It's been a while.
This is one of the darkest oneshots I've ever written, in many ways. It's grown-up!Percabeth, Percy-centric - and it's very angsty, very pscycological. Hard to believe, then, that the inspiration for it comes from a plate of Swedish meatballs. It's very different from anything else I've written.
A warning - there's references to self-harm and to heavy alcohol abuse in this chapter, with some bad language, too. There's light in every character, every person, every pairing - but there's also darkness, too. This is for you guys, for waiting.
Song choice - '9 Crimes' by Damien Rice
When Annabeth tells him she's pregnant, he freezes.
There's a split second after the words have escaped her lips, the product of which is a blank expression and the sensation that the floorboards have just dropped from beneath him.
And then he's grinning and wrapping his arms around her, hugging her tight as she laughs with warmth in her very tone. When she pulls away her eyes are swimming with tears and he's telling her he couldn't be happier.
But inside – a strange, sinking feeling; a bitter taste on his tongue that he's sure wasn't there before.
The guilt kicks in around midnight after an evening spent calling everyone he knows to tell them the news. He's lying in bed shirtless and he's frozen. She sleeps soundly beside him.
Why does he feel so guilty?
He wants to wake her and say something, everything– anything to let her know that something isn't right. Something. He doesn't know what. But something.
He sinks back against the pillows and bites his lip so hard he can feel his teeth break the skin; wishing that, for once, he could feel the pain.
The pain, he thinks, would drown out the guilt.
He dreams that night.
In his dream, he's got a beer gut and the murky remnants of stubble plaguing his chin. Eyesight blurred. Alcohol on his breath. The grease of his comb-over makes his skin crawl. The lingering stench of cigars and beer, body odor and sweat hangs in the air of the darkened room like a noose. He's drunk, that's for sure, and he's pissed.
A door opens somewhere to his left. He turns as a child slouches into the room. He doesn't recognize her – blonde hair, green eyes – but when she sees him, there's a flicker of recognition in her steely stare. She glares at him, her resentment cold and unyielding. He doesn't understand how someone so young can be harboring so much hate.
She starts towards him. And then she turns, pushing open another door and slamming it behind her skinny frame.
Another figure enters, and this face is painfully familiar.
She looks worn. She approaches him slowly, closing the door softly behind her. Wrinkles hang at her brow and cheeks, but she's still beautiful. Annabeth.
There's something he doesn't recognize in her gaze as she advances. Fear? Anguish? Reluctance? He's not too sure.
She says something.
He doesn't understand why, but a smirk plays on his lips. He strikes back with a nasty, bitter retort that tastes and sounds like venom as it bites through the air. She protests, her words blurred in his mind, and he doesn't understand why he feels so angry.
He raises his hand, and strikes her once across the face.
He wakes, and the urge to retch is uncontrollable. He needs air, fresh air, and he heads to the balcony.
Because he knows what he's just seen and it scares him shitless.
As he slides the glass doors shut and turns to the darkened street, he's murmuring to himself: I'm not him I'm not him I'm not him I'm not him I'm not him I'm not him
He rubs his eyes quickly with the palms of his hands, shaking off the drowsy façade.
He knows who he was in that dream. That's the thing that's scaring him the most.
And Gabe's gone, he tells himself sternly. He's gone, and he's not coming back. That chapter of his life has passed. There is no way - no way on this earth - that he'll turn out like Gabe. As if he could ever… ever even think of …
Her blonde hair tumbling down to the floor–
He swears under his breath. His hands clutch the balcony railing and he leans forward, his eyes surveying the stone floor, head level with the barrier.
Is this what you're scared of? His own thoughts startle him, an unwelcome interruption. Is this what you're scared of becoming? You think having a kid will turn you into him?
"Yes," he whispers. He's angry, and he's frustrated, and he's terrified. "Yes."
He can't bear the thought of his child – his and Annabeth's (I'm so sorry, it was a dream, I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry) – thinking of him the same way he thinks of Gabe. But that's a risk; a risk he is going to have to take, when he goes through with this.
If he goes through with this.
He hears Annabeth call his name from indoors, and he flinches.
He dismisses these thoughts and shoves them to the back of his mind. He's not going to let them ruin this for him. He only faces them at night, when his conscience seems to sense the external silence and whir into life in his drowsy psyche.
