In books, as in life, there are no second chances. On second thought: it's the next work, still to be written, that offers the second chance. - Cynthia Ozick
The sound of his own breathing reverberated in Percy's ears, carried by the heady acoustics of the surrounding icy water. The noise is all too encompassing, accompanied and intensified by the rhythmic beat and rush of his heart and blood. Though there are other noises aplenty: the rasp of shifting plants in the lazy current, the occasional pop/grunt/hum of the few fish still awake (he'd mentally shut them out already), the funny bubbling noises that naiads made while hibernating, and the thrumming laser-esque sound of the ice cracking and creaking.
Breaking the ice sheet over The Reservoir had sounded strange enough on the surface, dispersing synthetic ray-gun sounds long after he'd broken through. The vibrations created by his entry were still echoing through the water a good ten minutes since he'd dove in and reformed the hole he'd made. It was odd, but not annoying.
So with his quasi-heat sensitive vision and some light filtering through the quite-thin ice, he'd found his way to pretty much the center of the reservoir (far from everything else), and then just … floated.
There was that tiny part of him still skittish of drowning, but he mostly got over that feeling after the initial dive. Too much of him still found solace in the ebb and flow of a large body of water to consider his irrational (at least for him) fear. The sea was preferable, but a man-made lake would do.
And he needed that solace, because in the forty minutes it took him to get to Central Park (ten going down the elevator torturing his ears with Apollo's voice and another thirty meandering the streets), he still felt on edge.
The Solstice had been fine. It had been pretty rad for the Romans to be invited this year, and see them mucking about the party. Besides that, there was nothing 'big,' just a few pointless commemorations that Percy had to stand around pretty for because some of the gods (see: Zeus) wanted to still celebrate their victory five months ago. There hadn't even been any award ceremony, though that was a plus in his opinion. He wasn't sure how he could refuse the "any gift" if the Olympians offered again.
Those things hadn't been the issue, no. Nor had been all the curious minor gods and other people around, or the few suckups that tried to kiss up to him or get something out of him.
No, Percy's unease was instinctual - because he knew something was coming between him and Annabeth. He wasn't sure exactly what it was yet - and that made it all the more frustrating. They'd hung out often enough, just about every other day, since summer ended, even though he was still attending Goode and Annabeth was doing some apprenticeship thing with some big-name architect. Everything was enjoyable, pleasant - happy? But his beloved girlfriend was hiding something.
To be fair, he was hiding things too. Various feelings and thoughts he'd been bottling up for at least half a year, if not longer. Probably longer, given his life. The past five years of his life had been one clusterfuck after another, and the two most intense ones had been stacked together in the past year and a half.
Scratch that. Year, because he fucking lost six months because of gods damned Lady "Mother-Knows-Best."
Percy was sure he loved Annabeth, that wasn't an issue. He was certain of that, as certain as he was that Annabeth loved him just as much.
But secrets had begun to crop up after the end of the Giants. They meshed along wonderfully before - before all that crap. But now that feeling was starting to go away, ever so slowly.
Most recently, within maybe the past month, it more felt like they were meeting up for more routine than anything else. That they weren't interested in sharing anything about what had been going on with their lives much, just hanging out together for the sake of it, not because they really wanted to. Or at least, want as much.
He'd … enjoyed it nonetheless? But it had also been vaguely uncomfortable to the extreme, with a palpable tension sitting on his spine.
Percy sighed plaintively, disturbing the water around him. He missed the symbolic hair 'highlight' they shared. Things were so much simpler back then.
Everything had come to head a few hours ago. They hadn't met for a week prior to the Solstice. They'd still Iris-Messaged plenty but didn't actually spend time with each other face to face. It'd been short little 'hey Seaweed Brain how you doing?'s that didn't lead anywhere.
And then he'd thought it was just sorta said that they would be going to the Solstice together. But of course, then Annabeth seemed a touch irritated when they'd met up outside the gates of the palace. She hadn't said anything explicitly, but he could tell by the way she eyed him before she realized he was paying attention.
Then she'd offered to guide all the rest of the Seven around Olympus, in part because they'd never been there before and in part to show off her work (and it was indeed architecture worth showing off). It was at that point he realized he didn't really want to go along. He just … was too tired. Of Olympus. Of the mythological world. Of Annabeth, of school, of life.
So he'd given his friends a goodbye, kissed Annabeth goodnight (she seemed resigned), and left.
Percy hadn't wanted to return home immediately, though.
He wanted to just go out and wallow and sulk until he got all the emo out of his system. If it got out of his system. But he couldn't stand being like this, he wasn't normally like this. He needed to reset.
Now he was here, in the depths of a lake in the middle of the night.
Well, he'd been through weirder things.
And while thinking wasn't his preferred activity - instinct was his lifeblood - he had to in order to solve this problem.
Here in the mostly quiet - except there was a new noise, and he couldn't tell what was making it. Some kind of sliding, almost grating, constant and right above hi-
A massive groan thundered, and the force pulsed down into the water and through his body. It wasn't massive, more akin to a slightly too loud bass from someone turning up their radio too much, but it shocked Percy out of his reverie.
What kind of idiot would skate on thin ice?
Percy propelled himself upward, even as the creaking sound continued, even louder. It was hard to see amongst the splashing and rippling, but the struggling by whoever it was up there was all too obvious.
