Author's notes: This was written for antistar_e, who had the winning bid at the help_haiti fandom auction community over on LiveJournal. I've actually had this idea in mind for an AU for quite some time, although it was originally going to be told in Percy's POV and would've been a hell of a lot longer. It is highly likely that there will be a sequel to this monster because it has pretty much eaten my brain and there are so many scenes left to be told. But I hope you all enjoy it!

Disclaimer: I don't own Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

Ad Initium

Every story has three parts. This is her beginning.

i. once upon a time

When Annabeth looks back on the night she arrived at camp a couple weeks later, all she can really remember is the weather.

There was so much of rain – pouring down her face, soaking her clothes, slicking down the grass and mud so she'd slip and tumble into the gaping maw of some horrific monster trailing behind her. She remembers falling once, banging her knee against a hidden rock, the pain almost unbearable, and squelching around helplessly in the mud before Luke and Grover grabbed her by the arms and yanked her up again.

She remembers the fierce bite of the droplets on her face as she ran, ran, ran up that hill and toward the boundary line; remembers the sound of the rain pounding against the ground, the wind whipping through the trees, thunder rumbling in the heavens. It was all so loud it almost drowned out every other noise, except for the shrieks and howls of the beasts behind them. Thalia and Luke had to shout themselves hoarse to be heard over it all.

"I am not leaving you!"

"Yes you are, you idiot! Someone has to stay behind, keep them distracted, and it might as well be me. I'm the one they're after anyway!"

"Thalia, you can't – "

"You get Annabeth across the border, and then you worry about me, all right?"


And then Annabeth remembers the hair on her arms standing straight up and her skin beginning to tingle like it was on fire as the forest filled with the smell of ozone. The world went white as lightning struck and the ground trembled violently beneath them, as if the world was rocking on its very frame, and a deafening blast of thunder shook the air.

Annabeth had seen Thalia call down lightning strikes many times before, but they had never been anything like that.

"That wasn't – Thalia, you didn't – "

"N – no, it wasn't me! It was – "

"It was your father, Lord Zeus! He's trying to buy you time! Hurry, we've got to get up the hill before the monsters recover!"

It had still been raining when the four of them crossed the protective border of Camp Half-Blood a few minutes later, but somehow the weather didn't seem as bad any more.

ii. in a faraway land

The first four years of Annabeth's life at Camp Half-Blood are a messy blur of monster fights, deadly prophecies, betrayals, tears, laughter, and frustration beyond any measure. She doesn't think she would've gotten through it without Thalia and Luke by her side, even if Thalia has her own issues to worry about, being the dreaded child of the prophecy and all, and Luke is constantly wrestling with the weight of his destiny.

Thalia's supposed to be the one that can make or break Olympus, even though none of them know how that's going to happen until some Ares kid named Stuart Lipson goes crazy during their second summer, killing two campers during his escape and promising that he's going to create a war to end all wars by resurrecting the Lord of the Titans, Kronos himself.

Over the next year, campers begin disappearing, only to turn up dead in a ditch or to be seen with the enemy a few weeks later. The gods begin feuding amongst themselves, refusing to believe that anyone would be foolish enough to try to summon Kronos, and more monsters keep popping out of the woodwork.

Even though she's nine years old and has already proven she can take care of herself, Annabeth is barred from participating in any scouting missions or quests related to the brewing fight. She's the youngest at camp, and they're all ridiculously overprotective of her. When all of her logical arguments against this silly ban fail, she cries and screams about it in a way that Athena would not be proud of, but Chiron won't be moved and neither will Thalia and Luke.

"Why do you want to be involved with this anyway?" Luke asks her one day, as she watches him slash at the practice dummies, a pout on her face. "You're just a kid. Enjoy not being an active pawn of the gods while it lasts."

Camp Half-Blood has brought out the worst in Luke recently, it seems. Annabeth doesn't remember him being so angry and bitter when the three of them were out in the world together, except that one time they ran into his father. In fact, Luke's never been quite the same since then, always looking over his shoulder, as if something's going to creep up on him and tackle him if he isn't constantly aware.

"Would you just want to sit around while all your friends risk their lives to keep you safe?" Annabeth retorts, frowning at him.

"You'd get in the way, Annabeth."

"Don't treat me like a baby. Who was the one who saved your butt from those Cyclopses? I can help too! I don't want Olympus to fall."

Luke turns to her, a dark look on his face that sends a shiver down her spine. "Maybe the gods don't deserve their power any more. Did you ever think about that?"

He stomps off the training grounds before she can reply, and his words make her sick with worry. Before they left, all of the traitors said similar things – expressing their displeasure with the gods, how they wish things could be a little different, that they deserve the power – and Annabeth doesn't want Luke to be the next one they lose to Kronos.

So she goes to Thalia, because Thalia is the only one Luke will seriously listen to and if he doesn't, she'll kick his butt until he does. Even if they have been yelling at each other more than usual and she hasn't seen them talk in a couple of days, Annabeth knows that Thalia can pull him back from the dangerous edge he's standing on.

