"in the best way
you'll be the death of me"
Annabeth stopped and stared.
Her watch read: Three months, three days, eleven hours, and forty three minutes.
Around her the busy pedestrians of New York City walked about, each with their own places to go and things to do. Annabeth had her own architecture meeting to attend, but now, obviously, her mind was far away from buildings and the colour of walls.
She fumbled through her bag for her phone. Thalia picked up after a few minutes of her impatiently tapping her foot on the pathway, ignoring the annoyed stares of all the people who walked past her.
"Hello," Thalia's cool voice answered. Annabeth could hear the sound of pounding music behind her. Great, Thalia was having band practice.
"Thals, Thals," she said excitedly. "Three months!"
She could practically see Thalia rolling her eyes, so she quickly elaborated. "Three months till I meet him. Thals, the timer's going to go off in three months."
Thalia's voice immediately perked up. "Three months? How? It was two years yesterday." Annabeth could hear her walking quickly out of the studio. The background became quiet, and she heard her adjusting the phone.
"I don't know," Annabeth said. "Maybe he's closer now."
"Or she," Thalia corrected. "Never make assumptions, babe. Remember Luke-"
"Or she," Annabeth said hurriedly, not wanting Thalia to go into one of her rants. "Maybe they're closer now." Thalia made a sound of approval at her choice of pronoun. Annabeth rolled her eyes, and tugged her back-pack higher on her shoulder. Now that she actually told somebody she could get a hold of herself and act less like a love-crazy teenager.
Thalia hummed in agreement. "Keep me posted okay? I want to be there when your Timer hits zero."
Annabeth laughed. "Yeah okay Thals. You can get back to band practice now. You got a show tomorrow right?"
Thalia confirmed it. She then said excitedly. "Maybe you'll meet them at the show. It's pretty big; they've got to be there. I mean which soulmate doesn't have the same music tastes as you?"
Annabeth didn't really like heavy metal or punk, but there was no way she was telling Thalia that.
"Yeah," she replied, laughing. "Maybe."
When Percy landed in New York, he immediately looked down at his watch.
The numbers had always been more than two years, sometimes flickering to three or four. Whenever he visited New York, they had always been lower- a couple of months, a year. He remembered there was even a time when it memorably came down to a few minutes just when he was about to board a flight to Los Angeles. And when he sat down in his seat, it flickered to two years, four months and three days.
This time, he was here to stay. Like it or not, he was going to meet his soulmate in New York City this trip.
He read the numbers and a wide smile spread on his face.
Luke sidled up to her bench, holding a cup of coffee out to her.
"Thanks," she said gratefully, taking a deep sip, relishing its sweet yet bitter taste. Luke grinned at her expression of pure bliss.
"Like it?" he asked teasingly, sitting down on one of the chairs near her desk. Annabeth sighed. "Have I ever told you how much I love you?"
Luke laughed and picked up one of her plans. "Nearly not as much as I would like," he said, carefully unrolling it. The blue-print of a building Annabeth was designing in San Francisco greeted him. Annabeth took another sip. She really did need the coffee; she had to stay up all night to finish this design in time. She reached out for a file on the other side of the desk, her hand outstretched in front of Luke. He frowned and reached for her wrist.
After a moment of staring at her watch, his face lit up with a wide beam.
"One month, Annie," he crooned. "How could you not tell me?"
Annabeth felt a blush building up. Luke was loud. All around her, her co-workers looked up from their own work at her. Some of them looked happy for her, others envious- Annabeth knew some of them had years and years left. Clarisse, for example, had thirty years flashing up at her. Annabeth guessed that that maybe was the reason she was always so pissed off.
"Oh shut up, Luke," she mumbled, fighting the blush. Luke smiled teasingly at her. "Aww look at you, all growing up, about to fall in love."
Annabeth pushed him out of the movable chair. Luke wobbled and fell to the floor in an ungraceful heap. "Ow, Annie. Mean, I tell you, mean," he complained. Annabeth laughed and took another sip of her coffee. "Oh hush, you deserved it." He shrugged. "Okay, yeah maybe," he said sheepishly.
Annabeth looked back down at her plans, impatiently pushing back errant strands of her hair behind her ear. Luke got back up and brushed off non-existent dust from his pants.
He grinned at her.
"Are you nervous?" he asked
Annabeth stared resolutely at her papers. "It's not a big deal," she insisted.
Luke rolled his eyes. "Of course it is. You're meeting your soul-mate."
Annabeth shrugged. "For all you know, it could just be a false alarm again. I mean, it's happened before."
Immediately she froze and Luke coughed awkwardly. Oh god, why did she have to bring that up?
"I should- I should get back to this," she babbled, gesturing to her work. Luke nodded. "Yeah, I guess I should get back too."
They both looked at each other awkwardly. Luke rubbed the back of his neck. He gestured to his desk. "I'll catch you later."
As Luke left her cubical, he turned back and said as an after-thought.
"I'm happy for you, Annabeth. I really am."
After he left, Annabeth groaned and buried her head in her hands. She just had to go and say that right?
She remembered it as if it was yesterday. She had to catch a last minute emergency flight to San Francisco. She spent the entire cab ride to the airport desperately making calls and hoping she packed enough underwear. When she made it to the boarding gate, she stopped to check the time. When she glanced at her watch out of habit, she nearly dropped her phone on the ground.
She looked around rapidly, looking for someone staring at their watch at crazily as she was. She looked at it again; there it was blinking rapidly at her: five minutes.
She turned around in a circle, carefully taking in all the passengers around her. Vaguely she heard the announcement that it was the final boarding call for a flight to Los Angeles.
And then she saw Luke.
He had bright blonde hair and tanned, golden-brown skin. He was wearing a neatly ironed, semi-formal shirt and a pair of khaki shorts, and staring at his watch with an equally freaked out expression.
Annabeth gulped and took in a deep breath. He didn't look too bad, maybe not the kind of boy she was usually interested in, but you couldn't really argue with fate right?
She slowly began walking up to him. She didn't check her watch. The announcement was made again.
When she was in speaking distance to him, she heard a loud beep. Everyone around them froze.
The beep of a Timer. The beep signifying that the clock had come to a still- 0:0:0:0. The beep telling everyone in the world that you had found your soul-mate, your lover, your life-partner.
Annabeth could not peel her eyes away from his face. He was looking down at his own Timer, and then he looked up.
