A/N: Samson by Regina Spekter. Grabi-hands live journal

You are my sweetest downfall
I loved you first
I loved you first

Nico knows, viscerally, what love is. He knows it when Percy brushes off immortality; he knows it when he and Annabeth kiss underwater; he knows it when they exchange letters, every week, and Percy slowly moves from elated to kind of bored, as the weeks go on. He'll never admit that he's falling out of love with her, and only Nico knows why. He didn't love her in the first place. He liked her but he didn't love her, because Percy doesn't understand love, yet. Not like Nico does. Not when it's your whole body and soul and something black and fierce and heavy in your chest. He doesn't know what it's like to love someone so hard that you cannot, physically, be without them, to love them so much that jealousy doesn't even factor into it. Nico can't be jealous. He doesn't want Percy's puppy crush, he wants the all and the everything and the forever. He wants to be the only thing in the universe Percy can possibly think about.

But he's not there yet, and Nico knows that. He just watches as the letters slow to a trickle, and he laughs.

Beneath the sheets of paper lies my truth
I have to go
I have to go

Annabeth stands in the courtyard, hands twisting together, and she doesn't know what to do.

She'll supposed to have a plan. She's supposed to be the thinker, here. But her mind is just blank; she doesn't know where to go from here. She thinks, maybe he'll just turn up. She thinks, maybe he's out there and he needs me.

She thinks these things, and then she doesn't move.

Maybe, secretly, she blames himself for the disappearance, but she brushes that thought away with a sigh and scoff. She's not going to waste time on that thought. It's not Percy's style, and maybe she doesn't love him but she does know him. He wouldn't just run away.

But she still doesn't move.

All she can think of, all she can see, is the look on Nico's face when she told him what had happened - that Percy had just. Disappeared. She's never seen anyone look the way he did, and she has to remind himself that, more than any of them, Nico's had to deal with losing people.

But she's lost people, too. Luke, Silena, practically half her cabin. Luke again, for good measure. And now she's lost Percy. But nothing she's ever felt compares to the twisted, bare anguish that crossed over Nico's face - or the steely determination that followed it.

He didn't say a word. He picked up his things and walked foward and Annabeth jumped back but he was gone. Right in front of her eyes. He'd stepped off into the shadows without even saying goodbye.

Now she makes the rounds, tells everyone that Nico is searching. They ask her what she's going to do, and what is she going to do? She doesn't know. She stands around awkwardly and tries not to just fall into a little useless ball of shallow sadness. Wait for Rachel, she decides. She'll wait for Rachel, and Rachel will know what to do.

Beneath the stars came fallin' on our heads
But they're just old light
They're just old light
Your hair was long when we first met

After Jason figures out who he is, finding Percy is the easy part.

Nico stands in the Roman camp and looks up at a stranger. This stranger somewhat resembles Percy Jackson, but he looks harsher, older, he looks like he's seen rough times and his hair is inexplicably longer. Nico doens't think it's been that long, but when he thinks about it - yeah, it really has. His own hair was barely brushing his collarbone before - it's half an inch past, now.

The worst part is how he looks at Nico like he's never seen him before.

"You're not a son of Pluto," he says, voice low and hard and cold. "Pluto doesn't have sons."

Nico rolls his eyes. "Yeah, well, tell it to my big scary daddy. Besides, it's complicated." It hurts. His heart hurts, his chest hurts, he hates this. He hates this Percy that doesn't know him and doesn't have this history between them and doesn't remember how Bianca died and Nico hated him and Percy didn't believe him and there was a river and a fire escape and a battle and then there were those three months where Nico basically lived in Percy's pocket - all of it, gone. He doesn't even realize how much everyone has missed him.

Percy sighs. "...You're like, the size of a postage stamp. You're going to get flattened here."

Nico's biting back before he can even think twice. "Yeah, well, you're not so huge yourself, hotshot."

A sudden grin jumps to Percy's face. It makes Nico's stomach do a backflip, and it makes his heart beat faster, because maybe - maybe Percy is still under there, somewhere. Then it fades, and he looks serious and a little doubtful. "...I'm invincible," he says, like he can't even believe it himself. "I don't know who I am or what happened to me, but I'm invincible."

