Disclaimer: I do not own the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, the Heroes of Olympus series, any of the lyrics within this story, or the book Walden by Henry David Thoreau.
"What about this one?"
"No, no, the lines are off. It's not proportional and it's not right one. I just know."
"I like it well enough—"
"Well, yeah, maybe, but I can do better. I promise."
Percy turned to look at her, slightly exasperated and raising his eyebrow. He'd been flipping through Annabeth's sketchbook—she was much more liberal about letting him see her art now—and fawning over all the versions of a logo she had sketched for them. "Annabeth," Percy said slowly, "all of these are great. Don't stress yourself out."
"I'm not," Annabeth returned, rolling her eyes. "I just want to get it perfect. It's not everyday that I get to make a logo for my favorite band."
Percy pinched a sheet of thick paper between his thumb and index finger, smiling down at it. "Still your favorite, huh?"
Annabeth hummed her agreement, unable to miss the small, pleased grin on his lips. "They're all pretty hot, too. Especially that lead singer."
Percy looked like he had swallowed a whole bottle of lemon juice and an orange peel. "Right."
Laughing and pressing her face into his shoulder—accidentally, she swore she didn't remember telling her brain to do that—Annabeth teased, "Jealous." Percy shrugged his shoulders in hopes to push her off. "He's so cute and his voice and his smile and—"
"Stop," Percy whined, rose dusting his cheeks. Annabeth grinned impishly and pushed her thumb against his cheek. "Stop!"
"I'm joking," the artist said, unnecessarily.
"I don't care," the boy answered. "You only say it because you know it makes me mad."
"And why is that?" Annabeth had entreated on this area before, each and every time getting a sarcastic or irritated answer before the subject was changed. Now, Percy flipped through the book with less vigor and more resignation. She moved her hand to lay in the back of his neck, allowing her thumb to rest on the side, brushing the spot that had become intrinsic to their friendship. That in itself seemed like a contradiction, since neck kisses weren't typically something friends did, but Annabeth had never considered Percy and herself to be conventional anyways. He let out a huge breath and turned the page. "Hello?"
"It's just—" Percy cut himself off, scratching behind his ear. "I mean... You get it? It's, like, you know. Yeah."
He looked to her, frowning a little, and she returned his gaze with a blank stare. "Insightful."
"Shut up." She heard a thump and assumed that Percy had just kicked his shoe off her bed. Another flat noise followed as he let the other one fall.
"My pillow's gonna smell like your feet," Annabeth muttered, wondering if she should have suggested they sprawl out on her floor rather than her bed.
"My feet smell like roses," Percy said blissfully with a soft smile, laying his head on her bed sheets. He looked sweet and sleepy, a few chunks of his hair having escaped the restraint of his beanie. Annabeth wanted to hit something to help push back the surge of affection.
"I think they smell a little more like avoiding the question."
"Nothing gets past you, does it?"
"Percy," Annabeth said, shouldering him. "Tell me what's up."
He sent her a sideways glance, picking at her sheets as if it were the only thing that mattered. The light purple shouldn't have looked as flattering as it did with his complexion, but it made his eyes look a hazy, pretty green. He fiddled with a corner of the book before him, eventually closing it with a sigh as he realized that Annabeth's intent eyes weren't looking away.
"What I mean is," Percy started, after a moment of silence, his voice humorless, "you're my friend." Annabeth raised her eyebrows in vain, seeing as he was adamantly not looking at her. He drew in another deep breath before speaking again. "As in, mine."
She tried her hardest to make sure he didn't get an inkling of the pleasure pooling in her stomach and fluttering all the way up to her chest. It wasn't fair, honestly, that a simple, lowly spoken word from Percy could do that. "Oh," Annabeth breathed out, hopefully not too quickly or belatedly. "Right."
"I'm just possessive when it comes to friends," he continued, trying to deprive the moment of austerity. "Almost as selfish as I am when it comes to food."
"The boys are your friends, too, though," Annabeth commented, even while her mind screamed it's not the same it's not the same and you know it. "You aren't possessive of them." Shut up! she shouted inwardly, hating the way her brain-to-mouth filter always seemed to malfunction around Percy.
He stared at her openly with green eyes that made her feel a little on the transparent side. They weren't judgmental or appreciative; neither approving nor disapproving. It just seemed as though he was staring, drinking her in and watching without thinking. It made the stupid flutter come back, but she refused to acknowledge the inner reaction. "Yeah. Yeah, you're right."
He finally looked away, opening the sketchbook and looking for the page he had left off on. Neither of them spoke until Percy admitted that he should head home. He didn't offer up a hug or let his thumb brush against her skin, instead opting for a simple goodbye with a tight smile. It matched the restrained feeling in her chest with every step he took towards the door.
