Summary: Annabeth works at the overpriced grocery store five minutes away, and Percy just hopes she's checking him out in more ways than one.
Disclaimer: I don't claim any rights to the Percy Jackson and the Olympian series, the Heroes of Olympus series, or any characters I adopted in this fanfiction.
treading water: a stroke that keeps the head above water by thrashing the legs and arms.
He's convinced that it's fate.
Everything that's ever happened in Percy's life has been thanks to fate. He met Jason in the second grade because no one in their class had last names that fell between 'Grace' and 'Jackson,' which left them sitting next to each at the bright red table. He won a swimming match in his freshman year of high school, but only because Joseph, swim team captain, had decided the match was less important than making out with a girl in the locker room. All it took was that one moment of Joseph being absent, and Percy was called in. He won, beating the school record. Two colleges contacted him a day later, and it was fate that one of them was Michigan State—which happened to be his dream university. Percy believes that it was fate his mother met his father, they spent a few charming months together, and it made him.
He thinks that if fate were a person, it would be that one grandparent who always seems to know what happens before it does. It would be that one grandma or grandpa who whispers an "I told you so" with a small wink before offering you cookies. Percy thinks that if fate were a person, he would like them quite a lot.
He has a lot of things to thank fate for—a few scholarships that pulled through, a spectacular mother, teachers who cut him slack for his dyslexia—and he's not really sure how an overpriced grocery store made its way onto the list.
It's raining when Percy slips out of the revolving door of his apartment complex, which means that there's few to no people on the streets around where he lives. They've either found solace in a quaint shop or hurried themselves home. He's not sure why he's the one who has to go grocery shopping for a few necessities, but Jason's been lying face down on his bed for three days. Percy would assume him dead, if it weren't for the fact that Jason had come home just three days earlier and begged to go to a bar and drink himself into oblivion. That didn't happen, naturally, since money was a bit tight and once Percy and Jason started drinking, they didn't tend to stop until they reached the point of passing out. Instead, Percy had passed Jason a few coffee cups full of cheap red wine that had been a housewarming gift. Jason spilled the story and whined with red-stained lips until he fell asleep at the table.
Percy likes Jason. He's a good guy, and definitely pulls his load as far as bills go. However, he falls too easily. Then the poor guy puts up these walls in an attempt to convince the girl that he hasn't fallen for her. Girls tend to lose interest when a relationship is going nowhere, as he's said to Jason a million times, but Percy hasn't been able to get it through his friend's thick skull just yet.
The thing is, Percy's pretty sure fate intervened and made sure that Jason's girlfriend broke up with him—leaving the blonde-haired guy with nothing to do but sulk in his bed, forcing Percy to do all the shopping. He's pretty sure fate caused the rain, too, since the past few days had been well sunny and summery, as they should have been. It's late July, after all.
Percy pulls his hood up as he walks, though it's not much use with the rain falling down in sheets. Usually, he would walk to the Publix down the road—it's barely a twenty minute walk, anyways, and Percy can always use some casual exercise—but the vicious rain has him ducking into the overpriced and overrated IGA.
Even though there are IGAs dotted all around the United States, the one in his town is family-owned. The majority of the staff share a last name. Percy's convinced that they could have a family reunion every day in the chip aisle, but he never says as much. People in his town get offended at the drop of a hat, anyways.
He smiles uncomfortably at a female cashier—one who he recognizes well enough. If he remembers correctly, she's thirty-seven and single, but she never lost her flexibility. Or so she tells Percy.
He's a bit oblivious, but it's hard to miss the suggestive comments she tosses towards him. He feels a little harassed, if he's being honest, but there's not much you can do when her entire family would probably lock the grocery store and strangle you with a few strings from cheap party hats.
Needless to say, Percy's a little morbid with his thoughts. Sure, he's optimistic about fate and destiny and all the things Disney movies like to tell you about, but other than that, he lives the life of a pessimist. Very "things are going to be shitty so shut the fuck up and deal with it until it gets better" type things. He prefers the term realist.
It occurs to Percy as he's heading for the bread stand that he hadn't even checked for his wallet before he left, but thankfully it's tucked into his back pocket. He scans the loaves of bread, hoping to find a cheap one that's not stale, and counts the money in his wallet carefully.
He hears a kid crying a few aisles down, but it's not anguished enough to hold his interest as he snatches a bag of Wonderbread and makes a beeline for the dairy section.
Percy likes to think it was fate that she's stocking the shelves silently, hardly blinking as the kid continues to wail a few feet over. He notices that the mother is trying to console the upset child, but it's not working all that well. Deciding that all this crying is making him flashback to a pathetic Jason, Percy scoops up the first gallon of milk in sight and turns to walk away, but he's met with a mouthful of blond curls. It's a little disarming.
"I'm so sorry," a girl says quickly, turning on her heel. Percy shoots a glance at the red vest pulled over her shoulders; she works here. "I should have looked."
"Don't worry about it," he shrugs off, turning to leave again.
"Um," the girl says, interrupting his graceful exit. Percy turns back to her with raised eyebrows and she gestures to the gallon of milk in his hand. "I doubt you would want to take that."
He looks her up and down curiously, not liking the fact that she's almost as tall as him. "Why?" he asks slowly, his forehead itching as his hair falls into his face. Haircut, he thinks, I should call Silena.
"I'm pretty sure it's expiration date is tomorrow. The people here like to leave them up until the last possible moment." She shrugs, looking at the floor. "I try to warn people. If you want, I think we have fresh gallons in the back?"
"Right," Percy says, still holding the milk in his hand. "Thanks. That'd be nice."
"Yeah, you're welcome," she answers. The girl purses her lips before saying, "We went to the same high school, by the way."
Percy raises his eyebrows, cocking his head to the side. She didn't look particularly familiar, but there had been a lot of people at his school. "Really?" he asks, unnecessarily. She didn't really seem like the type to lie.
"Yeah," she affirms. "You were captain of the swim team junior and senior year. I had to write a few articles about you in the school paper." The girl blushes after, looking away. "Sorry, that probably sounded really—"
Percy chuckles, cutting her off. "No, no, it's fine. Don't worry about it. Can I, um, get a different gallon then?"
"Right!" she says quickly. "I'll be right back." As she's turning away, Percy glances down to her red vest and reads the name that's stitched in white. Annabeth. He only lets himself feel a little bad as the name doesn't spark any vague memory, but if Annabeth was on the school paper, they were in two completely different crowds. It's not surprising that he doesn't remember her.
When she returns, her smile is stable as she hands over the milk. It's the kind of glazed over, manufactured smile that Percy sees on Jason's face, during his shifts at the only relatively fancy restaurant in town.
"Thanks," Percy says, thinking that he should have used the time that she was away to pull a few strands of her hair from his mouth. Wrinkling his nose at how that sounded, even within his own mind, he nods with a standard, "See you later."
"Bye, come again soon!"
Sorry, no, Percy thinks, the bread is stale and the milk is nearly expired. If he weren't so nice, he would give their manager a talk about food safety and the likes.
When he gets home, Jason has changed his place of sulking from his bed to their couch. "He lives," Percy intones, shoving the milk in the fridge. "When's the last time you saw sunlight?"
"Piss off," Jason replies pleasantly, in the same tone he uses when speaking to rude customers. "What did you buy?"
"Milk and bread. Chocolate."
Jason's face twists into one of the most uncomfortable facial expressions Percy has ever seen him wear. Jason is twenty-four, just like Percy, charming, just like Percy, and living in a second-rate apartment, just like Percy. Well, they live together, but that's all in the details. They had gone to high school together—the same one as that girl at the grocery store, apparently—and had arguably been the two most popular, recognizable guys that roamed the campus.
Jason was a little taller than Percy, maybe by half an inch. They've been friends since the third grade, and while Percy originally didn't care for Jason, the blonde boy has slowly inched his way up on the list of people Percy would take a bullet for. Now, Jason's blue eyes shine a bit suspiciously. What did I say? Percy thinks, just as Jason says aloud, "Piper loved chocolate."
Three seconds later, his best friend's face is buried in a pillow, his posture defeated. Percy decides his life is a cliché. "So?" Percy asks. "Are you going to stop bathing, too? I think Piper does that. I hope Piper does that."
He's hoping to lighten the mood, but Jason's expression is even gloomier when he looks up. "We used to shower together," he says forlornly, staring at the wall. Percy stares at his friend with blank eyes before he goes back to the kitchen, grabs a bag of chips, and holes himself up in his room.
The thing is, Percy doesn't mind when guys show emotion. He prefers it, really, since it proves to the world that guys aren't the emotionless robots they're made out to be. However, there comes a point when you get tired of seeing your friend sulking over the same type of girl every time: one who wants casual dating, no fancy restaurants, and maybe a few quick shags in the back of her car. Jason lusts after a full-on relationship; one with flowers and smiles and kisses on cheeks. Sadly, it's not too common at their college.
He spends close to thirty minutes looking for something to watch before he sighs at the lack of anything remotely quality. Closing his eyes and scrolling at random, he picks the first thing he sees on the screen.
If Percy spends the rest of the night watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians, no one has to know.
Percy works at a local middle school—and by local, he means that there is only one middle school for the whole town—one city over. It's a quaint facility with classy bricks and relaxed teachers, but Percy hates his job. He hated school, for one, and he hates the fact that now he's right back where he started: middle school, or in other words, "The Dark Ages."
He's a guidance counselor, even though he really should be a janitor, but the principal as well as the majority of the ladies at the front desk enjoy his company. He meets the requirements, of course, but Percy's sure they could have picked someone better. He's not complaining, except for the fact that he is.
Middle school kids are either very sweet and driven or very rude and uncaring. Percy was a weird mixture of the two at his age, being both sweet without giving a fuck—sorry, crap—about his education. He was better at high school.
The kids come to him at the beginning of each semester to switch their schedule around. He likes doing that; meeting students' accommodations and even letting it slide when they're only reason for switching classes is the fact that their friend takes the course. He gets it. And while a big part of being a guidance counselor is supposed to be talking to the kids about their problems, he doesn't get much business.
Most days, he wanders around the school aimlessly, visiting the teachers who like him and won't care if he interrupts class. He'll keep a radio on him and sweetly ask Mrs. Penney to let him know if anyone needs him. Percy especially likes going to the music room and watching kids sing out of tune. It's heart-warming, in a way that makes your ears bleed.
School days pass much quicker than they did when he was in school, at least, so he guesses his job isn't that bad. Suffice to say that the pay is a bit shit (crap) and the kids can be even shitter (crappier), but he deals.
He's pulling up into the driveway with fresh takeout in the passenger seat when Jason calls him. "I'm on my way up," Percy says as a greeting, already swinging his car door open and stretching his limbs from the thirty minute drive.
"Don't!" Jason says quickly, sounding distressed. Percy raises an eyebrow up at what he knows is their window. "I need you to go to the mart."
"I need toothpaste! You used the last of it this morning, you miserable dick."
And, well, that's a bit much, Percy thinks, but he's said worse. "Why the sudden need for toothpaste when you've hardly left your bed in days?"
"I have a meeting," Jason exhales in a breath. "With a girl. An old friend. Who is a girl."
Percy scowls a little up at the window, wondering if he should tell the blonde boy that there's a full tube of toothpaste in the cabinet, right next to all of Jason's expensive shampoo. He withholds the information, after carefully thinking. "Is this really the best idea?"
"Don't get all protective on me now! You hardly said two words to me when Piper and I broke up."
Percy full-on frowns at the window now, because yes, he did, he must have. Jason sounds serious, though, maybe even a little wounded. "Who is it, then?" Ah, deflection. When in doubt, change the topic.
"A girl," Jason replies vaguely. "I need toothpaste."
"There's some in the cabinet, you idiot. I brought us food. You're bailing on me." Percy looks at the ground and stares at his warped, barely discernible reflection in a water puddle. His hair is limp, while it had been carefully styled this morning. The top three buttons of his shirt are undone, since he'd almost felt like he was being choked on the way home. He looks tired, but he's not sure why; after all, he's turned into a proper adult, now going to sleep at 9:30 PM on a regular basis.
"Next time, I swear," Jason promises, hanging up abruptly. Percy blinks at his phone as the call drops and stares at the takeout in his passenger seat. Some voice in his head is muttering nonsense that he doesn't feel like hearing, so Percy busies himself with the mechanical actions of retrieving his belongings and locking the car.
He passes Jason on the stairs. The other boy is jogging down quickly, smoothing out his hair and tucking his phone into his pocket simultaneously. "Do I look okay?" he questions hurriedly, his words slurring.
"You look fine," Percy allows, pursing his lips. "Be careful, though? Hate to see you moping around our apartment for another week."
"Just a friend!" Jason yells, already too far down the hall for it to be worth Percy calling out a reply.
It's not that he likes Keeping Up With The Kardashians, but for some reason, it's the first thing he turns on when he reclines on the couch with his takeout in his lap.
Jason's newfound fling lasts for three weeks.
"This time?" Percy asks upon entry, laying his messenger bag on the table. The oldest teacher at their school—Mrs. Bushouer, a sweet-as-honey 60 year-old—had been frazzled from her husband undergoing heart surgery that day, which had led to Percy having too much sympathy. The result was him taking home a thick stack of essays to grade. He doesn't mind, not really, since he probably would have wasted the whole night knocking back cups of coffee and getting much too involved in the battles of the Kardashians, otherwise.
"What do you mean?" Jason grumbles from where he's sprawled out across the couch, remote in hand as he switches channels restlessly.
"You look mopey," Percy entreats, tiptoeing into Jason's domain cautiously. The blonde boy had quite literally growled at him one day after a particularly bad break up.
"Whatever." Jason balls up a sheet of paper that Percy sincerely hopes isn't one of their bills. "We were never really dating, anyways. She just mentioned a guy today and implied that they could be dating. I'm backing off, don't give me that look," he continues, in response to Percy's warning gaze.
"Sorry about that, kiddo." He looks at the clock, a fluorescent green 4:30 PM blinking back at him. "Be a good boy. I have papers to grade tonight."
"Still trying to get a blowjob from Ms. Owens?"
"Fuck off," the black-haired man answers, mentally cringing at his language choice. Percy had slipped up twice during the six months he had been working at the school. Each time he was met with a reprimand and a look that said 'I don't respect you anymore, you heathen.' "I never wanted a blowjob. And I'm not grading for her."
"Everyone wants blowjobs," Jason argues with a shrug, and Percy scowls. How Jason had managed to settle into college life was way past him. The way Percy sees it, high school was fun, but college wasn't really supposed to be. Or, at least, it wasn't supposed to be a repeat of high school. Which doesn't go to say Percy got any blowjobs in high school, despite being a member of the in crowd.
"It's an elderly teacher," Percy answers, trying to inject disdain into his voice. "Mrs. Bushouer's husband is in heart surgery today."
"Boo-fucking-hoo," Jason says rudely, tossing a pillow at Percy. "Hey, my little pushover housewife, you mind making me some food?"
Percy doesn't really mean to revisit the store. Except for the fact that he does.
It's a month after his initial run in with Annabeth, a girl who hadn't sparked the smallest of memories. However, he had mentioned the name to his mother last night—after his mom had asked if he had met any girls (she was more aware of his relationship status than he himself was)—and she had replied, "Oh, the girl that brought you the make-up work when you were sick?"
And suddenly, Percy realized that he did have a memory—a very nondescript, hazy one, seeing as he had been on his deathbed for two weeks. He could remember, albeit nebulously, a knock on his door and a girl announcing herself as 'Annabeth Chase, I live in this apartment building. We have three classes together.' Needless to say, she hadn't been all that welcome through Percy's half-awake-and-sickly daze, on top of the fact that she was bringing him work. He could maybe remember her speaking a few times in class, but other than that, there was nothing. Percy tended to suppress high school, anyways.
So, when he walks into the grocery store on a Friday night, he grabs a pack of Oreo's and marches up to Annabeth's register. "You brought me my make-up work when I was sick," he proclaims proudly, handing her the Oreo's. "I do remember you."
Annabeth smiles softly and waves it off. "I hope you didn't kill yourself thinking, or anything. I didn't expect you to remember. We were on two different sides of the spectrum." Percy nods wordlessly, shrugging and tucking his hands into his pockets. He hears a small beep as she scans the barcode on the package, and he shuffles around for his wallet when she tells him the total.
Pulling out a five, he smiles triumphantly at her. "Here you go."
"Late night Oreo runs, then?"
Percy stares at his feet for a few seconds. He almost blows off the question; almost replies with a hell yes, late night Oreo runs, but he thinks about a pouting blonde boy back at his apartment. He decides that Jason can wait. "The guy I live with tends to be all broken-hearted and mopey these days. It's not a bad walk, either; really nice for some air. Sometimes I just need a break from all the angst within our apartment."
