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Percy Sucks At Dating (And Other True Facts)

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Percy Jackson was dyslexic and therefore never cared for reading, despite his mother's best efforts to encourage the hobby. Being ADHD made it hard enough to concentrate on the pages as it was, but when all the words were blurry and ill-defined on top of that, it was completely unsurprising that he'd avoid books as much as humanly possible.

Sadly, this was college, and now they had enormous college textbooks with hundreds of figures a page and lots and lots of content he needed to learn. And if Percy was going to become a marine biologist, he kinda had to pass all of his preliminaries with decent grades, despite being only mediocre at school. He tried, really, but this had never been his strong-suit.

Still, with the threat of the next round of exams looming over his head, Percy Jackson had to go read in the library and hope he'd be able to find and decipher additional texts for his classes.


In his two years of college, he'd never actually been to the campus library. It was an extravagant creature, with polished oaken floors, tall, thick bookshelves, hand-carved railings, and roll-away ladders spanning up to the roof. If he had actually enjoyed anything to do with novels, it may have been somewhat of a paradise, though the grandiose wasn't entirely lost on him. In a mildly impressed silence, he makes his way to the back of the room, settling down at the only remaining spare desk.

As he cracks open the books, time flows by, and soon the minutes slip away.

"You're at my table," comes a voice after a while, and when he looks up there's a blonde girl with hands on her hips. She's pretty, in an intimidating way, and her eyes, a steely silver, are sizing him up. Despite her jeans, converse, and regular university t-shirt, she seems like she could beat him to a pulp in about ten seconds flat.

So. Beautiful, scary, and out of his league. The epic triumvirate.

"Oh, sorry, it was the only one available. I don't really . . . study? I guess?" he answers, feeling as if he was somehow intruding on her territory. Which, since he was there first and this was totally a public place, wasn't true. But he's used to schools judging him, and being on campus has a way of making him shrivel beneath authority figures. "I'm dyslexic and ADHD, so reading isn't really my strong-suit."

"That's not an excuse. I'm dyslexic and ADHD and I love reading," she remarks, raising a pale eyebrow. "Clearly you didn't adapt like me."

"Well, it was kinda just me and my mom for a while, and she introduced me to audio books. Sadly, there weren't recordings for outdated college textbooks." He grins sheepishly. "Sorry if I'm sitting in your usual spot or something. I'm just sort of struggling with life right now." With a sigh, she slid into the chair next to him, dropping her books onto the counter.

"You're staying?" the student asks in a way that was barely a question.

"If I want to pass, then yes."

"I can help with this section, then. One of my roommates is taking this class right now and I've been giving her a hand with the content." He kind of just nods like an idiot, because he hadn't meant to mooch off of terrifying stranger ex-machina. But, at the same time, he's sitting at her table and he has less than no experience using this material. He could stand to get some help.

"Are you sure? It's not a problem?"

"I was just going to brush up on the history of the aqueduct, so it's not like I had a lot going on, I guess. Just, shush, I'll read it out loud." She clears her throat and tightens her ponytail, hands flattening out the page. "So, the . . ."

The next two hours (yes, Percy Jackson who can barely comprehend the word 'accidentally' when written down, was actually in a library with books and everything for hours at a time without combusting) went by in another blur. Annabeth, as he learned her name was, was not only intimidatingly pretty, she was intimidatingly clever and an amazing reader and tutor. She coached him through the areas he failed to understand and repeated the sections he couldn't quite wrap his head around without complaint. The blonde rolled her eyes, stuck out her tongue, scolded him, and groaned often, but on the whole she did her absolute best to make sure he got the concepts.

After realizing the time when her phone went off, loudly jolting both students out of their studying, Annabeth winces, apologizes, and packs up her things.

"Shoot, I've got to go. Can you be here at the same time next week?" she tells him, hefting up her bag and already walking for the door. Quickly doing the same (why, he had no clue; she had to go, not him, but something about her commanded following, anyhow), he attempts to keep stride with her.

"Um, sure, maybe. You were a huge help." She nods quickly, flashes him a brief smile, and continues onwards.

"Thanks, see you then!" Practically racing across the quad, she dials someone on her phone, the beginnings of a conversation becoming fuzzier with each step she took. "Thals? Sorry, sorry, I completely forgot. Yes I know it's not like me, yeah, yeah . . ."

Well. It looks like he was saved.

He goes back to the library for at least an hour each day. He doesn't really run into Annabeth during that time, but he wants to have some notion of what he's doing when she comes around to see him again.

Percy Jackson wasn't made for school, but he was the hardest worker a person could find. He did make flashcards, tried mnemonics, and dutifully went over and over content with his mother, though it didn't always stick despite his efforts. Again, though he was clearly not the next genius, high school had left him with a decent GPA, and a 3.37 was nothing to scoff at. Frankly, he was here on a swimming scholarship and nothing else; his mother wasn't made of money and they hadn't managed to save up much for college, financial aid set aside. He had practiced relentlessly to be the best athlete, to find a way to get in, and he had made it happen.

This was serious, though. He did not want his grades to drop and risk loosing all of his funding.

"So, you're studying I see," comes her voice, pleasantly surprised, and he finds himself smiling back.

"Yeah, impossible, I know. I'm trying my best."

"Liquefied your brains yet?"

"Almost there. It's like my frontal lobe is floating in kelp."

"Big words there, Seaweed Brain. One might almost believe you were an intellectual." He swivels around, grinning.

"Oh, like you?"

She grins back, ruffling his hair. "Yeah, like me. Now what section are you on?"

"In chem? I'm on the seventh chapter, halfway through advanced ionic bonds and balancing concentrations. In bio, I'm reviewing a part on interior cell structure in chapter four. Now, in calc and business . . ." He winces as if physically pained. Annabeth easily grasps the situation.

"Well, calculus is pretty simple once you get your head around the basic principles and memorize the rules. A lot of it steams from repetition and solvable proofs, but flat-out remembering a lot of the formulas - especially with limits - helps get around the actual derivations. How comfortable are you with piece-wise functions and particle velocity?" She takes his textbook into her hands and pours over one of the earlier chapters, pointing at a picture for reference.

"Um," he replies back, the model of intellect and responsibility. (A true mental giant. It's amazing he's gotten this far, really.)

"Great, so, we're starting there," she announces, flipping back to the beginning of a header. "Now, an important thing to remember here is that a lot of function rules stem from systems of equations. You typically set functions equal to eachother and solve for a missing variable based on a secondary number provided. For example, to find the constant for the variable c at any time in which the input, x, is less than or equal to three, the equation is x plus five. So, if the remaining equation were cx minus four, once a separate value was added to find the constant at a certain point - take three, since that's the x value used to divide the piece-wise function - you would make the function three plus five equals three times c minus four. The end resultant is the solved value for c, and the restrictions on the separate functions in relation to three tell a lot about the graph's parameters." She sketches it all out on paper as she explains, illustrating a practice problem alongside the book, and when she finishes, despite the fact that all the numbers and letters blur at the edges and take a bit to comprehend properly, it's so simple afterwards that it's incredible he didn't understand it the first time.

"That's it?"

"That's a lot of the fundamental stuff behind actually solving for visible constants, yeah. It's fairly easy to pick up if it's presented right; I think they're starting to incorporate it into high schools now."

"Wow," he breathes, and suddenly the world makes a little more sense. "So, can you help me with another?"

"No problem. And then we'll work our way up, alright?"

She stays for the next five hours, literally doing nothing but explaining and re-explaining the principles behind level one calculus. Math, though it shared much with chemistry and bio, had never truly clicked the way his other accredited classes had. This was different. Annabeth made things logical, and she never teased him about not getting the basics before (well, never in a cruel way, anyhow). It was . . . nice, almost.

Yeah. It was nice.

"I owe you. Like, my firstborn child."

She snorts as she gathers up her notes again, tucking her calculator back into its case like a gunslinger sliding his pistol through a sheath. "I'll pass. With your winning qualities, it's going to be a heathen."

"An attractive, rakish heathen, though," he adds, pushing in her chair, "complete with a great disdain of math and a passion for destruction. The best kind."

"Someone has a high opinion of himself." She retorts instead, eyeing him sideways. "You're positively debonair in a ramen-stained hoodie and scuffed up tennis shoes. The bedhead adds to the appeal."

"Ah, so you agree. I ooze charm."

The blonde smirks. "You ooze something, yeah. I fear for the ozone." As Annabeth leaves, she waves and promises to be back in three days. Percy, like the ladies' man he is, sticks out his tongue in response. She rolls her eyes and walks away quickly after that, but he gets the distinct feeling that he might have made a friend.

(How, though, he has no clue.)

Over the next month, they meet up a grand total of seven times. She always finds something to mock him about, even when it's completely out of his own control ("You drool when you sleep, by the way. Nice to see you taking your studies so seriously, Seaweed Brain." "Annabeth, I'm running on bitterness and my mother's expectations, I had two essays to write, and I've gotten less than ten hours of sleep over the course of this week. I swear to all gods that are listening, I will end you."). He, in response, continues to exercise all the social poise he's manifested over his lifespan to keep on her good side, if that exists ("Is that coffee?" "I figured I owed you a Starbucks, Wise Girl. You have singlehandedly overtaken my entire course schedule, so. I'd be dying if you hadn't saved me." "Thanks . . . Percy?" "Yeah?" "Is there a reason it's cold as ice and very, very black?" "Like your heart, right? Had to show my appreciation in the most accurate way possible. You're welcome." "You're still self conscious about the drooling thing? Percy, you are almost a grown-ass adult, get over yourself, I'll hurt you so help me -").

The friends thing, though?

Kind of official. Kind of great, actually. At the very least, they have 'competitive banter' down to a polished shine.

It's after half a year that he meets Rachel.

Rachel is red-haired and creative, a confident art major who smiles brightly and laughs like wildfire. Her eyes light up when she discusses her future and her paintings, which she eagerly shows him pictures of. He begins to tell Annabeth about her, and the blonde isn't as receptive as he'd hoped.

"Rachel said that she's doing some sort of charity event to raise money for the art and theater departments this Saturday. You think it'd be fun to go?"

"I don't know, Percy," Annabeth says calmly, clutching her pencil a bit too tight. "What do you think?"

"I don't know, it looks cool. And it's always nice to show support for a friend. Last year, she was part of this 'living art' program where the students had to hand-make costumes and paint on themselves based on a famous painting. I really couldn't handle standing still for so long, but the pictures came out really good. Here, I think I have one on my -"

She gets up suddenly, slamming shut her textbook. It sends an audible ripple in sound throughout the library, almost echoing across the main floor. "Sorry, finished, just had to complete that section of notes. Anyways, Saturday sounds . . . neat, maybe I'll go if I have time." Which, Percy knows, she does. It's one of the rare weekends when she isn't swamped in coursework, and that's why he had wanted to do something fun with her. Rachel in particular had been dying to meet "the world-famous Annabeth Chase, future conqueror of Earth", which had also been nice.

So he smiles enthusiastically, saying, "Great, that's great, let me tell Rachel to count us in -"

"Now? Like, right now? You have her number and everything?" she interjects, face flushed red. He shrugs, as if it were simple.

"Well, yeah. How else are we supposed to talk outside of class?" The blonde ran a hand through her hair, eyes slightly slanted.

"Ah. I see."

"Yeah, not one for phones, but at least texting doesn't require proper spelling, so. It's easier to keep in touch."

"Oh, alright," the blonde responds in a way that strains her voice. She might not be so 'alright'.

"You okay, Beth?" he questions cautiously, because when Annabeth is upset she's more likely to flip over several tables and start pounding faces into the sand then break down crying. It's not that it's not more than a little impressive, but it is scary as hell and Percy doesn't want to die in the collateral damage.

"Fine, fine, everything's fine," she tells him, waving away his concern. "Really, it's cool. I've just . . . I think I'm gonna go."

"Right now?"

"Um, yeah."

"So soon?"

"Percy, yes. Let me go die in a corner somewhere. This is college, we're all supposed to be miserable." Wearily, he lets her escape, brushing her shoulder as she goes.

(She smells like lemons and sunshine, but he doesn't say anything about that. She already thinks he's a dork as it is; he doesn't want to add fuel to the fire.)

Strangely enough, she catches a bug next Saturday night and can't make it to Rachel's event, so Percy takes Grover and his girlfriend and they peddle around the fundraiser like the uneducated swines they are. He takes pictures of the really good pieces and sends them to her, figuring that maybe the concept will cheer her up. Something must have clicked, though, because Annabeth seems right as rain next Monday.

Percy kinda-sorta springs Rachel on Annabeth one day in the library, because after a few weeks he figures it's time for them to meet.

"Hi, I'm Rachel Dare," she smiles, extending a hand splotched with dried blue paint. Annabeth shakes it with much reserve, squinting her eyes slightly.

"Um, yeah, nice to meet you. I'm Annabeth Chase, future architect." The redhead's grin turned crooked.

"Nice! I admire you for doing that, I'm really terrible at math. Frankly, you can build the new world, I'll just repaint the promos for it. Maybe we can tag-team, you know?" she says, and the blonde nods slowly. "It really is a pleasure, by the way. Percy talks about you all the time, so it's nice to put a face to the name."

"Okay, not all the time," he interjects weakly, but as Rachel laughs it off, Annabeth relaxes a little, starting to quirk her lips into something resembling a smile.

"Oh yeah, Seaweed Brain?"

"Shut up. I hate you."

"Excuse you, I'm the only reason you're passing half your classes, you know that, right?"

"As if." She raises a pale brow, crossing her arms, and he relents. Her death glare is terrifying, and he's no genius, but he's smart enough to know that no one who angers Annabeth Chase is allowed to live afterwards. "Alright, yes, I would be lost without you, roaming this mortal coil forever. Is that what you wanted to hear?"

"You're so stupid."

"No, you."

"Damn, Percy," Rachel whistles, holding in mirth, "can you go twelve seconds without getting roasted?"

"Once he got to half a minute," Annabeth muses, shaking her head. "He didn't know what to do with the newfound freedom. His brain struggled to comprehend basic facts after that and I think he began seizing."

"Gods, I need to record this," the redhead smirks, taking out her phone. "K, so this is going into a new audio-folder on my laptop labeled 'Jackson's Shortcomings'. Just pretend I'm not here."

"Why did I ever think introducing you would be a good idea?" he moans, burying his hands in his hair. The aspiring architect flicks her fingers through the raven locks and sighs sympathetically.

"Oh, Percy, you don't have any of those. Ever. I thought you knew that by now." He simply sinks further into the table as the redhead cackles across from him. He truly despises his friends.

Annabeth declares she doesn't hate Rachel ("That's stupid, Percy, I'm not five." "You sure?") and Percy deems that in and of itself a victory. Of course, they aren't the best of friends, but Rachel is warm and Annabeth isn't actively trying to kill her. You know, yet.

(Rachel voices Percy the radical idea that, just maybe, the blonde was jealous or something.

"That's ridiculous," he had snorted. "It's not like Annabeth needs anything. She's smart, talented, sarcastic, and really, really beautiful. Like, unfairly so. What would she be jealous of?" Rachel stared at him for a long, long time. When it began to become uncomfortable she breathed deeply and said, "probably nothing.")

Percy gets a few days off (classes got canceled due to a small chemical leak in the science building, score!) and decides to take a beach trip. Naturally, he invites Grover and Juniper, but they're busy on an environmental protest, which is just typical to be honest. He tries for Annabeth, but apparently she's working some major project, so it's just him and Rachel driving down the surf in his stepdad's Prius, watching the water as they pull up to the side of the sound.

"Thanks for inviting me," she smiles, hair pulled up into a messy ponytail. Frankly, he's never seen her in anything besides art-sanctioned clothing and paint-smeared jeans before, so in her loose white blouse and swimsuit she looks like a million gold drachma. It's very distracting.

"Yeah, no problem," he replies back, and tries not to freak out. Because to some, this might qualify as a date, and he's not entirely sure he doesn't want it to be. Rachel's pretty, funny, and genuinely seems to like him, not to mention the fact that she's extremely gifted with a brush and great at what she does. Dare is the whole package, honestly, so he doesn't quite get how there's an iota of uncertainty over the 'is this a date' debate. It should be a no-brainer.

It's not a no-brainer, though. Percy's not so sure he wants to go out with Rachel, despite all her good points, and it's confusing as hell.

He dodges the subject for the rest of the day, snorting saltwater out his nose when she trips and gets a face-full of sand and laughing when she splashes him upside the head. At one point she takes out a camera and snaps at least a dozen photos, claiming she'd paint them later. As things wind down, they pile back into the Prius, and the redhead clears her throat.

"So, suppose two people, hypothetically, might like eachother," she starts, the setting sun through the windshield making her hair come alive in shades of gold and auburn. "What would it take to get the stupid guy to kiss the girl?"

"Um," he mumbles back intelligently, trying to remember more words. Any words, really. (How did talking go? He was pretty sure he'd done it all day.) "You. Huh?" Better, slightly, but that inspiring speech wouldn't exactly make it into the next english lecture.

"Yeah, me," she says with a smile, and in a deft move she's turning his face and kissing him gently. It's nice, and rather brain-numbing, but that's about it.

It doesn't go on for very long. Percy is sitting in a stunned silence, wondering what on earth just happened, and Rachel is pulling away, brow slightly taunt.

"That was . . . weird, right?" the redhead notes. Her tone isn't upset or regretful, merely introspective. "I mean, I thought, maybe, but . . . no, that was weird, right?"

"Yeah," the raven haired student replies, clearing his throat. Red is creeping up his neck, dark and deep, but he feels alright. Something akin to relief, oddly enough. "Definitely weird." She looks at him a while, and he looks back. It's not that anything has changed, per say, but he is absolutely sure on one thing now: he will not be dating Rachel.

They drive back to campus and it's honestly like the whole thing never happened. Rachel is quick to slip back into her role as a friend, joking and teasing him along the way, and he lets her ruffle his hair over the console without thinking about the romantic implications. It's pleasant, and a whole lot easier once the will-they-won't-they element sprinkled into their interactions.

He feels a bit like he's been dumped, which is pretty pathetic considering they never dated. It's freeing, though, and he can truly relax now.

"See you later, Percy," the redhead grins as she gets out of the car. "Thanks, by the way. It was fun."

"It was," he tells her, and he means it. "See you around, Dare." She salutes as she backs away, probably off to her dorm or the studio, and he doesn't experience a tinge of regret.

That night, Annabeth meets him for coffee, stressed out of her mind and wearing an ancient blue sweater. It's falling off one of her shoulders and is threatening to slip down to her knees. She's dressed in old, need-to-be-washed jeans, truly beaten up converses, and a hair-tie that's loosing its elastic. The only jewelry she has on is a chain strung with her father's college ring and a few beads from high school summer camp. Frankly, her lips are chapped and her eyes have bags and she must really, really need a nap.

All he can think as he sees her is that she's never been more pretty. Annabeth Chase, even at her worst, is undeniably beautiful.

And, on a side note, blue just happens to be his favorite color, and she looks awful good in blue. She should never change outfits.

