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It's Just Architecture

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“I’ll see you at three, then?”

Percy’s voice came through the phone sounding both distant – because of the bad reception – and solid, because, Percy. Annabeth was rummaging through her bag – had she remembered her textbook? It was the second week of this class, and she’d forgotten the textbook?!

“Uh – oh my gods – uh, yeah. Yes.” She pried open a binder. Definitely missing.

“Well don’t sound too excited.”

“What?” A cluster of old receipts and gum wrappers blew out of her reach on the breeze; a tampon fell at her feet. Flustered, Annabeth bent quickly and snatched it up. “What the hell! What time is it? This is –”

The sound of Percy blowing a gust of air out of his mouth sounded down the line. “You should go,” he said. “I know you have class. Good luck with the professor you hate.”

“Wait!” Annabeth had finally got hold of all her things and stuffed them together, snapping the bag closed. The textbook was not there, and that was that. “You have that interview, right? With the Oceanography professor? It’s going to go great, I know it –”

“Maybe. I dunno.”

“What? Percy, it is! Do you want to --? Oh fuck!” She’d seen the time on a wall. “I—”

“Yeah, yeah I know. I’ll see you at three!” Percy hung up the phone. Annabeth barely registered it as she dropped her own into her bag. They rarely said I love you or other lingering, lovey things over the phone. They were a very in-person couple.

She swept into class a minute after the hour. Today was the day they were being issued the seating chart – yes, in college. As if she needed another reason to dislike this professor, after he’d made a degrading comment about the number of women joining the field. She paused to check the wall chart, and – oh. Oh. Him.

They’d already had a week of class. She recognized him instantly. He’d sat in the back, and she’d sat in the front, but he’d raised his hand a few times and offered such well-thought, and also crafty answers, that he’d not only shown up the class but also subtly mocked their misogynistic teacher all in one. And she seemed to be among the few who’d recognized it, snorting quietly and turning to look over her shoulder at him, at the time. His eyes had met hers, and she was surprised to see nothing cocky there at all, just clever and…well, kind.

And now he was her seat partner.

The professor called for attention as she sat down, rummaging for a notebook and pencil. Fruitlessly, she checked for her book one last time. She looked up and found him watching her. “I forgot…” she whispered, gesturing to her empty desk space. They needed the text for this class. She was useless without it.

Without saying a word, he pushed his own textbook toward her, over the shared table space. She blinked, then shot him a grateful glance. The two hours passed, taking notes, flipping pages, squinting at lecture slides. He was generous in the pages he let her flip back to. And it was strange, leaning close to a stranger, heads bent together, but not that strange, obviously. Annabeth was just used to her own space.

Near the end of the class, they were assigned to discuss a new architectural method with their partner. He looked at her, flipping the book closed.

“Guess you’re my partner.”

Annabeth snorted. “I guess he realized we were the ones who had a clue what was going on.”

He laughed. Then stuck out his hand – a formal, somewhat endearing gesture. “I’m Callum.”

She shook. “Annabeth.”

Callum had sweet hazel eyes, freckles, and a chip in his lower front tooth. He also had a very steady handshake.

They discussed the discussion. “I thought it was weird no one brought up that new structure they did in Tokyo…” Callum said at one point, and Annabeth tripped over his words to get her own out. “I know! Wait, you’ve read about that–?”

They talked until everyone else filtered out, and then they kept talking, wandering out into the hall. She had never met anyone who shared her architectural passion on such an equal level, with such similar opinions. It was that feeling of relief, like, I’m not the only freak here. You would also talk about this till 3am if you could. You also research blueprints for fun. Why are we only just meeting now?

“Hey.” Callum said, nodding at the coffee bar they’d come upon. “If you wanna sit for a sec, I can show you that weird design I was talking about –” He was already shouldering off his backpack. It was clear he was hanging out here either way.

Annabeth glanced at the clock on the wall out of habit. 2:26. “Sure,” she said, dropping into a seat. “I also had a question for this other class that not even the professor could answer…”

The time ticked away as they drank coffee and got lost in a rabbit hole of architecture. Annabeth had plenty of friends, but she didn’t have any other nerd friends, obsessed and eager about the exact subject that set her on fire and everyone else tuned out. And even in her second year of college, she’d failed to really click with anyone on the same playing field.

Until now, maybe. It was a good, happy feeling.

“Oh shit!”

Annabeth had looked at her phone for the first time since before class; it was dead. She’d remembered though, all in a rush, exactly where she was supposed to be. The wall clock said 3:32. She jumped up and started grabbing her things, flustered. How had she been so absentminded?

“Are you okay? What –?”

“Yes, sorry to run off, I just forgot I was meeting – where’s my – I’ll see you later!”

She didn’t look back.
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“I said I was sorry!”

The wind kicked up and blew Annabeth’s hair across her face; she swiped it impatiently out of her mouth as she and Percy made their way to the bus stop.

“I know, I heard you. I’m not mad.”

Annabeth stopped. “Well, you seem mad. My phone was dead, and I just blanked – I’ve been so scattered lately, I don’t know.”

“Yeah.” He put his hands in his pockets and looked somewhere over her head, not at her. She could tell he’d been in a bad mood before this, that her being late was just an added thing. Then – “Oh my gods! How’d your interview go?!”

Percy shook his head. “It was shit.”

“What? No – you’re literally the only son of Poseidon he’s had in class! How?”

Percy started walking again. “He was just a dick. I think it was a Greek thing. He kept talking over me and was just this superior asshole. I could tell he didn’t like me.”

“Percy, that’s ridiculous! You could be of so much value to his research. You should go back and talk to him! Or, I’m sure he’ll still call you to come back –”

“I’m not working for him.”

“But, this opportunity! You need this –”

“I’m not doing it, Annabeth. Will you drop it?”

Silence fell between them. Annabeth bit her lip, feeling the sting of him snapping at her. She knew she’d badgered too far, but she wanted to help. She still felt guilty for forgetting everything.

They walked in silence for a good few minutes. Finally, biting her thumbnail, Annabeth said, “Look, I didn’t mean to lose track of time and I didn’t mean to nag you, just now. We can –”

Percy stopped suddenly, putting a finger over her lips and letting out a heavy sigh. “No,” he said in a low voice. “I’m the one who’s sorry.” He pressed his lips to her forehead. “I’m sorry,” he said again into her skin. Annabeth’s heart skipped. She nodded.

He stepped back. “Can we just talk about something else? What were you doing after class, anyway?”

They started walking again; Annabeth felt her eyes light up. “Well actually, I was talking to a new classmate. It’s crazy – he’s the only other person I’ve met who has strong opinions about Corinthian Order versus Composite Order…which has serious implications about Greek versus Roman architectural preferences, of course, but he’s only a mortal, so there’s no need to get him mixed up in those politics…still, it really says something about technique…”

Percy made a sound that he blew off as a light cough. “Very vital stuff. Sorry to interrupt that.” He drew closer to her as they walked and draped his arm around her shoulders; she leaned into his neck, smelling his delicious boyfriend-smell.

She smiled. “Good, you should be. It was very educational.”

“Nothing better than more class after class is over.”

“That’s pretty much how I feel, yes.”

And the rest of the evening was good.

Chapter Text

“Hey, Annabeth Chase.”

Annabeth dropped into her seat, taking off her jacket and smoothing her long, untidy braid over her sweater. Her hair never stayed put in anything for long; her curls were already twisting free. She wound a strand absently around her finger as she looked over at Callum, who was smiling at her.

“Hey.” She smiled back, then waved her textbook back and forth. “Look who came prepared to take on the world today, despite the fact my ovaries nearly clouded all my judgement, as usual.”

He grinned and leaned back, stretching his legs out under the cramped table. “Nicely done for a Lady Architect. Good thing you have an Old-style Architect to cover your bases, though.”

They were using direct quotes from the previous lecture. Lady Architect. The only thing that had kept Annabeth from storming out was the way Callum had muttered “jesus” under his breath and cut his eyes to her; it had almost turned it humorous.

“Hey so,” He leaned forward again, closer to her. “We have the first exam coming up, and I’m thinking it’s gonna be a real left-fielder with this one.” He tipped his head toward the front of the room. “It’d be nice to have a study mate.”

Annabeth paused. “Isn’t the test not for a week or so?”

“Well, yeah. But you’re supposed to study like that – in chunks.” He looked at her for a moment, tapping a pencil against his lips. “Hold up; you’re an all nighter girl, aren’t you? Coffee, 3am, straight A’s, all of that.”

Annabeth shrugged, busying herself with her pencil case. “Well…ideally, no. I’m a planner, and an organizer. But lately…yeah. I mean, I’m a good crammer. And I like a challenge.”

In truth, she was still working on that whole “redesigning Mt. Olympus in New York City for the Greek Gods who were huge fussy children and narcissists about every minor detail” thing. It was a massive, crucial honor, but also a massive, crucial headache. Her school work had somewhat taken a backseat, but she was still maintaining her GPA. And it was so ironic, really; here she was, at UC Berkeley, amidst all of these inexperienced architecture students and smug faculty members, and she was already undertaking a project more enormous than any of the staff had done. And nobody would ever, ever know.

She’d known she was sacrificing that, when she’d chosen Berkeley over New Rome University. New Rome had seen her real portfolio; they would have given her a free ride. But she had to follow her gut, in the end. New Rome had been too small, not enough diversity or opportunity, and she would have had to involve the mist for the rest of her life when referencing it for job opportunities.

It hadn’t been without…discussion between Percy and her. But the schools were close. They made it work.

“I mean, it’ll be great to have someone keep me on task. We should definitely meet up.” She liked Callum’s unobtrusive, yet confident approach to the material. He didn’t try to upstage her in any way, or seem threatened that she was a girl, and she knew more than him.

There was his grin again, flashing chipped tooth and all. He leaned in close to her, an inky black pen in hand. “Okay, good. Cause I have never met anyone who understands this stuff more than you.” Before she knew what was happening, he had taken her wrist and was gently tracing the pen over the skin of her forearm. She was too surprised to pull back. “This is my number.” He paused, then retraced a blurry 7. “Please don’t lose it. It’s on your arm, so I figured you might not.”

She stared down at the messy number. Callum, he’d written underneath, with a dumb little smiley face. For some reason, her ears felt a little warm.

“You should give me your number too – I mean, if you don’t mind,” he amended quickly, but he’d already extended the pen to her. She raised an eyebrow. “Thorough, aren’t we?”

“I’d like to think so, yes,” Callum agreed quite seriously.

She took the pen, then paused, glancing over his not-unmuscled forearm on the desk, before clearing her throat and reaching for a piece of paper.

“I never apologized for running off like I did, the other day,” she said as she printed her number. “I didn’t mean to take off so suddenly. I had lost track of time and realized I was late to meet my boyfriend.”

She slid the slip of paper over to him, laying the pen neatly on top. She felt some imperceptible shift between them as he straightened his posture and began fingering the paper like all the sudden he wasn’t sure what to do with it. “Uh no – that was chill,” he said, just as the teacher walked in.

Annabeth flipped open her textbook and began thumbing through the pages. She didn’t feel bad for establishing a clear boundary; if he was going to treat her differently now that he knew this wasn’t any kind of flirtation or chance for something more, then she might as well know now. She thought it was ridiculous, frankly, when guys couldn’t be content with just being your friend. Just because she and her best friend had fallen for each other, it didn’t mean guys and girls couldn’t have uncomplicated platonic friendships. She already had plenty of normal guy friends to prove it.

When the class ended, she delayed slightly in packing up her stuff, waiting to see, maybe. They’d been quiet during the lecture, keeping themselves to themselves. Just as she was lifting her last notebook –

“All right, so, how amazingly outdated was that second example in the fourth slide? It’s like he’s never heard of modern research!”

Callum had turned his full body back to her, open and bright and waiting to hear her take.

She smiled, putting her notebook back down on the table.
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“I knew Steve Harrington wasn’t a tool.”

Annabeth looked up from her computer screen. “You have such a weird radar for people. Even fictional characters. It’s kind of creepy.”

“It’s my spidey-senses.”

“More like Aquaman senses.”

“Have you ever actually seen Aquaman?”

“Nope.”

“Didn’t think so.”

It was evening of that same day. They were lounging on the couch watching Stranger Things and, in Annabeth’s case, getting work done. Olympus just didn’t redesign itself – which was basically becoming her catchphrase lately. She was tucked sideways on one end; he was sprawled across the rest, face resting against her legs.

“Hey.” Percy lifted his head and reached out a hand to finger her braid. “I like your hair like this.”

“Thanks.”

“How were classes today?”

She frowned at the screen. The program she used was so glitchy lately. It was driving her crazy. “Uh…” She clicked into a new tab and googled the problem. Hmmm. “They were…okay. I mean...” There it was. That should work. “They were fine.”

A moment passed. “What do you want to eat for dinner?”

No. It hadn’t worked. She was never, ever going to get this done. She was a failure to her mother and all of the gods. They were going to realize what an idiotic mistake it had been to trust her with this. She bit her thumbnail and pushed up her sweater sleeves, hunkering lower over the computer screen, determined to figure something out. “Yeah…one second.”

“So…a third world war just broke out outside our window and our survival chances aren’t looking good.”

“Okay, just give me a second and I’ll…”

There! She’d done it. Finally, she’d gotten through the glitch. Yes.

Her phone buzzed sharply on the couch somewhere underneath one of them. She snatched it up and looked; a text from an unknown number.

Hey, Annabeth Chase. It’s Callum, your favorite seatmate in your least favorite class :)

It buzzed again.

This made me think of you.

There was an attachment about a young woman who’d successfully designed an entire castle faster than her male colleagues had designed a few townhouses. Annabeth found herself laughing.

“Who is…Col…umn…and…is that who you’re talking to now?”

Annabeth looked up from her phone, blinking as though coming out of a daze. Percy was holding her forearm, angling his head to read the blurry writing on her skin. She glanced down at the faded ink, and for some ridiculous reason, felt herself flush. “Oh – Callum. It’s, uh, Callum.”

Percy just looked at her.

“He’s, uh–” Her phone buzzed again.

Can you meet to study tomorrow? Trust me, I need it.

She turned the screen off and tossed it lightly onto the coffee table. “He’s that classmate I mentioned, from that one architecture class.”

“I don’t remember.”

“You know, when I…when my phone died the other day, and—”

“Oh, yeah. The one you were talking to forever after class.”

