"We did it," Piper said, "We actually did it." She turned and hugged everyone, Jason first, Annabeth last. Nico not at all, but only because he refused and melted away into the shadows he practically lived in. Percy welcomed Annabeth's embrace when she came. They didn't say anything - only hugged, wrapped in each other's arms. Percy looked at the tree that had once been Gaia, and what bound her to the ground for what he hoped would be forever.
And then Grover came along.
"Per-r-rcy!" he bleated, a sound he had missed, "I've not seen you in forever." He trotted over with obvious excitement. His multi-coloured rasta cap was clutched in his hands, his hair messy where it should've been. His words came out hastily, probably out of anticipation. "I missed you so much! The Cloven Elders keep a tight schedule, and I just couldn't find the time. Plus, you've not been around so much. But I'm just so happy you made it!"
Grover's last words had made him realize something. They'd just lost so many good campers - not one of them Percy. He felt as guilty as the day they'd left Bob.
"Yeah, man, you think I'd leave you here?" Percy said with a slight laugh, "We made it."
He looked at all his fellow half-bloods, some jumping and running with joy, some greeting each other in happy reunion, some simply standing around looking as dumbfounded as Percy felt. He glanced at the oak tree that would forever be a scar on the camp. He would never see it as a victory trophy; it'd forever be a reminder of all that he'd lost. Friends.
Grover had hugged him so tight he felt like his insides would erupt from the pressure. Turns out, Grover was pretty hardcore when it came to hugs. Percy patted him on the back when he receded, Grover turning away - probably to visit Hedge and his family again. He felt someone touch his hand, turned and saw Annabeth. She looked about ready to collapse, her eyes telling him so. He reached for her, and they went hand in hand to see what was being done.
He watched as countless satyrs, campers and hunters were carried off on stretchers, covered in cuts, bruises and burns. There were several areas where grass was replaced by ash, where Leo had been fighting most likely. In amongst the ash of Leo's battlefield laid snow, where Khione had gone all ice-ninja on him. Despite his frail frame, Leo put up quite a fight.
Where the campers had fought, the yellow dust of monster-essence was strewn everywhere. They'd made a brilliant battle, right until some of their ends. Percy regretted the goodbyes he'd never give.
Where he and Jason had fought Gaia, trees were trying to go back to their normal positions, their Nymphs putting life back into the branches. Peleus rested on Thalia's tree, looking impossibly alert for what he had contributed.
Percy looked around. Then, he took away everything that seemed bad or traumatising or horrid. All he'd accomplished in all his time upon the world was actually worth something, he finally realized. Together, a Greek and a Roman had taken down Mother Earth, in a whirlwind of compassion for what they fought for. Percy thought that finally, it was all worth it in the end. The loss made the gain even sweeter, made everything bad turn to good for what had been born from it.
Then, with Annabeth still clutching his hand, looking at what he was looking at, they began walking and exploring - like the good old days. Grover waved at them from afar, and they both waved back, smiling. Chiron wandered amongst his students, checking everything. He looked exhausted, but as he saw the two of them, his face melted into completely the opposite. "Perseus Jackson! Annabeth Chase!" he called, relief and happiness flooding his words, "We are united. Because of you, Luna and I have agreed to unite the camps. Romans and Greeks will be apart no more!" He shouted the words at everyone, fistpumping the air and cheering, getting the same response from his students in return.
Annabeth, smiling softly, let go of Percy's hand and joined in with the cheering. Percy mimicked her, then kissed her on the cheek. "I need to have a look around. See you soon, Wise Girl." He said the words with as much smiling as possible, not wanting to leave but knowing he had to check around. Mainly out of curiosity.
She had never looked more beautiful. Even with cuts and blood, dirt and soot covering her entire body, she had never seemed so striking as then. "All right, Seaweed Brain," she rolled her eyes, using his nickname in mockery, "I'll see you when you're finished doing whatever you do when not under my supervision." Percy was so incredibly happy that she was still Annabeth. The same Annabeth who'd fought tooth and nail with him since they were twelve years old; who'd searched for him even though he could barely remember her. He was happy to have known her for a huge part of his life - like the part she played right now.
He ran to wherever it was he might find. The Big House was first, Mr. D already drinking his Diet Coke with his feet propped up on a deck chair. Typical, Percy thought. Only Dionysus would be so relaxed so soon after the fate of the world was determined. He raised his Coke can to Percy, nodding, and for the first time Percy didn't hate the guy's unforgiving guts. Then, the can turned into a glass, and the Coke turned to wine. Mr. D smiled wide, and took a gulp without returning Percy's glance. He stayed for only a moment before walking away.
Walking through the hordes of people, happy and sad, he saw many great friends and many aliens. He regretted not knowing who his own family was, but forgave himself for the quantity of them; with hundreds of Gods came thousands of children. He picked a few out, and all of the Seven that he hadn't seen prior. He looked down upon the beach where he'd met countless new friends, and smiled to himself. Despite hurt, there was hope, and within hope was this. Victory, and the feeling of actually making it through tough times. All these people, whether wearing purple or orange, were united. Differences were lifted, all hatred flying over their heads. And then he saw Clarisse 'squabbling' with Octavian and his now very sorry butt.
Thalia spotted him and grinned like he'd never seen her do before. She waved, and he waved back. He wondered how all of the people had collectively picked themselves up and dusted themselves off, and it was hard to believe that only hours before, these people were in battle against the entire world. He thought it was pretty awesome how much people could change in such short time.
He felt a sudden urge to climb the hill he'd climbed hundreds - maybe thousands - of times. Half-Blood Hill sat unharmed, Peleus and the Golden Fleece going together surprisingly well. Thalia's tree stood tall and proud against it all, being the preferable representation of the camp than Gaia. He much preferred Gaia being a tree to Thalia, even if it meant she shadowed the camp forever. She was much prettier as a tree than a woman.
He approached the top of the hill. He breathed in the succulent air, surprisingly tempered with the scent of the ocean. He didn't realize he had closed his eyes until he'd opened them, getting a good view of his older self. He wore a hawaiian shirt and a fisherman's hat, decorated with broaches of varying fish. The trident he carried stated his position in authority. Poseidon's face crinkled into a smile, almost sadly. Percy tried to speak. "Uh, wha - huh?" was what it sounded like in the end.
"Percy, I want to tell you of the pride I feel for you right now," he spoke properly, as if addressing a political figure, "And I want to thank you for being with us - with the Olympians. You are a greater hero than any of the Gods." He gave Percy one last smile, his figure fading, the last part of him that dissolved being the colour of his eyes. Where Poseidon had stood before had been blocking the view of the bottom of the hill, but what was revealed there was something unexpected. A Prius was parked at the edge of the road wonkily, as if it was done in a rush. The person that emerged from the car didn't seem real.
He could tell his voice would be shaky, his hands were clammy and he was almost shivering. He slowly walked to the hill's foot, watching the woman fiddling with something inside her car. Her hair was dark, but greying slightly. Her coat was blue, and her shoes matched. Her head finally turned around and smiled so warmly it made Percy want to be a little kid again, being read stories before being put to bed.
Percy wanted to say a billion things all at once, but instead he asked it all in one, single word.