Recovery was rough.
In the Big House's infirmary, Percy slept for a full 24 hours after the war. Occasionally, Percy broke out of his deep sleep to the sound of a startling scream from a wounded demigod, but it was never for longer than five minutes at a time. Will Solace had treated the scrapes and eagle claw marks covering Percy's shoulders as well as bandaged the arm Annabeth had gashed, but that didn't prevent Percy from waking up sore and pained.
With a grunt, Percy shifted himself into a seated position on his cot and rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands. Blinking away sleep, Percy took in the chaotic infirmary. Every bed was occupied, and extra cots had been set up in such large numbers that the Apollo campers were struggling to navigate the maze of patients. Argus was in the far corner cutting up a platter of ambrosia, and Will was changing the bandages of a girl Percy didn't know- possibly a Roman camper. Austin Lake and Kayla Knowles were busy at work, too, dealing with multiple patients at a time. Right as Will stood up to move to a new patient, Kayla tapped him on the shoulder and gave a not-so-subtle nod in Percy's direction. Will made eye contact with Percy and gave him a bright smile.
"Percy!" Will exclaimed, his sunny expression starkly contrasting the dark bags under his eyes. He weaved his way over to the son of Poseidon, dodging a rogue kick from a demigod having a nightmare. Sitting on the edge of Percy's cot, Will brushed the blonde hair out of his eyes. "So, how are you feeling?"
"Probably better than you right now," Percy joked, giving Will a concerned look. "Have you slept at all?"
Will laughed, sounding a little crazy. "Oh, you know, a couple minutes here and there- oh! And I got an hour in at 4:00 am."
"I could help out," Percy volunteered, moving to get out of bed. "You need a break-"
"No!" Will interrupted, putting a hand out to stop Percy. Wide-eyed, Percy lowered himself back onto the cot. Will cleared his throat awkwardly and wouldn't make eye-contact with Percy.
"I, uh, I think it's best that you keep recovering. Tensions are… are a little high right now, and I don't think the first thing some of these demigods should see when they wake up is, uh… well, is you."
Realization set in. "Oh."
"Yeah, not everybody is entirely clear on the whole Hyde thing just yet- most people are, but not all- and, um, you… you really frightened a lot of people yesterday. Sure, they get that you're supposedly all better now-"
"Well, yeah," Will continued, shifting so that he was seated more permanently on Percy's cot. "When Nico and everyone got back from that Monster HQ, the main story that spread around camp was that you were forced to take this potion that makes you attack any demigod you see and that there was a monster army that was going to use you as a weapon. But the thing is, nobody knows anything specific about that potion. It was engineered by a mad scientist- we have no clue what went into it and what it's lasting effects are. And, on top of that, you and your monster friends went and messed with the formula. Who even knows what it's full range of side effects are? Is it even completely out of your system?"
Percy let out a short laugh. "Well, the fact that I haven't attacked you yet is a pretty clear indicator that it's done."
"But we don't know that," Will argued, using his hands as he talked. "What if the Hyde flares up again? My siblings and I don't have any way to check. So, that means people are still on edge. Percy…" Will gave him a distressed look. "They won't forget seeing you attack like that. The things you did were…unprecedented."
Percy frowned. "At least I didn't attack the camp itself. If you think about it, I really only attacked three demigods."
Will shook his head. "No, I'm talking about after the Hyde wore off. When you attacked Vinomi. You did that all on your own. It… it was kind of scary, if we're being completely honest here."
Percy flinched. "I… I see what you mean. I, uh…" He cleared his throat. "I lost control for second there. I just...seeing Hazel die- killing Hazel myself- I just couldn't take anymore..." Percy's gaze went a little distant, and Will was about to wave a hand in front of Percy's face when the son of Poseidon snapped back to reality. "Um, that, as well as the fact that I was running purely on adrenaline, kinda... lent itself to me losing control."
Percy laced his fingers together and covered his mouth, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. "Oh, gods." His face slipped down behind his hands and, quieter than before, "I'm just glad it's over with."
A couple seconds passed where neither demigod said anything. Then, looking up and around the room once more at the array of patients, Percy asked, "How many of these people are Vinomi victims?"
