part ii of iii. lots of liberties taken with characterization of minor characters; please forgive me if it is not your interpretation.
(also, if anyone can find the godfather reference in here, i will love you forever.)
the secrets that you keep
These had seen movement, and heard music; known
Slumber and waking; loved; gone proudly friended;
Felt the quick stir of wonder; sat alone;
Touched flowers and furs and cheeks. All this is ended.
-RUPERT BROOKE, 1914 IV: THE DEAD
PART II: THE INITIATION
When she had still been a girl, when her hands were still white and pure and untainted, and her laughter and smiles were not merely part of an act, she had been the solemn second child of a cold, unyielding household. Her memories of her mother were few, but the ones she did have were sharp and finely-focused, with none of the hazy outlines that most in her profession had of their past lives. The woman had been tall and slender, with a fondness for designer suits and sleek chignons. There had been no show of affection between her and her daughter, but silent approval and detached acknowledgement instead.
When Reyna had been scarce a child, the woman had left suddenly, abruptly. There had been hushed calls on the phone, and the house had been invaded at all hours of the day by impatient, thin-lipped men and women dressed in the same unforgiving black suits her mother had favored. There had been talk, and arguing, and negotiations with her father, a slight, soft-spoken man with the melodic language of the Spaniards still fresh and languid on his tongue, until finally, he too had disappeared without a trace in the middle of the night.
She had been taken to an island, gone to school there, and perfected her arts. She had been left by her sister to fend for herself, and she had made a name and a reputation for her own out of nothing.
Even when she had left everything she held dear, even when she had been deserted by those who knew her best, even when she had been running towards a haven like a sinner towards salvation, she had always known this:
I am a queen.
New York is her first mission with Jason. There, Reyna finds her mother.
Bellona has changed; whereas she once was all sharp angles and lean limbs, she is now softer, dulled, her dark business suit tailored down in size. She is still a striking woman, Reyna thinks - striking, but not beautiful. Her step is light and graceful, burnished black curls streaked with strands of silver, clear gray eyes, the faint lull of a Mediterranean accent in her carefully pronounced words, skin still white and clear. Too old for active work in the field, yet too young (or too stubborn) to retire - now, she oversees the wide network of spies and communication that allows their business to function and flourish. And yet, there is still the same brittle hardness about her, an almost physical, tangible thing that Reyna both idolizes and fears, even as an adult.
"We thought you had died," Reyna says, and there is nothing to be made of her voice. Her hand clenches; she wonders if her mother can sense the silent anger compressed beneath her clipped smile.
"There's been no word from you for more than twenty years. Why now?"
Her mother pauses, stirs her coffee, and does not answer the question. Her face is stern, impassive, like some ancient Roman bust trapped behind a glass cage in a museum. How fitting, Reyna thinks. Trapped behind their duties and obligations, unable to leave until that final escape called death - isn't that what their job is all about?
"Lupa has told me much about you," Bellona says, and Reyna thinks she can hear pride on the tip of her tongue. "I always thought it would be Hylla, but you - you have surprised me. Very pleasantly, I must say."
Reyna's lip curls. This is not a mission, an assignment where she must keep up appearances and play the part of the starry-eyed idealist, or the mysterious femme fatale. Reyna's lip curls, and it is an ugly thing, contorts her features and sharpens the cruelty etched deep within her bones. Even now, it is Hylla, always Hylla, and will she ever break free of that looming shadow?
"Relax," Bellona says from the corner of her mouth. There is a faint gleam of amusement in her eyes. "We do not have to talk about her, if you do not wish to."
"What happened to Father?" Reyna asks, point-blank, ignoring the sting of her other words. This is the one question she has never figured out the answer to, in all her years of service; one mystery she still has not solved; one final story that must be finished.
"He was killed," her mother says simply, calmly. She pauses, delicate, sensitive, aware of the sudden vulgarity of her statement. "Or, as we like to call it - he was eliminated. He knew too much. He would have tried to look for me, and that would have interfered with my mission. I did not want him to die, I argued against it, but that was the course of action they chose."
"Was it the right one?"
"That is not for me to say," Bellona says, with all the sagacity of an agent whose entire life has been dedicated to her profession. "I was upset, of course, but I knew the risks. It was partially my fault, to be honest. I told him too much. I thought I loved him, and I almost lost everything."
