"You're sorry?!" Percy growls, towering above him.
Six hours after meeting him, and seventeen minutes after blowing up his camp, Leo comes to the conclusion that he might be a little scared of the Great and Powerful Percy Jackson.
The shrieks from the lake nymphs are audible all the way down in the engine room. Leo can hear Percy shouting back and the shrieks go from angry to hysterical. Something huge that has to be a tidal wave crashes into the ship. Leo is swept off his feet by the impact, almost losing an eye to his own screwdriver. The Argo II vibrates to her core and then sways sideways to an alarmingly steep angle.
Holding on to the nearest pipe he could grab, he tries hammering the Celestial Bronze in place with his free hand. The angle is impractical, he can barely see a thing, and now the ship is tilting so much he's dangling more by his arm than standing on his feet.
"Please, please, please, please!" he chants in rhythm with his hits. A last frantic slam in what's hopefully the right place, and then- "Yes!" Sweet, merciful sound of a starting engine. The lights go back on, he can feel the point of gravity normalizing as the ship tilts back. Annabeth must be doing something right in the control room because finally they are moving and ascending, gently, slowly-
- too slowly.
There's nothing else he can do engine-wise so he rushes to deck to see if he can help, and immediately has to dodge a jet of water, which crashes into the mast with the force of a water cannon.
The sight around him is complete chaos. Nymphs are trying to get on board, riding wave after wave, blasting streams left and right. Frank is an eagle diving and clawing wherever he can, Jason and Piper are holding their ground, but it's Percy who is saving their skins right now. Towering high above the lake's surface, he's at the crown of a massive hurricane. He's chosen a position behind the nymphs and is plucking them from the railing one by one, throwing them back into the lake. At the same time he's countering their blasts with a hundred water jets of his own.
For a moment Leo is convinced he's looking at Poseidon himself.
Finally the ship is out of the Nymphs' reach. Percy launches himself on board with a last push from his dissolving hurricane, breaks his fall with a neat roll and is back on his feet. He disperses the last Nymphs clinging on the railing, and then looks around the empty deck. Seeing Leo, the scowl is back on his face.
"What in Hades' name did you do to get them this mad?"
Leo is seriously distracted by the fact that despite everything on deck being drenched to the bone, this guy seems to be completely dry. "Um, well, it's kind of a long story. We stole this piece of celestial bronze, but not from them, but there was this dude using it as a mirror, and..."
"Okay, save it for later. Everybody alright?" He doesn't wait for an answer but stalks towards the stairs, probably to check on Annabeth.
Up until now Leo had been pretty satisfied about his stunt with Narcissus, and fixing the engine in less than three minutes. But somehow the son of Poseidon makes him feels tiny.
He wipes the smudged ink, tar and sweat from his arms, and starts dragging his aching body through an inspection tour of the ship's exterior.
Leo has heard the stories about how Percy Jackson can command ships by sheer willpower alone. He didn't really believe them, until now. For the first time, he's starting to understand why everybody always trembles in awe when the term 'child of the Big Three' comes up. Jason might be the son of Zeus, but he's also Leo's best friend. And crazy as it sounds, Leo's actually gotten used to the lightning and wind powers after all their adventures together.
While he examines the fresh damage (he's happy the mast survived), he wonders what Jason would have done in his place. Probably just zap Narcissus and fly away with the bronze, superman style.
In the back of his mind he is aware that Jason, too, once lead armies up a mountain and defeated titans single handedly. After all, he used to be something of a general back in his camp.
But he also knows that Jason gets the hiccups after drinking too much soda, and how he melts when Piper laughs out loud, and that he's not immune to bad hair days or Stroll brothers-pranks either (to Leo's infinite delight). Jason is... well, just Jason.