Will grimaced. "More than we'd like." Right on cue, a boy in the back shrieked, shaking and curling in on himself. Argus rushed over, fed him a bite of ambrosia, and sat beside him for comfort. Will sighed. "There's only so much we can do for them. Luckily, the monsters who were touched by Vinomi's claws died almost immediately- well, not luckily, but I just meant we have fewer people to house and- gods, you know what I mean."
Percy nodded. The pained faces of the demigods around him were too much for him to handle. He had brought this upon Camp Half Blood. These demigods had a week at most left to live, if they could live out the pain that long. He had no idea how the Apollo campers managed to deal with this sort of thing so often. The dark circles and shaken demeanor of the medics were enough to show that this was as nightmarish for them as it was for the campers. Percy swallowed. This was his fault. He did this. He could have done more, done something different, but-
"Hey," Will started, eyes narrowing at Percy. "I know that look. You're blaming yourself, aren't you? Now that is unhealthy, especially now. This isn't on you."
Percy shot him a dubious glare.
"Nuh uh, nope, I'm not backing down on this one because I know I'm right, Percy. This is all Vinomi and those giants. Not you. It was never your fault. If I spent all day blaming myself for not saving every single kid who fought yesterday, I'd drown in guilt. You need to realize that you can't save everybody."
Percy stood, nearly falling back over before Will rushed to support him. Percy gave him a stern yet sorrowful look. "It's my responsibility to save everybody. That's what I'm supposed to do."
Squeezing past another cot and medic, Percy made his way out of the Big House.
The camp was bustling with demigods and monsters alike, but Percy needed some time alone. He bypassed the Hunters of Artemis, who were packing up their trampled camping equipment, and he overheard talk of Artemis needing help out west.
Where was she during all this? Percy thought bitterly, but he didn't stop to ask. He walked by the amphitheater, where a large gathering of monsters and demigods were seated. The two groups weren't mingling per se, but this was the closest thing to a humane gathering they'd ever had with each other. Annabeth, Chiron, Sandro, Kelli, Jason, and another monster Percy hadn't met were at the center, writing out what Percy assumed to be the rough draft of a treaty. There was lots of shouting, lots of dirty glares, and lots of desperate placating gestures, but hey- progress was progress, right?
Percy paused only briefly to observe the conference; he didn't have the energy to participate in such a heated debate. Annabeth would handle that just fine- heck, she thrived during debates. She was made for this sort of thing. Percy… Percy was just tired. Worn out. Buried too far in his own thoughts to deal with anything else. He finally walked away, meandering towards the beach. He wasn't aware that that was where he was headed; he just instinctively headed for water. As he walked by the occasional group of demigods, they cast skeptical glares his way. Some campers gave him a timid wave and hurried on their way, eyes on the ground; others straight up ignored him. Percy felt on edge. He had worked so hard to blend in at Camp Half Blood over the years- well, "blend in" was probably the wrong term, but at least not stick out like a sore thumb like he did during his first year. He tried not to let their glares and hostile attitudes bother him, but he couldn't deny that it hurt to see all the trust he had built with the campers disappear. Passing by the cabins, Percy spared a quick remorseful glance at his decimated home. The shambles of Cabin 3 were an abysmal sight. Percy felt a pang in his heart, so he turned away and tried not to think too hard about it. By the time his feet hit sand, Percy was very deep into his own thoughts.
Staring out at the water, Percy stood still. The sounds of the world were foggy, as if he was already under the water. Watching the waves glitter in the sun, Percy called out mentally, Why didn't you help, Dad? Where were you?
He waited for a response but got none. The waves continued to lap near his feet without a care in the world.
Percy's head felt like it was stuffed with cotton, and it took all his energy to even stay standing. Years ago, Percy had released all his power at once on Mount St. Helens and proceeded to stay unconscious for nearly a week. He felt exactly like he did then, except with less sleep and more guilt. It sucked.
A familiar sound called out from far away behind him, but he didn't turn towards it. He heard it again. Then, the noise sharpened into his name, being yelled for the third time.
"Percy!" Frank called. Percy's stomach dropped.
"Frank," Percy said, his voice cracking in the middle as he turned to face his friend. Frank hurried over, looking worried, and Percy tried to swallow his mounting anxiety. "Oh gods, Frank, I'm so sorry. I didn't-"
Frank wrapped Percy in a hug, pulling him close into his comforting, warm embrace. At first, Frank didn't say anything. Percy rested his head on Frank's chest and bit his lip to keep from crying. When Frank sniffed, a tear trickling down his face, Percy had to let go.
