Summary: Percy Jackson's disappearance leaves a gaping hole that is felt by everyone.
It is said that Nero played the fiddle while Rome burned around him.
"Sally, please, it's time to come to bed."
Sally's face was illuminated by the glow of the computer screen, making her look stomach-wrenchingly sick and young at the same time. The circles under her eyes were dark and the flatness in her features even darker. It was well past three in the morning and he'd woken to cold bed sheets and twisted covers, traces of her nightmares in physical form.
Paul came up behind Sally and rested his hands on her tense shoulders. She shrugged him away, and he struggled to ignore the silent message.
"I'm fine, Paul. It's fine. I just have some things from school to finish up, that's all. That's it." Her voice was entirely unconvincing, weakness threaded through every word.
Paul sighed heavily and opened the screen she'd closed when he'd walked in the room. It was an unnamed document and only one sentence stood in small letters at the top.
"Go back to bed, Paul, please."
His heart jerked at the tears wavering on her bottom eyelashes, but they didn't fall. Sally's son was missing and she was an entire whirlpool of repressed emotion.
"Come with me then," he amended. "There's nothing you can do here."
He knew it was the wrong thing to say the second it left his mouth, but by then it was too late and she was jumping out of the hard-backed chair.
Sally's eyes were painfully red and her hands were shaking with grief. She wouldn't grieve her son's disappearance. Hell, he didn't know what to do, what to say. He couldn't make it better. Percy was Sally's bottom line, her one requirement for existence, and he was gone. Could someone ever move past a missing child?
Paul still felt that burning sensation when he stood in front of his class and there was just one desk that was empty day in and day out.
"Don't you say that. He's my son. I should be able to do something because he's my son. He's my only child and I failed him. My baby boy was stolen by monsters. How can I just sit here? How can I do nothing? Percy needs me and I can't do anything! I can't do a single thing!" She deflated like a popped balloon and sunk to her knees. Her nails dug into her head, fingers tangled in stringy hair. She whined with the desolation of a dying animal and rocked on her knees. "He's my baby boy, Paul," she begged. Sally took a ragged breath. "He's my baby boy."
Paul stepped forward, and slid to the ground behind her. He pulled Sally between his legs and wrapped both arms around her; it was his job to keep her together while she fell apart. He could take care of the pieces until Percy came back.
This was Percy Jackson, he had to come back.
"Do you miss him?" she asked, sniffling through heavy tears, her voice empty.
He pressed his chin into her shoulder. "I don't think I deserve to be able to say that."
She turned her face away, arms wrapped around the ones that were holding her.
"Yes, you do. By staying here for a month, Paul, you were around more than Percy's father has been his whole life. Tell me if you like my son."
"Well," he answered heavily. "I've only been a part of this family for two years. And I came into this uneasy, you know? How was I supposed to act around a fifteen year old kid? He'd passed the point where he'd needed a father figure. His beautiful mother supplemented that hole. I wasn't sure how our relationship was going to go. Percy made it easy." He breathed into her shoulder, face in her hair. "Your son is loyal, and brave, and funny, and incredibly smart in the ways that matter. He never backs down, he never gives up, and he loves his family to no end. Percy has had to deal with things that I could never imagine. That no one could imagine dealing with."
Paul took a fortifying breath. Sally was relaxing in his arms now, the tears were gone. Her strength was back.
"Sally, I'm positive that if Percy was dead… his father, Poseidon, would've told you. You would know."
At that moment a single drop of salt water splashed onto the carpet and a wave of cold sea air wafted through the closed windows.
Sally and Paul took that as a no.
Percy Jackson was alive. He had to be.
Poseidon was angry. He was angry and he was volatile. The shores of Cape Canaveral were experiencing unusually high tides and restless waters to attest to that.
No matter how old, how ancient, or how wise one could be, family was never peaceful.
Zeus was wrong.
They took his son. Hera removed Percy from his home and hid him away from everyone without his permission.
"At least tell me where he is then, brother."
Zeus released a long-suffering sigh and waved his hand in a dismissal. "Your son is fine, Poseidon. I'm sure if you are that overexcited my wife would even move him to your quarters. Your lack of faith in me is rather insulting."
"I'm sure you'll recover soon enough."