Reyna feels something thick and heavy like bile rise up in her throat, choking her voice. She looks at the woman in front of her, searches for something, and cannot find it. She opens her eyes, sees a stranger.
She stands up, smooths her skirt. The sentiment is echoed in the finality of the movement.
Bellona looks at her, a frown creasing her face, as if she had not expected that her daughter would be the first to leave. Her eyes widen for just a fraction of a second, and then she purses her lips.
Ah, Reyna thinks, and there is the hint of teeth in her carefully poised smile. There.
They run to the very edges of the earth, and back, in a fruitless quest for absolution.
They find themselves in casinos and ballrooms and the elegant, exclusive society clubs of all the old European capitals. She wears violets and mauves and the occasional black, all cut to fit the long lines of her taut body in the fashion of the respected Italian coturiers; his suits are tailored and fitted, sleek and sharp, to match the angles of his body, and the simpering socialites can only whisper about what a lovely couple they make.
Reyna loses track of the people she kills. Some stand out, pitiful faces in a sea of lifeless bodies. There had been the girl in Biarritz, a pretty thing with doe-brown eyes who was scarce out of school, a girl who had seen and heard too much to be trusted or left alone. The gray-haired lawyer from Vienna - still ambitious even in old age, whose attempts at blackmail had not gone unnoticed. The man from Sydney - whose tragic suicide had just so happened to occur at the same time Reyna had left his apartment.
Reyna sees red, feels red - cannot get it out of her skin or her mouth or her eyes. She feels it crawling under her flesh, winding itself around her arms and feet, dragging her to the ground. She screams wordlessly in the middle of the night, scratches at her fingers in an attempt to get the color out, until her skin is raw and bruised.
The girl from Biarritz, the lawyer from Vienna, the man from Sydney - she sees them everywhere, and they are now stained red, dripping red wherever they go, haunted eyes staring accusingly at her every moment of the day, and they will not leave her alone.
Reyna smiles at Jason, takes her morning coffee (black, no sugar or cream), and goes on.
I am a queen, she thinks. I am a queen, and this is my duty, and weakness is not an option.
"Have you ever thought of leaving?" Jason says one day, after a particularly strenuous mission. His words are smooth, unhurried, as he cleans his Walther after a job well done. Reyna thinks there is a strange sort of beauty in the way his calloused hands slide across the polished surface of the barrel.
She exhales sharply, closes her eyes, and can almost feel the heat of his voice from where he sits next to her. "No," she responds. She looks at him, and his eyes are thoughtful and trusting, and Reyna feels a sudden twist in her throat - pity and another emotion that she cannot place rising to the surface. A child, she thinks, only a boy.
Jason is not an innocent, of that she is well-aware. He has murdered and he has stolen and he has lied, and not even Dante could provide an adequate punishment for the crimes they have committed. But he wants so hard to be fair and just and noble, and doesn't he know that these things have no way of existing in their lives?
"Sometimes, it crosses my mind," he says quietly, voice low. "Sometimes, I think there's a way that won't end with my death." He stops, looks at her calmly, eyes unnervingly clear and blue, like the waters of the Caribbean from her childhood. Reyna feels her throat catch. "D'you know why I joined?"
She shakes her head.
"My mother - "
He trails off, voice cracking, face haunted by the shadowy memories of some distant past. Instinctively, Reyna covers his hand with hers.
"My mother," he continues, "died when I was very young. My father, who'd left us years ago, suddenly came back for me. He sent me to a school - a very exclusive, very prestigious one. You know the type - the schools that only the children of Wall Street businessmen and politicians and oil tycoons can enter." Jason's voice is bitter, but he continues. "My father came to my graduation, and that was the first time I saw him. He told me that he worked for the government, that he was in a very important position. He asked me if I wanted to follow in his footsteps, enter the same profession he was in. And of course, I said yes. How could I say anything else?"
Reyna breathes lightly, and something buried within her core hurts, not only for Jason but for herself, for all of them, those who have been groomed since childhood to enter a merciless life of perpetual death. "That was your only way of thanking him," she says. "If it had not been for him - "
"I would've been stuck in the streets with no home and no future and no way out," Jason concludes, finishing her thought, and it is hard to miss the bitter undercurrent of his voice. "I might not even be alive today."
In Philadelphia, she is shot for the first time, and oh, she has never been so scared.
