Percy sat down on the edge of the bed, just listening to the faint rhythm of the water hitting the tub and Annabeth’s soft hums through the cracked door. Normally, he couldn’t sit still for more than a few minutes, but this has become almost routine, almost ritualistic for him. Every night he forced himself to focus and just absorb every second he had with her, safe and secure in their apartment. He knew all too well how fast that could be taken away.
He’d had a rough go of it, and losing his memories of her was just the icing on the cake. The thought of ever losing her again made him feel panicky, like the room was shrinking and his heart was growing louder in his ears, despite the fact they were both completely secure from monsters in New Rome. “Retired,” as he liked to joke, since their questing days were behind them; prophecy-less; and generally on the fast track to success, at least by demigod standards. Everything had worked out better than he could’ve ever hoped for, and a lot of that was due to the Roman influence in his life. Despite all that, all these years later, he still was bitter about it. Why him? He knew the quest had been hard for everyone. He knew that. He knew he was lucky to escape with his life, let alone with the person who mattered most to him.
He knew that. That didn’t make it fair, though, that of all people he had to be the one to lose so much of his life just to be some goddess’s pawn. He was angry, really. Moments he’d lost with the love of his life, sneaking her into his cabin, losing to her in capture the flag, holding her hand on the beach and flipping off the Hermes kids as they jeered. Every morning for eight months he should’ve woken up to his mom making breakfast, or her insisting on picking out his clothes because she hated how fast he’d grown up.
Every day he should’ve spent being young and carefree, making stupid mistakes and struggling with homework and finding excuses to be alone with Annabeth and trying not to get kicked out of school. Stolen. He knew it was for a reason, arguably a very valid reason, but he still couldn’t shake the thought that it just didn’t seem fair.
Now, here he sat, trying to reclaim those months he had lost with her at Hera’s hand, one quiet moment at a time. Percy had grown up a lot in the last few years—matured in a way no one expected, frankly—but he couldn’t shake his anger. It didn’t help that really, no one else in the world would ever be able to understand. Even Jason, who’d also lost his memory, hadn’t lost nearly as much time of his life (not that he’d had much to lose in the first place).
Percy knew it was hard on Annabeth, and that was the only way he rationalized himself out of his anger. He wasn’t the only one who’d suffered. He knew that. Still…something in him still felt ostracized, segregated. Losing someone wasn’t the same as losing yourself.
It was a burden Percy had to carry alone.
Percy snapped out of his reverie as he heard the water shut off, and he quickly undressed and slipped into bed just as Annabeth opened the door, the steam visibly escaping and dissipating almost as quickly as it arrived. Annabeth, oblivious to his ritual, swept her hair up into a towel and quickly dressed.
No more time for moping, he scolded himself. “Glad to know we don’t need to turn the heater on tonight. You know, since your shower could heat the place for a week.”
Annabeth rolled her eyes and slipped on one of his blue hoodies. “Oh, please. Aren’t you immune to water temperatures, anyway? I couldn’t scald you even if I wanted to.”
Once again, she was right. He rolled his eyes right back and opened his arms. “Why do you have to overthink everything?” he teased, pulling her close and wrapping the blankets around them both, a nestle of warmth.
“Why do you insist on being a jerk?” She countered, and the smile he felt from her face buried in the crook of his arm let him know there was no weight behind her words.
“Mmm, because it’s so hard to break old habits. You know me. Percy the jerk Jackson, as they call me around here. I’m basically like The Rock.” He yawned and kissed the top of her head. “Hey, I love you,” he said fondly, closing their conversation for the night.
“I love you, too.” He felt that smile again. “Jerk.”
Warmth. Annabeth felt warm arms twisted around her, and she instinctively nuzzled as close as she could to the source of the heat, to escape the cold air of the room.
That wasn’t right. She should be alone, in her bunk. Maybe one of the littles crawled in with her…? It wouldn’t be the first time. She opened her eyes, and within milliseconds noticed several things. One, the person wrapped around her was much larger than her, decidedly not blonde, and appeared male, from the short black hair. And two--most concerning--this was not her cabin at all. Her senses shot into overdrive as she gasped and immediately rolled away from the unknown body next to her. Unfortunately, she overshot and rolled straight off the bed, smacking her head into the nightstand next to her before slamming into the floor with a bang. She crumpled on the floor.
“Annabeth?” Came a sleepy murmur from the bed. Great, so he knew her name.
Annabeth slowly sat up and tried to shake the haze out of her brain. Okay, not her cabin. She couldn’t for the life of her remember how she got here, but the boy from the bed didn’t seem particularly threatening. At least, not for the moment. She looked around at what appeared to be a bedroom. Had she been drugged? Kidnapped? Her heart jumped into her throat as possibilities ran through her mind, but she pushed down the feeling. She needed more information, and there was only one way to get it.
“How do you know my name?” She asked carefully, one hand soothing the knot that was sure to be growing on her scalp.
“What are you talking about?” The boy yawned and rolled closer, and for the first time Annabeth got a good look at his face. He looked vaguely familiar, and she let her eyes roam across his face. She felt like something in her brain had shorted; something should be clicking and just wasn’t. She felt her heartbeat pick up speed.
“How do you know my name?” She repeated, hoping her voice sounded more confident than she really felt. “Where are we?”
The boy frowned and sat up. He was muscular, but not bulky, and definitely human. Not a monster, then. She didn’t know if she should be relieved or more worried. Relieved, because, well, not a monster was always good. Worried, because her knife was no good against mortals.
“This really isn’t funny, Annabeth,” he said quietly, his brow furrowing like he didn’t think she was joking at all.
“Who are you?” she cried, frustrated, standing up and taking several steps back. She didn’t like the idea that he was towering over when she was on the floor, and she hastily glanced around the room looking for her knife. Even if she couldn’t use it against him, she’d feel better with it in her hand. Unfortunately, all she could see was a pen on the bedside table. If it came down to it, maybe she could use that to her advantage.
The boy—man? She couldn’t tell how old he was, just vaguely young adult—very slowly lifted his hands above his head. “Annabeth, it’s me.”
“I don’t know who ‘me’ is!” she shot back. “Can’t you give me answers?”
The man appraised her slowly with wide, mournful eyes, like a baby seal. “Okay, Annabeth, I’m not gonna hurt you. Pinky promise.” He offered out his pinky slowly. It was ridiculous, but she believed him. After a moment of deliberation she stepped forward and linked her own pinky with his. “I don’t know what you remember right now—I think you hit your head—but I’m Percy, your husband.” He gently released her pinky and instead interlaced their fingers, holding up her hand so she could see the ring she hadn’t noticed before. She didn’t have time to process that, though, because her mind was still stuck on his name.
“Percy?” she spluttered. “Percy Jackson ?” There was no way. Yet…black hair. Sea green eyes. She’d never been close enough to him to smell him before, but this morning he’d definitely smelled faintly of sea salt, which she imagined would be on brand for a son of Poseidon.
His eyes lit up hopefully, despite the disgust she hadn’t bothered to keep out of her voice. “So you do remember me!”
“Well—yes! But no!—You’re not… you’re 12!” That didn’t feel right, either. She knew she wasn’t twelve. She couldn’t say for sure how old she was—that was a scary thought, so she pushed it aside—but she knew she was much older. Still… she remembered him so vividly, except it wasn’t the “him” that was in front of her. The Percy she knew was a scrawny kid a few inches shorter than her that struggled with his sword fighting lessons with Luke. Luke…she’d have to Iris-message him when she got a chance. He must be so old now.
Percy blinked. “I haven’t been twelve in a long time. Okay, let me get you some ambrosia, you must’ve really hit your head, hopefully that’ll be that.” He leaned past her and started digging in the nightstand between them.
“I didn’t hit my head,” she informed him. “Well, I did,” she corrected herself, “but I didn’t forget anything because of that. I woke up here, and I don’t know where I am so I tried to get away and I hit my head.” She fought to keep her voice from breaking. Now that adrenaline was wearing off, a dull panic was setting in. She was powerless here, against a man that claimed to be both her preteen friend and her husband at the same time.
Percy hesitated. “You woke up like this?”
Annabeth nodded, biting her lip. “Please, tell me why that’s significant.”
“It’s probably not,” he hedged.
“Percy.” She straightened and met his eyes.
Percy sighed and put his head in his hands. “Oh, gods,” he murmured. Before she could say anything, he continued, “I think Hera stole your memory. I’m so sorry…this is my fault. I’ll fix it. It should come back, though, eventually…” He sounded more distraught than confident, and when he lifted his gaze to hers his expression matched his tone.
Ridiculously, Annabeth felt the urge to comfort him. She laid a hand gingerly on his forearm. “This probably isn’t your fault,” she said slowly. "I mean, you didn’t steal my memory, right?” The words felt wrong coming out of her mouth. Memory stolen. Her memory had been stolen. Now she was a shell of who she should be. Weirdly, it felt right. She knew she wasn’t twelve year old Annabeth, despite remembering her the most. But she wasn’t current Annabeth, either, the Annabeth that was here yesterday. She was a whole new brand of Annabeth, an emptier version, with none of the identifying pieces left.
“No,” he said doubtfully. “But… I think Hera is pissed at me. She took my memory once, and I’m still pretty mad at her. I think,” he swallowed. “I think she’s trying to prove a point.”
Annabeth tried to wrap her mind around that. Hera stole his memory? Why would she do that to Percy? The gods were about to go to war…but a lot of time had passed since then, she reminded herself. Lots of time for new drama.
“Is it really you?” she asked softly instead. “Like, the new kid Percy? That blew up the bathroom?”
That made him crack a smile, and something inside her started to melt a little. “Yeah, it’s me. We did a whole lot more than fuck up the bathroom’s plumbing, though.”
“We?” she repeated, cocking her head. “Tell me what I missed. Did we ever figure out what the gods were fighting about?”
Percy grinned and stood up, brushing past her to make his way to the closet. “Oh, yeah. So it turned out that Zeus’s master bolt was stolen by—well, someone.” He coughed. “And Zeus thought it was me, he thought Dad made me do it. Of course, I didn’t even know who Dad was at the time, so that was basically impossible. Dear Uncle McLightning isn’t that smart, though, so he told me I had to return it by the Solstice.” He pulled off the blue t-shirt he’d slept in and tossed it to the bed before pulling on a new purple one. Annabeth watched, fascinated, as the muscles in his back rippled with his movement, before quickly looking away. She still barely knew this guy, and she wouldn’t want him watching her dress, forgotten marriage notwithstanding.
She sat carefully on the edge of the bed and folded the shirt he had tossed before smoothing it onto the end of the bed. “So what did you do?” she prompted, l. Instead, she took in the room around her, which was pretty small, but nice-looking. She hadn’t had her own room since she was 7. Technically, she realized, she still didn’t. That was depressing.
Percy continued, pulling her out of her thoughts. “So Chiron told us Hades probably stole it with his Helm of Darkness, or whatever, so you, me, and Grover went to the Underworld to confront him.”
“The Underworld ?” she gasped. The story did sound familiar, but not like it was hers. More like someone was describing a book she’d read as a kid and since forgotten. “And we got it back?”
“Well, yeah!” He said it like it was obvious, pulling on on some jeans while she carefully looked at anything but him. “We took it back to Zeus and saved the gods from war.”
