Chapter 1: Secrets in the baths
Frank had not expected the sobs when he entered the baths. Usually, at this time in the morning, the warm halls were completely deserted. He liked to bathe in the early hours of the day. As a praetor, he was forced to bury himself in duties from dawn to dusk and he liked doing that with a clear head. Another perk of it was not to be seen naked by the others, which he really didn’t appreciate. Unfortunately, a praetor wasn’t supposed to be uncomfortable around his soldiers, let alone self-conscious. They’d never properly respect him if they knew. No, he really preferred thing this way.
Although, today, he wasn’t alone. The walls echoed a soft sound through the building. Someone else was here and it sounded very much like that person was crying. Maybe one of the newcomers? Somebody with hidden PTSD? Had there been some tragic incidents in one of the families lately? All those questions popped into his head but he did not find a satisfying answer. Frank decided to take a closer look around. His eyes scanned the surroundings thoroughly but didn’t seem to find the source of the small noise. Whoever was here was trying to hide their sorrow from the world. Maybe they really wanted to be left alone, he guessed. After some bad news - a breakup or something - it was understandable to want to be on your own. He would not like an intruder if he had a private moment of sadness, too. Frank decided that, should that person be still here when he was done, he would be more inquisitive. He went to get clean.
On his way back, there was no sob, but a heavy breathing – barely audible – like that poor thing was desperately trying to calm down and get a grip. “Ok, that’s it. Time to intervene.”, the huge Asian murmured to himself and checked his way through the rooms again. Hidden behind one of the colorfully mosaicked pillars, a pitiful picture of misery with very unruly black hair was crouched down. The broad, muscular shoulders told Frank that it was a guy and that he tried to curl himself into the smallest possible space. He felt sympathy rise in his chest.
How should you approach someone who doesn’t want to look weak in a moment of weakness? He knew that he needed all his tact now.
He coughed into his fist and said in the calmest voice he could muster “Hey, there, what’s the matter? Can I help you?”
His answer was prompt. “Just leave me alone, Frank.”
“Percy?” No way. There was literally no way that this voice of raw desperation was Percy’s. The evidence in Frank’s head was proposing quite the opposite. They had met just three days ago. The son of Poseidon had been his usual silly self. Everyone admired his strength and valor ever since Percy had started studying in New Rome. He had managed to be thoroughly happy since the end of the war and after leaving CHB. Percy was a devoted older brother and a wonderful teacher to younger demigods. His relationship with Annabeth was stuff for legends and an inspiration for Venus herself. His looks were fabulous, his smile was contagious and he had so much loving friend and family that it was already hard for him to keep up with everyone on a regular basis. What could possibly make this boy so sad?
Frank went closer to his friend. “Come on, Percy, we both know that I won’t let you here all by yourself like that. You can save both of us a lot of discussion and time if you just talk about it.” The black head went from the left to the right side in silence. The praetor sat down on the floor. “Want some company, then? I always felt reassured when I wasn’t alone with my thoughts. They can get annoying over time, you know?”
Percy made a strangling sound between a chuckle and a cry, but he stayed stubborn. “Thanks, man, I really appreciate your concern, but…”
Frank interrupted him with heavy sarcasm. “But the great hero of Olympus hates to be seen at his weakest when all he’s ever supposed to do is act hero-ish and invincible? Or maybe he thinks he isn’t allowed to be human from time to time? Is it that?” The other boy shrugged but Frank pressed on. “Come on, you already know I won’t judge you. You already saw a fair amount of my personal lows and you were always great about them. It would be really rude if you didn’t let me return the favor now.”, he muttered and realized he meant it. Percy had always been there for him, whenever he was scared or felt insecure and weak. The Son of Poseidon had encouraged him, listened to him and never judged or made fun of him. Frank figured it would be unfair if he would not let his friend do the same for him now. “Please?”, he begged the other boy.
“I…”, Percy hesitated and took a deep breath. “I think I have to leave the place.”
“What? Why?”, Frank asked but before the son of Poseidon could even answer, he added. “Wait – you sound like, do you want to leave on your own?”
He nodded. “Yes.”
“To go where?”
“Anywhere, as long as it’s as far away as possible.” That sounded final. And terrible. Frank struggled to sort out his thoughts.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa – what about Annabeth?”
“I have to break up with her.”, Percy whispered and started sobbing again. “She’ll be better off without me taking the wind out of her sails all the time.”
The shape-shifter gasped. “What are you talking about? You couldn’t - …you and her are like… - I don’t understand.”, he finished lamely. That was completely out of line. Percy and Annabeth were the perfect couple. Venus herself had blessed them. They literally had been to hell and back. Why on the gods’ green earth would his friend want to destroy this?
Percy murmured an incoherent stream of things that Frank was able to only catch the essence of. “It’s better like this. – She’s so much better off without me. – I only hold her back. – She needs the chance for a proper life, a nice guy who isn’t too stupid to buy her the gifts she deserves. Someone who won’t have to rely on her to feed him.“ He probably would have continued his nonsense if the Roman’s hand had not hit his cheek in a very rough way.
Frank decided to ignore the pained yelp. “I’m asking you again, Jackson: WHAT is going on here? Have you heard yourself? Why are you talking such rubbish?” He was now sitting right next to the black-haired boy that was absent-mindly rubbing his red cheek. The hit had not even startled him. Either he’s really down or I really have to work on my vigor, Frank mused.
“No need to get violent, Zhang. I’m already miserable enough, thank you very much.”
The praetor shrugged. “Can’t help it if you’re being unreasonable.”
“Yeah, well, sorry – that’s the way I am, you know. Unreasonable, stupid Seaweed Brain.”, Percy exclaimed without any humor. “Too dumb for even the simplest task, that’s all I’ll ever be.”
Frank found himself shocked at the amount of self-pity in so few words. What had happened to the confident hero of two wars, the survivor of Tartarus and the victor of so many quests? Then again,…
“Did you get your last results, man?”, he asked quietly. The other boy dully nodded.
“That bad, huh?”
“Failed two.”, Percy admitted in the quietest voice Frank had ever heard him talking in. “And I really fucking learned for that stuff.”
“Still no need for swear words, you know.”, Frank mumbled. He couldn’t help it; his grandmothers’ strict upbringing was still anchored in his mind. “But I thought Annabeth wanted to tutor you. Didn’t that help?”
The son of Neptune – Poseidon! – huffed. “She was busy with her own studies. And her job. I won’t add another duty on the list if there’s the possibility to manage myself.” His voice cracked. “Everyone else is able to keep their stuff together. Why can’t I just –“, he angrily bit back a sob “I’m so useless! You know, man, sometimes I think he was right.”, he whispered.
A very bad suspicion sneaked into Frank’s head. “Who are you talking about?”
“My stepfather. He used to tell me that I’m just a costly brat that won’t ever be useful to the world.”, Percy said dryly. “Funnily, Zeus told me the same, once. And Dionysus. And Hades, too. And your dad, of course. Ares.”, he grumbled. It surprised the praetor that there wasn’t even a little reaction at the enumeration of so many gods. But another thing bothered him more.
The blood had nearly started boiling right behind the Asian’s eyes when he heard so much resignation at such disproportional sources. “My father’s Mars, not Ares. The latter is a coward and an…”, he took a deep breath, “…asshole. Mars is a warrior. And the gods don’t count when it comes to value a person. They never consider the whole deal. As for your lovely stepfather: I’ve never met the guy but I know what Annabeth and Nico told me and the guy should have been sent to Tartarus to rot in acid forever.”, he barked and Percy, except for having flinched at the mention of Tartarus, seemed mildly impressed by the outburst. “But there’s no reason in the world for you to EVER think that one of those references are seeing you in an objective way? They have no idea who you really are? Why would you even think in such a way about yourself?”
Percy rose from the ground and Frank copied his motion. “Yeah, how could I possibly think of myself as a valuable person? I don’t think I’ll ever be anything but poor. I can’t even read properly. Have you any idea how many companies want to hire a dyslexic loser, who can’t even sit still? And if I can’t feed myself, how am I supposed to take care of a possible family? Make Annabeth responsible to solely bring home the bacon? What if we have children?”
Frank considered that when the other demigod fell silent. He didn’t think that it was possible for Percy to fail his life as much as he’d described it. Maybe it wouldn’t always be easy, but he simply couldn’t picture the son of Neptune – Poseidon! – as anything but successful. He was ambitious in his own way and really stubborn. No, this probably was something else and it wasn’t simply about academic failures (which were completely normal, Frank knew that: There were lots and lots of students in New Rome that didn’t even come close to their diploma no matter how many times they repeated the tests).
Percy had been really uptight since he had started University. There were no fights except for training and occasional war games, no deadly threats and no gods in distress that needed his help. He could experience all the peace and quiet he had been wishing for. And that, Frank thought, might be a problem. The boy had ADHD. He was constantly alert, he was strong and lithe and now found himself forced to sit still and study. There were no awards for dyslexics fighting against jumpy letters. There was no gratitude from teachers when their students managed not to fall asleep. In other words; Percy had always had at least a massive compensation for his academic struggles: His heroism. Take that away and the guy was right back where he had been as an eleven-year-old: feeling like a constant disappointment.
Another thought crossed his mind. “I still don’t understand why Annabeth didn’t tutor you. It was her offer, after all.”, Frank stated. He didn’t mean it in an accusing way, but he also knew that the girl tend to forget everything except for her own priorities at times when it came to working. She could focus so much on her task that everyone else became peripheral. Leo was the same sometimes, but he never was as emotionally oblivious but rather clingy when it came to people he cared about. Annabeth…not so much. She was possessive, yes, but she was also so used to being on her own (a little like Nico) that she maybe simply did not feel the need to initiate affection. Affection that Percy, on the other hand, craved for.
Usually, he kept his girlfriend from turning into an emotionless complete workaholic. That’s why, in Frank’s opinion, she was much more depended on him than the other way round – Percy would find someone to cuddle among his friends or could turn to his mother or his Cyclops brother or even his baby sister. But the son of Neptune – Poseidon! – probably didn’t think so. In his opinion, he seemingly was a burden. How to convince him otherwise? Frank had no idea.
The praetor was so lost in his thoughts that he nearly missed his friend’s answer. “Yeah, maybe, but she’s been really really committed in her project and her studies and well,… I tried reminding her once, but…”, he trailed off and Frank understood. Percy must have been lonely for a while now. Away from camp with all of his friends busy and without other duties than studying – which constantly challenged him emotionally and intellectually – he would’ve needed some support. From ALL of his friends. Since none of them had offered any or even realized that it was needed, …Percy would deduct the worst, Frank mused.
“Percy, I know your friends and you girlfriend were busy during the last few months, but that doesn’t mean that your work – that you – are not appreciated. When did you last speak with your mom?” Maybe we should have made a bigger effort. We really should have been there. Why didn’t anyone notice?
Percy snorted. “Oh, please, Frank, I’m not a child. I don’t need Mommy’s reassurance to live my life. I can handle my life just fine without help – I have since I was a child. I had to even cook for Gabe, you know! Just because I don’t do it that often doesn’t mean I can look after myself.”
Frank felt like slapping the guy again. “This isn’t about looking after yourself, you nutbar, this is about asking for help when you need it. Feeling loved and looked after. Come on, we’re like…family, why don’t you trust us?”
“Answer me a question, buddy, when did any of you last ask for help? Even if needed…”, the other boy huffed.
Alright, there was an undeniable truth in that statement. Seriously, why didn’t any of them really accept help? Hazel usually buried herself in art and work when there was a problem, as did Annabeth with her studies; Jason kept stubbornly quiet and started an obsessive training while Piper would seek solitude in the nature. Reyna preferred to do things on her own anyway because she felt obliged to. Leo was the type that joked around so much that no one even suspect him to feel bad about something (except for Calypso) and Nico,…well. Nico had become so much better and much more open since Will Solace stood by his side. He still wasn’t a people person and he did not like showing weakness, but he had started to finally seek out advice if he couldn’t help himself. He only used that opportunity in his most desperate moments, but he did.
