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can't you feel my heartbeat

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can't you feel my heartbeat;

/

You see, the Universe has a plan, and that plan is always in motion, a butterfly flaps its wings and it starts to rain. It's a scary thought, but it's also kind of wonderful. All these little parts of the machine constantly working, making sure that you end up exactly where you're supposed to be, exactly when you're supposed to be there. The right place at the right time.

/

i.

/

Percy is twelve when he first meets Annabeth Chase.

In that no man's land between sleep and dreams she comes to him and stuffs surprisingly tasty pudding in his mouth while he resists. The first thing that registers in his head is her princess curls, blond and bouncy and pretty, and he really wants to tug them.

Other than that, though, she's about the furthest thing from a princess he's ever seen. Annabeth is bigger than him and stronger than him and scarier than him, too. She has long fingers which are always close to her dagger and a frowny mouth (at least, she's always frowning when she's with him) and dark grey eyes that analyze him and zero in on his weak spots - and she doesn't hesitate to go for them. She doesn't seem to like him much, either: a stark contrast to the girl he'd seen a few days ago, wide-eyed and wondrous, calling him 'the One'.

She introduces him to the world of gods and monsters and tries to teach him Greek, rolling her eyes when he pronounces something wrong, smirking when he glares at her. Annabeth acts all perfect, straight-backed and alert, so unlike him, tripping over his own feet and stumbling in his speech. It doesn't help that one of the first things he does to her is drench her in toilet water – he's guaranteed her hygiene for a lifetime – but she is more shocked than angry, which is good, because there's a beeper in his head that always rings when he's with her, warning him again and again to not get this girl pissed off.

She's sharp with him, always pushing him, expecting more, glaring when she doesn't get it. She's not the oldest at Camp but is given as much respect as any counselor, she's a born strategist, and she seems to delight in using him as the centerpiece for her little schemes.

When Percy is claimed she makes sure that she doesn't have to be around him any more than she has to, even averting her eyes when she sees him in public. Which is kind of sad. Other than Grover and Luke, she'd been the only person he could talk to. Somehow, he'd felt that he could confide in her, as they'd gone through, more or less, the same kind of hardships.

He spots her with Luke a lot, and while he treats her like a sister, she blushes every time he smiles at her. Which is frequently.

For some reason, Percy is disappointed. Maybe he'd thought that she'd be smarter than that. But she's proved that she is more than capable of making her own choices. It's not really his place to judge, he barely knows anything about the world he's been thrust into. Maybe he should focus on his own problems first.

Acting on impulses unfathomable to him, Annabeth decides to accompany him on his quest, which is apparently doomed to fail anyway. He's not particularly thrilled about it, and she isn't either. They bicker so loudly and so often Grover threatens to stuff tin cans in his ears. That doesn't stop her, though, and Percy isn't easy to give in, so they carry on in lower tones, when the satyr is fast asleep.

Percy's almost always confused talking to her. He's not the smart one, and he doesn't want to pretend to be something he isn't. Of course, Annabeth, supreme defender of Athena, doesn't fail to pick this up, even calling him 'Seaweed Brain' to rub it in.

Annabeth has a lousy sense of humor sometimes, and her imitations (of him) and her bad puns (regarding him) and her snarky comments (about him) somehow manage to pry themselves into a snug spot right underneath his skin, where, however much he itches, they refuse to budge. A lot of the time he finds himself biting his tongue to stop it babbling too much. She has that effect on him: she makes him angry that he's so useless, she makes him want to prove himself with an unquenchable thirst that is, quite frankly, beyond him. And he hates it. He's had a rough time these past weeks, if she only knew what he's been through...

Only she does know and maybe, deep down inside, she's sympathetic. One day, when apparently she can't help herself, she tells him about her own life and only a complete nut can miss the pain in her voice. Maybe he's been too hard on her. She's been through a whole lot more than he has, she's seen death and has been exposed to the evil of the world at such a young age. He tries to give her the best advice he can and she hands him half an Oreo.

Annabeth is, to him, like a machine at times, she's the model daughter of Athena, goes by the book. Follows the rules, spouts facts about everything, even when it isn't necessary (seriously, he does not need to hear details about how the modern toilet was invented), silently disapproves of his rash ideas, comes up with plans woven out of thin air. Once in a while, she allows her smirk to be replaced by a real smile and he secretly thinks she looks much more human when she does that, and he can see her small dimples and her face brighten and her eyes literally sparkle and it's kind of infectious, really.

He learns more about her as each day ticks by. She has a deathly fear of spiders (he has to bite his lip to stop the smile), she hates admitting he's right (he can't help smiling at her reluctance), and she wants to be an architect (he laughs). An image of the ADHD Annabeth pops into his head, sitting at a table and making measurements, and it somehow amuses him.

He immediately curses himself for grinning because her eyes flash and she snaps at him. In that one sentence she manages to glorify Athena and her children and disrespect both him and his father, and something in his chest goes ow and it hurts.

"Sorry," she admits a minute later, and she says it like she means it. "That was mean."

"Can't we work together a little?" he begs, this close to getting down on his knees. He can't take his constant arguing, and although she'll never admit it, he suspects she's a little tired of it, too. "I mean, didn't Athena and Poseidon ever cooperate?"

Annabeth sighs, considers. "I guess...the chariot." She says it like she knows she's going to regret it sooner or later. "My mom invented it, but Poseidon created horses out of the crests of waves. So they had to work together to make it complete."

"Then," he says with something like hope, "we can cooperate, too. Right?"

She looks at him out of the corner of her eye, still more focused on the Arch. "I suppose."

And so they become a chariot. In essence. She's the brains and half of the brawn, he's the drive and the entertainment factor – literally, as Ares lures him into a humiliating godly trap – but the important thing is that they are finally working together, slowly but surely warming up to each other. They're so completely different but it works, they complement each other, and Percy finally feels like he's done good.

Annabeth is proud, she's a proud person, aware of her own abilities and always ready to use them, but she's been at camp so long it's actually kind of funny when he catches her off guard by saying stupidly normal things, like when he asks her to help get Ares' spear from the tunnel-of-love-ride-thingy. In the span of two seconds, her mouth drops open, her face turns scarlet, and she squeaks, "What if someone saw me?"

He probably owes his life to Annabeth, she's got them out of so many near-death situations. And the thing is, he finds himself returning the favour. They're a team now, fighting monsters (and each other), and she may be snarky and bad-tempered sometimes but he knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can trust her. And by the way she lets him –whimpering as the ropes stretch her from both sides - distract Crusty is proof that she trusts him, too.

He feels like an utter klutz next to her, like a drooling toddler placed next to a precocious child. Which is kind of exactly how it is.

Still, when they're crossing the Styx on Charon's boat with the dead, and he's shivering for all he's worth, her hand reaches out for his without the slightest warning, and he takes it without a second thought. He can feel warmth radiating from her like she's some kind of sun and in the silence, he thinks he can her heartbeat, and he grasps her fingers hard because she's alive, like him, and he can feel the blood pulsating through the vessels. And it's comforting and reassuring, and somehow he feels like this is when he really appreciates her for the first time, her warmth and her closeness and the very fact that she's there with him on this quest, always there, always ready to help. And it's like his nerves are slowly coming back to life, warming him from the tips of his fingers to the soles of his sneakers.

