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caught mistakes in the sidewalk

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It’s a shockingly warm day for the beginning of December, and they’re walking the streets of Manhattan leisurely on a Tuesday afternoon, swinging their intertwined hands between them.  For once, Percy and Annabeth both have a little free time after their respective school days, and they’re planning to hang out in Percy’s apartment, reveling in the rare alone time since Sally won’t be home that day until later.

“Oh, so,” Percy says, breaking minutes of comfortable silence, “Mom asked if you wanted to stay over this weekend, but—“

“I can’t,” Annabeth answers immediately.  “I have—“

Percy nods. “A test next week, yeah. Don’t worry, I already told her you’d be holed up in your dorm all weekend. I was just letting you know in case she asks you about it. She’s still hoping she can needle you into saying yes. And she also went all, don’t presume to decide things for Annabeth just because she’s your girlfriend, for like the third time. I told her it wasn’t like that, but—“

Annabeth stops in her tracks. “Well, she’s right.”

“What?” Percy asks, turning and looking at her in confusion.

Annabeth doesn’t know why she’s suddenly angry, but she is. “You just told her I couldn’t come, without even asking me.”

“Well…,” Percy scratches the back of his neck, sputtering, “I thought… I mean… you never come over when you have a big assignment due sometime in the next five days.”

This makes Annabeth even angrier, and she snatches her hand away from Percy’s and crosses her arms. “You can’t know that. Maybe I want to come this weekend. I could always study at your place.”

Percy holds his hands up as if in surrender. “Okay, obviously I want you there,” something in Annabeth’s heart swells and stutters at those words, which is ridiculous, so she stomps it down, “I just thought… you never feel like you can get stuff done unless you’re at your own desk with all your things, but if you can come, that’s great, I’ll let Mom know.”

Annabeth bites the inside of her cheek, getting even more pissed at the ease with which Percy says words, describes her habits as fact, like the knowledge is ingrained into him permanently. “I can’t come,” Annabeth snaps. “I can’t get work done at your place.”

The confusion is back on Percy’s face, followed by exasperation. “That’s what I said in the first place! Why are you—“

“That’s not the point,” Annabeth insists, even though it very much is the point, the surety with which Percy just says these things, just knows these things. Narrowing her eyes, she asks, “When else did you presume to decide things for me?”

“Okay, first of all, I don’t decide for you, I always confirm with you after! I don’t know what you’re getting so worked up about.” When Annabeth continues glaring at him, he goes on, “Fine, gods, I don’t know, they were just offhand things, like my mom asking if you’d be okay with salad and mashed potatoes for dinner that time last month, and I told her no because you’d want the greasiest, most unhealthy dinner ever, since you always eat healthy shit while you’re working on a big project and then binge on pizza and burgers after you’ve finally finished.”

Annabeth vaguely remembers the incident in question. She’d been told by her mother that there needed to be a rough blueprint for at least one temple on Mount Olympus by the end of the first week of November, and she had an Algebra midterm the same week. She was going crazy with stress the whole time, and the urge to gorge on mac and cheese and pizza and every junk food in existence was nearly impossible to ignore.

But only a few days after she was named the official architect of Olympus, Annabeth looked up a list of healthy foods that helped with focus and memory, knowing she’d need it during the coming months as both an architect and a sophomore in high school.

So she refused to consume anything but those on her pre-approved list when she was in the middle of studying, and planning, and sketching, and trying not to lose her mind. The Friday after, though, when she had nearly cried from relief at her midterm having gone well and Artemis approving her blueprint, she was looking forward to not eating a single vegetable for at least the next twenty four hours.

Annabeth doesn’t remember ever actually telling Percy about these eating choices. And yet when she arrived at the Jackson-Blofis household, Percy had already ordered a large pizza, with extra cheese and cheesy garlic bread on the side, from her favorite pizza place in the city. There was also a new, unopened container of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream in the freezer that she knew was just for her.

When she doesn’t say anything, Percy seems like he’s going to go on and tell her about all the other times he knew her better than she knew herself, but Annabeth is afraid of hearing more.

She interrupts him when he’s barely started, not attempting to keep the edge from her tone. “And you just knew what I would want. You knew my answer without even asking me first.”

Percy huffs, almost like he’s torn between amusement and irritation. “Well, yeah, it was easy to see it coming. You’re pretty predictable, Wise Girl.” There’s a teasing lilt to his voice, an attempt to lighten the mood.

But Annabeth refuses to give in. Her jaw tightens. “Predictable,” she says, nearly hissing.

