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until your feet hit the floor

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Annabeth doesn’t know what to do with anger—her own or others’. She can take her problems to the sword fighting arena or bury her nose in blueprints for weeks, but she’ll still come away with a tight jaw. She doesn’t know what to do with her hands when they aren’t clenched into fists. 

So when the tendons in Percy’s hands strain around his silverware at dinner, when his eyes are downcast and he’s closed off in that I’m-angry-but-trying-desperately-not-to-look-it way, Annabeth can only fumble over a painfully casual attempt at conversation and watch as he retreats to his cabin. He doesn’t even make an appearance at the campfire. The flames have been low in the weeks following the Battle of Manhattan, but they’re rising tonight. 

The problem isn’t reading Percy; it never has been. Annabeth knows what’s hurting him and why. It’s the fixing part she struggles with. 

He’s been angry for the better part of a year, often because of the ambiguous impending doom of his sixteenth birthday, but not exclusively so. Annabeth caused more than her fair share of his anger, she knows. Rachel had been there to provide an escape in her place, but Annabeth supposes part of being Percy’s girlfriend means that it’s her who gets to provide solace now. Not that she didn’t before, but. There’s a deeper commitment now. He was always her person—as she was his—but it’s out in the open. She’s the first line of defense—she wants to be the first line of defense from danger, be it physical or emotional. 

So Annabeth dons her Yankees cap and sneaks to Cabin 3, replaying the conversation where Percy shrugged and said he’s fine when she tried to call him out. He isn’t fine. She knows that much. 

That doesn’t mean she expects to find him curled in on himself, bedsheets tangled around his middle. It shouldn’t be possible to look small in a twin bed, but he looks so small—not at all like the hero the other campers celebrate over the campfire. It’s a stark reminder that he’s only sixteen. 

He lifts his head when the door opens, his eyes wide. Annabeth remembers that she’s invisible and knocks her cap off her head. She’ll pick it up later. Right now Percy’s breath stutters at the sight of her, his eyes shining like open wounds. 

Annabeth can do dry anger: the cold, unfeeling rage that motivates, propels, inspires. But wet anger—the paralyzing, painful kind you cannot power through—leaves her scrambling for purchase. Annabeth is a runner. She doesn’t sit in anything. 

The sheets rustle as Percy closes his eyes and takes refuge in his bed like a dog hiding his wounded paw. Despite his efforts, he cannot disguise his limp.

“Please don’t hide from us,” Annabeth pleads. 

“I’m not hiding from you,” he says mildly, not lifting his head from the pillow. “I can’t hide from you.” 

“But you came here.” 

“I knew you would come.” Percy shrugs, casually stating as fact something Annabeth didn’t know herself until a few minutes ago. 

In this moment, Annabeth envies Percy’s connection with Grover. She would kill to have a way to funnel her emotions into Percy’s brain in a way he could understand. All the love and concern she can’t articulate could exist in the world without the struggle of finding the right words. 

Still, Percy specified her. Grover is out there at the campfire, probably sensing Percy’s pain like a twinge at the base of his neck, but Annabeth is the one Percy can’t hide from. 

The thought propels her to the edge of his bed, sitting in the curve of mattress his torso folds around. His knees press into her right thigh as he shifts to close the space between them. Annabeth realizes with a jolt that he left this space for her to occupy. 

On her other side is his face, youthful and soft in the moonlight streaming through the window. Blue light for a blue boy, swimming in blue sheets that should shelter him instead of giving him something to fist his hands in. His arms cage his chest as if his heart is trying to escape it. 

Annabeth reaches for his hand, drawing it to rest between hers. If his heart is a burden, it’s not one he has to bear alone. They held the weight of the sky once. They can handle this. 

For all their shared burdens, the one that weighs on Percy now is uniquely his. Annabeth is a hero, but not the hero. Shouldering “child of Athena’s final stand” for a few weeks is not the same as “hero’s soul, cursed blade shall reap” looming overhead for four years. Percy’s very existence has been dissected and politicized since the moment he was claimed, whereas Annabeth could’ve chosen a quieter, quest-free life if that’s what she wanted. She chose to pick it up. Percy’s choice was to stand under a weight that would otherwise crush him. 

It occurs to Annabeth that everyone who has shouldered this burden before him is dead. The heroes whose birth was prophesied, whose death was prophesied, died fighting their battles centuries ago. There are no words for that. 

Words are Percy’s strong suit, anyway. He has always known what to say to calm his friends down. Annabeth can’t recall the last time she saw someone do the same for him. 

She squeezes his hand and focuses on being here, where it matters. 

“Do you want to talk about it?” she asks, knowing he doesn’t. Or rather, knowing he doesn’t want her to have to talk about it. 

As expected, Percy burrows deeper into the bed. Half his face is squished in his pillow; the sole eye Annabeth can see fixes on the empty space in front of him. He gives her a noncommittal shrug she doesn’t buy. But at least he won’t lie outright. 