“We just took it from Hades?” she asked with interest, her chin on her fist now that he was fully dressed.
“Well, not exactly.” He paused and looked at her, his brow furrowed, and it was clear his mind was elsewhere.
“What?” she demanded as she met his gaze, suddenly self conscious.
“Nothing, nothing,” he assured her. “I just realized I have to go to work, and… you need to stay here. Yeah. Do you mind if I send someone to stay with you? You might not remember her, but I promise you’re friends.”
She blinked. “You think I need a babysitter?” she asked, more than a little offended.
“Not like that!” He looked at her with so much sincerity she had to fight the urge to shrink back from his gaze. “I just mean, don’t you want someone to talk to? Explain things, answer your questions? I wouldn’t want to be alone.”
She cocked her head, considering. She had to admit he was right. “Okay,” she conceded.
He smiled, and the force of it made her smile right back. “Great. Okay. Uh, you can get dressed now, and brush your teeth and wash your face and whatever else takes you thirty minutes in the bathroom every day. I’ll be in the kitchen.”
Annabeth stood over the sink and appraised herself in the mirror for the first time. She didn’t feel weird, or different, or wrong, or anything at all. She just felt like Annabeth. The girl in the mirror, she had to admit, looked a lot better than she could’ve hoped. Her face was rounder and softer, and she’d certainly put on some weight, but in a good way. She still had her muscular arms poking out from her oversized t-shirt, but she had a little more curve to her body. Not that Annabeth had ever really cared about her appearance, but still, it was nice to know she didn’t grow up to be ugly. She opened the top drawer and found two toothbrushes, one blue and one green, and went to work. She may not remember much, but she knew enough about Percy to know blue was his thing.
She all but jumped out of her skin when she felt something brush against her ankles. She looked down as the kitten bumped up against her legs.
Annabeth gasped and hurriedly spat her toothpaste to scoop up the small animal. “Kitty!” she squealed, rubbing its ear. The kitten started purring and kneading against her chest. “Ophelia,” she read aloud, the tag between her fingers. “A pretty name for a pretty kitty, huh?” Annabeth loved animals, truly. She’d always wanted a pet, but she’d never allowed herself to think it a real possibility. Apparently, dreams really do come true sometimes.
Eventually, she begrudgingly set the cat back down to wash her face, and Ophelia trotted off, likely bored now that her attention was elsewhere.
When she finally emerged with a ponytail in her hair, face clean and fresh jeans hanging from her hips, Percy turned to her with a smile, a steaming cup in his hand. “I made you coffee,” he chirped, like it was the most natural thing in the world.
Annabeth made a face. “I don’t like coffee,” she informed him, sitting on the barstool without accepting the outstretched cup.
“Oh, trust me, Miss Chase,” he said very seriously, leaning in conspiratorially to fake whisper to her. “You like the coffee I make for you. You just have a very specific taste.” He set the mug in front of her.
Annabeth frowned at the cup. She’d tried countless cups of coffee from Camp Half-Blood’s magical cups, trying to find a likable version, but none of it clicked, and most of it went to waste. She was confident that she simply would never be a coffee drinker, but that confidence wavered as she studied the cup. It looked enticing, and she chanced a sniff before deciding, what the hell, and she took a sip. Warmth flooded her whole body, and she let out her breath softly.
Percy grinned back at her, and she had the urge to smooth out his untamed hair. “Good?”
“Good,” she agreed, giving into the urge and running a hand through his hair, trying to push it back. He leaned into her hand like a puppy, and she laughed quietly despite herself.
“So I have to go to work,” he said after a quiet moment. “New camper orientation, some just came in last night and they can’t wait. I’ll be back soon, though, maybe around lunchtime. More or less. Reyna will be here any minute, okay?”
Once again, Annabeth felt silly, like a child being instructed, but he looked at her with such concern and sincerity she couldn’t find it in her to be embarrassed. It was evident he cared about her, apparent memory loss or not.
It kind of threw Annabeth off, to be honest. Was it possible to be jealous of yourself?
“Okay,” she agreed, after she realized he was still waiting for an answer while she was lost in her thoughts.
“Okay,” he repeated, and he walked around the bar and kissed the top of her head. “See you later, Annabeth.” With that, he was gone.
She was still frozen when the slamming door signalled his departure. When was the last time someone had kissed her head? Her dad, maybe? She was sure he had, but she couldn’t recall a specific moment… Thalia had once, she suddenly remembered. One of their last days together, when it was too dark outside for Annabeth’s liking. She sombered at the memory of her lost friend.
She continued to sip her coffee, grasping at the memories she actually had, but snapped out of her reverie when a tall girl she’d never seen before in her life walked through the front door without so much as knocking.
“Annabeth?” asked presumably Reyna.
Annabeth looked over her shoulder and stared instead of answering. She had long, dark hair braided down her back, and some kind of tattoo on her wrist poking out of her sweater sleeve.
Reyna raised an eyebrow. “So it’s true.”
“So what’s true?” Annabeth replied, spinning in her seat to face her and crossing her arms across her lap defensively.
“You don’t remember anything?” Reyna seemed indifferent to Annabeth’s body language, and sat down on another barstool, with one between them.
Annabeth shook her head hopelessly. “I don’t even know who you are,” she said softly.
A small smile played at the girl’s lips. “Well, that’s not all bad,” she teased. “Now I get to start over. I’m Reyna. What do you remember?”
“Camp Half-Blood,” she said miserably, suddenly in a worse mood now that Percy was gone. “And this,” she waved her arm to gesture to the whole apartment, “isn’t that.”
“No,” Reyna agreed. “This is New Rome. It’s pretty different.”
“New what?” Annabeth frowned. She’d forgotten to ask Percy where they were.
“It’s like Camp Half-Blood, but for Roman demigods instead of Greek. I’ll spare you the details, but the Greeks and the Romans discovered each other, and now we coexist and intermix. You attend college here; I think you’re going to graduate soon. We have a whole city here for demigods and their families.” She shrugged. “I think that covers all the bases.”
Annabeth froze, her coffee cup halfway to her mouth. All of that sounded wrong. Roman demigods? Surely someone would’ve known. “There’s no way…” she managed. She gulped and tried again. “I mean, that just doesn’t make sense. How could there be both…?”
Reyna shrugged, indifferent. “Who knows? The gods are strange. It was less of a surprise to us than to you guys; we have our legends about the Greeks.” Her lips quirked up in a small smile, and Annabeth wondered what kind of legends. She wanted to ask a thousand questions, but she couldn’t find the words. Instead, she sighed and buried her head in her arms, facedown on the bar. “My head hurts,” she whined.
Reyna only laughed. “I’m sorry. I don’t think ambrosia would be safe, since you’re not actually hurt. I could take you to the doctors, but they probably couldn’t do much either, since it was a goddess who did this. I mean, you’re not injured or sick. Maybe you have some human medicine? For the headache,” she tacked on to clarify. “That might fix the headache.”
Annabeth groaned. “As if I freaking know!”
Reyna paused for a second before breaking into laughter. “What?” Annabeth demanded, her face hot.
“I’ve never heard you censor yourself before,” Reyna said, still smiling. “Okay, I’m going to go look. Be right back.”
Childishly, Annabeth kept her face tucked safely into the crook of her arm for another long moment. She didn’t like the way she’d laughed at her. Annabeth hadn’t felt like that in a long time. She certainly didn’t miss it.
Get over yourself, Chase, she reprimanded herself. She straightened herself and got up to find Reyna in the bathroom digging through drawers. “Anything?” she asked carefully from the doorway.
“No,” Reyna groaned. “Does it really hurt? Because we can go into the city to a store and get some pretty quickly.”
Annabeth hesitated. To her, ‘the city’ meant leaving the safety of camp and heading into Long Island, where even a few hours could mean encountering monsters. “The city’s safe, right?” she asked hesitantly.
Thankfully, Reyna didn’t laugh again. “It’s safe,” she promised. “Monsters can’t get in.” She offered Annabeth her arm. “C’mon.”
Annabeth wasn’t sure what exactly to expect, but it certainly wasn’t this.
They walked out of the apartment, which had a small porch and wooden steps down one flight to the ground. The street was moderately busy, with pedestrians flowing every which way. There were no cars.
Reyna led her a few blocks down, and it seemed more and more people kept appearing out of the woodwork—possibly literally. Annabeth though she saw someone slip right through a wall and join the crowd. She determined to just keep her head down and follow Reyna’s lead. The crowd grew the further they walked, and people jostled and bumped into her and called back apologies as they were devoured by the crowd.
“The city has more than doubled since we introduced the Greeks,” Reyna said apologetically. “Here, look, we’re here.”
Annabeth looked up and momentarily forgot her discomfort. “CVS?” she read aloud.
Reyna gave her a strange look. “Well, yeah. Demigods need pharmacies, too.” Annabeth decided not to comment, and Reyna continued, “C’mon.” She let go of Annabeth’s arm and marched inside, holding the door open for her to follow.
The inside was almost worse than the outside. There were at least ten people in every checkout line, with more people milling about the front. A few smiled at her and waved, but they were all faces she’d never seen before, and she felt like everyone was staring at her. Annabeth had never been prone to claustrophobia, but she felt like the room was spinning. Where was Reyna? She must’ve pushed her way through. Without thinking, Annabeth spun on her heels and nearly yanked the door off its hinges in her haste to get out.
The street was full of people walking, laughing, holding hands and smiling, but Annabeth couldn’t see how they could be so content. She couldn’t breathe here. This wasn’t New York by a long shot. Everyone knew her here, and the pressure to be someone she wasn’t was overwhelming. At least at camp she might’ve seen someone she recognized, or in the city she could be anonymous. Here, she was expected to be someone she just couldn’t be. Some small part of her was telling her they’re used to the supernatural. They’ll probably understand, but it was drowned out by her rapid heart. Her only thought was she had to get out of here, now.
Annabeth saw an opening and took off down the street in the opposite direction from where they came. She pushed her way through people and raced down, turning sharply down a side street, then again and again until she found herself in a secluded alley, completely alone.
Shakily, she walked to the end and sat down next to the Dumpster, tucking her knees to her chest and curling up tightly. Anyone walking past the alley wouldn’t have seen her, but she felt like they could hear her heart hammering a mile away. A few tears slipped out against her will, and she wiped them away forcefully.
She sat there what felt like hours, shivering violently and breathing raggedly, when a disgusted voice spoke up in front of her, despite the fact she hadn’t heard anyone coming. “And just what do you think you’re doing?”
Annabeth looked up and shrieked, covering her face. She saw right through the man in front of her, literally. “No ghosts, please,” she pleaded, though to whom she wasn’t sure.
The ghost wasn’t impressed. “Well, that’s no way to greet me. You stupid Greeks are all the same: cowards. Though, I didn’t think you had it in you , Annabeth.” He sounded disappointed in her, which hurt more than she would care to admit, coming from a ghost.
“How do you know my name?” she cried, the last shred of her dignity long gone.
“I thought we were friends,” he replied, miffed. “I helped you with your last paper about Roman engineering. Clearly, it didn’t do you much good.”
Her stomach flipped. She asked ghosts for homework help, now? “I’m going to throw up,” she announced miserably. Her head was still pounding.
