the title comes from Calls Me Home by Shannon LaBrie. possibly AU.
with nothing but a voice within
Our wills and fates do so contrary run
That our devices still are overthrown;
Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own.
- Player King, Hamlet
"Did you love her?" the girl with eyes bright as stars asks, the words flowing gracefully off the tip of her tongue. Her voice is low, nonchalant, but there is a sharp glint in the ever-changing eyes that is hard to miss. She wraps a hand protectively around the fingers of the boy at her side, and her breath blows softly against his cheek, like a question, like a secret.
"Once," he replies softly, and shifts from his position on the bed, the morning sunlight turning his light hair to gold. "I love you now," he adds almost as an afterthought, and it surprises him how the words are so hard to say, how clumsy and stiff and strange they sound, uncertain and heavy on his tongue, like the last notes of a dead language.
The girl smiles at him, eyes too innocent, too knowing, and there is the slightest hint of her in the girl's eyes - the same cold, calculating expression, the same promise, the same warning, as bright and pure and fierce as the rising sun.
(They never mention her name, but at times like this, Reyna will seem to be with them physically, always a lingering shadow, an unburied memory. When Piper's eyes darken and lips curl, mind heavy and words poisonous; when Jason's mouth curves around the arc of another girl's name, when he wakes up with piercing black eyes burning into his mind -
This is not a myth.)
I am not weak, Reyna tells herself as the woman with the startling green eyes motions to her and Hylla, beckoning them to come closer. The woman is beautiful in a way that Reyna will never be - like magic, seduction, the promise of death - and her voice is inifinitely smooth and poisonous, the syllables gliding over one another in their quest to be heard.
Reyna feels something tear and rip and scatter in her chest as she breathes hard, crushes Hylla's hand between her own. She thinks of her father and wants to cry, because even if Hylla never truly loved him, even if he never really cared for them or protected them -
("We protect one another," the wolf will tell her a decade, a century later. "We care for each other, we are family. You are part of the pack, and the pack survives.")
Family, the black-haired temptress says. Love, she pledges. A home, she promises.
Reyna wants to believe that. Reyna wants to hear the woman's assurances and trust her, wants to have a home and friends and a place where she is not a pawn, not a figurehead in the games of the gods. So when Hylla steps forward, nodding, Reyna does so as well, head held high and eyes cold, the last shred of innocence gone.
"This is what we have been looking for all along," Hylla whispers, holding her hand as they are lead to the baths - a look of peace, of happiness, in her eyes. "This is what Mother would have wanted for us." Her sister glances up at the sorceress, an uneasy adoration evident in her sharp, hunted features.
Circe overhears and smiles at the two of them, lips red like blood. "Your mother wants to protect you," she remarks. "If you have any doubts, know that Bellona herself came to me for this favor."
Hylla nods knowingly, gives a what-did-I-tell-you look to Reyna, and turns her gaze back to Circe. "We can stay here for as long as we want, right?"
Circe nods and Hylla smiles in response. "For eternity, then," she says matter-of-factly, and looks over expectantly at Reyna, waiting for her to respond.
No, she wants to say. This is only temporary. Her mouth opens, lips searching for a word, for anything -
Hylla squeezes Reyna's hand, says her name softly, and Reyna makes her decision.
"Forever," she promises, and gives away the best part of her childhood.
Circe immediately takes a fancy to Hylla, the beautiful, noticeable sister, and takes her on as her own protege in magic. The two of them are often seen huddling together, dark and beautiful and silent, the knowledgeable master and obedient pupil. Reyna learns magic from the older attendants, as well as the best way to apply powder on one's cheeks, to put together different clothes to make stunning outfits, to give spa treatments to the occasional visitors of the island.
Hylla admires Circe; Reyna fears her. This is not right, she thinks, shuddering, whenever Circe turns another of the men into guinea pigs. Why are we even staying here? But Hylla will not listen, that much Reyna knows. Hylla is perfectly at peace with the island, with Circe, with learning magic and the rules of beauty. For once, Reyna cannot trust her sister.
She begins to wait.
She is a daughter of war, and longs for battle tactics, the thrill of the fight, her hands armed with a sword or a knife or a spear. On the rare days when Hylla is not busy as Circe's second-in-command, the two of them fight and spar, the heat of battle coursing through their veins, the sounds of armor clinking as sweet as the music of a lyre.
"This is our heritage," Hylla tells her after practice one day, beads of sweat running down her high forehead and chest heaving for breath. "Circe is a witch, but we are warriors. You are a daughter of Bellona, and the fight is in your blood."
Then why do you spend so time learning magic? Reyna wants to ask, but bites her tongue. She does not want to alienate her sister, does not want to make another crack in the already shattered family she belongs to. She has lost her father, her mother, and if Hylla goes -
Instead, she settles for asking, "When can we leave?"
"What?" Hylla snarls, her nostrils flaring and eyes darkening. Reyna bites her lip but stands still, making sure to keep on a passive face. I am named for the sun, for a queen, she tells herself, chants it in her mind over and over like a prayer, like a promise. A queen does not cower, the sun does not cringe.
"We have been on this island for so long," Reyna begins awkwardly. "I had thought...shouldn't we have left by now?"
Hylla's lips curl and her eyes flash. "Leave," she barks, hands clenched into fists and nails digging into the soft skin of her palms. "Leave, and I will not follow. Do you want to die? Do you want to be hunted for the rest of your life by monsters? Don't you want to be safe, to never be hungry or cold or hurt? Don't you want to have a family?"
