chapter one: life loves me, it loves me not
"That," Percy says irritably as blessed fresh air and sunshine dances across his face, "took way to freaking long. My eyes are like, bloodshot. Bleeding. Red and dry. I don't even have water to cry tears of misery-"
"First, no they're not, and second, it only took us an hour and half." Annabeth replies as she rearranges some folders in her hands and follows Percy down the path leading away from the Big House. She doesn't stop to look at Percy who's desperately trying to prove that no really, they're totally dry and red and staring at her with incredibly widened eyes. "The good news is we only have ten more reports to review and archive so you're almost off the hook."
"Ten?" Percy repeats hollowly, skipping a little bit to catch up with Annabeth. "Ten?" He wants to cry. (He doesn't because he's a freaking demi-god son of Posiedon and he's stronger than this but it's a very near thing).
Percy had never imagined that after surviving, well, everything, he'd die a slow, painful death by cataloguing the events that have happened to them over the past several months and recording them for future generations.
Annabeth glances over at him and gives him an encouraging pat on the arm. "I believe in you sweetheart, you can do it."
"First, that was way too sarcastic to be even remotely believable," Percy remarks without missing a beat. (He's trying not to grin though, because Annabeth is trying to keep a straight face and failing, and it's so funny to watch). "And numero dos, it took us forever to just get through one. I'm going to be old and grey and grandchildless by the time we finish nine more."
Annabeth almost stumbles over her own feet before she quickly turns to face him. ( Percy just knows her brilliant mind is turning a hundred miles a minute going over that last comment). "Percy, you're, I mean what-" she searches his eyes, and Percy just smiles at her.
(This person in front of him. This beautiful human being. It's crazy how one face can mean the entire world to him.) Annabeth smiles back, her whole face lighting and ow, his heart needs to calm down, now, before it suddenly combusts.
"Well," she grins as they continue walking. "We'd better get through the rest of the reports quicker than the first one."
Percy can't help it, he laughs and wraps an arm around her shoulder. "I think that's the best plan I've ever had the pleasure of hearing you come up with."
Annabeth shifts the folders over into her other hand and links arms with Percy, laughing at him as they continue heading out towards the sprawling hill of Camp Half-Blood. It's moments like these Percy realizes how blessed he is; simply being here with Annabeth is a miracle. The fact that they're heading over to meet up with their friends- Jason, Piper, Hazel, Frank, Nico and Leo, Leo, it all feels too much sometimes.
The past months have been spent recuperating from the near destruction of the world and then saving it, along with rebuilding their camp and dealing with the aftermath of Octavian's attack. The workload, which would have been slightly overwhelming, was made more than possible with the help of the Romans, and Percy's found it's actually been really great to work with the other demi-gods. (For some people, maybe a bit too great, because Percy isn't ashamed to admit that the unholy team-up that was Annabeth and Renya stopping the Stoll brothers and their kind of ingenious, yet incredibly stupid pranks, was scarier than facing Gaea).
Sometimes Percy thinks back to everything that happened and remembers the events as if he were in a fog or haze, but the feelings, the emotions, are as acute as when he first experienced them. Anger, at the unfairness of it all, fear, for his friends, desperation, to save them, elation, at realizing they had won, and heartbreaking sadness, the kind that comes from losing someone close to you.
That feeling of overwhelming grief was only overshadowed by the disbelief and amazement of finding Leo again. Even thinking about it now it still amazes Percy- the gift of his friends' life returning back to them only a month ago still feels so surreal and implausible, and yet Percy and his girlfriend are heading over to grab lunch with that very same kid without a care in the world.
Percy gazes across the fields at the campers walking about, some talking, sparring, running, or laughing. It seems almost like a dream, the peace that's settled over the camp despite the hours still needed to finish rebuilding it and the losses they've suffered. He feels good. Physically, and more gratefully, mentally, which isn't something he takes for granted anymore.
"Come on, Seaweed Brain," Annabeth says, pulling Percy out of his thoughts and tugging at his arm a little. "We're gonna be late meeting up with the others."
