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when the sun came up (you were looking at me)

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            (This is how it ends.)

            His hands in hers as they sit on the sofa, blankets strewn carelessly around them; their mugs of cold coffee sit on the floor, forgotten.

            Annabeth knows, as soon as she lets go of his hands, then it’s over. They’re over. This isn’t something she can solve, not like a math problem or an architectural mistake. It’s the first thing in her life that she’s known, with absolute certainty, that this is her fault, and that this isn’t something that she can fix.

            She meets his eyes and knows that she has destroyed this boy—this beautiful, beautiful boy, this boy who’s so good, who deserves so much more than her. He’s the person who has made her happier than anyone else ever has, who’s saved her in so many countless ways through the years, the only person who has ever come close to knowing her better than she knows herself.

            And she thinks that maybe he actually does, in some ways. Maybe that’s why, when she first told him, he protested so hard, for so long, with so many different reasons and excuses. She kind of hates him for it; can feel the shattered remnants of her heart protesting that she loves him too much to ever hate him, but he’s so good. He’s perfect and sweet and everything she could ever want, and she hates him for it.

            Perhaps, under all her meticulously planned reasons and excuses for why they should break up, that was it. Percy is too good for her, and she and everyone else in the world knows it.

            Everyone but him, apparently.

            They can’t be together. He makes her better, but she makes him worse. She is his weakness, his kryptonite; he loves her too much for his own good, loves her too much to realize that she’s a failure, just a human—not the infallible angel that his mind made her up to be.

            She’s doing this for his own good, letting him go free, not tied down to her any longer. Letting him live his life without having to drag her along.

            It’s the hardest thing she’s ever done, and she can feel herself breaking, but she doesn’t have a choice. This isn’t about her.

            Annabeth takes a deep, shuddering breath. “I’m sorry,” she whispers.

            Percy doesn’t meet her eyes. “Don’t,” he says.

            She lets go of his hands, and her world collapses.

//

            When she wakes up the next morning, Annabeth can feel the dried tears on her cheeks. She doesn’t know how long she cried before she fell asleep, but she knows it was far into the wee hours of the morning.

            The early morning sun shines through the curtains, falling in gentle rays onto her rumpled sheets. Annabeth doesn’t know how it’s shining, how the rest of the world continues on when everything good in her life has disappeared, when she feels so broken.

            Her phone beeps, and she rolls over, her hand groping blindly on the nightstand for her phone. Annabeth squints at the screen and sees a stream of texts from her best friend.

6:43AM

Piper: Percy told me you guys broke up?? Are you okay??

6:46AM

Piper: Annabeth, answer me

6:48AM

Piper: Are you okay? Should I come over?

6:50AM

Piper: I’m coming over

            Annabeth checks her phone: 6:56am, Saturday, May 26th, it reads in bold letters. Piper will be at her front door any minute, she knows, and Annabeth groans, flopping back onto her pillow. She should have known her best friend would be caught up in the middle of this; Piper’s boyfriend, Jason, is one of Percy’s best friends, and Piper and Percy have been friends for years.

            She closes her eyes, feeling a wave of dread overwhelm her, but a couple stubborn tears leak out anyway, tracking their way down her cheeks. She’s going to have to figure out how to navigate their friend group, how to avoid Percy, at least for a little while. Annabeth knows better than to imagine that she can avoid him forever; sooner or later she’s going to have to face him, but she can’t even begin to think about that. Not now, not when her heart still feels cracked, broken, shattered; not when the lump in her throat has reappeared, and all she can see when she closes her eyes is Percy, begging, pleading for her to stay, that they can work it out.

            Together, he had said.

            Annabeth opens her eyes, shaking her head to clear away the thoughts and images dancing in her vision. She hears the front door of her apartment open, and she pulls herself out of bed to go meet Piper.

            Annabeth sees her best friend in the kitchen, and when Piper looks up, her voice is soft, sympathetic. “Hey, ‘beth.”

            It’s a credit to how emotionally screwed up she is right now that Piper’s sad smile is all it takes to cause Annabeth to burst into tears. Piper just opens her arms and holds her tightly, sinking back onto the sofa.

            “There, there,” she murmurs, stroking Annabeth’s hair. Annabeth just sobs.

            “Are you ready to tell me what happened?” Piper asks softly after the storm has passed, after Annabeth has cried all her tears out.

            Annabeth sniffles, nodding. “Yeah,” she says, taking a deep breath.

            And so she spills it all out, every brutal detail that has built up over the last three years of their relationship—Annabeth’s insecurities, her doubts, her fears, and of course she was too stubborn to talk them out with Percy, to let him know the deepest parts of her.

            “And then—” Annabeth takes a deep breath, not meeting Piper’s eyes. “It all just fell down on me, yesterday, because Percy—” she squeezes her eyes shut. “Percy asked me to marry him.”

            Piper’s face is equal parts horrified and sympathetic. “Annabeth,” she says, soft.

            “And it’s not—obviously it’s not like I don’t love him,” she hastens to explain, not wanting to meet her friend’s eyes and see the pity in them, the pity she doesn’t deserve, doesn’t want. “Because I do. If it were up to me, I’d spend the rest of my life with him. It’s just—marriage—and we’re only twenty-two, Piper, and I feel like I’m not—I’m not good enough for him, Piper. He deserves so much more than me, so much more than having to keep me in his life.” She chokes a little on a sob, tries to hold it in. “It’s all my fault. Everything is my fault.”

            Maybe it’s now, that they’re over, that Annabeth can see how easy it really would have been. She knows Percy loved her—probably still does, even though she broke his heart—and she knows he would never have judged her, never have belittled her for the mostly irrational fears that had built up pressure in Annabeth’s mind. It had kept piling up, seemingly insignificant events that just added to the pile, until yesterday it finally caught fire—finally exploding—and Percy was caught in the crossfire.

            Or maybe he was the match. It doesn’t really matter.

            All that matters now is that she ruined what they had, broke Percy’s heart. It was for the best, she keeps telling herself, tells Piper, but Annabeth knows, deep down, that her logic can’t really be trusted right now; she’s hurting too bad to even rationalize at the moment.

            Piper, to her credit, doesn’t judge her at the end of the long recounting; doesn’t chastise Annabeth for keeping her insecurities to herself, for not telling her best friend, for not talking to Percy about everything.

            It will come later, Annabeth knows—the explanations, the painfully awkward conversations, the grief—but for now she’s just content to cry in Piper’s arms and eat an obscene amount of ice cream and chocolate.

            And so her day continues like that, crying and talking and eating and watching movies. She doesn’t have work today—thank God, Annabeth knows she wouldn’t have made it through the day without breaking down—but Piper works the night shift at the bar, so she has to leave at about eight.

            Annabeth cooks herself an entire box of macaroni and cheese before plopping back onto the couch. She makes it through another half a season of Friends before she falls asleep on the couch, wrapped in a blanket and the TV still playing quietly.

            Her last thought before she falls asleep is that it’s the first day in over three years that she hasn’t talked to Percy.

            It almost makes her start crying again, and she hates herself, hates that she was the one to break up with him and yet her heart is still broken, still crushed into a million pieces.

            If I’m doing this badly, what can Percy be feeling?

//

            The next morning, she’s woken up in her bed by her phone pinging, signaling that a stream of texts are coming through.

            Annabeth’s a bit confused; after all, she remembers falling asleep on the couch, not wanting to make the effort to get up and go to her bedroom. Then she shrugs—she probably just got up in the middle of the night and doesn’t remember. She’s about to roll over and text Percy about it—they have a running joke about how he drools in his sleep, and she knows they’d have a good laugh about her blindly getting into bed without even remembering it—before it hits her, that she can’t. They aren’t together, and it’s her fault.

            That she broke the heart of her best friend in the entire world.

            Her breathing comes shorter, and she starts to panic, the world a little frayed around the edges. The past couple days, she’s managed not to panic, to distract herself enough with movies and food and Piper to not think about it anymore than she has to, but now—

            But now she’s alone, and reality comes crashing down on her.

            She’s struggling to breathe; her throat has closed up, and whatever meager air she manages to choke in is precious little. Annabeth tries to slow her breathing, tries to calm down, but then she sees Percy in her mind’s eye again, begging, pleading for her to consider, that he loves her, that they can work through it together—and her throat closes back up.

            “Annabeth. Annabeth,” a soft, calm voice washes over her, and Annabeth opens her eyes. Piper stands in front of her, and her cool hands take hold of Annabeth’s clammy ones. “Breathe with me, okay?” she says.

            Annabeth nods frantically, hiccoughing and gasping, trying to get air into her lungs.

            “Focus on my voice,” Piper says, urgent. “Breathe with me. In, out. In, out.”

            Annabeth tries to copy her, to slow down, and gradually it works. She can finally get a deep breath, and slowly the world stops spinning.

            Piper hugs her. “Hey, it’s okay,” she soothes, stroking Annabeth’s hair.

            Annabeth pulls back, because something doesn’t feel right, and she isn’t quite sure what. “Why—why are you here?” she sniffles.

            Piper looks surprised. “Didn’t you get my texts?” She grabs Annabeth’s phone off the nightstand, and Annabeth quickly scrolls through her notifications.

6:43AM

Piper: Percy told me you guys broke up?? Are you okay??

6:46AM

Piper: Annabeth, answer me

6:48AM

Piper: Are you okay? Should I come over?

6:50AM

Piper: I’m coming over

            “Wait, what?” she whispers. “These—these are from yesterday.”

            Piper’s brow furrows. “What do you mean?” she asks. “Jason called me earlier this morning to tell me about—about you and Percy.”

            Annabeth shakes her head. “Piper, are you okay?” she asks.

            Piper spreads her hands. “I could be asking you the same thing, for more than one reason,” she snaps peevishly. “Honestly, ‘beth, this isn’t the time for jokes—”

            “I broke up with Percy two days ago,” Annabeth says, slow. “You were here most of the day yesterday. I told you everything that happened, why I broke up with him, what I’ve been feeling, how Percy asked me to marry him—”

            “He asked you to marry him?” Piper asks, her face ashen. “Why did you say no?”

            Annabeth feels another wave of panic wash over her. “Piper, what’s wrong with you?” she cries, jumping up from the bed. “I told you all this yesterday!”

            Piper looks concerned, but she schools her expression, and Annabeth hates it, because she knows Piper well enough to understand that Piper’s doesn’t believe her. “Annabeth, sit down and tell me everything that happened yesterday,” she says calmly.

            Annabeth sits down, hands trembling. “I woke up,” she recites, monotone. “I saw all your texts come through. You came over. We talked for—I don’t know, hours. You brought ice cream, and we ate it and watched movies until you had to leave for the bar. I made myself dinner, and fell asleep on the couch.”

            Piper looks more worried than Annabeth has ever seen her. “Annabeth—none of that happened. I don’t know how much you drank last night or this morning or whatever, and you don’t even seem that drunk, but—”

            “I didn’t drink anything,” Annabeth protests. She gets up and begins to pace. “I just—I need you to go. Now.”

            Piper gets up, her eyes wide and a little shiny. “Call me whenever you need to,” she says quietly before exiting.

            Annabeth huffs out a sob. Am I crazy? she wonders. Did I dream up a day that didn’t happen?

            She wracks her brain to figure out why in the world Piper wouldn’t remember yesterday, but to no avail, so instead she picks up her phone and dials Jason.

            “Hey, ‘beth.” He picks up on the first ring, greeting her in that soft, knowing tone.

            Annabeth grits her teeth—it’s infuriating. Just because her heart is shattered doesn’t mean she’s a piece of glass that could be broken any minute. “Jason, what happened yesterday?” she asks instead.

            He sounds surprised. “Annabeth, how much did you drink last night?”

            Annabeth closes her eyes and breathes in. Breathes out. “Jason, what happened yesterday?”

            She can hear him sigh heavily. “You—you broke up with Percy,” he answers finally. “He came home last night at about 2am, drunk and sobbing. I eventually got out that he had asked you to marry him, and you broke up with him. He just fell asleep about a couple hours ago.” She hears the concern in his voice. “Annabeth, what the hell happened?”

            Annabeth swallows and digs her fingernails into her palm, willing the pain to keep her grounded. “I—I’ll explain later,” she says, and hears Jason begin to protest before she hangs up and falls back onto her bed, breathing heavily.

            She dreamed up a day that didn’t happen.

            “It’s okay, you’re okay,” she tells herself, fierce. “You’re not crazy. You just had—you just had a weird dream.”

            It’s okay.

            Annabeth manages to calm herself down and begins to go through the logical options. She probably just had a weirdly specific, preemptive dream spawning from the grief and stress of the previous day. There’s nothing to freak out over. Jason and Piper are some of her and Percy’s best friends—they wouldn’t be that cruel, wouldn’t try to prank her or weird her out on today of all days.

            Just to be sure, though, she checks her phone.

            7:06am, Saturday, May 26th, it reads. She closes her eyes.

            I just had a weird dream, she tells herself firmly.

            But now she has to face reality.

            Breathe in. Breathe out.

            Like in her dream, she spends most of the day lounging around. She goes through her closet, throwing out most of the things Percy’s given her—piles of his sweatshirts, pictures of them smiling, laughing. The memories evoke tears more than once, but she holds them back valiantly.

            She devours an entire carton of cookies-and-cream ice cream while watching Pride and Prejudice, does some laundry, and makes herself ramen for dinner.

            Annabeth falls asleep on her couch again, because her room’s a mess of Percy’s things she needs to eventually return, and other stuff he’s given her over the years, and pictures, and just—everything. She can’t look at it, doesn’t want to see it.

            She wakes up in her bed, and her phone pings.

            Annabeth sits up, disoriented. Her room is clean, none of Percy’s things scattered around on the floor.

            She checks her phone, and a wave of panic washes over her.

6:43AM

Piper: Percy told me you guys broke up?? Are you okay??

6:46AM

Piper: Annabeth, answer me

6:48AM

Piper: Are you okay? Should I come over?

6:50AM

Piper: I’m coming over

            “No,” she whispers hoarsely. Then—“No,” Annabeth says again, standing up and pacing, carding her fingers through her unwashed, matted curls.

            This can’t be happening. It can’t.

            After a few minutes of trying to compose herself, trying to go through all the options of what’s happening, Annabeth hears the front door open and close softly. “Annabeth?” She hears Piper’s tentative voice in the kitchen.

            Annabeth steels herself. “I’m—I’m in here,” she calls.

            Piper sticks her head in. “Hey,” she says, soft. “How’re you doing?”

            Annabeth takes a deep breath. “Um. Not good. But not for the reason you think. Well, for the reason you think, but—there’s also something else.”

            Piper looks thoroughly confused. “I’m—sorry?”

            “This is going to sound crazy,” Annabeth rushes on, “but I have to talk to someone, okay? Just—listen to me. Please.”

            Piper’s gaze softens. “Of course, ‘beth. Is this about Percy?”

            “No,” Annabeth replies, too quickly. “I mean—maybe it is, in a way. But I’ve already talked to you about Percy. Twice.

            Her best friend wrinkles her nose. “What?”

            “That’s the thing,” Annabeth says miserably. “Pipes—I’ve lived this day three times now. I think I’m stuck in the same day, like—like a time loop, or something. I don’t know.”

            “A time loop? Like Groundhog Day?” Piper asks, a little incredulous.

            “I know it sounds crazy, I know,” Annabeth says hastily. “And honestly—maybe I am crazy. Maybe my head is totally screwed up and I’m just living in a dream over and over again, but Piper, I’m telling you, if I’m in the real world, then this is real. I’ve lived this day three times. Every morning I wake up to your texts, and then you come in, and we talk.”

            Piper looks vaguely concerned. “I’m not sure whether to start laughing or take you to a mental institution. Annabeth, are you serious?”

            “You probably won’t believe me,” Annabeth answers miserably, falling back onto the bed. “You didn’t yesterday.”

            Piper shakes her head incredulously, but she crawls onto the bed and lays her head on Annabeth’s chest. “I believe you, ‘beth.”

            Annabeth’s eyes widen as she sits up, knocking a disgruntled Piper off the bed. “You do?” she asks, hope welling up in her chest, because maybe she’s not alone anymore—

            Piper scowls, rubbing her head as she gets up onto the bed again. “Yes, of course, you dork. You’re my best friend, and I’ve know you since I was four. You wouldn’t lie about something like this.”

            Annabeth feels tears well up in her eyes, and she throws her arms around Piper, promptly knocking both of them onto the floor again. “Thank you,” she says, her voice muffled by Piper’s shirt. “Thank you so much. I just—” she pulls back. “I can’t do this by myself.”

            Piper’s gaze softens. “You don’t have to,” she promises. “Now, how about you quit knocking me off the bed, and we try to break this time loop and right the world, or whatever?”

            They spend the entire day researching, coming up with theories for why she’s stuck, and googling every rendition of “time loops” known to mankind. They even watch Groundhog Day, and try to figure out just how long Bill Murray’s character is stuck in the loop. Annabeth panics inwardly, because what if she’s stuck for years? Living with people who never change, never grow, never mature or learn from their mistakes? Living alone?

            Piper tries to reassure her, but it’s hard, it’s so hard. Annabeth tries to believe that her best friend will remember this day tomorrow now that she knows, now that Annabeth’s told her, but she knows, deep underneath, that it probably won’t happen. Until tomorrow comes—for real—Annabeth is stuck in this day. Alone.

            That night, Piper has to leave for work, and Annabeth goes to sleep on her couch again, holding onto the hope that the next day will come. That she’s going to wake up on the couch tomorrow, and other people will remember what happened the day before.

            It’s only a faint hope, but it’s all she has to go on. So she curls up on the couch, Groundhog Day still playing on the TV, and falls asleep.

            The next day, she wakes up in her bed, and her phone pings as Piper’s texts come through.

//

            She develops a sort of routine, such as it is. She wakes up to her phone beeping on the nightstand and calls Piper, telling her she needs some space. She goes for a run, takes a shower, eats breakfast.

            After a few weeks of living the same day over and over again, it starts to drive her crazy. Her routine has become mindless, tedious, and Annabeth knows she’s going to go insane—if she not already is—if she doesn’t do something different. So she does.

            She goes to Piper’s apartment in the mornings, eats breakfast with her friends Thalia and Hazel sometimes, goes bowling with a coworker. She takes an art class one day, then treats herself to lunch at the expensive sushi place she’s been wanting to go to for forever, and has never quite managed to allow herself to spend that kind of money.

            But if she wakes up with all the money back in her account, then why not take advantage of it?

            She does everything she can think of—spends time with her other friends, goes out by herself, goes shopping and spends every last cent of her paycheck, just because she can.

            It helps. It does. But she still wakes up every morning, and the ache grows worse when Piper’s texts come through, when no one remembers what she did with them the day before, when people treat her like glass.

            She heals, too. The only upside to the universe being off its hinges is that she has time to heal her broken heart. She doesn’t have to see Percy, isn’t forced to think about why she broke up with him, doesn’t have to remember the look in his eyes—the sparkling diamond ring still in his hands—as she threw away everything they had.

            Annabeth tries writing tally marks for the days, but when the next morning they aren’t even there, she gives up. Maybe it’s been months, maybe it’s only been a few weeks. She realizes that it’s impossible to keep track, impossible to know just how long she’s been stuck in the mind-numbing blankness, the sameness of it all.

            One morning, as she calls Piper to tell her not to come over, Annabeth decides, on a whim, to add, “Can I go out with you and Jason tonight for dinner? I have to talk to you both.”

            Piper sounds surprised, if a little wary. “Uh, sure,” she replies. “That Italian place on Main Street sound good?”

            Annabeth has to smile. “Yeah, you know it’s my favorite. I’ll meet you there at six, okay?”

            “Okay, ‘beth,” Piper replies, and Annabeth can hear the weary smile in her voice. “Love you. See you then.”

            Annabeth tries for a smile, but it comes out as more of a grimace. She’s glad they’re on the phone, instead of in person. “Kay. Love you too.”

