Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Rick Riordan. I just like playing around with his characters every once in a while.

"He pushed that thought away. He didn't like painful memories. Keep moving - that was his motto. Don't dwell in things. Don't stay in one place too long. It was the only way to stay ahead of the sadness." - The Lost Hero, Rick Riordan.

I can still remember the day our next-door neighbor finally got a kid.

His name was Leo, and he was around ten years old when he first entered the neighborhood. He had a mop of wild curly hair, coffee skin, and bright eyes that glinted mischievously in the April sun. When I first asked about him Mother told me he was the new foster child of Mr. and Mrs. Santiago, our next-door neighbor. I was seven when he came in and I didn't know what "foster child" meant, but I didn't care. All I cared for was that I finally had a new playmate.

Growing up, a lot of people noticed how much of an odd kid Leo was. I noticed some of his quirks too, like how he loved to fiddle with metal scraps and create things, but I hardly paid any attention to it. In school, Leo was really funny. He loved to make jokes and embarrass the teacher, which was probably the reason why he earned the Class Clown award. Looking back though, I feel like there was more to him than those silly faces and sarcastic remarks. They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul, and behind those wide, chocolate orbs I had often seen an unexpected amount of pain and sadness. Now that I think about it, perhaps his silliness was merely a mask he had fashioned in order to hide all his weaknesses.

Naturally being the class favorite had some downsides as well. Because Leo was becoming popular among the students, others became jealous of him and tried to pick on him. Compared to most students Leo was small, but this provided the agility and nimbleness that he needed in order to escape from the rough hands of the big kids. Of course the bullies continued to pester him and often taunted him about his mother who had apparently died in a fire, but Leo would brush these off his sleeves and give them a crazy, painful grin. He never let the bullies get to him, and I was amazed with it.

Leo wasn't the only victim of these big guys. They bullied me too, perhaps as much as they had bullied Leo. I guess that's why I was amazed at how he would handle everything so smoothly. My mother was a single mom, and when these bullies found out that I had no father they taunted me mercilessly about it. There was one time where they tried to bully me into giving them their lunch. I was sitting all alone in one of the school benches, and nobody was milling around the area which was why they found the timing perfect. They asked for my lunch and I remember refusing, which would have been the reason why they started to pick on me. They called my mother several nasty names and laughed gruesomely about it, and so I threw them my lunch and ran tearfully to the library. I liked the library because it was really quiet, and people rarely go in there. And at that time, I really didn't want to be with anybody.

As I was sloppily making my way to my safe haven, I accidentally bumped on somebody and fell to the ground. I must have muttered a thousand "sorrys", and he must have seen my tear-stained face because he asked if I was okay. I raised my head, and saw that it was Leo Valdez.

What happened next is somewhat hazy in my mind, but I remember a long conversation and sitting on the hallway floors.

We talked about our lives; he shared some things about his mom and I shared some about mine. I told him about my mom and how she fell in love with my dad, and how he "vanished" even before she could tell him that she was pregnant with me. I told him how my grandparents would not accept me as their flesh and blood; how they had disinherited my mom after they found out about me, and shunned her away. These were topics that I never shared with anyone before, particularly since it was a sensitive topic. But with Leo, I felt comfortable in divulging these secrets. I told him these things and he listened to me, and his company was enough to make me feel better.

I didn't expect him to share his own story though, but when after I finished talking, he immediately began with his own sad tale. I sat in silence as he told me how she had died in a fire, and how things became more complicated for him after that. He was sent to several foster homes, and when I asked him about his dad, he shot me a silly smile and said:

"Don't know. Never knew him. He's probably dead for all I know. But the only way to move nowadays is forward, right?"

We talked for hours with no end, even though he did not expound on certain topics like I did. I didn't mind in the least because by the end of the day, despite the lack of details, I learned so much about Leo Valdez than anybody has probably ever known.

We walked home together afterwards. He looked like my big brother. Before he fully dropped me off though he told me how people easily forgot about him. How nobody remembers a boy with a mop of curly brown hair, coffee skin and bright eyes. I told him that it wasn't true, and that I'd always remember him because he was nice. He gave me one last crazy grin, walked down the road, and never came back.

The next day Leo Valdez was gone. Mr. and Mrs. Santiago searched for him frantically, but the police concluded that he might have ran away. I felt mad at him for doing that but I also felt sad because I had lost a good friend. That was five years ago.

And I still remember the day a boy with a mop of curly brown hair, coffee skin, and bright eyes entered the neighborhood and decided to be momentarily part of my life.

And I remember the day he vanished into thin air.

A/N: I've always admired Leo in the HoO Series, and though he is always portrayed to be happy and mischievous, I figured there was something else deeper to him than what meets the eye. I wanted to write something about that, thus, this story was born.

Let me know what you think?