A/N: I want to say thank you for the amazing response I've gotten so far, I haven't settled on a day to put up new chapters but I figured I'd put this up today.
Another shout out to ananbeth (on tumblr) for her amazing help!
Not bad. It's her first judgement, and a quick one but Annabeth prides herself on reading people. The first day he met Piper Annabeth called her and Jason falling for each other from a mile off, so she doubts she's wrong now.
Now that she's standing in front of him it's much easier to look him over. His collar is stiff and there are still creases in it from where it was folded, giving her the impression it's new and yet to be washed. The knot of his tie has wrinkles that look like he's re-tied it several times, he's missed a loop with his belt, and one side of his shirt has come untucked from his pants. His hair is a mop of unruly locks that look like there's been an attempt to tame them with water or spit but one that's ultimately failed. There's also an energy about him, one that makes her feel like he'll spend the night tapping his foot or drumming his fingertips on the table. What grabs her attention the most are his striking green eyes, like the waters of the ocean after a storm, and Annabeth mentally chides Piper for not using this as her selling point. Piper knows all too well Annabeth has a weakness for green eyes.
"Hi, Percy, I'm Annabeth." She holds out a hand and he gives it a tentative shake.
Annabeth reaches for her chair but he steps around the table and pulls it out for her. The gesture throws her off for a second before she composes herself and holds her skirt to her legs as she sits. She purses her lips and tries to gage if the chivalry thing is an act.
"So," Percy moves to his seat and drops down heavily. "What has Piper told you about me?"
"Trying to figure out what promises she's made?"
"Trying to figure out how much she played me up," he says with a self-deprecating shrug.
"She hasn't told me that much, just that your name is Percy and you're a really great guy."
"Wow, remind me to thank her for the ringing endorsement," Percy says sarcastically and Annabeth's mouth twitches for a second.
"What did she tell you about me?" Annabeth asks and studies his reaction
Percy's face turns a shade paler and he glances up at her before looking away quickly.
"Honestly?" he glances at her and she nods for him to continue. "She told me you might come off a bit strong but I should just remind you of what I do and flash my eyes at you."
Annabeth rolls her eyes and stuffs down the blush of embarrassment.
"Well what do you do?" she asks to shift the conversation as quickly as possible.
"I'm a paramedic but I just got accepted to the fire department," he says with an edge of what's either nervousness or humility.
"A green-eyed firefighter, no wonder she didn't tell me, I wouldn't have believed her," Annabeth mutters and Percy furrows his brow.
"What was that?" His fingers hold still for a second and his eyes narrow.
"I'm wondering how a firefighter and part time paramedic knows a fashion blogger," she says with a straight face.
"We met in high school and have been friends since. What about you and Jason?"
"Friends since college, we were in the same orientation group and ended up dorming across the hall from one another." Percy nods but doesn't say anything.
There's a moment of first-date awkward silence that settles over them and Annabeth feels the weight of it on her shoulders. She fights the urge to put him out of his misery and say something, instead she'll let him bring something up.
"So, uhm, do you, uh-" He glances like there's something nearby that will save him. "Do you work far from here?"
By the time he gets the question out his face is bright red and his eyes are wide, making him look like he's just finished a dead sprint from a man eating lion. A pang of guilt flares in her chest and she reverts her decision on making him carry the conversation.
"Not too far, just a couple blocks. What about you? Paramedics run out of some kind of station don't they?" Annabeth runs her fingers along the edge of her knife.
"Yeah, it's a couple miles from here." He doesn't add anything else and Annabeth feels the conversation stalling.
For a second it looks like Percy will say something but his lips move silently and he frowns. Annabeth figures he's trying to remember a conversational topic someone told him to bring up but it's slipping through his fingers.
They're spared from having to force conversation for a minute by the arrival of their waiter who asks if he can take their drinks. Annabeth orders a glass of wine and Percy gets a coke which makes the waiter turn up his nose and Annabeth smile.
"Guess he's more of a Pepsi guy," Percy grumbles as the waiter walks away.
"I think he's more of a this-place-is-too-classy-for-soda guy." Annabeth keeps her tone even and watches for his reaction.
"Oh, yeah I guess, it's just that I don't really drink." The words feel loaded with a history a little too heavy for a first date.
Annabeth decides to aim for safer waters.
"What made you get into paramedics and fire-fighting?"
"I think I'd die if I was stuck behind a desk, that and I've always wanted to help people." His face stays serious but Annabeth can hear his leg scraping against his seat as it bounces.
