Annabeth came to terms with the fact that she didn’t have magic a long time ago.
If she had to pinpoint the moment, she’d probably tell you it was when she was seven and overheard her father talking about how even when she was particularly emotional she didn’t display any signs of accidental magic, but secretly she knew that she didn’t fully accept it until she was twelve.
She got cornered in an alleyway by some vicious bullies and she still couldn’t summon any magic to help her. Not that she needed it, in the end - she’d found a hammer that had done just as good a job of persuading them to shut up as any spell would have.
Not everyone had magic. In fact, very few people did. Only about ten percent of the population, was the estimate, although of course it was hard to get accurate figures when so many of them chose not to officially disclose their powers.
But Annabeth’s mother had been magical, and she took after her in every other possible way, so it had just sort of been assumed that the magic would come, too. When it didn’t, her father was relieved, glad to have some semblance of normalcy, while Annabeth was immensely disappointed.
If you’d asked, she probably would have told you that she got over it pretty quickly. Normal was fine, normal was easy, normal was as good as it was going to get. She never expected to feel that spark inside her, that tingling at the tips of her fingers, the overflow of energy pulsing through her and out into the universe.
And then she met Percy Jackson.
“Come on, Annabeth,” Piper needled, jumping on the end of her housemate’s bed and landing on all fours. “It’ll be fun.”
Annabeth peered over the top of her laptop. Piper was dressed in a hideous, high necked, green sweater with little lopsided Christmas elves stitched across the front, all ready for the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party a friend of hers was throwing.
Piper lived for this type of kitschy stuff, thought it was ironic and hilarious and well worth celebrating. Annabeth thought it was idiotic.
She pursed her lips and said, “No, it won’t.”
“It will, I promise.” Piper pushed Annabeth’s legs to one side so she could lay down, stretching herself out against the wall and reaching up to bat at Annabeth’s shoulder. “Please come. Please, please, please. You know you want to come.”
Annabeth paused, fingers hovering over the keyboard, and frowned. “Don’t charmspeak me.”
Piper had the grace to blush. “Sorry, it just sorta slipped out.”
“Sure it did,” Annabeth grumbled, closing her laptop and setting it carefully on her bedside table.
Of course the college that Annabeth had chosen to attend had an unusually high number of magical students, and of course one of her housemates just happened to be magical. Piper had the ability to charm people with her voice, compel them to do things they otherwise wouldn’t. It was a rare power amongst the already rare magical people, but one she harnessed mostly for good, thankfully.
Except for tonight, of course.
Piper batted her eyelashes and pouted. “Please come, I’ll be lost without you.”
Annabeth snorted. “As if. You only want me there as an icebreaker for your conversation with Jason.”
“That is ridiculous.” Piper scoffed. “I want you there because you’re lovely company.”
“I’m terrible company.”
“Well, at least you’re modest.”
There was a pause, where the two girls held eye contact and waited to see who’d crack first. Past experience said it’d be Piper, and past experience was right.
“Okay, fine!” She looked down at her lap, contemplative. “If you come tonight I’ll take on cleaning duties for the next week.”
“Make it a month.”
Annabeth shrugged. “It’s finals, we should be studying. And I think you underestimate how much I really don’t feel like making awkward small talk with acquaintances tonight.”
“I think you overestimate how much I want you there,” Piper retorted, sitting up straight and glaring at her. She softened almost immediately though, shoulders curving forward as she sighed. “Okay, fine. Cleaning duties for the next month in exchange for you coming to the party tonight.”
Annabeth shook her offered hand. “Deal. But I don’t have an ugly Christmas sweater to wear, what a shame.”
Piper grinned. “Ah, but you do have a perceptive roommate who noticed your frankly quite disturbing lack of Christmas apparel and went out and bought you one.”
Piper clambered off the bed and wrenched open her bottom drawer, pulling out a baby pink sweater.
“Pink? That’s not very Christmassy,” Annabeth scoffed.
