a/n: im back! with a fucking NOVEL that probably nobody wants to read. this fic is honestly like...a mess and it's so long for really no reason other than I COULDNT STOP WRITING, but HELLO if you're here, i hope you like it!
a NOTE: in this au, please assume that the heroes of olympus have not taken place at all. i love the new characters to death but it's 2019, 10 years since the release of the last olympian, and i wanted to write a fic to hero the original pjo series.
as always, thanks to shar for listening to me scream about this fic and screaming right back with me :)
i hope you guys like the story!
don't you let it go;
"Okay, and then what happened, Annabeth, sweetie?"
The room is brightly lit, with clouds and airplanes and a smiley sun on the walls. Annabeth sits on a bright red sofa with a green cushion that she places on her lap. She hugs it tightly as she talks. Opposite her, the therapist sits stiffly with her notepad on her lap and her ankles crossed, all prim and ladylike. At the beginning of the session, her smile had seemed pleasant enough, but it's become more and more strained.
Annabeth, even at seven years old, considers the question in a manner that makes her seem far more mature than one would of expect of someone of her age. She swings her legs back and forth, chews on her bottom lip thoughtfully.
"I don't remember much," she admits. "The ceilings was falling, and Luke was on the floor. He was screaming, and one of his eyes was blue and the other was gold. And then he started glowing, and that's all I remember." She brightens up a little, then. "But now I have Mommy and Daddy, so it's okay!"
She looks up into the lady's face. The therapist looks stricken, almost fearful. Annabeth's smile slowly slips off her face. She wonders what she did wrong. She'd only answered the questions honestly, like her parents had told her to do.
Finally, the lady shuts her notepad with a sharp snap. She stands, and holds her hand out to Annabeth. "Okay, sweetie, that was great. Now could you go get your parents for me? I need to talk to them for a while, and you could go into the waiting room and read some books, hmm?"
"Okay," Annabeth says easily, hopping off the sofa and excusing herself politely before leaving the room. Her parents stand when she walks out, and smile at her as she relays the message from the therapist. They move past her, promising to be back soon.
Annabeth presses her ear against the door even as it shuts, her heart racing. Though she is young, she knows that it's not normal for most seven year olds to go to therapy, and she knows for certain that her dreams aren't normal at all. They're too vivid, too real. She doesn't know what they mean, but she knows that they're important. Annabeth's been having them since before she could remember, these dreams of a world of gods and goddesses and their half—mortal children, dreams of bright strawberry fields under a summer sky, a ring of cabins in a valley, and then a war. Blood and smoke and pain and then…nothing.
She remembers people. Luke, with his blonde hair and blue eyes that turned gold. Thalia, with midnight hair and lightning at her fingertips. Grover, with curly hair and music at his lips. Percy – and he must be important, because most of her memories involve him – Percy with the dark hair and the green eyes and the easy smile.
Yes, her dreams are too clear to be just her imagination.
Inside the room, the therapist tells her parents what they all already know – that Annabeth's recurring dreams seem detailed to the point that it's become worrisome. Children below ten don't usually dream of bloody battles, much less about death. The therapist wonders aloud if the dreams are a result of an overactive imagination caused by watching too much television – at this point, Annabeth's parents jump to correct her: Annabeth doesn't watch much television, they say, but she's an avid reader despite her dyslexia.
"She's been devouring those books on Greek myths, Frederick," her mother says doubtfully.
Her father lets out a noisy sigh. "Must be. What else could it be?"
The therapist sounds heartened at this. She explains that Annabeth must be inventing these stories from the works she'd read, says that it's nothing to worry. Children express their creativity in different ways, and perhaps this is Annabeth's, uh, unique method.
The dreams will stop as she grows older, the lady says. In the meantime, Athena and Frederick should encourage their daughter's creative mind, perhaps channel her skills into creative writing? Or an art class?
"The dreams will stop?" Frederick asks.
"Don't worry," says the therapist, in her best soothing voice. "They will, one hundred percent, be gone by the next month."
In the dream, she is running. Her body feels smaller, lighter, and she pants heavily as she sprints. She carries nothing, save for a hammer that is too heavy in her tiny hands.
She ducks into an alley, scaling a small hill of crates, shielding herself behind a sheet of metal. She breathes hard, but as quietly as she can, listening intently as the voices grow closer.
She trembles with fear. The voices stop, and it is quiet until the curtain is ripped away, leaving two teenagers in front of her, holding a shield and dagger.
Annabeth doesn't even think. She jumps high, swinging her hammer, but with ridiculous speed and presence of mind, the boy grabs her wrist, and the hammer drops to the floor, useless. Desperate, she squirms, attempting to free her arms, kicking out. The boy holds fast, gritting his teeth. Annabeth grows frantic, knowing that the monsters she's been running from for so long have finally caught her.
"No monsters!" Annabeth shrieks, tears springing to her eyes. Go away!"
"It's okay!" The boy yelps, trying as hard as he can to keep her still without hurting her. "Thalia, put your shield up. You're scaring her," he instructs, and the girl taps her shield at once. Annabeth stares in disbelief as it morphs into a bracelet.
The girl's eyes are a brilliant blue, like the sky on a cloudless day. "Hey, it's all right," she soothes. "We're not going to hurt you. I'm Thalia. This is Luke."
Annabeth kicks out again, sure of the lie. "Monsters!"
"No," Luke promises, and there is something in his voice that makes her stop and listen. "But we know all about monsters. We fight them, too."
Annabeth stares at Luke and Thalia. Thalia smiles a little, and Luke's entire aura oozes determination. "You're like me?" Annabeth asks.
"Yeah," Luke agrees, tilting his head a little, expression a little more open. "We're . . . well, it's hard to explain, but we're monster fighters. Where's your family?"
"My family hates me. They don't want me," Annabeth says, and her voice wobbles a little. Feelings of betrayal and hurt rise to the surface just remembering her father. "I ran away."
Thalia and Luke exchange a look. Thalia's eyes are sympathetic, but Luke's face is unreadable.
"What's your name, kiddo?" Thalia asks in a kind voice.
"Annabeth," says Annabeth, straightening a little.
"Nice name. " Finally, Luke smiles, and she thinks he looks a lot nicer that way. "I tell you what, Annabeth—you're pretty fierce. We could use a fighter like you."
Annabeth's eyes widen and she trembles with anticipation. "You could?" she whispers.
"Oh, yeah." He looks at her with the eye of a teacher who has found his best student. With a smooth twist of his hand, Luke twirls his dagger around and hands her the hilt. "How'd you like a real monster—slaying weapon? This is Celestial bronze. Works a lot better than a hammer," he says.
Annabeth grasps the hilt and holds it, feeling her breath slow down. The blade is beautiful, she thinks, small enough for her to wield, yet lethal.
"Knives are only for the bravest and quickest fighters," Luke explains in a patient voice. "They don't have the reach or power of a sword, but they're easy to conceal and they can find weak spots in your enemy's armour. It takes a clever warrior to use a knife. I have a feeling you're pretty clever."
Annabeth looks up, pleased at the compliment and grateful to be trusted as part of the team. Luke's eyes are shining, and Thalia winks in approval.
"I am!" Annabeth says.
Thalia laughs. "We'd better get going, Annabeth. We have a safe house on the James River. We'll get you some clothes and food."
Her happiness melts away a little. "You're . . . you're not going to take me back to my family?" she says quietly. "Promise?"
Luke grasps her shoulder, and his touch makes her feel warm all over. "You're part of our family now. And I promise I won't let anything hurt you. I'm not going to fail you like our families did us. Deal?"
Annabeth looks at him. There is nothing in his expression that could suggest a lie: all she sees is resolve, strength, and a fierce desire to protect. Behind him, Thalia smiles reassuringly, calm and confident and sure—footed.
They are two children, teenagers just a couple of years older than her, but Annabeth doesn't think she'e ever seen two more impressive people in her life.
"Deal," she says –
– and Annabeth wakes up, trembling, her hand curled up around an invisible dagger, held up in front of her, ready to strike for the kill.
The dreams get worse.
By the time she is sixteen, Annabeth wakes up frequently, screaming and sweating, from her sleep. The dreams don't fade away: instead, they turn HD, to the point where Annabeth can see every hair on her arms standing up, can feel her muscles ache and burn. The war in her mind is brutal, bloody; Annabeth wields a bronze dagger that shines dimly in the night, slays beats after beast that stands before her – for what else could she call these things other than beasts? They are hideous things, none of them alike and each of them terrible: some with a single eye in their skulls, some with scales and some with tails, but they all hold weapons: swords and clubs and spears and knives. They swing them at her, but she dodges, and whenever she lashes out, she goes in for the kill, Percy right behind her.
There is no way in hell Annabeth could've dreamed him up. Percy is lean, strong, even though he is only on the cusp of sixteen. He is stupidly stubborn – her voice in her dreams calls him Seaweed Brain – and he's…everything to her.
Annabeth might be ridiculously in love.
It makes her feel stupid. Stupid how her heart races every time she sees him in her sleep, every time she thinks about him when she's awake. Percy Jackson with his stupid green eyes and his stupid crooked smile and the way the way his lips had felt against hers, fleeting, soft, as the world burned around them.
How can she love someone who might possibly not even exist?
Because Annabeth has finally begun to accept these dreams for what she suspects they really are –
Because her stories feel far too intense to be false. Because her body seems to remember the experiences, the people. Because, more than anything else, she feels it in her bones, right down to the marrow, that this is a life she'd lived, a life that had ended.
She had lived, and she had died. There's no other explanation for it – she remembers Luke's body glowing gold, and then a blast that blew her backward, and then nothing. The last sensation she had felt was a warm hand – Percy's – closing around her own.
She does not say it aloud. Her father has regarded her with distrust and mild disgust ever since Annabeth's mother had left him – an inevitable separation after months of arguments between them. Annabeth's incessant storytelling – as her parents used to delicately call it – featured in a lot of their fights. And the tipping point, it seemed, was when Annabeth had gone against their wishes to keep her tales within the family, and written about her dreams for an essay competition.
Her parents had roared at her, then at each other. Each blamed the other for Annabeth's dyslexia and her failing grades, for her 'distractions' and her constantly wandering mind. They'd told her, after the first few therapy sessions, to save her stories just for home. They'd stealthily removed all traces of her favorite books on Greek myths in a useless effort to make her mind forget the facts. Nothing seemed to work. The dreams only grew more detailed, and the more Annabeth became convinced that they had once been her reality, the more adamant her parents became on cutting them off.
They talk like she is crazy, even though Annabeth insists that she isn't. When she's careless enough to suggest her first theory of a previous life to them, her mother hisses at her to "Just stop, Annabeth," and that there will be no further discussion on the matter. After that, her parents began to ignore her stories entirely.
When she was ten, her mother packed her things and moved out.
The divorce was bleak. Annabeth stayed with her father, but he could barely look her in the eye anymore, and she spent long days alone while he worked. She learned to make herself meals for the both of them, each day hoping her father would snap himself out of his depression, but her father dove into his work in an almost dogmatic fashion, leaving Annabeth alone, and it became clear to her that none of her parents really wanted her and that she was given to her father mostly because she was already there.
She remembers crying into her pillow, thinking, my fault, my fault.
And so Annabeth kept her stories to herself.
Her father remarries when she is thirteen. She supposes the woman is nice enough, but then she has two children and Annabeth might as well not exist at all. She shuts herself up in her room after school every day, nose buried in a book, appearing for a meal long after the rest of them have eaten. Sometimes, she sees her father kiss his wife, or lift up one of her half—brothers. The sight stings more than she'd like to admit.
There are times she'd like to run away. She'd done it before, in her old life. Run away from home when she was seven, when the spiders came too close and her father didn't protect her. That was when she'd met Luke and Thalia. She could do it, she thinks. Run away now, at this very moment. Her father wouldn't miss her, but Annabeth doesn't know if Luke and Thalia will be around to find her in this life.
For a long time, she wonders if she is depressed. She's googled the symptoms and she thinks a lot of them match: certainly she's been through some pretty rough times in her life and she doesn't have anyone to talk to and there are days she doesn't want to get up in the morning.
She has to get out of here, she thinks, and that's what makes her sit up and snap herself out of it.
She begins to work hard. Her grades rise dramatically, and her teachers begin to take notice. She's elected class president. She joins the debate team, then the mathletes. She gains a few friends, and they sit at lunch together, but Annabeth yearns for a different table and a different set of faces. Perhaps at a summer camp.
She spends most of her time in the library, finds all the books her parents had prohibited her from reading all those years ago. She reads about Zeus, king of the gods, and his two brothers, Hades and Poseidon. The other Olympians – Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, Ares, Hermes, Demeter, Hephaestus, Hermes. Athena, her mother.
Annabeth looks at pictures of their statues and smiles. The gods had definitely changed since then, and just looking at Ares' marble face and imagining it with sunglasses on makes her giggle.
She reads about demigods – Hercules, Perseus, Theseus, marvelling at their feats. She'd been a demigod, too, but she doubts her feats had been recorded by anyone. After all, the entirety of Camp Half—Blood had probably been wiped out after the explosion.
She still hasn't pieced together a bulk of the memories yet. Most of the time, Annabeth finds herself dreaming, in increasing and rather horrifying detail, the same dreams she's dreamt before. New memories are rare and fleeting, often just flashes. The owl on her cabin door, a younger Percy wrapping the Golden Fleece around her, the swirling of the clouds as the sky rests on her shoulders and her entire being explodes with pain.
Many of these dreams end because Annabeth wakes up, barely managing to stifle a cry. When she was younger, when her half—siblings were barely a year old, she'd been unable to control the screams, and it would result in the twins bawling the entire night away. Annabeth's dad and his wife had never really said it out loud, but in their eyes she could see what they thought of her. That she was some kind of freak, a nuisance, causing trouble for no real reason.
She'd learned to control her screams, her tears, just as she'd learned to control her tongue.
On the outside, she appears aloof and cold, but really she feels like a firecracker, stuffed to the brim with gunpowder and doused in kerosene, just waiting for a flame.
Her dream starts dark and wobbly. Annabeth and Percy sit all huddled up, surrounded by cages – a zebra in one, a lion in another. Grover snores softly on a sack, curled up into a ball. Annabeth chews on an Oreo, eyes downcast.
Percy looks at her. Small, slight, with black hair that falls into his face, he looks even tinier as he hunches over himself. Annabeth rubs the beads on her necklace.
"That pine—tree bead," Percy says, pointing unnecessarily at her necklace. "Is that from your first year?"
Annabeth looks down, studying each bead. "Yeah," she responds. "Every August, the counselors pick the most important event of the summer, and they paint it on that year's beads. I've got Thalia's pine tree, a Greek trireme on fire, a centaur in a prom dress—now that was a weird summer..." She almost smiles.
"And the college ring is your father's?" Percy guesses, his expression almost shrewd.
Annabeth's defences rise at once. "That's none of your—" She has to bite her tongue for all the fight to drain out of her. "Yeah. Yeah, it is."
"You don't have to tell me," Percy says at once.
"No ... it's okay." She takes a long breath, eyes fluttering shut. "My dad sent it to me folded up in a letter, two summers ago. The ring was, like, his main keepsake from Athena. He wouldn't have gotten through his doctoral program at Harvard without her...that's a long story. Anyway, he said he wanted me to have it. He apologized for being a jerk, said he loved me and missed me. He wanted me to come home and live with him." She touches the ring lightly.
"That doesn't sound so bad," says Percy, ever the optimist.
"Yeah, well... the problem was, I believed him," Annabeth says bitterly. "I tried to go home for that school year, but my stepmom was the same as ever. She didn't want her kids put in danger by living with a freak. Monsters attacked. We argued. Monsters attacked. We argued. I didn't even make it through winter break. I called Chiron and came right back to Camp Half—Blood."
It's quiet. Percy looks a little conflicted, like he wants to say something but doesn't want to piss her off.
"You think you'll ever try living with your dad again?" he asks after a while.
Annabeth sighs. "Please. I'm not into self—inflicted pain."
"You shouldn't give up," Percy says quietly. "You should write him a letter or something."
"Thanks for the advice," Annabeth snaps, "but my father's made his choice about who he wants to live with."
Percy looks down. Annabeth feels a little guilty for yelling at him, but he's never really known what it's like to be alone and unwanted. He's had the shittiest stepfather but his mom has loved him through all the monster attacks, all the expulsions from school. Annabeth's never known that.
"So if the gods fight, will things line up the way they did with the Trojan War?" Percy says finally. "Will it be Athena versus Poseidon?"
Annabeth closes her eyes. "I don't know what my mom will do," she tells him. "I just know I'll fight next to you."
"Why?" asks Percy stupidly, and Annabeth wants to whack him over the head because does this kid even know? Sure, they're stupid and childish and they bicker, but in the end he's saved her life and she's saved his and they've got each other's' backs.
"Because you're my friend, Seaweed Brain," she mumbles sleepily. "Any more stupid questions?"
The vision ends with her younger self falling asleep as Annabeth wakes, and she smiles at her ceiling, realizing that she hasn't felt this well—rested in a long, long time.
She moves out when she is eighteen.
It's about time, to be honest. Annabeth's been managing herself since the divorce, overcoming her dyslexia all by herself – perhaps the toughest obstacle she's had to break through and the one that gave her the most satisfaction in doing so – and when the college acceptance letters come pouring in, some with full scholarships, even, Annabeth feels nothing but relief that she can finally leave everything behind.
Her father knits his brows when she tells him she's chosen NYU – where she's been offered a full scholarship, so really, he should have no problems, other than –
"It's…far," her father says at last.
Annabeth wants to tell him that that had been the point, but she bites her tongue. "If you're worried about the transport costs, don't worry about it. I've accumulated enough money from all my jobs and prize money that should take care of the plane ticket –"
"It's not that," her father responds quickly. "It's…I'm not sure how to put this…"
She waits. Her father's never been very good at finding the right words, especially when it comes to her.
He sags, taking of his glasses and rubbing the lenses with the edge of his shirt. "You're sure about this?"