The air around her felt oddly flat, as if she wasn't truly breathing in air, or breathing at all, really. By the time she opened her mouth to say something—and she didn't know what—Percy had already closed the door behind himself with a gentle thud.
The thing is, Annabeth loved managing the band.
As a renowned adorer of structure and plans, it was almost therapeutic to work out the dates on a calendar and keep track of any money they got. Since Annabeth had joined their crew, they'd been booking progressively more gigs, thanks to the fact that all of the boys plus herself were on the lookout. It was easy to research the other local bands, contact them, and see if they wanted to join up with The Handwriting and score a small venue; the hard part was making sure all of the boys stayed calm pre-show.
Percy was probably the worst about nerves—all wide eyes and barely audible mumbles of his worries. Nico was a lot better than him, still managing to clock in as the second most apprehensive performer. Leo was too confident and Axe was too comfortable to get more than a slight spell of pre-show anxiety.
They continued to book shows. Annabeth kept scrawling them into the planner she had bought. Percy didn't stop smiling, Axe didn't stop looking out for her, Leo didn't stop being loud, and Nico didn't stop checking his phone constantly.
And she loved every minute of it. There had only been two times Percy and herself had experienced a fallout—once at Rockfest and the second being their wordless argument that day in her bedroom. They'd hardly said two words to each other for three days before Annabeth cracked and texted Percy to come over the next moment he could, under the pretense of having designed the perfect logo. (She most definitely hadn't, and Percy didn't really ask to see it, instead watching Annabeth doodle abstract images on a blank sheet.)
Three months into her job as a band manager, it occurred to Annabeth that they were the four closest friends she had ever had—above Silena, Piper, and Reyna, even. While she still made time to have nights out with her other friends, she could tell that the friendships were getting more and more strained. Silena was busy researching the best colleges for designing and keeping up with her relationship with Beckendorf. Piper was busy doing whatever obscure things she tended to do, and Reyna was throwing herself into sports, hoping for a decent scholarship. Annabeth realized that, while they were her friends, she didn't know all that much about them. It was almost like they were the band of misfits, tossed together for solace rather than friendship.
It was the beginning stages of the drift away between high school and college. Friends fell apart as new ones fell into place. It was all very bittersweet; she knew that they knew it as well, but they still managed to grab lunch together or hit a movie every few weeks. Annabeth loved them all dearly, and she knew that she would try her hardest to keep in contact, but Percy and his band had been absorbing all of her time around schoolwork. Any time she was free, the other girls weren't, but the four of them understood in an unspoken way. It was as sad and tranquil.
The band, however, was anything but. They were becoming somewhat of a hit with the teenagers in town, even with a few young adults. Gigs were booked much faster than they used to be. More people knew the lyrics within the crowds.
The concerts, out of every perk there was to tagging along with the band, were her favorite benefit. While she couldn't always attend, she was always invited. Every time she was forced to decline, Percy would always send her a series of frowny faces and text her up until the point that they went on stage. He had even taken a few pictures of the view from stage and sent them to her, adding a caption of "holy shit" or "wow" most times.
When she did make it to The Handwriting's shows, Percy would constantly seek her out in the wings, waving when he caught her eye. Her favorite moments were the ones where he would slyly inch off the stage and clumsily hug her or thumb at her neck while he uttered a few 'thank yous'. She never really knew what they were for, either, but they made her smile anyways. Axe would usually roll his eyes and comment on the interaction to the crowd, but it didn't stop Percy from doing it, and that was that.
On the day of Annabeth's Trig Exam—which was coincidentally on her four month anniversary as the Unofficial Manager of The Handwriting, as well as the last day of school—it happened upon her that she was a bit fond of the boy in the drivers' seat. Fond, as in she wouldn't mind holding his hand on occasion or pressing kisses to his neck rather than using her thumb to feel the skin there.
Annabeth had liked people before, sure, and every time she had gone through the big moment of realization: a gasp and a hand placed over her mouth to hide the smile, an "I like him" said aloud, a grin into thin air from pure happiness. But with Percy, it hardly felt important. She glanced over at him while he pulled his beanie down and shuffled through his Economics notes, and it occurred to her that the affection she felt for him wasn't as friendly as it used to be. She wanted to feel his eyelashes brush her cheeks even when the rest of her body had gone numb in the winter. She wanted to paint his features with something close to adoration rather than the uninspired way she had taken to. She wanted to kiss him when he said stupid things and smile when he complimented her. She wanted a lot of things with Percy, but it was a gentle, simple insight.
He had turned to her just as she had comprehended it, smiling at the fact that he had caught her staring. "Can I help you?"