Percy exchanges a grin with Annabeth and matches her as she starts walking a bit faster. Life is good, peaceful, and Percy has a really good feeling that the insanity that has been his life for the past months has finally calmed down.
No more crazy life-threatening quests, gods, titans, and impossible stuff. We're going to be totally fine.
"You got it, Wise Girl. Excelsior."
"Guys, finally I'm starving and Frank won't shut up because he's also starving and you said you'd be here, like, fifteen minutes ago and can we please order food now?" Leo Valdez might just possibly die of hunger. It would be ironic, which would at least fit with the theme of his entire life.
A young soul who cheated death, helped defeat a Titan and save the world, incredibly talented with so much wasted potential, leaves the world due to starvation despite being inside a restaurant because his friends took their jolly sweet time promenading into the diner to have lunch and are fifteen minutes late. Another bonus to add to his award-winning worthy tragedy that should be turned into like, a Broadway show or something, is that Leo just knows they're going to talk forever before even looking at the menus.
"What, no I haven't!" Frank, who's sitting next to Hazel and Nico, protests and looks at the two to back him up. The former is doing something on his phone and doesn't bother responding, while Hazel pats his shoulder comfortingly.
"Leo, dude, calm down before someone calls the police thinking you're having, like, a medical emergency." Jason, sweet, sweet Jason, the only one of his cold-hearted so-called friends to show any amount of concern for his plight, says, reaching up to try and get Leo off the Denny's table. "Or before an employee kicks us out for property damage."
Out of his peripheral vision, Leo can see Piper holding back laughter at his theatrics, but Leo feels his reasons are very justified because he's starving. "Piper, you'd be right up here with me if you were about to die of hunger."
"Leo, you're one of the biggest drama queens I know." Nico remarks. "And my father is Hades."
Frank is now slowly sliding his body lower and lower, looking like he's trying to make himself as small as possible and disappear. "Leo, I'm going to die of embarrassment. Please get off the table."
"Sorry," Percy says as he and Annabeth join them at their booth. (He doesn't sound sorry at all). They slide in, taking seats on the other end. "We got delayed doing stuff."
Leo, who's about to move and take his seat that now his friends are finally here, desperately tries to hold back his laughter as everyone at the table goes silent and stares at Percy.
Piper is the first to react. "Oh? What kind of stuff?" She looks over at Annabeth grins.
Leo isn't sure what's funnier; Hazel's embarrassed expression, Frank and Jason staring at the two girls, or Percy's completely oblivious face as he reaches across the table and steals Jason's menu. Even Nico is trying to hold back a grin.
Annabeth looks like she can't tell if she wants to smack her face or Percy's.
Percy, totally missing everything (the fact that Hazel understood that innuendo and Percy didn't is honestly...impressive) looks up from his menu and stares at her earnestly. "Dude, the historical reports. You know, the ones that suck your soul dry and make you look like you're the most vitamin D deficient person in the world who needs to drink O positive blood to continue living?"
Nico raises an eyebrow. "Did you rehearse that?"
"Uh huh," Piper says slowly, "right."
Annabeth looks like she's about to say something but Jason claps his hands together, saying, "Okay, well, great for you guys, but let's order before Leo passes out."
Leo is a little bummed that they weren't able to hear Annabeth's retort but also insanely grateful to Jason, his man, his bro, for getting them back on the topic of food because Leo. is. starving.
"Right, breakfast guys, I highly recommend we all get breakfast." Frank comments as everyone grabs menus and starts looking over what they want to order.
Or tries to.
"Leo, get off the frik'ing table man, you're standing on all the menus." Nico tugs at one beneath his feet and Leo gets the distinct impression he's trying to make him slip and fall on his ass.
"Alright, alright, it's not my fault these two love birds were fifteen minutes late because they were 'doing stuff' and I was forced to stand on the table to get them to hurry over."
"Dude, what's with the air quotes?"
"Oh my gods, Percy."
"Anyways!" Annabeth intervenes, leaning over to look at Leo who's finally moved off the table and squashed himself right in between Jason and Piper.
