I've had this idea for a while (and when a say for a while I mean I've been writing this on and off for about a year) and it took me forever to write it from all the changes I've added to it along the way. Not to mention, it got way longer than I had originally anticipated. So it pretty much just ended becoming this long rant of fluff. I hope you like it as much as I enjoyed writing it. :)

By the way, this fic has to be the cheesiest fucking thing I've written yet. Be ready for cuteness overload because the amount of fluff in this could suffocate you.

Disclaimer: I do not own Percy Jackson. All rights to the Rickster.

Warning: Foul language, mentions of abuse, brief indication of suicidal thoughts, implied rape, and an OBSCENE amount of fluff was used in the creation of this fic. Reader discretion is advised.


"Pain demands to be felt."

- The Fault in Our Stars


It Gets Easier

Annabeth was new in school.

And, of course-like every other stereotypical time when a student enrolls in a new educational environment-people whispered and stared at her like she's some freaky science experiment.

She's never been the new kid before. She liked living in California with its beaches and warm sun. She missed going surfing on the weekends with her friends and she missed the small high school that she went to where she knew everyone.

California was nothing like New York.

New York is crowded, the people are rude and step on you like you're a piece of gum on their shoe, and there's a surprising amount of wind for a place with so many freaking buildings.

She really hated New York.

She also hated her new school, Goode High. Especially when her peers blatantly stared and pointed at her. She got it! She's new! Big freaking whoop! Now move on with your lives already!

When she entered first period, the noise level in the classroom immediately decreased. Geez, was it going to be like this all day?

Her black and grey converse squeaked as she walked to the empty seat in the back of the room. She sat down and glared at the teens that were still gawking at her. The hushed whispers began not long after.

"Hi."

Annabeth turned to her right to find a girl with black pixie hair and electric blue eyes boring into hers. The girl wore a leather jacket and her shirt had the logo of some band Annabeth was unfamiliar with. She looked kind of punkish, but despite her tough exterior, she gave Annabeth a wide smile.

"You're new here right?" she asked.

Annabeth wanted to say, Well, no shit Sherlock, but held her tongue. She had a feeling that she did not want to get on this girl's bad side.

"Yeah, I am. My name's Annabeth."

"Thalia," the girl responded back. More whispers surfaced through the room. Thalia rolled her eyes and directed a menacing glare to the rows of students.

"Can I help someone?" she practically yelled. Immediately, everyone turned away from the pair.

Annabeth sighed in relief. "Thanks. I didn't know how much longer I would have held out before I snapped."

"No problem. I'm actually really glad you came here. You seem cool, and God only knows how tired I am of these idiots."

Annabeth laughed. Thalia was definitely interesting and she liked her a lot. If she had to make friends with anyone in Goode High she's glad it's her.

Annabeth sensed some movement to her left. She turned her head to see a boy dressed in all black. Black shoes, black jeans, black hoodie. Even some of the hair that was peeking out of his hood was a dark raven black. She's never seen someone wear so much black in her life.

He was hunched over in his seat, just blankly staring at his desk. He looked so lifeless it unnerved her.

"Thalia," Annabeth whispered to her new friend, careful so that the boy wouldn't hear, "who's he?"

Thalia looked over her shoulder to the boy and her eyes softened. "That's Percy Jackson."

"Is he okay? He's just staring into space."

Thalia sighed. "His mother was killed by his stepfather a few months back. Luckily, the asshole's in jail and Percy was taken in by the English teacher, Mr. Blofis, who was good friends with his mom... But he hasn't been the same since."

Annabeth gaped at her in utter shock. Here she was, complaining about moving like it was the end of the world when there were people like Percy who had some serious problems in their lives.

She turned to look at Percy again only to find him already gazing at her beneath the hood of his sweater.

She gave him a small smile, not out of pity, but out of friendliness.

His eyes widened the slightest bit before he quickly turned his head away from her.

Annabeth couldn't help but wonder how lonely this boy must be. And God only knew how much of an expert she is on that subject.

So Annabeth decided right then and there that somehow, someway, she was going to befriend Percy Jackson.

And she sure as hell was going to see him smile.

~oOo~

Annabeth was dreading lunch.

She didn't know anyone since Thalia had a different lunch hour than her and honestly, she didn't want to be that kid who just held their lunch tray desperately looking for a place to sit, but then ends up eating in a bathroom stall out of mortification.

There was no way in hell she was eating in a dingy bathroom.

So while she was in line, she quickly surveyed the room for potential spots. It didn't help that this school was so cliché though. Each table had a clique that Annabeth was able to identify right away and cross off her list.

Jocks? Ew, no.

Popular girls? She'd rather eat a spider for lunch.

Band geeks? She doesn't even play an instrument.

Nerds? She supposed they were the most fitting, but she wanted to broaden her horizons a little.

Percy Jacks- Wait. What?

Annabeth did a double take and sure enough, Percy Jackson was sitting by himself in the corner of the lunchroom.

This was her chance. Her opportunity to try to become friends with Percy. So she took a deep breath, walked over, and sat in front of him.

He didn't even notice she sat down. He just stared at his sandwich with a crestfallen look on his face, like the meal had offended him in some way.

Annabeth cleared her throat.

He jumped a bit and looked at her with wide green eyes.

Wow. He has nice eyes.

"Um, hi," Annabeth greeted somewhat timidly. It was difficult to concentrate with him staring at her so intently. "Do you mind if I sit here?"

He looked somewhat shocked by her question, but shook his head.

She smiled at him then. "I'm Annabeth. What's your name?"

"Percy," he responded, barely above a whisper.

"It's nice to meet you, Percy."

They ate in comfortable silence for the rest of lunch, but she felt Percy sneak a few glances at her every now and then. One time she caught him in the act, making him immediately downcast his eyes and his cheeks turn a light pink. She thought his shyness was cute and endearing in a way.

As soon as lunch was over she smiled at him and asked, "Is it okay if I sit here tomorrow?"

He nodded his head vigorously not even a second after the question was out of her mouth. Her smile grew. "See you later, Percy."

Although he only said one word to her the entire time (his name of all things), she felt like it was good enough progress for one day. From what she noticed of Percy, she concluded that he was especially shy and not very social. So, if she were to become friends with him, she didn't want to scare him away by coming on too strong. She'll have to ease him into the friendship.

Tomorrow, she'll try to get him to talk some more.

~oOo~

The next day, Annabeth's art class received an assignment.

She's not really paying attention to the teacher (a strange action on her part), because all she can think about is why the hell didn't she notice that Percy was in this class.

In her defence, he was really hard to spot. There are about thirty kids in this class, each with a large easel in front of them, and he was sitting in the back row. The only reason she spotted him was because every student in the class was wearing something bright, while he had on his obscene amount of black clothing. She wondered how many plain black sweaters that kid owned.

Annabeth's mind came back to the present once the teacher announced, "This project will be done in pairs. I am excited to see how each of you will paint your partner's portrait. You may have the rest of the class to find someone and get started."

Immediately, the whole class got up from their seats and rushed to their respective pairs. Of course, Annabeth was alone (being the new kid kind of made everyone steer clear from her), but as she had anticipated, Percy didn't have a partner either.

So she mustered up her courage and sat in the seat next to him. Percy, as per usual, didn't notice her presence until she cleared her throat. He jumped a little, and Annabeth couldn't help but notice that he does that a lot. Get lost in his own mind.

"Hey, Percy. Do you want to be partners?"

He nodded shyly.

Annabeth gave him a friendly smile. "So should I paint you first, or do you want to paint me first?" She decided the night before that when she talks to Percy she was going to say things that would make him respond with more than just one word answers or shakes of his head.

"Um, you can paint me first."

That was the longest sentence he's ever said to her. She was surprised with the low octave of his voice and with the strange sense of accomplishment that overcame her.

"Alright," she agreed, "but do you mind lowering your hood?"

"Why?" he asked, suddenly defensive. He held onto the sides of the hood like the fabric was a protective shield of some sort.

"Well, I'd like to be able to see your whole head for this. And the hood blocks off a lot of light from your face."

"Oh, right," he admitted sheepishly.

He let the fabric fall, exposing the disheveled mop of raven black hair sticking up in every direction. His face was paler than Annabeth thought it would be and his eyes looked like shattered pieces of sea glass.

She's never seen anyone look so broken.

But despite all the sorrow and pain that Percy held, Annabeth saw something else. A unique form of masculine beauty that she had never encountered. His jawline was sharp, like it was intricately carved by a detailed sculptor. His eyes, although cracked, swirled with infinite shades of blue and green that it appeared nearly impossible to tell which colour overpowered which. His figure didn't seem to have much muscle, but he was broad and lean and if Annabeth had to guess, he was definitely a swimmer. The only thing that she hasn't discovered yet was how his smile looked like.

She nearly fell out of her seat when one end of his mouth quirked up the slightest bit.

A smirk.

He was freaking smirking at her. And that's when she relayed all the thoughts she'd been having of him through her mind.

Masculine beauty? Intricately carved? What is wrong with you?!

Not only that, but she'd been staring at him for longer than socially acceptable. Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment.

He slightly opened his mouth as if to say something and his eyes unexpectedly gleamed mischievously, and Annabeth just knew he was going to pass a comment about her checking him out... Until he didn't.

