some notes you might need to note: takes place after Percy and Annabeth have climbed out of hell (sob) and helped kicked the giants' asses and everyone is trying to get back to their normal lives - key word here trying; let's just say Leo flipped a magic switch in cell phones to turn the "calling all monsters" signal off (because let's be real what a load of crap just for inconvenience's sake); and i may or may not have accidentally killed someone off - even i'm not sure who - for the guilt and self-loathing factor, so i guess i should've said almost everyone is trying to get back to their normal lives. woops.
apologies in advance for all the angst bitterness depressing bitter angstiness (in my own most humble opinion), and also the gigantic note from me about stuff afterward.
"Damn it," Percy mutters, pressing the heels of his hands to his eyes, though they have little effect in the dark. "Damn it, damn it, damn it, damn it, damn it."
There's a shift on the other side of the room: He holds his breath, willing sleep to maintain its grip. After he counts to ten and hears no other sound, he exhales and lets his arms fall back down to the bed so he can return to cursing himself silently. Damn it, you idiot.
A hobby, Paul had suggested – pretty weakly, to be honest, but the sincerity had been there, he'd tried – but sometimes trying isn't enough, sometimes you aren't fast enough or strong enough or quiet enough – gods, what's gonna happen once he actually manages to fall asleep? – sometimes you just aren't good enough and you wind up hating yourself and everyone else all the time because maybe it's true, maybe there's nothing he really could've done because he's Percy Jackson and not a god and not invincible anymore – but maybe he just hadn't wanted it, maybe he just hadn't tried hard enough and it's his fault, all his fault, all my fault.
Does being constantly angry at everything around you count as a hobby? he wonders, and gives a noiseless chuckle. Then, realizing his eyes are wide open and he's staring into a room so black he can barely see his hand in front of his face, he quickly screws them shut.
Stop it, calm down, your ribs aren't broken and poking holes in your lungs, you're not choking on blood, you can breathe, there's nothing there, but even as he thinks it and fights to calm his racing heart, he feels for Riptide under his pillow and grips it until it hurts.
Through his closed eyelids comes a dim blue glow: he looks around, sees the source must be the nightstand at the head of his bed, and, never more relieved to see a phone light up in his entire life, reaches back for it. Annabeth glares back at him, but her lips are pressed together in a tight line, like she's trying not to laugh at him. Aching for the sight of her, he presses answer and lifts the phone to his ear.
"Hey," he says quietly, forcing the tightness from his voice and throwing a glance over to the dense shape outlined against the wall opposite. "How'd you know I was up?"
"I didn't," Annabeth admits. "I was just guessing."
Percy rolls onto his side with a slight grin. "Well, your guesses are usually right."
"Watch that hybrid of yours."
"For the last time, Percy, it's called hubris."
"Same difference." Where normally he can practically hear her roll her eyes, now there's only silence on her end of the line except for her breathing – and maybe he's mistaken, but he thinks it sounds quick. Taking care to keep his tone casual, he says, "So what's up?"
Pause, and then as she speaks – "I thought you'd, well – I thought you might be having a rough time of it, because, you know – I wanted to check on you, see how you were – holding up" – he wonders how it is that she can lie so fearlessly, so flawlessly to a god without stumbling over a single syllable, yet even when he can't see her he can tell if she blinks funny that something's wrong.
For her sake, though, he plays along.
"Uh…" Breathing deep, he notices that his knee's poking out from the blankets and pulls it back in – after all, despite whatever light the phone screen's giving off while it's smushed against his cheek, he's still in the dark, shadows still lurk in the unknown corners of the room – who knows what monsters are hiding under his bed, what skeletons are living in the back of his closet, waiting to corner him – as it occurs to him he rolls over to face the wall – but then you won't be able to see them coming, you won't be able to fight, you'll be blind, helpless, nothing you can do, they'll get you – he flops onto his back again. Within the panicked haze of his mind, the survival instincts register; he sighs. "I could be doing better," he says.