"Yes," she says.
"And you're making this decision not because…of…" he waves his arms around the general area of her head – "your, uh, imaginings?"
Annabeth is stunned into silence. It had been the last thing she'd expected from her father, who'd spent the last decade or so of their times trying to deny that she'd even had those visions in the first place. Her hands tremble against her will and Annabeth curses herself, feeling as though she's been caught.
He's right. Annabeth's been lucky to get into NYU, of course, but the fact that it's New York, where Camp Half—Blood had been, where the war had taken place, where Percy had lived…the thought had played a much larger influence on her decision than Annabeth would ever admit.
When she was younger, she had told her parents about the secret summer camp in New York that only demigods knew about. She'd told them about the siege of the city during the war, and how the Empire State Building was actually Mount Olympus, just veiled from most mortals' view.
She can't believe her father remembers.
"No," she tells him, far too late. "I'm going because it's a good college and it's a full scholarship. I'd be stupid to let it go."
"Annabeth," he says, in what is perhaps meant to be a gentle voice, "New York is across the country where we don't know anyone. What if you're in an emergency and –"
"I'll be fine, I can take care of myself just fine," she cuts in at once. She pauses for a second, before ploughing on – "And besides, Mom is in New York, right?" and she feels a horrible stab of vindictive pleasure when her dad flinches at her words.
Despite herself, Annabeth had found herself more and more interested and appreciative of architecture, her mom's profession. Athena, who had already made a name for herself before marrying Frederick Chase, had only achieved bigger and better things once her marriage ended, starting an architecture firm headquartered in New York City that grew to be one of the most elite corporations in the business. Annabeth had tried to avoid her mother's name as much as possible, but Athena was well—known and practically revered in most circles and Annabeth had to admit that her mother's work was sublime.
Her mother has not kept in contact with them since the day she walked. Annabeth tells herself she wants nothing to do with her, but a small part of her also wants to be recognized. Annabeth is passionate about architecture and she loves studying it, and she knows she has the potential to be good, even great. Her mother will have no choice but to take notice of her then, won't she?
Packing her stuff is a rather un—emotional affair. She'd had no attachment to the house that the rest of her family called home, and the few acquaintances she'd met in school were all going to different colleges in different states. Her father, in the final days, attempts to talk to her more, possibly out of guilt at the way he'd treated her, or regret that he barely even knew the girl that resembled him so closely. Annabeth does not push him away, but she does not accept him with open arms, because she can't forget her lonely childhood years, after her mother left and her father had denied her existence. He'd abandoned her all but physically, and maybe one day Annabeth will forgive him, but that will take time, and space.
On her last night in California, her father and her stepmom prepare a goodbye dinner. Annabeth is shocked and slightly touched by the gesture, but she joins them at the dinner table, and listens to her kid brothers prattle about school and watches her dad and his wife laugh together. She helps them clear up the table and kneels by Bobby and Matthew, tells them to do well in their classes and that she'll visit them during the holidays. The two boys, who barely know Annabeth, grin at her and accept her tentative hug, and Annabeth is almost sad as they both go to bed.
Her stepmother gives Annabeth a hug. She doesn't say much, but she feels warm and Annabeth feels like a lot is conveyed in her touch that can't be put into words. She feels oddly teary at this, at her stepmother's kind, apologetic smile. Annabeth smiles back, and she thinks that maybe they have reached an understanding of sorts, now. Maybe they had just been misunderstanding each other all this time.
Her dad drops her at the airport the next morning. He helps her load her luggage at the check—in counter, and then they stare at each other awkwardly.
"You'll keep in touch?" he asks then, hesitantly.
And Annabeth suddenly feels a surge of sorrow, for herself and her father and their sad, twisted relationship. When had it gotten to this point, where her father seems worried that she might disappear from his life altogether?
Well, Annabeth could still do it. She hasn't felt love from her father in years, not since she was a child. She's had to bring herself up, teach herself to read and write and cook and survive, and she has every right to leave her dad behind and not give him a second thought.
But as she looks at him, hunched over in doubt, his spectacles slightly crooked, his blond hair so like hers, Annabeth finds she harbors no anger towards him, not anymore.
"I'll call you when I land," she says, and it sounds like a promise.
His expression clears. He smiles, she smiles, and they share a brief hug. He hesitates once they part, then wrenches a bulky—looking ring off his finger.
He hands it to her. "Keep this. My dad gave it to me when I left for college. Seems…seems only right that you should have it, too."
A good luck charm, then? Annabeth takes it. It feels heavy in her palm, warm from her father's touch, and she suddenly feels tears prickle at her eyes: she hasn't had a present in years.
"Thank you, Dad," she murmurs.
He looks like he wants to say more, but ends up smiling tremulously and grasping her arm. Annabeth threads the ring though the thin silver chain that hangs at her neck, and her dad smiles almost comically, eyes crinkled, teeth showing. Maybe she has misunderstood him, too.
On the plane, Annabeth stares out at the window and wonders about what her life will be like in a few days, in a new city. Her skin tingles and her heart races and she allows herself the thought, the hope that perhaps she's not the only one. Perhaps there are others like her, her comrades, her friends, her family, out there in the city, just waiting to be found.
Annabeth finds she knows New York too well for someone who's barely lived in the city for a few months.
It feeds into her theory that she'd definitely lived here before, and the thought thrills her, makes her heart race and her body itch with anticipation. She navigates the bustling, complex streets with ease, somehow knowing all the bus routes and subway stations. She sees familiar buildings, statues. She looks up at the Empire State building with the clouds swirling above it, and wonders if Mount Olympus still exists at its top, with its gilded halls and magnificent gardens.
On the weekdays, Annabeth devotes herself to her studies. She loves the classes, the professors, and the subjects. She does the extra reading, finishes all her papers on time, and even scores an internship early on as a result of all the long hours where she'd practically lived at the drafting table. Being busy and in control makes her happy, gives her comfort.
On the weekends, she wanders the city. She visits the different places she remembers as being integral in the war, and nothing really seems to have changed now, but there is no trace of…anything.
On a whim, she buys a New York Yankees cap, even though this one isn't a gift from a goddess and so holds no magic whatsoever. It's not like she expects to disappear when she wears it, but it does make her smile a little.
She goes everywhere she can remember – she'd been in charge of drafting the war plans, after all. She visits random statues all over the city – the statue of William H. Steward on East 23rd, Confucius on Division – all the statues she remembers as being automatons, the ones she'd activated the night before the first day of battle. At the pedestal, she whispers, ignoring the stares of more than several passers—by, "Command sequence: Daedalus Twenty—three. Defend Manhattan. Begin Activation."
Nothing happens, but she doesn't give up hope.
At the risk of sounding like a total fucking moron, Annabeth asks the guard at the Empire State Building for the six—hundredth floor. He looks at her like she's crazy, which was expected, but then he actually escorts her away, and so that was a dead end.
She goes Central Park, stands at the base of a large maple tree that Grover and his group of satyrs had trapped the Titan Hyperion in. Percy had duelled him, she remembers, fighting on a swirling vortex of water and clouds, his eyes glinting dangerously. She'd been afraid of losing him that night, she remembers, but he'd won that battle. She'd been exhausted as well, fighting with a bad shoulder that had barely begun to heal.
She touches the tree gingerly, as though expecting the Titan to jump out, awoken by the touch of an enemy. Nothing happens. She admits that one had been a long shot, anyway.
She even heads Upper East Side, scales the fire escape of what used to be Percy's apartment building. She'd done the same thing when they were thirteen and she'd run away from home (again) and come to find him and warn him. She peers through the window now, but the curtains are drawn and the lights are off.
She refuses to give up hope. She searches all social media for traces of someone – anyone, really, but the names are common and most accounts are private, and Annabeth finds that this might be more difficult than she'd initially thought.
There must be proof, she thinks, proof that the gods existed, that she'd really lived this life. She'd been a demigod and she'd gone on quests and fought battles and had lost loved ones.
Now all she has to do is prove it.
During her second year of study, Annabeth finally bites and fills out an internship application for Pallas Architects – her mother's firm.
She gets a call for an interview the next day, which doesn't surprise her – her portfolio and GPA are both impressive, but Annabeth is definitely not expecting to be escorted to an office with her mother behind the desk.
Her mother looks almost as though she hasn't aged since the day she cleared out of Annabeth's house. Her hair is pulled into a tight bun, and her eyes – sharp and grey, just like Annabeth's – look her up and down, cold and calculating. Annabeth doesn't even flinch, even though the sight of the woman has her insides twisting in distrust.
The office is airy and decorated simply. The shelves are decorated with awards and the ceilings are bare, save for a simple clock that hangs directly to Annabeth's right. The desk is a dark wood, upon which Annabeth's mother drums her fingers thoughtfully as she considers Annabeth.
Finally, Athena nods. She gestures for Annabeth to sit, which she does, and then her mother laces her fingers together delicately and leans the slightest bit forward.
"I was surprised to see your application," she says. Her voice is soft but laced with ice. Her eyes have turned sharp, her expression severe. If Annabeth were a lesser man, she would have pissed her pants by now.
"Of course," she answers. "Pallas is one of the best architecture firms in the world. I'd be an idiot to ignore an opportunity."
"You know we rarely accept interns so young."
"I would be honoured to be the exception."
Her mother hums, turning away from Annabeth to look out of the window. "I've seen your work. You've learned well, and your ideas are quite good, if not brilliant. Moreover, your professors have nothing but good things to say about you."
"I do my best."
Athena stares at her. "If you are accepted as an intern, you know that you will have to surpass your best."
"That's what I hope to do," Annabeth says.
"That means no distractions."
Annabeth grits her teeth, well aware of what her mother is talking about. No, mother, she thinks, I won't plague you with talk of my other life.
Out loud, she says, "Of course not."
Athena tilts her head in what is clearly a dismissal. Annabeth stands at once, glad to leave.
"Thank you for meeting with me," she says formally, extending a hand. Athena considers it, then shakes it with her own, her expression unreadable.
"We'll be getting back to you soon," her mother says.
"I look forward to it."
Annabeth is walking away when Athena calls out, in a soft voice, "And, Miss Chase, if you are hired here as an intern, I would expect you to not disclose to anyone here our relationship as mother and daughter."
Annabeth bites her lip. Of course. Of course Athena wouldn't have told anyone about her. Why would she? Annabeth's been out of her life for nearly ten years. She might've been dead for all Athena cared. She hadn't bored to call her daughter even once since she'd left, and she clearly still didn't want to deal with her now. If Annabeth hadn't sought her out, she probably would've carried on with her life without a care in the world.
The irony of it is who would dare accuse stonehearted Athena of favouritism, of all things?
"I would expect nothing less," Annabeth says with the fakest smile she can muster, and she lets the door click shut behind her.
Annabeth runs into Percy a few days after her twenty—first birthday, when she has all but given up on the search completely.
In a lot of ways, she has changed. Her hair is cut shorter now, falling just past her shoulders: it suits her liking more than her longer hair had. Her face is sharper, her body toned. She isn't curvy: more lean, strong: she feels like a weapon almost, harsh and streamlined from regular exercise. She's been offered a full—time job at Pallas once she graduates, even though her mother rarely acknowledges her presence. Her classes are hard and she is being pushed beyond her limits, and –
She's discovered nothing since her move to New York. Nothing, zero, zilch, nada. Her quest has led nowhere, and it's made her doubt everything. Maybe her stupid dreams are just that. Dreams. Maybe she's been cursed or something, maybe she really did invent these tales as a kid.
Maybe none of it had ever been real.
Today is particularly low day. Annabeth wanders Upper East side, close to Percy's home, where she somehow always feels the calmest. She always used to gaze up at his apartment in the hope that maybe he was looking down from his window; she'd even once peeked into the parking lot in the hopes of finding a beaten blue Prius in one of the spaces.
Today, Annabeth sips her coffee and keeps her head down.
She sits on a random bench, legs burning in relief, and she realizes she's probably been walking for several hours, wandering all over the city before ending up here. Her mind feels all over the place, and her stomach churns unpleasantly like she's about to puke. Her entire body feels loose and saggy, and she's struck by the odd feeling of wanting to cry.
She looks up at the sky helplessly. Please, she prays to the gods, if you're out there, if you can hear me, give me a sign.
There's nothing. Not even the slightest shift in the clouds.
She squeezes her eyes shut, forces back down what could've been a very loud, embarrassing sob. She doesn't know why she feels so hopeless, so…drained. She is on edge, eyes stinging from exhaustion, and she wants to scream, and sob, and sleep for ten days straight.
It feels life everything is wrong in her life right now. She's tired from all the work her mother is piling on her, sick of trying to impress Athena when the woman clearly doesn't give a single fuck about her, sick of searching for something that probably doesn't exist anymore, sick of scouring the country for people who probably don't know – or care – that she is alone and scared and lost and trying so hard to find them, trying to deal with a past that she's probably not even supposed to remember.
It's hard to explain the feeling. It's a constant dull ache at the back of her mind, a yearning for something she's never experienced in this life. She'd had friends, a family, a mentor. Her life had been dangerous and she'd almost died countless times, but she misses it with her whole heart.
She longs for Percy most of all. Her memories are clear enough that she knows that she'd loved him. They had been best friends and they'd fought together and died together, and Annabeth had loved him more than she had ever believed possible, and she had never even gotten the chance to tell him.
A couple of passers—by give her astonished, slightly fearful looks as they pass. She scrubs at her eyes frantically, coffee sloshing down her shirt as she does so. She hates this. She hates feeling so disorderly. She doesn't want anyone to see her like this – hair unkempt, face hollowed out, eyes sunken, her entire body shaking.
She takes a deep breath, then another. She stands up – maybe a long, brisk walk will help her clear her head –
She has barely taken a single step forward when she crashes into someone – her coffee goes flying all over the both of them and Annabeth's knocked off her balance, nearly about to fall before she catches herself.
The man has been knocked over, and he curses lightly as he rights himself, dusting off his pants. Annabeth rushes forward to apologize.
He looks up.
Annabeth's coffee cup rolls away, out of her line of sight, forgotten.
She is frozen.
Long legs, sturdy chest, black hair, green eyes. His lips quirk into a tiny smile so achingly familiar it makes her entire being burn with desire.
Annabeth feels her cheeks heat up, her fingers tremble. She's literally been dreaming of him. Of this moment, for years and years and years. Does he know how much this means to her? Does he know any of it at all? Does he remember?
Oh, Annabeth's thought of this meeting so many times. She's rehearsed her lines, she knows what to say and how to say it, but now her entire body seems to be shutting down. All her frustration from earlier seems to have melted away, leaving only a sharp, painful ball of pure want in her chest, and it's hard to even breathe, so how is she supposed to form words?
Her eyes rake over him, hurried, frantic, desperate. He's wearing a blue shirt. Black jeans. No bag. He's got a small scar, barely noticeable, above his right eyebrow. His eyes – blue and green like the sky reflected in the ocean waters, just how she remembers them. He is still brushing off the dust from his jeans. How much time has passed, she wonders in a daze. A minute? An hour? It feels like a century.
He takes a step forward. "Sorry, didn't see you there. I'm so sorry," he is saying, even though she's the one who knocked him down. His voice is warm, and he smiles at her the way a stranger would – pleasant enough, but nothing else. Her blood runs cold.
And she remembers the first time she'd ever met him, the first time from her last life, when he'd shown up to Camp, half—dead and bleeding, dragging Grover and holding the Minotaur's horn, and she distinctly remembers saying that he was –
"The one," she murmurs, too soft for him to hear. Her heart is pounding so hard she can hear it in her ears. She searches his eyes for something, anything, a flash of recognition, anything –
Please, she thinks fervently, as she stares at his face with a gaze far too intense to be considered normal, please, please –
"Um," he says, "You good?"
There is nothing. The smile from earlier is gone, replaced by an expression of mild worry. His brows are knitted together. Something in her crumbles at the sight.
He doesn't remember. She can tell just by looking at his face that he doesn't remember her.
She has to shake her head a little like a wet dog, it's so embarrassing. "I'm fine," she says, in a tiny, shaky voice. He might not even be able to hear her. "I'm so sorry, I didn't see you –"
"It's fine, I was just all…lost in thought, I should've noticed that you were there," he says easily, waving a hand carelessly, and she wants to grab it. Hold it, lace their fingers together. She wants to hug him until they both can't breathe. She wants to hear his heartbeat, make sure it's really him, that he's really alive, that he's really here. He's here. He's here. She can't believe it.
It takes every ounce of her self control to not laugh, or throw herself at him, or burst into tears.
He glances backward, at the solitary coffee cup lying pathetically on its side. "Oh, I'm sorry. I spilled your drink."
"It's okay, I was almost done with it anyway," she says at once., trying to force her voice to sound casual.
His gaze drifts downward to her shirt, stained brown. Annabeth suddenly feels self—conscious, and she picks at her sleeves. Out of all the days she could've met Percy, it had to be today? Today, when she'd been at her lowest and she looks like a trash raccoon?
"I guess I owe you a coffee," he jokes, and out of all the things Annabeth had been expecting, it hadn't been that. It surprises her so much she honest to god almost chokes on the same air she's breathing.
He's waiting for a response, but she's tongue—tied. She can't believe her ears. It's every opportunity she's ever wanted but Annabeth has no idea what to say.
Her brain runs through all of the dumb conversations about weather and school that she uses with her classmates. None of it is right. Her mind is swimming but somewhere in the hurricane of words and phrases she spits out, "What?" in a raspy voice.
"I spilled your coffee," he says, shrugging, "so I'll treat you to a new one. There's a place I know right around the corner."
Oh my god yes, Annabeth thinks with feeling. What she says is, "It's no problem. Besides, you don't even know me. And, uh, I—I don't even know you."
He quirks a brow. Annabeth holds her breath.
He holds out his hand. Green eyes sparkle like Christmas tree decorations. Annabeth's never seen anyone's eyes actually light up, like how they describe it in the books, and it's a breathtaking sight.
