She had disliked that tattoo from the start.
It was a curious thing to wake up with such a thought. Well, maybe the fact that it was right in front of her face when she opened her eyes had something to do with it.
In the stables it was quiet except for the low hum of the engines. The sun wasn't up yet, but cool, blue-gray light was coming in through the glass floor. An early bird would pass below them from time to time. She stood up to extinguish the small lamp that had been on all night and then hurried back to their warm nest of blankets.
Percy was still asleep next to her. She observed his steady breathing, going through his hair with her fingertips.
The light was plenty to make out the markings on his arm.
If you don't like it, don't look at it.
Last night, when they were talking, there had been no place for such pitiful thoughts. Everything had been comfort and support. Just to be able to see his face up close, hear the familiarity of his voice... To be reassured over and over again: it's alright. He's really here.
She sometimes felt like her relief was too big inside her, like she would need a body ten times bigger to contain it all. In combination with her fears and worries concerning the quest, and the terrible thoughts regarding her mother, there just shouldn't be any space left for small things like a stupid tattoo.
The majority of her brain told her to see things in perspective and shut up about it.
He's back. With you.
He still has all his limbs.
He Remembers. Everything. About. You.
She had everything and more to be grateful for. But in moments like this, when she was with him, but alone enough to get those little voices in her head, it popped up anyway.
She disliked the tattoo.
She disliked how Rome had decided to do something to Percy's body without her consent. She disliked that she hadn't been there when he'd had it done, and now it was going to be there forever, for the rest of their lives. A thought came up that ten, twenty years from now, it would still be a highly noticeable feature on a T-shirt day. A stranger would sooner notice the tattoo than the beaded necklace he'd worn since he was twelve.
Ugh. She mentally slapped herself for thinking something so childish.
Annabeth tried to focus on the moment, the happiness of being together, and what a night it had been (she congratulated herself on having the guts and initiative that had made it happen). Next, she tried concentrating on strategies for the journey, and mental exercises, but it was no use. Her mind was shifty and prickly.
Maybe the thing would magically disappear when he'd set foot in Camp Half-Blood again? Like a cleansing of non-Greek elements? It hadn't worked that way with Jason's, but then again Jason's whole body was non-Greek so perhaps that was different.
She traced the blue-black marks with her finger, feeling if there was a difference perceivable between the tattooed and normal skin (there wasn't).
Would mortal laser techniques work on demi-god ink as well? Would that hurt? Would it hurt more than getting a tattoo?
She remembered the story how he'd lost his invulnerability in the Little Tiber. Theoretically speaking, would the Achilles Curse have hindered tattooing? She wondered if you could insert a needle in an invulnerable person if that person allowed it.
If he wanted it.
A few minutes later Percy started stirring and waking up. "Morning," she whispered, putting her hand from his arm back into his hair.
"Ghh. Wha' time is it?"
"Dunno. Early?" He forced one eye open to a slit. After a look around to figure out where the hell they were, he closed it again with an exhausted grunt and snuggled deeper into the blankets.
"Then how come you're already awake?" he murmured.
"No reason. Just woke up early." His arm found her waist and curled around it. With a content sigh, he tried opening his eyes again, this time managing proper eye contact.
"Good morning," he grinned.
"Sleep well? No nightmares about falling through glass bay doors?" she teased him.
He remembered what they were lying on and propped himself up on his elbows to take a look down in daylight. They were passing misty farm fields below, the roads still deserted except for the white and red lights of an occasional truck. "Cool," he remarked.
He stretched his arms and spine in that exaggerated fashion of his, cracked some joints and then lay back to face her. "Can't believe you're up this early when you had so little sleep lately," he mused.
"Who says I've had trouble sleeping?"
"Just a guess," he answered. She suddenly became very conscious of the dark circles under her eyes. "Yeah, well, can't force sleep. I'll take a nap during the day, if the monsters give us a break." He nodded, even though he probably knew this was not going to happen.
They lay together in silence for a while.
