"The future was a dark corridor, and at the far end the door was bolted."
- Gustave Flaubert
Percy couldn't elaborate how grateful he was that Annabeth had decided to get a regular, smelly New York taxi. Before getting in, he'd had a vivid flashback of the Gray Sisters and their Chariot of Damnation. Really, with a name like that, what could go wrong?
They were now flying down an interstate, the driver engaged in a riveting discussion with Annabeth about America's crumbling infrastructure and the History channel. Percy was blankly watching the green scenery blur past him, and thinking about nothing in particular. For once, his mind wasn't racing like a freight train, or maybe it was because he was half-asleep and exhausted.
Explaining to his mom that he wanted to go back to camp had gone surprisingly smooth. She'd cringed and protested in the slightest, before Paul gave her this look and she relented. Part of him wondered how selfish he was, leaving her when he'd only been back for a little under a week. She was only just beginning to stop asking him to leave his bedroom door open at night. There had been more than one occasion that he'd rolled over to find her perched against the wall, face equally distraught and lost. There was being in pain and seeing your mother in pain, and the latter was definitely the worst.
Annabeth was particularly lively, smiling and laughing like it had rained sunshine. Percy wasn't really accustomed to it, and had spoken to her in awkward reluctance, to which she didn't respond to, just kept on beaming.
She had never been an excited person. She was intense, fiery, and hopeful, but not giddy. Annabeth seemed to have kicked into happy-overdrive and Percy didn't know how to handle it. It was strange. She was strange. Strange to him.
That thought train just made his head hurt more, so he flipped directions.
They were going back to camp. He was going back to camp. He left a hero and was returning as…
The cab driver had the air on full blast, as New York was in a moody fit of sailing between the lower sixties and upper eighties. Percy tugged at the sleeves of the sweatshirt he'd put on that morning, shivers trailing down his spine. His mom had been forced to buy him emergency clothing, since his drawers were pretty much emptied because he'd been staying at camp during the time of his disappearance. She'd gone a little overboard with the Nike stuff and the official NBA basketball shorts.
"Hey, Annabeth?" he asked.
She turned from where she was perched towards the front seats and looked at him expectantly. "Yeah?"
"Who won the playoffs?"
Annabeth gave him a funny look. "What playoffs?"
"You know, basketball, the NBA. Who won it?"
She shrugged her shoulders and replied, "I'm sorry, I don't really follow that kind of stuff. Why?"
Because I'm pretty sure I was unconscious during the majority of it?
The taxi driver jumped in to save the day, with a decidedly Southern accent. "The Lakers, boy, ain't you watched anything lately? That Derek Fisher guy sure can turn on the heat when he needs to. That guy was clee-utch. Man, he probably matched Kobe that series."
Percy leaned back against the headrest. "Oh."
The guy gave him a funny look through the rearview mirror and continued talking to Annabeth about structural integrity and whatnot. Crowded suburbs were turning to rolling green hills; they were getting close.
Percy blew out a heavy breath and wearily wondered why he felt like he was beginning a long prison sentence. Camp was his home. It was a safe haven that he'd almost sacrificed his life for just a year ago. He'd really only been gone for a month, which was not that long. Not long at all. Everything could turn out all right.
The cab came to an abrupt stop at the top of a hill that housed a pine tree Percy was particularly familiar with.
"You kids sure this is where you planned on gettin' off?" the cab driver asked, craning his head to look back at them.
Annabeth smiled politely, clambered over Percy, and pushed open the door. "Oh, yes, we just love strawberries and my grandparents should be around here somewhere. How much do I owe you?"
While Annabeth sorted through her wallet, Percy retrieved their stuff from the trunk and tossed his backpack over his shoulder. He turned his back to the afternoon sun and let his eyes drift up a very familiar pine tree. Countless trips up the very same path he was starting rolled around his mind. He reached the top and silently looked down. Kids were rambling everywhere, orange shirts and blue jeans streaking across the vibrant green grass. It was busy and hectic and everything Percy wasn't used to anymore.
As he started down the hill, Annabeth rushing to catch up with him, Percy hitched his backpack higher and took a deep breath, bracing himself.
"Percy, we should probably find Chiron first. I messaged him when you came back, but I'm sure he wants to see you in person."
Nodding tightly, Percy watched the heads start to turn.
Subtle glances from campers he'd known, but not talked to, wide-eyed looks from the younger ones who were still fascinated with him after all this time, and the breaking sunshine smiles from people he knew.
A familiar bleat followed, "Percy!"
Gods, he hadn't heard that sound in a while.
"Percy, Percy, Percy!" Grover practically tackled Percy with his hug, sending him skidding forward a few feet.
With tense shoulders, Percy carefully extracted himself from the satyr, nerves on fire and shoulders locked in defense. Grover hopped around to his front and grasped Percy's arms. Adrenaline rushed up and down Percy's body; he wanted Grover to let go. He wanted out. It was too long. Too hard. Too much. He wanted to be done. Why couldn't they leave him alone? It wasn't his fault? He hadn't tried to kill anyone.
Percy felt his heartbeat thunder in his neck, pulse aching in his head.