“Wait for it!” Piper laughed. She shook the sweater out and spun around so Annabeth could see the gingerbread house with little gingerbread people smiling out of the windows that had been stitched onto the front. Multicoloured knots of thread made a line of Christmas lights across the gutter of the house.
It was the most hideous thing Annabeth had ever seen. She stared at it, horrified, as Piper cackled maniacally.
“No, I’m not wearing that.”
Piper smirked. “Come on, you’ll look out of place if you rock up in normal clothes. They might even turn you away!”
“What a shame that would be,” Annabeth deadpanned.
Piper advanced on her threateningly. “It’s an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party, Annabeth, you have to wear an ugly Christmas sweater.”
“No, I refuse!” She held her arms out in front of herself, trying to push her roommate away. “I take it back, I’m just going to stay in study, never mind -”
Piper jumped on top of her, wrestling the sweater over her head. Annabeth swore loudly and continuously from inside the warm fabric, until finally she caved and pulled it on properly.
“Are you happy?” she snapped, shoving her arms in roughly.
Piper was beaming. “So happy. This might be the happiest I’ve ever been.”
“I’m glad my suffering brings you joy.”
“You’re such a Grinch.”
Annabeth wasn’t sure if the fact that she knew people at the party made it better or worse. Pretty much as soon as she walked in she was enveloped in a hug by the Stoll brothers, one on each side, both yelling, “Annabeth!”
Connor turned to Piper with a huge grin. “How’d you do it, Pipes? How did you drag her away from her study?”
“Magic,” she said, wiggling her fingers.
The boys laughed and let Annabeth go, tugging on the shoulders of her sweater for good measure.
She straightened it out and frowned after them. “I hate this.”
“We just got here, you’re not leaving.” Piper grabbed her elbow and dragged her further into the house.
Annabeth saw some girls from their dorm: Clarisse and Silena, heads bowed close together and lips curled into smirks, like the rest of the party didn’t even exist; a girl whom she thought was named Hazel was sitting on the couch with her feet curled up underneath her, nursing a red solo cup like it was a tea; and then -
“Reyna,” Piper breathed, letting go of Annabeth’s arm.
Annabeth followed her gaze across the room, to where Reyna was standing beside a very awkward looking Jason. Piper’s face fell.
“Just go say hi,” Annabeth said, trying to project Piper’s usual confidence back on her. “They’re not even talking.”
“They’re…” Piper trailed off, seemingly lost for words. She spun around. “I can’t do it.”
“Yes, you can. You didn’t drag me all the way here just so you could freeze up halfway across the room from him.”
Piper whined. “What do I even say?”
“Hi Jason, thanks for your help with that question set last week, you’re a lifesaver. Would you like to get married?” Annabeth offered.
Piper looked at her incredulously, lips twitching as though she couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry. She settled on just shaking her head.
Before Annabeth could offer up any more foolproof advice, Jason peeled himself away from the wall and started walking right towards them.
“Oh, look, he’s going to do it for you,” Annabeth said, subtly shifting so that her shoulder was behind Piper, blocking her from running away.
Jason stopped right in front of them, wearing a careful smile and a truly hideous grey sweater with a huge green Christmas tree on the front. “Hello,” he said, voice warm.
“Hi,” Piper said, a few octaves higher than normal.
And that’s where the conversation stalled, with the two of them just staring at each other.
“Oh, jesus,” Annabeth muttered, before saying brightly, “Hi, Jason. Love the sweater.”
“What? Oh, thanks, Annabeth.” He plucked at the front of it, frowning slightly. “It - uh, it was my sister’s actually.”
“Cool!” Piper said, way too enthusiastically. “Hey, uh, I wanted to thank you for helping me with that question set, last week. That was - erm, really… helpful.”
Jason smiled. “You’re welcome. I’m glad I could help.”
Annabeth knocked Piper’s shoulder and said. “I’m going to go get a drink, but, uh, weren’t you just telling me how you thought you’d finally cracked that reading, Pipes?”