“By all means,” the ghost said sarcastically. “Disrespect New Rome in that way. My, back in my day we were honored—honored!—to be citizens of Rome. Now they let just anyone in, even disrespectful Greeks—”
Annabeth interrupted him by pulling herself up and retching into the Dumpster.
The ghost murmured something unflattering. “What’s got you so upset, anywho?”
Annabeth leaned her head against the Dumpster, the cool metal contrasting nicely with her feverish forehead. “I don’t know,” she answered finally. “I don’t know who I am or where I am or anything .”
She must’ve sounded more than miserable, because the ghost almost looked sympathetic. “Got that amnesia, huh? You’d be the third around here. I think it must be contagious.” He shuddered. “Don’t give it to me, now. Stay away.”
Annabeth looked up and furrowed her brows. “You’re a ghost,” she reminded him.
“And I don’t wanna forget it!” he retorted.
Annabeth sighed. “Well, thanks. I almost feel better.” It had more to do with him distracting her than actually comforting her, but she didn’t see any reason to tell him that.
The ghost puffed out his chest. “Of course you do. I knew I could help.”
She resisted the urge to remind him he only approached her to essentially tell her to shut up. “I’m gonna, uh, go honor Rome,” she told him as sincerely as she could muster.
“Bah!” he replied. “As if you could ever, Greek. Still, I can’t argue it’s worthy to try. Get out of my alley now, please.”
Annabeth nodded and thanked him again before walking slowly out of the alley. Her chest felt lighter; heavy but somehow lighter, like she’d finally noticed a burden she’d been carrying all this time and adjusted it to be more comfortable. She steeled herself before heading toward what looked like a heavily-populated area just a few blocks to her right.
She really had no clue where she was, and it wasn’t like there was a map or any identifying features she could recognize. She kept her head up and didn’t panic in the crowd this time—it felt more normal and natural, and she couldn’t believe she’d had a panic attack over it—but she wasn’t going to risk asking anyone for directions. Besides, where would she ask for? Her own home? She didn’t even know the address. She never should’ve left Reyna, she realized. Then again, if she could only find a drachma she could Iris-message her…
Annabeth kept away from the bulk of the crowd and opted to walk more in the middle of the street, whereas most people were on the edges by the shops. This definitely wasn’t the way she came, and she didn’t recognize any of this. What if she never found Reyna? Did they have homeless people in New Rome? Maybe she’d be the first. That sounded like her, she thought.
Just when Annabeth thought she might just have to sit in the street and hope for the best, she saw it through a break in the crowd. There, to her left, was a little side road that emptied into what seemed to be a giant city center with a huge fountain adorning the middle. Her gut urged her on, and she didn’t resist it. She quickly swept through the throng of people, waving off people who greeted her, and nearly ran the last few steps to the fountain. No one was giving it a second glance, but she followed her instincts. Her head started to clear as she barely sat down on the edge. She drew in a long breath and closed her eyes, just listening to the fountain gurgle. She could find her way back. Of course she could. She could make a plan for damn near anything. She’d been to the Underworld, apparently. This was nothing. For now, though… she took the opportunity to adjust to her surroundings. This was new for her, sure. Waking up in a Roman demigod civilization with a husband she hardly knew and way too many people and ghosts didn’t exactly happen to her every day, but that was just part of the demigod gig, she supposed. No more freaking out , she promised herself, already feeling more confident as she felt the cool mist of the fountain against her back.
She was brought out of her trance by the sound of pounding footsteps, and her eyes snapped open to the sight of two harried demigods tearing across the square towards her.
“Annabeth!” Percy cried when she looked up, relief evident on his face. “Oh, thank the gods!” He slowed as he approached and came to a complete stop just in front of her, crouching to put his hands on her knees. “Oh, thank the gods,” he repeated, his face tinged with pink from the running.
“Where were you?” Reyna demanded, standing a foot or two away. “You just disappeared, we looked all over! We’ve spent the last half-hour running all across New Rome looking for you, we have Frank and August in the legion looking for you-”
Percy cut her off with a look that could’ve wilted flowers. “Lay off her,” he retorted cooly, and Annabeth shivered at how quickly his mood seemed to change. “She couldn’t have known we wouldn’t be able to IM her, it’s not illegal for her to take a walk. She didn’t know.” He turned his attention back to Annabeth, his expression softening almost immediately. “Are you okay?”
She looked away, overwhelmed by the intensity of his gaze. This had to be an act. Why would he care so much that she took a walk across the city? (Well, not really a walk, but they didn’t need to know that.) She wasn’t incapable, even if it was huge, and busy, and confusing, and overwhelming… she shook off the anxious thoughts before they could take root. “Why can’t you IM me?” she asked instead, looking between Percy’s earnest concern and Reyna’s quickly fading annoyance.
“Uh… good question. That’s part of Hera’s thing, I think.” He ran a hand through his unruly hair, and Annabeth fought the urge to smooth it out for him. Again. “When I lost my memories, no one could contact me for eight months, when I finally got my memories back.”
“Eight months!” she squeaked.
“Y-yeah, but it won’t be eight months for you,” he quickly assured her. “I mean, I was sleeping for most of that, and Jason got his back in like one month, I think, right?” He looked at Reyna for confirmation, who nodded.
Annabeth buried her head in her hands. “I’m just gonna disappear now,” she announced quietly from behind her hands. “I don’t want to do this anymore, I don’t want to be here anymore.”
“Hey, no, don’t think like that.” He shuffled off the ground and sat down next to her, wrapping one arm around her waist and pulling her in gently. “We just need you to be with someone all the time unless you’re at home, at least for the time being.”
“I don’t even know where ‘home’ is!” she cried, her emotions getting the best of her. “I don’t know what any of this is or frankly who anyone is, and I can’t just go along with it and pretend life is normal! This isn’t me, I don’t even know who I am! I just—I just want to go back to normal.”
“I know,” he said quietly, rubbing small circles in her arm. “Trust me, b—Annabeth, I know. A lot more than you think. But all we can do is go forward from here, you know? This is happening whether you want it to or not. So we have to deal the best way we can.”
Annabeth felt a vague sense of deja vu, like he’d given that exact speech to her before. Instead of mentioning it, she sniffled and lifted her head to look at him. “I thought I was supposed to be the wise one in the relationship?”
That earned her a smile that made her insides feel like mush. “I picked up a few things. Ten years with a girl like you will do that.” He kept rubbing the circles on her arm, over and over. It made her feel more grounded, and she finally looked up and realized Reyna was still there.
“I’m sorry I left you,” she said honestly.
Reyna shrugged. “It's okay. We have you back now. Sorry if I was rude earlier, I really was just worried about you.” She held out her hand. “I got the ibuprofen, though,” she added, the ghost of a smile on her lips.
Annabeth giggled despite herself and took the small bottle from her. “Thank you.”
“Yeah, no problem, hope your head gets better. I’ll leave you two to it, then?” Reyna looked at Percy.
“Yeah, that’s fine,” he responded absently. “Thanks so much for today.”
Reyna nodded before retreating, and Annabeth wondered detachedly if she’d scared her off for good. After today, would she want to be friends?
“So, what exactly happened?” Percy asked bluntly. Ten years and he still hadn’t developed tact.
Part of Annabeth wanted to shrink away. He made her feel so raw, like he was seeing through all of her outer layers and looking right into her soul, and instincts told her to keep her guard up.
Something deep inside her, though, rebelled against the conscious part of her mind. It’s not an act , it seemed to say. He really does actually care . Besides, honesty and being up-front was more her style, and she didn’t see how she could really expect to get better if she couldn’t even be honest with the only person helping her.
She took in a breath. “I know it’s stupid,” she began, trying to work out her words in her mind. “I dunno. Just, we went to get medicine, and there were so many people, and everything here looks so weird and so wrong—I can’t explain it, exactly.” She paused. “It’s like… foreign. And people kept bumping into me and there were so many people I just… had to get out of there.”
He nodded, still rubbing his circles, and it felt like she could finally catch her breath for the first time all day. Something inside her just clicked. The way he was taking her so seriously, like she was the most important thing to exist in his universe… For a second, Annabeth felt a twinge of jealousy for her older self, which of course was ridiculous since it was literally her. Still, all her life she’d longed for a sense of stability and importance. She wanted to feel like her life mattered, that she’d made an impact on the world. He treated her like she didn’t have to try any longer, she’d already done it. The relief on his face when he saw her by the fountain, like nothing else mattered in the world at that moment but her, was not one she’d quickly forget—no pun intended. Maybe the future wasn’t such a bad place to be after all; she could skip whatever pain and mess she would have to deal with and skip straight to the good stuff: this.
He brushed some hair out of her face, his fingers lingering on her cheek. “Yeah. You had a panic attack. I know you don’t remember, but you’ve developed them since… well, since you got older.” He dropped his hand. “Usually you take medicine for them, but I think you forgot this morning.” He coughed. “For obvious reasons.”
Annabeth cracked a smile at his poor attempt at a joke, then hesitated. “I was in some nasty alley, and when I finally calmed down enough to leave, I was really drawn to this fountain.” She sighed. “I don’t know if it’s because there’s no people over here, or the water, or what, but it’s like it’s enchanted with healing properties,” she joked, though she wouldn’t have been all that surprised if he confirmed that it was, in fact, some magical Roman fountain.
Instead, his eyes sparkled for a second. “Really? You like the fountain?”
She nodded, eyeing him carefully. “Let me guess. You’re about to tell me it’s one I designed myself and you took the magical water from somewhere using your super awesome Poseidon powers, and every time people need help they visit the fountain, and it has some huge significance for everyone in the city.” She shifted just slightly, so she was facing him more directly, and their knees bumped and rested against each other.
He threw his head back and laughed, shaggy black hair flopping in the light wind, and Annabeth felt a flush of pride that she made him laugh. “No, not quite,” he said, still smiling. “It’s just a fountain, as far as I know. Except we really like it.”
Annabeth laughed, finding his good humor infectious. “What do you mean we ‘really like it’?”
He paused and grew more serious, though a goofy smile still dominated his features. “I proposed to you here,” he said, trying to be nonchalant, but she could tell he was watching her carefully for her reaction.
She smiled right back. “Really? Did you get down on one knee and everything? The whole thing?” Somehow, joking about it made it more real, more tangible, like he was a real person in front of her that wasn’t going to run away at the first sign of trouble. The more they talked, the more she felt herself trusting him, wanting to be near him, wanting to let him in. The Athena part of her brain reminded her that wasn’t wise, considering he was practically a stranger, but it was getting easier every moment to ignore it.
His cheeks colored a little—was he really blushing? “Yup, right over there.” He pointed a few feet away, closer to the center. “You dropped the ice cream cone you were holding and got it all over my new shoes.” He rolled his eyes, and she couldn’t help but laugh imagining it.
“I wish I remembered that,” she said a little more wistfully than she intended.
“You will,” he promised, standing up and offering his hand. “Let’s go home, yeah? I’ll make hot chocolate or something.”
Without hesitation, she accepted his hand and stood, her shoulder brushing his as she interlaced their fingers.
They walked in comfortable silence, with him occasionally brushing his thumb across the back of her hand, when he finally said, “I’m sorry for leaving you this morning. That was dumb.”
Annabeth frowned. “What are you talking about? You have a job. I’m not your ward.”
