Pairings: Leo/Piper, with some Jason/Piper.
Summary: Because Piper McLean thinks that she understands Leo Valdez. But he keeps proving her wrong, again and again.
Rating: T for swearing.
Notes: Dark AU, Post-MoA, Post-THO, 9000 words long, sequel to The Bridges Ablaze.
"In truth, the love of the forbidden has been masquerading as love itself."—Pipo, Amore by Crispin Salvador. (Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco.)
"—but Christopher Marlowe is gay," one of the students said. A few girls behind the student snickered.
A guy with standing spiky hair stood up. "So is William Shakespeare."
And another one said, "And Leonardo da Vinci—"
"Quiet down!" The teacher in front kept banging his palm on the wooden table, the veins appearing at the sides of his forehead. "Let's all just go back to the history and meaning of the poem later. Now if you could just open your textbooks to page 164, shut up and read quietly for five minutes, you would be doing a big favor for me. Then I will need to two volunteers to come up here and read these two poems aloud..."
At this point, Piper's mind drifted away. Her hands were obeying what the teacher had said, turning the page, but her eyes were looking beyond the words of the book. In front of her were two girls with heavy make-up and long nails, leaning their heads close and talking fast to each other. Behind her, a scrawny boy with big ears was quietly ripping small pieces of paper from the book and moving them under his table. Piper's hair was falling down to her face, and she stared ahead of her tattered second-hand book.
The two girls passed a glance towards her and then snickered.
"Oh, Mr. Padilla, I think McLean and Valdez would make a great shepherd and nymph!" one of them shrieked. It was followed by laughter. The class was laughing. No, not to the girl, but to Piper and the boy behind her.
Mr. Padilla squinted from his book. "Yes, well, that's very good, you two. Could you please get up here in front of the class and recite the two poems for us? Ms. McLean, you could be the nymph, and Valdez, well, the shepherd…" Mr. Padilla raised his eyebrow as Valdez grumbled audibly and abandoned some sort of complex version of a paper shooter at the top of the table before taking his book and sulkily walking behind Piper. They both stood in front of the class awkwardly for a few moments, with the class trying hard not to burst out laughing randomly. Piper glanced up from her book at Valdez. He didn't see her staring at him, and kept his gaze at the class, his upper lip twitching, and there was a hint of a mysterious smile, like he was trying to make sense of something but was amused at the same time.
"Well, go on, Mr. Valdez. You start, since the shepherd is the one asking for the hand of the nymph," Mr. Padilla pressed on.
Valdez seemed to stare pass his book, then he looked to his teacher. "Sir," he started, rather calmly. "I can't read this."
"And why not?" Mr. Padilla arched an eyebrow.
"I'm dyslexic." He said like it was supposed to be common knowledge.
The teacher scoffed. "Well, that's not exactly an excuse, boy. I've had students who're completely blind. If you can't read the poem, then try reading the poem. And hurry up, we don't have much time. Class is almost over." He glanced at Piper. "I suspect that you can't read either?" The class snickered.
"I read fine, sir," Piper said.
"Well, would you like to read for Mr. Valdez here? Seeing as the boy claims he can't read?"
Piper didn't speak for a few moments. Valdez passed a glance to her before looking back to the class.
Before she could speak, the bell rang. Mr. Padilla groaned and the whole class filed out of the classroom like a stampede. Piper was one of the last people in the room. When the grumbling Mr. Padilla left the classroom and she had already gathered her books, someone brushed roughly at her side, and she dropped her things.
"Oh, sorry." The girl and her friend were looking down to her while Piper glared at them. "We'll watch where we're going next time." The girl winked at Piper before they went away.
Piper scowled at them before bending down to pick up her things. Someone bent down and picked up her notebook and handed it to her.
She looked up to see Valdez. She took it from him and they both stood up. "Thanks," she said.
The boy nodded and smiled to her before walking away, his books clamped in his armpit, fiddling with papers and clips. He started to whistle when he was at the door and out.
It takes Piper to realize that she has been sleeping with her eyes open.
Her hands are both on her sides, and the ground is cold and clammy. She can feel grass and snow. Her head is on top of a large chipped tree root. Her body is stiff, covered in snow, and her bones are rigid, and her half-closed eyelids are stuck in its place. Her eyes take a while to adjust in the sunlight that sips through the leaves of the tall trees. She can't hear anything other than her heartbeat and breathing. There is a frozen tear stuck on her cheek.
She sits up and wiped the snow all over her. Takes a deep breath. She's in the forest. She doesn't remember how she got here. Did she sleepwalk last night? Or maybe there was something that haunted her so much she had to run here. A place of distant memory… She was lucky that she wasn't eaten by the monsters in here.
Piper looks around for a bit, to know where in the forest is she. Not far ahead there is a burn patch of ground and broken trees: a battle sight. She shivers. When there is nothing else that could be a threat to her presence, she rests her gaze for a while on a group of trees, trying to recall what happened last night. And then her mind wanders…
Someone is calling her name. She quickly stands up and brushes the remaining snow from her sleeves. Jason comes running towards her. "I was looking everywhere for you! The Aphrodite kids said you've gone missing!"
Piper manages to smile to him. "I'm sorry."
Jason looks around. "Why are you here?"
She pecks his lips. She doesn't know either. "Don't worry about it."
Jason looks at Piper. His eyes are telling her something. She just can't make what it is saying.
There is an awkward silence between them. Then Piper's stomach grumbles audibly. Jason laughs when her face turns red. "Come on. Let's get some breakfast."
Piper smiles guiltily and nods. She walks at Jason's side. He puts an arm around her shoulder. And then he passes a glance behind him, eyeing the small foot trail leading to the base of the cliff, to Bunker Nine. He thinks about how Piper was sitting down and staring at that direction.
