AN: Last part, hooray! Thanks to all of you who have kept with this story all the way through, especially those of you who signed up for the alerts or added it to your favorites.
And a special thank you very much to all the great reviewers who consistently gave me feedback on each and every part, such as AnimalBuddy32, speedyteeny, Xover Queen, and Frenzi99 who reviewed the last part. You guys and your questions are awesome.
I shut the door and headed back to the living room. The only ones left were Paul, my mom and Nico, who was helping himself to the rest of the cookies. My mom handed him the plate. "Take them with you," she told him.
Nico looked surprised and grabbed the plate as he stood up. He started to walk into my room. "Hey, the front door's this way," I told him, jerking my thumb over my shoulder.
"Fire escape's this way," Nico said as he pointed ahead of him. Then he stopped, turned around and looked in my mom's direction. "You let me stay here, and the cake, and the cookies…" he mumbled awkwardly, as he scuffed his foot against the carpet, "thanks."
My mom smiled. "Anytime you want to come back, Nico," she said, "the fire escape is always open."
Nico nodded his head then jerked it at me to show that he wanted to talk alone. I braced myself and walked with him into my room. He set the plate on my dresser, and stuffed six of the cookies into a pocket of his jacket.
"Take it easy," I said. "They're not going anywhere."
"I am,' Nico said defensively. "And I don't know when I'll see cookies again. Especially homemade ones that are still warm and soft..." he looked at the last one a little wistfully as he pocketed it with the rest. Then he turned to me, all business, and asked, "Well? Will you do it?"
I looked at the floor, then out the window. Anywhere but at him. I had been trying to avoid this conversation all day. "I don't know yet."
Nico sputtered. "You don't know? What are you waiting for?"
I rounded on him. "I don't know!" What did he think he was doing, dropping this on me last night and expecting me to have an answer today? "Let's just give it some time, okay?"
Nico looked at me like I was crazy. "Time for what? Does anyone else have a better idea? This is the only way I know of that you'll stand a chance." He folded his arms. "Jeez, you're the last person I thought would be afraid of a little water."
I gave a harsh laugh. His plan was about a lot more than a little water, and Nico knew it.
"Okay," he sighed. "Let me know when you do decide." He climbed out the window, then looked back in. "You know, maybe up here you can forget, but there are people out there dying. I watch them arrive in the Underworld, every day. You can do something about it, if you would just make the choice."
The choice. The prophecy. The war. I shut my eyes and said. "I'll let you know." When I opened them, Nico was gone from the fire escape. I climbed out the window and looked down at the stairs underneath that led down to the street. He was nowhere to be seen.
There were footsteps on the stairs above me, then Annabeth's voice asked, "Did Nico leave?"
"I guess so," I said. She came down the stairs and looked over the railing with me.
"You know, I don't like the idea of Nico wandering around on his own," she said. "There's all kinds of trouble he can get himself into."
"He's been out there for months now, and he's been fine," I said. "If you don't count the whole Minos and the Ghost King incident. I'd say his life has been relatively boring - at least compared to ours."
"I'm serious." She turned towards me. "He's only what, eleven? It's dangerous out there, especially now, especially for him. He could get killed, or worse."
I shrugged. "If that's how you feel, then you tell him that." Nico was going to do what he wants.
Annabeth looked back down the fire escape. "Nico's already had an older sister. I don't think he's looking for another."
I glanced at her. "What does that mean?"
"Nothing. I just think he should be at camp right now."
I rolled my eyes, "He said it himself. He doesn't fit in there. Hades doesn't even have a cabin."
Annabeth shrugged. "He can use the Hermes cabin. That's what it's there for. For travelers and visitors."
"Right," I said sarcastically. "Because staying in the Hermes cabin has worked so well at keeping kids out of trouble in the past."
