Percy stumbles out the Epirus door, his hand wrapped tightly around Annabeth's as he pulls her along. He wishes he had the strength left to carry her, but it was taking everything thing he had just to stay on his feet and get out.
Closing the Tartarus door had been surprisingly easy. You know once they found it amid the sea of unkillable monsters and water that isn't water and - it doesn't matter. It's over.
He squints against the sudden light (is that the sun?) long enough to verify that yes, Nico had led the others here, and gets as far away from the door as he can. Once the pull of the pit starts to weaken he pauses long enough for Annabeth to catch up and wraps an arm around her shoulders. She moans in relief and sags against his chest, but he doesn't stop, can't stop, so he takes advantage of the fact that he's already starting to feel better. It's a matter of seconds to get one arm under Annabeth's knees, the other around her back and moving again.
He makes it ten steps before his knees give out and he all but drops Annabeth onto the rocky ground before falling forward on top of her. Okay, so maybe he wasn't feeling as strong has he had hoped. He groans into her shoulder, a sound of pure exhaustion, and tries to ignore the sharp rock digging into his forehead.
From behind him, Percy can hear shouting and the clang of swords and what might have been a small explosion. He groans again, of course they were followed out. The monsters had been following them for three weeks, why stop now?
"We should probably help them," Annabeth mumbles, pushing at his shoulder weakly. She sounds so tired and they both know it's just a token request - neither of them have anything left.
"In a minute," he mumbles back anyway, opening his mouth as little as possible. He isn't sure what kind of monster gunk is on her shirt, but he doesn't want it in his mouth.
"At least stop squishing me?"
Percy groans again, but manages to roll over onto his back. Facing the sky, he has to keep his eyes closed, it's too bright otherwise. His hand reaches out and finds hers.
By the time the battle sounds fade and he hears the unmistakable grinding sound of the door closing, Percy's able to roll onto one side and look at her.
Annabeth is still lying flat on her back, but she has her head turned towards him, though her eyes are still closed. Her clothes are in tattered rags that barely cover what needs to be covered and her hair's so filthy and matted it's practically black. She's so thin it looks like she's sunken into herself.
Percy reaches up to brush a tangle away from her face and her eyes flicker open, grey and stormy in a way he'd never seen before Tartarus. They're practically black. He cups her cheek and she sighs against his palm. "Thank you."
"I couldn't let you go in there alone," Percy says softly, his voice cracking a bit. They had barely made it out together, there's no way she could have done it on her own.
She rolls onto her side and buries her face into her chest, "I know," she breathes while he tries to get his arms around her, "thank you anyway."
Percy finally gets his arms around her and is sliding a hand into Annabeth's hair when:
"That doesn't look very comfortable." Leo.
"Leave them alone." Nico.
"I'm just saying! I mean look at all the rocks!" Leo, again.
A sigh and, "Must you always interrupt everything?" Piper.
"I don't think they care, dude." Jason.
"Um... guys?" Frank.
"I do not always ruin everything!" Leo.
"Yes, you kind of do." Hazel.
"Can't you people just let them relax for five seconds?" Nico.
"On rocks?" Leo.
"Yes, on rocks, you've never been down there, you don't know-" Nico.
"I don't think this is helping them relax... at all." Frank.
Annabeth's shaking against Percy's chest and it takes him a second to realize that it's not her usual, exhausted shivers. She's laughing, when was the last time they had a reason to laugh? He can't remember.
She pulls away and she's laughing so hard there are tears cutting through the grime on her cheeks and she's having a hard time sitting up. It's practically soundless, like she can't quite remember what a laugh is supposed to sound like, she she's compromising by staying quiet, but it's the most beautiful thing Percy's ever heard and before he knows what's happening, he's laughing with her.
He's not even sure what's funny, he's just that relieved.
It takes a while, but eventually they calm down, well, mostly, Annabeth is still hiccupping at random intervals, and Jason helps Percy to his feet. The next second, Percy finds himself pulled into a hug.
Jason claps him on the back, once, says, "I'm glad you're back," and lets him go. Almost instantly he's being hugged by Piper and then Leo, and Hazel and the others. From the sound of things they're doing it to Annabeth too.
