The Thing About Falling in Love
California gets hot in the spring. Much hotter than New York. Sitting in her father's back garden, sharpening her knife, Annabeth Chase felt the sweat gathering at her hairline and shoulder blades. It was too hot. She knew that she'd burn if she didn't go inside soon- being called dumb wasn't the only disadvantage to blonde hair. Only she didn't want to go back inside. Inside, Helen was baking, probably whistling as she did so, and the boys were digging one another in the ribs with their elbows, tongues sticking out in concentration as they played video games, and her father was upstairs in his office, fiddling with his toy planes.
And Annabeth had made peace with that.
That was okay. Her father was her father, the twins were her brothers and Helen was her stepmother, and they wanted her to live with them. They tried to treat her nicely and respect her. They were fine. But Matthew and Bobby weren't Malcolm and her cabin mates, and the nice-ish girls that she went to school with weren't her demigod friends, and her father wasn't Chiron, and Helen wasn't her all powerful ass-kicking goddess mother, and their crappy little housing estate was not Camp Half-blood. Chucking the rock that she had been using as a whetstone to the ground, she held her bronze weapon up to the sky and watched it glint in the sunlight. "Twenty more days," she told herself. "Just twenty more days".
Trying to get a cab out of the city on a New York Saturday is about as easy as fitting both fists in your mouth. Annabeth's suitcase was far from light, and she did not appreciate having to pace up and down the pavement, dragging it behind her as she waved her arm wildly, desperately trying to hail a taxi. Yet she somehow knew even before they came round the corner that each one would be full. Seeing what appeared to be an unoccupied cab, she took a step further towards the edge of the curb and raised her arm. Only, it was not unoccupied, and it drove straight past her, and her being at such close proximity to the edge allowed her to be soaked in muddy water as the driver ploughed straight through a puddle. "Vlacas," she muttered as she wrung the water out of her jumper, which was basically calling herself an idiot in Ancient Greek. She crossed the street to the grassy area on the other side and shook her blonde curls free of their ponytail, mumbling multilingual curses as she tried in vain to rid them of the filthy water. She was focused, and did not see or hear the bushes ahead of her rustling. "I'm going to be late and I'll miss campfire," she complained to herself. "And Percy will have a field day over it since I always pester him about punctuality-"
She stopped. She felt the eyes on the back of her head. In a nanosecond, she grabbed her knife from her belt and turned sharply to face the monster as the hellhound leaped upon her, knocking her to the ground. A child nearby screamed and dashed away- Zeus only knows what he thought he saw. Annabeth looked up at the beast, its piercing red eyes bearing into her as its jaw hung open revealing rows of massive canine teeth. A large string of drool hung from the corner of its mouth, which dripped onto her already soaked sweatshirt. Moving quickly, she took a stab at its nose. It whimpered and reared back, but before she could scamper backwards it took at swipe at her arm with its claw, knocking the knife from her grasp and sending it flying across the grass. The hound bared down on her, raising both claws to strike, and with a loud roar it- it- disintegrated? Golden coloured dust floated to the ground all around her. Annabeth looked up. None other than Percy Jackson himself was standing above her, sword thrown over his shoulder, a smug look of victory on his face.
"Hey, Wise Girl," he said. "Rough day?".
"Why aren't you at camp," she questioned, looking none too grateful as she got up and brushed the dirt from her jeans. "Nice to see you too," he replied, his voice rich with sarcasm while she crossed the lawn to retrieve her weapon. She ignored him. "In answer to your question," he added. "I was just about to hail a taxi to Half-blood Hill when I saw a damsel in distress over here-"
"Don't you dare make me out to be 'in distress' ," she interrupted. "I had it perfectly under control. Besides, I'm not a damsel".
"I don't know about the being a damsel part, but you certainly looked distressed to me," he said, attempting to carry her suitcase for her only to have it snatched back immediately. "I mean," he continued, slinging his backpack over his shoulder. "If I hadn't showed up and saved you, you'd be-"
He was cut off as she shoved him up against a tree.