He looked past her as if she didn't exist.
She frowned and turned around too.
Another boy with a large eye-patch was looking at him, with the same spell-bound look on his face.
Annabeth looked down at her own watch.
Two years, four months and three days.
The thing about Timers was that they weren't really all that reliable.
Well, they did find you your soulmate, your other-half, the only person you would love and all that jazz, but they didn't tell you exactly when. They were too unpredictable, jumping from a few seconds to a few years. It was a game of chance really: a single missed bus, one moment paused to tie your shoelace, stopping to pet a dog and bam! Your soulmate was gone. The numbers didn't give you the exact time when you would meet them, but more like, how much time it would take to possibly meet them. That is, eliminating all other factors but sheer luck and probability, the time it would take you to find them.
If you had years and years flashing up at you, it most probably meant you and your soul-mate lived far away from each other. Three months meant that you were much closer to each other and three months was the maximum time it would take to bump into each other or something. The closer you moved to each other, the closer your activities and schedules matched, the higher the possibilities of meeting, and hence, lower the number.
Percy knew people who had spent their entire lives searching for their soul-mates. There were actual programmes for that: Travel the world to find your lost love. Percy really hoped he would never have to do that. He knew he had it good. When he got his Timer chip implanted in his brain when he hit puberty (the legal age to get it) it had showed ten odd years, which was really lucky, because his best friend's showed forty.
Imagine having to wait forty years to meet your soul-mate. Percy shuddered at the thought.
But even that was better than being born with a blank Timer. That only happened when either your soul-mate wasn't born yet or hadn't got one.
And then there was the worst: your Timer suddenly going blank. That meant only one possible thing- your soul-mate was dead.
Percy hadn't personally met anyone with a blank Timer, and even if he did, he could never ask them. Most people with blank Timers usually went batshit crazy or became depressed, or got them removed surgically, and spent the rest of their days single, cold, and sad.
Percy knew only one person who publicly went around without a Timer, and that was his Latin Professor back in school. Mr Chiron.
Percy shook his head, and looked down at his own watch. One month.
New York City was as bright, electric and all-encompassing as it had always been. He ran a hand through his wet hair and grinned up at the sky. All around him, skyscrapers soared, almost as if they were rearing to touch the sky. The noise was so loud and everywhere which made Percy feel like he was high on adrenaline.
God, he loved this city.
He was walking towards Central Park, just back from a swim. He wasn't here just to find his soul-mate, but also for work.
Percy was a professional swimmer, and he was here for the annual New York Swimming Championships. He came every year, but only for a week at max. He was always needed back in Los Angeles, where he made extra money by holding swimming classes for the rich and spoilt.
But this time he was here early, and for the long haul. Three weeks. More than enough time to find him or her, if his Timer was to be trusted.
Percy stretched and crossed the road with scores of other passengers. The man beside him was sweating profusely, anxiously looking down at his own watch. Percy glanced at the numbers. Thirty seconds.
Across them, coming from the other side was a girl with long, brown hair, looking down at her own watch.
Their eyes met, and Percy heard the sound of two Timers going off, synchronised. Everyone around them clapped, and Percy gave the man a friendly pat on the back.
"Go get her dude," he said.
When the two of them met and shook hands, blushing, Percy thought, this would be me soon.
It jumped down when Annabeth entered the bar where Thalia's band was performing.
She hazarded that he or she had to be in this area, and proceeded to decide that she would stop by here again sometime next week. You couldn't decide your fate, but you could sure as hell speed it up.
Thalia's music was as loud and boisterous as ever. The crowd loved it. They screamed and cheered for them, The Hunters, drinking in their songs.
Annabeth smiled. She was proud of Thalia and the rest of the band members.
She still remembered holding Thalia tightly as the girl wept and wept into her shoulder, hiccupping, screaming, crying crying crying. Thalia's timer had always shown a larger number than Annabeth's, but she never let that affect her. Until one day she woke up and the number went from fifteen years, seven months, six days, and one hour, to a blank.
Thalia's soul-mate was dead.
After that she was a zombie for nearly a month before she snapped out of it. Annabeth came back home one day to see her best friend with hair cut into a pixie/punk cut, dyed neon green, and three piercings at the end of an eyebrow. Thalia held up a bottle of beer. She declared, "I'm going to be single for the rest of my life, and we are going to drink to that."
She never looked back again.
She had hence formed a band with three other girls: Bianca Di Angelo, Phoebe, and Zoe Nightshade.
The Hunters became the one of the best things in her life.
Annabeth sat down on one of the bar-stools nursing her own drink. The bartender nodded at her watch. "Not too far off," he said. Annabeth smiled.
There was going to be a heavy metal concert in the bar Grover wanted to visit. Percy hated heavy metal, so they went to another bar nearby instead. Grover handed him a blue drink. Percy grinned and gave him a fist bump.
"Bro," he said. "How do you even remember?"
Grover shrugged and drank his own glass of fruit juice because he was the world's greatest goddamn lightweight. "You're obsessed with blue," he said dryly. Percy laughed and raised his glass. He took a sip and looked around the room. It was a little on the older side, with slightly peeling wallpaper and middle-aged patrons. He and Grover were easily the youngest people there.
The ring on Grover's finger glinted brightly in the dim lights of the room. Percy looked at it and shook his head.
"I still don't get how your Timer jumped from forty years to ten seconds as soon as you stepped into that random park," he said, incredulously. "It's like a Hollywood movie."
Grover let out his bleating laugh. "I have no idea," he admitted. "But man, was that amazing."
"I know," Percy replied. "I was there wasn't I? Dragged me in there and the abandoned me as soon as you met Juniper."
Grover raised his glass. "I hope I'll be there too when you meet yours. I can't wait to see who in this fucking world can handle Percy Jackson."
Percy laughed and shoved him lightly. "Shut up, Underwood. I'm pretty damn awesome."
"You're a pretty damn awesome sonofabitch," Grover agreed, grinning when Percy pushed him again. He held up his hands in mock surrender. "Okay, okay, I'll stop."
"Good," Percy said, petulantly, taking a sip of his drink. "What?" he asked when he noticed Grover staring.
"Nothing," he replied, smiling a little nostalgically. "It's just that I can't believe that you're finally going meet them."
Percy shook his head. "Neither can I," he confessed.
