“Five,” Clarisse announced, as Percy walked past her, not bothering to look up from her paperwork.
He stopped in his tracks. “What?”
“Nothing.” When she didn’t elaborate, he shrugged and continued walking, humming a melody that sounded vaguely like Celine Dion under his breath.
“Five,” Clarisse repeated, nodding to Grover who sat across from her.
“I got it,” he assured, clicking his pen to draw a tally onto the lime green post-it stuck to his desk beside the keyboard.
Clarisse had bet on Percy going to visit Annabeth’s desk 15 times today. Grover had bet 20, and was currently in charge of keeping track of the tally. Everyone else in the office (except Connor) had placed bets ranging from 12 to 24. At this rate, whoever bet 24 was probably going to win because it wasn’t even a quarter past 10:00 and this was already the fifth time he’d stopped by to flirt with her. Clarisse wondered how Chiron hadn’t fired the bastard yet—when did he even do his actual work?
Annabeth, on the other hand, rarely left her desk for anything. When she needed to do her job, she did her fucking job. Clarisse had never seen a more dedicated bitch. But that didn’t mean Annabeth didn’t welcome Percy’s frequent distractions. The blonde always pretended to be annoyed by them—rolling her eyes and huffing for good measure—but everyone knew she secretly loved the attention.
Annabeth never getting up from her desk also meant she forgot to get lunch at least twice a week so Percy took it upon himself to grab her something from the cafeteria or share his own lunch with her. Some mornings, he’d surprise her with coffee and a pastry, probably just as another excuse to talk to her. There was no doubt in Clarisse’s mind that the man knew Annabeth’s order by heart. It was sickeningly sweet if you asked her. She’d almost considered requesting that Chiron relocate Percy to be near Annabeth’s work station so she wouldn’t have to listen to the raven-haired man’s annoying, peppy footsteps the whole day. That little smirk he wore every time he approached Annabeth’s desk was infuriating enough.
Annabeth was essentially his work wife. A work wife that he had yet to kiss because he was too much of a coward to make an actual move. It had taken Connor, the new sales associate, flirting with Annabeth for Percy to even kiss her cheek in goodbye that one night they worked overtime together. He’d really wanted to offer her a ride home, but before he could muster up the courage, she was already halfway into the elevator, the click-clack of her heels a mocking countdown to the day she’d end up falling for someone. Someone that wasn’t him.
Clarisse thought they were the two dumbest people alive. Anyone with eyes could see the way they acted around each other. Except for them, apparently. Grover, bless his soul, had been on Percy’s ass about asking Annabeth out ever since they met. Every day when they made it back to the suite they shared, Percy would spill all the details about his conversations with Annabeth with little to no prodding. At first, it was endearing and he loved that his best friend was in love. It got tiring quickly.
Silena, the HR manager, had similarly taken to pressing Annabeth about her crush on Percy. She was constantly trying to set the two of them up, and she wasn’t very subtle about it. Unfortunately for Clarisse, this meant half the things her girlfriend gushed about was Percy and Annabeth. But Clarisse would be lying if her heart didn’t flutter a little when Silena pointed out their own office romance as a reason for Annabeth to shoot her shot with Percy. Sometimes, things did work out for the better.
4:55. Everyone held their breath. Piper bounced her knees, agitated, but also excited. She had bet 22, which is what the current tally was at, and with five minutes to go there was little chance she wouldn’t win. Her sister had bet one more and was just as anxious as her, but was better at playing it off.
That’s when Piper heard the unmistakable roll of Percy’s chair and his light footsteps as he pushed away from his deck and walked towards Annabeth. Fuck, she thought. Not today, bitch. Luckily for Piper, her desk was located in between the two lovebirds. This was her chance at interception.
Silena recognized the look on her sister’s face, extending her leg to stomp on Piper’s toes. “Cut it out!” she hissed discreetly. “No interfering with nature.”
“Nature,” Piper muttered, rolling her eyes. Is that what it was? “That was never in the rules,” she said smugly, flicking a crumpled scrap of paper back at her sister’s forehead.
Just as he approached her desk, Piper burst out, “Percy!” with no plan in mind.
He paused his steps, surprised. “Piper, hey,” he smiled easily. “You need something?”
“Yeah, actually,” she chirped, faking a wide grin. “I was just...wondering where you got that sweater from.”
Percy’s eyebrows rose to his hairlines and he glanced down at the sweater he was wearing, putting his hand on his chest. It was really nothing special. A solid navy blue, form-fitting, paired well with creme-colored khakis. “This?” he asked dumbly.