When Annabeth tells her what Luke had said that day in the training arena, Thalia sighs wearily and glances away from her.

"He's been saying that for a while now. To me, anyway. That's why we've been fighting so much," the older girl confesses, fiddling with her silver bracelet. "I think he's going to leave soon… and he wants me to come with him."

Annabeth's heart clenches painfully in her chest. She can't lose Thalia and Luke to Kronos – she won't leave the side of the Olympians. There's just no logic to what Kronos's supporters are saying and she loves her mother, even if she's only met her once. She won't follow Luke and Thalia down this path, even if they're her family now. But without them, she won't have anyone… and she'll be alone again.

"You're not – you're not going to, are you?" she asks, her voice trembling. "Thalia, you can't – "

"I'm not," Thalia interrupts quickly, her blue eyes sharp and reassuring. "I picked my side long ago. I fight for Olympus…for Zeus."

There's reverence in her voice when she says her father's name that was never there before. Annabeth remembers not so long ago when Thalia would curse Zeus's name to the high heavens and back. But then her father sent that lightning bolt that saved all of their lives, and she owes everything she has now to him.

"So you'll make him stay?"

"You know I can't make him do anything he doesn't want to, but I'll try," Thalia says. "Just don't be disappointed in me if it doesn't work out."


When Annabeth wakes up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night a week or so later, she instinctively knows that Luke's leaving camp tonight. She crawls out of bed in her pajamas, and hurries outside, rushing toward the crest of Half-Blood Hill. If she can just get there before he does, maybe she can stop him, hold him off until someone else can come –

She hears voices as she approaches the crest – someone else has already beaten her to the punch. She ducks behind a tree as she enters the clearing, just in case the people waiting on the other side aren't her fellow campers. She peeks through the trees and breathes a sigh of relief when she sees Thalia seated at the base of a tall pine tree.

"Going somewhere, Luke?" Thalia asks, her spear hanging over her knee lazily.

"Thalia," he replies easily, seemingly not surprised to see her there. He shifts his backpack on his shoulder. "You're out late. You change your mind about picking the right side?"

Thalia pushes herself to her feet, her expression grim in the moonlight.

"No," she says, sticking her hands in the pocket of her jeans. "But you're going to."

Luke laughs loudly. "You really think so? Don't you get it, Thalia? This is my destiny! I was meant to do this, to help bring down the gods and tear Olympus apart brick by brick. Why do you think my mother went crazy, huh? She saw the end of the world as we know it and that I'm going to be a part of it!"

"You're an idiot," Thalia says shortly. "What, do you think all of your problems will suddenly go away if you bring on the apocalypse? Do you think that revenge against your father will make you happy? That killing me will make you happy?"

There's a long pause after she says this, almost as if Luke hadn't thought of this in all his planning. Annabeth wouldn't doubt that. Sometimes Luke is so farsighted, he can't see the truth that's right in front of him.

"I'm not going to kill you, Thalia," Luke say, his voice quiet.

"Oh, you're not, are you? You're just going to tell Kronos to spare me, right?" Thalia lets out a disbelieving laugh, and steps closer to him. "I'm the prophecy kid, Luke. My death is kind of essential if your side wants to win."

"Then why don't you choose our side?" he says, desperation creeping into his tone. "What has Olympus ever done for you, Thalia? What has your great and powerful dad ever done for you?"

"He gave me you, you dolt!" Thalia practically screeches, getting right up in Luke's face. "He's the reason I ever found you at all after I ran away from home, and he saved our miserable lives two years ago because I didn't want to lose you! Your damn destiny isn't to become some mindless drone in the Titan army – your destiny is with me."

And that's when Thalia reaches forward, grabs Luke by the collar of his shirt, and kisses him. Instead of pushing her away, Luke puts his hands on her waist and crushes her against him. When they break apart, he whispers Thalia's name like she's some kind of goddess and she smiles brilliantly at him.

Annabeth knows that Luke isn't going anywhere any time soon, but she's smart enough to realize, however, that things are never going to be the same between the three of them from here on out.

iii. there was a

The prophecy gets a little more complicated six months later when Hades reveals that he's had two children – siblings named Nico and Bianca di Angelo – of his own stashed away in some place called the Lotus Hotel and Casino for the last 70 years and he wants them to wrestle the title of prophecy kid away from Thalia so his branch can have some fame and glory for once.

But their presence becomes almost a non-issue after Bianca joins the Hunters of Artemis, staying forever thirteen, and little Nico decides to stay at Camp Half-Blood with the rest of them, out of his father's influence and temptation's reach. That means Thalia's still the prophecy kid after all, and it makes her resent Nico just a tad.

Annabeth supposes she can't call Nico little since he's actually two years older than her, but she's just a little bit taller than him and he's always playing that stupid kiddy MythoMagic game, so he seems younger than her anyway. Nico gets trained to fight almost immediately, which Annabeth thinks is completely unfair because they still won't let her anywhere near the training fields, even though she disarmed the big new Ares kid, Clarisse La Rue, during Capture the Flag with no trouble at all.

