cabin hasn’t caught on- Annabeth herself just runs her fingers over them (and sometimes her mouth, depends on where they are) and curses monsters and Tartarus and Kronos under her breath in Greek.

Seriously. Annabeth Chase doesn’t catch on. What’s wrong with this picture?

The only person at Camp who knows (or at least, the only one Percy is aware of) about his past is Grover. Wonderful, loyal Grover Underwood, his best friend. The satyr had been absolutely furious when he found out what Gabe was doing to Percy, but the twelve-year-old demigod (not that he knew what he was at the time) had sworn him to secrecy. Grover still hasn’t told anyone, but sometimes when Percy gets just a bit too antsy or stares at something specific a little too long with blank or terrified eyes, he’ll drag the taller boy off into a quiet empty space and let Percy vent. Whether that means letting the demigod sob on his shoulder or destroy some stuff or just listen to him talk in a bleak, gravelly voice about what that horrible man did to him, Grover’s up for the challenge.

Percy is so incredibly grateful to that goat, for so many things.

He thinks, sometimes, that maybe Chiron knows. His keen, weary eyes don’t really miss much, after all. And that new head counsellor for Aphrodite… what’s her name… Drew. She looks at him in this way that makes him feel like she’s X-raying his freaking soul or something.

But it doesn’t change the fact that the Camp doesn’t know.

And the question to ask here is not how to tell them. It’s why don’t they know. Because really, it’s not as though he’s really being discreet at this point. If someone knows what to look for, his body will jump right out at them yelling ‘Child abuse! Child abuse!’ and waving red flags.

Willful ignorance is honestly the only answer he can think of. His camp has needed someone to be strong and unbreakable and a hero for so long, and they still need him to fulfill that role. He can’t afford to be seen as weak, and no matter how you twist it, surrendering his strength and letting Gabe beat the crap out of him for years is weak.

And no one wants to think about the great Perseus Jackson, hero of Olympus and son of Poseidon, as weak.

And really, Percy doesn’t want to think of himself as weak either. So he lets the charade go on.

One day, it will all come crashing down, the truth bared to all eyes. But until that happens, Camp Half-Blood is going to look at Percy Jackson’s scarred, broken body and dark, twisted past with rose-colored glasses… and Percy will don his own in return.

Willful ignorance, winning wars for control of the world since ‘09. Yay.

 

 

Chapter Text

Leo falls and falls and falls and there’s nothing under him, there’s nothing there, nothing but ruby flames reaching up for him, to grab him and choke him and hurt him and damn him-

“Leo! Leo, please, please wake up-”

The Latino shoots up in bed, unfamiliar hands on his shoulders, and he’s about to scream when he recognizes her. He slumps over instead, burying his tan face in Calypso’s shoulder. She strokes his curls and doesn’t say anything, just waits patiently for he himself to explain- or to say nothing and go back to sleep, as the case may be. It can go either way, and Leo himself is never sure which route he will take when the Titaness breaks him from his nightmares.

They’ve been traveling together for two weeks now, all across the globe (Leo found a Hermes Express credit card when he woke up- never runs out of cash. Awesome!) and generally avoiding other demigods.

Leo knows Calypso’s worried about him, but she waits, because she’s awesome like that and she knows when to push a subject and when to back off. It’s something most of his friends are clueless about, and he needs Calypso's soft, warm patience and comfort and love more than he needs his friends’ panic and relief and anger and stress at the revelation that he’s alive.

He knows it’s a risky business, using that excuse, because at the rate he’s going they’ll never go to Camp at all. But he… he needs to wait. Just a little longer…

He breathes out against her nightgown and starts talking, voice hushed and raspy.

“It was about the Underworld.”

He hears her sharp gasp, and feels her worried almond eyes on his head. “I thought you said you did not remember your time in Erebos…”

“I don’t remember all of it,” Leo amends. “But some. Hades had to punish me for dying and breaking my oath… it was his duty, and he didn’t enjoy it, but he had to.”

Calypso kisses the top of his head and runs her callused fingers through his thick curls. “Then I shall have a talk with the Lord of the Dead when we meet.”

Leo laughs shakily. “Don’t. He had to, and… I don’t hold a grudge. It just… it hurt. So much. And I keep remembering it, and feeling it…”

“Do you…”

“No,” Leo says firmly, taking her hesitance and running for the hills with it. “No, I don’t want to tell you what happened.”

“Alright,” she says quietly. Her hands do not still on his scalp and he drifts off before he realizes it.

His dreams are filled with the scent of cinnamon.

