~* Chapter Twelve *~
Percy's temperature was much better the following morning (just barely under a hundred), but Poseidon still insisted on taking it easy around the house. He thought it was a good plan for all of two hours, which was about when the complaining started. Percy sulked on the couch, giving his pathetic little coughs at frequent intervals yet still intermediately complaining. Poseidon wasn't amused. The next day, Percy repeatedly insisted that he was perfectly fine (his rattling cough and inability to eat a whole meal said otherwise), complained loudly about being bored, and generally just gave Poseidon a headache.
"If you can eat all your lunch then maybe we'll go out," Poseidon ground out between clenched teeth when Percy's grumbling got obnoxious enough.
Percy slouched down in his seat, moodily knocking his spoon against the side of his half-eaten soup, "Your eyes are bigger than my stomach, it's not my fault I can't eat all of it."
"It's just over half a bowl," Poseidon groaned, rubbing his temple. "And you haven't eaten anything all day."
Percy muttered something unintelligible and his father's eye twitched.
"What was that?"
"Nothing," Percy sighed loudly.
He blindly moved his spoon around for the next few minutes, the metal clanging noisily against the side of the bowl and eating away at what little patience Poseidon had left. He tried to eat a few bites, bringing a marginally full spoon up to his mouth, but Poseidon doubted any soup actually got in his mouth. Finally, Percy sighed and pushed the bowl away from him. His mouth opened, clearly intending to continue bellyaching and moaning, so Poseidon stood up, making sure his chair scraped against the ground so the boy would know he was leaving.
"Fine then," Poseidon said curtly, "if you're so fine then we will go out." Percy's head perked up at the statement. "And you can also take care of your own bowl."
No objections came from Percy, who, in his excitement, got to his feet so fast he swayed dizzily for a moment. Poseidon had no sympathy for him. After Percy took care of his half-eaten lunch and took five minutes to find and pull on his shoes, Poseidon ushered him out to the car.
"Does Nereid run things while you're away?" Percy asked, fidgeting in his seat as Poseidon started the car.
"Yes, but we're not going to the aquarium," Poseidon said and out of the corner of his eye, he could see the boy frown. Serves him right, Poseidon thought.
"Why not?" If Percy's voice weren't so scratchy and rough from his bout with the flu, that might be a whine.
"Because I don't want you getting anyone sick. Besides, you need some new clothes," Poseidon said, eyeing the ratty, too small shirt Percy had on.
"Clothes?" Percy repeated, bewildered. He plucked at his shirt, brow furrowed as he asked, "We're going shopping?"
"Why do I need new clothes?"
Poseidon blinked in surprise at the question, eyes briefly flickering over to the boy. Percy's pants were a full two inches too short, his shirt's pattern faded and old and torn in several places. Even if Percy couldn't see the wear, surely he had to feel it. Not to mention the discrepancies between his body's length and that of his clothes'.
"Because the ones you own are too small and worn out."
"They're not that small."
"They're small so you need new clothes," Poseidon repeated, puzzled at Percy's reaction. "And they're worn out, ratty, and you just need new clothes. Now, where do you usually get your clothes from?"
"Right," Poseidon said, nodding to himself. Second hand. "Well then, we'll just try a few shops up here."
"What's wrong with Goodwill?"
God, he was testy today.
"Nothing," Poseidon assured him quickly before an argument could start. "But I have the money to spoil you, so spoil you I shall. Percy, money is not a problem anymore, not for me. I don't want you worrying about that okay? That's my job—you're the child, I'm the parent. You're supposed to ask me for new clothes, new games, or whatever else you may want. Okay?"
Percy frowned, his face stubbornly set, and Poseidon sighed. It seemed not only was this a new concept but Mr. Stubborn-Pants was going to dig his heels in. Oh well. It would obviously take Percy some time to get used to not worrying about money, or whatever other things he worried over, after the way he grew up. In that moment, with Percy's jaw stubborn set and arms crossed, Poseidon couldn't help but feel a little resentful towards Sally. Percy could've had all he ever wanted or needed if she had just come to him. Then Percy never would have worried about money; he wouldn't have had to worry about anything but normal kid problems.
