The third time Jason catches Percy staring at Annabeth Chase he realises he may have a problem.
“Dude,” he says reproachfully. “Again?”
Percy doesn’t even look ashamed. “What?”
Jason can’t believe he even has to point this out. “She’s married,” he says. He’s surprised Percy hasn’t heard yet. A few months ago Annabeth showed up to work with a wedding band on her finger; and no one said anything to her, except Octavian Spencer, who has no self-preservation, and had continued to gloriously hit on her like nothing had changed, but in the office it was a Huge Deal, with capital letters at the front. It was such a Huge Deal that twenty-seven minutes of their thirty minute debrief was spent discussing who it could possibly be. The only reason why it hadn’t been all thirty was because at twenty-eight minutes Annabeth had come in to see their ideas for the cover redesign and no one in there was Octavian except Octavian, so none of them actually wanted to die via scary boss.
“Really?” Percy says.
“Dude, yeah! She’s totally taken.”
Piper pops her head over the top of the dividers. “Who are we talking about?”
Piper works on the desk in front of Jason’s, and she’s also the most beautiful person Jason has ever seen. The two are not really related, other than the fact that the low dividers mean that whenever Jason gets stuck he can just gaze at the back of her beautiful head and daydream about their future stunning biracial children. She likes animals, has a laugh a bit like a goose and also his heart on a platter. Not that she knows that last bit. Everything she does is enchanting, and Jason’s been trying to work up the courage to ask her out for months now.
Honestly, he’s just not sure how. Someone like Piper deserves to be spoiled, and Jason doesn’t think he has the requisite tools to do that quite yet. Soon, though, he promises himself, as he gazes up into her face. He just needs to be able to find out a way how. And it has to be good, too. Piper seems like a woman who knows what she wants. He’s heard her talking about going to women’s marches and on her computer is a little feminist badge.
It sort of makes Jason swoon a little, to see her so totally in control of her life. Which brings him back to the main issue.
“Annabeth,” he explains to her. “Percy won’t stop looking at her.”
The look of pity Piper gives Percy is similar to how Jason is feeling about the whole situation, like the look a lamb is given before it’s about to be slaughtered. “Definitely taken. Did you see that wedding ring?”
“Told you,” Jason says.
“Do you know who it is?” Percy asks.
“No, but we have theories,” Piper says. “I personally think it’s a celebrity.”
“Thalia thinks she’s gay,” Jason says, a bit thoughtfully, because it does have some merit. “I heard her talking yesterday.”
Piper rolls her eyes. “Thalia thinks everyone is gay. No, I think it’s a hunky actor. Like Luke Castellan.” She swoons. Jason frowns. Luke Castellan?
At that moment, Grover comes gliding by on his spinny chair. He has a leg impediment which means he can’t walk without his crutches, so Annabeth had made the aisles wider so he would be able to move through the office on his chair alone. It was a good idea in theory, but now Leo from graphics and Thalia from HR have a daily bet on who can stay in their chair the longest, and Grover takes the expanded aisles as permission to meander through the desks practicing his reed pipes. Today is no different, except now when he passes he drops the pipes on his lap and moors himself into the desk. “What is this I hear about a hunky actor?”
“Annabeth’s husband,” Jason says. “We’re trying to warn Percy off.”
“Off Annabeth?” When Percy nods, Grover bleats with laughter. “Oh, Percy! I’m so glad you transferred here, you make life so much more entertaining.”
“We don’t want you to become Octavian,” Piper explains to Percy, and then they all grimace, because Octavian.
“He won’t stop looking at her,” Jason says.
“She’s cute,” Percy defends.
“Yeah, and taken!” Grover laughs so hard he almost drops his reed pipes on the floor. “You have no chance.”
“She and Luke Castellan will have beautiful babies together,” Piper says.
Jason frowns again. Is Luke Castellan really that handsome? He does have blond hair. Maybe Piper has a type. And… Jason has blond hair too! His frown disappears. Maybe he’s also Piper’s type.
When he glances over at Percy, however, he doesn’t look disheartened. In fact, it’s unfortunately more of the opposite — his eyes are narrowed in challenge, like he thinks he’ll be able to dissolve Annabeth’s holy matrimony with the power of his handsome looks. Not that Jason doubts it – quite the opposite, in fact. Percy is good-looking, and funny, and charming. Even Jason might be tempted to end a marriage if he were on the receiving end of that, and he’s not even attracted to men. But he likes Percy, and he likes Annabeth, and the last thing he wants as a good friend is for Percy to become a home wrecker. Besides, Annabeth is a tough nut to crack. She’ll probably fire Percy before that can happen, and Jason likes having Percy as a desk-mate: he’s relatively tidy and none of his things cross the masking tape line. Before Percy Jason had to share with Octavian, and—ugh.
“Percy, no,” he warns.
But Percy is already nodding his head. “Let’s make a bet,” he says.
Grover, who’s just finished wiping tears out of his eyes, bursts out laughing all over again. “For you to get with Annabeth? Percy!” He’s got a laugh a lot like a goat-bleat. It’s really quite charming.
Percy folds his arms in challenge. “I bet that I can get with Annabeth by Thanksgiving.”
Jason frowns. “Seriously?”
They take Thanksgiving very seriously at the office. Since most of them don’t have family in the city, they’re on a rota every year to do Thanksgiving at each other’s places. Last year Leo hosted, and he made the most divine tacos Jason has ever had. But this year it’s been scheduled to be at Annabeth’s.
Jason does not see how this can go well.
Grover, clearly, does not have the same reservations. “Oh, I’m in. Ten thousand dollars.”
Jason is horrified. “Grover!”
“What? Like it’s actually going to happen. Come on, bet something. He’s obviously not going to win.”
“We shouldn’t be doing this at all! Percy, I love you as a brother but I can’t encourage you to be a home wrecker! This is wrong.”
“I’m in,” Piper says. “Your car, Percy.”
Percy smirks. “And if I win?”
That sends Grover into hysterics again. “If he wins!”
Piper lifts her chin. “Name your price.”
“Your signed Captain America poster,” says Percy.
She narrows her eyes. “It is so on.”
Grover genuinely has tears in his eyes. “Go on, then, Perce. I’m feeling generous. As well as ten thousand dollars, what do you want from me? If you win.” He sniggers even just saying it.
“I get to smash your pipes with a hammer,” Percy says immediately, and while Jason doesn’t condone this sort of home-wrecking behaviour in the slightest privately he hopes Percy does succeed, if only to destroy Grover’s pipes once and for all. They are the worst thing to breech the doorway of this office since Octavian. Sometimes he even has dreams about running the pipes over with his car. Grover is enthusiastic and terrible and if the reason he stops playing them is because Percy gets Annabeth to cheat on her husband than so be it.
Grover just laughs merrily, though. “Ha! As if. You have yourself a deal.”
“Good,” Percy says. He sounds remarkably confident. Jason would admire that, except at this point he’s worrying it errs on the side of delusion. Just looking at his face you can tell he’s only been here for a short while. “Just you wait.”
“Oh, don’t worry, we will,” Piper says. “With baited breath.”
“For my ten thousand dollars!” Grover says.
Percy just smirks. “We’ll see about that.”
Jason is suitably afraid.
For months the office has smelled of nothing but Leo’s feet and the boiled cabbages Octavian insists on bringing in every single day, so when one day its permeated by something else, something—good, everyone notices.
“Sugar,” Piper says, crazily. She’s sniffing the air like a hound dog. “Butter. Melted butter. Cookies?”
At that moment, Annabeth stalks out of her office. “I smell baked treats,” she says. She also looks a bit manic. “Where are they? Who has them?”
