Spoilers: …Caveat lector.
Disclaimer: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and every other character or thing from that universe in this story are the property of Rick Riordan, Warner Brothers, or both. Any original characters or ideas can be disputed over by those two entities, presuming that they should ever deign to want one of them. I claim nothing in this story as my own, but surrender any and all rights to the named parties. No copyright infringement is intended or implied.
Author's Notes: Huh. Apparently, I am on a roll.
Luke Castellan looked down at his hands and wanted, for a moment, to cry. They were transparent. He was dead. He looked around. He was in a waiting room, and he wasn't the only one. There were other souls here, too. The place was well-lit, with plenty of space and there were…golden vinyl records on the walls? The waiting room for Hades was a record shop. Apparently pop music really did come from Hell, he mused to himself. He caught sight of a painted window with writing on the outside, but apparently dyslexia did not go away when you died and there was no way he could read English writing from the wrong side of the window. The words were, to make a very bad joke, all Greek to him.
He felt something in his pockets, though. He had pockets. He looked down at himself and realized he was wearing an orange Camp Half-Blood tee shirt and jeans.
"I never thought I'd wear one of these again," he sighed, touching it ruefully. "I am such an idiot."
"Mmm…a mortal that admits it, finally," said a voice. Luke looked up and shivered in a bit of fear. Before him, real as a nightmare, stood a man with white-blond hair and an Italian suit that bore the nametag "Charon" on the lapel. He was meeting the ferryman of Hades.
But as Luke gazed at Charon, his fear dropped away without anymore coaching. Apparently, being dead, he didn't need to fear death, or its attendants. Instead he quietly said, "I need passage to the Underworld."
Charon whipped off his sunglasses and Luke realized he had empty eye sockets, like Ares. But his eyelids were narrowed over the empty spots. It took a minute for Luke to identify this expression as suspicion.
"Spell my name," Charon demanded.
"C-H-A-R-O-N," Luke replied, reading it off his nametag. "Hey! My dyslexia…wait. Why can't I read the window, then?"
"The window is for the mortals," Charon answered, putting his shades back on. "I am for the dead. Which you definitely are. You'll have to forgive me. Most of you show up and start bargaining with me to not be dead. As if I can fix that. The last three people to ask me for passage without hesitating were all alive. And they caused a lot of trouble, too. I thought you might be another demigod."
Luke looked at the floor. "I used to be. I guess I'm not anything anymore."
"Do you have your fare?" Charon asked.
"I…" Luke trailed off, wondering vaguely if he did have his fare. He'd been a dead man either way by the time Kronos arrived in Olympus, but Kronos hadn't exactly been concerned about his fate. And who else was going to give him anything to pay the boatman?
"He does," a new voice announced. Luke froze. He knew that voice. He turned and watched in astonishment as the door to the record shop closed behind the last person he ever thought to see again in all of eternity. Hermes, the messenger of the gods, walked up and looked at him with a kind but very sad look on his elfin face. "Check your pocket, Luke."
Luke blinked in surprise, but put a hand into his pocket and fished out two gold drachmas. He stared at the coins in astonishment.
"And you're here because…?" Charon demanded.
"I'm here to escort my son to the Underworld," Hermes snapped at Charon.
Charon glared at Hermes but shrugged. "Whatever. Get in, the both of you." Luke gave Charon his fare and the two of them followed him into an elevator, crowded with other newly dead spirits. Charon pushed the button and they began their descent.
Luke kept looking over at Hermes, trying to be sure he was really there. Hermes caught him on the third or fourth glance and gave him that sad look again.
"You…" Luke searched for the right words, but discovered himself asking the stupidest question possible. "Why are you so sad?"
"You're my son, Luke, and you died. Parents are supposed to be sad when their children die," Hermes answered quietly.
"You can't possibly be sad over me," Luke answered. "After everything I did. To your other children, even. I… I…" He looked away, struggling not to cry.
