Warning-This is sad. Very sad. If you're not okay with that, I don't suggest you read.
Percy turns, smiling hugely as Ronnie races down the hall, her brothers at her heels. He sets his suitcase down, turning and scooping her up as she wraps her arms around his neck. In her mind, she's hugging the world out of him, squeezing him so tight she fears he may pop like a balloon. And he smiles because he knows what she's thinking, even despite the fact her four year old arms couldn't possibly do that to him. She pulls her head back, eager to see her daddy's face. He was gone a whole week. That's a very long time.
"Hi, baby. I missed you," he murmurs, pushing a princess curl behind her ear.
"I missed you, too, Daddy! When you were gone, Danny ate a bug," she giggles, scrunching her nose.
"Yeah! It was gross. Momma told him, 'No Danny'. But he still did it."
He grins, taking in her toothy smile, the way she crinkles her nose every time she giggles or talks about something 'icky'.
It's good to be home with his princess again.
"Look! I got a sticker for helping Mrs. Cody today! It looks like a star, and it's sparkly. See it, Daddy?"
He patiently buckles her into her car seat, careful to not pinch her with any of the snaps. That had always been one of his biggest fears when he was a new dad. There were so many straps and buckles, and way more ways to accidentally clip a squirmy babies arm than should've been possible. Now, he can manage to secure her even while she eagerly tugs the fabric of her green sweater to show him the metallic gold sticker.
"That's pretty, Ronnie. That looks really nice."
"Yeah! I helped hand out the coloring pages and I did a really, really, really good job! Mrs. Cody says I'm the best helper she's ever had!"
"Wow, that's awesome, Ron," he said, trying desperately to match her energy. "Tell you what. Because you did such a good job, I'll take you to McDonald's for a sundae. You want to do that?"
At the mention of sugar, her eyes blew up like saucers. Percy grinned, knowing the hot fudge from McDonald's could fix every woe that entered his little girl's life.
It was a quick drive over, and in no time they were sitting side by side in a booth with a hot fudge sundae and an order of small fries in front of them. The nuts were sprinkled carefully onto the right side, because it was good luck and the fries were hot and salty, perfect for dipping.
They did a quick cheers with a fry in between their fingers, Ronnie's nose scrunching up as she giggled at their father-daughter tradition.
Her face lit up as the vanilla and salt hit her tongue. Percy popped one into his mouth, smiling down at his daughter as she devoured half the bag, generously leaving the rest for him. When there's one left, he holds it in front of him, elbow on the table while he examines it. He glances at Ronnie, whose staring at the fry intently.
"You know," he says. "This may be the best French fry in the world."
"The whole world," she murmurs in awe.
"The whole universe," he corrects, chuckling inwardly as she mouths 'wow'. "And I think, the best person in the universe should get it."
He dunks it into the remainder of the ice cream.
"That, would be this little girl I know named Ronnie. You know her?"
"Really? Well then, I think this belongs to you," he says, placing the treat into her waiting mouth.
"Thank you, Daddy!"
"Mommy, I don't feel good," Ronnie groans, staring down at her cereal.
"Eat your breakfast, baby. It'll make you feel better," Annabeth replies, determined to finish the dishes before work.
"I'm not hungry," she grumbles. "And I hurt."
"What hurts, hon?"
Annabeth turns, worried. Danny and Jack have already finished eating and are getting ready as best they can without help. Ronnie, always the early bird, seems strange and deflated. She sulks into her bowl of Lucky Charms which has always been a crowd pleaser with the Jackson kids.
"Do you want to stay home?"
She shrugs. "I dunno."
Annabeth pulls her arms out of the water, using a rag to dry them while she leans against the counter. Her eyebrows scrunch as she tries to see anything physically wrong. Besides looking tired, Ronnie seems fine. The only thing mildly alarming is the large bruise on the six year olds for arm, but according to her teacher she had taken a pretty hard fall in gym.
"Baby, do you want to stay home?"
She scowls, shaking her head. Ronnie enjoyed school, though she often complained it was too easy. 'It's everything we learned in Kinder,' she grumbled.
"Are you sure?"
She nods, still scowling.
"Okay, go get ready then. You don't want to be late."
She slides out of the chair, pouting the entire way to her room.
Annabeth watches her as she trudges down the hall, motherly instinct boiling an uneasy feeling of concern.
"What's wrong with Ron?" Percy asks, his button down shirt crooked. Annabeth regards him, looks back down the hall, and proceeds to unbutton his shirt so she can set it straight.
"I don't know. Maybe a cold or something. She's been off the past few weeks. Off."
"Yeah, I can tell," he murmurs.