Leo was busy kicking the snow and shouting angrily at the sky. Once in a while, he would cough and wheeze, dropping on his knees on the snow and shiver. (He was getting worse and worse in each passing day.) But then he would get back up and kicked up the snow again.
Piper sat on the rock, watching him, wrapping her jacket tightly around her, exhaling thick mist. Judging by the way her friend acted, he didn't take well about getting kicked out off the ship.
"We should go, Leo," she said, when he finally calmed down and lay down on the ground, melting the snow around him, soaking him. "There's no use waiting for them to rescue us here. We need to get to the House of Hades. They can't save us right now." The statement brought a lump on her throat. "But we need to be there, with them. We will be there. I saw it." Her hand unconsciously lingered down to the handle of her dagger.
Leo massaged his forehead. "Okay." He took his time to stand up. When Piper came near him, the air started to grow warmer, and when she was besides him, she couldn't feel the cold anymore.
"This place is really nice," Hazel says, looking beyond the beach, to the sea, and then smiling when Piper waves to her and ushers her to come. Hazel sits down on the sand besides Piper. "It's a good place for a date."
Piper laughs. "It's usually Percy and Annabeth's favorite place, but Jason and I go down here often. I love it here. The air is cool; you can watch the waves and relax and forget about everything. But sometimes the gods love to pop out around, and well, they usually have business."
Hazel takes off her shoes, folds the hem of her jeans and buries her toes on the sand. "Do you always go with Jason?"
Piper stares ahead to the sea. "Yeah. Sea monsters tend to appear here, too, at some times. Best to have someone with you, just in case." She stretches out and lies down on the sand, looking up to the afternoon sky. It went like that for a while, even when the sun was about to set, or when the horn blew for dinner time, with Hazel burying her feet to the sand and sometimes find herself staring at the waves from time to time.
"Hazel…" Piper starts. "Can I ask you something?"
Hazel doesn't respond right away. She's expecting this, of course. "What is it?"
"Did you love Leo?"
Hazel blinks. This is not the question she expects. But she answers honestly. "Yes."
"I love him, too."
Piper takes some sand to her hands. "You love them both?"
"If it's not wrong to have two families, then it's not wrong to love two people." As the wind blows to their direction, Hazel gathers her curly hair in her hands and ties them together.
Piper bites her lower lip and closes her eyes. She's going to ask the question that bothers her for a while. No tears, please, she tells herself. "Can you tell me what Leo dreamed?"
Hazel brings her feet up to the air before resting it on the sand. This is the question she is expecting. "What did he tell you?"
"That we all die in the end."
Hazel takes her socks and wears them back. Her hands are slightly shaking. "That's not the dream."
"I thought so." Piper stands up and looks at Hazel. "And I thought you would know. What did he say?"
Hazel makes a grab for her shoes and shoves her feet in them. "I can't tell you," she says.
"I just…can't. But I wish…I could…"
"Hazel." Piper moves to Hazel and holds her shoulders. "Can't you tell me?" she said softly.
Hazel looks down and shakes her head. "I can't, Piper. I can't. He made me swore on the River Styx not to tell you." Her voice is shaking. She's quivering. "I'm sorry." She looks up to Piper. Her eyes are misty.
Piper stares at her before pulling her to a hug. Then they stand up, brush the sand away from their clothes, and walk back to camp for dinner silently.
You. Not anyone. Not everyone. Not Jason, Frank, Nico, Percy, Annabeth. You. Piper. Don't tell Piper.
Piper brushed away the meat from her plate with her fork. There was hardly anything she could eat here in this school. Small brown bread wasn't exactly filling her stomach. This place had to resort to canned meat and preservatives. Her stomach didn't exactly like that.
The cafeteria was crowded. Noisy. She wished she could bring her tray and eat somewhere else. Outside sounded really good. She could think there. But she couldn't take the risk. Isabella and her cronies would follow her and take her on the spot. No, Piper would rather be here, undisturbed.
For some reason, she could feel someone watching her. Of course there would be eyes on her. She looked up to her plate. She was surprised to find that everyone was minding their own business. Maybe they were used to seeing her sitting alone in the corner, a girl who looked always dissatisfied with the food on her dish.
She did caught one pair of eyes though. But he looked away quickly, eating his meat a bit clumsily.
Piper looked back to her food again and started picking out the food that she could eat. Then left her tray on the table and made her way to the next class. She could feel Valdez's pair of eyes again, following her until she was out of the cafeteria.
Piper calls her dad. She asks him if she can spend a few weeks at home with him, if his schedule isn't too busy. She misses hearing from him. It's great to hear his voice, which hardly containing its own excitement when he hears from his daughter again.
"Don't take me wrong, Pipes, but why do you want to come home?"
"There's no problem, don't worry. Just want to see you again. Can my friends come, too?"
Her father answers enthusiastically and shouts for Mellie to send a chaperone to Piper's camp in two days.
Now there is a limousine waiting for her and her friends at the base of the hill.
The drive to Beverly Hills is somehow relaxing, at the same time, lively. Percy, Frank, and Jason joke about going to Hollywood and becoming stars for a living. They think about all the cool possibilities living up there, which celebrities they can meet, movies they want to star in. Nico remains quiet, but he smiles often when everyone in the car burst into laughter. Annabeth and Hazel ask questions to Piper about what the actual Hollywood looks like. Piper is more or less happy to fill them in.
But halfway down the trip, everyone is silent and suddenly tired. Piper places her forehead against the window and watches the cars go by.
Leo groaned, holding his stomach. From the side mirror, Piper could see that he was pale.
The taxi driver glanced at his side. "You can't throw up here, son."
Leo nodded grimly. Then he leaned down and placed his head between his legs. "Ground transportation. Why does it have to be ground transportation…?"
"Here, son." The taxi driver handed him a paper bag. "Breathe and barf in this."