("Mom, dad, now that the fam's all here can we please order?"
"Leo, shut up and move your butt."
"Why didn't you just order before we got here? We wouldn't have minded." Annabeth finishes, talking right over Leo and Jason.
Leo shoots a pointed look at Piper and Hazel, who's rolling her eyes at Frank's overjoyed expression.
("Breakfast, all day. Twenty-four hours seven days a week. Bless."
"I know, it's part of the reason I suggested it."
"Hazel, have I told you that you're the best?")
Leo responds before Piper is able to. "Well, I tried to but someone wanted this to be like, a group thing from start to finish or whatever so I was forced to wait and slowly die of hunger."
Hazel turns to the conversation happening with the others. "Well, you know, with everything that's happened, and all the work we've been doing, Piper and I both agreed that we need to get out do things together that aren't, you know, documenting everything that's happened and rebuilding Camp Half-Blood."
Piper raises her cup of water and toasts to that.
Leo can't help but smile because truthfully, he's really, really, happy they're all meeting up and eating together like this. These people are his most favorite in the world, and he'd be lying if he said he hadn't been missing them recently.
Piper flashes Hazel a grin. "Right, what she said. Come on, it's been a while since we've seen each and just, you know, did something that wasn't saving the day or rebuilding our lives."
"You guys are the best," Percy says. He's got one arm around Annabeth and the other holding his menu. "I think I was about to turn into a living zombie-"
Annabeth rolls her eyes, "Percy, it was like, two hours tops, you were not-"
"Zombies are undead." Leo can't help but interrupt. "So you're like a, um, dead zombie that still retains the ability to move."
Nico looks up at this and raises an eyebrow. "Leo, we've been over this."
"Okay, yeah, no," Hazel breaks in. "We are not getting into this again. You're like Annabeth and her alternate dimension or multiverse theories."
Leo rolls his eyes as he continues using the slightly crumpled straw wrappers and sugar packets from the middle of the table to create a miniature castle, but not before sticking his tongue out at Nico.
Nico throws his balled-up napkin at Leo. It misses his glorious castle and ends up hitting Piper in the face instead.
"Thanks," she says sarcastically, but the black-haired boy merely rolls his eyes in response and glowers at Leo who's still making faces at him.
Annabeth looks from Hazel to Percy. "What do you mean, 'Annabeth and her alternate dimension theories?' I do not talk about that as often as these two debate the criteria for classifying zombies."
Piper and Percy exchange a look, then turn back to the daughter of Athena and nod simultaneously. "Sorry Wise Girl, but you kind of do."
"Hey, for what it's worth, I think it's cool." Jason says flashing Annabeth a thumbs up.
"Nice to know someone appreciates my hypotheses," Annabeth says, but she, along with Percy and Piper, is fighting a smile.
"I support you too, Annabeth," Frank adds and once again Leo is so, so, grateful that he's here with his friends, that they have the ability to talk about mundane and random stuff, not worried about saving the world or fighting gods and just surviving.
"Okay great, but can we please order now? Like, seriously, I'mma 'bout to pass out."
The evening continues on with Leo making a strange comment, Hazel not getting it, and Nico and Annabeth adding sarcastic remarks. Jason tried to move Leo from in between him and Piper which led to a lot of wiggling, a few elbows, laughter from the others at the table, and finally, Leo's win.
Percy is actually proud of himself and the guys as they've practically ordered the entire breakfast menu between them and an incredible amount of pancakes. Annabeth and Piper's looks of disbelief at the amount of food had been a proud moment in Percy's life, and even more so was the fact that Hazel has been steadily keeping up with them.
"Hey Percy, why didn't the beetle go to the party?" Leo's smile is wide and his eyes just a little too bright as Percy glances at him. He's been chugging soda and eating pancakes topped with tons of syrup, chocolate chips, as well as the sugar from the sugar packets he'd been playing with all evening. Percy can practically see the oncoming sugar high.
Percy smiles at him fondly, still too glad to see Leo here with them, uninjured and alive. "I don't know man, why?"
"Because he was a blue beetle!"