A loud pop from the sudden displacement of air signaled the arrival of the famed Hera.
"Perseus is now in your chambers, Poseidon." She blew on her nails in boredom. "Although I cannot fathom why. You know that he is not allowed to waken until his time."
"That does not mean I like how we are approaching this. Why couldn't he have stayed in the mortal world until he was needed? This is too early. He's missing his life."
Zeus nodded, "And while I understand that the human lifespan is pathetically short, it cannot be avoided. There is a time and a place for this plan to enact. You know this, brother."
"I'm going to go see my son."
As he turned to leave the large hall, Zeus called out after him. "Don't wake him up, Poseidon! This is the future of Olympus and you cannot meddle with it."
Poseidon nodded solemnly, "I know."
Water melded with water and he was in the quiet room that held his prized son, the savior of his existence, sleeping on a bed. Percy was lying on his back, face turned to the side, hair falling across his forehead. Poseidon crouched beside his son, suddenly feeling heavier and more tired than he had in a long time. His son was sixteen years old, still young, so incredibly young to have done so much. Gentle, handsome features were relaxed in sleep that Poseidon could only wonder what held.
His boy was so small, so little compared to the enemies he had faced, to the enemies he was going to face. Even smaller compared to his own father.
The weight of Percy's fragile existence weighed on Poseidon like the sky did on Atlas's shoulders.
Those delicate chest bones rose and fell with even breaths, flimsy lung tissues worked in harmony with the godly blood circulating through his veins.
Poseidon drew a weathered hand down his face. He stood and sat next to Percy, wanting to be closer.
He'd had many sons, daughters, children. But that was long ago. He hadn't had one of his own blood in his presence in a while. Triton was his, but a rather arrogant warrior, too proud to be loved.
Percy was still his child.
Maybe not his, he was Sally's, he'd always been Sally's, but he lived in his father's world, his father's life.
"You are your mother's love and your father's son, you know that Perseus, don't you?" he said, gravel in his voice.
There was no response. Poseidon picked up the hand lying beside his. His weathered hands enveloped the thin fingers, feeling callouses from a sword, scars from past wounds, too many years of work and fear of death in the lines on his palm. Soft human skin that was so easily broken.
His other hand drifted to his son's head, carding through soft ink-black hair, much like his own.
This was his son. Living and breathing. Asleep and healthy.
An empty chuckle escaped his lips; he could only dare to show his affection when his son wasn't conscious to be aware of it, to be aware of how much he cared.
"You will save us all Percy. I have yet to doubt that."
"So… this is a scrapbook from last year?" Piper asked, drawing her hand over the elaborate cover.
Ellie sat down and nodded brightly, "Yup, I tried to get everybody I could in it. You know, with the war and everything, I wanted people to be remembered, when they were happy, when we were all happy. In case we lost, we'd have this."
Piper gave her a thoughtful smile, "That's really sweet." She opened the cover and started filtering through all the pictures in the first section. There were hundreds, from parties to Capture the Flag pictures, hugs to piggyback rides, couples to friends. The emotion was evident. The golden smiles, sunshine on tan faces, arms around each other, all proved the connection. Everyone was in it together here. They all came from the same place, same hardship, same pain. It was a family.
"Hey," Piper asked slowly, face creasing, "is Percy Jackson in here?"
Ellie's eyes widened briefly, in what, Piper didn't know, but she leaned over and turned to the front page. "He's probably in here the most. I mean, he was…" She drifted off, her finger circling a group picture and settling over a person. "That's him, with the black hair."
Piper brought her face closer to the picture and stared. He was obviously cute, and his smile was almost contagious, right off the page. He was tan and his hair was long and swept over his forehead, an arm over the shoulders of a curly headed boy.
"Cute, huh?" Ellie smiled.
Piper laughed and nodded.
"There's a system, you know. The beginning is from before the war, back when everyone was less… stressed. I obviously wasn't taking a lot of pictures during the war, but I tried. We need to remember this. What it cost us, how many lives we paid. And the rest are from after." Ellie ducked her head. "Maybe it's less a scrapbook and more a memoir, you know?"
So Piper was watching Camp Half-Blood, Percy Jackson, during the happy parts.