"Guh," Leo groaned, and silently accepted the bag and placed it on his lips.
"Maybe the AC is making him ill. I think you need some fresh air." Piper suggested. Jason just looked at Leo anxiously. If Leo was sick, they wouldn't stand a chance against the giant they were going to face.
"Good idea." Leo opened his car window and brought his head out.
"Are you crazy, kid?" The driver almost shouted, and with one hand, he made a grab of Leo's shirt. "Want to lose your head?"
"I think we should switch places, Leo," Jason offered.
It took a while to transfer Leo to the backseat and Jason to the front seat. Piper pushed herself to the car door to give Leo some space to lie down, even though he was curled into a ball. Leo's Ray-ban was over his eyes and he was taking breaths slowly, clutching his paper bag to his chest.
"You okay there, hot stuff?" Piper said.
"Hot stuff is so not hot right now," Leo managed to say, taking off his glasses, placed it on Piper's lap, and put his arm over his eyes instead.
Piper looked towards her window. She hoped they weren't too late to save her dad. The car turned up and down and sideways, moving around and around the mountain. Every time the car took a different direction, Leo would moan in pain.
But when they were moving in one straight direction, Leo stood up and breathed out a heavy sigh. "Okay. Okay, I'm good." He looked ahead, rubbing his eyes. "Where are we?"
"I'm not sure," Jason said. "I think we're almost there." They were suddenly slowing down. No, it wasn't the taxi. The taxi driver looked baffled about their slow progress to their destination.
"I think we're here," Leo declared. Piper handed his glasses back. He pushed his Ray-ban to his eyes. "Time to burn some giant butt."
They are riding a private rented vehicle through the streets of Hollywood. The men are on the front, watching as many well-known people walk casually with their directors and friends with gaping mouths while listening to their guide. Tristan McLean is asleep on his seat. At the back, Hazel and Annabeth sit besides Piper, watching everything in silent, with Hazel occasionally pointing at something and asking Piper about it.
"Hey, maybe Hephaestus TV has some sort of headquarters here?" Nico says. He has been in Hollywood a few times, but that's because the entrance of the Underworld is near, and his shadow traveling is sometimes not accurate when arriving in his destination.
"I imagined their headquarters would be more on Olympus or something," Jason says.
"Or maybe they have some sort of mortal counterpart to their network station up on Olympus," Frank guesses.
"Should we check it out?" Percy says. "We might get lucky." He looks at Piper for some kind of permission.
Piper shrugs. "Well, why not?"
The next day, Mr. Padilla didn't call Piper or Valdez up in front of the classroom again. He seemed to have forgotten about their unfinished recitation. The class quickly went to their workbooks and spent the whole hour answering and being quiet.
When the bell rang, the class filed out, and in Piper's side came Dylan. He grinned at her. "You look lonely there, beautiful."
"Leave me alone," Piper muttered.
"Here, let me carry those books for you." Dylan made a grab for Piper's books, but she quickly moved away. "I don't need your help," she sneered.
"Aw, you look cute when you're defensive." Dylan's grin only grew wider, if that was possible.
Piper stopped on the hallway when she saw Valdez, surrounded by three seniors, all tall and big bulky guys with rough faces. Most of the students passed by them, but some lingered in a distance to watch.
"Hey, I'm in a bad mood right now," Piper heard guy number one said. "Make a joke for us, faggot."
"Whoa, there. Slow down, guys." Valdez laughed. She could detect the hint of anxiousness in his voice.
"Oh, looks like he's in a bad position," Dylan whistled. "Sucks for him."
She couldn't hear what Valdez and the seniors were exchanging, as more students streamed out to the hall and their voices were drowned, and eventually, Piper lost sight of them. Piper was tempted to find them, to move closer, but it might be too dangerous. Then she heard something large bang against the lockers. When the first bell rang and the thick stream of students started to thin, she could finally see Valdez on the floor, rubbing his head.
Piper quickly walked towards him. "Hey, you alright?"
"Yeah," he said. He gathered saliva in his mouth and spat a tooth. He grinned, although Piper couldn't see why he was. "There goes my last baby tooth."
Piper offered a hand. He took it, looking a bit grateful, and she hoisted him up to his feet. He wobbled on his heels for a moment before brushing his clothes. Then he rubbed his back, flinching a bit. "Ahh, god, my back hurts like hell."
"Are those guys your friends?" Piper said.
"No," Valdez said, huffing. "But they like to think that I like to think they're my friends."
The second bell rang. There were almost no students in the hall. Dylan had already gone to his next class.
Piper looked at Valdez again. They stood at the hall for a few moments. She wanted to say something. Like, be careful next time, or don't make friends like that, even if you're just pretending. Anything. But that was none of her business. This was none of her business. So she didn't say anything.
The hall was empty now. Valdez shuffled around. "Well, I've got to go. I've some business I need to take care of."
"You're not going to class?" Piper said.
"No, I don't feel like it." He grinned to her. "See you around." He started to walk, but he suddenly flinched, and leaned forward, holding his back.
Piper came besides him. "Are you going to the clinic?"
He waved her away. "No, I'm fine. Thanks for worrying about me, though." He slowly walked away, a hand on the lockers for support. Piper stood and watched him turn to a different hallway, leaving her alone.
The next day, before first period started, everyone in the hall was talking about how someone pulled a terrible prank on one of the seniors in the dormitory that involved his butt. Now he was in the school clinic, weeping like a baby. The nurse said that he was excused for a couple of days, or until the boy had calmed down.
While Piper eavesdropped on the conversation on the hallway, Valdez passed by her, whistling. Their eyes met momentarily, and she could have sworn he winked at her.
They find a small studio building that is tucked between two very large ones. There is a very small and worn out bronze plaque on the door that says, Hephaestus TV and other Olympian media storage records. They have scoured the roads and hills of is the one they could only find. No actual recording studio or headquarters, much to their excitement.