In his imagination he pictures her nodding, chewing her lip. "How's your roommate?"
"He's fine." Another look across the room. "But it's not like I can just tell him about – I mean, this, what I'm – it's not the kind of thing you admit when you're eight, let alone when you're eighteen."
"Well –" Like she cuts herself off. "Yeah."
He expects her to continue, because she always has something more to say – or, it seems, she used to – but nothing comes.
"What about you?"
Distracted? How often does that happen? Granted, Annabeth is definitely one to lapse into thought every few minutes, but – but this is different, and Percy knows it, knows her, this is so, so different from everything else – so wrong, that he knows she's about to lie to him again and he's not going to say a damn thing about it – can't start it, not here, not tonight. Not yet.
"Are you…" Choosing his words carefully: "…holding up?"
"Oh, yeah," she says, and it's detached, empty. "I've been living in dorms since middle school. I'm used to it."
Not what he means. On purpose, of course.
"Classes start tomorrow," he says. "What are you still doing up?"
"Same as you. Couldn't sleep."
Too excited? he almost wants to ask. Nervous? Just for the hell of it. Just to give her the chance to lie some more, since it's apparently become her new favorite pastime.
Instead (one of them has to tell the truth) it's "Nightmares?" and hushed, not for the sake of waking someone this time, but the way you'd speak a holy word, the name of a sacred place – a feared name, one never spoken except under the sun's protection, and if not that, then fluorescence.
Now Annabeth sighs, weighted and shaking. "A little."
He catches himself hesitating, pauses for just a second more to ask himself why he would, if he knows her like he thinks he does – is he scared?
From under the bed, the shadows below his eyes, the scars beneath his clothes and beneath his skin: Of course you are.
"Tell me about it?" he says, lilting up into a question at the end instead of the request he was aiming for, only maybe they've reached the point of a demand. Be brave, damn it, you were once upon a time. The heroes of Olympus, they called you, that's who, what you were – are, you're supposed to be. Look how far you've come, look how far you've fallen.
Percy imagines she shakes her head; he thinks her hair rustles against the receiver, and in that moment she's so close and so far away that the scent of her lemon shampoo may as well be nothing more than a fantasy.
"No, I…" and it's horrible but gods, has he missed this, the raw nakedness of her, able to hear her bared and flayed open before him. For the first time in what feels like whole universes he can tell, he has proof that she is still just as broken as he is, cracked open like a malfunctioning robot with all its wires poking out of its metal shelling and its limbs rusting off, and she hasn't been able to fix him but he hasn't been able to fix her, either. They're even.
"I just… needed to hear your voice," she says, finally whispering, like she's afraid her voice will break if she talks any louder.
Honesty, honesty. "It's nice to be needed," he says, with meaning, in the hope that she'll read him the way she does a book, bending close so her breath would wash over his face and her hair would tip forward over him, running a finger down his spine and across every letter, becoming fluent in his body language like he has learned hers, studying, understanding–
And he wants it back, more than anything, he wants her back, his innocence, an escape – he misses everything all at once, it feels like he's not even here and he's pining for something back home, something long lost, a bird flown away.
Maybe she smiles. It'd be small, he thinks. "Good."
There's a long pause. A siren wails in the distance, echoing off of Manhattan's walls, reminding him that he is here, this place is overflowing with life, breathing all around him. The idea is suffocating rather than comforting.
"Are you gonna be okay?" he says at last.
A beat more before Annabeth says, "What?" in the same tone she uses when she calls him Seaweed Brain as an insult instead of a nickname, and rightfully this time.
"To get to sleep, I mean," he amends quickly.
He wants her to say no; he needs her to say no.
Please. I can't lose you. Never again.
"Oh," she says, recovering. "Yeah. Sure, I'll be fine."
"Okay." Percy swallows the lump in his throat. "All right then. Good, okay." He runs a hand through his hair. "So I guess this is goodnight?"
