December 22, 1941
Percy is sitting on the ground outside, watching as other soldiers surrounding him mess around. It is rather cold outside, but the people around him have smiles on their faces, and it warms his heart from the icy fear that he has felt for the past few weeks.
A pack of food is in his hands, but he makes no move to eat it. He doesn't think that he could eat even if he tried — maybe everyone else could dismiss the things going on, the things that they would soon have to face, but he couldn't. They were here for a reason, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This war was not going to be smooth sailing, and though he doesn't know how it's going to go, he knows he's not going to like how this ends.
He's going to come out broken or dead. He doesn't know which one is the better option.
Percy glances back towards the barracks, contemplating heading inside for the night. He is so tired that he could curl up on the ground and fall asleep like that, but he can hear the noise and complaints from here, and he decides against it.
It's hours spent like that, staring off into the sky, before the sun begins to settle slightly. The wind blows here in the Pacific theater, and he is well aware that he needs to head inside soon before he gets in trouble for stepping out of line. Nightfall is the prime time for attack, but he stays anyways. Just a little bit longer.
Percy finally rips open the military dinner, and the packet of M&Ms that falls out brings him a memory of his mother. She was probably worried sick, not knowing where he was anymore. He thumbs the wrapper, giving himself a chance to miss her, before he settles it beside him and decides to eat his dinner. He chews in silence, only a few stray people still out in the winter air, just thinking. It was all he ever did anymore, thinking. He wishes he could shut off his brain sometimes, like the other soldiers were able to do.
He blinks in surprise as someone slides onto the log next to him. He doesn't make immediate eye contact, in fear of who this person was, if they were here to purposely torment him, to make his eyes fill with fury.
Instead, when he shoots a glance their way, he sees a head of blonde hair. He still doesn't make direct eye contact, and that is when this person hangs their head into his vision, looking up at him with a smirk.
"Hello?" the girl says, a teasing tone to his voice. "Anyone home?"
Percy gives her a scolding look, but he's so confused that it doesn't have much effect other than making the girl laugh out loud. He decides he likes her laugh, so smooth and melodic, a laugh he can get used to.
"Are you okay?" she asks. She rips open a pack identical to Percy's and pulls out her own food, choosing to nibble on the edge of a soft granola bar.
"Are you?" is all he can say, still blinking at her with curiosity. "Why are you over here?"
She looks around before glancing back at him and shrugging in mock neutrality. "Am I not allowed to be over here, or something?"
"I— do I know you?"
"You're great at making friends. Has anyone told you that?"
"Now you're making fun of me."
"Only a little bit," she agrees. Percy looks her in the eyes, and his breath catches on her striking grey eyes. She's beautiful, and Percy begins to wonder why she was here, in such a dangerous mess. "You looked like you could use company."
"So you're giving me pity," he says.
"If you want to call it that, then sure. I didn't want to be alone either, though."
"A match made in heaven, then," Percy says. "Now do you want to tell me what you really wanted?"
"Well," she starts, waving around her granola bar. Her hair is in her face, blowing in the wind. Her clothes are a little baggy and dirty, but he can't blame her. He doesn't look any better. "I had to eat dinner, and I saw you over here by yourself and thought, 'why don't I eat with him?'"
"You were supposed to eat before sundown."
"I could say the same for you, Percy."
Percy starts, an unfamiliar bubbling in his stomach. "You know my name," he states.
"Everyone here knows your name," she answers. "You're very well known. From the way this conversation is going, I can't imagine why."
Percy can't help the slight grin. "Well, now you're just not giving me a chance. You caught me off guard is all."
"Off guard is apparently when you look best," she says, leaning forwards to whisper in his ear. When she speaks, he can feel her hot breath on his ear. "People think you're attractive. All the girls in my barracks won't shut up about it."
"I had no idea I was such a popular soldier."
"You have to give them a break, though," she says, munching down on another bite of her food. "Chances are that a good portion of us are going to be dead once this war ends. We all just want to live while we still can."
"And what about you?"
"What about me?"
The sun has settled more now, and she is with the moonlight shining down on her, illuminating her golden curls. Percy has to swallow before he can speak. "Are you just trying to live while you still can?"
"Of course," she says. "That's why I'm here."
"Talking to me?"
"Yes, but…" She gestures broadly to the distance around them. "That's why I'm here. I'm going to die eventually, but I'm not afraid of death, so… I want to live. Do something with my life. Maybe save a few lives while I'm at it. Really get the chance to live, you know?"
"I get that," Percy says.
"Is that why you're here?"
"God, no," Percy breathes. "I was drafted."
"Oh," she says. "I'm sorry."
"It's life, I guess. When has this country ever been fair?"
"That's not talk I'd ever hear come from an American soldier."
"Yeah, well, this soldier life isn't exactly the most entertaining." He snorts. "I think you may be the first real conversation I've had since I've left."
"That's depressing," she says, setting her food to the ground. She picks up his packet of M&Ms, and her jaw falls open. "Of course you'd get the good candy."
Percy is oddly endeared by her as she twirls it between her fingers, grey eyes analyzing every detail of the wrapper. "You can have it," he finds himself saying.
Her eyes meet his and a flash of thanks passes over them. She positions her fingers on the paper to rip them open, but she pauses. "Are you sure you don't want them?"
"I'm sure," he says. Eating them now would probably make him sad anyways as he remembered his mom. It's worth it when she tears it open and pops one in her mouth, a soft smile taking over her face.
"It tastes like back home," she explains. "My brother and I used to take turns trying to steal bits of chocolate from a bakery."
"Where are you from?" he asks.
"San Francisco," she says.
