It's been months since she saw him in person, but Annabeth would know those shoulders anywhere.
There's also the fact that he's walking a giant hellhound on a leash, but she notices the shoulders first. Old habits die hard, apparently. It’s a beautiful day and the park is crowded with people, friends and families and pets enjoying each other’s company, yet somehow her eyes picked him out in the crowd.
She doesn’t know why she’s surprised. Even with everything between the two of them, she will always carry a part of him with her. Apparently that part is his shoulders.
He hasn't noticed her yet, but Mrs O'Leary is another story altogether. She must recognise Annabeth's scent or something, because one sniff in her direction has the dog barking her head off. The mortals scattered through the park stare unabashedly, and for a moment Annabeth wonders what they think they're seeing, that they don’t even try to pretend like they’re not looking.
And then those shoulders tighten, and she's stopped counting the days since the last time they spoke, but Annabeth still knows that he thinks his dog has sensed a monster nearby. She struggles to find the words to greet him, to reassure him, but they stick in her throat. He starts turning around, hand casually reaching into the back pocket of his jeans, and for a second Annabeth considers just hiding, finding a convenient bush and throwing herself into it but then those sea-green eyes brush over her and stop, and she knows she’s caught.
There’s really nothing in the world that can prepare a person for Percy Jackson smiling at them.
A certain amount of confusion comes over his face at first, but it’s wiped away almost immediately by one of those stupid grins of his, the one that takes over his face and makes everything around him light up like a Christmas tree.
Gods, why did she keep following? She should have just found another path to take the second she saw those stupid shoulders, found somewhere else to be. But no, she hadn’t been able to keep a lid on her curiosity (and that’s all it is) and now here she is with no escape.
“Annabeth!” He looks for a moment like he’s about to run towards her, but he checks himself at the last second. The grin fades to a subdued look that makes Annabeth’s heart hurt a little, no matter how much she tries to hide it.
He walks towards her with some actual decorum, and she forces a pleasant smile onto her face and tries to convince her feet to return the gesture. They don’t.
“Percy, hi.” A laugh stutters past her lips, and she stamps on a wince at how awkward it sounds. Acknowledging that won’t make it any less awkward, after all. “What are you doing here?”
It’s been maybe ten months since they last caught up in person. She used to know down to the minute how much time they spent apart, back when there wasn’t so much of it between them. But that’s like a whole other life away, now. He lives at Camp and she goes to university and they haven’t been a they since they were seventeen years old.
It’s July. He’s almost 21, she realises. She tells herself her chest doesn’t ache, and completely fails to believe it.
“Uh. Walking my dog.” He’s trying to tease, but she can hear the strain entering his voice, see the way his eyes tighten in the corners. A small, vindictive part of her thinks, good. At least she’s not alone in this.
“No, I mean – here, the city here.” Annabeth wants to words to come out like a friendly question, but she finds herself crossing her arms over her chest defensively, her voice turning hostile. She can deal with Percy Jackson. She can even deal with Percy Jackson in her city, in her park, right in front of her. What she’s finding difficult to manage right now is the surprise. “Near my apartment, here.”
Annabeth expects some kind of excuse, awkward, stuttering sentences pushed out as he avoids her gaze. What she gets instead, is a frown. Behind him, Mrs O’Leary whines.
“I thought you lived out east,” he says after a moment, and she feels her stomach drop to her feet. “Closer to the university.”
There is, right now, one gold drachma sitting on her kitchen bench. It’s been there for a month, maybe six weeks. Every day she passes it, she thinks about throwing it in a rainbow to Percy, telling him about the move and her new place and why doesn’t he come out to California to check it out?
But the drachma is still on her bench, and here is Percy Jackson, in her city, in her park, right in front of her with absolutely no ulterior motive. He’d genuinely had no idea he might run into her here, because he’d genuinely had no idea that this was where she lived. Because she hadn’t told him.
She had, Annabeth realises, been waiting for him to IM first. Dimly, she wonders if he’d been doing the same back at Camp.
“I moved. Recently, though. I was going to tell you,” she adds lamely. “I just got…caught up.”
Percy nods, but his expression has shut down, turned into a mask of politeness. He never used to be that good at switching off his feelings, and Annabeth abruptly feels every mile and every month of distance between them as they stand in the middle of the stupid park. Around them, hundreds of people are enjoying the day, going about their business with no idea that the world just came right up and slapped her life in the face again.
“Right,” he says shortly, and even his body language is turning away from her. “Look, it’s been great seeing you, but I should—”
“—Go,” she finishes for him. She bites the inside of her cheek to control her sudden urge to cry, remembering times when finishing each other’s sentences brought them closer together rather than whatever this is now. Her hand twitches, like she’s going to offer it to him for a handshake or something, but that’s way too awkward and terrible even for this situation. She tucks an errant curl behind her ear instead. “Yeah, no, me too. I might see you around?”
Before the words are even out of her mouth, she’s cursing herself inwardly. At least she could have made it a statement, a dismissal, instead of a too-desperate question.
Sea-green eyes flicker away from her. “Yeah. Maybe.”
There’s a pause, where neither of them move. And then they both turn on their heel at the same time and walk away from each other without a further word.
Annabeth goes home to her new apartment. She tosses the drachma back into a pouch with the others, and tries to wash the thoughts and memories of him out of her head. She stands under the shower until her skin turns red. And then she crawls into her pyjamas, drops herself into bed and tells herself she won’t cry until she finally falls into an uneasy, restless sleep.
For the first time in months, Annabeth dreams of Tartarus.
Whatever fears they have on that long fall down aren’t enough. Whatever expectations they’ve had are overwhelmed. Whatever hopes, prove hopeless. The single, solitary reason they make it through is because of a stubborn, desperate determination to keep their hands locked together and to drag each other onwards
The worst thing about Tartarus, isn’t what happens to them inside it. Tartarus isn’t only a place; it’s a living, breathing, thinking thing, and it breaks off a piece of itself inside them even as they crawl out over the threshold. Tartarus is something that stays with you, becomes a part of you, long after you’ve passed through its doors.
They try. They give everything they have to each other after it’s all said and done, and then they scrounge around and give more. They’re the only ones that can calm the nightmares, but every time they look at each other, it’s a reminder or what happened, what they went through, what they’ll never, ever be able to escape.
She’s the one who voices it. It’s late on a Wednesday night, or maybe early Thursday morning, and they’re curled up on the floor of his cabin. Wrapped around each other. It might have been a sweet scene, if heartbreaking, but there are scratches on his face from her fingernails and she wears bruises on her arms. There is no sweetness left here. They mistake each other for the monsters more often than they save each other. Just because they’re the only ones that can help, doesn’t mean that they don’t hurt more.
Every time I look at you, she says, I see the end of the world.
And he has to let go of her, because clenching his fists and hating himself are more necessary than holding on.
Annabeth leaves the next day, returns to her boarding school and forces herself to remember the definition of normal. Percy stays at Camp, because he knows he can’t.
It’s six months after they make it out that Tartarus wins anyway.
Waking up the next day is a chore, not the least because of the pounding in her head. Annabeth grabs a spare pillow and shoves it over her face, and might have stayed there debating the pros and cons of suffocation all day if she hadn’t realised that the pounding is not, in fact, in her head after all.
Grumbling to herself, she hits the floor and shuffles her way to the front door, dagger in hand. A monster probably wouldn’t bother with knocking, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. She just about rips the door off its hinges when she opens it, ready to take a piece out of whoever happens to be standing on her welcome mat.
She almost loses her grip on the weapon. “What.” Her incomprehension is so complete, it’s not even a question.
Opposite her, Percy Jackson looks a mixture of sheepish and relieved. There are shadows under those sea-green eyes that weren’t there the day before, but the way he’s smiling (at her?) helps to smooth them out. “You really don’t want to know how many doors I just had to knock on to figure out which one was yours.”
Actually, Annabeth kind of does want to know that, but she’s too busy trying to process the fact that her ex-Percy is standing on her doorstep with a styrofoam cup in one hand and another one stacked on top. It literally makes no sense whatsoever, and that thought makes her want to smile, because when did he ever make sense?
“What are you doing here?” It’s the same thing she asked yesterday and she can see by the way his eyes dip that neither one of them need the reminder. “I mean – how did you even know this was my building?”
He shrugs with the shoulder not attached to the arm holding his cups. “Mrs O’Leary tracked your scent. She wouldn’t fit into the lobby though, so I had to figure it out from there.” There’s a pause, before he murmurs a quiet oh yeah under his breath, and hands her the topmost cup. His hand trembles. His voice is apologetic when he speaks. “It might be kind of cold…”
Barring their run-in yesterday, it has been ten months and seventeen days since Annabeth saw Percy in person. Three months and six days since they spoke, and that had been Camp talk about an overcrowding issue in the Aphrodite cabin. She went back and counted, because apparently she hates herself. And now here he is, on her doorstep with coffee and shaky hands and that stupid, hopeful smile, and…
And the word Tartarus drifts across her mind. Those shadows under his eyes are there for a reason.
In lieu of saying anything with meaning, she takes a sip of the coffee. It’s lukewarm, but still strong enough to make her realise that her hair is a mess, and her pyjamas consist of a pair of boxers and an old singlet, and she is absolutely not wearing a bra right now. Not that he seems to have noticed, or cared.
“It’s good,” she reassures him, and it occurs to her that it’s been three and a half years since he’s had occasion to get her coffee, and he still remembers how she takes it. “Um. Do you want to come in?”
“Yes.” The word trips out of his mouth almost before she’s done talking, and he makes a face at himself. “Only – only if you want me to, though. You don’t have to offer just to be polite. I was kind of a jerk yesterday.”
Annabeth’s lips part, only for her to realise that she has no idea what to say in the face of that. He was kind of a jerk yesterday, but she can’t say that she hadn’t given him reason to be. And he can’t say that he hadn’t given her reason for her reason. What a mess.
“We were both surprised,” she says, settling for something totally neutral. She takes another sip of coffee to fortify herself. “But you should come in. Just give me a couple of minutes to – um. Give me some minutes.”
She needs to get into something that doesn’t have Tweety Bird emblazoned across the front. She takes a few steps back, opening the door up wider for him and trying to ignore the way he grins and then looks awkward about it immediately after. Like he doesn’t know if he’s allowed to find it funny that she looks like a wreck.
To be honest, Annabeth doesn’t know either. She heads to her bedroom, glancing back at him a couple of times. On the third look, she catches him inspecting an ornament, and scowls. “Don’t do that rearranging thing you do! You know I hate that!”
