Disclaimer: I do not own Rick Riordan, the Percy Jackson books, characters, series, movies, or anything else you may recognize.
"Anyone who has already been healed and can stand and fight needs to stand watch and prepare themselves for what will hopefully be the final stand," Thalia ordered, before moving over to the small group of Andee, Annabeth and me. "I think you three should go up to Olympus and get ready while my Hunters stand watch."
Annabeth nodded and led the way inside the Empire State Building. I looked around and saw that the doorman had mysteriously disappeared. "The defenses are crumbling," Andee whispered.
"What do you mean?" I asked her.
"The doorman is gone, so anyone can walk up to Olympus without a key card. That means the magic is starting to fade," Annabeth explained.
"And we can't just fry the electrical circuit so no one can get up there?"
Annabeth shook her head grimly. "It runs on magic. So whoever comes up, comes up."
I beckoned Mrs. O'Leary over and as she limped over, I noticed that her injured paw had been bandaged. Andee backed up a few steps, accidentally crashing into the lobby's desk. I whispered to Mrs. O'Leary, telling her to bring someone that could help and she leapt into the shadows, shadow-traveling away.
"You don't have to be afraid of Mrs. O'Leary, she's the friendliest hellhound you'll ever meet," I told Andee, who warily joined Annabeth and I again.
"Be that as it may, she could still scratch me by accident, and you know what happened last time," Andee said, shuddering involuntarily at the thought. "Apparently I missed a lot while I was gone. Did you randomly decide to adopt a hellhound or what's the story there?"
"She's Nico's. But apparently she really likes me, and she's super obedient and has been super helpful."
"Mhmm. Well, Mrs. O'Leary should keep her distance from me, is all I'm saying," Andee said and I laughed and hugged her. Same ol' Andee.
Grover came into the Empire State Building lobby, cradling Leneus and bringing him as far inside as he could.
He was dying. Grover's eyes were filled with tears because even if the guy was a pompous ass, he was going to die fighting for our cause.
"Did we win?" Leneus croaked, trying to look around, but finding the simple task of turning his neck too painful.
"Yeah…yeah, we did," Grover said, wiping away a few stray tears. "We won because of your amazing leadership. You practically pushed the enemy away on your own."
"I was great, wasn't I?" Leneus said before being thrown into a coughing fit. Within a few moments of stopping coughing, he passed away. Grover said an ancient blessing and Leneus' body turned into a laurel sapling.
"A laurel? Lucky guy," Grover said tearfully, taking a lot of time to inspect the leaves of his former mentor.
"Why don't you come with us up to Olympus and plant him in the gardens?" I asked softly. Grover nodded, picking up the laurel sapling and walking to the elevator a few steps ahead of us.
Annabeth, Andee and I followed behind him.
As we waited in the elevator to reach the six hundredth floor, the tension was thick. Like, I could cut it just by unsheathing Riptide. "I'm sorry," Annabeth said quietly, her grey eyes boring into my green ones.
"You have nothing to be sorry for," I insisted.
"Yes I do. I should have listened to you, Percy – you were right about Luke all along. You tried to tell me that he was no good, but I didn't believe you until I'd heard how he used Silena," Annabeth said, the tightness of her voice making it clear that she was on the verge of crying. "Gods, I was so blind." Annabeth turned to Andee. "He used you too. He'd been using you since you started dating him and I never picked up on it. Never once thought about how it affected you to see me sticking up for him all the time. I'm so sorry, Andee."
I glanced at Andee and she was staring straight ahead, the usual sparkle in her eyes having gone dull. She slipped her hand in Annabeth's before giving her a meaningful look. "Luke saved your life and was like a big brother to you while you were on the run. I couldn't do that for you. That was why I didn't tell you about us dating, or what he did to me because I didn't want you to feel like this when everything happened. I didn't even want you to know ever but Kronos told you in the maze."
"Did he ever –"
"No," Andee said firmly, starting to shake a little. "Nothing like that ever happened. He took…he took my mind and filled it with darkness or…I don't know, it's hard to explain." Andee shook her head. I slipped my hand in hers, giving it a gentle squeeze. "None of this is your fault, Annie, so stop blaming yourself."