Annabeth flinched and didn't say anything else. There was a long, uncomfortable pause while we fidgeted and didn't look at each other. I felt guilty, I hadn't meant to bring up Luke. And I definitely hadn't wanted to hurt her. I risked a glance out of the corner of my eye. She had her arms wrapped around her and was bent over the rail staring fixedly at something down below like she was fighting back tears. She was wearing a really old, faded blue shirt of mine and, even though it fit me just fine, just then when she was wearing it she seemed very small. Looking at her, I wanted to take it all back, every word, but I had no idea what I could say.
"Look-" I started at the same time Annabeth said, "What was Rachel doing here?"
That brought me up short. "What?"
Annabeth made a face and turned towards me. "Rachel. Mortal girl, with red hair and clothes that look like she's lost a paintball tournament? She was in your apartment when we got here."
"Oh," I said, "right. We had gone to a movie earlier. We were on our way back when Arachne showed up. I asked her to tell my mom where I was."
Annabeth raised her eyebrows. I shot her a look. "What?"
She shook her head. "Nothing."
I didn't like that she was making a big deal out of this. "It was just a movie, all right? I wanted out of the apartment, and she asked, so I went. That's all."
She shrugged. "Fine," she said airily. "It's not like it really matters to me."
I looked away. "That didn't stop you from asking," I muttered.
Annabeth ignored me. A couple of blocks away, an alarm went off. The fire escape was starting to feel uncomfortably warm in the heat, even though the sun was starting to sink behind the buildings. I scratched my elbow, looked up at the roof, and wondered how Blackjack was doing.
Beside me, Annabeth shifted. Her foot bumped a canvas bag sitting in the corner, and that reminded me. "What are you here for, anyway? Blackjack said you were coming to see me."
She bent down and grabbed the bag. "We were. Chiron has some reports that he wants you to read. He says that it's important to keep us informed while we're gone." She took out a stack of papers out of the bag and dropped them into my hands. "He asked me to bring you the first set."
I groaned. "Like I wasn't going to have enough homework this year."
Annabeth zipped up her bag. I caught a glimpse of the laptop Deadalus had given her resting inside it. "Get used to it," she said shortly. "The war has started, and I can guarantee that Kronos isn't just sitting around worrying about memorizing the Bill of Rights." She frowned. "Camp was attacked, Percy. It was almost invaded. We can't wait for them to try it again."
I glanced down at stack of papers. Right on top was a report from Grover, detailing how he was trying to train the other satyrs to use Panic, but that there was no luck, yet. I suddenly really missed that satyr. I wanted to talk to my best friend. I thought about what Nico had said, about more people showing up in the Underworld, and realized that she was right. Kronos wasn't going to wait until next summer, and neither could we.
I looked back up at her, "Anything else?"
She scrunched up her nose. "Mr. D said, and I quote, 'If Peter Johnson loses any of this sensitive information and it falls into enemy hands, I will personally see to it that he spends the rest of his life thinking he is a fruit bat.'"
I reached through the window and carefully placed the papers on my desk where they wouldn't blow away. "Thanks for letting me know," I said.
"Yeah, well, you're slightly more useful to us when you're in your right mind. However little that is."
I chose to ignore that. My attention was caught by something else she was holding. "Is that my school project?" She was holding my old model of the Washington Monument made out of sugar cubes. It was in two pieces now, and the bottom half was almost tipped over. Parts of smashed sugar cubes lay all around it inside the box.
Annabeth glanced down at it, too. "Your mom gave it to us. Tyson said we should give it to Blackjack, because he was expecting it." She nudged the bottom part with her finger and it fell over. "Of course, when we brought it to him, we found out he didn't want it, after all. Something to do with it being covered in glue." She looked up at me.
I ran my hand through my hair. "I forgot about the glue." Whoops. "Oh man, he's going to make me pay for that one. I'm going to owe him sugar cubes until I'm forty."
Annabeth shook her head. "We cleaned your mom out of all the sugar she had in the apartment. Tyson's up there now smoothing things over. And it's Blackjack, so he'll forgive you." She looked down at her watch. "I wasn't planning on this taking so long. I have to go, or I'm going to be late getting home."
"You're going back to San Francisco," I said. To look for Luke, I thought.
