"Jackson, in the corner!"
I caught the basketball with ease. I leaned back, just as the kid in front of me jumped, ready to send my shot flying out of bounds. We made eye contact- I stared into his determined eyes, glittering with anticipation.
Hah! As if. He never got the chance.
I pulled the ball back down. The defender went flying by me, swearing loudly as he landed out of bounds. Some of the band kids on the sidelines jeered at him. One of the moms poured a Gatorade on his head, much to the dismay of the ref and the delight of the announcer.
"What a fake!"
I blurred by him, the basketball pounding against the hardwood. I spun past another defender and pushed some strength into my legs, erupting toward the basket. Someone jumped to stop me, but they couldn't get up in time.
I cocked my hand back and slammed the basketball into the hoop as hard as I could. The rim rattled loudly.
"WHAT A DUNK, LADIES, AND GENTLEMEN! JACKSON NETS HIS FIFTH CONSECUTIVE FIELD GOAL IN THE PAINT AS THE BUCCANEERS LOOK LOST OUT THERE!"
I grinned cheekily at the poor kid who'd fallen for my pump fake, dangling off the hoop. I pointed to him, and then to the guy who'd jumped in front of my dunk. "Sorry, boys. Do you want a tip? A masterclass, maybe? Here's a freebie: eat some vegetables before you try jumping in front of—"
"Jackson," The ref warned, almost instantly. His fingers tightened around his whistle. "We talked about this. Please."
I sighed, nodding, and hopping back down. Can't have fun doing anything these days, I swear.
After our third game of the season, a few weeks ago, the ref pulled me aside and told me, in not so many words, to stop taunting the other team.
Apparently, one of the kids' parents had called him, cussing him out for letting me verbally abuse their special little snowflake baby on the court.
I never understood that logic.
Why would you call and yell at the referee for something a player did? Well, I guess it's also more frowned upon to yell at the kid himself (me, in this situation), so it is what it is.
Needless to say, he wasn't very happy. He told me he'd give me a technical foul and boot me to the bench if I continued taunting people that badly. I still got a little leeway, but not nearly enough for my tastes.
"Kick his ass, Jackson!" The coach hollered from the sideline. His veins popped, and for a moment I was worried they'd come out of his tan skin. He loosened his tie. "That's my boy! Torch them!"
"P-E-R-C-Y!" I ran back on defense, my shoes squeaking against the hardwood. I passed by the cheerleaders, who assembled in a triangle, yelling, "Stronger than steel, hotter than the sun; Percy won't stop, till he gets the job done!"
They grunted, flipping the girl up top-Liz- into the air. She flipped back down and raised her pom-poms to the massive cheer of the audience.
She gave me a wink when we made eye contact- we were a few weeks out past the field trip, and we were back to being tight.
Well, by that, I mean, she decided to stop holding a fake grudge against me. For not singing Mariah Carrey. On a field trip to Oscorp,
Yeah, no, she's as confusing to me as she must be to you. Maybe more. Regardless, she and Gwen are easily my best friends at school.
The other point guard brought up the ball slowly, raising his hand to call for a screen. I dropped low, reading the play like a book. Two forwards on the wing, a shooting guard cutting. The center was nowhere in sight.
Any moment now, the guy would come to screen for him, and he'd try to make a break for the paint.
"Perce, drop!" Flash hollered from behind me. "He's got a screen coming!"
Like clockwork, I tell you. Clockwork. I'm seeing through these kids like they aren't even there. I never thought I'd say this but thank Zeus for high school basketball. It's quickly becoming a favorite pastime for me.
I slid under the screen, chasing down the guard who was making a break for the paint. Oh, you poor boy.
I tensed, preparing myself to send the ball careening off the glass.
Just as I took off, my [Mana Detection] pinged. A purple entity just appeared in the stands, out of nowhere. I snapped my head toward the stands, letting the other guard score as I came back down prematurely, like a puppet who just got his strings snipped.
A purple mana source? I peered into the stands.
Hera [GODDESS OF WOMEN, MARRIAGE, CHILDBIRTH…]
Hera is the Greek goddess of Women, Marriage, Childbirth, and Familial love. She is the youngest daughter of Rhea and Kronos, as well as the older sister and wife of Zeus, therefore being the Queen of Olympus.
Perks: Motherly Aura, Heaven's Call, Mana Dam…
After landing, I almost tripped.