Reyna is silent, eyes cast downwards, waiting for her sister's anger to cool. Hylla's voice trails off, the anger gone, as sudden as a flash of lightning. Her voice grows soft, turns into a plea. Do you want to break my heart again? is the silent message. Why do you want to hurt me? is the real question.
"Forever, then," Reyna replies softly.
Hylla smiles, and Reyna thinks she sees the slightest hint of a tear on the edge of her eye.
(She is only a child, no matter what she has faced. Reyna is still a girl with a girl's hopes and dreams and imagination, but at the same time, there is the sense of obligation, the feeling of responsibility that makes her Roman. And because of that, she will listen to her sister and do as her sister does, and will not question it, not one bit.
Duty is her curse, you see.)
When the boy destroys their home, Reyna sees Hylla weep for the first time since their father died.
"He will regret this," her sister promises as their home burns, as the pirates shout obscenities and insults at them, as they are forced to become slaves to their captors. "I swear to you, Reyna, that we will have our revenge." Her sister's eyes are tinged red from crying, but at that moment, she looks as venomous as a snake.
"I believe you, sister," Reyna replies, and makes her own silent vow of vengeance.
(Years later, she will look into the eyes of a boy with sea-green eyes, will try to summon up the fire and anger and longing for justice in her heart, and will find that it has all disappeared, has eroded with time.)
"I will kill you," Blackbeard roars at her, spittle flying over the contours of her face. Reyna closes her eyes, sharpens her lips into a thin line, and imagines a dagger being driven through his chest.
"Do you hear me, girl?" the pirate roars, eyes glinting dangerously as he advances towards her. "The next time your sister decides to make a break for it, decides to play another of her stupid games, I will destroy you, I swear it! I will cut you open, I will give your insides for the vultures to eat!"
"Yes, sir," Reyna says stiffly, and the hate inside her heart grows so strong she does not know whether it is directed towards Blackbeard or Hylla.
Carelessly, Blackbeard raises his hand and slams his plump arm against her face, knocking her backwards, and the slippery deck causes her to fall to the ground. "Never again, understand?" he screams, and turns around, walking crisply away.
(Her sister stands not ten feet away from her, but her face is set in careless, uncomprehending stone.)
Their escape is surprisingly simple.
Hylla distracts the pirates with some tricks she learned from Circe - a casual twist of the hips, a showing of bare skin, a seductive smile - while Reyna does her best to work a spell. And this time, she really tries. She pours every ounce of her concentration into the ancient words, praying with all her heart to Trivia - please, please, please, her heart pounds, and she thinks it might work, because she feels light, light like she can fly and soar into the sky and never drop, and her hands are tingling with power - power she has only felt when she is in possession of a weapon - and this is right.
For once in her life, she is thankful to Circe.
"Death is too good for you," Hylla sneers at Blackbeard, and slices his throat, the blade flashing in the sunlight and the blood scattering over the ground. Reyna forces herself to watch, does not flinch even when a few droplets of blood land on her face, as thick and warm as summer rain.
"We can leave," her sister remarks to her after she wipes her hands clean and takes out the celestial bronze knife. "Isn't that what you've always wanted?"
Reyna curls her hands around her own knife and her lips curve in a snarl.
Are you truly my sister?
"Florida," Hylla remarks when she sees the faintest speck of land in the distance. "We'll get some money, then go to California."
Hylla is too busy gazing at the hint of land to notice her sister's placid silence. Reyna tips her head, gazes at Hylla through the length of her eyelashes so that the world is tinged in dark brown, and sees the lines in her sister's face, the unhidden worry, the eyes full of tension. She wets her lips, tries to think of some comforting thing to say, and -
"What are you looking at?" Hylla barks, her gaze scanning her sister's passive features. "Must I do everything for you? Get ready!"
(When the blood rushes to her face, when her eyes grow cold and her unclenched hands turn into fists -)
Reyna does not know this, but it is the beginning of the end.
(A week, two weeks -
Bellona appears, hair tied back in a stern ponytail and black eyes sharp and cool. "You have survived," she says slowly to two disbelieving children.
She leaves them with a wallet, new clothes, two spears, a map - and two hounds, one silver and one gold. Reyna bends down to pet them, exclaiming over their beautiful eyes; Hylla's taciturn gaze is fixed on their mother.
"The wolf," Bellona says curtly, matching her daughter's stare. "Find her. Do not wait until it is too late.")
They begin to run.
When Hylla joins the Amazons, another part of Reyna's heart breaks, cracks, and she is left with more jagged edges and splinters that don't seem to fit. She is bleeding on the inside, she thinks detachedly, and soon she will be left with nothing to survive on. "You promised," she sobs, and it is the first time since the death of her father that she truly cries.
Hylla bites her lip, refuses to look her sister in the eye. "I did what I had to do. They offered me a position, and I accepted."
Reyna shakes her head incredulously. I hate you, she wants to say, but the words can't seem to come out of her sandpaper-like throat. She swallows, hard, and wipes the tears from her eyes angrily with one shaking hand.
"You joined the Amazons, then," she says coldly, with all the weight of childish wisdom she can manage. "You decided to leave your sister, the only family you have left. You have deserted me, and now you expect me to understand?" She spits this out with all the poison she can manage, and feels a tremor of sadistic pleasure at the crestfallen look on Hylla's face.