"I'm Percy," says Percy, as Annabeth's heart races faster at the confirmation, and then he breaks into a smile that literally brightens up the entire street, the city, maybe even the world. She catches herself automatically smiling back – her cheeks hurt as she does so. How long has it been since something has made her smile?
She takes his hand. The touch shocks her entire system, and he's warm in the chilly evening air, like he's a living furnace. For a second, she is unsure of what to do, how to react, until her brain finally kickstarts and she shakes his hand robotically.
"Well, now you know me," he laughs.
She manages a smile. "I guess I do."
Percy buys them both coffees from the place around the corner. He talks the whole way there like Annabeth's not some random girl he'd crashed into two seconds ago on the sidewalk. She doesn't know what to make of it. Of him.
Separating the Percy from the past and the Percy of the present is proving to be a difficult task. Especially since, if Percy hadn't died way back then, he'd probably have grown to look exactly like this Percy, who is an inch or two taller than her, and built like a swimmer, with long limbs and lean muscle.
The coffee shop is softly lit and warm and it smells like heaven. Percy greets the girl behind the counter with a smile and a wink – Annabeth's brain immediately goes into overdrive: what if he has a girlfriend oh my god – but the girl only rolls her eyes and asks him to order before she kicks him out.
"Two coffees," Percy says, flashing the peace sign.
They take a seat at the corner of the café. Percy stretches out lazily while Annabeth studies the décor with an eye that is more critical than curious, absentmindedly playing with a napkin. Every so often, she glances over at him and he smiles and she has to pinch herself discreetly in the leg to remind herself she's not daydreaming.
"Ah, too bad it's not my shift," Percy yawns. "I'd have made you a killer caramel latte."
"You – what?" Annabeth says, discarding the napkin at once, disarmed by this sudden revelation.
"I work here," Percy says.
"I – uh, okay," Annabeth fumbles, "why are you telling me this?"
The girl brings their coffees. Annabeth says "Thanks," and Percy sniffs at the cup experimentally. The girl flips him off behind his back, and Annabeth snorts.
She takes a sip. It's warm and frothy and Annabeth feels warmed up at the first sip. Across the table, Percy drinks some and makes this – noise. His eyes flutter shut and oh no, it's really cute. Annabeth hides her smile behind her mug.
"Feeling better, huh?" Percy says.
"A lot better," she admits. With something warm filling her belly, Annabeth's gained a lot more perspective. Feeling a little sheepish, she realizes she's been wandering the city all day on an empty stomach, which would have done nothing to improve her (albeit already sour) mood. "Thank you. I—I really can't say it enough. I really owe you one. I was…not having the best day."
"It felt like the right thing to do. I mean, no offense, but you looked horrible," Percy says bluntly. "You looked like you'd been dumped, lost your job, and your dog died…all at the same time."
She splutters into her coffee and comes up choking. Percy tilts his head back and lets out a laugh that's not exactly pretty, but it's honest, and it's the kind of laugh that encourages other people to join in. He laughs with his whole body, shoulders shaking and eyes crinkling, and Annabeth lets out a reluctant giggle.
"I'm going through a rough patch," she counters, smiling, and Percy lets out a little chuckle that makes her insides sing. "But you didn't have to, uh, stop a—and talk to me, and buy me this coffee. Seriously. That was pretty cool of you. Especially since, well, you don't even know me."
"My mother would've killed me if I left a girl crying on a bench alone at night. I'd like to think I've been raised better than that," Percy responds casually, and Annabeth feels a rush of emotion at the mention of his mother. Sally, she thinks, who'd accepted Annabeth into her home and fed her cookies and given her the best hugs, the kind that made you feel safe and warm forever.
"Smart woman," she says.
"She's the best."
There's a lull in the conversation as they both take measured sips of their drinks. Annabeth struggles for words. Talking to Percy feels light and easy, ridiculously easy, easy in the way a first conversation between two strangers rarely is. Of course, there's the fact that Annabeth feels like she's known Percy for her entire life at this point, but she's not even sure if they're the same person, and how exactly is she supposed to broach that topic? It's not like she can just ask him, Hey, sorry if this sounds weird, but I think we used to know each other in our previous lives, and we died fighting a Titan named Kronos, and we were best friends and I miss you and –
She can't. She can't risk sounding like a total weirdo and end up losing him again.
Percy finishes his coffee first. He wipes his hands on his jeans, fishing for his wallet and taking out several dollar bills – refusing multiple times to let Annabeth pay. He smiles effortlessly at Annabeth when they make eye contact, and she very nearly blushes, but ends up chickening out and dropping her gaze, her hair falling loose and hanging in curtains on the sides of her face.
She takes out her phone – it's on 12% battery – and books an Uber to her apartment. The app informs her that her driver will reach their location in five minutes. Annabeth pockets her phone again, looking up to find Percy watching her with a strange expression on his face.
"I live pretty close by, so I can walk," he says, when Annabeth offers to drop him on her way out.
"Oh, okay," she says.
They stare at each other.
She doesn't want this to end. She wants to keep talking to him, about – about anything: she wants to see him smile and make him laugh and sit close enough to feel his warmth. She wants to drink coffees with him and fight over who gets to eat the last slice of pizza and watch shitty movies with him. She wants to hold his hand and look into his eyes and tell him everything. She wants things to be like before: she wants to feel close to him and she wants to tell him all of her secrets and she wants her best friend back. She's been looking for him her whole life and she doesn't want to just – let it end here, like this, at a tiny café on the Upper East Side, with neither of them knowing much about the other beyond their first names.
"I owe you a coffee," she tries finally, which is desperate—speak for Will I see you again? and she feels sort of pathetic, but she can't imagine the thought of just... them going their separate ways and never seeing each other again, until this Percy becomes nothing more than a memory, too–
He hums. Annabeth checks her phone. Her Uber is a minute away – in fact, she can see headlights of a car approaching them from down the road.
"Well, in that case," he says, with a sly smile, in a voice that suggests they're sharing an inside joke, "you know where to find me."
Annabeth dreams of a ship in a stormy sea.
There is an island in the distance, nothing more than a bunch of rocks surrounded by mist. With a start, she notices Percy and a younger Annabeth at the foremast. Percy looks tense, and her own face is lined with grim determination.
The Annabeth in her dream is small. There are bags under her eyes and she looks about to faint, but her grey eyes flash with a purpose Annabeth has rarely felt in this life. Next to her stands Percy: he's a little shorter than her and his eyes look larger. They can't be older than thirteen, meaning they would've first met only a year or so previously, but they still move around each other with a practiced ease.
"Don't untie me," Annabeth is telling Percy, "no matter what happens or how much I plead. I'll want to go straight over the edge and drown myself."
Percy grins. "Are you trying to tempt me?"
"Ha—ha." Annabeth rolls her eyes.
"Fine, I promise I won't untie you," Percy says. With a wave of his hand, ropes tie themselves around her. Annabeth strains against them and they hold, and she nods her approval.
Percy has stuffed wax into his ears. Annabeth lets out a snort at the sight, and Percy sticks his tongue out and turns his attention ahead.
At first, all Annabeth can hear is the waves pounding against the boat. Percy guides the ships expertly and with ease through the mist, and Annabeth waits with bated breath. Percy keeps glancing at her out of the corner of his eye.
The song starts out of nowhere, and her younger self stiffens. Annabeth, though aware that she is she's hallucinating, still feels panic start to bubble at the pit of her stomach: in front of her, the younger Annabeth has turned pale, is straining at the ropes with a strength she's almost stunned to see.
"Percy!" she screams, "Percy!"
Percy is looking at her with the most mournful expression on his face, lips curved downward, eyes a little dim. With effort, she can tell, he turns away.
She's crying, now. Annabeth can hear the song, a ballad, that speaks of pride and hurt and loss. She sobs, crying for Percy to untie her so she can stop listening. It's hard to watch. Percy keeps looking back and then away again, like it's hurting him to see her like this.
Finally, Annabeth runs out of patience. With a flash of genius, she remembers her knife, and she cuts quickly through the rope. Percy is still determinedly staring ahead, and Annabeth uses the opportunity to dive into the sea.
The water is cold, and Annabeth is gasping as she kicks for the surface. The waves are strong, and Annabeth is nearly pushed backward, into the side of the boat – which has Queen Anne's Revenge spelled out in faded paint – but she ducks underwater and resurfaces again, coughing. There's all kinds of wreckage around her, the kind of warning that shuld really make her stop and think – hey, am I doing the right thing? But she doesn't even notice.
The only goal in her crazed mind if to get to the island. The song echoes in her ears as she swims toward the rocks, nearly braining herself against a jagged rock that pokes itself out of the ocean, and her breath grows labored as she cries, tears mingling with the salt water.
And suddenly she is staring at a cloudless sky. Her mother and father and Luke sit on a picnic blanket, smiling and laughing and beckoning for her to join them. Her parents look so content together. Luke looks at peace, like he'd never left her, like he's never poisoned Thalia's tree. They look like a real family, and Annabeth's entire being aches with longing – it's all she's ever wanted.
She kicks forward, manic. The scene in front of her looks way too perfect to be real, but she doesn't care. Her parents are together and happy and holding hands, and Luke is smiling at her, and they sit in the shade of the trees, in a city of her own design –
Something catches her ankle, and she's yanked downward. Annabeth catches a brief flash of gleaming green before she breaks through the surface and can breathe again.
Wild, burning alarm fills her senses. She's swimming towards the perfect world, and someone is trying to stop her.
She struggles. Hands grab her again: her wrists, her ankle, her shoulder. She shakes them all off, trying to swim, but then arms circle her waist and she shoots downward.
Water fills her nose. She nearly collides with something large in the water as she thrashes about, but the arms hold fast. Her vision grows blurry as they go deeper, but her ears feel clear and her mind is beginning to lose some of the dread from earlier.
A flash of white as bubbles from all around them converge on her, and suddenly she can breathe. Annabeth sees Percy in front of her, holding her arm tightly, eyes wide with worry, hair billowing about him. She gasps, realizing the song is gone, and so is the vision, and with it the future she'd wanted to create for herself.
She cries and cries until she feels lightheaded, and Percy, even though he still has those ridiculous—looking balls of wax in his ears, immediately holds her, pacifies her, makes small shushing noises, tells her it's going to be okay. The water is cold, and Annabeth feels numb, but Percy is warm and solid, a grounding force.
She wakes up with the feeling of his thumb still drawing little circles onto her back.
She gives it a week before she can't take it anymore.
She's been thinking about Percy literally 24/7, their first meeting replaying over and over in her mind. She tries to distract herself by busying herself with work: when not providing her best customer service with a winning grin, she scribbles, she doodles, she drafts new plans, she straightens. It doesn't help. She keeps thinking about how the owner of a smirk she's seen only in her dreams is just a short walk away.
Annabeth wants to fucking bury herself when she replays their first meeting and she thinks about how she'd probably looked like a drowned rat and had barely been able to speak for the first ten minutes. He must've thought she was being a total fucking creep.
And yet he'd practically invited her for coffee again by telling her where he worked. Why would he do that?
Pity, Annabeth decides savagely, nearly breaking the tip of her pencil. He probably pities the poor crying girl he'd run into; he'd probably thought she looked suicidal, or, at the very least, extremely depressed. She'd had a panic attack in the middle of the street, after all.
Her work has been suffering, given her state of mind. Twice she's been late in her submissions, and her work isn't as perfect as she'd like it to be. Of course, her mother is not the one to tell her so, but one of Athena's personal assistants informs Annabeth on Friday evening that her performance hasn't been up to the standard they've come to expect from her. She doesn't even sound angry, just disappointed and a little concerned, and Annabeth bows her head. She knows she hasn't been doing well enough, and she knows why, it's just been a crazy week and she'd had a lot to take in.
"I'm just feeling a little feverish," she says, and god bless the assistant, because her expression softens.
"Hope it's not anything serious," she says sympathetically.
"No, just need some sleep," Annabeth reassures her.
"Get well soon," the lady says. Then, in a lower tone, she adds, "Don't let the workload get you down. Ms. Athena does this to employees she finds promising, just to see how much they can handle. It sounds cruel, but it means she expects a lot from you."
Annabeth stares. The assistant smiles. "And between you and me, you're doing great." She winks. "And the boss thinks so, too."
A pathetic—sounding "Really?" slips from Annabeth's lips before she can catch it; and she flushes. She sounds like a hopeful child, but the assistant just winks and tells her to take care.
Well, Annabeth thinks ruefully, this is cause for celebration, even if she might die if she keep working fifty hours a week.
The walk to the café is about fifteen minutes, and it's only when she's right outside the door that it occurs to her what a stupid idea this is.
You stupid idiot, she screams at herself, you stupid fucking idiot, what the fuck were you thinking, because she can see Percy inside, behind the counter this time, wearing an apron and smiling at a customer as he hands them their change, and he looks soft and real and there, proof that he really did exist, that she had met him, and oh my god she hasn't thought this through at all.
Eventually, her need to see him again wins out against the side of her that is mortified at the thought of messing up and saying something stupid in front of him. She steps inside, inhaling the smell of freshly baked bread and coffee, going to stand in line.
Percy's eyes do that thing when he sees her. The lighting up thing, where it feels like he's genuinely happy to see her. Annabeth ascends to new levels of crush heaven, and she has to remind herself that he probably treats all his regulars like this.
"Annabeth," he breathes, almost in relief, when she's right in front of him. Her name sounds nice when he says it. He pronounces it naturally, like they've been friends for ages. "You came."
He's looking at her up and down, still smiling. Annabeth knows she looks a hundred thousand trillion times better than before; she'd looked in the mirror before leaving, thank you very much, and she's having a pretty good hair day and her clothes fit her well.
"Of course I did," she says. "I owed you a drink. Also, I'm hungry."
He lets out a short laugh. "I get off my shift in ten minutes. What would you like?"
"Um…" she scans the menu quickly, well aware that she's holding up the line. "A vanilla bean latte, and a blueberry muffin."
"And what would I like?" Percy asks, batting his eyelashes.
She laughs. "How about a Butterscotch Toffee latte?"
"Good choice," he grins, taking the money Annabeth offers. He winks at her. "I'll join you in a while."
"Sure." Annabeth finds a seat, her heart racing. She's not sure what exactly motivated her to come here, but she finds herself equal parts excited and terrified at the thought of spending more time with Percy.
She scrolls aimlessly through her phone, opening and closing Instagram several times without really meaning to as a result of her nerves. Nobody around seems to pay her any heed, the café exuding a feeling of calm that does nothing to ease the storm swirling inside her.
Percy's replacement, the same girl who'd been behind the counter during Annabeth's last visit, does a double take when she sees her, and then she flashes Percy a sly look and says something to him that makes him laugh a little shyly and hurl his apron in her face.
Annabeth watches the exchange with no small degree of fascination. Percy had always made friends easily, she remembers, and even though she knows she's being silly, she feels a small prickle of envy at their closeness, not unlike how she had felt about Rachel Dare all those years ago.
He ducks underneath the counter, grabs a tray with both their coffees and her muffin, and begins making his way towards her. Annabeth looks down quickly, ears burning, not wanting to seem like a crazy stalker, but also dying to know what the conversation had been about.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," Percy says when he reaches her, handing her a cup from the tray and taking a seat opposite her.
"It's no problem," she mumbles.
He nods at her phone. "That looks interesting."
She looks at it. In her haste to avoid appearing like she was eavesdropping on his exchange with his co—worker, she'd opened Instagram again, landing on a photo of an Ancient Greek temple posted by one of the architecture pages she follows. It's a beautiful building, with tall columns and a high ceiling. Annabeth wants to die a little, mostly because yeah, she's kind of an architecture junkie and she follows boring pages on Instagram, okay?
He whistles appreciatively when he sees the image. "Looks impressive. It looks Greek. Or is it Roman? I always get the two mixed up."
"Greek," Annabeth confirms, taking back the phone and shoving it deep into her bag. "Romans invented concrete, so they could afford a lot more stability in their buildings. That's why they've got a lot of domes and arches and stuff of the like." She snaps her gaze upward, realizing she'd gone on a bit of an unplanned ramble. "Uh…"
"That's so cool," Percy says enthusiastically, actually leaning forward, his hands drumming on the table. "You really sound like you know your stuff."
"I'm studying architecture at NYU," she says. "I'm a junior. This stuff is kinda…my thing, I guess."
"You like Greek stuff?"
"Love it," she admits. It's an obsession she's been unable to shake since her dreams began, when she was just a kid. Her curiosity only grew as she aged and she figured out her past, and she now knows Greek history and mythology enough to write several papers on the subject. "It's like…a side hobby of mine? I dunno, the myths are pretty interesting. I could go on and on if you gave me a starting point, but I don't want to bore you –"
"Oh no, no no no no," Percy says at once, his eyes wide, and his voice eager. "I won't get bored. I love listening to this stuff. My mom used to read me stories of, like, Hercules, and, uh, Theseus, as a kid, and my stepdad used to teach History. I'd love to hear what you know…if you don't mind, of course," he adds.
Percy flaps his hands frantically. "I mean, I didn't mean to push you! I just mean, that, uh, I'd be totally cool to listen to all your Greek architecture—y facts and stuff, it seems pretty interesting, and I'd always liked this stuff in school –"
"Oh, yeah, sure, of course, yeah," Annabeth says at once, trying to recover from her entire body failure, "I mean, what do you want to know? I don't want to brag, but I'm kind of an expert."
"So Medusa was Poseidon's side chick, basically, right –"
"Oh my god, Percy –"
All in all, it's one of the most enjoyable conversations Annabeth's had with anyone ever. Percy listens to her long spiels about different styles of architecture, even asks questions in the right places, like he's really listening. It's cute and nice and…somewhat touching, actually. When she was in school, just getting into all this stuff, she never really had anyone to talk to, and now that she's in college – well, she hasn't really connected with anyone the way she would've liked.
