Chapter One: Breaking Point
Nico shadow travelled a reasonable distance away from their meeting point and walked the rest of the way. Deciding to put some effort into appearing normal since anyone might see. He shouldn’t have worried; the place was completely abandoned.
He glanced around; they were supposed to be meeting at a cabin which he quickly found. Though it looked more like a shed than anything, it was so small and shabby.
No one was around, and Nico frowned. Had he possibly gotten the date or time wrong?
Every week or two, there was a group hangout for the seven and their friends. Somehow, Nico ended up being invited most of the time, though he didn’t always show up.
He hadn’t exactly been planning on joining this week’s hangout either, but Jason and Hazel had been bothering him a lot recently about being gone so often. And it had been a while since he’d seen them, so he decided he should try and make this one. The plan was to meet at a beach; Percy had picked it out. It was technically public, but since it was the end of May, they weren’t exactly expecting it to be busy.
He considered just leaving. He’d never really had to plan for what would happen if he arrived too early. He felt awkward waiting around for the others, especially if he had gotten the day wrong.
“Nico, hey,” came a voice from behind him, just as he was considering going over the dunes to make sure no one was down on the beach itself.
Nico turned; Jason stood in the entryway of the cabin, holding the door propped open with one foot.
“Hey, am I early?” Nico asked.
Jason grimaced and pulled away from the cabin door, letting it swing shut with a bang. “A little bit, but it’s fine.”
He glanced back towards the innards of the cabin and gestured for Nico to come closer. Nico felt weird about how awkward Jason was being, but he decided to come closer anyway, just in case he had something serious to say.
Jason said in a low voice, “Annabeth’s in the cabin, I was gonna try and talk to her, but I didn’t really know what to say. Percy is down at the water doing who knows what. I got here kind of early, and when they arrived, they seemed to be in the middle of a fight. I don’t think they were expecting anyone to be here. I’ve never seen them like this before; I didn’t know what to do.”
“What?” Nico asked he didn’t think he’d ever heard of Annabeth and Percy having a serious fight. “What was the fight about?”
If possible, Jason looked even more uncomfortable then he already had. He scratched the side of his face and coughed, “I overheard Tartarus get mentioned. I don’t know exactly what about Tartarus, but I can make some guesses based on some stuff that Percy told me. There was definitely some stuff where… well, I can see why they may not agree on how it was handled.”
Nico tried to encourage him to say more, gesturing him to continue with a hand. Jason didn’t seem very comfortable with the idea, though, awkwardly shifting his weight from foot to foot.
“It’s not really something I should talk about; it was kind of personal I think,” he said finally after a long pause.
Nico sighed, but he supposed that was probably fair.
Suddenly, Jason brightened, as if an idea had just struck him. “You know what? You should go and try and talk to them!”
“What? Why me?”
“I just figure, besides Grover, you’re probably the person who's known them the longest. And you know… you’d have a different perspective on the Tartarus stuff than the rest of us have.”
Nico narrowed his eyes at him, but Jason was looking at him with very effective puppy eyes.
“At least give it a shot, Nico! Please, I’m dying here, man.”
Nico sighed when had he become so easy? “Fine, yeah, sure. Annabeth’s inside the cabin you said?”
Jason nodded eagerly, “Thank you. Seriously.”
Nico rolled his eyes but approached the cabin apprehensively. He was not excited to have this conversation, but he supposed he could at least try and help. Not that he imagined he would be able to, it’s not like he had any experience with relationships, besides one doomed crush.
He entered the cabin; Annabeth was sitting on a mattress inside looking at a book though he didn’t think she was actually reading it. There was a strange look on her face. Something in-between anger and sadness, her brow creased, and her mouth twisted into a tight frown, though her eyes looked suspiciously watery. Nico felt like he was intruding on something he shouldn’t, he’d never seen Annabeth look so vulnerable.
I shouldn’t be here, he thought. I should have left this to someone who was actually their friend.
Before he could retreat and pretend like he’d done his best to Jason, Annabeth noticed him.
“Nico? Um,” she wiped her eyes as inconspicuously as she could. “Hey.”
Nico shifted uncomfortably, toying with his ring. “Hey.”
The most awkward silence in the history of awkward silences descended upon them. They just looked at each other for a long moment. A few times, Annabeth opened her mouth as if to continue the conversation, but soon gave up. More silence. The moment seemed to last for an eternity.
