Chapter 1: primrose garden
There’s a shift in the weather, when the snow starts to melt and the flowers begin to bloom and Percy’s favorite color isn’t blue anymore.
He’s sitting with his mom in their living room and he’s only just starting to realize how nice their apartment is. Without his ex-stepfather’s poker parties, without the cigarette fumes and the crumbs on the floor and the permanently drawn curtains- there is space. Space for him to hang out on the couch and space for the smell of his mom’s cookies to linger on his clothes and space for the sunlight to stream in.
“What are you thinking about?” His mom asks, and he looks down at the jelly beans. She’s separated out the blues from the rest of the pile and his gut twists with guilt.
“Do you think we could eat some of the yellow ones?”
His mom looks a little bit surprised, but not hurt. Blue jellybeans used to be important, back when Gabe was around. But light falls in their living room where the rug used to have burn holes and light begins to heal them both. It feels like betrayal, but it feels like a new chapter, too.
Percy likes yellow. He holds up a single bean towards the window and the light filters through it and he thinks about a girl with hair like this- the early spring sun and a yellow sweet in an apartment that starts to look more like home.
“Yellow is a nice color.” His mom says mildly as she pops a bean into her mouth.
Yellow is like Annabeth, Percy wants to tell her, but he knows his mom will only tease him. He’s gotten enough grief from her for wanting to have a single photo of his newest friend printed out. He can’t imagine how much she’ll laugh if he says Annabeth’s golden hair reminds him of safety against all logic.
That’s what she has quickly become to him, anyway. Aside from Grover, she’s his best friend. It makes no sense to Percy that a loud-mouthed, bossy girl with all the knowledge of a single architecture book and an ego the size of the Empire State Building would turn out to be one the best things in his life, and yet here they are. He finds himself stealing glances at her face as often as he can, because his life feels too much like a dream. She feels like a dream.
She came into his life, a whirlwind of adventure and excitement and a confidence that only comes with the desperation of knowing they can’t afford to be wrong- and now Percy is different. He stands a little taller and he smiles a little brighter and his shoulders don’t weigh as much and it’s because the ground under his feet is warm like he’s never felt and it’s because of her. Teachers aren’t the worst, and the stench of his ex-stepfather is starting to dull and he is no longer an outsider looking in.
Percy thinks of her face again, her warm hair and cool eyes and her rosy cheeks and her too-wide smile. It’s the start of a new era, he repeats to himself. With healing, with a new friend, with his mom and Grover and now, and with her. For thirteen years he watched over his shoulder, looking for trouble because there’s a chip on his shoulder and he’s always felt like he’s trespassing. He met her and the chip fell off. He met her and he knows now that there’s a spot for him, somewhere. Possibly next to her. Percy makes a new friend and his life isn't blue anymore. Percy makes a new friend and he shakes off the shackles of his old life and basks in the pride of being chosen.
Annabeth Chase comes into his life and he feels most like Percy Jackson, and his entire universe explodes in a brilliant yellow.
Percy comes to find that the color of poisoned skin is the same as that of beating the odds.
Annabeth's shoulder is yellow and the open air smells like a hospital and it’s enough to make him sick. His gut churns uneasily at the sight of it- the bandages soaked in blood and the green tinge of her skin and her sweaty forehead and her closed eyes and he thinks, oh god, this is what yellow is going to be, forever. He holds her hand and brushes her blonde hair carefully out of her face and she looks peaceful in her sleep, and this is how he'll remember her- the brightest of yellows that comes with infected skin and foolish sacrifice and the end of his best friend's life and all the guilt that he'll be left with.
And then, the most incredible thing happens. The sun begins to rise- first pink, then orange, and then, finally, Percy thinks, a warm yellow, and as it casts its light over her, Annabeth stirs. Her eyes flutter open and they are golden at dawn and she is alive and she almost smiles and she is the most beautiful person to walk the Earth and Percy thinks he will remember her like this, forever- burning bright like the sun and warm like Prometheus' fire and she will be, above everything, yellow.
Now yellow has become more; Percy has become more. Annabeth survives and she is breathing and the shoulder wound is healing and he will know that the sun may be pink and it may be orange but she will always be yellow and she will always fall over his head and she will protect guide him for as long as her rays fall over his back.
Simply healing isn't enough anymore. Healing is for his mother's living room. Percy wants to heal and he wants to be happy and he can't help but think that with Annabeth's hand in his and her hair lit up in the morning light, he might even stand a chance at having it.
She'll say something about Luke- he knows by the look in her eyes. She'll say something about Luke and he will be angry with her and she will insist on it and when Percy won't listen, she'll get angry. He traces his thumb over her knuckles and wants more than anything to promise her that he won't do that. That the sun will shine yellow and it is not his job to change it. His mind drifts to Pandora's jar, to hope, who dances so freely in her golden cage and- this is what it will be like.
Releasing her will mean letting go of Annabeth's fingers. Releasing her will mean that the sun might sink behind the horizon and that dawn will never come. Releasing her will mean that open wounds might never stop bleeding and no number of stitches will close up her scar, and Percy cannot allow that to happen.
She reaches out and places her hand on his mortal point, on the one spot on all of his body that holds his entire life force and she sends a shock of electricity sparking up his spine. Percy lets her keep her hand there and he thinks about hope again. He wants to tell her she’s silly for taking that knife, but she’s right. They are Percy and Annabeth. This is exactly what they do for each other. Stupid, impulsive risks with the hope that they’ll come out on top. He’d done it with a dormant volcano. How can he blame her for returning the favor?
Percy runs his fingers gently over her yellowing bandages and she flinches in pain, her hand still resting on his back. Never let go, Percy wants to tell her. Even if I die tonight. Please, don’t let go. She is too important, means too much for him to ever be able to put it into words for her. He holds her hand, firmly against his back and lets himself get swept up in the moment. Annabeth’s mortality, he thinks as she lies in front of him, recovering from the brink of death, will be enough for the both of them. For as long as her delicate hand protects his Achilles heel, for as long as the sun is yellow in the skyline, this will be enough.
"You're up." He tells her and her lips tug upwards.
"So are you." She whispers, and Pandora's Jar will go another day unopened.
Percy is lying with his head in Annabeth's lap in a field of wild primroses, bright yellow against the green grass, and all he can think is that they are eternal.
"What are you doing?" He asks her, nudging her elbow with his nose. She's painting, carefully, with an intensity he's come to recognize to be her In the Zone Face, and she hums. When she looks at him her face smoothens and her eyes light up and her cheeks turn rosy.
"Uh... planning." She says.
"Can I see?"
She shows him her design, a two-story house with an open concept kitchen and a large family room, bursting in colours, and she tells him she wants it to be theirs.
"We can sit out here in the verandah." She says. "On a warm summer day, we can sip our wine and watch the children play."
Children, Percy repeats in his mind. Nineteen years old and already thinking of their children. They'll have her nose and his jaw and they will be the most beautiful, loved children in the world. They’ll have photos of them on the walls and their art work on the refrigerator and they will be told off when they get into fights because their parents will care. They’ll grow up with wide eyes and big dreams and they’ll never fear for their lives. She tells him more, about all the things she wants in the future and her fingers thread through his hair and she tugs ever so gently at it as she speaks, and her long hair tickles his nose and her shampoo is intoxicating.
He'll have her and she'll have him and they'll have a future in which they are together, and the entire world is the color of cool lemonade on a sweltering day. Yellow is healing, and it is hope and above all, yellow, Percy thinks, is the promise of a good life.
He must have a funny expression on his face, because she pauses mid-sentence and her eyebrows stitch together and she gently cups the side of his face, as if she's afraid to that she would ever be able to hurt him.
"Is it acting up again?" She asks and Percy needs to tell her no, how could it? He's so happy here, so content to lie in her lap and listen to her dream up their future. She is yellow and the intermittent ache of his curse is a deep purple and he could never feel pain; not in her presence. But he doesn’t tell her, because he hopes that if he ignores it long enough she’ll stop wondering if he’s been in any pain at all.
"Just thinking about how much I love you." He says and it seems to satisfy her. She leans down and pecks him on the lips and shows him a second design.
"And this will be our flower garden." She tells him and she's so confident in their life together that it's impossible not to feel giddy with excitement. Her painting has little pink flowers- different shapes and shades, and Percy frowns.
“Why are they all pink?” He asks. Annabeth shrugs.
“Because it’s a nice theme.”
“I like yellow.” Percy tells her. “It’s a far brighter color.”
Annabeth contemplates it, string at the painting like she’s imagining how much time it would take to swap out the pinks for yellows. “I guess some shades of yellow are prettier than pink.” She says.
“And the others?”
“I don’t know. No color’s made up of only the perfect shades, you know?”
Agree to disagree. “Yellow is the most beautiful color in the world.”
Annabeth shrugs. "Probably. I haven’t planned out what flowers we're going to have in there-,”
"How about primroses?" Percy asks. Annabeth doesn't realize why he says it and she doesn't notice where they are. She looks right at him, into his soul and he can tell the universe is falling away around him. He can see her think it- her, and him, and their yellow primrose garden that starts with a seedling and will thrive under their care.
Annabeth is yellow and misery is the stench of spoiled milk.
His back is shooting pain up his spine, thousands of volts of electricity that are frying all his nerves to crisp. There are other pains in his body, too- a jaw clenched too tight and facial muscles spent too long contorted- but they are drowned out by the agony of the curse. Percy doesn’t remember much from the day- doesn’t even realize the day has passed until he hears Annabeth come home from work. He can see her lips moving, see her looking frantically over his body to find the source, and he thinks he’s going to die. He’ll die today and he’ll have never told her that the Curse of Achilles is coming into its own as what it really is- a curse. He’ll die here in her arms and she’ll go her whole life wondering how she’d never known that what made him so strong was also what ended his life. He mouths an apology to her that he knows she won’t understand because his throat is burning and his mortality is wailing too loud to hear anything else.
When it subsides- and it does, eventually, after what might be either minutes or hours, - she is kneeling beside him, her fingers trailing up and down his backbone absently. She’s still in her work clothes, a pastel yellow dress and shoes to match, and her eyes are rimmed red and Percy thinks maybe he’s not the only one hurting. She looks down and meets his eye and he can tell it takes more effort than it should for her to speak,
“Please let someone take a look at you.”
She says it like only Annabeth ever could- firm and hurt and impossibly soft. She reaches over and runs a thumb over his cheek to wipe away a tear Percy hadn’t known was there. His jaw is still clenched and his head is throbbing and the world is burning a horrible, scorching white- but Annabeth’s yellow dress is damp with his tears and her fingers are gentle on his skin and he grasps on to her like he’d done six years ago in a vision at the bottom of a river.
“I can’t.” He tells her and his throat burns. She gives him a smile so sad it could have been her in unimaginable, indescribable pain from the curse of the weight of the world. She shakes her head, and Percy allows himself a moment to be distracted by her blonde hair catches the evening light.
“Please don’t make me come home to this again.” She says. Her voice is only above a whisper and it shakes when she speaks. She gets unsteadily to her feet and her knees are raw from the rug under them. Percy lies there on his back and stares up at the ceiling, the image of his girlfriend’s dress seared into his mind’s eye.
Annabeth comes back and helps him gingerly up, handing him a square of ambrosia and some water. Percy leans against the wall and she rests her head on his shoulder, tangling her fingers in his and they sit there until his breathing becomes more regular and the shocks in his spine begin to dull into a throbbing that he’s conditioned himself to ignore. Annabeth shifts a little beside him and presses her lips to his jaw.
“Talk to me.” She begs, like she’s going to fix this for him. Percy’s jaw clenches again without his consent and he feels her tense ever so slightly under him. He hears her shaky breath but keeps his gaze trained on the foot of their couch. “Okay. Just tell me this.” She says when she realizes he’s not about to answer. “Is it the curse?”
There’s a part of him that wants to be angry with her, a little bit, for thinking she’ll make it better. A part of him who wants to look her in the eye and tell her it’s supposed to be like this. That at sixteen, he’d voluntarily taken on this life, and now it was starting to show him just how much he might have to sacrifice in exchange for invulnerability. Six years ago the future of the world rested on him and he was a soldier in a war and he’d had no choice. The world is at peace for the first time in a long while and Percy has the time to feel the cold purple ache. This is what he’d signed up for when he jumped into the Styx. This is what he’d signed up for when he’d concentrated all of his mortality to a single point in his body, and tethered it to the woman beside him. This pain, he understands, is balance.
But how can Percy ever tell her that? That he loves her and he wanted to save the world for her, that he gave up his only shot of ridding himself of the curse when he turned down true immortality to be with her- that in its barest of forms, she is the physical manifestation of his power and with that, his pain?
“I don’t want to talk about it.” He grumbles and puts an arm around her shoulders, pulling her to his chest and kissing the top of her head. “I love you.”
“Then you’ll tell me if it’s the curse that’s hurting you.”
“It is.” He tells her lightly, like he hasn’t felt like his body’s been slowly corroding this last year, hooking his finger under her chin and tilting her head up until her eyes meet his. She studies him and worries her lip and opens her mouth to speak but Percy cuts her off with a kiss. “And you can’t fix it. Please. Let me do this on my own.”
“We can ask Will. Maybe a mortal doctor. I’ll talk to Apollo himself.” She pleads. Her eyes begin to well with tears and she rests her forehead against his. “Please. Just tell me what’s happening. Let me in, Percy, I’m begging you.”
