My story. Not my characters.
Sometimes I remind myself that I almost skipped the party, that I almost went to a different college, that the whim of a minute could have changed everything and everyone. Our lives, so settled, so specific, are built on happenstance. - Anna Quindlen
Breathe. Steadily, steadily—inhale.
A thin haze dampens the tranquil Central Park, blurring, blunting the edge of color and sound. Yet as careful as she treads, Artemis picks out the sound of her footsteps falling onto the thin sheet of snow blanketing the earth.
The developments in recent years hadn't allowed frivolities like practicing perfectly silent movement in snow. Such skill requires maintenance, even for a goddess: her next step lands on a camouflaged patch of ice, and Artemis grunts as her foot skids to the side. She steadies herself too late, filling her moccasin with sopping wet snow. She frowns.
The cold bothers her less than her mistake.
Artemis extracts her foot and, balanced on the other, bends to pick up the shoe. The deerskin is fine, protected by the waterproof layer she added to it. After all, she had created these shoes by hand, from hunting to skinning to leathering to stitching. Patting out the chunks of snow within, she lays the moccasin back down and slides her foot back in before straightening.
A sheaf of dark auburn hair falls over her eyes, which she tucks behind her ear. She'd let her hair down for the occasion, speaking of which … the goddess presses on to the lake.
The conditions are perfect.
With one final crinkle of snow, Artemis slips off the shore onto the frozen lake. The leather soles of her moccasins smoothen with a brush of magic, and she skates forth. Her strides fluid and powerful, she accelerates, gliding around the edge of the reservoir. The front of her silver tunic conforms to the swells of her body as she speeds on, while the back flutters behind her like wisps in the air.
It's the Winter Solstice, it's the full moon. An auspicious time, and a paradoxical one for her at that. The shortest day of the year, the longest night of the year—all the more time for the brightest moon to shine. There's a lunar eclipse planned just for the occasion, and she's not going to miss her show.
Sure, the largest party Artemis has ever seen at Olympus is on full swing right now. It's a bit late for celebrating their victory over Gaia, but Mother Nature had been defeated a month after the Summer Solstice. There certainly hadn't been any celebration to speak of then.
Fast forward five months to tonight and the whole mountain shakes with the revelry of Greeks and Romans alike. Her … her Hunters are enjoying their time at Olympus.
Artemis prefers enjoying the illuminated night on her own. Social events grate at her nerves, and this one was worse than usual. On top of its standard annoyances, bar one, the meeting was just ego-stroking ceremony and meaningless accolades. No 'gifts' this time, either, despite how much greater the deeds performed this time had been—not that any of the six Seven seemed to care.
But she can refresh and reset here. Everyone else can have their ambrosia and nectar, their odd mishmash of dancing to different tunes. She'll take in the local chip of wilderness in the city. It's perfect, and it's winter—and oh what a wonderful, what a beautiful, what a gorgeous season it is.
Artemis never tires of winter.
The rain of spring is a lovely, essential, irritating part of nature, even if she enjoys the challenge it presents in hunting. Conversely, the spring hunt also becomes too simple due to the influx of naive newborns. Summer brings nothing special besides raised temperatures. The colors of autumn never cease to amaze her, the hues of the many crunchy leaves as they swirl away in the wind. It's those same leaves, in the dying season, that makes the autumn heat engaging for her.
But nothing compares to the trickling snow dancing past her face and down to the earth, in the way it both simplifies and complicates the hunt. The imprints everything leaves in snow makes finding trails and tracks easy, yet the crispy snow, with everything hushed and quiet, counteracts that advantage by making every step a challenge to keep silent. The slightest noise, after all, has the potential to warn away suspicious prey in the muted hush of winter.
Artemis sighs and closes her eyes, taking a deep breath. The atmosphere is so fresh, revitalizing, invigorating! She opens her eyes and skates as if she's dancing, twirling and spinning and looking around to the haven of nature around her, taking it all in, finding her happiness.