Nearing the surface, Percy reassessed the situation - the person was floundering far too much to just grab hold and push back up and was beginning to sink further. So with nary another thought, he willed the water to spit the person back out and followed whoever it was on the ice.
Well, considering wet clothing clinging to skin and curves and all, it was a girl. Certainly one with spirit, as she was already trying to get up, even if she was still a bit thrown and falling over again.
Naturally, before whoever she was could fall on her face and break the ice again, Percy came to rescue her. He aimed to grab her hands, but she'd extended them to shield herself and he couldn't reach. Instead, he locked his hands at her waist and righted her.
A second later, barely even having found her footing, the girl clawed her way out and knocked him back. A flash of light from somewhere too fast to tell blinded him, and then pain lanced through his side.
"Shit! What in Hades was that for?" He yelped, blinking quickly to clear his eyes and focused on using the residue water around to heal whatever bruise the crazy person made. So much for the rescue instincts he'd developed while working as a lifeguard at a local pool if that was what he got.
"Don't -" The girl gasped for a proper breath, shuddering too obvious in her voice. A beat too late, she awkwardly finished with her sentence off in a (was that surprised?) hiss. "Touch me …"
"No need to try and push me into the water too." Percy snarked, looking up to meet the girl's eyes. They're strange - very bright, sorta blue, but not a natural color? It's hard to tell in just the light of the full moon, as luminous as it was. Slightly taken aback, his tone softened. "I was just trying to help, uhm, miss."
If anything, though, she was equally confused, and now completely quiet, staring into his eyes quite unnervingly. "Uhm … ?" He paused, cocking his head in confusion. "I was trying to get a name there."
She tsked and turned sharply away to the side, her dark hair and silver blouse fluttering into the air. Since she wasn't answering, Percy took the moment to observe the ungrateful … woman? She seemed about his age, really, even if she was maybe six inches shorter than him. Her skin was as pale as bone in contrast to her black leggings, and was she wearing moccasins? She was probably cold as all hell, with how little she was wearing. Maybe she liked the cold, but if he hadn't dried her off when he'd pulled her upright a moment ago, she would've been shivering.
Of course, with how rude she had already been, it was no surprise she ignored his question to ask her own, not even bothering to introduce herself. Not that it mattered too much. With her porcelain skin and silver clothing and the moon above, he already had half a nickname in mind. "Why are you not at the celebration?"
"How do you know about -" Percy began askancely, before realization dawned. "Oh. You're not mortal." He facepalms, rubbing some feeling back into his face. "Herp derp, I'm dumb. How else would I have got hurt? I thought you accidentally ripped a hole in my shirt while trying to stand or something."
"Clearly." She straightened defiantly, and Percy decided to just keep quiet. She seemed quite pushy … "Well?"
"Oh - question, right, right. I left right after all the awards," muttered the Son of the Sea, "Wanted some quiet time. Annabeth and I -" A frown flashed across his face as he thought of Annabeth again. Well, if the girl knew who he was, then she probably knew of Annabeth too. "Well, never mind - Annabeth is showing off her work to the rest of the Seven, so I slipped out."
The girl's brow furrowed in thought, and far be it him to know what she was thinking about. Though what was she doing here exactly? "Back at you, then. Why're you down here?" Percy frowned fully this time. "Whoever you are. You still haven't given me your name."
The girl looked back to him, and after a moment's consideration, she answered. "Luna."
And that only solidified his hunch. Percy was pretty sure the girl wasn't a Hunter, but the vibe of the Hunt was one hundred percent there from the silver blouse and somewhat aggressive personality. There was even the outdoorsy feel from the shoes. And with the root meaning of her name (Percy blamed English class, though Luna was pretty damn recognizable), it seemed all the more fitting. "And for the same reason."
He looked to the ice beside them, and with a thought pushed it to freeze over once more. What to say, then? She said she also wanted quiet time, so maybe he should leave? But Luna seemed to want to talk, given the thoughts running wild behind her bluish eyes. And maybe a talk with someone would distract him a bit. Not to mention that he was kinda curious about her: who was she, to be out away from the solstice hanging out in the middle of The Reservoir?
"Hey, Luna. Why not hang out and talk a bit?" Percy suggested. She didn't respond, so he reached out to tap her shoulder. Remembering her earlier reaction to his touch, though, he hesitated. Her little … outburst had been the other thing that had reminded him of the Hunt. So he framed his words carefully. "Plenty of time and space to share, both of us not being at the party and all. And … and why not meet someone new, make new friends?"
She shrugged (in assent?) and walked forward, her words giving a more proper, no, very proper answer, "Let us find a more comfortable venue first."
Before she could take another step, Percy put his hand on her shoulder. Luna turned and glared, but he waved it off with a quick smile and let go. "Sorry, it's just that you're heading towards fragile ice." He moved past her and nudged the ice in front of them, which creaked in response. "How about I take point?"
After contemplating his point, she nodded and he took lead, a little amused that Luna was literally about to make the exact same mistake. She carefully trailed behind him, following his footsteps exactly as he took the most efficient path off the ice. He gave a few warnings of where not to step, but largely said nothing else. Eventually they make it back to solid earth, the small layer of snow crunching satisfyingly beneath his feet.
He continued on, though. There were park tables not too far away, which would be better than standing around. All along the way, he mulled over what they could possibly talk about, what they could do.
Reaching the desired tables, Percy cleared away the snow with a sweep of his arm, receiving a nod in thanks. Making another spot for himself, he sat, slightly hunched forward and prepared to engage in … something. But Luna is silent, regarding him with an intensity that's a bit disquieting.
