Part Twenty-One:

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Part Twenty-One:

Charlie really, desperately, wanted to cry. Michael and Alex already had tears streaming down their faces but Charlie couldn't even produce a small sob. His throat was choked up, but there were no tears leaking down his face like there should've been.

"C'mon, guys." Sammy said. He was the only one besides Charlie who wasn't crying. His face held a pained expression and his voice was slightly shaky, but other than that, there was no sign that he was crying or was going to. "Lets get to land. We'll burn a shroud in honour of Zoe. If it wasn't for her, then we wouldn't be here right now. She gave her life for this quest."

"I agree." Michael sniffed, wiping away a few tears. "Lets not dwell on this. Demigods die everyday, right?" He picked up Alex's oar since she was still crying and Charlie took the other one while Sammy moved over to comfort Alex.

Yet in the back of his mind, something didn't feel right to Charlie. Sure, demigods died young all the time, but this death was different. He just wasn't sure whether it was different in a good or bad way.

•••

"We shouldn't be worried." Percy said, taking his wife's hand in his. They sat at the large kitchen table in the house that the Hephaestus cabin had built them at Camp Half-Blood. "It's only been a week and remember what Athena and Poseidon told us."

"I know, but when you've been taking care of a child for over fourteen years, they just don't ever leave your mind." Annabeth sighed.

"Yeah, but Zoe is different. She's a strong girl. We both knew when she was sent on the quest that she wouldn't be back for a while." Percy gave Annabeth a quick peck on the lips.

"Mum! Dad! Come see what Ethan built!" Lily's voice echoed down the corridor.

"Coming sweetie!" Annabeth shouted. She stood up and was just about to move when someone knocked on the front door. "Can you go get that, Percy?"

"Sure thing." As Percy moved out of the room, Annabeth walked down the hallway towards the play room. Inside, Ethan and Lily had created a house out of lego bricks - big enough to fit both of them comfortably.

"Wow!" Annabeth cried, getting on her hands and knees to peer inside. "Where did you get all of this stuff?"

"Uncle Leo brought it!" Lily grinned.

"What she said." Ethan glanced at his sister, smirking.

"Since when did Leo--"

"BOO!" Someone screamed, and Annabeth jumped, crashing into the couch seated a foot away from her. Standing there was a man holding five buckets full to the brim with lego and two grinning kids trailing behind him.

"Leo Valdez!" Annabeth yelled, then gave him a slap across the cheek. "Don't do that to me again!"

Out from behind them, Calypso giggled. "Nice job Annabeth! I've been meaning to slap him for a while now!"

"Thanks Caly!" Annabeth grinned, giving her friend a high-five.

"Annabeth." A voice choked. It sounded hoarse and scratchy, like the person had been crying. When Annabeth turned around she saw that Percy was standing in the doorway with the god Hermes beside him.

"Annabeth Jackson." Hermes said. "Follow me."

As Annabeth walked out of the room with, she hissed into Percy's ear, "what's going on?" But Percy refused to answer until they had reached the kitchen.

"I'm sorry Mrs Jackson, but I've been asked to send a message to you. It's about your daughter." Hermes said.

Annabeth's throat closed up. "And it is?"

"I'm terribly sorry." Hermes took a deep breath, then read off the letter he was holding in his hand. "Michael Grace, Samuel Zhang and Alex and Charlie Valdez have asked me to inform you that Zoe Jackson fell in battle while saving her friends a few days ago."

For a moment Annabeth thought it was a joke. She glanced from Hermes to Percy, but by the saddened expressions filling their faces, she realised that this was no cruel joke.

With a sob, tears came pouring down her cheeks. "No." She murmured, falling into Percy's arms. "N - no, it can't be t - true."

"I am sorry for your loss." Hermes replied. "I'll give you two a minute."

Once he had left the room, Percy hugged Annabeth close to his body. "Hey, shh, it's alright." He soothed as she sobbed into his chest.

"No it's not!" Annabeth yelled, breaking away from Percy and letting all of her anger pour out. "Our daughter is dead, Perseus Jackson, and she's never coming back home! Once you get that into your walnut-sized brain, then you can come beg me to come back!"

She stormed out of the house and through Camp Half-Blood, making her way towards Half-Blood Hill, determined that she would not come back.

Ever.

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