cA/N: I know, I absolutely suck. I'm so sorry it's been so long between updates. You all know my list of excuses though, so I shan't get into them again. I'll just say that I'm sorry, and I hope people still want to read this. :) Reviews would be lovely. Oh, and it's an AU. Nico is short. I can't remember if he was short in the books, but in this story, he is short.

Percy stayed stock still for a moment, his faze frozen in mid-kiss, and then bolted for the door. He halted halfway to it, as if changing his mind, then rushed through to the other side.

Annabeth groaned in frustration. "This is ridiculous," she spit, whirling round with extra energy. "Just... ugh! I can't believe them!"

"Well, Annabeth, Percy didn't do anything," Grover started, logically. "She kissed him and he - "

"He didn't have to run after her!" Annabeth fumed, stomping her foot. Grover's frown dropped, replaced by a sly little grin. He tipped sideways onto one of the maroon seats - one not covered in slime - and shook his head at her.

"You like him, Annabeth."

Annabeth's eyes widened in horror, though it was impossible to guess just how real the horror was. "What? Are you - you're - " She let out another angry noise, somewhere between a hissing snake and crunching candy wrapper. "That's insane, Grover! I'm just mad, because well, look, we have to clean this up." She pointed to the slimed carpet and seats, pretending to gag. "He has to help! And - and - " She rounded on Nico, who was hunched in the back seat with a grumpy expression. "What right did your sister have, kissing him like that? It was her fault, going after the monster like that! It should have been me, trying to fight it. She doesn't have any experience!" She stopped, her fuse fading as quickly as it had blown.

Nico's eyes were lit now though, bright coals of waiting fire, and Grover sighed despairingly. There would be no avoiding the fight now, of course. "Hey. My sister didn't do anything, okay? She could have been killed!" He looked briefly tormented, but quickly ground his teeth together in an attempt to dissolve the feeling. "We were having a tough enough time, anyway," he said, more quietly. "You didn't have to make us come with you, on this stupid sword fight party."

To prevent Annabeth's inevitable aneurysm – he could already see the vein rising in her neck – Grover came forward. He was not used to playing moderator, was not really confrontational enough for the job, but sometimes a Satyr's wise words were needed. Or so he told himself, anyway, as he put a hand on each their shoulders. "Nico, listen. It was our job to recruit you. You're not safe outside alone, roaming the streets… monsters could find you at any time. Trust me, you'll be happier at school." He started to protest, but Grover had already turned to Annabeth. "And Annabeth, seriously, lay off the kid. It's not his sister's fault, and it's definitely not his." He backed away, wondering which of them would try to hit him first, and from what angle. If he reacted fast, maybe he could block it… To his surprise, though, both of them were quiet. Thinking.

"Whatever," Annabeth sighed, after a second. "You're – you're probably right," she said stiffly, addressing Grover. He would take it; it was about as close to apologizing to Nico as she would ever get, anyway. "I just… don't you think it'll mess up the Quest if they start going out? Imagine – we're trying to run away from a monster, and Percy wants to stop for condoms at the drug store. I mean… gods, it's ridiculous!" Grover didn't miss the tight pinch between her eyes, but he let it pass and instead turned the question back on her.

"If Luke had been on this thing with you – like you wanted, let me remind you – would you be hunting for condoms in the middle of a chase?" He tried quickly to strike the image of their entwined bodies from his mind.

"No, but we're diff – "

"Hey, hold up a second," Nico said, glaring at the both of them. Annabeth blushed but didn't contradict – after all, she'd been about to admit that she and Luke had never done it. Not quite, anyhow. "Who said I'm going to let my sister start dating that bastard?" For such a small little guy, he had a colorful vocabulary.

"Let her?" Grover snorted. "Uh, Nico, I don't think – "

"Well, I don't exactly think they should be dating either. It's inappropriate," Annabeth said. Grover looked between them, feeling nervous. He couldn't explain it, but he felt as if something bad was about to happen.

Nico furrowed his overly bushy brows and then cocked one, catching on. "You mean we agree?"