"Oh, Luke," Hermes sighed. "Of course I am. I never loved you any less, no matter what you did. I know I wasn't the father you needed, and I am so sorry for that."
Luke looked at him in shock. He tried several times to say something, but all that ended up coming out was a very choked, "Dad." And since he was dead and it didn't matter anymore, he gave into his lifelong wish and threw his arms around his father's neck and wept. And Hermes wrapped his arms around him, and was weeping, too, and it just made Luke cry even harder. All the times he'd been afraid or lonely or sad or tired and desperately wished his father could be there for him the way that other kids had theirs. And now that he could finally do this, it felt like it was too late. Why couldn't he have ever done this when he was alive?
He felt the elevator rocking and looked up and realized that he wasn't in an elevator anymore, he was in a boat. Over his tee-shirt and jeans, he was wearing a gray, hooded robe. All the other spirits were wearing them, too. Charon was wearing a black one, as was—to his shock—Hermes.
"Dad?" Luke asked curiously, tugging at his father's robe.
"Hermes Psychopompos," the Olympian shrugged. "The black robes are worn by those of us who work in the Underworld. I do this, too, sometimes."
Conveyor of souls, Luke translated in his head. "You come with people all this way?"
"No," Hermes replied with a sigh. "I help people who don't know the way get to D.O.A. Records. Or at least, I used to. Thanatos does most of that now, although I still help when he needs it."
"But I was already there," Luke said quietly.
Hermes looked at Luke for a long moment, and then asked in a very quiet voice, "Do you want me to leave?"
"No." There was no firmer tone Luke could speak in.
Hermes nodded, wrapped his arm around Luke's shoulders, and the two of them looked ahead as the boat continued on its way across the Styx.
Finally Charon brought them up to a beach of black sand littered with enormous boulders here and there. Luke and Hermes, along with the other newly dead souls, got out. Luke watched as Charon pushed the barge back out into the river, before he turned and followed the crowd of spirits up a path, away from the great dark beach.
It was a short walk before they arrived before the enormous archway into Erebus. Cerberus stood over the crowd, but Luke found him oddly unremarkable. Luke briefly considered going to the EZ DEATH line, but he didn't think he could live with himself (or however that phrase was meant to go now) if he always wondered if he could have gone to Elysium instead.
Hermes joined him, standing silently beside him in his black robe, a comforting presence in the face of a judgement that, Luke had to admit, might not go the way that Annabeth had thought it would.
"Annabeth and Thalia," he said, turning to Hermes. "Are they…?" He broke off, not knowing what he wanted to ask if they were.
"Thalia is with the Hunters as Artemis' lieutenant," Hermes told him. "She's very happy, and very capable. Annabeth is dating Percy Jackson. I think she's happy, too."
"Good," Luke said, nodding. "And Connor and Travis? And—"
"Luke," Hermes said quietly. "Connor and Travis are fine, but sooner or later you'll ask me about someone who is not. Do you really want that list twice?"
"The Judges are given a reckoning of your life to make their judgements. You are given a copy of it, in the event you feel the need to make a defense." The look on the god's face was now shuttered. Luke had never seen him look so distant. But, paradoxically, he also laid a hand on Luke's shoulder. Luke nodded, and turned his face forward again, to the black pavilion where he would find out his fate.
They waited in line for a long, long time. But just as Luke was at last the next case on the docket, a voice behind them cried, "Make a path there!"
Luke and Hermes turned and coming down a path that he hadn't noticed before, escorted by Thanatos, Hypnos, all three furies, several hellhounds, and at least twelve black-robed security ghouls was none other than Kronos himself.
He was wearing his own body now, and Luke finally found out what Kronos looked like when he wasn't borrowing Luke's face. The Titan lord was dark haired, dark eyed, and… Well, Luke hated to admit it to himself, but he could see where the Big Three got their looks from. They did look a bit like their father.