Piper knocks on the door three times. She glances up and sees a small camera just on top of the door. They wait for a moment, and then the door opens. No one is behind the door. They all step in.
The first room apparently looks more or less like a backstage room with mirrors and desk drawers. There are dummies with dresses and suits and armors. There are cosmetics literally everywhere.
"This must be some sort of dressing room or dumpsite for the actors or props people," Percy says, stepping on a roll of lipstick and almost slipping himself before Frank manages to hold his shoulder.
"Maybe the Mist hides it," Annabeth says. "The building, I mean. At least, the door over there." She points at the door at the far end of the room. The demigods did not notice it before. The door blends the gray walls. At least, it looks like it.
They walk toward the door. Piper passes a glance of a life-sized doll that is in a pretty red frilly dress, sitting on a chair. It has make-up, fake eyelashes, a red wig with princess curls, and big beautiful eyes. Things like this would irritate Piper (since beauty is not really her thing), but not this doll. She's beautiful.
(But I have a question.)
"Is Reyna pretty?"
Leo stared at Piper for a long time, his spoon stopping in mid-air, his mouth remaining open. Piper looked down to the bread-and-egg breakfast Leo got from the cupboards for her. They were alone in the mess hall. Leo woke up early to make his morning check on the controls and doing his captain duties. Piper happened to wake up next. Now they were both eating breakfast. It was still fairly early.
Leo placed his spoon down and cleared his throat, although too much. "Why'd you ask?"
Piper collected her thoughts. Why did she ask? She realized the answer was lost already.
When Piper didn't answer him, Leo shrugged, and decided to answer Piper's question. It was clear to Leo that she wasn't in a good mood today, nor in a bad mood. Maybe answering honestly would be the best. "Yeah, she's really pretty," he said. "Somehow, she reminds me a bit of Annabeth. I don't know why, but I just do."
Piper cut a bit of her egg with her fork and brought it to her mouth.
"But she doesn't seem to be aware of it. Maybe that makes her more beautiful."
Beautiful. She heard the word so many times it was making her choke.
Piper was aware that she was beautiful. But she didn't like to be beautiful. Sometimes she wished she wasn't Aphrodite's daughter. She didn't want to be defined as beautiful. At least Jason still loved her, even if she tried to skewer her beautiful look. What did Jason see in Reyna, anyway?
Maybe that was it. Piper wanted to know what Jason saw in Reyna. She knew he loved Reyna at least once. Jason wouldn't say anything, but she could read him. (Being close to people had its benefits.) Piper hated to admit it, but maybe what he saw in Reyna was the same thing he saw in Piper. Maybe it didn't make any difference. Piper hated Reyna, and Reyna hated Piper (she was sure of it). Maybe they were just the same, after all.
No, no. Piper was very different from Reyna. (But then, how could she say? She had only met her once, and very briefly.) She refused to think Jason only loved Piper because he reminded her of Reyna. No, no, no, they were both different. What are you thinking? she thought to her self.
She was confused. There were too many thoughts going on to her mind. And she was probably making facial expressions while thinking, because Leo watched her, looking puzzled and amused at the same time. After a long silence, when he was finished with his breakfast, he said, "Why do you ask Piper?"
"Asked me if Reyna is pretty. You're a daughter of Aphrodite, a love expert; you should know that there's more in a person than pretty faces. Are you jealous?"
Piper almost flinched. "No. Just…" she faltered. She finished her breakfast and stood up. Everyone would probably wake up soon. She'd better get ready.
"Hey." Leo said behind her. She stopped on her tracks. She turned to him. He remained in his seat, gathering the plates and wiping the table a bit. Leo didn't speak right away. He brushed his hands on his pants. Then he spoke, without looking at her. "Whatever you're thinking, you'll always be my Beauty Queen."
Piper blinked. She didn't know what he meant. Leo glanced up, his expression serious for one moment, and in the next, he burst out laughing.
Piper flushed and shook her head. "I don't understand you sometimes, Leo."
"I'm kidding, I'm kidding!" he snorted, wiped a tear away from his eyes. "If you think Reyna is going to be an obstacle between you and Jason, don't worry about it. You two can ride on a horse towards the sunset." He winked. "But I don't mind two queens with me."
"You're crazy. Whatever." Piper gradually recovered from his comment. It made her a little better somehow, but she didn't show it. "I'm going to get changed. I look terrible."
"Really? You look fine."
"See you, Leo."
(Do you want to be different, Piper?)
Piper stops walking. She frowns, and then shakes her head. She's falling behind her friends. She jogs a bit to catch up.
They enter a room full of videotapes stacked on top of each other. They are like tall buildings that reached the top of the ceiling. It's hard to walk through them. They imagine that these must be a few millenniums' recording of all the events ever since the start of time. A few tapes from below are aged and withering, if that's possible for tapes, and the ones at the top are brand new. New recordings. New broadcasts. The demigods wonder for a while how Olympus records the events. Was their quests also recorded? Did everything they had done, be it private or not, was caught on tape? And then broadcasted (or will be broadcasted)? They shudder at the thought (especially Percy and Annabeth, who were almost caught live on Hephaestus TV).
"Do you think we could find some tapes for Hercules Bust Heads?" Percy says, looking up and down at the stacks, reading the labels of the tapes. "Hermes says it's a great series."
"We can ask the person in charge of all these," Nico says. "Come on, let's find him."
They make their way to the end of the long room, dodging more and more tapes, and occasionally toppling one or two videotape buildings as they brush past.
They arrive at the end of the room. There are a few monitors and controls on the wall, but there was an empty table and seat in the middle. There's no one here. There is a note on the table that says, "Lunch hour."