"It's not like that," Hylla pleads, her face drawn. "It's not. I - I want a home like Circe gave us. The Amazons can provide that." She pauses, grasping for the words that are slipping as quickly out of her head as sand through a sieve. "You can join, too. You can stay with me that way."
(This is what the poets do not mention: There is no choice, no decision that a hero ever gets to make. It is all set in stone, and from that very first snip of string, there is no way to change it.
Reyna is young; she doesn't understand yet. She still thinks she has the ability to make a change, the right to choose.)
She stares stonily at Hylla. "No," she says tersely.
Hylla opens her mouth to protest, but her sister cuts her off.
"You've made your choice." She pauses for the full weight of those words to sink in before continuing.
("And I've made mine.")
Hylla accompanies Reyna as far west as Texas before they find the Hunters of Diana. A girl with long, glossy black hair covered by a silver circlet - like a crown, like a queen, Reyna thinks in awe - finds her as she gathers sticks of wood for a fire. Hylla is back at the main campsite, and it's not as if she and Reyna really have anything to talk about - or so Reyna tells herself, as she allows this complete stranger to help her with gathering firewood.
"Join the Huntresses," the girl - Zoë - says, smiling at her, as the two of them walk back to where Hylla is. "We are in need of girls such as thee."
Reyna pauses. The offer is tempting - immortality, unlimited sleepovers, sisters for eternity. She shivers, though, when she hears Zoë tell of Diana turning spying youths into jackalopes. It reminds her a bit of Circe turning men into guinea pigs. And Hylla - what would Hylla say, if she declines one group of hunters and warriors for another?
"I have a sister," Reyna begins quietly. She blinks, and for a second, Zoë's face seems to darken, lost in memories of millennia gone by. "Hylla's her name. She - she joined the Amazons recently, and invited me to do the same." She pauses, not really sure what to say. Should she accept? Should she ask for more time to think? The answer is clear, though, when she thinks of her mother's command.
"No," she declares suddenly. "Thanks for the offer, but...I really don't think it's right for me. Just like I didn't join the Amazons, I don't want to join the Hunters. A life like that - I just wouldn't be able to live like that."
Zoë looks disappointed, but gives her a half-smile. "Very well," she says slowly, and fishes around in the silver duffel bag she's carrying. She takes out a brochure-like packet and hands it to Reyna. "In the case that thou changes thy mind, here is plenty of information about how to join."
Reyna takes it hesitantly. "Thank you," she offers, and Zoë nods, before sprinting away, silent as a shadow.
(In four years, she will burn the gift. She will feed it to the flames, watch the flickering red and yellow devour it, safe in the knowledge that Jason's love is enough for her, that she needs nothing else.
In five years, she will wish she had accepted Zoë's offer, that she had listened to the wisdom of a girl who had lived and seen and loved through two millennia. She will sit in front of the hearth, eyes blank and listless, and will regret - regret every argument with Hylla, regret ever going to Circe's island, regret and reminisce and think of every bitter thing that she has ever experienced.
In six years -
In six years, there will be nothing to tell.)
A daughter of war, a daughter of Bellona, the wolf howls, her ears twitching and eyes piercing and hard.
Reyna nods stiffly, standing her ground. The rest of the alpha's pack howls in return as the Sonoma Valley sun sets, casting the remains of the Wolf House in a eerie crimson tint, the color of blood, of death, the symbol of war.
You have traveled far, she barks. Are you ready? There is a sharp glint in her eyes - a question, a challenge.
"I am," Reyna says aloud, her head held high, and the rays of the sun fall upon her face - and yes, she is light, she is brave, she is regal. For that second, she is a warrior. From that moment on, she becomes a Roman. For once in her life, she feels like a queen.
The wolf's head tilts, revealing its long, russet throat. Then we will begin.
Lupa trains her hard that first day, and by the end of the afternoon, Reyna is gritting her teeth, hands calloused and shaking, knees aching with unbearable pain. She thinks of what Circe's face would look like if she could see her now, face gritty and hands worn and clothes ripped, and smirks, the thought taking away the pain throbbing in her arms.
Faster, Lupa roars. Stronger, she howls. She pushes Reyna to the very edge, to her breaking point, and taunts her whenever she fails to rise to the challenge. Are you a graecus? she asks, her features twisted into the wolf-version of a sneer. Reyna clenches her teeth, her sword hand shaking, and whirls around, the tip of her blade barely doing any damage to the wolf's reddish fur.
She wants to give up, doesn't know how much longer she'll last before she falls to the earth, begging for mercy - mercy which will never come from a creature like a wolf. Putting all her energy into one final thrust, she slices the sword downwards in a feint, twirls it around as Lupa leaps forward for the kill, and rolls to the ground, cutting the sword upward towards the she-wolf's stomach.
Reyna draws blood.
The golden liquid stains the very tip, adding a strangely beautiful, lustrous shine to the already gilded Imperial Gold. Reyna stands still for a moment, bent over for breath, and after minutes of coughing and gasping, tilts up her head to see Lupa slowly appraising her. She clenches her sword hand around the hilt, ready to defend herself at a moment's notice.
But Lupa does not attack. Instead, her features curve upward into an amused type of smile, her eyes appraising Reyna.
You have not disappointed me, she says, and Reyna knows that the practice session is over.
"When am I to go to Camp Jupiter?" Reyna asks one day, eyebrows furrowed in concentration as Lupa teaches her battle tactics and strategy. She huddles over a map on a thick oak table inside the house, the tip of her index finger tracing over the stiff surface.