Why was the Queen of the Heavens coming to Midtown High to watch me play a basketball game?
"Percy, what the hell?" Flash complained, throwing up his hands. "Head in the game, dawg. You just gave him an open lane."
"My bad," I said, turning my attention to the game once more as he inbounded the ball to me. "Got a bit, uh, distracted."
Distracted was the understatement of the century. I felt like I was playing basketball with a nuclear warhead in the stands.
Somehow, though, the rest of the game passed uneventfully. After I got used to the fact that, for one reason or another, an Olympian had come out to watch me play a game of high school basketball, I settled back into my groove.
Basketball was one of the few aspects in my life I could do something for the sake of it. I wasn't letting that go, even if Kronos himself hopped up into the stands.
We killed them, and as I was walking back to the locker room, my vision kept pinging again. I see.
So, she wasn't here to just watch.
I waited politely as Hera got closer. Once she was close enough, I respectfully dipped my head a little bit.
I know, I know, but listen- I like Hera!
She was on my side after the quest with Zeus' lightning bolt, and we'd had a rather nice conversation after the fact, too. I was still a bit cautious around her due to her apparent disapproval of demigods, but I liked the woman enough to at least give her a little bit of respect.
She looked like she did last time, although she'd gone to great lengths to blend in with mortals, which earned her more brownie points in my book.
Whenever my dad came to the overworld, he just dressed like a beach bum from Miami- he stood out like a sore thumb on the New York streets. Not that he or I cared, it would just make it easier for us to get seats at fancy restaurants. Not that we went to those often- we usually just ended up going to Taco Bell and sharing a bucketful of their chalupas. You wouldn't believe how many things that man could fit down the hatch. Unbelievable.
Sorry- where was I?
Hera. Right. If I had to choose a way to describe her, I'd probably have to settle on business-like.
Rather than a dress or anything you'd expect from a goddess, she was dressed in a pinstriped suit jacket with a cashmere sweater underneath, a business-length skirt, and heels. She rounded off the outfit with random teacher accessories- a small briefcase, pen through her bun- the whole nine yards.
Hera had the walk and demeanor of a stern woman. As most immortals do, she had a drawing effect on the mortals around her. They'd turn to look at her; some would wave, others would smile kindly. Especially the women- they didn't know it, but they were all drawn to the aura Hera had.
It was interesting to see. Her face smiled, but her eyes were cold and calculating, almost as if she were saying:
Mother knows best. Now don't cross me or I will have to step on you.
Her frigid expression thawed a bit as she got closer to me. "Perseus, I thought we covered this last time. You need not bow to me."
"Lady Hera," I said respectfully. I bit back the how's it hanging that almost worked its way out of my mouth- I was getting a bit casual these days. The base of my neck tingled as she looked at me, "What brings you to my neck of the woods? Unless, of course, you just wanted to catch the Wildcats play."
"A rather interesting game, though, you certainly didn't make it easy on them," Hera commented, her expression showing some amusement. "Regardless, you're correct. I came to speak with you."
"By all means," I continued in my tone from before. It wasn't often a goddess, specifically, the queen of all goddesses made a house call to a demigod. Plus, I was curious. I turned to the gym floor, where some of the cheerleaders and players were coming toward me. "Maybe right here isn't the best spot."
"Agreed," Hera said, looking at the approaching teenagers with a critical eye. She turned back to me, warm familiarity easing some of the sternness on her face For a moment, her expression vaguely reminded me of Hestia's- well, they are sisters, after all. "Are you hungry?"
"Hungry?" I repeated. Was I hungry? I mean, even if I wasn't now, I would be soon. I just played an entire game of ball. Plus, was it a good idea to turn Hera down for just about anything?
I settled on, "I guess so."
"Good," Hera reached forward and grabbed my shoulder, and the world spun around us.
When I opened my eyes again, I was sitting at a dinner table, across from Hera.
I blinked a few times to regain my bearings- godly teleportation was something I found difficult to adjust to, with or without the game.
We were in what was the fanciest restaurant I'd ever been in, without a shred of doubt. It blew the one I visited my mom in earlier the summer out of the water.
It felt intimate and elegant; a dimly lit space filled with two-seater tables, a piano bar, and an entire wall that was a fish tank, with Angelfish curiously swimming back and forth. Golden wreaths adorned the walls, and floating candles drifted through the area.
