"Stay away from me, Seaweed Brain."
I winced. Usually, when Annabeth called me that, it ended up as a term of endearment. But not today, apparently.
Annabeth and I had been dating since we were sixteen – since the fateful war with the Olympians. Four years had passed since then, and our lives had been, well, simultaneously more simple and more complex since then.
On the more simple side of things, our days at Camp Half Blood had been reduced to the occasional squabble with the odd monster or two. Nothing as frightening as the old days.
On the more complex side, now I had to deal with a moody girlfriend, whose unpredictable mood swings left me with whiplash most of the time.
"Percy, I mean it. You take a step closer, and I'll… I'll…"
"You'll what? Annabeth, please just let me talk to – "
She shook her head stubbornly. We were standing in the common area between the cabins at Camp Half Blood. We now served as counselors, twenty years old and past our prime as Demigod heroes. Of course, Annabeth, Grover and I were still considered the best there was as far as quests went.
And we still went out on the odd monster-killing spree, sometimes accompanied by Tyson or even the Hunters of Artemis, led by our good friend Thalia.
"Stay away, Percy."
I shook my head, grimacing. "By now, I think we both know I can't do that."
She froze, her eyes widening. "Well, and what's that supposed to mean?"
I rushed forward at the look of indecision on her face, and grabbed her hands in mine. For a moment she looked like she wanted to protest, but then she sighed, fixing me with a glare with those stormy grey eyes of hers.
"Do you remember last year? That – that fight with those Lastrygonians that almost landed us a one-way ticket to Hades' front door?"
Annabeth wrinkled her nose, like she always did when she was remembering some unpleasant memory.
"Annabeth, on your left!" I heard Grover bleat frantically. Annabeth swung around and stabbed at the giant in desperation.
I left Tyson to deal with the giant I had been fighting and ran to her side, swiping Riptide through the monster's arm. The lastrygonian let out a wail of pain but continued its advance.
I heard a roar from behind me and saw Tyson and Grover take down the other giant with a few swift jabs to his midsection. But the second one – the one Annabeth and I were fighting, seemed a bit stronger and more determined than its friend.
Unfortunately, it was now in a fit of rage even greater than before. Apparently it didn't like that my friends had reduced its companion to a pile of Monster goo.
"Aaaah!" I yelled, jabbing wildly with my sword and managing another quick shot at the Monster. In return, I received a wide swipe with the giant's good arm, which left me flying across the clearing to land in a crumpled pile.
"Percy!" I heard Annabeth call, worry and panic lacing her voice.
"I'm – fine…" I gasped, attempting to stand. I felt my ankle crumple beneath me. "Ankle's broken," I grimaced.
Tyson rushed over, while Grover ran to Annabeth to help her fend off the advancing monster.
"Hey, Big Guy," I said, still trying to stand.
"Stay still! You got hurt by the big monster!"
"Yeah, but Annabeth – " I choked off in horror. Grover had just been slammed into a tree. He appeared to be fine, but he was now too far away to help Annabeth, who was standing alone against the giant.
With a mighty roar, the Lastrygonian picked up Annabeth with its beefy hands and raised her to face him.
"NO!" I yelled, and with a grunt of pain, I stood, limping over to the giant as fast as my bad leg would carry me.
But I was too late. With a fresh scream from Annabeth, the monster squeezed her tight and threw her across the clearing like a ragdoll.
I yelled out, racing toward the giant with pure fury turning everything in my path red.
I jabbed furiously with Riptide, once, twice, and then, with a good, hard stab to the monster's chest, it folded in on itself until it was no more.
By the time I reached Annabeth, she was cradled gently in Tyson's arm, with a concerned Grover leaning over her.
I felt panic close my throat. "Um – is she… oh, Gods…"
"She is alive, Brother," Tyson assured me, and I dropped to my knees next to her, feeling the pulse on my wrist for myself.
I forgot about the pain in my ankle. I forgot about everything else. "Let's – we need to get her to camp, now."
Annabeth had pulled through, obviously, but it had been a close call. Too close. Ever since then, I had known for certain what she meant to me.
But now I had to shake my head back to the present. Annabeth was staring at me, her eyes now a mixture of the old anger with a new confusion.
"What do you mean us?"
"Huh?" was my all-too-intelligent response.
"You said the lastrygonians that almost landed us at Hades' doorstep. You were fine."
I shook my head, squeezing her hands harder. "That's what I've been trying to tell you. If you hadn't – um, if you had…"
Gods, I was pathetic. The thought of Annabeth dying made me choke up so bad I couldn't even speak the words.
"If I had died…" she prompted me slowly. I cringed.
"Yeah. Well. That… that would have been it for me. I would have… I don't know, died too, I guess." I hated how dramatic it sounded, but I couldn't think of any other way to tell her.
To my surprise, Annabeth looked abruptly furious. "What, so you're saying you would have killed yourself or something stupid like that? Come on, Percy. That's ridiculous!"
I shook my head again, frantically, willing her to shut up for once and just listen to me. "No. I couldn't… I couldn't do that to my Mom. Or Grover or Tyson, or… well, no. I wouldn't have killed myself."
"So, what, then?"
"I wouldn't have really been able to live. Not after losing you."
Annabeth's eyes cleared. The anger was replaced by poorly concealed love. She scoffed. "That's got to be the most cheesy thing you've ever said, Seaweed Brain."
Oh, good. The endearment was back.
I shrugged. "But it's the truth."
For a moment, a smile broke out on Annabeth's face, and I was sure I was forgiven. But then, suddenly, she seemed to remember the reason she was angry with me in the first place. She tore her hands away from mine.
