Title: Strangers Like Me

Summary: "You're not alone," she whispered to the sleeping green-eyed boy. "Not anymore."

Characters/Pairing: Annabeth.

Warning/Spoilers: None really, but a slight AU.

A/N: So this was supposed to be an actual oneshot, but it ended up a little shorter than planned. And I couldn't not post something on Christmas. So, merry Christmas all. :) Beta'd by darling Juliet. Please report any tense mishaps. XD

Strangers Like Me

· A Oneshot ·

Seven-year-old Annabeth Chase took a deep breath and watched her electronic alarm clock. 12:59, it read. She counted the seconds and let out her breath when the numbers switched to 1:00. "Time to go, Annabeth," she whispered, sitting up and throwing the covers off of her. She was already dressed and ready to go.

She was nearly sweltering in her jacket, jeans, sneakers and three pairs of shirts. She made her bed silently and pulled her green gym bag onto the bed. The gym bag was stuffed with essentials she would need on the journey, like food and money—well, for the most part. The hammer she'd taken from the garage bumped against her back every time she took a step, which was a little uncomfortable. But she could deal with it.

She stretched up and put the sticky-note containing where she was going in the middle of her dresser mirror. Gone to find mom, it read. Bye. She let out another deep breath, her heart racing erratically, and silently walked out of her room. Avoiding the spots in the hallway she knew creaked, she managed to sneak back down to the kitchen and grab a few more candy bars. Stuffing the candy bars into her gym bag, she left the kitchen and reached the front door.

She reached for the doorknob and hesitated, noting with disgust how her hand shook. "I'll make it," she whispered, closing her eyes. "I'll find mom. Come on, Annabeth."

Her eyes still closed, she grabbed the doorknob and twisted it. Knowing how squeaky the door was, she quickly stepped outside and slammed the door behind her. Shaking her head, tears leaking out from underneath her eyelids, she jumped off the porch and began running. Find mom. Find mom. Find mom.

Back in the house, a man was jolted awake by the sound of the door slamming.
He blinked and stilled, listening intently. No footsteps. The house was as quiet as a ghost. His wife, who was a significantly heavier sleeper than he, stirred but remained asleep. He silently got out of bed and grabbed the phone on his dresser, using its light to navigate the halls downstairs.

No burglar was there. He almost went to bed when he remembered Annabeth's words from the previous night.

Well, if you don't like it here, why don't you just leave? he recalled his wife saying to her. Annabeth's expression had chilled him to the bone.

Maybe I will.

"Annabeth," he whispered, horror-struck. The phone clattered to the floor and he ran up the stairs, throwing open her bedroom door and flicking on the switch. Bright yellow light flooded the room and hurt his eyes. When his eyes adjusted, it was very clear that Annabeth wasn't there.

The bed was made. The room didn't have a speck of dust in it. The drawers, when he opened them, were nearly empty. Her coat was gone. The only evidence that Annabeth had been there was a sticky note.

Hands shaking, he went straight for the sticky note and peeled it off the mirror. He couldn't see very well without his glasses, but he could make out most of the words.

Gone to find mom.


"Annabeth," he whispered, crumpling up the paper into a ball. "No. No!"

He dropped the note and turned around, his heartbeat picking up. Annabeth couldn't have gotten far. Wearing only boxers, slippers and a robe, he got into his car and started up the engine. For the rest of the night he searched Woodbridge's streets for his seven-year-old daughter, but she had gotten her mother's brains. He couldn't find her anywhere.

Finally, somewhere around noon, he gave up. He drove back to his house and rested his forehead against the steering wheel. "What have I done?" he whispered to himself.

When he finally pulled himself together and went back into the house, he was greeted with the sight of his wife, Kate, drying the dishes. She glanced at him and said, "Honey? Are you okay? What were you doing in your bathrobe?"

"Kate," he whispered, sinking into a chair and smothering his face with his hands. "I did something terrible."

Okay. So maybe leaving home was a bad idea. But now she was on a train headed for Richmond and there wasn't any room for regrets now. Only plotting and schemes for how to track down her mother.

Annabeth stared out at the blackness of the underground tunnel on the train and sighed, pressing her cheek against the cool glass. She didn't like being underground. It made her feel vulnerable in the darkness. She would much rather be above ground, where she could see everywhere.

When the train came to a halt she was the first one out the door. She took a deep breath and climbed up the stairs into the shining city of Richmond. Here she was just another little girl, not a freak who attracted the scariest people ever. She smiled at a stern-looking woman on a cell phone and walked away, scouting out a place to stay for the night. She found a warm ventilator behind a restaurant and got a nice view of a sparse group of trees. She changed into her pajamas, settled down behind some trashcans and gets out her hammer.

Those frightening ladies won't find her tonight. She picked too good of a hiding spot.

Next thing she knew, she was awoken by low, murmured voices. She woke up with a start and accidentally kicked a trashcan, making it fall over with a loud crash. The voices suddenly stopped and she grabbed her hammer, crouching behind the nearest trashcan. When the monster pushed her hiding place away, she wasted no time lunging at him with her trusty hammer in hand.

The monster grabbed her wrist and disarmed her before she could attack, so she resorted to the classic defense: kicking and screaming. "No more monsters! Go away!" she shrieked, squirming to get away from the monster, her eyes screwed shut.

"Whoa! It's okay! Thalia, put your shield up, you're scaring her," a voice in front of her reprimanded. Annabeth slowly opened her eyes to see a blonde, blue-eyed boy holding her wrist. A girl with spiky black hair stood behind him. Definitely not monsters—but they could be disguising themselves like that man with the hat had. She narrowed her eyes again and began struggling with more fervor.

