The Flowers That You Pick
After the Twelve Olympians repaired their thrones if they needed fixing, checked to see if everything in their domain was satisfactory and that there were no immediate casualties that needed to be seen to, a cavalier like atmosphere on Mount Olympus reigned. The immortals wandered through the huge crowds that had gathered, mingling with demigods, satyrs, dryads and nymphs alike as all ate and drank nectar and ambrosia, which had an added benefit of healing those who had fought.
Many tearful reunions were witnessed, such as when Juniper and Grover ran to each other, before G-Man broke down over the number of nature spirits that had been lost. As Lieutenant of the Hunt, Thalia almost collapsed with relief when she found out that most of the Hunters had survived, though there were a few who had serious injuries and some had fallen in battle. The children of Ares had uncharacteristic looks of guilt and shame on their faces as they attempted to apologise for their pride, before being accepted into heartfelt hugs from the other campers. Those that had fought on the other side stood alone, looking uncomfortable until a sibling greeted them warmly and they were accepted back into the fold. There was still awkwardness and a difference of opinion, but it was a start.
Godly parents carefully checked each and every one of their children, the usually concealed worry plain to see on their faces and those that had been unclaimed suddenly found themselves with a large number of siblings. The unhappy and angry expressions they bore finally melted away, revealing carefree expressions that Percy had not seen adorn their visage for a long time.
Many people came to congratulate the son of Poseidon, with some of the lesser and slightly more down to earth Gods taking Percy aside to thank him quietly over his treatment of their children, regardless of what side they were on. The only Big Twelve immortal that he spoke to was Hades, who thanked him for gaining respect in the eyes of his siblings. But even he, like the rest of the Big Twelve, held a knowing glint in his eyes as he saw him and several times Percy would see the other Gods and Goddesses watching him from the corner of his eye, smirking as if they knew something he didn't.
Talking of Gods, Percy ducked as he caught a glimpse of a tall, black haired man with electric blue eyes looming over the crowd, scanning the people around him, searching for someone. Quickly, the Son of Poseidon pushed his way past several Satyrs that were slightly tipsy, judging by their dance moves and insistence on flirting with the less than amused Hunters. Though none had retaliated violently. Yet. But Percy didn't concern himself with the Satyrs, and didn't bother to apologise in his desperation to escape. He was in no mood to play nice and meet Heracles, the apparent greatest hero of them all.
He stepped outside the throne room gratefully relishing the cool breeze and picked a path which led away from the noise and the light, coming to a halt as he spied a balcony which overlooked Mount Olympus.
He wanted peace.
He needed to see the stars.
The Son of Poseidon stood in front of the railings which marked the edge of the balcony, his back unusually ram rod straight as he tilted his head back, directing his gaze to the night sky, letting his eyes wander across the constellations.
"So I see you didn't want to speak to Heracles." A voice spoke from behind him, disrupting him from his attempt to find some kind of solace in all of the chaos that his life had suddenly become.
"No milady," Percy confirmed, turning to look round at Artemis as she came to halt beside him. He made a low bow, which the Goddess acknowledged with a wave of his hand before resuming his position star gazing.
He was surprised to see the Maiden Goddess here; Percy expected that she would see to her Hunters first, perhaps singling out potential new recruits for the Hunt from demigods that had their innocence torn from them far too soon. He understood that she might have wanted to see the stars, but he definitely didn't predict that she would willingly share the sight with him, a boy. Or man, as she had taken to calling him after their last encounter.
"And why doesn't the Hero of Olympus want to meet the Patron of Heroes?"
"Because, he may be a God, but he is no hero." Percy commented bitterly, finding the anger burning within him at the mention of the Patron of Heroes giving him enough confidence to lift his head and stare resolutely into silver grey irises. "Neither of us were. We are both credited for events as if we completed them single handedly: We did not. "
"Why do you not think that you are a hero, Perseus?" Artemis queried. She cocked her head to the side and the son of Poseidon found it was eerie to see a thoughtful, yet calculating expression on a child's face.
"Because if I was..." Percy trailed off and once more he tilted his head back to gaze upon the Huntress' constellation as he struggled to order his thoughts in a coherent way, so that the immortal beside him could understand. "If I was a hero, a true hero, then less people would have suffered. If I had been stronger... Smarter... faster, then I would have worked out what Beckendorf was planning and took him with me, saving him. I would have worked out a way to take Calypso with me off that cursed island. I would have saved Annabeth from the Manticore and prevented Bianca and Zoe from dying-"
Suddenly the moonlight solidified and became harsher and there was a loud CRACK as Artemis slapped him across the face. The son of Poseidon was sure that if he didn't have the curse of Achilles, his jaw would have been broken and dislocated, with most of his teeth falling out from the blow.
