Of all the obstacles in raising a demigod son of Poseidon, in keeping his identity hidden not only from his father's vengeful brothers but also her son himself, this was not one Sally ever entertained. After all, Poseidon was first and foremost the god of the sea. Naturally, the ocean was Sally's first concern. She fretted over getting Percy even a little goldfish. Earthquakes were next, for Poseidon also was the Earthshaker. She worried about this one to a lesser degree; Poseidon assured her Percy would not be able to create even the lightest of tremors until he reached puberty. While not exactly a comfort, Sally could tuck that concern away for a couple years.
Sally never considered horses. After all, Horse Lord was rather low on Poseidon's list of domains, and a seemingly harmless one at that. Growing up, the ocean constantly called to her son, enticing and enrapturing him. She worried about that. She never worried about what else called her child.
Percy was seven when the horse ranch opened. It was outside the city, its very existence unbeknownst to Sally until after she enrolled Percy in the nearby school and got a phone call three weeks later. She was confused and then alarmed at the information given over the call. The woman on the other end sounded pleasant enough, amused actually, as she informed Sally that her son had skipped class and currently stood in the middle of her barn, petting her horses. Sally arrived at the Big Apple Horse Ranch less than an hour later.
The owner, a vibrant young woman with a twisted sense of humor, took Sally back to the barn.
"Found 'em like that when I came to clean the barn," the owner, Bree, told her with a grin. "Eatin' right outta his palm they were."
Little Percy stood on a step stool, sugar cubes in the palm of his hand, leaning over one of the stalls. The horse within, a beautiful tan creature, reached out and ever so gently took a sugar cube from his hand. Percy watched her in wonder, his eyes wide. His other hand reached out to pet her and the horse eagerly rubbed her nose against him.
"Percy," Sally called, her heart in her throat.
Her son looked so small, barely able to see over the stall door even with the step-stool, next to the majestic beast. All it took was one wrong move, one upset horse, and her baby could be seriously injured. Even as she fretted, reaching out to call Percy over to her, Sally knew she was being ridiculous. The son of the Horse Lord would never be in danger from these creatures. That probably should frighten her more.
"Mom!" Percy called, his little face lighting up in delight. "Come look! Isn't she so pretty Mom?"
The horse preened at his praise, rubbed her entire face against Percy's little chest. Percy burst into giggles, reaching out to wrap his slight arms around her neck.
"A natural," Bree laughed as Sally gently put her hands on Percy's shoulders.
"She is," Sally agreed, gently pulling on Percy's arm. "Percy dear, we need to – "
"She likes me," Percy interrupted his eyes shining.
"Oh," Bree chuckled, setting down a bucket of feed to smile down at the child, "what makes you think that?"
"She told me," Percy said matter-of-factly. Sally felt as if someone had dropped a bucket of ice water on her. The horses talked to him. And she was worried about buying him a goldfish.
"Is that so?" Bree asked, amused. Percy nodded enthusiastically. "How sweet. Why don't we just head inside and talk 'bout it over tea? Mama looks like she needs it."
He's young, Sally consoled herself as they drove away. They'll think he just has an overactive imagination.
Bree waved at them in the rear view mirror and Percy enthusiastically waved back, a grin threatening to split his face. Alongside the car, tossing their heads and whining, horses raced to keep up with them. To keep up with the son of Poseidon. Sally gripped the wheel tighter.
"I can't wait to come back," Percy gushed happily when they turned the corner and the horses disappeared from sight.
"We're not coming back," Sally told him. She hated to spoil his fun, and to see the grin drop from his face in utter confusion cut like a knife. But she had to stay firm. She could not risk anybody finding out about his true identity.
"But I promised," Percy said brokenly. "I told them I'd be back."
"I know dear but – "
"And you said we have to keep our promises," Percy pressed, tears gathering in the corner of his eyes.
Sally resisted the urge to sigh. She reached one hand out to run her fingers through his wild hair. Just like his father's, she thought sadly.
"Sometimes things happen and we can't keep our promises, no matter how much we'd like to," She told him softly. "I know it's not fair, but that's the way it is. We're not going back."
Percy's lower lips wobbled and he pulled away, so Sally could no longer reach him. She let herself sigh this time, turning her attention back to the road. It's better this way, she thought desperately, one day you'll see.
Percy was upset with her. He cried and screamed and begged to go back. He locked himself in his room and refused to come out. He brought home books on horses from school. He looked up at her with those beautiful green eyes, so much like his father's it ached. Each refusal cut more than the last, for both Sally and Percy. He could not understand why his mom would not let him go back and see the horses; Sally could not tell him why. It was a miserable few weeks.
The obsession switched rapidly when his class learned about tide pools. When Percy did not return from school on time, Sally panicked. She called the school and they told her the teacher offered to take students out to the beach to view tide pools in person after class. They were very sorry he neglected to inform her first. Sally slammed the phone down and raced to her son.
Percy was desolate when she dragged him away. His little face screwed up in anger and longing, tears rolling down his face as he cried.
"Shh," Sally told him desperately, wiping away his tears. This was the worst part, seeing Percy cry. She would do anything to make his tears go away, but the one thing he wanted she could not give him. It was too soon, he was too young.
"I just want some friends," Percy sobbed as his mother buckled him in. "The kids at school don't like me, but the fish do. They're nice and the water is nice. I just want someone to like me."
Sally's heart broke at his words. Her hands trembled as she leaned over to kiss his forehead. Percy turned in his seat and buried his face in her neck, crying noisily.
"Shh," Sally hushed, rocking her baby back and forth. She closed her eyes, smoothing his hair back and peppering his forehead with kisses. His little body shook in distress, his fingers tugging at her shirt. She could not stand to see him like this.
"Hey," she asked softly, snuggling her little boy close, "do you want to go see the horses?"
The sniffles grew softer and Percy peeked up at his mother in surprise, his red-rimmed eyes blinking almost comically.
"But you said – "
"I know," Sally said tiredly, pushing stray strands of hair from his wide green eyes, "but I've changed my mind. You did promise after all."
Percy stared at up her before the corner of his mouth turned up in a small smile. He wiped his eyes and nodded solemnly.
"I want to see the horsies."
"Let's go see the horsies," Sally echoed kindly.
As she drove, Sally tried not to worry. She firmly pushed the fears and concerns to the back mind. After all, what was more suspicious? A child with ADHD and dyslexia talking to fish and breathing underwater, or one who played with horses? At least the later did not scream SON OF POSEIDON. And, watching Percy's eyes widen as they pulled into the Big Apple Horse Ranch, it was worth it to make Percy happy. As if reading her mind, Percy looked up at her. He grinned, those troublesome green eyes filled with love and contentment. Sally could not bring herself to regret her decision.
Percy knew he was different. Deep inside, he had always known, but the horses forced him to admit it: he was different. It used to bother him, but the horses made him feel better. He knew that most people could not hear or feel the horses like he did. His mother always got nervous when he talked about it, and as he grew older even the stable hands began to give him odd looks. So Percy kept it to himself.
School was rough. Percy learned much slower than his classmates. Reading was a pain and made his head hurt something fierce. He could not stand to sit in class for hours, listening to the teacher drone on and on. The kids were worse, however. They picked on him, pushing him in the hallway and stealing his things. He always was picked last and whatever team got him always groaned and complained. Nobody wanted to sit by him. Percy kicked the ground angrily as he walked to the ranch, scowling at the dirt road. They thought his obsession with horses was weird.
Forget them, he told himself firmly. You don't need them. He had his horses after all.
Percy loved the horses and he knew they loved him as well. After school, he would race down to the Big Apple Ranch and help Bree until his mother got out of work. The arrangement worked nicely for all of them. Sally did not need to hire a babysitter, Bree got a free pair of extra hands, and Percy got to see the horses. Three years after he first discovered the ranch, Percy still faithfully visited every day. Even from the end of the ranch's lengthy driveway, Percy could feel the comforting buzz in the back of his mind from the horses. He closed his eyes and smiled at the warm embrace as their minds called out to him. His worries faded with every step he took, leaving the bad taste of school behind. He carelessly threw his backpack on the grass and hollered:
"Bree? I'm here!"