She slows to a stop in the center of the artificial lake. The blizzard that has kept the mortals indoors for several days has 'let up', so the constellations and moon above are visible, even in the midst of a great mortal city. Maybe she'll thank Father later. For now, she'll take in the beautiful moonlit expanse of a winter wonderland.
Looking up … she watches the hypnotizing puffs of air from her breath. It's not as intricate as sacrificial smoke, they're close enough to remind her of the campfires, the-
She leaves the traceries she created hanging in the air, planting her foot to push o-
A massive groan reverberates from beneath her, and the ice trembles. Artemis pales, freezing in place, a statue mid-dance in the center of the reservoir.
The moment passes, and for a second Artemis believes she's safe. Then the creaks return at an even greater volume, and before she can react, the ice fragments beneath her.
She flounders, toppling as her feet submerge. Artemis immediately dashes to the side, grabbing the nearest edge. Her hands scrabble to find purchase somewhere, anywhere but are foiled by the uncompromising ice. Then that also gives way.
Her lower body sinks into the numbing water, the rest soon to follow. The goddess considers teleporting out. It's humiliating. Using her powers to escape from something as trivial as falling through the ice? Her conscience will torture her for decades.
She's denied that choice when the lake ceases to swallow her. Instead, the arctic waters shove her out, vomiting her back onto the ice.
The goddess scrambles to her feet. Yet her wet clothes drag and her sluggish limbs betray her, and she slips on the water slick ice.
But before she finds herself sprawling, someone grabs her waist, preventing further loss of dignity.
What? Artemis finds her footing in a millisecond and claws her way out, spinning away. Moonlight dances at her fingertips.
"Shit!" The boy who'd steadied her—rescued her?—yelps, trying to re-establish his balance.
"Don't-" Artemis coughs, bending over to catch a proper breath. The light in her hands fades. She can always transform him into an animal later. Shivering, she quickly gets enough oxygen and rights herself, ready to continue her righteous diatribe.
"-touch me …" she finishes, in a hiss that peters away as she realizes who the boy—no, the man—is that stands before her.
"No need to push me into the water too," says Perseus Jackson, voice as dry as her clothes—no doubt his work. "I was just trying to help."
Artemis pauses. How does one of the undisputed heroes of Olympus not recognize her?
"Um …" Percy cocks his head to the side, reminding Artemis of one of her wolves. "Anyway. I'm Percy. You are?"
Artemis turns away. Of course. Away from the Hunt, she'd changed her appearance. Her eyes are blued, her hair is darker, and she's older, looking closer to his age than twelve. She'd even eliminated the silver glow from her body to better enjoy the night skies.
And maybe … her cheeks flush. Maybe because he didn't expect a goddess to fall into a lake.
Artemis goes on the offensive. "Why are you not at the celebration?"
"Cele—what?" His eyes widen. "Oh. You're not mortal. That explains the violence."
"I hardly expected someone to grab me." Artemis notes his frown, how much taller than her he is. A few winters ago, they'd been almost the same height. "Well?"
"Question, right. I left right after all the awards," Percy says. "Wanted some quiet time. Annabeth and I-" A look she can't interpret fast enough flashes across his face. "Annabeth is showing some of her designs to the others. I slipped out."
Artemis had forgotten that the Daughter of Athena is responsible for rebuilding Olympus. She likes the new salad bar, though she can do without the even greater amount of statues of her brother.
"Back at you, then. Why're you down here?" Percy asks. He turns back to the broken ice and crouches to touch the ice. The rippling water before him slows. "You still haven't given me your name."
"Luna," Artemis says, after a moment's consideration. She enjoys the conversation at the moment; she wants to see where it'll go. Revealing her identity would kill it faster than an arrow to the heart. "I wanted to get away from the celebration too. Seeing as we're both here, though, I'd like to get to know you better."
Percy pauses, leaving the water half-frozen as he looks over his shoulder at her. He smiles, a soft and unexpected enthusiasm glowing warmly in the winter night. "Sure! Just let me finish this up, don't want any repeat incidents."
