Annabeth couldn’t sleep.
The fire cast a dim light that stretched in a tight circle, illuminating her new friends. Thalia was sleeping on her right, an arm tucked under her pack and her leather jacket tightly zipped up to her chin. Annabeth had a feeling she would like her, once she got beyond the initial icy demeanor. Luke sat across the fire keeping first watch. He Annabeth had liked right away. He’d protected her the second she plowed into him in that alley. He’d promised to take care of her, and now he stayed awake, eyes trained on the horizon, keeping watch over her and Thalia. No one in her entire life had looked at her with such conviction, such sincerity, that she couldn’t help but trust him completely. Luke would never hurt her.
Seeming to sense Annabeth’s eyes on him, Luke’s focus moved from the woods and over to her. She whipped her head to the side to feign sleep but he caught her.
“Can’t sleep, kiddo?” He laughed.
She sheepishly turned back and shook her head.
“C’mere,” He beckoned her over with a nod. “Don’t wake Thalia.”
Annabeth pushed herself off the hard dirt and stepped over the older girl, crossing around the small space. She plopped a few feet away from Luke, hugging her knees to her chest and resting her head atop.
“How’d the first day as a half-blood?”
“Well, it’s not my first day, I’ve been it all my life. Now I just have a name for it.”
He’d laughed again and she’d felt a rush of warmth.
“You’re an Athena kid. I’ll call it now.”
Not knowing how to respond, Annabeth had happily shrugged.
“It’s nice,” She said with a touch of wistfulness. “To know what this all means. To know people who get it.”
“Yeah, it is.” Luke smiled at her.
“My family didn’t get it.”
“They never do.”
“My step mom would get mad whenever the monsters came. But it’s not my fault that the bad stuff happens to me.”
“No, it’s not.” Luke shifted so he faced her more. “You don’t have to worry about that anymore, kiddo. Like I said, we’re your family now. Me and Thalia. And we’re gonna protect you from the bad stuff.”
“Promise?” She blinked up at him.
“Promise.” He gently tugged on one of her tangled curls. “Wanna try to get some sleep? We’ve got a long day tomorrow.”
“What’re we doing?”
“We’re headed to a safe house. We’ll be able to stay there for a little bit. And get you something warmer to wear than those pajamas.”
“How long will we stay there?”
“Not long. Half bloods can’t stay in one place for too long or the monsters will smell us.”
‘Well, we don’t smell as bad as Thalia.”
In spite of how dark it was, joking about their likelihood of dying, she found herself giggling.
He ruffled her hair and nudged her away. “Go sleep. We’ll be moving soon.”
She scrambled to her feet, carefully stepping back to her earlier spot.
“I’m really glad you guys found me.”
She didn’t cry when she knew that there were too many monsters for Thalia to face on her own but Grover was dragging her down the hill to safety. She didn’t cry when she watched her one of her two friends (no, family) die. She didn’t cry when Chiron explained Camp in more detail than Grover was able to relent, or when she sat next to Luke on the steps and he hid his face in his own hands so she wouldn’t see his tears.
She didn’t cry that first day at camp. Instead she was numb.
She didn’t feel the pride she’d expected when her mother claimed her. When the head Athena counselor tried to take her to their cabin, she was aware of Luke’s fingers digging into her shoulders so tightly it pinched her neck but it didn’t hurt.
She and Luke were put up in a double room in the Big House (just for today, because of the circumstances). Annabeth could hear Luke cry in the bed across the room. She wanted to cry to, but nothing came. That’s the thing, she realized then, about death. It doesn’t hit you that someone is really gone right away. You’re aware of it and the cold plank in your chest, but it’s not something you can always wrap your mind around. No matter how many times she closed her eyes and saw Thalia fall, she couldn’t shake the feeling that any minute Thalia would walk through the door across the room and pull her into her lap and whisper a prank to pull on Luke. Thalia couldn’t be gone. Annabeth couldn’t have lost this family too.
“I’m sorry, Annabeth,” Luke’s voice was muffled.
