Annabeth slouches in the passenger side of Percy’s Jeep, tossing her plastic bag and kicking her shoes to the floor. Her GPS tells her they’re just outside the Pennsylvania/Ohio border, which Annabeth could tell anyone from the breeze blowing through the open windows from Lake Erie, encouraging her to kick her feet up on the warm dash. The sun on her toes and the open road beyond the parking lot make up for the smell of gasoline and sound of gruff voices on the other side of the pump.
She rolls the windows up to savor the scent of Percy’s car—which is somehow immaculately clean while distinctly that of a college kid. The seats are a bit sticky for her thighs in this heat, but there isn’t a stain on the upholstery in sight. The back is just as tidy, though it’s obscured by the heaps of supplies Annabeth packed in case of emergency. Or fun. Or extreme stupidity, which, really, the two of them going cross-country in a two-seater is bound to entail. She gives them until they reach Indiana, tops. Probably sooner.
While Annabeth stares at her phone to figure out the best way to avoid traffic, the driver’s door opens, bringing the sound of a rustling bag and the slight jostle of the suspension when Percy hoists himself into his seat.
Annabeth stares daggers at his bag, then raises her own from her feet. “What happened to running in to use the bathroom?”
Percy shrugs and starts the engine, blasting cool AC over their skin. “They’re already gearing up for Fourth of July in there. It’s not like I could pass up the blue M&M’s.”
Annabeth digs through her things and tosses three M&M bags at Percy’s head.
They hit him in the ear and land in his lap, and Annabeth watches his face contort in a mixture of gratitude and discomfort for the… well, she’s forgotten how many times.
“You didn’t have to,” he says, turning to her with a look that’s half endearment, half exasperation: Aw, you shouldn’t have! versus No, you really shouldn’t have.
Annabeth slips the silver card out of her front pocket and waves it in the air. “Maybe not, but they’re your favorite. This is why we’re here.”
As soon as the words leave Annabeth’s mouth, she regrets them. Percy’s hand stutters over the gearshift before putting the Jeep in drive, pointedly looking at the road. Even so, she sees the twinge of hurt masked in his eyes.
“That’s not what I meant,” she says as they turn onto the last road before the highway. The trees become a rush of green and slow as they approach an intersection. Annabeth knows it’s her last shot at eye contact before hours of driving, and the thought of spending time sitting in the ugly silence following what she just said lights a fire under her ass.
She puts her hand on his shoulder when they stop at the light.
“Hey, that’s not what I meant. It’s how we’re here, sure, but I’m here because this is something we’ve talked about for ages.” The light changes for the turn lane next to them. Percy’s eyes are fixed on the red. “Because I want to spend time with you and get away from it all. Those things aren’t mutually exclusive.”
It’s then that he turns to her, a smile tugging at the side of his mouth she couldn’t see, an infuriating dimple pressed into his cheek. “Aw, you want to spend time with me? That’s cute.”
That asshole. Annabeth snatches the aux and holds it up to her phone threateningly. “I swear to god, I will put on my family's ten hour long country playlist.”
Percy’s hands tighten on the wheel. “I will turn around and leave you at that gas station.”
“You would never,” Annabeth says cheekily.
“We’re only a day from New York. I’m sure Grover would come get you.”
Now Annabeth is the one staring at the light. It changes to green, and the whir of the engine and the bags in the back shifting are very suddenly the only sounds in the car.
Percy clears his throat. “So, do you want to talk about it?”
They both know what he means: the last-minute road trip, the silver card in her pocket, the reason Grover is the only person left in the city who would come to Annabeth’s aid right now.
Annabeth tucks her knees to her chest. “Not really.”
His hand leaves the wheel to squeeze her knee. Though his gaze can’t follow, she still feels it on her, the way he pays attention to her even in his periphery. He honors her answer and doesn’t speak about it again, but that squeeze is a promise: I’m here if you need to.
And, yeah, he is here. That’s the whole reason Annabeth came to him after that fight with her family and asked him if he still wanted to drive across the country with her. They’d always talked about going some fateful college break, but never as anything more than a pipe dream. With sophomore summer glittering in the June sky and life creeping toward them as they cross the halfway mark to graduation, Annabeth felt like it was now or never. It had to be now. This is their last chance to be teens before adulthood sinks its teeth into them—internships and real jobs and responsibilities.
