Marriage is supposed to be wonderful.
At least, that's what happy, normal mortals say. But for gods and goddesses, it's a completely different story. A marriage between two such powerful beings is not that fun. There's rarely any romantic feeling in the relationship, and it's more of an agreement between two powerful people who will only become more powerful when they work together. But there's hardly any love involved at all.
Basically, being married to a god was not all it was cracked up to be.
Why, Hera could have told you that better than anyone else. Here she was, centuries- no, millennia old, and yet she could only remember one day that she had ever been happy with her marriage, and that had been on her wedding day. (Although, technically, the celebration for the ceremony that night had lasted 300 years, but who's counting?) She'd been a young and naive goddess back then, none the wiser about such things, but now she knew from experience what a jerk her husband could be.
Zeus never did anything nice for her: no flowers, no chocolates, no cards, nothing. He hadn't even remembered that today was their 3,000 year wedding anniversary.
So, naturally, she was mad at him.
When I find my worthless husband, I'm going to wring his neck so tight it'll be another millennia before he recovers!, she stormed, skulking out of the throne room and to her door slammed with a tremendous bang, and she flinched at the noise. Suddenly overwhelmed with a torrent of emotions, she threw herself onto her bed, not even bothering to turn the lights on, and burst into tears. Each little drop slid slowly down her cheek and landed with a plop on the peacock feathers on her comforter, which was woven entirely of the material. In fact, her entire room was a shrine dedicated to her sacred animal, which might disturb anyone else but the goddess.
Her shoulders shook with the effort of willing herself not to cry, but the desire was too strong, and she was too overcome with emotions to care. Why should she? Nobody liked her. Not her fellow gods and goddesses, who always seemed to side against her in Olympian debates. Not her sons, Ares, who was too self-absorbed to care about his mother, and Hephaestus, who was such a disappointment as a child that she'd thrown him off of Olympus when he was young, a grudge against which he'd held for eons for some reason. Not her Greek and Roman heroes, all of whom she'd given proper training to to ensure that they would succeed in the missions that she so gracefully gave them. And definitely not her husband Zeus, who seemed to despise her so much that he wouldn't even sleep in the same room as her. So, it was undeniable she was alone. Nobody understood her, and what she stood for. Nobody loved her.
"You're right, of course."
Hera jumped at the sound. "Who's there?" she cried in a shaky voice. It was dark in the room since she hadn't turned on the lights, so she couldn't see much further than the foot of the bed. Someone was in her room, and she wasn't okay with that. "Show yourself!" She was surprised and angry at how weak she sounded, how wobbly her voice was, her throat still tight from the rare stream of tears she'd shed.
"It isn't a maintenance tunnel," the voice said.
"What?" Hera asked, confused.
"It's the entrance to camp." There, in the corner. A small hand mirror sat, perched dangerously, on the edge of Hera's enormous vanity. Standing up from the bed, her velvet robes draping elegantly on the floor, she approached the object to get a closer look. When she picked it up, it took her only a moment to recognize it. It was about the size of a plate around the circumference and the gold-plated handle was about a foot long. The entire mirror, aside from the glass part (obviously), was coated in a thick gold cover and inlaid with rubies and emeralds, Hera's favorite gems. The mirror would have been very beautuiful, but the gold was faded and dented, the handle bent, the gems chipped, and the surface scratched. It looked like a thing of the past, once very magnificent in its prime, but worn from age and mistreatment.
Still, Hera couldn't help admiring it as she held it lovingly in her hands. It was from her sister, Hestia. The first birthday present she had ever received.
Tears threatened to spill over, making her vision blurry, but Hera smeared them away so that she could watch the images on the mirror's surface. Wiping away some smudges absently on the glass, she wondered what had made the mirror turn on. Her sister had told her that its purpose was to show the user what he or she needed to see most at that moment, but why would she need to see whatever this was? Her question was answered by the hideous face that appeared on the mirror's surface.
An old woman, repulsive as a gorgon, was sitting in a bunch of bushes like a homeless person. She looked like a hippie who'd been kicked to the side of a road, where she'd been collecting trash and rags ever since. She wore a dress made of tie-dyed cloth, ripped-up quilts, and plastic grocery bags. Her frizzy mop of hair was gray-brown, like root-beer foam, tied back with a peace-sign headband. Warts and moles covered her face, and when she smiled, she showed exactly three teeth.
Hera was disgusted to herself in that form.
