Sometime near the end of The Last Olympian.

Disclaimer: I'm not old, I'm not a man, and I'm definitely not smart enough to have thought up Percy Jackson or Annabeth Chase. All I did was the situation! *bows at Rick Riordan's feet* I am not worthy!

I would never, ever even think of admitting it to him, but Percy managed to make me feel like the idiot for once. Not on purpose, of course. I'm still not certain he's smart enough to do that.

In my defense, that boy has had more than his fair share of stupid moments. Sometimes they end up saving his neck, but most of the time it just gets us in more trouble than we were in the first place.

His head's still full of kelp. That makes me feel slightly better.

The seaweed brain gave me the jitters, okay? Even after everything we've been through, the bad and the good, I can barely keep myself under control nowadays. He's not the same twelve-year-old he was when he got here.

We're different now, more mature and more battle-worn. I'm only sixteen and I've seen things that could make regular mortals wake up screaming. Things that make me wake up screaming. We've lost friends and gained enemies, crossed the country more times than I can count, and been to Hades and back—literally and figuratively. I can see the sadness in his eyes now, something I refuse to show even after Luke—especially after Luke.

But some things have managed to stay the same, by some miracle. Grover is still our best friend. Chiron is still our mentor. And we're still closer than I've ever managed to get to anyone else, even Luke and Thalia. We are still incredibly awkward around each other sometimes. I still don't appreciate him like I should—a valuable battle asset along with being an unwavering ally. He's still slightly obtuse when it comes to women.

Especially when it comes to me.

I don't get it. He doesn't notice the way I manage to flush when he smiles at me, or how I get woozy from his familiar salty, sea spray scent. He doesn't see the fact that my knees like to give out when he kisses me like I'd wanted him to do for so long. I definitely noticed these things. And they scared the Hades out of me.

An urge comes over me to slap myself each time. What would Athena think? She's been a maiden forever, pledging herself to the gain of wisdom and shunning love. My mother sees 'love' as a meeting of the minds, and I thought she was right for so long. Plus, she didn't much like Percy. He didn't weigh his decisions with logic, but with emotion. If Athena knew how nuts I was being over him, she'd assume I'd lost my mind.

Confession: That thought's crossed my mind, too.

All the same, somewhere in that insanity, a concept had clung to me, seeming the only logical conclusion. I tried to ignore it, shunt it away, but it stayed, stuck like a parasite, sucking most every bit of good sense I had left away.

I tried to concentrate on something else. Architecture started to eat up every spare second of my life by choice, and I rarely left the Athena cabin now, save for meals. Percy tried his hardest to see me, to figure out what was wrong, but I refused to see even him. I knew that his big green eyes would just push me over the edge.

It took too long for the goddess in me to come out. I cowered in fear of the truth as long as I could before I decided that Daedalus' laptop didn't have what I needed in it. What I needed was sitting in my head, waiting for me to do something about it.

I pushed the laptop closed and slid it underneath my pillow. The floorboards creaked when I took the first cautious step onto them, but no one noticed.

Halfway across the room, someone whispered at me. "Going somewhere?"

I spun around quickly to my half-brother William. "Will, go back to sleep."

The look on his face—a mischievous smile and high eyebrows—reminded me so forcefully of one of the Hermes kids that I had to wonder whether Athena had claimed him on accident. "Percy?"

After a moment, I nodded. Nope. Definitely Athena's.

"'Bout time."

My eyes rolled automatically. "Just cover for me."

My chest did weird things that now seemed familiar to me when I saw Percy's silhouette on the beach, dark against the navy blue sea. Only this time, they took a turn for the worse—it was as if there were horse's reins around my heart and someone was yanking back mercilessly. It must have been some type of macabre foreshadowing coming on.

The sand was pleasant on my feet, but my brain was going too haywire to realize it. Percy didn't hear me coming over the sea breeze, but he didn't seem too surprised when I sank down into the still-warm, soft sand. A smile crossed his for-once-peaceful face, but he kept his focus far away on the ocean.

