Waiting for Tomorrow to Come
He told her he loved her.
"Okay, it's official," Annabeth says as she wrings out her hair, just inside the door of Percy's apartment building. "You can't plan anything."
"I'd try to argue with you," says Percy, "but…"
He grins a little sheepishly and offers her a shrug.
Raising an eyebrow at him, she says, "You're getting smarter, Seaweed Brain."
As he laughs, she looks down at herself. Her clothes are soaked with cold, mid-October rain, and the gray hooded sweatshirt she's "borrowed" from Percy has darkened drastically, clinging to her body. Her hair, which she fixed meticulously for their evening out, is completely ruined. She has to admit that she isn't entirely too upset about this, but all the same, it's frustrating that all the work she put into preparing it was for nothing.
She looks back at Percy. He's dripping as well, his wet hair flopping down in front of his eyes. The best she can figure, he has trouble focusing on keeping himself dry when he's kissing her (she smirks slightly at the thought), in addition to needing to blend in with the mortal New Yorkers.
Annabeth pushes Percy's hair off his forehead and realizes that he's staring at her. His mouth isn't smiling, but his eyes, revealed now and in sharp contrast to the damp darkness of his hair, are. He catches her hand as she lets her fingertips slide across his cheek.
"I love you."
Her heart stops beating. Her lungs stop breathing. Her brain stops working. The world stops turning. For a moment, everything is frozen. Then the illusion is shattered as she stammers:
"I love you," Percy repeats. He looks unlike himself – not panicking as he usually would be at her lack of response, but… content. More so than she's seen him in a long time.
"I… Percy, I don't…"
He's still holding her hand, and he squeezes it.
"I know, Wise Girl," he says. "You have to think about it, see if it makes sense, get out a freaking calculator and try to do some wacko math, as if that'll help. You can't just – spit it out. Athena always has to have a plan – and apparently, it always has to be your plan, because nobody else's is good enough."
He smiles at her then, hoping his sarcastic teasing will untie her tongue, but the way her mouth is hanging open must clue him in to the fact that it hasn't exactly achieved what he meant it to.
"Really, Annabeth. It's okay. I just… I just wanted you to know."
Trying desperately hard to ignore his sounding like something's wrong – like he's going to leave, or die, or something equally as horrible – Annabeth wraps her arms around him, buries her face in his shoulder.
"I'm sorry," she mumbles. She thinks that she's never meant it more in her life.
"Don't be," says Percy.
"I need… I need to think."
"I know you do."
And normally it would sound a little patronizing, and she would hit him; but right now it's comforting, like – well, like walking out of the cold rain and into a warm building. His understanding means more to her than she can put into words.
Annabeth pulls back, keeping their fingers laced.
"Uh, sorry about your sweatshirt," she says. For a reason she can't explain even to herself, she feels a need to move as far away from the current topic as possible, as quickly as possible.
"My sweatshirt?" Percy says. "You stole that thing like a month ago! Before it even got cold! It's the camp shirt episode all over again!"
"I like to be cozy!"
"And you couldn't do that with one of your own jackets?"
"No, I couldn't!"
They bicker all the way up to his apartment. The whole time, Annabeth marvels at Percy's ability to make a potentially awkward conversation – namely, one following an unreturned declaration of love – not awkward at all.
She tunes out several times during the remainder of the night, wondering: Do I love Percy? Do I really, truly love him? Each time, he prods her gently back to reality, looking like he knows exactly what she's thinking.
In her mind, her hand hovers uncertainly over a chart. On one side, the heading reads, "Things I Love About Percy"; the other reads, "Things I Like About Percy." A card is in her hand, and on it is written, "mind-reading."
She can't quite decide where it's supposed to go.
After the first time, Annabeth thinks (worries) that Percy will continue to tell her he loves her, every time they part; that it will become a regular thing. But he tells her sparingly, and only when they're alone, sometimes whispered against her neck, her lips, into her hair. Often, it feels like he's reminding her that he's waiting for an answer.
Of course, he never asks her directly, "Do you love me?" If he did, Annabeth wouldn't know what to say, and they would get into a fight over it, and that wouldn't be good for either of them. She thinks that maybe Percy knows this. He's showing a great deal more patience than he usually does.
She just hopes it'll hold. "One more day," she tells herself, him, as she lies in bed every night. "Please, just wait one more day."
Percy rubs his eyes tiredly; despite it being barely six, he looks exhausted. He glares down at his trig notes.
"Math sucks," he says.
"Exams suck," Annabeth agrees, frowning at her own biology study guide. They usually study together, but since they have different schedules for their semester exams, they have to make do with sitting on Percy's bed as they review – or attempt to review – what they need to know for their next tests.
"Well, look on the bright side." She glances up and is met with Percy's grin. "It's almost winter break! No school for three weeks! And Christmas! I love Christmas!"
He's like a kid in a candy store. Annabeth laughs at him.
"So do I," she says. "It's my favorite holiday."
