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A Bolt from the Blue

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On the day Nico’s going to get his third tattoo, Percy burrows underneath Jason’s sheets and presses himself against the length of Jason’s body.

Jason is still skirting the edge of sleep and trying to go further, so he just mumbles an incoherent complaint and shuffles slightly away.

“You awake?” Percy doesn’t even try to whisper, the bastard.

“No,” Jason grumbles.

“Get up, then. Nico wants us to go with him.”

“No.”

“Come on.” Percy pokes at Jason’s arm. “You know he gets nervous about these things.”

“Then maybe he should stop getting tattoos in the first place,” Jason tells his pillow.

“Honestly, I think he might be turning into a tattoo addict. You’ve heard of those people, right? They tattoo themselves all over. Like, even their faces. Even their…” There’s a pause and then suddenly there’s one Percy Jackson plastered against Jason’s back, mouth at his ear. “Dangly parts.”

Jason groans. “How old are you?”

Percy’s mouth moves closer. “Definitely legal, if that’s what you’re asking,” he says, his voice suddenly a lot deeper.

Jason throws an elbow back into Percy’s chest but he can’t help but laugh. “You’re such a horndog sometimes. What, is Daniel not home?”

“Excuse me?” Percy jostles the bed as he props himself up on one arm to peer down at Jason’s face. Jason gives him the stink-eye. “How dare you imply I wouldn’t try to get into your pants even if Daniel was available?”

“Well, is he?”

Percy narrows his eyes. Jason buries his laughter in his sheets.

“Hey, still not true!” Percy protests, yanking the covers off of Jason. “You’re not my second choice.”

“Sure.”

“You’re not! You’re just never up for it so I don’t bother asking you.”

Jason laughs incredulously. “What? Percy, we literally fucked yesterday.”

Percy blinks at him. “Your point?”

“You realize,” Jason says, sitting up, “that you’re really just harming yourself by giving into the horny bisexual stereotype?”

Percy gasps. “Jason Grace, are you slut-shaming me?”

“Yes.”

“Good, that’s the way I like it,” Percy winks.

“Oh my gods, get out!” Jason kicks Percy to the opposite side of the bed. He could probably kick him right out of the room, but he doesn’t want to risk breaking any of Percy’s bones if he can help it. It wouldn’t be good for either of them.

Thankfully, he succeeds in shoving Percy off the bed and onto the floor. Percy lands with a soft thump and an adorable squeak, and the next moment he’s sitting up and glaring at Jason.

“For the record,” he says, getting to his feet in a tangle of bed sheets, “if we’re talking horny bisexuals, you can’t point any fingers, Mr What-Do-You-Mean-You’ve-Never-Had-An-Orgy?”

“I’ve literally only slept with four people my entire adult life. And that question was because I was so shocked you hadn’t had one yet, not because I want one! I would never. All that… touching.” He shudders.

“An orgy with touching?” Percy cries. “Call the newspapers! The press needs to hear about this!”

Jason is too busy laughing to notice Percy flinging open all the windows and all the blinds. When he finally opens his eyes, it’s to blinding sunlight and a stripped bed. He doesn’t know how else to convey his sudden and extreme displeasure except to groan in the loudest way he can manage, so that’s what he does.

“Shut up,” Percy says, already rifling through Jason’s closet. “Nico’s appointment is in an hour and you haven’t even had breakfast. You know how slow you eat.”

Jason flops down on the bed. “Eating slow is good for your metabolism.”

“Bullshit. Is this my shirt?”

Jason lifts his head. “That’s a hoodie.”

“Is this my hoodie?”

“It’s mine now. Put it back.”

Percy tosses the hoodie and a pair of jeans on the bed, then marches over to Jason and yanks him up by his arms.

“Oh, wow,” Jason says, wide-eyed. He wasn’t expecting that. “Have you been working out?”

Percy just winks at him. “Get in the shower,” he says, shoving the clothes into Jason’s arms. “And be out in ten. I’ll get breakfast on.”

Being on his feet knocks some sense into Jason and he realizes how rude he’s being. Is he really going to make Percy cook him breakfast in his own home? “You don’t have to do that,” he says quickly. “I think Raul ordered pizza last night. There are probably some leftovers in the fridge that I can heat up.”

“There were. Hey, tell Raul not to order olives next time. I hate having to pick them off my pizza every time.”

And just like that, the guilt is gone. “You ate already? How long have you been here?”

Percy shrugs. “An hour or so. Raul let me eat all the leftovers if I listened to his speech. Honestly, though, the guy has some serious skills. I was fucking riveted.”

Jason blinks at him. “You’ve been here an hour and you just now decided to wake me up in a hurry because we’re getting late?”

Percy gives him a sheepish smile. “I lost track of time, sorry. But don’t waste any more time!” he adds loudly over Jason’s defeated groan. “Get ready, I’ll make you a five-star breakfast. Everything a growing boy needs.”

And then with a kiss smacked to Jason’s cheek and a slap to Jason’s butt, Percy’s out the door.

~*~

“Hey,” Jason’s roommate Raul says when Jason steps out of his bedroom. He has his gold-rimmed spectacles perched on his delicate nose and a worn-out stack of papers in one hand. He was obviously in the middle of a silent monologue, one hand still raised in the middle of making a point. Jason can practically see the tracks in the floor from Raul’s pacing.

“Hey,” Jason says. “Working on your speech?”

Raul throws a look over his notes. “Trying to. Your boyfriend’s in the kitchen, by the way.”

“I told you, he’s not my boyfriend.”

“Whatever. Just make sure he doesn’t blow anything up like last time.” He walks away, muttering under his breath.

He’s a good roommate, if a little distant. The best thing about him is that he seems to give exactly zero fucks that he’s rooming with The Great Jason Grace, the only Son of Jupiter, one of the Seven. In fact, he doesn’t even blink when Jason’s friends are over, and he refers to Percy almost solely as Jason’s boyfriend (despite Jason correcting him every time) as though he doesn’t even know his name. Knowing Raul, he probably doesn’t.

“Hey,” Jason says, walking into the kitchen. “Raul says not to –“

The words almost dry up in his mouth. Percy’s wearing the bright pink Hello Kitty apron Piper had gotten Jason as a joke on his birthday last year, and it makes him look so cute and so delectably domestic, it takes all of Jason’s willpower to not pounce on him right then and there.

He clears his throat. “Not to blow anything up like last time.”

Percy tsks and flips his pancake, completely untroubled. “That was one time. Raul should really get over it.”

“I think he’s more concerned with how you even managed to blow up a fridge of all things.”

“You know, contrary to what most people think, fridges are one of the most flammable things in the whole kitchen. It was going to happen sooner or later.”

“But was it? Was it, really?” Jason takes a seat at the table.

“I cannot believe I’m here making Your Highness breakfast while also being bullied right to the brink of tears.” He turns down the heat. “What am I, a maid?”

“Not going to lie, that’s a sexy image. But let’s be real, you’re only a butler at best.” Jason laughs at the glare Percy sends him and then, only because he never wants to truly offend Percy, he gets up, winds his arms around Percy and kisses his cheek. “I’m sorry, I know I’m being a brat.”

“A super brat,” Percy agrees. “What kind of best friend are you?”

“The kind that lets you into his pants whenever you want,” Jason says, smiling brightly.

Percy hums as he moves the pancakes to a plate. “But is that even true anymore?” he asks, tsking dramatically.

“Of course it is!” Jason says, and then, to emphasize his point, bites gently at Percy’s earlobes. “Why would you think it isn’t?”

“Allow me to show you Exhibit A: fifteen minutes ago –“

“I was tired, and annoyed that you wouldn’t let me sleep.” Jason burrows his face into Percy’s neck. It’s one of Jason’s favorite spots to be. Percy’s neck is the most perfect neck Jason has ever encountered, and he’s met Aphrodite. Jason thinks if he were a tiny human he could probably camp out on the sweet-smelling brown expanse of Percy’s neck for the rest of his life, and then he thinks maybe he should never mention these kinds of thoughts out loud if he ever wants to be considered even half-sane.

“But I am sorry,” Jason continues, after taking one healthy and not-so-subtle gulp of air from around Percy’s neck.

Percy tsks again and then he’s maneuvering himself to face Jason. He’s smiling his patented adorable Percy Jackson grin again. “I was kidding, you idiot,” he says, “Don’t apologize for being annoying sometimes. You almost never are, it’s a nice change of pace. Now here,” he hands Jason his plate. “Eat quick or we’ll be late. We don’t want Nico barging in here and irritating Raul like last time.”

~*~

It hasn’t been that long since Jason and Percy first met and since the two of them, with a rag-tag group of other teenagers and a few slightly confused gods, saved the world from certain destruction. But to Jason, it seems like a lot longer than ten years.

So many things have changed since then, not just with them but with Camp Jupiter and Camp Half-Blood as well. When Jason compares himself as he is now to the Jason Grace he was back then, he can’t believe at how those two people are simultaneously so similar and so different.

He doesn’t know what his younger self would think of him if he met this Jason – taller, tanner, more muscular, with a few regrettable hairstyles under his belt, a lot less straight and a lot more bisexual, almost blind as a bat without his contacts but so full of love and confidence that sometimes it feels like his body is too weak to contain it.

He knows what he would tell younger Jason: to not be so worried about what other people think, to love his friends and show it too, and most of all, to love and cherish himself. And he knows he would probably tell him to make sure he becomes good friends with Percy Jackson, because he’s the reason a lot of that change happened.

Maybe not all of it – the hairstyles were definitely egged on by Leo and Hazel, the vision problems are probably his own fault, and the slow but sure growth of self-love was a product of the influences of all his friends, old and new.

But the reason he started working out regularly was because of Percy – at first because they had a running bet on who could lift more, and then later because he realized he liked the way Percy’s eyes would focus into an intense black-green when they would skip over Jason’s chest and stomach. And that, of course, led to the realization that he was a lot less straight and a lot more bisexual than he had previously thought.

When his relationship with Piper had eventually run its course and they had both figured out that they fit together much better as friends, Jason made a point to become closer to Percy. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for, and he still didn’t know, but in the end he thinks he got a pretty sweet deal. Percy’s his best friend, his equal in every way, his partner-in-crime, and his occasional ‘friend with benefits’. As time went by, Percy became one of the people Jason spent most of his time with, and then the confidence and self-assurance soon followed.

He doesn’t know what it is about Percy that makes people around him feel good, but he can only hope that he can emulate that some day. He doesn’t think he’ll ever tell Percy, but he knows Percy was one of the major reasons Jason’s perspective on the world changed, purely because of the way Percy loves him.

Out of all of Jason’s friends, Percy’s the most physically and verbally affectionate. It took Jason a while to get used to, but once he did, he didn’t even realize it. He fit the mold of Percy’s admiration so perfectly he didn’t realize how it made him change how he thought of himself, and that instead of wondering how can anyone love themselves while also knowing what they really are, he had started thinking If Percy Jackson likes me so much, there has to be something good about me.