There was a moment of silence before Grover piped up. "Isn't it great that we're all back together again? Almost dying, arguing and – oh look, it's our floor!"
As soon as we stepped out of the elevator, I was hit by how depressing Olympus looked. All the fires in the braziers were extinguished, all the windows in the houses were dark, the streets were deserted and the doors were barred. The only movement I could see was in the parks, which the Apollo cabin had set up as hospitals. Lee and Will and all the other Apollo campers were running around and caring for the wounded. The naiads were helping heal burns and poison with their nature magic.
We planted the sapling in one of the emptier parks before moving forward to help cheer up all the wounded, and help with any healing that we could. There was one demigod lying on a cot, covered from head to toe in bandages.
Andee froze in her tracks, staring at the next demigod, because he was covered in a burial shroud with the symbol of a golden lyre on it. The noise she made when she saw that one of her brothers had been killed was something I never wanted to hear again. It was like someone had ripped off one of her limbs.
She rushed over to the cot the body was laying on and lifted up the corner of the shroud just enough so that she could just see who was underneath. She burst into heart-wrenching sobs, falling to her knees as she completely broke down.
She tried to calm down but when that didn't work, she started singing an eerie song in Ancient Greek. I recognized some of the words and after listening carefully for a few seconds, I figured out that she was singing a sort of hymn that said goodbye and wished the deceased into Elysium.
I moved towards her and wrapped her in my arms. She immediately flung her arms around me and began weeping into the crook of my neck. I rocked her back and forth, whispering to her that he would be in Elysium, that he had died a hero.
Lee saw and heard Andee and came over, kneeling down beside us. He rubbed her shoulder a little before Andee unhooked herself from me and hugged him even tighter than she'd been hugging me, like she needed to feel one of her brothers to make sure they hadn't all died. Lee held her comfortingly, kissing the top of her head and whispered something to her. She nodded her head. He let go of her for a second, stood up and then left our group. I moved closer to Andee again, holding her as she continued to cry. Lee returned a few moment later with a small bowl.
Andee reached down and took her dagger out of its sheath. Before I could stop her, she sliced her arm several times, letting the blood pour into the bowl. "Make sure everyone gets some," she whispered, "and come find me if you need more." Lee nodded, giving his sister one last kiss on the forehead before leaving.
She sat near the bed silent, her hand resting on the bed of her fallen brother. I left her for a bit, getting the feeling that she needed to be alone.
I saw Pollux over on one of the beds, cut up and bruised with one of his arms in a sling. "Hey, I need to ask you for a favor."
"What do you need?" Pollux asked, standing up immediately. He looked exhausted.
"I need you to stay out of the fighting. Stay here and help with the healing, but stay out of the line of fire, alright?" I asked.
"I can't just let everyone else fight –"
"You can and you will. Consider it a personal favor, okay?" I asked. Pollux looked at me for a few moments before nodding, looking secretly grateful that he wasn't going to have to go back in and fight.
Someone rested a hand on my shoulder and I turned to see Andee standing behind me. Her eyes were ringed with red, making the green stand out even more. "We can keep going."
I put my hands on her shoulders and pulled her closer. "Are you sure?"
She nodded. "I'm fine."
"No you're not."
"I will be," Andee said, giving a quick nod of her head before tangling her fingers in mine. "Just…just don't die, okay?"
I swallowed a lump in my throat. "I'll try."
She turned to face me. "Prophecies don't always mean what we think they mean. You know that. Don't let it get to you, okay? Look at my Prophecy – it said you're always going to break my heart. Maybe that means you're going to have to keep stabbing me in the heart to keep the darkness away. And I'm okay with that."
"What if yours means something else?" I said seriously. "I don't want to ever hurt you."
"We'll cross that bridge if we ever come to it," Andee said. "But keep in mind that the Great Prophecy might not be just about you. It could be about multiple people, but just happens to mention you."
"Maybe…" I said doubtfully.
"Please just try not to think about it. Think about everything that's waiting for you after this is over. That's your future, not a Prophecy."
