L o n e l y T h i s C h r i s t m a s

'The next thing he knew the door was closing behind her, and suddenly his apartment seemed so much smaller.'


Disclaimer ~ Despite my aggressive letter writing campaign to Santa, Percy Jackson and the Olympians did not appear under my Christmas Tree, and therefore does not belong to me, much to my disappointment. The lyrics to Mariah Carey's 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' is also not mine, but I don't really like Mariah much, so wasn't too put-out when she didn't appear in wrapping paper on Christmas morning.

~ rated for occasional strong language ~

Song choice - 'God Only Knows' by The Beach Boys

Sunday 6th September

It had been a lazy, uneventful sort of day in September when Annabeth had brought up the subject of Christmas.

They'd only been going out for a few weeks at the time, and so when Annabeth let slip that she would be spending Christmas with her family, the information didn't really trouble him.

"Hey, Seaweed Brain, you don't mind if I spend Christmas in Frisco, do you?"

She had been lain out on his sofa; he was sat with his back to the arm-chair. He glanced over to her, seeing how she had been watching him closely from across the room.

"Christmas in Frisco?" He had shifted slightly, trying to get comfy. "With your dad and step-mom, you mean?"

"Well, yeah." She had smirked at him and he'd rolled his eyes. "I was speaking to my dad last night and he asked if I had any other plans and I said no." She paused. "That's okay, right?"

He only hesitated for a second, before smiling and saying: "Sure, that's cool."

She had smiled, and turned back to the TV, and he had comforted himself with the knowledge that Christmas was ages away.

He didn't need to worry.

Thursday 3rd December

Annabeth was stood in his kitchen clutching a heavy saddle bag. Her blonde hair was tucked up in her ski cap, as was the norm when she was travelling, and she had stolen one of Percy's hoodies for the journey.

"Don't worry, Seaweed Brain," she said breezily as he stepped over to join her by the door. "I'll only be gone for about a month, you don't need to worry."

"I'm not worried."

"Yes, you are."

"How d'you work that out?"

She ran a finger lightly across his forehead. "Eyebrows."

He blushed. She grinned before leaning in to press her lips gently to his. He kissed her back, trying to say everything he was too damn stubborn to say out loud; that he didn't want her to go; that he was really, really going to miss her; that he couldn't bear the thought of however-many-days spent without her - and just when he was sure he was getting the message across she broke the kiss, leaning her forehead against his and whispering, "Bye, Seaweed Brain."

The next thing he knew the door was closing behind her, and suddenly his apartment seemed so much smaller.

Friday 4th December

Grover's suggestion: "Maybe you could just treat it as a challenge."

They had met outside Java Moose; Percy running straight from Goode to meet Grover at three o'clock outside the cafe. On this arrival, he'd stumbled over two giant artificial Christmas trees, placed ceremoniously on the doorstep and laden with fairy-lights and reams upon reams of glistening tinsel. Percy bought a smoothie and Grover an Espresso that was bigger than him, and they took a table outside, sitting out on a rare sunny day in wintery New York.

"Yeah, because life isn't challenging enough," Percy said bitterly, leaning back on his chair and squinting up at the sunlight. Grover took a sip of his coffee, looking thoughtful. Percy hadn't seen him since summer, and he was looking well – his beard was neat and short, acne cleared, and he'd gained a few inches, too. He was staying in the city while the Supreme Council of Cloven Elders held a special convention up on Olympus in order to raise awareness for eco-issues. Percy had laughed, hard, when Grover showed him his day-old Starbucks loyalty card, which was already full to the brim.

"Remind me again why you told Annabeth you were you okay with this?"