There was something in Percy’s voice that made Annabeth quiet. She studied his face, but it was hard to read. It slowly dawned on her that he’d been trying to get her attention for a while before now, while she tuned him out and focused on work.

“Hey.” She moved her laptop onto the floor and slid further down the couch, nearer to him, lacing her fingers through his large ones. “I missed you, today.”

He rested his chin on her knee, hooking a hand around her ankle and rubbing his thumb in slow circles there. “I miss you…all the time.” His voice was soft. He was still holding too much tension in his body.

Her heart missed a beat, and she frowned. She didn’t want to apologize for her ambition, but – gods, she wasn’t always great at being in a relationship, was she?

And mother of hera, he was kind of irresistible right now. She scooted closer to him, and closer, and closer, until there was no space at all. Sometimes all you could do was show how you felt. She kissed him softly, once, twice, three times…and then too many to count, as they tangled up slowly in warmth and limbs and beating hearts. She wound up on top of him on the couch, his hands sliding up under her sweater, kissing him again and again, soft and hard and sweet and teasing. His mouth was firm and warm and steady, and she felt wild electric happiness down to the tips of her toes. Percy was so skilled, sweet and confident at making out; it was easily one of her favorite activities in the entire world. It was an intimacy she valued beyond words, and they were very, very good at it.

His teeth grazed her ear, and he softly kissed below it. “I’ve been wanting to do this with you all day,” he whispered in a low voice. “You’re so sexy when you ignore me.”

She breathed out a surprised laugh. “I was not ignoring you!”

He gave her his skeptical baby seal eyes. “You love your computer more than me.” He was just angling now, openly trying to get compliments. She grinned over him, running her hands through his tousled black hair, and bent to kiss his jaw. “I do not love my computer more than I love my boyfriend.”

“Well, you love doing your homework more than me,” he persisted, sliding his hands down her hips, over her thighs.

She snorted lightly, kissing lower and whispering, “nope, I don’t love doing my homework more than doing you, actually.”

He made a low noise in his throat as she moved her mouth down his neck, his breathing becoming shallower. “You love…architecture…more than…me.”

Here she paused, and grinned against his neck. She pressed a long, searing kiss into his warm skin. “It’s a tie.”
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A couple of weeks passed. Annabeth met with Callum to study a handful of times, usually just after class when she’d be staying to work anyway. It was a friendship she was coming to value…quite a bit. They were just so in tune when it came to their work; they had the most interesting discussions Annabeth had ever had about the subject. She wished, badly, that she could tell him about Daedalus and his lost computer; about Olympus and her work there, about…who she really was. They mostly stuck to school and work topics, but a few times he’d mentioned his older sister, or his love for poker, or his coffee addiction, and then she’d share something too, and…it was more than being study buddies. They were friends, just like that.

They also texted fairly frequently, for Annabeth. She mostly called people, or sent long emails, or iris messaged, or saw them in person. Texts were too quick and impersonal, she’d thought. But Callum was frequently finding some interesting new fact and sending it her way; she reveled in confirming when she already knew it, and knew more. They wrote other things too; quips about their terrible professor, inside jokes about ridiculous questions other classmates had asked, and endless ideas for future projects, bouncing them off each other.

Percy had seemed to notice that she was on her phone a fair bit more. He mostly didn’t comment, aside from a couple times, but found small ways to hint that he’d really like her attention. Or bigger, more obvious ways. But other times – most of the time, maybe – he remained quiet and did nothing at all.
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2:53am. What had woken her? Annabeth pushed herself up in bed, reaching for a drink of water. Percy slept peacefully beside her in the dark.

They didn’t technically live together. But through some cosmic arrangement, they…kind of did. Annabeth was rooming in the Berkeley dorms again this year, as it came with the financial aid deal she’d received. Her roommate, however, was awful this time. Loud music, smoking, and constantly, constantly bringing crowds of people back to their shared single room. The worst, though, was the amount of times Annabeth would return late at night, exhausted, to find a sparkly bathrobe tie around the doorknob – or worse, no warning at all that she was walking in on a hook up situation.

Their relationship was…frayed. Percy, on the other hand, had found this apartment with a classmate who’d then dipped on the arrangement and dropped out of school. So from the amount of times Annabeth stayed over, and all her stuff that was there…they kind of, almost lived together. Which was a big concept for Annabeth to deal with, truthfully. There was a reason they’d made separate arrangements at the beginning of sophomore year. Neither of them were ready to mess this up yet. And they both seemed to know, in a deep place, that once they made the official plunge, there would likely never be a time when they didn’t live together, not for the rest of their lives. They were still in a place where it was healthy for them to both have separate routines, and then come together whenever they could. And some mornings she had early classes, anyway.

Her phone lit up in the dark, vibrating on the nightstand. Annabeth grabbed it. She had multiple text messages; it was obviously what had woken her. They were from Callum.
Instantly, she felt more awake. Why was he texting her in the middle of the night? Sure, they were both night owls, and more than once they’d messaged back and forth around midnight, back at her dorm room. And once before he’d texted around 1am, sending her a design link and asking her opinion, but she hadn’t noticed till morning. This just seemed…later.

Or maybe it was because she was in her boyfriend’s bed, this time, that it felt different.

She opened to his texts, and blinked in surprise. They weren’t about architecture. The first asked if she was awake, by any chance. The next mentioned that he was kind of going through something, and wondered if he could unload a little, that he valued her advice and friendship. Then he explained he was going through a tough family situation; that his sister wasn’t speaking to their parents, that both sides were pressuring him to pick between them, that he’d had an absolutely fucktastic night at dinner with all of them, and things were just…bad.

This, she could relate to. She rolled over onto her stomach, making a blanket cocoon in the dark, not wanting the light from the screen to disturb Percy’s sleep. She read through all his messages, and then let him know that she was awake, and would listen. At first, she just thought his emotions from the dinner encounter were making him…looser than usual, the reason he was texting her at 3am. Slowly, through a couple of unusual typos, it occurred to her that he might have had a drink or two, as well. It had, after all, been hours since dinner, when he’d first been upset.

“What are you doing?”

Percy’s deep, sleep-filled voice, even soft as it was, made her jump; the still-lit up phone dropped from her tired hand under her pillow. “Oh – nothing,” she murmured, as he reached over to her. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

He slid to her side, closing the space between them and pushing up on one elbow, a little. “Why are you on your phone right now? You were sleeping before.” Both their voices were slow, muzzy, just for them in the dark. He lifted the pillow and picked up her phone.

“Callum?” Suddenly, he sounded awake.

She grabbed the phone back automatically, shoving it back on the nightstand. “Percy, he was just having a hard time, he needed to talk to someone–”

“Why is he texting you at 3 in the morning?”

Annabeth sat up in bed, running a hand through her hair. The moon through the window provided just enough light to dimly see by.

“Look,” she whispered. “I don’t know. I’d just gotten the messages. He was upset, he had family stuff, he might’ve been drinking a little bit – I was just telling him–”

“He was up, drunk, and texting you in the middle of the night?” Percy’s voice had a distinct edge now. Annabeth hesitated – this was starting to feel out of control. She blinked, trying to take a deep breath. “No, I mean–”

“What were you guys saying to each other?”

“Nothing! He was just going through something and I was looking at the messages.” She reached out and put her hand on his arm. “Percy. It was nothing.”

He looked at her for a long moment. She wondered, suddenly, how long he’d been awake before he’d spoken. Percy was not a highly jealous, suspicious, or controlling person; if anything, that was more Annabeth’s own territory. But they trusted each other. They would both stay up late to counsel a friend. She knew that, maybe, a line had been crossed, and that they both felt it, but tonight, for now, he was going to have to trust what he knew about her; that she hadn’t planned for it to happen, that she hadn’t meant a single thing by it.

She crawled toward him in the dark, and he slowly relaxed down into the pillows again, letting her fold herself on top of him, into his arms. “How often do you text other boys in the middle of the night while your boyfriend sleeps beside you?” He whispered against her lips, but his voice had a slightly amused quality now, as though he were teasing her, because – that was Percy. He trusted her, he never stayed mad. In reply, she pinched his elbow rather hard, and nestled her head into his shoulder.

And it wasn’t, she reflected, as sleepiness came back in an oceanic wave, as though she would ever truly give him a real reason to distrust her.

Chapter Text

“We really don’t have to go tomorrow.”

Percy looked around at her from the doorway of the bedroom, where he was headed to change. “We really actually do, though.”

Annabeth sighed as she placed the last clean dish in the drainer. “We could also just stay home and watch Netflix and order takeout and, like, be happy.

Percy came over and stood in front of her, making her face him. “I know you’re stressed out, but I think this is actually kind of important to you.” He put his hands on either side of her head. “What are you so worried about?”

Annabeth pulled away, fiddling with an unfolded dish towel. “Uh, that Helen will be a total bitch, as usual, and my dad will be super awkward and the boys will say weird things, and…” she trailed off, biting her lip. “I keep thinking it will get easier, but it’s still…hard.”

She half expected Percy to argue this, to try to convince her it wasn’t true, but he didn’t. Instead he moved behind her, sliding his arms securely around her waist, and pressed his lips into her hair. “I know,” he murmured. “I know it is.”

She sighed, closing her eyes. She loved him so much in this moment. He didn’t try to talk her out of her feelings, but just acknowledged them. His chest was warm and solid against her back, and his arms squeezed her firmly; he felt so steady, so reassuringly there, and it was enough to silently tell her that he wasn’t going anywhere, that he’d be with her through it.

She slid her hands up over his arms, squeezing them over his large, strong knuckles and fingers. She could feel his heart, his warmth, could smell his minty, sea-water skin. The physical closeness, the silent support, was reassuring; things between them had been slightly frayed the past few days. There was a certain, elusive distance that had wedged itself in after the night she and Callum had texted. It was nothing huge, but it was there, and she wasn’t entirely sure what to do about it. Percy just seemed a little more…quiet with her, more moody and subdued.

She twisted so she was facing him, their foreheads touching, and then she kissed him, just a press of lips, once, twice, and then deeply, real. His hands were secure on her hips, holding her unquestionably steady.

Her phone started ringing in the next room, and she jumped. Automatically, she started to pull away to get it. Percy, however, tightened his hold on her.

“Let it go.” He murmured between kisses.

“I can’t—” He kissed her again.

“What if it’s important?” She finally got out.

“Then they’ll figure it out…” He kissed her. “Themselves.”

She smiled against his lips, then kissed him back. Again, again, again – and then pulled away, grinning as he shook his head after her. She snatched up her phone, suddenly having a weird hope that it wasn’t Callum; Percy had followed her into the room.

It was Piper, or had been; she’d missed the call. When she tried back, it went to voicemail, and Piper texted to say she had bad service now and would call later, but she wanted a general life update. Annabeth texted back a brief rundown of things to remember to touch on when they talked. And a thing with Percy. It’s literally nothing, I just want your take.
Piper texted back immediately. I love dealing with your literally nothing.

It’s not! I think it’s in my head anyway.

Give me a hint. You guys haven’t had issues in forever.

It’s not an issue! There’s just this guy in my architecture class, but it’s too complicated. Later.

Oh my gods. What’s his name and is he cute?

Cute? From you, on the romance cleanse?

Yes. Just tell me.

Callum. And he’s…like…yeah. Cute.

And he likes you. Piper didn’t phrase it as a question.

Annabeth hesitated a long, long minute.

I think so, maybe.

A sudden noise made her look up from the couch. Percy was still standing in the doorway; he’d absently kicked the molding with his shoe.

“Is it Callum?” He asked, examining his shoe. His voice was suddenly less hard to read than it had been the past few days; it was abrupt, surly, and his face looked dark.

“Uh, no.” Despite Annabeth’s surprise, her voice came out a little aggressively. “It’s Piper.”

She looked at him, and he looked back, and before she could say anything else, he’d simply turned and walked back into the kitchen.

What had just happened? Should she be following him to talk this thing out? And what was this thing, anyway?

Her phone buzzed again. Iiiinteresting. We will be talking. Very soon.
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An hour later she was on the tube back to Berkeley, going through her work folders. She and Percy had kept their distance after the texting scene, but things felt okay; she’d gone over and kissed him goodbye, not saying anything, and then they’d lingered; he’d tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, and then silently kissed her forehead for a long moment. It felt like a soundless apology; or maybe he didn’t need to apologize, maybe she did, or possibly neither of them; maybe they didn’t know what was being said, but something was.

She’d called Percy a moment before, on the train, to see if she’d left something at his place, but then promptly found it in her bag.

“Are you coming over tonight?”

“Um…” Annabeth compared two different design sketches, holding one up to the light. Then she paused, put it down, and flipped the binder closed. “Do you want me to?” There was a smile in her voice.

“Last I checked, I still wanted you,” Percy said, voice wry, but something brewing beneath it. She smiled for real, and then sighed.

“Well, actually I don’t know – I have a ton to do today. Errands, homework, all of it. But I’ll keep in touch, okay? Oh, and good luck at your meeting!” It had turned out that the asshole Oceanography professor had wanted him, after all.

“Yeah.” Percy’s voice had suddenly gone moody and preoccupied. “Thanks. I’ll need it.” There was a beat of silence. “You’re meeting up with your study group right now, yeah?”
“Uh huh – just to work on the group project, it’s not a regular thing, thank the gods.”

“Okay, I’ll see you later then.” There was another pause, and his voice went low, the way he talked when they were alone. “I love you, by the way.”

Annabeth felt a deep pang in her heart. Again, they rarely said these things over the phone. Percy said them rarely, period. She looked across the aisle at a child drawing a finger through the foggy window. The shapes didn’t make any sense. “I love you, too,” she answered softly, like she wasn’t on a crowded subway car.

They hung up, and she leaned the back of her head against the wall, still holding her cell phone. It was the truth; she loved him more than she’d ever known she could love someone. Sometimes, she even wondered if he was the only person on the planet she loved. And sometimes, she supposed, things went unspoken for too long, went continuously assumed until doubt began to creep in under the door. With a years-long relationship, it took real, intentional effort to keep things on track. Or so they were beginning to find, maybe.

The subway arrived late and Annabeth whisked to the campus library, where the group was meeting. It wasn’t an ideal assignment of people, but Callum was in it, so that helped. She hadn’t actually seen him since the night they’d texted. She had sent a message the following day, saying sorry for disappearing mid-conversation, but not offering any explanation. She wondered if he’d sensed the reason on his own.

