Author's notes: Well, this was a bit more difficult to write than I thought it would be for various reasons, but here we are and it's finished. I really wanted to explore the after effects of Tartarus on Percy and Annabeth, and not gloss over them like it's no big deal. It ended up being more of an Annabeth character piece than one for the two of them, which is not unusual for me. I hope you enjoy.
Trigger warnings for character death, PTSD, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
Disclaimer: I don't own Percy Jackson and the Olympians or the Heroes of Olympus series.
never let me go
It's a long
She's falling again, gravity tugging at her skin and bones as she hurtles through infinite blackness toward the bottom miles and days away. If she's screaming, she can't be heard over the noise of the thick, putrid air whistling past her ears — not even by the boy next to her, whose hand is slipping away from her little-by-little as inertia takes its toll.
Her nails dig into the skin of his wrist, drawing blood as she fights desperately to keep him with her, but it's no use. In an instant, he's gone and she's screaming herself raw, flailing for his hand and grasping nothing but air.
This time, she falls alone.
And it is immeasurably, unbearably worse.
She jolts awake, clutching her sheets to her heaving chest like a lifeline. Her back flares with an acute, aching pain, as if she hit the ground going a million miles an hour and broke every single vertebrae of her spine. But that's impossible because it's been years and — she chokes on a sob. Oh gods, no, please not again —
"You all right?"
Annabeth nods, although she knows her tears directly contradict her words. Beside her, Percy reaches out and runs a gentle, calming hand up and down her arm, gauging her response. She doesn't always liked to be touched after one of her night episodes, but sometimes she needs the extra help to ground herself back in reality.
Gradually, she notices the blue glow and low murmur of the television set on the wall and that Percy's legs are sticking out on top of the comforter. Some nights he doesn't sleep at all and more often than not, those nights coincide with her night terrors. She doesn't know what to make of that, if there's anything left to be said about their messed up lives.
"What was it this time?" Percy asks after a little while, his deep voice quiet and comforting. They don't remember everything that happened down there; they couldn't remember it all without being driven out of their minds. It's a small blessing, although sometimes their dreams deliver some fresh new horrors to keep them trembling and afraid. But not tonight, not for Annabeth.
"The fall," she whispers, pressing her palms into her eyes and trying to stop the tears. "A - and you weren't— "
Her voice cracks and Percy hesitates only briefly before pulling her to his chest, muscled arms encircling her body protectively. His lips brush against her wet cheeks, and she can almost hear the echo of a desperate, sixteen year old boy in his voice as he murmurs over and over, "You're not getting away from me, Annabeth. Never again."
They don't talk about it for months after its over.
There's too much else to focus on — rebuilding Camp Half-Blood, Camp Jupiter, and the rest of the world; mourning their losses and burying their dead; dealing with the gods and their ridiculous egos; trying desperately to be normal again — to talk about that. She knows they'll need spend a thousands of hours in therapy rehashing it over and over again at some point, but first, they need to put some distance between themselves and Tartarus, when the emotional and physical wounds aren't so fresh.
(And if she can avoid talking about it, she reasons, then no one will know about the mistake and she won't have to— )
Even though they don't talk about it, the funny thing is... no one asks them about what happened either. Their friends on the Argo II had gotten a brief version of events after the rescue, but they hadn't pressed them for more, already having gotten their fill of horrors from Nico and what they saw on the other side.
Their fellow demigods at Camp Half-Blood are usually salivating at the mouth to hear war stories around the campfire, especially from Percy and Annabeth, but it's different this time. No want wants to hear those stories, not when they can look at their broken and feral heroes, and can fill in the blanks on their own. Someone's imagination can cook up all sorts of horrible possibilities and Annabeth doesn't want to be the one to inform them that there are much worse things out there.
But she will. Some day.
Just not right now.
During the first year back, Annabeth has a lot of a bad days. She's angry and bitter and hateful, and absolutely nothing like her usual herself.
She despises the others and she hates herself, and sometimes she even hates Percy just a little bit because if he had just let gowhen she told him to, she wouldn't have to live in this bitter, twisted shell of a body pretending to be Annabeth Chase any more. She wouldn't have to sleep with all the lights in the house on and her knife under her pillow, and she wouldn't feel like a ticking time bomb, ready to go off at the slightest provocation. She wouldn't have to acknowledge the gaunt girl reflected in the mirror, the one with the shorn hair and angry red welts on her scalp from where her curls had been torn from her head, and most of all...