Annabeth woke up refreshed. She hadn't slept properly for at least four days, slumped and buried under piles and piles of blue-prints and designs. They had a big project going on, which if successful, would catapult her straight into the higher leagues, where she could handle her own projects and build her own buildings.
She couldn't wait.
Athena was pleased with her work, which was such a rarity that she nearly dropped her pile of blueprints on her foot when Athena smiled at her. That would have been embarrassing.
But really. Athena was proud, overworking, relentless, and straight from hell scary. For the first week Annabeth had been there, she could barely look her in the eyes. Soon she got used to her and realised that Athena was a goddamn amazing boss.
She was also the only person Annabeth knew who didn't wear a Timer, which made Annabeth respect her even more.
Luke worked in the sales part of the same company. Four siblings owned it: Zeus Corporations. Athena handled architecture and design, Hermes sales, Ares weapons (like, what the hell?) and Hephaestus machinery.
Thalia worked part time with Artemis Hunter, who was a freelance journalist, uncovering the itty gritty bits of dirty politics in New York. Thalia loved it, and Annabeth wasn't surprised.
Artemis's twin brother was a model, who had his own fashion line named after himself. Annabeth wondered how the two of them with completely different personalities were even related.
She was sitting down in the waiting room when she noticed the numbers had come down to a week. She was waiting for her annual check-up of her Timer at Aphrodite clinics. Aphrodite, who was once a famous love-guru, first invented the Timers three decades earlier with the help of her then husband, Hephaestus.
After the initial scepticism died out, and the first pair of soulmates got a married (a lesbian couple, how ironic) Timers became the latest craze. Marriages broke down, divorces were thrown left, right, and centre, people were seen jubilantly kissing their soul-mates, and others weeping, as those they thought to be the love of their lives were actually not.
It was a crazy period.
After that everyone settled down and getting a Timer when you turned thirteen became the norm.
Annabeth got as her thirteenth birthday gift, and she remembered her heart thudding and nearly falling to the base of her stomach when the numbers were blank. Her dad was so stricken and hugged her for nearly an hour as she cried, fearing the worst.
Three months later, she woke up in the middle of the night to see her watch glowing comfortingly: Ten years, eleven months, six days, and twelve hours.
And they had glowed brightly ever since.
Piper McLean, her doctor/technician, checked out her watch. She smiled kindly when she noticed the numbers.
"Very close," she said, carefully removing it and placing it on the stark white table. Her hair was messily cut, chopped as if with a pair of kitchen scissors. Her own watch kept flickering, jumping from ten years to fifteen minutes to two seconds to five years.
Annabeth looked at it curiously. Following her gaze, Piper sighed.
"It's not broken," she said. Annabeth hummed politely, but still couldn't keep her eyes way.
Piper smiled bitterly. She examined Annabeth's watch and her brain scan. "Amnesia," she explained, not looking up. "The Timer is confused. I mean, it only works when your soul-mate recognizes you right?"
Annabeth immediately felt really really bad. Her fists tightened in her lap. "I'm so sorry," she said.
Piper shrugged and smiled, slipping back the watch onto Annabeth's wrist. "It's fine," she said. "I still know he's my soul-mate and I can go back home to him every day. Sometimes it's hard when he doesn't remember, but at least he tries. And if he remembers-" she paused. "It's like falling in love all over again."
Annabeth nodded and didn't ask any more questions.
As she walked out of the door, Piper called out to her. "Don't be scared when you meet him. Trust me, meeting your soulmate is the best feeling in the entire world. Don't waste that moment when your timers go off worrying about how he is. He'll be perfect."
"How do you know it's a he?" Annabeth asked curiously.
Piper shrugged. "I've worked here a long time."
Percy emerged from the pool panting. Poseidon held out a towel.
"New record, son," he said, showing him the phone. "Keep this up and you'll be crushing all their asses in a week's time."
Percy grinned and towelled his hair. "I'm just glad you could make it early to train me."
Poseidon raised an eyebrow. "And miss the chance to gloat when you pick up that trophy for the third row in the running? No way in hell."
Percy laughed. "Wanna grab something to eat?"
"Well, how do you youngsters put it, duh."
Percy scrunched up his nose. "Dad," he said seriously. "Please don't say that ever again."
Poseidon chuckled good-heartedly. "Let's go water boy, I feel like I could eat an elephant right about now."
Poseidon Atlantis was a famous Olympic Swimmer who won fifteen gold medals across three Olympics before missing the last one to witness the birth of his baby boy. After that he gave up professional swimming, opened a pool in California, along with a swimming store, which soon spread into a chain of twenty swimming pools and thirty five stores across the state. He then settled down with his wife, Sally Jackson (whose name Percy took, because Percy Atlantis sounded like some pretentious spoilt, rich brat's name, and the minute anyone heard Atlantis, everyone knew whose son he was, which sucked big time when you were in school) and spent the rest of his time fishing and teaching his only son how to swim.
Poseidon gestured to Percy's watch with his hotdog. He had met Sally before the whole Timer business got underway, and even after they became common, both of them decided not to get their own Timers. They were both happily married and in love, and they didn't need any old stupid device to tell them whether or not their atoms were made for each other or whatever bullshit Aphrodite sprouted when advertising about her Timers. When Percy turned thirteen he remembered his parents sitting down and asking him whether he really wanted to get it or not. Percy wasn't really into the whole soul-mate thing then, and like most boys his age, he didn't really like girls either. The thought of having to spend the rest of his life with one made him feel kind of nauseated then.
But then he remembered Grover's face when he came to school to show him a blank Timer, and while it flickered to life only a few weeks later, Percy had felt enough sadness from him to know that he couldn't do that to his own soul-mate, who would have to spend the rest of her life with a blank watch on her wrist.
So he decided to get one, and never regretted it since.
"So," Poseidon said. "Six days huh?"
Percy looked up from the menu. He glanced at the watch.
"Yeah," he said. "I don't know whether to vomit or dance."
Poseidon chuckled. "Dance, I think. After all, love of your life and all that shit yeah?"
Percy blushed slightly. He played with his salad. Poseidon was forcing him to eat healthy, much to his chagrin.
Poseidon smiled at his son. "Does your mom know?"
Percy blushed harder and nodded.
"How'd she take it?"
"She was-eh- very excited," Percy replied. "She said she'd kill me if she didn't meet them as soon as possible."