So they’re cooped up in Percy’s blue Jeep, one day into a cross-country drive without a destination. Maybe that should be scary, the vast aimlessness of it all, but it isn’t with Percy in the driver’s seat. Annabeth has always needed a place to work toward and a time of arrival, but Percy will turn onto an unfamiliar state highway for the sake of the view. She keeps them on some semblance of a course, and he makes sure it’s an enjoyable one.
It’s a job he does well. After a quick check in to make sure Annabeth doesn’t want to see any buildings in Cleveland (which isn’t exactly the pinnacle of architecture, if you ask her), he skirts the suburbs and opts for two-lane roads and hills that melt into the horizon over stifled city traffic and smog. He sure knows how to pick a view.
He sure is a view, too. Annabeth isn’t stupid or blind; she knows her best friend is outrageously gorgeous, but it’s one thing to know it and entirely another to watch him toss his head back with the wind buffeting his hair. His t-shirt billows except where it’s snug around his shoulders, pulled taut from their width as well as the stretch of his arms drumming on the wheel. With the midday sun brightening Percy’s smile and shining golden on his brown skin, Annabeth never stood a chance. He looks like freedom behind the wheel, like summer personified.
All of those things were true from day one of sitting in this passenger seat after Percy got his license (though the shirt was less snug and he was less outrageously gorgeous than shyly beautiful). The only substantial change is the way Annabeth sees him. She’s watched him toss back a grin in this light with near identical backdrops in upstate New York, but she sees him now—not only her best friend, but her chosen life partner, the person she wants by her side in everything.
Everything feels awfully big when you can go anywhere.
Her cheeks heat and Annabeth tears her gaze away, watches the wheels devour miles of road, listens to the thrum of the asphalt beneath them. Her driving playlist vaguely registers, but it’s more movie soundtrack than musical number, like it’s something she’s not supposed to notice. She pictures a camera panning up from the Jeep as it winds down the endless road, imagines these synths and drums layered with witty dialogue just before the credits roll.
Or maybe it’s the camera starting in the sky, their car alone in the frame as the song signals the start of the movie. Annabeth wonders if this classifies as a beginning or an ending.
With another glance at Percy, she sincerely hopes for the former.
The hard part about a seemingly endless road is that at a certain point it feels like you’ve seen it all. Mile markers meld together in Annabeth’s mind along with the hills, the horizon, and the sky. It’s all endless yet identical.
Where yesterday was belted lyrics and steering wheel drum solos, today sets a slower pace. It’s simply happy, a hum of intimacy and contentment under the easy silence. These are the moments Annabeth wishes she could bottle for the cold days where it’s just her in her cell of a dorm room without Percy in sight, as if twisting the top off could fill the room with his presence, and that would make it alright. They don’t have to speak. They don’t have to say anything.
It’s about seeing the other person in your periphery and knowing they’re there—that they always will be. It’s about not having to talk because you know you’ll have time later, and the space doesn’t need to be filled yet. There are so many miles left to drive.
The sun moves through the sky like it’s swimming through honey, drenching the landscape in gold for a change. With the AC blasting on Annabeth’s skin, the rays are a welcome warmth.
Lulled by the sun’s sweet caress, Annabeth drifts into half-consciousness. She’s just aware enough to register Percy switching to a softer playlist that gives her the last push to sleep’s embrace.
An ugly lurch to the right snaps Annabeth awake some time later. Percy curses, his arm swinging in front of Annabeth on instinct. It’s over before she can sort through the haze: a lone driver in the opposite direction swerving into their lane.
“I got you,” Percy says, his arm lingering for a moment too long. “You okay?”
Annabeth nods. “Definitely awake now. You? You’ve been driving for a while.” The sun is lower in the sky than she remembers—she must have been out for at least an hour.
“Food and switch?”
Annabeth’s stomach rumbles. “Food and switch.”
Annabeth drives through sunset, making the most of the last light by channeling her inner Percy and turning onto an unknown road. They’re going west, chasing the sun in its final hour, and that’s all the guidance she needs.
Percy falls asleep around nine, but Annabeth is good to keep going. With caffeine in her system and Percy’s upbeat playlist blaring through the speakers (he always could sleep through anything), she figures she’s got hours left.
