Trigger Warnings (TW): Child abuse, suggestions of sexual abuse (more of what kind of glasses you wear than anything else, really), language.
Pairings: Canon pairings such as Percy/Annabeth and Hera/Zeus. You know the ones.
Spoilers: Vague mentions of TLO.
Disclaimer: I in no way claim PJO. That honor belongs solely to the wonderful Rick Riordan.
The day started off nice enough. Summer break had just begun a week prior, and the heavy smell of wild flowers and strawberries had greeted Percy like an old friend when he'd first stepped into camp. The scent had followed him and his group of demigod children all the way to Mount Olympus, and it clung stubbornly to their clothes. Annabeth had flowers braided into her hair, bright purples and brilliant blues vibrant against golden strands. One of the little boys currently clutching her hand had carefully placed them there an hour or two previous, and if he hadn't found the sight of his battle-worn girlfriend willingly letting a son of Aphrodite mess with any part of her so hilarious, Percy would've been a tad jealous. As it were, he was alright looking at her from his place slightly behind her, knowing she'd recognize his amused stare resting on her tamed princess curls. Besides, being angry with an eight year-old who might actually be stealing his girl was a bit ridiculous, and he'd rather keep that embarrassment to himself.
"Don't say a word," Annabeth warned suddenly but not unexpectedly. Percy only grinned.
"I would never."
Truthfully, he was just relieved that this was actually happening. Everything was falling perfectly in place. The gods were living up to their promise, and when they'd casually suggested bringing some of their younger children up for a visit, Chiron and the rest of the camp had been over the moon. It was rare that a demigod got to view the Olympians in their "natural habitat", especially when there was nothing important going on to distract them—such as the Summer and Winter Solstices. All of the twelve Olympians had agreed to be there, and excitement buzzed through the mass of bodies surrounding him and his girlfriend. A few of the young half-bloods were actually shaking as they stumbled through the doors of the Empire State Building.
Percy was relieved that this was a social call, instead of another meeting being held over his life or possible lack of. Constantly having your continued survival in the hands of twelve immature, overgrown toddlers was exhausting. He was tired of waking up anxiety-ridden over his fate, waiting for the other shoe to drop and prove that it actually was his string he'd watched being snipped all those years ago.
Annabeth was the one who got the attention of the man at the front desk, and in no time, two teens and nine cute runts ranging from four to twelve were all squeezed into one elevator. He stooped down to pick up a small, jewel-eyed girl named Susan—who was, while only four, usually quite determined to walk and explore on her own two feet. The adorable daughter of Hermes must have been incredibly worn out, however, as she curled up in his arms without complaint, resting her narrow chin on his shoulder with a thankful huff.
"Alright," Annabeth said sternly, and Percy watched with no small amount of mirth as all the kids straightened their postures immediately, gazes hardening into eight fun-sized soldiers. "I need all of you to stay close now—Olympus is still under construction, and there's no need for any of you to get hurt." There were nods of agreement; Percy managed to squeak out a "yes, ma'am!" in a high soprano without getting smacked upside the head. Small victories. "Make sure everyone is with their buddies," Annabeth reminded the kids, unperturbed by her goof of a boyfriend, "and everyone ten and under needs to check in with Percy and I every hour, got it?"
"Don't be late!" Percy added, shifting the four year old in one arm as he rested the other on his hip in mock disapproval. Giggles filled up the compact space, but they were quickly silenced when a loud "ding!" rang through the elevator. Nine nervous and pale faces stared at the elevator door with wide eyes. Percy laughed. Annabeth smirked.
The looks on their cute, chubby faces when the door slid open were picture perfect. Shock, awe, excitement, and a healthy dose of fear were all easily recognizable. Annabeth glowed with pride before pulling herself together.
"Two lines," his girlfriend ordered, "and make sure to hold your buddy's hand." They followed her demand like eight little zombie half-gods. Percy huffed a laugh when Annabeth grabbed his own free hand. Always the perfect role model, his wise girl.
The narrow walkway connecting the elevator to Mt. Olympus had a width great enough to fit two children across no problem, but it still made Percy want to bite his nails and clench his eyes shut in anxiety. He was afraid he'd lose it if he looked over the edge. Because, while it was true he didn't have a phobia of heights, Percy knew that Zeus' temperament towards Poseidon's wrongdoing was always fluctuating. It was difficult to tell the difference between when he wanted to grudgingly praise or eagerly vaporize.
On the outside, Mt. Olympus had hardly changed. Still silver and gleaming white, still lit with a thousand fires so bright they were blinding. Temples dotted empty spaces between clouds and snow-topped mountains. It still managed to both thrill and thoroughly terrify him, and, with a curious glance towards the children, Percy could tell they felt the same.