When he wakes up, she’s curled on the bed and he’s partially in her lap, her hands tangled in his hair and his cheek against her collarbone. His nose is buried in her hair.

Leo nuzzles her gently and wishes that they could just stay like this forever.

 

Chapter Text

It’s sudden and unexpected and Riley’s sure he’s hallucinating for a second, but then he sees him again. And again. And Reyna’s talking and he is right there and-

“Cassie!”

The blonde girl’s curly head shoots up from her book. “Yes?”

“Look. Right there.”

Riley’s voice is shaking, and Cassie can tell something’s off. She looks dutifully where his hand points her and sucks in a breath like she’s been suckerpunched, steel-blue eyes huge. “Is that…?”

Her brother lets out a long, slow breath. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s him. He’s here. He’s alive.”

“He’s one of the Seven,” Cassie reminds him, fingers white-knuckled on the spine of her book. “He’s part of the Prophecy. He could…”

Her voice stops. Leo is looking right at them, and any moment now he’s gonna break into a giant grin and hug them and reassure them and tell them what in Hades' name happened to him-

He doesn’t do anything. His dark eyes slide right over them and on, scanning the crowd of Romans.

Riley’s heart misses a beat. “He doesn’t know us.”

“Fucking goat lady…” Cassie hisses under her breath.

Riley covers her mouth, glares at her admonishingly. “She’s a goddess, Cassie. She’s Juno. She had to have had a reason to do what she did… Maybe this is her reason. Maybe…”

“Maybe what?” the younger demigod snaps at him. “You know what she did to Jason and Percy. Did Leo have to be amnesiac too?!”

There’s a tear on her cheek and more in her eyes; she scrubs them away hastily before anyone other than her brother can notice.

Riley rubs her back gently, trying to sooth her. “Hey, hey, Cassie…. it’ll be okay, I’m sure of it. Percy and Jason can remember; why wouldn’t he?”

She closes her eyes, tips her head back, lets out a long, shuddery breath. “Because the universe hates him? AKA the queen of the gods is a terrible person who likes making her ‘chosen one’s’ lives as hard and painful as possible?”

Riley stares at her. “That is…”

She opens her eyes to grin a little at him. “Yeah, well. I know these things, bro.”

The teenager shakes his head, grinning ruefully. “Yeah, I guess so.” He bites his lip and grabs her arm gently: “Cassie. We can’t talk to him unless he knows us.”

The blonde girl’s eyes shoot open. “What? Riley-”

“No.”

Cassie takes a deep breath and closes her eyes before she can start crying again. “Okay,” she says. “Okay.”

“We know he’s alive,” her brother murmurs, eyes on the Latino boy on the other side of the plaza. “That’s just gonna have to be enough.”




Leo gets on his ship, the Argo II, and he blows up their city.

Cassie cries like she hasn’t in years, and Riley spars and practices until his hands are torn open and bloody.

Nothing helps.


Chapter Text

So, there are times when Leo is fighting a monster or training at camp or something, something to do with being a demigod, and he’ll get this feeling like he’s done the exact same thing before. Like, three months after he comes back to Camp after his death (which is four months after he died defeating Gaea), he’s fighting a bunch of dracaena in the woods of Central Park with Piper, because they went out for a best-friends lunch by themselves, and he’s hit with the feeling that he’s fought these exact baddies before. Which, what? How does he even know that? Dracaena are all basically identical, how does he even go about deciding ‘yeah, I’ve killed this one before’?

But he still feels like he’s killed these guys before. Especially since when he bashes one of their skulls in with a hammer, another one hisses “Third time lucky!” as Piper stabs her.

Leo stares at the pile of dust, then at Piper. “Do I know her?”

Piper frowns and wipes off her sword. She blows a loose strand of hair out of her eyes and slides the blade into her belt. “How should I know?”

“Well, she clearly knows me,” Leo points out. “Did I kill her at some point? I don’t really remember killing any snake-women recently…”

“Maybe it wasn’t recent?” Piper theorizes.

The Latino bites his lip. “Maybe? I don’t really know.”

Piper shrugs and links her arm through his. “Eh, we’ll all have these moments at some point, right? Let’s get back to Camp before Ma Gasket shows up, trying to drown you in salsa.”

Leo swats at her, laughing. “Dangit, Piper! Now that’s gonna happen! You jinxed me!”

The half-Cherokee girl whistles innocently.

But back to what Leo was saying before: this happens a lot. Not just the thing with Piper- she hangs out with him a lot more after he died- but the deja-vu thing. He’ll just be doing normal demigod stuff, and out of nowhere he’ll expect someone else to be doing it with him.

