A/N: This story started on LJ's pjo_kinkmeme, a Luke/Percy request that I wanted to set in a Titan-victory-verse. This version (hopefully) has fewer glaring typos than the version originally published on pjo_kinkmeme. It contains an extra scene that I forgot to write, but lacks the sex scene from the kinkmeme version.
the boy on the cloud.
i. so the story goes
Between two rivers and close to the sea, there is a jungle of steel and glass. Once upon a time, it was a city that stretched itself to the sky, and even now, if you reach the tallest building, you'll be whisked away above the world to a lonely mountain covered in scorched white marble and melted gold. Just beyond the ruins, tethered to the sheer cliffs, is a small gray cloud that never moves, even when the angry winds howl past the ancient mountainside.
On the cloud, there is a boy. And if you wake him…
ii. at the end of the world
On his sixteenth birthday, he learned that how different the Titans were from the gods.
He had spent the last four years of his life with one god or another wanting him dead. Some had threatened to kill him and some had actually tried to do it. And so he expected to die at the hands of the victorious Kronos, Lord of Time, Lord of all the West. He'd been ready for it, told Kronos that even if he'd died, he was glad that he'd fought. But the sweep of the scythe never came. Instead, Kronos had smiled, and pointed a finger at the boy, and told him that the Titans had endured much worse than death, and that the time had come to pass that fate to him.
It hurt more than anything else he'd felt before, worse than magma and stream, worse than the River Styx. Every nerve in his body screamed as the cells within him changed, becoming absolutely, irreversibly permanent. He didn't need Kronos's gloating voice to tell him that he was immortal now; he could feel the immutability that had sunk into him.
"And so you'll watch," said the golden-eyed lord of everything the boy had ever known, "as your beloved Western civilization crumbles. I think the punishment is very fitting."
It was the telekhines who conjured the cloud and forged the chains of celestial bronze. The sea demons chuckled and snarled as they fastened the chains into the cloud's heart and around the boy's ankle. Son of the usurper, see what we've wrought for you and Oh, what a perfect view. And then they left him.
( From there, he watched as the city writhed in its first great panic. Mist-shrouded terrors flooded the streets of New York, and the few demigods and Hunters and spirits left in the city could not stop them all. They fell, or fled, and the city burned. )
The Titans came not long afterwards. Hyperion, freed from Central Park, boxed the boy across his gray prison, knocking him to the end of his bronze chain and pulling him up for more punishment. No matter how many raindrops the boy summoned from the thick clouds of Mount Olympus, no matter how fiercely he kicked and punched back, it was clear that the Titan, at his full strength, was too powerful for the boy to land a hit, even with his immortality and Styx's invulnerability. The ordeal left no mark until Hyperion found the small spot on the boy's back with a lucky strike, and the boy gasped as he skidded across the ashy surface of his prison, curling into himself while he waited for the pain to pass. The Titan chuckled as he leered down at the boy, and knelt to press the same sensitive spot.
"Well, well, won't the others be glad to know I've found that." He pulled his sword from its golden scabbard and pressed it against the boy's skin. "After I've had my chance with you."
And the blade slid straight into him. The boy held on to consciousness just long enough to see Hyperion's blade pulling out of his flesh, dripping with golden ichor, before he lost consciousness completely.
When he awoke, he was alone. The wound at the small of his back had healed over, but the skin was tender and his shirt was sticky with ichor. It was the sight of the gold staining the fabric that finally drove home the real horror of his new curse. And the boy looked down from his cloud at his city and cried for the first time.
(The first panic was over now. The whole thing was framed as a terrorist strike in the heart of the city. The officials and scientists sounded so sure of themselves when they said it had been something in the water supply and spree of violent crime. The battle in New York or Typhon's terrible damage alone would have been enough to cripple the country, but together they crashed the stock market and wiped out savings. The boy saw the lines at the banks and thought of history books he'd never really paid enough attention to. In groups and clusters, the lights of the city went out. )
Not all the Titans were so brutal as Hyperion, but it was mostly the violent ones who visited. Oceanus delighted in simply causing pain, letting the boy fight himself to exhaustion before wrapping him up in the long bronze chain, then scratching and clawing at the boy's mortal point with fingernails and daggers. Atlas was cleverest of them all, pressing the boy against the unyielding cloud with his massive arms and breaking the skin with perfect precision before coaxing the boy's insides out from the incision. And Atlas never forgot to keep his huge hand pressed against the boy's forehead, stopping him from escaping into blackness.
