It was funny. Leo was standing with the others in a large semi-circle, weapons drawn. The looming figure of Gaia stood towering over them, but that wasn't the part of the whole situation that terrified him. As he looked at his friends for what might be the last time, his underlying suspicions became sickeningly real. He was the odd one out.
Nemesis' words spiralled through his head like a whirlwind: "You will always be an outsider, a seventh wheel."
Leo felt like Coach Hedge after he'd eaten too many tin cans; the other demigods, well they all had someone. Piper had Jason, Hazel had Frank, Annabeth had Percy, and, well, Leo knew all about Nico and his feelings for the Son of the Sea God (come on, what is said onboard Leo's ship, Leo finds out), but somehow Leo didn't feel Nico was quite the same degree of alone as him. When Reyna and Nico had arrived after their quest to get the Athena Parthenos to Camp Half-Blood, Leo had noticed a new friendship. Even thought it was obvious that they didn't have that kind of relationship, at least they had a kind of relationship. Everybody seemed to be in pairs, except him.
"Foolish children, you think nine little demigods can stop Mother Earth herself?"
Geez, Leo had got distracted. Somehow, he had managed to forget that he was presently occupied by a life or death situation. They had got so far, Reyna and Nico had managed to get the Athena Parthenos back to Camp Half-Blood semi-safely (Leo was expecting some serious details on just how they managed to do that later, if there was a later). They had made it to Athens, where Gaia was waking, and so far, none of them had died, which was awesome.
But problems had arisen as soon as they arrived. Just as they expected, they were hugely outnumbered by Gaia's army. The seven of them could do nothing but stand there, looking at the sea of enemies that stretched out before them, covering the entire Acropolis like a blanket.
Annabeth began talking to herself, "Hydra: Anything but cut off their heads. Scythian Dracanae:..." and Percy, man, Leo loved that dude, started ticking off the monsters he'd already killed in previous battles.
The rest of them were too terrified to speak. Only Piper's charm speak got them moving, and Leo suspected she was working her magic just as much on herself as on the rest of them. The demigods weaved their way through the crowds, many of which were wearing 'I Heart Gaia' t-shirts and waving banners that read 'Earth Mother 4 Life' (strangely, not the weirdest thing Leo had ever seen), and hid behind some giants a few rows from the front. The entire stage of the amphitheatre had been dug up, so it was just a large mound of soil- Leo had no idea what that was for.
Standing in front of the crowds was Porphyrion. That in itself was terrifying, as the Giant King seemed to be in charge, but Leo also noticed two wooden posts with rope wrapped around them. Two. Leo could guess what they would be used for, and any fear he had previously had was nothing compared with the terror he felt that he might lose two of his friends.
Leo had turned to Annabeth, and mouthed silently, "What's the plan? O Daughter of the Goddess of Battle Strategy." Gods of Olympus, if looks could kill. As much as Annabeth tried to hide it, Leo could practically feel her fear. She steadied herself, and took a deep breath.
" I-I, think I might have a plan, of sorts..." she whispered. Percy took her hand in encouragement, and she began to explain...
The demigods were soon spread out around the amphitheatre, hidden among the demons.
"King Porphyrion," began a large woman giant, who reminded Leo strongly of his Aunt Rosa, "when will the Chosen Two arrive? We have been waiting for a long time, the Earth Mother gets impatient..."
'The Chosen Two'- the words echoed through Leo's mind like, well, an echo, but not the Echo. No, she had more of a high-pitched squeak... Gods, how did Leo do that? No wonder he annoyed Calypso so much at first, who gets distracted when they are in the middle of saving the universe?
Anyway, where was he? Oh yeah, these 'Chosen Two', who were they? Leo couldn't face losing any of his friends. Something appeared at Leo's feet, a small pebble sized piece of gold. Hazel's sign. Leo closed his eyes, and pulled a megaphone out of his tool belt. His voiced boomed through the crowds, "Well, it depends who you mean by 'The Chosen Two'." With that, all Hades broke loose. Monsters charged at Leo, and were immediately blocked by a large stone wall that Hazel created out of the mist. Frank promptly turned into a rhinoceros, and began wrestling with an Erymanthian Boar that had charged at Piper. Jason was hovering above the whole scene, slicing through a flock of Stymphalian birds and Percy and Annabeth were pretty much just disintegrating anything and everything that came near them.
