Percy Jackson was in over his head. More so than usual.
He was sitting on the roof of Brooklyn House, with a Roman demigod who, by all rights, was supposed to be his mortal enemy, and his cousin, whose soul was currently lost, and whose body was being controlled by an Egyptian god, while the Egyptian apocalypse was currently in progress. And he was about to meet up with his girlfriend, who he'd been hiding things from for over a year, and the Roman demigod's sister, who was Thalia. Neither of those was going to improve this already volatile situation.
Brooklyn House was the only place he'd thought safe for this meeting. The defenses that the Egyptian magicians had put on it would keep the Greek monsters away too. The only other places he knew of that four children of the Big Three could possibly have met safely were on Mt. Olympus, at Camp Half-Blood, or at this other Roman Camp Jason had mentioned. None of those were even options, so Brooklyn House had to do.
Jason was pacing nervously. Static sparks were actually popping off him as he walked. In contrast, Nico, or rather Anubis, who was possessing Nico, sat perfectly still. His face was serene, which was an expression that the real Nico had never managed to pull off. It made Percy want to go over and strangle Anubis for this fakery, but that would only hurt Nico in the end. He'd need a body when they got his soul back, so Percy couldn't damage the one Anubis was using.
"Shouldn't they be here by now?" asked Jason, looking at Percy with a sick expression on his face.
It was the fifth time he'd asked that in the past ten minutes, and though Percy sympathized with the guy, he was starting to lose patience.
"Blackjack will get them here safely," he said through gritted teeth. "Trust me on this."
Jason wrung his hands. "Sorry Percy. I just . . . I don't know . . ."
"I get it." Percy crossed the roof to put a hand on his shoulder and got shocked for his efforts. "Ah!"
"Sorry!" said Jason. He backed away a safe distance. "Sorry."
"Don't sweat it," said Percy. "Thalia will get here safely. Worry about anyone foolish enough to attack her if you've got to worry."
Jason stared at the skyline and shook his head. "I always wondered what happened to her. I thought she was dead, or sometimes that she might not have existed at all. I never thought I'd see her again. I don't even know what to do now. What if she hates me?"
Percy wanted to laugh, but any sense of joy or mirth had left him when he'd learned that Anubis had lost Nico's soul. He tried to smile though, for Jason's sake. "She won't."
"But I'm Roman! She's Greek! And according to Nico, we've had this Soc-Greaser rivalry thing going on for thousands of years!" said Jason desperately. "What if we can't get past it?"
Percy grabbed his shoulder again, and this time held on despite the jolt of electricity that traveled through his body. He was pretty sure that his hair was standing on end, but didn't care. What he had to say was too important to worry about trivial matters. "We will get past it. I know we will. We're a family. So trust me, cousin. Everything's going to be alright."
A hopeful smile crossed Jason's face. Then it wavered. "You know . . . we're not really family."
"The heck we're not," said Percy, unable to keep a bit of anger out of his voice.
"You know as well as I do that gods don't have DNA," said Jason.
"Family's not about DNA," said Percy firmly. "It's about bonds, and being there for each other. Nico's as good as a brother to me. Thalia's more than a friend, more like a real cousin. And I promise you, she's going to love you."
It felt weird to use the words 'love' and 'Thalia' in the same sentence, but Percy didn't doubt it was true. You only had to look at the new family Thalia had put together for herself after running away from home, and how fiercely she protected them to know how important family was to her. Percy didn't know how she had coped when Jason was taken from her, but guessed that it hadn't been well. It might have even been the trigger that caused her to finally run away from home. There wasn't a single doubt in his mind that she would want Jason back, and gods help anyone who stood in her way.
Jason took a deep breath and shuffled his feet awkwardly. Percy withdrew his hand, hoping he hadn't overstepped any boundaries. Jason may be his cousin, but the guy was pretty much a stranger to him. He wanted to get along with him badly, though, and not just because the fate of the world might depend on it. Jason was one of the few people in the world who understood what it was like to be the son of one of the Big Three, and from what Percy knew about him, he was a good guy. He'd stormed that torture-camp masquerading as a school to rescue Nico all by himself. When Nico's heart had been stopped, and Percy and Jason had to give him CPR, he'd kept his head. He'd been the one to save Nico . . . more or less. But Percy knew a hero when he saw one, and Jason definitely was one. He wanted to be friends with the Roman demigod. No. He wanted Jason as his cousin.
"Thanks," said Jason finally. "I just . . . You know that feeling you get before battle?"
"When you're imagining everything that can go wrong?" asked Percy.
"And you feel like you'll be sick, so you shove all those thoughts aside –"
"And refuse to let anything show through but confidence?"
"Exactly!" laughed Jason nervously. "I feel like that right now, except I'm not doing so good at faking confidence."
"Then I'll have to have enough for both of us," said Percy.
"This waiting's going to kill me," said Jason, but he laughed again, and didn't resume pacing. "Nico sure seems calm, considering we're fooling around with forces that could trigger a civil war."
