Written for: greenconverses
Rating: T, to be safe
Characters/Ships: Annabeth, Reyna, Percy/Annabeth, & Jason/Reyna.
Warnings/Spoilers: Spoilers for The Son of Neptune
Notes: POV alternates between Annabeth and Reyna, with a
slightly OT4 coda for good measure. Verses are from e.e. cumming’s
i love you much (most beautiful darling). And last but
certainly least, many, many thanks to oneoffour111 for her
wonderful beta services!
There are stories about those like them, with their longing and their loss. Thalia and Luke take turns -- they have to, when someone's keeping watch for monsters -- regaling her about this or that cousin, hoping that the tests of wit and hard-fought victories will keep her mind off the hunger and the cold. (It works, because she falls fast asleep tucked in the sleeping bag between them, scolding stupid boys for their silly pride.)
Annabeth hates that the burden is always on the hero (never look back never lose faith never anger the gods) but commits the lessons to heart like any dutiful demigod should, her family history a blueprint for avoiding the mistakes of the past. She studies and studies, arming herself with wisdom as deadly a weapon as any blade of celestial bronze. (For what would be said of a child of Athena that could not wield it?)
"You never know," she convinces herself at the tender age of nine, drawing scenes beneath an all too familiar pine tree, "when you might find yourself on a quest and pulling an Orpheus or a Psyche." To be perfectly honest, she hopes she never has to, but if she does, he'd better be worth it. And if she closes her eyes just so, she can hear a voice in the wind reply, "Don't you mean he'd better deserve you?"
Luke will find her then, extend his hand to lead her back to camp. "Have a good talk?"
It is without fail that Hylla settles in each night beside her, telling her of gods and mortals that tempt fate in the pursuit of justice. (It’s their little secret, for Circe would only ever jeer.) Reyna sips her glass of warm milk in anticipation, enraptured by tales of heroes defiantly fighting against the odds. The women and men are smart and skilled and everything that smelly, messy guinea pigs are not. (She knows -- she has to reprimand them, has to dart her fingers out of the cages when they attempt to bite her hand.)
"Could that be me someday?" Reyna asks, as if there is a life beyond their perfect little island with the only family she has ever known.
And then Hylla will pause, as if in deep concentration, before reaching forward to tickle her until she can barely breathe. "Good night, dear one," she whispers, kissing her forehead before she drifts and dreams of empires they will save.
It's only later -- when they reach the Californian shores and her sister looks at her with so much disappointment in her eyes -- that she finally understands why the question went so long unanswered. I can't keep you safe if you go. Reyna might understand the sentiment -- might accept the truth -- behind it, but it doesn't mean that she agrees.
As much as the others like to gossip, it's not Rachel Elizabeth Dare's entrance into their lives that makes Annabeth realize she just might like Percy as more than a friend; it’s an innocent conversation with Beckendorf instead.
"Annabeth,” he says, walking towards her, “you're a smart girl.”
"Yes..." She's always liked Beckendorf, but sometimes--
"What would you want for your birthday? I have to make it really special for Silena, but she already has all the pretty clothes and perfumes she could ever need without my help." (It makes sense now, the reason why Silena had the sudden interest in volunteering for errands that would take her past the forge.)
There are a lot of things, Annabeth thinks. Books and a drafting table and a trip to see the tallest monuments in the world -- but really, when it comes down to it, she thinks of her family and her friends and how she just wants them all to be together and happy once again. "Time,” she replies soon after, “with those I care about most."
"Well," Beckendorf begins, a thoughtful smile spreading across his face, "that's certainly easy enough. Thanks, Annabeth. If you and Percy ever--"
"Wait, what do you--"
The son of Hephaestus drapes an arm around her shoulder, lets it rest there. "Maybe you won't get it until you're a little older," and here she is frowning, just a bit, until he continues, "but you have always been quite precocious."
Beckendorf's right, of course. The next time Annabeth sees Percy, the first thought she has is how much she's missed him.