Lupa's ears twitch in response. Soon. Sooner than you'd think. The wolf pauses, and Reyna looks up curiously. There are dangerous times ahead of us, Lupa growls, and Reyna feels a tingle go down her spine.
"I'm ready," she complains, clenching her hands. For once, she wants to have the chance to prove that she's escaped from Hylla's shadow, that there's no need to compare her with anyone else, that she is the best of the best. Lupa's eyes darken, and Reyna instantly shrinks back.
Your time will come, she tells Reyna. The wolf pauses for a moment, and her eyes shine. When you arrive at Camp, ask for the story of Michael Varus. You will understand then.
Reyna smiles from ear to ear, her heart beating like a sparrow taking flight, soaring higher and higher, when she notices that Lupa says when, not if.
(In retrospect, these will be the happiest weeks, months, of her life. She will train and fight and learn, will finally feel like the Roman she was born to be. Lupa will care for her, be the mother she has never known, and -
She will always think of this period as the calm before the storm.)
Goodbye, Lupa howls a month later. Reyna nods in return, then sprints away from the Wolf House, Aurum and Argentium quick on her heels. This is the final test, the last obstacle - making it alive to Camp Jupiter.
She arrives at Camp a week later.
(This is the story of a boy and a girl and the love that utterly consumes them. The boy will fall madly in love, but a goddess will take him away from the girl, take to him to a far and distant land where his heart will be given to some other girl, some other woman; and the first girl, the girl he made promises to and kissed on warm summer nights and planned battle tactics with over dinner -
Reyna looks through hooded eyes at the boy with gold in his hair, the light of the rising sun, and smiles, twisting her sword downwards and knocking his javelin from his hand.)
A boy her age with blond hair is guarding the entrance to Camp Jupiter when Reyna stumbles towards the tunnel, dark hair tumbling around her pale face and hands clenched into fists as she struggles to move her sprained ankle towards safety. Next to her side, Argentium and Aurum begin whining, nudging their shimmering noses against her shins as they catch the scent of the Cyclops that has been following them for the past three days. Reyna opens her mouth, tries to call out for help, but the words won't seem to come out of her parched throat.
Argentium lets out a loud bark, and the boy whisks his head around, searching intently in the distance, before noticing Reyna. "Gwen," he shouts, his eyes scanning Reyna's disheveled appearance. "There's someone here!"
A tall, slim girl springs forward from behind the boy, her javelin in position. She takes a look at Reyna's limp and the dogs at her side, her expression unsure. She turns to the boy at her side, as if to consult, and Reyna curses the two of them - can't they tell that if they don't act fast, the monster will kill all three of them?
"Daughter of Bellona," Reyna gasps, using the last of her breath. "I came from the Wolf House a week ago. A Cyclops - it's been following me for the past few days."
The girl - Gwen - nods in response, before running towards her. The boy at her side follows her example. In synchronized motion, they reach Reyna and she drapes one of her arms over each of their shoulders, the tension on her ankle lightening instantly.
That's not what she notices, though.
Her fingertips brush the boy's neck, light as the kiss of a feather, and immediately, she feels the shock of electricity going through her body. The boy notices too, she thinks detachedly, because he instantly stiffens, and concentrates on the ground as the three of them walk, first through the tunnel, then across a bridge, towards a head on a stone post (at this point, Reyna thinks she's completely hallucinating), and suddenly, her vision is fading to black and Argentium and Aurum are nipping at her heels, and she's collapsing, falling to the earth -
The last thing she sees are the electric blue of Jason Grace's eyes, locked on the ink-black of her own.
Camp Jupiter, without a doubt, is the most amazing sight she has ever seen.
Reyna is not a daughter of Apollo who speaks in riddles and whose eyes glaze over in the presence of poetry and art and music; but in her own way, she appreciates beauty. The temples are lavish, grand, the color of a first snow, as graceful and elegant as the curve of a woman's slender neck. Reyna observes all this from her bed in the infirmary, the flimsy curtains turning the outside world to a hazy wonderland. Sometimes, she imagines her life in New Rome after serving in the legion - she knows not to think too ahead, to make dreams that can easily be broken, but she can't help herself. The golden-hued world outside, is, in a sense, the most romantic sight in the world.
Reyna tilts her head, the sun shifts orange, and the fantasy is broken.
"Fifth cohort," Octavian sniffs when he looks at her, the carcass of a stuffed animal drifting through the wind. A scarecrow, Reyna thinks idly as she observes his skinny frame, pale skin, and shock of white-blond hair. "If I were praetor, I'd put you in the first or second, but you don't have any letters of recommendation. Mark my words, they'll put you in the fifth."
Reyna nods as if she understands, but her mind is whirling with questions. Suddenly, she blurts out, "Who was Michael Varus?"
Octavian's eyes grow large in surprise, and then he cracks a smug smile. "Ah, Michael Varus. The infamous Michael who led the fifth cohort to complete and utter ruin." He lowers his voice, and narrows his eyes so that he strangely resembles a reptile. "Are you sure you want to know more about him?"
Reyna glares at him, but stays silent.
"The fifth cohort is cursed, you know," Octavian continues happily. "Yes, they have Jason Grace, but he's no match for me, eh? And that Kool-Aid drinking boy makes a complete and utter fool out of himself. The first cohort is now the real pride of the legion, you know. We -"
"All right, I get it," Reyna snaps, losing her patience. Her face colors at the mention of Jason, and she mentally curses herself. Reyna's gaze grows cold, and Octavian takes a step backward, winces, his pale hair a sickly white in the late afternoon sunlight.