What is she looking for? He was dressed up somewhat for the Solstice, with the buttoned shirt and khakis bit. It probably would've been more uptight if he wore fancy shoes, but he'd only worn sneakers (Piper's advice to "not look like a stuffy old man or business person"). Percy felt like her eyes had lingered on his hair for a good while, but why?
After a few minutes, he couldn't take it anymore. "I feel like you probably know a bit about me already - since you recognized me, and all." He ruffled the back of his head absently with his left hand, a touch embarrassed and unsure. "But let me introduce myself properly. Perseus Jackson, Son of Poseidon. Though feel free to call me Percy."
He extended his hand to her to shake, which she seemed to assess the pros and cons of before reaching out. "Luna … Luna Anson."
Hm? No background?
"Where from?" he asked. He couldn't remember ever seeing anyone like her in Camp Half Blood. Even with a good number of new campers since the gods' promise, he would've recognized a face like hers. Like, sure, she was physically attractive, but that wasn't the reason. Besides the oddly colored eyes, there was simply something distinct about her.
"New Rome. Legacy," she responded, looking a bit confused at the line of questioning.
"Really?" It was the logical conclusion that she was Roman if she wasn't Greek, but he hadn't seen any of the branding or symbols on her forearm, which was completely exposed because she was wearing a blouse. Nonetheless, he checked again, glancing down to her forearm - and nope, unblemished. Looking back to her eyes, though, she seemed a touch irritated. "No service?"
"What?" Yep, Luna was definitely a bit tetchy now.
"Service. Y'know-" he pulled up the sleeve on his left arm to demonstrate the permanent brand he'd received. He'd always wanted a tattoo, yes, but it probably wouldn't have been a trident, a bunch of letters, and a line. At the very least, Luna seemed to understand his point and not think him a pervert for looking 'down.'
She hummed, features, softening, a now considerate look on her face before answering. "There were certain medical issues when I was younger that I'd rather not talk about, so I wasn't allowed to be recruited into the legion."
Oh. Well, that kinda got uncomfortable quick. "Sorry … sorry for asking. But legacy, huh? Of whom?"
"Jupiter." Her response clipped short, clinical and exact.
"So was that a lightning bolt you hit me with earlier then? You have amazing reflexes for someone who's never been in the legion." She'd pulled out of his hold immediately after being disoriented and launched an attack, after all. With that in mind, Percy added another comment. "And no worries about that - I'm fine, my bad for scaring you."
With that in mind, Luna tilted her head just slightly and shot him a critical look before answering. "No, just some sorcery. Still, I must apologize for wounding you."
"Seriously, no biggie," Percy repeated, pointing to his side. "Healed fine, so no problems."
"Then, my apologies for damaging the shirt."
Oh, crap. When Percy had mentioned he'd wanted to wear something new but couldn't find anything that he could buy with his own money, Jason had offered to lend him something to wear (and with Jason as he was, he had plenty of formal stuff). "Uhm, that might be a bit more of a problem, 'cause I kinda borrowed this from a friend."
"Hm … let me make up for it, then." Luna leaned over the table and reached out, not quite touching but very close. After a slight glow, she pulled away, and the hole was gone.
"Thanks, Luna." Percy smiled gratefully. Jason probably would've just shrugged off the damage (only after Percy explained it to him and got laughed at), but returning something damaged was bad form.
The edges of her lips curled upward, a spot of light color appearing on her cheeks.
… A beat passed.
"So what brings you brought you to Olympus then?" he continued, before backtracking. "Not that I'm trying to say that you aren't important enough or anything. Just that … I thought only those part of the war was invited."
Luna rolled her eyes, as if the answer was so obvious that he shouldn't have missed it. "All of New Rome would never miss a party this big."
"Well, considering … this," Perseus gestured to himself and the cold and wet snow around them. "I think you're missing the party right now."
Biting her lip, she looked up to the bare tree branches (thank the gods the dryads were hibernating) before giving her answer. "I don't enjoy big social events."
"Then why did you come at all?" Sure, Romans loved parties, invented parties, whatever, but Luna literally just admitted she didn't enjoy the literal definition of a party. Stuff like the monthly "Seven" parties didn't count - they were more get-togethers than actual parties. Why was she already contradicting herself?
"I wanted …" She began, searching for the right way to answer. "I wanted to see the heroes."
That kinda sorta made sense. A touch of fan worship wasn't anything new, and only half of the Seven were at Rome, less if you counted the unofficial demigods involved. "I guess you couldn't have met many because you're a civilian? But why so interested?"
This time she answered readily, prepared for his line of questioning. "You guys saved the world. Twice, in your case. Is that not reason enough?"
Wait, what? Most Romans didn't know about his previous adventures, let alone the other fucking Great Prophecy he'd been involved with. "What makes you think I've done it twice?"
"Rumors and stories travel fast. Is it true you denied immortality after the Titan War?" She asked, a dab of impatience coloring her tone.
"So you've heard that too? Damn." Percy's lips tightened as he tried to comprehend how some person he'd never met before knew so much about him. Sure, some other demigods knew quite a bit about his escapades, but that was because they'd been in Camp Half Blood, being either heroes he'd grown up with, or hearing about him because of his adventures. He hadn't imagined that Romans would have known so much about him, even if the two camps were sort of integrating.