"Ah," Poseidon nodded understandingly. "She probably will. Plus," he said casually. "I get to meet them as soon as you exchange names. Got to make sure they're not some money-spindling, drug dealer."
"Dad," Percy exclaimed. Poseidon chuckled again. "Okay, okay," he said. "I'll meet them when you're not around instead."
"You all suck," Percy grumbled. "And above all, this salad sucks."
Annabeth was hesitant to go anywhere outside the area she worked in, worried that one misstep would result in it going back to two years and eleven months again or something. Luke kept calming her down, telling her that she would eventually meet him, if she just gave it some time.
He and Ethan were getting married in May, after finally getting over the fact that both of them were gay, which they had not expected at all. For a long time, Annabeth didn't know if the two were dating or nurturing some weird bromance built up on football games and cheap beer.
She still didn't get it. They still called each other bro.
With five days to go, Thalia had officially moved into her house and settled on her couch, announcing that there was no way in hell she was missing being the first person to meet Annabeth's 'star-crossed lover'. The house was messier than ever, but Annabeth didn't really have the heart to shoo her best friend away.
Luke took to hovering next to her wherever she went. Annabeth had an inkling that the two of them has a bet as to who would meet her soulmate first.
Athena had reduced her workload, out of the little kindness she had in the pit of darkness that was her heart... or simply because they had finished their key project. Annabeth knew it was the latter, but pretended for the hell of it, that it was the former.
All in all, Annabeth just had to wait.
"So," Rachel said. "You're going to meet her at the swimming championship?"
Percy frowned. "What?"
He was sprawled across Rachel's bed, staring out of the window. Rachel's dad, Robert Dare was a real-estate tycoon, and rumour had it he owned half of New York's skyline. That meant half the buildings he could see out of the ceiling to floor windows belonged to him. Strangely disconcerting.
"The championship's in four days, idiot," she said, rolling her eyes. She tucked her knees under her chin and spun the chair she was sitting on in circles. Her bright red hair fell loosely around her face, framing it like a halo. A few months ago, Percy would have walked up to her, held her cheeks and kissed her, but now, that was a thing of the past.
He had met Rachel Elizabeth Dare in Los Angeles three years ago. She was one of the rich spoilt kids he was hired to teach, and even though his dad owned as much money as many of the Beverly Hills kids, his mom, who was from a lower middle class family, was never comfortable in the fancy, oppressive air of being rich, so they stayed in a medium sized house in the suburbs.
Her timer had ten years to go and his seven, so after a few swimming classes, they began fooling around with each other. Everything was fine until one day Percy realised that he really really liked Rachel even though they weren't soul-mates. The two of them discussed getting their timers removed and just staying with each other, but deep down, in the pit of his heart, Percy knew that he would never love her.
So they amicably broke up and remained best friends.
Looking at her now, Percy had this deep, aching feeling of how easy it would have been to love her and live with her for the rest of his life. Sometimes he wanted to do just that, particularly when she looked so beautiful with her bright, endless smile, warm freckled skin, and soft, curly red hair.
He shook his head to get rid of his thoughts.
He looked at his watch. There was someone else waiting out there for him, someone who was perfect.
"Oh yeah," he said aloud. "Maybe she'll be there in the crowds."
"So dramatic," Rachel teased. "You'll be mid-way through the final lap and then suddenly your timer will go off and the entire stadium will go quiet, and you'll look up into the stands, and she'll be standing right there, looking back at you, lit up with a single beam of sunlight. God, people will gossip about it forever."
Percy threw a pillow at her which she caught effortlessly. "You're one to talk," he muttered. "I bet your's is some nerd glasses wearing hipster who loves art more than he loves people."
Rachel shrugged. "Well, technically, I'm a hipster who loves art more than people too, so it'll be a mutually beneficial relationship."
Percy groaned and buried his nose into the sheets. "God, don't remind me. I cringe every time you play stupid indie music and make me go thrift-shopping with you. And I don't even have twenty dollars in my pocket."
Rachel laughed loudly. "Oh god, I really hope your soul-mate is into vinyl. I can picture the blood draining out of your face."
Percy mumbled swear words into the bed.
Annabeth hurried to Athena's office.
When she entered, Athena was seating behind her desk, looking unnaturally apologetic.
"Something important has come up," she said. "And I really want you to check it out."
Annabeth nodded and tightened her hold on her folders. Something told her that this wasn't good news.
"It's in the San Francisco office," she said contritely. "And you'll have to leave immediately."
"But-" Annabeth started but stopped herself. She couldn't throw off a year's work just because of some person who she hasn't even met before. That's just not her. And plus, this building was her baby. It was her ticket to Greece, her ticket to designing something that would last forever.
"Of course," she said. "That's not a problem."
"I'm sorry," Athena said, nodding towards her watch. "I'm aware you had other plans. I would send someone else….but no one else knows the project like you."
Annabeth nodded. "Absolutely. I'll catch the first flight out."
Two Years, Three Months, Six Days and eleven minutes
Percy couldn't believe his eyes. He watched as the numbers flickered up.
He shut his eyes.
There was always next year.
Percy landed back in Los Angles with a heavy heart. He had won the championship again, but failed to win the real prize. Grover and Rachel had taken him drinking after the tournament and he gotten completely smashed. He vaguely remembered crying a lot, and falling asleep in Rachel's bed curled next to her, with her arms wrapped around his torso.
"Why didn't we just get rid of our Timers?" he asked, staring up at her ceiling. Rachel slipped her fingers through his hair.
"Because there's someone better out there," she said simply.
His dad told him to fly down to San Francisco for another swimming tournament, one he usually didn't attend. His mom agreed; it would take his mind off of his grief for a while. The San Fran swimming meet was a big deal, but Percy never really liked attending it. It was the first professional swimming competition Poseidon had won, and the one time Percy had gone there, they had blown his presence up so much, he felt like a minor celebrity living in his dad's shadow. Since then he had avoided it, even if Poseidon was a little more than upset about it.
"Please tell me you didn't tell them in advance," he begged. His dad and mom shared a look.
Sally winced slightly. "I'm sorry, baby. We signed you up as soon as we heard that your numbers flickered up again. Thought it would help you."
Both of them looked genuinely distressed about it. Percy half-heartedly smiled. "It's fine. I'll go."
So he shrugged and hopped on the closest plane.