Percy has never been, but there's something about this girl that makes him wish he had.
"How about you?"
"New York," he says. "Just another boring city."
"Boring?" She raises an eyebrow. "You, Percy Jackson, are anything but boring."
It takes him a moment, but he realizes that he still doesn't know her name. She's breathtaking, especially now that he can barely see anything except the shadows of her face, and he desperately needs to know her name. He wants to feel her name on his tongue, rolling over the letters, feel how it sounded in his throat, in his own ears.
"I hardly think it's fair that you seem to know everything about me," he says. "Why don't you tell me a little bit more about yourself?"
"I'm not all that interesting. You're much nicer to discuss."
Percy leans forwards. "Come on. Humor me."
She smiles, and his heart skips a beat. "I'm Annabeth."
It starts like this.
August 14, 1942
Every bone in Percy's body hurts. He's covered in cuts and bruises, but he's finally safe, so he doesn't think he can complain. Not as many people were lucky enough to make it out alive only a few days prior.
This was the first real battle he'd seen with his own two eyes, and he has never been so horrified before.
Battle of Savo Island. August 8th. Over one thousand people dead.
It's ingrained in his brain, appearing every time he closes his eyes. There's bloodshed and tragedy written around him. He doesn't think he's going to be able to sleep tonight, but that's okay. He doesn't want to anyways. Not after watching one of his only friends disappear before his eyes.
Someone's hand slides over his shoulder, squeezing comfortingly, and he starts. Percy only calms as he sees whose face is staring back at him, sympathy etched on her body.
"Hey," Annabeth says, stepping into his arms. He lets her, thankful for the warmth her body brings. He doubts the warmth is good. So many people are getting sick in his camp. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," he says, a lie. She already knows anyways.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"Okay." Annabeth doesn't move. Instead, she presses her face into his chest, and his heart pangs. She's so much shorter than him, and so much smaller, and if he's learned anything these past few days, it's that no one is safe in war. She's strong, but people are stronger, and he doesn't want to see her hurt.
Percy squeezes her tightly, reminding himself of her physical presence. "I'm glad you're okay," he says.
Annabeth snickers lightly. "You're the one that was actually at the battle."
"Still." And Percy doesn't know how to put it into words. She's his best friend. It's as simple as that. "I need you to be okay," he says, because if she's not okay, he has no idea how he's going to survive.
"I will be," she assures him, pulling away. Annabeth tilts her head up at him and smiles. The sun is beginning to set, illuminating her in a ray of gold. "You need to eat something soon."
"It's getting dark," he says. It's just an excuse. He's already used his ration for today.
"That's never stopped us before, has it?" she asks, amused. Percy's face unconsciously grins, remembering the day they met, eating together in the setting sun, feeling the cool breeze taking over them. "Come on," she says, lacing his hand with hers and dragging him along.
They sit down but they don't eat because they can't. He knows that she's hungry, and it hurts him to know that there is nothing that he can do to help her.
Annabeth's head leans against his shoulder, her long hair blowing in the wind. He tangles his fingers in it. It's not as soft as it once was at the start of the war — her hair is darker and frizzed. As he plays with her hair, Annabeth closes her eyes. He almost thinks that she is asleep, but he doesn't stop his movements, knowing that however sleep he's gotten, she's gotten even less.
"I'm going to get rid of it," she says, alerting him that she hadn't actually fallen asleep.
Percy furrows his brows. "Get rid of what?"
"My hair. It's getting too long."
"I like your hair," he says, tugging on a strand playfully. "You can't cut it." He says it with a smile, but he means it. He looks forwards to moments like this with his best friend — the one person that befriended him at the begging of this, the person to keep him sane throughout this mess of a war.
"It would look so much better. You would love it."
"I think it looks good like this," he says. "You look so pretty with long hair."
Annabeth gives him a mocking grin. "Do I? I look good? You think I'm pretty?"
"You already know I do," he says, shoving her shoulder. "Leave me alone."
Annabeth throws her head back to laugh.
"Is it a crime to think my best friend is pretty?"
"Not a crime," she reassures, but she's still snickering. "It is a crime if you tell someone they're pretty and don't kiss them."
Percy gives her a look. "Is that what you want me to do?"
"I mean — I wouldn't mind it."
Percy can't tell if she's being serious, but he doesn't bother trying to find out. He's not in his right mind now, and it just wouldn't be right. When he looks at her, she doesn't clue him in if she's upset. She's still looking at him with a soft grin.
He loves his best friend, he thinks.
"You're such a chicken," Annabeth teases.
"I like what we have," he says. He feels like he has butterflies in his stomach. "I feel like I've already lost so much, and this war… I don't — I don't want to lose you too."
"Oh, Percy. You're not going to lose me."
He doesn't know how to put it into words. That if something changes between them and it ends badly, he'll have no one. He'd rather live in mystery, not knowing if what they have could've been more, than living in regret, knowing that the one person he would do anything for is gone.
He doesn't think there are words to describe his feelings, and if there are, he sure doesn't know what they are.
Percy resumes playing with her hair as she rests her head against his shoulder. They fit together well, and he rather likes having her in his arms. It makes him feel like he is in control, even though he knows that in the grand scheme of things, he really has no control. But at least like this, he can try to protect her from the outside world.
He is suddenly brought back to the present, wind brushing against his cheeks. "Hm?"
"I'm not going anywhere. You know that right?"
Maybe he does know that, but he also doesn't. She doesn't get to decide that she's going to stay with him forever. They are two humans facing danger every second. They are not immortal.
"I know," he says, because what else is there to say. He holds her tighter. "And I'll always be right here."