Percy Jackson on the other hand... the guy used to be invulnerable. Literally. He was offered godhood, regularly hangs out on Olympus. Punched Ares in the face when he was twelve, according to legend. And most impressive of all, he's Annabeth's boyfriend. What kind of guy could stand his ground next to a powerhouse like her? In his imagination it was always a young Hercules-meets-Clark Kent type, with added Chuck Norris badassery, and rocket scientist intellect because, well- Annabeth.
For months he anticipated meeting this icon with both curiosity and dread. And though his curiosity has been satisfied, it turns out the dread was not out of place.
With a sigh he arrives at Festus' head and does a status check.
That night after sentinel duty, when he comes down the stairs to wake Piper for the next shift, he's startled by a clattering sound in the mess hall.
Suddenly hyperalert, he listens with a dry throat and thumping heartbeat. Just his luck to have a monster attack in the last two minutes of his watch. However, after listening a bit longer, he realizes it sounds less like a monster and more like a really clumsy burglar, to be honest.
With his hammer ready, Leo approaches the open door of the mess hall. He notices that the hallway is wet in some places, and there's an empty bucket lying on its side. Definitely strange for monster tactics.
He peeks around the door and almost drops his hammer.
On one side of the room is Buford, hissing steam and spewing bolts and screws to his opponent. On the other end is Percy Jackson, wearing his pyjamas, a bewildered expression and one sock. His hands and clothes are covered in grease stripes and there's motor oil on his forehead.
"Percy?" Leo whispers.
"Leo!" He sounds equal parts embarrassed and relieved. "Um, hey. I was - whoa!" He dodges another wrench and bumps into the dining table, then scrambles to rescue the tableware from clattering on the floor.
"Are you... sparring? With Buford?" Leo takes a few hesitant steps into the room.
"The table. His name is Buford."
"Ah. Well, yes, I kind of am. But he started it." They hurry to take cover behind the kitchen counter as a new barrage of bolts is fired with dull, popping sounds.
"Please don't take this wrong way, but why on earth would Buford start a fight with you at three o'clock in the morning?" Leo asks.
"Um." Percy chews his lip. "Really super interesting story. I heard a noise, so I went to.. check it out?" Normally Leo would've rolled his eyes at such a lame excuse, but this time he just nods politely.
"Oh screw it, I was trying to sneak into Annabeth's room. But Coach seems to have installed a tripwire or something. I try opening her door and next thing I know there's a splash at the end of the hallway, and this thing comes charging towards me. I think he was just peacefully asleep until- well, it wasn't my fault! But now he thinks I'm the bad guy."
Leo risks another glance around the chair. Indeed, Buford seems to be covered in water, and judging by the smell it's from the sink. Steaming and dripping, the table stomps back and forth on his little legs. He doesn't seem damaged so Leo files this under 'Buford acting like a Diva' behaviour.
For the first time ever, Leo is actually impressed by Coach. Why use the old tipping-bucket trick directly on your victim (boring!) when you could use it on a piece of animatronics and have your victim chased around by enraged furniture for an hour instead? That's some Valdez-quality pranking right there. Not that he dares to express that opinion in front of Percy Jackson.
"Okay never fear, Leo is here! I got this." He fishes a tin of Lemon Pledge Premium Wax, a polishing cloth and a towel out of his toolbelt. Don't mess this up, he urges himself. You only have one chance at a first try at a second impression, or something like that.
Percy looks at the belt in astonishment. "You don't happen to have my other sock in there? I think the table ate it." Leo doesn't trust himself enough to respond to that without making the situation worse, so he keeps shut. He holds out the tin for Buford to inspect and begins to talk smooth comforting things.
Whether it's the promise of tender loving care from his creator, or the fact that he has literally run out steam, Buford eventually calms down enough for Leo to approach and set to work with his towel.
Uneasiness swells in his stomach. It has nothing to do with Buford, who is cooperating nicely, but everything with the demi-god watching him from a safe distance. Do I have to make small talk now? He still feels terrible about what happened during the day. Maybe he should apologize? Would that be weird? Should he-
"So I guess he's not always like this?"
Leo looks up. "...Who?"