"Oh," Annabeth says, her brow furrowing in concern. "Good luck, then. Give him my best."
Percy cocks his head to the side. "You're weird, but I will. Nice seeing you!"
When he got home, Jason's progressed from lying on the couch and moping to standing in the kitchen and moping. He had made the mistake of falling for the "friend" that had invited him for dinner a few weeks back. Percy's not sure Jason's even falling in love anymore. It seems a lot more like he's grasping at straws, desperate for something; any kind of love in any form.
As Percy wanders back into his room later that night, he thinks that maybe he should be looking, too. Instead, he flicks off the light and sighs when his bed squeaks every time he shifts an inch.
Jason gets a girlfriend a week later and Percy assures himself that the twist in his gut is worry, but it feels a lot like jealousy.
Percy visits his mom the next weekend, and she's just as lucent and sweet as he remembers. It's been months—much longer than usual—and she requests to know every detail of every occurrence that's happened since.
So, he tells her. He tells her about Jason's escapades and explains his worry for his closest friend. He mentions how work is still the same and how night classes are boring. He sheepishly admits that Jason and himself have wasted time getting barely drunk off cheap wine. He drawls on about how studying psychology is too hard and sometimes he feels like quitting, but his mother smiles and reminds him how long he's wanted this. He nods, but then says how he didn't think he would be going it alone.
"What do you mean?" his mom asks, blowing lightly on the surface of her hot tea. Percy glares down at his black coffee—no sugar, no cream—and wonders when he got so boring.
"I figured I would be with someone by now," Percy confesses, dipping his index finger into his drink.
His mom purses her lips and nods. "I understand." He doesn't answer, so she continues. "What about the girl you mentioned last time?"
"Annabeth," Percy corrects immediately, shrugging after. "Hardly know her."
"Well, I 'hardly knew' your father at some point." His mother was never one for subtlety. She's been trying to marry him off for months.
"Trust me, it's nothing," he tells his mother. She watches him for a moment before changing the subject to Paul's most recent novel, and Percy is glad.
The next time Percy brings home a stack of papers to grade, he can't argue against Jason's jabs at Ms. Owens, because the essays are from her fourth period honors class. So, as his constantly heartbroken friend calls out something about a blowjob, Percy flips him off over his shoulder and sinks into his desk chair, staring at the tall stack.
They're pretty long this time, Ms. Owens had said, offering up a coy smile. I told the kids to write about a personal belief of theirs. The response was great.
Percy bites his tongue as he picks up the first paper, wondering why he couldn't say no to people. As far as he knows, Ms. Owens pushes off all of her grading on guys just like Percy: bored and without the ability to refuse a polite request for a favor.
Ms. Owens, like him, is a young faculty member, at least by the standards of Mendler Middle. She's been working there for one school year longer than him; she's 25, single, and so boring that Percy almost feels bad. He'll admit she's pretty, sure, but their conversations range from the pros and cons of transitions to the weather. The girls simply lacks personality, which is the main reason Percy can't even consider her as a potential date. Jason, however, seems to deem her worthy of a good shag, but Percy's always had trouble judging people's sexual skill by looking at them. Probably because he's not all that into objectifying women. Whatever. He needs to read these papers that will probably be as well written as a wet sock. (Analogies were never his strong suit. Again, whatever.)
He skims through the first kid's paper, raising an eyebrow at all of the high-horse spiritual talk, and he wonders how many papers about religion he'll be reading tonight. He writes a few notes where things are unclear and draws an uneven smiley face next to a good example of a metaphor. He feels dumb after, sighing forlornly at his red pen, but he decides that they'll assume Ms. Owens did it anyways.
The first paper is standard and boring; the kind of thing that would receive a perfect score the state standards, but ultimately made Percy feel like running through the stack and scrawling down random grades in the top right corner.
Most of the essays were good for sixth grade level and horribly written at his level. One girl writes about horses, the prompt going directly over her head. Another boy writes about how he believes in punishing those who defy you, and Percy almost writes please see the guidance counselor immediately underneath his grade. However, it soon occurs to him that he is the guidance counselor, which would leave him having to deal with the problem himself. Percy tosses the paper down and picks up the next one, printed on hot pink paper and smelling like strawberries.
"Scented paper," Percy mutters, suddenly wishing he would have fabricated a lie for Ms. Owens rather than agreeing to grade for her.
By the time he makes it through half the stack, Percy thinks he would rather take his chances and lie in the middle of a highway. Instead, he snatches up the next paper and—
Rips the front page in half.
"Fuck," he mutters, scrambling for a piece of tape or… "Fuck," he says aloud again, realizing that he couldn't tape a student's paper back together. "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck." He considers himself making up for lost time now; using the lack of 11 to 14 year olds to his advantage. "I fucking suck."
"I thought Ms. Owens was taking care of that?" Jason asks upon his entry, making Percy groan. "Save the moaning for later, please."
"These essays are so boring," the black-haired man says, ignoring his friend picking up the fragmented paper and placing it on the desk.
"She must be worth it if you keep agreeing to grade them." Jason has a point. Percy frowns and decides that he needs new friends. Friends who know about his issue with saying no.
"Yeah, well." He stands up, stretching and sending Jason a glance. "You need something?"
"I'm going to the grocery store," the blonde announces, stealing Percy's wallet from the dresser and sliding out a twenty. "We need things."
"We always need things," Percy says, sighing at the papers yet to be graded. At least he wasn't studying to be a teacher.
"Come on, then," Jason urges, clapping Percy on the back. "Bring a few to read on the way, if you need to."
"And for what reason do I have to go?"
"Housewife," Jason calls over his shoulder, already making his way down the hall. "Like hell I know what brands we buy."
"Whatever's cheapest," Percy yells in reply, unhooking his phone from the charger and slipping it into his pocket.
He grabs the ripped paper and two others, lining up the edges as if they'd magically seal themselves back together. Percy wonders if it's what Jason does every time a girl breaks his heart.
Because it's not raining and because Jason feels like driving, they go to the nicer grocery store in the next city over. Percy likes Publix. It's much cleaner and reasonably priced for the quality.
When they pass by the IGA, he forces his gaze on the papers and tries not to think too hard about the girl he barely remembered. "Hey, J?"
"Yeah, P?" Jason's smiling, the little scar above his lip stretching along with it. Percy smiles, too; reminiscing in the old days where they called each other P and J all the time. "Still need a B," Jason says, huffing a laugh. "PB and J..."
He trails off, and Percy almost forgets why he had said Jason's nickname in the first place. "I was wondering if you remembered a girl? Named Annabeth?"
Jason's brow furrows as he takes a left onto the main road. "Annabeth?" he repeats. "What's she look like?"
"Uh, blond," Percy offers. "Curly blond. Blond curls, I mean. Grey eyes? Cute, I guess."
Percy thinks he sees recognition in Jason's eyes, but the man only shrugs. "I might remember if you told me why you were asking."
Well, right, then. Percy needs new friends. "No reason. She was at the grocery store when I got milk a few weeks ago. She works there."
"Oh, so that's why you didn't argue with me about going, Mr. Hermit."
"I'm not a hermit." Percy frowns at the road before them; illuminated just enough to make out the yellow and white lines constraining their lane. "There's just not much time in between it all, you know?"
Jason doesn't know, and Percy understands that. He goes to college full-time and doesn't pay a dime, thanks to the fact that his father is the dean of the school he attends. He dedicates his life to his classes and any girl who walks his way.
"Whatever," Jason proceeds, sounding delighted.
"So?" Percy prompts, raising his eyebrows at the darkness out the window.
"Yeah, I know her."
"Okay." He clears his throat as he waits for the elaboration that's surely coming, but when he spares a glance to his friend, all he sees is a smirk. Rolling his eyes, Percy slugs him none too gently in the shoulder, causing him to sway into the middle of the road for a second. Jason cackles as Percy turns on the radio, scanning the frequencies and deciding to drop the topic.
In the bread aisle, Jason picks up something with close to three-hundred different kinds of wheat, but Percy's too distracted to correct him. "Jason," he says, not moving from his place in front of a stack of Sunbeam. "Jason, um—"
"What? Is this the right bread? I mean, I know it's in a white package, so that's what we usually buy, right?"
Stupid, Percy thinks, staring at blonde curls that are less than ten feet away. I need new friends.
"Jason," he repeats, finally looking away from her and staring at the blue eyed man. "Jason, that's her."
"Oh, is it?" Jason smiles smugly and raises his voice. "Well then, what bread do we need, Percy?"
"Shut up," Percy says lowly. He really needs new friends. "Jason, I swear to—"
"Excuse me," Jason starts, addressing someone over Percy's shoulder. "I'm looking for bread. My friend is being a dick. It's in a white bag?"
Percy doesn't turn around. He glares at Jason's shoulder and considers the pros and cons of chanting a Latin incantation to break Jason's spine. He could probably find one on Google.
"Uh, Wonderbread, maybe?"
"Wonderbread!" Jason cheers happily, searching the shelves. "Thank you... uh..."
"Annabeth," she offers, and Percy decides to turn around. Her eyes flicker to him, lingering on his attire. He tries not to blush under her gaze, because god dammit he is a man, but by the way Jason smiles he's not so sure he succeeds.
"Ah, here it is," the blonde man announces, scooping up a bag of Wonderbread. "You are a saint." He nods to Annabeth.
She snaps her gaze away from Percy and smiles softly at Jason. "Thanks. Work at a grocery store, so it's not a problem."
"Right, uh," Percy pipes up, regretting it when grey eyes are directed on him again. His skin feels hot. "I was wondering about that? Like... aren't you cheating on IGA, or something?"
Annabeth stares at him for a second before she snorts. "Like hell I'd shop there. They charge five dollars for a bag of Fritos."
Jason smiles at this, chuckling lightly, and Percy manages a disoriented laugh. "Right, well. We better be, um."
"Going," Jason supplies, clapping Percy on the back as if to say get yourself together.
"Yeah," the well-dressed man agrees, wishing he would have thought to change into something more casual. And of course, today's the day he wore his pale pink button-up.
"Of course. I didn't mean to keep you." She smiles, nodding to both of them, before turning back to the shelf, selecting a long stretch of Italian bread and walking away.
The second she's out of eyesight, Percy slaps Jason's shoulder. "Dude!"
"Let's just cherish how dumb you made yourself look," Jason proclaims, pulling the wheat bread out of the cart. "I had to fake a bread crisis, if that makes you feel better."
"It doesn't!" Percy answers, his tone annoyed and somewhat squeaky. "Why did you—?"
"I wanted to see the dynamic. Did I tell you that I promised myself not to date for at least a whole month? That means I'll be living my love life with you as my noble vessel."
"She thinks I'm gay," Percy blurts, frowning at the cans of green beans until he chooses the Publix brand over Del Monte.
"Really?" Jason raises an amused eyebrow. "Why's that?"
"I mean," he says, gathering the ingredients for tacos. "Wait, are tacos okay?"
"Yeah, sure. Why does she think you're gay?"
"I'm wearing pink," Percy reasons, "which I know doesn't really brand me as anything, but she also knows that I live with a boy. And I just feel like that's the assumption she would make, since I also mentioned there was a lot of angst in our house."
Jason pauses in front of the taco kits. Percy scans the shelves for cheap shells. "I really doubt that's where her mind went. Especially judging by the way she was staring you down."
"Gay men can still be attractive," Percy points out.
"Something you wanna tell me, Perce? Because, honestly, ever since that one swim meet I've always wondered if—"
I really need new friends.
Hypothetically, Percy thinks, staring at the cupboard, I could just throw something out.
He also thinks he's a little on the pathetic side, too, seeing as he's standing before a cabinet and searching for something they're running low on—and all for an excuse to visit the grocery store. As luck would have it, they're running low on absolutely nothing.
I could buy cigarettes, Percy considers, wondering if it would make him appear more masculine. He's decided that she probably doesn't think he's gay, but the thought sits on his left shoulder, talking him into performing stupid tasks. Such as looking for a reason to go to the grocery store.
"I'm so bored," Jason moans, stumbling into the kitchen. Percy slams the cabinet shut and tries to look innocent.
"Oh, right, how's your chastity pledge going?"
Jason flips Percy off over his shoulder, standing on his tip toes to grab the last clean coffee cup on the top shelf. "It's a 'no dating' pledge. I have so much free time now. I honestly don't know what to do."
"Your laundry," Percy offers hopefully.
"Nope," Jason answers, popping the 'p'. "That's my housewife's job."
"I'm not your housewife," he says as his roommate pours coffee into the coffee cup he retrieved. Jason doesn't answer as he adds milk and sugar, humming lightly. As he leaves the kitchen, Percy yells, "I'm not your wife, period!"
Jason doesn't answer, so Percy stares at the faded, brown cabinets with contempt.
The next week, Ms. Owens asks Percy out for drinks. They go to a bar the next town over to prevent being recognized, and, as fate would have it, Percy gets a blowjob.
"This is rich," Jason comments, spinning the television remote in his hand. "I feel like I got a blowjob myself."
"I think she wanted to blow me more than I wanted a blowjob," Percy admits, frowning as Jason skips over Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
"And why's that, my noble steed?"
"Don't you have work in twenty minutes?" Percy's good at avoidance. He could play this game for years, and Jason knows.
The blonde boy hesitates before nodding, his expression softening. "Yeah, I do." Percy mutters a reply, snatching the remote and flicking back a few channels, settling on the one that's broadcasting the face of Khloe Kardashian. He raises an eyebrow at her complaints, but Jason interrupts his new love for reality television. "We're still best friends, right?"
"Yeah," Percy answers immediately, pulling his eyes away from the screen. He frowns a little. "Why wouldn't we be?"
"I don't know, man," Jason starts, sighing. "I just feel like we haven't been as close lately."
"You were a little busy dating every girl on campus." Percy winces at his remark, but he smiles at Jason to know that he doesn't mean it in an acerbic way. "We've both been busy, actually. You know, beginning of the school year and all."
"You would tell me, right?" Percy raises his eyebrows. "I mean, I'm here. If you need to… talk about anything," Jason clarifies. "You know you can talk to me, yeah?"
"Of course," Percy replies. "You'll be the first to know, Dr. Phil."
"Hey," Jason warns. "I'm trying to be nice."
"That's the same thing I said about Ms. Owens. Trying to get a blowjob out of me?"
"No, you conceited dick," Jason shoots back, tossing a pillow at Percy, but he's laughing. "Just, you know? You can talk to me. I know when to be serious."
Percy thinks about dishing out a sarcastic answer, but he knows that Jason's sincere moments are few and far in between, at least within their friendship. Instead, he nods and says "Thanks, man."
"No problem," Jason sighs out, standing and trudging over to his bedroom, presumably to get ready for work. Percy's eyes stay trained on the show—which is just annoying and dramatic enough to hold his attention—until Jason reemerges. "I'll be back at midnight," Jason calls, already stepping over the threshold in his uniform. "I close tonight."
"Bye," Percy says, but the door's already slammed shut, leaving the lame word to echo off the walls and hit him again.
Saturday night, Percy sets his alarm for ten in the morning. Sunday, he wakes up to the most annoying tone he could find on his phone, and he gets dressed.
The thing is, Percy's been meaning to buy a pet for years. Just something to keep him entertained while Jason falls in love and dates and shags girls. He drives all the way to the closest Petsmart, which is exactly 42 minutes away, and he comes back with three fish, a tank, and several bags and bottles that were apparently necessities.
Percy spends three hours setting up the tank, dragging it out for as long as he can so that he doesn't have to feel pathetic for spending nearly all of his weekend watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Jason's working again, picking up the lunch crowd and a few hours after, and Percy doesn't like how quiet the house is.
Percy's never felt lonely, at least not in so many words. He'll roll over in the middle of the night and have a few sober minutes where he picks at the sheets and thinks about how cold they are. He'll come home with good news, only to realize Jason's out and his mom's an hour away. He'll make coffee for himself, and wonders how it would feel to formulate it to someone else's standard. He's never felt lonely, but Percy feels the absence of something.
He leans his arms on the counter and drops his chin to rest on top of them, staring at the gravel that's settled at the bottom of the tank. One of the fish swim closer to where he presses his forehead against the glass, and Percy thinks that he'd quite like to be a fish. They seem peaceful as the wander around their tank, getting used to their new home. They don't have any responsibilities besides to swim. Percy would love if that were his only responsibility.
He names them Nemo, Flounder, and Kim since he's a weird mix of a five year-old and a reality show obsessed, 24 year-old man.
When Jason gets home, he glances vaguely at the counter before staring at Percy. "You bought fish," he states.
"That I did. Meet Kim, Flounder, and Nemo." Percy stands up, pointing to each one. Jason continues to look at them without blinking, and Percy feels defensive. "Say hi."
"They're fish," Jason says, rolling his eyes, "they don't care what I'm saying."