February 7th, 1943
It's the day off he's had in a while. It's been quiet in his station for hours and had been told to go enjoy the rest of the day.
He wastes no time before hopping out into the sun. There are a few stragglers around the camp, but he pays them no attention as he makes his way down a path that is burned into memory. He walks alone, and he tries to take it slow to enjoy this moment of freedom, but he's too excited to properly do that.
Annabeth greets him with a big smile when he enters the small shack she's stationed inside of for the day.
He walks up beside her, waving at the small group of people chattering, and his arm wraps around her waist. His mind flashes in warning — she feels dangerously thin — but he pushes it away.
"They let me go for the day," he whispers in his ear. "I'm going down to the beach. Come with?"
"You don't need to ask me twice." And with that, he leads her away from the base.
He'd found a secluded sector of the island they were stationed on. It wasn't very big — only a couple hundred meters long — but when they'd accidentally stumbled upon it months ago, they decided that it was their own spot. They weren't supposed to be here, really, but they took their chances. It was near impossible to find, and he was confident that no one would catch them.
Not to mention, it was beautiful. The sand was soft and white, and he knows that it looks straight out of a piece of art when the sun sets along the crystal waters. The Pacific Ocean was filled with terrible things right now, but with the way Annabeth is standing looking at him, the gentle waves crashing behind her, he can only see the beauty.
"Come on," she says laughing and lacing his hand with hers. She drags him closer to the center of their own beach, and they settle down. He rests himself with his hands behind him, and she rests in his lap. One of his hands go to her hair again to smooth it over, a habit he's found himself in. Her hair has grown to just above her hips. She hadn't cut it since she brought it up over a year ago, and as stupid as it sounds, he likes the familiarity it has with him.
"I could stay like this forever."
Percy brings his attention to Annabeth. Although having just spoken, her eyes are closed, and her face is rested.
"Of course you could," he teases slightly. "Must be nice to not have your leg asleep."
Annabeth smirks and shifts her weight. "You know what I mean."
Yeah, he does. There's nothing better than moments like this when it's just the two of them. It almost feels as though there isn't a war being fought, as though there aren't people dying every day. He wouldn't mind living like this forever, where he knows that they are safe. But still…
He's in love with his best friend. It isn't anything new. He's known for a while, and he suspects Annabeth knows too.
He is still so scared to lose her. That hasn't changed. But with every day, he falls more in love with her, and he's starting to think that sometimes, things do need to change. Sure, he's happy where they are, but there's no point trying to fight change because it's going to happen whether he wants it to or not.
Things change. Maybe it's not the worst thing in the world.
Percy smiles, his fingers twisting a strand of her hair. "I have an idea."
Annabeth must hear the excitement in his voice because she opens her eyes to find his. Her eyes are sparkling like the sea before a storm. "What?"
"Did you still want to cut your hair?"
Half an hour later, she's sitting in front of him, Percy himself on his knees with her hand bunched into his fist. It's an awkward position, and he has to stop himself from turning red at Annabeth's suggestive look.
"Shut up," he says.
"If you wanted me on my knees, Percy, all you had to do was ask."
"That is the opposite of shutting up."
Percy opens the knife in his hand, holding it to her blonde curls. "Ready?"
She nods once, and he starts sawing. It's not at all easy to do without scissors, but he manages to slowly cut the pieces of hair. He makes a few mistakes along the way, and his sharp intakes of breath have her scolding him.
"Hold still," Percy chastises.
Annabeth keeps squirming away from him, and he curses. "Don't tell me you messed up again."
"Stop moving and I won't make mistakes."
She rolls her eyes but stays still. "I'm so going to regret this."
"You won't," he promises, but he grimaces as he accidentally cuts a strand too high up. He decides not to say anything. A few minutes later, he thinks it's as good as it's going to get so he steps back to admire his work. "It's gorgeous!"
"Yeah, right." Annabeth brings herself to her feet, wiping the sand off on her pants. "I don't need a mirror to know that this is choppy as hell."
Percy smiles widely because she's right. Her hair falls right to her shoulders, but there are random strands cut way too high. It's not even by any means, and it may be the messiest haircut in the entire universe, but he doesn't think she's ever looked better.
Percy feels warmth run through his body as he takes her in. She's putting her weight on one foot with one hand on her waist. The sun has just started going down, covering the beach in a splash of pinks and purples, and illuminating Annabeth. The wind has picked up too — her newly short hair is blowing in the wind, a few strands covering her face, and with her dark green uniform that fits her so well, she looks like a work of art.
"I don't know about you," he starts, getting closer, "but I'm loving the new look."
"Of course you are. You've always loved ruining my looks."
"Trust me when I say I haven't ruined your looks. If anything, I've enhanced him."
Percy wraps his arms around her waist, so she has to tilt her head up to look at him. "I mean it. The perfect Annabeth Chase is human like the rest of us now."
"Don't call me human. It makes me feel weak."
Percy snorts. "You? Weak? Never."
"Well, at least you think I look good because no one else will. I'll be forever alone."
"Just doing my civic duty and fending off the other men. Gotta mark my territory."
Annabeth raises a playful brow. "Why the need to fend off other men?"
Percy pauses. "No reason."
"None at all?"
"I mean…" Percy bonks her forehead lightly with his. "There might be one."
Annabeth cracks a grin. She knows.
They stay silent for what feels like eternity, and Percy just looks at her. So perfectly imperfect, and so Annabeth Chase. He's in love with her, and he wants to make it known.
Percy brings his lips to hers, and when he finally kisses her, it feels like coming home. She's warm and soft, and the way she wraps her arms around his shoulders to pull him in closer lets him know that she's his. His hands rest on her waist as he deepens the kiss, and he only pulls away when he's out of breath.