"Yep." Percy finally answered, popping the p. He traced an ocean wave into the snow piled on the table to occupy himself. How could he respond to that?
He looked up to see her eyes following his drawing. When she reached the not yet end of where his finger was, she looked up to meet his gaze. Her silvery eyes are glittering with curiosity, too much interest compared to his own reticence for the topic.
Of course she asked that question. "I ask that myself sometimes."
Luna sat back, a confused look on her face, so Percy stopped fidgeting to think things over. Maybe someone unknown could maybe provide a fresh take, someone who he couldn't predict how they would answer already. Because despite her earlier self-contradictions, Percy got the general vibe that Luna was trustworthy. And besides maybe disillusioning one person who thought that being a hero was 'all that,' nothing he was going to share was really that personal.
So he began his explanation. "So - well, the big thing is … where best to start? You know the prophecy, right? For what happened last summer?"
She nodded, gaze sharp and resolute. "Yes. Seven half-bloods shall answer the call, etc."
He had to go before that, though. Things didn't really start there, though it was when the … issue became apparent. "Was there some prophecy in your Siba-whatchamacallit books that talked about you guys taking down Mount Othrys?"
"Just a few lines about the stars falling," admitted Luna, clearly not giving it much consideration or weight or importance. "And Sibylline is the right term for it."
Percy brushed the correction off with a wave of his hand. "Well, there was one about me that you probably didn't hear about, even if you know about my other … accomplishments, since you're Roman and all. At the same time, Jason took down the star guy, Khios? Or was it Krios? Met him in Tar- … Tartarus, I think."
He trailed off as memories he didn't … didn't want made themselves known. He quickly shook his head and pushed on, not wanting to lose himself. "Anyways, there was a prophecy about 'a half blood of the eldest gods' reaching 16 years old that defined my life. Olympus to preserve or raze. I won't ever forget it."
Percy gazed off over Luna's shoulder, feeling exhausted to the bone. He couldn't avoid all the memories. Though those weren't as bad … were somewhat faded. Percy rubbed the bridge of his nose to stave off everything unwanted and pressed on to his point. "Athena asked me the exact same question you did. Literally right after the battle. Well, after the ceremony that was after the battle."
"At the time, I knew for certain. I wanted to live life. Spend time with my friends, like a normal teenager. Have a relationship." He'd imagined peace, his life getting better somehow, having a future and a family. "I was finally free of the Great Prophecy. I don't suppose you understand what that's like? All that pressure? And then, poof - all of it, gone?"
"No, I wouldn't," Luna answered curtly.
No, she wouldn't. How would she, having lived as an almost normal kid in New Rome? That place had looked like the perfect solution to how he wanted to live life - before things had … soured.
"So tell me what you know of the Prophecy of Seven," Percy prompted, looking at her directly again.
"Did I not already demonstrate knowledge of the prophecy? And how will that help in this conversation? What does it have to do with my question?" Well wasn't she a snarky piece of work? Though she really was responding differently than anyone he'd met before. Whatever perspective she provided could be just as new.
Percy sighed. She was a bit headstrong, but he could deal with that. He had before, with Zöe, after all. And he could be friends with someone like that. Well, he hoped the Hunter had considered him a friend by the end … quite honestly, Luna really reminded him of Zöe. "Just trust me."
For a moment, it seemed as if Luna was going to refuse and storm off. Only for a moment, before whatever odd light behind her eyes calmed, and she answered. "Seven half-bloods shall answer the call / To storm of fire, the world must fall / An oath to keep with a final breath / And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death. One of the few full prophecies decipherable in the Sibylline Books."
He blinked in surprise. He hadn't expected her to recite it verbatim. Prophecies were a bit more well known in New Rome, though. "So you Romans have had that prophecy for centuries. No, millennia, right? But the thing is, we got that literally an hour after I'd finished the one involving me."
Luna tilted her head, not understanding. "Your point is?"
Actually, when he thought about it, the prophecy existing so long was an even bigger middle finger, but it didn't change anything about the overall problem. "Well, how much of it was really my choice that I didn't become immortal?"
"Wait … how did you get from the prophecy to there?"
Percy winced and tried to smile through the festering emotions in his gut. "Sorry. My train of thought kinda went from A to Z with no stops in between there. I blame ADHD."
"So, there I was, right after the end of the first prophecy, thinking my life is set to be wonderful. Mom and Paul getting on brilliantly, Annabeth is as great as ever, and Camp's improving." His smile softened with a ghostly wistfulness, before disappearing without a trace. "Then this prophecy I've just learned of a few months ago, something actually predicted two thousand years ago, takes away eight months of my life."
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, hands flexing into claws and he restrained his emotions. "Her Majesty Hera decided it's best for me to lose almost a year of what by all means should be some of the best times of my life."
For all that that bloody goddess had made him suffer, that - that event had begun the end. Pulling him away from the peace he'd earned, from Annabeth, thrown straight back and down into literal torture … even if it was all destined, blaming Hera was at least something. "So it makes me wonder what would've happened if I'd chosen to become a god. Or if it was really a choice in the first place, you know?" His smile returned, wry, self-deprecating. "Don't suppose that answers your question?"
"You told me to trust you earlier, but I'm still not seeing the connection. What is the relevance of all this other information?" Her voice was oddly soft and accusing at the same time, on one hand trying to be gentle yet on the other also push him. Somehow understanding, yet relentless.
It was helping. It wasn't giving him room to angst, it was forcing him to deal.