She learns a lot about him. He's studying Marine Biology and minoring in English Lit, which really fits him, she thinks. She also learns that he stays close to campus, but visits his mom's place on the Upper East Side fairly often, mostly because he misses her cooking. She learns that his first job was a lifeguard at the local pool, that he's not a huge fan of coffee even though it's his job to pour it out for other people, and that he's on his college swim team, and he volunteers at the local animal shelter when he can. He's just as busy as Annabeth.
He uses his hands a lot when he talks, and his eyes crinkle before his lips form a smile. His hair is messy and he's got a few freckles and his eyes are big and green and glassy and even though he's in a disgusting t—shirt and ripped jeans and they keep talking over each other and Percy's snorted into his drink and sent sploshes of coffee all over their table, Annabeth feels like this whole thing is kind of perfect.
It's making her head spin, because Annabeth can imagine that, if she and Percy hadn't, well, died all those years ago, they might have grown up to look exactly the way they look now, and they might have even ended up at the same colleges. They'd probably be together, too. Like, dating. The thought makes Annabeth's chest warm.
She hasn't really dated anyone. She's been with couple of, uh, people (read: bad choices) since graduating from high school: at first, it had been Annabeth having a shit day after a particularly bad nightmare, trying to force herself to forget, thinking that maybe if she could find someone she liked, maybe she could forget it all.
The sex had felt so wrong, though. Even just making out with someone had felt…off. Annabeth had never enjoyed any of the experiences, and she never stayed until daybreak, never called back.
She looks at Percy, who's rubbing his shirt vigorously with a napkin, and wonders if he's ever had a girlfriend.
It can't be a coincidence that he's here, she thinks wildly. It can't be a coincidence that he's here and living in his old apartment and studying marine biology, of all things, and that she's here too and that she remembers.
It's taking all her effort not to let anything slip. Like, Percy drops all these facts about himself, stuff like "Oh, my favourite color is blue," and "I adopted a dog from the shelter, her name's Mrs. O'Leary, you should come over and see her sometime," and "My real name is Perseus, actually, but I don't know what my mom was thinking so please just use Percy," and Annabeth wants to scream, I know all this stuff! I know! Do you know I know? Or is the universe just playing a colossal joke on me?
And oh, she could say something, but she doesn't want to risk sounding completely bonkers. What if he thinks she's crazy and treats her just how her parents did, with apprehension and disgust? What if he cuts her out of his life and doesn't want to meet her again? She doesn't want to ruin everything – she can't let that happen.
So she watches him ramble about Mrs. O'Leary shedding all over his apartment and tells herself she's fine with just this.
Annabeth finds herself leaving her class a few days later near tears.
She's just – so tired. The nightmares have intensified, and Annabeth wakes up thrashing on most nights and she's barely gotten enough sleep. She's so overworked, too – and the day before, at work, her mom had congratulated Annabeth's fellow over some designs – and Annabeth is mad about it despite her best efforts to shove the feeling away. She'd smiled at the girl and listened to her squeals about the boss herself commending her work, all the while trying to rationalize away the pangs of… what? Jealousy? God, she's not seven fucking years old. She's past all that. She doesn't expect favouritism from her mother, but she'd like to be acknowledged at least once in a while.
Annabeth knows she can be a good architect. She's done all her research and she's got the drive and the skills. She's just…not being given the work she wants or the work she knows she can do well. And she's beginning to get bitter about it.
She's tired from working. She's tired of her mother pretending she doesn't exist. She's tired of the damn nightmares from her past taking what the few hours of sleep she could've had. Which leads to her nearly breaking down during class just thinking about it all, juggling her books and laptop that she is too frustrated to put back into her overstuffed backpack as she flees class to feed her growling stomach.
She ends up camping out at a café close by, and she goes through the line and balances two sandwiches on top of her laptop and grabs a soda, carefully leaning her lunch against her body. Feeling victorious after managing to pay for her meal without dropping anything – hey, it's the small victories that matter most on days like these — she saunters towards an open table but stops short when he sees a familiar mop of black hair.
Percy's lazily scrolling through something on his phone, his head propped up on one arm. By the look of it, his lunch is long over, and across from him is an empty cup, like someone had sitting there but has since left.
What is he doing here, her mind screeches, but her body also sags in relief because he's kind of exactly what she needs right now. She wants to get his attention and she wants to ask him for a hug, but she doesn't want to startle him, and she also doesn't want to seem too desperate for attention. She wants to play it cool, but the problem is, the stack in her arms is slipping and she's about to look positively uncool in about ten seconds.
Quickly, she sets the heavy load down on a nearby table. Percy's eyes snap towards the source of the sound.
Annabeth smiles, waves a little with two fingers like a fucking idiot before stiffly settling her hand by her side. There's two empty tables between them, just enough, she thinks, to make it look like it happened on accident. She tries to look surprised, like she hadn't seen him.
Percy gets up at once to come over, and Annabeth flails internally. Now what? She sits down beside her embarrassingly large pile of stuff and unwraps one of the sandwiches on autopilot. She wants to say something but there's no conversation starters here, no baked goods, no coffee, just Annabeth, feeling ridiculously overwhelmed.
Her mouth feels dry. She opens her soda and chugs it down too quickly, and then she feels a burp rise in her throat and she has to shove it down. She stuffs some sandwich on top of the gas bubble to push it down. It works well enough, but she's still certain she's going to explode soon — either from the barely contained burp or the tension of wanting to talk to Percy but not knowing what to say without bursting into tears.
Percy's sat down opposite to her. He looks tired, but he's smiling at her like seeing her is the best part of his day.
Once he looks her in the eye, though, he sobers immediately. "Annabeth, you okay?"
She very nearly breaks. "No. Yes. I don't know."
"Annabeth, you're not fine," he says. "You look like you're about to cry."
Her damn traitor tear ducts. Annabeth wipes the tears before they can fall. "I—I'm just…" She's tired. So tired. She wishes she could march right into a coffin.
"Just?" Percy prods gently.
She looks at him, and he looks so kind and full of concern, like he really wants to help her. Annabeth feels everything in her body scrunch up tighter. Her chest feels constricted. She feels like she's not even breathing properly.
She wants to scream and cry. The feeling is unlike the stifling panic she'd felt a week or so earlier, the day she'd met Percy for the first time. Meeting him had shocked the panic right out of her, but today she feels an overload of emotions. She wants to throw something. Hit a wall. Collapse.
She wants, but for now she just sits there, like the slightest movement will send her rattling apart, shattering into a million pieces.
Percy seems to notice all this without her even saying a word.
He stands up next to her. "C'mere," he says.
Annabeth doesn't need to be told twice. She rises unsteadily from her chair, and Percy's arms wrap around her immediately. She feels self—conscious and stupid and weak but the café is full of other anxiety—filled college students and nobody even glances their way. Annabeth feels a loud sob burst out of her and she tries to disguise it as a hiccup, but he doesn't seem to care.
The words tumble out of her, like she's unable to stop them. "I hate my job."
He hums, waiting.
"I work so hard," she babbles. "I work so hard and it's never enough and there's always more work to do. I'm doing so much and I'm scared I'm falling behind in my classes and I'm on a scholarship so I need to keep my grades up. And my own mother won't even look at me."
"What?" he asks. He looks so worried, fucking hell.
She's mentioned her job to him before, just not the minor detail that her mother, who'd left her and her dad as a child, is her boss. "My mom is the founder of the company I work at. And she hired me and I thought everything would get better and that I could have some form of a family again. But clearly she doesn't care because she goes out of her way to avoid me and she only really takes notice of me when I fuck up. Which feels like always, these days." Tears well up again in her eyes. "And 'm working extra hours and it' not even worth the wage at this point. Because I'm so tired and I could die at the desk at work and nobody would care."
All the hurt inside her wells up; she feels like a fire hydrant, ready to burst. "I hate my job," she says again. "I work so hard and I don't even know why. I just. I don't know. Everything is shit and I just want to get away from it all."
Percy makes a small soothing noise in the back of his throat, like he's comforting a frightened animal. His hands send small streaks of heat all through her as they press lightly just at the dip of her spine, and he pulls her closer, and Annabeth takes a deep, shuddery breath. She's never been a huggy person, mostly because she's rarely been hugged. She's not sure what to do with her hands, but then she tentatively circles them around his waist.
It feels nice.
She takes deep breaths to calm herself. She presses her face into the crook of his neck, her eyes shutting on their own accord. And she feels like she is a block of ice and he is the sun, and she's melting. Slowly but surely, the tightness in her dissolves and she slumps against him like she's rubber. He feels warm and he smells nice, like coffee and mint and deodorant. Annabeth can't even remember if she took a shower this morning. She probably smells like ass, but Percy only pulls her closer.
She keeps waiting for him to pull away, but he doesn't, just rubbing calming circles into her back. She focuses on the path his fingers take, finds it calms her down. She breathes, slowly and deliberately, easing the anxiety away, until all she can feel is Percy, solid and comforting against her, his breath hot against her hair.
"You can let go now," she mumbles into his hoodie.
"Hugs this are therapeutic," he shoots back, and she can hear him smile. "And I'm kind of enjoying this, honestly."
She huffs out a laugh, too exhausted to commit to a real chuckle, and finally steps away. Annabeth's eyes catch onto his dimples. His hair is messed up, and there are dark circles under his eyes like he'd been having a rough day, too: maybe he hadn't been joking and he really had needed a hug just as much as she. They stare at each other, all soft and fuzzy, and then Percy grabs her stuff and says, "Let's get you home. You need some sleep, man."
She can't argue with that. She grabs her food and they leave the shop together. Percy holds her hand all the way, and they must look like a real couple, but Annabeth knows he's really doing it to keep her from falling over, and she appreciates the gesture. His touch keeps her awake and alert and prickly all over.
Halfway there, he asks, "Why don't you just quit your job?"
She stares at the ground. She's thought about quitting before, slamming the door in her mother's shocked face ad walking out of that damn building. But Annabeth has always been ambitious. She's got some fight left in her. And more than ever she craves her mother's acknowledgement, her acceptance, if not love.
She doesn't want it to end like this. She doesn't want to throw in the towel when she's faced down a Titan in her past without batting an eye. She doesn't want to quit when she's got so much left in her, and she doesn't want to have any regrets about what could've been.
"I can't give up," she whispers to the pavement.
Percy's hand squeezes hers. "I don't think it would be giving up," he says quietly.
She wants to scream, What would you know about it? What would he know of all the shit she'd been going through? But she bites her tongue.
"I know I can do this," she says. "I'm not quitting the job and I'm not quitting on myself, either."
"You deserve more than this," he says, and his statement pierces her right through the heart.
She sighs. "I know."
"Are you happy?" he asks.
They've reached her apartment building. Annabeth lets go of Percy's hand in favour of fumbling around her bag for her keys. She extracts them from in between the pages of a book.
She unlocks her door. Percy's last question hangs between them, but honestly? Annabeth doesn't know. She's definitely not at her best, but she knows what she's capable of and what she wants to achieve. And that's keeping her going. As for happiness, well…she knows with a concrete certainty that just being around Percy makes her happy.
Percy sets her papers down on a table, looking a little nervous, as people always do when entering another's house for the first time. She smiles a little at him. "I'll have to get back to you on that question."
He wags a finger in her direction. "This isn't over."
She walks him to the door. "I know. I just want to stop thinking about it for a while I'll be okay. Thank you for worrying about me."
"I just hope I helped."
"You did," she assures him.
He points at the stairs. "I should get going. But, um." He gazes at her hopefully – "I'll see you?"
"I'll see you," she confirms.
He smiles. "Think about what I said. I don't want to preach, it's just…no offense, your mom sounds like a real bitch. And if you aren't happy, you have every right to find something that makes you feel better about yourself. You deserve to be happy, Annabeth." He sounds so earnest, and his smile is oh so soft and his edges look soft in the dim light, and it feels like they're sharing something flawless and touching and intimate, if just for a moment.
He wiggles his fingers cutely in a wave like he hasn't just given her the best advice of her life, and then he turns away. By the time Annabeth recovers, he is gone.
"Okay," she whispers to the empty hallway.
Their friendship blossoms into something new and wonderful.
Annabeth thinks she remembers happiness – back when she was a kid and she didn't know what the nightmares meant and her parents were still together. They'd go for walks and to the park and they'd all hold hands when they crossed the street. They'd all sit on the couch in front of the TV at dinner, and her dad would tuck her into bed each night and her mother would kiss her forehead. Those memories from back before her whole life went to shit always leave her with a warm glow inside her.
She's never felt this content in her life. Just – just being around Percy makes her feel better, more upbeat, more positive. It's reflecting in her work, where she's become ridiculously productive – Athena had even raised an appreciative eyebrow in her direction during their last meeting – and it's even affecting her attitude – she catches herself smiling more, talking more to her classmates and her colleagues at work, and Annabeth just. Wow. She feels good. She's never felt this way before.
She's also painfully in love with him.
It's weird but also right. Annabeth's got a lot of feelings about the past, because she knows for a fact that she'd once had feelings for Luke, but what she feels for Percy is beyond anything she's ever felt for anyone in her whole entire life.
She loves him. She loves him so much. She loves him as a friend, as a companion, as her partner in crime who had invited her on their very first quest and had died right by her side. She loves him for what he is now, a quick—witted man fiercely devoted to his family, who makes the best hot chocolate in the city.
Are they the same Percy? They must be, Annabeth speculates. The resemblance is too uncanny for this Percy not to be a reincarnation of some form. But this begs the question: why is it only her that remembers, then? Perhaps it's because she'd been a demigod child of Athena, cursed with knowledge, whilst Percy has always been a Seaweed Brain.
She visits his apartment – Mrs. O'Leary really is adorable: rather than the hellhound she'd been, she is a tiny black poodle who loves cuddles and spends the entirety of the day attempting to chew Annabeth's hair.
They meet as often as they can, given their busy schedules. They FaceTime each other. They text all the fucking time. Annabeth invites Percy jogging one morning over the weekend and she kicks his ass at it. Percy invites Annabeth swimming right after and literally beats her by one whole lap.
It's natural and careless and fun. She hasn't had fun like this in ages and ages. It's Percy and Annabeth as they might have been, if there hadn't been gods, and monsters, and a war. It's Percy and Annabeth if they'd been allowed to live a little longer.
She's happy. She's really, really happy, so happy Annabeth isn't even sure if this is her real life. She's always been the kind of person who's never been satisfied with what she has, always trying to build something bigger and better, always striving to excel, but she thinks she finally understands all those cheesy Tumblr quotes bout 'living in the moment' and 'finding her own happiness.' She kind of even forgets about her whole personal solo quest to find answers about her past, because life is about being happy, and…Percy is making her feel good about herself, and that's good, right?
She's taking his advice from before to heart and trying to do things that makes her happy. She's beginning to exercise again. She eats healthy and she tries to talk to people more and soon her smiles become less forced and more free. She hasn't felt an anxiety attack coming on in a long time, and even though the nightmares still keep her awake most nights, well, she supposes she'll deal with those, too.
He's her friend. He's her best friend and he always has been, right from when they were twelve. Sure, they lost a couple of years – and a life – midway, but it really feels like nothing's changed between them at all.
And, well, if she kind of wants to grab his face and kiss him sometimes, she can shove those feelings right back down, thank you very much.
The sudden urge for more had started a few months since they'd first met, when Percy and Annabeth were sitting at the café, and he was showing her videos of Mrs. O'Leary chasing a butterfly in the park, and Annabeth found herself staring at his dimples, at the curve of his bottom lip as he cooed over his dog, at the way his smile seemed to lift up his entire body.
She absentmindedly thinks that she'd like to give him a kiss, even just the cheek would be okay, and then she freezes up entirely.
She'd loved Percy, back in her past. She knows that for sure. They'd been young and stupid teenagers who were thrust into shitty circumstances and they'd been too stupid to really act on their feelings. Or. Well. Annabeth had made a move once. Just once, when she and Percy were alone in a mountain falling apart, being chased by monsters. Percy had yelled at her to get out, and Annabeth had kissed him.
It was a short kiss, the kind that's over before it even begins. Annabeth had run away before she even saw his face, cheeks burning, tears in her eyes.
During the war, during those final days, she had wondered about Luke. Luke, whom she'd idolized for years and years, who had betrayed her at every turn. Yes, she had loved Luke, but she'd loved him blindly, from the eyes of a tiny seven—year old looking at her savior, and those feelings had turned into something totally different as she'd grown up and become old enough to sort out her own heart.
Her love for Percy is different. It's like jumping into a lake on a really hot day, the feeling of hot and cold all at once. It's that great feeling of – of stretching out on the bed after a long day, of sunlight cascading over her body after a long, cold night. It's the feeling of something powerful and wonderful expanding inside her, something that has been lying dormant within her for years, maybe even a lifetime.
She wonders what life would've been like if they hadn't died. Annabeth remembers that the final day of the war had been August 18th, Percy's birthday – how ironic. If they'd survived, how would the day have ended? Would they have thrown a party? Shared a kiss under the stars of the fallen, glistening over Camp Half—Blood?
She looks at Percy now, perpetual motion, as always – hands tapping against the table, his knee, his mug of hot chocolate. He scrolls through Instagram on his phone, occasionally smiling at a meme, and then their eyes meet.
Nothing miraculous happens – he just smiles at her and goes back to his phone, and suddenly Annabeth is struck by the revelation that she'd do this forever if she could. She could literally just – sit with him, and just be so fucking enamoured with everything this boy does.
She'd loved the Percy of the past, but, with a pang, it occurs to her that she also loves the Percy of the present, and her own admission hits her with the force of a truck barrelling down a slope. It stuns her and she can't move, can't breathe, and oh my god he must be able to see it, it's probably written all over her face.
I love him, she tests out. I love him. He chuckles at something on his phone; Annabeth nearly goes into cardiac arrest, but then he just shows her a meme and giggles. Oh my god, she's in love with an idiot.
Falling for Percy is like falling into clear ocean water, she supposes. At first it's the shallows, where it's warm and lit up and full of life, but then you're in deep without even realizing it. And then it's freezing water, closing in all around you, and all you can see and breathe and think is just – just Percy.
And oh, Annabeth is drowning.