He had written back briefly, dismissing her apology and saying he was sorry for waking her. They hadn’t spoken much since.

Everyone else was already there, looking at the same computer screen and arguing loudly. Callum was manning the laptop, and looked like he rather regretted it, with the others pressing over his shoulder. He looked up when Annabeth came in, raising his eyebrows and widening his eyes, clearly saying, the children are out of control. She smirked and set down her bag.

Callum shook everyone off and came over to her. “Hey,” he greeted, and there was a weird pause, as if neither of them were sure if they should hug. She settled for flicking his shoulder, stinging and casual, the way she often did to Malcolm, Travis, Conner – and instantly regretted it. It felt more flirty than a hug, somehow. Flushing, she shouldered off her sweater and cleared her throat. “How’s it going here?”

They both looked over at the others, laughing and shrieking over a stolen hair clip. Callum rubbed the back of his neck. “It’s…going.”

He looked at her. “Actually, I wanted to talk to you for a sec, if that’s cool.” He nodded toward the doorway to the study room.

Annabeth felt a weird tingle in her stomach, like nerves. That was weird. She glanced at the others. “Guys, we’re gonna go find a resource book or two!” They ignored her.

She and Callum strolled into the stacks. “So…” he stopped, running a hand through his hair in an uncomfortable gesture. “Look, I’m sorry about the other night. I was…I wasn’t in the greatest place, and to be honest I’d had a couple coronas – you could probably tell. It was kind of out of line. I hope things won’t be weird between us now.”

Annabeth bit her lip. She valued honesty like this, even if it wasn’t entirely easy. “No – definitely not. The drama with your family…I get that, I’ve been there. I didn’t mind.”

He smiled, and his eyes twinkled nicely under the fluorescent lighting. “Thanks, Annabeth Chase. You’re a solid friend.” His voice caught just slightly on the word “friend,” and he glanced at the floor, as though suddenly her shoes were more interesting than anything else.

She cleared her throat. “Are things any better with your sister and parents, now?”

He glanced back up, and grinned. “Nah, they’re still shit.” He pulled a book off the shelf at random. “Come on, we’d better find something to bring back there…” He hooked his thumb in the direction of the study room and ambled down the row, occasionally grabbing an important-looking book off the shelf.

Annabeth followed. He was so easy to be around; she felt at ease, good, in his presence. She grabbed a random book herself, then got to the end the aisle to find he’d crashed on a small couch, his full upper body bent over a huge book. “Look at this,” he said without looking up. “The ancient Romans had insane ways of drafting the monuments…”

Annabeth dropped down beside him, leaning to see. Several minutes passed before either of them surfaced from the pages. Finally, she stretched her arms above her head, cracking her neck. “I honestly love that you found that before I did, and didn’t waste any time before you dove in.” She looked at him. “I’m glad we met, Callum O’Reilly.”

He looked back at her. They were sitting quite close on the little couch; a loveseat, as it was officially known. His neck appeared flushed. “Uh, yeah,” he turned his gaze down to
the book. “I’m glad too. Really glad, actually. I like spending time with you.” He looked back up at her, and cleared his throat slightly. His gaze was steady now, and even. He was a steady sort of person. “I think you’re really amazing, Annabeth. It’s amazing how much you know.” There was a deep pause. He looked like he wanted to say more, but was waiting for her reaction.

Annabeth’s stomach jumped uncomfortably, and she found herself suddenly absorbed in the deckled edges of her side of the book, tracing them with a finger. It was pretty clear what was under Callum’s words, clear what his unspoken next sentence might have been. She knew he knew there was a line, that she had a boyfriend, that she had never expressed deeper interest – had she? Was that how it looked to him? They had gotten pretty friendly – but that was fine! It was fine to have hordes of guy friends! Percy never cared in the least. Percy was basically the least jealous person she’d ever met. It was almost insulting, frankly. Or – he had been. That was how she used to know him. Everything felt so newly confusing, now.

She met his gaze. “Well, we’re friends, so I’m glad we’ve established we like each other.” She gave a wry smile, but he didn’t return it. He looked more serious now.

“I felt kind of stupid, the other morning, after spilling my guts to you at 2am. Are you sure…”

She felt a tiny hint of impatience. Why did he keep bringing this up?

“Well, I was happy to talk about it, but it was super late and I was at my boyfriend’s actually, so…” Don’t do it again.

She detected a hint of color in his face. “I’m sorry.”

That was all he said, simple and honest, looking her in the eye. She liked that.

She turned back to the pile of books they’d gathered, stacking them industriously. She wanted a change of focus, but neither of them really wanted to return to the group project.
Instead of dismissing what she’d said, Callum seemed determined to lean into it, to bring the subject out so as to show he wasn’t weird about it, not at all.

“He doesn’t go to this school, does he? Your boyfriend?”

“Percy? No. He goes somewhere nearby.”

“That’s…really cool.”

They seemed to have exhausted this conversation line very quickly.

“So…you live on campus then?” Callum tried a new angle.

“Yep. In the dorms. It sucks.”

“Me too. Why would living in a 5x5 cement cell with an asshole stranger suck?”

She laughed, and he smiled, and then they finished pretending to sort the books and went back to the room with the stupid group.
.
.
.
.
“I want to hear about your stuff.”

Annabeth switched her phone onto speaker and balanced it on the armrest. It was evening, and she’d come back to Percy’s empty apartment, tired and pleased that she’d managed to return, after all. Effort. She’d reminded herself. Long-term relationships take effort.

He’d be home anytime. She was talking to Piper now, finally, sinking onto the couch with a cup of tea.

“My stuff is boring.” Piper hesitated. “My dad started dating again.”

Annabeth raised her eyebrows. “Oh? That must be weird. But didn’t we think that'd be a happy thing?”

“No. It is not a happy thing.”

“Oh, okay, no. It’s not happy,” Annabeth agreed quickly and loyally. “Well, she can go hang out with Helen and talk about how much they hate us.”

“Speaking of, aren’t you all doing dinner tomorrow?”

“Gods, don’t remind me! Change of subject, please.”

“Okay…what about this thing with Percy you mentioned? You’re finding that relationships are work, are you?”

Annabeth scowled. “Get out of my head, McLean.”

Piper snorted. “Seriously, you guys will go through some rough patches. It wouldn’t be healthy or normal if you didn’t.”

“But this…it isn’t a rough patch. I’m just making a big deal out of nothing. I’ve just never had…gods, I don’t know. So, the other night, Callum texted me, and then Percy woke up, and…it wasn’t a big deal, but then things just felt kind of off.”

“Wait, you were randomly just like texting this guy in the middle of the night while you were sleeping, in bed, with Percy?”

“Uh yeah, gee, and he really liked the naked pictures I sent. No, what the fuck, Piper! Way to make me sound like some kind of whore!”

Piper laughed. “Shut up, you know I love you. But like, why would Percy be okay with that? What guy would be? This other dude obviously has feelings for you!”

“Uh, I’ve told you nothing about him.”

“Let’s just call it Aphrodite intuition.”

Annabeth sighed. “You know, never mind. I think I’m done with this subject. I’m making something out of nothing.”

Piper wasn’t letting go that easily. “Come on! Let’s talk about cute Callum and how in looove with you he is! You admitted it yourself, in that text!”

If the sudden enthusiasm in Piper’s voice hadn’t made it fairly ring out into the room, if Annabeth hadn’t put the phone on speaker in the first place, if she hadn’t been slightly out of tune to her surroundings due to tiredness, then Annabeth might have heard the door open, might have noticed Percy coming into the apartment, might have quite possibly stopped him from hearing that last, exuberant sentence.

Or, just maybe, she could not have stopped it at all.

As it was, Percy set his bag down on the counter with a very loud thud, and Annabeth jerked her head up to see him standing in the doorway to the room, just like earlier that day. This time he was looking straight at her, hands in his pockets, face set with every single thing he was thinking.

“Uh, Piper – I gotta go.”

There was a beat of silence, and somehow, from Annabeth’s abruptness and tone, Piper seemed to glean what was going on. “Ohgodscallmebye.” She disconnected.

Annabeth drew a deep breath and stood up. “Hi.”

Percy just stood there. “Uh, what the hell was that?”

“Look, Piper was – it wasn’t–”

“What did she just say about Callum?” He demanded. “About cute Callum?

Annabeth flushed heatedly. “It wasn’t like that – she was kidding, Percy! She was just being Piper–”

“Oh? Apparently he’s in love with you–”

“Oh my gods, she was kidding!”

“Yeah? She was kidding? She was lying about you texting her that he’s super into you?”

Annabeth faltered. “Well no, not entirely, but–”

“But what? What the hell, Annabeth? What do you expect me to say, coming into that?” He looked at her, face dark with anger and something like disgust. “Who is this person you’re suddenly so completely obsessed with?”

“Obsessed?” Annabeth’s own voice had heat in it now. “Excuse me? He’s a classmate, and a friend. Am I not allowed to have guy friends all the sudden?”

Percy just shook his head, disgusted. “What are you even talking about? Don’t try to twist this—”

“Then maybe you should listen to me for once! Maybe he has feelings for me, I don’t know! I was talking to Piper about it because she’s my friend, and I can do that–”

“Annabeth, he texts you at three in the morning, and you text him back. You text him all the time! Your face lights up and you drop everything to talk to him–”

“What? No I don’t!”

“Who all was in your study group today? Who’d you go off and spend most of your time with?”

It was an extremely educated guess. He knew what class the project was for, and he would have figured they’d managed to be in each other’s group. The rest was just shrewdness and knowing her.

They stared each other down across the room. And then, just because she was annoyed and heated and angry in the moment, she let the truthful word drop.

“Callum.”

Percy took a step back, shaking his head slightly as he backed away from her. She knew what happened when he got angry – but he was hardly ever angry with her. And so he did something he didn’t usually do, something that she usually did: leave.

“Great. That's great.”

“Percy–”

But all she heard was the resounding slam of the door.

Chapter Text

“I know you’re still mad. Just – please call me. Please.”

Annabeth hung up the phone, tossing it on her bed. It was almost time to leave for dinner at her dad’s house; she still didn’t know if Percy was planning on going or not. He’d been uncommunicative all day, despite her efforts. After realizing, the night before, that he hadn’t planned on returning any time soon, she’d sent him a single text saying she was going back to her dorm. She had, after all, run him out of his own apartment.

Then, late that night as she’d tossed and turned, frustrated and regretful and unable to sleep with the aching weight of it all, she’d stepped out into the hallway and called him, and he’d actually answered. His voice had been tense, but also just tired.

“What is it you’re sorry for?” He’d asked, after hearing her sniffle through an apology.

“I guess–” She paused, closing her eyes and rubbing between her brows in frustration. Her first instinct was to say absolutely nothing, you’re overreacting, but that wasn’t going to help anything.

“I haven’t been very communicative. Or sensitive. I…” she slid down the wall, tired and unhappy. “I’m realizing that now.”

There was a long silence. Finally he said, in an unconvinced voice, “Can you look at this situation like it’s the other way around?”

She gnawed on her thumbnail, watching two flies buzz against the fluorescent hallway light. She didn’t want to look at it reversed, or try to convince him of anything, or stay up any later; she just wanted him to laugh and agree to forget about it, to say he understood completely, and that there was nothing to understand anyway, because nothing had even freaking happened; for him to tell her he loved her and then to whisper sweetly in her ear until she fell asleep.

But that wasn’t how real relationships worked. Not all the time.

She closed her eyes. Images, memories, floated through her mind. Girls. A distorted, glittery, sickening parade; friends, rivals, nameless nymphs and spirits, campers and classmates, Rachel, Calypso – Calypso, Calypso, Calypso – everything that had happened after she’d got off her island and reappeared in their lives, everything they’d put behind them – the way that females, not just young girls, but older women, had started looking at Percy once he’d reached about seventeen – and every helpless, threatened, explosive way it had ever made her feel. Not just after she became his girlfriend, but even when they were fierce twelve-year-old best friends. He was hers. He’d always been hers. It had seemed clear from the very start.

Was it possible he’d always felt some likeness of the same way about her?

This was…hard. Percy didn’t run from difficult emotions or scenes, as she often literally did, but he sometimes dodged them. He got angry, or moody and withdrawn, or just pretended outright that he didn’t see an issue. He didn’t just come right out and say things; people didn’t, usually, especially when it came to jealousy. Especially male jealousy.
She covered her eyes with her hand, squeezing the bridge of her nose and taking a long, deep breath.

“Yes,” she said quietly, her voice thick. “Yes, I can.”

Neither of them spoke for a long moment. They both seemed to understand exactly how Annabeth would be reacting in a reversed situation.

She sniffed and brushed her long hair out of her face. She was still unsure how, exactly, to fix this. “Are you…still mad?”

It wasn’t great, she realized, that they were having this conversation over the phone.

“Well…” He let the word hang there, as if she should be able to fill in the blanks herself. Which wasn’t fair – that was her role, and he hated when she did it.

He continued, “I feel like…you aren’t really seeing a problem here, and somehow this is all on me, like you think I’m overreacting.”

There was a pointed silence.

“Uh…well no, I don’t think that. I just – I don’t see anything in this person, you do realize that? I am sorry if I’ve been texting him too much, but you can freaking read the texts, we literally just talk about architecture! I don’t really get why it’s such a big deal–”

“I don’t care what you fucking talk about. I care that you’re talking to him more than you’re talking to me.”

The tone of the conversation had taken an abrupt turn.

Annabeth swallowed, frustrated tears pricking her eyes as she dropped her head a little too hard against the wall behind her.

“I do not,” she said quietly.

She knew, suddenly, that she was going to cry – cry a lot. And that it was too late at night and they couldn’t see each other’s faces and sometimes, space was actually the most helpful thing. Sometimes the right thing was just never going to be said.

Apparently, he was thinking the same thing. “I’m gonna go,” he said, and she could tell he was trying to control the tone of his voice. “I’ll talk to you later.”

He only half-sounded as if he meant it.

She didn’t remember what she’d said before the brief silence before they both hung up – it didn’t matter.

And now it was the next evening, and he hadn’t responded to her, and she told herself that that was okay. Because she didn’t know what she was supposed to say to please him, that she hadn’t already said – she didn’t have a freaking crush on Callum, it wasn’t true that she gave him more attention than Percy, and if Callum hadn’t been a guy, there wouldn’t be any problem.