"Don't you dare take Zoe's brave sacrifice away from her!" The Goddess of the Hunt shouted angrily, holding herself unnaturally still. The silver light she naturally emitted intensified and began to quiver, the light beginning to hurt Percy's mortal eyes as it betrayed the Goddess' rage. "She took the quest knowing her fate, demonstrating true bravery like a real hero, being greater than Jason, Orion, the first Perseus, or Heracles. Do not lessen her actions now!"
"Exactly!" Percy exclaimed, his eyes shining with unshed tears from the pent up emotion from years of pain and suffering that was finally being freed. "She's the hero of the quest issued to rescue you from Atlas which I received the credit for. Silena was the hero who brought the Ares Cabin to fight, who inspired Clarisse to fight the Drakon, earning Ares' blessing. Nico was the one to bring honour and acceptance to Hades, proudly showcasing that even those of the Underworld could be heroes and that they shouldn't be outcasts. Luke - Luke was the one to defeat Kronos, not I!"
Percy was breathing heavily now, but he could not, would not stop, for it needed to be said. It had all been bottled up inside him for too long and now it flowed loose like a torrent of water, smashing away all of the defences that he had built up over the years in order to function as the leader and hero that camp desperately wanted him to be. He reached out and clenched the balcony rail tight, gaining a faint sense of satisfaction as a hairline crack appeared.
"There are children lying broken and dead down in the rubble, who were fighting their parents' war and not their own, yet I am the one who is receiving acclaim for their actions! They are the heroes, not me. I did my duty because of that damn prophecy and that if I didn't, then Thalia, or Nico would be forced to complete it, and they do not deserve to suffer any more. But they, those children down there; they fought because they thought it was the right thing to do. Because they believed - they believed that it didn't matter if they lost their lives, because it would be worth it. Olympus, the parents that never paid enough attention to them because of some petty rules, was worth it. That their stupid, immortal lives meant more than their own."
The son of Poseidon could taste the disgust that hung in the air after his final sentence as he took in great, shuddering gasps of air. A tear trickled down his cheek as he thought of the many that had fallen in battle; he only had the honour of calling some of them his friends, but he wished that he had made the effort to get to know the other Demigods, Satyrs and countless nature spirits. The courage that he had felt only seconds before had disappeared and now he refused to meet the Goddess' eyes; after his outburst, he was sure that he was going to be turned into a jackalope for his insolence.
"It's just," he said quietly, the fight going out of him now that he accepted his fate. He needed to get the words out, to be able to clear the air. Otherwise he would never be able to begin the process of healing, even if he would be stuck as a flying rabbit at the time. "It's not fair. It's not fair that it's always the best people that get the worst luck. Monsters die and eventually they reform, getting to live a thousand lifetimes. Humans die and if we're lucky, we will get into Elysium. If we're brave, we would reach the Isle of the Blest. But if we are deemed unworthy, if we are deemed average, as if that was a terrible thing, then eternity is spent wandering in the Fields of Asphodel, forever doomed in your attempts to remember who you are."
The Moon Goddess was strangely silent after Percy finished. He gulped as he felt the silence after his speech increase, idly wondering if she was doing it on purpose to gain satisfaction in seeing him squirm before charging him with rudeness and ill manners and transforming him into a jackalope.
"Tell me Perseus," Artemis said suddenly, her voice unusually tight, "If you walked through a meadow, which flowers would you pick?"
Percy stared at her for a moment, frowning in confusion. His brain shuddered to a halt as he failed to comprehend the abrupt change in topic and his mouth dropped open slightly. The goddess saw this reaction and smirked slightly.
"I might not be as... vocal with my affirmation towards plants as Aunt Demeter and Persephone are, but I am still the Goddess of the Wild. Now answer my question; if you walked through a meadow, which flowers would you pick?"
Percy felt uncomfortable now. He had a hard time expressing his emotions and thoughts at the best of times, having a heart to heart chat with the man hating Goddess made it infinitely harder. He parted his lips to answer, only to find his mouth unexpectedly dry. He swallowed and this time, when he attempted to speak he succeeded.
"The best ones."
Unexpectedly, the Goddess of Archery turned away from Percy, and lifted her face to the night sky, the stars casting their silvery glow on her. He watched with a gaze full of regret as her eyes automatically went to the constellation almost directly above them and softened slightly.
"Exactly," she whispered smiling sadly at the Huntress. "They were chosen over the others because they had surpassed them. Those that remain were no less beautiful, but they simply need a little more time to produce a blossom that would be worthy to choose."