"Do you know Trig?"
"Yeah, you're fucked then," Percy said, not missing a beat. Annabeth snorted and skimmed through her notes one last time before pushing her binder into her backpack. "Giving up so soon?"
"The way I see it," the blonde started, "there's not really much I can do at this point. I either know it or I don't."
"Excellent," Percy replied, thrusting a few pages into her hand. "Quiz me."
Annabeth read off the first definition and waited for Percy to repeat back the term. He stared at his steering wheel harshly, his knuckles turning white with frustration. "I don't know," he said finally, dropping his head back against the seat. "I'm going to fail this course. I'm going to end up repeating high school." He dropped his head to the wheel with a pathetic whine. "I'm so stupid."
"Don't put yourself down like that," Annabeth coached. "Okay, so you don't know one term, but that doesn't mean you'll fail the whole test. I've done your homework with you everyday for, like, five months. You know this stuff."
Percy stayed quiet, so Annabeth read off another definition. "Arbitrage?" he said hesitantly, turning to her.
Grinning, she nodded. "See?"
"Economics is hard." Percy looked away before looking back at her and smiling. "Thank you."
"Existing," he said sweetly, knocking his forehead against hers lightly. "You're great."
"Thank you." She wouldn't mind more of this, too, from Percy.
"Another." He backed out of her personal space and scratched behind his ear—which was still an odd place to have an itch. Annabeth continued to read terms and definitions on the page, making sure to help him learn the ones he didn't know. Economics was challenging, but it wasn't as bad as other courses she had taken, anyways.
Covertly sneaking glances at his side profile while he thought over the most recent definition she had given him, Annabeth pursed her lips at the light hit his face. Percy was wearing an old hoodie and even older jeans; ones with holes in the knees. It was their final day of school, and, like Percy, Annabeth had disregarded all of her nice shirts, instead opting for a comfortable sweater.
Blinking, she watched Percy's lips move, his eyebrows raising a second after. It took her a moment to realize that he had spoken. "I'm sorry? Didn't hear that," the studious blonde said quickly, glancing down at the paper.
"Wait," Percy said, a smug sort of smile stretching across his face. "Were you checking me out?"
"Totally," Annabeth answered breezily.
"Hey," he returned, pouting a little. "I'm serious. I could use the ego boost."
She rolled her eyes and pretended that she wasn't close to smiling. "Just tell me what you said."
Percy sighed, reaching over and snatching the papers from her hand before flinging them into the backseat. She watched the white, blue-lined paper sail into all corners of his car. "I hate studying," Percy explained, barely sparing the mess a glance.
Annabeth snorted lightly, shifting in her seat. "You'll do fine on the test with that attitude."
"Less stress, more success."
"Stress is healthy," Annabeth countered. "To a certain extent, anyways."
"And I've been stressing for a total of"—he looked at the time—"twenty minutes. Healthy."
"This is why I need the ego boost!" Percy shouted, his smile underlying his angry tone. "You cut me down!"
"Hush, I'm mean to you with love," she replied, reaching out and fixing his beanie. He leaned into her automatically, having learned that Annabeth was usually fixing his hair for the greater good. "There you go." She patted his head lightly and Percy smiled. "Pretty as a picture."
"You complain when I compliment you and complain when I do. What do you want from me, Jackson?" Annabeth asked, the end of her question coinciding with the ringing of the bell.
Percy narrowed his eyes at her before shoving his door open and grabbing a pencil from his backpack, leaving the heavy bag in his car. The sun made his eyes a lighter green that somehow made her shoulders feel heavier. Percy was devastatingly good-looking in a low-key way; he didn't flaunt it, and if he did, it was jokingly. His hair was getting too long, often falling in front of his face, but that meant that he wore beanies more to confine it. It also meant that Percy looked soft and cuddly for the day, which Annabeth really didn't mind.
Coming to school separately before piling into one another's car had become a thing. Usually, they huddled into Percy's since he had better music. Walking into school together had also become something that occurred on a regular basis, which hadn't gone unnoticed by Annabeth's friends. She had finally introduced Percy to them, and he'd charmed them right down to their toes, which was saying something. It took a lot to impress Reyna.
Percy and herself also walked from their fourth period together to meet the other boys at what they had claimed as their lunch table. That had become a thing. She took the boys home sometimes, if they needed rides, and Percy usually came over for a few minutes after school, if only to greet her father briefly. She typically visited the Jackson residence on the weekends, when Sally made breakfast.
Annabeth's point is, a lot of things had become things. The bit where Percy walked her to class was one of them.