I tried to organize my thoughts slightly, but being around him just shot that idea straight to Hades. I gave up, instead leaning back into the sand on my elbows, and eyeing the full moon. Artemis must have had a special place in her heart for me, because for a moment, looking up at the night sky, everything was right.

After a few minutes, Percy turned his green orbs to me and smiled. While I tried not to simultaneously combust, I realized a few things.

1. Percy must have wandered out here straight out of bed because he wore no shirt, revealing a light scar along his left shoulder left by a manticore spike three years ago.

2. I was wearing just pajamas—short men's boxers and a ratty old sweatshirt.

3. Percy's shoulders were noticeably broader when he wasn't covering them up with useless, stupid clothing.

What in Hades? Silena, gods bless her soul, must have rubbed off on me a little TOO forcefully. Still, it didn't exactly stop me from admiring… I was right. He wasn't the same as he used to be. And, in this case, it wasn't exactly a bad thing.

Needless to say, I started to question why I'd ever come down here. But I am a daughter of Athena. We never give up without a fight.

A worry line sprouted up in Percy's forehead, one that I'd constantly fought the urge to smooth away. "Are you okay? Haven't seen you much in the last two weeks." He tried hard to sound nonchalant, but I know him better than that. We finally gave up trying to keep anything from each other after the battle for Manhattan. I accidentally saved his nearly-immortal life, but got a little cut out of it. He'd classify that as the understatement of the century, but I'm not dead, am I? He must have thought that I was being secretive now for a bad reason.

I shied away from his eyes. "I've just been thinking things over." Another first for me—I couldn't think of anything else to say.

Percy's eyes caught mine, and they looked more frightened than I think I've seen them in a long time. I had a flashback to when he thought I was joining the Hunters of Artemis. He'd thought I was leaving him, like I had when we were on Olympus just this summer. I would never.

"Y-you didn't…change your mind, did you?"

"Change my mind?"

Percy flushed, which pleased me a little. It was a relief to know I had a similar effect on him as to the one he had on me. He fidgeted slightly, looking down at the sand, then his hands, then back to the sand. "About—us. I mean, if we…if you want…"

I couldn't help the grin that broke onto my face. "Your head is full of kelp, isn't it?"

Daylight seemed to bloom in his face. "Yes, it is. I guess I'm lucky to have you, Wise Girl."

I wanted to kiss him so badly, but I needed to tell him something first. There was a reason I was a recluse for so long, and things like kissing when I had forever to do that anyway wouldn't sidetrack me. "All that time I was thinking—"

"That's new," he teased, cutting me off. But since I figured an eye rolling was not a great lead-in to what came next, I ignored the comment.

I took a deep breath. "Percy, I've been realizing recently that—"

"Spit it out!" Percy prompted playfully.

"Shut up, Seaweed Brain!" I laughed at his annoying habit to cut me off, which was unusual. "I love you!"

He looked shocked for a few seconds, and those few seconds made me want to crawl into the nearest hole or under a rock. "I—I…" he stuttered. "Uh."

How articulate. What was I thinking again?

Oh, right. I wasn't.

But after what seemed like ages, Percy let a smile float to his face. A wicked glint flashed across his face so fast I wasn't certain it was ever there in the first place. "You-you called me Percy."

My shoulders sagged.

Have you ever had the insane urge to both punch someone and kiss them? No? Only me? Gods. He was doing this just to piss me off.

I watched his eyes soften at my glare, and his lips lifted up in that smile I knew so well. "I thought you hated my kelp filled head."

"I could never hate you, kelp or no kelp." I smiled.

His eyes widened a little in realization. "I…I love you, too, Annabeth."

A chill coursed down my spine, and I was aware that someone watched us closely—most likely my mother. Percy's eyes reflected the feeling. "Maybe we shouldn't—"

I cut him off with my lips because, for once, I didn't care. I was going to make my own choices now, starting with this. And it was the right one.