Her brow furrows. She tucks her hair behind her ear and bites her lip, remembering Christmases at home with her dad when she was little. The one right after her stepbrothers were born was actually somewhat nice… at least, until the hellhound destroyed the tree, and most of the presents underneath it. She ran away a couple months later...
She hears the thwump of a heavy textbook being closed, and the bed shifts as Percy crawls over to her and begins trailing kisses along her jaw. Question fifty-one on her study guide slides suddenly out of focus.
"Don't you think it's weird that we still celebrate Christmas even though we worship the gods?" she says, trying to inject some sense back into her brain.
"Mhmm," says Percy, deep in his throat, working his way down to the base of her neck. Annabeth resists the urge to tilt her head back and moan.
"Yes?" he murmurs, and smiles against her skin, moving back up again.
Her breath catches. Ever so slightly, she gasps – it's all the opportunity he needs to make his last move to her mouth; one of his hands slips her study guide from her limp fingers while the other slides to her waist. She knows this move, and although she tries to pull away, she can't force her lips to obey – instead, they respond in kind, and Percy takes this as the signal to lower her backwards onto the bed, the hand at her waist ready to help; Annabeth feels one of her own hands drifting involuntarily to the nape of his neck –
Finally, she disengages herself, pushing Percy's chest lightly off her: He gets the message and sits up, though he doesn't look happy about it.
"I should go," she says. Both of them are breathing heavily.
"You don't have to."
She picks her study guide up off the floor. "Yes, I do. I need to go study."
"We are studying!"
He almost whines it. Hiding a smile, she stuffs her belongings into her bag, except for her study guide, which she flips through as she walks out of his room.
"I hate biology," she sighs. She folds it up and sticks it inside her textbook.
"Me too!" says Percy, following her to the door. "Why don't you stay so we can hate it together?"
By this point – standing out in the hall with her things slung over her shoulder – she knows he's just trying to make her laugh, and she does.
"I might be able to, if you weren't so" – a deliberate pause – "distracting."
"You're the distracting one. Sitting there with your… hair, and your… earrings."
Annabeth laughs again and kisses him.
"Night, Seaweed Brain."
He leans against the doorframe.
She heads for the elevator, but the door hasn't even clicked shut when she spins around, dashes back to Percy, winds her arms around his neck, and kisses him much more thoroughly. However, she's aware of the door he's left swinging wide open, and she values their privacy, so she breaks the kiss.
"Percy, I… I love… I love…"
Her throat constricts; why is this suddenly so hard? The movies make it look so easy.
"You love donuts?" Percy suggests quietly, his eyes boring into hers. "You love Sunday mornings? 'Cause those things are a lot easier and better to love than I am."
Annabeth opens her mouth to tell him this isn't true, but the words die before they escape her lungs. She swallows.
"You love donuts." She forces a smile. "I'll – I'll keep that in mind."
He hugs her close to his chest so that she can hear his heart.
"Baby steps, Wise Girl," he whispers, and the smile in his voice is very real.
What is love?
It's not often that Annabeth doesn't know something, but this question gives her pause every time it crosses her mind. What is love?
A weapon, she thinks. Used to manipulate, destroy, bring a story to an end, a person to their knees, a city to rubble. Powerful and, at times, dangerous.
A songbird. Unrestrained, floating on air, a stomach falling with a tumble through the sky – but also caged. Locked away. Something pretty to admire, be entertained by.
A crutch. Healing, mending the broken bones, supporting what's damaged until it can function on its own.
A mask. Hidden behind, keeping people guessing. Covering up ugliness; sometimes, holding beauty hostage.
A beating human heart. The reason to live, to wake up every morning and go through another day. Securing the human in the knowledge that no matter what will come, they will not be alone as long as someone else's heart beats as well.
But she's just a girl – not yet a woman, not fully mature (or so she tells herself). What's love to one girl who doesn't have enough experience, enough wisdom to define it?
Whatever love is or isn't, Annabeth decides, it's making her head ache.
She fixes her gaze on the green eyes, takes a deep breath. It's shaky, but it's there, and the oxygen gives her as much strength as his carefree grin.
"I love you."
The words fall awkwardly from her mouth, and as soon as they're in the air she wishes she could snatch them back and shove them into a deep, dark hole where nobody will hear them echoing, bouncing off the walls, taunting her.
Annabeth turns and bangs her head once on the bathroom wall.
It's empty, of course, except for her and the photo of Percy taped onto the mirror that she rips off. In her frustration, she almost crumples it up and tosses it into the trash before she remembers it's one of the only really good ones she has of him alone. She stares at it, sighs, and places it on the bathroom counter.
"I love you," she says again, this time to her reflection.
She looks back down at the photo, trying to imagine Percy in front of her. This isn't the hard part – his face comes to her with ease, waiting for her to say… what she has to say. Expectant.