It was a slow and subtle transformation, but not so slow and subtle that Jason didn’t notice it within himself. Not so slow and subtle that he didn’t absolutely love witnessing it unfurl inside of him. And as time passed, his friends noticed too, and they, like the amazing people they are, cheered him on. And so one day, when Percy, for the thousandth time, sidled up to Jason and whispered an innuendo in his ear, Jason believed it was real and not some joke, and he whispered a reply back.

~*~

It’s been almost a year since he and Percy started this friends-with-benefits situation. In fact, their first anniversary is in a week, but as Jason follows Percy to the closest tattoo parlor outside New Rome and in the mortal world, and watches his wavy black hair bob down the streets, he doesn’t think Percy has even noticed.

Of course, it isn’t at all strange that he hasn’t noticed. Jason isn’t sure if that’s the sort of thing you remember anniversaries for. What would you even say? Happy Fuckbuddy-Day? Jason would rather jump off a bridge.

Still, it would be nice if Percy mentioned something about it, if only so Jason didn’t feel like a complete creep about keeping track of the date.

“What is he getting again?” Percy asks as they step into Delilah’s.

“Not sure. Something on his rib, I think.”

Percy snorts. “Dumbass. That’s where it hurts the most. After, you know…” he wiggles his eyebrows at Jason. “The dangly parts.”

Jason sighs. Percy makes his heart hurt. “You’re so lucky you’re cute.”

Percy gives him the kind of soft smile that makes Jason want to punch a wall. A heavily tattooed red-haired woman holding a giant Maine Coon walks up to them. “Can I help you?”

“We’re looking for a friend,” Percy says. “Nico di Angelo? He’s probably a regular at this point.”

She leads the two of them to the back of the tattoo parlor, where Nico is already stretched out on a tattoo chair, staring up at the fluorescent lighting with an apprehensive look on his face. When he notices them, his stiff body relaxes like a deflated balloon.

“Hades, Nico,” Percy says, “If you’re so scared of them, why get them?”

“Because they look cool and I want people to be intimidated by me,” Nico deadpans. “Also, who said I’m scared?”

Jason disguises his laugh with a cough. He and Percy pull up chairs next to Nico, who’s glaring weakly at both of them.

Out of all of them, Jason thinks it’s safe to say that Nico has changed the most, inside and out. He had a huge growth spurt at the same time that he started working out, so now he looks like a tall lean-muscled noodle, as Percy says. His skin is more his natural olive tone than the pale sickly that Jason first saw him with. Sadly, his eye bags seem to have taken permanent residence on his face, even though Will assures them Nico gets enough sleep at night (“That’s not what their neighbors say,” Piper is fond of whispering). His taste in clothes has improved as well – he still only wears black but at least they aren’t the same clothes he’s been wearing for months.

But the most startling changes are the piercings (all silver; three on one ear and two on the other), the hair (long and always in a half-ponytail that Percy loves tying for him; and every now and then, Nico appears with a large chunk of his hair dyed in a shocking neon color and will never acknowledge the change) and the tattoos (Hades’ three Symbols of Power on his upper arm and an intricate bow-and-arrow underneath a sky of stars on his chest).

The tattoos are mostly hidden from view, but when Nico chooses to display them, they’re very eye-catching. Delilah does a great job.

Now, she walks out from the back room, a smiling black woman with a shock of pink hair, which is probably one of the inspirations for Nico’s many hairstyles.

She greets them warmly and then asks Nico to remove his shirt. Nico sits up and pulls it off quickly, giving Jason and Percy a glare as he drops it in Jason’s lap.

“Don’t lose it,” he snaps.

“Of course not. Anything else, sir? Tea or coffee?”

Nico grunts as he positions himself correctly. “Maybe later. For now, you can get to massaging my feet –“ He breaks off when Percy laughs and flicks a finger at Nico’s forehead.

If Jason gained too much confidence to contain in his tiny mortal body in the past few years, then Nico’s confidence probably couldn’t even fit on planet earth. It’s a combination of having a loving sister, a long-term stable relationship with Will, a strong and supportive group of friends, a dad who – despite being a god – makes sure he’s a part of Nico’s life, and the realization that he deserved better than what the world had given him when he was younger. Jason’s proud of Nico – he seems to have adapted to his changing personality a lot quicker than Jason has. In fact, Jason would go so far as to say that Nico is sometimes so sure of himself, he turns into a little brat.

Of course, he’s able to twist that a bit, so he comes out looking like an annoying but ultimately endearing brat. It took Percy a little while, but after Nico’s personality settled, Percy realized he was a thousand percent more entertaining as a cocky little brother, and so adopted him into that role. Nico went willingly enough, and now Jason finds himself daily subjected to Percy annoying Nico to get a rise out of him and Nico acting like it’s annoying him specifically to entertain Percy. It’s probably the most Dumb and Dumber relationship Jason has ever seen.

Once the needle touches Nico’s skin, he won’t stop yowling and moaning in pain. Delilah rolls her eyes at him a million times a minute. Jason pats at Nico’s head. Percy won’t stop saying, “You complete fucking idiot, the ribs hurt the most! Other than, you know –“

When the tattoo is completed, Percy and Jason stare at it in silence. Even through the puffy red skin, they can see what it is clearly: a lyre and a sword, crossed.

“Nico,” Jason says, “you’re such a sap.”

“Don’t even dare,” Nico says, as Delilah slowly covers the tattoo. “It’s a surprise for him.”

“Nico, I can’t believe you. You realize this is the Greek half-blood equivalent of getting your boyfriend’s initials tattooed on you?”

“We’re Greek,” Percy explains quickly to a confused Delilah, “And white. Uh, all of us. That’s just a word we call ourselves. You know, half-and-half. Like the milk?”

“You’re family?” Delilah looks pale. “But last time you were here, the two of you…” her finger floats between Jason and Percy, and all of a sudden, Jason can remember with extreme clarity what he and Percy were doing last time they were here.

“Oh, no, they’re not family,” Nico says, grinning his trademark evil grin. “They’re dating.”

“No, we’re not,” Jason snaps quickly.

“It’s a complicated situation,” Nico says to Delilah cheerily. “And this is not,” he says, turning back to Jason, “the equivalent of getting Will’s initials tattooed on me. Ugh, how tacky. I wouldn’t be caught dead doing something like that.”

“Nico, you know it freaks me out when you say stuff like that. Could you get any more Desperate Housewives?”

“Uh, sorry to interrupt, but,” Delilah looks between the three of them quickly, like she wants to get out of this conversation fast. “The bill?”

“It’s cool, I got it,” Percy says, taking Nico’s wallet out of his hands. He gets up. “At the counter?”

“I’ll help you.” Delilah is up in a flash and leads Percy away.

“Don’t you dare swindle me, Jackson!” Nico calls, grinning at the middle finger Percy gives him back. He and Jason watch them go. “Well, she couldn’t get away from me fast enough,” Nico says.

“I think all your chest hair might have scared her. Honestly, you have more than me.”

“Of course I do, you’re just a useless twink.”

“Nico, you’re the definition of a twink.”

“Maybe, but not a useless one. Now help me put on this shirt, it hurts.”

Jason holds the holes of the shirt wide for Nico to slip his head and arms through. He winces whenever Nico’s face scrunches up in pain.

“You really shouldn’t keep getting tattoos when you’re so scared of them,” Jason says as he watches Nico struggle. “I mean, what’s the point? Intimidating people can’t be that much of a priority, even to you.”

“I was kidding about that, genius,” Nico says through gritted teeth. “And the point is to have the people I love close to me. As close as they can get.” He looks up at Jason with wide dark eyes. “If there was a way to get closer than skin, I would do it.”

Jason stares at him. “What about this?” He motions to the Symbols of Power on Nico’s upper arm.

Nico gives them a cursory glance. “Just to remind myself who I am. And that I’m not weak, like I used to think of myself. I hated feeling like that and I never have to again. This proves it.”

Jason hums in agreement. “Sounds like you’ve thought this through.” Jason sits back down. “So, any particular reason you decided to get a tattoo for Will out of the blue?”

“Not really,” Nico shrugs.

“You expect me to believe you just woke up one day and decided to get a tattoo for your boyfriend for no reason?”

“Yup,” Nico says, popping the ‘p’. “It’s called being in love, Jason. You should try it sometime. Oh, wait.” His eyes glitter menacingly as he grins at Jason.

Jason groans. “Not this again.”

“I’m just saying, if this passionate declaration of love,” he motions to his own freaking tattoo, the self-obsessed little shit, “doesn’t get you thinking a certain type of way, you might actually be a robot.”

“And what type of way would that be?” Jason asks, eyebrow arched and trying desperately to look threatening.

“A real mushy, lovey-dovey, I’m-so-gay-for-Percy-Jackson sort of way,” Nico grins.

Jason rolls his eyes in the most exaggerated manner he can manage. “Never going to happen. No offense, Nico, but you think about my and Percy’s relationship way more than either of us do.”

“Oh, really? So you’re telling me you haven’t been thinking about how it’s almost your one-year anniversary since you started this whole,” he waves at Jason and the empty seat next to him, “thing?”

A rush of heat envelopes Jason’s face and neck. “One-year anniversary is such a redundant thing to say,” he mumbles.

Nico cackles in glee. “You’re so dumb,” he says, pinching hard at Jason’s flushed cheeks.

“I only remember because I’m really good at remembering dates, okay?” Jason snaps, slapping away Nico’s hands.

“Sure.”

“Nico. Do you really honestly think –“

“Yes, I really honestly do.”

“You’re turning into one of those gross people who want to set up all their single friends as soon as they get into a relationship themselves. Just because you like having a partner doesn’t mean everyone else thinks that way!”

“So you’re saying you’re perfectly happy with the way things are now?” Nico raises his eyebrows. “With you and Percy –“

Jason scoffs. “Of course I am.”

“– And Daniel and Lucia and Eve –“

“I’ll never understand why Percy has a whole freaking harem but I can’t even get a single date.”

“Because you sabotage all your dates!” Nico throws his hands in the air.

“No, I don’t.”

“Oh, really?” Nico folds his arms. “When was the last time you had a date with someone you actually enjoyed?”

Jason’s face feels like it’s on fire. He wants to get out of this tattoo parlor, and fast. “Last month, with that friend of Reyna’s,” he says confidently.

“Mm-hmm. Do you even remember your date’s name?”

Jason hesitates. “Um. Something with E – um, Elizabeth?”

Nico nods seriously. “Sounds like an interesting name for a guy.”

They stare at each other. Then Jason stands up and kicks at Nico’s shins. “You’re horrible to me. You know what this is? This is an abusive relationship –”

“Because I’m trying to make your life better?” Nico says incredulously, laughing as he tries to kick Jason back. “Stop kicking at me, you asshole, I just got cut open!”