"Nico is . . ." Currently not the one occupying his body. Used to dealing with a lot screwier things than impending civil wars. Going to be upset about missing new CSI episodes if his soul is lost too long. There were many ways that Percy could have answered that better than he did. ". . . a pretty calm guy. Okay, not usually. I think he's just tired right now. You know what, forget everything I just said. I don't . . . I don't want to lie or sow any distrust between us, and . . . I'll explain everything when Thalia and Annabeth get here."
Jason blinked at him then shrugged. "Do you think Nico's hurt or something?"
Percy resisted the temptation to pray or swear to any of the gods. "Let's go with 'or something.'"
"If he's hurt we need to do something," said Jason. "Get him some more unicorn draught or a hospital, though a hospital might be disastrous if they try to take blood samples –"
"He's not that kind of hurt," said Percy. "And he's going to be okay, but we're going to need Annabeth's and Thalia's help."
Jason considered his words for a moment and finally nodded. "I trust you. Nico trusts you too, you know. When he told me about you his voice took on an almost reverent tone. He told me you were his cousin as well as his best friend."
There was a tightness in Percy's throat when he heard that. He glanced across the roof at Nico. No, at Anubis who was just wearing Nico's face. For a second he felt sick.
"He also called you 'Hurricane Percy,'" said Jason, his tone lightening. "Personally, I think that's a pretty good name for you."
Percy forced himself to smile. "You're definitely Thalia's brother. That's exactly the kind of thing she would say to get on my nerves."
"Hey, it's a good name. Almost like a title. Or a superhero name."
Percy blanched at that. "Do us both a favor and do not mention superheroes in front of Nico."
"Why?" Jason asked.
"Because if you do, he'll get ideas, and the next thing you know, he'll be blackmailing you into going to Comic Con dressed as Thor."
Jason's eyebrows knitted together. "You said it would be a favor to us both. Who do you think he'd make you go as? Or has he already made you go as someone?"
"I'd tell you, but you'd lose all respect for me," said Percy.
"Don't tell me, he made you go as Namor!"
"I don't know who that is."
"Aquaman then?" laughed Jason and Percy turned away flushing with embarrasment. "Ha! It was Aquaman. Awesome!"
"He made your sister go as Wonder Woman," said Percy. "While he went as Batman."
Jason laughed and shook his head. "Somehow that's so fitting. You guys . . . you sound like you have lots of fun together."
Percy paused to think that over. Jason was right, he realized. Most of the time, Percy tended to remember the bad times. The stressful situations and the dangers that came with their mere existence. The fights and the pain. But when he thought about it, the fun times and light moments more than balanced out the bad. "We'll have even more now that you're joining the party," he promised Jason.
Before the Roman demigod could respond, a pegasus's neighing split the air. They turned toward the harbor and saw two of the winged horses heading right toward them.
"Is that -"
"Yeah," said Percy. "And, uh, you better let me make introductions before you try to hug Thalia or anything. Not sure if you would have, but she's not likely to take it well until she knows who you are. Hunter of Artemis and all. The no dating policy and whatnot."
"Right." Jason didn't sound so good, even on that one syllable. Percy turned toward him and frowned, seeing that the Roman demigod looked rather green.
"Are you alright, dude?"
"Gods . . . I feel like a total pansy, but I think I might be sick."
Percy put a hand on his shoulder and ignored the shock he got again. "Just breathe, man."
Blackjack and Porkpie reached the roof and lit down on it, and Annabeth and Thalia slid off their sides. They strode forward, confusion and concern in their eyes. Percy saw them glance at Jason. Annabeth gave him a onceover, then dismissed him. Thalia started to look away, then her head snapped back to the blonde boy and her eyes slowly widened.
"Percy, what's going on?" asked Annabeth. "Is everything alright?"
Thalia opened her mouth like she wanted to say something, but a strangled sound was all that came out of her mouth. The noise caught Annabeth's attention, and she looked back at her friend, then followed her gaze back to Jason. Her gray eyes narrowed dangerously and her hand fell to her dagger hilt.
"Whose this?" demanded Annabeth.
"He's one of the reasons I asked you guys to come here tonight," said Percy, pressing his hand on Jason's back and guiding him forward toward Thalia a few steps. "Thalia, this –"
"Thalia," croaked Jason, stepping forward of his own volition now. "I don't . . . I don't know how to tell you this, but . . . I'm Jason. I'm your brother."
For a moment all Thalia could do was stare. Then she hurried forward and embraced her little brother. There was a loud crackle of electricity, like a miniature thunderclap, and Percy, standing close by, was blown backwards, off his feet.
Annabeth hurried to his side, now looking alarmed and confused. Neither of the Grace siblings even seemed to notice. Thalia had pulled back an arm's length, though she still held onto her brother tightly, her eyes taking in every detail about his face.
"It is you," she said, her voice surprisingly huskly. "Thank Artemis. It's you."
