In retrospect, it was all Thalia's fault. The Hunt split up to pursue separate monsters; Artemis traveled to the west and Thalia to the east. It brought her and her little troop right outside New York's doorstep. They recently picked up new recruits and, although she would never outwardly admit it, they gave Thalia trouble. Now, unlike some of the other Huntresses, Thalia wasn't some frothing at the mouth, man-hating hothead – she was just a regular arrogant daughter of one of the big three sort of hothead. But one of the new girls (Jubilee? Joyce? It was some ironic 'J' name) thought she was all high and mighty, looking down her slightly crooked nose at the entire male gender. Whatever – there were always a few of those nutjobs in the Hunt; Artemis didn't exactly discourage the idea.
To get back to the point, Jubilee/Joyce was really getting on Thalia's nerves. She was prattling on and on about what a great monster slayer she was, and how she bested this one guy this one time, no man could ever do what she did, blah blah blah. Thalia had it up to her breaking point with the girl. It is never, by the way, a good idea to anger a Huntress, especially a lieutenant, especially when said lieutenant was a daughter of Zeus. Nobody informed Jubilee/Joyce of this however, or perhaps her ego was so inflated she simply didn't care. The important part of this story is that Thalia called Percy. Now, both Thalia and Percy knew that she could take the monster out by herself, but the daughter of Zeus had a point to prove. So hey, if his cousin wanted him to show off his awesome monster slaying skills (he scowled at her when she laughed at that, not cool Thals you called me) well Percy was more than willing to skip school and help her out. When the monsters were vanquished and Jubilee/Joyce thoroughly left outraged and embarrassed, Percy tipped his nonexistent hat good day at the Hunt and returned home.
Now to the heart of the problem: when he returned home Percy found a note taped to the fridge from his mother reminding him that she and Paul were attending a week long seminar in Florida and not to forget about his science project. The first half Percy knew; Sally had been planning this trip for weeks. She had even reminded him of it before he ran off to help Thalia. But the second half? Percy had totally forgotten about that. He checked the date in panic. His science project, which was worth twenty-five percent of his grade, was due in three days.
Now if Sally had been home, none of this would have happened. If his girlfriend, the all-knowing Wisegirl, hadn't been at some architectural convention out of state, she would have slapped him upside the head and gotten the teacher to give him an extension (which he didn't even know they could do, Annabeth how did you pull that one off?). But neither his mother nor girlfriend were around to check his seaweed brain and Percy went into overdrive.
He worked straight through the next three days. Every time Percy felt like closing his eyes, he took a swig of Red Bull. When his head started to drop, he would pop some blue M&Ms in his mouth because, by the gods, he could not fail this class. By the end of the seventy two hours, he had an insanely high collection of empty Red Bull cans that Annabeth could probably use to construct a second Empire State Building with. The thought made him giggle, the image of his serious girlfriend building a monument out of empty Red Bull cans a hysterical picture in his mind as he gathered up his project.
He practically vibrated as he dashed to school to turn in his project. Everything was bright and fuzzy, and black dots often floated across his vision. Percy idly thought that this probably wasn't a good thing, but all he could think of was gotta turn the project in, gotta turn the project in.
He forgot how to get to school and showed up almost two hours late after a lengthy detour down a shady backstreet alley where he stopped to pet a cute little kitten. Checking in at the front desk never even crossed his mind when he finally asked a cab to drop him off at Goode. Instead, he waltzed into class and dumped his project on his science teacher's desk with a grin . . . and then promptly walked out. His teacher probably called after him, but Percy was more concerned with the particular color of the sky (pretty, almost as blue as the ocean) and the idle thought that he should pick up more Red Bull because he was out. He didn't pick any up, mostly because he lost the train of thought as soon as it came to him and began wondering about a cloud that rather looked like a cyclops riding a bicycle. Could a cyclops even ride a bike? He should ask Tyson.
His feet led him back to his apartment building and he spent the next ten minutes trying to get into an apartment that wasn't his own. When the kind occupant of the apartment opened the door Percy was valiantly trying to gain access to, they kindly informed him that this was not his apartment and he needed to go a few apartments down. At least, that was the gist Percy got when the red-face guy screamed at him. Message received . . . sort of.
Percy was pretty sure that this was his apartment, at least his key fit into this lock and opened the door so that was a win. Percy grinned, ridiculously happy with himself as he staggered into the apartment. His backpack slipped off his back and Percy let out an 'oof' as it fell on his foot. He stared at the backpack, a little betrayed by its violence.
"Rude," he complained, toeing the offensive backpack off his foot, "what did I ever do to you?"
As he spoke, he tilted his head to the side, suddenly becoming aware of a second, powerful presence in his apartment. His fingers closed around the pen in his pocket as he peered up at his companion, who seemed a little surprised. It was a man, roughly in his thirties. He was tan, as though he spent the majority of his time beneath the sun. He had a fishing hat on, with some writing on it but Percy's dyslexia and currently Red Bull-addled mind made the letters squiggle and dance in a way that made reading impossible although highly amusing, with black hair sticking out. Green eyes stared out of his face, almost exact mirrors of the ones in Percy's own face.
