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A Semester Abroad

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August 13th

Piper rubbed the back of her hand over her eyes and groaned. She was so pissed at herself right now. This was not what she’d had in mind for her summer. And it was all her fault.

She sat in the college library, her literature textbook sprawled out in front of her, a notebook and pen cast off to one side. At the next corner of their square table sat Annabeth, Piper’s roommate. Annabeth was chewing on the end of a pencil as she skimmed the same paragraph in her architecture textbook over and over, her eyes glazing over. Piper knew that look well. It was the same look she’d been fighting off for the last hour.

Piper groaned again. “I hate this. I can’t concentrate. I can’t focus. Why did I think this would be a good idea?”

“You’ve got a paper due on Milton on Friday,” Annabeth reminded her. “So we agreed that studying would be the smart move.”

“Not that. Although, may I just say that I hate Milton? He can take his Paradise Lost and shove it up his ass.”

Annabeth’s lips twitched. She’d listened to her friend complain about her English literature class, her theatre class, and her anthropology class, for the last two and a half months. Piper knew she was starting to sound like a broken record, but she couldn’t help it. This was the last term before the official start of her junior year of college, and she had yet to decide what she wanted to major in. Everyone else she knew had already declared a major – hell, Annabeth had declared two majors: Architecture and business. Piper’s other best friend, Jason, had decided to major in prelaw, with a goal of becoming a prosecuting attorney. She knew that even Jason’s roommate, Percy, who generally had a I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude, had decided on a major – marine biology. And that left Piper, flailing around without a clue or a compass to point her in the right direction. Since Annabeth had decided to get the first few basic classes of her majors out of the way during the summer term, Piper had figured that she could stay and join her. She’d opted to take classes that had sounded interesting, but hadn’t fit into her general requirements for the first two years. She enjoyed the theatre class to an extent. Her dad was an actor, and Piper had decided to see if theatre interested her at all. It did – but more as a hobby. Anthropology fascinated Piper – but she couldn’t understand the biological aspects of it. And English literature bored her. She’d enjoyed lit classes in high school, but something about this course just sucked all the fun out of reading. She hated symbolism, she hated allegories, and she hated this class.

“Fine,” Annabeth said, leaning back in her chair. “So you hate the summer semester. Fair enough. But you did want to explore some more options, see if there was anything that you missed while taking classes for your associate’s art degree.”

“And so far, I haven’t missed much. And I’m no closer to figuring out what I want to major in then I was a year ago.”

“Sure you are. You can now rule out English, anthropology, and theatre.”

“Thanks, that’s real helpful.” Piper bookmarked her spot in her textbook and closed it carefully. She was hoping to resell it once this term was done. Textbooks were so expensive, and she had come to the conclusion that she could put her money to better use literally anywhere else. None of her textbooks had been particularly useful.

She yanked her laptop out of her messenger bag and booted it up. A study break was in order. She needed mindless social media, but she didn’t feel like trying to scroll through Facebook or Instagram on her phone.

“Look,” Annabeth leaned forward, “maybe you just need to take fall semester off. Take some time to think. Or just take one class so you can keep our apartment on campus. Take something else that interests you. What classes did you really enjoy while you were working on your AA degree?”

Piper groaned. She clicked on her preferred browser and logged into Facebook. “I don’t know. I liked that history class I took. The kickboxing classes I took for my PE credits were fun. That music class was cool. I liked my social science class a lot. But I don’t know. Nothing really stood out to me.”

“Huh.” Annabeth slumped back against her chair. She had abandoned studying for the time being as well. She sipped on her coffee and rubbed her temples. “Shit. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but all this studying is giving me a headache. These are supposed to be the easy classes. And I already feel overwhelmed. How the hell am I supposed to get through the next two years like this?”

Piper shook her head as she scrolled through Facebook. Maybe she wasn’t so jealous of Annabeth. After all, Annabeth had two very neurotic parents to impress. Her mother taught ancient history, art, and archaeology at freaking Yale. Her father jumped around between universities, but he was also a professor of history, and specialized in World Wars 1 and 2. He was currently teaching at Stanford while he conducted research on a scholarly paper he’d been working on for the past two years. Annabeth’s parents were really putting the pressure on her, especially since Annabeth had chosen a smaller private college that wasn’t as well-known. While the school she and Piper were at was still considered an excellent college, it generally wasn’t compared to Stanford or Yale.

“I chose this school so that I wouldn’t get too stressed or overwhelmed,” Annabeth continued on.

“Also so your parents couldn’t hover over your shoulder every five seconds,” Piper added.

“That, too.” Annabeth sighed. “I guess I did this to myself. I just thought – shit. I just thought if I majored in two really strong fields, maybe, just maybe…” She trailed off with a shake of her head. “I don’t even know anymore.”

Piper’s scrolling through Facebook was interrupted by a sponsored ad: Paradise Journey – A semester abroad! Perfect for college students! Group discounts! Europe! South America! Asia! Book Today!

Out of curiosity, Piper clicked on the link to Paradise Journey’s Facebook page. It looked pretty standard. There were posts about the deals they had going on, pictures of college students hanging out on a beach in Greece or hiking through mountains in Peru. She saw posts from ecstatic college students, raving about their experiences and their travels. “So easy!” “They arrange everything for you, so there’s no worry! The traveling was simple!” “You can’t beat the price – or the experiences!” “I took a semester off just to travel, and I’m so glad I did. Paradise Journey really helped me find myself and figure out what I want to do.

That last review grabbed Piper’s attention. That sounded exactly what she needed.

She knew these reviews were probably falsified – the people who worked for Paradise Journey had probably posted them – but at the same time, Piper felt as if she had just struck a perfect chord. Annabeth was right. She did need to take a semester off. She needed to travel, to explore.

Her dad was a famous actor and her mother was a supermodel-turned-owner of the woman’s magazine, Aphrodite – named after her mother, of course. Piper should, by rights, have been well-traveled by now. But she’d spent most of her childhood in LA or Malibu, hiding out from the paparazzi and trying to keep herself out of trouble. She’d been to New York City, where her mother’s magazine headquarters were located, but that was about it. While her father had filmed numerous movies abroad, Piper had always had school. But she’d always itched to travel. She’d wanted to see the world, and she’d even contemplated taking a year off after graduating high school so she could. But neither of her parents had loved the idea, and in the end Piper had decided that it would be smarter and more responsible to just start college right on schedule.

But now she was regretting it.

She had no plan. No map. No nothing. A semester off from school would be good, especially if she was traveling and – what was the term? Oh yeah. Finding herself.

She got onto their official website and checked out their different traveling options. There were choices for South America, Asia, and Europe, as their ad had boasted. Piper selected Europe, and saw a dropdown box that asked her to choose the length of trip she wanted: 3-5 days, 1-2 weeks, 2 weeks-1 month,-1 month-and-longer. She clicked on the last option.

There were a few choices, but she opted for the longest one – it lasted from September 2nd until January 2nd. Four months. Four months would be perfect. And this particular trip was named Tour the World – it spanned from South America to Europe to Asia. That would be amazing.

From there, she checked the reviews, making sure that it was a real, legitimate company, and not just a scam for gullible college students braindead from final exams. She read through several reviews and articles about it, making sure that they were sources she trusted, and came to the conclusion that this was, in fact, legitimate. They seemed to specialize in traveling for college students, and tried to keep the costs relatively minimal. They were essentially a tour group through whatever country or continent that was chosen – you would travel with a group of people along with a couple of tour guides, going from city to city. It was well-structured, but there were several outings for each city, and you could choose which one or just do your own thing. You just had to stay in the same hotel with your tour group, and catch the same plane or train or boat as them. And Paradise Journey took care of booking all the transportation and hotels. All she had to do was pay.

But even as her excitement piqued, she felt a bubble of anxiety began to spread through her stomach. She wanted to do this. She wanted to do this so damn bad. But she didn’t want to do it alone.

She glanced at Annabeth, who was still muttering darkly to herself. An idea began to form in her head. It was crazy and there was no way in hell it would work out, but as she clicked on the link for the group discounts, she knew she had to try.

“You’re right,” she said to Annabeth. “I do need to take a semester off. But maybe you do, too.”

“What?” Annabeth looked at her in confusion. “What are you talking about?”

“Think about it.” Piper leaned towards her. “You’re just as stressed as I am. You’re already overwhelmed with classes. Clearly you need to take some time off, too. And I’ve got the perfect thing.” She turned her laptop towards Annabeth. “A four-month trip around the world.”

Annabeth laughed. “You can’t be serious. That’s practically a whole semester. I can’t take that time off from college. My whole plan will be pushed back – “

“One semester. That’s – what – six months? If that? So you’ll graduate six months later than you planned. But at least you’ll have had the time off from school to clear your head. You’ll have these experiences under your belt. And it might even put things into perspective for you. I mean, clearly you’ve got some issues with your parents and with your majors. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to step away from everything. And what better way to do that then traveling around the world for four months?”

“You’re crazy,” Annabeth decided. “You’re fucking nuts. If you think I’m going to – “

“You’re stressed and overwhelmed. And you’re already burnt out from double majoring, and it’s only the first semester. You need a break. You said yourself, you spent high school working to get perfect grades, and you’ve done the same the last two years. Have you ever just taken time for yourself?”