Percy sighed. He'd managed one day without her before he'd run off to Grover – one measly day – and he felt like a failure. He'd spent last night alone while Sally and Paul went to a Broadway show; eating Chinese food for two and binning the leftovers, playing Mario-Kart alone against the CPU and drumming his fingers boredly on the chair's armrest watching crappy primetime TV. He had left Annabeth a voicemail at about nine o'clock, asking her to call him back to let him know if she'd gotten home safe, and then he'd gone straight to bed, feeling thoroughly down-trodden and sorry for himself.

Quite a way to spend a Friday evening.

"Because she asked me weeks ago," he groaned, closing his eyes. "And it seemed ages off then, so I guess I just... y'know, forget about it."

Grover did his trademark scornful 'ba-ha-ha' into his mug of espresso, and Percy kicked him sharply under the table.

"Hey, you're supposed to be helping me solve this problem!" Percy protested, glaring at Grover from across the table. "Not spend the afternoon doing stupid goat-laughs in my direction."

"Why don't you come up with an idea?" asks Grover, sounding a little affronted, and Percy suspected the mocking of the goat-laugh had struck a nerve. "It's your problem."

"Aw, G-man, you know that's not our friendship works."

"And exactly how does our friendship work, Percy?"

"Y'know." Percy shrugged. "I have a problem. I moan about it for a while. You worry about it for a bit. Then you fix it. Everyone ends up happy."

He was half-smiling as he cracked open an eye to see Grover looking at him with a somewhat dubious expression on his face. "Pe-r-r-cy, how am I supposed to know what to do?"

"You've got experience!"

"Ba-ha-ha! What experience do I have?"

"You've got Juniper!"


Percy sighed exasperatedly, sitting up and leaning forwards on his elbows. "Look, you've been going out with Juniper for – what? A year? A year and a half? And I've only been... y'know with Annabeth for like three months –"

"Four months."

"Whatever." Percy waved his hand haphazardly. "Not important."

"I'll tell Annabeth you said that."

" – no, listen – my point is you've been going out with Juniper way longer than I've been y'know with Annabeth, therefore you're bound to know more about problems with girls than me! Yeah?"

"But you're forgetting something."

"Go on."

"That's you're better with girls than I am." Grover finished his espresso with dramatic final schuuurrrlp, glanced over his shoulder and took a savage bite out of the side of his coffee cup, looking over at Percy with wide-eyes.

Percy gaped at him, "That's bullshit!"

"No, it's not," Grover said, through a mouthful of cardboard, sounding a little sombre. "You're always been better with girls than me."

"That's a load of crap. If you remember, it took me five years to ask out Annabeth, and technically, I didn't even ask her out."

"Yeah, I guess..." Grover tilted his head to the side thoughtfully. "Yeah, you're not the best. Actually, you're not very good at all."

"Thanks, man, really helpful." Percy rolled his eyes, taking a moody sip of his smoothie.

"Don't worry," Grover said consolingly, moving on to munch on his coffee-collar. "Just because I'm better with girls than you doesn't mean I'm better than you in everything. Girls like you more than me, anyway. Something to do with the fact that however much I work out, satyrs just don't seem to be able to pull off a six pack." He looked down at the front of his t-shirt street wistfully, his eyes glazing over slightly as he lapsed into thought.

"But how does this solve my problem?!"

There was a pause, before Grover said: "Maria Stewart."

Percy looks at him incredulously. "What?"

"She was in our Math class at Yancy. Don't you remember? She liked you more than me," Grover said. His eyebrows were furrowed. "Even after you got expelled. And there was a girl at Hoover Dam I smiled at, but she was too busy looking at you to notice. And Leanne Perry, she was pretty, but she was too busy digging on you to notice me." He assumed a despondent expression. "And Faith what's-her-name in our Social Studies class, and Sarah Green, and –"

Percy sighed, sensing the conversation was hurtling towards a distinct stopping point. He swng his bag over his shoulder and reached for his jacket. He threw down a few dollar bills onto the table. "G-man, I've got to go, I've got – uh, calculus homework to do, so I guess – I guess I'll see you around, alright, man? Bye –"

"And Sascha Gray, and Rebecca thingy –"

Percy rolled his eyes, taking out his headphones and heading off down the street with a wave to an oblivious Grover. He was about five yards away before he heard an incredulous woman's voice cry out, "Young man, are you eating that cardboard?!"