“I have asparagus bake,” Octavian starts, from the printer.
“NO,” Annabeth snaps. “Your food never smells this good.”
Octavian looks wounded.
And then, like a beacon of hope amidst the putrid smells from Octavian’s plastic container, Percy wafts into the room in his usual button-up and jeans, only this time—this time, he has a Tupperware under one arm.
Annabeth catches sight of him immediately. “Jackson,” she says. “What is that?”
Percy grins. “Oh, just some cookies.” He pauses. “You want one?”
“Oh, he’s good,” Piper breathes.
Annabeth eyes him suspiciously. “What are your motives?”
“I have none at all.”
“You’ve been here for two months. You must know that bringing in anything that smells even slightly better than Octavian’s food is going to send my employees wild.”
“Hey!” Octavian says. Jason thinks he’s printing pictures of creepy dolls, so he had zero sympathy.
“I just made some yesterday,” Percy says. “Thought I’d bring them in to share.”
“Hm.” Annabeth purses her lips. “May I try one?”
Percy prises open the lid and offers her the container. Annabeth is still giving him a hairy eyeball, though now it’s less of a loaded-bomb look and more of a I-don’t-trust-your-motives look, but she reaches in nonetheless, takes a cookie, and bites into it.
Jason can’t really describe the expression her face wears a moment later as anything other than pure bliss. He doesn’t doubt it – Percy is a man of many hats, it wouldn’t surprise him that as well as being funny and wickedly good at Hangman he’s also a talented baker – but it’s just that—well, Jason hasn’t really seen Annabeth look so pleased at something before, other than that time they played Sudoko against each other and she had beaten him by six seconds. He is quite speechless, actually. Maybe he should give Percy more credit.
The expression only lasts around half a second, as a heartbeat later she’s smoothed it back out into her usual scowl. She swallows her mouthful and brushes the crumbs off her mouth. “Hm,” she says contemptuously. “Not terrible.”
“Well,” Percy says smugly, “I have been told I’m a stellar baker.”
Annabeth just rolls her eyes. “Get back to work, Jackson.”
He salutes her. “Yes, ma’am,” he says, and Jason actually spots a hint of a smile at Annabeth’s lips. Oh, no. This is really bad.
“I cannot believe he made it look that easy,” Piper says as Percy smugly heads towards their desk. “Unbelievable.”
But Jason has other pressing issues. “You need to stop this,” he tells Percy seriously as he sits down.
Percy laughs. “Why?”
“You’re doing this too well!”
“I don’t see the problem,” Percy says.
“I do,” Piper grumps. “I want your car.”
The problem! Jason flails. “The problem, Percy, is that we’re good friends, which means I have to be honest with you, and I think what you’re doing is wrong. It was fun at the beginning but you made Annabeth smile! Clearly this has gone too far and I would be a bad friend if I didn’t stop you from becoming a home-wrecker.”
But Percy is grinning at him, smug as anything. “I think you’re just afraid you might lose,” he says, and no!
“Were we not sacrificing the marriage of our boss I would want you to win,” Jason says, because he feels he has to make this clear. “I want Grover’s pipes completely abolished. But that’s not the point, because we are.”
“Please.” That’s Grover, on his daily circle around the office. Today he’s playing Dolly Parton. Jason can’t be too sure, though, he’s gotten quite good at drowning out the pipes by now. “It’s not like he’s actually going to win.”
“You hope I don’t win,” Percy snarks back, grinning. “Feeling afraid, Underwood? Got ten grand riding on this.”
“You live in a shack,” Jason pronounces, as Grover’s chair drifts away. “I don’t know where you’re expecting to cough up ten thousand dollars from.”
“I’m not!” Grover calls. “Because he’s not going to win!”
He disappears around one of the dividers and a few seconds later the pipes start back up again. ‘Islands in the Stream’, Jason thinks. It’s hard to tell. None of the notes he’s playing are the right ones.
“Well,” Piper says, into the ensuing silence, “I’m terrified.”
Percy grins. “Yeah?”
“Can we change the bet? I have a few teapots Mom keeps sending me I wouldn’t miss horribly.”
“Absolutely not. What’s done is done.”
Piper whines. “It’s not fair! You went straight for the headshot. Everyone knows that baked goods are the fastest way to a girl’s heart.”
“I appreciate you helping me with this,” Jason says.
“Dude!” Percy says. He sounds genuine, too. Sometimes Jason is really thankful Percy transferred to their newspaper. He’s the breath of fresh air this place needed. Maybe it’s the fact that before him Octavian used to sit and arrange all his paper friends — Jason couldn’t call them ‘dolls’, apparently it was rude and they were fragile — “well, yes, they’re paper,” Jason had said, quite puzzled — against his monitor like a battle front, and he looked up strangely specific pictures of ankles and German women with green eyes and neck tattoos. Anyone would be better than that.
Luckily, though, Jason didn’t get just anyone. He got Percy, who’s not only an excellent and respectful desk-mate, but also a solid friend, who also didn’t laugh at him when he asked if he could teach him how to bake.
“The tip is to not over-mix,” Percy explains, as he demonstrates. They’re in the office kitchen, which also smells of boiled cabbage, as Octavian has graduated from being a pain in the ass to a full-bodied pain as he decided that simply bringing in boiled cabbage every day was not enough but now he must also boil the cabbage here, too.
“But how do you know when you’ve overmixed it?” Jason says, rather dismayed. He didn’t realise baking required so much skill.
“You don’t,” Percy says. “Well, sometimes you do, but not with cookies. You’ve got to just go with your gut.” He pats his hand over the abs on his apron. When they were searching for aprons in the props department Percy had seen it and laughed for three minutes straight. Jason stares at it now, sadly.
“His gut is probably right,” he says, gloomily.
“Probably,” Percy says. “But maybe not, I don’t trust that he still has all his organs with abs like that.”
“Maybe he sold them on the black market. Apparently human parts are worth a lot.”
Percy laughs. “Yeah, probably.”
He says that a lot. Probably. Jason likes it. It means there’s no real definite answer to anything Percy does; he’s very go-with-the-flow. It doesn’t mean yes, doesn’t mean no. Just is. It’s nice.
“Or maybe he sacrificed them in a ritual,” Jason says. “For baking skills.”
Percy nudges him. “You’ll get there. It’s super easy once you do it loads. Besides, worst case scenario, you can just buy Piper cookies. She probably won’t care.”
“But it’s more personal if I made it,” Jason laments. “I just don’t know if I can.”
And not only that, Piper deserves someone who will make her real cookies. He doesn’t want to half-heart this. If he’s going to go about wooing her, he must take all the steps to courtship and fine-tooth comb them.
He’s just gone about pouring in the last of the soya milk as Percy whisks when Annabeth walks through the door, and pauses at the sight of them. She has her curly hair back in a ponytail and her glasses on top of her head, and a mug of coffee in her hands with a file under one arm. She looks rather busy, but also intrigued.
Which he can’t blame her for. He’s wearing gingham. And Percy’s wearing the results of someone’s black market baking rituals.
“May I ask what you are doing?” Annabeth says, in a voice that’s not leaving much room for them to decline.
“Baking,” Percy says. “I’m teaching Jason. He’s taken up a love for it.” He winks at him, and Jason goes hot.
“Really?” Annabeth enquires.
Jason clears his throat. “Yes, it’s very—scintillating. I’m learning a lot. After all, Percy is a stellar baker.”
Annabeth’s lips twitch at that, for some reason. Even though she was clearly on her way to something, she steps closer. “What are you making?”
“Cookies,” Jason says.
She glances at their workspace. “Why are you using... egg substitute? Do you not have access to normal eggs?”
