Spoilers: …Caveat lector.
Disclaimer: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and every other character or thing from that universe in this story are the property of Rick Riordan, Warner Brothers, or both. Any original characters or ideas can be disputed over by those two entities, presuming that they should ever deign to want one of them. I claim nothing in this story as my own, but surrender any and all rights to the named parties. No copyright infringement is intended or implied.
Author's Notes: I've been fiddling with this one in my head forever. Maybe I'll finally get it out now.
I'd never figured coming back to camp this year would be easy. I mean, I knew I was coming, right? Hero of Olympus and so on…gotta come.
I certainly never figured on finding out I had siblings, though. There was a girl named Penny, and unidentical twin boys named Elijah and Joel. I'd wondered if my dad had been kidding when he tossed off that line about me having siblings. There were four new kids in Cabin One, too. Apparently Zeus had the same idea after Thalia that Poseidon did after me. Once they'd broken the pact, there wasn't much sense in holding back, right?
My new cabinmates were pretty cool, though. And since I had cabinmates, I was now an official camp counselor and boy didn't that just blow my mind. Mr. D still screwed up my name announcing me, though, but this time I didn't mind. It felt familiar. More than that, it felt good. Granted, he's a god, but it was nice that somebody wasn't being oddly deferential to me.
Ever since the Battle for Olympus, the other campers got all weird around me. Nico, Grover, Clarisse, and Annabeth, too. Even Will Solace was getting a bit of a wide berth. And it wasn't just the campers. The satyrs and nymphs always sounded nervous when I talked to them. Even Chiron occasionally said or did something that felt…off. Like he thought I was the new Hercules or something now.
Boy did I ever hope not. My luck was rotten enough.
It always felt better by the ocean, and I started sneaking down to the shore at night more often. The cleaning harpies just didn't scare me anymore, and it was good to be alone with the waves.
It hadn't escaped anyone's notice, though, that Nico was sitting alone at Hades' new table in the dining pavilion. Of all the Big Three who swore an oath on the River Styx, only one of them kept it. I suppose that's how my weird ritual started.
There is a brazier in the dining pavilion where all the campers burn offerings to the gods. Most people just say their parent's name. Every so often someone with a particular request will pray to the god in charge of that. But after a few days of watching Nico be the only one giving offerings to Hades, I couldn't stand it anymore. So I picked two things to drop into brazier instead of one and dropped one in to Poseidon and the other to Hades. I mean, who cares, right?
Well, okay, I got a few weird looks. But then Clarisse picked it up. Annabeth too, on occasion. Neither of them did every night, like I did, but still. So if they didn't care what people thought, then neither did I. Everything was fine. Everything was perfect.
It's weird that when you're eating good food, and getting plenty of outdoor exercise, surrounded by people you like and enjoy spending time with, it's so easy to feel totally alone. Not that Annabeth and I stopped dating. Because we were definitely still dating. And it was great. But I couldn't explain to her what was wrong with me no matter how many times I tried to. And I did try, because I was trying to figure it out myself, too. It never worked, but Annabeth didn't seem to mind. I'd ask her about how things were on Olympus and she'd tell me about her architecting (which ought to be a word, if it isn't already) woes, and we'd go on, but she'd always give me this look at the end of the conversation that was so patient it made me want to yell. Maybe it would help to have a fight with someone, I sometimes wondered. And then Clarisse and I would beat the snot out of each other in a sparring session and it wouldn't help at all.
The only thing that kept me from going insane, I figured, were my escapes to the beach at night. The stars overhead and the waves in my ears and the sand on my back made all my circling thoughts and weird emotions go dead for a while. I could sit there for hours and wonder what was wrong with me and never get an answer but never care, either. It was like something inside me had switched off and I had peace.
So I was a little annoyed when I went down one evening and found someone sitting in my usual spot already.
Although, as I got closer, I had to admit they were only sitting beside my usual spot. But still! I was in the middle of a philosophical and existential crisis! I needed my beach-side navel-gazing!
Ha! Even I knew it wasn't really helping. But it made me feel better to pretend.
The person there was a man, and he looked like he was in his mid-forties or so. Dark hair, dark eyes, and a black tee-shirt and jeans. He was barefoot, though. And he seemed really familiar.
"Percy Jackson," he said, in a deep voice.
Hades! I realized.
