PART ONE.

"Daddy even said that he'll bring me back a souvenir! Isn't that great?"

"What if he brings you back something boring, like a book?"

"He won't because I specifically told him to buy me those yummy chocolates from last time." Silena Beauregard flicked the purple marble in front of her carelessly, and smiled, adding her next statement as an afterthought. "And besides, if daddy does get me a book I could give it to Annabeth. She loves them! Isn't that right?"

Saying this, Silena tapped the nose of the blonde, curly-haired girl next to her, who in turn wrinkled her freckled nose.

"If she loves them so much, why doesn't she marry one?" mocked Thalia Grace, whilst chewing on a cookie. "Then we can call her Mrs. Carol or Mrs. King!"

Annabeth swiped the cookie out of Thalia's hand before the gleeful girl could blink.

"Hey! Give it back!" Thalia demanded, indignant. "That's my last one! I'm hungry!"

"Didn't your mommy tell you to eat healthy?" Silena said. "You're not listening to her."

"So?" Thalia tried to grab the cookie from Annabeth's hand, but failed miserably. "It's not Christmas without cavities!"

"I thought that was Halloween?" It was surprising that Annabeth answered so clearly, what with one of her closest friends slapping at her arm.

"That too. Now gimme!"

Annabeth returned her cookie just as the bell rang, signaling the end of recess.

"By the way, you can't marry a book. I'm pretty sure it's not legal," objected Silena.

"Actually," Annabeth intervened, "two days ago, I read an article about a lady who married a Ferris wheel.

"People are weirdos." Thalia sighed, pulling a red container out of her backpack. "Here, Annabeth can you help me with this?"

Annabeth took the Tupperware from Thalia, giving her a sarcastic smile when she saw what it held. "I thought you said that was your last cookie?"

"It was!" Thalia grabbed another container identical to the one she had handed Annabeth, and re-zipped her bag. "Those are for the class. Travis is bringing hot chocolate."

"Oh! Can we help you pass them out!?" squealed Silena.

"Sure just hold the door open for me, will you?" Thalia pointed her chin towards a door marked:

Grade Three

Class of 2004

When all three girls were inside Mrs. Cravitz's classroom, Thalia and Silena headed straight to the front of the class where the Stoll brothers stood waiting. Annabeth would've followed if not for the creepy pair of eyes she felt burning into the back of her head. Suppressing a shiver, she turned around and saw little Percy Jackson standing ten feet away.

Unlike most of her friends, Annabeth wasn't afraid of Percy. To her, he was simply the poor mute kid with the terrible reading grade. At first glance, you'd think he was the usual juvenile hobo, but if-like Annabeth-you decided to look closer, you'd see that there was a certain spark in his sea-green eyes. But just because she saw something special in him, didn't mean she acted upon it. All her life, Annabeth had been taught to mind her own business, and that she did, nearing not even the juiciest of gossip.

Deciding that she was wasting her time staring at Percy, Annabeth walked off. Silena and Thalia were much more important to her than a rude boy off the streets. Didn't he know that staring made people uncomfortable?

"'Beth, what took you so long? We need help passing out the cookies and hot chocolate!" Silena frantically flapped her hands around in the air, earning an eye roll from Thalia.

Everyone loved Silena, but no one could deny her knack for causing drama. Annabeth suspected this trait would last up to her teen years and beyond.

"Catch" Annabeth glanced up just in time to grab hold of the goody-bag thrown her way.

"Careful!" Annabeth warned Thalia.

"Don't be such a worry-wart," she replied. "And read the labels before you hand them out. Some of these idiots are allergic to peanuts."

Annabeth did as told, a habit she's picked up since birth.

LINEBREAKLINEBREAK

"Connor, hand me another marshmallow!" Thalia demanded.

"Okay!" Connor held out the treat to Thalia's request, pulling his hand back seconds before she could snatch it. "But only if you give me an Abe Lincoln."

Thalia's eyes narrowed into serpentine slits, making everyone in a three yard radius cower. It was a well-known fact of life that Thalia had a sweet tooth like no other, and no one (especially not a Stoll) could get in the way of her one true sugary love. For her birthday, Annabeth had gotten her a custom-made T-shirt that read, "Give me candy or I KEEL YOU!"