(She should never change, period.)

"How did it go with Rachel?" the blonde asks, yawning as she manages the words. It's cuter than it should be. She hasn't always been this adorable, right?

"Good. Really good," he tells her, and she cocks her head to the side the way she always does when she wants him to elaborate. Annabeth thinks that, despite his average intelligence, he's a hapless idiot who should really use his words more. (How he knows that, he can't remember. It's just something he picked up about her.) "We're not dating, by the way," he ends up blurting out, lacing a nervous hand back through his darkened locks. "Rachel and I aren't a thing. And we won't be. We're just not like that."

There might be a blush forming on his tutor's cheeks, the lightest possible shade of pink. But she's Annabeth Chase, and she only really gets red in the face when she's passionate (read: angry) about something or fully, truly embarrassed, so that's probably ridiculous. And anyways, Annabeth is pretty damn fearless and has a will of titanium, making her absolutely terrifying to 'hapless idiots' like himself, so making her blush is impossible. That's not something he's physically capable of doing - she's too everything to be impressed by him.

That doesn't necessarily stop the hope, though.

"I thought you liked her," the blonde eventually tries, trying to suppress a grin (and failing epically). "Are you upset by that, or -"

"No, not really. I mean, I thought I did, a little, but . . . nope. She's just a friend." At that, Annabeth mentally abandons all hope of moderation and smiles wide, teeth and all. Percy smiles back. "What are we so happy about?"

"Nothing, just. Homework's done and your day was good. Rachel's good. I'm good. Everything's good." She orders her coffee and they spend the rest of the night watching cable TV flicks in Annabeth's dorm, just across from her equally scary roommate/best friend Thalia Grace, who looks like she could rip Percy a new one. However, she joins them with popcorn and cynical commentary during the screening and he doesn't end up dead, so apparently she doesn't hate him yet. Annabeth snorts when he does something especially stupid, which is fairly often, and Thalia stubbornly hogs the blankets.

It's about as close to perfect as he can get.

Annabeth wasn't ever about to mount Rachel's head on a stake, exactly, but there is a very telling lack of tension between the two now after it was established that Rachel wouldn't be dating anyone. The girls hang out, exchange numbers, and seem to get fairly close.

"You know, I think we have a lot more in common than I first thought," the architect student comments in a matter-of-fact way, tying up her hair again. "You know, besides berating you constantly." She smirks slyly. He hates/loves her conniving grins. "And, you know, we trade secrets. Your fifth grade was a true horror."

Percy likes that they are getting along. Really, he does. He just wishes that 'getting along' entailed activities other than conspiring against him.

"Annabeth, I swear to any god that will listen, if you tell her about the fifth grade field trip I will straight up kill you. I mean it. Swords and stabbing and everything. I told you that in confidence you little-" The rest of that conversation does not need rehashing. Suffice to say, Percy's only loyal friend is Grover.

Percy Jackson, at the end of his second year, manages to pass all his classes well within a good receiving range. It's all As and Bs across the board, with only one high C, and considering his track record with schools it's downright incredible.

He proudly gives Annabeth credit for his performance, and his mother (whilst smiling rather suspiciously) asks if he's ever going to bring Annabeth over for dinner. He shrugs, says "Probably", and Sally Jackson struts away, his little sister Estelle buzzing around the kitchen with curiosity about his friend. Coincidentally, it's only a few days later when he ends up doing just that.

When Annabeth tells him she's not going home to her dad this summer, he eagerly invites her to camp out with his family. Estelle is thrilled to have another girl in the house, being five and excitable, and Sally warmly agrees to her impending arrival. Though she insists that she doesn't want to be an inconvenience, Percy loudly recites the alphabet until she cedes, mainly to keep them from getting thrown out of the library.

The blonde moves into their spare room, which happened to belong to Percy until he moved to college. Like a gentleman, he takes the fold-out sofa. Annabeth insists that she'll survive sleeping in the same bed as him, to which he replies that she'd probably try to murder him in his sleep, and after that she rolls her eyes and lets the issue lie.

As it turns out, it's one thing to see Annabeth almost every day and hang out often. It's another to wake up in your mom's apartment and see the blonde in oversized pajamas, laughing with your step-dad and chatting about the environmental impact of smog on New York property and people. Now, that is endearing in a way that Percy hadn't even begun to imagine, but now he's seen it and he can't unsee it. She fits too well.

"Percy, Annabeth here is quite something. Did you know about her ideas for irrigation and carbon sequestration around new builds?" Paul Blofis questions, eyes practically sparkling. "It's genius. I really think your friend is onto something." His five year old sibling, already a menace, mouths the words 'girl-friend' behind her father. Percy doesn't insta-kill her, but it's a near thing.

Annabeth practically glows with pride, though, and then he can't even be bothered to muster back anger.

They stay with his parents for a week and five days, doing things with the family and generally hanging out, and it's physically hard for his heart to handle. Something just feels nice about the way he finds her toothpaste in his bathroom and his socks in her laundry, or even just her on his couch, occupying Estelle's attention span as his mom leaves on a shopping trip. He likes having Annabeth around too much, and it might be a sign of a greater problem but he cannot possibly force himself to think about anything right now - school is out, and that means he shouldn't have to think anymore, period.

So he ignores all those feelings and thoughts and bundles them up in the recesses of his mind, far away from prodding logic. He's not about to loose the marvel that is Annabeth Chase over some confusion.

She ends up getting a place near campus on a short lease, just until school starts up again. He does the same in a building conveniently located less than a mile away and visits often, mainly to convince himself that whatever fluke of nature that occurred when they camped out at Casa Blofis-Jackson was purely situational. The problem with that is that he'll see her half-asleep at her desk, ruffled and sleep-deprived, or he'll start itching to grab her hands as she flails them around mid-monologue, or he'll smile for no reason when she snorts. It's not natural. He doesn't know what to think.

By the end of the summer, she's met his family, been introduced to Grover and Juniper, voluntarily hung out with Rachel, and has spent most of her free time in his presence, calling him an idiot. It's . . . Percy's not sure he's ever been closer to someone, actually.

He needs an outlet. Some sort of distraction from the noise he gets in his head when he looks at her.

A girlfriend. He needs a girlfriend.


Chapter Text

School starts up again and Annabeth walks with him to classes each day since they now have schedules pertaining to the same block. It was entirely coincidental, surprisingly enough. He tells his mom about the irony, and he can hear the skepticism in her voice when she retorts with, "Riiiiiiiiight, honey. Alright, then."

Rachel coos at this information. Rather excessively, in his educated opinion. "It's like it's fate or something," the redhead mentions with a very pointed look. Percy doesn't understand the knowing animosity of that glare, and so he tries to shrug it off.

Thalia, in a very Thalia-like manner, simply tells him, "Break her heart, I break your spine. No one will ever find the body, Jackson."

It's a bit much, but whenever Annabeth comes stumbling out of the science building, smiling widely and discussing the complexities of energy displacement, something catches in his chest.

Now, Percy's always found Annabeth pretty (more like freaking gorgeous, but potato, pohtato) but he didn't think about how other people might view her. Because the thing is, her skin is miraculously fair and smooth, her hair is wildly curly and very buttercup-yellow, like sunbeams, her eyes shine like molten silver, and her lips . . . those he shouldn't think about, really. (But they're pink. A warm, very inviting shade of pink -)

She's what some guys fantasize about, if he's being completely honest with himself. He can't say he didn't, either, when he was twelve and miserable and waiting for some sort of miraculous adventure. His younger self would have gone insane, meeting a little Annabeth. He bets she was just as commanding and imperious then, and knowing who she grew up to become . . . wow, is all. He would have been a goner.

(Some days, he's so blown away he wonders if he isn't already.)

However, he is still taken absolutely off-guard when a guy in his lit lecture walks up to him with a look of pure determination on his face.

"Hi, so, I'm Parker," the stranger tries, smiling in a mildly-nervous-but-put-together way that Percy's never managed to master. "And I know this is weird, but don't you hang out with Annabeth Chase? She's a girl in my psych class."

"Um," the raven-haired student starts eloquently. "Annabeth? Yeah, why?" He's not flustered, is anyone happens to ask. He's just been caught off guard, is all.

"Well," Parker says, scratching the back of his neck. There's red creeping up his neck. (Why is the blush spreading? Why?) "I was just wondering . . . is she single?"

Now. Now Percy Jackson is truly brain-deficient.

"What?" he exclaims, rather subconsciously. He's not actively thinking at the moment. "Annabeth? Boyfriend. Annabeth doesn't need a boyfriend." Parker, with his messenger bag and freaking windswept dirty-blonde hair and decent clothing and figure and crap, seems to find this encouraging news.

"No boyfriend then? Good, that's good, because I was thinking about asking her out. She's just so . . . everything, you know? It's incredible." He smiles dopily, like he's daydreaming about her this very second, and Percy can't help thinking that he hasn't ever found men with messenger bags particularly annoying before now, this very second. Gods, he can see it now - they'd be adorable. They could discuss popular architecture and debate the startling blonde-ness of their future children. P & A looks good carved into hearts on trees, right? (P & A . . . focus, damnit! He's never detested his overactive imagination more.) "You think she'd go for me?" the other boy asks, voice filled with so much hope it stings.

Yes, absolutely, a big part of Percy, the non-obsessed bit apparently, tries to tell the poor sap. You'd be great. You're not an idiot, you actually comb your hair, you seem to have stuff together. It's a no-brainer.

Instead, he says, "I'm sorry, man, but Annabeth really doesn't want a boyfriend right now. I'm afraid you'll only get rejected if you try to ask her out now, she's in a bit of a spiral." At this, the other man cards a hand through his (perfectly tousled) locks, glancing at the ground as if he might actually cry. Percy winces and claps him on the back. "Look, it's not you. Really, it isn't. She's just absorbed with -"

"Studying for finals?" Parker finishes glumly, frowning. It's such a her thing to do that Percy nearly laughs.

"Something like that. But hey, that's 'Beth."

"Wouldn't want her any other way," the boy sighs, resigned. "Thanks anyways, though. I appreciate it, man."

"No problem," he answers, biting his lip slightly. "Sorry, by the way." The boy shrugs hopelessly and releases a shaky chuckle, but he doesn't respond again. It's probably for the best.

Later, when Percy can properly psycho-analyze his actions, he convinces himself that protectiveness over Annabeth is only natural. She can take care of herself, true, but she's one of his closest and dearest friends. She deserves someone who's really good - better than Parker, even. He's got to be charming as hell and more handsome than a celebrity (a famousmale celebrity, and part-time model while he's mulling it over), great at investment building and eager to understand everything about her dreams. He's got to be -

Percy stops in his tracks and looses his easygoing sway when he realizes he probably doesn't measure up to those standards, either. It's better not to make them concrete, get into the nitty-gritty, otherwise he'll start to panic and wonder if he's even worthy of having the thoughts he is.

Well, he won't say his trip to the university clinic was planned, but he does have a reputation for disaster. It's not like he meant to cause an explosion in advanced chemistry, but it turns out one of the vials of solvent was mislabeled and he added a pinch too much. Except for the pounding headache, blood, and noxious chemicals, it's all good.

Alright, maybe it's not so good, but Percy's still trying, and this accident wasn't strictly his fault. He's learning his lesson, anyways, what with the possible concussion.

At least the clinic's assistant is outrageously pretty and seems to think he's a cute victim as opposed to a raging imbecile.

"How are you feeling, hero?" called a soft voice when he first woke up, and he charmingly moaned in response. "I'll be out of your way soon, then." With a slightly concerned hum, the person swiped warm hands over his brow, presumably checking for temperature. "Seems normal still. No visible fever, but to be sure . . ." A cold plastic bobble is placed inside his ear, making him wince from the sudden chill. "98.1 degrees, good." Percy, with great effort, had fluttered his eyelids.

He was not disappointed by the view.

She had on a clean white smock and dress with golden clips, cinching the flowy fabric to her shoulders, and matching strappy sandals. Her skin was clear and milky, dotted with a few loose freckles around her nose and cheeks, set with two gracefully arched eyebrows. Her hair, a vibrant chestnut that seemed to glow bronze in the sunlight streaming in from the windows, was tucked neatly away from her face in a braid, and her eyes were a warm brown with flecks of aureate.

Gods, she was beautiful. Very, rather unfairly, beautiful.

"Hi," he had managed. "I'm Perc . . . Percy. Percy."

She had smiled freely, clearly relieved to see that he was okay. "Nice to meet you. I'm Calypso, Percy, and I don't think you have any lasting brain injuries." As it turned out, Calypso was a student in the nursing program who shadowed at the school's office, essentially serving as a glorified TA for the on-staff nurse. As said 'boss' had run out on a brief lunch break, the girl was now in charge.

Anyways, that about catches the aspiring marine biologist up to the present, and he's trying his hardest not to stare because his companion seems to be the nicest person in the world in addition to gorgeous, which is just a tad more than his poor confused brain can handle at the moment.

"Thanks for making sure I didn't die," he tries, and it's as sincere as he can be when he's horizontal in a strange bed. She flushes easily, like she finds him charming, and it's rather life-affirming. (It also makes him think about Annabeth, how she never blushes, and the one time he saw her cheeks color. Percy almost gets lost down that endless spiral, but at the last second he reminds his rabbit-mind that there's another girl right next to him who's kind in need of his full attention.)

"I really didn't do much of anything. It was the medic who briefly looked you over and some men with a stretcher that carried you here. I just looked out for you for a few moments."

"It means something to me."

"Slow down, Cassanova," she tells him, but there's an amused lilt to her tone that gives him hope. Percy flashes her a crooked grin and she good-naturedly rolls her eyes and goes back to taking notes on a clipboard, recording basic information on his vitals. From there, the quality of conversation on his end truly declines (as if his words weren't scintillating before) because he speaks in a number of very jumbled, rather awkward phrases afterwards that are in no way a reflection of his normal ability to speak. "About how accurately you talk around hot chicks," an unscrupulous voice in the back of his head that sounds a lot like Rachel Dare might chide, but he cheerfully disregards that sound observation with a fit of embarrassing social-gracelessness.

His mother would be so disappointed.

"So, you work often? Here?" he begins, and she tries not to snort.

"Well, I did just say I intern, so. This is kind of my whole unofficial job, is all," she says, smiling and circling another box. "Sit up?"

He complies and nods. You know, like an idiot. "Right, that's how that works. Medicine and stuff."

"'Medicine and stuff?'" she repeats, now holding in a laugh and struggling to keep a straight face.

(Percy has never wanted to die more, if anyone's curious.)

"Yuppers." Granted, the college student ha never uttered the word 'yuppers' before in his life, but this was not the time to start. "Sorry, maybe I do have brain damage? Like, just possibly?"

"You sure this isn't just . . . natural, hero?" the brunette teases, mirth in her features.

"I am a dignified person," he shoots back testily, crossing his arms. "I should take defense."


"That, yes, hundred percent."

"I'm getting you a glass of water. I think the fluid around your brain is all dried up." As she goes, clicking her tongue in mock pity, he can't help but smile. Something about Calypso is just . . . nice. It's like taking a breath of fresh air after heaving for hours. Being around her is easy. (Being around Annabeth is easy, but not like this. With her, he feels like he's drowning in sensation, noticing both everything and not enough. Here, it's like he's gently floating on something light and fluffy, his intrusive thoughts laid out on the sand. It's different, but he has no clue which he prefers. For now, he's tired, and he'd just prefer to go with it. Easy is happy, after all.)


"I like water. I swim."

"Like, on a team as a competitor?"

"No, like a walrus," he replies snarkily, very proud of that response. It's at this point that the actual healthcare professional sweeps into the wing and examines him, doing an exhaustive check of vision and balance before finally conceding, after two hours, that he's probably in the clear for a concussion. She strongly recommends he talk to someone about getting an MRI scan but reluctantly allows him to walk out.

Calypso waves as he does, eyelashes lightly fluttering (or maybe that's just his imagination - for the past half of the day, it's been hard to distinguish the two). "I'm glad to see that you being a dork is universal."

He grins. "I'm glad that I got to meet you, minus the head trauma. Highlight of the visit." As he twists the knob, he pauses. "But if I were to come back -"

"Oh, certainly, routine check-ins are vital," the brunette nods solemnly.

"- then I could absolutely be a dork around you again."

She bites her lip as if repressing a full-blown beam. "See you then, then."

"See you." And there he is, gone like a flash.

Despite the complete thrill of talking to Calypso whilst being mentally deficient, his first instinct after he is cleared is to go pester Annabeth (because his first instinct now is to always go visit Annabeth - always). She's probably worried sick about his whereabouts, probably afraid that he has permanent brain damage, probably panicking because he has a knack for getting himself into unwarranted jams (and she is the sucker the universe unofficially delegated the task of keeping him out of trouble to, if he's being perfectly honest).

But just when he's about to whip out his phone and call her, saying in a much enthused tone that he's coming over to her block and she can stop with the ten-thousand well-intended messages, he slows to a halt in the middle of the quad. There's a couple across the lawn, cuddled up in a ridiculously oversized hoodie and sprawled over a weather-beaten university bench. Her hair is short and blonde, dyed red at the ends, and she's ranting furiously about some final project in film, gesturing madly with her hands. Her dark-haired boyfriend's head is turned towards her as he smiles softly, hand drawing circles on her back as he listens to her mania. He looks at her as if she was the most enrapturing thing in the universe, the person he wants to spend the rest of his infinity with, the girl he needs to hear in order to remain sane. Like no matter what she does or moans about or fails at, he will never stop thinking that she is the center of everything, the most remarkable partner he's ever discovered.

It's intense, and it scares the hell out of him. Percy thought he'd seen love - he knows what is feel his mother's hand on his cheek after receiving another tough break, warm and undeservedly understanding. He knows what it is to have Grover Underwood stand up for him on a fifth grade field trip only to be rewarded with a swift sandwich to the head, and only to smile the rest of the way back because the sandwich was a small price to pay for the look on Percy's face. He knows what it is to have Paul Blofis pat him on the back and throw him the keys to his Prius, teaching him how to drive on weekends because Mr. Jackson was no longer around to do it himself. He knows what it is to hold Estelle in his arms for the first time, to watch her mewl with confusion and settle one minuscule rosy finger around his own. Percy knows love, despite the many challenges in life that he's had to face and endure, and that sort of love, the kind that says 'I would rather die than ever let you go', is terrifying. Because he thinks he's starting to cultivate the roots of it, and it begins with studying in a library after hours, watching her flick her tongue out between her teeth. It starts with picking up coffee after she's had her midterms and it starts when she nearly drops her bag running across the green and he ends up carrying her things all the way across campus.

A blonde girl and a dark-haired boy. They certainly fit the bill, don't they?

It's that thought that causes him to put his phone back in his pocket and head back to his bed, clutching his head tightly.

