Thank you thank you thank you for all the reviews! I can't believe we're just two away from 300! :O I'm sure we'll get there for this chapter... ;) Congratulations to Ajluv, the 275th reviewer! (Wow, you got 250th AND 275th. You must be lucky. ;) And also congratulations to my dear friend fabulouslaughter, who was the 200th reviewer a couple chapters ago, and who I completely forgot to give a shout-out to. Sorry, darling. :)
I got tons of requests for more chapters, but unfortunately, my lovely readers, this is it. I also got tons of requests for sequels, but there isn't going to be a direct sequel to this story. Yes, I know, it's very sad. However, luckily for you guys, I have other stories that you can read instead. :D
War and Memories is a Reyna-centric story that tells about her past while also taking place during the Battle of Greece... Kind of hard to explain, but if you check it out, it will make more sense. ;)
To Storm or Fire (to be posted today or tomorrow) is a story about saving Percy and Annabeth, closing the Doors of Death, and what happens afterwards. (I'm trying not to spoil it for you guys by giving too much away. XD) Although it takes place sometime after AFBA would have taken place, AFBA never actually... happened. So Reyna still hates Leo's guts, the Romans are still about to attack Camp Half-Blood, and there was no trial. Leo, Percy, Annabeth, and Reyna are all main characters in it, but it's focused on Leo most of the time.
So if you want to read more from me, pick either or both of those stories!
Thank you once again for the tremendous support! I appreciated all of it, even if I wasn't able to respond to reviews for the last chapters personally. (I'm sorry, but I've been really busy the last couple of weeks, and I'm only going to get busier as school continues. :/) And sorry about the super-long author's note... :P
Disclaimer: Me no own PJO. (Long author's note, short disclaimer. :P)
"Well, Ms. Praetor, here we are," Leo said. "You can take the blindfold off now."
She pulled the cloth from her eyes and stared. Leo had set up a picnic under a massive tree. He had laid out bottles of sparkling water – and yes, there were tacos.
"I know we're still in Greece," Leo started, "and you're probably still exhausted from the last battle, and we're not even close to finishing off the giants yet… But Annabeth and Percy say that there won't be another fight until tomorrow morning… And anyways, I saw you earlier, and you looked like you could use some actual food for dinner." He grinned. "So I delivered."
Reyna shook her head. "Yes, you certainly did." She allowed Leo to lead her to the blanket and sat down next to him. He offered her a taco, and she laughed as she accepted. "I can't believe you remembered," she told him.
"I can't believe you did either," he answered. There was silence for a while, broken only by the crunching of taco shells as Reyna ate in pure heaven. It had been a long day, and she had been too busy driving off monsters to eat lunch. Leo was right. She really had needed actual food tonight.
"How did you pull this off, Leo Valdez?" she demanded, after wiping the sauce from her second taco off her fingers.
He laughed. "That, my dear praetor, is a closely guarded secret."
"But Leo, Rome and Greece are working together now!" she teased. "We can't have secrets!"
Leo shook his head. "This isn't a Greek secret, Rey." He winked. "It's a Valdez one."
They sat beneath the branches of the ancient tree, eating, laughing, and talking about simple, meaningless things. After fighting for her life all day, Reyna had to admit that it was a nice change of pace. That was one of Leo's talents, she supposed. Even in the midst of the end of the world, he kept laughing... And he kept making other people laugh. When a legionnaire or a camper was injured, Leo brought them ambrosia and joked about how they must have done it on purpose to get out of dishwashing duty or some other equally random chore. When people were badly injured, he convinced them that they would be fine – even when they wouldn't be. And Leo turned near misses with death into great stories during the nightly campfires, leaping around and using exaggerated movements, like he had more energy than he knew what to do with. He promised people that he had seen Gaea's forces quaking in their boots – or in some cases, whatever the snake equivalent of a boot was – as soon as the Greeks and Romans appeared. Leo had people believing that they were invincible, even though the son of Hephaestus knew it wasn't true.
Reyna remembered Percy telling her about giving Hope over to Hestia, the goddess of the hearth, once. She thought that maybe Leo knew Hope well. He had clung onto it when it seemed like all of the Twelfth Legion was about to turn against him, after all. Reyna figured that Leo knew how important hope was, so he had taken hope from the embers of Hestia's hearth, resurrected it, and turned it into flames that touched every demigod and legacy and convinced them that things would work out in the end. That was one amazing talent.