His watch was carefully tucked into his pocket. He could not bear to look at it anymore. So many, so many near meetings. He wasn't sure whether his heart could handle it anymore: the pain, the disappointment, the terrible, aching hope. Maybe he should have listened to his parents and never got the Timer in the first place. Obviously, his soul-mate was more trouble than she was worth.
He checked into his hotel and plopped down on the bed. It was a nice room, with the balcony overlooking the bay. He could feel the watch in his pocket, but the fought the urge to pick it up.
He decided to take a walk.
The bay was quite beautiful, with its birds and bright, restaurants and shops. He walked up and down the winding hills, rambling about, occasionally poking his head through the stores. He bought his mom a nice, antique clock for the guest bedroom, a pair of fancy handles for Grover's crutches, and a pretty little silver locket for Rachel. He dabbled with the idea of getting a porcelain fountain delivered for Poseidon's office, but decided otherwise.
As he walked along the bay, he watched so many happy couples strolling by, hand-in-hand, smiling. He closed his eyes. Three days ago, that could have been him.
Watching them was blatant masochism, he decided. And both his friends would be sorely disappointed. Rachel hadn't met her soul-mate either, and she was more than happy.
He caught a cab and asked the driver to take him to the closest swimming pool. After all, water will always be his first and only lover.
Two Years, Three Months, Six Days and Eleven minutes
Annabeth felt like crying when she looked at her watch. The minute she stepped onto the flight to San Francisco, the numbers shot right up, and if it weren't for the fact that people were watching, she would have broken down into tears then and there.
The old lady sitting next to her patted her knee.
"I married my husband fifty years before the Timers were invented," she told her. "And John and I decided to go and get one just for the sake of curiosity. The moment with both met after getting the chip implanted, the godforsaken thing started howling."
Annabeth cracked a watery smile. The lady continued, "So what I'm saying, dear girl, is that soul-mates always find each other eventually. You just have to give it time and hope."
It was the best advice Annabeth had heard in a while. Soul-mates always find each other.
San Francisco was so very different from New York, more laid-back, sunnier, less wild. She spent most of the week in the office, poring over blueprints. One of the guys had completely messed up with the plans, missing a couple of beams here and there, resulting in Annabeth having to spend hours scoring over them, trying to fix the faults.
By the end of the week, she was exhausted- emotionally and physically.
Her flight wasn't until the next day evening, so she decided to take a walk down the city, maybe buying some stuff for Thalia and Luke. Her heart still ached terribly; three days ago, she would have met the person she would spend the rest of her life with, but thanks to a stupid intern, she had missed her chance.
It wasn't even funny anymore. When she used to be in college or school, when the Timer flickered down to a smaller number, she used to be overwhelmed and scared because she was not ready. It used to be a relief whenever it used to flash back to five years, three years, seven years. But the number of times her timer numbers changed was beyond ridiculous. Annabeth knew no one else whose numbers flickered between three years and a couple of months, constantly. That's why she made sure to get her Timer checked every year; she was convinced there was something wrong with it. How could someone have so many missed chances, so much bad luck?
There was always something stopping them from meeting; it was as is fate was deciding that they would be the sort of couple that just kept missing each other, always holding on to blind hope and faith, only to be let down when one flight could change the countdown from three days to two years.
Annabeth buried her head in her hands and took in a deep breath. It was evening, and the streetlights were flickering on. The wooden bench by the bay was hard and warm beneath her. All around people hurried about, each with their own Timers, some zeroed, some with fifty years left.
Annabeth didn't dare look at her own watch.
Instead she decided to stop by some café and grab a sandwich to eat or something. As she walked down the footpath, she noticed a huge, blown up advertisement for a swimming competition. Underneath it was a picture of a man with dark, raven black hair, and bright green eyes behind his blue goggles. Toned, tanned skin and a smile that only meant trouble- he looked like one of those skater kids who hung around the mall. Usually the kind of guy Annabeth thought was cute, but avoided.
The banner announced: Featuring swimming champion, Percy Jackson!
Annabeth stared at him. The more she looked the more something deep within her built. She shook her head. What was she doing checking out someone else's guy, when she had enough trouble with her own?
As she ate dinner, she still couldn't get him out of her mind.
Neither of them noticed their watches.
Percy still wore his out of habit, but forcibly refused to look at it. He double checked his bag for all his swimming items. He nodded towards the bell-hop, and caught the first cab to the swimming centre.
Time to kick some swimming butt.
Annabeth packed her clothes into her tiny suitcase. She still had seven hours to go before she had to catch her flight.
She picked up her phone and googled San Fran Swimming Championships.
One peep wouldn't hurt right?
Percy arrived at the centre early, but despite that there was already a swarm of journalists around him.
He flashed his brightest smile at them. Carefully making sure his watch was facing away from the cameras, he turned to the closest journalist. The last time one of them had caught sight of it, Sally and Poseidon had to spend hours doing damage and rumour control.
Usually, smaller swim meets like this one didn't warrant too much media attention. For that matter, he didn't warrant too much media attention either, but coming back successfully after a third straight win at the New York, being the closest contender for representing America in the next Olympics, and being the son of Poseidon fucking Atlantis, meant he got more than his fair share of paparazzi and media coverage.
A lady with blonde hair and a fake smile shoved a microphone in front of him, and the barrage of questions began.
There was a huge crowd of journalists, people, and screaming girls at the main-entrance, so Annabeth decided to take the side-one.
She splurged on a slightly more expensive ticket even if she wasn't really into swimming, because a) she had got a bonus, and b) she was so very curious. Her watch was tucked between two tissues in her hand-bag, and she wore a silver bracelet with owl charms in its place instead.
She carefully made sure not to see the numbers.
The swimming centre was huge and the crowd had already started filling in, even though the competition didn't start for another hour. Loud top forty music was pounding from the speakers, and this combined with the voices of the people around made it almost impossible to hear anything.
Annabeth sat down in her seat with a cup of coke. She stared down at the tranquil blue water of the pool, interspersed with colourful floating balls. She fiddled with her phone. She sighed. What was she even doing here like an idiot. She could've been catching up with her architecture work, or reading, or even talking to Thalia, who she had been pretty much ignoring since her Timer numbers went up again.
The crowd cheered loudly and surged to its feet. Annabeth scrunched her nose in confusion. They were all looking at a figure who was emerging from the locker-rooms. Raven black hair, tanned skin. The man looked up at the crowd and grinned, flashing them a victory symbol. Bright green eyes twinkled behind the goggles.
