"Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." (Dr. Seuss)
He turns to Hades. "Lord and uncle," he says, formal as the first time they met, "you used to like threatening to kill me."
"Water under the bridge, Jackson," says Hades, arching a black eyebrow as the rest of the Olympians fall silent. "You've earned immortality a few times over."
"But I never asked for it."
Poseidon steps forward, putting a hand on his son's shoulder. "Percy…"
"And those who try to change their fates will find that only death awaits." Percy shakes his head. "I'm tired, dad. I didn't want to live this long."
"You can't die now," cries Clio, bolting free from the cluster of Olympians. "We just won. You're supposed to tell everyone how things are supposed to be. You're supposed to share all the myths and the legends and you're supposed to teach me how to be a hero. I don't want to be the only hero left. Percy, I'm just a kid, I don't know how to do all this."
He steps away from his father's firm grip and opens his arms to her. She throws her arms around him, and he holds her close while she tries to stifle a round of sobs, stroking her hair and brushing away the tears in her eyes. "You don't need me for that. You'll remake the world the way you want it to be. You'll have your own stories to share. And you're already a great hero."
"You're the only other hero left," she says miserably. "I don't want to be alone."
"You won't be for long," he says, giving the Olympians a look that's basically You're going to get back to that making heroes thing pretty fast, right?, to which most of them nod awkwardly. Hera rolls her eyes but says nothing. "So, uh. Don't think we're the last of the old heroes. You'll be the first of the new ones."
"Percy Jackson," rumbles Zeus, "are you misquoting Star Wars at my great-great-great-granddaughter?"
"Okay," Percy admits with a small smile, "there are a couple old stories that need to rerun on Hephaestus TV. But the rest you'll make on your own."
She laughs a little brokenly, and pulls away. "I'm going to miss you," she sniffles. "I'm going to miss you so much."
He takes her face in his hands and kisses her on the forehead, the most appropriate blessing he can think of. "You'll be fine," he promises. "You're strong. The world you'll build will be wonderful." He turns back to the Lord of the Dead. "Uncle."
Hades regards him thoughtfully, but for once, his black eyes are almost soft. "It is not within my power to remove your curse," he notes. "The power to grant immortality is reserved for the whole of the Olympian Council, and that immortality can only be lifted by the whole of the Olympian Council."
Percy looks at the assembled gods. "Can you start voting on that?"
"This is ridiculous," huffs Demeter. "With all Percy Jackson has done, I certainly don't want him dying on us." A murmur of assent runs through the crowd; Ares bellows "Hear hear!" before Artemis elbows him in the gut.
To Percy's surprise, it's Aphrodite's voice that cuts through the crowd. Somehow, her centuries of imprisonment have made her lovelier; there's a new quiet grace to her that Percy remembers from a month on Ogygia, long ago, and her words are ringing and confident. "I'll approve your request," she says. When Percy looks at her, her skin is tanned and her hair is the color of honey, curling around her shoulders. Her eyes are the color of stormclouds rolling towards the sea. His face must be an open book, because Clio takes his hand in hers and squeezes reassuringly, but he can still feel his heart breaking with every movement the goddess makes. "There's someone who's been looking for you in Elysium for far too long."
"Oh," whispers Athena.
He nods at both of them, and the rest of the Olympians fall silent.
Athena clears her throat and speaks again, this time more loudly. "If Kronos had not forced this on him, we would have let him wish for immortality. And if his wish, now, is to die…"
"Will anyone object to granting that wish now?" asks Aphrodite. Ares looks like he's about to protest losing the chance to rag on Percy for eternity, but she flashes some extra leg at him and he goes red and quiet. No one else objects.
"Then mortality is yours," says Poseidon his voice breaking like waves on the beach. As his arms fold around his son, Percy feels the same soft sea-breeze, smiling warmth that he knew as a baby in New York City. He relaxes completely into that hug, and, enveloped in its love, doesn't flinch when a rush of power sweeps through him. It calls forth an infinite number of microscopic changes; his body thaws out of two hundred years of unchangingness, and immortality is washed out of every cell of him. When that tide ebbs, taking the old curse with it, he doesn't feel any weaker. He just feels… like himself, for the first time in far too long.
"Dad…" There are so many things that could be said. That he hopes his dad is proud. That he still feels bad for littering at the beach when he was six. That he's sorry to leave like this, but there's something calling him off on another journey. So he hugs his father as tightly as he can, committing the smell of the sea and feeling of a father's love to memory for the trip west of the west. "Thanks dad."
And then he turns to his uncle once again.
"I'm ready," he says.
The Lord of the Dead pulls a single golden key from his robes. Percy has just enough time to smile at the thought of it, to remember an adventure from a long time ago, before the key brushes against his skin, and the scene changes.
"Fancy seeing you again," says Charon, stuffing a distinctly rumpled looking narcissus into a button hole on his wrinkled, expensive suit.
"It should be the last time," Percy smiles, flipping him a drachma and stepping into the elevator. He takes the familiar journey across the river to the long lines, petting Cerberus along the way. To his surprise, the lines part before him, and there, sitting at the judges' table, are the three first judges of the dead.
"Elysium," says Aeacus.
"Elysium," says Radamanthus.
"Bah," glowers Minos, but Radamanthus thwaps him smartly on the head until he squeaks out "Elysium, Elysium!"
"Unless," adds Aeacus, "you'd like to try for the Isles of the Blest."
He shakes his head. "I'm good, guys."
"Well then," pronounces Radamanthus, smacking an official-looking stamp on an official-looking piece of paper. "Percy Jackson, Elysium. Next!"
Percy knows the way to the high walls of the Elysian Fields on his own, but the three Furies themselves escort him. "Though before you go, sweetie," says Alecto, pausing at the gate, "I have something for you." She holds it out. It's a math book.
"Mrs. Dodds," says Percy, "you shouldn't have. Really. You shouldn't have." But she winks at him and flips through it, and when he sees that the answers are all filled in, he has to laugh; the Furies may spend a lot of time handing out punishment, but they still know a few things about paradise, and he guesses it's appropriate to have had her with him at the start and the finish of things. He takes the book from her and steps into the Elysian Fields.
There's a small crowd waiting for him, some faces familiar and others apparently just curious about the new arrival. But from the minute that he passes through the gate, he has eyes for one person only.
"Hey, Seaweed Brain," says Annabeth. "What kept you?"