And himself? Frank had asked Annabeth on the Argo II about that stupid handcuff/finger trap thing but only after having embarrassed himself. His grandmother had always told him that a man of honor will find his own way and never bother others with his problems or something like that. But she wasn’t so much of a model herself when it came to relationships and personal happiness. Frank fidgeted.
“Well, I…I mean, yeah, okay, you got me here. I guess I’m a hypocrite and we’re all too proud or modest or whatever to admit a weakness. But that doesn’t justify your plan to leave everyone behind. And even less for such a reason, Percy. Come on, you’ve failed some tests, it’ not the end of the world. We’ll find a solution, another tutor, we could talk to your profs or anything else – why would you want to leave New Rome and everything you love?”, he asked.
Percy was quiet for some time – then he said in a low voice. “You see, I feel so empty most of the time. So empty and scared. I don’t even know how I am supposed to manage my own life – but what about Annabeth? You can bet that she’s going to rock her career, make a fortune and probably rule the country one day. She’s just that determined. But me…? Not so much.” His face flinched like he was trying really hard not to start crying once more.
“I always hear their voices whenever I fail something.”. he continued. “Smelly Gabe, my former teachers, all those kids from school and…well, you know, the gods.”, he explained when Frank’s features had distorted. “They laugh even in my dreams. No matter how hard I try, it’s no use. I’ll always be the brainless idiot. The liability. I can’t risk anyone dragging me along just because they feel obliged to. Not my mum, not Annabeth, not my friends. I have to look after myself and I’ll never do that if I’m not forced to. So I’m forcing myself.”, Percy said and his expression turned serious. “I don’t want anyone to know, alright? I’ll be off in a few days. If they ask you, don’t say a thing.” Frank winced and Percy grabbed his shoulders and forced him to look into his face. “Promise me, Frank. Don’t tell a single person until I’m gone. I’ll leave a letter or something, don’t worry.”
“Yeah, great, because a letter will really comfort your heart-broken girlfriend and your desolate friends.”, the shape-sifter laughed sarcastically and continued, “Everyone will be so understanding, Percy.”
The Greek demigod shook his head. “I’ll better make it good, then. I trust you, Frank, not a word to anyone, yeah?” Frank bit his lip and nodded but Percy wasn’t convinced. “Swear on the River Styx, Frank. Swear you won’t tell anyone about this.”
Being a praetor had its perks. Before, the young Canadian would ever have dared to bluff his way out of a trap. He knew there was no way to break the vow Percy forced upon him. The idea wouldn’t even have occurred the old Frank. Nowadays, well, he was too used to handling inductees and fighters, too trained in coaching newbies and too experienced in interacting with people to not try to sneak his way out of this. His voice was toneless when he answered. “I swear on the River Styx that I will tell no living person of your plans and your feelings.” Percy seemed relieved and Frank spat. “But don’t expect me to be happy about it.”
The other boy nodded. “Neither am I. But needs must. Thanks, man.” He patted his back and left the baths. Frank was shaking. He knew what he had to do now.
Chapter 2: Are you alive?
“Terminus, are you, technically – well, are you…”, Frank stuttered.
“Mr. Zhang, you might be a praetor, but that does not mean that I will let that sort of disrespectful stuttering pass as a proper conversation.”, the god criticized.
The Asian pulled himself together. “Are you alive?”
That seemed to throw the stone head off balance.
“What do you mean by that, praetor? How would you define ‘Alive’? Do I need to breathe? Do I have a beating heart? Do I talk? Do I have a consciousness? Those are completely different factors but all of them could define me as ‘alive’ and only half of them are true, in my case.” His nose shot upwards as if to intensify his distaste of this conversation.
Frank sighed. He either needed to act more straightforward or much more subtle if he wanted to reach his goal. If he gave Terminus enough time to figure out technicalities, they’d still be here in five days. By then, Percy would have left.
“Alright, then. I made a vow to the River Styx that I wouldn’t tell a certain secret to any living person and I really do not want to break it. Instead, I’d like to…let’s say, bypass…it by talking to a NOT-LIVING.”, Frank admitted and Terminus’ head nodded. The god seemed to even smile. “Well, if that is indeed the case, be unconcerned, praetor, because firstly, I am not a person, and secondly, I never was ‘alive’ since I am the embodiment of rules, borders and boundaries. I am, so to say, the very idea of every limit put into mankind to control each other. I am, Mr. Zhang, neither alive nor a person but rather a physical manifestation of a meta-physical idea.” He sounded rather proud of himself and his ability to prescind his own existence. Great, Frank thought, another humble immortal right here.
Terminus seemed to disengage from his self-admiration. “Well, since that obstacle is cleared, what is it that you wanted to tell me? I might consider helping you with your…whatever it is.”
“I’ll only tell you if you promise to handle this with respect for the person we’re talking about. It’s someone you know.”, he added.
“Which is not saying much, young man, for I am quite well-acquainted with most inhabitants of New Rome.”, the god countered. “But, well, consider my compliance. In whatever way I may help your cause, I will. Oh yes.”, he continued as he noticed the warriors unbelieving expression at this easy compliancy. “You not only rendered outstanding services to our community, you are also a praetor, and a defender of Camp Jupiter. Hence, you’ll receive help.”
“Well, great. Thank you.”, Frank answered. “And don’t worry, the person we’re talking about has ‘rendered even more outstanding services to our community’ than me. True hero and all that.”, he explained. “We’re talking about Percy, by the way.”
“What?”, the head showed a nearly comical sort of an angry expression. “All this secrecy to delay my help for Percy Jackson?! He is my friend; of course I will come to his aid! You wasted valuable time with all of your unnecessary preambles. What does he need?”, Terminus asked eagerly, “Another swordsman? A fighter at his side to have his back? Advice on life and law? Hints on his career path in New Rome?”
He was so determined that Frank had to smile a little. How could Percy not see the effect he had on others? “Let’s go for life advice.”, he told the god and paraphrased everything he remembered from his talk to the young hero and his own opinions and considerations. To his astonishment, Terminus didn’t seem too surprised by the fact that the son of N – Poseidon! – was struggling so much.
“Well, he is a young hero of faith and valor. He has a true heart and a good nature; a skillful fighter as well.”, the stony head summarized. “But he lacks discipline (as nearly all the Graeci do) and endurance. His persistence with his studies is, in my most humble opinion, due to his stubbornness rather than his academic interests. It is natural that he agonizes. On the other hand, it is not natural to question himself as a consequence. How do you plan to keep Mr. Jackson from his self-destructive path?” When Frank’s face nearly turned into a question mark, he clarified: “I mean, how do we proceed, praetor?”, Terminus asked. “You solicited my help, I would like to know your plan concerning our friend’s intended departure.”
“Well, firstly, we need to keep him from leaving.” Terminus rolled his eyes. “I need everyone informed – Annabeth, Hazel, Reyna, Jason, Piper, Nico (and most likely Will too since they are nearly inseparable), Leo and Calypso, Rachel, Grover and maybe his parents. Once they know, all of us just have to find a way to convince him to stay.” How they would manage to break through Percy’s stubborn head, Frank didn’t know. He trusted on the rest of the intervening team to deliver that. The young man paced a little. “I want a group effort to make him see reason again and to realize he got ahead of himself. But we need to be subtle. If Annabeth thinks he’ll leave her easily or anyone feels…well, abandoned, we’d probably cause more damage than anything else. Once everyone knows, well…”
He seemed a bit lost but quickly jumped to the next problem. “But I cannot tell anyone, you know, because of the oath. D’you think that you could inform them in any way?”
Terminus considered their possibilities. He couldn’t leave his post unless there was an emergency, like someone disobeying the rules of their boundaries. But was that even necessary? Frank wasn’t able to break his vow, unless he told the dead or animals, which was…possible! Terminus nodded a little presumptuously while Frank shuffled his feet through the sand.
“Of course. We need to hurry – we only have five days, boy.” Suddenly the whole thing sounded a lot like the god’s plan. “I assume that only your oath incapacitates keep you from executing your ideas. So I’d propose the following: You find yourself as many lares as possible and explain the situation. They might be able to inform the centurion Hazel Levesque and the ambassador of Pluto. Once they know, they can take measures. I will inform the oracle Rachel Dare and Miss Ramirez-Arellano – we are meant to meet in a few moments anyway. Once they know, they’ll hopefully have an idea of how to influence the young rebel. I will try and think of one or two other things myself. Maybe including his mentor, that Centaurus, has an idea as well. His mother should be able to explain his current state so we’ll know what treatment he’ll respond to.”
Frank felt a little overwhelmed with the whole scenario. Even though being a bragger, Terminus was actually trying to help them. He was grateful that he wasn’t in charge all alone and that the god came across with ideas and possible solutions so easily. He wasn’t an expert and Psychology definitely wasn’t his forte. He bid the god farewell and went looking for all the responsible and knowingly helpful lares he could think of.
Naturally, some refused to help a Graecus. Others seemed too indulged in their own world and reality to be of real help. But three of them seemed to be quite honored to be of service to a praetor and a war hero. One immediately went to find Hazel to explain the situation. Another promised to use all his influence to reach the Ghost King himself, as he reverential called Nico. The third was a former praetor himself, full of ideas concerning honor, comradeship and principles of perfect leadership. He stayed with Frank.
“You need to understand the sensitivity of the situation, praetor Zhang.”, the translucent figure explained after he had basically forced the shape-shifter to recall Percy’s whole story – or everything he knew about the Greek. “The young man suffers in several different contexts. First, there is obviously his fear of failure and the expectation of disappointing the ones he cares about. His academic problems only feed that feeling of insufficiency. Then, there is his personal loyalty and his hero complex. He can’t NOT help people in need, that is one thing but he also needs to be needed. If that need is not satisfied, his self-esteem experiences a blow. Do you understand that?”, he asked.
Frank shifted his head from one side to another. “Yeah. And no. I mean, how could he have done everything he did and still have issues, you know? It’s unsettling, really.”
The ghost’s face grew apprehensive. “What do you mean by that, praetor?”
“Well,” Frank was feeling very uncomfortable all of sudden, “He is the strongest, bravest and most powerful demigod I’ve ever met. He’s modest and reckless and really nice as well. He always helps the weak and comforts his friends and he’s a loving son and elderly brother and he never judges. If someone like him has issues about himself, how should we others feel in comparison, you know…?”, he finished, mildly embarrassed.
The other one smirked. “Then, my friend, you might question your own issues before you’re trying to overcome your friend’s. In my time as a praetor I soon realized that nearly every demigod does experience these questions and doubts about themselves. They key is to always remind yourself of what value lies buried within each and every one of you. You are worth so much more than your accomplishments. Repeat that sentence, praetor.”, he assigned.
“We are worth so much more than our accomplishments”, Frank repeated after him.
“Very well. Your lives have a meaning beyond heroism and service, as un-Roman as that might sound. Your friend needs to be aware that he is the one to give his life its own significance. It’s his expectations and wishes that should guide him, not what he anticipates others to expect from him.” The pearly-white figure sighed. “I will try to help you further, praetor Zhang. I might be able to talk to one or two nymphas, they might be able to reach through to the spirits.”, he mused.
“What good would that do?”, Frank asked confused. “Not that I don’t appreciate the effort.”, he added reassuringly, when the lar seemed crossed. The latter shook his head. “To accelerate the speed of information, of course. Waters and winds will carry your call to his friends as soon as the nature spirits agree to help us. Believe me; you need to act fast if you want to accomplish your goal. Now off with you, praetor.”, he smiled. “Both you and I have duties to fulfill.” He left the Asian boy then and there, stunned and silent but content that they would at least succeed in making Percy listen to what they had to tell him.