It appeared he noticed his change in attitude, causing him to immediately shut his mouth, and his eyes to turn back to their original blank stare.

She didn't like that he went back into his protective shell. She wanted him to open up to her. Even if it was to make a teasing remark at her expense.

But she had to remind herself that Percy is different. He was a boy that tragically lost his mother and hasn't willingly opened up to anyone since her death, let alone a girl he's only known for two days.

She began to sketch his eyes onto the canvas, but instead of the hollow appearance they always contained, she decided to make an adjustment.

She rather liked the playful look he had on before.

Even if she only caught a glimpse of it.

~oOo~

This time, when Annabeth sat down in front of Percy, he noticed her.

He was in the middle of taking a bite from his sandwich when she slid across the table from him. He looked shocked, his eyes wide and his jaw still hanging open. Annabeth would have laughed, but his genuine confusion held her back.

Without her consent, her lips twitched up a bit. "I thought you said it was alright for me to sit here."

He closed his mouth and nodded slowly.

"Then why do you look so surprised?"

"I didn't think you meant it." His eyes flitted away bashfully, as if he didn't intend to blurt that out, and Annabeth's chest suddenly felt like it was being stabbed with a hot metal rod. "I thought you'd find someplace better to sit," he added. "No one really wants to be around me anymore."

Annabeth was at a loss for words. How do you reply to something like that? She's only known Percy for two days and she already can't stand the thought of him continuing to live in this endless hole of sadness.

His whole face flushed red as he pulled his hood closer to his head, as if attempting to disappear. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that." He then abruptly left his seat and dashed out of the cafeteria.

"Percy wait!" Annabeth chased after him, not caring that the whole lunchroom was staring at her.

She was able to catch up to him as he rounded a corner. She grabbed his arm and held it tight as he tried to shake her off.

"Percy listen to me. You have nothing to be sorry about." He still wouldn't face her, so she decided upon a different approach. "Would you like to come to my house after school tomorrow?"

That got his attention. He turned around slowly. She could practically see the hesitance in his eyes as he pursed his lips and looked at her earnestly. "Really?"

"Yeah. We can even work on our art project while you're there." He still appeared unsure, so she added, "I want to spend time with you, Percy. I want us to be friends."

His eyes suddenly brightened. "Um, okay. Sure. I-I'd like that." He paused for a moment before continuing. "I'm sorry for running off. I was just-"

"Percy, like I said before, you have nothing to be sorry about."

She smiled at him, and although he didn't smile back, she felt like she helped repair a little part of him.

And for now, that was enough.

~oOo~

"How about we start with my portrait today?"

Annabeth passed Percy his canvas and a pencil. They were sitting on her couch, and although Annabeth had done her best to make Percy feel at home, he still had that deer-caught-in-headlights look on his face.

Surprisingly though, he appeared less tense as soon as he held the art supplies in his hands.

"So how do you want me to pose?" Annabeth asked. "Like this?" She smiled brightly and straightened her posture, like she would position herself for a school picture.

"Um, actually," Percy began, "would you mind..." He trailed off, but Annabeth didn't miss the glance he made at the window.

"Do you think by the window would be better?"

"Yeah, there's more lighting there."

"Okay, good idea."

His eyes gleamed. He seemed content with the praise.

She pulled a chair beside the window and sat in the same position as before. Percy sat in front of her, took in her pose, and scrunched his eyebrows together.

"What?"

"N-Nothing," he stammered.

"Percy," she said gently, "you're the artist here. If you have an idea of how I should pose then tell me."

He thought for a moment before he replied, "Okay, um, could you put your arm on the window sill and turn towards the light a bit more?" She followed his instructions. "Now, turn your head towards me, please."

The position was quite casual. Like she was just talking to an old friend beside a window. She decided on wearing a close lipped smile for this pose, since it seemed that Percy wanted to capture her looking comfortable.

He stared at her for a few seconds before taking a deep breath and mumbling, "Perfect."

The tips of his ears turned pink as he hastily looked away and began drawing on the canvas.

Annabeth didn't know how long she sat there, but after what felt like an hour of staying completely still and watching Percy's pencil fly across the canvas, she decided it was time for a break. Her legs were stiff and she was pretty sure her butt fell asleep from the amount of time it had occupied the wooden chair.

Percy seemed lost in his own world as he continued drawing her on the white canvas. She stood up and stretched out her aching limbs while walking over and peering over his shoulder at the drawing.

She gasped.

It looked like an exact replica of her. From the hair, to her smile, and her eyes... It was just absolutely extraordinary.

Percy nearly fell out of his seat at her surprised sound. He must not have noticed when she stood up.

"Holy mother of God, Percy! You're incredible!"

Percy's face was the reddest she's ever seen. "I'm really not that good."

"Not that good?" she repeated incredulously. "Percy, you could be like the next big thing. I swear you're better than some of the famous artists nowadays. You captured me perfectly, and with all the shadows and highlights- It's like I'm looking at a picture!"

As she stared at him, she could tell that Percy was embarrassed with all the compliments (she admits, she should have toned it down a little), but there was something in his face that made her think that despite it all, he really wanted to smile.

"Thanks, Annabeth. That means a lot."

She waited a minute, but the smile never came. His eyes did have this pleased look to them though.

"Tell you what," she said, "how about we take a break and eat something?"

He nodded and followed her to the kitchen.

Annabeth grabbed a yellow jar above the fridge and stuck her hand inside. "I made these last night. My little brothers, Bobby and Matthew, ate most of them, but I'm sure there's still a few left- Aha! Here we go."

She pulled out two chocolate chip cookies and handed one to Percy. She immediately swallowed her cookie whole, while Percy just stared at his treat, appearing lost in thought.

"Percy? You okay?"

He looked at her, his eyes beginning to appear misty. "Sorry, I just- I hadn't had one of these in a long time."

Annabeth's stomach turned over at his expression.

"She used to make these for me every weekend," he whispered, mostly to himself.

"Who did?" she asked, although she was ninety-nine percent sure she knew exactly who.

"My-" he cut himself off, swallowing hard. "I'm sorry, I gotta go."

"Percy, wait!"

He was out the door before she could catch him.

~oOo~

Annabeth hadn't seen him for a week.

She felt extremely guilty. His absence was her fault after all. But how was she supposed to know that a cookie would trigger such bad memories for him? She didn't mean to upset him like that, she was just trying to be nice.

And now he's gone.

The worst part of it all is that she had no way of contacting him. She didn't have his number. She didn't know where he lived. And Mr. Blofis had been missing the entire week as well.

She just wished she could talk to him.

"Annabeth? Are you listening?"

She snapped out of her daze. "I'm sorry, what?"

Thalia sighed. "You're thinking about him again aren't you?"

Annabeth said nothing.

"Look, it's not your fault. Sometimes Percy sees or hears something that reminds him of his mother and then he leaves for a while. Don't worry, he'll come back."

"If you say so... I just wish that I didn't show him something that reminded him of the pain."

Thalia eyed her curiously. "Do you like him?"

Annabeth gave her a puzzled look. "Yeah, we're friends. Why wouldn't I like him?"

"No," Thalia laughed, "that's not what I meant. What I meant to say was, do you like like him? Also known as, are you attracted to him?"

"Thalia!" Annabeth exclaimed, feeling completely scandalized. "No! Of course not! I just want to be his friend, nothing more."

"Mmm hmm," Thalia hummed, not believing her for a second.

"It's true!" the blonde girl insisted.

"Honestly Annabeth, yours and Percy's story feels like it came out of a romantic drama film or something. Let me lay it out for you."

She started counting off each reason with her fingers. "One, attractive girl meets attractive boy. Two, attractive boy is an emotional mess and attractive girl tries to fix him. Three, boy falls for girl, but girl likes someone else and/or doesn't realize boy's feelings. Four, girl eventually falls for boy. And five, boy is fixed with girl's love and they live happily ever after. The end."

Annabeth rolled her eyes. "Things like that don't happen in real life, Thalia. And I highly doubt that Percy will ever 'fall for me'."

"Oh my dear naive Annabeth, that's where you're so wrong."

Her eyes narrowed. "What are you talking about?"

"My friend, I don't know how you haven't noticed, but that boy is totally smitten with you."

"Really, Thalia?" Annabeth asked, her tone dripping in sarcasm. "Smitten?"

"Have you seen the amount of times he's looked at you in class? Plus every time you talk to him he starts blushing... I'm pretty sure those are signs that he's into you."

"We've only known each other for a few days, Thalia."

"I'm just saying, Annabeth," she shrugged. "You never know what'll happen in the future."

~oOo~

Annabeth was at her locker when someone tapped her shoulder.

She turned to find Percy, looking sheepishly at her through his lashes.

"Percy!" she exclaimed. "You're back!"

He cleared his throat. "Yeah, I um, went on a trip with Paul for the week... Listen Annabeth, I'm sorry about what happened at your house-"

"Hey," she put her hand on his forearm, "it's alright. You don't need to apologize, we're cool."

The tips of his ears turned pink. "So, is it okay if I sit with you at lunch today?"

"Of course! You don't even need to ask. To be honest, I was getting pretty bored talking to myself for the past week."

Percy's mouth slightly tilted up in a closed lipped smile.

And Annabeth nearly died.

