|Palace of Memory
Author: Scion of Kushiel PM
Unable to sleep, Percy decides to finally ask his father some hard questions, never thinking that the answers might surprise him. One-shot, COMPLETE, Spoilers through end of series, please R&R.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Family - Percy J. & Poseidon - Words: 8,046 - Reviews: 90 - Favs: 352 - Follows: 37 - Published: 02-18-10 - Status: Complete - id: 5758583
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: I unfortunately do not own Percy Jackson or any of the rights therein. I just do this for fun, I do not make money off of it.
A/N:So I absolute love the series, but this is my first fic for it. Please (please!) leave a review and tell me what you think.
Palace of Memory
Percy rolled over in his bunk, punching his pillow to change its shape, and laid back down. Sleep still didn't come. He'd been tossing and turning all night; the sheets were twisted into a tangle of thin ropes that pulled at him as he shifted position. He was pretty sure the blanket was somewhere over by the fountain, if not actually in it.
Sighing, he sat up and rubbed at his dry, stinging eyes. He called over some water from the fountain, the cool salt water helping a little. Part of him wondered if that was just because it was him- a son of Poseidon- or because his eyes really were just that dry. He'd had sleepless nights before, nights where the ADHD overcame the weariness. Entire nights of fidgeting non-stop, the body not quite capable of being still long enough for sleep to come. Entire nights where the thoughts went spinning in every direction, never quite leaving his mind in peace.
He'd thought- or perhaps just hoped- that those nights would be fewer in number once the summer started and the camp filled. He lived at Camp Half-Blood year-round now as a counselor; eight beads hung on the leather cord around his neck. Percy left often enough for small visits; his mother and Annabeth lived in New York. Annabeth at least came back for summer, also as a counselor, but during the year she went to school in pursuit of her dream of being an architect.
Percy hadn't really had any specific dream to pursue. What he knew best was training. So he trained, always seeking to improve his own skills and walking others through the steps to improving theirs. He was still rubbish at archery, though he kept trying; in a pinch, it would be nice not to have to depend on a god paying attention for a lucky strike. He rode and groomed Blackjack, and when he taught others the smaller tricks of flying, he tried not to think of Silena, who'd been the best of all of them in the air.
Instead, he usually focused on Thalia, the daughter of Zeus who was terrified of heights. And when others asked him what he was grinning about, he just shook his head and didn't answer. Friend or no, Thalia would in fact kill him if he let her secret slip.
Carefully unwinding the net of sheets, Percy tried to get his tired mind to settle on some task. He couldn't go visit Mrs. O'Leary while the rest of the camp was sleeping; her joyful bark would have everyone awake and complaining. As tired as he was, he didn't think archery or swordplay would be a good idea. He'd probably just end up hurting himself. Blackjack would be sleeping after a long day of first-time fliers- there were so many of them now, and more coming all the time.
So far, the gods had kept true to their promise. Just as other cabins were being built in a ring around the main twelve, so smaller thrones had been created within Olympus, circling the room like a coliseum. More and more half-bloods found their way to camp, some in the company of satyrs, some clutching a small business card with the harried, frightened expression that usually came of outrunning monsters you didn't believe existed. Not all children were claimed immediately; Percy had said by the thirteenth birthday, and many were content to wait for that deadline before acting. But there was also a cabin specifically for the undetermineds, no longer shoving them all in together with Hermes. True to the agreement, the only one in that cabin above the age of thirteen was the counselor, one of the older daughters of Demeter who liked to mother anyone and anything that would let her.
Okay, fine, so getting thoughts to settle was a lost cause too. He stood and tossed the sheets back on the bed, pulling on his jeans and orange camp T-shirt. His sneakers followed; Ares and Apollo cabins had been fighting again, and he wasn't entirely sure they'd gotten all the broken glass up. Just because he could heal the cuts by stepping into water didn't mean he wanted to shred his feet on the way there.
He glanced again the fountain, the basin glowing sedately in a queer shade of green. He hadn't recognized that color until he'd seen his father's palace for the first time; it was the same shade as Greek Fire burning underwater, the emerald softening to a jade. It was there so he could keep in touch with people, send and receive Iris-Messages, which were so much safer for half-bloods than using cell phones. There had been other sleepless nights that he could blame on the fountain, like when Bianca di Angelo had sent him collect messages showing him what her brother was up to.
But the fountain was quiet, only the soft gurgling of the device, and no rainbow mist gleamed in the spray. No one was trying to message him.
