Chapter Twenty-Two: Marching On, One Republic
For those days we felt like a mistake,
those times when love's what you hate,
we keep marching on.
Annabeth Chase knows many things. She knows how to design a skyscraper and what the capital of Peru is (Lima) and where to find the best diner in Santa Monica. She knows that her mother is Athena and this has made her clever; she knows how to hot-wire a car engine and kiss a boy well and throw a knife so accurately she could give someone a haircut.
But Annabeth Chase doesn't know, for the life of her, how she ended up in Percy's apartment, with his mom feeding them left-over pasta in their small kitchen at two in the morning. She doesn't know how they won the battle, at what cost, and why Percy isn't happier with that fact. Why he's still grim-mouthed and silent and looks like he just witnessed her funeral or something.
Annabeth Chase likes knowing things. She likes keeping a strict mental record of all the important times in her life, in the news, involving the gods. And Annabeth doesn't like these strange holes in her memory, these odd disjunctions. Fuzzy gaps.
"How'd we end up in New York, Percy?" she asks for the thousandth time. "Why can't I remember the rest of the battle?"
"You got hurt," he answers, without meeting her eye. "Really bad. We didn't think you'd make it."
The same thing he's answered every time.
"Why can't I remember getting hurt then? Why do I feel completely fine now?"
"The healers fixed you up. You hit your head."
His words are all so oddly planned. Annabeth is good at telling when Percy is lying. Annabeth has faced death before; the life of a half-blood is so dangerous that they have all learned to shrug at their many near-misses. Can't worry about it. It must have been really bad, then, for Percy to be so shaken. She's alive, isn't she? No serious deformities, no brain damage. Everything in working order. Just another day in the life, right?
And yet, for narrowly escaping death, Annabeth has never felt so good in her life. The battle seems to have left her with no marks or bruises. In fact, all her old scars have vanished as well, including the last traces of grey from her hair. It's like she's gotten some sort of physical upgrade, or a real-life airbrush. The details of this, too, seem to escape Percy.
"But why are we here?"
"I wanted to see my family," he says mechanically. "You said you'd come with me. Don't you remember?"
No, she doesn't remember. It all feels so surreal, like there's two different Annabeth Chases—the one Percy's talking about, who was healed and then came to New York, and the one who feels like she's just been born, clean and new and confused. She can't align what Percy says happened with what she feels. She's got these disembodied emotions, without memories to attach them to, and they don't match Percy's story at all.
They stay with the Jacksons for a couple of days. This, too, feels strange to Annabeth—why aren't they with the rest of the demigods, rebuilding? Percy says he needs some time off, which isn't Percy-like at all. Percy would want to be with the others, at Camp Half-Blood.
Annabeth wants answers, but she stays.
The days are slow. Percy's mother and stepfather are just as clueless as she; together, the three of them tip-toe around him and his strange sullenness. They have nothing to do but watch TV or sit and talk around the elephant in the room. Percy keeps leaving the apartment to "go clear his head," as he puts it. Annabeth knows enough not to ask to come with him.
"What happened at the end of the battle?"
"You've asked that before," Percy says dully, from where he's spread out on his bed, staring at the ceiling.
"I'm asking again," Annabeth says, straddling his desk chair. "Seeing as I haven't gotten a good answer yet."
"You were unconscious. Someone carried you off the field. I killed Kronos."
Percy sits up.
"And? Jesus, Annabeth, that's what happened! What more do you want?"
"Well you seem to have a lot to say about it," Annabeth says, turning away in frustration. "I mean, it was only the battle that everything was leading up to. It was only the death of the largest threat the gods have faced in a thousand years. But 'I killed Kronos' seems to do it justice, right?"
Percy doesn't rise to the bait. "It wasn't that spectacular."
Their conversation is going nowhere, just like all the conversations before it, the same refrains of a familiar chorus.
"I don't remember deciding to come to New York," she says, changing the subject. Her words are laced with suspicion. It's a loaded statement; he knows it. He isn't telling her something.
"The doctors said you might have some memory gaps."
"Funny, you seem to have the same ones," Annabeth replies coldly. Percy doesn't so much as bristle at the insult.
Annabeth Chase likes knowing things. And right now all she knows is that there's something big still under wraps.
There's so many wars we fought,
there's so many things were not,
but with what we have,
I promise you that,
we're marching on, we're marching on.
"Is it Grover?"