"So what were you thinking about?" he asked. Curse him for being so perceptive and diving into it, instead of just talking weather or something. Where was his happy chit-chat when you needed it? "Nothing," was her automatic reply.
No way in a million years was he going to buy 'nothing' from her. It was both reassuring and infuriating how after eight months he still knew her better than that. "Annabeth you were thinking so loudly, they could hear it in New York."
"Really, it's nothing." Oh great, judging from his expression he now thought it was a big thing, like everything they'd been discussing the night before. If only she had kept her face straight or changed the topic in time-
With a sigh she gave in. "I was just looking at this," she poked the tattoo with her little finger, "and thinking about, well, what they've done to you."
"This?" he looked down in surprise, like he'd almost forgotten it. "It's just a tattoo," he shrugged, in that casual way they usually regarded scars and injuries. "Don't worry about it."
"I'm not worried, I just don't like it," she replied, just a tiny bit too sharp.
"It's no big deal, Annabeth, really. Could've been much worse. Imagine if they'd done a life-size eagle on my back. Or their slogan on my forehea-"
"Please don't joke about it," she snapped.
There was a stunned silence from his side. She was rapidly and effectively making this a big problem, but somehow she couldn't help herself. The words came out of her mouth before she could think. "S.P.Q.R. That's more or less the Roman war-cry on your arm, I don't care how big it is. They just love putting their initials on stuff they think they own."
He stared at her, brow showing the first traces of irritation. "Why is this such a problem to you?"
"Because it's a very problematic concept, that's why." Annabeth jerked her head to get some hair out of her eyes, then rattled on. "I think it's disgusting how they treat their campers, like they're cattle or something. For Olympus' sake, they're children. Hazel is what, fourteen? I even saw one who couldn't have been older than twelve. You can't just take kids' skin and go brand them. It's barbaric."
"That's not how it is."
"That's exactly how it is!"
"No, Annabeth, it isn't! Don't judge people you've only met one day ago." She sensed that he wanted to say more but was holding back, which only fueled her annoyance. "Sometimes it takes less than one day to draw correct conclusions," she huffed.
"And sometimes first impressions are wrong," he retorted. "It isn't as simple as you put it. They have an entire culture, this whole... system you're not familiar with. I know you don't like them but maybe you should give them a break." His mouth made that hard line she hadn't seen in a very long time.
"I heard plenty from Jason, so I think have enough background information to understand what kind of Camp they're running. Besides, I like relying on first impressions. It's usually what keeps me alive," she bit off.
"You're blowing this completely up!" He lifted his hands in a gesture of exasperation. "So what if they're more into bling and uniforms and body markings than Camp Half-Blood? That doesn't make them bad people."
"No. What makes them bad is how they treat their Satyrs, and their first-years, and how they fricking threaten to throw you out into the streets if you're not good enough. What kind of safe haven is that supposed to be?"
"Annabeth you don't know the whole story. Their philosophy- "
"Their philosophy?" she interrupted him. "Don't make me laugh. We were the ones who invented philosophy and tried to act by it. All they ever did was conquer smaller nations and pat themselves on the back for it."
"That's not what it's like anymore- " Percy protested, but she ploughed on: "You and those kids were pretty much cast out, sent on a quest with zero supplies or backup, but after you triumphantly return they suddenly give you a medal and promote you to leader. Because they can use you."
"You don't know what you're talking about," he tried again, pinching the bridge of his nose.
"Why do you keep defending them? I know what I see, and I- "
"You weren't there!" he snapped.
In shock she closed her mouth mid-sentence.
She hadn't been there. To hear it so bluntly made her want to slap either Percy or herself in the face. A hundred different responses formed inside her head but none of them seemed to cover anything she wanted to say.
At that moment there was a hesitant knock on the door that made her shoulders hitch. A girl's voice on the other side squeaked: "Guys? Um, sorry to disturb you."