So simple, in theory, Annabeth supposes, but even in her imagination, Percy's eyes have that weird glittery quality that he gets when he's about to receive something he's wanted for a really, really long time. The thought of the anxiety he must be feeling even now prevents the words from forming on her lips.
She heaves another sigh and flicks the bathroom light off.
Winter's in full swing by the time they make it to camp, and, stepping across the magical boundaries, there's such a difference in temperature between the climate-controlled valley and the outside world that it's almost like entering a furnace.
Annabeth lets out a satisfied breath, undoing the buttons of her heavy coat and revealing the front of a gray sweatshirt.
"That feels nice," she says.
Smiling, Percy nods. He removes his hat and brushes some of the snow off it. His face is flushed with cold. Already, the puffs of breath that were so clear a moment ago are fading, diminishing to ones she can barely see. She's unable to stop herself from kissing him, briefly but deeply.
"Mmm," he says. The sound rumbles in his chest; she can feel the vibrations. "That feels nicer."
"You're warm," Annabeth tells him, nuzzling her nose into a small window of exposed neck that isn't hidden by his own many layers.
"And you're freezing!" says Percy, shivering. But he doesn't push her away.
She takes his hand and tugs him down Half-Blood Hill, but not before she notices him glance back at Thalia's tree. His smile widens and he hurries to keep up with her pace.
Building something permanent.
She thinks they're well on their way.
"Knock, knock," she says.
As she peers into Cabin Three, she's met with the sight of Percy slumped against the wall next to his bunk, his things half unpacked, the majority of them strewn across the floor.
Annabeth is struck by a sudden idea. Quietly (though there's no need – Percy sleeps like a dead rock), she slips her Yankees cap from her pocket and puts it on. Now invisible, she tiptoes over to his bunk, lowers herself onto it, leans in close to him. He's peaceful when he's asleep, all the worries of the past summer and school draining from his face. She almost feels bad about disturbing him – almost. Because this is selfish of her, and she knows it, but she's sure he won't mind being woken up this way.
Trying not to smirk, she presses her lips to his.
Like lightning, Percy's arms loop around her waist, pulling her fully on top of his lap. Annabeth won't be upset if she stays like this forever, but where's the fun in that?
Well, her melting brain begins. She cuts it, and the kiss, off.
"You ruined my plan, Percy," she says, climbing off him and feigning annoyance.
He grins cockily at her and echoes the words she spoke so many years ago, in a city in the mountains: "Strength has to bow to wisdom sometimes… but sometimes, wisdom has to bow to awesome acting skills."
"Be careful with your head. If it gets any bigger you might float away."
Then, when he just keeps grinning, she stands, clasps her hands together, kung fu-style, and bows, rolling her eyes.
"There. Happy now?"
"Very," he says. He reaches for her hips again and she leaps out of his way.
"Oh, no, no more kissing until you're unpacked, Seaweed Brain," she says. She moves toward the door to make sure he understands that she's serious.
When he gives her an amused look, she sets her jaw and turns a glare on him. "Or I could introduce you to my knife. That meeting's long overdue."
Knowing that she's the only person in the world who can follow through on this threat, Percy gets to his feet, bending over and snatching up a stray shirt. He's just straightened up when a gray hoodie hits him in the face.
"Take that back, too, while you're at it," Annabeth says, smirking now. "Chop, chop, Jackson!"
"I'm doing it, I'm doing it," he grumbles. "Gods, you're worse than my mother."
"And that's a bad thing?"
Then she's gone.
They're the last ones at the campfire; it's burning low, but it's very warm, and its deep orange light flickers over them, casting shadows into the surrounding darkness and warding it off at the same time.
Annabeth tries and fails to stifle a huge yawn behind her hand as she lets her head drop onto Percy's shoulder.
"Tired much?" he chuckles, playing with her fingers.
"My brain feels fried," she says.
Percy looks at her. "You have an exam hangover."
All she can get out past the second yawn is: "Huh?"
"An exam hangover. Y'know where you just kind of hurt all over and you can't remember the details of the past few hours because you were so focused on your exam even though all you did was sit in a chair for a really long time and you can't remember any of the answers anymore and it completely sucks? That's an exam hangover," he explains. "I get them all the time."
"I think that's just you, Seaweed Brain," mumbles Annabeth. She can barely see the glow of the flames, and Percy's shoulder is just so comfortable…
"Whoa, hold on there, Wise Girl," he says a moment later, realizing what's happening. Her head jerks up. "I'm not going through this again."
"Going through what again?" she asks, blinking hard a few times.
He raises an eyebrow at her and his I-have-something-over-you-and-I'm-about-to-irritate-you-to-no-end-with-it look comes over his face.
"I may drool in my sleep," he begins, drawing himself up as if he's about to make an important announcement, "but you, Annabeth Chase, snore!"
Her jaw falls open. "What?" she says. She's tired, true, but not too tired to deal with the start of what's sure to become an argument to last years. "You, Percy Jackson, are a dirty liar!"
"I'm not lying!" says Percy; he claps a hand to his heart like she's wounded him. "You just need to accept the fact that you snore. Loudly."