( The Titans gave their monsters free reign over New York. The Mist filled the city almost as much as it did in New York, lying low over the quiet streets. When people disappeared into a cyclops's lair or a shop went up in flames, the city blamed it on a surge in crime. But even from his cloud, the boy knew that the millions of people in the city could tell there was something worse afoot. They abandoned New York – slowly, at first, because they wanted to find a job or a place to stay before they moved away. But soon enough, they began to simply leave. )
Prometheus's visits were kinder. At least, the boy assumed they were meant to be kinder, because he never came with a knife or sword in hand. Instead, he sat with the boy and spoke for a long, long time, of how the world had changed across the rivers and over the seas. It was Prometheus who told the boy about San Francisco, how the shadow of Mount Orthys had spread across all the city of two bridges. There had been an earthquake, then a fire, and the hills and houses had crumbled. There was no one left, said the Titan, but vicious men who haunted the cracked streets and the monsters. Across the country that had been the heart of the West, people abandoned their cities, fleeing somewhere – anywhere – but the empty skyscrapers. But the people in the suburbs and the wide countryside were as poor and frightened as anyone else. There were fights. There were overcrowded hospitals and overflowing homeless shelters and overtaxed government resources until the hospitals and the homeless shelters and the government stopped trying altogether, and even outside the cities, people died on old country roads.
"But your West was never just this country," Prometheus mused, with the distant gaze of someone deep in thought. Forethought, the boy remembered. He looked for Yancy Academy below, and on the edge of his vision he could see an abandoned building and wild trees. "Nor was it the countries that Olympus has passed through. It was an entire way of living. It loved logic and knowledge. It questioned and it created and it never stopped experimenting. It asked why and how and was never satisfied with its answers. It was so rational. And it had spread all across the world."
"And?" the boy asked, guardedly.
Prometheus gave him a long look. "And now all those notions have been thrown out the window. Traditionalism is in vogue again. Lots of rules and duty and people keeping their heads down. And fear, of course. The Golden Age is returning."
Whatever Prometheus intended, when he left the boy felt worse than ever.
( The boy watched as weeds cracked through the asphalt and concrete. The city took on a reddish tinge as it rusted, and Athena, looking to the wide ocean, dropped her torch into the waves. Even when he closed his eyes, he dreamed of her dressed in white, gazing at the ocean forever, waiting for something that would never come. )
And there were times when the lord of time visited the boy on the cloud. He talked about the gods in Tartarus and the humans who huddled in their fortified homes. He talked about the sun becoming a little dimmer and the moon a little duller and the old vicious beasts of the sea rising from the deeps. When Kronos appeared, the boy fought as long as he could, but when his arms ached and his legs collapsed, the Titan would still be talking, and the boy could only listen and watch the emptying city below.
( Windows cracked up and down the Empire State Building as the flame of the West flickered and died. )
But eventually the new masters of the world grew tired of him. Their visits became more and more infrequent, until they stopped altogether. So he slept, waking up to gaze down at the city only once in a while, until the city was completely abandoned, and he closed his eyes for a very, very long time.
He's dreaming about Camp Half-Blood. He does it a lot, even though camp was destroyed just after Kronos took power. He'd seen the cabins and the woods and the strawberry fields burning. But now he's dreaming about his first morning in Hermes cabin, with a counselor pulling him out of his sleeping bag…
"Percy, wake up."
His eyes are heavy when he opens them; he has no idea how long he's been asleep. And when he adjusts to the brightness of his prison, the face he sees is – "Luke."
"Good job," says Luke. He looks the same as he did when Percy last saw him, just after Kronos left his body – his blue eyes exhausted, his blond hair tousled, but still in his twenties and obviously immortal. He's dressed all in black, his clothes dirty but in one piece, which is more than Percy can say for the last man he saw – the final person to leave New York City.
All the time he's spent imprisoned here melts away in a flash. His weariness vanishes and he launches himself at Luke, punching and kicking and shouting. Luke blocks the first attacks, then backs away faster than Percy can keep lunging after him, until the bronze chains go taught and Percy falls to the ground at Luke's feet, belting out obscenities like cabbies used to below. --
Luke gives him an exasperated look, which Percy figures isn't called for at all, considering that it was Luke who helped Kronos fight his way through New York City and to Olympus. "Is that how you treat everyone who comes up to wish you happy birthday?"
