A/N: Hey guys! Just a quick apology - my muse has all but jumped ship for this fandom it seems. No worries, though, I'm sure I'll get her back eventually! :)
This is actually a 'shot that I wrote for the same prompt as chapter 2: Of Nightmares, but for whatever reason I decided that I hated this and therefore tossed it in favor of the afore mentioned chapter. Looking back over it now, though, I actually think I might like it better (o_O?) so figured I might as well go ahead and share it.
Again, written to fill one of the prompts given me by BreshitHaya.
His voice, hoarse and rough from the ash and smoke that burned his lungs, echoed in the dusty air. The world around him was still; no wind, no sound, no movement.
He ran through the dust, blinking and coughing as his feet slipped and slid in the blood-red mud. He tripped, fell, rose, and ran on.
All around him bodies lay, broken and torn, the source of all the blood, of the stench that permeated everything. Empty faces looked up at him, lifeless eyes following his frantic search.
Don't look at the faces. Don't look. Don't look.
But he had to look. Somewhere on this field his son was hidden from him. He had to look, had to be sure that Helios wasn't there, that his son wasn't already gone, left to rot among the scattered dead.
He choked back sobs and looked down, each familiar visage sending molten shards of agony shooting through his soul.
Every face he had ever known looked back up at him. Some were mere acquaintances, people he'd passed on the streets or seen in battles but had never known the names of. But many had names, faces that he had known well, faces that had been dear to him. These were the ones who stuck with him, who sent torment ripping through his soul until he was blinded by tears.
Draco... Solon... Ixas... Eusebios... even the Djinn warrior... brothers, friends...
Aegnor... cousin, friend...
There were hundreds of them, a never ending line of death and loss.
Zeus, Hades, Poseidon... all the gods were there as well, mingled in with the fallen mortals. All of them stared up, glassy eyes bright with death.
Every gaze screamed at him, every face was frozen in fear, pain, blame. Every one silently glared in accusation and pleading. Why didn't you save us, Perseus? Why didn't you stop them, Perseus? Why did you fail us, Perseus?
I'm sorry! I'm sorry!
He kept running, kept searching the faces, kept attempting to block out the accusations, the silent pleadings and blame of the dead.
Running, searching, choking on ash and dust and death.
"Helios, answer me! Please!"
Lightning flashed before his eyes and fire struck him, leaving him screaming as physical pain spread through every fibre of his being. He felt himself falling, the earth shook beneath him and thunder roared in his ears.
Then everything was silent and still again.
The field, the bodies, the ash, the dust, the blood, they were all gone. Pillars and fallen rooftops had taken their place, shattered remains of a temple long abandoned.
He could hardly breathe, but he stood and pressed on, swerving between fallen stones and crumbling statues.
Perseus stopped, the anguished scream tearing through him as the lightning had not long before. Before he knew it he was running, staggering and stumbling over obstacles.
"Helios! I'm coming!"
He ran, eyes locked ahead of him.
A shadow appeared, indistinct but quickly coming into focus to be revealed as two beings, one young and shaking, the other tall, hard, with a face and eyes as cold as stone.
Suddenly Perseus knew what was happening. It had played over in his dreams a thousand times before. Ares didn't want Helios. The god of war only wanted revenge on his demigod half-brother, he had no need to harm his human nephew. Still he had to be certain, had to know for sure.
"Please don't hurt him."
How many times had he made that plea? Once in reality, a thousand times in dreams, and now here again, in this hell that he now found himself trapped in.
Ares smiled wickedly and his eyes glimmered with malice and loathing. "'Please don't hurt him'," he mocked, scorn dripping from every word. "Can such pleadings really come from the mighty Perseus? Is this the creature my father so favored? You, the savior of gods and mankind alike? Bah!" he spat. "You are nothing."
This wasn't right. The dreams had never played out like this. Reality had never played out like this. Ares was supposed to sneer, to laugh, and then he was supposed to inform Perseus that he had no intention of hurting the boy.
"Favorite son, favorite hero, and in the end, a failure. Look at them, Perseus. Who did you really save? Who is left to sing your praises now?"
Suddenly the bodies were back, their lifeless eyes screaming accusations at him, pleading with him, hating him.
He tore his sight from the gazes of the dead to lock eyes with his son. Helios looked at him, brave but frightened, pleading but trusting, young but old. Help me, father! Save me!
"Ares, please. Please let him go."
Ares only sneered. "Save him, brother. Save you son."
Perseus ran, but he knew he wouldn't make it. Ares' mace burned to life in the god's hand and the final blow was struck before the demigod even had time to breathe.
Helios fell with eyes glazed and lifeless, full of bitter accusation and disappointment as they stared at the man who had failed to save his life.
Perseus screamed and fell to his knees, sobs catching in his throat. He shouted his son's name, pleading, begging for forgiveness, but the words were drowned out by the deafening echoes of Ares laughter, and by the sudden wailing cries of the dead.
Perseus! Father! Perseus! Perseus! Perseus!
With a ragged cry Perseus jerked, ripping away from the voice and the hand that rested tightly on his shoulder. "No! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry."
