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and still I will live here

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Percy was 90% sure his new apartment was haunted.

For starters, the place was only new to him. The apartment, the cheapest one-bedroom he could find near his job, must have been decades old. It was a miracle, he had thought, that he had even been accepted, what with his credit. Now he thought it might have been a sign the landlord had only been desperate to get rid of this shitty apartment.

Secondly, strange things happened in the place. At times, he would see the shape of a man at the corner of his vision, and then he would turn and the space would be empty.

Percy felt watched sometimes, like someone was over his shoulder watching the work he did on his laptop or the porn he watched. His room was always icy no matter how hard the sunlight invaded it in the morning.

Now and then, heard unintelligible hissing.

For a considerable time, he thought he was imagining it.

But then.

Then came the footsteps.

Loud, undeniably in his apartment footsteps.

The night it happened, he stayed still in his bed, eyes wide and phone forgotten beside him while he wondered what was the right amount of panic for this type of situation. He would have heard the door if it was someone breaking in his apartment, right? But maybe burglars just had better technology nowadays? He might have been imagining it. Why the hell would someone break into his apartment? He was poor as hell!

And then the footsteps — slow, each step deliberate — got closer to his room. Oh gods, oh gods, he wasn’t ready to die.

All semblances of reasonable thinking left him, then, when someone knocked on his door three times.

Knock.

Knock.

Knock.

Percy almost shit his bed.

He jumped up and ran blindly to the farthest point possible to the door, his breathing the loudest sound in the room while he waited for his fate and for his heartbeat to slow down.

Then, feeling a bit nauseous, he whispered, “Hello?”

Percy.” Someone whispered back.

Percy’s heart throbbed as he parkoured though his bedroom and ran through his apartment until he was at the front door, turning on all the lights on the way.

“Fuck,” he whispered to himself, now for the first time considering the possibility that an actual demon was toying with him.

He looked back into his now lit apartment. There was no movement. It was all dead quiet. Still, Percy examined his front door (it was untouched), looked in every corner of the living room. He was alone.

He must have imagined it. He must have, right? Because ghosts weren’t real, and burglars wouldn’t knock on his door or whisper his name. Yeah. He— must have imagined it alright. It must have been a weird nightmare or night terror.

Percy sighed. He should probably be relieved, but he was still wary, still not completely convinced that he was safe.

The minutes stretched as he tried to convince his heart there was no danger, but eventually Percy turned and decided he needed to sleep, and that his couch was as good as his bed.

Right then, the lights went off. All except for his bedroom’s, the corridor turned into a path leading directly to gods-know-what.

“Fuck no,” he announced to the empty (?) house. He ran to the door, unlocked it, and got the hell out.

He never consciously decided to knock on his neighbor’s door, but that’s what he did. Loudly.

“Please open the door. Please open the door.” He meant to shout, but his throat was closing up and the words were merely a whisper. His heart was so loud he felt a bit dizzy with it.

It was so long before his neighbor opened the door that in the meantime Percy considered either waking up anyone else who lived in this floor, or bolting out of the building entirely and finding a new solution from there.

“Hi, uh.” He cleared his throat and took a deep breath as his neighbor’s confused face came into view. “There are some, some noises coming from my apartment? I think it was— invaded but I can’t see anyone, and I was wondering— I was wondering…” Now that Percy was in the presence of another human being, it hit him how... ridiculous he sounded. He didn’t know how to explain himself.

“Oh. Um.” The neighbor scratched the back of his head. “I could call the police?” he offered.

“Ah, no, thank you, I— I must have— imagined it. You know, had a nightmare or something.” The image of his lit room amidst the sudden darkness of his apartment was still burnt in his mind. “I’m gonna go. Sorry to bother you, man. Oof, good night.”

Percy’s entire body was already recoiled from the awkwardness and shame of being purely himself, but it somehow managed to draw into itself even more when his neighbor called, “Uh, hey, man,” and put a hand on his shoulder.