Luke looked forward again to see one of the Big Three actually coming into the court. Hades had come out to greet Kronos. Hades caught sight of Hermes, standing next to Luke, and then he noticed Luke. Hades narrowed his eyes thoughtfully, but apparently wasn't interested in speaking to him.
"Hermes," Hades said quietly.
"Hades," Hermes answered. "I see you found him, then."
Hades gave Hermes a tight smile at that. "Yes and no. His essence was scattered, but given the way he died this time, I guessed that some of it was going to come back together soon."
At this point, it occurred to Luke to wonder how much time had passed in the mortal world, because it didn't sound like they were talking about Kronos dying yesterday. Then he found that he didn't care. Somehow, mortal life just didn't seem like a big deal anymore.
"When enough of it came together for him to form a body, we caught up with him." Hades smirked at his cleverness, but only briefly. "Unfortunately, he'll keep bringing his own essence in until he's back to full strength again. It will take a very long time, but…he's not finished for good, it seems. Daedalus has devised a way to ensure that he fully reconstitutes down here, where we can keep an eye on him."
Hermes nodded. "Good."
"Hello, my son," Kronos said, cutting across their conference in an angry voice. "And hello to you, Luke. I see you made it at last. And risking judgement, too."
Hermes' hand squeezed Luke's shoulder for a brief moment, and Luke felt the claw that had seized his heart at Kronos' words loosen. "Do not speak to the spirit," Hades snapped. Luke blinked in astonishment as he realized that Hades was talking about him. "He is dead and no longer in your service. Your fate is fixed. It's back to Tartarus with you. I'm taking you there myself. I've had Daedalus working overtime on this one."
Hypnos and Thanatos led the odd little cavalcade past where Luke stood and through the court. Hades led them off, towards the Luke turned to Hermes. "Hades defended me against Kronos. Why would he do that?"
"He is lord of the Underworld. You are one of his subjects. That is his job," Hermes answered quietly.
"I am an idiot," Luke said quietly. "I'm so blind. You weren't ignoring me."
"Never," Hermes said.
Luke started to wish he hadn't said that, but realized that the alternative would be infinitely worse, and so he just nodded.
"Luke Castellan!" called a security ghoul in the court.
Luke and Hermes entered the black tent, and turned to face the judges. They sat on folding chairs with cushions on them, behind a table with folding legs. Beside each of them was a stack of manila folders. Every so often a new folder would poof into existence on the bottom of the stack. Luke guessed that was when a new spirit entered the line. A fourth stack stood on the side of the table, where the security ghoul that had called his name had been standing. That ghoul now handed him the folder that had his name printed in neat Greek letters on the tab.
With trembling transparent hands, Luke opened the folder. There in front of him, summarized in neat bullet points on one page, was his life. His desperate times on the run with Annabeth and Thalia, his life at camp, his life with the Titans, and his death on Olympus. He had to admit, seeing it all laid out so neatly and compactly was very lowering.
He looked up to the judges and recognized Rhadamanthys and Socrates. The other looked familiar, but it took him a bit to place him, as he didn't often see pictures of Thomas Jefferson looking so young. Or modern. All three of them were wearing black suits, and looked to be in their mid-thirties.
He looked up at Hermes curiously. Hermes shook his head. "The judges are not answerable to me. Hades himself cannot countermand them outright. I can be with you for the trial, but I may not participate in any way."
At Hermes' voice, Rhadamanthys looked up. "We do not often see you here, Psychopompos. What is your business with this spirit?"
"He is my son," Hermes said.
"Very well then, to business," Socrates said. "A difficult case, this one."
"He has betrayed his father, his siblings, his friends, his camp, Olympus, and Western Civilization itself," Jefferson said. "In fact, in his entire life, there is a grand total of one person who he did not betray, and that tie was not important enough for him not to proceed with actions he knew would threaten her life anyway." Jefferson looked up and speared Luke with his gaze. "On the whole, a rather thorough muddle of things."