Percy was smiling at her. Honest to God, smiling. She didn't know what she should do first. Hug him or throw a party? She decided that those reactions may freak him out so instead, she smiled back at him.

She didn't know how long they stood there, just smiling at each other, but eventually Percy broke the silence by laughing nervously. Another thing he's never done before. At least not in her presence.

She felt her heart beat more forcefully in her chest and her hands started to feel clamy. She wasn't sure why.

"So," he began, not really meeting her eyes, "I wanted to, um, a-ask you something."

"What is it?"

"Well, I was wondering- hoping really, if you'd like to maybe-"

"Hey. You're Annabeth right?"

Annabeth turned to the voice to find a handsome looking boy standing in front of her. He was tall, probably over six feet, with short sandy blonde hair and light blue eyes. His shoulders were broad and his figure was stocky which immediately gave her the impression that this guy was a jock.

"Yeah, that's me."

He grinned, his teeth sparkling white. "It's nice to meet you. I'm Luke Castellan, quarterback and student body president. I was supposed to give you a tour of the school your first day here, but I was sick. Sorry about that, by the way."

"Oh, that's okay. I found my way around the school just fine."

"That's good to hear. And listen, if you need someone to sit with during lunch, I'd be more than happy to volunteer."

He looked so hopeful and nervous it flustered her. "Thanks for the offer, but I already have someone to accompany me." Luke's entire posture deflated, so she quickly added, "But you can sit with us, if you'd like."

"Really? I don't want to impose or anything."

"No, it's not a problem." She turned to Percy. "Is it okay if he sits with us?"

Percy's eyes were downcast as he shrugged and nodded. She frowned. Just a second ago he was smiling and now his whole demeanour changed back to the sad boy she met last week.

"Alright, I'll see you both at lunch," Luke said. "It was nice to meet you Annabeth."

"See you, Luke," she called after him. She then turned to Percy and asked, "So, what were you going to tell me before?"

That seemed to snap him out of whatever trance he was in. His cheeks suddenly held a dark crimson tone. "Oh, uh. I was just going to ask if, um, if..."

"If?" she prompted, wondering what he was about to say.

"If you, would maybe like to, um..." He sighed and looked down at his shoes. "Work on the art assignment after school this week?"

For some reason, she knew that wasn't what he was originally going to say, but she decided not to force it out of him and replied, "Sure."

The bell rang, indicating the start of classes. She gave Percy a smile as they walked to their homeroom together, but the best part was that he would smile, albeit shyly, back.

Just seeing that made her entire day.

~oOo~

Lunch with Luke and Percy was awkward to say the least.

Luke and her talked about endless things. From sports, to movies, to music. He even asked about how her life was back in California.

He was nice and sweet and he made her laugh. But she couldn't stop herself from feeling extremely guilty when she looked at the boy across from her.

She tried to get Percy involved in the conversation, but he'd always reply with one worded answers or with a shake of his head. She couldn't see his eyes because his hood was covering more of his face than usual, but she was fairly certain that she saw him glare at Luke when he moved his seat closer to her.

Did he not like Luke? Was that it? She's only been here for nearly two weeks so she didn't know if they had a history or something.

She almost smacked herself for her stupidity. Percy obviously wasn't comfortable with Luke there. He barely talked to her the first three days he'd known her. What makes her think he'd suddenly be open with another person so quickly?

She clearly wasn't thinking. She should have known this was a bad idea and now she felt like a terrible friend.

So after lunch she told Luke as politely as she could that she was going to sit with Percy alone from now on. He was surprisingly understanding, but then again, she figured the entire school knew about what happened to Percy's mom and how broken he is because of it. She thanked Luke for being so considerate anyways, to which he just smiled and waved it off, saying he would see her in chemistry class.

She didn't even know they had a class together. Her observation skills definitely needed some work.

So the next day when she arrived at the lunch table, she was happy to see that Percy appeared more relaxed than the day before. But he still held something in his expression that made him appear troubled.

After a few minutes of this, Annabeth just had to ask, "What's wrong, Percy?"

He scrunched his eyebrows in confusion. She pushed down the feeling of how cute he looked when he did that. "Nothing. I'm fine."

"Something's bothering you," she said gently. "Just tell me."

He took a while to answer. He was fidgeting with his sandwich wrapper when he finally spoke up. "Why aren't you with Luke?"

The question took her off guard. "Luke? Why would I be with Luke?"

He squirmed in his seat. "It's just, you guys hit it off so well yesterday that I thought you'd maybe, um, want to sit with him instead."

It felt like someone just stabbed her in the heart. Did he honestly think she would just leave him? Just dump him for someone else without another word?

She got up from her seat and rounded the table so that she could sit next to him. His eyes were wide and full of fear as he stared at her. She reached for his hand, but he flinched away. She frowned at the action, but quickly wiped it away as he gave her a wary look. She felt like she was trying to approach a scared gazelle.

"Percy, I wouldn't just leave you because I became friends with somebody else," she said reassuringly. "I sit with you and I spend time with you because I want to. Believe it or not, but I like being around you."

He looked at her incredulously. "You do?"

She nodded. "Yeah, I do." She reached for his hand again, more slowly this time. When she placed her small hand above his large one, she felt a sudden electrical shock run up her arm. She heard Percy let out a quiet gasp, indicating that he too felt what she felt.

"I'd like to spend more time with you outside of school," she continued. "And not just doing homework, but like other things."

"O-Other things?" he stuttered, his cheeks turning crimson.

"Yeah, like play video games, or watch movies, or something. But only if you want to," she hastily added. She didn't want to force him to hang out with her or anything.

"I want to," he said eagerly. He then looked embarrassed and toned down his excitement. "I mean, I'd like that very much."

She smiled brightly. "That's great. Would you like to do anything this week then?"

"Um, you could come over to my place on Saturday," he suggested timidly. "We could watch a movie or something."

"Okay," she beamed. "That sounds like fun. I'll bring the popcorn."

The bell rang then, signaling the end of lunch. Annabeth swiftly packed up her things and started heading to class, but not before telling Percy goodbye and that she couldn't wait till Saturday.

And as she scurried off towards the cafeteria doors, the broken boy looked after her and sighed, a sense of excitement building in his chest. His heart was still beating rapidly since the moment he saw her enter the room. And that's when he felt himself do something that he hadn't done in a very long time.

He grinned.

~oOo~

Saying that Annabeth was stunned would be an understatement.

Percy had answered the door to his apartment, and for the first time since Annabeth had known him, he was not wearing his black hoodie. Instead, he sported a deep blue t-shirt that showed off his incredible biceps. He looked fit, but he didn't have those huge, bulging muscles you see guys at the gym with. She was always unnerved by those people because they looked like they could just snap metal bars in half without even trying.

His hair was wet and stuck to his forehead, indicating that he had just taken a shower. He smiled at her with that sweet, shy smile of his that made her insides turn to jelly. He'd been smiling a lot more lately. Albeit, they weren't full on grins, but it was something.

With his more positive attitude change and the sudden splash of colour to his wardrobe, Annabeth felt like the Real Percy was finally peeking through his old sad exterior. And she had to admit, she really liked this new Percy.

"Hey, Annabeth," he greeted with a dorky wave. The gesture was just so adorable she couldn't help but let out a small giggle.

"Hey, Percy. You ready for our movie day?"

"Definitely." He stepped aside to let her in then led her to the living room where everything was already set up.

They sat on the soft brown couch as Annabeth took in the movies he had laid out in the glass table in front of them. He had Forrest Gump, Clash of the Titans, Finding Nemo, all three Back to the Future films, and The Notebook.

"Nice variety you've got here," she complemented. She picked up The Notebook and gave him a look. "But The Notebook? I honestly did not expect you to have this."

He blushed a deep red, rubbing the back of his neck nervously. "I didn't know what type of movie you liked, so I asked the old lady next door if she had anything I could borrow."

"And you picked The Notebook?"

"Well, all the other movies were in back and white," he said, looking completely embarrassed. "Plus, I thought girls liked this movie so..."

"That's really sweet of you, Percy." His eyes brightened at her praise. "But lucky for you, I kind of have an obsession with Back to the Future. So I'm going to have to go with that one."

He stared at her, shocked. "You like Back to the Future too?"

"Yeah, it's like one of my favourite movies."

"Me too!"

"Really? That's awesome. We should have a marathon."

"Okay," he said excitedly before jumping from the couch and quickly putting in the DVD. This is probably the most energetic she's ever seen him. The thought made her stomach feel like it was being infested with butterflies.

"Oh, I almost forgot. I got these for you." He handed her a twelve pack of Reese chocolate. Her all-time favourtie.

"Oh my God, I love these! How did you know?"

He shrugged bashfully. "I see you eat them at lunch sometimes. I figured they were your favourite."

"Thank you so much, Percy." Without warning, she leaned in and hugged him. He stilled, his entire body so rigid it felt like she was hugging a statue. But after a moment, his muscles relaxed as he hesitantly returned the gesture, lightly wrapping his arms around her back.

She moved away after a few seconds, looking into his eyes as she said, "You're the best."

The way he looked at her then, his eyes softening as they roamed her face, made her feel slightly lightheaded.

The movie started and they settled into comfortable silence as they watched the images pass on the screen. Occasionally, she would feel him shifting in his seat, but Annabeth was too engrossed in the movie to really pay attention to what he was doing.