Frank sighs. "I want to check out this Hercules Bust Heads. I wonder if they use the real Hercules or an actor."
(You're a good actress. You can pretend to be different.)
"Piper?" Jason's concerned face appears in front of Piper's vision. "Are you okay?"
Everyone's attention turns back to Piper, who seems to be staring at a distance, and her face is contorted to confusion and annoyance.
"Huh? Oh…yeah. I'm fine." She massages the sides of her temples. "Just a headache."
Jason places a hand on her forehead. "You don't feel like you have a fever. Maybe it's this place. Do you want to go outside for some air?"
"Yeah, that's sound good. Excuse me…"
"I'll come with you," Hazel says. She places a hand on Piper's shoulder and helps stir her out of the small building.
Piper knocked on the door of the detention room. Inside, there was a stout woman with short white hair, sitting in front of the classroom, her head on her desk, snoring. She saw a few students on the desks. Many of them were asleep, but there was someone in the back row that looked busy with all the papers scattered around him.
Piper slipped into the room, placed her detention paper on the teacher's desk and moved down to the back of the room.
Valdez looked up from his mess, and grinned at Piper. "So we meet again."
Piper picked a seat next to him. She placed her books on the table. She looked across the boy's table, and noticed his English book open on the page of Marlowe's poem, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, buried in pieces of paper, rubber bands, and other small junk. Pretty much all of the page was shredded, except for the poem. He was probably trying to read it while putting his scraps together.
"How did you get detention?" Piper said, as she settled down to her seat. Even though she asked, she had a faint idea.
"The faculty figured out that I pulled that butt prank a few days ago. You know, the big talk in the school." He shrugged casually. "And you?"
"I was just a few minutes late in Mrs. Torento's class."
"Oh, I thought you did something naughty." He stuck out his tongue while waggling a finger. "I haven't properly introduced myself yet, and I don't know really know your name." He offered his hand. "Leo Valdez. Just call me Leo."
"Piper McLean." She shook his hand. "Piper is fine."
"Nice to meet you." Leo withdrew his hand. "I wish I could ask how you ended up here, I mean, in this school. But ah, that will be a story for another day, when our new budding friendship blooms like a flower. We shall talk of other things then."
All this time he talked, Piper looked at him in the eyes. She could see that there was a mixture of kindness and mischievousness (but it was mostly the latter). But there was something else. His eyes were guarded, defensive, like he didn't want to be read by anyone. But he was trying to read her, too. But Piper was not a fool. They were both the same.
They didn't trust each other yet.
(But that's just our nature, right?
We're very different and yet the same after all.)
Piper takes a deep breath and nods. "I'm fine now. That place is making me dizzy."
Hazel pats her back. "But you're good now?"
Annabeth comes out of the building. "Is something wrong with Piper?"
Piper waves her hand dismissively. "No, it's just that smell of the tapes is making my eyes roll to my brain."
"Maybe that's enough touring for today." Annabeth says. "I'll get Mr. McLean to fetch us. Can you tell the guys to wait here, Hazel?"
"Yeah, sure." She holds Piper for a bit, and they both watch Annabeth run to a corner towards the parking lot.
Hazel places Piper on the wall of the building. Piper lowers herself to sit.
"What are you thinking, Piper?" Hazel whispers.
Piper shakes her head. "I'm alright, Hazel. Just…" She holds her head.
Hazel's lips turns to a thin line. She nods and stands up, goes inside of the building to tell the boys that they are leaving. Plagued with exhaustion, Piper closes her eyes. And when she opens them again, they are in a car heading to Piper's home. Jason is holding her close. Piper leans to his shoulder. He brushes her hair. Tristan McLean peers anxiously at them. Everyone is silent for the whole trip.
It's dark when they have arrived at their home. Everyone files out. Piper and Jason are last to get out of the car. They linger in the darkness for a while. She holds his hand, and grips it. Jason looks concerned.
"If this is about Leo—"
"I'm fine, Jason."
Jason's eyes widened. Piper looks at him and attempts to smile. "It's a long time ago now. It's just that…" Her eyes start to sting. "I…I don't know. I don't know what's happening to me. Please…please don't leave me alone, Jason."
Jason's features soften. He pulls Piper to him and embraces her. "Never."
(Piper had involuntarily forgotten the start of this long memory. A memory that changed the way she looked at him. But it was only an accident. She really didn't mean to forget. But maybe the impact of losing a friend was just too much to her that a few of her memories of him had been affected.
She remembered pieces of their conversation though.
This was one of them.
"Alone? Ha, you don't know what it feels like to be alone, Piper.")
Piper opens her eyes. It's dark. Then she remembers that she's back in her home. She sits up on her bed. Annabeth and Hazel are asleep at the beds beside her. She throws her blanket away and stands up from the bed. She looks at the window, and sees the night sky. Then she remembers her dream. Her heart leaps, almost freezes. Maybe…maybe it's true…
She shakes her head.
(You shouldn't make a big deal of this, McLean.)
("Nobody helped me. So why should I help them? And you, help me? Don't make me laugh."
"Leo…this isn't you…"
"Just leave me alone, Piper.")
She tiptoes down to the first floor of the house. She grabs a paper and a pen from her father's office. Piper moves down to the dining room. She looks around to make sure Mellie or Hedge isn't around. Then she sits down and writes. She writes two notes. One for Tristan and one for Jason. She kisses both notes. She places them in her pockets and walks back upstairs. She gets dressed. She ties her hair. She slips inside her father's room. She places her note under a lukewarm glass of water.
Piper wants to kiss her father's cheek. But she fears that he might wake up. So she watches him for a few moments before moving out of his room. She moves to her room (she hasn't used it for a long time now) and packs up a small bag, gets out, and tiptoes down the hallways.
Now she stands in front of the boy's room. She holds her note to Jason in front of her.