The first responses came barely one and a half hours later. Frank was busy training with Hannibal, the elephant, when Hazel, Reyna and Rachel came marching towards their training grounds, a determined showing look on each face. Reyna was the first to speak. “How do we tell Annabeth?”, she asked.
His reply did not seem to suffice her. “I don’t know. I most obviously will not tell a thing since I’m bound to silence. You could, I don’t know, take her shopping and do some girl’s talk?”, he offered.
Hazel’s golden eyes seemed to get dizzy from rolling them at her boyfriend’s clumsiness on the topic. “Sure, Frank. That is going to be a lovely night out. Imagine Annabeth, who absolutely loathes girly things – as much as Reyna, Rachel and I do, by the way – running through the mall trying on fancy dresses while talking about feeling, emotions and everything else that is neither rational nor logic. Great idea.”, she finished sarcastically. Frank blushed and his eyes locked to the ground.
Rachel seemed to take pity on him. “No need to tell your boyfriend off so harshly, look at the poor thing.”, she said with the faintest hint of a smile. “But your concern pretty much hits it. Telling Annabeth will be really difficult. I mean, you and her are not close enough, Reyna and I both tried to hit on Percy – unsuccessfully, of course, but I still doubt she would like to hear our relationship advice – and the topic itself is far from her personal comfort zone. What we need is…well…Piper.”, she told them.
“Of course. If anyone was able to approach her without breaking her heart or making her feel bad, it’s her. Maybe…”, for two or three long moments she seemed lost in her thoughts. “I have an idea. Percy and Jason are close. Piper and Annabeth are close. That’s the perfect settlement for our interventional plot. Jason takes Percy out to a guy’s night. Skating, fighting, having pizza, whatever it is the mighty and constantly underfed male godly offspring does.” Frank huffed. “No need to make us sound like Neanderthals that never talk, you know. Even guys have feelings.” She just shrugged at this.
Hazel clapped her hands. “Alright, ladies and gentleman. That’s the plan: I contact Mr. Jupiter and Miss Venus to rush to our aid. Reyna and you, Frank, make sure that Percy does not secretly leave New Rome. Rachel, you know his parents, right?” The oracle nodded. “Call them, explain the situation and ask for advice. Let’s meet again in…”
“Two hours.”, Rachel finished. “That’s enough time to do some research in the psychological background of interventions, meddling with someone else’s privacy for their own good and maybe tactics to overpower very powerful guys that are able to take control over your body fluids. Piece of cake.”
Meanwhile in Camp Half-Blood…
Chapter 3: The ghostly celebrity
“Will, be quiet, for the Gods’ sake – if anyone hears us…”, Nico whisper-shouted when his significant other moaned a little too loudly to not attract everyone’s attention.
He didn’t remember why they were in the armory to make out – well, maybe because they originally had been assigned to do an inventory there and maybe they had lost focus very easily. Nico always found it distracting when the blonde son of Apollo was sweating during heavy lifting. Or during archery practice. Or while taking care of patients. Or…well, any time. He was also quite aware of Will rather low attention span during anything that wasn’t directly correlated with healing or fighting or…personal contact. It still tended to make Nico nervous that Will was so casually intimate with him; he really liked it, thought. The only problem was that he, Nico, always had to be the responsible one since the other party of their relationship obviously had no self-control at all.
Forced to make them behave at least a little responsibly, he lately get the feeling that he all he said to the boy was ‘no’ and ‘later’. Sometimes, though, his resistibility failed him. Like today. Today, when Will had started to press him against the walls of the armory, not without knocking down several items in his eagerness, he gave in. They did not have a lot of alone time since Nico insisted on keeping a low profile around other people. Since Will was really busy studying and healing while Nico concentrated on his schoolwork and Hades’ advisor as well, there were not nearly enough possibilities to sneak around. So, yes, Nico felt a little desperate for a little touch.
He didn’t complain when Will initiated a heated kiss. Nor when he started nibbling his neck. In fact, when Will’s hand started to travel downwards, Nico quickly decided to speed this up and fell on his knees, dropping the other boys’ pants and boxers unceremoniously to the ground. There they were, Will’s hands tangled in Nico’s dark hair, his erection covered by the Italian’s mouth and surrounded by the load moans he wasn’t able to suppress.
“Nico”, his legs started shaking “I’m so close.” Like he didn’t know that. He hummed a little in acknowledgement and was not at all surprised by the stifled cry that followed just a moment later. After, Will leaned against the Wall trying to catch his breath while Nico rose with a smug look on his face. He rubbed his sore knees. “Well, sunshine, I think that was a new record. I didn’t think -”
“- that you would be overheard?”, a voice interrupted them. Both boys jumped and simultaneously blushed. Chiron stood in the entrance of the armory, arms crossed. “Just like Patroclus and Achilles. Barely a day went by without me finding them in any compromising situation one could think of. Sometimes I suspected them to arrange things just this way...”, his thoughts seemed to drift off a little but the centaur caught them quickly. “Never mind. There’s absolutely no reason for you boys to copy their behavior. I certainly don’t need that all over again and I doubt the underage campers would appreciate that kind of view when trying to train, boys.”, he tauntingly scolded and Nico found himself unable to meet his eyes.
Will, on the other hand, grinned. “Sorry, Chiron, we’ll be more careful in the future. It wasn’t on purpose, you know.” The Camp director nodded with a dispraising look on his face. “I trust you to keep your clothing on at any public place in the Camp. Otherwise you’ll have to clean the stables for one month as a punishment.”
That declaration hit Nico’s greatest fear in terms of Camp punishment. He was fine with cleaning and scrubbing or helping out anywhere, but the pegasi hated him so much that cleaning their stables came close to anything his father could come up with in the Fields of Punishment for him. He would rather wear a chastity belt, he decided.
“It won’t happen again.”, he promised. Will seemed less convinced of that but held his tongue. Good boy. “Is there anything you wanted from in here?”, Nico asked Chiron in a feeble attempt to change the topic.
“Indeed. One 5.4 ft long weapon made of half a god and half a mortal. Italian style, black hair, pale olive complexion. Have you seen one of those?”, he deadpanned and Nico asked how he could be of help. “There seems to be a little problem concerning a ghost or spirit in the dining hall. He demanded to talk to his king in person and the Aphrodite children are too distracted by his presence to even eat. That usually would not be much of problem; but, as you know, we have two severe cases of anorexia amongst them and I cannot allow them to skip any meals.”, Chiron said and turned to leave the place. None of the two demigods had spotted the happiness in his voice.
Nico instantly followed him. As much as he hated to play his ‘royal service’ (Will loved to mock him about his title), it was one of the few things he was actually useful for except his fighting skills. All of his other talents were either too scary or too geeky or too out-dated to be appreciated at Camp – his skills as a medium at least came in handy when an intruder of the other world appeared.
Another perk of being connected to death was being taken very seriously when it came to health advice –
“Stephanie, if you don’t start eating instantly you can as well put two coins on your eyes tonight! I can feel your life span decreasing from all over here. You are already halfway to Charon’s boat!”, he shouted when he saw the girl in front of her still-full plate. His statement seemed to thoroughly shock her and she started digging in with a disgusted look on her face. “Mitchell, you are nearly there, too. For Hades’ sake, if you want to meet Thanatos so desperately why don’t you just ask him to pay you a visit?”
The boy broke into tears. Nico pitied him very much but he knew from his very own experience that kind words and considerate advice would not help at this point. During his own journey through the scales of serious underweight, Will had needed every ounce of his healing skill to pull him out his misery. Now, he supported Will with the two children of love.
“Alright, everyone, step aside please and go back to breakfast.”, Chiron told the crowd. “Nico will talk to our visitor.” He grinned.
“But this isn’t just any ghost!”, Lacy exclaimed. “This is Aeneas! The first connection between Greek and Roman mythology, the one to break queen Dido’s heart, the last royal of Troy, the ancestor of Romulus and Remus – “
“ – and the bringer of the lares.”, Nico interrupted her monologue. He bowed his head towards the spirit. “Quite the ghost celebrity you are, Aeneas. What brings you here?”
“Yes, my dear friend. What brings you to us?”, Chiron asked. It was then that Nico realized that the two were once teacher and pupil, back in ancient times.
Aeneas looked just like Dares Phrygius had described him: dark brown hair with a slight red tint in it, sturdy-built with well-defined muscles, a hint of mischievousness in those grey eyes and a charming smile on his rather light-skinned face. “Chiron, you haven’t aged a day! It is a pleasure seeing you again.”, he laughed and continued with a much more respectful tone, “Ghost king. Ambassador of Pluto. It is an honor to meet you.” He had a seductively deep voice. Yes, Nico thought, definitely one of Aphrodite’s.
“You, too.”, he answered and waited for the legend to explain his purpose.
“I come with a message from New Rome.”, Aeneas started. The son of Hades grew anxious. “What is it? Has anything happened? Is everyone alright?”
The ghost consoled him. “There is no need to worry, my king. Praetor Zhang sent me to tell you he needs your help concerning a young man called Percy Jackson. I understand you are well-acquainted?”
“Yes.”, Nico replied feeling a little confused. “What is it? Is Percy alright? Why hasn’t Frank informed me himself?” Aeneas smile turned even more affectionate. Will, who had followed Nico after tidying up their mess in the armory, coughed into his fist.
“You see, Frank had sworn to Percy on the river Styx not to tell any living person about his problem.” Nico hit his head with the flat palm. “He decided to ask the god Terminus and some of the Roman lares to come to his aid and inform his friends in his’ stead.”
The young Italian nodded. “Smart move. But why was it necessary in the first place? Why would Percy make Frank swear on the Styx? What’s the problem?” His tone grew slightly impatient like always when he felt restless and apprehensive. When Aeneas had finished his story, he needed Will’s hands on his shoulders to keep him from nearly exploding. It was Chiron, though, who first reacted.
“Always the same, always the same.”, he phrased wearily. “Once they start to settle, the sorrow takes its toll. Always the same…” Aeneas nodded in approval. Will’s eyes traveled from one to the other. “What do you mean?”
“Theseus. Ajax. Actaeon. The list is too long. Once they grow domestic, once their battles are won, they are haunted. Some of them grow restless, reckless even and provoke the Moerae. Some are taken by madness, develop a persecution mania and even kill themselves. Others dare the gods, become arrogant and proud until they meet their punishment. I’ve seen too many heroes, too many of my pupils fail once they had finally met their, at that time, well-deserve peace.” He sighed.
“I’ve always feared that this day would come for Mr. Jackson, too. Of course he would choose the self-destructive way in order to not bother anyone. You and him equal each other in so many ways.”, he told Nico.
What was he supposed to answer? I never was that kind of self-destructive. I never intended to run away from my problem. I don’t abandon people when I need help. He understood the son of Poseidon better than anyone else. Their lives were just too similar. Nevertheless, he was furious.
“He should know better, still! Like we wouldn’t stop him. Like we would accept him running away. Like we wouldn’t drag him right back.”, he snorted. Will hugged him tightly. “I knew you’d help him.” And, more silently, so only the other boy would hear it “I’m proud of you.” His words left no doubt that he had overcome every little bit of jealousy that had once nagged on the edge of his mind concerning the son of Poseidon.
“I don’t think I can shadow-jump both of us to New Rome.”, Nico sadly whispered but his boyfriend surprised him. “No, but there’s really no need to. I’ll pay Percy’s parents a visit and explain the situation. Maybe they can help, too. I think I rather stay here anyway, you know; in case I’m needed.” His eyes focused on the two children of Aphrodite that unsuccessfully tried to make their food disappear by staring at it.
Chiron clapped his hands. “You are right, Mr. Solace. I’ll accompany you to meet Mr. and Mrs. Blofis. I’d like to help as well. I will inform Argus to keep his eyes on the children and prepare the wheelchair. As soon as I’m done, we’ll leave.”, he told the blonde.
“Aeneas, my friend, I am truly sorry that we cannot have a heart-to-heart at this moment.”, he said mournfully.