She sighed, went outside and sat on the curb, and called Piper.

“But Callum is a guy, and there is a problem,” Piper pointed out, after Annabeth had brought her up to speed.

“Thanks. Very helpful.”

“I just mean…” There was a loaded pause. Piper was obviously not saying what she really wanted to.

“Just say it, Piper. That’s why I called you. Slap me in the face with what I need to hear.”

“Well…” Piper hesitated. “It seems like maybe there’s a reason that this situation, this guy, is causing all this tension. Obviously, as you’ve said, you’ve always had guy friends. Maybe more than girl friends, even. And…maybe Percy is picking something up in how you act toward this guy. Like it’s a little bit…different.”

Annabeth didn’t know what to say. “I don’t like Callum.”

“Okay! I know – I just, gods, humans are fucking complicated, Annabeth. And – just hear me out here, okay? You and Percy have been together for years. Since you were sixteen, and you want it to be forever! So imagine you’re like, fifty-five, and you’ve literally only ever wanted attention from him, your whole life? That’s just – it’s not feasible, or natural. I’m not saying you’re going to fall in love with someone else, or love him less – but you’re nineteen, and it’s okay to enjoy receiving attention and admiration, sometimes.”

Annabeth drew her breath and raised her head to the skyline, squinting at the dusky setting sun. She felt like a nail had pierced her heart, right at the hidden tender place.

“Percy doesn’t seem to think it’s okay,” she said quietly.

“Well, no. It’s gonna be an issue in a relationship. You have to actively choose the relationship, instead. But – and this is for your ears, only. But, Percy’s kind of used to attention like that. I know he doesn’t actively welcome it and he’s completely, helplessly in love with you, but…he wouldn’t admit it, but it’s an ego stroke. It feels kind of good. And while I know how guys have always looked at you, it seems like you’re attuning to it more now, and…that’s not a terrible thing. You deserve to be attuned to the world in that way. You deserve to feel sexy and wanted and brilliant and admired. Not just by Percy, but by whoever feels that way.”

Now Annabeth really, truly didn’t know what to say. She was pretty sure she was going to cry again.

“Do you think…do you think I was trying to seek more attention from Callum? That I liked that he liked me?” She finally asked, voice soft.

“I think that sounds likely, yes. And I’m not judging you. I don’t think it was even a conscious thing.”

“It’s not like I’m in some mid-life crisis,” Annabeth said in frustration. “Percy is still exciting to me. He’s still new, and wonderful, and–”

“Yeah. But you know life is more complicated than that. And you can’t think your way out of, and explain, everything there is to feel. Please allow some room for emotional complexity, here,” Piper said gently.

Annabeth returned to studying the clouds. They were a spectacular shade of tender orange, pink, and red, bleeding out into the distant oncoming night. She thought about years before, about Luke, and the way she’d felt for so many years, about Percy and Rachel, about human capacity to feel many things. And she thought about the gods, about all the messy entanglements they kept wrapping up in; and the fact that she and her friends were half messy human and half chaotic god, as well. Room for complexity, indeed.

She sighed, deep and full and cleansing. “Do you think I’ve been treating Percy like shit?”

“Uh, no. He’ll get over it.”

“I think it surprised me, that he cared like this.”

“Well, you think Percy doesn’t see certain stuff, but he does. He only gets selective vision when he chooses, you know? When it makes life easier. Percy is more perceptive toward you than you think.”

Annabeth picked at her shoelace. “I don’t know. You might be right. He’s too good to me, though. I kind of have been treating him like shit, I guess.”

“Well, he’s just waiting for you to make up with him,” Piper said. “And you think he doesn’t get jealous, but he totally does. You don’t see the way he looks at you all the time, when you’re not looking. The way he stands so close to you, and always wants your attention, and–”

“Oh my gods!” A text vibration against Annabeth’s ear had suddenly jolted something home. The dinner. She was missing the stupid dinner.

Ignoring Piper’s questions, she quickly went to her texts. They were from Helen. And – she hadn’t missed the dinner at all. Helen had canceled it.

For some reason, her stomach felt like it had dropped a couple elevator floors. Why? She hadn’t wanted to go, anyway. She returned the phone to her ear and explained.

“She said Bobby had a fever. I just feel like – I don’t know. I still could’ve chosen to come over and eat frosted flakes on the counter and see my dad. She basically made me totally unwelcome, like I’m the nosy new neighbor trying to invite herself over but who nobody wants to see.”

“You should call your dad,” Piper suggested.

“Yeah. Maybe.” Annabeth went back to fiddling with her shoelace. “Oh! I should tell Percy – just in case he actually decided to like, silently and angrily meet me there…oh gods, can you imagine him there now with mean Helen?”

Despite everything, the girls both snorted with laughter. The evening called for a little levity.

She texted Percy. She tried to sound flippant about the cancellation, but she wasn’t sure how it read.

“Anyway…” She stretched her legs out on the pavement, watching cars drive by in the fading light. “Thanks for, you know, all the insight. It’s almost like you’re related to the goddess of love and eloquence and annoying awareness.”

She could hear Piper smile. “Sorry I sort of messed things up in the first place—”

“Oh shut up. You know that’s not true.”

Gradually, they began to shift topics into lighter fare; the songs Piper was writing, her dad’s amusing dating life, and a TV show they were both binging. Annabeth was decreasingly aware of her surroundings, when–

“Hey.”

She looked up. Percy was standing a few feet away, right there in the parking lot of her dorm building. He was wearing a faded t-shirt, and his hair was tousled by the breeze.

She jumped. “Hi.” They looked at each other, and she got up from the curb. “What are you doing here?”

Percy shrugged, coming closer. “You act like you don’t care about these family dinner things, but I know it actually matters to you. It was shitty of Helen to cancel last minute like that.”

They met eyes, and she swallowed. Despite everything, he’d cared about her feelings enough to come see her – he’d known that whatever she said, it mattered, and she was more upset than she was letting on. And then, well, maybe he was also looking for a reason to bridge the day’s distance between them, too.

“You weren’t going to go to the dinner, though.” She didn’t say it like a question.

“No,” He turned his head and looked off at the passing cars. “I wasn’t.”

“Hey.” She came up close to him, lacing a hand through his. There was a softness between them, counteracting the hard anger of before. “Thank you for coming. I–”

“Hey, before this goes aaany further, I am hanging up!! I love you both!”

Piper’s voice sounded through the still-connected phone; Annabeth couldn’t help but laugh, and Percy cracked a smile. The line disconnected, and Annabeth put the phone in her back pocket, leaving both hands free to bunch in Percy’s shirt as they crowded each other’s personal space, his chin resting on top of her head.

There were times for words, and there were times when silences spoke more clearly. There was a conversation that needed to be had, but it was not going to be had right now.

“I’m sorry,” Annabeth whispered into his shirt, kissing his shoulder.

She felt him shake his head slightly, and then he simply kissed her head, in response. And then her ear, and her cheek, and then finally her mouth.

“Come back with me,” he whispered.

She shook her head. “My roommate’s gone. You come back with me.” She pulled him toward the dorm, and he let himself be pulled.

The room was small, and the bed was smaller, but sometimes that wasn’t a bad thing. He sat down in the corner against the wall and pulled her after him. It was dark gray in the room, his hands were warm and big and calloused, and his lips, as they moved to kiss behind her ear, were firm and warm. She let his arms wrap around her from behind, holding her securely, as shivers and tingles erupted down her skin. She turned so she was hovering over him, on top of him, and kissed her way to his ear.

“I love you more than air,” she whispered, and grazed his earlobe with her teeth. He made a low noise in his throat, and slid his hands possessively down her body. She kissed, slowly and lingeringly, down his jaw, down his neck, whispering things in between each kiss: how she felt about him, what she thought of him, what she liked. And in turn, he moved his hands where he wanted on her, equally slow, firm, and possessive. Heat burned between them in the falling darkness of the intimate little room; she kissed her way down his throat, lower; she reached for his shirt and he pulled it off with one arm, and then he reached for hers.

I’m yours, she said to him in her mind. I hope you can feel that. You’re the only person I’ll ever do this with. The only one who sees me this way. She pressed a burning kiss into his skin. I’ll always choose you.

Chapter Text

“Can you…please answer…my question?”

It was a struggle to form words when Percy’s lips were working down her throat, scorching his mouth into her skin, making her involuntarily arch her foot slowly up the back of his leg. He had her hoisted onto the counter, his hands everywhere, saying a very thorough good morning.

“What…was…the question?”

Annabeth, with some reluctant willpower, pulled back slightly so as to speak with coherence. “How is it going with your Oceanography professor?”

Percy went still for a moment, his hands squeezing her knees, and then slowly kissed her neck again. “It’s fine.”

His voice, Annabeth thought, was telling another story. She hesitated. “Has he become any easier to work with?”

There were a couple beats of silence. Percy very clearly did not want to talk about this now.

“Yeah, it’s better, it’s fine.”

Something seemed off. “Have you been gathering data samples for his research?”

Percy didn’t answer. Slowly, he pulled away, standing in front of her but looking somewhere over her head, running a hand through his hair with a long exhale.

She reached out and rubbed her fingers across his wrist, cocking her head to the side. “What?”

He glanced down to look at her hand. “I…quit.”

“You – wait, what?”

Again, he said nothing. He withdrew his arm from hers, scratching the back of his neck. His face had that slightly dark, guarded look in it again, whereas moments before it had been unguarded, eager, easy. He had that look a lot, lately.

“Look, I just couldn’t take it. He was such a condescending asshole, I don’t care what the pay was–”

“But – hold on – when?”

There was more silence. “Last week.”

“Last week?”

“Can we not make a big deal out of this? I’ll find some other job, I don’t want to hear about missed opportunities—”

“What? I don’t care about that – I can’t believe you quit your job last week and never told me!”

“There’s not that much to tell.”

“Uh…” Annabeth looked at him hard. “This is the sort of thing you tell your girlfriend. You know I would’ve wanted to know, Percy. You know that.”

Percy ran his hand through his hair again, so it was sticking up as though he’d just got out of bed. Which he recently had. “Annabeth…I don’t want to fight, today.”

She bit her lip. “I don’t want to fight, either.” She kept looking at him, willing him to look back, really look. She wished he would just talk to her, sometimes.

Finally, he came closer again, fiddling with her hand. “I don’t know. I guess I just felt, for a minute, like you were my mom and I didn’t want a lecture. I was stupid.”

She looked down at their hands. Truthfully, she was deeply annoyed that he’d more or less lied to her for a week, and also that he would imply she was some kind of lecturing authority figure. But he was backing down from fighting, and so she gave in, too.

She cocked her head to the side, feeling a spark in her eye. “Your mother, hmm? You associate me...” She ran her foot along the back of his leg again, “…with your mother?”

He grinned, and she knew they were okay. He leaned in to kiss her, and then whispered against her lips, “Only when you look like you want to kill me.”

She snorted. “So, rather a lot then.”

“Mmmmm.”

He kissed her soundly for a moment, then slowly resumed his position of hiding his face in her neck, whispering things she couldn’t hear, sucking on her collarbone and making it hard to breathe as her hands scratched up his biceps, bunching in the back of his shirt. He had been a lot more handsy lately, she’d noticed. More physically present, both in public and private; always touching her as he walked by, coming up behind her when she did the dishes to kiss her neck and slide his hands over her, pulling her down on his lap when there were no seats left on the tube, standing behind her in crowds, and sleeping with his face buried in her neck.

She was far, far from complaining. Percy had never been particularly vocal about his feelings; he said things in other ways.

So when the clock struck the hour, it was not easy to tear themselves apart to go to class. “Have a good day,” he whispered, kissing her for the third time. He paused, smirking a little as he looked at something below her jaw, but just shook his head when she asked, then ducked out of the way as she jumped down to look in the mirror.

Her neck was marked with not just one, but two hickeys. “Oh my gods!” She was already late for class; half laughing and half incredulous, she hit him with very unconvincing force. “You asshole!”

He was entirely not sorry, and frankly was rather irresistible with his bedhead and rumpled white t-shirt, making fake-apologetic kissy faces at her. All she actually wanted to do was lead him back to bed and stay there all day. But they had done that before; canceled the day’s schedule to just lie around, worshipping each other. And sadly, she had a quiz to take.

It was too warm, this particular day, for a scarf; besides, she was at his place and her options were limited. Running low on time, she simply popped the collar of her jacket and leaned into the truth: that she didn’t really care.
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“Annabeth Chase.” Callum raised his hand casually above his head and she hit it, equally casual. Ever since her argument with Percy, she’d put a little more distance between their friendship. More than anything, it was her conversation with Piper that had made her see things differently. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Callum to not cross a line, or that she was overly worried about Percy’s jealousy; she was wary of her own feelings. She knew she didn’t have a stupid crush on Callum. But she was cautious, now, about her whatever it was in her that basked in the light of his friendship, the friendship that was different, for him.

She was pretty sure he’d felt the shift; he was quieter around her, too. Plus, they texted less. When she was with Percy, she was making a conscious effort to put her phone away more, to be more present. It was a work in progress.

Class progressed without event; in fact, it dragged. A few times Annabeth stifled yawns. At the break, Callum drummed his fingers against the table and said, “Tired today?”

Rubbing the corner of her eye, Annabeth replied thoughtlessly, “Yeah. I didn’t get much sleep last night.”

“Studying?”

“Hm? No.”

He didn’t ask any more questions.

Near the end of class, the professor began talking about the final project that they would need to start promptly. Annabeth only half listened. Usually, these things weren’t too hard for her; she could pull something together at the last minute and still get an A.

“…and so your project partner will be the person you have been sharing a desk with this entire semester. You see? I made it easy on you.”

Annabeth jerked out of her stupor. “This is a group project?” She hissed at Callum.

“Not group. Partner. And…guess you’re my partner.”

His exact words from when they’d met. She felt a little sad, suddenly. He’d been such a good friend to her. Why did he have to want more? Why did this have to turn more complicated than needed?

He must have noticed the look on her face, because he turned back to the front and said nothing more.

In her head, Annabeth was doing fast mental math. How much longer was this semester? Weeks. They had several weeks. She was going to be forced to work privately with Callum for several weeks. Before, she would have been happy. Now, all she could think was what kind of fight this might dredge up with Percy. She felt a thrill of dread. They’d been fighting too much, lately; she was trying to fix things. Would he even believe that she hadn’t chosen this?