Reyna was never one to boast, but when she comes back from her quest with her comrades, it is on the back of a pegasus with two automatons in tow. She is, without a doubt, no longer a mere probatio.
Octavian narrows his eyes and asks how she could have possibly managed it all without considerable divine intervention (or, at the very least, assistance from former legionnaires), but she simply shrugs. "Let's leave the story at that," she finally says, and the augur has no choice but to agree. (It's the last time he concedes without much of a fight.)
Jason Grace, pride of the Fifth Cohort, corners her after the congratulatory feast. He stands there, chest out and voice full of bravado, flexing his arm so she can clearly see the many bars of his tattoo. It is only after she questions what he wants that he asks if she'd like to be his permanent sparring partner. Reyna reflects on the unspoken rules of the camp, lets him sweat for a solid minute before saying yes. (After all, she can’t let the others think she’d accept just any request, not with her growing reputation on the line.)
Later, when she's elected praetor before him, Hylla tells her that even with all that has passed between them, that she is so very proud. Jason just grins, tells her it won’t be long before he catches up. She rolls her eyes, replies that he shouldn’t expect her to slow down.
Annabeth knows the importance of family (she's gained and lost and gained it), but there's something about having dinner with Percy and his parents that puts her on edge. And listening to her boyfriend go on and on about his sheer anticipation the entire trip into the city was only making things worse.
"Nothing's changed, Annabeth. I don't know how many times you want me to repeat it."
"We're dating now, Percy. I think a lot has changed!"
He laughs, and she'd probably punch him if her coordination wasn’t off from all the butterflies in her stomach. "I meant that they could only like you more. It's not like they expect you to cook a three course meal or anything."
She giggles nervously, wonders if he's guessed (or if Rachel somehow let it slip in limerick form). The fact is, she's been planning this with his mom for weeks, from the teal paper plates and plastic utensils to the blueberry soda and sea-themed cupcakes, and she doesn't know what she'll do if it's anything but perfect.
He reaches for her hand, gives it a squeeze. "Annabeth, I’m dating a beautiful, intelligent girl who’s been charged with rebuilding Mount Olympus. How many guys could ever hope to say that?" She can't help but kiss him for saying it, though he replies, with a hint of a smirk on his lips, that he should consider complimenting her more often. (She agrees.)
Dessert comes out of the oven slightly burned and their drinks are a little flat, but Percy throws his arms around her and tells her that everything’s delicious and she's absolutely wonderful. They go for a walk after, promising not to stray too far as they visit all of Percy's favorite spots and count the stars in the park. She's half-convinced he's messing up some of the constellations on purpose just so she can correct him. (Not that she’s complaining about the effort; in fact, she rather likes it.)
As they say good night, Annabeth thinks that for once, everything might just turn out all right in the end.
Reyna recognizes the value of learning from those that came before her, of discussing diplomacy and innovation and advancement with those that have seen it firsthand. She also knows better than to come unprepared to a monthly dinner with two former praetors, readies herself for a debate on advanced battle tactics over salad (Caesar, of course) with Jason, the couple, and their six year old daughter. (Julia’s age does not deter her in the least bit from raising her own views on suitable weaponry for mid-range combat, much to her father’s delight.)
Reyna sees the utility in this, the passing on and preservation of institutional knowledge, but it's the poetry reading their hosts invite them to after that throws her. (Edna is a legacy of Apollo, so she supposes that her lineage might contribute to a greater appreciation of the arts.) But Reyna is polite and respectful, sits and listens to the man with the soothing voice repeat another’s words. ("I love you much, most beautiful darling...") The heartfelt declarations remind her of the days so long ago when Hylla and the other attendants would gossip about their guests (former and present), and she would gaze up, enthralled with all the tales of lover's vows and steadfast valor and triumphant victories.
She finds herself murmuring the words even as they walk back towards the gates, trying to commit them to memory. (She doesn’t want to lose them, not just yet.) Reyna half-expects Jason to tease her for being a sentimental Roman of all things, but he only breaks his sympathetic silence to aid her when she falters.
