I know it took a while to update, but I don't think it's been too long, right? At this point, anything under a month is impressive for this story. :P And anyway, I'm pretty sure this is the longest chapter I've ever written, so . . . enjoy!
Disclaimer: I don't own PJO/HoO.
When Reyna woke up, she was surrounded by blinding white light. She frowned. She knew for a fact that the Underworld didn't look like this. So where was she?
Slowly, her eyes adjusted to the brightness—and she stared down at herself. All of her scrapes and cuts, even the snake bite on her leg, had stopped bleeding . . . but they hadn't scabbed over, or closed up, or anything like that. Her wounds were still gaping open, they just weren't bleeding. Furthermore, all the pain she'd felt from them earlier had vanished completely. Reyna had never seen anything like it.
After a while, she convinced her brain to stop worrying about something inexplicable and sat up, so she could lift her eyes to her surroundings. That just made her brain short-circuit again. The white light was a dome-shaped barrier with a four-foot radius—just long enough for Reyna to lie in the middle of it—but that wasn't the strangest part. All the monsters Reyna had been fighting were still there, but the ones outside the dome didn't appear to see it. They were turned back in the direction of the Agora. Most oddly, the ones inside the dome were frozen in place. Yes, frozen. By moving her arm a little, Reyna confirmed that she was mobile. So what the hell was going on?
"I already told you what was going on," a voice said, startling Reyna. "You have Victory on your side."
Reyna whirled around to find the source of the voice. Her eyes landed on a tall woman in a white dress. She had large white wings, a laurel wreath resting on her head, and another wreath in her hand. Once Reyna got over her shock, she ducked her head hastily. (She would have bowed, but she was already sitting down.) "Lady Victoria," she said respectfully. "What are you doing here?"
Victoria laughed, surprising Reyna once again. When she raised her head, the goddess was smiling. "I'm very close to Bellona," she said. "Do I need a better reason?"
Reyna arched an eyebrow. "Yes," she said bluntly. "Gods don't visit demigods because they're friends with said demigod's mom."
Victoria laughed again. "Fair enough," she said before sobering and adding, "I'm here because I owe you a service. You helped me immensely by protecting my daughter over the last few days."
Reyna frowned. "But I don't know any of your daughters . . ." She trailed off, eyes widening. You're really super duper good at your job. "Wait. Anna Marie is your daughter?"
Victoria nodded. "I felt it was too early to claim her, so I watched over her quietly," she said. "But the Fates wouldn't allow me to interfere, and it terrified me every time Anna Marie set foot in battle. When you saved her life and then sent her to work in the infirmary, you have no idea how grateful I was."
Reyna hung her head. "But I haven't done the best job protecting her since then," she said. "I let her come back here, and I let her go to fight at the Agora. I shouldn't have—"
The goddess cut her off gently. "Anna Marie is headstrong," she said. "You couldn't have forced her to stay away from the action. Besides, you refused help from Jason Grace—even though you desperately needed it—to ensure my daughter's safety. And I saw how you fought, even after you were bitten by that snake, to protect her and the others. The Fates might not let me help my own daughter, but they can't stop me from repaying a debt. That, coupled with your connection to me as Bellona's daughter, allowed me to come to your aid."
"But I wasn't trying to put you in debt," Reyna said. "I was just helping a little girl who needed me."
Victoria winked at her. "Don't let the Fates know that, then," she said.
Reyna shook her head in amazement. "In that case . . . thank you for repaying your debt to me." She looked around her. "Would you mind telling me exactly what you did?"
Victoria laughed again. She seemed much more lighthearted than most other goddesses Reyna had met. Maybe that came from having a Greek persona who was a fun-loving chariot racer. "What I did?" she repeated. "Well, my job is to decide who wins a war, you know." Reyna nodded, and Victoria continued. "Unfortunately, in a war like this, where the sides are comprised of immortals with as much power as me, I don't have the authority to determine the final outcome. I guess that would be too easy. But I can help individuals—people like you, Reyna Concessi."
Reyna processed the information. "So . . . what? You ensured that I would win?" She looked down at her torn-up body. "I sure don't look like I won."
"I couldn't do everything," Victoria said apologetically. "You had to fight the battle yourself. I wasn't allowed to interfere when you were still up and fighting. But when you fell the second time, I kept you from losing for good. I put up this dome around you."
"Wait . . . what is this dome doing? Are you freezing time? I thought only Saturn did that."
"I'm not stopping time," Victoria explained. "Otherwise, you wouldn't be able to move, and neither would the monsters outside this dome. I simply froze the state of your battle, just before it would have shifted from victory to death." It wasn't until then that Reyna registered the monster standing just inches away, with a spear raised above its head, ready to plunge downward. She shivered.
"I was about to die," she whispered. "Oh, gods. I was about to die!"
"But you didn't," Victoria reminded her before Reyna could freak out too much. "You're safe." The sides of her mouth quirked. "You're victorious."
Reyna frowned. "If you're helping me win, then let me leave this thing! Anna Marie and the others are still fighting! They need me! Don't you want me to keep protecting your daughter? That's the reason you owe me in the first place, isn't it?"