"I guess." The disappointment is real, at least. Not much as far as consolation goes, but he'll take what he can get.
Which sucks, he thinks suddenly, angrily, which isn't fair. Because it hasn't always been like this – this stilted, awkward, rough arrangement they never agreed on slipping into, these strangers walking around in their bodies, impersonators. It's not like it was easy, Before, but they weren't so aged then, so haunted and heavy and tired. Even right After they weren't this quiet; their ghosts were shared, the nightmares acknowledged; they each took part of the weight and held one another up, designed a bridge so they could get over it, move forward and get on with their lives together.
And it worked, for a while. On the bad nights Percy fell asleep with the phone still in his hand (never mind that his mom wasn't too happy about him running the bill); on the worse nights he fell asleep with his face buried in her hair. For a while, they survived, and it wasn't okay – he still isn't sure it ever really will be – but it was enough.
But the months passed. And as the months turned into a year, and a year into two, as they started to rely on each other less and less – and he sees it, looking back, now that he's in the dark – they retreated from each other and into themselves. Exactly what brought them together tore them apart from the inside out, poison in his veins and lungs, and he's lying here thinking all this, terrified to hang up because he has no idea what to say to her anymore.
There was a time, once, when he thought they were meant for eternity. Some days now he wonders if they're just bombs waiting to go off.
"Well…" Everything's bubbling up to the surface, overflowing, choking him – tick, tock – sighing again as he casts his eyes down to more nothing. "Night."
It's been a long time since Annabeth's let him see her cry, but he hears the tears coming in the breath she sucks in, the same way he can feel a storm blowing in from the sea. "G'night."
He tightens his grip on the phone. "I love you," he says, and he does, gods, does he love her; it's the only thing he's sure of anymore, that it isn't something between them that's broken but they broke separately and something was knocked out of place, doesn't fit right, not the way it used to. Besides –
"I love you, too."
–what else do they have left?
He hangs up before the dial tone flatlines in his ear, presses his hands to his eyes, trying to force them back into his skull so he doesn't have to stare into the endless night – the stars are gone, extinguished or burned out, fallen from the sky like angels with their wings clipped, Icarus all over again (exactly, that's it – all over, splattered across the earth, all my fault). It isn't enough, but it'll have to be.
more notes but you can ignore these if you want: if you started talking to me about this fic and all the ideas surrounding it I WOULD NOT SHUT UP, i swear. but basically i'm going to cry over MoA for twelve years because i am terrified for my children and if they come out not okay i'm going to cry for seven more years - THE FACT THAT THEY ARE IN HELL IS NOT OKAY, OKAY, AND THAT IS (unfortunately for us) THE END OF THAT.
i feel like i should talk about my activity on here because there are kind of a lot of you?: so i know i haven't been posting a lot in the past few months - that's partly because i haven't been writing a whole lot (which is partly because of school), partly because i've kept most of that stuff on tumblr (where i have been pretty active - whisperedtouches too if you're interested) - and i've done that because i was planning on posting something ~super special~ for my 100th fic. HOWEVER the fics i had lined up for that spot were all really long and require a lot of work that i haven't even really started on out of laziness, and i felt bad for keeping you guys waiting when i had so much fic you could be reading. then the lightning bolt of inspiration struck for this and i figured, good enough, right? or i hope it was, anyway.
to sum that huge ugly paragraph up - this is now the 100th fic i've posted on here, but definitely not written, and WOW WHAT A RIDE. thanks to anyone and everyone who's been on it with me! i plan on putting up a lot of the other fic i've withheld since summer within the next few weeks - most/all of it is ATLA/LoK, so if that's not your thing then i'm sorry to disappoint, but if it is, then i guess you're in luck, right?
before i finally shut up, because this note is way too long and sounds way too stupid, one last thing - i should probably start getting more creative with my titles, since i borrowed this one from a song by Death Cab. hey, i thought it fit. ...loosely, at least.
okay i'm done i promise.
thanks so much for reading! it's always appreciated.