She pushed herself up onto an elbow. “For what?”
“I let you both down. I said I’d take care of both of you.”
“It’s okay,” Annabeth whispered back because what else could she say. “It’s not your fault.” She knew that it wasn’t. She didn’t care whose fault it was or why this had happened, she just wanted her family to be together again.
“You’re gonna be okay? Here?”
“Well, you’ll still be with me. Right?”
He cracked a sad smile. “Always, kiddo.”
The worst part of his betrayal was that it didn’t really surprise her. Luke had changed since his quest; deep down she had always known that. She’d seen the anger he harbored: deep and dangerous and bubbling slowly. It had only been a matter of time before he blew.
What had he been thinking, she wondered, the morning she, Grover, and Percy left. When she’d realized this would be not only the first time she’d left camp in five years, but had gone off anywhere without Luke. The realization made her panic a little. She hadn’t mentioned it to him, sparing her own mortification, but she’d sensed he’d realized the same thing when his eyes had darted between her and Thalia’s tree and he had hugged her a little fiercer than normal. The “take care of yourself” he’d said against her head wasn’t warm, but an order. She’d nodded and he’d ruffled her hair and then he was gone.
He hadn’t seemed to be angry or plotting anything. He hadn’t told her not to go. The last bit gave her a pang -- she wasn’t exactly sure of what. He’d thought Percy was going to die and the quest was going to fail and he’d let her go. He hadn’t tried to protect her at all.
She couldn’t help but wonder if this would have still happened if Thalia had lived. Thalia knew how to deal with Luke. She could intervene and talk him down when he got too worked up. Annabeth had been a coward. He’d told her countless times that she was the only one on his side, the only one he could always count on. She couldn’t tell him he was ever being irrational or blinded by his hatred for the gods to see that there was good in the world too. Thalia could have helped Luke. But Thalia wasn’t here anymore. Now it was just Annabeth left to mend their broken family.
Percy was angry. Rightly so, she knew, as Luke did try to kill him. But Percy didn’t know Luke. Not like she did. Luke had made a bad choice, but he was not a bad person. He was too caught up in his anger that he’d been tricked into thinking vengeance against the gods was the only solution. Annabeth would have to help him see the light. He would never hurt her; that she was more certain of than anything in the world. She would help him realize going dark wouldn’t help him. He wasn’t evil. He was afraid. Luke had pulled her out of darkness and fear years ago, and now it was her turn. She would save him, just like he saved her. She could save her family. She had to.
One minute she was holding the sky and the next she was facedown in a stone cell.
She could hear voices around her and tried to listen before they saw she was awake and stopped.
“They will come.”
“And what if you’re wrong? What if we’re keeping your mortal pet around for nothing?”
They were talking about her, she realized.
“Jackson will come for her. I’m sure of it.” It was Luke’s voice, bitterly cold.
There was a pause.
“You have one week. And then she dies.” She didn’t recognize the other voice. She guessed some monster or other Titan Luke had left them all for. The other walked away, footsteps echoing off the walls.
She could feel Luke’s presence behind her, his eyes burning into her, but she continued feigning unconsciousness.
“I’m sorry I had to trick you, Annie” He whispered that forgotten pet name sounding so much like Old Luke that it made her entire chest ache. Against her better judgement, she just barely cracked an eye open, peering through her hair. He had crouched down beside her, looking nervously over his shoulder. There was an ugly expression on his face. “Jackson’s going to come find you. But you can’t go with him. He can’t help you. Not like I can.
I can still protect you, Annabeth.” He insisted. “When you wake up, you can come with me and we can be a family again.”
He touched her head for a moment and she was thrown back into years of him ruffling her hair after her first spar, trying to bunch up her hair the way had Thalia used to, holding her head tightly to his chest before he left for his quest.
Had she any energy at all she may have tried to plead with him again to come back to camp. Did he know that Thalia was alive? It could still be the three of them, but they didn’t have to be against the gods. They didn’t have to be angry and fighting for their lives, they could just be. But instead, sheer exhaustion pulled her back under into dreams of broken promises and family she couldn’t save.