Annabeth recognized him. Percy Jackson.
He effortlessly dived into the water and began warming up. Annabeth watched as the muscles of his back flexed each time his strong arms cut through the water, moving through it like he belonged there, as if it were home. She watched in fascination; he moved with all the grace of a dancer, lithe, fast, and steady. His head bobbed up and down as he came up for air. Annabeth had never really seen professional swimmers live before; she wondered if all them were as good.
Percy Jackson swam like a wave, and Annabeth felt like she was caught in the tsunami of its movement.
As if being caught in his own gravitational field (which technically was true because of Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation and all) Annabeth slowly walked down the steps, and reached the railings of the bleachers, just a few metres away from the pool. Beside her a young boy, with large round glasses and an autograph book excitedly yelled out his name. Percy burst forth from the surface of the water and shook his head, droplets falling out of his hair in different directions.
He turned towards them and grinned.
The boy yelled even louder and began jumping up and down. His mother tried to vainly calm him down. Annabeth smiled at the sight.
She couldn't help but stare at Percy as he strode towards them, running a hand through his wet hair. Annabeth realised he was sinfully well-built, not with bulging muscles and all that, but lean and lithe, faster than stronger.
But it wasn't his body Annabeth was staring at, it was his eyes.
He approached the boy next to her with a bright beam.
"Hey little man, how are you today?"
The boy beamed and shoved the book into his arms. "I'm gonna be just like you when I grow up," he announced. "And then I'm going to beat you."
Percy grinned and ruffled the boy's hair. "I can't wait until I swim with you."
As he signed the book, Annabeth shuffled a little closer to the boy, not having any idea what she was doing. She clutched the railing tightly, until her knuckles turned slightly white. She didn't know why her heart was thudding so loudly, pounding; her nerves alight, raw and throbbing.
Percy Jackson felt like electricity.
He lifted his head and handed the book to the boy. The bleachers were slightly above ground level, and Percy's head reached Annabeth's chin. She absently tugged the strands of her blonde hair behind her ear, still staring resolutely at Percy.
Percy looked up and caught her eyes.
Grey clashed with green.
And amidst the crazy shouting of the crowd, the loud pounding music, and her own lack of concentration, Annabeth didn't hear the shrill beeping of her Timer.
"And don't forget to breathe more when you do the back flip turn, and remember-"
"Dad," Percy interrupted. "You give me the same speech every single time; I kind of know it by-heart now."
Poseidon grumbled on the phone-line. Percy adjusted the mobile under his ear, and carefully tucked his watch, dial turned away from him, into his sports bag. His pre-swim ritual was nearly done- he had spoken to his mother, exchanged insults with Rachel, swapped jokes with Grover, and drank exactly half a cup of blue cherry coke.
The rest of the can was reserved for after the victory.
After escaping the journalists (which also included the not-unexpected question about his love life, which caught him for a half a second before he recovered and brushed it off like Poseidon taught him), he carefully made his way to the locker room, avoiding contact with anyone.
He was early; the swim didn't start for another two hours, so he had enough time to warm up. He dumped his bag in the designated locker (number one; he was the first seed after all) and sat down on one of the metal benches, and called his mother.
Percy didn't have too many friends. He had acquaintances and fellow competitors from the swimming world, but never a friend. That post had been reserved for Grover, since the two of them had pretty much known each other since they were in diapers. Later, Rachel wriggled her way through and took such an important part of Percy's life that he didn't know what he would do if he couldn't banter with her anymore.
And that was it. His little family.
Maybe later, he would let his soul-mate in too, but honestly, he didn't really need her. If he never met her in his life, he doubted he would be too affected.
After all, he still had water.
Poseidon sighed. "Okay, son. Go kick their asses. Don't kill any journalists, and smile at some girls."
"Dad," Percy groaned. Poseidon chuckled. "Hey, I'm just saying you should get out more," he defended.
"I'm putting the phone down," Percy warned. Poseidon laughed again. He let himself soak in the warmth of his dad's rough, gravely laugh for a moment. He let out a deep breath. "I should go warm up now," he said. Poseidon agreed.
"Yeah. Good luck…not that you particularly need it."
Percy smiled. "Bye, dad."
He quickly changed into his swimming suit, and let his goggles hang around his his neck. As he walked down the entrance to the pool, he nodded at the officials who greeted him but didn't stop for any chit-chat. No doubt they'd ask about his dad and load of other press bullshit.
He could hear the crowd at the other side of the glass doors. For a moment he relaxed and took a deep breath in calming down his raging heartbeat. How many times he may do it, the walk to the pool was always nerve-wracking. He reached out for the doors.
He could do this.
Percy was greeted with a loud roar. He plastered his best smile on his face and waved towards the bleachers. The pool stretched before him, brilliant blue in colour. He shut his eyes and savoured the adrenaline from the crowd and the calming effect of the water, rippling and dancing about, inviting him to join it in its happiness.
He didn't really like the competition, but the San Fran swimming centre pool was gorgeous.
He slid into the water and let himself go.
As he finished his final warming up lap, he heard the insistent call of his name. He glanced up to the bleachers and saw a young boy screaming out, jumping up and down excitedly, and holding out an autograph book.
And beside him, a few feet away, stood the most beautiful girl he had ever laid eyes on.
Despite himself, he walked towards her and the boy, grinning. His mind was running about in a dizzying circle, telling him to go back, to turn around. But he kept walking, focusing on how her presence seemed to make his blood sing.
His mind went on automatic as he spoke to the boy.
When he finished signing the book, he glanced to his right, and caught the girl's eyes.
They were a beautiful, heart-stopping shade of grey that seemed to pierce right through him like a goddamn lightning bolt. Her blonde hair fell in princess curls around her head, and she clutched the railings like her life depended on it.
He took in a deep breath.
"Hey," he said, hoping she couldn't hear his thudding heart. What the hell, he wondered. He had never felt like that after seeing a girl for the first time. Even with Rachel, he had felt his hormones pick up only after at least five swimming classes.
The girl pursed her lips, trying not to smile. Her eyes darted back and forth across his face.
"Hi," she said, stifling a giggle. Percy frowned, was there something on his face?
"I know who you are," she interrupted. "And I doubt there's anyone here who doesn't."