“Have you?” Annabeth shot back.

Piper grinned. “No. And that’s why I want to do this. If I don’t know what I want to do with my life, then clearly I don’t know myself very well. And I should get to know myself better. Don’t you think?”

“I mean, yeah. Of course.”

“But wouldn’t taking some time away from school and stress and your parents benefit you, too? Just taking a breather for a few months? And you’d still be learning. Here, read this blurb for the trip I’m looking at.” Piper pushed her laptop towards Annabeth, who dutifully read through the trip description and itinerary. “I mean, you could learn how to make pasta in Italy, Annabeth. You could walk through Rome, and see all the architecture in Greece that you love so much. You’d actually be experiencing what your mom teaches. Think about it.”

Piper knew from the way Annabeth slowly exhaled that she was in. Annabeth reread the itinerary, and slowly nodded. “I hate when you make good points. They always fuck with my plans.”

Piper grinned. “That’s what I’m here for. You need someone like me. You’re so balanced and organized. And I’m neither.”

“Okay, but this whole thing is still expensive. I know my parents have money, and God knows your parents do, but this is still pricey.”

“Yeah, but we could get a group discount. With four people or more, we get twenty-five percent off the whole trip.” Piper pulled out her phone to do the calculations, before telling Annabeth how much they would owe if they used the group discount. “That’s a pretty big difference.”

“It is,” Annabeth agreed. “But who else is going on this trip with us?”

Piper grinned again. “I might be able to get Jason to come along.”

“Jason?” Annabeth cracked up. “Piper, I know Jason’s your best friend, but no offense, he’s even more straight-laced than I am. He’s got a major stick up his ass.”

“Yes, but that’s why we’re best friends. I’m the free spirit. He keeps me in check, and I make sure he has fun once in awhile. And he’s definitely been stressed the last couple of semesters. And I might even be able to get Percy, Jason’s roommate to come with us.”

“Percy?” Annabeth furrowed her brow. “I don’t know him, do I?”

“I don’t think so. I’ve really only seen him when I watch their swim practices or meets. He’s cool. He’s got some authority issues, but he’s a nice guy.”

Annabeth raised an eyebrow. “And you think Percy will want to come with us?”

Piper shrugged as she scooted her chair back and stood up. “It doesn’t hurt to ask, right?”

“Where are you going?”

“Where do you think? Jason and Percy should be finishing swim practice soon, and I’ve got to ambush them while I’ve got the chance.”

“But – “

“Keep an eye on my laptop and bag for me, would you?”

Piper strolled down the rolling green hill towards the pool. It was located just a street over from the football and soccer fields, and it was a short walk from the library. The southern California day was bright and sunny, and Piper turned her face up to soak in the sun.

What would it be like to actually leave southern California for longer than a week? What would the weather be like in Europe? What would the scenery be like in South America? Would the beaches in Asia be even more amazing than the beaches here?

Piper had so many questions, and she intended to get answers to them. But first, she had to get Jason and Percy to agree to her plan. And that was going to be even harder than getting Annabeth to go along with it. Jason and Percy were both on the swim team. While Jason, like Annabeth and Piper, had opted to take classes this summer – he’d been of the same mindset as Annabeth, going into the summer term with the intention of knocking out some of the more basic classes for his major – Percy had gone home to New York City for a couple months, until he’d been due back a week ago so the swim team could begin training again. It was mid-August now, and the summer semester would be wrapping up in a couple weeks. This meant that the boys would have to let their coach and team captain know they would be dropping out for the semester fast. And even then that was iffy. Percy was on a swim scholarship. Piper wasn’t sure his scholarship would hold out if he missed a semester. Plus, he might not be able to afford the trip. By contrast, Jason’s mom was a good friend of Piper’s dad. Beryl Grace was nearly as famous as Tristan McLean, and Jason had grown up trying to avoid the spotlight like Piper. They had met on set for a rom-com Tristan and Beryl had shot together, and had ended up going to the same schools. They had even lived in the same neighborhood for a time. As a result, they were practically inseparable.

Piper pushed into the pool’s lobby and made her way through the door that led to the pool. She perched on one of the bleachers. She shivered slightly. It felt as if the pool’s AC was on full blast, and she wore destroyed denim shorts and an olive green tank top. Her dark brown hair was braided down one side, and she wore an ancient pair of flip-flops that she was pretty sure she’d gotten from Old Navy. She crossed her legs and arms, hoping to warm up.

Out in the pool, the team was just finishing up laps. Piper spotted Jason’s blond hair flashing against the water. His arms seemed to slice through the water like it was nothing, towing his body along. She loved watching him swim. It was the only time he ever really seemed to be at peace. He loved the competition of the sport, but ultimately he just enjoyed swimming. And Piper suspected it was the same with Percy. It was why Jason and Percy got along so well.

And sure enough, in the next lane there was Percy, a little ahead of Jason. He reached the wall first and surfaced, shaking water out of his face. He glanced up at the bleachers and spotted Piper. “Yo, McLean! What brings you here?” He offered her a friendly grin, and Piper smiled back.

“You guys almost done?”

“Just about.” Percy pulled himself out of the water and grabbed his towel. “Just waiting for the others to finish.”

A big guy with a serious face but kind eyes passed Percy with a nod. “Nice work out there, Jackson.”

“Thanks, Beckendorf,” Percy replied with a grin. “Our captain,” he added for Piper’s benefit. “He’s cool. He’s one of the best swimmers I’ve ever seen.”

At that moment, Jason hauled himself out of the pool, shaking the water out of his blond hair. As Piper looked down at him, she found herself tracing the smooth lines of his muscles with her gaze. He had a really nice body, she noticed. Not so muscular that he looked beefy, but he certainly wasn’t the scrawny little boy he’d been in middle school. Her heart seemed to ping and she bit her lip as she watched him grab his towel to dry off. And then he glanced up at her, and she quickly remembered who she was ogling. This was Jason Grace, her best friend since she was 10. God, what was wrong with her?

“Pipes!” Jason cried, face breaking out into a huge grin. “What’re you doing here? I thought you were going to spend the day in the library with Annabeth.”

“I was. And then I had a brilliant idea.” Piper got to her feet and made her way carefully down the bleachers until she stood in front of the boys. “So, you know how I’ve been struggling to come up with a major?”

“Of course,” Jason nodded. He had spent more than a couple nights staying up with Piper, trying to come up with a possible major for her.

“Well, Annabeth suggested I take a semester off to really think about what I want. And I’ve decided to take her advice. And I talked her into taking it, too.”

Jason furrowed his brow. “Pardon?”

“Okay, have you ever heard of Paradise Journey?”

“I have,” Percy spoke up. “They offer tours abroad for college kids, right?”

Piper nodded. “Exactly. So, they have a world tour. Well, sort of. It goes from South America to Europe to Asia, and back to Europe. It goes for four months. I think the first few weeks you’re in South America, and then you travel to Europe for a couple months. Then you spend a month in Asia, and then it’s back to France for Christmas and New Years.”

“Sounds fun,” Jason commented. “And you and Annabeth are going?” He still sounded skeptical.

“And you and Percy, if you guys want a break from school.” Piper supposed she sounded overly hopeful. But she loved the idea of traveling the world with Jason at her side. And Percy would probably be fun to have along for the ride. He’d probably even get along with Annabeth. They’d balance each other out the way she and Jason did.

Jason stared at Piper like she’d just announced she’d decided to swim the Atlantic in January. “I can’t take a break from school! I’m prelaw. There’s no way I can take a semester off. That would put me behind by – “

“Maybe six months at most,” Piper said patiently. “Honestly, you sound just like Annabeth. And you’re every bit as overwhelmed and burned out and drained as she is. Taking a semester off to go and travel the world would do you some good. Probably you, too,” she added to Percy.

Percy shrugged. “I’m down.”

“We can’t – you can’t – we have the swim team!” Jason blustered out.

“So? We can take a semester off from that,” Percy replied. “We’re not the only ones who’ve done that. Beckendorf will understand. He did it last year. We’ve got a strong swim team. And we don’t even have any major meets until spring. This would be the perfect time to go.”

“But what about your scholarship?”

“The school will hold my scholarship until spring semester. And Paradise Journey offers a discount if you’ve got a 3.6 GPA or higher. And I’ve got a 3.7,” Percy added with a grin. “It’s the first time I’ve ever had such a good GPA, but there you go.”

“There’s also a twenty-five percent discount if you’ve got a group of four or more,” Piper said eagerly.

“See?” Percy said to Jason. “It’s perfect. We should totally do this.”

“But – “

“You were just whining last night that you’re so tired and so steamrolled. Piper’s right. You need to take some time off from school.”

“How’s your mom going to react when you tell her you’re taking a semester off to go travel the fucking world?” Jason demanded of Percy.

“She wanted me to do that when I was 18, like she did,” Percy shrugged. “You know her, she’s a writer. A free spirit. But we didn’t have enough money for me to do that. Well, now we do. She’s got a couple of books published, and one of them is being turned into a TV show on HBO. Yeah, we’re not rich or anything yet, but she’s not going to freak out if I tell her I’m using my savings to take some time for myself.”

