Against all odds, life slowed down.
The world fell quiet for once, a brief moment of solace after what had essentially been a lifetime on the edge, fighting for survival, waiting for the final straw on the camel’s back to send their world tumbling from the precipice on which it dangled. Titans from bygone eras attempted to regain control of what was once theirs and failed at the final hurdle, held back solely on human determination. The gods united, momentarily, against a common threat. Even ancient deities and giants from across the world were finally defeated, silenced, laid to rest.
Annabeth finished high school after two wars. Evenings once taken up with anxiety-induced stress pain during battle strategy meetings became homework nights, typing up essays and researching dyslexia-friendly fonts and laughing about spelling errors. After two wars, Annabeth sat and did homework with her boyfriend.
In between finishing high school and starting college, some of the changes became more apparent. Whatever undetectable demigod scent they had once had, the stench of Tartarus seemed to mask it, like an odd blanket of protection. It was the least their hellish experience could offer, they agreed, but it was strange nonetheless. They could wander New York City for hours, hand in hand, the only danger they encountered being the city and its inhabitants themselves.
Monsters tended to jump at the opportunity for an attack; after all, there was a sick sort of glory and satisfaction in being the one to finally kill the infamous Son of Poseidon and Daughter of Athena. That was, until the risks outweighed the benefits, and the lingering reminder of hell that emanated from them was enough to remind the monsters it would be better to live to kill another day. No one was in a hurry to return to the pit.
The danger settled. Annabeth moved into her new dorm in the college at New Rome, a single room to avoid the awkwardness of an awed or intimidated roommate. The last thing she wanted was to wake them up with her nightmares anyway, so it seemed like the best choice. Percy did the same, tacking on the end of his reasoning that they could visit and stay the night with each other as long as they liked, since no one else would be disturbed by someone else’s presence.
Living somewhere entirely free of monsters was strange. Even camp wasn’t quite like that. As much as it was home, it was somewhere that your demigod nature could never be ignored, always training, never away from the preparation needed for survival. But New Rome… this was as close to fully human as they would ever get.
They walked and talked a lot. Annabeth pointed out her favourite bits of architecture, marvelling at the beautiful construction of the city. Percy squeezed her hand, bumped her side, asked her questions about it. They passed lattice trellis woven with honeysuckle and roses, kissed by fountains, went on dates in the many cafés and restaurants.
Life slowed down. It took a little longer for her body to catch up.
It could’ve been any number of things. Perhaps the date night dinners, or the fact they finally had time to cook for themselves instead of packing granola bars to eat on the road during quests. It could’ve been having a boyfriend - everyone seemed to be talking about this phenomenon where boyfriends are constantly hungry and love to spoil their girlfriends, and Percy fitted that to a T. Maybe it was the fact that for the first time in - hell, eighteen or nineteen years - that Annabeth wasn’t flooded with adrenaline, fighting for her life at every step of the way.
But there was a change. Not necessarily an unwelcome one, either.
It first caught her attention, really, on a Friday evening. Annabeth had been in lectures all day, but Percy had Fridays off, and he was clearly bored stiff.
P: pls im so bored might die
P: fuck u have that thing today
P: the one with boring voice that none of ur course could follow right??
P: lol everything i just typed there was completely butchered and autocorrect fixed it i love this for us, a win for the dyslexics
P: anyway im bored text meeeee
P: bet ur actually paying attention arent u, lame
P: text me in ur break. taking u out later tonite
She’d sat and watched as her phone pinged again and again, Percy’s stream of consciousness popping up on the screen. Her professor wouldn’t have noticed if she responded, too busy droning on about the history of democracy (in an architecture class, of all things), and probably wouldn’t notice if she straight-up called Percy to talk then and there. But she didn’t, shaking her head and smiling fondly as she imagined him in his room, hanging upside-down off the edge of the bed, groaning his boredom.
He did take her out, as promised. Percy’s favourite, a little Italian place nestled in the outskirts of the main city. The waiter took one look at him, laughed, and wrote down ‘pizza’ on his notepad before turning to Annabeth to actually ask for her order. Though offended, Percy couldn’t argue that the waiter knew him a little too well.
“How was your day?” He grinned as their plates were placed in front of them. His eye had a gleam to it, the same cartoon sparkle that seemed to glint off his teeth. She would be damned if she didn’t love his stupid troublemaker face.
Annabeth loaded her fork with her pasta primavera, pushing it towards his lips to give him a bite, like always. “Not too bad. A little boring, but I got through it.”
“That smug asshole still giving you grief?”
She swatted him for talking with his mouth full - what an animal. “Ugh, don’t. I’ll get mad if I have to think about him. After sitting through all of that drivel today, he had the audacity to ask a question right as he finished. The professor was gonna let us go! Instead that fucker had us sat listening to the answer for an extra half an hour.”
Percy rolled his eyes, the exaggerated fluttering of his lashes making her laugh. “Gods, what a dick. What even is he? Apollo legacy?”