“I was? Oh, yeah, I was, right!” Piper swapped confusion for a dazzling smile as she blinked back up at Jason. “Do you want me to, er, go over it with you?”
Annabeth left them discussing the work that they all should have been doing right then, instead of partying, and made her way through the lounge and into the kitchen to get a drink. The kitchen was full of people doing rounds of shots, however, so Annabeth filled her cup as quickly as possible and then returned to the slightly tamer crowds in the lounge, holding the cup in front of her like a shield.
She wondered if Piper would notice if she just snuck away now.
Some people that she knew from classes and friends of friends that she’d hung out with once back at the start of semester tried to engage her in conversation, but Annabeth really wasn’t feeling it. She kept glancing over to where Piper and Jason were laughing together on the makeshift dancefloor, debating whether her roommate really needed her here. Her laughter was forced and she was praying that her smiles didn’t look as fake as they felt.
She just couldn’t stop thinking about all of the work she had waiting for her back in her dorm, and about how she still hadn’t gotten her dad his Christmas present yet, and how standing in a circle of people discussing how they either couldn’t wait or definitely didn’t want to go home for break was the last thing she felt like doing right then.
She was in the middle of wishing a friend of Piper’s happy holidays when she made unintentional eye contact with someone across the room. He was tall enough to stand slightly above most of the crowd, with dark hair and sea green eyes that crinkled in the corners as he looked at her, obviously intrigued.
She held his gaze as he started making his way towards her, inexplicably feeling like maybe coming to this party hadn’t been such a bad idea after all.
He stopped right front of her, and Annabeth’s throat went dry. He was even better looking up close. His bright blue sweater with rows of silver baubles and snowflakes shouldn’t have looked appealing on anyone over the age of eight, but the colour made his eyes look incredibly bright and honestly, Annabeth would have been surprised if he’d looked bad in anything.
“Big fan of gingerbread?” he asked by way of greeting.
His voice was deep and had the accent of a New York native, not someone who’d moved there for school, like Annabeth. The sound of it and his strange words had her completely dumbstruck for a second, until her brain kicked back into gear and she realised he was pointing to her sweater.
“Oh,” she said, glancing at it and then back up to him. Man, his eyes were a nice colour. “No, not really.”
“Oh, come on,” he teased, “How can you not love a good gingerbread house?”
“I can appreciate them, but I’m actually more interested in houses that are a bit bigger and a lot less edible,” she said.
His eyebrows knotted together in confusion.
“I’m an Architecture major,” she said by way of explanation.
“No wonder you’re not impressed by gingerbread houses, you’re used to working with much better materials,” he said, sounding genuine.
Something inside Annabeth fluttered. “Admittedly, I would like to build something slightly more permanent.”
“Gonna redesign the city skyline?”
She narrowed her eyes at him, unsure if he was teasing. Her defences started to raise again, but then he smiled at her, and warmth blossomed inside Annabeth’s chest.
The Christmas lights strung up around the room flickered.
A good portion of students paused, looking up at the lights as they switched on and off, on and off, before they settled back on and the room was lit in a multicoloured glow once again.
Annabeth felt fidgety, suddenly. She rubbed her fingertips together and licked her lips. When she looked away from the lights, the boy in the blue sweater was watching her. She wondered if he’d ever looked away.
“I’m Annabeth,” she said.
“Percy.” He held out a hand for her to shake, which was sort of charming.
Just as Annabeth’s fingers brushed his, the Christmas lights flickered and then sparked, blowing up in a spectacular chain, golden showers igniting across the roof before the entire room went dark and silent.
“Oh my god!” someone shrieked, but before anyone could panic an orange light shone brightly from the centre of room.
“No one worry,” a boy with curly hair was saying, features shadowed eerily by the flame he was cradling in his palm. “Leo the Lightlord has you covered.”
“Leo, you drama queen,” Piper said loudly, flicking her wrist to turn on the main light switch across the room.
Everyone looked even more ridiculous in the brighter light.
“Oh, excuse me for trying to add a bit of dramatic flair,” Leo said, tossing the ball of flame between his hands.