Nico holds his hug the longest.
"How long?" Percy asks.
"Almost two weeks, I thought - gods, I couldn't have been down there longer than a couple days, I don't-" Nico cuts himself off and swallows roughly. Percy doesn't have to ask, he already knows.
They pull apart and Percy has a moment of pure panic. Where's Annabeth? It hasn't been more than five minutes, but he already needs that extra reassurance, the terror's clawing at his throat, eating him from the inside out. Oh, gods, it would be just his luck to lose her now.
Then he sees her, just on the other side of the group, getting a hug from Hazel, and he practically collapses again with relief. Okay, actually he did, but Nico caught him.
"She's fine, I promise, she's-"
Percy doesn't hear the rest, he's already moving. He's vaguely aware of Piper and Jason pulling Leo out of his way, but he ignores it. They're not important, not right now.
Hazel lets Annabeth go... and Percy scoops her back up.
He's got one arm around her waist, his other hand on her cheek with his fingers curling into the hair behind her ear. Their eyes lock for the briefest of moments and then he's pulling even closer, impossibly close, but it's still not enough. She tilts her head back, just a little, but it's all the invitation he needs.
Percy intends for the kiss to be slow and reassuring, but in the half a second it takes for their lips to actually meet, something changes and he knows, beyond a doubt that no amount of kissing is going to make this okay. Not after he disappeared for so long. Not after he thought he had lost her to Arachne. Not after Tartarus. They almost lost each other too many times, they need something stronger, more permanent, but he is so ready.
And judging from the way she's kissing him back, with all of the emotions that have built up since December, all tongue and teeth and need, she is too.
His arm tightens around her waist and his hand clenches at her hip. The hand cupping Annabeth's face shifts, disappearing in to her curls and getting tangled almost immediately.
She gasps into his mouth. It sounds almost painful, but she slides a hand around the back of his neck to keep him there when he tries to pull back. Her other hand wraps itself in Percy's shirt as she sucks his tongue into her mouth.
"Should we..." Piper starts from behind them, but Percy barely hears.
"I doubt they've had a chance since December, give them a few minutes," Jason murmurs.
After that Percy blocks them out completely and focuses on the tiny, desperate noise Annabeth is making instead. He tries to pull her even closer, but it's impossible, they're already clinging to each other so tightly it's painful. It's not enough.
It might take minutes, it might be hours or days, but eventually they pull apart. Well sort of, Annabeth buries her head back into Percy's chest and they're still holding each other too tightly. Percy presses h cheek to the top of her head, and finally breathes a sigh of relief.
They made it out, both of them.
"Twenty minutes," Leo says, sounding impressed, eying a complicated looking watch.
Hazel has one hand against her cheek and the other fanning herself. She seems to be trying to look at a spot above Percy's head, but her gaze keeps flickering downward.
Jason and Piper sound like they're discussing ways to keep Coach Hedge busy all night so Percy and Annabeth can 'pass out properly' without worrying about getting grounded.
Frank looks like he's not entirely sure what to do. He's awkward at the best of times, but now he just looks lost.
And Nico... looks lonely? Sad? The guy's always been hard to read, but the haunted look in his eyes is making it even more difficult.
Gods Percy hates that look, Annabeth has it now, and he just wishes he could just go back and stop the last couple of weeks from happening. The first thing he should have done in that chamber was get rid of the spider webs, dammit that kiss could have waited until she was safe. There has to be something he could have done, anything to keep that look out of her eyes.
Finally, Annabeth sets her shoulders and pulls away, sliding a hand into Percy's, "How much does a girl have to pay to get a shower around here?"
Jason grins, "Ship's this way, come on."
The other six fall into a protective circle around Percy and Annabeth. You know, just in case they get attacked or one of the collapses from exhaustion. Percy's not sure which is more likely at this point.
They make it three steps before Percy has to let go of her hand and wrap his arm around her shoulder instead, she's just too far away otherwise. Annabeth takes it in stride and slides her arm around his waist, hooking her thumb in the front pocket of his jeans. It's almost normal. Behind them, Leo snickers.