To placate her, Chiron lets her design Nico's temporary housing, since they don't have a cabin for the children of Hades and a kid of the Big Three shouldn't have to sleep on the cramped floor of the Hermes cabin. This project keeps her busy and out of everyone's hair for a couple of weeks, and she feels a lot better about herself when Nico approves of the building and says it's the first time he's felt like he's belonged at camp since his sister left.

"People are scared of me, you know? They haven't even met me, and they'll run screaming in the opposite direction," he says as he shuffles through his MythoMagic stack. "Like I'm going to snap one day and summon up some zombies to feast on their brains or something."

"They were all scared of Thalia when she showed up too," Annabeth replies from her perch on his bed. "I think everyone's just naturally afraid of a child of the Big Three – even the gods themselves. You two have the power to bring down entire civilizations if you wanted to, and I think that's why everyone tries to keep their distance. Just to be safe."

"You don't," Nico states, looking up. He has intense, dark eyes that are scary when he's angry but they're just curious now. "You're the only one who wasn't afraid of me, who wanted to get to know me. Why?"

That's not entirely true; she was terrified when Nico first arrived at camp because she had no idea what it was going to mean for their futures. He was an unpredictable variable, a nuisance, an unwanted complication… and then Annabeth had realized she sounded exactly like her father and stepmother the night she decided to run away from home.

Sure, he could summon up skeleton soliders from the depths of hell, but Nico really wasn't any different from the rest of them – he was lonely, scared and completely out of his element. His sister had abandoned him to go prance around with the Hunters of Artemis in the woods for all eternity, and he really didn't have anyone to rely on at all. She could've been in Nico's position a couple of years ago, had she not found Thalia and Luke.

"Because I knew you were going to need a friend," she says with a shrug. "That's all."

He arches an eyebrow. "So you're my friend now?"

"I designed your cabin, didn't I? Friends do favors like that for each other. But I am not playing MythoMagic with you. Ever."

A smile crosses Nico's face for the first time in weeks.


The end of the war comes a year and three months later, on Thalia's birthday just like the prophecy predicted.

There's a spy in Kronos's camp who informs them that their leader, Stuart Lipson, will be going down to the River Styx so he can become invincible and give Kronos a mortal form. With Nico's help, Thalia and Luke go down to the Underworld, Thalia kills Stuart with the reformed Scythe and then the three of them shove Kronos's sarcophagus in the River Styx where it burns and burns, and Kronos's form dissipates once more.

Annabeth, on the other hand, sits at camp like a good little demigod and hates every moment of it. One of her older siblings makes her weave of couple of blankets so she'll stop pacing and distracting them all from their work.

All-in-all, it was fairly anticlimactic as far as prophetic endings go. But that's just fine with Annabeth, because now she gets Luke and Thalia back for good, and they don't have to be worried about anything any more.


The summer after Annabeth turns twelve, everything feels just a little weird.

Not because it's the first summer where they haven't had monster attacks on the borders every other day or because she's spending most of her time relaxing by the lake with Thalia and Luke, enjoying their company before Luke heads off to college in the fall, instead of training with them in the battle arena.

Not even because Nico di Angelo managed to stick around for the entire summer without disappearing once, and has hit his growth spurt so he's finally taller than her and he makes sure she knows it every single day. If he wasn't any good at strategy games, she wouldn't put up with his crap the way she did.

Annabeth's not sure what makes it weird exactly, but every morning, she has this lingering, expectant feeling, like her own destiny is about to climb over Half-Blood Hill and she needs to be ready for it.

It never does, though, and the feeling disappears as the soon as the leaves begin to fade into bright oranges and yellows.


Annabeth hasn't seen her father since she left home when she was seven years old. They've exchanged letters over the years, but she's never felt the explicit need to keep in close contact with him beyond that. He and her stepmother made it very clear that they didn't want her around as a bad influence for her stepsiblings, and she's doing the best she can to stay out of their way and out of their lives as much as possible.

It's a surprise, then, when she gets a letter from her father asking her to come home for Christmas that year. She nearly flat out refuses, but Chiron manages to convince her to at least consider the request for more than a minute. Thalia, however, is the one who really changes her mind.

"He obviously cares enough to invite you anyway. Just go, and let it be awkward for a few days. Besides," Thalia says with a tight shrug, glancing out the window of her cabin so Annabeth can't see her lip trembling. "You never know when they won't be there any more."

Thalia's mother had been killed in a drunk driving accident just a months ago, and even though Thalia had spent most of her adolescent life doing nothing but hating the woman's guts, she still spent hours sobbing into Annabeth's lap when she heard the news. Annabeth doesn't think the tears were brought on by her mother's death, exactly, but more because the older girl realized that she had lost her chance to prove to her mother that she hadn't made a mistake by giving birth to her, that there was a reason she could be proud of her daughter... that maybe she would want Thalia now that she had saved the world.