There is blood seeping out of her stomach, wet and sticky and red, and isn't this the stuff of her nightmares? Reyna would laugh at the irony of it all if the pain wasn't so bad. Jason's face is white, pale - he crushes her fingers between his as he calls the local HQ for help. "You'll be all right," he whispers in a mantra. "You'll be all right, I promise."
The pain numbs her body, and she feels tired and dull and sleepy as she struggles against that sea of darkness that threatens to overwhelm her. She fights against it, widens her eyes, breathes in and out in a steady rhythm as she waits for the ambulance to arrive. She can see Jason's mouth move, his forehead wrinkled, but she can't hear anything he says.
Not today, she decides, lips twisting into some distorted smile. In a month or a year or a decade - and she will meet it with head held high when the time comes - but not today.
I am not ready for death, she thinks, and tastes copper. Not yet.
(The first conversation she has with Jason goes something like this -
"How long have you been in the business?"
He looks at her, bemused, and closes the magazine he has been skimming through for the past fifteen minutes. They're on a plane, to some time-worn locale in the Provençal countryside where there have been sightings of a missing agent thought to have defected several years ago. Her shoulders are tense, rolled-back - her first mission with this new partner, and he better not mess things up.
"Longer than you, I believe."
Reyna narrows her eyes, but doesn't say anything. Length does not amount to experience, she has long learned - years of training is a different matter altogether from actual performance in the field. She coughs, once. "I prefer to work alone," she says. "However, I respect Lupa's decision and I understand it's safer - easier, to have a partner. However - "
"You stay out of my way, and I stay out of yours," Jason says, cutting her off, and she can swear he's about to laugh. "Don't worry - I've worked with enough agents. I'm not new, Reyna, remember? I've been here longer than you. I know the drill."
Reyna's jaw clenches, and she stiffens, because if there's one thing she hates more than any other in the world, it's being laughed at. She sits up, spine straight and locked into place, and clasps her hands together. "Next time," she says, and there is a deadly calm in the swell of her words, "don't interrupt me. Don't presume you know what I'm going to do or what I'm going to say. I'm your equal, and I deserve to be treated as such." She stops, and can see the first hint of respect in his eyes.
Reyna is not a fool. She hates to be challenged, knows that any doubt of her authority could lead to consequences that might ruin her. She understands that a single misstep could mean life or death, could mean turning from the predator into the prey. And while she would do anything, give up anyone for the sake of her profession, she is not ready yet to part with her own life.
She holds her cards close, and waits.)
(On the second Sunday of each month, she calls Hylla, and for an hour, she can pretend that there is nothing strange, nothing different, about her life.
They might argue, they might fight, they might constantly leave each other and not look back, but still -
They are family.)
Together, they are invincible.
He is golden and handsome and charming, and she waits in the shadows, dark and cold and silent. There are whispers about them, gossip that flits into whatever city they are in and make them the center of attention. Most of it is harmless - in one city, they are star-crossed lovers from Upper East Side parlors who have escaped their overbearing families; in the next place, he is a wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur and she is his exotic Caribbean lover. She smiles, he smiles; she laughs, he laughs; and at all the formal functions they attend as a couple, he can be seen whispering into the curve of her ear, breath hot upon the lean lines of her bared throat.
They never allow photographs. There is a line that they both know exists; Reyna thinks they have crossed it several times, however. Besides the basic liability that photographs can create for their job, there is another unspoken one. A photograph would be evidence, would be proof - that sometimes, there is something more than just for show in Jason's smile when he looks at her; that maybe, they really are as beautiful a couple as the society girls like to giggle about; that perhaps, they dance a bit too closely at all the fêtes and galas they are invited to, and his arm is wrapped a little too securely around her waist.
A photograph is evidence, proof; a photograph is certainty. Without a photograph, they can pretend like nothing has happened; with it, they know that whatever it is is real. Reyna is not at all certain about the two of them; she can almost feel the line shifting from beneath her very feet.
Jason smiles at her, and Reyna loses the feeling.
I love you, Reyna thinks, later.
Jason traces the length of her jaw, the curve of her throat, down to the thin crevice of her collarbone. His eyes are blue, sky-blue, and Reyna imagines them as beacons of light in the darkness of their room. She shifts in the bed, closes her eyes as he runs his fingers down the length of her body, wonders how things will work out when he leaves.