Percy punches his shoulder, petting the tank. "Kim is very intuitive."
"Kim. As in Kardashian. Dude, are you alright?"
"I wanted a pet," Percy answers, shrugging.
"Or three," Jason adds, looking at the tank before he shakes his head and walks to his bedroom. "Whatever makes you happy. What's for dinner?"
"Uh…" Percy stumbles into the kitchen, sliding on his socks twice. "I don't know."
Jason enters the kitchen and leans against the fridge. "We should have spaghetti."
"That'd be great," Percy agrees, "except for the fact that we don't have spaghetti or the sauce."
"I'm aware," the blonde boy says, shrugging one shoulder. "Come on, then."
"What do you—?"
"Need I remind you that I'm living my love life vicariously through you? I refuse to stoop so low that I need fish to keep me company. Let's go to the store. Ask her on a date. Problem solved." Jason pulls on his shoes as he talks, his voice going from sarcastic to genuine. "Besides, P, I'm not stupid. I can tell that you're—well, you know. Lonely."
"I am not," Percy refuses. "I really just wanted a pet."
"And that's okay," Jason reassures him, tossing a pair of Converse at his oblivious friend. He's wearing an exasperated expression. Percy frowns. "But you really need to get out in the dating world. It's time I married you off."
"You sound like my mother," Percy grumbles, but he ties his shoes on anyways. "I'm not asking her out. I'll say hello, but I'm not asking her out. If she's even working, that is."
Because fate isn't on his side (or maybe it is; Percy's not sure yet), Annabeth is working. Her head snaps up when they enter, and she waves hesitantly. "Hi," Jason greets, looking around. "Slow, I'm guessing?"
"As always," Annabeth agrees. "We would be out of business if the place wasn't already paid off."
"Are you related? To the owners," Jason questions, stepping closer to her register. He shoots Percy a fleeting look over his shoulder, and the black-haired boy follows.
"Kind of. I mean, it's one of those cousin-twice-removed type scenarios." She shrugs and smiles in a way that makes Percy want to know every secret she's hiding. "Can I help you with anything?"
"That's very kind of you," Percy interjects before Jason can embarrass him anymore, "but let's hope we can find spaghetti sauce alone. I'll let you know if we can't."
"Aisle 6," Annabeth stage-whispers, and Percy pushes his teeth into his bottom lip because Christ, she's cute. She's caught between childish and womanly; her blonde hair in winsome ringlets with a button nose, yet her eyes proving steadiness and determination. Percy considers asking who her parents are, just so he can personally call them and express his gratitude for creating such a perfect being.
"Thanks, Annabeth," he answers, smiling softly. She nods in reply and Percy grabs Jason by the collar before leading him to aisle six. "You are an abominable dickhead and I can't fathom why I still live with you," Percy mutters, choosing the most inexpensive sauce he sees. Jason's laughing as they scan the other aisles for pasta.
"Stop making eyes at her and just ask her out," Jason returns, snatching a box of spaghetti noodles off the shelf.
"I don't like her," Percy says, not for the first time, but it feels like a lie. He decides not to think about it.
"Yeah, and my last name's not Grace."
Percy ignores him, impulsively plucking a bag of jellybeans off the rack. "We're leaving. And don't"—Percy glares at Jason—"say another word."
Thankfully, Jason seems to think he's mortified Percy enough for one night, and he stays blessedly quiet while Annabeth scans their groceries. "That'll be $6.17," she recites, placing the items into a bag.
"Uh, right," Percy says, digging for his wallet in his pocket and pulling out a ten. "Sorry."
"For paying?" She quirks an amused eyebrow and Percy fools himself into believing that he's not blushing.
"No, for..." Annabeth raises both eyebrows now, smiling as she shuts the cash drawer with her hip and passes over Percy's change. "I don't remember where I was going with that."
"Right," she says, her voice carrying a teasing tone. "Let me know if you ever remember. Have a good night, you two."
Percy smiles in reply and wishes her the same, nudging Jason with his shoulder until he starts walking. "See, painless," Jason says smugly as they walk to the car.
"I made myself look like an idiot."
"I'm sure she found it endearing," Jason reassures him. "The whole blushing bit was interesting, since, you know, you don't like her. You looked like a little cherub."
"I don't like her," Percy persists. "I mean, she's cute, sure. Probably has a boyfriend, anyways."
"Let's not jump to conclusions," Jason says; serious, all of a sudden. "I mean, P, I want this for you, okay?"
"Have you been talking to my mother?" Percy snorts, shaking his head, trying to make a joke of the situation. Jason stays quiet. "Oh my god, have you been talking to my mother?"
"She'd be a great therapist," Jason says, having the grace to look sheepish. "She helped me decide to take a break in the dating world."
"I can't believe you two." Percy crosses his arms and stares out the window, fiddling with the plastic bag in his lap. "You're like fucking conspirators."
"Hey," Jason warns, looking a little hurt. "We both care about you, so we were trying to think of ways to cheer you up."
"I'm not sad! Or angry, or lonely—I'm not anything, alright? Stop putting words in my mouth."
"P," Jason entreats, making Percy scowl at the nickname, "you didn't have to say it."
"I'm happy, J," Percy insists, shaking his head. "If I wasn't, you know that I would change it."
Jason starts the car up, sighing. "I really don't think you would. Ever since I can remember, you put other people before you. Were you not there that day in second grade?"
As a matter of fact, Percy was there. He remembers Jason's panicked, wide eyes before a spelling test where he'd forgotten his pencil. Percy had handed his over without a second thought, turning in a blank sheet when his teacher came around to pick them up. It wouldn't have been so hard to ask for another, but Percy figured he would have failed it anyways. Someone like Jason—someone who wanted to do well—deserved the opportunity.
"I was," Percy tells him, dropping his defiantly crossed arms. "'S different, though."
"Alright," Jason allows, blowing out a huge breath. "Just—do something for yourself every once in a while, okay?"
"I'm on it, Dr. Phil." Percy expects Jason to express his exasperation towards the sarcastic answer, but Jason simply sighs again and turns on the radio.
September flies by with a plethora of students begging for a schedule change and two or three overemotional teenagers who were sent to his office by various teachers. Ms. Owens avoids him at all costs—and Percy's glad, too, since she's saving them quite a few awkward conversations. Plus, he's pretty sure they broke a few rules with the whole fiasco at the bar, and Percy's never liked confrontation with females.
He grades papers for the older women who have failing eyesight. He humors the elderly men who think they're taking Percy under their wing. He goes back to the grocery store one time in the remainder of the month, but Annabeth wasn't working.
Throughout the entire month—and most of October, too—Percy has a headache. It's not always overwhelming his senses, which usually ends up with his head resting on his desk and Mrs. Penney from the front desk sliding a cup of tea onto his desk, but it's always there. Sometimes it's just the slightest pounding in his temples. Other times he feels like getting hit by a train would be less painful, but Percy can't complain. It's always like this at the beginning of the school year—frantic and rushed. Time didn't slow down for anyone, even Percy, who was admittedly dubbed the most charming and witty staff member at Mendler Middle.
Time thankfully decides to slow down as Halloween approaches and the majority of the teachers lighten the workload with the knowledge of the holiday coming up. There's a dance that Friday, and Percy's glad it's not his turn to chaperone. He's always hated having to tell students that they need to put a jacket on or call their parents with a change of clothes, and being a chaperone often entailed enforcing the dress code. Though, skipping out on this holiday dance means he'll be supervising the Winter Formal, but he's been told that he cleans up nice. At least he didn't have to hop into some cheesy vampire costume and make due.
Ever since Jason and Percy moved in together, they've been invited by Jason's sister—Thalia—to decorate her house for the trick or treaters. Thalia usually organizes a short haunted walkthrough in her spacy garage, and she gets a lot of kids who walk by thanks to the fact that she lives on a main road. Percy thinks Thalia's a bit morbid with her fascination with coffins and the like, but her glare is just as scary as the decorations she puts up, so Percy never mentions it.
By the time Friday hits, at least twenty students have asked him if he's going to the dance. He's given the same answer twenty times and gotten twenty disappointed replies. Needless to say, by the time he's pulling his messenger bag over his shoulder, the last thing he wants to hear is a shy, soft-spoken, "Um, Mr. Jackson?"
Percy decides that if he ever meets the human embodiment of fate, he's going to deck them. "Yeah?" he says, turning to face a girl who he's sure is in the seventh grade.
She shuffles her feet and ducks her chin. "I... Do you have a few minutes to talk?" Percy sets his bag back down and falls into his chair, nodding in confirmation. "Right. Thanks."
"Phoebe," she supplies, smiling tightly. "I was asked to the dance by my, uh, best friend, I guess, and I said yes."
"Well, that's good, right?" No, Percy thinks. He always dreaded the school dances as a middle schooler. No one ever danced anyways.
"Yeah," Phoebe agrees hesitantly, "but, uh, I don't have anything. To wear, I mean."
"You don't have... Oh. A costume." Phoebe nods quickly, and Percy grins. "Well, you're in luck, Phoebe, seeing as I have no conscious towards breaking the rules and am very much for allowing you into the drama room. More specifically, the costume closet."
"Where no student has ever ventured before," Phoebe adds, her face lighting up. "Would you really?"
"Of course," Percy tells her, picking up his bag and searching in his desk for the emergency master key. He holds it up, blowing the dust off. "Let us embark on our adventure."
He gets a chuckle out of Phoebe, which is a win as far as he's concerned. From what he can remember, she's an introverted girl who takes all of the classes that don't require much talking.
The drama room is empty when they get there, so Percy unlocks the costume closet immediately and ushers her inside to look around. He keeps the door open by leaning against it, digging his phone out of his pocket and reading his missed texts.
Jason's The Coolest 3:45 PM
yo we need candy corns because thalia's an idiot
Thalia 3:46 PM
Percy, buy some candycorns on your way over! And anything else you see that'll fit in
He smiles a little fondly at both messages, only replying to Thalia with an affirmative response. He beats two levels of some mindless game on his phone while he waits for Phoebe to choose something, and by the time she reemerges, he's close to chucking his phone at a wall due to his inability to beat a level. "All set?" he asks, tucking his phone into his pocket with contempt.
"Yeah," she says happily, clutching fabric close to her chest. "Thank you, Mr. Jackson."
"It's not a problem," he answers genuinely. "Just drop it off in my office sometime on Monday and I'll toss it back into that mess of a closet. No harm done with a little bit of borrowing." He gives her a mischievous smile, locking the door behind him.
"I'll see you tomorrow," she tells him, already turning away, before she stutters to a stop and corrects herself. "Monday, I mean."
"Have fun at the dance, Phoebe," Percy says, waving at her. She rushes off to the pick-up line where students queue up to be taken home by their parents. Percy used to take the bus, so he considers the pick-up line to be full of pampered children.
His phone starts vibrating in his pocket as he's tossing his bag into the passenger seat. He clicks the 'answer' button and mutters out a greeting as he backs out.
"You're nearly here, right?" Jason's voice is slightly garbled, and Percy recognizes the broken, haunting Halloween melodies.
"Nah, I was helping out a student. Be there in, like, 45. Don't decorate too much without me."
"Promise," Jason replies, his tone lighthearted. Percy thinks that this 'no dating' thing was probably the best idea Jason's had in a while. "Pick up some more candy, if you will. Me and Thalia accidentally ate three-fourths of it."
Percy scoffs fondly. "Yeah, alright. Gotta go, I'm driving." He hangs up before Jason can manage to drag the conversation out, and he maneuvers his way through the afternoon traffic at the school.
He puts off stopping at a store to pick up candy until he's approximately five minutes from his flat, and he even convinces himself that it's because he didn't want the candy to melt on the way home. (It's definitely a lie, but that's for Percy to know and everyone else to roll their eyes at.)
He's glad he's wearing blue this time, because, if he does say so himself, blue is his best color. He sees blond curls before he takes his first breath of stale grocery store air, and Percy thinks it's a little unhealthy. Nonetheless, he makes a beeline for the candy aisle.
Due to the upcoming holiday, most stores hold a surplus on all candies, so Percy scores three medium sized bags of candy corns and two large bags of assorted candy. He considers it as a victory.
As he draws closer to the check-out line, he raises an amused eyebrow at the limp cat ears that are sticking up off a cheap headband. He's pretty sure he saw the same thing on the Halloween aisle a few seconds ago. "Cute," he comments, inwardly wincing after.
Annabeth sends him a desert dry look. "My manager says I have to be 'in the spirit'!" Her voice is mocking as she makes a face, and Percy's mouth feels like he shoved thirty cotton balls in there. She's so disgustingly adorable, he feels it crushing in on his chest and breaking his ribs.
"Well," Percy says, though it sounds more like a statement rather than the start to a sentence. "You sure look spirited."
She snorts sarcastically and starts ringing up his candy. "Giving out candy tonight?"
Percy bites his cheek as a flirtatious line floats to the front of his mind. He blushes just thinking about saying it, instead opting for a "Kind of."
"Please humor me on this one," Annabeth beseeches, bagging the items. "I have fifteen minutes until this stupid shift is over and I'm so tired of hearing that goddamn jingle between every song."
It's the most Percy ever heard her say, and he decides he's in love. As if on cue, the overhead speakers start singing something about IGAs. Annabeth groans and Percy can't hold back his laughter. "Basically," he starts, still huffing out small bits of (manly) giggles, "we're going to Jason's sister's house and dolling the place up to scare a few kids shitless. It's tradition."
"Jason," Annabeth repeats, as if it were a realization. "I could not remember his name for my life."
"I forget it too, if I'm being honest. So used to calling him 'dickhead' that I forget he actually has a normal name." Annabeth snorts out a laugh at that, and Percy's mouth tastes like acid. He hates his lack of a filter around pretty girls.
"Well, I hope you guys have fun," Annabeth says genuinely, smiling. "I think the last time I celebrated Halloween was freshman year."
"Whaaaat?" Percy draws out the question, raising both of his eyebrows. "What about senior year? That big party?"
"As head editor of the newspaper, parties weren't really my thing," Annabeth informs him.
"I wish I would have known you better then," Percy says, his expression twisting with regret. "It was really fun. I would have dragged you there whether you liked it or not."
"Thanks," Annabeth says, after a few seconds, "I think."
They both turn as one of the automatic doors swing open. "You're free to go," the girl says, her dark hair pulled back into a braid. "As I'm left here with all the late night holiday drunks buying booze."
Annabeth smiles at the girl, but she merely raises an eyebrow in reply as the blond taps a few keys on the register. "Want me to clock you in when I clock out?"
"Please," the girl says, her gaze flickering over Percy. "Made a friend?"
"It's Percy Jackson," Annabeth answers, as if he's a celebrity. "You know him. Like, swim team. Jason Grace. You know."
"Swim team and Jason Grace," Percy interjects. "Truly my defining characteristics."
Annabeth sends him a mildly amused look as the austere girl gives him an once-over. "Oh, right. I remember you." It doesn't sound positive, nor negative, so Percy decides he'll take it.
"Right, well." Percy gathers up his bags and breathes out. "I should probably go. Jason and Thalia are waiting on me."
"Oh, of course," Annabeth says, shaking her head. "Yeah, have fun."
"Tell..." Percy looks from Annabeth over to the girl with a set jaw. "Tell Jason that Reyna says hi."
"Will do," Percy promises, wondering why this grocery store was starting to feel a lot like a high school reunion in segments. "Bye!" he calls over his shoulder as he heads for the doors that swing open for him.
He's twenty minutes later than he should have been, but he lies and tells Jason that he took a shower when he stopped at home.
Halfway through the night, Percy's counted thirteen kids who walked out crying. Thalia has a look of malicious enthrallment look on her face, and Jason is glancing at a soccer mom.
Percy sidles up next to him, nudging his shoulder. "So, when I stopped to pick up the candy, there was a girl named Reyna? She told me to tell you 'hi.'"
Jason pales the slightest bit, dropping his gaze. "Right."
"I mean," Percy shrugs one shoulder, "aren't you gonna tell me what happened between you two?"
"Nothing happened," Jason says too quickly.
"Fine." Percy holds his hands up in the universal sign of defeat.
"He fucked Reyna over," Thalia stage-whispers, skipping past the duo to offer a few shy kids some candy. After she's upright again, she runs a hand through her short, ebony hair. "Led her on. Used his football player status to get a girl no one ever—"
"Thalia!" Jason interrupts, his face hardening. "Stop."
Percy clears his throat as a girl dressed up as Tinkerbell struts up to them. "I'm too scared to go in there," she announces, "but I would be really happy if I could still get candy."
"You're gonna be a little heartbreaker," Percy tells her; watches as her nose scrunches up in confusion. He smiles as holding out a bowl of candy to her. "Go for it, kiddo. However much you can grab in one handful." He grins as she sticks her tongue out in concentration, attempting to gather as many pieces as she can in her tiny fist.