The ugly Hera raised her eyebrows in a warning, saying, "Not much time, child. You need to make your choice." What choice? she wondered. What child- oh gods. She recognized the person that the second Hera was talking to.
The boy, although he seemed a bit old too be a boy, was maybe 16 years old. He seemed fairly fit and muscular, toned and healthy. He carried a bronze sword in his hand- Celestial bronze, no doubt, which identified him as a demigod. His face was tan, and although it had an expression of confusion and horror plastered on it at the moment, there were definite signs of laugh lines around the eyes. The demigod had a tangled mess of hair atop his head, and he had the most stunning green eyes, ones that matched a similar pair she'd seen on only one other person in her life. In other words, the boy was the spitting image of his father, the god of the sea, Poseidon. Which meant that this boy was none other than:
"Who are you?" he asked of Hobo Hera uncertainly. The doubt on his face was clear.
"Oh, you can call me June," Hobo Hera said with mirth. Hera rolled her eyes at her old self. Really? she thought. You can't do any better than June? She rolled her eyes again as the old woman said, "It is June, isn't it? They named the month after me!"
"Okay...Look," the son of Poseidon said, with remarkable patience, she might add. "I should go. Two gorgons are coming. I don't want them to hurt you."
Hera's heart swelled at that. What a compassionate and kind boy! The world needed more of those. Boys who were willing to help anyone, protect anyone. Even a perfect stranger like the horrible hag she appeared to be.
"How sweet!" she remarked, mirroring the sentiments of her counterpart. "But that's part of your choice."
"My choice..." he trailed off, looking behind him nervously. Hera could see the two gorgons he had mentioned coming closer and closer. Hobo Hera didn't seem to notice, or care, she couldn't tell which.
"Yes, a choice," she said breezily. "You could leave me here at the mercy of the gorgons and go to the ocean." But you won't, she thought. "You'd make it there safely, I guarantee. The gorgons will be quite happy to attack me and let you go." Yeah, until I blast them to smithereens, she thought to herself, smiling alone in her dim room. "In the sea, no monster would bother you. You could begin a new life, live to a ripe old age, and escape a great deal of pain and misery that is in your future."
Hera felt a sudden stab of guilt. All of that pain and misery she'd threatened would happen? It all did. Who caused it? She did. From the moment that the son of Poseidon went to sleep one night, a few days after his sixteenth birthday, his life had been nothing but a never-ending nightmare, a chain reaction of changes that had only brought trouble. A domino effect that seemed to only get worse, hurting more people each moment, and only wrecking Percy's life even more.
First she'd erased his memories, so that he wouldn't remember anything from his past life. Then she'd plucked him out of his life, right when things were looking up for him, and put him to sleep for eight months. Then she'd dumped him at an old abandoned mansion, left only to the mercy of a scary pack of wolves. Then she'd watch him struggle to reach Camp Jupiter, constantly attacked day and night by monsters that he couldn't kill. In the end, she was a terrible person. And she hated herself for it.
But she watched with slight fascination as Percy didn't immediately choose that choice, and leave Hobo Hera at the hands of the not-so-merciful gorgons. Instead, he asked, "Or?"
"Or you could do a good deed for an old lady. Carry me to the camp with you," she wheezed. A look of incredulity and disgust appeared on the son of Poseidon's face as the old hag wiggled her purple swollen feet suggestively, an expression that may have been laughable under other conditions.
"Carry you?" he asked in disbelief.
"I can't get there by myself. Carry me to the camp- across the highway, through the tunnel, across the river."
"And I'd carry you to this camp because-?" Because you're the most loyal person I've ever met, Hera thought. A small smile appeared on her face and gradually spread until she was grinning like a maniac. She rubbed the mirror's surface so that the vision from the past would disappear, and set the mirror face-down on the table. She'd seen all she needed to see. She knew what had made the mirror turn on: her tears. The mirror, given to her by her wonderfully sweet sister, had somehow known that she needed to see this. To see that there is hope for loyalty, for trust that someone will always be with you. Percy Jackson was the perfect example of that.
Never, in all of Hera's years, had she met someone that was more fiercely loyal than the son of Poseidon. He was willing to drop everything at a moment's notice to defend someone. Whether that someone was a strange homeless lady he'd met only that day or his girlfriend that he'd grown closer and closer to each year that he'd been a demigod. He would defend a random pack of mortals that would never know he had saved their lives because of the Mist, and an old man that was so fragile he could die the next day. He would protect the kids his age who had bullied him for years when he was younger, and the lazy gods and stubborn goddesses who, no matter how many times he saved their butts, would only expect more and more of him each time.
