So. Sorry this took so long. It's just that I really didn't know how to end it, but I knew that I had to end it before I embarked on anything else and so it stalled all of my writing. However, now this is up and the story is complete (not that I expect anyone remembers/cares apart from me, and I don't blame you) I can post the first chapter of my new fic tomorrow night. So, if you remember me, enjoy or, of course, don't. If you don't remember me then just sit there and scratch your head and go, "Huh?" when you see this.
"Seriously?" Percy gasped out through chattering teeth. "I get summoned to the Underworld in my freaking pyjamas?"
Nico surreptitiously clutched the blanket he had managed to bring with him tighter around himself in case Percy made a move to grab it off him. "At least you're wearing socks," he muttered, curling his bare toes into the grey sand beneath them. "Even I think this is like walking across tundra and as you all so kindly like to remind me, I'm kind of an icicle."
"Yup, just a degree or two away from being a corpse," Percy reminded him chirpily, grinning. He shivered again and looked around the large cavern they were right in the middle of, which was so perfectly semi-spherical it looked like an upturned pudding bowl. Dark tunnels led in from all directions around the room and the ceiling was lost in the gloom. Percy spotted a bright green torch burning in a bracket on the wall and scooted over to it hopefully, but it was crackling and spitting and actually sucking heat from the surroundings. He guessed he should have expected as much given that it was Underworld fire.
"Didn't Alecto say that there was supposed to be some kind of hearing?" Annabeth asked uncertainly. She drew her dagger warily, swapping it between her hands over and over pretty much subconsciously as her eyes scanned the multiple entrances that would allow all kinds of nasty things to get a jump on them if she wasn't vigilant.
"We're okay; nothing bad will happen to us down here," Nico said, aiming for more confidence than he felt. "This is where I belong." Not that his sense of belonging had had much effect on the perils he had faced down here in the past — overzealous ghosts, the occasional monster fresh from clawing its way out of Tartarus and looking for a demigod to snack on before attempting to wreak havoc on the world above et cetera — but Percy and Annabeth didn't need to know that right now. It would probably put them a little bit on edge to know that, unlike Percy and being under the sea, being a son of Hades guaranteed you little to no protection from the domain you were supposed to call your home. The realm of darkness was always going to be just that — dark — no matter who your father might be.
"Just correct me if I'm wrong but didn't your dad lock me in his dungeon and then summon a skeleton army to try and kill me the last time I was down here?" Percy said, immediately coupling onto Nico's lie and throwing back the curtain to reveal what was behind it.
Nico huffed an irritated sigh. "Fine. Nothing bad will happen to me down here," he said. "You two will probably die gruesome deaths but don't worry; I'll survive to tell your tale." His last sentiment was ruined by a fit of itching on his back that he had to twist awkwardly and very nearly impossibly to reach.
"Oh, well, if you'll survive," Annabeth muttered, still not sheathing her dagger.
"Hey, Percy wanted the no-bullshit version," Nico said, shrugging. "I did try to sugar coat it."
Suddenly, from out of the tunnel opposite them, eerie bugling sounded, the fanfare echoing harshly around the chamber. Out of the tunnel strode Hades, flanked by a dozen skeleton warriors, two of which were still trumpeting his arrival to make doubly sure it was as conspicuous as possible. Beside him trotted Alecto, still in her suit and carrying the briefcase from earlier. As she came to a halt a lectern rose out of the ground made from solid obsidian, propelling her about an extra foot in the air. She opened her briefcase and began shuffling papers meticulously.
There was no fanfare to announce the party that was emerging from the other tunnel. Instead, loud birdsong wound its way into the chamber, swelling to a crescendo as Persephone sashayed out in a long dress cut daringly low at the top and slit dangerously high at both thighs. The dress floated out behind her as she walked, a swirl of spring colours playing across the material like it was liquid rather than cloth. She had a tiara on her head, but not the silver and emerald one she wore when she was reigning in the Underworld — this one was made entirely out of wildflowers. She had no entourage but between the birdsong and her very strength of presence her entrance had been more impressive than that of her husband. She had no one to represent her, it seemed; as she stepped further into the chamber a lectern like a tree trunk covered in a flowering vine sprung from the ground. She looked over at Nico and curled her lip in distaste.