“But – “

“Jason, I’ve been working since I was 12, delivering newspapers, working in restaurants, any place that would give me a job. I could use a break, too. I think we all could. So, let’s do it. We’re only young once, right?”

“But – but – “ Jason looked like he wanted to argue more, but couldn’t come up with anything else.

“Jason,” Piper said softly, taking a step closer to him, “is this something you want to do?”

Caught off guard, he nodded.

“Good. Then let’s do it," she said. "The four of us. Let’s have the time of our life.”

Chapter Text

August 13th (continued)

Annabeth knew when Piper walked out of the library, shoulders thrown back confidently, chin out determinedly, that if anyone could convince Jason Grace to drop everything – college, prelaw, swim – and travel around the world that it would be her. She knew no one was closer to Piper than Jason, and vice-versa. Annabeth also knew that part of the reason she and Jason got along so well, besides the fact that they were both so close to Piper, was because they were so much alike. They were both very goal-oriented, organized, and ambitious. But Jason also had a sense of duty and righteousness that would ensure that he would be a damned good prosecuting attorney. Annabeth believed in studying hard and doing her best. But she also agreed with Piper – sometimes you just needed to step away from it all.

But as far as she knew, Jason had no such thoughts. Jason would stay in college until he graduated from law school if it killed him.

And so, Annabeth was slightly surprised when, not even an hour after Piper had abandoned their table and her stuff, she returned with Jason and a dark-haired boy in tow. Piper stopped in front of the table with a satisfied smile on her face. “I convinced them.”

“Color me impressed,” Annabeth admitted as she peered up at Jason and the other boy – Percy. He must have been Percy, Jason’s roommate. “I didn’t think you could do it.”

Piper grinned. “I’m many things, but a quitter is not one of them.”

“In other words, she’s damn stubborn and bossy,” Jason grumbled, arms crossed.

Piper’s grin widened. “Damn straight, sparky, and don’t you forget it.”

Annabeth shook her head before half rising to her feet to hold her hand out to Percy. “Hi. I’m Annabeth. I guess we’re going to be traveling the world together.”

Percy took her hand with a grin, the corners of his sea green eyes crinkling. “Hi Annabeth, I’m Percy. It’s nice to finally meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you from those two.” He nodded towards Piper and Jason.

“All good, I hope?”

“Very good.” He took the chair next to hers, his arm lightly brushing against her arm, and Annabeth felt her heart skip a beat. He was cute, there was no denying that. She couldn’t believe how green his eyes were, like pictures of the Caribbean she had seen online. But with his messy dark hair and piercings, he looked like every wannabe skater bad boy she’d gone to high school with. Except that, somehow, he was so much better. She thought she could see a hint of a tattoo peeking out from under the sleeve of his t-shirt, and she bit her lip. The boys she’d dated had always been straight-laced and preppy, like the Abercrombie and Fitch models. Her ex-boyfriend, Luke Castellan, was a perfect example of that. Of course, he’d turned out to be a total dickhead, so there was that.

Annabeth crossed her bare legs under the table. She knew she looked cute in her short-sleeved skater dress, but she still felt nervous. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen a guy as hot as Percy. He could even rival Luke in looks, just in a completely different way. Preppy vs. skate punk…she could get behind that.

Piper and Jason sat down as well, and Piper gave Annabeth a sideways look, a knowing smile playing around her lips. No doubt once they got back to their apartment Piper would be grilling Annabeth about Percy. But for now they were here in the library, and Annabeth could keep her thoughts to herself.

Annabeth tucked a wayward blonde curl behind her ear as she looked at Piper. “So…we’re all here.”

“Yeah,” Piper nodded. “I thought it’d be a good idea to look over the itinerary for the trip. You know, make sure we’re all behind this, all game. It’s a huge commitment. We’re talking about a semester away from school. It’s not such a big deal for me, since I don’t even know what I want to major in. But Jason and Annabeth, you guys have already started, and I know you’re due to start taking classes for your major when the fall semester starts, Percy.”

“Yeah, but this is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Percy responded. “Once we graduate, we’re going to hope that we can find a job that goes with our degrees. We won’t have time to go and travel the world for a quarter of a year. So, let’s do it.”

Annabeth took a deep breath and nodded. “You’re right,” she said to Percy. “We’ve got to do this now, while we have the time. I’m in.”

Everyone turned to Jason, who shifted awkwardly. He swallowed before saying, “I do want to do this. I’m just – I’m really nervous. Can we look at the itinerary before I say anything else?”

“Sure,” Piper agreed. She grabbed the laptop she’d left on the table and pulled it towards them. “See? On September 2nd, we’ll fly down to Lima, Peru, where we’ll spend a week. From there, we’ll spend a week each in Belize and Costa Rica. On the 25th, we’ll fly to London, where we’ll spend a week in the United Kingdom. From there, we’ll spend a week in Germany, just in time to catch the end of Oktoberfest. We’ll go on to spend a couple of weeks in Scandinavia. We’ll spend the last week of October in the Netherlands, and the first week of November in Italy, and then another week in Greece. We’ll spend a week in India, Japan, China, and Thailand each, and then we’ll finish up in France.”

“Damn,” Percy let out a low whistle. “That’s quite the itinerary.”

“Yeah. There’s going to be a lot of flying. But sometimes we’ll be taking a train or a boat, too,” Piper explained. “See? It has all the information here.” She let Annabeth and Percy look at the laptop. Annabeth had already gone through the itinerary, but she examined it all the more closely. She felt a tingle of excitement. She’d wanted to see Italy and Greece for years. The architecture and history was amazing. But she also had Scandinavian roots on her dad’s side. She’d felt desperate for years to connect with her heritage, something that was nearly impossible in California. While her dad had grown up in Boston, where the Nordic culture was prominent, Annabeth had never even gotten the chance to visit. And now she had the opportunity to visit Norway and Sweden.

She glanced at Percy, and noticed that his eyes were alight with excitement.

“My dad’s Greek,” he explained. “And Italian. I really want to visit those countries.”

Annabeth smiled. It was nice to know that someone else wanted to connect with their roots. She looked over at Piper. Piper was half-Cherokee on her dad’s side, and had struggled for years to make sense of her heritage. Her dad tried to ignore it, but Piper was hellbent on embracing it. She had even traveled to Oklahoma the summer before to spend a couple months with her relatives.

Piper looked every bit as excited as Percy did as she pulled her laptop back. “So, if I apply our discounts…” She typed in all the information, which included their full names, the college they attended, and their GPAs, and hit the enter button. A moment later, their total popped up.

Annabeth’s jaw dropped. It was cheap. Not dirt cheap, but cheap enough that they had pretty much no excuse not to go and travel the world. All three of them looked hopefully at Jason, who was staring at the screen.

“All we have to do is book our flights to Lima, and home,” Piper said carefully, not taking her eyes off Jason. “That’s it.”

“Well?” Percy asked Jason impatiently. “What’re we doing, dude? Are we going or not?”

Jason nodded. “We’re going.”

“Sweet!” Piper cheered. “So I’ll just put this all on my credit card, and you guys can pay me back later. Sound good?”

Everyone agreed, and Piper began entering her credit card information. She looked at the others. “I’m doing it.”

“Do it,” Annabeth, Percy, and Jason all said together.

Piper slowly, deliberately, pressed the enter button. A moment later a message stating that her payment had gone through and that they were now booked for the Four Month World Adventure popped up.

From there, Piper got into to book their flight to Peru on September 2nd, and back from Paris on January 2nd. This time Jason whipped out his credit card, and Piper passed him the laptop.

After checking the e-mail confirmation for everything, Piper grinned. “It’s official, guys. In less than three weeks, we’re going abroad.”

Annabeth couldn’t believe how hard she was smiling. Despite her reservations, despite the fact that this would knock her whole plan off track, despite what her parents would have to say, she was excited. She couldn’t freaking wait.

Annabeth grabbed dinner with the others that evening. They talked about all the different things they wanted to do over Thai food and bubble tea. Piper and Jason, who were both into nature, wanted to go on as many hikes as possible, while Percy was eager to check out the food and the beaches. Annabeth just wanted to admire the different types of architecture, and soak up all the history and culture. She couldn’t wait to see the ruins of Machu Pichu and Lamanai in Peru and Belize respectively, and visit the Acropolis in Greece.

“There’s supposed to be a really good waterfall in Costa Rica,” Piper commented as she twirled a forkful of vegetarian Pad Thai around her fork. “La Fortuna Waterfall, I think it’s called. I totally want to hike there.”

Jason had his phone propped up against his water glass as he looked up fun facts. “There’s supposed to be a plunge pool and a hot springs near La Fortuna.”

“Sweet. We should totally go for a swim. I’m definitely feeling that bikini I bought last spring and never got the chance to wear.” She grinned and took a sip of her matcha bubble tea. “Stupid summer classes.”

“Do you think you’re going to go on the hike to La Fortuna?” Percy asked Annabeth coyly. “The plunge pool sounds great.”