It wasn't fair.
"Here we are," Poseidon said, pulling himself out of his thoughts as he turned into the parking lot of the local mall.
"We're not at some fancy store are we?" Percy asked suspiciously, arms still crossed as he slouched.
"A mall," Poseidon explained, killing the engine and unbuckling. "And we can shop where ever you feel most comfortable—be it Aeropostale, American Eagle, Goodwill or whatever."
"I don't need designer jeans," Percy grumbled under his breath.
"Of course, but you do need jeans that fit and that you like," Poseidon stressed, willing Percy to understand that his happiness mattered as he helped the boy out of the car.
Percy was still a bit wobbly, even if he tried to hide it. He shook his head and held himself straight, as if this would somehow distract Poseidon from the fact he was leaning most of his weight on his father. It didn't, but it did make Poseidon chuckle. Stubborn child.
"I just want something that fits," Percy complained as they made their slow way towards the mall.
"Then we'll get something that fits and is comfortable," Poseidon agreed lightly.
They ended up going to a little local store in the mall. It didn't appear overly pricey, not that it mattered to Poseidon but it avoided any tantrums over brand names. Since it had been so long since Percy went shopping (or had been able to read his clothes' tags) it took them a while to figure out what size pants he wore.
"Just try these on," Poseidon said, throwing three or four pairs of jeans of varying sizes into Percy's arms and ushering him into a changing room. "And see which one fits best."
Percy grumbled but the closing door prevented Poseidon from really understanding what he was muttering about.
"Didn't catch that," Poseidon said cheerfully, looking through racks of clothes. He wished these things came with a manual—thirteen almost fourteen-year-old boys wear sizes x through z . . . although the more he thought about it, he probably could just look usual sizes up online. Glancing back at the changing room, Poseidon pulled out his phone.
"These ones fit fine," Percy's voice called as Poseidon typed away.
"Do they?" Poseidon asked distractedly, "Are they comfortable?"
"Well, a little stiff—"
"Try on another pair."
He heard a sigh and couldn't help but chuckle, looking up from his phone. He didn't get a reply but two pairs of jeans eventually appeared over Percy's door. Poseidon figured the boy finally realized they weren't leaving until they found something he liked so Percy was genuinely trying to find something he liked. Poseidon was glad. He idly rifled through a rack of shirts, frowning. Percy needed new shirts as well, although he feared those would be harder to pick out than jeans.
"I like this pair," Percy announced, stepping out of the changing room with the discarded pants on one arm and the one he liked on the other.
"Good," Poseidon said proudly, grinning as he stepped forward to put away the unwanted jeans. "Now you just have to pick out a few more."
Percy groaned, his face twisting in disgust.
Four bags later, Percy was looking decidedly more pale than Poseidon liked and, content that at least now Percy's closet would actually fit him, he called it a day. It didn't escape his notice that Percy gratefully sank into the seat when they climbed into the car. His eyes fluttered shut on the ride home, his still slightly choppy breathing filling the silence. When they got back to the house, Poseidon nudged Percy upstairs to put away the clothes while he started dinner. He scrapped together something simple and bland, wary of Percy's stomach. They ate in comfortable silence, the scrap of Percy's fork investigating his plate the only real sound in the quiet kitchen. Mindlessly eating, Poseidon watched with relief as Percy managed to slowly finish most of his plate. Good, that was good. Percy could complain of being bored and restless all he wanted, but he was still obviously tired and fighting the lingering virus.
"Hestia seems to think we need a vacation," Poseidon told him when finally Percy dropped his fork and reclined in his chair, eyes drooping.
"A vacation?" Percy repeated, rolling his head to the side so Poseidon could see the frown that twitched on his lips.
"She seems to think it'll do you some good," Poseidon said. "You know, nothing like sunshine and a little excitement to help recover from the flu. Is there anywhere you'd like to go? Or anything you'd like to do? A vacation place you like?"
"Mom and I use to go to Montauk every summer. We'd rent a cabin and stay for the weekend," Percy recalled with a soft smile. "But I don't know, where do you take a blind kid on vacation to?"