"I don't snore. One of my siblings would have told me so –"
"Told? I don't think so. Complained about the noise, maybe. I swear, it sounds like a freaking avalanche."
"Someone would have told me if I snored!"
"Not if they were scared of you gutting them like a fish!"
"Oh, shut up, Percy."
She gives him a light shove, and he laughs because he knows he's beaten her.
"Come on," he says, standing. "Before curfew. I'd like to not be eaten by the harpies tonight. That might put a damper on my mom's Christmas."
Before Annabeth has the chance to do anything more than register the return of fatigue to her body, Percy swiftly slips one arm behind her knees, the other around her shoulders, lifts her off her seat (she shrieks a little and locks her own arms around his neck), and places her neatly back on her feet.
"Did I scare you?" he teases as he takes her hand and they stroll toward the cabins.
"No," she says, shooting him a mild glare. "You… startled me."
Under his breath, he scoffs and mutters, "Yeah, right."
She shoves him again. "Watch it, Jackson."
"Hey," he says, raising his free hand in defense, "at least you're not so tired anymore, right?"
"Pfft. Takes more than that to wake me up when I'm this exhausted."
"That's weird." Percy frowns and a crease forms between his eyebrows. He's only half-faking worry. "Are you okay? Are you sure you're not sick?"
He feels her forehead; Annabeth smacks him away.
"The only thing I'm sick of is studying," she says. "Calm down before you go into cardiac arrest."
"You mean a heart attack."
"Yes, Seaweed Brain, that's what cardiac arrest means."
"Then why didn't you just say 'heart attack'?"
"Because unlike some people, I have the brain capacity to acquire and properly utilize sophisticated vocabulary."
His stare is blank. She sighs exasperatedly.
"Because I like to mix things up every once in a while," she deadpans.
"Oh," he says. "Well, why didn't you just say that?"
"Déjà vu. I feel like we've had this conversation before. Oh, wait, we have. Like, five seconds ago."
"Really? I don't remember that."
Percy grins, his eyes glinting in the moonlight. Annabeth smiles in spite of herself.
"Why do I even bother with you?" she says, amused.
He opens his mouth to retort, then seems to think better of it and looks away. She realizes immediately why.
Because you love me, he was going to say. But even thick-headed Percy has enough tact not to make that comment. He knows how seriously she's taking this. She's grateful for his silence.
"So it takes a lot to wake you up, huh?" he says, trying to cover up the awkward moment. "That's probably 'cause you can't hear anything over your snores."
And like it's a declaration of war, they're off, all smirks and hidden laughs –
"I'm surprised you don't drown in your own drool every night."
"Kind of hard to do when I'm the son of the Sea God. I'm immune to drowning."
"What a shame."
"Plus, with the whole Curse of Achilles thing…"
"Speaking of curses, wanna know which ones I'd like to use right now?"
"I bet they'd make me cower in fear."
"I bet my knife would."
"Two knife threats in one day. Haven't you reached your limit on those yet?"
"You're reaching your limit."
"Cutting with blades and with words. Nice."
"Let me show you just how nice I can be."
Percy's smart enough to take off running, which Annabeth is sure will serve to make this interesting.
Running after him, she's a little insulted to see that he's not even trying very hard, just jogging along, looking over his shoulder at her is if to tell her to hurry up. Going easy on her.
She can't stand for that.
The moment he notices the speed she's putting on, his taunting grin vanishes and he bursts into a sprint, but she's always been faster than him and the distance between them is closing as he draws nearer and nearer to the Athena cabin – triumph fills her while he slows, while he gives up –
Then he turns around, his arms wide; she hits him like a bullet and he must've been bracing himself for the impact because he manages not to topple over, instead letting her momentum send them spinning.
A laugh bubbles up in Annabeth that she struggles to keep down.
"I win," she says.
"What?" says Percy. "I win."
"I don't think so."
"I caught you."
"You caught me?" She's referring to a different game that they played, are still playing, and he knows it.
"Uh… We caught each other?" he tried, and it turns into a question at the end.
With a smile: "Good answer."
He walks her to the door of the cabin. He doesn't have to – it's just something he's always done, and it's so very Percy that it prompts her to be the one to initiate the good-night kiss. It surprises him, but he doesn't protest, and takes it quite in stride, taking her chin in his fingers, one gently stroking the sensitive skin by her ear.
She presses her forehead to his. Though their lips have parted, she doesn't want to open her eyes. When she does (she has to wake up at some point), she finds that Percy's own are barely slits.
"I love you," he murmurs, for the first time in more than two weeks.
Like it does whenever he says these words, Annabeth's heart skips a beat and attempts to compensate for it with a particularly large one coming right after the gap. She doesn't think she'll ever get tired of hearing it, and she doesn't think she wants to.
There's a space that's reserved for her to say it back; ignoring it, she says, "Good night, Percy."
Is that disappointment she sees?