Victoria sighed. "I wish it was that easy," she said, "but I told you I halted the state of battle to ensure you remained victorious. It was in more ways than one. The snake poison was spreading rapidly when I put this dome up, Reyna Concessi. If I take it down, you will be overwhelmed by its effects in a matter of minutes."
Reyna's heart skipped a beat. "What? Then I'm not going to be victorious. As soon as you stop holding up this dome, I'll die anyway!"
"Not true," Victoria chided. "Even now, Nico is closing the secret exit, and the other reinforcements are setting to work on the remaining monsters. Eventually, they'll destroy the forces from both ends, and Jason Grace will come back. That's when I'll let down the dome. He'll ensure that you receive immediate medical attention, and you'll pull through."
"How can you be so sure?"
"I am the goddess of victory," Victoria said with a smile. "I can sense these kind of things."
Reyna looked at her thoughtfully. "All right," she said. "What about all the monsters in here? Should I kill them now, while they're frozen?"
Victoria's eyes widened. "I wouldn't do that if I were you—"
Before the warning registered, Reyna pushed herself onto her elbows—and immediately pain shot up and down her body, like all her injuries had found her at once. Her vision blurred.
"I didn't get a chance to tell you," Victoria said, a white blob hovering over Reyna's head. "Moving too much affects the spell. Stay still and close your eyes. I'll become my true form to destroy all these monsters." Reyna had just enough time to follow Victoria's instructions before she sensed a bright light flashing even through her closed eyelids. When she opened her eyes again, golden dust was raining down around her, and the monster's spear sat harmlessly at her side instead of inches above her chest.
She exhaled in relief. "Thank you, Lady Victoria," she said.
The goddess smiled slightly. "You saved my daughter's life several times, Reyna Concessi. Compared to that, this was the least I could do." Suddenly, Victoria's eyes grew distant. "Jason Grace is arriving. I'm going to have to let down the dome in a moment." She focused in on Reyna again, looking more serious than Reyna had seen her so far. "I'm sorry I can't lessen the pain, Reyna," she said. "You deserve better recompense than this."
"The gods can't do everything," Reyna answered. "That's why you have us."
Victoria laughed in surprise. "We should remember that more often, shouldn't we?" she said. Then she grew serious again. "I hate to ask anything else of you, but . . . please don't tell Anna Marie that I'm her mother. I'd like to claim her myself."
Reyna hesitated. "As long as you do it quickly," she warned. "Don't put it off."
Victoria smiled one last time. "Oh, I won't," she said. "I'd like her to know I love her as soon as possible. After all, I'm nearly as proud of Anna Marie as Bellona is of you."
Before Reyna could work through that statement, Victoria raised her arms, and the white dome disappeared. Instantly, the pain slammed into Reyna, and she passed out.
After we finish talking, Jason—being the obnoxiously understanding boy that he is—agrees not to tell Bobby and Dakota right away, since I don't quite feel ready for all three of them to know my secret yet. He doesn't even question my decision. I don't know what's wrong with him.
"You know, you probably should have spouted some advice at me," I say as we walk back to our camp.
"I don't know, that's why it would have been your advice. 'Honesty is the best policy', maybe. 'True friends will like you no matter what.' I don't know, some sort of cheesy unrealistic crap that's supposed to influence my choice."
He grins. "Why would I ever try to tell you cheesy unrealistic crap, Reyna? You'd just ignore it."
"True." I allow myself to smile, once again amazed at how good Jason is at making me feel . . . well, normal. As normal as a demigod can get. I have to admire his people skills.
Jason looks over at me. "You know," he says slowly, "for someone who hogged the swing in kindergarten"—I roll my eyes because he knows I never went to kindergarten, but I don't bother interrupting—"that was an awful lot of sharing. I think it's probably only fair that I return the favor."
"Oh really?" I raise my eyebrows. "And what exactly are you going to share?"
"Well," Jason says dramatically, "you had a lot of dangerous experiences, so I'm going to share the first time I ever faced death." He looks at me solemnly. "I was two years old and invading my sister's bedroom because she always got annoyed when I snuck in there. And she couldn't stop me if she was cooking dinner, so that was a plus." He paused. "I had the best intentions, you know. I just wanted to sit on her bed. It was bouncier than mine. But then . . ." He closes his eyes, like he's reliving the memory. "I just had to look up at her desk and notice the shiniest thing I had ever seen. Fascinated, I climbed onto her desk chair, just determined to touch the shiny thing. But after I touched it, I realized that it was the perfect size to fit in my mouth. So, naturally, I tried to eat the shiny thing."
My mouth drops open in horror for two-year-old Jason Grace. "Gods of Olympus! Did you swallow a pair of scissors or something?"
"What? No way! Those would have been too big to fit in my mouth." He grins, dropping the dramatic facade. "I tried to eat a stapler." He touches his fingers to his mouth. "So of course I ended up stapling my top lip. It probably took Lia twenty minutes to get it out because I was screaming the whole time. That's where this scar comes from, you know." He looks ridiculously proud of the fact.
