I do not own PJO!
You fall. The skin on your face feels like it's peeling off as you plunge face first to the lava below. You're not scared. In fact, you feel exhilarated. I'm free of them. I'm finally free.
You hear hysterical laughter, and realize it's coming from your mouth.
Your leg is pure and utter agony, flying out behind you, but you package the pain, shelve it and put it away. Back to where it belongs. Back with them.
Kronos and Gaia will never have you again, if you have to die to ensure it. Which you are, you note ironically. There's no way you can survive this fall. Strangely, you don't care. It's like you were preparing for this, unconsciously, a long time ago, and now that the moment has come, finally, there's nothing left to do but experience it.
You're falling with the chunks of rubble, heading towards the pit of lava which you were so scared of less than a month ago. Now, it doesn't even matter at all. You're falling toward it at your own choice.
The lava comes closer, closer, closer. You've been falling for at least a minute.
You hope Annabeth will approve of your choice, though you doubt it. She'd have wanted you to save yourself and leave her there. You couldn't have done it differently, this you know. You'd never have let go of them. You'd have died in hatred.
A sense of peace is descending on you. You've never felt this way before. You're almost suspended in time, but it isn't the work of Kronos. His power is harsh. This is gentle, smooth, almost.
The gap between you and the lava is shrinking, shrinking, shrinking, by the second. You don't care.
Snapshot after snapshot is flicking past your eyes. Blonde hair, grey eyes, bright smiles, brown centaur legs, grapes. Blue chocolate chip cookies, flour, saltwater, a door opening slowly. Hugs, hugs, and hugs, every shape and size, kisses, deep, motherly, passionate. Emotions flickering through you so fast, you barely have time to acknowledge them. Pain, sorrow, joy, happiness, guilt, despair, envy, bliss.
A few feet from the lava, from your death, your vision goes black.
When you come to, Nico and Grover are bending over you. You're lying on hard cool floor. You can see the seashell embedded ceiling of the Poseidon cabin between their heads.
Grover is sheet white and keeps stuttering, "Y-your leg! Y-your leg!"
When Nico sees that you're up, he grabs Riptide from where it rests beside you and cuts away your pant leg. This elicits a gasp from him. "Gods, Jackson! What the Hades d'you do to this?"
"I didn't do anything," you say. "It was them."
He gives you a long look, a look uncharacteristic of him. Then he pulls a bottle of nectar out of his pack and pours it over your mutilated leg. That, and a healthy dose of saltwater, and you're almost healed. You can stand when they pull you upright, walk with a heavy limp when they tug you forward. It'll have to do.
Grover seems to be stunned into silence. Before you leave, you clasp Grover's shoulders. "What's going on, G-man?"
This breaks the dam. "I- just-I don't know, Perce," he moans. "Those ghosts, they freak me out. And, you and Nico were in Tartarus, and, and, and…" he doesn't elaborate. "Hey. We're fine. We got out. And Annabeth is safe, I think." A stab of panic shoots through you. What if she isn't?
He gulps and nods, pulling himself together.
They grab your forearms, but you shake them off. "I'll be fine."
Nico looks doubtful, but relinquishes his grasp on you.
You take a deep breath, shrink Riptide back to a pen, and step out the door, into the bright sunshine.
You expect to someone to know about the impromptu trip to Tartarus, but it seems that Chiron kept it quite hushed up. No one bothers you, but you get a lot of strange looks. Nico and Grover hurry in your wake.
You clench your teeth and force yourself to walk normally. No limping for you. You won't give them even that small satisfaction.
You reach the Big House, but you have no intention of going in. You skirt around the blue three story house, heading for the infirmary entrance.
You know Chiron would want you to check in with him first, but you can't. You have to see if she's all right.
You reach the door and push it open. It swings inward silently and you walk in, not caring if Nico and Grover follow. You can the hear the scuffle at the door as they decide if they are supposed to follow you or not. They don't come in.
Apollo's kids on duty greet you as you stride through the halls, but you don't reply. Is she OK? Will she be all right? Did you save her?
You reach her room. You swallow hard, then find the divide in the curtains, and step through.
Annabeth is sitting up in bed, her hair a rat's nest, her face badly scratched. A bandage is wrapped around her left arm and she looks exhausted. Her eyes light up when she sees you, though, and she says, "Percy!"
Your legs move of their own accord, and the next moment, you're at her bedside. Joy is overtaking your systems. She's alive. She's safe. I'm fine. We made it through. The words bounce around inside your head.
You're grinning wildly, you know you must be, and she is too.
She holds out her arms and you dive into them, savoring her warmth, her body pressed against yours. You bury your face in sunshine princess curls, and you know, without a doubt, that everything will be OK. You'll both heal and move on, but you'll never forget. You have each other and that's all that matters.
[What doesn't kill you makes you stronger]
Thank you, thank you, thank you all! Thanks to everyone who read this story, and to everyone who reviewed. Your support is really what kept this story churning out to completion. I'm very grateful especially to:
DreamInInk, who was super supportive. Her inspiration helped to shape the story.
Cookies101, who never failed to review, even once. It was a pleasure to open each one of her reviews and read them.
Mandi2341, who never failed to be awesome every time she reviewed.
PJHPHoAFreak97, who helped turn the story in a new direction.
Thank you, all of you!
If you liked this story, you might also like;
Divided They Fall, by Nilly's Issue, and DreamInInk is writing a companion oneshot to Tartarus.