Okay, confession time. I love elephants. Like, ridiculously. I love everything about them from their behaviour, to how they play, to how they look, to their history as war animals... gah. This story could have been fact after fact after fact about elephants, but I tried to control myself. SO- even though this isn't Easter related, this is your Easter story. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters shown below, nor the epigraph.
"The elephant is the largest of them all, and in intelligence approaches the nearest to man. It understands the language of its country, it obeys commands, and it remembers all the duties which it has been taught. It is sensible alike of the pleasures of love and glory, and, to a degree that is rare among men even, possesses notions of honesty, prudence, and equity; it has a religious respect also for the stars, and a veneration for the sun and the moon."
-Pliny, Natural History (VIII.1)
"We close in ten minutes," a café employe said. Her ponytail was high and neat (after the legion it was hard to stop keeping your hair prim and tidy, as most veterans in New Rome showed), her apron was secured around her waist, and her attitude was bright and perky despite how late it was.
"Yeah," Bobby said closing his hands around his mug. It had gone cold by now.
"Renato really doesn't like you wasting his lattes," she said nudging towards the drink that he'd barely touched. "He mumbles about it in the back all the time."
"Sorry," Bobby said. "I'll tip next time."
"Not to object or anything, but tips go to me not him," she smiled. He didn't join her. It faded. "Are your exams really that bad?"
"What?" Bobby asked.
"Exams," she said. "That's why we're open late and why everyone is stressed. Apparently the social science sector pulled out some nasty regulations on exam and are really fishing for plagiarism, so all the history students and whatnot are…"
"I'm not in college," Bobby said.
Her eyebrows frowned and her pretty face creased.
"The fort's curfew was an hour ago…" she said, confused.
That didn't particularly alarm Bobby or worry him. He'd been blocking out the sound of the trumpets announcing the war games, so he must have missed the curfew alarms too. Oh well.
The door chimed and the girl looked up, ready to tell the newcomer that they were closed.
"Hiya, Little J," she smiled.
"Hello Nancy," Jason said. Most of the college aged kids in New Rome had been around the fort when Jason had been a kid, and so all kinds of weird nicknames were thrown around whenever he set foot into the city. Usually Bobby had some colour comentating up his sleeve, but not today.
"Can you do me a huge favour and close up the back first?" Jason asked. Nancy shot Bobby a stray look before agreeing. She dissapeared into the back of the café as Jason pulled up a chair in front of Bobby.
"Dakota got kind of worried when you didn't show," Jason said.
"I'm surprised he could even see farther than his nose," Bobby said.
"Hey," Jason said. "He is making an effort to sober up. He is trying."
"What, are you saying that I'm not?" Bobby asked.
"No," Jason said. "I'm not. I'm just saying that we're worried."
Bobby gripped his cup more tightly.
"You'll break it," Jason said.
"What?" Bobby snarled.
"Your cup," Jason said, calmly as ever. That's what pissed Bobby off. Jason was so great at keeping his emotions under check. He reflected the world without ever being moved, like water. And when he did ripple, it was always according and logical. Yet he didn't even want to be in the Fort! He was only standing in as praetor for a few more weeks, to get everything in order and give Reyna a helping hand while Frank recovered from the Gaian War before he was off to Camp Half-Blood. Bobby didn't hold grudges, he wasn't mad or feeling abandoned about Jason finding another place or anything, but it was aggravating that he, a guy who wanted to be a real Roman, was so… so tormented. So torn by everything around him…
Bobby let the mug go. Jason picked it up, wiped the ring of coffee that had formed under it, and went to deposit it in the back. When he got back he sat down again.
"Curfew passed two hours ago."
"I don't want to go back to the fort."
"I don't want to go back to the fort ever," Bobby said. "I don't… I don't want to stand in line with everybody else at muster, I don't want to clean the Baths as my chore, I don't want to do horseback riding. I want…"
"You want to be taking care of Hannibal," Jason said as if this is something he already knew.
Bobby ran a hand across what little hair he had. Legionnaires always tended to keep it short, but his used to get so windblown during elephant rides that Bobby had reduced it to something like peach fuzz. However it was already growing back, and Bobby had no reason to keep it short anymore.