"There are an infinite number of ways to help people, why putting your life on the line?" She waits for the macho spiel about doing things, saving people, feeling the rush of adrenaline and danger, or feeling the masses pour praise onto you.
"It's an active job, it feels amazing helping people and the uniforms are cool, but really I'm not sure I'd be good at anything else. I never did great in school and when I graduated I didn't have much direction but I knew I wanted to do something that mattered and I kind of wound up here." There's a tint of red on his cheeks and Annabeth can't help but wonder what tank this guy was grown in.
A humble firefighter with paramedic training who genuinely wants to save kittens from trees and has green eyes to boot. He probably gets along fabulously with is mom and can cook.
"Piper said you're an architect at a local firm," he says, pulling at his tie.
"Yeah, I've been there over a year now and I'm hoping to move up to project manager soon." Annabeth pinches the stem of her wine glass and spins it lazily.
The waiter returns with their drinks and sets them on the table. He asks if they're ready to order or if they need more time and Annabeth realizes she hasn't looked over the menu at all.
"I think we need more time," Percy says with a weak smile.
The waiter gives them a stiff nod and takes off. Percy frowns as he watches the guy leave but quickly turns to his menu.
"I've never actually been here before," Percy admits.
"Neither have I, it's been on my list of places to eat but I've never gotten around to it."
"You have a list of places you plan to eat at?" His voice is a little too skeptical and she flashes him a look.
"Yes, I have a lot of lists," she says defensively.
"Sorry, I didn't mean anything. I just don't think of stuff like that but I guess I mostly just eat at the same places." He flicks his thumb against the edge of the menu repeatedly while he speaks.
"I'm guessing those places have more casual dress requirements," she says and looks at his shirt.
"Oh, yeah, well it's normally when I get off a late shift or something so, yeah." Percy's head drops and Annabeth decides she's being a bit cold. "I cook on my days off or when I can get home early enough." Percy's voice is quiet.
"What can you make?" she asks and pushes curiosity into her voice.
"A few things, I make pretty decent pizza, and pancakes, I can make them for you." There's a complete silence that falls between them as the words settle in and Annabeth's eyes widen.
Percy's mouth opens and then closes and his cheeks go red.
"I didn't mean- I'm not implying- another time- the pancakes I mean."
It looks like every ounce of blood is in his face and neck. Annabeth gives him a smile and hides her face behind the menu and keeps the laugh from slipping out.
They're given a reprieve from the awkwardness with the appearance of the waiter who looks at them demandingly. Annabeth glances between him, Percy, and her menu.
"Uh, so what would you recommend?" Percy buys them a little more time.
The waiter rattles off their specials and adds in a couple personal recommendations which seems to overwhelm Percy and he frantically flips the menu back and forth.
"I'll have the Carbonara," Annabeth says and holds out her menu for the waiter.
"Uh, yeah, I'll have that too." Percy eagerly hands over the menu and takes a deep breath.
Annabeth watches him for a second and tries to figure out the number of dates he's ever been on. Judging by his lack of solid conversation and confidence it can't be that many which feels like a waste. He's an attractive guy with an interesting job and he seems kind enough, but it radiates off him that he's uncomfortable and has no idea what he's doing.
"So," Percy clears his throat, "working on anything interesting?"
"Just some small stuff right now, a few renovations and remodels but I'd like to design my own building one day."
The conversation stalls again and Annabeth wants to groan. He could talk about anything, bring up anything and try to keep the conversation at least moving until they can find something in common to talk about but he's apparently happy to sit in silence. Still, Annabeth can't say that would be the worst first date.
"What would it look like?" he asks and Annabeth stares at him for a second.
It's a brilliant question but an answer he may not be prepared for. Percy doesn't know that Annabeth's been dreaming of this since she was three, that she's been sketching buildings for years, or that she asks herself this question every night.
"I'm sure you're not that interested in architecture," she says to give him a chance to close the door he's opened before the flood hits him.
"No, I'm really interested. I mean a building in New York, that would be insanely impressive and I'd like to be able to point it out and say I went on a date with the woman who designed it." Percy's words sound completely genuine.
"Well," Annabeth says and smiles. "It depends on what the building is going to be, but if I can there's some things I'd like to incorporate."
Percy nods attentively and waits for her to go on.
Saying the conversation from there on is bumpy would be an understatement, it's more like they're driving down a washboard at five miles an hour, but it at least moves. They jump from one topic to another and while Percy may not always have something to say he asks questions and listens intently. Annabeth rattles on about designs she's proposed, co-workers she'd prefer moved a couple offices away and more while he listens. In return she listens while he gushes about his mom, another item off the checklist, and recounts interesting stories from working as a paramedic.