"The, uh, walking table?" Percy points awkwardly.
"Oh! No. Normally he's the perfect assistant. Well behaved, great with kids." Leo blabbers on, relieved to have a safe subject he can talk about. "Just don't mess with his grooming, that gets him pissed. When I first made him he-"
"Wait. You made him?"
"Um, obviously not the woodwork, that's french empire craftmanship. But the mechanics, I- eh, did. Yes." Leo is suddenly not at all sure if he should boast or apologize.
But instead of getting mad, Percy edges closer to get a better look. "Wow. That's amazing." He suddenly freezes. "Not that I want to imply- I mean, oh gods, you built this entire ship, of course you can build a table."
Leo blinks, staring at a slightly flustered Percy. "Th-thanks. Eh- no problem?"
He hesitates one last moment, then takes the plunge. "I'm, uh, sorry my table got you in trouble. Of course it was Coach's set-up and maybe not really my fault but I still feel responsible, since he's- sort of my property." He notices Percy swallowing. "Leo- "
"And I'm also very sorry about attacking your Camp, I mean your other Camp, not your regular Camp but the Camp- well, nevermind. And also sorry about the lake mess, but that too was perhaps something I couldn't have done very differently now that I think about it, and-"
"Leo," Percy interrupts him, "- your wax is on fire."
"Aw shit!" The cloth in his hand and the tabletop are covered in a thin layer of flames. He quickly puts it out by slapping around like an idiot, hoping Buford hasn't noticed yet. He can feel his face burning up like the sun.
"Sorry... about that too. Really, just- sorry." He keeps his eyes downcast. Of all the moments to lose control...
He can hear Percy's scruffy footsteps coming all the way up to Buford. Percy tests the temperature of the tabletop with a tentative hand.
"Dude," Percy begins, "I, ah, don't think you have to apologize for any of that. Or this." He indicates the smoking top. "I once turned Camp's toilets into a massive geyser, just because I got scared of a fellow camper."
Leo looks up in surprise.
Percy hesitantly puts his hands back in his pockets and continues: "Sorry if I kinda flipped today. It wasn't- you know. Things just get messed up, and then you're in the wrong place at the wrong time. And of course you're the ADHD kid with freaky powers and a talent for attracting trouble, so it always looks, like, really bad. But when you try explaining how it wasn't your fault the school got blown up, it somehow never comes out quite right."
There's a silence because Leo has absolutely no clue how to respond, which Percy interprets as a need for more examples. "Or- or the algebra teacher disintegrating into monster-dust. Or short circuiting the entire block. Or your high school prom- " he winches at the memory, "-getting flooded by seawater. Gods, even Annabeth blamed me for that one," he mutters to himself.
A thousand questions and vivid images erupt in Leo's head, but his brain must be dumb from shock because the only thing coming out is: "You have ADHD too?"
Percy lets out a quiet laugh. "Seriously, you can't tell? Where do you think the nicknames come from?"
"I just- wouldn't have guessed."
"Well I'll take that as a compliment. She calls me 'kelphead' for a reason you know," he grins.
Leo is astonished. "Annabeth? Annabeth Chase came up with 'kelphead'? Wow, who would've thought. Major bonus points for nickname creativity."
"Hah, wait till she gets really worked up," Percy grins proudly. "Or slightly drunk." He doesn't elaborate but apparently it bring back some happy memories. Leo tries to integrate this new information into his idea of Annabeth, and fails utterly. He makes an underlined mental note to ask more details later.
Meanwhile Buford seems unimpressed by the fire incident and is now purring under his administrations.
"Can I help?" Percy offers. Leo finds a second polishing cloth and hands it to Percy. "He reminds me a bit of Blackjack," Percy says, rubbing the tabletop. "At least when he's not firing tools and building materials at me."
"Who is Blackjack?"
"It's this Pegasus I know, crazy animal. I'm sure you'll meet him later." He frowns. "Haven't seen him in eight months, come to think of it."