He doesn't get much sleep.
Annabeth, it seems, has never been happier. She's glowing, and he envies her. He'd squeeze a kid out if he thought it would give him that kind of buzz. Sometimes he thinks he catches her watching him a little too closely and he freaks out, worrying that she's guessed the thoughts that are plaguing his twilight hours, but then he'll smile at her and make a crappy joke. She'll roll her eyes and tell him what a Seaweed Brain he is, but more importantly, she'll let it go.
He wishes he could do the same. But it's only at night, he reminds himself. Just get yourself some pills or something.
But after a week or so, the thoughts start to spill into the hours of daylight.
You can't do this, his conscience whispers to him as he pours himself some cereal. You can't, and you know it. Stop denying it.
He's at the store. Think of how much you'll hurt the kid, his mind seems to say. Your inexperience. Your …background. Your history. You can't do what's best for a baby.
He's on the phone to his mother. You're not cut out for this.
"Nothing. You just went quiet for a moment. Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine." Who are you kidding, Percy Jackson?
And the final blow, as he's washing the dishes that same night: You don't know what it means to be a father.
His hand slips and the plate he's holding drops to the floor.
The worst part? He knows it's true.
He goes to Central Park in his lunch break and stands by the lake, watching families messing about on the opposite lawn.
He sees fathers lifting their daughters up onto their shoulders, and making the girls giggle relentlessly as they roll down the grassy slopes with their arms outstretched. He watches fathers spend forever teaching their sons how to swing the perfect home run, and then embracing them with pride when the bat finally makes contact with the oncoming ball. They patch up their children's knees when they scrape them running around fighting imaginary swordfights with friends. When something goes wrong, the children turn to their fathers, and suddenly the dad seems to know exactly what to do to save the day.
And he knows he can't do that. He has no idea how to do that. He knows nothing, absolutely nothing, and it pains him to think that he can never, ever be able to make a child as happy as those on the lakeshore.
His head is spinning. This is too much, way too much to deal with.
The two father figures of his childhood. Gabe. And Poseidon. And he's resented both.
Gabe – he'd been so easy to hate. He'd loved to hate Gabe and everything about him. The temper, the smirk, the stench – his very posture, slumped over drunkenly at the poker table in a cloud of thick noxious smoke, as he snatched up worn playing cards with his thick, grubby little fingers.
And the bruises on his mother's arms, in rings that matched the shape of those fingers exactly.
And his real father; Poseidon, though back then he had had little idea as to who his father really was. Growing up, he had blamed everything on the mystery man from the oldest of memories. The way his mom's life had turned out – married to a jerk with a crap job and a retard for a kid; yeah, that was his dad's fault. The way he had turned out. The way life had a knack of throwing shit his way. Everything, everything had been his missing father's fault. It wasn't easy to hate a dead man (especially a dead man held in such high regard by his mother)– but he had managed, somehow.
And those are the two examples he has to demonstrate how to be a father.
The aching gets worse.
He calls through from the other room. "Yeah?"
"You said you'd sorted through the laundry!"
"Uh, I did."
Annabeth appears in the doorway, clutching a large basket of clothes that were probably once white and now definitely pink. "I think you might have missed something," she says sardonically, withdrawing the offending red sock from the pile with raised eyebrows.
"Shit. Shit, I'm sorry."
"Oh, Percy, come on," she says, sounding tired. "You're going to have to do better than this. If you can't manage sort through the laundry, how are you going to do looking after a baby?"
There's nothing cruel in her tone, nothing vicious, but anger lights in the pit of his stomach anyway.
"We're going to be parents soon," she says, placing down the basket and sitting down opposite him on the footrest. "That means accepting a bit of responsibility, y'know?"
Don't fucking patronize me, he thinks bitterly. With that, he's even startled himself. He never swears. What's got into him? "Mmm."
"You okay?" she asks.
Lie? Or tell the truth? Tell the truth. Tell the truth.
"Yeah. Just tired."
It's Annabeth's idea. Clarisse is in the city for a few days, and her kid's only a few months old. "Don't you see, Seaweed Brain? It'll be great for us to get some practice with a baby. Because, let's face it, we're kind of clueless when it comes to kids."
You have no idea, he thinks, while she dials Clarisse's number and invites her over for lunch.