And then she crashes—the caffeine, not the car.
The last of the drive-in towns were behind them when she gassed up over an hour ago, but she pulls over and has enough signal to find a motel that’ll do. They stayed in a nicer hotel last night after a day of meandering through upstate New York, partially due to Annabeth’s fresh desire to waste her dad’s money in the off chance that he’ll care enough to track her across the country via bank statement. Tonight all she cares about is having a bed to sleep in. Percy insists they’ll fit in the back of the Jeep, but Annabeth cannot allow herself to imagine them tangled up in that small space. A motel will do; Annabeth staring at the ceiling and falling asleep to Percy’s steady breath from the next bed over.
Percy comes to when she parks in front of their room. He stretches with a soft groan before he looks around. “Stopping for the night?”
Annabeth stifles a yawn and grabs a bag from the back, sure he’ll get the memo from the neon motel sign outside his window. Blackout curtains might be too much to hope for at a place this far out from civilization, but Annabeth sends up a half-baked prayer that the blues and pinks of the sign won’t keep her up. Good sleep is already such a rarity on the road.
The room itself is ordinary enough, if a bit run down. Gaudy floral wallpaper peels at the corners, stark against the frames of nondescript art that resembles the hillsides they spent the day driving through. It’s a skeleton of the heavenly room they stayed in last night—just a dresser, TV, and a frumpy striped chair with a stale motel smell to match. Still, it’s workable. With one exception.
There’s only one fucking bed.
Still groggy, Percy trudges until his knees hit the comforter and flings himself onto it. With the scale of his body slung over the mattress, Annabeth realizes exactly how small it is.
“God, it’s freezing in here,” he groans.
Annabeth can’t look at him. “Percy.”
“You see the AC?”
Percy looks around for the air conditioning and stiffens at the realization that he’s taking up two-thirds of the only bed in the room. “Oh.”
He rolls off and straightens up, his cheeks and ears tinged darker. In another situation, Annabeth would tease him for it. Instead her gaze fixes on the tiny mattress that might as well be an elephant for how much space it takes up in the room.
Percy makes a point of sitting in the chair, flopping on the leg rest and throwing his arms to the sides.
“What are you doing?” Annabeth asks.
“I’m sleeping here.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. We can go to the front desk and ask for something else.”
He narrows his eyes at her. “Every room that doesn’t have a car in front of it has tape on the window and door.”
Okay, maybe he wasn’t as out of it as Annabeth thought. She flexes her hands. “If you sleep in that chair, I’m sleeping on the floor, and then neither of us are getting a good night’s sleep.”
Percy must think he’s calling a bluff, because he crosses his feet pointedly on the footrest. “Okay, Annabeth.”
Disproportionate anger wells up in Annabeth’s chest, because she is not bluffing. Guilt is what’s keeping Percy out of that bed, and the only way he gets in is for Annabeth to outweigh that guilt by sleeping in the only place worse than the chair. She knows this—knows him—but still feels the need to pick a fight.
She tases his sides and grabs his arm in an attempt to haul him up, and soon they’re play-fighting like kids. Percy yelps and grabs Annabeth’s arm. It’s then that she realized she fucked up.
Momentum and Percy’s strength send Annabeth tumbling into his lap—narrowly avoiding kneeing him rather unfortunately. Their faces are close, mouths open with laughter and heavy breath.
“Truce?” she pants, praying she doesn’t have to spell it out.
His eyes dart to the bed over her shoulder. “Truce.”
Annabeth bolts into the bathroom without looking back.
Her shower is quick. She’d been looking forward to savoring the steam, but she’s hyper aware of Percy on the other side of the door, and if she lingers on any moment that’s passed since they crossed the threshold of this motel room, she won’t be able to look him in the eye.
Again, it’s smooth sailing until one slight mishap: all her clothes are in her bag, which she dropped by the door. All she’s got on is a too-small towel and a fierce blush to match.
The path is direct with the small exception of Percy lounging on the bed in sweats. Annabeth hisses at the bite of frigid air on her skin, and his eyes find her, flicking down to her legs before fixing on the ceiling. His Adam’s apple bobs in his throat as he swallows, and that’s all Annabeth can take. She darts to her bag, kneels awkwardly to scoop out a random shirt and pants, and retreats.