The ship isn't far away. Percy's grateful for that, the adrenaline from their escape is starting to wear off, and he knows that if it was much further away the others would have to carry him. Annabeth isn't any better and he tightens his hold on her shoulders, just to keep help keep her upright a little longer. She does the same around his waist and together they climb up the gangway to the ship.
The instant they step onto the deck, everything goes black.
The first thing Percy notices when he comes to is that Annabeth is missing. He reaches for his pocket and sits up so fast that he hits the top of his head on the wall.
"Easy, Seaweed Brain, I'm fine."
That's all it takes for him to focus. They're in the med bay on the Argo II, the bronze lamp swinging gently overhead with the motion of the ship. His shoulder feels oddly sticky, so he glances down, the wound on his shoulder must have been treated with nectar. Or perhaps it just suddenly decided to close on its own. He can't sense the sea, so they must be in the air.
Convinced they aren't about to be attacked, Percy sheepishly slides Riptide back into his pocket and lets out a breath. He rubs at the knot on head and leans back against the wall. What the hell happened? He remembers walking up the gangway and then nothing.
Annabeth is in a similar position on the next cot over. They're both still covered with dirt and monster slime from Tartarus, but she doesn't look nearly as pale as she had before. There's half a square of ambrosia in her hand.
Nico is sitting on the edge of her bed, where he can watch them both. Wordlessly, he gets up, grabs more ambrosia from a cabinet and settles back onto the bed. "You passed out the instant we got to the boat," he says, passing Percy the yellow squares. "Both of you."
"As soon as we made it inside the wards," Annabeth adds, licking the last of her ambrosia from her fingers, "at least that's what it sounds like."
Percy frowns, swallows, and slowly says, "So… what? Our bodies said that's enough and shut down the instant we knew we were safe?"
"Basically," Nico grins a bit, "Oh and that was two hours ago."
"So what's next?" Percy asks and takes a tentative bite of his second square of ambrosia. He doesn't suddenly turn into a pile of ash, so that's a good sign.
Nico opens his mouth, but it's Annabeth who answers, "Food, sleep, showers… not in that order."
"I love you." He says it quietly, but even now, when it's a joke, almost cliché, there's something in his tone that says just how deeply he means it. How deeply he feels it. Like it's just a fact of life, there is no Percy Jackson without Annabeth Chase, and it scares him.
Annabeth swings her legs out of bed, "I love you, too." It's different for her, an emotion she can't understand, an emotion that many children of Athena see as a liability. It's the emotion that gives her strength most days, but she's just as scared as he is.
Together they can do anything.
A shower and some food later, Percy's feeling almost human again, if human means about ready to face-plant for the third time in four hours. Coach Hedge is following them around and screaming 'grounded' at random times, so as much as he wants to, sharing a sleeping place is out.
Jason distracts the old goat long enough for them to say good night though, so Percy gives Annabeth one last, long hug outside her cabin.
Oh gods, is he turning into the clingy boyfriend?
He hopes that spending two weeks in Tartarus with nobody else he can trust is enough to make the answer 'no.'
He runs a hand down the back of her head, cradling her skull through her hair, and presses his forehead against hers. He doesn't want to leave her, even if he's going just three doors down the hall.
The first rule of Tartarus: keep your girlfriend close.
The second rule: sleep in shifts.
The third: keep moving.
Or something like that, now they are going to break all three. Sure they aren't in Tartarus anymore, but that's just a minor detail.
"Get some sleep," he says finally and kisses her. That slight shift is there again, the knowledge that no amount of kissing will be enough to counteract Tartarus, but he keeps it short and sweet this time, the adrenaline is long gone and all that's left is a bone deep exhaustion and the need to sleep for about a month. It reminds him of his eventual crash after the Battle of Manhattan, you know, but without the curse.
"I don't know if I can," Annabeth admits softly, when he pulls away. There's that vulnerability in her eyes that she gets when she's able to just let her pride go and be completely open. Percy doesn't see it much, but it's getting more common, and he loves that.
Percy's lips twitch slightly, "That makes two of us, try anyway."