He laughs, setting the ornament down. The sound follows her into her room.
She shuts the door quietly, setting her coffee on top of her dresser before her body sags against the wall. Because Percy Jackson is in her apartment, and she’d clearly been wrong about the whole moving away from the university in order to have more space thing, because she feels like she’s in a New York matchbox with the way everything not-Percy is closing in on her.
Annabeth swaps her dagger for the coffee and drains the cup like it’s been spiked with booze. She should probably shower, but the idea of standing around naked for any prolonged period of time, knowing that he’s just in the other room - no. He’s seen her covered in blood and guts and other unidentifiable substances, it’ll be fine. Besides, it’s been less than twenty four hours since she scrubbed herself raw, anyway.
She tugs open a drawer and plunges her hand inside, dragging out whatever comes first to hand. Which, granted, is what she usually does when she dresses herself. But she’s particularly aggressive about it today, because the last thing she wants Percy to think is that she’s concerned about dressing up for him. Not that he’s ever really noticed what she put on her body before, but--
Annabeth tugs on a t-shirt and lets herself drop onto her bed. The mattress squeaks and she bounces a little, pressing the palms of her hands to her eyes. But nothing. They aren’t together, haven’t been together now for longer than they were together. Even including the time that Hera stole from them.
It’s like this every time. She can remember thinking, four years ago now, that she didn’t know if it hurt more being with him, or without him. And every time the months and the distance stretches out a little further between them, she convinces herself that they’re definitely better apart. That a scarred heart is better than an open wound with him lodged inside it.
And then they see each other again, and she’s pitched right back into that uncertainty. Three and a half years should be enough to get over a boy, shouldn’t it? But no matter how many showers she takes, Annabeth still hasn’t managed to scrub him from under her skin, any more than she’s been able to rid herself of the memories of what Tartarus did to them
What they did to each other.
He is still sitting out in your lounge, you know.
Annabeth just about trips over her own feet as she scrambles up off the bed. How long has she been sitting there feeling sorry for herself? Five minutes? Ten? A quick glance at her alarm clock confirms that it was seven, and she wonders if seven still falls under the umbrella of ‘some minutes’ as she scraps her curls up into a bun at the back of her head.
The urge to double check her appearance in the mirror is there. She ignores it, slamming the door open a little too hard, fast enough that Percy doesn’t have time to recover from the way he reaches for Riptide.
They stare at each other, grey locked with green. And then she notices that he has one of her rulers in his hand, and she huffs at him. “Percy, I told you not to rearrange things.”
He blinks at her, and then a grin breaks across his face. That familiar pen returns to his pocket, and he reaches for his coffee cup (which almost definitely doesn’t have coffee in it) as he carefully sets the ruler down. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m putting it back, see?”
Annabeth crosses her arms over her chest. “That’s not where it goes.”
For a second everything is so familiar, she feels sixteen again. Those two golden months where everything had been okay, and time had stretched on ahead of them instead of between them. But instead of teasing back, his face falls, and he mumbles an apology in her direction. The ruler flaps, like he doesn't know what to do with it.
And Annabeth feels her heart break for the millionth time, and wonders why she invited him in. This isn't going to end well for either of them. Maybe they should just leave it, let the gap grow wider, bigger.
Their hands brush against each other as she gently divests him of the ruler, and a shock runs through her that she can't pass off as static. That's why, she thinks, and can't decide if the electricity warms, or burns.
“It's fine,” she manages, ducking her head so that their eyes won’t meet again. Not right now at least. She clears her throat. “You can sit down, you know. I haven’t had the chance to booby-trap the furniture since I moved.”
That gets a startled pause from him, and he eyes the couch dubiously. “I think that makes me want to sit down less?”
Less than he already wanted to sit down? Annabeth grumpily reminds herself not to analyse every word that comes out of his mouth, because when did he ever think about what he was saying, anyway? She pointedly sits down, and despite his words, Percy follows almost immediately.
The silence is oppressive. Something that by definition is an absence shouldn’t be able to claw up her throat like this. It feels like she’s being strangled with her own tongue, and she stares down at the ruler she’d relieved him of in lieu of breaking the hold it has on her.
Tartarus didn’t just ruin their romance. It stole their friendship from them.
“Why didn’t you tell me you moved?”
Leave it to Percy, of course. Anyone else would have tried to force some kind of awkward small talk, or attempted to lead the conversation towards the topic. Or just left. But no, he has to dive right into the heart of what’s bothering him, and Annabeth can’t decide if she wants to hug him or hit him for it.
She can, at least, decide to match honesty with honesty. They both deserve that much from each other. She swallows, looking up at the ceiling.
“Because every time we talk, it’s like this.” Her hand twitches, indicating all that space between them, every awkward look and every awful silence. “I miss us, Percy. And I wanted to tell you, but whenever I thought about IMing you, I couldn’t stop thinking about how awful the time before was, and how much I’d hoped it wouldn’t be then either. The last time we spoke was about adding a second story to the Aphrodite cabin, for crying out loud.”
She wants him to protest. She wants him to demand she stop staring at the ceiling, wants him to tug on that determined expression and insist that he’s still her friend, her best friend, her boyfriend, the love of her life.
But he doesn’t.
“Do you still think about the end of the world when you see me?” He sounds exhausted, and she hates that she’s the cause. More than that, she hates that she can’t fix it.
Annabeth peels her gaze from the ceiling. “No.” Her tone matches his. He doesn’t look right on her couch, which is ridiculous, because how does anyone look right on a couch. “I see the end of us. It hurts more.”
It’s a terrible thing to say. It’s a terrible thing to believe, to experience, but they both know that the reason she saw the end of the world in the first place is because he threw it over for her. Percy Jackson decided that being with Annabeth Chase was more important than anything, more important than everything, and they were both called on that decision.
Surviving Tartarus had been one thing. Living with the choices that landed them there, the consequences of that, was - is - something else entirely. They hadn’t been able to stand it, in themselves or in each other.
And here she is making that decision all over again. It hurts more. Three and a half years, and not being with him still hurts more than the end of the world. Annabeth doesn’t know how to live with that. She doesn’t know how to live with herself, believing that.
“I can’t say sorry.” It’s not just exhaustion in his voice. It’s something worse, bone-deep and broken. “That’s the worst part. I can’t apologise, because I know I’d make the same choices all over again. I don’t even know how many times I’ve gone back to that afternoon in Rome, holding on to the ledge. And I know what’s going to happen, but every time it’s the ledge I let go of. I couldn’t - I can’t let go of you, Annabeth. Never again.”
If life were kinder to Annabeth, that would have been a confession, the words she’s been waiting to hear, and they’d be making out right now. But it’s not a confession, because she knows that. She knows it in the same way she knows she wouldn’t force herself to fall without him, if they had it to do over again.
There are a lot of people in this world, and she loves him more than all of them. It’s hideous.
She closes her eyes. “Don’t make this harder than it already is, Percy.”
He snorts. The couch creaks, protesting under the shift in weight as he stands up. She knows without asking that this is not where he planned on taking the conversation when he decided to knock on all the doors in her apartment building that morning.
“This has already been three and a half years of the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.” It’s a bitter honesty, because they’ve both done things that should have been harder. His footsteps swallow up the silence as he heads for the door. “I’m going to be in town for another week.”
Annabeth keeps her eyes shut as she nods her understanding. It’s stupid, but if she doesn’t watch him leave, maybe she can pretend he’s still there.
The door shuts with a quiet click. Annabeth sits and listens to the sound of her own breathing for a moment, before she carefully picks herself up and heads for the shower.
“So, I heard Percy’s in town.”
Rachel Elizabeth Dare’s face is a study in innocence as Annabeth freezes, half bent over her plans. She stays like that for a moment, before carefully tucking an errant curl behind one ear and clearing her throat.
“I thought we were discussing designs for this theatre.”
“And by heard, I mean he IM’d me a couple of days ago with that look on his face. You know, the one that makes you feel like you’ve kicked every puppy in the universe? He didn’t even have to say anything, he just—”
“If you’re not up for talking about the designs, I can come back later,” Annabeth says loudly. It’s not exactly cutting the other woman off, because gods know that Rachel only stops talking when she’s good and ready.
“—looked at me like that, like he does every time the two of you meet up again.”
She starts fumbling for the plans to roll them up, before remembering that these aren’t her designs, that Rachel had just wanted her to look them over. Ordinarily she’d never make that kind of mistake, but it’s been three days since Percy walked out of her apartment, and she’s still having trouble keeping her head on straight.
No one else has ever so thoroughly stripped Annabeth’s ability to compartmentalise from her before.
“I really don’t want to talk about this, Rachel.”
“I know.” The other woman shrugs easily. “That’s why I lured you here under false pretences.”
They’re both seated comfortably in her hotel room; it’s nice, but it’s no penthouse suite. Which should have clued Annabeth in, to be honest. If Rachel had actually been here on business, her father would have insisted on her staying somewhere better suited to the Dare name. Where is my head?
She carefully transfers that thought to her mental trash can, because the answer to that question is something else she doesn’t want to talk about. Gritting her teeth, she pushes herself to her feet. “Then I guess you don’t need me here after all.”
Rachel sighs. “Annabeth, sit down. We both know I’ll just follow you around talking at you if you leave, anyway.”
It’s true. The third – or maybe it had been the fourth? – time they’d had this conversation, Annabeth had spent the better part of the day trying to avoid the heiress. As it turns out, one of several traits they share is tenacity.
She doesn’t sit, but she doesn’t leave, either. She shoves a hand back through her curls, wishing she’d thought to bring a hair tie with her. “Please tell me you didn’t fly all the way out here from New York to give me this lecture again.”
That earns her a sniff. “Not only. I really do want your opinions on those designs.”
“When are the two of you going to stop punishing yourselves?”
Silence. Green eyes meet grey almost defiantly, like Rachel is expecting a fight. And maybe she should be; it’s not the first time the redhead has gotten on her back, or Percy’s, about the whole situation.
It is the first time she’s put it like that, though. Which is why, instead of snapping at her friend, Annabeth just kind of stares.
“What?” she manages after a moment or two. A nervous laugh bubbles past her lips. “No one’s punishing anyone.”
The other woman just raises an eyebrow at her. No one does scepticism like Rachel Elizabeth Dare. “That’s bullshit. You both know it’s bullshit. And you’re both miserable without each other. So if you aren’t punishing each other or yourselves, what the heck are you doing?”
Annabeth shakes her head, crossing her arms over her chest. “Look, you’re probably one of my closest friends, but you really don’t know what you’re talking about. That’s not it, okay?”