“Put that out before you light someone on fire,” she reprimanded.
Leo sighed and instantly extinguished the flame. “You are no fun.”
“Is everyone okay?” Jason asked, looking over the room with an authoritative air.
The group nodded and mumbled affirmative responses.
“The sound system’s blown up,” Silena said, pressing the power button on a speaker and getting no response.
“Aw man, how are we meant to have a party with no music?” Travis whined, throwing his arms in the air dramatically.
“Leave it to me!” Leo crowed, running over to Silena and looking at the stereo. “I’ll have it fixed in no time.”
“Well that was weird,” Annabeth said, drawing her hand back to her side.
Percy watched the action with a strange expression, looking almost concerned. “Yeah… weird.”
To stop him staring, she stretched the sleeve of her sweater down over her hand, curling her fingers over the cuff and holding it there. He looked from her hand back to her eyes, smoothing out his features.
He sounded cautious as he said, “It seemed sort of like accidental magic.”
“Isn’t everyone here a little old for accidental magic?” Annabeth scoffed.
Percy shrugged. “Dunno. That’s what it seemed like, though.”
She narrowed her eyes at him, assessing the situation. “Are you magic, then?”
He rubbed the back of his neck, looking suddenly uncomfortable. “I am, yeah.”
She debated the various ways she could take this conversation before settling on, “Did you blow up many Christmas lights before you learned to control it?”
Percy’s hand dropped back to his side and the corner of his lips quirked up. “Ah, just the one set… I mostly made the plumbing blow, which is probably worse.”
Annabeth laughed. “You’re right, flooding is way worse than a broken string of lights.”
He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye before refocusing on where Leo was fiddling with the stereo, waving his hands and muttering some spells under his breath. It was obvious Percy was trying too hard to sound casual when he asked, “What about you?”
She faltered. “Oh, I’m not - I mean, I don’t - My mom was magic, but I’m not.”
Percy frowned. “You’re not?”
Annabeth shook her head. “Nope. Never had any accidental magic, never discovered any secret abilities. I’m just… boring and normal.”
“You’re not,” he said quickly.
“What, I’m not normal?”
“Boring,” Percy corrected. “You’re not boring.”
“Oh, thanks.” Annabeth shifted her feet, tugging the sleeves of her sweater further down over her knuckles. “I like talking to you, too.”
Leo gave a shout as the music resumed. A song with a heavy bassline began pumping out of the repaired speakers, which seemed louder than before, and the party started up again.
Annabeth didn’t look away from Percy. Not even attempting to speak over the noise, he just held her gaze and gestured towards the backyard. Nodding mutely, Annabeth followed him through the crowd, out the sliding door and into the backyard.
It was easier to breathe out here, colder and quieter. Percy didn’t stop walking, merely flicking his hand over his shoulder to close the door behind them and continuing out over the grass. Annabeth followed, rubbing her arms and keeping her eyes locked on the back of Percy’s head.
He came to a stop on the far side of the yard, where a small makeshift seating area had been set up around an old firepit. Upturned milk crates with blankets folded on top of them sat in the snow. Percy waved his hand and the snow on top of them disappeared, leaving two perfectly dry blankets for them to sit on.
Annabeth tried to hide how impressed she was, settling onto one of the crates and tucking her hands between her thighs to keep them warm.
Percy glanced once again at her hands as he sat opposite her, wincing a little as he looked up at her eyes. “I’m sorry, I didn’t really think - I don’t feel the cold as bad as most people, we can go back in -”
Annabeth’s heart started to race. With a crackle, the embers of the fire in the pit beside them lit up. Both of them jumped sideways, Percy nearly falling off his crate in the process.
“What the - Leo?” Annabeth span around, searching for a sign of the resident fire magic wielder, but they were the only ones in the yard. No one else was crazy enough to brave being outside in this cold.
When she spun back around, Percy was regarding her carefully.
