Chapter 18: Trust
Unaware that her children had made it home Claire began settling down for the night, resting against one of the trees with a blanket wrapped around her. The temperature had dropped rapidly as the sun had set, the sky was now dark grey beyond the bare branches and signs of snow were evident.
Despite being tired from her journey to the neighbouring village Claire could not sleep, she had guessed it to be from the freezing temperature and the fact that the snow was soaking the blanket she was sitting on. Yet another part had told her it was because she was still worried about Jack and Annabeth, she had watched as they left to go sledding that day much like the day they had went ice skating. She hadn't realised the similarities until the day was coming to an end and they had yet to return.
With her husband out in the woods doing who knew what she had went to her friends in panic, their husbands, after a sort conversation with their wives, had proposed to look for her daughter. Claire had been told to either go home or stay with her friends, she had ignored them and insisted that she would join them. Of course they all knew once Claire had made up her mind that there was no changing it, and ignoring her would only lead to a cold shoulder for the rest of the week.
If it was one thing Claire knew how to do best it was being persistent, which was why she now found herself falling asleep in the middle of a forest with her friends husbands most of which snored loudly, with a light snowfall worrying about the safety of her children who might by this time be close to home.
Claire sighed she hated this feeling of helplessness, she had been wondering the woods for hours hoping to find Annabeth and Jack, and yet her husband was not here to help her. She silently wondered what was so important that he had to leave for the forest so suddenly, she had seen him pack a lot of food and several blankets along with an absurd amount of weapons.
Morning had come fairly quickly and Claire had found herself half buried in snow, after dusting herself off and packed away her things, she and the group began their trek home. They arrived around lunch another light snowfall clouding her vision, after parting ways with the men she thanked each of them before she started for her own home at the opposite end of the village.
What she hadn't been expecting to see was her husband walking out of the trading centre a bag of food in one hand, a loaf of bread in the other which was half eaten as he walked out the door eating. Claire could hardly believe her eyes, walking over to her husband with renewed determination her sad thoughts on her children momentarily forgotten.
It seemed though that Claire wasn't the only one to be surprised as Albert turned at the sound of approaching footsteps to see his wife walk up to him. Though he was confused as to why she was coming from the other end of the village before he remember that some of her friends lived over that way. It didn't however to take him longer to realise something was wrong as his wife came closer.
"What's wrong?" Albert asked suddenly making Claire stop in her approach. She walked closer again only at a slower pace until she was next to him.
With a sigh she answered, "Annabeth is missing." Claire stated not sure if their daughter was home yet. Albert was suddenly more alert as he stared at her with a bewildered expression.
He couldn't believe what he was hearing, his daughter missing? It made no sense at all, not until he remember that winter demon that followed her everywhere. Glaring at nothing he silently blamed the winter spirit for his daughter's disappearance, about to comment on it he was stopped by his wife.
"I heading home, someone had told me they been approached by Annabeth asking which way our home was." Claire spoke as she started walking towards their house.
Albert was confused by the sounds of it Claire and Annabeth had left the village after all it was impossible to get lost in such a tiny residential area. "Where did you look for her?" Albert asked looking at his wife now.
"We searched the forest. Having noticed a sled trail leading into it we wondered about before happening upon a village. A local couple said that they had seen Annabeth and that she had asked which way our home was. They told her and she must have began heading home." Claire half smiled at the thought of her daughter being sensible enough to ask for directions, she knew well that Jack would keep her safe from anything the forest had to offer, after all he was different now.
"We?" Albert asked like it was the only part of the conversation he caught.
Claire nodded, "Myself and Katie's and Luann's husbands of course and a few others of our friends husbands had volunteered to help find Annabeth. I had insisted that I join them as I wasn't going to spend the last few days sitting in the house stressing over her absence." Claire responded, Albert nodded understanding he would do the same had it been someone else's child who had went missing. It was one of the many things that he liked about this village, everyone was close enough to help each other out no matter how odd the request seemed.
"So what have you been up to?" Claire asked changing the topic to her husband in hopes of learning what he was doing. She watched as he smiled slightly as if the thought of it made him happy.