"Good luck," he told her, smiling over Annabeth's shoulder at her Trig teacher. On exam days, they went straight to their testing period rather than normal classes, which meant she was starting her day with math. "You'll do fine. You're smart and stuff."
"Such grace with words," Annabeth teased, smiling at his narrowed eyes. "Thanks. You'll do great on the Econ test, I'm sure."
"Don't get my hopes up." Percy spared her teacher another glance before touching his thumb to her neck. Annabeth reached up and did the same for him. "See you after?"
"As usual, yes. Go! You're going to be late."
"Right," the green-eyed boy said, tugging at his beanie and ruining all of Annabeth's hard work. Before she could chastise him, he had already started down the hall and rounded the corner.
"Goodmorning, Mrs. Berlinson," Annabeth greeted her teacher.
"'Morning, Annabeth," the woman replied. "Ready for the test?"
"Ready as I'll ever be," the blond student answered with a shrug. Her teacher, who was no older than 35, surely, nodded in approval and moved on to say hello to the next kid who entered. Annabeth sat into her regular seat, digging through her backpack for a pencil and pulling in calming breaths as Mrs. Berlinson closed the door. She started passing out the tests, and a hush spread over the room. Annabeth saw fear in a few students eyes, but most had an expression that screamed I don't care anymore.
With the last song she had listened to playing on repeat in her mind, Annabeth looked down at the stapled test before her, and prayed to whatever god there was that she passed Trig.
"Come on!" Percy shouted, the second Annabeth stepped out of her math class. He pulled on her wrist and dragged her around the corner, moving as quickly as he could through the throngs of students. He turned back and smiled at her—this stupid, goofy thing—and she tightened her hold on her backpack with her hand that wasn't in Percy's grasp.
"Where are we going?" she called over the kids in the hallway.
"Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies!" Percy yelled back, giving Annabeth deja vu and squeezing through a door that was about to close. He held it open for her, still grasping her wrist, and pulled Annabeth towards the back field.
"No one ever goes out here," Annabeth said, feeling slightly breathless from the impromptu exercise.
"They are today." Percy faced her now, slowing his pace and walking backwards. "Last day of senior year, right?"
"Right," Annabeth replied, slowly. "Why?"
"Going out with a bang, we are." He pulled her around the last corner, giving her a view to a makeshift stage—if that. Their band equipment was set up on a white tarp, and the other three boys were running around and hooking things up, dragging long extension cords around.
"You guys are playing a show?" She inhaled sharply, watching Percy's bright expression as he nodded. "Is it approved?"
"Kind of," the guitarist replied, shrugging. "I mean, Mr. J approved." Annabeth rolled her eyes, but her smile showed that she wasn't annoyed in the slightest. Mr. J was one of the two music teachers at their school; he had just finished college and he bore several tattoos under his button-ups, if legend held true. He was easily the most laidback teacher at school, usually opting for debating over which rock band was the best live rather than teaching kids how to play instruments. Most of the kids who signed up for his class already knew how to play something, anyways.
"Of course he agreed," Annabeth said, tugging her wrist towards her body. "Hey, give me my hand?"
"What a sentence," Percy answered, through a laugh, but he let go of her anyways. "Come on."
As they approached the set-up, the other three boys called out their greetings. "Fancy seeing you here," Axe called, pushing his hair out of his face. Annabeth watched as his bracelets shifted up his arm. "Percy refused to start without you."
"Aw, darlin'," Annabeth drawled, smiling up at Percy. He rolled his eyes and shoved her, but she just smiled more. "When do we start?"
"The bell for lunch rings in two minutes," Leo announced, tapping his phone screen. "After lunch we go home. Mr. J said that he was all for telling the kids to get their lunch and head out this way."
"Are you sure you won't get expelled for this? You are aware that they can make sure you don't walk at graduation," Annabeth informed them.
They all sent her looks. "What do you take us for?" Axe questioned.
"Yeah, seriously," Nico continued. "I mean, I still have another year here. I wouldn't do something if it meant they would expel me."
"Mr. J cleared it with the vice principal," Percy finished, shrugging a smug shoulder. "She's head over heels for him. A little flirting goes a long way."
"You would know," Leo commented, giving him and Annabeth a pointed look.
"Hey." Percy drew out the word, making it sound like a warning. "Down boy."
The keyboardist rolled his eyes and mumbled something under his breath that she didn't catch. "Anyways, Mr. J made sure it was fine. So, technically, we can't get in trouble. Hopefully." Leo clapped his hands together and gestured to the amps. "I tried, Perce, but I'm not so sure I did all of that right. Nico's not positive what your settings are."