I'd expected a serious story about a monster fight or something, so when I hear that two-year-old Jason stuck a stapler in his mouth, I can't help but laugh. "The mighty son of Jupiter," I intone between chuckles, "brought low by the mightier power of a shiny stapler!" I shake my head, still grinning. "My gods, Grace. How do you even remember that?"
Jason shrugs. "It was painful. In my experience, pain usually makes memories crisper." He smirks slightly. "So if you ever have to study for a test, pinch yourself while you study, and you'll remember the information better."
"There's no way in Olympus that works, Grace," I say.
"Probably not," he admits. "But it'd be pretty funny to watch you studying and pinching yourself." I frown at him, all traces of laughter gone, and he sobers. "Seriously, though? Why I remember that so well? I have no idea. Maybe because it reminds me how much trouble I caused Lia. She changed my diapers, cooked for both of us, tucked me in at night, pulled staples out of my mouth . . ." He shrugs. "Maybe she's better off, now that she doesn't have to worry about me anymore. It's probably good that my mom abandoned me."
For a moment, we walk in silence, and I'm not quite sure what to say. He cheered me up after I told him about the pirates—promised me that I was still a good person—and I have no idea how to return the favor. Then, eventually, the words come to me. "You're right," I say, "that it's good your mom abandoned you, but not for the reasons you think. Your sister's probably worried as Styx about you, and at some point, we should try to track her down. But I'm allowed to be selfish and be glad you ended up at the Wolf House . . . because otherwise, I might be stuck traveling with only Bobby and Dakota for company, and I'd probably go crazier than Dakota on a sugar high. Or, worse, I might have run into Raisinger instead."
Jason smiles at my Bobby and Dakota comment—I allow myself to feel proud that I actually said something comforting for once—and then furrows his eyebrows when I mention Raisinger. "About that," he says. "I've been thinking about when you get to the legion, and I think I'll get one of my friends to stand for you."
"What does that mean?" They've told me a lot about the legion, but "standing" for new demigods is something new. Jason explains that standing for someone means showing them the ropes, guaranteeing their good behavior, and things like that.
When he's finished, I frown. "I don't get it. Can't you guys stand for me?"
"We could," Jason says, "but we're in the Fifth Cohort. The friend I'm thinking of is in the Fourth."
My frown deepens. "What? You don't want me in the same cohort as you?"
"It's not that," Jason promises. "It's just . . . people look down on the Fifth Cohort. It'd be better for you if you could avoid that."
"I don't care about people's opinions!" I say in exasperation. "Don't you know that by now?"
"Of course you don't," he says. "But it's going to be hard enough for you, coming to the legion so late and refusing to share your past with anyone. I don't care," he adds hurriedly, "and neither do Bobby and Dakota. But not everyone feels the same way." He grins reassuringly. "Besides, Raisinger is in the Fourth Cohort. He's the centurion of the Fourth Cohort, actually. It would be so much better if you end up in the same cohort as him, so that when you kick his ass, you can take over as centurion too. He would be completely humiliated."
I look at him, still unconvinced. "I don't know if you've noticed, Grace, but I don't play very well with others. If it's all the same to you, I'd rather go to a cohort where I actually know three of the members. I don't really want to have to start all over with the whole 'friendship' thing."
Jason's mouth drops open. "So you admit it!" he says triumphantly. "We are friends!"
I sigh. "Yes, we're friends, Grace. Does this mean I can go to the Fifth Cohort?"
He hesitates, then shakes his head. "The Fourth and Fifth do almost all the same activities, Reyna," he says. "You'll still be able to hang out with us all the time. And there are good people in the Fourth Cohort." He flashes a smile. "Just be glad I'm not forcing you into the First Cohort. The guy running that is worse than Raisinger. He's a total bas—"
"Jason! Reyna! Where have you guys been?"
Jason cuts off, surprised we've reached the makeshift camp already, so I step in with an explanation. "A couple monsters showed up, but when they saw me, I guess they got scared and ran off." I allow a smirk to cross my face, knowing they won't believe me, but also knowing they're used to me blowing off questions with jokes and won't press the issue. "We had to chase them down. Then this idiot decided that he didn't feel like keeping me around when we get to camp—obviously, he's afraid of me showing him up—so he wants to stick me in the Fourth Cohort." I stare Dakota down. "Tell him it's a stupid idea!"
Dakota's too busy cowering from me, so Bobby has to step in. "Reyna . . . it's not a stupid idea."
"Not you too!"
"Look, Jason got stuck in the Fifth because he was six when he showed up at camp. I did because I was seven. And Dakota did because . . . well, look at him." Dakota splutters out a protest, but Bobby ignores him. "You're not a first-grader or a Kool-Aid addict, Reyna. You're a mysterious, badass fighter. You're not going to end up in the Fifth, no matter what. Just be glad Jason's going to get Nicole to stand for you"—I decide that must be the Fourth Cohort friend Jason mentioned—"before anyone from the First or Second gets a chance to. One of the centurions in the First is a total bas—"
"Yeah, yeah, I know," I interrupt, rolling my eyes. "But Raisinger doesn't sound all that great either."