After class, she hovered outside the classroom door, trying to work up the courage to ask the professor for a switch. Mentally, the conversation played out in her head. He would say she had to sort out a new partner on her own, for her and Callum, and that all parties had to be satisfied. Everyone else was already satisfied. Then, even if she somehow finagled that, it would be unbearably awkward between her and Callum; they would still be seatmates for weeks. She was stuck with it.

“Are you okay?”

She jumped. Callum was standing in front of her. “We’re supposed to meet today to go over our ideas…” He hesitated. “Now seems like the most obvious time?”

Flustered, she nodded. “Okay – I mean, fine. Yes.”

He looked at her oddly. She was acting, she realized, downright odd herself. Clearing her throat, she pointed straight ahead. “To the library!” She instructed. It came out sounding slightly mangled.
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“There’s also the Ancient Greek style…you like Ancient Greece, don’t you?”

Callum’s voice sounded distant; Annabeth tore her eyes away from the window. “What? Oh – yeah. I’m sorry. That’s always been an area of focus, for me, yes.”

She sat up straighter, determined to get her shit together. She put her shoulders back and ran her hands through her hair, tossing it back over her shoulders. “Which direction do you want to go in?”

Callum didn’t answer. Annabeth looked up from the spread of books, after several moments of silence, to see what he was distracted by. As she raised her head, he quickly tore his eyes away from her, his face coloring. She realized at once what he’d been looking at: her exposed neck.

Annabeth internally faltered, but then simply cleared her throat and reached for another book, with a slight toss of her head. This was her body, and her life. If he was going to be a baby about it, then that was his decision. If he needed a reminder that she was taken, then here it was.

“Umm…” Callum’s kept his eyes down at the books, buying time as he rifled through them. The tendons in his arm, Annabeth noticed, were standing out more than usual.
This was going to be a long semester.
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“Choose a different seat partner.”

Percy’s face was set. Annabeth internally winced. This was going about as well as she’d imagined.

“I can’t. I’ve already told you why. I didn’t ask for this, Percy. It just is what it is.”

“I don’t like what it is.”

She hesitated. They were sitting on his couch, late that evening. She was curled sideways next to him, trying to keep things soft, even-keeled, on course.

“You…you do know that you have nothing to worry about, right? I mean, you do trust me?”

Percy made a frustrated, arm-waving gesture. “I trust you. This isn’t about that. I just don’t like him.”

Annabeth took a deep breath. “Okay…but, he’s never done anything. He’s never said anything. It’s seriously just a normal friendship. I might have projected more onto this, but he’s never – he’s just some kid.”

Here, Percy actually laughed. It was a surprising, relieving sound. “Some kid, huh.”

“Yes.” She poked his shoulder. “He’s my classmate. You’ve had classmates I don’t like. Remember senior year of high school? Remember Natasha?”

Percy tried very hard for exactly one second to look like he didn’t remember Natasha. Then he just laughed again, and rested his hand on her leg.

“And…” Annabeth continued, now that she was on good footing, “You know I don’t have a lot of friends on campus. Like, basically none. I’m a friendless loser. He’s a good person, and I like talking to him.” She paused. “He’s kind of boring, now that I think about it, since literally all we ever talk about is architecture and design…”

Percy just looked at her, expression both shrewd and wry. “I am one hundred percent sure that is coming from your end.”

Annabeth started to say something, but Percy kept going. “I’m sure boring, good, normal, cute Callum would be talking about all sorts of things if you gave him the chance.”

Annabeth snorted. “You’ve never even met him.”

Percy was leaning further into her, his breath tickling her ear. “So bring him here to study. I can watch you guys talk about architecture, and he can watch us not talk at all.”

“Mm hmm. Cause that’d be real casual.”

She ran her fingers over his bare forearm, absently tracing his tattoo. It just looked like part of him, now. Secretly, she’d always found it unreasonably hot. Which, well, he seemed to be perfectly aware of by now.

“So there’s a redo dinner at your dad’s tomorrow night, right?”

She took a deep breath. “Yeah. You don’t have to come.”

“Do you want me to?”

“Of course I do. Gods.”

Percy’s hand fit over her knee like it belonged there.

“Then I’ll check my schedule and move some things around.”

Annabeth rolled her eyes, but also smiled.
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The sun was beating down on her back; Annabeth rolled over in the grass, tipping her face backward. It was a much warmer day than it had been, lately. She and Callum had agreed that studying on the lawn was much preferable to the musty library; the sweet air was worth it.

It was only the following day from their first project meeting, but he was leaving to visit his sister later in the week, and so they needed the time they had. She was stretched out in the grass, holding a page of notes above her, both to study and to block out the sun. She felt, in this moment, like she was back at camp, like she could almost smell the strawberry fields. Like she was home.

“Hey, hey Callum! O’Reilly!”

A shriek rent the air. Annabeth rolled on to her side and propped her chin in her hand, watching two girls in ragged short shorts – it was hardly that warm, but you do you – approaching.

Callum looked up from his notes; he didn’t look enthusiastic, but he did look neutral and friendly enough. “Oh, hey,” he raised a hand in a similar way as to Annabeth is class; one of the girls grabbed it and held on a moment, then glanced at Annabeth and let go.

“Is this your girlfriend?” She asked with interest.

“Huh? Oh, no, not at all. This is Annabeth, she’s a friend. We’ve got like, a shit ton of studying to do right now.”

Both of the girls said hi to Annabeth. She waved. They went back to talking to Callum, and eventually ran off after he hinted at studying a couple more times.

He glanced over at Annabeth. “Becky and – actually, no idea. I have a class with them.”

They returned to their pages, but Annabeth stayed with her chin in hand, mulling over the way Callum had so easily explained who she was, without a hint of, well, anything else. She felt a little like one of those girls, to be honest. A step above, but still. A true blue friend on all accounts. It felt like relief.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket. Then again, persistent. She took it out and glanced at the screen. It was Percy.

“Hey,” she answered softly, brushing her hair over her ear and turning a little away, toward the other side of the lawn. She half-noticed Callum look up.

“Hey. How’s the studying going with cute Callum?”

She rolled her eyes, pulling up a random tuft of grass. “Is that why you called? It’s spectacular. The sun’s out, the birds are chirping, and we’re designing a whole freaking city.”

She heard him laugh. “No, that’s not why I called. I needed to check where you left the extra key…” He kept talking. She told him where the key was, and then asked a little about his day. It felt, just for a moment as she smelled the sweet air and wound a blade of grass around her finger, that they were back at camp together – back to where it had all started. She sighed, absently edging the grass stem into her mouth to chew on; spluttering, she rapidly spit it back out. It was incongruously bitter.

“I should probably go…” She murmured into the phone, glancing at Callum. “But I’ll see you tonight.”

“Yeah, I’ll meet you at seven. Give my best to cute Callum.”

Annabeth hung up. “Sorry,” she said to Callum, putting her phone away. “Where were we?”

He didn’t have to ask who it had been. They both knew.

Chapter Text

"So, have you thought about your living situation next year?"

Brenna asked Annabeth as she leaned into the mirror, smudging her lip stain with a finger.

“Huh? Oh…” Annabeth was in front of her own mirror, combing her hair before she left. She had an early evening class today; after that, she would swing quickly by the dorm to drop off her books, and then head to her dad’s. She was doing all she could to get ready now.

“Because I’m getting a house with Lana and Claire. I’d fucking hate to live in this shithole another year.” Brenna tied up the tails of her shirt; she was going to a party tonight. “You really need to be thinking about that around now. Housing applications have to go in.”

Annabeth tugged at a particularly tough knot in her hair. Truthfully, the deadlines had snuck up on her. No, she didn’t want to live in this shithole another year either, and run the risk of being stuck with another Brenna. It would be her junior year; she was ready for an apartment, or a house. But she could hardly afford to rent alone.

The most obvious solution hummed in the back of her mind. She felt a funny thrill, but it was accompanied by a buzz of stress; how did you even bring something like that up? What if he didn’t want to? Oh gods, where the fuck was she going to live?

“So I’m guessing you won’t be here tonight,” Brenna said, kicking some gum wrappers toward the wastebasket. “I might come in sorta late…”

“Uh, no, I definitely might come back here,” Annabeth asserted quickly. “I mean, I don’t know, but assume I might. I don’t care if you come in late.” Brenna didn’t care about waking Annabeth up; she was really trying to fish out if she could bring someone back to the dorm tonight. On one infamous occasion, Annabeth had actually returned to find two wasted girls (Lana and Claire) passed out in her bed. Vomit included.

She had not had a gentle reaction.

“Okie doke.” Brenna left in a cloud of perfume and vape smoke.

Annabeth finished getting ready. She’d put on a nice sweater, good shoes, a touch of mascara, and at the last moment, the earrings that Helen and her father had given her last Christmas. They were nice, high-end earrings; chunky green rectangles, more prominent than anything she usually wore. When she’d opened them, Helen had told her that she’d chosen them herself, and she thought they’d bring out the same color in Annabeth’s eyes. It had been a rare meaningful moment.

On her way to class, she tried not to think about the housing issue. If it came to it, she’d reapply for student housing. Only – Percy’s lease would be up. He’d be at a loose end, too. Wouldn’t he need a roommate? Had he been thinking about this? He hadn’t said anything. She bit her lip, trying to put it out of her mind for the time being.

She got to class a minute before it started; her professor was standing near the door, writing on the whiteboard. As she tried to brush through, he turned and put out a discreet hand to stop her. “Annabeth,” he said in a low voice, as a couple other students came through behind her. “I’d like to meet with you for a little while after class. Do you have time?”
Annabeth faltered. His voice was so serious, his eyes grave – for some reason, her stomach dipped. “Um – I guess so, yeah…” She didn’t have a chance to ask why. He nodded dismissively and she took her seat, feeling nervous.

And then it hit her, like a train full of bricks. The test. The freaking awful test from last week – but – how? She couldn’t have failed it. She’d been less prepared than she’d meant to be, and had had to bullshit some answers, but that was okay – that was more or less her academic career, right there! She studied at the last minute, bullshitted occasionally, squinted her way through confusing essays, dazzled everyone with her math skills and original thinking, and half-assed a lot of things to get the same grade as everyone else. It always, always worked out. How could this test be any different?

The paper landed face down on her desk. She flipped it over immediately.

It was different. The red F was scrawled in the corner, a burning emblem of shame, accompanied by a few scrawled notes that were hard to read. Something about preparation.

Annabeth’s stomach plummeted. How had this happened? Sure, she’d failed in spectacular fashion before. Not like most demigods, but still – she lived with ADHD and dyslexia. It was improving, but it had made her younger years a challenge, paired with the fact she’d attended school only sporadically. While most of her junior high and high school trouble had involved skipping class and arguing with teachers, she’d received bad grades, and even failed classes before. Just – not in college. Never in college.

She kept her head down throughout the class, trying to talk herself out of the shame and indignity she was feeling. When it was over, she lingered awkwardly by the door for everyone else to leave. Glancing at her phone, she realized the battery was low; she’d need to remember to grab her charger at the dorm. And to keep this brief, or else Percy would end up alone with Helen, Frederick, Bobby and Matthew…actually, he’d probably do just fine with that. Percy was such a laid back person in those situations.

“Annabeth, have a seat please.” She sat. She actually didn’t dislike this professor at all. He was older, but considerate and often amusing.

The meeting, however, did not go well. He pointed out that she’d already missed some assignments; she didn’t say that she’d calculated the points and figured she could, so long as she got a good score on the tests. “This is going to put your grade at about a…” He consulted his notes. “D. You’ve landed a D in this class.”

Annabeth just stared at him in distant horror. She’d have to take a summer course to make up the credit – but they were going to New York –

“It’s possible there’s some extra credit work we can sort out. Would you…” He examined her face, not unkindly. “What if we spoke about it next time?”

Numbly, she nodded. “Thank you – I mean – I’m sorry. I’ll try to – I’ll see you then.” She fled.

Sweeping out of the building, she got out her phone and called Percy for some perspective. He always calmed her down and made her see that the things she panicked about weren’t a big deal, in the big picture. And then – abruptly she canceled the call. He worked much, much harder than her to pass his classes, and sometimes he didn’t. F’s and D’s were second nature to him; would she sound like an asshole, yacking away about how tragic this was going to make her life?

She took a deep breath and fiddled agitatedly with an earring, pausing to stand under a streetlight. What she really needed was a distracting, low key night; she’d see her dad, Percy would be charming to her stepmother and delight her little brothers with his presence, she’d eat a ton of dessert and then go back to Percy’s. Also, she’d been privately dying to show her dad her latest Olympus designs. The excited questions he liked to ask– the way his eyes lit up – it made every last effort worth it.

She realized, though, that they hadn’t confirmed the exact time in a while. She wanted it to be firm, since she and Percy weren’t traveling together. Still standing under the streetlight, she called her father’s house. Nobody answered. Frustrated, she dialed again. This time, a frazzled-sounding Helen picked up.

“Sorry, what dinner?” She asked blankly, when Annabeth asked.

Annabeth faltered. “You rescheduled last week for tonight? I put it in my phone right away–”

“What? No – hang on–” There was rustling in the background. “I wrote it down for tomorrow. But – come to think of it, that’s not going to work because we have a PTA meeting–” There was a commotion in the background, followed by the sound of a boy shouting.

“You know what, I’m going to have to call you back, Annabeth.”

“You – wait! That’s it? I know this was the night, I planned things around it—”

“Well, that was thoughtful of you, but it looks like our wires got crossed,” Helen said, her voice somewhat impatient. “You know, Annabeth…” There was a pause, and her voice was a little gentler, but still brisk and firm, which was just Helen’s default mannerism. “You don’t need to schedule time to come see your family. You can just come by. We can’t always be arranging things around you, like you’re a special guest.”

Annabeth’s mouth dropped open. It was possible that Helen meant to be caring, but her voice said that Annabeth was a self-important, inconsiderate nuisance. And it was, in fact, Helen herself who was always asking when Annabeth was going to come by and then putting it on the schedule.

Just before Helen disconnected, Annabeth found her voice. “Can I talk to my father?”

“What? Oh…” There was an audible sigh. “Frederick! Frederick! It’s Annabeth – no, she wants to talk to you – well I can see that–” There was a long wait, with lots of distant background noise. Finally, Helen’s voice returned.