Percy's said green eyes widen as he regarded his uninvited guest, leaving Riptide uncapped at his side.
"Are you me from the future come to warn past me about some terrible life altering decision I'm about to make?" He asked his unfortunate future self.
His unfortunate future self frowned. Percy waited anxiously, swaying slightly.
"No, Perseus," came the deep reply.
"Thank the gods," Percy said, relieved, his hand coming to rest over his heart as he relaxed. Then, his thoughts churning slowly and hazily as he tried to puzzle out who then his guest might be if he wasn't Percy's future self. His eyes widen again as he asked, "Are you my evil twin from another dimension who's come to take over my life?"
His evil twin from another dimension stared at him, his mouth moving silently as if he just couldn't understand what was going on. But Percy did; he was onto his evil twin from another dimension's plan.
"Perseus, I'm your father, Poseidon."
"Oh!" Percy exclaimed, blinking rapidly as black spots clouded his vision. He waved his hands futilely in front of his face, go away black spots I don't have time for a mini blackout right now, do you mind? "You know, that would've been my third guess."
Poseidon stared at him; Percy solemnly stared back.
"Do," Poseidon's brow furrowed, "you honestly believe it would be more likely for your future self or an evil twin to be waiting for you than your own father?"
"Stranger things have happened to me," Percy gravely replied, wondering if the room swayed or if that was him. It probably was him; Poseidon didn't seem like the swaying type.
"Son, are you drunk?" Poseidon asked, frowning as he took a step forward. "I do not smell liquor on your breath."
"No I'm not drunk," Percy snickered.
He meant to sound offended, but there was something so funny about Poseidon smelling him that Percy couldn't help but laugh. Even as he snickered to himself, a long repressed memory came to the front of his mind. He was young and small. Gabe stood over him, in all his disgusting and smelly glory. He had a tight grip on Percy's hair, yanking it so hard it brought tears to the little boy's eyes as the odious man slurred. He smelled overwhelming of alcohol and smoke, a choking and loathsome odor that only made the boy cry harder. He cursed angrily at little memory Percy, holding his head firmly as he poured that hateful amber liquid over Percy's face. Percy choked and sputtered, trying to turn his head so he didn't swallow any of the alcohol but Gabe held his head too tight and Percy cried at the bitter taste.
Someone stepped towards him and Percy flinched. He jerked up right, snapping himself out of an impromptu blackout.
"'M awake," Percy immediately said, "And not drunk. Never."
His words were harsh, even to his own fuzzy ears. He glared at his father for the offensive implication. Oh, that was big SAT word there, Annabeth would be proud. Poseidon eyed him in concern. Percy wondered if he would be impressed with the large vocabulary rambling through his son's mind. Probably not.
"Oh course not," Poseidon soothed. "But you worry me, what ails you my son?"
Percy grinned, his entire face stretching uncomfortably as he happily exclaimed, "I finished my science project. On time. I did. Twenty-five percent."
Percy waited while Poseidon processed this, more occupied with the strange stain on Poseidon's hat than anything else. How did that even happen? Did he take the hat off while fishing one day and spill some nectar on it? Did gods even take little breaks like that? Couldn't Poseidon just magic himself a new unstained hat? And why was Poseidon staring at him so intently?
"Hi Dad," Percy said, complete with a little wiggle of his fingers, when the staring got intense.
Poseidon's face twisted a little, his eyes tightening with concern. "Son are you ill?"
"I don't think so," Percy said seriously, pausing for a moment to take stock of himself, "but I don't think I would know if I was. I'm a little sick from all the Red Bull and M&Ms I've had."
"Red Bull?" Poseidon repeated slowly and Percy couldn't help but giggle. It was so strange to hear a modern word on the god's lips! He wanted to say a bunch of modern words and have Poseidon repeat them like 'PlayStation' or 'McDonalds' or 'selfie'. He waited for his giggles to calm down before speaking again.
"An energy drink. Works great. I haven't slept in three days," Percy grinned. The world spun a little as he threw his arms out, as if the motion would somehow magnify his words, and he swayed dangerously.
Poseidon stepped forward and grabbed Percy's arms before the demigod could fall. His hands were warm, which was nice. Percy was rather cold. Poseidon straightened him, keeping a strong grip on the swaying boy. Which, again, was nice, Percy didn't think he could stand by himself right now.
"Sleep deprivation and sugar," Poseidon guessed.
"Yeahhh, probably" Percy drawled. "Sorry. I'm probably not able to do whatever it is you wanted me to do. Kinda useless right now. Like, I'm about to pass out useless."
"Relax," Poseidon instructed.
"I'll pass out," Percy warned.