“You got a tattoo, genius, you didn’t get cut open. I sincerely hope you never get to pass on your genes, those poor kids will be the stupidest little fuckers –“ He breaks off in a yelp as Nico slaps him square in the face.

When Percy walks into the room ten seconds later, it’s to find Jason and Nico wrestling on top of the tattoo chair, with Jason trying very hard not to actually injure Nico, and Nico completely sincerely trying the complete opposite. He kicks the two of them out of the tattoo parlor, apologizing profusely to Delilah, who looks terrified when Nico turns to her before leaving and says, “So can I book my next appointment right now?”

“The first thing you want to do right after getting a new tattoo in the second-most painful place on the human body is definitely get into a brawl with your best friend right there and then,” Percy says as he drags Nico and Jason down the street with an iron grip on their arms.

“He started it!” Nico complains.

“Nico was poking his nose into things that aren’t his business,” Jason says. Nico peeks over Percy’s shoulder and sticks his tongue out at Jason. “There! Did you see?! He stuck his tongue out at me!”

“Jason,” Percy says, “you know I think you’re absolutely adorable when you’re being childish like this –“

“Yeah, you do,” Nico agrees smugly, while Jason flushes and tries to glare at him around Percy.

“But you probably shouldn’t do stuff like that when Nico literally has a big gaping wound in his side –“

“It isn’t a big gaping wound,” Jason says, “Honestly, do neither of you know how tattoos work? You both have multiple!”

“Unless, of course,” Percy continues like he can’t hear Jason, “Nico deserved it. Which, knowing him, I don’t doubt at all –“

“Hey!” Nico cries.

“But you could still hurt him a lot more than he could hurt you –“

“Excuse me?” Nico snorts. “Just because he’s a big lump of meat –“

“So you really should be careful. You know how mad Will would be if we didn’t return Nico to him in one piece.”

“I would never try to make any more pieces of Nico than there already are,” Jason says.

Percy turns to him and Jason notices all of a sudden that Percy looks like he’s been on the verge of laughter for the past fifteen minutes. “What’s gotten into you?” he asks Jason in a lower voice than before. “I mean, not that I don’t like it, but usually it’s me and Nico arguing and you trying to play peacemaker.”

Percy’s let go of both Nico and Jason’s arms, but only Jason seems to be still caught to Percy by an invisible thread. Behind Percy, Nico’s watching the two of them with wide, gleeful eyes. What an absolute psycho.

Percy’s eyes are gentle on him like always, but it makes him feel a bit bashful. “I know, I’m sorry,” he says. “Nico just got under my skin. Which was his intention, no doubt.”

“It’s not my fault,” Nico says promptly. “I just think it’s stupid that Jason would rather act ignorant to certain things than face them head-on.”

“I think Nico would be better off keeping his opinions to himself,” Jason glares.

“And I think Jason would be doing everyone a favor if he just stopped trying to fool himself, because it’s definitely not working anyway,” Nico says, checking his nails nonchalantly.

Percy looks between the two of them. “Is this one of those secrets between the two of you that I know nothing about?”

“Yes,” Jason says at the same time Nico says, “No.”

“It doesn’t even matter,” Nico adds. “Let’s forget all about it. Hey, Percy, where’s Daniel today?”

Jason wants to punch Nico in the back of his precious little head. “I don’t know,” Percy says, giving Nico a baffled look. “Probably in class. I haven’t been able to get a hold of him all day. Why?”

“So you’ve been trying to get a hold of him all day?”

Percy looks at Jason as if for some explanation. Jason just rolls his eyes. “I mean, yeah. Before I went to Jason’s.”

“Hmm, interesting.” Nico says, rubbing at his chin dramatically. “So you’d say you haven’t tried to get a hold of Daniel since you met up with Jason?”

Percy snorts. “Obviously. Why do I need Daniel when I have Jason? Why are you talking like that, you complete weirdo? Did all your brain damage finally catch up to you?”

Jason bursts out laughing. Nico elbows Percy in the gut. “Hey!” Nico protests. “Don’t be rude to me, I’m trying to help you, even if you’re too dense to realize it.”

“Help me with what?” Percy laughs. “What the heck is he talking about?” he asks Jason.

“Just play along,” Jason stage-whispers to him. “I’ve learned giving into his delusions is the best way to avoid him going rabid on you.”

Percy cracks up. “You little –“ Nico breaks himself off into a fit of laughter and then, as if out of revenge for making him laugh, tries to give Jason a black eye.

The walk back to New Rome devolves into a series of jabs at each other, followed by Nico trying to mortally wound them and Percy and Jason laughing themselves hoarse. Nobody mentions that Jason laughs a little harder than usual, but he can’t ignore the feeling that he’s just dodged a bullet. One of these days, Percy will catch on, and Jason is dreading it like the Day of Judgment itself.

~*~

Jason’s in the practice arena two days later when who walks in but Percy’s ex Sebastian.

Jason’s always gotten along surprisingly well with Percy’s other friends-with-benefits, even though in their case, unlike in Jason’s, the ‘benefits’ part outweighs the ‘friends’ part. Lucia’s always been very nice to Jason, and Eve, who is good friends with Hazel, seems to think Jason is some tortured and love-struck hero of a romance novel. Whenever Jason sees her, she always reassures him Percy talks of nothing but him even when he’s hanging out with her just as friends (not that Jason asked) and whenever the three of them are in the same room, she makes sure to maneuver them to sit or stand together and then watches them from across the room, sighing and shaking her head solemnly. Jason doesn’t know where she got the impression that Jason is suffering a deep agonizing love for Percy, but he suspects Hazel and Nico might have something to do with it. Who could have guessed the children of the god of death could be so inexplicably obsessed with other people’s love lives?

Jason even likes Daniel Jakande, who is Percy’s main squeeze (as Hazel says) other than Jason. He supposes it would make sense for him to dislike at least Daniel if not Lucia and Eve too, but he can’t bring himself to – not even a little. Daniel is one of the most sincere and likeable people Jason has ever met. In fact, he and Jason even share a few classes, and he’s turned out to be a great study buddy.

It doesn’t help that the guy is so attractive he’s almost godlike, with his deep dark brown skin, thick-lashed eyes and razor-sharp jaw. He’s the kind of attractive that makes Jason notice every flaw in the mirror, and Jason can’t even dislike him for it, because he’s so freaking nice. In fact, Daniel is one of the only four people Jason’s ever had a sex dream about, and the only one in that list that he doesn’t consider a close friend. (The others are Piper and Percy of course, and then a single strange night where he had an incredibly hot and incredibly kinky dream about Frank, after which he hadn’t been able to look Frank in the eye properly for a whole month.)

So Jason considers himself to be on good terms with all of Percy’s other friends-with-benefits, which is, in all honesty, not that surprising. Percy’s always had a knack for surrounding himself with good people and Daniel, Lucia and Eve don’t seem to be an exception to that rule.

In fact, the only time Jason has ever seen Percy break that rule is with Sebastian Aldebourne, who not only looks like a rich white fuckboy but is one too. Jason had once asked Percy, back when Percy had still been regularly hooking up with Sebastian, what he saw in him, and Percy had shrugged and said, “The sex is pretty good, and he can be nice once you get to know him. Besides, I do have this weakness for blondes.” And he had winked at Jason as he said it, derailing all of Jason’s comebacks to that answer.

Percy had only actually seen Sebastian for a few months, during which he went through the same cycle three times: he would tell Sebastian they were only having sex and no feelings were involved, Sebastian would say he understood a hundred percent, a few weeks later he would get apocalyptically angry at Percy for ‘cheating on him’ with someone else, Percy would school him on what their relationship actually was, he would apologize and they would start over, only for him to do it all over again. Eventually, Percy decided to put an end to it.

“It’s way too much drama and it makes me feel like a bad person for leading him on,” Percy had told Jason as they’d cuddled in bed.

“You’re not a bad person,” Jason had told him. “He knows you don’t like him the way he likes you, but he won’t accept you rejecting him. He’s one of the most Nice Guy guys I’ve ever seen.”

Jason stands by that statement, even more so now that Sebastian still manages to keep popping up in Percy’s life, despite them not having had a single friendly conversation in over a year. It’s common knowledge among their circle of friends that you can count on him to make an appearance every six months or so. It doesn’t help that he lives in New Rome, probably the tiniest city in all of the United States.

Now, Sebastian strides into the otherwise empty arena, hair gelled and teeth gleaming. “Jason Grace,” he says, his voice as slimy as Jason remembers. “What a surprise to see you here.”

“Is it? I’m here every Thursday, right at this time.” Jason loops a towel around his sweaty neck and jogs over to shake hands with Sebastian. No matter how much he hates the guy, he still has his manners.

Sebastian is a little shorter than Jason, a little leaner too. He dresses himself well, in form-fitting clothes that look comfortable at the same time. His handshake is firm and confident, and when he smiles, two deep dimples pop up. Jason thinks he might actually come across as charming if he weren’t such a douchebag.

“You come here every Thursday to practice?” Sebastian lifts one thin blonde eyebrow. “I’ve never seen you before.”

“Trust me, I’m here,” Jason says, forcing a smile on his face. “Busy trying out some new moves, as you can see.” He motions to himself, decked in armor and drenched in sweat. “Gotta keep those skills sharp, just in case.”

“Of course you do, but does that really work? I mean, you’re so busy, surely you can’t get those skills as sharp as you would like.”

“Oh, no, they’re plenty sharp,” Jason says through gritted teeth. He’s always thought Sebastian looks a bit like a shark, especially when he has that grin on his face. He can’t believe Percy was ever attracted to this guy. “I need to keep a good hold of my titles, after all.”

“Yes,” Sebastian says, smile fixed. “Best swordsman alive.”

“Swordsmen,” Jason says sweetly. “Percy and I both.”

He hears the exact moment when Sebastian clenches his teeth – an audible click, like the sound of the beetle’s pincers snapping closed. “Right,” he says, his coal-black eyes concentrated on Jason’s.

“Yup,” Jason says, popping the ‘p’ like Nico does. “Now, if you’ll excuse me –“

“Actually,” Sebastian says, and there’s a lean-muscled arm in Jason’s way. “I was thinking, how about a match?”

Jason stares at him. “You want to spar with me?”

Sebastian nods and lifts his chin. “Best two out of three?”

Sebastian has a cleft chin, or a ‘butt chin’ as Piper likes to call them. Jason likes Piper’s version better. “Um, no offense, Sebastian, but do you really think that’s a good idea?”

Jason’s not being boastful. Jason really is the best swordfighter in the whole camp, alongside Percy –the best in decades. And he knows for a fact that Sebastian’s strong suit was never sparring, although admittedly, he could probably kick Jason’s ass in archery.

Which is why it’s so surprising he doesn’t mention archery, and instead seems to get angry at Jason’s implication. “You think I can’t beat you?” he asks, eyes glinting.