"Frank, I'm sorry, I'm really sorry. I had to, she asked me to, and- and it was either that or more pain and I fought her about it, I really did, but-"
"Percy," Frank whispered, sniffing again and pulling back- although his large hands stayed delicately placed on Percy's shoulders in order to keep any pressure off his wounds. "I don't blame you, and… and you shouldn't blame yourself either."
"But it is my fault!" Percy exclaimed, a shaking hand pointing at his own chest. "It was under my protection she got scratched. It was my stupid Styx promise that convinced her it was the right choice. It was me that sta-a-abbed-" Percy choked on his words, voice cutting out. He took a deep breath before continuing. "It is my fault, Frank, and I'm tired of everybody trying to tell me otherwise just to make me feel better." He paused for a second. "She… she wanted me to tell you she loved you. She really did."
Frank wiped at his eyes, tired of tears but unable to stop them. "I love her too." Percy smiled at that, but it was weak. That's when Frank really noticed how unsteady Percy was at the moment, swaying slightly on his feet and looking ready to collapse at any moment, so he lightly tugged Percy towards the ground so he could sit. They sat facing each other on the sand, and Frank was about to retaliate once more when Percy's arms caught his eye. Even with one of the forearms being bandaged and the other tattooed with the Roman Legion insignia, Frank could still see the branching lightning scars covering his arms. They were only slightly darker in shade than Percy's tan skin, but they were still noticeable, weaving down his arms like electric roots.
Percy followed Frank's gaze and let out a weak laugh. "Thalia really let loose this time, huh?"
Frank looked back up at Percy, and the appearance of his best friend was so… haggard that it hurt to see him like this. Percy's hair was a wild combination of bedhead, dried blood, and monster dust. Even though he had just slept for a whole day, he was still visibly exhausted both mentally and physically. His black shirt, which sported multiple tears and plenty of rips on the sleeves, revealed bandages underneath that wrapped around his torso and shoulders. Those bandages are covering scars I left there, Frank thought remorsefully. The pang of guilt those bandages gave Frank made him realize that if something as small as that made him feel responsible and regretful, then Percy's burden must've felt enormous.
Frank's emotions must've been evident on his face, because Percy was looking at him with intense concern. "Frank, are you okay?"
Frank shrugged, although his eyebrows were still knit with worry. "I mean, I've been better, but I fared pretty well this round. A lot of Roman campers got injured, though. We… we lost a lot of soldiers." Seeing the pained look on Percy's face, Frank quickly added, "N-Not that that's your fault! It's just the nature of battle. You know that." Frank paused to sigh. "It doesn't make it easier, though. When I left Camp Jupiter, Reyna had complete confidence in me. I can't help but feel like I failed as a praetor yesterday."
Percy shook his head. "No, Frank, you fought bravely. You did everything you could, and your campers respect you for that. I respect you for that." Percy reach out and put a hand on Frank's knee. "You stopped me from killing Annabeth, you know that? You saved lives."
Frank was about to reply when someone came jogging up. Grover came to a panting stop next to the two demigods, hands on his furry knees as he caught his breath. "Hey...Percy, Frank."
"Hey Grover," Percy responded. "What's going on?"
Grover smiled brightly, still breathing hard. "The...the monsters have… signed an agreement. In a month, there… there will be a formal conference where demigods and monsters alike will… discuss in depth the pros and cons of a treaty, how it will affect relations...and a lot of political stuff like that." Grover stood tall, leaning back to stretch his back. "It was a long discussion, and a lot of monsters still aren't entirely on board. Actually, a lot of them ditched directly after the war ended. We're hoping to spread the word across the nation about the treaty, and it for sure won't end the fighting immediately, but it's a start. We have enough monsters on our side to make a dent, at least."
Frank laughed in relief. "Thank the gods. This is kind of insane, you know? We're beginning to end a millennia of feuding." Frank gave Percy a huge smile. "You realize you helped bring this about, right? This is on you. You helped us start a revolutionary era of peace. Think about the lives you'll be saving."