From somewhere, low-toned jazz music echoed throughout the room. The ceiling above us, which looked like stars, was constantly shifting.
There was a window next to us- a gigantic sheet of glass that betrayed where we were. Right outside of it, I could see a thin layer of clouds, with the city underneath. A plane broke through the clouds, climbing higher and higher.
I turned my head some more, noticing wind spirits swirling overhead, bringing an endless assortment of pizzas, sandwiches, chips, cold drinks, and fresh-baked cookies to the tables near us, who were filled with people who looked like teenagers.
I also felt…clean. Cleaner than I had in a while.
Ah. That explains it.
I looked down, and instead of the jersey and shorts I was wearing, I was dressed in a plain black suit. My nails were trimmed. My hair- which had been down to my eyes- was cut neatly and combed.
"Thank you," I told Hera, who waved me off.
"Your mother will thank me," Hera said good-naturedly. She clapped her hands, "Aristaeus?"
A man who I could only assume was Aristaeus appeared next to our table with two menus. He didn't say a word, placing the two menus in front of us. He waved his hand, and a basket of bread, cheese, and wine appeared on the table.
He disappeared a moment later. I picked up a menu, but all it said was: WHATEVER YOU WANT.
Hm. An ice-cold glass of blue Dr. Pepper dropped itself into my hand. I took a sip- perfect. As I took the sip, the glass refilled itself to exactly where it had been before.
Hera took note of my flabbergasted expression, smiling pleasantly at me as she poured herself some wine, in a fancy-looking glass that had appeared out of nowhere. "Is this your first time dining on Olympus?"
"Yes, ma'am," I responded, taking some bread from the basket, and putting it on my plate. It was nice and warm to the touch- not too hot, but just hot enough. Fresh out of the oven, if I had to guess.
The moment it touched my plate, a much smaller plate of oil mixed with spices and chili flakes appeared next to it, along with shakers full of whatever I could need- salt, pepper, oregano, parmesan cheese. "It's…definitely an experience."
"By all means," Hera smiled again. "Let's begin."
An expensive-looking steak appeared in front of her, while a bowl full of Panera's Mac and Cheese spawned in front of me.
We both began digging in. A few minutes later, I felt Hera's gaze on me, so I looked up.
Hera took a bite of the steak, "I…understand you've been given a quest, the parameters of which were set by Hermes, is that correct?"
"Yes, ma'am," I repeated, swallowing my spoonful. "Lady Hestia and Mr. D were there, as well."
"I see. That's…good, then."
I looked at her inquisitively.
Hera shrugged, "I'm just…how do I put this, personally not a fan of it."
"Well, for one, I believe it puts you in a rather precarious situation, does it not? Here you are, offering your services to us despite going to school-excellent decision, by the way, it really made your mother happy- and they're asking you to hold off for the whole year, just to see what Luke might do? I think you can agree on the stupidity of that," Hera scoffed, gently placing her fork and knife down. "The plan is rushed and simple, chock-full of the edicts of its engineer. Unlike the rest of my…peers, I think the entire idea of giving Luke space is ill-advised. Luke himself may not be a threat, but my father? He's clever. Cunning. He never takes risks unless they're calculated, never does things without reason. They seem to have forgotten. I won't let you walk into this situation without help."
"Er, my lady, in the least offensive way possible, because I do appreciate it, it's just that…I've heard…"
"That I hate heroes," I nodded, and the goddess gave me a dry smile. "I have that reputation. But if you want the truth, Percy, I often envy other gods their mortal children. You demigods can span both worlds. I think this helps your godly parents—even Zeus, curse him—to understand the mortal world better than I."
Hera sighed so unhappily that despite my confusion, I almost felt sorry for her.
"I am the goddess of marriage," she said. "It is not in my nature to be faithless. I have only two godly children—Ares and Hephaestus—both of whom are disappointments. I have no mortal heroes to do my bidding, which is why I am so often bitter toward demigods—Heracles, Aeneas, all of them. But it is also why I favored the first Jason, a pure mortal, who had no godly parent to guide him. It's why I find myself beginning to favor you, now. Whereas he had no help, you're forging your own path with our help. Mending the broken state of Olympus."
"I…see," I said, poking at my food. What she said made sense…and honestly…it made me pretty sad. I still had my guard up, though- the last time I had food with a goddess…well.