"One word about this at camp Jackson and I swear on the River Styx…"
Percy, being Percy, had the audacity to laugh, and with this came the usual desire to slap him, having such easy access to his face with him pinned against the tree, but also with this came a new feeling, a new desire that Annabeth had not felt before, having such easy access to his face with him pinned against the tree…
She shook the horrid image quickly from her mind, walking briskly back to the pavement. Percy followed. "Are you going to call a taxi?" he asked. "Pfft," she scoffed. "Good luck with that".
"What do you mean?"
"All the cars are full, and the few that aren't won't stop"
"Well, did you try whistling?"
She stopped walking and turned to face him. "What?"
"You know," he said. "Whistling. Like this". He stepped to the edge of the curb and put two fingers in his mouth, producing a loud, old-fashioned, New York cab style whistle. And sure enough, a yellow car immediately skidded to a halt beside the path. Annabeth stared at it. "You have got to be kidding be," she said as Percy reached for the handle of the back door. "After you, mademoiselle," he joked, holding it open for her, and she slightly reluctantly got in. Sitting in the back seat with him, she watched the price metre climbing up as they left the busiest part of the city. Leaning across, she whispered in mock astonishment: "You know, Perce, I'm surprised you can afford this. Have you actually been saving your money for once?"
Smirking, he produced from his pocket a plastic card with the symbol of the Lotus Casino Hotel on it.
"Would you look at that. Just like old times, eh Wise Girl?"
And she couldn't help it. She laughed.
"Thanks Katie!" Annabeth called over her shoulder as she crossed the gravel towards Cabin Three. She breathed in the smell of pine trees and strawberries and sighed a sigh of pure content. "Home," she thought. "At long last".
"Boys!" she exclaimed. "Long time, no see".
The Stoll brothers grinned at her.
"Sure was," said Travis. "Yeah," added Conner. "We missed our favourite little know-it-all".
"Yeah, well, she missed you too," she said as they hugged her. "Well, it was nice seeing you," Travis said as they pulled back and started to leave. "Wait," ordered Annabeth, smiling. She held out her hand expectantly. "Purse".
They turned around, grinning. Conner placed the purse full of drachmas back into her hand. "You caught us, Clever-Clogs," he said, wagging his finger at her. "We'll have to be wary of this one, Travis. She knows our tricks".
"I do," she agreed. "Okay then, bye," said Travis as they turned once more to go.
"Knife," she demanded. Sighing they turned once again and reluctantly gave her back the bronze method of destruction. Conner raised his eyebrows at her, as if challenging her. She smirked.
"Earrings. Hand 'em over"
"Aw what?!" exclaimed Travis, handing them back. "How did she…?"
"Dude, I swear she's psychic," said Conner dejectedly as they started back towards the Hermes cabin.
"Bye boys!" she said cheerfully, laughing to herself as she knocked on the door of the Poseidon cabin. "Who is it?" called a voice from inside.
"Let me in, Seaweed Brain"
She heard him laughing, and a wet-headed Percy opened the door. "Been swimming?" she asked as she stepped inside. He shook his head. "Been showering," he explained. "I paid a visit to Mrs. O'Leary earlier". "Say no more," said Annabeth, sitting on his bed and smoothing out the covers, making herself quite at home. He laughed. "You know you're not supposed to be here, right?" he asked, but he was smiling. "You know I'm Chiron's favourite, right?" she answered. Percy smiled. "Say no more," he repeated. "There's a stain on your shirt," she pointed out.
"You should change it before dinner"
"Because it's dirty!"