"He's a terrible person," Bobby agrees, "but he's all physical altercations and no brains. You'll be able to knock him out of leadership easily. Octavian, though—that's the guy from the First—is a snake. He'll take anything you say and twist it so it suits him. It's a lot easier dealing with a musclebound jerk than a wordy one. Trust me."
"Besides," Dakota adds, "the Fifth has already got me, Jason, Gwen . . . oh, and Bobby too, I guess. We can't keep all the awesome people in one cohort. That'd just be selfish."
Reyna floated in darkness, enjoying the unusual release from responsibility. Then voices began drifting down to her ears. At first she only heard indistinct murmurs, but soon a louder, distinctive voice cut in. She knew that voice from somewhere, but she couldn't quite pin it down. "That's not an answer!" the voice protested. "Is she going to be okay or not?" More mutters. "Don't give me that crap! Is she . . . is she dying? Am I going to have to IM Hylla and tell her that her sister is dying and it's all my fault?" Another pause. "You think? You think she'll pull through? Thinking's not good enough! I have to know—" The voice cut off suddenly. "I'm sorry," it said, much quieter this time. "I know you're doing everything you can. I shouldn't have yelled at you like that. Just . . . just do your best to save her, all right?"
Just like that, Reyna's memory snapped into focus, and she recognized the voice. Jason Grace.
After about another week, we manage to find the drakon's lair Jason, Bobby, and Dakota were searching for. It takes a lot of planning and arguing, but Bobby and Dakota eventually agree to cause a distraction and lead the drakon away while Jason and I sneak into the cave and retrieve the special armor they've needed all this time. (I had asked Jason the other day about why they were even on the quest. Apparently it was a long story, but basically some monster was stealing unicorns from their camp, and this armor was the only way for someone to withstand the flames that cover the entrance to its home so that that someone can go in and kill the monster. The whole scenario sounded like a medieval knight's tale mixed with the usual Roman mythology. At the time, I didn't ask too many questions. I've never regretted the decision.)
"Remember," Jason tells Bobby and Dakota before we split up, "as soon as the drakon figures out where you are, stop bothering it and get your podex out of there. Reyna and I will be fast, so don't worry about us. Just keep yourselves safe, all right?"
Dakota grins, looking even crazier than usual because of what he and Bobby are about to do. "We'll distract the drakon," he says. "Just don't get distracted yourselves. There's supposed to be some seriously cool stuff in that cave."
"That," Bobby says, "is why they're going inside, and not you."
Jason just laughs. "Bye, guys," he says. "See you in a bit." Then we veer away from them.
"Are you worried?" I ask softly, as we wait for the noises that signal the start of the others' diversion.
"For them? Nah. Dakota can run like Styx when he has to." Jason hesitates, then adds, "I am kinda worried about you, though. I know it's been over a week, but I feel like you haven't really let your back heal properly. Are you sure you're all right? I could go inside by myself . . ."
"While I miss the chance to see all that 'seriously cool stuff'?" I say. "Heck no. I'm fine, Grace."
Jason eyes me thoughtfully. I put my blankest mask on, hoping it'll hide the fact that I haven't let my back heal properly—not with all the monster fighting we've had to do—and it still aches constantly. But to my surprise, when he opens his mouth again, his question has nothing to do with hydra venom. "Why do you call me 'Grace' anyway, Reyna? You use Bobby and Dakota's first names, but I don't think I've ever heard you say 'Jason'. I don't get it."
I stare at him for about three seconds, and then say, "I don't know, Grace. Maybe I just can't resist the excuse to call you by a girl's name."
Jason's mouth drops open in outrage, but before he can get out more than "You—", I hear an angry roar. Moments later, the drakon sprints out of its lair, and I try not to smile at the others' perfect timing.
"Whoops," I say, "gotta go. You can whine about the name-calling later, toddler Grace."
For once, Jason knows better than to rise to my baiting. Instead, he follows me into the cave.
Suddenly, the darkness didn't seem all that relaxing. Reyna tried to move, but then realized that she couldn't feel her arms and legs. Styx, she couldn't feel any part of her body. Did . . . did she even have a body anymore?
Gradually, Reyna noticed the same murmuring voices from earlier were back, and they were more distinct this time. "It's a miracle she lived through all that," a girl's voice said. "When she got here . . ."
"When she got here, you thought, No way she's still alive," a boy finished. "I know, Kayla. I thought the same thing. With the amount of injuries she had . . . Gods. We thought the fight here was brutal, but Reyna was dealing with something on a whole new level. If Jason had brought her to us even a minute later, she'd probably be dead." He paused. "Where is Jason, anyway? Every time I've come to check on Reyna, he's been here."
"I forced him to go eat something and check up on Piper," the girl answered. "He'd been feeling bad about not being with her, but Piper understands Reyna's in a lot worse shape than she is. A minor concussion's nothing compared to all this."
If Reyna still had a body, it would be frowning. A minor concussion? Someone had gotten hurt? But she had tried so hard to make sure no one got hurt . . .