There weren't many pictures of him alone, probably camera shy or something. There were plenty of him and Annabeth. One where Annabeth was giving him a piggyback ride and he had a hand over her eyes, both grinning crazily, another with his arm draped over her shoulder, the last where their swords were locked over each other, an intense look of concentration on both their faces. So this was the pre-relationship phase, Piper guessed. There was one close-up of Percy; he was caught between a laugh, white teeth showing, setting sun illuminating a gorgeous backdrop of pine trees behind him, shirtless with a towel draped over one shoulder. And his…
"Whoa," Piper breathed, her fingers gliding over the picture, "his eyes are so…"
"Drop dead gorgeous? Insanely green? Inconceivably unfair?"
"—pretty." Piper finished.
They both laughed and Piper continued her search. Her neck was starting to ache from looking down so much.
The pictures were getting more serious, more somber. Dirty faces, tired gazes, lackluster sunsets, and fewer smiles to go around. There was Annabeth poised over a drawing board, hundreds of maps before her. Chiron with a haggard expression. Percy teaching a young boy how to hold a sword, a look of guilty remorse marring his face. Armor hanging on a wall.
Percy remained a steady presence. He never looked scared, never looked shaken, always seemed prepared.
Piper had to assume that the next page was a title page, because all that was there was a black sheet of paper, no words, no pictures, just blackness.
Ellie was a painfully perceptive photographer. She caught people at the most emotional moments possible, when their feelings seemed to radiate from the paper. The carnage of war spread across the campground in the woods. A battle that was won, but a war they were losing. Worn faces. A funeral pyre, a burning shroud with the symbol of Hephaestus on it, a hundred solemn faces bent in sorrow. The wreckage of Manhattan. There was a picture of a girl, desperation apparent, looking at a pile of rubble with a devastatingly lost look on her face. A glimpse inside a makeshift infirmary, the dying surrounded by a few ragged friends, blood and bandages on the floor.
Percy was in a lot of these. In one he was surrounded by a miniature hurricane, water swirling and clouds forming and looking more like a god than a human. It was as if he transformed from quiet strength to commanding presence in battle.
There was picture of Percy with his hand over his mouth, angry stress evident, surveying a shield that showed moving images of the battles going on. A small group of people crowded around him, looking at him hope, faith, admiration, respect. Looking at him like he was going to fix it if they wanted him to or not.
And then sad, somber, peaceful faces. They won the war. A line of shrouds hanging from a wall. A blue flag flapping high in the wind.
The defining picture, the one that proved what Piper was learning, that proved who Percy Jackson was, stood alone on one page.
It was of Percy, down on one knee, head towards the dirty street, eyes closed, one arm supporting him, sword lying beside him. It was Percy Jackson in mourning.
It was the camp in mourning.
Piper closed the scrapbook. It suddenly made sense.
There was a gaping hole in Camp Half-Blood and it was shaped like Percy Jackson.
"You see," Ellie started, "Percy led us through Hell and high water. He never quit. He never stopped fighting. He never broke down. Percy's one of those people that's just a natural leader. It's not like he tried, he didn't even want to be a captain or something, he just was. I mean, there was prophecy that said he'd die in this thing and it didn't faze him. It's just… we're all a little lost with him gone, you know? You can feel it. One look at Annabeth's face and it hits you pretty hard."
Piper nodded and stood up. She carefully set the scrapbook on Ellie's nightstand.
"Thanks for showing me that, Ellie."
Stepping into the setting sunshine, Piper walked through the camp and finally got it. There was a makeshift balance, an off-center sense of completion. These were people still reeling from a tragic war that weren't quite recovered from it.
Piper didn't even know Percy Jackson, but something that resembled sadness sank down her spine when she walked through the doors of the Aphrodite cabin, and bright green eyes and a laughing smile weren't anywhere to be seen.
"Wait, Malcolm, I thought you were scheduled to cover sword training this week?" Annabeth accused.
She thought she was so closed off.
"Actually, Conner was, but he and Travis were switched to archery because Carly got sick. They told you this and Annabeth, you were the one who said you'd cover it."
Her eyes closed and she breathed out roughly through her nose. "Oh. Yeah, sorry. I knew that."