The ghost waved his hand. “Another time, then, Chiron. There is much more important business than sharing stories this very moment. I understand and value your care for your ward.”, he smiled.
“I expected no less of you.”, the centaur answered and turned to Nico. “What are you planning to do now, Mr. di Angelo?”
Nico shrugged. “Going to see Jason, I guess. He’s very close to Percy, too and he’ll want to know what’s happening. Maybe he has an idea how to bash some reason into him. Maybe literally.”, he grunted and Chiron left towards the Big House.
Before his department, Will and Nico sought the seclusion of Cabin 13 to exchange a proper goodbye. Despite his rush, they took their time. Nico had learned that an anxious head usually didn’t work too well for him. So, after many many talks and discussions, Will had convinced him to always relax or at least calm down before throwing himself into the next adventure. Funnily, today, it took the son of Apollo only about two minutes to get his lover all pliant and wanton; another one to get rid of their clothes and about six until their gasps filled the usually silent space with their equally shared lust.
Nico’s hair was still a mess when their lips finally parted.
Chapter 4: Plans
“Jason, could you come here for one moment, please?”, Piper called from the downstairs’ living room. They had just returned from school and Jason usually tended to clean up and doing his homework immediately. Since Piper’s ADHD was much less pronounced that his’, he needed longer for such thing than she did. Combined with their extracurricular activities and combat training and sports, there was not much ‘couple time’ as it used to be in CHB. He wanted to spend as many of their free evenings with her as possible.
Nevertheless, he immediately left his desk and joined her on the couch. She wasn’t alone, though. An Iris Message shimmered opposite to her, showing them the face of a very worried-looking Hazel. “Hey, centurion Levesque-”, he greeted her charmingly but stopped his tracks, “Why the face?”
Instead of the dark-skinned daughter of Pluto, Piper answered him. “Obviously Percy is having a sort of nervous breakdown back in New Rome.”, she summarized. Jason gasped but stayed otherwise silent. “He failed two tests he had learned really hard for and now he plans to leave New Rome and Annabeth for good.”, Hazel added.
Now he was at loss. A little context would be nice, he thought. “Wait, what? But – no offense – but isn’t Percy kind of…used to that?” It sounded awful but Jason knew too well about Percy’s hatred towards discipline and learning. He was a very stereotypical graecus when it came to that. “Why are two failed tests suddenly the reason for leaving? What has Annabeth to do with that? I don’t get it.”, he finished but got quiet when he noticed Piper’s irritated stare. He tried again. “Alright, sorry, that was uncalled for. I shouldn’t assume. Tell me from the beginning, Hazel, please.”
So Hazel shortly briefed Jason about what had happened in the baths and the oath Frank had been forced to take. She also added everything Frank had done to avoid said vow and help their friend nonetheless, along with everything else that had been initiated so far. The son of Jupiter massaged his temples. “OK. My head feels like exploding but I should be used to that by now. What do we do?”, he asked, turning from one girl to another and back.
“We hoped that you and Piper could visit Percy and Annabeth and talk to them separately. Annabeth needs to be informed as delicately as possible and Percy needs his perspective readjusted. We’re considering an intervention or something.”
“Great.”, Jason murmured ironically. “Percy’s skull is thicker than the walls of an ancient aqueduct. I wouldn’t even know how to break through to him if he’s so determined. The only one person that is probably as stubborn as him might be Nico…”
“- Well, good that I’m willing to consider helping that moron to come to his senses as well. In a combined effort, we might have a chance.”, a voice interrupted him from the background. Jason jumped and nearly knocked over the furniture. “Nico! What are doing here?” He ran to bear hug the younger (who did not appreciate the sudden suffocation) boy while Hazel and Piper were still busy acknowledging his very presence.
“Nico, it’s so great to see…what happened to you hair?” – “Is that a hickey?” Both girls were much more observant than Jason, even though the latter reacted the most shocked. “Were you…have you…did you…?”, he stuttered when his eyes found the purple bruises on his neck and the completely disheveled state of the black strands.
“- give a proper goodbye to Will?”, Piper laughed. “Well done, Nico.” Jason threw her an angry look but remained silent. Even if would have liked to chide his younger-brother-by-choice, he would feel very hypocritical by doing so. As soon as Tristan and his assistant would leave them alone and the Coach went for a nice walk or fighting lesson with Chuck, Piper and him made sure to spend every moment of that precious time between the sheets. Or naked in the pool. Or tangled on the couch, the kitchen table, the stairs, the roof-deck and sometimes in the hidden green of the highest tree of the garden (no need to mention that Jason was in dire need of either Ambrosia or a very long nap afterwards). Yes, it was better to keep quiet about Nico’s and Will’s adventurous goodbyes.
He exhaled through his nose. “Alright, now that that’s settled, how do you think we get Percy to think clear again? We can’t exactly hit his head until he sees reason.”
Nico rolled his eyes. “Even though I’d love to do exactly that. But I guess, no, we need to pick a slightly more peaceful approach.” He seemed very uncomfortable at the very thought of talking and feelings. “How do we get him to open up?”
Hazel grinned. “Oh, Nico, come on. You should be an expert about this very thing by now.”
The son of Hades looked confused. “Me? Of all people?”
“Well, who of us had the most severe problems to accept help and finally opened up about his past and his feeling to a certain someone?” The boy blushed. “And who is right now helping that very certain someone to treat the injured or PTSD-patient? And the last time we IM’ed, Will told me how much the anorexia-patients benefit from your care. His approach is a mixture of personal experience and scaring-about-death.”, she explained towards the others.
“She’s right, Nico. Good thinking, Hazel.”, Piper agreed. “Actually, Frank was the one who thought Nico was our best shot. He’s known Percy the longest, except for Annabeth.”, Hazel said. “Please, guys, think of anything fast. Frank doubts that we have more than a couple of days before Percy acts. Piper and I will have enough work with Annabeth. I can’t even imagine any sort of strategy to tell her the news.”, the dark-skinned centurion sighed.
Piper raised an eyebrow. “Strategy? With an Athena-girl? She’d look through that before we’d even finish the first sentence.” She told them about their trip in Sparta and how the absolute lack of any course of action had helped Annabeth to face her emotions. “We need to push her out of her tactical comfort zone.”
In between their considerations, another IM chimed in. Leo and Grover stood side by side in front of his new workshop. In their background, Calypso and Juniper were talking heatedly with another nymph. Obviously, Frank’s communication system had indeed worked out. The satyr and the son of Hephaestus had made some plans for a fast and toddler-safe transportation across the country. They would collect the Blofis family in the evening so little Andy (the little girl was rarely called her by her full name Andromeda) could sleep throughout the journey. So, with many discussions and lots of coins for Lady Iris, they started brainstorming. Tomorrow in the late morning, they would invade Camp Jupiter.
Alright. Everything was prepared. Backpack: Check. Riptide: Check. Emergency first-aid set hidden in his pocket: Check. Nectar and Ambrosia: Check. Leftover Money hidden in his shoes: Check. Letters to his parents, Annabeth, Hazel and Frank, Jason and Piper, Reyna, Leo, Nico and Tyson: Check. It was not even yet six a.m. and yeah, while he would usually never get up this early, Percy was wide awake. Annabeth had spent the night in the library again and was now sleeping safe and sound. He hadn’t been able to resist pressing a kiss on her forehead but quickly withdrew. He couldn’t afford to lose valuable time.
He had planned to wait for at least another two days, but the dialogue with Frank had made him nervous. What if he did find a way to tell anyone? He could not allow the son of Mars to alert everyone and stop him, so Percy had decided to pack his things right away and run today before dawn.
Once they discovered his eloping, they’d try to stop him. They would never understand the necessity. Just like I didn’t when Leo had to destroy Gaea instead of me. I didn’t get it at all, Percy thought bitterly. But not this time. He would do the right thing and accept his fate. There was no point in stalling. He finished his breakfast, wiped a single tear out of his eye and cleaned his plate and cup. He had tidied everything as properly as possible, a last sort of SORRY for Annabeth. Maybe his disappearance would finally give her enough time for her studies and projects – once she had not to clean after his mess all the time anymore.
Think positive, he reminded himself, you do it for her. Her freedom. Her career. Nothing could be more important than that. Finally, he stepped out of the door and left without sending a last longing look back at their apartment. He would definitely dream about that little piece of domestic happiness for the rest of his life anyways. No need to already start torturing myself.
Everyone was still asleep. There weren’t even any lares around. No spirits crossed his way. New Rome was covered by silence. No one would stop him. Farewell, Percy thought.
When he reached the Little Tiber, he used his powers to lift the stream. He wasn’t in the mood to walk on water this early in the morning. Maybe he should have. That would have been more subtle and less attention-drawing.
Once Percy in the middle below the water, the river suddenly parted above him and enclosed him left and right. Percy was stunned. The water surrounded him like and island. Why would the naiad of the little Tiber do that? Never before had any water spirit resisted his will.
“Well, well, well – isn’t this our wonderful oceanic prince? What would a lovely fighter like you do here at the river so early in the morning?”, a purring came directly into his right ear. The boy jumped. A beautiful nymph stood very close to him, her lips only an inch or two from his ears. Her blue dress was transparent and allowed his eyes to capture her every feature quite detailed. Not that he looked. Of course not. That would have been rude.
“Oh, well – you know me….just a little morning walk. Always restless. ADHD. Son of the sea. Ha ha.”, he stuttered and tried to move away from her exposed skin. His fidgeting seemingly amused her. Her eyes locked with his and she bit her lips in a seductive manner. The Sea Prince decided he needed to leave very soon before he was either discovered or molested. “I’m really sorry having disturbed you.”, Percy babbled. “You know what, never mind, I’ll just…I’ll just…” Her delicate fingers travelled up and down his arms. Percy shivered and his blood started rushing south. That wasn’t good.
“Oh, you did not disturb me at all.”, the pretty naiad whispered. Goosebumps began running up and down his body when her nails tickled his torso. “There’s no need to leave so soon, my hero. I could give you so many reasons to stay with me for a little while.” She breathed the softest kiss into his neck and Percy freed himself abruptly.
“Yeah, no, I’m good, but thank you for the offer.”, he stuttered. His face had a deep shade of red. “I’d rather, you know, continue my walk and…erm…enjoy the view.” He prayed that she would not be insulted by his reject.
“Oh, the view.”, she giggled. “What better view could you have than this?” And suddenly her dress was gone. Percy stumbled backwards and fell into the water but didn’t sink. It had been a long time since had gotten wet involuntarily but this wasn’t normal circumstances. The water spirit grinned and suddenly pounced towards her victim. Percy flinched but the attack he had expected never came. Instead, worse, she sat down on top of him to straddle his hips. If he had thought being half-aroused before had been embarrassing, there was no way the nymph would now not be able to feel him. After all, there was a very beautiful girl naked and on top of him. His brain seriously lacked blood. “Whoa! Hey, wow, I have…I mean, I am…I really shouldn’t…”
She interrupted him once more. Her revealed skin touched so many places on his body and she leaned in even closer – nearly close enough for a kiss. His breath quickened. “There are so many things you could think about now, Percy Jackson, but not one of them includes what you should and shouldn’t do.” She pulled him out of the water easily (How?, he asked himself) and made a very curious noise, like a call. Suddenly they were surrounded by about ten other nymphs, none of them wearing a piece of clothing and each eager to get as close as possible to the son of Poseidon. He started to panic.
This is a trick!, his mind alarmed. They are luring you into a trap. Run. Fight! The black haired demigod was unable to have a clear thought anymore. So many touches and caresses. So much beauty. So much sensual temptation that was absolutely forbidden. He tensed, trying to not give them the idea of yielding but he also did not want to fight them. His scalp tickled from tender fingers that massaged it. They were everywhere. Hands were travelling up and down his arms, his legs, his torso and his back. Voices, soft like a moan, were chanting praises into his ears.