"But why should I-"
"Change your shirt, Percy!" she ordered, pointing a firm finger at him. "Okay, okay," he muttered, reluctantly grabbing one from the half-open bag at the end of his bed. He pulled the old one over his head and Annabeth lost focus for a moment. Was he always that well defined? Holy Hera, was that a six pack? When did that happen?! Swimming must-
She snapped back to reality as he pulled the clean t-shirt down over is chest. Shaking her head slightly, she regained her composure. "There. Satisfied?" Percy said, evidently disgusted by his own lack of will power. "Yes that's much better," she said. He simply shook his head, looking down at the floor in bewilderment.
"Annabeth Chase, what on Earth am I going to do with you?"
When he looked back up at her, she noticed a sparkle in his sea-green eyes that she had not noticed before, and it made her heart skip a beat. What the Hades was happening to her?!
She shrugged. "I don't know, but you better think of something, because you're stuck with me," she smiled. He dropped to his knees, and joining his hands together and looking up at the ceiling yelled: "Oh gods above, please, please have mercy!", causing her to collapse back onto the bed in peals of laughter. He soon joined her on it, both of them laughing and laughing until they were laughing at nothing, and their laughter eventually died out until all that was left was the odd giggle from one or the other as they lay on their backs, and then it stopped completely, and they lay in silence. Annabeth was suddenly hyper aware of how close their hands were. All she had to do was move but an inch in order to slip it into his. She wanted to pull it away, but there wasn't enough room to execute it without making it extremely obvious what she was doing. Percy must have noticed this as well, for quite suddenly sitting up he said: "We've got a couple of hours. What do you want to do? Sparring?". Annabeth sat up too. "Surely you've not finished all your unpacking yet?" she questioned. He looked confused.
"Well, we can't go frolicking about with cases still to be emptied"
"Ah ah ah," she said. "Don't argue with me. You know very well what you ought to be doing, Perseus Jackson. Now hop to it!".
"'Change you shirt!'. 'Start unpacking!'. You sound just like my mother"
Annabeth grinned. "And that's a bad thing because…?" she said, making her way towards the door. He only chuckled, shaking his head once again. She turned to face the currently immobile demigod, her hand on the knob of the now open door. "Well, c'mon!" she exclaimed. "Get moving!". He looked taken aback.
"You were serious?"
"Yes of course I was serious! Start unpacking! All that stuff better be neatly in those drawers by dinner time"
"You're ridiculous," he said, standing up and unzipping his backpack. "You know you love it," she retorted jokingly. His mouth opened to speak, she could see the word "I" forming on his lips, the word got halfway out- and then he stopped. Choked it back. He looked strange. Embarrassed maybe? Nervous? There was an awkward silence for a moment as he habitually ran a hand through his hair before he finally spoke. But all he said was: "See you later, Wise Girl". "Yeah…uh…see you later," she replied, leaving the cabin of one. Once outside, she leaned against the door, reflecting on the events that had just passed. "What the heck was that?" sheasked herself.
She looked up. Juniper the tree nymph was running towards her. "Shake it off," she thought as she opened her arms to embrace her friend.
"Shut up!" she whispered. "Something'll hear us". "No," Percy replied obstinately in a harsher sort of whisper. "You're being totally ridiculous about this". Annabeth turned sharply to face him.
"I'm being ridiculous? You're the one who's being ridiculous!"
"I told you Annabeth. If you're not going to work together with me and treat me with even some respect, then we're not going to come back alive from this or any other quest"
She didn't look at him. Eyes fixed on the tunnel ahead she said: "We're not going to come back alive if you don't lower your voice, you git. Now get back!"
"Get back," she said, pushing him against the damp, stone wall of the cave as she began a spider crab descent into the tunnel, but she still didn't make eye contact. "What in Hades is your problem?" he continued. "Why won't you look at me?".
"Because you can't," her brain told her. "Because every time you look at him it's like looking at a burning white light. Because suddenly his eyes are beautiful, his lopsided grin less annoying, his hair softer and his body warm and welcoming, and you're afraid that you might lose control and do something you'll regret".
"Because you're being so loud," she answered instead, stepping over one of the larger stones on the floor. "Look at me," he ordered. She did not comply. Percy put his hand on her shoulder, and she felt an arc of electricity shoot down her back. "Annabeth, look at me," he commanded, turning her to face him.