"Come and sit. You were planning to anyway, I think," he said quietly.
I wasn't sure I really wanted to sit down with a god of death who didn't like me that much, but having been invited, I had no other choice. So I sat. Right where I usually sit. And I looked out over the waves. Hades sat beside me and said nothing, and I said nothing, and the silence just stretched and was bizarrely comfortable.
Finally, it seemed like the wind took a breath and I just…felt that the right moment had come around for me to speak. "Lord Hades?"
"You have been praying to me, Percy Jackson," Hades observed quietly.
"I…yes, sir," I answered, now more confused than ever.
"Why?" he asked, sounding interested. "You don't like me and I don't like you. It's always been a comfortable fit."
"I don't care if you like me, sir. I just think it isn't right that Nico be the only one who prays to you on a regular basis. Not after you saved Olympus," I said. "It isn't fair."
"Ah, mortals who think they can make the world fair," Hades said with a chuckle.
"No. But I can make this more fair. It's not even hard," I shrugged. "Why shouldn't I?"
"There are a thousand reasons why a mortal should not be regularly praying to the lord of the dead," Hades answered with a searching look. "But we could start with how everyone seems to be thinking that you saved Olympus. Not me. Even not liking you, I have to admit that this isn't exactly an unfair assessment, from certain points of view."
"We both know, sir," I answered quietly, "that I never would have made it if you hadn't come."
"So you're praying to me out of guilt? You're receiving credit that ought to be mine, and knowing you can't get rid of it, you're daily apologizing by giving me the best bits of your food?" Hades said, with an odd sort of smile.
"I'm not guilty, I'm grateful, darn you! This bead," I nearly shouted, pointing at my camp necklace, "has the name of every camper who died in that fight, and they barely all fit as it is. If it weren't for you, there would be even more names, assuming we'd been around to worry about camp beads at all! Good grief, doesn't anyone ever say thank you to you?"
"No, Percy, they don't," Hades replied.
I blinked in surprise. Then I turned and stared out over the waves. "Well, they ought to."
"And you've talked Annabeth and Clarisse into saying it too. I'm sorry to have missed that conversation."
"I didn't talk them into it. You'll have to ask them what their reasons are," I answered, shrugging again.
"And you're not worried I'll blast you for the impertinence of daily bringing yourself to my notice even though you know I detest encountering you," Hades said, and it was not a question.
"You…you aren't like that. You may be cruel sometimes, sir, but you stick to the rules. You didn't even blast Nico when he argued with you," I told him.
"Nico is my son," Hades countered.
"And you love him," I nodded, trying not to think about how Nico had shouted at Hades and wasn't threatened once, whereas I had only sat in Poseidon's chair and had nearly died. "While I am the nephew you hate. But you won't hurt me. Not unless I deserve it. I'm so sure of that I would swear to it."
Hades blinked. "And what makes you so certain?"
I was silent for a long time, but I had a feeling Hades knew I wasn't trying to get out of answering him. "You kept your word," I finally said. "Zeus didn't. My dad didn't, but you kept your word even though that bargain hurt you more than anyone else. Even though you lost more than anyone else, you still kept your word. And you don't love Nico only on the days when you two get along. You love him even when you two are fighting.
"I think…" I hesitated, not sure if I was overstepping, but finally went ahead anyway. "I think we matter to you. Humans. You don't look at us like Apollo does and see toys, you look at us and see real people. I don't know why that is, but you do. So I know that, however much you hate me, you'll still give me a fair shake. Maybe I just…appreciate that."
"You feel the other Olympians don't see you as more than an interesting toy?" Hades asked curiously.
"When we'd just defeated Kronos, you let Nico come and sit at your feet," I pointed out. "Me and Annabeth? We got to wait our turn. And then the gods were shocked that I could find any point in living as a mortal when I could aspire to be just like you."
I turned and looked Hades straight in the eye. "I think, most days, they see us as very boring toys."
Hades studied me for a long moment. "And all it took was twenty or so dead campers," he finally sighed.
I looked away at that.
"I know the exact number, Percy. I know right where they are in the Underworld at this second. I don't forget," Hades told me quietly.
"That," I replied, nearly whispering, "is exactly what I mean."
