Actions

Work Header

A Little Cliché

Work Text:

Annabeth scrutinized the obviously daft boy in front of her, muttering something about the failed education system, and pushing the heavy glass door of the coffee shop out of her way as she left. She supposed it really shouldn't have surprised her; Starbucks workers were notorious for their terrible spelling, but who was honestly this bad? She sipped her black coffee, relishing the bitter taste. She didn't even like Starbucks, it was always overpriced and overhyped, but of course her favorite coffee shop was closed that day. Just her luck.

Scrawled in uneven, sloppy handwriting across the front of her paper cup was NNanabeth.

"Annabeth with two Ns," she'd told him. Now, apparently, she was a grandmother, also known as Nnanabeth. She sighed, clutching her laptop bag tightly to her hips as she descended the dirty New York City subway staircase. Once she had gone through the headache that was getting on her usual train, she held the bar above her head with distaste (her disgust for the hygiene of other people was something she suspected would never fade), settling in for a long, long commute.

"—shit!" she exclaimed, almost involuntarily, her coffee cup teetering dangerously, almost slipping out of her fingers as some neanderthal bumped into her. She whirled around to give said nitwit a piece of her mind, but faltered when her narrow gaze landed on him. Her eyes widened in surprise.

She wasn't sure what'd she'd been expecting, an old rude New Yorker with a beer belly large enough to suspect he was pregnant, maybe? A snobby lady with long legs, a smoothed down brunette bob, and precariously placed spectacles? A young teenager, intoxicated with a puke-stained shirt because she'd been unable to take what was in her cup anymore? A nervous Nelly, carrying a present the size of his head, wrapped with a ridiculously large bow, on his way to his friend's bar mitzvah? She wasn't sure what'd she been expecting, but certainly not this.

Annabeth had never thought of herself as a ditzy blonde, far from it, and she'd never found that she was easily persuaded by good looks or slick commentary, but he was gorgeous, and she couldn't help but stare. Annabeth could draw buildings like nobody's business, but in that moment she wished she was an artist just so she could paint him through her lenses, capturing the point of view perfectly. She would paint him in long, loose strokes, she'd decided. Free, like his aura, and hard lines around his face and his jaw, and her pen pressed down stiffly at his irises. He had dark ruffled hair, unruly in a way Annabeth had never even known she'd found attractive, with these sea-green eyes that were the perfect hue of the deepest, clearest oceans. They were swirling like the sea, and his face was twisted in a concerned expression, and—

"Hello?" he waved a hand in front of her face, causing her to snap out of her daze. The blonde's cheeks flushed pink as she was brought back to the present situation.

"I beg your pardon?" she cleared her very dry throat, trying not to look in his eyes again, or sue her, she would get lost once more. It was inevitable.

"I asked if you were okay?" he asked, unsure. His forehead was wrinkled in worry, his full lips pursed, and he looked uneasy.

"Oh," she blinked, her gaze snapping down to the cup in her hand. She remembered her anger, but it had dissipated the second she'd laid eyes on him, and she suspected it wouldn't be resurfacing anytime soon. Damn him. "I'm fine," she articulated, assuring herself more than him, and looking up at him with a half-exhausted smile.

"Okay," he seemed relieved. "I'm sorry. The guy behind me shoved me, and just—" he gestured wildly with his hands, making a plummeting motion, and then expanding them like a balloon as he depicted an explosion. He shrugged apologetically and sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck.

"It's okay," Annabeth permitted, taking pity on him and his awkward explanation. He was very dorky, she'd decided.

"Okay," he repeated, and Annabeth absentmindedly wondered if he knew to say anything else. The train slowed to a stop, and as he glanced up at the platform, his shoulders slumped with relief. "Well, this is me." He slid the flat of his tongue across his teeth as he considered the blonde in front of him. "It was nice meeting you..." He squinted at the name on her cup, his expression morphing into adorable confusion, and maybe something like disturbance. "...Nnanabeth?" She cringed, wishing that the Earth would crumble below her into a dark abyss, and perhaps swallow her while it was at it. But maybe that was just wishful thinking.

"Annabeth," she quickly corrected. "The people at Starbucks don't know how to spell," she conceded, hoping that her brief explanation assuaged the awkward situation.

A muscle in his cheek twitched, as he barely concealed his thinly veiled amusement. Annabeth's face felt hot with humiliation. "They rarely do," he mentioned, as the subway doors slid open. "I'm Percy," he disclosed. "P-E-R-C-Y." And with a small smile, he bid her goodbye, turned, and walked out of the train, leaving a blushing, dumbstruck blonde behind in his wake.

"Please tell me we're not having that for dinner," Annabeth pointed to the carton of Oreo ice cream.

The girl on their couch looked up at her with wide, kaleidoscope eyes. Her lips curved up in a half smile. "It's every kid's dream," she shrugged. Annabeth narrowed at the pretty brunette in front of her. She should've hated her for looking so good, she really should've considering the fact that her best friend had most likely not moved from that couch all day, but something about her friend's natural charisma, bubbly personality, and gentle heart kept the loathing away.

"I'm not five, Piper," Annabeth criticized, watching as she meticulously dug another spoonful of dessert out of the carton.

"Relax," Piper assured her, using her left hand to wave away Annabeth's concerns. "I ordered Thai." She beamed like it was an accomplishment. Annabeth supposed it sort of was, considering that fact that her best friend had spent the past week holed up in their apartment like a hermit.

"If you don't get enough sun, you're going to lose your tan," Annabeth told her and shook her head. The blonde kicked off her heels haphazardly and dropped her briefcase on the coffee table. She lazily tossed her keys on the kitchen island, and it slid across a couple inches, falling to the ground noisily. Annabeth didn't pay it any attention.

"Don't threaten me with my complexion." Piper childishly stuck her tongue out.

Annabeth rolled her eyes, digging a spoon out of the utensils and stealing a bite of the ice cream before the brunette could protest. "You're going to ruin your appetite," she mentioned like a hypocrite, amused as Piper smacked her with a pillow. The doorbell rang and she made a beeline for the front door, scooping change out of a glass container next to the fruit bowl. The can was filled three quarters of the way with loose coins and wadded up dollar bills. It had originally been Piper's idea— a 'travel savings jar' so that they could one visit Rome, or Greece, or backpack through Europe, perhaps visit Africa, or hike through Asia—but now it had become a landfill for lost change for food or grocery store runs.

Annabeth took the steaming paper brown bag from the delivery boy, thanking him politely, and then she kicked the door closed with her foot. She eagerly peeled the boxes open, peering in each one curiously. Her mouth watered at the sight.

Piper padded over to her with a grin.

"Chicken satay?"

"Yep," Piper popped the 'p.'

"Extra peanut sauce?" she interrogated.

"Yep."

"Panang curry?"

"Yep."

"Khao pad chili?"

"Yep."

"Drunken noodles?"

Piper laughed at Annabeth's enthusiasm. "I did good, right?"

"You're a godsend," the blonde confirmed, inhaling the delicious scent of dinner. Work was always long and as much as she loved her architecture firm, some people were just straight-up idiots. Piper was a sight for sore eyes.

"I try." Piper returned a wry smile and helping her best friend to transport all the cartons to the coffee table, they settled on the large couch in front of the TV. Annabeth had neatly draped her blazer on the back of a barstool.

"Please don't tell me we're watching that," Annabeth expertly twirled her chopsticks in the noodles.

The brunette playfully bumped her shoulder into Annabeth's. "Pretty Little Liars is amazing," she protested.

"Sure, but the show ended a while back, Piper," the blonde pointed out, scrutinizing the screen as Lucy Hale brought her finger to her lips, ending the theme song.

Piper shrugged half-heartedly. "We live in the 21st century, Annabeth," she cheekily pointed out. "We can watch things again."

Annabeth rolled her eyes. "No need to get snippy."

Piper grinned to herself, delicately popping a steaming hot bite of chicken into her mouth. Annabeth, on the other hand, gasped for a moment like an asthmatic dragon. Too hot.

"How was work today?" Piper ventured lightly, the tv show fading to mere background noise.

"Great," the blonde sarcastically retorted. "I forgot to send a blueprint to a client, and they called me four time during a meeting until the board finally asked me if I wanted to take it. Athena told me she would disown me the next time I forgot something, and I'm pretty she wants to hide me away at the office because I'm an embarrassment to society, and not fit to be a daughter of hers."

Piper winced, sympathetic, only all too familiar with Annabeth's harsh mother.

"Thalia came to pick up her phone she left on our couch two days ago, and then she obviously made a scene like always," Annabeth remembered, but Piper only laughed at the mention of their mutual friend. "And Luke…" Annabeth squeezed her eyes shut, frustrated by her coworker. "He kept asking me nonsensical things, coming over to my cubicle and talking to me about pencils for twenty minutes," she ranted, exasperated.

Piper chuckled good-naturedly. "He likes you," she mused, a twinkle in her eyes.

Annabeth cringed at the reminder. "False." She grimaced. "Besides, the feeling is not mutual." If she had to listen to pencil talk for one more minute, she would blow her top.

"Looks like you have standards after all," Piper mumbled under her breath, turning her attention back to the bright screen. Annabeth promptly glared at her.

"Says the girl shoveling ice cream in her mouth for the third day in a row."

Piper waved off her concerns with her free hand.

"Just because Ian likes you doesn't mean you can get out of work forever, Pipes," Annabeth berated, putting her fork to her mouth. Ian was the brunette's manager at LVMH Inc. in the heart of New York City, and it was no secret that he was utterly and completely enamored by her even with the hundreds of models that passed through their company every day. Consequently, equally from Piper's job and from her lovestruck boss, her friend's closet was full to the brim with Louis Vuitton purses and lavish dresses. In the compartment above the hangers, there was a box neatly packed with Givenchy perfumes, and Piper was always the first person to come home with samples of Loewe's latest jewelry, Céline's thousand-dollar wallets, and Dior's sky-high heels.

Piper looked at her with wide eyes and a look that said why-not?

Annabeth raised an eyebrow at her best friend. "Want to tell me what's going on?"

Piper flopped back dramatically and reluctantly paused her drama show. "I just—I've been in a bit of a slump because I haven't found my soulmate yet."