“Annabeth, Matthew just crashed his little drone toy through a window, and Frederick has got his hands full – I’ll have him call you tomorrow, okay? I’m sorry about the mix-up, but it’s just not a great night for company—”

Annabeth couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Um, Helen? Either I’m company or I’m not, but you’re making this a little unclear,” she snapped.

“Oh, Annabeth, can we not do this right now? I was merely under the impression your boyfriend was coming along, and we’re just not set up for that tonight.” She sounded annoyed now. There was more noise in the background.

“Can you at least tell my dad—”

“Matthew, put that down! Goodnight, Annabeth.” Helen hung up.

Annabeth stood alone beneath the streetlight, feeling, all the sudden, like the smallest person in the world. She swallowed hard, ears ringing, hearing only the wind through the trees above her. She raised her phone again to call Percy, and realized she was still holding the test paper with the stark F in her other hand. She closed her eyes for a long moment.

All she could hear was Helen’s irritated voice ringing in her mind. What dinner? We can’t always schedule things around you.

She saw her professor’s face as he told her she was failing, his voice asking if she’d even prepared, if she was having trouble with the material.

The two swirled in her mind, spiraling in the dark, chaotic way that ugly things had learned to do in the past few years, so that the voices began to say other things, spiky black demons telling her every last thing she’d ever feared about herself.

Swiping at her eyes, she opened her texts and composed a message to Percy.

Helen canceled dinner. Again. Basically she just doesn’t want us there.

Percy responded within a minute. Come over.

Annabeth took a deep breath, taking in the damp night air. Just want to be alone right now. I’m okay. Call you later.

She put her phone away, and after a moment’s consideration, crumpled the exam paper in her fist and dropped it in a nearby trashcan. She thought this would make her feel better, but she just felt more and more bleak; she was an idiot to think that her days of failing were behind her, that this was her place to shine. Making herself breathe deeply, she walked through the dark sidewalks lit by streetlamps, trying to let the cool night air calm her. She’d thought things were getting better with her family; she’d thought she and Helen had made so much progress. And suddenly, she was seven years old again. She was so stupid to think she deserved a place there, and that they actually cared. And she wouldn’t even have a fucking place to live within a few months. She was going to be homeless. Of course Percy didn’t want her to move in; maybe he wasn’t even planning on them lasting through college. Why did she think she could do this? She couldn’t do anything, it turned out. Gods, why was she such a huge unwanted fucking failure?

She didn’t know how long she walked. The empty darkness, however, was only making her thoughts run deeper and more distressed; abruptly, she felt exhausted. She couldn’t do this, any of it. She was just going to go get in her warm bed and sleep for about twelve hours. In a slightly shaky haze, she beat a quick path back to the dorm building. The thought of Netflix, her dark room, and a safe, heavy blanket cocoon was suddenly the only thought in her mind.

She was fumbling with her bag in the hallway, trying to find her phone to check in with Percy again – she knew she hadn’t fooled him – when she reached her door, and stopped. No. No. This was not her door – this was not happening – not tonight of all nights – but the sparkly bathrobe tie knotted around the doorknob was all too recognizable.

What the actual fuck?! She had told her – hadn’t she told her to assume she was coming back?! Annabeth rattled the knob in disbelieving frustration, almost turning it, but the creaking noises inside instantly propelled her away. She banged her palm against the door once, feeling shaky and desperate and locked out of the only freaking home she had; abruptly, she burst into frantic tears. She stepped away from the door and clamped a hand over her mouth, afraid she would alert the RA.

She propelled herself back down the hall, down the stairs, and out onto the dark sidewalk, half-blinded by the exhausted, torrential wave of everything, everything. She fumbled desperately with her bag, finally pulling out her phone, and – it was dead. She clicked the button over and over, but it remained black, silent, unresponsive. Her charger was in her room. A half-manic laugh escaped through her tears. How could Brenna fuck her over like this? Swiping at her face with her sleeve, Annabeth dug further in her bag, trying to find a solution. She didn’t want to walk another step, but she would have to get to Percy’s – maybe she’d call an uber, damn the expense. And yet – her hand scraped the bottom of the bag, empty. The truth struck her all at once. Her wallet was in her room. She couldn’t uber, take the train, take a bus – anything. Shaky panic overtook her as she dropped onto the bottom step, unable to stop crying. There was no way she was going back up to that room. She’d just stay here all night and –

“Annabeth?”

A familiar voice, a familiar, warm hand – “Hey, Annabeth, hey there…”

It was Callum. He didn’t sound panicked or weirded out, just surprised, concerned – but steady. He was always steady. Before she knew what was going on, Annabeth was leaning her head into his chest, feeling him hug her automatically, instinctively. She heard him ask her, over and over, what was wrong – and then he stopped asking, and just let her cry, because trying to stifle it only made it worse and more frantic. Finally, hiccupping, she pulled away, swiping her sleeve over her nose; she was all tears, snot, and frenetic thoughts.

“My roommate – my roommate’s fucking hooking up in our room, and – things are just really—” She hiccupped, feeling a fresh wave of tears. “Really bad – my stepmom – I talked to my stepmom on the phone—” She shook her head, covering her face with her hand. “We don’t get along. I don’t know what to do. I don’t – I don’t know what to do. Everything is falling apart.”

Callum was running a hand bracingly along her arm, trying to calm her down. “Annabeth – listen. Annabeth. It’s going to be okay. Do you want me to try and talk to your RA…?”

She shook her head immediately. “I’m not – I’m not going back up there. I fucking hate her.” She was talking about Brenna, obviously, not the innocent RA.

“Okay. Okay. Look, just – come on. It’s cold.”

He led her, gently taking her arm, and she let herself be led. She was so goddamned sick of not having a real friend on this campus, in this city. And with every character instinct she had, she trusted Callum. He reminded her, in this moment, with his warm sturdy hand and calm, focused stature, of Will Solace back at camp, and also of her brother, Malcolm. She knew his intent to help her was the same. Gods, she missed them. What was she doing so far from where she belonged? Why did anyone ever have to grow up?

“Annabeth, you can hang out in my room as long as you need a place. I don’t mean it in a weird way, okay? I know you — I hope you know I’ve always been your friend. It’s cold out here and I’m really worried about you. My roommate’s not here, so you don’t need to worry about him.”

She blinked. They were standing outside a dorm building she’d never entered before. Callum was watching her with furrowed eyes, waiting for her response. How long had she not responded?

She nodded, shivering, and they started up. Her sobs had fizzled into hypnotic sniffle-hiccups, and she hugged her arms around herself, trying to get warm.

Callum’s room was identical to hers in size and shape. It was also reasonably clean, if cluttered. The overhead light was off, and he turned on the lamp by the bedside. She sank gratefully onto the bed that was made, already feeling exhausted in the warmth of the little room.

Callum moved around his shelf and mini-fridge area, rustling and clinking. After a few moments, he handed her a chipped Berkeley mug full of hot tea.

“I have an illegal kettle in here. Don’t tell.”

She laughed a little, taking the mug with gratitude. It was sweetly quaint that he drank tea.

“I do have something stronger, too, if that’s what you need.”

Annabeth blew on the tea, closing her eyes. “I’ll let you know.”

Callum sank down on the opposite bed. Unlike her, all curled into herself, his feet actually reached squarely onto the ground. He reached for an open laptop, placing it beside him as he clicked around. “Sorry,” he said as relaxed music filled the room. “I can’t ever just be in this room without music on. It’s kind of a habit.”

“I don’t mind. It’s nice.”

They fell into companionable silence as Callum kept clicking around his computer, and Annabeth sipped her tea, leaning against the wall and closing her eyes, feeling herself slowly calm. He had a relaxing presence.

“So…do you want to talk about it?”

“Uh, I don’t know. Not really. It was just…a shitty night, I guess. I kinda just snapped when I was shut out of my room, too. I don’t know. Oh!” She’d just remembered. “Could I charge my phone? Do you have…?”

He handed her a charger. “I’m sorry you don’t get along with your stepmom. I don’t even get along with my non-step parents all that much. Families can be total shit.”

Annabeth snort-laughed. “Yeah. You’re telling me.”

“I mean seriously, the other day…” He went into a story about his parents. It was a welcome enough distraction. Annabeth drank her tea, even while she wished it had a deeper calming effect, almost the way that ambrosia and nectar made her instantly feel stronger and better when injured and weakened.

“So, trust me, I get it. If you want to talk about your stepmom, or you know, whatever, I’m totally here for that.”

Annabeth squinted her eyes into her mug, feeling a wretched stabbing sensation in her chest. “I think…I’m ready for something stronger, if you’ve got it.”

Callum rose easily and rummaged in a drawer. “There’s Jack Daniels, and then there’s like, this Four Loko of my roommate’s…”

“I’ll take the first one, please.”

“That’s what I thought.”

He added the whiskey to her mug and gave it back to her. Annabeth didn’t drink often; she’d been to exactly one real college party, but mostly she just occasionally stayed up late with Piper, drinking their way through a bottle of wine – sometimes two – and sometimes, rarely, needing Percy to take care of her. Percy occasionally had a beer, but she’d never seen him drunk. She knew it was loosely related to growing up with an abusive, alcoholic stepfather.

So she was no stranger to the sharp flavor, or the burning, tingling warmth she instantly felt down to her toes. She felt cozy, safe, and relieved, tucked away in this unfamiliar dorm room, far from her own hellish roommate, disappointed professor, and tyrant stepmother. She was drinking too quickly, but she needed the revival, she reasoned.

Callum was watching her with some concern. “Can I get you anything else? Did you eat dinner?”

“N—no” Annabeth yawned. “But no, I’m good now. Thank you for being such a nice friend.” Her mug was almost empty, and her chest felt so much warmer, her limbs pleasantly heavy and tingling. “Where’s your roommate tonight?”

“He stays over at his boyfriend's a lot. It’s often just me, here.”

She leaned back against the wall, and then was tipping sideways instead, laying her face against the bedspread. “Mmmm. Your roommate has nice sheets. Not all boys wash their sheets.”

“That’s my bed, actually.”

“Oh?” Another yawn rippled through her, and she sniffled, so tired. Her head was cloudy and buzzing, just slightly. “That’s surprising. I mean, not surprising…at all. You’re a clean boy. A nice one.” She was too drowsy, and she knew she wasn’t making enough sense, but Callum didn’t seem to mind.

“Hey…” She heard him say. “You never plugged your phone in. I’ll do it…”

The music played softly into the background of the room, and she heard the creak of Callum sitting back on the other bed, and the dimness of the lamp casting shadows everywhere as Annabeth’s eyelids grew heavy. It really was so warm in here, she thought….warmer than her room…she’d have to ask somebody about that…take it to the management…
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A sharp, insistent buzzing noise was cutting through her mind, invading her dreams of sitting on the porch at The Big House, drinking iced tea and sketching out plans for new cabins…they were getting so many new campers, lately…it was important…important that she do this…

Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Annabeth stirred, disturbed by the angry vibration sounds. She opened her eyes muzzily, and froze, confused. It was so dark and warm, but – where was she? Slowly, she blinked and looked around. She was on a strange bed, and across from her, but not very far – in fact, evocatively close – was a sleeping boy. A boy.

Callum.

She sat up so fast her head spun – her phone, it was buzzing, it wouldn’t stop – she hunted for it in the blanket, dazed panic seeping through her; “Oh my gods, shit, shit shit,” she repeated, sweeping her hair out of her eyes and finally grabbing her ringing phone.

It was Percy. Of course it was Percy. She had a million missed calls and texts.

She put the phone to her ear, rubbing a hand over her eyes and blinking into the dim light. “Hello?” She tried desperately not to sound groggy, and knew she did, anyway. She sounded exactly like she’d just woken up.

“WHERE ARE YOU?” Percy’s voice came through, panicked and angry and worried, all at once.

Annabeth immediately rose from the bed, fumbling around the shadowy room for her shoes. “I – I’m – on campus—” She fought to clear her disorientation. “Where are you?”

“I’m looking for you! I’ve been looking for you everywhere! What am I supposed to think when you’re just not at your dorm at midnight? You haven’t answered your phone—”

“It – it was dead—” Rising panic was making her throat close. “I’m coming, I’m fine—”

“Annabeth?” Callum was waking up now. “Are you – what’s wrong?”

Viciously, she shook her head at him – gods, what was she doing, what the hell had she done? – “Percy, where are you?”

“Were you sleeping? I’m outside – I’m outside the gym place–”

“I’m coming – I’ll be there.” She hung up before he could hear Callum’s voice in the background.

“Annabeth? Hold on – who was that—?”

She found her bag, and threw her phone inside. “It was my boyfriend!” Panic was making her half-cry. They were both still disoriented with sleep. “Gods, where the fuck are my shoes—?”

“Um, there’s one right over here…sorry, can you just wait a minute? I’ll come with you – I can help—”

“Oh my gods, no, we’ve already fought enough about you! Just—” She finally found both her shoes and jammed them on; she threw her bag over her arm and opened the door in a rush. “I have to go.”

She ran down to the sidewalk; the gym wasn’t far at all. It was too close, really. She didn’t have any time to think, to get herself together. Suddenly Percy was there, and they were standing only feet apart. She realized it had rained in the last hour; the lawns and the street were glistening under the streetlights.

Automatically, she ran straight to Percy, but then stopped abruptly. He grabbed onto her to steady her, and because she was clearly a mess – this was a mess

“What’s wrong – where were you?” He demanded.

Annabeth lifted a shaky hand and pushed her hair back behind her ear. “I was with – a friend – Brenna shut me out—”

She would have no idea, later, exactly how long it took him to say the next words. The entire scene would replay in her mind like some distant bad movie scene that she wasn’t all there for. But it was either minutes or half a second until Percy said in a voice both flat and incredulous, “You were with him. You were asleep – you were sleeping with him.”

“No! Percy! I didn’t – nothing happened!”

He was staring at her like he’d never seen her before, like she’d just grown three heads. It was the way she’d seen him look at monsters before he vaporized them to tartarus.

“You were actually with him. You were—” He was backing away from her now.

She kept shaking her head, crying slightly, trying to formulate the right words. “I wasn’t – it wasn’t like that! I just fell asleep – we fell asleep—”

“You fell asleep in his bedroom! What were you even doing there?” Percy was straight up yelling now, gesturing widely with his arms, having put quite a few paces between them.

“I told you I was shut out – my phone was dead – he was just trying to help me! I didn’t mean to fall asleep there!”

Even though he had asked, Percy was not actually in the mood to listen.