The next day, Annabeth writes back to her father, accepting his invitation. But she adds that she'll only come so long as Thalia is invited as well.

iv. a girl and

Sometimes it's hard, being the best friend to the three demigods who managed to save all of Western Civilization. Everything she does is measured against the three of them – she's not as good as a swordsman as Luke, Thalia has a better eye for battle strategy, Nico's control over his creepy powers are unmatched and unchallenged – and it's hard to escape their from under their shadows, if she ever does at all. She hasn't found that one skill that sets her apart from them, except for building design, but that skill is hardly applicable during Capture the Flag or on the battle field.

So she's beyond thrilled when she gets to go on her first quest at thirteen – she's the youngest to go on a traditional quest in a long time and, even though it's technically Clarisse's quest since she got the prophecy, Annabeth's determined that everyone will remember her name after everything is said and done. She'll no longer be that kid who hangs around with Thalia and Luke like a lost puppy; she just wants be plain old Annabeth.

Their quest is to locate Grover Underwood who, after finally receiving his Searcher's License after the end of the war against the Titans, went off in search of the great god Pan and ended up stuck on the island of the giant cyclops Polyphemus, and they're to bring him back safely. Navigating the sea of monsters will certainly be no peace of cake, although Nico offers to shadow travel them straight to the island after they leave camp.

"That's cheating," Annabeth says, glaring at him. "You always cheat."

"It's not cheating. You'd honestly rather fight across an ocean of filled with crazy ass monsters and horrible death traps when I can literally get you there in five seconds?" the son of Hades replies. He's fifteen now, and he's growing into his lanky form quite nicely. Annabeth idly thinks that if he cuts his hair and gets it out of his eyes, he'd be kind of cute.

"Yes," Clarisse grunts. "And you're not part of this quest, so you better get out of here before I beat your pasty face in, di Angelo."

Nico rolls his eyes and says, "Girls are so weird."

He doesn't leave, like that's surprising in the slightest. He becomes the unofficial third member of their quest, hanging out in the belly of the old Confederate submarine Clarisse's dad had summoned for her and talking to the skeleton soldiers about their lives, playing his Nintendo DS during monster fights ("You said you didn't want my help, Annabeth!") and just generally being an unwelcome pest to them both.

He does end up being pretty useful in the long run, though – he saves her from diving off into ocean when they pass the lair of the Sirens, convinces Clarisse that stopping at the island with all the marooned ships would be a really bad idea, and he's able to get Grover out of Polyphemus's sealed off cave with no trouble at all. He's also the one that sides with Annabeth when Grover tells them that the legendary Golden Fleece is on the island and that they need to retreive it.

Even though Nico's the one who grabbed the Fleece from its place in the trees, he lets her and Clarisse have the glory for rescuing it anyway when they get back to Camp.

"I had the easy job," he says as they sit around the celebratory bon fire the night they return. "You two got chased around by vicious, man-eating sheep while I climbed a tree. If anyone deserves to the laurel wreath for effort, it's you."

Nico reaches up and tugs on one of her loose curls to emphasize this, and he smiles warmly at her.

It's at that moment Annabeth realizes that she has a massive crush on the son of Hades.


Annabeth's idea of flirting with boys largely consists of insulting their intelligence and then kicking their butts around the training arena, which makes the Aphrodite cabin just sigh and shake their heads with pity while Thalia beams with pride. She's not used to putting herself out there to be rejected by a boy – or anyone, for that matter – and it makes her nervous as hell whenever she tries to catch Nico's attention in a romantic way.

So it makes her downright giddy when Nico asks her to the Fourth of July fireworks the next summer – and he makes sure to clarify it as an actual date, not just as friends. They have a great time together, and Nico kisses her in the shadows behind cabin eleven when the night is over.

She's still grinning when she falls asleep that night, thinking that this might just be the start to something permanent.


They make a terrible couple.

Because he's older than her, Nico doesn't like it when she bosses him around, which is funny because he didn't mind it at all when they were still friends. Annabeth never quite noticed how much he whined before they started dating, and it drives her insane because he everything that comes out of his mouth is complaint after complaint. His lips are too cold when they kiss; her hair is too curly and gets the way of things. The final straw comes when he makes fun of one of her building designs, and she kicks him out of the cabin, yelling obscenity after obscenity about him, his family and anything else she can think of.

Their relationship lasted a whopping two weeks and Annabeth isn't even all that torn up about it when it ends.


They're back to being friends by the end of the summer though. Nico's not that bad of a person, and she misses hanging out with him; they just make it clear that they don't want to date each other ever again.


That spring, Luke breaks up with Thalia and the world as Annabeth knows it comes to a halt. Luke and Thalia being together was just one of those constants in her life, like gravity or inhaling, and she never expected to change, let alone like this.

"He said we'd been dating too long and we wanted to – and I quote – 'get some more experience' before he decided to settle down," Thalia says through gritted teeth as she slices off the head of one of the practice dummies. "And, get this, he said I was tying him down and asking too much of him. What the fuck. It wasn't like I asked the fucker to marry me, Annabeth, I just wanted to know if he wanted to get an apartment together."

