Disclaimer: I don't own Percy Jackson.
At almost eleven-thirty, Reyna lay on her stomach behind the row of bushes surrounding the Atrius villa, Jason next to her. She could feel twigs and leave underneath her. The lights of the villa cast a shadow right over their hiding place. They were a few feet away from the porch, far enough away not to be noticed, but close enough to see and hear what was going on.
"Not too bad a place to spend the night, huh?" Jason whispered. He had been the one to suggest this hiding place.
The moon hung high over them, dyeing the clouds surrounding it a silvery blue against the dark sky. A chilly breeze hung in the night air. Reyna had her eyes fixed on the entrance of the house, waiting for someone to enter or exit. Marcus had explained to her that they were using the cover of a small celebration between families for their meeting. People would be arriving any minute now.
Somewhere above them, the trees rustled in the wind, and a bird chirped. Beside her, Jason shifted to a more comfortable position. He was wearing a pair of dark jeans, and a dark blue T-shirt, with a hooded jacket over it. Reyna smirked when she saw how he had tried to cover his bright blonde hair with his hood. Between them was a backpack, with a notepad, a pair of binoculars, an extra jacket, and a video camera inside it.
They must have been waiting for almost twenty minutes already.
"So…" Jason muttered. "While we're passing the time, who did you get to clean out the basilisk nests under the temples this month?"
"Like always, huh?"
A beat passed. "Dakota's thinking about learning how to drive," Reyna said. "Ethan might teach him, if he's got time."
"Dakota?" Jason snorted. "He can ride pegasi and steer Roman eagles. What does he need a car for?"
"He says he wants to get around New Rome more easily."
Jason chuckled quietly. "Told you were should have reconsidered the layout when we did all that rebuilding after the Titan War."
"Not our fault the old praetors designed it like that," muttered Reyna.
"We could have redesigned some of it," Jason insisted, smiling. "Remember when you rejected all the designs for a new square for gatherings?"
"It took up too much space. And besides, most people just wanted everything back to normal. That's why we spent so much time rebuilding everything after the war."
"Ethan used to drive around New Rome after dark giving everyone rides home when we were done for the day, remember?"
Ethan was the praetor before Jason, who had retired after the war. Reyna remembered supervising the rebuilding alongside Jason, and working with the others to help build New Rome back into the great city it had been before the war. Jason's voice brought back the memories.
At first, it had been a long and hard process. There had been so much destruction, so much rubble to clear away and rebuild. Reyna and the others had often worked the entire day, moving away debris and fixing what could be fixed, occasionally taking breaks to meet with the other centurions supervising the rebuilding. At night, when everyone had gone home, she and Jason would take all the maps and rebuilding plans with them to look over in the Principia, with two cups of coffee and sometimes a quick meal. Sometimes they stayed the night at each other's villas, occasionally with Dakota, Gwen, and Bobby.
Everybody had pitched in. Retired officers, civilians, restaurant owners, and soldiers alike had worked to repair the city. Slowly, they had come up with a system. Some people were in charge of supply runs and snack breaks. People had shifts, organized by the centurions, but they could help out any time they wanted. They had found out that Jason was the best at supervising and organizing everything, because he could fly between posts faster than anyone. Everyone ate lunch in the Forum, and at nightfall, the retired officers would drive around picking people up. Sometimes the centurions ate dinner together, discussing plans, and other times they all wandered off on their own with friends.
It had taken them weeks, months, to finally build New Rome back to what it had been.
Reyna glance at her watch. Forty-five. Where were the people Nathan said would be coming? As if sensing her nervousness, Jason spoke. "Don't worry. They're probably on their way here."
"What if Marcus's information was incorrect?" Reyna said quietly. "Maybe they're not coming."
As if on cue, she heard footsteps approaching them from a distance. Both she and Jason tensed. Slowly, people began trailing up to the house, quickly ushered inside by a man Reyna recognized as Johann Atrius, a senior officer of Camp Jupiter. Reyna counted at least fifteen people. She tried to make out the faces in the moonlight, but she couldn't recognize any of them. It was past twelve when everyone seemed to have arrived. Through the window, Reyna could see all of them going through a door into another room. Murmurs could be heard coming from the other room. She let out a sigh of frustration.
