"We're not perfect, but we want to do the right thing." - Charlie Bell
Caput LV: What's Easy and What's Right
WHEN Percy woke up, it was to Annabeth shaking his shoulder, eyes wild and glassy.
"What?" he asked, sitting up, instantly looking around for monsters. But she shook her head. "What- did- are you okay? Were we attacked?"
"I..." Her eyes were glassy in the moonlight, and he felt his worry blossom into a fervor. He reached out and rubbed her arms, briskly. She felt freezing to the touch.
"Gods, Annabeth- you're freezing!" He hissed out underneath his breath. He reached behind her to grab his coat, intending to pull it across her shoulders, but she fell into his chest.
"Just hold me, please?"
A thousand questions swirled in his mind. Why was she upset? Did something happen recently? But as he watched her shoulders shake, he decided not to voice any of them. He didn't know how. He didn't know what to say.
He held his arms out and she instantly slithered into them, pressing her face against his chest. Half of his toga was damp already from the grass, but her tears added an unpleasant warmth that contrasted against the chill.
"Why did this happen to us?" she whispered, and Percy tightened his arms around her. "We didn't do anything to deserve this."
Those words made his heart ache as he thought of his mater. No, none of them had done anything to deserve what they had got. It was just a terrible hand of fate they had been given and they now had to play the cards in the only way they knew how. And somehow, at the end of the day, win with them.
He hated this.
"Sorry," he whispered, apologizing for everything he had left unsaid and left undone. He wanted to go back, wanted to go back to ignorance. He wanted...
He didn't want to know what he knew now.
"Where's Demetria?" Annabeth asked. "Have any of you seen her?"
Nico traded a look with Reyna and they both shrugged.
"I'll go look for her," he said. Annabeth shook her head.
"No, stay with Thalia." They ignored Thalia's grumbling that she wasn't defenseless and she could defend herself just fine. They were all exhausted and hungry. "I'll look for her."
"I'll go with you," he said, standing up. Reyna watched him with steady eyes as he grabbed the sword he had taken from some fallen soldier from the road and he silently told her to stay behind. There was strength in numbers of three, and he didn't want to take any chances with Thalia.
"Don't do anything stupid," Nico said, and Percy was startled because he was looking at him – not Annabeth. "You're not invincible."
"We'll be safe," Annabeth said, glancing up at him, sounding confused. Nico quickly looked away, and Percy shrugged.
For a while, they walked together in silence. Percy slowed when he noticed that she was panting to keep up with him – Why is she always so tired? – and he climbed a tree to get a better vantage point.
"There's a fork in the path," he called down to her, perching on one of the highest branches. He brushed bark off his hands, revealing the permanent dirt. He tried to remember what his hands looked like underneath the scars and dirt, but couldn't. He fingered his oily hair. He'd never noticed how fast it had grown until he couldn't cut it.
Selfish, he scolded, shaking his head at himself. Maybe he was a little vainer than he realized before. He climbed down, grabbing ahold of the knots and trees until he was low enough to jump off silently.
Annabeth was looking away from the tree into the woods, rubbing her wrist. No, more like she was trying to find her pulse.
"Hey," he said softly, to bring her thoughts back. She looked at him and he wanted to ask Are you okay? But he had wanted to confront his pater and look at where that had gotten him. "I think we need to split up."
He was definitely more selfish than he'd thought.
Percy found Demetria frantically scrubbing herself by the river, the top layer of her chiton lying beside her on the ground. When she looked up, she yelped and he quickly turned. Though those cuts going up and down her arms, like she'd dug her nails into her skin, remained in his head.
"Sorry!" he apologized quickly. He heard shuffling and he stayed still.
"Why did you follow me?" she asked harshly. "I wanted to be alone."
"Annabeth was worried about you," he explained, taken aback by her tone. Demetria walked up to him, green eyes bright and angry before her shoulders fell. "I didn't see anything you wouldn't want me to. I just wanted to make sure you were safe," he felt the need to reassure her, though he wasn't exactly sure why.
She looked uncomfortable. "Um... thanks." She rubbed her wrist, bringing his attention back to the marks. Fingernails, definitely. Deeper than a scratch.
"Demetria," he said slowly, and then he stopped. He wasn't sure he wanted to continue. She quickly shook her sleeve over them, eyes hot again.
