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6 P.M. 

Half-Blood Hill.

 

 

The air is metallic blood; the rain, hardened steel. He’s not sure how he keeps up with this. With the battles. The surprises. The gods. The monsters. But he couldn’t back down, Percy supposes, not when other demigods are in danger. They’re all over the hillside, surrounding Thalia’s tree with their swords slashing at the incoming monsters.

 

Chiron had sounded the alarm not too long ago, after a group of fresh demigods and hunters had returned with a fleet of monsters in their wake. And, well, at twenty six, Percy is still figuring his life out, so now he's here, helping out as best as he can alongside Annabeth. But he admits, at least, he and Annabeth wouldn't have been here if they hadn't taken a break at their summer home in New Athens in the first place. He enjoys camp, after all, despite the violence that it brings. Here is where he belongs, where he doesn't have to hide away and lie and think too much. Normalcy gets too boring from time to time, he supposes. 

 

Besides, defending this hillside means more than just past memories of quests. It reminds him of all the work that was put out: he was there when Annabeth spilled coffee over blueprints and when she meticulously inspected the grounds. He was there in the red-eyed mornings and as his girlfriend stood there in a barren land, amazing as ever, rebuilding an entire town from scratch with only brains and determination. Normalcy doesn’t matter, he supposes, when home is here, glaring in the sunlight. So really, they’d signed up for this mess, monsters and all.

 

Through all this, there is a tiny box. A ring taking the place of a pen. He glances over his shoulder to find Annabeth. She is there as an avenging warrior, sleek and unmerciful. But she has other sides to her image, like her smiles and her jokes and her tears. Percy's life has ripened, has taken meaning where there was none, just by having her accompanying him along the way, by having the privilege of knowing her.

 

So, there is a ring, one that Tyson had crafted and gifted to him just months before. He'd placed it in his pocket, had taken it with him everywhere he'd gone. He'd hesitated, though, not sure when would be the right time to pop the question.

 

Today, however, he feels like it's time, even as he gores monster after monster like he'd always done in times like these. Times that have expanded to more than a decade.

 

Maybe that's why he calls for her in the first place.

 

“Annabeth!”

 

The fight goes on, and her name is lost in the poundings of the storm, in the battle cries and the monsters and clashes of metal.

 

“Annabeth,” he repeats, grasping her arm.

 

She looks at him then, panting. With her hair darkened and pressed to her face from the rain, he thinks that he’s never seen a more glorious sight. She is angelic, in a strange, paradoxical way, her grey eyes the color of the clouds from the heavens and her skin glistening with torrients of icy water. The ring weighs in his pocket.

 

“What is it?” she gasps.

 

His heart beats in a harsher way than the rain, and yet, at twenty six, Percy has never been more sure of anything in his life.

 

“Marry me.” The words leave in a breath of wind before he can stop them.

 

He’s sure he imagines it, but it’s like the world stops, for just one moment. Why not, really?

 

If Percy has learned anything from his life, it is that demigods never get the luxury of predictability. Why not ask her here, with the essence of themselves thrown about like the daggers of rain? 

 

She only gapes at him, and then a dracaena comes, spear pointed down. Annabeth reacts quickly, blocking out the strike and then stabbing her knife into the monster's scaly neck.

 

Water mixes with dust when she turns to him again. “Really, Percy? Now, you’re asking?

 

He feels a brush of air; in an instant a hellhound is breathing down his neck. He whirls and jabs with Annabeth guarding his side. When the hellhound is turned into a shadow, he focuses on her once more.  

 

“Yes.” He wipes away rainwater from his eyes. Concentrating on his powers is useless in this weather. “Fuck it, yes. Marry me, ‘Beth.”

 

She doesn’t respond, directing her attention instead on the battle at hand. More Dracaenae join the fight. They’re like an army of cockroaches, their weapons glinting in the few rays of sun. 

 

Let them come.

 

They fight back to back, Percy and Annabeth. These are the moments that put his reality into perspective. They’re demigods; they’ll never be normal—this is all they’ve known. Fight after fight, they’d been through this, through the spilled blood and the small bits of hope and the thin, candid smiles. As they work in symphony, his sword and her knife moving like birds taking flight, he feels a resounding ache in his chest. 