‘Cause that’s the thing. When the feeling hits, it’s a feeling of I have done this with someone else. With the dracaena, he expected someone to fire back a comeback to his jinx line, and then there would be banter. But he has no reason to expect that, any of it. There is nothing in his mind that would make him expect that to happen.

Leo freezes. He’s in the dining hall of CHB, sitting at the group table reserved for the Seven and Nico and Reyna (and Calypso too, unofficially), but only Percy, Annabeth, Jason and Piper are there yet. Percy gives him a worried look. “Leo?”

His fists are clenched under the table, Leo realizes. He makes a conscious effort to unclench them.

“Jason?” Leo asks.

The blond looks at him, a little wary. “Yeah?”

“When Hera had your memories… what did it feel like?”

Jason blinks at him. So does everyone else.

“Why do you ask?” his friend asks slowly.

Leo shrugs, a little embarrassed now but still intent upon his goal. “I dunno, just… curious, I guess.”

Jason bites his lip, but it’s Percy who answers first. “Like my life was a giant fill-in-the-blank test, to be honest.”

Leo looks at his friend. “Huh. But… when the memories started coming back… would you know if you were missing something? When your memories were partially back, did you know something was missing?”

“Why are you asking this?” Jason cuts in. His blue eyes flash behind his glasses. “And don’t say it’s because you’re curious. I know when you’re curious, and you’re not.”

Leo bites his lip and looks down at his lap. He realizes his hands are clenched, again, but he doesn’t bother relaxing them. He doesn’t know what he’s going to say until his mouth opens and words spill out. “I… I think Hera took something away from me. And I don’t know what it is, but I know it’s from before the war, and it’s important. And I want it back.”

Chapter Text

Percy heard the term for the first time in a hospital, he thinks. He’s not sure, obviously, but it’s what he thinks. It’s like a black hole, but in memories instead of space: a period of time where the person has no memory. A sort of dreamless sleep, something often experienced by… by surgery patients, right? People who undergo anesthesia? But why would he have heard the term- did he have surgery at some point, and the memory was yet to come back? How had he learned it?

“Percy? You okay?”

He blinks, head jerking up. Hazel’s staring at him, a little concerned. He manages a smile; “Yeah, Haze, sorry. Just… memories.”

The dark-skinned girl nods comprehendingly, a flinch starting and never quite finishing the trek of her face.

She reminds him of someone, but Percy doesn’t know who. Not yet.

He knows some things, of course. His mom, and Gabe and what happened to him, and Paul and Neptune (POSEIDON) and the sat- the faun, Grover. And Annabeth. He thinks that he will always remember Annabeth. But there’s still so much that’s not there; he knows that there’s a huge gap, many huge gaps, in his memory, but he doesn’t know what should be there. Tyson, he knows, but he doesn’t remember the last time he saw his brother in person. He can’t remember the first time he kissed Annabeth or the last, he doesn’t know the day he fell in love with her (but he knows he loves her. He will always know that, at least), he doesn’t even know how old he was when they met. (He wants to say twelve or eleven, but he doesn’t trust that.) He doesn’t remember why he was in the hospital, the time he heard the term black boxes- well, no, he knows why objectively (Gabe, of course), but he doesn’t know the specifics.

And did he have surgery, or not? That is seriously starting to bother him. It seems little, but the uncertainty of everything from before Lupa is really wearing him down. His life pre-wolves is a black box, with little pieces slipping free into the sunlight. Eventually, he knows, everything will come back; but that day could be a long time in coming, and he really wants it all back now, by all the gods!

Percy sighs and slumps forward, head in muddy hands. He’s still shivering from the effects of the muskeg, and Hazel’s safehouse is really cold, but he won’t say anything. This is decidedly better than the alternative; actually, almost anything is better than the alternative. Drowning in freezing mud is going to be a prominent nightmare from now on, he just knows it.

Hazel’s looking at him still, he realizes. He debates putting on a brave face, like he knows that he’s done a million times; shutting away the dark stuff in his head and just being whoever the people around him need him to be. But Hazel doesn’t need or want a mask, Percy understands suddenly; she needs the truth. She doesn’t like being lied to, even when it is for her own good or the good of others, and Percy will not betray her trust.

He smiles weakly at her and doesn’t hide the storm of emotions in his eyes. Her gold gaze softens, melting in the heat of her heart, and she moves to hug him. He lets her.