"Wonderful," came the reply and Percy spotted the ranch owner shoveling hay behind the barn. "Go ahead, I'm just finishin' up here."
Percy grinned and slipped inside the main barn, eager to see the horses. He could feel their emotions swirling around him, affection and excitement pressing close. He felt at home.
"I'm back," he called happily and basked in the warm emotions that rolled around him. Disjointed thoughts of gladness, safe, little lord has returned floated through his mind.
Horses did not think like people. Not that Percy could read human minds, but the horses' thoughts were distinctively different from his own. Percy got impressions from the horses, strong emotions mixed with vivid pictures and disjointed words. Well, they weren't really words but rather Percy's mind translating their strong instincts as words. Or whatever. He could not really explain it, he just knew what they meant. At ten years of age, Percy's head only barely peeped over the stalls. He stood on his tiptoes to reach over the stall and pet the nearest horse.
"Hey Whirlwind," he greeted, scratching the mare's nose like he knew she liked. Whirlwind neighed softly and pushed her snout against his hand. "Ready for some grooming?"
Whirlwind shook her great mane, excitement and willingness surging towards Percy. He smiled and kissed the tip of her nose. He closed his eyes and Whirlwind's thoughts surrounded him, her longing for the pleasant feeling that followed a grooming, contentment at having him near, smugness at being kissed. Little lord, her thoughts sang as he led her out of her stall.
"Percy," he felt the need to correct, even though he knew it would do him no good.
Horses could not grasp names. They associated each other with their senses, sounds and smells and memories. His mind automatically translated their thoughts into something he could understand so he heard little lord instead of all the little things that added up in their mind to recognize him. Still, he knew the horses held him in higher regard than any of the other humans which was probably why he heard lord.
"How about friend?" Percy asked Whirlwind as he set to grooming her. "Think you could manage that?"
Whirlwind tossed her head, catching his feelings of affection and comradery. But she just snorted. Little lord, her thoughts repeated, accompanied with flashes of comfort, caregiver, protector.
"Alright, alright," he grumbled. He got the feeling she was laughing at him.
"Brat," he said, giving Whirlwind a little whack. In retaliation, the mare butted her head against the bucket in his arms and water sloshed down his front. He looked down at the mess and back up at Whirlwind.
"Really?" He asked and this time he knew the horse was laughing at him.
The Big Apple Horse Ranch had twelve horses, and Percy marveled at all the beautiful creatures he got to work with. Bree's small ranch grew in size every year and he loved to watch it grow and flourish. Bree let him do almost everything on the ranch, from grooming and cleaning to training and riding. Sally had been horrified the first time she found him on a horse. Bree had to calm her down over a cup of sweet tea, soothingly assuring her that Percy was a natural and the horses loved him. Percy loved riding the most of all the activities on the ranch. Jumping was fun (even though he was not allowed to do anything more than the little jumps), as were roping, wrangling and vaulting but riding was Percy's favorite.
"Your mama said she'd be runnin' a little late today," Bree called when she joined him a while later.
"Okay," Percy said easily. He had finished grooming Whirlwind and moved onto the next horse, a pretty Appaloosa who calmly let Percy brush her coat. Contentment rolled off the mare, her eyes half shut as care, gentle, little lord floated around them.
"So you can go ahead and feed 'em tonight," Bree told him, motioning towards the bag of feed along the barn.
"Will do," Percy agreed lightly.
"You're on cleanin' duty tomorrow," Bree called over her shoulder as she led a stallion out of the barn. "So don't you be late!"
Percy just laughed. "I won't," he promised.
He finished grooming the horses and set about to feeding them. Night started to fall and Percy flicked on the lights to continue his task.
"There you are," Percy said when he finished filling the last trough.
The horse in the nearest stall rubbed his nose against Percy's cheek. Percy grinned and stood on his tiptoes to rub the horse's neck. The horses' thoughts and emotions buzzed soothingly in the enclosed area. Percy pulled up a chair and leaned back, letting the lull of the horses' minds wash over him as he waited for his mom. A rumble in the distance jarred him from his peaceful rest and he opened one eye as the horses pawed the ground.
Storm. The thought echoed around the barn. The young horses nervously paced in their stalls while the older ones barely even reacted.
"It's okay," Percy said out loud, projecting thoughts of safety and comfort. "It's just a storm."
The commotion died down, the unease dialed back to a light tremor in his mind.
"Percy?" Bree stuck her head in the barn, her sharp eyes finding him in relief. "Oh good. You're mama's almost here, but there's a storm comin'. Why don't we head inside the house and wait there yea?"
"Okay," Percy agreed. "Just let me grab my stuff."
Bree nodded and headed back to the house.
"See you guys tomorrow, and don't worry, you're perfectly safe in here," Percy called, stopping to reassuringly rub one of the yearling's neck.
He slipped out of the barn, shivering at the cold wind that sliced through the night. Thunder rolled, louder this time. A flash of lightning streaked across the sky, illuminating the empty ranch. Percy snagged his discarded backpack as rain started to fall. He covered his head with the bag and dashed inside the house.
"Looks like it's gonna be nasty," Bree commented mildly, watching as the rain came down hard. Lightning danced across the sky to the rumbling thunder. "We'll have branches to pick up tomorrow."
"Yeah," Percy agreed, shaking the rain from his hair. He felt uneasy, though. An unfamiliar mind ghosted in his head, vague thoughts and emotions niggling uncomfortably.
"Are all the horses accounted for?" Percy asked hesitantly.
"You just left the barn, you tell me," Bree said, an eyebrow raised.
"All of our horses are fine," Percy said, peering out the window. The uncomfortable feeling grew in strength; he fidgeted as he scanned the ranch. "Do we have any visitor horses?"
Bree gave him an odd look, her brow furrowed. "No. There's McClarin's farm down the road. He is missing a mare, though. Did you see a strange mare wandering?"
"I don't know," Percy said slowly. Fear that did not belong to him swelled in the back of his mind, almost choking him with its potency. "There's a horse out there."
Percy grabbed a jacket and threw it on, heading out the door before he could think twice about it.
"Percy!" Bree protested, hurrying after him. "Get back here, your mama'll kill me!"
"There's an injured horse," Percy called back, suddenly certain.
Bree called his name, but he ignored her. Percy ran into the storm, rain soaking him to the bone almost immediately. The wind blew fiercely as the rain came in sideways, threatening to knock him clean off his feet. Percy stumbled, his feet sinking into the mud as he ran. But he did not pay attention to anything other than the overwhelming fear pouring off the poor horse. It was coming from the forest behind the pasture and Percy pushed the rattling branches out of his way, grateful for the meager protection the trees offered him from the storm. Bree screamed after him, but the distressed call of the horse was louder. He fought his way through the forest until the fear felt palpable and he fell into a small clearing.
Closer now, Percy realized the call actually came from two entities, only one of them was much smaller and weaker. The larger one's fear crashed into him like waves of a hurricane; Percy actually stumbled backward from the force of his fear.
At first, Percy thought his senses were deceiving him because he only saw one horse: a tall beautiful, pure black stallion with strong muscles throwing his head in distress. But as he crept forward he saw the second horse. It was a foal, lying still on the ground. Percy gasped, about to rush to its side when self-preservation kicked in. Percy hesitated at the sight of the frantic stallion. He was a strong, sturdy horse, full of power and muscle and completely frantic. But he felt no ill-will from the stallion, only overwhelming concern and fear for the foal. His nostrils flared, eyes wide as he neighed at Percy. Help, his mind begged, foal, hurt, help.