And it all becomes different. Somehow, he finds himself communicating things to her with a single glance, he knows she understands and she merely has to blink a certain way and he gets what she's trying to convey.

She's said before that they're friends but he never really gets what a demigod friendship means until she hands him her camp necklace, with trembling fingers and worried expression on her face. He tries to imagine what she's feeling, how she's lost Thalia and now she's losing him, although he doubts he's as important as the daughter of Zeus.

Only she doesn't lose him, and he decides to stick around for a bit, make her life a little more challenging. He teases her, she elbows him, but he catches her smile in the dimming light of their burning shrouds. And he feels happy, he feels content, he feels awesome now that he's not in danger of dying any time soon. He's never felt more wonderful having both Annabeth and Grover at his back. He feels complete, whole, they're there to share the burden with him and he doubts they'll ever leave.

But Grover leaves first on his suicide search that no satyr has ever returned alive from. Percy watches Annabeth grow almost teary as their friend vanishes from view, and there's a fire slowly kindling in him, hope for Grover, hope for all of them.

"We'll see him again," she whispers, and he looks at her underneath the exploding balls of light and colour, and he nods.

Annabeth leaves next. She tells him when he's half-dead and Luke is long gone. He can see the despair in her eyes and he knows that even if she decides to stay she's tear herself to pieces. She tells him how she'd tried to patch things up with her dad, sent him a letter. Percy is astounded. She's taken his advice after all, and he feels all warm at the thought.

Annabeth purses her lips and looks at him. "You won't try anything stupid during the school year, will you? At least...not without sending me an iris-message?"

He can't help smiling. "I won't go looking for trouble. I usually don't have to."

She looks at the ground and back at him. He sees the fire in her eyes, she tells him that next summer, they'll go after Luke. He agrees immediately and they shake hands.

"Take care, Seaweed Brain," Annabeth says. "Keep your eyes open."

"You too, Wise Girl," he says.

She smiles slightly at her nickname and turns, walking with slow steps away from him, and Percy watches her go over the hill and out of sight and feels, for the first time in a long time, lonely. But then he makes his decision, decides to go back home where he belongs.

He thinks of Annabeth and grins almost in spite of himself. She probably wouldn't want him back in the mortal world, so vulnerable to monsters. But hey, disagreeing is what they do best, and Percy's always been happy to oblige.

/

ii.

/

 

Annabeth is thirteen when it hits her that Percy is probably all she has left.

She dodges into an alley, bronze dagger held aloft, and sees Percy's apartment, finally, after so many days of running. She climbs the fire escape, looking shamelessly into each window, wondering if she can catch a glimpse of her friend, when she sees him. And after almost a year of being away from camp, Percy is a sight for sore eyes – Annabeth actually smiles at the sight of him, bleary-eyed and kind of adorable, with his hair sticking up everywhere, his mouth full of breakfast, hunting desperately for his backpack.

Percy is nowhere near perfect but that works for him, he doesn't look the least bit like a hero of old but she likes the fact that he still manages to think like one. He's short and scrawny with crazy black hair and eyes that remind her of the sea, he's about as unpredictable as a kid from the Hermes cabin, and he has a terrible affinity for trouble that he can't – and probably never will be able to - shake off. He's irritating and impertinent, but he's still loyal as they come and she knows that she can put her life in his hands and know that he will take care of it. He's not big or strong or good-looking, so unlike Luke, who had been the perfect image of what a hero should be.

Luke is not Percy, her mind reminds her. She's needed a lot of reminders; she's always felt slightly disappointed when she looks at her best friend, however kind he might be. Luke is tall and strong and athletic and handsome. Percy is not. Luke has destroyed the lives of so many. Percy won't do that.

And that's all okay, but whenever Annabeth thinks of the prophecy, she looks at Percy cracking up at his own jokes and feels a pang of sorrow. He has so much of his life left to live and he's already doomed. Being a child of one of the Big Three, he's already so in danger of being tracked by a monster...

Then she sees him leaving class with a Cyclops and nearly faints.

"Percy!" she hisses, but she's wearing her invisibility cap and he can't see her. Momentarily, he turns around and his eyebrows knit together in confusion. Then he walks away.

Annabeth tails him to gym and watches with a mixture of amusement, admiration and horror as Percy plays dodgeball with a pack of Laistrygonians. What actually impresses her is that Percy is mostly trying to help everyone else. And when they've won, Annabeth punches the Sloan kid in the nose and watches as he crumples at her feet. Percy's face is elated and she has to admit it feels good.

Only she finds out that Percy's friends with the Cyclops. The monster. Something inside her dies as she remembers Thalia and Luke's voice coming out from that-that monstrous thing. What's worse it to hear it call her pretty and Percy look at it almost fondly. Turns out he hadn't even known the thing was a Cyclops. She finds herself biting her tongue a lot of the time, wanting so, so badly to something rude but knowing how much it'll upset Percy.

All she wants is to back home, to camp, but when they reach it seems as though nothing will ever be the same again. Thalia's tree is on the verge of death, Chiron is gone, and Tyson the Cyclops is a son of Poseidon.

Annabeth can tell when Percy's upset and he remains upset days after news of his new brother. The teasing goes on and on like it will never stop, and with Tantalus bullying them all too, she just tries to distract him, tries to console him – "It isn't your fault you have a monster for a brother."

Percy looks up, green eyes angry. "He's not my brother! And he's not a monster, either!"

She raises her eyebrows, replies, he shoots something back, and on and on until she finds herself saying, "Then maybe you should design a chariot with him."

"Maybe I should," Percy says maddeningly.

"Fine!" she snaps.

"Fine!" he hisses back, and she stomps away as tiny drops of water spring to her eyes. She wipes them away she glares resentfully back at Percy, where he sits hunched on the ground. She knows he's angry, his chest is heaving, and all she can think about is that beating him in the chariot race will never be a greater pleasure.

That changes when they're in the kitchens together wearing hideous gloves and scraping lava off plates, discussing strategies and possibilities.

She's never realized how much she's missed this, explaining all these things to Percy, him asking her about her favorite topics. They're back together now, an unbeatable team, fighting against all the unfair things that seem to meet them at every turn. She knows him and he knows her, and he tells her about Grover and they both know unanimously that they need a quest figure things out. She's reminded again and again of her words to him last summer, "We'll ask for a quest, but if we don't get approval, we'll sneak off and do it anyway."

The advice grows louder when their request is denied and given to Clarisse instead. She tosses and turns at night, bolting upright when she hears Percy's voice, far away in the distance.

"Help!"

Annabeth is jerked out of her slumberish state and she doesn't even grab her cap as she darts out the door. Her heart is beating way overtime, and all she's thinking about is Thalia dying while she could only watch in horror, and the prophecy, and her promise to Chiron, her promise to keep him safe, and there's something else, too. Genuine concern, worry, panic for him. Because now it's too late, and he's slowly wriggled his way into her conscience. He's there and so is she and she's grown to...appreciate him for who he is, mostly because he does the same for her. Percy is erratic and impulsive and doesn't think before he acts, which is dangerous, but that's why she's there for him, isn't she? She's the sane one, she's the one who has to be there to pull him out of trouble.

