i know you were on my side even when i was wrong: Fluffy story! I love Paul. He deserves his own fic and not just a blurb in Each to Each. I'm sorry I don't reply to all my reviews, but thank you so much for leaving them. I read all of them, I do! I hope you enjoy this one.
The Other Father
The first time Paul meets the son of the woman he's dating, he is reminded of why he never had children. Well, he's actually reminded every day, being a high school English teacher, but even most of those kids didn't have track records like Percy's. Paul didn't think it was possible to be that delinquent. Seriously, like, wouldn't you have to try to get kicked out of school every year?
The night before, Sally listed the reasons for expulsion year by year (she skips second grade and fourth because she can't remember why Percy got kicked out), and his eyebrows got higher and higher with each until they disappeared into his hairline. He refrained from saying anything possibly incriminating. He's worked with troubled kids before, of course, and it's usually a touchy subject with their parents. But Sally said it all with a shrug and then smiled and ordered off her menu as if telling him her son missed honor roll that year, whoop-dee-doo, try harder next time, buddy.
He supposed it was good that none of the reasons involved drugs, knocking up a girl, or any other ordinary reason people usually get kicked out. Percy was creative rule-breaker. Paul had to give him that much.
Standing in front of him, he sees a typical-looking teenage boy — fitter, maybe, with long-ish messy hair and above-average height. Percy doesn't look a whole lot like Sally, except for if you squint and really pick hard at the details. He's got a stronger jaw than her soft one, sharper cheekbones, and generally just looks more angular than she does. But he does have her chin and oddly, her ears.
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Blofis," he says politely and sticks out his hand, as if he's a regular kid, and not one that's planning on wreaking havoc in Paul's English class in the fall. Whatever can be said, Sally did teach her son some beautiful manners.
"You can call me Paul."
He sees Percy glance sidelong as his mother, who is grinning at the introduction, really pleased, and Percy visibly relaxes.
So this is how it starts. The woman he's dating. Her son. Him. Eating a home-cooked meal in the Jacksons' cramped apartment and bursting out every few minutes in nervous laughter.
By the end of the night, he thinks Percy resembles Sally after all. He has the look of her when he smiles. It's rarer than hers, but just as bright.
The beginning of that summer, Percy is somehow involved in a band room explosion during freshman orientation, and almost kicked out. Paul's fuzzy on the details, but the board eventually rules Percy an innocent bystander by the end of the summer and all the blame goes toward the cheerleader. Percy doesn't get expelled. Probably for the first time, he will be starting school on schedule in August.
The night of the verdict is the day after Percy comes home from the weird summer camp he does every year. Whenever Paul asks about it, Sally gets really red and flustered and her words get virtually indecipherable — and she is a woman not easily flustered. So Paul assumes the camp is for something super embarrassing, like people who pee their beds at the age of fourteen or kids who have been pegged as potential serial killers and need to be reconditioned every summer so they don't go murdering people during the school year.
The important thing is Percy is not expelled. Although it's strange that he just happened to be near the fire-bomb throwing cheerleader, and nobody else was.
"You're just lucky, huh?" Paul says that night while they're watching TV and Sally is showering.
Percy grimaces. "Yup. Real lucky."
Paul gets the sense that there's an inside joke he's not getting, but he also knows teenagers shouldn't be pressed for information they don't want to part with.
"I'm actually sort of glad to be starting school after everything this summer," Percy says.
"Well, your mother and I are as well." Ew, really? He pauses. "Wow. I'm sorry. That was disgustingly parental of me. You probably don't want that out of your future English teacher. By the way, sorry for that as well. You know those schedules are randomized in the computer. It's not like I'm trying to stalk you at school."
To his relief, Percy only laughs. "It's okay. You're pretty cool for a teacher."
"You think so?"
"You're dating my mom, aren't you?"
And Paul is, again, surprised. Not by how generous Percy is, or how much the kid loves his mother — because he's already seen the truth of that in the past few months and believes Percy is a good guy — but by how suddenly happy he is to be sitting on that couch with Sally's delinquent son. He's really glad Percy likes him. Because as scared as he was going into this thing, he's sort of starting to like Percy too.
Although he doesn't get told explicitly, he knows Percy and Sally are keeping some massive secret from him. There's a whole month when Paul is firmly convinced Percy is an FBI agent, until he blurts out this theory one day while they're on a picnic in the park. Percy and Sally exchange looks and then burst out laughing, spewing coke everywhere and effectively ruining any chance of eating the sandwiches. (They go get hot dogs instead.)
