Well, it's edging towards three in the morning. Where else would I be put posting here? Heh. This was originally going to be a oneshot, but I think I'll make it a two-parter now, because it might have ended up a little unwieldy had it just been a oneshot. I own nothing from the PJO world, and I would like to inform any lawyers reading (although, seriously, start reading some law books or something: this is a waste of your life if you're a lawyer) that I have just spent three years and thousands of pounds completing a fairly useless degree, and so all I have to give should you sue me is this laptop. Which is covered with apple stickers and has a frayed power cord that is a BAD IDEA to touch. So really, no one gains from a law suit. Anyway, enjoy, do not enjoy, the review button will let me know either way. ;) I know what needs to happen in Part Deux, I just need to write it... Should probably get on that, no?
Mission to Marzipan out.
It was good to be back in the sunshine. It was beating down out of the wide arc of brilliant blue above her and glittering on the huge swathe of turquoise sea that spread out into the distance. The lightest of breezes whispered in palm fronds above her head. Persephone was lying on a sun lounger in a new mortal form she was trying out. She was tall and lithe with a perfect tan and a head of thick blonde hair piled carelessly yet artfully up at the back of her head. One perfectly-manicured hand was caressing the soft sand absently and the other was wrapped around a mojito. It was the first day of spring, the first day she had been allowed back in the Overworld after her six month stint as Queen of the Underworld (or 'downstairs' as her mother still delicately referred to it even after all these years) and she was loving the tingling of the sunlight on her bare stomach. She inhaled deeply, drawing in the intoxicating perfume of the enormous pink flower behind her ear and let the breath out in a contented sigh. Hello, spring. Yet another mortal man walking past, this one holding a woman's hand, and practically tripped over himself at the sight of her lying full-length in the sun in a tiny white bikini. His girlfriend glanced in her direction, sneered and started dragging him faster along the beach, bickering with him. Oh, the Overworld. How she'd missed it.
Grain suddenly burst out of the air next to her sun lounger and she let out a startled shriek, spilling her mojito over the sand as her mother appeared. Persephone huffed in irritation and sat up, folding her arms across her chest and cocking an eyebrow at Demeter, who was blocking her sun.
"Can't a goddess have five minutes to enjoy the freedom of springtime?" Persephone snapped. "I haven't seen the sun in six months, mother."
"I was just wondering where you were, that is all," Demeter sniffed, sounding a little hurt as she plonked herself down unceremoniously on the end of the sun lounger, almost tipping it up. "One would think it was common courtesy to visit your mother after being away for so long."
"You've been visiting me constantly. All winter. That really irritates Hades, by the way, and you try living with a grouchy King of the Underworld. Not fun," Persephone sniped back, waving a hand and filling her mojito back up again. She picked it up and took a long drag in through the straw.
"Well, I amm sorry if I thought you might like a sweater or two," Demeter said stiffly, smoothing her dress over her knees. "It just seems so chilly down there."
"Mother, really, how many thousand years has it been now?" Persephone asked tiredly, barely concealing her irritation. "I would like to think I'm as used to it by now as I'll ever be."
Demeter pursed her lips but said nothing. After a short pause, she changed the subject. "Aren't you a little far from home?" she asked pointedly, almost as if she was just noticing her surroundings.
"It's Honolulu, mother. Hawaii. It's been a state for like five decades, which is quite a while in mortal terms. We're still in America, still protected by the fact that we're within the boundaries of Olympus. This is like our backyard. Seems perfectly safe to me, no?"
"Well, if you are going to be like that then I will leave you alone," Demeter said, standing up again. "I am only your mother and I am only concerned about you, after all. I just came to see you because I missed you. Also, it seems like half my mortal children have the chickenpox and I am fed up with illness."
"Chickenpox?" Persephone asked. "Their… poultry are ill?"
Demeter snorted. "Don't you pay any attention to the mortal world, child? The chickenpox is some kind of highly-contagious mortal disease that makes them itchy, spotty and ill. It is not fatal but it is so unattractive to look at I sometimes wonder if death wouldn't be kinder when I have to look at them. At least then they get buried out of sight and they are Hades' problem. But you know what? It's fine. Do not trouble yourself about it. I will just go and suffer by looking at some sick children if it will please you. Do not worry about me at all." She vanished in another shower of grain and Persephone sighed, pinching the bridge of her perfectly-formed nose. Mortals were lucky. Their parents died off after a few decades. Demeter, on the other hand, was immortal and would be plaguing her until the end of time itself. Why on Olympus did her mother assume that she wanted to know about children with the turkeypox or whatever it was, for crying out loud? What possible use could that be to her?
