AN: I'm so sorry about this. I don't know what the hell I'm thinking, writing this. Forgive me. Please.
Warnings: Slight language, light slash (Nico/Leo), and, um, a shit load of angst.
Disclaimer: If I were Rick Riordan, kiddies, you'd know. I would never shut up about how I was a published writer.
"Annabeth, please. No."
Percy is begging me. He's shaking, his whole body is, and he's so broken in this morning light.
It's not fair how bright it is, how nice of a day it is. It doesn't make any sense, how there can still be so much happiness in the world, when all I feel is broken and drained.
My eyes blur with tears, and I have to force the words out around the lump in my throat.
"Percy, I have to do this. I couldn't live with myself if I let you-"
He cuts me off, grasping my shoulders fiercely. He's never handled me roughly before, and I'm shaken by this change.
"You want me to live without you?" he growls, and his words sink under my skin to tear me up inside. "You want me to do exactly what you can't? Don't you understand how selfish it is to ask that of me?"
I shake myself free of his grasp, stepping back, glaring at him through my tears. For so long, all we've had is each other, and I swore we weren't going to make it out of Tartarus. But here we are, and he's changed, and I've changed. We've both changed, and we're so different from the way we started, before we fell.
"If you love me," I say, and my voice breaks, because I know how unfair and selfish it is to ask this of Percy, to use his feelings for me to get my way, "let me do this. Let me close the Doors. Please."
Percy's jaw tightens, and he looks away, his eyes shimmering with unshed tears.
"Annabeth," he begins, but he stops, and when he looks back at me, there's a rawness that's never been there before.
"Please," I plead. "Please, Percy. You have your mom, and Paul, and your dad. Tyson, too. I don't… I don't have as many people to leave behind. I don't have as many people who would care if I died."
Percy shakes his head. "No," he says forcefully. "Annabeth, I love you. But I can't let you do this. I love you. And that's why it has to be me."
I press my lips into a thin line, and my chin quivers and tears spill over onto my cheeks, and for the first time, I get it out. I finally say what I've always been too prideful to say before, what hurts too much to admit.
"I love you, too."
I say it in a rush, my words slurring together, but Percy hears, and the smile he gives me is so sad, but so genuine, and I push up onto my tiptoes to kiss his mouth, and I whisper, "And that's why I have to do this."
I step back, and Percy catches my wrist.
"Annabeth…" he breathes, and then I hear it. Piper.
"Leo!" she screams, and I whip to face her, but she's looking past me, towards the Doors of Death.
I follow her gaze, and there he is. Leo, slowly pushing the Doors closed. He freezes at the sound of Piper's voice, and he gives her a melancholy smile.
"Sorry, Beauty Queen," he says, giving her a two-fingered salute. "But I'm the loner, right? I have to do this. This has been my place in the quest all along." He gives us all a tight, shaky smile.
"No." Nico walks towards Leo, his too big Aviator jacket pulled tightly around his shoulders. He reaches out, grasping the front of Leo's shirt, something so dark and broken in his eyes, and I realize in an instant what's happening.
I never considered that Nico is-I always thought he had a crush on me. But Nico, and Leo, they're-and I can't. I can't watch this happen, because Leo's doing for Nico exactly what I tried to do for Percy, for exactly the same reason. My tears come harder now, shaking my whole body, and Percy's arms are a comforting presence around my waist.
"No," Nico says again, and he uses his grasp on Leo's shirt as leverage to pull Leo down the few inches of distance between them, fitting their mouths together in a sweet, sad kiss.
I look away, because I can't bear to intrude on such a private, intimate moment.
Nico steps away from his boyfriend, and his jaw quivers as he speaks. "You don't get to leave without saying goodbye," he hisses up at Leo, whose shoulders shake.
"I'm so sorry," Leo whispers. "Te amo, mi amor." He cups Nico's cheek with his hand and places a final kiss on Nico's mouth.
Behind me, I can hear Piper's sobbing, and Hazel's more delicate weeping. Leo pushes Nico away and shuts the Doors, and Nico's eyes are rimmed with red, but he doesn't cry, he just places the palm of his hand against the Doors, and lets his head droop down.
I look over my shoulder to see Percy, tears silently flowing down his cheeks, and I kiss his mouth before looking at the others. Hazel clings to Frank as she cries, and even though Frank didn't particularly get along with Leo, he still looks upset, and he wraps his arms tightly around his girlfriend.
Piper's shoulders shake as Jason holds her, and her sobs aren't the put together, silent weeps of the Aphrodite kids. Hers are ugly, raw, and unrestrained, and she mutters incoherently as Jason runs his fingers through her hair.
Jason himself looks just as shaken up, but he doesn't cry. He simply holds his girlfriend snugly to his chest and whispers soothing words to her.
Suddenly, everything feels disjointed. This group feels disjointed.
It started out with Jason, Piper, Leo, Coach Hedge, and myself on the Argo II. And then we picked up Percy, Hazel, and Frank, and from there we found Nico, and then Percy and I fell into Tartarus, which I know I'll have nightmares about for the rest of my life.
Once we finally got out of Tartarus, it was to find Jason, Piper, Leo, Nico, Hazel, and Frank, but no Coach Hedge. A miniscule shake of Jason's head told us all we needed to know.
And now Leo's gone, too, but there's still this gods awful quest to finish, because Gaea is still out there, trying to take over the world, and who the hell decided it was a good idea to let a bunch of teenagers have a mission like this?
I press my face into Percy's shoulder, trying to stop the flow of tears. Even though Leo is gone, we still have to finish this. We can't put our lives on hold because of another death, no matter how much I wish we could.
I pull myself together and pull away from Percy, wiping my eyes and putting on a brave face.
"Okay," I say, and I sound so much more in control of my emotions than I am. "We still have a quest to finish. We can't…" I clear my throat. "We can't let Leo die in vain."