"Percy, oh man, you have no idea how much I've missed you." Grover repeated, looking at him like he'd saved the world.
Teeth clenched, Percy swallowed roughly and reminded himself that this was Grover. This was his best friend. They were best friends. They shared an empathy link. Hell, they practically had to share everything with something like that.
His shoulders dropped and his muscles went lax.
"Hey, Grover," he smiled crookedly, cuffing his friend's curly head of hair.
Grover finally released his grip.
Grover's eyes went serious, and he asked, "How're you doing? I heard…"
"I'm all right," Percy cut him off. "It's good to be back."
Annabeth intercepted and told them that Chiron probably wanted to see Percy as soon as possible, and started steering both boys towards the Big House.
Percy's gaze ambled over the place he'd been missing from for a month now. It was still the same. The cabins were in order, the fields straight, and the trees green.
But it felt different.
Percy absently went up to scratch behind his ear and got caught on the thin jagged scar that crossed his wrist. He remembered feeling the bones shift when he moved, horrible, agonizing pain as Matt had stepped on it after he'd committed the crime. Percy remembered the shoe print over his bruised skin, displaced limb digging into the cement. Matt's laughter as he started to scream.
Nausea rolled in his stomach and Annabeth's sharp voice brought him back.
"Percy! Hey, you in there?"
Only her eyebrows were scrunched in worry and not accusation.
She shrugged tensely and walked up the stairs to the house, Percy and Grover following.
"You didn't answer for a while. Are you feeling okay? I mean, it was a long ride. If you're tired I'm sure you can—."
Percy stopped the on the second step. "I'm fine," he stated. He sounded angry. He wasn't angry. He was just. He was fine. If they would just stop worrying and let it go than there wouldn't be a problem.
He watched Annabeth stiffen and turn, opening the door as she relented. "Okay, you're fine."
Grover was giving him a look and Percy pushed past him and entered the front room of the house. Chiron was where he'd always been, seated in his wheelchair, blanket over fake legs, and experienced hands flipping through a deck of cards. He looked up when they walked in, eyes going directly to Percy, and he felt something in his heart drop.
Chiron could see it.
"Percy. Dear boy, welcome home."
The words were said with such utter sincerity that they had Annabeth turning and swiftly wiping her eyes, struggling for composure.
"Yeah," Percy agreed quietly. "Home."
His gaze skirted around Chiron's searching one, not wanting to see what kind of comprehension was there. "So," he started offhandedly. "What have I missed?"
Chiron huffed and threw his cards on the table. "More of the same."
"So, explosions, fights, pranks, and near chaos?"
Chiron smiled, idly playing with an ace of spades. "Exactly."
"Don't forget the runaway turtle. There was a runaway turtle."
Percy gave Grover a quizzical look and the satyr shrugged.
"One devious turtle, all I'm saying." He patted Percy's shoulder. "I've gotta go get Juniper. She wanted to see you. I'll be back, all right?"
Percy nodded slowly and watched him gallop away.
"So, dinner's at seven. I'm sure someone will want to make a valiant speech about your return. Please, don't feel the need to spend your first day back at camp with a grumpy, retired centaur. Go, relax."
He had that calm smile on his face, like he knew something no one else did. Percy hated that look, on anyone. Annabeth said something cheerful, tugging his elbow and pulling him out of the house. Percy's ears were ringing, anger flooding his veins. Condescending, laughing, smiling, while he was in pain. Annabeth's hand had slid down to his wrist, and he wrenched it away from her.
Her carefree grin faltered, and she protectively pulled away from him, her cheeks flushing red.
Percy cleared his throat, hiking his bag higher on his shoulder. "I need to go to my cabin. I'll find you later."
Annabeth nodded shortly, turning on her heels and heading back towards the Big House. Percy didn't know what she was going to do. She was probably going to talk to Chiron about him. That made his fingers clench, so he shook himself wearily and started walking.
Everyone stared at him as he passed. A few people he knew, pretty well, most of the older campers, drilled holes in his back but still didn't say a word. He ducked his head, their gazes tensing his shoulders. It was like they were trying to see what had happened to him.
He saw the familiar white-wash walls of Cabin Three and was slightly comforted. It looked empty, dark. Percy released a heavy breath and pushed through the door. His bed was undone, sheets tangled on the floor, pillow thrown a few feet away.
He was dreaming about going to college when the noise woke him up. Maybe it was the fact that, really, college? Percy sat up in his bed, shaking his hair, and looked around. He thought he'd heard something. There was something off about the room. Call it demigod instinct, but goose bumps prickled his arms. The night sounds of the camp were silenced. Normally there were bugs, cicadas, and people whispering.
Fingers walking to his nightstand, Percy remained ramrod straight and grabbed Riptide. Quietly twisting, he slid off his bunk, bare feet hitting the cold floor.
The war was over. There shouldn't be any more invasions. They should be allowed to chill out for at least a couple months.
Percy stood, surveying his cabin, eyes passing over empty beds and the glowing fountain. There really wasn't any place to hide in here, not with the close quarters and open floor plan. Maybe his opponent was outside. Percy turned and carefully opened his door.