"Sorry, sorry. I know I'm not being very clear - I'm not really good at explaining." The demigod sighed for what felt like the hundredth time. He really needed to get himself together so he could make more sense. "I've thought things through before, but it's really hard to put into words. The things I just talked about is related, but not really on point. Just … alright. I know my original reasons. My question is, does it really matter?"
"Why would they not?" Luna answered the rhetorical question.
"I was destined to be part of the Seven." Established fact, because fuck destiny, could he get a break, please? "But if I was a god, I couldn't have been. Gods can't quest."
And with that premise -
"There are only two things to consider at that point." He held up a single finger, his eyes haunted as he stared through the woman who had dragged out his turmoil. "Either I had the choice, and could've screwed over the world by not being part of the quest or something. But that's not possible, because I had to be part of the quest. So -"
Before he could raise his other finger, Luna's face lit with understanding and finished his sentence, answering the question she'd posed herself. "-So you never really had a choice. You were never going to accept godhood."
"I was doomed to not accept, and then go through all the schist that Hera would put me through right after," Percy concluded, back slouched in defeat. "My choice to not accept didn't even matter, and there was no fate I was defying. It was inevitable that things would happen the way they did … like, fuck, is there any other way that I can see this?"
It was circular logic he couldn't escape.
"And then, insult added to injury - it's not even like the war against the Titans, which was since World War II. That, I could take. Oh, born to Poseidon so of course I have to deal with all that crap. But this Prophecy of Seven, which I originally thought I never had to deal with in my lifetime, ends up to be two thousand - two thousand - years old, and dictates my near death." He paused, thinking. "Though, I guess it was fated that I would live, eh?"
Percy laughed bitterly, trying to swallow the other emotions welling up within him and failing. "And all the things I've had to deal with, that everything I've suffered through, and" - he swallowed - "and am suffering through was, is, going to happen no matter what. I was always going to choose to remain mortal. So why in Hades would my choice matter?"
His last question abruptly ends his tirade, hanging grotesquely in the air. He hadn't really expected all of it to come out so … ugly. But what essentially was the backbone of all Greek mythology, of his life, after failing to screw him over once, succeeded the second time. Because while he lived, and most of his friends lived … he wasn't the same. Things weren't the same. Annabeth wasn't the same.
Everything looked the same, and tried to act the same. But things had fundamentally changed because fate had fucked over his life. He couldn't blame Annabeth, he couldn't really even blame Hera, he couldn't blame the fucking sock-knitting grandmas, either - because when it came down to it, he knew they were just as subject to destiny as him.
What in the world could he feel besides weak, knowing that nothing he decided mattered because it was fated? And that therefore he didn't matter, because nothing he did mattered, and that feeling this way didn't matter because he was doomed to feel this way, and it was all inevitable, and-
"Why are you telling me this? We've just met." Luna's melodic voice cut through his thoughts, having finally found their ground.
The hero shrugged, trying to get out of his own head. "You asked." He tilted his head. "And - I guess, as sad as it is, it's so much easier talking to someone you don't even know well about these things. Sort of like a psychologist? No, a psychiatrist. Gotta pay money to talk about the stuff screwing with your head with a stranger rather than friends and family."
He'd lied to himself earlier. It was ridiculously personal information that he revealed, private information he somehow felt more comfortable sharing with a virtual stranger than the people close to him. So, exactly like a psychiatrist. And his problem wasn't a mental illness or anything (though he was a bit surprised he doesn't have one with all the shit he's gone through; that, or he was in denial).
It was … an existential worry that literally undercut his entire life, that he hadn't expected to face and made him feel so helpless utterly helpless.
It was out now, and somehow he felt better for it.
"You really have not even talked about this with your friends or family?" asked Luna, wide silver eyes betraying her disbelief.
Percy immediately ran through the laundry list of reasons he'd used to justify his silence. "What am I supposed to tell them? Oh, what do you think would have happened if I wasn't there for the quest?" He snorted at the dark thought. "The entire thing was bad enough already."
"Not even your girlfriend?"
This time, he laughed outright, rueful and sarcastic. "Oh, that's even better, Luna. Let me just ask Annabeth what she thinks about me never getting together with her by becoming immortal. Especially with what's been going on. Of abandoning her, after, after everything, after all we've gone through together. Not being there with her in Tartarus. Great idea that would be."
He shut up after that outburst, not wanting to let out all of his acerbic thoughts. Of his fears, post-Tartarus, of events and issues from that twenty-four hour how many day long nightmares that had yet to be resolved.
Hesitantly, Luna asked another question. "Well … what do you expect for me to do for you?"
Percy's stared at her, eyes as empty as he felt. Did he even know what he wanted? What he thought would come of this? Desperation and depression and repression made people do stupid things. "I expect to … hear a different perspective."
His trance broke when he noticed that Luna was shivering, hands buried in the folds of her clothing. As miserable as he was, manners and courtesy and routine made themselves known. "Are you cold? Damn, I left my jacket at -"
"I'm fine. Forget what I can do already?" With half of a gesture, a fashionable combat white jacket shimmered into existence before her. While she slipped it on, Percy slipped away from the table and stood up.
"Let's keep moving, hm?" He stretched up, hands extended to the moon above to wake up his frozen muscles. "To keep warmed up. I've heard walking helps with thinking, too."