Percy stops swearing, shocked out of vulgarity. "Happy what?"
"Happy birthday," Luke says, settling down just out of eye-gouging reach. "You're a hundred and sixty-eight today. Talk about reaching birthdays against all odds." Percy stares at him, dumbfounded, but Luke waves a hand casually and conjures up a mound of something yellow and shrink-wrapped. He pries one free and holds it up. "Want a Twinkie?"
"A Twinkie," Percy repeats, dumbfounded.
"They're the only dessert that survived the destruction of civilization."
"And I'm – a hundred and sixty eight."
"Which is why I've brought Twinkies."
"You're the one who got civilization destroyed in the first place you son of a–"
Luke throws the unwrapped Twinkie at Percy's head. It bounces off and sits there on top of the cloud, bright yellow and apocalypse-proof, and it occurs to Percy that he hasn't eaten in one hundred sixty-eight minus sixteen years. His stomach rumbles loudly at the thought. He takes the Twinkie and eats it in three bites. It's not blue birthday cake, but it's not poisoned, either.
"I don't get it," Percy glowers, as soon as he's swallowed. "Why are you really here? And don't say 'for your birthday,' because you've missed like a hundred of them."
Luke leans back. "Something to do. Immortality gets boring after a few hundred ghost towns."
"I wouldn't know," says Percy, gritting his teeth.
Luke shoots him a rueful grin. "It slipped my mind."
"Yours and everyone else's."
"Oh, Kronos still talks about you sometimes. But doesn't leave Orthys for much anymore."
"Good for him."
"Maybe." Luke glances over the edge of the cloud, staring down at the city below. "It's bad down there, Percy. The cities are swarming with monsters, and the rest of the country isn't much better. The rest of the world isn't much better."
"Just like you wanted," he spits.
He sighs. "I did. But it turns out that civilization disappearing isn't so great, either."
"Maybe you should have thought of that before—"
Luke stands, cutting him off. "It's a little late for regrets now, Percy," he angrily. He draws a sword – not Backbiter, not any sword that Percy recognizes, not even celestial bronze – and for a minute Percy thinks he's going to attack. But Luke just slashes at the air, like he did decades and decades ago at Camp Half-Blood, and disappears.
He leaves the rest of the Twinkies barely out of reach.
Percy really, really hates him.
To Percy's surprise, Luke comes back a little while later – "a little while" being relative; Luke says it's been two years, and Percy has no way of knowing how long he sleeps anymore. And he comes back again, and again, and talks. He has the same sad stories to tell as Prometheus, but he's picked up things while traveling that Prometheus never knew about.
Like the last demigods.
"Plenty of them got out of New York," he says, just out of Percy's reach. "You can thank Nico di Angelo and your dog for that."
"Thalia. Travis and Connor. Dionysus's boy. Your friend Nico did a clever job of saving people – there was at least one camper from every cabin."
"Not every cabin."
"Cabin Three always has to be special, doesn't it? Every cabin besides Poseidon, then, if you count Thalia."
Percy swallows. "And Annabeth?"
Something flashes over Luke's face that Percy can't read. "Ask some other time," he says, and disappears when Percy won't let the subject go.
Luke still won't tell Percy about Annabeth, but he does tell him about the demigods. For a while, they travelled around the States in a band with the Hunters, scouting older campers and half-bloods too young to have gone to camp before the monsters could get to them. They focused on surviving and saving who they could rather than challenging the Titans; Luke hadn't found them until decades after the battle, when he'd spotted Thalia at a farmstand in Wyoming.
"She was so old."
Percy sits up. "Old? She's a Hunter of Artemis!"
"She used to be a Hunter of Artemis. But she had a beautiful daughter," he says wistfully, "and a granddaughter… but none of the Hunters are left now. They died fighting or had children. The demigods have mostly had children with each other, trying to keep the divine lineage strong.
He shrugs. "They're tougher. Battle reflexes are valuable in this country. And they still want to be heroes."
The word stirs something in Percy that he thought went to sleep ages ago. Luke goes on about grandchildren of Ares and Demeter who fight dragons with Venus fly-traps the size of school buses, but Percy hardly listens.
"Do you remember the story of Typhon?"