Hannibal had died on Front V during the Gaian War. He'd been protecting Location Caesar (Bobby still didn't know the real names; the codes were still locked into usage unless you were a praetor, a cabin leader or one of the Seven). He'd bridged the enemy line, which had gotten a special target on his back. He'd fought the ice panthers that'd been swarming his four giant paws or whatever those snow-queen beasties were, and Bobby had been shooting arrows down at them too- but it wasn't enough.
Hannibal had been worn out and badly scratched by the time the giant had gotten to him, pissed and determined to kill. Bobby was already struggling to control him. His armour had been dented and the eyelets had fallen off. Not that Hannibal could have done anything against a giant anyways. Really it was just a show, picking up the elephant after it'd bucked Bobby off and throwing it across the battlefield…
It sickened Bobby, and made him sick of himself.
The legionnaires proved their worth, passed tests, studied, enrolled in the legion and chose to fight. Hannibal? Hannibal didn't. He'd been born in captivity, raised in a hellish circus, rescued by the goddess Diana while he was still a calf, and offered to Rome when Bobby had been a twelve year old, skinny, knobby-kneed newbie. Bobby had had to prove himself to the goddess so hard to be the one responsible for him. Diana didn't like men. But she'd trusted him.
He'd raised an elephant -a real, life African elephant, a kind of elephant that had never been trained for war before (Indian elephants were far more docile; Carthage and Greece and whatnot had domesticated African Forest elephants, which were now extinct) and tamed it. Bobby had had to fight with the senate to introduce Hannibal to the Roman army seeing as Rome's past experiences with elephants had always implied fighting great ennemies like Hannibal of Carthage, or Pyrrhos of Epeiros. Jason had been putting pressure on the senate at the time to become a little less traditional which had helped. His boy had never made the senate regret the decision. He'd been nothing but an asset, without Hannibal some bits of the Titan War would have been way uglier. Not only could elephants function like a tank during battles, but they could also carry heavy weights, be a mount for mobile ballistas or archers, act as an observation tower once praetors and commanders were stuck on top, scare off some monsters that had never seen or smelled elephants, and he made the war games heck of a lot more interested.
But at the end of the day Bobby had been the one to sign Hannibal up for this whole war situation- the one that had killed him.
How horrible of a person was he? Hugely.
He'd seen his elephant hurt before and it tore Bobby's heart and gave him nightmares every time... how Hannibal would raise his trunk to the sky and wail and wail. Elephants cried, which most people didn't seem to think about. They were actually really sensitive animals- they even mourned and "burried" their death.
Bobby had been bucked off seconds before the giant got its goddamn filthy hands on Hannibal, so he'd been unconscious when his little-big buddy had died. He wasn't sure if that was better or not. Had reality been better than what his dreams were coming up with? Had Hannibal really panicked and bucked Bobby off after all those battles spent together, or had he tried to save his rider?
All of this he told Jason. His teeth were clenched when he was done.
"Were you on that field?" Bobby said. "Did you see him, or did you only hear the story?"
Jason shook his head. "I was in Greece, man. Sorry."
"Don't sweat it. I'm not even sure I want to know," Bobby said hugging his arms to himself. It was easier not to sound like you were losing it and going insane after spilling your guts- such was the eternal paradox of Roman culture. "I'm not even sure I want to know what they did with the body."
He'd been in the hospital for the mass, quick funerals (all of which had been executed during the first 24 hours after the war to make sure that no monster dust or whatnot was on anyone), recovering from his cracked skull and sternum, back injuries, shock and someting called 'spasticity of the abdominal muscle' that all the medics were too busy to explain to him.
However he had been at the official memorial ceremony and he had received high honours for both him and the elephant -apparently they'd been on fire. The badge weighed down Bobby's armour and heart, and Hannibal's medal was pinned to the underside of the bunk above his- where centurions couldn't see it during inspections.
"I'm not going to tell you then," Jason said. "But the armour's at Camp Half-Blood, and the tusks are all locked down in the principia. We can't afford to…"
"Risk them going on the black market," Bobby said thinking back to those pictures of huge warehouses unlocked by African police forces, overflowing with tusks that had cost elephants their lives and poachers not a single night of sleep.
Jason nodded and Bobby tugged at his t-shirt sleeves.