("More than anyone on earth and I..."
"...like you better than everything in the sky.")
It isn’t until she finishes the last line that Jason lets out a heavy sigh, suddenly stopping and standing rooted in place. "It makes you that much more grateful for the little things, doesn't it?"
"What does?" she asks.
"Knowing that we came so close to losing it all. Our camp, the city, the world."
She takes his hand and holds it, knows that he won't be able to repeat this admission once they walk forward just a few more steps. (She can't give him many things, but she can grant him this.)
When he disappears -- when he leaves her and she finds herself unsure of what to do beyond looking -- she knows better than to leave it to the gods. She throws herself into a full out investigation, forming search parties and running strategic planning meetings and doing everything that she does best.
It's Rachel that tells her she needs to take a breather when she starts combing the stables the fifth time for any clue she might have missed. "I’m pretty sure Percy wouldn't want you to worry yourself sick over him. Especially when you’re standing in a pile of manure."
"I know, but--"
"Besides, he's fine."
"Are you saying that as the Oracle? Did you see--"
"Annabeth. I'm saying that as your friend, which I think you need more of right now. Now, come on, Mrs. O’Leary, I’m treating you to lunch." Annabeth frowns in confusion, wondering at the use of the name when Rachel grabs her arm and pulls her towards a table. She is about to protest that she doesn’t have time for food when she hears a loud roar from her stomach, sounding like a hellhound if she ever did hear one.
Rachel tries to distract her, gossiping about this and that, saying things that Annabeth is sure shouldn’t cross the mind of the Virgin Oracle of Delphi. It's halfway through her second sandwich when she realizes that the other girl misses Percy too. And for everything Rachel’s not, she’s absolutely right. She is Annabeth Chase, daughter of Athena, and she doesn't need a prophecy to know they'll find their way back to each other.
They make their own destinies.
She is walking back with Jason after a senate meeting when Octavian runs up to them, kindly requesting that they give his humble suggestion to search for the Sybilline Books more consideration. Reyna cautiously deflects, attempting to avoid unnecessary confrontation, but it's Jason that coldly dismisses the other boy. "We'll consult about it, Octavian. In private."
It's only when they're (safely) inside her villa that he clears his throat. "Reyna, could I ask you something?"
"If it's about Octavian, could we wait until the morning? I know we told him we'd give him an answer, but I could spare another headache."
"No, it's not that... I was just wondering," and here he starts to shuffle his feet, which makes her suddenly worried, because that means he’s nervous, "if you wanted to maybe have dinner with me sometime? Just the two of us, I mean. And we can go to that gelato place you like. But only if you want to -- I know you don't like it when I try and decide for--"
She laughs, watches him flush bright red, the least confident she’s ever seen him. "Jason --I’m not, I'm not laughing at you. It's just -- I didn't think you'd remember. We haven't been there in ages. Not since Gwen's birthday."
"I remember a lot of things about you." She wonders if he’s used that line before (it’s not like it went completely unnoticed that other girls took an interest in her best friend), but Jason smiles at her and she can’t help but smile back. He takes a moment to regain his composure, loudly clearing his throat. She stifles a snort when his next question still comes out as an undignified squeak. "So it's... it's a date?"
"It's a date." (She lets him lean in to kiss her on the cheek, just this once, to save what’s left of his headstrong pride.)
They make plans to meet the next night at the edge of New Rome, away from prying eyes (though the traditional course of co-praetors is an open secret). She stands there waiting at the gates, bundled up in her coat, trying to convince herself that Jason Grace has not stood her up when he knows exactly how she'll react, (when she knows exactly where he lives), until Terminus tells her she'll catch a cold if she doesn't head on home. (He admits that he’s always had a soft spot for her, this daughter of Bellona who had made her way to Camp Jupiter with more scars on her heart than on her skin.)
For days after, Reyna is convinced she’s offended Neptune or Saturn or even Apollo, for that matter, because it’s Octavian that callously delivers the news that Jason's gone.