Jason flounders. He doesn’t want to sound like an asshole, but – “Look, man, I just don’t want to hurt you –“

Sebastian strides away from him and grabs a breastplate from the shelves lining the walls. “Let’s do this,” he says, already strapping it on.

Jason sighs in defeat. He doesn’t have the heart to tell him that breastplate is way too small.

~*~

Sebastian had been so confident in challenging Jason, a part of Jason had been expecting him to somehow be shockingly amazing at it, to disarm Jason in a matter of minutes, point the tip of his sword underneath Jason’s chin and then run off to Percy to try to win him back for the seventy-fifth time.

Instead, Jason knocked the sword out of Sebastian’s hand within a minute and thirty seconds, a minute and fifteen of which were spent acting like he was looking for an opening just so he could avoid humiliating the poor guy.

Jason had gone up against Sebastian twice before, back when he and Percy were still seeing each other. Both times, Sebastian had been horrendously bad and Jason had bested him in a few seconds. Jason had still been giving him the benefit of the doubt back then, so he had volunteered to coach Sebastian if he wanted. It had seemed to Jason that Sebastian was there to stay, and so he wanted at least a halfway positive relationship with the fuckbuddy of one of his best friends.

But now, clearly in an attempt to prove his mettle, Sebastian has improved a lot. Jason would be impressed and proud if it was any other person. Instead, he just feels awkward and a bit embarrassed on Sebastian’s behalf. He had obviously been expecting to make Jason tremble in his boots and submit to Sebastian’s superiority.

By the time they’re done, Sebastian’s carefully styled hair is a mess, his skin is pink and sweaty, and his legs are shaking like he might collapse any second. Despite all that, though, his eyes are even more intense than before and his jaw is clenched like he’s gritting his teeth.

Jason wants nothing more to leave the arena but he can’t help feel bad. “Hey, you did really well,” he says as he puts his armor back on the shelves nearby. “You’ve improved a lot. If you keep that up, you could become a decent swordsman. I could give you some feedback if you want –“

“No, thank you,” Sebastian says loudly. He strides over to where his sword is lying five feet away and grabs it up. “I was feeling a bit off today anyway. And you got to warm up before we started.” He shrugs.

“Uh, okay,” Jason says. It takes every bit of his willpower not to roll his eyes. “Well, good game. I guess I’ll be going so you can have the arena to yourself –“

“So soon?” Sebastian interrupts, his voice echoing through the arena. “Do you have somewhere to be?”

Jason gets the feeling they’re coming up on the real reason Sebastian walked up to Jason today. “Yeah, actually, I have some work to get done –“

“I just thought we’d have a little talk.” Sebastian is clearly straining to give Jason what he classifies as a friendly smile. “The little sparring session was fun but –“

“Sebastian,” Jason sighs. “I’m not going to talk to Percy for you. I’m sorry, but if that’s what you’re going to ask me to do, there’s exactly a zero percent chance that I’d ever do that.”

Sebastian’s eyes flash. He drops all pretense of friendliness – his chin lifts back up, his shoulders square and the hold on the hilt of his sword tightens. Jason’s not worried, though. He knows Sebastian isn’t crazy enough to come at Jason, but if he does, Jason’s biggest concern would be how to not fatally injure him.

“Look, Jason,” Sebastian says. “I know you’re quite clearly biased and it would obviously negatively affect you if Percy ever gets into a serious relationship with anyone but –“

“Wait, what?” Jason holds up his hand. “How exactly would it negatively affect me? I’d be ecstatic if Percy got into a serious relationship, I’m his best friend.”

Sebastian raises an eyebrow. “Really?”

“Yes,” Jason snaps. “I am his best friend. One of, at least.”

“That’s not what I mean. I think we both know why it would affect you negatively.” He smirks. “You’ve just always been in extreme denial about it. I thought, because it’s been so long since I’ve seen you, that maybe you might have worked it out but obviously –“

“Denial about what?” Jason snaps, but there’s a growing dread in the pit of his stomach.

Sebastian’s smirk grows. Jason wants to punch him, which is concerning. He’s been feeling like punching people a lot more than normal recently. “That you have feelings for Percy, and it makes you insecure to see him with someone else, especially me.”

Jason splutters. There are so many things wrong with that sentence, he doesn’t even know how to start. “First of all,” he says, stalking closer to Sebastian and poking a finger in his face. “If I would ever be insecure over any of Percy’s other relationships, you would be at the very bottom of the list. In fact, you wouldn’t even be on the list. You couldn’t be any further away from the list.”

“But there is a list,” the creepy bastard says. He doesn’t even seem concerned about the fact that Jason’s still holding his sword, is clearly losing his temper, and could probably decapitate him with one fell swoop. For some reason, this makes Jason even angrier.

“If there was a list,” Jason spits. “It’s a hypothetical. And no offense, Sebastian, but how can you assume to know my feelings about anyone when you can’t understand how Percy feels about you even when he literally spells it out for you. Literally!” Jason throws up his hands. His sword goes everywhere. “He literally wrote you a letter telling you to stay away from him and he’s fucking dyslexic! He had to put up with a headache for a whole hour just so he could get rid of you.”

Maybe he went a little far, but you can’t put your hand inside a lion’s mouth and not expect to be mauled. Jason doesn’t exactly consider himself a lion but he can do a very good imitation of one if needed. And his mauling skills are exceptional.

Sebastian looks like a tomato. “How dare you –“ he starts, eyes bulging with rage.

“I didn’t dare do anything,” Jason snaps. “Keep your nose out of my business and stop acting like you know anything about Percy or me.”

“You’re just a jealous little man, Jason Grace,” he snarls in response.

“I’m taller than you, motherfucker,” Jason says. “Now unless you want me to really lose my shit, you’ll let me get out of here like I wanted to as soon as I saw your face.”

With that, he turns on his heel and stalks out of the arena, not bothering to put his practice sword back where it belongs. Sebastian can clean up for him.

~*~

Six hours later, Jason is back in his apartment, slumped down on his couch, feeling like a complete asshole.

Jason’s not the type of person who can snap at someone, drop some sick burns, leave the scene and feel good about it for the rest of the day. He’s never had any experience with being shockingly rude to anyone, even when the other person deserves it. His style of insult is usually much more subtle, and even after that, he feels bad. So even though Sebastian more than deserved it, here Jason is, hugging a cushion to his chest and debating if he should try to go find Sebastian and apologize to him.

The incident has been running through his mind all day, through classes and work and even when he caught a drink with Leo and Frank a few hours ago. He knows he definitely overreacted; he keeps replaying the conversation is his mind and he can’t find anything that Sebastian had said that would warrant the way Jason had responded, the way he had shouted and cursed. Sure, Sebastian had been rude, but Jason had been more than rude.

The only explanation he can come up with is that he overreacted because he was scared of what Sebastian had said. And the only explanation for that is that somewhere, in some remote corner of Jason’s brain, he thinks that what Sebastian said was true.

Which can’t be possible, because that would imply a whole bunch of things that Jason’s not ready to consider.

And yet, despite himself, he is considering those exact things. He’s spent the past whole hour on this couch, eating through a box of Honey Nut Cheerios – the only thing resembling comfort food he could find in their kitchen – and has been trying to pry apart the mechanics of his own feelings while also making himself feel like shit about Sebastian.

It isn’t long before Percy shows up. Percy has this unexplainable habit of dropping by whenever Jason’s feeling down, which is why Jason never feels down for long.

“So,” he says, dropping onto the couch beside Jason with a loud thump. “Leo told me you saw Sebastian.”

Percy’s clearly just gotten back from work. His hair is a tangled mess and his shirt is torn near the collar. There’s a small bunch of pimples growing near his chin. He looks gorgeous. Jason wants to kill himself.

“Yes,” he says miserably. “Did you see him too?”

“Managed to avoid him all day,” Percy grinned. “He’ll probably find me soon, but I’m not bothered. But you…”

Jason pouts.

Percy covers his mouth, clearly trying not to laugh. “He really did a number on you, huh?”

Jason sighs and pulls his cushion up over his head. “I lost my temper and acted like a complete jerk. There’s no excuse.”

“You sure about that? We’re talking about Sebastian, after all. I have no doubt he deserved it.”

“Even if he did, that’s not an excuse.” He removes the cushion. “Percy, I feel so bad.”

“Oh my gods, you’re adorable.” Percy leans over, hauls Jason up and hugs him close. “Only you could feel bad about being rude to someone like that. Remember when you overheard him say he wished you’d been eaten by Lupa and her wolves when you were a baby?”

“I know he’s an asshole. That doesn’t mean I should be too.” Jason buries his head in Percy’s neck. “But it’s not just that. I mean, I do feel bad about it, but I’ll be damned if I spend one whole hour on my couch eating Honey Nut Cheerios because I acted badly towards Sebastian Aldebourne.”

“Actually, Raul told me it was two hours.”

Jason lifts his head. “Are you serious?” Percy nods, biting his lip as he tries not to laugh. Jason groans and drops back down on the sofa. “I’m so pathetic.”

“You’re adorable is what you are,” Percy says, pulling him back up. “So what’s the other problem?”

They’re almost nose to nose. Everyone knows Percy smells like the sea breeze, but only Jason knows that Percy’s real scent is something warm and sweet, something you would eat with hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day, a pure unfiltered perfume that emanates from somewhere around his temples and the nape of his neck. Jason doesn’t know how to describe it to someone who’s never experienced it, but it’s the best smell in the world.

“Percy,” Jason says quietly, “what do you think of me?”

He knows he’s surprised Percy, and that Percy’s trying to hide that he’s surprised, because his eyebrows twitch imperceptibly before he draws them down in concentration. All of a sudden, the atmosphere of the room has changed. “What do you mean?” he asks, his voice low and serious. “I love you, you know that.”

Jason’s heart seems to clench in pain. “But do you think I’m the sort of person who doesn’t know his own feelings? That I keep myself in the dark about things I know might hurt me, and lash out at people when they point them out?”

“Hey,” Percy takes Jason’s hands. “If Sebastian said that to you, you can throw that right out the window. He’s always had some weird personal vendetta against you. You know he’ll say anything to get under your skin.”

“It’s not just him,” Jason shakes his head. “Even Nico said something like that, and Nico knows me better than almost anyone.”

“I’m sure Nico didn’t mean to say anything that would hurt your feelings,” Percy says. “He probably meant something else, and you misunderstood him.” His lower lip is slowly jutting out in the way it does when he’s upset. It makes Jason feel worse knowing Percy’s getting upset on his behalf.

“So you don’t agree?” Jason asks.

“Of course not. You’re one of the most emotionally intelligent people I know. No one knows themselves better than you do, and that’s really hard to do.” Percy lifts a hand and cups Jason’s cheek the way he does right before he’s about to kiss him. “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

His hand is warm and his thumb is nudging Jason’s lower lip. He breathes out of his mouth slowly just so it can warm the top of Percy’s thumb. “I don’t think I’m being hard enough, actually,” he says. “And I think you overestimate how smart I actually am.”