"I like your hair," the young girl says to Thalia. "Blue is my favorite color."
Thalia fingers the blue streak in her hair and smiles, sparing a glance at the line forming behind the little girl. "Thank you! Your mom's probably waiting on you. Happy Halloween!"
Percy's smile doesn't drop for the rest of the night. Truth is, he loves kids. He loves the way their eyes stay bright with curiosity and he loves the potential they hold. Kids are a bit magical, the way he sees it. Their smiles could probably cure world hunger.
It's nearing midnight by the time they decide to head inside. There's been stragglers for the past hour and a half, but the three of them have entertained themselves by eating all the candy they have available.
Thalia presents a bottle of vodka and pours herself a shot, and Percy takes it as his cue to excuse himself. He's never liked drinking much anyways, so Jason nor Thalia seem all that surprised as he leaves.
The drive home is nerve wracking, seeing as he narrowly avoids hitting two people running across the road in their Batman and Robin costumes. He would be pissed if he weren't so goddamn charitable on any given holiday.
As soon as he gets home, he changes into sweatpants and a t-shirt that was too big in high school but fits perfectly now. Percy tries not to feel pathetic as he feeds his fish, telling them about his day in brief sentences while they attack the food he sprinkles.
Tonight, he decides, is a night for big changes.
He turns on The Bachelor instead of Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
Saturday morning, Jason's still not home. Percy doesn't have the willpower to brew a pot of cheap, too strong coffee that he hates. Instead, he drives to the nearest Starbucks and orders a hot beverage he's never gotten before.
It tastes fucking awful, which Percy guesses is a pretty good testament to his life. Try something new; it sucks. Continue never trying anything new for a year, order a new kind of coffee, and get knocked down a few notches.
He's staring into space for several minutes until the door chimes, letting in a group of laughing teenagers who've obviously just come from the beach. Percy feels his brow pinch for a moment before he realizes that it's Saturday morning and he has all day to himself.
It's not very often that Percy gets the chance to swim anymore. As nice as he and Jason's apartment is, there aren't any pools or lakes that are close enough to be considered convenient. Since he's already in town, Percy throws the disgusting drink away and drives to Wal-Mart, where he buys a pair of swim trunks.
He has to Google where the nearest recreational center is, but it's graciously no more than fifteen minutes. As he gets closer to his destination, his mood picks up.
It's been close to three months since Percy's visited the beach or taken a dip in a cold pool. His shoulders seem to relax simply at the prospect, and Percy misses the days when he was on the swim team at the University of Michigan. He'd broken quite a few records and had a three year reign on his dream team.
The rec center is pretty busy, seeing as its Saturday, but the pools aren't as bad as he'd thought they would be. He borrows goggles from the check in desk, as recommended, but tosses them aside once he gets into the water.
Percy used to hate the way the smell of chlorine would linger on his skin, almost like he'd gotten a scratch and sniff tattoo that emitted the aroma every time he took a step. He used to groan about the way his eyes stung and the way his fingers and toes shriveled up.
Now, though, Percy smiles serenely when he feels the burn of chlorine in his eyes. It feels a little like home; like the sweater you hate but you can't throw away, so you put it on sometimes just to have the warm feeling of something that's always been there.
He swims lazy laps down his lane, barely kicking off the wall when he reaches the sides. The people next to him are training; he can tell by the way they each have someone clicking a small stopwatch as they finish. Percy, while he had loved competing, never did enjoy the training sessions. They were always much too stressful for his taste.
He's not sure how long he stays, but his fingers are pruning when he pushes himself out of the pool. He nods to himself, as if to say, That was good quality time with you, Mr. Percy.
A few college girls stare when he walks by, which is something that both boosts his ego and makes him feel uncomfortable. He towels off his hair half-heartedly while he hands back the goggles that he'd forgone usage of.
Percy breathes in deeply, biting back a smile at the whiff of chlorine he gets. He should really buy a scented candle, or something.
He keeps the borrowed towel over his shoulders as he strolls through the rest of the rec center, slinging his shirt over his wrist and answering Jason's texts.
Percy's entering the art building, and typing out a truly heartfelt 'shut the fuck up dickhead' when he walks right into someone. He hears a sharp crack, and he winces, because his hand is empty, and that means his phone's on the ground.
"Oh," he says belatedly, staring at his phone that's now sporting a few cracks.
"I'm so sorry, I wasn't looking when I..." Percy glances up when the person stops talking, his expression brightening considerably when he realizes it's Annabeth. She gestures vaguely to a door she's just walked out of, and Percy shakes his head.
"No, no, don't worry about it. My fault anyways. I was texting and walking." He bends to pick up his phone, examining the damage. "Probably should be getting a new phone anyways."
"I..." Percy looks up from his fractured device, raising an eyebrow at Annabeth. "I... You swim. Of course you swim. You were on the swim team, right, that would have been a stupid question."
Percy's smile grows wider as Annabeth continues to stammer, and he realizes that she's probably just uncomfortable with the fact that he's half-clothed. He pulls his shirt over his head and rests the towel across his shoulders again. "You alright?"
"I'm fine," Annabeth replies, laughing nervously. Percy uses his hand to cover his smile, but he thinks that she catches it. Her eyes narrow. "I should go."
"Yeah, okay," Percy says, not wanting to keep her.
"I'll just..." She shakes her head at herself, and Percy's heart beats a little faster at how adorable the action is. "I'm sorry about your phone."
"Make it up to me," Percy breathes out quickly, pinching his own arm discreetly. Idiot, idiot, idiot. "Let's get lunch. Sometime. Or now. Or something."
He almost rolls his eyes at himself. He's had the upper hand for the past five minutes while Annabeth stammered, and now he's lost every bit of cred he gained. She smiles a little unsurely. "Like... Lunch?"
"Usually around noon," Percy clarifies, grinning back at her.
"I know what lunch is," she snaps, but her soft smile gives her away. Percy's chest feels too warm. He wonders if he's having a heart attack, briefly, but then Annabeth's saying a small "sure," and he's having trouble breathing.
"Seriously?" he asks, sounding stupidly breathless. "Now?"
"I haven't eaten yet." She shrugs, and Percy notices a canvas book bag slung over one shoulder. "It'd be nice to have a conversation that's not an interview for the school paper."
"Right," Percy says, probably too quickly, but he can't remember a single time where Annabeth interviewed him. He would have noticed her, he thinks. "Well."
"You say that a lot. 'Right' and 'well.' You say 'yeah' a lot, too," Annabeth observes, smiling like she knows something that he doesn't. Percy hates it, but she's too pretty for him to be properly miffed.
"Lunch, then?" he offers, gesturing towards the exit.
"That would be the plan."
"You're a lot more sarcastic than I thought," Percy mumbles, under his breath, but Annabeth laughs so he guesses he didn't say it quietly enough.
"I have to be nice when I'm working." She sends him a fleeting glance over her shoulder, leading them down a wide hallway.
"I know the feeling." Percy's job especially required the skill to be gentle and kind, no matter what. Middle schoolers were a sensitive bunch.
"I'm going to ask you where you work, but first, are you alright with the cafe here? I promise it's good." Percy acquiesces without hesitation and Annabeth clears her throat. "Where do you work?"
"Mendler Middle," Percy shares, smiling a little. He hates his job, but he's a bit fond of it, too.
"Guidance counselor," he corrects, seeing the door to the cafe. He holds it open for Annabeth out of habit more than anything else, but his skin feels hot when she gives him an appraising look. "I, um, study psychology. At Michigan State."
"I hear their program's great," Annabeth says, adding herself to the queue.
"Challenging," Percy shrugs, "but yeah. What about you? Study anything?"
"I just got my Bachelor's in Business Management, and I minored in journalism." She shrugs as if to say 'no biggie' and Percy's positive he wouldn't be modest about such a big accomplishment. Her eyes light up though, in a subtle, soft way. Percy wants to twirl one of her curls around his index finger.
Percy raises his eyebrows. "Working at the school paper paid off, then."
Annabeth nods. "What got you into psychology?" She's ordering a moment later, her eyes scanning over the menu with a hint of resignation that tells Percy she already knows exactly what she wants. He orders after her, getting some grilled chicken sandwich that sounds relatively healthy; he'd hate to think his exercise was all for nothing.
Neither Percy nor Annabeth speak until they've settled into a booth by the set of windows. "It's nice out," she mentions, and before he has a chance to agree, Annabeth's repeating her initial question.
Percy feels a bit shy of the answer; he's given it a million times, but he wishes he had something better to impress Annabeth with. She sends him an interested look as she sets up her plate; separating all of the food and starting with her sandwich. "I didn't understand people, but I wanted to. Psychology."
She stays quiet for a few seconds, taking a contemplative sip of her drink before she leans across the table. "You mean to tell me that the whole time you ruled high school, you didn't understand a single person?"
Percy averts his eyes, but he rests his arms on the table, mirroring her. "I knew how to handle people. But handling and understanding are completely different." Annabeth raises her eyebrows, and Percy likes the way her eyes flicker as she thinks about it. He likes the way that she seems to carefully process every bit of information she's given. "Besides," he adds, hoping to lighten the mood, "I was too busy swimming and being charming." Cut and paste charming smile here. Check.
Annabeth scoffs. "Arrogance. How charming." She makes a face and Percy leans back in his seat before he does something stupid, like kiss her nose or confess how in love he is already. He hates himself for not paying her more attention in high school.
"My point is," Percy continues a few seconds later, "I didn't really pay attention to the people in high school, or at least not their actions and motives and such. It was only after I got out that it occurred to me that not one of those four years made any sense." Annabeth nods, not replying, so Percy carries on. "I mean, it's kind of like 'the outside looking in' sort of thing. You never really see something for how it is until you aren't a part of it."
She mulls over that, chewing thoughtfully. "You should have majored in philosophy." He snorts at that, shaking his head. "You're surprisingly smart."
Annabeth beams at him, and Percy thinks he could probably figure out why if his brain wasn't so busy short circuiting. When Annabeth smiles, her eyes look like the full moon that shows itself once a month; special and shining. Percy decides that everything around her gets darker when she smiles; it all fades out because Annabeth's bright like the silvery light the sphere in the night sky. He blames that kid's essay he read—the one who wrote about wolves and the moon; the one with so much figurative language that it left Percy thinking in poems for days.
He smiles back.
He doesn't tell Jason for two weeks.
He can't come up with an answer as to why, but he knows Jason wants one. The blonde boy is clutching his morning coffee with narrowed, betrayed eyes as he holds Percy's phone in his hand. "I couldn't help but notice a missed call from someone named 'Annabeth'?"
Percy's too tired for this. He hasn't even made it to the coffee pot yet. "Right," he mumbles, rubbing his eyes and yawning, "well. We had lunch. A while ago."
Jason frowns, looking more hurt than angry. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I just didn't," Percy says carefully, shrugging his shoulders.
"Don't get all possessive on me now, Grace, you had your chance." His teasing falls flat as Jason continues to grip Percy's phone—which he had apparently left on the counter, out in the open for Jason to notice any calls. The blue eyed boy's expression clearly says that he's waiting for an adequate answer. Percy gathers the nerve to shoulder past him, pouring himself a cup of blackened coffee. "It was one of those stupid rom com moments of mine," he decides, after taking a few sips to clear his sleep hazy mind. "I thought maybe I would keep it to myself so that it stayed special; all that bullshit. I've scheduled some time with the nearest meadow. Me and Annabeth are going to go skipping through it, if you'd like to tag along?"
Jason's face twists as he tries to inhibit his laughter. "Dick."
Percy shoots him a winning smile as he breezes out of the kitchen, in danger of being late for work.
Jason's The Greatest 11:31 AM
so are you going to tell me the story or should i run down to iga and ruin any chance you may have?
Percy rolls his eyes, answers (i'll tell you some other time when i'm not working don't embarrass me you dick), and pockets his phone again.
Since the day he had lunch with Annabeth, Percy has gone back to the grocery store three times—each under the pretense of needing some item that was probably already in the cupboard. The first time, Annabeth had at least pretended to be pleasantly surprised. The second time he wondered in, however, claiming that they were fresh out of peanut butter, Annabeth smiled smugly as she rang him up. The third time, he got her number.
Her eyes were sparkling gently as she flipped his receipt over and scrawled her number. Then, she had gone on to laugh as he blushed and pocketed it. He stuttered through the rest of the conversation, pinched his arm a total of six times, and clenched his teeth when Annabeth laughed softly at him. He's pretty sure he's in love. He also thinks it's fucking up his more cynical views, too.
Fate decides to sidle up to him and be friendly once more, which leads to the reason Annabeth called: Are you planning on swimming again this Saturday?
He lies and tells her that it's a possibility, but he's pretty sure they both know he'll be there the moment he wakes up.
The second he's submerged, he closes his eyes and wishes he could breathe beneath the surface. It's quiet here; softer and almost muted compared to his home with Jason and his second home at Mendler Middle. He thinks that he'll definitely invest in underwater homes for the future.
He swims until his arms start to ache a little—which reminds him how awfully out of shape he is; perhaps he should invest in a gym membership. He pushes himself out of the water and looks around the room, which is full of families and the unsmiling faces of trainers and trainees. Percy remembers those days; he remembers the endless practices and the constant waterlogged feeling, but it's all with a hint of fondness. Swimming has always served as an escape from the bustle of life itself.
Percy keeps his feet in the water and turns his head into his shoulder so he can smell the chlorine. When the word 'home' is said, most people think of aromas such as Grandma's cookies or firewood, but Percy's scent that he thinks of as 'home' is chlorine. It's sharp and piercing, but it fades into comfort.
He laughs at himself as he stands up, thinking that Annabeth's right. He should have majored in philosophy. His phone tells him that it's nearing noon, so he towels off and shakes his hair a bit before pulling his shirt over his head. Annabeth would probably be leaving the art department soon, as promised, and they'd get lunch again, as promised.
Percy has always hated routines, ever since day one. As a child, he had chosen the most untimely of hours to fall asleep and rouse from his naps. He would refuse to be fed at the normal hours, rather asking for a feeding at 3 A.M. He never completed his homework on time—and not because he was lazy or didn't know the material, but simply because he refused to let homework rule his life. (It did in his earlier years of college; had him staying up all night and working throughout the day, but Percy tries not to think about that too much.)
His point is, he doesn't like when things settle into place and become permanent. He likes the excitement of the unplanned, which is why he sort of loves his job. He never knows when an emotional wreck of a student will knock on his door. He walks through the double doors every day with a chilling cup of coffee and a tired smile, but he never knows how things will turn out by the end of the day.
Annabeth, however, seems to be the exception. Percy thinks that's a bit obvious in the way he turns the corner to see her heading towards the cafe, smiling in greeting at him. He wouldn't mind settling into a routine with someone like Annabeth; someone who's astute and kind; cute and sarcastic; unassuming and genuine. It's like every bone in his body is urging him to go for it while his thoughts tell him he'll get bored.
He trips a few seconds later, Annabeth laughs, and he decides that he doesn't care for his thoughts all that much.
"How was your swim?" Annabeth asks, after they've settled down with their meals. Percy ordered something different to soothe his conscious, and he eyes the panini cautiously as he takes a contemplative sip of his drink. Percy hates routines, surely, but he's also not too keen on trying new things. He's a walking contradiction.
"Uh," Percy says intelligently. "Swim-y?"
Annabeth snorts, and it's the ugliest thing he's ever seen or heard, but he loves it. He grins at her before ripping off the band aid and taking a bite of the sandwich. It's not so bad, he decides. "Insightful," she comments.
"I mean"—Percy flounders for a moment, struggling to explain—"it was peaceful, I guess. Calming. Took the stress off my week."
"Rough times at Mendler Middle?" Her eyes are teasing, and Percy loves this—the easy going banter. It's his favorite way to communicate with people, despite his psychology degree that swears he loves deep, thoughtful conversations.
"Something like that," Percy says with a smile, averting his eyes. He bites his lip and takes another sip of his drink. "How's the grocery store?"
"Grocery-y," Annabeth replies, dead serious. Percy chokes a bit and tries to muster up a glare, but he ends up grinning too much for it to have it's intended effect. "The same as it always is," Annabeth continues, picking at a piece of lettuce on her sandwich. "Easy. Good pay. How's Mendler Middle, though? Really, I mean."
Percy scrunches up his nose and moves his glass so that he can draw pictures in the puddle of water it leaves. He writes 'Mendler Middle' idly as he thinks of an adequate answer. "I'm hardly a guidance counselor, you know."
"Why's that?" Annabeth asks, and he glances up to see her staring intently at the water he's pushing around on the table top. He thinks about writing 'you're pretty' or something else fit for a romantic comedy.