"Why wouldn't he want to move in with you?" Annabeth asks, twirling her own sword around lazily as Thalia moves onto the next dummy. "Luke loves you. He's always loved you."

"He sure has a funny way of showing it, always running out on me and being ashamed to introduce me to his stupid frat buddies and all those dumb girls that hang around him. He's so embarrassed to have a freshman as a girlfriend – his longtime girlfriend at that," Thalia grumbles, kneeing the dummy hard in the groin. She clears her throat and mimics Luke's husky voice, "'You're just not as mature as some of the other girls I've met, Thalia. You'll understand some day.' Bullshit. He's just pissed because I won't have sex with him, and he wants to get laid."

Annabeth's eyebrows rise into her hairline. She's never asked Thalia about her sex life with Luke because, ew, there are just some things she just doesn't need to know about the two of them. But she had always thought that Luke and Thalia had already had sex a long time ago – they had been dating for five years, after all. That's almost an eternity in terms of adolescent relationships.

"You mean, you've never…?"

"Oh, we've done stuff," Thalia says, her cheeks flushing with color. "We just… haven't gone all the way yet."

"Why not?"

Thalia sighs, throwing her sword over her shoulder and turning to look at her. Even though her cheeks are bright red, there's no shame in her blue eyes.

"There was just never a good time, you know? First it was the Titans and Kronos, and then Luke went off to NYU and I barely saw him, and then my mom… I just didn't need the extra complication of living up to my boyfriend's sexual expectations on top of all that. I thought we were fine without sex," she says, glancing at the ground, her shoulders slumping sadly. "Apparently not."


"You're an idiot."

To his credit, Luke doesn't even look up when the fourteen-year-old blond girl materializes out of nowhere in front of his study cubicle in the NYU library. He just sighs and kicks out the chair across from him so she can sit down.

"Thalia send you here?" he asks, shutting his textbook and leaning back in his own chair. Annabeth's surprised to see that he's wearing a pair of simple, wireframe glasses now. She hasn't seen Luke since Christmas, and the glasses and a new haircut make him look like a different person entirely. More scholarly, less tough boy warrior, which is just plain weird.

"No. She told me she'd beat me up if I went to talk to you," Annabeth replies, sitting down. "Like I was going to listen to her though."

"Why am I not surprised," Luke says, rolling his eyes. "So why'd you come then?"

"You're my friend too, no matter how stupid you're being," she says. "I just wanted to hear your side of the story."

"What did Thalia tell you?"

Annabeth shrugs; she's certainly not going to tell him about what Thalia said about the sex
thing because it's a completely different to talk to Luke, an older guy, about that sort of thing. Besides, that's something that should be discussed between the two of them, and not with her as their go-between.

"That you think things were getting too serious, and you need space. Is that about the gist of it?"

Luke nods. "Mostly."

He doesn't offer up any more information and they sit in an awkward silence for several minutes, which is just strange because she has never been awkward around Luke in her entire life.

"So, is this a short term thing… ?" Annabeth prompts after she catches Luke looking at his watch in boredom. "Because you and Thalia can't stay broken up forever. You're, like, the couple, you know? It's practically destiny – "

"Oh, not this destiny crap again. Did she tell you to say that?" Luke interrupts harshly, his eyes glinting. It's the first sign of a familiar emotion Annabeth has scene since she arrived. "I control my life, not some shriveled up old hags cutting string or an dusty old mummy in an attic. I've paid my dues to Olympus, and I want a normal life without them messing everything up. And if I don't want Thalia in that life any more, then I don't want her. It's as simple as that, no destiny involved."

Annabeth just doesn't understand. How can someone just wake up one morning and decide that the person they've cared about most in the world for the last half of his life just isn't important any more?

"But you love her, don't you?"

Again, Luke says nothing, opening his textbook to avoid looking at her. Annabeth knows he's lying, but the fact that he won't even acknowledge her question makes her heart clench in agony.

Not for Thalia, but for Luke, who's always been so obsessed with his damn destiny that he does everything in his power to avoid it and ends up hurting everyone who cares about him in the end. She'd thought he'd gotten over this resentment a long time ago, but it must've always been there, lurking under the surface and haunting his dreams. Why else would he push Thalia away, and try to cut ties with everything that makes him who he is? Why else would he run away instead of facing the future head on?

And this isn't just a dismissal of Thalia – it's a dismissal of her and all of Luke's other friends from Camp Half-Blood. He doesn't want them; maybe he never did at all.

"Fine," Annabeth says, rising from her chair. She's not angry with him; just severely disappointed that he's letting this obsession with destiny take over his life. "I hope you get your normal life, Luke. I'll see you around."

She knows she won't, and she's sure he does too.