She smiled as the first inklings of a plan began to form in her head. Well, a goddess might as well make the most of being back, right?
Nico did not need Rachel Elizabeth Dare's face appearing out of the rainbow the steam in his bathroom was making. Especially not given that he had just got out of the shower and was naked save for a towel around his waist, a towel that suddenly seemed ridiculously tiny. He spluttered in shock, his mouth working open and closed but no sound coming out. Not cool. Iris connecting you when you were in the freaking bathroom? Weren't there rules? Boundaries? IM etiquette? This was not what he needed right now, coming back to his cabin sweaty and aching from sword-fighting practise and wanting nothing more than to get into a long hot shower in a bathroom that did not include a certain redheaded heiress staring at him.
Rachel cocked her head serenely. "Finally. You do know that you sing in the shower, right? If I had to put up with another Journey medley I'd have blown my prophesising brains right out onto the wall behind me."
"And then sold it as modern art, right?" Nico returned dryly, the chance to shoot off a smartass remark bringing his voice flying back. He dug his fingers deeper into the top of the towel in case it decided to spontaneously leap off his hips, fighting back a blush.
"Hey, the public wants what it wants," Rachel said with a shrug. "So, I couldn't help but notice that you completely sidestepped the whole Journey thing. Is this how we're going to handle that from now on?"
"Let's just remind you who here has a big say on what happens to your immortal soul and move on so I can grab some pants."
"I agree," Rachel said. "Let's do that. I prefer you in pants."
When Nico returned to the bathroom about ten minutes later, drying his hair vigorously and having thrown on some jeans and a t-shirt, he had to turn the hot water in the shower back on to replenish the steam the message was using. Rachel was rapidly fading from view, but as the steam billowed out of the shower the image returned to full strength. She had moved: she was no longer standing up but sitting Indian style on a beanbag and intent on scrawling a design on her wrist with a pink sharpie. Nico cleared his throat loudly and she looked up.
"Fully clothed. Excellent," Rachel said approvingly, capping the sharpie and leaning forward. "Will you find Percy for me?"
"You got me out of the shower because you couldn't find Percy?" Nico asked disbelievingly. "Well, gee, thanks. That's not at all irritating and unnecessary. Also: you really know how to make a guy feel special."
"If it helps, you were actually the third choice after Annabeth," Rachel said brightly. "And also, hey, you got out of the shower of your own accord. I was just waiting here. Can you just go and get them so you can save the demigod I saw? She's going to be in big trouble anytime now."
"Well, seeing as you asked so nicely…" Nico muttered reluctantly. "What do we need to do?"
Rachel grinned devilishly at him. "Well, first of all, Nico, I just want to say that you're right. You should never stop believin'."
Nico glared at her. "This is the final call for Ms. Dare to board the Express Train to Tartarus, that's the Express Train to Tartarus for Ms. Elizabeth Dare," he snapped pointedly.
"It's not a coach ticket, is it?" Rachel asked with a pained expression, scratching the back of her neck with the pen.
"Coach is the only way to get there," Nico told her darkly.
Rachel sighed and rolled her eyes. "Fine. I take it back. But, just for the record, Percy would have found that funny. That's why I wanted him first."
"By the time you get to the point, this demigod is going to bed dead," Nico groused, sitting down hard on the edge of the bathtub and folding his arms. It was getting uncomfortably humid in the bathroom now he was fully-clothed and the hot water was running. "Today would be nice?"
"I was getting there, okay? Look, she's a daughter of Demeter and is kind of lost in New York City. I wrote down the street name I saw somewhere…" She began searching around the beanbag, lifting up the edges to check underneath. "Oh! Wait. This wasn't where I was when I had my vision. Hold on." She wandered out of the edge of the Iris message and disappeared.