He grinned as a satyr's yelp sounded behind him, readjusting his headphones. At the touch of a button the sound of the busy New York street was replaced with the dull drumming of the bass and the sound of guitars breaking the crisp, chilly air.

Sunday 6th December

A couple of days later, he decided to try Grover's advice.

His mom and Paul were buzzing around the apartment singing corny Christmas songs and wrapping presents for Paul's work friends, and his mom suggested he call Annabeth to see if she had gotten his message. He hadn't spoken to her since she'd left, and she hadn't replied to his voicemail, which had annoyed him slightly. The logical thing to do, Sally had said, would be to call her.

He decided this would be his challenge.

He excused himself from the Christmas madness that was reigning over the living room and kitchen, and went to his room. He placed the phone carefully on his pillow, and then he sat down on the bed, his back to the phone.

He took a deep breath.

Elsewhere in the apartment, the tinny sound of his mom's Christmas CD began to play. He closed his eyes as the song began to echo down the corridor to his room, irritated.

He was going to sit here, on his bed, for the entire evening, and not call her.

The first five, ten minutes were easy. Begrudgingly, he listened to the warbling of Mariah Carey emanating from his living room, drumming his fingers lightly on his jeans.

'I don't want a lot for Christmas

There is just one thing I need...'

Twenty minutes. Thirty. He scuffed his sneaker along the carpet.

'I don't care about the presents

Underneath the Christmas tree...'

He hadn't spoken to her in so long. Maybe he should call her.

Percy frowned. He lifted his hoodie over his head, and threw it into the pile of dirty laundry in the corner of the room. He shifted the collar of his t-shirt slightly to a more comfortable position. He yawned.

Thirty-five minutes.

'I just want you for my own

More than you could ever know...'

Forty minutes.

It wouldn't be wrong to hear her voice for just five minutes...maybe six...

He swore under his breath.

'Make my wish come true

All I want for Christmas is you...'

After fifty minutes, he caved. He whirled around and dialled first her cell, then her dad's house in San Francisco – both ring endlessly, resulting in no answer at all. See, he thinks dully to himself, this what you get when you're a weakling with no willpower.

He groaned, throwing himself back on his bed and covering his head with a pillow.

Saturday 12th December

Connor Stoll's thoughts: "I don't know what you're complaining about."

The weather had taken a turn for the worse that week – rain pounding the windows of the buildings and a wintry chill instilled in the bones of the hundreds of people lining New York's puddle-filled streets. The wind blew fiercely in the evenings, sending the remnants of the leaves spiralling upwards on street corners.

December 12th – Goode had broken up for Christmas only a day earlier - and the two decided, finally, to embark upon the most dreaded of all perils: the most loathed of all quests around the holiday seasons: the bane of the male Christmas Cheer – Christmas shopping.

"What d'you mean?"

Connor frowned. They were stood in the perfume section of some snooty department store, currently trying to find a present for Connor's current girlfriend – a member of the Aphrodite cabin back at camp who Connor had been persistently trying to ask out for the last six months, with no avail, until Travis had bribed her with tickets to see Justin Bieber in return for a date with Connor, which had since spiralled into twelve more dates in the last couple of months.

They had been stopping for two and a half hours, and still remained empty handed.

"I'm telling you, man, you're one of the lucky ones," said Connor moodily, picking up a bottle and pulling a face. "Not having your girlfriend around over Christmas is a good thing - means you don't have to bother wasting a day looking around these hell-holes." He eyed another perfume bottle warily. "Y'know, I was actually thinking about ending it with Alicia before Christmas and then just starting up again around New Year's to save myself the trouble."