He’s sure his eyes go as wide as dinner plates. “Uh,” he says. “I’ve—taken an interest in the vegan lifestyle?”
Luckily, Annabeth seems to buy it. She nods. “I’ve thought about that too, actually. It would definitely be beneficial for the environment.”
“Yep.” His mouth is dry. He clears his throat. “Fast farming, no more.”
Annabeth looks at Percy. “What do you think about that, Percy?”
Percy grins, a little guiltily. “Can’t give up cheeseburgers. It’s a bit of a problem.”
“The idea of it just sounds wrong. Maybe you could find a substitute. Like mayo?”
“I don’t think mayo is vegan.”
Jason cannot believe that he is being paid to stand in a kitchen wearing a frilly gingham apron discussing the pros and cons of veganism with his boss and the coworker who’s trying to ruin her marriage. Life works in terribly mysterious ways.
“I’ve heard nutritional yeast is good,” Percy says. “Like, with cashews.”
“Oh, I’ve seen that! Apparently it’s not bad.”
“We should try it sometime.” And then he winks.
Even more mysteriously: said coworker using veganism as a way of flirting. And even more mysteriously than that: it’s working.
The fact that Annabeth doesn’t immediately tell Percy off for inappropriate behaviour in the workplace is a damning sign. Moreover, the fact that she just rolls her eyes at him speaks even higher volumes.
“Clean this mess up once you’re finished,” is all she says, as she starts to walk away. “And if you have any left, I’d like to try one of those cookies.”
“Sure,” Jason says weakly. Percy just gives her a floury thumbs-up, and then turns back to Jason once she’s out of earshot.
“Do you think it’s been mixed enough?” he says conversationally, like that didn’t just happen.
Jason blinks at him. “Are we—are we just not going to discuss that?”
Percy frowns. “Discuss what?”
“That! You! Flirting with Annabeth!”
“Oh! Yeah, I mean, the bet’s still on.”
“Percy, you really can’t. I think it’s actually working.”
Percy laughs. “Why are you afraid? You haven’t bet anything.”
“Because I don’t want you to ruin Annabeth’s marriage.”
But Jason can’t. “This is really eating at me,” he admits. “I feel wracked with guilt whenever she talks with me. We play Sudoku together sometimes at lunch and every time I see her I feel like I’m going to burst.”
Percy just sympathetically pats his shoulder. “Right now, you just need to focus on Piper, okay? Don’t worry about me and Annabeth. Just think about Piper, and how fricking excited she’s going to be over these cookies.”
Jason knows when someone’s trying to change the topic, but Percy hit the right one because Piper. “If they even turn out right,” he grumps. “I’m not even good at regular baking. The fact that we can’t use any actual ingredients is even more stressful.”
“Yeah, the vegan element is new,” Percy says, like he wasn’t just using it as a seduction technique sixty seconds ago. “But at least you know she’s worth it, with all this effort.”
Jason stares at the spread of flaxseed and egg replacement on the countertop, and says, “Yeah. She is.”
Come on, Jason, he tells himself. You can do this.
His reflection determinedly stares back at him. Just because, he pulls some of his most presidential expressions as he washes his hands. It always makes him feel better seeing himself look so sensible. Satisfied, he nods at his reflection, and then switches off the tap.
This is it. He’s going to ask Piper out.
Every night he and Piper generally clock out at the same time, and then proceeds a walk to the car park together that in all practicality should only take around five minutes but always ends up somewhere around twenty because they just can’t stop talking. Last night they had stopped at Jason’s car, and then they had stayed there for another ten minutes debating who the best Avenger was, because obviously it was Captain America, but Piper seemed to think it was Black Widow instead.
It seemed like the best place to do it. So today, he’s going to do it. He’s got the vegan cookies, and he’s got the power of love. And if she says no, he’ll back down.
But hopefully, she says yes.
The end of the day comes like any other day. At around six, Piper stretches and declares, “I think I might head off.” And then she looks at Jason, and Jason says, “Yeah, me too,” and she smiles, and his heart does something funny in his chest.
“Percy?” Jason says.
Percy, who has been prepped to the hills, grins knowingly at him. “I’ve got to finish this article,” he says. “You guys go ahead.” And then he flicks a subtle thumbs-up at him under the table.
He and Piper pack up their things and wave a goodbye to the last of the office stragglers, and then they head into the elevator down to the carpark. Piper starts talking to him about something, Leo, he thinks, and whatever hell-creation he brought in this time for lunch, but Jason can hardly keep focused, because today she’s wearing a green blouse that really brings out her eyes, and his heart is beating so loudly he thinks she can probably hear it too.
Come on, Jason, he thinks. You can do this.
“You should have seen the look on Clarisse’s face,” Piper is saying as the elevator doors slide back open. “I mean, I thought we’d seen her at her optimum anger level last year when Thalia dropped coffee on her monitor, but it’s like she transformed before my eyes. Poor Leo, he looked like he wanted to drop dead.”
“It’s kind of hard to feel sorry for him, though,” Jason says. “I mean, it’s Leo. He probably did it on purpose.”
Piper considers this. “True. And he shouldn’t have brought in such a big container, anyway. The fridge barely closes on the best of days, what with everyone cramming their lunch in there. When he insists on bringing everything but the kitchen sink obviously the door’s not going to close and all three of Clarisse’s chickens are going to spoil.”
“We should invest in another fridge. So Clarisse can have one all to herself. She needs it. She practically brings in the whole butcher’s window. And that way none of her meat touches any of your food.”
Piper smiles at him. “Considerate! Except the only other person who doesn’t eat meat is Octavian and I don’t want to exclusively share food space with any of his things.”
Jason laughs. “Okay, fair point. But what about taking one for the team?”
“I would sooner take a bullet for the team then have any of my meals even slightly close to the amount of vinegar he soaks his crap in. It’s shocking he has any enamel left.”
“It’s smart, though. He’s building up an immunity in case anyone tries to throw hydrochloric acid on him. It would probably just bounce right off.”
“Who on earth would throw hydrochloric acid at him?”
“I can name at least ten people who would throw hydrochloric acid at Octavian,” he says, and Piper cackles.
It’s effortless talking to her. This is probably why he likes her so much, he thinks: as well as being smart and funny and gorgeous, he also feels like he doesn’t have to worry about impressing her, because it’s just so easy, regardless of whether they’re talking about their co-workers or the latest Avengers line-up. He becomes aware of the tub of cookies in his satchel, feeling like a hundred pounds.
By now, they’ve reached his car, and Jason doesn’t think he can hold it in anymore. “I’ve got something for you,” he blurts.
Piper raises an eyebrow. “Oh, yeah?”
He unbuckles the clasp of his satchel and lifts the flap, producing the Tupperware. He’s sweating a little bit. God, he hopes she likes them. What if she’s not actually vegan? What if she’s allergic to soya milk? What if egg replacement is just a big, corporate lie?
Piper’s mouth falls open. “Jason...”
“They’re cookies,” Jason fills in, mouth dry. “I, uh. Made them for you. Don’t worry, completely vegan. Walnut and coffee.”
Piper glances up at him. “You made these for me?”
“You mentioned you liked baked treats.”
There’s something indecipherable brimming in her eyes. He can’t place it, but he thinks it might be a good thing, and something akin to hope takes off in his chest. “You are unbelievable,” she says, softly. “Can I try?”
“Go ahead, they’re yours.” Then, hurriedly: “If they taste bad you can throw them away. I won’t be offended.”
“They’re not going to be bad,” Piper assures, as she prises open the lid. She takes one and bites it, and then completely melts. “This is incredible!”
Jason is actually pretty surprised. “Really?”