"Reyna?" She snapped back to the present and noticed that Leo was staring at her. "What are you thinking about? You haven't asked for another taco in at least ten minutes. Something must be up." He looked at her closer and frowned. "Is it about tomorrow? Look, Rey, I know that we're outnumbered as well as you do. I know that Gaea's still barely doing more than toying with us. I know that the gods haven't rushed to our aid as quickly as we might have wished. But we'll be fine." He reached out and touched her hand hesitantly. When she didn't threaten to kill him for it, he closed his fingers over hers.
"It's going to be all right, Rey," he promised. "If there's one thing I've learned since figuring out that I'm a demigod, it's that desperate times are pretty common for us. But we always pull through, right? Why should this be any different?"
Reyna smiled, and then laughed a little, just because it felt good to laugh. "Wow, Leo, I've never heard that many serious words come out of your mouth."
Leo grinned. "What, you don't like serious? I'm flexible. Would you prefer idiotic clown, witty stand-up comedian, or clever mechanic? Or should I show you my impressions?" He stood up and pulled a piece of paper out of his toolbelt, quickly folding it into an origami frog. "I'm Octavian!" Leo claimed, copying the augur's voice perfectly. "I don't like you! You're too reasonable! Your ideas make too much sense! You must be stopped! I will use my stuffed frog to stop you! Fear the toy! Fear the toy!"
In reality, they had managed to reform Octavian after his trial. Although he was still mistrustful of Greeks and refused to fight directly alongside them, he didn't try to kill them on sight anymore. He wasn't even trying to convince the legion that they deserved to be killed on sight anymore. In Reyna's eyes, that was better than progress. That was as close to friendly and open as Octavian would ever get, where Greece was concerned.
But that didn't stop Reyna from nearly dying with laughter.
Unfortunately, Leo took that as encouragement. He presented the frog to Reyna with a flourish, like it was a grand prize or something. Then he held his arm in front of his face. "I am Frank Zhang," he said, dropping his voice an octave. "When I feel like being less clumsy, I turn into an elephant! Then I can use my trunk to pick things up! It has much more dexterity than my fingers!" He pulled a screwdriver out of his toolbelt with his "trunk" and let it go almost immediately. "Oh no, I dropped my screwdriver anyway! Gosh darn it!"
"Leo, stop that," Reyna chuckled. "That's mean!"
"Okay, fine," Leo said. "How about this? I'm Reyna. I'm too mysterious to have a last name. I try to act serious because that's what praetors are supposed to do, but I have a secret. At night, I go into Berkeley and have my own ventriloquism act, under the name Ella the Awesome! I get standing ovations every night!"
"Leo, my voice is not that high!" Reyna protested. "And I do not have a secret ventriloquism act!"
"Really? That's a shame. I would have gone to see it."
"I didn't know you had such a deep-rooted appreciation for ventriloquism, Leo."
He snorted. "I don't. I would have gone just to make sure that you kept your reputation up. Like, if you had a tough crowd one night, I would stand up and clap loudly and force the rest of the room to get off their butts too and then you would have your standing ovation."
"How sweet of you," Reyna said dryly. "But I would have to actually be a ventriloquist first."
"Aw, it's not that hard," Leo told her. "Look, I'll show you." He moved to her side and took her hand, clasping her fingers together so that they made a puppet mouth. "Okay, now move your hand like your puppet is talking," he said. "I'll fill in the words."
Feeling a little silly, Reyna opened and closed her hand.
"Hi, everyone! I'm Reyna's puppet!"
Reyna turned and looked at Leo in amazement. The voice had sounded like it had come straight from her hand! How had he done that?
"Keep going," Leo said in his normal voice. "I think your puppet has more to say."
Reyna shook her head and moved her hand again.
"Sorry that I'm not wearing a costume tonight, guys! But I was afraid that Octavian would mistake me for a stuffed animal and try to murder me." Reyna laughed, but the puppet kept talking. "Also, I'm not wearing a costume because I know that however nice I look, Reyna will still be more beautiful. She's incredibly pretty, don't you think?"
Reyna tilted her head at Leo, but he wouldn't quite meet her eyes. "Don't stop, Rey," he muttered. "The puppet wants to make a speech."
"I think I've heard enough," she whispered.