Percy almost laughs, because that’s the one thing the curse won’t allow- he can’t let anything in. Not a poisoned knife, not a surgical blade, not even the love of his life. He’d dipped the Styx and in doing so, he’d lost what made him most like her. Percy was always going to be just a little bit outside her realm and she’ll never know what he’s going through. She’d picked up, here and there, on his pain on the bad days- but without the curse, she’ll never know that is how his life is meant to be.
Percy bears the curse of Achilles and he is alone in this world. He looks at Annabeth- a delicate, pretty image of all of Percy’s humanity- in her yellow, tear-stained dress and defiant jaw and he knows that her confidence, while admirable, is completely worthless.
This evening, yellow becomes the familiar face of excruciating pain of the chink in his armor, and Percy is almost glad for it. This evening, yellow becomes the closest thing Percy will ever get to his own mortality. And for the moment, it’s enough.
The mortal doctor calls it cauda equina syndrome and recommends surgery, which Percy is immune to. An Apollo medic says it’s possibly because his life force is concentrated in too small a space and recommends waiting it out, which Percy is sure will kill him. The middle ground is a strict diet and regular physiotherapy.
Annabeth’s notes are extensive. She weighs every blueberry and buys every resistance band and she forms a detailed schedule and tacks on sticky notes with extra information. Two hours of physio. A minimum thirty-minute walk. With Annabeth watching his every move, Percy doesn’t miss a day.
By his twenty-third birthday, the pain has dulled into a constant pressure on his lower back, and it’s infinitely more bearable. He might have her to thank for the consistent good days he’s had, but he also knows she’ll just brush it off and say she’s only doing what he’d do for her. His mom bakes him a blue cake with yellow frosting and it’s just about the most delicious thing Percy’s ever eaten. He isn’t thinking, in that moment, about how he can’t eat too much sugar because it could bring his pain back. He takes a third slice because it’s been a while, and Annabeth squeezes his knee under the table.
He looks at her, and then down at the cake, its lemon frosting inviting him to take another bite. Then he raises an eyebrow at her and she shakes her head.
“We could save the cake for next week, sweetheart.” She tells him gently, leaning over and pressing her lips to his cheek. It’s deceptive, Percy thinks bitterly, because it covers up so easily the fact that it’s one day in the entire year, and she won’t let him bend the rules of his dessert ration.
He looks over and sees his mom glance nervously between the two of them, as if waiting for it to blow out of proportion, and that irritates him too. Percy fights back all the things he can say about Annabeth- as if he doesn’t know about her kicking up to three cups of coffee a day- and he has to exercise a fair amount of self-restraint to swallow it down and push away from the table instead.
“Yeah, okay.” He grunts. “Thanks for cake, Mom. I’m going to bed.”
He doesn’t speak to his stepfather, Paul, who he can tell is also skirting around him, and he doesn’t look at Annabeth again. He lies down on his side of the bed and glares up at the ceiling because it isn’t fair that he can’t have a third slice of birthday cake. It’s not fair that he can hear his parents speaking to his girlfriend in low voices, and that he knows they’re worrying over him. It’s not fair that all people seem to do anymore is walk on eggshells around him.
He hears his parents leave and then, later, he feels Annabeth slip under the sheets next to him. She curls up around him, instinctively pressing her body against his back, as if it’s enough anymore to save him from the pain, and she kisses his shoulder lightly.
“I don’t know if you’re awake.” She whispers. “But I love you. I’m sorry, and I love you.”
She means it, he knows. And she means well- Annabeth very rarely looks to bring people down- but it just isn’t enough today. Today he wants outrageous, yellow and blue cake and Annabeth saying that she loves him doesn’t quite make up for the fact that he’ll never be able to eat outrageous, yellow and blue cake to his heart’s content again.
“Okay.” He mumbles and Annabeth presses even closer.
“I was thinking about it.” She says quietly. He feels her finger tracing patterns on his arm. “Maybe we’re looking at this wrong.”
Her voice is soft enough to catch his attention. He looks over his shoulder at her and is almost surprised to see how small she’s starting to seem. For four years he’s lived with her and never noticed until now, when she’s curled up around his back and drowning under his sheets, that her whole face will fit in his palm and her hands are only big enough to keep his mortal spot shielded. There was a time she was taller than him, a time when that made him uncomfortable. It’s worse now, he thinks, when he knows how easily he can crush her and how much more protective of him that’s made her. That’s what he’s been reduced to- Perseus Jackson, Savior of Olympus, now just a fragile snowflake in Annabeth’s hands. His gut twists and his tongue is sour.
“I don’t know, Annabeth,” Percy doesn’t like that his voice harshly cuts through the night the way it does. Maybe if he were breakable at all he wouldn’t have to suffer through the new kind of torture that comes from people working too hard to better his world. “I think there’s only so many ways to look at a slow death through pain from concentrating your entire life force into one singular spot.”
He expects her to be angry. He’d be angry. Hell, he is angry. He’s angry all the time and there’s not enough physio in the world that will make it go away.
“This isn’t working.” Annabeth tells him and Percy rolls over to face her. For a moment he thinks she’s leaving him and the first emotion he’s able to process is frustration. “This diet and physio routine. You’re not happy like this.”
Percy’s window for happiness passed a long time ago but he chooses not to say that yet. Annabeth combs her fingers through his hair and cups the side of his face in her palm and searches his face and he sees no sign of the impatient, petulant brat he’d traveled across the country with over a decade ago. She’s a woman now, he thinks. Still stubborn and still yellow like the sun shining into his home for the first time- but gone are the unnecessary arguments and the obsessive need to be right. She’s become someone who loves him, cares for him, works to manage his pain- and almost nothing else. Guilt begins to rise in his throat but she cuts off his flow of thought.
“I was thinking,” She says quietly. “You’re a warrior. This- this isn’t the life for you.”
“You’re a warrior too.” Percy points out, but she shakes her head.
“I’m an architect.” She says. “I think you need an outlet. I was thinking we could go check out Clarisse’s boxing gym. We’ll get Will to come with us, see if we can set up a more… fulfilling routine.”
She’s careful not to say aggressive, but Percy hears it. Like he’s come to learn of her, Annabeth can tell when things are wrong. She’d known about the back problem before he told her, and she knows about the anger festering now. She looks at her with large hopeful eyes and Percy shrugs his shoulders.
“Fine. We’ll give it a try.”
Just what anyone with chronic pain wants to do. Exert himself and risk setting off the pain again. He wants to be angrier with her, wants to hold on to the fact that it doesn’t change that he doesn’t get to eat his own birthday cake, but Annabeth smiles softly and presses a kiss to his nose and he’s becoming too tired to fight- her, the pain or the Fates who’d dictated he go through this- he doesn’t know.
“I love you.” She tells him.
Percy closes his eyes and dreams of lemon cake and everything he lost when he survived his dip in the Styx.
“What’s your most vivid memory?”
Annabeth doesn’t answer immediately. A shadow passes over her face and Percy knows that she’s thinking of something she doesn’t quite want to get into just yet. She meets his eye and bites her lip. Just as she knows Percy, he knows Annabeth. He can see her thinking how she knows he’s seen her expression, how she has no choice but to come out with the truth now. She can see her desperately trying to find the fine line between truth and lie- enough that he won’t press further.
“The world exploding under my feet.” She says. “What’s yours?”
You. “Something similar.”
Annabeth frowns. “Liar.”
“I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”
His girlfriend leans her back against the wall and stretches out her legs and takes a sip of water from his bottle. It’s lime green and sticks out against her all-black get up. Around them, the gym is alive with strained grunts and breathless panting and coaches calling words of encouragement and Lizzo playing on the speakers- but it doesn’t matter because Percy is sitting with Annabeth on the floor and his anger is ebbing and his back doesn’t bear the weight of an infinity anymore. It’s been three weeks since his last truly Bad day and he is almost happy.
“Fine.” Annabeth tells him. She reaches out and slides her hand into his. “Just before Mount St. Helens, when you…” she trails off and swallows thickly. Percy can see her eyes glaze over like they do before she cries and braces himself, but she fixes her gaze on where Clarisse is talking to a client and keeps going. “I, um- I almost came back. For you. I did, actually- but by the time I got out of the Labyrinth, the volcano had exploded. I… I had to run.”
Percy barely remembers the event himself. He stares at her. “I remember seeing this bright yellow. Yellow, and orange, and red- and it was hot. And I almost froze. All I could think was that there was no way you’d made it, and that I’d left you for dead. There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky and the air smelled like burning rubber. The walls shook and a part of it collapsed around me. It sounded like the end of times.”
“I remember that my chest hurt. I remember that my heart dropped to my toes and the ground seemed non-existent. I remember that I was crying, that I wanted to throw myself in there just on the off-chance I’d find your body.” Annabeth’s voice drops to a whisper and tears are forming in her eyes. “I remember that it felt like I lost… everything.”
Percy is quiet for a long time and she squeezes his hand in hers and rests her head on his shoulder. “Your turn.”
How is he supposed to follow that up? Her most vivid memory is the worst thing she’d done. Percy’s most vivid memory is the best thing that’s ever happened to him. Does it say more about him or her? He rubs his thumb over her knuckles and brings it up to his lips. Her skin is cool, unbruised, soft- beside his own calloused hands.
“I remember you.” He tells her and she raises an eyebrow, her lips tugging up at the edges.
“I hope so. I’m sitting right here in front of you.”
“No. I remember you.” Percy repeats, a little more forceful, afraid that if she doesn’t hear it might not ring as true. “When I was drowning in the Styx. I was burning away and, I saw you. I remembered you, and then I remembered why I couldn’t let myself get swept away in the current.”
Annabeth’s lips are parted and her eyes wide, and when she doesn’t say anything Percy continues on. “When I, uh- when I have bad days, I try to think of that.” He says. “Your face. We’re fifteen years old and madly in love and too scared to do anything about it, and you- you’ll smile at me and offer me a hand and I’ll think- nothing can hurt us. I remember that you will always have my back, that you will always be there to bail me out. That’s what keeps me going, a lot of the times.”
Annabeth is crying then. She doesn’t say anything, just rests her head on Percy’s chest and sobs a little bit. He holds her delicately and wonders why he can’t feel the same emotions. He presses a kiss to her crown and catches Clarisse beckoning for him to get geared up.
“It’s practice time.” He whispers into her hair, blonde and soft and citrusy.
“Okay.” Annabeth tells him without letting him go.
“Think that means you have to let go, baby.”
“I don’t want to.” She mumbles into his t-shirt.
“On the bright side you get to watch me kick Clarisse’s ass.” He smiles and Annabeth releases him.
He reaches out and tugs at a single strand of her hair, marveling at the way it straightens out for a second and then springs back into large curls. He gets to his feet and she follows him to the ring and leans against the beam as she puts on his mouthguard and gloves.
He kisses her temple and his mind drifts back to the explosion at Mount St. Helens, of the explosion of icy blue around him and the marked lack of a warm colour before the world went black. Percy wonders if Annabeth sees the scariest moment of her life when he sees yellow.
“Is it my fault?” She asks then, catching him by surprise. He frowns at her.
“Is what your fault?”
“The pain.” Her voice shakes and then fresh tears form. “It’s my fault.”
Percy is feeling good enough about the pain that he can tell her no, that she must be nuts to think he’ll ever blame her. He wishes she never spoke it into the world, never let that one idea start to settle in his cruel mind, because now he’ll think about it more. It will be as untrue tomorrow as it is today, but he can’t be certain he’ll be the same.
Percy has learned to drown out the nagging voice in his head, but now his girlfriend only seems to confirm it. His pain comes from centering his entire life on his weak spot- and he’d just confessed to her that she was his weak spot. Her tears aren’t her being sentimental- they’re tears of heartbreak, he realizes. She knows it’s a little bit on her, even if it’s unwittingly, and Percy cannot honestly tell her he’ll always want to dispute it.
“What do you think of when I say yellow?” He asks her and she frowns at him. He shakes his head. “Just answer me. What do you think of when I say yellow?”
Annabeth closes her eyes and her eyebrows stitch together in concentration.
“The world, on fire.”
It’s a bad day and it’s bad for no real reason. Maybe he got out of bed a little too fast. Maybe he bent to grab the pineapple juice from the lowest rack at an awkward angle. It’s a bad day and Percy is screaming and writhing in pain and Annabeth waits with him and he’s able to admit to himself that he resents her for it.
The worst part is this: that he can think at all while he suffers.
It was easier when he blacked out. Easier when the agony was too much and he couldn’t focus on anything else. Now his brain has adjusted. He sees her, now. Feels her rubbing soothing circles on his hand and sees the calmness in her face and hears the words, it’s going to be okay, sweetheart, we’ll get through this I promise, over and over again.
Percy sees her, living and pain-free and he resents her for it. He want to ask her what she thinks he goes through on days like these. She can be comfortable in his misery- she’s stopped watching him at boxing matches, and when the anger becomes too much, she leaves him some space. She’s drawing away, just a little bit, moving maybe one step forward in her life and even though her hand is still firmly in his, Percy thinks that it just isn’t fair.
She’ll run her hand through his hair again and kiss his forehead and tell him she’ll stand by him every step of the way. She’ll wear that golden smile and have a twinkle in her eye when she says the future can always be better and Percy is so, so sick of it. He catches a glimpse of his pineapple juice, still sitting untouched on his bedside table, and he wishes yellow wouldn’t be so bright sometimes.