"In many ways, the growing apart of my family was inevitable…but I still could not stop it. With no understanding of the mortal world, nor the gods' roles in it, I simply sat back. I let it happen. For years, Olympus was quiet. After that war, we'd needed time to recover. Then, that upstart Thalia came along," Hera's expression darkened. "My family had been the most divided I'd ever seen it. Then, well, you entered the scene. You may not have noticed it, Perseus, but you're beginning to bring Olympus together. A twelve-year-old boy, looking for his mother, found a way to gain the favor of Hestia, Hades, Aphrodite, Poseidon, Apollo…a twelve-year-old boy who cared for nothing except saving his family put his life on the line. It was amazing. That boy dueled a god, freeing him of Titanic influence. He vanquished a Titan. Make no mistake, Perseus…I can tell you this with full confidence just off of your first year alone...you will be the greatest of heroes. You will bring unity to Olympus and heal my broken family."
She was right, to some degree. In my first year alone, I'd managed to get my aunt and uncle their seats back…in a year I really had done all those things. I just couldn't…couldn't see where she wanted to take this.
My eyes were as wide as dinner plates. "Thank you."
"No, thank you, Perseus," Hera returned, waving her hand. A manilla folder appeared in her hand. I could make out the OSCORP written in bright-red letters across the top. "Because you've done much for me…I would like to return the favor. The location of the Thyrsus."
She slid the folder across the table. I grabbed it and leafed through it, my eyebrows rising higher and higher. "This…this is everything I could need. I could intercept the staff right now, return it to Mr. D before anything bad even happens. Is that why..."
"I'm not telling you what to do, hero," Hera followed, returning to her dinner. "I just wanted to help you, for all you've done. That's all."
"I see," Her willingness to let me do what I wanted was appreciated, to say the least. "Thank you, my lady."
"Please. Now, let us return to our dinner, I did mention before, my…I am slightly out of touch with the mortal world. What is it you were doing in that gym?" Hera asked.
"Ah, it's a game called basketball," I answered. I got the distinct sense that she knew what basketball was, but for some reason, hearing it from me felt different to her. Maybe she really was just lonely. "So, it all started when I got back from Atlantis…"
Dinner was great, and the company was even better. As a rule of thumb, I was beginning to really like all my aunts. All I'd have to do now is meet up with Demeter, and it would be a clean sweep of Olympians.
I whistled as I exited the Empire State Building, the folder securely placed in my inventory. I wasn't going to make a move on it just yet, even though I was pretty sure what I was going to do.
I tended to rush into things- that particular habit of mine definitely got me into some dicey situations in the past. Well, I say past like all of the events of the summer were years and years ago, instead of a few months, but whatever. It's my monologue. I can make things sound how they want.
Anyway, whether it was just because I was growing up, or the absolute shredder Oceanus had put my mind through, I felt different these days. More, I don't know, in control. More complete. I didn't want to keep making the same mistakes I always made, or keep being the same person I always was. I wanted to avoid that.
Besides, thinking all of this through would let me avoid making dumb mistakes in general. It felt like good practice to make plans as foolproof as possible, anyway.
Sure, hindsight was always 20/20, but that was no excuse to sort of let go right now.
Think Titanic, for example. Rose and Jack- yeah, they both could've survived. Or Achilles- he could've found a way to save Patroclus and himself. Maybe Orpheus could've taken a step back and figured out a way for both him and Eurydice to get out of the Underworld.
I think you get my point.
You see it all the time, especially in the myths. Heroes of old- people who achieved monumental goals, had their names written into heavens- all falling short in the end, one way or another. That's why my mom named me Perseus- she thought I'd be able to inherit his luck and conquer that curse of bad endings.
Not that it was any of their faults, of course. It's easy to sit back now and look at their lives, pointing at little things they did, analyzing their faults and strengths. Poking holes in their plans. Stripping their logic.
No matter what they achieved, most of them were people- mortals. They were stirred by their emotions and preconceptions of the limits of their knowledge, their fears, ambitions. They weren't gods. In the heat of the moment, despite their immense success, they lost sight of the most obvious solutions.
I'm not a hero of that caliber just yet, nor am I a god, but that doesn't mean I can't try to minimize any sort of fallout. I have time on my side, for now, so the smart thing to do is to plan out my moves meticulously, or, instead of becoming a great hero like Hera said, I'll just be the latest addition on a long list of could've been's.
Still, I'll keep that folder in mind. For sure.