“Come with us, hero Perseus, there is so much to experience” – “Such a handsome man” – “Look at those muscles” – “Your eyes reflect the sea” – “I would love to take a look below that shirt” – “Why don’t you follow us to a place more private, beautiful?” – “I could lose myself in your silky hair” – “Your face is worthy of a god, no doubt” – “Don’t be ashamed, Perseus, you have nothing to hide”
They did not touch his body anywhere inappropriate, which was strange, but that didn’t stop his completely helpless arousal. The more he tried to control his body’s reaction, the lesser he could. He could not remember ever been as disorientated before. The nymphs did never stop their touchy-feely compliments. His efforts to get away from the spirits lessened even further.
The caresses and praises did not stop. How long had it been that he had been touched like this – softly and wantonly? How long since he had gotten so much attention? How long since someone said something so nice and tender to him instead of tasks and duties? How could he not finally lean into those tender contacts everywhere on his skin, even though it appeared reckless and needy? Percy did not even feel when their whispers turned into melodic chants that made him fall into a deep sleep. He fell right into their waiting arms.
Wow, again it's been a while since the last post. I'm really sorry this takes so long, but I'm on it - promise!
Chapter 6: Friends at the Bay
‘Male voices. Those are male voices.’ It was the first thought that made its way through his fogged mind. He could smell the breeze of the sea and redwood trees. ‘I love the Pacific Ocean.’, was the next thing that his brain offered and also ‘Why can’t I ever do anything right – not even run away?’
The hazy numbness slowly started to leave his senses and he was soon able to make out the conversation of the people close to him. Their voices were oddly familiar.
“Do you think he’ll stay unconscious for much longer?”, the first guy asked.
“I don’t think so. Nymph magic usually isn’t that strong. But there were a lot of them, I admit. Maybe he’s just too embarrassed. I mean, I certainly would be after about a dozen naked spirits around me – who knows what happened…I mean, physically...”, the second voice sounded very indignant at the very thought.
“Well, in my case – nothing.”, the first one answered dryly and that was when Percy decided to open his eyes and join them.
Nico and Jason were having a spectacular view. They sat side by side on the grass, before them the hills of San Francisco Bay and the ocean. The sounds of the waves mixed with the birds and the rustle of the leaves and the grass. Percy sat next to Jason silently but they did not say anything to him for several minutes. The son of Jupiter was the first to speak.
“When I was younger, maybe ten or twelve, I was so afraid I would disappoint the whole Legion. They were my only family at that time and I felt so weak. I did everything I could to be as disciplined and tough as the other Romans, but sometimes I had to run from all these obligations. I used to come here whenever there was a storm. Watching the lightning strike and feeling the wind and storm spirits calmed me down. Later, Reyna would sometimes join me. Not during a storm but whenever the waves were really high. I guess it reminded her of her journey with the pirates.”
“I wish I had a place like this. I used to hide at the banks of the Styx or wherever in the Underworld. I visited graveyards when I didn’t feel like being too close to my father’s reign. And my stepmother.”, Nico said gravely. “Sometimes I still visit cathedrals but it is hard to find a really old building in the states. Europe was much better this way. The churches and graveyards there are, like, ancient. It really anchors me every time I need to clear my head.”
Percy kept silent for another while. After several minutes, he decided to give in. “I used to sit on the bottom of pools or lakes for hours when I was a kid but it never really helped. The only place I know is our little cabin in Mantauk.” He sighed. “How did he do it?”
They knew whom he talked about. “The lares, of course. And, since he’s not counting as alive per se, Terminus.”, Nico answered. Percy nodded and swallowed down hard. Outwitted again. Nothing but a useless, brainless shell of a hero. Nothing but…
Nico’s gaze wandered down to Percy’s shaking fingers. The young man rather gulped his air than breathed and his whole position looked cramped. Nico knew the signs. He had witnessed them more often than not after the Giant War; within himself as well as with other demigods, too. PTSD wasn’t all that new to him, but thanks to Will’s training, he knew how to react now. Their friend had a panic attack from desperately trying to suppress his emotions. Nico’s reaction came instantly.
“Alright Percy, listen to my voice now. Breathe with us, ok? In, out.” He breathed. Jason, suddenly in his ‘alert mode’, breathed along with them. “In, out. Think of nothing but the waves. In, out. That’s it. In, out. Listen to me: There’s nothing bad or shameful about panicking. You’re not alone with this. In, out. No one judges you. We don’t care what happened. We all run away at one point or another. In, out. Come on, relax. Breathe with the waves. There’s no need for repression at this point. We know what it’s like. Come on, Percy.” Short sentences, Will had explained. If you need to reach someone through an attack, always be short and clear. And patient. Let them come to you. He already missed the healer’s relaxing presence.
Percy really had tried to stick with Nico and his instructions but wasn’t able to let go. Suddenly, his emotions flooded him like a storm and all he knew was that there was nothing more comforting than Jason’s strong arms when you transformed into a sobbing mess. Gods, he was pathetic.
The son of Jupiter, although slightly overwhelmed, held his friend with all his might. He made soft soothing noises while his hands patted Percy’s back. “Hey man, don’t worry, it’s gonna be alright. Believe me, I know it’s hard.”
“Yeah, but you are a strolling example of ‘How it’s done’ while I’m like the embodiment of ‘How to fail’.”, the black-haired boy gasped between his sobs. “I can’t do this anymore”. He declared. “Being all strong and relaxed and funny. I’m not a machine. I still have nightmares and everyone expects me to be as carefree as a dolphin.”
“Then don’t be.”, Nico said simply. Percy shot him a questioning glance through his red-rimmed eyes. Jason frowned. “If you don’t feel like acting happy, then don’t. If you don’t want to play hero, don’t. There’s no need to do thing out of conscientiousness.”
“But there’s nothing else I have! What else would I be good for if not for that?”, Percy interrupted.
Jason shook his head. “I used to ask myself the same thing. Actually, I still do. Act strong, show no weakness. Keep within my walls.” – “Me, too, well most of the time.” – “Thanks, Nico. See, Percy, even though you think that I am like ‘the golden boy’ or something, I have to work very hard to appear at least a little normal. My grades are ok, but I have next to no leisure and sometimes I feel like I’m about to explode. I know for a fact that you need your time to relax and chill – that’s your personality and not your fault. I’m the determined, all-controlling type, and yeah, maybe that’s from my father. But you, you are like water – constantly moving, always finding a new path, going with and against the flow whenever you feel like it. It’s ok not to be the striver.”, he assured.
“He’s right.”, Nico agreed. “There’s not much for me to add except for that: We all push ourselves beyond our limits from time to time. That’s a Big Three thing, I guess. Always wanna be better, faster, stronger than everyone else.” Percy gave a grim chuckle. Jason went on. “But there’s no reason to assume that you’re a failure when you don’t archive an unreachable goal. So, what’s really the matter with you?” They sounded as sincere as true friends. And, in Nico’s case, a therapist. Percy briefly wondered what Will made the teen do while chaining him to the infirmary. But he didn’t need a shrink. All he had wanted was solitude and damn the gods if he wouldn’t get it!
“I don’t know and I really don’t wanna talk about it. Look, I really appreciate your efforts and your care. But that doesn’t change anything. I’m still a loser. I’m still a failure. I’m still unable to make a living. No offense, guys, but if you don’t mind I’d like to keep running away now. I love you, seriously, and you’re my best bros but I can’t deal with this shit in my head anymore.” He rose and turned to leave his dumbfounded friends. Jason closed his hand around Percy’s wrist. “Not happening, Perce. We won’t accept you leaving.”
His face was splashed wet in an instant and he let go in surprise. “Jason, buddy, I’ll be leaving no matter what. If you don’t let me, I’ll fight you.”, Percy threatened but his voice sounded more apologetic than anything else. He’d be reluctant to fight.
“Both of us? You really think we couldn’t stand our ground against you?”, the blonde asked. “I didn’t say that. I’m not aiming for defeat but escape. That should be possible, even against the both of you.”, Percy insisted.
Nico sighed. “I wish I would not have to do this, Percy, I really do.” He raised his hands and called six armed skeleton warriors. They kept the son of Poseidon occupied long enough for the Ghost King to cloud a mist of sleep and deep dreams around Percy. His movements became gradually sloppier and slower. “CHEATER!”, he yelled furiously. He still managed to cut through all of the bone soldiers, but when Percy turned again towards his friends, he found himself unable to keep his eyes open for another minute. For the second time in less than twenty-four hours, he fell asleep.
Chapter 7: Girl's talk
“I can’t believe this. I cannot lose him. Piper, what have I done? Oh gods, it’s always the same, whenever I…” Annabeth’s words were covered by her whispered sobs. The daughter of Aphrodite patted her friend’s back while she held her. It wasn’t easy since Annabeth was truly clingy when she was upset. Unfortunately for Percy, it’s nearly only then., Piper thought.
“Annabeth, you know he didn’t leave you. He left his life. He gave up himself, not you or your love. Especially not his love for you, quite the opposite – he’s convinced that you’ll have an easier and happier life without him. In his very seaweed-brainy way, he tells you that you are more important to him than his own happiness.” Rachel and Hazel nodded. They sat on the couch while Annabeth and Piper were clustered together on the floor. Reyna, who had chosen to take over the voice of reason in the scenario, tutted from her chair. “Suddenly I feel so much better to not have a man by my side.”
“Not helping”, Hazel hissed. “And you spend more time with Frank than I do.” She had fought her slight jealousy quite successfully ever since Frank had become praetor but that didn’t mean that it did not show from time to time. As soon as she realized, she blushed. “I mean, you’re not alone, like, well, the hunters or the Amazons.”
“Right.”, Reyna had to suppress her smirk. “Annabeth”, she said to the blonde, “haven’t you felt your relationship to Percy shift in the last months? Thinks like that don’t usually arise overnight.”
Piper hung her head. Of course, instead of calming her down, the Latina just had to stress her further. Annabeth shrugged. “I don’t know. I was so busy with my work and my courses and he was busy with his studies…Oh dear, I wanted to learn with him! I wanted to tutor him but whenever I came home, he was already done and mostly sleeping.”
Her Cherokee friend listened attentively. “Tell me, if you have forgotten that, how about you other activities? I thought Percy was quiet clingy when it comes to physical attention.” Annabeth blushed and sobered up immediately. “He…he tried. But I was so fixed on my work and everything, I don’t even remember when…” Her brain tried to recapitulate their last romantic evening. “Maybe…five months? Take or give a few weeks? Dear gods, he must have felt so rejected!” She cried even harder after that realization. “Why didn’t he tell me?”, she asked the other girls.
Rachel seemed the only one to reluctantly answer. “Erm, Annabeth, no offense, but when your mind is otherwise busy, you are, well, a little…”
“Rude? Short-tempered? Offensive? Heartbreakingly abrasive?”, Reyna suggested.
“…intimidating.”, Hazel interrupted. “Don’t be rude.”
“I’m honest. There’s no need to sugarcoat this. The question is, if she loves Water Boy and he loves her, why doesn’t it work? I mean, they’re perfect for each other. They’ve been through literal hell. I don’t know how much more it’s supposed to take for the Fates to bless them.”
“I know, right.”, Annabeth said in a small voice. “I know that I can’t live without him, and he needs me but sometimes it feels like we need each other too much and then none of us can make the first step and handle the situation.”
“In other words, you need help.”, Hazel summarized. Annabeth seemed offended, so she quickly went on. “That’s what we’re here for, you know. We want to help you. We want to see you happy. There must be a way. We’ll find it and we’ll help you make it work.”
Rachel agreed. “That’s right. Come on, let’s have a hot chocolate and wait until the others arrive. It’s no use to sit here all day and weep. She sat down on the floor and stroked the blonde’s head. “Don’t be desperate. You have mastered so many obstacles, this is just another quest.”