Luna looked at him contemplatively, then fell into step next to him. He walked slower this time, passively strolling and not heading anywhere in particular. Percy distracted himself as long as he could, balancing his speed with hers as to not be ahead or behind her, a minigame to ensure he was neither leading or following.
But eventually, it wasn't good enough to avoid anymore. At least he'd managed to remain pretty quiet for a good five if not ten minutes, and Luna didn't seem in a hurry to leave or anything … surely she would say something. He'd been impatient enough, he wanted to hear - something, some response at least. "Well?"
It's another minute before he hears her whisper in response. "Give me more time to think."
"No problem." In-hale, ex-hale, slowing down. Fair was fair, he'd unloaded a lot onto her to process. He could wait. He didn't want to wait, but it made sense to. So he waited, and watched.
It was during Luna's preoccupation with whatever in her thoughts that he really looked at her. Because in the moment she gazed up at the stars and moon above, she became achingly familiar.
While the distant and hostile temperament reminded Percy of Zöe, it was while Luna watched the skies that he remembered Calypso. It wasn't the talent with clothing or anything, it was that Luna looked effortlessly radiant without even caring or noticing. Luna seemed to glow in the long shafts of moonlight falling between the bare tree branches above.
If they became friends after this mess, Percy had the perfect nickname for her.
They were passing by The Reservoir again when she finally spoke. "So … in a nutshell, you think everything is predetermined?"
"What else can I believe?" The hero mutters bitterly. It was a bit of a fancy word for it, but yes.
"But does that truly invalidate your purpose behind your decisions?" Luna asked, eyes finally leaving the heavens to look at him.
It was then that Percy looked away, stopping as they stood before an ancient-looking and empty maple tree. "What does it matter how I feel if my choices are already made?"
If Luna was surprised by the sudden stop, it didn't show as she gracefully spun to lean against the tree and face him properly. After a moment of reconsideration, she posed a different question. "What did you ask for instead of immortality?"
Percy looked at her doubtfully. "Where are you going with this?"
She rolled her eyes dramatically, contempt all too clear. "How about you trust me this time?"
Well … "Fair enough." Percy ceded. Turning about, he plopped down onto the pile of snow next to the tree (and her) and stared up at the stars. "I asked for all the gods to recognize all of their children. Couldn't just let everything happen again, y'know? Kronos - Saturn, is Kronos Saturn to you? - Saturn had so many demigod followers only because the gods didn't do that before. Though I guess that was fated to happen too, eh?"
"And why do you believe the gods would do that?" Luna questioned.
With a shrug, he pushed the snow around him away. "Gods can change."
She chuckled disturbingly, dark humor alight in her laugh. "No, they can't."
"What?" Percy bolted upright, all too disturbed by her casual dismissal. "They've kept their promise. They swore on the River Styx!"
"Well, for one, 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?"
And he couldn't remember a single time a god was held responsible for their oath. Sure, gods were punished - one only had to ask how Hera was doing or where Apollo was to know. But for oaths? Father hadn't been punished for him, and Zeus's punishment was not so much on him but as on Thalia. And before that, in mythology - was there a time people or gods were punished? It was supposed to be some sacred thing, but he didn't even know what the punishment was.
"You were born despite the Big Three's oath. Considering that of all things …" Luna paused again, savoring her words. "Your faith is truly remarkable."
Well wasn't that just fucking wonderful? Percy struggled to hold in his turmoil. He could feel the water in the reservoir churn against the ice, and a not so gentle breeze whipped by his sleeves. "Then - then was all that for nothing?"
"That wasn't really my point. Some of the gods are definitely too honorable not to keep their oath." Luna said hurriedly. "The point I'm trying to make is that gods don't change. My f- ancestor, Zeus, has been the source of just about every issue in Greek mythology because of his inability to keep his libido from acting up, and he was first to break the non-childbirth oath. He's certainly going to be one of the first to forget about the new oath you made them swear. And why do you think there was a Greek and Roman divide in the first place?"
"Well, isn't that proof in the first place that the gods can change?" Hades, what was the point of this crap? All she was doing was triggering him further.
"No, it proves that they can't. If that were true, then there would only be Roman demigods, and there would be no Greeks. If there was just a smooth change, then there would be no distinction. The two aspects of the gods are completely separate, even if similar." Luna's cold logic wasn't helping.
"Well, what does that have to do with whether my fate could be - like, that I'll be turned into some guinea pig on a tropical island and that I can do nothing about it?" What then, if he'd been stuck on Circe's island forever? Fuck all his life that way, whatever happened, it wasn't him in control.
"Simply that if you believe in fate, you wouldn't believe that gods can change." Luna sighed and slid down the tree to sit next to him while still leaning on the tree. "The path of mortal lives are set, and the gods are the same for all time."
"That doesn't help with whether everything will happen no matter what I do about it!" Percy argued, fists clenched and movements jerky as he pushed up to also lie against the maple. What did gods and immortals have to do with fate? They were the ones in power, they were the ones who could change things if they so desired.
Luna took a deep breath, also trying to hold in her frustration. "Well, how about this? Why do you think there are three Fates?"
Wait … it had been a short little thing, something half remembered from the sheer adrenaline rush after beating the giants. "I forgot about that!" Percy twisted to stare at her, startled. "But … how did you know about that?"
"Know about what?" She looked back at him, wide-eyed and innocent.
"No way that that's common information," accused Percy, suspicious. Zeus had been the one to say that, while Hera had gone and screwed with him. Zeus, who tried to fight against prophecy by closing down Olympus.