Percy's nose nudges her nose, and he can feel her breath hit his lips as she breathes. "I love you," he says. It's early to say that, but it's what he feels. They weren't together, but he's been falling in love with her since he first met her. She was the person that made everything feel like it would be okay.
"I love you too," she says, and it just feels right.
A world of uncertainty is what they live in, and he's not going to waste a second more without her. He's going to love her with everything he has because he doesn't know what's coming and he's got to make the most of the time they do have.
He wants to kiss her again, so he does.
January 10th, 1945
Percy can barely hear over the rush of blood in his ears. Everything seemed to move in slow motion. He's never loved the idea of war, but his hatred for it really intensifies as he takes it in with his own eyes.
He's freezing, but he lost feeling in his limbs long ago. Winters in Belgium are pretty, but the situation seriously dampened the mood. His girlfriend is huddled next to him, wrapping herself tightly in the jacket he put onto her shoulders. Her short hair blows in the snowstorm, and she's sniffling a lot.
Percy looks at Annabeth's face. He hates how pale and sickly she looks.
"As okay as I can be," is what he responds. There's really no being 'okay' when he can hear faint gunshots in the distance, or when he knows that his troop is about to be walking straight into the gunshots.
Annabeth looks about as miserable as him, but he can tell she's trying to keep it together for him. Snowflakes settle on her eyelashes and she sniffles again. He pulls her close, kissing her forehead with his icy lips, wondering if she can hear the pounding of his heartbeat.
"So," Annabeth starts. She tries to laugh — it sounds strained. "Did you hear what the other soldiers are calling it?"
"I haven't," he says, just to humor her.
"Battle of the Bulge." Annabeth smiles, wincing as her chapped lips pull. She shifts the gun over her shoulder. "I'd prefer to be home dealing with a different battle of the bulge."
It only clicks what she's insinuating when she wiggles her eyebrows. He can't help but smile and kiss the top of her head. "And get caught by our sergeant again? No thank you. I still haven't recovered from last time."
Annabeth chuckles. "It wasn't that bad. He didn't tell anyone."
"Uh, he didn't need to. He yelled so loud that he might as well have called everyone to attention and told everyone about our sex lives."
She laughs lightly, and he can tell she's thinking back to that day. As mortifying as it ended, the time until that moment was heavenly. There was no one except the two of them, and they spent the day making very good use of that time, in his opinion.
He opens his mouth to ask her something, but it's quickly wiped from his mind as they're attention is drawn to the troop's leader. They start making their way down the icy path. He catches Annabeth shivering, and his heart pangs. It's hours spent like that, walking in complete silence. The deafening blasts continue on in the distance, and with every step he takes, dread buries itself deep in his stomach.
Percy pulls Annabeth into his side, trying to offer her some warmth. By the time they reach the campground with a couple hundred other people, just outside the barrier of the battle, his bones ache. They see a few familiar faces and greet them kindly.
"McLean," Percy says to the girl that marches right up to him. "Long time no see."
"And whose fault is that?" she asks, giving him a quick hug before moving to Annabeth. "I'm glad to see you two made it alright. I know it's not easy passing through the mountains."
"We survived," Annabeth says, accepting Piper's embrace. They hold each other for a few seconds. "God, I've missed you."
"Back at you, Chase." Piper finally pulls away, and Percy gets his first good look at her. She's dressed in the usual dark green military uniform, but she has a black jacket on over her. Her hair is thrown into two lazily done braids, and choppy pieces of hair fall out.
"Nice haircut," Percy comments.
"Thanks," she jokes, flipping her hair dramatically. "I got it from the two of you."
Annabeth rolls her eyes fondly. Her hair isn't as choppy anymore — they'd gotten that fixed as soon as possible — but it was still relatively short.
Percy jumps when an arm is thrown around him, and he only calms once he sees the friendly impish grin on the guy's face. "Valdez."
"Jackson," Leo greets back. He nods towards Annabeth. "Chase."
Leo goes to hang off of Piper's shoulder now, who only looks mildly annoyed. She must have gotten used to his antics by now. "Piper, a few others, and I are going out for a walk around the base. Might have a quick snowball fight. Wanna come?"
Percy looks to Annabeth to gauge her response. She shrugs her shoulder in answer, and he is about to agree, but then he catches the sharp shiver run through her. "You know what," Percy starts, looking at Leo apologetically. "I think we're just gonna warm up for a bit. We've been out all day."
Piper slaps her forehead. "I'm so sorry! Of course, you two go inside the barracks. Everyone's out right now, but anywhere with nothing on it is fair game."
Percy thanks her before grabbing Annabeth's hand and leading her away. This camp is bigger than the last, so they wander around for a while before they manage to find it. When they step inside, it's an immediate change in temperature.
His face almost burns with how much warmer it feels in here, even though there's not really any heating. He walks along the old worn floor, the brittle wood squeaking beneath his weight. The right wall is lined with bunks, so he just chooses the first two for them that doesn't have anything on it. He sets down his heavy bag, carefully placing the rifle down under the bed before he sits down in the rigid mattress to rest his aching muscles.
"So," Annabeth says, shrugging off her heavy coat and letting it fall to the ground. "This place is a lot bigger than the last."
"I'm surprised it's so empty right now."
"People off fighting, I guess." Annabeth crawls onto the mattress beside him, laying down in the crook of his side. His arm immediately goes to play with her hair. It's tangled more than usual, and he does his best to gently work the knots out.
Percy can feel her still shaking in his embrace, so he pulls her tighter against him. He isn't worried about being caught right now. He just wants the trembling to stop.