"Hazel?" The door opened an inch and her beet-red blushing face peeked out around it. She was half shielding her eyes with her hand, and seemed to relax slightly when she saw them fully dressed and not in the middle of anything other than an argument. "I, ah, heard you talking from the hallway. Leo noticed you guys were missing and we've been looking around the ship." Hazel seemed to address only Percy, which didn't help the awkward tension in the room.
"Coach Hedge is still asleep," she stammered, "no big alarms or anything yet, um, but if I were you I'd go back to your cabins while you can... "
"Oh, okay. Thanks," Percy responded with a brief smile. Hazel nodded and ran off, closing the door behind her.
They were in the middle of this big shitty fight and he was still trying to make things less awkward for his new friend. Who, judging from her reaction, had been living under a rock her whole life or was a lot younger than she looked. Annabeth wondered what crazy restrictions Camp Jupiter had on relationships and friendships. At this point, nothing would surprise her anymore.
She scrambled up without looking at Percy and started furiously folding the blankets. He just sat there watching her stomp around the room, not helping except for the occasional lift of a limb so she could tug the last blanket free.
"We better get back to our cabins," she muttered.
"Annabeth- " he began.
"I'm sorry I freaked out. It's nothing. I'm just cranky because I didn't get much sleep."
At last he stood up and hesitantly came over to where she was shoving blankets in a cabinet. She kept her eyes on what she was doing. "Listen, I'm sorry too. But Hazel and Frank... they're my friends. You have to see it from their perspective as well."
"Yeah I know. Like I said, it's okay." It stumped her how he was still defending them, but she just didn't want to continue the argument. Which wasn't going anywhere anyway.
"We better move," she repeated. "See you at breakfast."
And she was out the door before he could say anything else.
At the breakfast table there was the usual crowded atmosphere when all seven of them were together. Annabeth had chosen a seat far away from Percy, and was now picking at her toast. The few pointless hours alone in her cabin while the sun came up had done nothing to improve her mood. Across the table Percy was talking with that Frank kid but his heart didn't seem into it. She caught something about an elephant and some jokes she didn't understand. Hell, they even used words she didn't understand. What was a 'principia'? And how was a 'retiarius' supposed to be funny?
The seven of them discussed the prophecy and the need to go to Kansas. She tried paying attention, but her eyes kept coming back to the Romans in the room. Seeing them all together, she wanted to observe how they acted, what they had in common. She hadn't discovered much so far, aside from purple T-shirts and tattoos. Three Romans, four tattoos, she registered bitterly.
Jason's with its twelve stripes looked enormous compared to the others. It gave her heart a nasty tug to realize Percy and Jason now had this in common, even though they barely knew each other. Except Hazel they all looked like members of a street gang or something.
She was astonished how within twenty-four hours of getting Percy back, she had managed to get into a fight with him.
It was hard to focus for the rest of the meeting, or the rest of the morning for that matter.
Who was to blame?, she asked herself grumblingly while trying to help Leo navigate. First she placed it on stupid Camp Jupiter and all the idiots in it. Later she considered Hera for creating this entire mess, then Percy for pushing all her buttons. Or was she herself the problem? Apparently some people thought she was too narrow-minded to give these fantastic Romans a break.
Thinking back to her meeting with Reyna, she had to admit not all Romans were idiots. The Praetor had impressed her quite a lot during their short meeting. And those new kids, Hazel and Frank, they stood out somehow. They'd fought an angry mob of their own people and abandoned their Camp to come with Percy. That took guts.
Was she being too closed-minded after all?
When the whole Eidolon mess was cleared and everybody had a chance to settle their nerves (and in Leo's case put some ice on his head) she decided it was time for some guts of her own. Seeing Percy possessed had scared the wits out of her, and after almost losing him again she was not going to waste another minute arguing, if she could help it.
In Atlanta, while the boys were investigating the aquarium, she combed the ship looking for Hazel. She found her in the mess hall, cutting an orange and looking at the magic panels showing live footage of Camp Half-Blood.