Annabeth sends an Iris message to Tyson, letting out a sigh of relief when his face finally appears. She can't afford to lose another friend when they're already fearing the worst about Nico. "Tyson, is everything alright? Wait, is that a--"
"Annabeth! He remembers us!"
"Tyson, listen to me. Is Percy safe?"
"My brother is with friends! Like me! But he is cold!"
The harpy (Ella, she learns later, along with other things) flits around. "Cold. Winter. Although winter may be everywhere. With such a silence and such a darkness. No one can quite begin to guess. E. E. Cummings. I love you much most beautiful darling."
"Have to go! Must help Camp Jupiter because my brother will be there! Miss you!"
Tyson fades away before she has the chance to ask for details, and Annabeth furiously waves the hose around, as if the extra spray of water will bring back her link to Percy. She’s sure that she must be scaring some of the younger demigods, but she doesn’t care. It feels like ages since she last saw Percy’s face, had told him to stay put so they could find him. Annabeth blinks back the tears of frustration, lets them melt into resolve. They’re all headed to Camp Jupiter now. Tyson. The campers. Percy. She may have lost him in the winter, but now, with the sun shining down and the ship nearly ready to set sail, she can almost forgive Hera if it means she’ll be reunited with him in June.
(When she runs off the Argo II, she can't decide whether to slap or embrace him, so she opts for both.)
Reyna is no stranger to waiting (for reconciliation with her sister for acceptance into the legion for Jason and then Percy and Frank and Hazel to return), but she places the welfare of the Twelfth Legion first and foremost, and knows when to accept change. She cheers as loud as any of her fellow Romans when they hoist Percy Jackson -- a graecus -- as a symbol of hope and triumph and justice on their shields. If he reminds her of someone, she will not say.
(Reyna is stern and regal before the crowd, ready for friends and foes alike. Jason's profile comes into view and if she were anyone but a praetor with rivals waiting for any sign of weakness, there is no doubt she would be running straight towards him.)
Frank offers to show them around and Reyna agrees, looking relieved that she will not have to be the one to chauffeur the group around, though she sends Argum and Argentum along in her stead. (Annabeth still hasn’t decided what she thinks of this other girl, not when Jason’s been so tightlipped about her, like he’s keeping a secret, and Percy even more so.) The entire time, Annabeth grips Percy’s hand harder than she has to, even when they’re just rounding the corner of the baths.
“Hey Wise Girl,” he says, whispering to her as their well-meaning tour guide mumbles something about not feeding the fauns, “it’s okay. I’m right here.” She nods, trying to turn her attention back to arches and aqueducts and amphitheaters. It gets easier, she finds, once she stops noticing the Roman demigods looking at them with wary eyes and focuses on the architecture instead.
But Annabeth only feels like herself after Frank and the others leave, when she walks into Percy’s room and it really is just the two of them, alone for the first time in months. "Here," she says, reaching into her bag, "I almost forgot. I made these for you. They might be a little stale, but--"
He opens the container and at the sight of blue chocolate chip cookies with blue M&M’s, attempts to inhale them, sheepishly offering her a half-eaten morsel. "Have I told lately how lucky I am,” he manages between mouthfuls, “that you're my girlfriend?"
She blushes, just a bit. "Only five times in the past ten minutes, but who's counting?” Annabeth takes a seat on the bed, admiring the barrack’s sparse furnishings, simple in a way the cabin she shared with her siblings could never be. (She can almost ignore the smell of manure from their window, thinks Rachel would have quite the laugh.) “Well, this place is certainly cozy. Do you think Reyna will let me see her villa before we leave? It looked so beautiful from the outside when we were walking towards the principia, and I'd really like to see the interior."
Percy's eyes widen and he hesitates before answering. "You might want to wait on that until after I've had a chance to talk to you about some things... or at least until her sister Hylla goes back to Seattle." She watches him, can tell that he's about to change the subject. "You know, they offered me one too."