This trip to Olympus, Percy chose to study his surroundings in much more detail. He wasn't here to save the world once more. Each new feature he didn't recognize (oh, wise girl, you've outdone yourself) left him breathless in awe.
They all walked slowly, intending to meet somewhere in the middle of the large stretch of busy space. Annabeth was the only one who really knew where she was going, and Percy was relieved he wasn't the "in-charge tour guide". Dozens of minor gods milled about and eyed them curiously; handfuls of satyrs and naiads danced and played on wooden instruments. A few waved at the now shy children, while others turned up their noses and continued on with their daily schedules. Annabeth guided all of them over to a large fountain, faces of the Olympians forever carved in marble. Percy was delighted to see a girl engraved into the fountain's base, tending happily to a hearth. There was no doubt in his mind that Annabeth had snuck that in there just for him.
"Ten and under, we'll meet up here every two hours. If something ever results in us not being here, don't move until one of us comes back. At two, everyone needs to be here, because we're going to the throne room at two-thirty before we leave." Nervous murmurs rose up from this. Percy understood completely.
Percy arched an eyebrow at all of them. "Well, why are you all still here?" He wiggled his fingers at them in a "get lost" gesture. "Scatter!" They didn't need to be told twice. As soon as the demigods disappeared from around them, Percy sat Susan down and crouched next to her. "You okay with staying with us, kiddo?" he asked her, tickling her under her chin. The bubbly girl laughed, nodding enthusiastically.
"Pretty Percy," Susan giggled, poking his cheek. A little ways behind him, he heard Annabeth laugh. Percy winked at the toddler.
"You got that right."
They spent a good thirty minutes laughing their asses off, exchanging greetings with all the minor gods and even Hermes at one point. The God of Travelers had grinned fondly down at his demigod daughter as she cheerfully forced Percy to french braid her caramel-colored hair. When he had asked if he could borrow his daughter for a while and show her around, neither Percy nor Annabeth even blinked before agreeing. Annabeth could barely look at the god, but Percy made sure to flash him a supportive smile before the glorified mailman walked away, Susan riding happily on his godly shoulders. Things were going to be okay.
Of course, Percy was wrong.
It wasn't even five minutes later when he heard it over the noise of Annabeth animatedly discussing architecture with her mother off to the side. A quiet shout of pure terror, a loud thump followed by a pained whine. Percy was off the base of the fountain before he could even so much as curse, head whipping to find the reason for the noise. He found it quickly. The whole area halved itself in volume.
One of their demigod girls was cowering away from a minor god, head tucked into her knees and trembling like it'd dropped to subzero temperatures. The minor god himself was standing shock still, surprise and concern warring for dominance on his thin, rat-like face. His hand stayed frozen midair, hovering as if to softly clap itself on the half-blood's shoulder. Her buddy—a pasty, pimply boy with golden hair and headphones around his neck—stared on in panic.
Percy had a sickening feeling hit him like a wave.
His girlfriend didn't hesitate: she immediately moved to get the terrified child. Percy held out a hand to stop her. "Don't," he said, voice going hard and demanding. His breathing came out strangled, but he got himself under control before it could alert Annabeth of his distress. "I've got it." She jolted, surprised, but didn't argue, sharp eyes going sad after a short nod.
He's got it, alright.
Slowly, as if trying not to scare a startled animal, he made his way towards the half-blood girl. She didn't even flinch. A miniature dagger remained clutched in one her tiny fists, and it shook terribly along with her tremors. He batted the minor god and half-blood boy away, and they scattered so fast it was almost comical. With a closer look at her slight frame, Percy noted she couldn't possibly be older than ten. His heart sank as he knelt in front of her.
"Hey," he started out soft-spoken and cautious. Not loving, not stern or cold. He hoped this wasn't what he thought; he prayed to every god he could think of that she was just shy, just startled and defensive. Wild, inky curls bobbed as she peered up at him, familiar grey eyes stark against skin the color of dark chocolate. He'd seen her around camp—a confident but near silent girl who worshiped the ground her head councilor walked on. Percy'd watched as children gathered around the girl several times in the last couple of months, eager to see her play strategy games with her fellow cabin members till she dropped bone tired. A daughter of Athena. "He's gone, you know. You don't have to be so afraid."
A familiar sight painted itself on the back of Percy's eyelids: a beer bottle slamming against his head, rank poker players leering at him with cruel eyes. He sucked in a breath and offered the girl a (hopefully) sincere smile. She didn't unfurl her body, and he watched with growing panic as she seemed to distance herself from the world around her. Images danced in her eyes. Dissociation was a bitch, he knew.
Gotta think, Percy, he told himself angrily. Don't use pet names, don't move too quickly, and don't talk too loud. Speak clearly without pity, without anger. Don't touch without permission. He shuddered. Gods, never touch if you can help it.
Show empathy. Let her know that someone understands.