Annabeth was quiet; she wasn't exactly the best at this. "What happened to Mike?" She couldn't help but wonder if he was at fault for the state of her roommate.

Piper shook her head, dejected. "Three months of my life down the drain," she mourned, blankly staring at the glass of water in front of her. "He said he loved me, and I didn't say anything, frozen. I guess I was afraid I wouldn't be the one on his tattoo, and deep down, I guess I knew that all along," Piper vented, heartbroken. "Sure enough, he glanced down to his wrist where it said 'I love you more.' I hope whatever girl he's with next is happier," she mumbled, pulling her feet under the covers.

Annabeth awkwardly patted her friend's shoulder, well out of her comfort zone. "I'm sorry, Pipes."

"Me too."

"If it helps, not everyone finds them immediately. I haven't found mine yet," the blonde consoled.

Piper snorted, but it lacked any malice. "That's because you don't care."

Indeed, she did not. Annabeth had searched for her soulmate once and only once back in high school, and after having her heart shattered into a million pieces, she'd decided to cut her losses because it honestly wasn't worth it.

"You'll find them," Annabeth assured her.

"Beckendorf turned out to be Silena's after all," Piper mentioned her older half-sister. "She found out about a week ago. They'll probably get married or something."

Ah, so that's what's brought on this onset of sadness, Annabeth realized.

"It just sucks to see everyone else find their destiny and not find it yourself, you know?" Piper asked no one in particular. "Maybe I should give Ian a try after all," she muttered as an afterthought. "It's worth a shot."

Annabeth shook her head. "Piper, maybe you should take a break. They'll come when the time is right." She glanced down to Piper's wrist, silently rereading the words she'd read a thousand times before: Pretending not to love you was the hardest thing I've ever done. A dramatic line for a girl in a dramatic life.

"You really think so?" Piper's voice was soft, unsure.

Annabeth slumped back against the seat, tossing the empty carton onto the coffee table. "I do."

The next time Annabeth ran into the mysterious subway man, she was running late.

Annabeth tapped her foot impatiently, glancing down at her watch frequently. New York transportation sucked ass, and no one could convince her otherwise. The doors slid open, and she walked in, her head buried in a phone.

Not even twenty minutes had passed by before the car screeched to a stop. Chaos broke out in the car, people complaining, a noisy baby crying on the left. They were already running behind schedule, and now the subway just stopped working. Were they kidding her?!

Some garbled voice came over the speaker, but it was as clear as the adults in Charlie Brown.

"Excuse me, did you hear the announcement?" Annabeth went to tap the shoulder of the stranger next to her, only for him to whirl around. Annabeth took a hasty step back in surprise.

His surprised face morphed into one of amusement when he realized it was her. "Oh look, it's Nnannabeth herself," he gently teased.

"Percy?" Annabeth's word caught in her throat.

"Mhmm," he agreed quietly. "And no, I did not. I'm not even sure they were speaking English to be honest."

Annabeth cracked a hesitant smile, her troubles momentarily forgotten. Someone pushed her from behind, grumbling, conveniently shoving her into Percy.

Percy reached out on instinct, catching her before she could fall. "You should really watch out, you know. Wouldn't want to make a habit of this." He smirked, mirth dancing in his mesmerizing eyes.

Annabeth flushed. "It's not a habit," she protested. "It's not my fault everyone else insists on running me over."

Percy laughed at that, following her gaze as she glanced anxiously at her watch again. "Have somewhere to be?"

"Work," Annabeth breathlessly answered, her eyes flitting around the car. "Do you think they'll start up again soon? I'm already running late," she admitted.

"I sincerely doubt it," Percy sighed, exasperated. "New York," he muttered under his breath, and Annabeth bit the inside of her cheek. Was he a tourist or something? She hadn't pegged him to be one.

"Where are you from?" she blurted out before her mind could agree to shut herself up. Annabeth stared at him expectantly, secretly mortified.

Percy blinked, caught off guard by her outburst. "Manhattan," he cautiously replied.

"Oh." Annabeth let out an awkward laugh, internally cursing herself. Percy looked at her strangely, and she could feel herself shrinking under his gaze.

"You?" He threw her question back in her face. She was grateful that he continued to carry the conversation, saving her from her embarrassment, even if only by a little.

"You'll hate me." Annabeth shook her head, adamantly refusing.

Percy raised an eyebrow. "Why? You from Jersey or something?" he joked, a glint of curiosity in his eyes.

"Worse," Annabeth confessed. "Boston, though I moved to San Francisco later."

Percy groaned. "That really doesn't make it better, Red Sox." He shot her an evil eye, but the corner of his mouth curved up, giving him away.

Annabeth held up her hands in surrender. "I warned you!" she laughed. Her amusement was cut short, however, when her phone went off in her bag. Annabeth's head snapped down to the briefcase, and she fumbled for the phone, before holding it up to her ears hastily. She looked away from Percy, plugging her other ear with her free hand to cancel out the outside noise.

"Annabeth," the voice on the line snapped.

The blonde cringed, instantly recognizing the voice.

"Mother," she greeted Athena, albeit cautiously. She was acutely aware of Percy watching her out of the corner of his eye.

"You're late," Athena bit out, and Annabeth flinched at her tone. Today would be rougher than usual.

"I know," Annabeth granted, letting her eyes shut momentarily. She was so tired she felt dizzy. "The subway was late, and now it's stuck."

"Don't make excuses. One of our clients has been waiting for over half an hour," Athena criticized, berating her daughter. Annabeth worried her bottom lip, letting her mother chew her out for another couple minutes or so.

"I know, I know… I will try to catch a cab… No, I'm not making excuses… I'm so sorry, I know… I hadn't thought about that… I'm on my way right now. I will try and see what's keeping them… No, I know I directly reflect on you… Yes… Yes… Yes, ten minutes." Annabeth flinched as Athena hung up on her.

Her eyes flicked up to meet Percy's, and her mouth twisted involuntarily into a frown. Percy didn't say anything, awkward.

"Your boss sounds lovely."

"Mmhm," Annabeth agreed, barely registering his voice. She stared emptily at her phone screen, helpless. There was no way she could make it to work in twenty-five minutes, much less Athena's unreasonable demand of ten. She wavered slightly as she pushed her way to the subway doors, fighting her way through fat subway-goers and scrawny young men. Hopelessly, she tried to pry a man's hands off a pole, so she could get through, but he was oblivious to her struggle.

"Annabeth?" Percy called from behind her. She shut him out, desperate to escape the subway. "Annabeth!" he said again when she almost fell, and she turned to look at him, silently panicking. He seemed to notice the distress in her face for his expression softened. "Let me help you," he offered, and Annabeth swallowed tightly, her heart beating out of her chest. She nodded quickly, her mouth pressed into a thin line.

When Percy forced his way through the crowd, miraculously, they parted for him. Percy guided her out of the crowded car out the door and onto the platform. Annabeth let out a breath of relief she hadn't known she'd been holding in.

"Thank you," she expressed, slumping slightly. Her slim fingers tightened around the briefcase handle, unsure of where to go from there. She could catch a cab, but it was almost guaranteed that she would be stuck in traffic. She could try boarding another subway car, but that would take much too long, and it was too far to walk in her heels.

Annabeth faltered with her phone, desperately searching for Piper's contact. She wasn't sure what exactly she could do, but the brunette could perhaps ease her anxiety and help her think her way through the problem. She glanced up, and nearly jolted back. Percy was looking at her with an odd look on his face.

"Are you okay?" he finally asked.

Annabeth hesitated. Was she so desperate that she would disclose her workplace and ask the help of a mere stranger? He could be a psychopath for all she knew. Yes, yes I am, she inwardly confirmed, sighing in resignation.

"I have to get to work, and I don't know how I'm going to get there in time before my mother kills me," she blurted out.

Percy's eyebrows furrowed together in deep thought, and she could practically see the gears in his head turning. "Where do you work?" he finally asked. Percy knew he wasn't a hero, quite the opposite, in fact, but in that moment there was nothing he wanted more than to rescue this girl, this girl who had somehow caused him to take leave of his senses, this girl who had filled up his brain, leaving no room for anything like reason or common sense.

"250 west, 57th street," Annabeth caved, biting her lip nervously.

"Upper East Side," Percy nodded. "I don't know about ten minutes, but how about twenty?"

"You'd be a lifesaver."

Percy nodded, as if she'd confirmed what he already knew. He glanced to his left before briskly crossing a stream of people to the stairs leading up to the streets of the city. Annabeth hesitated. She felt foolish; walking around with a stranger in the city was one of the first rules her father had instilled in her back in Boston.

"Well?" Percy called over his shoulder when he realized she wasn't following him. "Are you coming or what?"

Annabeth's face went warm with embarrassment, and she prayed her blush would hide it. Hasty, she quickly ran after him, her heels clicking against the concrete, lugging her heavy briefcase behind her.

"No. Absolutely not," Annabeth protested, her eyes wide at his motorcycle.

Percy rolled his eyes. "It's the fastest way. We can use the smaller roads." He leaned his forearms on the handles, casually looking up at her.

"Are you crazy?" she hissed, eyeing his bike suspiciously. Why, oh why did it always have to be her in these situations? "That's a death contraption! According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 5,286 people alone died in motorcycle crashes in 2016, a 5.1 percent increase from the year before," she rattled off statistics.

Percy slowly blinked at her. "Why do you know that?"

"I don't know!" To say she was panicking would be an understatement.

"You're running out of time to get to work," Percy blankly stated.

"I know, goddamnit," she cursed, the cold winter air turning her cheeks pink. Despite wearing gloves, her hands were freezing off, and she could see her breath in the frosty air. This was a terrible, terrible idea, so why was she about to get on behind a stranger? "Screw it," she huffed, climbing on after him. When Percy revved up the engine, her arms shot out, squeezing him around the middle so hard that he probably couldn't breathe. She didn't care, paralyzed with fear.

"You can loosen your grip," Percy said, his voice gruff, but Annabeth didn't let up.

"There's no way in hell I'm moving or doing anything else," Annabeth assured him, her voice uncharacteristically shaky. Percy seemed to take pity on her.

"It's not that bad, trust me," he consoled her. Why should I trust you?! Annabeth wanted to scream.