“It’s amazing! Where did you get the recipe from?”
“Percy. He helped me make them.”
Piper grins. “What can’t he do. Here, try.”
Jason takes a cookie. Admittedly, and despite the fact it’s missing half the ingredients a cookie normally should have, it’s quite good.
“Thank you so much for this,” Piper says, as she snaps the lid back on. “This was—really thoughtful of you. Honestly.”
“Well, it’s not entirely selfless,” Jason admits. “I, uh. Wanted to ask you something.”
Piper straightens. There’s a sparkle in her eye. “Oh?”
Jason opens his mouth, but before any words can come out he hears voices from across the lot. He turns his head instinctively, and then catches sight of Percy and Annabeth coming out of the elevator, talking. Their voices carry across the carpark, echoing against the concrete. Jason doesn’t make out the first few seconds, but he can pretty quickly infer what their conversation is about when he makes out his first discernible sentence.
“Percy, no,” Annabeth is saying, firmly. “It’s inappropriate.”
“Oh, God,” Piper murmurs.
Jason doesn’t think they’ve spotted them yet. They pause just outside the elevator, Annabeth cocking out a hip and looking incredible unimpressed.
“Come on, Annabeth,” Percy pleads. “You know you want to.”
Annabeth glances around furtively, like she’s checking no one’s around, and then leans in closer. She hisses, “We’re not—” and then lowers her voice so Jason can’t hear what she says next, but he has a pretty good idea. “What would people think?”
“They wouldn’t care,” Percy says.
She shakes her head. “I can’t do this to him. I won’t.”
Jason and Piper glance at each other, alarmed. Annabeth’s husband.
Percy leans back, folding his arms, and looks at her for a long time. “Fine,” he says, finally. “But I won’t give up until I’ve convinced you. I can be persistent.”
“I’m not changing my mind,” Annabeth snaps.
He just raises his eyebrows. “We’ll see about that,” he says, and then leans in close and whispers something in her ear. Jason can’t make out what it is, but whatever it is, it makes Annabeth flame to the roots of her hair. Percy leans back, and smirks. “See you around,” he says, droll, and then saunters off, leaving Annabeth standing by herself, soundlessly opening and closing her mouth, like a fish. After a few moments, she lets out a frustrated growl.
“Do not let him get to you,” she mutters, and stalks out.
Jason waits in baited breath as the click of her high heels gradually fades out, and then, when he’s certain she’s out of earshot, turns to Piper, who’s wide-eyed and pinching her lips closed. They stare at each other for a few seconds, before bursting out in giggles.
“Oh God,” Piper gasps, wiping her eyes. “That was a trainwreck.”
“I think it worked,” Jason says, still half in shock. “I underestimated him.”
“I underestimated her. I didn’t think her resolve would crumble that easily!”
Jason has to ask. “Do you think he’s going to do it?”
“I honestly don’t know. I didn’t... he’s doing really well. Like, I didn’t realise he would be so good. But Annabeth is a big girl, and she obviously cares about her husband a lot. I don’t think it’s going to amount to anything other than light flirting.”
Piper laughs. “You haven’t even bet anything. Why are you worried?”
“I don’t know. Annabeth’s husband seems like a good man. I don’t want him getting hurt over a mindless bet.”
She reaches over, takes his hand and squeezes it, and suddenly he feels like he can’t really breathe. “It won’t come to that,” she says. “I like that you’re concerned, though. You’re a good man.”
His heart feels several sizes too big for his ribcage. “I try.”
She’s still holding his hand. “What did you want to ask me, again?”
But the opportunity has passed, he thinks. Not forever, just temporarily. He squeezes her hand back, and then pulls away. “Don’t worry about it,” he says. Piper opens her mouth, but he just smiles at her. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Piper.”
She stares at him for a few more moments, before she finally shakes her head and tightens her grip around her cookies. “You, too,” she says. “Drive safe.”
When Jason pulls out of the car park, he can still see her standing there in his rear-view mirror.
“So that’s why I think we should hold a daily meme review,” Leo says. “Thank you for listening.”
There’s a pause, and then slowly everyone starts clapping. Leo bows, and heads towards his seat, and because Jason wants to be a good friend he gives him a pat on the shoulder even though he doesn’t understand any of what he was saying. Across the table, he sees Piper hide a smile, and something warms in his chest.
The opportunity is coming, he knows. He can feel it.
Annabeth pushes herself to her feet. “Well, then,” she says. “Thank you, Leo, for that fantastic waste of time.”
Leo salutes, propping his feet on the table. “Here every day.”
“Although, speaking of waste,” Annabeth continues, “as I’m sure you all know, as an office we’re trying to cut down on the amount we produce.” She actually looks a little proud of herself for that segue. Jason agrees; it was rather impressive. He appreciates a good word-play. “So Grover’s going to speak to us a little on how we can try and further this cause.”
“I have some ideas,” Thalia says, as Grover enthusiastically wheels himself to the front of the room. “Put a printing ban on Octavian.”
Octavian stands up. “How dare you!”
“Sit down, Octavian,” Annabeth says. “Thalia, don’t be absurd.”
Thalia just shrugs and folds her arms. “He’s probably the reason the Amazon is burning now with all the paper he uses,” she says. “Just saying.”
“Discrimination,” Octavian says adamantly, still not sat down. “I’ll report you to HR.”
“Suck it, bitch, I am HR,” Thalia says, and Annabeth has to physically push Octavian back down in his seat so he doesn’t launch himself at her.
“Anyway,” Grover says. “Let’s talk about the use of lamination in this building.”
“That, too,” Thalia says. “Octavian, stop laminating everything.”
Grover looks dismayed at being interrupted again. Octavian says, “What have I done to you?”
“I’m just saying, if you didn’t insist on printing out every last shred of anything and then laminating it over twice then we’d probably solve the world plastic crisis—”
“The machine is broken, it doesn’t right unless you do it twice—”
“You laminate pictures of feet!”
Octavian opens his mouth but Annabeth cuts him off. “Excuse me?” she thunders.
He goes bright red. “That’s an invasion of privacy, she shouldn’t have known that.”
“You use my office supplies to print out pictures of feet?”
“Amongst other things,” Jason chimes in, because he thinks he can contribute a lot to this discussion.
“The reason I know,” Thalia says, leaning across the table, “is because you hang them in your cubicle and you always print out too many so you leave them in the printer for me to accidentally collect with my reports—”
“Octavian, this is a disgusting waste of property,” Annabeth says, still hung up on the feet. Jason got over that months ago. He’s surprised she’s only just finding out. “You realise this cannot continue. If you want to print out pictures of feet do that in your own home with your own supplies. Don’t waste precious ink and paper on perverted fantasies.”
Octavian stands back up. “They are not perverted fantasies, the human foot has fascinating bone structure—”
“I don’t care,” Annabeth shouts at him, and he shrinks back. “Keep whatever you do in your free time out of my office and out of my laminating machine.”
The office falls silent. Even Clarisse stops sharpening her knives.
Jason glances at Octavian, who looks wisely afraid, and then his gaze slides to Percy next to him.
Percy doesn’t look afraid. In fact, Percy looks kind of turned on.
“Am I understood?” Annabeth demands.
Meekly, Octavian nods.
There’s a pause, and then Grover says, “so, the environment.”
“You go on,” Annabeth says. “I need a coffee.” Then she gives Octavian an eyeball so evil Jason’s surprised he doesn’t drop dead right then and there, and stalks out the debrief room.
The room is so silent they can hear the staccato of her high heels peter off.
And then, slowly, Thalia starts to clap. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she says. “The day has come. Finally, Octavian has pushed Annabeth over the edge.”