Jason nudged her. "Here." He handed her the binoculars.
Reyna took them and began scanning the outside of the house, checking for any sentries — no, not sentries, Reyna reminded herself, they weren't at war anymore — anyone who might be standing guard outside. It was almost like raiding a titan camp back during the war days, except they didn't have any weapons. When she was finally certain that everyone was inside, she put down the binoculars.
"We need to get inside."
Jason nodded. "I know." His breath warmed her ear. "Follow me." He got up noiselessly and gestured for her to follow. Together, they crept around the bushes and approached the side of the house, taking care to remain in the shadows.
One of the windows was open a crack, and Jason eased it open as gently as possible, wincing as it made a sharp creak. Once it was wide enough, Jason quickly heaved himself onto the windowsill and swung his legs inside, landing on the wooden floor with a soft thud. Reyna followed him, quietly closing the window behind them. Immediately, they ducked behind a couch. Reyna took a moment to observe their surroundings. They were in the living room, a wide, square room lit by a dangling chandelier, furnished with plush couches and mahogany chairs, and a card table at the center. Underneath them was a large, ornate carpet that covered the entire room.
The Atrius villa was one of the oldest and largest family villas in New Rome. As she looked around, Reyna recognized the Roman influences on the architecture and furniture. The huge, ornate room was beautiful. Carpeted floors, heavy velvet curtains and paintings hanging on the walls.
She could hear muffled voices on the other side of the set of doors at the end of the room. She met Jason's eyes.
Reyna stood up slowly from behind the couch, and made her way across the room, the soft carpet muffling her footsteps. When they reached the doors, Reyna looked through the crack between them. She could make out a dim hallway.
Reyna turned the silver handle of the mahogany door, opening it wide enough for the two of them to slip through. She saw a dark hallway, only lit by a few small lights on either side of the hallway. A row of vases lined the cabinets against the walls. As she and Jason neared the end of the hallway, the voices grew louder. She could distinctly hear a man's voice rising and falling.
She took quick steps toward the end of the hallway, aware that the voices were getting closer. When she turned the corner, Jason put a hand on her arm.
"Wait." He put a finger to his lips. "This house has the exact same floor plan as Aelia's house." Aelia was a centurion from the third, whom Jason had grown up with. "I used to play there when I was little. The room beyond that door should be the dining room. And if I remember correctly, one of these doors—" Jason pulled open a door on their left, "—should lead into it." Reyna, leaning her head inside the open door, realized that he was right. The door they had just opened was a closet.
Jason quickly ushered her inside, shutting the door behind. There was another door on the other side of the closet, with light streaming though the cracks. She could make out small movements through the cracks of the door, and the voices of perhaps and dozen people. This was it. The dining room.
"How did you know to go through this closet?" Reyna asked curiously.
"When we were little, Aelia and I used to sneak in here to listen to the parties her dad sometimes held at night," Jason whispered back.
Reyna shook her head, smiling. "Come on." Heavy coats hung in front of the, blocking their view of the door. Reyna pushed the row of jackets aside, and quickly made her way through the closet, until she was standing directly beside the door separating them from the dining room.
Jason eased himself down to the floor so that he was leaning against the door, and gestured for Reyna to join him. After a moment's hesitation, Reyna slid into a sitting position beside him. She could now hear exactly what was going on in the dining room.
"…Tonight's move was rash," said man's voice. "The boy is well-liked. The Greeks won't forget this."
"You worry too much, Augustus," came a second man's voice. "Didn't you hear the boy? Octavian has it all planned out." There was a tint of sarcasm in his voice. Augustus. Reyna felt her heart clench at the name. She knew Augustus.
"As difficult as it may be for you to understand, Claudius, it is a fairly straightforward plan," sneered Octavian.
Through the crack of the door, Reyna could see that he was standing up now.