Malcolm shrugged and picked up the maps she'd dropped in her haste to get somewhere. She absolutely hated covering sword training. Everyone knew why, so no one pushed the subject. They just had to fill in and not say a word about it. And please, there wasn't a single person who actually enjoyed trying to teach it. Sure, some of the older kids were decent at it, but compared to Percy, they were committing a severe injustice to every single demigod in the class. Percy was insanely good at it, and even better at teaching it.
"Do you want to cover archery instead?" he asked.
"No, no, I got it. I can do it." Annabeth folded the maps into one arm and one fell onto the ground again and she screamed in frustration and reached for it.
Malcolm swept it away from her hands and tempered, "Hey, maybe you should… I mean, blow off some steam or something."
"I'm fine, just go cover archery." She spat.
Malcolm shook his head in exasperation, and turned her in the direction of the arena. "Yeah, well, when you actually want get some of this off your chest, let me know. You can't push people around forever and pretend nothing's wrong. We miss him, too."
She didn't turn around.
In truth, he felt a little bad about saying that, but Annabeth was getting on his nerves. She'd been running herself ragged the past two months and didn't seem to want to stop. Yes, Percy was missing; he was gone. She just didn't seem to realize that killing herself trying to find him wasn't going to solve anything. If he was dead, the gods would've said something. Grover would know. But they hadn't, which meant the gods had something to do with it.
Percy was all right. He led them through a war, he could survive whatever this was.
Annabeth, however, he wasn't so sure about.
Malcolm pushed away his frustration and went to go teach archery to a bunch of seventh graders.
Scrubbing his head with a towel, Malcolm strode through the cabins in the late moonlight. Night showers always made him feel better, and they were usually empty so he could stand in the steaming water longer. Most of the kids were in their cabins, a few giggles punctuating the summer noise of the forest. Peering around the corner of his open door, he stared at Annabeth's empty and perfectly made bunk. Rachel caught his glance and shook her head in sympathy.
No Annabeth. She never showed up, he'd even tried staying up and she never showed in their cabin.
He had an idea where she went. It was against the rules. But then again Annabeth really wasn't much a rule-follower anyway these days.
His feet were leading him towards the quiet end of the clearing, where three solemn cabins sat in eerie silence. Cabin number three, with its low ceiling and blue tinted walls was to his right. Malcolm slowly approached, wondering if he really wanted to see what he was looking for.
Annabeth, lying on a bunk with the sheets still tangled at the bottom. She was curled away from him, her back rising with shaky breaths, and arms holding something he couldn't see.
Malcolm padded to the other side of the bed, crouching in front of his sister.
She was clutching Percy's Camp Half-Blood T-shirt. She had her nose buried into it and her bloodshot eyes were squeezed tightly against the tears that were threatening to drip down her red face. "Oh, Annabeth," Malcolm whispered, tucking haphazard strands of blonde hair behind her hair. "He's gonna come back," he said.
"I know," she sniffled miserably, trying to so hard not to cry that it was painful for him to watch. Her voice cracked pitifully. "I know he's going to come back. I just…"
Malcolm rested his hand on her shoulder. "We all do," he said. Her breathing was harsh and jagged. It hurt for him to hear. She'd been stoic for so long; it was humbling and slightly terrifying to witness her break down.
The silence radiated throughout the empty room and Malcolm sat next to Annabeth's hip, standing temporary guard. Watching, waiting, hoping, praying. Her voice punctuated the night.
"He was so blind," she croaked. "I mean, it took him forever to notice how I felt. How could he not notice that I practically stopped breathing when he walked in a room? Or how I hated Rachel so much when we first met. And his stupid smile haunts me whenever I close my eyes and I can't stand it."
Malcolm ducked his head and looked away. She normally wouldn't even dream of telling him this sort of stuff. Annabeth Chase didn't display vulnerable.
She buried her face in Percy's sweatshirt and he watched her tears get absorbed into the fabric.
"Do you want me to go?" he asked to the dark wall.
Annabeth blinked slowly and shook her head no.
Malcolm watched her hide in Percy's sweatshirt again and could only guess who she was dreaming was sitting next to her.
Chiron rubbed his beard and stared out the window of the Big House. He watched the tree, memories of a fiery daughter of Zeus with black hair and determined eyes flying through his mind, a young man with a head full of revenge, and a blonde little girl with a broken heart. He remembered the staggered steps and hoarse yell as the new child of the prophecy watched his mother disappear and stabbed a monster, all within seconds.
