oh i've got my heart set on what happens next: Belated Christmas present! Like many things, I started this way long ago and didn't finish it until today. I have an awesome penchant for starting things and not knowing how to end them until much later. So for those of you who don't know, I'm starting law school next fall and am currently confronting decisions between NYU (Mount Olympus) or Berkeley (Camp Jupiter). I'm such a dork, that's totally what I thought when I got in, and definitely what I'm going to be thinking when I visit in the spring, haha. Anyway, enjoy. Minor undertones of Jason/Reyna.
song choice: This Is Home by Switchfoot
If We Win
This is what Reyna remembers: pink bubblegum, mascara, and glitter nail polish.
When she was really young, there was Martin, her father, but bizarrely, the only thing she remembers about the day he died was that it was also the first time she ever saw Bellona. Since she had never seen her mother before, this seemed like a much more memorable thing at the time. She was a tall and roundish in the way of a Rubens painting, black hair with a shock of white at her temple. She was very imposing, very stern, and for a three-year-old, someone you would never forget, even if she never came to see you again (which, she didn't). Bellona collected them – Hylla and Reyna – and left them with the sorceress.
Every morning, Circe would put on her mascara, layer by layer, until her eyelashes were impossibly spider thin and go about her business. She sometimes forgot her other makeup, but she always, always used mascara. On their birthdays, Circe gave them nail polish with iridescent glitter, every year, without fail. It was like she forgot she had given the same thing before, but maybe she just couldn't be bothered to figure out what it was little girls might actually want. Or maybe it was just beneath her to get creative. Reyna never knew, and she never asked for anything else; she assumed she should probably be grateful she was getting anything at all. The bottles accumulated in her bedroom drawer, dusty and unused, but sometimes, she would take them out and shake them so the oils would mix back into the paint. Her impression of Circe was a faint smudge – she was charming and a hard kind of beautiful – but later, Reyna could only ever call up a pale oval of a face, no defining characteristics, no expressions.
She and her sister used to sit by the edge of the pool, smacking gum loudly like easy, happy children and seeing who could blow the biggest bubbles. This is the memory she will always keep of her sister, Hylla laughing as got sticky pink all over her hair, and having to get it all cut off later, so she looked like a dark, pretty boy for months, her features soft with happiness.
This is how she likes to think back on her childhood, simple, unmagical, and most of all, without fear. With Circe, she and Hylla lived in a golden box the rest of the world had benevolently misplaced (it's a word she can only think of years later to describe what it was – sanctuary), and she thought, surely, this is what Mother would have wanted for us. Not to be strong, but to be protected.
After that, they are alone, and the world seems duller, but that could be her imagination. Nights when it rains and they're huddled together in some dump of a motel, Reyna almost gets that feeling back, the feeling of being protected again. To an eight-year-old, a sister is everything. Hylla, leaning over a map and figuring out where to go next. Hylla, learning to read and then teaching Reyna on street signs and stolen books. Hylla, slinking into a gas station and surreptitiously sneaking some beef jerky without getting caught. Reyna loves her in a wide-eyed, whole-hearted way only a child can, believes Hylla can do everything, maybe even make the sun rise every morning. Because the sun does rise every morning, even through the winter when they are homeless and make do sleeping in the bedding section of Wal-Marts until they're kicked out.
Hylla keeps saying Mother will come for them if only they are patient. Mother will deliver them somewhere safe like she did last time. Mother never comes, but that doesn't keep Hylla from making promises, and Reyna is still small enough to believe her, still hopeful enough to think they will come true. Her sister is strong so Reyna doesn't have to be, so when Hylla's temper grows short or when she stops smiling for months at a time, Reyna doesn't mind, because it's what she has to do. At night, when they sleep curled up around each other, hearts beating as one, Reyna feels as strong as a fortress.
Hylla joins the Amazons when they run across them in Seattle five days before Reyna's birthday, and it's just about the worst birthday gift ever. Hello, surprise, this is what I'm doing for the rest of my life, Hylla essentially tells her, and she tries to go with it, just like she always goes with it. She really tries. She stays with them for half a week, but she can't when it comes to the initiation, she just can't make herself go through with it. It's not something she can explain to her shocked and halfway angry sister, and she's not even sure it's something she can explain to herself. She doesn't like the Amazons. They rub her the wrong way.
For the hundredth time, Hylla sighs with irritation and runs a hand through her sleek hair, now grown long, though the ends are ragged. "What do you mean? What's really the matter, Ray?"
She shrugs and stares at her feet. Brand new shoes that she nicked from a Payless two weeks ago. The laces are already starting to go gray. She has never diverged from her sister's will, usually out of a natural obedience, but mostly because she's had no reason to until now. "Do you really like them?" she asks about the Amazons.