It's Percy that actually brings up his amusement at being forced into this matchmaking by Piper and Jason. Which just ends up turning into dishing out dirt on their respective friends. Something both of them can get good mileage out of and both dive into. After that there isn't a single lull in the conversation.
"Piper is laughing so hard at me with one arm covered in confetti she doesn't see what I've done to her locker," Percy grins wickedly as he tells his story.
Annabeth nearly chokes on her dessert and feels the burn in her cheeks from story after story of Piper's embarrassing moments as a teenager. They're both leaned in over the table and she can smell his cologne which reminds her summers spent by the ocean in California.
"And when she opens it the air horn goes off and she freaks out, jumps three feet straight up, and lands on her butt. The entire hall stops to stare at her and every teacher's head pops out of their classrooms. We both got detention but it was completely worth it."
They break into another round of laughter and Annabeth dabs at a tear in the corner of her eye.
"So were there anymore pranks after that or had you two learned your lesson?" Annabeth asks, breathy from laughing.
"Learned our lesson? No way, we just had to be more subtle about it. I switched her ringtone to fart noises and she sewed Juicy on the butt of my PE shorts." Percy grins and Annabeth can't help the way her eyes linger on his lips for a second or the image of Percy's butt in short-shorts that flashes in mind.
The guy is her checklist come to life. He's nice and dedicated and sounds loyal to a fault, he can make her laugh and doesn't back down from her but seems to have the sense to know when he's wrong and she's right. As much as she's going to hate admitting it to Piper she's had a good time and genuinely likes Percy. The issue is that Percy seems to like her and that doesn't fit her plan.
Percy's eyes move to something behind her making his eyebrows furrow and face drop.
"I think they're closing up," he says solemnly.
Annabeth looks over her shoulder at the few staff that are left. Most of the lights have been turned off and tables are being wiped down.
"Looks like it," she says and turns back to him.
They stand and Annabeth grabs her jacket off the back of her chair but Percy takes it from her and helps her put it on. She hides a smile and ignores the rush of warmth where his hands touch her shoulders.
"Thank you." He nods like it's nothing as they step out onto the cold and quiet street.
Percy glances up and down the street and jams his hands into his pockets. He rocks back on forth on the balls of his feet and looks anywhere but at her. A sinking feeling grabs her stomach and pulls hard. The question that's going to come, that he's building up to right now, is expected but she hasn't picked exactly how to let him down easy.
Annabeth has enjoyed the date and will begrudgingly admit she was wrong before, but that doesn't change her plan or the fact that they're in two completely different places. The light in his eyes and the nervousness written on every inch of his face right now tells her all she needs to know about where he thinks this is going.
"So I had a really great time tonight," Percy says and waits for her to respond.
She holds back. There's another option she's just come up with, and it's a bit unorthodox but it might work. It could also fail spectacularly and that's what's holding her back. Either way she needs to defuse this and ease him into her proposition.
"Percy I don't want you to get the wrong idea," Annabeth says quickly.
"Oh, okay." Percy looks like a kid that's just been told Christmas isn't happening this year.
"No, Percy listen." She shakes her head. "I had a great time too but I'm not looking for anything really serious. I'm focused on work right now and I really want to get a promotion this year and it's not fair to you, or anyone really, to drag you along."
"Yeah, no, that makes sense." He nods his head vigorously but purses his lips.
"But I'll make you a deal." Percy's face softens and he looks up at her. "I'll teach you how to date." She squares her shoulders and searches his eyes.
Annabeth squares her shoulders and drops her voice.
"No offense but you didn't seem to exactly know what you were doing. So I'll give you pointers, show you places to take a girl that aren't hotdog carts and hole-in-the-wall pizza places."
"Hey," he groans defensively.
"So you're saying you chose the restaurant?" She raises her eyebrows and waits.
"Well, okay, no I didn't but that doesn't mean I couldn't have," he says defensively.
"That's what I thought. Look at it this way, it'll give you a no pressure opportunity."
He stares at her a moment and scrunches up his face.
"What do you get out of it?"
Annabeth lets out a soft sigh.
"It keeps Jason and Piper off my back. They're afraid I'll drown myself in work and never socialize. This way we both win." She feels a bubble of tension that waits to pop.
"Okay," he says slowly. "I guess I really could use the help, and this way I won't have to hear my mom say I wouldn't know what to do with a great girl if I met one."
"Perfect." Annabeth smiles and holds out her hand. "I think this is going to work out well."
Percy tentatively takes her hand and shakes it.
"If you say so," he says with more than a hint of skepticism.