The camp-wide Secret Santa was, surprisingly, Percy’s idea. He did, Annabeth had to admit, have good ones every once in a while. He did used to date her after all.
Annabeth had drawn Nico di Angelo’s name, so while she attempted to come up with a gift for her ex-boyfriend’s new boyfriend, she began to receive a series of gifts of her own, all showing up placed neatly on her pillow. And wasn’t that weird because it meant her Secret Santa knew which bed was hers. Briefly, Annabeth wondered if her Secret Santa may have asked one of her siblings in the Athena cabin which bed was hers, but then it would have been pretty obvious they were Annabeth’s Secret Santa. Asking for help and letting people know who’s name you’d drawn were both against the rules. So unless this person broke the rules and was willing to face Percy’s wrath, this person knew which bed was Annabeth’s.
The first gift to show up was a sketch book and a set of colored pencils. Expensive colored pencils that cost a lot more than your standard Crayola ten pack. A short note, typed out on computer paper, was with it and read:
To help you structure all your dreams.
Hmm. Structure was a synonym for the word building and it wasn’t exactly a secret around camp that Annabeth wanted to be an architect. But still, it was a thoughtful gift, one that Annabeth really appreciated.
For the rest of the day, Annabeth carried her new art supplies around in the hopes she might witness a hint of recognition in someone’s eyes when they saw her with it. On Christmas Eve, the campers were gathering after dinner to make their guess as to who they thought their Secret Santa was, and Annabeth didn’t like to go into anything unprepared.
“You working on something new?” Percy asked when she sat down next to him at the docks, nodding at the sketchbook and pencils she placed on the dock. Thankfully, the camp climate control was enough that they were able to sit by the water without freezing.
“Oh, these are from my Secret Santa,” she said, staring out at the sea. Percy looked so at peace here, and she was glad that he’d been able to move on after their break-up because he was still her best friend and she cared about him.
He turned to her and raised an eyebrow. “So what, you’re carrying it around in the hope that someone might see it and accidently give themselves away?” he asked, smirking.
“How did you know?” she asked, cocking her head to the side.
Percy only laughed. “I know you, Annabeth. You don’t like to go anything unprepared.”
“Maybe you’re my Secret Santa,” Annabeth said with amusement. “Since you know me so well and know what I like.”
“Maybe,” Percy said noncommittally.
“Or maybe,” Nico said behind them, stepping out of the shadows and startling Annabeth into a shriek, “he’s just dumbass that left his paper lying out in his cabin so I can confirm that he isn’t your Secret Santa.”
Annabeth noticed that Percy hadn’t jumped at all, clearly used to Nico stepping suddenly out of the shadows. Percy tipped his head straight up, and Nico leaned down to kiss him.
“Percy!” Annabeth admonished. “You’re the one that came up with the rule to destroy our assignment paper after we got them.”
“Typical,” Nico muttered, sitting down on Percy’s other side.
“You’re my boyfriend! You’re supposed to be on my side, Nico!” Percy said, throwing his hands up.
“I am on your side. I’m always on your side,” Nico said, his voice softening. Suddenly, it felt like Annabeth was intruding. “But it doesn’t mean I can’t make fun of you.”
“It’s a two way street, Nico,” Percy reminded him.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Ugh,” Annabeth said, standing with her art supplies tucked under her arms, “you two are so disgustingly adorable that I can’t stand it.”
Percy looked up at her. “You know she’s single now,” he said softly. Nico looked a little surprised, but far from judgmental.
“I don’t even know if she likes girls,” Annabeth said, sighing and looking back out at the sea. “Besides, she’s my friend and I don’t want to ruin our friendship if she doesn’t return my feelings.”
“Annabeth,” Nico said, his voice hoarse, “I don’t know who she is and it really isn’t my business, but she’s lucky if you care about her. I can’t tell you what to do, but it did pay off for me and I never thought it would.”
Percy beamed at him, that blinding smile Annabeth used to love. Now it was Piper Mclean’s smile she had trouble getting from her head.
“It did, didn’t it?”
After Tartarus, after the war, things changed between Annabeth and Percy. They still loved each other, but as time passed, Annabeth found that she loved him more like a brother than a lover. It took her days to finally come clean after her realization, and they agreed it was better to be friends. It was then that Percy admitted that the thought he might like boys more than girls. Then one day, nearly a year after he disappeared, Nico showed up at camp, pulled Percy aside and admitted to the older boy how he felt, and Percy had leaned forward and kissed him, later admitting to Annabeth that it felt like everything was finally falling into place in his life.
Hearing that really made Annabeth think about some of the things she’d noticed about herself lately, the way her chest would flutter and her mouth would dry out and her stomach would drop. But only whenever Piper was around. She spent hours going over everything, spent hours talking to Percy about how he’d known he liked boys, and came to the conclusion that she was falling for Piper. Falling hard.
“Hey Annabeth!” Piper called out from somewhere behind her.
She felt a shiver down her spine, schooled her face, and turned to look at her. Piper ran towards her, a wide smile on her face.
