Percy was snoring.
Funny, Annabeth thought, as she stood as a shadow over his bed, that he would be sleeping soundly while sweet dreams remained stubbornly out of her reach.
She slipped off her cap and felt the familiar brush of her hair as it tumbled down her back. Its magic had returned since the Second Giant War had come to a closing. Athena had even apologized to her face for the mishap—a stiff, barely intelligible mutter, accompanied by an awkward handshake—but an apology all the same. Annabeth watched the faded white New York Yankees symbol brighten as she set it on Percy’s bedside table and it entered the circle of light cast from the lamp situated on its top. A sad smile pulled at her lips. That poor cap had been through a lot; it had traveled across the country--twice--sailed over the Sea of Monsters, and been her trusty companion in the Battle of Manhattan. There was only one place she had been where the hat had not been with her. One place it would never see.
A pit, the deepest and darkest of them all.
Annabeth tore her eyes away, her smile wiped clean from her face. Instead she looked at Percy and watched the familiar rise and fall of his chest as he breathed. He always slept so weirdly, with his limbs thrown all over the place and the sheets tangled around his body and spilling off the edge of his bed. It couldn’t possibly be comfortable and yet…Well, he did tend to toss and turn in his sleep a lot. She took in his face, younger and softer in appearance, as if each of his exhales was a wave washing his burdens away. Cute to some, but beautiful to her. In the soft light of his lamp bruises and scars could be seen cutting through his smooth skin. So much had changed since the days when she had first glimpsed him like this, passed out on the Big House porch steps at her feet, but there was one thing she could always count on to be the same. She slid down the bridge of his nose, to his parted lips and—
Yep. He was drooling.
Annabeth crouched down close to his face. “Percy,” she whispered. He stuttered for a moment, before returning to his steady pattern of breathing.
She tried again, a little louder this time, and poked his cheek. Percy jerked, his hands swinging up to protect his face. His eyes slid open to sleepy slits. “What…?” He rubbed his face, blinking hard. Annabeth’s heart warmed at the sight of his messy hair tangled in different directions.
“Nice hair,” she said.
Percy patted the top of his head. A second later his eyes lit up and widened in recognition. “Annabeth,” he realized. He sat up. “What’s going on? Did something happen? Are you—“
“Whoa, slow down.” She took his wrists and guided them back down to his sides, gently jostling the bed as she took a seat beside him. “Everything’s fine. I just couldn’t sleep.”
“Oh….Oh. Have you been having nightmares?”
The accuracy of the question took her by surprise. “How—“
“Because I’ve been having them to,” Percy said. The intensity of his gaze brought a blush to Annabeth’s cheeks. It was hard for her to admit this, that she wanted…help. Comfort. Despite everything Percy and she had experienced, her pride and dignity stood strong inside of her like a wall she despised taking down.
She looked away. Her voice was low. “I thought what Mr. D did was supposed to help with those.”
“So did I.”
She bit down on her lip. “Well it’s not. Obviously.” Dionysus’s mental healing magic had done nothing to prevent a flood of nightmares from attacking her each night, and every one left her breathless and dizzy and drowning alone in a sea of laughing darkness, whose shadows would wrap around her chest and squeeze until she swore her heart stopped. The trip to Tartarus had done more damage than she originally realized; now, she had begun to fear sleep, because its dreams sent her right back to the place she never wished to visit again.
Annabeth wrapped her arms around herself to stop the ache in her chest. If a god couldn’t help them, then who could?
Percy frowned. “Come ere’,” he said, and when Annabeth kept still he looped an arm around her waist and pulled her reluctantly over to him. They lay back against the pillows, in the twisted jumble of his sheets, and Annabeth was secretly glad that Percy understood what she wanted without her having to breathe a word to him out loud. “Geez, Annabeth. You’re freezing,” he complained.
“Sorry. It’s cold in my room.” Annabeth shifted closer and smirked when Percy flinched. He started rubbing her arms, quick and sure as if to force some heat back into her body. The motion was entirely too familiar and soon memories were flickering past like camera snapshots in her mind. There was a vast chilling void, and she was lying on the ground with rocks digging into her bloody back. The howls and cries of monsters were growing ever closer and Percy was trying to rub the life back into her frozen blood, his fingers pressing down on bruises and scars as he choked quietly. "It's okay. We're okay."