Percy pulled out of the alleyway, smoothly rolling out onto the streets. She squeezed her eyes shut, terrified.

The rumble of the engine below them only scared Annabeth more, but she tried to calm her fear as to not startle her savior. Clutching onto him around the abdomen desperately, she watched with mild fascination as he expertly wove through cars and maneuvered through small alleyways. Her adrenaline was racing, but her heart seemed to have calmed down tremendously.

"My mother always told me if I rode a motorcycle with a boy, she'd kill me," Annabeth called over the noise of the wind whipping past her ears and the deafening rumble of the bike. Perhaps it was her nervousness that was causing her to irrationally say stupid things, she mused to herself.

She didn't hear him laugh, but rather she felt him shake with amusement.

"You'll be okay," Percy promised as he drove. She glanced at him as he rode his bike, taking note of the way his eyebrows knit together in concentration when he wiggled through the smaller spaces, and the way his cheeks flushed from either the cold, or the high his adrenaline-junkie ass got, or a combination of both.

Fifteen minutes later, he stopped outside of a tall, glass building, popping out the kickstand on the motorbike.

Annabeth was sure she looked like hell, her hair frizzy and blown in every direction. When she climbed off, she nearly lost her balance, disoriented from the ride. "You're," she panted, "you're fucking crazy," she decided, and he threw his head back, laughing. Her lips twitched begrudgingly. "But thanks. You really… um, you really saved me back there," Annabeth forced out, uncomfortable with how vulnerable it felt to say.

Percy shrugged half-heartedly. "It was no problem," he assured her, but Annabeth knew it was a straight lie. He had obviously been on the subway car to get somewhere himself, but still he had taken time out of his day to save her panicky self. Sometimes Annabeth really loved human beings.

"Nonetheless, thank you," she restated, afraid she would never be able to truly express her gratitude. Annabeth tucked a curl behind her ear, unsure of where to tread from there.

"You should probably go," he said after a moment of awkward silence.

Right! She cursed, her anxiety gnawing at her chest once more. Annabeth glanced down to her watch, spinning on her heels. She offered a small smile before running off towards the front door.

"Maybe I'll see you again somewhere, Annabeth," Percy called after her, almost as if it were an afterthought. She waved her hand behind her in acknowledgement before pushing the heavy glass doors open and barging into the architectural firm. She scaled four flights of stairs in heels, not even bothering to wait for the elevator.

Fate must've liked embarrassing her because only four days later, she ran into him again, and it was just as awkward and stupid as the first time. She was very much aware of the hideous Mathletes hoodie she was wearing that somehow still fit her from sixth grade. She hadn't fought her hair either this morning, only expecting to run into errands, not run into charming strangers that made her regret every decision in her life. She internally cringed at her appearance, Piper's voice in her head laughing at her rotten luck and lack of effort in her fashion choices.

"You," Annabeth breathed, her eyes narrowing at the attractive young man across from her.

"Me," he congratulated, sarcasm bleeding into his words.

"Are you stalking me?" Annabeth demanded across the oranges at the grocery store. She hoped he wouldn't comment on her mismatched socks.

Percy rolled his eyes. "Um. I would hope not."

"Then why do I see you everywhere all of a sudden when I've never seen you before?" She squinted at him. "This city's huge. I should not be running into you as many times as I am."

Percy shrugged, not really caring too much about it. "Did you ever entertain the thought that maybe you're stalking me?"

Annabeth glowered at him. "I am not," she said, indignified.

Percy hid a smile behind his bag of oranges. "You look like a cherry when you're like this, you know," he commented. It only made her flush deeper. "See? I can see the family resemblance." Percy held up a bag of cherries from his basket, and she covered her face in exasperation.

"That's terrible," she groaned. "Besides, it's your fault I look like this," she accused.

"Oh, really?" He was amused, and it was infuriating. Cocky bastard.

"Really," she affirmed, nodding tightly.

"How so?" he gestured for her to go first. She sniffed, getting into line before him.

"You're always saying dumb stuff, things you shouldn't be saying, and so obviously my complexion is going to react," Annabeth decided, realizing exactly how stupid she sounded as she said it, but it wasn't like she could exactly back out of her wild claim. Percy simply shook his head.

"It's been interesting knowing you, Annabeth," he murmured, scooping up his grocery bags after her.

They walked outside into the cold air, and Annabeth immediately regretted it. It was much too chilly to be out of the house that day. Percy seemed unaffected, and she felt a surge of jealousy for his inability to have cold blood. He stopped in front of a Prius. She eyed it suspiciously.

"Well, this is me," said Percy, clearing his throat. He popped the trunk open, neatly stacking the groceries. Annabeth was bewildered.

"I thought you drove a motorcycle?"

"I can't exactly carry groceries in it, now can I? It's just a present," he assured her.

Annabeth's eyes nearly bugged out of her head. "A present?!"

Percy snorted, entertained by her reaction. "Yes, a present. It's a thing given to someone as a gift," he drawled, ever the smartass.

Annabeth scoffed. "That was not my point, and you know it."

"My father," he said after a moment, and she silently noted how strange it was that he referred to his dad so formally. It was almost like how she referred to Athena. "He's rich," Percy casually said.

"Oh." She wasn't really sure how to respond to that.

"I don't like him though," Percy admitted.

"Oh." She wished she could articulate more than 'oh.' Annabeth, you idiot, she silently berated herself.

"He left my mom and I when I was just a baby, so his presents are kind of pointless, you know?"

"Oh." Annabeth shrunk at Percy's sudden vulnerability. He wasn't looking at her either.

"Is that all you're going to say?" he finally inquired, glancing up at her.

Annabeth bit her bottom lip. "I was planning on it, yes." She awkwardly rubbed her hands together, creating friction, and hopefully some semblance of warmth.

He nodded. "Right. Well, I guess I'll see y—"

"—wait!" she interrupted before she could consult her brain. Annabeth's conscious was banging its head against a wall at her spontaneity. Fuck. Her. He looked up at her expectantly. Think, idiot! "I never asked you," she began, thinking on the fly. "What exactly do you do for a living? I thought it'd be only fair I know now that I'm an architect and where I work, and you could subsequently come over and murder me for all I know."

Percy smiled at his shoes, and she was secretly satisfied that her punchline had landed somewhat successfully. "I'm not an ax-murderer, Annabeth. Frankly, I don't have that kind of dedication."

Annabeth felt that on a spiritual level. "That's exactly what an ax-murderer would say," she pointed out, and he rolled his eyes—something he seemed to do a lot.

"Oh, hush." He paused before remembering her original query. "I'm a marine biologist."

She wasn't sure what she had been expecting, but certainly not that. Marine biologists tended to work near coastlines, for one thing, and they certainly weren't something you came across every day.

"What?" She frowned, puzzled.

He shifted his weight to his other foot, awkward. "Yep," he said, popping the 'p.' "I really love… water." He cringed cutely, and Annabeth felt her heart beat a little bit faster.

"Me too," she agreed, weirded out. "It keeps me from dying," she said blankly.

"Shut up," he groaned when he realized she was teasing him. Annabeth's face split in half, a grin enveloping her.

"That was funny, you have to admit it."

"For you, maybe." Percy pouted, and Annabeth's heart stuttered in her chest.

He looked exactly like a baby seal, and she suddenly found herself wondering how people ever said no to him for anything, if they did at all. And fuck, because she'd known since the first day he'd ran into her that there was this blossoming inkling of attraction, but it wasn't supposed to be like this. No, she was supposed to make a fool or herself only once and then never see him again, so she could promptly forget she had ever met him at all. But this was so much worse, and there would be repercussions, she had no doubt.

"I have to go," Annabeth declared without thinking.

Percy's expression into confusion and something resembling disappoint, or maybe it was regret. It didn't matter. It wasn't her problem anymore. He was just a stranger, and he should've only ever stayed that. "Annabeth!" he called after her as she sped walk to her car.

"What?" she hissed, turning to face him after he called her two more times. He jogged to catch up with her, stopping before her. There was an odd look on his face.

"What do you mean what?" He gestured vaguely to her and then himself. "You just ran away like you'd seen a ghost or something. Did I say something wrong? I'm sorry—"

"—no," she hastily cut him off. "You didn't do anything wrong. I'm just in a hurry to get home," she lied, feeling slightly guilty when he relaxed.

"Oh, okay." His gaze seemed to burn a hole in her, though, and something told her he knew she was lying. That's just nonsensical, she chastised herself.

"Yep."

They lingered in the awkward silence.

"Okay, bye." She turned to her car, and Percy watched as she stuffed her own groceries in her car. She had forgotten the ice cream; Piper was going to kill her.

"Okay," he repeated.

"Okay," she echoed. They stared at each other.

"I'll see you around, I guess," and with one final, half-frown, Percy disappeared from her view. Annabeth let out a breath of relief she hadn't known she'd been holding in, but why, oh why, was there this coil of dread curling in her stomach at the way their encounter had ended? Shrugging off alien feelings, she slid into the seat behind the steering wheel.

When Annabeth arrived to her humble abode, she was more than surprised to see a boy on her couch, one that she had never seen in her entire life.

Why did the universe insist on her running into strangers when she looked like hell? Internally groaning, Annabeth skeptically inspected him.

"Who are you?"

"Oh, sorry!" He shot up from the couch. "Jason Grace," he introduced himself, sticking his hand out politely. "You must be Annabeth."

Annabeth warily shook it, balancing the groceries on one arm. He had straight white teeth, and well-groomed blond hair that was trimmed neatly. He was tall, taller than her, and he had simple black-rimmed glasses perched precariously on the bridge of his nose. She would've thought of him as the typical preppy boy if it wasn't for a small scar just above his upper lip. It wasn't so big that it was distracting, but enough that it was noticeable, making him discernable from the others. Annabeth had no doubt this was the work of her roommate. She rolled her eyes: so much for the 'your soulmate will show up when they're ready' talk.

"Annabeth, is that you?" a familiar voice called from the small kitchen in the other room.

"No, I'm an intruder here to rob you of your hot pockets," her voice dripped with sarcasm.

Piper poked her head out of the room, smiling brightly when she caught sight of the blonde. "I'll be out in a minute," she assured her friend. "This is Jason," she said quickly before ducking back into the kitchen.