Neither of them move.
After what seems like an eternity, he steps back, his gaze never wavering from her face. Then he turns toward the Poseidon cabin.
She bites her lip for a moment, makes her choice quickly, takes a few long steps and says, "Percy, wait –," grabbing his wrist –
And it takes less than a second for him to wheel back around and kiss her again. Does he have the same feeling she does? The one that's saying if he leaves her tonight, something bad is going to happen? Or is she only imagining it because that fear is coursing so strongly through her veins?
They're cheek-to-cheek as they break apart; Percy pulls back slightly so his mouth can capture the corner of hers, and then another time. Annabeth holds his face in her hands, rubbing his cheekbones softly with her thumbs, trying to commit the exact shades of blue and green in his eyes to memory. Something deep, deep in her chest, more ancient than life itself, tells her she will want – need – to remember this moment forever.
He lets out a tiny sigh and tucks a lock of hair behind her ear, his fingertips just lingering on the gray streak. It blends in well with the blonde, so it's not as noticeable as his, but he knows where to find it.
"I have to go," he says softly, and it's clear that he doesn't want to leave, either.
She isn't sure why, but she nods.
"I love you," he says once more, as if by repeating it he can make it even more true, as if it'll give her protection.
Again, her heart jumps.
Again, she nods.
"Bye," she whispers.
She shakes off the feeling of finality.
Annabeth wraps her arms around herself, not because of the cold (that peculiar warmth is still fluttering somewhere within her), but because she feels so small, so insignificant without Percy by her side. All the way back to his cabin, Percy casts glances at her over his shoulder like he's trying to get his fill of her, enough to go off of if something happens. When he gets there, he opens the door and looks back at her across the commons area.
"I hope you don't snore tonight!" he calls to her.
"I don't snore!" she yells back; he laughs, and the sound of his door closing breaks through the night before hers does.
The last few of her siblings that are still up and chatting cut off abruptly at her entrance, but she gives them a half-smile and they relax. She quietly changes into her pajamas and climbs into her bunk, lost in thought. Nearly ten minutes have passed by the time she snaps back to reality.
"Lights out," she calls, and any remaining murmurs cease. Soon, laptops stop whirring, book lamps go out, and before long the cabin is filled with deep, even breathing and the occasional snore.
It's odd, Annabeth thinks – just a while ago, she was so tired she could barely hold her head up, but now she's wide awake. She wonders if Percy's asleep yet, even with his afternoon "nap." Is he lying on his back, thinking about her like she is about him? Dreaming about her?
One thing's for sure, he's not questioning whether or not he loves her. If there's anything he's positive about, it's that, and they both know it.
Mentally, she prepares to ask herself the question. She hasn't since the last time Percy told her he loved her, before tonight. And now, she's had more time to think about it, has tried countless more approaches and methods to get the answer, but she's come up empty every time.
The first thing she does it push away nagging fears of Poseidon and Athena. Two of the most powerful gods, and both of them not at all pleased with their child's choice of boyfriend or girlfriend – not there. For now, anyway.
Next is a little harder: She digs down deep inside herself, to the place where all her most desperate desires and her truest feelings about anything and everything are kept hidden. This part is difficult, but she thinks it's almost interesting to explore herself this way, and she makes a mental note to do it more frequently.
The last task is the hardest of all. She empties her mind of all logic, because she doesn't really know anything about love but it certainly isn't logical. No worries about how realistic it would be to let herself love him when the chances of them reaching age thirty are slim to none. Nothing like that.
She'll go with the first answer that comes to her. Simple as that, like it was meant to be.
Do I love Percy?
Like asking a magic eight ball. And it replies, with a voice in her head, as though it should be obvious:
Annabeth is almost light-headed with the realization. Now that she's admitted it to herself, she feels stupid for not figuring it out earlier, for taking so long. She thinks she's always known, really.
She wants to leap out of bed and dance around, tear out of the cabin and to Percy's and say to him, I love you, Percy Jackson, and watch the way his eyes light up and he'll kiss her and tell her she took her time –
The covers are already thrown back and her legs are already swinging onto the floor of their own accord. She would like nothing better than to let them carry her to him, but it's much too late for that. Besides, he probably is asleep, and now that she's found the missing piece of this puzzle, it feels like she can finally allow herself to rest.
It can wait. They have all the time in the world now that she's sure of her love for him. She'll deal with the fears and the worries and the doubts later.
Sitting up, she positions herself so that she's facing the Poseidon cabin.
"I love you," she whispers, and this time, it has never felt so right.
"Love you, too, Annabeth," one of her siblings mutters sleepily.
With a happy sigh, Annabeth flops back onto her pillow. She loves him. She loves him. She loves him.
Tomorrow, she decides. I'll tell him tomorrow.
But tomorrow never comes.
The moment she wakes up, she knows something's wrong.
She doesn't know what it is and she doesn't know how she knows, but she dresses at the speed of light and walks as fast as she can without running to his cabin, trying to keep calm.