Then, around the time that Biff's car got trashed with manure, she sensed a slight pressure across her shoulders.

She turned her head to see that Percy's arm was half sprawled on her shoulders and half sprawled on the couch. Her face became beet red. His face matched her own as he spluttered and apologized profusely, taking his arm back like touching her had just burned him.

She wanted to say, No, that's okay. Keep it there, but she didn't have the guts to. What if he didn't want to? What if it was all just an accident and he didn't mean to touch her?

But what if it wasn't?

What if he did that move guys do in those old movies where they yawn and stretch their arm across the girl's shoulders? Was that his intention? Did he make the move and she was just too oblivious to notice? And if he did do the action on purpose, how did she feel about that? Did she like Percy in that way?

She shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. She felt like she just had an intense game of Twenty Questions with herself in the span of a minute.

He didn't try anything again for the rest of the movie. In fact, it seemed as if he moved to the the other side of the couch, attempting to put as much distance between them as he could.

She mentally sighed. She didn't want him to think that the idea of him touching her repulsed her or something. She really didn't mind if he put his arm around her.

Oh, so you'd like it? taunted the annoying voice in the back of her head.

She decided to ignore it because she already knew the truth.

The air was tense and awkward between them and Annabeth wanted nothing more than to extinguish it. So when Marty began singing Johnny B. Goode, she saw her chance.

She jumped from her seat, startling Percy in the process, and immediately started playing the air guitar.

Percy gazed at her like she was crazy. "What are you doing?"

"Come on!" she said cheerfully. "There's no way you can listen to this song and not want to rock out."

She started whipping her hair back and forth, while jumping up and down and shredding her pretend guitar. And when she sang loudly and terribly off-key, "JOHNNY B. GOODE!", that's when she heard the most incredible sound known to mankind.

Percy's laugh.

She'd heard snip bits of it before. A chuckle or a nervous sort of titter. But this was an all out belly laugh. His head was thrown back and his arms were clutching at his sides, as his laughter rang through the apartment. It filled Annabeth with so much joy and happiness she thought she would burst.

And the wide smile that he graced her with afterwards, nearly made her knees buckle. He was just so handsome when he smiled like that. A full blown, megawatt grin that spread to his ears. He looked so boyish and carefree. And when he stared at her in that way, like she was the only important thing in the world, her heart pounded so fiercely and so loudly she was sure he could hear it.

There was no doubt in her mind now. She liked him. She liked Percy Jackson. She liked him so much with his adorable blushes, his artistic talent, his kind yet broken eyes, and his beautiful angelic smile.

Before her mind could continue on it's giant list on why Percy is the most perfect being on earth, she grabbed his hands and pulled him up from the couch. "Dance with me?"

He looked stricken at her request. But Percy, being the great soul that he is, did as she asked. Albeit, he was timid and unconfident at first, but after a while he started getting into it. He twirled her around and did ridiculous dance moves to make her laugh. His eyes shining brightly whenever she did.

The rest of her visit was perfect. They watched the final two movies, ate snacks, and joked around. Once it was time for her to leave, her entire being filled with dread. She wanted to stay and continue watching movies with him forever, but her father would flip if she came home too late.

As they said goodbye at the door, he seemed as reluctant as she was about her departure. But they decided to make arrangements to do something again next week since Percy was busy on Sundays (he had an appointment of some sort that he couldn't get out of).

"So, I'll see you on Monday," she said, turning to walk down the hallway to the elevator.

But before she could get too far, he called out after her. "Annabeth?"

She looked back at him. "Yeah?"

He wrung his hands together and stuttered out, "Y-You look very pretty today, b-by the way."

She blushed to the tips of her roots, but smiled gratefully at him just the same. "Thanks, Percy."

He grinned back, that gorgeous wide smile that completely took her breath away.

God help her. She was falling for him.

And she was falling hard.

~oOo~

Annabeth and Percy were inseparable.

For the next month you could not find one without the other. They became best friends. And although they were quite different in many aspects, what with Annabeth being so outgoing and Percy still containing his shy, soft spoken nature, they were able to share similar interests. A love of art. A love of movies.

And (secretly) a love for each other.

"So, have you fallen for him yet?"

Annabeth's throat burned as she coughed up the coffee she was currently drinking. Thalia just waited patiently, not bothering to help her at all.

Once she was able to breathe again, she glared at the girl in front of her. "Thanks for the assistance. Not like I could have died or anything."

Thalia waved her off. "Don't be such a drama queen. You lived. Now answer my question."

Annabeth feigned ignorance. "What question?"

"Have you fallen for him yet?" Thalia repeated, sighing exasperatedly.

"Fallen for who?"

"Jesus Christ, I'm going to smack you. You know exactly who I'm talking about."

Annabeth didn't respond. Instead, she stared at the cup in her hands, like it held the answer.

"I'm going to take your silence as a yes then."

Annabeth groaned and hit her head against the table. Not a good idea. Now she had a headache. "Okay. So, maybe I like him just a little bit."

"A little bit?" Thalia asked incredulously.

The blonde girl threw up her arms in defeat. "Alright, so I like him a lot. I like him so much it's driving me crazy." She hesitated then, unsure of whether or not she should say the next part. But this was Thalia, one of her closest friends. She wouldn't judge her. "I don't want to push him, Thalia. I don't know what lines I can cross and which ones I can't. He's getting better, being more comfortable around me and smiling more. But he still has bad days. And those are the days where I have no idea what to do, how to comfort him. It scares me to see how broken he is inside. I just want to help him."

Thalia gazed at her friend sympathetically. "You are helping, Annabeth. That boy barely looked alive before you came around. You're getting him there, to a better place. It'll just take more time, I guess."

Annabeth nodded, biting her lip in worry as she thought about how he was a few days ago. He had been wearing more colour variety recently, but changed to his full black attire the other day. He barely said a word to her the entire time. She tried to move past his walls, but he kept them up, firm and unbreakable.

"It gets easier, Annabeth. Trust me."

She wanted to believe that. But she couldn't shake this nagging feeling that there's more to Percy's story than he's letting on. There's something else besides his mother's death that has him the way he is.

And she's going to find out what.

~oOo~

Percy looked so adorable, Annabeth nearly melted into a puddle.

He had a grey beanie placed stylishly on his head, making his messy hair stick out from underneath in all directions. She remembered when he tried on that hat. The were just goofing off, trying on different hats when he put the beanie on and Annabeth's heart almost came out of her chest at the sight.

"That looks really good on you," she said without thinking.

His cheeks turned that perfect shade of pink that she loved. "You think so?"

"Yeah, you should buy it."

He stared at his reflection in the mirror for a while, probably judging for himself whether he agreed or not. Then, he sighed and put the beanie back on the shelf.

To say she was disappointed would have been an understatement.

And yet, here he is. Totally rocking the hat with his navy blue long sleeved sweater and his black jeans. Annabeth noticed a few girls glance at him appraisingly from the corner of her eye. It made her see red, but she took a deep breath and calmed herself before she did anything rash. Like rip their hair out.

"So I see you bought the hat," she commented.

He touched it self-consciously. "Yeah. I changed my mind and went back for it." He shuffled his feet for a bit before he blurted, "It doesn't make me look too dorky does it?"

No, she thought. You look just the right amount of dorky. And adorable. You're dorky-able.

Woah. She had to make herself take a few mental steps back. That was way too cheesy. Even for her. But God, no truer words have ever been thought.

"No, Percy," she said reassuringly. "You look great."

His eyes brightened at her praise. And she could have sworn she saw them sparkle.

"Not as great as you," he responded quietly, looking down at his shoes. "You always look perfect."

She died.

Or at least, she thinks she did because honestly, who says that? How does he say such cute and wonderful things and not know how it affects her? Does he know that her heart expands whenever he compliments her? Or that her eyes seek him out in whatever room she's in? Or that she thinks his laugh has the ability to cure cancer?

Does he know that she's falling in love with him?

After a minute, Annabeth shook herself out of Percy Land and focused on the boy in front of her.

He peered at her through his lashes and cleared his throat. "I, um, wanted to ask you something."

"What is it?" She would have agreed to anything he wanted at this point.

"Would you like to have dinner with me on Friday?" he asked in a rush. "I mean, you don't have to if you don't want to," he continued nervously. "It's just, Paul wanted to meet you and he won't stop nagging me about it. And I'll be cooking pasta since I know you like it and Paul won't be there for the whole time so we could just watch a movie or something. But it's whatever you want to do really-"

"Percy," she interrupted, cutting his rambling off. "I would love to have dinner with you."

"You will?" He exhaled in relief. "That's great then. Um, okay. Awesome. I-I'll pick you up at seven and I'll just drive you over."

She raised an amused brow. "I do know where your apartment is, you know. You don't have to drive me."

"Yeah, well. I want to," he said softly.

"Alright, if you insist. But you better not be late," she threatened lightly.

He smiled his endearingly shy smile. "Wouldn't dream of it."

And as they walked to their homeroom together, she couldn't escape the feeling that this dinner was something more than just the casual meals they would sometimes have together.

It almost felt like a date.

~oOo~

She didn't know what to wear.

Was this a casual dinner? A fancy dinner? A semi-formal dinner? What the hell was it?!

She never gave two thoughts about what she wore before. But then Percy suddenly invites her to dinner at his house and after twenty minutes her closet resembles a war zone.