“Not even,” She stabbed at her veggies as she talked, “A legacy of some minor Roman god. At least three generations back, if not more. Couldn’t tell a harpy from a hellhound.”
“So he’s basically mortal?”
Annabeth laughed, the kind of guilty, dirty laugh of knowing it’s wrong and cracking up anyway. Percy joined her, his face so alive and full of mirth like he’d never suffered a day in his life. If this was healing, Annabeth couldn’t get enough of it.
“Are we assholes for that? Total elitist pricks?”
“Eh,” Percy shrugged, gesturing casually with his pizza slice, “We earned the right to be. We saved the world twice before getting a high school diploma.”
Percy insisted on paying - they had an alternating system, and although it had been his turn last week, he swore up and down this was his treat for Annabeth having to endure a long shitty lecture, and she knew arguing wouldn’t work. She just had to reluctantly swallow her pride and, as Percy would say, gasp - let her boyfriend do nice things for her.
The light had turned golden around them by the time they left, the sun dipping into the centre of the horizon and bathing everything in an Olympian glow. As much as New York would always be home, Annabeth couldn’t deny that these evenings were some of her favourites. Sweet smelling air, beautiful scenery, and the love of her life talking her ears off as they took a leisurely stroll back. In some ways, it was like Elysium for the living.
“I don’t have college tomorrow, stay the night?” Percy suggested. He knew her schedule by heart - it was pinned up on the notice board in his room, next to his own, but he hardly had to look at it to know it these days.
Annabeth pretended to think about it. “Hmm… what’s in it for me?”
“More like what’s gonna be in you…”
Percy didn’t even attempt to dodge the shove that came his way. “You are disgusting, Percy Jackson. I don’t know why I like you.”
He all but cackled. “It’s okay, I hated that too. But I’m still on Paul’s Netflix and my bed’s nicer than yours, so…”
“Calm your ass, you know it’s a yes.” She chuckled softly, pulling him close by the neck of his T-shirt and kissing him. “So scandalous of us. What would Frank say?”
Percy splayed out his hands in a noncommittal gesture. “He wouldn’t say anything. He would blush very red, apologise, and leave.”
“Yeah. Gods, I love him so much.”
“More than me?”
“Without a shadow of a doubt.”
He considered it. “Yeah, same. Can’t help but love the guy.”
Annabeth bumped Percy’s side as they passed the fountain, reaching over to skim her fingers along the water’s edge. “Maybe that can be the plan for tomorrow morning, visiting him.”
Percy eyed her sardonically. “I think we might be a little busy tomorrow morning?”
She cocked an eyebrow, smiling. “Alright. Mid-morning.”
“Now you’re just being deliberately cruel.”
“Fine,” She giggled, putting him out of his misery, “Afternoon. No visible hickeys though, I don’t wanna embarrass him.”
Percy held out his hand as if to shake it. “You got yourself a deal, Chase.”
They shook on it. “Pleasure doing business with you, Jackson.”
It was crazy, stupid, brilliant how easily they had fallen into such casual intimacy. They’d barely been dating before being whisked away from one another for months on end, and as the feelings had grown more painful and intense it had been harder and harder to reign them in. After Tartarus, something had changed within them - like the rules didn’t apply anymore. The world wasn’t quite right unless his arm was slung over her shoulders, her body tucked into his side, their hands entwined. They’d gotten better at being apart, and it had gotten easier being together.
And now this, quiet nights in, regular couple life. It had seemed so impossible once, and now felt impossible that it could ever be any different. Whatever they had, it was worth the work.
Comfortable. That was the word. Like the stupid bunny pyjamas Percy had bought her a few months back, that he tossed at her from across his room as soon as they got inside.
“Thanks,” She snorted, catching them mid-air from his blatant attempt to get her in the face with them. “Dick.”
“In a moment, dear,” He replied cheerily, rummaging shirtless through a drawer to find a pyjama shirt.
Annabeth rolled her eyes, stifling her laugh. She couldn’t give him the satisfaction. Instead, she stripped off her shirt and undid her jeans, sighing at the relief. There was a slight red indent on her skin where the waistband had been.
He turned, wrinkling his nose in sympathy. “Oof, tight jeans? Been there.”
“Tight jeans, lots of pasta…” She shrugged. “Happens to the best of us.”
Percy grinned. “And you’re definitely the best.”
Annabeth looked at herself a little closer in the mirror, mostly out of curiosity. Aside from being kinda full and bloated from dinner, there was a slight difference she’d not really picked up on before. A kind of softness on her figure that had never really had a chance to form before now. Outward curvature where it had once been concave, solid, bony.
This was probably the heaviest she’d ever been.
“Do you think I’ve gained weight?”
Percy’s head popped up from across the room, still rooting around in his drawers. He shrugged nonchalantly, unfazed by the question. “Yeah, a little bit. Why?”
“I guess I hadn’t noticed. Until now.” She turned sideways, trying to get a view of the back. Her hourglass was more pronounced now - he probably appreciated that. “I’ve never not been in survival mode, actively preparing to or fighting for my life. It’s a little weird.”