She knocks, calls, "Percy?"
Probably still sleeping, she tells herself, even as a knot forms in her stomach.
She opens the door.
Peeking out from under his bunk are a few of the articles of clothing that she told him to properly unpack yesterday. His bed is empty, and looks slept in, but only just. The blankets are wrinkled, pulled up to the pillow, like whoever had been beneath them simply dissolved.
The knot tightens, coiling up into her chest.
"Percy?" Annabeth says again, thinking he might be in the bathroom.
And suddenly she can't breathe and her heart has constricted and her throat has closed up and the chains are tugging at her insides, pulling them down –
She knows before they call Percy's mom, which is their last resort. She can feel it in her bones, because a part of her is missing. As if it never even existed. And she doesn't know where it went.
Yet again she checks his cabin. Dinner'll be any minute, but she can't suppress the naïve, foolish hope that he'll magically appear when she walks in, jump out from a puff of smoke and say, "Why's everyone freaking out?", clueless as ever.
The door creaks this time when Annabeth pushes it open. The cabin looks exactly the same as it did the last five times she was in here; except now she notices something, an odd lump under the covers. Bunched-up sheets, she thinks, he does that. But she looks anyway.
Her hands are shaking as she picks it up. It's no different than it was a week ago, same texture, same density, same everything, but at the same time it has changed so completely she'll never look at it the same way again. After not being with him for months, it's only taken one night next to him for it to smell like him again.
She pulls on the gray hoodie, breathes in his scent, collapses onto the bed, and cries.
Annabeth develops several habits over the next few days.
When she isn't looking for Percy, she's staring out at the Long Island Sound. She takes her shoes and socks off and steps into the ice cold water, embracing the freezing-burning sensation and hoping to feel some kind, any kind, of connection to him.
She doesn't sleep at night. No, nighttime, darkness, is when she allows worry and fear and panic to bind her wrists behind her back and hit her full force. Instead, she waits until morning, until the sun breaks over the horizon of the valley, and crawls into his bed to catch one or two hours before morning activities start, when she has to put on her brave face. She doesn't mind that she skips breakfast. She isn't very hungry.
She begins biting her fingernails. Even once she's got them down to little nubs, she chews on the skin around the corners, and on the uneven shreds left by her teeth. This one's an old habit, one she had when she was little. Luke always told her not to, but the only person she ever listened to about it was Percy.
But he's not here, and she's not going to stop.
He told her he loved her, but she never got the chance.
There's something about this Jason kid – aside from calling the gods by their Roman names and his amnesia – that's off. Annabeth just can't put her finger on it.
He looks vaguely familiar to her, and she isn't sure why, because she's positive they've never met before, and he strikes her as the kind of guy you'd remember if you bumped into him. He's good looking, she supposes, tall and blond and tan and muscular, blue eyes bright and challenging, clouded and confused and still he holds his chin up: Go ahead. I dare you. Not arrogant, but confident, ready to dive right in although he hasn't tested the temperature.
Then she realizes – he reminds her of Percy.
She resolves to spend as little time with him as possible.
She figures it out.
And it breaks her.
Or, it tries to. The thought is always hanging over her head, pressing on her shoulders, threatening to crush her, but she will not give in. Annabeth has held the weight of the world before, and she will do it again, alone if she has to, pretending that she can hear Percy murmuring encouragements into her ear.
She can crack. There is no escaping that, the intricate web of scars the cracks will leave as they deepen; she will crack, and she will have scars. She's okay with that.
The thing that isn't okay, that will never be okay, is that Percy has no idea who she is. He doesn't remember anything about her, not her face, not her name – none of it.
Does he know where his Achilles spot is? How to use Riptide? His mother's name? His own?
Can he summon the memory of her lips on his, her fingers in his hair, telling her he loves her? (Does he still love her?) She can.
But he can't because those memories don't exist, it never happened. They never happened.
She never happened.
Love is not knowing what you have until it's gone.
On bad days, it seems like the sweatshirt is all she'll ever have of him. On good days, she basks in the way she felt when he looked at her, like she had swallowed the sun, because his eyes were saying that she was his entire world.
Every day, there is a pain in her chest – a kind of dull, hollow ache where he just isn't that she doesn't think will ever go away.
She watches Piper watch Jason and thinks, not for the first time, how ironic it is for a daughter of the goddess of broken hearts to have her heart break.
Then again, Piper's not alone in this. Never has been, never will be.
Annabeth wonders what's worse – your entire relationship being fake, or not knowing if your relationship still exists. She figures it must be a close call.
She sees Piper choke back sudden tears and almost lets herself wish Percy could've died instead. Then she wouldn't have to worry if he's developing feelings for some other girl at the Roman camp, or if he's even made it there, or if she'll ever see him again. There is a certain solidity to death, an inevitability: It happens to everyone at some point. And if Percy was dead, at least she would know he was waiting for her in Elysium, that once she's struggled through the rest of her life (meaningless without him), he will still be looking at her as he always has, glowing at the prospect of spending the rest of eternity together.