"Persephone," Hades greeted curtly, yet with a hint of worry and panic in his voice. Nico narrowed his eyes, trying to work out what the dynamic was here. Was it possible that Hades didn't want this entire proceeding to take place? He seemed reluctant and almost timid in his wife's presence, ready to try and mollify her at every turn.
Persephone only puckered her lips in reply to her husband and cleared her throat, a raised eyebrow and strong body language demanding him to begin. Hades conjured a throne behind and to the left of Alecto and sat down in it regally, although he kept his eyes on the floor and away from his queen.
"I call this trial to order," Alecto said as soon as Hades was settled. "Her Majesty Persephone, Queen of the Underworld and the goddess of springtime, is summoned before us today accused of infecting Nico di Angelo, son of Hades, with a sickness known as the chickenpox. How do you plead?"
Persephone scowled then looked affronted. "Oh, please," she spat, folding her arms across her chest. "This is nonsense. Are we just going to forget the little incident where Hera cursed Heracles with madness so strong that he killed his children, all so she could make him feel so guilty that he would die by his own hand? Or the time she sent snakes after him to strangle him as he slept when he was just a defenceless baby? Shall I mention that little incident where Semele spontaneously combusted because of Hera? I could mention Hera forcing Io to live life as a tormented cow, but if you want other examples that aren't Hera taking revenge on her husband's lovers, then there's the fact that Apollo and Artemis totally slaughtered Niobe's kids because Niobe had the nerve to mock their mom for only having managed to give birth to two babies. Then, when Niobe got all upset about it, Zeus turned her to stone.
"Then you've got that messy business with Artemis and Actaeon, the peeping tom, as well as the whole Tiresias and Athena debacle. Both of those incidents, of course, really emphasise the fact that goddesses should invest in some kind of shower curtain. Perhaps I'll invent one and sell it on Hephaestus TV. I've always thought about going into infomercials… But yes, anyway, what about Asclepius becoming so skilled at healing that Zeus declared that he must die? Arachne? Cassandra's curse? I could go on all day but my point is that they both got off lightly and I think they should be thanking me, not accusing me. It could have been much worse for them."
"Huh," Percy said. "You know what? She's kind of right."
"Amen to that," Nico muttered, though grudgingly, refusing to accept that being covered in forty thousand scabs was considered being let off lightly. He looked up at his father and cocked his head slightly, still frowning in confusion. He hated not getting what was going on.
"None of those were direct attacks on children of the Underworld!" Alecto snapped back at her, banging her first on the lectern. "As such, we call for justice!"
"Do you?" Persephone demanded with a haughty quirk of an eyebrow. She wasn't talking to Alecto, rather looking behind her at her husband, her arms still folded across her chest and a foot encased in a pump tapping impatiently.
"Well, my dear," Hades began awkwardly, clearing his throat several times. "This is a very unpleasant thing that you've done. I know you don't always get along with my mortal children, but—"
"Would you rather I sent snakes to kill him?" Persephone said, cutting him off and revisiting her earlier point about Hera. "Because I totally could, you know. I may not be Queen of All Heaven, Queen of the gods and whatever other titles she likes to shove down everyone's throat but I think I could handle a pair of snakes."
As she finished, the last syllable turned into a hiss so like a snake that Annabeth raised her dagger again, looking around for approaching serpents. Persephone laughed at her.
"I hear that you, girl, have played a huge part in accusing me. Children of Wisdom should really be renamed children of butting in." "You'll say that to me, but I'd like to see you say that to my mom's face," Annabeth said angrily. "Wisdom trumps flowers any day of the week."
Persephone's eyes blazed a bright yellow, bordering on gold. Suddenly, a cloud of lurid pollen appeared and enveloped Annabeth's head, swirling around her in an allergen maelstrom. Annabeth immediately began to sneeze violently and hack a cough to try and clear her burning throat. Her eyes began to stream and soon her sleeves were soaked with the tears she kept angrily swiping from her cheeks.
"Pollen comes from flowers," Persephone said with a satisfied smile. "I'll be interested to see how wise you can be with sinus cavities full off mucus. Congratulations, little girl. Welcome to what I believe you mortals call hayfever, most definitely a part of my domain."
"Enough," Hades said, the single word enough to blacken the pollen to ash and cause it to fall harmlessly to the floor. "Persephone, you are not helping your cause."