Percy did not hesitate any longer, he stepped into the clearing and knelt by the foal. As he knelt down he noticed a prone figure in the grass. A mare laid silently in the grass by the foal's side. Her coat was totally covered in mud and filth, distorting her hair into a ghastly sight. Percy felt nothing from her, no pain, no fear, nothing. She was dead. Throat constricted, Percy placed protective hands on the foal, checking for injuries.
There was a nasty gash on the foal's leg, the laceration cut deep and long up the foal's leg and under its belly. Its breath was choppy and uneven, brown eyes wide with shock and alarm. With his hands on the foal, he could hear their thoughts more clearly, but its voice still registered terribly soft and lackluster: pain…fear…hurt.
"I know, it's going to be okay," Percy tried to soothe. Behind him the stallion whined loudly, his front hooves kicking violently. Instinctively, Percy ducked over the foal, covering its body with his own.
"Percy!" Bree's panicked voice screamed.
"Calm down!" Percy shouted, unsure who he was talking to, the horse or Bree. The stallion pawed the ground, ready to attack. Protect, foal, mine, safe.
"I know, we're trying to help," Percy told the stallion, "Calm down and we can help your foal."
Bree inched around the nervous stallion before throwing herself between Percy and the horse, her face pinched and hard.
"What were you thinking?" She hissed at Percy, grabbing him by the arm and trying to pull him away.
"The foal, it's hurt," Percy protested. Bree peered around him to stare at the wounded foal. Her eyes lingered on the bloody leg and Percy knew she would not leave it behind.
"Aw hell," Bree grumbled. "Come on, mind the stallion."
"He won't hurt us," Percy said with conviction. He looked at the frantic stallion, holding a palm out. "Stay back," he commanded, "so we can get help to your foal."
Bree watched, mouth gaping, as the stallion took a few steps backward, still pawning anxiously at the ground. Her eyes snapped back to the foal as lightning streaked across the sky; the injured foal was more of a concern then the strange command following stallion. Bree shrugged off her jacket and tore long pieces with her pocket knife.
"Here, wrap the wound with this until we can get a vet," Bree told him, passing over strips of fabric.
Percy did as he was instructed, patching up the damaged leg the best he could. All the while, he sent soothing thoughts the foal's way, safe, warm, we help. When Bree was satisfied the foal wouldn't at least bleed to death on the way back to the ranch, they lifted the foal. It was hard work, the little horse was heavy and awkward to hold. They managed to squish the distressed animal between the two of them and painstakingly shuffle back to the ranch. Percy's arms ached and he gritted his teeth as branches slapped across his face. As soon as they broke free of the forest, they set the foal down.
"We can't carry it any farther," Bree panted. "I'll run inside and call the vet, grab something to haul it with and then we'll get them into the barn okay?"
"Hurry," Percy urged. Bree raced towards the house, leaving Percy alone with the horses. The stallion pranced nervously nearby, tossing his head in distress. In his arms, the foal grew weaker. Percy could feel its thoughts growing fainter.
"No, no, no," Percy gasped, gently shaking the tiny horse. "Stay awake, stay with me. It's going to be okay, Bree's gone to get help."
Safe, warm, help. Stay. He tried to convince the foal, rocking its head in his lap. In the distance, he heard his mother call his name and he looked up to see Sally running through the storm.
"What happened?" Sally gasped as she knelt beside him, looking at the injured foal with wide eyes.
"I don't know," Percy shouted over the storm. "We just found them. Bree's calling the vet, but we need to get them inside."
"I'll get something to carry him," Sally told him, stumbling to her feet and heading for the barn.
"See? It's gonna be fine," Percy said desperately, but the foal's thoughts were slipping away from him.
"No, no hold on," he cried trying frantically to hold onto the foal's mind. The stallion's thoughts blazed through his mind, crowding out the foal's faint voice.
"Quiet," he shouted at the stallion, leaning over the foal, pressing his ear against its chest. He could not hear anything. No disjointed words or pictures… no steady thump of a heart.
"No, no," Percy cried, pushing on the foal's chest. Tears ran down his face, the rain and wind stealing them away before they could fall. Sobs shook his body as he leaned over the foal, cradling its head as his mind reached out, frantically searching for something, anything.
A gentle hand was on his shoulder. Percy hiccuped, curling the foal closer. He shook his head, rain and tears soaking his face. Nothing. He felt nothing.
"Percy," his mother's soft voice tried again.
She wrapped an arm around his shoulder, gently untangling him from the still foal. She pulled him to his feet, her arms the only thing holding him up. He did not remember moving, but suddenly he was in the barn. The minds of the other horses reached out for him, their concern wrapping around him. Percy pulled away from the on-slaughter, whimpering.
"Here," Sally said softly, "sit down."
He sat down on one of the barn chairs and Sally wrapped a stable blanket around him. It was stiff and smelled strongly of wet horse, he realized distractedly as his mother tucked it around him.
"The s-stallion," Percy stammered, trying to block out the whirling concern and confusion around him.
He closed his eyes, pressing the meat of his hand against his eyes. Stop, he thought, just stop. For the first time in his life, he wished he could not hear the horses. He drowned in their emotions, stealing his very breath away. His chest felt impossibly tight as if the horses were physically pressing against him. He was not sure how long he sat there, vainly trying to block out the world. Voices milled around him, both equestrian and human. Hands ran through his hair and then left.
As he trembled, something cold and wet touched his forehead and Percy opened his teary eyes in surprise. Black filled his vision. He pulled back slightly to find the wild stallion peering down at him. The horse neighed softly, rubbing his nose against Percy's tear-stained cheeks, smearing tears and snot all over his face.
Safe, the stallion's oddly gentle thought called. No more hurt.
"I'm sorry I couldn't save them," Percy hiccuped, reaching a trembling hand out to pet the horse.
"I know, I'm sorry," Percy cried softly, tears rolling down his face. The horse snorted, his displeasure of the tears evident in his erratic thoughts. He pressed closer to Percy, his entire face rubbing against the child's. There was an edge of sadness in the horse's thoughts, but it faded as determination replaced it.
The thought repeated, firmly this time.
"I'm sorry," Percy whispered, but the horse threw its head back, his eyes rolling.
Percy did not understand. The stallion butted his head against Percy's chest, forcing the boy to his feet. Startled, Percy found himself standing up under the horse's urging. The stallion pushed Percy forward, who stumbled as the horse herded him over to a stall.
New foal, safe.
Percy frowned, drying his eyes with the sleeve of his dirty shirt as the stallion guided him inside the stall. The large horse corralled him into the corner, keeping close to his side. The black hair was warm and comforting; unconsciously Percy leaned against him.
"I'm not your foal," Percy tried to tell the confused horse.
New foal. The stallion insisted. He nuzzled the top of Percy's head. Percy gave up, letting the stallion curl around him.
Chapter 2: Bloodlines
Storm becomes an official part of the Big Apple Ranch, and Percy meets his father for the first time.
Bree thought the stallion was an escapee. The fallen mare that had been beside him was McClarin's lost mare. Bree guessed that the mare ran off with the stallion and the foal was the result of their escapade. How they found their way to the Big Apple Ranch was anybody's guess.
"The stallion isn't McClarin's," Bree told him. "We'll put something online and see if any of the locals have lost a black stallion."
Percy curled closer to the large stallion, running the brush over his short hair. He did not want anyone to claim him. In the few short days he been there, Percy grew terribly attached. He was not sure if he could let the stallion go. Percy even named him. He dubbed the restless stallion 'Storm' after the conditions they found him in and his rebellious nature. The stable hands thought he was a terror, but he quickly became Percy's favorite horse. He loved Storm, he did not want someone else to claim him.
He smiled as Storm snorted into his hair. Foal. The fond thought curled around him, accompanied with feelings of affection and protection. Percy gave him a gentle pat. There had been a serious learning curve after Storm 'adopted' Percy. For one, the stallion had not been happy that his 'foal' did not sleep in the barn. He whined and reared against his stall when Percy left him the first night. He raged all through the night until Bree had been forced to tranquilize him for his own safety. Percy spent the better part of the next day calming him down, assuring Storm that he was perfectly alright. It took a long while to convince the horse that his 'foal' needed to sleep somewhere else. He wasn't happy about it, but he eventually accepted that Percy would never sleep in the barn. Still, he tried to stall Percy's departure every night. Percy would just smile and rub his neck, promising to come back.