Annabeth's day starts off fairly ordinarily. It's a weekend, and Percy's coming over with his mom's spaghetti and a movie, just like usual. The first time Percy came over for real, Annabeth had spent the entirety of the previous day cleaning and had fallen asleep halfway through the movie as a result. When she'd sheepishly admitted the truth to him, he'd laughed himself silly and shown her a picture of his own apartment, with Mrs. O'Leary sleeping on a pile of old clothes.
She'd stopped cleaning up for him after that.
Even so, her place is pretty clean. It's not very big, but that's okay because she only really uses the apartment to sleep in. Percy probably uses the tiny kitchen more than she does, heating up his mom's cooking and sometimes making something new for the both of them.
Today, he shows up wearing sweatpants and a baggy t—shirt, smiling as he holds up the food. It's a sight that has Annabeth's heart racing as she lets him in, knowing fully well she's absolutely whipped for him. She knows she's screwed when he actually looks pretty bad, with bags under his eyes and wearing a t—shirt that looks unwashed, and she still fucking wants to kiss him. It's very conflicting.
Annabeth faceplants onto her sofa while Percy berates her for it, asking her to please help him heat the food in her own damn house. Annabeth groans into a cushion.
"So how's your mom?" he asks casually.
Annabeth groans again, which is clearly answer enough for Percy, because he lets out a low chuckle that has Annabeth's stomach doing all kinds of…things.
She hears him taking out a pan and switching on the stove. Annabeth turns so that she's lying on her back, staring up at the ceiling. Percy, she can tell, is waiting.
"She's back to not acknowledging my existence," Annabeth grouses, feeling a stab of hurt. "I don't get it. She's acknowledges just about every other intern in the place and she avoids me like I've got some kind of disease. Like if she comes too close I'll give her lice or something. I don't even have lice."
She's putting it lightly. Her classwork is a beast to be reckoned with, and she keeps picking up extra shifts and more tutoring more students just to make ends meet. It's the least she can do, but she's totally worn out.
He clicks her tongue at her. He's not really given up on the idea that she should quit, but he knows better than to bring it up too many times. "Those bags under your eyes, Annabeth. You look like crap."
She sits up and plops her head down heavily on the table, cheek melting against the cool surface.
"Not feeling sick, are you?" he asks.
"No, just tired," she answers honestly.
Percy's smile turns wicked. "You look way older right now."
She swats in his general direction with her hand. "Do not."
"You know what the secret to my vitality is?"
She rolls his head so she's resting her chin on top of her folded hands. "Drugs."
Percy is laughing. The spaghetti smells really good. He says, "Funny. And if you're so bothered by your mom, you should just ignore your mom right back."
"She's my boss, Percy. She's the boss of my boss."
"The final boss," Percy hums. "Take her down. Get that juicy XP. Finish the game."
Despite herself, she huffs a laugh, sitting up. Percy's taken out two bowls from inside a cabinet and is dividing the pasta. She finds herself marvelling at how easily he navigates her box of an apartment. Since when did they get so domestic?
Percy plops down next to her with a sigh, and Annabeth digs into the pasta, letting out a small sigh after her first mouthful. "Percy, your mom is magic."
He mumbles an affirmation, seeming distracted. Annabeth raises an eyebrow at him and he actually flushes a little, turning away. He's been like this a lot over the past few days – not acting too weird or anything, just a little off sometimes. She's caught him staring at her intently and he can't seem to maintain eye contact with her for very long and she can't figure out why. It's getting a little unsettling, because Annabeth's the one dealing with the super massive life—altering crush here and Percy's been literally the most oblivious chunk of wood in the world. He serves her coffee with a smile and texts her all kinds of weird emojis and is generally charming and funny and Annabeth needs to get a grip, oh my god.
Percy's already started the movie — this week it's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which Annabeth has watched a million times and it's a good thing, too, because she can't concentrate. Percy is sitting abnormally close, way closer than he ever has before, and it's messing her up.
Annabeth had told herself a long—ass time ago to not expect much out of this new friendship. Sure, Percy is attractive and apparently exactly her type, and Annabeth's not stupid, she knows she's not bad looking, but y'know what? She'd be totally fine with just them being friends and hanging out and watching shitty movies together. As friends.
There's nothing wrong with this companionship they've got going on right now. She is far too busy for a relationship, she tells herself, but deep down she really knows that that's an excuse, and it's not even a good one.
It's. Just. It's so hard to control herself sometimes. With her feelings for Past Percy and Present Percy all mingling confusingly, it's getting increasingly difficult to hide just how much she wants this. She cares for him too much for someone who just met him a couple of months ago, and it's starting to show. She wonders what he thinks of all this, because she's not really sure what to make of it anymore.
She's lost him before. She'd lost him the day they died and she'd never gotten the chance to tell him she loved him and it's the biggest regret of her life. Maybe that's why she feels this – this urgency now, to tell him. To tell him everything.
She's being stupid, she knows. Percy's already proven to be the best person she's known in this life and it's nice to know for certain that no matter what, she still has his friendship, and what they have now is every bit as important as a romantic relationship—though a romantic relationship would be nice. Very nice.
The crush (to put it lightly) is a thing. Yes. Yes it is. But she is not pining like a lovestruck Aphrodite kid. Annabeth's a big girl and she can control herself. And Percy has never really shown any kind of romantic interest in her and –
And now he's sitting close. So close. Close enough for her to notice the length of his eyelashes and hear the gulpy noise he makes as he eats. Which honestly should make it really uncomfortable but it's not that bad. Which is how Annabeth knows she's colossally fucked.
His eyes dart over to her; they both make the weirdest eye contact and look back at the screen simultaneously. There is pinl creeping up his neck and Annabeth feels her heart hammering against her chest. She's been hiding (or attempting to hide) her feelings for Percy for months now, and she really, really hopes she's not reading the situation wrong. Because Percy's closer than ever and his ears are turning red and there's a pretty flush highlighting his cheekbones. And Annabeth must be imagining things, because he's too good for her and she doesn't want to get her hopes up, because she's just not that lucky.
She's got good instincts, usually, and today feels on the verge of…something. Something really incredible and life—changing. She can hardly wait.
They watch the movie.
Nothing of significance happens – Percy's blush fades and they begin to talk like normal human beings instead of two tongue—tied teenagers at their first prom, but Percy's arm is draped over the sofa in a way that feels like he might make a move and drop it onto her shoulders. Half of her is on fire, screaming It's happening! and the other half just…waits.
Slowly, cautiously, like he's gauging her reaction to it, Percy's arm falls over her shoulder.
Annabeth doesn't move. She's not even sure she breathes, but when Percy figures out she isn't pushing him away, he squirms a little to sit more comfortably, and his arm feels a little heavier. Annabeth leans into him a little.
It's kind of awkward but it feels pleasant. She finds it a little weird that Percy, who's always been a pretty physical person, is being especially cautious around her today, but y'know what? She'll take it
They make casual conversation about the movie and the past week. Percy whines about having too much work and Annabeth whines about her mom and they both whine about not being rich and famous. Percy considers dropping out of college and becoming an Instagram model. Annabeth decides to renounce all things shallow and material and go become like…a saint or something.
"Where will you go?" Percy asks.
"The Himalayas," she says at once. "I'm going to be a mountain hermit and live off of berries and fruit."
"I'm imagining you in rags and a beard," Percy laughs. "You'd look great."
"Haute couture," Annabeth deadpans, and they both laugh.
It's nice. It's relaxed, as everything between them always has been. His light touch makes her warm all over and it feels nice.
About an hour later, after Annabeth makes them both tea, Percy gathers up his stuff to leave. Besides the arm—around—her thing, he doesn't seem to be suggesting anything more, and so Annabeth sees him off feeling a little disappointed, wondering if she's been reading all the signs wrong.
"Uh. You wanna get a coffee later?"
Annabeth stares at him. He meets her eyes, his fingers fidgeting with the end of his t—shirt. The blush is back in full force, spreading higher than ever, spanning his cheeks, ears, and even his neck. He looks uncharacteristically nervous, which leads to the obvious conclusion that he means 'grab a coffee' in the date sense. Her chest lights up at the thought of taking him on a proper date: learning how Percy acts on one, wondering if he might hold her hand, watching him laugh at something she says.
Annabeth smiles despite herself. She ought to say a simple Yes like a normal person, but what spills out of her mouth is, "What do you think we've been doing all this time, dumbass?"
Her statement seems to soothe his nerves, because he lets out a short, surprised bark of laughter.
"I meant. Maybe we could get coffee. And lunch. Or dinner. Whatever's best." He meets her eyes. "Like a date."
"Like a date, huh?" she hums.
"You in?" he asks, lifting an eyebrow like it's a challenge.
"I'm free Friday night," she offers.
"I'll have to check my schedule," he says, rolling his eyes, acting posh.
"Oh, if you're busy –" she says with an air of concern, biting her lip to stop herself smiling.
"I can make it," Percy says at once. "It's my birthday. I'll treat."
"I won't even bring my wallet, then," she says.
They both gaze at each other, giddy and smiling. Annabeth's heart is singing, her ears are ringing, and her legs feels weak like she's about to collapse. She has to hold the doorframe, just in case.
Percy waves. "See you then?"
"You'll see me," she says. "I'll see you. Friday."
"Friday," he says, and the runs down the stairs.
As soon as she's sure he's gone, Annabeth shuts the door and makes herself a green tea, because her mouth suddenly feels dry as a desert and she's just honestly proud of herself for getting out any words at all. She can't stop smiling and she keeps spilling the milk and when she tries to focus on her weekend assignments she finds she can't think of anything else. But it's forgivable. It's forgivable because this is Percy and she's excited for the first time in what feels like forever and they have a date on Friday.
At night, Annabeth dreams of the sky.
Luke struggles under it, but its too much for him. He looks a wreck, defeated, down for the count, with his clothes in tatters and his body coated in sweat. Annabeth runs to him. She feels herself crying as she nears, some part of her still soft for him.
"Annabeth!" he called. "Help me! Please!"
Against her better will, she reaches out to touch his face. She's so close when something in her makes her stop. She stares at him suspiciously.
"What happened?" she asks him. She looks above, at the sky threatening to crush him. This is Atlas's burden, she knows, but why is Luke in his place?
"They left me here," Luke groans. It hurts to hear him so in pain. "Please. It's killing me."
"Why should I trust you?" Annabeth shoots back at once. She can't help but wince at how weak her voice sounds. Weak from his betrayal, from all the times he's tried to hurt her. Family, he'd once said. Did that mean nothing to him now? Did she mean nothing?
"You shouldn't," Luke says, and his voice sounds sincere. "I've been terrible to you. But if you don't help me, I'll die."
Annabeth wants to leave. She wants to, but her feet can't move. Luke's hurt her, tried to kill her, and he's tried to kill Thalia, too, which is just as unforgivable. She should turn and walk away. Try to get out of here, back to Percy. Percy, who's probably blaming himself for her disappearance, losing his mind over how to get her back.
The sky trembles above them, cracks appearing. Annabeth's eyes widen: Luke will die if the sky falls. Without thinking, Annabeth darts forward as the sky presses in, and her arms burn as she holds it up. She's not sure of how she does it, but her will to not die and not let Luke die probably has something to do with it.
The pressure is insane. Her legs feel like jelly and her shoulders scream with pain. Annabeth can barely breathe, gasping for air as she sinks further down under the weight.
Luke rolls free, gasping. "Thanks," he says, gulping for air.
"Help me hold it," Annabeth groans, feeling like her bones are cracking.
Luke regains his breath. She looks at him: the desperate look from his face is gone, replaced by a cold glint in his eyes. Annabeth's breath catches. She's been a fool. If Percy were here now, what would he say? He'd warned her of this a million times. Ugh, and she calls herself the daughter of Athena.
Luke rises. "I knew I could count on you," he says, and in his voice is victory.
He begins to walk away. Annabeth's eyes fill with tears as her body shivers under the weight she's carrying, or maybe they are tears of frustration that she has been deceived yet again.
"Help me!" she sobs.
"Oh, don't worry," Luke says, without turning back. "Your help is on the way. It's all part of the plan. In the meantime, try not to die."
The ceiling of darkness began to crumble again, pushing Annabeth against the ground. She cries as the sky threatens to crush her flat. It would be so easy to give up, she knows, but she has to warn Percy.
Her last thought is that she has to survive, if only just for him.
The morning of Friday, August 18th, Annabeth wakes up tense.
She's been having countless nightmares the entire week. It happens every year: in the days leading up to what had been her final battle, Annabeth relives the events of the war. Losing Beckendorf. Arriving at New York. The city being put to sleep. The demigods, Hunters, and nature spirits defending the city. The Minotaur. Annabeth taking a knife in the shoulder. Hyperion. The drakon. Silena dying, revealing the scythe charm in her palm. Olympus. Hades' army. Annabeth face to face with Luke with golden eyes, catching his strike on the hilt of her knife.
Whispering, I understand now. You have to trust me.
Percy handing Luke her knife.
Luke wavering, his body glowing. Mouthing something in her direction that might've been an apology for everything he'd done.
Percy's eyes widening as Luke stumbled, his eyes lighting up, his mouth open in a horrible scream as he lifted her knife. Percy's hand closing around hers and his green eyes full of tears as Luke stabbed himself at the same time Kronos went supernova, killing Percy, Annabeth, Grover, Luke, and presumably all the other demigods at the base of the building.
It's not her favorite time of year.
Work seems like a chore today. Annabeth feels like a regular grump, grunting replies to everyone who asks her if she's okay, dragging her feet as she walks, because just the simple task of lifting her own body feels almost herculean now.
She feels Athena's eyes on her. She wonders if her mother remembers, or if she even cares.
To make matters worse, her phone vibrates halfway through the day and Annabeth unlocks it to see a message from Percy.
Percy [1:10 PM]: hey i think i have food poisoning or smthn can we get dinner another day
Annabeth replies with a sure, hope you feel okay, frowning at her phone. She'd called him in the morning to wish him a happy birthday and he'd seemed well enough then, even excited for their dinner date. She frowns at the papers stacked in front of her. Maybe, a tiny corner of her thinks, he'd changed his mind about her and decided he didn't like her after all. Maybe she'd been too obvious and he'd lost interest.
Her mood is positively sour by the end of the day.
The sky looks grey and just as stormy as she feels. Annabeth hugs her arms around her, her mind heavy. She'd…she'd really looked forward to that date. It would suck, it would suck so bad if Percy didn't feel the way she did.
She curses herself for letting down her walls, for getting her hopes up the way she did.
It drizzles a little. She walks faster, barely looking where she's going, until her feet bring her to a stop outside a bakery. It says Pearl outside it in simple curly letters, and the tiny place smells heavenly. It smells like roses, and freshly baked bread, and chocolate. Annabeth looks in the store window and her heart leaps, because right there, as though sending her a sign, sits a platter laden with chocolate cupcakes.
Chocolate cupcakes with blue icing.
And Annabeth might sound insane, and maybe it's because she's starving, but those cupcakes fucking speak to her. It's like something takes over her body and Annabeth walks up to the display in a daze, staring at the cupcakes. They look freshly baked: the chocolate is still melting off the sides. They look delicious. They're perfect.
She takes out her phone and dials his number.
Percy picks up within the first ring. "Annabeth. Hey, I'm so sorry, I'm just not feeling that great at the moment –"
"I know you cancelled on our date," she interrupts, "but I'm standing outside a bakery right now and they have these cupcakes with blue icing on them and I can't stop thinking about how much you'd love them." Her words are rushing, tumbling out of her mouth. She's being forward and she doesn't care. All she knows is that this feels important, like it was meant to be. Annabeth thinks that maybe, if they'd won the war back then, she might have given Percy something like this. Maybe they'd eat it together and look at the sea and maybe they'd kiss and taste of chocolate fudge.
She doesn't know what could have happened back then. There are so many what—ifs that she needs to figure out, but this, right now, seems like something that she has to do.
"That sounds amazing," Percy finally says.
"Can I come over?"
"I'd like that," he whispers.
She hangs up. Her hands shake as she enters the store. The woman behind the counter smiles warmly, like she'd been expecting Annabeth – quite possibly she'd seen Annabeth drooling behind the display window like a total fool – and she gives her an extra cupcake with a knowing wink for no reason at all. Annabeth's mind is in too much of a whirlwind to process any of this. She accepts the box with a smile and a hurried Thank you and her feet take her to Percy's apartment as fast as they can go.
Percy opens the door with a timid smile. He looks terrible, like he hasn't slept a wink all night, and his hair is rumpled and he looks a little thinner. There's no Mrs. O'Leary in sight: he must have dropped her off at Sally's.
Annabeth hands him the box: it's small and pretty, white with roses curling around the sides.
Together, they walk to the table. Percy opens the box with slightly trembling hands – Annabeth wouldn't have noticed this unless she was watching very closely – and his expression crumbles when he sees the blue icing. Annabeth's whole body feels like it's made of glass, like it might break at any moment.
"You—you didn't have to do this," he says.
"I wanted to," she says.
They're both speaking very quietly. There is something electric in the air. She feels like something important is about to happen.
"Are you feeling better?" she asks.
"Much," he says, meeting her eyes, "thanks to you." There is a weight behind his eyes that she can't fully understand, but the thought that she made him happy, that he is still her friend, makes her relax. Suddenly, her bad day seems brighter. The future seems full of hope and possibilities, all because of a stupid cupcake.
She smiles. "You shouldn't be alone on your birthday. Even if you did cancel on our date."
Percy's head drops into his hands, his shoulders shaking. "Ah, Annabeth," he says throatily, "what would I do without you."
A blush, red and furious, has worked itself onto her face. "I mean, you'd probably be dead and starving, passed out on your kitchen floor."
"I would be," he says, in a voice too serious for him. "For sure."
They cut a cupcake down the middle. Annabeth sings him Happy Birthday in a soft voice, and Percy takes a bite, his eyelids fluttering shut as he swallows.
"That's some good cake," he says, and Annabeth has to agree.