“Yeah, but… maybe I could’ve saved you from all the, ah, excitement today.” He ran his free hand through his hair. “Besides, I should’ve known that your communication would be shut off, too. I should’ve said something.” He frowned. “Guess we know now, but still, I wish we hadn’t found out the hard way.”
Annabeth squeezed his hand. “It’s not your fault,” she said firmly. “Besides, everything was fine. I’m fine. And I promise not to disappear again,” she added. “I didn’t think it would be such a big deal, honestly. I didn’t mean to send you two on a goose chase.” She smiled. “No pun intended.”
He smiled at her accidental play on words. “I know,” he admitted. “It’s just…hard enough on a normal day for me to leave you, however briefly, after…everything we’ve been through. I was trying to maintain some sense of normalcy, I think. Convince myself everything was fine.” He shook his head and sighed. “It was selfish.” They were in a residential area now, and the apartments all had the same front steps she’d walked down that morning with Reyna. Though she had no idea which one was theirs.
“No, no.” She shook her head. “You have a life to live. Don’t let me be a burden.” He opened his mouth to argue, but she cut him off. “I’m sure you’re about to say something unbelievably adorable, but seriously. I’m fine. Go to work tomorrow, too. We’ll figure this out.”
She thought he might make some comment about how she shouldn’t be the one comforting him, but she was caught off guard by his wide smile. “You think I’m adorable?”
She couldn’t help it. She laughed. “Are we not married?” she demanded. “Am I not allowed to think you cute?”
“Oh, so I’m cute, too?” He tugged on her arm and led her to a set of stairs (so that was their apartment). “Amnesiac Annabeth is starting to grow on me.”
“This is the part when you tell me I’m cuter and more adorable than you,” she informed him as she walked through the door he held open, half hoping he would make good.
“I play by my own rules,” he replied, still laughing. “So, hot chocolate?”
Fifteen minutes later, Annabeth was huddled under a blanket on the couch, her feet on the coffee table and her head on his shoulder, her hands wrapped around a steaming mug. “So, who really stole it?”
“The lightning bolt? From earlier?” His body stiffened so minutely, she almost didn’t notice. Almost.
“Well, yeah. You can’t leave me on a cliffhanger,” she teased, trying to lighten his mood.
He smiled, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Yeah, you’re right.” He paused. “It was Luke.”
Annabeth froze. Her brain short circuited as a thousand thoughts swarmed her brain at once.. There was simply no way. Luke didn’t go looking for trouble. Especially not godly trouble. Besides, why would he want to stir up drama? Almost immediately, she had a hundred questions bouncing in her head. She knew her Luke would never do that. If asked, she would’ve defended him to her last breath. But somehow, hearing it from his mouth, she couldn’t help but believe him. She felt the truth somewhere deeper in her than her brain; maybe in a heart that had been broken and put back together, but never quite the same. “Oh,” she said simply, for lack of words.
“I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “I still could never understand what it was like for you, after all you had been through. I know it was hard for you back then—not that it isn’t still hard for you, of course, but you got through it.” He was rambling now, and Annabeth stopped hearing his words. Hurt and anger clouded her eyes, and she wiped them away roughly.
She cut him off. “I’m going to go take a shower. It’s okay, I promise. Stop panicking.”
He looked at her with his wide green eyes, clearly panicking. “Okay. Yeah. Go ahead.”
She hoped the shower would calm her down, and turned the water on as she kicked the door shut and stripped. Impatient, she stepped into the shower before checking to see if it was warm, and got an icy shock.
That was okay. Anything to distract her.
She closed her eyes and let the warmer-by-the-second water run across her body. She probably should wash her hair… she opened her eyes to assess the bottles in front of her.
None of them looked like her shampoo. It took her a long second with her dyslexia, but she finally figured out two of them said something like “Love, Beauty, and Planet” followed by the respective label of shampoo and conditioner. She picked up the shampoo and gave it a wary sniff. Definitely not the lemon stuff she used and loved at camp. This was some kind of rose or similar floral scent. She frowned and set the bottle back down. The conditioner had the exact same packaging, but she tested it anyway. “Of course,” she said aloud, not really caring at this point if Percy heard her. Angry, she snatched up the body wash and gave it a sniff. It definitely smelled good—maybe vanilla—but again, not hers.
This felt so wrong, she almost wanted to laugh. Of course nothing was familiar. Of course nothing was comforting. Why would it be that easy?
She hurriedly shut the water off and yanked a towel around her before stepping back into their room. She was dripping all over the rug, but that was the last thing on her mind. She opened several of the dresser drawers and dug through them. There had to be one. There had to be.
Finally, she opened the bottom drawer. “Yes,” she hissed triumphantly to herself, yanking out an orange t-shirt. Finally, a comfort of home. She hastily dried herself, at least partially, and without a second thought, she pulled it over her head and stood up. It reached halfway down her thighs. Then again, she should just be thankful she found one, and she couldn’t help the self-satisfied smile that dominated her features.
She opened the top drawer, thinking she’d seen underwear in it during her search, and was suddenly very aware of her older age.
Not that they were particularly raunchy. After today, Annabeth would’ve fainted if she found crotchless panties or something. These were much more mature than the Fruit of the Looms from the camp store, though she had to admit they were tasteful. Still, that was not what she was after. She needed comfort. There had to be something . What did she wear during her period? She dug through the drawer carelessly, searching the back for an old faded pair, and she was rewarded with what appeared to be boyshorts. Jackpot , she thought. Comfortable, so full coverage they were practically pants, and definitely something her twelve year old self would’ve worn.
She pulled them on, too, and appraised herself in the mirror. Her hair was still wet, despite the fact she hadn’t even washed it, so she put it up in the towel. She kicked her dirty clothes from the bathroom floor to the bedroom’s hardwood, using them to absorb most of the water before tossing them in the hamper. She carefully replaced the clothes she’d hastily pushed aside and closed all the drawers. Satisfied, she looked around. Perfect. No evidence of a breakdown whatsoever.
She opened the door and stepped back into the living room. She’d had enough of her own mind for a lifetime.
Percy was in the kitchen, something sizzling before him on the stove.
“You’re cooking?” she asked incredulously.
“Trust me, we wouldn’t live a day with your cooking,” he responded, looking up. If he found anything weird about her appearance, he didn’t show it.
“I’m sure I can cook,” she said as she approached him. The more she thought about it, though, she had no real way of knowing. Who would’ve taught her? Not Chiron. “Well, I’m sure I can follow a recipe perfectly fine,” she amended, peeking into the pot. “Pasta!” she gasped.
“Comfort food,” he agreed. “We could use it.”
A few minutes later, they were seated across from each other at the small table. It felt weirdly formal to her; she couldn’t remember the last time she’d been at a real dining table. Even as a child, her dad tended to just feed her cereal on the couch. She shook off the thought and took a bite. “Holy shit. This is incredible.”
“It’s one of our favorites,” he said, grinning. “Glad some things are still the same.”
She felt a pang at his words, knowing that she was causing him distress, even though he didn’t mean to convey that. “Don’t let it go to your head,” she said instead.
She had two full servings, which was more than her usual camp meals. Then again, that had to stop comparing herself to a standard from--she shuddered inwardly at the thought--a decade ago.
She insisted on cleaning up, since Percy had cooked, aad was grateful for the moment to think. She wasn’t alone by any means; she could hear and see Percy on the couch not fifteen feet away, but there was no pressure of extended conversation, of trying to act normal, or try and guess his thoughts. She took her time, carefully cleaning each individual dish, setting them on the rack to dry.
Finally, she stepped back into the living room. Percy was reclining on the couch, a pillow behind his head.
“What are you doing?” she asked, looking at the bed he’d made.
He shrugged. “Didn’t want to make you uncomfortable. Sleeping with a stranger is so not your style,” he quipped.
Despite the joke, she felt her throat closing up. “You’re going to sleep out here?” she confirmed. The thought seized her mind, and she couldn't shake off the feeling that something was terribly wrong.
“I don’t mind, don’t worry. We have a nice couch.” He smiled convincingly.
“Please don’t,” she pleaded before she could think about it. “I mean… please. I’ve had enough of my own mind, and I think I would feel… more secure if you were there.” She bit her lip, hoping she wasn’t making a fool of herself. Being alone in the kitchen was one thing, with him awake and in sight, but she didn’t trust herself to be left alone with her thoughts all night.“I don’t want to be alone,” she added softly. “And I already know I trust you, you don’t have to sleep on the couch. Please.” Please, she continued the plea silently.
His face softened. “If you really want me to…” he trailed off and stood up. “Okay. But just know it’s okay to kick me out if you change your mind.”
“I will,” she assured him as she led him back to where her terrible day had started. She clambered into bed unceremoniously and made room for him.
He turned on the TV and slid in next to her, leaving some distance between them. “Is it okay if we watch something?”
She shrugged. “Go for it.” It was really only early evening; though she was tired from the day, she wasn’t quite ready to sleep. “What’s it called?” she asked as he pulled up something.
“It’s called You. It’s about this guy who stalks this girl, basically.”
“Sounds…fun.” She was a little less than enthusiastic, but the show was okay. Nothing nightmare inducing, anyway.
They watched two full episodes, with him explaining characters as they went. She watched as well as she could, but sleep was overtaking her quickly.
Sensing her fatigue, he turned off the tv and then leaned over to switch off the lamp before assuming a more comfortable position.
“I have a question,” she asked suddenly into the dark.
“Hmm? Shoot.” She could tell from his voice he was on his back.
“What do I do? Like, do I have a job, or…?” She was hoping for a specific answer, but refused to get her hopes up.
She heard the smile in his voice. “Oh, yeah. You’re an architecture student here at the university. You’re about to graduate next December, a semester early. Don’t worry about school, I told your professors about the, ah, situation, already. They’re very understanding of divine intervention.” Was that pride she heard in his voice?
“Oh, wow,” she whispered, in awe. At least one thing worked out the way she’d planned.
“Mhm. You kick ass.”
She smiled and didn’t say anything after that. Just as she was starting to drift off, sleep starting to take her, she almost thought she heard a sleepy voice mumble, “Love you.”
Annabeth woke with a start, the day before flooding back to her.
Great. So, no new memories.
The bed was empty and cold, a little yellow sticky note on what should be Percy’s pillow. She sat up and cautiously plucked it from the pillow.
Good morning! Didn’t wanna wake u, but I had to go.
I should be back around 3
Hazel is here.
I got your medicine out
(Pls don’t run away this time)
He’d signed it as “Seaweed Brain,” with a lopsided heart next to it. She didn’t know who Hazel was, but she had the vaguest memory of ‘Seaweed Brain,’ and the pet name made her smile despite everything. As promised, next to her on the nightstand was a yellow pill bottle. It took her a long moment, but she deciphered enough to know she should take one, so she dumped one out and swallowed it dry.
With that taken care of, she might as well find out who Hazel is. She stood up and stretched. Would Hazel care she wasn’t wearing pants? It probably wasn’t a good practice, she decided, and besides, it was a little cold. She made a mental note to locate the thermostat later.
It took her shuffling through several drawers, but she eventually found an oversized pair of grey sweatpants that she deduced were probably Percy’s. She had to tie the strings ridiculously tight, and roll the waistband a few times, but it worked. She studied herself in the mirror: pants so big on her they looked like clown pants, and a shirt so big it hung halfway down her thighs. Yeah, she was going to make a great impression on Hazel.