She remembers that Leo had run away six times. Did it get easy for him to run away the more he did it? Did he ever look back at the homes he left? Did he leave notes to his families?
(She's aware now that she has been doing everything out of order.)
("You don't know me, Leo. You don't have the right to judge me."
"Neither do you know me. So don't tell me off. Don't pretend that you know everything, that you've watched me my whole life. You don't know who I am.")
Piper slips her note under Jason's pillow. She looks around, to see if any of the boys had been disturbed by her entrance. She sighs quietly when no one seem to stir. She looks back at Jason. She knows he's a heavy sleeper, and the way he sleeps is cute it almost makes her pinch his cheeks.
She leans down and kisses his lips softly. When she leans back, she sees his mouth twitch slightly to form a smile. She smiles, too.
(Now, in this point of the memory, everything is clear. She remembers this part very vividly.)
She was standing in the middle of the stables of the ship. The engine room was just a few doors away, and said engines were humming a bit loudly, although it was mostly muffled.
Piper was not alone in the stables. Standing in front of her was an agitated Leo Valdez. But separating them was the glass bomber doors, and below was beautiful outlook of large white clouds, city lights, and snowy mountains. They had just passed the Clashing Rocks, and they were making their way to Epirus, which was only a few days away.
Piper's voice started to become hoarse and tired, but she wasn't letting that get in the way of getting angry at him. "What's your problem, Valdez?"
"What's your problem, McLean? Didn't your parents tell you to just leave everyone to their business?" The air around them suddenly grew hot. Leo looked like he was ready to combust. "So could you do just that?"
"Leo, if something is bothering you, I'm here to help."
"I don't need your help!" He covered his ears. "Why don't you just tell me what you want and leave me alone?"
Piper wanted to punch him so bad. To bring him to some sense. Although, that probably wasn't going to solve anything, much less make this argument worse. But he was stubborn, extremely stubborn. Something was bothering with him, but she didn't know what. But she had never seen Leo so…angry. Angry at her.
She took a deep breath and inched to him, stretching a hand, tried to hold his hand. But he placed them away from her. "What are you thinking?" she said calmly.
He looked down to the glass below him. "Do you really care about me?"
She was getting tired of his attitude towards her. "Maybe you're bullshit."
Piper quickly realized that she said the wrong thing (her emotions got the better of her), because Leo replied, "Hey, maybe you're right. Maybe I'm just shit. What's my worth? Nothing!" He laughed, shielding his eyes with his hand. Piper couldn't make out if he was really laughing or crying. "Look at us, McLean. You still have a father. You have a boyfriend that would love you no matter what. You're pretty, you're perfect, you're great, and nobody hates you! And me? Me? I accidentally killed my mom, no one wants to take me home, everyone hates my guts, and I keep making so many mistakes I can't even count them, can't even remember all of them. I don't have a family to come home to. I did everything I could for you guys, for this whole quest. But what's that? I haven't received a single fucking thank you card. But look at these, Piper!"
He shoved his hands in front of Piper. They seemed to have gone to hell. She held those hands, long time ago, but it was never this damaged. It didn't shake, it didn't look rough, dark, blotched, and it didn't bleed back then. "I'm trying, Piper," he said, his voice shaking. "Trying to make everything right. I just want one thing. One thing…"
"I want a happy ending."
The fiery aura around them slowly died down, and Leo's features softened. He looked like he was ready to faint. "Heh. So cheesy," He muttered, smiling warily. "I…I don't know. I don't know what's happening me." He dropped his hands to his sides. He had never been so...open to someone. No, Leo Valdez was not an open person. But something had struck him to his weakness, his innermost subconscious. And here he was, standing in front of Piper McLean, confessing his troubled emotions, at the bottom of the Argo II, when everyone else was in their comfy beds. Yes, this was definitely not the Leo Valdez that everyone knew. "Just…just…leave me alone…"
Leo dropped on the glass floor, sighing heavily, covering his face again.
Piper moved closer and knelt down in front of him, so they were both sitting on the glass doors. She reached out and took Leo's hands in hers. (This time he didn't force them back.) "I'm not going to go pull some long speech or something. Whatever it is, Leo…whatever you're thinking…everything will be okay." She gripped his hands. "Everything is going to be okay. We're your family now, Leo. How many times do I have to remind you?" Her voice was soft now. She didn't know if she had equipped her charmspeak for this, but her words seemed to calm down Leo. "Maybe I don't really know you…but…you're family. Does it really matter about your past?"
"It's the thing that man carries until they die, McLean. They can forget it, but it'll always be there."
"You know, stop being the resident Zen grump. That's Hedge's job. Come here, buddy." She pulled him to an embrace. Leo almost collapsed in exhaustion on her, and it took her all her strength to make him sit straight. "I'm sorry," she said.
"No, I'm sorry."
"Why are you apologizing?"
He managed a weak smile. "I'm apologizing for being pathetic and being mean to you."
"We have our share of angst one in a while."
"Hmm, true. Must be hormones." He wrapped his arms around her in response, his body relaxing, breathing slowly, and taking in her sweet scent that belonged to her.
Piper smiled (although she didn't know why). "Love you, Leo."
Leo laughed. It sounded good old Leo again. "Love you, too, Piper."
They remained silent for a long time. Leo wasn't really tall. Piper could place his head on his shoulder, and his chin on hers.
"At least you know what you wanted." She felt a lump in her throat. "Because I don't."
When Leo felt something wet on his shoulder, he tried to look at her face. "…Piper?"
"Where are you going?"
Piper stops on her feet. She half-hopes that it would be Jason who will stop her, but when she looks around to see Hazel, standing just outside the door of the house, her bright golden eyes shining in the darkness, it makes more sense it would be her. Piper looks back in front of her. "I'm tired, Hazel. This has to stop. He has to stop screwing with my mind."