Finally, Nico took a deep breath; this is ridiculous and said. “Jason said something about you and Percy getting into an argument? What was that about.”
Nico immediately wanted to punch himself in the face, but shockingly it made Annabeth talk. Probably she had been dying to talk to someone about it for ages.
“Yeah, we’ve been fighting for a while now,” she said, a hand going through her hair, “I don’t really know how to explain it. I guess, we… you know, Tartarus. And Percy won’t talk to me about the things that went on there! When I try to bring up the subject, he immediately changes the topic. And I don’t want to be deterred, but for a while there I didn’t really want to talk about it either and so I just kind of let it happen.
“Now, I’m ready to talk about some of this stuff that we never really talked about before y’know? Not just Tartarus either. We weren’t together that long before Hera took him away, so Luke too. All that stuff, and he just won’t hear it.” The crease in her forehead deepened as did her frown. She looked angrier now than she did when he’d first come in, her features tightened up.
“Uh, I mean, you can’t really force him to talk about it if he doesn’t want to?” Nico offered uncertainly.
“I guess so,” Annabeth responded, “but I just feel like I need to talk about some things. I can’t really bring it up to just anyone; it wouldn’t be right. I don’t want it to seem like I’m talking about Percy behind his back.”
“I,” Nico frowned, what did that mean? “Percy’s who you want to talk about? With Percy?”
Annabeth diverted her eyes, “There’s just some behaviour Percy displayed while we were in Tartarus that I want to talk about.”
“Maybe I can help out? I mean, since I’ve also got some experience with Tartarus, then I can maybe be a sort of in-between? And help get Percy to talk to you about it?”
Annabeth gave him a long calculating look; Nico straightened his back some and tried his best to look reliable. Nico had no idea why he offered to help Percy and Annabeth get back on better terms, but he wasn’t going to backtrack on that now that he was thinking better of it. Even if he was pretty sure the offer was made during a bout of temporary insanity because what the Hades was he thinking?
If it was his actions that got Percy and Annabeth back together than his life was an absolute joke, but what else was new?
“Very well,” Annabeth finally said, “let’s go talk to Percy then. He’s probably down at the beach. He always goes to the ocean when he’s upset.”
She stood up, before walking out of the cabin and down the beach like a woman with a mission. Nico hurried after her, wondering why she was so set on talking with Percy. What could he have possibly done in Tartarus that she would so desperately want to discuss with him?
Nico couldn’t even begin to imagine, and he was a little afraid to find out.
As expected, Percy was sitting on the beach. Feet placed so the waves would just lap at them as the tide came in. Nico would assume the water would be freezing, but he wasn’t a son of Poseidon. He figured it was a bit different from that perspective. Percy was turned away from them, so Nico couldn’t see his expression, but his posture was very tense.
“Percy?” Annabeth said.
He turned around; his expression surprisingly blank at least until he noticed that Annabeth wasn’t alone. There was a quick moment of surprise, but it quickly shuttered itself off again. It was a little unnerving. Nico didn’t think he’d ever seen Percy with such a severe expression, and he’d seen Percy pretty angry before.
“Seriously, Annabeth? Did you really have to bring someone else into this?”
She swallowed, “I just thought it might be easier to talk about some things with someone else who has experienced Tartarus, but separately from us. You know, as a sort of barrier if things become too much.”
Percy’s eyes darted between them both for a moment as he considered this. Finally, he sighed in defeat, “Yeah, sure, I guess. That’s probably a good idea.”
There was a long pause, neither of them taking the opportunity to talk things out instead they just looked anywhere but at each other for long enough that it became painful to witness. This went on long enough that Nico lost his patience with the whole situation as well as the both of them. He didn’t want to be the one doing all the work, but it was starting to look like if he didn’t do something nothing would ever happen.
“So, what exactly have you been fighting about,” Nico said. “If you aren’t going to talk about it, then there’s no point in doing all this.”
Annabeth and Percy both turned to give him sharp looks, but then after a moment of consideration seemed to realise that he was right.
“Well,” Annabeth started. “Normally it starts when I try to talk about Tartarus. Percy just doesn’t want to talk about it at all!”
“You didn’t exactly want to talk about it at first either,” Percy retorted. “Remember that.”
“That wasn’t long enough! It’s been nine months now, and I need to talk about it. Or else I’m going to start feeling like I’m going crazy.”
“Why?” Percy exclaimed, throwing his hands up in exasperation. “Why is it so important to talk about it now?”