Annabeth wonders if he can feel the same unease in the pit of his stomach.
She doesn't think so.
"Mr. Jackson?" a panicked voice on the other end of the line answers. "This is Deborah Cody, Ronnie's teacher. Is this Perseus Jackson?"
"Yes, this is Percy," he answers, cautious. The entire room is chattering around him, gleefully unaware of the sudden dread pooling in his chest. "What's wrong? Is Ronnie okay?"
"No-I-I don't know. She just collapsed on the playground. There's an ambulance taking her to the hospital now."
"What? Where is she? Where are they taking her?"
The first grade teacher tries to explain everything as calmly as she can manage, but she's obviously shocked. When she's done, Percy hangs up, not bothering with a goodbye.
"Percy? Percy what's wrong?"
"Ronnie collapsed. They're taking her to the hospital," he says, immediately standing up and leaving the room.
"What? What do you mean? What happened?"
"I don't know," he yells hoarsely, his voice cracking. "I don't know," he repeated, terror washing over him.
He doesn't understand. It's the fourth doctor who's tried to explain it to him. They're all saying the same thing, throwing words around like Lymphocytic and hematological malignancy and leukemia. That last one comes up the most. They try to explain white blood cells and bone marrow. None of it makes sense.
There are options, they say. Drugs, chemotherapy, radiation therapy. They want to pump his little girl full of 'treatments' that will make her feel terrible. They want to use her like a pin cushion with needles that will stream drugs into her twenty-four seven.
None of it makes sense. None of it is fair. None of it can be happening.
"Are you scared?"
"Should I be scared?"
"Am, am I going to die?"
"No, baby," he says, fighting back the tears in his eyes. "I won't let that happen."
She nods because what her daddy says is law and he would never lie to her.
She vomits what's let in her stomach (which is nothing) while tears stream down her face. Everything hurts. Everything feels broken. Everything makes her sick.
She just wants to get better.
'Nothing' is a word Percy and Annabeth never wanted to hear. They never wanted to hear that one phrase, the one that ripped their world out from under them, tore it into tiny little pieces, and burned what was left.
"I'm sorry. There's nothing more we can do."
Percy walks back home after saying goodbye to Ronnie for the night.
He finds a ride to camp.
He walks into Cabin 3, sits on a bunk and cries.
"Don't be scared, baby."
"Are you going to stay?"
"Downstairs with the boys."
"Can I see her?"
"Yeah, baby. Anything you want."
"Daddy, I love you."
"I love you, too. I love you so much more than you could ever know."
"How much, Daddy?"
"I love you from the bottom of the ocean to the top of the sky and everything in between."
"That's a lot. I love you that much, too, Daddy."
"Good. That makes me happy."
"Daddy what if I get lost down there?"
"Just wait there for me. It may be a while, but I'll find you and hold your hand and show you where to go."
"Okay, Daddy. I'll see you there."
"See you there."
Percy sat in McDonald's, an uneaten sundae sitting on the booth in front of him.
It was going to stay uneaten, next to a small order of fries because the best one was supposed to go to the best person in the world.
She wasn't there to eat it.
"I miss her," Annabeth murmured, tears already spilling over her eyes as they lay in bed pretending to watch T.V.
"I miss her, too."
A year seems so long.
Especially when you miss someone.
Charon gave him no grief when Percy's soul wandered into the studio decades later. He was under strict orders to deliver the hero to the Underworld as soon as he arrived.
The boat ride was longer than Percy remembered. When they finally reached the shore, he tipped the skeletal ferryman to show his appreciation before stepping off onto the sand. Briefly, he scanned the area, craning his neck over souls who were simply meandering their way through the lines.
Percy turned sharply, a smile gradually forming on his ghoulish lips.
(A/N) Not going to lie. I actually teared up writing this. My throat hurts now. Ugh.
Anyway, this is dedicated to my best friend in the whole wide freaking world. She'll probably never see this, because she doesn't use this site and isn't particularly fond of PJO (somehow, I still find a way to love her). She inspires me constantly. When she was in second grade (the year before I met her) she had cancer. She's all better now, and I thank God that she was able to recover and beat it because I honestly have no idea where I would be right now without her.
I guess it's a little twisted to dedicate such a depressing fic to her for that reason, but it had a happy ending. I also realize this is totally Percy-centric. But it was supposed to be that way. The little Annabeth bit was because I felt like Ronnie still needed her mom to help her. I should probably take it out completely, but I like it too much.
Thanks for reading! I actually (cliché coming up) enjoy seeing how many reads my fics get. I appreciate even you guys reading. Hope you liked it! If I got you to choke up, even better.