(A queen, Reyna chants to herself, her heart pounding along in rhythm. I am a queen.
She knows she is not beautiful like a daughter of Venus or intelligent like a child of Minerva or even as quick-witted as a descendant of Mercury. None of these traits belong to her, describe her, and it's not as if she's resentful or anything. Reyna is war incarnate, and she will not fail in her duties to her mother, her people, her new family, by acting like a spineless creature in front of some self-righteous legacy of Apollo.
A queen, she whispers, and by thinking the words, she tries to make them true.)
Reyna rises through the ranks of Camp quickly. She loses her probatio status in two weeks, after standing up to a son of Mars in battle and preventing him from humiliating his fallen opponent. The two praetors keep a close eye on her and her deeds, and Aurum and Argentium soon become well-known in Camp after a nasty confrontation with Octavian that ends with him screaming for mercy as his toga is torn to shreds.
She can't help feeling alone though, especially when she sees the other members of her cohort talking and joking like family at dinner while she sits alone, playing with her food. Hylla, what are you doing right now? she thinks, and wonders if she made the right choice in leaving her sister.
A month after her arrival at Camp, Jason Grace jogs up to her after she leaves sword practice, his sharp gaze the same color as the mid-morning sky. "Reyna," he says easily, and Reyna's heart sings, the way he manages to turn the simple letters of her name into something like music, into the most beautiful sound she has ever heard.
He falls into step beside her, the scar on his lip prominent in the light, and smiles lightly.
(Jason Grace is not yet a man. He is not yet one to leave girls red-faced and giggling insipidly, is not a boy who instantly captures the attention of a room, is not the brightest candle or the warmest flame. But Reyna thinks he is something more, someone different from any boy or man she has ever seen, and as the sun strikes his hair, turning it to purest gold, she thinks her heartbeat is just a little faster, her cheeks just a bit redder.)
Reyna raises her head, acknowledging him, and waits for him to speak.
"I saw you at practice just now," Jason remarks, grinning. "Reese DuPont? She's been at Camp for over five years, but you handled her like it was nothing!"
Reyna gives a half-smile, making sure to keep her expression placid. In truth, the girl hadn't been that hard of an opponent. She had been too brash, too showy, the exaggerated arcs and feints of her sword as much as for the viewing pleasure of the audience as for the battle itself. "Thanks," Reyna replies. "I was just lucky, I guess."
Jason rolls his eyes. "Yeah, right," he retorts sarcastically, though there's the hint of a grin in the curving of his lips. "I know a good fighter when I see one." His face cracks into a full smile and a moment later, he says, "How about this: you, me, tomorrow at three o'clock? Bring whatever weapon you want."
And that's how their story starts.
(With a clatter, the sword disappears from his shaking hand, soars through the sun-kissed air, and -
Reyna's fingers smoothly clasp the hilt as Jason raises his hands up in an imitation of surrender.)
Reyna falls into any easy rhythm.
She and Jason slowly become inseparable, and make a reputation for themselves as the best sword-fighters at Camp. Jason is easy to be with, in a way different from how she feels around any other person. He does not question her about her past, does not glance at her suspiciously like the others when they hear the word magic or see Argentium and Aurum. He accepts her, as easily as if she has always been in his life.
(This is the mistake she makes: trust - too easy, too quick.)
Two years after arriving at camp, she goes on her first quest.
Reyna winces when she moves her arm, the pain from the knife cut given to her by the Cyclops stinging and sore on her back. I am not weak, she tells herself over and over, gritting her teeth, chanting the mantra to herself and ignoring Jason's concerned looks. The cut does not hurt - what really hurts is that she was almost lured into a Cyclops' lair by the sound of Hylla's voice - not my sister, not anymore.
"Reyna, be reasonable," Jason finally tells her after her vision starts shifting and she almost falls to the ground. He grasps her shoulder, the warmness of his fingers flooding into her body, and she tenses up before pushing his hand away.
"We need to rest," her friend continues, anxiety lining his face. The sun captures his lashes, sets his cheeks to gold, and Reyna is struck by how ugly and useless and imperfect she must look, compared to him.
"No," she snaps, and it comes out sounding like the shatter of glass, harsh and crisp. Jason recoils, and she automatically curses herself. "I...this is my first quest, okay? I don't want to fail. I just..." Her voice shakes, cracks just the tiniest bit, and Reyna clenches her hands. How can she explain her desire to prove herself to someone like Jason, a person loved and respected by the entire Camp? And suddenly, all the failures and losses she's ever experienced comes flooding into her mind, its course quick and swift as an arrow, piercing her heart. Hylla, she thinks bitterly. Father, Bellona, Circe.
She gives a firm shake of her head and rolls back her shoulders. "I'm fine," she says suddenly. "Let's go."
When she walks past Jason, there is a new sheen of respect for her gleaming in his eyes.
She is fifteen - too young, always too young - when she becomes a queen.
Reyna is nominated as praetor by Jason Grace when the senior praetor dies in battle against a dracaena, one of Saturn's minions.
When her Camp, her people, raise her upon their shields, she feels a rush of victory, as sweet as any triumph she has ever tasted before. A queen, she thinks, heady with success as she catches Jason's eyes and he raises his shield to her in acknowledgement. And she knows - knows this, is more than sure - that she is has finally lived up to her name, her legacy, and she shines as bright and gold and brilliant as the sun. In that second, as the light from the hundreds of shields reflect her face, she knows that this is her destiny.