Artemis's cheeks color and her lips curl upwards a bit in return. She nods and stays in place, all the more conscientious of the thin ice beneath her feet.
After a moment, he stands and rubs his hands together. "Alright. I'll take point. I know a place."
Without argument, she trails him step for step off the ice. The rush of ichor pounds in her mind; Percy's steps crunch—hers faintly echoing right after—as they make it onto the snowy shore.
They continue and arrive at an area full of park tables. With a sweep of his arm, Percy clears the snow from the nearest table.
"Thank you." Artemis eases onto the bench with graceful fluidity, while Percy climbs on in.
Finally face to face, she can see Percy has matured. A lot. It's inevitable, of course, but the amount of change in mere years still surprises her. She's kept her distance from most heroes over the millennia, but this Son of the Sea is distinctive.
On the surface, he's wearing formal clothing. He looks composed in a light blue buttoned shirt, and the khakis look well fit. The sneakers and the gray zip-up hoodie are less formal, but it works well. Artemis assumes a child of Aphrodite helped.
But beyond that, there's strength in his spine where he's lost his naivety and befuddlement. There's an assuredness in his jaw that isn't blind recklessness anymore. The gray streak in his hair is gone—a bloodless scar he's grown beyond or lost.
Yet he seems to carry even greater weight on his shoulders.
"You know a bit about me already—since you recognized me and all." Percy begins. He ruffles the back of his head and smiles a little. "But let me introduce myself properly. Perseus Jackson, Son of Poseidon. Feel free to call me Percy."
He extends his hand to her. Artemis tilts her head, finding his complete lack of formal conduct and deference … nostalgic. Comfortable. Honest. She shakes his hand. "Luna. Luna Argyris."
"I don't think I've seen you around before," Percy comments. "Where are you from?"
Artemis improvises. "New Rome."
"Really?" Percy's eyes flicker down her body. She resists the urge to transform him into a canine. "Why no service?"
"What?" she bites.
"Service. Y'know-" he pulls up the sleeve on his left arm, and Artemis sees the brand on his arm. Trident, SPQR, a single tally line. Ah. But who is she to remember how some rigid society works?
Luna, of course. Her desire to polymorph him fades away. "There were … particular circumstances during my youth that prevented my recruitment into the legion." Like being born a goddess, before Romans existed. "I would rather not talk about it."
"Ah. Sorry for asking." Percy attempts to smile past her statement. "But a legacy, huh? Of whom?"
"Jupiter." It's a stretch, but truthful nonetheless.
A beat passes.
"So what brought you to Olympus then?" Percy asks. His eyes widen. "Not- not that I'm trying to say that you don't deserve to be here. Just that I thought only those part of the war was invited."
Artemis rolls her eyes, hiding a smile. Perseus's lack of filter is still something to behold. "All of New Rome would never miss a party this big."
She's just assuming things at the moment, but she does remember that Rome did enjoy their festivities overly so—mostly because she prefers the exact opposite.
"Well, considering … this." Percy gestures around them. "I think you're missing the party right now."
The implied question stops her short, and she takes a moment to sort through her self-contradictions in while looking up to the moon hiding behind the bare branches above. "I don't enjoy social events."
"Then why come at all?"
"Because whether or not I enjoy it, it's still an important moment. An unprecedented one," Artemis answers. "We—you—defeated the greatest enemies the Olympians have ever faced. The post-victory celebration is the time to revel and honor the heroes like you."
"Everyone who fought was a hero," Percy responds, frowning.
She mirrors his frown, taken aback by his humility. "Some are more so than others."
Percy sighs. "We all risked our lives. If anything, the ones who gave their lives deserve the most honor." He grimaces, then shrugs it away. "Why so interested?"
"They—you—saved the world. Twice, in your case. Is that not reason enough?"
"How do you know I've done it twice?"
Artemis raises an eyebrow. "Rumors surround you like none other. Did you not deny immortality after the Titan War?"
Percy tightens his lips, looking back to the lake. His fingers bounce on the table, arrhythmic and quiet. Perhaps she should be less forward?
"Yep," Percy finally answers, popping the p.