"It's middle school," Percy sighs, smiling a little despite himself, "none of the kids think they need guidance. They're smarter than everyone in the world at this age, if I'm not mistaken."
Annabeth cracks a small grin, and Percy thinks of the sun peeking through the clouds on an overcast day. He has to physically restrain himself from sighing dreamily. "Ah, those days."
"Well?" Percy prompts, writing her name in the water carefully. "How were your middle school years?"
"Busy, I guess," Annabeth shrugs. "I was a pretty driven student, work wise, anyways. Bit of a loner, but I had friends to sit with at lunch. Half of my classes were at the high school my eighth grade year. I went to a school in a small town where the middle and high school were connected, so it wasn't really an issue to walk up to the high school for a few classes." She watches Percy's hand for a few more seconds before she pushes her own glass aside to adopt his new hobby. "I think I may have missed out. A lot of my friends say that eighth grade year was the best year of their lives."
Percy tries to make out what she's writing, but it seems like gibberish. He folds his hands over the table and watched the way she presses her lips together in concentration. "I think freshman year was my favorite year."
"Gross," Annabeth says immediately, making him laugh. "Everyone hates freshman year."
Percy shakes his head slowly, staring at her tea. He wishes he would have bought himself a cup, if only to have something to hold in his hands besides a sweating glass of Coke. "It was fun. You know, adjusting to high school, thinking you're on top of the world, making the varsity swim team. Lots of good memories for me there."
"You were on varsity as a freshman?" Annabeth sounds mildly impressed, and he feels something like embarrassment creeping up his spine. Percy's never hated attention, per se, but Annabeth's attention makes his skin hot and his chest clench. He wonders if it's a medical issue. Something to do with pretty blonde girls, probably.
"Yeah, I mean…" He looks away from her coffee cup—it's a sickly green, possibly the worst color he's seen in his entire life—before pouring salt onto the table to have another source of amusement. "'S not a big deal. It's happened before."
"You must be really good, though," Annabeth comments, reaching over and running her finger through the salt he poured. "We're making a mess."
Percy grins and shrugs. "I like to call it abstract art."
"You would," Annabeth snorts, slapping his hand when he messes up her barely recognizable 'A' she'd drawn. "You ruined it. Menace."
He rolls his eyes and draws her another 'A' before leaning back in his seat and watching Annabeth finger the salt on the table. It'll probably piss off the workers, but he can't find it in himself to care. "So…" Percy half-coughs and lounges further into his seat. "Why the grocery store?"
She purses her lips and a line appears between her eyebrows, and Percy recognizes consternation. He tries to hurriedly read the rest of her body language and then analyze what he said to upset her, but she's speaking before he can. "I mean, there's nothing wrong with the grocery store." Her tone's defensive and her shoulders set.
Percy shakes his head. "I didn't mean it like that. I just meant… I mean, you have your Business Management degree"—Annabeth's expression softens—"so why don't you use it? You should get the money you deserve."
The tension in Annabeth's shoulders evaporates completely as she stirs the hot tea she ordered. "I can't believe you remember what degree I have," she mutters softly, chuckling to herself.
"Of course I do," Percy says with conviction, almost frowning. "Why wouldn't I?"
She stares at him for a moment, tapping a few sprinkles of sugar into her mug. He presses his nails into his palm to keep himself from shying away from her gaze. "Why wouldn't you," Annabeth agrees. She looks away for a moment, seeking out a spoon to stir her tea with, and Percy offers his to her. She accepts it with a smile before clearing her throat. "I don't mind working there, you know. It's pretty easy; most of the people who come in are regulars and they stay to chat for a few minutes. Restocking shelves isn't my favorite job, but there's a deli at work and I eat for free there, so it definitely has it's perks. Not to mention the fact that the supervisor loves me, and most of my coworkers are older so they take me under their wing, so to speak. And I hardly ever have to clean up messes, since not all that many people make them. It's a good job."
Percy shrugs, watching her carefully as she sips her tea. He watches her expression twist and he assumes it's burnt her tongue. "That may be," he says finally, "but I'm still waiting for you to tell me why you chose the grocery store over a prestigious job."
Annabeth pauses, her hand poised to help her drink more tea. Then she laughs—and it's shaky, Percy notes, but just barely. "Nothing gets by you."
Percy smiles humbly and shrugs. "Psychology degree."
She nods and holds her drink with both hands. It's the same thing he does when he has a warm beverage. He lets it warm up his palms and spread the warmth to the rest of his body. "I don't know why I'm working at the grocery store."
Percy raises his eyebrows, a silent prompt for her to go on. She shifts in her seat and pushes her plate to the side to rest her elbows on the table. "I didn't know that meeting with you would turn into a free psychological evaluation." Annabeth comments, her tone light and teasing. Percy sees the withdrawn look in her eyes; sees it in the almost too casual way she crosses her arms.
"Point taken," he tells her, sitting back in his seat. "But I'm not analyzing you. I genuinely want to know why you've chosen IGA as your place of employment rather than some big company that needs a talented manager like yourself."
"Flattery will get you nowhere," Annabeth returns, but she uncrosses her arms all the same. Percy considers it a win. "I just never got into that industry, I guess."
Percy scratches his jaw absently, stretching out his arm until he hears the satisfying crack. "Why not? If you have the degree, I mean. Seems like all the knowledge is going to waste."
Annabeth stares down into her tea, and Percy thinks he's crossed a line again. Two credit hours away from his psychology degree, and he has yet to learn boundaries. Annabeth opens and closes her mouth several times, planning to speak but unable to find the words she wants to say. Eventually, she starts laughing. "It's been a year since I've even thought about it," she admits, rubbing her forehead. "Oh my god, I'm a mess."
"No, you aren't," Percy says immediately, shaking his head. "It's not a bad thing to, uh, not have big ambitions. Not really. I mean, I work at a middle school. It's barely a step above grocery store."
Annabeth shakes her head and smiles a little sadly. "Yeah, but you're at least a counselor. That's relatively close to what you want to do. Business management and running a register don't exactly go hand in hand."
She stays quiet for a while, stirring her tea absently and biting her lips red. Percy would feel guilty if he weren't so proud of himself for figuring out where a tiny puzzle piece of the big picture called 'Annabeth Chase' went.
"I'm twenty-three," Annabeth muses aloud, later, "and I work at a grocery store."
"I'm twenty-three and I work at a middle school." Annabeth shoots him a look and Percy shrugs innocently. "I thought we were stating facts. It's not a big deal. I'm sorry I upset you."
"You didn't," Annabeth assures him, finishing off her tea. He watches her wince, and he knows it's gone cold. "I'm just a little stunned, to be honest. I'd almost forgotten that I'm supposed to have other goals besides ringing up people at a shitty, overpriced store."
Percy smiles at her, and she gives him a weird look as if to say what made you smile? Percy shakes his head and looks to the door as an elderly pair walk in, leaning on each other as they make their way to the counter. "The art hall," Percy says suddenly, hoping he can fit another piece of the puzzle together. "If your degrees are in Business Management and Journalism, why the art room?"
"Hobbies," Annabeth mumbles with a shrug. "Art things."
Not today, then, he thinks, sighing inwardly. He knows that Annabeth will only give as much as the other does. From what Percy can gather about her, she seems to prefer balance over the alternative.
They loiter around for twenty more minutes until a girl cleaning the table walks by them twice, huffing in annoyance at the fact that they're taking up a whole table to talk and make her job harder. Percy gives her a charming smile and leaves a five dollar bill on the counter, even if tipping isn't something that's usually done at the rec center.
He walks Annabeth to her car because he's a gentleman. She insists that he doesn't have to, but in the end she smiles at him. Percy considers it a win.
As Percy's opening the door to enter the apartment, Jason jogs into the front room, pulling a hoodie over his head. "Going somewhere?"
"Funny story," Jason grumbles, looking mildly irritated. "I gotta go pick up Thalia."
Percy raises his eyebrows. "Did her car break down?"
"Her car's fine," the blonde boy grinds out, "however, she's just left the apartment of a guy she stayed the night with, and she neglected to get a ride home. Maybe they fought. Either that or the situation was too weird to ask for a ride home."
"I thought Thalia was dating that one guy?" Percy questions, kicking off his shoes as Jason pulls his own on. "Grant, or whatever."
"Grant's old news," Jason shrugs. "Like, last week."
Percy bites back his comment of seems like dating habits run in the family and nods in understanding. "Right. Give her my best."
"I will do no such thing. She didn't even ask nicely."
"Says the same man who bullies me into cooking him dinner," Percy retorts, chuckling. Jason gestures vaguely, as if to say 'guilty as charged,' and opens the door. The green-eyed man purses his lips at his friend's pinched brow. "Hey, you should pick up something for dinner on the way home. I'll cook without even being bullied."
Jason sends Percy a grateful smile, but he looks tired. Percy knows how much he frets about Thalia; it's probably not far off from the worry he feels for Jason. "Thanks, man." Percy nods as Jason shuts the door behind himself.
Sighing to himself, the Mendler Middle faculty member makes himself a cup of coffee and wonders when he got quite so dull that he stopped going out on Saturday nights.
Monday morning, he gets three invitations to attend a faculty party together. (Technically two, but Ms. Owens uses the casual 'so, have you got a date?' line. Percy evades her by faking a sudden, deathly cold.) It's silly, he thinks, that members of the staff are recommended to have a date for a mid-afternoon celebration in the conference room. (It's all in good fun, they say. Like a little middle school dance of our own, just without the dancing.) The craziest it'll get is stories about what kid wrote what in their essay about whatever. Sadly, he's nominated for Guidance Counselor of the Year (he's the only guidance counselor, which makes it doubly silly that he has to attend at all), and all "of the Year" awards are being announced. He's also supposed to present a slideshow that gives the statistics of the previous year's test scores.
Instead, he shakes a Snickers out of the snack machine in the teacher's lounge and heads to Mrs. Bushouer's room.
He makes a big show of dropping down on one knee in front of her entire class, making the older woman blush right up to the graying hairs in her scalp. The kids applaud when she agrees, and Percy pretends to be dramatically relieved. All in all, he's glad he's not tied to a teacher who still wears lip gloss and carries around her Cabbage Patch doll. (Okay, so Ms. Owens isn't that young, but the point stands.)
He stays up late on Thursday night to create the slideshow for the "Faculty Bash," as they've named it, that'll be occurring the next day. The kids have a teacher workday, which means they get to sit at home in front of the television watching their teenage dramas while Percy pretends that Ms. Owens isn't staring at him. To say the least, he's not excited at all.
It's precisely 2:32 AM when Percy's phone starts blaring some shitty pop song that Jason set as his ringtone. Percy groans into his pillow before reaching out blindly and grasping the damned device, missing the 'answer' button three times before he hits his target. He hums into the phone, hoping it serves as a greeting.
"Oh my god, are you sleeping? I didn't mean to wake you up!" There's so much static that Percy pulls the phone away from his ear, using the moment to blink a few times and read the caller ID.
Feeling significantly more confused by his findings, Percy presses the phone against his ear. "Uh… Annabeth?"
"That's me!" A giggle. "Wait, how do you know me? Oh, I called you! Right! You're Percy!" Another laugh. Percy hears a similarly shitty pop song playing through the line, and he pushes his face into his pillow.
"Annabeth," he manages, after a few seconds, "are you drunk?"
"No," she denies immediately. Percy hears it, though; in the slur of her words and the obnoxiously jubilant tone to her voice. "I'm not."
"What did you drink?" he asks, sitting up to lean against his headboard. He's rubbing his eyes as Annabeth counts out how many beers she remembers drinking.
"So! One, two… Three! I drank three? Drunk three? Drink three?"
"Drank," Percy assures her, rubbing his forehead. "Anything else?"
"Something pink," she continues, laughing again. "Or blue. Maybe it was green. Aren't your eyes green?"
"They are." Sighing, he slouches down in his bed to escape the cool air his ceiling fan's creating. It's not the first time he's been drunk dialed, but it's the first time he's been drunk dialed by a respectable blond. It's not like he's losing his high opinion of her—mostly everyone drinks, anyways—but rather, he's disappointed in himself. He'd always read her as a non-drinker; his skills are rusty.
"I like green eyes," Annabeth informs him simply, humming something out of tune. She hiccups and laughs a second later. "I shouldn't have drank all the drinks."
Percy smiles at the childishly remorseful tone, using his comforter to cover his face, as if he needs to hide the smile from the darkness of his room. "Maybe."
"But then I wouldn't have called you," she continues, rambling. Percy hears some of the static fade away. "Where did I park, Percy?"
"You aren't driving home," he orders, sitting up so quick that he cracks his back. "Hey, go back inside, or something."
"Shut up," she groans out, "mood killer. I'm not driving home, silly! I need to get my water bottle out of my car. I like water. Do you?"
"I'm a swimmer," Percy answers with a wry smile, relaxing against his bed again.
Annabeth giggles again, and Percy sighs forlornly at how wrong the noise sounds. "I forgot! I remember in high school, you always looked so cute when your hair was all wet and—my car!" She sounds downright delighted, so Percy decides to discard the previous thoughts she'd spoken. (He buries his face in his pillow again when his skin starts burning.) "Percy," she whispers a few moments later, her voice sounding significantly clearer. "I just realized that I could have gotten water inside."
Percy laughs, imagining the stricken look that's surely on her face. He hums in agreement. "Probably. It's better that you aren't in there anymore though, so you won't be tempted to—"
"Wait!" Annabeth interrupts. "I'm angry at you! That's why I called!"
Percy frowns for a second. "Sorry?"
"You should be! I've been very sad for the past few days, mister." She starts laughing again, and Percy supposes he'd rather her be a giddy drunk than a furious drunk.
"What did I do that made you sad?" he prompts, smoothing out his bed sheet.
"You reminded me how clueless I am," Annabeth answers, dragging out all of the words as if she's trying to sing. "How much I don't know what I want to do with anything." Percy stays quiet for a moment after Annabeth stops talking. Before he can manage to get a word out, she's speaking again. "I almost forgot, Percy. And now I'm very sad." Her voice is small and dismal, evoking a pinch of regret in Percy's chest.
"Shut up," Annabeth laughs out. "I don't care anymore. That's why I drank all the things, you know. And now I don't care about the plans!"
"You drank because of me?"
"I would have anyways," she says, and Percy bites his lip at her flirtatious tone. "I need to forget how hot you are."
Percy barks out a laugh, burying his face in his arms. "That's no reason to drink," he says, still snickering to himself.
"If you don't think so, then you don't know how hot you are. You're, like, Ben Affleck. Or Heath Ledger. Or someone hot." She's tripping over her words as her mouth works slower than her mind. "Like the sun. Or like James! He comes in the grocery store all the time, but he always buys lunch tables, or whatever they're called. He has kids and a wife." Annabeth sighs loudly. "All the hot boys are married," she whines. She continues to mutter things unintelligible for a few minutes, and Percy diligently pretends to listen. She sounds tired.
"Annabeth," he says quickly, after a lull in her mumblings, "you should call a cab."
"No," she says defiantly, "I don't want a cab."
"Then I'll come get you," Percy decides, already tossing his sheets off.
"No!" Annabeth says, even more quickly and obstinate than before. "I can take care of myself."
"You're drunk," he points out.
"I'll call a cab," she reasons. "But don't come get me. I look not very good."
Can't imagine that, Percy thinks, wondering if it were even possible for someone as effortless as Annabeth to look bad. "Flag down a cab right now. I'll stay on the phone with you until you're inside, okay?"
"Okay, Mom," Annabeth retorts, rolling her eyes. She grumbles for a few minutes, before Percy hears her yelling out a few different phrases, trying in vain to capture the attention of drivers with her voice.
"Put your hand up," Percy suggests.
"Shut up, Mister Smarty Jeans," Annabeth shoots back, making him smile. "Oh, yay! I got one! It's yellow!"
"They're all yellow." Percy settles back under his sheets, shivering slightly from the nearly arctic temperature of his room. He hears a thud. "Are you inside?"
"No, I dropped my head," she says, making a stunning lack of sense. "I'm inside now."
"Tell him your address."
"It's a her!" Annabeth whispers loudly. "Am I in the wrong one?"
"No, no! It's fine. Just tell the person your address."
"Okay!" She hiccups again, slurring out something that sounds nearly mechanical. "She says she can take me!"
"Good," Percy tells her. "Do you need me to stay on the phone with you, or are you safe?"
"Safe," Annabeth manages, sounding even more tired than the minutes prior. "I'm sorry for bothering you. Perfy. I mean Percy." She's quiet for a few seconds before she cackles loudly, an unrestrained laugh that's oddly endearing. "Perfy works," Annabeth whispers into the phone conspiratorially, "because your name is Percy and you're perfect."
He blushes, but reminds himself that it's the alcohol talking. "I'm sure I am, Annabeth. Let me know that you got home safe, okay?"
