I stumbled into my room. I stood in the foyer, dripping chocolate all over the carpet. Luckily, the hotel had great magical clean-up service. I remembered the first time I’d entered this room, the day I died falling off the Longfellow Bridge. I had stared in wonder at all the amenities—the kitchen, the library, the couch and big-screen TV, the big atrium with the starry night sky twinkling through the tree branches.
Now there were more photos on the mantel. One or two magically appeared every week. Some were old pictures of my family: my mom, Annabeth, even Uncle Randolph and his kids and wife during happier times. But there were also newer pictures—me with my friends from floor nineteen, a photo I’d taken with Blitz and Hearth when we were still homeless. We’d borrowed somebody’s camera to do a group selfie. How the Hotel Valhalla had retrieved that shot from the ether, I didn’t know. Maybe Heimdall kept a cloud library of all selfies ever taken.
For the first time, I realized that walking into this room felt like coming home. I might not live at the hotel forever. In fact, I’d just had lunch that afternoon at the place where I would probably die someday. Still…this felt like a good place to hang my sword.
Speaking of which…I took off my neck chain, careful not to wake up Jack, and set his runestone pendant on the coffee table. He hummed contentedly in his sleep, probably dreaming of Percy’s sword Riptide and all the other weapons he had loved. I wasn’t sure how I was going to locate the god Bragi and get him to write an epic about Jack, but that was a problem for another day.
I’d just pulled off my sticky chocolate-soaked shirt when a voice behind me said, “You might want to close the door before you start changing.”
Alex leaned against the door frame, his arms crossed over his chain mail sweater vest, his pink glasses low on his nose. He shook his head in disbelief. “Did you lose a mud-wrestling contest?”
“Uh.” I looked down. “It’s chocolate.”
“Okay. I’m not going to ask.”
“How was Eid?”
Alex shrugged. “Fine, I guess. A lot of happy people partying. Lots of food and music. Relatives hugging each other. Not really my scene.”
“I left Sam and Amir in good company with their whole families. They looked…Happy doesn’t cover it. Delighted? Ecstatic?”
“Head over heels?” I suggested. “Over the moon?”
Alex met my eyes. “Yeah. That works.”
Drip. Drip. Chocolate dribbled from my fingertips in a completely suave and attractive way.
“So, anyway,” Alex said. “I was thinking about your proposal.”
My throat constricted. I wondered if I had a chocolate allergy I didn’t know about, and I was dying in a new and interesting manner.
“My what?” I squeaked.
“About the mansion,” he clarified. “What did you think I meant?”
“No, of course. The proposal about the mansion. Absolutely.”
“I guess I’m in,” he said. “When do we start?”
“Uh, great! Tomorrow we can do the initial walk-through. I’ll get the keys. Then we wait for the lawyers to do their thing. Maybe a couple of weeks?”
“Perfect. Now go take a shower. You’re disgusting. I’ll see you at breakfast.”
He turned to leave, then hesitated. “One more thing.”
He walked up to me. “I’ve also been thinking about your declaration of undying love or whatever.”
“I didn’t—it wasn’t—”
He clamped his hands on the sides of my gooey face and kissed me.
I had to wonder: Was it possible to dissolve into chocolate on a molecular level and melt into a puddle on the carpet? Because that’s how I felt. I’m pretty sure Valhalla had to resurrect me several times during the course of that kiss. Otherwise, I don’t know how I was still in one piece when Alex finally pulled away.
He studied me critically, his brown and amber eyes taking me in. He had a chocolate mustache and goatee now, and chocolate down the front of his sweater vest.
I’ll be honest. A small part of my brain thought, Alex is male right now. I have just been kissed by a dude. How do I feel about that?
The rest of my brain answered: I have just been kissed by Alex Fierro. I am absolutely great with that.
In fact, I might have done something typically embarrassing and stupid, like making the aforementioned declaration of undying love, but Alex spared me.
“Eh.” He shrugged. “I’ll keep thinking about it. I’ll get back to you. In the meantime, definitely take that shower.”
He left, whistling a tune that might have been a Frank Sinatra song from the elevator, “Fly Me to the Moon.”
I’m great at following orders. I went to take a shower.
ODIN’S LAWYERS were good.