Thalia decides to transfer schools at the end of the semester not to avoid Luke but because, as she put it, she only chose NYU because Luke was there and she didn't like any of the professors in her program anyway. She applies and gets into Barnard, buys a nice, two-bedroom apartment with the inheritance money her mother left for her, and then tells Annabeth that she's going to be moving in with her.

"You've been living at Camp Half-Blood since you were seven, kid. You need to experience the real world, go to school with some normal kids for a change," she explains as she pulls open Annabeth's dresser drawers and begins dumping clothes into a new suitcase. "I already asked your dad, and he's cool with it, and we've picked out a school for you. You're living with me and you're going to like it."

Annabeth, in fact, does like it. A lot.

Instead of sharing a cabin with her various siblings, she has her own bedroom where no one will mess up her sketches, reorganize her books without telling her, steal her stuff and then break it. It's also the first time she's slept by herself in years, so it takes a little while to get used to the relative silence of her room without someone breathing in the bunk underneath her or murmuring in their sleep across the room.

Living in the middle of New York City is amazing. There's always something different to see and do, and the various city boroughs are a dream come true for an architect, and she spends a lot of her free time wandering up and down the streets just looking at the buildings. The city's also a bit claustrophobic too because she's used to the green, green, green fields of Camp Half-Blood and all she gets here are the grey, grey, grey of the buildings and the cement. And there are just so many people around all the time...

She loves living with Thalia because they get to do things like cook together or argue over the TV channels or practice throwing knives at the dartboard in the living rooms or even girly stuff like painting their nails (Thalia's are always some combination of purple and black with skulls on them, of course). Not everything is fun and games, though, because they've got to get used to each other's living habits – Thalia is a slob and can't do dishes to save her life; Annabeth leaves books and papers scattered all over the place, usually in Thalia's walking path – and it leads to some pretty heated arguments between the two of them during their first few months together. Sometimes Thalia forgets that Annabeth is five years younger than her, and that they don't exactly see eye-to-eye on some issues.

But, no matter what happens, they always manage to work it out and stick together. It's the family Annabeth's always wanted, even though there's a gaping hole that no amount of giggly movie nights and bonding moments can fill. They try to pretend that nothing's wrong, but there's always moments – Thalia will turn to look to left in the middle of a discussion, as if looking for a third person, and then clam up as soon as she realizes what she's doing. Annabeth unconsciously bought his favorite foods for two months before Thalia pointed out that neither of them like pickles or fish sticks.

Luke hasn't talked to either of them since the spring, having cut them out of his life completely now, and they're both adjusting to his absence as best they can.

Thalia, of course, is taking it a lot harder than she is – Luke owned her heart and soul for a long time, and you just don't bounce back when your other half decides to walk way without warning.

In the weeks after their break up, she decided (or more like Silena Beauregard and the Aphrodite cabin decided for her) that she needed a different look. She uses her mother's money to dump her wardrobe of baggy pants, "Death to Barbie" shirts and Converses for skinny jeans, form fitting T-shirts, and black leather boots – lots of black leather boots. She tones down her make-up a bit, grows out her hair, and even takes out a few piercings – and the transformation is astonishing. Without her baggy clothes swallowing her up, Thalia just radiates confidence and power; she looks more mature, sophisticated even, and it finally seems like she's comfortable in her own skin.

Her style isn't the only thing she changes. She quits smoking, decides to become a vegetarian (except for fish, because seafood is Thalia's weakness), and starts running – not just jogging on a treadmill, but working her way up to running around the city for miles every night. Thalia has always hated running, and when Annabeth points this out to her, she snaps and says, "I could be doing a lot more self-destructive with my life right now, okay? Just be glad I'm punishing myself by wearing out my knees than drinking my liver to death and coming home black out drunk every night."

Her major changes from Psychology to a double major in Anthropology and Women's Studies; she starts making friends in her department and brings them over to hang out; she laughs at lot more, as if the burden that has been on her shoulders since they day she was born is being lifted bit by bit with each new achievement she accomplishes.

After a while, Annabeth thinks maybe the break up was a good thing – Thalia's finally figuring out who she is, growing into her own person, separate from who she was when she was with Luke, and she's happy with herself, which is the most important thing of all.


In her first month at Hillcrest Elite Academy, her new high school, Annabeth learns exactly five things.

One: Mortal adults can be mean, but teenagers – teenagers are downright cruel. Especially to people who don't fit in.

Two: The only things that matter in life are who your parents are, how much money they make, what you're wearing, and what kind of material possessions you have. Things like bravery, strength or intelligence don't count for shit when you want a spot at the lunch table.

Three: It is basically impossible for a fifteen-year-old girl to be smart, pretty, and athletically capable. She has to chose one category and stick to it.

Four: Demigods make surprisingly easy bullying targets.

Five: High school is a living hell, and she hates every last second of it.


In early November, Nico finds her crying in the corner of the girl's bathroom after class. She has no idea how he managed to find her when she hasn't seen him months, but she's glad he's there because it proves that she's not alone as she's come to believe she is.