But what's pretty awesome about Percy is the fact that he doesn't judge. He's one of those utterly selfless people who never thinks about themselves, is always willing to listen, who accepts people for who they are, no strings attached. And maybe that's why he'll probably be more of a hero than Luke ever was, maybe that's why she likes him so much.

When she sees him safe she's relieved and ecstatic and angry all at once, but he speaks with an urgency that surprises her. Why is there even a decision to make? Of course they're doing the quest.

When they meet Luke again Annabeth is struck by just how much he's changed. It's like the old Luke was simply a facade to get her so close to him. Which, in retrospect, might have been a mistake, because he knows her now, too much for it to be of any good to her, and he knows what she's thinking and how she's thinking and her deepest, darkest fears. And he doesn't just rub it in, he practically smashes it in her face in the worst possible ways: "Talk about you dishonoring Thalia's memory!"

She puts her face in her hands and knows that the tears are coming, and they're coming hard and fast; she takes deep breaths, slow breaths, to calm herself. It doesn't work. Luke knows her inside out. One look at his face and she knows that he knows just how hard he's hit her.

But the worst thing is, she can't hate him. Try as she might, she cannot hate Luke Castellan because whenever she does, some of her earliest memories surface, Luke smiling at her, grasping her hand, telling her that he's her new family. Those memories make her want to laugh and cry and rock herself in a dark corner. Then she remembers who he is, who he's become, and she feels sickened with herself.

Percy hates Luke now, too, with an intensity that pains her. She's never seen him dislike anyone this much and when he talks about Luke his face gets a really ugly look. Luke deserves his hate. Luke tried to kill him. But there's a small part of her that wonders constantly, an annoying soft spot that later decides that Luke is not truly evil and that she can help him, she will help him.

Reluctantly, she tells Percy about Thalia, and Luke. While she talks, she sees a queer look begin to form on his face, but it vanishes almost instantly. But Annabeth knows how to read people, and Percy is an open book to her. She searches around for a word to match his look and zeroes in on jealousy. It surprises her, because Percy has no reason to be jealous. If anything, she should be jealous of him. Percy has a loving mother who'd give up her life for him, and he manages to see the bright side of everything, even when there isn't one. He's easygoing and light and he makes her feel better about herself. He gives off this aura of cheer, whereas she can only invite solemnity.

He means a whole lot to her, so when she fishes him out of the Sea of Monsters, drooling ("Oh, Seaweed Brain," she sighs) and utterly conked out, the first thing she feels is relief. Regret comes soon enough, regret that she'd hated Tyson so much and now he's gone because he gave his life to try and get them out of there.

"Annabeth," he says suddenly, "what's Chiron's prophecy?"

Panic shuts her throat and she nearly chokes, getting the words out: "Percy, I shouldn't-"

But he pesters and pesters and his eyes get all big and plead-y and she can't help but relent. She tells him all she knows and she can see her own alarm reflected in his eyes, she curses herself repeatedly; she should not have told him, she should not have told him, he's got enough on his plate already. The words reiterate in her mind, and she nearly chokes up again, because she somehow cannot imagine a world without him, a world where Percy does not sneak up behind her, only to be caught in a headlock, where he does not ask her about an old Greek legend with that blank expression on his face...

A world without him might be terrible, but a world with him as a guinea pig is ten times worse. She's so tempted by the Circe's offer, but she figures out how her best friend is now a rodent and freaks out completely. Later, she will wave it off and laugh, but at the moment it is horrifying, and when he's back again with a loud BANG!, she's so calmed by the apologetic look on his face that she launches herself forward and throws her arms around him before he's even completed his request for forgiveness.

The second have never gone by this slowly, but when she withdraws they're both shining crimson.

"I'm glad you're not a guinea pig," she says finally.

Percy goes even redder. "Me, too."

She removes all the makeup from her face and takes the golden stuff out of her hair, because this is not her and it never will be. She also sees Percy smile slightly as she lets one ribbon fall right underneath her foot. He knows, too.


He holds her underwater and she cries into his shoulder. His ears are still plugged with the candle wax so he cannot hear the chorus of horror from the Sirens' mouths. She only sobs, and sobs, and sobs, while he pats her back awkwardly and his fingers trace absentminded patterns near the back of her neck. She doesn't exactly know why, but it's soothing. And when they're out of range of the Sirens and all she can hear is the strange silence of the bubble, Percy tells her that it'll all be okay and they'll get back to the ship, and suddenly she's so, so glad he's there, and her eyes nearly brim over with tears of pure gratitude. And she whispers, "Thank you," because she really, really means it.

Percy is wonderfully sympathetic, even as she tells him about her fatal flaw. He's oblivious but it helps, it helps her mind to get back on track, but it's all so worrying, all at the same time, and they're not even done with their quest yet.


Her head is woozy and she can't think straight, and it's like someone is blowing in her ear. Through the haze of noises and wind, she hears him, she hears Percy.

"You're a genius," he whispers.

It takes so much effort to open her eyes, but when she does he's asleep, holding on to the neck of her hippocampus. There's a weird burst of fondness for him that courses unexpectedly through her body, which she cannot understand, but after they win the chariot race and Percy announces Tyson to be his baby brother, she feels it once more, this time stronger, and it lifts her up onto her toes and she finds herself kissing him on the cheek.

Again. She feels that thing again, that strange surge of warmth that fills her entire body with joy. Which is illogical and stupid and completely insane, but she has been rather happy lately. After all, they've got the Fleece and brought Chiron back and saved Grover and it's all okay now, just like Percy had said it would be.

Only it's not, and Thalia's back, lying in Percy's arms, and it's all muddled up again. Percy stays in a constant state of shock the next few days, not speaking to her or Grover or Chiron or anybody, and it hurts so much because all she wants to do is help him, but for the first time, he does not let her in. Which makes her sad, because she's the one who puts up walls and keeps everyone at an arms' length. He's not. But Annabeth walks with him up the hill to say goodbye and he looks at her like she doesn't exist , like she's hitting him, and he walks away without saying goodbye.

Annabeth watches him walk and the bottom of her stomach drops and her heart grows icy and shivering. And she suddenly understands what is happening to her and no, no, no. She cannot like Percy Jackson, because he is him and no, just no.

But then he seems to snap out of his...behaviour, and he turns and waves at her and grins and she waves back without hesitation and it's happening, it's happening, and there is nothing she can so to stop it.

/

iii.

/

Percy is fourteen when he gets a vague idea of just how much Annabeth means to him.

His mother tells her all his embarrassing baby stories and she laughs, and she looks different, more grown up, and he feels like a doofus next to her. Her hair is longer and her eyes are more shimmer-y and she's still taller than him, and it's bothering him more than it should. How's he supposed to be a hero when he's so short and scrawny and stupid?

She's there right next to him, and they share half a dance –which is awkward and weird and makes his palms sweat until they're freaking waterfalls – but then he screws up and Annabeth plummets down a cliff on the back of a manticore.