"You're still cold?" he asks after a few minutes.
"I'm okay," she tries, but he notes the weakness in her voice. She breathes out deeply before she sits up and swings one leg over him so that she's straddling his waist. "I'm not human, remember?"
"How could I possibly forget?" Percy brushes her hair out of her face. Her skin is alarmingly cold, and she's pale as a ghost, but she's still so beautiful. He lifts his head to catch her lips in a kiss. "The invincible Annabeth Chase."
She drops her head to kiss below his jaw. "You know it."
Percy breathes out slowly as she keeps trailing her lips over his neck. She kisses behind his ear, sucks at the spot beneath his chin, bites at the crook of his neck. He keeps his hands on her hips as he cranes his neck up so he can kiss her again.
"Love you," he breathes, biting at her bottom lip. She presses down against him, prompting him to clench his teeth, holding back a groan.
"Love you too," she breathes like she might never get to say it again.
Percy threads his fingers in her hair, like he always does, and he tries to speak between breathtaking kisses. "You want to do this now?"
She grinds down harder. "You heard Piper. They'll be gone for hours."
He doesn't know how she's able to move. He feels like he might break into pieces if he so much as moves a muscle. "You're not still frozen solid?"
Annabeth kisses him deeply before pulling back to peel off her shirt. He stares up at her, brushing his fingers over her, in awe. She leans back down to place her mouth over his again, and he's suddenly not cold. "I'm warming up already."
It's not until hours later that they make their way out from underneath the thin covers. Percy watches in appreciation as she tugs on her pants, leaning against the wall, giving her a smirk when she catches his wandering eyes.
Percy takes a chance and curls his hands over her hips as she reaches for the top of her uniform. He reluctantly steps away when she elbows him to pull the top over her head, but his frown quickly disappears when she faces him again.
He can't help as his fingers trace over her nametag.
He moves to the shoulder of the uniform to graze over the United States flag. He feels each individual thread, remembers what it is he's fighting for, why he has to give up this first moment of relief he's felt in weeks.
Percy kisses her forehead softly before he lets her go. Annabeth looks him up and down once.
"Put a shirt on, Jackson," she calls out as she puts her coat back on.
"Now why would I do that when I look so good?"
"Who said you did?"
"I didn't hear any complaints half an hour ago," he teases, but he pulls it over his head anyways, his own jacket quickly following.
She gives him a look, and he snorts, nudging her nose with his.
"Let's go have a snowball fight, loser."
Annabeth laces her hand with his and drags him out of the barracks. The snow seems to have started falling harder as they leave deep footprints. They wander through the camp again, no particular destination in mind. They don't end up finding their friends, but Percy isn't so bothered by that.
They find a spot with a fresh layer of snow, and he decides to mark that spot as theirs. He stops walking and Annabeth does too.
Percy tilts his head, endeared, as Annabeth turns to look at him questioningly.
"You look beautiful."
Annabeth's cheeks turn rosy, and he smiles widely. The pristine snow makes Annabeth glow. The snow is falling hard enough to blur the background meters behind her, which does nothing but make the scene feel even more majestic.
She hugs herself, and Percy nearly drops dead at the sight of her. She looks so perfect, her blonde curls wild in the wind, and before he can stop himself, he pictures her years from now. They're not in the middle of a foreign country, miles away from battle, but instead they're back home in New York. She's standing there with a baby in her arms, keeping it safe from the cold, and when he brings himself back to reality, he longs for that future.
Percy strides forwards, needing to feel her in his arms now. He pulls her into a kiss, and he will never get tired of this.
"What was that for?" she asks when he pulls away.
"That was for… us. To building a future beyond this mess."
"Are you talking about kids?"
"I'm talking about a future — to marriage, to love, and yeah, maybe to babies when the time comes."
Annabeth smiles widely. "I wouldn't mind a baby, but you have to propose first."
His mind races as he remembers the sparkling ring somewhere deep in his bag. It's the ring that his mom had sent him over a year ago, a simple silver band with a diamond in the middle, when he first wrote to her about Annabeth. He hadn't even thought about it since his mom sent it, out of sight, out of mind, but now it's emblazoned in his mind and he wishes that he had it on him. He would get down on one knee right this second if he could, but it would have to wait.
Percy kisses her again. "So I will."
January 12th, 1945
He doesn't find a second alone with her again until two days later. He's been carrying the ring in his pocket since that moment, just looking for the perfect second.
Right now, he's laying back in the secluded corner of the camp where the conversation had first gone down. They're in the snow, the ice beginning to seep through the thick fabric of their clothes, but neither of them have it in them to get up and somewhere warm.
From their position on the ground, Annabeth's head resting on his arm laid out under her, he can see the white sky. It's cloudy and snowing, but it's blinding in its brightness. The few bare trees around them have branches with a thin layer of snow atop.
When he looks over, ready to speak, he notices that Annabeth is asleep against him. He doesn't wake her up because he knows she's had a hard time sleeping recently. Every night, it seemed that she was crawling into his bed after everyone else had gone to sleep, just asking to be held. He doesn't mind that she does it — he's just concerned for her.
His heart melts into a puddle when she snuggles closer to him, her warm breath hitting the skin on his neck. He runs his hand over her back soothingly, waiting patiently until she begins to stir. She stuffs her face against her arm and stretches.
"Sleepy?" he asks lightly.
"Mh-hm." Annabeth yawns, and she looks so cute he can't resist kissing the tip of her nose.
"You gotta wake up if you want a surprise."
Annabeth blinks one eye open, and he realizes how much he missed seeing her eyes. She smiles adoringly. "Surprise?"