They both chew on the cupcake, occasionally meeting eyes and smiling. The charged atmosphere has calmed now, settling into something safe and familiar. Percy's smile turns from being lined with sorrow into a genuine grin as he laughs at all the crumbs she's spilled on the table and brushes them right into her lap.
It's getting late: the sky has turned black and the New York skyline is lit up beyond the window. Annabeth glances at her phone for the time, and then stands up to leave.
Percy, who was washing the dishes in the kitchen, is next to her in a flash. She blinks at the proximity.
"I have to go," she says.
"Spend the night," he responds at once.
"Please. A birthday favour," he says, pouting. His green eyes are round and solemn. "We can have our date right here. We can order pizza. Or burgers. Or something."
"I thought you had food poisoning," she says, eyebrow lifted.
He sighs, defeated. "I can't force you."
"You're an idiot," she says.
"So you'll stay?" he asks hopefully.
"Fine, dumbass," she says, dropping her bag. "I'll stay."
When she is asleep, she has visions of a burning mountain.
Annabeth creeps along the edge of a lava lake; Percy comes bursting in from a random door. He yells her name out loud like a total buffoon, and she clamps her hand over his mouth and drags him away. "You want to get us killed?" she snarls.
Percy's eyes are blown wide. He pats around the air foolishly for a while until he grasps her Yankees hat. He pulls it off.
"Percy," she groans, "what is your problem?"
"We're going to have company," Percy says, telling her quickly about the monster class he'd just busted into.
"So that's what they are," Annabeth says quietly. "Telekhines. I should've known. And they're making…Well, look."
They peek over the cauldron they're hiding behind. Four telekhines stand In the center of the platform, large and menacing, their black skin glistening wetly in the firelight as they worked on hammering long piece of glowing hot metal. Annabeth's eyes dart bath and forth, looking for an exit back into the Labyrinth. Percy's hands tighten on Riptide.
"The blade is almost complete," one rumbles. "It needs another cooling in blood to fuse the metals."
"Aye," a second said. "It shall be even sharper than before."
"What is that?" Percy whispers, horrified.
Annabeth shakes her head. She has the beginning of an idea, but nothing concrete. "They keep talking about fusing metals. I wonder—"
"They were talking about the greatest Titan weapon," Percy cuts in. "And they…they said they made my father's trident." He looks disturbed at the thought.
"The telekhines betrayed the gods," Annabeth says. "They were practicing dark magic. I don't know what, exactly, but Zeus banished them to Tartarus ."
"With Kronos," Percy says, understanding.
Annabeth nods. "We have to get out—"
The words have barely left her mouth when the door Percy has run out of explodes. Young telekhines came pouring out, too many in number. Annabeth's heart sinks: there's no way only the two of them can take that many.
She looks back at Percy, whose face has hardened with determination.
"Put your cap back on," he orders. "Get out."
"What?" Annabeth shrieks, turning around, looking for the way out. Something, Anything. They just need a distraction. "No! I'm not leaving you!"
"I've got a plan. I'll distract them. You can use the metal spider—maybe it'll lead you back to Hephaestus," Percy says evenly, like he's not talking about him sacrificing himself. "You have to tell him what's going on."
"But you'll be killed!" Annabeth says desperately. Percy only looks at his sword, his eyes narrowed like he's trying not to show any emotion.
"I'll be fine," he says, his voice shaking only a little. "Besides, we've got no choice."
Annabeth glares at him. She hates this. She hates owing other people, she hates it when she feels so…so useless. And Percy is making the ultimate sacrifice: he's saving her life while really, truly, not expecting himself to come out of this alive. That's a debt she can never repay.
A life without Percy seems wrong. How can she leave him? How can he expect her to burn his shroud and continue on without him? How could she be so heartless? They'd always gone everywhere together, fought side by side. If Annabeth was going to die, she wants to die next to him.
The logical part of him, though, knows that he's right. She has to warn the gods.
She looks at him: he's trying so hard to be brave, even though, only because she knows him so well, she can tell he's fucking terrified. Something in her lurches in pain and sympathy. She doesn't want to leave him: every cell in her aches for him. Percy meets her eyes and offers her a grim nod.
Unable to stop herself, she leans forward and kisses him. It's nothing more than a second of their lips pressed together, and all she can taste is the heat around them, but she tries to convey in the kiss something she can't convey with words.
"Be careful, Seaweed Brain," she says, blinking back tears as she puts on her cap. Percy is frozen behind her.
Then she runs for it. She's crying, she knows. She can't believe she just abandoned Percy like that – what kind of a friend is she? What kind of a person is she?
The spider takes her through twists and turns. There's yelling from behind her, then a horrible rumble that comes from deep within the mountain. Something in her stomach drops, and she makes a U—turn without even thinking about it. Percy, she thinks. Percy, Percy, Percy –
She wakes in cold sweat, blinking away tears and his name still on her lips.
She looks around. She's in his bedroom with its pale blue walls and creaky windows – Percy had insisted on taking the couch – and then, still shaking, she manages to sit up. She gazes at herself in the front camera of her phone as though expecting to see a streak of grey in her hair.
She makes her way to the living room. Percy is lying on the sofa, a blanket haphazardly spread over him. As she watches, he turns over in his sleep, shaking his head like he's trying to clear it.
She might be wrong, but she thinks he whispers her name.
Her throat dry, her heart thrashing against her ribcage, Annabeth pads over to him. His back is to her, and his shirt has ridden up a little to reveal his muscled lower back, a strip of skin just above the elastic of his shorts.
Percy's weak spot. When he'd bathed in the Styx, Percy had gained skin of iron that no weapon could pierce through, but also the curse of Achilles – all his weaknesses concentrated on a singular point in his body, the one spot that would keep him anchored to his mortality. The small of his back, which he'd told nobody about, at least until Annabeth had jumped in front of his exposed back, taking that damn poisoned knife to the shoulder. Later, as she lay recovering, Percy had confided in her.
"My Achilles spot," he'd whispered to her confidentially. "If you hadn't taken that knife, I would've died."
Annabeth's hand lifts on its own accord. Slowly, she reaches forward, touching his skin lightly where his Achilles heel had once been.
In that moment – a moment that couldn't have lasted more than half a second – Annabeth sees everything. She sees a smaller Percy, staring mournfully as his mother is crushed by the Minotaur. Percy and Grover sitting side by side on the hilltop overlooking camp. Percy holding a disoriented Thalia in his arms. Percy staring at a picture of Annabeth in his notebook. Percy sneaking on a quest that wasn't his, just to save her. Percy tearing apart the wreckage of an automaton under the night sky in his desperate search for Bianca. Percy holding her underwater as she cried into his shoulder, Percy's eyes full of hurt as she told him the last line of her prophecy, Percy guiding Annabeth's hand to his weak point on the rooftop of the Plaza. When she touches it, she feels like she's been struck by lightning. Like she's feeling Percy's entire essence just by touching his mortal point.
She slips backward onto her butt, head reeling. Percy cries out and sits up so violently that he ends up falling off the couch, right in front of her. Annabeth's brain feels numb as her mouth opens, hopefully to belt out some excuse that would explain her being there and doing that.
Percy stares at her like she's grown an extra limb. His eyes rake over her face, his hands fisting in the fallen blanket.
"Annabeth," he breathes, "Annabeth, you remember –" And then he's kissing her.
It takes all of one second before Annabeth spurs herself into action and kisses back, and they kiss and kiss and kiss. Percy's arms clasp either side of her face and hers go right to the back of his head, pulling him closer, because close isn't close enough: she wants more, she wants everything, she wants all of him, she wants to feel this dizzying pressure of his lips on hers forever. Percy kisses her hard, almost like he can't help it, like he can't stop himself, like he's as desperate as she feels, and it's a mess of tongues and teeth and lips and every touch makes her feel like she's flying, but it's the best she's felt in her life, and Annabeth matches his every moment with enthusiasm, and even though her breath probably smells like dead animal she can't bring herself to care.
The heat of their kiss makes her skull feel like it's melting. Their bodies are smushed together uncomfortably: they're still on the floor and Annabeth's half in his lap and his fingers lightly brush at her waist and she might be on fire. Annabeth tastes salt through the kiss: maybe she's crying, or he is, or maybe it's the both of them. Her brain finally reboots and recalls Percy's last sentence to her before he'd kissed her, and it's Annabeth, you remember.
He remembers, she thinks, and her heart lifts and she smiles against his lips. He remembers, he remembers everything, he remembers her.
She's not alone. She's not alone anymore, because she's finally found him.
Percy makes them both a hot chocolate.
Annabeth sits at the dining table, eating an apple. He sets the mug down in front of her and smiles softly, a gesture so familiar that it sends a trill through her body. His lips are still swollen from their searing kiss from earlier. His hair is even more of a mess than before and, remembering that she'd been the cause of that, she blushes.
Percy takes a deliberate sip of his drink like he's waiting for her to say something. Annoyed, she meets his eyes, but he winks at her from over his coffee mug and she deflates and rolls her eyes.
"Why didn't you tell me you remembered?" she says at last.
Hurt and a flash of anger fills her, now, remembering all the time she'd spent doubting, all the moments she'd wanted to give in and cry and just go to therapy, wondering if she was going insane. All the time she'd spent wondering if he remembered, too scared to tell him.
He sets down the cup, perhaps sensing her feelings. He'd always had an uncanny knack for it. "You didn't tell me, either."
"I wasn't sure," she says, even though she has to admit his argument is valid.
"Well, not like I was sure, either," he says, clasping his hands together. "I mean, I always hoped – there were moments…" He meets her eyes. "Man, Annabeth…the day I saw you…it took all of my strength to keep me from just – just running to you and hugging you and kissing you and –"
She thinks back to their first meeting. To how low she'd felt and how he'd knocked into her and changed her life, and suddenly it all becomes clear.
"You bumped into me on purpose," she says, astounded.
"I did," he admits, bowing his head. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. You were just. You were sitting there and you were crying and you looked beautiful, even though you were kind of a wreck that day. You were beautiful and right there and I'd been looking for you all my life. I've been trying to find you since the day I turned sixteen and I got all my memories back. I – I –" He takes a shaky breath, and his fingers itch like they're longing to touch her. "You meant everything to me. Even if you didn't know me. And I wanted to come to you but you were getting up to go away and – I had to stop you. I didn't know how else."
"You wanted to meet me." She thinks back. "That day when you were at that coffee place, near my college, the first time you visited my apartment…"
"I just had to see you." His eyes squeeze shut. "I was going nuts. I was having all these dreams about you and remembering everything all at once and I couldn't stay away. And so I just…went there, and waited, and hoped you'd walk in."
"And I did," she says.
"And you did," he breathes.
"I did the same thing," she admits. "That's how I was near Sally's place the first time. I was just…overcome with everything and I felt like I had to be close to you, somehow."
"I know exactly what you mean. I know. God. You…you were everything to me," he says desperately. "You are everything to me. When I saw you there…it was like my whole life…all the times I thought I might be wrong about my past, our past…everything was leading to that moment. To you."
"Oh, Percy…" She reaches a hand across the table and he takes it like it's a lifeline. His eyes are full of tears.
Annabeth thinks back. Everything about him makes sense now – why he'd offered to buy her a coffee on their very first day for no reason at all, why he'd listened to her ramble about architecture for hours on end without a single complaint, why he'd always find excuses for them to meet, why he'd been such a wreck his past week: he'd probably been plagued by the same nightmares as she.
"I was so happy," he murmurs, "I was so happy to meet you and be with you and it was confusing because I kind of knew you were hiding something but couldn't tell what it was, and then I thought I was imagining things and hoping too hard and that maybe you were just a reserved person, y'know? But I was so ridiculously happy with you that I forgot everything and so I just. I didn't say anything because what if you didn't remember? What if you thought I was insane?" He holds her hand tighter. "I'm so sorry. I should've realized sooner."
"I'm sorry too," she says, and her voice cracks. "Percy, I – I…you don't know how much this means to me. My parents thought I was going crazy for having these dreams and I thought I was crazy too, and…I don't know. I didn't tell you either for pretty much the same reasons. I told myself…I told myself that I was satisfied just by knowing you existed. And I'm so lucky. I'm so lucky to have found you, Percy."
"I'm sorry I cancelled our date," he says in a low, gravelly voice. "It's just – the ightmares…they're always the worst on my birthday."
"I know," she says. "Me, too."
"I loved you so much," he says, so quietly she almost doesn't catch it, but she does and her heart stutters to a stop.
I loved you, Percy, oh my god," she whispers back, almost reverently. "Back then, I never got the chance to say it, and I've never regretted anything more in my whole life. All I've ever wanted to do since the day we met was tell you."
Cocoa forgotten, Percy stands up and crosses the room to her. He lifts Annabeth up and his palm touches her cheek and he brushes her hair out of her face with so much tenderness in his expression that it makes her knees weak. He kisses her lightly again, gives her a hug so warm it begins to melt her bones. She sighs into his shoulder, tears prickling at her eyes.
"I've missed you so much, Wise Girl," he murmurs, and that's when the dam breaks.
She cries. Annabeth cries and cries until she's heaving into his chest and her eyes can't take it anymore. She cries for all the times her parents looked at her like she wasn't their child, for all the pitying looks she got at school after the divorce, for all the times she'd woken up screaming and crying in the night. She cries for all the friends she'd lost back then, for all the times she'd been so depressed she could barely function, for all the times she'd considered going to a doctor for help, for all the times she'd given up hope. She cries for herself and for Percy, for two teenagers who'd defended their world hand in hand and had died for their efforts.
And he holds her. He holds her, tears leaking onto the top of her head, and all he says is "We're together," every few minutes, because bless him, he knows that that's all that matters to her. Nothing matters to her more than the fact that they're here and they remember and they're together at last.
It's good, she thinks. It's so very good. Life is good, and she can finally rest.
In the following weeks, they piece their previous life together like they're solving a puzzle. Annabeth listens to Percy explain his memories: things that she had no way of possibly knowing. How he and Sally had been beaten by Gabe. How Bianca had died. How he'd landed up on Calypso's island after being blasted from Mount St Helens. How he'd almost died in the river Styx until he'd seen her.
She'd smiled at him, Percy had said. Playfully. She'd rolled her eyes and he'd taken her hand and he had lived.
He'd been with other people, he admits to her in a small voice. He'd dated just one other girl in high school when he'd thought he'd never find Annabeth, and Annabeth admits to sleeping with other guys, too, on her particularly low days. They both stare at each other, disappointed, but then Percy says something along the lines of "Who the fuck cares about them, you're the only one that matters," which is really cheesy but also really true.
They talk endlessly for hours on end. About Thalia, and Tyson, and Clarisse, and Luke. And Grover. Percy misses him and Tyson most of all.
Together they figure out what had happened. Luke had repented, Percy says, he'd seen it in his eyes. The prophecy hadn't been about him – he hadn't been the hero in the end.
"It was Luke?" Annabeth thinks aloud.
"That's what I think," Percy says.
"But Kronos won," Annabeth says. "Didn't he? He showed his true form like he planned."
"But Luke stabbed himself in his weak point," Percy says. "I think…I think they both happened at the same time. Luke probably beat Kronos in the end, the blast just –"
"Ended up killing us."
"Yeah." He scratches the back of his head. "But…remember what Kronos said? About the world he wanted to build? The 'New Golden Age' and all that? I don't think this is it, do you? I've thought about it a lot. I guess that means the gods won."
"That makes sense," Annabeth says. "Well, at least we died for a good cause."
He snorts. "I don't remember much about that part. Dying, I mean. I remember the force of the blast. I think I grabbed your hand –"
"I felt that, too" she agrees.
"I don't remember anything about the Underworld," he continues.
They both sit in side for a while. Percy's hand grasps hers, and she leans her head against his shoulder.
"It's weird," he says quietly. "It seemed like the worst life. Running from monsters all the time. Our lives were always in danger. But I miss it. Is it weird to be nostalgic for something I've never even experienced in this life?"
"It's not," she says. "Not at all."
Because yeah, her life as a demigod had been crazy, to say the least. She'd been betrayed and she'd been abandoned and she'd almost died, like, hundreds of times. Her sleep was disturbed constantly by nightmares, her life was constantly in danger, and she couldn't even go to the grocery store without finding a monster.
But she'd made friends. Friends who always had her back. She'd found a mentor in Chiron, a loyal friend in Grover, a sister in Thalia, and a soulmate in Percy.
She doesn't know how else to explain it. He's not a soulmate in the romantic way – like he's not her other half, or whatever. Annabeth is her own person, she's just better around Percy, and he's better around her. They build each other up and they work better together and they're stronger as a team. They know each other well enough to communicate without needing a single word, and she can't imagine her life without him. He doesn't complete her, per se, but she feels whole around him, if that makes any sense.
It's weird, now. Being a demigod, but not really. Having all the memories, but no real, concrete proof that her previous life had even happened. It's stupid and frustrating, but she knows that nothing is in her hands, not anymore.
She's learning to live with this knowledge.
Life is still hard. She still wakes up because of the nightmares, sometimes, but now she has Percy to hold onto. Percy, who wakes up without fail when she does, who doesn't care if she screams, who keeps a glass of water by his bedside just so he can offer it to her when she's having a panic attack. Percy who kisses her awake every morning and spoils her rotten with breakfast in bed on the weekends, who looks at her like she's the sun.
She's never felt contentment in all her life. She's always been searching – for her past, for approval from her parents, but now that she's found someone who knows who she is inside out and accepts her for it – her streak of jealousy and pettiness and all – Annabeth realizes that she's really, really happy.
And the best part of it is she found it herself. And, well… it's a satisfying feeling.
She makes a bunch of important changes to her life.
She finaly quits her job. Athena had just been – not great to her all her life, and when she finally makes the decision, she admits to an extremely proud Percy it's been a long time coming. Nothing gives Annabeth more pleasure than handing in her resignation directly to her mother and watching her eyebrows raise in disbelief.
"Are you in your right mind," her mother hisses. "Nothing out there, no other firm, offers you the opportunities Pallas does."