Then she saw it. A light green dress peeking out underneath a pile of clothes at the back of her closet. She pulled it out and hurriedly put it on. She looked herself over in the mirror and nodded, satisfied with how she looked. The dress fit her nicely and it was in-between casual and something more. Plus, the white ribbon that wrapped around her waist added a nice touch.

She let her hair run loose in her natural curls and put on a little bit of make-up. Once she was finished, she heard the doorbell ring.

She practically ran downstairs and almost tripped over herself to open the door. Percy's head snapped up at the sound and Annabeth swore his jaw dropped. She had to give him credit, he recovered pretty quickly, but his eyes never left her for a second.

"Wow, Annabeth," he breathed. "You're so beautiful."

Her face flooded with heat. "Thank you. You don't look too bad yourself."

And he didn't. He looked incredibly handsome with his blue button-down that brought out his eyes perfectly.

He shuffled his feet, looking down at the ground bashfully. That's when she realized he had his arms behind his back. He seemed to notice the question on her face because he brought his hands in front of him and held out to her a single yellow lily. It's petals were large and bright and it's center had speckles of orange and dark brown. It was the prettiest flower Annabeth had ever seen.

"I saw it in the store," he explained, appearing unsure of his gift. "And it reminded me of you."

She carefully took it from him and sniffed it. She grinned widely up at him. "It reminded you of me?"

He scratched the back of his neck. "Well, it's really bright which made me think of the sun. A-And your hair is the same colour as the sun. And it's a pretty flower and you're a p-pretty person. Um, plus the lady at the store said it means happiness and you make me feel that way. Happy, I mean. And- God, feel free to cut me off anytime now."

He looked so uncomfortable trying to put his thoughts into words, but Annabeth had heard enough to make her fall that much more in love with him. He was just so sweet that she thought he might give her a cavity from his words alone. Also, hearing that she made him happy pretty much made her entire life.

And as much as she wanted to kiss him in that moment, she decided to give him a hug instead. Mostly because she was chicken shit. She just didn't have the courage to do that quite yet. This was their first (maybe) date. She didn't want to rush into things.

But she did gain the courage to reach for his hand, entwining their fingers together. "Thanks for the flower, Percy. It's beautiful."

His hand squeezed hers. "You're welcome. Shall we go?" he asked, gesturing to what was definitely Paul's Prius.

"We shall," she said. But before she could take another step, a hand on her shoulder stopped her in her tracks.

She gazed up at the stern face of her father. "Where are you going, Annabeth?"

She tried to push down her anger. She really did. But her tone was still harsh when she replied, "To Percy's place. I told you this. Twice already."

"Watch your tone, young lady," he warned. He then looked from Percy to her and then finally to their clasped hands. "Be home no later than twelve."

Then, without another word, he walked away from the two teens.

After driving in the car for a few minutes in tense silence, Percy finally said, "So, your dad's kinda scary."

She snorted. "He's many things, but I never thought of him as scary."

"What have you thought of him as?" he asked gently.

She glared out the window. "A jerk. Inattentive. Neglectful. Uncaring... Unloving." She sighed, leaning her forehead on the cool glass as she whispered, "At least, that's how he is to me."

"Why is that?"

She felt the familiar sense of sadness and hollowness whenever she thought about her past. "My mother left us when I was a few weeks old. It hit him hard, I guess, because he didn't start dating again until I was around seven. He married Susan a year later and they had twin boys. They're like a perfect happy family... And I'm just the odd one out. The reminder of the abandonment my mother made him feel. And now, he's doing the same to me."

She didn't mean to unload all of that on him. But it felt good to finally say what she's been feeling out loud to someone. And the best part was that he didn't tell her that he was sorry or that things would get better. He just held her hand, rubbing soothing circles over her knuckles.

His presence said it all.

He was there. He was listening. He would never leave.

And that brought her more reassurance than any meaningless advice ever would.

~oOo~

Dinner was out of this world amazing.

Annabeth had no idea Percy's culinary skills were this advanced. She made a mental note to add that to her ongoing list of why Percy is the greatest human being on the planet.

He made everything from scratch (except for the pasta itself). Everything tasted so incredible that Annabeth had to stop herself from licking the plate like a barbarian.

Percy was pleased that she was enjoying the meal so much. He was practically beaming with pride. Her heart swelled at how giant his smile was. She would do anything to keep that on his face forever.

The two teens heard Paul come in just as they were finishing up. Annabeth had seen Mr. Blofis in passing before, but she had yet to meet him personally. From what she heard at school, he was an amazing teacher who was extremely kind and always looked out for his students (Percy especially).

"Hello," Paul greeted politely, shaking her hand. "So you must be the famous Annabeth I'm constantly hearing about."

Percy groaned. "Paul stop!"

She laughed. "Yes, that's me. It's nice to meet you Mr. Blofis."

"Please, call me Paul. I'm only Mr. Blofis at work." He scanned the table, which was overrun with empty plates. "Did you two leave me anything at all?"

"I set a plate aside for you in the kitchen," Percy offered.

Paul ruffled his hair, making the raven haired boy cringe away. "By the way," Paul whispered, even though she could clearly hear what he was saying, "she's even prettier than you said she was."

Percy's face was so red it looked like he might die of mortification. "Oh my God. Please leave. I'm begging you."

"What?" Paul laughed. "It's not like I told her you still drool in your sleep."

"Jesus Christ!" Percy exclaimed, horrified. "I'm never bringing her here again."

Annabeth and Paul laughed at his discomfort. The poor boy looked like he wanted to crawl into a whole and never come out.

"Alright, alright. I'm going. Just make sure you get her home at a reasonable hour, keep your doors open, and don't do anything I wouldn't do."

Percy grabbed her hand and dragged her behind him, practically bolting out of the room. "Come on, Annabeth. Before Paul says something else to embarrass me."

"Nice to meet you, Annabeth!" Paul called after her.

"You too!"

Once they were in the safety of Percy's room (with the door opened of course), Annabeth realized that she had never actually been in his bedroom before since they always stuck to the living room. It was small, only fitting a double bed, a dresser, a television, and a little closet in the corner. The walls were a warm grey and blue, but she could still spot a darker colour along the edges where the walls met.

"It used to be black," Percy explained, indicating to the spot. "The entire room, I mean."

"You sure used a lot of black before," she noted.

"It was a dark time," he said grimly. "Still is."

She took his hand in hers. "But it's getting better, right?"

His eyes held this far off look to them before they focused on her. "Yeah, it is."

She walked over to his bed and sat on the edge, smoothing the covers underneath her fingers. That's when she saw something peeking out from underneath the bed. She crouched down and picked it up, removing the few pieces of dust that was sprinkled across the brown leather front.

Percy's eyes widened. He made a sound of protest, but was too late as Annabeth opened the mysterious book.

A gasp escaped her mouth once her eyes caught the first sketch. It was of a young boy, maybe four or five, smiling brightly at something or someone above him. She flipped the page and her stomach dropped when she gazed at the beautiful woman who was clearly Percy's mother. Her smile was soft and enrapturing, but her eyes held a different message. They were completely and utterly dead.

Annabeth felt the bed dip beside her, but didn't stop-couldn't stop-turning the thick pages of this incredibly personal sketchbook. Page after page, Percy's mother stared back at her, all with the same dead expression in her gaze. Eventually, those sketches were exchanged with ones of crying eyes, broken beer bottles, mouths set in furious lines, and fists drawn as if they were in motion.

Like a dam about to break, her tears burst through once she reached a drawing of two hands being pulled apart. One clearly belonged to a child, while the other could only be what Annabeth assumed was the mother's.

She felt a warm hand cover her shoulder and an insane amount of guilt rushed through her.

"I'm so sorry," she said, her voice cracking. "I shouldn't have gone through that. That was so rude and intrusive of me. But the sketches were just so sad and I couldn't stop myself from looking and-"

"Annabeth," he whispered softly. "It's okay."

She shook her head furiously. "No. It's not, Percy. That was such an invasion of privacy-"

"Hey. I'm not mad at you," he said reassuringly. "I'm not. I mean, sure I would have preferred that you didn't see my sketchbook, but I'm kind of glad you did."

She sniffled. "You are?"

He let out a shaky breath. "Yeah. I, um... I've been keeping a lot in for a long time. And my art is really the only outlet I have. I've never shared what happened that night with anyone except the police, so showing you my drawings is my way of... Letting someone in."

She felt honoured, yet terrified at the same time. She could feel his anguish, despair, sadness, and pain through his artwork. She'd known from the moment she met him that Percy carried an obscene amount of problems on his shoulders, but she never realized how deeply his past affected him.

"Would you maybe want to, um, tell me about it?" she asked hesitantly. "You don't have to of course."

He exhaled harshly, not meeting her eyes. "I wouldn't know where to start."

"How about with your mother?" she suggested. "Tell me about her."

A small smile graced his lips. "Her name was Sally and she was the greatest mother that ever existed. She was always kind and loving towards me. She never yelled when I did something wrong. She constantly had a smile on her face, even when times were tough. And everything she did, every decision she made, was so that I could have a better life."

"She sounds wonderful."

"She was," Percy agreed. "Until Gabe came around."

A wave of dread washed over her. "Who's Gabe?"