"I'm not mad anymore," she tells him blissfully, her voice dropping off at the end. "'M Tired."
Percy suddenly regrets not taking her home himself; at least then he would be able to set a glass of water and a few Advil on her nightstand to help with the hangover she'll be nursing. "I know, babe."
"Babe!" Annabeth accuses. "You called me 'babe'!"
Percy frowns for a moment because yes, he did and wasn't Annabeth the one who was supposed to be letting pet names slip? After all, she was notably more inebriated than he was. "Right. Well. Sorry."
"I like it," she mutters. "No one calls me nice names anymore." Percy's lips turn down even further as he blinks at the blackened ceiling, letting Annabeth talk aimlessly for a few seconds before he decides he needs to get at least an hour or two of sleep tonight.
"Hey, Annabeth?" She makes a sound that lets him know she's listening. "Try and text me when you get home so I know you're alright, yeah? I really have to go."
"It's late," Annabeth says, as if the thought suddenly dawns on her.
"It is," he agrees, nodding even though she can't see him. "Drink some more water before you fall asleep, okay?"
"Yeah, yeah. Bye!" She hangs up before Percy has the chance to properly say goodbye.
He doesn't fall asleep again until he gets a text that says something along the lines of 'nfjsdnsf hoem.'
Annabeth 10:31 AM
why the hell do i have a 20 minute call to you in my recents
Annabeth 10:34 AM
I CALLED YOU. FORGET EVERYTHING I SAID.
Percy 10:35 AM
no way in hell am i forgetting it was the best conversation i've had with you yet... really boosted my self esteem
Annabeth 10:37 AM
i was drunk
Percy 10:40 AM
what's the saying? a drunk mind speaks the truth? interesting
Percy 10:41 AM
regardless of how hot you think i am i recommend two advil and lots of hydration! happy hangover annabeth :)
Annabeth's mortified, as expected, so Percy jokes about the incident to let her know that he didn't take her seriously. (She still called him hot, though, and cute. Percy's sure as hell not letting go of those occurrences.)
Okay, so maybe it's less joking and more thinly veiled flirting, but Percy nearly preens every time Annabeth's cheeks dust rose. He kicks himself on a daily basis for not noticing her in high school. Then again, at that time, he wasn't really looking, but rather dating for the sake of dating and flirting when he had to. It's weird, Percy thinks, that he spent four years of his life completely engulfed in a social scene he hardly cared for.
All the girls he had dated in high school hardly had the ability to blush like Annabeth; most were shameless and school wide flirts. Annabeth's like a breath of fresh air, in a way. A ridiculously cute, intimidatingly intelligent, sarcastic breath of fresh air.
On Saturday, Percy wakes up an hour early. He plans on swimming for a while, then venturing into the art center to find Annabeth.
Oddly enough, he's never actually been inside the art center. Most days, Annabeth meets him halfway to the cafe or flits out the door just as he's swinging it open. He'd be lying if he said that he wasn't curious about just what was through the double doors that had smudges of paint and questionable black markings.
He follows his routine, starting out slowly to warm up and building up to the rigorous exercises he used to do for training. Sometimes he wonders if, given that he picked another major, he could have kept swimming for Michigan State. The schedule conflicts were no longer few and far in between, but rather constant and unavoidable. Quitting the team had been one of the hardest things he had ever done, and while swimming felt like the most important thing, it was an extracurricular activity.
By the time he's using his upper arms to hoist himself out of the water, Percy's spent a fair amount of time drowning in nostalgia and trying not to drown in the water. He watches the people around him for a few minutes, like he usually does, and waves at the people who give him nods. If there's one thing he adores about Michigan, it's the genuity of the people.
He shakes his hair out and dries his back off, pulling a shirt out of his duffle bag and tugging it over his head. Percy waves to the lady who checks him in, and she smiles warmly before tending to the next customer.
He takes a hesitant left, not entirely sure if he's going the right way, and relaxes when he sees a big, sickly green sign that tells him he's headed to the art center. He thinks the rec center desperately needs a new color scheme, and one that looks less like the shade of a seasick child.
His hair is still wet as he pushes through the doors with a few splotches of paint, presumably from people neglecting to wash their hands thoroughly. Water droplets are falling on his shoulders and leaving dark spots on his old, faded t-shirt, but he's not so sure the woman behind her small help desk would appreciate it if he shook his hair out like a dog.
"Hello," she greets, leaning forward eagerly, "can I help you?"
You are at a help desk, Percy thinks sarcastically, I sure hope you can.
"Uh," he says intelligently, glancing around the room, "I'm looking for a blonde? Curly hair. About this tall." Percy brings his hand up to what he guesses to be Annabeth's height. The woman stays quiet, idly tapping the gaudy necklace around her neck. "She's here every Saturday? Usually stays until around noon? She has these eyes"—Percy gestures vaguely—"they're grey. Unique."
The woman, who has to be well into her forties, cocks her head to the side. Percy sighs, leaning his hands on her desk. It's decidedly lower than he assumed, which gives the image that he's trying to intimidate her. He sighs again and stands up straight, pushing his hair out of his face. "Nothing, then? Haven't seen her?"
"Oh, no," she says, her lips twitching into a grin, "I've known who you were talking about since you said she had curly blond hair. I was simply enjoying the way you stuttered through an explanation."
Percy's jaw falls open the slightest bit. "Right," he says, swallowing to keep his throat from drying out. "Well. Where is she, then?"
"Try conference room two. She usually holes herself up in there." The woman smiles beatifically. "She's a sweet girl. Cute, too."
Percy nods jerkily, trying to ignore the way she sounds like his mother. "Uh, thanks. For the help."
"Anytime, dear," she answers, already leaning back in her chair and staring at the computer screen. What a job.
Percy wanders down the nearest hallway—which he hopes entails several conference rooms and a certain blonde girl.
When he finds a room labeled "2," he hears music muffled through the primarily soundproof door. He knocks twice and smooths down his shirt dumbly; it had been stuffed in his bottom draw for at least three weeks and there's no way the wrinkles are disappearing anytime soon. He glances down the hall, noting that there's a few other conference rooms and something that looks like a storage closet.
He raps his knuckles against the door again after counting to thirty in his head, but again, there's no response. The music isn't turned down and the door isn't swung open. Percy briefly considers leaving and swimming a few more laps, but he realizes that he doesn't have to knock. It's a conference room. For conferences. And people. Like him.
Okay, so he feels like he's encroaching on some personal part of Annabeth's life as he swings the door open. She would probably feel the same way, too, if she weren't so busy jumping out of her skin and knocking something off the large table.
"Sorry!" Percy apologizes immediately, walking around the table so he can pick it up for her. Annabeth has her hand splayed across her chest, still looking frightened, and Percy smiles up at her calmingly. "Just me, no need to look so scared."
"Why didn't you knock?" Annabeth demands as Percy starts to gather the pencils on the ground. He picks up the cup, now on its side, and drops the utensils in.
"I did." He pulls the chair next to her out and invites himself to take a seat, glancing at Annabeth's large papers. She pushes it out of view instantly and Percy chooses not to be offended. "Good morning, Annabeth, how did you sleep?"
"Fine," she says shortly. "Why are you here so early?"
"I thought we could get in some quality time, you know, a good thirty minutes for you to bask in my hotness."
Despite Annabeth's mild anger, her lips shake as she holds back a laugh. "Right, yeah, that's exactly what I need." She rolls her eyes as Percy lifts his chin up gleefully. "Your hair is soaking wet."
"Is it?" he asks, grinning mischievously, shaking out his hair like a dog. Annabeth squawks indignantly and holds her hands up in a futile attempt to protect herself. She shoves his shoulder as he laughs, clearly amused at the fact that he's used his hair as a proverbial rain cloud. "Ah," Percy says, exhaling. "Nice and… not soaking wet."
"Dry," Annabeth mutters, rolling up whatever she'd been working on and stowing it away in the corner. "That's the word you wanted. Dry."
"Where would I be without you?" He beams up at her, his smile widening as she gives him a sarcastic look. "Aren't you happy? You get me for an extra hour today!"
"'Fraid not," Annabeth laments. "I was actually planning on meeting you at normal time to let you know that I can't do lunch today." Percy frowns at her. "It's not my fault! It's a rehearsal dinner. My brother's getting married." He frowns deeper. "What? Marriage is happy, lighten up!"
"It's not happy when I don't get to have lunch with you," Percy answers, dropping his chin to the table. "Who ever will tell me how hot I am?"
"Shut up!" Annabeth shouts, half-laughing as she throws a balled up sheet of paper at him. "I was drunk!" Percy catches hold of her wrist as she moves to grab another sheet of paper to assault him with. "And, and—" She yelps slightly as Percy digs his fingers into her side. She swats his hand away and glares at his dazzling grin. "You called me 'babe' so don't even start!"
"Babe, I call everyone 'babe,'" Percy lies, rolling his eyes. "Do you call everyone hot?" He loosens his grip on her wrist, but continues to smile smugly. Annabeth scowls at him for a few seconds before Percy catches her biting back a smile. "Exactly my point. Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the—?"
"Oh my god," Annabeth groans, pulling her hand out of his grasp to cover her face. "I say nonsense when I'm drunk! I wish I wouldn't have called you. It's pretty evident that I'm never living this down, no thanks to you."
Percy laughs merrily and tugs at her arms until she stops hiding her face. "Hey, come on. It's funny. I mean, totally not funny because it's 100-percent a fact, but." Annabeth scoffs and glances away. Percy's expression turns serious as he keeps his hand on her forearm. "Don't be embarrassed. We all say stupid things when we're drunk. Even Perfy." He gestures to himself with a devilish grin, making Annabeth blush wildly. "It works 'cos I'm perfect."
"You are such an insufferable ass and I regret ever keeping you from getting the nearly spoiled milk," Annabeth grumbles, crossing her arms. "I also regret ever writing that extremely nice article about you in the school paper. I take it all back."
Percy smiles at her, wiping his mouth in an attempt to keep it from being too obnoxious. "I wish you would have talked to me more then. I really regret not knowing you in high school, you know?"
"We talked at least three times a month during swim season. During junior and senior year, anyways, since I wasn't on the paper before then."
"Three times a month?" Percy frowns. "We double that now, at least. I mean, maybe even triple if those drunk dials keep coming."
"You're the worst," Annabeth tells him, without any inflection in her voice.
Percy shrugs and takes his seat again. "Tell me about your brother. Malcolm, right?"
The blond nods and opts for leaning against the table as Percy shoves his chair back and kicks his feet up. "Yeah. He's cool. A little overprotective, but he's a good brother."
"And who's he marrying? Anyone I know?"
Annabeth cocks her head to the side. "Maybe. Andrea? Park?"
Percy's brow furrows. "The ginger? Weird eyes?"
The blond is silent for a second as she wears a contemplative expression. "Yes. And now that you mention it, her eyes are a bit weird."
"Too close to her nose." He picks the paper ball up off the ground and proceeds to toss it up and down. "'S nice, though. That they're getting married."
"Honeymooning in Tahiti," Annabeth agrees, taking her phone out and tapping away at the screen.
"Tahiti," Percy says, clucking his tongue. "Isn't it… hot there?"
Annabeth neglects to glance up at him, so she misses his silent laughter. "Yeah, I guess. But they say that the ocean breezes help keep it cool enough."
"Right. So, obviously not me hot. Maybe more of an Elijah Wood? Ryan Reynolds?"
He doesn't even pretend he's not delighted when Annabeth shoves his feet off the table with a vengeance.
Percy loves Sundays, and not entirely because it's a day dedicated to catching up on his shitty reality TV. Rather, Thalia comes over one Sunday out of the month and puts her innate ability to cook to work. She usually makes the best dinner Percy's had since, well, a month, and even makes a quick dessert. If they're all up for it—and they always are—the three of them slide a movie into the DVD player and waste a few more hours of the weekend before it's Monday all over again.
Annabeth texts him one Saturday (exactly their sixth time holding to the lunch tradition, but who's counting? Definitely not Percy.), just as he's taking a quick water break, with the warning of yet another Saturday she would have to skip out early. Percy suggests they have an earlier lunch, and Annabeth answers by showing up in the pool room.
She takes it upon herself to scan through Percy's pictures as they walk to the cafe, and he sincerely hopes there's nothing too incriminating. "You still need a new phone," Annabeth mentions as they're sitting down. She slides the black device across the counter.
"I ordered it. Should be in soon, hopefully." Annabeth nods and doesn't reply, so Percy drills her about her plans for the week. She swears it's nothing new and repeats the question back to him. He's just finished rambling about an upcoming meeting with a parent when he mentions the Sunday tradition with Jason and Thalia. Annabeth's interest peaks, and she shoots off a few questions about the brother and sister. "He played golf, didn't he?"
"He did," Percy agrees. "What a posh dick."
"Hey," Annabeth warns, leveling their gazes. "Be nice. He was good, from what I remember."
"He was good by comparison. The other kids on the team were freshman who wanted lessons on how to be cool from him." The blond rolls her eyes. "I'm serious! They literally asked him to teach them how to be cool! You can ask him."
"Right, I'll make sure to mention it the next time he picks up Doritos," Annabeth says drily, swallowing down a sip of her tea. She winces, and Percy notices how often she does that. Goes in head on, taking a sip when she knows it's too hot. It's almost like she gets burned every time but always forgets the next moment she gets a cup of hot tea. "That sounds like a fun way to spend the last day of the weekend, though."
"You should come," Percy suggests, before his brain has time to tell his mouth hey there, bud, let's not say that. Annabeth blinks at him. "If you want to, that is. It'd actually be nice to not be the third wheel, for once."
She stays quiet for a prolonged few seconds until she says, "Third wheel?"
Percy smiles. "Sadly, brothers and sisters have much more to talk about than two best friends who've been seeing each other every day for more than five years. I just kind of… lounge. Actually watch the movie. You know, the normal things."
Annabeth grins briefly before avoiding his eyes. "That sounds nice," she admits, after a few seconds. "I usually just read, or something."
Percy pinches the skin just above his knee underneath the table. "You should come, Annabeth. It'll be fun. And I won't hold it against you if you fake a family emergency and leave early." She chuckles and pushes her empty plate aside, tracing streaks across the table. Percy wants to hold her hand, maybe.
"I'll feel like I'm intruding," Annabeth says finally. "I mean, it sounds like a tradition—"
"I want you there," Percy tells her. "Traditions are dumb, anyways. Plus, I've been meaning to introduce you and Jason. Formally."
She stretches her fingers out and tucks a few strands of hair behind her ear. Her body language reads apprehension, plain and simply, but Percy's promised himself not to analyze her too much. He thinks it'll ruin all the wondering that comes along with having a massively embarrassing crush. "You only have to go if you want to. Here," he says, pulling his phone out, "I'll text you my address and what have you and you can show up if you want to. I won't be offended if you don't, because I'd be wanting as much relaxation time as I could get on the weekend."
He starts typing, and Annabeth scowls at him from across the table. Percy misses the look. "Thanks," she manages.
"You're welcome," Percy answers politely, looking up from his phone and tucking it away into his pocket. "But for the record, I think it'd be fun. Almost as fun as you drunk dialing me."
"I can't wait," Annabeth says, holding a hand up, "for the day you do something twenty times worse. So much worse that you won't even have the right to tease me about that."
"Yeah, well, until then." He nods to her, one side of his mouth turning upward in a humored smirk, and Annabeth sighs in a resigned way. "It's almost twelve. You should go."
"I should," she agrees, scooping up her worn out messenger bag and tossing it over her shoulder. "Walk me out."
"Bossy." Percy means to let his irritation seep into his tone, but it sounds rather fond and pleased. Damn.
The walk to Annabeth's car is neither long nor filled with conversation. He pulls his jacket tighter around himself when the cold air finally starts getting to him. "Have fun at your bridesmaids gown fitting, I guess. Try not to laugh too hard about Andrea's weird eyes."
Annabeth snorts softly as they approach what Percy recognizes as her car. It's silver with a black line running down the side of it; a KIA, some boring, rather adultly side of his mind says, which means her car's good on gas. "It was lucky that you came early, I felt really bad about not being able to stay again. It's kind of tradition, it seems."
"Traditions are dumb anyways," Percy repeats, smiling and holding her door open for her.
"You're a lot different than you were in high school," Annabeth decides, starting up her car and rolling down the window when he shuts the door behind her. "I think we all kind of put you up on a pedestal back then. None of us realized that you were a complete dork."
"Well, you were quiet in high school," Percy replies, "you're hardly quiet now. In a good way, of course." He pauses for a second before blushing. "That sounds bad."
Annabeth laughs and buckles her seatbelt. "I take it you like loud people then?"
Percy narrows his eyes. "Hot. You called me hot," is all he says.