All I can think about are the lives we lost, Percy thought to himself, but he gave Frank a fake smile to cover it up. "It's pretty crazy."
Frank stood, brushing sand off his pants. "I need to get back to Camp Jupiter and explain all this…" Frank waved his hand in the air, searching for the right word. "All this craziness." He helped Percy to his feet. "I'll see you again soon, alright?"
"I'm looking forward to it," Percy grinned.
"Well, I have a lot of flights to book, pegasi to wrangle, and Romans to transport back home. Thank the gods for magical transportation." Frank headed back up the beach towards the Big House, waving goodbye to Percy and Grover as he went.
Percy turned to Grover. "Speaking of the gods, do you know why nobody came to help?"
"I mean, we had Mr. D?"
Percy gave Grover an unamused look.
"Okay, okay, I know- although you should give him more credit. He helped take down Forterae, Bonoas, and Aralus. That's pretty significant."
Percy rolled his eyes. "Fine, yes, Mr. D was vital to our success- just don't tell him I said that. He'd never let me live it down. But what I mean is, why did nobody else come? Artemis' hunters were here, but no Artemis. Athena directly interfered back at the HQ- she knew what was going on, but she didn't come back. Heck, we walked under the water from the S. S. Tartarus to Camp Half Blood, yet Poseidon didn't make any move to help out."
Grover sighed heavily and glanced at the sky as if he could see Olympus. "I'd like to chalk it up to their general apathy towards demigods, but in all honesty… I don't know."
"Maybe they feared Vinomi?" Percy guessed. "This isn't the first time they've ducked out of our lives at a time we needed them."
Grover gave Percy an apprehensive glance. "Look, I know they're, ah, disappointing at times, but they are the gods. Maybe there was a problem that needed their attention elsewhere, or- or maybe this was some kind of test?"
"A test?" Percy scoffed, crossing his arms. "I don't understand how they could stand idly by as their children were slaughtered by the hundreds."
"I know, but-"
"If they aren't going to help, then why do we honor them? They should have come down. They should have saved their own children."
"Percy, stop," Grover said firmly. "I know you're upset, and you have every right to be, but… but wait until you're all healed and well-rested before you say something you'll regret." Grover leaned in and said quietly, "You're starting to sound like Luke."
Percy's eyes went wide, then he groaned and rubbed his face. "You're right, you're right. I need to go get all of this out of my system before I make any judgement calls." He turned to Grover one last time as he headed away from the beach. "But I will be contacting Olympus later, you can bet on that."
Percy needed an outlet. He didn't have a lot of energy, but he had a lot of anger. From the Hyde or from himself, he couldn't tell, but all he knew was that he needed some time alone to sort it out.
A couple hours ago, Percy had grabbed a fresh Camp Half-Blood shirt from the Aphrodite Cabin, where its inhabitants were giving out free ones to anyone who needed to replace their tattered war-torn clothes. It felt nice to have the familiar orange on once again.
Percy wiped sweat from his forehead as he stood back and admired the slice he had carved down the center of the training dummy. Percy tended to feel better after a solid round in the combat arena, sword fighting dummies to let out any pent up aggression.
He went at it again, kicking it backwards and stabbing it through as the straw dummy bounced back. He turned to another dummy, this one a torso on a wheeled stick. Thunk, thump, whack. Percy kicked, punched, and smacked it with Riptide, moving across the arena's dirt floor. Thunk, thump, whack, kick, slice.
Percy was breathing hard, and he shook a little on his feet. He was still not at 100%, and he definitely needed a full meal and another round of sleep, but he didn't care. He let so many people die. WHACK. He brought horror to the camp. THUNK. He didn't deserve everyone's kindess. BOOM. Percy knocked the dummy over, letting it slam loudly on the ground. Wheezing slightly, Percy was about to sheath Riptide went he spotted a dark figure on the edge of the arena, cloaked in shadow against the lavender sky. The evening air suddenly dropped in temperature, and Percy shivered.
"Uh... hello?" Percy panted.
The figure stepped forward, and Percy's throat went dry. Nico Di Angelo looked like a wreck. Tears streaked down his face, and his lower lip was trembling. His hands were clenched in shaking fists.
"Oh gods," Percy whispered. He knew exactly why Nico was here.
"How could you?" Nico whimpered. Then, clearing his throat, Nico yelled, "How could you?"