Oh, well. She’d earned the right to be comfortable.
On the end of the bed was a sleeping kitten she hadn’t noticed before, and she ran her hand across the length of her soft body. Ophelia didn’t stir, though, so Annabeth finally slipped out of the bedroom.
The girl she could only assume was Hazel was on the couch, intent on a book in her hand, an open pizza box in front of her. Annabeth cleared her throat awkwardly, and her head shot up. “Oh my gosh! You’re awake! Hi!” she chirped, her golden eyes—striking against her dark skin—wide and sparkling. “I guess you don’t remember me. I’m Hazel.” She stood and shook Annabeth’s hand formally, which Annabeth returned. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d shaken someone’s hand. “I’m a friend of yours and Percy’s. He called me yesterday, but I had school so I couldn’t come until today.” She dropped her hand. “He hates to leave you, you know. He’s like a helicopter parent. He even ordered this pizza for us; your favorite kind.” Hazel smiled and gestured to the pizza box, open to just plain cheese. It was Annabeth’s favorite. “He’s always busy, though, so I guess that makes sense.”
Despite the alluring scent of bread, cheese, and grease, Annabeth’s stomach turned a little at the idea of this girl knowing more about her husband than she does. “Um,” she started awkwardly, then cleared her throat. “Uh, what exactly does he do?” she asked, her face flushing.
“Oh, yeah.” Hazel smiled easily. “Well, he’s in charge of overseeing new recruits’ orientation, and on Saturdays—today—he teaches beginner sword fighting lessons. Really beginner, to the kids who’ve never held a sword before.” She spoke fondly, like he was her baby, all grown up. “He’s the best with the kids. He really relates to them, he’s so patient with them. He’s definitely the best for the job.”
Annabeth’s heart was setting off alarms like crazy; she wanted to grill this girl until Percy came home, make doubly and triply sure she wasn’t about to threaten the only good thing Annabeth had stumbled across in about a decade. Somewhere in her gut, though, she knew it wasn’t like that. Percy wasn’t like that, nor did this girl seem like that type. She shook the jealousy off. That's all it was: jealousy. She realized, then, that she still hadn’t answered Hazel. “If I just knew twelve year old Percy, I never would’ve thought that,” she confided, realizing she had a choice in front of her: put her walls up, try to ‘protect’ her relationship by pushing Hazel away, or be rational. Maturity was coming much more easily to Annabeth than it had in the past. “He’s awkward and bad with a sword and has a bit of a temper,” she forged on, the words getting easier the more she shared. Hazel was a good listener, her eyes intent on Annabeth’s face like she was intrigued by every word. “But after seeing new Percy—current Percy—it makes total sense.” She felt herself flush with something, maybe pride, for the man she couldn’t remember.
Hazel nodded, and Annabeth sat next to her and snatched up a slice. “Yeah, that makes sense,” Hazel mused. “So you remember him? Some of him?”
Annabeth nodded hesitantly. “Not much,” she admitted. “Just that he’s new, and a little annoying, and he’s a lot better looking now than I would’ve ever guessed.” She smiled around her mouthful of pizza, which probably made her look ridiculous.
Hazel laughed. “I only met him when he was like sixteen, but I believe you. Can’t believe I’ve never seen a baby photo of him,” she mused.
“He’s probably hiding them,” Annabeth said. “Maybe they’re super embarrassing. Maybe he had a bowl cut or something weird. We can try and look for some later,” she suggested, and the other girl laughed.
“After you eat,” she said pointedly. “I want to make sure you don’t starve to death. Has talking helped?” Hazel asked, propping her foot up on the table. “Triggered any memories?”
“No,” Annabeth sighed. “Not at all. Sometimes I get—they’re like feelings. I just know when something is right… I’m not surprised by anything he tells me, if that makes sense. Even when it’s crazy.” She smiled ruefully. “Like the fact that we’re in a Roman city in a Roman camp, which apparently exists. And I’m married. To a son of Poseidon, no less.”
Hazel smiled. “Well, that’s a start.”
After they’d finished eating, Annabeth stood and collected their trash to take to the kitchen. “You’ve been cooking,” she said with surprise, pausing to take in the dirty dishes across the counter.
“I’ve been here since eight,” Hazel explained, a little embarrassed, coming up behind her. “I made breakfast, and everything, but you must’ve been tired.” She laughed, a sweet and innocent sound. “I’ll clean it up, don’t worry.” She pushed past her and made her way to the sink.
“No, no, I’ll help.” Annabeth fell into a rhythm, drying the dishes Hazel handed her and carefully replacing them in the cabinets. They were nearly done when she felt Hazel’s eyes on her.
“What?” She asked, self conscious.
Hazel appraised her for a moment. “You knew where everything was,” she noticed. “Maybe stress makes it worse, you know? Yesterday was pretty stressful for you, from what I heard.” She said it with no malice in her voice. She wasn’t poking fun; Percy must’ve told her about Annabeth’s panic attack. She wasn’t sure if she should feel embarrassed, since Hazel knew about her panic attack; jealous, because Percy was confiding in another girl; or guilty, since she must’ve upset Percy a lot more than he let on.
“Maybe.” Annabeth frowned. She hadn’t really looked much around the house; there was a whole room she hadn’t even opened yet. “It’s possible,” she mused. “To be honest, I haven’t even done much other than sit on the couch,” she said with a small laugh. “Maybe I’ll go look around.”
Hazel nodded encouragingly. “It’s your place, go wild. I can give you a tour if you want. Classic Percy not to think of that.”
Annabeth smiled a little at her crack at Percy. “To be fair, that would be a little weird. I think I’m just gonna look around, okay? Just kinda see what happens, if I find anything.” She took a deep breath, and said mostly to herself, “No pressure, Chase.”
Hazel graciously didn’t react to her talking to herself, and Annabeth started down the hall she hadn’t much more than glanced down. Immediately to her right, she could see what appeared to be a guest room, except the bed had no sheets, and boxes scattered the floor—empty boxes, like they’d just unpacked them and forgot to throw away the trash. Or maybe they were unpacking the guest room, she considered. Why they would do that, she didn’t know, but frankly there was a lot she didn’t know right now.
Past that doorway was another bathroom, smaller than the master, and it looked untouched. Annabeth hardly glanced at it as she made her way down to the end of the hall, and pushed open the closed door.
This room was used, she could tell right away. Next to the doorframe, against the wall facing the hallway, was a dark wood desk. It was natural looking and not perfectly rectangular, like someone had made it by literally cutting a chunk of tree and putting legs on it. Despite that, it was gorgeous, and likely expensive. What caught her attention the most, though, was the sage-green file on the desk, labelled simply with a heart. Annabeth picked it up and flipped it open, and she couldn’t help but catch her breath as she was accosted with several pictures, looking like they were torn out of various magazines and some even printed, like a real life Pinterest board.
The first few were just a scattering of home interior photos, like a living room with a giant built in bookshelf above the fireplace. Scribbled on a sticky note was “fire hazard? better check” and with a start Annabeth realized it was her own handwriting. A little more loopy than she was used to, but definitely hers.
Underneath was a scribbled drawing of a home layout on notebook paper. It looked like it had been erased and edited several times, and the walls all had measurements. There were sticky notes all over, along with notes in the margins, with messages to herself like “window over kitchen sink” and “Back patio or deck??” and “walk in closet”. The house was huge—several times bigger than this apartment, and had four bedrooms, three bathrooms, and an office with big windows looking out the front. Annabeth guessed it was a dream house, but something slipped from behind the drawing.
She frowned as she picked up the photo that had slipped. It was a simple photo, just of some grassy area overlooking a rocky shore. She flipped it over, and “Rhode Island 2021!” was written on the back.
She studied it for a long moment, confused, before the significance finally settled in. This wasn’t a dream house after all. This was a plan, however early, and if she had to guess she would say this was where their house would be built.
Rhode island. Four bedrooms. Back across the country yet again, and this house was much too big for only two people. She couldn’t imagine where the money was coming from, but maybe they hadn’t thought that far yet.
Hot tears flooded her eyes as her breathing shallowed. She didn’t even know who she was, not really; she was like an imposter in this Annabeth’s life. The next thing she knew, they’d be moving across the country, saying goodbye to friends she didn’t even know, and filling a home with the kids of a man she couldn’t remember.
She jumped as she felt gentle fingers on her shoulder. “Annabeth?” Hazel spoke up quietly.
Annabeth turned suddenly toward her and threw herself in her small arms. “I can’t,” she babbled, the words spilling out of her. She was tired of keeping it in, of being fine. “I can’t- I can’t do this with him. I don’t even know him. And he doesn’t want to live with someone who doesn’t know him, he has to want me back, but I don’t even know who she is.” She sniffled and wiped her nose, a small part of her brain telling her not to snot in the other girl’s hair.
“It’s okay,” Hazel murmured, her arms surprisingly secure. “Just breathe, Annabeth.” She breathed in deeply and exaggeratedly, and Annabeth breathed with her, trying to regain control of her mind.
After a few breaths, Hazel pushed Annabeth away and held her at arm’s length. “Okay. Listen to me, right now. You’re going to get your memory back. I don’t know when, but it’ll happen. Second, you’re not going to build a house with a stranger. Don’t even worry about your plans. That can be postponed as long as you guys need. Third, Percy loves you. I know you don’t remember him, but I know you know he loves you. He’ll wait. He’d do anything for you, I’ve seen it. If you can only believe one thing, believe that. Okay? It’s gonna be okay, I promise. Don’t think about the future, think about right now. You’re okay right now.” She looked at Annabeth sternly, but she could still make out the thinly-veiled softness underneath.
“Okay,” Annabeth nodded slowly, chewing her lip. “Okay. You’re right… Thank you.” She smiled awkwardly, already feeling some embarrassment for her outburst.
Hazel waved her off, and let go of her arms to put away the file carefully. “You need a distraction. Are you hungry?”
Annabeth shook her head. “I couldn’t eat… I’m too keyed up. And a little nauseous, to be honest.”
Hazel’s lips turned up. “Yeah? Maybe it was the pizza.”
“Maybe,” Annabeth agreed, already pushing the thought away. Right now, a little sickness was the least of her worries.
Hazel led her by the arm back to the living room and handed her the remote. “Here. Go crazy.”
Annabeth flipped it on, but it didn’t look like anything she knew. She frowned. “What’s… Netflix?” she asked, pausing to make sure she read it correctly.
“Oh!” Hazel looked up. “Basically, it has a whole bunch of shows and movies on here you can pick from. It’s pretty cool. It doesn’t have ads, either. You can search for something by pressing that button—” she pointed, “or you can just scroll. It has categories and stuff.”
“Hmm.” Even tv can’t be normal, she thought. Annabeth scrolled around a bit, all of the covers accosting her looking unfamiliar. She paused when she was hovering over a plain looking cover. “The Office,” she read aloud.
From the corner of her eye, she thought she saw Hazel wrinkled her nose. “Yeah, that one’s really popular.”
“I think I like this one,” Annabeth said decidedly. She clicked on it, and it opened to a bland-looking scene of people sitting at desks. Despite that, she couldn’t help but smile expectantly. Somehow she knew she was going to like this.