 

The ring weighs him down even more, because in the face of supernatural creatures in full Greek armor and flickering lightning tongues, his love for her only grows. All he wants now is to watch this wonderful, incredible woman face down life with the same force that she's using now. Fierce and sure and deadly to incoming troubles. 

 

But it's more than that. He wants to fight all those battles by her side just to see her smile in the aftermath, just to feel the dust settle. He yearns to wake up to her face, golden with the rising of the sun, every day, for the rest of their lives. 

 

At some point, Annabeth turns invisible. He grins, despite his millions of paper thoughts and his anticipating heart. He parries away swords, ignores the showing of fangs. It’s not long until the draecenae begin to disappear, surprised at the last second, since Percy hadn't landed a blow. They'd always worked best as a team.

 

A chink in the armor here. A chink in the armor there.

 

Again and again, until the ending is the same. Percy and Annabeth, back to back. They’re left alone, mud and ichor splayed around them. In this position, her head falls into the space of his neck and shoulder as if greeting the crying heavens. She breathes deeply, in and out.

 

“Gods,” she huffs. “I’m getting too old for this.”

 

“That makes two of us.”.

 

But the battle isn’t over, not by a long run. They are still needed, he knows. So they move downhill, disintegrating rogue monsters as they do so.

 

They join the rest of the demigods; to his right, he hears Clarisse’s whoops, and to his left, Chiron’s orders to fire on. 

 

The rain pounds harder, now—like a crackling symphony. 

 

Annabeth doesn't address Percy's question until then. She has to yell at him or else the storm will swallow her words. “About that proposal?” 

 

“Yes?”

 

Percy locks Riptide with a hissing draecena’s sword. A second passes before he disarms her, leaving an opening for Annabeth to knife through the monster's skin.

 

“I do!” she cries. “I want to marry you!”

 

“That’s great to hear, babe!”

 

“I mean—” CLANG! Her knife connects with a broadsword, but still she manages to parry and then stab the creature in the chest. “Maybe right now was not the best time to ask!”

 

Meanwhile, he slashes at harpies hurtling into them. After, he blinks the rain away. “There is never a ‘best’ time!”

 

He rushes to her after the coast clears if only for a few seconds, and he lets himself cup her cheek, damp and cool but so alive and so Annabeth. 

 

“I love you,” he tells her.

 

An understanding passes through her—lips parted, brows set and scrunched together.  

 

“Clarisse,” she breathes.

 

Her brain had always worked faster than time.

 

He furrows his brow. “What?”

 

“Clarisse,” she repeats, her lips spreading into a smile. “She’s ordained.”

 

“You mean from that dare at Connor’s birthday afterparty?”

 

“That’s not the point, Seaweed Brain!”

 

Oh.

 

Oh. 

 

The facts begin to settle in right as Annabeth peers over Percy’s shoulder, calling for the daughter of Ares. 

 

“Clarisse!” she shouts, cutting through the wind. “MARRY US!”

 

Percy turns, just in time to witness Clarisse cut an empousa in two. She’d heard Annabeth, however. Her teeth clench as she spears the one that had dashed in her direction. 

 

“I’M A LITTLE BUSY AT THE MOMENT!”

 

It doesn’t matter what she thinks. The two of them share a grin. Right now. Today. To be fair, there is never a good time.

 

“C’mon La Rue!” he says. 

 

“I told you!” Clarisse replies. “I’m—” She grunts, then starts, “I’m a little busy!”

 

Just then, a couple of empousai fix their attention on him. They sneer with their razor teeth and their sallow faces. “We meet again, Perseus,” one says.

 

“Who are you?”

 

In retrospect, he’d always hated empousai.

 

He dodges their strikes, dancing away and moving Riptide into their line of attacks, but there are many of them, and, unfortunately, they’re faster than hungry cheetahs. It’s not until Annabeth stabs the remaining three in the back that he can breathe again.

 

“Seriously, though,” she says, taking off her invisibility cap while flicking away the damp hairs from her face. “We’re getting rusty.”

 

“Tell me about it.” He feels the little box in his pocket, imprints it in his brain. So he reminds her: “If we’re getting married today, I already have the ring.”

