Summary: He isn't sure how to help, but he needs to. He has this innate protectiveness over Annabeth, and he often wonders what exactly he needs to protect her from. The world, maybe, and sometimes even himself. Annabeth's too good and too fragile for anyone to contaminate her. OR - Annabeth's sad, and Percy says 'nevermind' a lot.
Warnings: This story contains overall themes of depression. It also contains divorce. If either of these could potentially trigger you, I ask that you consider your health and safety before reading.
Disclaimer: I don't own the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, the Heroes of Olympus series, or characters I adopt from those books. Merely the characterization and plot are mine.
A/N: Please be kind to this one. I know I've been writing happier things lately, but I'm asking you to understand that this has been under my skin for a while, and I was never brave enough to get it down on paper. I hope it's nothing less than what you would expect of me.
When Annabeth is ten, her parents won't stop fighting.
"They've been yelling so much," Annabeth whispers into the darkness. Her voice is barely above a whisper, but Percy's been around her ever since he can remember. He likes to think that he's memorized every small inflection in her voice; every tone, every emotion, every word. He knows how everything sounds coming from her; could manifest any sentence or phrase with ease.
"I know," Percy says back. He's curled up on his own floor, having offered his bed to Annabeth after she knocked on his door with tears in her eyes. Percy thinks she's much too sad for ten years old. He was never this sad at ten.
"I don't want them to." He hears Annabeth shift, and he imagines that she's turning towards him. He faces her, too, even though he can't see a thing.
Sometimes, being Annabeth's friend feels exactly like this. He's perpetually in the dark while Annabeth hurts, and he doesn't know how to help. He's seen her cry twice, that he can remember, but Annabeth isn't the kind of person to cry when she's upset. She usually gets very quiet. Very still, very quiet, and very detached. It scares him when he sees her that way.
"It'll be okay," he tells her firmly, but even he doesn't know if it will be. "You'll be okay."
He's not sure if he's even saying the right thing, but it's what his mother says to him when he's upset. Percy suddenly wishes he was much, much older so he could buy a house for Annabeth and himself. He wants to protect her from everything sad and expose her to everything happy. (He had told his mom as much once, and she had patted his cheek and called him the sweetest eleven year-old alive.)
"Annabeth?" he asks, wincing when he hears a wet sniffle in reply. "Hey, Annabeth..." Percy sits up now; tries to gather his thoughts and find the perfect thing to say.
He thinks he wants to say, I love you and you'll always be my best friend no matter what happens. He thinks he wants to offer up his chocolate bar that he's hidden. He thinks he wants to tell her than it's not her fault; she's doing nothing wrong; she's perfect. He thinks he should find something funny and dorky to say, just to make her lips twitch the slightest bit.
"Yeah, Percy?" Her voice is thick with tears.
He pauses. "Nevermind."
When Annabeth turns fourteen, her mother leaves.
She knocks on Percy's door during dinner, and he answers even when his mother castigates him.
Her expression is carefully blank when he swings the door open, so he hugs her harder than he ever has before. He stumbles backwards, still holding her close, and Annabeth reaches up to grasp his shirt in her hands desperately.
"She's gone," Annabeth says. "For real this time."
Percy winces and pulls her even closer. He knows Annabeth doesn't want pity, so he simply says, "Okay."
Annabeth's mother had left on various occasions. Most of the time it was after an exceptionally bad fight, but once, the woman had gone on a business trip and simply hadn't come home for weeks. Annabeth's father had continuously fed his daughter lies about how her mother had to stay for 'just one more conference,' but Annabeth knew the truth.
"I'm scared I'll never see her again." Annabeth's mumbling into Percy's shoulder in a way that nobody besides him would be able to understand. "Dad didn't even look upset."
Percy isn't sure why he does it, but he lets his hand slip under her t-shirt on her hips. Annabeth breathes out heavily, and Percy thinks that he's never ached for someone else so much in his life. He feels like he would rather take on every hardship the world has to offer than to see Annabeth sad. "You're okay," he tells her, like he always does. He clenches at her side firmly, as if to say, you're here, you're alive, you'll be fine. He wonders if Annabeth hears the words his hands are pressing into her skin.
"I don't want to go back home now." Percy nods, and he knows his mom will say yes before he even asks her.
His mother is the best person in the world, besides Annabeth of course. She offers Annabeth food even though his best friend can't muster up the smallest of appetites, so his mom makes them both hot chocolate. Annabeth drinks it so slowly that there's still half a cup left, and it's too cold to enjoy.