Hazel was so surprised by her greeting she almost cut her finger. "I'm so sorry about this morning! I had no intention to bother you, honestly, but- "
"Don't worry. You did us a great service by warning us, really," Annabeth tried reassuring her with her friendliest smile.
"Oh. Okay. I'm just- I'm not used to boys and girls being allowed together like that. People keep telling me I'm old fashioned."
Annabeth took her favourite mug, which filled itself with coffee. "I don't think being old-fashioned has anything to do with it. Coach would have skinned us alive if he'd found us."
She took a hot sip. "You wouldn't believe the things he gets upset about." And with that they had a topic to laugh about for a solid hour.
If Hazel was still flustered about catching them in the stables, she hid it well. They had a comfortable talk about the recent events, and safe, neutral topics like the ship. The younger girl was very curious about Camp Half-Blood and boarding school in Manhattan, and in return told additional stories of their Alaska adventure. Though Annabeth didn't learn any personal details, she could tell that her earlier presumptions about Hazel had been wrong. She was a bright, brave demi-god dealing with a troubled past just like the rest of them.
So much for first impressions.
Annabeth decided to delve into the topic that was occupying her mind lately. "So what do you think of us scary Greeks so far? How do we compare to the old stories?" She glanced sideways to see what response this would prompt.
Hazel laughed. "Well, when I first learned that Percy was most likely Greek, I didn't know what to think. He didn't match at all with the things I'd heard at Camp. But in some ways it made sense, I mean he can be a bit unpredictable and... impulsive?" she suggested apologetically. After seeing Annabeth laugh she dared to continue. "Many things about him were immediately remarkable because they were so... non-Roman. In a good way, that is," she clarified.
She leaned back in her chair and gave Annabeth a warm smile. "Anyway, all of you guys are amazing, not scary at all. The bad stories make no sense if you ask me." After a second she added: "Actually there were nothing but bad stories."
"That's usually the case with sworn enemies," Annabeth smiled.
"It's a shame though. I learned so much from Percy and you guys too, even though we just met. I wouldn't be the same without it."
Annabeth looked at the happy expression of this impressive girl. The simple truth of Hazel's words gave her the feeling she'd been an idiot about something very obvious.
Which is not a pleasant sensation for a child of Athena.
She didn't find a chance to talk privately with Percy for the rest of the day.
After Atlanta, he'd been too shaken by the aquarium to think of anything else. Then there was their encounter with the Romans in Charleston. It'd been a narrow escape but they had made it thanks to Jason and Percy's monumental weather-controlling efforts.
Now, in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, a safe distance between them and any Romans, there was time to rest and re-evaluate their plans.
Annabeth had dragged an unconscious Percy to his bunk with Hazel's help, and had gone down to the engine chamber to help with repairs. She was surprised to find him at the stern of the ship a few hours later. He was hunched over the railing, overlooking the water where the sun had just set. "Hey," she said, coming up to him. "Feeling better?"
"Much better," he shrugged. "Though if we get into a battle anytime soon I'll probably be as useful as a wet rag." Any other day this would have been an open invitation for teasing. But she saw the tension in his shoulders, how stiff he held his hands in his pockets. "Are you really alright?" she asked.
"Yeah, just... tired." He raised his shoulders so high they almost touched his ears. Then he suddenly dropped them and sighed. "It's all such a mess. The whole situation in Atlanta, and now Romans attacking us- "
Annabeth did not have much experience comforting Percy. He usually kept things to himself. She searched for something to say, but realized any reassurance would be a lie. It really was a mess. The problem was real, the future uncertain. There was absolutely zero guarantee things would end well. She kept silent and racked her brain for something truthful to say.
He beat her to it.
"Never mind," he said, flipping a tight smile. "I'm not gonna worry about it. Things are going to turn out alright, they always do in the end." She turned to face him. "Percy- "
"We're together again. I've got the best strategist in the world on my team. We have a fire-breathing ship."
"Percy, I'm... I'm sorry about this morning."
He looked up in surprise. "It was stupid," she continued. "You have enough on your plate as it is without me giving you a hard time."