"Yeah, but I turned it down. I figured Jason would want his old room back at the very least, considering I already stole his position as praetor."
It’s moments like this when Annabeth feels nothing but admiration for him. "Percy, you earned it, just like you've earned everything else you've accomplished. A title's a title, but they can't take honor away from you, especially when they chose to give it. And I don't think Jason would fault you for saving his friends when he couldn't be there for them. Besides, Reyna can just transfer the position back once this is all over, right? Isn’t that what this senate meeting will be about?"
"Still, I can't imagine coming home to learn that someone's taken over your life. I don't know what I would have done if-- "
"If someone had taken you." He's looking at her so intently, and she is reminded again of just how much she's missed him, head full of kelp and all.
"Seaweed Brain, I thought you knew."
"Wait, is there-- did Nico try and--"
She kisses him then, like she had wanted to when she'd first stepped off the warship and realized that her boyfriend was standing in front of her, alive and well and having just won over an entire camp of Romans. "Percy,” she says, reaching up to brush his cheek, “how could you ever doubt that you earned me too?"
They stand there for what seems like hours before he breaks away. "As much as I'd like to be selfish and stay here with you, we have a lot of work to do if we want to save the world."
She rests her hand on his chest, feels his heart beat there, steady and solid. "You know, I'd like you less if you thought differently."
He pauses just before kissing the top of her head. "You'll hold me to it, won't you? Putting the world first?"
It scares her a little, the way he asks, like he has something to hide, but she's Annabeth and he's Percy, and it shouldn't be any other way. "Always," she replies. “Now come on. We have to convince our longtime mortal enemies that we have some prophecies to fulfill.”
He takes her hand then, ready to show her the way back to New Rome.
She’s exhausted, from all the explanations and debates and especially the fact that her best friend had replaced her with a certain demigod that could probably wear down Gaea with his incessant rambling. There’s a knock and for one, blissful moment she considers not answering. (Her inherent sense of duty presents her from doing so.)
She hears an unfamiliar shyness in his tone and can't help but think that this isn't the boy she remembered. (He was hesitant for one thing -- she'd seen him pacing in his old room from her window.) She opens the door slowly and Jason crosses her doorway as if he's never done it before. "I just wanted to say," he begins, hands in his pockets, "that I'm sorry for everything, and especially the things I don't remember but probably should have already apologized for anyway.”
She's hurt that he's here, when they're alone and he knows (or used to, anyway), that when it's just the two of them it's so much harder to be so fearless, that they’ll likely say things they'll both regret one day. (He's going to Greece, after all, leaving her behind again to be Juno's hero like he was always meant to be.) “You can keep your apologies,” she finally responds. “They’re not worth as much when you don’t mean them. You can say them again when you know what you’re supposed to be sorry for.”
He accepts her answer -- though she can tell it wasn’t what he expected, unused to being challenged for some time -- and continues. “Well, then you might be glad to know that more and more has been coming back to me ever since we arrived at Camp Jupiter.” He reaches down to pet her hounds, who barely stir from their curled positions on the floor. “Do you think Skippy still hates me?”
"You're the amnesiac," she fires back, "not my pegasus." She stares at him then, waits for him to go on. She’s almost too tired to argue, but it makes her angry that he’s acting like she should feel obligated to forgive. (It’s dramatic irony, she thinks, how easily she had let go of her own grudge against Percy, but here was Jason back from the dead, acting as though she had never taught him how to be humble.)
“Well, then let me know if he has a spare flask of Gorgon’s blood laying around his stable.” He shifts his weight then, tugs on the ends of his frayed shirt like they’re a legion standard that will lend him courage. (It feels so wrong, all of a sudden; he'd always had an arrogant streak, yes, but he’d never been afraid of her.) "And what about you?” he suddenly asks, “Do you still hate me?"