Another jolt rocks his spine and his body jerks and he feels a fresh fever coming on that he’s become so accustomed to. The mortal parts- his organs, his muscles and cells are under too much stress from the curse and now Percy is in pain and he is feverish and he’s almost ready for the convulsions and the fatigue that comes after. He shivers, and Annabeth already has the blankets ready. A strip of Ibuprofen sits on the table tells him she’s ready for the fever, too. Percy wishes he can choke out an apology, but speaking will mean releasing his jaw, and that tension is the only thing standing between sanity and agony.
Annabeth is still talking to him, telling him nothing and everything about her day, hoping to keep him distracted from misery. The morning sun catches her hair and he sees the hollows of her cheeks and the paleness in her skin and he sees her for the first time through the eyes of the curse. She’s been getting smaller and smaller until her wrists are only bones, and the bags under her eyes are the only colour on her face. Her eyes seem eternally puffy and her shoulders forever drooping and Percy thinks it’s silly to be jealous of her when she’s going through a different cycle of pain herself.
It’s not like he can pretend he doesn’t know what she does. He can tell that she stays up with him on bad nights and stays up some more on good nights just in case he needs her. He knows she’s cutting back to three-day weeks at work and that she hasn’t had a day to herself in years. And maybe, Percy thinks, it’s his fault. Maybe he should feel some guilt over what he’s done to her, what he’s putting her through- but he can’t; not now. Not anymore.
Percy can feel pain in his spine, and Percy can feel the rage of Achilles in his blood- but he’s too tired now, to worry about Annabeth. He’s too tired to worry at all. He sees the bruising in her arms again and all he can feel is anger at her. Anger, for putting herself in this position in the first place. Anger, for making him worry when he simply doesn’t have it in him anymore. Anger, for being his anchor to this world and forcing him to suffer through his mortality for it.
Percy is angry, angry, angry- and the angrier he becomes, the worse the pain gets. He looks at Annabeth and wishes she’d be gone and he hates himself for it.
“You’ll pull through.” She’s telling him and he nearly breaks.
She doesn’t understand that Percy’s brain is being fried and his bones are melting and he can barely bring himself to breathe- and yet, because the punishment never ends, he’s allowed to be present and to think. He gasps for air and she helps him up and gives him a sip of water and Percy hates her for it. Let me die, he wants to tell her. For the sake of anything that you hold sacred, let me fucking die.
But Annabeth is yellow and she believes in a brighter future with children and primrose gardens, so she’ll make him live through today, and then the next, and then the one after that. She’ll do it like she’s doing now, like she’s always done- a brave face and relaxed muscles, like this is just another impossible puzzle she’ll be able to solve if she just keeps a cool head and reasons it out. His temperature rises and she gives him a pill and she closes her eyes and it looks, for a second, like she might be praying.
I love you, he thinks when Annabeth dabs at his forehead and wraps him snugly in their duvet. He loves her more than words can ever convey- but lately, between the pain he’s in and the pain he’s causing her, he thinks it’s becoming steadily more difficult to like her.
He doesn’t know how long he stays there, mind trapped outside his body, but eventually the light fades and the pain subsides and when he comes to, Annabeth isn’t beside him. The clock shows that it’s three in the morning and he hears sniffling from their bathroom and when he walks over and presses his ear against the door, he identifies the unmistakable sound of his girlfriend hyperventilating. There’s muffled sobs and sniveling and gasping for breaths and Percy’s muscles are exhausted and the nerves down his spine are burned and he is so, intolerably tired from always hurting.
He leaves her there goes back to sleep and it’s easier than he’d like to admit to forget he ever knew about it.
Percy loves her.
He repeats it in his mind over and over again like a mantra- and maybe the first sign that something’s wrong is if you have to keep reminding yourself that it isn’t- but Percy really does love Annabeth. He loves her and that will be enough. It has to be- love is all he has to offer. Annabeth has loved him through his best days and despite his worst days. He should be able to return the favor, but she walks into their flat in a yellow rain jacket and she asks him how he’s doing and the full force of the reality of the situation hits Percy.
Because Annabeth is outside, working and running errands and living the life they’d dreamed of while Percy is stuck with one foot in the world of the gods and the other rooted in the worst parts of mortality. There’s a bitter taste in his mouth and he knows that he’s pulling a face at her when she notices. She drops her bags and rushes over to him and she’s already saying, baby, are you okay? Is it your back?
“No.” Percy says through gritted teeth and he’s happy to leave it at that, but Annabeth likes to push.
“Will you tell me what’s wrong?” She asks gently.
“I’m okay.” He insists. He’s not about to be if she keeps pressing.
He sees a flash of irritation but she won’t bite. Either she can sense he’s looking for a fight or she’s trying to be gentle with him because she thinks it’s the pain talking. Both ways, he catches a glimpse of her- the Annabeth that he’d fallen for because she was the first to treat him like he was normal- and his throat closes up. She’s in there somewhere, he thinks. The girl he loves is in there and Percy can’t go on much longer without her.
“Did you go to the gym today?” She asks. For Annabeth, making sure Percy gets to the gym is like taking the easily excitable, rabid dog out for a walk. She’s really asking, did you wear yourself out enough to forget about the stabbing pain of your back?
“Yeah.” Fuck you, Percy thinks savagely. Fuck you, for being so calm when my world is on fire. Fuck you, for ruining what yellow once stood for. Fuck you, for not knowing what I have to deal with.
He takes a deep breath and Annabeth hesitates. She studies his face, searches for any sign that he isn’t coping, for an excuse to fob him off to a doctor or an Apollo kid and call it a night. But pain is manageable now and it must show on his face because her frown deepens and her shoulders relax.
“Okay.” She says, unsure of herself. Unsure of what to make of him. Okay, Percy agrees. She’ll leave him alone. She goes about putting away the fruits and cans and a surge of white-hot anger whizzes up his spine.
“I’m destroying you.” He says before he can think about it. He’s destroying her and she’s destroying him and the bond that the Styx had forged between them is destroying them.
Annabeth sticks her head out of the kitchen and when she realizes he isn’t joking, she makes her way back into the living room and sits down on the couch beside him. She’s still wearing that yellow jacket and he notices it.
“What do you mean, Percy?” She asks him in that infuriatingly quiet way that she’s adapted and Percy wants to rip his hair out.
“I mean,” He spits. He doesn’t mean to sound so venomous but he can’t bear it for one moment longer. “I am ruining you. And it’s kind of pathetic that you’ll let me.”
“You’re not ruining anyone.” Annabeth says and she’s calm again in the way he knows will only last until he’s asleep and she has an empty bathroom to cry in.
“Either you’re turning a blind eye to it or you’re actually deluded.” Percy snaps. “Look at yourself. You’re weak, and tired and you look like you’re going through hell and you’re not even the one in pain. You shouldn’t be here.”
Annabeth looks at him and her expression is unreadable. When she speaks her voice trembles. “You don’t get to tell me where I should and shouldn’t be.” She says and she gets to her feet.
Percy thinks she’s going to argue, at long last they’ll fight once over everything that’s festered between them for nine years that always seemed too delicate to talk about for as long as the Pain still existed. He squares his shoulders and sets his jaw and then she walks back into the kitchen.
“That’s it?” He asks, getting to his feet and following after her.
“What do you want me to say?” Annabeth asks, not even bothering to stop setting away the strawberries to face him. “Percy, I know this isn’t ideal, but we’ve got each other and-”
“No, we don’t.” Percy cuts her off and she pauses, one hand on the refrigerator handle, but she doesn’t turn around. Maybe it’s this- that Percy doesn’t see her expression- that gives him the courage to say what he does. “You keep saying that- that we have each other. Like fuck we do. You don’t know the first thing I’m going through. This isn’t an us thing. It’s a me thing that you’ve just weaseled your way into and now you’re hurt and somehow it’s my fault.”
Annabeth finally stops to look at him and he feels like he’s just punched himself in the gut. Her eyes are red against the dark circles and her lips tremble when she speaks and he cannot believe how dainty she is. He loves her, he reminds himself. Which means he doesn’t really want to snap her in half. It doesn’t make holding himself back any easier.
“I can make an appointment with Dr. Jones.” She says softly. “If it’s getting worse, we can talk to her and form a better rout-”
“It’s not about the fucking routine!” Percy shouts and it’s the first time he’s ever raised his voice. Annabeth doesn’t recoil and she doesn’t get angry. She stands there- hollow and lifeless- wearing an expression of pity, and hot, angry tears sting at Percy’s eyes. It’s not about the routine, it’s about this. He isn’t strong enough to care for her and she won’t even see that. “I don’t even need you here. You need you here. You would’ve left years ago if you had anywhere to go but you don’t so you’re trapped here and I’m not even worth it.”
The only good thing about his words is that Annabeth isn’t vacant anymore. She looks at him like he’s struck her across the face and her eyes start to water. She takes a step away from him and her back hits the fridge door and Percy isn’t sure she even notices. Her lips are parted ever so slightly and her eyes blink rapid fast like she’s trying to stop herself from crying. Her voice barely works, and it’s only because of eleven years of knowing her that Percy can read her lips when she mouths,
“What do you want me to do?”
Stay. He wants her to stay despite the hurt they both feel but he’s tired of feeling pain, and he’s tired of feeling guilt. He needs her like the Earth needs the sun and if she were to stop shining overhead he’ll never recover. His heart understands that- his brain does too- but then he sees her in her jacket, and he thinks maybe she didn’t shuck it off because she knew it was going to be a short trip. He sees her, her shoulders too small for a yellow jacket she’d bought only six months ago, her hands always trembling and her hair that hasn’t been cut in months, and he thinks, look what I’ve done to you.
“You should leave.”
She doesn’t argue, and thank god for that because Percy doesn’t have the energy to explain himself, so he leans against the kitchen counter and watches her pick up her phone and her car keys and absolutely nothing else before she leaves.
Sunlight pours in through the kitchen window and a bag of jellybeans lies on the counter with the rest of the groceries and a yellow dress, fresh from the dry cleaners’, is draped over the dining chair and it doesn’t make a difference because the door clicks shut behind a girl with blonde hair and a golden smile and Pandora’s jar shatters to pieces in the middle of their home.
Anger and heartache and loneliness are the color of dusk and he wishes night time would never end. Tomorrow the sun will come up- pink, then orange, then yellow, and it will shine like it did this morning and Percy won’t survive its warmth.
The pain is unimaginable and without Annabeth the current will wash him away. His grip on the kitchen counter tightens until his knuckles are white- white like the pain in his back and white like the void in his life and he knows that he deserves it now. He’d taken a sledgehammer to his own home and now Annabeth is gone and the dust has settled and he looks in the rubble but there’s no anger, no frustration, no bitterness left.
Percy leans his head against the kitchen counter and he cries. He cries because he’s only just a boy who’s lost everything, and he cries because having it all didn’t help either. Annabeth is gone and he could tell by the expression on her face that he’d crossed a line somewhere and living is worse now.
He spends the night curled up in his sheets and thinking about how she looked when she left and he finds herself agreeing with her; yellow sets the world on fire.
Chapter 2: to make a rainbow
Annabeth likes to dance.
On Saturday nights, when she’s two glasses of wine into her bottle, she’ll sometimes feel confident enough to play Van Morisson just so she can pull Percy to his feet and hold his hands on her hips while she sways them quietly around their living room. She’s graceful in her movements where he is jerky and stiff. In the fiery glow of the sunset, a soft orange halo will light up her hair and her skin will turn bronze and she will look as she is, eternal in her mortality.
Percy wakes up to a cold bed and the beginnings of twilight and it’s a good thing he was asleep through the day so he never had to see how ugly the sun can be. The evening is pleasant and the city is alive outside their apartment and the pain in his back is nothing to the one in his chest. The Fates are watching over him, laughing , at the irony of how his only relief comes from a pain impossibly worse . Poor Percy Jackson , they’ll cackle among themselves. Poor Percy Jackson, stupid enough to think he’ll outsmart a curse .
He rolls out of bed and looks out of the window. People are walking into cafés and driving back home from work and the Earth hasn’t stopped spinning. There are couples that are falling in love right now, for whom this will be the single greatest moment in their lives that they will celebrate it forever. Children are being born, families coming together, celebrations being had. Where the skies should be blood red and the ground scorching hot there, there is a beautiful orange sunset shining over the rare patches of green grass and it isn’t fair .
Percy’s hands, his face and his chest; his entire life is ablaze, and the world does not burn.
He looks back at the bed, his side a mess and hers as neatly made as it was last morning, and thinks of a promise made in a bubble at the bottom of a lake. All of themselves to each other- a promise to be better, be gentle and kind, be honest and open; to love and to be loved and to stay . For seven years they’d held on, terrified teenagers clutching each other with all they had, for all they had, and they had stayed.
She’ll come back. He’s so sure of it he spends half an hour watching the door. She’ll come back and they’ll hold each other and in two days, when the weekend comes around, she’ll pour herself five-dollar wine and dance around the living room and they’ll be in love once again, whatever that means anymore.
She’ll come back- out of habit, pride, stupidity and that unshakeable hopefulness that has become almost all of who she is. There’s a promise somewhere to be kept and neither of them are ready, yet, to let go. She’ll come back and it won’t be enough anymore because they know. They know now that there are things she can do to push him over the edge and that there are words he can say to push her out the door, and the love underneath it all is simply not strong enough to push them forward anymore.