A few steps into the cave, Jason whistles. "Gods," he says. "Dakota wasn't kidding when he said there was seriously cool stuff in here."
I have to agree. The cave is packed with gold, silver, and bronze objects. It's like the drakon decided to become a dragon stereotype and hoard treasure. There's one problem with that. "How the heck are we going to find one suit of armor in all this?" I demand.
Jason frowns, but then a sly grin lights up his face. "Look at that stack," he says. "What do you see?"
"A bunch of swords," I say. "So what? Your magical gold coin isn't enough for you?" I hide a shudder as I think about the pirates I killed just a few months ago. I certainly don't want another sword.
Jason ignores me. "And what's that stack?"
"Bracelets, maybe? Or rings—" I raise an eyebrow in understanding. "We managed to find a drakon who organizes his treasure? Gods. The pirates were less methodical than this."
Jason shoots me a glance as we move through the piles, apparently surprised to hear me mention my past so casually. I feign innocence, hoping he won't figure out that I mentioned them casually so he wouldn't guess how much they were still affecting me. "So," I say, "once we get to the armor stack, do you even know what to choose? What does this specific armor look like?"
He shrugs, which I don't find encouraging. "Gold. Fancy. Powerful. We'll probably know it when we see it. Oh, hey, look at this!"
I turn, expecting him to hold up a breastplate or something, but instead I come face to face with a metal greyhound's snout. "What the heck, Grace? Don't tell me the armor changes shape too."
"No," Jason says cheekily, "but you did say you always wanted a dog. Look, here's another one!" He sets the silver dog down and pulls out another one, gold this time. "Want to take them back with us?"
I roll my eyes. "A living dog and a sculpture of a dog are two very different things. Let's just find the armor and get out of he—"
Suddenly, I hear a hiss coming from the front of the cave. Beside me, Jason curses repeatedly. "I know I told them to stay safe over everything else, but couldn't they have kept the drakon away longer than, I don't know, two minutes?"
I wrap my fingers around the hilt of my dagger. "Go on, Grace," I say quietly. "Go find the armor."
He glares at me. "And what exactly are you going to do?"
I heft my dagger and smile wickedly. "Isn't it obvious? I'm going to do Bobby and Dakota's jobs for them." He starts to protest, but I cut him off. "We both have impossible jobs to do, Grace. You search for a piece of armor in a cave full of gold, and I'll go bother a drakon."
For the first time, Reyna woke to light instead of darkness. She said the first thing that popped into her head. "Is . . . is everyone okay?"
"Reyna? Reyna!" As her eyes adjusted, a little girl with large green eyes came into view above her. "You're awake! We've been worried!"
Reyna tried to smile, but her body ached so much, she wasn't sure it worked. "Ann . . . Anna Marie? You're all right? Is everyone all right? Where are they? I need to—"
"Reyna." Jason's face, plastered with relief, crowded for space with Anna Marie's. "Reyna, we're all fine." He smiled. "Thanks to you."
"Jason!" Reyna squinted at him. "So you're okay, and Anna Marie's okay. What about Dakota, and Piper, and Kayla and Austin and everyone else? I heard Piper had a concussion—is she okay? Is anyone hurt?" She struggled to sit up. "I have to go see—"
Jason held her back. "Reyna, calm down," he said warningly. "We're all fine. You don't have to worry about them."
Reyna frowned. "Then why can't I go see them? Jason Grace, are you hiding something from me?"
"What? No!" Jason studied her determined expression, sighed, and turned to Anna Marie. "Give us a second, okay?"
Anna Marie frowned right back at the both of them. "Why can't I stay here?"
"I have to talk to Reyna about something, Anna Marie," Jason said. "It's super important. You go help Austin and Kayla, okay? I'll come get you when we're done. You can talk to Reyna then too." Slowly, Anna Marie nodded, and then turned and ran off.
Reyna's frown deepened. "Why did you want to talk to me alone? Did something happen? Is someone—"
Without Anna Marie around, Jason apparently decided it was okay to raise his voice. "Reyna! Everyone's fine! How many times do you want me to say it? Why can't you believe me?"
"It's my job to keep them safe, Grace! Maybe I would believe you if I could just see for myself—"
He lost it. "Reyna! They're fine! Would you STOP DOING YOUR JOB FOR ONCE IN YOUR LIFE and just LET YOURSELF HEAL?! You almost DIED, Reyna, and if you keep trying to do your job so well you ARE going to end up dying, and I am NOT about to let that happen!"
Reyna stared at him. Slowly, she noticed the bags under his eyes, his messy hair, his wrinkled shirt . . . "How long have I been out?" she asked softly.
At her words, Jason seemed to calm down a bit. "About a day and a half," he admitted.
"Oh my gods . . ." Reyna bit her lip. "Have you been here all that time?"
He shrugged. "Me. Anna Marie. Kayla, Austin, Piper, even Arnold and Carlos—they woke up a couple hours before you did. Dakota would have, but he's still stuck in bed—and complaining loudly about it, as usual. Kayla and Austin say Alexander should wake up soon too. Like I said about twenty times, we're all fine, Rey."