“Probably,” Percy agrees, smiling, “because I think you’re the smartest person to ever fucking live.”

He leans in and kisses Jason sweetly, his lips gentle on Jason’s. Jason melts into his arms.

Jason’s only ever been with four people, but he’s kissed plenty of them. And out of everyone he’s ever kissed, Percy’s the best by a mile. Kissing anyone else almost feels like an insult at this point. Jason had even mentioned this to Percy once.

“It’s the Percy Jackson patented kiss,” Percy had said after he was done laughing his ass off. “Of course you won’t be satisfied with some knock-off version of it.”

“Right,” Jason had said, rolling his eyes.

“I’m the designer version of kissing,” Percy had continued. “Everyone else is the off-brand dollar store version.”

“Sure.”

“Chanel versus Channel. Versace versus Vers-ace. You versus the guy she tells you not to worry about.”

Jason had, of course, had to slap at Percy’s arm to shut him up, but he had been right. Kissing Percy was warming yourself under the hot sun after a cold swim at the beach. Kissing everyone else was getting rained on right after you got out of the waves.

Which should probably have been Clue Number 1.

He pushes Percy away with one hand on his chest. Percy looks at him, confused, lips candy pink. “Oh no,” Jason whispers.

“What is it?”

Jason leans away from him. “Oh no.”

“Jason?” Percy grabs Jason’s wrist. His touch burns Jason like a brand. Jason stares at his smooth brown fingers, tender on Jason’s skin. He’s been so stupid. “What is it?”

“You’re wrong,” Jason says, “I’m so stupid about my own feelings. So stupid. I can’t believe I did this to myself.”

“Did what?” Percy says helplessly. “Jason, did I do something?”

“No!” Jason grabs Percy’s shoulders. “You’ve been amazing, but that’s the whole problem. I can’t believe –“ He groans and smacks himself in the forehead. “I can’t believe I’m such a cliché.”

He’s still talking when Percy automatically draws Jason’s hand away from his forehead and then rubs at it with his thumb absentmindedly, like he could somehow draw the insignificant pain of it away from Jason. Jason’s heart almost explodes. He does the only thing he can think of to keep that from happening: he kisses Percy.

He’s a bit more forceful about it than strictly necessary, because Percy goes down in a pile of cushions, lips trapped underneath Jason’s, mumbling confusedly. Jason kisses him soundly, trying to convey all his love and admiration for the impossible man beneath him.

Even when Percy finally pulls Jason off of him, he makes sure to do it with a soft little kiss to the corner of Jason’s mouth. If Percy gets any sweeter, Jason might get a heart attack.

“Not that I don’t like this,” Percy says, panting, “but what the heck has gotten into you? Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Sorry,” Jason says, trying to tear his eyes away from the beautiful rhythm of Percy’s chest heaving. “That was really impulsive of me.”

Percy laughs. “Again, not complaining. But you’ve got me a little worried. What’s wrong?”

Jason swallows and sits up. Percy follows him. His cheeks are flushed, which make his eyes look even greener than usual. It’s crazy to Jason that he never noticed before how much and how often he admires and looks at Percy.

“I think I’ve had something of an epiphany,” he says, trying to gather his words.

“Yeah, no kidding,” Percy says, laughing, but it’s a gentle laugh, not like he’s making fun of Jason. His hands are back on Jason’s now. He’s playing with Jason’s fingers the way he does when he’s trying to comfort him, although Jason doesn’t think Percy notices he does that.

He considers not telling Percy, but only for the very briefest of moments. Even if he hadn’t realized that he’s basically in love with Percy, even if he had those feelings for someone else, the first person he would tell would be Percy. It seems only natural to tell him. The only difference in this situation is that he has those feelings for Percy, which means that he’s putting his heart on the line.

And it’s a terrifying thought. He knows Percy won’t ever be cruel with him, that even if he doesn’t feel that way for Jason, he’ll be kind about his rejection, and that they’ll never bring it up again. But that’s what Jason’s most scared of. That from here on out, they would both be friends with the unspoken knowledge that Jason is desperately in love with Percy, that Percy doesn’t at all feel the same way, and that the elephant in the room will just keep getting bigger and bigger.

But, if there’s even the tiniest possibility that Percy feels the same way, Jason has to tell him. He needs to get this out of his chest.

So many things make sense now. Why he would always make himself scarce whenever he saw Percy with Daniel, Lucia or Eve, even if he had been looking for Percy all day. Why it would make him feel like he was on top of the world whenever Percy said none of them could hold a candle to Jason. Why he would drop plans, no matter how important, to see Percy even for a few minutes. Why he always felt the inexplicable urge to buy Percy anything he showed the slightest interest in, to do random favors for Percy, to cook or bake the things Percy liked for no reason other than he himself missed him. Why he always thought Percy was the best person to hold hands with, to cuddle with, to kiss, why it never felt like fucking and always felt like making love, even when they made a point of never calling it that.

He didn’t think those were things people did for people they weren’t in love with. Or at least, Jason definitely didn’t.

He knew it would absolutely shatter him if Percy rejected him, but he couldn’t live it as a secret either. If there was even the smallest chance he and Percy could make something out of this, it was worth it.

And he needed to do it now before he lost his nerve.

He takes a deep breath. “Nico was right. So was Sebastian, even if he was a dick about it.” He looks Percy in the eye. It’s the most nervous he’s ever felt, and he’s stared down gods. “They both said I had feelings for you and I was in denial about it.”

Percy blinks, then a hesitant smile spreads on his face. “Feelings?” he says, confused, “Like, you have a crush on me?” He laughs. “You know I have a crush on you too.”

The confession makes Jason’s heart leap to his throat, but he shakes his head. “Not just a crush,” he says. His face is so hot, his eyes are burning from the heat of his cheeks. “Real feelings. Serious feelings.”

It’s only because he’s known Percy for so long why he can tell the exact moment Percy realizes what Jason is trying to tell him. His eyed widen slightly, and then his features snap back into a neutral expression.

He’s trying not to give a reaction. He’s doing a good job; Jason can’t tell what he’s thinking and it’s killing him. “Serious feelings?” Percy repeats, and his voice is strangely hoarse.

They’re still holding hands but Jason’s are hot and sweaty. His whole body feels like a pulse, every cell pumping to the rhythm of his heart. He wants to run away and move closer to Percy all at the same time. He nods. “I think you know what I mean,” he says slowly, trying to keep his voice from trembling.

Percy stares at him unblinkingly. It would be funny if it weren’t so nerve-wracking. “I think I might need you to spell it out for me,” he says.

Jason opens his mouth, but is interrupted by a loud banging coming from the front door. Both of them jump, Percy even higher than Jason. Their heads whip to the door, then back at each other. Percy’s eyes are so wide, Jason can see himself reflected in them.

He’s done it. He told Percy. Even if wasn’t explicit about it, he knows Percy knows what he means. This interruption can only be the gods taking pity on Jason and trying to send a distraction before Jason passes out from stress.

“I got it!” Jason jumps up and rushes to the door, not looking at Percy once. He feels a little lightheaded as soon as he gets to his feet, which doesn’t make any sense. All the blood in his body is in his freaking face already.

“Coming!” He bounds over to the front door, thanking the universe for his good luck. He wrenches open the door and comes face-to-face with the last person he wants to see right now.

“Jason,” Sebastian says, lip curling. “You look like a zit ready to burst. Is Percy here?”

“No, sorry,” Jason says, and starts to slam the door in Sebastian’s face. But all of a sudden, Percy has materialized next to him, arms folded, frown in place.

“Sebastian,” he says. His voice is completely different to how it was only a few seconds before. Devoid of all care and tenderness, he sounds completely flat and indifferent. “What are you doing here?”

Sebastian looks so triumphant, he might as well shout “A-ha!” and point a finger in Jason’s face. “I knew you’d be here,” he says. “Have you been avoiding me?”

“Yes,” Percy deadpans. “Can you really blame me though?”

“There’s no need to be rude. Your friend gave me enough of that today.” He throws Jason an annoyed side-ways glance.

Jason’s been through a rollercoaster of emotions in the past fifteen minutes, and it doesn’t look like the ride’s about to stop soon, because the guilt comes back full-force and overtakes any feelings of anger or exasperation Jason had been feeling towards Sebastian.

“I’m sorry,” he blurts, “You’re right, that was extremely rude of me. I shouldn’t have said the things I did. I hope you can forgive me, I don’t know what got into me.”

Sebastian actually takes a step back in shock. Jason can tell through his peripheral vision that Percy’s looking at him but he doesn’t want to turn and see what his reaction is.

Sebastian clears his throat. “Alright. Apology accepted. I guess I…” he falters and then, in a strangely human gesture, lifts his hand to rub at the back of his neck sheepishly, “I was being childish as well.”

“You were, but that’s par on the course for you,” Jason says. “I shouldn’t have acted the same way, though, so I’m sorry.”

Sebastian rolls his eyes. “Your apology needs a little work, Grace. But yes, I accept.”

Jason nods. There’s a pause, then both of them turn to look at Percy.

Percy’s watching Jason with a curious expression on his face. When they turn to him, he glances over at Sebastian. “Is that all?” he asks, lifting an eyebrow. “We were sort of in the middle of something before you interrupted us.”

Jason’s heart pounds. Does that mean Percy wants to go back to their conversation? Jason’s not sure he can take that right now.

“Can we talk privately?” Sebastian asks.

“No, sorry,” Percy says. He grabs the door and starts to close it. “If you need help getting back to the main city square from here, just go to the end of the street, take a left and –“

Sebastian steps in closer. “Please,” he says, his voice lowered. One of his hands is around one of Percy’s wrists. Jason stares at it. “Let’s just talk for twenty minutes, then you’ll never have to see me again.”

Percy sighs. “Sebastian –“

“Okay, fifteen minutes.” Sebastian gives Percy what is probably his best impression of puppy-dog eyes. “Please.”

It isn’t Percy’s fault. Jason knows it’s hard to refuse someone when they ask you for something as sincerely as Sebastian is right now. In fact, it’s probably the only sincere thing he’s done all day.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt when Percy hesitates, turns to Jason and says quietly, “I’ll come back in half an hour, okay?”

Jason nods and tries not to show how disappointed he is. “Okay. Sure.”

Percy puts a hand on his elbow. “We’ll continue our conversation then, okay?”

Jason nods again, then pulls away. “See you then.”

Percy studies him for a few seconds, his eyes clear and focused. Then he nods and turns back to Sebastian. “This is the last time we talk. Period.”

Sebastian nods eagerly. “I hear you, loud and clear.”

Percy nods. “To the nearest coffee shop then. And let go of my wrist, please, you’re making me uncomfortable.”

And just like that, the door closes shut, taking Percy away, with all his bright smiles and sweet scents and gentle touches. It happened so fast, Jason’s still catching his breath. But no matter how deeply he breathes, he can’t seem to fill his lungs, can’t seem to exhale the pain spreading through his chest.