Loyalty. It was his fatal flaw. But he wore it like a badge of honor that had gotten him through tough times. In a way, there was something wonderful about it: using your greatest weakness as your greatest weapon. That was what made him admirable. That was what made him brave. That was what made him a hero. And, not just any hero; according to Nico di Angelo, Percy Jackson was the most powerful demigod he'd ever seen, and Hera had to agree with him. Full-heartedly.
Still smiling slightly to herself, Hera raised up out of the chair she didn't know she'd been sitting on. She turned away from the mirror, the vanity, and strode out of her room, the door shutting behind her with a firm but gentle click.
Her head was held high as she swept out of the room, her movements smooth and graceful as a peacock, her long legs gliding on the floor while her sharp heels made clicking sounds on the marbled floor. She turned the corner and stopped with surprise.
A hundred voices screamed out the words at her. Gods, goddesses, demigods, mortals, satyrs, nymphs, and creatures of all shapes and sizes were standing out in the Hall of the Gods. Each one had his or her face turned towards Hera, their faces lit up with joy and elation. She could only imagine what her own face looked like. Shocked, probably. In fact, she was so overcome with emotion that all she could do was stand still as a statue as the flood of guests stampeded towards her, sallying forth to hug her and congratulate her. Most thrust out their gifts that they held in their hands, offering their congratulations with either a handshake, a friendly pat on the back, or a kiss on the cheek. A few even tried to peck her on the lips, but their attempts were ignored and went unpunished since everyone was enjoying themselves so much. The stack of presents grew from a small mound to a dangerous, teetering tower. It was a bit like Jenga, she thought, as she observed a few servants trying to add gifts to the mountain without having it come crashing down on top of them. Someone, probably Apollo, turned up the music really loud, and the guests began to dance in a furious frenzy. Hera was surprised, really. Many of the guests were well over a thousand years old, and yet they somehow knew how to grind and do the Haarlem Shake. She wasn't really even sure how she knew what those dance moves were.
Hera was pulled out of her reveries by a large, meaty hand tapping impatiently on her shoulder. She turned in surprise to see her husband standing over her, hands on his hips and his face in a frown.
"Come with me," Zeus ordered, already turning away.
"But-" she argued.
"COME WITH ME!" he time he grabbed her arm and dragged her away. She did as she was told with an obedient and nonchalant expression on her face. How dare her husband drag her away like this? In front of all those people! This was her anniversary party too! Who did he think he was? True, he was king of the gods and ruler of Mount Olympus, but he was also her husband, and marriage was a partnership, not a monarchy, or some weird relationship where one person is in charge. If this was going to work, they had to treat each other as equals.
"Zeus-" she started to say, but he cut her off with a firm kiss.
"Hera," he said, his voice rattling around the corridor they were in, bouncing off of the marble columns. He grabbed her hands gently."I love you. I don't know if I've ever actually said that to you or not. But I do. I do love you." Hera was shocked. Never, ever, had Zeus said done anything like this. "I know I can be a jerk sometimes. I treat you like dirt, and you treat me like a king. I have cheated on you with hundreds," Hera gave him a doubtful look, "okay, thousands of women before, and you have never betrayed me or been with someone else. You have been 100% honest and true to me. You are an angel, and I don't deserve your commitment. So I guess I just wanted to say I'm sorry. I really am. Look, this is our wedding anniversary." Hera looked at him in surprise. "What? You didn't think I remembered?"
"Well, you've never remembered before," she pointed out.
"But it never mattered before." Seeing her expression, he tried to backpedal. "Who do you think put this party together? Well, don't look surprised," he said when he saw her raised eyebrows. "Anyway, we've been married for 3,000 years now. 3,000 years! That's a long time, even for a god and goddess like us. So, I guess I just wanted to say, in addition to 'I love you' and 'I'm sorry', thank you. Thank you for always being by my side, for always helping me rule, and for always supporting me. It doesn't go unnoticed. So, since I am apparently terrible at making speeches and professing my love to you," he continued, clearing his throat, "I decided to show you what you mean to me. Here, I got you a little present."
He dropped her hands momentarily, pulling away to stand in front of a ginormous purple velvet curtain, possibly 40 feet tall, if not more. He placed his hand on a gold tassel that hung from the ceiling. When he tugged on it, the curtains opened grandly from either side , as they do when a play is about to start, to reveal the magnificent gift that was meant for Hera.
"Oh Zeus," she breathed. "I love it!"