"Once we have sown enough distrust of the Greeks among our fellow Romans, Praetor Reyna's conviction will turn more people over to our side. If she steps down from praetorship, then Praetor Grace will soon follow. And that leaves us with a power vacuum."
"And what are you going to?" asked a new voice sarcastically. "Become Praetor?"
"If elected, I will ensure that any supporters of mine are satisfied."
Beside her, Reyna felt Jason tense. Reyna felt a flare of anger inside her. Octavian become praetor? Over her dead body.
"And tell us, Octavian," said the man called Claudius, "how exactly are you going to convict Praetor Reyna? She's highly respected and well-liked by both the Senate and the people of Camp Jupiter."
Reyna felt a small prick of pride at his words.
"She's just a girl, Claudius," yawned a man. "A young filia Romana. How hard can it be to just get rid of her?"
"Harder than you think," grunted another man. "Don't you think all the monsters have tried?"
"We could arrange an accident—"
"No," said Octavian. "The Senators would suspect something. But when I am done, there won't be the same Senate governing Camp Jupiter anymore. I have a letter here, from Bryce Lawrence, detailing the confession he heard from Reyna before he died." Octavian unfolded a piece of paper.
"And what's a piece of paper gonna prove, huh?" sneered Claudius. "Bryce Lawrence is dead, so unless you can summon his ghost—"
"You do realize what will happen if she is proven innocent, don't you?" asked the man named Augustus.
"Of course," Octavian replied smoothly. "But I have something that will convince the Senate of her guilt, more than any piece of paper. I have a firsthand witness. Reyna's sister, Hylla, Queen of the Amazons."
Reyna felt her heart tighten.
"If this is true, Octavian, why would she help you?" Augustus argued. "Why would she help convict her own sister?"
"Because I have leverage over her."
"You mean you're blackmailing her?"
Reyna didn't hear the rest of his sentence. Her mind was spinning. Could Octavian be telling the truth? Hylla would never turn against her. She was sure of it. Unless…what kind of leverage could Octavian have over her?
"Reyna?" Jason was staring at her intently, his blue eyes questioning. "Are you all right?"
She shook her head, unable to look at him. Did he know? He had to. After everything they'd heard, Jason must have figured out the truth.
"Reyna, what is he talking about?" Jason's persistent eyes, damn him, seemed to pierce right through her. "Answer me."
Reyna couldn't reply. She couldn't say anything. She was dimly aware of Claudius saying something else, but she didn't care. All she could hear was Octavian's voice, repeating itself in her head. Fear constricted her chest, all the fear she had been pushing down since Octavian's accusation. Jason was looking at her, his eyes silently asking her. The unspoken question was hanging between them. Reyna felt sick.
Finally, Jason said quietly, "Maybe we should leave."
Reyna nodded, relieved.
Back in her villa, Reyna buried her head in her arms. She was sitting in front of her desk, her dogs, Aurum and Argentum beside her. It was almost one in the morning, and Reyna knew she should get some sleep, but she couldn't.
Since Octavian had presented his case to the Senate, Reyna's nightmares had become more and more frequent. Many years ago, she had learned to control her nightmares. Face your fear, Lupa had once said. That is the only way you will be able to control it. She had faced her fear, back in San Juan, when Nico di Angelo had shadow-traveled them back to her hometown. She had thought it was over. With Bryce Lawrence gone, she had thought she was safe. She'd been a fool to think that her father wouldn't come back to haunt her. You are a Ramirez-Arellano. You will never escape your family. Her father's words. Even in his paranoid, deranged state, he had managed to give her one lasting piece of wisdom.
Absently-mindedly, she stroked Argentum, who growled softly and nudged her leg, as if sensing her mood. Sighing, Reyna pushed away her empty cup of coffee. She was too tired to go and buy more, and she was pretty sure all the coffee shops were closed at this hour. Reyna was aware that her amount of caffeine intake had increased alarmingly within the past few weeks, but some people turned to drink when they were troubled. Reyna turned to coffee.