Everything was going great, probably because many of the monsters had been in Tartarus for so long they'd forgotten how to fight. Leo was in the middle of using Echidna as a dartboard, when someone shouted from across the amphitheatre:
"ANNABETH!" Percy was held by a particularly ugly giant, kicking with all his might, slashing with Riptide above his head. "LET HER GO YOU-"
Percy said some words that Leo's mother would've taken away his tool kit for using. Leo however, didn't blame him, as Annabeth hung, limp and lifeless, draped over the back of a woman giant. Super Ugly Giant tied Percy, still fighting, to one wooden post, and beside him, the giantess began tying Annabeth to the other. Percy reached, but the posts were too far apart. Leo was definitely going to be sick. He couldn't deal with this kind of intense.
It looked like it was all over. Before Leo could formulate some crazy plan, he was picked up by another giant, who also held Frank, and held so he had a great view of whole thing. Hazel dangled on the other side of Frank, held by a fourth giant, who had Piper in the other hand, and what Leo reckoned was Jason trapped under his foot. Leo shut his eyes. He didn't want to see this. It was over. All that work for nothing. The 'Chosen Two' were always going to be Percy and Annabeth, though. Leo realised that now. They had started this entire revolution. Percy Jackson, the boy who had saved Olympus first time round. Annabeth Chase, the most intelligent demigod Camp Half-Blood had ever seen. Everything went quiet. Leo caught his breath.
"Step away from my friends." snarled a dark voice.
Was that Nico? No, it couldn't be. Leo opened his eyes wearily, and then laughed. There stood the Son of Hades, standing side by side with Reyna, leading a huge array of demigods, from what seemed to be both camps, into the amphitheatre. The campers all immediately sprung into battle, which momentarily scattered the monsters. Leo hit the ground with a thud as the giants dropped him and his friends in surprise, and ran to the stage. Percy and Annabeth were still tied against the posts, Annabeth unmoving. Leo hurried over, and began untying Percy.
Piper did the same for Annabeth, desperately whispering "Stay with me," over and over again, pouring more charmspeak into her words than Leo thought possible.
Leo gave up untying and finished the remaining knots with a knife that lay nearby, but Percy stayed where he was, staring into nothingness. Hazel and Frank rushed over, though Jason seemed to still be trapped under the giant's foot. "What's wrong man?" Leo shook Percy's shoulders, "Come on, we need to go!" Percy shook his head. A single tear traced down his cheek, and he lifted his wrist in front of him. A deep gash was cut across his forearm. It was bleeding heavily, but Percy didn't look too worried about the pain. The soil by his feet was a dark red. The blood of Olympus.
Hazel gulped and mumbled, "Annabeth, did they-"
At the mention of Annabeth, Percy seemed to wake out of his defeated daze, and dragged himself over to her. She had an identical gash on her arm. Percy wrapped her in his arms. The Greeks and Romans had driven the remaining monsters outside, and Leo couldn't help thinking that so much time had been wasted if this was what they could accomplish together. Jason limped over, after his giant captor had been chased out of the amphitheatre by a particularly terrifying group of Children of Mars. In charged Reyna and Nico, but stopped dead when they saw Annabeth.
"Oh Gods, is she-is she dead?" Reyna looked like she could curl up in a ball and cry, which was unlike the Roman Praetor. Piper gave a small nod and turned her face into Jason's neck.
"Oh my poor, helpless little heroes," rasped a voice they all knew far too well. They turned around to see the swirling form of Gaia rising out of the soil. "You don't really think you could've stopped this, do you? I am older than time itself, yet you still waste your time trying to prevent my awakening, under the influence of those puny Gods you are so devoted to. Percy, dear, don't you see, the Gods did this to you. Annabeth would still be here if Hera had not hatched her little scheme. Join me, children, together we will seek revenge on them!"