Piper couldn’t even bring herself to roll her eyes at that one—she understood his confusion. She could easily find a hundred other sweaters exactly like that within a matter of minutes. The man had probably got it at Costco when he was on the way to pick up milk and saw that it was on sale. That’s not to say he didn’t look good, though—no, he was extremely handsome in it, but she figured that had more to do with the man than the sweater. Piper didn’t personally find him attractive but she could see why someone like Annabeth would. He was all charming crooked grins, lean bronze muscle, messy dark hair, kind sparkling eyes.
“Yeah!” she said, a little too enthusiastically, internally cringing. “It hugs your shoulders really nicely.” Fuck, now it sounded like she was flirting with him. She glared at Silena’s failed attempt to stifle a laugh out of the corner of her eye.
Percy blinked, even more confused and a little flustered at the sudden attention. “Uh...thanks?”
“No problem! I was thinking I could get something like that for Jason because it would look so good on him, don’t you think?”
“Um, sure, yeah,” he returned, clearly just agreeing with everything she was saying so he could be on his way.
“So where’d you get it?” she asked, resting her chin in her palms, looking up at him a little unnervingly.
“Uh, Costco, I think? I don’t remember, I got it a while ago.”
Piper was torn between the satisfaction of being right and her outrage at the fact that this man’s fashion sense was Costco and she had to pretend to like it.
“Really? Well, let me look it up on their site and see if I can try to find it.”
Percy nodded, “Good luck with that,” and began to make his way towards Annabeth again.
“Wait! I need your help, actually,” she insisted, fingers moving on her keyboard faster than they ever had before.
“My help?” he asked, still bewildered.
“Mhmm…” she waved her hand, beckoning him to come stand behind her so he could see her screen. By the time he’d leaned in and squinted at her computer, she’d pulled up that exact sweater from Costco and an identical one from Macy’s. Which one do you think looks better?”
“Uhh...they look the same to me. Sorry. I’m really not your guy for fashion. Wouldn’t asking Silena be more helpful?”
“Well, I figured you’d know more about men’s clothing,” she lied, desperate to keep him there. There was a hundred dollars─a meal at the Cheesecake Factory and a new pair of shoes─riding on this. “Do you think this one would fit snugly?”
“Can’t you just click to the side and see how it looks on the model?”
She internally cursed out the man beside her. Why did he choose not to be oblivious at all the wrong times? “Yeah, but I’m thinking texture-wise. Would it be too rough? Which one looks softer?”
“Uh, the one I’m wearing is fairly soft. So maybe get tha─”
“Oh my god, look, is that Connor?” Silena gasped dramatically, pointedly looking past Percy. “Aren’t they so cute together?”
“What?” his head snapped up a little too quickly, jaw clenching and shoulders tensing immediately. His gaze narrows in on the sales associate leaning flirtatiously against Annabeth’s desk, in the way only he was allowed to. Connor was leaning close and whispering something but what made Percy’s gut simmer was the way she seemed to be enjoying every second of it, engaging in the conversation, throwing her head back in a cute laugh at his jokes. He wasn't that funny, Percy thought to himself. If Annabeth wanted a guy that could make her laugh, Percy was plenty hilarious himself.
Piper mouthed to Silena, scowling, “ I will kill you,”, but the other woman wore a smug, unbothered smile, winking and blowing a kiss back at her irritated sister. Percy was oblivious to this interaction, too busy glaring daggers into Connor’s back. Silena thought he looked five seconds away from murder.
“What could he possibly be saying to make her laugh like that. He’s not even that funny.” Percy grumped, envy rolling off of him in waves.
“What? Connor’s so funny. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins her over solely using his humor,” Silena grinned wickedly, egging the green monster in Percy on.
Percy’s head turned to her at that, eyes wide in alarm. “What? You really think so? She likes him?”
Silena shrugged, all too innocently, raising a hand to inspect her nails, feigning nonchalance. “She could be falling for him, as we speak. Connor can be very charming when he wants to be.” Silena prayed that her words would motivate him to intervene and steal Annabeth for himself instead of having the opposite discouraging effect.
“But she─we─Connor isn’t even─” he stammered, his frustration at a boiling point. “Fuck it, I’m going in,” he declared, marching past Piper and Silena. At this point, Piper knew there was nothing she could do to stop him. He was a man on a mission. A jealous man on a mission. She glanced at the clock. She had managed to delay him for a solid four and a half minutes. Piper hoped he’d slow his pace or trip over something in his hurry so he still wouldn’t be at her desk by 5:00. She bit her nails anxiously, staring at his retreating figure. Ten seconds. He was forty feet away. She was so close to her hundred dollars. Come on, come on, come on…
Two seconds. He was within five feet of Annabeth’s desk, and she and Connor redirected their attention to his approaching figure. Percy may have been unaware of it, but everyone’s eyes were following him like a hawk.