Out of habit, he dropped the bronze pen into his pocket. If he left it sitting on the table, it would still appear in the pocket after a few minutes, but that few minutes could spell the difference between life and death- or at least serious injury- out in the world beyond Camp Half-Blood. It wasn't a habit he wanted to get into, leaving it behind. With another frustrated sigh, he left Cabin Three, weaving through the rings of other cabins.
He paused outside the Athena cabin, looking up at the window closest to Annabeth's bunk. Counselors still stayed with their parent cabins, with the exception of Lavender over with the Undetermineds, but they did their best to give the older ones a little space of their own. Counselors now had small private rooms up on the new second floor, with the campers on the bottom floor. Most of the larger cabins were like that now.
Cabin Three still had only one floor, but even with the Pact of the Big Three broken, it didn't seem like Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades were rushing out to have more kids. Even if the Pact itself was gone, the reasons for it were still true. Their kids were just too strong. There might be a few scattered across the years, but it wouldn't be Heropalooza, as Mister D so supportively referred to his camp. Except when Tyson came to visit, Percy didn't have any roommates, and probably never would.
He thought about seeing if Annabeth was still awake, craning his neck back to study her window. The lamp wasn't on, and neither could he see the faint blue glow that would mean she was studying Daedalus' laptop after lights out. Counselors weren't required to keep the same curfew as the campers, but they didn't tend to stay up too much later during the summer, being just as tired. The only light of any kind that he could see the soft green gleam of the miniature fountain she kept on her nightstand; sometimes they'd talk that way after lights out, both too tired to walk someplace private but still wanting to feel together. It got a lot more use during the year, when she was down in the City for school.
Living with his mother and step-father, in fact. With their combined salaries, Sally and Paul had gotten a four bedroom apartment. Still fairly small, all things considered, but it meant Percy always had a room of his own there- despite how little he got to use it- and that they could offer Annabeth a place to stay during school. Athena had offered her daughter a flat in Olympus while she oversaw the reconstruction, but she'd politely refused. On the surface, her reasoning had been based on school, and perhaps that was partly true. But the larger truth had been a desire to avoid many, many lectures on her mother's displeasure with her choice of friend/boyfriend. Sally and Paul adored Annabeth.
Percy grimaced slightly. It also gave Sally a chance to finally show off those embarrassing baby photos. Annabeth didn't always say which ones she'd seen, but she had a certain sly smile whenever they came up which never made him feel comfortable.
Shaking his head, Percy stuck his hands in his pockets and kept walking. Annabeth had put in a long day, teaching Archery and Ancient Greek. She also sat down with each new camper and told them about their godly parent, and what that would generally mean. Then, when the day was over and all the campers were in bed, she'd labor over designs for Olympus or glean more secrets from the inventor's laptop, studying until her eyes burned with fatigue. Their time together was snatched in moments here and there, a little more on weekends when the camp was less structured. Just because he couldn't sleep didn't mean he needed to deprive her, especially if she was actually managing some.
He wasn't entirely surprised when his steps took him toward the beach. Within the camp, where the magical protections kept everything clean and natural, the briny smell of the sea was light and comforting. He dropped down on the sand, stretching out to look at the stars blazing overhead, and listened to the steady sound of the waves crawling back and forth across the shoreline.
There was the memory of Zoë Nightshade, her essence cast into the sky after her death by her goddess Artemis. He hadn't liked Zoë for much of their short acquaintance, but he'd come to respect her, even admire her in a way. She'd sacrificed everything for her goddess and her companions, and Artemis was one of the very few who could actually recognize that sacrifice and be grateful.
His fingers brushed against the smooth bronze of Riptide in his pocket. It had been hers originally, a gift from her mother back when Zoë had stood with her four sisters in the Garden of the Hesperides. Until she'd fallen in love with a hero and helped him steal a golden apple of immortality, and been banished by her father Atlas for it. That hero, Heracles son of Zeus, hadn't been grateful, or at least not grateful enough, and Zoë had spent two thousand years as Artemis' lieutenant in the Hunt.
The quest with Zoë to save Artemis- or Annabeth, which was why Percy had stubbornly tagged along- had brought him flashes of memory from Heracles' life, and he still hadn't figured out what that meant. Was it just an echo, brought about by the sword and the young woman?