She lifted her chin and looked me in the eye. "There's a lot I can do there. Someone needs to gather intel about what's going on with Mt. Tam."
That wasn't her only reason. I tried to find something else to talk about. "And you're taking Blackjack there?" I said angrily. Taking my pegasus, at least, I could still get mad about.
Annabeth blinked. "No, you idiot," she snapped. "I'm flying there. Out of JFK. On an airplane."
I hadn't thought of that. "Oh," was all I could find to say.
"Yeah, that stupid feeling you have right now? Go with it." Annabeth scoffed. Then her mouth formed a small smirk. "Turns out traveling across the country is a lot easier without you."
"Whatever," I rolled my eyes. "You know you wanted me to come along."
"Oh, and you know you wanted to come," she said. "I couldn't have stopped you." The flower box on the other side of the fire escape had her attention right now. She stared at it unhappily for a couple of seconds, then snapped to attention and swung her bag over her shoulder. "I'd better go."
She had climbed halfway back through the window into my room when I grabbed hold of her arm. "Hey." She looked up at me with wide grey eyes.
"Watch your back there," I told her. "No matter what, San Francisco's not the safest place to be right now."
She nodded and pulled her arm away. "You too. You're not exactly low profile, you know." She swung the rest of the way into the room.
"I'd say I'd call if I needed help, but-"
She interrupted. "Write me. Or Iris Message. Chiron's bound to have a mission for us soon." She started for the door.
I called out something a little stupid like, "Till the next raid, then," and watched as she waved goodbye and headed into the hall. I could hear the sound of her voice as she talked to my mom and Paul, and then the door closing as she left the apartment.
It wasn't long before Tyson made his way down from the roof. There was a familiar looking pearl dwarfed in his massive hands. "Are you leaving me too, buddy?" I asked.
Tyson nodded. "Daddy needs me to help. Lots of fighting in his kingdom. They need a lot of swords."
I was a little jealous of him, and not just because he got to visit Poseidon's undersea palace, which I had heard was awesome. At least Tyson knew his part in the war, knew what he had to do and who he had to be. And he could do it too. The weapons Tyson made were amazing, and had saved my life more than once. He didn't have to worry about everyone depending on him to do something completely impossible. All he had to do was stay in the forge and keep cranking out those swords.
Tyson picked up on my mood. "Maybe I can come back later to visit."
"Yeah," I said, still distracted, "that would be great."
"And maybe we can play Monopoly."
"Sure. Whatever you want."
"Maybe next time I will let you win."
Wait. I blinked. What? I turned around on him and raised my eyebrows. "Tyson, are you giving me trash talk?"
Tyson had on a grin that stretched the entire width of his face. "You lost so fast!" he howled gleefully, clapping his hands together. "And I had all your money!"
"Yeah," I admitted, trying to save face. "Well, you just wait until next time, buddy. Once I get my hands of Boardwalk and Park Place, I'll be unstoppable."
Tyson shook his head still smiling. He bent down and put his hand on my shoulder. "It is not Boardwalk that is important," he said like he was imparting great words of wisdom. "It is the Marvin Gardens." Then he crushed the pearl in his hand and disappeared in a sea breeze.
It was a while before I went inside again. As I made my way through my room and into the hallway the walls seemed to echo with my footsteps. The place seemed so empty. My feet squished as I came to the carpet outside of the bathroom, still slightly wet from the battle, and I took another look inside. Wow. Even after we had cleaned up in there, it was still a disaster.
When you survive long enough as a demigod, you get used to your life being in danger and you and your friends almost dying. So I don't know why looking at the bathroom made me so mad, except, well this was the first time that I could remember where the monsters had attacked me in my home.
I had always been safe at home, and I knew that made me one of the lucky ones. School was a deathtrap, walking the streets was walking to almost certain disaster, and chances were that the little old lady on the other side of the bus wanted to remove my kidneys as much as she wanted to talk about her visit to the doctor. But when I had been in my apartment, in my room, with my mom, I had never felt afraid or in danger; sometimes I even felt normal.