When she comes out, Percy is sitting on one side of the bed, a pillow propped against the headboard as he scrolls through his phone. He’s set up his charger on his nightstand and his lamp is off, leaving the decision of sleep to Annabeth. It’s all horrifically domestic.
Annabeth takes her time getting ready, fully aware that she’s delaying the inevitable. Percy’s toothbrush sits on the counter top next to the sink, and Annabeth catches his eye in the mirror more than once while she brushes her own. She even takes the time to brush and braid her damp hair; she tells herself it’s because of the cold, which isn’t a lie, but it isn’t the whole truth either.
There’s a sweatshirt laid out on the bed when she turns. Percy hasn’t moved, so he must have set it there after her mad dash from the shower. His focus on his phone is so laser that it has to be artificial—even with no sign that he’s watching her, Annabeth feels his peripheral gaze. She looks at him, the AHS Swim sweatshirt, and back.
Percy drops the phone and the act. “Your sweatshirt is floating in my trunk and the AC is broken. Take it.” He looks about as wrecked as Annabeth, and that alone is what allows her to pull the sweatshirt over her head and climb into bed.
With the lights out, Annabeth comes to the unfortunate realization that she was right about the glowing motel sign coming through the cheap curtain, casting blue, pink, and purple shadows over what should be a pitch black room. Not only can she hear Percy’s breath and smell him from the sweatshirt and feel his shoulder pressed up against hers; she can see the rise and fall of his chest, the sharpness of his profile, and the occasional glance he sends her way. She knows he catches her looking, too.
The comforter does nothing to warm Annabeth’s frigid toes, and her wet hair chills her ears. She’s pretty sure her nose is frozen solid. Only her torso is warm, protected by the sweatshirt that’s too big for her frame. If the sleeves didn’t cover her hands, she might feel Percy’s fingers twitch against her own. His side of the bed positively radiates heat.
He has to notice her shivering. If she can feel his chest expanding with every inhale, he has to feel her shaking.
A particularly deep inhale catches her attention. “Just come over here.”
Annabeth freezes. Sure, she’d thought the same thing, but she’d never say it. The way Percy tenses next to her tells her he hadn’t meant to.
Before this can become bigger than it is, Annabeth turns on her side and waits for Percy to move. They’re just keeping warm, she tells herself as he lifts his arm and she rests her head on his chest. It’s just two friends enduring an awkward moment that will be a hilarious story one day.
Annabeth’s leg slots between his, and she can’t ever imagine telling this story without dropping dead on the spot.
It’s tense, and it’s heightened because they know it’s tense. Annabeth’s neck is stiff, like the full weight of her head over his heart might make this too real, and Percy’s arms hover on the mattress as though Annabeth might break with a touch. A vicious cycle of meta worry tornadoes in Annabeth’s head, picking up debris she thought was firmly rooted in the depths of her worry. Especially the circumstances that brought them here to this motel.
“Am I still just running away?” she breathes. It’s a horrible sound, the quiet that follows.
But Percy’s arms wrap around her without hesitation, pulling her to his chest like his rib cage can protect her the way it does his own heart. His voice rumbles against her cheek. “Do you feel like you’re running away?”
“I don’t know.” Annabeth tightens her arm around his waist and inhales his scent. “I was always alone before. Now I don’t know if I’m running away or running away with you.”
“What’s the difference?” And he could be offended by that, but he knows her. They don’t need excuses or qualifiers.
Everything. “I was looking for something, before. Now I’m not.”
Percy nods, his chin bumping the crown of her head. “And we’ll go back to face it when this is over.”
God, she loves him for saying we instead of you.
She presses her nose into his neck, sighing at the warmth. “Not yet.”
Percy squirms at her cold nose, and she hears him smile despite himself. “No, not yet.” His arms shift, one rubbing between her shoulder blades while the other takes a confident turn for her waist. Annabeth presses her smile into his skin and gets the best sleep she’s had in ages.
Sunlight intrudes on her peaceful sleep in the early morning, its rays stretching through the window like an outstretched hand, tugging at Annabeth with an urgent whisper: it’s time to pull away. Wake up, it’s time to leave.
