The battle was now nothing more than a distant memory. The physical aches and pains had faded away with the passing of time like most do. But it was the emotional one that hurt the longest, that took the longest to heal. For others it would take longer still.
Piper walked along the familiar ground of Camp Half Blood, circling the training grounds that were eerily quiet for the time of day that it was. Right now young demi-gods were meant to be training, honing their skills to defend themselves when the quest or need arose. But today, the ground was untouched and the equipment abandoned. Today was a day of remembering what was and what could have been. The sad faces of the older campers framed the dining room while the younger ones merely kept a respectful silence. Even Mr. D was wiping away a tear or two as he heavily drank his diet coke. After the silent meal had finished, Piper headed away from the crowds. She didn't want to dwell on the past, all the pain that it caused. She wanted to remember the happier times, of what little there were. Piper sighed as she looked away from the training grounds and instead headed towards the one place she felt like she was closer, the place where she could think and sometimes smile. Sometimes cry.
The sand was a welcome touch to her bare feet, the warm, soft crystals padded her feet as she walked. The sound of the ocean waves creating soft crashing sound against the rocks and sand while the cry of seagulls filled the sky. The sun bounced off the rippling water, making the light dance like the spark from a flame.
In the bay floated the Argo II. It's bronze body gleamed in the sun. But Piper could see remember how many times Leo was complaining about the damage done to the oars. Those adventures seemed so long ago now. Even Festus' ruby eyes seemed to be pleading with Piper to climb aboard and set sail.
“Sorry, boy. Not today” Piper spoke. Her lips pulling into a small smile. She could hardly believe it had been a year since that day. Since the day that that rag-tag team of Roman and Greek demi-gods joined together and defeated the Earth mother and her children. They had won. But they didn't feel like it, not after what price they had to pay.
Piper's eyes took in the ship, all the small details that hadn't changed since the time she's spent on the Argo II. A 'scratch' the size of a small car was still visible on the stern of the hull from when they pulled the Athena Parthenos out of the crumbling remains of Arachne's lair into the stables of the ship. Leo had done that much buffing and polishing on the scratch that that one spot seemed to shine more than the rest of the ship. She remembered the time when Frank pretended to be cursed by Dionysus and transform into a dolphin to terrify the pirates that tried to siege the ship. She remembered looking out over the helm at New Rome for the first time and being amazed. She remembered when she finally understood the true meaning of her mother's power, allowing Festus to come to life. Worst of all she remembered Couch Henge's singing. All memories both joyous and sad were on that ship and she treasured each one.
The wind suddenly picked up, blowing Piper's hair into a frenzy. The blue harpy feather clinging to her brown strands for dear life as the wind whipped round her.
“Oh. Sorry, honey.” A familiar voice broke through the calming sounds of lapping ocean waves. Piper brushed her hair out of her eyes, only to face the shimmering form of her mother, Aphrodite.
“Mother. What do you want?” Piper begrudgingly asked as she untangled the feather in her hair.
“I came to see how you are, honey.” Aphrodite spoke. She reached out and started to help Piper in her feathery endeavour. Piper's shoulders tensed as the goddess slowly untangled her hair.
“I'm fine.” Piper bit out, slightly harsher than she had intended. She looked down to see that her mother was wearing a light flowing dress, it was white but it seemed like nothing more than a simple dress. Not like the more elaborate or stylish dressed Aphrodite was known for. Piper also noticed that Aphrodite's feet were bare...wow the fashion goddess without shoes. That had to be a first.
“If you're fine, then why are you out here?”Aphrodite asked. Her mother pulled her hands away from Piper's hair, Piper noticed that while her mother was untangling her hair that somehow she had braided it too. The feather had also been tied and woven within the braid. Piper sighed as she looked away from her mother and out towards what seemed like the never ending sea.
“I couldn't be near the camp...” Piper began. But as she said the words, they sounded false. Why did she come to the beach? Was it just to walk along the warm sand or was it to be near the ship.
“Piper. What does your heart feel?” Aphrodite's words were firm, yet there was a motherly tone to them that made Piper shiver. But not with horror or disgust but with something that she hadn't felt before.
“This is where I remember him. I can't stay in the camp, I didn't know him then.” Piper jumped when she felt a hand rest on her shoulder. Piper turned to see Aphrodite smiling softly to her, her face shimmering in a way that reminded Piper of the reflection of water on a ceiling.