Very appropriate indeed.

Thalia pointed at her face. "See this face? It's not happy. And do you know why it's not happy?"

"You're an unhappy person?" Connor suggested.

Giggles along with a whisper of, "I'll tell our mom you love her," spread throughout the small crowd.

"No." Thalia gritted her teeth. "But you will be if I don't get my marshmallow."

"You could have said please," Connor grumbled, but nevertheless placed the marshmallow in her outstretched palm.

"That's not how I roll," Thalia said, smirking that she had gotten what she wanted.

Connor, who at this point seemed keen on receiving a death sentence, gathered together the last of his dignity and blew a big, wet raspberry at the dark-haired girl. Before he knew it, Thalia was onto him, stuffing marshmallows and cookie crumbs up his nose.

Annabeth, not wanting to get in trouble, shook her head, slipping silently out of her chair and traveling in the direction of the classroom library. Still holding her now-tepid hot chocolate, she settled into the nearest bean bag available, deciding that seclusion was more peaceful. It was either this, or get a time out for associating with two fighting kiddies. Annabeth couldn't have that.

She was about to open one of the books she'd last read, when Annabeth felt that something wasn't right. Scanning the room, she saw that there was really no logical reason for feeling this put out. Everywhere, kids were sharing tables with their peers, excited that winter break was no more than a week away. She could even spot Thalia, silently closing off Connor's air flow with pastries, surrounded by their closest friends. A few steps away, Mrs. Cravitz finally seemed to catch Thalia being naughty (and quite frankly, abusive) and was hurriedly stomping her way.

Despite the rowdiness, nothing was out of place. All the students were cheerful, the class pet was swimming contently around its tank, and…that's when she saw it. In the midst of all the festivity, sat Percy alone in the corner of the room, drawing. She would've dismissed the thought-after all, this was the anti-social Jackson she was looking at-if it wasn't for one small detail; Percy had gotten neither a cookie nor a cup of hot chocolate. Surely they hadn't forgotten him? But no, it was staring Annabeth right in the eye. Percy had once again been left out.

Sighing, she stood up, taking advantage of the distraction Thalia's riot was causing to secretly walk up to Percy. Despite his scraggly appearance, his scent was strangely pleasant, reminding Annabeth of a beautiful day at the beach spent eating unbelievable amounts of ice cream (every person's dream).

Percy hadn't noticed that Annabeth was standing next to him, so to catch his attention, she tapped him lightly on the shoulder.

"Hi," Annabeth said, putting on her brightest smile.

Percy stared.

Annabeth coughed, already feeling unwanted. "Are you drawing a shark?" She leaned in and saw, without him needing to answer, that he was indeed coloring in a roughly-sketched tiger shark. "Oh it is! I love sharks! Too bad they're endangered. That makes me sad. Did you know that some people eat them in soup? How gross is that? Yuck!"

Finishing her rant, Annabeth waited for Percy to reply, but seeing that he was confused, she figured he wouldn't be doing so any time soon. What's more, Annabeth was deeply insulted when instead of talking to her, Percy went back to what he had been doing before she so kindly offered her company. That meanie.

Annabeth scowled.

Fine, she thought, I wanted to be alone anyway

Annabeth turned, fully prepared to make an angry exit like the one in her favorite movies. That is, until she felt the light tapping of Percy's pianist fingers on her shoulder.

Looking down, Annabeth was slightly embarrassed to see that Percy hadn't been ignoring her at all, but writing her a note. Annabeth's metallic eyes flickered from Percy to the slip of colored paper, and becoming impatient, he pressed it into her hand. Annabeth squinted, having a hard time making out his handwriting.

You're talking too fast, it read.

Annabeth's mouth formed an "O" shape. I forgot. He doesn't speak.

"Sorry," she said, face flushed.

Percy shrugged. He wrote something else:

It's okay :)

Percy sat still, waiting for Annabeth to say whatever it was that had compelled her to approach him.