Rachel shoves herself to her feet, and it’s then that Annabeth realises she’s actually…angry. The colour is rising in her cheeks, and her hands are balled into fists. “What do you want me to do, drag Piper over here too to tell you that no one blames you? Do I need to flash some kind of moon symbol at the sky to get Thalia to beat you over the head about how much the gods suck?”
An ominous roll of thunder isn’t anywhere near enough to stop the Oracle when she’s on a roll. Rachel simply turns her face up to the ceiling and glares.
“Yeah, I’m talking about you! What are you going to do about it, you know I’m right!”
Oracles, as it turns out, are a lot harder to replace than demigods. It’s the only reason Annabeth can think of to explain why her friend isn’t a pile of ash on the floor right now. “I don’t think you can summon Thalia with moon symbols, Rachel,” is all she says, because she doesn’t know how to deal with everything else that’s being thrown at her.
No one blames you.
That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be blamed, though. Not that their separation has anything to do with punishing themselves. They just hadn’t been able to figure out how to deal with each other, with everything, in the wake of defeating Gaea. It had just been too much; the only one Annabeth had felt safe enough to take it out on had been Percy, and vice versa. In the end, they ruined themselves for each other.
If there were any hope for them at all, they’d be together now.
“That is not the point,” Rachel huffs, jabbing a finger in her direction. “The point is that I don’t need to be crawling around in your head or attached to your hip to know that you don’t feel like you deserved to come through the other side of Tartarus and Gaea and everything that happened, and still get to be happy.”
Annabeth shakes her head, almost violently. It takes her a couple of seconds to realise that she’s actually physically backing away from the other girl. Annabeth doesn’t run from much, but this conversation is throwing her right back to those last six months together with Percy, and that is very much a place that she doesn’t want to go.
“You don’t know.” Her throat is dry enough that her voice cracks on the second syllable. “It’s not just about that. You don’t know what we did to each other, Rachel. You don’t know what we turned into, none of you do.”
She half expects Rachel to brush that off too, because that’s how these conversations usually go. And it’s not just Rachel that she’s gotten it from; it’s come from all directions over the years. You and Percy were so great together. I thought you were going to be together forever. He jumped into Tartarus for you Annabeth, do you think you’ll ever find someone who loves you that much again?
That last voice may have been her own, but that doesn’t change the fact that the past three and a half years have been full of people telling her that she needs to be with Percy, when being with Percy is what ruined them. There’s no fixing that, there’s no fitting the broken pieces back into the same places again. They’ve lost bits of themselves, some of them so small and insignificant that it’s impossible to tell they’re even gone until the cracks don’t line up any more.
But Rachel sighs, fingers falling lax at her side, colour fading from her cheeks. “I know. And I’m not saying grab him by the shirt and lay one on him or anything. I think that anyone who’s expecting that from the two of you at this point is an idiot. But when we first met, you nearly strangled me with my own hair, and it wasn’t because I was competition for his manly affections or something. It was because he was your best friend, and you were scared of losing him.”
If Annabeth had been in a better frame of mind, she might have contested that, or at least made some kind of comment about how creepy it was that Rachel had apparently been watching her closely enough to psychoanalyse her like that. But every word coming out of her friend’s mouth is kind of like a punch to the face (or maybe the gut), so she’s not really stopping to think (for once) about where the words are coming from. Her arms tighten a little, still crossed over her chest.
“Then what are you saying?” She’s going to focus on the part that she can deal with right now, because this conversation hard on the heels of the one she’d had with Percy is not working miracles for her state of mind right now.
The look on Rachel’s face is so understanding, it hurts. “I’m saying ease up on yourself. And him. Because you don’t deserve this, and neither does he.”
It’s easier to swallow from her. Not because Rachel has been particularly delicate about questioning her life choices, but because of that last part. Neither does he. Rachel was (and has always been) Percy’s friend first. As much as Annabeth knows that she cares about them both, there’s a part of the other woman that will always be out for him over the daughter of Athena.
So while Annabeth still feels a little bit like she wants to be sick, she sits on that feeling and nods. Not out of agreement, but acknowledgement. She’s always been terrible with people telling her what to do, but Rachel isn’t coming from a place of I know how to run your life better than you do. Annabeth can appreciate that.
She clears her throat, sliding back into her chair. “So what issues were you having with these plans, exactly?”
Rachel opens her mouth, before apparently deciding that the fact that Annabeth hasn’t walked out on her counts as a win. The talk turns to architecture as both women pretend like there isn’t a Percy-shaped elephant in the room.
He’s still in town for another four days. I have time to think about it.
Annabeth doesn’t think about it.
She thinks about thinking about it, but her brain does this thing where it starts off with ‘Maybe I should call P—’ and finishes up with ‘nope nope nope nope’. It’s not her fault. She has a summer internship with an architecture firm that barely leaves her with enough time to deal with things that don’t have the potential for a lot of emotional trauma. Besides, she doesn’t even know what Percy’s in town for, if he even has time to talk.
She didn’t ask. He’d rolled into town full of questions, and she hadn’t even bothered to find out why.
It’s three and a half days before that particular thought occurs to her. Considering how much Annabeth prides herself on thinking, that could have been embarrassing, but the rules have always been suspended when it comes to Percy Jackson. The drachma leaving her fingers for a rainbow hurriedly constructed with a glass prism and a stray bit of sunlight proves that much.
She’d expected to find him in some hotel room, clothes strewn around in the middle of packing, because he always has to make a bigger mess before he can tidy up properly. But there’s not suitcase in sight, or even a room, period. His stupid, startled face is blinking back at her from a roof somewhere, the wind ruffling his hair and the sky a bright blue behind him.
Three and a half years, and she still wants to kiss him. That jerk.
“Why are you here?”
She can physically see the question hit him, watch him completely fail to understand it. His eyes dart left, and he clears his throat. “I’m not? I mean – I’m not. At your apartment. That would be creepy. And weird. And unusual. Strange. Wei – no, I said that.”
Of all the responses she’d been expecting, that definitely hadn’t been one of them. Annabeth’s ADHD latches onto his current behaviour in favour of the overall issue that is his presence in her city right now. “Did you swallow a thesaurus?” she asks curiously.
And she’s smiling, which is also stupid, and something that she should stop immediately. Their last meeting had been awful, and the one before that, too. The conversation with Rachel had been awful. The past four(ish) years of their lives without each other have been awful. She’s been over this and over this in her head and out loud for the last week.
But here she is, smiling at him. She can’t help it. “Creepy, weird, unusual, strange. Weird. They’re all synonyms.”
And the fact that he decided he needed to list all of them means that there’s definitely something up. He’s nervous, and that makes Annabeth feel almost relieved. Things might be awkward and dumb when either one of them is nervous, but they’re very rarely awful. It’s only when things other than nerves start creeping in that they run into trouble.
“Huh, look at that, they totally are. Hey, do you mind if I call you back?” He’s scrambling to his feet, and Annabeth catches a flash of red in the background, the shape of the door, the shadow of a taller building as the angle of the image changes. “In like, ten – no, five minutes. Give me five minutes and then I’m all y – ears, I’m all ears.”
For the sake of her sanity, she pretends like neither one of them knows he was about to say yours. Instead, she focuses on what she can see behind his face and the half anxious, half hopeful expression he’s wearing. She knows that red, that door, but it’s the shadow that clinches it. The height, the angle, the time of day, there can only be one building that’s casting it right now.
Well, no, there are maybe a few others, but Percy’s sudden word-vomit puts one building in particular at the top of her list.
“Percy, are you on my roof?”
Sea-green eyes widen, and the look on his face shifts to something so perfectly innocent that she knows she has to be right. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Annabeth rolls her eyes. “You’re standing in the shadow of the building next door. Why are you on my roof?”
“I’m not on your roof!”
“Right, so if I came up there right now, you wouldn’t be there?”
“That’s right, I wouldn’t. Because I’m not on your roof. Go to your roof right this second, I can swear that I definitely won’t be there.”
“Fine.” Annabeth starts walking backwards, away from the IM and towards her door. “I’ll see you there.”
“No you won’t—!”
She meets him on the fire escape. Or rather, she stands underneath the fire escape with her hands on her hips, squinting up at him as he slides down the ladders. It takes him until the second floor to actually notice her there.
“Hi,” she says, giving him a wave. She’d laugh, if she wasn’t so confused about what on earth he’s doing there.
He curses, slipping the rest of the way to the landing. Annabeth doesn’t even flinch. It’s Percy, after all. He can fall – has fallen – further in his sleep without damage.
There’s a pause, before he makes his way down to the ground. His face is red, and he won’t quite meet her eyes. “Thought you said you were going to the roof.”
“And I thought you said you weren’t on the roof.” She nudges his foot with her toe. “Guess that makes us both liars.”
He stares at his foot, like he’s surprised that she actually touched him. And then he clears his throat, looking back up at her. “Well, technically I was – no, okay, I was totally on your roof. Don’t kill me.”
Her hands move from her hips to cross over her chest. “I’m not going to kill you. I want answers first.”
“First, she says,” he mutters under his breath, but she can hear the nervous thread running through his voice. It only makes her curiosity spike higher, so she kicks him in the shin.
“Ow, Annabeth!” But there’s something in the set of those shoulders that tells her he’s about to cave, so she doesn’t kick him again. Instead, she waits. “It’s just – I was visiting Mom a few weeks ago, and I was attacked. By monsters.”
Four years ago, she might have hit rolled her eyes and added a ‘duh’ for good measure. They were demigods, both of them strong in their own right. They were the ultimate in gourmet dining for most monsters.
But it turns out that when you walk out alive through the Doors of Death, you get something of a reputation. Monsters like being in Tartarus about as much as people do, so they’d taken to avoiding both Percy and Annabeth over the years.
Until now, apparently. It takes Annabeth a couple of seconds to react, because her stomach has dropped somewhere to the vicinity of her feet. She clears her throat. “Are you – you’re okay, aren’t you? It wasn’t anything serious?”
She wants to think that he would have told her, if it had been. But she remembers staring at a drachma for weeks, and can’t be sure.
Percy scrubs a hand over his head, messing up his hair even more than usual. “No, it was fine. Easy as ever, really. But if they’ve started thinking it’s okay to attack me again, they might’ve…thought the same thing about you. So I came here.”
Annabeth isn’t sure if she wants to be touched that he still thinks of her, or annoyed that he couldn’t just give her a head’s up and trust her to look after herself. “You couldn’t just IM?”