“You said you wanted to be alone! You want to be alone, you shut off your phone and quit answering anything I say, I come here and find you fucking shacked up with Callum from architecture class—”

“It wasn’t like that!”

“—who’s so fucking in love with you, he can’t wait to get in your pants, you two text at three in the morning—”

“Would you goddamn listen to me!” Annabeth finally screamed in frustration. “I know it looks terrible! I am fucking sorry! But I didn’t do anything – we don’t text like that—”

“Then give me a replay of everything that went down in his cozy little bedroom while you were lying to me! How do you expect me to trust you? How many other times have you been up in his dorm?”

“I wasn’t – I haven’t! He found me crying, I was literally stranded in the street – we went there because I had nowhere to go – I was just going to stay until I could charge my phone and go back—”

“But you decided to get cozy and go to sleep?” Percy was still yelling, his voice hard and angry. The disgust radiating from him was palpable in the night air, mirrored by Annabeth’s flustered nerves and raw frustration. “How does that happen, Annabeth?”

“It’s hard to explain—”

“Try me.”

She took a deep breath. “He made me tea, and then put whiskey in it when I asked. I was already super tired, and then I just fell asleep without meaning to. We weren’t on the same bed—”

“So let me get this straight. You tell me you want to be alone, then you go up to Callum’s room at night, drink with him, and go to sleep in his room with him? How the fuck do you think that looks to me?”

They were both too worked up beyond reason to calm down, speak civilly, or walk away until another time. It was too late at night, their nerves were frayed, and perhaps this had been boiling below the surface for too long, now. In any case, neither of them held back.

“I think it looks complicated! I get that – I don’t know what to say to make you believe me—”

“I’m sick of this. I’m sick of him always vying for your attention, of you liking it, of you always being together, of you lying to me—”

“I have never fucking lied to you about him! Who do you actually think I am? Why would you say that—” She was screaming back at him now, all of her frustration pouring out.

“Just how do you think you’d be reacting if this was reversed, Annabeth?” Percy yelled. “If this was me, texting and studying and drinking and having overnights with some other girl? While I lied to you and pretended it was nothing? Because I think you’d be throwing a fucking tantrum about it.”

“Well you’re throwing one right now! You’re not seeing it clearly and it was a mistake! I don’t even know how to talk to you when you’re like this—”

“You haven’t been talking to me for the past month.”

“Excuse me? I have been trying to talk to you – you’re the one who didn’t tell me about your job, who’s been silent and moody and won’t answer my questions – don’t put that on me!”

“Okay, great, yes, this is my fault. You can’t even see when I’m going through shit too, it’s always about you and your daddy issues and your sexist teachers and your big bad roommate and—”

“Oh my fucking gods! Just because I actually talk! Because I open up to you, and you never open up to me! I try to ask about your things, I try to be there, but you’re so stuck on being a strong moody masculine man you can’t even open your mouth and talk to your girlfriend!”

“Well you haven’t felt like much of a girlfriend, lately. In fact I’m pretty sure you’re Callum’s girlfriend, now, so I hope he enjoys that. I’m done with this whole thing, okay? I’m done.” Percy was breathing hard now, his voice lowering. He was shaking his head and stepping further and further away.

Annabeth felt a little like the wind had been knocked out of her. It was a struggle to form words, and it took her several attempts. “What – what do – what does that mean? Why would you – done with what?”

“With this situation. With him and you. I need you to choose me. I need this to start being better. Not just him – it’s not just about him. It’s a lot of stuff, lately. We’re different and things are different and I can’t fucking take it, anymore! I can’t take it! We need to – something needs to change.”

Annabeth still hadn’t quite caught her breath from hearing words thrown around like done. “What do you – what do you mean? What is it you want? Are you trying to—” She couldn’t say the words. She couldn’t say anything. She couldn’t even breathe.

“I’m just—” Percy looked away, his hands up behind his head, rotating slightly on the sidewalk. “I’m trying to figure out what it is you want, here. Or what’s supposed to fix us. And right now – tonight – I just don’t even know, anymore. Do you want to take some time? A break away from each other?”

All the air was officially gone from Annabeth’s chest. She almost heard the hitch inside of her as her whole being turned to ice; all at once she stopped crying, and started sobbing so hard she could barely breathe.

“Why would you SAY that – why would you even SAY that—” she said through her sobs, over and over.

“Annabeth – okay, Annabeth – it’s okay – breathe—” Percy came a lot closer. His voice slowed down. “Annabeth. I’m not – it’s okay. I’m not going anywhere. Please, please stop crying.”

The world seemed to slow for a while as he tried to calm her down, and she tried to calm herself. Finally she managed to say, “Why did you – is that what you want? You want to break up?”

“I – no.” His voice actually cracked, and he took a couple steps back, scrubbing his hands through his hair. “No. That’s not what I want. I would – I would rather fucking die…than lose you.” His voice was unsteady now, and he pressed the heels of his hands over his eyes.

She kept crying, and he kept rocking away from her, breathing loudly. “I think…” He took a deep breathe. There was a long silence, and then another. “I’m gonna go back now.”

She knew from the way he said it that he only meant back to his apartment, for the night.

She covered her face with her sleeved hand, breathing shakily. “Okay.”

There was another long silence; she couldn’t even see him. “I’ll see you in the morning, Annabeth.”

“Okay.” She said again. She couldn’t say anything else. All she could hear was the buzzing of the streetlamps. All she could feel was the wet night air and the stillness and the cold leftover rain on the sidewalk in the dark.

Chapter Text

Two blue jays made a morning racket in the tree branches above the street where the coffee cart sat. The day had dawned clear and blue, filled with weak, crisp sunlight and gentle air. Annabeth paid for her coffee, sidestepped two fathers walking a double stroller, and strolled down the path that would lead her away from campus.

Her eyes were dry and gritty from no sleep; she felt vaguely like she had a head cold. She took a deep inhale and tipped her face backward toward the sky, thinking of nothing but the weak sunlight. She was supposed to be in class right now, but she hadn’t gone. She drank from her cup, concentrating on the hot, bitter taste.

Her hair was still damp from her long, scalding shower. She’d seen, the night before after finally returning to her room – filled only with a sleeping roommate – exactly how she’d looked during her and Percy’s standoff below. Mascara streaked down her face, clothes in disarray, hair long and tangled. The worst part was that she was wearing only one earring. The other one – from her father, from Helen – was undoubtedly somewhere in Callum’s bedsheets.

What a fucking disgrace.

She sat down on a bench and took out the bun she’d bought, not hungry at all, and began throwing it in chunks to the birds pecking under the trees. They went mad for it, hopping all over the place in delight that someone had noticed them.

Abruptly, the bench beneath her began to vibrate. Her phone was ringing.

She snatched it up, her heart jolting, and then stopped. It was a familiar number. It was her father.

She put the phone to her ear. “Hello?”

“Annabeth?”

“Yeah.” She cleared her throat. “It’s me.”

“Annabeth, it’s your father. Is this too early? I thought you might have class this morning.” Frederick Chase was a mild-mannered, distractible, intelligent and gentle sort of person. He always sounded half as if he were talking to a group of students, half to an affectionate family dog.

“I do. I normally do. I didn’t – I didn’t go today. I didn’t feel well.”

Her father hesitated. “Annabeth, I wanted to apologize for last night. Did Helen say something that upset you?”

Annabeth dug her finger into the lid’s edge on her cup. “She was just…very welcoming, as usual.”

Her father was quiet for a moment. “Annabeth, Helen doesn’t always know how to communicate clearly. She means well. In fact, I’m not sure any of us are so talented at talking to each other. But – I want you to know that you are always welcome here. Do you hear me? Always. Any time of the day or night. I’m always waiting for you. This is your home.”

Annabeth’s throat closed. She felt moisture prick her eyes, and took an unsteady breath. As if she wasn’t already fragile this morning.

“Thanks, Daddy.” She whispered. She hadn’t called him that since she was about seven. But she was just so sick – so sick – of not having any goddamn person or parent to take care of her.

Her father cleared his throat. “You said you were unwell today? Missing class?”

“I – yeah. I didn’t sleep so well.” Annabeth paused. “But there was – I mean, it wasn’t – I had some other stuff going on.”

This felt weird, confiding – sort of – in her dad. But it didn’t feel wrong, either. The band around her chest felt a little looser.

“Is everything okay, honey?” He was more attuned than usual, more concerned and observant. She focused her eyes on the distant birds, still pecking after nonexistent crumbs. She’d be insane to divulge her personal problems to her father, of all people. And yet – he was the one on the other end of the phone, the one who was asking.

“Um. Yeah.” She sniffed a little, involuntarily. “I mean – not really. I didn’t do so great on a test, and I’m kind of struggling in this class, and…then Percy and I had this sort of fight. I don’t know. Things are just kind of…hard.”

When her father spoke, his voice was thoughtful. “You know,” he said seriously. “I’ve taught a lot of courses, at different levels and different schools, and yet, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a student who’s put the amount of pressure on themself that you put on yourself, when it comes to all things. It’s a lot, Annabeth. And you know what? Failing a class is not the end of the world. Falling behind is not the end. It’s pretty natural, and it’s bound to happen eventually.”

Annabeth couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She felt the band around her chest loosen and loosen.

“And as for Percy – Annabeth, I don’t pretend to know all about your life. I’m not sure I deserve to. But here’s what I’ve noticed. That young man has shown you the kind of friendship – well, the kind that’s really, very rare. It’s pretty plain to see. I know there’s more than that, but sometimes that’s what it comes down to. I would just try to remember that, when times get hard. It’s all going to be all right, honey.”

It was several moments before Annabeth could speak. She pressed her fingers over her mouth, swallowing three times. “Okay,” she whispered finally. “Okay. I know.”

She could hear her father hesitate down the line, as though he were deciding whether or not to say the next thing. When he spoke, it was in a slight rush.

“Sometimes we need to fight for what’s important, instead of staying quiet. We can’t just let people go, and let things slide away. I’m learning my own lesson about that, but you’re the one who’s shown me, Annabeth. We need to speak up and fight for those we can’t be without. And that’s – that’s what I have to say about that.”

Annabeth looked for a long time at the birds. “Thanks, dad,” she said finally. “I – I’m glad you called.”

He cleared his throat. “Come home soon, okay?”

“Yeah. I will.”

They hung up.

Annabeth sat for a while longer on the bench. Then she picked up her phone again, and made a different call. Her heart hammered when he picked up, but her voice was steady as she asked for what she wanted. The conversation was short, quiet, and to the point. When the line disconnected, she threw the last of the bread to the birds, drained her coffee cup, stood up, and walked away.
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The sun in New Rome was much the same as in Berkeley; weak and clear, fighting for something. When Annabeth got to the spot, it was empty. Rather than sit at a table or bench in the park, she sat on the curb where she could watch who approached. She rubbed her eye; she could seriously do with going back to bed. Normally she was able to get by on very little sleep, but the events of the night before had utterly leveled her, and she felt significantly low to the ground today.

A shadow fell over her from behind, and then Percy was dropping down on the curb beside her. There wasn’t a huge amount of space between them, but they remained far from touching.

“Hey.” He said.

She could feel his energy immediately, and it matched her own. He was exhausted too, she could see it in his eyes and shoulders and wrinkled t-shirt. There was no fight in his voice, no anger, just quiet tiredness and something like resignation.

“Hi.” She said back, looking down to tug a blade of grass.

For a long moment, they didn’t say anything else, but watched a group of children play in the park across from them.

Finally Annabeth said, “You didn’t go to class this morning.”

“Neither did you.”

She rubbed her eye again. “No. I couldn’t concentrate. I barely even slept.”

She took a deep breath, and looked at him. “I hate what happened last night. I hated that. I hate what I did, and how we – I don’t even know—” She closed her eyes, and her voice was suddenly a whisper. “I just needed to see you today.”

Percy took a long inhale, followed by a longer exhale. He ran a hand through his hair, making it messier than usual. “Look, Annabeth, I don’t want to be that couple screaming at each other in the street. I don’t want to be that – ever again. It was just – it was fucked up, and it wasn’t us. I don’t know how we became that.”

She wiped the corner of her eye. “I know,” she said, voice barely audible. “I mean, I don’t know either.”

He kept a hand on the back of his neck, looking off at the kids playing some intricate tag game. “I didn’t mean to upset you so much. I wasn’t – I mean, I wasn’t trying to break up with you, okay? I might be slow sometimes but I’m not a fucking moron.”

Annabeth made a strange noise in her throat, a half-laugh, half-cry. For a moment she had no voice at all. Then she cleared her throat and said, “I know it looked awful last night. I know it looked so bad. I would’ve – I know if you’d done it, I’d be a jealous nightmare, and it’s not fair. But – please, Percy, you have to know I’d never lie to you about something like this. You know me. It was all just a terrible matter of circumstance, and – nothing happened with him. I shouldn’t have gone, but I was upset and he was there and – nothing happened.”

She could see a muscle working faintly in Percy’s jaw. “Were you in his bed?”

“No!” She paused. “Well – okay, technically it was his, but he was across the room in his roommate’s bed, and he never tried anything – he just gave me a place to go.”

“Was he drinking, too?”

“Uh,” She thought back. “Actually, I have no idea. But it wasn’t like – he wasn’t trying to get me drunk or anything. And I never meant to stay all night there. It just…happened.”

Percy gave a deep sigh, kicking at a pile of twigs in the street. “Well, the only option I can see is that I have to go back there and kick his ass.”

His voice – just barely – had the familiar tone of wry humor, and Annabeth felt her heart thaw out ten different degrees with relief.

She sniffed a little, watching the kids play. There was a spunky one with tangled hair that she liked.

“I know that it went too far,” she said finally. “That I – that I wasn’t putting enough energy into us, and I was talking to him a lot, and I recognize that. But I want to make sure you know that he is literally nothing to me compared to you, okay? I like him as a friend, but you’re – gods Percy, you’re my whole entire world. You’re my person.”

Percy stretched his legs out over the gutter, hands folded behind his neck. “All right,” he said quietly.

Annabeth looked at him, biting the inside of her cheek.

“I hear you. I get it.” Percy shook his head. “I didn’t – I don’t know.” His voice trailed off. She swallowed. Why was saying what you meant such a hard process?

“I know you have to keep seeing him in class. I don’t like it, but I know it’s not up to you.” Percy said.