He swallowed hard, sick to his stomach. "Hey," he repeated. His tone was solid, confident. Forced, but the demigod didn't know that. "I know you're on edge, but you have to understand: you're not there anymore." The girl's shaking stopped, her eyes went wide. Percy could no longer deny the truth.
"What do you mean?" she asked coldly, but the way her words broke like brittle bones gave her away. Percy pushed on.
"You've been terrified since you came to camp, right? Anxious, like someone's got your lungs in a vise and you're going to hop right out your skin. Your hands shake, but you force them steady. You repeat some sort of mantra in your head like it's your only lifeline, because if you forget, you'll lose whatever flimsy walls you've built around yourself since you left who was hurting you." She looked awful now, pained and confused, but Percy couldn't stop, couldn't let this go even if he tried. He remembered returning to school after every break and cringing when someone brushed past him too suddenly in hall for weeks after. "Because no one can know, can they? You won't let them find out, can't risk it. You can't let them know that you lost, that you're weak." He remembered lying to every single fucking councilor he ever had.
"Shut up," her every word shook like a leaf.
"They can't know, because you're afraid," he pushed gently, a calm whisper in a sea of silence. He remembered circular burns from fat cigars and the sharp sting of a slap. "You know that they'll hurt you, like they always hurt you." Percy remembered the demigod's name: Marie.
Marie's voice rose to a shout, "Shut up!"
"You're afraid they won't care. You're afraid they'll send you back anyway and that it'll only get worse for you." Percy gradually pried the dagger from her limp grasp, setting it down next to her slowly. What he said next was strong with conviction, heavy with understanding and pain carefully suppressed. "Marie, you're wrong, okay? I know it's hard to believe, but you're wrong. No one's going to hurt you here." I won't let them."We can help you," he said, and with a brief pause, he continued on, "I can help you."
He remembered being alone.
Something inside her chest broke. He wasn't sure what, but suddenly, his arms were full of sobbing demigod. Shocked mumbling floated through the open space. Percy ignored them.
"Oh, sweetie," he whispered, before mentally cursing at breaking his own rule. Marie didn't seem to mind, however, and clung to him harder. He carefully ran his fingers through her hair, finally resting a hand delicately on a narrow shoulder. "I know; I understand. I know."
Percy wasn't sure how long they stayed there, but Marie eventually pulled away from him. He let her. She rubbed at her eyes for a few moments, lower lip firmly wedged between her top and bottom teeth. She didn't say thank you, didn't bother to apologize. Percy didn't ask if she was hurt anywhere. She'd been emotional and frightened when she'd reacted the way she did, and now that she was feeling better, there was no way she'd trust him with something so personal. Not yet.
"I think you scared the shit out of your buddy," he told her, not even bothering to put back on his kid gloves. Percy figured she'd appreciate it. From the snort she let out, he was ecstatic to find that he was right.
"I should go check on him," she agreed, a shy grin curling at her lips. Percy grinned back, though it quickly settled into a determined grimace.
"You're going to have to talk to someone. Not today, not tomorrow, but sometime before summer break ends. We can make it so you stay all year round—if you want, I mean." Marie nodded silently, grey orbs pensive. Her hands still shook, but when she stood, her posture was ramrod straight and proud. A perfect example of how a child of Athena should always appear.
"I will." She glanced away from him, ignoring him from where he still knelt on the floor, and he watched with a detached curiosity as her cheeks flushed. "Can that someone be you?"
"Of course." And with that, she left. Percy let her. He stood only once she was gone and walked mechanically back towards his girlfriend. The son of Poseidon felt cold, and he made sure to shove his hands in his jean pockets in a fruitless effort to hide his shaking hands. Familiar shaking hands. His vision blurred around the edges as he reached his wise girl. Thoughtlessly, he planted a greeting kiss on her cheek.
He ignored the Goddess of Wisdom pointedly. The eyes resting on the back of his head burned. "So, about that architecture?"
A/N: This doesn't look like Monsters of a Different Mold, you say to me, hands on your hips. I proceed to beg for mercy. Oops. But hey, this is sorta nice too, yeah? I'm not sure if it'll be a one-shot or a two-shot; I suppose that depends on how well this first part is received. I have the motivation to do a second chappie involving Percy talking to Poseidon. This actually was supposed to be a revamped version of my long time deleted stories To Be More Like My Favorite Color and World Full of Idiots smashed together into a new, shiny one-shot. This first part was growing long, however, and, well... I wasn't sure if this would appeal to anyone, especially with MoaDM taking priority over everything and anything Fanfiction. Shrug. We'll see what happens. Sometimes the creative juices just flow, and with my next Chapter of MoaDM having a section on Hades' POV... I feel like I deserved a little break, aha. Guy's one heck of a toughie. R&R. ~Loyalty