            Piper hangs up, and Annabeth takes a deep breath. She misses her friends, Piper in particular; if she really wants to see her, then she can spend the day with her, but. She misses the growing, changing Piper, the one who remembers the days and teases her about awkward moments and loves her despite her faults. The Piper who remembers their conversations, who remembers what happens.

            It’s starting to drive her mad, and Annabeth forces it from her mind as she laces up her running shoes. She’s got to do something about it soon, has to switch up her routine, but. She has no idea how, and that’s what scares her.

            What if she’s going insane? What if she already is crazy, living in her mind and going through the same day over and over? What if she got into a car accident that night as she drove home from Percy’s apartment, mascara-soaked tears running in her eyes so she couldn’t see the road, and now she’s in a coma?

            There’s so many possibilities for why she’s stuck, why she’s lived the same day a hundred times, and each one is more implausible than the last. It’s useless, trying to figure it out, and she knows that, but. She has to try.

            That night, she takes a deep breath as she grabs a pretty, bright blue dress from the back of her closet and pulls her long curls into French twist. The drive to the restaurant just gives her more time to think, to panic, but she tries to push it down.

            If worst comes to the worst and Jason and Piper think she’s crazy tonight, well. At least they won’t even remember the next morning.

            “Annabeth! Over here,” she hears Piper call as she enters the formal, dimly lit restaurant. The delicious scents of a myriad of different dishes meets her nose, and she can hear classical music playing softly under the gentle din of conversing patrons. Her pumps click on the stone floor as she strides to where Jason and Piper are already seated at a table.

            “Hey, ‘beth,” Piper says gently, squeezing her hand as she sits down. Jason offers her a warm smile, and Annabeth tries to smile back.

            They make small talk until the waiter comes, all avoiding the various subjects lingering in the tension; Annabeth knows her friends are itching to ask about the breakup, and she wants to avoid that as long as possible, but. What she wants to discuss—needs to discuss—isn’t really that much easier.

            Finally, after their orders have come and Annabeth is digging into her chicken alfredo, Piper broaches the subject. “So. About you and Percy,” she begins, and Jason lets out a weary next to her.

            “Pipes, I told you we shouldn’t push her,” he chides gently.

            Piper scowls at him. “I didn’t push her. I’ve waited for like—” she checks her watch. “Almost thirty minutes, Jason.”

            Annabeth laughs nervously. “Well, I’m here, so. Ask away.”

            Piper suddenly looks a little apprehensive. “Why—why did you guys break up?” she asks.

            Annabeth twists a paper napkin in her lap until it tears into little paper pieces. “Percy… he asked me to marry him,” she says, willing her voice not to shake, and Annabeth hates herself, that it still affects her so much. She’s explained this to Piper dozens of times, so far—why does it never get any easier?

            “Annabeth, why?” Jason asks wearily, scrubbing his face with his hand.

            Screw it, Annabeth thinks, because if they’re not going to even remember tomorrow, why not tell them the truth? “Because I’m not good enough for him,” she says brusquely. “He loves me more than I love him, and it isn’t—it wasn’t healthy. To know he could do so much better than me, and that instead—instead he’s wasting his life, picking me up after I screw up, cleaning up my messes.”

            Piper squeezes her hand, fierce. “Annabeth,” she says, and there’s no judgement in her tone. “First, that’s not true. I’ve known you since we were in kindergarten, and I know that you love Percy just as much as he loves you. He was your world, Annabeth. I’ve never seen you as happy as you were after you guys’ first date. Not ever. And your relationship just spiraled from there.” Her gaze softens. “Annabeth, I just—he loved you so much. You loved him. I promise, I know a healthy relationship when I see it, and you guys—you were perfect for each other. You balanced each other out, helped each other conquer your faults, loved each other despite them.”

            Even after all the times Annabeth has talked to Piper about the breakup, her best friend has never been this honest, this raw, and Annabeth chokes a little on a sob, because—she’s right. Piper’s right, and she knows it.

            Jason takes over from there. “Annabeth, I promise that you’re good enough for him. He’s my best friend, and not once in all the years you guys were together did I feel he deserved better, that he loved you more than you did him, that he didn’t want you in his life. Honestly, ‘beth—” and here Jason’s tone turned frustrated—“did you think he would have asked you to marry him, to spend the rest of your lives together, if he didn’t think you were good for each other?”

            Annabeth wipes her eyes, as she leans back and looks away. “I know. I know, guys.”

            The couple exchanges a look, and Annabeth huffs with frustration. “But there’s nothing I can do about it now,” she reminds them. “We—we said some really awful things to each other. Me, especially. I mean…” she takes a deep breath. “I broke his heart, and I know I can’t fix this. However much I want to.”

            They nod soberly in agreement.

            Annabeth steadies her voice. “But—there’s something else I need to talk to you about.”

            Her friends snap their heads up to look at her. “What?” Piper asks, raising a perfect eyebrow.

            “This might sound crazy. I mean, it does sound crazy,” Annabeth says, all in a rush. “But I’m stuck in a time loop, and I can’t get out of it.”

            Annabeth wishes she’d thought to take a picture of their identically incredulous faces before she told them. Maybe she’ll do it tomorrow.

            “A—a time loop?” Piper asks slowly. “Like Groundhog Day?”

            Annabeth tries not to roll her eyes. She really does, but. She’s only human. “Yup,” she answers, popping the p. “And that’s the seventeenth time I’ve told you and you’ve said that.”

            Jason doesn’t say anything, just studies her with his curiously intense blue eyes.

            Piper looks worried. “Well, you’re either crazy or you’re telling the truth, so. I’m going to go with the latter.”

            Annabeth raises her eyebrows. “Well, that was easier than it was yesterday,” she remarks.

            Piper looks vaguely disconcerted.

            Jason leans forward. “What, so. Is it just this day? When does the time loop start? What have you done to try to break it?”

            “It’s just this day,” Annabeth answers, pressing her fingers to her temple. “I—I don’t really know what to do, to break it. Every morning I wake up in bed, and Piper’s texts are coming through, and everyone else in the world thinks it’s the day after I broke up with Percy.”

            “Wait, so, how long has it been since you really broke up with him? Since the time loop started?” Piper asks.

            “I don’t even know, Pipes,” Annabeth says, frustrated. “I think—well, it’s been at least a month. Maybe a couple months, maybe six. I don’t know.

            “Wow,” breathes Piper.

            “That sucks,” remarks Jason.

            Annabeth shoots him a look. “Thanks for the sympathy,” she mutters dryly. “But guys—I need to get out of it. I think I’m starting to go crazy—no. I know I’m starting to go crazy. I don’t – I don’t know if I’m just trapped in my head, or if it’s the whole world. Maybe it’s just my imagination, or maybe I’m stuck in a coma. There’s no way to know.”

            Piper pinches her leg under the table, hard.

            “Ouch!” Annabeth exclaims, scowling and rubbing the spot. “What was that for?”

            “Well, you’re definitely not dreaming,” she announces, looking pleased with herself. “And I would say you’re not in a coma, either. That leaves one option—that this is the real world.”

            “But how?” Jason wonders. “How could the world—how could time itself just stop, run in a loop?”

            “I don’t know,” Annabeth replies, dropping her head into her hands.

            “Hey,” she hears Piper say gently. “We’re going to help you break it, okay? I promise. Aren’t we, Jason?”

            “Yeah, of course,” Jason agrees immediately, and Annabeth feels a wave of gratitude for both of them.

            “Thanks,” she says, blinking back inexplicable tears.

            Jason discreetly pretends not to notice, while Piper hands her a tissue. Annabeth blows her nose loudly.

            “Now, what are some things we could do to try to break it?” Piper asks logically.

            “Well, do you know what time exactly the day restarts, ‘beth?” Jason questions.

            Annabeth wipes her eyes. “Um. Not exactly. I know that no matter where I go to sleep, I wake up in bed, like I did that first morning, so I’m guessing sometime in the night.”

            Jason looks intrigued. “So, what you need to do is stay up all night, and maybe that will break it?” he suggests tentatively.

            Annabeth considers. It’s a long shot, but even if it doesn’t work, at least she’ll know when the day restarts. “Yeah, sure, I’ll try it,” she agrees, nodding briskly.

            “Anything else?” Piper presses. “Any other details we can go on?”

            “Well, okay. So no matter where I go during the day or where I fall asleep, I always wake up in my bed—though I already told you that,” Annabeth begins. “No one ever remembers what happened the day before, either—no matter what I tell you guys, or anyone else, nothing ever sticks.” She closes her eyes, trying to remember. “It’s basically like—like the entire day didn’t happen to anyone or anything but me.”

            Piper nods. “Have you tried telling anyone but me and Jason before?”

            Annabeth nods. “I told Thalia and Hazel one morning when we went out for brunch. Hazel believed me, but Thalia was ready to check me into a mental hospital.”

            Jason laughs—Thalia’s his older sister, so he probably understands. “I’m sure she was.”

            Annabeth laughs along with him, before she freezes as a new idea comes to her. “Guys,” she says, pressing her hands to the top of the table. “What if I—what if I killed myself? Everything else goes back to normal, maybe the clock would restart, or at least, I don’t know, something like that

            Piper’s head snaps up. “What? No, Annabeth. No way. What if time continued after you killed yourself, and then the rest of us moved on but you were—you were dead?”

            Jason shakes his head emphatically. “No. Absolutely not. Not even an option, ‘beth.”

            Annabeth sighs, playing with her straw. “It was just a thought,” she says meekly.

            Piper reaches across the table and grasps Annabeth’s hands. “We love you too much to ever even think of losing you, Annabeth,” she says fiercely. “Don’t even think about it.”

            Annabeth smiles weakly. “I won’t. I promise.”

//

            After bidding Piper and Jason farewell, Annabeth heads to the grocery store and picks up a carton of energy drinks, and then stops by Starbucks to get herself a coffee with three shots of expresso. She hasn’t pulled an all-nighter since she graduated college—in fact, the last time she can remember is prepping for one of her last finals with Percy, just over a month before—but she knows she’s going to need all the help she can get.

            “Now, for something to keep me awake,” she mutters to herself when she gets home. She strips out of her dress and heels, exchanging them for some comfy black leggings and an oversized sweatshirt, before settling on the couch with a book.

            By 11pm, Annabeth thinks it’s going pretty well. She’s not that tired yet, and she hasn’t even broken into the energy drinks. This is going to be a breeze, she thinks.

            By midnight, she’s slowing down a little, but she downs a can of the energy drink and starts re-watching season seven of Doctor Who, and she can feel herself perking up.

            By 3am, Annabeth is absolutely certain that this is the worst idea she’s ever had. Her eyelids burn and prickle, and she can’t even make out the people on the screen between yawns. She nods off a couple of times, before frantically waking up and doing jumping jacks to wake herself up again.

            At 4am, Annabeth is about 99% sure that Gandalf is leaning on the wall, and she squints at it vaguely for twenty minutes before realizing it’s just her shadow. She’s pretty sure the fact that her hands are shaking violently isn’t a good sign, and she’s not positive that there’s a lion on the ceiling of her bedroom, but. Who knows, at this point.

            She takes a cold shower and then pulls on a fluffy bathrobe, teeth chattering as she puts on Hamilton and lets Non-Stop blast as loud as she dares, attempting to dance. But after six energy drinks, her legs feel a little bit like jelly, so Annabeth ends up tripping on her running shoe and falling headfirst onto the sofa, where she promptly conks out for about twenty seconds before she falls off the couch and wakes up.

            By 5am, she’s pretty sure that the three cups of coffee and seven energy drinks that she’s had are all for nothing. The clock hasn’t restarted, and she knows that she wakes up when Piper’s texts come through at about seven o’clock, which means there’s only a couple more hours left, anyway.

            She has a fleeting hope that maybe, just maybe, the day won’t restart. That the universe will go back to normal.

            Annabeth glances at the clock. It’s 5:28am, and the sun’s about to peek over the horizon, so she pulls on a pair of squeaky rain boots and tromps outside onto her tiny balcony to watch the sunrise.

            She closes her eyes, letting the cool, early-morning breeze caress her face. Annabeth’s not a morning bird, to say the least, so she rarely even sees the sunrise, but she remembers why she loves it so much, right now. The bright yellows and pinks on the horizon mix with the light teal around the edges, melding with the bright blue that chases away the inky night sky and lets in a glorious rainbow of light and colors.

            Annabeth glances at her watch. It’s 5:29 now, and she knows that any second the sun is going to make its appearance, peering through the mass of skyscrapers and bathing the city in the fresh, golden light of dawn.

            The faintest edges of the sun peek over the horizon, and Annabeth blinks.

            She wakes up in her bed, her phone buzzing as Piper’s texts come through.

            Annabeth throws it at the wall so hard it shatters.

//

            She knows she’s going crazy.

            Annabeth can’t deal with being by herself much longer. If she has to read Piper’s texts one more time, if she sees Jason’s sympathetic face, if she has to deal with friends awing in sympathy over the breakup, if she has to do anything that mimics the other hundreds of versions of this day that she’s lived, then she’s going to—she’s going to snap, and it kind of scares her.

            Annabeth thinks she’d know if it had been a year yet, but. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t know anything. Some days she screams until her throat is raw, some days she runs until her feet are bleeding and covered in blisters, some days she scrubs her face so hard that crimson scratches from her nails show up in crisscrossing stripes on her cheeks.

            And worse is that she doesn’t care. The pain keeps her mind fresh, helps her remember that not every day is the same, that she has the power to change it.

            Some days are a little worse, and some are a little better, but they’re all excruciatingly monotonous, and Annabeth just—she wants it to be over.

            Sometimes she thinks dying would be better than living in a day that she’s alone, forever. She doesn’t even age, always returns to her bed perfectly unharmed and the exact same as before every morning as Piper’s texts come through.

            She tries not to think about what she mentioned to Piper and Jason that night, so long ago, the idea that she’d had and mentioned.

            What? No, Annabeth. No way. What if time continued after you killed yourself, and then the rest of us moved on but you were—you were dead?

            No. Absolutely not. Not even an option, ‘beth.

            Piper and Jason’s words ring in her ears at night, as she tries to fall asleep, as she tries to drown out all the other voices in her head that are chanting that maybe, just maybe, it would break the loop.

            And it works, for a while. She switches up her routine a little bit, tries more new things, binges new shows because she has all the time in the world, meets new people, explores the town, but.

            She’s always alone, and she’s so, so tired of it, and one day the voices in her head rise a little louder, a little stronger, than the echoes of her friends’ words, and late one night, Annabeth snaps.

            She walks down the street, waits for a car to round the corner going too fast, and steps out in front of it before she can lose her resolve.

            It’s like everything slows down, right before it hits her; she can hear the gasps and shouts of pedestrians and other people around her, the honking of horns; it’s dark out, but the city lights are bright and look kind of like stars, and Annabeth feels the light rain misting her cheeks.

            The headlights blind her, and she closes her eyes as the car hits her head on.

            She gasps and wakes up in her bed, and her phone buzzes.

            It gets a little better, after that, now that she knows she can’t die. Annabeth realizes, on a subconscious level, that it really should make it worse, that she has absolutely no escape from the hellish nightmare she’s living, but. At least she knows for sure now, at least she isn’t still just grasping at straws, at what-if’s.

            It’s probably only a couple weeks later that she’s out shopping with Piper one morning at Target. She’s trying to convince Piper to get a sleeveless green dress that looks fantastic on her when Piper’s eyes widen, looking at something over Annabeth’s shoulder.

            Annabeth raises her eyebrows. “What’s the matter?” she asks.

            Piper shakes her head, but Annabeth knows her friend like the back of her hand, and she definitely, positively knows when Piper is lying.

            “Nothing. Nothing at all,” Piper insists, turning around. “Uh, let’s go to the dressing rooms, and I’m going to try this on. Okay? Okay. Come on, right now—”

            Annabeth rolls her eyes fondly. “Piper, you already tried it on, you dork. What’s the matter?” She turns around, trying to see what’s gotten Piper in such a weird mood, and freezes.

            Percy is standing across the aisle, looking at something, and his back is towards them, so he hasn’t noticed them yet.

            Annabeth feels her heart skip a beat, because this is the first time that she’s seen Percy since that awful night, the night that was both yesterday and so, so long ago for her. She knows that for Percy, though, they just broke up—he’s probably devastated right now, probably hates her for breaking his heart.

            She sees Percy begin to turn, and she unfreezes, whirling around, because she has to get out of there, she can’t let Percy see her, and then—

            “Annabeth?” she hears his voice, a little wobbly, behind her, and she lets out a shaky breath. She can see Piper’s face, sees that her best friend’s mouth is open and horrified, but Annabeth forces herself to breathe, because—

            Piper’s not going to remember this tomorrow. Percy’s not going to remember this tomorrow; no matter what she’s says now, it’ll be gone by the next day, erased from time itself.

            Annabeth turns around and meets his eyes. “Hey, Percy.” They lock eyes for what’s probably an awkward amount of time, but all Annabeth can think is how much she’s missed him, how much she loves—loved—him.

            He seems to drink her in the same way, face gone slack and eyes a little misty, which. It’s a little weird, because didn’t they just break up the night before for him? Didn’t he see her less than twenty-four hours ago, when she broke his heart?

            Piper unfreezes, seemingly trying to break the silence. “Percy! What are you doing here?” she asks, voice too bright and smile too wide, too happy, on her face.

            Percy seems to tear his eyes away from Annabeth, looking to Piper. “Uh, hey, Piper,” he says, slow. “I was just—” he gestures wildly. “Looking around.”

            Piper nods, looking a little confused. “Um. Okay. Sounds good. Well, Annabeth and I are going out to lunch, so. We’ll see you later!”

            Annabeth still hasn’t moved, gazing at him. It’s ridiculous, how affected she is by his presence. It’s probably been a year for her since they broke up. She’s had time to heal, had time to move on.

            “Annabeth,” Piper prompts pointedly. “Lunch?”

            Annabeth has to physically tear her eyes away from Percy, and it looks like he’s having the same problem. She can’t even think straight, with him being so close. He’s right there, and all she wants to do is run into his arms, hug him, tell him she’s sorry, but.

            Even though she knows he won’t even remember it tomorrow—no one will—it’s still too much, too hard. She can’t do that to herself, not when they’ll be back to normal—whatever normal even is, for them—tomorrow.

            “Oh. Um. Yeah,” she says, shaking her head quickly to clear her thoughts. She follows Piper to the exit, both of them forgetting their baskets of random clothes in their hurry to get out.

            As she reaches the door, Annabeth turns around, trying to catch one last glimpse of him.

            He hasn’t moved, still frozen in the aisle and watching them as they go.

            Annabeth flushes, ducking her head as she whirls around and hurries out into the bright sunshine.  

//

            The next morning, Annabeth wakes up to her phone ringing.

            She stares at it, for a second, confused and sleepy. Her phone always buzzes with Piper’s texts; it never rings. Not once, in all the versions of this day that’s she lived, has it ever rung.

            But then she comes to her senses and realizes that she should probably pick up, so. She does.

            It’s Piper, and her voice is strange, wobbly, like she’s been crying. “Annabeth.”

            Annabeth stifles a yawn. “Hey, Pipes. Is something the matter?”

            “Annabeth. It’s Percy,” Piper answers, and Annabeth’s heart skips a beat.

            “What about Percy?” she asks, trying to keep her voice steady.

            “He’s dead. He killed himself, Annabeth.”

            After hanging up with Piper, her hands are shaking so violently that she accidently drops her phone; hears it clatter, as if in slow motion, on the smooth wooden floor.

            It’s different. It’s different. It’s different.

            Annabeth reaches down, trembling, and picks up her phone, checks the time and date again. 7:01am, Saturday, May 26th.

            Just like always.

            But it’s different, and she knows it, knows that it has to mean something, something big.