Of course, the goddess already knows the answer. "Why?"
His refusal is one of many things about Percy that she doesn't understand. No other demigod has ever denied eternal life. When he faces her again, their eyes lock. She holds his gaze, until his mouth quirks and he slouches, relaxing and showing her … too much. Percy looks far too exhausted, too beaten for a victorious hero. "Funny. I ask that question myself sometimes."
Artemis frowns. "Pardon?"
Percy stops fidgeting. "Well … you know the prophecy? For what happened last summer?"
She's willing to sit through any explanation at this point to understand. What kind of person would refuse immortality? "Yes. Seven half-bloods shall answer the call, etcetera."
"Was there some prophecy in your Siba-whatcha-ma-call-it books that talked about you guys taking down Mount Othrys?" Percy continues.
"Just a few lines about the stars falling," Artemis says.
"Well, there was one about me that you probably didn't hear about, even if you know about my other victories, since you're Roman and all. While Jason took down the star guy—Khios, Krios? Met him in Tartarus, I think." The demigod trails off, shaking his head.
"Anyways, there was a prophecy about a half-blood of the eldest gods reaching 16 years old. Olympus to preserve or raze. I won't ever forget it." Percy gazes off into the distance. "Y'know, it's kinda funny. Athena asked me the same question you did. Well, demanded, really, right after the ceremony."
Oh. Artemis hadn't stayed—she'd immediately gone to check up on her remaining Hunters.
"I was so sure. I wanted to live life. I wanted to spend time with my friends, like a normal teenager. I wanted to be in a normal relationship."
Really? That was it? But he didn't sound finished. "Is that your answer?"
His eyes are farther than the moon. "I was finally free of the Great Prophecy. I don't think you'd understand what that's like. All that pressure? Then, poof—all of it, gone?"
"No, I wouldn't." She's been the subject matter of quests before. But the entire fate of Olympus resting upon her decisions? That's a gift, a curse reserved specifically for mortals.
"So tell me what you know of the Prophecy of Seven," Percy prompts, looking at her directly again.
Artemis narrows her eyes. "What does that have to do with my question?"
"Just trust me."
Artemis opens her mouth to retort—then stops when she realizes that she, in fact, trusts him. "Seven half-bloods shall answer the call / To storm or fire, the world must fall / An oath to keep with a final breath / And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death." She recites. "One of the few full prophecies decipherable in the Sibylline Books."
"So you Romans have had that prophecy for millennia, right?" At her nod, he resumes. "But we got that literally an hour after I'd finished the one involving me."
Artemis does her best to look surprised. "Your point being?"
"Well, then how much of it was my choice that I didn't become immortal?"
The question hangs in the air. "How did you get from the prophecy to there?"
Percy, in a baffling mix of pain and sheepishness, smiles. "Sorry. My train of thought kinda went from A to 5."
Then his smile fades. "How do I explain? So, there I was, right after the end of the first prophecy, thinking life was set. Mom and Paul getting on brilliantly, Annabeth great as ever, camp improving."
"Then this prophecy I've just heard a few months ago takes away seven months of my life. But wait—it's actually something predicted two thousand years ago." Percy takes a deep breath, shaking as his fists clench. "Her Majesty decided I should lose half a year of what should've been the best times of my life."
It takes her a few seconds to understand why he sounds so devastated. He'd lost precious time that he could have spent with loved ones. But her time isn't limited. A year is nothing to her; she could lose decades and it wouldn't matter much.
Artemis searches for something to say. Percy's despondent look tugs at her heartstrings, but there are no consolations to give. Great Prophecies often took decades if not more to come true. In his case, two world-ending events greater than any previous catastrophes screwed his life, back to back.
"So what would've happened if I'd chosen to become a god? Was it even a choice in the first place?" His smile is wry, soft and empty. "Don't suppose that answers your question?"
"I still don't see the connection. What is the relevance of all the other information?" As much as she sympathizes with Percy, his delivery is lacking.