Percy makes it a point to keep in contact with her throughout the night. He brushes his elbow against hers and wraps his fingers around her wrist to feel her pulse. It never rockets or slows down; it's slow and steady like waves crashing on the shore. It's like Annabeth's even fooled her own blood into believing she's perfectly fine.
It's barely an hour before Annabeth looks at Percy with what he knows is tired eyes. Annabeth's eyes usually look tired these days. Tired and sad, he thinks, and it looks so out of place on someone so young. He thinks those emotions should be saved for the old and the weary.
Percy's mother pointedly hands him an extra blanket before they walk up the stairs, and he wants to roll his eyes. He's fifteen now, and he knows the drill as far as girls in his house go. (Not that there's ever been more than one girl; it's always been Annabeth. He can't imagine it being anyone else.)
Annabeth sits on his bed carefully and pulls her knees close to her chest, like she's trying to make herself smaller. Percy hates that, because people like Annabeth—people who outshine everyone else when they want to; people who are unintentionally better—don't need to be smaller.
He steps closer to her and wraps the blanket around her shoulders before hugging her again. The angle is a little weird, since her knees are in the way, but Annabeth moves her arms until they're tightening around his middle. "I'm sorry," she says, and Percy shakes his head and tells her not to be.
They stay quiet for a long time, and Percy runs his hands through her hair until there aren't any tangles. He hears Annabeth sniffling, and he knows better than to point out her tears. He learned that lesson the hard way. "You tired?" he asks her quietly, absentmindedly petting at her jaw. She nods against his chest, and he eases her down until she's flat on her back.
His heart hurts so bad Percy's sure it'll just stop working. "It'll be alright," he assures her, and Annabeth nods silently. Her eyes are darker than he's seen them in a while, and he knows what comes next. He knows how she curls in on herself and refuses to let anyone in, even him.
It's for that reason that he decides to tuck her in like she's a child, and hold her hand until she falls asleep. Annabeth doesn't tell him thank you, but she squeezes his hand a few times. Percy thinks he's trying to run through a dark forest with trees packed so densely that he can just barely take steps.
He isn't sure how to help, but he needs to. He has this innate protectiveness over Annabeth, and he often wonders what exactly he needs to protect her from. The world, maybe, and sometimes even himself. Annabeth's too good and too fragile for anyone to contaminate her.
He breaths start evening out, and Percy's throat feels tight with things he hasn't said yet. He stares at her pursed lips and pinched brow; he trails his eyes over her tightly wound posture. "Annabeth?" The word comes out on it's own accord.
Her eyes flicker open, still sad and still tired, but also still awake. "Yeah?"
Percy hesitates before he reaches a hand forward and holds her cheek gently. He's seen it done in movies a million times, and he thinks he might want to kiss her. It's a thought he approaches with neither great enthusiasm nor indifference.
He looks at Annabeth's eyes, and he sees something shattered there. Something completely irreparable, no matter how many kisses he has to give or words he has to say. Annabeth blinks at him, her face passive and untelling, so Percy says a word he's become used to.
When Annabeth turns seventeen, someone says the wrong thing to her best friend.
It happens during their lunch period as he and Annabeth are making a beeline for their table in the corner. A burly upperclassman slams his shoulder into Percy's for no particular reason, even tacking on a 'watch where you're going, asshole'—which, yeah, it's unnecessary, but Percy's heard worse. He's fully prepared to keep walking and ignore the incident altogether, but Annabeth isn't.
"Maybe you should watch where you're going, instead of initiating fights with someone smaller than you solely for the purpose of feeding your superiority complex," is how she replies. Percy doesn't know half of the words she just used, but it makes him smile anyways.
His smile drops when he sees the taller guy's glare. "Maybe you should let this pansy fight his own fights instead of letting a girl do it for him."
Annabeth proceeds to punch the upperclassmen. She then proceeds to the principal's office, where she's assigned five days of suspension and a mark on her permanent record.
The normal jeers come towards Percy. The typical 'you can't get a girlfriend because you're so far up Annabeth's ass' is a common one, which he's made his peace with. It's obvious he and Annabeth are more codependent than most friends at their age, since they've hardly spent a moment apart since birth. His favorite insult so far was 'you have weird eyebrows.' That one had come from the captain of the football team, a fact Percy often finds himself laughing at.
Needless to say, he's used to the not-so-friendly teasing he gets. It's a fact of life that some people are easy targets, and he's one of them. Probably because his weakness is broadcasted to the world every second of every day—or, at least, every time he looks at Annabeth. Which is probably close to every second.