"No, not really," Leo said, finally looking at her. His face was turning red in the sunset, but Reyna had a feeling that the fading light wasn't the only reason for the sudden coloration. "There were so many things the puppet wanted to say. Like how you're also an amazing leader, and how I'm – er, it's – so impressed by you because you're so confident and you always speak your mind. Also, you act tough, and that's fine because you're supposed to be the unbreakable Roman and everything, but I – it just wants to let you know that I'm never going to stop trying my best to crack that shell because even though you're wonderful when you're being all unyielding and Roman-y, I think you're at your most beautiful when you smile. And your laugh is prettier than Aphrodite. And maybe that's blasphemous, but you're probably about to kill me anyway, so I really couldn't care less."
Reyna froze. What was she supposed to say to that? She had kept her heart closed-off for years, following Circe's advice. The first guy who had broken through her barriers had been Jason. Leo wasn't anything like Jason. Therefore, he also wasn't all that much like her. He wasn't serious most of the time, and he wasn't the strongest in combat, and he wasn't a full-time leader, and he hadn't been on nearly as many quests…
But maybe that was okay. After all, he was serious when it really mattered. And his sense of humor made her laugh, even after she'd had another hellhound of a bad day. Reyna was starting to realize that having a good time was important for her sanity, and she hadn't had a good time in months – ever since Jason disappeared – until Leo showed up and changed all that. And although he wasn't the same kind of leader as Jason, Leo had this charisma that basically forced people into liking him and eventually trusting him. As his trial proved, sometimes that was just as important as giving a good speech. And even if he wasn't the best at combat, Leo was still powerful in his own way. He could summon fire, after all.
The first guy who had broken through her barriers had been Jason. Leo wasn't anything like Jason – but that was good. Reyna definitely didn't need another Jason. And anyways, Leo wasn't like Jason because he was in a league of his own. He was awkward, funny, and surprisingly thoughtful, when he needed to be. Most people backed away from others' problems, but Leo took them as personal challenges and tackled them head-on. Reyna liked that about him. Actually, if she thought about it, she liked a lot of things about him. Leo was really pretty amazing, after all.
"Uh, Reyna? If you're going to kill me, do you think you could get it over with?"
"What?" She looked at Leo. He was crouched with his hand over his head, one eye cracked open in apprehension. When she saw that, she couldn't help but laugh.
"You're... laughing? Does that mean you're not going to kill me?"
Reyna was done hesitating. She was done following Circe's advice. After all, she had really started liking Leo way back in New Rome, when they had been visiting cafés and hoping to win votes. It was about time for her to admit it.
So she pulled Leo's hands away from his head, still laughing. "Of course I'm not going to kill you," she chuckled. "Then I wouldn't be able to do this."
She smiled all the way through their kiss.
When they broke apart, Reyna realized that her hands had somehow become tangled in Leo's curly hair, and his were wrapped around her waist. "You know," Leo said, grinning, "you probably could have done that, even if you had killed me..."
"What, would you have preferred that, Valdez?"
Leo laughed and moved his hands to her jaw. "Nah," he murmured. "I like this better." He leaned closer.
"I'm glad you didn't wait until after the war to make tacos, Leo," Reyna told him. She meant it. The gods only knew – and really, they probably didn't either – how tomorrow's battle would end. But for now, she had Leo, and he had her. And that was enough.
"Guess what?" Leo grinned. "I'm glad too." And he leaned forward just a bit more.
It was supposed to be impossible for Romans and Greeks to get along, but Reyna and Leo hadn't had any trouble achieving that feat. It made her wonder what else they could do together – make pigs fly, maybe? But no, that had probably already happened. She seemed to remember that there was some kind of monstrous flying pig in Greek mythology. And even if there wasn't, Reyna figured that Leo had stuck a pig in the Argo II before taking off, just so he could check that off his list.
At the thought, she almost wanted to laugh again.
But she didn't. The leaves on the tree were rustling gently in the breeze, and the sun was warming her face, and she had her eyes closed, and they were kissing. "Perfect" didn't crop up in her life too often, and she knew it never stayed for long. Reyna was sure a monster would come along any second to ruin the moment. Nevertheless, she wasn't about to be the one to let it go.
After all, "perfect" was pretty nice while it lasted.
Yay, Leyna! I couldn't end a Leyna story without at least ONE Leyna kiss, right? Actually, you guys got two, so you should be happy. ;)
Don't ask me how I decided to make Leo admit that he liked Reyna the way he did... I guess I just figured that he has so many talents, it wasn't much of a stretch to add ventriloquism to the list. :P
Thank you one last time for the reviews, guys! I'll miss this story and all of you awesome people. :'(
And like I said, if you're looking for more Reyna, read War and Memories! If you want more Leo, read To Storm or Fire! If you're want more Reyna AND more Leo, read both! ;)