I heard police sirens somewhere off in the distance, drawing me out of my thoughts. My breath caught my throat.
Aphrodite was waiting for me at the steps of the Empire State building.
A part of me found it ironic.
The last time I'd been at Olympus, I'd asked her to grab some pizza. Back then, I was the one at the base of the stairs and she was the one at the top.
"Percy," She looked as great as ever. Her silvery hair had notably lost some of its luster. Her torso was wrapped in a fur jacket, and she rounded off the outfit with jeans and hiking boots. She looked ready to go hiking or hit NYC for Fashion Week. I couldn't tell which.
"Aphrodite," There was a charged feeling in the air. Looking at her face made the soda from earlier churn in my stomach like a whirlpool. I felt like if I got any closer to her, I'd explode.
She moved a bit closer. I resisted the urge to step backward. Aphrodite frowned slightly as if she'd picked up on my hesitation. "I…how are you?"
"I'm good," I replied, putting my hands in my pockets. "I'm great. And, uh, you?"
"I'm okay," Aphrodite gave me a tight smile. "It's been okay."
"Good," I said. "That...is good."
We stood in a few minutes of awkward silence. Aphrodite went to open her mouth again, when we were both interrupted by a red and blue figure slamming into me.
"What the hell?" I asked.
Peter Parker [SPIDERMAN]
[PERKS]: Blessing of Apollo, Genius, Tech-Savvy, Misunderstood Machiner…
At a young age, Peter Parker's parents were said to have died in a plane crash, leaving him to be raised by Ben and May Parker. After the death of his uncle, Ben, Peter decided to take up the mantle of Spiderman!
I stared at Peter as his mask looked back at me, the lens reflecting my face. He brushed some dirt off my shoulder- as if that made up for slamming into me. "Sorry, pal, gotta go!"
He pointed his hand at a nearby streetlight, and I kid you not, a strand of white stuff literally shot out of this device on his wrist. He pulled, and his body went flying forward, just as I noticed a figure on the rooftop next to us. I couldn't get a good look at it.
Peter went swinging toward it.
Even without seeing the figure, I would've tracked down Peter and made him squeal like a pig. It's not every day a mortal exponentially increases every facet of who he is and gains a god's blessing, then chooses to swing around the city in some skintight suit.
But with the figure that was just out of my vision, I was committed. I was curious. And, most importantly, I was looking for a way out of this awkward conversation with Aphrodite.
"I should check up on him," I said, turning away from the frowning goddess.
"I'll see you soon?" Aphrodite asked, wringing her hands. "I wanted...um...to..."
"It's a small city."
Peter was almost out of my vision by the time I turned. The dress shoes Hera dressed me in clacked loudly against the pavement as I ran toward him, trying to get a better view.
Damn Parker… this dude was taking off!
I focused a [Death Leap] on him a few moments later and disappeared with a small whoosh.
Both Peter and the figure continued talking as I appeared somewhere behind them in a blur of light.
It was a weird scene. Now since I could get a good look at Peter, I noticed the entirety of what he was wearing, and I had to say, I was impressed.
Most of it looked like it was made from a red-blue spandex material. It was light, but breathable- almost like a figure skater's outfit. There was a thin red spider on the back, and the front had a red, webbed design with a black spider.
His soles looked like they were cleats that were cut in half and pasted on. Those things on his wrists looked like normal bracelets, but they were glowing red in the middle. I noticed how exhausted Peter looked.
The figure in front of him was a girl. Felicia Hardy, the game said. Her stats weren't anything crazy, but they were a bit above Peter's in terms of dexterity, and a decent bit below in terms of strength.
She was wearing a form-fitting one-piece bodysuit, with a white tool belt and a face mask. The Incredibles-kind, the ones that just covered your eyes. She had silvery hair, just like Aphrodite, except hers was silky smooth. Damn. She was hot.
"—get the wrong idea!"
"Aw. You kept me waiting this time. You run into a friend of yours, Spider?" Felicia said in a smooth tone of voice that sent pleasant tingles down my back. "As for that, well, I didn't think it was. Is it?"
"No!" Peter cleared his throat, "No, it's not."
They both stared at each other for a moment.
"This is crazy, but, what if, like, you just gave it back?" Peter protested tiredly, pointing a webbed finger at a USB drive, which was between Felicia's clawed fingertips. "I've been chasing bad guys around all day. I'm beat. Just, you know, be the good guy. For once."