"Let's just say that I'm going to be ridding the area of a deadly pest." Albert replied not going into details in his plans. Claire nodded easily understanding that her husband was hunting something, though a unsettling feeling came with that thought. One she never used to get, shrugging it off as worry for her daughter's safety from this mysterious creature she concentrated on their walk home.
Upon nearing the house both Claire and Albert noticed that smoke was coming from the chimneys and that the snow near the door was pushed to the side as though someone had been in and out, their footprints matching that theory. Slightly startled the couple looked to each other in worry. Creeping up to their own home couple having completely ignored the possibility of their daughter being home.
Pushing the door open they see snow trailing into the kitchen, Albert having armed his bow surveyed the living room before proceeding to the kitchen. Claire looking around the small living room noticed everything to be in place except for a blanket half folded half thrown over the sofa with a small bunny toy resting close by.
Claire having noticed Annabeth's belongings on the sofa goes to inform her husband who was currently creeping into the kitchen. Walking over she was about to tell him when she realised he was glaring at something, following his sight she saw Jack holding a bucket of half frozen water chuckling lightly.
Jack pours the water into the large cooking pot above the fire the cold water fizzes as it come into contact with the warm water. Smiling he reaches for the wooden spoon nearby and begins to stir the liquid, within seconds frost and ice trail down the spoon and into the water freezing it in the process. Lifting the spoon Jack sees part of the stew frozen on the end.
Albert uses this distraction as his chance and pull back on the bow tightening it further. With his sights firmly set on Jack he is ready to release the arrow but a high pitch laughter cuts off his concentration. Turning sharply he sees his daughter close by laughing at Jack's unintentional habit of freezing liquid. Not aware that his bow had moved subconsciously with his line of sight the sudden laughter of his daughter had startled him enough to release the arrow. Causing him to accidentally open fire on his daughter.
By this time Jack had notice another presence and turned in time to see an arrow headed straight for Annabeth who had also turned having noticed her brother's sudden change in demeanour. Only instead of seeing her startled parents who were watching the arrow fly towards her, she only saw the arrow and it's course towards her head.
Everything seemed to go in slow motion for the four as they each watched the arrow with vastly growing horror as it approached Annabeth. Without warning Jack's sudden desire to protect his sister from the arrow summons his powers as he knows that he cannot reach her in time.
Instinctively his winter powers summon an icy wind out of nowhere that throw the arrow of course in reaction to Jack wanting to save his sister. The arrow embedding itself within the wall at the level of Annabeth's head, with the disaster averted everyone had yet to notice the floor now covered in an icy sheet with frost patterns wrapping around most of the furniture and the fire Jack had worked so hard on now extinguished.
Annabeth woken from her daze on the arrow by the icy wind now sees her parents in the doorway. Rushing forwards across the slippery room she greets them with a hug and a cheerful greeting of hellos. Claire forgetting the danger embraces her daughter in a hug and returns the child's greetings.
Jack stands awkwardly by the fireplace studying the now frozen floor as Albert glances from the winter teen to the arrow to his wife and daughter. He slowly joins in the embrace deciding to do something about Jack once their reunion is over.
Now relieved to back together the two women set on cleaning up the kitchen, Albert decides to help by first pulling the arrow out of the wall and second to start helping Jack and Annabeth scrape the ice off the floor. Though he sometimes looks up to glare at the winter teen when he's not looking.
Annabeth then helps her mother finish cooking the food that Jack had started, leaving Jack and Albert alone by the doorway, after a few minutes Jack helps set the table with Annabeth and dinner is served. Everything remains uneasily quiet with constant glances between everyone as they eat.
Breaking that silence Claire asks, "So what happened?" startling the others into looking at her. Jack shifts slightly in his seat thinking of a way to respond but is saved as Annabeth speaks first.
Clearly knowing that her mother was asking about her disappearing act over that last few days Annabeth replies. "We had been sledding on the hills just outside of the village, off from the main road." She starts, "We were trying to make the sled go faster down the hill so Jack added some ice to the path. But things went a bit pear shaped when we went past the stopping point and down another hill." Annabeth grinned sheepishly. "At the bottom of the hill was the forest." She paused watching her parents expressions she saw them stiffen slightly but Claire nodded for her to continued while her father had returned to glaring at Jack. Annabeth inwardly sighed to herself stating that only he knew the truth then he wouldn't be as hostile.