Octavian's eyes narrow poisonously when the Senate announces the results. "You will regret this," he sneers afterwards, his hand clasping hers tightly in a pretense of congratulations. He leans in close, as though about to give a kiss, his breath hot and burning on Reyna's cheek. "When you least expect it, I will ruin you."
Reyna's lips curl. She has had enough of useless threats, promises herself that she will never deal with them again. Her dagger slides out smoothly from under her purple toga, scraping Octavian's white one. "But of course," she purrs sweetly, and slides it neatly across his torso, just barely nicking the smooth skin hidden there. She draws even closer, a lover's caress, putting hardly any space between them, and can hear his hurried breathing and harsh exhale as he feels the slight pain. Her lips turn upwards in a false, brittle smile. "I trust that we will get along ever so well."
When Reyna draws back, Octavian's face is whiter than usual and there are spots of crimson on his tunic. His hand is shaking from where Reyna clutched it, and he does not meet her eyes.
She allows herself a small rush of victory at the thought of finally being the predator - not the prey, no, never the prey.
Reyna still fights and trains and argues with Jason, but not always as his best friend.
In February, she is matching swords with Jason, her teeth clenched as he backs her against a tree, their swords glinting in the late autumn light. When there is less then a hairsbreadth between the two of them, when Reyna's sword hand goes limp and her weapon clatters to the ground, chest beating impossibly fast, when there is a softness and hunger in Jason's eyes that she has never seen before - Reyna laughs, voice unnaturally high and thin, and slides out from under his arm, face flushed.
In May, she discards her toga and settles for lip gloss, he wears cologne and a mask of apprehension; they go to the movie theater in New Rome and Reyna allows her lips to curve upwards when his fingers accidentally brush against hers as they both reach for the popcorn.
In August, she is huddled over battle tactics and strategy, planning for the offensive against Mount Othrys when Jason finds her. "Don't worry," he tells her, the fingers of one hand lacing through her cold ones, the other hand stroking her long hair. She stifles a sound of surprise, and he lowers his lips to her cheek, presses them lightly against the soft skin. "It'll be okay." He stays silent for a moment, then continues. "I promise."
She raises her head, he leans forward, and when his lips meet hers, she thinks she is in Elysium.
(When he slays Krios, Reyna's gaze is the first one he meets.)
Jason is elected to replace the praetor who died in battle, and Reyna allows herself the tiniest spark of hope as he says his vows, makes another promise, and she lets herself think -
(I love you.
They do not say this, that they are children of Rome and loyal only to duty and the gods. As Romans, they have no time for pleasure, for themselves. As demigods, they have no time to wait, to think and hope and love. As a boy and a girl -
And there lies their mistake.)
She still remembers how to depend upon herself.
When Jason leaves her - disappears, she corrects herself angrily as she slices the brush through Scipio's soft mane - she goes back to the tedious task of organizing, ruling, doing everything by herself. Octavian offers her his help - the snake, she thinks contemptuously as she combs out a tangle - but she would be a fool to accept his offer.
She wonders what she would say to him if he returned, thinks about yelling and screaming and throwing a fit, and then settles for the questions Hylla once tried to ask her: Do you want to break my heart again?
Why do you want to hurt me?
Praetor, she offers Perseus, Percy, the boy she once hated and now has the faintest feeling of indifference towards. Honor in our camp. A hero. And to make the offer more appealing, she raises her head, shows him the length and tilt of her neck, smiles a predator's grin, all sharp teeth and bared red lips -
Reyna is not a beauty like Piper McLean or Annabeth Chase. But when she smiles, when her lips curve upward, men - and boys - tend to forget that. When she smiles, she is strong and sharp and alive, more proud and graceful and elegant than a daughter of Aphrodite, a child of Athena, could ever hope to be.
(Do not smile too often, Reyna, Circe says softly, brushes a loose curl behind Reyna's ear like a mother would do to a child. You are not like your sister. There is something too grim, too serious about you.
Hylla - always Hylla, and Reyna smiles, just to irritate Circe. The sorceress doesn't notice, instead focuses on some incomprehensible thing in the distance.
When a woman smiles easily, the grin loses its weight, loses all meaning. A smile is a precious thing, not to be wasted. Be stoic, my dear. Silent and regal and proud, yes, that is the way for you.)
Percy Jackson is not a boy like Jason Grace. But he nods uncertainly, and accepts her offer.
Reyna grants him another quiet smile, and tries to shrug off the sting of his rejection.
When Jason descends from the ship, she feels light, impossibly light, as if she is standing on the edge of a cliff and instead of falling, she could fly. Next to her, Percy bounces on the soles of his feet, and Reyna stifles a grin.
He is taller, brighter, but still as golden as before. The sun illuminates his hair, brings out the startling blue of his eyes, and his hands, strong and capable -
The vision fades, and Reyna grows still.
There is a girl next to him, a girl with hair like spun chocolate and an olive complexion. She is lithe and slender, with curves in all the right places and a seductive sway to her hips as she walks -
Reyna tastes bile in the back of her throat, and swallows as she notices the girl's eyes - by the gods, she has seen those eyes before, in Circe - which are swirling with a thousand different colors, a thousand different secrets just waiting to be told. They are latched protectively on Jason, and her hand - her right hand is enclosed in his.
Reyna's smile turns into a sneer, and when Jason's eyes scan the crowd before alighting on her, she tilts her head away to escape his gaze.