"Maybe it's just you, Piper."
"Maybe." Piper does not disagree with Hazel's rather bold statement. Maybe she is going insane. "But this has to end."
"What are you going to do?"
She doesn't answer her. Piper bites her lip and clenches her fist.
"Are you running away?"
"No." Her eyes sting a bit. "I'll be back."
"Soon. I just have to find someone."
"That's…" she falters, looks down at the ground. "I'd rather not say. Please tell Jason…" She swallows the lump in her throat. "Tell Jason I still love him, and that I'll be back soon."
"I'll be back." She says again, her voice wavering. It isn't like herself. She turns back to face Hazel. Piper's eyes look red, but there are no tears. She keeps holding back the tears. "I promise."
She starts walking forward, away from the house. "Just going to find that ungrateful bastard."
Hazel watches her go, feeling helpless. When Piper is gone, she holds her arms, looks down, and then up to the sky. She closes her eyes, and tells this to herself very quietly, like a prayer: "Don't go chasing shadows, Piper."
If Leo and Piper didn't trust in each other, then how did they become friends?
Well, same as everyone else.
Sports week came early in Wilderness School. It was every jock's favorite holiday. Wilderness School had enough space around the campus that they build a track, a few sport courts and fields, and many others. No classes and everyone could wear anything they wanted, no school rules or restrictions that held them back. They were all out at the bleachers, cheering and making noise as the school athletes performed in the courts, with the most charismatic students taking out microphones, being commentators, and happily blabbering about the scores. The fields were heavily monitored by the teachers, overlooking any trouble that would stir in the games.
Fortunately, and unfortunately, the trouble was located way back at the school building, which was far from the festival. Leo Valdez was running down the main hallway, chased by his three agitated senior friends. "Come here, you ungrateful little faggot!" shouted the one leading them. He had found out who brought hell to his butt, and he pretty much wanted revenge.
Leo slid to the next hall, skidding to an empty classroom and closing the door. All three giants banged on the door, and Leo quickly climbed out of the room through the window, and made a dash to the dormitories.
He collapsed as soon as he entered the building. He was panting and sweating, when he heard something break at the far corner of the building. He would have just ignored it, but then he heard a familiar scream. And more sounds of struggle. Leo stood up and snuck down to the direction of the noise. He ended up on the girls' dormitory, and was about to turn into a corner, when he heard more girls screaming and heavy foot stomping towards his direction. Leo dived into an empty dorm room (they really need to learn to lock doors) when Isabella and her cronies walked through the hallway and disappeared. Leo went out of the room, and then made his way towards Piper's room.
He found her swearing, pacing and kicking her stuff around her room, which was a horrible mess. There were pieces of hair on the floor and a pair of scissors. Leo looked up and saw that her hair was more chopped up than usual.
She whipped around. "God, what do you want—"She stopped when she saw Leo. "Oh…it's just you."
One of her cheeks was red, and her lip was bleeding. But Leo didn't bother pointing those out. "Bad day, I see."
"What are you doing here?"
Leo moved inside the room, avoiding the debris. In the distance, they heard a crowd cheer. Then he saw his pursuers through the window. They were far away, but one of them caught a glance of Piper's window, and squinted.
"Crap, get down!" He pushed Piper down the ground with him.
"Hey, what's your problem?!"
"No one can hear us."
"Oh, right." Leo crept to the window sill and peeked. They were out of sight, but he knew they were making their way to the dorms.
Piper was touching her swollen cheek when Leo grabbed her wrist, and pulled her with him as he opened the window of the room. "Hey, what are you…"
"Want some help with handling Isabella?"
"No, I can handle them myself fine, Leo."
"I know you can." Leo went outside of the building through the window, and Piper was showing no resistance that Leo was dragging her out, too. "Just tell me where Isabella is heading."
"How the hell should I know?" Piper smacked her lips. "What can you do about them? I'm really getting tired of that—"
"Valdez!" A deep voice boomed somewhere in the dormitory building. "Where the fuck are you?"
"I see that it's your bad day, too," Piper said casually.
"Yeah. Let's run." And they did. They made their way towards the courts, to the bleachers. They were climbing over to the chain-linked fence (because gates were old school) when the seniors went out of the building and started charging to them. But now that they were in monitored ground, the teachers had noticed Leo and Piper and the pursuing seniors. One of them was starting down them, and unfortunately it was Coach Gleeson Hedge.
"Split up," Leo said. Piper went to Leo's left and he dashed to the opposite direction. He heard Coach Hedge shout at them, but Leo had disappeared into the crowd. He hid under the bleachers, under the butts of his many schoolmates. He took a glimpse of the football game happening. It was their school color (Leo didn't know they had school colors until today) versus some really brighter school colors. Some other Wilderness School, he bet.
"This is boring," a girl's voice said above him. It was Isabella. "Let's move to the tennis courts. Dylan is playing there."
"Noooo, what about Jared?!" one of the girls besides her said. "Let's stay here for a little bit while, please?"
He saw her cell phone jutting out of her pocket of her skirt. With his light fingers, he reached up for them, slowly taking it out. Then he cupped the phone in his hand and slinked away from the bleachers. Leo didn't own a cell phone but he was familiar enough to get around it. He read through the inbox.
"Oh, my…" He read the outbox messages, too. Interesting. Very interesting. He pocketed it and looked towards the large scoreboard. It flashed the scores of the home base and the visitors, but it had a large screen that took almost all the board that flashed phrases that cheerleaders should be shouting. He rubbed his chin for a second and then grinned.