It was Annabeth, unsurprisingly, who had thought up the other possibility. Those who died after living a good life were granted entrance into Elysium, and they could spend eternity there if they so chose, living an afterlife free of pain. But, if they got there and wanted something more, wanted to pursue a paradise, they could choose to be reborn. Those who lived, died, and achieved Elysium three times could go to the Isles of the Blest, which were- as far as Percy could determine- pretty much perfect.
When he told her about the echoes, Annabeth had wondered if Heracles had chosen to try for Elysium, and if he'd been born this time as Percy. After all, Percy was named for another son of Zeus, so such crossover wasn't entirely out of the question. And there had been certain parallels: the snakes in his cradle as a toddler, the Hydra, the Nemean Lion, the Stymphalian birds, the cattle of Geryon, the Erymanthian boar, the cleaning of the stables in a single day…okay, there had been a lot of parallels. Having Anaklusmos and the memories just made it a lot more likely.
Percy wasn't really sure what he thought about the idea of being Heracles reborn. After all, the guy didn't have such a great life. And while Hera currently had it in for Annabeth, she wasn't too fond of Percy either. Too, it was generally hard enough being a demi-god at all. His prophecy was done, and it wasn't clear yet if Rachel's first prophecy had anything to do with him. As far as he was concerned, he'd already saved the world once. Even thinking about claiming to be Heracles reborn seemed like asking for trouble.
Crossing his arms beneath his head, Percy closed his eyes and just listened to the waves, his heartbeat slowing to match the steady rhythm of the water. How many times had he sat like his with his mother at the cabin at Montauk? Those few weekends without Gabe- all the more precious for being so rare- where they'd sit out on the beach, surrounded by water and stars…those were the best moments he could remember before coming to camp.
And he'd always known, somehow, that they were going back to the place she'd met his father. Long before he knew who his father was, long before she'd given him even a hint about the man she'd fallen in love with, he knew. There was something in her eyes, something in the way she looked at the water through the kitchen window of the cabin that told him just how special this place was to her, and it always made him happy that she'd share it with him.
He sat up suddenly, messy black hair falling in his eyes, and stared at the water. It was already so late, almost midnight, and he had to be at the sword ring first thing in the morning, but maybe…
Percy stood and waded into the water, his sneakers and jeans staying dry, and once he was completely underwater he gave a sharp, piercing whistle.
In a flurry of bubbles, a hippocampi appeared and twined around him. It was a strangely beautiful creature, its front half that of a white horse and its back half a glistening, scaled fish with a rainbow tail fin. They served his father and so also served him. This one wasn't Rainbow, the larger one that adored his half-brother Tyson, but it was one he recognized as habitually hanging out in the waters around the camp.
He slid his leg over its back, hands curling into the sea-foam mane. "I need to get to my father's palace," he said, and the creature whinnied ecstatically.
They sped through the water impossibly fast, streaking past wrecks of old boats, ocean ravines, and even stranger creatures. He wasn't entirely sure he'd be welcome, especially unannounced. Poseidon was fond of him, had even once told him he was his favorite son, but the gods didn't always react to their children as humans did.
Plus, if his Poseidon's wife Amphritre saw him…well, she was understandably UN-fond of him. It's probably a bit much to expect your wife to be thrilled about your little bastards hanging around the house.
But he needed something from Poseidon, something that right up until now he hadn't thought of. Was it what was keeping him awake? Possibly. Unlikely, but always possible; half-bloods had strong instincts, even if they didn't always know what those instincts were telling them.
Before too long, he saw the great coral towers of Poseidon's great palace rising in the distance, the tips of the towers topped with huge bronze tridents. A white sand path lined in waving kelp led the way into the structure. Bronze basins mounted on the smooth columns held tongues of Greek Fire, casting a dancing illumination over open archways; everything was open, currents of warmer water circulating through the room like a ceiling fan stirs eddies of air.
He should have been cold. Hell, at that depth he should have been crushed. Being the son of the sea god definitely had its perks.
A dolphin on guard outside the main arch snapped to attention when he saw him. What is your business here? it asked.
Percy understood it in the same way he understood all of his father's creations. "I was hoping to speak to my dad," he answered politely.
He could have sworn the dolphin frowned. "I was not told of a summoning," it fretted.
"I haven't been summoned. That's why I was hoping."
"Wait here," the dolphin told him, clicking voice heavy with disapproval. "I will ask the lord."
He waited. Even ignoring the fact that getting killed by a dolphin would be embarrassing for someone who went head to head with Kronos and survived, he knew better than to barge into a god's home uninvited. You only did that if you had something very, very important to say to them.