"There," he said, seemingly satisfied. "That wasn't so bad, was it?".
"Percy," she whispered, eyes not on his face but above it. "Turn around".
"What?" he asked, momentarily confused. She said it again, slowly, clearly, softly.
"Percy. Turn around"
He did so, just in time to see the drakon use its claw to knock what would not be unjustly named a boulder out of its way and take a few gigantic steps closer to them. "Holy Poseidon," he breathed, drinking in the sight of it. "Run?".
"We can't," Annabeth stated, neither of them removing their eyes from the beast. "Look, the cup is around its neck". And sure enough, the emerald encrusted golden goblet that they had come here to retrieve was dangling from a chain around the scaly monster's neck. Percy cursed in Greek. "Okay then," he said, and she could feel the plan beginning to hatch in her mind. "What now?". The only problem was, it's difficult to make a strategy when the very last thing you want to do is collaborate with your team mate. "We wing it," she said, taking a deep breath and dashing towards the drakon, not even glancing back to take in the stunned look on Percy's face at hearing those particular words fall from her lips. She took a stab at the monster's leg and it roared in pain while, removing her knife, she rolled under its stomach. There might be a soft spot here, like a chink in armour. She could hear Percy battling the drakon head on at the front, and suddenly felt a little worried, because truth be told, Annabeth had never seen one of such massive proportions- she wondered how it even fit through the entrance of the cave. But she could not dwell on it for long- the best way to solve the problem was to find that weak spot- so she kept searching. "Annabeth," she heard him call from his position, holding back the nose with the flat of his sword, Riptide. "Annabeth, grab the goblet!". She looked over. The drakon had bent its head in an attempt at swallowing Percy and it, the chalice, was hanging low. She could reach it if she needed to, but then they'd still have to escape the drakon. No, her plan was better. Besides, since when did she take orders from Percy? "He's stupid," she told herself in a desperate attempt to retrieve her original feelings for him from this new found void of less platonic ones. "He's stupid and annoying and you hate him- always have, always will". She allowed the lie to consume her thought stream, focusing only on the weak point, ignoring his pleas as he faced the snout, and all the teeth included, of the drakon. But it was proving more difficult than she had first imagined. She kept searching the under belly, occasionally taking a stab, but to no avail. "Annabeth!" Percy yelled. He sounded distressed. She frantically stabbed at the beast, praying she'd find the spot.
She desperately dug the knife in one last time and with a sudden roar the monster exploded into golden dust, raining down upon her, and the goblet clattered as it hit the rocky ground.
She looked over at Percy.
Anaklumos, his sword, was on the floor a few metres away from him- the drakon must have knocked it from his hands. Percy himself was crouched low, pressed against the stone wall, both arms crossed in front of him as he tried to shield himself from the monster's teeth. A large cut ran from his forehead to his cheek, and he had a similar one on his left arm. Had she found the spot but a second later, he would have been dead.
She ran toward him and skidded on her knees along the rock beside him, ignoring the chalice. Carefully removing his braced arms from his face, she examined the gash on his cheek, before reaching into her pocket for some ambrosia. He was shaken, shell shocked by the close encounter, and he was angry. Taking the square of godly food, he scolded her as she tended to hid wound.
"What the Hades, Annabeth?! What were you doing?! You could have gotten us both killed!"
She said nothing as she poured nectar over his cut.
"You've been acting strange ll day. I don't know what I've done to offend you, but it almost cost us our lives back there. So either you snap out of it and tell me what's going on or else I-"
The thing about dressing someone's injury is that you have to look at that person, and if that particular injury happens to be on their face, well, then you have to look at that person's face. Annabeth had to look at Percy's face the whole time she was bandaging him up, watch it move animatedly as he scolded her, see his eyes a flame with what looked like waves of green crashing upon one another in his irises, and she found that her worst fears were about to come true as she put the nectar down and the wound was fully plastered.