"I'm fine," she snapped, marching away from him. "Don't worry about me. I'm fine."
Somehow, that only made him worry more. Those marks couldn't be accidental. She might need help. She probably did need help. They all did, if he wanted to be honest with himself. Which he didn't, so he wasn't.
He didn't know how to help her. How could he? He could barely help himself.
"Okay," he said, following her.
Sometimes, his fury was so strong that he wanted to choke on it. Those were the days that even Annabeth avoided him. Not even turning his sword on the monsters was helping him very much anymore.
But perhaps the days he could barely force himself to wake up were worse. They alternated between avoiding him and trying to be nice to him, and he hated that he made them feel like they were walking on eggshells around him.
What kind of human am I?
He didn't know the answer. Still.
Apples. It was the wrong season for apples, but there they were in the tree.
"Percy," Annabeth called, and he came over with a curious look on his face. She pointed up and he followed her finger. His eyes lit up.
"Apples!" He said, and he dropped the logs on the ground. She watched as he gracefully hauled himself up into the tree and shook her head. She didn't understand how he could be so fearless about climbing. An apple thudded by her foot and she glared at it. "You could have hit me!"
His answering laughter surprised her, and she knelt down to take it. She took a bite from the fruit, a smile pulling at her lips despite her best efforts to scowl. Laughter was precious these days. Maybe he was getting better.
She doubted it, but it was still a nice thing to pretend.
Percy dropped down in front of her, and held up three golden apples for her. She raised an eyebrow at him. "For you, my lady."
She snorted at his extravagant bow, and he grinned at her as he straightened. She moved forward and played with his hair. It had to be getting in his eyes like that...
Automatically, she began braiding it. Percy blinked when she was done and ran his fingers over it, a startled look on his face.
"We match now," she said with a grin. He smiled slightly, though there was something sad in his expression.
"Yeah, we do."
They picked the rest of the apples off the apple tree. She looked at a half-rotted fruit, and almost threw it away. Was that what she looked like on the inside? Was she rotting away, slowly but surely? Was she...
"What's wrong?" Percy asked, and she shook her head.
"Nothing!" Then she paused. "I just... I really don't want to die." Her voice cracked and she hoped he hadn't heard it. Any hint of his smile disappeared and his gaze dropped. And then, before she could stop herself, she asked, "Are we going to die?"
"No!" He said, jerking his head back. "Of course we're not."
I am, I'm dying, there's nothing I can do to stop it it's my destiny oh my gods I'm actually dying –
Tears burned at her eyes. "It's just... at some point someone is going to kill us if we keep up like this. Nyx is going to kill you. Or she'll take you as some kind of pet for her goddamn games—" She still could hear his cries whenever his nightmares disturbed him.
He moved forward and wrapped his arms around her. She shuddered and gripped him, taking a deep breath to calm herself. That's right. They were alive now.
"I wish I had the answer, love." He said quietly, and she wondered if he was holding her or if she was holding him. She closed her eyes and pressed her forehead against his shoulder.
Percy was on sentry duty when he heard someone cursing. Reyna must have heard it too – lightest sleeper – because he stood up. Percy traded a look with him and nodded. Silently, he crept through the woods with Reyna on his heels.
There was a man there, dressed with imperial splendor that was a distant memory to him. He walked over to him, calling out, "Is there anything you—"
The words died in his throat, brutally demolished, when the man lifted his head and looked at Percy directly. No, he thought, I'm not ready for this and you sick bastard.
Pater frowned. "Perseus?"
Turn away turn away turn away before you do something you'll regret later turn away now—
But he didn't turn away. Instead, fury reared its head, leaving him shaking as he tried to bat it back. He couldn't lose his head, he couldn't –
"Why are you here?" he demanded, clutching his sword. "How dare you show yourself here?"
Shame entered his pater's eyes. He dropped his gaze. "I know you must feel betrayed—"
"Betrayed?" He stopped caring about what he was saying. His pater had torn him down and cut him open before. "I feel more than betrayed. You—I—" his anger practically made him choke. "You violated her and—I'm furious."
Octavius frowned. "What? Why would you accuse me of such a thing, Perseus?"
He shook his head. "You're pretending? You – you—You told me yourself that you slept with my mater, your daughter—You married her knowing that she was your daughter!"
"What? I've never – I would – Perseus, how dare you tarnish your mater and sister's names with blasphemy like that!"