"So I've heard," Annabeth muttered to herself, plopping down on the couch with reckless abandon. It had been a long Saturday, to say the least. She settled in for a long night of awkward conversation and pitiful excuses to escape watching the two of them cuddle or talk in gross, sickeningly-sweet voices to one another.

"So Jason," Annabeth began, helping herself to the assortment of snacks Piper had set up for what she assumed would be a movie night. She poured herself a glass of wine, relishing the slightly sweet scent of California grapes. "What do you do?" she asked, choosing to play nice for once and entertain Piper's dream of them bonding or whatever bullshit she had in mind.

"I'm an aerospace engineer," said Jason meekly, pushing his glasses up his nose again.

Annabeth nodded. At this point, she'd heard it all. Veterinarian, teacher, nurse, social media marketer, lawyer, entrepreneur, musician, computer engineer, HR coordinator, statistician, freelance writer, web develop, bartender, baker, etc. You name it, and Piper had probably dated one.

"Fascinating." She stared down at the bottom of her glass, surprised at how quickly it had gotten empty. "Are you Piper's soulmate?" she finally asked, not even bothering to beat around the bush.

Jason's eyes went wide. "I-I don't know."

"Annabeth!" Piper scolded, frowning at her roommate as she entered the room. She was holding a tray of piping hot pizza, which piqued the blonde's interest much more than these dull pleasantries.

"Fine," she grumbled into her glass. "Sorry, Jason," she apologized, albeit patronizingly, for Piper, even though it was obviously not genuine.

"It's… it's alright," Jason stammered, caught off guard.

Annabeth was just so sick and tired of seeing her friend being hurt time and time again, and sure it was technically Piper's fault for trying to seek out her destiny rather than letting it come to her, and sure Annabeth knew that Piper was in the majority, the people who actively sought out their soulmates, but it didn't make it hurt any less when the brunette sobbed into a carton of ice cream, holed up in their shared apartment for days together every few weeks because some boy had just broken her heart by saying the wrong thing.

"I'm calling it a night," Annabeth announced, standing up, but Piper stopped her, reaching out to sit her back down.

"No, wait! How was your day?" the brunette prompted, her lips curving into a sweet smile.

Annabeth hesitated, glancing at Jason. All of a sudden, she felt uneasy, and it must've been plain on her face because Piper's expression softened. She knew the blonde wasn't exactly the most forthcoming, especially not around strangers.

"Strange," Annabeth finally decided. "I ran into this boy."

Piper's head snapped up in an excitement Annabeth was all too familiar with.

"It's not like that," she quickly corrected before Piper could get any ideas. Her roommate visibly deflated, her plans of meddling quickly squandered. "I ran into him on the subway the other day—he nearly made me spill my coffee—and because luck hates me, I've coincidentally ran into him two more times since then." She frowned into her stemmed-glass. "I'm pretty sure he's stalking me," she added as an afterthought.

Piper looked at her weirdly. It obviously wasn't the boy story she'd been hoping for.

"He's kind of an idiot," Annabeth continued, gesturing vaguely with her free hand. "He has a motorcycle, which is just terrifying—what kind of sane person uses one of those? And he just kind of… appears out of nowhere, only proving my stalking theory." She sipped the wine nonchalantly.

At that, Jason laughed. "That almost sounds like my roommate. He just got a motorbike, and no matter how many times I tell him it's dangerous, he's always riding that thing. And I suppose he's kind of oblivious sometimes."

Annabeth smirked, suddenly taking a new liking to the fellow blond. "I'm sure they'd get along perfectly," she agreed, and Piper seemed so lost, befuddled by the turn the conversation had taken. "Anyways, I'll be on my way," Annabeth quickly excused herself, raising her glass in acknowledgement. She had a date with the history channel in her own bed, away from the newly-acquainted lovebirds.

"Do not forget that is who controls your future! I gave you everything, and I can take it back whenever I see fit. I will not have my daughter losing to anyone, and certainly not some idiotic—"

Annabeth stumbled out of the architecture building, trying her best to forget her mother's harsh words. Frustrated and perhaps more emotionally frail than she would ever admit out loud, she fought the urge to punch something or break out in pathetic tears. Athena was just something else entirely. The mere notion that she did not conduct herself eloquently and elegantly was preposterous. She was always careful in a place of business, and she was sorry that she would never be good enough, but she was trying, and it was eating her alive inside—

Annabeth tightly wrapped her wool coat around herself, almost like the pressure could lift the heavier burden off her shoulders. She had to go. She had to try to reassemble her thoughts. She had to get away from her mother, even if for a moment. She walked forward, carelessly stepping onto the road.

"Shit!" a voice cursed. Someone tugged her right hand so hard that she fell back against them just as a cyclist whipped past, narrowly missing her, heading the wrong way up the one-way street.

It all happened so fast—one minute she was falling, the next she was in a stranger's arms, and they were holding her tightly to their chest. Only it wasn't a stranger. She inhaled a clean, intoxicating ocean scent, enveloped in a warmth that seemed oddly familiar.

Annabeth peered up, stunned to see none other than her so-called stalker looking back down at her with wide sea-green eyes.

"Percy?" she sputtered, caught off guard. Her heart was beating fast, the adrenaline catching up with her.

"Are you okay?" he whispered. He had one arm around her, clasping her to him, while the fingers of his other hand gently tilted her face up to inspect her, his eyes darting around for injuries that didn't exist.

"I'm fine," she choked out, more out of habit than actually contemplating his question. "What are you doing here?"

He let her go at her assurance of her being all right, but she didn't miss the hesitance in his body language. Part of her, the part she'd deduced was delusional, wished he hadn't.

Percy paused, and it took him a moment for her question to sink in, to pull him out of his shock. He pointed behind him half-heartedly without turning to look away from her. "I was making a coffee run. My roommate gets whiny when he's low on caffeine."

"Sounds like me," she retorted, but it lacked its usual edge. She was still shaken by the near-death experience.

"Are you sure you're alright?" His eyebrows furrowed in concern that only made her heart thump louder.

"Yes," Annabeth hastily assured. "Just surprised, that's all."

He watched her for a moment, and it was clear he didn't believe her at all. "Would you like to join me for coffee?" he finally asked.

Annabeth blinked. She wasn't sure if she could do that. He was too distracting to be around, and honestly she felt like she was having a seizure every time he smiled. It was dangerous because he wasn't, and it was dangerous because this wasn't how it was supposed to be. Boys were never supposed to be part of the equation. No, they only impeded her path to success. She could imagine Athena sneering in the back of her mind, amused by her foolishness.

"Unless you're busy or something," Percy nervously added, most likely unnerved by her lack of response. He stuffed his hands into his pockets.

"We barely know each other," Annabeth protested. This was highly irresponsible.

He shrugged. "Sure we do. Your name is Annabeth, you run out into roads like a lunatic, you support the evil Red Sox, you're probably in your twenties, you're an architect, you're terrified of motorcycles and all things fun, and you have a habit of getting yourself into unfortunate situations. I'm Percy Jackson, I'm twenty-two, I have said motorcycle, I'm a marine biologist, I would sacrifice my family and friends for a good chocolate chip cookie, and I save pretty lunatics like yourself from sticky situations, charming them with my poor social skills and dad jokes."

Annabeth stared at him. 'Pretty lunatics like yourself.'

Perhaps it was Athena's critical manifestation in her mind, but Annabeth decided that she would do the exact opposite of what her mother would advise. Against her better judgement, Annabeth's lips pulled into a tight smile.

"Sure."

Percy sat across from her, concentrating on tearing open a packet of sugar. "Are we going to talk about it?" he finally asked.

"I wasn't planning to," Annabeth admitted.

"What were you doing standing in the middle of the street, Annabeth?" He sighed, giving her a knowing look. It made her feel guilty for worrying him which was completely ridiculous considering he was a stranger, and he shouldn't even care

"It was an accident," she promised. If she hadn't gotten so distracted by her mother's haunting expression and sharp tone, maybe she would've been more cautious.

"You do seem to have a habit of getting into trouble, don't you?" he coolly commented, glancing up.

"I don't find trouble; trouble finds me."

He snorted into his drink. "I doubt you'll be nearly this casual when you become flat Stanley, Annabeth."

She glared at him. "That won't happen."

"Yeah, because I'll save your ass." He shook his head, muttering something incoherent under his breath.

"I didn't need saving," Annabeth sniffed. "I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself."

"Okay, flat Stanley," he threw back in her face, childishly.

"Wow, mature."

He grinned. "I try."

Annabeth watched him pour more sugar into his cup with disdain. "That's terrible for you," she bit out.

Percy shrugged like he didn't care. "What's the point of drinking coffee if you don't enjoy it?"

Annabeth rolled her eyes, her mouth twitching into a reluctant smile, betraying her. "That's ridiculous—"

"—and," he continued like he hadn't heard her, "black coffee is disgusting." He pointed to her cup, wrinkling his nose like a little kid.

Annabeth drew back in surprise. "Hey!" she protested, half-offended. "At least I'm not consuming pointless calories."

"Calories, shalories."

"That—that doesn't even make sense!" she cried out, slamming her hand on the table, quickly losing her patience. Her chair screeched back at her sudden motion. He was absolutely absurd, and illogical, and such a kid that her eye nearly twitched. She was certain she was losing it.

"You're making a scene." Percy pointed an empty packet of sugar at her. His signature smirk danced across his face, infuriating her. Sure enough, the couple at the table next to them were giving her the evil eye.

Annabeth silently seethed. "And whose fault is that?"

"Yours, I'm guessing, considering you're the one getting overworked over nothing. Tell me, Annabeth: do you often get this angry over rhymes because believe me, you're going to lose your mind when I tell you about Dr. Seuss."

"Oh, shut up," she snapped. In afterthought, she realized that it wasn't exactly one of her most eloquent moments. She was irritated by the way he calmly knit his hands together, putting his elbows on the table and observing her.

"Are you always this unpleasant?" he continued. "Or is it only after running headfirst into traffic?"

"Ugh!" She threw her hands up in surrender. The couple next to them glared at her, and she glared back, fed up with everyone around her. "Oh, mind your own business!" she spat at them, and they rolled their eyes, judgemental and terrible.

Percy laughed, watching her fierce encounter with amusement.