His jaw clenched. "My step-father. Imagine the worst possible human on earth, multiply that by a billion, and you've got Gabe."

"Why did your mother marry him if he was so awful?"

"He wasn't bad at the beginning," he admitted. "He was nice, treated my mom well, gave us presents and everything. After three months of that though, he started to change. He began drinking more and more, sometimes putting drugs in the mix. So he was always drunk, high, and angry... God, Annabeth. It was a nightmare."

She kept quiet. Afraid to say anything in case he stopped sharing. He seemed like he was in a trance, trapped in his past as he remembered every horrible detail.

"I'm not going to tell you everything. I'm not ready for that. Long story short, he beat us. A lot. At first it was just my mom, but once I was a little older, I did my best to defend her. He didn't like that so he took it out on me. I fought back, I really did, but he was too strong."

Silent tears started to fall down his face, making Annabeth's heart break into pieces. "I did my best to take most of the beatings. I'd rather be his punching bag than see my mom get hurt. He'd still get her though. Usually if I was out of the house, like when I was at school, he'd hurt her... And s-sometimes he'd-"

He stopped, a choking sound coming from his throat. She pulled him into her arms, his tears soaking the collar of her dress as she positioned his head to rest at the crook of her neck.

"You don't have to say it, Percy," she whispered, her own voice shaking with emotion. "I know. You don't have to continue. You can stop."

He was silent for a moment before slightly shaking his head. "I have to finish. I have to. I can't keep it inside anymore."

"Okay." She released him from her tight hold, but she couldn't bring herself to let go of him completely.

He seemed to appreciate that, giving her a sad smile as he entwined his fingers with hers. "It wasn't just physical abuse he would punish us with. At times it was emotional. He'd tell me I'm useless, a waste of life... That I should just die because no one would miss me." He paused, his voice holding so much anguish as he said, "Sometimes I'd believe him."

She gripped his hand tighter. Words left her. Sadness overwhelmed her. All she wanted to do was envelop Percy in a large hug and tell him that he was wanted. He was not useless. He was amazing. Brilliant. Extraordinary. Wonderful.

Yet she also wanted to hunt down Gabe and hurt him. Badly. She wanted him to experience all the pain that Percy and his mother had endured throughout the years. How a person could be so vile and evil, Annabeth had no idea.

"Percy," she said desperately, "you can't listen to him-"

"I know," he said before she could continue. "I know that now, but I was in a very dark place for years, Annabeth. And there came a point where nothing really mattered to me anymore. Life just didn't matter. So even with Gabe in jail, his words still existed in the back of my mind. Eventually, I was seriously thinking about taking my own life."

She was openly crying now. His confession tearing her apart.

"I had no one. My mom was gone. I didn't have any other family. No friends. The only person in my life was Paul, but even he couldn't stop me from thinking this way. He tried to help. He got me to see a psychiatrist, that I still go to, every week, but it wasn't working. Nothing worked until..."

"Until what?" she asked brokenly. This whole conversation was making her stomach twist and her heart clench painfully.

"You, Annabeth," he muttered quietly. "It wasn't until you that I finally felt some light shine in me."

Her breath caught in her throat. "Me?"

He nodded. "Do you know what I first thought of when I saw you?"

She shook her head, unable to speak.

"I thought you were an angel," he confessed softly, his voice filled with awe. "And when you smiled at me, I swear to God, Annabeth, I almost fainted."

A weak laugh escaped her lips. "Fainted?"

"Your smiles are that powerful," he said seriously, but his eyes were overflowing with amusement.

They sat together in silence for a moment before Annabeth asked, "Percy? What happened the night your mother passed away?"

His face paled. "I don't want to say, Annabeth. That's a night I don't want to relive."

"I understand. Just know I'm here if you want to talk about it."

"I know." He hugged her then, enveloping her in his warmth. She snuggled as close as she could to him, her hand clutching his shirt.

"Thank you for sharing that with me," she whispered.

"Thank you for listening," he mumbled back.

She pulled away from him after a minute and checked her watch. "I should be heading home soon."

He nodded. "Okay, let's go."

As they put on their coats, she chuckled lightly to herself. She couldn't help but think what an emotional roller-coaster this night was.

"What is it?" Percy asked.

"Nothing, it's just... That was a pretty intense first date." A little too late, she realized what she said and clamped her hands over her mouth.

"This was a date?" he questioned, his voice so hopeful it made her embarrassment diminish just a bit.

"I mean, I thought so. You know, with the whole dinner and everything," she stammered. "But it doesn't have to be, if you don't want it to. You know what, just forget I said-"

He interrupted her with a large bear hug that nearly squeezed the life out of her. "I don't want it to be a date."

"Oh," she said disappointingly, trying to pry herself from him.

He didn't loosen his hold. "No. What I mean is, I don't want this to be a date because I had something else planned for our first date."

He did? "You did?"

He released her, blushing fuiously while smiling sheepishly at her. "Yeah, I did. I wanted to make it, um, special for you."

Sweet. Baby. Jesus.

She's officially living in a fairytale. There's no way this beautiful broken boy can be real. It's just not possible.

"Being around you already makes it special," she blurted. At that moment, she didn't know whose face was redder. Hers or Percy's? It was like they were having a blushing contest.

He shuffled from foot to foot. "You really mean that?"

"Of course I do," she said reassuringly. "I don't say things I don't mean."

"Even after everything I told you?"

She placed her hand on his cheek. "Your past doesn't define you, Percy."

He covered her hand with his. "God, you really are an angel."

~oOo~

"I told you."

Annabeth rolled her eyes.

"Don't you give me that look," Thalia scolded. "You know I did."

"Yeah, well..."

"Annabeth and Percy sitting in a tree-"

"Very mature, Thalia."

"Whatever. I knew he was head over heels for you from the first day. I still don't understand how you didn't see it."

Annabeth sighed. "Clearly I'm oblivious."

"Clearly," Thalia agreed. "So, when are you two going out?"

"I don't know, he hasn't asked me yet."

"Well, prom's coming up. I bet he'll ask you for that."

Her heart fluttered in her chest. Actually fluttered. "Hopefully."

"Speaking of," Thalia muttered under her breath, "here comes Prince Charming now."

Annabeth spun around so fast she was surprised she didn't break her neck. Percy's grin was so wide and bright, it made his teeth look like they were sparkling. He looked so happy it made her feel as if she were flying.

"Hi," he greeted with an endearing hint of shyness.

She smiled. "Hi."

Thalia waved an arm between them. "Hey, I'm here too you know."

Percy's ears turned red. "Hello, Thalia."

"What's up, Percy? You gonna ask Annabeth out soon? I have a bet with the Stolls that I would very much like to win."

"Thalia!" Annabeth exclaimed. "You bet on us?!"

The punk girl shrugged. "Yeah. So?"

"Oh my God. Just go away. Please."

"Okay, Cranky Pants. I see when I'm not wanted. Your lovey dovey looks to each other are making me sick anyways." Just before she walked away, she winked at Percy and said, "Make a move and I'll cut you in on ten percent of my earnings."

Percy buried his face in his hands as Annabeth pushed her friend with more force than she intended. Thalia just laughed and practically skipped down the hall, overjoyed at both of their embarrassment.

"Is she gone?" Percy asked.

Annabeth pulled his hands from his face. "Yeah, she's gone."

He grimaced. "I don't like her."

She laughed. "She takes some getting used to, but she's really a great friend."

"So, I have some good news."

"What is it?"

"I'm almost done your portrait," he beamed.

"That's great! I bet it looks fantastic."

He grinned, glancing down at his shoes. "Thanks, Annabeth."

"I'm almost done too. But mine won't be nearly as amazing as yours."

"I'm positive whatever you have will be wonderful," he assured her.

She sent him a wry smile. "I'm not the artist in this duo." She paused before she asked, "Percy? Have you ever thought about becoming an artist?"

He frowned slightly. "Once. When I was a kid. But that was before Gabe."

"What about now?"

"Now... I'm not sure. Art has become something personal for me. I don't think I'd be able to show my work to anyone besides you."

Her heart swelled at hearing how much he trusted her. "Well, you don't have to if you don't want to. But I really think you have an incredible talent, Percy. And I think you should share it with the world."

He stared at her for a minute, his eyes roaming her face. "Okay, I'll think about it."

"So, prom's coming up," she said suddenly.

Smooth, Annabeth. Way not to make it obvious.

Percy scratched the back of his neck, avoiding her eyes. "Yeah, it is. Are, um... Are you going?"

"Yes. Even if I don't have a date, I'll go. Maybe I can drag Thalia along with me."

"Oh, that's cool." She almost smiled at his flustered state. "Uh, you haven't been to your locker yet have you?"

That was a weird question. "No... Why do you ask?"

"No reason," he said hurriedly. "But maybe you should get your books now. Class is going to start soon."

"Alright." They walked together side by side until they reached her locker. She glanced at Percy from the corner of her eye. He looked like he was going to have a stroke. "Are you okay?"

His breath was coming out in short pants. "Yeah, I'm fine."

He did not even resemble someone who was fine, but she shrugged it away and started doing her combination. She was just about to open her locker when a new voice stopped her.

"Hey, Annabeth."

"Hi, Luke. How are you?"

He smiled a movie star smile. "Pretty good. I actually wanted to ask you something."