"Gee, who says romance is dead?" muttered Percy, earning him a whack around the head from Connor.

"You are going to pay for this present, aren't you?" Percy asked warily, watching as Connor compared another two bottles a little further away. "Annabeth's not going to come back from San Francisco to find me doing time for being an accessory to robbery, is she?"

"Don't be stupid. You know we'd never get caught." Connor grinned. "Ask me no questions, dude, and I'll tell you no lies. Anyway, no-one in their right mind would pay for this crap – here, smell this."

He shoved a bottle under Percy's nose. Percy took a cautious sip and recoiled, gagging into his sleeve as Connor laughed, thumping him on the back. The snotty woman handing out samples nearby glared at them.

"C'mon, let's go look at the bath stuff upstairs." Connor glanced up at the directions board. "The bath stuff is upstairs, isn't it?"

"I don't know, I don't generally spend my Saturday afternoons picking out different smelling soaps!"

"Excuse me."

They turned. A girl of about seventeen stood behind them; she had long blonde hair and a pretty smile, blinking up at them through eyelashes heavy with thick mascara. "Could you pass me some of that Britney Spears stuff, please?"

Connor nodded, a dazed, gormless expression upon his features as he reached for one of the bottles to his left. Percy smirked as Connor said in a faraway voice, "Here you go!"

"Thanks," the girl said. She turned and sauntered away from them, her hips swinging in low-rise jeans. Connor watched her in awe, leaning to left to watch her as she walked.

"Man, did you see her?" he said excitedly, running a hand through his floppy hair-cut. "Wouldn't mind an invite to her toga party, you know what I mean?"

"Do you?"

Connor frowned at him. "What, you don't think she was hot?"

Percy shrugged, catching a final glimpse of the girl before she disappeared around a corner. "She was alright, I guess," he said dismissively, turning back to the perfume.

Connor looked at him, repulsed. "Are you saying you weren't even thinking of checking her out?" he demanded, looking at Percy as if he had just proceeded to scrape him from the sole of his shoe. "Not even thinking about it?"


"What the Hades, man?!"

Percy looked at him with an amused expression. "I do have a girlfriend, y'know."

"Yeah, and so do I," Connor said indifferently, "And I have a car, but it doesn't mean I don't like taking the bus once in a while, know what I'm saying? "

Percy snorted.

There was a pause.

"Hang on." Connor's tone was filled with the sound of dawning comprehension. "Hang on. Was the only reason you weren't checking out that girl because you have a girlfriend?"


Connor narrowed his eyes. "Or did it have something to do with the fact that, if she were here, your girlfriend really wouldn't have liked you checking out that girl? You were only not checking her out because your girlfriend doesn't like you checking out other girls?"

"No, the only reason was because I don't really like the idea of –"

"Man!" Connor clapped Percy hard on each shoulder, peering down to look at him through strands of limp hair. "That's what you've got to do!"

"What's what I've got to do?"

"While Annabeth's away!" said Connor excitedly, his face breaking into a broad grin. "That's what you've got to do! You've got to do everything she doesn't like you doing, just to get it off your chest before she comes back again! It'll be awesome!"

"It'd be stupid."

"Don't be such a chicken," said Connor disapprovingly. "Come on, what stuff does Annabeth stop you doing?"

"She doesn't stop me doing anything," said Percy flatly, "Look, we need to go and look for bath stuff, remember? Aloe vera and lavender oils won't buy themselves."

"'Course she stops you doing stuff! She's Annabeth, for the god's sake. And I'm not even going to ask how you know about aloe vera and lavender oils, man –"

Percy raised an eyebrow. "Ever heard of personal hygiene?"

Connor scowled. "Whatever. Come on, there's always something. Something she doesn't like you doing." He paused for thought. "Like, Alicia hates it when I eat my food with my fingers."

"What the Hades, man? What are you, three years old?!"

"And she hates it when I throw food up in the air and catch it in my mouth."