Her eyes slowly focus on the calming grey of Percy’s rumpled sweatshirt contrasting the garish yellows and oranges of the comforter. He’s the one spot in the room that doesn’t hurt to look at. Annabeth gives herself one selfish moment to breathe him in before she faces the cold outside the bedsheets.
As she does, she realizes that his breath is on the shallow side—not the deep sleep she was hoping to wake to. Add that to the unnatural stillness of his body, and Annabeth is certain of two things:
Percy is awake and possibly has been for a while.
Despite her frantic need to get out of bed, Annabeth has no desire to.
“Where you goin’?” he asks when Annabeth lifts her head.
And oh, the shy smile and crinkly eyes she finds will be her undoing. Yellow flecks in his irises glitter like sunrise on the ocean, and they’re too alert for him to have just woken up.
Annabeth realizes Percy is waiting on an answer she doesn’t have. Her voice cracks when she counters, “Why didn’t you wake me?” and she has to stop herself from burying her face in his chest to hide her pink cheeks.
He notices, and the corner of his mouth tugs up lazily. “Not like we’ve got anywhere to be.”
Annabeth cocks her head and considers that. They could stay here all day with that logic.
Her consideration must show as something else on her face, because Percy pulls back his arms to let her go. Annabeth is pretty sure that’s reluctance fixed in the muscles of his jaw, but the movement pulls the comforter down, distracting her with frigid air. That’s it. The road can wait.
She shimmies down and presses her face into the shelter of Percy’s neck, making mental excuses out of the light and the cold, but she knows. Given the roughness of his voice when he teases her for her cold nose, she reckons he knows too.
At some point in the late morning, Percy’s arm goes dead and he carefully extracts himself to shower before they get on the road. Annabeth scoots to his side of the bed, soaking in the warm traces of him on the sheets before the bathroom door even shuts. She’ll snag them some shitty motel lobby coffee when the bed goes cold, but she’s not moving until then.
She doesn’t care when Percy catches her buried in his pillow, one eye open to search nearby breakfast places on her phone with the covers pulled up to her neck. Wild curls that fell out of her braid overnight tickle her nose, and the nearest stop for food is nearly thirty minutes away, but neither inconvenience is effective enough to get her out of bed.
The look on Percy’s face—that should be enough. That should send Annabeth running for the hills (not that she hasn’t already done exactly that): seeing him stop in his tracks when he opens the bathroom door, watching his eyes dart over her frame under the covers before scrunching with endearment. Percy has never been one to hide it, not with Annabeth, but it’s different now. Somewhere between waking up the first time and now, something has shifted between them. Sleeping in the same bed wasn’t a choice, but holding each other in the early morning was.
Eventually Annabeth lets Percy and her rumbling stomach coax her into the cold world beyond the bed. There isn’t much to do to get ready, just throw on a t-shirt and jean shorts that can handle any adventure thrown her way or a day in the car.
One question weighs on her mind as the wheels hit the highway, as they gas up, get food, pick a direction. Is she running away?
It doesn’t weigh too heavily on her conscience—there’s still room to laugh as Percy opens the sunroof and shouts at the hillside, to be grateful for the gut instinct that drove her to twin French braids for the day as wind buffets her face. There’s time to scream alongside him, to sing until her voice goes hoarse, to argue with him about everything from the definition of a sandwich to the superiority of smooth peanut butter. Even when Percy drives her crazy, he puts a smile on her face.
But the quiet comes a few hours after they stop for food and gas, and the silence is not the comfort it was yesterday. Percy shows no signs of discomfort, and Annabeth trusts her reading of him, so it’s clearly all in her head. The question echoes in the absence of conversation.
If she’s running away, this might all just be the thrill of familiarity in the face of leaving everything else behind. Annabeth has caught herself thinking about Percy countless times before, but the courage to act on those thoughts has always been scarce. With so many rocky relationships, risking her one source of stability never outweighed the benefits of being with him that way.
But if that’s the case, there’s even more reason to stuff these feelings deep into her chest where they belong. A quick turnaround and a three-day trip back to NYC in stilted silence isn’t how Annabeth wants this road trip to end.
Percy reaching up to close the sunroof registers in the background, but Annabeth’s internal crisis takes up too much space for her to notice. If it wasn’t, she might notice him leaning forward to check the exit signs long before he pulls off the highway.