Leo looked at Percy. There was no way he was joining this crazy dirt lady, but Percy had lost so much. Leo didn't know if he could be strong enough to refuse Gaia's offer in Percy's position. The demigods formed a defensive semi circle around Annabeth's body, and Percy rose, his eyes burning with an angry fire that scared Leo. Leo, King of Fire.
"Don't you dare speak about Annabeth!" he yelled. "This is your fault. You blame the Gods, but it's all down to you and your pathetic ability to hold a grudge for a millennia!" Gaia stiffened. Leo noticed Nico wince, but the similarities between him and the Earth Mother ended with the Son of Hades' fatal flaw. She observed the situation, and then laughed.
"So, you won't join my army? Well then, I suppose I will have to destroy you instead."
The demigods began to sink slowly into the earth beneath them. This was it. It was all over. Leo looked over at Annabeth's body, and then at each of the demigods in turn. There was Jason, his best friend. Then there was Piper, who had always been like a sister to him. Hazel, well, things had been awkward between them, but Hazel was still important to Leo, and his bisabuelo Sammy sure cared for her. Frank and Leo had had their issues, though he loved the big guy really, and though Reyna scared the Hades out of him, he respected that girl. There was Nico, a closed book, but Leo had seen a new side of him these past few weeks, and couldn't bear the thought of losing him. And then, well, then there was Calypso. Leo had promised that he would return to her, how could he do that if he was dead? The earth had swallowed them up to their waists now and there was nothing they could do.
"It's a shame, you know, we could've created a greater world together, demigods, but-"
Gaia was interrupted by a gruff, incredibly angry voice, "But, as it is, you won't get the chance to destroy this world!"
The demigods looked up to see Zeus leading the gods through the sky in their chariots. Hera rode by his side, followed by Aphrodite, who blew a kiss to Piper, and Poseidon, whose eyes studied Percy, full of concern. Mars followed, winking at Frank. Then came Athena, Diana, Apollo, Demeter and all the other gods and goddesses. Each God was in either Roman or Greek form, but they all seemed perfectly headache free. Hephaestus gave Leo an awkward smile, which made Leo turn red for some weird reason. Hades materialised next to Nico, with his arm around Persephone.
"Zeus, my dear grandchild, you are too late! I have risen, and you are powerless to stop me from destroying your precious world now!" Leo thought he heard Gaia's confidence waver.
"Oh, I beg to differ," spoke Athena. "This, is for my daughter." The war goddess began to glow, and the demigods covered their eyes instinctively.
The next hour was a blur, as the gods combined their strength to attack the Earth Mother. The demigods fought alongside their parents, each of them using any means they could to weaken Gaia. Zeus and Jason struck her with lightning bolts the size of the (visible) Empire State Building. Piper and Aphrodite were directing a huge flock of doves straight into her eyes. Frank and Mars were circling around her earthen body, jabbing her with electric spears. Hades stood with Nico and Hazel, arming skeletons with imperial gold weapons (provided by Hazel, who was also managing to conceal Annabeth's body from Gaia using the mist). Percy was exploding water pipes everywhere, and Poseidon was attacking Mother Earth with his trident. Leo stood with Hephaestus, shooting Greek fire at her.
"YOU CANNOT DEFEAT ME!" roared Gaia, but Athena had other ideas. She brought down her Aegis on Gaia's head, who crumpled, and dissolved into the earth. Gaia was gone. It was over.
Leo turned to see Annabeth, standing at the side of the stage, looking a little battered, but alive.
"Annabeth? Oh Gods Annabeth! I thought, well, Wise Girl don't you ever scare me like that again!" Percy ran to her, despite how tired he must've been, and tackled her in a hug.
They stayed there for a while, and Leo couldn't help smiling. She explained how she had woken up just as the fighting had began, but was weak and could do nothing, much to her dismay, to help. She would've been in serious danger, if Hazel's mist hadn't protected her from the falling debris.
Hades strode over, shadowed silently by Nico, and observed Annabeth and Percy with a look of approval.