His eyes are stinging. He makes no move to wipe the inevitable tears away.

Chapter Text

The thing is, Grover might have been a failure most of his life, but he’s not always the weak link. Sure, he lost or endangered most of the half-bloods in his care, but none of them actually died! (Thalia doesn’t count.) (And maybe Luke does, because he did die, but it wasn’t because of Grover, not really, so Grover is going to ignore that part.) Annabeth and he got to Camp okay, and Thalia came back eventually; Percy (oh gods, Percy) made it out just fine (maybe with a little PTSD from his first kill, but that’s a standard risk and doesn’t count); and Nico and Bianca- okay, Bianca died while he was there, but it’s not his fault! And Nico turned out… well, okay, Nico’s a mess and everyone knows it, but 1) that’s not just Grover’s fault, and 2) Nico is getting better. Slowly and painfully, but he is. Will Solace is a blessing, and everyone knows that too.

(The Aphrodite campers may or may not have a betting pool running on how long it will take Will and Nico to get together. Grover may or may not have money in that pool.)

Grover is not a failure, when you look at the end results. He's not.

But when he looks at Percy, it makes it a lot harder to remember that.

Percy… okay, there’s no way Chiron could have known, and no way Grover could have gotten to Percy earlier than he did. That’s not the string the Fates wove. But gods Grover hates them for it. Gabe destroyed Percy, his humor and his self-esteem and his innocence and his joy; he ripped a little boy apart and left the scraps behind to rot.

But Percy refused to let it end there. He got back up, and he stitched himself back together as best he could, and he kept going. He never stops, and frankly, Grover’s more terrified of the prospect of Percy giving up than the prospect of an oncoming war. He hasn’t seen Percy in months, and the empathy link is spotty at best and useless at worst, but he has hope. He has faith. Percy is his best friend, and his first real success story, and he is (one of) the hero(es) of Olympus. The least the green-eyed demigod deserves is a little unwavering faith.

Grover will wait. Percy will come back. Percy always comes back.

 

 

Chapter Text

Loneliness is a strange concept to Leo. He knows how it is to be alone, and how it is to be surrounded by people, and how it is to be by the side of one or two people, but loneliness is something separate from how many people are around him. Quality over quantity, right? He heard that term somewhere… he thinks it fits this. Quality over quantity. The attributes versus the number.

When Leo was with his mother, he was never lonely. He was happy and energetic and bubbly, or at the very least content. He never needed more than something to occupy his hands and his mom. And when she died… gods, he’d never been more alone. The social workers, the hateful relatives, the cruel foster families; even when lost in a crowd, Leo had never been more isolated. And then he found friends, and suddenly the gaping holes in him were being filled one by one. Percy and Sally Jackson, first, sliding inside quickly and gently; ((then riley and cassie but he doesn’t remember them yet; he will, eventually, but he doesn’t now;)) then Piper and Jason, his pseudo-sister ((the second to hold the title)) and his other best friend; and then his siblings, his blood siblings, like Harvey (gods, his little brother, he loves his little brother). Following them are Annabeth, Hazel, Frank, even Coach Hedge and Mellie; all have their little niches in Leo’s chest. And Calypso- beautiful, entrancing, sassy, sweet-voiced Calypso- has an entirely different sort of box inside him, one for loves and not for family (maybe it should be friends but leo’s always heard that ‘you can choose friends but not family’, and screw that, he’s building a family out of friends), but she’s there all the same. They are all there, all the time, tucked away inside of Leo’s chest in a safe place where they can’t be hurt or taken away from him, and where he is safe to love them without threat.

He’s not lonely anymore, because even when he is alone, he still has those little pieces of his family in him. He can’t be alone, not really.

There are people inside his empty spaces, now, and Leo is never letting them out.

Chapter Text

Hera knows that many, many demigods are unhappy with her. She knows of the whispered comments, the fierce thoughts, the optical conversations. She knows the names they call her, the phrases they spit, venom accompanying the words out of their mouths- fucking goat lady, bitch, worst goddess of them all, why can’t we leave her to die, she is unpleasant but necessary, she ruined my life- and she knows the reason behind each person’s vitriol. She knows that by all the laws, she is within her rights to go down and kill, transform, torture, make an example out of those demigods.

She does nothing.

She knows that in some respects, she deserves it, as much as she is loathe to admit to this. Hera’s actions could have caused a war within a war and utterly destroyed them all, if things had gone differently. The fact that they succeeded does not change the very real (if no longer viable) possibility of destruction. Her interference could have spelt doom for them all; it is chance and the Fates that kept it on the path she had hoped for. She ripped lives apart, families and friendships and romances, and she caused so many deaths even without meaning to. She has made scores of enemies and lost many friends.