"Hey Sissy," said Jason.
Percy raised an eyebrow. Thalia had once allowed herself to be called 'Sissy?' He filed this away to us later for blackmail and let Annabeth help him back to his feet.
"What's going on?" Annabeth asked.
"Long story short, Nico found Thalia's long lost brother," said Percy. He wrapped an arm around Annabeth's waist and guided her toward where Nico, no, Anubis, was sitting, watching the proceedings with expressionless eyes. "Let's give them a few minutes. I think they need it."
"I don't think it's safe for us to be here, Percy," said Annabeth, looking around nervously. "You should have had this reunion at Camp Half-Blood. Four kids of the Big Three in one place? We're asking for a horde of monsters to come calling."
"This place is protected," Percy told her. "By Egyptian magic. Some of Nico's House of Life friends –"
"The House of Life are not our friends," hissed Annabeth.
Percy sighed. "This is a really, really long story. I have some serious explaining to do to you and Thalia both, and I owe you a huge apology. A lot of huge apologies. I haven't been completely honest with you about some things, and I am so, so, sorry. But you have to believe me –"
"Did you cheat on me?" Annabeth asked, looking horrified and stricken.
"What? No! Never!" said Percy quickly. "I swear on the Styx, no! The stuff I lied to you about . . . Thalia too . . . it was to try and protect people. Nico, mainly, but the rest of the world would have been in danger too. I'm not doing a very good job of explaining, am I?"
"No," said Annabeth, but she looked much calmer now, and there was relief in her eyes. "You're really not. Why don't you start at the beginning?"
"I will," promised Percy. "But let me wait until Thalia and Jason are ready. It's a very long and complicated story, and they need to hear it too."
Thalia usually prided herself on keeping her emotions in check. All of them but anger at least. The tears that were stinging her eyes now felt foreign and strange to her.
"I've missed you," said Jason, his voice breaking midsentence.
"I missed you too. I thought you were dead," said Thalia.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"Don't apologize, dummy," said Thalia. She hugged him again. "It's not your fault. None of it. But where have you been? Gods, I've looked everywhere for you."
"I've been at Camp Jupiter," Jason told her.
"Camp Jupiter?" Thalia had never heard of it.
"The Roman demigod camp," said Jason. "Percy and Nico told me you started at Camp Half-Blood, then joined the Hunters of Artemis. I'd never heard of either before tonight."
Thalia put one hand to her head. "What is going on?"
"I don't know. I don't really care either right now. Gods, I'm sorry, I'm not usually this much of a wuss," said Jason, and Thalia could tell from his voice that he was crying, as he buried his face against her shoulder. "I'm not even sad. I'm just so glad I got my sister back. I have a family again."
Thalia tightened her grip on Jason and stopped blinking back her own tears. "There, there, little brother," she said huskily. "Everything's alright now. Everything's alright."
They stayed that way for a long time. Thalia didn't know how long. She forgot about her cousins and friend sitting off to the side, waiting for them to finish, forgot about everything except the boy, nearly a man now, who she held in her arms. She didn't want to let him go again, ever. Even though he'd been just a baby the last time she'd seen him, the image of the nearly grown man before her now just fit. He still had that scar. He still had that adorable smile. Gods, he even still smelled the same. Thalia would have known him anywhere.
After awhile, she stopped crying. Soon after, so did Jason. He gave her a tentative smile. She returned it whole-heartedly, and reached up to ruffle his hair, like she'd done so long ago. "Everything's alright," she told him again.
"I know," said Jason, his smile more confident now. He glanced over her shoulder. "Percy and Nico have some stuff to tell us. About this whole Greek-Roman thing. And the Egyptian magicians –"
"Egyptian magicians? You mean the House of Life?" Suddenly, Thalia was struck with realization. "Were they the ones that took you? I'll kill them. I'll kill them all –"
"No, they didn't take me," said Jason quickly. "They're Nico's friends, or family, or I don't know for sure, but they definitely had nothing to do with us being separated. I'd never even had any dealings with them before I met Nico."
"Nico isn't House of Life," said Thalia, thoroughly confused now.
"Are you sure? Or maybe he's not House of Life, but he's definitely Egyptian –"
"No, Nico's Italian. I remember him bemoaning this fact very loudly once."
"But . . . never mind. I think we should talk with them to figure this out," said Jason.
"You're right," decided Thalia. "Those two have been hiding something for about a year now. I think it's time they told us what it was. Come on. And stay close. I don't want you getting lost again."
Thalia reached out her hand to take Jason's then froze, realizing what she'd just said, and what she was doing. She suddenly felt ridiculous. Trying to hold her younger brother's hand had been all fine and well when he was two, but now? Now he was her age! Maybe older! What had she been thinking?
She was startled out of her embarrassment when Jason took her hand. When she looked at him uncertainly, he smiled warmly. "Yes, ma'am," he told her.