She raised an eyebrow and felt Percy stiffen beside her. "What is it?"

"Well, you know prom's in a few weeks right?" he asked, placing an arm against her locker so he was leaning over her.

She took a step back, narrowly crashing into Percy in her haste to separate herself from the blonde boy. "Uh yeah. What about it?"

"I wanted to know if you'd go with me? To prom?"

"Huh?" She was so confused. She had no idea Luke was into her in that way and as friendly and handsome as Luke was, she didn't like him like that. She only had eyes for one boy.

"Annabeth?" Luke asked after she'd been silent for so long. "What do you say? Will you go to prom with me?"

Her eyes slid to Percy, who was currently glaring at the ground, his shoulders slumped in what appeared to be defeat. Her chest constricted. Did he think she would take Luke up on his offer? After she'd basically said that she wanted to date him?

"Honestly, Luke," she said while opening her locker to get her books. "I'm not really sure-"

A hand slammed the door of her locker shut, startling her from the loud metal bang it created.

"Don't open it," Percy said, his voice filled with alarm.

Her brow creased. "Um, why?"

He gave no answer. He just stared at her pleadingly, sending her a silent message to not press the issue.

"Okay then... Anyways, Luke I don't think it's a good idea for us to go to prom together."

"What?" both boys exclaimed in unison.

She cringed. "Well, it's just... I wanted to go with someone else."

Percy's eyes lit up like a little kid on Christmas, while Luke frowned like someone had just stolen his last cookie.

"But Annabeth, we would be so good together," Luke persisted. "And if you go with me, you'll be a shoo-in for prom queen."

"She doesn't care about that," Percy piped in.

"Please," Luke scoffed. "Every girl wants to be prom queen."

"Not Annabeth," Percy insisted. "She doesn't need that title anyways." He looked into her eyes then, making her entire being feel as if she were on fire. "She's already royalty to me."

Sweet Jesus, she's pretty sure her heart just burst out of her chest and landed into Percy's hands from that statement alone.

"So you can go now, Luke," Percy said, waving his hand to dismiss the boy. "She already told you no."

Stunned by his sudden rudeness, Luke left without another word.

Annabeth's eyes were as wide as saucers. "I think that's the first time I've ever heard you be impolite to someone."

He gave a weak laugh. "Yeah, I didn't mean to be... I might have been a little, um, jealous."

"Jealous, huh?"

"Well, he's the quarterback and the student body president. While I'm just..."

"Percy?" she offered.

He looked at her through his lashes. "Yeah. Just Percy."

She reached up and smoothed the bangs out of his eyes while letting her hand rest on his cheek. "I'd rather have a Percy than a million quarterbacks any day."

His eyebrows scrunched up adorably. "Really?"

"Absolutely." She hugged him and shivered when he wrapped his arms around her back.

She smirked at him once they pulled away. "Can I open my locker now?"

He laughed nervously, his cheeks flushing that perfect shade of pink that she loved. "Yeah, of course."

Once she opened it, an overwhelming scent of flowers rushed through her. Not to mention, the sweet, mouth-watering fragrance of her favourite chocolate of all time.

"I know it's kind of cliché," he admitted, wringing his hands together. "But I'm new to this and in every movie I've seen the guy always gives flowers and chocolates to the girl. I know it's not like, very original or anything, but I hope you like it nonetheless. And, um, I was wondering if you'd give me the honor of taking you to prom?"

His voice was so shaky and flustered, like he was afraid she would reject him. As if she could say no to him. Ever. She'd do whatever he asked without thinking twice about it.

So of course, she excitedly agreed to his proposal without a moments hesitation.

And even though his gifts were incredibly thoughtful, the greatest present of the day was Percy's answering smile.

Cheesy, she knows.

~oOo~

"I can't believe you convinced me to go to this stupid thing."

Annabeth snickered to herself, keeping the phone at a distance so that Thalia wouldn't hear. "It'll be fun."

"Honestly, if I wasn't so happy over winning that bet, I might just punch you in the throat."

She pressed the speaker button so that she could put on her make-up for the night while attempting to persuade Thalia not to back out. "Come on, Thalia. You can't miss your prom. Besides, you already bought a dress that took us weeks to find."

"I still have the receipt," Thalia countered. "I can always return it."

"Well, it's your call," Annabeth relented. "But I know someone will be utterly disappointed you didn't show."

There was a long pause. "What the hell are you talking about?" Thalia asked, eerily calm.

"Well, a little birdie told me that there might be a certain someone waiting to talk to you at the dance."

"And I assume this 'little birdie' is Piper?"

"Yup."

"Are you insinuating what I think your insinuating?"

"Possibly."

"And you're positive he'll be there?"

"One hundred percent."

There was another pause of silence, and then, "BITCH WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME THIS BEFORE?!"

Annabeth laughed loudly, enjoying the sounds of Thalia stringing together a series of curse words that would make a sailor blush. She could hear the punk girl shuffling around the room, no doubt just starting to get ready when she should have been dressed over an hour ago.

"It's official. I'm going to murder you," Thalia said, her voice taking on a deadly tone. "You don't keep vital pieces of information like that away from me, Annabeth. I'm pretty sure you just broke the best friend code of conduct."

"I didn't know Malcolm was going until today!" Annabeth exclaimed defensively.

"You're such a liar. I can hear you laughing from here. You better watch your back, Annie. Percy might find out some very embarrassing things about you tonight."

"You've got nothing on me, Thalia and you know it."

"I can easily improvise."

"And I can easily pour punch over your head. It's your choice."

"... Fine. But only for tonight. Your lifetime of embarrassment starts tomorrow."

"Dully noted." Annabeth finished applying her lipstick and took a good look at herself in the mirror. For having done the make-up herself, she thought she did a pretty good job. She hoped it would last through the night.

She hung up the phone not long after that since Thalia had to style her hair. She was all dressed and ready to go so she decided to wait on the bench by her bay window. It was just a few minutes before she noticed Percy pulling up in Paul's Prius.

She dashed down the stairs-as quickly as she could with heels on-and opened the door before he even had a chance to knock.

He startled, nearly dropping the corsage as it fumbled in his fingers. They were both silent. Taking each other in.

He stared at her as if in awe. His eyes soft and warm as they traveled the length of her until they fixed on her face. The longer he gazed at her, the harder it became to take a breath.

He swallowed audibly. "Annabeth..." His voice shook. "I-I don't think there are words to describe how incredibly stunning you are." His hands trembled as he reached for hers, placing the corsage over her wrist. "You look beautiful," he whispered.

I love you.

She should say it. She knows he feels for her like she does for him. She can see it plain as day in his eyes and in the way he says her name. But the thought of putting herself out there-giving him her entire self-made the words catch in her throat.

"Thank you," she whispered back, her voice hoarse. "You look especially handsome."

And he did. Percy in a suit should be considered the eighth wonder of the world. His shoulders looked broader, his arms appeared fit, and there was just this godly air about him that made her knees buckle.

"Thanks," he said sheepishly. He then took out a small camera from his jacket pocket. "Are your parents going to take pictures of us? I brought my camera since Paul couldn't be here."

Her mouth tightened in a thin line at the mention of her so called parents. "No. They're not here. They went out to dinner with the boys."

Percy's eyebrows scrunched together in the way that she adored. "I see... Wait one second." He sprinted to the passenger side of the car and shuffled through the glove box before jogging back to her. He held out the item he searched for triumphantly. "Now we can take our own pictures."

It was a selfie stick.

A laugh escaped her lips. "Why would you carry a selfie stick in your car?"

"It's not mine!" he exclaimed defensively. "It's Paul's! He uses it when we go to Montauk, I swear!"

"You're such a dork." She leaned up and gave him a peck on the cheek. "Let's take some pictures."

They were definitely the best prom pictures in history.

~oOo~

Prom itself wasn't fantastic.

The food sucked, the DJ was terrible, and someone had spiked the punch-most likely the Stoll brothers-and had gotten Mr. D drunk.

And despite all that, Annabeth still thought it was one of the best nights of her life.

She got to spend time with her closest friends while wearing fancy clothes and taking videos of Mr. D dancing the electric slide. Really she was having a blast.

And then there was Percy.

Percy made the night outstanding. He held her hand as they walked in. He took the traditional prom picture with her that involved his arms wrapped around her waist from behind. He even went into the photo booth that the school had rented and took silly pictures with her and Thalia.

The best part though was when he asked her to dance.

He was a nervous wreck when he extended his hand toward to her and stuttered out the words. She happily agreed of course. She couldn't wrap her arms around his neck fast enough.

They swayed closely together for multiple songs, her head resting over his heart as he rubbed circles with his thumbs over her waist. Annabeth would have given anything to stay in that position for eternity. Everything she needed was right there in front of her.

"Annabeth," Percy whispered in her ear.

She pulled back to look up at him. "Yes?"

"Thank you. For coming with me tonight."

"There's no one I'd rather be here with," she replied honestly.

His eyes were soft as he leaned his forehead against hers and gave her the warmest smile she'd ever seen. "You make me so happy. I never thought I could ever feel like this, but just being with you makes me feel like anything is possible."

She had to tell him. The desperation was clawing at her chest. She couldn't go another second without telling him how much he meant to her.