“Do you think you are the only one? Neither Jason, Leo, Hazel or Frank knew him when he was in the camp. Yet they still remain there” Her mother's words hit deep. The sound of the waves crashed against the rocks, jerking Piper's interest to the foam that gathered on the beach.
“Ah, you feel closer to him here” Aphrodite spoke. Piper simply nodded.
“I can't go into his cabin. That's too personal. But If I'm here...I can...”
“Ask why?” Piper turned to her mother in shock. Aphrodite merely smiled.
“You've been watching me?” Piper growled out. She still didn't like it when her mother kept an eye on her.
“And the others. But yes, I have been watching you daughter. You wonder why they did what they did” Aphrodite watched Piper under a gaze so firm it could have matched Jason's. Piper gripped her hands as she looked back at the ship, its sails fluttering in the breeze. The cries of the sea birds fading slightly the further inland they went.
“Why? Why did Percy and Nico have to die to save us? Annabeth is only starting to get life back into her and Hazel cried for days because of Nico. Why did they have to be so selfish?” Piper bit out. She ran the memories over and over again in her mind, thinking that there must have been another way. But the one they took paid a great price. True. She hadn't known the both of them long. When she first met Percy she didn't think much of him besides him being mildly attractive. But as the journey went one her thoughts on him changed, the way he lead the team and his quick thinking save them in many situations. She respected him, called him a friend. The same could have been said for Nico. After saving him from the Giants in Rome and then helping them on their quest. Piper learned to respect him too.
The two things that kept coming back to Piper's mind was the thought of Percy and Annabeth coming back from Tartarus, dizzy and a bit singed, but alive. Only for Percy to die and be lost again and even though they had rescued Nico in Rome, from near death. They lost him too. Piper wiped away a tear before it could escape her eye.
“From the times I met Percy Jackson, there was one thing I saw in him each time.” Aphrodite spoke softly. Piper looked at the goddess who was now looking out towards the sea. The wind blowing softly, as if the wind spirits didn't want to anger Aphrodite by blowing a hair out of place.
“Percy was a great leader but he had one fatal flaw. He loved his friends more than himself” the goddess spoke. “But what was his greatest flaw was also his greatest strength”
“What about Nico?” Piper asked. Curiosity stirring within her, she didn't know much about the child of Hades. She had an idea that Jason might have known something about him. Aphrodite's lips curved into a smile but it didn't reach her eyes, they held a sort of sorrowfulness that Piper couldn't place.
“Nico was...deeply torn. He had love in his heart but he was afraid to express it.” Aphrodite said, her tone saying she either knew or wasn't going to say anything more. Piper torn her eyes away from her mother and began to stare at the gains of sand that surrounded her feet.
“Well it isn't right, there could have been another way” Piper growled out.
“Maybe you are right. There might have been another way. But they both chose the way they saw at the time and I admire them for it”
“Why?” Piper asked, her eyes still staring at the sand. Maybe if she glared at them long enough she could burn the Earth mother to dust even more.
“Because giving your life for your loved ones, is the greatest act of devotion and love one could ever show” Aphrodite spoke. Piper's breath hitched. The times when Jason or herself put themselves in danger in hopes to keep the other safe came up on many occasions on the quest. She would have done anything to keep Jason safe, to keep her friends safe...even giving up her life. She was so blind but Percy knew that even without being the son of Aphrodite. He loved Annabeth, and for the most part that was what kept him going when Annabeth went down into Arachne's lair. But he also loved his friends, even herself, Jason and Leo who he hadn't known as long as everyone else. She didn't need to think for Nico. He did it for Hazel, his sister.
Aphrodite's hand rested on Piper's shoulder once again and when Piper looked at her mother, her mother was warmly smiling at her. Piper couldn't help but smile back at the goddess.
“Thank you” Piper's voice sounded small, even to her own ears.
“No need to thank me. Now I believe there is someone else who needs to talk” Aphrodite pointed towards the rock on the far side of the beach. Piper followed the path. Annabeth sat on the sand, staring out toward the sea just like she had been doing. Her blonde hair tied back to prevent the wind from making into some form of rat's nest. Piper looked over her shoulder to find Aphrodite had vanished.