"Hey, it's all right," said the girl—Thalia?—taking a step forward. "We're not gonna hurt you. I'm Thalia. That's Luke."

"Monsters!" she accused.

"No," said Luke. "But we know all about monsters. We fight them too."

She slowly stopped struggling and regarded him. Was it possible? Could there be other people who were attacked by scary people too? "You're like me?" she said slowly, unable to believe him.

"Yeah. We're . . . well, it's hard to explain, but we're monster fighters. Where's your family?"

She tensed up. "My family hates me," she spat. "They don't want me. I ran away."

Luke and Thalia exchanged a glance. "What's your name, kiddo?" asked Thalia, taking another step forward. Luke let go of her wrist and she took a step back, rubbing her wrists.


Luke grinned. It was so infectious she couldn't help smiling back. "Cool name. Tell you what, Annabeth, you're pretty fierce. We could use a fighter like you."

Whoa. Her eyes widened. Someone wanted her there? "Really?" she breathed.

"Oh, yeah." Luke turned the knife in his hands around and gave it to her. Wide-eyed, she took the hilt and stared at her reflection in the polished brown-gold metal. "How'd you like a real monster-slaying weapon? That's Celestial bronze. Works a lot better than a hammer."

She gripped the hilt and grinned at her reflection. "Knives are only for the bravest and quickest fighters. They don't have the reach or the power of a sword, but they're easy to conceal and they can find weak spots in an enemy's armor. It takes a clever warrior to use a knife," he continued, winking. "And I have a feeling you're pretty clever."

She giggled and stared up at Luke. "I am!" she insisted. Dad always told her—before Kate at least—that she was just as clever as her mother.

Thalia chuckled. "We'd better get going, Annabeth. We have a safe house on the James River. We'll get you some clothes and food."

She almost nodded, but common sense made her ask just one more question. "You're—you're not gonna take me back to my family? Promise?" she asked, staring straight at Luke.

He put his hand on her shoulder and stared her in the eyes. "You're part of our family now," he told her seriously. "And I promise I won't let anything hurt you. I'm not going to fail you like our families did us. Deal?"

He sounded sincere enough. She nodded and smiled. "Deal!"

Maybe she really wasn't alone in this world. Thalia and Luke showed her that, even though Kate and her father thought she was a freak, they didn't. And that was all that mattered.

It was pouring the night they finally reached their sanctuary, Camp Half-Blood. Annabeth was following Luke as best as she could in stolen, ill-fitting sneakers, with Thalia bringing up the rear. But the grass turned to mud wherever she stepped. She slipped and fell for the third time and Luke pulled her up. "Come on!" he urged. "Hurry!"

She kept a tight grip on her knife, stabbing a lone hellhound in the neck when it got too close to her. "I'm trying!" she cried, holding on to Luke's hand as tightly as she could. He was the only thing keeping her going now.

"Luke, this isn't going to work," called Thalia. "Go. I'll keep them at bay."

"What? No!"

"Go! It's the only way. I know what I'm doing."

Luke suddenly wrapped around Annabeth and picked her up, his free hand reaching for Thalia's. The harpies and snake ladies and hellhounds are hot on their trails. Suddenly, an arrow whistled past her, hitting a Cyclops on the forehead. He disintegrated into sand, but the monster's death did little to buy them time. "Come on," Luke urged. "We can get there together."

Thalia shook her head. Luke set Annabeth down on the slippery ground and knelt down to look her in the eye. "Run toward the centaur," he told her seriously, spinning her around and giving her a small push. "Now. I'll go help Thalia."

She spun around and stubbornly crossed her arms. "No! I won't let you. Come with me, Luke. I don't know anyone there. Thalia will catch up, she said so herself."

Thalia was standing further down the hill, wielding her spear and Aegis. It kept the monsters at bay, but it wouldn't be long before a monster conquered their fear and charged. Luke glanced from Annabeth to Thalia, his jaw taut, before he nodded. "Go, Annabeth," he told her. "I'll catch you later. I just need to say goodbye to Thalia."

She nodded and turned around, struggling to get a good foothill on the hill. Before she even climbed a few feet, Luke scooped her up, moving much faster than she ever would have. She glanced over her shoulder to see Thalia surrounded by monsters. Insight abruptly dawned on her with a terrifying clarity and her heart skipped a beat.

Thalia wasn't going to catch up with them. Ever.

"Thalia!" she screamed, reaching for her best friend. "No! You can't let her die! Luke!"

"Hurry," hissed the centaur when they reached the border. Grover was nowhere to be found. A single lightning bolt struck down a monster from the sky and thunder boomed, hurting her ears.

They crossed the safety line and then—it was quiet.

So deathly quiet.

(five years later)

She sat down next to the infirmary cot with a bowl of pudding in her hands. A boy with sea-green eyes lay underneath the covers—her hope for seeing the world again. The slayer of the Minotaur. Gods only knew what was going on through his mind right now.

She'd told Chiron that she would question him about the Master Bolt as soon as he woke up, but that wasn't what was running through her mind.

Something about this new kid reminded her about her seven-year-old self. Rumors said he'd seen his mom die in front of his eyes, so he couldn't have run away. But what else brought him here? How had he managed to survive for so long?

Thalia was twelve, her mind murmured, and a lump welled up in her throat. He wouldn't be like her seven-year-old self his first time at camp. He wouldn't be shy and hide behind someone else all the time, too afraid to stick up for himself. She'd teach him how to be strong and how to make friends.

She wiped his drool away with the bed sheet and whispered, "You're not alone, kid. Not anymore."