“Stop,” snapped Annabeth.
Percy froze at once. “I-I thought that might help,” he stumbled. She could imagine him shrinking away in embarrassment behind her, folding in on himself until he was a small speck in danger of disappearing altogether. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to,” he added quickly, “I won’t do it again.”
“No. No.” Annabeth took a deep breath. “I’m just tired,” she explained, which wasn't entirely a lie. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
“Oh.” Hesitantly he secured an arm across her waist instead. Annabeth waited to feel the beating of his heart through the layers of clothing and skin separating them both. Hair by her neck was stirred by his soft breathes and tickled like feathers against her skin. “Better?” he asked at last.
“Much,” she told him.
They sat in silence for a while. Tension began to slowly unwind from their bodies, bones and muscles settling together and relaxing as one. Annabeth let her lashes fall shut like the closing of a curtain. “Do you think they’ll ever go away?” she questioned her darkened eyelids. “The nightmares?”
Percy spoke near her ear. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I…I think so, maybe. I hope so.” After a few moments of silence he offered, “We can talk to the Hypnos cabin when we get back, see if they have anything that can help.” He was grabbing at loose line now, searching for a way to cheer her up with the possibility of being stuck with this torture forever.
Annabeth doubted a miracle like that could come from a couple of demigods, but “maybe,” was all she muttered in response.
Percy felt blindly for her hand in the dark and Annabeth slid her fingers down to reach his fingers, which embraced her smaller palm with a tight squeeze. She brought their conjoined hands to her lips and left gentle kisses along his knuckles, soothing both him and her. “Don’t give up, Annabeth,” Percy mumbled. “We’ll figure something out. I promise.”
Promise. Oh how she hated that word.
Her eyes opened again and met the harsh glare of the lamp light. She spoke to the navy blue baseball cap sitting at its side. “I’m kind of afraid.” It was foolish to fear something as simple as sleep, but she couldn’t help it.
Percy surprised her again when he whispered. “Me to.”
“I don’t know what to do.” There. She had admitted it; she was lost and confused and scared and she didn’t like it one bit. That was why she was here, in his room now; slumber seemed such a useless thing when the dreams it gave only increased her exhaustion.
“Try to sleep.” Percy left a carefree kiss on her forehead. “I’m here now,” he said, stifling a yawn. “If it gets bad, I’ll wake you up.”
If only it were that easy. “What if you're asleep to?” demanded Annabeth.
“I think you’ll kick me in your nightmares enough times to wake me up.”
She snorted and felt as Percy smiled satisfied into her hair. “But seriously, Annabeth. I’ll wake you up. Don’t worry so much, okay?”
She sighed. “If you forget, I’m pushing you off this bed.”
“You’ll probably do that anyway.”
“Shut up, Percy.” Annabeth jabbed him in the ribs and listened to his mildly pained protest, a smile creeping up on her face at the sheer normalcy of it all. It had been so long since she had felt at ease, secure and grounded. She was still terrified of course, but the worst was past her now and the road to recovery stretched out before her like a beacon on a dark sea, its light forever guiding the lost ships home. With her best friend at her side she could believe that they would one day reach the end, to something bigger and brighter and infinitely more wonderful, worth the years of struggling and strife. A happy ending to call their own.
She barely felt it as her gratitude took a voice and formed words. “Thanks.”
“Just…for being here. For always being here.” I never could have asked for a better friend. His warmth was spreading over her, like a blanket, keeping her bundled safe and close in the dark, and the heat made her eyes heavy, her heart as slow and steady as his own. “Thank you, Percy,” she breathed, like a secret only he was meant to hear.
He kissed the skin below her ear, and small tingles rippled out from where his lips brushed and landed. “That’s what friends are for, right?” he exhaled back.
“Love you to.”
Percy would always be here, this Annabeth knew with certainty, as her eyes closed again.
He would always be there to pull her out of the night and back into the sunlight.