~* Chapter Thirteen *~
Lilaea kept them busy for the rest of their stay. They went out to the reef three more times and visited a few others. While Lilaea's team was busy doing more advanced research (or research that required sight) Poseidon and Percy did what Hestia called 'real tourist' activities. Poseidon found these particular experiences to be terribly boring and didn't hesitate to voice this opinion whenever the time arose. On their last night, they sat on the beach roasting marshmallows over a fire pit after an afternoon of swimming, watching as the sun slowly set (or, at least, Poseidon was).
"I don't know why people come here for anything other than the ocean," Poseidon reiterated, putting a marshmallow on the end of Percy's stick for him. "Nothing else here is even remotely exciting."
"You're just jealous of the Miami Seaquarium," Percy snorted, unimpressed, trying to hold his marshmallow over the fire.
"Well, you're not holding the marshmallow over the fire," Poseidon retorted, fully aware of the childish nature of his reply.
"What do you expect, I'm blind," Percy grumbled, but he was smiling and moved his stick from side to side, searching for the fire.
"A little to the left. And jealous? Nonsense. So, they attract more people with their pretty fancy shows, pah! We have far more species of fish than them, and more exotic ones too. Our main goal is to rescue and release animals, or allow them to live out the rest of their lives comfortably, not train them like monkeys for people's amusement," Poseidon grumbled.
"You're so jealous," Percy laughed. "You were so amazed and impressed with the aquarium and you can't stand it."
"I don't know what you're talking about, it's not like you could even see the shows. Or the fish. At least at home you get to interact with them," Poseidon said stiffly, which only caused Percy to laugh at him some more. He couldn't help but smile at that.
"You're not even holding it over the fire anymore," he chuckled, using his own stick to steer Percy's over the fire.
"Your birthday's coming up soon," Poseidon said after a moment of comfortable silence, watching the red-orange flames lick up the sides of their sugary treats.
"Is it?" Percy asked with a frown, "Already? What's today's date?"
"The second of August. And I know—it doesn't feel like it," Poseidon said.
It truly didn't feel like it had almost been an entire summer. Three months ago he did not even know he had a son . . . now he could barely remember life without one. Poseidon stared at Percy's profile then shook himself before he could get all sentimental.
"Anyway, your birthday. What would you like to do?"
Percy's brow furrowed, "Are you asking me if I want to have a birthday party?"
"Sort of," Poseidon chuckled, "I'm asking what you'd like to do. Do you want a birthday party, do you just want to hang out with Nico and Thalia, or do something else entirely?"
Percy sat back, chewing on his lip, "I don't know."
The fire cast a warm glow across his son's face, casting his features in sharp contrast with the night. His sightless eyes were half closed, head tilted to the side. Sitting next to him, his longer legs accidently bumping against the boy's every time he shifted, Poseidon was reminded again just how young his son really was. The urge to reach out and ruffle his hair, to press his raven crown under Poseidon's chin and simply hold him there, two companion figures in the twilight, made his fingers twitch.
"Okay." Poseidon accepted. "What do you want?"
"Like as a present?"
"That's the general idea."
Percy took longer to answer this time, his head still tilted to the side and chewing on his lip. "Can I think about it?"
"Of course," Poseidon assured him. "Just so you know, Hestia is going to spoil you something awful. And Thalia's texted me already asking about you, although how she knew it was your birthday I don't know."
Percy bowed his head, and in the dying light, Poseidon saw the boy's eyes mist over as he smiled. He let Percy collect himself, turning back to the fire.
"Oh, watch it, your marshmallow's caught fire," Poseidon said as he noticed the flame that was quickly consuming the sugary treat.
Percy dropped his stick in surprise and Poseidon laughed, simply replacing Percy's charred marshmallow with a new one. They spent the rest of the night trying not to burn any more marshmallows, lightly bantering back and forth, the subject of Percy's birthday dropped for the time.