He heads to his room. On the way, he passes Raul as he’s coming out of the bathroom. “Your boyfriend’s gone?” Raul asks. “I was going to ask him if he could help me practice my speech for tomorrow.”

“Not my boyfriend,” Jason mutters, and closes the door to his bedroom, collapses on his bed, and waits for sleep to take him.

~*~

It’s been a whole thirty-two hours since that conversation. Jason knows he’s avoiding Percy, but is Percy avoiding him too? Surely Percy would have cornered him by now if he was truly trying to find Jason. He doesn’t know if he should be thankful or upset by that.

“I don’t get it,” Leo says, while they’re feeding ducks at the pond in New Rome’s Silvanus Park five minutes’ walk away from the apartment Leo shared with Frank and Will. “How does Percy have a stalker and a whole bunch of, like, concubines too? And now he’s got you hooked? He’s not even that cute! His teeth are all weird. Frank is so much hotter.”

“Don’t say concubines, that’s gross,” Jason says, shoving at Leo. “You’re going to make me barf.”

“You call it a harem. That’s even grosser.”

“At least it doesn’t make Percy sound like a weirdo.”

“Percy is a weirdo,” Leo says, mouth full of bread, “If he wasn’t, I wouldn’t be friends with him. And anyway, how can a person with a harem and a stalker and a best friend in love with them not be a weirdo?”

“I’m not in love with him,” Jason mumbles, digging deep into the bag of breadcrumbs he and Leo brought along. “At least, I don’t think so.”

“You’re not?” Leo frowns. “But I thought you said that was your whole big revelation.”

“I don’t know,” Jason shrugs uncomfortably. “I don’t think I want that to be the big revelation if Percy doesn’t feel the same way. It’s a lot safer to say I just realized I had strong feelings for him. Right?”

Leo gives him a look.

“What?”

“Sounds to me like when you told him, you assumed he was going to immediately fall into your arms and confess his love to you,” Leo says, popping some more bread into his mouth.

“No, I didn’t,” Jason protested, shoving at Leo again. “Or, at least, not consciously.”

“It’s okay,” Leo says, patting Jason’s arm. “I honestly would have thought the same thing. He’s always gushing about you and kissing you and trying to hold your hand. Remember when he learned how to play guitar specifically so he could write a song about your ass? You’ve got him whipped, honestly.”

“That’s just the way Percy is,” Jason shakes his head. “I definitely feel a lot more for him than he does for me, it’s just that I’m not as comfortable showing it as he is.”

Leo gives him a skeptical eyebrow raise. “I never saw him do any of that with any of his exes, bro. Not even Annabeth. Not even that Daniel guy, and that guy is –“ Leo wolf-whistles. “That’s what it means to be a son of Aphrodite.”

“Venus,” Jason says miserably. He sighs as he looks down at their bag of bread. “Leo, we didn’t feed the ducks anything. You literally ate all of the bread.”

“That’s okay,” Leo says, shoving the last of it into his mouth. “You’re not meant to give that to them anyway, they explode.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s rice. And I’m pretty sure that’s not true.”

“Well, just in case,” Leo shrugs, upending the bag of bread into his mouth.

The two of them stand by the edge of the water, watching the sun reflect of its murky blue surface. Finally, Leo turns to Jason and puts a hand on his shoulder the way he does when he’s about to get serious about something.

“Listen,” he says, “Don’t overthink it, okay? We both know you have a tendency to do that. It’ll be fine. I’ve seen the way Percy looks at you. There’s no way he doesn’t want to have your babies.”

“But I haven’t seen him all day. It’s like he’s not even trying to look for me.”

“That doesn’t mean anything. I’m not sure but I think I heard he went to Camp Half-Blood.”

Jason frowns. “Really? What for?”

Leo shrugs. “Not sure but it doesn’t matter even if he is here. He probably needs some time to wrap his head around the bomb you dropped on him. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to see you. It just means he’s human and he needs some time for himself.” He squeezes Jason’s shoulder. “So stop worrying. You’re starting to throw off sparks.”

Jason smiles. “Thanks, Leo. I know you’re probably right. I just can’t stop myself from worrying.”

“I know. It’s okay. Just don’t let it get to you too much, because you honestly have nothing to stress about,” He grins and grabs Jason’s jaw. “Who could resist this gorgeous face?”

“Leo!” Jason complains, but he’s laughing.

~*~

He’s telling himself he’s forgotten about the whole thing when there’s a knock on the door.

He keeps sitting where he is, pen clenched in one hand, eyes still on his work. It wasn’t Percy the last ten times someone knocked on the door. There’s no reason it should be Percy now.

He hears Raul open the front door. There’s mumbled conversation, then Raul appears in his bedroom doorway. “Your boyfriend’s here,” he says. He’s smiling and holding a hotdog in one hand. “He brought me a hotdog from the place I like. Nice of him, huh?”

“It’s probably an apology for missing your speech,” Jason says, standing up and stretching.

“I know, he said,” Raul takes a big bite. “He’s a keeper.”

Then he leaves, and Jason rushes to his mirror to quickly fix his hair and check for any food stuck between his teeth. Once he’s deemed himself presentable, he wipes his hands on his jeans and heads towards the living room.

Percy’s standing by the window, staring down at the street below, looking heart-stopping in a fake leather jacket and torn jeans. Jason’s not sure what he’s so dressed up for, but if it’s to make Jason feel underdressed, then he’s done his job.

Percy looks up when he hears Jason enter the room. They stare at each other for a few seconds, then Percy smiles. “Hey.”

Jason folds his arms. His ears are already bright pink, he can tell. “Where have you been?” he asks. He isn’t proud of the way his voice cracks.

Percy’s smile falters. “I, uh,” he clears his throat. “I had to go to Camp Half-Blood.”

“Okay. And?”

Percy looks like a deer caught in headlights. Jason would laugh if he weren’t so nervous. “And?”

“That’s it?” Jason throws up his hands. “That’s your whole explanation? You’ve been missing for two whole days, and without even telling me!”

“I told everyone else to tell you,” Percy says, shifting on his feet. “I told Nico, Leo, Piper… I thought you knew.”

“Well, I didn’t. You can’t just up and disappear, especially after –“ He catches himself mid-sentence and his mouth snaps shut.

He thinks he’s screwed it all up by mentioning the Incident so quickly, but Percy actually nods eagerly like he wanted Jason to bring it up. “I wanted to talk to you about that,” he says. “Do you think we could go out somewhere we could have a little bit more privacy? I didn’t realize Raul would still be home. Doesn’t he have work around this time?”

Jason’s mouth is dry at the thought of being alone with Percy, which is absolutely nuts considering they’ve basically already explored everything two people could do with each other when alone. “He called in sick. Mental health holiday. I think your hotdog might actually be a good pick-me-up for him today.”

“Oh.” Percy smiles. “Good. Don’t tell him it was actually for you, though,” he adds in a stage-whisper.

It’s such a sweet, innocent smile, it makes Jason want to cross the room and kiss him. He barely restrains himself. “You wanna go to Silvanus Park? Leo and I were there just the other day. We could try and feed the ducks.”

Percy frowns. “Won’t that make them explode?”

Jason stares. “Do you and Leo have some kind of hive mind? No, of course not. That’s rice. And it’s not true.”

“Okay,” Percy says, biting his lip the way he does when he’s trying not to laugh. “Let’s go feed the ducks then.”

Jason’s so focused on the way Percy’s teeth catch on his bottom lip, he almost trips over his own feet.

~*~

As it so happens, they forget to bring the bread for the ducks. Probably because Jason can’t pull his head out of his ass long enough to look anywhere other than Percy, and Percy’s clearly too preoccupied with fidgeting with his hands to notice.

Jason hasn’t been back to Camp Half-Blood since the year before, so Percy fills him in on and everything that’s going on there. Jason loved hearing about the Greek demigods. He didn’t get to see them half as much as he got to see the Romans, which was always a sad thing to think about, because they always talked to Jason with so much more informality and friendliness than the Roman demigods did.

Percy told him about all the colleges the Head Counselor of the Athena Cabin, Faith, had gotten into, and all the shenanigans the children of Hermes were getting up to. The youngest children of Dionysus, Blake and Zaki, who had been so tiny the last time Jason had seen them, were now apparently old enough to start talking back to their godly father, something Jason himself had never had the guts to do his entire life. Antonia from the Hephaestus Cabin had finally decided on her new name and Percy had even found time to take her on an impromptu shopping trip for new dresses while he had been there, something Jason felt just a little bit resentful to miss. And Layla, daughter of Ares, with five quests already firmly under her belt at the age of sixteen, had actually taught Percy some new wrestling moves instead of the other way around.

The most interesting thing, however, was Chiron confiding in Percy that there were ripples and rumors that the demigod they were tracking somewhere in Seoul was a child of Hades. “I think it’d be nice for Nico and Hazel to have a little sibling,” Percy says as he tells Jason. “It’ll be fun watching Nico try to censor himself around a kid, and you know Hazel’s probably going to go around baby-proofing everything like she did when we thought Ozma from the Demeter cabin was their brother.”

“Oh my gods, that would be hilarious,” Jason laughs. He can already picture it. “That kid’s going to be the most potty-mouthed nervous wreck in the world.”

“Right?” Percy laughs. “Nico’s going to have to give up his number one spot.”

They walk the whole length of the park while talking about Camp Half-Blood, then walk the whole length of it again while talking about everything else. Jason knows they both know they’re just gearing up for the main conversation, but he thinks it’s smart of them. It gives him enough time to calm himself down, so that when they finally get to it, he won’t be jumping out of his skin like he has been so far.

And he’s right. They tire themselves out over the next two hours, then finally take a break and sit on the grass underneath the thick tangled branches of a peach tree, bracketed by its gnarled roots.

Jason must have looked at one of the peaches too long, because Percy takes it upon himself to pick it for him, despite Jason vehemently denying he wants one. He shuts up real quick once Percy stands jumping up and down trying to reach it, though. From where Jason’s sitting on the ground, he can see right up Percy’s shirt.

“You know,” Percy says as he huffs and puffs, “You could just fly up there and grab it for yourself.”

“I know,” Jason grins. “But what would be the fun in that?”

Percy finally gets a hold of the elusive peach. He twists it off the branch and then presents it to Jason in the most extra way possible: on one knee, with his head bowed and arms outstretched, peach perched carefully between his palms. Jason laughs as he takes it for him, and then splits it in two for the both of them.

They sit and watch the sunlight filter through the trees around them as they enjoy the peach. It’s just a little under-ripe, but it’s the best peach Jason’s ever had, if only because he gets to eat it here with Percy.

“So,” Percy says finally, when they’re done eating. The word sends Jason’s pulse into overdrive.

Oh, well. So much for having calmed himself down.

“So,” Jason repeats, trying to keep his voice steady. He cleans off his juice-stained fingers on his jeans and avoids Percy’s eyes.