He looks like this is the worst part about all of it. Maybe it has been. Maybe the Romans decided that he would make the perfect punching bag because of it; maybe no one could get close to him or understand him because he was skinny and weird-looking and he didn't even bruise. Maybe he hates not being able to understand.

Nico's heart goes out to him. His face crumples into a rueful smile; he jerks a thumb behind him, at the walls of the camp. "Nice night for a story," he says, voice shaking.

Percy's eyebrows go up. "Curfew's in ten."

Nico shakes his head, and holds out his hand. "I can get us out. Come on."

In the end, he doesn't end up telling Percy anything, but when they're lying on their backs and huddled together, stargazing, Percy starts to remember.

"...I know you," he says quietly. Nico almost jumps.


"I mean," and he tries to explain, "from before. I know you. You're..." he trails off, he can't remember any of the details. "...You're someone special to me. I know that much."

Nico goes red, and rolls over until he can loop an arm around Percy's waist and bury his embarrassment in his chest.

Samson came to my bed
Told me that my hair was red
Told me I was beautiful and came into my bed

And then, Nico realizes that Percy has learned what love is.

The Roman camp has changed him indelibly. Stripped something from him - some of that carefree innocence, though none of his cheeky one-liners - but what it's added is so much more. He's gained harshness, yet, but only the harshness of reality and the temperance of truth. He's gained depth. Percy had grown up having weird, bad things happen to him, and they way he dealt with it was always to brush it off and make another joke and not really let himself feel it to its full extent. And that, right there, it why he couldn't understand love, because the sad truth of life is that you can only love as deeply as your pain has cut you, as deeply as you let yourself feel. Percy understands that, now.

And still doesn't remember Nico, he doens't remember any of the actual moments they spent together in the past, but as they interact in this life, he begins to see that maybe none of that matters. Percy is still funny and charming and heroic and noble. Nico is still bitter and catty and coy. What they have, this thing that's between them, will always be the same no matter what happened in the past. And now, there's nothing distracting Percy, nothing tell him what he 'should' feel or how he 'should' act, and now he can't get enough of Nico. So there's just something right, about the way they fit together.

But Nico still, sometimes, misses the old Percy. He wants to say 'remember when', sometimes, and Percy still doesn't know his whole story, so he catches him looking at him all sideways and concerned and almost suspicious, if he didn't instinctually trust him so much. Sharp. He looks sharp, like he wants, badly, to know. But Nico just can't bring himself to talk about it, because that means giving up hope that Percy won't remember it all again.

Oh I cut his hair myself one night
A pair of dull scissors in the yellow light

Across the country and then across the sea, there's a battle going on.

Nico doesn't have a damn clue about it, because he doesn't give a fuck. That is right, the world is ending and he doesn't give a fuck because there's one, repeat, one person in the world who can get him to care about something, and said person is equally uninterested.

Annabeth looks like she's been crying. Not immediately, but it looks like she's been crying a lot lately, in the past few months. She looks at Percy with sadness but not despair, wishes but not hope, and Nico knows that she doesn't care enough. Not deeply. It's wasn't love.

"Please don't do this," she says. "I'm sure Hera will give your memories back when she gives back Jason's; it's just a matter of time. You don't have to do this."

Percy rolls his pen-sword in the palm of his hand and stares at it, rather than at her. He doesn't seem to know what to make of her. He has a vague notion that she's someone he can trust, but she's acting like she owns him or something, and it's not sitting all too well with him.

"It's not about that. That's just making terms for a bargain; gods hate it when they get something for nothing, they'll try to squeeze in unwanted gifts." He frowns. "I just want it gone. It's caused me nothing but trouble and I don't want it. I'm not a hero, I'm just a kid, I just want to live my life."

And Annabeth stares blankly, because she of all people knows that that, at least, is familiar. But without his memories, what was humility has become cynicism, and that eternal drive to be a hero - whether he wants to be identified as one or not - has all but vanished, now that he's seen cruelty.