"Yes, Hestia we had a wonderful time." Poseidon told his beloved sister as he bustled around the kitchen, getting breakfast ready. "Our plane landed nice and safe, I believe I sent you a text last night when we came in. Yes, I think Percy had lots of fun. He looks much healthier, happier, and tanner, you can see him yourself if you'd like. He'd love it if you'd stop by."
"I haven't seen him in a while," Hestia's voiced mused from the other end his phone.
"Dad?" Percy called from somewhere on the second floor, "have you seen my sweatshirt?"
"No, I haven't," Poseidon shouted back, "breakfast is ready though so come on down."
Hestia giggled in his ear, "Aw isn't that lovely. You two have gone domestic. Have you talked to him about his birthday?"
"Yes, he doesn't know what he wants yet."
"Do you have any idea what you're going to get him?"
Poseidon smiled, setting two bowls full of stove cooked oatmeal on the table (a 'valid and acceptable' breakfast choice according to Hestia . . . although she might not agree if she knew much how sugar he added in), "I have an idea or two."
"Hera told me something interesting," his sister said slyly and he grinned some more.
"Hera has a big mouth and doesn't know when to mind her own business," Poseidon cheerfully replied, adding a handful of blueberries to Percy's bowl. The kid had a thing for blue food, which was odd when you considered his lack of sight and not at all odd when you considered the boy himself.
"She said you called Zeus inquiring about lawyers."
"Did she now? Hey Percy, breakfast I said!" Poseidon yelled, carefully avoiding his sister's happy suspicions. He heard her laugh at his evasion.
"Fine then, keep your secrets. I think I will stop by later if that's alright with you."
"Of course, it is, we'll see you at dinner then sister dearest," Poseidon said as he finally heard the sound of Percy's footsteps coming down the stairs. "Bye-bye."
"Was that Aunt Hestia?" Percy asked, stumbling into the kitchen, his fingers flittering over every surface as he felt around for what Poseidon could only assume was the elusive sweatshirt.
"Yes, she's coming over for dinner tonight. Are you still looking for that sweatshirt?"
"Yeah," Percy said, frowning, "it's the only one I own, and since you're trying to freeze out the aquarium—"
"It's a new arctic exhibit Percy, they need the cold. And it's only one room, don't be such a baby," Poseidon scoffed as he took a seat. Percy could eat his breakfast cold if he liked; Poseidon would eat it while it was still warm.
"—since you're trying to freeze the aquarium I need it." Percy straightened up, turning around hesitantly.
He looked a little lost, his brow furrowing the tiniest bit and holding himself tight, as if trying to make himself as small as possible. It was an expression Poseidon hadn't seen in a while, since those fateful first few weeks after Mayer's phonecall. Poseidon didn't even think Percy realized what he was doing. It was instinct, a habit he hadn't realized he made and then eventually broke; a way to protect himself. Poseidon hated it.
"You know . . . I think it's at the apartment."
"The apartment?" Poseidon repeated, pushing his breakfast aside, "what apartment?"
"The one in New York, with Gabe." Percy clarified, "I don't think I ever brought it over. Actually, I don't think I brought a lot of anything over, you just kinda bought me stuff." He waved vaguely as if the gesture illustrated his point.
"We've been over this Percy, that's what parents do," Poseidon said, but he was frowning as well. Gabe was a problem he never really gave much thought to. The man gladly left them alone so Poseidon never saw the need to give him any more attention. "But there's more of your stuff still at that apartment? Things you want?"
"Well, then, we'll just have to go get them."
Percy hesitated, but Poseidon kept talking, abandoning his breakfast as he got to his feet, "I'll go grab one of the suitcases, I already unpacked mine so we'll take that."
"And bring my stuff back here?" Percy questioned slowly.
"Of course," Poseidon said, surprised. He paused and turned to face the boy, even though he knew Percy couldn't appreciate it. "You live here now, Percy, with me."