He makes a face. “No, because you would’ve just said ‘Thanks, Percy, I’ll keep an eye out’ and hung up on me.”
“Are you suggesting I can’t look after myself?”
“No, I’m suggesting I don’t want you to have to.”
She gives him an incredulous look, and he winces.
“Okay, that came out wrong. I don’t mean I want to look after you or anything, I just think that…you’re a long way from Camp, and facing monsters on your own is lonely. And two sets of eyes are better than one. Three with Mrs O’Leary.”
Percy is a little red, but there’s a stubborn set to his jaw that’s as familiar to Annabeth as her own face. And she can’t help but be touched. Despite the awful awkwardness of the past week, the months and years before it, he still wants to be here to help her. And not because he thinks that she needs it, but just because he knows she doesn’t, and wants to anyway.
Ease upon yourself. And him. Rachel’s voice swims lazily through her mind, probably just as the redhead had intended.
“You did think that by coming here, you might’ve drawn them to me, right?” It starts off a little shaky, but she’s teasing by the end of the question.
Percy shrugs. “What could kill us now?”
He’s right. She laughs, shaking her head. “I guess I can’t argue with that.”
He’s grinning as well, and for a moment it’s like all that space and time between them has abruptly shrunk to the two physical feet separating them now. It hasn’t, of course, but…
Maybe Rachel is right. Maybe the gap doesn’t have to be so wide.
Do you still see the end of the world when you look at me?
She doesn’t. And she’s tired of seeing the end of them as well.
“Do you want to get a coffee?”
Usually Percy’s the one blurting out questions, but this time it’s her. The urge to take back the words rises in her throat almost immediately, but she swallows them down, forces herself to meet his gaze head on.
He’d made the first overture, showing up on her doorstep the other day. And maybe that had been the problem. Her apartment is too much her space, and he doesn’t fill the emptiness left by them anymore. Maybe they need some neutral ground, a place to start anew. Somewhere with less ghosts to haunt them.
The thought is terrifying. She has to tuck her hands behind her back as she waits for a response, to hide the trembling. Percy looks like he’s been slapped with a fish.
He’s going to say no. I can feel it. I’m too late. We’re just too far g—
“Sure, absolutely. I’m free now. Now’s okay, right? I mean, if it’s not, I can wait. Not – okay, probably still on your roof, but I’ll be more subtle about it this time. Promise.”
Annabeth falls into the familiar and rolls her eyes. She leans forward and grabs his wrist, closing that distance between them. That old shock runs between them, and she can’t help the way her fingers tighten on his skin. Sea-green eyes are wide, startled – and then soft.
Annabeth orders their drinks.
It’s absolute instinct. She drags him around the corner to a nearby coffee shop and marches him right up to the counter, because she doesn’t know how to let go of his wrist without being awkward about it. And then the words trip off her lips without her even having to think about it. Plain black coffee for her, some kind of frothy chocolate monstrosity for him. She can’t even remember exactly what it is she said, that’s how automatic it is for her.
She clears her throat and finally manages to stop touching him on the pretext of rummaging through her bag for her wallet. “Was that right?” she asks unnecessarily, not looking at him. She already knows the answer.
The warmth of his voice washes over her like – like – Annabeth is too flustered to think of an appropriate simile right now. “Perfect. Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it.” She doesn’t mean to growl the words, but it sort of happens anyway. No, really. Don’t mention it. Please. No one needs to start looking into the symbolism behind coffee ordering. It was just muscle memory, that’s all.
Does saying words come under the category of using muscles? Annabeth can’t remember. She comes up victorious with her wallet, and can feel Percy opening his mouth before he even draws breath to speak.
“I didn’t even say anything yet!” he protests.
Annabeth tugs her card out and hands it over to the barista, who’s looking at them like they’re the most interesting thing she’s seen all morning. “You brought me coffee the other morning,” she points out. “You’re not paying. Go sit down.”
Grumbling, he heads for the squishy armchairs next to the window. Comfortable, and you can watch people. Entertaining and safety conscious.
She makes a pained sound, squeezing her eyes shut and forgetting that the barista is still watching. Analysing his every move is going to help approximately nothing, she has to remind herself.
“Can I get your names?”
The barista gives her a sympathetic look (although Annabeth can’t be sure why. She’s always been terrible at speaking Girl), and repeats the question.
“For the drinks. So I can call you up,” she adds, and now Annabeth feels stupid for reasons almost totally unrelated to Percy. Maybe that’s why she tells the barista what she does, pretending like she doesn’t notice the raised eyebrow
His knee is jiggling when she goes to join him. It could be the ADHD, but Annabeth’s more inclined to put it down to nerves. She can’t even say why she’s inclined that way – she just knows.
“It shouldn’t be more than a couple of minutes,” she says softly, crossing one leg over the other as she sits down. “They’re pretty good here.”
This is a terrible idea, she realises slowly as he nods in acknowledgement. What can they possibly talk about? Trying to close even some of the gaps between them only brings to their attention the giant, hulking mass of Issues that have stopped them from even being able to have a proper conversation in the last few months.
Maybe even the last few years.
He clears his throat. “So, I kind of…enrolled in school.” A beat. “Like, college.”
Of all the things she’d expected him to say, that definitely hadn’t been it. Percy Jackson, forever throwing himself headfirst into conversations like they’re some kind of battle. “Are you serious?”
She feels terrible for it, but all she can think is didn’t you drop out of highschool? They’d each found their own way of coping, after Tartarus. When Annabeth had thrown herself into school, Percy had done the opposite, giving his everything to Camp Halfblood. Camp is definitely better off for it – it’s practically Halfblood Village, these days. But Percy’s education, at least, had definitely suffered.
He rolls his eyes at her. “It’s okay, you can ask. Yeah, I dropped out. It took me a little bit longer than most people, but Camp hasn’t needed me so much in the last little bit, so – I got my GED. Sat the SAT. My scores weren’t great, but I applied to a couple of places and I’ll be going to one of the SUNY campuses near Camp in the fall.”
Of course he did.
It’s just such a Percy way to put it. He could have mentioned the dyslexia and the ADHD, how hard it had to have been, the hours he put in, the worry about whether or not he’d get in anyway with his record – all the same concerns that Annabeth had had prior to her college acceptance. But no. He’d wanted to go to school, so he’d done it.
“That’s fantastic.” There’s nothing but honesty in her voice. “Seriously, I’m impressed.”
Red stains his cheeks, and he looks away from her. For a moment she just thinks it’s embarrassment, but there’s a certain amount of bitterness in his tone when he finally speaks. “Because I managed to get into a state university years after everyone else our age managed it? Come on, Annabeth, it’s not that impressive.”
The switch in mood is so sudden, it might have taken her by surprise once upon a time. But their relationship isn’t a fairytale anymore, and for a moment the coffee shop disappears, replaces by memories of screaming, fighting, the many and varied ways they’d hurt each other because there was no respite, no other outlet for it.
The ache of her fingers curling into the arm rest snaps her out of it. She looks over at him, and there’s a sort of horrified understanding in his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he blurts, practically tripping over his own tongue as he hurries to get the words out. “I didn’t mean – that wasn’t directed at you. I promise. I’m sorry.”
Impulsively – she’s just as ADHD as him, after all – she reaches out and places her hand on his knee. “I know.” For a moment, the weight of what they did to each other hangs over the two of them, threatening to crush them under it.
And then her thumb twitches, sliding back and forth over skin and fabric. He’s wearing shorts. “Everyone else didn’t save the world half a dozen times before they could legally vote, Percy. Everyone else didn’t devote themselves to peacekeeping between two camps that have been enemies for centuries. Everyone else didn’t establish an entire town out of a summer camp. If you really, truly think that getting into college on top of all that isn’t impressive, I’m going to hit you. And it’s going to hurt.”
Before he even has a chance to respond to that, she lifts her hand from his knee and punches him in the thigh.
“Hey, ow! Come on, I didn’t even reply!”
Annabeth sniffs, leaning back. The atmosphere is lighter again; their past still hangs over them, but it’s no longer threatening to a smackdown. “You didn’t have to. I know you.”
He opens his mouth and then shuts it again. The smile she receives is small, but bright. Honest. “Better than anyone else.”
She feels her heart lurch in her chest, a combination of that stupid smile and his words. She’s saved from having to find words to say in return by the barista calling their names.
Well, sort of.
Percy laughs at the scowl that crosses her face at the barista getting her name wrong. The sound is cut short by an almost comical look of surprise a few seconds later.
“And, uh – Seaweed Brain?”
“You’re so mean,” he accuses, shoving himself out of his chair. She moves to go with him, but he waves her down. “You have to let me do something here, okay. You already paid.”
She rolls her eyes. “Right, because I’m so mean.”
“Cruel and unusual.”
Annabeth’s still smiling when he gets back with their drinks, setting hers carefully down in front of her before dropping a chocolate fish into his monstrosity.
"So." She eyes him over the rim of her coffee. "Marine biology?"
He laughs again, and she relishes the sound now it’s not directed at her. "How'd you guess?"
"I am a daughter of wisdom." She rolls her eyes. "Still going to save the whales, then?"
A look of surprise crosses his face. "You remembered."
It had just been one conversation, a few murmured words in the middle of the night on one of those rare occasions where there had been no space between them at all. A lull in between battling their own personal monsters, a stolen moment in which they'd been able to pretend there was a future out there for the two of them.
Annabeth Chase, architect. Percy Jackson, marine animal conservationist, saviour of whales and other sea creatures, mammal or otherwise. Because gods forbid he be easily defined.
"I remember everything," she says softly, before taking another sip of her drink like she's bragging about her memorisation skills.
The silence that follows tells her that he catches the significance anyway. "Um. Yeah, I want to do what I can to help. I mean, I could rely on dad to fake something up and get me on the right track, it's not like I'm not already way over-qualified, but – you know."
Annabeth does know. It's the same reason she's slogging her way through a degree when Zeus himself would probably write her a recommendation to any architecture firm in the world. Some things are just better without getting the gods involved.
Most things, actually. Neither of them begrudge any demigod for turning to their immortal relatives for help, but the gods have always brought more harm than good into their lives, specifically. Annabeth’s contact with her mother is minimal, and while she’s heard that Percy meets regularly with Poseidon, she’d be beyond surprised to find that he’d accepted any favours from the god of the ocean.
“I know,” she agrees belatedly, remembering that most conversations are generally two-sided. “Not that my opinion counts for a whole lot, but I think you’ve got the right idea.”
“Don’t be stupid.”