As she walked up to Annabeth, Piper watched her friend's eyes. How hollow and empty they seemed to be. The shining grey eyes that used to spark with intellect and intrigue how looked like dull tin in comparison. Piper sat on the sand, Annabeth not even moving but somehow Piper knew that Annabeth knew she was there. Piper looked out towards the sea, the sun slightly setting making it look like the water was slowly eating the sun. She wondered what Annabeth was thinking about.
She remembered the battle, how she clung to Jason in fear that they weren't going to make it. But then she saw Percy drag Annabeth into his arms and kiss her. At first Piper wondered what about the situation made him think that kissing was a good idea. But as he whispered something to Annabeth and looked at Jason with a determined look, he ran. Nico wasn't far behind Percy, but they both ran. Jason had to drag everybody else out, Annabeth was kicking and screaming the whole time. During that time, Piper felt numb. The cries of Annabeth washing over her like static. In the days that followed, both Hazel and Annabeth cried. In a way Hazel was lucky, she still had Frank. But Annabeth had nobody and for weeks no one knew what to say to her. That was until Jason's sister, Thalia, came to the camp and had a talk with Annabeth. Whatever was said had some effect because Annabeth started talking and somewhat smiling again.
“Just that spot over there” Annabeth's voice was soft as it broke Piper from her thoughts. Annabeth pointed out towards the water while Piper followed with her eyes to a calm part of the sea.
“What about it?” Piper asked.
“That was where me and Percy had our second kiss...underwater” Annabeth spoke, her dry lips curling into a small smile as she stared longingly at the spot. Piper looked at the spot. While on the quest of seven, Piper had seen Percy do many amazing things with water...she wasn't so surprised that he could preform something like an underwater kiss.
“Why remember your second kiss? I thought it was the first you're meant to cherish” Piper asked as she turned towards Annabeth. Annabeth's face flushed with colour slightly and the smile grew bigger. But the way her hair fell in front of her face made her look like she wanted to hide.
“Our first kiss...it was an impulse...just before Percy got blown out of a volcano after fighting a lot of monsters” Annabeth chocked out. Piper's eyes grew big as she envisioned such a situation. Then as the image of Percy being fired out of volcano like a human cannon ball entered her mind, Piper couldn't help but start to laugh.
“Don't laugh!” Annabeth cried as she pushed Piper. Piper's sides started to hurt as she fell against the sand, the warm grains moulding against her body. Soon, Piper calmed down and smiled up at the sky.
“I can see why you want to remember your second kiss better” Annabeth grunted in response but Piper could tell she was smiling.
“I wonder if I could get Jason to fly me up really high and kiss me while flying” Piper wondered as she pointed towards the sky. Secretly Piper had always wanted to do something like that with Jason.
“Why would you want to do that?” Annabeth asked. Piper sat up and grinned at her.
“You got an underwater kiss. So I'll have a sky high kiss” Piper winked. Annabeth's palm connected with her face but both girls started to laugh. It felt good to hear Annabeth laugh, she had been so reserved for months. Now to hear her laugh was nice.
“Hello, Annabeth! Hello, Piper!” a booming voice came over the sand. Piper turned to see Tyson, the cyclops that lived at Camp Half Blood part time and currently Ella's boyfriend, come walking down onto the beach. The Roman cloak he had got during the last fight there hanging around his shoulders, now that Frank had shown him how to wear it. As Tyson waved at the two girls, he wore the biggest grin Piper had ever seen him wear.
Tyson was another person who was hit hard by Percy's death and Ella had spent every day and night with him, telling him that it was going to be okay. To see him smiling was just as good as hearing Annabeth laughing in Piper's opinion.
“Hello, Tyson. What are you doing here?” Piper asked as she stood up and shook the sand from her hair and clothes. Sea foam started to engulf the shore as the waves started to pick up, Piper slightly wondered if the tide was starting to come in.
“Tyson getting sea shells for Ella. Ella likes sea shells. Should get her pink sea shells.” Tyson spoke proudly showing the bag that was clutched in his hand. Piper smiled, it was good to see Tyson looking and sounding so happy.
“Tyson, are you alright?” Annabeth spoke up. Piper looked at Annabeth with confusion but when she saw the look of doubt in her eyes, Piper knew what she was talking about. Since today was the marking of Percy and Nico's death, could Tyson have been putting up a front?
“Tyson fine. Tyson getting sea shells for Ella” Tyson smiled and started to look amongst the sand. Piper knelt down to help him find some.