"Nico," Percy started, taking a step back as the son of Hades marched closer. "I'm sorry-"
"No." Nico drew his Stygian Iron blade. "I don't want your fucking apology. You knew she was all I had left." He pointed the sword at Percy, still stalking towards him. "She was my only family, and you- you-"
"Nico, wait! I didn't have a choice-"
"Bullshit." Nico viciously swiped at Percy, which Riptide barely blocked.
"Hazel was scratched by Vinomi, Nico, she was suffering, I-"
"Shut up!" Nico screamed. He rushed forward, and Percy parried the lunge. They're swords' clashes rang through the arena, but nobody else was around to hear it. It was around dinner time, so most demigods were either still at the mess hall or had retired for the night. The camp's usual activities had been canceled due to damages. Therefore, Nico and Percy were alone, battling under a darkening sky.
"Nico-" Percy dodged a strike. "You have to listen to me. She-" Clash.
"Don't give me some moronic excuse," Nico growled, doubling his efforts. Clash. Clash. Whoosh. Clash. Percy dove to the side to avoid Nico's blade, and hurriedly blocked the next attack immediately after coming out of his roll. "You have a hand in both of my sisters' deaths, Percy! Gods, are you trying to ruin my fucking life?" Clash. Nico let out a sob, face scrunched up in anger and despair. "I cared about them so much, and you let them both die!"
"I cared about them, too!" Percy shot back. "Don't you dare think I didn't care!" Percy blocked a strike, pushing back and nearly knocking Nico off his feet. "I told you, I didn't have a choice!'
"Didn't have a choice?" Nico yelped incredulously. He stabbed at Percy. "You can control poison! Why didn't you take it out of her?" Percy tripped on a rock and nearly fell, regaining his footing just in time to block another blow. "Heck, you can control blood! Why didn't you control Vinomi?"
Clash. "You. had. a. choice!" With a scream, Nico kicked Percy in the stomach, knocking what little air Percy had out of him.
"I was tired!' Percy gasped, doubling over. "You don't realize how difficult it is to do those things!" He sucked in a rattling breath. "I had spent the past day in a Stygian Iron clasp, which painfully drained my energy for hours." Nico stopped. He knew what the consequences of Stygian Iron were on a demigod.
"Arriving to camp, I was already weaker. But, under the influence of the Hyde, I never rationed my energy. I…" Percy wheezed, finally standing up straight again. "I used every ounce of power I could the whole time. Even when controlled, though, I could only manipulate the body a little bit. It was hard to even get Annabeth to drop her arm. So, by the time the Hyde wore off, I was running on pure adrenaline. I could still control water with some ease, but blood? Poison? I didn't have the energy."
Nico sniffed, more tears coming down his face. "No, you- you're lying. You had enough energy to fight Vinomi." Nico's anger grew again. "You could have tried! You should have tried!" He shoved Percy.
"You're right!" Percy yelled, eyes growing watery as well. "You know what? You're right. I should have tried harder, and I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Nico. But Vinomi's poison isn't water-based. It's more syrup-y, it's- it's not normal. I couldn't control it. I could have tried, but it wouldn't have made difference. I couldn't do it, and I'm so sorry."
"'Sorry' doesn't change the fact that she's gone!" Nico gave Percy one last harsh shove, and Percy fell to the ground, head bouncing painfully against the dirt. Nico stood over the son of Poseidon, Stygian Iron pointed at his throat.
"I should kill you!" he sobbed. "You killed Bianca and Hazel; you shouldn't be alive!"
Percy narrowed his eyes, tear tracks now mirroring those on Nico's face. "You know what? Do it, then! Kill me! End it now and save the world the pain."
Nico looked taken aback. "W-what?"
Percy sniffed. "You're right- I don't deserve to be here right now. So do it. I brought so much destruction to the camp, and it seems like I can't do anything without it costing other people's lives. I'm the reason Hazel's dead, and I hate myself for it. Sometimes being a hero sucks, and even though people say you did what was right, it sure doesn't feel like it."
Percy looked right into Nico's eyes. "So if you're going to kill me, go ahead. I won't stop you."
Nico's choked out another sob, chest heaving as he wiped his tears away. Slowly, he lowered his sword. "Y-You had a choice."