"Sorry, sorry. I'm not good at explaining." The demigod sighs again. "I've thought about this before, but I never really put it into words. It's all related. Just … alright. I know my original reasons. But do they matter?"
He's baring his soul to her, despite her being an outright 'stranger.' But she doesn't understand what he's saying. It's frustrating yet somehow refreshing. "Why wouldn't they?"
"I was destined to be part of the Seven. If I was a god, I couldn't have been." His eyes are haunted. "So either I had the choice and could've screwed over the world by not being part of the quest. Or-"
"-You never had a choice. You were never going to accept godhood." Artemis concludes.
"So what's the point of your question?" Percy tries to smile, but only pain bleeds through. "I was doomed to not accept. I had to go through all the schist that Hera would put me through right after. My choice didn't matter; there was no fate I was defying by refusing godhood. It was inevitable that things would happen the way they did."
She hadn't thought of it that way. Fate is just a part of being to Artemis. Things are the way they are. That's life.
"The first prophecy doesn't feel as bad for some reason. It still defined everything about my life, but it never felt personal. In the end, everything felt like blind luck." Percy laughs bitterly.
"But the Prophecy of Seven, which I thought I would never have to deal with in my lifetime, ends up to be two thousand—two thousand—years old, and almost kills me. Though I guess it was fated that I would live, eh?" The next laugh borders on derangement. "And all of the things I've dealt with, all the things I've suffered through, was going to happen no matter what, and"—he swallows, suddenly somber—"all the things I am suffering through and will suffer through is inevitable."
"So why in Hades would my choice matter?" His last question comes at a surprise, an abrupt end to his tirade. "I was always going to choose to remain mortal."
Artemis takes a moment to digest. Even now, Percy's words and actions are as unexpected as his original decision to reject immortality. If, as he argues, that was a decision at all. "Why are you willing to tell me all this? You hardly know me."
She relishes the way he's treating her—in no way would he have been as colloquial or open if he'd known she is Artemis—but her point stands. Why is he sharing this conflict, this conflict that's eating away at his insides, with her?
Percy shrugs. "You asked."
Artemis blinks. "… Really?"
He leans back in thought. The blood in Artemis's body tingles when she realizes they'd both leaned in without noticing during their talk.
"It's easier talking to someone you don't know sometimes. It's like therapy. Pay to talk to a stranger."
"Though you'd be getting an expert's help, not a stranger's." Artemis frowns. This is the hero whose infamous fatal flaw is loyalty? "You haven't even discussed this with your friends?"
"What am I supposed to tell them? Oh, what do you think would've happened if I wasn't there for the quest?" Percy snorts. "The entire thing was bad enough already."
"Not even your girlfriend?"
This time he outright laughs at her. For some reason, she doesn't feel the inclination to transform him into a creature. "Oh, that's even better, Luna. Let me just ask Annabeth what she thinks about me never getting together with her. Especially with what's been going on. Abandoning her, after, after everything we've gone through. After Tartarus. Great idea."
"That's not-" Artemis sighs, grimaces. "What do you expect me to say to all this?"
Percy's dead stare penetrates through her, and she feels like he's known exactly who she is during the entire charade. As if she, a goddess, would have a better answer for him than what he could think of himself. "A different point of view."
Artemis shudders, thrown off by his frankness.
"Are you cold?" he asks, his tone suddenly casual and concerned. "You can borrow my jacket if-"
"I- I'm fine." Artemis cuts him off.
"Maybe we keep moving, then?" He stands and stretches, hands extending to the skies. "To keep warm. And it helps me think, personally."
The goddess slides out from the bench and falls into step next to him. Once again, they wander the paths in silence, less hurried than before. It would've been a relaxing stroll if she wasn't contemplating Percy's predicament.
She can barely hear her footsteps anymore. She knows that she's still making some noise, but she satisfies that itch by hiding what little sound she still makes beneath Percy's crunching about.
Fate. Percy's underlying problem lies in fate. In three millennia, Artemis hasn't really questioned the matter. Fate is the order of things, and the many heroes, even gods, that questioned that suffered.