"What? Why would I--" she falls silent. The praetor inside her wants to lash out for abandoning her when she -- their camp -- needed him most, with Polybotes at her heels and Octavian ready to throw her to the wolves. But he’s her friend, the one she had let hold her when she finally told someone at camp about all that had happened on the island, about everything that she had buried deep down inside. She closes her eyes. It’s all right, Reyna thinks, to be feeling all these things at once. So she changes the subject, waiting for the storm of emotions to subside. “Jason, why didn’t you send word sooner that you were safe?”
He curls his hands into fists, releases them slowly. “I tried Iris messaging, but Juno prohibited it. She said that the Senate would think it was a trick, because why else would I help the Greeks build and sail a warship straight to New Rome?”
“She was trying to protect you both. She knew that Octavian would have been elected praetor if I – if we hadn’t waited long enough for Percy’s arrival.”
“I would never blame you, you know. For doing what you had to for the camp. Not when I left you on your own.”
Her words come out in a whisper. “We agreed, remember?”
He nods. “Do what we can, when we must.” Jason runs his hand through his hair, letting out a long sigh. ”You might not believe it, but I’m sorry, I really am. There’s no excuse for –- for the things I didn’t need to do.”
She knows in that instant that he wants to tell her about Piper, but she finds she doesn’t care to know, not right now when there are other things they should say. "Jason, when you were gone, I was angry and frustrated and scared that I had lost my best friend. But most of all, I think I always missed you," she says, slowly, cautiously, looking anywhere but at him. And then, before she can stop herself, "More than anyone on the earth."
If he's startled he doesn't show it, just moves a step closer, light on his feet as if gauging the best route of attack. But then he breathes her name like it’s one he’s just learning, like it’s the only one he’ll ever need to know. “Reyna.” Suddenly, his arms are around her waist and his head is buried in her hair and she collects her thoughts just long enough to hear him say, "And I like you better than everything in the sky." They stand there together, making up for lost time, and she doesn’t need to ask to know.
He remembers everything.
Percy isn’t really sure what he’s doing here, but figures it wouldn’t hurt to try and mend some bridges before he found new ones to burn. (His mom had suggested it first and Annabeth had immediately agreed.) “I know,” he begins, looking up at the enormous golden statue, “that we haven’t been on the best of terms, but please, whatever I do to anger you in this lifetime, don’t take it out on them. And if not for me, then for Jason and Thalia’s sake. Their friends are on this quest too.” He sighs, hoping that the sincerity is clear enough and that Zeus will give him a break, just this once.
He’s halfway down Temple Hill when someone bumps into him. It’s Reyna, he realizes, jogging in place and wearing the most casual attire he’s ever seen her in. (Though he supposed he always figured that praetors weren’t expected to wear dresses and togas and full battle armor all the time.) “You seem very pensive, Percy. What brings you here this early?”
“I, uh, just had a chat with someone that’s not a particular fan of mine. Though he didn’t do much talking back.”
“Oh?” She’s inscrutable and for a moment Percy wonders what it is about him that makes girls want to confuse him.
“I guess you could say turning down an offer of immortality isn’t really an ego booster for the gods.”
Reyna raises an eyebrow. “I see. You know, my mother might have been more sympathetic to your cause. But I’m glad you’re here anyway. I needed an excuse to talk to you alone.” Percy can’t help feel a little nervous at her comment, even after seeing the way she lit up when she first saw Jason, but Reyna just laughs. “You have nothing to worry about. I just didn’t want to give you this in front of everyone.”
Percy finally notices the purple bag that Reyna’s been holding, takes it when she extends her hand. He opens it, finding assorted shells inside. “Er… thanks?”
“They’re all from the Bay Area. You already have enough denarii and weaponry for your journey, but I thought you might like a reminder that you have more than one home to save. And that you owe it to me to come back. That sand dollar is the last thing I have left from Circe’s island.”
“I’ll return it,” he says quickly, “I promise. But why not give it to Jason?”
“He’s holding onto something else of mine.” Reyna turns just the slightest bit red, though Percy’s sure that if he pointed it out, she’d find a way to blame it on the sun while making a veiled threat, so he (wisely) keeps quiet.