            Percy has never once died, not once. She has lived this day so many times, hundreds of times, and not once has he ever killed himself. Maybe the time loop has broken, maybe—

            Annabeth is in the middle of pulling on a pair of jeans when it hits her.

            If the time loop has broken, then Percy’s dead. He’s going to stay dead, her mind whispers, and Annabeth sinks onto the bed.             For the first time since the time loop has started, Annabeth prays to whoever’s listening to please, don’t break it. Not yet. Percy can’t be dead. He can’t.

            She pulls on a sweatshirt, tosses her hair up, and gets in her car and drives, drives far faster than she should, to get to the apartment Jason and Percy share. The drive isn’t that long, even with the early morning traffic—five or ten minutes, at most—but Annabeth has never felt the seconds tick by more slowly.

            She parks in the last available guest parking spot and sprints inside, throwing open the door, and nearly throws up.

            Percy—he’s just lying there, sprawled out on the ground. On the white carpet that’s spattered with blood—his blood—and his green eyes, so vibrant, so beautiful, are staring up at the ceiling unseeing.

            Annabeth sees Jason on his knees—he must have just arrived, since Annabeth knows he has work in the mornings—his hand trembling, fingers skimming over Percy’s body. “No,” he chants hoarsely, tears streaming down his face unhindered. “No, no, no—”

            Annabeth tears her eyes away from the sickening sight and sees Piper standing in a trance a few feet behind Jason, her hand covering her mouth as she sobs silently, swaying back and forth.

            “When—when did this happen?” Annabeth croaks, coming towards her.

            Piper sobs and throws herself into Annabeth’s arms, and Annabeth just closes her eyes and holds her, knuckles turning white, because she knows what she has to do, and even if Piper’s not going to remember it, she doesn’t want to do this to her best friend.

            “Just—less than ten minutes ago,” Piper says, her voice broken, and Annabeth’s heart aches.

            She carefully avoids looking over at where Jason is still brokenly murmuring at his best friend’s body, because Percy’s lying on the ground and there’s a bullet in his brain and everything about this is wrong, so wrong, and she can’t even look at them, can’t even begin to fathom how this must feel if she didn’t have the hope that the next day would never come, that Percy would have a second chance—

            She makes the mistake of letting her eyes stray to Percy, really sees him on the ground, and then she’s bent over double, retching up whatever her stomach can produce. The bile burns her throat, and she wipes her mouth with the back of her hand.

            Piper helps her up again, wipes her mouth with the edge of her shirt.

            “Have you called the hospital or—I don’t know, the police or something—yet?” Annabeth questions hoarsely, steadying her voice.

            Piper covers her mouth with her hand, tears squeezing out of her red-rimmed eyes. “No,” she says, biting her knuckles. “No, we haven’t yet, but we need to. There are so many things we need to do, Annabeth, I can’t—” and she starts weeping again, ugly sobs tearing out of her throat.

            Annabeth holds her friend, hating herself, despising herself for what she’s about to do, but. She can’t wait, can’t survive an entire day to find out.

            “Where’s the gun?” she asks.

            Piper looks a little dazed, not really thinking as she answers, “It’s—it’s on the counter, still loaded, I think. I didn’t want to touch it, but—”

            Annabeth simply nods before she strides to the counter. “I’m sorry,” she says quietly, picking it up. “You won’t remember this, soon. I promise.” She knows it won’t help, but. It’s the truth, and it’s the only thing that keeps her from breaking right now.

            Piper looks over, Jason glances up, both of their faces contorting from grief to shock to horror as Annabeth brings the gun up to her head and closes her eyes. She hears Piper’s scream, Jason’s strangled cry; sees Piper lunge towards her in slow motion and Jason jump up, before Annabeth pulls the trigger, and the crack of the gun rings and echoes in her ears.

            Annabeth can feel herself falling, but she’s gone before she even hits the floor.

//

            The next morning, Annabeth wakes up as her phone pings with Piper’s texts coming through, and for a minute she just lays on her bed and breathes.

            The world is still screwed up, but at least she’s alive, which means—

            She rolls over and reaches for her phone, and doesn’t even hesitate as she scrolls through her recent contacts and finds Percy there, from yesterday.

            Or from years ago. It doesn’t really matter.

            Her finger hesitates, for just a second, over the call button, before Annabeth collects herself. This isn’t something that can wait, and she taps Percy’s name before she can think too much about it.

            For a heart-wrenching second, he doesn’t pick up, and Annabeth starts to panic, because what if it stuck, what if Percy is still dead—

            “Annabeth?” he answers, his voice hesitant.

            Annabeth sags with relief even as she tenses, because his voice—“Percy,” she says, a little breathless.

            “Why—why are you calling me?” Percy asks, cautious.

            Annabeth steels her nerves. This is the tipping point; his answer could change everything, or nothing. “You killed yourself yesterday,” she says, and she can hear Percy inhale sharply.

            “How do you remember that?” he asks, wonder and hope in his tone, and Annabeth sobs.

            “I’m stuck too,” she tells him, voice trembling. “I’ve been stuck for—I don’t even know how long. Probably at least a year, maybe more, living this same day over and over and over again—”

            She can tell he’s crying too, though he sounds a little more composed than she is, when he answers. “I’ve lived this day hundreds of times,” he explains, wobbly. “The loop restarts—”

            “At sunrise,” Annabeth finishes with him. “I know. It’s always exactly 5:30am, as soon as the sun begins to come over the horizon.”

            They bombard each other with questions—theories on what happened, why they’re both stuck, who they’ve told—until Percy suddenly lets out a laugh.

            “What is it?” Annabeth asks.

            “I just—I can’t believe it took us this long to figure out that there was another person stuck,” he explains. “I mean, all this time I thought I was alone, but now…”

            Annabeth nods, even though he can’t see it. “I know,” she says, and then the memories flood back from exactly why they weren’t talking.

            Percy seems to remember too, and there’s an awkward silence hanging in the air until they both speak at once.

            “Do you want to meet up somewhere?” Annabeth begins, just as he says, “How about we grab some coffee together—” and they both laugh a little together.

            Annabeth tries not to think about how long it’s been—at least, for them—since they laughed together.

            Percy clears his throat. “Yeah, that little coffee shop on the corner of—”

            “11th and 44th,” Annabeth finishes for him, and it hurts, it hurts so bad that even after all this time, they still know each other so well, can finish each other’s sentences without even trying.

            “Meet you there in an hour?” Percy asks, voice hopeful.

            She bites her lip. “Yeah, I’ll be there,” she says softly.

            “Um. Okay. Bye?” he says, and Annabeth tries not to smile at the uncertainty in his voice.

            “Bye, Percy,” she says, and hangs up.

            For a minute afterwards she just stands frozen, phone still in her hands, and closes her eyes and breathes, because she’s not alone anymore.

            Then she jumps up and gets into the shower, because her hair’s a mess and needs to be washed, and she prefers to look at least semi-presentable, if possible.

            After taking a shower, blow-drying her hair, and pulling on a pair of jean shorts and a peach-colored shirt, Annabeth laces up her white sneakers and takes a deep breath, looking in the mirror. It’s not like she should be nervous, but she is, because she hasn’t had the occasion to be nervous in so long.

            For hundreds of days, she’s known that no matter what she does, it’ll be forgotten the next day, and now—now she doesn’t have that blanket of security. Whatever she does today is going to be remembered tomorrow, by at least one person, and it’s both exhilarating and terrifying to think about.

            Annabeth strides out the door and then pauses, basking in the glorious May sunshine and the feel of the cool, fresh wind on her face. It’s been a while since she’s done this, just stopped and enjoyed the beauty of the weather, but. Maybe it’s time to change.

            Anything seems possible, now that she’s not alone.

            She takes her time, walking down the sidewalk. Since it’s Saturday, the sidewalk is crowded with tourists and locals alike, shoppers and joggers and people clogging the roads. Annabeth lets herself smile at children, wave to a stranger across the street, stop to pet a dog, and it feels incredible, because for the first time in a long time she begins to feel a sense of normality.

            By the time she makes it to the coffee shop, Annabeth’s in a better mental state than she’s been in weeks, maybe even months: relaxed and feeling a little happier, a little less hopeless.

            But as soon as she reaches for the door handle, the reality of what she’s doing hits her like a brick.

            She’s meeting her ex-boyfriend, whom she loved with all her heart and broke up with so he could have a better life without her—at a coffee shop they used to frequent often for dates, no less—so they can discuss why the universe has trapped the two of them in a never-ending time loop.

            Her life is a mess, she reflects vaguely as she pulls open the door.

            The rich, deliciously overwhelming scent of coffee hits her nose, and she breathes in appreciatively while looking around for Percy. She catches her breath when she sees him in a little corner booth; even after their call this morning, her heart still twists, remembering the lifeless, bloody form she had to endure yesterday. Annabeth remembers Jason’s haunted look, Piper’s sobs, the blood staining the carpet and the still-loaded gun on the counter, and righteous indignation fills her until she can barely breathe.

            She’s seeing red as she marches over to the booth. Percy catches sight of her and his expression perks up, although Annabeth still knows him well enough to realize that it’s tinged with nervousness too. She doesn’t stop to think about it, however, instead choosing to stride up angrily and slap him.

            “What the—Annabeth, what’s the matter?” Percy asks, scowling and rubbing the red mark her hand left on his cheek.

            “What’s the matter?” she seethes, hands on her hips. “You killed yourself yesterday!”

            His expression clouds. “Oh. That.”

            “Yes, that,” Annabeth snaps. “Do you know what it was like? To come in, to see Jason and Piper like that, to see you on the ground with a bullet in your brain and your blood on the carpet? Do you even care?

            His expression softens. “I’m sorry, Annabeth,” he says meekly. “I just—I was so sick of living in the same day. I thought that—that even being dead would be better than being stuck, by myself.”

            Annabeth lets out a long breath, suddenly reminded of her own suicide attempts. She doesn’t plan on sharing the fact that she’s killed herself twice with Percy, but—she understands, she understands so well what he was going through, what he is going through.

            What both of them are being forced to endure.

            “Yeah,” she says quietly, not meeting his eyes as she slides into the booth. “Yeah, I know what you mean. I just—seeing you like that. And what it did to Jason and Piper. It hurt, Percy.”

            Percy bites his lip. “I’m sorry,” he says. “But I honestly don’t regret it. I had to find out that I couldn’t die, that there isn’t an escape from this, somehow, and besides, if I hadn’t, then you wouldn’t have found out that I’m stuck too. We would have continued in this thing alone, and—” he ducks his head. “I don’t know how much longer I could have, without going completely crazy.”

            “Yeah,” she admits. “I’m glad that we found out. But I wish—I wish there had been some other way. I just can’t—” she squeezes her eyes shut. “I can’t get that picture out of my head, Percy. Even though I know you’re alive, you’re fine, I still. I still keep thinking of it.”

            Percy nods sympathetically. “I know. Well, I don’t know, but like. I understand.”

            Annabeth takes a deep breath and shakes her head to clear her thoughts. She knows they’re both purposely not discussing what had happened between them; what had happened the night before this nightmare started. It’s going to come up eventually, she knows, but. She’s rather put it off as long as possible.

            “So,” Annabeth begins. She folds her hands on the table and leans forward, business-like. “What do you know about the time loop?”

            Within the next few weeks of May 26th, Annabeth and Percy explore every possible option to why they’re stuck, and how to fix it.

            The day after their first meeting, they share what happens every morning to the other; Annabeth tells him her morning routine, how she wakes up in her bed and Piper’s texts come through, how she has to call her best friend and tell her not to come over.

            “At least you get to sleep in until almost seven,” Percy says, stirring his latte grumpily. “Jason has to leave for work at six, so I’m woken up every morning at about 5:45am when he showers. Right after the time loop restarts.”

            Annabeth wrinkles her nose. “Ugh, that sucks.”

            Percy laughs at her. “Yeah, you never have been much of a morning person.”

            Annabeth points at him, trying to stop the grin that finds its way onto her face. “You take that back, Percy Jackson. I just—I am an intelligent human being, and I treasure every bit of sleep I can get.”

            Percy snorts into his cup. “Yeah, like that time, when I made you breakfast and you—” he cuts off abruptly, coughing into his fist.

            Annabeth sobers a little bit, remembering the mornings Percy would wake her up with coffee and laugh at her morning moodiness, when he’d make her breakfast before she left for her internship at the architectural firm she used to work at.

            Well, the architectural firm she does work at, if tomorrow ever comes.

            They both sit in a slightly awkward silence until he leans forward, gesturing wildly in a heart-wrenchingly familiar way. “Can we just—we’re adults, Annabeth. We were in a relationship, and now we’re not, and we’re might—we’re definitely going to bring up sore subjects occasionally. Can we just agree to move on?”

            Annabeth swallows and nods, swirling the now-cold tea around in her mug. “Yeah. Yeah, that sounds—that sounds good.”

            He nods, looking a little relieved, and they both take a sip of their drinks.

            “So we—can we also agree that we’re not—honestly, we’re not even really friends, either?” Annabeth ventures. “I mean. No offense or anything, but we’re in this out of necessity and necessity only, because the universe just happened to go wacky on the day we split up, and now we’re the only ones stuck.”

            She thinks she imagines the spark of—what, disappointment? Hurt?—that flashes across his face, especially when he nods quickly, agreeably. “Yes, of course.”

            Annabeth nods and takes another sip of her tea. “Okay, so the very first day. What did you do after Jason woke you up?”

//

            “I think our only idea now is to wait out the loop together,” Percy proclaims a few weeks later, as they’re walking down the busy sidewalk to Percy’s apartment. The sky has a few scattered clouds, and Annabeth knows that it’ll be raining lightly in a few hours. Always does.

            The beginnings of the sunset, though, are beautiful, and she ignores Percy and takes a moment to appreciate it, before turning back to him. “I’m sorry, what were you saying?”

            He rolls his eyes at her inattentiveness. “I said, we’ve tried everything we can think of to break the loop. And I know you hate not getting that beauty sleep, but. Our last option is to wait out the loop, see if maybe both of us waiting together will break it.”

            Annabeth scowls, kicking a loose piece of gravel. “Fine,” she says irritably. “But you have to get me coffee. Lots of coffee.”

            He shrugs. “We could just wake up at like, 5am, and then wait until the sunrise?

            She shakes her head tiredly. “No, I guess if we’re going to do this, might as well do it all the way and have no doubts.”

            Percy nods in agreement. Annabeth glances up. They’ve reached the apartment he and Jason share, and she shudders involuntarily at the thought of the last time she was inside it.

            Percy seems to notice, and his face softens. He’s about to say something when Jason opens the door to the lobby, his pale cheeks flushed.

            “Percy! You didn’t answer my texts. We’re out of milk, I was about to head to the grocery store to…” He trails off, his expression clouding. “Wait, Annabeth? What are you doing here? Didn’t you guys…?” Jason gestures wildly, his glasses sliding down his nose. “Uh. Break up last night?”

            Annabeth lets out a sigh. Yet another downside to being stuck in the day after she broke up with her boyfriend is that their friends are always shocked to see them together. And it’s not like they remember, the next day, but still. It’s annoying.

            Percy smiles weakly at his roommate. “I’ll be there in a minute, Jase,” he promises.

            Jason frowns at the both of them, like they’re two irresponsible kids that he has to worry about all the time, which. Annabeth’s not really denying it. “Okay,” he says slowly. “I’ll just wait for you inside, ‘kay?”

            Percy nods hastily. “I’ll be at your place about eight, okay?” he says to Annabeth.

            She nods, shifting on her feet. “We’re going to need something to do,” she says, eyebrows lifting.

            Percy grins at her. “Lord of the Rings marathon?” he suggests.

            Annabeth ducks her head, smiling. “You know me too well,” she says, teasing, and then freezes when she thinks of what she said.

            You knew me better than anyone else in the world.

            Percy, however, doesn’t seem to pick up on her reminder of the past; he just beams cheerily at her over his shoulder as he takes the steps two at a time, and then he trips on the last stair, like the huge dork that he is.

            Annabeth snorts as he picks himself up. “Wow, that was smooth, Percy,” she says, heartrate back to normal, now that she knows he didn’t notice on how her hands are shaking a little, how her knuckles are white and her fingernails are making crescent-shaped dents in her palm.

            He rolls his eyes at her with a grin and disappears inside the lobby, and Annabeth walks home alone.

            “I come bearing gifts,” Percy announces as Annabeth opens the door.

            Annabeth raises her eyebrows. “I can see that, actually.”

            She watches with veiled amusement as Percy waddles into her apartment, his arms full of an assortment of things. He gets to her kitchen table and carefully sets the items down, one by one; he has two large cups of coffee, a couple bags of microwaveable popcorn, a package of energy drinks, and a large assortment of boxed movie candies. Annabeth can see Mike-and-Ikes, Starbursts, Sour Patch Kids, Red Vines, and even more she can’t identify because the boxes have spilled all over her table.

            Percy looks up at her proudly, dimples showing as he beams brightly, gesturing to the ridiculous spread. Annabeth absentmindedly thinks of a cat, trying to impress its owner with a freshly-caught mouse. “Like it?”

            Annabeth opens her mouth to laugh, to say something witty, even as she feels a surge of affection for him rise up in her chest. It feels—just for a moment—like it used to, all those months ago: teasing grins and effortless laughter traded out easily, without a second thought. But as soon as she remembers, as soon as she has that thought, Annabeth smothers it just as quickly as it arose.

            We’re not even really friends, right? Her own words from a few weeks before echo in her ears.

            Annabeth nods stiffly, turning away too quickly to see Percy’s bright, hopeful expression fall. She faces the wall and busies herself with grabbing a big, brightly-colored bowl for the popcorn out of the cabinet, pulls out another, smaller one for the candy.

            Percy clears his throat behind her. “I, uh. I got you Jelly-Bellies,” she hears him say, his voice soft.

            Annabeth’s hands freeze in the middle of tearing open a box of candy, and she feels inexplicable tears burn the back of her eyelids. She closes her eyes, draws in a long breath, feels her hands quivering, because—

            Because Jelly-Bellies are her favorite, and Percy remembered.

            She doesn’t turn around. “Thank you.”

            If Percy hears how her voice is a little shaky, he doesn’t comment; instead, he just silently hands her the package of candy.

            “Fly, you fools!” Percy mimics, waving a Red Vine at the screen threateningly.

            Annabeth chokes on her popcorn. “Okay, Gandalf.”

            Percy shoots her a look. “I would be a great Gandalf, thank you very much,” he insists.

            Annabeth raises her eyebrows. “Yeah, I can see the whole long-white-beard thing really, really not working for you, Percy.”

            Percy pouts. “Whatever. Honestly, I always thought Gandalf was kind of an idiot. I mean, if he basically has the eagles at his disposal, then why didn’t they just ride the eagles to Mordor instead of all that walking and canoeing and what-not?”

            Annabeth takes another bite of popcorn, eyes locked on the screen where the fellowship was now mourning the loss of Gandalf. “No, that would never have worked, Percy. Think logically. The eagles were these hugely powerful beings that, for the most part, stayed out of Middle Earth’s affairs. Sure, they helped sometimes in the really big battles—like the Battle of Five Armies, for instance, or the final battle against Sauron, but like. They sometimes helped out Gandalf, if he really needed it, for a short amount of time, but they would never have carried nine people to Mordor.”

            Percy sighs moodily, shoving candy into his mouth. “I was just thinking—

            “Did it give you a headache?” Annabeth asks innocently.

            He scowls at her. “Rude. Anyway, if they helped out Gandalf on a whim in The Hobbit, why wouldn’t they help the Fellowship? Also, you said nine people. It was two men, four hobbits, an elf, and a dwarf. Get your facts straight.”

            Annabeth decides that some arguments can’t be won, so because she’s mature, she throws a piece of popcorn at him.