The teen can't help but laugh at the ridiculous joke as the others groan.
"Get it? The beetle was blue, which means sad, so—"
"We get it." Annabeth cuts him off with a roll of her eyes. Piper shoots her a grateful look.
Jason catches Percy and Annebth's eyes and mouths you do?
No, Percy mouths back, not at all.
"Okay," Piper moves what's left of the sugar packets away from Leo's reach. "No more sugar. Maybe drink some water, Leo, you're legit vibrating the whole seat."
"Please," Nico says. "I can feel it from here."
Percy finds himself grinning again, that feeling of gratitude rising up inside him. For once, the world isn't ending, no gods, goddesses, Titans or other evil thing trying to take over the world, his friends and family are safe and happy. He gives a quiet, deeply contented sigh as they stand up to leave, secretly feeling like this time they are going to get more than just four months before the next crisis happens. Because maybe, just maybe, there wouldn't be a next crisis. Percy knows that Annabeth could tell him the probable statistics of that happening (and his guess is they wouldn't be low) but still. He's already been part of two major prophecies and has enough mental and emotional trauma to last him the rest of his life; a few more months of peace are more than warranted.
Yeah, Percy thinks to himself as he looks at Annabeth talking with Piper and Hazel, Leo shoving his last few bites of food in his mouth, Nico grabbing his container of leftovers, and Jason and Frank tidying up their table the best they can. We're gonna be totally fine.
"That was really nice," Annabeth says as they exit the restaurant and head out into the cool night air. There aren't not many stars to be seen, as the sky is covered with clouds, the lights from the city hiding them further. "Thanks for putting this together, girl."
Piper waves off the thanks and presses a little closer to Jason's side. "Thank Hazel, she's the one who came up with the idea."
"I'm just happy it worked out," Hazel quickly says but Piper can tell she's flattered and pleased with herself.
Frank smiles at her. "It was perfect."
"Frank, I feel like any place that serves breakfast all day would be perfect for you." Percy teases and laughs at Frank's protests that no, it's because I'm with you guys, the breakfast is just a bonus.
"Ditto what Annabeth said," Nico adds, speaking right over Frank and Percy, smiling at his sister. "Thanks, Hazel."
"Okay, you guys down to do something?" Leo slings an arm over Jason's shoulder and the one over Percy's, linking him, Piper, and the other two together. "Because I feel like I have enough energy to run like, three marathons."
"After the amount of sugar you just ate?" Annabeth looks at him incredulously. "I'm actually not surprised."
"What about a movie?" Frank offers. "I don't know if there's anything good playing right now but I feel like I haven't seen a movie in the theaters in forever."
"I'd be down," Jason says, trying to move Leo's elbow out of his face.
"Leo, get your elbow out of my face," Percy says. "Dude, ow."
Piper ignores the chaos from the boys and looks over at Nico. "It's worth checking out what's playing. Nico you've got your cell?"
Nico nods. "Give me a sec."
"What about-" Hazel starts but stops, her head tilting to the side quizzically.
Frank frowns, sharing a concerned look with Piper and touches her shoulder. "Hazel?"
Piper's eyes widen as Hazel doubles over, gripping her head. Her face is pained and her mouth is open like she's trying to scream but can't.
"Hazel, what's wrong?" Piper asks as Nico rushes over and grabs her shoulders.
"Hazel, are you okay?" He says talking on top of Piper and Frank. "Hazel!"
The daughter of Pluto grabs Nico's hand, her face twisted in pain. She says something to him too soft for Piper to hear over the concerned voices of her friends.
"What's going on?" Annabeth stares at Piper, and Piper can see the same feeling that is creeping into her reflected in her friend's eyes: fear.
Jason pushes through, Percy and Leo crowding around. "Hazel, can you hear me?"
"Should we call nine-one-one?" Percy asks Piper and Annabeth, staring at Hazel's trembling form.
Piper says at the same time, "Is she having a seizure?" They're both trying to keep the panic from their voices.
Annabeth looks distraught. "I don't know! There's no protocol for this!"