The irony of her comforting him as he slipped off wasn’t lost on her. He blinked up at her, eyes unfocused but they were his.
“You were a hero at the end, Luke. You’ll go to Elysium.”
He wasn’t with her anymore. Not really. She could see him fighting against the pull of death as they talked quietly, just for seconds. He spoke of the Isle of Blest and she teased him. When was the last time, she thought, that she and Luke had spoken so calmly, so light.
He asked if she loved him.
How could she ever begin to explain or understand her feelings for him? He was a part of her. Her childhood hero. Her first thought was yes, but not in the way he meant. She thought of all the ghost stories and the snacks smuggled and the way he had pulled her up to shore when she thought she was drowning and shown her a world where she belonged. He was the reason she had anything now. The spot Luke took up in her heart, her soul, couldn’t be explained. He would always been a part of her, the one who took her under his wing and shaped her into who she was. It was just something she knew. Just like she knew that now her heart beat for the boy she locked eyes with across Luke’s body.
“You were like a brother to me, Luke, but I didn’t love you.”
He winced and she felt her heart split in half for the thousandth time that day.
“You saved me.” Luke had said to her after she’d shoved his dead promise down his throat. She did it. She saved him and he was Luke again. And now she was going to lose him all over again. A sob broke in her throat and her entire body shook. She thought of all the tears -- over failed tests or failed parents -- he’d wiped away over her formative years and she felt another wave of grief.
Luke grabbed Percy’s sleeve and was making him swear something and then he was gone.
She didn’t think of him much of him anymore. She had other things to focus on. The reconstruction of Olympus, the new prophecy, the terrifying and wonderful new relationship with Percy. Then the Giant War came and Tartarus took over her nightmares.
That’s why it surprised her nearly two years after the Titan War when when she fell asleep she didn’t see walls of fire around her or Percy dead at her feet, but a small clearing in the woods.
Thalia sat across from her, younger than she was now. A crate of apples sat between them and she tossed one to her. When Annabeth reached up her hands to catch it, she saw that she too looked different. The back of her hands were still dimpled with baby fat and ¬¬she could feel the long forgotten weight of the oversized army jacket she’d once worn.
Her heart lurched. She remembered this day. It’d been one of the only really good days they’d had while on the run. Luke had stolen them some apples to eat and Thalia had taught Annabeth to play hackey sack. Luke had chided them for wasting food, but eventually joined in as well. Annabeth had laughed more than she could remember and it was the first time in her life that her heart had felt so full.
The scene shifted and Annabeth was watching the day unfold from a third party’s perspective. A scene that four years ago would have reduced her to tears now just left her with a sad smile. She had found other happiness since, had another family. They’d been so young, she thought. Thalia and Luke then six years younger than she was now, Annabeth herself eleven years older than the little girl she saw here.
It’s weird to have an urge to protect your former self, she thought as she watched Young Luke scoop Young Her, screeching with joy, up as he flung her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. She’d yelped for Young Thalia to help her, but Thalia had poked her belly and told her that if she was so smart, she’d have to come up with her own battle plan.
They’d been so naîve to think that this happiness could last. To truly believe that they were invincible.
She woke up with tears on her cheeks (when did she not these days) but with her heart feeling light.
“It’s okay,” She whispered, anticipating Percy’s concern when he instinctively reached for her. “I’m okay.” She’d said that after waking up countless times over the years, but this may have been the first time she meant it.
So much had changed since she was the scared little girl in the woods. Everything. The family she’d made then had left her, unintentionally, in the end -- Thalia to Artemis and Luke to death. She wouldn’t give up that pain for anything though. Those days on the run had been hard but the cuts and bruises she’d worn wouldn’t bother her when she was squished between Luke and Thalia because they loved her. She couldn’t regret the first time she felt protected and valued and loved.
She loved her first found family, but as Percy pressed his face against her shoulder and wrapped his arm more tightly around her waist, she really loved the one she had now too.