Thalia laughed, though more tears sprang to her eyes as she led her little brother over to Annabeth and their cousins. It was time to find out what all this was about.
"You guys good?" asked Percy when Thalia and Jason came over, hand in hand. They looked like they were OK, if you could see past their red eyes.
"Yeah," they said in unison, then looked at each other and smiled.
"Better than I've been in a long time," said Thalia.
"Likewise," agreed Jason.
"Alright, then," said Percy. "Explanation time, I guess."
He glanced around, trying to decide where to begin.
"I guess I'll start with the easier part first. Or at least the part that no one's going to get mad at Nico and me for. Annabeth, this is Jason Grace, by the way. Son of Jupiter, and Thalia's brother. Jason, my girlfriend, Annabeth, daughter of Athena."
Annabeth looked at Jason suspiciously. "A son of Jupiter?"
Jason looked equally troubled by Annabeth. "A daughter of Athena?"
"There are two camps of demigods," Anubis spoke up. "One Greek, one Roman. Your gods have kept the two factions separate, because whenever you meet, disaster arises. Your kind were responsible for the American Civil War."
Percy glared at him. "Thank you, Mr. Optimism."
"I'm only telling it how it is. There is a reason your gods have not allowed you all to meet."
"They can take their reason and screw it," snapped Thalia. "No one's taking my brother from me again."
Jason nodded his agreement. "We're staying together now."
Percy too agreed. "We need to stand together now. We're stronger as a family, and we've got a problem on our hands that I think will need the best minds from all factions involved to solve. And by that I mean us Greeks, the Romans . . . and the Egyptians as well."
As though on cue, the rooftop door opened, and Carter and Sadie came out. They looked haggard from the events of the night that the Brooklyn House kids had gone through. Sadie's hands were bandaged, and Carter had dark circles under his eyes.
"You guys again?" Annabeth asked, looking at them in surprise. "What are you . . . oh . . . Hades." Her mind seemed to make the right connections from the information she had. "You guys are House of Life!"
"What?!" demanded Thalia. "Then how did they get into Camp Half-Blood way back when? They shouldn't have made it through the borders!"
"Except that they got a direct invitation . . . Kind of. Brendan and Clarisse brought them through the borders in that chariot, which I guess counts as an invitation. Or something," said Percy. "We're kind of getting ahead of things. I think I should start back at the beginning. Maybe we should sit down. Carter and Sadie should, at least. You guys look about ready to fall over. You okay?"
"We all made it back alive," said Sadie. She rubbed her eyes. "That's more than the Texas Nome can say."
They all sat down. Thalia and Annabeth were regarding Sadie and Carter with suspicion. Jason just looked confused.
"It started last spring," said Percy. "Annabeth, you remember that night I had the dream that Nico was in trouble, and was trying to convince you and Chiron that he needed help? It was right before the gods started seeing to it that we were warned about the House of Life."
"I remember," said Annabeth. "Hades thought Nico had been kidnapped by the House of Life, but it turned out to be a false alarm."
"Not really," said Percy. "The situation just turned out to be really complicated and . . . and . . . what's the word?"
"Volatile," supplied Anubis.
"Yeah, that," agreed Percy. "See, we couldn't tell Hades or any of our other gods the truth about what happened, without risking a war, either between the Greek and Egyptian pantheons, or all Greek demigods and the House of Life."
"So what really happened?" asked Thalia.
"What happened that night was that Carter and I ran into Nico, purely by chance, in Central Park," said Sadie. "We were running from some House of Life agents who were after us, because . . . I guess we have to back up even more to explain that."
"The Christmas before last, Apophis, the Egyptian chaos god, started rising," said Carter. "To counter him, the five most powerful Egyptian gods were broken free from the relics that the House of Life had sealed them away in. They were Osiris, Isis, Horus, Set, and Nephthys. Sadie and I were possessed by Isis and Horus, respectively. Our father was possessed by Osiris, our uncle by Set, and my kind-of girlfriend by Nephthys."
"That would be Zia," added Anubis. "Jason met her in San Francisco."
"We managed to delay his first return attempt," said Carter. "But the price was that the House of Life thought we were fugitives, for using the powers of the gods and following the old paths. While we tried to find more kids with the blood of the pharaohs to join our fight against Apophis, they tried to stop us. We were running from two of their agents; Aziza and Hakim, when we ran into Nico."
"Very literally in my case," said Sadie. "I actually landed right on top of him."
"Aziza and Hakim thought that he was a magician who we'd recruited, and tried to scare him off," said Carter. "They made it clear that they were planning to kill Sadie and I. Nico didn't know us at all then, but I guess you know how he would have felt about a couple of adults planning to kill a couple of kids."
"Oh gods, what did he do?" asked Annabeth. "Did he open a chasm to Hades?"
"Yeah. But he didn't kill them there. Just their jackal familiar," said Carter. "He made it clear that he wasn't going to stand by and let them kill us. So they attacked him. Aziza used the Ribbons of Hathor on him, which are a life based attack. On a death god's son . . ."