It’s not the first random exit he’s taken, so Annabeth doesn’t question it. Usually these detours are in the middle of the day rather than hours after sunset, but she shifts to stare out her window to see whatever view he’s found.
His hand shoots out to her leg. “No!”
Annabeth glares at him. “What?”
His eyes are still on the road, his hand on her knee, and he bites his lip. For a moment Annabeth thinks she’s seeing things in the dark, but they pass under a streetlight, and sure enough, he’s blushing down to his neck.
“Close your eyes,” he says.
He’s never let her down yet, so Annabeth listens.
After a few moments in darkness, Annabeth smacks the space in front of her, making contact with the hand she knows Percy is waving in her face.
“No peeking!” he protests.
Annabeth resists the temptation to open her eyes to roll them at him. “Not peeking, I just know you. I won’t look, I promise.”
The world is louder in the dark. An ambient song floating through the speakers might lull Annabeth to sleep if her heart wasn’t pounding in her chest, if her mind wasn’t racing with the scarce possibilities of where they might be going.
They turn onto a dirt road, the Jeep bouncing as they drop from the concrete. Annabeth’s hands fly out to steady herself, and she finds her fingers clasped in Percy’s. He swipes a thumb over her knuckles and squeezes. She’s glad he doesn’t break the spell of silence while they’re still moving.
Percy holds her hand through several more turns. One and a half songs pass until he puts the car in park and slips his hand out of hers.
“Keep ‘em closed,” he whispers, and it’s a fragile thing in the quiet after he cuts the engine. “I’ll come get you.”
She hears the jingle of keys, the thunk of the door, and then nothing.
Just as she huffs and moves to at least open her own door, a breeze rushes in as Percy beats her to it. A stray curl tickles her nose, which Percy tucks behind her ear.
His hand finds hers again. “Come on down.”
Objectively Annabeth knows it’s only a few feet, as it only takes a slight hop for her to hoist herself up into the seat. But blindly jumping feels like so much farther a fall. She ends up surprised when her converse hit soft grass and she stumbles into Percy’s chest with an oof.
He catches her, and she hates that she doesn’t hate the teasing smile in his voice when he says, “Perfect,” and leads her forward.
Wherever they are is oddly silent—just rustling grass and distant trees blowing in the cool breeze. There are no chattering people, no buzzing lights to give something away. All Annabeth hears is the soft scratch of Percy’s footsteps on the Earth, stopping after only a few strides.
He pats the hood with his free hand and leads hers to it. “Hop up.”
Try as she might, hoisting yourself onto the hood of a Jeep without your eyesight is fucking hard. Percy makes a valiant effort of masking a laugh into a cough and stops Annabeth after her third failed attempt.
His voice is closer now, his hands slipping around Annabeth’s waist tentatively as she turns to face him. “May I?”
Annabeth realizes what he’s asking and wishes for the umpteenth time that Percy had his eyes closed too. She probably looks like a tomato. Knowing her voice will betray her, she nods.
Percy backs her up until she bumps the grill, and he’s close close close and Annabeth is going to lose her fucking mind. He leans down, and she just gets the ghost of his breath before his grip tightens, hoisting her up and trusting her to seat herself on the edge of the hood. His hands leave Annabeth the moment she’s secure, and then he clambers up beside her. The Jeep rocks with their weight as they shift back to lean skyward; that’s when the pieces slot together.
“Open your eyes,” he breathes.
Living in cities all her life has prepared Annabeth for several things, but a sky full of stars isn’t one of them. She has never been one to turn her nose to the sky, preferring to keep it forward-focused. Every glance upwards has always been to imagine the changes she’d make to the skyline with little thought to the backdrop.
But now it’s all laid bare before her. The entire galaxy stretches out in every direction, and the stars are so bright she thinks they must be fake. Skies like this exist in movies, reflected in the eyes of two hopeless romantics; they don’t appear in front of scrappy runaways in real life. There’s something transfixing about the overflowing minimalism of the night sky, the way midnight is actually layers of black, purple, and blue dancing between actual twinkling stars. She could spend her entire life connecting the dots and not even make it halfway.
Annabeth’s words catch in her throat, so she looks at Percy in the hopes that her thanks will show on her face.
He’s already watching her when she turns.
