Annabeth was pissed, to say the least.
First, her movie almost-but-not-date with Percy was off because he blew up a school (again). She hadn't been in the best of moods before they'd arranged their afternoon together, because her family still blamed her for the monster infested spring they'd spent together in San Francisco, camp was getting more vulnerable by the minute, and now she found out Percy burned up the music wing of his new school.
And to top it off, there was that redheaded mortal, Rachel Elizabeth Dare, who Percy apparantly knew from last winter, who also saved his now really sorry butt from getting ripped to shreds by she-demons.
It really didn't help that they knew each other.
"You told a mortal girl about half-bloods?"
"She can see through the Mist. She saw the monsters before I did."
"So you told her the truth."
"She recognized me from Hoover Dam, so -"
"You've met her before?" And you didn't tell me?
"Um, last winter. But seriously, I barely know her." Okay. Okay. Just . . . calm down.
"She's kind of cute."
"I – I never thought about it." There we go. Much better.
Annabeth still decided not to look at him. "I guess our afternoon is off. We should get you out of here, now that the police will be searching for you." Tsk, tsk. I'm disappointed.
She put it out of her mind.
Percy looked surprised (which was normal) and confused (which was also normal) when Annabeth told him that she had to meet Clarisse as soon as they got out of the taxi. She felt a little bad about leaving him at the hill, but she ignored it. There would be plenty of time for apologies later. Right now she had to get to work on the Labyrinth.
The next morning, Annabeth didn't bother waiting until after to tell Percy her theory about the Labyrinth. So she did the natural thing – she sat at the Poseidon table.
Well, maybe she just wanted to be with him. But at least with the Labyrinth theory, she had a reason. Even though Percy didn't seem to appreciate the risks she took.
"You're not supposed to be here," he said.
"We need to talk," Annabeth insisted.
"But the rules . . ." Yeah, I know I'm not a rule-breaker, but come on! This is important!
"Look," she said, a little irratibly, "Grover is in trouble. There's only one way we can figure to help him. It's the Labyrinth. That's what Clarisse and I have been investigating."
Eventually Percy caught on. Knowing she was pushing the rules a little too far, Annabeth went back to her table, feeling like she'd at least accomplished something – she'd both taught something to Pecy (which was normal) and not gotten threatened by Quintus's sausage cutting dagger for breaking the rules (which wasn't normal, but good).
"Percy Jackon with Annabeth Chase!" Quintus finished the list of pairs.
"Nice," Percy grinned at her.
"Your armor is crooked," she said, and redid his straps. They started off into the woods, following the scuttling tracks of some multi-legged monster.
They reached Zeus's fist. Scuttling noises came from the woods in all directions. Unknown monsters surrounding somebody will make somebody really jumpy, which was why they nearly cut off Juniper's head when she said "Hi" right behind them.
Annabeth wanted to slap him upside the head at his answer to Juniper's questions of whether they were busy: "Well, we're in the midle of this game against a bunch of monsters and we're trying not to die." It was obvious (to her, at least) that Juniper was distressed.
The nymph talked with them for a while, wringing her hands agitatedly. She was dead set against Grover going underground, but Annabeth was dead set against Juniper being dead set against Grover going underground. It was the only way for Grover to find Pan in time before his searcher's license was revoked.
Suddenly Juniper shrieked, "Hide!" and poofed into green mist. Turning around with a sinking feeling, Annabeth understood why:
Three out of the six monsters had come after them.
Considering Annabeth wanted to live older than fifteen, she fought. But even with Percy at her side, the odds were against them.
Percy stepped against a crack between two boulders barely wide enough to not squeeze them as flat as parchment. Annabeth sliced at a scorpion, then looked at him like he'd gone psycho.
"In there? It's too narrow."
"I'll cover you. Go!" Oh, so now he was covering her like she was incapable?
Well, it was sweet. She ducked between the boulders, and stepped onto open air. Surprised, she snatched at Percy's armor straps, and managed to pull him down with her.
They stood in an underground space that stretched off into invisibility in front and behind them. Or, as Percy put it, "It's a long room."
She gripped Percy's arm. "It's not a room. It's a corridor." Percy started forward, but if Annabeth was right, that was a dangerous – and potentially insane – choice. "Don't take another step. We need to find the exit." She was starting to panic. Memories . . .
Trapped in a dark corridor . . . lost . . . seven years old . . . cyclops!
