Author's Notes (Neko Kuroban): Life recently became incredibly hectic (for both my co-writer and I) and delayed the release of the next chapter of Sightless, which will soon be posted. However, we certainly did not forget our audience! For your enjoyment, we present the prequel to Sightless.
With the Light in Our Eyes is set in a mild alternate universe. Like Sightless, it works with canon knowledge throughout the first four books and disregards the existence of The Last Olympian. As always – we love each and every one of you, and any kind of feedback is greatly appreciated!
With the Light in Our Eyes is dedicated in its entirety to MyPenIsSharperThanYourSword.
With the Light in Our Eyes
by Neko Kuroban and Sister Grimm Erin
Proud You Halt Upon the Spiral Stair
"Love never fails. Whether they be prophecies, they shall fail. Whether there be tongues, they shall cease. Whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away in the face of love."
— 1 Corinthians 13:8
It was the day before Christmas Eve. The sun was setting in a haze of gray and lavender, and a soft drift of snow was falling over Connecticut. Luke Castellan bought a ticket for the first airplane departing from Bradley International. He did not give a damn as to where it was headed. The simple fact that it would enable him to leave his current demons in his wake was more than enough.
The flight he ended up taking across the country — a six-hour journey to Los Angeles, California, of all places — was at best unmemorable, at worst a minor annoyance.
A heavy-set businessman had sat beside him. The man complained about the many indignities associated with flying throughout the entire first hour. Luke tried to ignore him by reading a horror thriller – Stephen King, naturally – and listening to music. Avoidance had worked until the man downed too many gin and tonics and grew testy. He started asking (demanding answers to would be more appropriate) question after question, each one increasingly personal: about school, about his plans for the future, about his reasons for travelling, about his family. Luke evaded him at every turn, crafting easy, genuine-seeming lies until the man lapsed into snoring slumber that lasted across the Midwest until the man awoke with a snort over Arizona.
The white-blonde boy disembarked from the plane with the strap of his carry-on slung over one slim shoulder. He had not checked any luggage; his duffel bag had been all he brought with him. It had been surprisingly easy to pack light. Looking around his bedroom, it was nearly impossible to think of anything that he actually wanted. There was nothing he assigned value – monetary or sentimental – to anymore.
The realization had not come as a surprise.
Luke set the valise down on a bench to shed his double-breasted pea coat, draping the black cashmere garment over his forearm. Compared to the bitter winter (in more ways than one, he reflected, not without a certain amount of disdain) he had known on the East Coast, he had no qualms with the prospect of Christmas being seventy-five degrees and sunny.
He wandered with neither aim nor purpose in mind.
You are getting nowhere, accused some part of himself — a sharp, critical voice that sounded suspiciously similar to the man he had once thought of as his father.
He brushed that concern aside.
It was a quarter past ten in California, but, back in Greenwich, Connecticut, it was 1:15 in the morning. He had first boarded the plane at what would have been dinnertime (nearly always a tense, awkward affair conducted with averted eyes and minimal conversation exactly at six; long sleeves optional but preferred), less than an hour after he had slammed the door behind himself for what he expected to be the final time. He did not feel weary as a result of jet lag — but, then again, he rarely did. He was naturally able to operate on very little sleep in a way few people could.
Instead of taking action, however, Luke found himself idly watching passerby as he made his way through LAX. His eyes flickered to the liquid crystal display announcing arrivals and departures in flashing red and green. Before he had left, he had taken both his passport and the original copy of his birth certificate — verifying his identity as Luke Christopher Castellan, born to Geoffrey John Castellan and Calanthe Rose Castellan (née Dahl), at two minutes to midnight on the seventeenth of November thirteen years ago.
It would be simple, he realized now, to leave this country behind. Endless possibilities lay before him. He could go anywhere: Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Italy...
"Samantha!" A shrill soprano called, and Luke snapped his head up, reverie shattered, as a woman surged past him. "Sammy!"
The woman's head snapped back and forth as she surveyed the crowded airport. She could have been anywhere from twenty-five to thirty. Twenty-eight, he decided after a moment. She wore her brown hair tied into a bundle of curls at her neck and an argyle sweater that dipped a few inches too deep into the valley between her generous breasts. She half-stumbled, half-ran in her wedge-heeled clogs. Genuine fear was written into her round face (a sweet face, a romantic would have written) as she scanned the other travelers and the shops that were still open. Most of the storefronts had their grates lowered to half-mast and their lights dimmed in preparation for closing.