Important to them, he corrected himself. It didn't much matter how important it was to you, if it wasn't significant to them, they'd as soon squash you for daring to talk to them as listen. As much as Percy was coming to like his dad, he still wasn't sure Poseidon was all that different. Kronos had only gotten as far as he had because people like Luke had been overlooked and kicked aside.
After a while, the dolphin guard came back, still not looking pleased. "He will see you. Follow me."
Resisting the urge to salute- barely- Percy swam after the guard. He cheated just a little; that dolphin was fast, and seemed to be deliberately trying to leave him behind. So he pushed and nudged a little with the currents, speeding himself up while creating just enough drag on the dolphin that he swum just a foot or so behind.
He thought he was being very subtle about it, but the look the guard gave him made him think it probably realized, and all in all he was grateful to reach the throne room quickly.
Despite the occasional glimpses to the contrary, Percy still tended to think of his father as a younger middle-aged beach bum in Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts. Given that his throne in Olympus was a swivel deep-sea fishing chair, that image didn't waver much in Percy's mind. But the first time he'd come here, deep in the midst of the new Titanomachy when his father had struggled against the most ancient sea deities, he'd looked like an old man, bent and weary.
Now, in the middle of the night, he looked mostly like Percy always thought of him, but more…More something. It had to do with being in his own realm, Percy was fairly sure of that. There was a power to him here that was more subdued up in Olympus, even more so in the kitchen of a New York apartment. It wasn't that there was a doubt of him being a god no matter where he went, but it was more noticeable here in the seat of his power.
Suddenly, and quite irrationally, Percy wondered if his father had finished rebuilding the game room yet, or if it was going to take a full decade like the one that had gotten destroyed during the war.
A look at his father's face and he decided to save that question for another time. Poseidon wasn't angry, but he wasn't pleased either. Neutral, he thought. His father was reserving judgment until he found out why Percy was here.
In an abstract way, Percy knew he and his father looked alike. They had the same messy black hair, vibrant emerald eyes, and deep tan. As far as their features went, though, Percy thought he looked a lot more like his mom. His dad was, as Annabeth put it, ruggedly handsome, his features strongly drawn with deep lines around his eyes and mouth that were equally likely to pull into a smile or a frown. His heavy bronze trident rested easily in his hand; despite its weight he handled it like it was nothing.
"What brings you here, Percy?"
"Um…I was hoping we could talk."
The lines creased down into a frown. "Talk?"
Poseidon lurched forward, knuckles tightening around the shaft of his weapon. "Is she all right?"
"She's fine!" Percy assured him hastily. "I didn't mean talk about her now. Well, now, yes, as in talking now, but not about Mom now, but…"
Well, this was starting well.
Taking a deep breath, he tried it again. "I wanted to talk about you and Mom, back when you first met."
It was perversely comforting to see his father uncomfortable. It made him a little- a very little- more human.
"Ah…" Gripping the edge of his smooth marble throne, Poseidon glanced around the empty room. "Perhaps we should take a walk out of the palace to discuss that," he suggested.
Percy bit back a grin. In other words, away from where his wife might overhear.
Shrinking down to human size, Poseidon led the way out of the arches into open water. With some surprise, he realized his son had grown taller; they now stood eye to eye. Eight years of constant training had given him a strong build and a measure of confidence not found in most twenty year old boys. Small white scars marked his hands and face, and where the gaps in his armor would be. The brown leather cord of his camp necklace covered a thin strip of untanned skin, as did the heavy bronze cuff on his left wrist.
He was pleased to see his son wearing the cuff, though part of him knew that it was also a measure of practicality. He'd thought very hard about Percy's eighteenth birthday, working together with his son Tyson to craft a suitable gift. They'd taken Tyson's wristwatch shield and improved upon it, crafting a stronger shield that incorporated some of the ideas Annabeth had discovered in Daedalus' files. What emerged was a shield that, like Thalia's Aegis, would burst out with a touch and a tap. It was solid workmanship, carved all over not with tales of his accomplishments, but with the symbols of all the cabins he'd helped create, the trident in the very center surrounded by the symbols of each bead on his necklace. As he passed another year, the symbol of the bead would appear on the inner band. The inside of the shield was highly polished; with the right words, it would mimic Annabeth's video shield, and then collapse back into the cuff when it was no longer needed. Like Riptide, it could never truly be lost; if for some reason he took it off his wrist, it would appear back within moments unless he gave permission for Tyson to work on it.