Silence follows. It nips at Annabeth’s ankles, nagging her to move, to do something, but she decides to sit with the discomfort. The confession he’s suppressing is a palpable thing: Annabeth watches it stutter in his lungs and claw its way up his windpipe. Percy will tell her when he’s ready, and she’ll be here when he is.

“I’ve been having dreams,” he says, still not meeting Annabeth’s eye. That’s okay, though. He’s getting the words out. That’s what matters, right?

“What kind of dreams?” 

Percy grimaces. “Not the useful kind. Nightmares, mostly. About the war.” He doesn’t breathe between the sentences, just grits his teeth. 

“It’s over, Percy. The war is over. We can rest now,” she tries. 

“They can’t.”

Dread settles over Annabeth, but she asks anyway. “Who can’t?” 

“Beckendorf,” he chokes, his hand tightening in hers. “Silena, Castor, Lee, Michael—I killed him, Annabeth. I told the others where to go, and they died because of me, but I killed Michael.” 

Annabeth opens her mouth to interrupt, but the names keep coming. Percy steamrolls through the tears, leaving her to watch his anger limp along until it collapses into the worn bed of sadness.

“Ethan shouldn’t have been on Olympus. I should’ve hit him harder, then he might have stayed down. And Zoe—I knew she was going to die. We found out who her dad was, and I knew and I couldn’t do anything. And Bianca wasn’t supposed to stop the automation. It was supposed to be me. She could’ve come home to Nico, and maybe then—” 


He shrinks with each word, looking every inch the child Annabeth found on Half-Blood Hill: bruised, tired, and crying for his mother. “My mom died because of me. I didn’t even save her—I saved the world, because that’s what I had to do. Hades let her go, but she still died.” 

Annabeth gapes at him uselessly. To love Percy is to know intimately the amount of guilt and unearned blame he assigns himself, but that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach. 

“You saved your mom,” she reminds him. “You saved her and the world. You shouldn’t have had to do either, but you did.” 

“But I didn’t save the others.” 

“No one could’ve.” 

“I should’ve. When you fight the way I can, the people who die around you die because you can’t get to them fast enough. If I had just been faster, I...” He takes a shuddering breath. “Why do I get to survive when they don’t?” 

A lifetime of war games and war alike, and that question is the worst thing Annabeth has ever heard. Percy is just laying there, still not meeting her eye, and she doesn’t know how to help him. 

Terrified of how he’ll answer that question, Annabeth leans down to kiss him before he can. She tries to pour everything into it despite not having too much experience. Kissing Percy so far has been fun, sweet, and definitely trial and error. Nothing this desperate, this needy. She inhales him like she can steal the painful words from his lungs before he says them. 

Annabeth tastes tears and pulls back, terrified that she’s done something wrong. Instead, Percy’s hand catches the back of her neck, keeping her close enough for their foreheads to touch. It’s there, inches away from his trembling lips, that Annabeth finds the words.

“You saved me,” she pants. “From the Furies on the bus, at the Lotus hotel, when Polyphemus knocked me out—” her fingers travel to his grey streak— “when we held up the sky, at Mount St. Helens, on Olympus… Too many times to count. From the first day we met, you gave me hope.” She strokes his cheek and wipes away the tears, feeling her own eyes well up. “Every day. You save me every day.” 

Percy clings to her hand on his cheek and releases a deep breath, fully exhaling for the first time all night. “You save me just as often.”

“So let me do it now, yeah?” 

Percy looks at her, green eyes wet and wide, and nods carefully. Annabeth sighs her relief against his forehead before pressing her lips there with an aching softness. There is more to say, but she takes a moment to just hold him. The Fates deemed her his anchor to mortality, so anchor him she will. 

“You survived because you were saddled with the weight of the world at twelve years old and the gods owe you a fucking break.” She looks at the ceiling, almost daring thunder to rumble. The sky stays silent. “More campers are alive than dead after a war with impossible odds, Percy. You saved so many, but you can’t save everyone. None of them would want you to blame yourself for this. We have to honor their sacrifice—and, in some cases, their choice .” 

That breaks him. The last of his anger gives way to painful sobs, the ugly kind that squeeze your lungs like a spasming fist. In this moment, he is not the wounded dog, but rather the limp itself: the awkward cadence of his breath reminiscent of limbs struggling to hold new weight. 

“What do you need?” she asks. “What can I do?” 

The mattress jostles as Percy scoots closer, freeing up part of the bed. “Could you stay here with me? Wake me up if it gets bad? If you have to go back to your cabin, that’s fine—” 

He’s cut off by Annabeth kicking off her shoes and crawling into bed behind him. There isn’t much room on the twin mattress, but she tucks her knees into the backs of his and wraps around him, and they fit well enough. She settles quickly to avoid overthinking, glad for the excuse to be close to him. 

This is entirely unfamiliar territory, as Annabeth discovers when she tries to figure out what to do with her hands. She’s never spooned someone before. 

