Percy enjoyed the feeling of the warm summer breeze on his face as he walked up a hill. Back in the Camp proper, most of the Campers were having fun with food and friends after the successful acquisition of the Golden Fleece and the recovery of Thalia's Tree. He had too, but after a while, it had become too much for him. He looked down at the thought. They had gone through a lot, and there were very real dangers that they had faced. Close brushes with death that left Percy uncomfortable for both his friends and himself.

Still, it was a successful quest. That was worth celebrating. He smiled again as he looked down at the bustling Camp. It was gratifying enough to him that it was still safe, and that the people he had become friends with were still protected.

Percy came close to Thalia's Tree, and he nodded contently when he saw its green leaves and felt its strong aura. The Golden Fleece had done its job – the tree was being healed of the poison that had seeped so deeply in it, and the barriers that protected the Camp were as strong as they ever were. It was good to see.

Then Percy noticed a pair of legs, just hidden from him by the tree. Concerned, the demigod strode forward, turning around the tree as he saw the pair of legs extend to the body of a girl. She looked to be sleeping at the base of the tree, but there were a few branches that had grown over her, and she was not someone that Percy recognized as a camper.

By the time Percy ran over and knelt by her, she had just began stirring from her sleep. When her eyes flickered open, he felt his breath being sucked away as the brightest, most electrifying pair of blue eyes stared back. They seemed to pierce straight through him like lasers, even though they were flickering around in disorientation. After ripping away the branches that covered her, he cradled her head in his lap as she coughed slightly and struggled, but failed, to get up.

"Hey, hey," he gently said, keeping her as steady as possible, "relax. You're safe." She ceased her struggling, though Percy couldn't tell if it was from his words or her fatigue.

"Wh-where am I?" she spluttered out, breathing heavily.

Percy paused. How did this girl not know where she was? She was inside the barrier of the Camp, and she was sleeping at the base of Thalia's Tree.

"You're at Camp Half-Blood. See?" Percy gestured to the faintly visible outline of the semi-spherical shield that protected the camp. "You're safe."

"Who are you?" she asked, continuing her line of questions. Percy paused slightly, quickly deciding on how much he should tell her at that moment. He had no idea who she was, and after what had happened with Luke, he was wary of trusting so openly again. Still, against his paranoid side, he spoke.

"My name is Percy Jackson. I'm a son of Poseidon."

Her blue eyes widened at the second sentence, and she stared deeply into Percy's sea-green orbs. Having finally stopped shaking, she blinked a couple of times before whispering her own name.

"I'm Thalia. Daughter of Zeus."

After getting over the shock of meeting Thalia as a human and not a tree, Percy carried her over to the Big House. Chiron had a similar shock, and even though Mr. D acted as indifferently as he always did, Percy swore that he could see a bit of surprise in the wine god's eyes. After getting her settled in to a cabin – the empty Zeus cabin – Thalia was quickly introduced to Camp life, and Percy, Annabeth, and Chiron did their best, as did all of the campers, to integrate her into Camp Half-Blood.

Percy hadn't ever meant for Thalia to be a rival for him, but her fiercely competitive nature made it almost inevitable. Given that and the fact that they were both children of the Big Three – and ones fairly close in age, being only one year apart after factoring in the whole "stuck in a tree" business – she quickly viewed the first person she had met in nearly seven years as her chief rival.

Still, despite a hotly contested rivalry in the various needed skills and knowledge that demigods required, the two formed an even fiercer friendship. Perhaps it was because they were both children of the Big Three and their fates and destinies were irrevocably tied together, courtesy of the Great Prophecy. Maybe it simply because Thalia felt some sort of connection to the first person who comforted her after her prolonged near-death state. Either way, Percy felt himself trusting his newest friend more with each passing day, and there were certainly days where, as he confided his fears, worries, and hopes with her, she did much the same, pouring back an equal amount of herself into him as he did into her.

Today was one of those days. It was still only the beginning of summer, but Percy already felt the inexorable weight of fear on his shoulders. One of his best friends, Annabeth, was gone, even possibly dead, but Percy resolved to believe she had not yet departed from this plane. She couldn't have – she was too strong for her to just end like that. He would just have to find her.

