They were here, they had made it this far. The sunlight streamed in through the Doors- the Doors of Death, iluminating the permanent darkness of Tartarus with a playful and warm tone of yellow. Percy squinted, as did Annabeth. How long had it been since the last time they saw it? Days? Weeks? Months? It seemed like years.
Percy could already see their friends' faces. He almost laughed with relief, and tightened his fingers around Annabeth's, pulling her forward, forward, forward.
Annabeth suppressed a noise between a grunt and a sigh as her bad ankle was forced to take her weight; it had come nowhere close to being healed. Not when you were constantly falling for nine days and nine nights at an impossible speed towards hell, and then very stupidly landing on it. That had been just brilliant of her. Or when you were constantly running or monster-fighting.
Annabeth looked over to her boyfriend. His face was lit-up, a smile playing on his lips. Gods, she loved him so much. And he had stuck with her for so long, literally from hell and back. Well, maybe not exactly back.
Annabeth breathed in. Judging by Percy's expression, he had no idea what she was about to do. Good. Would he be angry with her? Will he forgive her? ...she shook her head, as if shaking off her negative thoughts.
Pushing the Doors close, it was being done. Finally.
Annabeth turned her head around so that she was facing Percy and continued to push. She had everything calculated. She hoped it would work.
Then the gap between the Doors was just as she planned. She moved, but not towards the Doors. Anabeth tackled Percy, pushing him with every ounce of her strenght, putting her full weight on her sprained ankle for balance. The pain was unbeliable. Dark spots danced around her vision, as if teasing her to give up. Her hands were on the small of his back, and even though he no longer had Achilles' curse, it was still a sensitive spot.
He was so surprised, he didn't even think of stopping her. He stumbled forward.
Annabeth lifted her gaze and met Frank's. Silent understanding passed through them: a sacrifice Percy would not be able to make, if not for Frank's sense of duty. She understood it now. Frank did so, too.
Frank grabbed Percy by the shirt, helping Annabeth move him, and he was out of this dark prision; free and into the mortal world.
"I love you!" Annabeth croaked, as loud enough as her sore throat let her. Then she turned towards the Doors, and with a final push, sealed them shut; sealing her in, sealing him out.
Annabeth collapsed on the cold floor, shivering, unable to see because of the dark or to feel any more than pain.
But she had a plan. There was still hope.
Percy sprang to his feet and whirled around. The Doors were sealed shut; grim faces everywhere.
No, no, no. This couldn't be. He tugged at the Doors, pushed them, kicked them. Annabeth was inside, she was there! Why?!
Cruel reality hit him- the Doors had to be shut from both sides. So if not the both of them, one had to stay in. How had he not thought about that earlier?
He pounded again helplessly. Fury cursed through his veins, cold and unforgiving.
His eyes met his. Frank was surprised by the pure hatred in his friend's eyes. Hatred and hurt. Betrayal.
Frank felt as if he were sinking lower and lower into the ground under his stare.
Then something in Percy changed. As if something had snapped inside of him, he collapsed to the ground, violent sobs racking his body.
He was there again. A thousand miles away from her, a broken mess. Percy tried so hard to stand up and, like a hero, face his friends and rescue her somehow. But he could not do this on his own, he had just lost so much along the way.
Annabeth. That name haunted his dreams, and now the seven demigods were standing outside one of the entries to Tartarus. Thay stared down gloomly, having come this far but not actually sure of how to proceed.
Just when they were about to turn back and return to the Argo ll to continue planning there, something incredible happened.
A figure stumbled out of Tartarus, just like that, landing first on its feet and then falling forward to its elbows.
The figure was a she, with blond curls and gray eyes. Percy caught her before she hit the floor completely.
Annabeth smiled at him weakly. She was pale, sweaty, bruised, and had dried blood on her face, ankle, and shirt. But she smiled nonetheless, collapsing into him, relaxing into his body.
"Percy," she said in barely a whisper. Percy felt like all those scattered pieces were forming a whole again. All the pieces, everything he thought he had lost before.
"Annabeth." Percy kissed her, wrapping his arms around her torso, and she wrapped her arms around his neck. When Annabeth tried to readjust her position, she winced. Percy looked down and saw that, instead of her sneakers and improvise cast, she had winged shoes on. Luke's.
His eyes widened. "You found them!"
Annabeth nodded wearily against his neck, shifting her weight to her good foot and sighed. Percy helped her make her way to the Argo II, followed by the other demigods.
"Why?" he had asked later in the infirmary of the Argo II, when she was bandaged and had a proper cast in her ankle.
"Why, what?" she yawned; her eyelids were drooping. She hadn't slept in five days.
"Why did you push me out of- of- of that place? Why did you stay?" his voice was not angry, just weary and curious.
Annabeth grabbed his hand and pulled him closer, so he now sat at the edge of her bed. "Because you're my friend, Seaweed Brain," she mumbled, clearly nodding off. "Any more stupid questions?"
Percy laughed, remembering the first time she had said this. Annabeth smiled up at him sleepily and patted the spot next to her.
Obediently, Percy cuddled with her. He nuzzled her neck gently and kissed her jaw. "I love you," he blurted. He then blushed furiously.
Annabeth opened her eyes and looked at him, a smile spreading through her lips. "I love you, too, Percy." She tugged at their holding hands, bringing them closer. "I always will."
Percy looked at her. She had dark circles under her eyes, like him, and her skin was so pale, making the contrast more obvious. Her face was no longer bloody because she had taken a shower, but you could see the cuts and bruises on her face. She was thinner than before, her cheeks a little bit hollow and her curls spread around the pillow.
This time they didn't come out only with a streak of gray hair, or an Achilles heel, but with all of this little painful reminders. But that was okay, they were going to be okay. They were together.
"Only always?" Percy taunted, his voice low.
Annabeth frowned, still with her eyes closed. "Forever and Always," she corrected.
"Forever and always." Percy agreed.
And with the promise of a near happy ending, at least for now, the rocking of the ship and each other's warmth, they were lulled to sleep.