She laughed out loud to every dirty joke, and even Hazel smiled at some of them (though she looked largely uncomfortable). Some of the dumber stuff had them both near tears, and Annabeth hugged a blanket as she shook with laughter.
She was so adequately distracted, she didn’t even hear the door open.
“You two look happy,” Percy noticed, standing at the end of the couch.
Annabeth jumped and looked over, still unable to wipe her smile. “Hi,” she said stupidly.
“Hi.” He grinned. “The Office, huh? Gods, I’m so jealous of you. You get to see it all for the first time again.”
“We have to watch it all!” she exclaimed, bouncing in her seat.
Percy raised an eyebrow. “Ambitious. I like it. I think we could do it in a week or two, if we were dedicated.”
Part of her didn’t want to think that far into the future, for fear it would send her spiraling into anxiety. She shoved that away, though, and remembered Hazel’s words. In this moment, right now, she was okay, and that could be enough.
Hazel stood. “You two can watch this nasty show,” she scolded, but a small smile played at her lips. “I’m leaving. I’ll see you…?” She looked at Percy to finish her sentence.
“Sometime,” he supplied helpfully. “I have nothing to do tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean you’re not welcome to come hang.”
“Maybe!” she chirped, stretching upwards to plant a kiss on his temple.
Percy rolled his eyes, though he was the tiniest bit pink. “Love you too,” he said.
Hazel just grinned and sashayed gracefully out.
“So!” He sat next to her and took her hand. “How was your day? Did you like the pizza? I got it for you.” He turned his eyes to her, all soft and hopeful.
Annabeth had to fight down a laugh at him interrogating her like a mom asking how school was; he was so sincere she didn’t want to hurt his feelings. “I loved it.” She nodded. “Pizza is always good. And Hazel is nice.” She studied her hands in her lap, reflecting on their time together today.
Suddenly, she felt fingers under her chin as he nudged her face up to face him. She felt herself turn pink. “I am still hungry,” she blurted, saying the first thing that came to mind in her desperation to say something.
He blinked. “Already? It’s 3:15.” Then, as she was opening her mouth to protest he shouldn’t shame her for what she can’t control, he hopped up and offered her a hand.
“What?” she asked, taken aback. She slipped her hand into his without waiting for an answer and let him pull her to her feet.
“Let’s get food!” he exclaimed, his face brightening. “It’ll be great. We can go grab something and stuff our faces together, and after we come back I’ll make us a real dinner.”
She blinked. It did feel weird; she was used to structure and distinct mealtimes, at camp. Then again, she reasoned, they were adults, with adult money and adult jobs. They could do whatever they wanted. “Excellent idea, Seaweed Brain,” she said formally, taking a bow. “What on earth should I do without you?”
He grinned lopsidedly. “Live a very boring life.”
“Do you want to change clothes?” He gestured to their room. “I mean, I don’t really care, it’s just what you want.”
“That’s a good idea,” she said, looking at his halfway attempt at professionalism in his dark jeans, Nikes, and tucked in t-shirt. “I’d hate to make it look like you kidnapped a woman that crawled out of the sewer. What would the neighbors think?”
“We couldn’t have that,” he agreed seriously. “It’s a date, then! Awesome. Our first date, technically.”
“We literally live together,” she reminded him, already on her way to the closet.
“Yeah, but it doesn’t count since you don’t remember,” he retorted, hovering in the doorframe. It took her a moment before she realized he was likely staying out for her privacy, and her heart softened a little that he was so respectful of her consent for even the little things.
“That’s true,” she conceded, digging through the closet full of things that, thank the gods, looked like perfectly normal clothes to her. She could work with this. “It just means that you have to impress me, or I’m out.”
She could hear the suppressed smile in his next words. “Oh? You’d walk out because of a date gone wrong?”
“It’s a first date,” she shot back. “It’s all about first impressions. I’m sure there are at least a few other men here who would be willing to give me a first date.”
“You won’t need to do that,” he promised. “I won’t fail you.” His voice was light, teasing, but somehow she detected that something had changed. She couldn’t put her finger on what; it was the same feeling she got when she read the words “Seaweed Brain” on his note. Like a memory was there, like a whiteboard that had been erased, but the faint outline of some letters could still be made out.
“I wouldn’t do that,” she said sincerely, not wanting to scare him unnecessarily. “I mean, unless you really messed up.” She laughed, trying to keep it light. No need to embarrass him. “I really like you, I think. I mean, I can see why I would want to marry you.”
“Thanks, Annabeth.” His voice was softer. “That- that means a lot, honestly. You have no idea.”
“I think I do,” she murmured. She had awoken one day, not remembering her supposed husband, and she still wanted to be with him even without whatever history they had. He still wanted her, to take care of her and make dinner for her and just hang out with her, even though she had no recollection of their past. That meant a lot, too, that he wasn’t running. Secretly, she’d worried a little that he might get bored of her. If anything, though, it seemed like he was just more determined to charm her all over again.
She loved him for it.
“Okay, get out now,” she instructed as she started to change into a much more presentable pair of jeans and a reasonably sized shirt that didn’t hang to her knees. She didn’t even look to make sure he’d left.
When she was done, she went to the bathroom to run a brush through her hair. The only hairbrush she could find was one sitting in the shower, still damp from the last shower. “Ew,” she murmured to herself as she started yanking it through her hair.. “Why would I do that?”
“For your hair,” Percy supplied from behind her. “You only brush it when there’s conditioner in it. It’s because of the curls.”
Annabeth flushed, embarrassed that he knew more about her hair than her. It was true, she didn’t care much for her hair. She washed it every day and was merciless when brushing it, and it was usually frizzy. She didn’t have any friends at camp with curls, besides black girls with very different texture, so she didn’t have any way to know she was doing things right or wrong. Apparently, future Annabeth had a lot nicer hair…which she had effectively ruined, by continuing her old habits. She didn’t know any better, but Percy did. How embarrassing for him to see her with Hermione Granger hair. “Oh.”
“I can help,” he offered, reaching for the brush in her hand. “I can braid it for you.”
“Really?” she asked gratefully.
“Sure,” he said easily, stepping up behind her in the mirror. “I braid your hair all the time.”
He went to work, carefully twisting her hair into a neat pattern, and she had to admit he was better at it than she thought he would be. The French braid was loose enough to lay flat against her head, but just tight enough it didn’t look sloppy. Only a few loose strands hung around her face, too short to make it into the braid. He tucked them behind her ears after he finished, and their eyes met in the mirror. He held her gaze for a long moment before kissing the top of her head, surprising her. “Done,” he announced, though it was obvious. “You look beautiful."
Annabeth blushed again, which seemed to be all she did around him. He had a way of making her feel see-through. “Thank you. I love it.”
“You flatter me,” he teased. “Ready?”
After he locked the front door, Annabeth reached out and slipped her hand into his. Part of it was security: she wanted to feel him near, so she wouldn’t get anxious again. Part of it, though, was she just wanted to be as close as possible to him.
He rubbed his thumb across the back of her hand but otherwise didn’t react, which she was grateful for.
They pushed their way through people, many of whom now gave her side-eyed looks. She stepped closer to Percy as she watched a ghost float through a small crowd, saying, “The girl’s gone mad, haven’t you heard? Doesn’t remember a thing. Typical Greek, I say.”
“Sorry,” Percy grumbled. “The Lares are terrible gossips. And very old fashioned.”
“They could at least get their facts straight,” she whispered back.
They finally came to a little Chinese restaurant. Annabeth studied the menu for a second, struggling to read it, before she realized it wasn’t even her native language. “It’s in Latin?”
Percy nodded and squeezed her hand. “A lot easier for a bunch of dyslexics.”
“Wow,” she whispered. She still couldn’t think too hard about Roman demigods without it giving her a headache, so she pushed it away.
There was no line, considering it was early afternoon. Percy ordered for both of them, and he took the paper bag holding their food and led her towards the fountain. They sat side by side on the edge, and she noticed the misting spray at her back had mysteriously stopped.
“Oh, thank gods,” she half-moaned as she opened up her food. “This looks perfect and I’m starving.”
“You’ve been wanting this a lot the last few weeks,” he laughed before his smile suddenly melted off his face.
“I’m guessing this is my favorite order?” She surveyed the orange chicken and lo mein before her.
“You bet your ass it is.” He grinned and suddenly flicked a noodle at her, which landed on her arm.
“What the hell!” she squeaked, jumping to avoid it but failing. “What was that for?”
“It’s our tradition,” he said very seriously. “Every time we get this, we throw a single noodle and study its shape. It has omens in it and can predict the future.”
She stared at him. “You’re full of shit.”
He threw his head back laughing, like a little kid. “Okay, fine, I’m messing with you. I thought I might as well have some fun with this no-memory thing.”
“That’s not fair!” she said indignantly. “You can’t just lie to me for fun.” She picked a noodle out of her food and tossed it at him. It landed squarely in his hair.
“Hey!” he complained, tossing it to the ground, where some waiting birds attacked it. “That was mean. If I can’t do it, neither can you.”
“An eye for an eye,” she told him.
“Relationships are built on mutual trust and forgiveness,” he countered.
“Yeah, and you’ve yet to apologize or otherwise deserve forgiveness!”
They carried on like that, bickering like kids, and they probably looked immature to anyone watching. Annabeth didn’t have it in her to care.
After a lull, Percy asked, “So? Do you approve of our date?”
“Definitely.” She nodded firmly, feeling the increasingly-familiar warmth spread through her whole body. “It’s been a good first date.”
“Yeah?” He smiled, and it looked genuine, not joking around anymore. “Remember anything?”
“No,” she admitted. She bit her lip. “I don’t—it’s more of a feeling. It feels familiar. It feels right. Like, I don’t know you, but I know I trust you more than anyone else. I know this is right.”
A smile slowly lit up his whole face. “I’m glad you trust me,” he said quietly. “I promise I won’t give you reason not to.”
She knew in her heart—no, deeper than that. In her soul—that he wouldn’t. She leaned her head on his shoulder as she finished the last few bites, leaving nothing behind.
Finally, Percy stood to throw away their trash before offering her his arm. “M’lady.”
She took his arm and linked it with hers as she stood up. “I have an idea.” Before even waiting for a response, she said, “Ice cream.”
“Ice cream?” he repeated.
“Ice cream. Please?” She gave him her best puppy eyes, though she doubted she could pull it off the way he could.
He laughed. “You don’t have to beg. C’mon.”
Once again, he knew just what she wanted. He handed her a cone with mint-chocolate chip. “I don’t know how you eat that,” he said, wrinkling his nose.
“What do you have against mint? It’s a classic,” she defended, already diving in.
“I generally don’t like things that taste like toothpaste,” he countered. He led her a few steps away, out of the way from the line. He licked up some that was dripping down his hand, and when he came up he had ice cream on his nose.
She studied him for a long moment, watching as he continued, oblivious to the mess on his face.
“What?” He finally asked with his mouth full, meeting her eyes.
Annabeth shook her head. “It’s on your nose.”
“Oh.” His brow wrinkled and he swiped at his nose with the back of his hand. “Better?”
She stepped forward, closing the distance between them, and stretched up on the balls of her feet to kiss him before she could lose her nerve.