"Yes," Hylla replies emphatically. "I do. I think we would be happy. We wouldn't have to be on the run anymore! I want to stay in the same place for more than a month. Don't you?" Her voice softens, and she almost sounds like the child she gave up being years ago. "It could be like before."
It can't, though. Reyna can't explain, but the Amazon headquarters is not like Circe's island, and the Amazons are not like Circe's attendants who used to sing to them and braid their hair after they came out of the shower. The chrome coldness is all wrong. The steely-eyed Amazons assess her, as if they would turn her into someone else, and Reyna isn't sure who she is yet, but she knows she's not one of them.
"Don't leave me," Hylla says quietly. Her plea comes out strangely, because Hylla would never say that. It's like she stole Reyna's lines.
"If I don't stay here, will you come with me?" Reyna asks.
Her sister hesitates for a moment, but already, Reyna knows Hylla is too strong, that she let herself become too strong, and now, it is too late to keep her. "No," she says, and the next time they see each other, it is on the battlefield.
Camp Jupiter is in the hills behind Berkeley, a somewhat unexpected location for a messy collection of demigods, but northern California is pretty nice, and she can definitely see the appeal. Reyna can still feel her sister the way amputees have the sensation of a phantom limb; eventually, she is able to stop reminding herself she is on her own.
What helps is discovering that surprisingly, she is good at camp. She hadn't thought that she might be especially good at anything, but the first time she knocks someone out in training, she's not scared, but proud. The other campers quickly begin to see her as a leader, of sorts, and it strikes her as odd, because she doesn't particularly think of herself as someone who makes plans and directs people. She is a girl who likes off-the-shoulder sweaters, thinks there's nothing better than a well-grilled burger with gouda cheese, and hopes to own a motorcycle one day. Leader doesn't fit so well into that jumble of facts. But hey, camp is a learning experience.
There is an order to the legions she learns to love. They maneuver as one and the rows rotate in battle so that every line goes forward in its turn, and nobody is left unprotected. Everyone has a position; they tell you where to go, and you stand your ground and fight for your life. Reyna stands in her spot at 9H, with Trevor Knoll on her left and a Fifth Cohort boy named Jason Grace on her right, and this is when she realizes she likes Camp Jupiter – this is where the whole is not just the sum of the parts, where she can be greater than just herself.
Jason is a quiet boy, slow to smile, slow to frown. She starts to think that maybe he is just slow in general, but then he maps out a strategy during a war game that absolutely floors her, and that's the first time he cracks a grin at her. "Not what you expected?" he asks when they come out on top against the odds.
She sheathes her dagger and wipes the sweat from her upper lip – because, yes, girls sweat too – and replies, "I always expect the worst. It's what you're supposed to do. Don't take it personal or anything."
He stares at her for a long moment until she starts to feel a little uncomfortable and breaks eye contact. "Well," he says after the pause, like he's carefully arranging his thoughts, "I guess you're just going to have to learn that you can give me the benefit of the doubt." Coming from anyone else, it would sound arrogant as hell, and she would slap him silly, but somehow, he makes it sound like a promise.
Incredibly, she finds that with him, she never has to expect the worst, and she never doubts him again. When the camp elects him to be praetor, he takes her hand in front of the entire senate and swears that they will work together to do their duty for Rome. He runs his thumb over her knuckles, and suddenly, the oath takes on a new meaning. But he drops her hand right afterward and doesn't look at her again after the ceremony. Disappointment curls in the pit of her stomach, and she wonders at when it began to matter that he noticed her.
The afternoon before the offensive against Mount Othrys, Reyna and Jason sit in an empty, quiet Senate House and block out the strategy for tomorrow's battle. "It's always a disadvantage on the low ground," he's saying as he draws a line with an arrow up the mountain where they're going to send a third of the legion. Heads together, laying out scrolls of maps, she feels calm – the calm before the storm. For days, she was anxious, getting up five times in the middle of the night to get a drink, pray, read a book, and finally falling asleep at her desk to wake up the next morning with her cheek pressed up against Sun Tzu's Art of War. But now, the inevitable is here, and it's much easier to actually face it than worry about facing it.
"You know what I'm going to do after the war is over?" Jason says in a rare moment of digression.
"What?" She twirls a pen.
"I'm going to learn how to play violin."
She almost chokes with laughter. "What the hell? After you save the world, all you want to do is play a musical instrument? A little anticlimactic, don't you think? You don't want to, I dunno, travel the world or something like that? That's usually what people do after something significant, right?"
He shrugs like it's the most normal wish in the world. "I just never got the chance to do orchestra in school, and it sounds really beautiful if you can do it right." There's a story behind that, but she doesn't push him for it, because she knows he always says everything he needs to and not a word more.