But he probably won't be happy with that answer. He believes he can't escape it. And he's right.
"Got anything?" He breaks the silence; her string fingers twitch.
"Patience. Let me think," Artemis whispers into the air, watching her words, her breath trail away.
"Right." Percy's attention drifts elsewhere, his presence shifting from pressuring to … comfortable.
Artemis looks towards the heavens and takes in the full sphere in the sky that has defined her existence for millennia. It's as brilliant and as intoxicating as ever. Fate is her existence. It is her fate to embody the moon and fulfill her place in this universe. Is she bothered by that?
Orion comes into view, peeking out over the buildings. Her jaw tightens. The constellation is bright, far more distinct and recognizable than other constellations.
She forgets if he was a Son of Poseidon or an Earthborn. She forgets if he tried to kill every beast or if Apollo hated him. She forgets if he'd died to scorpion venom or her arrow.
She forgets if she loved him before or after his death. If she loved him at all.
But she remembers the night she placed his stars, her regret and sadness decorating the heavens.
Artemis wants to tear those stars from the sky.
Celyn … Naomi … Phoebe. She almost flashes away on the spot. Back on Delos … she couldn't protect or save any of them. She could only watch them die.
According to Percy's point of view, that was their fate. It was inevitable, therefore meaningless.
But that's not how it works. She doesn't accept that, because it hurts so much. She'd come here to escape this, not-
Artemis clamps down on her inner turmoil, keeping her voice level. "So you believe everything is predetermined?"
"What else can I believe?" Percy mutters.
"Does that invalidate your purpose behind your decisions?" Artemis asks.
Percy stops walking abruptly. They've returned to the lake. "What does it matter how I feel if my choices are already made?"
The goddess ceases movement with far more fluidity, turning, leaning against an ancient maple tree to face him. How could she go about this? "Well, what did you ask for instead of immortality?"
"I don't see where you're going with this." Percy frowns, his eyes heavy, doubtful.
She rolls her eyes. "Trust me."
"Fair enough." Percy ploomphs down onto the pile of snow next to the tree, next to her. "I asked for all gods to recognize all their children."
"And why do you believe the gods would do that?" Artemis didn't understand that either, and if she's learned anything tonight, it's that his answer will be interesting.
The demigod's incessant shrugging displaces the snow around his arms. "Gods can change."
Never mind. She chuckles, a chord of self-deprecation resonating underneath. His response is indeed interesting, and also completely wrong. "No, they can't."
"What?" Percy bolts upright. "They've kept their promise. They swore on the River Styx!"
Artemis blinks. "So what if they swore on the River Styx? That promise doesn't mean anything anymore. When's the last time a god has been punished for breaking a pact on the Styx?" Thalia had been the one to incur the wrath of Hades when Zeus sired her. Not to mention—"Were you not born despite the Big Three's oath? Considering that of all things, your faith is remarkable."
"Then all that was for nothing?" The ice over the reservoir fractures as the waters churn beneath.
Artemis motions for him to remain calm. "That wasn't my point. Just that even an Oath on the Styx isn't a guarantee. And why do you think there was a Greek and Roman divide in the first place?"
"Wait. isn't that proof the gods can change?" Percy's thought process is understandable, if incorrect. "Isn't the gods moving to America proof that they change?"
"No. Well, not quite. A smooth change would mean that the Greek gods would've essentially stopped existing, and there would only be Roman demigods," she answers. "And while gods adapt to the times, is that really change? The surface details altered, but their natures didn't. Just look at how history repeats itself."
"What does that have to do with whether my fate could be turning into some guinea pig on a tropical island somewhere and that I can't do anything about it?"
He'd make a cute pet.
"Put simply, if you believe in fate, you wouldn't believe that gods can change." She sighs. "You'd believe that mortal lives are set and that the gods are the same for all time. But that does not necessarily invalid your motivations or decisions—"
"That doesn't help with whether everything will happen no matter what I do about it!" Percy whines, scooting closer.
Artemis pauses. Perhaps the argument is too abstract for Perseus. The required understanding comes with time. But how else? Ah. She could argue on his terms.