She held her hands up and shook her head. “It’s not me! It can’t be, I’m not - I don’t have any powers, I’m too old and -”
Percy surprised her by taking her hand and running the pad of his thumb along one of the lines on her palm, all the way up to the tip of her pointer finger. A shiver ran through Annabeth’s entire body at the contact, and as Percy lifted his thumb something intangible and inexplicable inside Annabeth went with him. She couldn’t see it, but she could feel it - he was drawing something out of her, something warm and powerful.
This was momentous, she could feel it, and Annabeth wished that she was wearing anything other than an ugly pink sweater with a gingerbread house on it.
The fire crackled again, rapidly switching to a pink flame and then a blue, burning hotter than before.
She gasped as Percy pulled his hand back, severing the connection. He blinked up at her, looking almost as stunned as she felt. The fire returned to a more natural orange flame.
“You -” he started, and then had to stop. He shook his head slowly, and then tried again. “You felt that too, right?”
Annabeth drew her bottom lip up between her teeth and nodded. “Yeah.”
Percy’s smile was slow and crooked, but it was the most beautiful thing Annabeth had ever seen. “I think you just found some new material to work with.”
Piper found them three hours later, at one in the morning, holed up in the study. Percy was standing in the corner, holding a paperback and staring at Annabeth like she was the brightest star he’d ever seen. Annabeth was sitting cross legged on the desk, hands hovering just above her knees and eyes squeezed shut as she concentrated. Three books were floating around her head.
“Okay, are you ready? I’m gonna throw another one,” Percy said, shifting his grip on the book.
“Ready,” Annabeth said, voice firm.
Percy tossed the paperback, and the ones already in the air shook slightly. Just before it made contact with Annabeth’s forehead, however, the book stopped abruptly in mid air and hung there, suspended by nothing but her force of will.
“Holy shit,” Piper breathed from the doorway, hand flying to her mouth. “Holy shit, Annabeth! What are you doing?!”
Annabeth’s eyes flew open and all of the books immediately plummeted down, hitting the desk and the ground with a thump. “Piper! Hi!”
“You’re -” Piper looked absolutely lost. She ran a hand roughly through her hair and asked, “What are you doing? Who is this?”
Annabeth hopped off the desk and came to stand beside Percy. He offered Piper small wave.
“Well, it’s sort of hard to explain, but, uh, this is Percy. Percy, this is Piper, my roommate.”
Piper narrowed her eyes and looked him up and down, clearly judging. Percy, however, kept his expression unreadable.
Annabeth cleared her throat and pushed on. “Percy might have helped me discover some magic.”
“Is that a euphemism? What the hell is going on here?”
“No, definitely not a euphemism,” Annabeth said, blushing. “Literal magic. Like, maybe my mom passed some on to me after all.”
“But - but you’re nineteen, we’re in college, you’ve never -” Piper was gobsmacked.
“I know, I know, I was blown away, too!” Annabeth grabbed her arm. “But look, look at this.”
She turned around and closed her eyes again, focusing. When she opened them, she pointed to each book that she’d dropped before, and, one at a time, they flew back to their spot on the bookshelf.
“Oh, my god,” Piper breathed.
Annabeth and Percy wore identical grins.
Despite not wanting to leave the party at all, and being dragged away by Piper against her will, Annabeth didn’t stop grinning the entire way home. Her cheeks were flushed, from the cold, from adrenaline, from the memory of Percy’s hand in hers. Energy thrummed through her veins, danced along her skin and curled out of her palms into the night, tendrils of it pulling at the universe around her.
She said goodnight to a moderately drunk and very dazed Piper as soon as they got into their room, and Piper promptly passed out fully clothed on top of her sheets. Annabeth tucked her in before climbing onto her own bed, tucking her knees up against her chest and marvelling at this new sensation. She felt alive in a way she never had before, like she’d just discovered an entirely new realm of possibilities.
Percy was right, she did have a whole new set of materials to work with now.