His small smile turned more genuine. "Didn't you promise to never, ever go easy on me?"
"I did. But not like this." It came out more grave than she had intended, and launched a confusing silence in which Percy seemed to grow increasingly unsure. "I do not... think I really understand what you're talking about," he confessed.
"I'm trying to explain- this morning. The stables. I guess I just panicked."
"You... panicked." The idea of Annabeth panicking appeared to confuse him even more. "Can I ask, um, about what?"
"I don't know. You. Rome. I had this impression you- " she gestured wildly "you liked it there. That being a Praetor in a big Senate was way cooler than anything Camp Half-Blood could offer. And when you talked about having a future in New Rome, I just thought- "
"Annabeth, being Praetor sucks. Big time."
"Yes, I know that now, but- "
"And the thing with college in New Rome, I meant it for us!" He held his hands up in surrender, palms open. "Everything there, it's all been, I mean, I've been thinking of nothing else but you."
"I know- "
"I'm so sorry if I didn't make that clear, you were the only thing I remembered and-"
"Percy, I know."
He exhaled audibly. "Then for Olympus's sake what's to panic about?"
She kicked the railing with her sneaker. "It's just, ugh. You were gone. For eight months." How to explain? Where to start?
"I had these terrible nightmares... And then Jason got his memory back, and things got slightly better because we knew where you'd probably be and why you hadn't called, and maybe you weren't dead- " She kicked a little harder. "But then I started having these visions of you in some twisted Roman version of Camp Half-Blood. I don't know, like a Roman Percy, all hostile and different and not remembering me or anything that happened between us," she muttered.
"But that's not how I was," he said, shifting his weight hesitantly. "That's not what happened."
"No, it wasn't. Everything turned out way better than I expected. And you were great, and the Romans really weren't so scary up close, and your memory was absolutely flawless." She bit her lip. "But then I kept thinking, what if they did change you. Maybe very subtly, with some invisible Roman brainwashing or whatever, and I'm only going to find out later."
She now felt somewhat silly, like a child's fears of the dark that couldn't be taken seriously after being spoken out loud. Percy leaned down with his elbows on the railing, silent for a moment.
"I don't know about brainwashing. I don't feel brainwashed." He was in deep thought for a moment. "Even if they tried, I don't think it would've worked on me. My head just isn't hard-wired for their stuff. The stupid hierarchy, the debating all the time... Man, how I missed our ping pong table meetings."
"Well, that's a relief."
Percy ignored her remark, focused as he seemed to get his point across. "In the end, when they respected me, they still thought I did everything backwards. My fighting style was weird, I messed up all the gods' names..." He rubbed his neck. "I was Praetor but didn't understand anything a Praetor was supposed to do."
Annabeth remembered how he'd looked with his purple toga. Handsome, but uncomfortable.
"Plus, they don't find a son of Poseidon worth their trouble. You should've seen their so-called 'fleet'." He described the start of their quest to Alaska and the sad state of Neptune's shrine. Though it was probably well intended, she was a little miffed by his misplaced modesty.
"Don't do yourself short, Percy. If I were a Roman I'd do anything to get you on my team, Poseidon scatterbrain or not. Defeating the giant, bringing back the eagle... besides, your water controlling abilities have just increased ridiculously over time."
He took the compliment in silence, only summoning a gallon from the ocean below to spin around in slow thoughtful circles. "Just experience."
He cocked his head. "This one time in Alaska-" he began, but his voice trailed off without finishing. Instead he deepened his frown. Suddenly he blurted out: "Crap, on the other hand maybe you're right, for all I know, I could be a little different now. New experiences and all that."
She had to suppress the urge to pat him on the shoulder for finally seeing her problem. The whole point of brainwashing was that the victims didn't know they were brainwashed. It was a small comfort to know that her fears were not completely insane.
After a while he seemed to make a decision. "No, forget it."
"The new experiences. I don't think they really matter. For us, you know."
She didn't understand how he could be so confident. "How can you possibly know? Percy, it's been eight months. They messed with your mind, your memories- " She felt tears pricking in her throat.