Percy’s slight smile falters, and he looks bewildered again. “Annabeth—“

“Let’s just go,” Annabeth says, not looking at Percy.

In her periphery, she sees Percy’s mouth open, then close. Annabeth starts walking briskly, and Percy has to jog a little to catch up with her. They’re not holding hands like they were before while walking, and Annabeth’s fingers feel ridiculously cold, her hand empty and aching for contact.

They walk in silence, and she can feel Percy sneaking looks at her. After a couple minutes, when she glances at him from the corner of her eye, he’s… smiling, if only slightly. Why is he smiling?

Then Annabeth realizes that her fingers had drifted to her camp necklace, brushing over the red coral pendant again and again. It’s become a habit over the past few months for her to tug on the pendant whenever she’s upset, or just thinking too hard. It happens without her even knowing she’s doing it, and she hadn’t entirely been aware of the habit until a few weeks back, when Annabeth had seen Percy smiling just the way he is now, and asked him what he was smiling about, and he had pointed out what she was doing, looking pleased and bashful all at once.

Annabeth immediately drops her hand, feeling herself flush, placing a scowl on her face in an attempt to counteract her embarrassment. Percy just grins at that, the jerk.

Predictable.

Right.

Annabeth walks faster.

Soon, Percy is opening and closing the door to his apartment, gaze wary as he looks at Annabeth and away again.

The door shuts, and he looks like he’s about to say something, but Annabeth doesn’t give him the chance.

She grabs him by his shoulders, shoves him against the wall next to the door, and kisses him.

Percy makes a surprised noise against her mouth, and for a few moments he just stands there as Annabeth kisses him hard, left hand pressing into his chest and the right sliding up to the back of his head and tangling in his hair.

Annabeth starts to feel ridiculous, about to pull away when Percy doesn’t kiss her back, but then his hands are clutching her waist, not letting her move away, and his lips are moving against hers in a way that’s dizzying.

Seconds, minutes, hours later, they finally break away. Annabeth’s arms are wrapped around his neck, and one of Percy’s is buried in Annabeth’s blonde curls while the other cups her cheek. 

They’re both breathing hard, and Percy’s eyes are wide, awed, his mouth opening and closing like a fish.

Annabeth waits for him to speak, but he can’t seem to find any words. Serves him right.

“Okay,” he says finally, and his voice cracks a little, so he clears his throat and tries again. “Okay, so—“

Annabeth raises an eyebrow, a hint of a smirk on her lips.

Percy flounders again. Annabeth nearly takes pity on him, but then he laughs, a laugh equal parts disbelieving and fond and amused and happy.

He cups her face with both of his hands, his thumb traveling back and forth across her right cheekbone.

“Okay, so maybe I didn’t see that coming,” he says softly, smiling, and the tenderness in his voice and expression makes Annabeth want to kiss him again and run away in equal measure.

This time it’s Annabeth whose voice is embarrassingly hoarse. “Am I still predictable and boring, then?”

Percy pulls back a little, surprised. “Hold on, I never said boring,” he says, sounding almost offended.You could never be boring.”

Annabeth shoots him a tremulous smile. “Not even when I’m going on for hours and hours about architecture?”

Percy nudges her nose with his, achingly sweet and gentle. Annabeth wants to look away from his startling sea-green eyes that always seem to hold an ocean’s worth of emotion in them, but she finds that she can’t.

“Well, maybe I have no idea what you’re saying when you start gushing about barrel vaults and cannolian columns—“

“Corinthian,” Annabeth said.

“Whatever. Maybe I’m not that interested in all of that. But…” He tucks a stay curl behind her ear. “But you always get this look in your eyes when you talk about that stuff. That’s definitely not boring.”

Annabeth licks her lips, all but consumed by the intensity in Percy’s own eyes. “No?” She asks, almost in a whisper.

He shakes his head, and Annabeth is surprised by how close they are, their foreheads nearly touching. “I could stare at that all day,” Percy tells her, voice low, breath warm on her face.

Annabeth swallows, and she knows her face is an unattractive shade of red.

Percy blinks, then, as if coming out of a trance, and the burning intensity is replaced by a deep blush and sheepish grin, hand scratching the back of his flushed neck as he drops his eyes.

He does this a lot, Annabeth has noticed — he says something boldly romantic or flirty or passionate that leaves her head spinning, and then turns all shy and nervous as if he didn’t just make Annabeth’s heart nearly beat out of her chest with his words. It’s ridiculously endearing.

Impulsively, she kisses the corner of his mouth. “You’re really sweet,” Annabeth says, because it’s true, and she wants him to know. 