 

Her eyes widen. This isn’t planned. None of this is. But he’s Percy and she’s Annabeth, and despite the insistence of plans, they’d always worked best in the heat of the moment. They’d always worked best as they are now: whirlwinds of movement—an improvised dance in the chaos of storms and screeches. 

 

“Clarisse!” Annabeth shouts again. “Percy has the ring!”

 

“Are you fucking—AGH, FINE!”

 

“I’ll make it up to you! Promise!”

 

“You fucking better!" A second beats away, and she says, "Dearly beloved!” Her spear crackles with electricity as another monster comes, but she continues, “We are gathered here today to join Percy Jackson and, agh—GET OUT OF MY FUCKING WAY—and Annabeth Chase in the union of marriage!”

 

A blur of movement interrupts his thoughts, and again he finds himself fighting next to her, next to the love of his life. She cries out, right as she counterattacks a dracaena, and Percy hacks at its scales.

 

Back to back. Front to center. Dodges and slashes. Rain and thunder.

 

“Your vows, you idiots!” Clarisse hollers, her face fixed on them for once. She has a maddening gleam in her eyes. The same gleam as her spear.

 

It dawns on him that she’s excited. She’s happy for them, even during battle.

 

In the back of his mind, he realizes that heads are turning at this. He vaguely hears the cries of his friends, of the campers. Who’s getting married? they seem to ask. Percy doesn’t care about them.

 

Annabeth, he thinks. She wants to marry me. And she’s here, bright as the sun, waiting for him.

 

“Annabeth Chase,” Clarisse continues, closing the distance she had between them. “Do you take Percy Jackson to be your husband?”

 

Percy finds that Annabeth is not the sun—she is the stars, more like. She is the universe. 

 

Giddily, she says, “I do.”

 

Then Clarisse’s voice cuts in, “Wait, watch out!” 

 

His arm reacts before his brain, taking down an empousa. Annabeth laces her fingers with his through it all, ready for the next part of the vow even if they are yet to win the fight. Ready for anything. Percy squeezes her hand.

 

“Okay, okay,” Clarisse pants. Her bandana is thrown across her shoulders, hair sticking to her face and water sluicing down her lips. She surveys the land as she says, “Do you promise to love, honor, cherish, and protect him, forsaking all others, blah blah blah, forevermore?”

 

“Yes! I do!”

 

Percy's smile expands until it hurts to breathe. "Great."

 

“And do you, Percy Jackson, take Annabeth Chase to be your wife? Do you promise all those things that I—” Sparks fly in the air, roars filter with the cold winds. “Mother fu—JUST PRETEND I SAID THAT SHIT FROM BEFORE!" 

 

He pulls Annabeth close, places a hand on her side. “I do.”

 

She bites her bottom lip. Then her face shifts; she jabs at something to his back, maneuvering away from him. 

 

A howl travels with the rain. By the looks of it, the monsters have begun to thin out—the hunters and the remaining campers seem to have the upper hand, but it doesn’t change much—for every one lost, another takes its place.

 

Soon, they will be forced to retreat.

 

His musings come to a halt; suddenly Nico is there, his stygian sword melting monsters into shadows. "You're having your wedding and I wasn't invited?" he demands.

 

"Sorry!" both of them chorus.

 

He slashes the air around them, making a wide arc with Riptide. No one can intrude. No one can shatter this moment. 

 

“Now the rings!” Clarisse says.

 

"Can I be the ring bearer?" Nico says.

 

"Sure!" Percy throws the little box he'd had stored in his pocket all this time. Nico catches it without stumbling, which, for the son of Hades, is a feat in itself.

 

"Okay, but why not just..." Annabeth stabs a harpy's eye out. "Give me—Agh! Why don't you just give me the ring?" she finishes.

 

He pulls her to him by the arm. "Protocol, babe."

 

"Love you, too!"

 

In the meantime, Nico opens the box and gasps. "Whoah, who made this?"

 

"Do you want to get married or not!" Clarisse snaps.

 

Nico darts over to them, frantically handing the ring to Percy

 

Percy finds himself explaining hurriedly, “It’s just one ring, but—”

 

"Eh, we'll get another one."

 

"Okay."

 

"Okay. We're doing this."