The Goddess of the Stars reached out with her left hand and smoothly twisted her wrist, encircling the constellation of the Huntress. To Percy's astonishment, the constellation grew small and as Artemis brought her hand towards her chest, the stars followed until eventually she cupped them in her hand.
Percy moved in towards the Goddess, making sure that their bodies didn't make contact as he stared at the remains of his friend.
"Zoe was a resilient woman. Most would be broken after what that monster Heracles did to her, but instead she sought me out and she thrived. Meeting you two millennia later, helping her to see that not all men are pigs, caused her to bloom into a flower that could intoxicate even the most heartless of men. Zoe knew her fate when she volunteered for the quest to save me from Atlas and the sky. The Fates ensured that her sacrificed would be honoured, and that she would not bear the humiliation of being picked by one who was unworthy."
The Goddess of the Hunt passed her right hand gently over her left; briefly touching the stars that continued to lie nestled in her hand before she sighed. Bringing her left hand to her mouth, she flattened her palm and exhaled softly and stared as the stars swirled and floated and grew through the invisible current back to their position in the night sky.
Percy immediately stepped back, resuming his original position as he stayed silent, giving the Goddess some time alone. When she turned to look at him, it was a little girl who had seen empires rise and fall for millennia named Artemis who gazed at him.
"I miss my Lieutenant Nightshade every day, but I do not question her death. She was chosen by the Fates and I know that she has achieved Elysium and that she is happy with how her life turned out. We both will not take that happiness away from her, or from the other heroes that have and will fall, Perseus."
Her gaze was unyielding as her eyes locked with his, silently demanding an answer. The son of Poseidon's throat had begun to constrict as Artemis had continued to speak and by the time she had finished he could barely take in a breath. He nodded slowly, the only action that he could take which indicated his (albeit unwilling) agreement due to emotions overwhelming him.
If Percy hadn't been watching her so carefully, he might have missed the relief that passed briefly across her silver orbs, before the Goddess of the Hunt let out a carefully controlled breath, her shields which she had let down due to Zoe already going back up.
Suddenly, ruining the newfound peace and understanding that was now shared between the demigod and the Goddess, lightning flashed across the night sky, promptly followed by a boom of thunder. Percy winced, wondering who exactly had made Zeus angry.
"The Council has been called. I hope you know what you are going to ask for; it's time for you to receive your reward." The Goddess of Virginity stated. She added, almost conversationally as if it wasn't such a big thing; "They expect you to accept their offer of immortality."
It all made sense now; the knowing glint in Hades' eyes as he thanked Percy by not excluding and judging his children, the smirks on the other Twelve's faces that were always present. Others would be proud, excited that they could live forever. But instead, Percy's stomach clenched and he had to force down the bile that rose in his throat as he thought of leaving his mother behind. His friends. Gods, Annabeth.
"Why are you telling me this?"
Artemis was silent and Percy thought she wouldn't answer his presumptuous question. To be honest, he was surprised that he hadn't been turned into a jackalope, but he supposed that it had been a long day for both of them. But eventually, before he offended her by zoning out completely, she spoke, her voice soft like the stars.
"You are right. Zoe was a hero and she never got the recognition, or acceptance she deserved. It's time to change that."
She began to walk away, back up the path and the son of Poseidon watched her go before he himself returned to the Throne Room, even if he was unwilling to do so. Stopping at the top, a few meters away from Percy, the stars seemed to gain in intensity and shine brighter as she prepared to teleport to the Throne room. Unexpectedly, she made a half turn, opening her mouth one last time.
"But you Percy… You are a hero as well. Because you didn't give five years of your life to save Olympus and Western civilization, plus achieve the accomplishments you have done for glory, or fame, or an act to achieve attention, or because it was a punishment ordered from the Gods."
"But I had -"
"No." Artemis rebutted firmly, turning around to face him fully as her form continued to glow brighter. Wisely, the son of Poseidon shut his mouth, his retort dying in his throat as he beheld the look in her eyes. Her eyes showed the millennia that she had been alive for, so unnatural in a child's body and it gave Percy shivers down his spine. "You did it to save others the pain, to lessen their burden. And that makes you the greatest hero of them all."
Percy turned away and shut his eyes as a silver white blinding flash took place. After the light faded, he opened them.
She was gone.
Percy breathed deeply, before searching out the Huntress one last time with renewed (albeit reluctant) recognition and understanding, with Artemis' words on her rebounding in his head. With shock, he realised that she had used his preferred name and an unexpected feeling of pride and honour overcame him briefly.
Zoe Nightshade, like Luke, Ethan and perhaps even Silena, never felt accepted because of the actions of their parents. They were all heroes. It was time everybody knew that.
Yes, Percy Jackson, Hero of Olympus knew what he was going to wish for.