His back is relaxed when he bends over to pick some orange juice out of the fridge. He watches it pour out of the carton and into his glass, pale and the colour of candlelight, and he lets himself, just for a moment, be distracted by it. The air is too thick to breathe and his ribs threaten to either cave in or explode and it feels like he’s woken up with a limb missing from his body- so for just one moment, he lets himself exist in a world where he is alone with a juice carton and a shade of orange he’d gone his entire life not appreciating.
There’s a moping allowance, he’s sure, for people who have just had a blanket of unwavering love and support ripped away from them. Percy is well within his limits to treat himself to one of her bath bombs and a long bath, and finally gets around to fixing the shelf on her dresser like she’d been asking for months now.
Her clothes are still there- every single top, shoe and dress accounted for except what she had on last night. He tries not to pay any attention- to the cashmere sweaters, the vanilla fabric softener, the greens and blues and pinks- as he moves them out of his way and dumps them on the bed. He almost gets away with it, too- until in the corner of his eye, he notices it. Dry-cleaned and steamed and hanging on the rack. Pale yellow, the colour of custard and everything sweet; pale yellow, the colour of a day he barely remembers, of Percy’s tear stains and white-hot pain. He’s so distracted by it, he slams the hammer down on his own hand. He blinks down at his fingers- smooth, unscathed- barely able to register that it should have hurt him.
It should have hurt him.
He frowns. That is the beginning and that is the end and that is everything in the middle- his hand should hurt right now, but it doesn’t. He pictures it for a second- a panicked cry and a throbbing ache- broken knuckles and bruising delicate skin. Sharp pain that will dull over time until there’s none at all. It’s an unusual dream to have, to want to be hurt a little bit every day, but Percy has never been conventional.
He sits there, staring at his skin, unmarred and smooth until he hears keys in the front door. Waits for it to creak open and the familiar footsteps sound against the wooden floor and eventually, he feels her presence at the door frame. Percy can’t bring himself to look at her yet, not when he’s still mourning the things they’ve lost to the fire, so he focuses on the shelf. She’s here , he thinks and it makes it worse. She’s here, and the flames only burn brighter .
In his peripheral he sees her lean against the door and her hesitation is palpable. It’s okay , he wants to tell her. There’s nothing you have to say. There’s nothing you can say .
She stands on the other end of the room and an eternity keeps them apart. Percy slouches over, the way that usually eases his discomfort; he slouches over, the way he can when she’s near him. There is no relief for him now. The blanket has been ripped off of him and the world is cold the way it is scorching hot and even Annabeth coming back is not enough to save him from the pain.
“You’re fixing it.” She observes when the silence starts to suffocate them. Her voice is weak and he can tell, even without looking at her, that she’d spent a fair portion of the day crying. “I’ve been asking for months.”
“Where were you last night?” Percy ignores her. There’s a pause, and she’s thinking the same thing he is- nobody would have her.
“I have always been fine on my own.” Her response is measured and her voice is level and her words are untrue.
Percy sorts through her dresser and his hand lands on a familiar t-shirt. Carefully, he extracts it from underneath the neatly folded running shorts and examines it. In dark black letters, he knows it reads CAMP HALF-BLOOD, SUMMER 2009, and coloured Sharpie ink marks every inch of the orange cloth. He traces his finger along the writing on his collar. Dear Percy, can’t wait to see you next year! Miss you already. Love, Silena .
He finds it in himself to finally look up and meet Annabeth’s gaze. Her lips are puffy and her eyes swollen and her nose red, but she gives him the faintest smile and he doesn’t understand.
“Why do you have this?” He asks and she shrugs her shoulders.
“Everyone needs a reminder of home at some point.”
This is a terrible reminder. It was the last time he’d let his friends sign his t-shirt. After the battle of Manhattan, the orange was tainted with blood and the tradition made him sick in his stomach. He’d left it in Cabin Three for the harpies to eat. He looks at it now and he doesn’t see blood anymore. He sees the names of friends , not the dead. He looks at the t-shirt and he sees home. Maybe it’s a reminder he needs.
A vivid memory floats to mind now; Annabeth on her knees, pen cap between her teeth and frown on her face while she scrawled a long letter over his hip- and without thinking, Percy turns the material over until he finds the familiar scribbles.
Dear Seaweed Brain , it reads and Percy runs his finger over the wording. I know things have been a little rough, but always remember that you’ve always got a place here with
me us. It’s going to be so boring without my best friend around, but you still owe me a movie and McDonald’s so I know I’ll see you soon. Don’t be too much of an idiot without me. Love always, Annabeth .
She’d worked on it for ages (‘Percy stop moving it’s going to smudge!’) and he’d never found the strength to read it the whole way through. She was so bossy. He was madly in love with her. Home , he repeats, and is surprised when he notices a single wet patch just under her name. Percy’s vision blurs for a moment and he realises he’s crying. A terrible reminder, he thinks again. And just the kind he needs.
“Thank you.” He manages.
Annabeth doesn’t say anything, simply walks over and crawls into his lap. He rests her head on her chest and she plays with her hair and that is everything they can ever say to each other. His life began when he met her and it ended long before he lost her, but he is grateful to have her. To have someone to grab on to, someone who won’t let him get washed away by the current. She presses her lips to the top of his head and she lets him cry into her clothes.
He cries a lot. Cries for his friends who aren’t here and cries for a life he might have had. He cries because he is always in pain and he cries because he knows, somewhere, that Annabeth is too- and it’s his fault. There’s no way to tell how long they sit there, a broken man and his last hope, holding each other for all they’re worth. When his breathing stabilises, she kisses him gently over each eye and runs her thumb over his brows and steps away to order them some dinner.
Percy looks down at his t-shirt and he thinks maybe orange is a pretty neat colour, too.
The break up comes in a moment of pure, golden clarity.
The sun- it is important where the sun is- is directly overhead and it’s a sweltering afternoon. Percy and Annabeth have crawled out of their window and are perched on the ledge outside, their legs dangling over the busy streets of Manhattan while they share a single cigarette. Her hair catches the light in a brilliant glimmer and her skin burns a pale pink. She takes a long drag from the burn and exhales it into the first day of spring.
“I don’t know what I’m doing anymore.” She admits and it is as good as goodbye.
Percy almost doesn’t answer. He waits for a while to see what she’ll say next- if she would, perhaps, feel the same kind of loss he feels now, strong enough for her to take back her words. She lets it lie there between them for long enough that he no longer knows how to react. He takes a slow puff of cigarette and breathes it out through his teeth, studying the butt before snuffing it out on the brick wall of their building. He watches the light leave it, gold turning to ash between his fingers.
“Neither do I.” He tells her.
She reaches over and takes his hand in both of hers, running her thumbs over the back of his palm. He refuses to look at her, choosing instead to lean his head back against the window. Who will say it first, he wonders. They haven’t worked together for a while now. He is angry and she is a coward; they never stood a chance.
“When you were…” She trails off and she is quiet for a long time before she speaks again. “When you were in the Styx, and you… what does that mean? For you? For us ?”
The thing is, it isn’t fair. Percy knows that it isn’t fair at all for him to blame her. She has been supportive and patient with him for years. The Fates smiled upon him when they led him to her. Annabeth, with a smile like liquid gold and sunshine in her step- she is his blessing. A benevolence by the gods above, a once in a lifetime friend, lover and soulmate. She is his very own miracle; and he’d given her up a long time ago.
“I think it means I chose to carry this burden.” Percy says. “And you didn’t.”
Annabeth is silent and he thinks she might be crying. His favourite person in the entire world is probably crying, his hand in both of hers, and he cannot bring himself to look at her. Her thumbs stop moving over his skin. Time freezes for just one moment around them, his golden eyes wicked and his bronze scythe raised right above their heads.
“I don’t want you to carry this on your own.” Her voice is watery. “I love you too much to let you do this alone.”
Percy mulls that over for a moment. His mind drifts a little, to how you can’t look at a god when they take their true form- the power would kill you instantly. He thinks his relationship with Annabeth is a little bit like that. They are too deeply in love, their destinies too entangled with the other’s; together, they are maybe too powerful- and he’s afraid that looking in any deeper will incinerate them both.
“I think I resent that.” He admits. He feels her look up at him and lets his eyes flutter shut. The afternoon is far too peaceful for this conversation. He almost appreciates it.
“Me?” She asks meekly, and they both know the answer. He nods his head slightly.
“I think I hate that you love me.” He tells her and her hands draw away from him like he’d burned her. He tries to ignore the way his chest shivers when he speaks. “I think I hate that I love you a little more.”
Annabeth sits with him in silence. He hears her lighting up another cigarette but doesn’t offer it to him. They both exist in that sphere for as long as they can. Annabeth smokes and Percy dreams. His back aches and her heart breaks, but neither of them are ready yet to break out of there. Percy tries to imagine a home in Queens, built from scratch of brick and stone. A manicured lawn out front and a garden of glittering, golden flowers around the back. He imagines for a moment, coming home to a stunning wife and two precious children, her smile that outshines the sun. It’s a memory. A memory of a dream, a memory of a future he will never have because it is cracking right down the middle now.
“You never needed me.” Annabeth says finally. It’s not so much a confession as the final nail in the coffin. “You were right. I have always needed you more.”
“Where did you stay?” He asks her in earnest and forces himself to open his eyes. Annabeth burns such a bright gold- she will char when she leaves. It takes him five weeks and three days to ask her about the last time they spent a night apart. “When we...”
Her smile is small and shy. “I have plenty of experience being homeless.”
“You slept on a bench?”
“Subway station.” She admits, a blush creeping up on her cheeks.
She doesn’t feel sorry for herself, just embarrassed, he thinks, that she had nowhere else to go. How can Percy leave her now, one young woman in this large, cruel world? How will he live with himself knowing he’s left her for the wolves; New York is full of wolves.
“I can afford an apartment, I think.” She reads his mind- it makes her more powerful than any god on Olympus. Her fingers find his forehead and she runs her thumbs over his eyebrows, smoothing out his frown. “Don’t look so worried, Jackson. I’m a big girl.”
There is a fond smile on her lips and tears in her eyes and he never wants to let go.
“Stay with me.” He says. Stay with me , he begs. Her lower lip trembles and neither of them know a world without the other. She starts to shake her head and desperate panic rises in his throat. He thinks of the way they fought. He thinks of how much he wanted to be rid of her. “Please. Stay- stay here. With me. In our room. In our bed. Please don’t leave me.”
“I love you.” She tells him once more. Once more, he doesn’t say it back.
Percy reaches for her hips and pulls her to him, pulls until she gets the hint and climbs onto his lap. He buries his face in her hair and presses his lips to her bare shoulder. The word end floats to mind and he pushes it away, his hand sneaking under her tank top and resting flat against her stomach. Her fingers find his hair, curling into them while her lips drop kisses along his forehead. She leans her cheek against the top of his head and holds his face as close to her chest as she can.
“I love you.” She says one final time.
She doesn’t wait for an answer, untangling herself from him and crawling back into their apartment. Percy sits outside and looks out onto the street below him. He hears her moving about in their home and sees her leave the building with a single backpack. She’ll come back, he assumes, for her things when she has somewhere to put them. She’ll come back, but he knows now that there is no space for her to stay. His gaze follows her as she walks down the street, follows her when she stops, as if she can feel her on him. She hesitates, her body turned towards him at an uncomfortable angle, and then decides against the last look, ducking her head and briskly walking off into the busy streets.
Percy imagines Kronos laughing at him from the pits of Tartarus and it feels like maybe time had won the war ten years later. He drags himself back into his apartment, now cold and unfeeling, and loses his life to the golden god anyway.
There are different kinds of pain Percy feels on his back, and without the overpowering glare of yellow in his life, he can name them better. There is a dull, grey pain; the kind he lives with every day that he’s learned to drown out. There is a red; which comes about every week and aches and hurts and it makes him very crabby- but it’s something that he can manage. The purple pain is worse, significantly so. Every so often he feels it swallow him in, close out the light until there is only him and his curse and no escape. The white hot pain- that is the rarest of them all, and a sensation too intense for him to even think about.
Purple is a colour Percy generally associates with hurt. Today it is anything but.
It has been nearly half a year since she moved out, but already they fall into an old pattern. It’s not the first time he’s seen her since then, but every time he looks at her she looks brand new. She stands at his door in a black dress, her lips stained like wine in the night and she is made of nothing but magic.
“I was in the neighbourhood.” She says by means of explanation.
“On a date?” He asks, holding the door open for her to walk in.
“I bailed last minute.” She confesses. There are no secrets to be kept between them. She looks around the apartment, reacquainting herself with what the walls look like when they aren’t covered with photos of them. She sits down on the couch unceremoniously, and for only one second, it fools him into thinking they are comfortable around each other. “It feels like I’m never going to be ready for this.”
“Why’d you agree in the first place?” He asks. Annabeth shakes her head.
“I don’t know. I just- Silena would always say the only way to get over someone was to get over them, you know?” She says. “And I… I realised I don’t want to get over you yet. I don’t want to get over us .”
