Fire-Escapes and White Lies
One of the things Percy Jackson had never internalized was just how hard coming back home could be.
Probably, because he'd just assumed that he'd die along the journey to stop the giants, maybe because he never believed he'd actually make it back, at least not in one piece anyway. But nevertheless, here he was staring at his old bedroom celling with the city's restless noise ringing outside his window. Not much had changed, his room was still messy and crowded with old junk from Camp Half-Blood, he guessed his mom hadn't gone in it since he went missing. He knew it was illogical, but somehow he felt like a stranger in his own home, like this place, these memories were no longer his.
He glanced at the old alarm clock by his bedside table. 2:07 A.M. He grunted and turned to his window. Outside, he could see faint lights shinning through the binds. Had he really been staring at the celling for the past 3 hours? Maybe, he didn't know. Time seemed to move a lot slower when he was by himself.
Percy knew he should go to sleep, you'd think that after two weeks without getting any decent rest he'd be exhausted, but he simply couldn't close his eyes. The way he saw it, the more he'd put it off the better it would be when he finally got it, but lately it seemed that it was the complete opposite. He wanted to believe that he was fine, that the darkness didn't frighten him. He wanted to believe that everything could eventually go back to normal, but he knew enough about disappointment to know that hoping was simply not good enough. Maybe it was the way the lights outside his apartment cast weird shadows that seemed to come alive, or maybe it was a side-effect of almost dying so many times. Either way, all Percy knew was that he couldn't go back, not now, not when everything was still so fresh in his memory.
He didn't want to think about it, he knew that if he did he would just make it worse for himself, that all the nightmares would just feel a lot more real. He realized his hands had turned into fists, his nails were digging into the back of his hands but he didn't feel pain. That was another thing, he didn't feel much of anything anymore, not like he used to. Everything hit him like tidal waves, like first he could be drowning in paralyzing fear and then in an instant he could feel nothing at all.
Numb, that's how he felt.
He glanced back at the alarm clock, 2:22 A.M., 15 minutes had passed. He felt like he was being eaten alive, like if he just stayed there he would drown in his own thoughts. How ironic, he thought, a son of Poseidon drowning. It always came to that, to the same thought over and over. It was like it was permanently scarred into his brain, maybe that was it, maybe it was the fates' way of telling him his time was up, that his days were outnumbered.
Percy could theorize all he wanted but the truth was, it was all in his head. He came to the same conclusion every night, and he knew he was right. All the anxiety and paranoia he was feeling, it wasn't real, he knew that, and maybe that's what scared him the most. He got up, preforming the same ritual for the 7th night in a row. When it came down to the point where he felt like the walls were closing in on him, like his head would burst open and let the darkness consume him, when his knuckle turned white and he'd bite his lip so hard he could taste the blood on the tip of his tongue, that's when he'd get up. He'd put on some ratty jeans, old sneakers and a hoodie, open his window and he'd leave through the fire-escape.
He didn't know where he was going, it was the middle of the night and all he could think of was walking. He'd walk and walk and walk until he couldn't feel his feet anymore, until he lost track of time and he got lost inside the city. The thing about New York after dark is that it starts losing its glamour. Like an old painting in a museum, it slowly starts cracking and shedding away everything that once made it fascinating, until suddenly all that was left in its place was the ghost of what it used to look like. Lately Percy could relate to that feeling.
Ever since the Argo II, he'd been so used to pretending to be okay, that for a moment he'd almost convinced himself. Maybe it'd worked for some time, but that façade had grown old.
Just keep walking,
He never paid close attention to where he was going, but he always ended up in the same place.
What are you doing? Why are you running? Be a man, be a hero,
a small voice whispered in the back of his mind. Why was he running? He didn't know, or maybe he did but he didn't have time to think about it. He was tired, he didn't want to be the hero, not anymore. He never asked for this, any of it, so why did it matter? Who cared if he ran or not, the war was over, there was nothing left to fight for, nothing left to defend. Nothing. The word kept popping up in Percy's mind.
He should've been glad that the war is over, that he could now live a normal life, but he's wasn't. His legs felt like jelly but he was finally there. He stood before one of the city's most famous attractions, Brooklyn Bridge.
During the day, the bridge was crowded with tourists and bikers and street artist trying to sell you stuff, but at this time there wasn't a soul around. Percy had been coming here for the last week or so, he found it soothed him to stand at the edge of the rails and watch the water below. He wasn't afraid of heights, and he wasn't afraid of falling. He knew, even if he jumped and fell in the water he'd survive, so there really was no risk.
The wind blew in his face and he could feel his feet dangling in the air. If Annabeth had been there she would probably be telling him historical facts about the bridge. Annabeth. He thought about calling her, but she was probably asleep, and even if she'd been awake, what would he say? Hey Annabeth, I know it's late and all, and you were probably asleep but I was wondering if you wanted to hang out with me by this creepy old bridge, sounds like fun, right? Besides, Percy had noticed she'd been avoiding him ever since they got out of the pit. When she spoke with him she was distant and anxious, and Percy knew exactly why. She was scared of him, and why wouldn't she be. She knew him better than anyone else, she could see past everything, she was Annabeth she could see what he really was. A monster. Even his own girlfriend was scared of him.
Way to go, Jackson,
He wanted to call her, he really did, but she wouldn't have answered, or at least he didn't think she would. Percy realized he was alone, the same way he'd been before he found out he was a demigod, he was completely alone. Was this really it? Was this really the way he would go? Not with a fight, or because of some great prophecy, but alone, with no one around to even notice he was gone.
He felt angry, he felt angry at the gods, at himself, even at Annabeth for not being there. He needed her, he didn't know how to tell her but he needed her to run her hands through his hair and tell him he was fine, maybe then if even for just a few moments, he'd believe it. His hands were shaking and his breaths were short and hallow, how much time had passed? It didn't feel like much but out the corner of his eye he could see the sun beginning to rise.
He knew too well that it would't be long before the entire platform filled with joggers and bikers and people walking their dogs, so he got of the railing and left. The walk home felt a lot faster than it should've. He passed by Annabeth's building, and considered visiting her. Maybe she was awake, and she was working on some designs in her laptop, maybe she'd know what to say to make him not feel as shitty as he did, maybe she'd know how to fix him, how to fix all of it; or maybe she wouldn't have any answers. Either way Percy wanted her, he wanted to feel her besides him, to hear her voice say his name, maybe that would've done the trick.
He kept walking, until the it was already dawn and he reached his building. He climbed the fire-escape and went inside his window, and laid on his bed. He would stay like that until his mom knocked on his door a few hours later, then he'd get up, say "Good morning." and pretend.
It scared him how good he was getting at it.