"Right, yeah, I got it." Annabeth stood on the edge of the tarp, watching the four boys move around each other as if they'd been doing it for ages. Nico walked over to Percy, and Percy handed over guitar picks before the younger boy even asked. Axe turned to Leo, who nodded immediately and started altering his settings without Axe saying a word. This was part of the reason Annabeth thought they were the best band around; they worked easily together, and even when arguing they were in sync.
By the time the first group of students wandered out on the lush null, Percy was both idly playing and nodding along to what Axe was telling him. Annabeth loved this—seeing this version of Percy; the rockstar with a few bracelets on his arms and a pair of Vans on his feet. He looked perfectly in his element, and Annabeth could picture Percy doing this for the rest of his life—playing guitar and charming every person who walked by.
He and Axe seemed to come to a conclusion at that point, and Axe gathered Nico and Leo together, repeating the information to them. Percy nodded her over. "What's up?" she inquired, nodding to the group of three, speaking quietly.
Percy stopped playing, as if he couldn't focus on Annabeth and guitar at once. "You know the setlist we've been using for the past six shows?" The blond nodded immediately; she had been included in the decision. "Axe wants to us to play mostly requests and two new songs, instead."
"Now's a good a time as any to test them out, right?" Percy agreed immediately, but Annabeth still sensed his apprehension. "What's wrong?"
"I…" The boy trailed off, turning the small triangle around in his hands. Annabeth had her own guitar pick, one that Percy had slipped into her pocket after a particularly good show. She had been meaning to get it made into a necklace. "He wants to play the ones that I wrote," Percy continued, finally.
"Don't you usually write them?"
"Well, yeah," Percy said, nodding at Axe's call of 'five minutes!' "But the boys usually help spruce them up. These are just my songs. They haven't tampered with them yet."
"You know you don't have to play them if you don't want to," Annabeth assured him, lowly. "It's your songs. You don't have to share them."
"I mean, I don't mind playing them," Percy amended. "I would just rather certain people didn't hear them. I guess."
"They aren't going to judge, Percy. It's the last day of school. They're happy to be doing something besides sitting in a cafeteria that smells like a nursery home."
The corners of Percy's lips lifted up and he huffed out a slight laugh. "Never made that connection. It does, though." He glanced at the land before them, watching as more and more students took seats in the grass. "I agree with the requests, part, though. No need to bore them with our own music, right?"
"Your music is great," Annabeth said, rolling her eyes. "I'm going to talk to Axe and make sure he checks with you before you play the new songs, okay?"
Percy continued to stare at the people he had been going to school with for years. Eventually he nodded. "Yeah," he answered quietly, making Annabeth lean closer to hear them. "Yeah, that'd be great. Thanks." Percy directed his attention back to her, hitting his jaw against her forehead. "No!" he cried dramatically, grabbing her face with both hands to kiss her forehead in apology. "I'm so sorry. Are you alright? Who am I? What day is it? Who are you?"
Annabeth shoved his shoulder, feeling her cheeks heat up. "Shut up. You barely hit me."
"You're right," Percy said, heaving a sigh and smiling the slightest bit. "Just wanted an excuse to kiss you." As if to prove his point, he dropped another kiss to her hair. "Thank you, you know? For, uh… you." His hand drifted from the back of her head to her neck, where he scratched at her neck lightly with his thumb.
"Lovebirds, one minute!" Axe called from the other side of the tarp. Percy flicked him off without turning around and smiled at Annabeth's serenely.
"Thank you, too," she said, finally, pinching his hip. "Stop getting sentimental before I throw up."
"God, I love when you talk dirty," Percy muttered back in a low, syrupy tone. Annabeth rolled her eyes, laughing despite herself and stepping back.
"Good luck," she told him, smiling at his soft appearance. Annabeth decided that she really liked beanies as she approached Axe and told him to make sure he talked to Percy before the two new songs. Axe understood immediately, saying that he would, and Annabeth gave Percy a thumbs up.
Axe stepped up to the microphone a few seconds later, prompting the crowd with a "Last day of school!" and a triumphant fist in the air. Cheers rose up, and Annabeth knew he had them. Axe always had the crowd; captivated them so easily in a way that added evidence to the fact that Axe was born to be on stage.
Annabeth sat herself near the back, but within Percy's view. Two concerts ago, she had decided to see the view from the other side of the stage, and Percy had pouted at her for thirty minutes after the set, complaining about how he couldn't find her. From that moment on, he suggested that she stay where he could see him, because, if he couldn't, he would be off his game.
The weirdest part was, despite Annabeth's epiphany that morning, she didn't actively notice herself looking at Percy any differently. She still studied the curve of his eyelashes with interest and thought about running her fingers over his cheekbones, mapping out his face. She still loved his hugs, regardless of how much she claimed they annoyed her, and he was still one of her favorite people on earth. The only difference seemed to be that she was conscious of the way she couldn't help glancing at his lips every so often. However, she felt oddly content with the whole experience, and Annabeth thought that maybe she'd been a little in love with him all along.