(He can't -

He promised himself he wouldn't -)

He needs a girlfriend, if it wasn't already obvious. And no matter what his subconscious keeps telling him, that girlfriend cannot be Annabeth Chase, because Annabeth's the kind of girl that deserves the lawyer or the doctor or the humanitarian. She deserves a boy who's going to sweep her off of her feet, who's well-off and with a genius-level IQ and a jawbone that could cut glass. She deserves better than the boy who narrowly scraped by from school to school, who watched his mom struggle to make ends meet when his father passed away, who can't take a hint to save his life and who isn't quite grown up. She needs someone good, someone who will meet all those requirements and who will exceed them, who will look at her like that and who can support her on her many conquests.

Percy doesn't know if he can live up to all that. At least, not in the way he wants to.

So it's better not to ponder it, right? There are plenty of fish in the sea, so he's bound to catch just one more. Just one capable of shutting out any mention of Annabeth and her infinite everything.

The next day, he goes back to see Calyspo for a 'repeat diagnosis'. She smirks knowingly, flashing those kind brown eyes, and invites him in.

She, on the other hand, isn't complicated in the least, and he can do without complication.

Percy stays for the afternoon and eats lunch in the sun-stunned building, warm and quiet, a haven of calm in the midst of the bustling campus. It's not the library, but when he closes his eyes, it's almost good enough.

He gets a truly staggering amount of texts from Annabeth Chase over the course of five days, and all of them are so truly her that it makes him want to laugh and cry in equal measures - the jury is still out.

Heard about the explosion. You ok?

Hey, where are you?

. . . Still alive?




Percy Jackson, I will castrate you if you're ignoring me

Fully sober

I'll use blunt children's scissors

I have no empathy


If you died on me I'll never forgive you

You better be okay, you big idiot

Seaweed Brain, you have an awful lot of exposition to deliver

. . . Percy?

Don't make me say I miss you

Cuz I do

But you SUCK

. . . Still

Please don't be dead

He's itching to respond to them, but he catches himself smiling again, imagining her face (the elevens carved into her forehead, all drawn up in anger, and the lines etched into the slits of her eyelids, thinning the lashes into a piercing squint) and subsequently sighing. However, he's a weak man, so he doesn't abandon her entirely.

I'm alive, he sends her, and then the college student turns off his phone and hides it in his sock drawer, free of temptation.

If she traps him in a conversation, he may never stop talking.

Over the next few weeks he continues lounging around the clinic under the guise of 'health check-up's. Really, it's just relaxing. Freeing, a bit, sitting in a plush chair and chatting aimlessly with a pretty girl who seems like she might . . . well. Possibly enjoy his company, for one. That's not something beautiful women tend to do.

(Unless their name happens to be Annabeth Chase, for one, but he refuses to think about that.

He refuses to think about Annabeth right now, full stop.

She's his best friend. That's that.)

Despite his nonexistent attention span, perpetual bedhead, and lack of imposing elegance, Calypso seems to like being around him. She laughs when he sneezes too loudly and smiles when he says something idiotic. She doesn't mind the extreme fatigue and humors him when he slumps into a clinic bed, moaning like he's back from war as opposed to the two hour long psychology class he regrets enrolling in. With her kind heart and easygoing nature (looks set aside because really, she should be a model), she's perfect. She's the perfect girl, the kind of person every guy has dreamed of meeting.

And damn, Percy sees it. He's not blind - he knows, skin deep, that's he's currently hanging out with a goldmine, and if ever he's wanted a girlfriend, she has to be it. The culmination of male fantasies for the past thousand years are all tucked away into one college student, and for some absurd reason (perhaps she got hit on the head, too) she's choosing to talk to him.

He doesn't know why he's having such a problem imagining Percy and Calypso as Percy+Calypso, though. He should be over the moon about her, and she is fantastic. But somehow his young adult brain hasn't synced that information yet and it's rather off-putting.

He can hear it coming, when she speaks. In the days and hours beforehand, he feels the question looming. And then:

"You don't like me, do you?" she says softly, words coated with so much resignation and reluctant understanding that he nearly winces. Her eyes - such a warm, friendly brown - are filled with compassion and the beginnings of tears.

How the hell has he managed to mess this up?

"I do like you," Percy insists irregardless, resisting the urge to hug her. "You're amazing. And I'm grateful, and I feel . . . smoothed over, I guess, when I'm with you. Like all my problems are barricaded outside the door. It's peaceful." She sighs quietly, looking at the window.

"Not the way I wish you liked me," the brunette fires back, smoothing her hair back over her shoulder. She stands up straighter and tries to put on a braver face. "Percy, you're sweet, but I'm not . . . I'm not the girl that guys stay for, alright? I'm the girl that people refuel with, share a few smiles with, and move on from. There's always something else waiting for them out there and the timing is just never right. And that's okay. It sucks, it feels like a bit of a curse, but that's fine. I'm not going to die. I'll just . . . hold out a little longer." The raven haired boy feels rather stupid and slow. He doesn't know what to say to that.

"You're not broken or anything. There's nothing wrong with you."

"I know," she responds with something akin to determination, "and there isn't. But Percy, I'm not what you want, what you really want. I'm an escape, and so is the clinic. There's someone else out there who really needs you, I'm sure. I'm not it."

"There isn't someone else," he replies weakly, and even to his own ears it sounds a little bit helpless. "I'm not dating anyone, we're just -" Calypso pats his face almost pityingly.

"You'll get it eventually," the assistant laughs sadly, blinking as if trying to dissuade tears. "She's very lucky, you know."

"For what?"

"For having you, of course," she smiles, and she adjusts her white overcoat - immaculate as ever - and shows him to the door. "And don't feel bad, by the way. It's alright. But you better be happy with her, Jackson, or you'll be six feet under."

"Because of you?"

She shrugs, creamy skin moving up and down. "Maybe, but most likely from her. I'm sure she's scary as hell - all the best ones are, it seems."

"Not you," he notes, bobbing his head gently.

"Not me," Calypso agrees wryly, already beginning to shut the clinic up behind him. In a spur of the moment action, he turns back around.

"I'll visit, if I can," the ADHD student tells her, hand rubbing the back of his neck. That, she finds truly amusing.

"No, no you won't," she asserts with absolute authority, entirely convinced of her statement. In that second, the definitive click-and-twist motion of the knob, he wonders how often she's had to say that, and how often no one has ever come back to check on her. The finality seems so sad: a young woman in a gilded cage, forever alone with no one to care. For a small second he hates everyone who's ever left her, including himself. He wants to march right back, for life was too hard and too short and too good for a girl like that to go it alone. It wasn't fair, and he hates it.

And then he marches back to Annabeth's apartment, because if he's going to give up someone like Calypso then he better do it for a good reason.

"Hi," he waves, a small and sheepish motion, and she grabs him fiercely and tucks Percy into her arms, squeezing as if he might disappear again.

"Percy Jackson," she whispers, and his name sounds like something incredible, something new and worthy. "Where have you been, you absolute idiot? I've been worried sick for the last three weeks, you ass, what's wrong with you?"

"Guess the blow to the head made me pretty stupid."

The blonde, though he can't see her face, raises a skeptical eyebrow. "You were stupid before the incident, Percy. Why the hell were you off the grid?" He should be more concerned about his impending doom. He should. But right now, he buries his head in her hair and inhales to the familiar scent of lemons.

(It feels like home.

That's definitely not the sort of thing you should be thinking about your best friend, though, so he'll keep it to himself.)

"That's . . . a long story which you entirely deserve and I am not so sure I understand myself, and I will tell you soon. But damn, I missed you, Wise Girl."

She's fighting an internal battle between anger and mercy, he can tell. From what Annabeth's told him of her preteen years, in the days before high school she would have most certainly chosen to end his life with cloak-and-dagger tactics. He greatly appreciates her need for logical debate in times like these.

"You're so lucky I missed you too, Seaweed Brain," she grumbles warningly, but she pulls her arms away and drags him inside. He resolves to divulge what he's able to as best he can, because frankly she only deserves the best and he hates hurting her more than anything in the world.

Later, Percy explains the clinic and Calypso, the check-ins, the camaraderie. Annabeth frowns and silently judges his actions. She clearly thinks those are juvenile reasons for not talking to her, and she's right. It's a dumb construct that's he's created in his head and he wishes that he hadn't ignored her for so long because that charming bit of the narrative hurt like hell.

(However, he doesn't tell her why he resolved to ignore her in the first place. If he wants to keep her as a friend, she doesn't need to know.

And she can't know, really. He can loose a lot, but he can't loose Annabeth Chase.

The ironic bit is, in trying so hard not to let her see too much, he almost lost her anyways.

He will not be so careless again. Never.)

In the end, she reluctantly gives his behavior a pass, though she promises that if he ever goes on radio silence again she'll silence him herself.

Annabeth doesn't make idle threats, so he's 100% convinced that this is true. He assures her, after ordering takeout and sticking around to watch an apology movie marathon of the Lord of the Rings, that he won't, and he's 100% truthful too.

Chapter Text

He's drowning, head thrown back into oily darkness in a silent scream, the fluid bashing his lungs from within. He wants to cry, to flail, to reach for the surface, but there's no sense of direction here, only a shaky weightlessness and the pounding of rushing water, so deep and pitch-black that it's impassable. Briefly, he remembers stories his mother used to tell him about Achilles and the Styx, a river that carried away his human skin and turned him into something other. Vaguely, he wonders what his mother looked like - brown hair, kind eyes, smiles . . . and then it's gone, replaced by a blank space where everything good and bright previously existed.

Memories flood through him and filter out, stolen by the tides. It's both stiflingly cold and unbearably boiling, needles prickling into his flesh, sinking deeper and deeper and deeper . . .

This is the purest of agonies, the deepest of swallowed sins. This is the end of all things, the end of him and everything he stands for. He is being eaten from the inside out, crushed beneath the waves, and will soon be no more.

(Who was he, anyways? He can't seem to remember.)

And then: "C'mere, Seaweed Brain," comes a voice, warm and teasing, and a hand flies into the inky dark. Desperately, he takes it, and suddenly the world is bright.

In contrast to the dim horrors of before, the clear periwinkle skies and inviting sunshine is exceptionally welcoming. It's Montauk, he thinks, but on an impossibly perfect day, complete with crystal-blue beaches and packed, soft white sands, splotches of green far-out past the initial coast. But he's not on the shore side with the waves at his feet - he's in a boat, soaking wet and dressed in what appears to be board shorts and a thin t shirt, bare feet touching the bottom of the smooth wood. Most importantly, his hand is still being held by a woman, one with silvery mirth-filled eyes and blonde hair catching the breeze.

"You're such a dork," she beams, holding in laughter. She's not moving her hand, fingers knotted with his, and it sends tingles down his spine. "Serves you right for leaning so far over the side. I toldyou you'd fall in." For some odd reason, completely drenched and creating a small puddle on the floor, he's smiling so widely he thinks he might just be splitting his cheeks.

"I'm an idiot," he says, which seems like the apt response. This time, she doesn't bother to restrain her laugh, and it's damn near intoxicating. As her face flushes red with amusement, something that feels rare and special, he can't help but notice that even in a ratty pair of jean shorts an old 'Camp Half Blood' summer-camp tee, she's absolutely stunning. Annabeth, he thinks suddenly, and he loves the way it sounds. He could listen to it - to her - just about forever.

But eventually, she calms down just long enough to scoot closer and cup her free palm to his cheek, thumb smoothing across his skin. There are still giggles threatening to well up in her throat, but he doesn't feel the urge to join it anymore. His heart's too busy doing aerobics.

"Well, you're my idiot, Percy," Annabeth declares, ever so close it's maddening, and she slots her lips atop his. All he can do is melt into her side, trying not to loose consciousness.

And then, of course, Percy Jackson wakes up in his dorm, sheets entirely off the bed and shirt ridden up, coated by a cold sweat.

"Gods, not again," he moans, scrubbing a hand down his forehead. He can still sense the tingling imprint of her fingers, brushing over face and tangling in the very ends of his hair. At what point had he gone from noticing Annabeth to dreams? Intense, very very detailed, dreams?

Percy's not stupid. He knows what everything means - the blatant happiness, that weightless feeling, the way he subconsciously seeks Annabeth out, even when fast asleep (and with the night before counted, he's had a grand total of four fantasies in the span of a week and a half). But the thing is, if he admits it to himself, he'll have to answer some big questions and may even end up doing something obscenely stupid. Like kissing her, for starters. Which would be very detrimental to his plan of keeping his tutor/extremely close friend around for the next foreseeable as-long-as-she'll-have-him.

So he gets up with a groan - he'll only revisit the paradise on the beach if he goes back to bed, and any more of that will only add fuel to the fire - and begins getting his towel and utilities together. He needs to shower, get dressed, and get a freaking grip on reality.

Five hours later, he begins his routine deconstruction of math with the blonde, who happens to be wearing an uncharacteristic baby-blue sundress and sandals instead of one of her old t-shirts. It is abundantly clear that he is not getting a grip. At all.

Her locks fall down her shoulders, completely unrestrained, and Percy is very aware (TM) of how close they sit on a daily basis. Like, inches apart, and their arms might brush by accident. Because that's normal. That shouldn't bother him. It's happened since sophomore year. However, since patching things up with her nearly six months ago after 'the Calypso Incident' (as he mentally dubs it - she treats it as another case-in-point event proving his underlying lack of brain cells, but that's her fault for reading too many detective novels as a kid) he can't. Stop. Thinking about her. All the damn time.

"Now, the thing with integrals," she says, and though he's trying to pay attention the words of the book blur even worse than usual and fixating on her speaking is an insanely bad idea. He'd just stare at her lips and forget what the shapes mean. So the college student stares at her fingers smoothing over the startlingly white pages and frowns, because they're even more long and sun-tanned in person and a rather large part of him really wants to grab them, learn them by heart. "Percy?" she calls, tapping her pencil, and it takes an embarrassingly long amount of time to return to the land of the living.

"Sorry?" he tries to say, but it comes out as more of an apology. His companion shakes her head with ill-concealed fondness and runs a hand through her hair. (He's never been so jealous of an appendage before.)

"You didn't get a word of that, right?" Annabeth notes knowingly. She reads him like an open book, which is both insulting and immensely cool. It never fails to surprise him, how much she gets him.

"Not at all. I was . . ."

"Distracted?" she guesses, and she's not wrong. "You're exhausted, Seaweed Brain. Rough night?"

"Just intense dreams," he admits, and it's not a lie per-say. "I keep waking up in sweats. It's kind of a problem." She hums in response, packing up his things and pulling up her hair into its familiar ponytail. (On a side note, seeing the nape of her neck shouldn't be so revolutionary, but lo and behold, it's a complete revelation to his poor depraved mind. He definitely needs serious help, is all.) He forces out the words: "So 'Beth, what are you doing?" Like a normal, non-obsessive friend.

"Putting everything away - it's not like we're going to get anything out of you like this." She hefts her textbooks into her bag and slings it over her shoulder with a little huff of air. Now, the blonde could absolutely judo-flip him at the first sign of antagonistic thought, but he's not afraid to admit that she's adorable. (Not to her face, of course, but privately. He'll allow himself that, at least.) "C'mon, Percy, let's get you some brunch. You're always hungry."

"That I am."

"I think I still have some blue food dye in my dorm," she mentions passingly, biting her lip in concentration as if she's already mapped out the next five verbal moves in their conversation. "Eggs or pancakes?" As a side note, she glances over and amends her previous statement. "Probably pancakes today, right?"

"Cake all the way," he affirms, and damnit he's smiling again. "With chocolate chips?"

"Sure, Percy, but next time you're cooking."

"Affirmative, Pilot Chase." She tries to hit him, but it's less than successful when she's balancing her stuff and he can dodge with the ease of an unencumbered person. Really, it's her fault for telling him her father was once obsessed with aviary history and kept a room filled with model planes. (When he learned that, he doesn't know. He should probably stop thinking about that, though, or he'll get a tumor.)

"I hate you," she mumbles. She's not mad at all.

"You just offered to make me blue chocolate-chip pancakes, Wise Girl. You're a saint."

"I just take pity on the less fortunate," the blonde declares. Percy, being more mature and cultured (and wisely cautious), doesn't retaliate save sticking out his tongue. Annabeth doesn't enact bloody revenge, which is fortunate.

Forty minutes later and with steaming pancakes in hand, Annabeth sits on the counter of the communal kitchen, lazily swinging her legs. There's syrup on the corner of her lip and it's very distracting.

"For the record," she voices out of the blue, spearing another calculated bite, "I prefer Commander Chase. It carries more weight."

He grins a little helplessly. It's very Annabeth, is all. "I'm Private Jackson, then."

"A private is below a commander in rank. You know that, right?" she teases, rolling her eyes fondly.

"It's an honor to serve you, Wise Girl." He mock salutes and bows, impressively not running into the cabinets.

The aspiring architect laughs, a bright and full sound that carries through the hall, but he can tell she's genuinely shocked and touched by the pink that's traveling up her skin. Frankly, he can't blame her - he was surprised to say that either. His chest is thumping madly.

It's just eating together, but it feels like more. He wants it to be, and that's kind of the whole problem, isn't it?

(For you folks that missed it, this just in: Percy Jackson is completely, utterly screwed.)

He doesn't quite recall how Thalia Grace became his friend, but he's very grateful to be on her good side. As much as Annabeth can terrify him, Thalia might just murder him with fire and dance on his grave if he happens to cross her.

Luckily, he hasn't managed to piss her off too badly yet, so he's safe from the volley of arrows and remain-scattering threats as of the foreseeable future. However, in terms of other death threats, Thalia is very adamant on one point.

"Percy, I consider you a friend and a good person," she tells him bluntly and without fanfare, which is Thalia at her finest. "But know that if you hurt Annabeth, no one will ever find the body."

"Okay," he uneasily agrees, and that seems to satisfy her warrior-princess aspect. She starts talking about a women's empowerment club on campus, the Hunters, and he wonders what test he's just passed.

"Annabeth is going to kill me," he complains to Grover. He has every right to do that, by the way, because for once his best friend happens to be around instead of off on a missionary trip to save yellow-bellied sap suckers or something and Percy is taking this golden opportunity to panhandle for pity and guidance. In his defense, Grover has managed to uphold a shining relationship with his girlfriend for about four years now, and he's known her for over a decade. Via Juniper, Grover's seen it all, all the first awkward glances and the beginning phases and the nitty-gritty bits that makes men want to rip out their brains. Really, there couldn't be a better emotional councilor for Percy out there.

"What did you do?" his best friend replies understandingly, putting a supportive hand on his shoulder. With anyone else, that would be very insulting. It still is, a little, but it's Grover Underwood, so. He doesn't have a cruel bone in his whole body.

"I didn't do anything," the raven haired boy moans back, flicking Grover's hand away. The brunette sighs, setting down his fajita. "It's not like that, I swear."

"Is it bad?"

"I don't - I guess, it's like when I so much as breathe I just -"

"Percy, I'm assuming you accidentalied your way into something stupid with Annabeth, and if you have and you're miserable then I'm sure she's miserable too." Percy tries to correct that, but the words don't come out in actual syllables, more like disjointed gibberish. His erstwhile companion continues. "She'll probably get over it sooner than later, she's crazy about you. And with girls, sometimes you've just got to wait out the storm. Chances are that she's either mad about something completely unrelated or you deserved it."