"So, then, if you're so desperate for me that you'd die without me, where in Hades have you been?"
Ah, yes, the real reason Annabeth was furious. I had been… sort of… AWOL the past couple of days. It was all for good reason, which she would have known if she had been reasonable enough to just allow me to explain myself.
"Annabeth, I told you I had to go somewhere for a few – "
She cut me off, yet again. "Yeah, but you left it in a note, Percy! How do you think it made me feel, to hear, just three days before our four year anniversary, that you just had to… um… how'd you put it, disappear, for a few days, but you'd be back, and not to worry?"
I sighed. "Look, I know all this seems bad, but I swear, I had a reason."
She scoffed. "Whatever, Percy. I can't think of anything that's so important that you'd have to run out on me like that. So, what is it? This reason?"
I could feel anger turning everything around me into a hazy picture. Insignificant. Everything but Annabeth, who was clear as could be.
This isn't how I'd wanted this to go, but it seemed that my Stubborn-as-Hades girlfriend wasn't giving me much choice.
I yanked a small wooden box out of my jacket pocket and practically threw it at her.
"There. Happy?" I yelled.
Annabeth huffed impatiently and snapped open the box, which Tyson had helped me make especially from an Olive Tree, which was a very important symbol of Athena, Annabeth's mother.
Her eyes widened. "What – um… Oh, Gods, Percy…"
She was looking at a ring. A ring very carefully forged in my father's reconstructed Palace under the sea. That was where I had been for the past few days. I needed to make sure it was perfect. It was formed from very special coral and crystals, painstakingly created from the patient hands of Tyson and I. I had even had my father, Poseidon, bless the ring, and all that it stood for.
I had hoped to take Annabeth out, actually up, more accurately, to Olympus, where Mr. D had reluctantly given me permission to take the whole night off with my girl. I had planned this whole ridiculous evening and everything, and then she had to go and ruin it.
"So. There. That's… where I was."
Annabeth looked from me, still standing there grumbling, back to the ring, glittering from the lights shining out of the cabins surrounding us. Then, back to me. I was starting to feel the anger wear off, to be replaced by a nervous tightening in my stomach. My legs felt like jello.
She was standing there, looking all perfect, with her blond hair hanging in long ringlets over her shoulders, her Owl earrings twinkling in the starlight.
"Um…" I said, shaking. "Are you gonna keep staring at me, or are you… I mean, would you mind putting me out of my misery, here?" I probably sounded like a moron, but she was just standing, looking at me with a sort of blank expression in her eyes. I couldn't take it.
Then, suddenly, a spark rekindled in her eyes. Before I had a chance to say anything more, Annabeth ran at me, still holding the box and the ring, and threw her arms around my neck.
I caught her at the waist and pulled her tightly into me. I could almost feel every cell in my body relax with the contact. Fighting with Annabeth, which is something that happened often, admittedly, always left me tense and anxious.
I felt her hands in my hair and then she was kissing me everywhere she could reach. My neck, my jaw, and finally my lips, which captured hers in a kiss that rivaled every other kiss when had ever shared.
She pulled away after a few breathless moments, and just stared at me deeply, biting her lower lip to keep from smiling.
I wanted to speak, but I couldn't find the words. Finally, she untangled herself from me. I missed the contact instantly.
"So," she said coyly, turning the box with the ring in it around and around in her hands. "Do I have to put this thing on myself, or…"
I probably looked like a complete idiot, my smile was so big. "Is that a yes?"
She looked at me speculatively for a second, and I tensed. Then she smiled back, held the box out for me, and laughed. "Well, duh!"
I laughed back, slipping the ring onto her finger and grabbing for her again, picking her up and spinning her in circles like we were in the middle of some stupid romantic comedy or something.
I kissed her again, but we were interrupted almost immediately by the sounds of half-bloods, satyrs, nymphs, and even Mr. D, clapping and whistling.
I felt a huge pair of arms around me, and suddenly Tyson was there, lifting both me and Annabeth up in his strong, cyclopes arms.
"Yay! Now Annabeth Tyson's sister!"
Annabeth laughed with me, a bit breathless, though I would guess that had to do more with Tyson's squishing the life out of us, rather than my kissing expertise.
"Perrrcy!" Grover called, and Tyson set us down, only for us to be instantly crushed again by Grover, and then Juniper, who grabbed both of Annabeth's hands and twirled her away into a group of nymphs who all squealed excitedly at the ring, which Annabeth was showing around like it was worth a million golden drachmas.
Suddenly, a cold wind swept through the clearing. I tensed for one second, but then a voice at my side alerted me to a new presence.
"Nico!" I said.
"Hey, Percy. Just thought I'd stop by and say congrats."
It was a rare honor – Nico very rarely visited the land of the living anymore, preferring the converse with those who had already passed into his father's realm.
"Thanks, buddy," I said. My eyes were still glued to Annabeth, who turned and flashed me a smile that made my stomach turn to goo. Nico winked at me and disappeared in a swirl of shadow. I shuddered. I knew I'd never get used to Nico's quick appearances and disappearances.
Before I had time to recover, I felt a hand clap my shoulder and turned to find Chiron standing beside me, tall and in full Centaur form.
"Well, Percy? Are you happy with the way things turned out?" he asked.
I had a feeling the question was rhetorical, but as I watched Annabeth, her face lit up with a smile to rival the beauty of Aphrodite, I knew what my answer was.
It was the same answer that it would be, for the rest of my life. Our lives.
"Yeah. I'm happy."