Summary: A promise is made. Things fall apart. Things work out.
Disclaimer: I don't own the Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series or the Heroes of Olympus series or the characters I borrowed.
Annabeth's just turned 11. Percy is 11, too.
They're in Annabeth's room because she has a blue beanbag that Percy probably loves more than her. He's flipping through a girly magazine that Annabeth's stepmother bought for her in an attempt to make Annabeth more... well, girly.
Percy's snorting to himself, reading out particularly ridiculous bits. Annabeth's doing her math homework and laughing along with Percy. "'Boys love cherry chapstick,'" he reads. "That's a lie. I hate cherries."
"Maybe you aren't a boy," Annabeth retorts, sticking her tongue out at him as she circles her final answer neatly.
"Oh, a quiz!" Percy shouts, delighted, completely ignoring Annabeth's comment. "'Who Will You Marry?'"
"Sounds interesting." Annabeth slams her math book shut and turns over to lay on her back. "Go ahead. Quiz me."
Percy pauses, and Annabeth knows he's reading the words over before he says them to assure that he won't stutter. His stutter is a bit adorable, if anything, but Percy blushes redder than Nancy Bobofit's hair when his syllables come out wrong. "First question: money or friendship?"
"This is already stupid," Annabeth proclaims as she contemplates. "Friendship."
Percy hums in agreement, reading off the next question. "Alright, second question: do you think there's any Chinese leftovers in your fridge?"
Annabeth picks up one of her stuffed animals and chucks it at him, making Percy laugh. "Okay, okay. Seriously. Are you... the life of the party, or the relaxed stay-homer?"
"That's not a real phrase," Annabeth mutters, tacking on her answer to her critical comment. Percy asks more questions and Annabeth answers accordingly, waiting patiently as Percy reads over each question in his head before speaking aloud. Finally, he reaches the final question, or so he says. "Final question... Do you prefer comfort or new adventures?"
Annabeth hesitates. "I like both."
"True, but you're more of a creature of habit," Percy points out. "I think comfort." She nods slowly, and Percy breathes out. It sounds like relief; probably because the awful quiz is finally done and over with.
"Well, who did I get?" Annabeth asks. "Joe Jonas? Nick Jonas? Troy Bolton?"
Percy throws his head back and cackles. "No, it says you'll end up marrying your best friend."
Annabeth smirks. "I wouldn't mind being Thalia's wife."
"Hey!" Percy says indignantly. "I'm your best friend! I've known you for exactly two days longer than Thalia!"
"You'd be an awful wife."
Percy glares before rolling his eyes. "It's a stupid quiz, anyways. Those things are never true."
"What were the other choices?" Annabeth rolls onto her stomach again, fidgeting with her calculator.
"Uh... quarterback or intelligent, quiet boy."
"Huh." She hears rustling, and as she expects, Percy drops down onto the bed beside her. He buries his face in what he calls "his pillow"—purely because it's his favorite color—and smiles at her a little.
"Can I ask you a serious question?"
Annabeth turns her calculator off and turns to him, giving Percy her full attention. "Of course," she tells him, watching the way he blinks slowly. Sometimes, Annabeth forgets that her best friend has the capacity to be serious. She's so used to Percy radiating warmth and happiness that she's not sure how to act towards his pensive expression. She's also proud of herself for using the word 'pensive' within her thoughts; that's one of her vocab words.
"If we grow up, and we don't love anyone, do you think we could just love each other?"
Annabeth pauses, cocking her head to the side. "What do you mean?"
"Like..." Percy brings his eyes up from his pillow and meets her eyes. "When we're twenty-seven, maybe. If we aren't married, we should marry each other."
Annabeth stares at Percy and his honest expression. She thinks that would be alright. "Alright," she says, shrugging.
"Pinky promise?" Percy thrusts out his pinky, seemingly all business. Annabeth twists her pinky around his dutifully and repeats the phrase. "Can I ask you another serious question?"
"Are there any leftovers in the fridge?"
Annabeth shoves him off her bed.
Annabeth is 26 and a half. Percy is 27.