She sighs and starts to lean into him. She seems to do that a lot lately, Percy doesn't mind.
The unmistakable sound of hooves comes from somewhere down the narrow hall.
Annabeth sighs again and pulls away. She goes up on her toes and presses her lips to his cheek, "Goodnight, Seaweed Brain."
"Night, Wise Girl."
She smiles and disappears behind her door.
Percy barely makes it to his own cabin before Coach Hedge makes his appearance. He can hear the satyr's disappointed huff through the wood of his door and grins.
Lonely and already practically aching from Annabeth's absence, he shed's his shirt so he's only in his blue plaid pajama pants (which, okay, looks ridiculous with the Camp Half-blood orange) and crawls into his pegasus-down bedding.
He's asleep before his head hits the pillow.
Percy can't remember how long he's been running, but his chest is burning, that's probably the broken ribs. He's carrying Annabeth on his back because of her ankle and all he wants to do is find a place to rest, even if they only have time to dig the few squares of ambrosia out of his pocket.
He can't stop. If he stops he'll lose her. He doesn't know how he knows it, it's just a feeling, an instinct. His instincts are usually pretty good, so he keeps going.
He's been running since they hit the bottom of the pit. It had hurt just as much as he had thought it would, but a giant spider in an oversized set of Chinese handcuffs had kept the landing from being as bad as it could have been.
Still, Annabeth hit hard enough to re-break her ankle, so the instant he was able to stumble to his feet, Percy had helped her onto his back and started running. She'd passed out a few hours ago, he thinks, every step jostled her ankle and it just got to be too much. She tried to stay conscious, but there's only so much even she can take.
He risks a glance over his shoulder. Yes, they're still coming. He doesn't even know what they are, but it doesn't matter. They're in monster hell it has to be bad news.
He just hopes he's going the right way.
Suddenly, his foot catches on an outcropping of obsidian. He would have seen it if he'd been facing forward, but he falls over face first instead. Annabeth lands on top of him and they both groan from the pain.
Note to self: do not get squished by your girlfriend while with broken ribs.
He tries scrabble to his feet, to get Annabeth out of there, but his body won't listen. He can't get his feet back under him. He's gasping from the pain in his chest. He can't get enough air in his lungs. He doesn't know if it's from his ribs, the running or Annabeth, but – and all at once he can.
Annabeth's not on top of him anymore.
That's when the screaming starts.
Percy eyes fly open and he sits up, gasping for air. He's back in his bed on the Argo. Hell, that's not even what happened that first day in Tartarus. They found a little cave in the wall, ate the ambrosia and took turns getting the single best night of sleep they had down there.
So why is Annabeth still screaming?ee HeHHH
Percy leaps out bed and throws the door open. It's only a few feet to Annabeth's room, but he runs the whole way…and then slams face first into the door. He has got to stop doing that.
It's locked. Of course she locked it, that one extra layer of protection, just in case.
"Annabeth!" Percy calls and jiggles the doorknob, it doesn't help but it makes him feel like he's doing something. Annabeth's screaming, which had turned into something more akin to incoherent sobbing, starts again.
He bangs on the door with an open palm a couple times, but that doesn't help any more than jiggling the doorknob had. He's debating the merits of kicking the door open when he's suddenly pushed to the side. He pushes back.
"Do you want me to get the door open or not?" Leo snaps at him, whacking him in the shoulder with a screwdriver. Percy blinks and steps to the side.
Leo frowns and kneels, eyeing the doorknob. "I didn't design these to be easily –"
"I don't care," Percy growls, "get it open."
The entire crew is there, in there pajama's and in various stages of wide-eyed panic. Coach Hedge is swinging his baseball bat at the door beside the wall and muttering, "Die you evil bastard, die!" Percy didn't even hear them show up.
It takes a few seconds, but eventually the door clicks and Leo pushes it open. "But I'm a genius." Percy pulls him back from the door so hard he falls over backwards, "Hey!"
Percy just ignores him and ducks into the room.
"What the hell," Leo mutters from the floor.
Jason sighs, "I knew making them sleep in separate rooms was going to be a bad idea."