Annabeth gave a shuddering breath and tried to relax herself. Percy gave her hand a squeeze. "It's okay," he promised. She calmed a fraction at his voice. "It's right -" He paused, looking around for the crack they'd fallen through.
It had disappeared. Her theory was confirmed.
She gripped Percy's hand harder. She'd never been one for public displays of affection, but here, in a shifting maze, surrounded by magical architecture shrouded in the darkness, she could use a little comfort.
"Two steps back," Annabeth said. They stepped backward like a centimeter off balance would blow them up – which was more than likely.
"Okay. Help me examine the walls."
"The mark of Daedalus," Annabeth said, like she expected him to remember every Greek myth she'd ever taught him, which she knew he wouldn't. But she thought it might make at least a little sense, because it was the maze in which the Minotaur was imprisoned, and the bull-man was his first monster, and – oh, never mind.
"Uh, okay. What kind of –"
"Got it!" Annabeth exclaimed with relief. She pressed the Greek symbol Δ, which glowed blue. A section of the roof rumbled open like a sliding door, and rungs melted out of the walls. The sky was much darker now than it had been when they'd fallen in. Time moved faster in Labyrinth.
They climbed out of the passage Luke was looking for – the invasion route straight into the heart of the camp.
Finally, finally, after seven years, Annabeth had her own quest to lead.
It just so happened that this particular quest was insanely dangerous – literally.
She was about to travel in an endless maze designed to drive a person insane to stop her former idol and best friend from destroying the only sanctuary for all half-god people in the modern world. The idea was almost laughable. Almost.
To top it all off, Percy seemed almost reluctant to help her with the quest. He knew that she was the best person to lead it. He knew she knew the most about the Labyrinth. He knew exactly what they were facing if they failed, and yet he still chose to argue with her.
What was wrong with him?
It was probably that mortal girl, Rachel Dare. The perky redheaded 'friend' of Percy's stretched her nerves to no end. Annabeth knew why, but stubbornly didn't face it.
The prophecy wasn't much consolation either. And lose a love to worse than death? Not exactly the motivation one hopes for when they're about to travel in an endless maze designed to drive a person insane to stop her former idol and best friend from – wait, hadn't she already been over this?
If Annabeth was insane enough to bring four people on a quest, then the Labyrinth posed no threat to her.
She needed a plan.
"Knock, knock?" Percy asked, stepping into her cabin. She turned around, startled.
"Oh . . . hi. Didn't hear you."
"You okay?" He was concerned.
Annabeth frowned at the scroll, as if willing it to make sense. "Just trying to do some research. Daedalus's Labyrinth is so huge. None of the stories agree about anything. The maps just lead from nowhere to nowhere."
"We'll figure it out," Percy promised. She could almost feel him looking at her.
"I've wanted to lead a quest since I was seven," she said, hoping for – something.
"You're going to do awesome." That was Percy with his blunt way of comforting her.
Annabeth gave him a grateful look, but then turned back to the mess of scrolls and books she'd pulled from the shelves for last-minute research. Doubt settled in. "I'm worried, Percy. Maybe I shouldn't have asked you to do this. Or Tyson and Grover."
"Hey, we're your friends. We wouldn't miss it."
"But . . ." But what if you get killed on this quest?
"What is it?" he asked. "The prophecy?"
"I'm sure it's fine," she said in a small voice. Dear gods, now she sounded like a complete pansy.
"What was the last line?"
Pansy or not, she blinked back tears (which she absolutely hated) and put out her arms.
Percy looked surprised for a moment, then stepped forward and hugged her. He was warm, and he smelled like the ocean. And chocolate chip cookies.
"Hey, it's . . . it's okay." He patted her back. It was a small gesture, but comforting.
"Chiron might be right," Annabeth murmured, shivering. "I'm breaking the rules. But I don't know what else to do. I need you three. It just feels right." Kind of like you hugging me.
"Then don't worry about it," he got out. "We've had plenty of problems before, and we solved them."
"This is different. I don't want anything happening to . . . any of you." Especially you, Percy.
Somehow, between appeasing Hera, breaking out Briares from Alcatraz, rescuing Nico from being barbecue dog food, Percy scooping acres of horse poop, throwing a printer at a Sphinx that insulted her intelligence, not freaking out when she had to follow a metal spider, and basically surviving the Labyrinth with her sanity intact, Annabeth wound up in a volcano on an errand to buy a way to Daedalus from Hephaestus.