As soon as the door slams shut, Annabeth sinks down to the floor and hugs her knees to her chest, her mind blank. She stares at the white wall before her.
It's quiet. Her hands are shaking. She's so, so stupid. She's so relieved.
She fumbles for her phone, nestled in her back pocket, and buries her face into her kneecaps as she types in '2' and presses 'call.'
He picks up immediately, like he always does. Like he always has. "Percy," Annabeth greets quietly, swallowing thickly. "I-I really. Need—"
"I'll be there in ten minutes," Percy interrupts, hanging up a moment later. Annabeth lowers the phone, her eyes catching on the diamond on her left hand.
She starts crying. The worst kind of crying, where her lungs can't catch up with the way she's not leaving space for breaths. She feels her hair fall out of her meticulous ponytail as she pulls at it harshly, trying to ground herself. She feels her chest tighten more and more as her heart becomes no more than a small pebble; a tiny blip every time her heartbeats.
She knows she's panicking. Her thoughts don't—can't—stay in one place. Her hands tug at her hair as she attempts to regain her breath and control of her heartbeat. The metal of the ring seems to be piercing; so much colder than Annabeth's skin. As she moves to tear it off, a familiar, calloused hand reaches out for hers.
She lets out a harsh sob and hates herself for being as weak as she is. She hates herself for not making it work.
Percy knows, like he always does. He slides the ring off gently and sets it aside before pulling Annabeth into a hug. "Annabeth," he says softly, petting her hair. "C'mon. Breathe. Slow down."
She sucks in a deep breath and holds it in, her panic declining as his voice feels the silence. She hates the quiet. He hums softly in her ear, just a little off tune and completely like home. She regains her breath and clings to him, pulling at his shirt like it's a lifeline. "Hey," he tells her, his voice soft like petals and just as fragile. "Hey, you're okay." He pushes her hair out of her face and uses his sleeve to dry her eyes.
"I did it." Annabeth's voice would be inaudible to anyone besides Percy; Percy who's heard every tone and decibel of her voice. "I... it's done."
Percy breathes out in a rush. "I'm proud of you."
"I'm stupid," Annabeth admits, her voice cracking slightly. "I shouldn't have. I could have found a way to make it work; I'll never have anyone like him, never have anyone who cares like that. I'm stupid." She's whispering like it's a secret, but Annabeth thinks everyone knows.
Percy pulls back from the tight embrace, his expression unreadable. "How can you say that?"
"He was the only one who cared like that," Annabeth mutters, her face blank.
"That's not true." Percy reaches up and brushes an eyelash off her cheek. "Everyone loves you."
"Not like Nick." Annabeth draws in a shaky breath. "I should call him, I should—"
"Annabeth, you've been telling me about your doubts since the moment he asked you to marry him," Percy says, and he sounds tired.
"Cold feet," she decides.
Percy takes a huge breath and lets it out so slowly, Annabeth wonders if he'll reply at all. "I'll warm them up, then. But I'm not going to let you go back to someone you don't want to marry."
"I might," Annabeth says, barely above a whisper. "With time, I might have."
"But he wasn't giving you time," Percy argues, his voice on the brink of harsh. "He wasn't giving you half of what you deserve."
Annabeth nods, because she knows better than to fight with her best friend when he talks like this. He never seems more frustrated than when Annabeth lets her self-deprecation and insecurities shine through. "Okay."
"And you c-can't say that no one loves you like N-Nick when I-I've—"
"Your stutter." Annabeth blinks; pulls on his shirt sleeve. "I thought you lost it."
"Since fifth grade," he finishes, and she has no clue what he's talking about. It must show on her face, because Percy sighs frustratedly. "I. You know. You have to know."
"But in seventh grade, when I asked you to dinner, you said—"
"You were kidding," Annabeth interrupts.
"I love you," Percy says, his voice thick and his eyes flashing. "I thought you knew."
"I do. I love you, too."
"No, Annabeth..." For the first time in her life, she can't understand Percy. It's a terrible feeling. She's always understood him from day one; she's always seen every hidden expression and underlying words. She knows him better than anyone, maybe even herself. "Nevermind." He sits back on his feet and shakes his head, seemingly at himself.