"And was I wrong?" she muses, starting to back out of the parking space.
He walks after her, staying by the window, as a smile slips onto his face. "Are you saying that I'm hot? Is this a sober confession?"
"Bye, Percy. See you tomorrow." Annabeth purses her lips, but he thinks her eyes are grinning just as much as she wants to. She rolls up her window and drives towards the exit, and Percy has to bite the inside of his cheek to knock himself back into reality.
He's already in his car by the time he realizes she said 'see you tomorrow'. If he sings bad pop songs all the way home, no one's there to witness it.
Sunday tops his list of 'best days ever' two minutes in.
For one, Annabeth's texted him twice; once to say 'alright loser i'll be there' and a second time to say 'anything i should bring?' Percy's torn between answering her like a sane human being and flirting with her shamelessly. He finds a happy medium, he hopes.
Percy 11:16 AM
i would say to just bring your pretty self and a smile, but sadly we really need popcorn. we're bad movie hosts, i know.
Annabeth 11:17 AM
charmer. i'm on it!
Percy stares at his phone for a few seconds, analyzing the "charmer" comment in every possible way. He sighs and leaves his phone on his pillow as he wanders into the kitchen. Jason's sprawled across the couch and scowling at his own phone—nothing new here, Percy thinks wryly. "Why are you all angry and bitter?"
"I'm not," Jason replies immediately, in an almost bored tone. "Why are you all happy and radiating sunshine? Oh, right, you have a stupid crush on Annabeth."
"She's coming tonight, by the way." Jason shoots up, leaning over the back of the couch to watch Percy in the kitchen. The green eyed man is lovingly feeding his pets, but he tosses a look over his shoulder. "Oh, now you're interested."
"Because this is a new development, unlike me being angry and you having a crush," Jason retorts. "How did this happen?"
"I invited her. She said yes. She's also buying popcorn for us."
Jason frowns. "That's not right. To make the guest pay."
"She offered!" Percy argues. "Plus, it's a casual thing. Not like a date, where the guy is supposed to pay, or whatever."
"'Or whatever,'" Jason scoffs. "My god you've been out of the dating world for too long. Your game is so weak."
"Says the one who doesn't have a pretty, blond friend coming over tonight!" Percy shouts from the kitchen.
"You already have one!" Jason yells back. "Me!"
Percy bangs his elbow on the counter as a result of his sudden laughter. "Ow," he grumbles, before speaking louder. "She has curly hair. Much better than your boring bowl cut."
"That was fourteen years ago, let it go!" Jason groans. "Everyone had a bowl cut at ten."
"I didn't," Percy points out, settling on the opposite end of the couch and stealing the remote. Jason's too busy defending his own honor to notice.
"That's because your hair was as long as all the girls' in our grade." Jason sticks his tongue out and kicks Percy's knee. "My hair is great now."
"Arrogant," the black-haired man sighs out.
"I'll just take back the shirt I bought you, then," Jason threatens, tossing his limp hair haughtily.
Percy perks up. "A shirt? A present? For me?" He makes his voice as high pitched as possible when he says the last word, making Jason snort half-heartedly.
"Yeah," the blond man says, "I bought it as a joke, but then I realized you were serious, so I hid it away. But it's still a cool shirt."
Percy raises an eyebrow. "What?"
Jason sighs, rolling his eyes. "I swear. What did I do to deserve you as a best friend? The world is conspiring against me." He's teasing, Percy knows, so he just smiles serenely as Jason stands to retrieve the shirt. Upon his re-entry, he tosses a hot pink shirt at Percy's head. "I hope you like it."
Percy gasps as he holds the shirt by its shoulders and lets it tumble to hit his knees. "You didn't."
"Shit," Jason says, his eyes wide. "You do like Kim the best, right? I thought it might be Khloe, I really should have ordered both."
Percy smiles stupidly at his new shirt that reads "I love Kim", a lipstick heart serving as the word 'love.' "You're my favorite best friend."
"I'm your only best friend," Jason reminds him, but he looks pleased. "You like it, then?"
"I won't wear it out of this house, but yeah."
"Great. I'll be expecting you to wear it tonight."
"No. Annabeth's here tonight."
"I'm aware." Jason raises an eyebrow. "I dare you to wear it."
Percy sputters. "No fair!"
"Way fair," he replies smugly. "I'm collecting the debt."
Back in high school, at a party that both boys regretted the next morning, Jason had dared Percy to kiss Nancy Bobofit. Percy had managed to beg his way out of it, but the blond boy had claimed that he'd 'get him back later'. And now was the 'later' he had mentioned.
"No," Percy groans. "Please. Anything else. In the world."
"Okay, I dare you to kiss her the second she walks in. Do us both a favor."
The guidance counselor hesitates. "I'll wear the shirt, then."
Jason sighs loudly. "Milksop."
"Coward," he explains, taking the remote back as if he just realized it was gone. "Lacking courage. Indecisive. Idiotic. Now, tell me what channel that stupid fucking show is on."
Annabeth shows up at six o'clock, holding two boxes of popcorn and wearing a hoodie. It's the most casual thing he's ever seen her wear, and Percy almost feels like frowning at how soft she looks. He wants to wrap her up in a blanket and hide her from the world, or some shit. Whatever. He's not a poet.
He pulls her in for a brief hug, unable to resist, and Annabeth returns it. He's almost forgotten about the shirt until Annabeth says, "Who's Kim?"
He hears Jason laughing all the way from his room where he's changing his clothes. Percy scowls deeply at the closed door. "A show."
"Kardashian?" Annabeth inquires, sounding shocked beyond belief.
Percy opens his mouth to reply, but Jason chooses that moment to come out of his room. "Yes, Kim Kardashian. Our friend here"—he places a hand on Percy's shoulder—"watches Keeping Up With The Kardashians religiously. Turned off football for it once. Named a fish after her, even. Nice to see you, Annabeth."
"Football's boring," Percy contends, narrowing his eyes at Jason.
"You, too, Jason. I agree about football," Annabeth allows, "but I can't say that I trust your judgment anymore. Kim?"
Percy sighs and feels his cheeks heat up. "She's cool."
"In a completely fake way." Percy frowns at Annabeth. "Not to desecrate your favorite show."
"Literally shut up," he deadpans, shoving her away from where she had been: underneath his arm.
"You shouldn't talk to your 'babe' like that," Annabeth teases, pinching Percy's arm. He jerks away and continues to leer at her, but he feels his lips twitch. "Well, I'll go put these in what I'm hoping is the kitchen right over there and when I come back I hope you'll be done frowning." She chuckles and walks away. Percy sighs after her and tries not to feel pathetic.
Jason slaps his shoulder violently. "Dude!"
"What?" Percy asks, responding in the same hushed whisper Jason's using.
"I knew you had a crush, but you didn't tell me she was into you, too!"
"She's not," Percy answers immediately, hesitating after. "Maybe. I mean, she called me hot a few times while drunk and implied it once sober, if that means anything?"
Jason pinches the bridge of his nose. "This is vital information, you idi—Hey, Annabeth! we were just gonna head into the living room? My sister Thalia will be here in a few minutes to cook."
Annabeth looks suspicious, and Percy straightens up as her gaze slides over to him. He grins and gives her a thumbs up. "Weird," she mutters. "I don't know how you two were popular, honestly."
"We're hot," Percy tells her, smirking.
Annabeth sighs, but she doesn't look all that astonished at the response. "Of course you are," she mutters, just as the doorbell rings. Jason waves them on into the living room as he lets his sister in, quickly introducing Thalia before herding her into the kitchen. Percy guesses he's either really hungry, or he's jumping on the chance to tell Thalia about Percy's crush on Annabeth. Probably the second one. Thalia laughs, and Percy thinks okay then, definitely the second one.
"That's cool, you know," Annabeth says suddenly, making Percy jump. "That you and Jason are still close after high school." He sinks down onto the couch using his arms to cover as much of his shirt as possible. The damage is down, however, because Annabeth tugs on his sleeve. "It's a great shirt, really."
"Shut up, I hate you, I hate you so much, you're literally the worst person on earth oh my god—" He cuts himself off as Annabeth laughs, which makes him start thinking the exact opposite of the words he'd been saying. Percy (quite embarrassingly) sighs happily as she leans against his shoulder the slightest bit.
By the time Thalia calls them in for dinner, Annabeth's kicked her feet up on the coffee table. She's settled into the couch like it's her second home, and Percy admires the way she slots right into his apartment like she's been there all along. He wants to kiss her. On the mouth. Then on the dumbly enchanting freckle in front of her ear.
"I made pizza," Thalia says, walking into the living room as Percy and Annabeth slowly stand up, stretching. "Homemade. Hand tossed. Et cetera."
"How in the world," Annabeth mumbles in wonder. "I wouldn't even know where to start." She pauses. "Actually, I do. I'd probably start at the phone, calling Dominoes."
Thalia smirks. "Funny, the first time I made it, Percy said something similar."
"Really?" the blond asks, glancing up at him.
"I can't remember exactly what he said," Thalia admits, "but yes."
"Hurry up, I'm hungry!" Jason yells from his place at the table. He folds his hands in front of his plate and glares at Percy until he starts walking. "Thank you."
Thalia loves Annabeth. Their slightly sarcastic, intelligent attitudes make them a good team, as Percy and Jason start to find out as they gang up on both boys. Jason huffs and rolls his eyes each time, but Percy finds himself fighting a smile. The crush is becoming quite literally crushing; Percy feels like his chest is collapsing in on him half the time.
Jason elbows him seven times throughout the course of dinner, each and every time sending him an alarmed look. Each and every time, Percy realizes he's been staring at Annabeth—an awry curl, her eyelashes, the way her hands move as she talks. Percy really likes her. Really, really likes her. He wants to quote poetry, and he hates poetry.
Choosing their seats on the couch presents a single uncomfortable moment where Percy, Jason, and Thalia realize at once that they aren't the only people there. Jason shuffles closer to his sister and gestures for Annabeth to take the spot closest to Percy. The curly-haired girl smiles fleetingly before sitting in the allotted space. Percy chokes on his drink a few moments later—eloquent as ever—when Jason makes a penis joke, and the mood lightens considerably as Annabeth half-heartedly pats his back while trying her hardest not to laugh along.
Thalia makes the decision for the four of them, picking Taken, which is a Cult Classic by her standards. Annabeth exclaims that it's one of her favorites, and Percy almost feels like screaming curse words because she's inching closer and closer to his definition of 'dream girl.'
Jason sends him an amused glance because he knows that Percy had been obsessed with Taken since the first time he'd watched it all the way through. Percy sends him a pained look as if to say 'why me!?' and Jason laughs until Thalia slaps his arm.
When Thalia pauses the movie twenty minutes in to make popcorn, Percy tries for casual as he slings his arm across the back of the couch. He thinks Annabeth rolls her eyes, but she moves a bit closer to him, so he's not complaining. "This is one of my favorite movies, too," Percy says, after a few seconds. Jason tries to cough in order to conceal his snort, but Percy blushes and shoots him a look anyways.
"It's a good movie," Annabeth agrees, pulling on her hoodie strings. Percy wants to pull on them, too. Preferably in a very cute way that leads to them kissing. He's giving himself chest pains.
"Liam Neeson is my favorite actor." Percy nods to himself, deciding to be even more selfish than he is already as he moves his hand to pull idly at the shoulder of her hoodie. Annabeth sends him a smile, and Percy gives Jason an anguished look the moment she looks away. Jason doesn't hold back his laughter this time.
"He's weird," Annabeth stage-whispers to Percy, elbowing his side.
"Don't I know it," Percy mumbles, wondering if Annabeth would be opposed to him carding his hands through her hair. He winces at his own thoughts and sighs aloud, staring at the paused screencap of a black car.
Thalia returns with popcorn a few minutes later, passing one bowl to Jason and one to Percy. Percy has to physically pull himself back from kissing Annabeth's nose when she looks embarrassed after their hands brush while they both reach for popcorn. He feels like he's in a movie. His life is a cliché. Annabeth is stupidly cute.
By the time the movie ends, Annabeth has her head leaned on Percy's shoulder, and he decides he's completely gone.
The next Saturday, Percy shows up an hour early again (so, sue me, he thinks, Annabeth is the best company I've had for years and I plan on utilizing her), and she opens the door for him this time. She hardly looks surprised, and Percy wonders if he's really that easy to read.
"Tea," he says, holding out a styrofoam cup from the cafe they visit for lunch.
"Thank you," Annabeth answers breezily, taking the drink and setting it on the table. Once again, she rolls up the paper she had been working on and props it up against the wall in the corner. Percy scowls but doesn't comment on it. "I was thinking..."
"Shocker," he deadpans, wincing at the taste of his blackened coffee. The thing is, he hates black coffee, but just the slightest bit less than he hates coffee with copious amounts of sugar and cream. Annabeth sends him a quick look—so quick that Percy isn't sure if she was smiling or frowning.
"You should go to this stupid thing with me," she breathes out, picking up her hot tea and holding it close to her chest. He wonders if she's cold; thinks that maybe he wouldn't mind warming her up on the cooler days in Michigan.
"What kind of thing?"
"Like"—Annabeth drinks her first sip of tea and visibly flinches as it burns her tongue—"a wedding, maybe."
Percy raises his eyebrows. "Why? Need a hot date?"
She rolls her eyes, and he thinks she seems a bit fond. He beams. "Something like that. More like I have a free plus-one and my whole family is not-so-subtly urging me to bring a boy. I mean, I was thinking it could be some sort of a payback for Sunday? I saved you from being third wheel, you save me from being ridiculed by my family?"
Percy hums in acknowledgement, pressing his back against the door. He tries not to smile too blissfully, but by the way Annabeth's smirks, he's guessing it didn't work as well as he hoped. "Sure," he blurts, ultimately failing in his decision to not look too eager. If he's being honest, Percy thinks he's been a bit obvious since day one. "Weddings are cool. I guess. Never really been to one, besides my mom's."
Annabeth latches onto the small bit of information. "Remarried?"
Percy nods and smiles a little. "To a guy named Paul. He's a lot better than his predecessor."
"Which was your father?"
"Oh, no, it was my first stepdad. Gabe." She hears the contempt in his voice, so she decides not to comment. "Before him was my dad, but Mom never actually married him."
"Really?" Annabeth asks, trying to keep the surprise out of her voice.
"They were more of a fling, I guess." Percy shrugs and takes a sip of his coffee. "But, I mean. They were in love. Mom wouldn't have unless she was."
The blond nods in understanding, her brow pinched the slightest bit. Percy watches her curls bounce, admiring the childish aura it gives her. He clutches his coffee in one hand and presses a hand against his chest to clear up the tightness there. (It doesn't work. Annabeth's still devastatingly cute three seconds later.) "Are you sure you're okay with going, though?"
"I wouldn't have said yes if I wasn't okay with it," he assures her, nodding firmly. Percy clears his throat and tries for nonchalant when he asks, "Are you going to wear a dress?"
Annabeth laughs and well. Percy has to trap his free hand between the door and his back to keep from reaching out and doing something stupid, like pulling on her hand until she leans close enough for him to kiss her senseless. He's gone. So gone. Incredibly, completely gone. "I would think so. It's a wedding. Do you have a suit?"
"Plenty." He does, too—as soon as he'd gotten the job at his school, his mother had paid for a couple of nice suits to wear to work. Usually he boycotts the coat and opts for button-ups and slacks, but he's glad he has an occasion to wear all three. (The suits are nice, basically, and altered to fit him perfectly. Percy likes to think that he cleans up well. He's hoping Annabeth will think so, too.) "You work tonight?"
"I might," Annabeth says, raising an eyebrow. "Why?"
"I might have to buy groceries. And I don't know where anything is, so I might need help the whole time."
"I'll tell Charlene to keep an eye out."
"Charlene?" Percy questions, scowling.
"The flexible one," Annabeth clarifies, smiling when Percy starts choking on his coffee. "I still can't believe she told you that. What did she say again? 'I'm as flexible as the spaghetti you're buying. After you cook it, I mean'?"
"Stop, stop, stop, stop," Percy groans, rubbing his forehead. "I came here an hour early to bask in your presence, not to be traumatized."
"Bask in my presence?" Annabeth smiles. "That's sweet."
"Right. Well." She laughs, and Percy can only be slightly concerned with the flutters in his stomach. They've been there for a few months, ever since he's met her, so he can't be too surprised.
"So..." Percy says, after the silence has dragged on too far for his longing. "You had fun on Sunday, right?"
Annabeth grins. "Yeah, actually. I was really nervous about it for some reason, but it was nice to be out of my apartment and not at the grocery store for once."
Percy watches her take a sip of her tea, which makes her hair fall into her face. He reaches out immediately, tucking her hair behind her ear and inwardly shouting curses about how stupid he is around her. Annabeth blushes; Percy's heart shoots up into his throat. "Uh, sorry," he tells her quietly, after a few seconds.