"Fishing doesn't necessarily require eyesight," Poseidon said lightly, "nor does beach-going, boating, parasailing—"
"Do all of your ideas involve water?" Percy interrupted with a snort, but he was still smiling.
"Most things worth doing involve the water," Poseidon shot back, smiling in return. "But if you have a better non-water based idea please share." When no such activities were forthcoming he continued, "There must be somewhere you'd like to go."
"I've never really thought about it, vacations were a little impossible for me and Mom . . ." Percy said thoughtfully. He turned his head towards his father, "Where do you like to go?"
"Personally, I'm a fan of Florida, California and Hawaii—sunshine, warm water, abundant sea life."
Percy laughed, "That sounds nice. I don't think I've ever really been out of state."
"Never?" Poseidon raised an eyebrow, "Well then we're going out of state. You know what, I often work with a research center down in Florida; perhaps we could go there. It's right next to the beach, we could use their boats and equipment, how's that sound?"
"Fun," Percy said thoughtfully, "that sounds fun." He sounded surprised, but tilted his head up and smiled.
"Good," Poseidon said fondly, "we'll leave when you don't look so pale."
Like flipping a switch, Percy was wrinkling his nose and scowling, "I'm fine."
"We'll leave when I think you're fine," Poseidon said pleasantly and Percy let his head fall on the table. Poseidon laughed.
Percy's color returned in the following week along with his appetite, back to eating them out of house and home and energetically helping out around the aquarium. Poseidon went ahead and called the research center and set up their visit, booking a flight for Friday morning. Nereid told Percy stories all week, outlining all the exciting things to do in Florida and making Poseidon promise to 'take the boy to this' and 'make sure you do that'. As Friday got closer, Percy grew more and more excited. Whenever Poseidon complained, he would always point out that this was his first real vacation ever and he was allowed to be excited so there.
Percy could hardly contain his obvious glee Friday morning, running around the house as they got ready to leave.
"Hey," Percy called, "do you—" his voice was suddenly cut off, followed instead by a loud thump and a few muffled curses that would have Hera washing his mouth with soap if she heard.
"You alright?" Poseidon asked, frowning as he peered around the corner to find Percy picking himself up off of the floor, Poseidon's suitcase sprawled next to him.
"Dad," Percy complained, using the stairwell as leverage to pull himself up. "You can't leave things in the middle of the room—I'm blind."
"You are, since when?" Poseidon chuckled, setting his coffee down to inspect the damage. Walking over, he picked up the suitcase and set it back upright.
"Dad," Percy complained at the joke but his lips were twitching. Poseidon smirked, he knew Percy got a kick out of his unique brand of humor.
"You're right, I'm sorry. But you wouldn't have fallen if you weren't running," Poseidon pointed out, ruffling Percy's hair.
Percy made a face at the contact but he leaned into Poseidon, as if the teenage part of him was rebelling against the affection but the other part of him was relishing it.
"Come on," Poseidon said fondly, "we have a plane to catch, do you have everything?"
"Yeah," Percy said, reaching his arms out as he took a step forward, "don't forget your coffee."
"Won't, just go put your shoes on. I got the suitcase," Poseidon said, reaching out to tap Percy's outstretched arms so his son would know where he was. Percy nodded and shuffled forward, edging around Poseidon to make his way to the door.
Poseidon snatched his coffee from the kitchen and, rolling the suitcase behind him, made his way out to the car where Percy was waiting. Five minutes later they were on the road and Poseidon happily described the research facility to Percy. The boy listened, interested, but grew more and more restless as they drove closer to the airport.
"You alright?" Poseidon asked, eyebrows raised at the uncharacteristically silent boy.
Percy's brow furrowed. "I've never been on a plane before."
"Hell of a time to be nervous, kid, we're almost at the airport," Poseidon laughed and Percy scowled, turning so Poseidon could get a full view of his displeasure.
"Relax," Poseidon soothed, gently knocking Percy upside the head. "It's not that bad. You'll be fine."
Without his sight to pacify him, Percy did not take the flight very well. He gripped his armrest so tight his knuckles turned white before the plane ever left the ground and he barely spoke a word the entire trip. Normally, nervous fliers amused Poseidon, but he managed to produce some sympathy for his poor boy, keeping up a stream of assurances and generally distracting him. All the same, Percy could not get off the plane fast enough.
