Welcome to a one-shot. This is my take on a closer look at the development between Percy and Rachel's relationship in between BOTL and TLO with a side of bittersweet memories. Please enjoy this mix of themes and topics in this quick piece of work!
At first they used homework and studying as an excuse. Rachel would offer to teach Percy the chemistry lesson that he missed or help him make better sense of the novel for English that he couldn't figure out because of his dyslexia. In turn, Percy wouldn't mind helping her with picking up materials for her next art project or tag along for her various charity events.
Soon, their visits became more natural. They didn't need excuses to hang out. They did because they wanted to.
Percy couldn't explain all the time they were spending together; he hadn't planned it. But, somehow, he found an escape in Rachel that kept him grounded.
"I don't mean to intrude," Rachel said, after silence had sunk in between them one evening. They sat in his bedroom, text books flung out by their feet as they took a break from the history readings due tomorrow.
Percy frowned when Rachel didn't continue. "What do you mean?"
Rachel's eyes were fixed on something outside of Percy's window. A small glimpse of the fire escape from an angle and an orange-purple sky seemed to be the only things in view.
"Rachel?" Percy nudged her lightly with the ruler lying by his hand. When Rachel looked back at him, she had a look on her face that told him his red headed nightmare had been thinking. Percy sighed. "No, I will not help you paint your body golden again, nor do I think it's a good idea."
"No, Rachel! Look, you're going to get lead poisoning or some other disease from that chemical-loaded paint if you keep dipping your skin in it."
Rachel had to resist flinging her pencil at Percy's head. "That's not what I'm saying!"
"Oh." Percy relaxed. "Then what is it?"
Rachel stared at her friend. "Have you ever been in love?"
By the look on his face, there was no question that Percy had been caught off guard. "What?" Percy blinked as if Rachel was speaking Vietnamese.
"Have you ever been in love?" Rachel repeated. "You know, with someone special?"
If Percy thought he was relaxed a second ago, it was no longer the case. The muscles in his body seemed to tighten involuntarily. "What kind of a question is that?" Percy said, feeling more confused about Rachel's question than with the history reading. "Have you?"
"Have I what?"
"Have you ever been in love?"
"I asked you first!"
Rachel exhaled, leaning back. "I don't know," she said, waving her hand dismissively, "If you want to call that one month with Zack love."
It took a second for Zack's picture to pop up in Percy's head. "Zack," Percy repeated, remembering the orange haired boy, usually dressed in baggy clothes, who was always flirting with other people's girlfriends in the school hallways. "You dated him?"
Rachel seemed to cringe at the memory. "Big mistake?"
"Huge," Percy agreed.
"Other than that, and I'm not saying that counts, the answer is no," Rachel told him honestly.
Percy nodded, taking in the new information. He tried to picture Zack and Rachel holding hands, but the thought was beginning to nauseate him.
"Well?" Rachel demanded.
"I answered the question. It's your turn."
"Right," Percy sat up. He expected himself to talk but with every passing second of silence, Percy's brain felt more and more tangled. "Why are you asking?" Percy finally said, giving up.
Rachel seemed to be studying Percy's face carefully. She leaned back, turning her head to look out the window again. "I've been wondering something for a while…" Rachel admitted. "It's driving me crazy."
Rachel kept staring out, her eyes fixed on a small glimpse of something through the corner of the window. "That plant," Rachel said, "the one out on the fire escape."
Percy's eyes darted to swirl of silver leaves twirling around the metal railings. He had become so used to the mythical plant growing outside that he hadn't realized his visitors would be surprised. Percy was sure mortals would see an ordinary vine, but Rachel was like his mom. She could see through the Mist vividly.
The next time Percy remembered where he was, Rachel was looking at him. "There's something about that plant," Rachel admitted. "I get a strong vibe from it."
"Moonlace," Percy told her. "It's special."
"I can tell…" Rachel trailed off. For her whole life, Rachel had been able to see monsters with glowing eyes, fangs, and claws. She had seen and felt the blow of dust when they diminished. She had heard the creature's voices and growls. It was scary and gruesome, but it was something Rachel had learnt to face. It was only after meeting Percy that she was opened up to a new world behind the Mist – a world where one drop of sweet nectar could heal the wounded or where majestic Pegasus' soared the sky. But the most beautiful thing Rachel could envision was right in front of her. It was the plant with a glowing silver appearance which grew right outside of Percy's apartment that left her in awe. "Moonlace," Rachel said, the name gliding off her tongue.
Percy watched his friend carefully, her eyes tracing the plant trough the glass. As darkness fell quickly in the evening, the plant seemed to glow brighter. "Hey," Percy said softly, picking up his history text book, "let's finish the chapter."
"Sorry," Rachel mumbled, focusing back on Percy. She knew as well as him that he wasn't one to suggest doing homework. But Rachel's question had crossed the line into the other side of his life. It was something they didn't talk about much. Although Percy knew Rachel was aware of the world behind the Mist, he liked pretending it didn't exist for a while. Just for as long as he was with her, he was just a normal kid with a normal life.
Percy sighed. "You want to know more about it, don't you?"
A small smile drew on her lips slowly. "You don't have to tell me much," she promised. "Just one question. It's like… especially at night, when the plant starts sprouting, it's like it has a thousand years of history behind it. I can feel it."
Percy nodded slowly, floating on memories. "What's the one question?"
"Oh, right," Rachel said. Her eyes looked like a curious child in a candy store when they met Percy's. For a second, she thought she might have seen a glimpse of something she had never seen before on his face – a glimpse of the most hurtful, bittersweet thoughts crossing his mind. Rachel whispered, "Where did it come from?"
It didn't take long for three words to click in Percy's head. "From someone special," he said.
For a while, the two sat there silently. Rachel tried to process the hundreds of things Percy could have meant, before she shivered. In that moment, it was like she could sense a feeling radiating off the moonlace stronger than she ever had before right through the glass. A feeling mixed with remnants of suffering, hope, and love.
Rachel took a deep breath, picking up her own history text book. "Alright," she said, feeling herself descending back to earth. "And just to get one thing straight, Percy," Rachel added, glaring at her friend, "the paint I use is perfectly safe on humans, animals, and its environmental friendly. Don't you forget that."
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