He remembered being accused of poisoning that pine tree, leaving his home for a long month.
He remembered fighting battles at this camp. He remembered teaching children how to fight, how to protect themselves against the monsters that were against them. He remembered watching young adults die. They still died at this moment.
He remembered hearing that Percy Jackson, a scrawny teenaged boy, a son of Poseidon, and Annabeth Chase, a bright daughter of Athena, defeated Kronos, the lord Titan.
Chiron remembered watching tiny seven year old hands hold a knife and cling to the arm of Luke. He taught those able fingers how to fight, how to learn, how to survive on her own.
Chiron remembered the twelve year old that collapsed on the porch, sad and wide-eyed, but incredibly skilled without a moment of practice; the drop of his heart when he realized who this child was destined to be, doomed to die for fate, the elation he felt when Percy survived.
But Percy was missing now, taken by the gods for yet another prophecy.
His camp was just a little more lost now. They made it through a horrible war with Percy manning the helm and then suddenly no one was at the steering wheel.
Chiron turned his wheelchair away from the window and dealt another set of cards.
The fate of a hero was rarely happy, and it seemed as though Percy had been running on borrowed time. Chiron should've been used to it by now, the tragic endings. But he never had been able to harden his heart quite enough.
He could only wonder if Percy Jackson was going to make it back this time.
"So this Percy Jackson guy, he defeated Kronos?" Jason asked, tossing another rock into the gently rolling sea.
Grover was sitting with his knees up on the shore, staring solemnly at the sea. "Yup, I mean, Luke was the one who de-possessed himself and stuff, but Percy was really the hero through the whole thing. We'd all be doomed without him."
Jason nodded, fingering the flat stone in his hands, pondering. "I've heard impressive stories about the guy. You two were friends?"
Grover snorted in quiet laughter and ducked his head. "The best. I was sent to retrieve him with Chiron four years ago. Satyrs can smell power, you know. And man, that kid was something. It sounds creepy when you think about it, but yeah. Anyways, a Fury attacked him during the year and he started to catch on. At the beginning of the summer I could smell something was off. Well, Percy had gone to this beach with his mom and by the time I caught up with them, the Minotaur was already on our tail and we crashed her car. I don't even remember very much from that night. All I know is that Percy watched his mom get kidnapped by Hades, and then defeated the Minotaur with the thing's horn, then dragged my sorry butt down to the Big House."
Jason shook his head in mute admiration. "Man, talk about a first date."
"Things are just off without him not around. I bet they are in the Roman camp, too."
Jason huffed, "Nah, Reyna's probably got it covered."
Grover raised his eyebrow at a girl's name and sighed, putting his fingers in the sand.
"Annabeth has it covered here, too. But it's just weird without him."
Jason was pretty sure that Grover didn't miss the absent leader, he just seemed to miss his absent best friend.
Percy Jackson lies sleeping in Olympus. The air seems to shimmer around him and the form of a tall woman appears standing over his bed. Hera runs the back of hand down the resting boy's cheek. "Your time is approaching, hero. I'm assured that you will do well." She presses her finger tips into his forehead. "Even without your memories."
Percy stirs for the first time in eight months and sleepily rolls onto his side. It seems to pull a soft laugh from the normally maternally stagnant goddess. She reaches down, presses her hand to his chest, and they disappear in a shower of sparks.
Percy Jackson opens his eyes, blinks in confusion, and sits up and looks around. Head pounding, he climbs to his feet.
He's standing in an empty courtyard filled with rubble. The entrance to a crumbling mansion stands before him.
"Where am I?"
Um. Yeah, so, me? Not fulfill my promises? Sorry, I sat down to write and this came out.
I hope you don't mind. :?
The title, which, as stated before, is based off the famous myth that Nero played the fiddle while Rome (his city) burned around him. This can't possibly be true, considering violins didn't exist at the time, but the idea was rather intriguing. While Percy is traipsing through Rome, how's his original home faring? Excuse any grammatical errors and things that don't line up with the story. I'm still not sure how long he was asleep for.
Anyways, that's the news. I'm workin' on Divided They Fall, kids!
Did this satisfy any of your frustrations for just a little bit?(:
Review puh-lease. :)