"Gods," said Annabeth. "That could have killed him."
"I'm not sure it didn't," said Sadie, glancing at Nico/Anubis.
"Nico's soul was somehow sent to the Egyptian Underworld," said Carter. "He met Anubis there. From what I understand, Anubis was both surprised and annoyed by his appearance."
"Nico tried to shadow travel out, but when he did, the attempt hurt him. Anubis tried to steady him, but when he touched him, something happened. Their souls fused. Anubis inadvertently possessed Nico, the same way Horus and Isis deliberately possessed Sadie and I. But Anubis found that he couldn't unpossess him," said Carter.
"What?" asked Thalia and Annabeth in unison.
"But that's impossible!" said Annabeth. "It's in all the old information we have! The Egyptian gods cannot take demigods as hosts! Even trying usually kills us!"
"I know it should have been impossible," said Anubis. "But somehow it happened."
"Nico was unconscious for awhile after that," said Percy. "Sadie and Carter took him back with them and took care of him. I went searching for him. When I found him, we had a bit of a misunderstanding at first. But eventually we worked things out and realized that we weren't enemies. But right as we figured that out, Aziza and Hakim arrived and attacked us. Nothing like a common enemy to bring allies together."
"We had a nice, long, harrowing adventure, on which Aziza kept trying to kill or kidnap us, and eventually did kidnap Nico and I," said Sadie. "Hades had made his demands of the House of Life by then, you see. Hand over his son and the ones who kidnapped him or everyone dies. But I wasn't too keen on being used as a scapegoat and dying, and we couldn't let Hades know that Nico was hosting Anubis, or there still would have been war."
"Percy, Bast, and I launched an attack on the First Nome. That's the House of Life's headquarters. We freed Nico and Sadie –"
"Okay, they freed themselves," amended Carter. "But we helped them escape. Then . . . well . . ."
"We bluffed like hell and somehow managed to trick Hades into not realizing Nico was possessed by Anubis," said Sadie.
"So that misadventure ended with us demigods being alerted to the House of Life as potential enemies, but without us going to war with them," said Percy. "Nico and I became friends with Sadie and Carter. We didn't manage to figure out a way to unpossess Nico, we still haven't actually, but Nico figured out how to cope with it, and started learning Egyptian magic. For awhile, things were okay, until the next time things got mixed between the Greeks and Egyptians. That was when Sadie and Carter unwittingly got taken to Camp Half-Blood."
"Again, we were running for our lives," said Sadie. "We stumbled upon one of your extraction teams being attacked by a hellhound."
"It's always hellhounds," muttered Jason.
"We helped the demigods out, then used them as a means of escape," continued Carter. "Got taken to camp, and immediately started working on how to get out of there. That was when the Hunters showed up, and those murders started happening. You know how the story went."
"Actually, I don't," said Jason.
"One of the other demigods brought in by the extraction team, a little girl named Maya, was a former student at Heart of Liberty," said Anubis. "She killed a daughter of Aphrodite during a capture the flag game. But no one knew it was her at the time. That ignited tensions between the campers and the Hunters. They're rivals at the best of times, and always on slightly worse terms with the children of Aphrodite. She was killed by an arrow stabbed into her back. You can guess how it looked."
"Like a Hunter killed her?"
"Nico wasn't able to get Sadie and Carter out that night. But the next morning, a Hunter was killed. That made the situation worse. If anyone discovered they were Egyptian magicians, suspicion would have immediately fallen upon then," said Percy. "But I guess I should point out that Chiron figured out the truth about them at some point. But he trusted Nico's judgment of them and didn't out them or have them arrested or anything."
"Nico was the one who figured out who the killer really was. Just in time, actually. She tried to kill Sadie. Nico stopped her just in time," remembered Annabeth.
"And after that, Nico got Sadie and Carter out of camp, now that they were no longer suspects and wouldn't be hunted down," said Percy. "He had a few other misadventures with the Brooklyn House kids, that didn't end in disaster. I even helped out on occasion when they needed it."
"And saved our bacon," added Carter. "We would have all been slaughtered if not for you and Nico."
Percy shrugged off the praise modestly. "We've tried to figure out ways to separate Nico's soul from Anubis's but so far haven't managed to find a way."
"Then, a week or so ago, Nico, Felix, and I were on a trip to some geeky game shop when we ran into Piers, a son of Kratos who'd been at that bloody school and had the weird blue eyes," said Sadie. "Nico took news of that fruitloop to his camp, blah, blah, blah, ended up infiltrating the school, and apparently met you there, Roman boy. And let me tell you, my last experience with Romans was not so good –"
"But we're not dwelling on that," said Carter. "Those were zombie-ghost Romans, which Jason here is clearly not."
"We need to leave all our differences and prejudices aside," said Percy sternly. "Right now it doesn't matter if you're Greek, Roman, or Egyptian. We are all in very deep trouble because of the after effects of this last mission that Nico and Jason were on."