"You didn't get a cookie," she pointed out.

Percy shrugged once again.

I'm used to it, he scribbled.

"You shouldn't be," Annabeth said. "People don't have to be so mean. What did you ever do to them?"

The green-eyed boy lifted his lips in an attempt at a smile. It was one of the most heart-wrenching sights Annabeth had ever seen. Well, that and what he wrote next.

I did something bad.

And then…

I was born.

Annabeth read what he wrote, and frowned at him. If Percy expected sympathy, he was going to be very disappointed. Two years ago, Annabeth had been forced to deal with the death of her mother, Athena. To this day she couldn't figure out what it was that had caused it. According to her dad, Athena had accidentally gotten locked in the garage and their stinky car made all her air go away. She never believed it. All Annabeth knew was that one day her mommy was there, and the next she was having a permanent nap under a stone. Now she had to do whatever her step-mom wanted, secretly wishing that the woman had the face of another. It was unfair, yet here was Percy acting like life was a pest, when she herself had learned to treasure it. How could he?

Annabeth found herself wanting to go away.

"Here." She shoved her cookie into Percy's annoying butt-face. "You can have it."

Percy stared, completely-shell shocked. That just served to make Annabeth more angry.

Not wanting to stand there like an imbecile, Annabeth slammed the cookie into Percy's desk, spilling crumbs everywhere. "Keep it. I'm not hungry."

Not waiting for his response, she walked away, regretting her short encounter with the class freaf.

Still unable to decipher the events that had occurred, Percy picked up Annabeth's cookie and examined it, unsure if she really meant to give it to him.

Percy allowed himself a smile, and dropped the cookie. He would've eaten it, but he was unfortunately part of the small fraction of the class that had a peanut allergy.

Still, he thought, it's the first time someone's ever been nice to me at school.

And it wasn't the last. He would receive his next moment of kindness nearly a year later.

LINELREABLINEBREAK

2005.

It was the second day it had happened, Random students reported missing snacks to Mr. Carroway, demanding that the class burglar be caught and sentenced to a month of no jelly beans. To the candy-loving nine year-olds, this was the worst of punishments.

"It 's the first time my mom has packed me a brownie in years!" Thalia moaned. "And the thief stole it!"

"Ha! You think that's bad?" Travis challenged. "My dad packed me one of my aunt's famous triple-fudge cookies! But he took it too!"

"Be quiet!" Annabeth snapped. "I'm trying to read!"

"Aren't you worried about when he'll strike next?" Travis asked, completely hysterical. "Don't you see that he's tearing us apart?!"

Annabeth raised he eyebrow. "How are you so sure the burglar is a guy?"

"Don't start pointing fingers! The only reason I know is because I keep track of all the ladies in this school." Travis winked at Thalia.

"Ew," she said, scooting farther away from the Stoll.

Annabeth flipped a page in her book and sighed. "Travis is right. The thief is a boy."

"Wait." Thalia yanked Watership Down from Annabeth's hands. "You know who's been stealing all of our stuff?"

Annabeth scowled. "Give me back my book."

"But you know?"

Annabeth slouched down in her seat, too tired to attempt to retrieve her novel. "Yes, but I can't tell you the person's name.

"Why not?" Now it was Thalia's turn to be angry.

Annabeth's eyes flickered briefly to a stooped, grimy classmate sitting in the corner of the room. "I don't think that he wants me to tell."

Travis face-palmed.

LINEBREAKLINEBREAK

Two Days Before-

They were all outside playing volleyball when Percy snuck into the room where all the sack lunches were kept. He had clicked on a single light bulb, illuminating the twenty-four paper bags sitting side by side on a lone wooden shelf.

Percy could feel his bony frame shuddering underneath his thin layer of clothes, doing so from the unbelievable amount of sobs escaping his malnourished body. He didn't want to do this. He really didn't want to do it, but there was no other choice. He'd promised his mother he would never steal again: never become a thief like his step-father, but he couldn't take the hunger any longer. He hadn't eaten actual food in weeks: having only what was left in his neighbor's trash bin like a beggar. He'd sucked it up for so long, but now his willpower was rapidly coming to its end.