I nodded, but my throat still felt like a desert. We met back up with Annabeth and Grover and headed to the palace. As we approached, I saw the hearth had gone down to a dull red glow. Hestia was shivering beside it and the Ophiotaurus was swimming sadly in its little sphere of water. I looked a little further and saw Rachel sitting at the foot of Zeus' throne.
"Any closer and she might as well just sit right on my grandpa's throne," Andee muttered.
"Someone sounds jealous," I said teasingly.
"Should I have a reason to be jealous?" Andee said, her stare penetrating.
"No," I said firmly. "They may have been a spark once, but that was over the moment I saw you."
"You know, all it takes is a spark to light a fire," Andee said.
"And I guess that's what happened when I met you, eh?" I said, giving her a quick kiss. Andee pulled me back to give me a deeper kiss. When we separated, Rachel was looking up at the stars with a strange look in her eye. Then I noticed the pithos in her hands. "Rachel, why do you have that?"
"I found it. It's Pandora's jar, right?" she asked, her voice sounding like she was in a daze.
"Put it down."
"I can see Hope inside – she looks so fragile," Rachel said, looking into it with bright eyes. Within two strides I was standing in front of her, taking the pithos from her. She seemed to snap out of it, giving it up freely.
"Grover and I are going to go see if there's any extra Greek fire lying around," Annabeth said, excusing herself and a protesting Grover.
"I think I sense some over there," Andee pointed as she walked up to me. "I'm going to go help my brothers. We need as many able-bodied people as possible." I nodded and she closed the small gap between us, her lips like feathers on mine. "Love you. Call me if you need me, Ducky."
"Love you too, Sunshine," I murmured, wishing she wouldn't leave and even more that this war wasn't happening. She walked by Rachel, whispering something that I couldn't hear, but Rachel paled and nodded. "What did she say to you?" I asked once Andee left.
"'If you try anything with my boyfriend, I'll kill you'," Rachel repeated. I chuckled a little, but apparently Rachel didn't see think it was very funny. "Yeah, so you've definitely got an interesting girlfriend there. Don't want to ever get on her bad side."
"No you do not," I agreed. "Come on, I want you to meet someone." I walked over to the dimming hearth and bowed. "Lady Hestia."
"Hello Percy Jackson," Hestia said, rubbing her hands together to try to stay warm. "Getting colder now that the Titans are getting more power."
"I know," I said quietly.
"And you, my dear. At last you've come to our heart," Hestia said, looking straight at Rachel.
"You've been expecting me?" Rachel asked.
Hestia waved her hand over the fire and several images started to play. I saw Christmas dinner with Paul and my mom, singing songs around the campfire with the other campers, Andee and I kissing on Fireworks Beach. I didn't know if Rachel was seeing the same images, but she was blushing.
"To claim your place at the hearth, you must let go of all distractions. It is the only way you will survive," Hestia told Rachel.
Rachel nodded before whispering, "All this time I thought I was coming here for you, but I was drawn to you because you would open the door to this world for me. I needed to understand my true sight."
Being honest, it did sting a little knowing that I had kind of been used. Thanks for bringing me to Olympus, see you later?
Hestia explained that I've been told all that I could be told but that Rachel's moment was coming. On top of that, my own decision was approaching even more quickly, and she wondered if I was prepared.
I didn't know if I was. I looked into the pithos and for the first time, I wanted to open it because hope was pretty useless to me now. So many of my friends were dead, Rachel would be cutting me off, my parents were asleep somewhere in the streets, Olympus was about to fall and the gods had done so many cruel things to their children and everyone else.
When I looked back at Hestia, though, I saw all of the good things – my friends, my family, Andee being back with all of her loved ones and me, Annabeth and Grover and I being reunited, and Nico standing up to his dad and telling him to fight.
Annabeth, Grover and Andee came back. Andee was crying silently, but quickly wiping away her tears as if she didn't think I'd notice them.
"Will you be okay?" I asked Rachel, implying a lot in that simple question.
"I don't know, I guess it depends on whether you save the world or not."
I nodded and glanced at the pithos in my hands again. "Hestia, I give this to you as an offering because you're the last Olympian, and the most important because Hope survives at the hearth. Guard it for me so I won't ever be tempted to give up again."
She smiled. "You did well, Percy Jackson. I hope the gods bless you."
Then I got a crazy idea.