"I want to know but at the same time I dont. Where do animals go when they die? Is Hannibal all reincarnated into something and if so, can he still run and splash around in water and play tricks on people, or is he a flower or something? Jason, I'm so stressed. I'm so, so stressed. He was my buddy, Jason. I need to know what happened to him. I brought him into this, I can't just ditch him and forget him and let fate do what it wants with it. He thought I was taking care of him. He was my buddy," Bobby said. He felt like he was cracking, hairline cracks snaking their way across him.
"Can I show you something?" Jason said after a minute.
"Sure," Bobby muttered. He'd been hoping for a little more compassion on behalf of a guy who'd spent half a year, give or take, with Greeks but he tried not to let it show.
"Well, actually, can I show you someone who will show you something," Jason said.
Bobby felt like he was in absolutely the wrong place. Sure, the barrack belonged to his cohort, but the girl's barrack?
Jason crossed it, no problem. Everyone was sleeping (and even if they weren't, they sure as hell wouldn't protest a senior officer's presence), but Jason kept his eyes on the ground and made sure that Bobby did the same. Bobby wasn't in the mood to check out girls anyways.
They crossed the room and walked into the solarium attached to the back. The netting had recently been replaced, courtesy of cabin 9, and the lights were off except for a greenish glow coming from one corner…
"Hazel," Jason whispered.
Someone bumped heads against something and swore. Jason dragged Bobby to where Hazel Levesque was sitting on a folded up blanket underneath a patio table with her brother, Nico di-Something, around a green fire in a mason jar. Hazel, wearing pyjamas, was rubbing her head.
"I'm not here to chew you out for being out of bed past curfew," Jason said. "That's Reyna's fun. Nico, you got a sec?"
Nico got up and immediately the air felt colder. He was fully dressed and smelled like pine needles and strawberries-which Bobby thought most Greeks tended to smell like when they came straight from camp.
Jason dragged him outside for a minute, after unlocking the solarium door from inside. Bobby was left with Hazel.
"Are you healing well?" She asked after a minute.
"Yeah," he said. "But I'm glad that I have an exemption from my armour. What about Frank?"
"He's doing okay," Hazel said. "He can walk a bit now."
"With the new leg?"
"Yup," Hazel said. "Didn't even need crutches."
"Cool," Bobby said. Zhang was a good guy. Bobby hadn't paid much attention to him -what, with newbies constantly coming into the fifth and this one being clumsy and faceless to him, with other people already caring. But he was a good guy, and Bobby was impressed at any rate.
Hannibal had liked him too. Sure, Zhang had nearly poisoned him with a peanut but it was a weird allergy for elephants to have. Bobby had done it, and he'd forgotten to warn the guy. At least his instinct was to give animals a treat after they did something to harass humanity - like, trying to pull Bobby's shirt off while he was getting scrubbed.
"Other than that, are you okay?" Hazel asked. Her gold eyes glittered like a cat and that made him uncomfortable. It was as if she saw right through him even in the dark.
Before Bobby could open his mouth, Jason and Nico came back in.
"How much do you know about shadow travel?" Nico asked.
"What is shadow travel?" Bobby asked.
Nico sighed and Jason took over.
"It's a method of travel used by monsters and children of Hades," Jason said.
Hazel huffed. "Thank you, Jason, for that gracious explanation."
"You don't even do it," Jason said. "They use the connections that shadows have to get themselves from points A to B. Anyways, you feel like crap the first time but it's a quick way to travel. Nico's accepted to shadow travel with you."
Nico mumbled something and then offered his arm to Bobby who hesitated, but then caught on.
"Where are we going?" Bobby asked Jason.
"Actually, you and Nico are on your own for this one," Jason said. "I can't go. I've already trespassed on one uncle's domain, I can't push my luck."
Bobby only realised what that implied as the shadows crawled over him and he only had time to yell out one swear word.
"It's been ten minutes," Nico said impatiently. "Come on."
Bobby was sitting on a bench near the banks of the River Styx with his head between his knees, and this for a few reasons. First off, Jason hadn't been kidding when he'd said that shadow travel sucked. Secondly, the shock and terror of being in the Underworld was a new one. However Nico was his only chance of getting out, so he forced himself to his feet and waddled after Nico.