He took his hand away as soon as Percy looked up at him. Percy felt dumb and kind of wanted not to exist, which he really wasn’t expecting to have to deal with in the middle of a random Friday night, but go figure.

“You can — you should stay here. You’re clearly very shaken up and, I have a pretty comfortable couch. Please stay?”

Percy wouldn’t’ve, if not for the please.

So that’s how he found himself on the couch of his neighbor, whose name, he learned, was Jason. They made their awkward introductions, Jason got a fuzzy, good-smelling blanket from his wardrobe for Percy, gave him one of his pillows, and wished him a good night, and to not hesitate to call him for anything, his room was right there, and did he see that the bathroom was this door to the right?

Percy spent a good chunk of an hour, at least, staring at the ceiling from the couch and listening to his neighbor’s soft snoring from his bedroom. His heart was calmer, but still beating faster than normal. It seemed it would be impossible for him to fall asleep in this stranger’s apartment and with the memories of the night still haunting him.

But he slept eventually.

-

When he woke up, there was a heavy weight on his chest.

He looked down. It was a cat. A big black sleeping cat.

He silently panicked silently for at least ten whole seconds before remembering the events of the previous night. Looking back now, it all felt like a dream. A weird dream. Had he accidentally snorted some ecstasy or something?

Carefully, he tried to move the cat so he could get up while letting it sleep, but it proved unfruitful. The cat woke up and jumped to the floor with an indignant meow, and Percy was free to stand up and look around.

He suffered the cognitive dissonance of seeing the same layout of his apartment, but with a different decoration. It looked well-lived in and messy, like Percy’s place — he remembered his neighbor, Jason, had to pick up a pair of jeans from the couch so Percy could lie on it the previous night. But there was a big TV in front of the couch, the pictures weren’t family photos but seemed to be abstract geometric art prints; and there was a food bowl, a small mat, and cat toys on the corner.

Which brought him back to his neighbor, and to this awkward as fuck situation. Was this what people felt after one-night stands? Why would anyone willingly submit themselves to that? What the hell was the protocol here? Leave and pretend this never happened? Stay, and run the risk of overstaying his welcome?

In the end, he opted to start breakfast. He didn’t know when Jason was set to wake up, but he imagined no one could be angry at waking up to pancakes and coffee, so that’s exactly what he made, once he found all the ingredients in the kitchen.

By a stroke of luck, Jason stepped into the kitchen, alert and hair not as messy as it should have been, right as Percy turned the last pancake.

“Good morning,” Percy said, trying to be polite.

“Morning,” Jason’s voice was hesitant, cautelous. Percy faced the pan once again. Turned off the fire.

“I hope it’s okay that I started breakfast?”

“Sure, sure.” They were in a heavy silence for a while. “Did you sleep well?”

“Yeah, sure. Thank you for lending me the couch, man.”

“It was no problem.”

After that, there was more silence.

In the light of a cold morning, Percy was confronted with what he already knew from getting glimpses of his neighbor in the hall sometimes — Jason had a sort of silent beauty to him. His eyes were blue and observant. His cheekbones were molded by Aphrodite herself. He was very… conservative (aka boring as fuck) with his choice of clothing whenever he was coming to/from work, which was when Percy saw him.

But now his hair was pretending not to be a mess; he was wearing glasses. He also wore a combination of gray sweatpants with a fuzzy, radioactive-yellow turtleneck sweater, and Percy was indeed considering paying the medical expense to get his head checked for a concussion. He must have been hallucinating still.

Oh, wait, shit. What if he was hallucinating? He was joking about the medical expense, he didn’t have the cash for that. America was great.

“Should we, uh, eat on the couch?” Jason proposed, bringing Percy back to the reality of a disturbing sweater and a man who was handsome in spite of it.

They ate on the couch.

Percy was expecting Jason to be quiet, but while the guy wouldn’t really make eye contact with him at first, he made small talk. Asked how he had slept (fine, thank you), commented that the pancakes were delicious, asked where he had learned to make them, and they went from there.

