Leo couldn't believe it. The gods had debated for what seemed like 10 years, but finally, finally, they had agreed to grant the heroes' request. Every single one of their friends had asked for them to be saved as their reward. Thinking about it actually made Leo tear up a little. Okay, a lot.
"This is most unorthodox!" Zeus cried, and his eyes seemed to crackle with thunder. "We cannot go around granting every hero resurrection as a reward for a task well done!"
Percy had started to retort angrily "A task well done?! How about saving the world from complete destruction! Finding the Athena Parthenos and reuniting Roman and Greek demigods? Healing a centuries' old rift that made you go cra-". He'd only stopped when Annabeth had grabbed his hand firmly and pulled him back a little.
All of the others had agreed with Percy's words though, through non-verbal or more verbal sounds like Leo's own "Yeah!" and fist pump. His cheeks reddened immediately after, but he thought Percy was 100% right.
The gods had broken out into discussion, but, after only a moment, there was a voice who silenced them. Leo was surprised to see that it was Annabeth's mom, Athena, who was speaking up.
"Father, if I may." Her grey eyes were once again sharp and startling, just like her daughter's. "I believe… that these heroes have a point." Zeus made as if to interrupt, but Athena held out her hand and continued. "Yes, it is unorthodox, there is no point denying it. It goes against several of our most ancient laws and it also can not become standard practice. However, the entire quest only succeeded because of unorthodox methods in the first place." Here the goddess looked directly at Penelope who, instead of being embarrassed, seemed to be hanging onto the goddesses' every word and standing completely still. Athena once more addressed the whole council: "These heores have done the impossible. They have suffered and cried, were tortured and exploited. Yet they persisted. For this I honour them. They have returned my statue and healed every single one of us. By uniting the two camps, they have even increased our power! We are no longer torn apart by the divide, but reconciliated and strengthened. This, too, would have been deemed very unorthodox fifty years ago."
Leo could hardly believe what he was hearing. Athena, the sternest goddess, was supporting them and honouring them. He glanced at Annabeth and saw her eyes shining with tears at her mother's words.
"And so," Athena continued "I do not deem it wise to deny these demigods their request and have these two return to a place of misery. We must honour our heroes, especially those who have given us great sacrifices. And especially when the heroes' requests come not from a place of greed or hatred or revenge, but from a place of love. These heroes are family. And the very least we can offer them as a reward for their service, is to reunite that family."
Nobody spoke after Athena's monologue. Leo was astonished himself, but when he managed to glance around he saw that the gods' expression had changed. They were, Leo noticed with surprise, touched. He even saw a few tears. Maybe his dad's family wasn't so cold after all.
"Alright, alright." Zeus finally agreed. "Because you deem it wise daughter, and with Hades' permission, we will return these heroes to the land of the living." Leo's heart sped up so much, he thought he would burst. Penelope's hand was still in his and right now its grip was vice-like. "Anyway" Zeus added, and there was the tiniest twinkle in his eyes. "It's not like it hasn't been done before."
And now here he was, returned to Camp Half-Blood and waiting for the celebrations to begin. At first Leo had been scared that the Romans would once again ask for his head, but once Piper had explained the whole story and worked some serious Aphrodite magic, Reyna had decreed that Leo would not be killed. Instead, he would have to rebuild Camp Jupiter and New Rome for free and add some seriously cool gadgets and war machines. After that, he would be banned for 20 years. Although he failed to see the point, Leo thought it was a fair enough deal. The thought of not being able to live in New Rome bummed him out at first, but then, once home, he had heard rumours of plans to build a Greek city as well. Little Athens. He couldn't wait for that.
One of the best feelings had been seeing his siblings at Cabin 9 again. Nyssa had sobbed when she hugged him and Jake clapped him on the back, a huge grin on his face. Now he was standing at the fire pit in the centre of the cabins, waiting for Penelope, as they would be going down to the Amphitheatre together. Everybody was getting dressed up for the occasion, as Piper had reminded him, and although he felt a little uncomfortable, Leo had found a clean white shirt, black suit trousers and suspenders laid out on his bed. He supposed it was a welcome home present from Piper's mom.
"Leo!" he now heard Piper call and he looked around to see her and Jason, both dressed to impress, walking towards him.
"Hey you. Looking good." Leo said appreciatively, nodding at Piper and Jason's outfits. "Although I have to say your Aphrodite is showing more and more these days, McLean."