Percy blinked, a slow, befuddled motion that made Poseidon want to step forward and grab him, to shake him, hug him, firmly plant in his mind that he belonged to Poseidon now and he wouldn't ever, ever leave him alone. He took an unconscious step forward as a wide grin slowly edged it way up Percy's face and the boy said, "Right, okay. So are we going before or after work? 'Cause I really don't wanna freeze."
"Brat, it's not that cold," Poseidon said, swatting the boy upside the head. "If you hurry up and eat we'll go get your sweatshirt first."
An hour later, Poseidon and Percy stood outside the boy's old apartment. It feels like a lifetime ago that I came here, waiting to meet my son for the first time, Poseidon mused as Percy hesitated outside the door.
"Do I knock or what?" Percy asked, his nose scrunching up as his hand wavered uncertainly in the air, "I mean, I don't live here anymore and we haven't talked—"
"Let me worry about Ugliano," Poseidon soothed, knocking forcefully on the door, "you just get your stuff." They waited a moment, but nobody came to the door. "Do you have a key?"
"No, Gabe never locked the door," Percy explained, trying the handle and finding the door unlocked. He turned his head, his face angled more or less in Poseidon's direction. Looking for guidance.
"We'll leave him a note," Poseidon decided, pushing the door open. "Besides, we're only taking your stuff, he can't complain."
"Are you sure?" Percy asked nervously as Poseidon steered him inside the unsanitary apartment. Poseidon wrinkled his nose at the sight—it was even filthier than he remembered.
"I'm sure. Here's the suitcase," Poseidon said, handling the object to Percy, "go ahead and gather all your stuff together. And be careful, there's garbage all over the floor."
"There always was," Percy said, shuffling his way to his old room, one hand on the wall.
Poseidon let him be, turning instead to survey his disgusting surroundings. There always was, Poseidon thought in disgust. Percy lived here. The thought caused his blood to boil, an ache in his chest that made his fingers twitch with the need to hit something. He tried to force it down, there was nothing he could do about it now. Where could he find a pen and some paper to leave Ugliano a note, he wondered, trying to divert his attention. As he halfheartedly searched the apartment, pulling out drawers and disinterestedly glancing inside, he noticed a few photographs propped up along a shoddy mantle. Curious, he leaned closer to inspect them and found himself looking at Sally Jackson.
She was just as lovely as he remembered, warm brown hair spilling across her shoulders and beautiful eyes sparkling, but there was a tightness around her eyes and mouth that wasn't there when he knew her. She was in a hospital bed, smiling lovingly down at the little bundle in her arms, a wisp of black hair and bright green eyes peeking out of a blue blanket.
He was looking at Percy's first baby picture.
He scanned the shelf and found two more pictures. One was clearly the last school picture Sally received. Percy was only half smiling, looking slightly exasperated in a nice, crisp blue shirt. Even though Poseidon knew it was probably taken just over a year ago, Percy looked so much younger in it. Before the accident, Poseidon thought sadly. The contrast between this boy and the one Poseidon knew seemed so much greater than one year . . .
The last picture was a bit older; Percy didn't look any older than five or six in it. He was at the beach, his little bare feet in the surf, mouth open in what probably was a shriek of laughter. He looked absolutely ecstatic, childish wonder and delight at its best. Poseidon couldn't help but smile, even as his chest tightened.
He suddenly wondered what Percy looked like as a baby, not just the scrawny little newborn in the first picture, but as a growing infant, as a waddling toddler, as an inquisitive child . . . There must be more pictures, Poseidon hoped, turning around. He searched through the cupboards and drawers in the living room, growing frustrated as he shoved junk and garbage out of his way. He was about to go ask Percy if his mother kept any pictures from when he was younger when he found a well-worn album.