“You didn’t have to provoke him,” Piper says.
“Provoke? He shouldn’t have to be provoked. Besides, it’s about time. Do you know how many times I’ve submitted in a report that has a picture of feet for the last page because Octavian leaves his grossness in the printing bay?”
“It’s purely scientific,” Octavian protests, which fools exactly no one.
“It’s about time,” Thalia says. “Now you know that your actions have consequences.”
Jason decides to seize the moment. “While we’re here,” he quickly pipes up, “you are also no longer allowed to hang up your pictures in your cubicle.” He may not share a desk with him anymore, but he’s had his fair share of trauma that he wouldn’t wish that on his worst enemies, least of all the poor new hire who’s bogged down with him.
Octavian frowns and leans forward. “Now you’re simply silencing my right to exist.”
“Anything involving feet is banned,” Thalia says, and he splutters in outrage.
“How dare you—?” he demands, and then Thalia stands up over the table and gets up in his face and says, “What are you gonna do, huh? You wanna go? Come on, then, big boy, fight me, come on—” and Clarisse sighs long-sufferingly and then throws her knife between their noses and it impales itself in Grover’s environment board and everything goes quiet again.
“Shut up,” Clarisse says. “God.”
Hurt, Grover says, “My environment board.”
“That was sort of hot,” Percy says.
“Whoa,” says Chris, Clarisse’s boyfriend. (He’s one of the accountants and isn’t really needed here. They all let him anyway because without him, Clarisse likes to bust heads.)
“My environment board,” Grover repeats. “Do you know how much time that took to assemble?”
“Not Clarisse,” Percy says. He even sighs a little. “Annabeth.”
The entire room collectively rolls their eyes, Jason is certain. He can’t be too sure, only because he’s too busy rolling his own.
“Okay, seriously,” Leo says. “Who’s going to tell him.”
“We have,” Piper tells him. “Multiple times.”
“Yeah, but not properly,” Jason grouches, a little. “Everyone’s got too much riding on it to really get him to stop.”
“Well, duh!” says Grover, who appears to have momentarily forgotten his environment board. “I’m going to get ten grand out of this!”
“If I lose,” Percy corrects.
Grover laughs so hard he almost falls out of his spinny chair. “Ha! Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.”
Thing is, Jason isn’t even too sure he can agree. He hasn’t been able to look at him the same since the incident in the car park. Before, the bet was harmless and silly, back when they saw Annabeth as nothing but a steel-fisted boss with good hair and Percy as one of her irrelevant employees who’d maybe sneak in a few pick-up lines that would go nowhere, but he had underestimated the significance of Percy and Annabeth’s relationship. Now he’s really beginning to worry that this is branching into adultery. And adultery was very illegal up until only a few hundred years ago!
He glances at Percy, who leans back in his chair and smirks. “You’re laughing now,” he says. “Just you wait. I have her wrapped around my little finger.”
At that moment, Annabeth walks back into the room. “What are we talking about?” she says.
Everyone straightens. “Uh,” Leo says.
“Plastic,” Grover half-shouts, panicked. He pulls Clarisse’s knife out his board and brandishes it like a sword. “So, everyone, that’s what’s going to happen we allow global warming to increase any more than it is. It’s going to cause a hole in the atmosphere, just like this knife created a hole in my beautiful... time-consuming... now ruined, environment board. Any questions?”
“I have one,” Octavian says.
“No one? Great,” Grover says brightly. “Debrief over.”
Annabeth nods, satisfied, and everyone slowly pushes themselves up to their feet. Grover wheels up to Annabeth and starts talking to her, and Thalia sticks up her middle finger at Octavian and Leo grabs her before he can see. Jason watches as Piper gathers up all her things – it’s all mismatching; a chewed-up HB pencil, a sparkly pink Biro with a pompom on the end, a Hello Kitty notepad – and feels something swell in his chest. She must feel his gaze because she looks up and catches his eyes, and then smiles, a little shyly. Then Annabeth walks next to her and touches her arm and she turns around again, distracted.
Jason catches sight of Percy heading towards the door with his notepad under one arm, and then glances at Annabeth, who is watching him from the corner of her eye, and makes a decision. As Percy passes him, he catches his arm.
“Hey,” he says. “Can we talk?”
They end up stood on one of Finance’s fire escapes. On the platform beneath them, smoking, is Will the sunshiney secretary, and when he spots them he gives them a friendly wave. However, he seems otherwise preoccupied by something on his phone, so Jason counts it as privacy. It’s the most they’re going to get in a cramped office building, anyway.
“So,” Percy says, “what did you want to talk about?”
If anyone’s going to be able to help him with his situation, it’s going to be Percy. “Piper,” he says.
Percy’s whole face brightens. “Oh, yeah, dude! I’ve been meaning to ask, how did last night go?”
On the way to the fire escape Jason had made the executive decision to not mention that they had been interrupted by Percy and Annabeth and consequently had eavesdropped on them. It’s probably for the best if he really doesn’t know. “Didn’t go through with it,” he admitted. “I chickened out last minute, though.”
“Yeah. Which is why I need to talk to you. I need your help.”
“Sure, dude, what can I do?”
Jason hesitates, and then furtively glances around. They’re alone, aside from Will, but he looks engrossed on his phone, so he just leans in. “Look,” he says. “I know that you and Annabeth... have your thing. And I’ve decided to just leave it be,” he hurriedly adds, when Percy opens his mouth. “I don’t support your decision but both you and Annabeth are grown-ups and you can sort it out yourself. However, you—you’re pretty good, at the whole ‘wooing’ thing. I needed some tips.”
Percy raises an eyebrow. “Tips? Wooing Piper? Dude, you don’t need tips. I’m pretty sure she’s well and truly ‘wooed’.”
Jason is dubious. “Really?”
“Dude, yeah! Whenever she looks at you it’s like you’re the only one there. She’s pretty smitten. You just need to tell her how you feel. Then you can get married and have beautiful babies.”
“Won’t they be gorgeous?” Jason says, because he’s been thinking about their babies embarrassingly often these past few days. Then he shakes his head. “That doesn’t matter. I’m not even sure how I feel.”
“You know you like her, don’t you?”
“Well,” Jason says, because that much is obvious. “Yes.”
“Then tell her that,” says Percy.
Jason sighs, and props his elbows on the rail of the fire escape, staring at the flat grey landscape of commercial roofing. A couple hundred feet away there’s a man from the office block next door having a conversation on his phone. “Have you ever been in love, Percy?” he asks.
When he glances back him, Percy’s smiling softly. “Yeah.”
“What’s it feel like?”
Percy props his hip against the rail. “I don’t know, dude,” he says. “It’s like—when you look at her, she’s the only thing that matters, you know? Like everything could be burning around you but all you can see is her. And—you want to be with her, like, all the time. Like you’re watching TV and something funny happens and your first thought is, ‘she’d like this’. And you can imagine having kids with her, and adopting three dogs, and living in a cottage in the countryside, and playing Scrabble. It’s just—complete, you know. Like you’ve found your life partner.” His voice softens, and his eyes become unfocused. Jason would suppose he’s thinking of the person he’s in love with, except he’s a bit too busy with his own revelation to really worry about that.
“Oh,” he says faintly.
He hadn’t really entertained the idea that maybe he was truly in love with Piper. And maybe he’s not really, not right now. But whenever he thinks of Piper he imagines squabbling with her across the dinner table over the age-old debate of Marvel vs DC and going to baseball games with her and eating dinner with her as she talks about her day.
He’s considered going vegan for her.
Really, he should have known.
“Dude,” Jason says.
Percy grins knowingly. “Dude,” he says.