"Fine," she says mistily. "I guess - that's fine. You've earned it," she adds, and then she turns and walks away, because even when he gets his memories back, it will never be the same.

Nico doesn't want it to be the same. Nico doesn't need it to be the same. Memories, invincibility, they're all just window dressings, and he knows - maybe he's always known - that they're not destined for anything but each other.

Percy takes a deep breath and steps into the elevator to go up to Olympus. He's going to get his memories back, but more importantly, he's going to shed his invincibility and his weakness and his destiny. From now on, he's just going to be.

And he told me that I'd done alright
And kissed me 'til the mornin' light, the mornin' light
And he kissed me 'til the mornin' light

Nico waits at the bottom of the elevator and has a sense of deja vu. He's always waiting for Percy. Percy, going through these arcane changes and baptism by fire (or, you know - invincibility by water, but whatever), and Nico, unchanging, waiting on the shore.

He's a little afraid. He's afraid of losing Percy entirely, which is a possibility, given the state that Olympus is undoubtedly in. He's afraid that the memories are gone forever, and he'll finally have to tell him what happened. But he's also afraid of the best option, that he does remember, and hedoes give up his strength, and maybe he'll realize how selfish Nico has been.

The elevator dings, and the doors open.

Percy stands there, looking exactly as he did before. Shaggy too-long hair, purple shirt, gangly and awkward and still noble. But there's something different about them - it's in his eyes. The way he's looking at Nico, like he's never seen him before - or that he has.

"Shit," Percy swears, and then he's striding - running - foward and he grabs Nico and kisses him so deeply that Nico's knees give out. He's so here, so intent.

"I'm sorry about Bianca," he says, and kisses him again, "I'm sorry I didn't trust you in the Underworld," he says, and kisses him again, "I loved seeing you on my balcony, you looked adorable," he says, and kisses him again, "and you were there for me at the riverbank," kiss, "and the Battle of Manhattan," kiss, "and you beat my ass at Soul Calibur and we stayed up 'til dawn, laughing so hard we cried," and this kiss is longer, slower, sweet but all the more heady and intoxicating because of it, "and then I left, and you found me." He finally stops for air and brushs his fingertips through Nico's hair. "...I'm sorry," he whispers.

"You didn't love me," Nico points out, but it sounds all breathy and out of sync, possibly because he's trying not to fall over.

Percy thinks about this, and Nico can see that he understands. He wouldn't've, months ago, but he does now. He learned from the Roman camp and now he's back to himself but he hasn't lost those lessons, either. "I do now," he says quietly.

Samson went back to bed
Not much hair left on his head
Ate a slice of wonderbread and went right back to bed

"What now?" Nico asks. They're walking through Manhattan, and Percy's probably reliving the Battle, since its fresh in his head again.

"...I still want to go home." His hands are shoved in his pockets and he keeps looking down at his purple shirt with a strange look on his face, like he doesn't hate it but doesn't know why he doesn't hate it. "I meant what I said. There are plenty of other heroes out there, people who want glory, who want their names writ in history, or whatever. I don't want that. I want a happy ending. I want to wake up every morning and do the dishes and fold laundry and just... be normal. I don't care about glory, and I don't care about immortality."

Nico waits. He has a feeling that Percy isn't quite done with his speech.

The Son of Poseidon looks up with rueful grin. "...But I'm going to end up doing it anyway, aren't I?"

Not for the glory. Not for the fame. Not with superhuman strength or invincibility, and not even because he's a demigod and he has to fight to survive. Percy is going to save the world, Nico thinks, because he's known more than just cruelty, and he knows that there are some things worth fighting for.

"Yeah," he says, and grins in return. "You will. And you know what? When the day's over, you'll come home and we'll fight over the covers and kiss each other good night, and you'll be my hero. And that's all that matters."

Oh, we couldn't bring the columns down
Yeah we couldn't destroy a single one
And history books forgot about us
And the bible didn't mention us
The bible didn't mention us
Not even once