That's right. I did remember seeing a thing or two in the paper about some dude in spandex zipping around the city. I guess I was just too busy in my own world to put two and two together. Guess I'm watching Peter at work.
I frowned to myself- so Ben died, huh? That's a damn shame. I really liked the guy.
"Oh but, Spiderman. I'm such a bad girl," Felicia said huskily. "There isn't a good bone in my body. Unless, of course, you're willing to provide one."
Peter looked at her. Mask or not, I could basically feel his annoyance. "Look, Cat, I'm normally a bit nicer, but…"
Peter shot two webs out of his wrists and blurred forward, just as Felecia ducked under his first punch. Impressive- not too many people moved that fast these days. Peter's punch was a bit haphazard, though. Like I said, he definitely seems tired, so I can't give her too much credit. Just a bit.
He caught her kick, pulling her leg forward and slamming her into the ground. Peter's hand pried open hers, and he raised the USB to the sky like it was a bar of gold.
"You like it rough, huh?" Felica whispered in a strained tone. "Unluckily for you…I do too."
Clouds of smoke exploded from her belt, and Peter, although he seemed to be expecting it, was sent flying backward by a kick, coughing up a storm. Felicia jumped off the rooftop, not before giving me a wink.
How long had she known I was there?
"Damn, Pete," I said, throwing all caution to the wind and hopping off the ledge I was positioned. I landed next to the still coughing Peter. "Need a hand?"
"Percy," Peter still didn't seem too happy to see me, nor did he bother hiding his identity. He pulled down his mask, and I noticed a shiner on his right eye. He sighed, pocketing the USB, "How did you…never mind."
"You don't know the half of it."
"Let's get you a coffee, then, Spiderman. On me," I said, helping him up. "You look like you need one."
A few minutes later, Peter and I were posted up on the top of a Dunkin' Donuts three blocks away from the Empire State Building.
There was a box of donuts in between us, but they were mainly for Peter. I was still stuffed from dinner with my aunt.
I sipped on some hot chocolate, "So. Spandex, huh? Did you wake up one day and decide to just swing around…or…."
"During the field trip to Oscorp, a spider bit me," Peter sighed, his mask partially pulled up to allow him to eat. He took half of a donut out in one bite, pink sprinkles on his chin. "I can't even describe it…I thought I was going to die. For a second, I swear I did. But then, well, I woke up better than ever. I didn't need my glasses anymore, I could run faster, jump higher, lift more. I felt awesome."
Some hobos walked by us, staring at the sight. Yeah, yeah, a teen in a suit and Spiderman. Keep walking.
"I realized I could stick to walls after. So, I was like, screw it, might as well make some money off this. I went to those underground wrestling things. I don't know, I guess, somewhere along the line I lost sight of things. I stormed off one night," Peter's voice cracked. "I…Uncle Ben came rushing out after me. There was this guy robbing the store…"
Peter trailed off, and I put a comforting hand on his shoulder. "It's alright, man. I get it."
"Since then, I've been, I don't know, trying to honor his memory," Peter continued after a moment.
"And the spider stuff?"
"Well, I can't go around fighting people just dressed up as myself, my aunt would kill me," Peter laughed.
I laughed with him, and for a second, I got a glimpse of possibility. Peter and I could be good friends later down the line, I could feel it.
"I guess so," I replied after we stopped laughing. Friends, huh? I gave Peter a sidelong glance. "Listen…let me help."
"Oh, no way, it's way too—"
"Peter, you couldn't touch me if you tried," I said patiently. "I mean it. You could learn a thing or two from me. Let me help."
"I highly doubt that," Peter said. Surprisingly, there was no arrogance in his tone- he truly believed he could fight me.
I flipped backward, removing the suit jacket with one hand. "Come on, then. Let's see."
Peter stuffed the rest of the donut in his mouth and pulled his mask down, "Listen, Percy, I really don't want to hurt you."
I poised a [Death Leap] at his feet and disappeared. I smashed into his legs with my own, and he folded like a chair before blasting backward, skidding and flipping on the rooftop.
"I'd say the same…but I wouldn't mean it," I said, rolling my shoulder. "If you're serious about this, you're going to fight people a lot meaner and stronger than me. Come on."
Peter webbed my hand, but I burned through it instantly.
"Dude, you have powers too?"
"In a sense."