Storm also had trouble grasping the fact that Percy did not eat hay. He kept bringing hay to Percy, or nudging Percy towards the food trough in an attempt to make him eat it. Percy deliberately ate his lunches in front of the horse so the poor stallion did not think his 'foal' was starving. Storm still didn't understand, but at least he longer feared Percy would starve to death.
At the end of the day, Storm realized his foal was different. He understood Percy was not a horse, but Storm did not view him as a human either. Storm's feeble animal brain couldn't wrap around the concept that this little creature that could feel and communicate with him was human. Percy was simply Storm's foal. He was strange, did not eat hay or sleep in the barn, but Storm's foal all the same.
Days turned into weeks, weeks into months as school ended and gave way to summer. To Percy's immense relief, nobody came forth to claim the lost stallion. Bree officially adopted Storm, getting papers and everything from a local vet. Storm belonged to the Big Apple Horse Farm now. When Bree showed him the paperwork, Percy was so overjoyed he threw his arms around the ranch owner, thanking her over and over again. Bree patted him on the back and laughed.
"Little one, I don't think it would've mattered even if someone had claimed Storm, I doubt he would leave!" Bree chuckled. "He follows you around like a shadow. I don't think there's any force on this planet that could keep that horse from you."
"What are we gonna do with him?" Bree asked him, turning to watch the great stallion in the pasture behind them.
Storm mingled with the other horses, who warmly accepted him as one of their own. He looked up briefly, his thoughts calling out to Percy. Percy reached his mind out and gently let Storm know where he was. The stallion tossed his head and returned to grazing, secure in the knowledge that his foal was close and safe.
"What do you mean?" Percy asked in confusion, turning to Bree.
"Well, Whirlwind is a ridin' horse. Darlin' is a jumpin' horse. Hoedown, a herder. What's Storm's niche?"
"Niche?" Percy repeated in confusion.
"His place on the ranch," Bree clarified. "What do you think?"
"I don't know," Percy said slowly. Storm was staying, that was all he really cared about. Storm's 'niche' was at Percy's side. "I'd like to ride him."
"I think he might be a little too wild for that," Bree told him gently. Percy frowned. He had no doubt Storm would let Percy ride him. The stallion would be gentle, Percy would be in no danger of falling off. Storm would not allow it.
"He could be a rodeo horse. You know, meant for buckin' and rough housin'. He's wild and headstrong like one."
"I'd still like to try and ride him," Percy pressed with a frown. Bree sighed.
"Alright, but you let me try him out first," Bree said firmly. "I'm not gonna have him buck you off."
"He won't buck me off," Percy insisted, but he knew Bree had made up her mind. Times like this made him wish he could better explain how he knew the horses. But he bit his tongue and watched Bree get riding gear together.
"Bring him over here would ya?" Bree called.
Percy easily hopped the fence, making his way to the black stallion. Storm flicked his tail at Percy as he walked up, foal, serenity, calm floating up to greet Percy. He grinned and ran a hand over Storm's flank.
"Hey, Bree wants to see us," He told the horse. He conquered up an image of the ranch owner and Storm tossed his head. "Come on, I know you like her."
Percy gave the horse a gentle nudge. Mild irritation radiated from Storm, not unlike the feeling horses got when too many flies bugged them.
"Don't be like that," Percy entreated.
Foal, Storm thought, his thoughts mimicking the exasperated fondness that often colored Sally's tone. He followed Percy out of the pasture and over to where Bree waited, walking side by side with the young boy.
"He follows you even without a rope," Bree said in wonder. "I'll be damned. Don't tell your mama I said that."
Bree leaned over to pick up one of her worn saddles. Storm pawed the ground as she stepped closer.
"It's okay," Percy said at the same time Bree called:
Percy sent Storm images of the other ranch horses, saddled and perfectly calm. Doesn't hurt, he assured Storm. Fine. As he calmed Storm, Bree stepped up beside him and started saddling the stallion. Storm jerked away, neighing.
"Easy!" Bree called, but Storm reared up.
Bree cursed, reaching out to jerk Percy down with her, but neither of them were in any danger. Storm galloped away, snorting and tossing his head, the saddle falling into the dirt.
"Dammit," Bree grumbled shaking her head.
Stormsnorted in response, his back turned to the ranch owner as he trotted away. Smug satisfaction rolled off the proud horse.
"I'll get him," Percy offered, but Bree shook her head, cursing as she picked the saddle off the ground.
"Absolutely not. Let him calm down. We'll figure something out. Stay outta trouble while I make a call."
Percy watched Bree walked away, muttering to herself. As she disappeared inside the ranch house, Storm sauntered back over to him. He blew his nose in Percy's hair, defiance thrumming through his thoughts.
"Honestly," Percy grumbled, petting the stallion. "Why'd you do that? Riding's fun. It doesn't hurt. I love to ride and now Bree won't let me ride you until she deems you 'safe' enough."
He tried sending Storm more images of riders. The horse seemed unimpressed. He paid Percy no mind until he suddenly stilled. Confusion rang between them and he nudged Percy.
"What?" Percy asked.
Storm filtered Percy's thoughts back at him. Which was weird, none of the horses had done that before. Percy closed his eyes as the images he sent Storm came back at him, albeit grainy and distorted from the horse's point of view. He saw himself riding Whirlwind, running the track as Bree watched.
"Yeah, riding," Percy said, opening his eyes. Foal?
"Yes, I ride." Percy clarified, realizing what confused Storm. He sent Storm more images of himself riding, on almost every horse Bree owned.
Foal can't walk?
"I can walk fine," he assured the concerned horse. "Riding is just something I like to do. You know, fun. That feeling you get when you run for no reason? Fun."
Percy knew Storm did not understand. He whined, butting his head against Percy. Foal. Up.
"Huh?" Now Percy did not understand.
Foal. Up. This time the thought was accompanied by the grainy image of Percy riding a horse.
"Me? You want me to ride you?" Percy said, giving the stallion an odd look. "You're not even saddled or anything."
"Okay, okay." Percy grumbled.
He never rode a horse bareback before, but how hard could it be? He was still pretty short (that growth spurt his mother kept alluding to better be coming soon) so Storm had to bow for Percy to mount him. Once he got himself situation Storm straighten up, Percy clinging tightly to his neck.
"Oh," Percy said as Storm started trotting back to the pasture. "Okay. This is okay."
It was…strange, riding without a saddle. A little wobbly, and he was rather afraid he might fall off.
"Yeah, thanks for the vote of confidence," Percy grumbled. Storm tossed his head. "No don't do that!"
Storm's amusement surrounded him and Percy couldn't help but grin. As they headed into the pasture the other horses took notice of Storm's charge. The older ones panicked, tossing their heads and skidding around Storm.
Little lord! Their minds called fearfully. Not safe. Be careful. Little lord, must keep safe.
Storm snapped angrily at them. Foal safe. Foal strong.
"You all worry worse than my mother," Percy said out loud, rolling his eyes.
Storm snorted, almost as if he agreed with the boy. The other horses crowded in and Percy felt the stallion's irritation grow. He snapped angrily at one of them and the horse neighed back. Frustrated, Storm began to gallop and Percy clung on tight, giggling as the stallion picked up speed. He broke away from the other horses, galloping across the pasture. Percy grinned, amazed at how wild and free he felt. Trusting Storm not to let him fall, Percy slowly released his death grip on the stallion's neck. He sat up straight, grinning as the wind whipped across his face. He brought his arms up until they were parallel with the ground, laughter bubbling out of him.
Percy jumped at the call. Storm faltered as Percy lurched forward, wrapped his arms around the horse's neck in panic. Sally Jackson stood outside the fence, staring at him in utter horror.