Wait, what?)

"We're not - I mean, not that I'm opposed, but," he eventually stumbles, tripping over sentences he'd been perfectly adept at forming seconds ago. "Annabeth and I aren't a thing, and I didn't make her angry. I mean, I think I didn't? Yet?"

Grover Underwood narrows his eyes and stares for an uncomfortably long period of time. His hands fold neatly into pointed triangles beneath his chin.

"Um," he begins, knitted rasta cap slipping over his ears. About as good a start as any, really. "I'm very very confused. I thought you'd been crazy about her for years, first of all. Second of all, why are you so confused about this then? If, you know, this isn't about how into your girlfriend you are."

"Okay, I'm not stressing out about us as a couple, I'm just having a minor Annabeth-induced breakdown," the college student defends, and he's already off to an excellent start in the convincing process of this debate, he can tell. His comrade's knowing glances are hardly helping. "Look, she's driving me insane! Like, I just think about her all the time and it's really distracting. The other day I could have waxed poetic about her clavical, Grover," he says, gripping his shoulders. "Her freaking clavical. And by the way, what about ears is cute? Or tucking pencils behind them? It's wierd and it's distracting and I seriously think I'm not alright."

"You," he says slowly, as if explaining something to a small, disillusioned child, "are an idiot, Percy. I love you, man, but you have no clue what you're doing."

"It's not - this is a normal issue, right?" Grover very visibly resists the urge to face-palm and releases a heavy groan.

"Percy, I have never seen you this broken up, and I can say with confidence that it's entirely due to her. This is normal - it's how I felt after hanging out with June." As Percy prepares his volley of protests the brown-haired man snaps his fingers in a flash of inspiration. "Heck, I can prove it to you. Wanna know how I know?"

"Uh -"

"I know that Annabeth's favorite color is orange. I know she wants to go to Europe purely for the ruins and that she took Latin 101 with you last semester. I know that she wears her dad's college ring around her neck with some summer camp beads and I know that she loves dark chocolate better than milk, which is a sign of horrible taste, honestly. And, I know that during finals week last year she survived on nothing but cheap gas-station pumpkin spice lattes and forgot to eat anything for three days." He's grinning, very smugly, and Percy feels instantly wary. "I've never really spent time with Annabeth, Percy. I know all of that because you've told me about her. All the time, actually. Because you have a serious problem."

Percy scratches the back of his neck. "I'm just her friend, Grover. She probably doesn't think about any of that stuff with me, I mean - Grover, she's seen me after midterms when I didn't shower for a week and showed up to a class with my shirt inside-out and backwards. She knows things that no one should ever know. How could 'Beth like me?"

Grover, ever the empathetic, shakes his head gently. "Percy, it's never been about if she happens to like you - and, let's be honest, from what I've heard from everyone else you've got a pretty good chance there. It's about you liking her, and you like her. To a heightened bordering-on-insane degree. It's almost unhealthy, all the self-denial you keep loading onto this."

"So you're saying I like Annabeth?"

"Damn, you're hopeless. Do we need visual aids?"

"I like Annabeth," he states, just to get Grover off his back but . . . wow. It feels . . . warm, just saying the words, like there's a pit of gold dripping through his veins, smooth and fuzzy at the edges of his fingers. "Annabeth Chase is one of my best damn friends and I like her," he repeats, eyes widening by the second at an inhuman rate. "I like Annabeth Chase."

"That's it, buddy," his companion murmurs, patting his back. "'Til something sticks."

"I like Annabeth. She's the best part of my day and I dream about her at night and I don't know what the hell I'd do if I didn't see her," he whispers. It's like there's a fire beneath his skin and he wants to scoop it out, let it blaze out the pavement.

(It's terrifying, saying anything out loud. Wonderful, but absolutely scaring. He might never be the same and it's all because she decided to leave her mark.

She keeps etching it in deeper, actually, and he hasn't minded thus far. In fact, he'd probably pray for her to stay there and cut forever.)

At the end of lunch, Grover wipes his hands on his jeans and stand up. "Any other revelations before you exit this therapy session?"

"Crap," Percy states loudly. At the corners of his mouth his lips are quirking up uncontrollably. He's incredibly scared but he can't seem to shake the smile.

"Well put," Grover comments with a wide grin. They share a hug that isn't manly in the slightest. "Now actually go out there and get her and maybe then you'll be able to function again, okay?"

"Oops," he responds, mostly because he can't think of another response to that dilemma, and his best friend laughs. He's clearly insensitive to the carnage of Percy's two remaining brain cells.

"You seem weirder than usual," Annabeth notes, crossing her arms and frowning. They're watching a movie in her dorm again and Thalia is snoring - she's already asleep. Apparently murder-thrillers bore her, which isn't too unexpected considering her general 'cross me and you'll be breathing out of a tube for the rest of your miserable life' vibe.

Percy, on the other hand, has been watching a serial killer shred a family of overpaid actors with an obvious blush, not really looking at the screen because holy crap her head is on his shoulder. This isn't new, the looping twists of his gut whenever the blonde gets close, but this is the first time he's been in such near proximity to her after admitting that yes, maybe he likes her in a way that is anything but platonic.

Of course, instead of acknowledging any awkwardness on his part in the face of a revelation, he decides to use his vast arsenals of faux-ignorance. "Weird?" he asks, pretending to stifle a casual yawn. "How so?"

She sighs lightly, turning further into his side in order to better communicate. The college student just about combusts as she pulls the blanket tighter around her arms and tucks her body against his left ribcage - everything burns up.

"I don't know, you're just . . . all tense, I guess. Your shoulders are all drawn up like they get when you're concentrating on something really hard." The blonde tilts her face in obvious curiosity. "Everything alright? Nothing intense happened today, right?"

He's wanted to hold her hand all night, actually. He's been meaning to do it, like an itch beneath his skin, and his fingers have been inching towards hers subconsciously all night, trying to tangle together. He's listened to her talk about an article she read on the repercussions of nuclear energy and her thoughts on electric consumerism and he's been suppressing a smile, because Annabeth Chase is the sort of person who could run the world with debate alone. He's been dying to bury his nose in her hair, just to see if it's still so intensely lemon. That one, he's been wondering about in particular.

"I guess my lab in bio has been occupying a lot of my attention. It's due in two days and even though I've started on it, it's massive." Technically, it's not a lie. It's just not his number-one concern at the moment. That's solely reserved for her. "I hate it so much, 'Beth, it needs to be consigned to a fire." She hums in pleasant understanding and settles her head back onto his shoulder. Finally.

She's not entirely convinced, of course, but Annabeth is willing to let it slide if it means a cozy blanket and movies. A woman after his own heart, really. "Alright, I guess that makes sense. But if you ever need anything, I'm here, okay?"

"Okay, Wise Girl," he says, and oh what a surprise, he just happens to rest his head atop of hers. He must be very tired, is all.

(He's a master of subtlety, can't you tell?)

This time, he inhales deeply, taking in the sensation. It does still smell like lemons, curly and uncontrollable, but also -

"Mint?" he notes aloud, not thinking at all. Abruptly, her cheeks flush darker in the fuzzy glow of the TV.

"What did you say?"

"No, it's just your hair smells like lemons all the time. But today, there's . . ." he swallows, because that. That was not a thing friends pointed out to eachother.

Mentally, his brain decides: We've already messed up royally; let's keep going, then, and see what happens!

Apparently his mouth agrees, because after an awkward pause he chokes out, "It smells like mint today. It's nice. Your hair is nice."

The great Annabeth Chase weakly murmurs, "Yeah, new conditioner."

"Oh, that makes sense." As if that weren't obvious.

"Yeah, yes," she laughs slightly, and her freckles, though faint, vaguely resemble stars across her skin. It's distracting. "You noticed that?"

"Of course I did," the raven-haired boy smiles gently, opting for a 'this is normal' approach to this discussion. Truthfully, he can't seem to stop noticing her. "You're you, Wise Girl." He wonders is her heart is beating as fast as his is. Probably not, but damn, he hopes.

Eventually, she pokes him lightly and opts for a small, impossibly fond smile. His stomach drops out. "Hey, Percy?"


"Just, never change, okay?" she asks, tucking a lock of yellow behind her ear. It's a lot for his poor deluded brain to handle.

Now, usually he'd think long and hard before making promises he can't possibly keep. Everyone changes, grows up, moves on or up or away - but for this girl, the one with wide stormy eyes and constellations dotted onto her cheeks, he'd make a thousand without thinking.

"I won't, 'Beth," Percy tells her, and she mumbles what could be a 'thanks' into his shirt. The blonde spends the rest of the night pressed against his chest, snorting at the protagonist and throwing popcorn at the screen when the killer dismembers a family.

"They should have driven away," she grumbles softly, careful not to wake Thalia. To be honest, he'd half forgotten she was still with them. "Honestly, it's their fault they got murdered. Idiots."

"I'm with you, hundred percent." At that, she rolls her eyes warmly. He's kind-of dying, but he can't complain.

It's when he's walking across campus that he stumbles directly into her, knocking her coffee cup to the ground. In his defense, people typically don't stand smack in the middle of the quad and don't move for several minutes, but whatever, it was in fact his fault.

The stranger seems to agree with that assessment. "I paid ten dollars for that, I hope you know," she states. She's annoyed, yeah, but mainly more fed up and resigned, as if this inconvenience was the least of her problems. "Everything's so expensive here."

"Here?" Percy asks instead of saying something like, 'I'm sorry, can I replace that'? Because that is clearly the most important thread of this conversation. As if recognizing that he's an exhausted bumbling idiot, mystery girl sighs loudly and helps him up; Percy's kinda on his butt on the ground, to add to the dignity of the situation. It's amazing she hasn't fallen over, actually, since she's smaller than him - maybe this stranger just has abs of steel?

"I'm doing a semester-long exchange," she informs him primly, mournfully throwing away her cup. "A friend of mine ended up transferring here over the summer to get into a better psychology program, and I just . . . I don't know. I wanted to see what it was all about." Percy nods, though he has no idea what's just happened.

"Oh, that's nice I guess," he tells her in response, awkwardly scratching the back of his neck. "I mean, thanks for pulling me up and all. And I hope that works out."

Mystery person just shakes her head. Maybe she's taking pity on him? "And?"

" . . . and I'm sorry I decimated your cup? I've got money, if that helps." At this moment in time, Percy happens to be obscenely broke and does not, in fact, have cash on him. Also, he is almost certainly going to be late to his history lecture now.

However, the strange girl doesn't realize that this is not an actual offer of aid and instead nods. "Yes, I would like something warm, it's freezing outside."

"For New York, it's not that bad, honestly."

"I used to live in San Francisco," she says, and he does suppose that explains a lot. Like her tan, for one, and the warm sun-kissed thing her dark hair has going for it - you can't really achieve that in an NY fall. She gives off a general aura of 'try to mess with me and you die painfully', as do most of the important women in his life, so he mentally resigns himself to the fact that history class is just not happening and he's paying for an overpriced Starbucks beverage with his credit card.

As he takes her to the shop on campus, he learns three vital things:

1. Her name is Reyna Avila Ramirez-Arellano and she viciously despises her middle name. Why, he has no idea, but he's too scared to ask.

2. She has two enormous dogs back home that she's dropped at her sister Hylla's apartment. Their names are Aurum and Argentum, meaning silver and gold, and this is due to the fact that one's a golden retriever and another is a husky. He nearly asks her which one is which before realizing that that's a very stupid question.

3. Reyna was not only interested in some of the programs, but she really wanted to meet up with aforementioned friend, a guy called Jason Grace. From the way she talked about him it was clear that they were close friends, and maybe Reyna liked him a little. Or, you know, enough to go across the country for a semester to see him. Frankly, Jason was a lucky man - Reyna seemed terrifying as all get-out, but she also came across as smart, passionate, caring, and a really strong person overall. Now, she was also very very pretty, vaguely reminding Percy of a Brazilian princess, if such a thing were to exist, but he wasn't going to go there. It seemed like a bridge too far to point anything out, especially since he just met her.

They exchange numbers and he feels like he kinda has a new friend. Or at the very least, she doesn't hate him, and that's a place to start.

He and Rachel grab lunch at their friendly neighborhood cafeteria, something he hasn't done in a while. Rachel doesn't make him question his identity and she smirks whenever he mentions Annabeth, so it's nice not to put up emotional blinders around her. A female's point of view is welcome, given his current issues.

"So I might like Annabeth," he starts, throwing back the floodgates. His redheaded colleague snorts loudly, unable to contain herself.

"Sorry, proceed."

"And, before you so rudely interrupted -" She shows no remorse. He's well aware that he's ranting, it's this neat new hobby he's picked up for whenever he starts to panic and overthink things. "- I was going to say that I have no idea what to do about it. Like, it's 'Beth? And I don't know if I should go for it or not - she's my best friend, okay, and that's going to make stuff really really complicated and I don't want to risk loosing her. Or not being able to keep up with her, too - she's so damn smart, Rache, and too good a person. I don't know if I can take on something as big as her and not get crushed by the effort, y'know?" Rachel Dare looks as though she's a half-second from emptying the contents of her purse (which are currently one cement block masquerading as a phone, scalpels neatly cleaned and labeled from her last art session an hour ago, a variety of sharpened pencils and needle-tip pens, and a blue plastic hairbrush that could cause a concussion all on its own) onto his head.

"Right, so, lots to unpack," she begins, clearing her throat and rolling up her sleeves. "Percy, Annabeth is not going to stop being your friend if you ask her out and she rejects you. Hell, even if you date for a little while and break up, you guys are inseparable. There's literally nothing on earth that would keep you from sticking together." The artist grabs his hand, squeezing it as if she's trying to impart him with some ancient secretive knowledge. "But that's worst case-scenario. Honestly? Annabeth's great, but you can keep up with her just fine because of one vital fact: she wants you there. She hasn't stopped extending lifelines since you two met, right? It doesn't matter if you don't think you can match her intelligence or passion or whatever, or even if things might go sour." At this point, she slackens her vise-like hold on his arm. He thinks she may have left blossoming bruises. "You're an amazing person, Percy, and I know you'd do just about anything for the people you care about. Now the real question is this: do you want her?"

He coughs awkwardly, because that's about the only question in this crash-course he definitely knows the answer to, and it's just about as forbidden as you can get. His face is on fire and he regrets ever agreeing to hang out with Rachel. "Not that she's some token, but. Pretty much more than anything."

"Then I guess you're going to have to figure out what to do with that, huh?" she prompts, taking a bite of the sandwich she picked up. Rachel acts as if it's that easy, just to lay it all out and let herdecide what to do with him. Like it's simple, the way he'd be just dropping his heart in her lap and letting her break it. The problem isn't that he doesn't trust Annabeth with it; even if she destroys him, Percy thinks he'd let her. It'd be an awfully poetic way to go. The real fear is that if she does, he doesn't think he'll be able to pick up all the pieces again.

The raven-haired man clenches his right hand into a fist, flexing and unflexing it and wondering yet again what it would be like to slot her digits with his. He's so damn tired of this speculation that he might just collapse.

"You sound like Grover," he tells her, and that's all he's he can hope to come up with.

The redhead sighs affectionately. "I guess one of us has to."

(You know, maybe Rachel's right. Maybe it is just as simple as manning up and acting on his thoughts and he's been making all the wrong moves.)

"Hey," Reyna calls, and she's smiling brightly in an orange university tee. "Haven't seen you in a few days." Between all the confusion with Annabeth (gods, he can't stop thinking about her name, how smoothly it rolls off the tongue, and damn you can't get more whipped than that) he's somewhat forgotten about Reyna's relocation. It's a shame, too, because she seems like a really interesting person - if not offensively scary - and he was being truthful when he'd meant to become her friend. Frankly, the transfer student looks like she could use all the friends she can get, and Percy is more than happy to enlist.

"Ha, yeah, I've been busy. You been getting around okay?"

She smiles. "Yeah, it's an adjustment. It's less . . . militant, I guess? Our old school was a lot more structured, you were expected to be really punctual and precise when it came to scheduling, and all-in-all the campus was definitely geared towards education and functionality over joint enjoyment. Very little open space or recreational activities, very few artistic electives, no big restaurants or bars - it was very different is all." She blows a strand of hair out of her face. "Again, it's been a culture shock."

"It sounds like one of the circles of hell, Rey," he responds easily, only wondering after the fact if he's allowed to give the modern lady-gladiator a nickname. She didn't correct him with a 'prepare to die' scowl, so he's assuming he gets a pass. "Did you enjoy yourself there?"

"You know, as strange as it seems, it was home," the dark-haired girl voices, eyes scrunching in fond memorabilia. "I loved the setup, the hard-working vibe there, the little shop on the corner that sold hot chocolate all year round. Sure, it was very put-together and rigid, but it gave me some stability." There, her grin slips. "When I was younger my mom died. My dad was a terrible drunk afterwards and my sister essentially became the parental figure in the house. We eventually took to the road, doing all sorts of odds-and-ends jobs, but Hylla was strong. She always took care of us and worked as hard as she could. Now she's the CEO of Amazon." Percy was mentally preparing to hug this poor girl and say 'I can't even imagine, my dad died when I was little and my mom was all that I had, I'm sorry you had to live like that'. He was 100% ready to kick someone's ass. And then he hears 'CEO of Amazon' and gets utterly lost.

"Wait, Amazon?" he blinks. "Like, Amazon Amazon? The enormous shipping company Amazon?"

Reyna nods, like that's not a big deal at all. "Yeah, Hylla got in as an entry level worker. Then she started a women's advocacy initiative and some higher ups noticed her, so she rose up to business associate and supply manager in a few years. She just kept climbing, past marketing and board-room presenter and executive status. Then she proposed another great pitch, some new partnership with another charitable program strung along, and really her fate was sealed." Reyna smirks wryly. "Because of the project launches, she's known by the directors as 'Hylla Twice-Kill'. She's essentially calling the shots now."

Percy's jaw might have disconnected with the rest of his face over the course of that explanation.

"So, wow," he states. He wants to start nervously laughing and devolve into a seizure, but that's in bad form. "That's not intimidating at all."

"It's always a bit much, telling people," she frowns, suddenly fiddling with the ends of her sleeves. "They always think that I'm some celebrity or something because of her, or that I got accepted into university because of money. Which, of course, isn't true - I worked so hard to get into that school, you wouldn't believe the amount of time I spent practicing for my exams and studying for the essay portions of AP tests. The thing is, she's got lots of cash, but Hylla ends up donating most of it to charity or dumping it into my college tuition and our house payments. She's larger than life, yeah, but she also pretty much raised me. So she's just a person with a lot at her disposal, I guess, but she's still a person."

"You said she agreed to watch your dogs," the aspiring marine biologist says, his brain randomly making the connection before he can really examine the words. Regardless, it seems like the right thing to tell her because the relief blooming over Reyna's face is instant and tumultuous.

"Exactly. She's just my perfectly average, kicking-ass-and-taking-names big sister who's a total pain and crusades for the rights of the impoverished like a political ninja. Nothing to see there, right?"