They don't ever let him live that one down.
But Paul's not an idiot. He knows something is going on. He stops guessing after a while and learns to accept it when abnormal things occur. And abnormal things are always occurring when Percy is around.
So when Percy goes missing the morning of the wedding, Paul takes it in stride along with Sally. (They don't believe in all that hob-nob about brides and grooms not being able to see each other on the day.)
Sally says something like, "Oh, I hope he's all right. He'll be here in time for the ceremony." She bites her nails as the stylist twists her hair up in a knot. "I wouldn't count on him being in a tux, though."
"Okay," Paul says. His new family is insane. What else is new?
Percy does eventually show up, in a T-shirt and jeans, covered in some gross-looking gooey substance that appears to be guts, and at least has the decency to be chagrined about it, but Sally doesn't ask. Neither does Paul.
He is even more slightly suspicious when Percy's father — Poseidon, and he thought it was a joke! — shows up at Percy's birthday party and "leaves through the fire escape." It's more that Sally and Percy are so adamant on convincing him of that truth, and he gives in because they're so desperate. But he doesn't believe them. How could he? Percy's father is either a lunatic or a magician, and it's not that far from the truth when he finds out Poseidon is a god.
When Sally tells him, he's looking at Percy the whole time, trying to imagine this scrawny scrap of a boy fighting off titans and saving the world every summer, and yeah, it maybe freaks him out a little bit. Because he's pretty into this whole "dad" thing now, and might be a little protective of his new son, and it doesn't make him happy to think that at any moment, this kid could die. "So your father is Poseidon? Like, god of the sea?"
In response, Percy refills Paul's glass of water without getting up from the dinner table. The water just comes out of the faucet and floats, an amorphous blob, to the cup. "Ice?" Percy says casually.
Paul feels like he's going to throw up. Nobody warned him about this when he signed up to be a stepfather.
Being Percy's stepfather had other strings attached too. Paul wakes up in his Prius with Sally next to him, jammed on a Manhattan street and remembering, oh yes, the world is about to end. They jump out of the car and rush toward, well, something.
The truth is, Paul can't really tell what the hell is going on, but relies on Sally for directions. By some stroke of fate, she was born with the gift of seeing past the Mist, which probably was what got her in the mess of Greek gods in the first place. Paul follows her lead, picks up a sword, and stabs what looks like a menacing woman in a pantsuit, threatening him with her umbrella. She disappears — that much he can see — and he assumes he's doing it right. A few steps over, Percy is fighting a hobo. What appears to be a hobo. Probably a monster too terrible to imagine. Paul feels a surge of pride and marvels at the situation. Here is his stepson, leading an army, saving the world.
Here is his stepson.
His wife shoots another monster to his left.
Here is his family.
And he plunges into battle, because here is he, and if they are insane, he is ready join them in their insanity. That's love, he thinks, as he spears another unseen creature.
A few months later, Percy disappears.
This time, he doesn't come back. They cannot tell anybody. That's the worst. Chiron the centaur comes to deliver the news, looking gaunt and haunted. Sally cries. Every night. Floods and floods. He never knew a single person could have so many tears, but she doesn't stop.
Paul finds himself looking. Out the window. On the subway. He refreshes the answering machine a hundred, thousand times. The apartment smells of grief, as if someone has lit a candle that burns all the time, leaving its bitter-blue scent. They wait. Sally, permanent in her serenity, begins to look as if she's given up. She doesn't say it, but the hollows under her eyes tell the story. She is thinking, maybe this is it. Maybe we have been lucky, and this is when fate has stepped in, and taken him away. The heroes come and they go. They are born, and they have to die. They usually die.
They die sooner than most.
Maybe the curse has finally struck. The hopeful name that could not save him. A mother's love that could not bring him back.
But Paul keeps looking, because he doesn't believe that. He's waited years for a son, and this is the only one he's got. Percy may not be his blood son, but Percy is his now too. He remembers the first time he met Percy. The smile. How bright. Just like the wedding, one day, Percy is going to come crashing in, a little worse for the wear, a little thinner, but he'll be alive.
Paul won't believe this is how it ends. A father's got to trust his son.
He wipes Sally's tears at night. He counts the mornings. He waits.