Annabeth frowns and leans forward; she needs the comfort he's offering. Percy stops her before she can let her face fall against his chest, and he inhales deeply, his eyes scanning her face. Annabeth thinks he's probably looking for something that's not even there, like he usually does. "I'm 27," he says softly.
"I know," Annabeth says, because she does.
Percy nods absently, glancing down. "I love you."
"I know," Annabeth says, because she does.
"Know-it-all," Percy grumbles, a hand trailing across her jaw, but not exactly touching. Annabeth doesn't like that, so she leans against his hand. He purses his lips and moves closer to her, and Annabeth waits for her kiss on the forehead—the comforting one that always feels like coming home. Percy feels like coming home.
Annabeth jumps a little when he kisses her lips, but she doesn't pull away. She kisses him back, because it's reflex and it's Percy—they've kissed several times on dares and even once on accident. She senses that it's different, but her willpower is too shaken from the fight with Nick to even consider questioning it. He leans forward and gets a better angle; he slips his hand into her hair and presses gently where she had been tearing earlier. He pulls back, and he's not out of breath. Annabeth's not either, and she thinks it's because it's easy. They've always been easy.
After a few more seconds of quiet, steady breathing, Percy just says, "Bed."
Annabeth grips his shoulder as he picks her up, and she feels her heart pull. "I'm not—I don't think I'm—"
Percy carefully places her on the mattress and shakes his head. "No, just sleep." Annabeth nods, feeling relieved. "I wouldn't take advantage of you. I'm sorry I kissed you," he adds, quietly as he rifles through her drawers.
He manages to find a hoodie, and he unbuttons Annabeth work shirt with steady hands. She almost tells him to stop, but Percy knows her. He was raised properly, and Annabeth knows he would never put her out of her comfort zone. Percy is general is her comfort zone.
He slips the shirt off her arms and tosses it into her laundry basket, soon after pulling the hoodie over her head. She's thankful that she had the foresight to change into comfortable pants before venturing into the kitchen to break up with Nick, so Percy doesn't have to see her in even less modesty.
He takes off his own jeans and borrows a pair of Annabeth's larger sweatpants that are probably his anyways. Percy gets in on Nick's side of the bed and turns off the lamp on the nightstand. He searches until he finds Annabeth's hand, and he squeezes tight. Annabeth's chest seems to loosen with the feeling.
"You'll be fine," Percy tells her. "I'm here."
And it's not like he's boasting that he's stayed and Nick hasn't; it's not like he's bragging about how he's the one in her bed rather than any other male. He's reassuring her, like he always does. So, Annabeth falls asleep.
When she wakes up, her face feels swollen and heavy. She briefly wonders if she finally encountered something she's allergic to, but when she blinks her eyes open, the thought fades.
And suddenly, it's seems so simple. It all falls together. She thinks about the precise moment Nick got down on one knee and asked for her hand. She remembers saying yes, and feeling disappointed. At the time she'd accredited it to the fact that he hadn't proposed with a grand gesture, but now she sees it. Recognizes it.
As soon as Nick asked her to marry him, she'd seen Percy's sixth grade face staring at her solemnly. She remembered her promise to marry someone else, if she wasn't in love with someone already. And now, Annabeth sees that maybe she didn't really love Nick.
The thing about Percy is, Annabeth thinks, he gets under your skin. He crawls into your subconscious and accidentally governs your every move, from automatically pouring two drinks to buying what you know is his favorite brand of chips. She wonders if he's always been there; lingering at the edges of her mind every time she kissed Nick. She thinks he probably was.
Annabeth feels a bit in awe as she stares at him before her. She sees the way he's grown up. She sees it in the way his eyes have lilac bruises beneath them, from sleepless nights or stress or both. She sees it in the way his shoulders have broadened from his lanky, preteen form into a man; one with a sharp jaw and crinkles at the edges of his eyes. She sees it in the way his hands are calloused from working hard and his brow having a permanent line from scowling.