She just wanted him to stop talking, that was all. Or at least that's what she told herself as she kissed him.
As she kissed him. Percy. Her idiot best friend since 6th grade who drove her crazy and irritated her and was the son of Poseidon. Her best friend who would probably hate her for this and never speak to her again. Percy. As she kissed him.
She pulled back suddenly. His eyes were wide and he held his breath as he stared at her. Quickly but calmly, she gathered her supplies and picked up the golden cup, and started back towards the entrance. She didn't look back, but she somehow knew that he was still sitting there motionless, completely dumbstruck. Outside, climbing onto Porkpie the pegasus, she was glad of Nigel, the ten-year-old demigod Chiron had made them take along- lucky number three and all that. Sure, he had been a hindrance, with the asking questions and the not being able to come inside the cave (Percy, the noble git, had decided it was too "unsafe" for someone so "young" and "unprepared"), but Annabeth knew that his presence would prevent Percy from talking about what she had just done, and Percy speaking at all was the last thing she wanted. "Nigel?" she said as she helped him onto his pegasus. "Who's your godly parent again?". "Uh, Hephaestus," the timid boy answered, but it came out more like a question. She made a mental note to offer the blacksmith god a piece of barbecue tonight at dinner.
Thank the gods for Nigel.
Annabeth had sand in her shoes. And in her hair and up her shirt. That's what happens when you lie on the beach. But she didn't really mind. The sound of the waves gently hitting the shore was calming, and the salt in the air did her lungs good, after spending so long in that damp cave earlier. She could hear the seagulls, or maybe they were just hungry harpies, complaining about the lack of misbehaving campers to eat. She drew a little spiral in the sand with her finger, around and around and around…
It was all so peaceful. She couldn't even hear the half-bloods over the way doing archery, or the climbing wall, or sparring in the arena. It was all soft noises and the sweet music of the ocean. She thought maybe she'd fall asleep, here in the sand. She closed her eyes and steadied her breathing…
She opened her eyes.
Something large had landed in the sand beside her. She had only to take one guess as to what that something was. "What are you doing here?" she asked. "I could ask you the same question," Percy replied. Annabeth sat up straight and pulled her knees into her chest.
"You know the beach is my spot"
"The beach isn't your…" she trailed off. The beach was Percy's spot. It always had been.
"Yeah. Shouldn't you be in, like, a Maths classroom right now?"
Annabeth didn't laugh at the joke. She wasn't listening. The beach was Percy's spot-she knew that- and she'd come here when she was stressed to try and calm down. The beach had relaxed her, but maybe not because it was a relaxing place, maybe because it reminded her of a person who relaxed her…
Percy, evidently disheartened by her lack of response to his joke, weakly tried to change the subject.
"So, uh, the barbeque was good tonight at dinner, wasn't it?"
"I wouldn't know, I gave all mine to Hephaestus hoping…" she didn't say the part about Nigel sticking around so that they could avoid this situation exactly. "Never mind".
There was awkward silence for a few moments, a silence in which Percy must have run his hand through his hair at least eight times, and Annabeth must have bitten off every last finger nail.
"Look, Wise Girl…" he began. "Oh no," she thought, and started singing songs in her head in a feeble attempt to prevent the inevitable.
"About what happened earlier, in the cave…"
And there it was.
"I know Percy, I know"
He looked so uncomfortable, so nervous. His palms and brow were sweaty, and he kept opening and closing his fists and twitching his head, shaking it from side to side. He looked like he'd rather be anywhere else but here on the sand beside her. "Y-you…you k-kissed me," he stammered, and Annabeth wanted to face palm on seeing his terrible failure at being subtle. "Yes Percy, yes. I did," she said in a half sigh, realising that she had to try to explain herself. She'd accepted that she liked, maybe even loved him now, only she wasn't sure she wanted to tell him that- she was sure he wouldn't feel the same way.