It made sense for Percy to wear it, and his son was too practical not to use such a defensive tool no matter where it came from, but his son's obvious pleasure in it had given him an unexpected warmth. Given the prophecy, he hadn't expected this son of his to reach the age of twenty, but despite the occasional difficulties he produced, he was very proud of the man his son was becoming.
They walked in silence for a time, the water coiling all about them. Strange fish, the kind never seen closer to the surface, regarded them curiously but didn't come too close.
"So what was it you wanted to talk about, Percy?"
"Mom's told me a little bit about when you two met," he said quietly. "I wanted, if you're okay with it, to hear your side."
Poseidon scratched at his beard with one hand, unsure of where to start. Or even what to say when he did start. "I suppose I'm not certain what you're asking, Percy."
Shrugging, Percy stuck his hands deep in his pockets, feeling the reassuring coolness of Riptide. "What made you notice her? What made you love her? Why didn't you stay?"
"That's a lot of questions all of a sudden."
"Dad, we've been dancing around these questions for eight years, ever since I found out about you," he said dryly. "It's far from all of a sudden."
"But why now?"
"I couldn't sleep."
A wry smile tugged at the weathered face. "And your usual answer to insomnia is to swim several hundred miles in the middle of the night to ask highly personal questions?"
Percy just grinned.
Using the staff of the trident as a walking stick, the sea god led them up a steep incline. There were many places alongside of the path where they could have sat down to have this conversation- a comfortable bed of thick kelp, a few boulders with depressions on the top- but he thought they'd both have an easier time of it if they didn't have to look at each other too often. Some conversations, while best done in person, weren't necessarily best held face to face.
"It was right after her uncle died," he said finally, eyes distant with memory. "There was a little money left from his life insurance. Not much, just enough to go to the cabin for a few weeks and pull her thoughts together, figure out what to do next. Not enough to let her go to school. I was on my way back from Olympus when I got notice of a dolphin trapped in a net a mile or two out from shore.
"I got the dolphin loose. May have capsized the boat the net belonged to." He frowned suddenly, scratching at his beard again. "Pretty sure I capsized the boat. At any rate, I took the dolphin into the shallows so she could rest, and that's when I saw your mother."
Percy didn't say anything, just studied the path beneath their feet as he listened intently.
"It was very late at night, a full moon over the ocean, and she sat on the beach writing by the moonlight. She'd write in a frenzy for a few paragraphs, and then she'd stop and scowl at the paper. I was curious as to what she was working on, so I got closer. She was writing a story," he chuckled. "Whenever she paused, she'd read bits out loud to see how it sounded, and she'd change her voice for the different characters if there was dialogue. And sometimes, if she didn't like how something was said or done, she'd argue with it."
"Wait, she argued with her own story?"
His father nodded with a rich, rolling laugh that warmed the water all around them. "If she wasn't happy with it, yes, she'd sit there and argue with it until she found a better way to phrase something, a more natural way for a character to say something. I went back every night for a week, just to hear more of the story."
"Like Peter Pan," Percy murmured.
Poseidon gave him an odd look but didn't comment. "She was beautiful, son."
"Yes, she still is. But you see her as your mother; I saw her as a young woman. That's a very different kind of beautiful, Percy." They topped the incline and continued walking the winding path along the cliff's edge. To their left, the stone dropped sharply into an impossibly deep crevasse. "Her eyes were the color of water, shifting with her mood and the light and what she was wearing. Ocean eyes. That's rare in mortals. And her smile…even then it was easy to see that she didn't smile enough, but when she did…She was beautiful."
"What happened at the end of the week?"
"I finally got the courage to talk to her." He laughed at his son's startled look. "What, did you think because I'm a god I would just barge in?"
"Well…yes?" He gave his dad an apologetic shrug, hands still in his pockets. "I mean, that's how you hear it in the stories."
"Not the ones about me," he muttered. "That's more my brother's style. We can still be rejected, Percy. It's not always wise to do so, especially not in the old days, but sometimes the Mist conceals a little too well."
"But Mom can see through Mist."
"Yes, I found that out the hard way," he agreed ruefully. "I went upshore a ways to take on human shape. I was even careful about my clothing. Then I casually strolled down the beach…and she took one look at me and said 'What ARE you?'."
"What are you?" Percy repeated with a broad grin.