Clearing a section on the disgusting coach, Poseidon sat down and carefully opened it up. The first page was filled with pictures of Sally, starting with a faded and folded photograph of a young Sally in a pure white graduation cap and gown. He felt a little guilty as he turned the page, bypassing the rest of Sally's pictures, but his main concern was his son. He slowly flipped through the rest of the album, gazing with interest as Percy grew from an adorable little baby with large eyes and red cheeks to the boy he knew today. He laughed at the silly pictures and smiled at the serious ones, filled with a warm yet hollow feeling.
He didn't know how long he sat on the couch flipping through the album when Percy appeared. He opened his mouth to say something, but Percy kept walking, arms outstretched and feet shuffling, before disappearing into the other bedroom. Curious, Poseidon heaved himself off the couch and peered into the room. It was clearly Ugliano's room, and Poseidon wrinkled his nose in disgust—did Sally sleep in here?
Percy was sitting on the floor, his back to Poseidon, holding something on his lap. His shoulders were hunched and he was very still.
"Hey Percy, are you okay?" Poseidon asked softly.
Percy jerked slightly at his voice but didn't turn around. "Yeah," he croaked, his voice wavering and tight, betraying his words.
"Okay," Poseidon said slowly. He looked over his shoulder, briefly glancing at the album he laid aside. "I'm just going to run down to the front desk to leave a note for Ugliano alright? I'll be right back." Poseidon improvised, knowing Percy wanted to be left alone.
He saw Percy give a jerky nod so he beat a hasty retreat. He made sure to close the door with a rather loud bang so his son would know he left and proceeded down to the ground floor. He took his sweet time, trying to give Percy ample time to collect himself.
He went over to the front desk, taking in the face of the bored attendant on duty, and asked, "Gabe Ugliano works here correct?" The man nodded. "Do you know when he'll be back?"
The man gave him a confused look, "He hasn't left today."
Poseidon frowned, "He hasn't? Then where is he?"
"If he's not in his apartment, then he's probably visiting another apartment," the man said, picking up the phone that rested by his elbow. "Would you like me to reach him?"
"No, no," Poseidon said distracted, already moving towards the stairs.
Ugliano wouldn't have headed back to his apartment would he?Poseidon took the stairs two at a time, not wanting Percy to be alone if the pungent man did return. He was no more than a couple steps from the door when he heard it—the loud crash of glass shattering.
"Percy?" Poseidon called, throwing the door open and rushing inside.
Percy stood in the back of the kitchen, his arms held over his face and head, the ground around him covered in shards of glass, sparkling with false innocence as if their bright glamor was something to celebrate. Their suitcase was overturned in front of his son, its contents spewed about the room. Ugliano himself stood at the head of the mess, his arm outstretched in the finish of a throw.
"Percy," Poseidon repeated, his heart in his throat and suddenly he was in front of his son, the crunch of the glass beneath his feet almost deafening as he leaned over Percy, checking anxiously for injury.
"I'm okay, it didn't hit me," Percy said, and his voice shook ever so slightly as he lowered his arms, "he missed me."
"Shh, stay still," Poseidon fretted, gently reaching out to pull a piece of glass from Percy's hair.
He quickly scanned the rest of the boy, his hands hovering anxiously as if to ward off an attack. Little glass shards were sprinkled in his hair and lightly dusted the front of his shirt. There was a small cut on his forehead, a thin line of red trailing down the pale skin. Blood trickled along the edge of his old scar and Poseidon moved to swipe it away.
"It doesn't look bad, but don't move okay?"
Percy nodded, a sharp, short jerk of the head that sent glass tumbling from his hair.
"You're the father right?" Came a gruff voice from behind and Poseidon started—he had forgotten about Ugliano but now he turned around to face the man, a cold anger boiling under his skin. Ugliano continued speaking, oblivious to Poseidon's growing fury, "What do you think you're doing stealing my things?"
"Your—" Poseidon repeated, too angry and disbelieving to form a coherent sentence, "your things? Those, those teenage sweatshirts and games and pictures are yours? I—you threw a bottle at my son."
Poseidon advanced slowly towards the despicable man, breathing heavily. Ugliano wisely took a step back.