And that was another thing that was keeping her awake - Percy. She wasn’t stupid. She knew that it was him that had sparked her dormant magic. She didn’t know why, but there must have been a reason. Maybe he was just that powerful? Maybe their magic was complimentary? A thousand questions ran through her head, and Annabeth couldn’t quite settle on which one to try and answer first.
She felt fidgety and cooped up, so she stretched her legs out and tried tapping her feet. It didn’t help, though. That energy she could feel at the tips of her fingers, it was spreading throughout her entire body, forcing her up out of the bed and onto her feet. Before she knew it she was dancing, swaying her hips in time to the music playing softly in her head, a call that was much more gentle now she’d given the magic some more space breathe.
She spun in a circle and the curtains above the window opened, hitting a pot plant on top of her desk as they went. Annabeth stuck a hand out to levitate the plant before it could fall, rushing forward to physically grab it and put it back in place. She carefully shut the curtains and decided that perhaps it was best to try and keep things a bit more controlled until she didn’t have to worry about waking up her roommate.
She was wide awake now, though, and lying on her bed only served to make her feel more anxious, so she took to pacing up and down the small space at the feet of her and Piper’s bed.
She couldn’t stop thinking about Percy - about the colour of his eyes, the snowflakes on his sweater, the callouses on his hands, the warmth that had blossomed in her chest from their very first conversation. He’d helped her discover something amazing about herself, but, Annabeth realised with a start, she knew hardly anything about him.
They’d been so wrapped up in exploring her new talents that they hadn’t had a chance to do any of the smalltalk. She didn’t know his major, she didn’t know who he was friends with at the party, she didn’t even know if he was already dating someone.
Oh, god, what if he was in love with someone else?
What if she was too late?
The pot plant on her desk wilted, and Annabeth collapsed onto her bed, elbows on her knees and chin propped in her hands. She didn’t even know when she was going to see him again.
Oh, this was bad.
She must have eventually fallen into an uneasy sleep, because Annabeth woke up to someone frantically knocking at her dorm room door.
“Annabeth!” The voice on the other side was familiar, but she wasn’t quite awake enough to place it. “Annabeth, please open the door!”
Piper groaned and rolled over, shoving her pillow over her head. “Shut them up,” she moaned.
“Please don’t make me unlock the door,” the person on the other side called, almost begging.
Annabeth swung her legs over her bed and groggily made her way to the door. When she opened it, she was hit with a wave of magic so powerful it almost knocked her off her feet.
“Percy,” she breathed.
“Annabeth.” He looked ready to collapse, reaching out and leaning against the doorframe with one arm.
The action brought him closer to Annabeth, closer than she would have been comfortable with anyone else, but she didn’t step back. “What are you doing here?”
“I…” He paused, swallowing thickly. “I needed to see you again. I couldn’t sleep last night, I couldn’t stop thinking about…” He made a vague gesture, waving his hand between the two of them.
Annabeth gently grabbed his hand, settling her fingers between his. The action made her pulse race, but she felt more settled than she had since leaving the party. “Neither could I.”
Percy’s relief was tangible. “Annabeth, you’re not boring, and you’re not normal - you’re enchanting. I’m - I’m enchanted by you.”
“Oh, my god,” Piper groaned, violently throwing her pillow at Annabeth’s back. “Just hurry up and kiss already.”
When Annabeth turned back to Percy, he was wearing that crooked smile, eyes bright enough to bring her to her knees. “If you say so.”
If you’d asked, she probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you who moved first. One second he was standing in front of her, and the next Percy’s lips were on hers. He kissed her like he’d been waiting to do it from the moment they met. His hands moved to her hair, tangling in her curls and tugging lightly in a way that made her spine arch, pressing her even closer against him. Her hands ran over his shoulders and down his arms before settling at the base of his spine, holding him to her.
Twenty four hours ago, Annabeth Chase almost believed that normal was fine, normal was easy, normal was as good as it was going to get. She’d never expected to feel that spark inside her, that tingling at the tips of her fingers, the overflow of energy pulsing through her and out into the universe.
And then she met Percy Jackson.
And now she knew better.