"I stammered something, I have no idea what, something inane I'm sure, and she laughed. I'd never had someone see me so clearly before. Even with my godhood contained, she could still see me for what I was. At first she thought she was dreaming." His mouth twisted into a sardonic line. "After all, the Greek gods don't exist. So that night, I left her with a sand dollar, and told her I'd be back for it the next night."
"Why at night? Why not the next day?"
"Because some things are easier to believe at night, Percy. It's easier to believe that dreams come true, that magic can happen, that gods can be real. And I think she slept through most of the day so she could write all night."
Percy blinked, but slowly nodded. Even on her days off she seemed to prefer writing at night; she said that was when the ideas came more smoothly.
"I went back the next night of course and she just stared at me, the sand dollar in her hand. I was expecting her to scream, or faint, or any of the things most mortals do when confronted with something they can't believe. But she laughed. The next weeks were...they were among the best of my many, many years. She was a lot like you, then; for every question I answered, she'd find twenty more. I felt like I could tell her anything, and did tell her quite a bit more than I should have. During the days I took her sailing, far out to see where the great creatures of the deep come to the surface for sun. And during the nights…well, there are some things you don't need to hear about your mother."
"Thank you," he said quickly.
"There are very few mortal women who have ever been lover to a god and not borne a child," he continued slowly. "It's the reason there are so many half-bloods. So I wasn't surprised when your mother told me she was pregnant. But I was surprised by how happy that made me. Understand me, Percy, I should not have been happy about you," he said gravely. "It was breaking the Pact, an act that could cause war on Olympus once it was discovered, and then there was the prophecy to consider. I didn't know that my brother had already broken the Pact himself, so it seemed likely that I was creating the means for it to come true. I shouldn't have been happy.
"But I was. The thought of being a family with you and your mother…" He stopped at the crest of the cliff, pausing where the path began to wind down again, and pointed out into the valley before them. "Do you see that?"
Squinting through the dark depths, Percy could barely make out lighter shadows in the distance. "Not really."
Poseidon held out the trident and muttered a few words and suddenly the entire valley was lit in a glow as soft as moonlight. At the far end, tucked up against another cliff's edge, stood an elegant palace of gleaming white marble. Dolphins and hippocampi frolicked in the friezes atop the columns and two stone pegasi- one black and one white- stood sentinel on either side of the huge bronze doors carved with tridents. To one side, a garden stood ready to be planted, rich soil soft and turned and already neatly divided into rows.
And the entire structure was contained within a solid shell of air keeping out the sea.
"I asked her to come live with me here," he said quietly, voice deep with old pain. "I've never before extended that offer, my son, and doubt I ever will again. But your mother was so extraordinary to me, I knew any child we had together would be equally so. I wanted you both here, where I could keep you safe. Where my brothers' minions couldn't reach you, couldn't harm you. Where I could protect you from the prophecy."
He fell silent and continued on the path, heading down into the valley towards the palace. Staring at the beautiful structure, Percy had to scramble to catch up.
They were almost to the air bubble before the sea god spoke again. "You judge the gods very harshly, hold us to a very strict standard, and in some ways you're right to do so. We should take better care of our children, we should make sure they at least have our name and access to the camp, if we do nothing else. But sometimes, my son, you hold us to human standards we can never match, because we are not human. We are both more and less, but not human. It is not in our nature to be faithful, not when we live as long as we do. The full range of human emotion is not in our nature, nor is it meant to be."
"What does that mean?" Percy asked sharply.
"Much of the reason humans are so fascinating, so appealing, is how fierce their range of emotion is. They burn so brightly. But that's also why human lives are so short, because they burn bright and fast. That emotion is exhausting, my son. Think back to days where you've experienced many strong emotions in a short span of time; they began to feel like physical blows, did they not?"
Reluctantly, still not entirely understanding, Percy nodded.
"Human emotions are exhausting, as vibrant and wonderful as they are, and those human emotions are what define a hero. But a god's years stretch out eternally. Rage and hatred, those are easy emotions, and don't require much more than pettiness to sustain them, and that I'll admit we have in plenty. Arrogance, pride, jealousy, vanity, selfishness, those too. But the emotions that are so beautifully, exclusively human- love, joy, loyalty, even despair, or sorrow- those aren't in our nature because they burn too bright, take too much. It is why my nephew Dionysus dulls himself with drink," he added, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
Percy made a face before he could stop himself. He'd finally found a working balance with Mister D, one that usually left them both seething, but despite the modicum of respect he made himself have the camp-bound god, he would never like him.