Thalia lashes out at him and Nico asks "Was Annabeth your girlfriend?" and Grover sniffles on and on and now that she's gone it only leaves him with a sense of emptiness, cold and lonely, like he's just left the daylight and has stepped into a dark, damp cave, which closes itself behind him. And on top of it all, they lose Bianca to the Hunters, which makes him feel like Annabeth's sacrifice was all in vain. And that irks him, the scene repeats again and again in his head and he hates it. She is not dead, he wants to go look for her more than anything, but he's not allowed to. Grover is, Thalia is. Zoe Nightshade is and Bianca di Angelo is. But they're going on a quest to save Artemis. And even though Grover promises him that he'll look for Annabeth -if he can- Percy's not consoled.

His dreams do not help matters. He sees Annabeth, thankfully alive, wandering aimlessly across a black, barren land. He sees Luke appeal to her better nature, he sees her succumb to his trickery. Luke leaves her there, pleading struggling against her burden. Percy reaches out to her, but his hands are made of shadow. He sees her face, dirty and sooty with clear paths; her tears are cutting through the grime. Her whole frame is hunched and rigid out of the sheer effort she's using to keep the thing from crushing her, and then he wakes up, aghast at what he's seen and firm in his resolve. He has to save her, he has to.

Grover tells him hesitantly that Annabeth may have wanted to join the Hunters, and once the deadened feeling ebbs away from him, Percy can't, for the life of him, understand why she would want to do something so stupid. He knows she's been through a lot. She's devastated about Luke, obviously, but she has him, doesn't she? She has him!

The thought keeps him angry for a good few days. His smaller bickering with Thalia turn into full-blown fights and she electrifies him with a bolt of lightning, and then Percy feels like he's actually woken up for the first time in his life. Even though his ears are not working properly anymore he can see her lips form the words 'Seaweed Brain' and something snaps inside him, because that is Annabeth's nickname from him, and she says it playfully, almost fondly, not the way Thalia is saying it now, each syllable uttered with pure disdain. He remembers Thalia saying, "If we'd stuck together, we could've taken him without the Hunters getting involved. Annabeth might still be here. Did you think of that?"

And his whole body shakes and quivers like a tree in a storm and he lifts the entire creek into a massive swirling cloud, and he sees Thalia's terrified face and for a moment, he feels elated. He realizes he wants to prove to Thalia how much he cares for Annabeth, that he'll do anything for her, and then, maybe, Thalia will never doubt him again.

Only, he can't fight that battle by drenching her. He looks at her again and guilt weighs down on his shoulders and he's about to let go when he sees something that makes him drop his whirlpool anyway.


Sure, there's a monster on the loose and Artemis has been captured and two people are in danger of dying, according to the Oracle – but all of that can wait. He needs to make sure Annabeth is out of harm's way, and then they'll see about the rest.

When he's finally made the final member of the quest he feels slightly better. Now he can get some things done, he can find Annabeth and get out of here. They get a few godly visits in the form of Apollo and Aphrodite – and he hates to say it but he liked the conversation with the former better than the latter.

Aphrodite is so stunning he can't even manage to string two words together for most of the time he's with her. She is the most beautiful person – well, goddess – in the universe, but the first thing she resembles is Annabeth. For a split second in his mind, she has blonde hair and gray eyes and is smiling sarcastically at him, twirling her dagger in her hands. Come on, Seaweed Brain. Stop gawking.

His heart probably stops and for a moment, all he wants to do is grab her hand and get the hell out of there, get her out of Luke's clutches.

Percy blinks and Annabeth's gone, replaced by an actress he's had a crush on once, and he prays that the goddess hasn't guessed, but Aphrodite seems to know exactly what he's been seeing, and so the rest of the conversation is about Annabeth. Percy says exactly what he's thinking but the goddess interprets it differently, she twists his words to suit her liking. A quest for true love, she says dreamily. Percy blushes repeatedly throughout the conversation while Aphrodite leaves with a promise to make his love life full of anguish and indecision. Then she warns him vaguely not to pick up anything in the junkyard.


They're almost out and Percy thinks this is easy.

But maybe this makes things tougher than ever, and Bianca dies to save them from a crazy automaton, she dies acting on his idea, and suddenly death is something much more real and immediate than he'd realized.

In camp, there's always that drive to stay alive, and they've all been close to death's scaly jaws more than once. But is the first time he's seen someone die, someone that had been fairly close to him. Bianca dies, she dies a hero, leaving them all shattered. Percy's never considered Zoe of having human emotions before, as she's usually so stoic and detached, but she bends down on the ground and sobs so hard her entire body quakes. Percy finds himself numb. Bianca had only just found a place where she had belonged, she had a brother who loved her...

It strengthens his resolve to find Annabeth even more, his determination increases but when he sees Hoover Dam up ahead he's sure his heart has stopped beating, at least for a second. Annabeth'd told him all about the dam a few years ago, and he'd been so bored, so pleased when she's finally stopped. Now he's here and she isn't and his heart pangs against his chest as he curses himself.

"We should go up there." His voice catches. "For her sake. Just to say we've been."

Of course, they're ambushed by tracker skeletons and Percy has to run for it, almost killing a girl with age with frizzy red hair. She's snarky and sarcastic but she saves his life, and he has to scram without even getting a chance to thank her properly. Rachel Elizabeth Dare. He really does owe her one.

They visit Annabeth's family and her stepmother says, Nice meeting you, Percy. And also, I've heard a lot about you.

He flushes. He wonders what exactly Annabeth might've said about him. Is he her friend or her fighting partner... or what? What did she describe him as? Heroic? Surely not. Stupid? Probably. A Seaweed Brain? Most likely. He speculates if he's an amusing topic when the family is eating dinner, a source of laughter when there isn't any. It's never really occurred to him, but maybe he means something to her too.

Still, Percy's heart nearly fails when he sees her again, because she's okay, she's all right, but it's bittersweet because Luke's dead, Thalia pushed him off a cliff, but Annabeth doesn't believe it, not a tiny little bit. He tells her that he'd never believed she was dead, not even for a minute, and she smiles and nods at him with an appreciative kind of look but that's all. And he looks at her with incredulous disbelief and her eyes are shining with a conviction he'd seen on his own face when she'd been captured because he'd always known she was alive, and something in him goes twang and it hurts. Because she's thinking of Luke, not him, even though Luke should be dead and he's held the sky for her.

Luke is evil and Luke has fooled her too many times. Luke has played on her feelings for him that he knows exists and he's almost killed her. Why, then, is she still on his side?

He feels like he knows the answer, but he doesn't want to admit it, even to himself. Admitting it will make it real. Better leave it a doubt, a mere possibility, and hope for the best.

When they get to Olympus his mind is all muddled up again, and there's a verdict on his death, but then Artemis stands and goes to whisper in her father's ear and he knows what it is. Zoe is gone so Artemis needs a new lieutenant, and she'd called Annabeth strong and oh no, oh no, oh no.

"Annabeth," he whispers frantically, "don't."

She looks at him like are you crazy? And maybe he is, but his whole body is pumping blood so hard into his heart it's clouding up his mind and he can't think, he can't form a complete sentence, he can't think of anything except that he's gone through all this trouble to get her back and he is not going to lose her again.