Annabeth fought back a blush as she wondered if Percy was trying to figure out if she’d be wearing a bikini or not. Shit, she had to stop. She was going to be on a trip with Percy for four months. If something went wrong, they’d be stuck with each other for the remainder of the trip. But that didn’t change the fact that he was way too cute for his own good. Or that she was dying to get to know him.

“I might go on the hike,” Annabeth replied, just as coyly. “I like the sound of the plunge pool and the hot springs.”

“Then we’re on the same page,” he said with a grin.

“What’re you excited for?” Piper asked Jason.

“Honestly? The whole thing,” he admitted sheepishly. “I know I kind of dug my heels in, but I’m really psyched about this. Though I still think we’re risking a lot.”

Piper shrugged. “That’s your opinion. Have you talked to your mom or sister yet?”

“No. I’ll do that tonight.”

Annabeth shifted uncomfortably in her chair. She would have to call her parents when she got back to the apartment. She wasn’t looking forward to that.

Piper’s ankle nudged her under the table, getting her attention. “We should go shopping and see what sort of end-of-summer deals we can find,” she suggested to Annabeth. “You need a new bikini, for one thing, though I guess we could find something on Amazon.”

“We’ll go this weekend,” Annabeth assured her. “I’m sure we can find plenty of stuff.” She turned back to her Swimming Rama chicken and took a bite. There was no point in worrying about what her parents would say. Even if they yelled at her, there was nothing they could do. She was spending her own money on this trip, and it was already pretty much paid for. They could be as disappointed as they wanted; it couldn’t affect her, not really.

Piper excused herself to go use the restroom, and Jason decided he needed to wash his hands as well.

Once they were gone, Percy turned to Annabeth. “How are your parents going to react to this?” he asked her. “I noticed you got a little tense when Piper asked Jason if he’d talked to his family.”

Annabeth sighed. “Probably not well. My mom is a professor at Yale and my dad is a professor at Stanford. They’re not going to be happy that I’m ‘abandoning my education’ to go have fun.”

“You’re not really abandoning your education,” Percy pointed out. “You’re just taking some time off.”

“That’s not how they’ll see it. But I’ll call them tonight. They won’t be thrilled, but they’ll just have to deal.” She paused. “What about your parents? How are they going to feel about this?”

“They’ll both be cool about it. They’re pretty laidback. My dad is the captain of a cruise ship, so he’s all for traveling. And my mom…well, she traveled when she was younger. She’d wanted me to get the chance before I went off to college, but we couldn’t afford it.” He bit his lip. “We didn’t have much money until a couple years ago, when she got her first book published.”

“Oh. That sucks,” Annabeth said sympathetically.

Percy shrugged. “That’s life. My ex-stepdad was a piece of work, who spent more than he ever took in, but my new stepdad handles money really well. So that helps a lot.”

“I guess it would.” She finished the rest of her strawberry bubble tea. “I never really had to deal with money issues,” she said carefully. “But I know what it’s like not to get along with your stepparents.” Percy looked at her sharply. “My stepmom and I have never seen eye to eye. And I doubt we will on this. She thinks her sons are perfect, and I’m a fuck up. They’re in high school now, and I almost never get to see them. It seems like every time I go up to San Francisco, where she and my dad live, my stepmom has whisked them away on some vacation. I’m pretty sure she does it on purpose. She never wanted them around me, thought I’d be a bad influence or something.” She hesitated. “My parents never married, and my mom was so busy with her career that she kind of just dropped me off on my dad’s doorstep, so to speak. Basically told him to take care of me.”

“That’s fucked up,” Percy stated with a clenched jaw. “What kind of mother – “

“My mother,” she sighed. “I mean, after a couple years she realized she wanted to be in my life. At the time, my dad was living in Virginia, so I’d spend the school year with him, and spend school breaks with her. Now if I want to see her, I have to fly across the country. She never comes to visit me.” She paused and then blushed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to start ranting. I guess I just have some parental issues.”

“No worries,” he assured her, “I do, too. Once I start, I don’t stop.”

“Piper’s kind of like that, too. She and her mom don’t really get along. And she and her dad have their issues.”

“Jason gets along with his parents for the most part, but he has some issues with his dad,” Percy told her. “I think everyone kind of has issues with their parents. But definitely some more than others.”

“Definitely,” Annabeth nodded, cupping her chin in her hand.

Piper and Jason returned a minute later, and Piper urged them to splurge on dessert – coconut ice cream. By the time they paid and stumbled out of the restaurant, they were all stuffed.

“I won’t be able to eat for a week,” Annabeth announced with a laugh. “But at least the food was delicious.”

“The company wasn’t too bad, either,” Percy said with a smile in her direction. She suddenly felt warm all over, as if the sun had come out from behind a cloud.

“Well, I need to head home,” Jason said. “I’ve still got homework to do, besides the conversation with my mom and sister.”

The others agreed, and so Jason and Percy went one way, and Annabeth and Piper went the other. They walked the two blocks back to their apartment, enjoying the late evening air.

Piper nudged Annabeth teasingly. “It seems like you and Percy were really hitting it off.”

“He’s nice,” Annabeth hedged. “And cute. But I don’t know. I haven’t dated anyone in ages, and Percy…he seems a little rough around the edges.”

“So? Rough around the edges can be good. It means you’ll never be bored with him.”

“I guess that’s true. But still. We’re going to be traveling the world together. What if something happens and things don’t work out? Then we’re stuck with each other for who-knows-how-long.”

“That’s a chance you’re just going to have to take,” Piper said with a shrug. “But he seems to like you. And if you like him, then you should think about it. It doesn’t have to be anything serious.”

“Says the same girl who had more hookups than dates last year,” Annabeth teased.

Piper winced. “Okay, point taken. But the hookups were fun while they lasted. And I didn’t want anything serious. Do you?”

Annabeth paused, mulling that over. They were just coming into view of their apartment when she said, “I guess I don’t really know what I want. I just know I’m attracted to Percy.”

“And sometimes that’s enough.”

They headed up to their apartment. Annabeth kicked off her sandals and made her way to her room. She checked the time. It was nearly 8pm now, which meant it was almost 11pm in Connecticut. Her mom might still be up, if she didn’t have an early class in the morning.

She hit the button to call her mom. The phone rang once…twice…three times. And then she heard her mom’s voice answer: “Hello, Annabeth. Aren’t you calling a bit late?”

“I’m sorry, Mom,” Annabeth said apologetically. The last thing she wanted was to get on her mom’s bad side when she was already about to drop a bomb. “Did I wake you up?”

“No, I haven’t gone to bed yet. I actually just got home from having dinner with some of my colleagues. We had such a wonderfully scintillating conversation…Anyway, why are you calling?”

Annabeth took a deep breath. “I’ve got something to tell you.”

“Are you pregnant?”

“What? No! I’m not pregnant. I don’t even have a boyfriend right now.”

“Well, that’s something,” her mom said dryly. “At least you’re not throwing your whole future away for a boy.”

“I would never do that.” Annabeth sank down onto her bed. “You should know me better than that.”

“I suppose I should. But if you’re not pregnant, then what’s so urgent that it couldn’t wait until morning?”

“I’m taking fall semester off to travel the world with some friends.” The sentence came out in a rush; the words felt jumbled and mismatched, but there they were, echoing through her phone.

“You’re what?” Her mom’s voice grew sharp. “Annabeth Chase, if you think I’m going to let you do something so stupid and crass – “

“You can’t let me do anything,” Annabeth retorted, feeling slightly as if she was dancing back out of her mother’s reach like a child trying to keep an extra piece of candy. “I’m an adult. And I need a break from school. I’ve worked my ass off since high school, and especially the last two years. I’m tired. I’m 20-years-old and I’m tired, Mom. I need a break. And so, I’m going on a trip around the world for four months.”

“Don’t you even think about booking the flight!”

“Too late. The arrangements are already made.”

“And who do you think you’re going with?”

“Piper McLean – “


“My roommate, Mom! We’ve been roommates for the last two years, remember?”

Her mom grunted in response.

“Whatever. Piper, her best friend Jason, and his roommate, Percy.”

Her mother snorted. “And which one of them are you sleeping with?”

“Mom!” Annabeth cried, outraged. “I’m not sleeping with anyone! Look, we got a group discount. And we all really want to do this. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she continued on. “When else am I going to get the chance to do something like this? When I’m so bogged down with a career that I can’t even leave work an hour early? When I’m married with a family? When I’m too old to even walk up a flight of stairs without throwing out my hip? When, Mom? Tell me, because I’d really like to know.”

She could almost visualize her mom pursing her lips in disapproval. “Do what you want, Annabeth. But just remember that it was your choice to throw your whole future away.”

“I’m not throwing my whole future away,” Annabeth snapped. “I’m not – “ She suddenly realized there was complete silence on the other end. She pulled her phone away and saw that the call had ended. Her own mother had hung up on her. “Well, screw her,” Annabeth sighed. “That went about as well as I expected.”

She called her dad next.

“Hi, Anna-banana!” he greeted her, using his old pet name for her.

“Hey, Dad,” she said, smiling a little.

“What’s up?”

“I’ve got some news for you. And don’t freak out – please. I just told Mom and she hung up on me. But…I’m taking the fall semester off to go travel the world with some friends.”

“With Piper?”