Percy doesn’t respond. He brings her a glass of water and sits down beside her. He leans all the way back and she sits on the very edge of her seat. He loves her and she loves him and there is a chance they’ll never break out of the bubble they created for themselves at the bottom of the lake. Annabeth looks up at him then, takes in every part of his face like she is seeing him for the first time as well, and her eyes begin to well up. Regret paints her features- that soft, beautiful face of hers- a lifeless, sickly mauve and he knows what’s coming before she can bring the words out.
“Do you ever think-?”
“No.” Percy lies through gritted teeth. He doesn’t want her to say it, doesn’t want the option of regretting it. He doesn’t have the luxury of dwelling on what could have been. “I think this is how it’s meant to be.”
Annabeth’s shoulders droop and she closes her mouth. Percy doesn’t know why he does it- he reaches out and tucks her hair behind her ear and lets his hand hover over her neck. He debates pulling her into him for a minute, for no reason other than the familiarity of her body on his, and then decides against it. He drops his hand and she almost seems disappointed.
“What have you been doing?” She asks, and he tries to absorb just how deeply he loves her in that moment.
“My back’s been giving me some grief.” He tells her. It’s so easy to tell her.
There is no pity in the way she regards him, only worry. How had her concern for him turned so ugly? He swallows back the apology- the confession- that rises in his throat. All they do is hurt each other. Annabeth, he knows, is a little too desperate to reach out to him. She refuses to see the damage he is capable of, not unlike she’d done with Luke so many years ago. She’ll let him hurt her over and over again, and Percy can’t be entirely sure he won’t do it. She is frangible and his strength is intense still.
“I’m sorry.” She whispers. “I wish there was something I could do for you.”
You can kiss me now , he thinks. You can hold my head to your chest and stay the night, and- maybe his back won’t be better, but the world might stop aching. He meets her gaze and knows she’s thinking the same thing. Lone children with nothing to hold on to but each other; too stubborn to find the grace in being lost. She leans over to him then, hesitant, careful, and kisses his jaw.
Her breath is cool against his searing skin, her touch delicate as a butterfly’s wing and he shouldn’t have turned his head. He shouldn’t have caught her between his own lips, shouldn’t have let his eyes shut or let himself give into her heady kiss. The world is a blur, and what starts off slow and comfortable evolves quickly into frantic and desperate, because that’s what they are. Percy knows all the ways to touch her, his hands at home against her bare skin. They come together so easily, so perfectly. Her legs fit themselves on either side of his hip, her tongue familiar against his teeth, her weight against his an intimate memory.
Percy doesn’t know how they end up the way they do, sprawled under his sheets with nothing between his chest and hers. The part of him that is sharply aware that they are not together anymore- the part that knows he can have her now and push her away after, the selfish, twisted part of him that wants to be as close as he can to Annabeth - tells him it’s alright to hold on to her a little bit tighter to her, pull on her hair a little bit harder and kiss her with a little bit more teeth.
Annabeth’s legs hook around his waist and he rolls onto her, careful not to crush her under his weight as he kisses down her neck hungrily. They might not be each other’s anymore, but he is hers and she is his, and he feels no guilt at all about sucking and kissing and biting on her neck until it starts to bruise. Annabeth’s hand comes up gently on his shoulder and he pulls away to find her frowning at him.
“What are you doing, baby?” She asks softly.
Her blonde hair is splayed out on his pillow, her cheeks flushed a rosy pink and a large, purple bruise is beginning to form on her slender, porcelain neck. He tries to explain himself, explain this hunger that’s come over him- he needs her, needs her, needs her- as tightly pressed to him as is physically possible, her hair between his fingers, her ragged breath on his shoulder, her moans into his neck. He needs her; physically, emotionally, spiritually and religiously. He needs her like a dying plant needs the sun. He opens mouth and words fail him. He shakes his head helplessly.
“Should I stop?” He manages and she shakes her head. She is under him, pinned to the mattress between his arms, the weight of the most powerful demigod alive holding her down- and she is in control. She is not afraid of him; not at his best and not at his worst- she simply loves him.
“No.” She tells him, bringing her hand to his forehead and combs his hair out of his face. “Are you okay?”
“No.” Percy says. He drops his head to her shoulder and kisses her with enough intensity to send goosebumps over her skin. Her fingers thread through his hair and she holds his head still. He bites down on her, perhaps a little too hard for a girl who can still bleed, and she lets out a yelp, pushing him away. Guilt pools in his stomach. “Fuck, Annabeth. I’m so sorry-”
“Don’t be. I’m fine.” Annabeth says. “I wish you wouldn’t do that.”
“I won’t.” Percy promises. “I don’t know what came over me, I just-” I liked having you around so much I forgot how fragile you are.
“No, I mean stop doing that .” Annabeth says, tapping his temple with one finger. “Obsessing over me. I’m not as breakable as you think I am.”
“And I’m capable of far more destruction than you want to believe.” Percy tells her. Her shoulder starts to turn purple.
Annabeth peels herself slowly off the bed in what can only be a display of phenomenal core strength- her arms wrapping around his neck. She slants her lips against his and when she speaks, her voice is lower than he’s ever heard it.
“I think maybe it’s time we start trusting each other.”
Percy tries that then- moves inside her and pretends she won’t snap in half under his touch, while Annabeth matches his rhythm as if she knows he would never do anything to hurt her- and it feels good . He doesn’t remember the last time sex had felt good like this; without any fear of crushing or shattering or burning her. He watches her as she hits her orgasm and all he can think is that she is made of stardust. She holds the entire galaxy within herself, an explosion of purple glitter with streaks of indigo and blue. An angel unravels under him and he feels a kind of invincibility that has nothing to do with his curse at all.
He pulls out of her and falls onto his back and she tugs his Aerosmith t-shirt over her head when she steps out into the kitchen without saying a single word. She offers him a glass of water and sips on hers in silence.
“How are you?” Percy asks. They had created something more sacred than the gods themselves. The world around them comes down with them, from a deep, passionate purple to a pale lilac; the air around them stops buzzing, choosing instead to hang unmovingly around them, letting them soak in their glory.
“Better.” Annabeth says. “And also maybe a little bit worse.”
She rests her head on his chest and runs her finger up and down his sternum and she thinks. She thinks a whole lot, thinks for the entirety of the night, and Percy tries to drown out the sound. They are special, he decides. They are made to create all that is holy, all that is celestial.
He wakes up the next morning to Annabeth shuffling about their bedroom in a pair of pants. She looks up when she hears him stir, eyes wide like a deer in headlights. Percy refuses to believe she was trying to sneak out before he was up.
“Hi.” She says, almost breathlessly. “I can’t find my bra.”
Percy points it out for her and yawns. “You were going to leave?”
“I don’t know what I was going to do.” Annabeth says earnestly.
“Do you know now?”
Annabeth shakes her head and covers herself up. In the morning light, there is less tension between them. Percy has seen every inch of her body there is to see. He has no ulterior motivations when he pats the bed beside him.
“Come back to bed and figure it out.” He says. Annabeth hesitates for a second, his old ratty t-shirt still hanging loosely over her small frame, and then she climbs in. She curls into his side and tucks her freezing toes between his legs.
“This isn’t healthy, right?” She asks, fingering a necklace she definitely did not have on the previous night. Percy takes it carefully out of her hand and studies the single purple gemstone pendant. He tries to ignore how closely it matches the lovebites on her neck.
“Where’s this from?” He asks and she shrugs.
“Sally bought me it last month.” She says. “It’s amethyst.”
He’d missed her birthday. He knew it as well as she did. He’d missed calling her on her birthday and he is tempted for a moment to show her the gift he’d bought her anyway, knowing full well he was never going to give it to her. She refuses to meet his eye, maybe because she doesn’t want to talk about what’s in the past, maybe because she doesn’t want to think about what might happen next week when Percy is the one to turn twenty six years old.
“Funniest thing,” Annabeth continues quietly. “Amethyst is meant to protect you from intoxication.”
“That’s not a thing.” Percy says. He strokes her hair absently. “Stones don’t do shit.”
“I should maybe never have pulled it off last night.”
Percy doesn’t know how to respond to that. Annabeth lies on him until her breathing slows, and Percy plays with her hair until he drifts off to sleep as well. When he wakes up, there is no sign that she’d ever even been there.
Purple could never be anything less than the worst kind of pain.
He doesn’t see her much after that, only occasionally hears from their friends that she’s doing well. Percy tries not to let it bother him; they are broken up and he supposes this is what people who are broken up do. They don’t spend nights together, don’t catch each other up on their days, don’t come home as one and curl on the sofa and fall asleep to some boring documentary on font styles.
That isn’t their life anymore, that isn’t domesticity for them to share.
God, if that’s not the most depressing thing Percy’s ever had to face.
“Someone looks blue.” Clarisse says, sitting down beside him as he takes a break. She steals his water bottle and takes a long sip before shaking off the sweat on her brow. Percy lets her with little fuss so she must know he isn’t really in the mood. She frowns. “What’s up?”
“I think my back doesn’t ache as much anymore.” Percy tells her. He leans back in his chair. “Or maybe I’ve gotten better at ignoring it. Maybe the meds are working. I don’t know.”
“That’s a good thing.” Clarisse notes. “Why do you seem so upset about it?”
Percy mulls it over for a moment. He’s been good, really, he has. Without Annabeth, it’s been on him to pick himself out of bed every morning, to show up to boxing with Clarisse, to drink his smoothies and eat at the right time and it’s on him to stop himself from reaching out for that third slice of cake. It’s harder to resent himself, he thinks, that it was to resent her. Maybe that should have been their first sign; Percy revels in self-loathing.
“Do you think it’s because she’s gone?”
Clarisse lets out a sigh and hangs her head, playing with her fingers like she expected him to ask. He watches her fiddle with her thumbs, take another long sip of his water, wipe her face on the sleeve of her t-shirt. Anything to avoid looking at him. Finally, she takes a deep breath.
“I’m not a doctor, Percy. I don’t even know what’s wrong with you. You should ask some child of Apollo what this means.”
“I don’t think so.” Percy shakes his head. “You’re a child of Ares and what I have is a battle wound. I know you’re thinking something. Just come out with it.”
Clarisse looks up at the nearest ring, where the newer students are taking their positions.
“I think…” She weighs out her words carefully, and starts to strap on her large blue boxing gloves again. “I think that maybe mortality isn’t all you think it is. I think… for someone like you, mortality might…” she finally meets his eye. “I think mortality might be a weakness.”
“You think she is my weakness?”
“You said it yourself. You’re stronger without her.”
“I’m nothing without her.” Percy fights down the anger bubbling in his stomach. He was the one to ask for her thoughts. Clarisse shakes her head and shrugs.
“Look at yourself.” She tells him. “You’re perfectly fine without her. You’re just sad . Don’t mistake that for a struggle.”
Percy doesn’t have an immediate response and Clarisse doesn’t give him time to think one up. She punches him lightly on the temple with her glove. “Get up. Break’s over.”
Percy gets back into the ring with Clarisse, emotionally perhaps a little confused but physically stronger than he’s felt in a long time. They start off slow, jabs and crosses, and Percy keeps his distance. He is careful and graceful where Clarisse is bloodthirsty and eager; they make for excellent partners. He is mindful of his footwork, using it to power his left hook and knocking Clarisse to the ground. She gets back up and shakes it off and they go again.
He has never felt more aware of his surroundings. He can see her moves from a mile away, judging easily by her stance, and time seems to slow down. He catches a glimpse of the sky outside the window, clear and blue, a colour of opportunity and second chances. He channels all his energy into an uppercut and Clarisse crumples to the floor for the second time. She scowls at him.
“I don’t know what you’re on today,” She says between short breaths. “But I’m going to need some of it.”
Practice goes on like that; they are scheduled to have two and a half hours all to themselves and Clarisse, to her credit, works him like a horse despite her own fair shares of knockouts. By the time they finish, her face is bright red and dripping with sweat.
“Want to grab lunch?” Percy asks her and she gives him a wicked grin.
“You’re buying.” She says. “Compensation for back in there.”
Percy rolls his eyes and they step out into the cool autumn air. The leaves have turned orange and crunch under their feet and it reminds him of another kind of home altogether. Percy really, really needs a home right about now.
“I’m thinking of maybe going to Camp sometime next month.” He tells Clarisse. She raises her brows at him.
“Yeah. I… it’ll be nice, I think, to see what’s become of it now. I haven’t been there since we were seventeen.”
Seventeen years old, still in high school and already living with his girlfriend in New York city. Maybe he should have blamed his mom for letting him grow up that quickly. Maybe he should thank her for giving him all that time with Annabeth.
“If this can wait for December,” Clarisse tells him. It’s barely October now. “I’ll come with you.”
“What’s in December?”
“Chiron wants me doing a week-long seminar on self defence.” Clarisse says. “For the kids who come back for the winter.”
“I’m not staying a week.” Percy tells her. “At the most, one entire day.”
Clarisse tells him she’ll figure out her way home and they settle into silence. They get themselves their lunches- a keto-compliant salad for Clarisse, a large plate of blueberry pancakes for Percy, and then she speaks again.
“Do you sometimes think that Annabeth might be the worst part of you?”
It’s straight forward, no sugarcoating. She is the kind of friend he has always needed.
“I think she’s the best of me.” He says honestly. “But now that she’s gone… I want to be the best of me.”
Clarisse gives him an approving nod and he forgets for a second that she’s Annabeth’s friend, too. She was only checking to see if he’d still respect her- as if there would ever be a day when he wouldn’t.