Her eyebrows wing their way up her forehead, hands tightening around her cup. It’s a rare person who dares to call Annabeth stupid to her face, but Percy has (obviously) never had a problem with it. “Excuse me?”
His whole body leans in towards her, and she can’t tell if she wants to shift closer, or pull away. “We broke up, Annabeth. And it – it was necessary, and it probably saved us, but you are never going to not be important me. Your opinion counts more than – your opinion counts.”
Percy Jackson’s eyes are far too green, she decides. Or maybe it’s just the way he’s looking at her, intense and unwavering. She sets her coffee cup down on the table with a harsh clank, but he doesn’t look away.
I miss you so much. The words dance on the tip of her tongue, ready to spill out into the open air. She feels like she’s choking on them. You’re important to me. You will always be important to me.
Annabeth clears her throat, tucking an errant curl behind her ear. “I thought you were leaving today.”
The intensity drops, chased away by a flash of hurt. She finds she can breathe again, but she doesn’t feel any better. His whole body tenses, and for a moment she thinks he’s going to go.
But he doesn’t. Instead, he lifts his mug and slurps at his hot chocolate – thing, like he’s stalling for time. “Actually, I mostly just said that to try and freak you into IMing me. I did a favour for Rachel involving her dad and some dolphins, she put me up in a hotel.” A smile flashes across his lips. “There’s a swimming pool.”
Today might be an example of why tourists get warned to pack warm clothes when visiting this part of California in summer, but it still has its share of days that make you wish you were dead, if only because the Underworld has air con. She’s not sure if she’s more irritated at him for tricking her like that, or because he’s staying somewhere with a pool. Not that the heat even bothers him most of the time.
—He’s smiling at me. Why is he smiling at me?
“You look like you’re about to kick me,” Percy announces, like he can read her mind or something.
“Why is that funny?”
A shrug. “I dunno if it’s funny. I’m just tired of getting in a conversation with you and then having something Deep and Meaningful come up that makes one or both of us want to find a hole to cry in. You know?” Another slurp of his hot chocolate. “Kicking’s definitely an improvement.”
Jackass. The worst part is that she can’t deny that he’s right. Or maybe it’s the best part, because it totally gives her free range to kick him in the shin, which she does with relish.
“You’re so annoying.”
He’s laughing. The sound warms something inside her that even the coffee can’t reach. “Some things never change, right?” He hurries on before that turns into Deep and Meaningful as well. “Anyway. I can be here till the end of summer, pretty much. But…okay, there are monsters, and I’m definitely worried about them, but I know Piper and Jason are near enough if things get bad. So if you really want me to go, I’ll go.”
It’s much simpler than it should be, really. The two of them sitting in a coffee shop, Percy just casually offering to walk right back out of her life again. For a second she’s almost hurt, mad, that he seems to be able to do it so easily, when everything up to this point has been so difficult. But then she notices the way he looks not at her, but at somewhere just past her left shoulder, the avoidance so subtle, it could almost be accidental.
It’s not. Maybe this is Deep and Meaningful after all. Maybe she wants it to be.
Bad idea. Bad, bad idea. You can protect yourself from monsters. You can’t protect yourself from him. You can’t protect him from you. The two of you are terrible for each other. To each other. This is only going to end in tears.
“I’ve never wanted you to go,” she says softly. “And I never wanted to leave, either. I just—”
“It ruined us,” he says simply. His mug makes a much quieter sound than hers, when he sets it down “I’m really tired of focussing on that part, though. I’m not saying we should pick up where we left off—”
“That would be a really bad idea,” she mutters, flushing slightly. She doesn’t like thinking about what she was like back then, even if what they became is scratched into her memory.
“Right. Awful.” He opens his mouth, shuts it. His shoulders sag, the ones that she recognised so easily even after so long. There’s something helpless about him, tired. And gods, she just wants to help him not feel that way. This is Percy Jackson, for crying out loud. He’s supposed to be the definition of positivity.
He’s supposed to be a lot of things to Annabeth.
“I miss being your friend,” she blurts. “If that’s what you were getting at. I miss it. But I don’t – Percy, I don’t know how to fix this. I’m not even sure what broke in the first place.” Us is too wide of an umbrella.
Percy picks up his spoon, swirls it around in his drink. The chocolate fish has melted at this point, clinging to the spoon all goopy and pink. “Me either,” he admits. “But I know I’m really tired of not trying. I’m not ready to give up on us yet. Not unless you want me to.”
For a brief second, she wishes he wasn’t so damn nice. That he’d take charge of the situation here, remove all other options and just insist that they try to make this better. But that’s not them. It’s not her. Their relationship has always been about equality, and he wouldn’t be the Percy she loved (loves) if he tried to take that away from her.
“Stay another week,” Annabeth says eventually. “Let’s just…see what happens.” She drains the last of her coffee. “And let me use that swimming pool.”
He grins. “You’re on.”
One week slips into two, and then a third. At first she checks off each day on a mental calendar, but she gets tired of that after about four (or was it three?). They don’t spend all their time together, obviously – she has her internship, if nothing else.
More than that, there are moments of almost unbearable silence, when too many thoughts and feelings overtake the conversation, and things go beyond Deep and Meaningful into Maudlin and Regretful and A Little Bit Terrifying.
The worst part is that first weekend, when she does decide to use his pool. Things have been going so relatively well that she doesn’t even think twice about reaching for the hem of her shirt when she gets there, her bikini on underneath.
She’s barely got the material up past her navel when she feels his gaze on her. Something tells her not to meet it, that she’s going to want to stab herself in the face or something if she does. But apparently she hates herself, because grey meets sea-green and the wind gets punched out of her.
Annabeth drops the shirt, and suggests they go for a walk instead. They’ve head-butted into a lot of the issues between them lately, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a huge gaping maw of things that have been absolutely ruined. The way he looks at her, all longing and desperation and absolute loss, makes her want to run for the hills. They haven’t come as far as either of them might have hoped.
They'd had sex, those years ago. Of course they had; they'd been teenagers, and had gone through literal hell together besides. If you can’t get naked with a person after that kind of experience, when can you get naked with them? That awful, desperate need to feel good again had overtaken them both.
It had been sweet at first. Awkward, hurt a little, timing way off, but it had been good. Like everything about them had once been good. And like everything, it had been ruined.
It's exhausting to think about. Annabeth resolves to avoid it completely, focusing on what they're trying to re-forge here instead of what they've already lost. She still dreams about the way he looks at her that afternoon at the hotel, though. The only difference is that in her dreams, it's not quite so agonized.
She’ll take the nightmares about Tartarus, thanks. At least those don’t make her want things she can’t have.
It’s not all uncomfortable silences and looks that make her ache, though. They start off small, chatting about Camp and their mutual friends, but there’s only so much they can say about things they both know. This whole tenuous grip on a new relationship they have going on here almost disappears entirely as they struggle to find something to talk about, but Annabeth is determined.
Percy stops by after dinner at some point during week two, and she’s pretty sure he’s building himself up to say goodbye. She doesn’t give him the chance, dragging him inside and shoving him onto the couch, almost desperately launching into a lecture about helpful college tips she’s picked up (go to class, Percy Jackson! I mean it!).
He starts to laugh at her halfway through, because of course he does, and she’s drawing herself up to yell at him when she realises what she’s about to do. And she doesn’t stop.
“Fine! If you don’t want my help, you can sink or swim on your own!” She’s feeling peevish, and she’s allowed to feel peevish, because Percy Jackson is annoying and he gets under her skin in the worst ways as well as the best. What could she possibly have missed about this?
He snorts, trying and failing to contain his amusement. “You sound like my sixth grade pre-algebra teacher.” There’s a pause. “She was a Fury, in case you forgot.”
She hasn’t forgotten, and the idea that he might think she has doesn’t pitch her into a fit of despair. She grabs a couch pillow and throws it at him. “Shut up! The last thing we need is a Kindly One swooping down on us because she’s remembered you didn’t do your homework.”
Percy catches the pillow easily out of midair, tucking it behind his neck and slouching down, making himself comfortable on the sofa. “Okay, okay. I’m listening, I promise. Teach me, O Wise One.”
It’s only after she kicks him out of her apartment at some dumb hour of the morning that she realises she let herself be actually, legitimately irritated at him, and it…had been okay. Not only had it failed to devolve into yelling and screaming and hurting each other, or a heavy, awkward silence, but she’d even forgotten to analyse the whole situation. It had diffused on its own, automatically.
Annabeth cries herself to sleep that night, great heaving sobs that rack her body and leave her feeling lighter with each tear that rolls down her face. If someone had popped out of nowhere to ask her why she was doing it, she would have told them she had no idea (before threatening to stab them for intruding). It’s a release, of sorts, and it’s enough. She wakes up smiling.
It’s during that third week after their meeting in the coffee shop that that weather soars into the upper 90s. Annabeth is lying face down on her bed with her face pressed to a textbook and two fans directed at her when the IM comes through.
“You look terrible,” Percy says in greeting.
She groans something at him in Greek that sounds suspiciously like ‘goat-licker’. He laughs, because that’s what Percy does when she insults him, and she presses her face a little further into the book to hide the way she smiles.
“You wanna come for a swim?” he asks blandly, and she stills. For a second she’s too afraid to lift her head, not knowing what she’s going to find.
He’s backed her into a corner, the jerk. No one sane would say no to a pool in this kind of weather. Is it some kind of test? Or is he really that oblivious? Does he have any i—
Crap. She’s doing it again, that analysing thing. Even Annabeth can see the futility in asking herself questions that only he has the answer to, so she abruptly shoves all those thoughts off to one side and defiantly lifts her head. Two can play at this game.
She rolls her eyes. “You just want to see me in a bikini.”
The words hit him with an almost physicality, eyes widening, lips opening slightly. She has the satisfaction of seeing him turn a little red before she’s swamped with a sudden terror, because why is she flirting with him?
Bad idea. Bad, bad idea.
“Yeah, uh, I also don’t want to see you dying of heatstroke,” he says after a beat, and she totally catches that also in there. She has no idea what to do with that also, though, so she decides to ignore it. “Come on, I’ll pick you up on the Mrs O’Leary Express. It’ll be fine.”
And it is fine. Mostly because Percy wanders off to get them drinks when they get there, and she can strip down and slide into the water without having to worry about if he’s going to watch her again. If she wants him to.
There are other people in the pool, obviously, almost enough to be uncomfortable. If not for the fact that any time someone seems like they might bump into her, the water gently diverts them away, unnoticeable to anyone who doesn’t know the signs.