At least her dad remembered who Piper was.

“And Jason and his roommate, Percy. We got a group discount.”

“And how much are you paying?”

Annabeth told him. “That’s with our good GPA discount.”

“Sounds reasonable.” Her dad sighed. “Look, Annabeth, this isn’t what I had in mind for you. But you’ve worked so hard. And you deserve a break and some fun. So go off and explore. Just keep me updated.”

“I will,” Annabeth assured him, feeling her whole body relax.

“So, where are you all going?”

And with that she was off, telling him about all the countries they were traveling to and all the places they wanted to see. He listened, occasionally asking a question. At last they hung up, and when Annabeth checked her phone’s call log, she saw that they’d spoken for over an hour.

Not bad.

She ventured back out to the living room, and found Piper sprawled out on the couch, her dark hair loose and falling into her brown eyes. She was scrolling through her phone, probably on Instagram. She looked up when Annabeth walked in.

“Hey. How’d it go?”

“Well, my mom hung up on me,” Annabeth told her as she collapsed on the other end of the couch. “But my dad’s cool with it. He just wants me to keep him updated on everything.”

“Your mom seriously hung up on you?” Piper repeated, sitting up and swinging her legs off the couch. “Wow. No offense, but your mom is a serious bitch.”

“Tell me about it. Anyway, did you tell your parents?”

“Yeah. They’re not thrilled, but they’re handling it. They agree that if I don’t know what I want to major in, then there’s no point in me continuing school until I do.”

“Sounds like they’re being reasonable.”

“Yeah. I’m not sure how Jason’s parents are going to react. Like, his mom is cool for the most part. His dad can be pretty overbearing, so he might have take issue with this. But Jason’s older sister is awesome. So there’s that. He probably won’t have as much trouble.”

“I don’t think Percy will either,” Annabeth commented. “He told me his parents are really easygoing.”

Piper smiled. “Wow. You two have already talked about your families? Sounds serious.”

Annabeth grabbed a pillow and smacked her with it. “Shut up.”

Piper giggled, shoving the pillow away. “I’m totally going to be maid of honor at your wedding.”

Annabeth shoved Piper. “Fuck off, McLean.”

Piper made kissing sounds at her. “You know you love me.”

Annabeth grabbed the pillow and hit her again. “Set your alarm.”


“We’re hitting the gym tomorrow.”


“We just ate a huge fucking dinner of Thai food and ice cream. Not all of us can eat a shit ton of food and look good.”

“Hey, size doesn’t matter. It’s what’s inside that counts.”

“I don’t care. We’re going to the gym tomorrow morning. If you want to go hiking and not collapse, you’re going to need to be in good shape.”

Piper fell silent at that. After a moment she spoke. “Fuck, you’re right. Shit. Okay, we’ll go to the gym first thing tomorrow morning.”

“Good.” Annabeth stretched out. Today had felt so surreal. She couldn’t believe any of this was happening. And to think, it was just beginning.

Chapter Text

September 1st – 2nd

The rest of August seemed to alternate between flying by, and slowing down to a snail’s crawl. As promised, Piper and Annabeth began hitting the gym the following morning. But they weren’t the only ones. Jason and Percy had apparently decided that swim practice wasn’t brutal enough for their fitness goals. Piper found herself staring more and more at Jason while they were working out. He usually wore a tank top, which showed off his tanned, muscular arms. She’d never actually thought of his arms as tanned or muscular before, but suddenly she found herself watching him as he performed bicep curls or lateral raises. She loved hearing him grunt during the last few reps, when he was really feeling the burn. At first she couldn’t understand why, but then she realized that it made her think of other things – more primal things. Sex. With him.

And that was not okay.

He was her best friend, and she couldn’t be perving on him, no matter how hot he’d gotten.

As promised, that Saturday she and Annabeth hit the stores in town and managed to find some killer deals. They both ended up getting new bikinis, along with hiking gear, shorts, tops, jeans, sweaters, and winter coats, since they’d be in Europe during the fall. Piper secured international sim cards for all of them, and made sure that their passports were all up to date. She also researched different cuisines to check on the vegetarian options for her, and the gluten free options for Annabeth, who had celiac disease.

Of course, that was all when she wasn’t doing homework.

With their GPAs ensuring that they’d get the discount on the trip, they all threw themselves into their studies. Piper found herself studying with Annabeth in the library so much that she began to feel like they should be paying rent. Jason and Percy spent a lot of time in the library as well, and it got to the point where they would all just sit at the table they had used when they’d been discussing the trip, not speaking for hours at a time, just submerged in a comfortable silence as they studied. Piper often spotted Annabeth and Percy shooting each other glances surreptitiously, but never really saying anything. She could feel the attraction between them, but Annabeth maintained that she wasn’t sure if she wanted a relationship or not, and she didn’t want to screw up their trip by having a casual fling with Percy. And so Piper left it alone. For now, anyway.

At last, finals were done with, and their grades were posted. They had all managed to keep their GPAs at a 3.7 or higher, and they breathed a collective sigh of relief. Their discount would hold.

Jason and Percy had managed to get permission to take a leave of absence from the swim team, and all four of them had let the school know that they would be gone for the semester.

The last weekend of August Piper felt as though she might lose her mind. She and Annabeth were trying to get everything packed and ready by September 2nd, which was that Monday. They had to stock up on their birth control pills (they’d both had to get prescriptions filled), toothpaste, new toothbrushes, shampoo, conditioner, frizz control (for Annabeth), sunblock, sanitary pads and tampons for when they did get their periods, stick-on heating pads for cramps, and any other number of things that they could take with them. All that, plus their clothes. And they could only have so many bags with them, since they didn’t want to constantly be shuffling huge suitcases around.

At 10pm on Saturday night, Piper’s phone buzzed with a new text from Jason: Meet you at the usual spot?

Piper smiled and replied, Be there in 5.

She threw a hoodie on over the workout shorts and tank top she’d been wearing, pushed her feet into her flip flops, and told Annabeth she’d be back in a bit. She walked the few short blocks to the football field. Jason was already sitting up in the bleachers.

For as long as Piper could remember, school sports stadiums had been their “spot”. They had both played soccer in middle school and high school, so they were comfortable with sport arenas. They would meet up in the bleachers after a game once everyone had left just to talk and be with each other. When they were in middle school, they would bring sodas and candy bars. When they hit high school, they would bring wine coolers or beer, and chips. If the game had gone well, they’d celebrate together, talking excitedly and cracking loopy jokes. If the game had sucked, they would commiserate with each other, speaking quietly and bad mouthing the other team.

Even though neither of them played any stadium sports now in college, they still considered the football stadium to be their own.

Piper hadn’t been surprised to get the text from Jason. Whenever he was nervous or anxious about something, be it a first date, a final exam, or a swim meet, he would ask to meet her at the football stadium. And this was a little bit bigger than a first date. This was massive, especially for the guy who had done everything right his whole life, and had never strayed off the beaten path.

Piper climbed the bleachers and sat down next to Jason. He wordlessly handed her a can of beer, and she popped it open. “Where’d you get this?” she asked offhandedly.

“A guy in my apartment hooks Percy and me up a couple times a month.”

“How much does he charge?”

“More than the beer is worth, but sometimes you just need it.”

Piper clucked her tongue before taking a sip. The sour liquid was warm, sliding smoothly down her throat. “Buying beer on the black market. Shame on you.”

Jason laughed, and offered her a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. She took a generous handful.

“I can’t always be good, you know,” Jason said, sounding as if he was trying to convince himself more than her.

“Sure you can,” Piper replied. “You always have. But I’m glad you’ve got a wild side.” She raised her beer can in the air. “Even though I’m betting Percy’s the one who paid for the beers.”

Jason stuck her tongue out at her. “Shut up, McLean. You suck.”

“Only if you ask nicely,” she shot back cheekily, before realizing what she’d just said.

Jason let out a bark of surprised laughter. “You did not just say that!” he cried, giving her a playful shove.

“I’m pretty sure I did. Dude, you should see your face!” Piper managed to get out through hard giggles. “It’s redder than the Cheetos.”

“Fuck off, McLean.”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Grace?” She shoved him back, before grabbing another handful of the chips. “Seriously, though. How are you doing with this? With the trip happening in just a little more than twenty-four hours?”

“Honestly? I’m really nervous. I talked to my advisor yesterday, and we figured out a game plan for when I get back. But, if I take an extra class each semester, I can graduate on time.”

Piper pulled a face. “I still don’t understand what’s wrong with graduating a semester late. I’m going to be graduating at least a semester late.”

“Yeah, but that’s different. I’ve had my plan mapped out since I was 14. You know that. I’ve always known I’m going to study law. And I always planned to go to Stanford Law School by the time I’m 22. And I can do it, Piper. I’m going to. I’m going to show my dad – “ He broke off, his voice cracking.

“You’re going to show your dad just how amazing and awesome and smart and wonderful you really are,” Piper told him firmly. She set her can of beer aside and licked the hot cheese powder of her fingers. “But you don’t have to do everything he does, Jason. You can do some things differently than him. You already are. I can pretty much guarantee that Zeus of Zeus Corp. never took a semester off to go travel the world. And I know how hard this is for you, how difficult a decision it was for you to make. I’m so proud of you, Jace.”