"Oh ah, hi Mom." Percy said awkwardly, forcing a smile.
"What do you think you're doing?" Sally demanded, putting her hands on her hips.
"Riding?" Percy tried innocently.
"Without a saddle and not holding on?"
"Heh," Percy said, unable to meet her eyes.
"Off, now." Sally commanded.
Percy quickly dismounted the now quiet stallion. Even Storm cowered from Sally's anger. As soon as Percy's feet were on the floor he galloped off to join the rest of the horses, leaving Percy behind.
"Jeez, thanks," he grumbled. Sally tapped her foot impatiently and Percy sheepishly went to his mother.
Time marched on. Percy convinced both his mother and Bree to let him continue to ride Storm. Storm wouldn't tolerated anyone who wasn't Percy to even touch him, but was endlessly patient and gentle with Percy. Bree declared she had never seen anything like it. Percy would grin at Storm every time she mentioned it. Bree had no idea. The Big Apple Horse Ranch continued to grow and flourish. Everything was perfect.
So of course that's when everything went to hell. Yancy Academy was supposed to be the school, the place Percy would finally fit in and be happy (of course Sally said that about every school he went to). Instead, Percy went from worrying about only seeing his horses on the weekends to worrying about his teachers killing him.
Nothing made any sense, but before he could even wrap his head around the craziness a monster, the ancient Minotaur, attacked and his mom was gone. His new friend, Grover, turned out to be a satyr, who took him somewhere called Camp Half-Blood, a safe haven for demigods. Children of the gods. One of which he apparently was. After a fight with a daughter of Ares, a glowing trident appeared above his head. Son of Poseidon it declared him. Percy never wanted anything less. He embarked on a quest to save his mom, and possibly stop World War Three before it started. He made friends and enemies, lost and then found his mom. He met his father, Lord Poseidon of the Sea, sitting on his mighty throne in Mount Olympus.
Percy stared at his father as he proclaimed Percy a true son of the sea. He didn't feel like one. He barely even felt like himself. He certainly felt nothing for this distant and powerful stranger except an undercurrent of anger and abandonment.
And then he was home, standing in front of the Big Apple Horse Ranch as if nothing had even happened. Sally talked softly with Bree, her face worn and tired. Percy would give anything to make her smile. He hovered around her, refusing to leave her side like he had ever since he returned from camp.
"Look at you," Bree cooed when she spotted him lurking behind Sally.
Shereached around to pull him into a bone crushing hug. Percy closed his eyes and inhaled the familiar scent of horse, hay and grass. Unappealing to most people but to Percy she smelled like home. Bree pulled back to cup his face in her dirty hands, her eyes crinkling as she smiled.
"Look how big you've gotten," she exclaimed. "One summer and you've sprouted up like a weed. Guess I can't tease ya 'bout bein' too short to see over the stalls anymore huh?"
She smoothed her hand over his forehead, her brow furrowed.
"When did those lines get there?" she murmured softly. "You're too young for worry lines."
Percy forced a smile.
"How've our horses been?" he asked, ignoring her statement.
Sally froze at Bree's words, her worried eyes scanning her son's face. Percy forced a smile her way and listened as Bree replied.
"Good. Honeysuckle entered her first race last weekend. Took third place, but that's not bad for the girl's first try. Whirlwind bit into somethin' she shouldn't've and we had a time getting her dental work straightened out, lemme tell you." Bree paused. "Storm missed you somethin' terrible boy. Barely ate, barely slept. Real nasty to all my stable hands. Well, nastier than usual."
"Storm?" Percy asked, concerned. He was gone for almost the entire summer. Was Storm real sick?
"Yeah, why don't you go see him?" Bree suggested gently. Percy looked hesitatingly at his mother, who waved him on. Percy nodded.
"Yeah, I'll go see him."
Percy left the ranch house and headed for the pasture. Immediately, the horses rushed out to greet him. Their thoughts bombarded him almost painfully and he stumbled back at the sheer force. He nearly forgot what it felt like to have their voices join his thoughts. Tears prickled the corner of his eyes and he gladly submerged himself in their mental embrace. Before any of them could get too close, one horse shoved his way passed the others, leaping tall and proud over the pasture fence to press his nose against Percy. Storm.
"Hiya Storm," Percy sniffed, reaching out to bury his hands in the stallion's mane.
Foal. Foal. Back. Safe. Foal.
"Yeah, yeah I'm here," Percy whispered.
Storm pushed his head against Percy, his thoughts panicked and erratic. His thoughts whirled a mile a minute, actually making Percy feel dizzy. He wrapped his arms around the stallion, burying his face against the warm fur. He could feel Storm's heart racing and he lovingly ran his fingers through his mane.
"I'm okay," Percy muttered, his voice muffled against Storm's hid. "I'm okay."
His voice wavered a bit, and the stallion felt his distress even as Percy tried to bury it. He tossed his mane anxiously, checking their surroundings for whatever caused Percy his distress. He did not find any, because the one causing Percy distress was back on Mount Olympus. Or under the sea. Whatever.
Storm nudged Percy, sending him vague images of riding. He wanted Percy to climb on his back. Percy sighed, but did as the horse wanted. He leaned against Storm's strong neck, closing his eyes as the horse galloped away. He let Storm's mind surround him, taking refuge in the familiar embrace.
Percy opened his eyes when the horse came to a stop. Storm carried him to the back of the pasture, far away from prying eyes. Percy slipped off Storm's back and unsteadily got to his feet. He climbed up in the protection of one of the large oak trees that lined the edge of the pasture and settled against the rough bark. Storm neighed, his snout just able to reach Percy in his resting spot. Percy reached down to stroke his nose.
"I almost lost Mom," he told the horse softly. "I got her back, but I still almost lost her."
Tears gathered in the corner of his eyes again and he blinked rapidly to force them away. Concern flickered across Storm's mind and he snorted softly, sending strands of comfort to Percy. Percy gave a weak laugh.
"I know why I can talk to you," Percy told him. "It's because of him. Apparently Horselord falls under his domain."
His words were bitter. Percy stared miserably at the confused stallion. The last five years of his life felt like a lie. The horses only heard him because he was Poseidon's son. Little lord. He snorted to himself in disgust. They didn't call him that because they trusted him, they called him it because he was the son of Poseidon. Little lord indeed.
Storm neighed angrily at Percy's dark thoughts. He butted against Percy's leg, but Percy only pushed him away. The other horses caught his misery and came closer, tossing their heads in distress. Whirlwind bravely came right up to him, forcing Storm out of her way.
Little lord, her thoughts crooned in concern. She sent waves of safe and comfort his way.
"Little lord," Percy repeated, but his anger faded at the sight of Whirlwind's distress.
The other horses pressed closer, their concern surrounding him. He mulled over their emotions. They were worried about him. They were not worried of stirring Poseidon's wrath, or out of a desire to suck up to their lord's son. Horses were too basic for that. They understood Poseidon was Horselord, and Percy, being his son, meant he was little lord, but that is where their comprehension ended. The horses trusted and loved him simply because he was Percy.
Percy, who groomed them and kept them fed. Who cleaned their stalls and comforted them when they were frightened. Their loyalty had nothing to do with Poseidon. He just allowed Percy to read their minds. Percy smiled weakly at Whirlwind and the crowd of anxious horses.
"Sorry. I freaked out a little there. Guess I just let him get to me."
Whirlwind snorted, tossing her beautiful mane. Percy sent love and comfort her way. Satisfied he was calmed, Whirlwind back away. Storm pushed his way back up to Percy, snorting at any horse that tried to get too close.
"Yeah, I'm calm," Percy agreed, settling back against the tree.
He was more calm now. Part of him was still upset, and he knew it might take a while before he accepted the power and control Poseidon gave him. But, for the moment, he relaxed.
Storm snorted. Silly foal.
"Sometimes," Percy agreed.