"Thalia told me you were having trouble adjusting to school," he says softly, leaning back so he can sit on the sink. "Did you tell her it was this bad?"

"No," Annabeth says, her voice thick with tears. "It's not – I mean, I don't even know why I'm crying in the first place, it's all so stupid – "

"What's going on?"

Annabeth brushes the tears from her cheeks with the back of her hands, and meets his eyes. A lump rises in her throat, and she has to look away, ashamed with herself. She can't believe she's let something as silly and inconsequential as petty insults get to her, and Nico's just going to laugh at her when he finds out that she's been upset over nothing.

Nico sighs, drumming his fingers on the sink impatiently.

"You remember when we first met, and you told me I looked like I needed a friend?" he asks. "Well, you're the one who needs a friend now, and neither of us are living this bathroom until you tell me what those fucking mortals did to make you cry."

"It's nothing bad, all right?" she says slowly, glancing up at him. "They're just… teasing me. A lot."

"About what?"

She shrugs, and she can't quit help the way her shoulders tremble.

"About being smart, mostly. All the boys in my class started making fun of me because I knew all the answers all the time, but when I started getting them wrong on purpose, they started teasing me about that too. Sometimes the girls make fun of the way I look , but it all got worse after the fall dance when a monster showed up and – well, you can guess what happened after that."

Even though she doesn't want to continue, she finds that the words just won't stop. It's like the floodgates have been opened and everything that she's kept bottled up inside her since she started school is pouring out in one big mess.

"No one wants to be friends with me because I'm the nerdy scholarship girl who doesn't dress right, and I don't drink or smoke so I'm no fun, and I don't put out so I'm a frigid bitch. The teachers – the teachers treat me like I'm stupid and slow too just because I have ADHD and dyslexia, and they told everyone about it so I'm the special needs girl on top of all that. And I swear Mrs. Hornstra designs all the history tests just so I won't be able to answer them and she – she never lets me retake them when I fail because 'scholarship students aren't given special treatment, Annabeth' even though she passes all the stupid basketball players who don't even know the difference between the American Revolution and the Civil War.

"And I hate it here so, so, so much because once I walk in those doors, I do feel stupid and ugly and worthless, and it sucks," Annabeth's voice breaks as a fresh wave of tears begin to fall down her cheeks. "I hate that I care about what they think, that they can make me feel so powerless with just words. Because it makes me think that maybe they're right. Maybe...maybe everyone keeps leaving me because I'm not good enough or strong enough, or because I'm just so stupid - "

"Don't ever say that again," Nico warns, his form blurry as he kneels beside her. "You are not stupid, Annabeth Chase. You're a Daughter of Athena; you may have no common sense whatsoever, but you're absolutely brilliant and you're fantastic because of that. Those asshole mortals don't know anything about you, about what you've done, so don't even for a second think that you're any less important than them because you're different."

She keeps crying after he says this because, even though it's what she's been telling herself all this time, she needed it to be said by someone else. Nico wraps an arm around her shoulders and pulls her into his chest so she can sob all over his leather jacket. He doesn't say anything until she's finished crying, and he keeps his arm around her when she pulls away.

"You know Luke didn't leave because of you, right? That jerkoff has his own issues to deal, so don't blame yourself," Nico says, and Annabeth nods. "And why didn't you tell Thalia or me what those brats were doing? We could've taken care of all of this in a snap. In fact, I know some nightmare demons that are looking for some work; want me to emotionally traumatize your classmates for life?"

"No," she replies, her voice hoarse from the crying. "I just… want to leave this place and never come back."

"All right," he says, getting to his feet and pulling her up along with him. "We will."

v. a boy.

After her experiences at Hillcrest Elite Academy, Annabeth tells herself it's understandable that she's going to be nervous on her first day at Goode High School. Even though Thalia has assured her time and time again that Goode is nothing like Hillcrest and that she doubled checked the school's reputation a thousand times before deciding on it, Annabeth is still not convinced it's going to be a different experience.

A small part of her wishes she would've insisted on being home schooled for the rest of her high school career, but the larger part of her that's full of pride won't let those jerks from Hillcrest continue to run her life.

She can't hide from the world forever, after all, and she needs to start facing it now. She might not like it, but that's growing up for you.


Goode High School's principal is named Victoria Bitters and she looks like an overgrown crow. She isn't particularly nice and all throughout her brief orientation with her, Annabeth thinks she might just lunge over the desk and peck her eyeballs out. Her attitude doesn't make a good first impression, and Annabeth's convinced Thalia made the wrong choice until she gets to her homeroom.

Her homeroom teacher, Paul Blofis, is probably about the nicest and most chill adult she's ever met. She likes him straightaway, and she can tell he's a good person through and through, even though he is an English teacher. All of the students are relatively nice, and they're curious about her background and the nervousness she's feeling begins to fade when she manages to make someone laugh with a quick quip about Principal Bitters.

One of the students in her class, a red head named Rachel Elizabeth Dare, offers to show her around to all of her classes, which she admits she only volunteered for to get excused from her Biology class next period.