Annabeth took a deep breath and rubbed vigorously at her itching eyes until her vision began to clear. Nico wordlessly handed her a tissue he found in the pocket of his pyjamas bottoms, wrinkling his nose in distaste at her snotty, teary demeanour. When Annabeth lowered her hands her eyes were red and bloodshot and still leaking a little. Her throat was working overtime as she struggled to quell the itch there and her sinuses were pounding. She took the tissue gratefully and blew her nose hard, cursing her luck. As if Hera and incontinent cows weren't a big enough problem, now she was supposed to deal with Persephone and attack of the pollen. She could almost deal with the goddesses' retribution if it were something big and massive that would be over all at once but they seemed to favour throwing little, insidious things at her in a constant barrage. Not fun.
"There is no case against me!" Persephone said, turning back to her husband and throwing her arms in the air in frustration. "Did you not just here the precedent I gave? The immortals have always punished mortals. If the Queen of Heaven herself can wreak vengeance on her husband's bastard offspring, why can't I? I didn't even kill him. Not one little bit!"
Alecto sighed and began slowly stacking her papers back into her case. There was no legal way to solve the domestic disputes of the Underworld's King and Queen — they had been at each other's throats on and off for aeons after all. Not only that, but Persephone was right; the precedent did support her defence and not Alecto's prosecution. She knew where she wasn't wanted and snapped her briefcase closed, hefting it from the lectern and vanishing from sight, taking the podium with her.
"Please understand my dove," Hades said, getting up from his throne and moving over to her, reaching up to her lectern to take her hands. "My brother Poseidon is most aggrieved at what you've done to the Jackson brat."
"Standing right here," Percy said, waving at them and being completely ignored.
"Since when did you care what your family thinks?" Persephone said huffily, pouting at her husband.
"Since I began to build new relations with them," Hades said. "Since my son, the one you have inflicted this vile-looking mortal illness on, prepared the way for me to take my place on Olympus, a place I've been waiting thousands of years to achieve. I have to respect them the same way they now have to respect me. And Poseidon says that there must be a trial. He demands justice; he's overly fond of this particular irritating bastard of his."
"Still here," Percy said dryly, by now jumping up and down on the spot slightly to try and stay warm. His arms were wrapped around his torso.
"Well, there has been a trial and I think I've been acquitted," Persephone said smugly. "You can't punish me for simply doing what goddesses older, wiser and more powerful than I have been doing for millennia."
Hades shoulders sagged a little and he shrugged in agreement. Persephone was right, of course, but that didn't mean it would be easy to explain to Poseidon that he thought so. Of course he wasmad at his wife for giving Nico this curious pox but then again, the stepson/stepmother dynamic between them had never been strong and had often ended in Nico's transmogrification at the hands of Persephone. This was just the next step in the ongoing battle between them and, in all honesty, it made him weary. Not that he would ever admit to that, being a god, but the whole situation between his wife and son just made him tired. The constant bickering and fighting, the constant whining from his wife, the perpetual angry silences from his son every time Nico thought that he was taking Persephone's side in it all had just got to be too much. Why could they not just get on? Interfering with trials and hearings would probably only make the entire thing worse, make each side resent the other more and more. He vowed, from now on, to remain completely neutral in the entire messy situation and take no one's side. It seemed by far the safest and most sensible option.
When Hades didn't reply, Persephone's lectern sank bank into the ground and she stepped off just before it disappeared as if she were doing nothing more complex than getting off an escalator. She beamed triumphantly, her expression widening and becoming a more malicious smirk when she saw Nico.
Persephone slipped a pair of designer sunglasses over her eyes. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have springtime to get back to. There are magazines piling up on my sun lounger and a whole jug of cosmos I haven't even put little paper umbrellas in yet. Goodby—"
"Not so fast!" said a swirl of grain materialising on the other side of the cavern. Out of it stepped Demeter and her eyes were angry. "I don't care if this trial finds you innocent, my child; I am your mother and I can dole out an entirely different branch of justice."
"Over a son of Poseidon and… that?" Persephone asked, curling her lip as she pointed at Nico. "Mother, why would you even get involved? It's none of your business."
"But Isobel is my business," Demeter fumed, her nostrils flaring. "How dare you imitate me to manipulate one of my children into doing your bidding? Did you even think about the Chimera, about the danger you were sending her into?"
"You told me you were sick of looking of your demigod children because of the stupid disease they had!" Persephone said, her mouth falling open in shock. "I just assumed you wouldn't care."