Somehow, when their plates and mugs were empty and piled on the television stand (because Jason was somehow fancy enough to have not only a television, but also a television stand), they found themselves still talking. He found out Jason worked for a shitty company as a graphic designer, which surprised Percy immensely, considering how awfully Jason dressed.

Jason took offense when Percy voiced this sentiment, but didn’t seem to mind much when Percy merely gesticulated to his present choice of clothing.

"So," Jason starts at some point, "What happened last night, man?"

Percy averted his gaze.

"There are two options at play here. Either I snorted some drugs by accident before going to bed, or there is a ghost in my apartment."

"Or, you know, maybe there was a rat inside the wall or something."

Percy considered that. "Huh. Fuck. Yeah, you're right. I'll buy some rat poison and see how it goes."

"Ha, don't sweat about it. We all do dumb stuff like that at your age."

"...How old are you?

"22."

"You're younger than me. Dumbass."

They kept talking about random shit until Percy remembered he was probably stopping his neighbor from living his best life on this beautiful Saturday morning, so he apologized for the inconvenience (it was no problem at all, man); thanked him once again for his hospitality, like a fucking middle-aged Victorian woman talking to the next door DILF; and left.

-

So here's the thing.

Percy bought the rat poison. Percy bought rat traps. Percy applied both. And yet… nothing changed.

The next night, he heard whispers coming from the walls of his apartment, calling his names and saying shit as random as they were mean and sunday truffle. He checked the entire apartment; left all the lights on, for once ignoring the bills. He was alone,

and yet.

The whispers went on for a full hour.

Percy's entire torso was sticky with sweat as he focused on not shitting himself. He slept very little that night.

-

What he dubbed as "what-the-fuckery" seemed to stop after another night of noises. He still slept with his light on for three days, but everything was silent, and he assumed the rat poison had worked, or that the Universe was done playing with him for a while.

For weeks, nothing out of the usual happened. That is, nothing unusual except for: he and Jason talked now. They talked when they met in the hall when they were going and coming from work. They talked when Jason brought him chocolate chip cookies as a "housewarming gift". They talked when Percy came over to Jason's to watch the game and to down some fancy, awful-tasting artesian beer Jason got from his sister.

Just some guys being dudes. Just some dudes being guys. Just some guys being ace.

Percy's apartment had been quiet for weeks. All was well.

And then everything went to shit again.

-

"Dude, mind if I crash on your couch tonight?" He asked a bleary-eyed Jason as soon as the latter opened his door.

"Come in, bro."

Jason got the blanket and the pillow, no explanation required. Possibly because he was half-sleeping while standing up. Percy didn't complain. The only sound he could hear from Jason's couch was the usual buzzing of the city and some people messing around and being loud on the street. Outside the apartment. Far away. No one whisper-shouting his name on his ear.

He slept like an angel that night.

When he woke up, late because he forgot to plug his phone and it was dead, Jason had already gone to work. But Butterfingers was asleep on top of him, and a plate of still warm waffles awaited Percy on the television stand.

-

The haunting — there was no escaping the fact his apartment was fucking haunted — went on for three months before Percy reached a conclusion.

"I need professional help."

Jason looked up from his grilled cheese and raised his eyebrows at Percy.

From Jason's couch, Percy pointed to his apartment.

"The… ghost… situation."

"Why?" Jason asked with his mouth full. "You can just crash here when you need. You know that."

"It's not a permanent solution. What will I do when your lease ends? No, no. We have to attack the root of the problem. We need someone who knows how to deal with the supernatural forces of the Unknown."

Jason just swallowed his food, his face untroubled. "'Kay."

And so that's how they found themselves in an establishment called Solace in Solace — Psychic Evaluations. Apparently the guy had a connection with Apollo, which at least told Percy he was hellenistic, like him.