It takes him a moment before he gets it, can just about hear Annabeth yell, “She’s talking about her heart, Seaweed Brain!” in his head. ”Oh,” Percy says. “Well, then I also vow to give him a good slap if he even so much looks at a siren the wrong way.”
Reyna lowers her eyes before finally whispering, “It’s not monsters I’m worried about.”
“I know. You can still count on me anyway. Though I’ll hold you to defending the entire Western Hemisphere to the best of your abilities while we’re gone.”
She gives him a wide smile. “Spoken like a true Roman. You really are full of surprises, Percy Jackson. I think there’s hope for you yet.”
Walking back towards camp in their orange and purple shirts, he doesn’t care whether or not they look like praetors. They’re united and that’s one more battle they’ve won against Gaia.
Annabeth takes a single deep breath and raises her hand, ready to knock when the door flings violently open. "Oh," she says, "I thought this villa was Reyna's."
"It is." Jason steps out and closes the door quickly behind him, and it is only then that she notices his disheveled appearance, from the wrinkled Camp Jupiter shirt to the bags under his eyes. "We stayed up pretty late talking strategy, because there is no way Octavian won't try to use our departure again as a bargaining chip for power, but Reyna refused to skip her morning run. Says it clears her head. You can wait at my—at the other villa-- until she returns." Annabeth is shrewd enough to recognize that the offer is made not only as a courteous gesture, but as an act of protectiveness. She can only guess as to who it's meant to benefit more -- his new friends or his old.
His room is neat and tidy -- so very different from Cabin Three -- and the walls are filled with memorabilia left behind by former praetors. Jason offers her the chair, smiles when he catches her looking at the few open books on his desk. (He's been so serious since they arrived, and she wonders if this is what he was like before he lost his memory.) "Reyna's not as bad as the others make her out to be, you know. She even kept everything in here just the way I left it. But enough talk about her. How's Percy doing?"
"As fine as he can be given the whole situation. It also helped that we were able to get in touch with his parents, and I know he's glad to see Tyson and Grover and be among our other friends again." When Annabeth hears nothing but silence, she looks up and sees Jason sitting on the corner of his bed, as if he's uncomfortable in what should be his domain. "Percy wouldn't -- he doesn't-- your position is safe. Just tell us what we need to do to give it back to you."
Jason shakes his head. "I wish it were that simple. Even with Reyna defending me, Octavian's already convinced half the camp that I abandoned them and that I've turned traitor. And you heard them at the Senate House -- at this point, I'm not even sure a personal appearance by my father would help my cause."
Annabeth moves from her seat to place a hand on Jason's shoulder. "For what it's worth, you have us, you know. Just say the word and Camp Half-Blood will rally at your side. I'm sure that even that poor excuse for a Roman equivalent of Rachel Elizabeth Dare will tremble at the sight of so many Greeks tearing apart his teddy bears."
"Thanks," he says. "Oh, and Annabeth?"
"Good luck. Reyna just came back."
Reyna isn’t surprised to see this girl on her doorstep, not after all she’s heard about her from Percy. She hopes, though, that it doesn’t become a trend, this dropping in of uninvited guests. She can just imagine the son of Vulcan sprawled in her chair, exaggerating his valiant attempts to protect his beloved war ship while Piper used her Charmspeaking abilities to convince everyone to listen. He even tried it yesterday night in the mess hall, had turned to Hazel and said, “You ever see Home Alone? Yeah, it was like that, except with empousai,” failing to notice that the poor girl had absolutely no idea what he meant. Reyna, meanwhile, had struggled to keep her mouth shut during the ordeal. One simply did not put monsters and the Wet Bandits in remotely the same category. (She can’t help it; even if Jason always teased that he’d ditch her in New York City just because she wasn’t a particular fan of pigeons, the sequel is her favorite.)
It’s only when Annabeth politely coughs that Reyna snaps back to attention. “Come in,” she finally says, as serious as can be.