“Sebastian sure knows how to kill a mood, huh?” Percy says, laughing a little weakly. If Jason didn’t know better, he’d think Percy’s nervous.

“Sure does.” Jason says, although he isn’t sure what mood Sebastian ruined exactly. “I know I apologized to him, and I should have too, but…” He shakes his head. “What an asshole. I can’t believe you used to like him.”

Percy shrugs. “I was young and naïve. I’d like to think I have a lot more sense now.”

“I’d agree with you, but you literally did walk out of the apartment that day, so…” Jason trails off.

He hadn’t realized he was going to say that, or that it would sound as bitter as it does, but it’s out in the open now. Percy stares at him. “I did come back in half an hour,” he says. “You were sleeping and you looked like you needed it, so I thought I’d talk to you the next day and left.”

Jason nods. “And then you never talked to me the next day.”

“Because I realized I needed time to think about stuff. I mean, it all happened so fast…” He runs a hand through his hair. It gets caught in a tangle and he has to yank his fingers out, wincing as he does. Jason can’t believe he fell for this dork.

“I know,” Jason says, looking away. “I actually didn’t even mean to spring it on you like that. I just knew that if I didn’t tell you then, I never would.”

Maybe he shouldn’t have said it then. Maybe he should have sat on the revelation for a while, thought about it a bit more. But at the end of the day, he doesn’t regret it.

And if Percy does… well…

“Oh.” Percy says. Jason steels himself, then looks up. Percy’s smiling at him, his eyes dappled green by the sunlight and the tree. “Then, in that case, I’m glad you told me that night.”

The word is snatched right out of Jason’s throat. “Really?”

“Heck yeah. It would really suck if you kept that to yourself and never, you know,” he looks down, “tried.”

Jason clenches and unclenches his hands in front of him. His palms are slick with sweat. “Tried?”

“Tried to, you know…” Percy shrugs and looks up.

He’s biting his lip again. Jason can’t stand it.

He takes a deep breath. “Percy, I have to be honest with you. If you’re not completely crystal clear with me, my brain will go into overdrive making its own assumptions and I don’t think that’ll be very productive for either of us.”

Percy looks at him. Jason looks back.

“Jason,” Percy says.

“Percy,” Jason says.

“I’m really glad that you told me that night,” Percy says, “because if you hadn’t tried to tell me your feelings for me, I wouldn’t have realized my feelings for you, and we wouldn’t be here right now.”

Jason’s fingernails make crescents in his palms. “Okay.”

“And that would be mindblowingly horrible because then I wouldn’t be able to tell you that I have feelings for you too,” Percy says, all in one go. Then, with wide eyes, adds, “Real feelings. Serious feelings.”

Jason holds his breath. “Okay.”

“And I also wouldn’t be able to ask you how you could ever think I wouldn’t feel the same way about you when it’s always been painfully obvious that the highlight of my day is getting to see you.”

Jason can’t help it. “Really?” he blurts, his voice sounding gross and gushy.

Percy doesn’t seem to mind. “Jason,” he says, and his whole face transforms into the brightest, most beautiful smile Jason has ever seen. “I’ve literally asked you to marry me like ten times already.”

Jason laughs. “But those were all jokes.”

Percy grins wider. “All jokes have some truth in them.”

“You’ve also asked me to spank you until you can’t sit.”

“Like I said,” Percy says, then laughs when Jason covers his face in embarrassment.

But he seems to know that all Jason’s really doing is hiding his big sappy smile behind his hands, because he shuffles closer and pulls Jason’s wrists away. “I’m really sorry I walked out the other day,” he says, his smile soft around the corners, his eyes crinkling gently. “Sebastian surprised me and I was already feeling completely off-kilter. I think I just used him as an excuse to get out and clear my head.”

“That’s okay,” Jason says softly. He can’t stop staring at every little part of Percy’s face – the curve of his cheekbone, the sweep of his eyelashes, the bow of his lower lip – and the best part is, he doesn’t have to try to stop anymore.

“And in case you’re wondering,” Percy continues, his voice barely above a whisper, “I sent Sebastian packing that very night. I mean, I was going to anyway, but I definitely made it a priority after you said those things to me.”

A gleeful laugh bubbles out of Jason’s mouth. “Really?”

Percy laughs too. “Are you really surprised?”

“Yes!” Jason cries. “I mean, you have a whole freaking harem –“

“Don’t call it that!” Percy tugs playfully at Jason’s hands. “And I think what you mean to say is I had a whole freaking harem.”

Jason’s heart stutters. “You mean…”

Percy tilts his head in faux thought. “I mean, unless you’re into polyamory, in which case, we can find –“

Jason never finds what they could find, because he launches himself at Percy and makes it his mission to kiss all the peach juice off his plump lips.

~*~

They’re walking back to Percy’s apartment hand-in-hand. That’s the only superficial difference from the way they were walking when they left the apartment, but if anyone looked closer, they’d see the little things: the way they keep catching each other’s eyes and giggling, the way they keep swaying into each other, their flushed cheeks and kiss-swollen lips.

Jason feels giddy in a way he hasn’t in a long time. He feels like a boy on his first date, excited and nervous and lovestruck. He can’t look away from Percy for more than a few seconds at a time, which is a strange thing to realize now that he knows he’s always been like that. Recently kissed is such a great look on Percy. Jason’s always thought so, but he’s aware of it now, which makes him want to make him even more recently kissed.

But they’re in public. Is that okay?

When he stops Percy in the middle of the sidewalk to ask, Percy doesn’t even hesitate. He leans in close and plants one on Jason right then and there. “Does that answer your question?” he murmurs against Jason’s mouth.

No one can blame Jason for cupping the back of his head and kissing him senseless after that comment.

“So does this mean we’re dating?” Jason asks when they’re getting close to Percy’s apartment.

“Don’t know,” Percy grins, “You never asked me out.”

“It was implied.”

“I vaguely recall someone saying they wanted things to be explicit or they’d start making assumptions?”

“But I want you to make assumptions.”

“Imagine being a twenty-six-year-old man who can’t ask out his best friend even when he knows he’ll say yes.”

“Asshole,” Jason says, pushing Percy with one hand as he laughs.

“That really has no impact if you’re still holding my hand, you know,” Percy giggles.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jason says, turning away but tightening his hold on Percy’s hand.

Percy throws back his head and laughs. The line of his throat – down from his chin, over the bump of his Adam’s apple, into the notch of his collarbones – is fascinating.

Jason stops in the middle of the path. Percy turns to him, and the light from the nearby lamppost throws pools of light in his eyes.

“Percy Jackson,” Jason says, “Do you want to go on a date with me?”

Percy bites his lip. “I’d love to.”

Jason drops Percy to his front door like a real gentleman. Percy smacks his ass as he leaves like a real rogue. He stays in his doorway and watches Jason until he goes around the corner, and blows him a kiss right before closing the door.

That night, Jason falls asleep with a smile on his face.

~*~

“I knew it!” Nico hollers. “Ladies and gentlemen, I called this like last month!”

“Pipe down, di Angelo, you’re late to the game,” Reyna says, knocking into Nico hard enough to make him spill his drink, which was probably on purpose. “I’ve been telling Percy to propose to Jason for the past year.”

“And I’ve been doing it too,” Percy says, raising his glass of water in appreciation. “But Jason just thought I was kidding, the knucklehead.”

“You sure know how to pick ‘em,” Will laughs. “Real bottom-of-the-barrel stuff.”

“I think they’re a good match,” Leo says, “You know how some people get insecure when their significant other is a lot smarter than they are? Jason and Percy will never have that problem.”

“You guys are being incredibly hurtful for a group of people who are meant to be our friends,” Jason complains loudly.

They’re all lounging around the living room in Percy’s apartment, which is actually quite large, because he shares it with three other guys, all of whom have either thoughtfully left the apartment or have barricaded themselves in their rooms. All their friends are here for what seems like the first time in months, draped over the armchairs, packed like sardines on the couch, stretched out on the floor, all of them gathered around the coffee table with their drinks, most of which are alcoholic because why not? Percy had called for the meet-up with the intention of announcing their relationship, which is only a few days old. However, it seems like not only did everyone already know, they had also packed their arsenal of the best roasting material they could come up with.

“You know we’re happy for you guys, Jason,” Frank says. “This is just our way of showing it.”

“Yeah, did you actually think we’d be nice to you?” Nico puts in. “We haven’t done that in ten years, we’re not starting now.”

“Now if that ever happened,” Hazel says, pointing at her brother, “that would actually be something you would need to gather everyone together to announce.”

“Hey,” Percy complains.

“Oh, you know I don’t mean you,” Hazel says, reaching around Frank to rub Percy’s arm. “I was doing it to get on Jason’s nerves.”

“Hey!” Jason cries.

“Mission accomplished,” Piper grins as high-fives Hazel.

“Okay, everyone, let’s get serious for a few seconds,” Annabeth says, getting to her feet. “No, no, keep sitting,” she adds when Reyna and Will start to follow her lead.

“So you’re the only one who gets to stand?” Leo says. “How is that fair?”

“Stop talking to me,” Annabeth answers, then turns to where Jason and Percy are sitting tucked into the corner of the couch together. “Percy, Jason,” she says, lifting her glass in their direction, “I knew this day was coming soon, I just didn’t know when. Frankly, it was getting a bit exhausting, especially when Percy suddenly decided he needed fifteen different people to get his rocks off, of which all the white ones looked suspiciously like Jason. Amen?”

“Amen!” multiple people shout. Percy flushes down to his chest. Jason bends over double with laughter.

“You idiots are going to be great for each other,” Annabeth continues. “Remember, Annabeth and Chase are both great names.”

“No one’s naming their kid after you, Annabeth,” Will calls. “Stop asking.”

“Drunk Annabeth is the best,” Piper says, lovestruck.

“To Jason and Percy,” Annabeth says, lifting her glass higher, “for finally getting their shit together.”

“To Jason and Percy!” everyone choruses as they drain their drinks.

Later, when everyone is embroiled in an unnecessarily violent game of Monopoly, Jason and Percy manage to get away together to the kitchen, saying they have to check on the plethora of food they’re preparing for their guests. Percy had told Jason before they’d invited the others that he needed to give Jason something, but they hadn’t been able to tear themselves away from their friends. Even now, as they leave for the kitchen, Nico and Piper wolf-whistle after them.

In the kitchen, Jason hoists himself up onto the island. His cheeks hurt from smiling so hard but he can’t stop himself. “What’s up?” he asks.

Percy grins at the way Jason kicks his legs back and forth. “You look like you’re having fun.”

“I’m having the time of my life. I feel like I just won the lottery or something.”

Percy throws back his head and laughs, beautiful and carefree. “Are you really comparing dating me to winning the lottery? Don’t you know that’s going straight to my head?”

“That’s okay,” Jason says, grinning. He reaches out and pulls Percy closer by his hand. “It’s a nice head. I think it deserves a bit of a confidence boost.”