But she doesn't want to be a Hunter and he doesn't lose her after all, and they finish that dance, that dance that they started in the military school, and they sway softly as the music lilts about them and he knows that people are staring and whispering and that Aphrodite is probably having the time of her life, but he closes his eyes and breathes in the lemon in her hair and wishes that they could just stay like that forever.

Athena's voice comes back to his head. I do not approve of your friendship with my daughter.

A part of him is disappointed, the other is defiant. He can be friends with whoever he likes. Maybe Athena is just worried about his fatal flaw, and harm coming to her daughter because of it. He doesn't understand it at all, fatal flaws are annoying and scary, and so what if he cares about his friends and his family? So what if he will do anything to save the people he loves?

Love. He remembers Aphrodite now, her prattle about tragic love stories, and he goes scarlet against Annabeth's hair, hoping that she can't feel the heat rising up off his face. Love is creepy and complicated and scary, to be honest, but simple, really. And he loves so many people, so many things, although in different ways. Grover, his mom, Annabeth...

If loving them is dangerous, so be it.

But now he's the prophecy child and he is probably in more danger than before and-

Annabeth pulls back and smiles at him and he loses his train of thought. She allows him to lead her on again and hey, who cares about danger? She'll always be there to make sure he doesn't die.

At least, not yet.

/

iv.

/

Annabeth is fifteen when she first experiences jealousy.

She'd got out of camp for Percy and washed her hair – her hair! - for him and come to his school early only to find it blown up. And Percy jumps out of an alley and whams into her, and she laughs and catches his shoulders, but he's followed by a girl, a pretty girl with red hair, freckles, and eyes just like his, a girl who acts like she's known him all her life, a girl who has a snarky, no-nonsense attitude, a girl who-

A girl who writes her phone number on Percy Jackson's arm.

With permanent marker, no less.

A white-hot wave of anger crashes over her as she watches it happen. And there's nothing she can do, because then the girl is gone in a blur of red hair, every annoying little bit of her, promising to cover up for Percy's sorry little butt. And that angers her more than ever, because covering up for every stupid thing Percy does is. Her. Job.

"You've met her before?" she shrieks, unable to stand it anymore.

"Um," Percy says anxiously, "last winter. But seriously, I barely know her."

She looks away, hating the tears that sting her eyes. She remembers Percy saying Never on the back of that Pegasus last winter, remembers fighting the blush that had threatened to rise up to her face. Heat rises to her face for a completely different reason. She'd though he'd wasted every waking moment thinking of her, of Annabeth, instead of cozying up with another girl.

She spends the rest of the car ride in a stoic silence that she knows is unfair, while Percy pleads beside her, murmuring incomprehensible sorries. When he mentions Luke her blood boils with something like fear. And maybe excitement. And okay, there's also hope and maybe longing and a teensy bit of anger. Only, the anger has too much competition to ever win out.

He'd come to visit her, he'd told her he wanted to run away with her...

And she'd refused, she'd told him she had Percy now...

Only she didn't, she doesn't, and she doubts she ever will. There's a new girl in Percy's life, and, judging by the way he keeps looking dazedly at the scrawled numbers on his arm, she's here to stay.

It wounds her, though, deep inside where she keeps her darkest thoughts. And a fist clenches her heart and refuses to let go. Something's different now, and it has a greater effect on her; her heart races whenever he looks her way and one little touch sends a massive electric current down her spine, searing every inch of her flesh, her eyes memorize every little detail about him and her mind stores it safely somewhere it'll never be lost. It's all changed now and so forcibly that when she and Percy argue in front of everyone it seems alien.

She finds herself sliding next to him regularly during mealtimes, knowing and relishing that it's against the rules, she likes it for some reason and she knows he does too, but every time she gets close she has to remind herself to keep her distance.

Only now it's harder than ever before. Percy is suddenly all she thinks about. She stares at nothing in particular only to find that he's in the way; Silena clucks at her as she passes.

"Too late now," she whispers, and Annabeth blushes so hard it's a wonder she doesn't burst.

Something's definitely different, all right, but she can't figure out what it is. At least, until Percy grins at her maddeningly from across the arena and she gets a full blast of it in the face, and suddenly all she wants to do is sink down on her knees and groan. It's the end of the world, this can't be happening...

Percy Jackson has gotten attractive.

Okay, maybe he'd always been, but she'd liked him more because of his good heart than his good looks. But now...now he's just, well, a whole lot cuter than before.

She hadn't really noticed, but he's, like, a tiny bit taller than her now. Something about his hair, too, it falls across his face in a different way. Before it had looked like he hadn't known how to work a comb but now it looks like the comb hadn't wanted to work. And he's lost all the baby fat from hours and hours of training and he's a lot leaner and tougher and rugged-ish looking and sometimes when he comes back from the arena, drenched in sweat, he looks-

Wow. She really, really needs to get a grip on herself.

She's not the first person to notice the sudden change, though, she spots a couple of Aphrodite girls giggling as he passes and she clenches her fists in a completely involuntary way. But what's funny is he's so wonderfully oblivious to it all, and even though she finds herself getting and at him for the smallest reasons, maybe she'll be the only girl he'll actually ever be comfortable with. And that's quite the comforting thought.

Slipping into and out of the Labyrinth thrills her as much as it sends dread rippling down her backbone, and suddenly her quest, her own quest is within reach, only Percy's resisting-

"Are you going to help me or not?" she snaps, and is relieved when he is silent. That's another thing that's changed about him, he's more reluctant to argue, but she can literally read the protests off his face. It's like he doesn't want to hurt her by saying something mean, which makes her angry. What, does he think she has tomato juice in her veins?

But she'd prefer tomato juice when she hears the Oracle speak to her at long last. She dives downstairs the way she'd come the moment the last line has been spoken, her teeth chattering, blood pounding against her ear, turning the world grey and flicker. And lose a love to worse than death. A love. Losing a love. To a fate worse than death.

Immediately, her first thought is of Percy, and she has physically shake the thought out of her head. She can't – won't – musn't – shouldn't – tell him. But he comes to talk to her and she's so worried about him and her and Grover and Tyson and everybody that she stupidly holds out her arms.

When he steps into them she relaxes almost immediately, hating how he has this calming effect on her, how easily she gives in to his touch. They've pushed each other and high-fived and knocked each other down in training, but this is the first time she appreciates his closeness, feels his heart beating against hers, so rhythmic and consoling and alive. And she closes her eyes and vows to herself to never forget this feeling.

And then they're thrust into the endless darkness of the Labyrinth leaving her desperate with worry. And lose a love to worse than death.


Losing Grover and Tyson makes her frantic for more reasons than those which immediately occur to her.

Besides losing two of her best friends...it's awkward being alone with Percy now, so awkward, so different from the times they'd sat together by the lake, under Thalia's pine, so many places, and talked about anything. They'd been like that, completely free with each other, and they're not like that anymore. There's all this tension, all these barriers that prevent the old, uncomplicated friendship from resuming. It's so many things: Luke, and Rachel, and Kronos, and the prophecy, and their parents. It's just so weird now, now that the completely different kind of feeling revisits her whenever they catch each other's eye.