Percy felt his cheeks burn slightly. "Annabeth does hate it when I do that," he admitted, lifting a bottle and attempting to decipher the words scrawled in loopy, cursive writing on the side. "But it's not a big deal, it's just some grapes and stuff –"

"This is it!" Connor punched his shoulder with pride. "Stuff like this! Come on, keep the ball rolling, what else does she hate you doing?"

"I guess..." Percy hesitated, furrowing his eyebrows in thought. "Well, she doesn't like it when I stay in the sweats I slept in for the rest of the day. And she won't even let me touch her architecture stuff."


"And... I don't know, eating peanut butter straight out of the jar?!"

"This is it, man, this is it! The peanut butter, the sweat-pants, the video games, the catching food in your mouth, porn –"

"Porn? Seriously, what is wrong with you?!"

"Fine, forget the porn, but the other stuff –"Connor looked like a parent at a child's graduation. "I'm so proud!" he said, clutching his fist to his chest and blinking back mock-tears. "Now, all you gotta do is do all of that stuff whenever you feel like you're missing Annabeth? Get it?"

"Yeah, I guess."

Connor grinned widely at him, turning away and heading for the elevators. Percy watched him go, shaking his head – and made a silent promise to himself that, whatever it came to, he was not going to let himself follow Connor Stoll's advice.

He wasn't that desperate.

Tuesday 15th December

Thalia's feelings on the matter: "Stop being such a pussy, Jackson."

She came round to his apartment to borrow a knife sharpener and found him lying on his bed, curtains closed, at one o'clock in the afternoon. In true Thalia fashion, she took one disgusted look at him and pushed him straight off the bed and onto the floor.

"What was that for?" he asked, stung, as he clambered from the carpet. Thalia regarded him with disdain.

"Put a shirt on, will you?" She opened the curtains as he scrambled for a spare t-shirt. "I've been up since five this morning, d'you see me complaining?"

He grumbled under his breath as she made her way through to the kitchen, proceeding to raid the fridge as he brushed his teeth and splashed cold water in his face.

"Where's Annabeth at?"

He slumped down at the seat by the kitchen counter. "San Francisco."

"When's she back?"

He sighed. "January 3rd."

"Away for Christmas? Why, are you that much of an ass she needs to be at least three thousand miles away from you to be able to – Eurgh, you know what, I'm too bored of your depressed state to abuse you." She withdrew from the fridge, clutching a yellowy fruit. "Is this a lemon?"

He shook his head. "Paw-paw."

She wrinkled her nose, before whipping out a knife and slicing the fruit clean in two. She took a cautious bite, shrugged, and proceeded to take another. "Not bad. Anyway, if she's not here, what are you doing kicking around your parents' apartment at one in the afternoon? Shouldn't you be out living la vida loca or something?"

"Not in the mood."

"Oh, quit sulking, it doesn't suit you," she snapped. Percy got the distinct impression she was attempting to rile him, but he refused to be baited. "Come on, it's Christmas, show a bit of festive cheer."

"I'm cheerful."

"Do I have 'I just love bullshitters' written across my forehead?" she quipped. "You're more miserable than Grover was he found out the coffee on Olympus is de-caf. Get a grip, will you?"

He looked up at her, unamused. "And how do you suppose I do that?"

"For Zeus' sake, Jackson!" She threw the remnants of the paw-paw in the bin with savage ferocity. "You live in New York! Do what everyone does at Christmas here! Ice-skating! See a show! Check out that big Christmas tree in Rockefeller Centre! Anything but sitting about in your apartment with a face like a slapped-ass."

He yawned. "I'm fine, here, thanks."

She paused.

The next thing he knew, she had him by the scruff of his shirt, dragging him towards the door.

"What the Hades are you doing?" he demanded, outraged, as she grabbed him a jacket and tossed it at him. "I'm not even dressed!"