"A surprise," he confirms, brushing her cheek softly.
"What is it?" she asks, but she makes no efforts to move.
"If I told you, then it wouldn't be a surprise."
"Is it candy?"
Percy chuckles. "None of my M&Ms today, sadly."
"Hm. Food related?"
Annabeth does sit up now, getting on her knees so she can face him. He slaps lightly at her leg to warn her of the melting snow, but she ignores it, too preoccupied playing this guessing game.
"Can I have a hint?"
"I love you."
"I said a hint, not a disgusting declaration of love."
"That was the hint."
She blinks. "You're a terrible hint-giver, you know that?"
Percy rolls his eyes, kissing her lightly. "You're just bad at guessing."
"I'm honestly not sure what else it could be."
Percy decides then to pull the ring out of his pocket. He does so and holds it between the two of them, the ring sitting in a small black box. It's nothing grand, but he prefers it this way, a quiet show of their affection for only the two of them.
It seems to take a while for it to click in Annabeth's head, but then she's silently reaching out towards the box. He lets her take it into her hands, twisting and turning over the shape before snapping the lid open. The ring gleams in its confines, a shimmer in the white light around them. She traces gently over the diamond in the center before looking up at him.
"I thought you'd like it."
"I do, but… What for?"
He swallows. "I think you know what for."
The look she gives him lets him know that she does know what for. She goes back to looking at the ring, and he catches a hint of a smile on her face.
"It's a pretty ring," she admits. "Any girl would be lucky to have it."
"It's not just for any girl, now is it?"
"It's not?" She pouts in mock confusion. "Who's it for then?"
Percy swears she's his lifeline, because somehow, she's able to make him feel as though everything will be alright. Even when she's making fun of him for struggling to get his point across, he feels her love crushing him. Just when he thinks he couldn't love her any more than he already does, she proves him wrong.
He shakes his head. "You're never going to make things easy for me, are you?"
"Not a chance." She locks eyes with him, and a shiver runs down his back. She reminds him of back home suddenly, when he was standing at the top of the Empire State Building. She told him once that she loves buildings, and he thinks she would've loved it there. Maybe if the circumstances were different, he would be doing this there instead, where her eyes could match the grey skyline. "I love you, but I do remember asking for a proposal, which means you do have to actually ask at some point."
He lets a beat pass between them before he struggles to get up, bringing Annabeth to her feet as well. He takes the ring from her, a playful look passing between them, before he gets down on one knee. Ice seeps through the fabric of his pants, but he doesn't mind. It grounds him to reality in a way.
He doesn't really know what to say. There are a million things he could mention, but he can hardly get anything out right now. He wants to grow old with her, he wants to start a family with her, and he just wants to have the promise of forever. He wants to make her his wife, so he decides to go with that.
"Annabeth Chase," he says, heart threatening to beat out of his chest, overwhelmed by his love for her, "Will you marry me?"
She brings him to his feet and kisses him hard. His brain is turning to mush as he wraps his arms around her waist, and for a moment, he can forget that he is away from home in the middle of what means life or death. So much feels like it's happening at once, but he doesn't miss the whispered, "Yes," against his lips.
And so he pulls away so that he can slip the ring onto her finger. Percy may not know much, but he does know that this love is enough to last him the rest of his life.
January 25, 1945
All Percy can hear is an intense ringing deep within his ears. He's lost feeling in his body long ago and can do nothing except focus on the scene in front of him.
He thinks he's somewhere in the Ardennes, but he can't be sure anymore. They'd been driven out of their bases by the German troops, and he'd barely had time to breathe. There are the sounds of bombs and shootings everywhere around him, miles into the distance. Percy knows a few of the shots come from the gun in his hands, where his finger rests over the trigger, numb.
He's so hungry and in pain, wanting nothing more than to lay down and rest for just a few minutes, but he knows he can't. It's too difficult to tell who is a part of the German troops and who is a part of the allied. People were dropping dead everywhere he went, and it was too risky to even move.
It had been a surprise attack. They were unprepared, and this is what it cost. Thousands of deaths, from what he's seen. He wouldn't be surprised to find out that it was so much worse than he could've ever imagined, but it doesn't matter to him. There is only one person that he cares about, and–
Percy's gut tightens as he whips around. His eyes trace over people that run around him, but none of them are her. His heart is racing — he can't remember when he last saw her now. It could've been hours for all he knows. When he realizes that he has no memory of seeing her, he starts running.
If he thought he was distracted before, he certainly is now. The world whirls around him as he runs in the direction of the sound, knowing her well enough to be there if she were anywhere at all. Running through an active battle has never been something he thought he'd do, but here he was, doing it for the person he loves. He's so far in another headspace that he could have killed zero people, or he could've killed ten. He doesn't know, and he doesn't care. The only worry in his mind is her, because he would actually die if something happened to her, but not before he brings the world down with him.
Her face flashes through his eyes as someone calls his name, just barely slipping past his frantic haze, but as he turns, he sees someone else. He stops in his track, makes a split-second decision, and then he's changing his path for the person in the distance.
"Piper," Percy breathes out, dropping to his knees beside her. The snow has been tainted with blood, and he can't see the wound but knows it's coming from her. "What happened? Where is it?"
She coughs, a painful rasp. "My back. I'm okay."
"You're not okay," he argues, looking pointlessly for anything to help. There is no getting help in the middle of an icy forest looming with the shadow of death.
"No—" Piper weakly shoves him off of her, not giving him the chance to continue fretting over her. "Annabeth. She's—"
Percy freezes. "You've seen Annabeth?"
Piper wheezes, sputtering a bit of blood, but Percy puts a hand on her shoulder to ground her. "She was— looking for you."