Suddenly, Hazel jerks away and shouts, her eyes tightly closed. "Stop it, stop! I don't- I can't-" the rest of her sentence is ripped away in a scream.
"Hazel!" Nico and Piper say at the same time.
"Percy, call nine-one-one!" Annabeth orders. "We need to get her to a hospital now."
"Frank!" Jason shouts as Hazel starts to collapse. Both of them catch her, gently lowering her to the cold asphalt.
Frank is shaking almost as bad as Hazel, and looks as awful as Piper feels. "Hazel, what's wrong, please say something."
Almost as if by magic, she does. "Percy," Hazel gasps, looking straight at the demigod, "it wants you, she's trying to stop him but- look out!"
Piper whirls around following Hazel's line of sight and gasps as the air and space around them starts to rip open. It's almost as if the world just...stopped, and then sped up, the air compressing then exploding outwards. The blast from it almost knocks her over, but suddenly Jason is there gripping her arm, shouting something at her.
Jason's blue eyes are wide with fright. Piper has no clue what's going on now; she can barely make out Frank cradling a spasming Hazel, and Leo has managed to grab Nico by one arm and Annabeth by the other. All three of them are staring in horror at Percy, who looks equally horrified, because the epicenter of the vortex has formed around him, red and black oily strands of...magic slowly wrapping around his ankles, climbing higher on his thighs, around his waist and hips.
"Oh my gods!" Piper gasps, her voice lost in the noise. She can hear Annabeth and Jason yelling Percy's name, panicked.
"What the hell?" Percy tries to shove himself forward, straining against the pull of the vortex. "I...can't...move!"
"Grab him, pull him out!" Nico shouts, reaching forward and snatching one of Percy's outstretched hands.
Piper throws herself forward just enough to wrap her hands over Nico's and on Percy's wrist, Annabeth, Leo, and Jason moving forward to grab his other, all trying desperately to get him out get him out!
Vaguely, Piper can hear Hazel screaming, but she doesn't have the time or strength to look over her shoulder and check on the other girl and Frank.
Piper reels back suddenly, almost losing her grip on Percy, as the chaos that's centered around him is almost...thrown to the side. It's so hard to describe; one moment the madness is all consuming and then it's as if it's shoved aside by something else gripping Percy. It's like a shadow envelopes them and for a split second, it's utterly silent.
"Percy?" Annabeth whispers, her voice trembling.
Piper can hear them all gasp as the name echos around, like someone said it but inside their heads. Piper is so scared because none of this is making sense, she can't see anything and is Percy okay, what is going on?
'Find help. He's trying...I can't...help, find him. His symbol...the night. I-'
And then there's a different voice, one that Piper can barely make out because she's screaming; it feels like something is tearing it's way into her head.
"No, no, no! This isn't fun at all!"
Piper can feel something ripping through again, and she hears Percy scream. Suddenly she can see the night sky above them, then the floor as if her body pitches sideways, Frank and Hazel lying on the ground, and then nothing.
The world falls away.
[/Ten minutes prior.
"Clue? Wait no, Robin's not here, he'd probably cry if we played that without him. How about CandyLand? Wait no, I take it back, I actually hate that game. Settlers of Catan? Does that count, I mean, it basically starts with a 'C'. Or then what about-"
"Kid Flash, Bart, Barto, Bartholomew," Jaime groans. "Why can't we just watch a movie?"
"Jaimeroo, we've done that for, like, the past five days" Bart says, barely waiting for Jaime to finish his sentence. "It's time to do something stimulating, you know, keep the mind sharp and all that."
"We have something stimulating to do," Cassie says, rolling her eyes, setting the tall stack of board games aside so she can sit on the couch in the rec room. "You know, reviewing the case files that Batgirl gave us? I don't think she was joking when she said we'd have a quiz."
"But I've already read through them all already." Bart is a blur for a few seconds, before stopping in front of Cassie. He flops down next to her, almost on top of her and Jaime, and gives a long suffering sigh. "Why do Static, Robin, and Superboy get to go out on a mission and the rest of us are forced to stay here and die of boredom? I'm too young to die. There's so much I still have to do in life!"