A wave roared in his ears. One moment, he was several feet away from his pater, the next he held him at sword point. The ground around them was soaked. Tears stung at his eyes as he pressed his blade against his pater's throat. The fury choked him, driving him to tear his sword through his pater's neck—
"STOP!" Reyna roared. The ground crumbled away, and his pater disappeared into the earth. Percy almost jumped in after him when two strong arms locked around him, pulling him back.
"LET ME GO!" he roared. "I'LL KILL HIM! I'LL KILL HIM!" Tears stung the open wounds on his cheeks as he struggled. Reyna kicked his sword away and he fought against him.
"NO! I WON'T YOU LET DESTROY YOURSELF LIKE THIS!" Reyna shouted back, manhandling him away from the chasm. "YOU'RE BETTER THAN THIS!"
"NO I'M NOT!" He elbowed Reyna, and managed to flee. He grabbed his sword and ran for the chasm.
Something hit him in the side, and he crumpled, hitting his head against something hard.
"What happened to him?" Annabeth asked when Nico and Reyna hauled the moron back. I should go back to the underworld with father. I did not sign up for hauling people everywhere.
He shot a sour look at Perseus as he dropped him against the ground. "Why in Tartarus did he nearly just try to murder his father?" he demanded. Annabeth's eyes widened and then she winced.
He tapped his foot. Annabeth shook her head. "I shouldn't tell you."
He rolled his eyes. "He was shouting something about his mother and his sister."
She bit her lip. "Do you know of Oedipus Rex?"
His stomach dropped. "Oh."
When Percy woke, it was to a pounding headache and Nico glaring at him. It reminded him too much of when he and Rachel would occasionally get dragged into some tavern, and Reyna would stand over him with that glare on her face.
"What stupid thing did I do this time?" he asked, groaning.
"You tried to kill your father. And I think you broke one of my ribs."
Percy wanted to go back to sleep and pretend all of this was a horrible nightmare. Memories flooded back into him and he felt sick. Oh gods, if Reyna hadn't been there I would have killed him.
Horror. I didn't realize I was so angry. And I tried to kill him, I would have killed him in cold blood, oh my gods— I would have killed my own father what is wrong with me?
"Oh gods," he said shakily. He rubbed his hand against his face and accidentally tangled Annabeth's braid. "I'm... so sorry, Nico."
Nico studied him. "Maybe you need to leave. The state of mind you're in right now..."
"What?" He snapped. "I'm not unstable."
"I'm not," he repeated, but it felt like he was trying to convince himself more than Nico. Was he? Most people don't try to commit patricide, Perseus.
Most weren't monsters who shouldn't have been born either.
Nico bit his lip. "I think you're angry, Percy. You completely lost it last night. What if that happens again in the middle of a battle field? You could get yourself killed."
"Probably better off to you dead than alive at this point," he muttered to himself. Nico threw a small pebble at his head and he glared at him. He had a headache, no thanks to him.
"You'll make Annabeth cry if she hears you say that."
He sighed. "I know. Sorry. It's just..."
"I don't know what's going on in your head, but if that was some of it manifesting..." Nico tapped his fingers against his thigh, not quite meeting his eyes. "I think you might have some of Poseidon's blood in you. The water from the stream trapped your father. And Poseidon is ... he's moody. And if you don't do anything about all that fury in you, it's just going to keep growing."
Percy looked away. He didn't want to deal with this. Any of this.
For a moment, Nico considered him, and then he said softly, "Besides, it's not like we'll be unable to function without you. Reyna and Annabeth are capable."
Oddly, that stung—It shouldn't, it was so incredibly stupid and so selfish, but he wanted to be the only one in charge. But it was... maybe...
Maybe he wasn't needed anymore. At least, not when he couldn't keep his head screwed on straight.
They avoided him during the day – even Annabeth. Whenever someone said something to him, he found himself snapping at them.
Guilt manifested in him, and he closed his eyes.
Maybe Nico was right. Maybe he should leave, then they wouldn't worry about him. Or he wouldn't get them killed.
Percy felt ill as he locked eyes with the man who was his pater through all the fighting between the monsters and men. There was silence for a long moment and the dull roar of metal clashing against metal, and brute strength with strength.