"But the mission was a success," protested Jason.
"Officially, and as far as both our camps are concerned, yes," said Percy, "but there's something you don't know." He looked at Anubis.
"Before long, we'll be back where we were before, trying to keep Hades from starting a war with the Egyptian pantheon," said Anubis. "We've managed to hide the fact that our souls were fused so far. But now we have a bigger problem, and one that Hades won't fail to notice next time he sees Nico. Nico is gone."
"Gone? What do you mean he's 'gone?'" demanded Sadie.
"Anubis is the one in control right now," said Percy wearily. "And Nico's soul and consciousness are missing."
"I don't understand," said Jason, looking sick. "He's not . . . is he dead?"
"No. At least I don't think so," said Anubis. "I don't know what happened to him."
"I don't believe this!" Annabeth stood up and threw her hands up. "This – out of everything that could possibly - This is unbelievable!" She rounded on Percy. "How could you let this happen?"
Percy didn't even try to deny the blame. "I'm sorry."
"It wasn't his fault," Anubis spoke up for him. "The blame is mine."
"When did this happen? How long have you been Anubis?" asked Jason, looking supremely unsettled.
"Since that machine exploded," said Anubis.
"Then it's my fault," realized Jason. "Nico got hit by that blast because he was saving me. If he hadn't –"
"Then you would have been hit?" asked Thalia, looking at him in horror at the thought. Percy could almost hear her thoughts. She'd almost lost Jason before she even got him back.
"What machine was this?" asked Sadie. "How could an explosion make Anubis lose Nico's soul?"
"It was a machine that was suppressing our demigod powers somehow," said Jason. He shook his head then put his hands up to either temple and shook his head. "I tried to unplug it and it started sucking out my powers. It was the worst feeling in the world, like my soul was being drug right out of me. Then Nico saved me. He sliced through the cord with his Stygian iron sword. Then the machine exploded, the crystal part of it, and he shielded me from it with his own body. The shards that hit me, they burned so badly I could barely think. But Nico got hit with so many more of them than me. I would never have managed to pull all those shards out of him if his blood hadn't burnt them away. And then I saw he wasn't breathing and didn't have a pulse. Gods . . ."
"That's when I entered, I think," said Percy when Jason's voice broke. "And Jason managed to restart Nico's heart . . . scarab thing."
"What?" asked Thalia.
Percy looked at Anubis who pulled up his shirt to show the black stone scarab that had replaced his heart. "That happened when Nico first got his soul fused to Anubis's. We don't know how or why. There is a prophecy that mentions it. Do you guys know who the Mad Oracle was?"
"Cassandra?" asked Jason. "The Mad Oracle?"
"Her prophecies can't be trusted," said Annabeth immediately. "She was called the 'Mad Oracle' for a reason."
"Because she tried to fuse Egyptian and Greek magics," said Sadie. "She tried to host your oracle and a minor Egyptian goddess at the same time and it was like combining AC and DC currents and blew up in her face."
"So how do we get Nico's soul back?" demanded Jason. "Does the prophecy say?"
"It doesn't mention anything about Nico losing his soul," said Carter. "This . . . Good Ra, this is not . . ."
"This is why I called everyone here together," said Percy. "Because I have the feeling we're going to need everyone's help for this. We've got to find out where Nico's soul is, and how to get it back before Hades sends him a summons. I don't know how long that's going to be. But if he finds out that Nico's soul is gone, and his body is possessed by Anubis, then one way or another, there's going to be war."
"And we can't afford that, now of all times," said Carter. "Apophis is about to make his move."
"Yeah, the Egyptians have an apocalypse going on this weekend," said Percy.
"We have it covered," growled Sadie.
"Mostly," said Carter. "At the very least, we have a contingency plan."
"What would that be?" asked Percy.
"A last ditch effort that will probably get the two of us killed," said Sadie.
"Don't get killed," snapped Annabeth. "We're going to need you for the Egyptian side of this mess. I don't know enough to formulate a plan yet, but I know that at least."
Percy breathed a shaky sigh of relief. Annabeth was on board. She'd been the one he needed with him the most. Not just because she was his best friend and girlfriend, and he was better for her presence in his life, but because her planning skills would be invaluable in this. If anyone could figure this out it was her.
His eyes skimmed over Sadie and Carter, who he knew would be in on this no matter what. They were almost as close to Nico as he was. As long as they lived, they would be there for him. His gaze then settled on Thalia and Jason. The children of the king of the gods. They could do this without them, Percy was sure. But he didn't want to. They were stronger as a family. And they needed a united front now. Camp Half-Blood. Camp Jupiter. The Hunters of Artemis. And the House of Life.
As though they felt his gaze on them, both Grace siblings looked up.
"Are you with us?" asked Percy, and gave a silent prayer to Hestia.
They looked at each other, and saw their answer mirrored in the other's face.