She and Hazel helped Annabeth getting ready for departure while Reyna excused herself because of her praetor duties. Piper stayed back in the living room and tidied up. She thought about herself and Jason and how much they were in love but sometimes, too, unable to just ‘click’. It was funny, really, just in the amount Annabeth and Percy were too reluctant and reserved towards each other, Jason and herself were too dominant. They both loved, and also needed to control the situation, even if in very different ways, whereas Percy and Annabeth had always had wanted to eventually be able to let go. Hang on, Piper thought. Maybe that could be the solution…
The room was certainly not made for that many people. Annabeth, Piper, Rachel and Hazel were sitting on a wide leather armchair; Leo and Calypso were crammed into another smaller one. Reyna, Jason, Frank and Nico were occupying the wooden chairs on the table and then, in the love seat, there still were –
“Mom? Paul? What are you doing here? Where’s Penny?” Percy gulped. Now that he was awoken and only half-mad at Nico and Jason for bringing him here, there were obviously enough brain cells unoccupied enough to feel ashamed and scared when meeting all the people he’d meant to leave at once in one tiny conference room.
“She’s still asleep. The long journey really wore her out.”, Sally smiled and rose from the loveseat. “Hey, sweetie. Grover sends his love but he unfortunately couldn’t come with us. Important duties with some nymphs I daresay.”, she said and hugged her son tightly. “I’m sorry it took us so long since the last visit. Are you alright?” Her concern increased the guilt Percy felt deep inside. “Yeah, no, I don’t know. It’s ok that you weren’t around, I mean, you totally busy with Penny and your jobs and all the other shenanigans. I didn’t…I mean, I wasn’t…”, he told her.
“We read your letters”, Annabeth interrupted him. Her eyes were quite red-rimmed and puffy. Percy didn’t dare to withstand her gaze longer than a moment even though her voice was very calm. “Look at me, Percy. It’s ok. We – I – understand. The last few weeks and months were hard on you. I was too busy otherwise. Your parents are as far away as anyone else and you never were the type to ask for help if you could avoid it. No one’s here to judge you.”, she said. “We’re here to apologize.”
“What? Why would you do that?”, Percy demanded, much more aggressively than intended. “I mean, I’m the one who did shit, I’m the runaway loser – why would any of you….this doesn’t make sense.”
“It does.”, Hazel answered back. “We are one family: the seven, Nico, Calypso, Reyna, your parents. We’re supposed to look after each other and we didn’t. So we decided to make amends.”
“That’s B.S.”, Percy bellowed. “I’m running away and you guys are sitting here apologizing. That’s not how it’s meant to be, seriously.”
„No one cares about serious right now, Percy.”, Nico exclaimed with an eye-roll. “We do care about you and the way you are sabotaging yourself because you think that people were better off without you!” He sounded quite bitter. “I absolutely understand that feeling of inadequacy but it’s all in your head. You’re not expendable.”
“Oh, please”, Percy interrupted. “Name one thing, aside from fighting that makes me uniquely special. I am nearly too old to still go on quests or wars and anything water-related is not as special at all!” Reyna looked like she wanted to stop his speech but he shut her up with a raised hand. “And, all in all, my academic achievements aren’t so thrilling so we can scratch that from the positive column as well. There’s just no career for a phase-out demigod.”
“Are you quite done, sweetheart?”, his mother asked. “Or do you want to continue that nonsense for some more minutes?” Reyna chuckled at that.
“I am aware that you are struggling, sweetheart, but you’re exaggerating it with the self-criticism.” Annabeth nodded. “You never saw yourself clearly, what a great and talented person you are.” Percy shot his mother an unbelieving look. She didn’t even flinch. “Come on, sweetie, we both know you would’ve had plenty other opportunities. Think of Mr. Buchermore, for example.”
“Who?”, Frank asked. “That name kind of rings a bell.”
“That is entirely possible.” Sally agreed. “He’s a son of Ares, but he fought in so many wars during his service that he became an inspiration for worriers everywhere, probably in New Rome, too. Well, technically, he’s Lieutenant Commander Buchermore – he’s a well-known personality within the US Navy.”, she explained. “We met him before Percy graduated and he desperately wanted to recruit Percy.”
“What kind of desperation are we talking about?”, Reyna digged deeper.
Instead of Sally, Paul answered. “Well, he paid daily visits to our school and even waited for Percy on his way home. He offered him a really generous payment and a specially designed mentoring program with fantastic promotion prospects. He even tried to lure him with gifts, but he always had to leave with a ‘No, thank you’. After two months, he gave up but told Percy that he’ll always be welcome to make a career within the Navy.” The way he said it sounded really proud.
Percy rolled his eyes. Jason, Reyna and Frank seemed more than a little affronted by that story – they probably wouldn’t have said no to such an opportunity. Annabeth, as well of the rest of the girls, frowned and Nico looked even a little disgusted by so much intrusiveness. “Of course I turned him down; it would’ve been fatal for the Navy if I had joined.” Leo snickered while everyone else still seemed doubtful. “Yeah, I can totally see that. Percy, war hero and leader, has to submit to some upstarted excuse of a superior. I mean, come on, you’re not the guy to stand still and keep their bunks in order or, gods forbid, follow stupid orders.”
The son of Poseidon smiled. “Thanks, man. That’s what I thought.” Nico encouraged his decision as well. “You’re really not the disciplined type, Percy, no offense.” He turned to Jason. “That’s more your kind of thing.”
“Oh my gods, I can totally see that.”, Piper laughed. “Imagine all the order, comradery and drills you would be forced to face, Sparky.” Jason blushed. “Nothing wrong with liking things sorted and organized.”, he defended himself.
“Alright, alright.”, Annabeth interrupted. “Aside from the fact that you never told me how much that guy wanted to recruit you, I absolutely support your decision. It was the most logical thing to do, Percy even if your life would have been much more convenient had you agreed.”, she sighed.
Percy nodded and clenched his fists. “Yeah, great, the first time in my life I didn’t jump the easiest way.”, he said sarcastically. He sounded so nauseated by himself that all the people in the room were staggered.
Hazel was the first to answer. “Percy, I don’t think you ever chose the easy option. Do you know why I trusted from the very first day we met? When even you didn’t know who you were?” Percy shook his head. “You could’ve easily chosen to be the golden hero from the start. Reyna and many others would have supported you in every way but you didn’t even ask, didn’t even consider going the easy way. From what you told me, I guess you never chose the obvious. Your complete distrust of unobstructed solutions and your distaste of doing things ‘the easy way’ made me trust you from the very start.”, she declared. “It makes you so much more a wonderful person than you could think of. Even though your decisions are somewhat related to proving other people wrong.” Her smile grew even wider.
Percy, although usually rarely self-conscious, had blushed furiously at her declaration. “You have a way with words.”, he mumbled and dropped to the floor. He hugged his knees and looked more vulnerable than ever before.
“Yeah”, Leo mock-agreed. “She made it sound like thirties’ poetry.”
“No mocking people with outworn terminology.”, Nico hissed. “We are at least able to talk without stupid abbreviations or swear words.”
“OMG, Death Boy, lol.”, Leo deadpanned. Calypso rolled her eyes and got her shoulders patted in mock-pity by Rachel. “Don’t act all P.O.’ed on modern times.” That got a faint smile out of Percy.
Nico took a deep breath and added: “Hazel’s right, though. You’ve been struggling with normalcy all your life. You always tried to fit in when, let’s be honest; your life would be so much easier if you didn’t constantly deny your nature.”
Reyna frowned. “What nature would that be?”
Nico blushed. “Well, he’s made for fighting, for instant reactions and reckless maneuverings. He’s like water, always on the move – he can’t simply try to live a mortal life without struggling.”, the Italian explained. “I’ve been trying the same and it never worked. Will’s made me understand that that’s the main reason for depression: If you are overburdening yourself without accepting the possibility of failure while never expecting to truly succeed…how to you expect your mind to react towards such an attitude?”, he asked. Hazel suddenly hugged him “Remind me to send Will a flower bouquet.”, she cooed. “He’s doing an incredible job on you.”
Annabeth rose from her seat and sat down next to Percy on the floor. “I think I never told you how much I admire you for all those qualities that you think are worthless.”, she whispered. “Percy, you are the bravest, the most selfless and strong-minded person I know. Of course there are also your good looks.”, she teased and kissed his cheek. ”Believe me, we’ll figure your courses out and you will get that degree. Just be patient, Seaweed Brain. I know it’s not easy but we’ll find a way, I promise.” Finally, he leaned in and they sat cuddled, side-by-side with his head on top of hers. Sally’s smile would have lit the room had she been a daughter of Apollo.
“Anyway, Percy, as much as I’d like to spend the day praising your character and talents,” Jason interrupted the harmony, “we should get to the point. What is it that you fear so much that you would throw away everything you’ve worked so hard for?” His tone did not allow evasion. Paul raised his eyebrows.
“I like that guy. Straight to the point. Forward like a predator and immediate like lightening.”, he summarized into his wife’s ear. “But I don’t think there’s a career as a therapist waiting for him.”
Percy’s body language had gotten very defensive after Jason’s words. “I’m so sorry that my insecurities cause you so much bother.”, he mumbled. Jason held his hand up in defense. “I didn’t mean it like that, Perce – ”, but he wasn’t to continue his sentence. “I mean”, Percy said, “how could I not be anything but a fierce, confident and strong, well-behaved warrior when all my life some gods or teachers or bullies or my beloved step-father told me I’m a waste of space? I’m not sure what boosted my ego more; the fact that he beat the living crap out of me when I so much as breathed in his living room” Sally winced “or the fact that I let him take out his anger on me to protect my mom when she did the same and he used us against each other? I mean, I wasn’t even a threat to him, I never did anything at all and he still – ”, he trailed off and subtly brushed his fingers across his eyes. His mother hurried to kneel before him and Annabeth shifted a little so he wouldn’t feel too cornered.
“Oh, sweetheart, you never really understood what Gabe saw in you. What all those bullies saw in you. And, of course, what I could see in you from the moment you climbed out of your cot to warn me that I could burn my hand on the flat iron. “, Sally whispered.
“Aw, he did that?”, Hazel cooed.
Sally sent her son the most tender smile. “I cannot even remember how often. He has always been very protective of me. I know that you don’t see yourself that way, sweetheart, but do you know how many eleven-year-olds ask their mother if she wants them to get rid of her bully-husband?”
“He did?” Jason shot Percy a scolding look; something like ‘we are not meant to misuse our godly gifts on mortals’, whereas Reyna seemed to approve his attempt to keep his beloved family save. “Well, given the circumstances…”
Before Jason or anyone else could argue with her (Frank seemed to agree with Jason whereas Nico quite obviously sided with the female praetor), Sally continued. “He left me the choice.”, she explained. “He was considerate enough to take my dignity into account and then left me the perfect weapon to take care of the situation myself…”, she smiled ironically.
Jason’s eyes were suspicious. “What did you do?”, he asked Percy.
The black haired boy shrugged. “I left Medusa’s head in our flat. And mom was suddenly a super-famous artist for ugly statues.”, he smirked. “Unfortunately”, Sally continued “that talent vanished overnight. A pity, really.”
Paul coughed. “By the way, what happened to the…you know….head.”
“Are you worried about the next time we argue?”, Sally teased. “Better safe than sorry.” Annabeth laughed rather hard at his statement.
Sally continued as if she had never been interrupted. “Never mind. Perseus, you are incredibly strong and resilient, you are so much more mature – when needed – than most fifty-years-olds. You always give that aura of confidence that you can shoulder everything that’s thrown upon you and still stand tall. People that are more insecure or less gifted are of course intimidated by that and try to overpower you, to make you smaller or to at least prove that they have some sort of power of you. I know you are struggling and suffering but someone who’s not familiar with your way of showing it would never guess how much or even if you are – so they either do everything to put you down or they overload you with everything they can’t handle because they think you do.” Percy searched her face and found nothing but love there, even though he had put her through so much. They hugged for a long time.