Annabeth knows all the signs. She smiles up at Percy when he comes back into view, paddling back to the edge and accepting the lemonade he passes to her. “What a gentleman,” she teases softly, trying to ignore the fact that at some point, he got rid of his shirt. “Are you getting in?”
He keeps his gaze steadfastly on her face in that way that tells her he’s trying very, very hard not to look anywhere else. Annabeth likewise concentrates very, very hard on not doing anything that might compromise his mission, sipping on her lemonade.
“Uh, no, it’s okay. I was going to wait a bit.”
Waiting for her, she realises. Giving her space to enjoy the water without having to worry about him.
She sets her glass down on the poolside with a decisive clink. “Get in.”
“What? No, it’s fine, really. I’m fine.”
“I’m serious, it’s okay.”
“I’m serious.” And to prove just how serious she is, she grabs his wrist and tugs, taking shameless advantage of the way he’s perched precariously on the edge in order to drag him into the pool. Shrieks erupt around them and she starts to laugh at the absolutely gobsmacked look on his face. She still hasn’t let go of his hand. “You really need to pay more attention, Seaweed—”
But she cuts herself off before she can finish, because the screaming hasn’t stopped. Annabeth and Percy share a frown before she makes out the word bull, and there’s no way. Absolutely no way.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Percy mutters, reaching into the back pocket of his shorts.
Of course there’s a way. They’re demigods. The Minotaur’s roar sounds above the panicking mortals, and Annabeth doesn’t even have to ask before a hard disk of water is under her feet, pushing her out of the pool. She hits the ground running, rummaging through her pile of clothes to find her dagger. “Do you rub cow pheromones on you or something?” she demands loudly as Percy explodes out of the water, launching himself at the beast just as it busts straight through the safety fence.
“Thanks Annabeth, great tip!” he yells back, ducking under a wild swing from his monster nemesis. It’s wearing armour, because of course it’s wearing armour; Percy gets in a glancing blow that doesn’t do much damage, but manages to push the thing back. Annabeth’s bare feet slap against the tile as she races to join him, jamming her cap down on her head as she does so.
“Don’t die,” she adds on automatic, and if there were time, she’d be dragged into memories of Tartarus, of desperate kisses and back to back battles and the words don’t die don’t die don’t die whispered and muttered and screamed over and over.
But there is no time. Not when Percy is focussing his water abilities on shielding the mortals, spinning shields out of liquid and using the pool itself to corral those people still in it away from the fight. Just drowning the thing is apparently not an option right now, and Annabeth is almost glad.
“I won’t if you won’t.” He completes the promise, and Annabeth knows that she is, completely and irrevocably, in love with Percy Jackson.
It’s been years and she’s in a freaking bikini, but slipping into old patterns is still as easy as breathing. Percy can’t see her, but he doesn’t need to in order to know where she is. He distracts the Minotaur with his powerful, blatant attacks while she slips in under its guard, quick and deadly. It moves around too much too fast for her to get in a good stabbing motion, but her work shows in several long slices that drip blood, slow it down.
The rest of the fight passes in a blurry, adrenalin-fuelled mess, blends in with every other battle they’ve ever fought before. She becomes less aware of the Minotaur and more aware of Percy, the way he moves and fights beside her, opposite her, the two of them weaving around each other like they planned it all out in advance. No matter how powerful a foe the Minotaur is, the result of this battle is a foregone conclusion.
They’re not even sure who lands the killing blow, in the end. The monster goes the same way as every other monster they’ve ever faced, and Annabeth doesn’t even think about it when she pulls off her cap and drags Percy to her instead.
He doesn’t even have the decency to look surprised, but maybe that’s because he’d reached for her at the same time. And they’re absolutely in public, with the Mist mutating their actions into gods only know what, and she kicks that thought out of her head because the gods have no place in this moment right now.
Annabeth is not a poetic person. So while yes, a thunderous shock does jolt through her body as Percy’s arm goes around her waist and she tangles her fingers in his stupid hair, she doesn’t really have anything to compare it to. No flowery words or thoughts to describe the exquisite, intense feeling of satisfaction that rocks her to the core as her mouth crashes into Percy Jackson’s for the first time in far, far too long.
“You’re such an idiot,” she gasps, and she’s not sure if she’s talking to him or herself (probably him), and it doesn’t matter, because he’s kissing her back.
And there is, very suddenly and abruptly, no space between them at all.
hahahaha to anyone i told this was going to be the last chapter, it turns out i lied. WE'RE STILL GOING.
And then Annabeth panics.
Or tries to, at least. Because she’s kissing Percy, she’s kissing Percy, she is kissing Percy. She’d done it without even thinking, and that is just absolute antithesis to what she’s supposed to be. Thinking is – well. It’s kind of her thing.
But he’s always had this effect on her. Percy makes her stupid. Percy makes her feel, reminds her that she’s human, not just a daughter of Athena.
She breaks away from him with a gasp. “We shouldn’t—”
“Yes, we should,” he interrupts her, and his heart is in his voice, hoarse and a little desperate. His big, dumb hands are cupping her face like she’s something precious that he’s afraid of – not breaking, but losing. “Don’t say we shouldn’t have done that, Annabeth.”
She can’t decide if she wants to kiss him some more, or just hit him. “We shouldn’t be here,” she finishes, gesturing at the crowds of people escaping the pool now that Percy has released his control of the water. The Mist appears to be doing them a favour for once, but Annabeth’s not optimistic enough to think that’s going to last.
“So you don’t think we shouldn’t have—?”
“Percy, I am not having this conversation with you in a bikini in front of half a hundred panicking mortals.”
His eyes flicker briefly down in a way that tells her he’d tried really hard not to do it, and that the only word he’d really caught in that sentence was bikini. And gods, she’s practically in her underwear right now and he’s definitely not wearing a shirt and she’d kissed him.
And she wants to do it again so badly, she’s surprised she hasn’t just tackled him at this point.
“—Right.” He reaches down and tangles their fingers together, his thumb sliding gently over the back of her hand. It’s a slight gesture, but even that is enough to send a tingle of warmth through her.
She should let go. Tell him she needs some time to think about this, about what this step means, about where she wants to go from here. But the adrenaline from fighting the Minotaur is still pumping through her and the connection between them has been thrown into sharp relief by just how seamlessly they work together. So when he gives her a tentative, questioning look, her only reaction is to nudge him into a walk. She’ll stay with him for now.
“Hey! Hey, you two! What did you do?”
“Great,” Percy mutters, at the same time as Annabeth curses under her breath in Greek. They don’t even have to look at each other this time, the two of them breaking into a run. Surprised shrieks behind them indicate that Percy’s done something with the pool water to throw them off; the voice hadn’t actually sounded angry (for once), but neither of them are in the mood to stand around answering questions.
They crash through the lobby, which is in a furore anyway because of the chaos outside; it’s not hard to slip into the stairwell, run up to Percy’s floor instead of taking the lift (just in case anyone’s watching to see where it stops). Annabeth isn’t sure who starts laughing first, the two of them stumbling breathless and giggling over the threshold of his suite, barely holding each other up.
She’s still grinning when the door clicks shut, locking out the rest of the world. The smile starts to fade, though, as her eyes drift to their fingers knotted together. Her gaze only rests there for a moment or two, travelling higher, roaming over his bare chest. She picks out every scar automatically, the memories of how he received each one still as clear in her mind as the day they happened.
Those memories don’t press down on her anymore, though. They don’t rise unprompted out of the depths of her mind and try to consume her. Annabeth lifts her gaze higher, lingering at the shape of his mouth not because she’s getting lost in the thoughts of those lips on hers (or at least, not only), but because she’s scared of going higher again. Scared of what she’ll see in those sea-green eyes, scared of what she’ll do when she sees it.
“Hey.” His fingers tighten around hers. He doesn’t lift her face, or lower his, doesn’t force her to look where his voice says he wants her to. “It’s okay, Annabeth. Whatever happens, we’ll be okay.”
We’ve already gone through the worst of it, he could have said. Or, I won’t let you go again. But he doesn’t say either of those things, and Annabeth finds she doesn’t need him to.
She believes him.
Grey eyes lift, locking with green. She’d half expected the world to freeze around them or something dramatic like that. She really should have known herself better.
Percy’s back hits the door as Annabeth all but throws herself at him. His free arm wraps immediately around her waist instead of trying to steady them. That’s fine; she doesn’t really care where they end up at this point, her mouth closing over his in a kiss that’s maybe half teeth, hot and harsh and desperate. She drops her dagger. Her hand curls behind his neck, fingers threading through the strands of hair at the back of his head, nails dragging against his skin.
Somehow, they manage to avoid ending up on the floor. His hand at her back is like a brand, pure heat radiating from it through her body. It’d be easier to list the places they aren’t touching at this point, except Annabeth doesn’t exactly have the presence of mind to be listing anything right now, lost in Percy.
He hasn’t shaved; she can feel the stubble rasping against her skin, something that’s always annoyed her in the past. She’ll make him deal with it later; when the alternative is letting him go, she thinks that she can deal with the irritation. His breath brushes across her lips in pants as they break away, only to crash back together again.
Not close enough, she thinks dizzily, finally untangling their hands. She needs more of him, needs to somehow in this moment (however long it lasts) make up for three and a half years of not have him, of not having this. Her free hand starts at his hip, moves up over every inch of skin she can reach that isn’t covered by her body or the door. Percy does his best to keep his both at the small of her back, but she tugs at his bottom lip with her teeth, demanding more. A low groan rumbles in the back of his throat and his fingers are sliding lower, down over the curve of her ass, settling at her thigh. Little sparks of pleasure fly through her at every touch, making her whimper into the kiss.
Something about the sound gets to him; his fingers tighten at her thigh, and then he’s tugging her leg up to hook around his waist. Some part of her is going too fast, too fast, but she ignores it almost eagerly. Both arms loop around behind his neck and then she’s tugging herself up so she’s wrapped around him. He could probably hold her up with one arm, honestly, but he move to take hold of her with the other, anyway (Annabeth has a sneaking suspicion he just wants to get his hands on her legs).
The main point is, he’s got her. So she lets go of his neck and cups his face again, kissing him over and over. “I missed you,” she whispers in his mouth, locking her legs tight around his waist. “I started missing you before I even left, and I haven’t stopped for a second since.”
He breaks away, and for a second she catches the agony in his eyes, the look that says more than he’d ever be able to manage with words. And then his lips are on her neck, the side of her throat, and she moans as he drags his teeth over the skin, enough to make her fingers slide back into his hand and clench tight.