All the other cabins were dim, maybe a book light here or there. It was late, though. No one was usually up at this time. He stepped outside, scanning for potential threats. He still didn't see anything.
Hopefully this was just a case of late night paranoia. He got that sometimes, waking up from especially vivid nightmares, heart beating out of his chest because he witnessed another one of his friends die. But that was normal. Hell, he went through a war. Dreams were expected; it was called coping.
Percy gathered his emotions, stepping back into his cabin. It was nothing.
He slid through his half-open door, closing it with one hand, and looked up.
There was a man.
Percy let out a strangled yell, jerking the hand with Riptide up to defend himself, but the man caught his wrist, and came around with a vicious right hook. Percy ducked, his attacker's fist crunching against the wooden door, and sidestepped away him. There was a hard tug on his hand, and he glanced down in confusion. He was trying to pull Riptide away from him.
Percy jerked back, struggling to find the cap without losing the pen, so he could extend it to a sword.
He wasn't good at hand to hand combat. He was a five feet extended kind of fighter.
It slipped. Riptide fell through his fingers.
Percy lunged for it with a yell. It went fast, but he saw the cap fall off the sword, silver sword streaming out, and the hilt collided with his temple. Pain blossomed through his head and he went to his knees.
Brought down with his own weapon. There was a certain karma in that.
The butt of Riptide came down on his skull again.
Everything tumbled to black around the pinprick in his upper arm.
A cold sweat dotting his forehead, Percy shivered hard and sailed back to reality. It was over. He had to remember that. It was over. Both Michael and Matt were dead. Michael died looking at him. Matt was killed by Hermes. The god had said he'd killed everyone.
He was fine.
Gritting his teeth, Percy dropped his backpack on his bed and did a 360.
Percy felt the familiar weight against his thigh, and dug his hand in his pocket. He bounced Riptide in his palm, thumb sliding over its smooth surface. His heart was still racing. "Don't fail again," he asked it.
There was a rapping noise, and he jumped to face it.
Grover was leaning against the door jam, features unusually blank. He walked in without an invitation, sitting on an empty bunk.
"You know, I saw…some stuff," he started roughly. His voice was dead. "The empathy link, it still worked. I mean, half the time what I was seeing was nightmares. Or maybe it was a mix of reality, I don't know. I don't think you were…conscious a lot though. I mean, I think. I'm not sure."
He was biting on his nails, staring at nothing in particular, probably searching for something that wasn't Percy.
Percy edged closer, maintaining a safe distance. "Go on," he said.
His best friend sucked in a hesitant breath. Grover had never been adept at emotional conversations. They were never emotional. They never needed to talk about shit like this. It was never needed before this.
"Well, the empathy link shows images. It also—. I felt what you felt, sometimes. Not often, or every minute. But, when I'd wake up after seeing you in my dreams, I'd—. Gods, Percy, you were in so much agony. I can't even begin to—. It was…I know about some of the stuff they did to you."
Grover's voice fell off towards the end.
Percy's stomach dropped to his knees and he turned, cutting off Grover's loaded gaze. He didn't want to talk about this. No one should know about what happened to him.
"What did you see?" he asked.
He couldn't see Grover, didn't want to, but Percy could practically hear the anxiety in his voice.
"I saw Michael. I saw the other guy. Matt, I think. I remember seeing the cattle prod. The—, your arm." Grover cleared his throat loudly. He sounded like he was choking on his words. "You-you screamed. And it followed me. Gods, everywhere. I couldn't get it out of my head." Percy could hear his breath start rasping. "I saw part of your escape, too. I mean, with Michael. It cut in and out, but you were so close and Matt came and—."
"It wasn't your fault," he ended.
Percy inhaled sharply, struggling for control. "Don't." He faced Grover again. "Just stop talking about it. I don't care. Just stop."
Grover's eyes went wide at Percy's acidic tone. "I'm just saying. If you need to talk about it. I mean, you should. I'm right behind you, that's all I'm saying."
Percy laughed harshly and started pulling his clothes out of his bag. "Yeah, sure. I'm fine, Grover. Just go…do something. I need to unpack."
Grover stood, slowly making his way to the door. "All right, then. I'll see you at dinner, I guess."
Grover closed the door behind him, and Percy carefully waited until he was a safe distance away. He couldn't hear the satyr's footsteps anymore. He picked up his backpack and hurled it towards the far wall with a strangled yell.
"Damnit!" He fumbled with Riptide, chucking it with the rest of his stuff.
His weapon, that had brought him throw battle after battle, slid to the ground.
Percy started shoving stuff back into his drawers.
Riptide materialized in his pocket five seconds later. The damn thing wasn't one of the greatest weapons of all time. It had failed in the battle he needed to win most.
Percy was fine.
Sorry... I'm...a few months behind... I'm really struggling with this story, but it's coming. *Sigh* Sorry. Crazy how my most successful story is the absolute hardest thing for me to write. It's like pulling teeth.
Enough complaining, this is the chapter. :)
I really think Riordan had a giant plot hole with the empathy link. I never completely understood it, but I slid it in here anyway. I've also been on an Avengers kick lately.
Chris Evans... damn.
Hot men aside, thanks for reading!