"Something funny?" she demanded, her hands on her hips. She pursed her lips.

"You are," he bluntly stated, smiling shyly. "I've never met anyone like you, Annabeth, and it's certainly been educational."

"I'm glad I'm so amusing," she drawled, crossing her arms over her chest.

"Oh, don't be like that. You have to admit you're quite the spit-fire."

Annabeth huffed, clearly not planning to admit any such thing.

"Can I take you somewhere?" Percy asked, watching her finish her coffee with an easy smile. Her stomach twisted into knots at his charming face.

"Excuse me?"

"Can I take you somewhere?" he repeated. "Like out for lunch or something," he clarified, watching her carefully to gauge her reaction.

Annabeth felt her face heating up. "Like… like a date?" She cringed at her own words, hating the way they sounded in the empty air.

At that, Percy's cheeks colored pink. "Yes, or—or like friends, if you'd prefer that," he hastily corrected, biting his bottom lip nervously.

Annabeth groaned internally. Why did he have to be so goddamn intriguing? She should've said no, should've walked out of the coffee shop and subsequently, out of his life, but there was just something about him that she couldn't quite put her finger on. He was undeniably attractive, but that wasn't the part that really got to her (not that she was complaining about it either). He was just… easy to be around. There was no other way to put it. He sent her adrenaline into overdrive with his very presence, and the smooth timbre of his voice sent involuntarily shivers down her spine.

"I think I'd like that," she agreed quietly. He let out a visible sigh of relief like he'd actually been afraid she would say no. It tugged at her heartstrings more than she'd bargained for.

"This is the part where I should give you my number, right?" he asked softly. He bit his lip to hide his excitement though she wished he wouldn't, but, nonetheless, his eyes gave him away.

She typed his number into his phone.

"Chase?" he echoed, looking at his phone and then at her.

"Hmm?"

"Annabeth Chase," he said, and her name on his tongue affected her much more than she had anticipated. Annabeth fought a shudder.

"That's me," she confirmed, tilting her head at him curiously.

"I like your name," he admitted, and she fought a blush at his honesty.

"You're not supposed to say that," she complained, covering her face with her hands.

"Why not?" Percy laughed, peering at her expectantly.

"It's embarrassing!" she pointed out, gnawing on her lip with the tension around them.

"It's the truth." He shrugged. "And I've decided that I won't deny myself the simple pleasure of telling truths." Percy stood up, and she followed in suit. He disposed of both of their empty cups. "I'm assuming you have to go back to work?" he guessed as they strolled down the sidewalk.

"Yes," she agreed, her nose pink from the cold. She stuffed her hands in thick white gloves as they walked.

"I'll walk you there," he decided, but his tone was unsure, like he didn't want to make choices for her unless she agreed. Something in her ribcage melted.

"Okay." They walked for some time, Annabeth slowly lagging behind, the cold exhausting her.

"Keep up," said a voice in her ear. It was Percy, who had dropped back to walk beside her. "I don't want to have to keep looking behind me to make sure nothing's happened to you."

"So don't bother."

"Last time I left you alone, a cyclist nearly ran you over," he pointed out.

"Well, I'd certainly hate to interrupt your pleasant afternoon stroll with my sudden death."

He blinked. "There is a fine line between sarcasm and outright hostility, and you seem to have crossed it."

Annabeth huffed, discreetly rolling her eyes. "Well, this is me." They stood in front of the tall glass building once more. She glanced up to the top level, absentmindedly wondering if her mother was staring them down as they spoke. It was that very thought that made her anxious for him to depart.

"Indeed, it is." He glanced around them.

"You never got the coffee for your roommate," Annabeth remembered, reluctant to watch him go despite her anxiety. He was comforting in his own way.

"I know," Percy acknowledged. "I figured it was too late. Besides, I much rather preferred hanging out with you."

Her heart swelled at the sweet words. "I should probably go."

"Yep."

Neither of them moved.

"Bye, Percy," Annabeth finally caved, breaking his intense gaze.

"Annabeth," he bid her goodbye, tipping an imaginary hat. She bit her lip to conceal a stupid smile at his ridiculousness. Annabeth disappeared into the building in a significantly better mood than when she'd exited, all thoughts of Athena leaving her mind.

(9:04pm) do you like fish?

Annabeth glanced down at her phone, involuntarily smiling at Percy's text. She contemplated waiting to respond, but finally caved in under five minutes.

(9:06pm) depends on what we're doing with them

He responded immediately.

(9:06pm) looking at them

(9:07pm) why would you spend time looking at fish? I'm genuinely curious-how much time do you have on your hands?

(9:09pm) no need to get sassy, chase

(9:09pm) it's just a question

(9:10pm) a stupid question

(9:10pm) that's an opinion

(9:11pm) congrats. You know what an opinion is. 12/10

(9:13pm) Ty. I try.

She snorted.

(9:14pm) is there a point to this conversation, percy?

(9:15pm) am I not allowed to just text you because I feel like it?

(9:15pm) no.

She grinned to herself, swinging her legs back and forth as she laid face-down on her bed. She had forgotten the rush of knowing new people.

(9:20pm) im offended

(9:20pm) why you gotta be so rude

(9:20pm) dont you know I'm human too

(9:21pm) oh god

(9:21pm) stop

(9:24pm) buzzkill

(9:25pm) I am not!

(9:30pm) that's exactly what a buzzkill would say

(9:32pm) asshole

(9:32pm) awww. Back at ya

(9:32pm) ok but seriously

(9:32pm) fish?

(9:37pm) oh, what the hell.

(9:38pm) Sure, percy, I love fish

She hoped he could read the sarcasm dripping from her voice, and something told her Percy Jackson was exactly the type of guy to know her intended tone.

(9:38pm) excellent

(9:39pm) on a COMPLETELY unrelated note, are you free friday? Say 7ish?

(9:49pm) I might be

(9:51pm) are you being coy or do you genuinely not know

(9:51pm) ?

(9:52pm) I promise I don't know, mr. jackson

(9:52pm) I have to ask my boss

(9:53pm) what kind of sick boss keeps someone past 7 on a friday

(9:54pm) my mother

(9:55pm) oh, right

(9:55pm) please accept my deepest condolences

(9:56pm) mothers are interesting specimen

(9:58pm) mine doesn't prohibit me from going outside but she def buys me weird products to try

(9:59pm) one time she got me a separate shampoo

(10:00pm) she can pry my 2 in 1 out of my cold dead hands

Annabeth laughed.

(10:00pm) god, you're dumb

(10:03pm) it's a natural talent

(10:03pm) I don't doubt it

(10:03pm) your faith in me is astounding, ms. chase

(10:06pm) welp, I better go. My whiny roommate is back to his whiny ways. He's moon-eyed over some girl. Idiot. Can't relate. At all. Obviously

Annabeth bit the inside of her cheek, smiling so hard her face hurt.

(10:06pmm) flattery won't get you very far

(10:07pm) it got me your number

(10:08pm) why are you like this

(10:10pm) I ask myself the same question every day

(10:10pm) unfortunately, my bathroom mirror doesn't seem to have many answers

(10:11pm) or good acoustics for my concerts

(10:12pm) you know it's about to get hella pumped when you've got 2 in 1

Annabeth pulled her blanket up to her chin, smothering another laugh. She feared Piper would hear her and demand to know who the hell she was texting.

(10:13pm) until later, ms. chase. I bid you ado

(10:15pm) night

Friday couldn't come soon enough, and when it finally did, Annabeth wanted nothing more than to crawl up into a hole and die.

"I can't believe you're going on a date!" Piper squealed, fussing over her stubborn hair.

Annabeth groaned in the chair, watching her roommate fiddle with her curls in the mirror. "Please don't," she begged as Piper pulled out clothes, sifting through Annabeth's closet with enthusiasm.

"You have too many business clothes," Piper complained. "Where's your go-to dress?"

"My what?" Annabeth frowned. "Besides, there's no way in hell I'm wearing a dress."

Piper laughed. "You're funny. Yes, you are."

Annabeth muttered unflattering words under her breath. This was an argument she could never win.

"It's okay; you can borrow something from me." Piper's eyes lit up at her brilliant idea, and she began to go through her fat stack of dresses in the back of her closet. Annabeth had never hated Piper's fashion job as much as she did then. She glowered at her reflection, scowling as Piper held up suggestions.

"Try this on," Piper commanded, throwing a couple options at Annabeth.

Sighing in defeat, Annabeth began shimmying into expensive materials, cautious not to tear anything.

"I look stupid," the blonde fretted, staring at her reflection from multiple angles. The plum dress made her look like a piece of fruit, and it was much too bright.

"It's not really your color," Piper agreed, sizing her up carefully. "Try on the blue one."

"Do I really have to?" Annabeth whined, growing tired of this cycle.

"Yes." Piper was all about business now.

Annabeth carefully lifted the blue dress over her head. It was more casual, more like a sweater dress, and nice and warm. She hated herself for how much she liked it. Piper's eyes shined with knowing.

"You look great." Piper grinned, satisfied. "Wear the coat, too."

Annabeth slid on the long charcoal coat with black buttons, and dipped her toes into the black polka dot tights, stuffing her feet into black suede ankle boots with pointed toes. Annabeth quietly admired her reflection in the mirror. Piper did perfect eyeliner, and she was convinced the brunette was an alien. It was warm, cozy, but pretty too. She would've never chose it for herself, but she found herself liking it all too much.

"It's not too much, right?" Annabeth worried, turning to face Piper anxiously.

Piper waved away her concerns. "It's perfect. I love it."

Annabeth good-naturedly rolled her eyes. "You're such a dork."

Before Piper could reply, there was a knock at their front door. Piper beamed, practically jumping up to answer it.

"It's him!" she hollered, excited, practically bouncing on her the balls of her feet. Annabeth buried her face in her hands, positive Percy could hear Piper's screaming through the door. Nervous, she tip-toed behind Piper, peeking as she opened the door. She could hear Percy's voice greeting her and Piper ushering him in. She hoped the apartment wasn't a mess. Grabbing the small, matching, yet sort of unreasonable Dior purse Piper had chosen for her, she took a deep breath, rationalizing with herself not to have any expectations or do anything stupid before sneaking out into the living room.