“I know you guys are friends,” He tells her. “But Annabeth is the love of my life.”
“I know.” Clarisse says. “It just hurts to see you both so upset.”
“Is she?” Percy asks. “Is she still upset?”
She shouldn’t be. Annabeth had to break free so she could build a life outside being Percy’s caretaker. She should be out in the city, learning new skills, meeting new people. His ex-girlfriend is the kind of person destined to rule over the world one day. His heart aches at the thought of her, backed into a corner and lonely, mourning over something as insignificant as himself. Clarisse purses her lips.
“I don’t know if I should say.”
“Nobody ever tells me about her.” Percy complains. “They think I won’t be able to handle seeing her happy. I just- I want to know she’s happy, you know? I want her to be better than okay. I want her to flourish. I want to know I didn’t screw up her whole life.”
“Bold of you to think you have the power to screw up any part of her life.” Clarisse says, but there’s no bite to it.
They both know as well as the other that it’s true; for Percy, for a chance at a family, Annabeth would give up the world. He plays absently with his blueberries and tries not to think about how they’re Annabeth’s favourite fruit, how every part of him holds a part of her. Clarisse studies him and must feel sorry, because she sighs.
“Fine. We take cooking classes together over the weekends.” She says gruffly. Percy frowns at her.
“Annabeth. We cook together. Twice a week.” Clarisse says through gritted teeth. “She goes into work four full days a week. Her new apartment is only a couple blocks east.”
Percy looks out the window almost instinctively, half expecting, half hoping to see Annabeth walking down towards him. He feels a kind of guilty pride settle in his stomach- he feels a little angry that she’s doing well; and then he feels a little angrier that he’d felt angry at all. He doesn’t deserve to feel proud of her. All he’d done was drag her down and delay her success.
“She can’t cook.” He says instead. The blueberries are taunting him, the colour of jealousy, unfairness and a desperation he cannot afford. Clarisse snorts.
“It’s not her best skill.” She admits. “But she’s better now.”
Her voice is soft enough that Percy knows it goes further than just Annabeth’s questionable lasagna recipe. She’s better now , he repeats to himself, stabbing the offensive blueberry with his fork. He might even be able to admit to himself that he’s moving forward, too.
“Would you believe me if I said that makes me happy?” He asks. She nods earnestly and he hangs his head. “I think that just about confirms it, right? We were… we were bad for each other.”
It hurts him to say it and his cheeks burn. Clarisse is quiet. She plays with her food with a frown, as if debating whether or not to say what’s on her mind.
“Spit it out, La Rue. It’s just me.” Percy grins and she rolls her eyes.
“I know this… I know you hurt.” She says. “I can’t claim to understand the curse, but I can tell you ache everywhere. I know you ache in your heart.”
“It’s unbearable.” Percy says, because it is.
There are few pains worse than losing the person you care about the most in the world. It’s unfair, Percy thinks, that he’s had to lose his Patroclus to bear Achilles’ curse. It’s a terrible pain one that cannot be described by colour, sound or number- heartbreak just is . It is, and he hates it; and one day it will have been , and he hates that more. He rubs his face with his hands and looks up to see Clarisse watching him warily.
“You said it yourself. She is only a demigod, and you are the closest one of us can get to a god.” She says, carefully weighing out her words. “I think that maybe you can want someone… I think there’s a reason the gods never stay long with their mortal lovers.”
A wave of ice cold blue washes over Percy. Clarisse is right. He is simply too powerful for Annabeth and it’s a ridiculous, cruel twist of events that he’d chosen her to represent his mortality. Now they both have to pay the price.
“You think I’d ever get that again?” Percy asks. He thinks about the last time he’d seen Annabeth. She was meant to be out on a date. She is the most powerful demigod he knows; if he is too much for her, what hope will he ever have of finding someone after? “Something stable, something permanent?”
“Are you ready to look?” Clarisse asks through narrowed eyes. Percy shakes his head.
“Not yet.” He says. “But if I were ready-,”
“Sure.” Clarisse says. “There’s bound to be some weak god out there with low enough self-esteem to settle for you.”
“I thought so too.”
They walk out of the cafe, once more into the open blue skies above them and Percy feels like he is breathing for the first time. He inhales, long and deep, all of New York’s putrid scents and polluted air, and releases it slowly back out. He is better, he tells himself until he starts to believe it. She is better. What could ever matter more.
He looks up at the sun, yellow and beating down on his face with her autumn glow, and blue is the freedom that comes with letting go.
The winter snow is soft under his feet and Camp Half Blood is entirely different and all the same at once.
The hill extends on past Thalia’s tree, a safe haven built on hope and dreams and sacrifice. He parts with Clarisse at the Big House and roams, retracing steps he had taken a million times over, and he rediscovers a brand new world. A memory is seeped so deeply into the fabric of this sanctuary, in the cabin designs and the sword fighting arena and the canoe lake. Percy tries not to pay attention to the glaringly obvious reason; that nowhere on this planet would ever be home without her. He is moving forward now, perhaps even ready to move on to something different from what he has had. It has been nine months since she cleared out. It’s about time he starts pushing past the ruins of them, too.
Percy spends the day with Blackjack at the stables, with Chiron at lunch, with Juniper through the evening and he thinks there's a chance he’ll be able to settle into something akin to normalcy here. He is not happy the way he once was, not by a long shot, but he is not in pain, either. Just like that, the day is spent and it is time to leave, so he takes the sugar cubes he’d promised his pegasus and makes his way back down to say his goodbyes.
Nightfall comes, as it does everyday, her moon- full and made of pure silver- made exponentially brighter by the sun.
Percy shouldn’t have been surprised to find her at camp- where else does she have to go? She’s wearing a pale t-shirt and jeans and she looks altogether too human as she feeds the pegasi. He starts to walk up to her and hesitates- what is there to say to her? She must sense him coming, because she turns around when he’s close enough with a knowing smile.
“You came back.” Her voice is soft, welcoming. “You came home.”
A lump forms in Percy’s throat. It isn’t her place to call it home. “Doesn’t feel like it.”
She lets out a laugh, then- rings through the night like bells of silver and a cool evening. She watches him with a thoughtful expression, and then, as if she has only just realised, her brows stitch together.
“And where is your Annabeth?”
“We broke up.”
The smile melts off her face then, replaced by something Percy neither can nor wants to understand. She steps closer to him and searches his face. She stands near enough to him that if he reaches out, he’ll feel her skin on his. He can stare a goddess in the eye and she will be the one to bow to him. There is power that courses through his veins, and he is suddenly more aware of it than ever. His fingers twitch and he swallows down the temptation to close the gap between them, to twist her hair around his fingers and fit his lips against her skin. She is even more beautiful than he remembers, iridescent on her own, shimmering like nacre in a dark ocean.
“We broke up.”
Percy repeats himself, a little bit more confident about it this time, because it feels less like heartache and more like sweet release. Her gaze flickers down to his mouth and she licks her lips, and Percy is reminded once more of just how much destruction he is capable of. She cocks her head to the side.
“And what are you going to do about it?”
“I’m going home.”
He doesn’t ask her; there is no need. She follows him to his car and they drive in silence for most of the way. Percy thinks she’s perhaps giving him a chance to think it through, giving him the space he needs to figure out if this is what he really wants. Thinking is the last thing Percy wants to waste his time doing. He knows the woman beside him, knows that she is like him- smooth skin indestructible, delicate fingers capable of bringing armies to their knees. She will not hurt from what they will do, and it is his hope that maybe he will stop hurting too.
The bedroom is hallowed space, sacred to Percy and Annabeth and a monument to love far more divine than the woman who stands in front of him. She does not expect to be invited. She should not expect to be invited.
“Is that moonlace?”
It’s from her own garden, but Percy isn’t surprised that she can’t recognise it. She gave him a sapling over a decade ago- and now it grows easily across the windowsill, bright green leaves spilling into the apartment and large, sparkling white flowers in full bloom at night.
“It’s, uh… it’s yours.” Percy tells her, scratching the back of his neck.
Calypso’s voice is hushed and she steps closer to examine the plant. Percy watches her from where he stands, how careful she is with the stem, how gently her fingers glide over the petals. It’s not fair, Percy thinks, that the world around her is too fragile for her touch. A shimmering wave of something akin to white washes over him- white like the pain of his back, white like a world without Annabeth, white, like moonlace and the promise of a partner who won’t snap in two.
A moment between them passes, a moment where their actions might cool and slow- and then suddenly the living room is almost too hot to bear. He barely registers her moving before she crashes into him, her lips fitted smoothly into his lips, her chest pressed tightly against his chest, and any thought he might have had flies out the window. What was once white like snow is white like molten copper- scalding hot and wild and entirely numb.
For that wonderful period of time, Percy feels no guilt, and no pain. He brings his arm around her to steady himself, pushes her roughly against the wall like he has always wanted and kisses her neck with teeth and tongue like his body finds most natural. There are no inhibitions, no hesitation, no fear in the way he moves with her. She is resilient and immortal and he is the unrestrained ferocity of the seven seas and there is no hurt at all. They are untamed and frantic and any guilt that might have sneaked in between the wall and the floor is squashed out by the overwhelming pleasure of letting go .
He pushes himself off of her and rolls onto his back and they lie there in silence until he can think of what to say.
“Don’t get pregnant.”
His voice is perhaps gruffer than he expects, and her laugh sounds all the more dainty in comparison. She turns her head towards him, but he ignores her gaze boring into the side of his skull. He stares on at the ceiling, pale white and worn over the days.
“I won’t.” She promises.
Her fingers come up to his face, careful as they brush his hair out of his eyes. Fingers that only moments ago were tugging at his hair with an intensity that might have ripped it out of his scalp were he a lesser man. She draws her index along the hollows of his cheeks and down the side of his jaw.
“What do you think of me?” She asks. I don’t .
“The same thing they say of you.” He tells her, and a bitter taste finds its way to his tongue.
“And what’s that?”
“An enchantress. Temptress.” He hopes the words will sting her like it does him. He was only fourteen years old when he last saw her. He was too young .
She doesn’t respond immediately, so Percy takes the silence to let his mind wander. For ten years he’d managed to avoid her. A younger version of himself was so smitten, so blinded- his greatest what if , he’d called her. He lies with her now, shame the colour of his faded ceiling and disappointment that tastes like salt, and maybe the roads not taken are ignored for a reason.
“And if I did?” She asks finally.
“If you did what?”
“Bear your son.”
She makes it sound like a threat. Percy thinks about it for a moment, his stomach churning with white hot rage he hasn’t felt in a while. He realises with some surprise that he is not, in fact, as similar to her as he’d thought- one day he will die and be a distant memory of the world. All that he will leave behind are the whites of his bones and the ghosts of his past, but Calypso- she will be like every other immortal, living on through the generations in all the colours the universe can hold. She will find freedom in destroying mortal men; prey off of their pride and insecurities and she will be no different from Zeus himself. He doesn’t look at her immediately- gods know there’s no reason for him to look at her anymore- but he wants to make her hurt.
“I will feel sorry for him.” He finally meets her gaze, holds it carefully.
“He’ll be ours.”
He falls asleep right there, on the living room floor with a woman who should have known better, and tries not to think about how all the ugliest parts of him are white.
He doesn’t know what gives him the courage to call her, but he’s doing better, somewhat, and that is incentive enough.
“Percy?” She answers on the second ring. “You okay?”
He hasn’t heard her voice since their final night together in July. If he checks his calendar, he’ll know that makes it over seven months. She wears concern for him easily, her breathing a little frantic and her tone just a note too high. Percy’s stomach twists uncomfortably as he looks for the words to say and her patience begins to run out. She tries again.
“Hey, Percy? Perce?” She asks, and he wonders somewhat absently if he’d interrupted her. He swallows thickly and tries to find the right thing to say.
“Carl just grew a new thing.” He says. Annabeth pauses for a moment, and he wonders if she knows he’s gesturing vaguely on this side of the line.
“Like- a new… thing?” She asks and he nods before realising she can’t see him. He hears her let out a little laugh. “I didn’t think cacti could grow new things .”
“I think it’s a stem.” Percy says. He walks over to Carl, to their first investment as a couple, to their firstborn, and pokes at it, promptly getting pricked by its spine. “Ow.”
“You poked him.” Annabeth says, her voice fond and relaxed and it almost feels like the last seven months never happened. Percy watches his bastard child, green and fat and a complete joke of a plant. He doesn’t remember the last time he even watered Carl.
“Yeah.” Percy admits. “Why’d you name him Carl?”
“I don’t know. Carl the Cactus sounds right.”
“No, it doesn’t. We should have named him Cochytus.” Percy says. “Not only does it sound like cactus and honour our roots, it also fully represents how miserable this little fucker is.”
Annabeth’s laugh rings out then- pure and true and loud, and something in his heart shifts. He isn’t thinking about the woman still in his bed, he barely sees the moonlace taking over the rest of their plants. Carl grows a stem and Annabeth is laughing and there is little that can seem more important. His courage comes from that- comes from the sound of her voice and the growth of their son.
“Hey, so… what are you doing tonight?” He asks, before he can second guess himself. “Do you want to maybe, I don’t know. Grab a bite together?”
She takes a second before answering and he knows he crossed some invisible line. “I’ve got plans tonight.”