The thing is, he's been noticing a few things about Annabeth lately. She has lilac bruises underneath her eyes from a lack of sleep as well as peace, and she's gorgeous. She went from cute to stunning in what feels like seconds, and it often leaves Percy short of breath, like he can't catch up to her. He keeps waiting for the moment where she realizes how mediocre he is and leaves, but it hasn't come along yet.
Annabeth's eyes are still sad, and her face still takes on that stoic, passionless look when she feels upset. Percy's seen her in every state possible, and she hasn't become any less pretty.
Sometimes her hands shake, and Percy wonders why. He wonders if it's from the effort of completing each day without breaking down. Sometimes he measures his days with the breaths Annabeth takes, and as long as she's breathing he feels like he can too.
Sometimes he feels like he might want to kiss her, but it seems so far-fetched. Annabeth's beautiful even with all of her flaws, and while Percy may be aesthetically pleasing, he's pretty sure he loses every ounce of attractiveness after he opens his mouth. At least, that's what a girl told him once.
When he gets home that day, he goes to Annabeth's house before he even greets his mom.
His best friend looks surprisingly smug when she swings the door open, and it's hardly a second before they dissolve into laughter. "You just—hit him," Percy nearly wheezes, and Annabeth's face is bright and delighted.
"I did." She nods, as if to affirm her statement, and Percy reaches out for her shoulder before he can stop himself. He opens his mouth to speak, but Annabeth says, "Don't even tell me I didn't have to, because I did," so he closes it.
"Thanks," he decides, running his thumb across her neck. He can feel her pulse, stable and simple, so much unlike herself.
"You're welcome." She rolls her eyes, then, more playful than Percy's seen her in ages, and continues with, "Someone's gotta protect the prince."
Percy grins, shaking his head. "Yeah, but that someone shouldn't have to be the princess."
"So now I'm a princess?" Annabeth seems amused as she finally lets him inside her house. "Funny, that, I've been told I have the hair for it."
He laughs, even though it's not really that funny. Annabeth seems in high spirits, and there's no way he's going to waste every precious moment of it. "You're not a princess," he corrects. "That sounds so generic. You're an important princess. The princess."
Annabeth nods along seriously, as if his words are true. "So, how does this work? Who gets the throne when mother or father dies?"
"We rule together, obviously," Percy answers, taking it upon himself to filch a Capri Sun from her fridge. Annabeth doesn't seem too bothered. "We'd be the power couple of the kingdom."
"Of the world," Annabeth amends, smiling widely. "We'd make everyone fear us and love us all the same." She seems lost in a daydream as she picks at a plate of Goldfish crackers she'd been eating before Percy had knocked.
"I love you like this," he tells her, and Annabeth freezes mid-chew.
It takes her a few seconds to swallow. "Like what?"
Percy smiles softly at her, his heart swelling up in his chest. "Happy."
Annabeth flinches like she's been hit, and he doesn't know what he's done wrong. "Oh."
"Did I…" He leans down a little so he can get a better look at her face, but it doesn't do him any good as she schools her expression into something unfeeling. "Are you okay?"
Annabeth nods wordlessly, and Percy reaches over to hold her wrist. He runs his thumb over the sharp bone he finds there and pushes down the weird urge he gets to bend down and kiss it. "Did I say something?" he asks quietly, after a few minutes have passed and Annabeth's continued her silent streak.
She looks up at him, and Percy sees hurt in her eyes. "Would you love me more if I were always happy?"
It takes a few seconds to dawn on him, but when he understands Percy feels like punching himself. "No," he says immediately, "no, no no no, that came out completely—"
"Because," Annabeth says, a bit louder, talking over him, "it sounds like you would."
"No, it doesn't matter. I don't care if you're sad," he rushes to explain, but then squeezes his eyes shut when that sounds bad, too. "I mean, it doesn't really make a difference either way. I just—" Percy cuts himself off, and for some reason the words catch in his throat. I just love you, period, he thinks, but his mouth won't make the motions.
"You just what?" Annabeth questions, something angry in her expression. She tugs her wrist away from his hand, and it stings. She's never pulled away from him like that, no matter how furious or unhappy she was. "Wish you had a happy best friend? Wish you had someone who wanted to go out to parties? Wish you had a best friend who—"
"Don't," he says, giving her a hurt look. "You know that's not—"
"Do I?" Annabeth questions, crossing her arms. "Look, if you don't want to be my friend—"
Percy clamps his hand over her mouth, because he can't stand the words she's saying. He nudges her chin up with his other hand until she meets his eyes. "I would rather die than live in a world where you aren't my best friend." His voice shakes, betraying him. He has to swallow a few times before he trusts himself to continue. "I don't care what form you come in. It's just—you," he breathes, hesitantly resting one hand on her hip. "I need you."