She flushed. "Right. Sorry about that."
"Eh, I get it. Mama bear and all that."
She hesitated, then said, "Any injuries? Besides, you know, the already injured?"
He shrugged. "Piper's got a minor concussion, but she insists that it's not bothering her. Scratches and bruises all around, but nothing serious, really." He looked at her worriedly. "Well, except for you."
She choked out a laugh. "That bad, huh?"
It physically hurt Reyna to see the pained expression on Jason's face. "Honestly, Reyna? Probably worse than what you're imagining. Austin and Kayla said you had four broken ribs, a head injury much worse than Piper's, major blood loss from a cut on your leg . . . but worst of all, you had some kind of poisonous bite that almost—" He swallowed hard. "Well, you know. That's why I didn't want you running off to look for people, Reyna. They're fine, but you're not."
Reyna might have been the injured one, but suddenly she felt the urge to comfort Jason. He just seemed . . . frazzled. Reyna had been unconscious for too long, but Jason looked like he had been awake for too long. She decided to give him a reason not to worry about her. She made a joke. "All right, so maybe you didn't want me up and walking, but shouting sure as heck wasn't going to speed up my recovery. Isn't there some sort of rule where you have to let someone be awake for more than a minute before you can yell at them?"
He snorted. "Yes, but the rule where you have to keep your friends from doing stupid things cancels it out."
Reyna rolled her eyes, but she was secretly pleased. His retort meant he wasn't too exhausted. Then something occurred to her. "You forgot Nico, Jason. Is . . . Is Nico hurt?"
Quickly, Jason shook his head. "No, he's okay too. Plus he managed to close the secret exit and everything."
She frowned. "About that. Why did it take so long for him to get to the exit anyway? Couldn't he have just shadow traveled?"
Jason looked apologetic. "Closing the exit exhausted him, Rey. He needed all his strength to do it. Apparently, shadow traveling would have taken too much energy."
She nodded thoughtfully. "That makes sense."
To her surprise, Jason's mouth dropped open. "You're not . . . You're not mad that he didn't get to you quickly enough? If he had shadow traveled, he might have been able to finish before the snake bit you, and then—"
"Please, Jason. Why would I be mad? You just told me why he couldn't shadow travel. That's not his fault."
He sighed. "Okay, fine. But shouldn't you be mad at me, at least? I left you. You were surrounded by an endless army, and I left you."
Reyna froze. Here was her chance. She'd wanted to yell at him for months, and now he was asking her to. But . . . but how could she be angry when she had told him to go? She said as much. "I wanted you to protect the kids at the Agora, Jason. I couldn't be upset because you did what I asked."
"Well, I can be upset," he said stubbornly. "If I had ignored you, I could have helped you. I could have chopped the head off that snake before it ever got to you."
"Oh, yeah?" she challenged. "And how many times did you save someone here at the Agora? How many times did you protect Anna Marie from a monster she didn't notice, or cut off a Cyclops before it could get to the cots?"
Jason made a noise of frustration. "A lot," he admitted. "But Reyna, who's to say that Piper wouldn't have protected Anna Marie? That Austin wouldn't have cut off that Cyclops? There were other people to help out at the Agora. But you—you didn't have anyone."
"So what? Are you kidding? You were alone, Rey! No one should have to fight alone! That's not how Romans do things! That's not how demigods do things!"
"Well, I pulled it off."
Reyna lost her temper. "What? Do you want me to apologize for keeping everyone safe? Should I feel bad for putting other people's lives above my own? I'm not going to apologize for that, Grace. I'm praetor. It's what I do. And it's what you do too, in case you've forgotten. You're a praetor yourself, Grace."
"Of course I am! But I'm not suicidal! I would have been glad to get some help! How come you won't let other people protect you for a change?"
Reyna didn't say a word, but slowly, Jason's eyes widened with understanding.
"Seriously? Are you still feeling guilty after killing those pirates, even after all these years? Can't you see that you've more than made up for that?" Reyna didn't answer. "Look, you saved my life countless times, and Bobby's and Dakota's too. You saved that little boy just hours after getting to camp. As if that wasn't enough, we would have lost the Battle of Mount Orthrys without your strategy and fighting skills. You protected the Fourth Cohort single-handedly when you guys got separated from the other cohorts and an explosive device went off and trapped half the cohort under a bunch of rocks. You saved all of them."
"I was just—"
"No! Don't you dare tell me you were just doing your job! You saved them because you cared about them, and you had the skills to help them! You kept all of them alive, Reyna! Don't act like that was easy!" His eyes softened. "I saw you when we came to rescue you guys, Reyna. You were in awful shape. You were almost as hurt as you are now—not that it mattered to you. You barely let me give you ambrosia before you threw yourself back into the fight. And then you helped even more. If you hadn't kept fighting, I never would have gotten close enough to Krios to kill him."
She shrugged. "I knew the legion needed as many fighters as possible if we wanted to win. I wasn't hurt that badly anyways."
"You had three broken ribs."
"So? I had four just now."