"They're dissecting frogs in class today, and even though I told Mr. Feinstein I am morally against massacring a group of harmless amphibians for no purpose other than to fill in answers I could otherwise memorize on a test two weeks from now, he told me I better suck it up and deal with it," Rachel explains, gesturing wildly with her hands as they walk out of Mr. Blofis's classroom. "And I was like, it's 2009, buddy, you gotta respect a student's right to not kill things in the name of the gods of science. And when he still wouldn't listen to me, I formed a protest out on the lawn, complete with graphic pictures of dissected frogs, but Bitters came down on me hard for that. She said there was no way I was going to get out of dissecting the frog at ten o'clock today because it's a good life lesson." Rachel glances at her watch and continues, "Well, it's ten oh five, and I'm not dissecting a frog, so that old hag can suck it."

"You're not going to get in trouble, are you?" Annabeth asks "Because I can find someone else – "

"Nah, they're not going to do anything to me. I mean, they can always try, but they don't want to risk pissing my dad off because there goes their precious funding for a new gym. Like he'd give a shit even if they did call him; the only time he ever pays attention to me is when there's something in it for him," the other girl replies, and she winces, as if she shouldn't have let that slip. "Sorry for overloading you with my drama on your first day. So you're a transfer student? Did you move in the middle of the year or something?"

"No. I just had some… people issues at my old school," Annabeth says warily. She's not nearly as candid as this Rachel is, and there's no way she's going to let people know she was bullied at Hillcrest. She doesn't want their pity or to be treated any differently; she just wants to be treated like a normal kid.

Rachel makes an understanding noise under her breath, and thankfully doesn't press. She changes the subject to what classes she's taking, and what she likes to do in her spare time, and Annabeth begins to warm up to her when she finds out Rachel is an artist and actually knows what she's talking about when it comes to architecture. The first day jitters fade completely as Rachel points out all of her classrooms and talks about the teachers she'll be having, and when she asks if Annabeth wants to sit with her and her friends at lunch, Annabeth's knees nearly buckle in relief.

As they're walking down the math hallway, Rachel pauses by a row of lockers and begins fiddling with one of the locks. Annabeth is in the middle of explaining why the Beijing National Stadium is the one and only post-modern structure she actually likes, and she stops mid-sentence, a little confused.

"Sorry," Rachel says, glancing over her shoulder. "I just have to make a quick stop, and we can keep going. I'd step away from the locker if I were you."

Annabeth arches an eyebrow, but complies as the lock clicks into place and Rachel lifts the handle up to open the door. The locker pops open and a dark haired boy with a mess of gangly limbs tumbles out and lands at Rachel's feet with a loud yelp.

"Hi Rachel," the boy says with a groan, looking up at her from the floor. "How are you?"

"Feeling a lot better than you are right now, I'm sure," Rachel says dryly, reaching out a hand to help him to his feet. The kid is tall, taller than Annabeth even and that's something noticeable in and of itself. "What did you do this time, Jackson?"

"Why do you always assume that I did something, Dare?"

Rachel shoots him a glare that Annabeth recognizes from her own experiences in dealing with difficult males, and she decides that these two are probably friends, good ones at that.

"Okay, okay, so maybe I insinuated in second period study hall that Chris Tennent's mother was actually his sister. He is from West Virginia, you know; it's a possibility," the boy replies, brushing dust off his Goode High sweater. Annabeth vaguely notices that he fills out the sweater out rather well, but not in an overly muscular sort of way. "How'd you know I'd be in the locker anyway?"

"Call it intuition," Rachel says, and he gives her his own disbelieving stare. "Your friends on the football team have developed a pattern. Since I found you in the dumpster out back last week and wrapped up in the tennis net the week before, I figured your locker would be next. They always go for the locker after the dumpster, duh."

"Ah, bullies. Always so reliably uncreative," the boy says, pulling his backpack on. His eyes dart over Rachel's shoulder and his gaze falls on Annabeth for the first time. For a moment, he looks a little stunned, but then his expression changes into one of embarrassment. He clears his throat and looks back at Rachel. "Uh, who's your friend, Rachel?"

"Oh! This is Annabeth Chase," Rachel says, reaching out and grabbing Annabeth's arm to pull her in to their little group. "She's a transfer student, and I'm showing her around to her classes."

"Cool," the boy says, sticking out his hand. "I'm Percy Jackson."

Percy Jackson has really green eyes, a mischievous smile, and there's something familiar about him, something Annabeth can't quite put her finger on. When she looks at this boy, an unusual feeling stirs within her, almost as if a missing piece of her puzzle of her life is finally being put into its place.

Annabeth takes his hand in hers; it's soft and unworn, and while she doesn't exactly feel electricity run through her when they touch, it's pretty damn close

"It's nice to meet you," she says politely, shaking his hand. And, because she can't quite help herself and it's been bugging her since he fell out of that locker, she adds, "I think you've got drool on your chin, by the way. You might want to wipe that off."


And that's how it starts.