"Sammy!" The woman continued to push and shove her way through the crowd, moving against the grain of the foot traffic. "This isn't funny! Samantha!"
She collided with a man — the same one who had sat beside Luke on the flight, the blonde noted. The man's face was red with exertion as he attempted to drag two rolling suitcases, both with peeling Roman letters spelling out his name. Both toppled when he lost his balance, but the woman never paused long enough to register the filthy glare she received.
Without warning, the woman's panicked voice changed. Joy and gratitude replaced the hysteria. "Oh! Thank you!" She was gushing to an apathetic-looking girl, a pale-skinned brunette. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
The girl was Luke's age, perhaps a little younger, petite and thin with large blue eyes and hair as black as the raven's wing. Something about her seemed oddly still and unapproachable.
Even so, the woman was obviously fighting the urge to draw her into an embrace. Luke saw the reason why: now clinging onto the woman's swirling broom skirt was a yawning, bleary-eyed little girl in a yellow frock.
"I can't thank you enough, sweetie. Is there anything I can do to..." The woman fumbled for the gilded clasp on her cracked leather pocketbook. "Surely you deserve..."
"Hardly." The girl shook her head in a single, decisive gesture. The action made her long, glossy hair ripple. "Just don't fucking lose her next time."
The woman appeared to be stunned. Luke wondered whether her reaction was due to the crudeness of the girl's remark or by the rejection of a proposed reward. Before the woman could respond, the little girl piped up to fill the silence with her high, chirping voice.
"Mummy, can we go get ice-cream?"
"Once we're in New York, sweetie," the woman hastened to reassure her, her interest in the girl already waning in favor of coddling her child. "Remember? We talked about this, Sammy. You can take a nap on the plane, and, when you wake up, we'll be where Daddy is so we can surprise him for Christmas. Remember? He'll be so happy to see us that I'm sure he'll take you to get ice-cream."
Once mother and daughter had left (the woman clutching the little girl's hand in a vice-like grasp as she dragged her toward the boarding gate), the girl's eyes found his. He looked pointedly toward the pair as if to say what can you do? She rolled her bright azure (God, had he ever seen eyes as intense as hers?) eyes in knowing response, and he found a smile cross his features in spite of himself.
She spun on her heel, her hair fluttering out behind her, and sauntered away.
The next time he saw the girl nearly two hours later. She was sitting behind the plate glass window that dominated the façade of a coffee shop; it was one of few enterprises still open in the airport after midnight. He had not spared her much attention earlier, but now he could tell from a single glance: there was something from which she was running away.
Her body language was terse and closed, folded in on herself, and her long hair spilled down her back, so dark and thick it looked like nothing so much as motionless black water. She sat alone at the counter overlooking the busy corridor, but she was not people-watching as he would have been. Her narrow shoulders were hunched and tense, and she was drinking coffee, despite the late hour. Three polystyrene cups were gathered in front of her, not counting the one curled loosely in both slender hands. She seemed to be staring into its depths rather than actually drinking the liquid.
She looked up as Luke entered the café, and, again, their eyes caught.
Electric blue met sapphire.
He went to the counter. On a whim, he purchased two cups of coffee from a cashier in a uniform too bright for his expression and received the drinks from a barista who chatted in a voice that seemed far too cheerful to belong to someone working at midnight. He approached the girl from behind. A half-smile crossed his face when he noticed the closed hardcover book resting at her elbow: Stephen King's Carrie.
He touched her shoulder.
She whirled around to face him, ready with what was surely going to be a scathing retort. He offered his most charming smile and held the coffee out as a peace offering.
"Mind if I sit with you?"
The café was crowded, but it was far from full and the high counter she sat at was empty. She did not even lift her gaze to assess it.
"Yes," the girl answered immediately. "I do." He was about to turn away (thinking God, what a bitch) when she spoke again, her eyes still focused on her hands. "Never mind. Sorry. Of course you can sit here. Sit wherever you want."
"Thanks." He claimed the low-back stool beside hers. He set his coat down on the counter's surface, followed by his drink, and he pushed the extra beverage toward her. "Luke Castellan."
Finally, she looked at him, and he was struck by the simple perfection of her fine-boned face. Her intense eyes softened, just for an instant, and he noticed the hint of a smile teasingly the corners of her lips. "Thalia."
