First of all, no, this is NOT an April Fool's joke. It's the real thing. I'm going away tomorrow and won't be able to post this on my usual day, so as a special treat you all get it two days early! Hooray!
Second of all, make sure you read my note at the end for a bit of inside info on the sequel ;)
Alrighty! That being said, welcome to the end of this story! Kind of sad, isn't it? But regardless, this epilogue turned out exactly how I wanted it to. I think you guys are gonna like it!
Thanks to all of you who reviewed last week! Enjoy the big finish!
Take my hand tonight / One last time
Annabeth used to hate December.
She'd never cared for winter—the cold and the snow only ever served to make her job more difficult and unpleasant. And then there was the fact that life around her just seemed busier. She'd never really minded crowds, but the changing weather only seemed to aggravate the holiday shoppers and increase hostility. It was as though people who were cold on the outside felt the odd need to be cold on the inside as well. She preferred not to take jobs in December if she could help it—she typically found it more difficult to get close to people in the way she needed to when they were so busy. That unfortunately meant that she was left with desk work and a lot more time to kill—and with her lack of a social life, time to kill was never something she'd coveted.
But with a change of scenery and the abandonment of her former occupation, Annabeth realized that December wasn't really so bad. The streets in London were just as busy as the larger cities she'd visited in the past, but it hardly ever snowed and the temperature never reached the lows Langley was used to. She was able to enjoy the holiday decorations that had begun to spring up around the city without worrying about work or agitated crowds or anything of the sort. Things may have been hectic from an objective point of view, but for Annabeth she found it strangely peaceful. All things considered, just about anything could be called 'peaceful' when compared to her previous life.
Just over a month had passed since the night of the factory collapse in New York. Immediately following, Annabeth had decided to take Parker Grace's advice and leave the country. The CIA still had a warrant out for her arrest, and she knew that with or without Luke they wouldn't give up unless she disappeared completely. So that was what she did. She packed up the few belongings she had at hand and booked a one-way flight to London without looking back. She knew that she was leaving behind everything she'd ever known—her friends, her family, her job, her life. But as that life was one full of regrets and bad decisions, she found it surprisingly easy to let go of it. So much had changed in those few weeks that she was hardly the same person she'd been before the assignment that ended it all—the last assignment the CIA would ever give her. Even if it were an option, she didn't think settling back into her old life and job would have been possible for her. There were too many painful memories of promises that had been broken, lives that had been lost, opportunities that had been cast aside and trusts that had been shattered and buried like pieces of cracked glass. The life she'd known had been smashed into shards so small and brittle and scattered that she knew there would be no way for her to put them together again, to repair the person she used to be.
So instead, she decided to build a new life—a new her, using pieces of herself and pieces of the others she'd broken and mended along the way. She would forget the past and focus on the future, on the ending image she hoped to one day paint into the void where her reflection used to stand, so strong and proud and sure of a truth that turned out to be nothing but a fantasy. What mattered now wasn't retribution for the past, but attention to the present and hope for the future.
A small smile touched Annabeth's face as she hefted her grocery bags and pushed open the door of her building, striding into the entrance room. It felt good to settle into a new life, a new routine that didn't involve tricking and killing people like it was nothing at all. For once, she felt like someone that deserved to be normal—to have friends and to go shopping and to work and to live each day like the people she passed on the street, not to be a shadow of a person with a closet full of masks—of different faces for every day of the week. She wasn't Anna or Lauren or Dana or any of the other false names she'd given in her life. She was Annabeth Chase, daughter of convicted felon Adelyn Chase. She had a family of criminals—of good people she was proud to have met and sad to leave behind. And nothing would make her question that again.
The attendant at the front desk nodded to her as she made her way toward the elevator (Lift, she reminded herself; they call it a lift here), and she smiled in response, leaning around her armful of grocery bags to press the button. When it arrived, she stepped in and bumped the button for the third floor, waiting as the lift carried her upward. Arms getting tired, she stepped out into the hallway and walked as quickly as she could manage down the hall to her flat, unlocking the door and pushing it open with a sigh. A disgruntled voice greeted her almost immediately.
"You know, I think daytime TV here is even worse than back in the States."
Annabeth suppressed a giggle as she turned around, setting her grocery bags on the table beside the door and removing her coat. She glanced toward the couch as its occupant dropped the television remote on the floor with an over-exaggerated sigh and fixed her with a pointed look.
"This sucks," Percy said shortly.
Annabeth couldn't help but smile in sympathy. With a fractured ulna, two torn shoulder ligaments, a shattered kneecap, a tibia broken in three places, and a mess of colorful contusions, he was unfortunately confined to their flat for an indefinite period of at least a few months. He hated it and complained at regular ten-minute intervals throughout the day, but Annabeth was more grateful than anything. It was scary to think how close she'd come to losing him—and if that bullet that had torn his shoulder had struck just a few inches lower, she would have.