And despite all this, Hera does not regret her actions.

It could have ended in disaster, yes. But that was a risk the Queen of Olympus was willing to take to save her world. She has no children to lose in these wars, Jason the closest thing she will ever get to a mortal child, and- like Athena, her despised stepdaughter- she sees the objective outcome, and the paths to it. Hera understood what her husband refused to acknowledge: if they were survive the second coming of Grandmother and her offspring, their children must be united. There was no other way; every path to success required the union of Greek and Roman demigods.

She regrets some of the collateral damage, certainly. She had never meant for her champion, Leo Valdez, to be so hurt, and Gaea’s interference was another wrench in her plans. Percy Jackson, the other Hero, was almost more trouble than he was worth; but they had all pulled together in the end. They had won, and perhaps she was seen as a sort of villain in their story, but she had had all the right intentions. Ends justify the means, right? Hera won. She is blameless.

No. No, she is not blameless, and at some level she knows this. Somewhere, buried deep and dark, she is guilty for all the lives lost in her schemes. But it had to be done; it was horrible, regrettable, and bloody, but it was all necessary.

As much as she doesn’t regret her plans- because no matter what anyone says, it worked- she regrets the dozens, hundreds of lives lost in the wars. Hera is the goddess of family; the deaths of her nieces and nephews always hurt.

Maybe that’s why, when Leo and his friends confront her, she doesn’t lie and deflect, but instead confesses and gives back what she took from him. His family deserves to be fixed, after all, and she doesn’t want to be in the way of that anymore.

Annabeth Chase glares at her, Jason looks slightly betrayed by her, and Leo just looks devastated as the memories sink in. Hera’s face is a blank mask, hiding the hurricane lurking under her skin, and she sends them away with a soft blessing in Leo’s direction.

Hera makes the hard decisions, the tough calls, because that’s what a leader does and her husband has not been a good one for millennia. She does what must be done and she does it with her chin high and eyes carefully masked, because weakness is not for rulers and she is more of one than Zeus ever was. He always had trouble making the right decisions.

Hera sits on her throne and watches her champions and listens to what they say about her, and she does nothing.

Chapter Text

Leo doesn't know what he expected to have lost. He knew it was important, and he knew it was from that space of time between his mother's death and the Wilderness School, but other than that, he had no clues.

So to learn that he'd already fought and killed monsters, that he'd already discovered the demigods' world, that he had friends-

He wasn't ready for it.

Hera looks almost remorseful when he nearly doubles over as the memories impact him. Riley. Cassie. Jason pulls him upright and Piper throws his arm over her shoulders as they help him outside, away from Hera. Leo hears her voice in his mind, i'm sorry and may your family ever prosper. He wants to laugh, but if he does, he's going to start crying.

"I'm sorry, Leo," Piper says quietly.

She has nothing to be sorry for. Leo would tell her that, but his mouth is stuck shut. Riley. Cassie.

They're Roman. He attacked their home.

Are they even alive?

Yes. Yes, they have to be. They have to be.

Hera, he prays. Take me to them.

The world shivers. A peacock feather drifts out of the sky to land neatly in Leo's hand. Jason makes a surprised sound.

Leo clenches his fist around it. Thank you.

Riley. Cassie. Where are you?

He closes his eyes as the world shakes and tears around him. His stomach threatens to revolt, but he's had worse. He's going to see his brother and sister again, his first family after his mother died. He won't let a little nausea get in the way of that.

He opens his eyes in New Rome, on the Field of Mars. It's almost entirely empty, other than an elephant, Leo, and the two small, blonde figures tending to the huge animal.

Leo breaks into a run.

Cassie sees him first. Her entire being lights up, sunshine drifting from her curls and fingertips. "Leo!" she yells, and then she's running toward him. They collide hard and fall, sitting tangled together in the grass. Riley joins their pile almost immediately, long arms wrapping around both his younger siblings.

They're all smiling. They're all laughing. They're all crying. 

Leo has never been happier.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry..." He chokes on tears and tries to keep going, but Riley puts his hand over Leo's mouth.

"None of it was ever your fault," the son of Apollo says solemnly. "You have nothing to apologize for."

"We're just so happy you're here," Cassie adds.

Leo presses his face into her curls and holds on. Riley's arms are warm and strong around them. Both demigods smell like melted sugar and sunshine. 

Leo is home.