It's going okay (well, he's staying out of the way making drinks) until Annabeth takes Clarisse down to the parking lot to show her the new car, and Percy's left alone with the baby.
"You be okay for a few minutes, Seaweed Brain?"
And he looks down at the baby – this tiny little person, blinking up at him with big eyes (unnaturally big eyes, he thinks, are they supposed to be that size?) – and he bottles it. The simple truth seems to stare bag from inside those baby blues; you can't do this.
When the two girls come back, the baby's crying and he's freaking out. He excuses himself and heads to the balcony once more.
The cold air is like a breaking reality to him. You can't do this. You can't.
He takes a deep breath.
So what are you going to do?
Two more weeks of this hell, and he just can't take it anymore.
The solution comes to him one evening when he's eating alone; Annabeth's up at Olympus to finalise some plans for a new construction, and he's got the day off work. And it hits him, right as he makes a stab at his pasta and takes a savage bite.
He could cut and run.
As soon as he so much as thinks it, he's filled with revulsion. He swallows, hard, the hot food blistering his throat and gets up abruptly from the table. He goes and stands by the window, his nose pressed to the cold window pane. His pasta lies uneaten.
He knows what it would look like, of course. The social cliché, right – the guy's gone as soon as the girl's bought the pregnancy test? He's heard it, so many times – hell, it's the story of his life. How many kids can he name who can relate to that? And she'd hate him for it. He can imagine the pain on her face even now. And his family – his mom would never forgive him. He'd be leaving everything behind. Everything he'd worked his ass off to build. He'd lose the best parts of his life, that's for sure.
But the baby… The baby would be better off without him.
And that's what it comes down to, he thinks, and he watches his reflection in the microwave door. Being the best father means doing the best for your kid. Even if that means not being around.
Annabeth will make an amazing mom. He knows it. Because she's super organized and smart and forgiving and kind and everything a mom should be.
The baby would be so much happier without him, without that kind of influence in its life.
Or would it?
He tortures himself with these thoughts for an hour, maybe, perhaps two.
And after nearly four hours of agonizing thought, he snatches up his keys and his wallet, his cell and his jacket, and leaves.
He doesn't remember to leave a note.
He drives around in the torrential rain, the sound of the rainfall beating down on his car roof falling on deaf ears. He's got no direction, no plan and no hope.
He buys whiskey, five bottles, even though he's never drunk it before in his life, and piles it up in the trunk of his car.
This, he thinks to himself, must be what hell feels like.
The car breaks down on the freeway. He pulls in to the side of the road. Out of gas.
The rain thunders on.
"I want you to know." He's shouting against the noise of the torrent outside, shouting to the child he'll never know. "I want you to know… I did this for you. Because it's better this way. You know you're going to have the best mom in the world. You know that, right?" He's blinking back tears, because thinking of Annabeth hurts. It hurts more than ever before. "But I can't be… I can't be the dad you're going to need me to be. It's only fair on… on your mom and you. That I'm – that I'm gone. Y'know?"
He clenches his fist, the keys pressing to his palm.
"I'm sorry." His final shout is lost to the ensuing downpour and his voice breaks, the tears too much for him. He ditches the car, and the rain, cold against his skin, feels strangely welcome.
He checks into a cheap, seedy motel by the side of a railway (dirty wallpaper flaking at the walls, flickering electric light as a substitute for no windows, and a stained mattress with no pillows) and the first thing he does is drink.
He doesn't know how to drink the whiskey, so he downs a whole glass in one and the kick he gets as a result is the closest thing to physical pain he's had in ages. He does the same thing again.
He does it over and over until he can't hear himself think anymore, and he's free from the demons that have been clawing incessantly away at his insides. He sits with his back pressed to the foot of the bed. He throws the glass against the wall, hard. It shatters.
Gingerly, his vision blurry, he holds a piece of glass between his forefinger and thumb. He runs the edge slowly over his fingertips. He does it again and again, a sharp edge of glass to his calloused fingers – but there is no pain, no wound. The Styx's power holds, and he feels nothing.
The whiskey has made him angry and violent, and he kicks at the last remaining bottle, letting it spill out across the floor and soak the threadbare rug.
The phone rings. It's Annabeth.
He ignores it.
The thoughts go round and round his head until he just can't take it anymore.