Most of all, she wouldn't have cling to Percy's arms at night and wait, just waitfor the moment the unforgiving darkness will creep in and take him away from her again.
Maybe, she thinks, she only survived Tartarus to inherit her mother's madness, so someday she'll be a lost, raving mess, a gross specter of her mother's centuries old hate.
Maybe, she'll never escape the gloom and she should just find another ledge, a building, or a bridge and complete the fall that didn't finish her before.
Percy always catches her before she gets too lost her despair, bringing her back to the surface and back to herself.
He's too good at saving her and she's not nearly as good at returning the favor.
Demigods don't scar very easily, what with the abundance of ambrosia, nectar and children of Apollo running around to bandage and soothe over their torn skin and put broken bones back into place.
So when they do scar, either they've managed to have a close and traumatic enough brush with death that something needs to be left behind to mark the occasion or they've purposefully let the wound heal normally to distinguish themselves among other demigods.
Annabeth's body after Tartarus is littered with them, most of them small enough to be covered with her clothing and explained away as bad falls from childhood. She doesn't remember how she got half of them or which monster left their mark on her. Her left ankle bears the worst one, a ring of shiny, burned flesh left behind where Arachne's webs caught her up and dragged her to hell. It's a constant reminder of Annabeth's hubris, of what happens when she lets her pride take over and lets her guard down. Often, she'll catch herself looking down at her ankle and second guessing herself when she has to make an important decision — it's a bad habit she'll need to learn to break before she goes back out on the battlefield. If she ever does.
Out of the two of them, Percy has the worst scar — a long, jagged red line that runs from the corner of his neck down to the top of his sternum. The puckered edge isn't covered by any of his shirt collars, but it's not all that noticeable when he has clothes on, so very few people know how bad the scar really is.
Percy doesn't remember how he got it and although she's caught him examining himself in the mirror, a frustrated expression on his face as he pokes at the raised skin, he doesn't otherwise seem bothered by his lack of memory.
Once, he'd asked Annabeth if she remembered how he'd gotten the scar.
Hands shaking, Annabeth Chase had looked Percy Jackson in the eye and lied to his face.
Each time she drifts off to sleep, she hears it in her nightmares — the slick, wet sound of sharp monster talons cutting through flesh, the shocked gurgle and the thud of a body falling to the ground behind her.
She never sees it happen (it happened too fast, it was too chaotic and she let her guard down once), but the sound is horrifying enough, as is what comes afterward.
When she turns around, she always expects to see the body of a monster at her feet and when it's not — when instead, it's Percy, blood spewing from a gash in his neck and dribbling from his mouth as he fights for his last breath — she screams and wakes up, only to scream some more and wish it had been her instead.
She and Percy take to hanging out with Nico di Angelo in the aftermath of Tartarus. Nico, after all, is the only other living person who knows exactly what they went through and won't judge them for not acting like themselves around him. They don't trade Tartarus war stories or obsess about their horrible connection; simply being around each other helps speed the healing process along and gives them strength to face their demons.
But Annabeth notices the way Nico watches Percy, like he needs to tell him something important but can't remember what that something is. She watches him struggle to put the pieces together, praying that he gives up and just lets things be as they are without questioning it.
The truth clicks for Nico sometime in March, while she and Percy are visiting Camp Half Blood during their spring break. The three of them are out on a raft on the camp's lake, soaking up the sun and the soothing calm of the water, when Nico sits up abruptly, rocking the raft, and says Percy's name in a choked voice.
"I told you to go to the bathroom before we left," Percy mutters sleepily, dragging his leg back and forth in the water. His arm's thrown over his eyes, blocking out the sun. "You're just going to have to hold it 'cause I'm comfy and the nymphs will drown you if you try to pee in the lake."
"Percy," Nico says and his tone sends a shiver up Annabeth's spine. She sits up too, staring at the son of Hades in horror. Oh gods, he knows, he knows. "You're supposed to be dead."
There's a pregnant pause and then Percy snorts, uncovering his eyes and turns his head to stare at the younger boy. "If I had a golden dramacha for every time I've heard that— "
"I mean it," Nico says, voice quiet and severe. "You... you diedin Tartarus."
A cool breeze ripples over the raft as Percy pushes himself up on his elbows, his eyebrows knitting together in confusion.