"What are you showing me?" Bobby asked.
"Something that Jason recomended," Nico said. "But don't get used to it. This is a one-time thing, and a one time thing alone- and only because I owe Jason. My father would kill me."
"Ironic, no?" Bobby said. Nico either didn't get the joke, had heard it already, or was mad because he walked on and didn't say a word until they got to the lines of dead, waiting to enter the Underworld. Then his piece of advice was "don't look at their faces" (which Bobby was like no problem). He grabbed Bobby in a death grip and kept him close as he elbowed, excused and smuggled his way across the lines. The language in which he identified and excused himself (and told people to go away if they protested his passing) changed depending on who he talked to. Bobby recognised Spanish, Japanese, something that sounded African...
He argued with a zombie guard at a desk and flashed the skeleton ring on his finger to get he and Bobby across the EZ Death line (it was literally called 'EZ Death') and to the back, where only a few souls trickled away to various destinations, some of them chained and dragged by zombie guards.
"You have to promise not to touch," Nico said.
"Don't touch, just look," Nico said. "People always worry about the dead, when really they're the ones who need the less fussing. You're lucky, but don't blow it."
"Okay, I promise," Bobby frowned. Nico turned around and wolf-whistled. The ground started shaking and the biggest dog ever jumped out of nowhere and landed just in front of them, squashing a few ghosts who reappeared nearby in fouler moods. Except... well, the dog had three heads and Bobby would have drawn his sword and made some kind of attempt at a battle cry if Nico's reaction wouldn't have confused him more.
"Hi boy," Nico said. His voice was soft and warm and even babyish. Like any guy talking to his dog. "Hi boy, how are you? Yeah? How are you? No, Annabeth didn't send me with any balls this time. No, not this time buddy."
The dog's tail wagged and took out ghosts every time it did so. Eventually the ghosts caught on and just stayed out of the way.
"Where's your friend buddy? Yeah? Where's your friend?" Nico asked. Cerberus, the gigantic Underworld guardian, panted happily and turned around and barked. Bobby's ear-drums barely made it through that bark, and his mind didn't make it through the 'friend' that appeared.
It was a happy, bouncing elephant with floppy ears and enormous tusks, big strong shoulders and crusty, scarred patch over his left eye from his previous owner.
It was Hannibal.
"Oh my gods." Bobby said.
Cerberus immediately pawed at him, but Hannibal was strong and he managed to push Cerberus off. He started tusking the ground (digging his tusks in the ground, kind of a 'this is what I'm going to do if I get my hands on you' threat to other animals) and Cerberus yapped. Hannibal waggled his head, as much as an invitation to play as Cerberus' tail wagging. Bobby could tell by the way that he walked around crossing his legs, by the elephant's floppy movements and his look that Hannibal wanted to play. He head-butted Cerberus and the giant dog rolled over. Of course Hannibal couldn't jump (it was due to elephant weight; upon landing they'd break all bones in their legs), but he had that kind of energy when he put his paws up on Cerberus and rubbed or wiggled against him (elephants did it with each other in the wild- it was the cutest). He was being so silly.
"Oh my gods," Bobby said nearly in tears.
It was such typical calf play. The older one would lie down on the ground and allow the older calf to climb on. Such silliness, but Hannibal looked so happy with Cerberus- and Cerberus was being a big suck and letting the elephant have his way, but Hannibal, Hannibal!
"Bobby, he's still dead," Nico said as Cerberus pushed Hannibl off and got up. "My father just decided that since he was big and trained, there was no reason for him not to serve a purpose."
"My buddy," Bobby said. He was probably crying. He didn't know. He didn't care.
"Yeah," Nico said. "Told'ja people worried about nothing for the dead. They're all taken care of. They all go where they deserve to go, they're all taken care of."
"And so my buddy gets to play," Bobby said with a grin.
Hannibal didn't seem to see Bobby, and maybe it was better that way. Elephants had huge attachment problems. They also had trunks that they used as snorkles when they swam or could paint with. They also had different ammount of toes depending on breads, and ivory tusks that meant that they were the top target of poachers everywhere.
But overrall, elephants had an incredible ability to socialise and adapt and be kind and mischievous and playful and strong and brave. So Bobby wasn't worried for his buddy.