"No, you had a choice days ago. The promise. You decided to let me live and kill another." Nico started to shake. "You should have killed me instead."
Nico dropped to his knees, sword clanking out of his hand and onto the ground. Percy scrambled out of his way and sat up. Nico looked up at Percy, looking young and afraid and defeated. "You should have killed me instead. Hazel should have lived, not me."
"Nico, even if I had let you die- which I never would have done- Hazel would've died anyway. She… she gave me an out for the Styx promise, a way to avoid killing anyone else. She was a true hero, and her sacrifice saved the life of another demigod who I might've killed." Percy wrapped his arms around himself. "Killing her was the worst thing I've ever done. I haven't stopped thinking about it since. Her death was the only reason I was able to muster up enough energy to fight Vinomi. I… I was numb. I couldn't feel anything except grief and rage and hatred." He glanced at Nico. "I know you understand what it's like to lose yourself in your own power."
Percy wiped at his own face and straightened up. "But if she were here, she would say we did the right thing. She wouldn't have wanted you to die. She wouldn't have wanted another demigod to die at my hands when she was already dying. We did what we were supposed to do, Nico. And it feels awful, and it'll hurt for a really long time, and losing the people you care about never gets easier- but it was the right thing to do."
Nico didn't say anything, but all the fight left his body. Percy always forgot just how young Nico was. "I'm still so sorry, Nico. I get it."
Nico shook his head. "I shouldn't have attacked you. I'm sorry. You know I have, um, a problem with grudges. Will is helping me work on it, but… I lost control when I heard about Hazel."
Percy pulled Nico into a hug, which Nico didn't expect at all. He froze, unsure of how to proceed in this situation. He had just tried to kill Percy- again- but Percy wasn't mad at him. After a couple seconds, Nico hugged Percy back and cried, sobbing heavily into his shoulder. Percy grimaced, the pressure from Nico's head on his wounded shoulder making it sting, but he stayed silent. Nico desperately needed comfort, and, well, so did Percy.
Softly, Percy said, "Hazel wanted me to tell you that she loved you."
Nico cried harder, but through the sniffs and gasps Percy heard him mumble, "I love you too, Hazel."
Later that night, Jason heard a knock on his cabin's door. He glanced at a clock he kept by his bunk- 8:43 PM. I'm not expecting anybody, Jason thought curiously. Upon opening Cabin 1's door, Jason was greeted by the incredibly worn out Percy Jackson, who was holding a small bag of miscellaneous objects in his arms.
"Oh! Percy, hi! Can… can I help you?"
Percy shuffled his feet awkwardly. "Um, I was wondering if I could bunk here for a couple of days? Cabin 3 is, ah, completely wrecked, and Annabeth's cabin is kind of crowded, and I figured since you were the only member of Cabin 1-"
"Oh, yeah, of course! C'mon in!" Jason stepped out of the way, holding the bronze door open for Percy. The son of Poseidon glanced around. He couldn't remember the last time he had set foot inside Cabin 1. The placed reeked of regality, what with its domed ceiling, marble columns, golden eagles, and giant statue of Zeus glaring down at him from the center of the cabin.
"Yeah, you never really get used to that stare," Jason joked, his laugh sounding a little uneasy. "Feel free to take any bunk you'd like. Piper is usually the only other person who comes in here- Thalia can't stand the look of this place, and she's never here- so there's plenty of room."
Percy set his stuff on a bunk to the right of the statue, far enough behind it so that Zeus' face wasn't visible. "Whoever designed this cabin was clearly more focused on pleasing Zeus' ego than the actual people who'd be living in it."
"Well, to be honest," Jason replied, moving towards his own bunk to grab a hoodie he had hung on the bedpost, "They probably didn't expect anybody to ever live in it."
Percy huffed out a laugh. "Touché."
Percy's hair was wet, meaning he had just come from the showers, and Jason wondered why he didn't bother drying it magically. Judging by his distant and tired demeanor, Jason figured he probably had too much on his mind at the moment to worry about wet hair.
"So, ah," Jason began, taking a seat on his bunk and putting on his gold glasses. "How's recovery been?"
"Hmm?" Percy asked, not looking up from the bag he was rifling through. Definitely a lot on his mind, then, Jason reasoned. I've never seen him so distracted. "Oh, you know, the usual fatigue and-" Percy turned, and upon seeing Jason broke out into a huge laugh.
