by Icy Roses
A/N: This happened at 2:30 am last night. I was tired of dumping unhappy things on people, and nobody dies in this fic, I promise! I consider it a success. By the way, lack of sleep does not make for an awesome day. I get almost all of my ideas at night. I did not get up for Luke or Thalia or Sally, but by God, I did it for Percy. So I hope you enjoy it.
Disclaimer: Rick Riordan owns everything Percy Jackson.
In the small, dark hours of the morning, an earsplitting wail woke Percy and Annabeth.
Probably for the tenth time in the last two days, Percy wished he were deaf. Or perhaps, he thought deliriously in his dreamy, half-conscious state, perhaps I am deaf, and the ringing has become permanent in my ears. Oh gods, let that not be it. Please, let that not be it. But it definitely wasn't a figment of his imagination, as Annabeth stirred next to him, face down in her pillow. He found this mildly astonishing, as it was the middle of July in all its glorious mugginess, and it was a small miracle that she hadn't suffocated from heat. He wished he could sleep underwater. It would probably be cooler, but Annabeth did not think sleeping in the bathtub would be particularly comfortable or a good idea in general.
Whatever. Right now, it seemed like an excellent idea.
"It's your turn," she mumbled.
Those were the worst three words in the English language, he decided. "No, it's not. I got up last time."
"That's not what I remember."
Percy impressed himself by the way he could somehow decipher her words. Since she spoke straight into the bedding, it sounded more like she was eating cloth. Which she could have been, since the mysterious, vaguely horrifying thing called pregnancy and motherhood had caused her to develop the appetite of a bear before hibernation. He found himself oddly fascinated by her eating habits, which included everything from pickles and ice cream, to demanding ambrosia in a teary, dangerously unhinged voice.
But he was getting distracted. Maybe it would be better to innocently fall asleep. He drifted, drifted…
Cassie ripped a fresh cry into the air, and neither of them could ignore it for much longer without being considered abusive parents.
"She wants you. She's probably hungry, and there's nothing I can do about that," he said.
She twisted and faced the other way so he couldn't see her expression. His guess: sleepy.
"She's not hungry. She just needs changing, and you can do that as well as I."
"How do you know?" he demanded.
"I just do. It's a maternal instinct thing from the crying, babies, and…and diapers…and tired." She wasn't even coherent anymore.
"Well, you have a better sense than me. You do it," he said.
She groaned. "I swear to you, Percy, if I have to get up one more time, I will curl up and die. Do you understand? Die." She turned again so she lay flat on her back. Her gray eyes were tightly shut, and he guessed they would be more bloodshot than gray if she opened them.
He tried again. "No one has ever died of changing a diaper."
"There's a first for everything." She pushed him weakly with the base of her hand, fingers curled and sweaty. She had about as much force as a garden snail. That itself would not be enough to shove him out of the bed. But he swung his legs over the side and straightened anyway. They could argue until Apollo's chariot arched over the horizon, but Cassie would continue to cry herself hoarse. Annabeth would be a wreck in the morning, and that would be bad for her, the baby, and him.
Fatherhood sucked sometimes. When he was young, he used to be angry that Poseidon never fulfilled his fatherly duties. Now, that anger had escalated to a whole new level, because Poseidon surely did not have to get up in the middle of the night to change diapers. Cheater. (He also found he somewhat worshiped Sally as a saint or at least a minor goddess for raising him alone.)
He loved Cassie. He did. He would fight a legion of titans to protect her, but still…it was just a tiny bit harder to love her at times like these.
She was in the room next door. They kept both doors open so they could hear—not that it mattered, since her voice pealed loud and clear with or without a wooden slab in the way.
It occurred to him in the back of his head as he stepped into the hallway, that her crying had stopped abruptly, and that was extremely unlike her. But he cleared the doorway, and all of the fuzzy cobwebs in his head were swept away at the sight of the cradle.
It was empty. A woman stood beside it. She had her back to him, and Cassie lay quietly in her arms. The moonlight outlined her figure, and while she looked a bit familiar, he was utterly sure there was not supposed to be a strange woman in his apartment in the middle of the night. He blinked, panicked, and opened his mouth to yell.
The woman turned on her heel, impaled him with flashing eyes, and waved her hand.
Percy's throat froze up. Only raspy croaks bearing no semblance to words came out.
He looked full into her bright face and found himself staring at someone he knew quite well. She was the only figure in the world who still struck terror into his heart. He needed to wake Annabeth. Now.
Athena waved her hand again and pressed a finger to her lips. "Shhh," she admonished.
"Okay," he whispered. "I—uh—I'm just going to go get Annabeth—"
"Oh shut it," she said. "Let her sleep."
