We stayed in the forest for several days. Annabeth's forethought was truly a saving grace, for she had packed food, water and weapons—everything we would need for our journey. Though how she'd gotten all of it was a complete mystery. It seemed like we had left with nothing and now we had provisions, but I didn't dare question her. She was scary, even more so out of the hospital. Her eyes were keen, her ears sharp, and her hand scarcely left the knife at her belt. I thought her fingers might freeze there sometimes.
"Are you all right?" It was Will Solace, Dr. Solace's son. His eyes were large in his thin face, and his hands still shook a little, but he looked stronger. There was color in his face, his eyes shone bright blue, and his hair was glossy and golden. He smiled slightly, even though there was really no reason to. I felt his radiance like a warm fire, making me smile too. There was just something about him, about the healing light of his presence…
"Of course!" I gasped. Will raised a single, questioning eyebrow, the corners of his mouth twitching down.
"Of course what?"
"Your powers," I explained. "I felt peaceful just now. Happy. There's something about you that just sort of—"
"Heals people?" he asked. I nodded and he laughed. It was a beautiful, full sound. "I get that sometimes. It's from my dad, really. He… blessed me with the power I have. He gave it to me so I could—oh what was it again?"
"Uh…" I didn't know what on Earth he was talking about, so I couldn't really supply him with an answer, but I wanted to help all the same. His face lit up and he clapped his hands.
"That's it!" he cried. "Once, when I was little, my dad took me aside and said 'William—Will—I need you to promise me something. One day, you're going to be taken away from me by some bad people. They'll steal the light from your life and they'll try to drown you in darkness. Just remember one thing: You are light. You're my light and you're going to be other peoples' light to. Heal them, Will. Heal them and make up for my half-sister's mistakes.' And that was the second to last time I saw him outside of the hospital. I've been there since I was small."
Will's father's words were chilling, even if they were in Will's voice. And, worst of all, I could feel the truth in the way I felt standing next to him, looking at him in the sun. I felt at peace, free from pain and trouble. My mind felt calm and separate from the harsh reality of life. I wanted to stay there forever, basking in the warmth of Will's innate light. But I knew none of it could last. Dr. Wyse would find us eventually, and she would kill us or take our minds like she took Frank's. She would make us into an army of super-human teenagers. Brainless. I couldn't let that happen—not to Will, not to Nico, not to Malcolm or Annabeth or Hazel. I just couldn't. And, most of all, I couldn't let that happen to Percy. A brainless Percy would be more dangerous than a conscious one.
Will moved away, seeking out his siblings as they went around our group, healing and soothing with soft voices and gentle smiles. They looked like Will, with golden hair and sky-blue eyes and radiance that resembled the sun itself. They seemed happy.
"They are happy," said Annabeth. I barely jumped, for I was well used to her mind-reading games. I didn't mind so much anymore—her ability to know what I was thinking and feeling. It was comforting, almost, to have someone who I could call out for when my voice was gone and I lay dying.
You're reading me, I thought. Annabeth chuckled.
"And you're not stopping it." Another laugh. "Not that you can stop it. No one can. I can read Malcolm too, you know, and he lets me. But he still tells me the important things, even though he knows I know already. He told me about Will because he wanted to hear himself say it. I didn't pretend to be surprised for his sake, but I didn't say 'I know' either. I just nodded and told him to be happy."
You know what happiness is? I couldn't help myself. I didn't want to hear my own voice, but it was something else too. I loved talking without talking. I loved knowing that my voice was still heard, even when I didn't use it. It was a rush of curiosity too—about Annabeth's power.
"Of course I know what happiness is." She wasn't laughing anymore. "It's that feeling you get when your mother tells you she's proud, or when your father picks you up, spins you around and tells you you're his beautiful baby girl and he'll never let you fall. It's feeling like your heart is flying and you can't pull it back down. It's when Percy looks at me and he's himself, not that… that thing they turn him into. It's the triumph I felt when… No. No, that wasn't happiness. Triumph isn't the same. It tricks you into thinking it's happiness, but it's not the same. It's the sailing feeling when you fly off a swing, right before you come crashing to the ground and skin your knee."
You said they turned Percy into a thing. What kind of thing is it? I didn't feel comfortable saying that out loud, so I just thought it. Annabeth shivered.
"It happens to all of us at some point. They take our minds and make us do their dirty work. Killing someone for them, hurting their enemies. We've all been sent at some point. That boy Nico killed was their rival's son. His name was Dakota, and he was from the SPQR Agency. They counteract our parents, providing a safe-haven for kids like us. It didn't stop them, but it did set them back a few paces. That wasn't an orphanage, you know. It was their infirmary. They gave him hallucinations that took the form of his dead sister. The sister they killed." Tears beaded up in her eyes. She wiped them away angrily. "They killed Bianca di Angelo because she was good and kind. They killed her because she canceled out Nico's darkness, his malice. She was my friend. And she was Thalia's friend."
Thalia. My "insane" sister. She was still at the hospital. We'd failed to get her out. We had passed by her room entirely, leaving her shut in the darkness. What would they do to her now that I was gone? I remembered how she was when we were kids, prying a staple out of my bleeding face when I tried to eat the stapler gun. It was my first memory of her, and one of my fondest. She had been the one to take me to the SPQR Agency, her hand never once letting go of mine as we ran through dark alleys and muddy fields, our clothes dirty, hands and knees scratched and bleeding. I had cried when she left me on the doorstep, pressing kisses to the top of my head, promising she'd come back for me soon. She never did. Soon, she felt like no more than a dream.
"I knew your sister," Annabeth told me. Her face was shadowed and grim. "We tried to run away once, to get to Camp Half-Blood. It's another safe-haven—or it was. She ran away with Luke and I. I was only seven, and Luke promised me a family. He's dead now. He killed himself because no one else could. He was invulnerable and they controlled his mind. He was a hero. Rachel Dare predicted it, but we thought she meant Percy." Another cold laugh. Then Annabeth looked at me. "What was it like?" she asked. "Safe-haven, I mean."
I didn't know what to say, but I knew I could show her. I thought back as far as I could, to the night my sister left me trembling with fear and cold on the Agency's doorstep, crying out for her to come back. I thought back on the teachers and the other children, the friends I made, my roommates. There was Reyna too. Reyna Avila Ramirez-Arellano. Beautiful, strong, and, to a measure, kind. She was my closes friend, my fellow Praetor (our name for our leaders). She dressed in armor, and her power was strength and strategy. Her eyes glimmered with the intelligence that lay behind. I remembered with a smile the way she had taken my hand and wished me luck. Then her image blurred. I saw her for a moment, and then I saw Piper. Then their images became one, and then I saw them standing together, both smiling in their own way. Both were beautiful and both were enchanting.
"You were in love with her," Annabeth noted dully. "And now you're in love with Piper. You didn't realize, did you? And now it's too late."
"Nothing is ever too late," I growled, surprised by my own ferocity. Annabeth placed her hand over mine.
"Then what will you do about it?"
A/N: Sorry. I haven't found time to update, and I've been having the worst writer's block in the world. I've been really uninspired and I'm working on wrapping up the story. There probably won't be a sequel either. I've done sequels, and they're never really as good as the first story.
Comments, questions, concerns?