            Annabeth checks the time on her phone in between yawns. It’s past 5am, and they’re currently watching The Return of the King, where Frodo is getting wrapped with spider web by Shelob. Probably it’s not the best thing to be watching after one has been awake all night, but. It does the job of keeping them awake, so Annabeth can’t really complain.

            On the other side of the couch, Percy’s eyes are glued to the screen. Annabeth herself is purposely looking down; spiders freak her out, and she doesn’t particularly need to dream about one the size of a house biting her and then wrapping her up in webbing. It’s bad enough to kill one the size of a penny in her kitchen; she can’t imagine facing anything bigger than that.

            After Sam valiantly rushes in and saves Frodo from Shelob, only to lose his best friend again to the Orcs—which means the scene with the grotesquely huge spider is done—Annabeth hesitantly uncovers her eyes.

            She looks over to see that Percy is watching her intently. “Still afraid of spiders?” he asks, voice a little raspy.

            Annabeth nods.

            He looks like he’s about to say something, but then she checks her phone again. “It’s almost sunrise,” she says, pausing the movie and getting up from her chair. “Do you want to go outside?”

            Percy nods and grabs a blanket. Together, they tiptoe out onto her tiny balcony. Annabeth remembers, so many months ago, watching the world ready itself for the sun; she remembers how sometimes, she used to go jogging in the early mornings with Percy and they would watch the sunrise together.

            She shakes her head, clearing her thoughts as they sit down together on the cold cement floor, watching the sky and the city round them.

            Annabeth sneaks a glance at Percy. The early morning light has washed his face golden, and his bloodshot green eyes look large and glassy as they wait for the sunrise to begin.

            He looks over at her, and she drops her eyes.

            Silently, Annabeth takes out her phone and glances at the time. 5:29am.

            Only a few more seconds, and then they’ll know.

            Annabeth glances over again, sees Percy gazing at her. “What?” she asks, fixing her own gaze on the horizon.

            He’s about to say something, she knows, but just then the faintest edges of the sun peek over, and Annabeth blinks.

            She wakes up in her bed, her phone pinging, and she doesn’t even bother sitting up.

//

            “I’m bored,” Percy announces as they walk down the busy sidewalk a few days later.

            “Guess what? I am too,” Annabeth answers grumpily.

            “Well, we have to do something,” Percy insists, spreading his hands.

            Annabeth raises her eyebrows. “Like what?” she asks, stopping to wiggle her fingers at a child passing them on the sidewalk.

            “Like—” he gestures wildly, the early afternoon sun gleaming on his dark hair. “I don’t know. Something.

            “Well, that’s super specific,” Annabeth snarks.

            Next to her, Percy snorts as he walks, kicking a little rock with his scuffed sneaker. “Like you have any better ideas—”

            “Over there,” Annabeth points, matter-of-fact. “It’s a little ice cream truck.”

            Percy quirks an eyebrow. “Yeah. So?”

            “Let’s go and buy every single thing in it,” Annabeth says, lowering her voice conspiratorially. “And then eat ice cream until we’re both sick.”

            Percy beams at her. “Sounds like a plan.”

            So they do. The man running the little truck looks flabbergasted when they tell him they want everything he has, but after he gets over his initial shock, he hurries to comply. They’re soon loaded down with grocery bags chock full of ice cream, popsicles, and literally every other frozen snack known to mankind, which cost the both of them a grand total of over a thousand dollars.

            Annabeth doesn’t mind. They’ll have all the money back again by tomorrow, so. Why not?

            They’re on the outskirts of Central Park, so Annabeth finds a bench and they proceed to dump every single bag out on the ground and start eating. They get some strange looks from other people enjoying the park, but. It’s okay.

            “I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun,” Percy declares, his mouth tinged blue with the Popsicle he’s eating.

            Annabeth closes her eyes as she licks a dripping cone. “Me neither,” she admits. The bright sunshine warming her face and hair, the sweet, cold cream on her tongue, the fact that she has someone now who can remember what happens—it all adds up to be a pretty perfect day.

            Percy glances at her, a twinkle in his eye. “I bet I can eat more than you can,” he says, wiggling his eyebrows.

            Annabeth grins. “You’re on.”

            The two of them eat ice cream on the bench until they have to drag themselves back to Annabeth’s apartment, hands and mouths sticky and stomachs aching. Annabeth’s pretty sure she never wants to look at ice cream again, but.

            It was still perfect.

//

            It’s like the dam has broken, after that. They still aren’t friends, per say—Annabeth is pretty sure that if they weren’t stuck together, they would probably have never said more than a couple more words to each other the rest of their lives, if they could help it—but since they are stuck, well. They don’t really have a choice.

            Plus, it’s fun. They do everything they can think of together, just random thing to help pass the time. Sometimes it’s just little things, like going out for coffee, or exploring the city; other times, they do something big.

            Like today, for instance.

            “Okay, I’ll be over there in about thirty minutes,” Annabeth promises, holding the phone between her ear and her shoulder as she rolls out of bed.

            “See you then,” Percy replies, and then he hangs up. Annabeth tosses her phone on the bed and throws her bathrobe on the chair, because Percy had had an admittedly brilliant idea.

            “Let’s see how far we can drive before the day restarts,” he’d suggested over the phone as soon as Annabeth woke up, and she’d agreed.

            Which is why she is now hurriedly showering—she is so not going to be ready in thirty minutes, who is she kidding—and drying her hair. She paints her toenails, does some light makeup, throws on some comfy clothes, and then runs by the local grocery store on the corner to get some snacks. The cashier eyes her a little oddly as she checks out—she has twenty bags of Twizzlers, because they’re Percy’s favorite, and at least that many packs of Jelly-Bellies, plus all the other things she’s grabbed—but Annabeth doesn’t care, for obvious reasons.

            Percy calls her for the third time as she pulls up to his and Jason’s apartment building. She picks up, even though she’s close enough to see his irritable expression as he taps his foot impatiently against the pavement.

            “I said I would be there in five minutes, stop calling me every half hour,” she quips dryly.

            She can see him roll his eyes, unaware that she’s only about ten feet away. “Annabeth, come on. We’re burning daylight, here.”

            “First,” she says, checking her watch, “It’s like, 8:45am. We’re not burning anything at this ungodly hour of the morning. Second, I’m literally stuck in traffic like ten feet away from you. Look to your left, you idiot.”

            Percy’s expression goes from grumpy to delighted, and he grabs a stuffed-looking bag from beside him and lopes down the sidewalk. He jumps in the passenger seat, and Annabeth heaves a sigh of relief as she gets out of the crowded lane and merges into the faster one.

            “What’s in the bag?” she asks, not even bothering with greetings.

            “Good morning to you, too,” he grumps as he fastens his seatbelt, because he’s secretly a grandpa. Annabeth remembers that about him, all at once, and she’s torn between being endeared and disgusted with herself for letting the memories of their relationship slip through the cracks of the barrier she’s put up in her mind.

            She settles by pasting an unamused expression on her face and hoping Percy won’t notice the slight trembling of her hands. “I already said good morning to you. On the phone. Like an hour ago.”

            “And herein lies the problem,” Percy says, scowling and tapping his fingers on the handle of his seat. “You were supposed to be here thirty minutes ago, Annabeth. Thirty!”

            She shrugs, not really sorry. “Sorry,” she offers. “Traffic was horrible?”

            Percy rolls his eyes at her. “Right. And your hair is wet because…”

            “Because I’m a human being who happens to like being clean. It’s called hygiene, Percy. Have you ever heard of it? Oh wait, probably not, because your hair is a disgrace to humanity.” She tries not to grin at his outraged face. “Anyway, back to my original question. What’s in the bag?”

            “Well, as I was trying to explain, someone took a long time to get here, so I had time to run by the corner store and grab some snacks for us,” Percy said, raising his eyebrows proudly. “Look—I got you Jelly-Bellies, and I got myself some…”

            “Twizzlers,” Annabeth finishes for him, sighing. “I got us some snacks too.” Without taking her eyes from the road, she reaches down and grabs the stuff grocery bag by her feet.

            Percy lets out a heavy sigh as he pulls out the packages of junk food. “Between the two of us, we have about forty packages of Twizzlers. Why did you even get so many?”

            “Says the person with just as many in your bag,” Annabeth says peevishly, weaving her way through traffic. “You can’t talk.”

            Percy opens a package and chews on a string of licorice moodily. “Whatever.” Then his expression brightens. “I guess we’ll just have to eat everything.”

            Annabeth grins, grabbing a few strings of chewy, sugary goodness herself, ignoring his strangled squeal of protest. “I guess so.”

            “So where are we going, exactly?” Percy asks, a few hours later. They’re taking turns driving—switching off at every gas stop—and currently Annabeth’s in the passenger seat, scrolling through the playlists on her phone, because someone’s being a grump and shooting down every suggestion of music that she’s offered so far.

            “I don’t know,” she shrugs. “Hey, what about Coldplay?

            Percy scoffs, eyes on the road. “You know I hate literally every single song Coldplay has ever released.”

            Annabeth does know, in fact; that’s why she asked. She taps the screen, and the music fills the car. “When she was just a girl, she expected the world…” she sings along, bobbing her head in time to the beat.

            Percy scowls at her, reaching over to turn the music down. “You never answered my question.”

            Annabeth shrugs. “I told you, I don’t know. Wherever you want, I guess.”

            “Nah, let’s make it completely random,” he decides.

            “So like, every time we come to a turn, we roll a dice?” Annabeth suggests. “So how about one is left, and six is right, and whichever number is closer that’s the road we choose.”

            “Why do you have to make it so complicated?” Percy complains. “I was thinking just, rock, paper, scissors every time we pass a new exit.”

            Annabeth nods, leaning back in her seat. “That works too.”

            A beat passes, then Percy glances over. “You know we’re going to get ridiculously lost, right?”

            Annabeth grins. “That’s the plan.”

//

            By late afternoon, Percy’s prediction is completely true.

            They are ridiculously lost.

            “Well, it’s 5pm,” Annabeth remarks as they get out of the car. “That means we’ve been driving for about eight hours, right? I have no idea what state we’re even in.” Both of them are notoriously bad with directions; Annabeth thinks they might have been going vaguely west from the city, but honestly she doesn’t really have a clue.

            Percy groans and stretches, and Annabeth looks away from the strip of tan skin that appears under the fitted grey t-shirt he’s wearing. “I guess so,” he says, yawning. They’ve stopped at a tiny little Wendy’s, one of the only fast-food places in the tiny town they’re in. It’s quite literally the middle of nowhere; Annabeth’s pretty sure this town probably only got internet, like, a year ago at most. She wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve walked onto the set of one of those B-rated horror movies, where there’s a serial killer living in a tiny little cabin on the edge of town.

            “You ready?” she asks, turning to Percy, who’s thankfully stopped stretching.

            “Yep,” he answers, popping the p. Annabeth’s heart aches, just a little; it’s a habit he picked up from her, and apparently he never let it go. “Burger or chicken sandwich?”

            “Chicken sandwich,” she decides. “With extra mayonnaise. And a root beer.”

            “Okay,” he agrees, easy, and Annabeth looks up at him.

            “What are you having?” she asks as he holds the door open for her.

            “I’ll have a burger, I think,” he answers. “Wow, this place is a dump.”

            Annabeth kind of has to agree. The floor looks like it hasn’t been washed in years, and the lights are doing that weird buzzing, flickering thing, like they could go out any second. There’s only a few dirty tables set up, and one of them is taken by an older man, who glares at them suspiciously over his incredibly large potbelly.

            “Can I help you?” a bored-looking employee asks, drumming her fingers on the counter.

            “Uh, yeah, I’d like a chicken sandwich, a burger, two fries, a root beer…what do you want, Percy, a coke?” He nods. “Okay, a coke, and…” she hesitates, just a little. “Two vanilla Frosties,” she finishes.

            She can feel Percy’s gaze on her, but she stubbornly ignores it as she heads to the counter and grabs two cups, beginning to fill up their sodas.

            It’s not until they’ve sat down at the other dingy little table with their food that Percy mentions it. “Remember our…”

            Annabeth nods tersely. “First date?” she finishes. Like she could forget—they had gone to a little Wendy’s in New York, and they had gotten vanilla Frosties with fries, and Annabeth had tried to convince him to dip his fries in his milkshake. He had adamantly refused, until she had finally gotten him to try it, and after that, it had become his favorite thing in the world.

            (“I’m always right,” Annabeth had said, beaming as she watched him shove a French fry dripping with ice cream into his mouth.

            “Should’ve known that,” Percy had answered with a grin, bopping her nose with his free hand and getting vanilla milkshake on it.)

            “Every time I go to Wendy’s, I just… I always think of you,” he remarks suddenly, as though reading her thoughts. There’s an expression on his face—it’s almost fond, the smile; reminiscing, maybe.

            She jabs her finger into the table accidently as she tries to unwrap her straw.

            They eat in silence, and then Percy stands up. “Ready to get going again?” he asks.

            Annabeth still has her milkshake, fries, and most of her root beer, but she can finish those in the car. “Sure,” she replies, easy. “Let me run to the bathroom, ‘kay?”

            They meet back at the car, and after getting gas, Annabeth slips into the driver’s seat. “I’ll take a turn for a while,” she offers quietly.

            He nods, setting his milkshake next to hers in the cupholder.

            As she starts the car, Annabeth sees him, out of the corner of her eye, dip a French fry into his milkshake and pop it into his mouth.

//

            “I’m dead,” Annabeth groans.

            “I’m more dead. Deader. Is deader a word?” Percy yawns.

            Annabeth tries to stifle a yawn with her hand, but it comes out anyway. “I dunno,” she answers, blinking rapidly. “Google it.”

            “Can’t, busy,” Percy replies, eyes on the road as he merges into another lane.

            Annabeth glances at her watch. It’s almost 5am—twelve hours since they stopped for dinner—and Percy’s driving, but she’s trying to stay awake with him.

            The only problem is that they’re both utterly exhausted, and Annabeth can feel her eyes drooping every time she blinks.

            “Look, we’re almost to St. Louis!” Percy crows, pointing at a sign. Annabeth guiltily jerks her head up to look, and Percy shakes his finger at her. “Staying up, remember?” he reminds her.

            Annabeth rolls her eyes, but it takes effort, and she nearly dozes off again. “Right. Also, when did we get to Missouri? I thought we were in, like, North Carolina or something.”

            Percy shrugs. “You know me and directions,” he says. “We’ve just been picking exits and roads randomly. Also, what time is it?” he asks.

            “Uh… 5:04am,” Annabeth replies drowsily.

            “I bet we can make it to St. Louis by 5:30,” Percy says.

            Annabeth sits up, the gears in her head whirring. “No, but like—this is still New York time, right? EST. St. Louis is in Central Time.”

            Percy stares at her blankly. “So?”

            “So, technically we have another hour until 5:30, when the sun rises in New York. I mean, I guess that the sun still rises at the same time, but like. If the loop resets at 5:30am no matter what time zone we’re in, then we have another hour and a half, since it’s actually 4:05am right now in Missouri,” Annabeth supplies eagerly.

            Percy continues to gaze at her blankly. “I’m not sure whether I’m just too tired to understand you, or just, you know. Not going to understand because you’re smarter than I am, but I have literally no idea what you’re saying. However, I know that you’re probably right, so.”

            Annabeth shrugs, leaning back in her seat and crossing her arms. “I’m always right, remember?”

            He turns to her with a soft smile. “Yeah,” he says. “I remember.”

            They end up making it to St. Louis at exactly 5:24am, and Annabeth gazes up at the tall buildings in the light of the city wonderingly. It isn’t like she’s unused to skyscrapers and such—how could she be, living in New York City itself—but going to new places always amazes her, always rouses a childish excitement deep inside her, an enthusiasm that most of the time she doesn’t even realize is there.

            They don’t make it far into the city, though. Annabeth’s just about to check her phone for directions when she sees that it’s 5:29am EST, and she blinks, and wakes up in her bed.

            For once, though, she just rolls over and smiles.

            (“You were wrong,” Percy gloats later that day when he comes over to her apartment. “Alert the press, Annabeth Chase was wrong for the first time in her life.”

            “Shut up, Percy.”)

            “So. What do you want to do today?” she asks, who-knows-how-long later.

            It feels like they’ve done everything there is to do. At this point, neither of them can even come up with any more solutions to try to break the time loop, so they just make the most of the time they have by doing everything and anything the two of them can come up with.

            Percy doesn’t even look up from the piece of toast he’s eating; the crumbs fall on her kitchen table, and his eyes are glazed over. Annabeth knows that both of them go through ups and downs; honestly, she knows the only reason they haven’t gone completely mental yet is because of each other. They have good days—well, not good, but better—and bad days, and on the bad days they usually just leave the other alone, give them some space.

            Today is a bad day, and Annabeth is tired of doing nothing.

            “Come on, put on your shoes,” she says briskly, grabbing her keys from the rack by the door. “We’re going out.”

            Percy’s head snaps up, and his gaze is confused.

            “Shoes. Now,” she orders, and Percy scrambles from the table and pulls on his sneakers over the fuzzy reindeer socks he’s wearing. Annabeth sees them and feels her heart pang, just a little; she got them for him two Christmas’s ago, and he had worn them for a week straight without taking them off.

            Annabeth bites her lip and shakes the memory from her mind.

            She leads the way to her car and, in silence, they get in and slam the doors. Annabeth starts the engine and drives carefully out of the parking garage, squinting in the bright morning sunlight. She fumbles her hand above the rearview mirror, before cursing herself as she remembers leaving her sunglasses inside.

            “Where are we going?” Percy asks as she pulls onto the crowded street, his voice dull, but Annabeth still feels a little bit of relief, because it’s the first time he’s spoken all day, and it’s better than nothing.

            “You’ll see,” she says, keeping her voice light.

            They drive in relative silence for a little bit more, aside from the sounds of a bustling city—dogs barking, people yelling, horns honking, sirens blaring—and then Percy speaks again.

            “How long do you think it’s been?” he asks.

            Annabeth glances over at him; he’s staring out the window, and she can’t see his face, but. She hears what he doesn’t say, and it hangs in the air like a curtain.

            Since we found each other. Since you called me. Since I killed myself and left you to deal with the aftermath.

            “Six months—a year, maybe?” she offers, keeping her eyes on the road. “I don’t know, Percy. Not for sure.”

            “What if we’re dead?” he asks, and Annabeth snaps her head to look at him. He’s finally meeting her eyes, unwavering, and she blinks. “What if you died, and you’re in some kind of hallucination and included me in it? What if I’m dead, and the same thing is happening to me?” he continues.

            Annabeth shakes her head, feels tears gather in the corner of her eyes. “No, Percy. No. That can’t—it can’t be true.”

            “How do we know, ‘beth?” Percy asks, his dulled gaze returning to the window. “Maybe we’re both dead, and this is some of screwed-up afterlife.”

            “I refuse to believe that,” Annabeth says, her voice cracking. “We are alive, and real, and we’re not just—Percy, no matter how weird this is, we’re alive.

            He doesn’t answer, still staring out the window.

            Annabeth forces herself to focus on driving; traffic is always brutal in the heart of the city, but especially now. Annabeth knows it’s only going to get worse as the time gets closer to the lunch hour.

            They drive for about thirty minutes in silence, Percy still staring out the window, Annabeth with her knuckles white on the steering wheel, until she pulls into their destination.

            Percy looks up, and for the first time that day, a spark of interest enters his eyes. “New York Aquarium?” he reads the large welcome sign, and then glances over at her, his eyes soft. “Annabeth—”

            She busies herself with turning off the car and stuffing her phone and keys into her bag. “I just—you had mentioned that you wanted to go there, years ago,” she tries to explain, not meeting his eyes. “And we never went, and we have all the time in the world now, so—”

            Her rambling is cut off by the feeling of Percy squeezing her hand. It’s quick—just a light touch—but she blinks owlishly at him as he pulls away, her hand still burning where he touched it.

            His voice is rough, soft. “Thank you, ‘beth.”