"You're a fucking mess," he mutters angrily to himself. "Like you could ever – ever be a dad. What the… the Hades were you…were you fucking thinking…"
He hates the way the words, those bitter terrible words, taste.
He raises the back of his shirt with a free hand and takes up the shard of glass once more.
He finds the spot with his index finger, and runs a finger slowly over the surface. He shudders at the sensation. And then he takes the glass and poises it, centimeters above the shot. The sharpest vertex points towards the bare, unprotected skin. He takes a deep breath.
What am I doing?
The phone rings again, and the glass clatters to the floor as his fingers give way. He crumbles, sliding to the floorboards, whiskey and glass underfoot.
He lets the phone ring on and on, and after thirty rings, he breaks down.
He leaves the hotel early the next morning, because he can't bear to be in the same room much longer with the shame eating him up inside.
He does what he does best. He heads to the sea.
It's a windy, wild sort of day, and he's freezing cold as the gale greets him, head on. The docks are stirring, slowly, but it's lifeless to him. The headache's a bitch and he takes the dull ache like a sentence for his crimes.
The aftermath of the night before is flooding back to him, slowly. He remembers the car, stranded and rain-drenched on the freeway. The shattered glass he piled into the hotel room's trash can and the whiskey dripping through the cracks in the floorboards.
He remembers Annabeth.
He wishes drowning were an option.
Where to from here?
He thinks about it for a moment. He can't stay in New York. He can't head to Camp, either, because he's twenty-seven years old, for the gods' sake, and he'd look like the biggest douchebag alive. He's not going anywhere near Olympus, that's for sure. He can imagine Athena stood on the other side of the elevator doors with a knife, waiting to greet him.
His dad's? Maybe, maybe not. Somewhere remote, like that place he saw on the Discovery Channel that one time… He could get in a boat and sail somewhere, he thinks, and he wonders how long it would take him to sail across the Atlantic and reach England or someplace –
He blinks, and then he feels something whack him hard on the head.
The pain doesn't come (as usual), so when he turns to look at his attacker his face is one of confusion and disgruntlement.
Clarisse La Rue's stood behind him, and she surveys him dully.
"Shit. Forgot that doesn't work on you anymore." Her arms are folded across her chest, her brown hair tied back in a ponytail. Her expression is steely and she looks kind of pissed.
He's guessing this isn't a good sign.
He turns away from her and resumes his careful observation of the murky waters. The wind's still in his eyes.
She takes a step forward and joins him, sitting on the railing overlooking the dock. They sit in silence for a moment or three, the wind whistling petulantly around them.
He finds himself waiting for her to bring a shitload down on him.
She sighs, her breath ragged against the force of the windstorm. The gentle lapping of the water against the hull of the boats is drowned out. Her fingers toy with her wedding ring slowly, and he finds watching it oddly soothing.
"You want to know something funny, Jackson?" She sounds oddly resigned. "I didn't even come here to give you hell."
He wants her words to make him feel better, but they don't. There's a bitter taste of sea-salt on his tongue.
It hurts a bit to fight out his reply: "Who told you to come looking for me?"
Clarisse gives a coarse, biting laugh. "What d'you take me for, Jackson? I don't run other people's errands. You can't tell me to do squat." She sounds a little too proud for a moment, but the cockiness is gone as she continues: "Plus she'd run me through if she knew I was here."
He doesn't like how she guessed who he'd had in mind. He's still not looking at her. "How is she?" he mumbles.
He feels her shoulder's shrug beside him. "A mess." There's no apology in her tone. "Okay. A complete fucking mess."
The dull aching in his stomach becomes a sharp stabbing sensation at a moment's notice.
He's readying some lame excuse for an apology when she speaks again.
"She's got herself all wound up about this parenting shit," she says.
And the apology suddenly jumps out the window and he's hanging on her every word.
"How –" He starts again, careful to keep his voice level, nonchalant. "How d'you mean?"
She pauses for thought, her face creased with concern. She's actually not bad looking, he thinks, when she's not smirking nastily at him or threatening to put his various limbs into body bags. Her eyes meet his, which he finds disconcerting.