Cassie whacks him lightly on the head with her file and notepad.
"Ugh." Bart moans.
"Well, Aqualad did say that as soon as he and Batgirl have finished…whatever it is they're working on, we're going to do some new training," Garfield supplies with a shy smile. "That should be fun, right guys?"
"Oh you sweet, sweet, innocent little green person," Bart says dramatically. "I'm talking about doing something crash. Like going on a recon mission. Technically, Cassie and I should go with Rob and SB. It'd be like, a mini Justice League equivalent, you know?"
"Thaaanks. What, Gar and I are chopped liver?" Jaime retorts sarcastically. "'Sides, the O.G. Blue Beetle was with the League for a while, I'll have you know."
"What is that even supposed to mean, 'chopped liver'? Your expressions in this era make zero sense."
"Right, and 'crash' amd 'moded' do?"
"Guys, case files and upcoming quiz, remember?" Cassie interrupts, waving her folder around in the air. "And Bart, I know you haven't actually read all of yours." The boys groan and go back to their respective folders.
"This is still boring." Bart mumbles. "It's been boring for, like, the past five days."
"I can't believe you're complaining about this, hermano," Jamie looks at him. "There's been no crisis, no alien invasion, and no villain trying to take over the world. We're finally getting a break."
"Psh, I'm simply expressing my inner feelings to communicate with my teammates, who frankly do not care about me or my plight, apparently, to improve our coordination and understanding of each other."
Gar tilts his head to the side while Cassie snorts. "So you were paying attention to Aqualad's lesson yesterday."
Jaime laughs at Bart's affronted expression.
Cassie tosses a pillow at him. "Focus, guys."
They settle down, and there is a moment of silence and stillness as they turn back to their files, Bart fidgeting occasionally.
"Okay, but what if we play a prank on Robin and SB?" Bart whispers, breaking the silence.
Cassie groans and smacks her face with her open folder. "Bart, really?"
"Remember the last time we did that?" Gar pipes up. He shares a somewhat distressed look with Jaime. "Robin might be quiet, but he sure knows how to get back at someone."
Jaime nods. "I mean, I don't know why we didn't expect that, Nightwing's his brother. Even I know about some of the pranks he and...he's pulled off. "
Bart looks away for a moment, because they all know what Jaime was going to say. He and Wally. The previous Kid Flash.
Gar breaks the silence, quietly suggesting, "How about we play video games?"
"Despite what you may think, there is such a thing as too many video games. Believe me, I grew up in one." Bart responds. He's slumped down so far on the couch that he's almost horizontal. "I have decided to succumb entirely to apathy at this point and I'm now waiting for death to take me or for something exciting to happen, whichever comes first."
Jaime rolls his eyes. "Death by apathy it is then, because it's been calm all week and for once in our lives nothing is happening."
Almost as soon as he finishes talking, the air around them warps then seems to rip open, blackness flowing outward.
"What the crap!" Gar shouts, his voice rising an octave. Cassie and Bart have jumped up, staring in shock at the darkness. The center swirls and froths like whirlpool, then expands, stretching from wall to wall, neatly bisecting the room as ribbons of blue and black settle onto the floor.
The members of the Young Justice Team eyes widen. Jaime's suit has activated, encasing him in the Blue Beetle shell. Cassie raises her hands into fists, staring as something inthe ribbons starts to make human shapes. Then, like water sliding off a table, the blackness disappears.
"I stand corrected." Jaime says finally, voice cracking a little.
"This is so not crash." Gar whispers, as he, Cassie, Jaime and Bart stare at the six people sprawled across the cave floor.
The room is silent for a moment save for the groans and muffled cursing of the newcomers.
Cassie gapes at the six teenagers that have just appeared, forcing her brain to get into gear and react.
The teens slowly start to stare back at them, looking just as confused. One of them, a pretty black-haired guy who looks to be about her age, is shakily sitting up.
"What in Hades?"
(mt. justice was never destroyed because comic book reasons / rewritten july 2020)