Poseidon simply laughed. "Dionysus is the full range of human emotion, from ecstasy to despair to madness to the untamed ferocity that lies inside all humans. And because of Ariadne, he understands love and sorrow in a way no other god ever will. And it exhausts him. He bears what none of the rest of us can, which is why Hestia gave him her seat on Olympus. Because he is the closest to a human voice we have, and he remembers being human. Think on that sometimes, when the two of you butt heads."
It was probably safer not to comment on that one.
They came up to the air shield and Poseidon used his trident like a key, warping the bubble around them until they were suddenly on dry land thousands of feet underwater. It was beautiful, but Percy couldn't quite imagine his mother living there.
"I asked her to join me here and she said no," his father said simply. "She said she loved me, but an undersea palace was no place for a mortal. I could barely get her to agree to take enough money to cover the bills for the rest of the summer. She's proud, your mother. She didn't want charity."
Remembering how hard she'd worked to provide for them, to never have to take charity, Percy could only nod.
"So we had that summer. I loved your mother, Percy, but in the end, I had to love her enough to let her go. To be the person she needed me to be. Also something I've never before done for a mortal. I prepared her as much as I could, told her about the monsters, about the camp. And I warned her that if she wouldn't live with me here under the sea, I would have to stay away entirely. I couldn't lead them to you, couldn't let them find out about you."
Percy stared at him, emerald eyes wide. "That's why you stayed away?"
"It was the only other way to keep you safe," he replied softly. "I watched from a distance as she grew round with you, as she struggled to make ends meet. And when you were born…Percy, I've never been so happy, so proud, at the birth of a child. Nor have I been so torn, because I couldn't have anything to do with you. Only once did I break my resolve."
"You smiled," his son whispered. "I remember a warm light and a smile."
That same smile washed over him now. "I had to see you, just once, up close. I couldn't even hold you, couldn't touch you for fear of leaving a scent that would lead them to you. But I stood beside you one night and watched you sleep. And you were beautiful. Even then I could feel the surge of the sea in your blood, knew you would be powerful and could only hope your mother could keep you safe in spite of that. I admit, I didn't think of her solution."
"Smelly Gabe," Percy muttered, scowling darkly.
"The same," his father agreed. "His stench was so repulsively human- the worst of humanity- that so long as you lived in his house, the monsters couldn't smell your divine blood. There were a great many times I wanted to destroy that man for how he treated you and your mother, but in the end, he was keeping you safe in a way I could not. And it was your mother's choice. That, at the very least, I had to honor."
"I was so proud of her when she got rid of him," admitted Percy, turning around in the entry way to see everything. His father followed him deeper into the house, until they got to a library whose walls were fully lined in books and scrolls. Ancient texts stood on opposite shelves from modern novels and histories, some in Ancient Greek, some in English that floated and distorted on the spines as he tried to read them.
"When I came to you on your birthday," Poseidon began, and hesitated.
Percy turned to study him. Crossing his arms over his chest, he said nothing, giving his father the choice of whether or not to continue.
"I could have come to you at camp to deliver the message and the gift," he confessed, "or sent it through the fountain. I wanted to see you in person. But I also wanted to see your mother, to see if she was truly happy."
"She is," Percy murmured. "Paul loves her. She loves him. And he treats her well."
"Yes, I've seen that."
"But?" he asked cautiously, aware he was treading too close to a line even a son shouldn't cross. "If she hadn't been?"
"If she hadn't been happy?" He took a deep breath and looked around the library he'd crafted for the incomparable, baffling mortal woman he'd met over two decades ago. Two decades- what was that to a god? And yet… "Then I would have asked her again to come with me here. Not for protection, because she doesn't need it anymore. But because I still love her, and even I don't understand it. I would risk all Amphritre's not-inconsiderable wrath to have her here because she teaches me the man I could have been if I hadn't been born a god." He reached out and took up a small case made of two luminescent shells with a cunningly hidden hinge. Pearly rainbows chased themselves across the sparkling white shell. He held it in his hand for a moment, watching the false moonlight gleam in ribbons, then handed it to his son.
Percy took it carefully, noting all the tiny details, then opened it. A delicate silver ring nestled on a bed of blue-green velvet, two small opals mounted on either side of a flawless grey pearl. The opals sparked rainbow fire in the light; the pearl nearly glowed, so lustrous it absorbed as much light as it reflected from its polished surface.
"What does it remind you of?"
