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There are different sides to every person. For some people it’s more literal than others. 

 

“This is bad,” Percy says for the seventy-second time, which they all know because Clarisse has been etching tally marks in the wall with a knife every time he’s said it so far. “What was I thinking?”

 

“If I may?” Ethan says boredly, and then continues despite the glares that literally everyone else was giving him, “You weren’t thinking at all. That’s why you’re in this mess. Congrats, you’re a disappointment and you’re going to let your mother down.”

 

“Ethan!” Bianca hisses from her side of the room.

 

“What?” He tosses his hands up and leans back on the fourth stair that he claimed as his own. “I’m not telling him anything new!”

 

Percy pivots on the carpet and starts the return pace that he’s been doing for the past hour and a half. The moaning is new, though: drawing out of him in a low, pitiful tone that would make anyone else want to put his poor soul out of his misery, if there was anyone else around to hear it.

 

From the sofa, Luke snickers. With his legs crossed classily and his hands folded over the back of the couch, he looks every bit prim and proper and stupidly attractive. “That’s funny, Ethan,” He says, “I thought I was the one who told the lies around here.”

 

Ethan flips him the middle finger for his troubles.

 

“This is bad,” Percy says again.

 

“I am running out of wall space, Prissy,” Clarisse says. “So shut the hell up.”

 

“It serves him right,” Thalia says from the opposite couch her feet kicked up on Percy’s coffee table, “He shouldn’t have lied. ” There’s a lit at the end of her tone, directed towards Luke especially, but Luke does his best impression of an innocent, truth-telling citizen. 

 

(It’s especially good, Percy thinks. It's especially unfair. Percy could never look that innocent, ever.)

 

“He’s going to be disowned!” Ethan says.

 

“He’s not going to be disowned!” Bianca replies quickly, “He’ll just… uh…Clarisse, help!”

 

The other girl sighs like this is the biggest inconvenience of her existence. With a snap she closes her switch blade and folds her arms, “Based on previous experiences Sally already knows you lied, kelp face. When you show up with no partner on the doorstep, she’s most likely going to mess up your hair, offer a pity cookie, and tell you some shit about not needing to bring someone home to show off for her. Then you’ll spend the rest of the month trying to convince her that you are actually enjoying college and that she doesn’t need to worry about you.”

 

“That!” Bianca says, “That was...not great. But thanks.”

 

Clarisse grunts at her.

 

“Don’t call my mom Sally, please,” Percy groans as he pivots and paces back in front of the couch. “And I don’t want to be a liar! I just... don’t want a repeat of last year.”

 

The six of them each inhale slightly at the memory, grimacing at the end of it. Even Ethan shudders, and curls in on himself slightly.

 

Last year had been bad for all of them. But Ethan in particular had outdone himself: Percy hadn’t felt that worthless since middle school. Bianca had ducked out, Luke had been trying to put out fires by lighting more, and Thalia and Clarisse hadn’t stopped arguing until the last week of January, when they had engaged in a passive-aggressive silent treatment to each other that had been more icy than the snow outside. With no one around, Ethan had straight up knocked Percy in the head with a frying pan and dragged his nerve ridden corpse directly to hell, passing go and collecting 200 more things to worry about.

 

“I, personally, don’t think we could recreate last year’s trauma, even if we tried!” Luke says far more brightly than the guy who nearly cost Percy his best friend had any write to. 

 

“Wanna bet?” 

 

“SON OF A BISCUIT!” Percy yells stumbling away from the corner where Nico had been hiding. “NICO!”

 

“Percy,” The smaller boy had acknowledged. “Heard you went lying to your mom.”

 

Percy grips his chest, trying to get his breathing under control.

 

“Excuse me,” Ethan snarls, “Who invited Deep, Dark, and Dreadful to the party?”

 

“Oh Ethan, I didn’t realize you were here!” Nico says in mock surprise. “I thought Percy just forgot to take out the trash again.”

 

“You’re on thin fucking ice, Creative Block.”

 

“What are you going to do? Worry me to death?” Nico counters.

 

“Will the two of you knock it off?” Thalia snaps. “Unless either of you plan on helping with the current problem, you both should get lost.”

 

Percy drags his hands through his hair. “No, no, its fine. I can handle this.”

 

“Percy,” Bianca says softly. Her eyes are soft, per usual, pitying him the best she can. It's almost annoying.

 

“Don’t “ Percy ” him!” Nico directs at her, “This is your fault, too! For all your creative whims, you couldn’t just tell him the solution we had?”

 

“You’ve had a solution this whole time?” Luke asks.

 

Bianca’s face flushes and she glares at her brother. “ I did not have any solution at all! It’s Nico’s idea and I’m not gonna take the credit for it!”

 

“Don’t be cute.” Nico grumbles at her, “You know they like the ideas better when they come from you, Princess.” 

 

“That’s not true, Nico!” Percy says, “You know I like your ideas!”

 

“You hate my ideas, Jackson,” Nico tells him, slumping on to the couch between Luke and Thalia, “because you hate me.”