“Dude!” Luke Castellan wouldn’t go vegan for her!
“You need to tell her,” Percy says.
“Definitely,” says a voice from beneath them.
Jason and Percy both start. They look at each other, and slowly peer over the railing.
Will grins up at them.
“Oh,” Percy says. “Uh, hullo, Will.”
“I think you should go for it, personally,” Will says to Jason. “The office is always so much more interesting when we have star-crossed lovers. Chris and Clarisse missed their chance. I think they put the emphasis on the ‘crossed’, to be honest. But you and Piper have exactly what we need. Besides, if I have to listen to Piper tell me one more time about how beautiful your eyes are I might drown myself in the coffee machine.”
“You can do that?” Percy says, at the same time as Jason says, “And you didn’t feel the need to tell us this before because?”
“Chess,” Will says, holding up his phone. “I’m playing Nico.”
Will and Nico are also two people everyone has a sneaking suspicion are together, and Jason kind of really doesn’t want to know. He tries to pull the conversation away before Will starts sharing with the class. “Chess is very stimulating,” he offers.
“Oh, definitely,” Will says, and leers.
Jason thinks he just made it worse.
“So you also think Jason should just tell Piper how he feels?” Percy says.
“One hundred percent,” Will says. “You and Piper would be pretty cute together. And think of how beautiful your kids would be!”
“Right?” Jason says, and then shakes his head. “I mean—”
“See?” Percy says to him. “You should just go for it.”
“Bit rich coming from you, though,” Will says. “How’s screwing the boss going?”
Percy flames to his hairline. Jason says, “How do you know that? It’s a design department bet.”
“News spreads,” Will says. To Percy, he says, “Well?”
“It’s good,” Percy says, still quite red.
“Thanksgiving is close.”
“You think you’ll be able to do it?”
“Why? You want in?”
Will takes a drag of his cigarette, and then stubs it out on the railing. The smoke floats upwards and Jason accidentally catches a huge whiff of it, and tries to choke as subtly as he can. “No, just curious,” he says, and then pockets his phone. “Well, should probably be heading back to my station. Good luck on your various endeavours, boys.”
“You too,” Jason says politely, although he’s not quite sure what endeavours he’s talking about.
Will grins at both of them, and then he disappears through the door in a cloud of cigarette smoke.
As soon as he’s disappeared, Percy turns to give Jason a look. His cheeks are still a little flushed, but Jason could blame that on the biting wind, which has been particularly nippy today. “Talk about a sign from above,” he says. Then he glances down, where Will was standing. “Or, uh, below.”
“Do you really think I should do it?” Jason asks anxiously. He likes Will but he’s not sure he trusts his judgement very much.
“Absolutely,” Percy says, and Jason chews his lip. That’s one of the few times it hasn’t been a ‘probably’. Maybe he should take his opinion seriously. “Look, you heard Will. Piper likes you too! She talks about your eyes! You can’t lose anything doing this.”
“Except Piper’s friendship.”
“You’re grown-ups,” Percy says. “You can sort this out.” He sounds like maybe Jason’s not the only one he’s trying to convince.
Jason glances back out over the railing at the sea of rooftops in front of him. The man on the cellphone has disappeared, presumably gone back inside. And it’s then, that he makes his decision. “Okay,” he says. “I’ll do it.”
Percy claps him on the shoulder. “Good man,” he says. “I believe in you.”
“Thanks, bro,” Jason says. He doesn’t have vegan cookies this time, but he’s hoping she’ll still say yes.
That night, when Jason and Piper are walking down to their cars, and their conversation has come to a natural lull, Jason works up the courage to say, “Hey, Piper?”
Piper looks up. There are remnants of mascara smudged underneath her eyes and her smile is tired but genuine, and Jason’s heart swells.
“Do you want to come to dinner with me next week?” he says.
And Piper smiles wide and her eyes sparkle and she says, “Jason, of course.”
And he wonders if it had been that simple all along.
“This is it,” Grover says, as they approach Annabeth’s house. “You know, while I’m not surprised, the smell of victory is a good one.”
“I was getting scared there for a second,” Piper confesses to Jason. Their clasped hands swing between them. “My signed poster is one of my most prized possessions. And Percy seemed to be doing really well. I was so afraid he was going to win.”
Grover bleats with laughter. “I wasn’t. I knew he wasn’t going to pull it off. I mean, it’s Annabeth! I’m still convinced her husband is one of those plug-in robots.”
Jason interrupts. “We’re going to meet him now,” he says sternly. “None of you can be rude.”
“Who do you think we are,” Grover says at the same time as Thalia trips Leo into an empty trash can.
“Excuse me,” Octavian says, drifting up to them like a ghost. “I was wondering if any of you had any tissues. I think I have phlegm in my throat.”
“No,” Jason says firmly, half exasperated. This is exactly what he means. They’re going to make a fool of themselves in front of Annabeth’s husband who’s probably equally as smart and terrifying as she is when they’ve already got to try hide the fact that were betting on the demise of their marriage. And why is Octavian even here? He never makes things better.
“Just glob it into a bush,” Thalia calls.
Octavian obediently starts hacking right where they’re walking on the pavement, and then produces something from his mouth. “Oh,” he says easily, dislodging a clump of hair roughly the size of a small planet from under his tongue. “Just a hairball.”
“A hairball!” Piper shrills.
“Why the hell was that inside you?” Thalia asks.
“Human hair has many nutritious benefits,” Octavian says, and everyone around him gags.
“Freak,” Clarisse says, impressed.
“This is exactly what I mean,” says Jason. He loves his co-workers but sometimes having them all out in public is a bit like babysitting a bunch of rowdy kids. “We want to try and make a good impression.”
“Relax,” Leo says as he reappears from the trash can. He has an apple core in his hair. Jason plucks it out.
“You must behave,” he instructs. “It’s bad enough that we all had a bet on their marriage ending. We need to make it up to them.”
“They don’t know that,” Grover says.
“Yes, but we still need to make it up to them,” Jason says, who has been so crippled by guilt these past few weeks that sometimes he can’t even fall asleep. It’s a rather serious issue.
But then Piper nudges her shoulder against his with a small smile, and he feels himself deflate a little. “Hey,” she says. “It’s gonna be fine.”
“I know. I just want to make a good impression on her husband.”
“And you will,” Piper says, as she squeezes his hand. “We all will. Won’t we?”
“Yes, sir,” everyone says, except Octavian, who seems to be hacking up another hairball.
“We’ll lock him in the bathroom,” Piper promises in a low voice.
Jason manages a laugh. “Deal.”
They all approach Annabeth’s house. Jason has always liked these Thanksgiving dinners — firstly, it’s always interesting to see how someone lives, especially when it’s the boss, and secondly, it serves as an excuse for him to pig out on delicious food, because everyone brings something. He’s got pie, Leo’s brought fajitas, Piper has a nut roast and Thalia has cranberry bread and mashed potatoes. (It doesn’t escape anyone that the prep for her foods involve lots of punching and mashing, but if it means she doesn’t punch Leo or Octavian instead then technically it’s a win.) Octavian has also brought some things, but Jason has vowed to stay away from them. It’s probably more cabbage.
“Did you see where Percy was?” Jason asks Grover as they walk up the steps.
Grover enthusiastically clacks next him, crutches loud against the porch. “Yeah, he said he was running a bit late. Kind of awkward, though, means there’s no way he can escape properly meeting Annabeth’s husband.”
Jason hadn’t thought about that. Oh well. Percy’s a big boy. He can handle it.
“Worst case scenario he can just reach into Annabeth’s husband’s head and pull out his motherboard,” Leo says, and Thalia sniggers.