"You had half the day to get up and get dressed, Jackson," she said reasonably, wrenching open the door as Percy stumbled behind her, struggling against her firm grip. "Now, come on, we're going to spend some quality cousin-time together, alright? I'm not letting you wallow in self-pity here all day, you hear me? You're better than this. Now you go in that heap of a bedroom of yours, find some sneakers, put on some jeans, brush that stupid hair, grab your wallet and meet me here in one minute."

"One minute?" He stared at her incredulously. "How am I supposed to do all that in one measly –"

"Wasting time!" she exclaimed, throwing him into the corridor and yelling after him as he ran, "Run, Jackson, if you value that stupid life or yours!"

Sometimes he really wished he had some normal relatives for a change. Now was one of those times.

They did everything.

"This," Thalia said as they hurried down the steps from the Jacksons' apartment, "is going to be fun."

They headed first to Rockefeller Centre and went ice-skating – Percy was reasonably good, whereas Thalia spent half the time cursing angrily under her breath as she slid in every direction save forwards, much to Percy's amusement. They found a Santa's Grotto and Thalia got a photo sat on Santa's knee, which Percy promised to burn but really slipped into his back pocket and made a mental note to have framed at next opportunity. Thalia used the mist with ease to get them into a Christmas convention, where they spent the afternoon immersed in violent fake-snow-ball fights, learning how to wrap presents in under twenty seconds and singing crappy Christmas songs until they were blue in the face. They ended the day with hot chocolate, walking through the Christmas lights that hung in the trees in a nearby park.

"So, tell me, Jackson," Thalia re-adjusted her Santa hat as they paced the sidewalk on the way back to the Jacksons' apartment. "Am I genius, or am I a genius?"

"Yeah, whatever," he said, grinning. "You had one good idea. You got lucky."

"You keep telling yourself that, it's probably better for your self-esteem." She checked her watch and sighed. "Well, I'd best be off. An afternoon spent with you, I'm probably going to need a therapist, and their offices will be closing in like a half hour, so..."

He chuckled. "See you around."

"If you're lucky," she said briskly. "I'd say I had fun, but my New Year's resolution is to stop lying, so..."

"Hey, Thal?"


"Thanks. For today. I had fun."

Thalia pulled a face. "Don't get all sentimental on me, you know I come out in hives at the first sign of slushy-gushy conversations." But she shot him a wide smile. "Merry Christmas, loser. Don't let yourself turn to mush while she's away, alright? Or I'll have to come round and kick your ass."

She shot him one last ice-cold stare, before turning on her heel and running off down the street. He watched her stop at the corner, glance once over her shoulder then vanish into a glorious silvery mist.

Saturday 19th December

The buzz of the day spent with Thalia didn't last.

Annabeth still hadn't replied to any of his e-mails, any of his voicemails, any of his calls. He was in a permanent bad mood, dignifying most comments made in his direction with a grunt and little else. His mother and Paul began to avoid him, smiling at him occasionally but otherwise making little conversation.

He was getting desperate. He missed her. A lot.

December 19th was the worst. After days of wandering aimlessly around the streets by his apartment, occasionally taking his skateboard, he concluded that there was no longer any point to venturing outside, where the cheesy Christmas cheer seemed to surround every street corner and the cold would bite at his cheeks. He decided hibernation would be the only vaguely appealing option.

"'Tis the season to be jolly'." he muttered moodily to himself as he tucked into a bowl of cereal. "Load of stupid holiday festive bull..."

That was the day he finally decided he was rock-bottom desperate.

When he woke up the next day, he didn't change. He stayed in the sweats he'd slept in.

He didn't bother shaving. He headed straight for the kitchen, finding a big bag of grapes and tearing them open. He throws one, two, three up in the air, catching them in his mouth with unearthly skill, swallowing them easily.

He did the same again. Only this time, he started to choke. He gasped, coughing hard as his eyes started to water, retching over the sink as he slowly recovered.