"I still don't want to hurt you, but…"
He web-zipped two generators and pulled, corkscrewing toward me. I weaved his kick with ease, shooting my hand out and grabbing his neck. "Urgh!"
I slammed his back onto the rooftop. Small cracks splintered out from underneath him- oops. I didn't mean to hit him that hard.
I planted my foot on his stomach, "Convincing enough?"
Peter's muffled voice sounded out from under my foot. "Fine."
I grinned, "Right, and about the powers thing…"
"You're getting better," I told Piper as she crisscrossed her dagger again, this time nicking my arm. "Are the weights helping?"
"Yeah," I took a moment to appreciate Piper's appearance. Normally, she didn't bother with dressing up in any sense, but today, she had a nice little accessory.
Braided in her hair was a bright blue harpy feather – a souvenir from last night's attack on the camp, or so I was told.
Apparently, monster activity was picking up. A troubling sign, but not entirely unexpected, with the fact that Luke was running around will-nilly. Thalia's protection was still holding up, so I wasn't too worried yet, but if things got any worse, I was going to have to intervene.
I liked it, though. The feather didn't exactly go with the rest of her workout outfit- a tank top and Nike pros- but Piper earned it. Defeating an entire flock of demon chicken ladies by yourself was never an easy task.
She downplayed the accomplishment, but I could tell she felt good about it. The feather felt like a reminder that she wasn't the same girl she'd been a few months ago- the one who'd gotten my eye ripped out.
"So fucking fast," Piper growled, sweat beading on her forehead. I deflected her attacks with my own dagger, smiling patiently. "Stop smiling."
I laughed, "No can do, Pipes."
Peter was grunting next to her, doing push-ups. Each time he came up, he gave Piper and me a look. I noticed his eyes linger on her a bit longer. I repressed a grin- he thought he was being slick, checking her out. Young love! So heartwarming.
The training was going well enough. Without telling her about the complexity behind them, I had Triton whip a bunch of those teleporting-pearl things to bring her to me and back, so Piper and I could work out, as per our deal.
It took a while for Peter to come around, particularly because we worked out in the school gym.
He was always a bit miffed at having to work out where the basketball team- a lot of the kids he didn't get along with- practiced. He perked up when I mentioned the cheerleaders next door, though.
An added benefit of this whole, well, arrangement, was the fact that Peter and Piper hit it off. Piper still wasn't loving camp, so being back in the real world made her a lot more agreeable and easygoing. In Peter's case, Piper was a pretty, intelligent girl who didn't avoid him like the plague.
I cut off the spar, ordering Peter and Piper to go at it while I drank some water.
Peter…was an interesting case.
That mana-infused spider, mixed with that super-soldier serum stuff, topped off by Apollo's blessing did something insane to his body.
I'd almost be jealous if I didn't have my powers.
His body was soaking up any sort of physical exercise and evolving rapidly. He was gaining muscle mass at a crazy rate, burning a preposterous number of calories, and honestly- he even seemed smarter than he was before. Believe me, that's saying something. He's easily the smartest kid in the entire school already.
Piper, a formidable fighter in her own right, was already finding it hard to keep up with him. It was inhuman, almost.
I rested on the doorway, watching their spar. I still don't really know why I offered to train both of them.
Piper, I think I felt bad. There was a brief stint of time there where I was kind of a dick to her. Multiple times. And then, well, I dated and broke up with her mom, which according to her was not cool at all. I didn't need her for this quest, either, now since I'm being honest, but what it really comes down to is friendship.
Piper's a friend now. I like having her around. She's perceptive, independent, and can crack jokes.
Not on my level, of course, but they can't all be winners.
I appreciate her, and the nice reprieve hanging out with her gives me. I guess training her is a way for me to hang out with her, while also helping her out a bit. She's also at camp full-time nowadays, so knowing another strong-ish demigod is there when I'm not around is a good feeling.
Peter, though? No clue. Maybe it was a favor to Ben, for the favor he'd done for me in the hospital by helping me calm down. Maybe I felt bad for the guy he used to be. Maybe I just didn't want to see him get pasted on the street by some super-powered maniac. Or, maybe, just maybe, I saw a bit of myself in him.
Nah. That's silly. We're nothing alike!
"Hard at work?" Liz appeared behind me, still dressed in her cheerleader outfit. She raised an eyebrow, "I'll never understand how you find the energy to go to practice, class, and then turn around and do this stuff."