            Annabeth swallows. “Of course.”

            They walk up the sidewalk to the large welcome building, melding with the other streams of tourists until they’re squished inside the dark, cool building. Children play games with each other as they wait, parents chat, babies squeal. There are hardly any other people their own age, but Percy doesn’t seem to even notice. Annabeth notes with relief that the spark is back in his eyes, and he’s bouncing on his heels with excitement like a little kid.

            When they finally reach the admission booth, Annabeth sends a quick smile and passes over her wallet. “Tickets for two, please.”

            The lady smiles at them pleasantly, going over rules, and then hands them their tickets. “Have a great day, and thank you for visiting the New York Aquarium!”

            Annabeth looks back at Percy, and together they weave through the packed crowd of excited youngsters and overwhelmed parents, before finally reaching the exit doors that lead to the outside aquarium.

            “You ready?” Annabeth asks teasingly.

            Percy bounces on his toes, a childish excitement lighting his face. “Let’s go!”

            Annabeth laughs at his antics. “You sure?

            He sends her an exasperated look before pushing open the doors.

            Sunlight hits them like a brick, and Annabeth blinks, again wishing she had remembered her sunglasses. Percy turns around, spinning on slow circles as he takes it in. Annabeth pulls out her phone and takes a short video of him, his face alight in awe; she’s not going to have it tomorrow, but she can appreciate it while she can.

            They stop by the huge pools that house the dolphins first, and Annabeth laughs out loud when a dolphin swims up, and he and Percy have a very serious conversation through the thick glass.

            A sweaty employee comes up to them. “Would you guys like to stay for a dolphin show? It’ll start in about fifteen minutes,” the guy asks, fanning his face in the hot sun.

            “Perce, you want to?” Annabeth asks him, raising an eyebrow as she already knows what his answer will be.

            “Do you even have to ask?” Percy says, grinning. Together, they climb onto the bleachers that are already packed with families coming to see the dolphins.

            And so their day continues; the hours slip by uncounted as the two of them see everything there is to see at the aquarium, and then Percy insists on seeing all his favorite creatures (read: literally everything) again.

            About lunchtime, Annabeth wipes her face with the edge of her shirt. “Should I get you two a room?” she asks dryly, nodding to where Percy is having a stare down with a sea lion.

            He turns to her and sticks out his tongue. “Leo here was just saying—”

            “You named the sea lion?” Annabeth asks dryly.

            Percy scowls. “That’s his name! It’s on the sign, Annabeth!” He gestures to the little informational sign to the side of the pool.

            Annabeth rolls her eyes. “Wow, how could I have missed that,” she quips.

            The sarcasm, apparently, is lost on Percy. He just sticks out his tongue at her again and waves to the sea lion, who looks vaguely disinterested as it swims away. “Bye, Leo!” he calls over his shoulder, before loping off toward the exit. “Come on, ‘beth! I’m hungry!”

            Annabeth sighs. “Coming, coming,” she calls, shoving her phone into her purse and following Percy to the car.

            As they get in, the stifling-hot air blasting them as they open the doors, Percy reaches across the console and grasps her hand; firmly this time, compared to the light touch of earlier. “Really, Annabeth,” he says softly. “Thanks. I—I had a great time.”

            She smiles at him. “You’re welcome, Percy. I had fun, too.”

            He lets go of her hand, buckling his seatbelt, and Annabeth can breathe again. “Where are we going for lunch?”

            “I don’t know, where do you want to go?” she asks, starting the car and neglecting to buckle her seatbelt as they roll towards the exit of the huge parking lot. She cranes her neck, trying to see if it’s clear to pull into the street; the sun is in her eyes, and she’s not really paying attention as she pulls out of the exit.

            Percy shrugs, a little grin still on his face from their field trip. “How about you choose? What’s that place you like, the sushi one—?”

            His words are cut off with the shattering of glass, the squeal of tires on the pavement, and Annabeth’s whole world turns upside down.

            The car rolls in slow motion; Annabeth sees the car that hit them roll off to the side of the road, and other cars screeching as they try to stop and avoid the accident. She feels herself sling forward and hit the glass windshield; it shatters, too, and then the world is on fire.

            Annabeth lays sprawled on the burning pavement; everything is awash in pain, and sirens scream in her ears, and all she can think is Percy, Percy, Percy.

            Is Percy okay?

            And then he’s leaning over her, eyes wild and blood streaming from a cut on his forehead. He’s grabbing her hand, but she can’t feel it; he touches her cheek, and Annabeth feels that, and then she also feels something hot and wet and sticky covering her face, and she realizes it’s blood.

            She tries to speak; Percy’s face is blurry now, but she can hear him, through the buzzing in her ears, say, “Don’t move, ‘beth, don’t try to talk, the ambulance is almost here—” his voice is frantic, desperate, as he turns around, and she hears him scream we need a medic, over here, over here—

            Her sight is fuzzy now, and she blinks, trying to see, but she can’t, and it scares her. Black closes in on the edges of her vision, and Percy’s stroking her forehead; his face is twisted with ugly sobs wrenching out, pouring out, and there’s a roaring in her ears but Annabeth can still just barely hear him—“try to hold on, ‘beth, try to hold on, don’t close your eyes—” but she’s so, so tired, and everything’s on fire, and she can’t help it.

            Her eyes slide shut, and the roaring in her ears gets louder, and the last thing she sees is Percy crying.

//

            The next morning she’s woken up by muffled shouting, and there’s someone banging on her door.

            Annabeth groans as she rolls out of bed and pads to the kitchen; she checks her phone, just to be sure: 6:27am, Saturday, May 26th. Just like normal.

            She unlocks the door blearily.

            Percy bursts in, and then freezes and stares at her for a second, before barreling forward and wrapping her in a tight hug.

            She hugs him back, a little bewildered. “Percy?” she asks, her voice rough with sleep and her mind a little fuzzy. “What—what are you doing here?”

            “You’re alive,” he breathes, pulling back and drinking her in like a starving man. “Annabeth, you’re alive.

            “Of course I’m alive, you idiot,” she says, laughing a little and leading him to the kitchen table. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

            He surveys her. “Annabeth… do you remember anything from yesterday?”

            Annabeth thinks back, moving around the kitchen briskly as she gets out two mugs and starts the coffeemaker. “You, uh. You were having a rough day, so we went to the aquarium, and we left to go get lunch, and then—” the memories flood back all at once, and she drops one of the mugs, hardly even perceiving as it shatters on the countertop. “And then I died,” she whispers, staring into nothing. A shard of glass pierces her hand, but she doesn’t even notice.

            “You died,” Percy confirms simply, taking a step toward her.

            Annabeth is shaking, her hands trembling like a leaf. “Percy, I died—” and again, he folds her into his arms. Annabeth lets herself cry, still shaking, and Percy just holds her, murmuring comforts in her ear as she sobs.

            The rational part of her mind tries to reason; she’s did twice before—why is this death affecting her so badly? Maybe it’s because before, she had chosen to kill herself, and in the accident—

            She finally pulls back, wiping her eyes. Percy’s shirt is a mess, but he doesn’t even seem to notice, his eyes soft as he gazes at her. “Are you okay?” he asks, gentle.

            Annabeth sniffles as Percy carefully helps her sit down on the bar stool at the table. “Yeah,” she says, a little shaky still. “Thanks.”

            In silence, Percy cleans up the glass on the floor and counter, and then makes the coffee. Annabeth just sits, still shaking, still trying to reason, but some things can’t be reasoned with, and she knows that, she does, but.

            “What—what exactly happened?” she asks after Percy hands her a steaming cup of coffee, four sugars and two creams, just how she likes it.

            Percy takes a sip of his own coffee, cupping his hands around the mug. “You pulled out of the parking lot and onto the street, but a car was coming too fast, and you didn’t see it…”

            “The sun was in my eyes,” Annabeth whispers, remembering. “I’d forgotten my sunglasses.”

            “It hit us from the driver’s side, and you weren’t wearing your seatbelt,” Percy continues. “You flew out of the car, through the windshield, and it broke your neck. You—” he shudders, turning away. “You were a mess, Annabeth. Just blood and bones and—and I don’t even want to think about it, about you dying in my arms—”

            He breaks down into rough, ragged sobs, and Annabeth’s heart breaks a little bit, knowing exactly what he’s going through. She remembers finding him on the floor of Jason’s apartment, of his blood on the white carpet, of bile in her mouth and red in her vision.

            But she doesn’t say it; she thinks he knows. Instead, she sets down her mug and covers his hand on the table with her own. “I know, Percy,” she says, soft. “I know.”

            They make it through the day, somehow; for hours, they sit at the table in silence, sipping their cold coffee, basking in the fact that the universe is screwed up, but they’re both alive, and that’s what matters.

            Eventually, Annabeth speaks. “I’m sorry, Percy.”

            He glances up, and his green eyes are bloodshot. “’S not your fault, ‘beth,” he says, automatic, and Annabeth winces, hating herself for what she’s about to say, hating herself for what she’s about to do to both of them.

            “Not—not for yesterday,” she says. “I’m sorry because—” She takes a deep breath. “Because it’s the third time I’ve died.”

            He gazes at her, face blank, until Annabeth breaks. “Say something,” she begs, feeling hot tears gather in her eyes. “Dammit, Percy, just—”

            “What am I supposed to say, Annabeth?” he asks, and Annabeth recoils at the harshness, the bitterness in his voice. “That it’s okay? That you’ve died in this fucking time loop before, and you—you never even thought to fucking tell me?”

            Annabeth flinches at the harsh swear words, because Percy never swears like that—he always said it reminds him of his abusive stepfather, said he never would, and now—

            And now he looks broken, absolutely shattered, and Annabeth knows she needs to explain, needs to tell him why, but he won’t listen.

            “Percy, let me explain,” she begs, tears streaming, but he’s getting up from the table, setting his mug down, turning away from her. “Percy, please—

            “I—I need. Some time. Alone,” he says, not meeting her eyes, his face like a brick wall of masked emotion, but his eyes are swirling with hurt and grief and betrayal, and Annabeth hates herself, hates herself for breaking him like this, for keeping something like this from him for so long—

            “Don’t—don’t come find me, tomorrow. In fact—” he pulls on his coat, hand on the doorknob. “I can’t—I can’t be with you at all, I think. Not now.”

            “Percy,” she cries, standing up. “Percy, wait—

            But the door slams, and he’s gone.

//

            It’s only been a little over twenty-four hours when Annabeth realizes how much she needs Percy.

            Trying to live the days like she had before they had found out they were both trapped is maddening. She goes through the motions—she spends a day with Piper, goes out with some other friends from college, tries to do anything and everything to make her forget Percy’s face when she told him.

            But after two days, when Piper doesn’t remember what they did the day before, when her friends hesitantly inquire about the breakup, Annabeth snaps. She goes back to her apartment, climbs into bed, and stays there for hours—maybe days, who knows.

            She didn’t realize how much having someone with her, having someone who remembered what happens helped, how much she needs that constant reassurance that she isn’t alone.

            Annabeth wonders how she had even been able to stand it, before they found each other. How she didn’t go completely crazy, living every day like the one before.

            She sits up in bed, hair stuck to the side of her face, makeup from the night before (or years before, really; does it matter anymore?) smeared onto her tear-crusted eyes. Methodically, she gets up—picks up the lamp from the nightstand, throws it at the wall. Jerks out the cords of the TV, drops it on the floor. Hurls bowls and plates onto the counter, finding pleasure in the way the glass seems to shatter in slow motion, catching the light and sparkling as they explode into the air, shards raining down on her skin. Annabeth stares at the blood running down her arms in morbid fascination; catches a drop of blood on her fingertip, watches it glisten in the light.

            She remembers stepping in front of the car, all those months ago; remembers picking up the gun—still warm from Percy’s touch—and squeezing the trigger.

            Annabeth glances towards her balcony; thinks how easy it would be to jump off, to just end it all.

            I just want it to be over.

            But she can’t, really. There’s no escape; only for a moment after death, and then she’s going to wake up in her bed, and Piper’s texts will come through and the sun will shine through the curtains and the city will awake, as though nothing is wrong.

            That’s what got you into this mess to begin with, remember?

            Trembling, she presses her palms against the counter. Shards of glass pierce the skin, adding to the blood flowing down her arms, crusting on her fingernails, but she doesn’t even notice. Annabeth sobs, guttural, wrenching; sees the salty droplets mix with the ruby drops of blood pearling from her bare skin.

            After she’s cried all her tears out, Annabeth looks up, blinking away the last of her tears; her apartment is trashed, broken glass covering every square inch of floor, the walls dented from where she’s thrown things at them.

            She collapses into her bed, the only thing in the living space that isn’t covered with glass, and falls asleep, and the last thing she sees before she falls asleep is her blood, staining the pearly white sheets and turning them bright crimson.

//

            When she wakes up the next morning, her phone pinging as Piper’s texts come through, she tries to remember how long it’s been since she last saw Percy; probably a week or so, by herself, living the same day over and over and over.

            Shaking, she remembers trashing her apartment the day before, remembers how close she was to giving up again. The sun shines through her curtains, and Annabeth blinks, looking out onto a city of people, all living the same day hundreds, thousands of times without knowing it.

            She stands up, pads to the window, and opens it, closing her eyes and basking in the warm, early morning sun; she feels the cool breeze on her face, and tears slip down her cheeks unheeded. Unlike the hurricane from the day before, these tears are cleansing, like a spring storm washing away all the dirty snow and ice from winter. Annabeth breathes deeply, lets herself just focus on the air in her lungs and the wind on her face and the sounds of life outside.

            She goes for a walk in her pajamas, pulling her fuzzy bathrobe tighter around her bare shoulders against the morning chill as she pads down the sidewalk in her slippers. She cries, and breathes, and listens as she walks; listens to the sound of people driving, people walking, people talking, people living their everyday lives.

            She opens her eyes, watches how the sun climbs higher in the sky as the light breeze tosses her hair around her face, and Annabeth smiles.

            Afterwards, she takes a shower, focuses on the feeling of the hot water on her skin, the steam in the air; she washes her hair, watches the bubbles flow down the drain. She gets out, feels the towel gently dry her skin, pulls on her bathrobe, lights a candle.

            Annabeth hums a little, as she makes herself breakfast; she eats it on the balcony, sipping coffee and drinking in the sounds of life. And she lets herself remember.

            All this time—all throughout the months, years, that she’s lived in the time loop, she’s been forcing memories from her mind. Annabeth doesn’t know why, exactly; mostly because she didn’t want to deal with them, didn’t want to think about when the world wasn’t screwed up, when she wasn’t screwed up and left to deal with everything by herself.

            But now, she leans back and closes her eyes and lets the memories flood her mind, like opening a dam.

            She lets herself remember.

            Annabeth remembers what it was like to live a day, and everyone else in the world lived it with her; she remembers growing up with Piper, and eventually becoming good friends with Jason in high school, and listening to Piper whine about her crush on him. She remembers meeting Jason’s best friend, Percy, and their scheming to get Piper and Jason dating; she remembers applying to colleges, sitting around the kitchen table with the other three and laughing at nothing for hours, just spending time with her best friends in the world and not worrying about the future.

            She remembers starting college, remembers late nights of doing homework with Percy at little diners, of them studying together, going out for a spontaneous celebration dinner when Percy got good grades on his midterms; remembers comforting him when he failed an important test and had to retake a class because of it. She remembers realizing that, after over five years of knowing him, she was in love with Percy Jackson; remembers him asking her out and his voice cracking with nervousness, remembers kissing him and laughing against his lips and going out on their first date.

            She remembers how the two of them would go out for dinner constantly with Piper and Jason, the four of them laughing over shared memories and inside jokes. She remembers the all-nighters she would pull, helping Percy study for his exams, and him doing the same for her; remembers graduation, the feeling of exhilaration that we’re done, we’re done, we’re done, and Piper saying solemnly, the four of them huddled in a group after the ceremony, This is a whole new era of our lives, guys—and all of them whooping joyously, uncaring of who saw.

            She lets herself remember the night that Percy proposed, only a few weeks after they graduated; remembers the things she said to him, holding back tears and insecurities and worries. She remembers her breaking up with him, giving him back the beautiful diamond ring, seeing the light and love fade from his eyes until they were drowned out in tears and grief and confusion.

            And finally, she lets herself remember every day of Saturday, May 26th, that she’s lived so far; remembers trying to make sense of it, in the beginning; of trying to explain to Piper and Jason—so many times—and sometimes they believed her, sometimes they didn’t; she remembers finally snapping, finally stepping out in front of that car and hoping against hope that it would break the loop, until it didn’t. She remembers running into Percy at Target, and that awful, awful day with his sprawled body on the ground, blood on the carpet and gun on the counter, remembers shooting herself in the head because she was a coward, because she didn’t want to have to deal with the aftermath of Percy’s death, because she needed to know if he was stuck too.

            And Annabeth realizes just how selfish that had been; she realizes what could have happened if the loop hadn’t reset, if both of them had been dead and Piper and Jason, their best friends in the world, had to live with that forever. She realizes that she had been using the time loop as some sort of screwed-up gift, realized that suicide had become her escape. She had used it just to reset the day, realizes that she had killed herself just so she wouldn’t have to wait and see if Percy was alive. And then she didn’t even tell him, tell the man she had loved, the only person who would truly understand, that she had killed herself twice.

            She realizes that has always been her problem: Percy is everything she has in the world, and Annabeth had never really let him in. She had always covered up things, always buried secrets and insecurities and worries deep within herself, never expressing them. Percy had done everything he could, had loved her even when she couldn’t love herself, worshipped her, flaws and all, and she hadn’t even been brave enough to talk to him.

            She hadn’t been brave enough to talk to him during their relationship about her insecurities, her worries, her fears, and because of that, it had been broken. They had been broken.

            And now, she hadn’t been brave enough to tell him about what she had done, what she had experienced; even after all she’d done to him, all the pain she had caused him, Percy had still cared about her, and she hadn’t even been able to talk to him.

            Annabeth opens her eyes and cries. She cries for herself, and for Percy, and for everything she had done, and everything she had said, and everything she hadn’t. There is so much, so much she doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to fix, not completely, but.

            She’s going to try.

//

            It doesn’t take long to drive to Percy and Jason’s apartment—five, ten minutes at most—but it’s plenty long enough for Annabeth to start completely overthinking her decision.

            What if he doesn’t want to see her? What if he’s doing just fine on his own? What if she’s gone too far this time, and he won’t forgive her?

            She steels herself as the elevator music plays, the floors whizzing upward. Percy’s apartment is on the 22nd floor of the building, so she has a few extra seconds to compose herself before the doors slide open.

            She walks down the hall of doorways, getting closer and closer to Percy’s.

            She raises her hand to knock. Her hand is shaking.

            Before her knuckles even touch the door, it opens, and Percy’s in front of her.

            For a charged second, they just stand frozen and stare at each other. Percy’s a mess—bags under bloodshot eyes, dead on his feet and looking at her like she’s the sun—but she can’t really be looking much better, honestly.

            Then she lurches forward gracelessly into his arms. He moves at the same time, and soon his face is buried in her shoulder and they’re both sobbing, sinking onto the ground and still holding each other. Annabeth imagines what a sight they must be for anyone walking by, but she doesn’t have it in herself to care.

            Percy smells like chlorine and vanilla, and Annabeth tugs him closer. It should be weird—it should be awkward and painful and messy, but it’s not. She knows they’ll have to talk later, that they have a lot to work through, especially her, but. For now she’s just content to hold him and pretend the universe isn’t screwed up, that everything is okay.

            Finally, Percy pulls back; both their cheeks are wet, and Annabeth sniffles a little. “I’m so sorry—” Percy begins, before she interrupts him.

            “No, I’m sorry, Percy.” She swallows. “I—there’s so much I need to tell you. To say to you. And first and foremost is that I’m sorry.”

            Percy nods, eyelashes wet. “It was both our faults, Annabeth. We share the blame equally, okay?”