He HAD to eat.

Percy reached for the first lunch he saw, marked Katie Gardner. Inside was an apple, a chicken sandwich, a juice box, and a Rice Krispie bar. Hoping that taking the junk food would make him feel less guilty, Percy gobbled down the rice cake.

Gosh, he was hungry.

Swallowing his last mouthful, Percy rested his throbbing head against the wall. He still wasn't used to having solid food in his stomach, and as a result he had to slow down or risk barfing his guts out. After taking a short break, Percy returned Katie's bag to its rightful place and bit his bottom lip. He wanted to leave without taking more, but his stomach still wasn't satisfied. Would he be willing to take something else if it meant stealing from his classmates?

The answer was yes. Throwing ethics out the window, Percy quickly snatched a variety of random lunches and jammed an item from each into his pocket.

"Honey, promise me you'll grow up to be a good man."

"Why are you telling me this mommy?"

He checked that his hoodie didn't appear lumpy, making sure that he left no further evidence about what he'd done. Meanwhile, his brain was trying to convince itself that what he was doing wasn't wrong. These people had everything they needed; a welcoming home, enough money to avoid poverty, and chanced he himself would ever have. All he wanted was a proper meal. Was that too much to ask?

Sally Jackson held her son closer to her warm, comforting body. Any stranger would have thought that she was saying goodbye, and although Percy didn't know it at the time, she was.

"Because sweetie, I'm going on a trip soon and I want to be sure that you'll be a good boy when I'm gone."

Percy's eyes filled with tears. "You're leaving me?"

"No, no Percy." Sally shook her head, squeezing her son tighter. "Please don't cry. It'll only be a little while."

"Don't you love me anymore?" Percy sniffled, looking earnestly into the pained face of his mother.

"I'm going away because I love you," Sally insisted. "I love you with all my heart and I'm only doing what's best for us."

"Not true," Percy said, shaking his head at the memory.

He slid down with his back against the wall and pulled at his hair, feeling a sense of overwhelming loneliness. Was this how it was going to be for the rest of his life? Would crime be his only means of survival? His mom had broken her promise, and now it was time to break his own. Sally had left him, and she was never coming back. Not until he was dead.

Since walking into the classroom, Percy had not stopped crying. The day his mother had gone away was the last time he had shown any emotion, and he could no longer hold it in. Two years was a long time for someone of his age to keep everything under lock, and laying there on the cold linoleum floor, he finally let the tears fall. He was now facing reality, and boy did it hurt.

"But what if you don't come back?" Percy chocked on his own words, unable to grasp the concept of abandon. "What if you die? Mommy, I'll never see you again!"

"It'll be okay." Sally was now fighting to keep her voice from breaking. "Someday you'll see me again, but until then there'll be someone very special taking care of you. You'll be living the life I could never give you, with lots of toys and a big family!"

Percy's shining eyes widened at the possibility of being loved by more than one person. "Really?"

"Yes, really." Sally pushed his hair back so that she'd be able to view her son's angelic face one last time. "But right now you need to promise me that you'll never be like Gabe. You won't steal, you won't be cruel, and most importantly, you'll never make someone hurt."

"Cross my heart," Percy said, making a finger "X" over his chest. "I'll be the bestest, nicest person ever!"

This time, Sally couldn't hold back the emotion. A trail of salt water made its journey down her face, and she pulled Percy into another warm embrace.

"Thank you Percy," she sobbed. "Thank you for making me the happiest mother in the world."

Percy hadn't responded. He was far too busy cherishing the last hug he would ever receive from his mother.

LINEBREAKLINEBREAK

When Percy left the classroom, he didn't look back. It had taken him approximately five minutes to put himself back together, and blending in with the shadows, he had padded silently out of the classroom in the direction of the playground. No one would notice he was there except for the petite curly-haired girl sitting on her desk reading a book.

Had he examined his surroundings, he might've spotted her, but he hadn't and she didn't say a thing. Instead, she blinked and returned to what she was doing before because, as her brothers would say:

What someone else did was none of her beeswax.