Percy just smiles at her, that bashful, honest, achingly sweet smile, and Annabeth all but melts into his arms, face buried in his neck. He kisses the top of her head, and Annabeth closes her eyes as he just holds her.

“I don’t know why I freaked out like that,” Annabeth says, after a while of them standing like that. The words are quiet, breathed into the minimal space between them like a secret. “You didn’t do anything wrong. I just—“ She pulls back and stares at the ground, suddenly frustrated again, but now she can admit she’s frustrated at herself, not at Percy. “I don’t know how you do that. Read my mind. You always seem to know… and it’s just…” She trails off, unable or unwilling to articulate what she’s feeling.

Percy’s fingers rub soothing circles over her sweater on her hip, and he waits patiently for her to gather herself, knowing what she needs, always knowing exactly what she needs.

Annabeth huffs, deflating. “I mean, Grover’s the one you have an empathy link, isn’t he? He’s the one whose mind you’re supposed to be able to read.”

Percy just shrugs. “I don’t need an empathy link with you, Annabeth. I know you.” As if it’s simple.

I know you.

It’s not the first time Percy has said those words to her over their years of friendship and more-than-friendship, but it’s the first time Annabeth feels the full weight of the them and everything that they entail. 

"Besides,” Percy goes on, “I can’t always read your mind. Trust me, there’s lots of times I can’t. Sometimes your brain is a complete mystery. A big, weird mystery.”

“Well, I can’t let you know everything, can I?” Annabeth tries for a laugh, because she’s just joking after all, but it sounds hollow. “If you saw how much of a mess it really is in there, you’d probably get tired and run sprinting in the other direction.”

She doesn’t mean for it to come out as sincere and vulnerable as it does, or maybe she doesn’t mean for it to come out at all. Because that's the real issue, isn't it? Everybody leaves Annabeth Chase. This fact is as ingrained into Annabeth as her own name. Percy has stayed longer than anyone else, has been kinder and more patient than anyone else, but even his patience can't be endless. One day, if given enough time to look, he'll see a rough, jagged piece of her that he can't deal with, a piece that's so sharp and broken that it's only made to cut, to hurt and be hurt.  

Her face feels hot with shame at her admission, and she hides it Percy’s shoulder.

Percy’s fingers still on her hip. He brings them to her face and pulls her head away from his shoulder, trying to force her to look at him. She stubbornly doesn’t meet his eyes.

“Annabeth. That’s not possible.”

Annabeth makes an unintelligible sound, wanting only to escape this conversation. 

“Hey. Look at me.”

And, well, when he says it like that, voice gone soft and tender like that, how can Annabeth not do as he says?

“That’s not going to happen,” Percy tells her firmly. “I don’t care how messy it is in there,” he taps her on the head. “I like it, all of it, and I could never get tired—it’s just impossible, okay?”

“Okay,” Annabeth says, not knowing how else to respond, especially with the gigantic lump in her throat.

“I’m serious!” Percy sounds worked up now. “It’s as impossible as—as—“ he struggles for a fitting comparison. “It’s as impossible as me getting tired of the color blue!”

Annabeth bites her lip. “Wow, high praise, Seaweed Brain.”

“It is high praise,” Percy agrees, and Annabeth laughs, a real laugh this time, and Percy breaks into a smile of his own at the sound. “Okay. So that’s settled then. Percy Jackson is very into Annabeth Chase’s weird, messy brain.”

“Gods,” Annabeth groans, pretending to shove him away when he leans in for a kiss. “You are such a dork.”

“Hey, you’re the one who shoved me against a wall to make out with me,” Percy says, smirking at Annabeth’s subsequent flush of mortification. “So I’d predict that you don’t mind.”

Annabeth refrains from pointing out that that’s not really how you’re supposed to use the word predict. “Okay, whatever, I’m hungry. Don’t you have some food around here?”

Percy grins, all too knowing, not buying her deflection. “Sure. Let’s eat.”

Before Percy can get far, though, she grabs his hand and tugs at it, making him look back at her in question.

“I… Percy…” Annabeth struggles to form words against the sudden overflow of emotions. “Thank you.”

It’s all she can say. Thank you isn’t something Annabeth Chase says often. She’s not particularly good at Sorry and Thank you and I love you and You're everything to me.

It’s because of this that she knows Percy understands how much she means it.

Percy’s face softens, and he leans back into her to kiss her forehead. “Any time,” he murmurs. Then, “Now, come on. I bought more cookie dough just for you.”

So Annabeth goes, sits beside the boy who knows her better than she knows herself, and for now, there’s no fear inside her.