"I thought we were going to crash considering the speed we were going." Annabeth said after finishing another spoonful of soup. She looked at Jack with a smile before continuing, "Jack had told me that everything was going to be okay so to distract ourselves from the danger he turned it into a game." Annabeth smiled, Albert's glare deepened as he frowned at what his daughter was saying.
"He made the trail we were sliding down icy in order to keep going as the forest floor was covered in a lot of twig and stones. He had told me that when he said to lean that I was to lean.
"At first I was scared but after passing by most of the trees I began to relax slightly and then the sled seemed to slow down when the ground started to level out." Annabeth said smiling her plate now empty. "Thankfully we narrowly missed the tree in our path. But for some reason we still ended up crashing, I guess there was a big rock we ran over?" Annabeth said remembering the crash.
Claire looked slightly startled, she had remember finding the sled in pieces near a tree yet when she didn't find them, she had thought that they had bailed the wooden object, but to hear that they had still been riding it had made all the colour drain from her face. Albert bit his tongue despite the fact that he wanted to point out that Jack was to blame in the first place for icing the sled trail that hurtled them over the hill and into the forest.
"When we came to it was dark." Annabeth continued. "We didn't know where we were so we just started walking in a random direction. Well mostly East." Annabeth corrected. "Considering we couldn't see Jack used his staff to create a blue light, it wasn't very strong but at least we could continue to walk without walking into too many trees.
"Jack also gave me his cloak to keep warm considering he was as cold as our surroundings out there." Annabeth stated, "He carried me for a while and I remember falling asleep." Annabeth said, both adult grimaced both knowing the dangers of falling asleep somewhere so cold.
"The next day several hours after morning we found food and a few hours later we found another village. I asked a couple if they knew where the closest village was guessing that it would be ours. They pointed us to the main road and said that it would take us a day to travel down it. We then went to the local inn but we were refused a room though I'm not sure why." Annabeth muttered the last part. Albert looked at his daughter for this point before looking at his wife who looked annoyed.
"We slept in an alley that night before we began travelling again a few hours later. Jack said that something was wrong." She looked questioningly at Jack but he did not reply. "We quickly gathered some food and were on our way. We slept a few times by the roadside but other than that it took us no more than a day to reach the village." Annabeth said happily.
"When we got home we made a fire and fell asleep on the settee. Then today we woke around noon and began making food. Then you both came home." Annabeth finished smiling. Claire smiles to her daughter before standing and picking up all of the plates to wash.
"Well I'm very glad that you're both home." She said before going over to the small tub full of water to wash the dishes. Annabeth jumped up to join her giving her mother a hug from the side expressing her love. Albert also stood up but his gaze was fixated on Jack.
"Jack." The man started, he instantly disliked calling the winter spirit by a name but showed no signs of his distaste wanting to come across more friendly. "I wish to speak with you alone." He said, Jack nodded standing up his eyes having quickly caught Annabeth's happy reaction to her father's sudden interest in bonding with Jack, Claire however looked more puzzled and a bit weary.
Walking into the living room far away from the kitchen door Albert whispers to Jack, "I want to thank you for helping my daughter in a time of need, Jack. And I just want to say that I'm willing to put my foolish actions behind us and start anew." he said, Jack looked at him slightly confused. "I can see that you and Annabeth are great friends and I'm willing to take a chance to get to know you better if you'll let me." Albert continued, Jack nodded understanding now.
Albert nodded "Great! Um…how about you meet me at the edge of the forest later tonight so that we can spend some time getting to know each other. I'm afraid I cannot do it sooner as there as some things I must attend to. Work and all…" He trailed off.
Jack thought about it for a moment, he knew that it was risky after all the man had tried to kill him on several occasions. He also knew that if Annabeth was telling him the truth about being his sister than this man before him was his father. With a sigh Jack nodded "I'll meet you tonight then." Jack said thinking positively about getting to know his father.
Albert smiled knowing that all he need now was to put the last few pieces together in his trap and everything would be perfect. Jack on the other hand was beginning to silently doubt himself as he watched Albert head back into the kitchen looking very happy.