“Reyna, I hope you know how sorry Percy and I—“
She waves her hand, stopping Annabeth mid-sentence. “Percy must have told you that I no longer have reason to hold a grudge, though you might want to stay clear of Hylla for the time being. You’re leaving in a few hours. I know just as well as you do that we’re not here to talk about what happened years ago at the spa.”
“Hazel wasn’t kidding when she said you were sharp.” The other girl folds her hands together. “Reyna, I really came to here to thank you.”
“For helping Percy complete his quest.”
She’s been so used to defending herself against criticism for the past few months that it takes her a moment to think of a reasonable response. “It was my duty to protect the camp, and improving Percy’s chances of coming back was part of it. A living demigod, you’d agree, is in most cases a much better ally than a dead one.”
“Yes, but you didn’t have to support him as praetor, let alone trust him. But you did, even though you knew we had ruined your life on Circe’s island and he could have been the reason Jason went missing. On top of that, you couldn’t say anything to anyone about it. I can’t imagine how scared and brave you must have been to bear that burden alone.”
It’s Annabeth that cuts her off this time. “Say what you want about strategy or loyalty or responsibility to your legion. I know a hero when I see one, Greek or Roman.”
Hearing this feels so different from Hylla’s sisterly praise. This is a girl who doesn’t know her, who has only ever seen her when she's at her worst, stressed and arguing with Octavian in front of the Senate to defend a ragtag group of Greeks. (It makes her feel that much more important.)
"Wait right there," she says. Reyna opens her trunk, reaches for a carefully wrapped bundle hidden in the corner. "I wasn’t expecting to let go of this, but I think you should take this with you."
"What is it?"
"A good luck charm blessed by Bellona, for when you go to Rome." There’s an olive branch tucked inside, one sent down to her by her mother when she had finally passed through Camp Jupiter's gates, a reminder of victory. Annabeth accepts it graciously and Reyna thinks there might not be anyone but a daughter of Minerva that she’d trust with it more.
Jason boards the Argo II, turns around to stare at the place he once so easily considered home. (Being back confuses him, because there’s Camp Jupiter and Camp Half-Blood and he feels so much a part of both.) He reaches into his pocket to feel the paper there, a note that Reyna had pressed into his hands when they had kissed goodbye. He doesn’t need to read it, has long memorized the words. Better than everything in the sky…
"As surprising as it sounds,” Percy says, walking up behind him, “I can honestly say that just knowing a place like this exists almost makes me want to thank Hera for what she did. Though I’d still like another chance to give her a piece of my mind. You feel the same?"
"Juno's my patroness, you know, so I can't say anything negative," he carefully replies.
"Well, I suppose it’s easier not to hold a grudge when you didn’t have to carry her across a river." Percy laughs and Jason has to admit that he‘s annoyed. At least one of them has to be serious, especially when there are lives on the line and so much at stake. Still, Jason finds he can’t stay mad around the other boy for long, not with his ability to put others at ease. He stands there in quiet reflection, observing the hustle and bustle as the others make their final preparations, until Percy breaks the silence. “It’s yours, you know.”
“The praetorship? I already told you and Annabeth, it’s not—“
“No, this ship, this crew, this team. It doesn’t matter what the Senate says – it’s yours. You’re the one to lead us.”
“…You sound like you’re bowing out.”
Percy looks at him and Jason suddenly feels so young, like there are things he doesn’t know but should. “Sometimes it’s best to take yourself out of the equation… You might want to talk to Thalia about it.” Jason has a suspicious feeling that this sudden concession has to do with Annabeth, and is just about to ask Percy to explain about his sister when Leo yells that it’s time to leave.
“Ready, Captain?” Percy asks.
Jason nods, fully aware that the others are looking to him for direction. “As I’ll ever be.” He moves to take his post, taking what last look at what he’s leaving behind and reminding himself why he’s doing so. He takes a deep breath and turns to the troops. “Leo! Full speed ahead!”