            She shakes her head. “No. No, Percy, this one’s on me. But first—” She gestures to where they’re sitting on the floor in the doorway, limbs tangled up in each other, and they laugh together.

            “Come in. Couch?” Percy offers, offering a hand to help her up. She accepts, and together they stumble inside and close the door.

            “It, um. It smells good in here,” Annabeth offers, looking around.

            Percy looks sheepish. “Stress baking. I’ve made about eighty cookies, so far. Jason’s probably going to kill me when he gets home. Want one?” They make their way to the cramped little kitchen, and Annabeth snorts. There are four trays piled high with blue chocolate-chip cookies, and it’s so typical Percy that she almost cries.

            “These are great,” she says, hopping up on the counter and taking a large bite.

            Percy laughs a little, rubbing the back of his neck. There’s pink on his cheeks, contrasting with the bright aqua of the cookie he surveys critically. “Yeah, well. You know how my mom made sure I knew how to cook, but baking has always been my favorite.”

            Annabeth knows that—her cooking abilities extend to boiling the water for boxed mac-and-cheese, and that’s about it. When they were dating Percy usually cooked for the both of them, and she mostly just watched him and offered a running commentary.

            After she finishes her cookie and Percy bustles around the kitchen pouring them glasses of milk, he gestures awkwardly to the couch.

            Annabeth sits down and sips her milk, pointedly not looking at the carpet. It’s perfectly white, not discolored at all, but she can still remember the blood staining it, can remember exactly where Percy had lain, sprawled out with his eyes unseeing, and she can’t—it’s hard, it’s so hard to get the picture out of her head.

            Percy sits down next to her and takes her hand, squeezing it. Again, Annabeth knows it should be awkward or weird, but it’s not—it comes completely naturally, like there’s not a universe where Percy wouldn’t be taking her hand.

            “So, I guess we should talk,” he says, soft.

            Annabeth presses her lips together, nodding. “Can you—can you just let me say all that I need to tell you, before you say anything?” she asks.

            He nods, and his eyes are soft, and Annabeth has planned this out in her mind so many countless times, but looking at him now, it’s so hard to get the words out.

            “I—I’m sorry for not telling you,” she begins, twisting her hands together in her lap. “And because of that, I’m going to start at the beginning.”

            And so she does. She pours out everything she has never told him, dating back to when they were high schoolers growing up together in a world much too harsh for their unfailing innocence, teenagers just beginning to realize that adulthood was around the corner. She tells him about her insecurities, her worries when they were together; haltingly, she tells him why she broke up with him—“You were too good for me, Percy. You still are. The world doesn’t deserve you, and I wanted to—to set you free. To not let you be burdened down by me any longer.”

            Percy’s eyes are shiny, and he’s still holding her hand. “Annabeth—”

            “You said you wouldn’t interrupt,” Annabeth reminds him, laughing a little through her tears.

            She continues, telling him about finding out about the time loop the day after they broke up; how finally she snapped, and stepped in front of a speeding car one night. Percy winces at that, and Annabeth knows he’s picturing their wreck, picturing her all blood and broken bones in his arms, and she squeezes his hand.

            She tells him about the day Piper called, instead of texted, to tell her about his death; tells him about feeling waves of different emotions coursing through her, and then reaching his apartment and seeing him on the carpet and his brains on the rug, and Percy holds her as she cries, relating about how she took the same gun, and killed herself with it.

            “And then I called you, the next morning, and—well, you know the rest,” she sniffles finally, after finishing. Percy’s arm is still around her, still holding her tightly, and she rests against it.

            He’s quiet, for a minute; then he says, slow, “I forgive you.”

            Annabeth’s head snaps up. “What?”

            “I forgive you,” he repeats, slowly, stubbornly. “For not talking to me, for not telling me everything that could have saved our relationship. It’s not your fault, ‘beth, and you have to stop blaming yourself. I mean, maybe—maybe it was inevitable, you know?” He leans toward her. “There’s no way to know what would have happened, but all I know is that we’re here, together, and talking, and—well, better late than never, right?”

            Annabeth huffs out a laugh through her tears. “Yeah, guess so.”

            “So… maybe let’s start over,” Percy suggests. “Before we ever started dating, you were my best friend, Annabeth. And now we’re stuck together, and I know—I know you said, before, that we weren’t even friends, but—”

            “But we are,” Annabeth interrupts. “We are friends, and I want to try again with you, Percy. Not romantically, I mean—I don’t think that could happen, after everything that’s happened, but—as friends.”

            He nods, fiddling with his now-empty glass of milk, and there’s a smile on his face. “Yeah, I’d like to try, too.”

//

            So they do.

            They spend just about every waking moment together anyway, but one night a few weeks after their fight Percy invites her over to his apartment, telling her over the phone that I’m going to teach you how to cook if it’s the last thing I do, Annabeth—and she just laughs, flopping backwards onto her bed as she holds the phone to her ear.

            “You know I’m a completely lost cause in the kitchen, right?” she reminds him. “You’ve tried this before. It didn’t work then, I can pretty much guarantee that it won’t work now.”

            “We quite literally have all the time in the world,” he says stubbornly. “You’re going to cook if it kills me.”

            She just rolls her eyes fondly. “I’ll be over in ten, okay?”

            When she gets to his apartment, she runs into Jason, who’s just going out the door. He looks befuddled at her sudden appearance, and Annabeth just rolls her eyes.

            “Annabeth, what are you—”

            “Relax, Percy and I are friends and he invited me over and that’s all you need to know, okay?” She brushes past him, and smirks a little at his gaping expression before he just shakes his head and leaves. She feels a little bad about treating him like that—Jason, one of her best friends—but this isn’t her Jason, the Jason who remembers all the hundreds of days before this, who knows what’s happened with Annabeth and Percy and the time loop and just—everything.

            She misses him; misses him, and Piper, and all her other friends, and her family—she hasn’t even thought about her family in ages, but. She misses all of them. But she doesn’t really have a choice, doesn’t really get to have a say in being able to see her friends, to see her parents and younger brothers who live across the country in California.

            She brushes the thoughts away; some things are better left ignored.

            Percy’s at the stove with his back to her, stirring a pot of—well, she isn’t sure what it is, but it smells good. “Honey, I’m home,” she announces, dropping her backpack on the counter and sauntering over to peer over his shoulder. “Mmm, that smells good. Whatcha making?”

            Percy turns to her, wearing a kiss the cook! apron and brandishing a wooden spoon stained with sauce. “What you’re making, you mean,” he crows. “We’re starting with something easy: homemade spaghetti, because you love when I make it.”

            Annabeth blanches. “Exactly. I love it when you make it. We’re going to starve if I make it.”

            He sighs, long-suffering, and turns back to the stove. “It’s not that hard, Annabeth. Here, look. I’m just browning the ground beef right now, and while it’s cooking, we can start on the actual sauce.”

            “Joy,” Annabeth mutters, pulling off her sweatshirt, which leaves her in an old, stained tank top. “What do we do first?”

//

            “Turn it off! Turn it off!” Annabeth screeches, dancing around and holding her ears.

            Percy, juggling a broom, valiantly tries to turn off the angrily-screaming smoke alarm while still holding his own ears. It takes a few times of him hitting the ceiling wildly with the broom and pressing the wrong button—which causes the alarm to begin shrieking even louder—for him to get it, but eventually it turns off with a final scream, leaving Annabeth and Percy staring at each other in stunned silence.

            The kitchen is a mess. Tomato sauce is everywhere, thanks to a mishap with the mixer; there’s specks of it covering Annabeth’s blond curls, tied in a lopsided knot on the top of her head, and Percy has a dollop hanging from his nose. The smell of burned meat hangs in the air, mixed in with the smoke swirling around the ceiling. Flour covers the counter, and Annabeth’s not entirely positive that there’s ground beef on the ceiling, but. Who knows, at this point.

            “I think you’re cursed,” Percy announces finally, still looking a little shell-shocked. “I’m never taking you into a kitchen ever again. Ever.

            Annabeth shrugs, shaking her head vigorously. A cloud of flour descends into the air, and she chokes on the dust, waving her hand to clear the air. “I warned you.”

            Percy sighs, gesturing helplessly to the destroyed kitchen. “Takeout?” he offers.

            “Takeout,” Annabeth agrees.

            Within an hour, they’re both sitting on Percy’s living room rug in front of the TV, happily devouring Chinese takeout and bickering over the Harry Potter books.

            “All I’m saying is,” Percy begins, gesturing enthusiastically, before apparently remembering he has a plate of orange chicken in his hand and thinks better about it. “Why the hell does everyone think Slytherins are evil? Like sure, there were some bad apples in the bunch, but there were some of those from every house. Why does Slytherin get the bad rep?”

            Annabeth considers, popping open a can of soda. “Well, as a Slytherin myself, I can see how a lot of our core traits—ambition, cleverness, pride, the like—could easily be twisted into being used for something evil. Stuff like being brave, or loyal, or creative—top traits from the other three houses—aren’t quite so easily turned into something evil, or even bordering on it. While obviously each house has the potential for evil, many Slytherins just have what it takes to become something evil.”

            Percy nods slowly, as though digesting her words. “But like, I’m Gryffindor. And sure, you have the traits everyone talks about—bravery, courage, sacrifice—and other things like that, but all of those can be turned around as well. I mean, one thing I think could turn me evil is the whole sacrifice thing. If one of the people I loved was in danger, I wouldn’t even think twice about giving myself for them, but it wouldn’t just stop with that. I would do anything—sacrifice anything—to keep the people I care about safe. If a villain were to take someone close to me and made me do things for them, to keep the person I love alive—I wouldn’t even hesitate, you know? I would do anything, and…and honestly, it kind of scares me sometimes, you know? Knowing that someone could get to me like that.

            Annabeth swallows—Percy’s fatal flaw is loyalty, is sacrifice, is looking after the people he cares about over and over and over, taking the brunt of their mistakes, picking others up when he can barely walk himself. It’s just another trait on the list of why he’s so good, of why the universe doesn’t deserve Percy Jackson.

            She touches his hand, and maybe it’s too soon, maybe it’s too much, but when she realizes that and tries to withdraw it, he squeezes her fingers gently, and she doesn’t make another effort to remove them.

            “I think my fatal flaw is pride. Ambition,” she says, taking a deep breath. “Remember what I told you when I decided to major in architecture?”

            “I want to build something permanent,” he recites, the corners of his mouth turning up, and Annabeth hadn’t thought he remembered. Hearing it makes her choke up, that he remembered something like that—so small, so simple, but literally everything about her summed up in a single sentence—for so long.

            “Everything I do is centered around me,” she admits, soft. “I want to build something permanent so people will remember me, remember my accomplishments.” She traces the worn carpeting with her fingernail. “I’m clever, I’m intelligent, I know that, and I’ve known that since I was in first grade and the teacher punished me for finishing a worksheet thirty minutes before everyone else was done. Ever since, I’ve been trying to prove my intelligence, to make people see me as more than just a pretty face, another girl trying to make her way up in the world and failing.” She swallows, meeting his eyes. “Percy, I want to build something permanent so I can look down on those who sneered at me, so I can say look at me. Look at where I am, and look where I started.

            “Being ambitious, being incredibly clever and intelligent—and literally every other Slytherin quality you are, Annabeth—it’s not a bad thing,” he says, gesturing wildly. “Like you said, those are traits that could be evil, but they don’t have to be.”

            Percy meets her eyes, taking a deep breath. “You’ve taken on the world by storm, Annabeth Chase, and when you build something permanent I want to be there, to watch you show the people who doubted you that you made it to the top anyway.”

            Annabeth catches her breath, at his raw admission, at her own, and she thinks that maybe they’re not really talking about Hogwarts houses anymore.

            The moment ends when Annabeth knocks over her half-empty soda, and she scrambles to her feet and grabs a roll of paper towels to clean it up. Somehow, that gets them back on topic, and soon they’re arguing over Care of Magical Creatures, which leads them to the giant squid.

            “Like. I just don’t understand,” Percy insists, gesturing with his chopsticks and spraying orange sauce on the floor; Annabeth just sighs and wordlessly hands him a napkin. “How could a giant squid get into the lake, unless someone put it there? It’s not like it’s connected to the ocean or anything; someone would have had to manually transport a huge, man-eating squid into the lake. On purpose.

            “Probably Hagrid,” Annabeth says placidly, twirling noodles around a chopstick. “I mean, who else would even do that?”

            “But isn’t there a reference to it during the Marauder flashbacks?” Percy asks.

            Annabeth shrugs, vague. “I don’t know.”

            “We have all the time in the world, why don’t we find out?”

            She stretches lazily. “I’ve been meaning to reread the series anyway; I’ll probably start tomorrow. We could start the movies tonight, if you want?”

            Percy beams. “Sure,” he says, slurping up the last of his noodles. “But we need to do it special.” He jumps up and dumps his takeout boxes into the trash. “I’ll be right back!” he yells over his shoulder, disappearing into his room down the hall.

            “Okay,” Annabeth answers, amused, as she finishes her own food and throws away her trash. She’s washing her hands when Percy comes back out, waddling under a mountain of blankets.

            “What are you doing?” she asks dryly, drying her hands with a paper towel. “You starting a bedding supply story or something?”

            Percy sends her a dirty look. “No, smartass. We’re going to make blanket forts,” he announces, setting the mountainous pile of blankets and pillows onto the couch. “And mine’s going to be the best.”

            Annabeth’s eyes narrow. “You’re on, Jackson.”

            “This is utterly and completely unfair,” Percy announces, looking dubiously at the forts.

            Annabeth stifles a laugh. “Nope, just pure architectural genius, Perce. Sorry, but—” she gestures to the sad-looking structure that is Percy’s fort, compared to her towering, complicated castle of blankets and pillows.

            Percy scowls at her. “I can still get in it, at least!” he protests, trying to back into the pathetic fortress. Unfortunately, his statement doesn’t quite ring true—it collapses on top of him, and Annabeth’s laugh rings out merrily.

            Percy shakes his head like a dog, but it’s stuck in an afghan, and he scowls as he tries to untangle himself. “Well, I guess you know what this means,” he announces, standing up.

            Annabeth realizes what he’s about to do a second before he reaches her. “No no no no, you may not be in my fortress, I worked hard on this, Percy, get out—” but her protests are cut off in a squeal as Percy wiggles in next to her, mostly on top of her as her squeals turn into helpless giggles.

            “Get off me, you oaf,” she demands, trying not to laugh. Percy just hums contentedly as he presses a button on the remote, starting the first Harry Potter movie. “I can’t breathe!” she threatens, breathless with laughter and indignation, and Percy moves about an inch before dropping his chin on her shoulder.

            Annabeth freezes, feeling his soft puffs of breathe tickle her ear. He’s so close—all the sculpted muscles of his body under the thin t-shirt and gym shorts he’s wearing pressing against the curves of her back and legs, and it’s just. It’s so much. She can smell the mix of sweat and cologne and chlorine, even the lingering scent of spaghetti sauce from the epic cooking fail from earlier.

            Percy snuggles closer to her, grinning like a child as the familiar music begins playing, and Annabeth doesn’t have the heart to tell him to move.

            So she just stays where she is, watching the movie and Percy’s facial expressions and trying not to pay attention to how her shirt rides up and his arm brushes her bare skin, or the way his stubble rasps against her shoulder when he laughs at something Ron says.

            (She could get used to this.)

//

            “This is utterly ridiculous,” Percy declares petulantly. “I give up.”

            Annabeth surveys him, reasonable. “Percy, you’re outrageously good at cooking and I am unfairly bad. It’s only fair that it should be the other way around in something.

            “Yeah, but this?” Percy whines. “Why do you have to be the kind of person whose secret talent is ice skating?

            Annabeth shrugs, grinning as she laces up her pretty white skates that she dug out of a storage box earlier. She hasn’t used them in years, even before the time loop, just hasn’t had time, but now—

            But now they have all the time in the world, as Percy so eloquently put it. She’s going to teach Percy how to ice skate.

            He grabs her hand tightly as she leads him out onto the rink; other people whiz by, laughing and spinning, but their ease doesn’t seem to help Percy’s anxiety, if his clammy hand is anything to go by. Annabeth squeezes it softly. “You’re going to do fine, Perce. Don’t be nervous,” she says, grinning up at him.

            He seems to try for a smile, but it comes out more of a grimace. “What if I slip, and someone runs over my hand and cuts off all my fingers?” he asks, swallowing hard, and Annabeth tries not to laugh.

            “I promise I won’t let anything happen to your fingers, you dork,” she says, beaming. “But even in the infinitesimally small chance that that happens, you’re going to be fine tomorrow. No big deal.”

            “No big deal,” Percy repeats, squeaking a little bit as he looks out onto the ice. His face is slightly green.

            Annabeth huffs, stepping onto the ice. “Okay, so at first, it’s basically like walking,” she coaches. “Just put one foot in front of the other and get used to the feel of the skates. Get balanced. You can use the railing for help, if you want.” The last part is unnecessary, she realizes a moment later; Percy is clinging to the edge for dear life. It’s almost comical to watch him, but Annabeth feels a little sympathy, as well. She remembers her first time going ice skating, with her dad when she was seven years old; they had gone to this very rink, because Mr. Chase had been on a business trip to New York and had taken her with him.

            She had been terrified, at first, of course; begging her dad to hold onto her, and not let her go, and he hadn’t, not at first; but then, the independent, headstrong seven-year-old that she had been, she had decided I can do it by myself, Daddy, let go of my hand—and had promptly fallen onto the hard ice.

            But she had gotten up, and tried again, and by the end of the day she was bruised and sore, but triumphant, because she could go the entire way around the indoor rink by herself, without touching the edge or holding her dad’s hand or anything.

            Her dad had been proud, she remembers, and she had been, too.

            Percy’s wobbly voice brings her back to reality. “Can you hold my hand?” he asks, and she skates back to him easily and takes his clammy fingers in hers.

            “One foot in front of the other. Try to slide it out—that’ll provide you with some leverage, and helps you control your speed,” she instructs, watching his feet. “That’s it—no, don’t stick your toes in the ice. It’s kind of like roller skating; the front of your skates are the brake, so you don’t want to go forward on your toes unless you want to stop.”

            Percy’s brow is furrowed, concentrating, and she watches him fondly as he struggles to move his feet. “Are you ready to try by yourself?” she asks, after a lap around the rink’s edge.

            Percy glances at her, eyes panicked. “No, no, don’t let go—”

            “Hey, relax,” she coaxes, like she’s talking to a child. “It’ll be okay, Percy. Just try it.”

            He reluctantly nods, and lets go of her hand. She watches as he moves forward with faltering, hesitant steps. He kind of reminds her of a baby deer taking his first steps on the slick ice.

            And then his skates hit a bump and he goes sprawling, and Annabeth chortles.

            “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she gasps, skating forward quickly and helping him to his feet. “You just—” she gestures helplessly and starts laughing again.

            Percy scowls at first, brushing stray ice chips off his jeans, before reluctant chuckles slip from his mouth, and soon they’re both hanging onto the edge of the rink, breathless with laughter.

            “And I just—” Percy gestures, wheezing, before bursting into laughter again.

            “You looked like—like Bambi, or something,” Annabeth gasps, holding her aching stomach. She doesn’t remember the last time she laughed so hard, but as she takes deep breaths, her whole body feels lighter.

            “Ready to go again?” she asks, wiping her eyes. Percy nods, the laughter disappearing from his face and grim determination taking its place.

            “Ready.”

            They stay the rest of the afternoon, and by the end of it, Percy learns to ice skate—but not before being completely bruised and a little bloody, his left elbow have scraped against the ice particularly hard in one crash. Annabeth isn’t much better—she’s a great skater when Percy isn’t around, but between constantly being pulled over as she tries to help him up and Percy crashing into her and both of them going flying, well. She kind of feels like finding the nearest hot tub and never getting out, despite the warm, late afternoon air that hits them as they exit the large, chilly building that houses the rink.