They're sitting on his couch watching Finding Nemo. It's almost laughable. In the wake of death and destruction, all they can think to do is watch Finding Nemo.
"Are you sure?" she presses.
He purses his lips.
"They're all fine, Annabeth! Really."
She puts her hand on his cheek, turning his face towards hers. Their eyes meet.
"Then why aren't you fine?" she asks softly. His green eyes, those beautiful green eyes, the ones she could swim in for days, dart away from hers. He can't even look at her. It's troubling.
You think you can do these things but you just can't, Nemo!
That night she dreams. She wakes up sobbing uncontrollably, and she doesn't know why.
Percy's there, wrapping his arms around her, whispering that it's all alright, everything's okay now, nothing's wrong, but she can't stop crying. She's trembling. All she can think of is cold, cold, dark, grey, darkness, gone, alone, cold…
She's terrified of something and she doesn't know what it is.
For all of the plans we've made,
there isn't a flag I'd wave,
don't care if we bend,
I'd sink us to swim
we're marching on, we're marching on.
"Is it bigger than a breadbox?"
They're playing Scrabble now. Scrabble. Two dyslexics playing Scrabble.
Percy looks up from where he's spelling "affiliate" "aflilitate."
"Whatever you're hiding from me. Is it bigger than a breadbox?"
"I'm not playing 'twenty questions' with you, Annabeth. And I'm not hiding anything."
"Double word score." She marks his points. "So you're saying that it's not bigger than a breadbox?"
"Goddamn it why do I only get consonants? And no, that's not what I'm saying!"
"So it is bigger than a breadbox," she says furtively.
"No! …Yes! I don't know. Yes, it's bigger than a fucking breadbox."
"Aha!" She spells out 'radical,' taking the triple word score. "Then there is something you're hiding."
Percy looks at her dumbly for a moment, before realizing he's just been duped.
She doesn't feel any better about it. Annabeth Chase is not stupid.
The nightmares start to come every night, but this time she begins to remember them. Swirling grey fog. She's trapped, lost forever, in swirling grey fog. Utterly alone.
It's just a nightmare, right? Why does it feel like a memory?
For this dance we'll move with each other.
There ain't no other step than one foot,
Right in front of the other.
Annabeth Chase knows many things about Percy Jackson. She knows his favorite color's blue, she knows he doesn't like milk in his cereal. She knows how many speeding tickets he's gotten and that he's intimidated by his real father and what his face looks like just after he's come.
And Annabeth knows when Percy is lying pathetically, helplessly, right to her face.
'Stop asking' has started to sound like 'you don't want to know.' And Annabeth Chase has never been one for the 'ignorance is bliss' mentality. She'd rather know—whatever it is— because at least when she knows, she can formulate a game-plan, something. She's an Athena—Athenas don't do confusion. Athenas need strategies.
And Athenas are so very good at piecing together mysteries, at following a trail of clues.
The trail starts in her dreams, first with the swirling grey fog. It isn't like normal fog, it's filled with voices, whispering as if from just behind a veil.
A new piece to the dream surfaces. She's back on the battle field. Luke—Kronos—is advancing on her. He raises his scythe, and then—
Fog. Endless fog.
There's a hole in a piece of her life, a hole that can't be explained by anything, that can't even be felt. It's as cold and blank as if it had been sliced out evenly with a scalpel.
Kronos' scythe. And then nothing. And then New York. Percy's nervousness. The way he keeps looking at her when he thinks she doesn't see, like he's holding his breath, waiting for her to disappear, like he can't look at her for long enough because he's afraid she's not there at all.
He's so stupid if he thinks he can hide something this big from her.
But—calm down, Annabeth—she's the stupid one, it couldn't possibly be. She'll voice her suspicion and he'll laugh at how paranoid she is, he'll throw his arm around her and say 'Jesus, you always jump to the worst conclusion, don't you?' and everything will be okay again.
"I was dead."
Percy doesn't answer, and that's answer enough.
"I was dead, wasn't I?"
"Wasn't I, Percy?"
She doesn't want him to confirm it, but she needs a fucking answer, a real, concrete, physical answer. She's an Athena. She needs to know the truth.
You know the truth, Annabeth. Percy's been saying it with his eyes for days now.
He tells her everything. For the first time since they began their endless cat-and-mouse dance of question and answer, Annabeth Chase has no words.
For all of the times we've stopped,
For all of the things I'm not.