And when they're looking Death straight in the eye, when Percy's blabbering something about her getting out of there, that volcano, leaving him there, alone, practically defenceless, just so she can get away alive...

"What? I'm not leaving you!" Annabeth screeches. Tears spring at her eyes and fall down fast, mingling with her sweat, burning at the cuts.

"I've got a plan," Percy says with little conviction. "I'll distract them. You can use the metal spider –maybe it'll lead you back to Hephaestus. You have to tell him what's going on."

"But you'll be killed!" She's on the verge of breaking down now, because Percy can't die, and certainly not like this.

"I'll be fine," he says. "Besides, we've got no choice."

She glares for all she's worth, but Percy does not even flinch. And he looks her right in the eye and maybe his face is sooty and dusty and grimy but his eyes are clear, those clear green eyes that stare her down, inviting her to do something about it. And she knows right then that there's not a single thing she can do to change his mind, that he's ready to die in this godsforsaken place. He's being too noble, he's sacrificing himself for her. For her.

And she is not worth that.

And she doesn't know what's going through her mind as she does it, but suddenly she tilts her head up and her lips crash onto his.

It's over as suddenly as it begun and Annabeth finds herself putting on her invisibility cap so as to hide the blush, murmuring a hasty goodbye and bolting from the place, heat rising quickly to cover her whole face in a sheet of red. She doesn't stop, she can't stop, but when she hears Percy's strangled yell she turns around, reversing course without even breaking a step or slowing down, and then a tremor passes under her feet, knocking her backwards, and she's sobbing, sobbing so hard, and attempting to clamber to her feet once more, but she's blown backwards again and the last thing she remembers before blacking out is his terrified scream resonating through the narrow tunnel.


When Annabeth comes to she's all alone.

Grover is gone and Tyson is gone and Percy is gone, gone where she can't reach him. It's a grey world, a cold world, and it's then that she realizes how much she'd never told him, how much she'd held back. She appreciates him so much more now that he's gone, and the very sight of the empty Poseidon table at the dinner hall is enough to bring out a fresh round of tears. Still, she never stops praying, never stops hoping, that somehow, somewhere, Percy is alive and breathing and trying to come back to her.

And lose a love to worse than death.

What have they done to him, what are they doing to him? If Percy is suffering a fate worse than a painful death because of her, she will never forgive herself.

When two weeks pass Chiron tells her about his funeral. She cries and cries and begs that no, he's alive, but he only shakes his head sadly.

"He's alive," Annabeth says firmly.

"How can you tell?" Chiron asks hopelessly.

"I-I..." she falters. "I can feel it."

It sounds like a question. Because that's not enough, she knows, and she hates the way she says it; she knows that to Chiron she must sound like a useless Aphrodite girl, a shallow, frilly being waiting for her one true love to return to her. It's too little, too late, and she has to trudge along with the rest and watch Chiron take out Percy's sea green shroud, the same colour as his eyes, and cast it into the flames.

She's asked to speak and at this point Annabeth is so choked up she can't even breathe. What can she say about him, and how can she say it? Percy Jackson can't really be put into a few words, words that will sound dreary coming from her mouth. He's so pessimistic but has a constant drive to survive, he's completely loyal, and he underestimates himself. He may not be the smartest person on the planet but he's okay with that, he doesn't consider himself a hero but he's done enough to make him one. He's wonderfully oblivious and obtuse but it's endearing, he has a crooked little smile that make his eyes shine. He helps keep her strong when all she wants to do is cry, he tries to keep his chin up even in the most desperate situations. He's been such a good friend and a good person to her, even when she didn't deserve it. He's saved her and she's saved him and he's not supposed to be gone, he's supposed to be next to her, because it was supposed to be the two of them, only the two of them, against the world.

She should be dead. He should be alive.

"He was probably the bravest friend I've ever had," she says finally, feeling incredibly useless. "He..."

She looks up for a split second and catches a flash of the brightest green. She squints through the sun, hoping beyond belief, and there he is.

Percy is standing right in front of her, watching his own funeral, and smiling somewhat amusedly. Annabeth feels like the world has started spinning again and her face stretches into a smile that is so large it's painful, and then whatever heat left in her body rushes to her face, all at once. He even sends her half a crooked smile as she stares, and she's reminded of her nightmares, seeing different versions of his corpse in her sleep. Her mingled joy and relief at seeing him so alive and healthy turns very quickly into white-hot rage.

"He's right there!" she splutters.

As everyone surrounds him, exclaiming in wonder, Annabeth stays rooted to the spot before realizing he's right there and darting to him the way a needle is attracted to a magnet.

"WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?" she howls, and then he's so close and so real that she just flings herself into his arms, burying her face in his chest and listening to the steady heartbeat that she'd almost believed had stopped.

Silence. Annabeth pulls away to see everyone looking away hurriedly and Aphrodite's campers grinning at each other in glee.

He tells her his plan and Annabeth is suddenly wishing he'd never come back. She'd kissed him, and then he'd promptly decided to spend two weeks with another girl, and now he's suggesting they call on the mortal – the mortal – for help. On her quest. Her quest.

Suddenly he's unbearable to the eyes and she spends most of the time with him sitting stiffly as far away from him as possible. Percy and the mortal – Rachel – bond under her very nose, and she sits by the fire and watches the two of them sleep together, breathing in sync, hands inches apart. It hurts her more than she'll ever give away.

And then there's Luke – oh, Luke – with those unnatural golden eyes staring menacingly out of his face, and the expressions on his face are not his, the voice being emitted from his mouth is not his. She sees Percy, too, running towards them in slow-motion, and there's a split second where she doesn't know whose name to call.

Rachel is quicker. "Percy!" And she hurls her hairbrush with shocking accuracy at Luke's pristine face.

Percy collides into them with a sudden, surprising burst of speed, and Luke yelps in pain, and it's him, it's him, she can save him-

She barely has time to say his name before Percy hauls her out of the place by her shirt, and Nico claps his hands and the tunnel collapses behind them, and she sobs and sobs, grasping on to Percy's hand like a lifeline before crumpling onto a bench and letting it loose. She can hear the others murmuring around her, but the image of those golden eyes burns into her mind, even though her eyes are shut painfully tight.

"He gave himself over to Kronos. I'm sorry, Annabeth," Percy says harshly. "But Luke is gone."

Annabeth argues, that no, that it can't be, that he'd sounded like himself for a split second when Rachel hit him.

"But you saw," she persists. "When it hit him, just for a second, he was dazed. He came back to his senses."

"So maybe Kronos wasn't completely settled in the body, or whatever," Percy replies brutally, like he's completely and utterly ignoring the pain she's in. "It doesn't mean Luke was in control."

"You want him to be evil, is that it?" Annabeth snaps desperately. "You didn't know him before, Percy. I did!"

"What is it with you?" Percy snarls back. "Why do you keep defending him?"

And Annabeth looks into his eyes and she can see the rage there, the frustration, the disbelief, and the sorrow. Swirling around like clouds buffeted by a strong wind. His lips are still curled around in that unnatural growl, an expression that does not suit him in the least, and his fists are curled and shaking slightly. She has brought this on. For years, she has snapped and snapped and snapped and snapped at him, and they've reached the point where he has finally started to snap back.