Octavian never bluffed to his own allies. If he really had some sort of leverage over Hylla, enough to make her betray her own sister, what was she going to do? Reyna considered the possibilities. The most obvious thing to do would be to find out what Octavian was blackmailing her with. Hylla was brave. She'd never take a threat lying down. But she was also deeply protective of her Amazons. Briefly, Reyna considered the possibility that Octavian had threatened the Amazons, but dismissed it almost immediately. Octavian had no power over them. That left Hylla's other weaknesses. She didn't have many.
Reyna wasn't going to figure it out tonight.
Whining, Aurum leapt onto her lap, his golden head resting gently on her legs. Jason had heard everything. Did he know? Had he figured it out? Jason trusted her. He would never question her word. What did he think of her now? Reyna tried to tell herself that it didn't matter. It didn't matter what he thought. She couldn't lie to herself though. The idea that he knew, or at least suspected the truth made her feel sick. She could have faced anyone who knew the truth, anyone but him. Venus' words from what seemed like a lifetime ago floated back to her. It is those we love that have the capacity to hurt us the most.
Love. She didn't know anything about love. When she was young, she had seen what love did to people, and vowed never to be like them. Her father had loved Bellona, and a lot of good it had done him in the end. Love is weakness, Circe had told her. All men will betray you. She'd realized that Circe had been completely crazy, but her sister still believed she was right. Even now, she still didn't know if what she felt was love. But she knew that she relied on Jason for support, for help, for partnership. He knew, he had to know, how much she depended on him. She had never said it before, but he had to have seen it over the years.
Reyna shook her. She was wasting time. She went to the sink and splashed cold water on her face, clearing her head slightly. Reyna turned her mind back to the meeting.
They had said nothing incriminating. As far as she knew, gathering under the ruse of a social event to plot the downfall of Rome was not a crime. But attempting to poison a Greek leader was. Reyna gritted her teeth. They should have stayed longer and listened for something to tie them to Percy's poisoning. Octavian had basically acknowledged their involvement. Pluto's pauldrons, that was the reason they had brought a video camera. They should have stayed and recorded it the instant they heard something incriminating. Reyna pounded the table in frustration. Nothing had gone as planned.
"Something bothering you, Rey?"
Reyna whirled around, but she already knew who it was. Who else would turn up at her villa in the middle of the night?
"What are you doing here?"
Jason stepped through the doorway. "Checking on you." His blonde hair was wet, like he had just taken a hasty shower. "I should have come sooner."
"Go back to bed," Reyna murmured. "We've got a long day tomorrow."
"I can't." Jason closed the door behind him. "I can't sleep." He took a step forward.
Reyna didn't prompt him. She couldn't find the energy to make him leave. She realized all of a sudden that it would be better to have someone with her tonight. So she gestured to the chair beside her. Jason took a seat.
"Reyna, I'm going to ask you this one last time, and I swear, I'll believe whatever you say. What really happened with your father?"
Reyna felt her heart clench. All her defenses, every lie she had prepared, now fled her. So she said the only thing she could. "I can't tell you."
Jason sighed. "Why not? What could be so bad that you can't tell your best friend?" he demanded.
You don't know. "You have no idea."
"I know you, Reyna, and I know you would never do what they said." Jason's voice lowered. "I trust you. Do you trust me?"
"Of course I do."
"Then tell me," Jason said, his eyes deadly serious. "Tell me, and I'll be able to help you. You trusted Nico di Angelo when you barely knew him. Why?"
To be honest, Reyna didn't have an answer to that. "I don't know. I guess…we both had secrets. We helped each other and watched each other's backs, and I came to trust him. We were under a lot of pressure, and we both needed someone to talk to."
"So why can't you talk to me? You used to be able to." Jason stopped. They never talked about this. About what it had been like, before Juno had swapped him and Percy. It was always dangling between them, like it was made of glass, something neither of them wanted to bring up.
"We used to tell each other everything. Don't you remember?"
"Don't," Reyna cut him off. "Don't. I'm not the one who forgot."
"I need to say this," he murmured. "We've been best friends from the beginning. Back during the Titan war, we always had each other's backs. And I know that you know I've always depended on you. Now let me help you."