"Hello, gentlemen. Mr Grace, Mr Jackson." A blond, sleep-deprived looking dude greeted while shaking their hands. The guy looked young, just like your average college student.

"I'm Will Solace. We spoke on Facebook," he continued. "Welcome to," here he sighed, "Solace in… Solace. God, I'm gonna kill my dad someday. Anyway, please take a seat."

He gestured to one of the couches in his living room. Jason and him sat. Mr Solace sat across from them, a center table holding a bowl, a pitcher of water, and a pile of tarot cards between them.

The house, specifically the living room, was not what Percy expected from a psychic. He was expecting lots of purple dotted with stars. A crystal ball, maybe. Something very Merlin from The Sword in the Stone movie. Instead, it was your average baby boomer dream, except bright. The windows let in a lot of light, hitting the crystals in the room and creating rainbows through the wooden floor. The paintings on the wall were vivid and abstract, and the couches were each a primary color. It was surprisingly comfortable.

"So," Will Solace started, "how can I help you guys?"

Percy shared a look with Jason, who squeezed his knee once. Percy turned to Will, took a deep breath, and told the whole story.

Will listened attentively and let him get it all out, only nodding minutely when Jason interrupted to remind Percy of some detail he forgot to mention. Then Will asked a couple of things; the dates when he heard the noises and callings, what he felt in his body in those times.

"Did you bring the object I asked?" Will asked.

"Yeah, hang on." From his backpack, Percy produced a notebook. It had been misplaced at some point during one of those cursed nights.

"Interesting," Will pointed out as soon as he touched the notebook, but didn't really add anything else. He no longer looked sleep-deprived. Instead, he looked capable; his movements quick and graceful like a cat's.

He then took the pile of cards and asked Percy to select a few.

When the set was formed — Nine of Swords, Lovers, Nine of Wands —, Will stared down at them, sitting very still. His body gradually relaxed, but his eyes were far away.

Percy shared another look with Jason, but this one was a Look.

A few minutes later, Will seemed to come back to himself with a single blink. He said, "Oh."

"...'Oh'?" Percy questioned.

"Yeah."

"...Good-oh or bad-oh?" Jason asked, frowning deeply.

"Interesting-oh."

Will smiled; a soft, boyish smile that made his cheeks light up.

"So, yeah, the apartment is dead-ass haunted,” he continued. “I think someone died there in the… 30s? No, no. 40s seem more like it. Yeah. A boy. He's, uh—" He paused, his eyes far away again, so he didn't hear Percy's asshole clenching at the news that he had been right, holy shit. "Okay, so here's what you need to know. This is a very strong ghost. An offering to Hades will help. Maybe a treat for Cerberus too? Anyways. I suggest you keep sleeping in Mr Grace's place during the full moon period, Mr Jackson."

An uncomfortable silence fell unto the room after that.

"Uh, alright, uh—" Jason started, pausing to clear his throat. "What about… exorcisms?"

Will straight up scoffed.

"I wouldn't bother, if I were you. It will just anger him."

"Alright," Percy said. "I… think... that's all?"

They changed more pleasantries and shook hands. Will ominously wished him "good luck", right before saying:

"A frigid bedroom

a warm someone to hold close

fuck I'm really gay."

Will rolled his eyes.

"I think the god Apollo wanted you guys to keep that in mind. Anyways, see you!"

-

They tried exorcising the ghost anyway.

I mean, first they made an offering to Hades and to Hestia. But the full moon came, and with it the whispers, and Percy was Not Up For That, thank you very much.

So they bought some candles, some chicken blood. Used a photo of the apartment. You know, tried the traditional way.

They stopped when the blood started vaguely spelling the word idiots. So that didn't work.

-

The new routine: at 8 PM of every full moon night, Percy entered Jason's place with his brand new key, armed with a pillow and a blanket.

(Did he think about how he was basically living as a reverse werewolf, becoming weaker and in need of refuge on full moon nights? Yes, all the damn time. Anyway.)