The worst part is, even as he says it, he knows Annabeth doesn't understand how deep his statement runs. He does need her—like oxygen. She pulls him up when he's drowning and teaches him how to swim when he treads water. Percy figures he would have already gone and gotten himself killed if it weren't for her.
He slides his hand off of her mouth slowly, expecting her to retaliate in a violent manner. Maybe that's why it's so much of a shock when she surges up and kisses him square on the mouth.
By the time he comprehends what's happening, Annabeth's already pulled away from him. He stares at her silently, waiting for an explanation, and he has to pinch himself to keep from looking down at her lips. He has the lurking feeling that, if he does, he'll kiss her senseless. "I just wanted to do that," Annabeth blurts, not quite meeting his eyes. "Once. I… Yeah."
Percy is confused at the implications of the word 'once,' but he nods anyways. "Okay," he says, and his voice is gentle.
"So… It wasn't weird? We're okay?" She meets his eyes for a moment before clearing her throat and fidgeting with the hem of her shirt.
He musters up a smile and nods. "I don't reckon anything with you could be weird."
Annabeth snorts lightly, keeping her head down. "Even if I did it again?"
Percy does it for her. He kisses Annabeth until he feels lightheaded, and then he kisses her some more. He lets her trace her hands across his shoulders and his arms. He slows her down when she starts kissing with too much force, and he sinks his thumbs into the dips of her hipbones.
He only stops kissing her when he realizes she's crying.
There's something incredibly special about seeing her cry, because Percy knows he's the only one who's ever seen her like this. He knows he's the only one who's been there to wipe tears away before they can even make their way down her cheeks. It feels like something to be treasured; these small moments where Annabeth allows herself to be held and loved the way she always deserves to be.
He purses his lips as he wipes them away, and presses a kiss to her cheek. "Don't cry, please," he tells her, because the tears don't stop coming.
"I'm just overwhelmed," she says, and her voice is raspy from a lack of use. Percy gives her a quick, smug look, and she rolls her eyes. The annoyance melts away momentarily, and he watches Annabeth duck her chin. He can feel the heat of her hand seeping through his t-shirt, and it's a heady feeling. Something about Annabeth—despite the plaguing sadness, despite the sharp looks and even sharper comments—is incredibly warm. She's like winter during the June and summer during December at the same time.
Everything in his head stops making sense after he kisses pretty girls, it seems. He leans down until he can rest his head on her shoulder. "I think... we should take a nap."
He hears Annabeth laugh, even though he hasn't said anything funny. "Two kisses and you're out? No so sure I want to commit to this anymore, Jackson."
"The second kiss was a long kiss!" Percy says indignantly, straightening up. "Like, six minutes. At least."
Annabeth scoffs. "Three at most." She smiles at him warmly, and it's the first time he's seen her smile like that in months—maybe even a year.
He reaches up until he can touch the crinkles by her eyes. He presses his thumb into the dimple that's appeared on her left cheek, and Annabeth attempts to reign her grin back. "Noooo," Percy whines, poking at where her dimple once was. "Don't do this to me. I'm fascinated with your dimple."
"I'm fascinated with that nap you mentioned," Annabeth says teasingly, rocking up on her heels to wrap her arms around his neck. Percy automatically leans in, hoping for another kiss, but she hugs him tight instead.
He hugs her back, because he's never been able to deny Annabeth anything. Ever since the day he met her, he's given and given and given, but never once has it felt like he needed something back.
And, Percy thinks, Annabeth's given as much as she's taken, on some levels. For instance, in the way she sometimes hooks her index finger through his belt loop as they weave through the crowds in the hallways. She's given with small smiles sent his way after he answers a question correctly in class. She's given with gentle hands on his back and tentative hugs, and all of it combined is everything he asks and more.
He lets her shuffle out of his arms like she usually does, but this time she pauses a few steps away and glances over her shoulder. "Are you following?"
Percy's positive he'd follow Annabeth off the edge of the earth, but instead of telling her that, he just nods. Annabeth backtracks, grabs his hand, and pulls him towards the living room.
It takes them a while to get situated on the couch, mostly because they're so used to sleeping apart. He accidentally elbows Annabeth in the ribs and Annabeth claws his bicep when her hand slips, but they find their places in the end. Percy thinks they might be like puzzle pieces.