“Percy will survive,” Piper says. “Come on, let’s go in. Something smells amazing.”
She knocks on the door, and they all hang back as they wait for it to open. A few moments later, it does, Annabeth stood behind it, uncharacteristically wearing jeans and a soft grey sweater that matches her eyes. Jason is a little taken aback; while he’s only maybe about three percent certain that she’s actually a secret automaton, seeing her in regular clothes is—disjointing, to say the least. He’s always sort of imagined that she permanently wears her pantsuit, like, even in the shower, or to bed. Annabeth in a sweater is like a monkey in a pinstriped suit. You register it, but it’s still weird.
“Hey!” she says. “Glad you could make it! Come in, come in.”
They all step inside, shrugging off their coats and handing her shopping bags full of food containers. As he toes off his shoes, Jason takes the time to appreciate her house. They do the Thanksgiving meal every year, but the where always alternates — last year it was Leo’s house, which was a small little apartment filled with breakable robots. Being inside Annabeth’s house for the first time is like stepping into her brilliant head. There are framed photographs all over the walls, but Jason can’t really make them out properly, not without his glasses. He thinks he sees a few wedding pictures further up the stairs, but they’re so far away he thinks even with his glasses he wouldn’t be able work out any discernible features for the man next to her.
At least it is a man, anyway. Thalia takes one look and scowls. “Ugh,” she says. “Wasted opportunity.”
In the kitchen, something is sizzling, and it smells good. Jason knows he’s not the only one who notices.
“Oh, wow,” Leo says, eyes widening. “What are you making? That smells heavenly.”
Annabeth laughs. “Oh, my husband’s just making the turkey. Secret recipe.”
My husband. This is it. The moment they’ve all been waiting for. Jason knows he’s not the only one who lifts his shoulders even a little. This is exciting stuff. They can finally wipe off the murder board on the other side of the whiteboard in the debrief room on who it could possibly be. (Jason knows Piper’s still holding out for Luke Castellan. It’s cute, the way her eyes widen.)
“Your husband?” Grover enquires, trying and failing to sound casual. “Do we finally get to meet him?”
Annabeth frowns. “What do you mean, finally? You’ve all met him.”
“Huh?” says everyone.
And then out from the kitchen comes Percy himself.
Jason usually prides himself on being perceptive.
He’s good at sensing things. He knew that Silena Beauregard was pregnant before she announced it to the office. When Octavian joined, he knew that there was something off about him. (And there was. Quite a lot, actually. Like, an astronomical amount.) And when Octavian moved stations and Percy joined, Jason knew he was to be a bro.
In the same way, he knew Annabeth’s husband wasn’t a woman, or Luke Castellan, and he knew that whatever was bubbling between Percy and Annabeth had too much gravity for him to risk betting anything on it.
But what he hadn’t anticipated, what he’s considering to be the biggest plot twist since Darth Vader was revealed to be Luke Skywalker’s father, was that the two facts were related.
What he hadn’t anticipated was Annabeth’s husband being Percy.
As he gapes at the two of them, as he becomes distantly aware of everyone else doing the same, his mind spins over the past few weeks.
“I have been told I’m a stellar baker.”
“After all, Percy is a stellar baker.”
Annabeth’s lips twitch at that, for some reason.
Could that... could they have misinterpreted that?
“I’ve heard nutritional yeast is good. Like, with cashews.”
“Oh, I’ve seen that! Apparently, it’s not bad.”
“We should try it sometime.”
Oh, God. Jason stares at the two of them like he’s never seen them before.
They weren’t flirting. They were having a legitimate married-couple conversation about potentially introducing veganism to their lifestyle.
Jason’s mind whirls. Every single time he’s seen the two of them together, he just thought Percy was flirting and Annabeth was either unable to realise it or not bothered to tell him off, but they were just being a married couple, because they are a married couple.
Percy was never really going to break up Annabeth’s marriage, because it’s his marriage too.
No wonder he was so nonchalant about it!
“Hey guys,” Percy says easily. “Do you like turkey?”
They all just gape speechlessly at him. Jason feels like he’s just stepped into light after being in the dark for years. Everything’s falling into place.
Of course he gave such good relationship advice! He’s married!
Thalia is the first to break the silence. “Okay, what the hell is going on?”
“Thalia?” Annabeth says, quite alarmed.
“Is this a prank?” Thalia demands to Percy. “Because it’s not funny.”
Annabeth looks so lost. “What’s going on? Are you all okay?”
But there’s one thing that’s niggling at his mind. The first time he tried to ask Piper out, they had both caught Percy and Annabeth walking out of the elevator in the carpark.
“But...” His words die on his tongue, and everyone turns to look at him. “In the carpark. You were talking about your husband!”
“What?” says Annabeth.
But Piper is nodding too. “I remember that! After work. We heard you talking—about your marriage. About how you didn’t want to hurt him. Your husband.”
Annabeth still looks utterly lost, but Percy’s face relaxes in realisation. “Oh!” he says. “That can be explained. Blackjack!”
“I’d like some things to be explained,” Thalia says mutinously.
“So would I,” Annabeth says, who looks a bit faint.
A tiny black cat scampers down the stairs, and Percy scoops him up in his arms. “This is Blackjack,” he says. “Annabeth wanted to call him Jeffery.”
“It’s a sensible name,” Annabeth defends. She still looks a little struck, but clearly not enough to allow Percy to win this argument. (Which they’ve probably had many times because they’re married and no Jason will never get over this.) “Blackjack makes us sound like gamblers.”
“It’s catchy,” Percy says to her. To them, he says, “We were having an argument about what to call him. I won.”
“Hardly,” Annabeth says. “He responds to Jeffery as well.”
“Wait, wait,” Jason says. His head is still spinning. “But... you said you didn’t want to hurt him.”
“Yes, the cat,” Annabeth says. “Blackjack is a dreadful name. I didn’t want to insult him by giving him something so terrible. Look, can someone explain what’s going on? Why do you all look like you’ve seen a ghost?”
“I’ll tell you what,” Grover says. When Jason glances at him his face is ashen. He’s probably thinking of all the things he’s going to have to sell in order to fork over his non-existent ten grand. Or maybe he’s picturing the destruction of his reed pipes. No surprises to which one he’s probably more upset about. “I have been cheated, and manipulated.”
“You brought this on yourself,” Piper says.
“Don’t be noble now!” Grover says, his voice growing shrilly. “Say your goodbyes to your poster!”
Piper goes pale.
“None of you are making any sense,” Annabeth says.
“Percy made us a bet,” Leo says. “That he could hook up with you by Thanksgiving. The catch is, we didn’t know that he was also your mysterious husband.”
“You’re married?” Octavian says, but everyone ignores him. (Naturally, he’s several years behind.)
Annabeth has a strange look on her face. Jason thinks she’s processing – he’s seen her wear that look during particularly vicious rounds of Sudoku, when she’s got an especially difficult square. Except it’s not a square now, it’s her husband using the fact that their marriage isn’t public knowledge to weasel ten thousand dollars out of idiots like Grover. (Jason finds it hard to sympathise. He did warn him.)
Then, finally, she says to Percy, “Is that so.”
Percy looks a little like a deer in headlights, with Blackjack/Jeffery clasped in his arms. Jason doesn’t think he really thought through how this would end. “Uh,” he says.
Annabeth drags a steely eye across the room. “Everyone,” she says. “Make yourselves at home, and put the food in the kitchen.” It sounds quite ominously like a threat. “Percy and I need to talk.” (That’s definitely a threat.)
She drags Percy into the living room, and for a few moments there is nothing but shocked silence. And then Leo says hesitantly, “Do we win the bet if they end up divorcing?”