Paul agreed with his wife. “I talked to you mentor, Chiron, for a while. He’s an incredibly wise man – centaur!”, he corrected himself when Annabeth shot him a look. “He told me about other demigods he taught and their obstacle paths. I always admired you for your ability to still remain so carefree after everything you’ve been through, son.”, he told the flustered boy. “Chiron assured me that your Camp was not only existing to teach you to fight and survive, but also to help each other out. ‘Coping together is always the easiest way to lift the burden’, I think that were his words.” Paul sighed. “As a teacher, and a mortal, I’ve come to admire all of you.”, he told the teenagers. “It is amazing to see you all trying so hard to make a good life when your histories have been so addled.”
“What do you mean?”, Frank asked suspiciously. Rachel snorted. “Really, Zhang? Ok, let’s do a short review on everyone’s history.” She turned her gaze through the room. “Nico” – the teenager flinched – “has lost and forgotten his mom, not to mention around seventy years in history, lost his sister and had to fight two wars while trying to come to terms with being a child of the Underworld. Jason here lost his mom and temporarily his sister as well as his memory and had to shoulder responsibilities ever since. Reyna here” the Latino shot her a warning gaze “had to move about three time over different continents, had to live with a mental father for years and still proved her value as a leader in New Rome. Hazel had an abusive mother –“ “Just insulting.”, the girl mumbled, “and died only to come back to a completely changed world.” – “But at least I had Nico.”, Hazel said. “Without him, I wouldn’t have adapted.” Her half-brother sent her a warm glance.
Rachel continued. “Calypso got punished with about three thousand years of loneliness with occasional heartbreak because her father was on the wrong side of the war. Leo was sent from orphanage to orphanage after his mother’s death – for which he was in no way to blame! – before he even had the chance to learn who he was. Piper tried and failed anything to gain her father’s attention without realizing that her godly power was not helpful in the matter and that was even before she had to decide whether to save the world or rescue her father.” The daughter of Aphrodite let out a tearful laugh. “That sounds pretty harmless in comparison.” Rachel sighed and sipped at her water. “My throat goes dry. Whatever, Annabeth ran away from a not-so-caring-and-more-scared family at the age of seven and lost the people she had bonded with not only once, but twice. So much for trusting issues.” The corner of Annabeth’s mouth went up a little. “Percy, we already know that story, so Frank, your mum died early (what is it with the dying parents?) and left you with and authoritarian grandmother, weird shape-shifter abilities and a piece of wood that could kill you. So, yeah, how can I possibly say that you guys had hard lives – even before the wars.”
In between their silence, Leo grinned. “I don’t know, Dare, sounds like pretty boring and normal childhoods to me. At least we didn’t have to grow up with a rich uncaring dumbass giving us everything money could buy instead of doing something useful with his cash.”, he laughed and Rachel, against her will, joined him.
“This is so messed up.”, Annabeth said. “It’s like group therapy but without a team leader. Or a team, most of the time. I guess we’ll have to make more of an effort to work through it, right?”, she asked Percy, who nodded encouragingly. That is going to be a long way, he decided. But he wasn’t alone in this, nor had he ever been. He looked at all the people in the room. “You know guys, when Rachel just went through the stories; I mean, we all had shitty lives at some point. Maybe I overreacted. I don’t know. What I wanted to say is ‘Thank you all for being here and for helping me.’ You know what you’re talking about and what it’s like and I shouldn’t have let myself go. And thanks for interfering, Frank.”, he told the Canadian.
“You’re welcome, man.”, he hummed.
They talked and talked. After some time, Reyna, Hazel and Frank went back to their duties. Leo and Calypso visited the shops and workshops to buy some things for their own projects while Percy played with his sister. She loved Hannibal, the elephant and Percy loved her innocence and care without knowing what or who her big brother was. By morning, they left New Rome. Nico stayed a little longer – he and Rachel were working through some ancient sheets in the library concerning his duties as Ambassador of Pluto. Both of them buried themselves in enough scrolls to last several months. Only Jason and Piper had decided to stay around for a little longer, which seemed to really help Annabeth and him. Percy wondered if they were up to something. Sometimes, Piper and Jason seemed to be ensnared in a wild discussion about something secret that always made both of them blush. He decides not to be bothered by it, if they’d want him to know, he would.
But, several days after his family’s and Leo’s and Calypso’s departure, he found himself in their living room along with Piper, Jason and Annabeth and had a suspicion that he would soon know more about whatever flustered them so much.
We're nearly at the end of this. It's been a lot talking and psychological analyzing, I'm aware, but that's how I wanted it. Sorry if it's been too much! ;-)
Anyway, one more chapter to follow before I publish the next work - which will be the Percy-and-Jason-encounter. I'm still very much doubting my qualities on that kind of writing (smut) but I love their dynamics and really wanted to try that.
Piper had invited them into the same conference room they had been in earlier this week. Part of the plan was to give everyone the possibility to leave the field if that was necessary – Percy’s and Annabeth’s flat or their hotel room were needed as a resort should things not go the way she planned. Or, should they go better than planned. She had even packed two backpacks should that be the case: one for herself, one for Jason.
“Alright, guys. I’d like to propose something to you, but I need you to listen to me until the end and not interrupt me or assume until I finish.” Piper’s charme-speech was carefully chosen, kind but emphasized and it worked just fine: Annabeth, Percy and Jason seemed more than eager to follow her every word, even if Annabeth and Jason probably would not be even slightly surprised about what she was going to propose.
“First, Percy, I’m really glad you’re staying and I’m proud of you to having been as open and honest with us. That was really brave and mature.”, she praised and the black-haired boy blushed. After the get-together with everyone, he had spent an entire evening with Annabeth and Jason, working on a personalized schedule for a balanced learning-and-leisure-time and for training hours, including regular trips to the beach. Jason also had proposed a schedule for their relationship – regular couple activities like dating, cleaning or learning together. The main result of their talk had been the insight that Percy needed to try being patient with himself and to regularly talk to his friends or family when things got too much for him.
“Even if it’s stupid?”
“Especially when you think it’s stupid!”, Annabeth had declared. “I know I call you Seaweed Brain whenever you say something without thinking twice but you’re not stupid, Percy.” He had shot her an ironic glance. “Really, considering the short time you actually spent in the mythological world you have shown a remarkable comprehension of things.” Jason had agreed with her to Percy’s slight surprise. “You can’t compare that to me or him, Percy”, Annabeth had added when he had tried to disagree. “Jason and I had years and years of time to learn about everything. You never had that luxury and still know a lot. You’re much smarter than anyone usually gives you credit for, alright? Don’t make me admit this again.”
Piper had watched their approach with awe. They had been systematically thorough and deliberate – something neither she nor Percy would have managed in that situation. Although, after their session, she had taken Percy out to relax a little and get a clear head because their double input had seriously caused the need of a comforting counseling that neither Jason nor Annabeth were able to give the way she did.
“I also want to say that I really liked how considerate your reactions were, Annabeth and Jason. I had a feeling that, as a team, we worked quite…harmonic.”, Piper stated carefully.
They nodded. So far, so good. “I always had a…feeling about the dynamics of our little group. It was not only the way Annabeth and I worked together when you were missing, Percy and not only the way you and Jason just clicked the moment you met; even if you were fighting only hours later.” They chuckled. “I also made some other observations.” She sighed. “When we first met, Perce, my thoughts were: Troublemaker. Thank the gods he has Annabeth. She’s probably the only one to get him under control.” Percy grinned but Annabeth only shot her a half-sad-half-amused-smile. “I also thought: He’s just like me; always in a hassle, always in need of someone to put order and control in his life. And then I saw you interacting with Jason and the other way ‘round. And I knew how good it felt when Annabeth and I sorted things out in Sparta and after the Giant War. I most definitely appreciated the way you were able to calm Jason down after Leo had sacrificed.”, she told Percy.
Her eyes found Annabeth’s and she could see that the blond boy had already understood was she was about to tell them. Her eyes were wide but determined and, no matter how possessive the daughter of Athena usually was, she gave Piper an insignificant nod of approval and half of a smirk. I’m in, no matter what. She herself had spent some time preparing Jason for her idea. Ever since they started dating, she had been aware of his preferences, which went both ways. She also knew that this was quite common for demigods – after all, their parents weren’t exactly examples of reservation when it came to that.
Percy scratched his head. “Alright, we are a good team, but I still don’t see the point here, Piper.”
She took a deep breath. “I think that, if we are able to function better on the battlefield and in crisis situations, we could also benefit from teaming up permanently. Every-day-life is really hard on each of us, but together, it could work.”
“I don’t think I can follow. You are not even living in New Rome.”, the son of Poseidon said. Jason shifted uncomfortably. “Well, after our graduation we will. It’s only a few months from now and we could move in together, in a house, for example. We wanted to visit you guys more often anyway, so that would be that.”, he said, carefully avoiding anything that would expand their relationships beyond that. Step by step, she thought.
Percy seemed both delighted and skeptical. “Really? That would be awesome, us together!” Piper smiled. “But wouldn’t we, like, go on each other’s nerves soon? What about, y’know, privacy and stuff? No offense, but I tend to, well…”, he stuttered. “I s-sometimes, not always though, I don’t…”
“Spit it out, Percy, you like to be naked when you’re home.”, Annabeth rolled her eyes.
“I sometimes do wear my boxers!”, he defended himself. It took Piper a lot of self-control not to giggle. Both Jason and Percy had blushed furiously at his comment and it was adorable. Time to inch forward.
“I wouldn’t worry too much about that, Percy – Jason’s not the shy type at home as well. So, if you’re not too shy about it, I guess we’ll live with it.”, she laughed. To her delight, the black haired boy reacted more flustered than ever.
“And what about you? And you, Annabeth?”, he asked the girls, but Piper hardly shrugged. “Percy, we all saw each other in beach wear. Where’ the difference? Or are you jealous anyone else gets to see her?”, she teased. He seemed to consider. “I don’t know. You girls, well, yeah, I’m just a guy like any other when it comes to that. So, no real issues with jealousy, I guess.”, he blushed again and seemed embarrassed. “It’s not like I can imagine Annabeth and Jason to work out that way, anyways. Nor us, to be honest.”, he admitted to Piper.
She nodded. “Me neither. You’re hot, don’t get me wrong. But we’re too much alike, like I said before.”, she reassured. “Just like Jason and I.”, Annabeth added reassuringly. “Two control-freaks with obsessive-compulsive disorder for tidiness and standards.”, Jason laughed. “Yeah, no, I’m already busy enough with myself there.”
Percy’s eyes travelled from one to the other. “Alright, what is it I’m missing here? You all seem to…angle for something. And nobody said anything against….well, the girls or…”, he gulped, “us guys. Seriously, I’m getting suspicious.”
Piper collected her thoughts. It’s now or never. “Well, don’t freak out, Percy, but Annabeth and I…we sort of, already know each other a little more intimate.” He stared at her, unbelieving –
“No, not cheating.”, Annabeth, now significantly blushed, hastily clarified. “It was when you were missing. I nearly lost it from time to time. I missed you so much and I…I wasn’t myself anymore. So, sometimes, Piper would try to calm me down, soothe me with cuddles and light kisses, just so I would sleep or eat.”, She looked down. “We’ve never really…been close in that way. All the way, I mean.” Percy’s face was now a mixture of many, many feelings: Guilt for not being there when his girlfriend needed him, anger at the goddess that did that to them and their situation in general, want for that beauty in front of him, a little jealousy and, admittedly, a slight arousal.
Before he could voice only one of these thoughts, Piper went on. “Jason knew about it, of course.” The blond nodded. “We talked about this before anything at all happened and he assured me that he was ok with it. Nothing happened since the moment we knew that you were alive, of course. But there’s no good in pretending that we didn’t feel…well attracted towards each other.”
Percy looked as if a Hyperborean had frozen his brains. Shaking his head, he seemingly tried to make sense of everything. “So, you say that living together would mean to agree that Annabeth and you would, like, fool around from time to time – “ “Only if you were alright with that”, Annabeth interjected.