We lapsed into another silence, this one no less comfortable than the first until finally Hades sighed. "Percy Jackson, even when you're doing something that pleases me, you manage to be tiresome. Do you realize you're forcing me to reevaluate my whole opinion of you? It's really very irritating."
"I don't suppose it would feel right if I wasn't bugging you at least a little," I replied with a chuckle.
"And now you think you can tease me," he sighed. "Honestly, I miss the days when people were so scared of me they wouldn't even say my name."
I thought about it for a bit and then said, "Really, sir?"
He sighed. "No."
After a few moments, I looked over at him and said, "So, how come you came down—or up or whatever—to talk to me? I mean, you must know I wasn't really asking you for anything. I barely even knew why I was doing it. And, well, you don't like me. What gives?"
"You didn't know why you were praying to me," Hades told me, as if that explained everything.
With all my usual eloquence, I replied, "Huh?"
"Percy, do you really think I can't manage to discern why a mortal prays to me? I'm over three thousand years old, I spend a great deal of time with a large number of mortal souls, and I can read your mind. I already knew why you were doing this."
I stared at Hades in absolute astonishment.
"But you didn't know and you needed to work it out, so I came," Hades continued. "Another reason why this whole thing is so very irksome."
I couldn't believe what I'd just heard. "You mean, you didn't have to come? You just showed up because I prayed? Even though you don't like me at all?"
"Perhaps I don't think it's such a bad thing to let the people who are praying to me know that I'm listening," Hades shrugged.
I blinked in surprise. "Thank you, sir."
"This is not a promise that I'll always give you the answers you want. Just that I will listen to your requests and answer them," he cautioned me.
I nodded, knowing what that meant. Probably Hades would piss me off again at some point in the future. But at least he'd still listen, regardless. I wished I could believe the same things about the rest of the gods, but I knew better than that. Zeus didn't even want me to fly and all I ever did was save his stupid lightning bolt and keep Kronos from overthrowing him. His reflexive distaste for me riding a plane made no sense, but that wouldn't stop him from killing me if I made him mad.
"I'm not going to stop, Lord Hades," I told him.
"I'm not going to ask you to," he answered. "Truth be told, it's not entirely unwelcome. Even if it is you."
He glanced out over the sea. I copied him and we watched the waves come in for…it felt like hours, but it was probably closer to fifteen minutes or so. It was—embarrassingly enough—me that broke up the quiet when I yawned and fidgeted.
Hades looked at me in amusement. "Haven't been sleeping well?"
"It's been…rough being back at camp," I answered. "I keep expecting to see people who are…with you now."
"I'll have a word with Hypnos," Hades said.
"The lord of sleep, Percy. He and his brother Thanatos are two of my lieutenants," Hades told me. "Go to bed."
I nodded. "Yes, Lord Hades." I got up and wandered slowly back to my cabin. After double-checking to see that everyone else was still sleeping, I crawled into bed and surrendered to unconsciousness.
I didn't quit giving my offerings to Hades, but he was right that it made a difference to me to know that he noticed. I'd always thought of these offerings as something entirely one-way before. To know that the gods actually noticed them made me feel a bit weird. On the other hand, if Hades was listening, than so was my dad, and while I'd known that before, it was nice to have it reinforced.
Clarisse and I still beat the snot out of each other while we sparred. Annabeth and I kept dating. I still had to coach Elijah down the climbing wall when he got stuck, which he did a lot. And basically camp rolled on just like it always had. It took me a few tries, but I finally did manage to explain myself to Annabeth, who kissed me and wasn't angry that I'd been so weird for so long. She said everyone was still working things out after that fight for Olympus, so it was okay that I'd needed my space.
But I didn't know I was actually okay until the day Rachel came and sat down at my table and told me she felt like had a quest prophecy coming up. She didn't know whose quest or when exactly, but she thought it would be before the end of summer. And my first response wasn't "Oh, great, not this again" or anything but a vague curiosity about whose it would be. It wasn't like I was looking forward to someone being in life-threatening danger again, but it was going to come at us anyway. We were ready for it.
Author's Notes: Because Hades was lord of death, the Greeks were not exactly in a rush to meet him. In fact, believing that saying his name drew his attention, they tended to call him by a number of euphemistic titles, including "the Chthonian Zeus," and "the Wealthy One"-which eventually gave rise to his Roman name, Pluto. Polydegmon was another of his nicknames and means "the Host of Many."