Jason wisely decided not to comment on that. "Fine. You want to downplay how great you were then, let's talk about now. How many lives have you saved during this war, huh? Let's see." He started counting on his fingers, just so he could be as freaking annoying as possible. "There was the time you helped Frank protect Arnold and Carlos"—he held up three fingers—"and when you saved Percy and Annabeth from those flesh-eating horses"—two more came up—"and when you helped Hylla and Kinzie with the amphisbaena"—two more—"and when you fought through all those monsters to help Dakota—"
"Stop." Reyna's eyes clouded over. "I didn't deserve that."
Jason frowned. "Deserve what? Everyone knows Dakota would have bled out if you hadn't—"
"Not him," Reyna said. "Kinzie."
He tensed. "That wasn't your fault, Reyna."
"Of course it was! She died protecting me!"
"And you would have died protecting all of us!" he shot back. "Nico found your dagger sitting twenty feet from you in a pile of monster dust. I know you threw that at an escaping monster, rather than keeping it to defend yourself."
"Sure I did," Reyna said in confusion. "I was going to die anyway. Why would I hold onto it?"
"To keep yourself safe—"
Reyna snapped. "I don't get it! Are you saying that what I did was wrong? You can't honestly think that. Everyone at the Agora—even you, Grace—was younger than me. Plus, I was in charge. I was praetor. It was my job to—"
"It was not your job! No one told you becoming praetor meant giving up your life, Reyna! You could have let me help you! You're allowed to survive!"
You were just trying to survive, Reyna. No one can fault you for that.
Reyna's mouth tightened. "Survive?" she spit out. "Like I survived when I killed those pirates, Grace?"
To her surprise, Jason didn't respond right away. First, he sank into the chair by her bed and put his head in his hands. "I'm doing this all wrong," he said eventually. "I'm supposed to be the one who's good with words, but I just can't . . ." He sighed and met her eyes. "Look, Reyna. I'm not saying that what you did was wrong. No one could say that. You saved all our lives." He flashed a smile. "I know what you were doing, by the way, sending me off to help Anna Marie and the others."
"Oh, really? And what was that?"
His blue eyes searched her dark ones. "You thought you were going to die," he said. "You thought you were on a suicide mission. You didn't want me to be a part of it. And you knew I couldn't refuse because I wanted to protect those kids as much as you did." Reyna didn't bother denying it. Jason Grace knew her too well.
He sighed again. "My point is that you did the right thing. In fact, you did an insane, incredibly brave thing." Reyna started to shake her head, but Jason stopped her. "Let me finish. You know you did the right thing. But what you don't realize is that you had a choice when you did it. You didn't have to stay and guard that exit, Reyna. You could have gone back and helped Piper and the others. You could have gone with Anna Marie and Kayla back to camp. But you didn't. You stayed and fought, even when you were dying. Do you understand how amazing that was? Do you understand that not everyone would have done that, given the choice?"
He took a deep breath before continuing. "You . . . you act like you're tainted or something, because you and Hylla killed those pirates and because you weren't able to save every single person you ever knew. But nobody can save everyone, Reyna, and you've helped a hell of a lot more people than almost anyone I know. Anna Marie, Arnold, Carlos, Austin, Kayla, Piper, Dakota, me—we all owe our lives to you, Reyna, a million times over, and we're not the only ones. Don't you see that the good you've done outweighs the bad? And it's not close, either. It outweighs the bad by, like, a trillion pounds."
Reyna wasn't entirely sure how she was supposed to respond to that. Fortunately, Jason didn't look like he expected an answer. "I'm not asking you to change, Reyna," he said softly, "but I just want you to know that you don't need to feel guilty about pirates, or Kinzie, or anyone else. You found redemption years ago, Reyna, the first time you saved Bobby, Dakota, and me in that clearing. It's fine if you keep protecting people above your own life if you want to, because I know you're an aloof, highly vicious mama bear and all that"—Reyna's lips quirked against her will—"but I don't want you to feel obligated to or anything. Anna Marie says you're really super duper good at your job, right? I say you're really good at saving people, but it's not your job, it's your personality. This might come as a surprise, but you're a good person, Reyna Concessi. And I . . ." He hesitated. "I don't ever want you to feel like you have to sacrifice yourself because you don't deserve to live as much as everyone else. You do, Reyna. You deserve to live, and grow up, and have a great life, and spend it protecting as many people as you want, and—" He cut off abruptly. "Do you know how terrifying it was?"
Reyna shook her head numbly, not sure what else to say. Jason had never ranted at her for such a long time. Reyna had always known he thought she was a better person than she was willing to believe, but now . . . "What was terrifying?" she whispered.