She caught his eye and smiled encouragingly, and he returned it with a bright grin and a thumb against his neck. It made her a lot happier than she was willing to admit.
The first request they got was "Teenage Dream", which was luckily something they had covered before. It was performed without a hinge and most of the students sang along carelessly; shouting out of tune and waving fries in the air.
Two songs in, the principal walked out with the vice principal by his side. He studied the scene, a hard line between his brows and his lips pursed thin. Axe waved happily, acting as if nothing was wrong, and—much to everyone's surprise—their principal cracked a smile. Annabeth grinned at that, turning to Percy and laughing along with him.
Axe dedicated their next song to the principal—a very heartfelt cover of "School's Out"—and she could feel her peers develop a newfound respect for the strict man as he nodded along, seemingly resigned to the entire event.
While Axe was talking to the mass, Annabeth was busy reading Percy's lips as he mouthed "This is fucking awesome." She laughed and nodded, raising a sarcastic rock n' roll symbol with her hand. Percy laughed, his face turning somewhat red as he repeated the action. "Earth to Percy," Axe deadpanned into the microphone, making the black-haired boy start. "What are you…?" He trailed off, looking where Percy's gaze had been trained, otherwise defined as Annabeth. "Lovebirds," he mumbled, rolling his eyes. "Stop flirting with Annabeth."
Percy and Annabeth both blushed, a few faces turning back to look at her curiously. "No," Percy answered finally, a defiant expression on his face. The majority of the crowd laughed, the others still looking at Annabeth as if she were a meteor that just crashed to earth.
"Percy?" someone said, next to her. "You're with him?"
"Oh, no," Annabeth clarified. "We're just… Yeah." Eloquent, she thought to herself.
"You are dating?" another girl asked, in front of her. "Sorry to be invasive. It's just… weird. I thought you were smart and stuff?"
"I am," the blond said, scoffing. "Doesn't mean I can't like him."
"I know, but—"
"I know what you mean," Annabeth said, shrugging. "Don't worry about it." She didn't particularly feel like having an argument with someone in the crowd. She vaguely recognized the two girls; maybe she had a class with them. "We aren't dating, for the record."
Both girls nodded and looked back to the performance while other onlookers snapped back to attention as well. Annabeth glanced at Percy, who smiled stupidly before turning back to Axe. She watched Axe raise his eyebrows and Percy offer a thumbs up.
"Alright, looks like we're gonna play a new song or two," Axe announced, gaining a few shouts of approval from the crowd. He turned back to Percy again with raised eyebrows, to which the guitarist answered with a curt nod. "Black-haired beauty over here wrote them."
That got a lot more cheers than Annabeth expected. By the way Percy ducked his head and smiled shyly, she could tell that he felt the same. "You guys are really good!" a girl in the audience shouted, getting a general consensus of agreement from the rest of the students.
Annabeth felt a surge of pride, despite the fact that it wasn't technically her band. All four boys smiled, shouting their thanks. "Original song number one," Axe proclaimed, capturing the attention of the crowd. "This one's called My Weakness."
Annabeth raised both her eyebrows, immediately looking at Leo, who shrugged in response with a smile. Then she looked to Percy, who was staring at his guitar with a furrowed brow, focusing to ensure that he didn't make a mistake.
Percy started laughing when the chorus hit—this radiant, carefree, borderline gorgeous laugh that she could just barely hear over the music. Annabeth smiled at how lively he looked before casting her gaze across the rest of the boys, who held expressions of just as much joy. She couldn't stop grinning as she stared at the band—not her band, but still somehow hers—feeling honored to be watching a group of such talented boys singing. She would be able to say that they were her best friends in high school; she would be able to offer up a million silly pictures from car rides home and concerts. She almost felt like she could cry, her heart swelling up to the size of several air balloons.
It hit Annabeth like a ton of bricks when she realized that the only reason she was where she was could be accredited to Percy asking for one lie. If you would have told her six months prior that she would be painting again, managing a band, falling for a boy in the band, and listening to pop punk, she probably would have laughed in your face.
Annabeth peered up at the sky, wondering if her mom was proud of her. She wondered if her mom even had a clue what was happening down where her daughter was.
As Annabeth looked back to the band and caught Percy's bright-eyed grin, she decided that she didn't mind either way.
After the show, most of the students mulled around on the grassy expanse, mingling with friends. Quite a few people approached the boys and showered them with compliments. (Axe got probably around 30 remarks that more or less said "I didn't know you could sing!") Annabeth let The Handwriting get the praise they deserved before she ambled up to them.