"Of course," said Jason. "Nico saved my life. My soul, actually. That would have been me if he hadn't saved me. I'll do whatever I can to save him now."
"Me too," said Thalia. "He found my brother for me. And was there to save him when I couldn't be. I owe him. And he's my cousin too."
"Should we all put our hands in the middle and shout 'Go team!' now?" asked Sadie.
"Let's skip that and get this mission started," said Annabeth coolly. "First order of business is this Egyptian apocalypse. There's no point in getting Nico's soul back for him if there's not going to be a world for him to live in."
"Leave the Apophis to us," said Sadie.
Annabeth turned and looked at Percy, asking a silent question.
He nodded at her. "They're like the Egyptian equivalent of us. Except, you know, brother and sister instead of dating like us. Or just being best friends, like we were most of our adventures. Which is not to say they're not best friends too, but –"
"You should shut up for awhile, Percy," advised Thalia, taking note of Annabeth's stormy expression.
Percy winced. He'd known Annabeth wouldn't appreciate his deceptions. So he'd known this was coming. They've have to talk about this later, he knew, but for now this was what they had to do. Plan stuff out. Annabeth was doing exactly what he needed her to do. Angry with him or not, she was always there for him. But he had the feeling that the longer they put their talk off the worse it was going to turn out for him. Nothing he could do about that now.
"Right. Briefly put, these guys are the best Egyptian magicians the world has to offer," said Percy. "They've had the fate of the world in their hands before, and we're all still here. If anyone can beat the chaos snake, it'll be them."
"Very high praise from the greatest Greek hero," noted Thalia, then added cockily, "aside from yours truly. I'd say we can trust them."
"You can," said Anubis.
"Alright," said Annabeth. "We'll leave the apocalypse to you. Percy, you're the only other one of us who knows anything about this Egyptian stuff, aside from Nico. I mean Anubis now. Whatever. He doesn't count."
"Thanks so much," muttered Anubis.
"Shut up." Annabeth glared at him.
"Annabeth!" said Percy.
"I'll work with him, but that doesn't mean I have to like him!" snapped Annabeth. "Nico was my friend too, Percy! I don't like looking at him and seeing someone else looking back at me through his eyes!"
Percy was shocked to see that there were actually tears in her eyes. "I'm sorry," he said quickly.
"For whatever it's worth, so am I," said Anubis huskily. "Nico was my friend too. He was like my brother. I would never intentionally hurt him. Or steal his life."
"The plan," said Annabeth, snapping her head up again. "We just need to focus on the plan. So . . . Percy, you're on loan to Sadie and Carter. You seem to have enough background with them to be able to work with them. If they need extra muscle, you're their go-to guy."
Percy couldn't help but wonder if she'd assigned him to work with the Kanes because she didn't want to look at him at the moment. But her decision did make the most sense. He could see why she wanted the Kanes to have backup in the form of someone she trusted. And honestly he was glad to be there for them.
"Jason, I assume you'll need to be reporting back to your camp?" asked Annabeth.
"Yes. Kind of. Technically, I'm on furlough. Vacation. We couldn't officially place anymore agents in the school, so I came to do what little I could. But they're going to want to know how this all went down."
"You'll be cleanup and research on the Roman end of things then," said Annabeth. "I'll be doing the same in the Greek camp. We need to search whatever libraries or scroll collections we have access to and find out anything about this that we can. Also, we'll need information from the Heart of Liberty school –"
"I copied some files," said Anubis. "Or at least Nico did, using Jason's camera."
"I forgot about that," admitted Jason.
"There are computers here. We can access the pictures here so you each have copies," said Anubis.
"I also want that soul sucking machine," said Annabeth. "If we figure out how it works that could be the key to reversing it. Maybe. I need more information to know for sure. Anubis, you have access to Nico's shadow travel powers?"
"Yes. Though my control and skill are not as good as his."
"Get me that machine then. I don't care if you have to bring it piece by piece, we need it here."
"He can use his Duat storage locker to get it all here at once," said Sadie.
"That's kind of like a pocket dimension of storage that he can access," explained Carter when Annabeth gave them an inquisitive look.
"What about me?" asked Thalia. "What do you want me doing?"
"Research as well," said Annabeth. "Sorry, Thalia. But we don't have anything to go on at all, and need some kind of lead or direction. Until we have one, all we can do is search for straws to grasp at."
"I get it," said Thalia. "And I'll do whatever I can."
"We'll use Iris messages to keep in touch, of course," said Annabeth. "Or can you Egyptians not use those?"
"We've seen them, but we've never tried using them," said Sadie.
"Jason is not familiar with them either," said Anubis.
"You know, this would be much easier if you demigods could use cell phones," said Sadie.
"Well they can't, so we'll deal with it," said Carter. "So how do we make this work?"