"Is it true you can talk to horses?" Leo suddenly asks. Percy grins.
"Yup. Is it true you can talk to helicopters?" They both have to laugh at this. "It is!" Leo exclaims. "How can you possibly know that story, you've been here for, like, less than a day."
"Well, what can I say, word gets around." This sends Leo's curiosity through the roof, but before he can ask, Percy continues: "How does that even work with machines, is it like a language? Because some produce these clicks and sounds, but with others I don't hear a thing."
"Nah, those just lack character. They don't say much, but if I touch them I can still figure out the mechanics, fuel level, operating devices, you know. Stuff."
Buford must be listening because he chirps in with some very characteristic clicks and whizzes. "Machines like this little troublemaker, or the ship, they can't be controlled that easily. You have to ask permission, get on their good side. But once you do, they're the best." He kneels down to clean Buford's legs.
"So those click-clacking sounds, that's the ship talking to you?" Percy wonders. "That's so cool. I mean, I have this thing with non-motorized ships but they just- do what I want. They don't have any ideas of their own."
They talk about ships for a while longer, to Leo's delight. He had gotten so used to Piper and Jason's lack of interest in his passion, he never realized he missed a fellow nautical enthusiast this much. When Percy learns that Festus was once the wild mechanical dragon he encountered in the forest years ago, he's very interested in that topic as well. "Of course, you're fireproof! That's brilliant. Me and Beckendorf, we didn't stand a chance back then."
"But you have all these Moses powers." Leo actually finds himself disappointed. "Lord of the Oceans, Splitter of Seas, etcetera?"
"Newsflash, there's no ocean in the middle of that forest. And those names are highly exaggerated," Percy grouches.
"What about the forest stream? Puddles? Oh, and didn't you once create a river out of nothing, right in the Texan desert?"
Percy sighs. "Yes, I guess I did. But it's hard, you know. Sometimes I get lucky and things happen, and other times I'm too busy dodging fire and other deadly substances to really focus. I can't just produce miracles on demand."
"Oh." At first, Leo has no idea how to reply to that. All his life he's been jealous of successful golden boys like Percy. It never occurred to him there could be downsides to the label 'champion'.
For example, insane expectations, he realizes.
"Man, that sucks."
The more he thinks about it, the more recognizable it becomes. "It's the same with people's attitude towards this ship sometimes. 'Leo, why can't we go faster?' 'Leo, why aren't we flying yet?' " He waves theatrically with polishing cloth still in hand. "'Leo, why can't you fix my iPod?' Because it's a bootleg from 2004 and got smashed to pieces with a battle axe, that's why! I might be supreme commander genius but there's still basic physics I can't help. Like, I don't know, gravity? Solid mass? Sheez."
This rant seems to cheer Percy up significantly. "Better not ask you to fix my mom's internet then?"
Leo drops his arms and makes himself comfortable on the dining table. "Well, wouldn't mind giving it a try. Is she a good cook?"
"The best. Even better at baking."
"Okay, definitely worth a try then."
By this time, Buford is gleaming like new and gone into sleep mode out of pure bliss. Percy gets up. "I'd better get back to bed then."
"Yeah." Leo remembers why he was out here in the first place. "And I should probably wake up Piper for sentinel duty."
"Then see you tomorrow, Master Helicopter Whisperer," Percy jokes.
Leo salutes. "And goodnight to you too, oh Commander of Horses."
"Tamer of Tables."
"Sovereign of Plumbing!"
"Guru of Wi-fi!"
Leo makes a deep bow. "Your kelpiness."
"Lord of the Wax," Percy chuckles. "Alright, see you." At last he heads for his room.
After a minute he re appears in the doorway with the bucket in his hand. "I just had a thought. We can't really go to bed without repaying Coach his services." There's a mischievous gleam in his eyes. "You know, let him know how effective his methods are, and how much we appreciate his efforts?"
Leo couldn't agree more.