Right. What else?

He re-opened the fridge, and took out a large jar of peanut butter. He grinned evilly, unscrewing the lid.


"Oh, for Poseidon's sake...."

What other stuff had Connor suggested? Eating food with his fingers? Too gross. Porn? Ditto.

Then he had an idea. Her architecture stuff.

He headed back to his room, and shifted a big pile of junk off the top of his bedroom cabinet. Lying underneath was a pristine folder with big black lettering written neatly across the front: PROPERTY OF ANNABETH CHASE – STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL. DO NOT READ.

In smaller letters underneath – THAT MEANS YOU, SEAWEED BRAIN.

He'd feel guilty, but he was too busy feeling sorry for himself. He lifted it gingerly from its resting place, sitting down on his bed and slowly opening up the folder.

Result, he thought.

Thirty minutes later, he was bored out of his mind. The contents of Annabeth's folder was filled with formulae, diagrams, material analysis, location evaluation, scale diagrams, some of her notes on three-dimensional versions of Pythagoras' theorem...

He sighed, sliding the papers to the side. He had actually thought – rather, hoped – that Connor's plan would've cheered his spirits up slightly.

This plan had failed, dramatically. The thought of Christmas, now, was just too much to bear.

Thursday 24th December

Christmas Eve came and went, with Percy pinning his stocking dejectedly to the wall by the tree alone as the evening drew on. He tried her cell one last time – and once again, no-one picked up. His mum hugged him goodnight and headed to bed.

He sat with his back to the armchair, next to one of the Christmas candles littered around the darkened room. He ran his hand through the flame slowly, letting it slowly lick and caress his finger-tips. So much for a merry Christmas.

Oh, gods, he missed her.

He wondered how her Christmas is going. If she was sat at home having the best time in the world with her family; enjoying the parties, the food, the sheer joy of being together at the holiday season. If he'd even crossed her mind while she was there. Or if she was sat in her parents' house as miserable as he was, her thoughts straying three thousand miles to the boy with her name carved to his heart.

He blew out the candle, letting the smoke run rings around his hand.

As he fell asleep that night, he hoped he'd wake up and find January 3rd had come early.

He didn't want to face Christmas without her.

The doorbell rang at about midnight. He heard it go off the first time and ignored it, hoping Paul or Sally would go and greet whoever had arrived at his ungodly hour.

The doorbell sounded again.

"Percy? Will you get that?"

He groaned, wrenching the comforter from his torso and heaving on a hooded top. He jogged through to the kitchen, sleep deprivation leaving him stiff and drowsy. He unlocked the door slowly, fumbling with the lock.

Maybe it's her.

His heart caught in his throat. He fought a smile – a great big beaming smile – and finally managed to break open the lock. He opened the door, excitement in his very fingertips.

Grover Underwood stood in the doorway, smiling widely. "Hi, Percy!"


Feeling a distinct sense of anti-climax, Percy gave Grover a bracing smile. "Ah... Hey, G-man."

"What time is it?"

Percy frowned. "What?"

Grover continued to smile. "What time is it?"

He took a step back, a little confused, to look at the kitchen clock. "It's about...uh, two o' clock in the morning," he said, rubbing his eyes and yawning into the back of his hand.

"Wrong!" Grover's inane smile lit up a little. "It's time for your Christmas surprise!"

Percy raised an eyebrow, about to come up with a witty retort with which to reply to Grover's elliptical exclamation, until he heard a voice to Grover's right say: "Grover, that's the best you could do?!"

He froze.

And then she stepped into view – her blonde curls falling loose from her ski cap, his hoodie tied loosely around her waist, her smile lighting up the darkened apartment block corridor. She grinned at him, before turning to Grover and saying, "I said come up with something clever!"