"I remember him smashing across the country," says Percy. He's dangling upside-down from his cloud, tethered by his bronze chains and staring out at the deep blue ribbon of the Atlantic, and wishing that the winds would bring him the smell of the sea.
"I'll take that as a no." Luke is perched on the edge, head in hand. "They say – or would say, if anyone else knew the story – that at the end of the Titanomachy, Gaia was furious with the Olympians for sending the Titans to Tartarus the way the Titans had locked up the Cyclopes and the Hundred-Handed Ones. So she brought forth Typhon and Echidna and sent them to destroy the gods."
"It didn't work. Not even the second time."
"No," Luke admits, "but she didn't stop trying. For a long, long time she tried to overthrow the gods, and didn't stop until the Aloadae killed each other. I wonder what she thinks of the world now."
"Probably that she was a lousy grandmother." Luke tugs at the bronze chain, rattling it until Percy glares up at him. "Why are you even asking?"
"Because the Earth is healing," Luke says, looking down at the crumbling suburbs and the clean rivers. "The West was killing her, and now she's healing. There's no smog over the San Bernadinos or the Rockies. There chemicals in the rivers and the six-pack rings in the sea are breaking down."
Percy's eyes shift to his city, where that change is easy to see. The green patch of Central Park has spread out across the city, curling into the hearts of brownstones and bringing them crashing down. At dusk, the deer will come out, and the falcons, and the wild dogs. "Just because Kronos sent everyone back to the Stone Age."
"To the Golden Age," he corrects. "But I wonder if she wanted the Titans to return all along. The Wild is returning, you know."
Once, those words would have delighted him. Now they're frustrating, infuriating. "I don't care what she wanted."
"You wouldn't," says Luke, and frowns at the sea.
"Why don't you live with them," Percy grumbles one visit, "instead of bothering me?"
Luke's laughter is bitter. "They don't trust me at all. Thalia taught them that. They see this—" he points to the scar running down his face "—and they break camp. It takes me years to find them again."
"Good for them. Good for Thalia."
"Not good enough," he sighs. "They don't even remember my name. They just call me 'Scar'."
"Like The Lion King."
Luke stares at him, then, finally, chuckles. "You're the only person on the whole continent who would think of that."
Percy rolls his eyes. "Just because no one else has seen it."
He regrets the words as soon as they're out of his mouth, because they pulls up a deep, aching longing out of him. Luke goes quiet, too, and, for the first time, Percy feels a twinge of sympathy for him.
But only a twinge.
Luke visits in the middle of the night looking wide-eyed and a little mad. He wakes Percy with a rough shove and says, before Percy is completely awake, "Annabeth."
Percy bolts upright. "What about her?"
He starts at the beginning, or, in Percy's mind, at the end, with Kronos in Olympus and the gods banished to Tartarus. Luke took Annabeth away to Greece, just like she'd wanted, where they'd be away from the monsters and everyone they knew dying. She'd hated it. And hated me. I did everything I could to keep her safe, to make her happy, but all it did was make her hate me more. For twenty years, she tried to get back to America, talking about how she was going to fight. And to find you.."
"What happened after twenty years?"
"I told her Kronos had killed you." And Percy knows, from the glint in Luke's eyes, how this ends, because it's a mad glint, and because Percy has dreamed, too many times, of wisdom at the edge of the ocean. "The neighbors' son saw her walk into the sea. I never found her body."
Two hundred years of hatred explode out of Percy in a vicious roar. He rushes at Luke, getting in one punch and then another, until his wild momentum pushes them both into the ground. He slams his fist into Luke's face again and again and again, not caring he's not doing any damage. Salt water swirls all around them, pinning Luke against the ground. It blocks out the moon, and the stars, and the dead city. The noise – the churning water, his own screaming – is almost deafening after so many years above silent New York, but somehow, after Kronos-knows how many punches, Percy hears Luke shout:.
"You could have stopped that! You could have given me the knife!"
Percy snaps off again as quickly as he started, the aquarium's worth of freezing saltwater splashing down all around them and running off the cloud in a flash flood. It pools all around them, soaking them both to the bone. "You killed her," he gasps. "Annabeth. Thalia. Nico. My mom and Paul and Tyson and Beckendorf and Silena and Clarisse, you killed them all!"
This time, Luke punches back, sending Percy sprawling. "I never wanted to hurt her," he hisses.