She's too weak, now, to do anything more, so she bursts into tears once more, and listens to Rachel and Percy, and he kneels at her side and she finds she can stand, which, after the day's experiences, is a remarkable feat in itself.

When they're out of the Labyrinth with Grover and Tyson, getting on to their pegasi, she can hear Percy and Rachel murmuring softly to each other, and she sees him thank her and smile and laugh and make fun of stuff with her, and it makes her sad, because that used to be her, and because lately she and Percy have only been scowling at each other.

He doesn't do much to try and mend their friendship, even after the battle is done. They avoid each other and only exchange terse nods, not even smiles. It makes her angry because he's supposed to be the loyal one and the one who tries to put it all back and she's supposed to be the impossible one, the difficult one. Percy's done so much for her and she'd only looked at Luke, and now she's losing him and there's nothing she can do about it.

Luke still penetrates her thoughts, those yellow eyes instead of the blue. It's all wrong, it's so wrong, but then Percy passes by without even a glance at her miserable figure, and there's a new burst of pain and for the first time in her life, Annabeth doesn't know what to do.

He corners her before he leaves, though, and gets it out of her. A new light dawns in his eyes as her figures out the meaning, and then the light dies and she can hear the anguish in his voice as he says, "So Luke-"

She stumbles over her words and trips over them again, trying so hard not to hurt him, but Percy flinches like each new word is renewing his pain, doubling and tripling it over and over again. She says take care and keep in touch, but the words are as hollow as her heart feels and then she walks away.

The pain hits her in the chest and the region burns as Annabeth collapses on the steps on the Big House, where she'd seen Percy for the first time.

And she stays there, a lifeless heap, and conjures Percy's tortured face in her mind's eye and it sucks, because she can't live with him, but she can't live without him, either.


v.


Percy is nearly sixteen when everything comes crashing down on him.

It's all a messy blur as Rachel kisses him and Beckendorf dies and he goes back to camp to hear the prophecy, and he finds out he's destined to die. Annabeth stands next to him and refuses to meet his eyes, and he wants to protest, he want to talk to her about it, but there's no arguing with the Fates.

She calls him a coward the next day and storms away and it's like she's grabbed his very emotions for a moment or two, because Percy suddenly can't feel a thing anymore. Perhaps trying to prove a point, he goes with Nico to the Styx, where he's forced to take an acid bath, and when he's drowning, he's dissolving into dust, he sees her. Annabeth stares down at him and rolls her eyes and smiles ruefully before extending her palm, and he takes it and he's done it.

She doesn't seem that angry at him anymore and they're back to back and fighting as the Apollo cabin retreats and then there's a shiver down his spine and he turns to see Annabeth plummet to the ground, her body sprouting blood. Something inside him dies as he watches her writhe in pain, because how could she have known, she'd just taken a knife for him, and now all he wants to do is turn the person who has done this into a rodent.

She puts her fingers on the Achilles spot and Percy shudders. But it feels good, like his burden is gone, but it's not gone, not really. The burden is better now, though, because he's sharing it with Annabeth, who he knows will never give it away, will hand it over to someone else. And they share this new bond, this new connection, this thing that will always keep them together. She is his lifeline.

And he's not even sure of what she has with Luke but that's okay. Only maybe it's not, because now he feels his heart race whenever she looks at him or smiles at him or even rolls her eyes at him, his spine tingles when they touch it dawns on him that maybe she'd called him a coward for a completely different reason.

The war is a mess and people are looking up to him, but sometimes all he wants to do is break down, because so many people are dying for this cause and he feels so hopeless sometimes, and he doesn't know whether to snap at Annabeth or ask her to rest. It's cold and confusing and their list of allies runs thin, but there's always, always a fighting chance, and Percy intends to use it.

They're running up to Olympus as everything crumbles to dust around them and she stumbles and calls his name. He turns to see her fall and his hand instinctively goes out to catch her, he lunges forward blindly just to get a hold of her, because Annabeth isn't going to fall, not on his watch.

Thalia and Grover give him strength and he pulls her up and they both just collapse on the broken floor, holding each other tight. He can feel her shuddering in his arms and making the hollow noises he knows precede crying, and maybe he's doing the same because he's never, ever, ever been that close to losing her.

Luke asks her, "Did you love me?" and Percy catches his breath, and then Annabeth looks straight at him and suddenly everyone is gone from the world, it's only her. And she looks back at Luke and whispers the words But I didn't love you.

They have beaten Kronos and then Percy's offered immortality; he turns to look at Annabeth and she's white as a sheet and clearly freaking out. And he looks the king of the gods in the eye and says "No" because there's really no reason to say Yes.

She kisses him that day, his birthday, a good kiss and a real kiss and a kiss that's not a goodbye kiss, and later, when all the excitement has died, she punches him on the shoulder and says, "We've won."

And victory is so freaking sweet.


They meet up at Camp for the Christmas vacation and it's wonderfully blissful, Percy's never been this happy in a long time. Annabeth laughs next to him and rolls her eyes and kisses him, and he decides he wants to be like that, forever and always. He wants to be by her side, so they can be as they always have,

He kisses her goodnight and walks back to him cabin, where he falls onto the mattress and into a dreamless sleep.

When he wakes up, he doesn't know anything anymore.


Percy trek through jungles and tries to shake off the multiple monsters off his trail. He's barely had any sleep these few weeks-slash-days-slash-months, he doesn't really know, but he stops at the top of the hill and looks at the city of San Francisco, and he thinks of Annabeth.

As far as he can figure, she's his girlfriend, and she must have been pretty darn important to him, because she's all he can remember. Her blonde hair and her grey eyes and the way she saysSeaweed Brain. There are kisses, too, multiple ones, and they make him feel all warm and fuzzy inside, like they are memories he has and will always cherish. He doesn't know where she is, heck, he doesn't even know where he is exactly, but she's his driving force, his motivator. Every day, when he comes close to giving up or passing out from sheer fatigue, he thinks of how he's getting closer to her with every step, and he grits his teeth and moves on.

He meets Hazel and Frank at the gates of Camp Jupiter, which feels so right it's wrong. Annabeth isn't there and everyone is wearing purple. Percy doesn't like purple.

Their only praetor, Reyna, doesn't seem to think he belongs either. She glares and snarls and rarely smiles. But he can tell she's completely devoted to defending her homeland, and she will go any lengths to do it. He respects that. He admires the fact that she knows who she is and what she's supposed to do. He only wishes he could feel the same.

Annabeth's few images begin to fade as they progress further and further on the quest. It makes him panic, he wants to shout at someone, he wants to know why this is happening. All he wants is to have a quiet life with his family and Annabeth, somewhere away from all this drama. He closes his eyes and tries to remember her smile, but he can't visualize it, all he feels is the familiar warmth that engulfs him despite the cold. He wants to see her again, so, so badly.


He watches as all four demigods descend from the ship, watches as they approach Reyna, watches Annabeth. She looks terrified but excited, such a painfully familiar look, and it all comes back to him, all the times they'd fought side by side, and he pushes forward through the crowd until she sees him, and they're motionless for a few moments before crossing the space between them to reach the other, but they meet halfway and he doesn't care about the crowd and he certainly doesn't care about anything except making sure she's real. His heart is pounding like a drum and he reaches up to touch her face. Her skin feels warm.