But it's a pretty big "almost."
She gets angry. Furious.
Ever since Luke, there's always been this kind of unspoken agreement between them – if she lets him in, takes down all her walls, Percy will never abandon her.
And she wants to drag him back here, slap him across the face until it hurts, curse of Achilles be damned, and scream at him every betrayed, left-behind thought she's had since his disappearance, because he promised, he was supposed to stay, he was never going to leave!
It doesn't matter if it's not his fault. He said he'd do anything and everything it took to stay with her.
You, Percy Jackson, are a dirty liar.
Annabeth doesn't want to be a leader of the camp anymore. It feels like with every day she lets her armor fall to the ground, it grows more dented, more transparent. She can't let the cracks show.
She is eerily calm as she waits. She would call for him, but she doesn't appear to have a voice anymore.
He begins to turn. She remains emotionless.
Percy's expression is vacant, vaguely confused, like he's somewhat surprised to find her standing there. He draws Riptide, and when he points it at her, her chest burns – and he hasn't even stabbed her yet.
His eyes are the same shade they've always been, glittering blue-greens that are ever-changing as the tides, and twice as forceful. They reflect like mirrors exactly what she's feeling inside now that the moment has finally arrived: emptiness.
"Who are you?" and she can't breathe, she is drowning, her lungs are filling with saltwater that stings and he does nothing to help because he doesn't recognize her –
"Annabeth," he murmurs against her lips.
Her eyes snap open. Percy is pulling away, smiling softly at her before kissing her again, and she wants to cry with relief – it was just a nightmare.
He just looks at her, eyes darting all over her face as if he's trying to memorize, or maybe remember, every detail. Annabeth tries to reach a hand up to caress his cheek, but her hands are bound.
She blinks and he's gone, just like that.
Bolting upright, she's confronted with pitying and sympathetic looks and the banging of hammers and other tools. She's fallen asleep by the construction site of the Argo II. For the third time.
She wipes away her tears on a gray sleeve.
Annabeth tries to stay below deck. It's not the sea making her sick – well, it is, but in a different way – it's the memories. The water turning the same color as Percy's eyes, the Sea of Monsters and the way he held her after the Sirens, like she was glass and he wouldn't let her shatter.
A part of her wants to get there already, but another part never does.
She finally admits that she is terrified.
They're less than ten minutes out.
She isn't ready for this. She isn't.
She sits alone. Nobody approaches her: They know that the only person she wants to be with right now is very, very close.
Alarms are blaring; they can see kids scrambling to find armor and weapons and line up into defensive formations. It's all very organized, very professional, probably a lot more impressive-looking than anything even the Ares kids could pull off back at camp.
Annabeth has to try really, really hard not to immediately search for his head from their vantage point in the sky – and anyway, it's not like the first guy with black hair she sees is going to be him, right?
Gripping the side of the ship with white knuckles, she takes note of the instinct settling within her that says this is all wrong. When she glances at Jason, though, she sees that he looks relaxed as he can be under the circumstances, almost relieved to be returning home. Leo and Piper are standing not too far from him.
"Is it just me, or are you getting a bad vibe from all those spears?" mutters Leo.
Piper shoots him a look, to cover up her nerves, Annabeth knows. That's Piper's coping mechanism, to wound with words and glares rather than weapons when she's stressed, just like Annabeth's is to seize on every little detail of the people and things around her and over-analyze them to death to avoid focusing on her own probl–
They're losing height, the ground and sea coming up to meet them so that she isn't sure which one they're going to land on; her ears pop at the sudden change in altitude but that's not why her stomach is curling in on herself or why she swallows back vomit. Oh, gods.
"Hang onto something!" Jason bellows, and there's a strain in his voice as he attempts to get the ship to land safely.
Air is whistling past her ears and she is falling from the side of the Princess Andromeda –
Oh, gods –
Faces, now, becoming clearer as they march forward – is his among them?
A hundred, a thousand, a million what ifs are chasing each other around her mind – what if he's not there what if he kisses me what if there's another girl what if he doesn't remember what if he doesn't love me anymore what if he's not the same what if what if what if –
They come to a stop with a lurch.
Distant shouts, defensive, angry ("Ne tardesco!" "State fortes!" "Tene formationem!"), tender mutters close by ("Here, Jason, have some nectar –" "Thanks, Piper –"). Footsteps of others coming up from below deck, crossing it to exit. The world dissolving into a blur of sound and the scent of salty ocean air, her own heartbeat loud in her ears, blood rushing in her brain and she isn't sure if she's alive –
Piper, of course; Piper, who understands, who is her opposite in this situation and at the same time her clone; Piper, who is surely shaking as badly as she is.
Annabeth releases the rail and sweeps past her, following everyone else off the Argo II. This makes Piper the last to disembark.