"I don't tell my last name to people I don't know. And..." She placed her hand on the cup's lid. It lingered there — only for an instant — before she pushed it back to him. "I don't take open drinks from people I don't know, either. Or anyone, really," she added as if as an afterthought.
The smile she had been hinting at became fully realized.
It was the first time the words fucking and beautiful had ever been paired in his mind.
Documents stuck out of the hard cover of her book: the blue of a passport, the white and red of a boarding pass, and the green laminated square badge given to minors travelling unaccompanied. It looked casual, as if she had slipped the papers there to mark her place, seventy or so pages into the story, as well as to keep from losing them, but he suspected that there was more to it than that.
If he had been faced with any of his vapid, shallow school friends, he would not have hesitated to pull it out and to start asking questions. Since when had he hesitated when confronted with strangers? He used to be able to read them as well — if not better — than people he had known all of his life, and, often, he preferred them. Had he lost that quality, just another facet of himself that had fallen by the wayside over the past two years, just one more casualty of everything that had happened?
However...this girl was different, something within him recognized. He could not get a feel for her with the same ease he could glance at someone else and effortlessly know everything: their weaknesses, their strengths, their joys and sorrows, what animated them and brought them to life.
The thought thrilled him as much as it disturbed him.
He indicated the papers with a tilt of his head. "Are you waiting for a flight, Thalia?"
"Something like that," she conceded. "At this point, it's actually a little closer to 'running on autonomic instinct.'"
Luke felt himself smile. "So," he began, propping his chin on his loosely curled fist, and leaned forward. His sapphire eyes danced with mischief. "What are your instincts telling you — right now?"
"That I'm tired of fighting and should consider becoming a pacifist," Thalia replied. "Maybe I'll join a convent and marry Jesus."
His smile broadened into an amused grin. "Wouldn't you rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints?"
She laughed. The sound was surprisingly rich and warm, but it came tainted with sadness — as if genuinely mirth was rare for her. "I wouldn't have pegged you for a Billy Joel fan, Luke Castellan."
She was all tense, nervous energy, but he found himself strangely at ease when talking with her. He could not remember the last time he felt so comfortable with anyone. "They played it in my religion class as a warning against premarital sex ages ago," he told her. "I stole the tape from the teacher the moment his back was turned."
Something in her features shifted, and she lowered her eyes. She pushed a wayward strand of hair out of her face, securing it behind her ear. "Where are you headed?"
Somehow, it did not seem abrupt.
"Nowhere," he admitted. His fingertips tapped out a staccato rhythm on the Formica countertop. "Why? Want to come with?"
"You're running away from something, aren't you?" She looked pointedly toward the bag he had set by his feet. He did not respond, and she took his silence as admission of the truth. "I thought as much."
"You, too." It was not a question.
"You could say that." She looked back at his carry-on. "Let me guess: you have valuables in there." It came as a challenge, as if she was trying to get a feel for his motivations.
Perhaps she was.
He was startled, but he covered it with ease — and a smirk that worked with most girls. "I was right, wasn't I?"
"Think of it as insurance." The words were grim, but there was a forced lightness in her voice. From the corner of her eye, he noticed one of her small hands curl into a fist, so tight that surely her fingernails must have bitten into her palm.
He took a sip of his drink for the first time. It was perfect. He barely noticed. "What would make you think I'm carrying anything valuable?"
She reached for the collar of the cashmere winter coat he had set on the table and flipped it up to reveal the satin lining — and the silk label stitched inside bearing the name of the expensive designer. "This." Next, she gestured toward his bag, an artfully distressed duffel made of calfskin leather, adorned with brass buckles and studs. "That. Not exactly a game I'm new to. So what are you carrying?"
"Jewelry, for one thing," he found himself admitting. "My stepmother's. I was planning to sell it."
"I know a man," she offered, and their eyes met. "He owns a jewelry store. I could show you."
She pulled into her lap her own bag, a messenger-style creation of leather and metal hardware, adorned with a rainbow brigade of patches and pins. The inside flap was lined with a brightly colored screen-print, he noticed when she opened it, revealing the chaos within. She shoved her book — and the documents it contained — inside. "I mean," she began as if she was trying not to sound overly interested. "It's not like I have anything better to do."
In life, there are no new beginnings, because nothing ever ends.
However, that moment was, Luke Castellan would later come to realize, a turning point.