            “Thanks for today,” Percy tells her genuinely, and it reminds her of the day at the aquarium, before the accident; it was probably only a month ago, maybe two, but so much has changed since then, and a wave of gratitude washes over Annabeth.

            She stops walking, halting their progress down the sidewalk, and hugs Percy as tightly as she can. He’s surprised, stiff at first; but then he relaxes into the embrace and hugs her back.

            “Thanks for being there,” she manages as she pulls away, and it’s not even close to what she has to say, what she wants to say, but Percy seems to understand.

            “Anytime,” he says simply, and together they continue down the sidewalk.

//

            Okay, so. It had seemed like a good idea, at the time.

            Now, Annabeth isn’t so sure.

            “Are you positive you’re doing this right?” she squeaks, covering her eyes with her hands so she doesn’t look in the bathroom mirror. Next to her, Percy huffs.

            “I already told you, I have no clue what I’m doing, ‘beth,” he says, his hands combing through her damp, tangled hair. Annabeth catches a whiff of the dye on his plastic gloves as he works the slimy stuff into her long curls; it kind of smells like crayons, and she’s torn between being excited to see the final result and ridiculously nervous.

            “Okay, now it says you have to let it sit? Or at least that’s what I think it says,” Percy directs, waving his hand as he squints to read the directions from the back of the box.

            Annabeth sighs as pink dye flicks from his gloved hand onto her bathroom walls. It’ll be gone tomorrow, but still. “Okay, and after that?” she asks.

            “Then you’re supposed to wash and condition your hair like normal, and style as usual,” Percy recites, eyes glued to the back of the little cardboard box.

            Annabeth sighs and gets up. “While it’s setting, let’s do yours,” she compromises.

            Percy shrugs, grinning, and hands her the box of blue dye. “I’m all yours.”

            So. They’re dyeing their hair.

            It’s something Annabeth had wanted to do, before the time loop started; all her life. She’s been straight-laced, nerdy, bookish, normal. She was tired of being normal, of being forgettable, but. She had never actually gotten up the nerve to do it, just because—what if it looked horrible?

            There’s this thing called temporary dye, babe, she remembers Piper telling her, so long ago, exasperated. It comes out.

            Still, though. It’s scary, okay.

            Which is why she’s currently dyeing her hair pink. It’s not like it’s going to stick, and anyway, if the time loop ever stops and she knows she likes it, then she can just do it again.

            If the time loop ever stops.

            She hasn’t thought about it, really, in a while. It’s become their surreal reality, living the same day over and over and over, no one privy to the day’s events but them. It used to get to Annabeth, before, and some days are still bad; some days she doesn’t get out of bed, when Piper’s texts come through. Some days she can’t breathe, and stars dance in her vision, and Percy holds her tightly, fiercely, until she calms down.

            But it’s getting better. They’re getting better, together.

            They’ve accepted it, almost unconsciously; Annabeth realizes that they don’t really speak of when the time loop stops. It’s always the if, if they even speak of it at all.

            But it’s okay. They have forever.

            “Remember, my hair is dark, so you have to bleach it first,” Percy instructs, jerking Annabeth from her thoughts, and she realizes her hands are trembling as she holds the aqua-blue dye box. He glances up at her, and there must be something in her face that causes him to pause. “Hey, ‘beth,” he says softly, grasping her hand and stilling it, the warmth of his skin and the steady beat of his pulse bringing her back to reality. “Are you okay?”

            She swallows and lets herself smile shakily at him. “I’m fine,” she says, and she’s surprised to find that it’s really not a lie, at all. “Now, you ready to have blue hair?”

            “I adore it,” she announces later, the two of them standing side-by-side in the mirror. Her hair has dried after her shower earlier, and it’s just. It’s pink. A light, bubblegum pink that reminds her of glitter and summer air and song lyrics, and Annabeth’s never been that much of a girly-girl but she loves it.

            Percy, standing next to her and surveying his own hair, beams at her. The longer part of his hair, on the top, is all that Annabeth dyed; the shorter part on the bottom they left his natural inky-black. Annabeth has to admit that the effect is pretty cool; this bright, aqua blue that brings out the specks of blue in his eyes and clashes magnificently with the grey-blue t-shirt he’s wearing.

            “We look damn good,” Percy declares, echoing her thoughts as he puts his arm around her shoulder and pulls her close, meeting her gaze in the mirror with a dorky grin.

            She beams, and ruffles his blue hair. “We look damn good.”

//

            The barista looks overworked, and tired, and Annabeth might feel the tiniest bit guilty about what she’s about to do if this actually stuck, but. It’s not going to, and she doesn’t.

            “Name for the cup?” the young man—probably a little younger than her—asks, Sharpie poised over the green-and-white cup as he waits for her answer.

            “Primrose Everdeen,” she answers, trying not to laugh.

            The barista doesn’t even blink, scribbling it down on the cup—it’s a popular coffee shop in the middle of New York City, he probably has to deal with this kind of thing all the time—but Annabeth is breathless with pent-up laughter as she sits down at the booth Percy snatched for them earlier.

            “Did it work?” he asks, leaning across the table with a gleam of mischief in his eyes.

            Annabeth chokes as she takes a sip of her water. “Yep,” she answers, popping the p. “Plan Everlark is good to go.”

            Percy beams conspiratorially. “Happy Hunger Games,” he says, raising an eyebrow.

            “And may the odds be ever in your favor,” Annabeth recites back, grinning.

            Just then, another employee calls, “A caramel Frappuccino for…” she squints. “Primrose Everdeen?”

            Percy jumps up, startling some of the other patrons around them. “I volunteer as tribute!” he squawks, running up gracelessly and grabbing the cup. Other people crowded around the busy shop begin laughing, some applauding, as Percy bows dramatically; Annabeth claps too, grinning fondly as Percy hams up his performance. A middle-school aged girl comes up to him shyly, asking him what his favorite character in the trilogy is, and Annabeth can’t hear Percy’s response, but she watches him answer the child animatedly, waving his arms and generally being a huge goofball who’s passionate about The Hunger Games. The girl is beaming by the time Percy’s finished, and she thanks him bashfully before running back to where her mom is waiting.

            Annabeth watches the interaction, a small smile on her face, and something familiar twists in her heart.

            It’s a feeling she remembers all too well, and right there in the crowded little coffee shop, Annabeth realizes what it is. She remembers feeling it for months, years, as she and Percy grew closer and closer during college, and she realizes she had fallen for her best friend.

            It’s love, she realizes, and the voice inside her head sounds suspiciously like Piper. You’re in love with Percy Jackson.

            Just as quickly as the thought comes to her, though, she forces it back down, because—it can’t be true. It can’t. The last time they tried this, she broke his heart, shattered her own in the process. And now, even more rests on the stakes—Percy’s her one lifeline to sanity, stuck in this never-ending loop of the day after she broke up with him. If she told him, if he didn’t feel the same—even if he did, and then they broke up again—

            She can’t lose him.

            Percy waves goodbye to the little girl with a huge, lopsided grin on his face before loping back to the booth, Annabeth’s Frappuccino still in his hand. He takes one look at her face and his own falls, morphing into concern. “Annabeth?” he asks, leaning forward, Frappuccino still in his hand. “What’s wrong?”

            Why do you know me so well, Annabeth wants to scream. Why can you tell, with just one look at my face, that something is wrong?

            But she doesn’t. Instead, she grabs her drink off the table and takes a long sip, willing her hands to stop shaking.

            “Nothing’s wrong,” she tells him. Like she hasn’t just had a world-shaking revelation, like everything is normal—or at least as normal as it can be, in this screwed-up mess she’s living.

            Everything is fine.

//

            “It may technically be May, but I’m not going swimming,” Annabeth says sternly, adjusting her sunglasses around the curls falling out of her messy bun.

            “But Annabeth, it’s almost June, and June is summer,” Percy whines, swinging their picnic basket.

            Annabeth scoffs at his logic even as she digs her toes into the warm sand and tilts her face up to the sun’s rays showering her in warmth. She can hear children squealing with delight, gentle rock music playing in the distance, the huge waves crashing onto the shore.

            “Okay, maybe I’ll go swimming. We’ll see,” she relents. “Happy?”

            “Very,” Percy says, grinning cheekily. She pretends to swat at him, and he ducks away, laughing.

            They find a spot on the beach and set up the umbrella Percy bought that morning, arguing for a ridiculous amount of time about the proper way to set it up; Annabeth thinks they should dig a hole, and then put the umbrella in it, and Percy thinks they should just set it upright and pile sand around it.

            (Annabeth turns out to be right; she may or may not be insufferably smug about it, while Percy sulks.)

            She reads a book and watches Percy fondly as he grabs a boogie-board and swims, yelling all the while for her to join him. After a short deliberation, she declines; the book she’s reading is interesting, and she doesn’t particularly want to be freezing cold and sopping wet for the next hour.

            After a while, Percy comes up to her, shaking his head like a dog and splattering water all over her. “Come on, ‘beth,” he whines, flopping down on the towel next to her. Annabeth pointedly doesn’t look at the miles of tan skin and muscles on full display. “Let’s do something.”

            “Like what?” she asks, setting down her book, because not even a good book can truly take precedence over Percy when he’s giving her puppy eyes.

            He brightens, sitting up. “How about we go for a walk down the beach and see if we can find rocks to match each other’s eyes?”

            Annabeth ducks her head, smiling. “Let’s go.”

            They make their way down the beach; it’s late afternoon, and the sun is cooler than it was at midday, with a fresh, salty breeze blowing out from over the water. The two of them examine hundreds of rocks, holding them up to each other’s eyes—Annabeth complains that Percy has an easier job; grey rocks are much easier to find than sea-green.

            Percy eventually finds a rock that’s the exact color of Annabeth’s eyes—it’s a stormy grey, with little flecks of darker grey and blue throughout. Annabeth beams at him and pockets the rock, because even if she’s not going to have it tomorrow, she wants to hold onto it for as long as possible.

            The sun is close to setting by the time Annabeth finally finds one that matches Percy’s eyes; it took some searching, but the color is perfect, bright green and smooth.

            They take pictures of each other holding the rock next to their eyes, and Annabeth wants to print them out, and frame them, and put them on her apartment walls and look at them every day, but. She can’t, and they both know it; they descend into silence on the walk back to their umbrella. The beach has pretty much cleared out at this point, most beachgoers having left to for dinner after the heat of the afternoon gave way to the warm, dusky air of approaching evening.

            By the time they arrive at their umbrella and towels, the sun is setting—a brilliant ball of fire and colors over the distant edge of the sea. The foam curls around Annabeth’s toes as she sits next to Percy, their feet in the surf as they lay on towels and watch the sunset.

            She stiffens when Percy intertwines their fingers, almost unconsciously, like he’s doing it out of habit.

            He apparently realizes what he’s done a moment later, and his hand slides out of hers.

            (Annabeth pretends she doesn’t notice.)

//

            Something changes between them, after that.

            It isn’t something hugely noticeable; in fact, someone observing their friendship from a third person point of view—even someone who knew both of them well—probably wouldn’t even notice or take heed of the slight shift in dynamic between Annabeth and Percy.

            But after spending literal years with him in the time loop, being with each other almost every single day—it’s kind of hard not to notice when something changes, however so small.

            And Annabeth does.

            It starts with the touching; Percy’s always been a hugely physically affectionate person—Annabeth used to call him a giant puppy dog—and even before they started dating, he would always have his feet in her lap while they watched movies, or just randomly give his best friends hugs.

            And now, after years spent in the time loop together with no hope of ever getting out of it, they’ve finally developed some sort of easy dynamic—fleeting touches, hugs, even tackling when the situation calls for it, like when Percy has a cookie and he won’t share and Annabeth needs that cookie, dammit—but now, it’s like none of that ever happened.

            For a few days after the beach, they dance around each other; Annabeth assumes Percy feels awkward for allowing himself that one luxury, that tangling of their fingers together on the sand; he probably hadn’t even thought about it, and now he was regretting it, regretting the shift in their relationship that it caused.

            It shouldn’t be such a big deal, but it is, because they have literally no one else, and Annabeth needs him—as a friend, or maybe as something more—but she isn’t going to allow herself anything more than a friend.

            Her best friend, in fact; her best friend in all the world.

            Unlike the earlier days—months? Years?—of the time loop, when Annabeth was still getting used to living the day over and over, and as it started to drive her insane with the routine, the sameness of it all—she had thought the loop was a curse; a screwed-up plan designed by a universe determined to kill her as many times and in as many ways as it possibly could.

            But now—

            But now, Percy has become her world, the one person she thought she would never be able to reconcile with, that last horrible, precious night before the time loop started. Without the loop, they probably would have spent the rest of their lives dancing around each other, never able to regain the closeness they had once shared, treasured.

            It’s not like she doesn’t have bad days, still; sometimes she wakes up, and feels mind-numbingly claustrophobic, trapped in a world she can never escape. But it’s getting better, she’s getting better, and it feels so good—so good—to look over at Percy, to watch him laugh with an amused smile on her face, see his nose crinkle as he snorts at something she said, watch him shout at the TV while they’re watching a movie and throw popcorn in his hair.

            It feels good to look over at him and know he is the most precious thing in her world; the only thing she has left in the universe. It feels good to look over at him and think, You’re mine, and I love you.

            But of course, he’s not hers—not completely, not the way they were once, and that’s what got them into this mess.

            Finally, after a few days of awkward pauses and stilted conversations, Annabeth decides to do something about it.

            “Stop it,” she says, slamming her cup of coffee down on the café table.

            Startled, Percy glances up at her from where he’s been moodily picking apart a blueberry scone. “Stop what?”

            “Stop acting like nothing happened, when something obviously did,” Annabeth snaps, leaning forward. “You’ve been acting weird the last week, ever since the beach. What happened?” She plays dumb, like she doesn’t know exactly what happened to make him like this, and Percy, apparently, doesn’t notice.

            “I—it’s nothing, Annabeth,” he says, not meeting her eyes. “I’m fine, okay? Just a couple of bad days.”

            Annabeth reaches over and squeezes his hand. “Hey. Percy, you may not realize this, but you are my best friend, okay? You can always, always talk to me.”

            He swallows, gaze darting to their interlocked hands on the table and then back to her face. “I know that, ‘beth. I do. And I’m sorry. But it’s really just—it’s me, okay? You didn’t do anything.”

            I know, Annabeth cries inwardly. That’s the problem.

            Out loud, she says, “Okay. If that’s really all it is, then that’s fine, okay? I just—you know I love you, right?”

            Percy startles a little bit, and Annabeth realizes it’s the first time she’s said I love you to him since before the time loop started. Obviously she means it in a different way now (or maybe she doesn’t, but Percy doesn’t need to know that), but he still looks a little shaken.

            “As—as my best friend, I mean,” she stammers, pulling back her hand and twisting it nervously into a napkin. “Because you are. My best friend. And I care about you a lot, and obviously—”

            “Annabeth,” Percy interrupts her, smiling a little bit. “I love you too. I’ve loved you since we were fifteen years old and you threw a college application spreadsheet at my head and said it never hurts to be prepared, Percy!” He surveys her softly. “I think—even without the time loop, we would have forgiven each other eventually. We were best friends before we started dating, and honestly I don’t think—I don’t think I ever stopped loving you. Not after the breakup, not during the year in the time loop when we had to live in that day over and over alone.” He takes her hand again over the table, and this time she doesn’t pull away. “We said no secrets, remember? And I know I’ve been acting weird the last few days, but seriously. That’s on me.”

            Annabeth laughs, her eyes a little watery. “I really did throw a college application spreadsheet at your head, didn’t I?”

            Percy’s smile is warm; he’s a lot like sunshine, she thinks. “You did,” he confirms, his nose scrunching up as he laughs a little.

            For a minute, time seems to stop—maybe it does, the universe is so screwed up at this point that it probably wouldn’t have even surprised her—but Annabeth looks at Percy, and she tears herself apart trying to decide.

            Should I tell him? one part of her asks. Should I tell him I’m in love with him, that I want to try again?

            We said no more secrets, remember? Percy’s statement from seconds earlier comes back, and Annabeth nearly caves, nearly tells him right then and there, but—

            I can’t lose you. Not again.

            So she settles for simply a smile as time seems to speed up again, as she watches Percy laugh and the way the sun streaming in from the windows hits his face and lights up his eyes, and she thinks, You’re my best friend, and I love you.

            Nothing more than that.

//

            “Do you want to go shopping?” Annabeth suggests lazily as they sit on her balcony and drink lemonade that she and Percy spent all morning making.

            He glances up from the magazine he’s reading and wrinkles his nose. “Do we have to?” he whines, sounding exactly like a five-year-old, and Annabeth’s either endeared or exasperated, but she can’t decide between the two, so she just gestures impatiently as she stands up.

            “Well, I’m going, so you can either stay here, or you can come with me.”

            Percy takes a while to get up and complains the entire time, because he’s Percy, but eventually they get out the door. Annabeth insists on walking to the nearest mall, partly because she feels like walking and partly because Percy wanted to drive, and she’s in the mood to irritate him. He drags his feet at first, but then he sees a dog with a little blue sweater on and convinces the owner to let him pet it. He also blackmails Annabeth into buying him an ice-cream cone from a street vendor, and after that he’s in a much better mood.

            The two of them make their way down the crowded sunny sidewalk, licking at their ice cream cones and laughing about nothing in the fresh spring breeze. It reminds Annabeth of that day, so long ago, that they bought an entire ice cream truck and ate ice cream until they were sick.

            Percy seems to read her mind, and he glances over at her. “How long has it been, do you think? Since that day…”

            “…when we sat in Central Park and ate ice cream until we were about to puke?” Annabeth finishes his sentence. “I don’t know. Three, four years, maybe?”

            Percy nods, the sunny disposition from earlier fading from his face. “Do you think that maybe this thing has a limit?” he asks, staring ahead of them and not meeting her eyes. “Like, maybe we hit five years, or ten, or twenty, and we’re out? Just like that?”

            Annabeth looks into his eyes and finds a small flame of hope, a hope that’s been dashed so many times in the last countless years of being stuck in the same day. She wants with all her heart to tell him that yes, we’re going to get out of here eventually. Someday we’ll be able to go back to our real lives, to pretend the world we’re living in now was just a nightmare.

            But she can’t, and they both know it.

            So instead she bumps her shoulder into his. “Maybe,” she says, and she doesn’t miss the way Percy’s eyes look a little brighter.

            They walk in silence for a bit; Percy finishes his ice cream cone and pretends to wipe his sticky hands on her blouse, and she squeals and gets ice cream in his hair.

            They’re both kind of a mess by the time they reach the mall, but Annabeth couldn’t care less.

            “I’ve decided that I’m not really in the mood for shopping,” she announces as they enter the bottom level of the building, the air conditioning ruffling the sweaty, sticky hair plastering her forehead.

            Percy groans dramatically. “We walked all this way for nothing?” he groans, dropping onto a bench and throwing his head back. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to realize that the bench has a high back, and his head connects with the metal with a loud, ringing thud.

            Annabeth tries to sounds sympathetic when he yelps and then groans, rubbing the back of his head, but. She can’t speak without laughing, and Percy glares.

            “I’m wounded, Annabeth, and you can’t even sympathize a little bit for me—”

            “Oh, I’m plenty sympathetic,” Annabeth replies, wiping her eyes. “Even though you were the one being a drama queen, and it’s your own fault you bumped your head.”

            Percy sniffs, crossing his arms over his chest haughtily. “Some friend you are.”

            Annabeth rolls her eyes at his antics and plops down next to him on the bench. “Anyway, I was thinking—why don’t we play that game?”

            Percy’s eyebrows rise contemptuously. “What game?”

            “The game we used to play in high school, when Piper and Jason were being insufferable and you and I were left to our own devices in public.”

            Percy shakes his head. “Always a bad idea.”