"I mean, the real hero is me," he replies casually, bumping her shoulder. "I spilled coffee on your not-influential personage and lived to tell the tale."

"Oh, I'm not that scary."

"Yes, yes you are. I thought I might die."

"Cross me again and you might," she harrumphs, crossing her arms. This girl is a serious person, but not an unkind one. She's clearly been through a lot of hardship in life and it made her all the more resilient. If nothing else, she deserves his mutual respect and comfort, so he's just going to act like nothing's the matter and try to be the best new friend he can possibly be.

"Hey, why don't you come to the library with me? 'Beth isn't there today but I could use some studying on advanced chem, and if you're new to campus then you'll probably need it too. This professor is insanely strict." The brunette warms beneath his words and her lips twitch upwards again.

"Yeah. Yeah, okay."

It's a win in his book.

Eventually Percy meets Frank and Hazel, two other students on the exchange with Reyna. Their spirit wear is purple and gold, set to many drawings of their university mottoes and mascot, and when he sees the out-of-place duo wandering around the campus gift shop he ends up directing them to the clearance rack ("Literally everything in here is out of order and way too expensive, here's where you can buy an orange hoodie without signing away your firstborn.") and then inadvertently stumbles his way into becoming their unofficial tour guide. Hazel is a few years younger than her companion and she's an absolute delight, what with her bright excited demeanor and infinite kindness. Her golden eyes perk up whenever they see something new and there's a constant bounce in her step, her mass of curly dark hair flowing behind her like a cloud. Frank, on the other hand, is physically intimidating to Percy given his enormous shoulders and imposing height. Honestly, if he wanted to he could have snapped the college student's neck in roughly two seconds. But despite his appearance, he's incredibly measured and relaxed, oozing nothing but friendliness and interest. Whenever he looks at Hazel, his eyes soften around the rims, changing his whole face into something that can only be described as lovestruck. She, in turn, grins easily and leans up to kiss his cheek, swinging their hands together often. It's so sappily sweet that Percy often thinks that it's too personal for him to even observe. As a couple, they're adorable.

After three intense hours of surveying and announcing, Percy eventually lets his impromptu guests fly free - he's got a lecture to fall asleep in that simply can't wait.

"Do you and your friends want to come and join us for brunch sometime?" Hazel asks before he leaves, and it only reinforces his mental image of her as the nicest person alive.

"It'd be nice to get to know some people while we're here," Frank adds, putting a hand on her shoulder in support of the idea. "It'd be fun."

"Sounds great," Percy says warmly, and even though he hardly knows these people he wants to be their friend. They're just so good, so happy to be around, that he thinks they'd get along great with his social circle.

They exchange numbers and he stumbles into the right hall just as the class begins. He fully intends to set up a group chat.

Over the next few days he sees Reyna, Frank, and Hazel pretty frequently. Surprisingly they all seem to have a lot in common schedule-wise and it's nice to hang out with such interesting and genuinely inviting people. Reyna may be a little guarded, Frank may be a little introverted, and Hazel may be a little sheltered, but soon he can't imagine not knowing them. They're part of his small circle, he thinks, and he's thankful for it.

As him and Reyna walk towards the coffee shop one night, they spy an enormous coach bus coming back into the campus.

"What's that for?" she asks curiously, eyebrows lifted.

"Oh, it's probably the bus coming back from the Grand Canyon field trip, they've been gone for about three weeks," he mentions with a dismissive shrug of his shoulders. "I think a lot of third years went on that? It was supposed to be a pretty big deal."

Reyna is practically quivering with excitement. "Jason was on that trip. It's why I haven't seen him since I got here." She's beaming, and her face is so bright it could blind the stars. "They're unloading right now, right?"

"Looks like, yeah."

"How do I look? Good?" she questions, re-tucking her shirt in a mild hurricane of concern. Percy holds back a chuckle as he grabs her hands, stopping the frantic reassessment.

"You look fine, Rey. You always look great."

"Easy for you to say," she jokes, but he can tell that she appreciates it. With pure determination in her dark eyes she marches over to the bus, walking straight up to the swarm leaving the foldable doors. Percy squints from across the street for several inefficient seconds before caving and following after her.

Apparently Reyna did find Jason, a tall blonde man with thin glasses who was enthusiastically asking her how she'd been and how the flight out had been. The dark-haired woman answered back weakly, commenting on how nice everything had been and the many exciting experiences she'd already made. She tucked her hair behind her ear, smiled loosely, and seemed genuinely happy to see him again. For all intents and purposes, this was exactly how Percy had envisioned their meeting going, save one detail: Jason hadn't been holding the hand of a beautiful copper-skinned girl who was looking at him like he'd hung the stars.

"Rey, this is Piper McLean, my girlfriend," he introduces with a wide grin. His blue eyes crinkle fondly. "It's a really new thing, but we've been friends since I arrived, and on the trip we went stargazing after the group had turned in for the night. Things just . . . clicked, I guess." To her credit, Piper doesn't just settle for an awkward handshake and a tense greeting. She goes straight up to Reyna and hugs her fiercely, exuding nothing but innocent excitement.

"Jason says you're one of his closest friends and he's been dying for you to meet us," the brunette informs, smiling. "I've been waiting, too. I've heard quite a bit about you and I think we're going to get along great."

Reyna smiles back lopsidedly. Her eyes are slightly watery. "I've heard a bit about you, too. It's really nice to meet you." Piper squeezes her again for good measure before turning back to Jason.

"Jason, we've got to show her that italian place down the main strip! If you guys haven't had dinner yet I bet we can catch them before they close - my treat," she says, and she's absolutely candid. The blonde man lights up and nods.

"It's really good, Rey, you've got to come. We'd love to have you." Percy can almost pinpoint the precise moment in which Reyna's fragile feelings break her heart in two. A hope seems to extinguish in her chest and a bit of the brightness seeps from her eyes.

Utterly oblivious to her struggle, a hispanic boy with hands covered in smudges of engine grease sneaks up behind them and says to Percy, "They're disgustingly in love, I know. Imagine being cooped up in a busy with them for weeks, playing third wheel in a group of several hundred people. I'm almost glad it's over."

Piper leans forwards and flicks the boy on the nose, almost causing the goggles balanced atop his hair to fall over his eyes. "You know you love us, Leo."

"In your dreams, Beauty Queen." He sticks out his tongue for good measure. He's just about the weirdest and most hyper person Percy's ever seen. Apparently he doesn't need an introduction, though, as Jason only ruffles his hair good-naturedly and pats his head.

"Don't worry, he's just always like this. No cocaine involved," he tells them in a conciliatory way. "It's great that we managed to run into you guys, though. This will be fun."

"Fun," Reyna echoes. Her voice holds none of its usual confidence and vigor. "Sure, I'll come along."

"Really?" Percy asks, putting a hand on her shoulder. "You seemed . . ." Horribly crushed? ". . . tired earlier. It's been a long day." She looks . . . well, maybe not entirely grateful, per say, but definitely less tense. At least she knows that he acknowledges how tough this must be.

"It's fine, I'm a big girl and I can handle myself, Percy," the dark-haired girl says, straightening her back as if about to charge into a battle. "Which way are we heading?"

Jason and Piper smile enthusiastically, Piper even going as far as to link her arm with Reyna's and start talking about classes and hole-in-the-wall joints around campus. Leo falls back and begins chatting with Percy himself, which was an experience. Leo seems . . . like a good person? He's more jittery than a kindergartner hopped up on pixie sticks and his mind is clearly whirring at a hundred miles a minute, but he's friendly and has a pretty solid sense of humor, so Percy doesn't mind.

As they sit down to eat, the trio is nothing but welcoming, mainly questioning Rey about her move. The marine biology student isn't left out at all, but they didn't know to expect him, so. It makes sense.

At one point he casually mentions Frank and Hazel and Jason laughs fondly. "Yeah, we were in the same dorm block together - Frank actually lived right down the hall. They're insanely nice people."

"Frank is an enormous panda," Reyna adds with absolute seriousness. For some reason that causes Percy to snort and the water just zips up through his nose and out onto the napkin in his lap. He's the most dignified he's ever been.

At the end of dinner the group parts its separate ways. Though his companion put on a great show, with the arrivals gone her shoulders cave inwards and her arms fly to her waist, wrapping inwards around her body.

"You okay?"

"I . . . well, no, not really." She bites her lip. "He just . . . he looks so happy, you know? And I really liked him, for so long, and now I'm just wondering . . . Did I make it all up? I feel so stupid, because I keep going over it and going over it and he never actually said anything romantic to me, he just could have been being himself. Like, he's Jason, so of course he'll do things like drop everything to come pick me up at the airport or study with me for five hours. He's just annoyingly perfect, you know? With the eyes and the smile and the kindness . . ." She trails off and for once, Percy's really afraid that the unbreakable Reyna Avila Ramirez-Arellano might start crying. "You ever been around someone who makes you feel more like yourself than anyone else? Like you can be who you want to be, like they have complete faith in you and are always going to be there? And when you look at them, you just . . . you're more, because they're so damn radiant that you just can't help being better? If you could have them around forever, you just know that you'd never stop being happy."

"Yeah," Percy replies quietly, looking at his shoes. "Yeah, I've felt that."

"That's . . . well, I thought that was Jason, because when he was around I felt on top of the world, like I could do anything solely because he believed I could. It's so nice being trusted completely, right? It's like a drug. But the thing is, he didn't . . . gods, when he glanced at her, he seemed so bright. I can't remember ever making him look at me that way." Percy cannot imagine loosing Annabeth. He cannot imagine how Reyna is surviving loosing her best friend.

"Should we go slash some tires?" he tells her gently, pulling her into an awkward side hug as they walk. She sniffles - but does not release tears, no matter how much she clearly wants to - and shakes her head.

"That's not necessary," the woman sighs. "Look, as awful as this feels, I really wanted him to be happy and to find someone. Granted, I thought that someone would be me, but . . . Well. It doesn't matter. Piper seems to really care about him and I'm not going to be the one to mess that up. She came across genuinely excited to meet me and to be a part of our lives, so revenge would honestly be pretty petty. I'm not that sort of person."

"I am absolutely the type of person to stab people who hurt my friends," the college student remarks offhandedly. "So if it turns out she's secretly a monster, I would be more than happy to enact bloody vengeance."

"Thanks." The words get lost a bit since they're mumbled into his shoulder, but he gets the idea.

"It's my pleasure, Rey."

Over the next few days Percy is essentially glued to Reyna's side. He just knows she's hurting like crazy and that the weight of rejection, unintentional though it may be, is crushing her. Though she doesn't ever say it out loud, her eyes soften with relief whenever he offers her one of his mom's blue chocolate chip cookies or sits with her as she prints out an essay. Being there, a tangible reminder of the solemn and unyielding fact that she isn't alone, makes her feelings easier to swallow. If he can do that for this impossibly strong girl, then he will be there whenever he can. That's what friends are supposed to do.

However, on the subject of emotions his strategical repertoire is virtually nonexistent. Percy has never been a particularly psycho-analytical person, though he isn't completely oblivious and does in fact have a decent brain buried beneath all the incessant fatigue and poor nutrition caused by years of ramen-cups. In the relationship department he has no idea what tips or strategies to apply - his serious experiences with women have come mostly from Sally Jackson, the occasional friend, second-hand recounts from Grover, and . . . well, Annabeth, really.

He can keep trying to cheer her up, but without another plan of attack he's not going to provide much more than momentary distractions, not any real comfort. Essentially, Percy desperately needs outside help, and hopefully the females in his life can tell him what to do.

"What do you do with someone who's dying inside, Annabeth?" he questions as she helps him with his math notes. In his defense, she is the smartest person he knows. It makes sense to bother her about this as opposed to anyone else - he trusts her judgement more than his own, in any case.

Without looking up, the blonde says, "Percy, this is a university, we're all dying inside. Why do you ask?"

"New friend of mine just got her heart broken by a guy she really liked," he mumbles, staring at the table. "And I want to cheer her up."

The blonde sets down her pencil, brow scrunching in both confusion and well-meaning concentration. "Who is she?"

"Her name is Reyna, she's an exchange student. She had a best friend named Jason, fell for him, and then Jason got a girlfriend. Thus the dying inside part."

"If she's an exchange student, she probably doesn't have that many friends on site, does she?" Annabeth thinks out loud, squinting in concentration. There's something mesmerizing about her when she's deep in a trance, and it takes all his willpower not to think about that. "Usually I'd say surround her with friends, but that's not going to work here, is it?"

"Unless we video chat, no. But I wouldn't know who to call, except maybe her sister."

Shutting her books with a satisfying thunk, she voices the first thought that comes to mind. "Well, I guess you can take her out to lunch, then. Rachel knows a lot about this sort of thing, and while I'm not exactly a relationship expert I'm a decent listener. We'll gang up on her."

You know, that sounds like an okay idea to him, all things considered. Frankly, he's been a bit stuck mentally, wanting to provide Reyna with support but not wanting to suffocate her at a fragile stage. However, he's been threatening to introduce her to his friends for a while so this wouldn't exactly resemble an ambush, which is nice. No time like the present, right? "I'm down if you are."

"Today good, then? I'm pretty sure Rache is also free," she mumbles, pulling out her phone and briefly checking her calendar. When her slanted eyes relax into a satisfied nod, he knows she's available. "Sub shop on Main Street, then. Everyone likes sandwiches. I'll just text Rachel, you get her over there as a surprise, 'kay?"

"I love you, Annabeth," he says with absolute seriousness. It's a little awed, a little hopeless, and entirely candid, so much so that he doesn't process what he's said until it's out in the open air.

The blonde falters for a second, features giving way to something soft and vulnerable, a bright spark of fondness catching in her irises. "I . . ." she tries, but the words don't materialize. His cheeks, he's sure, are a blazing red. "I should get going, huh?" she sighs instead, shaking her head. There's no way he could have imagined that look she gave him, that impossible heart-stutter that lit up her face and made his chest catch immediately. But as she packs up, it's almost entirely gone, framed only by the promise, "I'll see you at 11:30, don't be late," and the swish of her hair as she walks out the door.

By the time Percy thinks to unfreeze and go after her, she's already far down the block.

"You're scheming," the brunette mumbles dryly into her hot cocoa, blended with cinnamon and cream for an extra kick. She especially misses the drink mixer from back home and he thinks that the street-side vendor that sold her the steaming cup reminds her of New Rome University. "I don't like it when you scheme. It undermines the whole 'non-assuming-good-guy' shtick you've got going for you." She takes another sip and clearly burns her tongue, but the only indication she gives is a flickering of the lips. It's almost unnerving, how much self control she has over all the aspects of her life.

"I'm just taking you out to eat, Rey," he says nonchalantly. In response, she clearly sticks her free hand in her pocket to avoid giving him the bird and adopts a sour, unconvinced expression. "Okay, there is a reason, but it's not a bad one."

"I think skipping breakfast constitutes a trauma for you, Percy. Gods, you get a nosebleed and it's the end of the world. So what constitutes a bad situation to you, exactly?" He shrugs with a knowing smile. The brunette doesn't blink and it prompts him to give a reply. Though he loves her, Reyna scares him.

"Um. Murder? Monsters destroying Manhattan? I don't know, think apocalyptic."

"Apocalyptic is loosing your wallet," she sniffs, and she reaches into her pocket. Slid neatly between two fingers was, in fact, his wallet, and his eyes narrow.

"How did you -"

"Someone's distracted today. It fell out of your jeans at least ten minutes ago, Jackson. You need help."

"Thanks, armchair psychologist."

"Anytime, Percy." As they reach the building and walk inside, Percy unsubtlety starts to check for the girls. Reyna shakes her head; she's not embarrassed, or mad, just horribly confused and probably thinking that this is just typical. He quite enjoys inadvertently pestering her. "Percy, I take it there's a reason you're scanning the DNA strands of the clientele. What's going on?"

In the back, he spies Rachel's enormous mass of vibrant hair, let loose in a delicate frizzy mane resembling that of a lion. For once, he's very happy that her head is the exact color of a stoplight - it makes it a lot easier to locate her in crowds like this one. Instantly he begins to shepard a tired Reyna towards them, much to her chagrin.

"Rey, I'd like you to meet some of my friends," he announces with a wide grin, and her eyes extend outwards in something akin to shock.

"I am wearing a three day old shirt and skinny jeans with an oil stain on the front, Percy. This is the most unpresentable I've looked in weeks!"

"It's college, they'll forgive you. And you're fine, by the way."

"I appreciate the sentiment but I really wish you -"

"I'm Rachel," the redhead interrupts, all smiles. She extends a pale hand freckled with silver powder and dark blue acrylic paint, almost making her skin resemble a galaxy brushed with stardust. "And you must be Reyna. Percy's told us a bit about you, it's nice to meet you." Recognition dawns dimly on Reyna's features.

"Oooooh, Rachel Dare the artist. Yeah, I've heard about you too. He showed me some of your paintings, they're really good." The outgoing woman practically glows.

"Which ones did you see?"

"Um, the self portrait, the truck on the beach, and the bluescale Empire State building were my favorites. Your facial structures were very impressive, I almost thought some of them were photos."

"Thanks, I've been working really hard on them. The biggest challenge isn't really proportion anymore, it's more about pigmentation and how to effectively blend shadows and reflections. They kill me, the little extra highlights, and sometimes I get slightly overzealous." She pulls out her phone and sticks her tongue through her lips, muscles taunt with concentration. "Let me just . . . find my online portfolio . . ."

At this point, Annabeth smiles fondly and seizes her opening. "So I'm Annabeth Chase, it's good to meet you. You're an exchange student, right?"

"From San Francisco, yeah. It's nice here, but I've got to admit that I miss home." The blonde nods understandingly.

"It's always what'll call to you at the end of the day. Actually, I used to live in San Francisco for a few years, a good portion of my step-family still does." The aspiring architect smiles as if recounting prior golden days. "What was your favorite part about the city? I was always a big fan of the buildings - they've got so much innovative construction there from decades ago and it's all still standing. Like, it's crazy to think that the Golden Gate Bridge is used to this day."

"I liked the architecture but I think I appreciated the vibe more - every city has a different feel unique to its history, and I was always kept on my toes when I was living there. Somedays it's deafening and there's swarms of people outside at all hours and other times it's strangely peaceful and tame, like the world's taking a breather. I loved it, though I spent most of my time exclusively on campus."

"Found it!" Rachel states victoriously, pumping her fist in the air. "I knew it was in there somewhere. 'Beth, I haven't shown you the latest one yet either, so this is a two-for-one reveal. I think I'm gonna call it 'Swirling Cosmos', I haven't reapplied the white splotches though and the concept is still shifting but -"

"It's beautiful," Reyna says, a little bit in awe. "Is that a person?"

"Yeah, I've been working on blending real world figures and imagery so I decided to go for something more artsy and outside my comfort zone. Actually, I was working on it before I got out and walked over."

"Send it to us?" Annabeth adds, zooming in. "The detail is amazing, Rache. I can make out tiny constellations flecked with gold dust, it's insane."