“Where—” Her lips keep working, but the words are a little bit behind, take a second to catch up. “Where is your bedroom?”
And he stops. There’s a breathless second where his face just stays tucked into her shoulder, and she actually thinks she might just cry if she’s made things weird, if she’s ruined it. But then he’s lifting his head, and it’s that stupid, sheepish look on his face, one of those expressions that gives her so much trouble when it comes to deciding if hitting or kissing is necessary.
“I don’t have any condoms,” he admits, his thumb sliding back and forth over the skin of her thigh in a way that makes her want to kind of grind against him a little. She refrains, though. At least, for now.
It’d be so easy to make some dumb comment about way to assume, Jackson, but that would be stupid. Because he’s not assuming, he knows her, just as well as she knows him. And they both know exactly where this is going right now.
“It’s fine,” she pants, cupping his face again and giving him a long, slow kiss to exemplify just how fine it is. “I mean, I’m going to go ahead and assume you don’t have any diseases I need to worry about?”
She’s not naïve enough to assume that he hasn’t had sex with anyone else – she has, after all, it’s why she’s got an IUD now. Annabeth likes back-ups for her back-ups. But right now, she’s mostly just teasing, because the chances of Percy having put himself in that particular position are pretty much zero.
The red colour his face turns is totally worth it. “What? No! Annabeth!”
She grins down at him, recognising the giddy feeling bubbling in her gut as happiness. “Just checking,” she remarks innocently, stealing another quick kiss. “Are you going to show me to this bedroom, or not?”
He mutters something in Greek about her ancestry; she snorts, and then just laughs at him, correcting his tense. The way he looks at her is caught halfway between annoyance and adoration, and in this moment, Annabeth thinks that everything is going to be okay.
When Annabeth wakes up the next morning, she's a little embarrassed that it is, actually, the next morning. It had only been early in the afternoon when she and Percy had (eventually) made it to his bedroom, after all. They hadn't exactly spent most of the ensuing time sleeping.
You can’t make up for three and a half years in one night, but they'd definitely given it a shot. Annabeth yawns, her back popping deliciously as she stretches, blinking a little blearily at the soft light filtering in between the curtains. She has maybe seven seconds of blissful, post-sex happiness when her hand hits something soft, and what just happened hits her like a tonne of bricks.
"Oh, gods," she mutters, and then claps that hand over her mouth, because the last people she wants looking in on this moment is her immortal family. Percy, of course, is still sound asleep (even though she’d just sort of hit him in the shoulder), and she's distracted from freaking out for a moment by how at peace he looks, splayed out across the massive hotel bed.
"Not okay, not okay." Yeah, it was great. Just don't think too hard about where he learned to do most of that. The freak out distraction is continued by the thought of what, exactly, that had entailed. She bites her lower lip, and hisses; apparently it's bruised. It's not the only part of her, either. But they're good bruises, the kind that sort of turn you on again when you see them, remembering how you got them.
Having them isn't the problem. The problem is that she remembers that distinction, the difference between good and bad bruises. And it’s not like she wants to go back to that place, where the sex had become an excuse to hurt each other. She wants to move forward.
But she doesn’t know how to do that. They've spent the past month talking around it, talking about how bad they feel, but not about how to move on from that. There's no plan here, and for once Annabeth doesn't think that's her perfectionist nature kicking in.
They can't spend so much time barely able to speak to each other and then expect three weeks of bonding and a night of really great sex to lead into a healthy relationship. And she wants that. She's in a position, finally, where she's ready to...something that isn't ignoring him and the connection between them. Annabeth needs to think about this. And judging by the way her eyes restlessly return to Percy's naked form, the sheet barely draped over his hips, she's not going to be able to do that here.
...Seriously, though. What had happened to him? The last time she'd seen Percy Jackson naked, he'd still been in the middle of a sort of awkward growth spurt. Apparently that is no longer a thing, and Annabeth definitely approves. She tilts her head a little. Yup.
A quiet groan escapes from between her lips. “You deserve what you get,” she informs herself, reaching for her clothes. Except, she doesn’t have any clothes, because of course she doesn’t. They’d run straight up here from the pool the day before. If she’s lucky, they’ll still be down by the pool.
She’s not hopeful.
Behind her, Percy snuffles in his sleep. A faint smile touches Annabeth’s lips, and she can’t help herself. She leans over, brushing a kiss across his forehead. The shape of his lips echoes hers; a surge of panic runs through her. She’s not ready for him to be awake yet. She’s not ready to face whatever this is.
Pushing carefully off the bed, she starts the hunt for her bikini. It’s easier said than done, and she’s kind of embarrassed in the same way she was about the whole waking up thing when she finds the bottoms hooked over the headboard. The top is behind the couch in the lounge, for some reason. She slides into them, glad that shower sex had been on the agenda at some point during their evening of debauchery. But there’s no way she’s walking through the hotel in just the bikini she came into it in (even with her hat), so she snags a shirt of his off the floor, grateful (for once) for his terrible housekeeping habits.
She pops her head back in the bedroom to double check that he’s still there. He is, and thus reassured, Annabeth heads for the door. She picks her dagger up along the way, and is on the verge of reaching the door handle when a pair of arms slide around her.
“Seriously? You’re not even going to say goodbye?”
“Di immortales!” She practically jumps out of her skin, and the only thing that saves him from getting an elbow to the gut is that he’s too close for her to have any leverage. “Percy, what are you doing!?”
“Huh.” His lips press against her neck, just sort of nuzzling. Annabeth can’t help the way she melts back into him. He feels safe, again. For the first time since before Tartarus. “That’s weird. I was gonna ask you the same thing.”
She turns around in the circle of his arms, and wow, yes, definitely still naked. Good morning to you too, Percy Jackson. “I was going to get my clothes,” she says, a little defensively. Her hands flutter in the air, unsure of quite where to put them. She settles on his shoulders, holding awkwardly onto her dagger.
That sure is a bite mark or three. Annabeth feels her cheeks heat up.
“Clothes?” There’s a touch of a smirk to his grin, and his hands slide up her back, down again. “Did you need those?” He leans in to brush a kiss across her lips, soft. “You look great in my shirt, by the way.”
He’s always liked her in his clothes. Or, well. Shirts, specifically. The pants had never really been a thing. And she likes wearing them, likes having the smell of him around her. Then and now.
“If you say I’d look better out of it, I’m going to kick you somewhere very painful,” she murmurs, leaning up to steal a kiss herself. She’s terrible. But he’s naked. No one can blame her.
“Can’t stop me from thinking about it,” he counters, pressing his lips to the top of her head. Annabeth lets her eyes slip shut and just listens to the sound of his breathing. Waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“How long were you awake?”
“From when you started talking to yourself.” She feels his lips quirk up slightly. “Sounded like you were having a personal problem.”
For a second or two, he does. But she can feel him holding his body tense, like it’s having a physical effect on him to hold back whatever he wants to say. Annabeth waits patiently for him to give in.
“You were going to come back, right?”
“What?” She jerks her head back, and it’s lucky he’d been sort of expecting it enough to move his away as well, or else they’d both be in a lot more pain. “Of course I was going to come back. Percy!”
“I was just worried,” he mumbles, not quite meeting her eyes. There’s a pause, and a sigh. “Okay, scared. I’m scared you won’t come back. I’m scared this is it. I mean, as saying goodbye goes, that’s definitely right up there. Like, top three material. But I don’t want this time be goodbye.”
Some part of Annabeth wonders what, exactly, the other two options in the top three would be. But the rest of her is focussed (mostly, he’s still naked) on rest of what he’s saying.
“I don’t want that, either,” she replies softly, tapping at his chin so he’s looking back at her. “But I – okay, Percy, you really need to put some clothes on. And I need to find mine, and then we can both be fully dressed and come back and sit down to talk about this. Because we really need to talk.”
He knows that. She can see it in the way he looks down at her, acceptance hiding behind the worried light in his eyes. “You’re definitely coming back?”
She reaches up and pushes some of his hair back off his face, trying absently to make it settle. It does nothing, of course. “I’m definitely coming back.”
Honestly, the walk doesn’t really help Annabeth figure out where to go from this point. But it does help settle her down, the time away from Percy helping her clear her head.
Sex had been a stupid thing to do. There’s no two ways about that; the kiss should have been enough to get feelings out in the open, and then they could have talked about things, sorted them out, worked themselves up to that point slowly.
But their relationship has always been the definition of stupid, in some way or another. You only had to look at their first kiss – and the length of time before the next one – to know that. Ultimately, she can’t regret the night before. They just have to make sure that they figure things out before they do it again.
Miracle of miracles, her clothes are actually right where she left them. She peers around suspiciously, looking for signs of divine intervention. But if any gods have had a hand in this, they are (wisely) making themselves scarce. Ignoring the Danger, Do Not Enter tape, she grabs her shorts and slides into them. There’s a moment of hesitation with the shirt, before she sighs and swaps Percy’s over for her own. Better not to tempt fate. Or their ability to keep their hands off each other.
The walk back takes quicker than her wander down; she might not have a plan, but she’s managed to stop lingering over the details from the night before, and having her own clothes on gives her some distance. Clarity.
She can do this. They can do this. They have to, actually, because the main problem with jumping into the deep end head first is that she’s attached all over again. It’s not healthy, but Annabeth honestly doesn’t know how she could get past a second separation.
The door to his suite is unlocked. She pushes it quietly open, and there he is, sitting on the couch and toying with the beads on his Camp necklace. His head jerks over to her immediately, and before she can even say ‘hello’, he’s talking.
“I love you,” he blurts, and her heart shudders to a stop. “Annabeth, I love you, and I’m pretty sure that last night – okay, last night was amazing, let’s be real here. But waiting – waiting probably would have been a better idea.”
She’s still kind of stuck on that I love you part. Percy appears to take this as free rein to continue.
“But we didn’t, and all I can really say is that I don’t want to lose you again. I mean it, okay, I will do anything in the world to stop that from happening. Because living without you was the worst experience in my entire life. Even if we needed it, even if it was the only way for us to deal with things. And I’ve literally been to hell, so I know what I’m talking about.”
Annabeth stares at him. They’re in some meaningless hotel room, her in yesterday’s clothes, and him in whatever he picked up off the floor. His leg is jogging up and down nervously, eyebrows furrowed together; there’s no hiding his fear, not even behind that pleading look his face has picked up. She doesn’t like either of those expressions on him.
“You idiot,” she sighs finally, setting her dagger down on a nearby side table as she walks towards him. His shirt hits the ground. She can’t help the smile tugging at the corner of her lips, even with the residual twinge that comes with him talking about hell.