For a second, they all looked at her, making Annabeth raise her eyebrows. Then they exchanged a mischievous look with each other before Leo charged forward and nearly mauled her, the other boys following suit. The blond started half-laughing, half-choking back tears, and the boys hugged her tighter.
The bell rang, initiating a loud set of cheers from the student body. Annabeth pulled back from her friends, absorbing their post-performance high and feeling the adrenaline herself. She watched the frenzy of people heading for the parking lot until someone yanked on her hoodie sleeve. "What?" she asked, already turning to face Percy.
He grinned at her, shaking his head in disbelief. His smile looked a lot like slow Sunday mornings and the perfect cup of coffee when he said, "You're more gone for her than I thought."
Annabeth raised an eyebrow, in vain, since Percy dropped his forehead to hers lightly. "What?"
"You're more gone for her than I thought," he repeated, slowly and carefully before he closed his eyes and kissed her. Annabeth squeaked in surprise, gathering her wits and reaching up to grip his hair, instead getting a handful of a maroon beanie. She heard a small applause, and a "finally" from next to her, but it was hardly on her radar as Percy reached up to hold her face in his hands. She could feel him smiling and partially laughing as he leaned into her, and Annabeth could hardly help it as she did the same. He pulled away, looking like he was regretting the action, but then he smiled.
"What did you mean?" Annabeth blurted, still flushed, her hands shaking more than she wanted to admit.
He smirked, kissing her between each word as he said, "It's what Axe said at Rockfest."
"That was four months ago," the blond managed, hardly having the breath. "He said that four months ago?"
"I'm aware," Percy answered with a wry smile. Annabeth held his beanie in her hand from where she had pulled a little too much. She stared at it blankly as Percy continued to smile softly at her.
"Right," Leo said from beside them, fracturing the moment. "Now that that's over with. Annabeth, can I have a ride home?"
She huffed out a laugh, holding Percy's beanie in front of his face. "Oops," she whispered.
He groaned in mock annoyance, kissing her quickly three times. "Everyone's seeing my bed head."
"Hey," Leo interrupted, rolling his eyes to rid of his smile. "I seriously need a ride."
"Yeah," Annabeth answered, overwhelmed by Percy's adoring gaze, "yeah, that's fine." She reached an unsteady hand up to Percy's eye, running her thumb across his eyelashes. He raised an eyebrow, pulling back slightly, and Annabeth shook her head. "Sorry, sorry. I just. You have pretty eyelashes."
"You're weird," Percy said, his words almost dripping with endearment as his eyes scanned her face, as if he hadn't seen her in years and he needed to memorize her all over again. "Well, you better take the man home. Come to my house after, though."
"Eager, aren't you?" Leo commented, looking smug.
"To tell my mother," Percy clarified, rolling his eyes. He put his arm over Annabeth's shoulder and kept it there the whole way to the car.
Annabeth hesitated before she rested her arm around his waist, letting her fingers settle in the dip of his hip bone. He leaned into her hair, and she had a feeling he was hiding a smile. Annabeth looked down at her freehand, staring at the sleeve that was settled in the middle of her palm, and she smiled.
She smiled, because now, when she got a vision of a man handing her a warm cup of coffee as she pulled her sleeves over her hands, he wasn't faceless. Not even a little.
"Ready?" Annabeth asked, closing her textbook and pushing it into her backpack before opening the car door.
"I can't believe you brought a textbook to our biggest gig in months."
"I need to pass my classes, excuse me!" she protested, hip-checking him.
"Take a night off every once in awhile," Percy suggested, holding her shoulder tightly in a side hug. "Healthy stress, remember? You're unhealthy."
"Says the boy who ate a full carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream last night," Annabeth retorted, raising an eyebrow. "We need to go shopping."
Percy hummed in agreement. "I need more brownie mix."
"You want more brownie mix," the blond corrected her boyfriend.
"It's been three years and you're still telling me that brownie mix isn't a necessity," he deadpanned. "I don't understand you at all." He held the back entrance open for her, nodding to the security guy and explaining with a 'she's with me.'
He led her down the hall and swung a door open, greeting his bandmates. Axe pulled Annabeth in for a hug, and she reached up to pat at his hair. "Purple?"
"Got tired of the blue," Axe explained, fingering his vibrant streak. "Gotta keep things interesting."
"How's the tattoo?"
"Stings a bit, still, but it's worth it." Annabeth glanced down to Axe's wrist, smiling at the set of four numbers she saw there. "I've been wanting to get it forever, anyways."
"8-1-2-3," Nico joined in, smiling at Axe.