Percy made a surprised noise before returning it. Annabeth didn’t know the first thing about kissing, but her body seemed to have a memory of it. It only lasted a few seconds before she pulled away, going back to her ice cream. She felt his stare on her and just smiled. “Ready?”
He grinned and cautiously wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “Yes ma’am.”
That night, she dreamed.
She was standing in what was maybe a cave. Percy stood before her, but he was much younger; older than she remembered him still, but definitely not an adult as she saw him now.
“Just go,” he was saying.
“I can’t leave you!” she cried desperately.
“I have a plan,” he promised. “I’ve got this.”
She paused for a moment. She knew he was right, in that there was no way they could fight their way out of here. “Fine!” she conceded, her eyes already filling with tears. She threw her arms around him and kissed him. It only lasted a second, and he hardly responded. She wiped her eyes and turned to run without even checking his reaction.
Annabeth sat straight up in bed. “Oh my gods!”
Percy snored next to her, and she shook the arm that was still around her waist. “Percy!”
His head lolled across the pillow. “Mmmmm?”
“Percy,” she hissed. “I remember.”
His green eyes popped open. “What?”
“I remember you!” She stared at him. “How are you alive?”
“What do you mean?” He sat up, rubbing his eyes.
“You were in the volcano! You died!” She stared at him in awe. “How did you get out?”
“Uh… you mean Hephaestus’ forge?” He blinked the sleep out of his eyes. “You remember that now?” He sat up and propped himself up with a pillow, looking at her cautiously, like he was trying to squash his hope before he got disappointed.
“Yes!” she hissed quietly, though there was no one else around to wake up. “Percy! I remember you! I had a dream of it and I remember! I—I remember the Labyrinth, and you exploding, and all our quests before that…” Suddenly she hesitated. “You’re that Percy? My best friend, Percy?” She knew it was a stupid question, but she just couldn’t believe it. The man before her, with a real adult job, who’d certainly lived past sixteen, and who’d kissed her not twelve hours ago. Her Percy.
He laughed, the sound filling up the darkness surrounding them. “Yes, Wise Girl. It’s me. I can’t believe you remember me! Mostly! I’m not a stranger anymore!” She couldn’t see his face, but she could hear the way his breath caught a little on his teasing words.
Suddenly, strong arms were wrapping around her, and she buried her face in his shoulder. “You’re not dead,” she commented, her voice breaking. “How are you not dead?”
“Aw, Annabeth,” he murmured. “A lot of people have definitely tried. But I’m not going anywhere. I can explain more in the morning…” He pulled away a little, his arms still around her but looser. “This is huge,” he said. “Like, the rest of it might come back soon.”
“I hope so,” she whispered, her face coloring. After a second of silence, she said, “So we’re married?”
“We’re married,” he confirmed. “Why? Second thoughts?” He rubbed his hand up and down her arm, slowly and gently, and she wondered if he felt the same way as her: afraid to let go, in case the other disappeared.
“N-no! I just… really? Me?” She felt herself blushing again. Great idea, Annabeth, convince your husband that he shouldn’t have married you. “You don’t even like me.”
“Of course I like you,” he countered. “I mean, fifteen year old me wasn’t a bright guy, to be fair. But it’s definitely always been you.”
She fought tears and looked away, though he couldn’t see her in the dark. “Seriously?”
“Seriously,” he said quietly, and she wished she could see his face.
“So… you’re alive,” she summarized.
“That I am.”
“And you like me.”
“I mean, a little more than like-”
“And we’re married,” she finished.
“Damn,” she murmured. “Did any of my dreams not come true?”
She felt rather than saw him shake with laughter. “I was one of your dreams?”
“You can’t make fun of me,” she defended automatically. “I’m your wife.” The word felt so strange on her tongue. Wife. Married. To Percy Jackson.
“Yes,” he confirmed, pressing a kiss to her cheek—whether he was aiming for her cheek or just missed in the dark, she wasn’t sure, but she blushed profusely regardless—and pulling her back down on the bed.
“And we live here. Together.”
“Yes,” he agreed, no trace of impatience in his voice.
“I’m glad it’s you,” she said honestly. “Out of anyone else. I’m glad it’s you.”
“I wouldn’t, or more like I don’t, want anyone else.” He kissed her cheek again and drew her in closer. “Can we talk in the morning? It’s literally like five am, Annabeth. I vote for sleep.”
Her voice was a little muffled by his shoulder, but it didn’t bother her at all. She was cuddling with Percy freaking Jackson. “Good idea.”
“Love you,” he said absentmindedly. “Like, a lot.”
“I love you,” she said back, feeling a little giddy. She scooted impossibly closer into his embrace, burying herself in a pile of warm arms and giant blankets. This moment, right here, right now, she would savor.
Annabeth woke up slowly, rather than being pulled abruptly out of a dream—a rarity for demigods. She first became aware of the soft breathing to her right, then the tangle of limbs and blankets splayed across her. Even though she was in a bit of an awkward position, with her arm pinned underneath her, she wanted to relish the moment. She felt more comfortable than she had the last several days, like she was somewhere safe and had no place to be. No monsters to fight, no prophecies to ponder, and no…
Her thoughts were interrupted by a groan. Percy shifted next to her and started to untangle himself, muttering curses.
She rolled over to face him, and he smiled tiredly. “Morning, Wise Girl. Shit,” he winced as he shifted, “I think my leg is asleep. How did you even end up on my leg?” He shook his head, mystified.
The quiet moment now over, Annabeth also stretched. “Morning. Sorry about that.” She grimaced empathetically. “I swear I didn’t mean to. I just woke up like that.”
“A likely story.” He grinned at her, propping himself up on a pillow. “Do you still remember?”
She nodded. “Do you… do you have anywhere to go today?” She changed her question halfway through.
“Nope.” He pulled the blanket up closer to him and patted the space next to him. “Anything in particular you wanna do?”
She hesitated, but in the end her curiosity won out. “Do you think you could tell me the rest of the story? Like, what happened with Luke? And how did we get here?”
“It might take a while,” he said amicably. “Do you want details or just a vague explanation?”
“Just whatever you think is important.” She moved so she was sitting next to him, leaning against the headboard.
He took in a breath. “Okay, well. After the volcano, I ended up on Ogygia with Calypso. I think I stayed for a few days, but eventually I got on a boat and came back. I crashed my own funeral, actually.” He smiled. “You were so mad at me. Anyway, I think I figured out my friend Rachael—I dunno if you remember her—could see through the Mist, and we needed her to guide us through the Labyrinth.”
Annabeth did remember her, and she had to fight the pang of jealousy that rose up in her. He’s right here, she reminded herself. Maybe not everyone leaves.
“Anyway, uh. We went through the Labyrinth, Grover found Pan in the maze, and he died. Like, right in front of us.”
“After all that?” she gasped. She’d heard of gods fading, she knew it happened. Still, with so many satyrs dedicating their lives to finding him… “After all that searching?”
“Yeah.” He smiled wanly. “He faded. Grover was really torn up, obviously. But we didn’t have time to really process it. We kept going in the maze, and we finally got to the center. Turns out, Quintus was Daedalus, living through an automated-type body.” He shook his head. “Don’t ask me to explain that one.”
“He was alive? ”
“Yeah, it was wild.” He stretched his arm across her shoulders like it was the most natural thing in the world, and she leaned in. “So we got out, he helped us. He died. The maze died, kind of, but not really. Anyway, a bunch of monsters came into camp and we had to fight them. That was hard.”
His words were lighthearted, but Annabeth detected a subtle change in his voice, like he was avoiding talking about the harder parts. She leaned her head on his shoulder carefully, hoping that would convey her wordless support well enough.
He squeezed her arm gently in response. “After that… I went home for the summer. It… it was dumb, kind of, looking back. I just wanted to avoid the inevitable…I wanted normal, you know? I should’ve been with you guys. I thought if I just stayed with my mom, hung out with Rachel, I could avoid dealing with it.” He backtracked quickly. “Not that I just used Rachel to escape, of course. I genuinely liked her, enjoyed her company. I still do. Well—not like that, anymore!” He glanced at Annabeth nervously.
Surprisingly, Annabeth didn’t feel the jealousy run through her like she expected at the mention of Rachel’s name. That would definitely be a hard thing to face, and she couldn’t blame him for his coping mechanisms. Besides, she was sure that was long-over. “I catch your drift,” she confirmed breezily. “I don’t really care how we got here, as long as I end up next to you.”
His smile took over his face. “You always will,” he promised. “So, anyway, after that, um. Charles Beckendorf and I—” he swallowed and sighed, leaning his head back against the bed frame, his whole body tense. “We took out their ship, the Princess Andromeda. But… Charles didn’t make it out.”
The only sound was the rhythmic beating of her heart in her chest. She remembered Charlie, so clearly and vividly. Sure, they weren’t close, but he was practically family. They’d been at camp together for years. “Oh,” she whispered. “That’s—wow.” She wasn’t sure what else she could say.
Luckily, Percy didn’t wait for further response. He grimaced. “That was really hard. After that, I went to camp. It all happened really fast, honestly. The hunters came to help, and by the end Luke was fighting Kronos’s power…Kronos was trying to basically kill him. He’d been in the Styx, so he was bulletproof, and I guess in the end it was you.” His voice was deathly serious, and it made her shiver. “You did what none of us would’ve done, probably. You gave him your knife.”
“To kill himself.” Her mind tried to untangle that thought. It made sense, in a detached sort of way. He would be the only one who would know how to.
“Yeah.” He glanced at her, sizing up her reaction. She realized then that she should probably be more upset, but she didn’t feel any different. There was only one way that story could’ve ended.
“That’s awful,” she allowed. “I mean, that it happened to Luke. Not that he never—not that he never did anything to deserve it. But still, I wish it was different. But…I think I’m okay with it.”
As he listened he ran his hand up and down her arm, cupping her elbow before going back to tug at some loose strands of blonde, twirling it around his finger, before releasing it. The constant movement should’ve been distracting, but it felt more like an anchor. Percy was everywhere, holding her tethered in this moment.
“So then we lived happily ever after?” she suggested jokingly. Annabeth had a hard time believing they’d had totally smooth sailings ever since.
“Ha, ha,” Percy deadpanned. “Yeah, no. Then I disappeared. Literally. I vanished from my bed at camp. And no,” he hurried on, seeing her start to open her mouth, “it wasn’t on purpose. Basically, Hera kidnapped me.”
She rolled her eyes. “I wasn’t going to accuse you of disappearing of your own free will, Seaweed Brain. Besides, you already told me this the other day. Hera stole your memory and swapped you with a Roman.”
He cocked his head to the side. “Did I tell you that? I already forgot. You guys rolled up to New Rome in a flying warship, which freaked everyone out. Then, Leo got possessed and shot at the Romans. That kind of started a war between the Romans and Greeks, so this loser Octavian decided he was gonna attack Camp.” He rolled his eyes dramatically and huffed, even though to Annabeth that sounded like a somewhat rational response. Obviously, there was more drama she’d missed.
“Wait, who’s Leo?” she asked instead.
Percy launched into a description of Leo, and the ship he built, then he backed up and explained his own quest with Hazel and Frank, then he backed up even more to explain Hazel’s own backstory, how she was brought back from the dead.
“So that was the girl that was here?” she asked when he finished.