Jason was caught off guard. "What?"
"Oh my gods, bro, could you have made those glasses look any more nerdy?"
Jason rolled his eyes. After Nico had accidentally stepped on Jason's glasses at the HQ, Piper had taped them back together right in the center- classic nerd style. "Oh, come on, it's not that bad. Besides, nerdy isn't a bad thing."
"I know, I know," Percy laughed. "Heck, I'm dating one of the biggest nerds I know. It's just- wow." Still chuckling, Percy flopped onto the bunk. "Oh, I needed a good laugh. Thanks, Jason."
"You're welcome, I guess," Jason replied sarcastically, no real annoyance behind his words. "Oh! By the way, I have something of yours." Percy turned and watched as Jason pulled out a drawer beneath his bunk, rooted around, and pulled out a small camp necklace. "You left this in Derideo's lab."
Percy's eyes widened, and he sat up to eagerly take the necklace from Jason. "Oh my gods, you found it!" Twisting each bead in his fingers, Percy grinned. There was the Golden Fleece, and the Labyrinth, and the Empire State Building- and his very first bead, the trident. It had a crack going through the painted image, but Percy didn't care. Tying it around his neck, Percy thanked Jason. "This means a lot to me, really. I'm so glad you found it."
"It washed out the window with the rest of us," Jason explained. "I figured you'd want it back."
Even after he finished tying the leather into a knot in the back, Percy kept his hand on the necklace, twisting the beads mindlessly. "It kind of symbolizes home for me," Percy told Jason. "It's nice to have again, especially since I've felt so out of place today."
"What do you mean?" Jason asked.
Percy scoffed and gave Jason a look. "You mean you haven't noticed the way the camp's become hostile and apprehensive around me? The way the campers won't look me in the eyes? The way everyone tiptoes through conversations with me as if upsetting me will unleash some sort of inner monster?"
"Well..." Jason began, unsure how to discredit Percy's observations. They were true, after all.
"It's just like my first year here," Percy sighed, pulling up his legs onto the bunk and wrapping his arms around his knees. "Everybody was so afraid of me, even then, just because I'm the son of Poseidon. It took awhile for people to come around, and every year something else would come along and spike their cautiousness once again. I got weird looks when everyone learned that Tyson was my half-brother. I was treated differently when I was officially labeled the child of The Great Prophecy. I just…" Percy rested his chin on his knees and looked away from Jason. "I never wanted to be a half-blood."
Jason sat in stunned silence. Hearing Percy lament about feeling like an outcast felt so strange because Jason was the outcast, right? Not quite Roman enough, but not Greek. Raised by wolves, never supposed to have been born- these were things that plagued Jason, not Percy. Percy was the camp hero, the one everyone loved. The world turned upside down when he went missing- he wasn't an outcast!
Perhaps putting people on a pedestal is another form of outcasting, Jason wondered.
Jason was so lost in thought he didn't notice Percy staring at him strangely. "Uh...Jason? You okay buddy?"
Jason's brain restarted. "I remember talking about this back before we went on the quest to the HQ, and I don't know… I guess I thought you were only trying to make me feel better about not fitting in. I-It's weird hearing you talk about feeling outcasted because that's how I've always felt, and I never realized how similar our experiences were. I'll admit, my first impression of you was this 'amazing, untouchable hero' because that's how everyone described you. I never considered that your life wasn't always like that."
Percy smiled his signature crooked grin. "'Amazing, untouchable hero,' huh? Jason, I'm flattered."
"Oh, shut up, I'm trying to make a point here." Jason crossed the cabin and sat beside Percy. "Percy, you've proved time and time again that you are a trustworthy friend and a genuine hero. It's true that right now things aren't great, but with time people will come around again. Everyone's shaken and battle scarred right now, and yes, you did frighten a lot of people. But the camp knows that it wasn't your fault that the war happened. I don't think anyone blames you for that. The tension is coming from seeing your full range of abilities like never before. It was shocking, but give the campers time to get used to the idea that a demigod can do what you can, and you'll be right back to where you were before this whole ordeal."