"I know, because... because- " He groaned softly, trying to order his thoughts. "It's like this. When I came to Camp Jupiter I only had Riptide and my necklace. And I was clinging on to that shredded, barely-orange T-shirt, which's probably turned into garden compost somewhere by now. I didn't know what any of it meant but I knew they were important, that they belonged to home." He plucked at his current T-shirt, which was new and bright orange.
"I also knew as soon as I set foot there that it was wrong. You felt it yourself, it's like the air and the ground are telling you to scram. You get used to the feeling after a while, but it never really disappears. And the Romans feel it too, because I was ten minutes in and already all these people and ghosts were staring at me and repeating 'Graecus! Graecus!' like I had two heads."
From the corner of her eye, she saw him taking a deep breath. "I'm... I'm just Seaweed Brain. I don't have a lot of answers, especially these days. But if there's one thing I'm sure about, now more than ever, it's that I'm Graecus to the core." He took her hand and squeezed it. "The new stuff- it's just minor tweaking. It doesn't change, it's not... who I am."
She felt his thumb rub the back of her hand, still not daring to look up.
"So, that's it. Can't change that. They placed me in the wilderness for months, called me son of Neptune. Hell, they could've given me a different name and I'd bought it. But none of that matters because in the end- " his voice softened, "in the end, I know the important parts are still the same."
She looked up at him and saw what he meant and didn't know anything to say.
His words had begun dispersing some of the queasy butterflies in her chest, but seeing his expression now made the rest rush out in a flurry, leaving nothing but deep relief behind.
"The important parts?" she whispered.
"Yeah. The you and me parts."
She released a chuckle that was half a sob, then buried her face in his T-shirt and just hugged him. His arms were cool from the wind, and his shirt smelled of Percy even though he'd only worn it for a day, and it felt so, so good to be hugged back and have the world solid beneath her feet again. Her brain pointed out that this analogy made no sense since they were on a ship of all things, but in their case it kind of did, and it was the safest she had felt in eight months.
They kissed in the setting darkness on deck.
She still hadn't taken that nap. And she had barely survived a pretty eventful day, to say the least.
But after pouring your heart out to your boyfriend, and receiving his in return, you don't waste time sleeping, she figured. Besides, you never knew when the next sea monster might attack. Alone-time with Percy was too precious to spend sleeping. Squeezed together in Annabeth's narrow one person bunk, they lay cuddling and talking in low voices, in case somebody went down the hallway for a bathroom visit.
She stifled a yawn and snuggled closer to him. "I had a talk with Frank today. He came to ask my advice, if you can believe that."
"Really? I thought he'd be intimidated by you."
"Well, only at first." She told him how she had helped Frank with the Chinese handcuffs and his advice to keep it simple.
"And I talked with Hazel too, earlier while we were waiting in Atlanta. She's cool."
"I know. I'm happy you like them."
"You pick good friends. They're first-year rookies of course, but cool rookies," she joked. Percy laughed, trailing his fingers through her hair. "They have a lot of catching up to do if they want to reach our record of near-death experiences, but they try their best."
Annabeth's hand was back at his arm somehow, tracing the S.P.Q.R. again. "To be honest- at first I didn't want to know them. Seeing you so close with them made me a bit...jealous. Maybe."
His fingers stopped moving. "Jealous? Annabeth listen, Hazel is-"
"I know I know!" she interrupted him. "Jeez, Percy, give me some credit. I might not be a child of Aphrodite but I'm not that dense." She punched him in the shoulder, remembering too late that he was no longer invulnerable. "Ouch!"