“Well, how do you feel physically? Still as fit? Strong? Fast?”
He tugged on an old AC/DC shirt and made his way towards the mirror she was standing in front of, settling his hands on the bare skin of her waist and kissing a spot behind her ear. She leaned into him, relaxing into the embrace.
“Yeah. Yeah, I am. I don’t think it’s bad, then. Just new.”
“It’s definitely not bad,” Percy’s voice was low, a comforting rumble as his lips pressed into the top of her head. His hands trailed lovingly over her waist and hips, linking up in the middle as they came to rest just underneath where her stomach rounded out, soft to the touch.
His ability to make her blush, even now, was uncanny. Annabeth tried to hide it, turning her head away from the mirror and into his shoulder momentarily as he chuckled into her hair. The feeling of his hands cupping her was comforting.
“You’re just saying that,” She teased, knowing he would take offence. “Appeasing your girlfriend.”
Percy poked her side, gently. “Are you kidding? I’m the lucky bastard who gets to date you. I get to spend my entire life making sure I’m the only one.”
Annabeth smiled, her heart practically exploding. One of her favourite things about their relationship, something that had differed from when they were just friends, was how openly and reverently Percy spoke of her. It was as if he thought she’d hung the moon and stars in the sky, and couldn’t get enough of it. He needed the world to know how brilliant she was, and how much he loved her. Coming from someone who had thought she’d never have that kind of permanence and dedication - it was more than swoon-worthy.
“You will be,” She assured him, then broke into a grin, “Especially if you keep buying all these dinners. Who else would have me?”
She arched her back and made a raspberry sound, pushing her stomach further into his hands and laughing at herself. Percy cracked up, shaking his head at her in the mirror, watching her with amusement. His eyes had this indescribable sparkle to them as he looked at her, brimming with fondness and the sensation of luck. He loved her to an unknown, unending degree.
“Literally the entire world is in love with you,” He brushed her off, laughing to himself, “At any size. You know, my mom always says that if you’re just living your life and some weight starts to stick around, it was meant to be there. Probably healthier.”
“Like someone else I know.”
She chuckled. “So how come it didn’t happen to you, huh? Seems unfair.”
Percy stuck out his tongue. “It did! You just can’t see it as much. I’m taller.”
Annabeth narrowed her eyes into a faux-glare. “Ooh, you love bringing that up. I’ll bet it’s that and your fucking fourteen-year-old metabolism. Dick.”
“I told you, later.” Percy replied, earning a playful elbow to the hip. “Look at us, though. We look like normal people.”
Annabeth looked at their reflection. It was always interesting to her how Percy viewed things, getting to watch him as an outsider. As they had grown up, she had seen more and more of his divinity - the way he resembled his father, the power in his eyes, the ability he had to silence or dominate a room. Sure, he’d been a dorky little kid once, but even then he had held tremendous amounts of untapped power, his only obstacle being his lack of knowledge about it to even attempt using it. The divine, godly side of him was the first thing anyone saw.
And yet the human side was the one he chose, again and again and again. As much as he possessed the god-like strength, power and beauty, Percy was a normal guy. He cracked bad jokes and went skateboarding and valued the individual as highly as the greater good. He was one of the saviours of Olympus, the most powerful of their time, and when he looked into the mirror, he chose to see a guy and his girlfriend. Just two regular people, in love.
“Except for the grey streak and the scars.”
He shrugged, still holding her in his arms. “Meh. Hair dye and clumsiness. Who’s gonna know the difference?”
Annabeth turned away from the mirror, feeling Percy’s hands snake around once again and settling into the dip of her waist once more. She looked up at him, momentarily overwhelmed with emotion.
“I love you,” She breathed.
He lifted her chin, tilting her head upwards to kiss her. “I love you too. You coming to bed?”
Percy fist-pumped triumphantly, releasing Annabeth from his arms and sending her off to get comfortable on his bed with a slap on the ass. Her feminist and lovesick girlfriend sides at war, Annabeth settled for flipping him the bird and blowing a kiss as she settled down, snatching his favourite blanket for herself in revenge. In the meantime, he had wandered across the room and was poking around in his cupboard.
“I got some brownies, you want dessert?”
“Are you kidding? I’m so full after that I could burst. No.”
“You want dessert?”
“That’s what I thought,” Percy grinned, his mouth already full. “What are we gonna watch?”
Annabeth rolled her eyes as she took a brownie. “My new favourite reality show, it’s called Annabeth doesn’t fit in her clothes because of her boyfriend’s brownies.”
“Interesting,” Percy mused, “I like the sound of this boyfriend character. But I’m in more of a Pirates of the Caribbean mood tonight.”
Annabeth giggled, pressing a kiss to the corner of Percy’s jaw. “Fine, have it your way.”
“I most definitely will be having my way with y-”
“Don’t even finish that sentence,” She butted in, cutting him off with another brownie piece. “I love you, but even more when you don’t talk.”
“Love you too. Beautiful. Princess. Angel. Gorgeous.”
“That’s more like it.”