The other horses went back their grazing, still hovering in Percy's general area. But Storm never left Percy's side. He snorted and pranced around, keeping an eye on Percy.
"You know," Percy said conversationally. "You make a pretty good dad. Better than him at least."
Storm had no idea who this 'him' was. Percy's mental image of Poseidon meant nothing to the stallion.
"My biological dad," Percy clarified. Storm flicked his tail. 'Dad' meant nothing to him either.
"Sire?" Percy tried. "The one who's foal I really am?"
Storm threw back his head, outraged. His nostrils flared and he neighed angrily. MY foal.
Percy couldn't help but laugh. He jumped down from the tree and wrapped his arms around the affronted horse. The shadow around his heart lessened and he laughed helplessly into Storm's neck. Storm snorted, his thoughts still swirling with outrage.
"Relax Storm," Percy soothed once his laughter subsided. He ran a comforting hand along the stallion's neck. "He doesn't want a foal anyway. I'm just useful is all."
His mirth faded and he leaned against Storm.
"Just a means to an end," he murmured. He closed his eyes tight, refusing to let the thought bother him. He didn't need Poseidon. He had his horses and he had Storm.
"Yeah," Percy agreed. "Quit your worrying. Let's go get something to eat huh? Bree tells me you haven't been eating well."
Storm dutifully followed Percy back to the barn, his love and comfort engulfing his foal. It would be alright, Percy thought, they would be alright.
Chapter 3: Revelations
"You know," Percy's voice rang through the memory, more pronoun and clear then any of the others, "You make a pretty good dad. Better then him at least."
Years went by and Percy went to Camp Half-Blood every summer. Storm got better at handling Percy's long absences; Percy got better at handling demigod life. Neither of them were pleased with the arrangement, but they made it work. After his long, harsh summers, Percy wanted nothing more than the simple comfort and love of Storm and the other ranch horses. They made life bearable. He was at the ranch, grooming Storm's dark coat when Beckendorf fetched him for the Battle of Olympus.
He glanced over at the son of Hephaestus, who vividly stood out in the middle of the barn dressed in his battle gear. It was time. Percy patted the stallion affectionately, firmly locking his fear and apprehension away deep inside himself.
"I'm off." Wish me luck.
Storm snorted, shaking his beautiful mane. Foal strong. Foal return. Percy's lips twitched at Storm's confidence.
I'll try my best, he sent back. He left with Beckendorf, shutting the barn door behind them, taking one last look back at Storm. The stallion calmly met his eye until the barn door clicked shut.
Percy wasn't sure if he was strong, but he did indeed return a few days after his fateful birthday. The Big Apple Horse Ranch was a sight for sore eyes. Percy gazed at the peaceful scene in front of him. The ranch still existed, peaceful and flourishing, because the demigods beat Kronos back. It cost them some valuable lives, Silena, Beckendorf...Luke. Good friends, who deserved so much better, happier, peaceful fates than they received.
It was early. The sun barely peeked over the tops of the green forest. Even from this distance, Percy could see the dew shinning in the pasture, fog drifting between the fence posts. Bree bustled around the house, probably making breakfast before she started on her daily chores. The ranch hands hadn't even arrived yet. Percy knew Bree wouldn't mind if he checked on the horses, even at this hour. He was anxious to see them, especially Storm.
As he slipped inside the barn, their collective minds reached out for him, even as they slumbered. Percy smiled faintly, his body starting to relax under the calm embrace. His heart was still heavy and aching, but he hoped with time it would heal. At the end of the barn, Storm waited from him, dark eyes following his every step.
"Hiya Storm," Percy called softly, his throat constricting.
He unlatched the stall, letting the stallion out. Storm gently stepped forward until he stood in front of Percy. Percy forced a smile before hugging the horse tight, burying his face in the coarse hair. Images of the war still haunted his mind, but as he pressed closer to Storm, they were forced away by stronger equestrian memories: lush green grass, beautiful open skies, the rush of wind through Storm's hair. Percy submerged himself in the peaceful, simple thoughts. He did not want to remember anything else.
Affection rolled around him, all encompassing. A long sigh escaped Percy's lips, tension leaving his muscles as he relaxed against Storm's strong frame. He pulled back, nodded his chin towards the door, letting Storm know he wanted to go out to the pasture for a ride. He never saddled or roped Storm. His stallion didn't need to be led, he was too proud for that. But he would follow Percy without faltering, like he did now. Percy lifted his head to the clear morning air as they left the barn, inhaling deeply. Everything was so peaceful, so quiet. Percy leaned against Storm, letting the stallion comfort him.
"Yeah," Percy agreed softly as Storm gently nuzzled his hair. "Come on, let's go for a ride."
Percy was tall enough to mount Storm without a problem now. The last six years, while they had never been particularly kind, had given Percy extra height and weight so he stood tall and steady next to the horse. Storm patiently waited for Percy to get situated on his back before trotting off. He picked up speed, easily hurtling the pasture fence. Percy couldn't help but grin. He loved how wild and free he felt riding Storm. It did not matter how many times they rode out together, the feeling never faded. They never used a saddle, and neither worried about Percy falling off. Storm would race through the pasture, leaping over fences and dashing along the forest. Storm never held back, he galloped without abandon. The wind sliced across Percy's face, ruffling his hair as he leaned forward, tightening his legs around the horse to steady himself. He had no trouble staying on, even as Storm hurtled the pasture fence at full speed. He loved it.
He could forget about the war when he was out here, at least for a little while. Storm galloped around the edge of the Big Apple Horse Ranch, man and beast silently patrolling the corners of their home. Percy patted Storm's neck affectionately as the horse slowed.
"Thanks Storm, I needed that. Let's head back to the barn now before Bree freaks."
Storm tossed his head, affection rising up to wrap around his charge as they turned around. The pair took their time returning, Percy leaning back to let Storm do as he pleased. They slowly meandered around to the barn and Percy dismounted, patting the stallion affectionately.
"Come on, I'll fill the food and water trough then I have to go see Bree. Wouldn't want her to think someone was stealing her horses or anything."
Storm neighed, amusement radiating from the dark stallion and he followed Percy into the barn. Some of the other horses had woke by now, their conscious minds curling protectively around him as he went about his tasks.
Be right back, he assured them as he let Storm back into his stall.
In the sea of comfort and familiarity, Percy failed to notice the one pair of eyes trained on him that were not equestrian. As the hero of Olympus slipped inside the ranch house, his father, Lord Poseidon, god of the sea, Earthshaker and Stormbringer, the Horselord, stepped out of the shadows. Poseidon calmly watched his son disappear from sight, secure in the knowledge that his boy would return shortly. In the days following Percy's sixteenth birthday, Poseidon had watched his son carefully, closer and more attentively then he ever dared before. It was liberating to watch Percy without fearing his brothers' wrath or vengeance. No one, not even Zeus, would dare lay a hand on Percy now.
Poseidon glanced around the barn he found himself standing in curiously. This is where you spend your time then, he thought, glancing around at the half asleep horses that were slowly becoming aware of his presence. He strode forward, smirking as their thoughts exploded around him: Excitement, confusion, joy, awe, Big Lord is here! Big Lord is here!
"Peace," Poseidon commanded idly, reaching out to scratch the nose of a tan mare. The trembling creature's chaotic thought stuttered: disbelief, awe, Big Lord, here?
"Indeed," Poseidon agreed.
Unlike mortals, and even the superior merfolk of Poseidon's domain, horses were perfectly content to bask in the glow of their Lord without alterative motive. Horses were too basic to want for power or control, they only desired love and affection. Poseidon patted the mare with a smile; he had almost forgotten how fond he was of his creatures.
"You are simple yet loyal, that is probably why Percy is so fond of you," Poseidon mused as he withdrew his hand from the mare's head despite her protests.