Percy narrowed his eyes. "Don't give me that look."
Annabeth blinked. "What look?" she asked curiously.
"That look," he said with a scowl. "Like I'm… a two-year-old trying to tie his shoes. I am not a helpless kid, you know. I can still take you."
She snorted in amusement and turned nonchalantly toward her grocery bags, beginning to go through the nearest one. "Still?" she scoffed. "Like you ever could?"
"Oh-ho, so that's how it's gonna be, huh?" Percy went on, humor in his voice. "Bring it on, Chase. Any time."
Annabeth twisted around and raised an eyebrow at him, mentally accepting the challenge. He wasn't getting off that couch anytime soon, so instead she strode across the room and rested her knee on the cushion beside his hip, leaning over him. Before he could guess her intention, she extended two fingers and pressed them sharply against his injured left shoulder, smirking when he yelled in pain and reached up to shove her arm away.
"Okay, okay!" he growled with a grimace. He glared at her and added, "Cheater."
She gave him an innocent smile. "It's not cheating to use your opponent's weakness against them. That's rule number—" But she promptly forgot which number it was when his hand slid under her jaw and he leaned up from the couch, his mouth colliding roughly with hers.
Suddenly Annabeth's skin warmed like it had been dipped in lava, her senses sharp and electric like a live wire. The kiss had a desperate feel—deep and hungry like indulging in it was the only way to stay alive. A heated desire twisted in the pit of her stomach, and though her breath was already shortened she forced her mouth harder against his, curving both hands behind his neck and pulling him toward her. She angled her body downward, pressing against Percy and forcing him back against the pillows behind him. He followed by reaching his good arm down and pulling her leg against his side, sliding his fingers along the inside of her thigh. Even through the fabric of her jeans she could feel the heat of his touch. She groaned breathlessly against his mouth and felt him grin in response.
She pressed her hands to his chest and fisted them in his shirt, wanting nothing more than to tear if off of him. Instead, she focused on the cool, airy feel of his breath, the strange, saltwater taste on his tongue—all the things that made her weak at the knees and had her heart pounding a mile a minute. The pressure of his grip disappeared from her leg and she felt his fingers brush her stomach, pushing aside the hem of her shirt as he slid his hand up the skin over her ribs. She let out a heavy breath as he turned his head to the side, leaning up to press his mouth into the crook of her neck.
"Now who's the cheater?" Annabeth said, her voice a husky whisper.
She felt Percy's breath soft and warm on her neck as he laughed. "It's not cheating to use your opponent's weakness against them," he repeated her earlier response, and she could hear the cocky smirk in his voice even before he pulled back and wiggled his eyebrows at her.
With all her willpower, Annabeth clucked her tongue and backed away, rising from the sofa and climbing to her feet. She shook her head and gave Percy a disapproving glare.
"Aw, come on," he said, propping himself up on his elbow and wincing at the strain to his shoulder. "Don't be like that."
She arched an eyebrow. "The doctor said to avoid physical activity. And that means all kinds of physical activity."
He huffed in annoyance, dropping back onto his back against the pillows. "What fun is that?" he complained dryly.
Annabeth shook her head with a small smile. As much as she wanted to agree with him, she knew it was in his best interest to stay as still as possible while his injuries healed. The quicker he was back on his feet, the happier they'd both be.
"Look, don't be too mad, okay?" she said, her tone softening. She allowed a hint of humor to enter her voice as she added, "I got you something that should help cheer you up." Percy raised an eyebrow skeptically, and Annabeth gave him a sly smile. "It should be here any minute, actually. And just so you know, I expect a full apology and heartfelt thank-you, because it wasn't—"
Miraculously, and almost as if on cue, the doorbell rang. Percy shot a curious glance at the door and Annabeth hid a smile as she strode toward it. She knew her body would block his view as she opened the door, which was all the better. The longer he waited in anticipation, the better the effect would be.
As she twisted the knob and pulled the door open, she immediately placed a finger to her lips. Their guest—a young woman two years older than Annabeth with dark hair cut short and styled into sharp, violet-tipped spikes—froze with her mouth open as she understood the message and remained silent. She grinned, a dimple forming at the tip of the black lightning bolt tattooed over her right cheekbone, and her bright blue eyes shone mirthful and excited. She reached up to cover her mouth with her hand, the silver chains on her wrist clinking against her black leather armband.
"Are you gonna tell me what's going on, or do you just like torturing me?" Percy demanded from behind Annabeth.
Annabeth sighed, her breath coming out a light laugh. "Both, actually," she answered. Then she spun around, stepping aside and holding both arms out toward the open doorway. "Surprise!" she cheered with a wide smile.
Percy's scowl vanished as his expression fell completely slack with shock. Then a crazy grin spread across his face, alighting his wide eyes, and he laughed in disbelief. "Thalia!" he yelled.