The fury that had been seething underneath his skin for all these months roared it's ugly head again, and he began to make his way up to Octavius. He wasn't really paying any attention as he parried and ducked and stabbed; the only thing he knew was that Octavius had slept with Percy's mother, Percy's sister, Octavius' daughter. He'd... he'd known that Sally was his daughter but he had still done it anyway.
He wasn't sure how long it took for him to meet his pater at the middle of the battlefield; only that they were staring at each other for a long moment and Percy was so, so angry. He'd been angry for a while, but now that he was facing the source of his anger...
He rushed forward, raising his sword high above his head. Octavius' stared at him in surprised, before he brought his sword up to parry Percy's.
"Why?" He screamed at him, stepping forward and jabbing. "Why did you do it?"
Octavius didn't respond. He was back peddling toward the cliff and Percy was pushing forward.
And then he was falling.
Percy wasn't sure how it happened exactly. In the space of a heartbeat, his pater walked right over the edge of the cliff and as he realized what had happened, he met Percy's eyes. Percy stared at him for a moment, not realizing it, and then he lunged forward a second too late, his fingertips scraping against his pater's as he fell down into the chasm, where he sensed the sea crashing relentlessly against the base.
No. He thought weakly, his arm extended over the edge.
"Pater?" He whispered, hoping against hope itself that he would hear a response.
No, no, no!
"Pater!" He screamed, and he was about to jump over the edge when two strong arms interlocked with him, muscling him away from the ledge. "PATER!" The sob caught in the back of his throat and Annabeth's gray eyes filled his vision.
"Percy!" She said softly. The arms shackling him let go, but instead of rushing toward the cliff, he collapsed onto his knees and grabbed his toga, wanting nothing more than to rip his heart out of his chest and pretend it didn't belong to him.
"I killed him." He whispered, and hot, burning tears leaked out of his eyes. "Oh, my gods... I... I..." His stomach churned and he retched. Nothing came up. Of course nothing would come up. He hadn't eaten in days; nothing substantial at least. "I killed my own father."
"Percy," Annabeth whispered, tugging him away from the ledge. He struggled against her grip, but she was stronger than he remembered. Or maybe he was weaker. Either way, she wrestled him into the semblance of an embrace, wrapping her arms around him. Tears stung his eyes. "Percy, Percy-"
He gripped the front of her toga, and wept.
Sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Sorry, sorry, sorry...
I can't tell you how sorry I feel right now. I just... I need to get my head cleared with my father and mother, and I can't do that here. Gods, I'm such an arse for leaving you like this. I don't even know if I'm doing the right thing or the easy thing, and I just... I'm just so sorry.
I shouldn't have written this...
I haven't been kidnapped.
The first thing Annabeth felt was fury. The letter shook in her hands and she had to fight the urge to tear it into a million little pieces. How could he? How could he leave them when they needed him?
But as quickly as it came, it fled and rationality took over. Because he knew what he was doing, and she knew that he couldn't operate properly when this was hanging over his head. He had—
Images from earlier flashed through her head, and her chest ached. The adrenaline and terror of the fight... Reyna screaming at Percy to stop... Percy driving his sword through Octavius' stomach... Piper, stretched out on the ground, blood gushing from her stomach, gasping and spluttering, telling Reyna about Jason...
It was a mess. She wanted to scream and sob and hit something, all at the same time, and she felt so angry all the time now. Percy had been preoccupied with what Octavius had said. Reyna kept trying to keep herself together. Thalia was focused on her baby.
Maybe it was better that Percy got his head screwed on straight, before he got himself killed on the battlefield. Heavens knew he hadn't been any help around here...
But still... she just couldn't believe he up and left after everything that had happened. Didn't he know they needed him now more than ever? She couldn't do this on her own. She wasn't brave enough to inspire people, and she couldn't draw people in together. She was just smart. That was all. She had no special abilities. She couldn't lead people, and people didn't want to follow her. She couldn't inspire loyalty like the way others could.
Selfish arse. She snarled in her head, crumpling the letter. Her eyes began to burn, as though—no, she would not cry over that—that idiot! Again. That selfish idiot!
Of course, he wasn't an idiot... but he was selfish. That was something she forgot easily, but it came in at times like these that she realized he was so unbelievably selfish. Stupid. Selfish. Confusing. He was confusing—so confusing, and it infuriated her that one moment he could do something so generous, and then the next he was doing the complete opposite. She hated it when he was being unpredictable.