"Jason Grace," she says with a hint of teasing in her voice, "hero and professional violinist. I didn't think you were the kind of guy who would appreciate classical music."
He eyes her sidelong. "What kind of guy do you think I am then, Reyna?" She loves the way he says her name, as if he's speaking the meaning instead of the actual word, like he really, honestly believes she is a queen. Why her mother named her that, she doesn't know. But for now, she is grateful.
Embarrassed at being caught staring, she coughs and focuses back on the maps, face burning like a furnace. She wouldn't dare tell him. Jason is the kind of guy who is careful with everything, careful with who he befriends and careful of others. If that's also the kind of guy who likes the violin, well, who is she to say it's inconsistent? Maybe if he weren't a son of Jupiter, he could be a great musician.
And then at last it clicks in her brain, what he is trying to say and managing to say so poorly – there are so many things being a child of the gods prevents you from doing, a million different lives and paths you could take that you can't anymore because it would mean shirking duty, abandoning protocol. The day before the way, these are the things he is thinking of, the chances he'll never take if they don't come out victorious. She imagines the same hands that grip a bloody sword in war caressing the delicate varnished wood of a violin. Maybe he could still be a great musician.
She smiles and nudges him. "What?" he says, hazy with concentration.
"Do you know what I want to do after the war is over?" she prompts.
"I want to dye my hair blue."
"Really," he says, and she can see the corners of his lips lift ever so slightly.
"Yes," she replies firmly, daring him to laugh at her or challenge her, tell her it's not appropriate for a praetor to take on such an outrageous appearance. She knows for a fact that it would look terrible clashing with the purple robes, and no one in Senate would ever take her seriously again. There is a thing called dignity, and then there's blue hair, and those two things are most certainly incongruous. All she can think, though, is after the war – if they make it that far – none of that will matter
"I think that would be amazing on you," he says with a reverence that warms her to the soles of her feet. "You better not be kidding. Blue hair dye. That's the first thing I'm buying after we win."
"If we win," she amends for him.
"Reyna," he says, "Give us the benefit of the doubt here." He's a year and a month younger than her exactly in a camp where you listen to your elders, and even though he's always deferred to her opinion, in this, she chooses to believe him.
On the side of Mount Othrys, the legions of Camp Jupiter fight on. Behind them, the bodies of fallen comrades and enemies lay strewn on the ground. Where a hole forms, the campers surge forward to fill it, like clockwork, because in the middle of a war, no one can afford to think what an empty spot means. The rules, the strategy are the only things they can cling to, and so they move like a machine, seamless and brave. On Reyna's left, Trevor Knoll marched with her at the base of the mountain, but now, there is a girl from the Fourth Cohort. She has clipped brown hair and a sharp chin, her long bangs clinging to her forehead with sweat. She is young, probably one of the newer recruits, no more than fourteen. Reyna does not look back, because she is afraid to see that boy who started camp with her, dark hair and sweet smile, lying amid the carnage.
It is already sunset, and in the bay, the long, red fingers of sunlight reach across the sky as the day begins to die. At some point during the battle, her eardrum went out, and she can't even remember when or why. She can feel the blood streaming down her neck, and she is quite deaf in her right ear.
Up ahead, there is a tall, grinning titan, bellowing orders she cannot hear. With a club, he takes out whole rows of campers with each swoop. He's winning through sheer size, because looking closely, you can tell that he's actually clumsy and if he tripped, he'd be a goner. A shield flies overhead, and she ducks just in time and yells warnings that sound blurred in her head. The chaos of battle has worn down her nerves, and the clang of metal against metal, screams and groans claw in long scrapes down the inside of her skull. Her brain feels like it's being shaken on its stem, and her eyesight flickers like a badly tuned movie projector. Something wet slides down her face, and at first she thinks it's sweat, but then when she licks her lips, she realizes it's blood.
Still, they push onward because there's nowhere else to go, because that's what Roman legions do, they fight, and they win, and only later, do they count their losses. Losers, she reminded her troops before the battle began, are not given the luxury of burying their dead. "We won't lose," she vowed, Jason's certainty the night before the battle wrapped around her, and the campers answered with roars of assent.
In the melee, she chants to herself to keep moving, keep going. She is standing in her spot at 9H, just like the very first day, and on her right, Jason Grace fights beside her. The troops are crushed together in such close proximity that they bump elbows. They exchange a glance. Bone-tired, neither of them have energy to give each other encouragement, but he looks dead at her for a moment, everything inside her stops — he screams, "For Rome!"
And right there, with Jason on her left and on her right, the brown-haired girl she doesn't know but hopes she will one day, the entire titan army surrounding them, Reyna throws herself into the fray, because this is right, and today, she forgets to be afraid.