His skin looks blue in the cascading moonlight, the high points of his face shining as he gazes at Annabeth with that soft smile. It’s one of her favorite Percy smiles because it’s one of the rarest. It feels like a secret, the way his lips purse before the corners lift, like his mouth is betraying him. Annabeth can never pin down what she’s done to earn such a soft, sweet reaction. It always seems to come at the simplest of times and disappear before she can get a good look. He doesn’t hide it now. It grows into something bright, earnest, beautiful—something that paints the night into brighter colors.
They have the entire galaxy before them, and Percy chooses to look at Annabeth.
Annabeth wishes that her entire life could be this moment repeated over and over again until now. Even that wouldn’t be enough for her to memorize every star reflected in Percy’s eyes, but it would be a start.
That little question worms its way into her consciousness—Is she running away?—and she thinks of her past attempts to run. She takes herself back to last night, curled up against Percy under the cloak of night in an entirely different context. She was looking for something before. She was looking for someone to see her.
And here, with Percy’s gaze on her over the most beautiful thing Annabeth has ever laid eyes on, she’s not sure she’s ever felt quite so seen.
She never again wants to be the girl who runs from the things that scare her, nor does she want to be the girl who doesn’t know such a beautiful sky exists. Annabeth never wants to be anything other than who she is right now looking at Percy.
So she kisses him.
It’s a brief question of her lips against his, one she’s too afraid to ask out loud in fear of the silence that might follow.
And it follows. Annabeth pulls away to look at Percy, and there are no words for this. To name it would make it smaller than it is.
Percy’s response is to pull Annabeth back to him, his palm on the side of her neck, his thumb tilting her chin, his fingers in her hair. The kiss is different from the first—it’s the answer. It’s every comforting touch, every shy smile Annabeth never understood until this exact moment.
She allows herself to sink into the softness of him, into the give of his warm body in contrast to the cold stiffness of the Jeep. She melts in true summer fashion, slowly letting go until she’s spilled over him. His arm wraps around her waist and his leg slides up to keep them from tumbling to the grass, and only then does Annabeth realize that she’s making out with her best friend.
She pulls back and takes a moment to appreciate the way Percy chases her lips until she places her hand on his chest. His eyes take another second to open, then fix on Annabeth with a fiery focus.
“Hey,” she says.
Percy swipes his thumb over her cheek. “Hey.”
Annabeth takes a pointed glance at their surroundings. “Did you bring me out here to do that?” she teases.
Percy’s jaw drops mid-smile with a huff of laughter. “You kissed me!”
Hearing the words would make it sink in if the look on his face wasn’t so adorable. She smirks. “Would you have kissed me if I didn’t?”
His mouth opens and closes with several aborted arguments before he pulls her back for a kiss that makes her toes curl.
“That answer your question?” he asks.
“Hm.” Annabeth pretends to consider. “Might need a little more convincing.”
And then he’s laughing. And they’re kissing. And if Annabeth wasn’t already head over heels, she absolutely would be now.
“Okay.” She’s more than a little breathless. “I’m convinced you took me out here to romance me.”
Percy scrubs a hand over his face and smiles another classic: half exasperation, all love. “I’ll have you know I had perfectly innocent intentions. You’re the one corrupting them.”
Annabeth leans in close, keeping just enough space between them for their lips to brush. “I might like them a little corrupted if it means you’ll keep kissing me like that.”
His grin teases her own. “You’re going to be the death of me, Annabeth Chase.”
Annabeth loses herself in him, taking time to learn what makes his breath hitch, what makes him smile into her mouth, where to keep her hands. He stops breathing when Annabeth licks into his mouth, smiles when she hums in contentment, likes her free hand tangled in the curls at the base of his neck. She knows him better than she knows herself; this is simply completing the picture.
He hears the shift in her tone and lifts his chin. “Yeah?”
“Thanks for coming with me.”
“Of course,” he says without hesitation. “I’d follow you anywhere.”
And god, he can’t just say things like that. Annabeth would kill for his ability to speak from the heart and get the words right. She has to collect herself and drop a kiss to his cheek before continuing. “Not just follow. For being with me.”
Bless Percy and his understanding. He softens, that crinkle between his brows appearing for a moment before he says, “Always.” Like it’s fact. Like they’re unstoppable.