"You threw a bottle at my son."
"Now see here—"
He never got to finish his sentence. Poseidon punched him square in the face, taking great satisfaction in the crunch and spurt of blood that followed. Ugliano stumbled backward, tripping over one of the many bottles on the floor and landing flat on his fat ass, blinking stupidly up at the fuming father.
"You son of—"
Poseidon glanced over his shoulder at his uncertain, glass covered son, standing anxiously by the wall, before glaring murderously down at the pathetic being on the floor. He took a few deep calming breaths and spat, "Get out."
"What?! This is my apartment—"
Poseidon hauled Ugliano to his feet and shoved him forcefully towards the door, "Out! Get out if you value your life. I don't want you to ever come near my son ever again, do you hear me? I don't want you to talk to him, to look at him. I don't want you to even think about him got it? And you better thank God that you missed him."
Poseidon left the threat hanging, his fingers clenching into fists. Ugliano stood uncertain, clutching at his bleeding nose, staring wide-eyed at Poseidon. When he made no move to leave, Poseidon advanced threateningly and he backpedaled quickly, spewing out curses.
"Don't know who you think you are, can't do this—" Ugliano managed to sputter out before Poseidon slammed the door in his face.
He stood there, breathing heavily as he listened to Ugliano's steps fade. When they faded away, he slowly walked back over to Percy, pausing to bend down and methodically pick up the contents of Percy's suitcase and piled them back inside. He thought for a moment, then grabbed the photo album from where he left it. He had no doubt that Sally would have wanted him to have it. He carefully tucked that away in the suitcase as well.
"Dad," Percy repeated hesitantly. Poseidon was at his side the next instant.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," he muttered, brushing glass from Percy's hair.
The little cut on his forehead was still bleeding, blood mingling in his eyebrows. Poseidon wiped it away with the sleeve of his shirt.
"Why are you sorry?" Percy asked, confused.
"For leaving you alone," Poseidon said, picking at the glass stuck to Percy's shirt. "We'll have to cut this off. I'll find some scissors."
Percy said nothing as Poseidon cut off his shirt, standing perfectly still as his father continued to pick glass out of his hair.
"I think I got it all, but we'll wash your hair when we get home."
"Okay . . . thanks," Percy said.
Poseidon hesitated before pulling the quiet boy into his arms, hugging him tightly. He should never have to thank Poseidon for taking care of him; he should never have glass in his hair for Poseidon to take care of.
"I'm okay, Dad."
"That bruise," Poseidon recalled with sickening clarity, tightening his hold on the boy, "from earlier this summer . . . where did you get that bruise, Percy?"
"He never really hit me," Percy avoided. "He just liked to push me around, and it was harder to avoid him or protect myself without my sight."
"I should've hit him harder," Poseidon grumbled, tucking Percy's head under his chin. He closed his eyes, his arms tightening around the boy. He could feel Percy's heartbeat, beating too quickly against his chest. "You're never going to see him again okay? I'll make sure of it."
"Okay . . ."
"I believe you," Percy said and his voice was calm, unwavering. "I trust you."
His arms hesitantly came up then, setting around Poseidon as he finally returned his father's hug. Percy's body relaxed, fully leaning against Poseidon. He breathed out slowly and Poseidon smiled, ruffling Percy's hair . . . and then started to laugh. Worry and fear and adrenaline, happiness and relief all bubbled hysterically in his throat as he buried his face in his son's hair and laughed and laughed and laughed. His head was filled with so many conflicting emotions but one skated above them all: happiness. Happiness in this moment, with his son safe and trusting in his arms. He was happy. They were happy. He ruffled Percy's hair one more time before drawing back to brush Percy's hair back.
"Come on, let's go home."
A/n I know this chapter's a little shorter, but yay a quicker update! I can't believe we broke 200 reviews thank you all so much! Your support means so much :) Two more chapters to go now, a birthday and an ending. I hope you enjoyed ~ *