“Hey, Beth,” he said, slightly out of breath and faux-casual, leaning his elbow on her desk and not-so-subtly nudging Connor out of the way right before the clock struck 5:00.
“Hey, Perce,” she replied, kindly, her brow furrowed at his strange behavior. “What’s up?”
Before he could open his mouth to make up an excuse, Piper lost it.
“God! No! Fuck!” she shouted, kicking the trash bin by her desk in aggravation. “Dammit!” The office fell dead silent and everyone angled their heads to stare at Piper. Clarisse tried to hide a snicker beneath her palm. Piper didn’t even blush under their gazes. She was too frustrated to care. Fortunately, Chiron didn’t come out of his office to ask about the commotion.
Percy looked back, startled. “What? What’s going on? What happened?” His eyes landed on a livid Piper. “Oh, is the sweater sold out or something? I’m sure you can find something like it somewhere else.”
“Fuck you and your sweater,” she spat, rapidly grabbing her belongings and stuffing them in her back, stomping her way to the elevator.
Percy looked shocked and mildly offended at the outburst. He glanced around at the others watching the interaction. “Did I do something?”
Everyone watched as Grover slowly smirked and marked the 23rd tally, grabbing a stack of bills from his desk drawer and making his way over to a grinning Silena. “How are you always so good at guessing these things?” he marveled, placing the cash into the smug girl’s awaiting palm.
“It’s love. I just know these things,” she said breezily, tucking the money into her purse.
“Wait, what is going on?” Percy’s voice chimed in from afar. Annabeth sat next to him, equally confused. She’s always hated not knowing what was going on.
Grover opened his mouth to make up an excuse but Clarisse beat him to it. “A little bet we placed on you, runt.”
“On me? Why? For what?”
“We wanted to see how many times you’d go over and flirt with your darling Beth in a day. Twenty-three, apparently. My girlfriend won so I won, too. You gonna take me out to a fancy dinner, babe?” she called to Silena.
“Of course, darling.”
“What the fuck,” Percy muttered, cheeks flushed as he deliberately avoided eye contact with the equally embarrassed blonde next to him. “You bet on us?”
“Well, technically, we bet on you. But yeah. You constantly walking back and forth through the office was getting annoying. Figured we’d at least make a game out of it.”
“I─but─” he sputtered, seemingly at a loss for words.
“Oh my god,” was all Annabeth managed, clearly stunned and unsettled by Clarisse’s declaration.
“Look,” Clarisse interrupted the two blushing fools, “you two are clearly head over heels for each other. Jackson literally requested the barista make a little foam heart in your coffee this morning, Chase. If that doesn’t scream I’m in love with you, then I don’t know what does. And then you drank it without noticing and he moped for two hours. You two have some shit to sort out. Connor, I admire your efforts, but just give it up, man.”
Percy and Annabeth stood there, blushing to the roots of their hair as everyone else moved about, gathering their belongings and heading out for the day. Even Connor reluctantly returned back to his desk and packed his things.
Silena turned back at them and shot Annabeth a salacious wink before the elevator door shut behind her.
Percy was torn between internally screaming in humiliation and admiring how beautiful Annabeth looked with a blush on her face. She didn’t speak until everyone left. She cleared her throat in discomfort and looked up at him, “So a heart, huh?”
His face turned even redder at the teasing lilt to her voice. “Uh, yeah. I saw the barista doing it for the previous customer and I thought it was cute so I asked. Sorry if that makes you uncomfortable, I didn’t mean─”
She fisted her hand in his sweater and pulled his bumbling mouth down to her lips, tangling her other hand in his hair. He could feel his heart melting into his toes, and the millions of thoughts he’d had about her since they met condensed into this single moment. Her touch held a promise within it. It was like coming home to a place he’d longed to be but was never quite within reach—until now. She pulled away from his shocked face, eyes searching his. A dazed look remained on his face—she had rendered him incapable of proper brain function.
“That’s how you tell someone you like them,” she said matter-of-factly, a different kind of blush adorning her foreground face. He had never seen anything so cute.
“Duly noted,” he whispered, mind still muddled from the fact that the woman he’d been crushing on for years had just kissed the life out of him. “I like this much better too, actually.”
“Yeah?” she smirked, corner of lips turning up in amusement, as she carefully watched his reaction.
“Yeah. So...what do you say we get outta here and I take you someplace nice for dinner?”
“Sounds like you might like me.”
“Just a little bit, yeah,” he laughed, holding her bag for her and grasping her warm hand in his. They grinned as they held hands in the elevator, the door opening to the spacious lobby—the promise of a new beginning.