Percy rubbed the back of his wet neck sheepishly. "Well, I guess." He looked up at her. "I didn't want to make assumptions though."
"And come forth as being arrogant?" she guessed. Percy nodded. "That would not be the greatest first impression, yeah," he said.
She laughed. "I think you've already made a pretty great first impression."
Percy cocked his head. "What-" he began, but was cut-off by an announcement from the loudspeakers.
"Contestants are requested to report in the locker rooms immediately. I repeat, the contestants are kindly requested to report to the locker room immediately."
Percy winced. "That's my call I guess."
The girl nodded. "I guess it is."
Percy dawdled for a moment, shuffling from one foot to the other. He met her amused eyes.
"So I'll see you later….?"
"Annabeth," she prompted, and Percy shot her his best, most heart-felt grin.
"I'll see you later than, Annabeth," he said and turned around. After he had walked a few feet, Annabeth leaned forward holding the railings and called out.
"Hey, Percy?" He turned around. She was openly smiling now. "You're drooling."
Percy felt like slamming his head multiple times against his locker door.
One of his fellow contestants smiled sympathetically at him. "Didn't go too well huh?" Chris asked, applying some cream to his hands. Percy glanced at him.
"What didn't go to well?"
Chris gestured with his cream tube. "Your conversation with that girl. Everyone in the vicinity saw you two flirting."
Percy felt like banging his head even harder.
"We weren't flirting," he defended ruefully. Oh god, it would be plastered all over the news tomorrow. Poseidon would kill him.
Chris arched an eye-brow. "Really dude?"
Percy half-heartedly nodded.
Chris shrugged. "It's not a big deal, I mean, there are worse places than under the scrutiny of every gossip magazine ever to meet your soul-mate."
Percy frowned. "She's not my soul-mate."
This time Chris was the one with the confused expression. "But I heard your Timer-"
He was interrupted by an official.
"Competition starts in fifteen," he announced. "We'd like you to come out now."
Chris closed the cap of his cream tube. Percy desperately wanted to ask him what he had heard, but Chris had already lost interest in the conversation, and was instead eyeing the other competitors calculatingly. There was no use asking him anymore.
Percy thought of looking at his watch one more time before leaving, but decided not to.
He wasn't sure if he could handle anymore disappointment.
He was the last one to leave the locker.
If he had checked the watch, the numbers glowing back at him would have been 0:0:0:0
The thing about Timers was that you got only one chance.
Only one chance to meet your soul-mate. After you had contact with them, it never beeped again. One shot, one opportunity.
There were so many stories about people missing their soul-mates, one accidental brush in a crowded bus-stop, eyes meeting across a stadium, walking past them in a busy roadway- even the slightest contact could trigger the timer. After that people were left with zeroed timers, but no soul-mates.
One chance. Life offered you one chance.
You just had to make the best of it.
A teenage girl pointed it out to her.
Annabeth had cupped her mouth and was cheering with the rest of the crowd. The girl beside her glanced at her and shrieked.
"Oh my god you've met your soul-mate!"
Annabeth lowered her hands immediately in surprise and stared at the girl in confusion. She sputtered and wildly gestured to Annabeth's wrist.
Annabeth looked down.
The girl beamed. "Oh my god, that's amazing. When did you meet them? How did you meet them? Was it hugely romantic? My mom met my dad in the middle of a park, under fairy lights. I mean, how amazing is that? I still have, like, seven years to go. That sucks. Like, that's so long, and I can't believe that I have to wait for….." she trailed off when she noticed the expression on Annabeth's face.
"Hey, are you okay?" she asked concernedly. Annabeth continued to stare at the dial, unblinking, her mind racing. Who could it be? The cute boy in the ticket-booth? The girl who she bought popcorn from? The older official who showed her her seats? The lady she made conversation with before sitting down? The guy who she knew was checking her out from the row behind her, three seats away?
Annabeth was hyperventilating.
A voice whispered in the base of her mind, maybe it's Percy Jackson.
Annabeth shook that ridiculous thought away; Percy wasn't even wearing his watch, and he definitely looked like the kind of guy who had met his soul-mate before, drool or no drool.
The girl touched her hand softly and held out a bottle of water. Annabeth took it gratefully. As she sipped, the girl asked, "What's wrong?"
Annabeth handed her the bottle back. "I don't know who my soul-mate is."
What if she became part of those stories where people met, but never saw their soul-mates again?
Annabeth shakingly walked to the exit. The girl, Sarah as she introduced herself, graciously guided her to it, clutching her elbow. Some of them people gave her curious glances; a nice old lady even offered her some of her panic attack medicines.
Annabeth's mind was a swirl of random names and faces, data and probabilities, outcomes and numbers and numbers and numbers, because numbers can never lie.
And because numbers never lie, she's definitely met her soulmate. It could be anyone, she comes to realise; she hasn't looked down at her Timer since she landed in San Francisco. Maybe it was Will Solace- he was eagerly discussing the fact that his numbers had nearly zeroed, or maybe Katie Gardner- she never showed anyone her watch, or or…
Annabeth shook her head; she should really stop getting so overwhelmed.
Sarah dropped her off near the exit and smiled. "You'll find him," she promised. "Life is fucked up, but soul-mates are the one thing that make it okay."
Annabeth nodded and straightened slightly. She could hear the crowd surge to its feet, cheering and clapping loudly; the race had ended. She quietened her throbbing mind for a moment to listen to the results.
Percy Jackson wins the freestyle event.
She let a small smile creep across her face. That was nice to hear.
She wanted to call Thalia or Luke, maybe cry a little, ask for advice. But both of them would suck at it. Luke would be at ends- he found his soul-mate and was in love and all that mush, while Thalia would never meet her soul-mate, and that was a hundred times more worse than Annabeth's predicament, because at least she had one.
So the only thing she could do without breaking down in the middle of the goddamn stadium would be to get back to her hotel room.
Yeah; she could do that.
Percy jumped up and down at the starting point, running high on adrenaline and a little anger. Also maybe little need to make a certain someone awestruck, but really it was about meeting his first lady love. Really.
Oh if only Rachel could see him now; she would laugh so much.
He heard the referee sprout out a bunch of rules and yada yada yada. The crowd was a little silent with bated breathes and wide eyes. Honestly, Percy felt the advertising about him coming was a little too much, even if he was one of the best swimmers in the west coast (and yes, he was not humble about that).