One of the horses snorted. A twinge of anger and distrust tainted the air of affection and excitement around the Horselord and Poseidon turned around with a frown. The tendrils of malcontent came from a stallion at the end of the barn. He was tall and proud, black as the midnight realm of Hades, and his dark eyes blazed angrily at Poseidon. The sea god recognized him as the horse Percy took for his early morning stroll.
Poseidon raised an eyebrow.
"I must admit, until this moment I have never felt such, or any, anger directed at me from a horse," Poseidon divulged calmly, more intrigued than insulted. "Be calm, beast, what ails you?"
The other horses had quieted, the once explosive and excited whirlpool of thoughts dialed back to a soft murmur of discomfort and confusion. It was clear that this dark stallion was respected among his peers, who were unsure how to react to his hostility towards their lord. The dark stallion ignored them, focusing his unwise anger at Poseidon.
Big Lord hurt foal.
"I haven't hurt any foal," Poseidon objected mildly, raising his arms to gesture around the barn, "and I find no foal here. You are mistaken."
The stallion tossed his head, outrage, anger and a surge of protectiveness bombarding the god before him. Suddenly, the image of Percy appeared in the stallion's mind, smiling clear and bright as Apollo's sun.
"Percy?" Poseidon realized, his eyebrow climbing even higher. Sometimes the primitive and simple thoughts of horses were difficult to grasp. "Yes, Percy is my 'foal'."
The stallion reared, his hooves angrily slamming against the stall door. Fury rolled into Poseidon as the stallion protested. MY FOAL.
"Your foal?" He repeated with a sharp, unamused laugh. His disbelief mingled with outrage, how dare this obviously deranged stallion lay claim to his son? He pointed his trident at the beast, the tip a breath from its nose, as he warned, "Take care beast. I am a forgiving lord, but you must not try my patience - it will not end well for you. Percy seems fond of you, and that is all that withholds my ire."
Poseidon swelled as he spoke, his very being enlarging as his godliness filled the small enclosure. The other horses cowered, fear and terror filling them in face of his power and anger. The stallion's mind shuddered and he took a step back, his hooves pawing the ground nervously before his thoughts regrouped. His anger returned, determination driving out any fear Poseidon temporary instilled in him. Poseidon was begrudgingly impressed. He could see why Percy liked this horse, it was as stubborn and reckless as his son.
My foal, the suicidal horse insisted. He opened his mind and suddenly Poseidon found himself submerged in the stallion's thoughts. Percy was crying. Not the same Percy who left the barn only a few moments before, but a younger version of him, younger even than the one who knelt before his father for the first time on Mount Olympus. The stallion felt his emotions, heard his thoughts, and Poseidon heard the echoes of them through the horse's memory. Memory-Percy was curled into himself, misery and pain radiating from his small form. The stallion nuzzled his son's wet cheeks, soothing and gentle. Percy blinked his too wide eyes at the stallion, his cries fading under the stallion's attention.
Care for foal.
The image changed, Percy was older. He scowled angrily at nothing, violently stabbing hay with a pitchfork as he worked. Percy's emotions swirled heatedly, not unlike his father's a moment ago, only he took his ire out on the unresponsive pile of hay. In the memory, the stallion nipped at the back of Percy's shirt but he waved the horse away. Poseidon could hear the echo of Percy's voice, distorted and distant as the verbal exchange meant little to the horse: "Go away Storm, I'm not in the mood."
The stallion, Storm, nipped at Percy again, catching his shirt between his teeth and giving a little tug. Percy stumbled backward and, unable to keep his balance, fell in the dirt. He glared up at the horse, and even in the old memory Poseidon could feel the potency of his irritation. But Storm snorted at him.
Storm trotted off as Percy scrambled to his feet. The stallion paid no mind to the boy's mutterings so Poseidon couldn't make out what his son said. But he did see Percy chase after the irksome horse, shouting and calling as his short bipedal stature struggled to keep up with the horse. Percy never caught him. Instead his son collapsed on the ground, red faced and panting, his arms crossed. Storm meandered over and Percy swatted at his leg.
"Jerk." Percy said, the word alien and meaningless to the stallion in face of the warmth and affection his son broadcasted. A reluctant smile twitched on Percy's lips until he finally gave in and laughed when Storm nuzzled the top of his head.
Make foal happy.
The memory changed again. A tree cradled Percy against its rough bark. He was upset, but this was a different upset then Storm had ever seen. There were no tears, no anger, but something darker tainted Percy's emotions.
"You know," Percy's voice rang through the memory, more pronoun and clear then any of the others, "You make a pretty good dad. Better than him at least."
Poseidon, the real, physical one not transfixed in the stallion's memories, froze. Storm may not completely understand what Percy had said, but he knew it was important. He knew it would hurt the Horselord. The memory wasn't over, and Poseidon stood stiffly as the rest of his son's words washed over him.
"Relax Storm. He doesn't want a foal anyway. I'm just useful is all." Percy's words were soft, his eyes sad. "Just useful is all."
Big Lord hurt foal, Storm repeated, his memories evaporating and bringing them both back to the present.
Poseidon ignored him. The memory replayed in his mind, Percy's eyes, so much like the ones that graced his own face, seared into his conscious. Was that how Percy felt? Did his son honestly believe Poseidon thought so little of him? Perseus Jackson was the best thing that happened to him in centuries, perhaps even longer. He felt nothing but overwhelming pride and warmth when he thought of his only mortal child.
Foal need better, Storm insisted. Poseidon turned to glare at the offending beast that interrupted his disturbed musings.
Better than him at least.
Poseidon took a moment to contemplate destroying the hateful creature before him. Surely Percy wouldn't be too upset; a simple horse couldn't compare with the lord of the sea. He lifted his trident, the dangerous three pronged tip rising, when the barn door flung open and Percy stormed in.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, upsetting my horses like –" Percy demanded.
Poseidon turned, secretly pleased at the steel and authority in his son's voice. Percy's face was as dark and stormy as the restless sea, but the expression froze when his eyes met Poseidon's. His mouth fell open, a flush coloring the tips of his ears.
Dad. At least Percy called him that, instead of 'my lord' or 'Poseidon'. Some demigods never addressed their parents by anything other than formalities. Not Percy. He was 'Dad' to Percy. Poseidon decided that counted for something and lowered his trident, smiling at his bewildered son, inclining his head.
"What?" Percy asked, reaching out to place a reassuring hand on the tan mare's trembling neck.
Themare whined, pressing closer to him. The moment Percy stepped in the barn, the other horses relaxed. Their fear and unease evaporated as they clung to his son's presence.
Little lord, they cried in relief. Safe. Calm. Little lord keep us safe.
Poseidon may be the Horselord, but Percy was the one who cared for them. The argument and tension between Poseidon and Storm unsettled them, but Percy was safe. They trusted him to keep them safe, even from Poseidon himself. Percy absently stroked the mare's nose, unconsciously repeating Poseidon's earlier ministrations.
Poseidon stepped forward, away from the beastly Storm, and smiled reassuringly at his son. "Can't a father visit his son?"
That was not what he had planned on saying; that damned conversation with the stallion unsettled him more than the god cared to admit. He tightened his grip on his trident as he added, "I wished to speak to you. I could not get you alone on Olympus."
"Oh," Percy said, but he looked just as confused as the moment he first saw Poseidon. Was Poseidon's presence truly that surprising to him? Surely he must know of the favor his father held for him.
"Rarely have any of my children taken solace in my horses. I am glad you take comfort in them." Poseidon said. To his surprise, Percy stiffened, his hand stilling on the mare's nose.
"I have insulted you," Poseidon realized. "That was not my intent."
Percy valiantly tried to hide it, commendably schooling his expression into something falsely innocent. Poseidon sighed. How had he failed so spectacularly that his son was unwilling to even communicate with him? That his son thought a horse made a better father than him. Speaking of the devil, behind him, Storm radiated smug mirth. Poseidon's eye twitched as he turned to glower at the offensive beast.
My foal earn trust, Storm snorted. Poseidon wondered how devastated Percy would be if he rendered the stallion into a pile of ash in front of him. Judging by the panicked widening of his son's eyes, greatly.