"Har, har," Liz punched my shoulder. "Well, I had some fun news I thought I'd share with you."
"The school's having a fall ball tomorrow," The corners of Liz's mouth twitched upward. She pointed a pom-pom at me. "And Coach is making all of the basketball guys go."
My jaw dropped, "Wait, what? I don't want to go to some ball! What the hell does that have to do with basketball?"
"Morale-boosting, team-building. All of that fun stuff. Better yet," Liz continued, smirking. "You're all getting paired off with cheerleaders."
"That can't be real," I protested. "What kind of dumb idea is that?"
"You know him."
I sighed- I did know him. Doing weird stuff like that wasn't completely out of character from him, but even then, this was out there, "This sucks."
"Oh, man up, Jackson," Liz shook her head. "They're pulling names right now. I figured I'd come to warn you."
"Oh, Liz! My hero," I swooned. "Thank you so much for warning me about this! I just, goodness, am so thankful. I—"
"Percy," She shot me a dangerous look, "You better hope it isn't me. I'll make you dance with me the whole time."
I was cut off by a rather loud stampede of footsteps. Cheerleaders and basketball guys alike started flooding into the room, buzzing loudly. I noticed Peter and Piper stop sparring, and I repressed a groan- they were interrupting my training time!
Flash lunged forward, shoving some crumpled-up paper in my hand, "You lucky bastard!"
"What?" I started un-crumpling the paper in my hands. Bunch of children, all of them.
I scanned the still-wrinkly paper, my eyes hinging on Liz's name first. She was going with some dude named Andrew Maguire. That weird girl, Amy, was going with Flash. Another girl, Jessica, was going with Max. I finally found my name.
Peter isn't going to be happy about this one.
I lowered the paper, an already-beaming MJ standing right in front of me. All of the other cheerleaders had sour expressions on their faces- all of them but that girl, Amy, who was looking at me intently. God, she was weird.
"Face it, tiger," She said, walking forward a bit and lightly grabbing my arm. "You just hit the jackpot."
AN: Sorry, y'all, had some exams this week.
The Spider Arc is pretty close to ending, already. I'd say two, maybe three more chapters until we go straight into Sea of Monsters, so yeah! Again, the point of the arc was to just give Percy a little buffer, instead of just running full-steam ahead.
Well, and other reasons, some of which you've seen and some of which you will see.
Also, the one-shot collection is up, with just one story as of right now. Let me know if there's anything particular you'd find interesting that just doesn't work with the flow or tone of the main story and I'll consider writing it!
As for final pairings, I went through and read every review. Some of which were long, some of which were one word. Originally, I was just going to put up a poll in Discord-while I'll plug again, that you should join- but I realize that's a bit unfair.
I haven't done a poll on FF before, but I think that's likely how I'll do it.
Your options, again, note that I said, FINAL PAIRINGS will be decided from the following:
- Other (review if you want this option!)
Who I choose will be a mix of the poll results and what I want, and how it fits with the story. All of that good stuff. I'm leaning toward Calypso, Reyna, or Zia, but yeah.
I'll put the poll up when I put this chapter up and keep it up for about a week. I'll also let everyone see the results in real-time, so, yeah.
PhantomReapr: Thanks! That's the first time I've gotten a compliment on that specific part of my story, but I appreciate it.
NotRob and Alucard-hellsing12: You both definitely do have a point. I never thought about her like that, but…huh. That's a viewpoint I've never put myself in.
11Geronimo: Depending on the results of the poll, it will probably become something like that.
falcon5: Happy belated birthday, my man!
Boomer14: Excellent analysis. I'm glad you mentioned how close he is to glancing off the deep end, because, well, it lends credence to the idea that, huh, maybe immortality isn't the best thing ever. But yeah, Pertemis would be a real chore. Again, I'm leaning toward Zia, or Calypso, but I think you understand what I mean.
football78: Both Hestia and Aphrodite are Olympians, but Hestia isn't a fighter, and Aphrodite is weakened, whereas, on the other side, Triton fought in a war.
Caelum Est Finis: I actually read the Lost Hero first, and then read TLO. So, I had the benefit of reading Jason almost from an objective point of view, but even then, his character was kinda eh. I'm mapping it out still, but I'm excited to try to do him some justice.
nirmtheworm14: They'll definitely be one or two shots, and some will be canon-compliant. It's like a stomping ground for me to try out different ideas and see how they work within the framework I made for this story.