 

She beams at him as he pushes the ring into her finger. It's silver, with a white pearl in the middle, bright as a lighthouse. A tiny olive grazes the left side of the pearl and a trident grazes the right; running down its encircling are more drawings, symbols and memories. All in all, the ring is a commemoration of all that they'd been through, a symbol of peace. Poseidon and Athena, working together. Tyson did a good job. Simple yet complicated. Just right for Annabeth.

 

“With this ring,” Percy starts, “I thee wed—uh...that’s how it goes, right, Clarisse?”

 

She responds by attacking a hellhound to her left. “Right! You're doing great!”

 

Annabeth says softly, “Pretend I have a ring for you, too.” 

 

She’s close enough for him to see every minuscule curl, every freckle on her nose—it’s like she wants him to lose, to see him come undone. 

 

“I'll pretend,” he manages.

 

Growls come from behind them both, and so they shoot their weapons out, deadly and precise.

 

“WITH THAT SAID, I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU HUSBAND AND WIFE! OKAY, IT'S DONE, NOW YOU MAY KISS THE BRIDE!”

 

It’s inevitable that they meet in the middle.

 

“A kiss for luck?”

 

“A kiss for luck,” she agrees.

 

Annabeth grabs his face, Percy pulls her flush against him, and when their lips meet, it's almost like steel against steel, like clouds and the sky. He’s sure nothing can go wrong like this, because they're kissing as if there’s nothing left on earth, as if time froze with their breaths. She anchors him to her, their mouths parting, then pressing together. Soon, though, the kiss transitions into smiles, cheeks widening so much that it hurts. 

 

Everything clicks into place, all of a sudden. It’s a switch of the light.

 

Holy shit, Annabeth Chase is my wife

 

The shock comes like warm water.

 

And then, the acceptance.  I am kissing my wife. Annabeth is my wife now, and we got married at the worst time possible and we might die from this but we are married, and—

 

Annabeth draws back.

 

“Hey, husband.”

 

He laughs, and a boom of thunder reverberates across the puddled grass. His thumb plays with her bottom lip; he can’t help but kiss her again, softer this time. “Hey, wife.”

 

“YOU’RE WELCOME, BY THE WAY!”

 

Annabeth throws Clarisse a thumbs up—Percy can’t see her, but she was probably the one who kept the monsters at bay, who tried to give them peace as they kissed.

 

Clapping starts, first from Nico and then from the campers who were within earshot to witness their improvised wedding unfold. For a split second, the monsters seem to backtrack, as if they too want to celebrate. 

 

"Woo! YEAH!" someone hollers. Probably Thalia. 

 

Their foreheads press together, and he hears the smile in Annabeth's voice as she says, “Can’t wait to know what your mom has to say, once we break the news.” 

 

Percy groans. “She’s gonna be pissed.”

 

“Probably.”

 

Somewhere along the line, the sky clears. 

 

 


 

 

By the bonfire that night, Percy tells the story, Annabeth admires Tyson's ring, and his friends complain about not getting to see the wedding fully in action.

 

"To be fair, it's a good story," Annabeth says. "Entertaining enough to tell our kids until they get sick of us, groaning every time we so much as mention the famous proposal."

 

The fire casts her in an ethereal glow. Orange light reflects in her eyes, tiny clouds parting for the sun. Reflects in her ring. It's still a disbelief to him—that this beautiful girl, his best friend, the love of his life—is now his wife.

 

"Yeah, that's totally why we did it. To annoy our kids in the future."

 

"Mhmm."

 

She tilts her chin up, kissing him with leisure. They have the rest of their life and then some, after all.

 

"I mean, we missed a few steps, but..." She shrugs. "I think we did alright."

 

"It was stressful," he admitted. "Even though I loved you every second of the way, it was definitely not easy—"

 

"I thought I made it clear that I wouldn't make it easy." And there's her shit-eating grin. There's the girl he loves.

 

"Right. But I'm dragging you with me this time, when I have to tell Ma about this."

 

She groans. "Maybe I should get a divorce, then."

 

"Too late." He throws an arm around her, and she leans into his embrace. The firelight catches on the ring again when he says, "You're kinda stuck with me now."

 

"Yeah," she sighs, snuggling into him. "I am." There's a pause, and when their eyes meet, he notices how hers sparkle with mischief. "Husband."

 

He plants a kiss on her forehead. "Wife."

 

Percy is not sure if he'll ever get used to calling her that.