 

Percy stares at him for a minute, “Nico, how could I possibly hate you? You’re a part of me!” He glances at the rest of them, “I don’t even hate Luke!”

 

“I hate Luke,” Ethan says.

 

“No one cares , Anxiety.”

 

“Oh, we’re regressing to titles now, are we?” Ethan cocked his head to the side, “In that case, I hate Deceit with every bone in Percy’s body!”

 

“Wow, you’re so clever, Ethan!” Luke drawled, “You might even dethrone our resident royals!”

 

“Hahaha, No .” Nico says, “I am the only Ghost King. Besides, he’d be even worse at this job then I am.”

 

“You’re not bad at it Nico!” Bianca insisted, “You just need some confidence!”

 

“Sorry, sis,” Nico said, “Luke’s got the monopoly on it.”

 

Luke shrugged, “He’s not wrong.”

 

“We’re getting off topic here!” Ethan insisted, “We have a problem and it’s bad!”

 

“And that’s seventy-four.” Clarisse scowled, “Ghost King said he had an idea. That’s one more than the rest of you numskulls have. You—“ She jabbed her switchblade in his direction, “Explain. Now.”

 

Nico shrugs, “Will.”

 

The room is silent for a full minute.

 

“Oh, he’s done,” Luke says, clarifying for the room.

 

“Will...Solace?” Thalia guesses.

 

“Your answer to everything cannot seriously be Will,” Clarisse snarls. “I don’t know why I put stock in anything the rest of you morons say. I should have learned this by now.”

 

Nico rolls his eyes, “Cool it, Logic. I meant like...have Percy invite Will for the holidays. We know all about the Solace family drama that happens at the holidays. Will complains every year about it. He’d jump at the chance to come back with us instead. And Mom will like him. And we like him. Andthenwecanmakeoutontheroofoftheapartmentbuildinginthesunsetwithhim.”

 

“Sorry what was that last bit?”

 

“I said--”

 

“OR!” Bianca injects, “Annabeth!” She looks at Percy with a grin, “Eyh? Eyh! This is the perfect opportunity! Remember she told us how she spends the Holidays alone? And she’ll love to spend them with you, Percy!” 

 

Nico glared at her. “Will.”

 

“Annabeth.”

 

“Will!”

 

“Annabeth!”

 

“What does it matter?” Ethan yelled over them, “They’ll both say no anyway!”

 

Nico jumps in front of Percy, “Remember that time Will was out jogging, shirtless, and waved at us?” 

 

Bianca shoves him to the side, “Remember that time that Annabeth laughed at our joke and said we weren’t half bad for a seaweed brained dork?”

 

“Gods,” Thalia groaned, tipping her head back against the sofa, “I hate it when the tie-breaker twins argue.”

 

“We’re not twins!” Nico insisted, “And Will would look amazing in one of your mom’s handmade sweaters.”

 

“So would Annabeth!”

 

“Oh my god ,” Luke groaned, “Just invite both of them as friends! Tell Mom that they had no where else to go so she’ll pity them instead of you!”’

 

Thalia kicked him. Hard. “That has potential to be one of your worst ideas yet, hot shot.”

 

“Aw,” Luke cooed, “You think I’m hot!” Thalia kicked him again, “Fine!” He shouted, throwing his hands up, “Then I vote Annabeth!”

 

“Wait, we’re voting now?” Percy looked painfully confused.

 

“Of course, we’re voting now!” Luke says, “Don’t you get tired of arguing with yourself? We can spin a wheel, or flip a coin, or something!” He waves his hands in front of himself, pulling a roulette wheel out of the air but over three fourths of the circle was dedicated to Annabeth rather than Will. 

 

Nico kicked the Coffee table into Luke’s knee. “Stop rigging the decision, Lord of the Lies!”

 

“It is wrong,” Thalia adds in, although she doesn’t seem as bothered by it as she used to, back when Luke first showed up all smiles and confidence and misleading comments.

 

“Wow, Morality!” Ethan speaks up from his post, “For someone who’s supposed to be Percy’s guiding force, you really do act like a vodka aunt.” 

 

“Why are you still here, Ethan?” She asks. “Just get lost already.”

 

He frowns, “That’s not...Do you know how anxiety works at all?”

 

“No, and I don’t exactly care.”

 

“Look, Percy,” Ethan redirects the conversation and shoves his hands into his sweatshirt pockets, “All I’m saying is that you’re a complete mess of a human. Every other week you’re having a dilemma and absolutely none of your traits to get along. Pretty soon the twins--”

 

“Not twins!” 

 

“-- are gonna have another falling out, or Luke’s “Advice” is gonna land you in a place you can’t get out of with a smile. Clarisse’s plan to deal with most shit involves being blinded by rage and Thalia’s favorite coping mechanism is pretending the problems are not your fault. Do you really want to drag Annabeth or Will into that and risk hurting them?”

 

“Now wait a second!” Luke starts but Ethan is quicker still. 