"Annabeth's eyes," he answered without thinking, and promptly blushed. "That is…I, uh…"
His father smiled at him, a smile that went deeper and understood more than any he'd seen before on this mostly good-natured god who'd sired him. "I had that made for your mother back when I first asked her here. And I kept it, I suppose in the hopes that when she no longer had to put up with that wretched man, that I might give it her as I'd meant. But she is happy with her Blowfish."
Percy grinned in spite of himself. He liked Paul, he really did, but it was an unfortunate last name.
"And that makes me think this ring now belongs to you," continued Poseidon. "You certainly don't choose an easy path, and I can guarantee that Athena will continue to disapprove. But, however closely she may watch you, and whatever she may say, she will still honor her daughter's choice because wisdom must be gained through experience."
"And you?" Percy dared to ask. "Do you approve?"
"I think you two balance each other very well," he replied obliquely. "You've both inherited the competitiveness of your godly parents, but you use it to spur each other on. Your strengths and weaknesses complement each other, making you a formidable team."
Gripping his son's shoulder tightly, Poseidon looked him right in the eyes. "Percy, my boy, tell me you love her, that she loves you, that despite all the troubles life will bring you will be happiest with her, and I will approve. You have the luxury of human emotions, as exhausting as they are. You have the chance to be with the woman you love, in spite of the difficulties. If you can take that chance, I will approve. I love your mother more than is reasonable for a god to love a mortal; we were doomed from the beginning, if you can forgive the drama of such a statement. You and Annabeth have been through too much to not have courage in this."
Percy nodded silently, words sticking against the hard lump in his throat.
The sea god cleared his own throat, looking away uncomfortably. "Morning will be here soon; if we're to get you back to camp before wake up call, we should part for now."
Percy just nodded again and slid the case into his pocket.
The pair walked out of the empty, silent house and out of the air bubble. Even knowing she would never come to this house, the god couldn't quite bring himself to destroy it, nor to open it someone or something else. Well…he eyed his son consideringly. Perhaps it would find a use after all.
Poseidon summoned a hippocampi from the main palace several miles away and hugged his son tightly. "Percy, know that no matter what you choose, you are my son. I love you, and I will always be proud of you. You are the gift I may never understand, but that I'm eternally grateful for."
"Love you too, Dad," Percy whispered, embracing his father just as tightly. He straddled the hippocampi and held tight as they took off; he glanced over his shoulder in time to see his father dissolve in a pillar of bubbles.
He got back to the beach at Camp Half-Blood just as the sun rose over the water in long streaks of color. Thanking his ride, he watched it disappear back into the waves, then set off for the cabins at a jog. Despite never getting wet, he couldn't escape the heavy smell of salt that clung to him, but every perk had to have a downside, and this one wasn't so bad.
He showered and changed quickly, running a hand through his hair rather than search for his brush, and grabbed a bottle of water from the mini-fridge the Stoll brothers had helped him smuggle in three years before. Racing over to Cabin Eight, he uncapped the bottle and poured the water over the ground.
Gathering the sense of the water inside him, he stepped onto the puddle and felt it slowly lift him off the ground. He took it carefully; all things said and done this was still a skill he was fine-tuning. Finally, he stood on a narrow, fifteen foot column of water that put him just level with Annabeth's window.
When he peeked inside, she was sitting up on the edge of the bed and yawning, blonde curls going in every direction. One hand still rested on her alarm. He knocked gently on the window ledge.
She shot to her feet, bronze knife in hand, and stared at him through the glass. It took her a moment to recognize him through the fog of sleep, and she greeted him with a scowl. At least she dropped the knife, though. Coming over to the window, Annabeth lifted the glass and pulled away the screen. "Seaweed Brain, what are you doing?" she hissed, trying not to wake up any of the others in the cabin.
"I have something for you," he whispered, and he laid the shell in her hands.
"It couldn't wait?"
Mystified, she opened the case to find the ring, her grey eyes widening. She looked up to stare at him.
"Marry me, Annabeth Chase," he said with quiet dignity quite unlike his normal, laid-back sarcasm.
"You really have lost your mind."
He just waited.
"And I must have lost mine, because I'm saying yes," she sighed, and leaned forward to kiss him.
He kissed her back, losing grip on the column of water. The kiss broke abruptly and he caught the ledge with a gasp, barely avoiding slamming against the side of the cabin.
And Annabeth, the young woman he loved and would never entirely understand why, just laughed.
And she was beautiful.