“But you know what today is, don't you?” Piper asked softly. Tyson nodded as he picked up and small spiral like shell and place it in the bag with careful grace. Piper was always amazed how he could handle such tiny things so carefully and delicately with his big hands.
“Yes. I know.” Tyson answered. Annabeth knelt down next to Tyson, her steely grey eyes looking at him with concern. Piper picked up another sea shell, its colours dancing along its surface. Maybe Tyson could make this into a nice hair pin for Ella.
“Tyson, are you sure you're alright?” Annabeth questioned. Tyson stood up and even though he smiled, Piper swore she had heard a sigh escape his lips. Both the girls stood, Piper placing the shell in Tyson's bag.
“Tyson is alright, Annabeth. Tyson alright because brother is alright.” Tyson spoke. Piper's eyes shot towards Tyson's smiling face, surprise must have been written on her features because she sure felt surprised.
“What...What do you mean, Tyson?” Piper asked. Tyson grinned at Piper before pointing to his head.
“Brother is safe, he's just sleeping. He has two birdies and a strange monkey watching over him” Tyson spoke. Piper stood there as the shock started to take over her body. Tyson really thought that Percy was just sleeping? Annabeth tried to convince Tyson that Percy wasn't coming back, even to the point where tears started to fall from her eyes again. But Tyson stood in front of the two girls proclaiming that Percy was alright. As the sky became a rich ruby red while the sun started to set, the birds leaving the food rich waters in search for a place to lay down for the night. Piper wondered what Tyson could have meant. Was he getting dreams of Percy? Was Tyson taking the meaning of the dream incorrectly? It had to have been a dream, why would two birds and a monkey watch Percy?
Annabeth looked as if she was getting frustrated with the cyclops, for which Piper couldn't blame her. Then, over the crashing waves, the bay of a horse sounded. Piper looked up for any pegasi that could have been flying about, which would have been weird at this time since all the pegasi were meant to be in the stables by now. But as her eyes scanned the sky, she only found small shapes of sea birds. The sound of the horse grew louder and Piper knew she wasn't hearing things when Annabeth started to search the skies too.
“Look!” Tyson called out, pointing towards the sea. Piper looked out into the sea, nothing was there. Just the foaming waves that hit the shore line. But as she was about to tell Tyson that nothing was there, she gasped. Flying out of the waters like a dolphin, came a huge rainbow coloured...horse.
“Rainbow Pony!” Tyson boomed as he charged out into the water. Annabeth was close behind him. Piper slowly walked toward them as the 'rainbow pony' came to shore. Tyson patted the muzzle of the huge creature with his equally huge hand, his lips turning into his crooked smile that Piper found to be a bit cute. Piper looked at the strange creature before her. It did indeed have the head and shoulders of a horse, but instead of a mane of hair, this one had a mane of...fins. Its skin was covered with scales, shining with different colours of the rainbow but as Piper's eyes wandered the creature she noticed that it didn't have any back legs but a long tail.
“It's a Hippocampus.” Annabeth spoke up, petting the creatures neck.
“A what?” Piper asked.
“Hippocampus. They're creatures that draw Poseidon's chariot, it's said that sea foam is created by their movements.”Annabeth elaborated. Piper remembered that Poseidon had created horses, so why not hippocampus. Piper gently reached out, the hippocampus regarded her with its big black eye. She gave a soft smile to the creature before she placed her hand on the neck. The skin was cold and slimy from the water but Piper was amazed by the strong pulse she felt under the skin. The scales were soft to the touch, much like that of a fish really.
“That's weird” Annabeth spoke up. Piper looked up to see Annabeth looking down at the back of the hippocampus. Piper glanced down, a satchel was strapped to the back of the creature. Annabeth knelt down and picked up the brown leather satchel.
“It's from Poseidon” Annabeth spoke, showing the symbol of the trident that had been etched into the leather. Piper held her breath as Annabeth opened the tightly wound bag and reached inside. Annabeth pulled out the object that lay within and both Piper and Annabeth gasped. Piper's body shook as she looked at what was in Annabeth's hand. It couldn't have been real, but if it was fake why would Poseidon send it on the back of a hippocampus.
“Told you. Brother is safe” Tyson smiled. Tyson must have had sixth sense or Ella had told him but what she was seeing, she couldn't quiet believe. Annabeth stood, holding the one weapon that could only belong to him.