Annabeth is curled into a ball, her knees pulled tight to her chest with one arm while her free hand clenches at her pillow. "Let him go!" she gasps out through her tears, unclenching her hand and punching the pillow with the side of her fist instead. "Let him – NO!" Suddenly she flips over onto her back and sits up, waking up all at once. Almost instantly, she seems to fold back into herself, trying to muffle her sobs with her hand.
Percy dashes to the bed and scoops her up, before settling onto the bed with Annabeth in his lap. She collapses against his chest instantly, clinging to him even tighter than she had been all day, so tightly her nails leave little crescent marks on the back of his shoulders, and hides her face his chest. He does the only thing he can do and holds her while she lets it all out.
"They'll be fine," Nico says, sounding faint and far away to Percy, "let's go." There's some grumbling, especially from Coach Hedge, but after a brief scuffle and an angry, "Hey put me down!" the door clicks shut behind them and the room is silent except for Annabeth's muffled sobs.
Slowly, even those fade away and she's left trembling against Percy's chest while he strokes her hair. They've been through this often enough that he doesn't have to say anything; no matter who's the one being comforted the other's mere presence is enough. They hold each other in silence for a while, but eventually she slides out of his lap.
They settle against the headboard, sitting side by side on the narrow bed. Annabeth stares at her hands for a moment, trying to find some semblance of control, before giving in and slumping sideways against Percy's shoulder. He's ready for this though and gets his arm around her before she does.
"I thought they would get better once we got out," she admits softly, "instead it's the worst one yet." She sighs, "I hate it when I'm wrong."
"Well it has to happen sometime," Percy says automatically, but his heart isn't really in the jest and it falls flat. He pauses a moment and then softly adds, "Me too."
"You hate it when I'm…" she starts, but sighs again.
"You woke me up before I had to watch them kill you."
"That first night?" Annabeth asks softly. She doesn't remember much of it herself, but it always seems to be the one that shows up in Percy's nightmares. He never wakes up screaming, just thrashes around until she can wake up. Or he falls off the cliff. That was a long night.
"I tripped, couldn't get up in time," he says. His voice is dead, without any of his usual good humor, and his gaze is fixed on something on the opposite wall that she can't see. "And then you started screaming." He turns back to her. "Did you have to lock the door?"
"It made sense at the time?"
"So did jumping off the arch in St. Louis," he mutters, "but you haven't forgiven me for that."
She smiles a bit, "And I never will."
Percy reaches over and gently pushes her chin up so they can look at each other properly. "Didn't think so," he murmurs. He doesn't ask if she wants to talk about it, she never does, the best thing he can do is be there for her, and so he kisses her instead.
It's starts out slow and comforting, but that doesn't last very long. Annabeth opens her mouth a little and it's all the invitation Percy needs to lick his way in.
Gods, when was the last time they had a chance to just be sixteen year olds, just a pair of sixteen year olds that don't have to worry about watching the other die or suddenly disappear off the face of the planet?
Percy starts to turn them on to their sides, really he could have chosen a more comfortable angle, but Annabeth has other ideas. She swings one leg over both of Percy's so that she's straddling his thighs and cups his face with both of her hands, deepening the kiss further, fighting him for control.
Percy moans, startled into her mouth. One hand finds its way under her shirt and presses against her skin. His thumb strokes across her spine gently, comfortingly. His other hand buries itself in her hair, gods he loves those curls. He scoots over on the bed a little so she's not half falling off anymore.
This isn't new territory for them, Percy's been shirtless before, but they haven't gotten much further. Actually, this is about the time his mom decides to walk in to see Annabeth's staying for dinner. Still, it's not enough. And it's too much at the same time. He might not remember those six months Hera had him asleep, but his body knows how long it's been since it's been… satisfied.
Annabeth pulls away from his mouth and attaches her lips to that spot on his collarbone that drives him insane, and then smirks against his skin when his head drops back against the headboard with a loud 'thud.' She curls one arm around his neck, smoothing her hand down the top of his spine. The other wraps around the lower part of his back and she presses that hand against the small of his back where Percy's vulnerable point used to be.