They always leave, she thinks.
"I love you," she says after a spell, and she can hear her heart beat faster, almost. Jason's hands are still, his breathing is even; he shifts his body, turns away, and Reyna can see, for the briefest moment, his eyes flicker.
(Reyna stays awake for the next two hours, and she is back on the island. Jason stays silent - too silent.
She thinks he is awake; she knows he is a coward.)
They still continue on, but something has changed.
At night, he runs his fingers through her hair, trails kisses down the curl of her shoulder, whispers stories and promises and lies. She kisses him back, sharp, draws blood often, and ignores the metallic tang as it enters her mouth.
In the mornings, she goes on as if nothing has happened. She is quick and brutal and efficient, and Lupa makes note of it - even calling her to congratulate her on her successes, or on a job well done.
One summer afternoon, the concierge knocks on her door, a slim package in hand. Reyna opens it - a book, The Art of War, with a note slipped between the pages.
All warfare is based on deception, she reads, in careful black ink. The paper is thick and white and creamy, expensive and custom-made, and she spies the initials of her mother at the top. She lights a match to the letter, and throws the book in the trash.
She begins to watch Jason.
(Piper McLean is long and lithe and beautiful, and in the dim lighting of the club in Paris, she has something of the age-old temptress, seductress, trapped inside her. She looks at this boy, the man sitting next to her with the golden hair and sky-blue eyes, and thinks detachedly that he is someone she could love, very easily. Piper McLean is a girl who thinks first with her heart, and then her mind, but right now, the order is reversed. She looks closely at his face, thinks she has seen it somewhere -
A rival, she realizes, and her eyes gleam.
"I'm Piper," she says, smooth and languid, and she can almost feel his voice catch, his throat clench.
Beautiful, she had been called.
Piper laughs, and her voice is high, sweet, pure, and his eyes linger on the curve of her slim throat.
Clever sounds much better, she decides.)
In New York, he leaves.
Reyna's chest clenches, and her hand shakes as she calls Lupa. Her voice, however, is steady and calm.
"Find him," Lupa snarls, and Reyna thinks there is a hint of something animal in her voice, something wolf-like and cruel and sharper than human. "Find him, and bring him back, alive."
(The words "not for long" hang in the air.)
There are rumors floating about when she returns to the Camp.
"They say," Octavian tells her, "that he left because of a girl." He pauses, appraises Reyna with gleaming blue eyes, and continues. "They say he did it for love - that it was really love at first sight, and he would do anything, even betray his home."
Reyna nods noncommittally and continues walking. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see Octavian looking intently at her, something hungry in the slant of his face. She feels sick.
"I'm sorry," he says, and his tone is thick, syrupy, dripping with insincere sympathy, and Reyna wonders how he hasn't choked upon his own voice. "I know how close the two of you were. If you ever want to talk, if it ever gets too much for you, then you can always - "
Reyna spins around, so that he almost walks straight into her. She narrows her eyes, inhales sharply.
"I didn't get to where I am now by losing control every time something like this happened," she snaps. "Find someone weaker, Octavian, someone you'll have an easier time entangling in your petty schemes. You cannot manipulate me." She turns around, and he does not follow.
For a month, for two months, there is no word. And then -
Ah, Reyna thinks. There.
The photograph in the magazine is tiny and hazy, but she can still make out their figures. A brunette, with a pretty face and mismatched eyes, and holding her hand -
Reyna packs her bags, and takes out the Glock she had used for her first mission.
A circular ending, she thinks. A perfect conclusion.
Jason runs, but he is not fast enough for her. Reyna has spent her entire life being a part of the chase (as both the predator and the prey), and does he really think that he can best her? It isn't long before she finds him, weaponless and weak, in a deserted Los Angeles alley.
"Reyna, please," he says - and his voice shakes, like a child. There is something in his eyes that she has never seen before, and it makes her sick to her stomach. "It doesn't have to be like this. You don't have to - "
"It's not about what I have to do," she responds sharply, before he has a chance to finish. "You betrayed us. Of all people, you should understand how this works." She sighs, exaggerated, though she has never been one for theatrics. "It's not personal. It's strictly business."
She thinks about what Lupa said to do. She thinks about what she wants herself.
Reyna looks at him, lips curling downwards, and her hand moves of its own accord.