Annabeth looks at her. Her mother's hair is darker than hers, but Annabeth has inherited her grey eyes, and Athena's are cold and stormy as she stares Annabeth down. A year ago, Annabeth would be quaking in her boots, but now she only feels calm as she realizes that she feels nothing for this woman, this stranger who had left her as a child, scarring her for life, and is now treating her like shit in her own company. Annabeth has been playing nice, but not anymore, not now that she feels no further need to impress this woman.
"I've signed with Eta," Annabeth says, and Athena falters, eyes flashing. Eta Architects is Pallas' direct and possibly biggest competition. Annabeth watches her mother consider this new piece of information, watches as Athena's lips raise into a single, straight line.
"You are ungrateful," she hisses. "I took you in as an intern –"
"And I thank you for that, but, with all due respect, I am not ungrateful in the slightest," Annabeth retorts. "You've barely looked at me since I started working here. You've never once looked over my work, you never gave me the work I deserved. You treat none of your other employees like this. You're treating me like I'm the girl you thought was crazy all those years ago." She hides her shaking hands behind her. "But I'm not that person anymore. And I'm good enough to know I deserve better. I've got a good job at Eta. I'll be fine. Not that you care." She takes a breath. "If that'll be all, I'll leave now."
Athena is silent. Annabeth turns to go.
"Annabeth," Athena calls. There is something like guilt in her tone. Guilt and a hint of regret. "You will probably regret this."
"I might," Annabeth says. "But I might not." She levels her mother with a look. "I'm not your employee anymore, so…if you want to talk to me, mother to daughter, you can find me at…well, I'm staying with my boyfriend."
"Boyfriend?" Annabeth's mother asks incredulously. "What –?"
"His name is Percy Jackson," Annabeth says, and sick pleasure fills her stomach at the sight of pure hatred take over her mother's expression at the sound of the very name Annabeth had mentioned countless times in her childhood. "Thank you for everything, Athena."
She walks away and closes the door behind her, and then she pumps her fist in jubilation.
She's free, she thinks, a full smile breaking across her face. She's finally free from the self—imposed shackles she'd inflicted on herself. She's free from trying to gain her mom's approval and she can do whatever she wants to, now, and most importantly, she'd quit on her own terms. She doesn't feel like she's given up because she'd tried and she'd failed and she's learning to be okay with it. Not everything can be a perfect scenario, like how the Sirens had depicted it to her years and years go. Life is messy, and her life is, quite possibly, the messiest.
It's a new experience. She's kind of dealing with in on the go.
Later, though, when she tells the story to Percy, he groans and covers his face with his hands.
"Tell me you didn't do that," he says. "Please tell me you didn't."
"What the heck," Annabeth says, kicking him in the shin. "You were the one who was all like 'go challenge the final boss, get that XP – '"
"Oh no, that part I'm proud of," he denies at once, pecking her on the cheek, "It's just. Why'd you tell her my name, Annabeth! Now she can track me down and find me and kill me!"
"Oh my god, are you five years old?" Annabeth giggles. "I didn't know you were still scared of my mom."
"I'm not," he says mutinously, bottom lip jutting out. She laughs and touches the tip of her nose with her finger.
"It'll be okay," she promises.
She's moved in with Percy now. It's been a weird but welcome change, and it's closer to Eta than her old apartment had been, which is a huge advantage. Plus, it's always nice to come home and find Percy there with food on the stove or in the microwave – depending on how lazy he is – and even if he's busy or working, he always finds the time to smile at her and press a light kiss to her lips.
Annabeth can get used to this.
The nightmares are getting better. Annabeth finds that sleeping next to him keeps her calm. On the odd days that she does have a nightmare that leaves her gasping, Percy's always there beside her, assuring her that it's okay and they he's there and that they're together. Sometimes he has nightmares too, and she calms him down in a similar fashion. It's a system that somehow works for them.
They kind of figure out that they've got some suppressed PTSD. Percy suggests therapy at first, but then they just end up talking to each other, talking for hours on end about minute details of the war. The smell of blood, the bodies strewn on the roads, the atmosphere of dread. Annabeth's been containing a lot of these feelings since she was a kid, and they burst out of her like a bird from a cage. Percy's had a much better childhood, but there's a lot he's left unsaid, even to his mom. He can tell Annabeth, because she understands.
They make a list of things left unsaid, things they've been avoiding, deaths they blame themselves for. Percy cries to her about Bianca, how he'd promised Nico she would come back alive, and how it tore him apart seeing the poor kid's face crumble when he found out the truth. There is so much he beats himself up over, so many deaths he thinks he caused.
Annabeth blames herself for Luke. Luke had been her family, her first real family, and she can't really shake the fact that he'd betrayed her when she'd loved him so. She cries whenever she remembers him rising from the coffin with those horrible golden eyes.
But he'd remembered in the end, Percy tells her. He'd sacrificed himself to save her in the end. He was a real hero, and she had been the one who reminded him of it.
Annabeth regrets not being there for him earlier, but she tries to make it up to him the only way she knows how, by talking to him and giving him hugs and squeezing his hand. Percy loves in a different way than she does – while Annabeth usually uses her words, he shows it through his touches, light and fluttering and sending little currents up her bloodstream, and in the little things he does for her, like buy her shampoo when she's running out and peeling oranges for her because he knows she's too lazy to do it herself.
And it goes on. There are so many dead – Beckendorf, Silena, Michael Yew. They talk about each of them, remind each other that they'd lived a good life and had been prepared to die in battle. They talk about the good times, too – all their games of Capture the Flag, the fireworks on the beach.
They've got a lot of demons, but they face them together.
She loves him. She does. They've never really said it – she supposes they don't need to – but she feels it every day, every minute, every second. And she is so thankful.
True love, she's come to realize, runs deeper than anything she's ever felt. Her mind and heart and soul are all in sync when she's with him and she feels just – her best whenever he's around her. He loves her the way she needs to be loved, and even though they still have arguments, and they're not perfect, she loves him through all of that anyway, which is how she knows it must be real.
He sets his alarm to 7 AM just as a backup in case she sleeps through hers. He buys her her favorite candy in bulk. He's extra sweet to her when she's being grumpy. He leaves her alone when she's in a mood, knowing she'll come back to him in the end anyway.
She wants to just. Be with him. She wants to wake up next to him and laugh at him when he's having a bad hair day. She wants to be next to him forever, even when they're both old and ugly and have no hair left.
Her whole body feels so full of love and joy and light that it seems hard to believe how dark of a place she was in before.
"Percy," Annabeth says one night, when they're lying in bed together. Her head is pushed into the crook of his neck and his arm is around her.
"Mmm," he says.
"I miss them." Because she does. Oh, how she'd give anything to see them all again: Grover and Luke and Nico and Chiron and Silena and Malcolm and Chiron and Will and Clarisse and Tyson and Thalia. Her friends, her comrades. "Do you think they're still out there, like us? Do you think they found each other like we did?"
"I hope so," Percy murmurs. He kisses her forehead tenderly.
"Don't worry about them," he says. "I'm working on it."
Annabeth dreams of peace.
It's a scene from nothing she recognizes. There's an air of celebration around camp as people mill around, smiling. As she watches, everyone heads off in their own directions, leaving a single, solitary figure sitting at a table, staring at the ocean in the moonlight.
"Hey." She slides next to Percy on the bench. "Happy birthday." She hands him her present, a deformed cupcake with blue icing.
Percy gives her a surprised look. "What?"
"It's August 18th," Annabeth says, smiling a little. "Your birthday, right?"
Percy blinks rapidly, stunned as though the thought hadn't even occurred to him. Annabeth huffs out a laugh, supposing that he can be forgiven just this once. He'd had a long day, after all.
"Make a wish," she offers.
Percy looks at the cake skeptically. "Did you bake this yourself?"
"Tyson helped," she admits.
"That explains why it looks like a chocolate brick," Percy says, laughing. "With extra blue cement."
Annabeth laughs, her heart racing as Percy closes his eyes and blows out the candle after a moment of hesitation. They tear the cupcake in half and eat it with their fingers. The silence is comfortable as they chew and stare out at Long Island Sound, but Annabeth's whole being shivers in excitement.
"You saved the world," she says.
"We saved the world," he corrects immediately.
"And Rachel is the new Oracle, which means she won't be dating anybody." Annabeth can't keep the satisfaction out of her voice.
"You don't sound disappointed," Percy notes, raising an eyebrow and smiling slyly like he sees right through her.
Annabeth shrugs, acting nonchalant. "Oh, I don't care."
"Uh—huh," he mutters in disbelief.
She raises an eyebrow in challenge. "You got something to say to me, Seaweed Brain?"
"You'd probably kick my butt," he says.
"You know I'd kick your butt."
Suddenly uncharacteristically serious, Percy wipes the cake off his hands. He takes a shaky breath like he's building up his nerve. Annabeth waits, something in her chest doing backflips.
"When I was at the River Styx, turning invulnerable . . ." he begins, "Nico said I had to concentrate on one thing that kept me anchored to the world, that made me want to stay mortal."
Annabeth stares at the moon. Her entire body feels like it's on fire, and she has to fight so hard to keep her smile down. "Yeah?"
"Then up on Olympus," Percy continues, his eyes flitting back and forth between her and the horizon, "when they wanted to make me a god and stuff, I kept thinking—"
"Oh, you so wanted to."
"Well, maybe a little," he admits. "But I didn't, because I thought—I didn't want things to stay the same for eternity, because things could always get better. And I was thinking . . ." He hesitates, staring at the ground, his eyes following a beetle scurrying away from them.
"Anyone in particular?" Annabeth suggests softly, unable, now, to keep the smile away. Percy looks up at her and his expression turns embarrassed and betrayed.
"You're laughing at me," he whines.
"I am not!" she says, even though she definitely is. It's not for the reason Percy thinks, though: it's more out of elation than anything else. Joy that this is finally happening. That they can finally be together.
"You are so not making this easy," Percy says, but his eyes are sparkling, full of mischief.
She lets out a laugh, then, and winds her arms around his neck. "I am never, ever going to make things easy for you, Seaweed Brain. Get used to it."
They kiss right there, fireworks exploding behind her closed eyelids, under the light of the moon and the stars, with the sounds of the sing—along at the campfire and the waves crashing onto the beach all around them, and Annabeth wakes up with a start.
Next to her, Percy breathes softly into the pillow, his hair spread out all over the place. She grins and wiggles closer to him, and his arm automatically rises to give her space. His breath lightly brushes against her ear. He's warm and close and he smells a little like fruity body wash, and if Annabeth wasn't sure before, she's sure now. This man is absolutely going to be her ultimate disaster.
She's never dreamt of an ending with him before, much less a happy one. Their story had always ended with death, with his hand in hers as the world turned to light and the force from the explosion knocked the breath from her body.
Her dream gives her chills. A world in which they'd won the war, in which they'd done justice to the wronged and Annabeth had gotten to be with Percy anyway? Yes please.
For now, though, she lets her eyes shut again. She's got all the time in the world, now, and she'll tell him all about it in the morning.
Annabeth hums as she gathers up her stuff from her desk, waving a goodbye to her coworkers as she leaves the office.
It's nice outside: sunny but not too hot, windy but not too cold. She stops by at the sandwich place Percy likes as she makes her way home and picks up his usual. Then she heads up to their apartment.
Percy's on his laptop, but he discards it once he sees the paper bag in her hands.
"Fuck yes," he says, grabbing the sandwich.
"I thought you were coming to me," Annabeth complains good—naturedly.
"I was," he says, even though he's walking away from her, the little shit. He gestures over to his laptop. "Come on. Wanna read?"
"Ooh, you're done?" Annabeth says excitedly, plopping down next to him on the couch and curling up into his side.
"I think so, or at least, I'm too lazy to write any more," Percy says. He opens Microsoft Word. The first page says, in bold black letters:
PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS
"Who the hell is X?" Annabeth asks.
"An alias," Percy says. "I don't want to use my own name because of…reasons. It makes me seem so lame."
"What name do you wanna use, then?" Annabeth asks.
"You say the first name, I'll say the last name," Percy suggests. When she nods in agreement, he says, "Go."
"Rick," Annabeth spits out, the name of one of her interns who spilled coffee all over her table.
"Riordan," says Percy.
They stare at each other.
"Rick Riordan," Annabeth tries out. She frowns. "Too cheesy?"
"Way too cheesy," Percy agrees. He stares at the screen. "Maybe I'll just be Anonymous."
"Ooh, mysterious." She kisses his jaw. "Sexy."
"I know, I'm gonna get so famous." Percy laughs and hands the laptop to her. "Okay, read the whole thing. Make the changes wherever, I trust you. I wanna post it by the end of the week."
"Well, it's almost the summer solstice," Percy says, eyes dancing. "I want it to be symbolic."
"You're such a dork," she murmurs, but she lifts the laptop into her lap and begins to read.
The book engrosses her. Percy leaves her alone as she devours it, silently placing a plate of dinner by her side when she refuses to even put the laptop down later in the evening. She reads through the night, through all five parts of the book, starting from Look, I didn't want to be a half—blood all the way to For once, I didn't look back.
She kind of cries. She's talked about all this with Percy before, of course, but it's a different thing altogether to read their lives. Percy remembers a ridiculous amount of detail – like the way her hair curled up around her shoulders – that make her smile.
She corrects some mistakes in the grammar – Percy rolls his eyes at this – and adds some better descriptions, but on the whole she has to agree that the book (books, really) is magnificent. They've added an ending, too: one where nobody dies, Luke dies a hero, and Percy and Annabeth share a kiss at Camp Half—Blood, just like in her vision. Annabeth had told Percy about the dream she'd had about them, a possible future after the war, and Percy had loved the idea: he'd made her narrate the entire scene in detail as he typed the whole thing down. The way he writes it, Annabeth gifts him a (slightly burnt) chocolate cupcake with blue icing, and afterward, the other campers crash their party.
Following which, of course, everyone gangs up on them to toss them into the lake, but joke's on them, because Percy makes a bubble and they kiss right there under the waters. It's the perfect fairytale ending with the promise of a new beginning and she loves it with all her heart.
She's really impressed, honestly. He's put in a lot of effort, and the writing style is whimsical enough for people to laugh at, but still sounds real enough to (hopefully) make the people who matter sit up and take notice.
Percy is silent as they stare at the final draft.
"What is it?" she asks.
"Nothing," he replies in his usual defensive way, which is how Annabeth knows it's something.
"Come on, Seaweed Brain. Tell me."
He takes a breath. "What if they don't see?" he bursts out, eyes alight with worry. "What if none of them read it and we're back to square one?"
"They will," Annabeth says, feeling sure of it. She kisses him lightly. "And if they don't, we'll try again. We'll – I dunno. We'll print out missing people posters and hang them up all over the city. Okay?"
"Okay," he whispers.
"Okay," she repeats. "Now, let's go, Seaweed Brain."
"Count me down," he says.
"We go live in three…two…one!" she yells, and then he hits POST.
For the first few weeks, nothing happens.
Percy sinks a little bit into depression and disappointment when nobody responds after the whole of the first week. This project had been almost two years' worth of toil, and she hates to see it wasted like this.
Still, she tells him every day not to give up hope. They busy themselves with life and work, and Annabeth checks the site every day for updates, but nothing happens for a while. The days pass by in a flurry of extra classes and tutoring her interns on the side and taking Mrs. O'Leary for walks in the park, and so when Annabeth finally spies the first comment, nearly a month later, she has to double back and check again.
YOU FUCKING PRISSY HOW DARE YOU FUCKING SAY ALL THAT SHIT. I BEAT YOUR ASS BLACK AND BLUE IN THAT FIRST CAPURE ThE FLAG AND EVERY SINGLE ONE AFTER THAT AND YOU KNOW IT
Annabeth's heart leaps.
"It's a joke." Percy's voice is shaking. "It must be a joke."
"Why would she say that, though," Annabeth whispers, staring at the screen as though expecting Clarisse's fist to pop out of it, right into Percy's face. "And she called you Prissy, too."
"I'm not getting my hopes up."
A few hours later, she same person comments again.
REPLY YOU FUCKING WUSS. I DIDN'T TAKE A HOLIDAY FROM WORK JUST SO I COULD READ THIS WHOLE FUCKING THING WITH CHRIS TO NOT EVEN GET ANYTHING OUT OF IT.
Percy responds with his email address.
Not long after, she sends him an entire mail (with the subject titled WHAT THE FUCK, PRISSY) dedicated to why his book sucks. She says children of Ares should be treated with more respect and she warns Percy to change her description to something else entirely, or else. The entire mail is one huge death threat.
Percy and Annabeth cry the entire time.
Because here it is. Here is proof that they're not alone, that the other demigods are out there, too. Judging by Clarisse's comments, she is with Chris. Chris Rodriguez. Who else had she found? Who else could they find together?
The books gain traction. More comments appear, but most pass under their radar. Until –
Percy? Please tell me that's you. Please tell me this isn't a joke.
CLaRue replied to Grover_Underwood:
Oh god not this fucking goat boy. Fuck
CLaRue replied to Grover_Underwood:
It's him. I checked.
Annabeth sends Grover her email ID at once.
He responds in record time. His mail is short: he just asks for their address. Annabeth types it out, hands shaking.
The next day, Percy opens the door to find Grover, dressed in baggy jeans and a Rasta cap, a petite, auburn—haired woman by his side – Juniper. Grover's curly hair sticks out from underneath the cap and he looks healthier than he had been as a satyr, but otherwise everything about him is exactly how she'd remembered – right down to his sheepish smile and nervous laugh that sounds almost like a bleat.
Percy lets out a humongous sob and crushes Grover in his arms, Annabeth right behind him. The three of them stand right there in the doorway, crying until their voices turn hoarse, Juniper patting all their backs with tears streaming down her own cheeks.
"You idiot, you fucking idiot," Grover says, "I've been looking for years, skulking around your old apartment like some kind of creepy hobo, I scared all your neighbours –"
"You too?" Annabeth asks, and they all share a laugh.