Finally the rest of the swimmers began getting into their diving positions, and Percy snapped out of his little thought stream.
He won, just narrowly beating the person in second place by a few micro-seconds. Huh, maybe the San Fran championships did get some good talent.
He shook off the water from his hair, which had leaked in despite wearing his cap, and grinned at the crowd. He waved to them and did a little mock bow which they all drank up with loud cheers.
He felt a little giddy- c'mon, winning was awesome. He let himself soak in the victory a little, it was a nice feeling he hadn't felt in a while; the New York championships left him with a bitter taste in his mouth, like he had won something important but not important enough.
Chris walked up to him, shaking his head amusedly. "Man," he said. "They said you were good, but not this good."
Percy laughed. "I'd say it's about practice and hardwork, but really, it's just my epic talent."
Chris snorted and held out his hand. "Epic would be stretching it. We'll start talking about epic when you finally win that goddamn Olympic Gold that's always eluding us."
Percy shook his hand. He leaned forward and whispered mischievously, "The world's not going to know what hit it."
"I bet your soul-mate has a handful with you."
Percy froze. He blinked at him.
"What soul-mate?" he asked. Chris' brow furrowed. He glanced at Percy confusedly. "So it wasn't your timer beeping in the locker room?"
"Beeping? What are you talking about?"
"Your Timer," Chris said slowly. "It was beeping while you were out warming-up."
Percy was stunned.
Oh, he thought.
He clobbered through his bag, throwing out towels and water bottles, searching for his timer.
Where the fuck is it, he thought angrily, pulling out yet another stark white, unused towel. "I've really got to clean this bag," he said aloud. He didn't have much time. The next race was in half-an-hour, and he couldn't find the goddamn watch.
"There you are!" he exclaimed and grabbed it out of the corner where it was stashed.
He turned it around slowly, not daring to hope, not wanting his heart to be ripped out of his chest again.
The numbers flickered back happily at him.
It had to be Annabeth.
Percy knew, objectively, it could be anyone. The bell-hop, the officials, hell even one of his fellow swimmers, but deep down his heart throbbed a little and pitter-pattered, and his gut told him it was Annabeth.
It was the same gut feeling that led him to come to New York every year, the same feeling that told him jumping into that box full of blue water would be the best decision of his life, told him trusting Rachel would make him a better person, that he needed to follow Grover into that goddamn park where he met Juniper, that his soul-mate was Annabeth.
He didn't even think about it. Percy had always been spontaneity and emotions and act first, think later. If he felt it was Annabeth, then it was her he would go to, even if it ended up breaking his stupid, fragile heart.
He sped down the corridors, bumping into people, throwing back apologies but not stopping. A few officials called back to him but he ignored them. Chris looked up from one of the vending machines and gave him thumbs up and a grin. It fuelled his crazy run.
He broke out of the glass doors and into the pool area, looking wildly around. The steady chatter of the crowd and the occasional loud laugh filled the air.
He turned towards the bleachers and stared at them, searching for her.
He walked slowly towards it, not stopping the scanning of everyone's faces. He couldn't find her anywhere.
He carefully gripped the railings which were chest level. He remembered the four zeroes that greeted his eyes; he had actually done it, he had actually finally finally met his soul-mate.
It wasn't much of a decision.
He gripped them hard and hauled himself over. People had noticed him by now and they gawked at him. A couple of them fumbled for their phones, some for their autograph books, but he ignored them all.
He stood there in a soaking wet swim suit, a towel hanging around his neck, barefoot, wet hair sticking everywhere, searching everyone's faces like a madman.
She wasn't there.
He quickly walked to the staircase, taking two steps at a time. When he neared the exit, someone grabbed his arm.
A teenage girl smiled back uncertainly at him. Percy tried to keep back the growl at being stopped, but was only partially successful. The girl grew even more anxious, but still ploughed through.
"She left," she said her voice slightly shaky. Huh, maybe he looked a lot scarier than he previously thought.
He scrunched up his nose in confusion. "I'm sorry, I don't-"
"Annabeth," the girl cut through. "She said she was going back to her hotel."
That threw Percy off guard. He looked stupidly at her. "How did you know…." He trailed off uncertainly. The girl gave him a slight smile.
"You're gripping the timer so hard in your hand it might break," she said. "Her timer's zeroed. It's not hard to connect the dots."
Percy blinked. He was actually right for the first time in his life. "Thanks," he said gratefully.
The girl's eyes twinkled. "Invite me for the wedding, yeah?"
He rushed to the exit, pushed a man out of them way and nearly made three people drop their food.
He winced slightly as one little girl's ice-cream fell to the floor. He smiled sheepishly when the mother glared at him. "I'm sorry," he yelled, behind his shoulder. "But I've got a soul-mate to catch."
That seemed to work well because the mother's face softened and she nodded understandingly.
Idly, Percy realised that it was a pretty damn good exercise and resolved to use it whenever he could.
He skidded to a rest when he stepped down the last step. The grounds of the stadium were pretty much empty, only a couple of people milling about.
Good, he thought. At least there won't be any audience.
He turned to his right towards the exit, and saw just a hint of blonde hair in the distance. He broke out in a sprint. "Annabeth!" he yelled, but she didn't seem to hear him. He increased his speed. If she exited the stadium , then she would get lost amongst all the other people of the streets of San Fran, and he'd lose her for good. He didn't know anything but her first name and load of help that would be if he had to search every hotel in the city to find her. He knew this was his last chance. There would be no more numbers flashing on his watch, nothing to tell him whether he was closer or further away from her. They could cross each other on the street and not even notice.
And he couldn't deal with that, not again.
"Annabeth!" he shouted again, louder, louder, he had to be louder.
She was walking fast, a little shakily, like she desperately wanted to go go go. "Annabeth!" he tried again. "Annabeth Annabeth Annabeth!"
In the last yell, she stopped, along with Percy's heart.
Slowly she turned around.
Percy was only a few metres away from her and when he reached her, he dropped his hands on his knees and panted.
"You know," he said between breathes. "You're a hard person to find."
Annabeth met his eyes cautiously, a little hopefully. "You're just not trying hard enough then," she said.
Percy laughed. "It took me a while," he admitted. "I came pretty close a couple of times."
Annabeth sucked in her breath. Breath-taking stormy silver eyes peered at him. "And….?"
He grinned and lifted up his Timer.
"I've finally found you."