Annabeth Chase knows several things. One: she was dead for approximately six hours and thirty-seven minutes. Two: she is no longer dead because her dumb-ass, impulsive boyfriend sold his own soul to bring her back. Three: she is in love with Percy Jackson and there's no way in Hades that he's dying in a year.
"What are we going to tell them at Camp?" she asks softly.
They're going back tomorrow, leaving the city. For now they're wrapped up with each other in Percy's bed. She feels closer to him, at least. Things are still desperate and doomed, but it's better now that the truth is out. The coldness is gone. True, it's been replaced by a gnawing dread, but ideas are already whirling through her head of how to fix things, how to buy back their time.
"Dunno," Percy whispers back. "They all saw you d—after the battle. How're we going to explain this?"
Annabeth thinks for a moment.
"The truth? There's really no other option."
"We won't tell them about the deal though," Percy finally concedes. "No one needs to know that part."
"The deal won't matter anyway," Annabeth says fiercely. "I'm going to get you out of it. I've been thinking—"
"No," Percy says sharply, cutting her off. "No thinking. We're not messing with this. It's not another adventure or something. In one year I'm going to die and that'll be that."
Annabeth sits up in disbelief.
"Serious as a heart attack."
"Percy, it's not hopeless," she tries. "There'll be a way! We have a whole year—"
"That's not what I'm saying," he amends. "Listen—we tamper with this deal, we cheat Hades in any way, and everything's off. You die again, and then there's no bringing you back."
At this detail, they both fall silent.
"So then you're just going to calmly going to give in to this?" Annabeth's outraged. This isn't the Percy she knows, the Percy who keeps marching on no matter the struggle, who never gives up.
"If it keeps you alive, yes."
"That isn't fair!" she says loudly, not caring that she's probably woken up Percy's parents by now. "You're a fucking selfish asshole if you think that you can sell your own soul to get me back, and then expect me to sit calmly as you die! You think it's going to be any easier for me than it was for you? That I'm going to be able to deal with losing the person I love? Let me tell you Percy, it's going to hurt me a hell of a lot more to live without you than to die!"
It's insanity. It's absolute fucking insanity. Annabeth Chase never loved a thing, never tied herself down to any person or place, never gave her heart away, and now the one exception she's made is going to leave her.
Percy hears her voice breaking. He gets out of bed, walking over to the window.
"It's not just about me, though," he says. "Or the fact that I couldn't live without you. The world's a better place for having you in it, Annabeth. You're the one who can design it. We're going to need you now, more than ever."
"That's bullshit," she says, trying to keep the tears out of her voice. She's got to keep her argument strong, rational; god she can't stand it when she sounds like a weepy girl! "Why should my life be any more valuable than yours?
"I need you as much as you need me."
She's not pining; her love isn't that flimsy. Her love is fierce. It's aggressive. It's not like the love of silly romantic movies, where everything is effortless and instant. It hurts, more than anything. Loving Percy has never been effortless. Loving Percy is like having a constant, never ending anxiety: is he alright? Are we alright? When can I see him? What's he thinking? Is he thinking of me? What is our future going to be like? It's a perpetual stomach ache, a big jumble of emotional soup that floods her brain and messes with the pragmatic side of her thoughts.
Loving him is so difficult, but the thought steadies her. It's difficult because it means something.
She's not about to let go of that just because it will ensure his peace of mind. He's going to be worried and miserable and tough luck, that's love.
"A life for a life, Percy. It's only fair. You saved me. I promise that I'm going to save you. Whether you want it or not."
He's not happy with that; he's not happy at all.
Annabeth Chase knows many things. But she knows, above all, that she never backs down from a challenge.
There's so many wars we fought,
there's so many things we're not,
but with what we have,
I promise you that,
we're marching on.
A/N: Hmm I don't write Annabeth's perspective nearly enough. She's great. I would love some feedback on the turn this story has taken! It's definitely gotten a lot darker, a lot more serious. I can tell a difference in my writing style as well—it's more formal and descriptive I think. But that probably comes with getting older. Don't worry! There will be plenty of comic relief in the future. We've got a whole year to work with before Percy's time is up.
So anyway, what do you, the readers, think of where All at Sea is headed? Thoughts? Criticisms? Suggestions? How do you want to see it ending? Should Percy die? Should Annabeth, and thus release him from the deal? Any ideas for things you'd like to see in minor chapter-arcs?
This story is for you guys. I'm not much into Percy Jackson fandom anymore, but I love writing. So tell me what you'd like to read.