"What makes you say you have any influence on most things in life?"
"I don't. Isn't that the point?" Percy growls.
"You misunderstand me. What say do you have in matters of centuries past? Of times to come?" Artemis shakes her head. "You speak as if you can control everything. But you only control yourself."
"Wha?" Percy furrows his brow. "Ok, I'm not responsible for everything. But what does that have to do with fate?"
"Fate is not the work of one being. The Moirai are three, and one's path in life is not fully set. It is a tapestry of many, interwoven in too many ways to judge. There are choices to be made based on what choices were made. Where the future is indeterminate as we weave the present, we look back and think that there was only one path."
"But the threads are cut!"
"At what point are the details of one's life determined? The string is spun, measured, cut. But what does a string mean on its own? Their weaving reflects the real world, as threads interact, intertwine, intersect. A single thread touches upon only so much. Your choices are limited to what exists—that does not mean your choice is meaningless."
The tension seeps out from Percy. "Olympus … to preserve or raze. So you're saying that I could've screwed over the world. That I could have become a god."
"Or you would've lost your immortality the same as you lost the curse of Achilles. Or your Oracle could've given a completely different Great Prophecy, and the Prophecy of Seven would have been saved for another generation. Who knows? The tapestry is flexible, and only when looking back does it appear set. Fated."
"But the future?" Artemis shrugs. "Fate is what you make of it."
"So you're telling me that I could've screwed everyone over, or became a god and left everyone I knew." Percy chokes out a laugh. "That's comforting, somehow. Thanks."
He collapses back onto the snow. His crooked, beaming, ever so grateful smile somehow makes her blush. "Damn, Luna, where have you been all this time?"
"It's nothing." Her face flushes. She didn't get the answer she first sought, but she's satisfied—happy?—with what she's found.
"That was definitely not nothing. Gods be damned, I feel free!" he exclaims. "I owe you one."
"No, no, what? It's fine," she protests. To be honest, she hadn't even thought she'd get this far. She hadn't expected to do this in the first place. And at this point, with her identity muddled, any established favors are bound to be trouble.
But something about this feels right. Familiar.
"C'mon, Luna. There's gotta be something." Percy says. He shifts and sits up again, moving much more than would be needed to get up. "Nothing? Really?"
"Nothing," she insists.
"Well, I don't know when I'll see you again. But I can make this a night to remember."
"Wha-?" A snowball smacks her cheek. For a moment, she's dumbstruck. Then Percy gets up and dashes away for cover, while still throwing yet another snowball that hits her arm.
Right. That's not going unanswered.
The ensuing fight is surprisingly fair, though there isn't a standard for a one on one snowball fight between a goddess and hero. Projectile weapons are easier than breathing to her, and a snowball is no exception. But while her shots land exactly where she aims them, Percy generates ammunition on a dime with little to no effort.
It's exhilarating. The Son of the Sea lobs about a dozen snowballs at a time, his abilities helping him form and launch multitudes of volleys. A few snowballs out of the many inevitably hit, but his ability to aim at a moving target is still horrid and his misses land in clumps nearby. Those, she scavenges and returns with a judicious vengeance.
The last time she's enjoyed herself so much was—she can't remember the last time she's enjoyed herself so much, and she finds herself grinning as she hunts him down.
Percy drives her away from the open shore and into the woods, where the natural cover changes the entire battle. A few times she loses him and sneaks up the trees, where she uses her vantage point to rain down barrages at Percy before being forced back down to resupply. When they cross through one of the playgrounds, they duck around and leap over the obstacles, fooling around like children.
But the most impressive battleground is created when she chases down the hero to the shore once again. After pelting him in the back with a few shots, Percy laughs and collapses, kneeling to the ground. Before she can take advantage, though, he sweeps his arms high above his head. In a frivolous use of his innate powers, he somehow sculpts the entire landscape into a labyrinthic series of corridors and gates and corners. There, it's a hunt, alternating cat and mouse. One spectacular tussle occurs when she retreats into a corner, thinking it safe. Instead, the walls fall in on her as her opponent plows straight through them, whooping as he does so.