They spend the night talking. Grover has been looking for him for years, he said, but he'd started in California, hoping to find Annabeth. He'd found Juniper halfway through his journey, and they'd tried to find more people, but failed.
Slowly but surely, they begin to find their friends. Some reach out to them first – Tyson calls Percy in a fit of tears, and Rachel shows up at their door one day and throws herself into their arms – but most of them are spread all over the country, and many don't have a lot social media account because of their old demigod habits, just as Annabeth had suspected. But they all seem genuine, and they all respond with enthusiasm and pure, unadulterated glee at the prospect of meeting each other again.
Now, Annabeth sits in front of her laptop, shaking a little.
"It's going to be okay," Percy pacifies.
"I know. I'm just –" She can't complete the sentence, but Percy's face softens like he gets it.
"Want some privacy?" he asks.
"Please," she murmurs. She rises to kiss him. "I'll see you in a while. This is…something I have to do alone."
"I know," he says. "Good luck."
The door shuts behind him. Her laptop makes a series of little ting sounds, and she turns her attention to reading the message.
I just got home.
You free now?
Luke_C is calling…
Annabeth steels herself, then swipes to accept the video call, and suddenly, her laptop screen is full of Luke's face.
Her breath catches in her throat. Luke looks exactly as he had before, with cropped blond hair and the scar down his cheek. He looks good, healthy, happy. She half—expects his eyes to be golden, but they're a gleaming blue.
He waves a little. "Hi, Annabeth."
"Luke." Her voice comes out all throaty. "Hi. Wow, it's…"
"Good to see you," he says, smiling. Seeing him is a shock to her system. He looks like he did before he was corrupted by Kronos – a good, decent guy. He's still good—looking, even though he's probably near thirty now.
"I was going to say it's been a long time," she quips, "but…"
He laughs sheepishly. "I guess so."
They gaze at each other. "How've you been?" Annabeth tries.
"Good," Luke says. He runs a hand through his hair agitatedly. "Annabeth, I called you because I've been meaning to tell you…I'm sorry."
"No." He takes a breath. "Don't make excuses for me, because there aren't any. I was…bitter. I was bitter and I hated my father and so Kronos used that to manipulate me, but I did all that stuff…" He wipes a careless handover his eyes, "I hurt you, and I poisoned Thalia's tree, and I killed…so many people…"
"You tried to tell me, Luke," she reminds him. "You came to my house…"
"But it was too late. I don't even blame you for turning me away." He's silent for a while. "I was bitter, Annabeth, so bitter, and I guess Kronos took advantage of that, of me, but I was ready and willing, and I knew what I was getting into when I joined up. I just want to apologize. To you. Personally. I – I was horrible to you, Annabeth. I promised you a family and then I tore it apart. I made you – fuck, I made you carry the fucking sky. I manipulated you because I knew you loved me, and I manipulated Silena because I knew she loved Beckendorf. I don't know why you ever believed in me at all…I'm…pretty much beyond the worst. I just wanted you to know that I live every day trying to redeem myself."
"Luke," she whispers, feeling tears begin to well up in her eyes, "there's no need for any of that."
"I killed you," he says brokenly, and his entire face is bathed in sorrow.
"And you killed Kronos, too," Annabeth breathes. "That's all that matters in the end, right?"
He lets out a long, shaking breath, covering his eyes with his hand. "I don't know how you had the strength to still see good in me."
"I knew you, Luke," she whispers, and she has to summon extra strength just to get the words out. "You did some bad things, and it took me a while to get over them, but I knew you'd always come back to us in the end. Your real family."
He laughs brokenly. "How can you even begin to forgive me?"
"Because you saved the world," Annabeth tells him. "Well, we all died in the process, but you saved everything else. Kronos didn't win because of you."
He sighs. "I guess I should thank Percy for handing me the knife." He smiles crookedly at Annabeth. "Tell him I'm sorry, too. He was just a little kid, and with Kronos whispering in my ear…"
"He's forgiven you, too, just like I have," Annabeth tells him, and Luke's face crumbles. "You read the ending of the book. He called you a hero, Luke. And you are."
"I'm no hero," he says, and there are tears in his eyes.
"You're a hero, one of the greatest ones, too," Annabeth says firmly, and she's crying now, too. "Because you made mistakes, but you learned, and you repented, and you made the hardest choice and you saved us all. You are a hero, Luke. But more importantly, you're family."
He lets out a wet—sounding laugh. "Man, I don't deserve you, Annabeth."
He laughs again.
Annabeth sniffs a little. "Hey," she decides. "August 18th, Percy's birthday…we're thinking of, well. A reunion of sorts. Think you'd be interested?"
"Camp Half—Blood," Annabeth grins.
Luke blinks at her. "Annabeth, Camp Half—Blood doesn't exist."
"It will once I'm through with the place," she winks.
"You always were clever," he says fondly. Then – "All right. As long as everyone knows I'm coming…I'm in. I've got a lot more people to apologize to. Thalia most of all."
Annabeth, who'd spoken to a tearful Thalia a few days ago on the phone, suppresses a smile. "We'll see you there, then."
"Guess you will. And, uh, one more thing…"
"You didn't deny it, when I said that I manipulated you because you loved me." He pauses. "Did you really? Love me?" There is nothing but curiosity on his face.
Well, if this is her moment to be tested, so be it. Percy, bless him, has never broached the subject, but she supposes it's a valid doubt. She'd had her own doubts too, about her feelings for Percy and Luke and how those feelings differed, back when she was younger.
"You were a brother to me, Luke," she says firmly. "But I didn't love you."
He nods, satisfied, a small smile on his face. "Tell Percy I say hi. Tell him thanks, for writing the books. Helping me find you so I could apologize. Making me seem like a hero."
"You are, remember?" she says, and he laughs a little sheepishly.
"I'll see you, Annabeth," he says.
"See you," she responds, and the call disconnects.
She sits in front of the blank screen for a long time, just thinking. She wipes away her remaining tears, thinking of Luke, all alone, blaming himself for years and years. The thought fills her with sympathy.
There's a knock at the door, and Percy sticks his head in. "You okay? It was quiet, so…"
"I'm good." She gets off her chair and walks into his arms. "Just. That was hard. Harder than I thought it'd be."
He hugs her a little tighter. "He'll be okay. He was a tough guy."
"What about me?"
"You're the toughest."
She laughs into his shoulder. "You're the best."
"It's what I'm here for," he chuckles.
She wipes her eyes and steps away.
"Okay," she says. "We've got two weeks till the 18th. Let's get started."
The morning of Percy's birthday dawns and Annabeth is ready.
She and Percy grab their stuff, load everything into the car, and get going. There's not much talking on the way – Percy's playing shitty pop music to hide his nerves and Annabeth stares out the window, her heart pounding against her ribcage.
The roads get narrower. The air turns cool and fresh. They cross a small signboard that says PICK YOUR OWN STRAWBERRIES and Annabeth's face goes almost blue from excitement. Next to her, Percy's eyes are shining like tiny green stars. He turns to her, grinning like a little kid. She smiles back, her whole being feeling charged with lightning.
They stop the car at the base of a very familiar hill. There are already dozens and dozens of cars parked around them; Percy and Annabeth get out of theirs, and then reach out to each other. They make their way forward, holding hands, not daring to speak.
Thalia's Pine towers over them atop the hill, and two familiar figures stand underneath.
Grover lifts his hand in greeting, and the girl next to him, a slim, built woman with jet—black hair, stifles a sob when she makes eye contact with Annabeth.
"Thalia," Annabeth whispers.
In sync, they begin to run to each other: Annabeth up the hill, Thalia down, and they collide in the middle, arms wrapping around each other tightly, crying into each other's hair. Annabeth remembers Thalia taking care of her when she was seven, being her mom and her sister and her dearest friend all at once. Thalia had died to protect her when she was only twelve. She'll never forget it.
"You've gotten so big," Thalia cries. She wipes her nose. She looks good, wearing a leather jacket and ripped jeans. She's got several piercings in her ears.
"I missed you so much," Annabeth whispers.
"Man, I can't even describe the feeling," Thalia says. Her attention turns to Percy. "Kelp Head," she says, throwing herself into his arms.
Percy looks a little misty—eyed himself. "Good to see you, Thalia."
Grover joins their little group, sniffling. "Man, this is fuckin' emotional. I thought I could make it, but it's been two seconds and I'm already about to break."
"Dork," Thalia says, rubbing her eyes. Her eyeliner gets a little smudged. She turns to Percy and Annabeth. "Well, come on."
They climb up Half—Blood Hill in silence. Percy stares up at the tree.
"Thalia, you're massive," he says. Thalia punches him in the gut so hard he almost rolls right back down the slope again.
"Why is everyone already here?" Annabeth says in disbelief. "We were supposed to be the first ones here, I was supposed to set everything up –"
"Calm down," Thalia says, looking over at Annabeth to let loose a magnificent eye roll. "Well, see since you and Percy did pretty much all the work in, well, writing the books and getting us all together, we thought we'd do something nice for you guys, too."
They reach the top of the hill. The valley is beautiful every time she sees it, with a thick forest on the outskirts, the glittering sea up ahead. Although they don't exist anymore, she imagines a ring of cabins, an ever—burning campfire, a worn path leading down to the Lake. Now all that exists is the Big House. Or, well, what it was supposed to be. Mostly it's a glorified shack. Still pretty big, but nowhere near what it used to be. Still, with their limited budget, Annabeth had tried to make it as nostalgic and welcoming as she could.
Now, though, she stares at it suspiciously.
Percy bounces on the balls of his feet. "Let's go already."
They all jog down the hill – Annabeth hears voices when they're close enough to the Big House. Most of the voices are painfully familiar and her heart leaps right into her throat. Next to her, Percy steps over the porch, looking a little overwhelmed. His eyes meet Annabeth's. "This is where we met for the first time."
"You drooled all over me," Annabeth recalls.
"Did not!" Percy exclaims.
"You guys are exactly the same," Grover says, rolling his eyes.
Thalia laughs. "Okay, Percy, Annabeth, I hope you're ready, because –" and she swings the door open – "Look who's here!"
The resultant roar is deafening. A thickset man with short brown hair hollers, "Brother!" and Annabeth barely recognizes Tyson before he's barrelling into them, knocking them over into the dust. For a man with such a big personality and stature, he's always been adorable, and now he bursts into tears as he takes a good look at her, his weight hitting her with the force of a small truck. She manages to cough out a "Can't breathe," before he's pulling her into what might be the tightest hug Annabeth has ever experienced in her life.
When he finally lets go, his eyes still full of tears, Annabeth takes a her first proper look at everyone else around them. Clarisse. Chris. Connor. Travis. Katie. Silena. Beckendorf. Jake Mason. Malcolm – who runs into her arms with a cry. Nico – who Percy throws an arm around at once. Bianca, who gives Percy a big hug as his expression crumbles at the sight of her. Zoe Nightshade and her Hunters. Michael Yew. Lee Fletcher. Will Solace. Castor. Luke – who stands behind a protective Thalia: they both give her a hug. Juniper. Rachel Dare, who presses a kiss to both Percy and Annabeth's cheeks, grinning tearfully. And even an older man in a wheelchair who Annabeth runs straight for as soon as she sees him.
"Chiron!" She says, giving her old teacher a hug, feeling her eyes begin to water a little as she remembers him taking her under his wing, teaching her everything she knew, caring for her like a father. "I've missed you so much."
"Annabeth," he says, smiling, his brown eyes as warm as she remembers, "You've done so well. You and Percy both. You've managed to bring us back together."
She flushes, the way she's always done on receiving an elder's praise. "I learned from the best."
"You flatter me," he says smilingly.
"I have so much to ask," she gushes at once. "How are we all here? Where are the gods? Why do we all remember?"
Chiron laughs and strokes his beard. "Well, Annabeth, I've only got a hunch, but I think the gods are very much alive. They've always moved with the heart of the flame, didn't they? They must have simply gone on to a different region where the flame burns brightest."
"Yes. I'm sure you've guessed it. As for why we're here, with our memories – the gods, perhaps, pitied us for our untimely deaths. We had done much for them, after all, during the war. The gods do try, once in a while, to repay their debts. And I have no doubt that everyone here –" His eyes sweep proudly over all of his students – "must have chosen to be reborn, even if granted the highest honor of residing in Elysium. The gods must have granted us this final favour: to be reborn as ourselves. To not lose our pasts even after crossing the Styx into a new life, so that we might find each other in the mortal world. This –" he gestures around them – "is merely a second chance of sorts."
"An opportunity to live the life we could've lived if we hadn't died?"
She looks around at them all, a messy group of teenagers and adults alike, talking and laughing and slapping each other on the back. Percy's got one arm around Nico as though preventing him from leaving, and the other arm around Tyson, who seems unwilling to let go at all. He is surrounded by a small crowd and they all seem to be recounting stories, and Percy takes out his phone to show everyone what Mrs. O'Leary looks like these days, and there's a chorus of cooing and laughter as they all gaze at what used to be a large, fearsome hellhound. Grover is circled by a bunch of others whom Annabeth recognizes as most of the other satyrs and nature spirits – she recognizes Leneus and the other members of the old Council among them.
"I'm glad we got this chance," she says quietly. "I'm glad we made the most of it." Then – "You're in a wheelchair."
"I'm doomed to be confined to this abomination in this life, alas," he says, and she laughs.
She makes her way through the crowd – stopping every once in a while to greet an old friend. They're all wearing orange t—shirts, she realizes, with the trademark black pegasus emblazoned on the front, and just when she's about Malcolm why she didn't get one, Clarisse elbows her and hands her a bag with a grunt.
"Give one to your boyfriend, too," she says.
They both glance over at Percy, who's shaking Luke's hand, both smiling at each other. Luke says something and Percy claps him on the shoulder, letting out a laugh. Annabeth smiles.
"He did good," Clarisse says. "It's really because of him that we all managed to get together." She side—eyes Annabeth suspiciously. "Don't ever tell him I said that, though."
"Noted," Annabeth laughs.
Clarisse almost softens. "Good to see you, Chase."
Annabeth pulls on her Camp Half—Blood shirt and tosses the other one to Percy, who crows, "This is so cool! Just like the old days!" to a round of laughter. She's about to join them when she's mobbed by the entirety of what appears to be the old Athena cabin, and there are hugs and tears all around all over again.
Finally, Thalia claps her hands for attention. "It's great to see everyone here."
"Fuck yeah!" someone from Ares yells. "Ares!"
Which starts a whole shouting match of "Athena!" "Apollo for the win!" "Hermes!" and everyone's laughing and catcalling and booing each other. Thalia claps her hands together again.
"We've been lucky enough to get together today," she says. "I think we know who to thank for that."
Annabeth blushes as her cabinmates push her to the front of the crowd. She finds Percy next to her, laughing sheepishly and shrugging, saying it wasn't a big deal.
"Well," Clarisse booms, "to our two leaders, since you took it upon yourself to write your own ending, we thought –"
Percy blanches. "You don't mean –"
"Oh, yeah," Clarisse grins, a devious lilt to her voice. "To the lake!"
Annabeth screams in protest as she's hoisted into the air and lifted onto Tyson's shoulders; Percy's balancing on top of the whole Hermes cabin, who are all howling with laughter at his misery. The entire group, hooting and chanting, run with Percy and Annabeth all the way to the lake and dump them in unceremoniously before jumping in themselves, and Annabeth's laughing so hard her chest hurts at the sight of Thalia with weeds in her hair and Percy, son of Poseidon extraordinaire, getting his legs stuck in the water reeds.
And it's amazing. It's all of them, all of the eighty or so demigods – well, ex-demigods – hanging out at Camp, just like old times. And she's suddenly filled with an odd sense of gratitude for, well, everything. For being able to find everyone and meet them and spend this time together. For having these memories at all – these memories that she used to curse every time she woke up in the morning. And she is grateful, most of all, for Percy, who floats next to her lazily, his eyes closed, soaking up the sunlight. She reaches out underwater and grasps his hand, and he squeezes her fingers tight. She can tell just by the expression on his face how much this means to him.
And Travis and Connor are trying to sneak behind the Aphrodite girls to push them into the lake, and Silena and Beckendorf sit by the edge of the waters, holding hands and talking softly. Clarisse and her siblings laugh loudly, performing backflips and other fancy stunts as they dive into the lake. And Luke paddles over and tries to dunk Percy's head underwater, and Tyson is there, wanting to know if hippocampi still exist, and Rachel rests her head on Annabeth's shoulder and Grover gives her a hug and Thalia shoots her a wink, blue eyes sparkling.
Annabeth has always wanted to build something permanent – in both this life and the old one, and probably her next life, too. It's always felt like her against the world. She's always felt like people have flitted into and out of her life without a care in the world, leaving Annabeth to struggle with the aftermath of losing them. But now –
She's got her family. This ragtag bunch of demigods who Annabeth knows have always, always had her back. She's got Percy. And she's learning that although she might not have gained her mother's favour, she doesn't need to build a monument to last a thousand years when she's lucky enough to have built these bonds that have literally lasted a lifetime.
And it feels wonderful and miraculous and perfect beyond words. It feels safe. It feels like home.
a/n: if you made it here, congratulations! you are a hero.
some cool shit about the fic / stuff i couldn't include:
-the bakery annabeth buys the cupcake from? peral bakery. the pearl is a symbol of aphrodite, who was trying to push them together all along.
-rachel, who's still pretty fucking rich in this life, donates like, so much money in the effort to rebuild camp half-blood. everyone visits in the summers.
-grover moves to new york. he, juniper, annabeth, percy, and tyson meet up over the weekends.
-the demigods make a group chat. it's mostly the hermes kids spamming memes.
-annabeth keeps in touch with her dad, and even brings percy over one christmas. her dad is skeptical at first, but percy wins him over by asking all about his cool military war planes.
-percy and annabeth buy another dog. they call him blackjack.
thank you for reading! there are probably 90 million errors but i literally cant look at this thing anymore.
drop a comment if you can, they remind me to keep writing :)