I am strong, she reminds herself. I have led the battle against Mount Othrys, I have escaped from Blackbeard, I have survived Lupa, I have refused the Amazons.
I am a queen, and a queen is not weak.
"Reyna," Jason calls, the scar on his upper lip standing out in the afternoon sunlight. "Reyna," he says again, and the words sound like the haunted music of a violin to her ears, melancholy and ancient and magic, all at once, all at the same time.
Her head slowly turns around, and she appraises him through darkened eyes. "Jason," she says curtly, the syllables falling into one another like a practiced pattern, a familiar rhythm. Her hand clenches around the knife at her side, and Jason instantly shifts backwards, apprehension and apology evident in his aquiline features.
I'm sorry, is what he wants to say. The words are stuck in his mouth, though, unyielding and strange. His heart aches for the girl he once knew, the girl he loves (loved), and -
(This is the truth, son of Jupiter. Do you remember Hercules? Have you heard the story of Helen? The children of Jupiter shine bright and beautiful, capturing their victims in moments with their allure, then discarding them even quicker, bringing death and destruction for all.
You are no different.)
Reyna strikes first.
"I waited months, Jason," she says, voice cool and calculated, a true Roman, a true warrior. "I waited for you to come back, and when you finally do, it is with a child of Venus." Reyna's voice does not rise, she does not scream or shout or whine. She is almost gentle, with just the hint of a friendly reprimand in the low melody of her voice, and that is what scares Jason the most.
"When you became praetor, you swore to uphold your vows. You promised to put your family, put this Camp, put duty before all else. And now, look at you. A Greek for your mentor, Greeks for your closest friends, a graecus for a girlfriend. Rome and Lupa have been entirely forgotten by you. Yet, you expect - "
"You're not being fair, Reyna," Jason blurts out, running a hand through his hair. His voice shakes, barely in control, a crescendo of sound. "I - my relationship with Camp Half-Blood is the same as Percy's relationship with Camp Jupiter. I - we...I was..." His voice trails off under Reyna's stony gaze.
"You expect me to understand everything," Reyna continues, sarcasm dripping from her voice. In that moment, she feels more alive than she has ever been. A boy, only a boy, she thinks scornfully. He has gone on half a dozen quests, he is the one the gods have given the future of civilization to, and yet, he is still nothing but a boy. "I cannot. How can I, when you have discarded your entire family, your entire life? Why have you shifted your allegiance? Are you ashamed of us?" The questions hang in the air, as delicate as a spider's silken web, thin and susceptible to the slightest touch.
Jason - such a boy, only a boy - tries to answer the impossible. "Of course not," he says tiredly, and this is what Reyna is most afraid of - that there is no fight in him, no force left, and she almost hates herself for having broken his spirit, just like that.
Reyna walks away, and leaves the last parts of her broken self to a broken boy
The next day, there is a Senate meeting. Reyna says all the necessary responses, makes the crucial decisions, and tries to keep herself from staring back at Jason, whose eyes are without a doubt focused on her.
"We can't trust them," Octavian sneers, anger wiping out his dignity. "Do you know what the Greeks did to our ancestors? They captured the city of Troy on false pretenses of friendship, and cut down weaponless men, killed innocent children, raped harmless women. And now - and now, they don't even bother to be subtle about it, they're here practically demanding our help, like they're not going to take no as an answer. Do we want a second Troy? Do we want to ally with the people who killed our forefathers in cold blood?"
Reyna buries her head in her hands, feels the anger from the other senators rise and fill the air around her, almost a tangible substance. And for once, she does not argue with Octavian, with his senseless logic, because this time, this time he is right. He has not warped history, not smoothed it over, this is exactly what happened.
And the Greeks know it.
"The past is the past," the blonde-haired girl - Annabeth - says in a markedly forced voice, but when Reyna lifts her head, she can see that her knuckles are white. "Are we going to argue over something that happened more than two millennia ago? We need to focus on - "
The senators shout over her, pounding the table, eyes angry and flashing. No, no, if we cannot focus on the past, how can we focus on the future?
And over all that din, a voice rises.
It is a beautiful voice, Reyna thinks detachedly. Beautiful and sleek and charming and definitely feminine, a voice that makes you fall asleep at night and never want to wake up, a sound as delectable as chocolate, a tone like the caress of a wind, a voice like magic -
Something about that strikes her as unsettling, as not quite right, and Reyna can't place her finger on it, not yet. She closes her eyes, tries to summon back that feeling of insecurity and suspicion, but the voice continues.
"You need to listen to us," the sound continues, and Reyna whips her head around to see the girl sitting next to Jason speaking - the girl he was holding hands with, she thinks spitefully. There is almost a smile on Piper's flawless face, a half-bemused expression as she goes on. "We need to work together to destroy Gaea. You need to give us your support. You need to trust us, the Greeks. Let us into your city. You can't be suspicious - "
"She's right," someone murmurs dreamily, and like a thin, fraying cord of rope, something within Reyna snaps. She suddenly remembers that feeling, and leaps to her feet. When she opens her mouth, she feels like she's speaking through water, the sounds discordant and jagged, so different from Piper's.
