A/N: About poor little Xiang's name. You pronounce it shih-ahng or shee-ahng, I believe. One meaning is to soar; it's also the name of a river in China. Enjoy, or not, and please leave your thoughts in a review!
The Boy Who Wanted To Fly
"Xiang," Percy called over the wind rushing in his ears, "You can't do that! Get back over here now!"
The little boy laughed happily, holding on to the side of an attic window with one hand. He stood lightly on the gutter at the very top of the Big House, leaning forward as if he was about to fly.
"Why? I don't want to. I wanna jump!" the young son of Poseidon yelled gleefully. His face was split into a wide grin that was missing a few teeth.
Percy's heart beat wildly in his chest. How could he have let this happen? He should have done something before his brother's problem got out of hand. It wasn't… natural for any child of Poseidon to be comfortable with heights, let alone want to fly.
But Xiang was different from Poseidon's other children, apparently. Ever since the six year-old had come to Camp Half-Blood after his mother's death, he'd been fascinated with flying. When he wasn't chattering about how happy he was that Daddy claimed him, he was talking about birds and airplanes and other things that belonged in Zeus's domain. And then there had been that terrifying stunt with the Pegasus—Xiang had jumped off and free-fallen towards the ground from hundreds of feet up. If Guido hadn't caught up to him at the last second, the boy would have been killed.
Percy'd tried going to Chiron, and even talking to Poseidon. He tried explaining to his brother that being up high was dangerous, and that Uncle Zeus would get angry. That when you fell, you died. But Xiang had simply looked up at him with that adorably frustrating, innocent expression and said, "But I want to."
And now Percy was half-slipping on the shingles of the Big House, ready to fling himself down at a moment's notice to stop his little brother from jumping off the roof.
"Xiang. If you come over here, we can go play with the Pegasi later. We can see Guido, and Blackjack…" The desperation in his voice was barely concealed as he tried to coax his brother from the ledge. "Or we can do this the hard way, and you won't get to see them for a month."
Campers were starting to gather at the base of the house, pointing up and muttering anxiously. Percy took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. Looking down was not a good idea. He'd never been good with heights.
Concentrating, he made the rainwater in the gutters slowly snake around Xiang's waist, acting as a tether of sorts. The boy didn't notice, though. He leaned forward even more, his exhilarated grin widening.
"Percy, why are you so scared of being up high?" he asked. "It's fun. You can see everything."
"Xiang, I told you." He inched forward more and strengthened the cord around his brother. "Dad and Zeus don't like it when we're up high. Remember? Dad told you. We're not supposed to fly."
"But we fly on Guido and Blackjack." He sounded confused, as if Percy hadn't explained this concept to him millions of times.
"It's not the same," Percy said, panic seeping into his voice. He needed to get his brother down now. Every second they were up here was another second Xiang could jump.
The boy moved his feet forward until only the very last ridges on his sneakers and the hand that held the window kept him on the roof. The wind buffeted both sons of Poseidon, tugging at their clothes and pulling them slowly closer and closer to the edge.
"I don't care," Xiang pouted. "I wanna jump."
"Xiang, you can't—NO!"
The boy released his hold on the window and sprang forward, the rainwater rope lengthening as he fell. Percy leapt off the roof after him, angling his body down so that he could catch up.
Styx, Styx, Styx, Styx…
He grabbed his little brother just as the makeshift cord shattered, sending little droplets of water everywhere. The ground rushed up to meet them, wind biting at their faces as they plummeted downward. Percy tried to move so that he would hit first, but Xiang struggled against him, screaming, "No! Let go of me! Let go!"
They collided with the grass with a nasty crack, Percy's head and shoulders taking most of the impact.
Things started to go fuzzy. He vaguely noticed people screaming, and his brother being lifted off his chest. He heard someone's panicked voice saying, "Percy? Are you okay?" and another person yelling, "Get Xiang to the infirmary!"
The sounds slowly faded away, like someone turning down the knob on a radio, until everything was silent and black.
"D'you think Zeus will be mad?"
"Forget Zeus, Poseidon will be pissed."
The first thing Percy heard was the voices. As he came to, they grew louder and clearer. He didn't understand what they were whispering about. All he knew was that he was lying down and he felt like he'd been hit by a train and then thrown off a cliff.
He opened his eyes to see Will Solace from the Apollo cabin standing next to his bed in the infirmary.
"Hey. Nice to see you conscious."
He sat up, noticing the other people crowded around another bed in the far corner. "How's—?"
Will sighed and took a seat next to him.
Oh, no, Percy thought. Oh, gods, no.
"He didn't make it. We tried, but… the force of the impact was too much, I think."
His head hung in his hands. He failed. After everything he had done to keep Xiang from dying… his little brother was dead. Gone. Never coming back. All because Percy hadn't acted quickly enough.
"If it helps, he was unconscious when he died. He didn't feel any pain."
Percy just nodded. He didn't trust his voice at the moment.
That night, at the shroud burning, he stayed behind after lighting the funeral pyre. He hadn't given a speech—what was there to say? Xiang died because I couldn't save him. He jumped off the roof. We'll miss him. Yeah. Real eloquent.
He couldn't see the faces of the people who came over to him, or hear their murmured apologies. He couldn't look at the black flames that burned away the sea-green shroud embroidered with a trident.
He could only see the laughing face of the boy who wanted to fly.