Percy was sitting on their tasteful, cream-colored leather sofa, speaking politely with Piper. Piper had a smile that could light up the room, and Annabeth forced herself not to laugh. The brunette's enthusiasm, although exasperating at times, was absolutely contagious.

"Annabeth," he said involuntarily, noticing her despite her sneaky entrance. His eyes flickered to her, smiling almost immediately. She let out a breath of relief; she wasn't overdressed. He was dressed in a clean, dark green button-down that made her heart do acrobatics, and dark jeans. Percy stood up, tilting his to one side as he took in her presence.

"I like your dress," he complimented, and Piper shrieked not-so-subtly from the kitchen. Annabeth stared at Percy before slowly covering her face with her hands out of secondhand embarrassment.

Percy almost immediately laughed. "Piper's very excited," he noted, teasingly.

Annabeth nodded obediently. "She's crazy," she confirmed, still mortified, and Percy grinned, his pearly whites gleaming in the light.

"Shall we be on our way?" he finally asked, playing with his hands like he didn't know what to do with them. Annabeth decided to settle his jitters despite her own, taking his hand in hers. He sharply inhaled at the motion.

"I've been only all too intrigued to find out why you watch fish," she agreed, and Percy cursed.

"I was hoping you'd forgotten about that."

"Never," Annabeth teased, immediately feeling better. She closed the door on their way out.

Lucky for her, Percy had decided to bring his Prius, not the death-trap. Now she stared up at the blue words with understanding.

"An aquarium?" she asked no one in particular.

"Fish-watching at its finest," Percy conceded.

"You're the weirdest guy I've ever met. Literally no one says that. Nobody," she picked on him gently as they walked through the entrance.

"I like to think it makes me special." Percy nodded, squeezing her hand in his.

"So, why an aquarium?" Annabeth looked all around her, admiring the light pooling on the ground around them from the water's reflection. Some kid was shouting excitedly about an eel from across the museum, only to be yelled at by his mother.

Percy was quiet for a moment. "You've told me so much about architecture and what you love," he began. It was true. The only day they'd gone out for a casual lunch, not like a date or anything, and she'd practically talked his ear off about the building she was working on. "Which is absolutely adorable by the way." Percy smiled, lost in thought as if he was recalling the memory. "But I thought you might like to learn about something know a little about."

The amount of thought he'd put into their first date was heartwarming. She beamed up at him. "I love it," she decided, pleased when he let out a breath of relief.

"Now, c'mon." Annabeth tugged his hand to a large tank where people were conglomerated at some action. "It looks like the eels are up to something."

Watching Percy's eyes light up as he spoke about seahorses, made jokes about starfish, and pointed out tiny details about sharks was better than she ever could have asked for. Annabeth found herself drowning in him in that aquarium. His smirk which she had once found irritating was endearing, and the way he grinned when he made a stupid pun about the ocean made her heart beat irregularly.

"You're such a… a…" She looked around the aquarium for inspiration as he laughed at his own dumb jokes. "A seaweed brain!"

"A seaweed brain?" Percy cracked up, and Annabeth's face went hot. Not exactly the best insult. "That's terrible!"

"Shut up!" she demanded, laughing despite herself.

"You need a nickname too," Percy decided, grinning from ear to ear. "How about Wise Girl? It suits your know-it-all self."

"Hey!"

Percy was sent into another bout of laughter at her protests and insults.

Her blood was roaring as they left the aquarium. It was dark outside, and they had probably spent at least a couple hours there. It would still never be enough. She highly doubted she would ever get enough, and it was a frightening thought because it wasn't supposed to be this deep. It was supposed to be casual and fun, and Annabeth was terrified by her quickly-developing feelings.

"You really don't have to walk me to my door," Annabeth told him, watching her apartment's elevator's number click up one by one, quickly approaching floor six.

"I do," Percy countered. "My mom was big on manners," he half-joked. He had let go of her hand a while back, and Annabeth found herself longing to hold it again. He was warmer than any pair of gloves, she justified her feelings to herself. It wasn't like she really liked him or anything. That was illogical like all feelings were.

They stood in front of her door, silent for a moment.

"I had a lot of fun," Annabeth offered, shoving her hands into her pockets awkwardly.

Percy shifted his body weight onto his other foot. "Me too," he softly agreed.

They stared at each other again, reverting to awkward adolescents.

"Thanks for taking me out," Annabeth added, trying to fill the emptiness, but words weren't truly necessary. She was content simply standing with him for all of eternity. He seemed to feel the same, but he quickly replied to keep her efforts at conversation going.

"It was my pleasure."

Cue another awkward silence. Percy nervously licked his lips, and she found herself drawn to them. She had never really taken a moment to appreciate his face until then. He had a chiseled jaw and a natural tan, though not as dark as hers. His eyes were probably his most prominent feature, and it reminded her of a raging sea, one she was hopelessly falling into.

Like a cheesy romcom she wouldn't admit she secretly liked, they found themselves gravitating towards each other.

When his lips brushed against hers, it was like fireworks and every other cliché simile she'd read in young adult novels as a teenager back in high school. Annabeth came alive, pulling him forward by the front of his shirt, her knees going weak under her.

Percy reluctantly pulled away after a couple seconds.

"That was nice," she teased gently, but she was still trembling, ruining her unaffected facade.

"Yeah." His voice was hoarse, slightly flustered. "Goodnight, Annabeth," he finally whispered against her mouth, kissing her chastely one last time. He shoved his hands into his pockets, smiling at her one last time before turning back to the elevator down the hall.

Annabeth found herself smiling as she shut the door behind her.

Piper was sitting on the couch, waiting expectantly. "Did he kiss you?" she demanded.

"What are we, seventeen?" Annabeth rolled her eyes, unable to conceal her smile.

Piper gasped at her discovery. "He did!"

"Shut up!" Annabeth demanded, slamming her bedroom door behind her as Piper laughed madly. She flopped onto her bed, staring up at her ceiling, the smile on her face refusing to leave. She sighed to herself, content.

That night there were an awful lot of seahorses in her dreams.

Piper curled up against Jason's chest, watching intently at the screen. Or at least, she pretended that she was. Rather, Piper found herself enamored by Jason's fresh linen scent, and warm chest, and distracting arm around her shoulders, and she honestly couldn't concentrate anymore.

"What do you like in your popcorn?" Jason inquired quietly as he spread out the candy he'd bought at the store before heading over to her apartment. Their movie nights were becoming a regular after the first successful one, and Piper absolutely adored them. They were the perfect date: charming, cozy, and everything in between.

Piper grinned up at him. "On the count of three."

"One… two… three—"

"Sour Patch Kids," they both said at exactly the same time.

Piper fell back into the sofa, grinning from ear to ear. "No way!" she exclaimed.

Jason beamed. "That's awesome."

"They're the perfect balance of sweet with the coating and the sour interior," Piper gushed.

"I know right?!" he agreed enthusiastically. "Everyone else always says—"

"—red vines!" Piper interrupted.

"YES. EXACTLY. They're literally not even as good!"

Piper laughed wildly. "You're perfect," she breathlessly told him, and they both ignored the serious undertone in it, choosing to focus on the more lighthearted aspects of their evening. It was much too difficult to focus on serious ideas at 11:45 at night.

"Second favorite?" Jason asked, Star Wars fading into the background as they became caught up with the current topic rather than Anakin Skywalker's melodrama and mental breakdown.

"M&Ms," they said at the same time.

"Oh my god!" Piper cheered, wildly excited now.

"What are the chances?" Jason expressed, his eyes wide.

"It's gotta be fate," Piper laughed. "I think I love you," she half-joked. Neither of them realized exactly what she had said.

"Pretending not to love you was the hardest thing I've ever done," Jason joked.

"Did you just—did you just quote Pretty Little Liars?" Piper burst out in a fit of giggles.

"I hate how obsessed you've made me with it," Jason grumbled, his eyes glinting with amusement.

There was a weird tingle on her arm all of a sudden. Piper shivered.

Jason's expression suddenly shifted to one of concern. "Are you cold?"

"Huh? No." Piper frowned. Her reached for her sleeve, pulling it up to examine her tattoo. That was strange. She glanced over it, and it appeared normal. It said the same thing it always did: pretending not to love you was the hardest thing I've ever done.

Piper blanched.

"Piper?" Jason's hand was hovering over her shoulder, the worry laced in his voice obvious. "You look super pale."

"J-jason," she stuttered, shakily. Tears pricked at her kaleidoscope eyes, and she felt overly sensitive, but it had just been so long, and this day—she had dreamt of it so long she feared it would never come. "What did you just say?" She looked up at him, her vision blurry. She had to be sure, or her heart would break in half all over again. And if it turned out she was wrong, she would probably hurt more in all honesty.

"A-are you cold?" he repeated, confused and troubled. "Are you sure y—"

"—no, before that," she interrupted.

"Pretending not to love you was the hardest thing I've ever done. Toby said it, remember? I'm sorry; I didn't mean to upset you. I just—"

"Jason," Piper just shut him up. She held up her wrist to him, visibly shaking.

His blue eyes scanned over them, widening with understanding.

"You're my—you're—" he couldn't even get it out. "I hadn't even realized you'd said—"

Piper grinned, crying despite herself. Jason got a little misty eyed himself. He brushed the tears out of her face. This time, Jason didn't hesitate.

"I love you," he fiercely proclaimed before capturing her mouth in his. They pulled away.

"This is the best day of my life?" said Piper cautiously, reaching for his wrist. Sure enough, scrawled in loopy writing: this is the best day of my life?

Needless to say, he kissed her again, laughing through his tears a little. They were a sensitive, ridiculous pair, but it was worth it in every sense, Piper inwardly confirmed, tugging him towards her and covering his mouth with hers.

Annabeth saw a lot more of Percy from that day on. Sometimes they'd meet at the coffee shop where they traded numbers or at her apartment or his. Only four days later, when Piper had excitedly squealed that Jason was her soulmate and Annabeth had congratulated them both, Percy had called Jason on the phone, interrupting the celebration. Recognizing his voice over the phone, Annabeth had put two and two together. It was just wild that he was Jason's roommate.

Annabeth glanced at the sticky note on the kitchen counter.