“My father has certain expectations of me, Piper,” Jason sighed. “He always has. And I’ve always met them. I can’t just stop – I almost never get to see him. He’s never been proud of me, not really, except for when I told him I want to go to law school and become a prosecuting attorney.”

“So, fuck what your father thinks,” Piper retorted. “It’s not him who has to live your life. It’s you. So ignore him. Put him out of your mind for the next four months. I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll be a lot happier that way.”

Jason didn’t say anything for a full count of twenty. At last he spoke: “You know, I’ve always been a little jealous of you. Your parents are both pretty supportive. They may not always be there, but they try. You and your mom may clash, but at least she’s not trying to control your life. She just wants you to be happy.”

“I guess. I mean, I love her and I know she loves me, too. I just haven’t seen her in over a year, you know? We don’t talk a lot.”

“Maybe you can change that,” Jason suggested. “You know what they say – it takes two to tango.”

Piper laughed. “That’s so fucking corny, dude. And the same could be said for you and your dad.”

“No chance in hell.”

“Right. Of course.” Piper rolled her shoulders back. “Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to get away from both school and parents. Usually you either get one or the other. But in this case, we get to go on a super awesome adventure, without having anything to really worry about.”

“Except for exotic poisonous creatures. And plane crashes. And falling off a mountain.”

Piper pushed his shoulder again as he laughed. “Not cool, dude. Why the hell did you have to bring all that up? I’m not talking to you ever again.”

Jason snorted. “Yeah, good luck with that. You love me too damn much to stop talking to me. Plus, we’re traveling around the world for almost half a year. Who else is going to get your weird sense of humor?”

Piper’s jaw dropped. “My sense of humor is not weird. It’s unique. So there.”

“Piper, you just told me you’d suck me off as a joke. Your sense of humor is weird.”

“Hmmph.” She crossed her arms and pouted as dramatically as she could. She sneaked a peek at him, only to find him smirking. “Ugh, shut up, Grace.”

“I didn’t say anything, McLean. Did you hear me speak?”

“Just pass me the damn Cheetos.”

Jason laughed and handed her the bag. “Do you want another beer?”

“Nah, better not. I still have to walk back to my apartment.”

“True.” Jason finished his beer and crushed the can.

“You know, you are kind of a badass,” Piper teased. “Drinking illegally out in the open. You’re only 20, after all.”

“That’s me. Jason Grace, gangster.”

“It’s a good title for you.” Piper got to her feet, brushing her hands off. “Come on, it’s getting late, and we have a shit ton of things to do tomorrow.”

“Yeah. I’m expecting my dad to call me again tomorrow to try to talk me out of this.”

Piper pursed her lips. She knew his dad had tried to talk him out of it, and had ended up hanging up on him. Apparently Jason’s dad and Annabeth’s mom had taken the same parenting class: How to Make Sure Your Kids Hate You 101.

Jason ended up walking Piper back to her apartment, even though it was so close.

“Do you feel any better now?” Piper asked him as they stood outside her apartment.

“Yeah, a little. I still feel like I’m crazy agreeing to this, but not as much as I did.”

Piper smiled. “Then I did my job.” She stood on her tip toes and kissed his cheek. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Jason.”

He smiled back, and his fingers seemed to brush over the place where she’d kissed him like they had a mind of their own. “Goodnight, Piper.”

Piper let herself into her apartment, waving goodbye to Jason, and closed the door.

“There you are!” Annabeth cried. “I’ve made a list of everything we still have to do, and it’s a lot. I just hope we have enough quarters for all the loads of clothes we’re going to have to wash.”

The next morning came way too quickly, yet not fast enough. As expected, Piper and Annabeth were running around like crazy, trying to get things done. Had they alerted the school that they would be out of the apartment until spring semester? Check. Had they been refunded for their parking passes? Yep. Had they changed their mailing address to their respective dads’? Done and done. And that was just the stuff they had to do in the morning. Piper had barely even begun packing. Annabeth volunteered to wash clothes if Piper would run down to the grocery store to pick up last minute supplies. Piper also took care of the food they were bringing on the plane. She hated airplane food, and she hadn’t been sure Annabeth’s food could be considered gluten free. She’d seen Annabeth after she accidentally ingested gluten, once at a restaurant that was supposed to be safe, and once when she’d eaten something that had been cross-contaminated. Annabeth had been physically sick for days. But the emotional and mental affects had stayed with her for over a month. And so, Piper carefully prepared Annabeth’s food first, a turkey and cheese sandwich made on gluten-free bread, with a side of apple slices and a bag of chips. Once she was done, she washed everything, including her hands, and prepared a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich for herself on regular bread, along with a side of fruit and chips. She carefully labeled everything. She supposed she was being paranoid, but she hated seeing one of her best friends so sick, and she knew what it was like to have dietary restrictions.

Once she was done with the food, she went back to packing, but it was hard with so much too do and so many distractions.

Jason seemed to be calling Piper every five minutes with a new question: Did she think he should download a language translation app? Did she think he should bring his iPad with him? What about his iPod, which he hadn’t used in years? He should probably bring a survival tips book, right?

“That is so cute,” Annabeth smirked after Piper hung up with Jason for the fifth time, this time after telling him that, sure, if he could find room in his duffel bag, he should totally bring a map of the world.

“What is?” Piper asked absentmindedly as she turned back to her packing.

Annabeth dumped a load of freshly-washed clothes on Piper’s bed. “How he calls you for advice. I’ve never heard Jason ask for advice from anyone but you.”

“You don’t really know him that well,” Piper pointed out to her.

“Still. He doesn’t even seem to ask Percy for advice. But with you, he’s calling you every other minute, wanting to know if you think he should do this or if you think he should do that. He really values your opinion.”

“We’ve been friends for a long time. Of course he values my opinion. I value his as well.”

Annabeth shrugged. “I’m just saying, he’s really attached. It’s adorable.”

“Yeah, I guess it is. I never really thought about it.” Piper went back to folding clothes into her bag. “I don’t mind it, though. I mean, I’m always his number one girl, you know? Even when he has a girlfriend, he still puts me first.”

Annabeth stared at her. “Really? Not his girlfriend? I take it those relationships don’t last for very long.”

“Not for too long, no.”

“What about your relationships, when you have them?”

Piper shrugged. “Jason comes first. He always has. We’re best friends, Annabeth. Of course I’m going to put him first.”

“Right. Well, it’s a good thing you guys are so close, since you’ll be spending four months together.” And with that Annabeth wandered out of the room, leaving Piper wondering what the hell that was supposed to mean.

Since their flight was due to leave at 1:30am, Piper and Annabeth both opted to take naps that evening. They woke up at 10:30 that night, showered, threw on clothes, and began getting ready. Charles Beckendorf had offered to take them to LAX. Luckily he drove a huge SUV, so there was plenty of room for all their luggage.

No one said much as they made the drive into Los Angeles. Piper knew they were all too hyped up and too nervous to really try to hold a conversation. They chatted a bit with Beckendorf, but it was a relief when he finally dropped them off at the entrance to LAX, their luggage in tow.

From there, they made their way through security, found their gate, and opted for a quick snack and caffeine fix from McDonald’s. Piper and Annabeth both got yogurt parfaits, though Annabeth got hers without the granola, and iced coffees, while the boys got chicken sandwiches with their coffees.

“You want a bite?” Piper heard Percy offer a fry to Annabeth.

Annabeth shook her head. “No thanks. I can’t eat those.”

“You’re allergic to fries?” was Percy’s confused response.

“No. It’s just, some McDonald’s cook their fries in some sort of beef flavoring that has wheat in it. I can’t eat that.”

“Oh.” Percy frowned. “Why not? Are you allergic…?”

Piper watched as Annabeth stirred her yogurt. It wasn’t a conversation she really liked having. She was a little sensitive about having an autoimmune disease, even one that only affected her if she ate gluten. It was a weakness, and Annabeth Chase did not have weaknesses.

“Something like that,” Annabeth finally said. “Anyway, it’s 1:15. We should probably head to our gate now. Don’t want to be late.”

Piper swallowed the last bite of her yogurt, gulped the last of her coffee, and stood up. They made quick trips to the restroom before continuing on to their gate.

At last they were called to board. Jason had opted for business class when he’d paid for the plane tickets, so that they could be comfortable but they weren’t totally splurging. They were seated, and Piper made sure that they could easily get to their carry-on bag with their sandwiches. She texted both her parents to let them know they had boarded.

The pre-flight safety announcements were done, and everyone buckled their seatbelts. As the plane began taxiing down the runway, Piper exchanged excited glances with Annabeth, and then with Jason. She couldn’t believe this was it, that it was really happening.

And then the plane took off, and Piper’s stomach swooped. This was really it. There was no going back now.

They spent the plane trip chatting, watching videos and listening to music on their phones, and napping. Around 6am they broke out their food for a quick meal. Afterwards, Piper went back to sleep, dozing on and off for the next couple of hours. When she woke up, she noticed that both Annabeth and Percy were asleep. Jason, who sat across the aisle from her, was awake. She smiled over at him.