"I do not yet feel like I made a mistake in giving you a second chance to live, Daughter of Athena. I realise that many of your kind regard me as somewhat of an evil-minded God, and I-" Hades coughed, "I was hoping that if you and Mr Jackson here were ever to have children of your own, you would let them know that I am not all bad." Annabeth turned the colour of the Ares Cabin's flag back at Camp Half-Blood, but managed to mumble a small "Thank you". With that, Hades walked back over to Persephone, who was currently arguing with her mother, Demeter over the best way to grow pumpkins. Annabeth looked straight at Nico.
"How did you do it?" she asked.
Nico replied with, "Do what?
"Nico, please," Annabeth laughed, "I'm a Daughter of Athena. Why on earth would Hades bring me back from the Underworld? You know his policies on that kind of stuff better than anyone!"
Nico frowned. There was no winning when your opposition was Annabeth.
"I may have reminded my father how his 'policies' weren't always the best," he mumbled. "I reminded him how Hazel had died and come back, and ended up saving the world. I might have also added that Athena would owe him, so apologise to her from me."
Leo was amazed. Annabeth's death had been devastating, but if anything, it was Nico's chance with Percy, and he had given that up for Percy's own happiness. Nico was a true hero. Annabeth, hugged Nico, her eyes shimmering. Percy joined in, and soon all the demigods were entwined in one big hero group hug.
Dionysus created a celebratory 'The Earth Isn't Destroyed' feast, and the gods, heroes and campers all sat in the amphitheatre talking and laughing whilst enjoying a huge array of food. There was everything imaginable on the huge buffet table, so Piper was tucking into a tofu burger and Percy was stuffing handfuls of blue popcorn into his mouth, with one arm around Annabeth. Soon, it became dark, so Hestia lit a huge bonfire at the centre of the stage, and they all sat around toasting marshmallows. Reyna and Nico took this opportunity to tell their story. They had eventually made it back to Camp Half Blood, after quite a few unexpected dips in the ocean, and landed right by Thalia's tree. It had taken a long time, as Nico had limited energy, but Reyna and the Coach had supported him throughout the journey. Coach Hedge had immediately rushed to Mellie, and was just in time to witness the birth of his baby satyr, who, Nico said, already had a baseball bat. The Romans had been just about to attack, but the sight of the Athena Parthenos on the hill halted them straight away. Reyna had run to her campers, and told them the whole story. Clarisse had approached Reyna, and the two had created a peace treaty. Octavian, had of course objected, but Reyna was known by all the cohorts as Praetor, and many had distrusted Octavian from the start. They left Octavian to be destroyed by the monsters he had formed 'alliances' with, and together, Nico and Reyna had led the two camps to Athens, with the help of the gods, who were now back to their former selves.
The war was finally over, and Zeus transported the campers back to their camps. Reyna, Nico, Percy, Annabeth, Piper, Jason, Hazel, Frank and Leo made their way back to the Argo II, and the gods followed.
"My heroes," began Hera, "You all deserve special credit for what you have accomplished on your quest. You have saved Olympus, and we are truly grateful."
Each of the gods individually thanked the heroes, then made their way back to Olympus. The demigods were left with their first moment of peace in a long time and spent the next few hours hanging out like mortal teenagers.
While the rest of the demigods were chatting in the mess room, Leo went to Nico's cabin. He knocked, and walked into the room.
"What do you want Valdez?" asked Nico.
"I just, well, I wanted to tell you Nico, that was really brave what you did back there. I don't know if I could've done anything like that, and I just hope you're okay."
Gods, Leo was awful at this, but he was worried about the kid. He guessed Nico probably realised he knew his secret, so didn't bother making it more awkward by bringing it up. Nico surprised him though, by laughing.
"I realised I loved the Percy that loved Annabeth, and with no Annabeth for that Percy to love, there would be no Percy. Those two belong together, and I'm cool with that."
But Leo hadn't finished, "That's good, Nico, but I also think you should know that you're not
alone, loads of other demigods at Camp Half-Blood and Camp Jupiter are gay, and-"
"Get out, Valdez."
Leo backed out of the room quickly and began making his way to the mess hall to join the others, but he could've sworn he saw Nico give a small smile before he left.
"So, what do we do now?" asked Leo, it seemed weird that they could do whatever they wanted now. The other demigods looked at each other, and smiled in agreement.
"Set sail for Ogygia, Leo."