The second time that happens, she nimbly steps out of the way and plants his face into the next wall before taking off laughing.
Eventually, Percy slows down, eating a few more snowballs as he retreats out over the ice and creates a wall to protect himself. Unwilling to run through the no man's land, Artemis stays put. After a minute of a few half-hearted shots, he calls out, interrupting the standoff. "Truce?"
"Truce," she yells back, still panting with adrenaline. But she can't resist sending one last missile at his face as the ice wall comes down. It splatters into slush right across the bridge of his nose, and Artemis giggles while he coughs in shock.
He wipes his face clean. "I deserved that."
"Yes, you did," she agrees. Artemis steps onto the frozen lake surface once more. "I enjoyed myself, though, Perseus, so thank you."
"You're welcome." Then he's beside her, brushing off some of the snow in her hair.
Artemis shivers, quickly brushing away the rest of the snow before he can get to it, refusing to acknowledge the warmth of his touch. They remain close; he's still right there. She looks away, not sure what to do anymore.
The goddess freezes as she feels something being draped over her shoulders. Reaching up, she touches the gray jacket as if it's a hallucination. She turns back to Percy, wide-eyed.
Percy shrugs, a casual smile on his face. "You need it more than I do."
Artemis blinks, then turns away, changing the topic. "How did you learn to control ice and snow?"
"It's just water, isn't it? If I think of it that way … anyway, better than other things I've messed with." He straightens his rumpled shirt. "Though … I have a question for you."
"Hm?" They're face to face, a foot apart. He looks different, and Artemis isn't sure what makes it so.
"If fate changes … why can't the gods?"
Time slows to a halt, and the world flips upside down.
"Let's see about that," she whispers. Molten ichor warms her soul, pulsing with the dancing moonlight.
"Wha?" Percy leans in, turning his ear closer. "Didn't catch that."
The steam of their breath mingles, silver eyes locking with green eyes. The world shimmers with her light as the goddess brings up her arms and lays her hands on his shoulders. "Dance with me."
Dionysus is not the only Olympian with a domain associated with madness.
The moon shines above, brighter than ever. Percy frowns. "Bu-"
Artemis interrupts. "The others are having their dance. Why shouldn't we?"
The hero still hesitates, so she pressures him. "This is my favor. My request."
She can end this here.
"Pushy, pushy," Percy snarks, the hint of a smile back on his lips. His hands find their way to her hips, his touch now almost familiar.
They begin to dance.
At first, a comfortable gap separates them as they sway to and fro. Music is unnecessary, Artemis is too busy taking in every detail of this moment. The even more vivid skies, stars glinting with piercing light on the black canvas. The shimmering play of moonlight across the frozen reservoir, intermingling with the soft wisps of the ice sublime. The subversive serenity of the half-disturbed landscape of snow, smooth plains intercut by bare trees and the ruins of a grandiose battle.
The unique mortal she dances with.
Her hand trails down his chest, where Percy seizes it. For a few seconds, their swaying stops as they gauge each other. Then, with a touch gentler than the moonlight, he cusps her hand and holds it in place. His other hand migrates upwards to her back and she draws even closer, her other arm hand curling back around his neck.
Artemis lays her head on his shoulder, cheek resting in the cozy crook of his collarbone.
There's no space left between them.
She doesn't care.
They resume their dance.
For tonight, she believes that immortals can change. For tonight, she'll be happy without feeling guilty. She loses track of time, in a warm embrace and with her mind worlds away.
But the thunder rumbles—midnight of the solstice. It's time to go. There's an eclipse she needs to take care of. Artemis extricates herself.
The atmosphere is charged, yet hollow. Percy's smile swims into her vision, and his lips move. "Keep in touch?"
Artemis smiles back. Fragile, weak, mournful, but a smile nonetheless. The goddess blinks back tears, nods. Turns her back, leaves. She, the moon, disappears into the cold night.
Her footsteps are imperceptible.