Percy senses her hesitation and laces their fingers, pulling her arm around his torso. Annabeth squeezes him tight, like maybe lining up their hearts will calm the frantic beat of his. Between that and her body protecting his Achilles spot, she’s got him. 

It’s a little awkward, the silence that follows. They haven’t exactly had pillow talk before, let alone while calming Percy during a breakdown. Annabeth doesn’t know how to hold him to make all that go away, so she clings to him as tight as she can. 

“You’re like a boa constrictor,” he chuckles. It’s a wet, half-hearted laugh that tells Annabeth he still has more to say. He’s at his worst when he’s deflecting. 

Still, she moves to loosen up. “Sorry.” 

 He tugs at her hand. “No! I mean, it’s nice. I feel… safe.” He pauses, his breath deep. “I always feel safe with you.” 

Annabeth hasn’t kissed much of him apart from his lips, but she liked the comfort of kissing his forehead. She tightens her grip again and presses her lips to his shoulder, just because she can. 

“Sometimes they’re about you,” Percy whispers. 

Annabeth lays her cheek on his shoulder, trying to see his face. “What?”

“The nightmares. Sometimes they’re about losing you.” 

“Percy, look at me.”

The tension falls from his spine as he flips around, tangling further in the mess of sheets. Annabeth smooths everything out for him before laying on her back and tugging him close. He ends up halfway on top of her: his arm around her waist, her hands in his hair, their legs a tangled mess. 

She holds his face, thumbs swiping at his cheeks gently. He may be invulnerable, but he’s a fragile thing. Maybe even more so with the invulnerability. 

“Tell me about them.” 

“What? No. Annabeth, I’m not— I can’t talk about you d— about losing you. I can’t say those words.” 

Annabeth just holds his face and his gaze. “You should. Talk about it here, safe, with me, and maybe it won’t be so bad when you fall asleep. I’ll be here the whole time.” 

The tension in Percy’s body is palpable as he resists Annabeth’s coaxing. But slowly, she slips her hands to his scalp and massages him there, leeching the stress from his body as he sinks forward into her. His weight presses Annabeth into the mattress. It’s comforting, having him above her. She can feel every breath he takes, every time his heart beats in his chest. 

“We’ve almost died a ton of times, but that was always together.” He swallows, and his Adam’s apple bobs against her collarbone. “But then on the bridge with Ethan, when you took the knife…” 

Percy takes a shuddering breath. 

“Sometimes we get you to the hotel and Will can’t help. Or I can’t find Will. Or Blackjack can’t grab you. Or—” his grip tightens around her, and his tears fall on her skin. “Sometimes you, you die right there at my feet. You jump a second earlier, and Ethan hits you in the chest, and I kill him for it. I kill everyone on the bridge. Most times it’s an accident, just the river listening to me, but sometimes… sometimes I don’t know. Both scare me.” 

One of Annabeth’s hands moves to his Achilles spot of its own accord. Percy gasps into her neck, where some tears fall as well. He’d fought his way through his confession, coming from somewhere so deep inside him that the deluge of tears was unavoidable. She hopes to distract him from them now.

“You saved me on that bridge,” she reminds him, her free hand scratching lightly at the base of his neck. 

“But what if I didn’t?” he breathes. He sounds so small. 

“Doesn’t matter. You did. Anything else is a hypothetical.” 

“But in the future—”

“Uh uh.” Annabeth’s chin taps Percy’s temple as she shakes her head. “It’s like strategy. You can think and think and think and plan your whole life out, but it’s not real. You never know what’s going to happen until your feet hit the floor. Are your feet on the floor?” 

“No,” he grumbles.

“No,” she echoes. “You’re in bed. You get to rest now.” 

Percy is still for countless heartbeats. Right when Annabeth thinks he might’ve fallen asleep, he props himself up on one elbow to look at her. Even in the low light, Annabeth can make out his puffy eyes and wet cheeks. 

“You know you’re my best friend, right?” He sniffles, his nose wrinkling adorably as he does, and his eyes bore into Annabeth’s. “You’re my girlfriend too, but you’re my best friend first. Always.” 

Annabeth hears that statement for what it is and grins despite the tears prickling in her own eyes. “And you’re mine. Always.” 

A smile breaks out on his face like dawn at this late hour, brightening up the small space between them. Exhaustion sets in to close it, drawing Percy to settle back into Annabeth’s neck with the slow pull of gravity. 

They drift off in a bed made to be slept in alone as they share a burden made for one person. Newness tinges the corners of this memory, this moment Annabeth finds herself missing before it’s gone: Percy asleep above her, finally getting the peaceful rest he deserves. Part of Annabeth wants to stay up all night to make sure he gets the most of it, to watch his back as she promised to do, but her eyelids are heavy with sleep in no time. 

What sticks with Annabeth is this: Percy’s breath slow and steady against her neck, his heartbeat reliable as ever as it syncs with her own. The world is warm and safe despite all the evidence to the contrary, and that’s what makes this moment untouchable. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, here they are. Together in every way that matters.