A/N: Right after BotL, while Camp Half Blood isn't entirely safe, everybody can more or less lead normal lives for a while. By Christmastime, Thalia's still Hunting, Percy's at his apartment, and Annabeth...well, Annabeth's grumpy. Because of airlines. Who wouldn't be? But this Christmas is going to be a little bit...um, drama-filled. You'll see.
"You have got to be kidding me!" I shouted at the woman standing behind the counter. "Cancelled? I just waited three hours for this flight!"
"We're sorry, miss," the blondie said timidly. "But the weather conditions are simply terrible. We've gotten five inches of snow in the past hour."
I folded my arms. "I don't care how much snow there is if you can get the plane off the ground!"
She shook her head. "We really are very sorry," she said. "But we are unable to 'get the plane off the ground'. However, you can have your flight rescheduled for next week and these dinner and breakfast vouchers, accepted at any restaurant in the airport," she drew a handful of paper slips from under her desk.
I snatched them and huffed off in the direction of the escalators. "Last time I ever fly Continental," I muttered, ignoring the looks I was getting from other delayed customers.
Hi. My name's Annabeth Chase.
Until now, I was in a pretty good mood. I had just left the Christmas party at the Catherine McAuley school, my high school in Brooklyn. As today was the last day of school before the holidays, my school friends were headed for their parents, and I was headed back home to see my dad and half-brothers for winter break. Was.
Now I was just stuck at LaGuardia with a bunch of vouchers for Cinnabons and nowhere to go.
"Just great," I said when I'd reached the escalator. I hid my face in my hands. "Dad'll be totally confused and I'll have to be stuck here for a week."
But a thought struck me then and there. "I wonder...maybe I can go back to camp..."
I fished my cell phone out of my jacket pocket. As I dialed the camp phone number, my spirits slowly rose. Maybe this wouldn't be so terrible after all.
Until the phone quit ringing. "We're sorry. Your call cannot be completed as dialed. This line is undergoing maintanence. Please try again later."
I glared at my phone. What?!
"You have got to be kidding me," I said again as I punched in the camp number once more.
"We're sorry. Your call cannot be completed as dialed..."
"Geez!" I punched the red phone button to hang up and sulked. "No camp. No flights out of New York. Where am I supposed to stay, it's not like I can afford a hotel, and I don't know anybody who lives...!" But then I realized. Oh boy. I did know someone.
Reluctantly, I dug around in my backpack for the phone number Seaweed Brain had given me a couple of summers ago. I looked at the slip of paper, then slowly dialed his apartment.
"Hello?" A cheery woman's voice said.
I gulped. "Hi, is this Ms. Jackson?" I asked. "This is Annabeth."
"Annabeth! How great to hear from you!" she cried. Obviously excited that I'd called. "How's your Christmas vacation going?"
I sighed. "Well, um, it's not really going so well...you see, I'm stuck in--"
I was interrupted by a voice in the background of the phone call. "Mom? Who're you talking to?"
"Oh, it's Annabeth, honey! Come say hi!" Ms. Jackson called to him. She got back on the phone. "That's Percy, Annabeth. I'm sure he'll be happy to talk to you."
"Ms. Jackson, I--"
"Let me get him on the phone for you," she insisted, and with some fumbling noises she left the conversation.
"Hey," Percy said. "Is that you?"
"Yeah," I said sheepishly. "I'm kind of asking for a favor."
I rubbed the back of my neck anxiously. "Now -- you can say no, but the airport won't let me fly back to California, and I don't have much money with me, and I can't get ahold of camp..."
"I need a place to stay," I finished clumsily.
He didn't say anything for a second. Then, "Oh. Okay, sure. Yeah...um, I bet you can stay with us."
"Really?" I said.
"Sure. Let me ask my mom." He tried to be subtle about this, but I could tell he was covering the receiver. I heard a bunch of mumbling, and a minute later he said: "My mom said it's OK. Actually, she's kind of happy. Really happy."
"Oh," I smiled in spite of myself. "Thanks. Can I come drop my stuff off?"
"Sure," he said again. Were we master conversationalists or what? "Uh, 207 West 57th Street. Room 114. Haven't you been here before or something?"
I flinched. "Maybe."
"When you were spying on me?"
"I'll take that as a yes," he said wryly. "Guess I'll see you soon."
I grinned. "Guess so. And Percy?"
"Thanks," I told him.
"Yeah, yeah," he brushed me off good-naturedly. "Bye, Wise Girl."
He hung up. A little less flustered, I grabbed a bus -- which took forever -- and walked a couple blocks -- which was terribly mushy and snowing -- until I came to his apartment where, yes, I had done a little observing a couple years back. I headed through the building until I came to 114 and rang the doorbell. Bing-boonnng.
Percy, instead of his mom, answered. "Hey."
"Hey yourself," I stepped in and starting shaking my hat of snow. "It's morbidly freezing out there. Hi, Ms. Jackson."
She smiled broadly and waved from the kitchen, where she was baking something that smelled delicious. The apartment was a little small, just a little living room, two bedrooms, and a kitchen, but cozy. Just the thing for a snowy winter night. "Make yourself at home, Annabeth. You can have Percy's room; he'll sleep on the couch."
"Mo-om!" Percy groaned.
"She's the guest," his mother told him firmly.
"I'm sorry about just barging in like this," I apologized. "But, you know, the weather..."
"No, no, it's fine," she reassured me, untying her apron, grabbing a purse, and heading for the door. "Go put your things in his room. I'm making chocolate chip cookies -- oh, they're colored blue, I hope you don't mind -- and I was just about to go pick up some pizza. I'll be back in a half-hour or so. Make sure they don't burn, will you, Percy?" And she left the apartment.
"Be right back," I told Percy as I dragged my luggage to his room. It was pretty small, too, but very Percy. His shield on the nightstand. His bed unmade. A pot of random lacy flowers on the planter outside the windowsill...wait, what?
I gingerly opened the door and inspected the planterbox more closely. Moonlace was scrawled in Percy's handwriting on an index card next to it. I know I shouldn't have pried any further, but this was too weird. I squinted at the glowing flower, but couldn't identify its scientific name. I'd never even heard of Moonlace.
I dug my fingers into the black soil to feel the root, but I felt something else strange. Paper. I pulled out a small strip, like a fortune from a fortune cookie. It took a while to read, but I finished rearranging the letters from dyslexia after a minute.
And to my dismay, this is what I'd come up with:
I know you need to continue on your quests, but know while you travel that someone still cares for you. You are a hero, Percy. You know where to find me, if you could. But as I will never be able to see you again, I can only sign,