"Why?" When she doesn't answer, he tries harder. "Piper, why?"
"I don't know," she admits. "Something about the German aircraft coming this way."
At once, it clicks for him, and his blood turns to ice as the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
"She ran towards the battle," Piper squeezes out.
Percy curses, and he is once again back in the haze as he finds himself chasing after her. She's running straight towards the center of the battle, right where the German aircraft were heading, where they would undoubtedly be dropping bombs, because she was looking for him, trying to get him out of danger.
There's a roar back in his ears, so loud and quiet all at once. His heart thrums her name, and he feels so weak, so helpless, knowing that there are bomber planes going straight towards her, and the only reason she's there is because she went to find him.
He should've been paying attention. He shouldn't have let her out of his sight, should've never let them get separated because if something happens to her and it's his fault, he knows he'll never be able to live with himself.
He shakes his head to clear the thoughts. He is just so sore, so unsure of everything, and he wants it all to be over.
Everything is so unfair. Why is it that she has to risk her life for him? Why does she have to run into danger in the first place? If this war is going to be won by killing people, then maybe it's best that they don't win at all. If she's going to die because of a war that they were dragged into, then he doesn't know that he wants to bother to fight.
It really isn't long before he's at the center of the battle (or maybe it is). He looks around, but it's hard to see individual bodies. Everyone is blurred to one; there are loud blasts, but it's the silence that is deafening. No one is speaking, too busy trying to save themselves, to just make it out of this battle alive.
Percy's about to continue through the crowd of people, hopping over the bodies of people he can't bear to look in the face, but then someone's grabbing his arm and tugging him back.
He nearly faces his gun to them, prepared to shoot, before he recognizes the flash of blonde hair, and he's sobbing in relief.
"Annabeth," he breathes, forcing her into a tight hug. His hands tremble over her head as he tries to make sure that she's really there. He pulls away to look her over for any wounds. She's okay physically, but he can see it in her eyes — the same broken look he's sure is in his.
"Percy, you need to go." She's terrified as she looks at him. "You can't stay here."
He knows her well enough to know the tone in her voice. He refuses to let her win as he starts to tug her away. "Then let's go."
"I can't leave."
"You're not staying," he challenges. They're screaming over the shots and cries of pain. Wind whirls around them, and he can barely see her face from the hair that has escaped in front of her.
"They need help!"
"Let someone else help!"
"This is what I came here for! To fight!"
It's the first thing she told him. He knew that she was willing to lay her life down for others. She doesn't fear death in the way that he always has. It's her one flaw — pride. It's always been something he sensed but never mentioned. He thinks that she is okay with dying for her country because she thinks that she's good enough to make it out alive. Her luck has been astounding until now, but he is just not willing to test it anymore.
He can't watch her die.
He sees her stance harden. "I'm not leaving."
"I'm staying," he says, because he will fight by her side until his dying breath. He didn't ask to be here, but it doesn't matter at this point. There is no longer an escape. This will only end in one of two ways: life or death. And if he is going to end in death, he has to at least make sure that she ends with life.
It's crazy, he thinks, that he could love someone so much that he will end it all for her. She's stubborn and stupid and reckless because she puts her country before herself, but he fell in love with her and cannot let her do this alone.
He tugs her forward so he can kiss her for what might be the last time. She's freezing cold, shivering, fragile and pale, but he refuses to do anything but pull him closer. He's lived his entire life without her, and he is not about to let her get away from him. Never again. He thinks tears may fall down his eyes, or maybe they're hers, but he stays there, breathing her in, trying to memorize every part of her. He burns the way she looks at him into his memory, the way she feels under his fingertips, and he remembers them together in bed, underneath the sheets when they were the opposite of ice. He remembers the entirety of her before he pulls away.
"I love you," he says, dropping her hand from him. It feels like he's stepping out of control, and he hates it. He changes his mind — no good comes from conceding to the unknown.
"I love you too," she says back, and in the middle of everything, she looks perfect. He knows now that this is her. As much as he hates it, this is where she would always end up, and he would change it if he could, but he can't. All he can do is hope that she'll find her way back to him. "I promise I'll find you again."
He decides to believe her, because there's not much else he's able to do.
Her fingers slip out of hers, and he turns himself over to the side that has stopped feeling. He's always been such a gentle soul. He'd never hurt a fly, let alone a person, but it's like everything has changed. That's what being in love has done to him. It has turned him into someone thirsty to kill, not because he enjoys it but because he knows it brings Annabeth one step closer to safety. They can't get Annabeth if they're dead.
He sees her disappear into the distance, and something urges him to follow, but he doesn't. Here in the Ardennes, he listens to the bullets flying, feels them glide by his skin. The sky seems to go dark, and the snow seems to fall harder. It's so much windier than he remembers, but it's fitting that something this dreadful has equally terrible weather. Snow always seems to be the mark of death.
Still, he rather likes the feeling of the snow because it gives him something to fight for. Every time he feels like giving up, he remembers the snow hitting his skin and is taken back to no more than a week ago when he was pulling a ring out of his pocket. He is fighting for a reason. It is not for his country, because he has long lost respect for that. It is for the possibility of a future where they didn't have to fall asleep to the ringing of bullets or worry about when their next meal would be.
Percy does not feel fatigue. The sun goes down and comes back up, but he is still alert. There is so much blood pooled on the snow around him that the air has a tinge of copper in it. He tries to breathe through his mouth, but it's overwhelming him anyways.
It happens faster than light, when he finds out that the battle is over, and that they have won. The bullets stop at some point, but there is no cheer. People are dead. It doesn't take a lot to know that both sides have lost more than he could ever count. Innocent people have lost their lives, but it doesn't matter because they've won, right?