"That wasn't too bad was it?" Poseidon teased lightly as they finally left the airport. Percy grumbled in reply, one arm dragging his suitcase and the other tightly wound around Poseidon's arm. He looked seasick, his face a little green.
"You turned some real interesting shades of green," Poseidon chuckled, keeping Percy close to his side in the crowd. "I should have taken pictures."
"Jerk," Percy muttered darkly, his fingers digging into the soft skin of Poseidon's arm.
"Come one, we'll get checked into the hotel and then we'll head off to the research center okay?"
They checked into the hotel and brought their luggage up to the room, Poseidon having to drag a rather awe-struck Percy away from their luxurious hotel, before driving to the seaside research center.
"Here we are," Poseidon said, stepping out the car and waiting for Percy to do the same.
Percy gingerly opened the door, sticking one foot out to nervously toe the ground before putting his weight down and getting out. One hand on the car, he slowly made his way over to Poseidon, who patiently held out his arm for the kid to cling to.
"You okay?" Poseidon asked, putting an arm around his son's shoulder.
"Yeah," Percy said, putting one of his hands out to guide him as Poseidon gently led him towards the door. Liar, Poseidon thought. Studying Percy's face as he was, he didn't catch the little dip in the parking lot until Percy stumbled.
"Watch it," Poseidon said as Percy grabbed onto him with both hands. "Sorry, dip in the ground I got you, it's okay."
"Perhaps we should get you a cane," Poseidon suggested as he straightened the boy out.
"A cane?" Percy repeated in disgust, his face contorting in apparent horror, "I'm not an old man! I don't need a cane, I have you."
"And as much as I'm here to help, a cane would help you not trip over cracks and suitcases," Poseidon reasoned dryly, surprised at Percy's animosity.
"I don't need a cane," Percy repeated firmly, shaking his head.
"Poseidon," came a bright cheerful voice and a familiar shadow detached itself from the wall, striding towards them.
Lilaea was a bright-faced woman, with brightly dyed blue and purple hair, a dark complexion and a pair of dark eyes that seemed to never stop sparkling. She already donned her electric blue wetsuit, the research center's logo brightly embroidered on her hip. Poseidon rather thought she slept in the damn thing.
"Welcome! And is this Percy?" She inclined her head towards Percy.
"Hello Lilaea," Poseidon greeted, feeling Percy relax as he let their conversation drop. He squeezed Percy's shoulder, this conversation is not over yet, and smiled, "Yes, this is my son Percy. Percy this is Dr. Lilaee, she works here at the Miami Marine Conservation and Research Center. "
"Pleasure," Lilaea said brightly, giving Percy a quick once over before turning to Poseidon, waving a clipboard for him to see. "We've got everything set up and are ready to leave when you are."
"Perfect," Poseidon said just as Percy asked;
"Leave to go where?"
"You wouldn't want me to ruin the surprise now would you?" Poseidon laughed as he ushered his son into the building. "Now here," he handed Percy his wetsuit and guided him towards the bathroom, "change into your wetsuit and I'll be back in a minute."
Leaving him to it, Poseidon left to set up the surprise with Lilaea and change into his own wetsuit. When Lilaea gave him the thumbs up, he came back to get Percy.
"What are we?" Percy tried to ask as Poseidon dragged him along, pushing their way passed the double doors at the end of the facility to stride out into the sunshine.
"Did you put your street shoes back on?" Poseidon asked in amusement, deflecting.
"Don't deflect me, and yes I wasn't going to walk around in my flippers, crazy old man," Percy scoffed as Poseidon led him out onto the dock.
Poseidon held his returning quip back as Percy's head turned towards the water. Percy only looked confused for a second before a grin split his face.
"Is that the ocean I hear? Are we going diving in the ocean?" Percy asked excitedly, his face lighting up.
"We are," Poseidon confirmed, "Lilaea and her team are monitoring a local reef and we are going to join them."
"You mean, like in the middle of the ocean?"
"That's generally where the reefs are," Poseidon agreed, amused.