He smiled back. “Hey. Did you sleep well?”

“Decently. What about you? Did you get any sleep?”

“Some. I’ve got coffee, so I should be good.” He held up the cup. “Do you want some? We can get the stewardess back.”

Piper stretched out. “I think I’m good for now, but thanks. Maybe once we land.”

“So, what’s the plan when we do land?”

“Well, according to the email I got, we’ll meet a representative from Paradise Journey at the airport. They’ll take us to our hotel, which I think is close to the airport. It’s supposed to be a good hotel. I did some research on it, and it looks like it’s even got a rooftop pool, which is cool.”

Jason chuckled. “Are we even going to have time to go swimming?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. We’ll have to try to make time for it.”

“I mean, a lot of our week is going to be taken up by going to Machu Pichu. We’re only spending today, tomorrow, and our last day in Peru in Lima.”

“I know. Ooof, I’m so excited!” She grinned at Jason. “Thank you so, so much for deciding to come with me. It wouldn’t be nearly as amazing without you.”

He smiled. “You’re welcome, Pipes. I’m glad I decided to come. I’m pretty sure this is going to beat sitting through classes on law.”

“Damn straight it will. Just think. Peru this week, Belize the following week, and then Costa Rica. And that’s just to start off with.” Piper shivered in anticipation. “This is going to be epic!”

Annabeth and Percy woke up a little later. At about 10:30, Pacific Standard time, and 12:30, Peru Standard time, it was announced that the plane would be landing at the Jorge Chávez International Airport in just a few minutes. Everyone fastened their seatbelts, and the plane began to dip down.

The landing felt smooth, which was a relief to Piper – she loved what little traveling she’d done, but she hated flying. And then the pilot spoke over the intercom: “Ahora hemos aterrizado en Lima. Bienvenido a Peru. We have now landed in Lima. Welcome to Peru!”

Chapter Text

September 2nd – Lima, Peru

As they disembarked from the plane, Annabeth found herself grinning from ear to ear. She kept bumping shoulders with Percy, which somehow made the fact that she was walking into an international airport in Lima, Peru that much better. It felt surreal, but amazing. She’d actually done it. She’d gone against her mother’s wishes and boarded that plane at LAX. And now she was here, in Lima. She could soak in the culture of Lima today and tomorrow, and the day after she would be hiking to Machu Pichu. It was beyond surreal.

But so damn cool at the same time.

They followed the English signs to the baggage claim, where they got their luggage, before continuing on to the front of the airport.

They scanned the crowd, looking for the Paradise Journey representative.

“There!” Percy pointed towards a young Asian man with a large build and a friendly face. He held up a sign with their names.

They moved towards him, smiling hopefully.

“Hi!” he said cheerfully. “Piper, Jason, Annabeth, and Percy?”

“That would be us,” Jason confirmed.

“Nice to meet you! I’m Frank, from Paradise Journey. I’m so excited you guys are here today! We’re going to have a blast over the next four months.” He led them out of the airport, where an SUV was waiting. “It’s just a rental,” he told them as the boys gushed over it. “The airport rents out cars to Paradise Journey employees at a discounted price, so we always have transportation.”

“That sounds like a good deal,” Piper commented.

“It is,” Frank agreed. “Go ahead, get in. The hotel is just about 15 minutes from here, so it’s a short drive.”

Everyone climbed into the SUV. Since Jason was the tallest, he took the front passenger seat, and the others sat in the back. Frank navigated the SUV neatly out of the airport parking lot and onto the road. Annabeth gazed out the window, drinking in the sights of the city. She could spot exotic trees dotted between the buildings. While it looked like your average city, Annabeth had done enough research to know it was so much more than that.

Frank pointed towards the west. “The coast is over there. If you get a chance, you guys should definitely check out the beaches. There are some really nice beaches in the Miraflores district.”

Annabeth could see Percy craning his neck to get a glimpse of the ocean, but he couldn’t seem to quite spot it past the tall buildings. He collapsed against the seat, disappointed.

“You guys have a free day tomorrow to explore Lima,” Frank mentioned. “So you can do whatever you want.”

“Maybe we can go down to one of the beaches tomorrow,” Annabeth suggested to Percy.

“Don’t you want to check out the Larco Museum?” Percy replied, quirking an eyebrow.

Annabeth fought back a smile. He’d remembered that she’d made an offhand comment almost three weeks ago about going to the museum. “Yeah, but we can still go down to one of the beaches.”

“The Larco Museum is in the Pueblo Libre district, and the best beaches are in the Miraflores district,” Frank told them. “It’s about a half hour drive between the two, so you guys should have plenty of time. And the hotel you guys will be staying in is in the Miraflores district, so you’ll have a short commute from the hotel to the beach.”

Annabeth pulled out her phone and punched the information into Google. “It’s about a twenty-two minute drive,” she told Percy.

“We can lend you a car for the day if you’d like,” Frank offered. “That way you guys aren’t stuck walking or taking a cab.”

“That’d be great!” Percy’s eyes lit up, before turning to Annabeth. “Do you want to do that? We can hit the museum first, if you want.”

Annabeth smiled. “Yeah, that sounds perfect.”

“What do you want to do tomorrow?” Jason asked Piper, half-turning in his seat so he could look at her.

“I kind of just want to explore Lima on foot,” she told him. “Maybe check out some of the food and the local sights.”

“That sounds great. I’ll totally do that with you, if you don’t mind the company.”

“Of course I’d love the company,” Piper replied, looking back at Jason like he was crazy. And maybe he was, Annabeth reflected. Jason’s eyes lit up the way Percy’s had just a moment ago, and Annabeth suspected it wasn’t just because Jason was eager to walk around Lima.

Frank pulled into the parking lot of a huge glass building. Annabeth tried to make out the name of the hotel, but the Spanish words coupled with her dyslexia, making it nearly impossible. Frank parked close to the entrance, and they climbed out. They grabbed their luggage and headed inside, where they checked in and got their room keys.

“We’ll meet down here at the bar at 4pm for a mixer, so you and the other people on this trip can meet,” Frank told them. “In the meantime, you can do whatever you want. Check out some of the local shops, get some food, whatever. I’ll see you guys in a few hours.”

Since their rooms were on the fourth floor, they piled into the elevator. Annabeth tucked a loose strand of blonde hair behind her ear as the others chatted about what they were going to do. Piper still wanted to go swimming, while Jason was considering a nap.

She noticed that Percy was quiet, too. She turned to him. “What do you want to do?”

He smiled as the doors dinged open. “I’m hungry.”

“You know what? So am I.”

After some more talk, Piper and Jason decided they were as well.

“Let’s check out our rooms, and then find a place to eat,” Jason said.

Their rooms were located right next to each other, which was nice. Annabeth inserted her key card into the slot, and with a loud click the door swung open. She and Piper stepped in, hauling their luggage behind them.

The room was gorgeous, decorated in silvery grays, blacks, and whites. They had a fantastic view of the city out the window, and Annabeth could just catch a glimpse of the ocean.

She yawned and rubbed her eyes. She felt kind of gross from the plane, but she didn’t want to take a full shower when they were going to be walking around a hot city.

She shot a quick message to her dad to let him know she’d made it safely to the hotel, before changing out of her travel clothes of leggings and a baggy sweatshirt into shorts and a t-shirt. She laced up her Converse sneakers, and let her hair down from its messy bun. She ran a brush through her tangled curls, and slicked on a layer of lip gloss and mascara. It wasn’t much, but it made her feel slightly more human.

Piper finished cleaning up as well, just as there was a knock on the door. The boys were ready.

They had lunch at a nearby restaurant. Annabeth had printed out cards reading celiac in different languages, so she was able to communicate to the waiter that she couldn’t eat gluten. Piper had done the same thing, only with the word vegetarian, so she was able to order a dish without meat. Annabeth saw Percy glance at her card, clearly trying to translate it. While the translation was super easy, if he wasn’t familiar with the term in English, he had no hope.

She gave him a small smile as she slipped the card back into her wallet. She ended up getting chicken, with rice and vegetables, while Piper got beans with rice and vegetables. The boys got massive platters of food, heavy on the sauces Annabeth knew would make her sick. But that was okay. It had been three years since she was diagnosed, and most of her bitterness had evaporated.

The meal was excellent, and they spent the next couple of hours just wandering around the Miraflores district. They returned to the hotel a little before 3, so they could shower and change into clothes more suitable for drinks and dinner.

Annabeth ended up wearing a flowy white lacey calf-length skirt and a pink tank top under a denim jacket. She let her blonde curls cascade over her shoulders and down her back, and she even put on a little bit of eyeliner and redid her mascara. She slipped her feet into wedge sandals to complete the look. Piper wore destroyed black skinny jeans and a cropped t-shirt, with flat sandals. Once they deemed each other ready, they made their way down to the hotel’s bar.

The boys were already there, in simple jeans and t-shirts. They were chatting with Frank and a Hispanic-looking girl with long dark hair and eyes the color of dark chocolate.

Percy and Jason waved Annabeth and Piper over.

“This is Reyna,” Jason said to the girls. “She’s our other tour guide. Reyna, this is Piper and Annabeth.”