"Address of the practice home," Leo added, placing a hand over his heart. "Oh, the sentimental value." Annabeth smiled, reaching over and grabbing Percy's right wrist, running her thumb over the tattoo that matched Axe's perfectly.
"It's a great idea," Annabeth contributed, smiling up at Percy. "You sap."
"I'm gonna get an 'A' right here," he promised, tapping the side of his neck.
"You can't tell me what to do," the boy returned, sticking his tongue out childishly.
"You guys still act like you're eighteen. Amazing," Nico stated with sarcasm. "Inspirational."
"You make me feel so young," Percy sing songed, placing a sloppy kiss on Annabeth's cheek. She pushed him off and rubbed her cheek on her sleeve.
"We're only twenty-two," Annabeth informed Nico. "It's not like we're ninety."
There was a knock on the door before a thin woman leaned in. "Fifteen until go-time. Anything you guys need?"
"Take this pretty lady to side stage, if you will," Percy requested.
"I was planning on being in the crowd tonight," Annabeth said, frowning. "I want the full experience."
"No," the black-haired boy told her, lightening the command with a quick kiss. "Side stage."
"I don't want to—"
"Annabeth," Percy beseeched, "the crowd is too big. I'm worried. Side stage, please." Annabeth held his gaze, narrowing her eyes. "Please," he repeated, his eyes pleading.
"Fine," the blond cracked, rolling her eyes. "Side stage it is." She headed for the door, calling a 'good luck' over her shoulder and following the wiry woman.
"Hey!" Axe called, holding his hand out flat, lowering it to signal the crowd to quiet down. "I have an announcement to make!"
"Not really," Leo shouted, Annabeth barely hearing him over the noise. The artist herself was a bit bewildered at the turn out. The guys had been slowly booking bigger and bigger gigs through the years, but it was astonishing when she looked back on the low-key bars.
"Not really," Axe agreed, laughing a little. The audience was mostly silent, talking amongst themselves as Axe crooked a finger at Percy. "Come on, then, old chap!"
Percy grinned, placing his guitar in the stand and jogging up to the main microphone. An appreciative cheer rose up, and Annabeth smiled along with him. "Right. So… hi." The crowd laughed along with him, and the blond noticed him scratch behind his ear—the weirdest nervous habit she had ever seen someone develop. "As some of you may know, I've had this amazing girlfriend for a few years…" Annabeth raised both of her eyebrows at the loud response from the audience and Percy's mention. "Exactly three and a half, to be exact, but tonight's kind of special." The blond clapped a hand over her smile. "September 29th, three years ago, Annabeth Chase was seeing The Handwriting for the first time."
Annabeth was so busy watching Percy that she hardly registered the fact that Axe was pulling on her wrist. "Come on!" he said, giving her a knowing smile.
"Anyways, so my point is, tonight's pretty special because it was essentially our first date," Percy proceeded, "even if I kind of forced her into going with me." He must have made a face at the crowd, because the majority of them snickered. Percy turned to Annabeth, smiling brightly. "Hi."
"Hi," Annabeth said, too overwhelmed to keep her voice steady.
He bit his lip, facing the audience again and speaking into the microphone. "So, now, I'm going to make tonight a little more special, if that's alright?" Percy beamed at the encouragement from the people—who were all there to see the band he was in.
Annabeth stopped breathing when Percy turned back to her, and knelt down, reaching into his back pocket and pulling out a black, velvet box.
When she hears the two clicks and a whistle, she already knows what's happening outside her window without even casting her eyes towards the cold glass.
Her husband's probably standing there, in all his glory, holding a bouquet of flowers, because tonight's their six-month anniversary. Tossing her copy of Walden onto the pillow next to her and nearly tripping over a drying canvas, she rushes for the window and slides it open.
"Hi!" he calls up, shaking the flowers. "Bought you something."
"I see that," she answers, unable to restrain a lovestruck smile. "How was work?"
"Much less pretty than you," he answers, causing a roll of her eyes. "I have dinner reservations for two. Do you want me to catch you, or something?"
"Shut up," she says through a laugh. "Come inside. I'm not ready yet."
She hears their front door close and footsteps until he's standing in front of her with what looks like eight, classic roses in his hand. "Hey there, wife."
"Fancy seeing you here, husband." She smiles something stupid, kissing him quickly. "Give me ten minutes, and I'll be ready to go."
He nods and kisses her again before stumbling out of their room. She hears him singing while he pours a glass of something, probably orange juice, if she knows her husband at all. She turns toward the window, shutting it with practiced ease and getting ready as quickly as possible.
Before she leaves, she glances out the window again. All she sees is an empty road and a bright, yellow street light illuminating the asphalt.