Thalia Grace laughed in response and shouted something unintelligible before launching herself into the room and all but tackling her cousin. When he grimaced and grunted in pain, she only laughed again and shook her head. "Look at you, Jackson," she said, waving a hand toward his general appearance. "I see you haven't changed at all. Still a walking magnet for trouble."
"Says the black sheep of the family," Percy pointed out, and Thalia shrugged. Then he looked at Annabeth and asked, "How'd you get in touch with her?"
"Former CIA, remember?" Annabeth said, raising an eyebrow. "Getting close to people is my specialty." It hadn't exactly been easy getting a hold of Thalia, given that her band was busy and well-known. But she'd managed—one of the few skills she'd retained from her old life. They'd met for lunch two days ago and hit it off rather well.
"Hey," Thalia said to her cousin, her expression turning serious as she sat down on the edge of the coffee table. "Annabeth told me what happened. It was quite the story." A small smile tugged at her mouth as she glanced between the two of them, but it quickly faded. "I wanted to say… I'm sorry about Nico. I know you were closer to him than I was. I can't imagine how hard that must've been." Percy seemed to tense a bit as his gaze dropped, eyes staring at something the others couldn't see. When he didn't reply, Thalia went on, "And also about my father." She breathed out sharply as a kind of scoff. "I can't believe he's blaming you for everything. I knew he was close-minded, but seriously? He's turning into a power-hungry tyrant." The smile returned to her face as she added, "But I'm glad you're here. And I guess I have him to thank for that."
Percy looked back up at her and smiled, and Annabeth couldn't help but mirror his expression, thinking of just how right and normal she was feeling.
"So you'd better get back on your feet," Thalia went on, her voice lightening, "because I'm so ready to give you the real London tour—the one they don't tell you about in travel magazines."
"I'd take you up on that now, if I could," Percy replied wryly. "I can't take five more months of this. I swear, one more day, and I'll be ready to burn these casts off."
Thalia laughed. "One thing at a time there, bud."
Percy grinned, and the easy look on his face gave Annabeth a warm, comfortable sort of feeling. It was nice that they could feel so safe and relaxed, nice not to have the threat of death or imprisonment constantly hanging over their shoulders. They could spend their days together like normal people do—watching TV or just killing time, instead of firing guns and running for their lives. She had a nagging feeling that one day, everything they'd left behind might catch up to them—drag them back into the shadows just when they thought they were safe in the light. But until that day came, in the light was where they would stay. Together, because that was what mattered most of all. They didn't need a past and they didn't need a future—just as long as they had a present, a here and now that held no threats or lies or broken promises. They would live each day at a time, working to build a new life that each of them could be proud of.
Annabeth had never been a romantic. She believed that anything of value in life had to be earned through hard work, through sweat and tears and minutes and hours and heartache and loss. And she and Percy had done that. They'd fought and they'd failed and they'd lied and they'd hurt and they'd come so close to breaking that Annabeth imagined she could feel the cracks on her skin, held together by the feeble ties she'd stitched in a last-ditch effort to keep everything from falling apart. But already she could feel herself becoming stronger, surer—made better by the things she'd overcome. The two of them had fought for each other. They'd lost so much along the way, and worked harder than ever before to keep the one thing they'd gained through it all.
And that was how Annabeth knew that it was real.
TA-DA! That's it! I'm really happy with the way this turned out. I think it's the right ending, you know? Exactly what I wanted. It doesn't beg a sequel, but it leaves it open at the same time. Just right, haha.
So as you know, I'm working on Book 2 as we speak. It's titled "Eagle Eye" and will take place a little over a year after this very epilogue. I just finalized the summary yesterday, so as a special thank-you gift I'm going to show it to you early! Here it is:
"AU. Sequel to Fire at Will. Percy and Annabeth have fled the country to escape Zeus' wrath. But when an assassin sent by the head of crime-ring Olympus lands Percy in the hospital, Annabeth and Thalia decide to return home to eliminate Zeus once and for all. With the help of allies old and new, Annabeth once again finds herself hunting down the most powerful criminal in the U.S."
Hopefully that'll give you guys something to look forward to! I know I'm excited about it, at least. Hopefully it'll be just as exciting as this story was. I'm adding another handful of new book characters, too. Should be a lot of fun! I don't know when I'll start posting it because I'm sort of working on like three stories simultaneously, but it shouldn't be too long. I'll put a note up on here when I do to let you know in case you're not following me.
And now that we're at the end, I want to say a huge THANK YOU to all of you—everyone who followed/favorited/read this, and especially all the regular reviewers. I don't always get a chance to respond to every review, but I love them all the same—you guys' taking time out for me makes me so happy and makes all the work I put into writing completely worth it. So thanks again so, so much for all the love! I hope you guys liked the ending, and I can't wait to get started on the sequel!
Thanks, everybody! Love you all! Later days!