"But he did die a hero, and is ultimately responsible for saving her life, Olympus and Western civilization," Socrates said, although it didn't sound like he was countering Jefferson's observation, so much as adding to it. "That can not be ignored."
"And Kronos was hardly a caring guardian," Rhadamanthys agreed. "By the time of this spirit's death, he must have seemed much worse compared to whatever he held the Olympians accountable for. Some element of self-serving was likely involved in that decision."
Luke didn't like what he was hearing. This wasn't going well.
"A difficult case indeed. Does the spirit have a defense to make?" Socrates asked.
The three judges looked up and Luke felt tiny under their eyes. Hermes stood quietly beside him and said nothing. Luke shook his head quietly. "No. Nothing. Everything you've said is true. In fact, you've left out the part about my responsibility in the deaths of…" Luke consulted his folder. "Lee Fletcher, Michael Yew, and Charles Beckendorf…among others."
Hermes laid a hand on Luke's back, between his shoulder blades.
"Repentance, then," Jefferson mused. "That is not nothing."
"Indeed, it is quite remarkable, given that some spirits do not learn repentance even after years by the banks of Cocytus," Socrates said. "However…quite grave indeed, these crimes."
Rhadamanthys sat back in his chair, studying Luke's folder. Then he and the other two judges began a quiet conference that lasted several minutes. Finally, they turned to Luke.
"Such a list of crimes as these is very serious," Socrates said, "but the fact that you understand this and make no defense for actions you know are wrong coupled with the fact that you did indeed die saving Olympus is quite impressive. In our judgement, you are not suited for Elysium."
Luke's heart tumbled into his sneakers. Tartarus, then.
"However, eternal punishment strikes us as inappropriate as well," Socrates continued. "Therefore, we are going to require that you make remuneration."
"What?" Luke asked in shock.
"In the parlance mortals nowadays have the effrontery to call English," Jefferson informed him, "we're going to make you fix what you broke."
"But I…can't," Luke protested. "Lee, Michael, Charles, Silena…they're dead. There's nothing to be done to bring them back. Because of me."
"True," Jefferson agreed, "and it is good that you understand this. You are also cognizant of the fact that saving Olympus does not make up for the fact that Olympus was only in danger in the first place because of your actions."
"Therefore, you will be sent to Tartarus," Rhadamanthys said, and both Luke and Hermes gasped in dismay.
"Where you will stand guard over Kronos and the other high security prisoners," Rhadamanthys continued, and relief so powerful filled Luke that he could've sworn he felt his heart actually beat just once more. "You will do this until such time as Kronos is completely reconstituted and Daedalus determines him to be secured. At that point you will be given a choice to remain in the service of Lord Hades or to drink from the River Lethe and try again."
"The case is adjourned," the security ghoul said.
Luke felt a change sweep over him. He looked down to discover that he was wearing black robes himself, now, and he looked more…solid. Less dead.
"You're a guardian of Tartarus, now, Luke," Hermes said. "That means you work for the Underworld. Black robes, solid body, you're on the clock now."
Luke nodded. He looked up at Hermes and realized that this was the last they would see of one another for some time. He reached up and gave his father a hug. Hermes put his arms around him and hugged him tightly back.
"I love you, Luke," Hermes whispered.
"I love you, too, Dad," Luke replied.
Hermes released him and Luke turned. Two security ghouls were waiting and he walked over to join them. They started down the path to Tartarus, lined with more security ghouls, but realizing something, Luke turned back and looked at Hermes, who stood there in his black robes, watching his son start off for his new job.
"You may not return," one of the ghouls said to him.
"I'm not trying to," Luke assured him. He met Hermes' eyes and an understanding passed between them. Hermes gave him an odd smile and then began to glow. Luke didn't turn his eyes away, though, since he was no longer mortal and seeing a god's true form could not hurt him anymore.
And then Hermes was gone, and Luke was alone in the dark with his guards and his job. He turned back to Tartarus, to the screams of the damned and the fiery Phlegethon, and followed them quietly down to his assignment in Hell.