"Stop asking me."
"Reyna, I know that you need time, but as your friend, I need to know the truth. If I'm going to have your back, I can't walk into this not knowing what's going on." Jason leaned forward, his eyes locking onto hers intently. "Listen to me, I will always be on your side no matter what."
No matter what. Reyna's heart clenched. He hadn't been on her side. When the Greeks had fired on New Rome, he had fled, instead of standing by her side and helping her sort it out, like she'd always expected him to. She had spent a long time being angry at him, and Percy too, for leaving, before realizing that they'd had no choice. It had taken her a while to realize that, but eventually, her anger had faded.
"I can't," she said firmly.
"Then what can I do?" Jason asked. "Just tell me what to do."
"Stay with me." The words slipped out before she had time to check them. "Help me with some of the work," she added hurriedly.
Jason sighed. "Sure. I have a report to write anyway." He pulled half of the paperwork toward himself, and for a moment, it was like the old days, when the paperwork had piled so high they would take from each other's piles when they thought the other wasn't looking.
"Do you remember that time we pranked Dakota?" Jason said, a smile tilting up the corners of his mouth.
Reyna smiled, her pen dangling over a document. "Yes. You and Bobby waited until he was in the shower and stole his clothes and towels. He was stuck in there for hours until you remembered him."
Jason shook his head, snickering. "I can't believe we forgot about him. I remember Gwen came up to us after that and told us about the new Imperial Gold weapons a couple of the legionnaires were bringing in, and we sort of dropped everything and ran. Dakota was so mad he missed it."
"And what about that time you waited until Bobby was asleep and —"
"—bundled him in his blankets and moved him on top of the roof of the barracks? Man, do you remember the look on his face when he woke up?"
"Well, I wouldn't know," Reyna said, smiling. "I wasn't there."
"Bobby was so confused," Jason said, snickering. "Jackie was centurion back then, remember? She was so mad, I thought she was going to explode. Eventually, Dakota and I had to tell her it was us, so Bobby wouldn't get into any trouble. We got a week of stable cleaning duty for that. But it was totally worth it."
They sat in silence for a little longer, Reyna carefully turning the pages and putting her signature at the bottom, Jason's neat penmanship filling the lines on his paper.
"What report are you writing?"
"Huh?" Jason raised his head. "Update on the Greek alliance. What's going well, what's difficult, and what we're planning to do in the future. Percy's delivering a similar one back at Camp Half-Blood, except he doesn't have to write it down."
Reyna felt her heart tighten at the words, back at Camp Half-Blood. She tried to shake it off. What Jason thought of Camp Half-Blood was none of her business.
"Do you remember," Jason said, smiling, "The first time Dakota convinced the two of us to break the rules?"
It had been several years ago, back before either of them had been made praetor.
Reyna nodded. "It was the night before war games, and our cohorts had been on a losing streak for the past few months. You came up with a strategy to turn it all around. Only we didn't have enough time to practice. So Dakota suggested taking the team to the Field of Mars after dusk and practicing for a few extra hours until we had the plan mastered. You were so nervous, remember?"
"I was not," Jason defended. "We were both centurions back then. I was concerned for our reputations if we got caught."
"If you really were, you wouldn't have gone. We could have gotten caught so many times."
"But it was worth it. We won the next day, so we kept doing it, whenever we had time."
They didn't mention the times they would sneak out alone, without Bobby, Dakota or Gwen, and spar until dawn, or just lie down in the Field of Mars and talk about their plans. They had both wanted only to become respected officers of Rome, and some nights, after they were done sparring, they would talk about their successes and their failures, and how news doors and opportunities had been opened for both of them.
"But we never did," Reyna said, smiling in spite of herself. "Dakota or Bobby were always on lookout. Somehow, we always managed to avoid getting caught." Except that one time.