In two weeks, all the paperwork was done. Odin had to wrangle with various Boston zoning commissions, the mayor’s office, and several neighborhood associations, but he’d cleared those hurdles in record time, as only a god with infinite money and a background in motivational speaking could. Uncle Randolph’s will had been fully executed. Annabeth had cheerfully signed off.
“I think this is awesome, Magnus,” she said on the phone from California. “You are amazing. I—I kind of needed some good news right now.”
That set my ears buzzing. Why did Annabeth sound like she’d been crying?
“You okay, cuz?”
She paused for a long time. “I will be. We…we got some bad news when we got out here.”
I waited. She didn’t elaborate. I didn’t push. She would tell me if and when she wanted to. Still, I wished I could pull her through the phone and give her a hug. Now that she was on the other coast, I wondered when I would see her again. Did einherjar ever make it out to the West Coast? I’d have to ask Samirah.
“Percy okay?” I asked.
“Yeah, he’s fine,” she said. “Well…as fine as ca
n be expected.”
I heard his muffled voice in the background.
“He wants to know if any of his advice helped you on the sea voyage,” Annabeth relayed.
“Absolutely,” I said. “Tell him I kept my butt clenched the entire trip, just like he said.”
That got a broken laugh. “I’ll tell him.”
“Take care of yourself.”
She drew a shaky breath. “I will. You, too. We’ll talk more next time I see you.”
That gave me hope. There would be a next time. Whatever was going on in my cousin’s life, whatever bad news she was dealing with, at least my friends and I had won her and Percy a reprieve from Ragnarok. I hoped they would have a chance at happiness.
I said my good-byes and got back to work.
In two more weeks, the Chase Mansion was open for business.
Our first guests moved in on July Fourth, Independence Day. It had taken Alex and me several days to convince them that our offer was serious and not some sort of scam.
We know where you’re at, Alex told these kids. We’ve been homeless, too. You can stay for as long or as little time as you want. No judgment. No expectations. Just mutual respect, okay?
They came in, wide-eyed and shaking with hunger, and they stayed. We didn’t advertise our presence in the neighborhood. We didn’t make a big deal out of it. We certainly didn’t rub it in the neighbors’ faces. But in the legal documents, the mansion was called the Chase Space, a residence for homeless youth.
Blitzen and Hearthstone moved in. They served as cooks, tailors, and life advisors for the kids. Hearth taught them sign language. Blitz let the kids work in his shop, Blitzen’s Best, which was right down the street and had reopened just in time for the high shopping season.
Alex and I went back and forth between Valhalla and the mansion, helping out, recruiting new kids. Some stayed a long time. Some didn’t. Some only wanted a sandwich or pocket money or a bed for the night. They disappeared the next morning. That was okay. No judgment.
Occasionally, I’d pass one of the bedrooms and find Alex with her arm around some new kid who was crying his or her eyes out for the first time in years; Alex just being there, listening, understanding.
She’d look up, then motion with her head for me to keep moving, like Give me some space, Chase.
That first day we were open, the Fourth of July, we had a party for our guests on the roof deck. Blitzen and Hearthstone grilled hamburgers and hot dogs. The kids hung out with us, watching the fireworks explode over the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade, lights crackling through the low clouds and washing the Back Bay brownstones in red and blue.
Alex and I reclined next to each other in the lounge chairs, where we’d sat after killing the wolf in Randolph’s library weeks before.
She reached over and took my hand.
She hadn’t done that since we were marching invisibly toward the Ship of the Dead. I didn’t question the gesture. I didn’t take it for granted. I decided just to enjoy it. You have to do that with Alex. She is all about change. Moments don’t last. You’ve got to enjoy each one for what it is.
“This is good,” she said.
I didn’t know if she meant what we’d accomplished with Chase Space, or the fireworks, or holding hands, but I agreed. “Yeah. It is.”
I thought about what might come next. Our jobs as einherjar were never over. Until Ragnarok, we would always have more quests to undertake, more battles to fight. And I still had to find the god Bragi and convince him to write Jack his epic.
Also, I’d learned enough about othala to know that your inheritance never leaves you alone. Just as Hearthstone had had to revisit Alfheim, I had difficult things still to deal with. Chief among them: that dark road to Helheim, the voices of my dead relatives, my mom calling to me. Hel had promised that I would