"I'm here, though. I didn't die. I couldn'thave died," he mutters, reaching up to touch his scar. He pulls his hand away after a moment and stares at it, as if he expects it to be covered in blood. "Did I?"
He looks at Annabeth imploringly, waiting for her to deny it, and Annabeth wants to, she truly does, but she sees the realization creeping into his eyes as unexplained memories suddenly start to make sense and the weight of the secret she's been carrying for months finally makes her crack.
"Yes," she confirms, her voice breaking. "You did."
"Percy, Percy, no, please," Annabeth's hands are slick and warm with blood as she holds them against Percy's neck, trying to stem the flow, but it just keeps gushing out, dribbling between her fingers and down her arms. "You can't — oh gods, Percy!"
He's so pale and so cold, and there's no way she can save him. She has no ambrosia or nectar, no healing powers that can fix him and no god to pray to for a last minute miracle. Annabeth has nothing but herself and she's just a useless daughter of Athena who's not smart enough to save the boy she loves from bleeding out inches from the threshold of the Doors of Death.
Percy wraps a weak hand around her wrist and she meets his gaze, terrified by the fear she sees in his dulling green eyes.
"Don't... " he whispers, struggling to get the words out. Annabeth doesn't even recognize his voice, it's so hoarse and insubstantial. "Don't let go. O-okay?"
Annabeth nods, unable to hold back the panicked tears making their way down her cheeks and the great, animalistic sobs bursting out of her as her heart shatters from grief. She can feel his pulse weakening under her palms, hear his wet, raspy breathing getting shallower, and his hand slips from her wrist as the last of his energy fades.
"Percy, no," she wails, but it's already too late.
Percy Jackson is dead and she is truly alone in the darkness of hell.
Underneath her, the ground rumbles with triumphant laughter.
"Don't you daretalk to me right now."
"Percy, please, you have to understand — "
He whirls on her, furious and wild, and Annabeth skids to a stop, heart skipping in her chest. He hasn't been truly angry with her for ages and she's forgotten what it's like to be on the receiving end of Percy's fury. Unlike her, he's been able to keep his darker emotions at bay and hidden within himself since they came back, and he's rarely lashed out at her.
"Understand? Understand? Annabeth, you lied to me!" he shouts, voice carrying through the woods. "How could you do that, after everythingwe've been through... "
"I — I thought — "
"Let me guess. You thought it was for the best if I didn't know," he sneers, the venom in his voice startling her, "because you alwaysknow what's best for me, especially if it fits in with your stupid little plans. Because your plans always work out so well for us, don't they?"
Annabeth flinches at the implication, even though it's nothing she hasn't told herself a hundred times before. It was her fault they fell into Tartarus. If she hadn't goaded Arachne, if she'd cut the webs away and paid more attention, if she hadn't been so stupid... but she hadn't done any of those things and Percy had died because of her.
And now, he knew it too.
"Percy, I'm so sorry," she says, reaching for his arm. He yanks away from her touch, glaring at her, and Annabeth pulls back. Percy's dark side is something she's not prepared to deal with right now, not when she's so vulnerable.
"Leave me alone," he snaps. "If I want to talk to you, I will."
He doesn't wait for her response. He turns on his heel and marches off into the forest, leaving Annabeth behind.
It doesn't take him all that long to find her again.
She's wrapped up in a huge blanket on the beach, listlessly staring at the waves rolling in and out, idly wondering how cold the water is this time of year, when she hears him approach. It's after hours and they both should be in bed, but dealing with harpies and the consequences of breaking camp rules is nothing now compared to what they've gone through.
She looks over her shoulder at him, but doesn't say anything. The anger from earlier in the day has faded from his face and shoulders, and the moonlight makes the shadows under his eyes seem deeper and sadder.
"D'you mind if I sit?" he asks quietly and in true Percy Jackson fashion, he's already folding himself down beside her before she gives him an answer. He takes a deep breath and runs his hand through his hair nervously. "I'm... sorry about before. When I freaked out. I shouldn't have acted like that."
"You were in shock," she says, shifting in her blanket. "I understand. You had the right to be mad."
"Doesn't make it any better," he says, fiddling with a piece of driftwood he's picked up. "I mean, so I... so I died. Obviously it didn't take very well because I'm here with you and a nifty scar and not there, but I'm only remembering bits and pieces of it all, and I need your help. Because you remember... don't you, Annabeth?"
She doesn't say anything at first, letting the steady sound of the waves breaking against the sand fill the silence between them as she works on maintaining her composure.