But is this really unpredictable? Maybe you're being the selfish one. A voice whispered in her head, but she shoved it away. How could he leave her when she was so confused and frightened—because she knew she was dying, and... and...
He didn't know she was dying though. She hadn't been able to tell him. Maybe he was more honest than she was—or maybe, she was just trying to protect him. Maybe she was so angry because she felt... betrayed. As if she expected him to know somehow, that she was dying, even though she never told him.
Closing her eyes, she shuddered and pressed her back against the tree, sliding down to the cold, hard ground. He was only human; nothing more, nothing less. Humans made mistakes. People weren't good or bad—they were both, with motives and agendas and histories and thoughts... People weren't perfect. They were tiny in the grand scheme of things.
So, why did she put Percy up on a pedestal when he was just as human as she was?
Because you expected too much from him? He loves you, and you love him—but before that, you were friends, and he protected you and gave you what you needed, without you even asking him for it.
And then it came. The anguish. It rose in her chest, suffocating her like a wave... it hurt. It hurt a lot. It was the most unbearable thing in the world, even worse than when she thought he was dead. Maybe if he had died, he wouldn't have to go through this... and she was dying herself. Her head spun, and she tasted bile and blood in her mouth.
Oh gods. She was dying and he didn't know. If he came back and she was dead... she knew he loved her, but she wasn't sure if he was strong enough to get on without her. She knew Roma needed him, but Roma wasn't there anymore and Jason was dead and Reyna—who knows what Reyna could do to help him. She was just as bad as the rest of them.
We broken people, she thought. She curled into herself, as if that world stop the hole in her chest from expanding. She couldn't stop crying. She was so angry, but so scared at the same time because she knew the others would look to her for guidance and strength—neither of which she had... and she didn't want to disappoint anyone, but she knew she would...
"Annabeth!" a soft voice whispered, and she stared at Nico. His red-rimmed eyes were wide, and there was such open concern on his face...
She flung herself at him, and he caught her easily. She pressed her face into his shoulder, probably getting his toga wet but not exactly caring at the moment. Most people expected him to smell of rotting corpses and cat pee—of death—but he always smelled of Autumn to her. Of leaves falling, crisp mornings and warm afternoons and wind. Brother, my brother...
"He left," she explained. His arms tightened around her, and she felt his entire frame go rigid. "I— he— here." She pulled away from him and pulled the parchment out from the folds of her toga. Her hand shook as she tried to straighten it out. His large, warm hands covered hers, and gently tugged it away. She wiped at her face, and her stomach churned at the sight of blood and dirt and tears (and probably snot too) mixing together on her arms. Ergh, she needed a bath.
His expression was hidden from her in strange light from the camp fire, but his mouth was pitched down in a scowl and she could imagine his eyebrows had joined together. His eyes... well, they would be like smoldering fire—
He spat a word with such force that it made her heart jump and he gave the letter back to her. His breathing was heavy, like he had just sprinted a mile as fast as he could run. Eventually, he said, "When I get my hands on him again— I'm going to strangle him with my own two bare hands and send him to the Underworld."
She decided that he wasn't lying. In fact, Annabeth may just help him with that herself. "Save a piece for me," she muttered.
"I can't believe him—the sheer audacity he has to just walk off like that in the middle of this bloody war! Doesn't he know he'll be killed if he's found out? And what in Tartarus is he talking about with his mother? I understand his father... but.. why his mother? Why in Tartarus did he kill Octavius in cold blood anyway? ARGH!" He screamed at the top of his lungs, throwing his hands up in the air and scaring off a few birds. Her heart lurched into her throat, and she reached for her saber, her muscles coiling in preparation to fight someone off...
After a few minutes, no one came and she relaxed enough to glare at Nico. "Oops." He muttered. "Sorry."
With a sigh, she sank back onto her haunches and slid her saber back all the way into the sheath. It was a quick debate in her head—tell him about Percy's parentage, or not—and it was over fairly quickly. Because this was Nico, of course, and he would take it to his grave.
"Promise you won't tell anyone. Not a word."
He responded after a moment's pause.
She closed her eyes. "Percy is an Oedipus child," she whispered. He breathed in sharply—the largest sign of shock he would ever display. She opened her eyes again. "Octavius... he knew from the beginning Sally—his mother—was his child, and he still... went through with it."