Staying at Jason's tonight. Have fun ;) - Pipes

Piper had dotted her 'i' with a heart, and Annabeth rolled her eyes at her best friend's hints. Piper wouldn't stop bugging her, asking about Percy all the time. That night, she had taken one from Piper's book, inviting Percy over for a movie night.

There was a knock at her door, and Annabeth ran to go open it, revealing the dark-haired young man she had eagerly been awaiting. Ever since that night after the aquarium, they hadn't kissed again or even discussed it, but it still felt special to her. They hadn't defined the relationship either, something that Piper wouldn't quit nagging her about, but she was content to not discuss it quite yet. His presence was all she needed, nothing more, nothing less.

"Hey," she greeted, inviting him in.

"Annabeth," Percy acknowledged, smiling warmly down at her. That smile could fix the whole world, she was positive.

"I'm so going to kick your ass in pillow fort building."

Percy's eyes glinted at the challenge. "You're going down, Wise Girl."

Thirty minutes later, Annabeth had constructed a perfectly, architecturally sound fort with weight-bearing blanket loads and a flap for an entrance.

Percy, on the other hand, had created something resembling a pitiful teepee that had promptly collapsed within five seconds. Naturally, he'd made himself comfortable in her fort.

"TOUCH ME WITH YOUR COLD FEET ONE MORE TIME!" she shrieked as he wiggled childishly against her.

Percy grinned and glancing mischievously at her, he poked her once more.

"That's it!" she snapped, putting her hands on her hips and trying to look serious. "You're dead meat, Jackson."

"Oh, yeah?" he taunted.

"Yeah," Annabeth confirmed.

"Only if you can catch me." With that, Percy jumped up, sprinting across her apartment.

"You better run!" Annabeth threatened, chasing blindly after him. She turned the corner of her room, catching her breath desperately. It was eerily quiet, and she was positive he was hiding, the little wimp.

Annabeth turned the corner and nearly had a heart attack.

Percy screamed, popping out from behind a counter, and she screamed louder than she'd like to admit.

He laughed wildly, pointing at her. "You should've seen your face. Oh my god," he breathed, wiping away a tear from his eye.

Annabeth stubbornly crossed her arms over her chest. "You're the worst." She stuck her tongue out because she was super mature like him.

"Don't be like that," he teased, hugging her tightly to him as an apology.

"You're terrible," she said again, and Percy just shook his head, pleased with himself and his little prank.

"You can pick the movie," he amended as they made their way back to her blanket fort.

"Damn right I can," Annabeth sassily replied, and he lightly shoved her in response.

Percy squeezed her tightly to his chest as if shielding her from the spiders as Ron shrieked on the screen.

"I hate spiders," she repeated, her eyes screwed shut.

"Shhh, I know," Percy consoled her in a way that was eerily similar to a boyfriend. Annabeth tried not to dwell on it. "I'll fight them for you," he joked.

Ron complained for butterflies instead, and Annabeth decided that Ron Weasley was her new spirit animal.

"Ravenclaws unite!" Annabeth waved the Elder wand at Percy. He jumped over a pillow, dodging her 'blast.'

"No way! Gryffindors are obviously superior!" Percy argued, shooting Harry Potter's wand at her.

"People only say that because the main characters are in it. The house contest is so biased! Dumbledore literally awards points off pure whim!"

"I'm the chosen one!" Percy fake cackled, and Annabeth broke out in sweet giggles at his stupid impressions. "Expelliarmus!"

She dropped her wand when he tickled her. "You don't—fight—fair," she wheezed, panting from his torturous tickling.

"I never said I did, Wise Girl," he agreed.

"Fuck off," Annabeth hissed, holding her hands up in surrender as tears came to her eyes from laughing so hard. "I surrender, I surrender! Please no more tickling!"

Percy paused, taking mercy on her, and she gasped desperately for air. "Admit Gryffindors are superior."

"Never!" she refused.

He reached down to tickle her, and she screamed childishly, scrambling backwards. "No!" she laughed. Her cheeks were flushed from running around everywhere.

"Yes," Percy mocked.

"No," Annabeth panted, beaming at him. "Truce?" she offered.

Percy considered it carefully. "Why should I when I clearly have the upper hand?" He was hovering over her, lifting himself up by his forearms to keep his weight from crushing her.

"Because you're sweet and considerate like a good little Gryffindor," Annabeth tried, looking up at him hopefully.

"Nice try," he drawled, but he let up on his attack. Annabeth grinned cheekily.

"You're soft," she teased. "What an obedient Gryffindor." She patronizingly patted his cheek.

Percy rolled his eyes, his eyes darting back to her in resignation. "You're the worst," he threw her words back in her face before leaning down and kissing her.

It felt like her brain was melting, his touch setting her aflame. Annabeth desperately pulled him down by the front of his shirt, running her hand through his dark hair. Percy obliged, kissing her harder as her eyes fluttered shut. She wouldn't mind surrendering more often if it ended up so wonderfully.

Percy sat across from her on the couch. They shared a blanket, comfortable with the warmth of both each other and then comforter.

"Do you believe in soulmates?" Percy asked out of the blue. The movie had long ended, but they'd both been too lazy to put a new film in, especially when they'd stopped watching to fool around with wizarding wands and pillows and lips and everything sweet in between.

Annabeth hesitated. "Not really. I believe our choices are entirely our own, and our fates come down to us, not some higher power that I've never met."

It was unexpectedly deep, but it was late at night, and perhaps she was feeling more philosophical than usual. It was an untold rule not to tell other people your tattoo in order not to fuck up luck, but she had never been more curious of his tattoo until then. She resisted the urge.

"What about you?" The blonde leaned back into the pillows, watching him expectantly.

"I don't know," he admitted. "Sometimes, it's beautiful, you know?" Annabeth nodded. Sometimes, she too was jealous of others. "Like with Piper and Jason. I'm so happy for them. But sometimes it's exhausting and frustrating and absolutely not worth my time."

"I feel that," Annabeth sighed. "I tried searching for mine in high school. When I found him kissing a girl at my lunch table three weeks later, however, I decided love was bullshit. At least, the soulmate type."

Percy winced. "That sucks."

"Mhmm," Annabeth hummed in agreement.

"I never tried," Percy admitted. "I saw how it messed up other people." People had gone crazy searching for their other half. The luckiest ones were the aces who never had tattoos in the first place. They were fortunate, not tortured like the rest of society. "I guess I was scared I'd never find them, so I pretended I didn't care to avoid getting hurt. Until I really didn't care. But sometimes I still wonder if they're out there, if they're looking for me, if they think about me."

It was strangely vulnerable. "Me too," Annabeth admitted for the first time in years.

Percy's expression softened. They quietly watched each other, silently asking the same question. Are you mine?

"I'm so afraid to say those three words to anyone now," Percy whispered, not meeting her gaze. "It's soul-crushing, and I don't think I'm as strong as the people who go around wearing their hearts on their sleeves. So it's hard to believe I'm anything but somebody's star-crossed lover."

Somebody destined to fail in the relationship. Annabeth was quiet, humbled by his honesty. "Star-crossed lovers would be such a romantic concept if stars weren't just hot balls of gas," Annabeth said, trying to cut the tension with ill-timed humor.

Percy cracked a weak smile, but it was tired. "Are you telling me I'm gas?" He was truly a ten-year-old.

"I'm afraid so," she confirmed mournfully.

Thick silence clouded around them, uncomfortable like a barrier.

"Percy?"

He looked up at her expectantly.

She thought she loved him, but she also couldn't say it for the same reason he'd just expressed. "Want to watch the next movie?" she said instead

Percy's mouth curved up at the corner. "I'm down."

"It's like she always puts a secret ingredient in there or something. Problem is, I just don't know what it is."

"Love?" Annabeth teased, filling up two cups with hot chocolate.

"No," he said, flicking her hand like a kid. Percy inhaled deeply, the scent of baking cookies wafting through the kitchen. "I think I might cry," he stated as she slid a mug over to him.

Annabeth grinned. "They're just cookies, Seaweed Brain."

"Isn't it sad when people don't know they're wrong in every aspect of life?"

Annabeth snorted into her mug.

"My mom's cookies could cure cancer," Percy defended, watching the timer impatiently. Annabeth had attempted to recreate Sally Jackson's recipe for Christmas, and honestly Percy could not sit still for the life of him. Christmas was four days away, but she could've sworn Percy put up his Christmas tree before Thanksgiving.

As if on cue, the timer went off, blaring around them.

Percy practically ran to the oven as he took them out, hardly bothering with oven mitts.

"Percy!" Annabeth chastised. "You're going to drop them." She smacked his hands away, inspecting the blue cookies carefully. They were not perfect circles—far from it, in fact—but they seemed done and edible at the least.

"They're done," she confirmed, watching with thinly veiled amusement as Percy played hot potato with the cookies. He blew on the treat in a futile attempt to cool it down.

"Merry Christmas, Annabeth," Percy wished, tapping his cookie against hers in cheers.

She sighed in resignation, rolling her eyes at his antics. "Merry Christmas, Perce," she said softly, watching each other for their reactions, they bit into the blue cookies at the same time. She nervously checked his face, relief washing over her when his eyes lit up in familiarity. "Are they good?" she asked, chewing slowly.

"Airpurfwt."

"Gross." She wrinkled her nose. "Don't talk with your mouth full. You sound like a caveman."

Percy swallowed and then grinned up at her. "They're perfect," he repeated.

"For real?" She raised her eyebrows in disbelief. There was no way she'd nailed the recipe. He was such a crap liar.

"Okay, they're a little different," he admitted, and Annabeth laughed. "But I like them." He certainly did, for he had already finished his first one and was quickly devouring a second. "And blue food is good food, no matter what."

"What kind of philosophy is that?" She reached for a second one, and Percy gently pushed the plate in her direction.

"The best one."

"You're ridiculous."

Percy nodded as if she'd quoted the great philosophies of the world, not simply mocked him. "Interesting."

She grinned.

"Okay, what the hell, these are like addictive." Percy glanced down at the plate. "Did you put drugs in these?" He raised an eyebrow at her, and her heart swelled with the praise.

"Love," she said again, smirking.

"Shut up." Percy laughed.

"More?" Annabeth offered, gesturing to the crockpot where the hot chocolate was simmering. She filled her empty mug, taking Percy's before he could answer.