"I wish I didn't," she says at last, her voice soft but steady. She stares straight ahead at the ocean. "But it's been burned into my memory and every time I close my eyes, I see it... I see you, and I'm afraid that when I open them again, you'll be gone for real and the last few months have all been in my head."
"Is that why you didn't tell me?"
Annabeth drags her gaze away from the ocean and looks at him. There's no more anger in him, just acceptance and understanding, and she feels her control slipping.
"You'd been laying there for hours and then you just... woke up. When you came back, I thought... I thought one of the gods had made a mistake," she says, forcing the words past the burning lump in her throat. "No one else knew what happened except me and I thought if I told, if I acknowledged it outside of Tartarus, they'd fix it and take you away. I couldn't — "
She trails off and buries her face in her knees, letting the silent tears coursing down her cheeks be soaked up by the blanket. The grief for the boy she lost threatens to rise up and crush her anew, but the boy she has now puts his arm around her shoulders, anchoring her.
"Thanatos sent me back for a reason, Annabeth," he murmurs, pressing his face into her short curls. "I don't know what it was, but I know he doesn't make mistakes and I would've been long gone if I wasn't supposed to be here. Except I'm still here, I'm alive, and we're together. Just like I said we'd be. You... you don't have to face this alone any more, 'Beth. You can let go."
With a shuddering sigh, she nods and opens the blanket, pulling him to her. She slides her hands under the front of his shirt and settles them over the warmth of his chest where she can feel the steady, unending beat of his heart skin.
Her hands and that steady beat are still there when she wakes in the morning, sand in her hair and the sun beginning to peek over the inky blue horizon.
Bit-by-bit, things start to get better.
She still has to sleep with the lights on and the nightmares are just as bad, but they're not as frequent and realistic as they were. Her hair's grown past her chin and she's gaining back some of the weight she's lost, so the girl in the mirror in the mornings isn't quite so unrecognizable now.
The anger is still there, as is the fear and the grief, and she doesn't think those will ever go away completely. Her emotions are easier to manage now, at least, and she's able to talk about what happened without dissolving in a mess of snot and tears.
The wounds are closing over and there will be scars, yet some day, those, too, will fade. Maybe she won't ever be completely whole again, but she'll learn to keep living and make the most of it. And she's okay with that.
The lone benefit of careening into the pits of hell and surviving long enough to pop back out on the other side is that no monster is stupid enough to take them on any more.
She and Percy are out on a date when they happen across a couple of empousa on a night out on the town, dressed to, well, kill. The she-demons take one look at them and cross hurriedly the street to avoid a confrontation. Annabeth sees one of the brunettes pull a gawking young one's hair, dragging her gaze to cement and shrieking, "Don't look them in the eyes, they can vaporize you with a glance!"
It's that scene that causes Percy to laugh — reallylaugh — for the first time in months and soon they're both leaning against a street pole, giggling until tears stream from their eyes and the empousa are long gone.
"Gods," Percy chuckles, wiping the corners of his eyes. "What are they going to do when they find out you'rethe only one with a death glare?"
Annabeth glares and smacks him in the shoulder indignantly. "Oooh, you're going to regret that later, Seaweed Brain!"
But Percy just laughs at her some more and Annabeth can't help but let her glare turn into a helpless, radiant smile.
The two of them — they're going to have a future, a goodone, and they're going to be all right.
Annabeth doesn't remember when she became comfortable with sleeping with the lights off. It was something that had to be worked up to over time and then adjusted when they began sleeping together, so they would both be comfortable. When they went apartment shopping, Annabeth insisted they needed a place with lots and lots of windows, no matter what the cost, so in the mornings, their bedroom would positively flood with natural sunlight and she wouldn't wake up feeling trapped and scared.
The overhead light in the bedroom is the first to go off, replaced by a solitary lamp by the bedside table. It doesn't always stay off — both of them take their turn flipping it back on in the middle of the night — and every now and then, an unexpected power outage will set them back a few days, but eventually, the lamp on the bedside table goes off too.
Now there's just a single seashell night light plugged in next to the bed, casting a calm, blue glow against the wall. Annabeth watches it every night as she falls asleep, thinking of the ocean, of the sun's warmth and golden blue light, and of the man who won't let go, who has his arm around her waist and is snoring softly into her hair.
Love can consign us to hell or to paradise, but it always takes us somewhere. — Paulo Coehlo