"I was not implying otherwise. My foa - son," Poseidon corrected himself, "has earned and deserved the respect these horses give him."
"Are you talking to me or Storm?" Percy asked in confusion, inching forward. His eyes flickered between his father and Storm, obviously anxious of the tension between the pair.
"You," Poseidon said automatically, "I would not lower myself to squabble with a horse."
Percy's face closed off. A moment too late, Poseidon realized how that must sound to his son.
"I did not mean –" Poseidon tried to explain while Storm reared angrily.
No upset my foal!
"He is my foal!" Poseidon snarled, his temper boiling over. He slammed his trident against the floor at the last word, causing tremors to shake the ground. Percy threw himself forward, squeezing between god and beast, as Poseidon's temper came to a head.
"Stop," he called in alarm, his eyes wide. "Storm, knock it off."
Storm neighed angrily.
"You're both upsetting me," Percy snapped back. "So knock it off."
Storm quieted at his words. Shame was an emotion horses were unable to grasp, the meaning and feeling behind the emotion too complex for their simple minds, but the emotion emitting from the stallion was the closest they could get. Poseidon refused to be shamed, he had done nothing wrong.
"Don't hurt him," Percy said quickly when the sea god shifted. The flash of fear in his eyes froze his father.
"Regardless of my feelings, I would never harm one so dear to you," Poseidon told him gravely. "I would not risk your favor in such a manner."
Percy blinked in surprise.
"Oh. Um...thanks? Behave." Percy added sternly. For a ludicrous moment, Poseidon thought he was addressing him, but Percy glared over his shoulder at the hellbeast behind them. Poseidon did not bother hiding his smug smile at the horse.
"Can we, ah, go outside to talk?" Percy asked uncomfortably.
"Of course," Poseidon agreed smoothly. He put a possessive hand on his child's shoulder, guiding him out of the barn.
Foal not need to be led, Storm objected, but Poseidon cheerfully shut the barn door, effectively cutting off the stallion's thoughts.
"Uh, sorry," Percy awkwardly said, scratching the back of his head nervously.
"Do not be," Poseidon dismissed with a wave of his trident.
"You didn't, ah," Percy asked, his eyes wide as they tracked the movement of his trident.
"Cause an earthquake?" His father finished for him. Poseidon was not unused to fear. Mortals were correct to fear him; he controlled the sea and the tremors that shook their world. He was not, however, used to that fear coming from his own offspring. From a child he loved.
"I did not, just light tremors," Poseidon assured him. He took a step back, forcing himself to calm down, for Percy's sake.
"Despite what my brethren might believe, we gods are not above fault." Poseidon said slowly after a pause. Percy peered up at him, eyebrows skyrocketing at the admission. "We…can make mistakes. And I have become aware that there seemed to be a great misunderstanding between us, my son. I did not intend to break my oath when I met your mother, but rest assured I have never regretted it. You are more than useful Percy. You are my son, and I am proud of you. I have always been proud of you."
Percy gaped at him, his mouth working silently.
"How could you when you were never there?" Percy demanded hotly. The moment the words left his mouth he shut it with a snap, looking horrified with himself. His face was conflicted. He wanted to believe Poseidon, his father could see that clear as day, but he just couldn't.
"I know that might be hard for you to understand or believe," his father continued sadly. "That my actions may not seem to always align with my words. You must understand, the world is very different for the two of us. I only caught glimpses of you growing up; I could not watch you too closely for fear of my brothers. They would have killed you without thought, without compassion. I cared enough then to stay away. You can't understand how significant that is, for a god to distance themselves from something they want. But I did, so you could live. So I could get to know you when the time was right, when you could fend for yourself."
Poseidon smiled kindly at his son, hoping he could see the pride shining in his father's eyes. "You did better than I could have ever dreamed. You are the greatest hero of your time, of all time. Perhaps greater than Hercules himself."
There was a cheerful thought, Poseidon could not wait to bait Zeus with that one. But this was neither the time nor the place. He calmed himself once more.
"I have always cared for and been proud of you, just in different ways, the only way I can. You do not have to believe me, but I will make this right. I will prove it to you."
Percy bowed his head, blinking rapidly. Poseidon let him compose himself before boldly declaring: "Come stay at my palace."
Amphitrite was going to kill him, Poseidon mused as Percy's head snapped up in surprise. That was alright, it was worth it to see the expression of shock and tentative hope on his son's face. His palace was not fit for visitors at the moment, the war left it a ravaged, empty shell. He would build a room just for Percy, Poseidon decided. A grand room where his son would always feel welcomed and accepted.
"You're serious?" Percy asked in disbelief.
"That," Percy floundered. He seemed to be at war with himself, before a grin slowly edged up his face, "that would be awesome."
A very mortal response, but Poseidon looked beyond it. As the pair spoke, life on the ranch continued around them. The woman in the house left for the pasture some time ago, and trucks arrived bearing her daily stable hands. Behind them now, a couple such workers opened the barn doors wide, releasing the horses into the pasture.
"Percy!" The woman from the ranch house called. Her eyes flickered to Poseidon in mild interest, who smiled pleasantly, before adding, "I need your help when you get a minute."
"Go," Poseidon told him. "And do not worry. I will return. Think on what I have said."
Percy nodded. "I will."
He turned to go, but hesitated. He looked over his shoulder at his father, unsure. "Ah…thanks, Dad."
Poseidon grinned, clapping Percy on the shoulder. "Of course my son."
With a faint smile, the son of Poseidon left his father, running off to see what the mortal woman wanted. Poseidon watched him go, content that, at least for the moment, all was well. His mood soured as the dark stallion emerged from the barn. Out in the pasture, Percy's head turned. The horse comforts him, Poseidon tried to reason with himself, glaring at the offensive creature as it trotted towards his son. His response was only natural. Given time, Poseidon should be able to break that habit.
Storm snorted, as though he caught the stray thought. Poseidon scowled.
"Do not test me, beast," Poseidon warned, "I can still bring your demise. He would forgive me with time, after all you are but a horse."
Storm flicked his tail, unimpressed.
Poseidon's eye twitched. "Three days at my palace and he shan't even remember your name, foul beast."
Percy hovered nervously at the edge of the pasture, torn between racing back to break up their potential fight and aiding the mortal woman. Poseidon held a hand up to his son in peace. He would not hurt Percy's horse.
"I am aware," Poseidon sighed. He eyed the horse distastefully. "I do not expect you to understand, simple creature, but know that I love my foal and I shall not let you take him from me. That being said… I should thank you."
Storm paused, confusion rolling off his dark hair. He only recognized and understood a few words and phrases of human speech, and while most of Poseidon's words meant nothing to him the last two he had heard before.
"You took care of him when I could not. For that alone, I would spare your life." He had no quarrels about making it miserable, but he would spare it. "Thank you."
Keep foal safe. Storm thought. Poseidon was not sure if that was a demand or Storm's own agenda. Either way, he nodded.
"Yes, we must keep our foal safe. My foal," Poseidon corrected immediately. "My foal. He is not yours, hellbeast do not – are you walking away while I still speak to you?"
Poseidon watched in outrage as the stallion turned away, disinterested.
"Of all the disrespectful, lack of self-preservation," Poseidon grumbled, shaking his head, "You suit him well."
He raised his eyes to the pasture, where Storm galloped off to meet Percy. The great stallion butted against his son, who stumbled slightly, before shoving the horse back. He could see Percy's grin even from a distance. Storm threw his head back and Percy, with the utmost swiftness and grace, swung himself up and onto the horse's back. The shadow of pain and grief still clung to his son, but its grip had lessened and he sat proudly on his stead, head held high. It was a perfect image, Poseidon thought, as they rode away.
Well, almost perfect.
A Pegasus would be better. Or a Hippocampus. Or any creature that wasn't the damned stallion.
"Farewell my son," Poseidon called gently, "until we meet again."