The insult makes him relax, smile tentatively back at her. Her bottom lip trembles slightly, because he clearly hadn’t even expected her to say it back, to verbally return her feelings at all. He’s okay with her just being there.
The temptation to just sort of drape herself over him and whisper it in his ear over and over is overwhelming, but Annabeth clings to the idea that it’s best for them if they keep their hands off each other for now. She sits next to him on the couch, excruciatingly aware of every inch of space between them, and how she doesn’t want any of it to be there.
“I love you,” she says simply. “And that’s…terrifying. Because I don’t know if we can do this, I don’t know if we can be okay again.” She has to pause here, steady herself. Even if he started it, it’s still hard to get the words out. Hard to strip herself bare like this. He’s the only one who gets to see her this kind of naked. “But I can’t not try anymore. I want to be with you, Percy.”
“I really want to kiss you right now,” he says finally.
Her lips part, but it’s laughter that comes out rather than words. “That’s probably a bad idea.”
He groans. “I know, I know. But you love me.” His entire face lights up as he says it. “That’s the kind of thing that people should kiss over.”
“It is, yes.” Her gaze drops to his lips, before she hurriedly drags them up again. “Stop it, you’re going to talk me into it. And then we won’t get anywhere.”
It’s hard to remember why that’s a bad thing, but Annabeth is determined. The warm, happy glow spreading through her from her chest isn’t caused by the thought of making out, or memories of his hands on her skin (mostly). It’s the conversation. The way he looks at her.
And there’s a deep seated, years-old fear clawing up the back of her throat, but Annabeth is tired of being afraid. She’s tired of looking at the man she loves and being afraid, tired of hurting all the time. Tired of spending hours and days and weeks and months trying to convince herself she’s happy, when her happiness has been tied up in Percy Jackson since she was twelve years old.
Percy sighs, nodding. “I know.” His fingers twitch, before he seems to come to a decision. It’s a swift movement, reaching for her hand and twining their fingers together. “Is this okay?”
She’s going to explode from emotions. It’s going to happen. “This is fine.”
They’re going to be fine.
And finally, Annabeth believes it.
“How long do I have to do this for, again?”
Annabeth just raises an eyebrow at Hermes. Considering everything she and Percy have done, she’s pretty sure they’ve earned free favours until the end of time. Not that that knowledge seems to faze the god at all; he just grins at her, absently toying with the antenna of his phone. Neither George nor Martha seem to be enjoying his preoccupation, but Hermes is apparently in a selective hearing mood today. The complaints fall on deaf ears.
“You look like your mother when you do that,” he informs her.
She shifts from side to side irritably, hitching up one of the bags under her arms. It’s basically winter, but even in her part of California that doesn’t usually call for the level of layers she has going on right now. She’s hot and itchy and more than anything else, impatient. “I bet you’re a lot more likely to listen to her when she gives you that expression,” she grumbles. Due respect for the gods sort of fades a bit when you’re constantly pulling their butts out of the fire.
Besides. Hermes is…Hermes. Easier to talk to.
“That’s because your mother is terrifying.” There’s a twinkle in the god’s eye that Annabeth doesn’t like one bit. “But come on, climb aboard. Considering how long it’s been, you must be pretty desperate to get to New York.”
He waggles his eyebrows at her, and Annabeth counts to ten and wonders what happens if you kick a god in the shins. Probably nothing good, even if he’s totally asking for it with that kind of innuendo.
“Can we please just leave?” she asks evenly, trying to keep just how eager she is to go buried deep enough that it won’t show in her tone. The teasing from their friends is bad enough; the last thing she needs is for their immortal family to get in on it.
It doesn’t really work. She’s jittery, more blatantly ADHD now than she’s been in years. But Hermes, surprisingly enough, doesn’t tease. Something in his eyes softens, and he quits playing with his antenna (much to the vocal relief of George).
And then he’s taking her hand, and the world blurs around them in a blast of wind. Technically speaking, she shouldn’t be able to survive the speed they’re travelling at right now, but there’s nothing technical about the gods. California to New York is a breeze – literally.
They just barely avoid the water of Long Island Sound when they touch down. Annabeth has to drop her bags to catch her breath for a moment, shaking what seems to be snow out of her curls (that are more like knots right now, anyway). It’s definitely winter outside the Camp boundaries.
Inside them, it’s another story. There’s still a cold snap to the air that makes her glad she had the foresight to bundle up, but the sky over head is a clear, bright blue.
“Welcome home, Annabeth Chase.” Hermes’ voice is unusually solemn, and when she half-turns back to face him, those eyes (the same colour as the sky right now) remind her of someone else.
Home. It’s been more than a year since she was here last, but even after her self-imposed exile, the word does still apply. A grateful smile flits across her lips. “Thanks.” A beat. “And for bringing me here, too. You didn’t have to, Lord Hermes.”
Because as much as she thinks the gods owe her, them, they are still gods. In the end, they only ever do what suits them.
He laughs. She can’t tell if it’s with her, or at her. “Are you kidding? If there’s any demigod I don’t want to owe a favour, it’s you.” He tips his phone at her in farewell. “Merry Christmas, kid. Put in a good word for me with your boyfriend, would you?”
Once, the most important part of that sentence would have been the fact that one of the Twelve wanted a demigod to think well of them. Right now, it’s boyfriend. Something in her expression must change (maybe it’s the stupid grin that splits her face), because Hermes is rolling his eyes, gone before she can even think to say goodbye.
She’s fine with that, to be honest. Reaching into her back pocket, she tugs out her cap and jams it onto her head. Her bags get left in the sand for now, as she takes off across the beach. She doesn’t want anything weighing her down at the moment.
Annabeth notices the shoulders first, of course. She’s not sure who gave him that winter coat, but if she ever finds out she’s going to hand write them a note of thanks.
He’s standing in the sea, the shallows pulsing around him in swirls and eddies like something alive, like it can’t get enough of him.
Annabeth can relate.
She could wait for him to come out, surprise him out of nowhere like she’d originally planned. But no, she literally can’t wait. The sand spraying up around her invisible feet turns to ice-cold water, and there’s a single heartbeat where the only thing that happens is those shoulders stiffening in shock.
And then he’s turning, and she knows he can’t see her, but the ocean means he can feel her. He catches her right out of it, swinging her around. Her hat flies off and lands in the water somewhere, and she doesn’t care because she knows Percy will catch that too. Knows that he has all of her. Knows that he won’t ever let go.
“You’re here,” he whispers, laughs. The water drains away from her, leaving her feeling like she’s wearing clothes straight from the dryer. Annabeth kisses him so that she can feel that smile of his, drink it in. “I thought you couldn’t make it until tomorrow?”
“I lied,” she admits happily, wrapping her legs around his waist, curling her fingers behind his neck. His hair’s a little longer than the last time she saw him, back in the fall break. She’ll decide later if she likes it, or if she’s going to make him get a haircut. “You’re not the only one who can turn up out of the blue.”
Not that he’d been able to do it often; school keeps them both busy. Still, she’d never appreciated his ability to travel at speed through water more than during what had probably been the longest semester of her life.
“Yeah, but when I turn up out of the blue, things are pretty much always tidy,” he protests. “The cabin looks like a bomb hit it.”
She rolls her eyes. “Percy Jackson, I have known you for nearly a decade,” she announces, trying to ignore the nervous flutter in her stomach when she thinks about the cabin, and the plans she has tucked safely in her luggage down the beach. “The cabin always looks like a bomb hit it.”
“It—!” But he sighs in defeat before even trying to make an argument. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Especially when Tyson’s not around.”
He says it oh-so-casually, like advertising the fact that he’s alone in his cabin is accidental, or something. But she can feel the faint tremble in his hands, the uneven hitch to his breathing. After everything they’ve been through together, he’s still nervous about asking her to sleep with him.
Annabeth chooses to see that as a good thing. She likes to keep him on his toes. “Is that so?”
“You’re in there all by yourself, huh?”
“…Hopefully not for much longer?” The hint of uncertainty to his voice belies the stupid way he waggles his eyebrows at her.
She snorts. “If you keep doing that with your face, you’ll be out on the porch instead.” She doesn’t mean it. Everything from the way she looks at him to the way she holds herself to him makes that clear. “Where else would I stay?”
She has her own bunk in Athena cabin, obviously. But she’s starting to think that she’s outgrown that. And even though he’s mostly there alone, she’s pretty sure Percy’s outgrowing Poseidon’s cabin, too. That’s what those plans are about. The possibility of moving on from their old lives, together. But she'll bring that up later. Right now, she just wants to enjoy her homecoming.
“Well, Mom and Paul are always going on about how their fancy new Halfblood Town house has so much room, and it’s so empty, and why don’t certain people come and stay more oft – hey, ow.” He screws his face up at her when she hits him in the shoulders. “You’re so violent. I don’t know how I put up with you, some days.”
“You find ways,” she comments dryly, smirking slightly when she feels the way his fingers lose that tremble, tightening against her. She can only imagine what some of the ways he’s thinking of are, right now. The water swells around them, lapping at her feet, and she shivers at the chill. Which is banished soon enough anyway, with the way his forehead presses to hers, lips brushing gently over the corner of her mouth.
“Guess I do.”
And the cold might have abated, but the water hasn’t. It pushes higher, enveloping the both of them without touching either one, dragging them out into the depths. The bubble of air spins wider around them; it might be a minute later or a millennium, but Annabeth’s legs slowly unwind from his waist, placing her feet on the surface he’s created from the impossible. But her arms stay locked around his neck, like her eyes stay locked on his.
“My bags are still on the beach,” she says after a moment.
His lips twitch up slightly. “Way to ruin the moment, Wise Girl.”
Annabeth laughs. “I’m just giving you the opportunity to create a better one next time, Seaweed Brain.”
"Sounds like a challenge to me."
wow, i can't believe this is finally done haha. this is the epilogue, which is why it's so much shorter than the other chapters. beefing it up would having ruined that whole ~closing moments~ sort of feel, i think.
anyway, i just want to say thank you to everyone who kudos'd and commented, and who may do so in the future! getting those alerts at the end of my day always sends me to bed with a smile, i really and truly appreciate it.
also to the people who have recc'd this fic and been talking about it on tumblr, thank you too c: i have been stalking you like a creeper, oops, if you end up getting followed by someone called feibean, that is me.
now this is finally done, i can get to some of the other fic ideas i have as well, haha. i hope you've all enjoyed reading this as much as i've enjoyed writing and sharing it.