"Sorry. What I mean is, they had you all this time when I didn't. They had adventures with you and even a quest... I've never had a quest without you. There are all these months in your life that I'm missing. You can tell me the stories and describe it to me, but it's not the same." She fuddled with the tattoo again. "Maybe that's why I was so worked up over this as well," she pointed. "It's so permanent. It will never fade and will always be there staring me in the face, reminding me 'you weren't there'. "
Percy didn't immediately reply. Instead he hugged her in his arms a bit tighter. "It goes two ways, you know," he said. "I've missed out on parts of your life as well. Actually, I have even more catching up to do, since you weren't asleep for months. You were up being busy, doing things, meeting new people." His continued with her hair while thinking this over. "When I see you and Piper making breakfast jokes, it's the same thing."
She hadn't thought of it that way. "Okay, well, imagine if Piper and I'd gotten matching piercings or haircuts to celebrate our new friendship. That's what the SPQR on your arm looks like to me."
He winched. "Ugh. Right, I see what you mean."
They were quiet for a while and she was almost dozing off, when he prompted: "If it makes you feel any better, I didn't exactly give them my consent to do it."
"What?" She jolted up to get a good look at him. "They forced you?"
"No! no that's not what I meant," he hurried to reassure her.
"The whole process is kinda.. magic I guess? It just appeared there in a second." The idea of something so permanent simply appearing sounded equally worrisome to her.
"New recruits get these dog tags until they've completed their first year, or proved themselves worthy in battle," he explained. "It's a huge deal to them. Then somebody holds up your arm when you're not paying attention, proclaims you hero of Rome and poof! It's there."
"Oh." She blinked, trying to imagine the scene. "So, it didn't hurt?"
"Um, yes. It did. But briefly."
She saw the tattoo with different eyes now. In her mind it had always been a willing act from his side. She'd thought it was something he was proud of, something that made him member of a group he wanted to belong to. Her earlier contemplations of tattoo-removing possibilities came to mind again.
He somehow guessed her thoughts. "Even if they had asked nicely, I think I would've allowed them to do it."
"Because- " He thought for a bit, studying the ceiling.
"Camp Jupiter, it's a place... it's weird, I never knew it even existed before, and now I do. And there's tons of stuff I dislike about it but there are some good parts too."
"Good parts. Like what?" She was honestly curious, but he seemed to have misunderstood her tone. Hurriedly, he started listing all the superior qualities of Camp Half-Blood, tumbling over his words, not noticing her gentle expression. She found his concern kind of adorable.
"Percy, relax. I got it three hours ago," she grinned.
"Oh. Right." He sighed in relief, scratching his hairline. "Well, what I was going to say is- I was alone, and confused and dead tired of monsters, and I dropped in all smelly and amnesia..tic..al- is that even a word? Anyway, they still took me in. It was a temporary home when I really needed one. So that's good. That's a good memory, right?" He studied the black marks. "So to me it's not so much proof that I'm part of their club, because trust me, I'm not. But I'd like to think it represents the good qualities, the stuff I got to learn from them."
"I kinda see it as a compliment," he shrugged, looking back at her. "And- a souvenir?"
"Hmm," she nodded. "A souvenir. In a way it's not all that different from beaded necklaces."
Perhaps she was guilty of underestimating Percy. She'd been afraid they had corrupted him, replaced his best with the most horrible Roman habits. Worried they had damaged him.
Instead he'd come out a victor, stronger than ever. It had been his original qualities, not the new ones, which had helped him accomplish tasks that were considered impossible. He had saved their entire Camp by being a stubborn weird Greek.
But that was not what impressed her most. Unlike her, he didn't linger on Camp Jupiter's flaws or unlikeable individuals. He forgave them their mistakes, the wars, even their humiliating views on Poseidon. Somehow he had managed to accept the differences, and had looked for the bright side, what he could admire and learn from.
He saw the best in them.
At that moment she felt more proud of her boyfriend than ever before. If he could manage all those things with that kelp head of his, surely she could learn to love a simple, permanent souvenir that meant something to him. She touched the tattoo again, then trailed down to his hand where she twisted their fingers together.
She cocked her head, pretending to brainstorm.
"Well, we can always modify it into an anchor and 'Annabeth four-evah' if you change your mind."
My first story, I hope you enjoyed it! Reviews and critiques very much appreciated..