He would greet Butterfingers at the door and then laugh at Jason for having a cat who preferred the neighbor. He had upgraded from Jason's couch to Jason's bed. Found out Jason snored most nights, which was good because Percy also snored most nights. Still woke up with Butterfingers sleeping on his belly. Still woke to Jason and his awful shirts. Sometimes woke with Jason spooning him. Got up from the bed before Jason woke up, on those mornings.

As a thank you, Jason also spent three nights of the month on Percy's (the new moon nights, because they thought they were funny).

Sometimes Percy thought it would look stupid to an outsider. Two full grown men having sleepovers and talking into the night, exactly like middle school. But who cared?

They cooked lunch together on Saturdays; stroganoff with noodles, chilli with rice and beans, classic lasagna, salads with chicken and beef because they liked both. They gripped each other's hands when watching the scary parts of documentaries about unsolved mysteries in America. They planned a road trip to West Virginia to find Mothman. I mean, they already knew ghosts existed.

Thing was: he was happy. He was really happy.

But everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked.

-

By Fire Nation he meant the Bad Times™, obviously.

Which wasn't helped by the fact that Jason's lease was ending in a month, and Percy didn't know what he would do without him. Not just haunting-wise, but… distance-wise.

Without his dumb laugh. Without his dumb flamboyant shirts that he wore at home. Without Butterfingers. Without their weird, half-deep talks about the meaning of life or porn actors or Lizzo.

It's not like Percy hadn't had friends before. Of course he had. But the thing was, he didn't want Jason to be another friend. He wanted to have the courage and the permission to spoon him back in the mornings. He wanted to live with him, to have his kids, and also to maybe press his forehead to Jason’s. Not necessarily in that order, though.

He loved Jason. Loved loved loved him.

But Jason was leaving. And Percy wasn't ready to have someone committed to him like that. Hell, Percy wasn't committed to himself. Everytime he thought he had it figured, he knew what happiness was and he could keep it; everytime, this happened. This… darkness. He was paralyzed with doubt and fear and a deep rage at himself, but not rage that fueled him. Rage that made him stop in his tracks and just hate himself.

His baggage was too much. He was too much. Too full of crying almost everyday, of struggling to get out of bed, of hating everything in sight some days, to have a boyfriend.

Wasn't the saying, "you can't love someone until you love yourself"?

He was the living proof of that. He couldn't enter a relationship. Not now.

But he wanted to. Desperately.

So he did what any rational millennial on a budget would do and set an appointment with Will Solace again. Alone this time.

"Dude," was how Will greeted him, motioning for him to get inside to escape summer's infernal heat. "Things aren't looking so good right now, huh?"

"Is my aura that unsettled?"

"No, man, I just looked at your face. C'mon, sit down."

Percy sat down. Will imitated him, sitting across from him.

“So, uh, spill.”

Percy spilled.

Maybe it was because he was talking to a virtual stranger, but it was easy to open his fucking heart out on that awful yellow couch. He would have even lain down on it Freud-style, if he thought that that Freud bitch deserved any respect.

Will listened attentively, not interrupting, just like their first session. They fell into silence after Percy was done telling his woes. Will looked like he was thinking attentively.

“So. You think you don’t deserve him?” he summed up.

Percy nodded once, because it was kind of like that. Although laying his heart out was relatively easy, meeting Will’s eyes was not, and so he kept his eyes trained on the center table.

But he looked up when Will breathed out a small laugh.

“Man, this world is hell. Hell is other people, right? But we can be each other's heaven too. If you found yours, why are you denying yourself the joy of it?"

The answer was obvious. “Because I don't deserve it.”

“Says who?”

“...Says me.”

“No offense, but… is your brain really a good judge of that?”

Will had a point. Kind of.

“Well, okay, then,” Percy said. “It wouldn't matter if, objectively, I deserved to be with him, if I can't convince myself that, if I can’t believe that.”

“That's true. So why don't you do it anyway?”

“What?”