            Annabeth has to agree, remembering some of the shenanigans they’d gotten into as teenagers. “But,” she presses on, “remember that game we’d play while people-watching—”

            “Where we’d make up life stories about strangers around us?” Percy says, catching on. “Okay, I might be down for that.”

            “I’m so glad,” Annabeth deadpans. “Wouldn’t want you getting bored.”

            Percy ignores her and points to a tall woman with long dark hair in a yellow dress. “What’s her story?”

            Annabeth surveys the woman critically. “She’s about to get a haircut, because she just broke up with her boyfriend, and every time she brushes her hair, she remembers him saying how he loved it. She’s dressed up because she’s, uh… she’s meeting her sister, who flew in from London to spend the week with her. They’re going to go to the opera tonight together because they used to go with their parents when they were children.”

            Percy nods, looking satisfied. “Okay, now you pick one for me.”

            Annabeth glances around, considering her options, before her finger lands on a short, stout man in a red polo and wire-rimmed glasses. “That guy.”

            “Okay, so his name is Tom Fitzwilliam, and he’s an incredible scientist who is on the brink of a huge discovery, but he’s also a recluse and never leaves the house. He’s here because he’s going to meet with a rich donor who will consider backing his work, but he’s nervous that the man’s not going to show,” Percy rattles off. “Oh, and he has a dog.”

            Annabeth raises her eyebrows. “Interesting. And the dog?”

            “His left shoe is chewed up a little,” Percy explains smugly.

            Annabeth rolls her eyes, fond. “Okay, Sherlock. Who’s next?”

//

            Annabeth figures that Percy’s theory from so many months ago, that the time loop might have a limit, is false.

            Mainly because she’s pretty sure it’s been at least five years, and yet every day still restarts at sunrise, and every morning she wakes up as Piper’s texts come through. There’s no way to know for sure, of course, but. Trial and error, and elimination, and all that.

            She supposes that they’ll be stuck forever. She tries not to think about it.

            One day, she wakes up to Piper’s text, just like every one of the hundreds—no, thousands—of days before it, and instead of calling her friend and telling her not to come over, that she needs some space, Annabeth decides, on a whim, to let Piper make it all the way to her apartment.

            She misses her, okay. She misses the girl she’s grown up with, the person she could tell anything and never be judged. She misses spending time with Piper, just hanging out and doing nothing; the past few years, it’s been too painful, too hard to do anything with anyone but Percy. To be with a person, but know that they’re not going to remember any of it the next day—it’s hard, and every time she sees Piper or Jason or any of her old friends, or thinks of her family, it’s just. It becomes that much harder to force the thoughts and memories and bitterness from her mind.

            She knows that Percy struggles with the same thing; before the time loop, he was incredibly close with his mom, and Annabeth knows how hard it is for him to not be able to see her, to have her remember their meager interactions. He, too, has avoided it; avoided the pain of knowing there’s nothing they can do to truly be with their friends and family. Being roommates with Jason probably just makes it that much worse, to come home every day to the person who used to be your best friend, who’s just a paper version of the man Percy used to know.

            But today, Annabeth decides to break the self-imposed rules they’ve unconsciously made, over the course of the time loop.

            She hears Piper come into the apartment, and hear the keys jangle on the marble counter as Piper sets her purse down. “Annabeth?” her friend calls cautiously.

            Annabeth steels herself, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. “In here,” she answers.

            Piper comes in. “Hey, babe,” she says, and Annabeth’s heart twists at how familiar her voice is.

            “Hey, Pipes,” she answers, easy, as Piper sits down on the bed.

            “How—how are you?” Piper asks hesitantly, and Annabeth remembers—all in a rush—how for Piper, she and Percy just broke up.

            She almost laughs at the thought; it’s been so long since the breakup that it’s become hard to remember the little details, to remember a time before Percy knew all her insecurities and the reasons behind the failed proposal.

            But for Piper, this is all new, and Annabeth holds back a sigh.

            “I’m fine. Really, Piper,” she says, and Piper’s face, while still looking slightly cautious, relaxes into a small smile.

            “I’m glad, ‘beth. Really, I am, but—you know it’s okay to be upset, right? You guys dated for three years, and—”

            Annabeth decides to cut her friend short. “I promise, I’m fine. Percy and I—we’re fine, okay?”

            Piper’s expression morphs into confusion. “You’re—you guys are okay? I thought—”

            “Yes, we did break up, but we’re fine, now,” Annabeth says, and wow, she’s butchering this. In the first few months of the time loop, she had explaining the loop to her friends down to a science, but it’s been so long since she talked—really talked—to anyone but Percy, and it’s hard.

            “Look, I’ll explain everything, I promise. Why don’t we go out for dinner tonight? You, me, Jason, Percy,” she suggests, a little amused at the way her friend’s eyes widen comically.

            “Um. Okay,” Piper stutters, rising from the bed. “I’ll ask Jason, and text you the details, okay?”

            Annabeth nods, standing up as well and following Piper to the kitchen. “Okay, sounds great.”

            Piper grabs her purse from the counter and is about to head back out the door, still looking a little bewildered, when the door opens and Percy bursts in, talking a million miles an hour. In his hands is a slightly wobbly stack of bright blue pancakes, and Annabeth kind of wants to kiss him.

            “So, ‘beth, I was thinking, what if we tested how much pizza is humanly possible to eat? We could even try to set a Guinness World Record or something, even if it’s not going to stick…” he trails off, finally noticing Piper standing in the kitchen. “Um. Hey, Pipes,” he says, raising his eyebrows at Annabeth, like why is she here?

            Annabeth shrugs. I’ll explain later.

            (It’s a little creepy, how they can understand each other without a single word, silently communicating with a simple glance.)

            “Um. I made these for you, Annabeth, since you’re still unable to make yourself a proper meal, but. If Piper’s staying, I can make more?” Percy offers, holding out the plate of pancakes.

            Piper still looks astonished, glancing back and forth between the two of them. “I was just about to leave, it’s okay, but you guys… I don’t…”

            “I asked Piper if she and Jason wanted to go for dinner with us later,” Annabeth tells him as she digs into her pancakes. Percy’s added just the right amount of syrup, and she hums in appreciation.

            “Don’t talk with your mouth full, it’s rude,” Percy retorts, rummaging through her fridge for the same bottle of orange juice they’ve been drinking for years. “And yes, that’d be. Um. Great?”

            He sounds as uncertain as Piper looks, but Annabeth doesn’t really care; she’s tired of not being able to see her best friends, and she can live with the pain tomorrow if she can treasure them today.

            “Sounds good,” she confirms to Piper, still staring wordlessly at the both of them as they move easily around the kitchen, their banter warm, domestic. Annabeth knows it’s probably a little unsettling, but Piper will understand later, if only for a few hours.

            “See you later, then?” Piper asks uncertainly, halfway out the door.

            Annabeth nods, her mouth full. “Bye!” she calls, muffled through a bite of pancakes. Percy glances at her disapprovingly before sitting down with a glass of orange juice and a mug of fresh coffee.

            The door closes, and Percy raises an eyebrow. “What was that all about?” he asks. “I thought we weren’t going to do this, Annabeth. Torture ourselves by spending time with people who are never going to remember the day.”

            Annabeth swallows her bite and gulps down a sip of scalding coffee before choking a little bit and coughing violently. Percy wordlessly hands her a napkin.

            “I’m just—I’m so tired of missing our friends, when they’re right there,” she admits, wiping her mouth. “And I know—tomorrow, it’s going to hurt, when we see them, and they don’t remember anything that happened today, or the day before, or all the thousands of days we’ve lived together. But for now—” she doesn’t finished, and she knows Percy understands what she’s trying to say.

            “I think I’m going to call my mom,” he says quietly, staring down at the table. “I miss her so much, and like you said, it’s going to hurt tomorrow when she doesn’t remember, but. I can at least have the memory of it now, you know?”

            Annabeth nods, knowing she’s going to start crying if she speaks, so she just gulps her coffee instead. Percy presses his lips together, before picking up his phone and lifting it to his ear as he gets up from the table.

            “Oh, hey, mom,” Annabeth hears him say, and his voice is too light.

            He glances back at her, responding to whatever his mom had said, and Annabeth gives him an encouraging nod, a smile. He smiles back before disappearing onto the balcony, and Annabeth turns to the last bite of her pancakes, knowing he wants to be alone.

            He reappears just a few minutes later, and Annabeth glances up at him, sees how he’s just barely hanging on, and she rises, almost automatic, and grabs his hand.

            “Yeah, mom,” he says, and he laughs a little through his tears. “I love you, too. I’ll—I’ll see you later, okay? Bye.” He ends the call, and then he’s shaking, sobbing in Annabeth’s arms, and she holds him fiercely, feels his tears soak through her shirt.

            “It’s okay, you’re okay, Perce,” she murmurs, and she knows he’s not, that none of this is okay, that the fact that Percy is stuck and he’ll never actually be able to really see his mom again—none of this is okay, but. She knows what he’s feeling, and she loves him.

            They’re going to be okay.

//

            They arrive at the restaurant—the same Italian one that Annabeth went to with Piper and Jason, so many years ago—with two minutes to spare before they’re technically late, which. It’s a pretty huge accomplishment, just by itself.

            Annabeth checks her makeup in the mirror and presses her lips together nervously as she gets out of the car. Her heels pinch her toes a little bit, clacking on the stone floor as they enter the dimly-lit restaurant.

            Annabeth closes her eyes, hears the music playing softly under the hum of quietly conversing patrons. It’s the same classical piece that they played the first time she came here, with Jason and Piper, only a few months after the loop started.

            How much has changed since then, she thinks wryly.

            Percy’s hand slips into her own clammy one and squeezes it reassuringly. She holds it desperately as the waiter leads them to the table where Jason and Piper sit.

            They look up as Percy and Annabeth approach, and Piper stands to hug her. “Hey ‘beth,” she says softly, as Percy greets Jason. “How’re you doing?”

            Annabeth smiles weakly. “I guess you’ll see,” she says, smoothing her hands over the blue dress she’s wearing as Percy pulls out her chair for her. She offers him a quick, nervous smile in thanks as he sits down, and under the table his hand finds hers again.

            “So… we have something to talk to you guys about,” Annabeth starts, after the waiter has taken their orders.

            Piper leans forward. “Yes?”

            Annabeth meets Percy’s eyes, and he takes over for her. “You’re probably not going to believe us,” he begins, and Annabeth feels his thumb gently rubbing her hand, like he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it.

            “We’re stuck in a time loop of the day after we broke up, and we can’t get out of it,” Annabeth continues, and now she’s the one tracing her finger in circles over his skin, finding comfort in the way she can feel his pulse thumping under her fingertips.

            Piper and Jason look sufficiently dumbfounded.

            “A—a time loop?” Piper finally manages to ask. “Like—like Groundhog Day?

            Annabeth feels slightly hysterical laughter bubble in her chest. “Yeah,” she manages. “Like Groundhog Day.

            “So you’re both stuck together?” Jason questions, and Annabeth nods. “How long?”

            Annabeth focuses on how Percy’s thumb caresses her hand, not meeting Jason’s eyes when she answers. “Years—we think it’s been about four or five, but we don’t know. Not for sure.”

            “I believe you,” Piper announces, and they gape at her. She gestures at them. “The last I heard, you guys had broken up, and I know Percy was going to ask you to marry him, so that’s probably what it was about, but. Anyway, you guys obviously care about each other again, are comfortable with each other again, and that kind of healing—it takes time.”

            Jason nods slowly. “I believe you, too. There’s no reason to lie about something like this.”

            The two of them have questions—so many questions, many of which are hard for Annabeth and Percy to answer, but they do the best they can. Their food arrives, and gets cold, and then is eaten; they order dessert, and finish that too, and still they’re all sitting at the table, talking.

            Annabeth loves it—loves having her best friends back, even if it’s just for a night; loves the familiar dynamic between the four of them, loves the flood of memories that arrives of the four of them throughout the course of their lives, before the time loop.

            Finally, when the restaurant is nearly closed and the employees are sending them dirty looks, the four of them rise from the table and walk out to the parking lot. Annabeth snuggles against Percy, and he throws his arm around her shoulders as they walk.

            “This—this was amazing,” she manages, when they arrive at Jason’s car.

            “Even if we don’t remember this tomorrow, I want you to know tonight, that I love you, okay?” Piper whispers, hugging her fiercely. “We love you both, and—there’s nothing we can do, I guess, but I just wanted you to know that.”

            Annabeth laughs a little, brushing away the stray tears on her eyelashes. “Thanks, Pipes,” she murmurs, before quickly hugging Jason and bidding the couple goodnight.

            They walk to the car in silence; there isn’t really anything left to say.

            Annabeth drives to her apartment complex, and they quickly park and take the elevator up to her floor. They still haven’t spoken, both lost in their own worlds, until Percy looks down at her and breaks the silence.

            “Movie night?” he offers, and Annabeth nods.

            It’s already almost midnight, but Percy makes popcorn, and they start a movie—Annabeth isn’t sure of which one, she wasn’t really paying attention to whatever Percy picked out. They’re not even halfway through it when she breaks into ragged sobs.

            Percy moves toward her immediately. “Annabeth, hey, hey,” he soothes, pulling her close. “What’s wrong?”

            They both know what’s wrong, but Annabeth just cries harder, because this—this is why she broke up with him, all those years ago. Even as he’s going through exactly what she is, when their best friends aren’t going to remember today, when his mom isn’t going to remember today—he’s still comforting her, still putting her above himself.

            “You stupid… Gryffindors,” she sobs into his shirt.

            She can feel him laugh softly. “What?”

            “You’re always so… so self-sacrificing, always making sure everyone else is okay even when you’re not,” she explains, sniffling. “But Percy—you’re the best of them. You don’t know how to look out for yourself, not when there’s someone else you care about who you could look out for instead.”

            He huffs. “I love you, Annabeth, and yeah, sure, I might put your needs above my own sometimes—

            “All the time,” she interrupts.

            “But that doesn’t make me—I don’t know, a hero, or anything,” he says, and Annabeth knows he believes what he’s saying.

            She looks up at him and sees a man who would doom the world if he could save his friends, and she loves him for it.

            “Percy.”

            No secrets.

            “I’m in love with you,” she says, not looking up at him.

            It’s perfectly silent for a minute before Percy pulls back from her, surveying her steadily, but his hands are shaking. “Do—do you mean it?” he asks, and Annabeth can’t read his tone.

            She takes a deep breath. “I’ve known—I don’t know, for years. Ever since the day we were at that coffee shop, and you got up and took my coffee for Primrose Everdeen, and then that little girl came up and talked to you about your favorite characters,” she babbles. “And I’ve wanted to tell you—for so long, Percy, you don’t even know—but I was just. I was scared. Scared that you wouldn’t feel the same, and I would lose you. Scared that you would feel the same, and then we’d break up again, and I would—I’d lose you that way. And I can’t—I can’t lose you, Percy. Not again.” She looks up at him, eyes shining with tears. “But you said—you said no more secrets. So I’m telling you now, Percy—I’m in love with you.

            She finally meets his eyes, and he’s gazing at her like a blind man seeing the sun for the first time. “Do you mean it?” he asks again, and she nods.

            And then he’s kissing her, soft and slow, and it’s like a piece of her clicks back into place.

            She slowly leans back onto the couch, and Percy climbs over, kissing her—wild and raw and desperate, but Annabeth needs it, needs him.

            “I love you too,” he gasps against her lips, all wandering hands and teeth grazing her neck and everything’s on fire. “I love you, I love you, I love you—”

            And then he’s pulling off his shirt, and hers is gone too, and he’s tugging on her hair, nipping her earlobe, and Annabeth runs her hands over the smooth muscles of his bare back, making crescent-shaped indentations in his skin as silent cries fall from her mouth.

            “I love you,” she whispers, again, and it feels like a promise.

//

            Later, they’re sitting on the balcony, wrapped in quilts and nothing else, cuddling in the chilly morning breeze and watching as the city begins to awake.

            “When did you know?” she asks, leaning back against his chest.

            “Know what?” Percy asks lazily, playing with one of her curls.

            “That you were in love with me again,” she clarifies, looking up at him.

            Percy bites his lip. “That day at the beach, when we tried to find rocks that matched each other’s eyes,” he murmurs. “And we watched the sunset, and I—”

            “Held my hand,” Annabeth finishes. “I knew something had happened that day, because you were acting weird for like a week afterwards. But that was—Percy, that must have been years ago.”

            Percy laughs a little, lifting her hand and pressing a kiss to her knuckles. “Yeah, I know. It just hit me, right then, that I was in love with you, and it felt so familiar and so strange all at once, and I just—I panicked.” He meets her eyes, brushing her hair back from her face. “I can’t lose you either, Annabeth.”

            Annabeth nods soberly, turning back to watch the horizon. “I know,” she admits softly. “I know.”

            He touches her chin, bringing her back to face him, and then Percy kisses her, fingers tangled in her hair, and Annabeth kisses him back; his hands are on her face and he traces her cheekbones with his thumbs as his lips move against hers.

            “It’s almost 5:30,” Annabeth says breathlessly as she pulls back, cheeks flushed. “The loop’s going to restart any minute now.”

            Percy faces her, arms around her shoulders, and pulls her close against his chest, cradling her head. “Then let’s make the most of the time we have,” he says simply.

            Quietly, they wait for the loop to restart; Annabeth gazes out over the city, sees the myriad of colors begin to bleed into the sky. Pink, orange, yellow, turquoise, and blue intermingle until she sees a rainbow behind her eyelids every time she blinks.

            The sun’s about to come over the horizon, and she can feel Percy’s gaze on her. She looks up and meets his eyes.

            “What?” she asks, voice hushed.

            “I love you,” he says simply.

            Annabeth gazes at him, and she thinks she could live in any universe, with Percy by her side.

            “I love—” she begins, and suddenly they’re both blinded by a bright light, and the world is in screaming color.

            They both look up in confusion, and Annabeth blinks, staring out over the horizon as the bright light continues, and then she sees—

            “The sun,” she whispers.

            Percy looks out, squinting, and they look out on the horizon and see the early morning sun, rising above the city and painting bright, warm light on every touchable surface, and Annabeth can’t breathe for a minute until—

            “It’s the sun,” Percy repeats, awed, and she looks up at him. There are tears running down his face, unhindered, and Annabeth realizes she’s crying, too.

            “The loop—the time loop is broken,” she says, barely a whisper. “The sun rose.”

            And then it hits her, that the time loop is broken.

            All the years of waiting, of hopelessness, of bitterness—it’s done. They can live a new day, and remember, and everyone else remembers too; they can see their families again, and their friends, and they can live in the real world.

            She looks up at Percy, and sees that he’s going through it in his mind as well, trying to take it in, trying to process, and she takes his hand.

            “It’s broken,” he repeats, still gazing out over the horizon.

            Annabeth feels joy and excitement meld with the disbelief in her chest, and she kisses him. “It’s broken,” she says, exhaustion and adrenaline mixing to create a feeling of undeniable exhilaration, of excitement that grows every time she looks up, and sees the sun.

            “We—we have to go tell everyone—” she begins, but Percy laughs a little through his tears, pulls her close to his chest and kisses her hair, gaze still on the horizon.

            “We have all the time in the world,” he says, and she leans against his chest.

            Together, they watch the sun rise on a new day.

            (This is how it begins.)

            His hands in hers as they sit on the balcony, blankets strewn carelessly around their shoulders; their mugs of cold coffee sit on the ground, forgotten.

            She looks up and sees this beautiful, beautiful boy, this boy who’s so good, who loves her unconditionally. He’s the person who has made her happier than anyone else ever has, who’s saved her in so many countless ways through the years, the only person who has ever known her better than she knows herself.

            Annabeth looks at him, and knows that they have a future.

            She takes a deep breath. “I love you.”

            Percy meets her eyes. “I love you too.”

            She grips his hands tighter, and her world is complete.