Annabeth gives him a calculating once-over before shrugging a shoulder. "'M not bothered by it."
"Right," Percy breathes. "Well."
She smiles into her tea, and he pushes his nails into his palm. Sexually frustrated is one thing, but Annabeth makes him romantically frustrated. He feels like he has to buy her flowers or fucking chocolates or he'll die. "Hey, Percy?"
"Do me a favor and don't wear your 'Kim' shirt to the wedding." She laughs joyously as if it's the funniest thing she's ever said, and Percy adores her. Honestly adores her and her dumb curls and pink lips and hurricane eyes and soft hands. He hates Annabeth Chase, actually. He kind of wants to press his lips against her forehead, too. He needs to call his mother. Percy tweaks his own ear to stop his frantic thoughts.
"Noted," he says, instead of what he's thinking.
He's at the wedding for thirty minutes before he even finds Annabeth.
Thankfully, he recognizes a few people from high school who graciously strike up conversation with him. He talks to Joseph—who was accidentally the reason Percy won a first place at a swim meet—and reminiscences about their time on the team. Joseph's married to a brunette girl that talks way too slowly to hold Percy's interest, so he eventually skirts away from the couple with a thin excuse.
Percy's wearing blue. After standing, shirtless, in front of his closet for a full 45 minutes, Jason took pity on him and picked out a pastel blue that somehow reminds Percy of jellybeans. He looks good, or at least Jason says so, and Annabeth's not answering his texts.
He talks to another girl he vaguely remembers as being a senior while he rode the high of his freshman year. She's funny and good company, just not the company Percy wants.
He slips outside and sighs at his phone for a few minutes before calling her. He's nervous, for whatever reason, and Percy's suddenly very aware of the way his hair is messy on the left side; he knows his shirt is slightly askew from the way Jason had pulled on it to toss him out the door. Percy is conscious of the fact that he doesn't look perfect, so conscious that he doesn't realize Annabeth's answered the phone until she says, "Why are you outside?"
He hears it twice though; layered. Percy turns with wide eyes to see Annabeth and;;-nothing.
No, literally nothing. Percy's not sure that he has the brain capacity to think when Annabeth looks that pretty in purple—lavender, whatever the fuck it is, he's not an artist. "Hi," she says effortlessly flicking a curl over her shoulder and hanging up on him. "Sorry, I didn't even notice you were texting me. It's pretty busy back there." Percy nods silently, curling his toes up in his shoes. "You alright?"
He nods again, clearing his throat and glancing away. "You sure?" Annabeth asks, amusement seeping into her tone. "You haven't gone mute on me?"
Percy takes a deep breath. "I can talk." And God fucking bless him, his voice comes out steady. He looks back to Annabeth and starts making a mental list of the pros and cons of dousing himself in gasoline and lighting himself on fire. It would be less painful than looking at a girl that he decidedly can't kiss.
"That's good," Annabeth answers, raising an eyebrow. "How long've you been here?"
Percy manages a smile. "More, now that you're here."
"Aww," Annabeth coos, taking steady steps forward and pulling him into a hug. She smells like lemons. Percy is so fucked. "That's sweet."
"Right. Well." Annabeth laughs against his chest and Percy prays to the god of crushes that she can't hear his stupidly loud heartbeat. "You look really pretty," he blurts, having to force himself to keep his hand on her back so that he doesn't slap himself. Dumb, dumb, dumb, woe, woe, woe, I need to go home right now.
Annabeth shifts her arms so that they're hooked around his neck so she can smile up at him. Percy's heart kicks into overdrive and stops beating at the same time. "Thank you." She pats his shoulder. "You clean up nice."
He huffs out a laugh, pathetically unable to look away from the freckle right next to her eye. "Thanks."
"Come on," Annabeth says, kissing his cheek brusquely and pulling on his wrist. "There's people you have to meet."
He's introduced to approximately every member of Annabeth's family, starting with her distant cousins. They bear hardly any resemblance to each other, but they're all nice people. The only feature Percy sees on every member of her family is intelligent eyes; green, brown, blue—all the colors. They all possess a sort of foreboding, all-knowing glint to them. Percy's pretty sure his eyes are still glazed over from the kiss Annabeth pressed onto his cheek.
After an hour of skirting to all corners of the room, Annabeth stops in front of a door. "Deep breath," she coaches, patting his hand in an achingly domestic manner. Percy wants to be domestic with her so bad it hurts. So bad that his heart shrivels up and gets itself back to normal size with a bicycle pump, adding a few more pumps that result in his heart bursting. "You're about to meet my mom."
Percy's eyes widen considerably. "No!"
"She's curious about you," Annabeth says, raising her chin defiantly. "Come on." She reaches for the door handle, but Percy slaps her hand away, trying for casual when he holds it gently to apologize. He thinks he fails. He knows he fails. Annabeth smiles at him with a hint of confusion. "It's just my mom."
"'It's just my mom,'" Percy mocks, rolling his eyes. "Yeah, okay."
Annabeth stays quiet for a minute before she squeezes his hand. "Oh, you're nervous."
"Am not," he denies immediately, using his unoccupied hand to adjust his collar. Annabeth rolls her eyes and bats his hand away, reaching up and fixing it for him. She leans closer, and Percy bites the inside of his cheek until he draws blood to keep himself from kissing her. His mouth feels like he swallowed a package of cotton balls.
"She's not scary. Not that much anyways," Annabeth amends, smiling at him and patting at his collar. "Come on. Please."
Percy scowls at the added 'please'. He's fairly sure it's emotional manipulation. "You kissed my cheek," he says, instead of his intended 'fine, come on, let's go'.
Annabeth raises an eyebrow, and Percy has to inhale deeply before he musters up the courage to look her in the eye. "I did." She sounds like she doesn't have a clue where he's going with it, and it suddenly occurs to him that he's making a big deal out of nothing.
"I just." Percy swallows and wonders if he's dehydrated. There's definitely no moisture in his mouth. He's dying, probably. "Okay," he breathes, nodding towards the door.
Annabeth grins and pushes down on the doorknob, leading Percy past three girls getting their hair curled. He gives himself a mental pep talk, and unsurprisingly, the voice is Jason's. Man up, stop being a bitch, fucking hold her hand you dumbass, use the dimples, be charming and stop making a twat out of yourself.
He succeeds in at least half of them, closing his eyes tightly as he slyly slips his hand into Annabeth's. She smiles over her shoulder at him, and Percy loosens up considerably. He majors in psychology. He gets people. He knows how to make people like him—everyone besides Annabeth, maybe.
She leads him to a couch shoved in the corner, presenting two women talking in comfortable tones on the couch. Percy can handle women. He knows how to smile at the right moments. He knows how to be a decent human being. "Mom," Annabeth interrupts gently, smiling apologetically at who Percy recognizes as Andrea. "This is Percy."
That's when Percy finds out where Annabeth got her eyes from. Astute grey eyes blink at him, and Percy manages a genuine smile. "Mrs. Chase, it's lovely to meet you ."
The woman raises her eyebrows. "Athena, please."
Percy nods. "Athena, then." He turns to Andrea. "'S been a while since I've seen you. Percy Jackson," he offers formally, holding a hand out.
Andrea's eyes crinkle as she shakes his head. "Freshie on Varsity," she muses. "I remember you."
"A football player?" Athena questions, glancing at Annabeth. "She didn't mention that."
"Swimmer," Percy corrects with an amiable smile. "I'm hopeless at land sports, if I'm being honest. I tend to trip over air."
Andrea and Athena laugh in unison, and Percy smiles triumphantly at Annabeth. She holds his hand a little tighter and Percy pretends that it doesn't squeeze his heart as well.
"We'll get out of your hair," Annabeth tells them, nodding her head in a vague direction as she rolls her eyes. "Malcolm requested to meet him before the ceremony."
The two girls on the couch nodded knowingly, smiling at the pair of them. He only allowed himself to be concerned when they wished him good luck.
"Good luck?" Percy whispered lowly, trying not to get too excited by the fact that she hadn't dropped his hand yet. "Why do I need good luck?"
"Malcolm's just... Protective."
"As in brotherly protective? Or calling up the US Navy protective?"
Annabeth considers that, stopping in front of a white door. "A bit of both, I think."
"Great," Percy huffs out, biting the corner of his lip. "Fun."
"Hey, you did great with my mom!" Annabeth encourages, resting her hand on the door handle. Percy eyes it warily.
"That's girls," Percy argues. "Much easier to impress." Annabeth raises her eyebrows. "Generally, I mean. Obviously you're the exception to that rule, seeing as you haven't fallen for me. Yet."
"Yet," the blond repeats, her eyebrows inching even further up her forehead.
"Yet." He injects some confidence into his expression and hopes it's at least halfway convincing. It probably isn't.
"Huh." Annabeth pushes the door open and calls out a, "Malcolm!"
"Be right there!"
As promised, a blonde boy emerges from a smaller room and swings Annabeth into a wide hug. "Hey there, kid sister."
"I'm 24," Annabeth contends, but her voice is muffled. Percy smiles fondly at the interaction. She smooths down her dress and takes a few steps back, sharply elbowing Percy's side.
"Ouch," he grumbles, glaring at her before leveling his gaze with her brother's. "I'm—"
"I know." The man, Malcolm, squares his shoulders.
"Right, then. Nice to meet you." Percy doesn't like the way Malcolm's eyes give him the urge to back into the corner. If he set out to intimidate Percy, he's succeeded.
Malcolm hums in response and squints his eyes, scrutinizing Percy. "Freshman on Varsity, huh?"
Percy nods, shrugging his shoulders. "Yeah. I guess that's how I'm remembered? Nearly everyone's mentioned it."
"It's a big deal, especially at our old high school. You know how much athletics are stressed." The blonde man waves his hand vaguely. "I trust that you have good intentions?"
"Malcolm," Annabeth warns. Percy feels hot all over when she places her palm on his shoulder blade.
"Hey, it's fine." He nods to reassure Annabeth. "I'd be the same way if I had a sister. For the record, though," Percy continues, addressing Malcolm once more, "I don't have bad intentions. She'd probably kill me if I did, anyways."
The soon-to-be-married man cracks a smile at that. "That's my little sister for you."
"Shut up, old man," Annabeth replies, rolling her eyes fondly. "Ten minutes until you're married. How you feeling?"
"Content. Small smidge nervous. Worried Dad won't be here on time." Percy watches the pair of siblings exchange a silent conversation, and he uses the moment to take in the room. There's various carts with refreshments on them staggered around the room, as well a rack that holds a suit jacket that's half-on the coat hanger.
"We'll see you when you're waiting at the altar." Percy jolts back from his thoughts and nods along, managing to convince himself that he wasn't a few casual touches (given by Annabeth) from passing out.
Percy's never been particularly fond of weddings, and mostly due to the fact that it no longer represents 'forever' and 'true love,' but rather 'maybe a few months' and 'temporary bliss.'
He'll admit that there are select couples who get married and stay together like their vows promise, but Percy thinks marriage doesn't hold the conviction that it used to. He believes in fate, he believes that some people are drawn together only to be torn apart, and he abhors the fact that this is all he can think of while wandering around the post-ceremony reception.
He swirls his champagne—he fucking hates champagne—and tries to blend in with the rest of the non-dancers. He's been stopped by two grandmothers, one middle aged man, and now: Annabeth herself.
"I would clink glasses with you," Percy says, by way of greeting, "but that would entail having to take a sip of this god awful drink."
Annabeth snorts lightly and shakes her head at him, nearly fond;;-hopefully fond. The tight curls that had held in her hair for hours are starting to fall slightly, and Percy thinks he would very much like to run his hands through her hair. He promises himself that he'll do it one day. "We should dance."
Percy frowns for a second, wondering if he was the one who said them, since that was definitely a male voice and Annabeth was smiling. At something. Right over Percy's shoulder.
Percy glanced behind him to see the guy that had courted Annabeth down the aisle. "Sorry, man, just asked the dashing lady myself. I'll pass her off to you after." Before he has a chance to reply, Percy's scooping Annabeth's glass out of her hand and sliding it onto the table. He manages a tight smile towards the mildly peeved man.
"You didn't ask me to dance," Annabeth tells him lowly, just as they step onto the dance floor.
"Annabeth, will you dance with me? Yes, Perfy, you're so hot, of course I will. Cool." He pulls her wrists up so that they rest on his shoulders and grins down at her. "Cool?"
Annabeth scoffs. "I would not have said that."
"You did," he reminds her, hugging her close rather than actually dancing with her. God, they reek of middle school couple, Percy's sure.
She shrugs, hardly bothered. Percy pulls his bottom lip into his mouth and leans further into her, bringing one hand up to card through her hair. He smiles into her hair and gives her a slow, impromptu twirl. "Why couldn't I dance with Lane?"
"Because he's stupid," Percy answers immediately, making Annabeth laugh against his shoulder. "And I'm your plus-one-date-thing."
"Plus-one-date-thing," Annabeth copies, sounding intrigued. "Do elaborate. Is this a date?"
"I don't know," Percy says, praying to whatever the hell god deals with sweaty hands that his aren't. Why the fuck do palms sweat anyways? "Is it?"
"Don't answer my question with a question."
"Don't ask questions I don't know the answer to," he retorts, meaning to sound intimidating. He sounds like a thirteen year old with a crush, which isn't a bad analogy. It's pretty much what Annabeth reduces him to, anyways.
"What if I didn't want it to be a date?" she asks, and Percy thinks his hands are probably too tight on her waist. "What would you say?"
"That's fine, I guess. Not really my choice, anyways." He clenches his jaw though, and wonders why he went into this knowing it wasn't a date, but still managed to feel a bit of a sting in the end. He's hopeless, probably. Even if it's not a date, Annabeth's arms are secured around his neck and Percy's decided that being close to her is his favorite thing. Besides reality television, maybe—though he would never admit it aloud—and he wonders if he could ever have both at the same time.
Annabeth doesn't say anything else and he doesn't really expect her to, honestly, so he just starts turning them in slow circles. He hasn't danced with someone in years, oddly enough, and he can't say that he likes it any more than he used to. The fact that he's dancing with Annabeth makes up for it, though.
"What if…" Annabeth trails off, and Percy let's his hands slide up so that he can hold the small of her back. She's not dainty or petite, necessarily, but Percy thinks that he likes it. Gives him more to hold onto, anyways; more curves for his hands to settle into easily. He likes Annabeth so much that he feels a bit drunk off it. "What if I wanted it to be a date?"
Percy laughs a bit manically and leans closer to her so that he can further his intoxication on the lemony scent in her hair. He wonders if it's out of the question to buy a pocket-sized Annabeth that he can bring everywhere with him. "I'd probably ask if I could kiss you," he admits, after letting her question hang in the air for a few seconds.
"Do what?" Percy questions, trying and failing to restrict his smile from reading complete and utter adoration. He fails. Probably. Whatever.
"Ask you what?"
"Oh my god," Annabeth says impassively. Percy laughs. "You've missed your window. Forget it."
He laughs again, withdrawing from their embrace slightly to nose at her cheek. "C'mon, now, don't be like that."
"I'm serious." She huffs indignantly, but he feels her cheek warming underneath his nuzzling. "Get away from me, actually. I don't think I want to even be—"
Percy interrupts her by pressing a sure, abrupt kiss to the corner of her mouth. "You're talking nonsense and you aren't even drunk." Fucking shit, his lips start tingling. He hates himself for letting his life become a living, breathing fairy tale. Annabeth stays quiet, so Percy clears his throat. "Right. Well. Can I kiss you?"
"You already did," she informs him, but her hands tug on his suit lapels anyways. He thinks back to the moment where he wanted to pull on her hoodie strings.
He smiles dopily at her before he leans down, so he's half-kissing her and half-shoving his obnoxious grin against her lips. Percy absently presses one of his hands against his stomach in an attempt to subdue the childish fluttering, but it refuses to go away. Annabeth's lips are softer than they look, and Percy's sure that he's been swept off his feet, though he's also sure he should be the one doing the sweeping. He manages to quell his own smile so that he can kiss her properly, and the first phrase that comes to his mind is—"Does this mean I get free groceries?"
"Oh my god!" Annabeth exclaims, scandalized, but Percy's kissing her again not a second later. She can't find it in herself to complain.
"I can't believe I'm paying 4 dollars for a gallon of milk."
"You're the one who chose to come here."
"Well," Percy says, leaning on the small, half counter between them, "that's because the customer service is outstanding."
She scoffs and rolls her eyes, but he sees the warm smile she's withholding. He can't suppress his dreamy sigh as Annabeth leans forward and presses a sweet kiss against his lips.
And, well, sue him if he adds 'IGAs' to his list of things to be thankful for.