“Hey Piper,” Annabeth replied, forcing a smile on her face. Nico was probably right when he said she should go for and just tell Piper, but she didn’t feel nearly brave enough now. It would have to wait. “How are you doing?”
“I’m great,” Piper said, falling into step next to Annabeth. Her eyes flickered down to the sketchbook in her arms, and asked, “New sketchbook?”
“How do you know?” Annabeth asked quickly, and Piper laughed.
“Well, it isn’t all beaten up like that blue one you had the other day, so I’m guessing it’s new.”
“Astute powers of deduction,” Annabeth said, giving Piper a genuine smile this time.
“For an Aphrodite kid you mean?” Piper asked, raising an eyebrow.
“No, that isn’t what I meant,” Annabeth said. “But you are a lot more observant than people give you credit for.”
“Hm,” Piper said, “maybe. So what are you up to?”
“Well, I was down at the dock with Percy and Nico, but they were getting a little too lovey-dovey for my taste.”
Piper chuckled. “With Percy, I’m not surprised, but Nico is definitely a lot more affectionate with him than I ever would have thought.”
“Right?” Annabeth asked.
“It doesn’t bother you that I say that, does it?” Piper asked, and Annabeth could see the worry etched on her face.
“What do you mean?”
“I just wasn’t sure if you still had feelings for Percy or anything,” Piper admitted. “I never want to do anything to upset you.”
“Oh no, it isn’t like that,” Annabeth said quickly, probably too quickly and she inwardly groaned because Piper was perceptive and probably noticed her strange behavior. “I do love Percy, but he’s basically my brother.”
“That’s good to know,” Piper said quietly, giving Annabeth a smile she felt all the way down to her toes.
Having a vague idea of how much the colored pencils had cost, Annabeth really hadn’t expected a second gift to show up a few days later. This time she unwrapped a picture book filled with various castles, churches and cathedrals, temples, and other buildings from all around the world.
Annabeth excitably flipped through the book, finding another typed note.
Someday, I hope you get to see every place in this book. I hope I can come with you.
Her heart pounded in her chest as she read the note, and hoped.
Annabeth wracked her brain over what to get for Nico for the Secret Santa. She tried to come up something he’d really like, but Percy was the only thing that came to mind. Sure, Nico liked a lot of things, but what he liked best was spending time with his boyfriend, so in the end she made a reservation at a nice hotel for a day in January so they could spend some time alone together away from camp. She printed out the reservation and slipped it under the door of the Hades cabin with a note.
As Christmas Eve approached, Annabeth received a few more gifts, including a stack of movies she liked (I’d love to watch these with you someday) and a silver ‘A’ necklace (I know you don’t wear a whole lot of jewelry, but I hope you’ll wear this). The necklace left a warmth around her throat when she wore it, and Annabeth couldn’t help but think that maybe her Secret Santa cared about her a lot.
“Can I talk to you, Annabeth?” a voice called out from behind her. It was finally Christmas Eve, and Annabeth was from dinner to the big Secret Santa revealing with the rest of her cabin. She was becoming increasingly more nervous and excited to find out who her Santa was.
Whipping around, Annabeth found Piper standing there. She looked anxious, and it made Annabeth frown.
“Can it wait?” Annabeth asked carefully. “We’ll be late for the Secret Santa reveal otherwise.”
Piper gently grabbed Annabeth’s upper arm and steered her away from the crowd. “That’s actually sort of what I wanted to talk to you about actually.”
“What do you mean?”
Piper squeezed her eyes shut, drew in a deep breath, and released it before looking back at Annabeth. Annabeth felt her heart start pounding. Normally, she prided herself on her restraint, her control, but Piper had a way of making her act out unlike herself.
So before Piper even had the chance to open her mouth and with Nico’s words in mind, Annabeth blurted out, “I like you.”
“W-what?” Piper asked, and Annabeth groaned. It was too late to back out now.
“I, um, I like you,” Annabeth repeated, looking away from Piper’s far too expressive eyes. “As in, I have a crush on you.”
“Good,” Piper said, and the next thing Annabeth knew, Piper was leaning in close, hesitating just a second, before pressing her lips to Annabeth’s.
Warmth spread through Annabeth, rightness. She felt Piper’s hands move to her hips, drawing them closer as she deepened the kiss.
“Hey Annabeth, where are you?” she heard Percy say, and they broke apart. Piper looked startled and Annabeth glared at her grinning ex, who had his fingers laced through his boyfriend’s. They were both grinning. “It’s about time. We’ll let everyone know that you’ll be late. C’mon, Nico.”
After Percy and Nico walked off, Piper turned back to Annabeth, grinning. “I have a confession to make too. Well, I’m your Secret Santa.”
“Yeah?” Annabeth asked, feeling a smile tug at her lips.
“I love my gifts, Piper,” she said.
Piper’s face softened. “I’m glad. And I meant what I wrote in the notes. I want to watch movies with you and travel with you and help achieve all your dreams. I want to be together.”
“I want that too, Piper, so much,” Annabeth said, leaning forward to press her lips to Piper’s again. She knew now what Percy meant when he’d said that a kiss made everything fall perfectly into place.