"What I meant was, do no concern yourself," Poseidon clarified, but he was frowning down at Percy in a way that made the demigod self-conscious.
Or at least, as self-conscious as he could be in his current state of mind. He felt like that insect his class looked at under a microscope last week, weak and stretched out, unable to do anything but subjugate himself to the intrusive scrutiny he was under. He didn't like the feeling. He silently vowed to apologize to the poor bug when he returned to school.
"I can visit you without asking a favor of you," Poseidon said softly.
"Why?" Percy asked, his brow furrowed.
That didn't make any sense, why would Poseidon visit him if he didn't want Percy to do something, like fight a monster or run some glorified errand? An idle part of him thought that something important might be going on here, between himself and his father, but Percy's brain had shut down twenty hours and seven Red Bulls ago so any deeper meaning escaped Percy as he blinked dumbly at Poseidon.
"Because you are my son," Poseidon stressed, his fingers tightening on Percy's arm.
"I noticed that," Percy told him seriously. "The whole breathing underwater and causing earthquakes thing, totally all from you. Not something most people can do. Definitely a son of Poseidon. A son of yours. Your son. That's me."
"Yes my son," Poseidon sighed, "But once more that is not what I meant. I meant that you are my son, thus I . . . care about you. And I can visit you, with no other reason than out of a desire to make sure you are well. Which you currently are not."
"But I turned my project in," Percy said gravely. "I probably won't fail science now."
"Son – "
"My name is Percy," Percy repeated helpfully, "Mr. D forgets it all the time too."
He shrugged, like whatcha gonna do about it. The motion caused black spots to erupt across his vision and Percy fell forward. Fell forward against something warm and solid. Poseidon. He fell against Poseidon. Or did Poseidon pull Percy closer to prevent the demigod from falling? It wasn't clear but he was definitely leaning against Poseidon now. The god had one strong arm wrapped around his shoulder, the other cupped the back of his head as he held Percy against him.
"How could I forget your name?" Poseidon sounded bewildered and troubled. "How could you ever think I didn't remember your name?"
Well, you kept calling me 'son' and not 'Percy', Percy thought but the words didn't want to form and he couldn't listen and speak at the same time so he focused on paying attention to the rest of the words coming out of his father's mouth because that was probably more important. Besides, talking was exhausting.
"There seems to be a wide chasm between us I didn't know existed, Percy. Your affection for me has grown since I claimed you, this I know. But do you not know of my affection for you?"
Poseidon was warm. His chest vibrated as he spoke, a gentle buzz against Percy's ear that actually kind of tickled. His voice reminded Percy of the many long nights Sally and he spent at Montauk. Often, Percy would just lay on his bed at that worn cabin on the beach, listening to the gentle sound of the ocean crashing against the sand, the hiss as the water was drawn back out to sea, then crashing forward once more with the next series of waves. Soothing, familiar, comforting . . . that's what Poseidon's voice sounded like to Percy. His words washed over Percy just like the waves on Montauk's shore.
"Because it is great, my son. I did not lie when I told you that you were my favorite son. You are. I do not claim that lightly. You have ingrained yourself in my heart, Percy, how could you not know that?"
His father smelled like the ocean. Which probably wasn't surprising, but Percy's mind had all but shut down at this point and his thoughts only registered simple facts without any capability for deeper understanding. Thus: Poseidon smelled like the ocean. Percy breathed deeply, unaware that he had closed his eyes. The scent of the ocean surrounded him, the salty breeze that skirted across the beach, the deep aroma of the open ocean, seaweed tangling with coral, fish and seals and crabs and whales, an all-encompassing and near overwhelming embodiment of his father's domain pressing around him.
"I will fix this. I will drive out your insecurities and close this chasm between us. I can see clearly now that some great misunderstanding has seeded itself in your mind. I shall uproot it."
Percy never felt more safe and comfortable in his life. He was part of the ocean, surrounded by and protected by the domain to which he belonged. He breathed deeply, his entire body relaxed and calm. He nestled against whatever held him up, warm and content and not able to understand anymore why he fought unconsciousness. The last few days had been terrible and all he wanted to do was sleep. Why didn't he? Something, a very small yet stubborn something, at the back of his mind told him that he didn't want to sleep right now, that something important was happening and he probably should pay attention and get a hold of himself.
"Sleep, my son."
Someone spoke to him, at least Percy thought someone spoke to him. Sound reached his ears, but were they words? They may have been words, or they may have simply been sounds; waves lapping at the shore, storms dancing across the ocean, dolphins chirping, water churning, peace my son stop fighting it and go to sleep, I will fix this, rest, it is alright. Your father watches over you. Your father favors you. Rest now.
Percy allowed himself to be pulled under the waves of consciousness, sinking into oblivion long before his exhausted brain could even begin to register the soft bed he was being laid on, or the warm blanket being snuggly wrapped around him. The son of Poseidon slept, breathing deeply in the scent of the ocean and sound of the waves, safe and watched over.