"Well I do!" Demeter said, drawing herself up to her full height. "Isobel was wandering around the city by herself! In her pyjamas! That's not fitting for a child of mine to start with. And let's not even get into the part where you imitated me."
Persephone rolled her eyes. "Mother, chill. It was just a little joke. Harmless fun. Everything turned out okay in the end."
"No thanks to you," Annabeth said. "Isobel would have died if we weren't there."
"Soooo dramatic," Persephone said dismissively, rolling her eyes. "She would have been fine."
"She was eight!" Percy said. "And unarmed! The Chimera would have had her for an appetiser."
"I have heard enough," Demeter said, putting her hands on her hips. "You are grounded, young lady, you hear me? There will be no enjoying springtime, no flowers, no rolling pastures dotted with newborn lambs and definitely no sitting on beaches in Honolulu. You are going to accompany me at all times as I move throughout the world of agriculture and cereal and what's more you will like it!"
"No buts!" shrieked Demeter. "You have been spoiled. I've let you get away with having nature spirits clean your room for too long. I felt sorry for you because you had to live half the year with Hades but it seems to me you're pretty comfortable in my brother's realm. Perhaps too comfortable if you're willing to send a young demigod to their death for the purpose of a practical joke. And don't you dare try telling me that Hera does it so it must be okay. My older sister has always had a vindictive streak a mile wide and I swore I would never pass that on to any of my children. I had to share a room with her before she married Zeus. She was always breaking my stuff."
"Mother, look, sometimes bad things happen to good demigods," Persephone said desperately with a limp shrug.
"Yes; and sometimes bad things happen to you," Demeter said sternly. "I'm sorry it's come to this, Persephone, but I think it's time to teach you a lesson." She waved her hand at Percy and Nico and they were immediately bathed in a soothing, greenish light that seemed to gently vacuum the chickenpox from their skin. When the light faded they were perfectly healed, but what looked like a small tornado made entirely out of chickenpox scabs and glowing faintly green was hovering above them. It tore across the room towards Persephone, who shrieked and clawed at it as it descended on her. Demeter looked grim and it enveloped her daughter's face.
When cloud cleared, Persephone was covered in Nico and Percy's chickenpox. Nico choked back a laugh as he ran his hands up and down his chickenpox-free arms. It was almost as if they'd never been there. Percy, too, was examining every square inch of his skin he could see to check that the scabs had vanished from his body too.
Persephone whipped off her mirrored sunglasses and checked her reflection in them, unable to suppress a howl of horror. "Mother! What have you done? I am a goddess; you can't do this to me!"
"And I am a goddess," Demeter said loudly. "One of those older and more powerful ones you told me could get away with anything. Besides, from what I understand, this isn't permanent. You will be as right as rain soon enough. I'm sorry it had to come to this but it was the only way you'd learn your lesson."
"It's itchy!" Persephone moaned in horror scratching at her arms. She shuddered with revulsion at the feel of the scabs under her nails and squealed, stamping her feet on the floor.
"It's no more than you deserve," Demeter said severely. "You have a lesson to learn. Now, there is a field of wheat in Iowa that it just beginning its seasonal cycle. I think we'll pay it a visit."
"Mom—" Persephone's protest was cut off by both of them vanishing into a swirl of grain.
There was momentary silence in the cavern as the remaining occupants stared in disbelief at the spot the two goddesses had just been standing on. Hades was the first to speak.
"Well… I must say, I didn't know my sister had that in her," he confessed, blinking. "Hera has always been by far my scariest sibling, more so than any others. Sure, Zeus might try to blow you to atoms with a lightning bolt or two but at least you can see that coming. Hera, well, she's sneaky and deceptive. Much more subtle than Zeus and she knows how to bide her time. That is much scarier than temporarily being blown to pieces. Demeter, however…" he trailed off, clearly still a little shocked and not entirely sure how to end the sentence, yet also looking a little relieved that it hadn't had to be him that had passed such harsh judgement on Persephone. It was much better to have his wife's anger directed at someone else whilst still having Nico avenged. It had actually worked out rather well.
"So the trial's over?" Annabeth asked, sheathing her dagger and rearranging her cardigan over it. "Because I was in the middle of something."
Hades seemed to be too distracted by his good fortune to notice Annabeth's rudeness; instead he nodded vaguely at her and, with a wave of his arm, sent the three perfectly-healthy demigods back to the surface and the warmth of Percy's apartment.