Maybe they are.
Percy tilts his forehead against hers, going a bit cross-eyed to look at her. “In case it wasn’t clear, I like you. A lot.”
“Good.” Annabeth bumps his nose with hers. “Because the kissing bit would’ve been quite awkward otherwise. Not to mention the ride home.” She notices the way his nose wrinkles and adds, “I like you a lot, too.”
They sit in the silence with that, listening to the cicadas and smiling at each other.
“Did you happen to check where the nearest motel is?” he asks.
“Nope. No signal out here either.”
Percy bites his lip in a poor attempt to curb hope.
Annabeth rolls her eyes. “Do you want to sleep in the Jeep?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
Though Annabeth doesn’t understand his excitement, she loves watching it bloom on his face. Darkness obscures most of him in shadow, but his eyes shine like gemstones even in the lowlight.
He helps her off the hood (she doesn’t need the help, but she’ll accept it for the strength of his hands on her waist), and together they clean out the back of the Jeep. The dash light stings Annabeth’s eyes as she piles their supplies into the front seat, passed through the cabin by Percy. Between her systematic packing and him padding the back with blankets, they get the job done in minutes. They leave the windows up, figuring they’d rather get up to turn on the AC than risk rain.
They take a moment to half change for bed: just the quick swap of jeans for comfortable sleep clothes—they’ll find a truck stop to wash up in the morning. It’s thirty seconds of averted gazes and tension Annabeth could cut with a knife, and then they’re laughing and tumbling onto the floor in the back.
Even with the seats as far forward as they go, Annabeth knows they won’t fit comfortably. Percy has outdone himself with the blankets and sleeping bags padding the floor, but they’re two tall individuals cramming into the back of a two-seater. She doesn’t understand Percy’s eagerness to sleep here.
Ever the gentleman, Percy lets Annabeth establish her space first. She settles on a slight diagonal, curling her legs where they meet the backdoor and cursing this idea.
But Percy drapes himself over her, cautiously hovering before she pulls him the rest of the way, and she thinks she gets the appeal of sleeping in the Jeep now. They kiss lazily for some time Annabeth doesn’t keep track of. Why would she? They have nowhere to be, no one to see, nothing to do. The entire world shrinks to the singular point of Percy’s lips on Annabeth’s like it’s the only thing that matters. And right now, it is.
Eventually sleep gets the better of them. Percy sinks heavier into Annabeth and the kisses get lazier and she knows they should get some sleep before the sun barges in on them.
Another perk of sleeping in the Jeep is how close it forces them; this time Annabeth is Percy’s pillow, letting him bury his face in her neck as he’s half slung over her. His weight is a comforting presence, his heavy arm around her waist grounding her to this moment she never wants to leave.
The soft pitter-patter of rain hitting the roof of the Jeep ushers Annabeth into the haze between sleep and consciousness. All she gets is the melodic plunk of rainwater, the sleep-stiff ache of a few joints, and the weight of happiness pressing on her chest.
Or rather, the weight of Percy. They didn’t have much room to shift during sleep, but as Annabeth comes back to the world she notices how much he’s curled around her during the night. His head rests in her neck, his arms wrap around and under her, and his legs are thrown over and between her own. She’s certain a drool stain rests somewhere on her shirt. He’s still dead asleep.
It’s such a perfect bookend to the previous morning that Annabeth has to take a moment to send up her silent thanks. Now she understands why he didn’t wake her.
It’s like being chosen by a precious thing for a small display of trust and affection wrapped in subconscious intention. I let my guard down to be beside you. I trust you to watch my back.
The temptation to wake him is there, certainly. Annabeth would love to watch him blink away sleep and beam up at her all soft; she wants to tease him for his drool and kiss him despite it and their morning breath. She wants him to be awake with her, but she wants him to rest more.
They’ll hit the road in a few hours, and love will feel like rolled down windows and hands coasting on the wind. It will sound like laughter and voices that crack on high notes that they’re comfortable enough to sing loud. It will look like Percy smiling beside her—that much will never change.
But right now love feels like aching joints against the Jeep floor. It sounds like steady breathing and rain on the roof. It looks like the ceiling and the nondescript grey sky peeking through the windows.
That’s all love is, she thinks. Not small, but simple.