Nico sighed again. At least he wasn't paying for this call…
The last of the April sun was rapidly sinking out of sight, not that Percy and Annabeth were paying much attention to it. They were holed up behind the boathouse. Percy could feel the warmth of the wooden wall behind him through his Camp T-shirt, although the dirt he was sitting on was making his butt damp as it soaked through his jeans. Annabeth was sat on his outstretched legs with her hand under his shirt, gently running her fingers over the small of his back. That vulnerable spot of Percy's, the one that kept him anchored to the mortal world, had been caused by thinking of her as he was sinking to the bottom of the River Styx. She, Annabeth Chase, was the one thing that had tethered Percy to his mortality, and ever since he had told her about the spot it had held a certain fascination for her. She idly traced a finger round and round in circles on it as Percy grinned at her. He reached up to unwind the rubber band she was using to hold her hair in its ponytail.
"You kicked ass today, you know that?" he said, letting her hair loose and watching it tumble forwards to frame her face. "Did I mention that I love it when you kick ass?"
"Funny, because I love it when I kick your ass," Annabeth replied, returning his smile.
"Like you could. Invincible, remember?" Percy bragged, gently running his fingers through the tangle that she was calling her hair, scooping it behind her ears.
Annabeth jabbed him in the small of his back with her finger warningly. "Hey, I'm in the know, remember?" She let her hand glide up his back, then withdrew it rapidly. "Oh, gross. You're all sweaty."
"I'm not the only one. And should I be worried that you're going to stab me in the back?" Percy asked with fake concern. "That would be kind of harsh."
"Well, you can be pretty insufferable," Annabeth said. "So who knows? Try me."
Percy smiled crookedly at her. "Pass. I'm not feeling being dead," he said, leaning forwards and plucking a kiss from her mouth, letting his teeth graze against her bottom lip as he moved backwards.
"Knock knock," came a loud interruption, along with accompanying hammering on the side of the boathouse. Nico was leaning casually against the corner of the building with his arms folded, surveying them with mild interest. "Can you two please get up before I puke? We have work to do."
Annabeth scrambled off Percy's lap and stood up, huffing a sigh to cover her embarrassment and hurriedly gathering her hair back into a ponytail. She held out her hand wordlessly and Percy placed the rubber band in it.
"How did you find us?" Percy asked disappointedly, heaving himself to his feet reluctantly.
Nico's face contorted in disgust. "Ugh. To be honest, I noticed the way you were looking at Annabeth after she kicked the Stoll brothers' asses. Figured this was where you'd be after that look." He paused "Well, what do you know? That didn't help with the nausea."
Annabeth wrenched her ponytail back into place. "So even though you'd figured out what we'd be doing you just decided to stalk us for the fun of it?" she mumbled through the rubber band, which was temporarily in her mouth. She took it out and used it to tie her hair back up. "Gross. Gross and creepy."
"Yeah, because this is freaking hilarious," Nico returned, deadpan. "No, Rachel's been trying to contact you. I guess you've been… engaged. There's another demigod in trouble."
"Where?" Annabeth asked, clearing her throat and running her fingers through the knotted mane of her ponytail. She smacked Percy's hand as it snaked around her hip, jerking her head at Nico.
Nico just cocked his eyebrow in her direction, letting his eyes linger on the hickey on her neck long enough for her to slap a hand to it and rub at it faux-casually, as if she were trying to massage it back into the flesh. He grinned at her. "New York City, baby."
"Yeah, don't do that," Annabeth told him, shaking her head and looking at him distastefully. "What was that, where did you get that from?"
Nico scowled. "Mean."
Percy interrupted them by taking the cap off Riptide. The pen ballooned into its sword-form and he tested the balance of the blade, still revelling in the fact that it was totally perfect, as always. "Okay, can we do this?" he asked. "We've got a demigod to save."
Percy and Annabeth were holding hands as they walked down the street. Rain was threatening in the air, so Annabeth had a beanie jammed over her head and Percy had stopped to get a jacket. Their heads were inclined towards each other, and they were murmuring quietly between them as Nico stormed on ahead, trying his best to ignore them. He shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his own jacket and bent his head slightly against the chilly wind blowing in off the water. To vent his irritation, he kicked moodily out at a polystyrene cup emblazoned with the Starbucks logo. It skittered off the kerb and into the road, where it was promptly flattened by a city bus. A sheet of newspaper came bowling through the jungle of pedestrian feet in front of him to smack wetly onto his shin, the wind wrapping it around his leg. He growled angrily and kicked it off, already hating this stupid quest. Percy and Annabeth had been rating off the scale of his Nauseating Meter ever since he'd shadow travelled them out of camp with their fingers intertwined, which wasn't improving his mood.