Annabeth hesitated; it was so odd seeing her uncertain. Obviously, this wasn’t a topic she was thrilled to discuss either. Which just made Nico even more curious to find out the details, which kind of made him feel like an asshole who was enjoying Percy and Annabeth fighting too much.
“It’s about Akhlys, okay, Percy. I want to talk about Akhlys and what you did to her.”
What? Nico thought bewildered by that statement.
Percy obviously didn’t feel the same as he huffed an annoyed breath of air. “I don’t understand what there’s left to talk about on that. It happened; there’s nothing that can be done about it.”
“It would be nice to talk about because you really scared me there,” Annabeth said. “And you don’t even seem to feel bad about it!”
“Of course, I feel bad about scaring yo-”
“That’s not what I meant!”
“Sorry,” Nico interrupted. “This might go smoother if you explained to me what happened with Akhlys. I can’t really help with a situation I don’t understand.”
Annabeth looked at Percy, “Why don’t you explain it to him. I want to see what you say.”
Percy glared at her, the corners of his mouth tightening, but he did start to explain. “We met Akhlys when we were trying to get out of Tartarus because y’know the death mist. She betrayed us, though, and almost killed us when we couldn’t really do anything. I… I kind of snapped, and when I realised that I could control her poisons because they were partially water, I attacked her with them.
And then she started screaming and crying. And snot and tears are made of water too, at least partially. So, I basically started drowning her in her own fluids. But it really scared Annabeth, and when I realised that I stopped.”
Nico blinked. That was not what he was expecting to hear at all. The idea that Percy could do something so horrible was a little shocking. Percy shifted a little uncomfortably under his gaze, and that jolted Nico out of his surprise. He always hated it when people looked at him, afraid of what he might do, and he wasn’t about to do the same thing to someone else if he could avoid it.
Annabeth didn’t look appeased. “That’s what I mean, Percy. You stopped because of me; you didn’t think what you were doing was wrong.”
Percy turned away from Nico, back to his girlfriend. “I mean, I’m not about to go crazy and torture a bunch of people. But Akhlys was going to kill us! I don’t understand why you’re being so weird about this. I did what I had to do to keep us alive.”
“And is it necessary to join the swim team to survive? Doesn’t that count as cheating, using your powers to beat mortals who could never have the edge you do?”
Percy pulled back as if he’d been slapped. “What? I’m not going out of my way to use my powers there. I’m just a good swimmer, that’s what people do when they're good at something. I’m hardly the only one who uses their abilities from their godly parent to be good at something in the regular world. I don’t see you stepping down from winning smart people trophies because you’re a daughter of Athena!”
Nico tipped his head in confusion, what's wrong with Annabeth? Percy was right; she was being weird. It was strange of her to attack someone for using the abilities they had. It didn’t make sense for a daughter of Athena not to approve of taking any advantage they could find.
“That’s not the point Percy,” Annabeth snapped. “The point is that you don’t act like you need to worry about these sorts of things, but I know you do. You act dumb sometimes, but I know you’re actually pretty smart. So, start acting like it and take responsibility for your actions!”
“Excuse me? I don’t “act dumb” and responsibility for what?”
“For your actions! Don’t think Akhlys is the only concerning thing you did in Tartarus! Remember Bob? You manipulated him into killing his brother, that was cold and calculating. And you don’t even care!”
“If he thought we were a threat, he might have killed us!”
“Yeah, and I’m sure there wasn’t anything else you could have done. You know, Luke was pretty good at justifying his actions too.
They all froze. Nico couldn’t pretend to know much about Luke before he’d become the host for Kronos, but he did know that it was kind of a sensitive topic for the two.
“Luke,” Percy practically whispered. “What does Luke have to do with any of this?”
Annabeth was silent for a long moment before finally saying, “Sometimes I worry I’m making the same mistake with you as I did with Luke. I ignored all of Luke’s worst moments because I loved him. I can’t make that mistake again.”
Percy dropped back down on the beach. “If that’s what you think of me, then whatever,” Percy said. “I know when to cut my loses. Goodbye Annabeth, I’ll see you around camp, but don’t you dare try acting like we’re friends.”
Annabeth’s expression briefly wavered as she looked down at Percy. It only lasted a moment though and then she turned on her heal and marched back up to where the cabin was. Nico briefly considered going after her but one look at Percy sitting alone on the beach and he couldn’t quite bring himself to do it. Instead, he sat down next to Percy in the sand, and they watched the waves together in silence.