His heart sinks to his toes and he tries not to think about Annabeth in a stranger’s bed. It stings to think of her out on dates, romantic dinners with someone new. Will he hold her hand when they dance on the weekends, Percy wants to know. Will he have the grace to lead her when she needs it and let her go when it’s too much? A thousand questions come to mind and he has the strength to ask absolutely none of them.
“Is that why you called me?” She asks quietly. “To ask about tonight?”
“No.” Percy says, and it is the truth.
“Why’d you call, then?”
I called you because I have been fucking a goddess and every time I do, it makes me feel further away from you. I called you because I don’t think I’m ready to let you be a part of my past just yet. I called you because if I am the Earth, you are my Sun, and if I am not reaching for you, I will fall into oblivion .
“I just wanted to hear your voice.”
He stays really still and waits for her response with baited breath and an eternity passes between them. One whole eternity, he thinks, passes between them- and he falls in love with her all over again. Annabeth is yellow, like the passionate, burning sun, and Percy is green like the cool, grounding earth and in their cosmos they create a love greater than anything a human being can experience. Is it anybody’s fault then, that they crashed and burned?
“I’m here for you. Always.” She says, voice straining to sound steady. “You know that, right?”
Of course he does. He knows she has his back like she knows he has hers. They are partners in combat first. It is just unfortunate that they ran out, then of battles to be won. He thinks of what he might say to her if she stood before him. I’m sorry, I miss you, I love you .
“I resented you.” He tells her honestly. “I think I was bitter because I chose to fall in love with you.”
“That’s the problem with love, isn’t it?” Annabeth says quietly. “It lies just a little bit too close to hate.”
“Do you hate me?” Percy is almost too afraid of the answer. He hears her take a deep breath in.
There is nothing left to say, he supposes. She loves him and he loves her- like it has been for years- but this time he can bring himself to admit it out loud.
“I don’t hate you either.”
Annabeth waits for just long enough that he hears her smile over the phone before she hangs up. He stands in the middle of what used to be their shared living room, at the pastel green walls and the large flat screen television and the mess of books that line the shelves and decides it’s time for a new start.
He walks into the kitchen aimlessly, his days here now numbered, and picks an apple off the counter just as Calypso comes out of his bedroom.
“Was that you on the phone?” She asks and Percy shrugs his shoulders.
There is grace in the way she makes her way to him, her arms snaking around his waist and her face pressed between his shoulder blades. Percy freezes under her and keeps his eye on the apple, running his thumb over the smooth, green fruit. I’ve got plans tonight , Annabeth’s voice says in his head again and he struggles to keep down his tears. She is moving on, he reminds himself- which makes whatever he has with Calypso completely fine. Still, a little green demon gnaws at the back of his mind. Why does he feel like he’s cheating on her?
“That was Annabeth.” He tells Calypso, and she drops her arms almost instantly.
“Yeah, she… I think she’s seeing someone.” The words taste vile.
“Is that what she said?” Calypso asks, making to move into him once more, but he pushes her away. It’s happening again, he knows. He looks at her, and he sees the worst of the world. He looks at her, and he sees a life without Annabeth. It makes him physically ill.
“She said she had plans for the night.”
Calypso looks like she’s going to say something, and her argument dies on her lips, which curl into a wily smile. She reaches out to him, hooking her fingers in his belt loops and tugging him forward to her.
“Come now, hero.” She says, and Percy thinks once more of Annabeth buying a succulent with someone new. His will resolves and maybe he does still hate her, a little bit, because he thinks how much he wants to hurt her. “Don’t let something as small as jealousy bring you down.”
There’s not much to be said for what happens after, for the way Percy lets the jealousy take over his every movement anyway. It isn’t fair, he thinks- that he keeps losing the love of his life; over and over again- to his curse, to his resentment, and now, it seems, to some other man. He is tired and he is hurt and he doesn’t think his heart can take anymore. He and Calypso don’t make it past the kitchen counter, and he doesn’t care. At least she can’t hurt him, he tells himself. At least he’ll never ache over losing her. She is immortal; she’ll live on past him and he’ll fade into a distant memory. He is convenient for her now, as she is convenient for him. This is the closest thing to stability a boy with his cross to bear will ever get.
“Hey, I’m here- also, you should reconsider leaving your spare under the mat- oh .”
The words all come out so fast he doesn’t even register the fact that he’d heard the front door open and close. All he knows is that he is in the middle of having sex with the only woman Annabeth has ever been threatened by, and that Annabeth is now standing in front of him in a pair of jeans and a billowy green blouse, mouth open in a perfect, small ‘o’.
“Annabeth.” He says, and he doesn’t remember the last time she tasted so sour on his tongue. She is barely seeing him at all, eyes glazed over and darting between him and Calypso. “Listen, I can-”
“No.” Her voice is an octave too high. Tears start to well up in her eyes and her lip quivers and if he wasn’t still thinking of the date she was meant to be on, Percy might have been ashamed of the sliver of satisfaction it gives him. He doesn’t want to break Annabeth- but there is something about him hurting her the way she does him. “I’m sorry. I should have rang the bell.”
She doesn’t wait, ducks her head and is already leaving their apartment before Percy can pull his trousers all the way back up. He runs after her, only vaguely conscious of Calypso running after him, and catches her just outside the door.
“Come back inside,” he says, running his hand over his face. “I- fuck, Annabeth, just- come inside. Please .”
He breaks her that evening.
Her eyes are still wet, her lips bright red from biting down too hard on them, but she lets him lead her to the couch anyway. A billion words run through his mind- defences and accusations and excuses- and none of them is what he means at all. He wants to say one thing; one thing and he’ll let her go. I love you . Nothing else is as important for her to know. I’m petty and I can be cruel and I’m still a little bit angry- but I’m growing and I’m learning and it’s because I love you.
Annabeth sits on the edge of the couch beside him and Calypso stands over him and the atmosphere will choke the life of all three of them.
“I shouldn’t be angry.” Annabeth sounds weaker than he’s ever known her to be. New York’s greatest hero, Percy thinks. Reduced to worse than rubble. “I’m glad you’re happy.”
That is simply not true. Tears are starting to fall down her face and her breath catches on the word happy and it kills Percy slowly to know that any part of him wanted this for her. He looks for a kind word to speak.
“You don’t get to be jealous.” He takes himself by surprise at how cold he sounds. “You don’t get to cry about this when you’re moving on, too.”
Calypso excuses herself at the look on Annabeth’s face. Her lips are parted and her eyes wide as they search his face as if looking for when he put two and two together. Her hand trembles and her cheeks flush and jealousy the colour of bile rises in Percy’s throat.
“What do you mean?” She asks, with barely concealed rage. “What do you mean I don’t get to be jealous?”
“I mean you were meant to be on a date right now, god damn it!” Percy snaps and his fist curls into a ball. “I don’t know why you thought barging into my life was a good idea, but please. Don’t try to spare my feelings by lying. You’ve never been good at it.”
He leaves Annabeth speechless. Her mouth opens and closes a couple of times and then her eyes flash a dangerous shade of silver, sending a chill down his spine. She sets her jaw and her brows furrow together and she stands to her feet.
“If you must know,” she draws out her words and her face reddens. “I had a yoga class that I cancelled because you sounded lonely on the phone. I barged into your life because I thought you needed a friend.”
Immediately, Percy feels like shit. Ugly emotion, jealousy. He slumps back in his seat but his ex girlfriend is hardly done.
“And even if I did have a date,” her voice gets steadily higher. “You think that’s the same thing? It’s the same thing as you breaking up with me because you can’t accept my love and then immediately going back to the first person you fell in love with? You think me going on one fucking date is the same as you making it seem like I was a step along the way before you got with her?”
She points to the kitchen where Calypso, who was watching them, slinks behind the wall. Annabeth breaks down into tears then, tears of rage and grief and hurt, and Percy has to sit back and watch her unravel.
“You’re a fucking asshole.” She sobs, sinking to the carpeted floor and burying her face in her hands. “You’re just- you’re such an asshole.”
God, if Percy doesn’t feel like one. All his worst qualities, everything he hates most about himself, boils down to this moment. He sees her, his soulmate, in pieces in front of him; pieces of his own doing, and he knows he has a decision to make. Guilt and bitterness and absolute, shame consume him and her gravity doesn’t hold him up anymore. He caves in on himself, Saviour of Olympus, and he watches in horror for one moment as he destroys everything that ever mattered to him. Without thinking too much about it, he crawls forward, wrapping one arm around her shoulder to let her cry into his chest.
“I hate you.” Annabeth cries, but she leans into him like she’s safe when she’s with him and it eases the pain. “I hate you so much.”
Calypso comes back outside when Annabeth’s breathing stabilises, and she meets his eye over her head. Fun while it lasted passes between them, unspoken words that need nothing more. She gives him one final nod and she makes to leave when Annabeth stops her.
“He was fourteen years old.” She says shakily, looking up from Percy’s chest.
She is small in his arms and carries all the power of the solar system in her tiny heart. There is jealousy in her voice, but she is more than that. Percy was young when he fell in love with Calypso, but he was also young when she fell in love with him . It strikes a chord with Annabeth. Calypso pauses and looks down at her with an eyebrow raised, as if she can’t believe she has to deal with Annabeth’s tantrums right now, and it strikes Percy just how much of a goddess she is. Lovelier than most, sure, but with as much regard for mortals and demigods as Zeus himself. Her lips curl when she speaks.
“What do you mean?” She asks and Percy is almost impressed with the way Annabeth refuses to stand up and regard her at eye level. She pulls herself closer to him protectively, putting her own body between Calypso and Percy.
“He was fourteen years old when you claimed to love him.” She spits. “You are a million years old. You should have known better.”
“What’s done is done.” Calypso says coldly, deciding Annabeth’s audience with her is over and turning her back to them, but Annabeth has always been the only one who can decide when she shuts up.
“You are a sick, twisted, pathetic woman and I hope you burn in the depths of Tartarus.”
Calypso’s head whips back, her generally kind, warm eyes flashing a dangerous gold. All the immortals are the same, he thinks. Give them enough power and the kindest ones will turn corrupt.
“Watch yourself, silly girl.” She snarls. “You are a demigod. I am a goddess- ”
“Oh, you’re hardly a goddess , Calypso.” Annabeth lets out a humourless laugh. “You’re just a regular nymph.”
For a moment, it looks like Calypso will vaporise Annabeth on the spot. Her nostrils flare and her fingers twitch and instinctively, Percy pushes Annabeth roughly behind his own body. Calypso meets his eye and she relaxes. Whether she pardons Annabeth because of him, because of the kindness of her own heart, or simply because she doesn’t have the power, he doesn’t know. She gives him one final nod and walks- very much like a mortal- out the front door.
Both Percy and Annabeth are quiet for a while, neither knowing how to carry on after what just happened. Annabeth plays with her fingers, and Percy knocks his feet together, and there is no anger at all between them. When she finally looks up at him, she purses her lips tightly, like she's trying to fight off a smile. A million dollar smile even at its most muted, it sends thousand volts of electricity arc through his body.
“So that was a dick move on my part.” She says and it feels good to laugh.
“Does it mean we’re even?”
“You made me cry. I got rid of a creepy goddess who’s had her eye on you since you were a child. We’re not even on the same plane.” Annabeth says and Percy pulls her to him.
He buries his face in the crook of her neck and closes his eyes and there is a lot of love between them and no fire at all. He is content like this, holding his best friend to him, being in the same room, listening to her sarcastic little quips. She hugs him around the waist, infinitely less intimate than holding his head like she usually does, and yet somehow tremendously more significant. He hears her let out a sigh and pulls away, closing his eyes and resting his forehead against hers.
“I missed you.”
“Yeah?” Percy asks, opening his eyes and holding her gaze. “How?”
“Because I missed you.”
Annabeth spends the evening at his apartment. She catches him up on what’s going on in the Bachelor and he tries for the millionth time to walk her through the Star Wars timeline and they go out for a pizza and wine. Annabeth tells him about the new project she’s been signed on to and Percy fills her in on what Camp Half Blood is like and the events of the day all focus onto one single point: she slots into his life as easily as she had the first time. He drops her off at the subway station and kisses her cheek and makes her promise to text him when she gets home, and when he returns to his apartment, he feels no guilt at all for pulling the moonlace out of his windowsill and dropping it in the bin.
He looks down at it one last time, glittering leaves that make his trash look worth more than they are, and green feels like a steady, calm acceptance; like compromise and a new start.
“Do you ever get like, really angry with the world?”
They are lying in the grass, one single elm tree protecting them from the rays of the sun. He’s sprawled out on his back, trying to form patterns in the leaves where they don’t exist, and she lies on her tummy, propped up by her elbows as she flicks through a magazine and cuts out celebrity outfits she likes. Their picnic basket sits between them, full now of wrappers and all the arugula from his homemade wraps that Annabeth promptly spat out.
“You’re asking me as a joke.” Percy says and she grins cheekily up at him.
“No.” She says honestly. “I get really, really angry sometimes. At the Fates the most, I think.”
I have the spirit of the angriest man to ever live in my body, Percy wants to tell her. He bears Achilles’ curse and everything that made him Earth’s greatest warrior with it. Did she think I’d be exempt from his rage? Percy before the curse was plenty mad. Now he is a whole new version of fury. He reaches out and chucks her on the shoulder.
“What’d the Fates ever do to you, Chase?” He asks lightly.
