I wanted to cry for her. Carrying such a weight didn’t seem natural. My sister, Artemis, had experience with midwifery, but I had always found it one area of the healing arts best left to others. “How can you bear it?” I asked. “My mother, Leto, suffered through a long pregnancy, but only because Hera cursed her. Are you cursed?”

Percy stepped to my side. “Um, Apollo? She’s not cursed. And can you not mention Hera?”

“You poor woman.” I shook my head. “A goddess would never allow herself to be so encumbered. She would give birth as soon as she felt like it.”

“That must be nice,” the woman agreed.

Percy Jackson coughed. “So anyway. Mom, this is Apollo and his friend Meg. Guys, this is my mom.”

The Mother of Jackson smiled and shook our hands. “Call me Sally.”

Her eyes narrowed as she studied my busted nose. “Dear, that looks painful. What happened?”

I attempted to explain, but I choked on my words. I, the silver-tongued god of poetry, could not bring myself to describe my fall from grace to this kind woman.

I understood why Poseidon had been so smitten with her. Sally Jackson possessed just the right combination of compassion, strength, and beauty. She was one of those rare mortal women who could connect spiritually with a god as an equal—to be neither terrified of us nor greedy for what we can offer, but to provide us with true companionship.

If I had still been an immortal, I might have flirted with her myself. But I was now a sixteen-year-old boy. My mortal form was working its way upon my state of mind. I saw Sally Jackson as a mom—a fact that both consternated and embarrassed me. I thought about how long it had been since I had called my own mother. I should probably take her to lunch when I got back to Olympus.

“I tell you what.” Sally patted my shoulder. “Percy can help you get bandaged and cleaned up.”

“I can?” asked Percy.

Sally gave him the slightest motherly eyebrow raise. “There’s a first-aid kit in your bathroom, sweetheart. Apollo can take a shower, then wear your extra clothes. You two are about the same size.”

“That,” Percy said, “is truly depressing.”

Sally cupped her hand under Meg’s chin. Thankfully, Meg did not bite her. Sally’s expression remained gentle and reassuring, but I could see the worry in her eyes. No doubt she was thinking, Who dressed this poor girl like a traffic light?

“I have some clothes that might fit you, dear,” Sally said. “Pre-pregnancy clothes, of course. Let’s get you cleaned up. Then we’ll get you something to eat.”

“I like food,” Meg muttered.

Sally laughed. “Well, we have that in common. Percy, you take Apollo. We’ll meet you back here in a while.”

In short order, I was showered, bandaged, and dressed in Jacksonesque hand-me-downs. Percy left me alone in the bathroom to take care of all this myself, for which I was grateful. He offered me some ambrosia and nectar—food and drink of the gods—to heal my wounds, but I was not sure it would be safe to consume in my mortal state. I didn’t want to self-combust, so I stuck with mortal first-aid supplies.

When I was done, I stared at my battered face in the bathroom mirror. Perhaps teenage angst had permeated the clothes, because I felt more like a sulky high schooler than ever. I thought how unfair it was that I was being punished, how lame my father was, how no one else in the history of time had ever experienced problems like mine.

Of course, all that was empirically true. No exaggeration was required.

At least my wounds seemed to be healing at a faster rate than a normal mortal’s. The swelling in my nose had subsided. My ribs still ached, but I no longer felt as if someone were knitting a sweater inside my chest with hot needles.

Accelerated healing was the least Zeus could do for me. I was a god of medicinal arts, after all. Zeus probably just wanted me to get well quickly so I could endure more pain, but I was grateful nonetheless.

I wondered if I should start a small fire in Percy Jackson’s sink, perhaps burn some bandages in thanks, but I decided that might strain the Jacksons’ hospitality.

I examined the black T-shirt Percy had given me. Emblazoned on the front was Led Zeppelin’s logo for their record label: winged Icarus falling from the sky. I had no problem with Led Zeppelin. I had inspired all their best songs. But I had a sneaking suspicion that Percy had given me this shirt as a joke—the fall from the sky. Yes, ha-ha. I didn’t need to be a god of poetry to spot the metaphor. I decided not to comment on it. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.