At his touch, her expression crumbles, like she's held it together all this time and she just can't anymore. They kiss and he can feel her pressed into his chest, so wonderful and warm and real, and he closes his eyes and he can hear the thump of both their hearts. Of course, she judo-flips him and nearly breaks his back, but Percy can't keep the grin off his face, and he's never been more content in his life.

Being with her is a blessing from all the gods (except Hera). But she's supposed to be going on this solo quest. Which means he can't go with her.

He doesn't doubt her abilities for a second, but there might as well be a rain cloud hanging over his head. No child of Athena has ever done it...if Annabeth...

No. He refuses to think of an alternative. Annabeth will succeed. She has to.

They spend the time they have being together, like they should have been all this time. They talk of old times and new times and the future, but Gaia's always there to spoil their fun. She wants Percy and Annabeth to raise her, whatever that means, but since he's so worried Annabeth won't be able to come back to him, he finds himself wanting to get captured with her. Which is probably really selfish, but sometimes, well, all the time, really, he just wants to get away from it all, be a normal teenager. He wants to go out and get groceries for his mom, go on a date with his girlfriend, without being attacked by a horde of vicious monsters.

Letting her go is torture. She kisses him and looking at him with a horribly mournful expression, like she's memorizing every detail about his face, perhaps a comforting thought before she died. She'd looked at him in a similar way when Luke had been taking his last breaths next to them, but that had been different. She's looked at him like all her dreams were about to come true, like this was a new start for the both of them. Now she's looking at him like it'll be the last time she does, and it scares the heck out of him, because a world without her is not a world he wants to live in.

He worries the brains out of himself trying to find her, and then he sees her through the flying shrapnel, looking so beat-up and weary, and she screams, "Here!"

Percy charges down the stairs and slithers down the ladder, finding Annabeth staring at the huge blackness before them as if hypnotised. She bursts into tears the moment he touches her shoulder lightly, and he's reminded of three years ago, under the ocean, of Annabeth crying into his shoulder while fish gawked all around them.

And then, when everything seems like it's going to be okay, it all goes wrong, all at once. The statue kind of falls, and half the demigods struggle to secure it, leaving four of them on the crumbling ground.

They're running up to the rope ladder as everything crumbles to dust around them and she stumbles and calls his name. He turns to see her fall and his hand instinctively goes out to catch her, he lunges forward blindly just to get a hold of her, because Annabeth isn't going to fall, not on his watch.

But this time there's no Thalia and Grover to give him strength and he cannot pull her up, and they both are yanked across the broken floor, holding each other tight. He can hear her sobbing as they cross into the pit, and he realizes, with a sinking feeling, that her ankle is wound tightly in the webs, and she's being dragged in. There's no way up. There's no way out.

He makes eye contact with Annabeth and he's reminded of Athena, speaking to him about how dangerous it is to love someone, because it could land them in danger. Fear laps at his mind, and he looks at the girl below him, whose hand he is clinging to for all he is worth, and he's so scared Gaia will use her, so scared that she will play on his weakest point of all. Annabeth.

Loving someone is turning out to be a curse as much as it is a blessing. And he looks down at her and prays, for her own sake, that it's not love, it's not love, it's not love. And maybe it isn't. But it's still pretty darn close.

"As long as we're together," Annabeth says to him, tears cascading down her cheeks, and then he lets go.

/

vi.

/

Annabeth is seventeen when she realizes that what she feels for Percy isn't just like.

It's a couple of months after Tartarus and things are slowly going back to normal, but everyone at camp is still treating her and Percy like porcelain dolls, too delicate to handle. She's still not regained her former self and she knows, deep down, that she never will. She's slowly training again, going through the basics, jogging every morning along the beach, but she ends up gasping after too strenuous a workout. She's scarred but secure and there are things that will never change now, things that she will carry around for the rest of her life.

Percy only leaves her side at night now, she finds herself always attached to him, and it makes her feel safe and protected. It's a feeling she's rarely experienced. She remembers him in Tartarus, on particularly dark days when they'd been hiding from monsters, whispering words of comfort. She remembers his hand clasping hers, never to let go. She remembers his heart pumping in his chest when she hugs him.

Annabeth lies in bed now, tossing and turning, while her siblings snore peacefully beside her.

She's in love with Percy.

Her mother is going to love this, she half-thinks, but then she sits upright in bed to stop the thought. One part of her mind immediately retorts, protesting. Athena had never helped her when in Tartarus. Athena hadn't even acknowledged her on Olympus at the victory ceremony. Who cares what Athena thinks?

As Annabeth lies there, she gets a feeling like she's being covered in a warm blanket, being given a cup of hot cocoa. Something warm and happy and bubbly drifts through her, entering when she inhales but never leaking out, so she's nearly floating, filled with sheer elation.

She has to tell him. She's told him before, but they'd been hurtling to Tartarus and the wind had been in their ears he may not have ever heard and somehow, it feels incomplete on her part. He'd told her he loved her on Mount Olympus, in Greece, and hers won't be as grand an announcement, but she has to tell Percy or she'll overthink it and everything will be lost. Aphrodite would approve.

She sits up and slips into a pair of sandals, deliberately leaving her invisibility cap behind. Piper had told her that it had started working after she'd fallen into Tartarus, but Annabeth hadn't used it since. Maybe she wants to rebel against her mother, kind of.

She runs silently across the green, trying to ignore the darkness closing in about her, trying desperately not to think of Tartarus. She takes short, even breaths to calm herself. Darkness suddenly becoming claustrophobic is one of the many after-effects of the place.

Annabeth reaches Poseidon's cabin and clambers in through an open window, shutting it behind her. She looks at her sleeping boyfriend and suddenly every single word she'd thought of dies on her tongue. Percy looks so peaceful sleeping, the blanket draped casually over his lower back. His mouth is slightly open and his fingers are curled up near his face. He looks twelve, so young, so innocent, not exposed to the evils of the world.

Annabeth sits gingerly at his feet. Her news can wait. She'll tell him tomorrow.

She's about to get up when Percy stirs and opens a sleepy eye.

"Hey," he whispers.

"Hey, hero," she says in an undertone, reaching out to meet his outstretched hand, lacing her fingers through his. "Sorry for waking you up. I was just going."

"Mhhhmmmm." Percy groans, shifts, and pats clumsily at the empty space next to him. Annabeth climbs in gratefully, revelling in the sudden heat he's giving off.

His arm snakes around her waist, his body encasing hers. Annabeth closes her eyes. This could be Tartarus, with the cold air lingering around them, the sound of monsters in the distance, and, of course, Percy, pressing his cheek against her hair. He shifts cautiously against her and his lips brush slightly over the spot on her left shoulder where he knows the clothes cover the scar. Annabeth shivers softly.

"Good night," he says in a low voice.

"Good night," she murmurs in reply.

She lies there in his arms, unable to sleep, but not wanting to wake Percy. The words slip out without her even noticing it.

"I love you," she says.

"I love you," he mumbles back groggily.

(and that is that.)