It seemed like a lifetime ago, when their nights weren't filled with endless paperwork, and they were young and inexperienced enough to disregard the rules. And then the war had happened. After the sudden death of their praetor, Reyna had been promoted to take his place at the height of the war. She had tried to do her best, taken by surprise and unprepared to handle power. Slowly, the war games had come to an end, and the days became filled with tense conversations in war rooms and rushed training, trying to prepare for the war to come. When the war was over, none of them could remember what it had been like before, when their nights had not been taken up by war councils and plotting invasions. Jason had become the stolid praetor, growing to fit the perfect example of a Roman leader: strong, commanding, and respected. At his side, Reyna had become everything he was and more. It was hard to remember that there was once a time when they would sneak out after dark to practice for war games, or when their only goal had been to rise up in the ranks.
Jason broke the silence. "Do you remember that one time we got caught?"
Reyna did remember. Camp Jupiter's guards had been patrolling the areas—ironically, the very patrols Reyna had assigned—and had nearly taken them by surprise. She remembered the cold wind, and how to moon had nearly given them away. Jason had been the first to notice the guards coming their way.
"You froze," Jason said, laughing.
Reyna shook her head. "I didn't freeze. I was just surprised." A total lie, and Jason knew it.
"You totally did, and I had to get us both out of there."
"Well you didn't, really."
Reyna had felt like a teenage lawbreaker that time, running from the footsteps behind her and laughing until her side hurt. She remembered how humiliated she had been when her own centurions had caught her. It had been the last time she had done something like that, because the next day, someone sent her a report that the titans had attacked the Wolf House.
"Do you remember how surprised Ethan and Aelia were when we turned up at the praetors' villas in the middle of the night?"
"We had the worst luck," Reyna said, shaking her head. "Getting caught the day before the Senators' banquet. We had to spend four hours the next day sitting at the high table, all the other centurions looking at us and laughing behind our backs. I know Leila and Marcus told everyone else."
"It wasn't that bad," Jason said, grinning.
"Yes it was. You were too busy playing a kicking game with Dakota under the table to notice anyone staring at you."
"But you were so nervous, because you were a new centurion back then, and wanted to make a good impression. I think that's what everyone was laughing at."
Reyna raised an eyebrow. "Really? It couldn't have been because you missed Dakota under the table and kicked Augustus instead?"
Jason groaned. "Let's not mention that."
Reyna was barely containing a smile. "Or maybe because you were so nervous you almost spilled your cup of wine when you stood up?"
"All right, all right," Jason said, leaning back. "If you want to talk about dumb things we did that day because we were so nervous, how about how you sat like a plank of wood throughout that whole ceremony and couldn't look anyone in the eye?"
Reyna remembered trying to hide her nervousness and her embarrassment over what had happened the previous night that day, but of course Jason had seen right through it.
"I think even Ethan was laughing at you."
"Shut up. I wasn't that bad."
Jason snorted. "Everyone noticed it. I think Ethan was trying to make you nervous on purpose. Remember how he kept making you the center of attention? I think it was a joke between the other Senators."
Reyna felt a laugh make its way out of her. She gave him a shove in retaliation, and Jason slung an arm around her, grinning at finally making her laugh.
And before they knew it, both of them were lying on their backs on her bed, like they used to, before war and Greeks had messed it all up, except this was one of the rare occasions when Bobby, Gwen, and Dakota weren't there.
Reyna found herself laughing, really laughing, like she hadn't done in months, not since the day Dakota had reported Jason Grace missing.
Jason turned his head to look at her, and something in his gaze made her stop laughing for a second. Reyna understood what it meant.
I know, the ending of this chapter was anti-climatic.
Anyway, I just want to let you know that I changed one thing in the previous chapters. Remember Reyna's explanation of her father's death? I changed it so that Reyna told Jason he died from an illness. You can re-read chapter three if you want to see the whole explanation.
Also, when I was writing this chapter, I had an idea for writing a story about the rebuilding of New Rome after the Titan War ended. I was thinking about writing some pre-Jeyna after Jason became praetor, and what happened those months before he was kidnapped. I wanted to write some light-hearted Jeyna bonding after this. What do you guys think? Don't forget to leave a review.