“I just think sometimes- how we did everything right, you know?” She says, cutting carefully around Jenna Dewan. “Like. We saved the world. Is it wrong to ask for the world to save us, too?”
Percy closes his eyes and takes a long, deep breath. Somewhere in the bushes behind them, when summer comes around once more, yellow primroses will start to grow. The sun will keep shining and Annabeth’s hair will still be that same colour of blonde and the world is not as difficult a place to live in now.
“That’s just the million dollar question, isn’t it?” He says.
It’s funny that someone who chases the sun so desperately revels in the shade the way he does. Here, he is able to let go- truly let go- of all the anger in his system that turns the world black. Here, he is able to enjoy the yellow sun and the green grass and the blue skies. In the dark of the shadows, he finds innate, true peace.
“I do.” He admits when Annabeth doesn’t respond. “Or- I used to. I felt so much rage over what happened to me. What happened to us . But I realise now,” He pauses and she raises an eyebrow. “There’s too many colours in the world for us to focus on the worst.”
Annabeth blinks at him. “I don’t know what you mean.”
Percy smiles a little bit and settles back down. Of course she has no clue what he’s talking about. He watches a couple ravens- jet black and louder than any New Yorker- fly up into the branch above him. They caw and he listens.
“Is this weird?” Annabeth asks, breaking their silence again, and he can tell she’s been wrestling with it for a while.
“This. Us. You and me.” Annabeth says. “Is it weird that we hang out?”
Percy opens one eye to look at her. She bites her lip. “Do you think it’s weird?”
“No- I mean. A little. You know what?” She says. “No. I don’t.”
“Okay, so it’s not weird.”
“Except it is, though. A little bit.” Annabeth pokes his side. “Have you ever told Grover we’re spending time together?” Percy shakes his head. “It’s just- I don’t want to be your dirty little secret, you know?”
When Percy can’t ignore her rambling any more, he sits up and takes her hands in his.
“Annabeth.” He says, voice calm. It isn’t an act anymore. He feels calm. He boxes, and he cooks, and he takes slightly more regular trips out to Camp Half Blood and if he were any less satisfied with where he is in life right now, he might have realised that today marks one year since they broke up. “We were in love - the real kind. We shared something special and rare and we gave it our best shot. I think it’s okay to want each other in our lives.”
Annabeth doesn’t look at him and he doesn’t blame her. There are days- days when she wears her purple beanie or does her makeup extra nice- when he worries it’ll burn him alive to look at her. Days when he can’t ignore how deeply he loves her and how deeply she loves him; days when it doesn’t feel fair that he can't kiss her and hold her and tell her she’s beautiful. He sees in the blush on her cheeks and the tension in her fingers that she’s trying not to touch him.
“So you’ll tell Grover, the next time?” She asks meekly.
“If it matters that much to you, come on. We can IM him right now.”
She shakes her head. “And you don’t mind? Being my friend?”
“It sounds like you do.” Percy says, because how can he ever look into her eye and pretend that every moment with her when he isn’t able to love her the way he wants feels like a knife to the heart? Her eyes widen and she shakes her head and she is a heartbreakingly pathetic liar.
“No. I- this is good. I like where we are.”
She pulls her hands out of his and tucks her hair behind her ear and tries to busy herself doing absolutely anything but looking at him.
“Do you ever think about having kids?” Percy doesn’t know why he asks. Annabeth freezes for a moment and then relaxes.
“I used to.” She says quietly, her eyes trained intently on the grass she starts to pick. “Black hair and green eyes. Your smile.”
“And what did they get from you?” Percy asks and she shrugs.
“That part has never mattered to me.”
Her light, he thinks. Their children would have been radiant. He lets himself live in that fantasy for as long as she will allow him. Lets himself live where he’ll hold his daughter’s hand on her first day of school and clap his son’s back when he goes off to college and time will fly by and he’ll be back once more, alone, with his wife and they’ll be grey and so sincerely loved- by their children and their children after that. Black hair, he thinks, a crazed smile fighting its way to his mouth. His jaw and her nose.
“So that’s just something you discuss with all your friends, do you?” Percy laughs. “Ever dream about what your children would look like if they were half Clarisse’s?”
Annabeth flashes him a small smile. “They’d have my face, obviously.”
Percy laughs and Annabeth laughs and they are two ravens sitting on an elm tree in New York City. He relaxes into the shadows and black is a bittersweet dream.
The months drag on, one painful day at a time and at some point, it stops hurting to see her face.
Annabeth is more beautiful like this, he thinks- hair tied into a ponytail and hoodie sleeves pushed up around her elbows- than he’s ever seen her. She hums along to the Arctic Monkeys as she dances around the kitchen, and Percy is content to sit on the counter and watch her work.
“What are we having for dinner today then, Nigella?” He asks her and she ignores his little quip.
“Spaghetti alla puttanesca.” She sings with a bad accent. “I think I’ve found something I’m good at.”
She drops her tomatoes onto her chopping board and looks up at him. Her eyes sparkle with life he’d almost forgotten she held. Her smile is wider than he remembers, her shoulders more relaxed and her clothes better fitting. She looks good. Healthy. Happy , even.
I ruined her , he thinks, his throat closing up. I made her all she was never meant to be .
This is his penance. He will live his life like this- not entirely without her, but not with her the way he wants, either. He will live his life with this distance between them to remind him of what he’d done to them, and it’s surprisingly easy to make his peace with that. He’s getting better at bearing his curses. It’s better to see her from afar, he thinks, than live in a world with no sunlight.
“All kinds of pasta?”
“Oh, no way.” Annabeth says. “One step at a time, right? I can make three kinds of sauces.”
Percy feels his lips tug upwards. It’s impossible not to when he’s around her. He stretches his back out, and ignores the sharp jolt of pain that runs up his spine. He keeps his focus trained on her, on the three feet of space between them. Some pain is easier to bear with perspective.
“ Three kinds.” He repeats. “That’s impressive. Especially for someone who went an entire year eating nothing but those awful frozen carbonaras.”
Annabeth laughs and it sounds like what healing might feel like. “That was one month.”
He’s happy here- happy to sit on her kitchen counter while she dices her tomatoes and rolls her eyes at him and sways her hips to some indie rock band he’s never heard of. In this moment, nothing matters. Not the pain in his back, not the last sixteen long months without her- not even the three feet that keep them apart. They are both here now, breathing the same air, and he’s reminded of all the best things about them.
Percy laughs and they settle into a comfortable silence. He watches her hands move- skilled hands, he thinks. Deceptively delicate and soft for someone so comfortable holding a knife. Under the yellow lights, he can see a familiar old white scar down her forearm. Her knuckles are flushed pink, her fingernails freshly painted a deep blue. He could watch her hands work like this forever.
The tomatoes look even brighter red against her pale skin as she chops them. Uneven and messy. She holds them tight enough that half their juice leaks onto her palms and Percy has to bite back a smile. If he looks up at her face, he’ll see that adamance- she’ll call it determination- that comes with being Annabeth Chase. Her cheeks are flushed a light pink and her brows stitched together in concentration.
“Relax. You’re not trying to kill the tomatoes.” Percy says.
Her hands freeze before the rest of her body reacts to him, her knife stuck halfway through mutilating her third tomato. She raises her head- her brows a little tense and her pink lips slightly parted and his heart twists painfully. It takes everything in him not to close the gap between them, to wrap his arms around her and coach her through it. In another world, maybe they have a second chance at that, he thinks wistfully. A second chance at them . A future where he’ll rest his chin on her shoulder while he dices their tomatoes and she’ll lean her head against his temple and they’ll be in love. You are so beautiful , he’ll whisper into her ear and he’ll kiss her neck just so his breath tickles her, just so she’ll laugh and knock her forehead against his and tell him not to distract her when she’s holding a knife.
“If you’re going to sit on the counter and bark out instructions, we can just order in pizza.”
There’s a problem with knowing Annabeth as well as Percy does. He can tell from her tone, tell from the twinkle in her eye and the way she’s pursed her lips ever so slightly- she’s flirting with him. It’s an old habit, a difficult one to break when two people are comfortable with each other the way they are. It makes it that much harder for Percy not to rise to the bait. It’s easy, at times like this- when they are comfortable in each other’s presence, when their friendship is strong and kind, to be confident the way she is. It takes self-preservation and tough love for Percy to stop himself from engaging. If his heart can’t handle another break, it will destroy her.
“Watch yourself.” He warns weakly, because her hands have begun moving again but her eyes don’t leave his. He doesn’t know how much longer he can go with her sparkling, clever gaze on him like this.
“I think I know what I’m doing, Jackson.” She winks and then lets out a cry. “Mother fucker !”
Her knife clatters onto the wooden chopping board and she brings her hand up to her mouth, sucking it on instinct. Percy hops off the counter and in one step, he’s by her side, gently coaxing her hand out from between her lips. Despite knowing, on a rational level, that it’s only a nick, Percy’s heart slams against his chest as he examines the cut.
For a moment, it’s still white- sticking out against the pink skin around it- and then the blood starts to appear. A single glistening drop, deep red and ominous. Percy watches with some fascination how it grows in size until the blob is big enough for it to trickle down the smooth surface of her palm and then fall onto the floor.
Percy can feel Annabeth’s thoughtful eyes on him, but he cannot stop watching as the next drop of blood begins to ooze out of her cut. He presses the skin tighter together, forcing it out faster, and Annabeth remains so quiet he only realises later on that he might have hurt her.
There’s a word to describe that colour, he thinks.
“Are you okay?” He asks finally.
He looks up at Annabeth. She barely acknowledges the cut at all. Very carefully, like she’s afraid she might scare him away, she reaches her other hand and with two graceful fingers, combs his hair back out of his face. Her expression is careful but he has a feeling she already knows what he’s thinking.
“I’m sorry.” She says, voice only above a whisper. Percy nearly cries at the look on her face. He doesn’t know how to stop doing this to her, how to stop causing her so much pain.
“Why?” He asks with a weak laugh. Annabeth shakes her head, running her thumb gingerly along his eyebrow. Life is red; red like her blood that stains their floor- but she sees through him like he’s made of clear glass.
“You don’t have to be like this.” Annabeth tells him, her voice getting gradually more and more desperate as she speaks. “You don’t have to bear the curse alone. You don’t have to be invulnerable. Not with me. You understand that, don’t you? Percy? Please.”
But Percy is shutting down and they both know it. There’s some cruel irony in Annabeth being his mortal point, his Achilles heel, his weak spot- and offering to carry his burdens for him. He lifts her hand up until her knuckles press against his lips. This moment is a burning, red hot reminder of how Percy cannot bleed, but Annabth is cool and soft. He lets his eyes flutter close and he savours this, the feeling of her on his lips, the air around her, the smell of her perfume with every breath he takes.
“You are the love of my life.” He mumbles into her skin. He feels her forearm tense momentarily. “I could never watch you hurt.”
“You just watched me bleed.” Annabeth tells him. Her voice is hard but not accusatory. She cups her hand under his jaw and lifts his face up until he can’t avoid her gaze. “Look at me, please.”
“I can’t .” Percy says more forcefully. He almost breaks. “It hurts.”
He expects her to push. Annabeth likes to do that to him. She likes to push, push, push him out of his comfort zone. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath and waits for her to insist he look at her. He can already picture her face so close to him- the splash of freckles on her nose and the scar from that one year she’d decided she wanted a piercing. The mascara on her lashes and the flecks of blue in her irises.
If he opens his eyes, he’ll want to kiss her. He’ll want to twirl his fingers into her curls and press her to his chest and he’ll want to promise never to let go. If he opens his eyes, he’ll fall in love with her all over again. He’s afraid that will leave him with the option of falling into resentment as well. His hand trembles, her knuckles along with it, and he mentally begs for her to lay off of him. He isn’t strong enough to be brave like her. He only has one single weak spot- but she has always been indestructible.
“You resent the curse because it won’t let you bleed.” She says. He feels her moving closer into his space. “But it’s the healing it’s stopping you from.”
She’s right. Of course she’s right. Annabeth can nick her finger now and by tomorrow she will be good as new. It might sting- and if you are like her, it might sting a bit more when your ex-boyfriend tries to squeeze it out of you- but after enough time passes, there will be no reminder of the pain.
Percy is different. Percy is like Luke Castellan, brave, larger than life hero crumpled to the ground and bleeding to death from a shallow cut. Hopeless and pathetic and burdened with eternal pain.
“I don’t know how to anymore.” It comes out like a sob and Percy is too upset to be embarrassed. He doesn’t know how to heal anymore.
“Sweetheart,” Annabeth says, her voice only over a whisper. She pulls her hands out of his grasp and he opens his eyes to find her already gone. She comes back into the kitchen with a fresh plaster and runs her hand under water before covering it up. Her smile does more to soothe him than any medication ever has. “You’ve come to the right girl.”
She wraps the plaster over her finger and holds it up. “I’m really good at that part.”
Percy’s throat runs dry and his heart overflows with affection. “Only you would think being prone stupid injuries is a superpower.”
Annabeth’s smile is shy. “Only you would think that being powerful like you are is a curse.” She doesn’t wait for his response. “Now sit down. I don’t need your help. I’m going to wow you with my new skills.”
Percy watches her work, slicing her olives and boiling her spaghetti, and from the ashes of a burned world, they rebuild a new, red universe for them to grow and love and heal.