She paused, folding her arms. "Guess so."

"Hmm…" Nico said, sitting back down. "Well. Maybe we should talk about this."

"Maybe so," Annabeth agreed, taking the spot across from him.

Grover put his head in his heads, feeling rather forlorn. "Oh, this is going to end so badly…" he muttered.

"Bianca, wait up!" Percy called. The train halls were only so big – where could she have gone?

"Watch your voice, young man! Some people are trying to sleep!" The old woman's cheeks drooped as she admonished him, full of angry old-woman phlegm.

"Sorry, uh, ma'am," Percy muttered. He did a double take, wondering why the Hades an eighty-five-year-old would be on a train alone this late, and then hurtled through the rest of the car. "Bianca!" he huffed. Where did girls go when they were trying to escape?

The thought came to him in a flash of brilliance: the bathroom. Girls always went to the bathroom, right? Thinking of the graffiti-smeared urinals they had at school, he had to wonder why. Or maybe girls' bathrooms were different than guys'. That's what they said, right?

He stopped to pant, his mind racing. There was something exhilarating about kissing after a near-death experience. Just the adrenaline alone… wow. And Bianca… he had been thinking about her that way, he admitted to himself.

"Hey, Bianca?" He lowered his voice to a reasonable decibel and pressed his ear against the bathroom door. "Can I come in?" He didn't entirely relish having this conversation, but it had to be done. It was like a band-aid… just rip the damn thing off, and the pain lasted for much less time.

The click of a lock sounded from the other side, and then the door slipped out of the frame. Bianca peered up from the sink, looking much worse for the wear. Her face was blotchy, her hair tangled, and her foot looked… dead. A victim of gangrene. Run over by one of those hummer cars. Percy had to grimace when he saw it, and Bianca's chin trembled again.

"I know, it's horrible looking, isn't it?" she asked, fresh tears spilling onto her cheeks. "I can't put any pressure on it."

"Well, here… let me take a look," Percy said, the kindness entirely unforced this time. He helped her roll back her pant leg and stared at the slimed flesh. Swallowing his disgust as best he could, he said the first thing that came to mind, "It looks… blister-y."

Bianca choked out a laugh, but it soon turned into a sob. "It hurts," she said quietly, pulling back her jeans. "It really hurts."

"Well… we have a first aid kit," Percy said, hopping up beside her on the makeshift countertop. He made a mental note that, if this was what a girl's bathroom looked like, girls were not so different from guys. Or maybe this was just your average train bathroom… "Maybe it includes stuff on how to treat injuries from monsters."

Bianca sniffed and smiled at him. "Maybe." They stared at each other for a second, and then Bianca shook her head and looked away. "I'm sorry, Percy," she said. "A-about the kiss. I didn't mean to…. I was just thanking you, I was so happy, and…" She shook her head. "I'm stupid."

"No!" Percy replied, perhaps a bit too energetically. "You're not stupid at all. Bianca… I…" He stopped, shaking his own head. "Never mind. Just… don't feel bad, okay? You shouldn't."

"No," she shifted closer to him, close enough so he could smell her very fragrant scent, "what were you going to say?"

"Just that…" he shrugged, trying to wipe the idiotic grin off his face, "I kind of think you're cool and stuff, okay?" She giggled, a hand shyly over her mouth, and he laughed. "Sorry, I don't usually tell girls my feelings like this. Except for Rachel. But she's my best friend, so it's not the same."

"Tell girls your feelings…" Bianca repeated, sounding slightly flirtatious. "So, when you say you think I'm cool, you mean… you like me? Like that?"

Percy grinned, his cheeks going red, and he found he had to remind himself that he was in college now. "Yeah, I guess that is what I'm saying."

She leaned forward, smiling all over. The rotting foot was forgotten. "Good, because, well… I kind of like you like that too."

They leaned forward in the same instant, following their first kiss with a quick second one, and then the alarm sounded.

A/N: Reviews would be awesome. Thanks so much for reading.