"That enlightens things." Nico muttered eventually.
"No shit." She grumbled, then froze as what she just said registered in her head. I've... been spending too much time around the soldiers. He chuckled somewhat.
"So that's why he killed Octavius... I would do the same thing too, if my mother... gods. Just the thought makes my stomach turn. I almost feel sorry for him." She would have been offended on Percy's behalf if it was someone beside Nico, because that was the most empathy someone ever got from him. Plus, she was still furious at him. "What are you going to do?"
She frowned. "What am I...?"
"Well, you can't really chase after him and force him to come back now. I don't think even I would be cold hearted enough to do that. I'd rather him to be thinking straight, than having this over his head, torturing him."
That was the crux of the matter, wasn't it? What was she going to do without Percy? Obviously, she couldn't chase after him, because he was probably too far off now, and even if he wasn't, she wouldn't have the heart to drag him back. Especially since she had seen how affected he was by this...
Why didn't I see this coming before? She wondered. It was all too clear that something like this would happen, in retrospect. The fury that had begun to build up in Percy after Octavius had confirmed it, despite his fighting it back, pretending it didn't exist... the fear before that, that it might be true. Was she too blind to see what was in front of her? Or was she just too selfish?
Just like that, all her anger faded like water rushing down a stream, leaving her drained and tired. She sighed and rubbed at her eyes again, and stared at her hands. They were calloused from all the fighting she down, and there were dried specks of blood sprinkled all over them.
You have the eyes of a killer, she remembered Conner telling her. She understood what he meant now. She understood what Percy had been trying to tell her, about how he didn't know what was right and what was easy.
She sighed. The easy thing would be just to pretend none of this had happened... maybe by running away to a far, far away land where no one had heard of Roma and the gods. Maybe to some eastern country, or up North to the Gauls. She would be free. Maybe she wouldn't die...
But the right thing was to shoulder the responsibility she had been raised for, since birth. Didn't she hate being inferior to people? She was a daughter of Athena, and being able to lead—to think— was in her bloodlines. She was a demigod. She was half human, half god. She could do anything if she put her mind to it.
...She really had no other choice, did she?
"Fine." She sighed, and stood up again. She folded the parchment and slid it into her bag.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath to steady herself—because she could do this, she knew she could. She would make Athena proud of her, and she would stop doubting herself so much, and they would figure out a way to get Roma back.
I'm done being scared of things that I don't understand. I'm done with sticking to the comfort zone. I'm done letting fear control me. I shall be brave; braver than I ever was before in my life.
"I'm going to tell a little white lie and say that Percy's gathering intelligence. Hopefully, he does bring something back so that it won't be a lie. He wants me to be a leader? All right. I am a leader. We're going to train the soldiers we have left into leaders as well, Nico. We're going to make them able to make decisions in a split second that could save countless lives. And I'm going to convince the rest of you to help."
Annabeth opened her eyes and squared her shoulders. No more pussy footing it around; she was done with that. She was going to fight, with her fingernails and teeth if she must, because she wasn't going to give up this country easily.
She was going to be a lioness from now on, and the enemy better watch out.
Author's Note: *makes extremely shifty eyes* Hello, hello. It's been a while, yeah? About 18 months? Sorry about that. I graduated, moved away, started college, made a bunch of friends, probably pissed some people off, had to learn how to study for courses I didn't like, play with turtles under the guise of "research," went to China, started a club, got a job being a TA for biology, decided I want to go back to China to study medicine, realized I needed money to do that and started applying for money, applied to go to Panama on a medical mission trip, got onto the trip, had a giant project on Huntington's Disease that I enjoyed too much... um. All while trying to be a good friend and maintain a good GPA? And that's really just the tip of the iceberg. So, I've been a bit busy and ACOGL slipped my mind. My bad. But I'm back now! Yay!
Good news is that all the chapters have been written and I've decided that I'm just going to go ahead and post them in all their unedited glory. :) Bad news is that I have my last final tomorrow morning, so... They're not going to be posted tonight. I'll try to get one out each day though! I just need reminders. Multiple reminders.
(Yeah, I'm still shameless. Actually, even more so now than I used to be. :P Please validate my efforts. Even though I refuse to look at what I wrote when I was... 16 or 17. I can't even remember how old I was when I started this. Yikes. I need to finish this fan fiction.)