Apparently, that was too much for Jason to handle. "Watching you almost die!" he shouted. "Gods damn it, Reyna! We were fighting at the Agora, and all of a sudden the monsters were gone, and a bunch of demigods were standing across from us. They told us we had been pretty close to killing all the monsters on our own by the time they could join in, so I knew you must have been keeping any from climbing through the exit. Now that everyone at the Agora was safe, I figured I could help you without you sending me away, so I jumped on Tempest and flew over to the exit, but . . . By the time I got there, Nico was on his knees in front of a pile of dirt, and he looked up at me and said that when he'd arrived, you were already injured as Styx, and you didn't even notice that he was there, you were so focused on fighting. He told me that if it hadn't been for you, he never would have been able to close the exit because you were fighting so viciously, the monsters were afraid to get close to him because of what you might do. You gave him enough time to close the exit while the other demigods ran to help us, but when he finally finished and turned around to help you, you were stuck inside this white dome and we had no idea what the hell was going on inside.
"Do you know how scared I was? I didn't know if you were being tortured, or if you were captured, or if you were dead . . . And then Lady Victoria showed up and said you were safe inside, but not for long, and explained that when she let down the barrier, I had to run in and get you and then rush you to the infirmary before the poison could kill you, and . . . damn it, Rey, I was so afraid I was going to take too long, and you were going to die, and it was going to be all my fault because I didn't stick around and help you."
Reyna stared at him for a long time before finding her voice. "But I didn't want you to stick around," she managed to say.
"I know you didn't want me to, but do you think that mattered when Austin and Kayla were standing over you and smoke was coming out of your leg and you looked like a freaking ghost, Reyna? You're one of my best friends, and I thought you were going to die!"
Jason had stood up again—Reyna couldn't remember when—and blood was rising to his face. His eyes looked almost broken with pain, and for the first time, Reyna realized how devastated her friends would have been if she had died. They would have been heartbroken. And still . . . "I would do it again," she told him. "Even if I knew I would die the next time. If it meant saving all of you, I would do it again."
He laughed dryly. "I know you would," he said. "You're Reyna."
There was a short pause. Then, "I'm sorry," she said quietly, "if I had you worried. I hope . . . I hope Hylla, and Bobby and Dakota and Anna Marie and all the rest . . . I hope they're not too mad at me."
"Styx, Rey, we're not mad," he said shakily. "We're just . . . I'm just glad you're all right."
Reyna thought about that for a moment. "Okay, sure. But if you care so much about whether or not I'm all right, then why the hell didn't you visit me at the beginning of the battle, when I got stabbed by the giant and every other demigod in Greece came to check that I was still alive?"
To her surprise, he looked at the ground. "I thought . . . I saw the way you glared at Piper at camp in June . . . and at me." He glanced at her in embarrassment. "And then . . . people kept saying . . ." He shrugged helplessly. "I figured you wouldn't want to see me. I figured you would heal faster if you didn't waste energy yelling at me when I showed up."
She rolled her eyes. "My gods, Jason. I only wanted to yell at you because you didn't show up. And what have people been saying?"
He flushed. "Oh, you know . . . just, well, that . . ."
Slowly, Reyna realized what he was hinting at. She picked up one of her pillows and threw it at him, even though the action was pretty painful. "Jason!" she said. "I am not in love with you!"
He stared at her. "Really?"
"Gods, Grace. Someone has a high opinion of himself." He just looked at her, unconvinced, so she sighed and continued. "Sure, maybe there was a time—maybe—when I thought you were cute. But come on. I never would have acted on it! A relationship would have been distracting, and unprofessional, and I didn't think you were that cute anyway. Not worth it." She shrugged. "Besides, you have a girlfriend. And Piper's not actually all that bad." She grinned suddenly. "And anyway, how could I ever go out with you when I have to keep saving your ass all the time?"
"Hey!" He glared at her, but Reyna thought he looked more comfortable around her than she had seen him in months. Even if it wasn't strictly true—she may or may not have considered him more than cute—it was true enough. And anyway, it was better than him being constantly nervous around her. She kind of wanted her best friend back.
At the thought, something else occurred to her. "Hang on a second. Did you just say that I was only one of your best friends, Grace?"
He grinned. "Leo, Dakota, and Bobby would kill me if I said anything different."
"Oh, don't worry about that," she said. "Then I could just go and save your ass again."
:/ I'm not so sure about this chapter. It felt like a lot of arguing and rambling, and I don't know if I wrote it well . . . But oh well. I hope you guys liked it. Either way, next chapter should be more interesting. :)
In other news, I seriously lucked out with this Victoria thing. I had planned on making Nike Anna Marie's mom for several chapters, but it wasn't until this one that I realized I needed to look up her Roman equivalent . . . and who knew that during Roman times, Victoria "was associated with Bellona" and "was a symbol of victory over death and determined who would be successful during war"? I couldn't believe that her protecting Reyna could actually be backed up by Roman mythology, so of course I had to share that with the few people who read this story. Guys, I magically made up a connection between two goddesses that actually exists. Do you have any idea how excited I am about this?!
In other news (again), there are only a few chapters left! Several accidental hiatuses later, I might actually finish this story! I know this fic isn't wildly popular or anything, but thank you, those of you who read and reviewed faithfully and kept encouraging me even when I vanished off the face of the earth. You guys are the best. You're the reason that this isn't a sad, discontinued story with lost potential, hidden away in FF's archives, so thank you! I promise I appreciate you all. :)