“Yup.” He grinned. “She’s so cool to talk to about history, because she was, like, actually there. Kind of trippy.”
History buff. Annabeth filed that away for future reference. “Okay, so, you went to Alaska,” she summarized. “Killed some giant. Came back, you became praetor with Reyna—that other girl that was here. Then I showed up with Leo and Jason.”
“And Piper,” he added. “She’s Greek. Jason’s the praetor everyone thought was dead and I sort of replaced.”
Annabeth nodded slowly. “I think my brain is too full to retain anymore information.”
He laughed, throwing his head back and nearly hitting the wood of the headboard. “We can take a break? I’ll make you breakfast.”
“You don’t have to do—’’
“Shut up, Wise Girl. None of that.” He disentangled himself from her. “I love cooking, anyway. Especially for my love.” He wagged his eyebrows at her.
“Gross,” she complained, pushing him further away from her.
A half-hour later, she was dressed (well, she was wearing sweatpants and a bra now) sitting at the bar with blue pancakes in front of her. “I think this much food coloring might be fatal.”
“Well, if you don’t want them…” Percy reached across the bar.
“I didn’t say that!” She smacked his hand away. “I’ll take my chances.”
“It hasn’t killed us yet.”
Annabeth dug in, trying not to think about the fact they probably had a whole section in their budget for food coloring. “Whoa,” she said around a mouthful of blue. “When did you become a cooking wizard?”
He grinned at her from across the bar. “Mom’s been teaching me. I’m still not very good, but at least I can follow a recipe.”
“Color me impressed,” she said, holding up some blue chunks for emphasis.
He rolled his eyes.
After a slow breakfast, she insisted again on doing the dishes. This time, she showed off her new skill, that she could put the dishes away correctly.
“Damn,” he said, appraising her as he leaned his forearms on the bar. “Maybe you are remembering things?”
“It’s not really memory,” she said, slipping the silverware away. “It’s like muscle memory, I guess.”
“I think that still counts as memory.”
She rolled her eyes. “It’s not the same.”
Ophelia trotted into the kitchen, making a beeline for Annabeth.
“She never wants me,” Percy complained as he watched.
“She knows who loves her!” Annabeth sat back down at the bar and shifted to pull the grey bundle into her lap.
“So the Romans were after us, thinking we attacked them?” She asked, stroking the soft kitten with one hand.
The bundle purred in response, stretching out across her arms.
“Technically, we did attack them. But anyway. We went to Greece. And… the gods were really split up between their Greek and Roman personas. They couldn’t appear one way or the other without changing. And your mom—actually I think it was Minerva, but I’m not sure—gave you this coin that was the Mark of Athena. She gave it to a different strong child of hers every few hundred years, and they’re supposed to go on this quest that would unite the Greeks and Romans.”
“And they never succeeded?” she guessed.
“Right,” he confirmed. “Until… you.” He smiled. “You had to go alone, and I didn’t want to leave you, especially after…we got separated for so long. But you went, and you outsmarted Arachne. You got her to build her own trap and convinced her to crawl into it.” His smile was more subdued than usual, but he still held a look of pride. “First one in the history of the world to succeed.”
“I fixed the gods? Just like that?” she asked with wonder.
He winced. “Well, not exactly. You saved the statue, the Athena Parthenos—”
“That the Romans stole!” she interjected. It was starting to click into place in her mind: the gods’ own offspring had become enemies, and the statue was a symbol of that animosity. Returning the statue to its original owners would be a first step to reuniting their two natures.
“Right. Like a million years ago,” he said chidingly.
She realized he had likely mistaken her excitement for anger, and nodded for him to go on.
“Anyway, you were in a cave by this point, but Leo blasted it open and we all came down to get the statue.” He paused, deep in thought. “We were going to leave, but somehow… part of the web got tangled around your ankle. And after Arachne fell into Tartarus, she pulled you down too. I tried to grab your hand to pull you back, but I was hanging on by a ledge, literally. And she was still pulling. And I couldn’t let you go, so we both fell in.”
She felt the weight of his statement settle over her. “You…we fell into Tartarus?” Her mind was shuffling, trying to make sense of it. He jumped in with her? Of course he did, that was such a Percy thing: simultaneously trying to help his friends to the very end, while also somehow managing to always put himself in harm’s way. Her heart flooded with warmth for this man. Over and over, time and time again, he proved himself to her.
“I would jump into Tartarus for you any day,” she said softly.
Percy frowned and looked away. “Do you want coffee?” Without waiting for an answer, he stood and moved to the Keurig not far across the counter.
Annabeth frowned, feeling more than a little rejected, but she tried to brush it off. “What happened after that?”
He was quiet for long enough to systematically get the creamer out of the fridge, stir it into her coffee, replace it in the fridge, and start making a second cup for himself. “We closed the Doors of Death from the inside, got out just in time for Reyna to return the statue, the gods were restored, we stopped Gaea, the end.”
Annabeth hesitated, put off by his tone. “What happened in Tartarus? I mean… how did we get out, really? What was it like?” Shouldn’t we be dead? She added silently.
He slid the first cup of coffee towards her, keeping the cup of black coffee for himself. “Um, essentially, there was this Titan who had been in the Lethe, so he was harmless, and he helped us across.” A ghost of a smile crossed his face. “He had a kitten that you loved.”
“How long were we down there?” she persisted. “How did we know where to go? And how did we even close the Doors without getting caught? It doesn’t make sense.”
Percy’s whole body tensed, and he glared into his mug. “I don’t…really wanna talk about it,” he said slowly.
Annabeth sighed. “Okay. I’m sorry.” She didn’t remember any of it, but of course he did, and she doubted they were fond memories. She tried to put aside her burning curiosity for his sake. “You know, I’ve been feeling kind of sick lately,” she offered, trying to change the subject. Good one, Annabeth. Talk about wanting to puke, that’ll make him fall in love with you.
“Sick how?” He frowned at her, but she saw his body relax.
“I dunno. I just don’t feel like eating, but then I get super hungry all at once, then I feel like I can’t eat without getting sick, so I don’t, until I get super hungry again. It’s a vicious cycle. I think adulthood is messing with my body.” She was trying for a joke, but a shadow passed across his face. “What?” She studied him. “What do you know, water boy? Do I have some deadly disease?”
“That’s not funny,” he said automatically.
“It was just a joke,” she defended. “Why are you being pissy?”
“How am I being pissy?” He rolled his eyes. “For not wanting you to die?”
“I’m not dying!” she cried, annoyed. “Unless I am and you’re not telling me.”
“Of course you’re not dying.” He glared at her. “I would tell you that.”
“Would you?” she challenged. “I’m not stupid. I know you’re hiding things from me. About me, and about Tartarus.”
“I’m not hiding things from you! I just don’t wanna tell you some stuff because it’ll just freak you out, and there’s no point. It won’t change anything, and you’ll remember eventually.”
“Will I? When? Tomorrow? Next week? Months from now? How am I supposed to remember anything if you won’t tell me anything, Percy?” She clutched her cup on the bar, the only thing separating them.
“I have told you things! I just spent an hour catching you up!” He gestured angrily, splashing some of his coffee onto the tile.
“The bare minimum!” Her barstool scraped as she jumped down to stand in front of him. “Just enough to know who I am! Just like Hera did to you, Percy! You’re as bad as Hera!” She leaned up into his face. “You’re just like Hera!”
He glared back at her for a long moment, his eyes blazing. “You have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said coolly, stepping back and turning away.
“Of course I don’t!” she shouted. “Because you won’t tell me!”
Percy shook his head. “I don’t. Want. To. Talk. About. It,” he ground out. “I am not obligated to dive into my trauma with you, Annabeth.”
“It’s my trauma too!” she shrieked, tears filling her eyes. “It’s mine and I don’t even know it because my asshole husband won’t tell me!” She spun towards the door and shoved on the crocs left by the door. Percy said nothing to stop her, which only made her angrier as she yanked open the door and stomped out.
She took off with no direction, ignoring the ghosts that spoke to her, as angry tears poured down her face. She was a sight, surely, in her sweatpants and unbrushed hair and smoke practically coming out of her ears, but she didn’t have the energy to feel embarrassed. She felt her life slipping away from her, like a kid letting go of a balloon. Was it so bad to want to know who she was, to know at the very least as much as the public knew? She hated feeling like a zoo animal on display, someone to feel sorry for. She wanted to understand who she was, who she had become, what had happened and what was happening. Percy of all people should understand that, having been messed with Hera himself! Not to mention, she hated Hera more than anyone, for taking her life away from her. She would probably be happy at home with her husband right now if it weren’t for that asshole, who was probably up on Olympus laughing at this very moment.
She slowed her pace as she found herself blinded by her tears and rage. Hera was the real villain here, she reminded herself, but damn it, why couldn’t Percy get over himself and tell her what happened in Tartarus? Not to mention whatever big secret he was hiding from her. She hated playing catch up with herself, hated the feeling that she was missing something big, like the truth was right in front of her but she didn’t have the wisdom to look up.
She stumbled as her knees hit something hard and almost fell face first into the fountain. She caught herself and sank down on the edge, vaguely thinking this was as good a place as any to pause. She blinked away her tears and took a few deep breaths, clearing her head enough to look around and register that she was all but alone this early in the day. Good. At least she wouldn’t have to regret making a fool of herself later.
Annabeth stared into the fountain, letting the cool mist hit her face. She couldn’t really be mad at Percy, she realized with a pang of regret. Hera was the real monster here; Percy was just the scapegoat for her anger, and he was trying to protect her, even if she disagreed with his means, and he’d done too much for her already. He went to Hell and back for her, literally. He’d risked his life, over and over again, to keep her alive. She knew with certainty that every moment in Tartarus when it had come close, he would have gone down fighting if it meant Annabeth could get away. She couldn’t be angry with him for trying to shield her from her worst memories; she shuddered at the image of a Titan looming over her, Percy’s grinning corpse next to her as he urged her to leave him behind.
You’re not getting away from me. Ever again.
In seconds, Annabeth was on her feet, flying towards the apartment she’d stormed out of not long ago. Her hair splayed out behind her, but she didn’t slow for a second, slamming through the front door, narrowly avoiding the kitten curled up in the hallway.
“Percy!” She screamed, whipping her head around looking for him.
He materialized in the hallway. “What?” he asked anxiously, scanning her body for injuries.
In seconds, she was crossing the distance between them and throwing herself at him, pulling him tightly against her body. A sob built in her chest.
“What?” he asked again, bewildered as he returned the hug.
She pulled him impossibly tighter as she tried to catch her breath. “Oh, Percy.”
“You’re not mad anymore?” he tried.
She threw back her head as she laughed without loosening her grip. Some small part of her noted she was starting to lose it, but she didn’t care. She was holding onto her lifeline, the man who walked through Tartarus for her. The man that bought her flowers on her birthday and got up early to make her breakfast to go on her busiest days, the man that caved when she’d found a kitten outside and insisted it needed a home. The man she’d married three years ago, and her only regret was not doing it earlier. “Oh my gods, Percy.”
He pulled away enough to study her, and he brushed away some tears she didn’t even notice were streaming down her face. “Annabeth, you’re freaking me out.”
“Percy, I remember.” She grinned up at him, his sea green eyes meeting her own gray ones. “I remember you. I remember us. I remember, I remember, I remember.”