He ducked at Piper aimed a punch at him, even though there was no real power behind it.
"Watch it." She smiled in spite of herself. "And just you wait until you see Penelope."
With that, she and Jason walked away laughing, leaving Leo feeling more nervous than ever before. He searched for something to keep his hands busy, but for once he wasn't wearing his magic toolbelt.
"Hey, fire boy." A very familiar voice suddenly said behind him. Leo turned around only to stop in his tracks. There, in front of him, stood Penelope and she looked seriously beautiful. Like, out of this world beautiful. Her dark hair was open and wavy, except for a few braided strands at the top that were gathered behind her head. Her turquoise eyes sparkled brighter than ever in the setting sunlight. But, most breathtaking of all, was her smile, which was wide and free.
"Pen. Wow." Leo managed, lost for words.
Penelope laughed, a little self-consciously. "You're not looking so bad yourself, you know." She held out her hand to him and together they walked away from the cabins.
The party that followed was the best night of Leo's life, no competition. Everybody was there, even some friendly Romans, and the campfire burned to bright and high that it almost looked like it was daylight. The seven stayed close to each other and laughed and ate and told stories and hugged. Nothing could have spoiled it. Leo felt so good, he reckoned he could even have another round with old dirt face. On second thought, maybe not.
At some point one of the Aphrodite kids decided they needed a dance floor, and, as if by magic, one appeared, accompanied by a band stand and soft, twinkling fairy lights all around.
"You wanna dance?" Penelope asked, having just appeared beside him. Her hand was outstretched and Leo smiled as he took hold of it. "I'd love to."
He found out afterwards that everybody heard a different song on that dance floor, depending on what mood they were in. And while he didn't know what anybody else heard, to him the melody was beautiful, full of melancholy for the past and hope for the future.
~ Penelope's POV~
She didn't think she could be any happier. Dancing with Leo to a beautiful melody, that sounded melancholic but hopeful at the same time, was more than she could ever have imagined just a few hours ago. She knew the memories of their experiences and pain, of their time in those horrid fields would not go away for good. But Penelope also knew that they would fade, and that new memories, a new life, would take their place eventually. She couldn't wait.
After the song finished, she leant up to whisper in Leo's ear. "Let's go to the beach."
He smiled a mischievous smile and nodded, leading her off the dance floor. They passed their friends and waved, feeling so incredibly grateful that they had stood up for them. Penelope didn't think that anybody had ever had a family like hers, and she was so happy that she would get to stay with them.
Once they arrived at the beach, they couldn't make out the sounds of the party anymore. Only the wind on the sand and the waves crashing contently against the shore could be heard. It was incredibly peaceful.
Leo and her sat down on a patch of beach and gazed out onto the water. They stayed like that in silence for several minutes, happy to simply be with each other and be safe at last.
"This is where you found me." Penelope remarked after a while, gazing out at the ocean that had almost drowned her.
"Yeah." Leo replied, lost in thought. Then, something seemed to occur to him. "Hey, you never told me!"
"What?" Penelope asked, confused.
Leo shuffled a bit awkwardly. "Honest, I just completely forgot about it. Which is weird, but considering everything that went down after… well, I guess it just didn't seem that important."
"But what is it?" Penelope demanded, wanting to know.
"Well, when I pulled you out of the water you woke up, just for a few seconds. And you said my name." Leo looked at her intently. "Leo."
Perhaps Penelope should have been taken aback at this revelation, but somehow, deep down, she knew why she had recognized the boy who was sitting in front of her. The boy who had risked everything for her. The boy who had saved her.
"I think I've always known." She explained, smiling a little at Leo. "I always knew that you were my soulmate. I love you Leo Valdez. And I always will."
His chocolatey brown eyes crinkled up and he replied, his voice low and touched, "I love you too, Penelope."
She kissed him then, a deep, grateful kiss. And as the light in the sky continued to climb the heavens above them, Leo and Penelope held each other, finally at home.
It's been six years since I last updated this story. I read it back a few days ago and remembered so intensely how much it means to me. And because I made myself sad with my own ending, I really wanted to write a happier one for Leo and Penelope. Because this is the first book I wrote. The first story I finished. And I'm so grateful to be able to look back on it now. So, even if no one ever reads this, which I know is likely, I still want it to be there, to remember and smile. Because this story means the world to me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.