"Nico? Are you sure this is right?" Annabeth called from behind him. She got caught in a gust of wind and, tasting her conditioner, snatched escapee tendrils of blonde hair out of her face and mouth.
"This is where Rachel said," Nico reminded her impatiently, and not for the first time. "Don't shoot the messenger if she can't get it right. It should be around here somewhere…"
Annabeth huffed a sigh and bit back a retort. 'Around here somewhere' was not an expression children of Athena could live with. What kind of plan could you make based on the 'Around here somewheres' of a fledgling Oracle and a Son of Hades who didn't have his shadow travelling as down as he claimed? "If you say so," she managed evenly, placing the hand that wasn't holding Percy's into the deep pocket of her coat, both for warmth and to wrap her hand around the hilt of her knife.
"Rachel says so. Not me," Nico bit back testily, stalking further ahead of them, his eyes darting around the street and its pedestrians intently. Many of them had their heads bowed against the wind and the rain looming threateningly as well; several had hats in various forms pulled down low over their faces against the weather. Perfect way to hide your fangs and scales if you were a monster on the hunt for a demigod. It could be anyone.
"Can we just stop a minute and think about this, Nico? Even if the demi— uh, person we're trying to find is close we need to talk tactics!" Annabeth called exasperatedly, stopping dead in the middle of the sidewalk. Percy kept walking and was yanked back by their interlocked fingers. As Nico spun around impatiently to face them, pedestrians began to automatically flow around them like they were small pebbles rooted to a streambed, not registering them apart from some tutting or an eye roll or two. Yet one woman in an overcoat and outsize sunglasses despite the weather and time of day barged straight through their linked hands, wrenching them apart. She was carrying a Chihuahua dog in an enormous Louis Vuitton purse over her shoulder and had a battered straw hat with a drooping plastic flower pulled over her face. The tip of Annabeth's newly-released fingers caught on the sleeve of her coat as she shoved her way through, hitching up the cuff a couple of inches and revealing green scales underneath instead of flesh. Annabeth's breath hitched in her throat. Monster.
The woman absently and quite casually rearranged her sleeve over the scales, but not before Nico, who was facing her, had spotted them as well. He exchanged a meaningful look with Annabeth. They nodded at each other, silently confirming what the other had seen, then Nico lunged forward and snatched her wrist so they wouldn't get separated as they dodged and weaved through the people on the crowded sidewalk, trying desperately not to lose the monster.
Percy blinked at their sudden disappearance, his mouth working silently in confusion as he stared at their retreating backs. The scales had been on the arm on the far side of the woman from him, so he hadn't seen them. "Hey, wait! What? Guys!" he sputtered, spreading his hands in frustration before taking after them, getting tangled in a throng of tourists. Suddenly he seemed to be going against all of the pedestrians, giving him mental flashes of salmon slipping upstream. He quickly lost sight of both Annabeth and Nico in the churning grey and black and white sea of suits pouring from office buildings and cursed loudly as he slipped sideways between two people and took a stray elbow in his chest for his trouble. Wincing he pushed forwards just in time to see a fireball come careening out of the lobby of an office building.
The plate glass windows frosted over white and were blown outwards in a maelstrom of flying glass. The pedestrians that hadn't been blown off their feet either hit the deck or scattered in all directions screaming, some running into the street. A taxi cab honked loudly and swerved into another cab to avoid one such fleeing bystander, shunting the second cab forward into a black SUV lurched forwards and slightly to the left into oncoming traffic, and another car smashed into the front of it, partially disappearing underneath the SUV's high clearance, the hood of the car crumpling like a tin can. The force of the impact spun the SUV around ninety degrees so that it was blocking both the lane of traffic it had been in as well as the oncoming lane. The crumpled car now embedded in the SUV halted the rest of the oncoming traffic. A woman half fell out of the SUV, her face bloody and damp with tears as half the block got caught in the snarl up of traffic and ground to a total standstill.
Just as Percy was thanking the gods that emergency vehicles were going to be a little late to the scene, he caught sight of Annabeth's grey beanie lying crumpled on the pavement, the wool glowing red and feeding a coil of smoke rising from it.