This was getting supremely weird. The last time he saw Athena was at his wedding, where she sat with a disapproving frown on her face for the duration of the ceremony. Mothers-in-law were supposed to be bad as a general rule, but he could firmly say he had the worst one on the planet. And she was immortal, so she could sit around and happily hate him for the rest of eternity.
Speaking of which, she was definitely breaching his personal space, which in her case, was about a five-hundred-mile radius. She was on his land, telling him to shut up, and holding his daughter—what the hell? "Um," he said, modulating to an acceptable inside voice and trying to sound as nonchalant and un-pissed as possible, "what are you doing here?"
"Checking on my granddaughter."
Oh gods, the word granddaughter threw him off. Athena was a grandmother. But not the normal, cookie-baking, white-haired grandmother. Nope. She looked like Annabeth, except meaner, angrier, less lovable, more powerful, and with a permanent I-am-better-than-you expression etched onto her face.
Cassie gurgled and waved her baby hand in the air. Percy had an intense urge to scoop her out of Athena's arms.
"Calm down, Percy. You look like Kronos himself flew through the bedroom window. I mean no harm."
Well, that would be a first.
"Excuse me?" Her sharp gray eyes terrified him. It ran in the family.
"N—nothing," he said hastily. Think appropriate thoughts, he chanted. Think appropriate thoughts.
Athena rocked Cassie and cooed gently. "I like babies," she said. "I've always liked them. And it's such a shame, sometimes, that I have to let all of mine go. I do miss them, you know."
He nodded blandly, still wondering what he was supposed to say to that and why she was confiding to him like he was Dr. Phil.
"I thought," she said softly, "it might be responsible and—nice—to see how my granddaughter was doing. Even gods care about family, as you might remember." She stirred up old memories, of a bloody war between brothers and cousins, of unclaimed children, of forgetful parents. Of gods who could do nothing in their own children's lives, no matter how much they wished it. For the first time in his life, Percy felt sorry for her. He was lucky. Lucky to be a mortal father and lucky to be involved in his daughter's life. She was lucky she would have two parents who loved her and remembered her. They were all lucky.
"Cassandra is her name, isn't it?" Athena asked.
"Yeah." He was smiling. "We can name her Athena if you want. Out of respect, I mean." Uh, what? That would probably not fly with Dad.
She laughed, and he noticed it sounded quite nice. "No need. I only wanted to see her. I was curious." She glanced down at the baby. "And now I see she looks very much like you."
"Is that a bad thing?" My genes are okay!
"Well, it's slightly disappointing, to be honest. But not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps she will grow out of it."
She glided toward him and placed Cassie in his arms carefully. The baby slept peacefully, thankfully. Looking at her now, Percy personally thought she resembled Annabeth, but it didn't matter. She was his, either way. She made his heart do a little flip-flop in his chest, and sleeping like this, she had him wrapped around her short, chubby finger. And she was painfully beautiful, no matter what. He looked up at Athena, who kept her eyes on Cassie. "Are you going to visit again?" he asked quietly as so not to wake his daughter. "Because if you do, I'd rather you ring the doorbell instead of poofing in the early hours of the A-M. You don't have to sneak in. You are welcome to drop by publicly."
She gave him a wry look. "No. I do not think I will visit again. I only wanted to see. Furthermore, I hate doorbells."
The last part sent his tired brain spinning. "What?"
"Your stupid father invented them. It's a long story."
Poseidon invented doorbells?
"Anyway," she said, checking the watch on her wrist—he realized it had just appeared there as she looked down—"it's time for me to go." She turned to leave. "Oh, and I think you will find you have no need to change her diaper tonight. A small favor."
He grinned. "Thanks."
"Don't get used to it." She melted away into the night air, and everything felt cooler. He yawned. He put his daughter back into her cradle and wished her goodnight, although she couldn't yet understand.
He dragged his heels back to his own bedroom and crawled into bed. What a strange night. Most likely, he would wake up in the morning and think the whole thing was a dream. Maybe it was a dream. I mean, Athena didn't threaten to burn me to a crisp the entire time! I must be growing on her. Our dysfunctional relationship has become slightly less dysfunctional. Score.
Annabeth snuggled against him, and he didn't even mind the heat this time. Gently, he brushed the damp curls away from her forehead and kissed her. "Hmm?" she murmured. "What's up?"
"I love you."
"Thank you. I love you too, although it's an odd time to be expressing that sentiment, don't you think?" she said sleepily. "Is changing diapers a turn-on for you now? You're more than welcome to do it tomorrow night too."
"Nah. It's definitely your turn tomorrow night," he said, kissing her again.
She was sliding into unconsciousness. "Hey, Seaweed Brain, you did it pretty good tonight. She got quiet really quick."
He slipped an arm around her. "Yeah? What can I say? I guess I'm just awesome like that."
A/N: Reviews are appreciated.