When the game called for a break, he immediately dashed to the scoreboard. He moved under bleachers and the sides of the field, and he crawled into the back of the screen. He found the panel box. With a lock pick, he opened it and stared at the wires and keys. He took out Isabella's cell phone, opened it with a few small tools he had in his other pockets, connected the wires to the gadget, pushed a couple of buttons. But before he could make the final setting, he thought about the effect of what he was going to do. He was probably a big bully for doing this. Then he thought about Piper. They weren't close, but he thought about her already choppy hair, and her face beaten up. Leo didn't like people he cared for to be beaten up like that. And then he remembered her telling Leo that she could fight her own battles.
Sorry Piper, he thought, making the final adjustments to the panels and closing the box altogether. I got to your fight first. Leo patted his own shoulder, and brushed his hands together in anticipation. Isabella can blame it on karma. He had only less than a minute until the game starts again; enough time to get out of sight so he wouldn't be suspected. He quickly ran away from the post and only a few seconds later big bulky jocks were bashing each other in the middle of the field again. And in the next few seconds the crowd's cheering slowly died down and everyone was pointing at the large screen, as the friendly text started to change into something more attention-grabbing.
Then Leo heard Isabella scream, and he looked at her direction. She was the only one standing among the crowd, her eyes so wide it looked like it was about to pop. She patted her skirts, and found that her phone was not with her. But now, she realized that she did the wrong move for standing up and screaming, because everyone was looking at her. And they all started laughing and catcalling. The game had stopped and everyone was left staring between the text messages and the victim.
Isabella looked like she was going to burst. The teachers ran to the scoreboard to investigate, some made their way to Isabella, and Leo was lucky to be a safe distance away not to be suspected (everyone was so in the game, they didn't notice him sneaking at the back). He looked around the field and saw Piper McLean in a distance. She saw the messages with a shocked expression, and then Isabella's violent reaction, and then she caught Leo's gaze, and she grinned.
Leo nodded, and he was making his great escape to the school building again until someone grabbed him by the back of his shirt and pulled him to a dark corner. Then he found his three pursuers, all big angry faces staring down at him. Leo almost forgot about them.
"Oh. Well, you caught me." He raised his hands in surrender. There was no way out, much to his dismay. He was small and they were big. He gulped and prepared for the first impact.
Piper sensed trouble when Leo had disappeared in a dark corner. So she quickly ran across the football field, and then accidentally bumped on Coach Hedge. They both fell down on the grass, and some kids on the bleachers who were watching them laughed.
"Watch it, kid!" he shouted at her.
"Sorry, coach!" She quickly stood up, took his trusty baseball bat, and ran. "There's some trouble!"
"Hey, come back here! My bat!" Hedge yelled, but Piper was already at the other side of the field. She stopped and slowly approached the dark corner, where she heard a lot of struggling and yelling, and she found the three seniors beating up Leo. She gripped the bat and then shouted, "Hey, losers!"
All three faces stared at her. They were scratched and red, and their arms had bite marks, but Leo had the worst of it, with a black eye, bloody lips, and his shirt was partly shredded.
"Leave him alone!" As Piper said this, Leo's eyes widened at her, not believing what she was doing.
The seniors only sneered at her. Piper felt so foolish. She took a deep breath and said in a louder, powerful voice, "Are you deaf? I said leave him alone!"
One of them clicked his tongue. "Let's leave this wimp, boys." They finally dropped him at the ground with a loud thump, and walked towards her direction. Piper was about to swing her bat, but they only brushed past her, still sneering.
Piper quickly went to Leo's side and helped him up.
"Thanks," Leo muttered.
Just in time, Coach Hedge appeared, out of breath, hands on his knees. "What are you kids doing, what's going on—what happened to you two?!"
Leo spat a tooth. And then casually pointed at it. "Oh, wait, that's my last baby tooth."
"If you two don't tell me anything—"
"Explanation later, coach?" Piper patted Leo's back. The latter groaned in pain. "Let's bring him to the clinic?"
"Fine, but you two are in trouble." He gripped both of their arms, since they were both too tall for him to hold their shoulders. "Especially you, McLean. You stole my bat! You are in so much trouble."
Coach Hedge stirred them out of the fields. The games had been postponed for tomorrow, and everyone had lingered to different courts or back at their dormitories, since it was getting late. They saw Isabella crying, surrounded by teachers. One of them was holding her cell phone, in which Leo dropped when the seniors ambushed him.
"I hope this time they won't find out," Leo whispered.
"Find out about what?" Hedge said.
"Nothing." He noticed Piper watching Isabella being escorted to a building, looking really guilty. "What's wrong?"
"It's funny for one second. But I think you overdid it, Leo."
"I didn't hurt her physically." He tugged a few locks of Piper's hair (to prove his point of what she did to Piper). "Everyone needs some angst or drama once in a while. Besides, I did that to her, not you. Let this haunt my consciousness forever."
"Still." Piper started to make small braids with the uneven strands of hair. Leo looked around his pockets and handed her some rubber band. "You did it because of me," Piper mumbled.
Leo sighed. "Okay, fine. I didn't do it for you; I did it for myself because I'm an evil bastard and I like you. Are you happy?"
Piper smiled. She couldn't help it. She said teasingly, "You like me?"
"Sure, you just saved my life." Leo stretched out and yawned, then recoiled because of his backache. They started walking ahead of Hedge, who was struggling to catch up with them. "You just convinced those goons to leave without actually doing anything. I mean, how do you do that?" He looked at her and grinned. Two of his teeth were missing. "I like you. Come live with me and be my love."
Piper blinked, and Leo broke into laughter. She punched his arm and shook her head, letting a smile escape her lips. She decided to play along. "And we will all the pleasures prove."
"Dat'a girl!" He brought his arm around her shoulders. "We're going to be partners-in-crime for now on. You did a wrong move, McLean. A wrong move."
Piper had made a few "wrong moves" in her life. But maybe this wrong move wouldn't hurt. Maybe it would make her life a bit more interesting in a positive way. She had no way of knowing, but she would see soon.