"Hey, man! You did great! Congrats! Do you have any spare change? You know, restocking the armoury and all that-"
Percy turned around to face a grinning Don, the faun's face stretched wide in a happy and slightly drunken smile.
"Thanks, Don. Um, not right now. Maybe you should go sit down...?"
"N-nooooo!" Don slurred. "Having loads of fun! Sitting is for the weak!"
A purple glowing Vitellius appeared at the side with a scowl of disapproval. "While I agree with that last sentence, Don, stop acting like an idiot! Fauns might be allowed in camp for a day for the celebrations, but I don't support this decision! For gods' sake, act a bit more proper!"
He spotted Percy. "Oh, and congrats, Percy. Great job. I knew you'd bring honour to the legion!"
Percy smiled. "Thanks, Vitellius. Maybe you should get Don to sit down before something goes haywire."
"Definitely!" Vitellius started barking orders at Don, directing him as he walked in staggering circles.
An arm looped through his. "Hey."
Percy looked down in surprise, then his face relaxed. Annabeth's intense grey eyes pierced him with amusement. He still couldn't believe that they'd survived. They'd changed, definitely. But they'd survived. That was a new level of wow.
"Come on, Seaweed Brain. Stop hanging at the side. Let's go enjoy the celebrations."
Annabeth pulled him towards the forum, where both camps were gathered. The Party Ponies, Chiron's cousins, were there, and they were sure cranking up the party mood.
A voice called Annabeth's name, and they turned around. Piper walked towards them from New Rome, her cornucopia in hand, grinning, completely at ease. Beside her walked Jason, his hand lifted in a wave.
"Hey, man," Jason said, clapping Percy appreciatively on the back. Percy returned it with a smirk of his own. "Hi."
Piper laughed. "You guys have such a strong bromance going on, it's weird."
Annabeth nodded, eyes sparkling humourously. "Maybe one day we'll find a way to get you two to walk through New Rome hand in hand and let Reyna watch. She'd laugh her head off."
Percy stared at them, mostly in amusement, but a little in fear, too. Annabeth and Piper could be persuasive when they wanted to. He and Jason must've worn sufficiently shocked expressions, because the two girls burst out laughing.
"We're just kidding." Piper chuckled.
"Maybe." Annabeth pondered.
"You'll never know." Piper winked.
Piper grabbed Jason's arm. "Well, you two take your time to come, but I promised the Party Ponies I'd give them enough food. Maybe a food fight. Imagine Octavian's face when he sees the forum splattered with food."
Jason grinned. "That'd be worth seeing. Let's go." He nodded to Percy and Annabeth. "See you two later."
Annabeth lifted her hand in a half-wave. "Have fun! 'Specially you, Pipes. Jason, don't let your girlfriend go crazy with the food. She's been extra happy ever since we returned."
Piper just stuck her tongue out at her and ran off towards the forum, pulling Jason behind her.
Annabeth slipped her fingers through Percy's again. "I guess this is it, huh? Our final huge world-threatening quest. Quite a finale."
Percy let a small smile appear on his face. "Unless Rachel spouts out another Great Prophecy."
Annabeth's blonde curls danced as she shook her head adamantly. "I love Rachel, but I'd kick her in the face if she tries to give us another prophecy. I'm done with it."
Percy laughed. "Or we could just play dumb."
"Wouldn't be hard for you, huh, Seaweed Brain?"
"Shut up, Wise Girl."
"Percy I think you're already running out of insults."
Percy sighed in defeat. "Fine."
Annabeth grinned in triumph and lifted her arms into the air in mock victory. Taking advantage of her momentary distraction, Percy picked her up and ran carrying her all the way down to the forum, Annabeth laughing hysterically the whole time.
As Percy set her down, he heard a small laugh at his side. Reyna leaned against a pillar, watching them in amusement. Gone was the extremely serious, burdened praetor. Now, her eyes constantly held a glimmer of laughter, and her mouth was turned up at the sides. She still held herself regally, and gave out an aura of pride and independence, but she seemed more approachable now. Percy was glad for the change.