The sickening smile slid from Grover's face. He pouted. "Hey, I didn't have to wake up in the middle of the night and pick you up from the airport, did I?" he said defensively, crossing his arms affrontedly over his chest. "Next time, walk from JFK. That's it, I'm leaving."

Annabeth Chase rolled her eyes. "Hey, Seaweed Brain," she said casually. "I'm freezing my ass off out here, can I come in?"

She was in his living room.

He wasn't quite sure if this was real.

She undid her scarf and took off her jacket, laying them carefully on the side of the sofa. They stood, looking at each other awkwardly, not really knowing what to say.

He coughed. "I – uh..."

She gave a small smile, brushing her hair from her face. The only sound was the dull flickering emanating from the candles upon the window sill. Her gaze flickered to the Christmas tree, to the tinsel, to the Christmas cards and the stockings pinned haphazardly to the wall.

"I thought –" He cleared his throat again. "I thought you were in Frisco."

"I was." She tilted her head to the side, a smile playing on her lips.

"But you're not anymore."

She glanced downwards, raising her eyebrows. "It would appear so."

"But –" He frowned. He still felt dizzy, drowsy, temporarily flummoxed. "But – your family –"

Annabeth shrugged. "They'll live without me," she said dismissively. She took a step forwards.

She really was in his living room.

"I can see this might be a bit too much for you to take in." Her expression was teasing, devilishly sweet. "If you like, I'll sleep outside and then I'll come back in the morning when you're a bit more awake."

"Why d'you leave?" His question was blunt.

Annabeth paused, removing her hat and tossing it down on the armchair. Then she shrugged again, tucking her hair behind her ear. "I guess there were just other places I wanted to be," she said, and there was no mocking smile on her lips when she added: "Other people I wanted to be with."

Their eyes met once more. Another pause. Another step towards him.

"Other people?" His throat felt dry.

She nodded.

"I – um, who? Who were the other people?"

She seemed to think about it. "Well," she said musingly, tucking her hands in her pockets. "I suppose it wasn't so much other people. I guess it was really just one other person I really wanted to be with."

"Uh, who?"

She rolled her eyes. "I think you know, Seaweed Brain."

For the first time, he gave a tiny smile. "Yeah, so do I, but I just kind of wanted to hear you say it."

She chuckled, taking one final step towards him. She was inches away – he could feel her gentle breathing against his chest, her cool breath on his chin.

"You, you idiot," she whispered.

He grinned. "Thought so."

She raised her eyebrows. And then she tilted her head to the side and said provocatively: "Miss me?"

He thought about that one.

He could tell her the truth. He really could. He could stand in front of her and tell her that he'd spent the last three weeks in his sweats, resisting the incessant stomach ache that was waking up in the morning knowing he wouldn't hear her voice; wallowing in an existence of misery and gloom and counting down the days until she'd be back – back in his apartment, back in his life, back in his arms. However cliché that sounded.

He didn't, though.

"Maybe a little."

She smiled; a warm, brilliant smile, and he felt his arms wind their way around her waist, pulling her to him and meeting at the small of her back. "Miss me?"

"Just a little bit."

He chuckled. "Merry Christmas, and all that."

"Yeah, whatever," she said matter-of-factly. "Now are you going to kiss me, or what?"

"Mmm, okay." He leant in, his lips but centimetres from hers as he said: "But wait a sec."

She sighed. "What now?"

"I was just going to ask before anyone else did," he said, and she looked puzzled. "Is it okay if I book you for next Christmas? Only this one's been kind of crappy without you."

"I thought you only missed me a little," she murmured slyly.

"Yeah, I did, but I'm just saying that maybe next year, if you could stay here then that would be –"

Her grey eyes met his. "Seaweed Brain?"


"I just flew three thousand miles, nearly froze to death on the back of Grover's rickety old scooter and climbed like a thousand steps up to this place, and if you don't kiss me right about now I'm actually going to kick your –"

And then, finally, he kissed her.

She shut up pretty quickly after that.