She keeps her eyes firmly on the ground in front of her feet, because what if she looks up and he's just standing there, blank –
"Who are you?" A girl's voice, harsh, upon their approach.
Annabeth tugs on the sleeves of her (his) sweatshirt. Even though it's the middle of summer in California and Chiron told them to wear their camp shirts, she couldn't stop herself from putting it on. In case it helps him remember, she argued with herself, as she pulled it over her head. Just in case.
Then there are whispers, mutters that ripple through the Romans, until the same girl says, hesitantly, uncertainly, disbelievingly, "Jason?"
"The one and only!" says Leo proudly. Many of the Romans (she can't think of them as anything else) send him the same kind of look that Piper did earlier.
Not easily amused under threat, Annabeth notes, bringing her fingers to her mouth and chewing her nails. Only a few still tense, even at the sight of an ally – they're still kids, she reminds herself. Not so different from them at all.
"Where have you been?" the girl asks.
As Jason launches into explanation, Annabeth takes a few slow, subtle steps to one side, and then a little to the front, so that she can see his hands raised at shoulder height, palms out in a sign of peace. She notices that a very small number of eyes flicker to her at her movements; she tries to meet each of them in turn, wishing and dreading that the next pair will be –
Her heart stops beating and her lungs stop breathing and everything freezes for a moment, but her brain keeps working and the world is suddenly thrust back into motion.
She doesn't move, scared that if she does, she'll wake up again and this is such a nice dream. She just holds his gaze, her fingernails still caught on her teeth, and hardly dares to hope.
Then he's fighting through the crowd, hands latching onto his arms that he throws off, shoving his way through shoulder-to-shoulder lines elbow-first – Jason's explanation cuts off abruptly –
"Percy," someone hisses, slightly indignantly, because they probably haven't allowed him to gain a higher rank here as easily as they've done with Jason.
And it's this, coupled with the appearance of Riptide's bronze blade, that shatters the ice in the air, and Annabeth gasps inaudibly, her head spinning, feeling her pulse in every vein and artery in her body.
The Greek campers part for him, Moses and the Red Sea (wasn't he a son of Poseidon? Or maybe even – if she went there – Neptune?), except what she would be running from is far more dangerous than any army. It's all she can do not to bolt as he walks toward her, and stops directly in front of her.
Percy looks exactly the same as he did the last time she saw him: black hair slightly mussed, green eyes sparkling like the sea and with – oh, gods, what if that's recognition?
Riptide slips from his fingers; a few Romans look incredulous at him lowering his defenses so close to an enemy. She can't read his expression.
And it's not a question, it's a statement, firm, unwavering, he's absolutely sure when he says it, memories dancing in his beautiful eyes.
"I thought I told you," he says, his hand coming up to hers and taking it away from her mouth, "not to bite your nails."
Then she's flinging her arms around him and pressing her face into the crook of his neck with her tears staining his wonderfully warm skin and her fist pounding against his chest until she gives up and rests it over his beating heart and what if this isn't real?
But Percy tugs on the hood of her sweatshirt, one hand threading through her curls, briefly cradling the back of her head and sliding forward to the gray streak, and chuckles a little. "Still snoring, Wise Girl?" he whispers.
Annabeth sighs into his shoulder, and it's half exasperated and half relieved and another half the first real breath she's taken in months because her insides aren't so constricted anymore. "You're such a Seaweed Brain, Percy," and his hold on her tightens for a second before she pulls back to look at him again.
Trailing her fingers across his cheek, the words are building up in her and she doesn't care at all that they're surrounded by people, wouldn't care if there was some girl standing behind him looking shocked and hurt but there isn't so it doesn't matter anyway. He catches onto her hand as it slides off his chin and leans in.
Love is having the earth ripped out from under her feet, being slammed back into it so hard it breaks her legs, and crying from the pain. It's him picking her up, holding her close, and kissing her until the broken bones mend, and still not letting go.
Love is this feeling, like her heart is about to burst.
Love is him being the only thing that exists. Right now, right here, in this moment.
"I love you," she murmurs, and when she kisses him, he's smiling against her lips.
a/n: the things the romans were shouting were in latin. "ne tardesco" translates to "do not falter," "state fortes" translates to "stand strong" and "tene formationem" translates to "hold your formation." supposedly. according to google translate, which isn't exactly a reliable source.
this took a lot of work - as in, a month and a half, making it through writer's block, a tense change, my extreme laziness and procrastination, and my post-potter depression - and i'm really proud of it, so it would mean a lot if you would please, please review, especially if you favorite.
even so, i know this is a monstrosity of a one-shot, so if you struggled through to the end, i thank and applaud you. :)
edit: if you're reading this after le 22nd of december, 2011, then you get the good, cool, edited and updated version. most, if not all, typos fixed, small word changes, and an additional section at the very very very end. (you know, those two words that actually make the story come full circle... at least, more full than it was before.)
disclaimer: i don't own percy jackson or heroes of olympus. anything you recognize belongs to rick riordan. no copyright infringement is intended.