“Who the hell knows when you'll be convinced? Why don't you just… do it?”

“I’m not... ready to give love consistently like that.”

Why?”

“Because! I’m a mess!”

Will nodded, taking a deep breath, although it didn’t seem like he was exasperated with Percy yet.

“Okay. Percy, here's the thing. I can't tell you what to do. Only you can do that. But I think you should talk to Jason about this. He's the one you love, so, go grab your man! Seriously, he's the one you need to figure things out with, isn’t he?”

He was, and Percy knew that.

But—

“There’s another problem." He took a deep breath. "I'm scared."

At that, Will… smiled?

"Who isn't? Feel the fear but do it anyways, my dude. Yeah. That will be 20 dollars."

So apparently that was all Percy needed to know.

-

The next time he saw Jason, it occurred to him he didn't even know if Jason was interested in him that way.

But then Jason's entire face lit up when he saw it was Percy at his door and he kissed Percy on the cheek, so he assumed Jason did want to put a name on what they had.

He owed it to him to be honest.

"Can we talk?" Percy's voice sounded hoarse, exactly like a defeated love interested at the climax of the movie, because the Universe hated him.

Jason's countenance dimmed a little. "Sure?"

They sat down on the couch. Jason waited.

Percy took a breath the size of the world. And then he slowly opened up.

Told him everything. Asked if he was right in assuming Jason wanted something more with him. He was. (It was cute how flustered Jason got when Percy put the cards on the table.)

And then he told him— not that they couldn't be, but that it wouldn't be easy. That Percy wasn't the easiest to be with.

Jason let him talk. Never interrupted him although he looked like he wanted to.

This was it. The falling from the tip of the night. Possibly the last night he would be carefree and honest with Jason like this. He should savor it, he thought bitterly.

And then:

"Baby."

Percy shivered.

"I love you," Jason continued. "And I don't plan on going anywhere."

Until then, Percy had been looking at his own shoes, but at that he looked up. Jason's face was understanding while he extended a hand to grab Percy's. Percy let him.

"You're not too much to be loved. Never was, never will be. Especially not for me. Do you believe me?"

With Jason holding his hand and looking at him like that?

"A little, yes," he said. Jason smiled.

"Good. I— would like to try this. I— Look, Percy, if you're… if you're in, then I'm all the way in. If you wanna do this, then, I'm not going anywhere. I won't hurt you, and you won't hurt me. Please think about it?"

Percy wouldn't be inclined to believe him, if not for the please.

So he said, "Yes".

He said yes

-

Their motto was: let's try.

Let's try to eat something. Let's try to cheer up with some music. Let's try to express our feelings in a constructive way. Jason both gave him space but was undeniably there. He would just sit on Percy's couch and do some work on his laptop while Percy played with Butterfingers and tried to feel alive and full of possibilities again. And while a part of Percy was ashamed of, well, needing so much, most of him was just glad he wasn't alone with his thoughts, that he had Jason as a focal point to distract him.

And when Percy was ready to talk, to be present again, Jason was there to hold his hand and kiss his forehead.

And the reverse was also true. Percy listened to Jason curse his job to hell and back. Rubbed his back if Jason spent too much time with it curved. Went jogging with him. Brought him snacks and coffee while he worked.

Jason spooned him at night, and Percy melted into the embrace.

-

It was enough months later that Percy was already planning what to do for their anniversary when Jason asked, so casually that Percy needed a moment to fully process the words: “Maybe you should move in with me.”

From his place on Jason’s lap, he smiled, completely content.

“I mean,” Jason continued, “it would be neglectful of me to let you live in a haunted place.”

“Hm.” Percy pretended he had to think about it, pretended he hadn’t been practically living here already, anyway. Pretended he didn’t love sharing one space with Jason.

But he dropped the charade quickly. His smile grew. “Our poor ghost will feel so alone.”

Jason chuckled at that. “He’ll live.” A pause. “Or… not.”

And Percy laughed too.