"It's like the dark side of managing to keep your head still attached to your shoulders long enough to survive to adulthood. It's a half-blood cliché." She grimaces. "The usual freak-out. Depressive, occasionally suicidal, depending on the demigod. Shit-scared how the kid'll turn out. Shit scared if you even know what you're doing, because the gods know your own parents haven't been the best example in life. Usually hysterical, generally messy. Most demigods don't live into their twenties, thirties, so they don't give you a heads up when the baby-freak-out heads your way."
Usually hysterical. Generally messy.
"Wait - this is normal?" Nonchalance is out the window – he's shocked, and it's obvious in his tone. "Like – you've been through this?"
"Hell yeah. Not that it's any of your business." She glares at him for a moment, and he almost wants to smile, though god knows why. "Hit the road for a couple of days, got into a few fights in Harlem, put a few assholes in the emergency room. Crawled back to the apartment to find Chris drunk out of his mind on wine coolers with some girl who looked like she'd been hit by a speeding truck." She snorted. "Annabeth's been less… dramatic. She sort of started tearing up all her stupid drawing folder."
"Her portfolio?" He knows from past experience that Annabeth Chase treasures her architecture portfolio over her own life – so much as looking at it is tantamount to a death sentence. "But that's like her Holy Grail."
She shoots him a look of disgust. "Damn, Jackson. And they say children of Ares are supposed to be dumb. She's not thinking straight, idiot! And you'd better go fix that before she does something even stupider."
He wonders when he became the go-fix-it guy (right after you saved Olympus, his brain murmurs helpfully. Thanks, he grumbles). "I'm not…" He wants to say that he's in no place to be helping anyone at this moment in time; he's the guy who ditched his car in torrential rain to replace the future he would have had with a beautiful wife and child with whiskey and sleazy motels. He's the least qualified to be giving life advice at this precise moment in time – especially to Annabeth.
"What, you're not going to be there for your mother of your child? Who are you, Eddie Murphy?"
"It's not like that, okay?" he says angrily, his fists clenched. "It's not that way. I'm just – it's not –"
"What way is it, then?"
He needs to tell her that he can't do this, that there's no way in Hades he's going to be able to walk back into that apartment after what he's done.
But one glimpse of the look Clarisse is giving him tells him he's got little choice.
"Fine," he says, and he says it again, a little louder, in case she didn't hear. "I'll go, okay? On one condition."
"What's the condition?"
He scowls. "Could you… uh, give me a lift?"
She kicks him out outside his building, growling a menacing get your ass in the apartment and fix this thing in his ear, and speeds off down the street.
He doesn't remember the apartment being up this many stairs and he reckons the long, exhausting ascent is probably a metaphor for something, but he doesn't know what (and to be honest, he only knows what a metaphor is because Paul used to have magnets stuck on the refrigerator about wordplay).
He thinks about knocking, and then remembers he lives there and if he's going to get killed by Annabeth it's probably best she doesn't do it out in the hall where children might see, and opens the door.
She's in the kitchen.
She doesn't look like she's bordering on manic-depressive.
She's cooking and humming along to a song on the radio that he doesn't know. He takes a cautious step forwards, and he's suddenly very self-conscious, very aware of the fact that he stinks of alcohol and there are bits of broken glass pressed to his clothes and he's unshaven and damp and looks like the kind of people Nico di Angelo would hang out with in his spare time.
He's not sure whether he should say anything, but shame answers his question for him, rendering him mute. Instead, he stands awkwardly by the door.
She looks up and she smiles. "Hey," she says, and it's bright and cheery and not at all expected. "I made meatballs, you want some?"
Shame is replaced with shock, but apparently shock doesn't want him to speak, either.
The reason for his shock is two-fold.
The first; she's not even yelling at him. She doesn't even seem a little bit angry. Because he can always tell when she is mad, because she goes really quiet and subdued and won't look at him, like the calm before the storm. She never smiles when she's mad. And she's smiling now.
The second is that she's cooking, and Annabeth never cooks. Except for an annual blue cupcake, which is a disaster each and every year she tries. They established years ago that where meals are concerned, Percy will cook, and they'll stock up their freezer with enough microwave meals to keep Annabeth nourished on the rare occasion that he's not going to be there for dinner, because they don't want to get evicted from another apartment for setting fire to the furniture.
She seems to take his silence as a refusal. "Alright," she says, and she turns back to the stove, moving slightly to the song still warbling on from the radio on top of a box of Oreos. "More for me."