Reyna hugged Annabeth tightly, then smirked at Percy. "You two have been busy, have you?"
Annabeth flushed a light red. "Reyna, he was just showing me around New Rome."
Reyna gave her a nod, her eyes dancing with laughter. "That's what I meant, Chase. No need to get defensive."
Partly to take her mind off the subject but also because he hadn't seen him, Percy asked her, "Where's Frank?"
Reyna vaguely waved at the crowd. "Somewhere in the middle of that. The last time I saw him, he and Nico were in the midst of a deep discussion about Mythomagic. Hazel gave me such a deadpan look, I laughed so loudly that I scared three of your campers."
"Hey guys!" Leo called out, strolling by, Calypso trailing a little behind him, smiling hesitantly. Percy still found that a little weird, but they seemed really happy together, so why not.
"Valdez!" Reyna yelled back. "Don't burn my city down again or I'll put you on rebuilding duty under Terminus!"
"Yeah, yeah, whatever!" Leo jokingly shouted without turning around. Reyna rolled her eyes. Percy restrained a smile.
"Anyway, are you guys coming to watch this? The Party Ponies have set up a cannon to fire people out of. Nothing dangerous, they caught the five campers that've gone so far, no injuries - Frank and I are trying to start a petition to get Octavian in there. We did agree that it was one of the first things we'd do when we took back command." Reyna raised an eyebrow questioningly.
Annabeth smiled at her. "Definitely. You go ahead first, though."
Reyna gave her a knowing grin, then gave Percy a sarcastic half-bow. "See you at the forum, then!"
Percy's eyes followed her retreating form and flying purple cloak. Although she still cleared a path, her legionnaires talked to her as she passed, and she returned the chatter easily.
"She's changed, hasn't she." Annabeth murmured.
Percy shrugged. "We all have."
Annabeth stared thoughtfully into the distance. Percy knew she was about to slip into one of her deep-thoughts trances again, and he quickly opened his mouth to speak. Hey, not to be a bad boyfriend or anything, but why talk about architecture and the creepy future when you could eat? Plus earlier, Gwen had told him that there were cheeseburgers, and it was a day of celebration.
"Let's go, Wise Girl. Enough thinking."
"Yeah - yeah, you're right. I was just thinking about how far we've come, Percy. Look at this. Look at us when we were twelve."
Percy squeezed her hand comfortingly. "Wouldn't have it any other way."
Annabeth gave him a quizzical, smug look. "Maybe less life-threatening situations."
"Yeah, maybe that."
She shook her head. "Don't even try to be romantic, Percy. You're cute and you're sweet, and that's enough for me. Plus, you never really think your lines through."
Percy pouted a little. "Hmph. Whatever."
Annabeth smiled at him. "It's the future, Percy. But we'll think about that later. Let's go have some cake. Plus, I think Octavian just got voted to be loaded into the cannon."
That was enough for Percy. They ran up just in time to watch Octavian getting hoisted up to the mouth of the Party Ponies' cannon by twenty or more campers, despite his protests. The two praetors stood at the side, cloaks fluttering in the wind, Hazel's arm looped through Frank's, watching contentedly.
As Annabeth laughed and catcalled with the rest of the campers and legionnaires, Percy looked out over the camps, purple mixing with orange, laughter and smiles everywhere. He thought about the times he'd prayed he wasn't a demigod, the times he'd hated the gods for producing demigod children, the times when he secretly resented it.
Look, I didn't want to be a half-blood.
As he looked at the crowds of campers; the beautiful sunset; the buildings of New Rome glittering with the dying rays of the sun. As the Party Ponies counted down and launched Octavian into the sky as everyone cheered and laughed hysterically at Octavian's high-pitched girlish scream. As Annabeth laughed and clapped in appreciation beside him, as he thought about everything he'd done and everything they'd all achieved, Percy concluded something.
Look, I didn't want to be a half-blood.
But then again, there are worse things to be.
((unfortunately, i do not live in the UK, but I've always wanted to write for a competition, so thank you if you've read this far, I apologise for the time you've wasted, and I hope you enjoyed my writing.))