Trembling and sweating and still half trapped in the dream Perseus didn't hear the concern in the voice that spoke so near to him. All he could hear were the hate-filled accusations of the dead as they echoed in his mind and soul. "No. No!"
Blindly and full of fear he shoved the hand away and scrambled to his feet, tripping as his legs tangled in the rough blanket. He freed himself and ran, stumbling, scrabbling, running, desperate to get away.
It wasn't until he was well away from the little cliff-side house, where the cold night air washed over him and snapped him awake that he realized where he was and what had happened. The trembling in his body increased and his knees buckled beneath him as his stomach rebelled and he sagged to the ground, dry-heaving and choking on his own tears as the voices and lifeless eyes continued to float through his mind.
A hand rested on his shoulder while another went to his elbow, supporting him and keeping him upright as he continued to gasp and sob.
"I'm so sorry." He couldn't help but say it again. It hadn't all been just a dream. Many of those faces really did belong to the dead, and the ones that did had all died on his account, because of his weakness or failure. His adopted father, mother, sister. Io. Draco and the others. They had all died because he hadn't been strong enough, fast enough, capable enough to keep them all safe.
The voice startled him and he jerked again, but the hands on his shoulder and arm kept him steady. Slowly one moved up to cup the back of his neck and to - somewhat awkwardly, Perseus noted, as if the owner of the hand were uncertain when it came to such actions - run a thumb soothingly along his jaw below his ear.
"Perseus, look at me," the voice commanded gently. The demigod hesitated but soon obeyed, looking up to lock gazes with that of the last person he had ever really expected to see. His father.
Zeus held the gaze with solemn steadiness, offering support as Perseus slowly attempted to even out his breathing. "None of their deaths were ever your fault."
Perseus didn't know whether to laugh in disbelief and derision or to sob again. He settled for a mixture of both.
"They were. They were my fault. I couldn't get them out of the ship. I didn't kill Medusa fast enough. I didn't - I didn't pray when Io was dying because we were too stubborn. You could have healed her but we didn't- we wouldn't. It's all my fault."
"No," Zeus insisted. "No, Perseus." Taking his hand from his son's arm he cupped his cheek instead, forcing Perseus to keep their gazes locked. "You cannot save everyone. You cannot defy Fate. And what's more, you cannot take the blame for what is so far beyond anything you can control. Their deaths were not your fault. And none of them blame you for it."
"But they do."
"They don't. It was a dream, Perseus. Nothing more than your own unnecessary guilt haunting you. Search your heart, my son. You know that what I'm saying is true."
Perseus closed his eyes and turned his head away. The tremors and heart-pounding fear had subsided, leaving him with nothing more than an empty ache in his chest and a creeping exhaustion in his limbs. Deep inside he knew that what his father said was right. He had always known it, but along with the truth had come the linger doubt, the constant fear that he had been to blame in bringing death to those he had loved in the past... and that he would always be too late or unable to save the few people that he had left.
"I'm sorry," he said eventually, glancing up at his father with a hint of shame. Suddenly he wished the god would leave him be. He wanted no one to see him like this. "I didn't mean to trouble you with my guilts. Or to wake you."
"You didn't wake me," Zeus answered dismissively. "And you haven't troubled me."
Silence stretched between them, awkward and heavy as neither man knew what else to say. Eventually Zeus went on, his tone low and quiet, and as near to apologetic as Perseus had ever heard. "I know I haven't been the best of fathers to you, Perseus, but this is what parents are for. You are man but you are also my son. You don't have to be ashamed to show fear or pain in front of me."
Perseus remained silent for a long while, focusing on his hands and clenching his jaw as he searched for control. Eventually he nodded and pushed himself up slowly, rising from his knees and standing straight. He glanced sideways, avoiding Zeus's direct gaze as he said, with a partially forced tone of teasing, "If it's any consolation, as far as being a father goes you're not all that bad."
Zeus chuckled and Perseus grinned for a brief moment before looking away. Along the horizon the sun was just beginning to rise, showering the surrounding lands with the first glimmers of dawn and banishing the last shadows of night.
Some time passed before eventually something behind them stirred and a voice spoke up from the doorway of the small hut. "Father?"
Perseus looked back, his mouth turning upwards in a one-sided smile even as pain and memories flashed through his eyes. Helios blinked owlishly in the new light and looked at his father questioningly. "Is everything alright?"
"Everything's fine, son," the fisherman answered. "I'll be in in a minute."
Helius nodded slowly, bowing his head to his grandfather in greeting before he ducked back inside the door and vanished.
Perseus took a deep breath and looked out to the horizon again. He still felt the guilt, and the memories of his nightmare continued to float in and out of his mind's eye; yet at the same time the burden had somehow been lessened. He knew it had something to do with the man who currently stood not far behind him. The father he had once hated but had somehow come to understand.
"Thank you." The words were quiet but sincere, and Perseus didn't look up as he said them.
"Don't mention it," the older man answered quietly. Then with a smile he turned away and headed for the house. His tone was light and teasing as he glanced back. "That's what fathers are for, after all. Even the terrible ones."
As he followed the older man into the house, and in spite of the still clinging shadows, Perseus couldn't help but smile.
As always, reviews are love! :D