It wasn't a particularly nice volcano. The heat was unbearable, even in her thin, worn T-shirt, and there were monsters crawling about wherever they looked. Not to mention the bane of the gods was imprisoned under her feet, most likely about to wake up and destroy them in a couple years' time, if they were lucky.
Arriving at the middle of the volcano, Annabeth turned invisible and went off to scout around. She hoped Percy could handle being on his own for a couple minutes. Any chance of that was completely blown when Percy came charging out of the side of the cavern, yelling her name.
"Shhh!" Still invisible, Annabeth pressed a hand down over his mouth and pulled him down out of sight. "You want to get us killed?"
He found her head and took off her Yankees cap. She purposely scowled as she turned visible. "Percy, what is your problem?"
"We're going to have company!" He explained the monster orientation class quickly.
"So that's what they are," she said grimly. "Telekhines. I should've known. And they're making . . . Well, look." She pointed out the four sea demons in the center platform, growling about fusing metals.
After a brief explanation about the telekhines' betrayal, Annabeth decided they had to get back to Hephaestus. They'd done their scouting job, and she wasn't going to endanger either of their lives any further.
"We have to get out –"
Suddenly the door to the monster orientation class exploded, and young telekhines flooded out, stumbling over each other.
"Put your cap back on," Percy said. "Get out!"
"What?" she shrieked in horror. "No! I'm not leaving you!" His flaw would get them all killed! He would try to save her, and then . . . and then . . . She couldn't bear to think about it.
"I've got a plan." Oh, no, not a Percy plan. "I'll distract them. You can use the metal spider – maybe it'll lead you back to Hephaestus. You have tell him what's going on."
"But you'll be killed!" This was exactly what she'd been thinking before the quest, in her cabin. She couldn't lose him, another person closer to her, after her dad, after Thalia, after Luke –
"I'll be fine. Besides, we've got no choice," Percy said, almost calmly. It was like he planned on dying.
Annabeth glared at him. She wanted to punch him – for insisting she go, for being the hero, for wanting to keep her safe. Oh, gods, the heat must be messing with her logic. But the least she could do was make him remember her. She kissed him.
"Be careful, Seaweed Brain." Her voice almost cracked on the last syllable. She put on her hat and invisibly made her way back to the entrance of the cavern. She touched her fingers to her lips, looking at Percy fighting the sea demons, then turned around, silently praying to the gods to keep him safe.
Camp looked the same.
The sea looked the same.
The sky looked the same.
The campers did too, at first.
But Cabin Three didn't.
She expected him to come out of it every morning, running because he was late for breakfast. She expected him to close the door every evening after saying good night to her. She expected him to make a panicked sprint for it because Silena Beaugard was the inspection counselor and everyone knew he was no neat freak.
He wasn't there.
He wasn't there.
He wasn't there.
She couldn't understand it, and if there was anything she hated most, it was not understanding. Two weeks was enough time for even Percy to come back, right?
Every day, she walked out of the cabin with shadows under her eyes, her hair hastily brushed and tied into a messy low ponytail, fiddling with her knife, as though she could attack whatever was preventing him from coming home. She was like an automaton – she walked, she spoke, she fought, but she ate the bare minimum for sustenance, she didn't sleep, she only responded when someone addressed her directly. Save curfew and meals, she perched on a rock on the beach or on Percy's bed in Cabin Three.
After half a week had passed, she started dividing her time down to the second between the sword arena and the Poseidon cabin. When breakfast finished, she walked emotionlessly to the arena, where campers soon learned to stay out of her way. When she'd bested every person brave enough to face her, she turned to the dummies.
A stab for Hephaestus, who sent them on a suicidal mission.
A gutting for the metal spider, because she hated it.
An unattached head for Daedalus, who built the Labyrinth.
A slice through the heart for Kronos, who forced them through it.
A slit on the face for Luke, who betrayed her.
A slash on the leg for Thalia, who wasn't there for her right then.
A decapitated dummy for Percy, who had the nerve to not return to her.
She sank to her knees and felt the tears stream down her cheeks, seeing horrible images no one else could see dance in front of her.
Percy would come back. He had to. And if he was dead, she was marching down to the Underworld and dragging him back.
Annabeth knew that Percy screwed up a lot of things. Capture the Flag, being normal, rescue missions, protecting Western civilization – the usual.
She'd never dreamed that he could screw up his own funeral.