It's a cliche in his own mind, so he decides to modify it. They are like puzzle pieces, but not the kind that fit together. It's more like Annabeth's a darker piece; maybe the bottom of the ocean, maybe the dark sky contrasting with a white blanket of snow, maybe a black shadow in a light room. Percy's the bright sky in the morning; the most heated point of a sunrise; the most vibrant fish in the ocean. They're the fluke pair of puzzle pieces that don't match, but still fit anyways.
The feeling rising in his chest feels like love. Maybe not the declarative, loud in love, but something softer. Something more blurred at the edges, like he's just reached consciousness but hasn't properly woken up.
She hums her response, sounding close to sleep. He closes his eyes, too.
When Annabeth is twenty, she goes to therapy.
Percy waits for her in the lobby, his leg bouncing up and down from nerves—and he's not even the one being put on the spot. He tries catching up on e-mails or starting that new reading assignment for his Abnormal Psychology class, but he can't focus the way he needs to.
He spends thirty minutes alternating between mindless games on his phone. He's just starting up his Facebook app when Annabeth finally exits the tan door she'd disappeared into an hour earlier.
Percy stands up before Annabeth's taken a step towards him. "How was it? Are you okay? Was—?"
She snorts lightly, rubbing lightly at her eyes. "I'll tell you about it later. I'm kind of…"
"All talked-out?" Percy offers. Annabeth nods, grabs his hand, and tugs him towards the door.
He stops and buys her a milkshake on the way home, just because he knows they're what she craves on sad days. He doesn't know if it's a sad day yet, but he figures precaution never hurts.
"Stop giving me your Worried Eyes," Annabeth orders him, poking at his shoulder. She rests her hand on the middle console, palm up, and Percy grabs onto it instinctively. "I want Happy Eyes."
"Well, I want a kiss," Percy shoots back, raising an eyebrow at her challengingly. "But it seems we can't always get what we want."
She rolls her eyes at him, but gives him a slow kiss at the next stoplight. "There. Now give me Happy Eyes."
He shakes his head, nose still brushing her cheek. "Heart Eyes. Heart Eye Emoji. At you. Right now."
Annabeth snorts and pushes him away, but there's a small blush on her cheeks. The car behind them has to honk twice before Percy takes his eyes off her and resumes driving.
There's something different about Annabeth lately. There's still lavender bruises stained beneath her eyes. Sometimes her eyes aren't anything besides a stormy, melancholy grey. She still likes the saddest music Percy's ever heard, and her pulse is still steady and unrelenting. But there's something.
He remembers two weeks ago today, where Annabeth had woken him up at 3 A.M. tracing his collarbones with her fingertips. She'd told him that she wanted someone to talk to. He told her that she could always talk to him. Annabeth had shaken her head sadly, and said 'someone professional.'
Maybe what's changed is a new want to feel better. Maybe the unceasingly dark clouds over her mind are starting to clear away, allowing her access to the brighter side of things. Maybe she's stopped being fearful of swimming, and realized that her feet could touch the bottom all along.
They fall into bed as soon as they arrive home, because Annabeth looks tired and Percy just wants to hold her. He does, and Annabeth breathes deeply and slowly, even if she doesn't sleep.
She breathes out every time he breathes in, like the imperfect match they are. He runs his hands across her shoulder blades, always searching her skin like there's something there that he's missed. (He hasn't, he's sure of it. He could probably create a GPS map for the lines of Annabeth's palm. He knows her so well that it scares him sometimes.)
"Hmm?" he mumbles, his eyes fluttering open briefly. "Yeah?"
Annabeth shifts slightly, then shakes her head. "Nevermind."
For some reason, the word makes Percy break into an unwarranted smile. "Okay," he says, almost giddy. He shuffles down until he's face to face with her, then he presses his smile against her lips. "Hey, Annabeth?"
Percy touches the corner of her mouth with his thumb. He stares at the freckle to the left of her eye. He swipes at the light purple crescents like he can remove them. "Marry me."
Annabeth stares back, as if she's determining whether or not he's joking. "Okay."
Percy's stomach turns over in a pleasant way. "Alright."
Annabeth lets Percy choose the wedding colors. He chooses lavender, and Annabeth cries when she realizes it matches the space beneath her eyes.
Percy lets Annabeth choose the colors for their nursery. He doesn't speak for an hour after he sees the sea green paint swatches, because he doesn't trust his voice.
Annabeth's not really sad anymore, but she's not really happy either. Sometimes Percy gets morning kisses and sometimes he doesn't. Sometimes he gets laughs against his collarbones and sometimes he gets tears.
But, no matter what, he always ends up with Annabeth. And that's enough.