Piper couldn't sleep.
Well, more precisely, she couldn't sleep because her brain wouldn't shut down.
She had tossed and turned in her bunk for hours, watching the moon's slow progress across the sky outside. Every time she tried to settle down, her thoughts would turn towards the impending quest and just how badly she was going to fail.
She couldn't just lie there anymore.
Piper swung herself out of bed, crept to the door, and eased it open. (She had learned not to go waking anybody up on this ship after Annabeth had nearly murdered Leo for singing Michael Jackson songs as he showered at four in the morning.) Slowly, she made her way along the hall—passing Jason's room on the left and Percy's on the right—and up the stairs. The familiar, steady sound of the ocean outside calmed her considerably.
"What are you doing up?"
The voice made her jump. She wheeled around to find Percy, his green eyes bright even in the midnight gloom. He was holding Riptide in one hand and (oddly) a gallon of milk in the other. Piper didn't comment, but stepped aside to let him get up the stairs.
"I couldn't sleep," she said, crossing over to the deck railing and leaning on it. The ocean was black and smooth as glass. If she leaned over far enough, she could catch a glimpse of her reflection—distorted by waves, bleached pale in the moonlight.
Percy joined her after a moment. He set the milk down beside him on the ground, dug in his shorts pocket, and came up with the cap for his sword. Once Riptide was safely back in his pocket, he turned to face her. "Why?"
"Why couldn't you sleep?"
Piper sighed. "Because I don't know why I was chosen to go on this quest. All I can do is charmspeak people into doing what I want. I'm not a threat in a fight, either. I'm kind of just waiting for the point where I have to acknowledge that I'm inevitably going to fail." She saw Percy's bewilderment at her words, and added, "Um, sorry I just kind of dumped that on you."
"No, it's okay." He bumped her with his shoulder, which was surprisingly warm. "There's no rule book on how to be a hero."
"So how do you do it?"
"Time." Percy looked at her, and Piper noticed that his eyes seemed to change as quickly as the sea—calm one minute, stormy the next. He's hard to read, she decided. "It just takes time, Piper. To be honest, in the beginning, I didn't take much seriously. I guess the best way to explain it would be like getting older—the longer you work at it, the easier it gets."
Thank you, Percy, Piper thought, relief flooding her mind. Unable to resist, she stood on tiptoe and planted a kiss on his forehead—like a younger sister might. "Okay. I can live with that." She turned to go, but then remembered something. "Percy, if you can ask me a question, can I ask you one?"
He smirked, then fell into a mock bow. "Anything, my lady."
"Why do you have an entire bottle of milk with you?"
He blushed a deep shade of red. "Oh. I was…well, I'm kind of planning on dumping it on Leo." Noticing her quizzical stare, he added, "He woke up my girlfriend, and I had to listen to her curse at him all day about it!"
She could feel a crazy grin stretching her face. "Count me in, bro. Count me in."