He's found words, which is good, but they're not the ones he should be saying, which is bad.
She glances at him over her shoulder. "And what's wrong with that, exactly, Seaweed Brain?" she demands.
"It's just… I like our apartment and I haven't got two hundred dollars to tip the super when we melt down the chairs again."
"Oh, ha-ha." She turns and serves a huge dollop of pasta onto the two plates in front of her, followed by a dozen or so meatballs. "See? It looks food-like. And that's good enough for me." She draws up a chair and sits down at the breakfast bar, eating a big mouthful of meatballs in one hungry gulp.
He watches her – this beautiful creature from a whole other planet (probably a planet where cooking isn't a necessary life skill) eating this whole load of food (that actually smells pretty good) for the tiny little person growing inside her that's his and who he's going to get to meet in about eight months in a nice apartment in a good part of the city with a park nearby and great friends and supportive parents and a life that he's craved for his twenty-seven years of existence, and suddenly he can't remember why he smells so strongly of whiskey.
She gestures to the meal in front of her. "You want in?"
He blinks, and there's something about her than tells him that she knows exactly where he's been and what he's been doing, and another thing glistening in those grey eyes he's lost himself in too many times, that says she doesn't even care. The only thing she does care about is the fact that he's here now.
And he gets the feeling, despite the fact her fork is gesturing at a giant plate of meatballs, she's not really asking whether or not he wants some pasta (he's pretty sure it's a metaphor again).
There's a tight feeling in his throat.
Saying it aloud is easier than he'd thought.
It's a confession he'd only ever admit to Annabeth, and she knows it, too. She doesn't lower her fork – she keeps eating, taking a sip of her juice before she swallows. "I know," she says, like it's the most natural thing in the world. She devours another meatball. "Me too."
He looks at her steadily. "Yeah?"
"I think we're allowed to be," she says gently. "Now come on, the meatballs are getting cold and if I eat them all there won't be enough room for the baby in here." She looks down at her stomach, which is already looking kind of swollen, and he gets this weird urge to press his palm to it and see what happened.
He moves towards the table, sliding into a seat. He spies Annabeth's portfolio, propped up against the wall in the corridor, in exactly the same place and exactly the same condition as it was the night before, but when he looks at her questioningly, she merely shrugs and steals a meatball from his plate.
He's not too sure what just happened, but he's acutely aware of the strange, tense feeling in his stomach being slowly replaced with both meatballs and another, much stranger sensation; excitement - real, genuine excitement.
He smiles into his pasta, and he thinks she notices.
He's sat up in bed at about midnight, cautiously flicking through one of the pregnancy books he found in the bathroom, when she sits down beside him, her reading glasses lost in a tangle of blonde curls somewhere on top of her head.
"You want to know something, Seaweed Brain?"
He turns to look at her.
"I wouldn't be having this baby with you if I didn't think you weren't going to be an amazing dad." He knows she's serious now, because there's this intense, passionate sincerity in her eyes that warms his heart. He closes the pregnancy book, pushing it gently aside. "And I do, y'know. I'm almost jealous of the kid."
"Are you kidding? This baby is going to love you so much I'm going to have to bribe it with ice-cream just to get it to like me more." He smiles a little at that. "C'mon – what kid wouldn't want Percy Jackson, hero of Olympus, as their dad?"
"You really think so?"
"I know so. And you know me, I'm always right." She grins.
He grins back. "You're going to make a wonderful mom."
"Thanks, Seaweed Brain." She kisses him softly and his hand slides almost subconsciously to her stomach, his palm resting flat against her navel. Annabeth lies back against the pillows. Somewhere in there, he thinks, is a little tiny person, and that blows him away more than just about anything.
She sits up slowly and moves closer to him – he can feel her gentle breath on his bottom lip – and whispers, "I really, really want some ice cream."
He sighs. "That's going to be my job for the next eight months, isn't it?"
"My own little ice-cream man." She laughs, a little sleepily. "Maybe we'll get you a van."
He rolls his eyes and heads off to the freezer, but when he comes back she's fast asleep, curled up amongst the quilts with her hand where his was moments before. He stands for a minute or three in the doorway, watching her gentle breathing, and he doesn't need any metaphors or dreams or tiny voices in his head to tell him that this – right here, in their tiny New York apartment - is the only place in the world that he'd ever want to be.