"What? That there are three Fates? That's basic. But if you know where I'm going with this, I'm not in the legion, remember? I've spent so much of my time in the library that I'm an assistant there now. I've found lots of obscure knowledge there over the years. Where the hell did you learn that information?"
"I guess…" He relaxed again, slouching back to the snow. He wasn't really angry at her - he was more angry at himself for ever forgetting that little idea, because just the thought of it was changing his whole conception of the idea of fate. "So, you're saying that there was always the option that I could have screwed over the world, then?"
"Or, Perseus, maybe you still would've been sent to New Rome and lost your immortality the same way you lost the curse of Achilles. Or the prophecy might've actually been about some other demigods in the far future, because there weren't seven suitable heroes. 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 past is set. You cannot change what happened."
In other words, fate defined in hindsight. It wasn't exact, maybe things were fated but that was no guarantee of what was to happen. Foresight wasn't fate.
Her last sentence was said without vehemence, without the force and will that had been behind all her other words, and it surprised him that he hadn't noticed that they had been there until their absence. "Your choice did make a difference."
Somehow, a laugh found its way out of him. "So you're telling me I could have screwed everyone over. Or became a god, and left everyone I knew. That's actually comforting, in a strange way. Thanks."
Percy shifted forward, collapsing back onto the snow. He laid there, embracing the cold, relishing it - it was sharp, immediate, at the front of his mind. A relief.
It wasn't the answer that could solve all his problems, but it was the dam well best he would get.
"Well, I can offer more than that - you're so very concerned about prophecies? Have you forgotten the Oracle of Delphi is hidden away again? Not only that, the Prophecy of Seven was the only undamaged prophecy left unfulfilled in our available pages of the books. All the remainders are just indecipherable scraps of paper." Luna gave him an indecipherable look, of compassion and sympathy and … Hades knew what else. "Your worries are … unsubstantiated, with how everything is now."
Percy turned to her, beaming crookedly. "Dam, Luna, where have you been all this time? I could've used hearing that months ago!"
All of it, months ago, before he fell into this stupor. Before the whisper of doubt had manifested itself in his head, before now. But late was better than never.
"It's nothing," Luna answered, blushing lightly. "But … then why did you deny immortality?"
He deflated slightly, not having expected her … persistence in finding the answer to the question she'd first asked. "I guess I owe you the answer - I didn't want to leave Annabeth," - though that was going wonderfully at the moment. Still, he forced another smile on his face (it was honest enough), to which Luna returned a smaller one. "But no, that was definitely not nothing. Gods be damned, I feel … free, now! I owe you for that. Anything - anything you want? That I can do for you?"
"No, no, what? It's fine," she protested, waving her hands.
"C'mon, Luna. There's at least something," Percy insisted, sitting up properly again. In the spark of the moment, he gathered some snow behind his back, out of her sight. "Nothing at all? Really?"
"Nothing," repeated Luna.
"Well, I guess I could always just make this a night to remember." Not that it wasn't memorable enough, but Percy could make it stand out just a little more. A flex of his mind and the ball formed; pat and perfect.
"Wha-?" He turned and threw - not very hard, as they were so close - which was good since it smacked her on the cheek. Another snowball was launched at her stomach as he dashed away, not giving her a chance to speak.
It wasn't until the third one that she dodged and tore after him, not so dainty bare hands already packing a snowball.
He wouldn't have resorted to extreme measures if her aim hadn't been so good. Every snowball she threw seemed to land, as best as he tried to dodge. He didn't even have the time to duck down and grab more snow before being hit again. After a few more minutes of trying to gather snow properly while being pelted by stings (Luna wasn't using much snow, preferring smaller projectiles that could be made and thrown faster), he took off to the wooded area for a bit more cover.
He'd started it, so he had to win it.
So he began forming snowballs with a thought, covering his retreat with a few volleys of snow in Luna's general direction. Of course, all of them missed, and he was nailed in the back for his efforts.
A glance back when he reached the treeline showed Luna simply grabbing the snowballs he'd oh so conveniently handed at her to throw at him - he ducked as one of said snowballs hurtled towards his head. Here he had cover, though, so he took the time it took for Luna to advance to throw a few more well-placed shots. Projectile weapons had never been his forte, but he was good enough after five years of practice or so.
Still, when Luna made it past her territorial disadvantage, the tables quickly turned. He'd crept further into the forest to reassess, only to find that he had completely lost the enemy position. It was at that moment a barrage of snowballs landed on top of his head, and he turned to find Luna fifteen feet up a tree and another snowball in his face.
Up there, her movement was restricted, though, so he managed to land a few shots in revenge before she dropped down. The process of that repeated three more times, until the point where Luna would simply take advantage of him looking up in the branches when she was crawling behind the bushes and vice versa.
At that point he abandoned the woods, heading for the nearest playground, giving him his own opportunity to reach the high ground. Of course, he was soon enough driven away from there too, by a bookworm non-legion girl somehow able to best him in combat. Sure, it was a snowball fight, but he was still losing.
Well, if he couldn't take advantage of the environment constructed around them, he would have to make his own. Taking a few more shots to his back, Percy ran to the open ground by the shore, quickly followed by a gleeful Luna. He fell to the ground, laughing and pretending exhaustion. The moment she was close enough, though, he swept his hands up to the sky, focusing as his gut twisted. The snow around them rose, two feet of snow decreasing to a few inches as the snowfall is frivolously sculpted into six foot high walls, a minuscule version of what he remembered as the Labyrinth. There were gates and pathways and dead ends, and they were in the midst of it.