Percy shrugged the sarcasm off, his face bright with excitement. Poseidon took Percy over to Lilaea's boat. He helped Percy up onto the deck, mindful of all the equipment and slippery floors.
"I don't suppose you'll be assisting us rather than playing around in the water now will you?" Lilaea teased, stepping onto the boat after them, lugging a bag loaded down with equipment after her.
"I don't see why we can't do both," Poseidon said, reaching out to help the woman up. She gladly accepted his help, laughing.
"What will we be doing?" Percy asked.
"Checking out a local reef, I'll show you the coral, hopefully introduce you to some fish, and perhaps, if she needs it, collect some samples for Lilaea." He smiled charmingly at the biologist who laughed and shook her head.
"What a help you are Poseidon," she said, tossing her head back as she motioned to her crew. "We're heading out, hang onto something."
It took about fifteen minutes to reach the reef and another half hour to get ready to dive. Poseidon helped Percy put on his oxygen tank and mask while they waited. Even though the boy had already worn it once before, Poseidon still went over all the basics.
"I have used one before," Percy reminded him, exasperated, as Poseidon adjusted his mask.
"Yes, but that was in a controlled environment," Poseidon reminded him, "This is a bit different. And besides," he swapped Percy upside the head, "once hardly makes you an expert."
"You're going to have a cable attached to your belt," Lilaea told him as Poseidon fastened a long black cable to his son's belt. "The other end is attached to Daddy dearest over here to make sure you don't float off or get lost."
Poseidon gave the cable an experimental tug and Percy, unprepared, stumbled a little. He scowled as his father laughed, swatting in his general direction.
"Jerk. How long's this thing?" He grumbled, giving it an experimental, unhappy tug.
"Don't worry, you're not going to be attached to his hip, you'll have wiggle room," Lilaea soothed, double checking all of Percy's valves before patting him on the cheek. "Well, looks like everything's in order. You two are ready to go."
"Fantastic," Poseidon said, steering Percy to the end of the boat. "You all set?" Poseidon asked, peering down at the boy.
"Oh yeah," Percy grinned, putting the respirator in his mouth.
Poseidon smiled fondly down at him. The gear looked a little funny on Percy, Poseidon was used to seeing full grown adults prance around in full diving gear. It wasn't often he got to see children all suited up. It looked natural on Percy though, like it did the last time. His own certified junior diver, Poseidon remember with amusement.
"Good, now if you ever want to get out, just let me know. It's no big deal okay? Okay. Now, have fun," Poseidon said, and promptly pushed the boy overboard.
Percy flailed as he fell, arms windmilling in alarm, and landed ungracefully in the water.
"Gee thanks, Dad," he said sarcastically as he bobbed back to the surface, spitting the respirator out to wryly grin.
Poseidon just laughed, "You're welcome, now stay to the side."
With far more grace than his son, Poseidon jumped into the water. White bubbles obscured his view before he pulled himself back up to the surface where Percy bobbed, waiting.
"All right, respirator back in, all set? Okay, let's dive."
Taking care not to become entangled in the cord, Poseidon guided (pulled) Percy towards the reef below. It was a relatively small reef, bright and beautiful, and while it wasn't exactly teeming with life, there were plenty of fish floundering about.
"Now, I want to show you the reef, but you gotta be real careful okay? Keep your gloves on at all times and be gentle," Poseidon instructed over their radio. "This is a staghorn coral, it's a branching stony coral. Feel that?"
He guided Percy's fingers over the branching coral. He thought he saw Percy nod, it was hard to tell sometimes with all the gear, but Percy's fingers started drifted over the fine arms of the coral.
"What color is it?"
"A brown yellow color," Poseidon explained, happy to have captivated the boy.
They continued this way for a while, Poseidon pointing out coral that was safe to touch and guiding a totally engrossed Percy towards them, who would reach out and gently explore every crevasse, asking questions and demanding information. As Poseidon described a particularly pretty coral—"an almost burn red"—a fish flapped against Percy's face and the boy flinched.
"Relax, it's just a little fish," Poseidon laughed, reaching out to put a hand on the startled boy's shoulder.
"Fish?" Percy repeated, head turning.
"Yes, they live here you know."