Jason is afraid that the reveal is going to ruin their Thanksgiving and make it a very awkward affair indeed, probably even more awkward than it would have been if Annabeth’s husband wasn’t Percy and Percy had to introduce himself whilst the entire room pretended he hadn’t tried to sabotage their marriage, but thankfully five minutes later, once everyone has put their food in the kitchen, Percy and Annabeth emerge from the living room.
“Are you divorcing?” Leo says, ever tactful.
“No,” Percy says sulkily.
Pleased, Annabeth says, “The cat is officially Jeffery.”
Two long trestle tables have been laid out in the living room, and all the other pieces of furniture have been pushed against the walls. As Jason helps Annabeth lay out all the plates and cutlery, he takes in the room. It’s really nice; it feels lived-in, like a home. There are framed photographs crammed on the fireplace, pictures of Percy and Annabeth and presumably their families and, Jason notes with a smile, the picture the office had taken on Thalia’s birthday when, at Thalia’s request, they had worn T-shirts with HELLO, I AM A LESBIAN on them all day.
He hadn’t expected it at all, but Percy and Annabeth being married feels right, and it feels really lovely to be included even a little in their home.
Someone shouts for him from the kitchen about his pie and he makes a quick dash. When he returns, carrying his beloved pie (nothing had happened except Grover nearly succeeding to stick his whole finger in), he sees that Annabeth has laid place cards on the table of where everyone to sit. With a smile, he sees that he’s been put in between Piper and Percy, and then with a laugh as Piper quickly switches Octavian’s place card with Clarisse’s, so Octavian is now at the head of the table and no one has to sit next to him.
(Leo had forgotten to even buy enough plates, and Annabeth made place cards. Jason really loves his boss.)
“This looks amazing, Annabeth,” Jason says, as everyone sits down.
Annabeth beams. “Thank you! Percy made his famous turkey.”
“I am a stellar baker,” Percy agrees, and Annabeth rolls her eyes.
“That was a marriage joke?” Leo says, unimpressed, and everyone ignores him.
Annabeth stands up to serve everyone a slice of turkey. Jason helps himself to several large spoons of mashed potato, and then steals a slice of Thalia’s cranberry bread and slathers it with some jam from the fridge. By now, Annabeth has come around to him with the tray of turkey, and he sits back, mouth watering, ready for her to serve a portion on his plate.
But instead, she passes right past him.
“Oh,” Jason says. “Uh, Annabeth?”
“Piper’s nut roast looks very nice,” she says, which, what. Next to him, Percy is silently losing it. Jason frowns at him, and then turns in his chair to face Annabeth.
“Uh, yes,” he says. “The turkey?”
“Don’t worry, Jason,” Annabeth says. “I remember that you’re vegan. Oh, you probably shouldn’t have the mashed potatoes, either, they might have milk in them.”
Percy accidentally lets out a wheeze, and Annabeth frowns at him. Jason, meanwhile, feels a little struck.
“You’re vegan?” Piper says.
Jason really doesn’t feel like admitting to the entire room that he baked Piper cookies, but he’s also not a total masochist. “It’s flexible,” he says weakly.
Percy breaks, and lets out a strangled screech.
“Really?” Piper says, and suddenly it’s all worth it because of the smile on her face. “You can help me with the nut roast, then. It’s my mom’s recipe, I think you’ll like it.”
“Flexible,” he says again.
“Yes, but you probably shouldn’t have red meat if you haven’t had it for a while, you might get sick.”
“You disgust me,” Thalia says, already halfway through her turkey leg. Clarisse, who never usually agrees with anything Thalia says, grunts in approval, mouth full of the mincemeat from Leo’s fajitas. Jason watches them both mournfully.
“Wait, hold on,” Percy says. “We can’t eat now, we need to say what we’re thankful for.”
Thalia rolls her eyes and says, “Oh, come on, Jackson,” at the same time as Annabeth says, “Of course, I forgot! Come on, everyone hold hands.”
Everyone eyes each other suspiciously. Jason gladly takes Piper and Percy’s hands, and across the table Clarisse and Octavian hover their fingers inches away from each other.
“I’ll go first,” Leo says. “I’m thankful for... my job, and any and all potential pay raises I may be getting in the future.”
“No,” Annabeth says.
“I’m thankful for my food,” Thalia says, and gives a pointed look down to her half-finished plate.
“I’m thankful for my machete collection.”
“I’m thankful for the wonderful, illustrious Internet, and the treasure troves it holds.”
“I’m thankful for friends who don’t lie and swindle me out of ten thousand dollars, and my reed pipes.”
“I’m thankful that the reed pipes will be destroyed.”
“I’m thankful for my friends,” Jason says. “And my beautiful girlfriend.” Piper dimples at him and everyone else gags.
“I’m thankful for my ten thousand dollars,” Percy says.
“And I’m thankful for all of you,” Annabeth says. “You are all very important assets to my team, and I don’t know where I’d be without any of you. And I’m grateful for my first Thanksgiving with my husband, who,” she adds, “is going to return Grover’s ten thousand dollars.”
“The reed pipes are still going,” Percy promises. He doesn’t even look that disappointed about the loss of his money, which shows just how terrible the pipes truly are.
“Deal,” Grover says reluctantly.
“Can we eat now?” Thalia says.
Everyone descends on the food like a pack of wild animals. Everything smells amazing, and even though Jason silently mourns the loss of the turkey, the mashed potatoes are incredible, and some of Leo’s fajitas are vegetarian, so he can have those, and they’re amazing. He even tries a sliver of Piper’s nut roast, and it’s really not bad at all.
“Told you,” Piper says smugly.
All in all, it’s a really lovely evening. He’s surrounded by some of his favourite people, and even Annabeth has softened a little in the fading daytime, with Percy’s arm around the back of her chair, and some flour on her cheek. Clarisse clears the rest of the turkey, and the mashed potatoes, and then ransacks the Jackson-Chase fridge for a leftover pasta bake, and vacuums that up too. Thalia has a speck of barbecue sauce on her nose that no one tells her about, and Leo creates a catapult out of his cutlery to fire Brussels sprouts into Grover’s mouth. (Grover is the only one who likes Brussels sprouts. He brings an entire tray just for himself every year.)
Then it’s dessert, and his pie receives many winning compliments, which he tries not to preen at too much. (Percy’s masterclass taught him a few things. He can now make pastry. That’s right, pastry.) However, the unanimous winning vote goes to someone else’s food instead.
“Mm, this pie is amazing,” Piper says, as she spoons another forkful in her mouth. “Amazing job, Jason.”
“Oh, that’s not mine,” Jason says. “I made apple.”
“Who made the rhubarb pie?” Piper says. “It’s amazing.”
Leo lets out a theatrical moan from across the table. “It’s like heaven in my mouth.”
“It’s decent,” Clarisse allows.
“Who made it?” Annabeth says. “I want the recipe.”
From the end of the table, Octavian smiles. “Well, I did!”
Leo spits the pie back out on his plate.
“Since when can he cook,” Thalia snarls, as she scrapes it off her tongue with her napkin. “Thanksgiving has been ruined.”
But privately, Jason has to disagree. As he glances around the room, at everyone gagging, Leo even shoving two fingers in his mouth, and Octavian smirking at the head of the table, at Thalia’s misshapen cranberry bread, and the nine matching smiling faces in her birthday picture on the mantel, at Piper’s nut roast and Grover’s plate of Brussels, at the way Annabeth is leaning against Percy’s shoulder and he’s smiling down at her like she’s the most important thing in the room, and then at Piper, who’s laughing delightedly, he sort of thinks otherwise.
As far as Thanksgivings go, this one has been pretty special.