Annabeth's heart drops a little; she could hardly ever remember times when Percy wasn't scowling jokingly. He's always been so goofy and full of light that she forgets that he has troubles just like everyone else. Before she can stop herself, she reaches up in an attempt to smooth the line away, if only for a second, and Percy's face seems to relax. She buries her hand in his hair then, still as untamed and wild as it had been since she'd met him.
She's not sure if it's the lighting, or if it's just Percy, but it looks a lot like he has a halo right now. His skin's faded out slightly from the direct rays of the sun coming through her window, his mouth open the slightest bit. Annabeth thinks she could love him in the same way that she never loved Nick. She hopes.
She continues to card her fingers through his hair because it's always been a favorite hobby of hers. She thinks about how Nick always griped when she tried to do so with him, not like it was very fun due to the copious amounts of gel he liked to apply. She lets her hand slide down so that she can feel the warmth of his face, and thinks about how Nick never seemed to lean into her as much when she held his face. She presses her fingers against his pulse point and thinks about how Nick's was always racing with excitement, but Percy's is steady and gentle, just like he is.
Annabeth thinks she could love him.
Percy blinks his eyes a few seconds later, and she considers pretending to be asleep just so she can enjoy the softness for a bit longer. He meets her eyes though, smiling a little sadly and craning his neck so that more of her hand is brushing his skin. Nick had loved her, but he had never asked for innocent touches like Percy.
"Good morning," she says, withdrawing her hand.
Percy pauses for a second. "Morning."
Annabeth stares at him; watches his light halo shift as he does. "Thanks."
He looks at her, his expression reading a million things at once. Annabeth's not sure which emotion to believe. "You're welcome. Anytime."
It's silent, for a few minutes, without even the sound of their breaths. Annabeth pinches herself before saying, "You told me you loved me."
Percy flinches a little, but he nods slowly. "Yeah."
He meets her gaze head-on, a weird sort of fire in the murky, still half-asleep green. "I meant it."
"You're 27," Annabeth states.
"I don't love anyone else, if that's what you're asking," he grumbles, turning away from her and sitting up straight. "I'm sorry about Nick."
"Me, too." She sees him move to stand up, so she reaches out and grabs his shirt, yanking him back down. Annabeth means to say something, but Percy just glances her over before nodding and lying down next to her again. She can't stop watching him; the way the light hits his face and leaves small shadows, as well as small patches of brightness. "I think…"
"I'm sorry," Percy tells her again, and Annabeth shakes her head and tells him not to be. "I still am."
"I think you should kiss me again," Annabeth says, instead of what she had meant to. In fact, that sentence is incredibly different from, 'don't be sorry, you're my best friend, I don't blame you.'
He stops pulling at a loose thread on the pillow and buries his face in it. "Yeah?" he asks, muffled.
"Yeah," Annabeth tells him.
He extracts his face from the pillow, his nose wrinkled. "It smells like that dick's cologne."
"It's Gucci," Annabeth says, in the same tone Nick used to. The thought doesn't make her as sad as it should. Percy rolls his eyes, muttering something unintelligible. Annabeth swallows thickly and moves her hand so that she can hold Percy's face again.
He looks hesitant. "You don't have to, you know. Not just because of how I feel."
Annabeth frowns a little. "I'm not doing this for you, idiot."
The corner of Percy's lip twitches the slightest bit, so Annabeth kisses it. Percy moves so that their mouths slot together seamlessly, and it's innocent; no more than a peck. He pulls back and pushes his nose against her cheek, laughing. "I think we should brush our teeth."
"Good idea," Annabeth comments, having not thought of that herself.
Percy leans his forehead against her shoulder. "Annabeth, can I ask you a serious question?"
She smiles a little, reminiscing. "Sure."
"Are you going to keep the promise?"
Annabeth nods before she can think about it. "I'm 27 in a few months. Planning time."
Percy breathes out something that sounds like relief. "Good. Perfect." He kisses her shoulder, Annabeth thinks. "Can I ask another?"
"If you must," she says, pretending to be irritated. She's not.
"Do you think there's any leftovers in the fr—?"
Annabeth pushes him off the bed.