Slowly walking through the forest, he exited into a small clearing surrounded by thick bushes and trees. There was a small pond of clear water in the middle, and Percy took a few seconds to admire the beauty of the small alcove he had just found.

Then he heard a breath intake beside him.

Turning his head, he saw Thalia, of all people, sitting on a nearby rock, staring at him with those blue eyes that were indelibly burned into Percy's mind. Her short and spiky hair was slightly damp, as were her bare feet. A towel, her favorite combat boots, a pair of black socks, and her leather jacket lay on a nearby stone. Having evidently forgone her usual black jeans, she wore a pair of short shorts and a non-descript black t-shirt. Percy felt his breath hitch as he stared at her form. He could not deny that he found her attractive; how could he? As even Apollo himself put it, she was pretty, and the fact that he was in the middle of puberty didn't help out on that front much either.

Percy forced himself to stop staring, walking up to his friend as he examined the small clearing they found themselves in. All the while, Thalia's eyes never left his form once, even as he came to a stop by the rock she was sitting on.

"Fancy meeting you here," she spoke up first, her gaze still not leaving him.

"Uh, yeah," Percy replied sheepishly, scratching the back of his head. "I just sorta stumbled on this place. Same for you?" Thalia shook her head, a few droplets of water flying away from her hair at the motion.

"I found this place a couple of days ago. It's … a nice place. Relaxing. The water isn't too cold either."

The two paused in a silence, neither knowing exactly what to say. Thalia looked back at her reflection in the water as Percy looked downwards. The trials of the week had been harsh, and both had ended up losing their close friend.

"I'm sure she's alright, you know," Thalia spoke up again. Percy turned his head to look at Thalia. "She's a strong fighter, and smart too. She wouldn't go out that easily. I bet Luke's," she winced slightly as she said her friend's – former friend's – name, "having a blast with her. I can only imagine her tearing him apart."

Percy chuckled at the thought of an enraged Annabeth turning up the rhetorical dial to eleven and going to town on the former camp counselor. Like Thalia, however, his expression darkened at the thought of Luke. While he had only known him for a few months, he had really thought Luke was someone he could trust, and Percy still felt pain from the son of Hermes' betrayal.

"Do you," Percy started, and Thalia leaned in slightly closer. "Do you ever fear the future? I mean," he added, seeing a slightly curious expression on his friend's face, "you're the one the Prophecy is about. That's a lot of responsibility, and there's a lot of things out there that want a piece of you because of that."

Thalia's lips pursed at the thought, before shrugging.

"Life's life. Just gotta roll with it, because sometimes there isn't another way." She sighed.

"How do you do it? You're so in control all of the time."

Thalia chuckled, a sound that Percy found rather pleasing to listen to. "Really? I've always thought that you were the stronger one – you've known about this since you were twelve, and yet, you're still here. You haven't quit. Me? I-I don't know if I could've handled it. If someone compared the two of us, they'd probably think you were the Prophecy's Chosen One."

Percy looked straight into Thalia's eyes, marveling for the umpteenth time at the beauty that he beheld.

"Thalia, you are the strongest person I know. You proved it when you defended Annabeth and Grover on the top of the Hill, and you continue to do so every time we meet a problem." Thalia looked shocked by Percy's words.

Slowly, her mouth turned upwards into a smile; it wasn't one of those "wide and forced red carpet celebrity" smiles, but rather a beaming smile that reflected genuine heartfelt emotion. It only served to enhance Thalia's natural countenance, and where she normally was pretty to Percy, now she was absolutely beautiful. Her radiant smile was something that he would not mind seeing again.

"Well," she said after a few seconds, "I should get going." She slung her towel and jacket over a shoulder, put the socks into the boots, and lifted the boots with a finger and a thumb. She took a few steps towards the edge of the clearing before pausing and half-turning around.

"See ya later at CTF. Better bring your 'A' game." She flashed a flirty grin at Percy and made a finger gun with her free hand before she continued walking away. Soon enough, her form disappeared behind the dense foliage of the forest.

Percy stood by the rock that Thalia had just vacated, standing as still as his geological companion. His heart pounded in his chest, and his cheeks were flushed red. Why had it felt so thrilling to talk with her? And why had it felt so … good?

Revised: 1-22-18