“I’m not yet sure.”, Percy frowned and bit his lip. “The image is hot, really, but wouldn’t that leave Jason and me…watching you like some cheap porn? Would you really want us guys drool at your feet and…alright, I think you get the picture.”, he cut himself off. His three friends started to laugh at his awkwardness.
“Percy, don’t be ridiculous, you would never be able to keep your hands to yourself.”
He blushed even further. “So you’re proposing what – all of us? Like…erm, well…”
“A Foursome?”, Piper smiled. “Maybe, sometimes.” He coughed. “I think I need to explain things just a little more. Mostly, I think, living under a roof still means each couple would be for themselves: You and Annabeth, Jason and me. We would share meals, spend time; help each other – everyday stuff. From time to time, if we’re all in the mood, we might get down all together, just for the fun of it.” Piper got an very intense emotional feedback from the other boy: Percy could feel his face burn and tried to desperately keep his groin from filling at the idea. She usually shunned down other people’s emotions since they were private, but today, she wanted to know what was going on within him.
She was a little anxious when she went on. “But if we like, or if the other partner is too busy or too stressed or anything, then we might sexually split the couples. Us girls and…well, you get the idea.”
“Whoa!”, Percy stood now. “Whoa, whoa, whoa – are you, I mean, this is…come one, you can’t…Jason, buddy, aren’t you going to…oh.” Piper could practically feel his thoughts whirling: Suddenly it all made sense. The secrecy. The looks. Jason’s quietness throughout this discussion and his now very red face. Or the fact that he suddenly wasn’t able to look at Percy anymore. He seemed more than a little embarrassed now that his friend had reacted both shocked and depreciative and – Piper could feel that, too – Percy felt bad for his behavior once more. But still, the idea of them, Jason and him, wasn’t that – what did he feel towards the son of Jupiter? The more important question in his head was: What did Jason feel towards him? At least she thought that this was what was going on. His sudden nervousness, paired with insecurity and confusion towards Jason especially…
“Percy, you don’t have to if you don’t want to.”, Piper explained with a small plea. “No one’s going to force you to do anything. It was just…a proposal.” Jason looked even worse now.
The son of Poseidon took a deep breath. “It’s ok, you just surprised me, that’s all. I…it’s a bit much, you know. I never really thought about anyone else than Annabeth – not even Rachel and Calypso.” His girlfriend looked so absolutely pleased that he was nearly proud of himself. “And, if I really didn’t even think about other girl – how would I have thought about other guys, no matter how build they are?” His gaze found Jason’s involuntarily and their eyes locked. There was a lot of emotion in them and Piper knew that Percy would never have guessed for his friend, his bro, to look at him like that.
Then, the blond buy rose from his chair and slowly walked towards him but leaned against the opposite wall. They were still separated by several feet. “I’m sorry to spring this on you like that. I know it’s confusing. I only ever talked about my sexuality with Piper and it took me months to admit that I like guys as well as girls.”, he sighed.
Percy nodded. “So, you’re bisexual, then?” – “U-hu.” – “And that’s…common with demi-gods?” – “So I was told.” The dark haired boy moved his head from side to side. “I don’t know. I never…ugh. I think you’re good-looking. I like fighting with you. I like when you take charge and I like spending time with you, Jason.” The other boy smiled fondly. Piper rolled her eyes when Jason answered: “I think you’re good-looking, too.”
Percy’s eyes went to the floor. “Thanks, I guess.”, he murmured. “I still don’t know if I’m into guys or anything, but I’ll think about it.” He eyed the room with uncertainty – as if he wasn’t whether he should leave now or not. Piper’s eyes connected with Jason’s and her boyfriend seemed as lost as she was. When Percy made a move to go, Jason found his determination once more.
“How about we tested it?”, Jason suggested in haste and his voice made Percy’s skin tingle. Both Piper and Annabeth had shifted close to each other and now followed their every word and move with eagerness. Jason made another step in Percy’s direction and the latter moved backwards until his back was pressed against the wall. “N-now?”, he squealed. Jason sent him a gentle smile “Why not? Too chicken?”, he teased.
Percy bit his lip. He looked at Jason’s mouth, with its distinct shape and the little scar that was so inviting to caress. Suddenly it seemed like a nice idea to kiss another guy, if not freakingly terrifying at the same time. But if he backed out now, he’d never hear the end of it. Or maybe he’d regret it. One way or another, Percy decided to simply jump in at the deep end. Sea green eyes found striking blue ones and once Percy had given a tiny nod, Jason closed their distance.
It was a strong kiss, firm but gentle – just as Jason. His determination was staggering and Percy went right with it. Gone was every thought about maybe not being into guys or maybe not liking to be overwhelmed by somebody else. Nothing mattered except for Jason’s wonderfully purposeful lips and his careful tongue that teased his mouth just within a hint. And then, suddenly, there were two strong hands around his waist. Between the wall and Jason’s firm body, Percy felt like he was melting; and maybe he was, because his brain had seemingly turned into something liquid. His own callous fingers got lost in the blond hair and he sighed into their touch. Alright, he was a mess against the wall.
Jason seemed to smile, his lips widened, and their encounter got even more eager. Teeth nibbled on Percy’s upper lip and he doubted he would’ve been able to stop had not a giggle from the other side of the room interrupted the pair of them.
“Wow, boys, leave a little for later.”, Piper laughed. They separated and Percy made noise of embarrassment. He hid his face in his hands. “Gods, did that just really happen?”
“Well, either this or your brain has a really convincing virtual reality.”, Annabeth deadpanned and hugged him. “I’m glad you didn’t flip out. It really was a sight.” She grinned at his blush. “So, what do you think, Percy?”
The dark haired boy took a deep breath to steady himself. “I don’t know. It was…good, I guess.” Jason raised a doubtful eyebrow at him. “Maybe great, alright?”, Percy barked a little annoyed. “Better than I thought anyway.” He tried to calm down his nerves and sent Jason a frown. “I’m glad I didn’t chicken out, alright?”, he assured. “But that doesn’t prove anything. It was just a kiss and I did not dislike it.” He crossed his arms.
“Yeah, me too.”, the other boy told him with a hidden grin. “I didn’t even expect this to happen.” His smile widened. “It did feel great, you know. I mean, I didn’t even know Piper would suggest it today. She didn’t say so when she told about talking to you.”, he stated with enthusiasm but Percy suddenly felt…well, betrayed. His face fell.
“So, you’re saying that you all knew about this…idea…all along? I was the only one that didn’t?”, his voice was surpringsingly calm and steady. “You had a nice heart-to-heart about my sexuality before even considering talking to me?” Annabeth started to fidget and shook her head in half-denial. Piper looked shocked at the turn of their discussion.
Jason bit his lip but otherwise stood his ground. “Percy, we did not talk about this behind your back. Piper and I had a lot of heart-to-hearts about my situation and our sexual relationship in general. I knew about the girls before. We weren’t planning or plotting anything. It’s just…”
“Piper and me already knew how we stand towards each other.”, Annabeth continued. “We assumed that Jason would be ok with it. There was simply no need to talk about before.”, she said calmly.
“But that doesn’t change the fact that you guys were hiding all of this from me. I’d maybe like to have known about you girls. I’d maybe like to have considered my sexuality. And maybe”, Percy was shaking with an effort to keep his voice down “I’d like to have known that you weren’t entirely happy with our bedroom activities. I don’t know why you didn’t even include me in these kinds of thoughts!”, he told his girlfriend and distanced further from her.
Annabeth’s eyes filled with tears now. “Percy, I’m truly sorry. And there never was anything wrong with us, you have to believe me. I just never expected this to ever be an issue anymore – Piper and I decided to make a clean cut once we knew you were alive, I promise!” She sounded desperate. “And after our discussion with everyone – when we realized how ensnared our situation is – we had some sort of nonverbal consensus.”
Jason tried to help her. “Come on, Perce, you don’t have any reason to feel betrayed. We didn’t plan any of this, ok?” He touched the other boy’s shoulder. “Why don’t we just calm down a little. You take a little off-time and think about it, alright? We all understand that you’re confused, so it’s ok to just…take time to sort your thoughts. If you need any help figuring things out again, I’d gladly volunteer.”, he flirted. Obviously, that had been the wrong thing to say. Percy shoved him away.
“Great, wanna do it right here on the floor, Grace?”, Percy hissed sarcastically. “Want me to lie down and spread my leg so you could live your fantasies?” Jason stumbled backwards. “Percy – I didn’t mean it like “ – “No! You said enough.”, the son of Poseidon hushed him. “I don’t understand you guys. How can you be so casual about this?”, he finally asked them.
Piper made a move between a considering head shift and a shrug. “Maybe because it isn’t not normal. We’re Greek and Roman descendants, living our sexuality like that shouldn’t be that alienating to anyone. Maybe, Percy, if you really would try it out, you would get all the doubts out of your system, you know. Even if it doesn’t lead to anything,…” Her suggestion sounded pretty innocent but Percy immediately jumped and ran towards the door.
“Percy, man, please don’t run now. Talk to us. What’s your real problem here?” Jason tried to stop him, but Percy simply wriggled free. “I don’t even know what I feel or how to feel about any of this and you all just behave like this is totally normal and easy when I don’t even understand why you even would…”, his voice sounded a little teary now. “Just leave me alone.” The door clicked.
A collective sigh left the remaining three demigods. “That went well.”, Annabeth’s irony had not suffered from their encounter, that much was for sure.
“I wonder what he was going to say in the end. ‘I don’t even understand why you even would…’”, Piper recited. “I bet he was going to say ‘like me’ or something. He’s still pretty down and self-conscious, isn’t he?”
“But he said he liked the kiss.”, Jason provided unhelpfully. “Why does he run now?”
Piper sighed. “Jason, he’s maybe not ready yet to accept that side of him. Or he’s still thinking he’s not good enough for anyone. Maybe he’s also jealous about the whole me-and-Annabeth-act, not to mention the image of the four of us together, which would be understandable at least. And we have to consider that he might not be eager to face in what way he likes you or not. He has to deal with all of this at once. I’m not sure if it’s good to let him alone with his thoughts right now. Maybe it was wrong to corner him like that.”
Jason seemed hesitant. “D’you think it would be alright if I followed him? I don’t want to seem obtrusive.” He twisted his fingers. “Will he even listen to me?”, he asked the girls. His anxiety washed over Piper. She knew he felt bad.
“It depends.”, she answered. “What are you trying to do?”
Jason shrugged. “Talk to him. Comfort him. Explain how much I like him, and why. I don’t want him to fell…well, unwanted. I’m not really sure.” He said with hesitance, but Piper nodded in approval.
“Just don’t molest him, alright?”, she advised. “He might think you want to prove him wrong on purpose.”
“Why would I want that?”, Jason asked. “I already admitted that I sort of fancy him. How much more vulnerable could I make myself?”
The daughter of Aphrodite nodded. “I see your point. Still, he might be too distracted to do so.”, she explained. Then, Annabeth went to stand right in front of Jason with arms crossed. “I expect you to make him see reason, Grace.”, she said with only half-mocked sincerity. “But don’t break his skull. I know he’s a pigheaded idiot sometimes, but I’m rather fond of him. As are you, right?” The daughter of Athena got Jason’s backpack from the corner of the room and handed it to him. “Piper and I will be sleeping in your hotel room tonight. Maybe all Percy needs is a little proximity to better understand his feelings.”
Jason frowned and took his backpack. “So you’d basically allow me to seduce him if he isn’t opposed?” The girl just smirked and led him towards and out of the door. Piper kissed him goodbye and whispered “Good luck.”
“Go get him, Grace.”, was all Annabeth said when he saw her off. And, with all available funds, he would.
Aaaaaaand - done! The next part of this will be posted soon and it will be my first explicit story. Wish me luck ;-)