" –assume he is dead," Chiron said, his face downcast. "After so long a silence, it is unlikely our prayers will be answered. I have asked his best surviving friend to do the final honors."
In short, Annabeth was announcing to the world that Percy Jackson was dead.
She took his shroud, a beautiful green silk burial cloth, embroidered with a trident, and fed it to the flames. That was it. He was dead. Now she had to plan how she was going to drag him back from the Underworld.
Annabeth watched the last of the green silk disappear in fire, and began speaking. She felt all eyes on her. "He was probably the bravest friend I've ever had. He . . ." She looked up, and felt the blood rush to her face. "He's right there!" Chiron cantered through the crowd, but Annabeth decided that politeness wasn't especially important when a "dead" friend was standing right in front of you, and shoved her way through the campers.
"Well," Chiron sighed with relief, "I don't believe I've ever been happier to see a camper return. But you must tell me –"
"WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?" she interrupted, hugging him fiercely to make sure he wasn't an illusion. "I – we thought you were dead, Seaweed Brain!" she caught herself.
"I'm sorry," Percy said in his usual oblivious manner. "I got lost."
"LOST? Two weeks, Percy? Where in the world – "
"Annabeth," Chiron interrupted. She was glad, because she had a good idea where in the world Percy Jackson could get lost for two weeks – on a certain island with a certain inhabitant she'd rather not think about with Percy in the equation. She turned her attention back to the newest problem.
She had to accept help.
From a mortal.
From that mortal.
Now she was back to pissed.
The stupid perky redheaded friend of Percy's kept them waiting in front of the Marriott Marquis for twenty minutes while she stood frozen on a tarp, looking like she'd gotten the Midas treatment.
Annabeth wished she had gotten the Midas treatment. Then she'd be happily standing as a gold statue, unable to bother her and Percy.
"Maybe if we push her over," she suggested after a while. If Rachel heard her, she didn't respond. After a couple more minutes, a kid in silver walked up and posed next to Rachel. She unfroze and walked toward them, grinning like a loon.
"Hey, Percy." Rachel was still grinning like a loon. "Good timing! Let's get some coffee." Good timing? Rachel probably wasn't good with math, either. As soon as they sat down in the smoothie place, she and Rachel got off on the wrong foot: "So, it's Annabell, right?"
"Annabeth. Do you always dress in gold?"
"Not usually," Rachel said airily. She went off on a long and dull explanation about raising money for art programs and stuff, ending with a loud announcement to the whole café about them being half-bloods: "Hey, everybody! These two aren't human! They're half Greek god!"
Rachel sat down. "They don't seem to care."
"That's not funny," Annabeth said spitefully. "This isn't a joke, mortal girl."
Percy intervened again. "Hold it, you two. Just calm down."
"I'm calm," Rachel insisted stubbornly. "Every time I'm around you, some monster attacks us. What's to be nervous about?" Considering the rate at which Percy was attacked by monsters, Annabeth didn't like the amount of time her calculations said Rachel was spending with him. Her dislike of the readhead grew.
"Look," Percy said apologetically, "I'm sorry about the band room. I hope they didn't kick you out or anything."
"Nah. They asked me a lot of questions about you. I played dumb."
"Was it hard?" Annabeth asked innocently. Percy interrupted before she could get her answer. He told Rachel about the Labyrinth, and how he and Annabeth needed to find Daedalus. Basically, he spilled about every single problem the demigods had right now.
Rachel glanced at Annabeth suspiciously. "You need my help?"
Annabeth stirred her smoothie resentfully. "Yeah," she said sullenly. "Maybe."
Percy explained about clear-sighted mortals. Rachel looked back and forth between him and Annabeth. "Okay. I'm in."
She sure was enthusiastic about helping Percy.
Annabeth hoped that killing her dignity was well worth what they would get with Rachel as a guide.
It was the final battle of the Labyrinth. Annabeth wasn't worried.
Because she was fighting with Percy at her side.
Whatever life threw at her – Rachel Elizabeth Dare, Daedalus's treachery, the death of a god, the twists of the Labyrinth – she could survive it. With Percy at her side, there wasn't a battle that she fought that they couldn't win.
Because he was totally the one.
To justify the bashing of Rachel in this: Remember, this is all from Annabeth's point of view, and at this time, she doesn't like Rachel because she thinks Rachel's a threat to her relationship with Percy. It's not until the end of The Last Olympian that they become friends.
I warned you about the fluff.