On bad nights, when whispers float up from Tartarus and swirl around inside his head, when he wakes with his heart hammering and his limbs tangled in sweat-soaked sheets, Percy’s own words come back to haunt him.
“I’ve got a lot of life left to live. I’d hate to peak in my sophomore year.”
Stupid words from a stupid sixteen year old. No wonder the gods had looked at him as though he was crazy. Who turns down the golden lustre of immortality in favour of a few more lines in his face, a few more scars, a few more mortal years which pass in the blink of a deity’s eye?
And what kind of a life it’s been since then.
In case he’s in danger of forgetting the friends he’s lost along the way, he sees their faces on his eyelids every evening - Luke and Bianca and Beckendorf and Silena and Jason; hears the promises he’s broken and the curses spat in his direction; feels the sinking in his stomach that tells him no matter how much he wants to believe the images crossing his mind are dreams, life is never simple for a demigod.
He’s been lied to and attacked, been kidnapped and brainwashed and fallen to Tartarus, and come back to find not much had changed. It’s impossible, after all of that, not to have a reputation at camp, but he sees the uncertainty in the eyes of a twelve-year-old who saw him hacking a training dummy to pieces with Riptide, hears how his name is bandied about with equal parts adoration and trepidation.
He’s done things even the Olympians don’t dare to and things no child should have to, and what does he have to show for it? Where’s the relief, the recompense?
On bad nights, Percy sits and counts the silvery scars that decorate his body, which no amount of nectar and ambrosia can fade entirely. He opens windows and lets the rain lash his face, hears new campers whispering for home when they think no one can hear them, and leaves them to their worries.
What placatory words can he offer them, when he’s everything they both want to be and fear becoming?
On bad nights, he regrets his decision, regrets not taking himself outside of time, of hurt. He hates that he bleeds and cries and teaches children to fight wars that don’t need to be started. Hates that he has to be in this mix, that he can’t escape seeing how Piper still hasn’t recovered after Jason’s death, that he has to remind himself that Capture the Flag is a camp tradition and not a fight to the end fought on the battlefields of Tartarus.
I could have been a god, Percy thinks bitterly, on the bad nights.
It’s Annabeth, of course, who saves him.
Annabeth, who also sweats through her sheets and wakes wild-eyed, who grabs at Percy’s hand and moves in closer, as though together they can fight the nightmares.
Annabeth, who lets Percy stumble through his explanation of why he wants to go back to New York before telling him she’s already started looking for apartments, on the proviso she’s in charge of decorating.
Annabeth, who could’ve been a Hunter and young forever, who talks constantly to Reyna and tells Percy not to be so awkward around Leo and Calypso, because people change.
People, not gods.
He proposes on the beach at Montauk, when the sun starts to dip below the horizon and the golden light sets Annabeth’s hair ablaze. They’re spread out on sandy towels, letting the last of the day’s warmth chase away water droplets on their backs, and life is good.
“Alright, alright, I give up,” he says with a laugh, recognising a lost cause when he sees one - and his still-garbled knowledge of the myths and legends that populate their world is just that. “Marry me, Wise Girl.”
It’s nothing fancy, nothing he hasn’t asked a hundred times before - over dinner, on the couch when they fight over the last spoon of ice cream, in bed on a Sunday morning as they wake up gradually - but this time they both know it’s serious.
“Yes,” Annabeth whispers, and the girl with the silver tongue is lost for words.
They’ll deal with practicalities like a ring some other time. For now, as Annabeth launches herself at her fiance, as salty fingers tangle in salt-sprayed hair, as they laugh in between kisses, this is perfect.
This is the glory of change, of spontaneity, of measuring your life in minutes and not wanting a single one to go to waste.
The water darkens to an inky black, waves softly cresting against the shore, and Percy thinks, who’d want to be a god?
Still there are bad nights. Nights when friends die all over again, when the descent into Tartarus never ends. Nights spent holding the weight of the world and when they wake up, they feel the ache in their shoulders and know it wasn’t just a dream.
There are nights when Estelle throws a raging temperature and Percy reads book after book to her until the early hours, and he wonders what use there is in being the son of the sea god when he can’t cool her furrowed brow.
There are nights when a day’s work has been harder than usual, when food burns and sets the smoke alarm off and Mrs. Upstairs pounds her boom handle on the floor, just to add to the din. Nights when they snap at each other and Seaweed Brain is no longer a pet name, when they wake up the next morning and remember why you don’t go to bed angry.
And those are the nights when Percy wishes he had Apollo’s healing touch, when the banalities of rent and blackened pans set his teeth on edge, when he wonders if even gods dream.
Those are the nights when he runs round Central Park in the darkness and clambers back into bed at 2am to find Annabeth’s hand reach for him immediately. The nights when he reads the tiny names etched onto his fifth year bead and remembers they saved this world, with all its annoyances and warm sunrises. Sure, the gods helped, but they fought drakons and Titans, and they did it with mortal blood in their veins.
Those are the nights that are one in a thousand, outnumbered by nights spent silly dancing to old music, drunk on cheap wine and ignoring Nico’s feigned groans. Nights when it’s baking hot in New York City and they end up on the fire escape to watch the sunrise, heads on shoulders and hot tea in hand. Nights when Annabeth tells stories of Greek heroes of old, and waits to see when Percy catches on that she’s making the whole thing up.
There’s the night when Annabeth finally plucks up the courage to say she’s pregnant, and Percy flits between uncontrollable happiness and fear that the child of a son of Poseidon and a daughter of Athena might actually be cursed or born with gills.
The night when their daughter screams her way into the world. And who knows what will come of her having warring godly grandparents on each side, and who knows what mixture of ichor and blood is running through her veins, but she’s got ten fingers and ten toes and a head of dark hair, and she’s utterly perfect.
Percy sits in an itchy hospital chair, holding his daughter to his chest while Annabeth pretends to sleep. Their room has seen hoards of visitors traipse through all day, bemusing the hospital staff who have long since given up wondering why this young couple seem to know a hundred people between the ages of twelve and fifty, who all seem to know each other and share the same scars. They’ve been visited by nearly every Olympian, Apollo has promised them a haiku and they all left on a slightly melancholic note, because how many of them have sat for hours and held their child tight and smiled so widely their cheeks ache?
In a sterile hospital, Percy holds his daughter tight and thinks, who’d want to be a god?