The complexity and unfamiliarity, along with the lack of ability to see and analyze the environment, evened the battle. It was a game of cat and mouse, trying to ambush each other (Luna walked really quietly, even on snow), leading to wild chases and disengages. It finally felt like he was landing as many shots as she was landing since the beginning of the battle. There was even a moment where he'd managed to predict where she was and decided to play even crazier rather than approach her from an obvious direction. In a quick hit and run, he ran straight through the wall, dropping a wave of snow on her before making his escape, whooping the entire way.
Of course, the second time he tried that, she anticipated the ambush and dodged, before grabbing him and redirecting his face into the next wall. And then, while he was still disoriented by the sudden faceful of snow, Luna dumped more of the stuff down the back of his shirt before taking off laughing.
It was at that point he made a full retreat back over the lake, forming one last wall to hide behind while Luna stayed on land. She didn't follow, though, perhaps trying to prevent him from attempting any more tricks. So after a few more half-hearted shots from both sides, he shouted over the short no man's land. "Truce?"
"Truce!" He heard back.
But as he dismissed the ice wall, one last snowball splattered on his face. He spluttered in shock, Luna giggling as he quickly wiped it away. When it was completely gone, he chuckled good-naturedly before admitting, "I deserved that."
"Yes, you did," she agreed, before making her way to him on the ice. "I enjoyed myself, though, Perseus, so thank you. And how do you know how to control snow?"
"You're welcome, bu-" Before he can finish his warning, the sheet under her cracked. Dashing forward, he caught her once again before she could slip under. He blushed - she felt all too warm in his arms, especially after all the exercise they'd performed in the past who-knew-how-long.
"You're welcome for that too," Percy snickered. "Again. Lemme just make sure that doesn't happen again, though."
He let her distance herself promptly, remembering her disdain, and focused on ensuring their safety. After a moment, he spoke up. "No sudden movements and we should be fine. And what did you ask?- Oh, yeah, this is just something I picked up. Better than some other things I've tried to control."
Percy smothered the toxic memory of poison before it could consume him, instead concentrating on cleaning off the last remaining snow trapped in his clothing. Though, considering all the questions … "Going back a bit, though. I have a question for you too."
Luna's voice is absurdly close, and Percy looked up to find them almost face to face. Her silver eyes are wide yet unseeing, expressive yet unreadable. The atmosphere is charged - too charged, but Percy could never keep from setting things off, intentional or not. "If my choices do matter, then why can't gods change?"
She stepped in closer, whispering her answer. But despite her proximity, he failed to hear. He leaned in, nerves tingling in anticipation. "What? Didn't catch that."
Their breaths intertwine unnoticed, as her gaze devoured his. Percy was at best peripherally aware as she shed her jacket and let it fade into nothing. As the moonlight played along the silver of her tunic, the fabric drifting to and fro as she raised her arms to lay her hands on his shoulders.
"Dance with me."
Heart pounding, he tried to comprehend her command. After it processed, he frowned in confusion, his brow furrowing as he tried to formulate some response. Annabeth. He barely knew Luna. They were literally standing on thin ice. "Bu-"
"The others are having their dance. Why shouldn't we?" She interrupted.
Still, though, it wasn't right. But then she continued. "This is my favor. My request."
And then it was a given.
"Pushy, pushy," Percy snarked, but he can't help but smile despite his misgivings because her beam is all too radiant. He rested his hands on her hips, oddly reminiscent of how he'd rescued her before. "Alright then, Moonbeam."
Besides a raise of an eyebrow, nothing. And then they danced.
It had only been right, because there she was, shining before him. And he gave the dance his all, because it was as good as his word when he'd said he owed her. Because somehow, he was happy right now, despite all his troubles in the past year, in the past six months, in the past day.
So with music in his head only he could hear, he danced with Luna. He danced under the moon and stars, danced amongst the shimmering yet serene ice and snow, danced with the beautiful girl who'd enraptured him since the moment he met her.
And when her right hand trailed down his chest, he took it in his left. Their swaying ceased as they considered their closeness. After a brief moment of mutual consideration, Percy refined how he held her hand, cupping it and interlacing their fingers. Then, he let it fall back to his chest and let it rest.
Luna began their swaying again, gently laying her head on his shoulder and nuzzling into the crook of his collarbone. In turn, he adjusted to increased intimacy by moving his other hand up to her back, holding her to him even as her other hand curled around his neck.
There was no space left between them.
He didn't care.
Maybe it was wrong to dance with someone who wasn't his girlfriend, but they'd been struggling and he wanted to savor the sheer contentment he'd achieved tonight. After everything, he could finally believe in a better world again, because of the person in his arms.
So he danced anyway.
But then thunder rumbled - the end of the Solstice - and Luna extricated herself from their dance.
The atmosphere faded abruptly, turning hollow, a shell of the sheer raw expression of emotion the two had shared that night.
"Keep in touch?" Percy asked, voice barely working.
And she smiled back, fragile and rich with uncertainty. Moonbeam couldn't have been more perfect for who he saw before him.
Without a sound, she nodded, turned around, and walked away.
There was only one thought left in Percy's mind as he watched her leave.
Meeting Luna felt like fate.
You will get everything you expect, and none of it.