"I think I'm in love," Percy confessed, adoringly gazing at the cookies. He held one up, admiring the chocolate pull as he broke it in half. She had planned to save some for Piper, but at the rate both of them were going, she doubted they would last. Perhaps she should've made a bigger batch.

"Should I be offended?"

Percy sipped the hot chocolate. "Dude, I think I love you."

Annabeth let out a sharp laugh. "You want more cookies?" she guessed. "Go ahead," Annabeth relented, sneaking another one for herself as well.

Percy couldn't fight the fuzzy feeling in his chest as he stepped off the subway, walking to his apartment building.

She was so thoughtful, making things his mother made, and trying new recipes, and letting him fling cookie batter at her, even though she'd definitely fought back, pelting him with chocolate chips. He'd caught some in his mouth, much to her frustration, but it had been funny nonetheless.

He hadn't even realized he'd fallen so deep.

Percy unlocked his front door, hollering that he was home, but there was no reply. Jason must not be home. Sure enough, he peeked his head into Jason's room, only to find a neatly made bed and an empty hamper. He must've left to do the laundry.

Mrs. O'Leary came running immediately, though, her tag jingling and her tail wagging quickly with excitement. Jason had been very much against getting a dog, mostly because they'd have a difficult time finding an apartment, but the blond superman had quickly warmed up to black Newfoundland, allowing the gentle giant to slowly crush him on the couch when watching TV. Percy let her nuzzle him, scratching her behind the ears affectionately. He would probably die for that dog to be honest.

Percy stepped into his own room, comforted firstly by the sheer amount of blue. Mrs. O'Leary made herself comfortable on his bed, probably shedding all over the cerulean sheets. That was okay with him. He reached for his PJs, fully prepared to send Annabeth a picture of his Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer slippers, just to make her laugh, when he froze.

Percy stared down at him tattoo, dumbfounded. You want more cookies?

How many times had he read that? Ten times, a hundred? He remembered being younger in elementary school and being teased because, well, his hadn't said something sweet, hadn't said something closer to I love you too.

How had it slipped his mind?

Percy wracked his brain to remember. When had he said it, how

"Dude, I think I love you."

Annabeth bit her lip, bemused. He wished he could bite that lip, jesus, she should've been fucking illegal

"You want more cookies?" Her eyes gleamed with pride at his reaction. It was a face he had quickly grown to love, a true representation of her competitive spirit.

Percy slumped onto the floor. He wasn't supposed to believe in soulmates. He wasn't supposed to chase after someone who didn't exist, who could only hurt him, but now they did. Now they existed, and he loved them so much it hurt, and he would walk through fire for her, and he just wanted to hold his person and maybe cry a little because he was feeling soft because finally, because maybe he wasn't so alone after all. His person had a name, and it was Annabeth Chase.

Percy's breathing went ragged. He jolted into action, unbothered by his pajamas. Mrs. O'Leary bounded after him, startled by his sudden movement. Peppering a quick kiss on the top of her head, Percy swiftly grabbed his keys as he ran out the door.

A call wouldn't be enough. No, he wanted to break the news to her in person.

Percy's blood roared in his ears as he raced down the streets of New York. He felt like a protagonist in one of those Hallmark movies on their way to confess their love. It was kind of stupid, he acknowledged, but they were both a little stupid, and for a girl that didn't believe in love, he would make it special.

The walking man lit up green, and he sprinted across the parallel white lines, the moon above him, cloudy in the sky. He resisted the urge to shove his way through the pedestrians out of frustration.

Thirty minutes later, he was breathing hard, standing on the subway platform to make his way to her apartment. Exiting through the stairs up onto the streets, Percy was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer amount of lights that lit up the city. Perhaps it was the adrenaline coursing through him, but suddenly it was all too much.

Hazy, he darted through the traffic, ignoring the way taxis honked at him, cursing about today's youth. He didn't mind. She made him feel young forever in the best way possible.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of blonde. It was poor judgement on his part, but he stopped right where he was, befuddled. He just hadn't expected what came next.

"Per—move!"

He didn't even have time to feel horrified. Percy was blinded by the yellow lights, the screech of tires echoing hauntingly in his mind. Somebody shoved him to side just as the car whizzed by, slamming into his hero.

Percy was still for a moment before chaos ensued. The man was getting out of the car, apologizing, crying, but Percy heard none of it. He could only stare at the familiar face sprawled on the ground, her curly hair damp with blood.

He couldn't even find it within him to scream for her, his hands shaking. What was she doing out here? Why would she save him, why would she be here? His eyes darted down to the shiny phone in her hand, cracked against the pavement, and he immediately recognized it as his own. He hadn't even realized he'd forgotten his phone at her place. She must've seen him in the road on her way to return it and jumped in when she realized her call had distracted him.

The man who had been operating the vehicle was screaming for help, and nearby cars' tires squealed as they stopped, people rushing out to save her. Percy was well aware of the roaring sirens, flashing lights, ambulances, but all he could notice is how it seemed to happen in slow motion. Involuntary tears were pricking at his eyes.

"I need a medic!" His voice was strangely strong, as if he knew she needed him to be strong for him. EMS shoved him aside, and two pairs of hands gently pried him away from her.

"Sir, sir we need you to move back, and let us assess the situation. Are you injured?"

He felt himself shaking his head, still stunned.

"Do you know her?"

It went through one ear and out the other.

"Sir?" No reply. Someone touched his face, checking for damages that didn't exist. "Someone evaluate him!" they called across the busy street. They put up blockades to keep traffic at bay, and he watched, helpless, as they escorted her onto a stretcher, carrying her into an ambulance.

Percy fought another round of tears, the blame kicking in. She wouldn't have been out there if it hadn't been for him, she wouldn't have ran after him, she wouldn't have been bleeding out on a gurney if it hadn't been for him. Percy dizzily reached out to steady himself, and the emergency medics shouldered his weight for which he was grateful.

This was all his fault.

Annabeth's first reaction was to go the fuck back to sleep. Her head ached as she blinked the crust out of her eyes. How long had she been out? Some woman was hovering over her, asking her questions and probably checking for a concussion. Another person was watching the heart monitor, babysitting her vitals.

Everything hurt so bad, but all she could think about was Percy. Was he okay? Had she gotten him away in time? What had he been doing out there—he had to have known it was dangerous. And why had she stupidly called out to him? He would've been fine if sh hadn't interrupted.

Annabeth sighed in resignation. This was all her fault.

"Ma'am?"

Annabeth's head snapped up to who she assumed was her nurse. "There's a young man that's been asking for you since you got here. We couldn't let him in without your consent."

Annabeth's heart palpitated.

"He says his name is Percy? Percy Jackson? Do you want to see him?" The kind older woman's face creased with concern.

"Yes. Please," she croaked out, drumming her fingers nervously against the side of her bed.

The first thing she noticed was that his face was pink and puffy like he'd been crying a lot. She'd never seen him cry before, and the guilt nagged at her for knowing she was responsible for this state of his.

The first thing he said was, "you're such an idiot." And then he started crying again.

Annabeth felt tears swell at her eyeducts, betraying her internal promise not to cry. He was sobbing, and before she knew it, she was too.

"Stop crying," she demanded weakly through her tears. "You're making me cry."

Percy sat down at her bedside, taking her hand in hers.

"You had forgotten your phone," Annabeth remembered, and he squeezed her hand, gently shutting her up.

"Me first." His voice was hoarse, his eyes rimmed red, and so she reluctantly nodded. Percy pinched the bridge of his nose. "First of all, never ever, ever do that again, you hear me? I don't give a fuck if it's a semitruck or a bicycle. You could have died. Over a phone, c'mon Annabeth?" He sniffed pathetically, and she pulled in her nose, feeling gross all over. "I know trouble always finds you, but that was some serious lack of judgement on your part," Percy berated.

"What were you even doing?" she interrupted, but her voice was weak.

Percy froze. "I… I realized something," he admitted, albeit slowly.

Annabeth's eyebrows furrowed, and it made her face hurt. "What?"

"It doesn't matter, though," said Percy after a moment. "Right now I just want you to get better."

Annabeth stubbornly shook her head. "No, it was important enough for you to come running. What was it?"

Percy blinked. "No, Annabe—"

"Spit it out, damn it." Annabeth crossed her arms over her chest, frustrated with him.

"Fine," he spat out, cursing under his breath. His cheeks were turning pink, and it certainly wasn't from crying. "I said the three words."

"What?"

"I said I loved you when we made cookies, okay?!" Percy covered his face with his hands, embarrassed. This probably wasn't turning out like what he had imagined.

Annabeth's blood drained from her face. She couldn't recall the moment, but something in his face told her he wasn't lying.

"You want more cookies?" he repeated, jarring her memory.

He definitely had. How had she not noticed? Suddenly, her breath was coming out shallow. "And?" She hesitantly reached for his wrist, afraid. She had never wanted not to know more. What if he wasn't? She didn't think her heart could take it.

"Wait," Percy demanded. "I don't know if you want to know."

Annabeth frowned at him. "Is it bad?"

"That… that depends how you look at it."

It wasn't reassuring in the slightest. "Percy," she interrupted, impatient. "I really don't care what it says." Either way, she couldn't force herself to leave him. "Because love you."

Percy's mouth fell open slightly. "Is that the blood loss, or are you for real?"

Annabeth's heart swelled with recognition. "I always hated that tattoo!" she gasped, grinning at him. "Everyone thought I was so weird for it."

Percy was grinning despite himself. He had a busted lip and scraped-up hands, and she could only assume he had hurt himself when she'd shoved him.

"You had me scared for a second!" she berated, and Percy shrugged half-heartedly. "How could that ever be bad?"

"I just…" He awkwardly rubbed his shoulder when she smacked him, pouting slightly. "What if you didn't feel that way in actuality?"

"Dude!"

Percy rolled his eyes because why was she calling him that; nobody had called him that since high school. His theory was that Annabeth reverted to a mini frat boy when excited.

Annabeth was crying again, sending him over the edge with her, and it felt the height of patheticness because they weren't supposed to believe in soulmates, and this was stupid, and irrational, and everything in between, but it was okay because she really, really loved him, and it could only go up from there.