"You did a fucking great job of that!" Percy jumps up to attack again, but this time Luke is ready for him. He swings the celestial bronze chain around, catching Percy's wrists in it, then swooping in to pin his arms in the cold metal. Percy reverts to kicks and obscenities and whipping the water around them into vicious waves, but Luke slams him against the floor and pins a hand to his throat until Percy gasps out, "Why did you tell me? Why did you tell me now?"
The pressure against Percy's windpipe softens. "Because," he says, and his voice is filled with something like bitterness and hunger and yearning, "you're the only person on the planet who'd care." He leans in close. "The only other person in the world who remembers how the world's supposed to be. The last piece of the old West, lying up here and just dreaming about it while monsters flood the planet. That's why I keep sneaking around Kronos to come up here, because you're the only part of civilization left out of Tartarus. And I need to remember that world, Percy. I can't let it slip away like she did."
"You're crazy," Percy snarls.
"I have been for a long time," he agrees, and steals a kiss that's full of longing for something dead and gone.
It's been too long for Percy to remember if this is what kissing Annabeth or Rachel felt like. He knows that there were no chains involved, and that neither of them had held a hand to his throat. But back then, had it felt to strange to touch another person? Luke's hand fumbling with Percy's pants feels like the most bizarre sensation in Percy's small world, and Luke's breath against his neck is completely alien. When he tries to think about how long it's been since anyone touched him without trying to inflict as much pain as possible from one small spot, his mind stumbles and drags him back to the strange feeling of Luke's fingers lingering on his hips.
"Stop," he says, trying to kick up at Luke with his free leg, but Luke catches Percy's foot before it can crack down on his head, and says, simply,
It's strange and painful, after years without any contact at all to experience this of all things, and when it ends Luke groans and his fingers tighten painfully, possessively, graspingly against Percy before he lets go.
Percy keeps his eyes closed shut, but in the stillness he can hear every rustle as Luke dresses again, every bootclick as he strides over and frees Percy's wrists – and then vanishes before Percy can go for his throat.
The faded sun rises and sets on the lonely mountain a dozen times before Percy falls asleep again, and Luke doesn't come back for a long, long time.
Percy wakes from a nightmare. Luke is there, looking tired and somber. His clothes are dirtier than usual, and covered in thin slices as though he's been fighting, and he stands back out of reach of Percy's bronze tether, speaking agitatedly, and rushes into what he has to say without any preamble: "I'm leading one of them on a quest. There's a legend that, somewhere in the city, there's a hero's sword waiting to be claimed, and she wants it."
" 'Somewhere in the city'," he echoes, glowering suspiciously. "It's like looking for a needle in a haystack."
"Or a ballpoint pen in New York."
Luke nods. "Of course, it's not just a legend. I started the rumor a few decades ago, and it got bumped to legend status in a generation."
A generation. Is that how long it's been since Luke was here last? He stares down at his old, broken home, more lush and overgrown than ever. It could have been a generation, it could have been a century. "They still won't be able to kill Kronos."
"Maybe not," says Luke slowly, his blue eyes madly intense. "But there's a second part to the myth. They say that high above the ghost city, there's a hero who can lead them to victory."
Percy laughs hollowly. "I could stop Kronos the first time. What makes them think I can do it now?"
"She doesn't have a choice," says Luke darkly. "The others died in Tulsa three months ago. It's the only reason she's working with me – I betrayed the gods, but I'm the only one who has a plan. She doesn't have anything to lose by starting a quest to free the Olympians."
"Or anything to gain."
Luke shrugs. "Think about it, Percy. You remember the gods. You remember civilization. You've been to Olympus and Orthys and the Underworld. And you're the last hero alive."
"You were supposed to be the hero," Percy says woodenly. Admitting it aloud for the first time hurts. "The hero's soul, cursed blade shall reap."
He smiles crookedly. "You decided I couldn't be a hero two hundred years ago. I'll bring her here, but there's only one person for the big job."
Luke kicks the pile of Twinkies – the world ending-, centuries passing-, flood-, and apparently kick-surviving Twinkies – into Percy's reach, and disappears.
iv. the light in the ashes
When the boy on the cloud awakens again, there's a girl standing over him. She's maybe fourteen or fifteen, with a shock of brown hair and big brown eyes. She grins at him, twirling a ballpoint pen between her fingers and dangling a broken chain of celestial bronze. "Hey hero," she says, "ready to save the world?"