"Please do," the brunette nods vigorously. "I love it."

As they all exchanged numbers, the indomitable Reyna Avila Ramirez-Arellano lets loose an unencumbered laugh for the first time in days. It sounds an awful lot like success.

Annabeth nudges his leg under the table, mentally telling him, 'told you it'd work out'. He hooks his foot around hers and faintly rolls his eyes as if to respond, 'I know, you win again Wise Girl'. Though the message probably transmitted loud and clear, he proceeds to order and eat lunch with his legs tangled with hers. His heart remains in his throat and it gets harder and harder to choke it down whenever he looks at his best friend.

"Thank you," the strong woman coughs out a week later. Rachel had just sent her a horribly outdated meme and she hadn't been able to stop giggling. "Thank you for giving them to me. I . . . I needed people, you know?" At that moment, a text notification from Annabeth appears, informing them that she passed her calculus final with flying colors. It pings on both of their screens with a fine whistle and the sound makes Percy smile.

"Yeah, I know." He has no clue what he'd do without them.

Now it's not that he didn't mean to ask out his best friend, but after Reyna and the Jason drama (and he wishes he could dislike Jason, and he's tried, but the guy is too damn nice and a freaking model citizen, and when he looks at Piper Percy truly can't imagine them not dating, so with some reluctance he's kind-of become Jason's friend and it's interesting to say the least) he's been a little distracted. But now another month's gone by and he can't remember what it was like to see the blonde and not want to hold her hand or run hands through her curls, so it's high time to deal with his borderline obsession before it consumes him and he gets shipped off to a mental ward.

Reyna happens to see him buying flowers, though, which might be a telling sign that he's plotting something.

He didn't think anyone would see him; he was halfway across the city and at a very small, very unnoticeable hole-in-the-wall florist place. The only reason he really comprehends its existence is because his mom used to work there part-time for a few months when money was lacking, but when she got a new job that paid better at the candy store across the street she decided to leave. It was a shame - the store's manager was a sweet old lady and her walls were always a spotless cheerful buttercup, and overall the whole place always gave off an air of friendliness. However, he hadn't counted on Ms. Amazon Heiress to be waltzing down this part of town in order to reach the post office, because apparently even with their advanced shipping ploys Reyna didn't trust Amazon to deliver and receive from campus. "I just wanted to send a postcard," she'd protested, and he'd fired back with, "Reyna, you have the internet, never say those words again," but. Long story short, he was now sharing breathing room with a feisty warlord in the making.

"Are you seriously looking up flower meanings, Jackson?" she huffs gently, glancing over his shoulder. "You know, out of all the things I thought you'd be doing this afternoon, that one wasn't high up on the list."

"I think girls like that?" he winces. It's not supposed to be a question but at that moment he realizes that he has no freaking clue what he's doing, so. Forget life.

"Annabeth knows squat about flower symbology, okay? So just pick something with nice colors or her favorite blooms, it honestly doesn't matter to her as long as it's from you." That's pretty solid advice. Maybe he should have brought along one of his unsuspecting female friends to ensure that his decisions are good before making moves on girls he potentially wants to go out with.

And then comes the money shot: Annabeth.

"You know?" His voice climbs an octave or two and summons up blurry horrors from his prepubescent years.

"Everyone knows," she says bluntly, but not without kindness. "Percy, I knew from the second you looked at her in the sub shop. You were gone." She twirls a daisy between her fingers. "I can see why, though. She's clever, beautiful, strong, funny - gods, she's perfect. And I'm glad to call her a friend." She smiles in a way that's both thankful and bittersweet. For the first time, the marine biology student wonders if Reyna had started to like him in a non-platonic fashion.

"You don't -"

"No, no, I'm good. Yes, you're cute and considerate and good company, but you had an Annabeth waiting for you. Girls like me, we can't compete with Annabeth Chases, and that's alright." She blows a strand of hair out of her eyes, suddenly serious. "But if you hurt her, I will hunt you down. And vice versa. So don't screw this up." If she had had a knife in hand right now, Percy would actually be trembling.

"I . . . appreciate the sentiment behind that declaration of murder, Rey."

"You're obtuse," she tells him. If that's an insult then he doesn't know how to respond, so he opts to shrug instead. "Now, you clearly need lots of help. Which ones does she like?"

"Poppies and Dahlias," he says. He's blushing but he decides to ignore that in hopes that Reyna takes pity on his dilapidated soul and doesn't mention it. "She likes the more autumnal colors - I think all the red reminds her of the strawberry fields of her old summer camp. After her mom died she spent a lot of time there and the best bits of her childhood were spent away from home." His companion nods firmly and adds some to a small bouquet, throwing in a few lilies and marigolds for variety.

"Don't fail," she warns.

"I will try not to," the college student replies with a wave.

He stands outside her door with a custom flower arrangement and a whole slew of emotional anxieties. Once he knocks, things are either going to go very well or horribly, horribly wrong. Given his luck, he should probably just throw in the towel now.

Instead, he takes a deep breath and presses his knuckles to the wood.

Here we go.

Chapter Text

For a split second, he considers ding-dong-ditching. It barely worked in the sixth grade but that's alright, he's just desperate enough to try again as an almost full grown man with rent and a career lined up. Would his age make his actions more or less pathetic? He could drop the flowers and run fast enough to be out of sight, right?

That's a stupid plan. Bad plan. He should forget that plan.

He swallows very hard and pulls down his shirt, which really doesn't need to be adjusted. Percy knocks on the door to her room.

A second after doing this, he realizes one Thalia Grace also lives there and he might get her instead. Thalia, who is both very uninterested and very vocal about her ability to maim things with her bare fists.

Nope nope nope don't think about that right now, he mentally scolds himself. That is actually going to give you a panic attack. Please don't faint of fear.

Though he tries to make the voices in his head settle, they continue to run around manically insisting that he should take cover. So many things could go wrong, like he could get smited. By who, he's not sure, but that sort of thing must happen all the time, right?

(Gods, he hates his overactive imagination sometimes.)

Percy attempts to remind himself of why this was a good idea. He's got something resembling a shot. He's reasonably intelligent, fairly attractive, athletic, decently funny, not an ass, and he genuinely knows, cares about, and is close to Annabeth. Maybe she'll go out with him, maybe she won't. Hopefully it won't be too awkward following any possible 'let's just be friends' declarations. Maybe -

"Hey, Seaweed Brain," Annabeth smiles, opening the door to the hall wide open. The ends of her hair are wet - she must have just come back from the showers. She smells, overwhelmingly so, like fresh soap and lavender, and, as her hair always does, lemons (recently accompanied by sweet mint). She's in a black summer dress, the kind she usually never wears, but he knows for a fact that this one was a present from her dad and stepmom for Christmas so she'd liked that they cared enough to send it - their relationship had been tumultuous at best when she was little and her widowed father had remarried and the opposing parties had only made amends about seven years ago. "It has pockets," she had announced affirmatively when she got the package, and he had melted. As a general observer might note, the dress looked good on her. Like, really good. It was flowy and light yet cinched at the waste, spaghetti strap with a sweetheart neckline. And, as any preteen boy might tell you, bare shoulders were the epitome of sexiness.

(What was his name again?

That part doesn't matter so much - he can't seem to forget hers.)

"Wise Girl," he says, hoping she doesn't realize that he's sweating bullets. He has no clue what exactly to tell her - all the words left his head the moment he saw her and it's some sort of silent agony.

Percy, as a rule of thumb, is pretty good with girls. He was never the most popular or most handsome prospect in every stomping ground, but he did have girlfriends throughout his schooling days and he managed to be somewhat charming and suave around them. With 'Beth, it's different. He's never been less than utterly himself and that means she's seen him at his worst and most desperate. He relies on her heavily. He can't exactly pre-plan elegance with her; she knows better.

Luckily, she spies the bouquet and her ears go pink. "Did you get me flowers? Like, actual flowers?"

That, at least, jolts him out of his stupor. "Yeah, this morning I went to this shop downtown. I know you like the fall color scheme and that dahlias are some of your favorites, so. I hope you like them and that you somehow have a vase in your dorm room so these don't wither and die."

"I don't, but I do have a spare water bottle," she replies, tucking a strand of almost-dry hair behind her ear. Her grin doesn't so much get wider as it grows softer, more vulnerable. It's a side of her that he doesn't see all that often, only catches glimpses of in particular moments that mean something (TM). He supposes this qualifies as one.

(Well, that's a confidence boost he sorely needed.)

As she fills the top-less hydro-flask and he sits on her tiny couch, he has to admit, he does relax. Percy begins to float into the Annabeth-designated mode his brain establishes for whenever his heart convulses around her and the world grows foggy. It's nice, as it reminds him that his was a good idea and this doesn't need to send his thoughts into a madcap, terrified scramble.

A healthy amount of anxious adrenaline remains, don't get him wrong. It's just that now it's accompanied by other things, like a pinch of perspective.

"So, out of curiosity," she says from the sink, finally shutting off the tap, "what inspired you to bring me flowers?"

"I guess I just wanted to," he shrugs, and oh look at that, he's smiling uncontrollably. That's the opposite of suave and sexy. (His chest is pounding. He might just combust. He's never felt so alive.)

"Alllll-righhhhhht," she drawls with a laugh, but now her neck is blossoming into shades of pink, the light and delicate colors creeping up her skin. "That makes a lot of sense."

"It's not a lie, if that's what you mean."

"It's just . . . weird, I guess. When was the last time you got someone flowers, Seaweed Brain?"

He's pretty damn honest when he responds with, "Never. I mean, I got flowers for my mom when she published her books and sometimes on holidays, but other than that, never. But you're one of my best friends and I've known you for years and honestly it's a lot different than when I get my mom flowers, so."

The blonde blinks. For someone so incredibly smart she's a little taken aback by where this conversation is going. " . . . So, the reason behind the flowers is . . ."

For this part, he has to stand up and look her straight in the eyes, so he does. "Well, I'm pretty sure I'm in love with you. Or, at the very least, that I have a suedo-psychotic crush on you that's been around since a few summers ago. You are almost entirely to blame for the fact that I'm emotionally oblivious around other girls and the reason that I'm not currently dating anyone, because no matter how many times I can say 'we're just friends, don't get carried away', I can't stop looking at you and feeling things." She appears frozen solid. That's better than traumatized, honestly, and at least she's not running for cover. "Like, for some entirely unholy reason I freaking love it when you argue with people. Full-blown anger comes out when someone asks you questions you've deemed below your mental level because you know you're smarter than that, and when you fight with me it's honestly the most fun I've ever had, even though you win a lot. And when you talk about architecture, about building something to last for centuries, your face literally lights up like a Christmas tree, 'Beth, and it's incredible to find someone so passionate about concrete and scaffolding as you. I do not understand exactly what you see in peanut butter and banana sandwiches but you are absolutely ready to fight anyone who calls them an abomination, and the same goes for your friends, broken and messed up as they may be." He pauses, there, squinting. "And just so you know, peanut butter and bananas are an abomination, Annabeth, it's awful. But your flaws are kind of lovable too, like your defense of shitty sandwiches. You are an irredeemable perfectionist and you have no self control around chocolate, you push yourself way too hard - I wish you wouldn't, but you do, and you should let us take care of you more often - and you can never say no to someone in need. You think you could fix the world if you were in charge and you absolutely despise giving up control. I know you better than I know myself so when I say I love you, I'm not joking around or anything. I'm a bit of a lost cause." He finally tears his eyes from hers, noting how wide they are. It's almost like Annabeth has evolved into a state of paraplegic shock and will require extensive resuscitation.

He waits for a minute, and about ten seconds in his antsy ADHD brain, despite medication, is begging him to bolt or scream or tap-dance because it wants to do anything other than stand here and await the proverbial guillotine.

He essentially unleashed, with little to no internal deliberation or lead in, several years worth of repressed thoughts and emotions in a single long-as-hell monologue. Gods, it was a lot to take in, he knows. He just wishes she'd say something so he could stop panicking.

(Shit shit shit he's about to panic if she doesn't say something soon.

That was dumb. That was really, really dumb.)

"You don't have to . . ." he starts, but her face is so glossy - that better not be tears welling up - that he just has to fade out of conversation. (Shoot!)

He clears his throat again.

"You don't have to say anything right now, it's fine if you . . ." Mercilessly pound my heart into the ground? "Don't feel the same way, or something, it's okay." Nope, that makes it sound like he doesn't care. "I mean, it's not okay, I'll sort of be a mess -" Too desperate, too selfish, stop now abort abort . . . "- but after a few rounds or resuscitative therapy I should be okay, and I don't want to force you into anything. I mean, whatever you want I'll be good with. Or I'll try to be. I just . . ." What did he want? What did he think this would accomplish? "You." He coughs. That was . . . not helping. "To continue being my friend. Even if it doesn't work out."

"Percy, I don't . . ." she finally says, and oh look, he's actually made her cry. That's a not-good thing he's done - no one is ever supposed to make Annabeth Chase cry. He wishes there was a button he could press to eject himself into the void of space, but alas, he's button-less. "I don't know what to say."

(Instinctively, he takes a step back - retreating is just what he does when he's about to lose people, and he's terrified of what she's about to do. She's probably finding the words to let him down easy with, right? Shoot. Grover and Rachel and Reyna and all his other friends were going to die a bloody death by his lonely, incredibly single hands, provided he's able to recover from his depression slump and regain the motivation to kill them one by one.)

And then, out of nowhere, Annabeth sees his subconscious shuffle and acts on what he has to assume is pure animal instinct. Her eyes narrow, her back draws back, and she leans forward and actually judo-flips him.

What. The ever-loving hell.

Now, he'd assumed that Beth could physically destroy him for years, as could most of the members of his closed circle of friends. However, he never once thought that after sensing his utter panic she'd actually be able to grab his wrist and swing him into the floor like a sack of potatoes. It's incredibly surreal.

Mind you, every bone in his body is aching from being driven into the carpet at 120 mph and he's pretty sure she's dislocated his hand, but it's nothing short of incredible. Even broken, he's too far gone.

"Seaweed Brain, still alive?" she questions, worry seeping in seconds afterwards.

He groans, which probably doesn't inspire much confidence. "All my limbs are still attached."

"Good, because I'm not finished talking and you're not going anywhere, idiot," she tells him, chest heaving ferociously from both the sudden motion and the blatant concern. Her arm is still squeezing his. "You were actually going to leave before hearing what I had to say?"

"Well, is there another declaration you want me to make tonight? A rousing speech about ending global hunger and instating world peace as a -"

"Dammit, Percy, I really hate you sometimes," Annabeth groans, and it's then that she sinks to the ground next to him. Her freckles glow against the red of her face. "You're so damn lucky I love you."

His eyes . . . well. In cartoons, he'd seriously doubted that conventional physics would be able to allow human facial features to grow dramatically to the size of saucers, but now he's fairly certain the myth's been confirmed. "You . . ."

"Please be quiet now," she says, and then it's a very simple slotting of lips to lips.

In books and movies, the potency of first kisses is captured with fireworks and whistles and bright flashes of color and light. There's heat and passion and alarms blaring and world halting and it's all meant to be wrapped up in a blanket of awe and magic. Percy, absentmindedly, doesn't believe any of it after kissing Annabeth. All the dramatic attraction and commotion is a smokescreen, and all the heavy romanticism would be much better attributed to the quick and desperate explorations undertook with his first few girlfriends (a bunch of Stacey Smiths or Celia Mays or Anne Grants or a slew of other forgettable, unremarkable footnotes better left forgotten). This is nothing like that because she is nothing like that.

Annabeth is a symphony of sensation, as she always is: there is the sweeping curve of her neck, the intense blonde and lemon of her hair, the rolling thunder behind her irises, the pianist fingers that might, given more time, dance across his ribs like black-and-white keys. When she kisses him, it's as if thoughts fly away, caught in that crucial place between reality and dreams. Her lips breed smiles than flit from her mouth to his, that bleed into her toes and pool through his very being. Skin on skin is warmth that culminates, that spreads like spools of silken gold and wrap tightly around his brain, continuing to draw his hands instinctively to her waist, that pull her arms around his chest. They are a tangle on the floor, an absolute jumble of poured sunshine and new beginnings and an awful lot of feelings and hope, but the world does not stop like stereotypes insist it should. The planet spins on, faster and more vibrant, the ill-defined corners and hazy shadows illuminated by new understanding and acceptance. It's not raunchy, or particularly suggestive, but Percy feels it like a fever he can't - and doesn't want to - sweat out. This is what it's like, he manages to think deliriously. This is what it's supposed to be like. This is what right is. And it begins and ends with Annabeth Chase.

The one thing that media has managed to capture correctly: loving someone is a hell of a lot like finally coming home.

When they first disconnect, Percy's conscious mind takes a few moments to fully register that life is no longer the same. He's jittery, unstable, and yet he feels like his very blood has been hot-wired, like he can take on the world and come out on top. And when he looks at Annabeth, hair disheveled, pupils blown wide and dotted with extra silver, he can't help but grin all over again.

This was, quite possibly, the best idea he's ever had.

(Why the hell did he get so scared?

Annabeth inflicts raging destruction on those who cross her, but he was special. She loved him.)

"Wise Girl," he starts to tell her. There's no attempt at a grand romantic gesture - right now, she's curled on her living room floor next to him, arm still strewn atop his side, mouth puffy and tweaked from a kiss she gave him, and with her so close he'd honestly pay to stay there forever. "I would absolutely love it if you would go to dinner with me tonight." The aspiring architect hums as if thinking it over, burying her cheek in his shoulder as if she hasn't given herself away. It's endearing, and now he'll think thoughts like that whenever he wants.

"Dinner and a movie," she eventually responds. "A terrible one. A complete waste of money. I want to plot-poke it to hell and back." He grins wider, if that's possible.

"And after?"

"Bold of you to presume there's going to be an after," the blonde replies immediately, biting down a full beam.

"What can I say? I'll take my chances."

"If you survive -"

"I'm fairly confident I will."

"- an entire evening in my presence -" she continues, and oh look, the smile has burned through after all.

"I have faith in my capabilities of charm and persuasion, thank you very much."

"- then maybe I'd allow you to walk around the park with me, followed by an escort back to my humble domicile."

He quirks up an eyebrow. "And we'd be eating ice cream, right?"

"At eleven at night, Seaweed Brain?"

"It's very us, you have to admit," the marine biology student grins. For no reason she finds herself laughing (her laughs are not delicate but full and deep, never faked and dosed with a healthy amount of snort, and even though it's throaty and she hates it slightly he finds the sound addictive), he laughs with her, and it's an awful good thing that they're both already horizontal - they would have fallen over and died otherwise.

"We're an 'us', Percy?" she finally asks him between frantic gasps for air. This is how it's meant to be - her and him, a mess on the floor together. He wants to spend the rest of his life laughing.

"I would really really like there to be an Us, full stop, 'Beth," he says. It's the truth. "And if you actually go out with me tonight, there will be. I'm all or nothing."

She knits her fingers through his, eye twinkling with mirth. "You know, I always thought we made a pretty good team."