Piper hesitates for a moment, staring confusedly at her. "Excuse me?" she says, arching one perfect eyebrow. She smiles comfortingly and continues. "Sit down," she says pointedly to Reyna, but her voice has turned heavier, richer. "Support us. Argue for us at the rest of the Senate meetings. Be on our side - "
"No," Reyna says sharply, and she remembers where she has heard the girl's voice before - Circe. "Don't you dare charmspeak us," she hisses, narrowing her eyes. She gives a low whistle, and Argentium and Aurum come sprinting into the room before sliding to a stop by Reyna's side. "If you want our support, if you want to work together, if you want us to trust you and regard you without suspicion, you'll have to work for it. Give us evidence. Prove it to us. I want to see you risking the lives of your own Camp, your own people, so that I can see how serious you are. I want you to give us your battle strategies to prove this isn't a sham. And I want to be able to have a full inspection of your ship so I can make sure you aren't keeping any secrets."
She stops, bites her lips, and waits for the rest of the senators to say something. She knows she's driving a hard bargain, she's not being very diplomatic, but can't they see that this is a matter of life and death?
"I agree," someone says, and the trance is broken.
Piper McLean's lips curl, and when her eyes meet Reyna's, there is a threat, a promise in them.
"I don't not have time for you," Reyna says shortly when she sees Piper waiting for her outside her barracks after dinner one day. She turns around and heads back for the dinner hall. Piper follows.
"If this is about Jason," Piper begins quietly, "I understand. I know that you're probably upset. But I also know that you guys never really had a relationship. So what I'm doing with him...it's not wrong."
Reyna stops in her tracks, stops and stares and wants to laugh, because the girl, this stupid, stupid Greek, thought it was about this? "You're such a child," she spits, filling her words with venom. "Gaea is about to invade, she's about to destroy western civilization, and you think I'm acting this way because of a boy? No wonder daughters of Aphrodite have such a bad name."
(When she sees a flash of pity cross Piper McLean's face, she knows that she has lied in vain.)
She has fought and ruled and triumphed with him, wiped the blood from his brow and knocked the sword from his grasp, and eight months apart cannot change this, cannot erase the past -
(It can destroy the future.)
When she sees the spear hurtling towards Jason, she lunges before him, and the impact knocks the breath out of her lungs, hits her like a tapered icicle, like a promise, like a question.
She sees, rather than feels, herself falling to the ground in the midst of battle, a queen knocked from her throne in the bloody carnage of war. I love you, she tries to tell the boy above her, but the words are wrong, much too heavy for such a light statement.
There is blood pouring out of the crack in her armor, the screams and shouts of war a distant echo in the background, and black staining the tips of her vision. Death in battle is honorable, she hears Lupa growl, the last melodic notes of a dead language.
(A solemn youth looks through golden lashes at the girl with the piercing black eyes, and smiles a grin that is just for her.
It'll be okay, he tells her, running a finger through her curls. I promise.)
And then, Jason's face is above hers, and he is holding her to him, his hands over her torso, trying to stop the flow of blood. There is sadness and pain and regret in his eyes, and Reyna tries to shake her head, tries to tell him to go on, to leave her -
Thank you, he mouths, and Reyna smiles brilliantly, smiles as golden and light as the sun in her heart, the sun beating between her ribs, and behind the cloud of pain in her mind, she thinks that thank you is a much better reply than I love you, because it is real and true - never enough, never as good, but better than nothing.
(A year later, Jason will look at the girl with dark hair and dark eyes, so alike and yet so different from hers, will smile heavily and think -
I will not betray you. I will not hurt you. I will not lie to you.
I will save you.)
When she dies, there is forgiveness on her lips and a smile on her face, and finally, finally, she is at peace.
The war is won, the gods have triumphed, and a part of Jason Grace shatters into a thousand fragile pieces.
"I loved her," he confides years later to the son of Poseidon at the after-party following Annabeth's graduation from Columbia. The bar they sit in is dimly lit, the deep purple walls stiff and undecorated, the stools and booths clean and rigid. Everywhere he goes, it seems, a part of Reyna is following him.
Percy nods silently and takes a swig of bourbon. "She'll always be your biggest what-if," he says understandingly. "But the past is the past." He tilts his head forward towards the middle of the room, where Piper is teaching Leo how to dance - Piper, gorgeous and stunning, childish and spoiled, even after all these years.
("Why do you never wear your hair down?" he says absentmindedly, touching the long braid of a girl from a thousand lifetimes ago.
She slaps his hand away, crouches over the scrolls of tactics and strategies over her desk. "I did," she says sharply. "At the Feast of Fortuna."
He grins, and she relaxes, the tension loosening from her muscles. "Maybe next year," she says playfully, eyes gleaming. "You'll see."
There is no next year for her.)
This is not a myth.
There is a knight in shining armor, a plume of sun-kissed gold dancing on his helmet, and he rides towards a girl, the princess trapped in a tower.
(By the gods, she is sick of waiting. She will wait no longer. She will never hide again.)
But this is what they do not say: There is nothing beneath the knight's polished armor, and he is only an empty facade, as false and brittle as a fake quirk of the lips. The princess does not know, the girl does not care, and she awaits his arrival excitedly -
Lies, the knight promises. Betrayal. In a day, in ten years, there will be naught to tell. And when the princess learns this, it hurts, hurts like a stone lodged in her throat that she cannot discard, and she cannot, will not bear it any longer.
(Reyna's body shakes as she leads her troops into battle, into war, her very last. And she feels alive, more alive than she has ever been in her entire life, and Jason, where is your Aphrodite spawn now? The battle consumes her as a corporal thing, each hack and slash and parry of her sword connected to her very essence - )
This is what is not written:
The white knight does not save his princess in time, and this is the cross he will bear for the rest of his life.
This is not a fairytale.