Annabeth tapped one finger against her lips, thinking hard. "Thalia, you teach Jason how IMs work. That way all us demigods will be able to contact each other. Nico, I mean Anubis, can be our link to the Egyptians. Percy too, while he's on loan to them. Maybe we can figure something out in the meantime. But everyone has their part of the plan now. That's all we can do until we get more information."
"Where would you like the machine, Annabeth?" asked Anubis.
"I don't know," admitted Annabeth. "I'd say Camp Half-Blood, but I can't show anyone what I'm doing."
"How about here?" asked Sadie. "This place is warded and has plenty of rooms."
"Alright. Here then," said Annabeth.
"I'll go get the machine then," said Anubis. He closed his eyes and concentrated, and then was swallowed by the shadows.
"Hey, I actually don't have to go back to camp immediately," said Jason. "They're not expecting me back at any particular time, and I wouldn't be able to start researching anything until morning. Maybe . . . would it be alright if I hung out with you tonight, Thalia?"
Thalia visibly brightened. "Of course. I only just found you again. I can put up with you for at least a night before you start getting annoying. Is that all for now then, Annabeth?"
The daughter of Athena nodded. "I can't think of anything else we need to go over tonight. I should probably get back to Camp. I'll explain that mess of a mission Nico was on to Chiron, and figure out a reason for why Nico's not the one reporting back. When Nico, I mean Anubis gets back, tell him to print off those pictures. I'll pick up a copy of them tomorrow. For now, I better get back." She paused slightly and addressed the Kanes. "Good luck with your apocalypse."
"Thanks," said Sadie with a smile that wasn't particularly nice. "We'll let you know how it goes."
The Kanes headed back into the house. Thalia and Jason went to Porkpie, while Annabeth started toward Blackjack.
"Annabeth, wait," said Percy quickly.
"I'm tired Percy," said Annabeth. "This can wait."
"No, it can't," said Percy.
"It's waited this long. It can wait another day."
"No, I disagree," said Percy. "Please. I know you're angry. To some extent you have a right to be –"
"To some extent?" demanded Annabeth. "You're my boyfriend! And you've been lying to my face for months! About something this important! Then you went and messed it up this badly?"
"I'm sorry," said Percy. He didn't know what else to say? "I wasn't – There weren't . . . it was –"
"How could you not tell me the truth?" demanded Annabeth. She looked at him with angry tears in her eyes.
"I'm sorry," said Percy again. "I had to make a choice. I could either betray Nico's trust and tell you, or keep it and hide the truth from you." He paused for a second. "You might hate me for saying this, but if I had to do it again, I'd do the same thing."
"Why?" asked Annabeth. "You don't trust me?"
"I trust you," said Percy. "But it wasn't my secret to tell. And Nico's been betrayed by enough people in his life. I didn't think he deserved to have that happen again."
Annabeth looked away angrily but didn't say anything to that. Perhaps she realized the truth of it. "I would have tried to help, you know."
"I wish you'd told me."
"I'm still angry at you."
"I'm going to be angry at you for awhile."
"What can I do to help you forgive me?" asked Percy.
"Stay alive. Don't get killed helping them. I'll never forgive you if you get killed," said Annabeth. "In fact I'll never speak to you again."
"I figured," said Percy. He hesitated, then said three words that always made him embarrassed and self conscious, but he felt like he owed it to Annabeth to voice them anyway. "I love you."
Annabeth turned watery eyes on him, then lunged at him. Percy was taken by surprise, but caught her in his arms, and returned the rather violent, angry kiss that Annabeth pressed onto his lips.
"I love you too," she said as she pulled back. Then she turned toward Blackjack again. "Good night."
Percy watched her go, not sure what he felt right then. Annabeth had always been a good kisser. But somehow, when angry, she turned into an amazing kisser. He didn't think it was worth it to make her angry more often, for that reason alone, but . . . damn . . .
Out the corner of his eye, he saw he had an audience. Thalia was shaking her head. Jason gave Percy a nod and a discreet thumbs-up that his sister couldn't see before climbing up onto Porkpie's back behind her.
Percy watched his friends leave then turned to go back into Brooklyn House with the Kanes.
Overall, things had gone well. And they'd get better. Percy was sure of that now. They had a good team. The best. And strongest. Children of all of the Big Three, as well as two of the world's most powerful Egyptian magicians, and Annabeth with her amazing mind. They would find a way to fix this.
But two weeks later they were no closer to finding a solution, and Percy was starting to despair.
I've been sick and in the hospital again, which was why this fic was so much later than I said it would be. I'm scrambling to save my GPA now, so I have no idea when I'll be able to update again. But don't worry, I haven't abandoned the story. I couldn't leave Nico with his soul permanently lost.
I've written Jason and Thalia's reunion a bit more emotional because Jason has his memories in this AU when he meets her. In the real storyline, he was amnesiac and only had enough memory to recognize her as his sister. Here he's been missing her for over a decade. And Thalia lost a bit of her tough façade in the face of her baby brother's tears. A little sibling's tears can do that to you.