They eat at a small hole-in-the-wall burger joint because Annabeth wants shake fries, and frankly he's inclined to give Annabeth whatever she wants at the present. (If he were feeling more sappy - or, alternatively, was a little tipsy - he'd offer up his heart. But that's rather silly - he already gave her that thing years ago.)

It's not fancy. Annabeth is in two-day old eyeliner, a messy ponytail that keeps getting yanked by the wind, and a blouse that's escaping its careful tuck into her jeans, but she's also wearing one of his oversized flannels so all in all he's a fan of the ensemble. When she walks along the street she holds his hand, and when she points at historic buildings it's always to show him some unique design feature she's passionate about. True to form, she talks through the whole film, which was a god-awful chick flick about two average busy adults finding love (read: She's a small-town baker with big dreams and he's an ex-model settling down as the new elementary school teacher, will their instant attraction grow into something that lasts?). He cannot remember being more obnoxious in a theater - he couldn't stop goading her on or snorting, which probably didn't endear them to the people around them. Annabeth's digs frankly made the whole experience survivable.

Lastly, they do in fact get ice cream and walk around the city. It's low key, there are no concrete plans, and the dimming street lamps and reemergence of sun spots on the horizon as they finally arrive back at campus probably mean that they spent way too much time out. But when she tries to hand back his shirt and he stops her, probably reciting a stupid line his brain kindly decided to whitewash from his memory, she smiles so widely it's almost painful to watch.

"You're free tomorrow, too," she announces. It's not a question, just a command of fact.

"And so are you," he agrees, cottoning on instantly.

"So, can we say six?"

"I'm coming directly after classes, Wise Girl, and then I'm abducting you for the whole night. This is a non-negotiable thing."

"Sounds great." It does, doesn't it? "Oh, and Percy?"

"Yeah?" She kisses him again. It's just as warm and sensational and all-consuming as it was before, and her mouth burns a hole in his stomach.

She's far too smug when she pulls back. Now there's the sadistic streak he knows and loves, she's been far too accommodating all day for it to be banished completely.

"Have fun walking home," the blonde calls, quickly pecking his cheek and closing the door. His fragile ego is only appeased when he hears her squeal to Thalia from behind the door ("Thals, I have to tell you everything, it's been a day and I -" "Annie, I love you, but it's two in the freaking morning and you just woke me up and I am not lucid enough for you to start pterodactyl screaming yet, okay?").

Being his mother, Sally Jackson is the first to find out. He happens to text her something along the lines of: So Annabeth and I are kinda dating now, just thought I'd let you know. Seeing that, not a minute later she calls and he can hear the tears in her eyes.

"Percy?" she starts. "Something you want to elaborate on?"

He goes for cheeky first - he's feeling bashful. "Well, it's a lovely morning today, Mom, blue skies as far as the eyes can see. Want me to tell you about my new haircut? It's not a mullet, so I've got that going for me."

"Oh honey, you know why I'm calling," she fusses, smiling over the other end. "Stop being charming and tell me exactly how it happened."

"The non-mullet?"

The brunette woman laughs heartily, the kind of echoing chuckle that fills a room with warmth. "Annabeth, Percy. How did you snag my future daughter in law?"

The college student has to admit that he melts beneath those words. "Well, I came to her room with flowers -"

"Orange ones?" she interrupts, and he realizes with a grin that he's told his mom just about everything he knows on Annabeth Chase.

"Yes, orange ones, her favorites. And then she let me in and I kind of just . . . spewed the words? Everywhere?" His tone turns grim. "Mom, it was worse than the fifth grade field trip."

"Aquarium shark tank and all?"

"It was a new level of disaster, even for me."

"I doubt that highly if she's still going out with you," his mother appraises with her infinite wisdom. "Now, what was it like? What did she say?"

"Well . . ." He tells her the rest of the story in borderline-excruciating detail and lots of rambling, to which Sally replies with fond comments and much cooing.

He leaves out the part about her judo-flipping him, though. Much as she loves him, Sally would never let him live it down.

At the very end of the hour-long conversation his mother states simply, "She's the one." It is in no way a question.

"It's . . . well, it's been a day. A lot can happen."

"Percy, it's been years. She's your one." She says it with absolute conviction. "There can be multiple ones in a lifetime, but she is a one. I really hope you two are happy, alright?"

"Alright, mom," the raven-haired boy replies softly, and oh, when did that tear roll down his face? (He elects to ignore it - he's entitled to feel sensitive now and again, okay?) "We'll try our best."

"I know you will, honey. Bring her along next time you visit, okay?"

"Sounds like a plan."

When the friend group finds out, it's at a mass trip to the beach they'd planned almost nine weeks prior, but it almost seems a bit like fate when Percy looks out at all his makeshift family and sees them all in one place, happy and bursting with life.

Seriously, they rented out an enormous cabin for the weekend and it's. Well. It's probably everyone he actually knows and cares about.

Of course there's Grover and Juniper, his actual oldest and dearest companions who happened to be back in town again for a visit. Currently they're sitting on a blanket in the sand, June laughing hysterically at something her boyfriend said - probably a plant pun, if he's being totally honest. They're terrible at best but Grover never runs out of them and Juniper never stops giggling, so Percy figures it's just one of their many things that couples develop. As she leans against his shoulder and they take in the afternoon, legs intertwined, Percy cannot imagine them anywhere else.

Rachel is there, splashing in the waves eagerly as Thalia attempts to teach her how to surf. Thalia, much to Percy's surprise, is a master of every damn sport known to man and in only a bathing suit, it's abundantly clear that she has a pristine six-pack and calves that can cut glass, which is more than a little intimidating. He's not out of shape by any stretch of the imagination, but he's not superhuman. Frankly, in mannerisms alone Thalia is an apex predator, and when she smiles it's downright wolfish. But seeing her like this, patiently teaching a bubbly Rachel Dare how to jump up on a board, is almost a little touching. Thalia is a genuinely caring, patient, kind person when around those she loves.

A bunch of his new buddies pitched in, too - Hazel had never been to a beach before and was practically squealing with excitement when she got there, reveling in the feel of sand beneath her feet and salt against her skin. Frank trailed behind her like a lumbering giant, at one point throwing her over his shoulder and tugging her into the water with a booming laugh. The younger girl wasn't put out by it in the slightest - in fact, she welcomed the waves and requested he dunk her with a twinkle in her eyes.

"it's like drowning, but fun!" she exclaims upon coming back up to the surface, curly dark hair plastered sideways against her forehead. "Throw me again?" Frank did. And again. And again.

"She's going to get seawater in her brain," Reyna comments, but it's entirely without bite. She's more than happy to lean back on the grainy white and read a book, bathing in the sun and occasionally picking up shells around her. Suddenly, stiffing a grin, she turns back to the ocean and yells, "Piper, you need some help?!"

"Betrayal!" Jason screeches as his girlfriend maniacally slaps him with another wall of water. He made the mistake of splashing her in the eyes once, and it was just about the biggest regret of his life currently. "Reyna, you're supposed to be on MY side, I'm the victim!"

"She loves me moooooooore!" Piper cackles as she spurts him again. It's not quite a water war that's cultivated, it's more akin to the pulverizing of a single standing army. "Help me destroy him, Rey, steal his glasses!"

Setting down her book and cracking her knuckles, she gets up without hesitation. "Oh, with pleasure." Together, Piper and Reyna are terrifying. Despite the many reasons why Reyna shouldn't like the other girl, she had instead come to know her and sincerely enjoyed being around her. Jason . . . well, it still hurt sometimes, the phantom feelings that flared up, but every day was a little easier to manage, and since becoming Piper McLean's friend it was a lot easier for Rey to move on. Turns out they had a lot in common - no moms, an addiction to all things sweet, and a healthy obsession with making life for their blonde idiot as difficult as possible. It's good for them, and frankly Percy couldn't be happier that they're getting along.

"Leooooooo, avenge me," Jason calls out desperately towards his last ally on the shore, "I need you!"

The latino boy snorts, not bothering to look up from the watch he's carefully dissecting with a screwdriver. "Are you insane? I'm not going up against Piper and Reyna, I value my life thank you very much." The look on Jason's face - absolute and devastating abandonment - is worth a thousand words.

And speaking of a thousand words, Percy's got about ten times as many to describe the girl standing next to him, tucked beneath his arm as if she belongs there.

"How long until they kill themselves?" she asks fondly. He buries his head in her hair - it's as lemony and familiar as always.

"Less than three minutes, tops," he hums, running a hand through the golden locks. He loves that he's able to do that now.

(Also, the kissing thing is great, too. Fantastic, even. But it's the little things like this that bring him joy in life, so.)

"Should we intervene?" she mumbles, tucking her arms around his neck so she can look him in the eyes. "I mean, dragging the bodies back to the cabin is going to be a pain."

"Eh, they can survive a little longer," he whispers back, and when she presses her lips to his it's like liquid sunshine. For a few blissful seconds he truly and fully forgets the rest of the world exists, content to just keep smiling against her mouth.

And then he can hear a loud whoop from one meddlesome Leo Valdez, accompanied by, "Since WHEN?!" and what he assumes is a whistle coming from Rachel's general direction.

Because oops, there are other people around them and this is a public space. Too late, now.

"How long?" Reyna starts, crossing her arms. But, despite the authoritative tone she uses as she walks back to the sands to begin interrogation, he knows she's happy for them.

"About two weeks," he informs, grinning widely. "Sorry for not saying anything." He's not sorry. Like, at all.

"You guys," Hazel says and she begins fanning her face. When she runs up to them her small stature doesn't keep her from positively crushing the pair in a hug. "I knew it I knew it I knew it!"

Thalia has a shit-eating grin, as she should since she was one of the few that knew - he may have called up Grover at about midnight a week ago and mentioned something, so. He might have possibly been in on it.

"It's not that big a deal," Annabeth insists with a helpless smile. "We're just happy, is all."

"Break her heart we break your spine," Piper casually throws out from the back. He sticks out his tongue at her. Jason takes this opportunity to steal back his glasses before his psychotic friends can regain situational priority again.

"Trust me, I'll be doing that myself," the blonde says, pecking his cheek in a way that sends tingles down his spine. "Right, Seaweed Brain?"

"Nothing to worry about, Wise Girl," he responds, and with that they link hands. Leo pretends to hurl and they all gladly ignore it.

(Later in the night, one Thalia Grace comes up to him and pokes him in the stomach. It takes all his willpower not to double over - that would only give her the satisfaction of knowing her evil plan came to fruition.

"I'm glad you two finally got together," she states, ruffling his hair like a mischievous older sister. Coming from Thalia, it means a lot.

"Thanks, 'Lia."

She shrugs. "It's true. Just remember to name one of the kids with me in mind, okay? You wouldn't believe how many rants I got from Annie - trust me, I've earned the right to be immortalized in the next generation."

"Kids?!" he sputters, red in the face.

The spiky-haired woman merely snorts and pats him on the back. "Your happiness is clearly contagious. Just like chlamydia." In a flash, she's gone, probably traveling back to the hellhole from which she spawned.

But kids. Now that's an idea.)

Their fourth year begins with Annabeth Chase muttering the words, "So I was thinking . . ." Percy, from his position on her tiny dorm couch, looks up from the newspaper he was attempting (and failing) to decipher. The print was just so small and blocky, so blotted with thick ink, that it was near impossible for him to read. However, he'd really tried to get better at reading over the summer, though it was all greek to him - his girlfriend did it proficiently, so he would too. If the marine biology student had been so worried about finding a guy good enough for her, it was only fair that once he actually got the dream he should work to become the man he thought she deserved. This was a step in that direction.

(Rachel flat-out told him, "That's the cheesiest thing I've ever heard come out of your mouth, Jackson, and I've heard you romanticize her elbows before." It was a scathing blow, though probably not an undeserved one.

When Rachel eventually finds someone to obsess over he really needs to remind her of this, followed by a healthy dose of mockery and persistent nagging. He'll start a fan-club. Hell, he'll even print out shirts to sell and a portion of the proceeds will go to an obscure art-oriented charity so she can't complain about his meddling. Dare-related escapades are truly a wellspring of opportunity for him - if the whole marine biology thing doesn't work out, maybe this will be his fall-back.)

"You were thinking," he repeats, jarring himself from his inner-monologue as he neatly folds the paper in two. "Well that sounds terrifying. Am I getting executed tonight? If you're planning my demise I'd appreciate it if you could not do that at my mom's tonight, she's really protective of her new carpet and it'd be a shame if my blood stained it forever."

She hums silently as if mulling over the prospect. "Tempting, but not at the moment. Your death at my hands would be a lot more elegant and clean than that, though, Seaweed Brain, the best killers don't leave messy evidence like that. Too much work to hide."

"Ah, so my murder is a mere inconvenience. That's all that's keeping you from doing a hit-and-run on a day-to-day basis?"

She rolls her stormy eyes, not offended in the slightest. As she does nothing but maneuver the kitchen in sweatpants and a racer's back tank, a sock slipping down her right foot and her hair messy and loose, he soaks in the scene. That girl, he thinks, is entirely mine. It's a miracle.

"You're lucky I love you," the blonde sighs, which isn't an answer but he rather likes her response anyhow. She deposits a mug of freshly-brewed coffee from a truly terrible Keurig machine that was probably outdated twenty years ago. It's just about the worst swill they've ever had but it's cheap and located in the comforts of her place which makes it preferable to bearing the autumnal streets.

"Love you too, 'Beth." He means it. When her mouth briefly meets his and she lazily sinks into his side, murmuring softly about how damn freezing her pad is and how heat would be nice when it's less than forty degrees out, he knows she means it too. That more than just about anything - the way she falls into him without thinking or trying - gives him hope. So much so that it's deafening. "You want to say something?"

Her nose scrunches. "About my idea or in general? Because my US History class has made me seriously question the expertise behind executive positions of power. Like, Reagan's economic policies actually spiraled the national debt out of proportion and added a grand two hundred billion a year to loses via defense spending. Isn't that crazy?"

"While that's very interesting I'd much prefer to know what exactly you had to say earlier," the raven haired boy states, casually fiddling with her fingers in his lap. On her palms he sketches invisible circles, looping over the skin in a ceaseless pattern.

"I don't know, I was just thinking maybe we could move in together?"

Percy blinks.

That was . . . not what he was expecting.

"I mean, I obviously trust you," the aspiring architect says with confidence, "and I really don't see us splitting up any time soon."

"What a relief, Wise Girl," he replies wryly, "you're not sick of me after six months of pure agony." His companion swats him with surprising strength. He probably deserved it.

"What I mean," she glares without any true heat, "is that the new semester is starting and it's cheaper and smarter to live off campus and maybe, since you kinda almost live here anyways, that you could live with me. That we could, I don't know, buy or rent a place together?" He opens his mouth to talk and then she cuts him off without allowing for a word edgewise. "Look, I don't know what you were envisioning when you saw us but right now I see waking up with you and sharing shitty coffee just like this, maybe sitting by the television late at night and not saying goodbye because you have to go home to sleep. I think this is a semi-permanent thing that we've got going and I want to build something that lasts, Percy, and after these last few months I'm seriously thinking about building that with you. Because I don't know what life without you is like but I hate the idea of not having you around like this, just sharing the paper on the couch." She swallows loudly and for half a second he gets the insane notion that Annabeth Chase might be nervous. "So what I'm really asking, I think, is if you want a future, and if that begins with moving in and graduating and sticking together as we job-hunt and maybe even move again. And if you think I'm moving too fast here or if that sounds a little crazy, I'd like to know now. Because I know I'm a control freak and I like planning things out, but when it's about this I just -"

"Annabeth," he interrupts, trying not to laugh and thus cause her to implode. "I'd love to go apartment hunting with you. Pull up the listings and I'll go wherever you do." Now his girlfriend blinks, long and hard, and a smile of pure relief breaks out over her features. When she leans into his lap and hugs him it takes forever for her to let go. (In fact, he almost believes she never will.)

As weeks pass, it's evident that Annabeth and Percy are not the only ones making plans for the future. Jason and Piper are definitely considering getting a place together, Frank and Hazel are actually talking child names if you can believe if, Grover and Juniper are discussing opening a small renewable energy firm as a kick-starter company due to their majors in environmental law and business, and Reyna is now beginning to mention an annoying guy who grates her nerves like no one else in her english lecture, a development that makes Percy root for her final shift in the moving on process.

And then, of course, the very single and very erratic Leo Valdez comes up to the group at lunch in the quad with an intriguing tale.

"I've met someone," Leo Valdez declares with a strangely serious and contemplative look on his face. "And I think I like her. A lot."

"Oh, Leo," Piper says softly, glancing at her friend with such hope and pride, almost resembling a touched older sister. "We knew you would."

"What's she like?" Hazel questions encouragingly, leaning forward with anticipation. "I'm sure she's wonderful."

"She's really smart," he begins with, and Percy's eyebrows fly skywards as he realizes that these descriptors will be actual characteristics as opposed to a long list of body features justifying why the girl in question is attractive. All that to say, Leo talked to the woman instead of just observing her from afar and driving her off with cheap pick-up lines.

What do you know? The illusive Leo Valdez might just have found a probably mate after all.

"She's smart in math, yeah, but she's just . . . observant, you know?" the latino boy continues, running a hand through his curly dark hair. "And she's quick, and really funny once you get her humor. She loves helping people and she volunteers a lot, but she's also freaking terrifying when she's mad. Like, seriously, I was afraid she'd kill me, she was so mad . . . but she's also really kind, too, and considerate. She loves music and sings like an angel and she's decent at mechanics and great at sewing and she can cook better than gourmet chefs, I'm not even exaggerating." Here, he grows quiet. "I'm . . . pretty sure her heart's been broken before. By a bunch of guys who didn't hold a candle to her, I'm sure, but she has a hard time trusting people because they never seem to stay, and as a foster-care-troubled-youth-next-family-new-town kid I guess I get that but - guys, she thought my dream of opening up a shop was brave, and I just don't go around and tell women stuff like that. Hell, I'm lucky if I text them once or twice, I just . . . this connection, this thread, it's not like anything else." He slumps back in his chair. He looks completely and utterly destroyed, and for the first time since Percy's met Leo, the mechanic is completely still. "She's beautiful, guys. Way out of my league, way too clever and witty and selfless and gorgeous and everything and I am absolutely certain that there's no way I'd be good enough for her."

Now, if there's one thing that Percy's learned, it's that the dream is absolutely achievable - he gets to get up in the morning tangled in the sheets with her, a blonde girl with long legs and big ideas who whispers stupid stuff like, "You drool too much," at six every damn day. He gets to hear about her grievances, gets to watch her devour food like a banshee after finals, gets to walk her to classes in the afternoons. And it's not because he was superhuman, it's because she wanted him in all his entirety, the idiot who needs help with classes and probably couldn't tie his shoelaces anymore without her supervision. If Percy gets all that, then who says Leo Valdez, the orphaned boy with his head in the clouds and his hands in constant motion, can't win the girl who makes him feel again?

The answer is no one. Absolutely no one.