The door to the bathroom sagged a little more in its frame while I watched. Not anymore, I guess. If it could happen here, it could happen anywhere. I had almost died in that tub. Annabeth could have died in that alleyway if I hadn't just happened to be there to help.
The TV in the living room turned on so I headed that way to check it out. Paul was seated in a chair and was holding the remote, flicking through the channels before settling on a baseball game. I sprawled out on the couch and joined him. I kept my face turned towards the TV, but my thoughts were turned to something else.
Annabeth. Nico and Tyson and me. All the others at Camp Half-Blood. We were all spread out now, and that seemed like a very bad idea. What Annabeth had said about Kronos had been true. He was going to keep attacking and gathering his forces, and you could bet he wasn't letting them just run around the country. They were all cozied up on the Princess Andromeda, the giant cruise ship of misery, while we were all alone and vulnerable, practically begging to be picked off one by one.
"So you never did tell me," Paul said, breaking into my thoughts as a commercial came on. He turned down the sound on the TV. "What was the real story behind that fire bombing cheerleader?" It may take a little more to completely convince him that the gods were real, but at least he was willing to trust us and play along until then. Paul was a good guy.
It took me a minute to remember what he was talking about. "An empousa," I said, watching his face as he registered the word, "she and her friend were sent to bring me in." Or kill me, either way would have worked.
"I see," Paul said, swallowing hard. After a minute he added, "You will tell me if any more of my students are mythological monsters, I hope?"
"Sure," I said, a little surprised. I hesitated a second, and then added, "But you should probably know that it isn't the students that normally turn out to be the monsters. It's the teachers." I decided to turn back to the commercials as that revelation washed over him.
But Paul was already nodding and turning the sound back up. "In that case," he said as the game came back on, "I've got a few colleagues you might want to check out."
I nodded to show that I heard, and thought of the others again. Did things like that constantly happen to them, or was it just me? Did Clarisse ever look up during class and decide that she had better take out her chemistry teacher? Did Beckendorf ever find out the janitor knew a little bit too much about ancient weapons? What were the chances I would see them at camp next summer? Probably a lot less than they were last year.
I knew Annabeth was going to have a hard time. Eight months ago she would have given anything to avoid living in San Francisco, and now she was insisting on it. I could feel the frustration building up in me again. She never listened. She was completely blinded to the situation, and convinced that she was right. She couldn't accept that I might have a better handle on things for once, and she was obsessed because of what her stupid prophecy had told her.
At least we would be keeping in touch a little more than we usually do. Chiron's stack of papers on my desk proved that. I wondered if he was going to send out pop quizzes to make sure they got read. Question 1: Where are Kronos' forces currently located? Question 2: Besides maiming, murder and mayhem, what is their objective when they reach their destination?
A loud thud came from the bathroom and I jumped to my feet. If I craned my neck, I could just see that the door had finally fallen and now lay on the bathroom floor. That was all it had been. Signaling to Paul that everything was alright, I settled back down on the couch, and tried to continue to feel angry at Annabeth.
I couldn't. And then I realized I shouldn't. If the second Titan war had really started, then we were in more danger than ever, and I found all those conversations with Annabeth, even the ones where we yelled or she insulted me or we had ended up not speaking to one another, to be kind of important, some of the most valuable things I had. And we all needed to be united now, even if we weren't together.
The baseball game got steadily blurrier as my eyelids drooped and I smothered a yawn. It was still early, but it had been a really long day. I checked my pocket one more time for Riptide, and then closed my eyes.
The truth was that stuff like this happened to us all the time. Being a demigod was hard and dangerous enough on a good day. This Titan war was just going to make things that much more difficult for half-bloods everywhere, and that wasn't right. It needed to end, and soon. That was one of two thoughts I held onto as I fell asleep. That we needed to win, and that we needed to do it soon. The other was, what would I risk by getting out of bed tomorrow?
AN: The end. Questions? Comments? Let me know in a review or with a message. Thank you again for reading!