Percy just about drops to his knees as the adrenaline disappears from his body, but he keeps going. He looks for Annabeth, but he can't find her. A warning flashes through his mind, but he pushes it away. He refuses to give into the thought.
Just when the panic begins to take over, he sees her atop a hill. She's standing with her back to him, and she appears to be looking for someone herself. He calls out to her, and she turns at the sound of her voice. She's so far away, but he can almost see the tears brimming in her eyes as she starts towards him.
He breaks into a run, and so does she. The distance drowns them out, but he doesn't stop. He's so close to her, they're almost through, they're so close to being okay—
He hears the planes before he sees them.
The sound of jets shuttle overhead, and they both stop to look up along with everyone else. The planes get closer and closer, but it's not until it's too late that he recognizes the planes as the German planes.
He tries to scream to her, but the sound catches in his throat. The bombs drop, and the last thing he sees is the world exploding into red, hot flames.
April 29, 2004
The star is gold, sparkling in the sunlight. It's so beautiful — too beautiful for the meaning behind it, he thinks.
405,399 people. Gone. Dead. Lost.
He thought that he could do this, but maybe he can't. He doesn't know that he has any strength left to stand in front this memorial, to pretend that everything was okay, because it wasn't.
It's been 59 years since the war ended. 59 years since he lost the love of his life to a war that was out of their control. The memorial is a nice gesture, and he understands, but he doesn't think it makes up for anything.
4,048 stars do not make up for the 405,399 lives that were lost. Annabeth was one of those 405,399 lives. She had officially been declared missing, but she's dead. He knows deep down inside that she died the second those bombs hit the ground.
He misses her every second of every day. He's eighty-three years old, but the scars run deep. He can still remember their last kiss like it was yesterday, and he remembers the deafening sound of the final bomb that took everything from him. He remembers waking up without her there, and he remembers screaming, refusing to give up looking for her despite already knowing the answer. There was no surviving the bombs when she was that close to where they dropped.
Percy decides to dedicate a star to her. It's shining on the wall in Washington DC like it's calling to him. When he looks at it, he sees Annabeth Chase. He sees the beautiful smile she somehow managed to wear in the middle of a war. He sees the future that he never got to have with her. That star is for Annabeth, and the amazing life she would've lived if she wasn't taken too soon.
He settles back into his wheelchair, and the person pushing him asks if he's ready to leave. He shakes his head no. He needs another minute.
He looks around at the crowd. There are other people around him crying. They're all so much younger than him, so he suspects they're here for someone they've lost in the war. A grandparent, maybe.
That stings even more. Percy never got to have kids. It felt wrong, like she was the one and only person for him. He still thinks that she was to this day. He doesn't regret his decision to not have a family. He survived alright. He had his mom and sister and friends to help him make it through, not that it always helped.
Piper and Jason tried. They made it out of the war, though Jason lost a leg. They had a little baby, Charlie. He was the cutest. Percy met him a few times, but he tried to stay away. As much as he tried not to feel this way, he felt anger when he looked at Piper and Jason. It wasn't their fault, but they made it out. They got the life that he wanted with Annabeth, and he just couldn't stand there and pretend that he wasn't angry with them because he was. Why did they get to live happily ever after?
Deep down inside, he already knows the answer.
It's just the price.
It's the price of a country going to war. There is never going to be peace in a world where people are inherently greedy. There will always be another fight and another death. It is a never-ending battle, and no matter how hard people try to fight, the cycle will go on. It's just the way people are built. It took him a long time to see that.
It's the price of pride. Something that Annabeth always had.
Being prideful is seen as something good, but he doesn't quite think so. In the end, it was Annabeth's downfall. She was proud to be an American, and she wanted to fight so other people could live. He let her because he loved her, but he never quite supported that decision. It was helpful in small doses, but when it took someone over in the way that it did her, it clouds judgement. It makes people think that they are invincible, and that is deadly.
Percy's eyes trace over the letters on the wall that he notices for the first time.
Here we mark the price of freedom.
Percy runs the words through his head.
The price of freedom.
It really is. The United States of America, a country people view as being free. People don't see what lies beneath it. The bloody history of the United States. The people that died for this country.
Annabeth is dead. She died 59 years ago because she was fighting for freedom. It's ironic. She fought for freedom only to have hers taken away.
The price of freedom for him was her life. He is free, and he is safe, but he doesn't know that any of it is worth it if this is what it takes. Hundreds of thousands of lives in this war alone. But World War I? The Civil War? The Revolutionary War? Freedom is a blackhole, taking life after life. It gives people a chance to lead amazing lives, but it takes that chance away from other people. He understands freedom. He knows that it's important.
He just really wishes that she was not the price of freedom.
It all comes back to that gold star. The star for Annabeth Chase, the love of his life. The person he was going to marry. His best friend.
Percy suddenly feels warm, and he can imagine that Annabeth is here with him, standing over his shoulder. It's all he can do to keep from breaking apart, to pretend that she is still here with him. To pretend that there was no price to freedom.
But there was a price to freedom, and there always will be.
A single tear rolls down Percy's cheek, and he decides that he cannot do this anymore, so he signals for his caretaker to turn him away and take him home. He thinks he made a mistake coming here. 59 years was not enough to heal the wound in his heart.
The gold star, for Annabeth Chase, shines bright.
:) do you like it
very big thank you to mia for reading through this for me and sacrificing her emotional wellbeing to ensure that i could destroy the rest of you with my angst! mia u are truly be best thank u ily
well this was fun! hope you... looooved it. consider leaving a review!