"I'm sorry. It was stupid of me. I guess, you know it was a close call with that drakon back there and maybe… maybe I was just a bit too glad to see you alive"
He watched her as she spoke, soaking up every word that escaped her lips. "So you regret it," he asked. She turned to look at him, and found herself incapable of lying to those bright green eyes.
"No. No I-"
But she didn't get to finish, because the second that she denied feeling any regret for her actions, Percy scooped her into his arms and kissed her hard, tangling his fingers in her curls, and ridding her brain of all thought minus two words:
When he kissed her (and when she kissed him- it didn't take to long for Annabeth to shake off the shock and respond with equal fever), it felt like her brain was melting right through her body. He eventually had to pull back for air, but when he did he didn't let go of her.
"Do you regret it?" asked Annabeth, smiling. In response he pulled her close for a short but deep kiss. "Me neither," she said, snaking her arms around his neck and resting her head on his chest. He held her tighter and sighed in content. "I have no idea what just happened," he said, and Annabeth laughed in agreement. "But, that said, I've wanted to do that for a really long time, Annabeth. And….and-uh…".
"Spit it out, Seaweed Brain"
"Cut me some slack, okay?" he protested. "It's weird saying this to my best friend". "Saying what to your best friend?" she teased.
"That, well, ,maybe we should try being more than best friends…"
She raised her eyebrows.
"What, like super best friends?"
She was pushing it now. She was teasing Percy quite mercilessly, but she wanted to hear him say it. There was no way she was letting him have the easy way out.
"No," he said. "Not anything 'best friends'. More like… more like…"
"Yessssss?" she smirked.
Percy threw his fist down onto the sand. "Boyfriend and girlfriend, okay?!" he said loudly. "Together. In a relationship. A couple. There. Are you happy now? Satisfied? Or do you want me to get down on one knee?"
He spoke too fast for her to answer, and sent sand flying as he scrambled up onto one knee while she laughed at him. "Annabeth Chase!" he cried, taking her hands in his. "Will you be my girlfriend?"
She could only laugh- no, quite literally- she never had time to answer before he was on his feet and talking again.
"What will it take, my lady? Shall I shout it from the roof tops?"
And again, without a second to spare for her to utter but a single word, he turned to face the path back to where the demigods were training and yelled: "I like Annabeth Chase! I want her to be my girlfriend!", until Annabeth, with a stitch in her side from laughing, grabbed his wrists and pulled him back down onto the warm sand beside her.
"Annabeth," he panted, breathlessly. "Will you go out with me?"
Laughing, she once more grabbed him by his wrists and pinned him firmly back onto the sand, where she kissed him, long and slow and sweet.
"Does that answer your question?" she joked as she pulled back. Percy furrowed his eyebrows in mock concentration. "I don't know," he said. "I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps you should show me one more time?"
She smiled as she leaned down once again to capture his lips with her own. And, despite her being so obvious, she actually had to show him quite a few times more before he figured out her answer.
The thing about being in love, is that when you're in love, it seems like the whole world is too, as Annabeth soon realised. Every colour seems enhanced, every bird seems to sing, every person seems to smile, and she always seems to be in a good mood. Sitting in her father's back garden, holding Percy's hand, she is glad of him spending the week here with her, and she is glad that she will return with him to New York when the week is out. "What are you thinking about?" he asks her. "You," she replies.
"What about me?"
"How it is only a matter of time before you ask if we can go to the beach"
He laughs and plants a kiss on the top of her head, something he's become accustomed to doing over the last eight months.
"How did you know?"
"Lucky guess," she says, although really, he's a son of Poseidon, and they're in California, and the sun is literally splitting the stones- you don't have to be a child of Athena to put two and two together. "Race you," Annabeth declares, letting go of his hand and taking off down the garden path at high speed. She turns to see him following, his hair blowing as he runs and a huge grin on his face, his eyes alight with mirth.
California gets hot in the spring. She couldn't care less.