"If you like her all that much, go for it, man," Percy nudges, giving Leo a pat on the back. "And if she doesn't reciprocate you'll still want her around, right?"

"Ideally yes," the other man grumbles, scratching the back of his neck self-consciously. "But that also implies that she'll want me to continue hanging out with her, and as someone entirely beneath her I can say with confidence that she will be calling the shots."

"Whipped already?" Rachel comments. It's more of an observation than a real jab, but the aspiring mechanic flushes deeply anyhow.

"Rachel Elizabeth Dare, I will actually set fire to your house tonight."

She shrugs. "That's alright. The property's insured." He groans and drops his head into his arms, mumbling something lowly about redheads being more trouble than they're worth.

Reyna simply pats his head. "If she's the one, you'll find out soon enough."

"i appreciate your pity, Rey," he responds quietly, not looking up. Piper fiddles with his hair across the table for the rest of the hour whilst Jason and Hazel attempt to gently pry more details from him.

Annabeth squeezes Percy's hand in sympathy beneath the table. He rests his chin atop her forehead and proceeds to press careful swirls into her knuckles.

Leo will get there, and if he doesn't, then he'll still have all of them. It's not the same thing, but it's a damn sight better than nothing at all.

Reyna happens to go apartment searching with them. At times the two girls make him feel like an awkward third wheel observer in an unpopular episode of House Hunters.

"This one has a great location and the floors are in decent shape, but the kitchen countertops do not go with the cabinets, Annabeth," the modern-day Valkyrie notes. "I mean, black on lime green? It's ghastly. Like a Tim Burton movie set."

"Yes, but the layout is really convenient and if we painted over the preexisting cabinets -"

"Maybe you should negotiate the paint costs with the landlord, that color is actually an affront to my eyesight and I think you can legally call it a hazard to human health, so -"

"We could do that, yeah, but about the window placement -" the blonde starts, gesturing at the white windowpanes and taking out an actual ruler to measure the sides.

"Only twenty inches? But for an apartment this size I mean -"

"Where do we sign?" Percy interrupts with a cough. The frazzled realtor standing in the corner straightens her blazer and begins pulling up documents from inside her manila folder.

"Seaweed Brain," Annabeth responds, "we didn't even start to say anything about price point or feasibility or -"

"As you and your surrogate girlfriend have so nicely put -" Reyna waves from the side. "- it makes sense. It's close to campus and our favorite haunts, it's got good bones, and if the worst thing we can debate on is the color of the cabinets then I think we'll survive." He pauses. "Plus, you were in love with it since we stepped inside, so. It's a win for me."

The aspiring architect blinks, then blurts out, "I love you."

"Yup, and don't forget it, I'm going to be painting cabinets for you and it's going to get all over my jeans. I only have, like, two good pairs, Annabeth, I'm sacrificing so much for your happiness."

"I love you," she repeats again, a giddy expression overtaking her face, and Reyna uncomfortably shuffles in the corner.

"If you guys are about to viciously make out, say something now so I can leave," she mutters with genuine fear. "While I love you guys, I don't want to witness the conception of your future spawn."

"It'll only be a minute," his girlfriend tells their friend with a wink that's only half-joking before she crashes her lips to his.

If anyone's curious, they sign the contract exactly forty five minutes later.

Of all the different Annabeth Chases Percy is lucky enough to know, this one is definitely his favorite. The one with golden hair fanning out against their pillows, eyelashes fluttered closed and makeup-less. She's got sleep around her eyes and a bit of a snoring problem and yes, there's a few blackheads here and there. A pajama sock is slipping down her heel and a pant leg is halfway up her knee, and frankly her arms are strewn out akimbo in a way that would be physically impossible to achieve while conscious. As far as attractiveness goes, she's far from picturesque when sleeping - it's about her least put together, actually. Contrary to the media's fond and long-held belief that beautiful people remain just as beautiful and alluring when dead to the world, sleeping people are just about the most uncomposed and unappealing batch of humans you could possibly find. And yet, this is a relaxed and utterly trusting Annabeth, one that doesn't know worry or stress or fear. The rise and fall of her chest is remarkably stable and calm, a metronome he cannot fall asleep without now that he's memorized it's steady hum, and it continues to amaze him that she feels safe and unafraid because heis sleeping beside her. This is an Annabeth no one can see but him, an Annabeth he doesn't have to share or describe or riddle out, and it's incredible that such a woman exists.

Eventually, though, she stirs - it might be due to the sunlight streaming in from the curtains they forgot to draw shut the night before, or the fact that he's been doodling invisible stars on her forearms with his fingers for the past half hour. When she actually returns to the realm of the living it's similarly un-dainty. She yawns and he gets full exposure to the natural phenomena known as morning breath, coupled with a stretch that nearly ends with a fist breaking his nose. But then she snuggles her head into the crook of his neck and in a throaty voice utters the words, "'Morning, Seaweed Brain, you slept well?"

"Good morning, Wise Girl," he responds, grinning lazily. "I slept like an actual rock, as usual."

She grimaces. "Your mouth smells like death." Because he's a good boyfriend, he proceeds to breathe directly into her face. You know, like a child. "Stop, gross, get away!"

"Come closer?" he responds haughtily, grabbing her waist and deflecting her many shoves. He's tickling her until she's gasping for air, protests bubbling between spouts of laughter. The blonde knees him hard but he refuses to yield, not until she stops squirming.

"I hate you so much, Percy," his girlfriend ekes out, swatting his arm. "Somedays I forget you're, like, an actual adult working to get his degree in a serious field of study."

The college student kisses her on the cheek - sloppily, to maintain his current image as 'terror of her existence', but with genuine sentiment. "Love you too, 'Beth, accidental maiming and all."

She huffs. "Like any maiming on my part would be accidental." The blonde smiles at him, small and resigned, her lips saying simply, What am I going to do with you? He has no clue where that essential strain of logic will lead to, but he's pretty damn glad that she cares enough to try and figure it out.

When they all graduate, tears are shed. Sally definitely cries, Paul gets misty, and Percy refuses to acknowledge that he may or may not have been emotional (but he was, and Grover will testify that he tears up in the stands just a few minutes before tossing his cap).

Grover, Juniper, Rachel, Jason, and Piper are staying local as of now. Though Leo had constantly toyed with the idea of changing locale - he was a bit of a runner as a child and the habit stuck - his new girlfriend threatens to keep him in one place as of now. To the mechanic's utter surprise he was able to ask her out successfully and they had been together for a few months now (Percy hasn't met 'Callie' yet but based on the way Leo talks about her it's an inevitable conclusion). Reyna's going back to San Francisco to finish up another year of schooling ("Percy, this was just meant to be a few semesters abroad, I didn't actually transfer here, I'm getting a five year degree, why are you shocked to hear this?) and Frank and Hazel are seriously thinking about moving to Alaska. Apparently Hazel lived there for a short while with her late mother and despite some of the less-than-happy memories she has of it, they both agree it's something that gives them a lot of new opportunities.

And then, of course, there's Annabeth, who isn't going anywhere. Obviously.

"No more library study sessions, huh?" she snorts, bumping him. The idea that he's a fully-fledged adult with a degree and a possible career path is still awing and slightly unbelievable.

"I think I'll miss it," he responds, suddenly feeling as if the world's a bit too big to handle. He grips her hand tighter.

"I won't," she remarks, "because we've still got everything else back at home."

"Home," the graduate echos, and he can't help but think that he's holding his right now.

(Even though they're not in college anymore, the story never really ends.

Come along, let them tell you a story. They'll show you some things.)

When Leo makes the introductions, Percy realizes with a shock that it's actually been over four years since he's seen Calypso.

She's just as vibrant and beautiful as he remembers, with her smooth creamy skin and light chestnut hair tucked back into a neat updo. When she stands next to Leo, though, she seems more concretethan he recalls. There are familiar smirks exchanged, hands that intertwine firmly, and she wears her red blouse (Leo's favorite color, he dimly thinks) and jeans that fit just a little loose like a person, not a model. The mechanic, in turn, softens all his edges when he's around her, is far more aware and attentive and grounded than when he's alone.

They fit. It's an odd fit, one Percy didn't expect, but a good fit nonetheless.

Calypso, luckily, doesn't do anything but smile fondly at Percy when she sees him, asks him how he's been doing.

"I see you got the girl," she grins mischievously, gesturing subtly at Annabeth. "Nicely done, Jackson."

"You aren't doing too bad yourself," he responds, relieved that it isn't awkward. (But then again, 'Callie' never seemed like the type to seriously hate or hold a murderous grudge, so.) "Why Leo, out of curiosity?"

She blushes slightly, there. "Well, I think it's that he's about the smartest person I know. He's an absolute idiot, yes, but his brain is incredible, like nothing I've ever seen. He sings out of tune and actually listens when I talk about my major and what I'd even do with a minor in botany, and he's actually pretty darn sweet. He's protective of those he loves and he can't stand not being able to fix things. But I think . . . I think the main thing is that he's passionate about me, not about my looks or my work ethic, just me as a person. It's been a while since I had that and it's good, it's really good."

"I'm happy for you, Cal," he tells her warmly, and he means it.

"Careful there, Percy," she calls back, "Only my boyfriend calls me Cal."

(Later, Leo comes up to him.

"I know she's alright, but you did hurt her a little," the latino boy informs him, looking up at the sky. "She's used to being left behind, and it's not fair and it's not alright and I've exhausted every available option I know of trying to convince her that I won't be next. When I met her, she wasn't broken because of you or anything, but - she always holds out hope that the next guy she meets will come back, you know? Just to say hi, or to ask her about her day. No one remembers to ask her about her day and it sucks." He lets out a strangled breath of air. "Look, we're in a good place. I consider you a friend. But if anyone, you included, ever hurts her again, I will actually brain you with a wrench. It's a painful death."

"Will do, Valdez," he responds, and after the other man gets up, claps him on the back, and returns to his lovely girlfriend, Percy sits there a while and continues to look at the stars. Of all the people he may have once hurt, he never meant to harm Calypso, who was nothing but kind.

But she had clearly moved on, and dwelling on the past only stirred up old resentments. So when Annabeth calls his name from across the way, he gets up, brushes off his pants, and simply resolves not to hurt the women in his life again. He has no idea how long he can keep that resolution, but hey, it's a decent start.)

"Opinion on paint colors?" she asks, holding up two colors to the light.

"Um," he starts helplessly. "The blue one?"

"Percy, both swatches are blue," Annabeth frowns, squinting at the sample cards. "Which one for this room?"

"I mean," he says, knowing he's about to do something very stupid, "does it really matter?"

She drops the cards and crosses her arms.

"Does it really matter?" she repeats.

His girlfriend is tapping her foot on the ground and damn she can glare.

He swallows. Hard.

"Does," she says again, slower this time with her fingers pinching the bridge of her nose, "it really matter?"


Bail now. BAIL NOW.)

"This is," she begins in a sickeningly sweet, extremely false tone, "the color going on the walls of the bedroom of our house. The first house we've actually saved for and went to sign on and agreed upon. Together. We've been a couple for, what, three years?"

"And two months come next week," he mentions weakly, but it fails to win him any brownie points - Annabeth's on a roll.

"Yes, exactly. And I'd prefer it if my future husband was a little more involved in decisions regarding the state of our very first home. We're discussing paint, soon it will move into cabinet fixtures, and then I'll start showing tile selections to fix the travesty that is the stonework on the outside porch steps. So think for half a second and then tell me which damn shade of blue you want so I can start looking for matching drapes, Percy, it's like I'm the only one who cares right now!" Her chest is actually heaving. It would almost be funny if she wasn't so mad.

And then Percy remembers a very crucial detail about what day it is and he completely understands her outrage.

"Wise Girl, we're out of hot chocolate again, huh?" he replies, stepping forwards and catching her in a hug. "I can run and go get some right now if it helps."

"It just sucks this time, you know?" she groans into his shoulder, the swatches forgotten. "What did women in prehistoric times do when they got their periods? Maybe that's why the rumor about clubbing people got perpetuated - I want to kill. Literally anything and anyone. For no reason at all."

"The color blue is a very important matter, Annabeth," he tells her seriously. She scoffs.

"Sorry I'm murderous?" It's almost phrased like a question.

"I don't mind, you're always a little murderous anyways."

"I am not, that's a blatant exaggeration."

"When I forget to wash the dishes in the sink you threaten to actually impale me, 'Beth."

"Fair point, but that's entirely self-inflicted," the blonde accuses, sticking a finger in his face. "You know when it's your day."

"I do. I just happen to forget a lot."

"Likely story." They sit there a while, content to just stand in eachother's arms. The room is quiet and empty, full of potential just like the vacant house they'd bought. With enough time, this would be a home.

Their home.

" . . . So, the second sample?" he eventually mumbles into her hair. She attempts to shake her head.

"The second sample, for sure."

(He makes sure the pantry is filled to the brim with hot cocoa mix afterwards. Annabeth shows her appreciation with snuggles and the retraction of her many death threats.)

When Reyna flies back in for spring break and Frank and Hazel video-chat, Jason and Piper have news to share.

"So we're thinking a fall wedding," Piper exclaims, showing everyone her ring yet again. It's a simple golden band with intricate little flowers, a small diamond sparkling in the center. Beautiful but not overstated, it's the perfect fit for the feisty brunette. "Jason and I haven't set dates yet but I honestly can't see it being much later than mid-to-late September, maybe the beginning of October. Even though it's a long ways away, we'd be honored if you guys could make it." Jason rubs his fiance's shoulder warmly as they share a smile meant only for eachother.

Secretly, Percy hopes that him and Annabeth don't look like that. It's downright sappy.

But then she squeezes his knee in support and he starts grinning to himself for no reason, so. He supposes he's a lost cause.

"Anyways, Leo, you and Calypso are obviously coming, but I'd really like it if you could be my best man," the blonde graduate says with curved lips, pushing up his glasses. "Besides Rey, I never really had a close group of friends before I met you and Piper, and frankly you're the best friend I could ask for. I can't really see anyone else being there with me on the big day." Leo is obviously touched but doesn't want anyone to know.

(They all know. They all pretend they don't see the way his eyes glaze over and his mouth tilts upwards.)

"Whatever you need, Jason," he replies, wiping his nose and muttering something about allergies.

Meanwhile, Piper regains the narrative by grabbing Reyna's hands and smiling kindly. "Rey, you were Jason's best friend before I met you, but now I honestly consider you one of the closest of mine. Like my boyfriend, I honestly didn't have a solid group of girl friends before, probably because I really wasn't all that girly. But then I got off the bus and I met you, and then through you and Percy I got to know Annie and Rachel and Hazel and Thalia, and I simply can't imagine not having you guys in my life. I would love for you to be my maid of honor, if you want to."

Reyna Avila Ramirez Arellano does not cry. They all know she cannot cry because she's literally made of steel.

But there does appear to be some sort of vagrant cutting onions in the vicinity that no one happens to mention.

"I'd love to," she tells the other brunette with a strong swallow that probably tastes of saline. Piper lights up like a candle.

"You have no idea how much I appreciate this," Piper replies, and she totally cries sans-onion cutter. "I really wanted you to be maid of honor, and for the rest of the girls to be my bridesmaids. I can't think of anyone else I'd prefer to be there for me."

Rachel snaps her fingers. "So this artist friend of mine does custom dresses modified for any occasion, he's opened a small shop down the main strip that could totally meet all our needs."

"I will gladly punch anyone who tries to rip us off," Thalia says solemnly.

Annabeth pulls out her phone and starts looking up names and addresses. "There's a neat flower shop two blocks away that does big events, the bouquets are really nice if you want to look -"

"I love you all," Piper breathes, and pretty damn instantly she's swarmed with a mass of women.

Jason watches the scene fondly before looking at the men in his life and saying, "We don't need to group hug. Leo, I don't think you've showered in days - your fingers have engine grease beneath them. And Percy, you smell like a pool. Frank, you are absolutely fine but you'll crush me like a toothpick."

(As they're leaving, Percy tackles Jason anyways. He laughs as they both fall onto the pavement.)

When he sees the ring in the window - a small, ornately carved silver thing, thin around the finger with a shining milky stone in the middle - he buys it on impulse. Percy doesn't need it now, but the thing might just come in handy in the far-off-but-strangely-foreseeable future.

"Their ceremony was beautiful," Annabeth sighs afterwards, picking pale petals off of her lavender bridesmaid's gown. The reception was stunning - a beautiful pavilion ripe with fallen leaves and golden lanterns in the trees, coated with freshly tossed red and white blooms and candles on every centerpiece. "Piper looked like a fairy."

"We can slap wings on you, if that makes you feel better," he jokes. She tries to shove him in the gut, but by now he anticipates her violent antics and is able to dodge. Level 900 stealth.

"You think that'll be us one day?" the blonde asks absentmindedly, swinging his hand between them as they walk.

"I'm hoping so," he replies, and as he pulls out the velvet box in his pocket his heart kicks into overdrive. "And, if we're being really serious, then . . ."

"You didn't . . ." Her hand suddenly drops his and goes to cover her gaping mouth. "Right now?"

He absolutely did not plan on doing this now. In fact, he had a whole romantic walk complete with a trip to her favorite bookstore and - well, that would just have to be its own separate thing. This was going down.

Percy opens the box and kneels on his knees. Here they go.

"Annabeth Chase, I am very in love with you and I have been for years. I can't imagine not knowing you, not following you, not getting punched by you, not listening to you talk about your day. You are the first person I see in the morning and the last person I see at night and I want you to be that person forever. Now I think there was more to that speech, but to be honest this is kind of an uncomfortable position and these dress pants might actually split if I stay like this for too long so I can't actually remember it." He looks deep into her eyes - they're moist, and so are his. Well then. "Regardless, will you marry me?"

For a scary second, she parts her lips and then closes them, almost a little lost, and then she breaks into the biggest smile he's ever seen.

"Of course I will, Seaweed Brain," she tells him, slipping the ring on her own finger. "You utter dork."

His girlfriend (read: fiance) kisses him and he can't remember ever being happier.

"You sure?" she whispers subtly, hoping the crowd can't hear her. Even if he wasn't supposed to be keeping his eyes on her, his absolutely smitten ass couldn't help but stare. Her curly yellow locks were brushed up into an elegant bun studded with jewels, her body draped in a stunning white Grecian gown that shimmers when she moves. It's entrancing.

Annabeth Chase is always entrancing, though, and this is no different.

"Am I sure?" he whispers back, trying to keep a chuckle out of his voice. "Um, 'Beth, the priest is actually reading out the vows right now, I don't think there's room for me to be un-sure anymore."

She smiles softly into her bouquet - her favorites, mixed with daisies. "I just wanted to ask again. Because, of course, I'm pretty darn sure. I just wanted to double check."

He squeezes her hand so hard it could almost begin to atrophy. "Annabeth, I've never been more sure of anything in my life." She raises an eyebrow. "It also helps that I'd hate to be single again. I kinda suck at dating."

"You got me, didn't you?" she laughs quietly, and seconds later the priest recites the essential question.

"Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?"

Without a trace of hesitation, Percy Jackson grins. "I do."

And that's all there is to it.