 

“Of course, it’s not gonna be your intention, Jackson. It’s not gonna stop it from happening. Will is really nice, but even he’s got a breaking point. You’ve seen it before, remember? Will’s last break up where he was a wreck for a whole month and couldn’t even look anyone in the eyes? And how’s Grover and the Stolls gonna be affected by that? Are you willing to ruin your whole friend group for a silly crush?”

 

“Ethan!” Nico and Thalia chorus.

 

“And Annabeth?” Ethan snorts, “She’ll tank your whole career if you upset her. You know that! She’ll put you in the ground both figurative and literally. Goodbye YouTube, goodbye dream job! What are you going to do when the whole internet star thing fizzles out because you’re so emotionally fucked up? Crawl back to your mom and be a burden to her too?”

 

“Ethan, that’s enough!” Bianca stomps her foot.

 

“I’ll tell you when its enough, Princess.” Ethan swung back towards her. “It’s enough when you all wake up and realize that these flimsy little decisions impact people beyond Percy. Love isn’t that fairy tale bullshit you and the twerp keep feeding Percy. If you keep making him think that, everyone’s gonna get hurt.”

 

“What do you know about love ?” Thalia challenges.

 

“More than you, Ms. I-bottle-everything-that-vaguely-looks-like-something-other-that-smugness,” Ethan hisses as her. “Ever wondered how many people remember Percy only as the cocky bastard from high school because of you?”

 

“Not even once,” she snarls back.

 

Ethan grins at her. Its reminds Percy of a feral cat he saw once. He’s not sure with Ethan’s eyes are actually glowing or if its just his imagination popping into reality. He does know that it screams for him back away because there’s only danger to be found in the middle of the conversation. Even when its about him. 

 

But that’s always how Ethan’s been. He’s never cut corners or sugar coated anything. His scathing remarks burn in Percy’s chest, and the whispers of dread and nerves have always made the hair on the back of Percy’s neck stand up. 

 

“You’re going to screw everything up, Jackson,” Ethan says and disappears from the steps without a goodbye.

 

Percy thinks the whole room breathes a sigh of relief.

 

“This is bad.” Luke says.

 

And Clarisse carves another mark on the wall.

 

The doorbell rings. Percy’s shoulders instantly slack, and all five sides chorus (with varying levels of the excitement), “Grover’s here!” 

 

Nico smiles a bit. Bianca beams. Luke and Thalia high five in glee over the one thing they can ever seem to agree on. Even Clarisse looks a little less sullen. 

 

Percy goes to answer the door, and without even thinking about it the first words out of his mouth are, “Ethan’s being a dick.”

 

Grover laughs, and draws him into a hug, “He’s the metaphysical representation of your negative and irrational thoughts, Perce,” Grover says, and Percy’s chest feels less like a gaping black hole of bad and more like a collection of organs that just happen to exist there, “I think that’s his job.” 

 

“You’re my favorite person,” Percy tells him, because it’s true. “Have I told you that?”

 

“At least once a week since we were twelve, yeah.” Grover pulls back and grins at him, “You’re my favorite person too, man. All parts of you. What’s Ethan been saying this time?”

 

“Was I an emotionally repressed cocky bastard during high school?” Percy blurts out, “Am I still one? Because that’s what he said and I know Ethan overreacts but--” 

 

“Percy,” Grover places a calming hand on his shoulder, “You were an angsty mess of a person in high school, but you also hugged me every time we passed each other in the hallways and teared up whenever you got a grade higher than an eighty. Ethan is overreacting.” 

 

“I did listen to a lot of Green Day,” Percy admits. He slaps his cheeks a couple of times, “Okay guys, scram. Grover’s gonna teach me how to play that reverse hunter game.”

 

“We know,” Clarisse says, rolling her eyes, “All of us were literally there when you made the plans, dumbass.” 

 

“Bye Clarisse,” Percy tells her, which results in a her snarling at him and dropping from the room unceremoniously, taking all the carvings in the walls with her.

 

Thalia flicks Luke’s collar and mentions something bowling, which Percy thinks he doesn’t want to know about, and they both sink from the room looking like they’re either about to start a fight or start making out (which Percy is sure he doesn’t want to know about). Bianca offers him and Grover a cheery smile and disappears in a flourish.

 

Which leaves only Nico in the room with him. The younger Creativity shifts from foot to foot for a second.

 

“Sup, Nico!” Grover offers him a fist bump, but Nico steps away from it scowling like he does every time that Grover tries to interact with them.

 

Though, Percy thinks Nico looks a lot less like he’s scowling at Grover , and more like he’s just scowling in general. 

 

“Just…” Nico says, his eyes darting towards Percy for a millisecond before they go to the back wall, “Think about what we said, Percy.”

 

Then he’s gone, too.

 

Grover rubs the back of his neck, “One of these days, we’ll teach that guy how to smile.” He hooks his arms with Percy and plops them to the couch. “Come on, you can tell me all about today’s dilemma while I set up for the game.”

 

There are different sides to every person. For Percy Jackson it’s more literal than others.