"Oh shut up," Percy grumbled, but his head moved around, as if he could see the fish. "Are there a lot of them?"
"A good amount. The one ran into you was just a little guppy."
"What do they look like?"
And so Poseidon began to describe the different types of fish around them. He tried to find fish Percy could actually interact with. A few of the bigger, docile fish allowed Percy to pet them, and his son's face light up with delight and wonder.
"What do we have here?" Poseidon said out loud, delighted as a large shadow swam leisurely overhead. "Well if it isn't our lucky day!"
"What is it?" Percy asked, the cord that connected them pulling taunt as he tried to reaching the outer edge of the coral he was exploring. Poseidon idly gave the cord a tug, pulling the boy back a bit.
"A shark," Poseidon said, pulling Percy towards the beautiful creature.
"A shark?" Percy repeated, startled, "aren't they dangerous?"
"Only if you provoke them, and we are trespassing in their home," Poseidon said. "But this is nurse shark, the friendliest shark you ever will meet." He went on to list more facts about the shark, watching the creature carefully. "They only hunt at night as well, so he shouldn't be any trouble . . . If we get close enough he might let you touch him."
''A shark," Percy said, and Poseidon could hear the grin in his voice, "so cool."
The shark lazily swam around the reef, looking completely disinterested in the hullabaloo around him. As to not startle the creature, the pair didn't approach it directly. Instead, they swam a little ahead of it so the shark, if it continued on its course, would have to swim right by them. As it made its casual swim passed them, wholly unconcerned, Poseidon guided Percy's hand over the back of the shark. Percy let his fingers glide over the shark's back, clearly enraptured. The shark wasn't bothered by the intrusion; it continued its leisurely swim. A little ways off, while Percy turned to give Poseidon an excited thumbs up, it turned back around and swam closer to them.
"Looks like he's curious," Poseidon explained to Percy, "after all, there are two big bubble spewing creatures in his reef."
The shark hung around for a while long, occasionally coming close enough that Percy could reach out and pet it again, before swimming off. They stayed underwater for hours, happily explaining the little reef. Lilaea radioed them with a few requests every now and again—they collected sand samples, drew blood from a turtle, and took temperature readings. After their last errand, Lilaea told them they were packing up and heading back to shore.
Poseidon climbed back onto the boat first, reaching a hand out to pull Percy up after him. He helped Percy take off the mask and gently pulled the oxygen tank off his back.
"So how was that?" Poseidon asked as Lilaea team finished packing away their equipment.
Percy turned towards him, the widest, brightest grin on his face, "That was awesome. Can we go again tomorrow?"
Poseidon laughed in delight and ruffled his drenched hair, "Of course. Maybe we'll even get to see a dolphin—well at least I might."
"Poseidon," Lilaea rebuked in horror, her wide eyes flickering over to Percy, but the boy just laughed, shaking his head and looking . . . looking like a normal thirteen-year-old kid. Nothing like the sad and angry boy in the photograph Poseidon held before him all those weeks ago.
"Want to drive the boat?" Poseidon asked, throwing an arm over Percy's shoulder and leading him towards the helm.
"Poseidon, he can't drive the boat," Lilaea said exasperatedly.
"Why not? At least for a little while, it's not like he has to stay between lines. It's the ocean. We're far enough away from the reef and there are no other boats around, what's the problem?"
Lilaea sighed and looked over at Percy's hopeful face, "Fine, but only for a little while and you better be watching out for him! And make sure to go nice and slow all right? Do you hear me Olympian, slow."
A/N So this update was a little (lot) later than I hoped, sorry about that. I hope it was worth the wait! To be clear, do NOT touch coral without the okay from a trained professional, most coral species are highly sensitive and can be damaged by a simple touch! Same with sharks, all types of sharks are potentially dangerous and should be approached with caution and reverence. Sorry if any information was incorrect, I'm no expert but theoretically, Poseidon is so he knows what he's doing.
Anyway, some here's some personal growth and recovery in this chapter, and bigger issues will be resolved in the next few :). I think there'll only be about three more chapters. A big thank you to everyone who's reviewed, favorited and followed, I really appreciate all of it :) You guys rock, and I hope you enjoyed ~!