"Percy, I lo-"

"CONGA LINE!" Suddenly, a line of teenagers came between them all in single file as they danced ridiculously across the room. Leo Valdez lead the way and Annabeth mentally cussed him out for ruining the perfect moment.

She was finally able to get to Percy after the conga line had dissipated, but she felt as if it wasn't the right atmosphere to pour out her feelings anymore. So instead, she asked him, "Wanna get outta here?" To which he nodded vehemently.

After saying some quick goodbyes they scurried back to the car, hand in hand. Once they were seated and out onto the road, Percy asked, "So, where would you like to go?"

"Your place is fine," she responded. She noticed him shift awkwardly in his seat and wondered what was wrong. His hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly they were turning white. "Is that okay?"

"Yeah, it's fine." His voice came out high-pitched. He cleared his throat. "I mean, it's fine," he said again, his tone lower.

She shook her head at his strange behavior, but didn't comment on it.

Eventually, they made it to Percy's apartment. Paul wasn't there since he volunteered to chaperone the prom which still had an hour left till it ended. They had the place all to themselves.

"Would you like something to drink?" Percy began rummaging through the fridge. "We've got coke, apple juice, milk, uh water. I could also go get something if you want. Like, lemonade? Do you like lemonade? Who doesn't-"

"Percy, I'm not thirsty. Thank you though."

"Oh." He rubbed the back of his neck that was beginning to turn a light pink. "Then are you hungry? I could whip something up real quick. Like tacos, or lasagna, or lobster-"

"Hey." She placed her hand over his arm. "Why don't we just hang out in your room for a while?"

"Uh, yeah. That's cool. Totally cool. My room's cool."

She raised an eyebrow at his rambling, but took his hand nonetheless and lead him to the bedroom. She sat on the edge of the bed and Percy did the same, making sure there was as much distance between them as possible.

She frowned and moved closer, taking his hand in hers again when she noticed his body stiffen. "Percy, I need to tell you something."

"What is it?" He wouldn't look at her.

She took a deep breath, finally ready to let this all out. "We've known each other for a while now and our time together has been- God, it's been the best. I mean, you're the closest friend I have and you're also the greatest."

He looked at her then, turning his head slightly as he listened intently. "You're the greatest friend I've ever had too, Annabeth."

She smiled. "I'm glad. And, well, during our time together I've gotten to know you and how amazing you are and I just couldn't help-" Her breath stuttered in her chest.

His eyes bored into hers, staring at her as if she was all he could see. "Couldn't help what?"

"I... I'm in..." She let out a frustrated sound. "Why is this so hard to say?!"

"Maybe because you're worried I won't say it back," he said gently. She glanced up at him through her lashes, her heart beating out of her chest. "But you don't have to worry about that, Annabeth. You never have to worry about that." He shifted closer and tucked a stray hair behind her ear. His hand rested underneath her jaw as he fixed his intense gaze on her.

"I love you, Annabeth Chase." He said it with such certainty it made her head spin. "I love you more than I've ever loved anything- than I ever will love anything." He paused. Their pounding hearts the only sound that echoed in the room. "I'm pretty sure I've been in love with you since the first time you smiled at me."

She breathed out a laugh, a grin spreading across her face. "I love you too, Percy. God, I love you so much."

She couldn't stand it anymore. She grabbed the lapels of his suit jacket, pulled him towards her, and kissed him.

He inhaled sharply. His lips were soft and warm, yet completely stiff. After a few seconds without any response, she pulled away slowly. His eyes were the widest she's ever seen them, watching her warily.

"Percy," she murmured, her lips still close to his. "Have you ever kissed anyone before?"

His breath came out in short pants as he shook his head. "N-No, I haven't... Sorry. I was just s-surprised."

She smiled softly. "You don't have to apologize. I am a little amazed that I'm your first kiss though."

"I'm basically a virgin in everything that pertains to relationships," he admitted, embarrassed. "I have no clue what I'm doing."

Her fingers entwined with his. "We'll figure it out together," she promised.

He smiled lightly then cleared his throat and gazed at her sheepishly, his cheeks perfectly flushed. "I, um... I wouldn't mind trying that again. If you'd let me."

She bit her lip, trying to keep her grin at bay. "You want to kiss me?"

"More than anything," he whispered, his voice resembling that of a tortured man.

"Then kiss me," she whispered back.

Percy didn't need to be told twice. He leaned in close and captured his lips with hers. He moved slowly, hesitantly, but Annabeth didn't mind. She reveled in it really. He wanted to take his time, make sure he did it right. It made her heart warm.

He leaned back after a minute, his breathing ragged. His eyes were half lidded as they stared at her. "Better?"

She nodded, her pulse pounding in her ears. She moved up on the bed until she reached the pillows that were aligned against the headboard. "Come here."

Percy crawled toward her gingerly until he reached her side. She placed her hands at the back of his neck and pulled him in, kissing him all over again.

He made a strangled sound at the back of his throat that made her senses go wild. Her hands slid to his hair, her fingers entangling themselves in the silky black strands. He grew bold and shifted over top of her, deepening the kiss in the process.

She broke away with a gasp, then placed a line of kisses from his jaw to his neck. His groan rushed through her when she focused on a certain spot just underneath his jaw. His fingers twisted themselves in her hair, his breath hot against her ear. She continued kissing him, her hands running over his strong back.

Eventually, she pulled at the hem of his dress shirt. He stilled. His muscled completely rigged.

"Annabeth," he said hoarsely.

She kissed his lips again. Their mouths morphed together in perfect sync. She moaned against him.

He separated from her suddenly, his eyes appearing frantic. "Annabeth," he repeated, more urgently this time.

"What is it?" She placed her hand on his cheek. "What's wrong?"

"I..." He slid off of her as he gulped in large breaths of air. "I'm sorry..." His hands were shaking. "Could we, um. Could we slow down a bit?"

"Of course. We can go as slow as you want." She turned, resting on her side to look at him. A pang of guilt hitting her chest as she gazed at his anguished face. "Does this have to do with...?"

"Yeah." He paused, taking his time to answer. "I heard him sometimes. My room was next to theirs and I could hear him forcing himself on her, making these noises and-" He stopped, taking a shuddering breath. "I know that will never happen with you. I know that. It's just... Anything that involves being intimate with someone reminds me of that. These flashes just pop up in my head and it's like I'm back there, locked in my room, feeling helpless. I know it's insane-"

"It's not," she said assuredly. "You were traumatized, Percy. You're not crazy for thinking this way. You've been through so much and I just wish..."

"Wish what?" he mumbled. His eyes were so dark she could barely make out the green before he closed them.

"I wish I could take it all away," she confessed. "I wish I could bear it for myself so that you don't have to. I don't want you to feel this way."

He was silent for a long time. So long in fact that she thought he had fallen asleep, but then he opened his eyes that were so soft and loving and full of pain.

"Annabeth," he said, his voice strong and sure. "I've realized something during these past few months. The pain and the darkness that exist inside me will never go away. It's going to stay there in the back of my mind, lingering there for the rest of my life. But whether or not I let it take over and control my life is up to me. It's easy to fall into it, to let it consume me, but..." He shifted closer to her, his forehead resting against hers. "But you've shown me that I can fight it. That I don't have to be miserable. That I have a chance at being happy."

She stared at him in awe as he wrapped an arm around her waist, the heat of his body searing through the material of her dress. The small smile gracing his face making her want to profess her love for him all over again.

"I'm not saying it will be simple, but given time I think things will get easier. It'll get easier to think of my mom and not focus on the terrible times we endured. And it'll get easier to see myself positively and to think of myself as worthy enough to be with someone like you. It will. I know it will because you'll be there with me. And, honestly, I'm so amazed that you love me so much as to want to take my pain away, but you don't have to and, really, I don't want you to. Just keep being who you are, Annabeth. That's more than enough for me."

Her voice trembled, overwhelmed with emotion. "I love you so freaking much, Percy."

He cradled her face in his hands and kissed her slowly, then whispered against her lips, "I love you too. I always will."

He smiled then, big and bright and absolutely brilliantly. And Annabeth knew right at that moment, that she had never seen anything as beautiful as Percy's happiness.

~oOo~

"You did it."

He stared at her, the fear in his eyes gradually being replaced with hope and joy. "Are you sure?"

"Dear Mister Jackson," she read. "We are honoured to inform you of your acceptance into-"

He snapped the letter from her hands, his eyes flying over the words. A grin spread and remained perfectly etched across his face. "I did it," he said, still sounding like he didn't believe it.

She wound her arms around his neck. "Percy Jackson: The Art Student... Has a nice ring to it don't you think?"

He chuckled, his hands resting on her waist. "I'm still kind of taking it all in. It's hard to accept that this is actually happening."

"It is though, and I'm so proud of you." She pecked his cheek. "I expect the girlfriend discount when you become famous."

"Of course," he said, amused. "I'll make anything for you."

A mischievous glint shined in her eyes. "Draw me like one of your French girls, Percy?"

His entire face flushed and her heart thundered in her chest at his flustered state. "Very funny."

She kissed him as an apology, running her hands in his hair and holding him close.

They weren't perfect, but they were getting there. Percy still had bad days and Annabeth did her best to help him out of it, but things were getting better. Life was getting easier. Little by little, they would make it.

And as long as they were together, nothing would stop them from having their happy ending.

Fin.