Reyna shook both girls’ hands with something that Annabeth supposed must be a smile. It looked more like a grimace. “It’s nice to meet you both.”

“You, too,” Annabeth and Piper chorused.

Over the next fifteen minutes, the other members of the group trailed in. Annabeth met Leo Valdez, a junior from the University of Texas; Will Solace, a premed student; and Calypso Atlas who, like Piper, was undecided on her major, but was currently attending a university back east.

Percy’s eyes lit up for what felt like the millionth time that day as the final two members of the group wandered in: An African-American girl with brown eyes, and a skinny, pale boy with overgrown black hair and black eyes.

“Hazel? Nico?” Percy cried, rushing over to them. “Holy shit, what are the chances?” He hugged them both, before tugging them over. “Guys, these are two of my friends from New York City! We went to high school together! This is Hazel Levesque, and her brother, Nico Di Angelo.”

Annabeth blinked. While Hazel was all sunny smiles and enthusiasm greetings, Nico hung back a bit, glowering as if he resented every single person’s presence. She couldn’t imagine two people less likely to be siblings.

“It’s so nice to meet you,” Hazel gushed to Annabeth and Piper. “Oh my gosh, this is amazing! I can’t believe we ran into Percy Jackson of all people! See, Nico?” she added to her brother. “I told you that this would be the trip of a lifetime.”

“Yeah, I know.” Nico shoved his hands in his jeans pockets. He glared at the floor, like it had done him a personal wrong.

“How the hell have you guys been?” Percy asked Hazel and Nico as he led them over to the bar. Hazel appeared to answer enthusiastically, while Nico just kept his lips clamped shut.

“Your boyfriend seems to know some of the people in the group.”

Annabeth’s head snapped around. She hadn’t even heard Reyna slip up behind her. “What? Yeah, he does. But he’s not my boyfriend,” she added quickly.

“Really?” Reyna raised an eyebrow in satisfaction. “That’s interesting.”

“Percy and I are just friends,” Annabeth gritted out. She didn’t like the triumphant glimmer in Reyna’s eyes.

“And you and Jason?” Reyna asked Piper.

“He’s my best friend!” Piper sounded outraged at the very notion that she and Jason might be more than friends. Annabeth rolled her eyes. Please. She’d seen the way Piper had stared at Jason when they’d been working out in the gym. Whether or not Piper’s feelings for Jason ran any deeper than physical attraction, Annabeth didn’t know. But either way, those feelings were there, and Piper would have to confront them at some point.

“So, you two aren’t dating?” Reyna confirmed.

“Not at all.” Piper crossed her arms and glared at Reyna. “Why?”

“Just wondering.” Reyna looked very happy by this information. Annabeth decided at that moment that she didn’t trust Reyna around the boys. She seemed to want both Percy and Jason, and Annabeth was not okay with that.

Frank clapped his hands to get everyone’s attention. “Okay, we’re going to head out to dinner now. Follow me, please.” He led the way out of the hotel and to a nearby restaurant.

The group chatted over dinner and drinks, and Annabeth realized that, for the most part, she really liked the others in the tour group. Leo had decided to get his business degree so he could open his own garage in Texas, while Hazel, who was the youngest, was hoping to go to school to become a veterinarian.

“I just really want to help animals,” she said passionately as she sipped on her soda.

Calypso didn’t get along with her dad, who disapproved of everything she did, while Will wanted to become a pediatrician. In fact, by the time they finished up dinner, the only person who Annabeth hadn’t really spoken to was Nico.

When they got back to the hotel, everyone said their goodnights and disappeared up to their rooms.

Piper grinned at Annabeth once they were in their room. “Feel like a swim?”

Annabeth grinned back. “You read my mind. Let’s do it.”

They slipped into their bikinis and tied their hair back. They slipped on their flip-flops and grabbed their towels, before heading up to the pool. Piper had been right, Annabeth realized. The pool was on the roof. Glass railings blocked off the edges, allowing the girls to peer out over the city.

Annabeth dropped her towel on one of the lounge chairs, and kicked off her flip-flops. She jumped into the pool with a shriek, and Piper followed suit. Annabeth came up for breath, laughing as she shoved loose strands of hair out of her face. “Oh my God! I can’t believe we’re swimming in a fucking hotel rooftop pool in fucking Lima, Peru!”

Piper cracked up. “Think you could drop a couple more F bombs in there, Professor Chase?”

Annabeth splashed a wave of water at her, and Piper screamed as it crashed over her.

“Oh, it’s war, Chase!”

Annabeth screamed obscenities as Piper sent wave after wave of water at her. By the time the attack let up, Annabeth was completely drenched. “You are such a fucking brat!” she screeched through her laughter.

“Get used to it!” Piper retorted, hanging onto the side of the pool as she struggled to control her giggles.

“You know,” Annabeth said as she swam to the side of the pool as well to take a breather, “I can pretty much guarantee that the boys are not having nearly as much fun as we are.”

“I wouldn’t even take that bet,” Piper grinned as she stared out at the city of Lima. “There’s just no way in hell.”

Percy was certain he’d crash the second he laid down in his bed. He was absolutely exhausted. He never slept well on planes, and he’d barely gotten any sleep the evening before. But as he laid down on his bed, his body seemed to buzz, reminding him that he was on what would probably be the best damn adventure of his life.

Jason was fixing himself a cup of tea using the coffee maker and some teabags he’d picked up at the front desk. “So, what do you think?”

“About what?” Percy asked. He pushed his pillows up so they were leaning against the wall, and then settled back against them, hands folded behind his head. He’d changed into his pajama pants and t-shirt, but sleep suddenly seemed very far away.

“About…everything, I guess. About the trip so far.”

“It’s only the first day,” Percy pointed out. “But so far it seems to be going good. Everyone in the group seems nice. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

“Yeah, it is,” Jason agreed. He sat down on his bed with his cup of tea. “So…you’re going to be spending the day with Annabeth tomorrow.”

Percy glanced over at him. “You’ve got a point, dude?”

“Yeah. You have a crush on her.”

Percy snorted. “What are you, 12? No one has crushes anymore.”

Jason let out a huffy breath. “Fine, whatever. But you like her. You’re insanely attracted to her. I know the signs, dude. You can’t keep your eyes off her when she’s in the same room, and your face absolutely lights up every time you guys talk. I can just about imagine your expression when she suggested you guys go to the museum and the beach together.”

Percy scowled. “Fuck off.”

Jason laughed. “You know I’m right. And you know you’re excited.”

Percy tried to hold the scowl for a moment longer, but couldn’t quite manage. “Fine,” he admitted. “I’m excited. I like Annabeth a lot. She’s so damn smart and funny and intelligent and – she’s gorgeous. Talking to her is crazy easy, but so is just being with her. We don’t have anything in common, yet we get along like we’ve known each other our entire lives. How the fuck does that even work?”

“Opposites attract?” Jason suggested.

“Like you and Piper?”

Jason was quiet for a moment. And then he said, “You can’t tell Piper. She doesn’t know.”

“Know what?” Percy rolled over and propped himself up on his elbow so he could raise an eyebrow at Jason. “That you’ve been in love with her for at least as long as I’ve known you guys? Come on, why not tell her? It’s not like she’s seeing anyone right now.”

“That’s just it!” Jason cried. “She doesn’t want to see anyone. She likes to keep things casual. I don’t. I like relationships. We’d never work out.”

“Doesn’t mean you can’t try.”

“And ruin the friendship?” Jason snorted. “No thanks. I think I’ll keep my feelings to myself. Besides, she probably doesn’t even have feelings for me. And she doesn’t have to.”

“So, you’re cool with just being friend-zoned?”

“Percy, it’s not about being friend-zoned. I’m just happy she wants to spend time with me. I’m beyond thrilled that she wanted me to go on this trip with her and Annabeth. I may have been hesitant, but just the fact that she wanted me to go so badly…”

“So that’s why you decided to go,” Percy said quietly. “Not because of any of the points we made, but because you’re in love with Piper and couldn’t bear to disappoint her.”

“That’s putting it a little strongly.”

“But it’s true, isn’t it?”

Jason didn’t say anything to that.

“That’s what I thought,” said Percy in satisfaction. “Well, you’ll be spending tomorrow with Piper, so I guess we both have big days tomorrow with the girls we’re not dating.”

“But you could date Annabeth,” Jason pointed out.

Percy sighed and raked his fingers through his already-messy hair. He wanted to date Annabeth, he really did. But she seemed so…mysterious. Aloof. Like that gluten-free thing. He didn’t think it was that big a deal. Lots of people had food allergies. But she acted like it was a huge secret.

“Annabeth seems like she’s kind of hard to get to know,” Percy said at last.

“So you’re not going to try?”

“Of course I’m going to try! I just don’t know if it’s going to do any good. She seems so tough and world-wary, like she doesn’t need anyone.”

“Well, maybe she doesn’t need anyone,” Jason suggested. “But maybe she’d like someone. I mean, you don’t need anyone, but wouldn’t you like to have someone?”

Percy glowered at him. “Stop making sense. It’s too late for that.”

Jason laughed. “Get some sleep, Perce. We’ve both got big days tomorrow.”

“Yes,” Percy agreed. “Yes, we do.”