“Yeah…I mean, we still have to finish out the project. But…we’ll just work in the public library, when we have to. It won’t take that long. I’ll call you when I’m going to be with him, if that’s what you want.”

“And he likes you.”

Annabeth hesitated, then gave an honest shrug. “He’s never said so.”

“Yeah. Cause you’re so terrible at reading people.” His voice was wry.

Abruptly, Percy stood. He reached down a hand to help her up. “Let’s walk around. I can’t sit here anymore.”

They meandered slowly around the edge of the park as the city woke up around them. Percy walked with his hands in his pockets, scuffing his shoes against the ground.

After a while, he spoke again. “I thought about what you said. How I didn’t, like, always tell you when stuff was going on.”

She bit her lip cautiously. The last thing in the world she was looking to bring up was another fight.

He continued, “I guess – I don’t know. It doesn’t just go away, you know? The pressure and feeling of, like, always needing to be the leader or the hero or whatever.”

A million things rushed to her mind to say, and she even started to inhale so as to say them, but abruptly she held her breath. Sometimes people just needed air to say what they needed to.

“And I know it’s stupid – you’re you, and we’re…us, and we’ve always been there when the other needed.” He kicked at a piece of trash in the street. “I’ll work on it, Annabeth. I know it was messed up to not tell you about the work thing. I’ll try not to do it again.”

Annabeth let out her breath in a gust. “Gods, Percy…I get it, okay? I mean, I think I do. It’s not like I’ve always been the easiest person – or like, the least guarded person in the world. I know what you’re saying. But if you honestly feel judged by me – I need you to tell me that, okay? Because that’s the last thing I mean to do. I really, really don’t mean to lecture you about stuff. All I want to do is help. If that means shutting up sometimes, great.”

He hesitated. “I also just kind of hated what I turned into last night. Yelling at you in the street like that – I didn’t—” He turned his face away, looking out toward the distant water. “It made me feel like my ex-stepfather, with my mom. I don’t know. I didn’t mean to get so mad at you. That’s not – I don’t want to be that person.”

Annabeth’s heart skipped. She stepped closer to him and tried to touch his arm, but he was remained stiff and closed off.

“Percy,” she said. “That was not what it was. You are not like that – you’re nothing like him. It didn’t – I was mad, too. It was just a fight.” She looked across the park and sighed. “A shitty one, but a fight. People fight.”

They were silent for a while. She wanted, badly, to kiss him, but she didn’t want him to reject her. Finally, taking a deep breath, Annabeth said, “You said – something about…stuff being different, and needing it to change.”

Percy shook his head once, and muttered, “I was just mad, Annabeth. People fight.”

She bit her lip. “Yeah, but, I hear you, okay? I think we’re just growing up and realizing that healthy relationships don’t just happen on their own, year after year. It’s a thing you build. We could just slide by, but I don’t want that. I want us to be the best, all the time.”

He glanced at her, and there was a slight smile on the side of his mouth. “Yeah okay, no pressure though.”

She rolled her eyes, and she could see him softening, and then his hand was sliding down her wrist, opening her palm, and threading their fingers together. His hand was warm and large and firm, and her arm was tingling with nerve endings, and it felt a little bit like the first time they’d ever held hands. Like it was something they’d invented, just the two of them.

She suddenly stopped walking, or he did, and then they were just standing still, and she was pressing up close into his chest, her head fitting in the space between his shoulder and neck, hiding her face into the safety of his shirt, closing her eyes and sniffling and just breathing.

His arms locked around her, secure, just there, just holding her. There was something both desperate and completely calm in it, and the world went on around them as they stood on the street corner, tucked away under a blossoming cherry tree. The energy between them eased with every passing second, slowly charging into one. She could feel the unspoken words passing between them, and she knew that he knew what she hadn’t said. Even so –

“Percy,” she whispered, tipping her head back to look him in the eye. “I’m so…so sorr—”

“I know.” He cut her off.

She looked at him, and he looked at her, and their foreheads were almost touching, their noses – it was okay to kiss him now, right? His hands tightened on her waist –

A ringing alert sounded through the air, coming from Percy’s back pocket. They both jumped, and he hastily pulled out his phone, stepping away from her. “Oh gods, good thing I set a reminder—” He turned off the alarm. “I have a job interview today. In like, a few minutes, actually.”

“Oh!” Annabeth paused. “Percy, that’s great. Where’s it for? That research lab in—”

“Actually, it’s not for anything marine related at all. It’s at the youth detention center outside New Rome. They take in middle school age kids, and they need counselors. Not like, therapist-counselors, but just people to hang out with the kids and be an extra set of eyes and like, play foosball with them.”

“Oh, my gods. Percy. Yes! This is – why didn’t I think of something like that? This is amazing.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t have the job yet, so don’t get all sentimental just yet.”

“You’re gonna slay the interview. Just tell them about all the times you almost ended up in one of those centers!”

He rolled his eyes. “I’ll probably leave the dirty laundry for interview number two, if I make it that far. But – I gotta run.”

He glanced down at his phone as it beeped with something else, and then looked up at her. “I’ll see you soon, okay? Later today?”

She nodded, and he leaned in and kissed her quickly, before glancing back down at his phone and then starting to jog away, leaving her standing beneath the tree.

Before he’d gone more than a few paces, however, he stopped abruptly, shoved his phone back in his pocket, and ran headlong back to where she stood. He pulled her close, and kissed her until her heart was racing out of her chest.
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The flight of stairs was familiar today, despite how dark it had been the night before, when she’d last seen them. They were nearly identical to the stairs up to her own dorm room, however; gray, concrete, ugly. She reached the top and turned from faint memory down the hallway to the right, stopping in front of number nine. She wasn’t going to wait. Some things had to be done right away, or never at all.

She took a deep breath, and knocked. She heard something fall on the other side, then footsteps, and the door opened to an unfamiliar face.

“Hi, I’m—”

“You must be Annabeth!” The skinny, brown skinned boy opened the door wide and smiled brightly. “Callum went to yell at our dreadful neighbors for not giving back the window cleaner they borrowed. He should be back any second, though.”

“Uh, window cleaner?” Annabeth couldn’t remember the last time she’d cleaned – well, anything besides a dirty dish or basket of laundry. Who were these people?

The boy sighed dramatically and gestured for Annabeth to come in. “You know, Cal never has ladies over, despite how appealing he is. Two days in a row is not at all bad.”

Annabeth felt her ears warm. “Oh, we’re just—”

“Friends. I know! Trust me, I know.” He looked at her in such a way that she believed him. What had Callum been telling him?

“Well, anyway.” She cleared her throat assertively. “I left an earring here last night. I know how easy it would be for it to get lost quickly – it’s green and—” she pulled out it’s match from a pocket. “Has it turned up, by any chance?”

The roommate swept his arm across the room. “I know nothing. But the property is yours to ransack.”

Annabeth stepped tentatively toward Callum’s bed, feeling like some kind of harlot.

“It’s – I can’t – I don’t think it’s here.” She concluded in frustration, shaking out the pillows.

“Was it very special?”

“Yes!”

The open door creaked open wider, and the smell of springtime wafted through the room.

“What was special?”

Callum stood in the doorway, a bottle of cleaning spray in one hand.

Annabeth quickly returned his pillow to the bed.

“Hi,” she said softly, taking a deep breath. “I left something here—”

Wordlessly, Callum reached into his pocket and then held out his hand to her. The earring was in his palm.

They met eyes, and there seemed to be a dictionary of words in his, but he didn’t need to say them. She didn’t need to, either. She took the earring, fixed it directly into her ear, and after another moment, said in a quiet voice, “Thank you.”

He just nodded. “It’s all good, Annabeth.”

She adjusted the strap of her bag on her shoulder. “So about our plan for the project—”

He interrupted. “I’m about to leave for my sister’s, for a bit. So I figure we can work on it separately for a while; I don’t think there’s actually that much left to do, the way that you work. We’ll get an A.”

She stopped, and then she smiled at him. “Safe travels, Callum.”

“You too, Annabeth. I mean, I know you’re not going anywhere – but, still—”

“OKAY, okay kids, we’ve got windows to clean!” The roommate unattached himself from the wall and swung between them, dragging Callum away from the door and taking the window cleaner. “It was nice meeting you, Annabeth!”

She stepped through the open doorway, pausing to look back at the both of them examining the ingredients on the spray bottle, and assessing their collection of dirty rags. Callum was shaking his head and starting to debate a point that had been made.

She gave a half-smile and said quietly, “Yeah. You too.” Then she stepped out into the clean sunshine, breathed deeply, and closed the door behind her.
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“Guess what?”

Percy’s voice came down the line sounding both staticky – because of the reception – and excited, because –

“You got—!”

“I got the job!”

“Oh my gods! Percy!” Annabeth’s excited squeal echoed down the subway platform. “You already heard? It’s still the same day – that is amazing, I’m so, so excited for you—!”

“Yeah, they just called. I only had to do one interview. It seems like some pretty cool other staff there, too. I start in a few days!”

She’d never heard him so happy about a job. “Percy, you’re going to change those kids lives. Where are you? Are you home? We’re celebrating tonight!”

“Yeah, I just went to the store – but no, no, I’m making you dinner tonight—”

Annabeth laughed. “You can. No one says you can’t cook your own celebratory dinner. I’ll be there soon, okay? Do you need me to bring anything?”

“Just your beautiful, sexy self.” He said, a smile in his voice.

She smiled in spite of herself. “I love you.”

“I love you, Wise Girl.”
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The sun was setting when she approached his apartment building, streaking the sky with pink. She stopped several paces away. A tall, leanly muscled figure was approaching the dumpsters, taking out the trash. A figure with messy hair and a faded Led Zeppelin t-shirt. She stood and watched him for a moment, and when he turned back to the apartment without seeing her, she called out in a deep voice, “Hey hot stuff, take off your shirt!”

When he saw her, his face immediately lit with that familiar troublemaker smile. His eyes were full of light. “I don’t put out for cheap one liners!” He shouted back.

Suddenly she was right in front of him, and suddenly he’d picked up her, and she’d wrapped her legs around him, and he spun her easily. “Besides, I have a girlfriend—”

“Who is hopelessly obsessed with you.” Annabeth finished, grabbing hold of his ears and kissing him long and deep and breathless.

They stood out in the gathering twilight for immeasurable minutes, him holding her up like she was made of air. She could feel his good mood radiating out of him, and it matched her own feeling of utter contentment, slight giddiness, and positivity that she’d come home.

They hadn’t sifted through every last thing there was to talk about yet, but there was such a sweetness in the air all the same; it was as if the night before had broken through all the built-up detritus between them, cleared out the muddled air, left only clean, clear certainty in its wake. They’d chosen each other again, they always would, and just the reunion of seeing each other at the end of the day brought on such stomach-swooping, skin-tingling happiness.

Eventually they went inside, and she hopped up on the counter with the bottle of wine from the grocery bag; they passed it back and forth as he washed vegetables, boiled water, and told her about the new job. Evening fell around them as they talked and talked, moving on to different topics; Annabeth confessed about the bad grade she’d received, but explained that she’d been in to see her professor that day and had worked out a plan. She also told him a little about the unexpected phone call with her normally distant father, and Percy told her she needed to stop calling the house and arranging things, but just go there, just show them how it was going to be.

At one point, she pulled him in closer to where she sat on the counter, roaming her hands down over his shoulders. “I want to discuss a couple of changes,” she said slowly, looking into his eyes.

He raised an eyebrow, but let her go on.

“I want to focus on us right now, and for a while going forward. Me and you. I don’t want to think about anything else. So, I was thinking about ideas, and for one, I want to instate a no-screens policy in the bedroom. There will be work time, and phone time, but we’ll buy one of those weird old alarm clocks and just leave computers and phones elsewhere in the evening, unless we’re watching a movie together, or something. No work, no other people, no distractions.”

The side of his mouth quirked. “I can definitely live with that.” He paused. “You mentioned a couple of changes, though.”

“Well, I was being a good girlfriend and leaving the next suggestion up to you.”

“Okay…” He leaned in and kissed her once. “I tell you stuff. You tell me stuff.” He kissed her again. “We talk to each other and have a fantastic relationship.”

She laughed. “I can live with that, too.”

“Also, more of this?” His lips burned where they touched her neck.

She laughed again, more quietly, and leaned in to kiss below his ear. “Hmmmm.” Then she sat back suddenly. “Your sauce is burning!”

He moved quickly to avert disaster. He was back within moments. “Also…it’s not like we spend all that much time hanging out and whatever in the bedroom. I think we should instate the no-screens, no-work, no-distractions rule some other times too, like for random hours during the afternoon when we’re together.”

She took a deep breath, and nodded. “That…is a great idea. It won’t—”

“—be easy for you, I know, but,” He grinned. “I’ll help you.”

She traced a finger down his arm. “I think these things will be good.”

“Yeah. They will. I just – I really, really like having your attention, Annabeth. It’s the most valuable thing in the world to me.”

She looked at him in surprise, at his openly vulnerable confession, at the fact that she’d never, well, known that. How startling, that her mere attention could be so precious to someone else. How wondrous.

She leaned into his neck, pulling him in closer, resting her face there, feeling his heart, his warmth, his steady, beautiful, alive Percy-ness. The best thing in the world.

“You have all of me.” She whispered. “Every part. Whatever part of me you want. It’s yours.” She pressed her lips into his skin. “For the rest of my life.”

She felt his lips in her hair, his hands on her, his husky voice whispering something. She slid his hands up under his shirt to feel his heart, his Achilles heel, his warm demigod alive-ness.

He put his face right up against hers, kissing her nose, her forehead, her eyelids. “I would fall into Tartarus for you, you know that?” he whispered with a smile.

She bit her lip, but felt herself grin right back. “I would take a poisoned knife for you,” she whispered in return, just as he kissed the jagged scar on her shoulder.

He picked her up again and walked them to the couch. She climbed on top of him and whispered into his mouth, “I’m going to spend…forever…showing you exactly how I feel.”

He smirked. “I can live with that.” Suddenly his hands dug into her hips, sliding around to where he wanted them, and his voice was against her ear. “You could keep telling me, too.” His teeth grazed her skin. “Because I’m gonna be telling you…” His hands moved firmly up under her shirt. “And showing you…” She gasped, tipping her head backward. “For the rest of your life, Annabeth Chase.”

She threaded her fingers through his hair, and whispered against his skin. “Me too, Seaweed Brain. Me too."