Percy tucks himself between Jason’s legs. His face is turned up towards Jason’s, so familiar and welcoming but in the most thrilling way. This isn’t the first time they’ve done this but it’s definitely the first time they’ve done it like this, with the knowledge of what they feel for each other. Jason hadn’t thought holding hands with Percy or nuzzling his nose into the angle of Percy’s jaw could feel any better, but apparently the soft cloud of new love made everything a hundred times more pleasurable.

“So,” he says, playing with one of Percy’s earlobes, “what did you want to give me?”

Percy leans in and smacks a loud kiss to Jason’s lips. “That,” he says, “and also this.” And he reaches into the pocket of his hoodie and pulls out a small wedge of a rock, brownish-grey in color.

Jason takes it from Percy’s fingers, turns it over and is immediately blinded by the blue color of the other, flatter side of the rock. It’s such a perfect blue it burns his eyes, bright and soft at the same time. It makes him think it’s one of those colors that the human eye can’t appreciate fully, that it’s more brilliant and more calming than even what Jason can see.

Jason turns it over in his hand, mesmerized. It looks almost like a piece of toffee cut in half, exposing the light blue middle. The more he stares at it, the more he realizes there are bright white strands running through the blue, like sea foam forming on the beach. He runs his thumb over its outer darker side. The surface is uneven but not rough, and doesn’t scrape it his skin.

It’s beautiful, and Jason instinctively knows that it’s not something Percy found in a shop. It’s something he plucked from the earth himself.

When he looks up, Percy’s watching him closely, nervously. “Do you like it?” he asks quickly. “I know I got Annabeth something similar when we started dating but that was just like a shell or something, and this is a lot more meaningful if you let me tell you – I mean, it definitely holds a lot more meaning for me, and I don’t want you to think that I’m just repeating what I did with Annabeth with you –“

“Are you kidding?” Jason hugs him close, traps him between his calves. “I love it. I don’t care what you gave or didn’t give Annabeth before. The point is this one is mine. Just one question – what is it?”

Percy laughs. “It’s an Atlantis Stone. Or, at least, that’s what my Dad called it. I searched it up a bit and it has a ton of names, all of them cooler than the last.” He counts them off on his fingers. “Dolphin’s Stone, Stefilia’s Stone, Blue Pectolite – but it’s mostly known as Larimar.”

Jason stares at Percy. As if finding the perfect gift for him wasn’t good enough, Percy did research? “I didn’t get you anything,” he says, loosening his hold on Percy a bit.

Percy laughs again. “Because you didn’t know you had to.” He puts his hands on either side of Jason’s thighs. “I wanted to get you something special, something that could show you that I’m – that I’ve…” He clears his throat and fixes Jason with the sort of look that’s clearly meant to make him look responsible and mature. It’s adorable. “That I’m taking this seriously.”

Jason can’t help but run his fingers over Percy’s jaw lovingly. “I know you are.”

“No, but,” Percy catches Jason’s fingers. “I guess it’s meant to be reassurance. You don’t ever have to worry about the two of us. I know I probably don’t have good track record, with my so-called harem and all, but I want you to know that I dropped in on all three of them the same day I left for Camp Half-Blood, and that that’s all long over by now.”

There’s a pain in Jason’s chest, but it’s sweet in its sting. “Percy,” he says softly, “You don’t have to reassure me. I know what kind of person you are. I know you’d never betray me. And the harem – poor choice of words, I admit it – it doesn’t give you a bad track record. It’s not like you were ever unfaithful to anyone. To be completely honest, I think you’re the only person in the world who has so much love to give he needs to share it between multiple people. And that’s honestly admirable.”

Percy’s worried frown is replaced by a soft smile. “And you’re the only person who could think of something like that.” He leans in and kisses Jason’s nose. “Thank you.”

“You don’t need to thank me,” Jason says. He shuffles closer and touches his forehead to Percy’s. This up close, Percy’s gorgeous green eyes blend into one giant gorgeous green eye. He’s the most stunning Cyclops Jason’s ever seen.

“And you definitely didn’t need to get me a gift. Not that I’m complaining.” He sits up straight and holds the Atlantis Stone up to the light. “Where did you get this anyway? I’m guessing this isn’t something you can find at your local 7/11?”

“You can’t guess where it’s from?” Percy says, raising an eyebrow.

“Atlantis?”

“Bingo,” Percy grins, flashing Jason his pearly whites. “Why do you think I went to Camp Half-Blood in the first place? I don’t have a direct line to Atlantis from New Rome or Camp Jupiter like I do at Camp Half-Blood.”

Jason blinks at him. “That’s why you left? To get me this stone?”

Percy shrugs, suddenly bashful. “I’d already decided that I wanted to try this with you – a real relationship. Then I thought, but he probably thinks I’m some sort of fuckboy. And then I thought, well, a fuckboy wouldn’t get him a super-rare awesome gift, would he? And so I –“

He never gets to finish his sentence, because Jason cups his face and kisses him long and slow. By the time they pull apart, Percy’s lips are swollen pink, and his face is flushed a beautiful red. Jason can’t stop touching it.

“You’re amazing,” Jason declares.

Percy flushes harder, but he laughs too. “I would have given you the stone a lot earlier if I’d known this was the reaction I would get.”

“Thank you.” Jason kisses him again. “I love it. It’s perfect.”

Percy beams. “Get ready to love it a lot more, because, like I said, I researched it a bit before I actually went to Atlantis to look for it and guess what it symbolizes?” He takes Jason’s hand. “It’s a symbol for both the Sky and the Sea, and where they meet. It’s meant to hold the essence of Atlantis, of its healing powers, of the way the sea keeps a balance between the body and the soul. And it’s supposed to help you speak from the heart and say what you need to say,” he smiles, “which is definitely something I want you to be able to do with me.”

Jason is silent as he listens to Percy. For probably the first and only time in his life, he feels completely at peace, like where he sits on this kitchen island, with Percy Jackson holding his hand, is the centre of the universe.

“Of course, I don’t really believe in, like,” Percy waves his free hand dismissively, “healing crystals or whatever. That’s some MLM shit. But I think it’s cool how it sort of relates to us, and if it really does hold the essence of Atlantis…” He shrugs. “Maybe it might work for us?”

Jason brings the rock between the two of them, cradled between their intertwined fingers. “I don’t think healing crystals are true either,” he says quietly, “but this isn’t a healing crystal. This is an amazing beautiful stone that I got from my amazing beautiful boyfriend, and that’s going to make me happier than any healing crystal ever could.”

Percy’s smile is the softest thing Jason has ever seen. He wants to kiss it, so he does. “I’m glad you like it,” Percy says.

“I love it.” Jason clutches it close to his chest. “I’ll keep it with me wherever I go.”

“Do you want me to find a way to put it in your Camp Half-Blood necklace?” Percy reaches up and fingers the necklace gently. “I was going to do it, but then I thought I should ask you because it might be a little difficult and plus, it’s a super-rare stone and I don’t want to ruin it by drilling a hole into it.”

“We don’t need to do that,” Jason says casually, “We could, I don’t know, put it in some piece of jewelry. A few years down the line?”

Percy blinks, then slowly, a grin spreads across his face. “Yeah, we could do that.”

Jason grins back. “You think it would look good on me?”

“It would look fantastic on you. It matches your eyes perfectly.”

Jason laughs. “I don’t think that’s true. The color is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s flawless.”

“Exactly,” Percy winks. “And you’d better make sure you keep the ring – uh, the piece of jewelry on you. This thing is not easy to find.”

“That’s the hundredth time you’ve mentioned that,” Jason says, laughing. “Can you really only find it in Atlantis?”

“The only place other than Atlantis is some mountain in the Dominican Republic.”

Jason blinks. “Wait, really?”

“I’m not even kidding. I, uh –“ He rubs the back of his head sheepishly, “I had Paul check on Amazon in case I could buy it instead of having to go to Atlantis. But!” he holds up one finger while Jason devolves into laughter. “Luckily for us, I didn’t have to buy it for a bazillion dollars. You can find it in the caves in Atlantis once you, you know, swim for half a day, find a lost baby monster for its monster family, trick a trickster god, fight a bunch of rabid giant seahorses and start a giant whirlpool in the middle of the ocean.”

Jason stops laughing in record time. “You didn’t. All in one day?!”

“Anything for you,” Percy says, booping Jason’s nose.

“I’m going to let this slide for now,” Jason says, “but you really are not allowed to go on a dangerous quest by yourself just to get me a fancy rock.”

“Hey, I’m just trying to set the bar high,” Percy says, then cracks up when Jason groans so loud he doubles over.

“I can’t believe I didn’t get you anything!”

“It’s okay,” Percy leans in and cups Jason’s face. “You’re cute so I’ll let it pass. But next time you forget our one-year anniversary – and I mean our official one – I’m not kissing you for at least half an hour.” He pauses. “Or maybe just fifteen minutes is enough.”

Jason stills. “You remembered?” he blurts. “You knew? It wasn’t just me?”

“Of course I knew. I have it circled on my calendar.”

Jason gapes at him. “You do?”

“You’ve seen my calendar!”

“I thought you did that to remember the date for the Adele concert!”

“I don’t even like Adele,” Percy laughs, clutching at his stomach. “You do! That’s how you know that’s the date for the Adele concert!”

Jason grabs Percy’s shoulders. “I can’t believe you remembered. All this time, I thought I was being clingy and overly sensitive for knowing what date was coming up and if I should do something for it, but now –“ he shakes Percy, “I don’t even have a gift for you!”

Percy’s still laughing. “You’re a horrible boyfriend.”

“I’m a horrible boyfriend!” Jason cries, but he’s laughing now too. They collapse into each other and then the laughing turns into kissing. Before he knows it, Jason’s got his legs wrapped around Percy’s waist, his fingers in Percy’s hair, chasing the giggles into Percy’s mouth.

It’s an intoxicating place to be. He never wants to leave.

“Gross!” Piper’s screech rips through the air. “They’re boning on the counters! You make food there, Percy Jackson!”

Percy separates his mouth long enough to throw a “Fuck off!” at Piper, who is peering and grinning at them through a crack in the door.

“We’re hungry!” Piper shouts back. “Some host you are!” She turns to the others in the living room. “I guess we’re all going to starve because Percy and Jason want to get dicked down.”

After that, it’s impossible to keep making out, because everyone floods into the kitchen. They shove Jason off the island, push Percy towards the stove, and grab and inspect the Atlantis Stone, asking a dozen questions per minute. Leo asks Percy what yard sale he picked it up from. Nico asks if you can carve a butt plug out of it. Hazel asks why no one’s impressed by her pulling literal gold from the ground, but Percy shows up with one blue pebble and everyone goes crazy for it.

It’s chaos and disorder, but it’s their chaos and disorder. And when Jason meets Percy’s eyes through the crowd, he knows there’s nowhere else he’d rather be.