Percy smiled tiredly. "Thanks, Jason. I appreciate it. I also appreciate that you stood by me yesterday, when we pitched the idea of the treaty. That made a huge difference."
Jason nodded. "You were right, in the end. Something needs to change. I'm glad we get to be a part of it."
Jason stood to move back to his own bunk when Percy's bag caught his eye. "What's in there, anyway?" he asked.
Percy glanced at his bag. "Oh, it's everything I could salvage from Cabin 3."
"What?" Jason gasped. "That's it?"
"Well, I didn't have much in there, thank goodness. I found Tyson's golden mobile, though it needs repair, and I have a couple pieces of Poseidon's fountain. I nabbed the Minotaur's horn, too, and some clothes and my toothbrush and stuff like that- but that's it. Really, I didn't lose much."
Percy looked up from his bag, where he had been fidgeting with a shard of the fountain, and was met with Jason's sorrowful expression. "Woah, hey, it's not so bad. It'll take some time to rebuild, and sure, I miss it and all, but it could have been way worse."
"I'm really sorry," Jason offered. "You're welcome to stay with me as long as you'd like."
"Thanks," Percy replied. "I think I'm gonna get some sleep. It's been a long day, what with everyone and Nico and the Cabin-"
"Ah-" Percy flinched. Oops. He hadn't wanted to bring that up. "About an hour ago, he tried to kill me- you know, typical Nico, haha- but it's all good now!" Percy had his hands out to stop an increasingly angry Jason.
"Look, he had every right to be angry. I was involved with the deaths of both of his sisters, and to be quite honest, I had it coming. I should have addressed him earlier rather than let him stew on that fact for so long, especially since he has a penchant for grudges and all."
Jason glanced towards the door, ready to give Nico a stern talk.
"Woah, Jason," Percy stood and put a preventative hand on Jason's chest. "It's fine. We sorted it out. This isn't the first time he's attacked me, and it probably won't be the last. It's all good."
Jason looked at Percy funnily. "You two have a really weird relationship."
Percy huffed. "Don't I know it." Then, with a smile, "It seems that we children of the Big Three got saddled with an extra dose of wild in our lives, huh?"
Jason laughed half-heartedly. "I guess that's life for a kid who was never supposed to be born."
"Ain't that the truth," Percy grinned, lifting his hand to fistbump Jason. "Here's to being the results of a broken promise."
Jason fistbumped him. "It feels sacreligious to joke about that, somehow."
"I'm past the point of caring," Percy replied with a shrug. "At this point, my life is already so messed up, I deserve a little levity."
As he moved past Jason back to his temporary bunk, Percy called over his shoulder, "Speaking of the gods, tomorrow morning we should give them a call- or a visit- and see why the hell they didn't help out yesterday."
Jason nodded. "It's an eternal struggle, getting the gods to be of help."
Percy laughed. He was glad he had Jason there that night. A friendly face was greatly appreciated. As he climbed into bed, Percy noticed the tremble returning to his body. He sighed. He had a long way to go before he'd ever recover from the past week. So much had happened, and still so much more had yet to be decided. Where were the gods when we needed them most? Will the treaty even succeed? The camp had to be rebuilt, the wounded had to be treated...
So much still rode on Percy's shoulders. It felt like holding the world up for Atlas, but at least Percy had friends to share the burden with. Jason was there for him to talk; Nico was there to mourn with; Annabeth was there to help get everything under way. But for now, Percy was tired, and this bed was there to lull him to sleep. He was home, he was safe, and he was himself again.
Thank the gods.
I almost named this chap "Like, a Thousand Bonding Moments" but I resisted. Everyone needed a hug and they got one.
Wow, it's hard to realize that after all these years this fic has come to an end. At long last! I've been writing this thing for so long, haha! Thank you for reading this extensive fic! Funny to think that this all started when I had an idea for the scene in Ch. 4 in Dr. Derideo's lab, inspired by the song "I'm So Sorry" by Imagine Dragons, then orchestrated an entire plot and novel around it. Whoops.
Thank you for your continued support and enthusiastic comments, guys! You are the reason I didn't abandon this project! That, and I wanted to write a lot of scenes in the last chapter but had to keep writing to get there lol. If you wanna hmu on Tumblr ever to talk about this fic or anything, I'm thehufflepuffshuffle !
Thank you thank you thank you!