Percy shivers, this is going to be horrendously one-sided, he can feel it, but nothing can be worse than that day they discovered just how sensitive that spot on his back was. Talk about mortifying. It's like the realization shuts something off in his brain, his hand drops from her hair, his thumb stops stroking her spine. He basically goes limp and just lets Annabeth have her way with him.
After a few moments, Annabeth smirks against his shoulder again, like she knows exactly what's happening to him, and, using the hand from the small of his back, scraps her fingernails down his spine. Percy makes a noise somewhere between a moan and a gasp and that's all it take for Annabeth to start giggling against his shoulder.
"It's not funny," he grumbles, opening his eyes (when had they closed?) and trying to glare at her. It would be more effective if he could focus. Instead it just makes her laugh harder.
"I'm sorry," she gasps, "It's just-" but she dissolves into more giggles and can't finish. Up until now, she's been holding herself up, hovering above his lap so she can kiss him, but now she's laughing too hard to think about it and sits down. Her giggles stop almost instantly, "Oh."
Percy squeezes his eyes shut and lets out a shuddering breath, but he manages to stop the moan in his throat from escaping. "Sorry."
"No… no, I should have…" her voice, thin and nervous trails off.
Percy opens his eyes, "Annabeth?"
She's watching him, silently, with a look he's never seen before. Her pupils are so wide her eyes are practically black and the thin grey rings around them are so dark it almost doesn't matter.
Percy's breath hitches, it's one thing to want it, to need it, but actually doing it... that's completely different. And they've never even talked about it. He ready, he's almost positive of it and he thinks she is too, but the last thing he wants to do is hurt her. He holds back a sigh, seriously, why can't he just be a normal teenager?
Annabeth practically leaps forward, closing the distance between them in a nanosecond and crashing her mouth against his. He has to literally force himself to push her away.
She pulls back, her expression stuck somewhere between horrified and heartbroken. "You… you don't want to?"
"I do, I really, really, do," his eyes flick down to his lap and then back to her face as if to say, see? "Trust me. I just… think we should talk about it first… we've never…" he trails off awkwardly. Why is this so difficult?
"What's there to talk about? I want this, I need this. I don't understand-" she cuts herself off with a sigh, "Yes, I do." She hides her face in her hands and groans into her palms. "Just give me a second, I need to think," she mutters and crawls out of his lap.
Percy reaches out and tucks a curl behind her ear, "As long as you need." He adjusts the pillows behind his back and settles in to wait.
Annabeth gets off the bed and turns her back to him, facing the wall. Her arms wrap around herself, as if she's cold without him there.
It doesn't take long.
She turns and sits down on the edge of the bed. "Look, I know I said I wanted to take things slow, but that was…before." She doesn't elaborate, doesn't have to. "I… things are different now. It's not that it's more important than it was before it's just…" she laughs a little, "I don't know what it is, but I'm ready now, I'm sure of it."
Percy smiles, "Yea?"
Annabeth bows her head to hide her grin, "Yea, but… um… can we work up to it? I mean we haven't exactly..." She sighs, "Why can't we just say it?"
Percy laughs, "Come here."
They curl up on their sides facing each other, foreheads touching. The bed's barely wide enough for it but they make it work.
Annabeth kisses Percy once, softly, "I love you."
"I love you, t-"
Suddenly the door flies open and reveals Coach Hedge with his baseball bat, "I was sent on this cruise to keep you folks from sneaking off and I'll be damned if I don't do my job! Now break it up and leave the door open!" He flourishes his baseball bat for a moment and then stares at them, curled up calmly side by side. "Oh," he adds sounding disappointed. "I'll allow it, just this once, but the door still stays open you hear?"
"Yea, Coach," Percy says, rolling his eyes.
Annabeth hides her grin in the pillow.
"Good," and with that, the satyr shoulders his bat and leaves the room.
They make it about three seconds before they collapse in a fit of laughter.
"That is why I locked the door."
It takes them a few minutes to calm down, but eventually Annabeth curls up against Percy's chest and closes her eyes. She's almost asleep when:
"Soon, though right?"
She rolls her eyes behind her eyelids, "Go to sleep, Seaweed Brain."