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Disclaimer: All you can recognize belongs to the wonderful Rick Riordan.

For Rome

I

He was born a leader.

It took him long to realize that and for a while, he resented it but now he knows it's the truth. He doesn't reject responsibility but then, nether do the others. Romans were never the ones to shun their duties… except for those who betrayed the camp and Olympus and joined Saturn. But there are people who are naturally fit to lead and he is one of them: he's smart, he's quick and decisive in his actions and he is always ready to be judged for them. He does not seek forgiveness, but he isn't the forgiving type either. He is merciless and gracious, and ready to sacrifice himself for his friends and all he holds dear. And – which is infinitely harder – he is ready to sacrifice whatever and whomever it takes to keep these things safe. That doesn't necessarily make him a crowd favourite but he is loved by his friends and respected by everyone else. It's satisfying but it is also… well, lonely. Add the mighty Daddy in the picture, and you have a prescription for isolation. No, it isn't isolation of the 'being ignored' kind, it is rather the 'oh he's sooo above us' kind. Unfortunately, that means that he's subjected to stricter criteria than the others and when he fails, he is criticized note than they are. Of course, that has something to do with the fact that with great power come great failures, too.

And yet, when the greatest failure of all comes, he is not blamed for anything. Oh the battle of Mount Othrys might have been a great victory but it is an ultimate failure. So many dead. Camp will never be the same. And he knew, he knew what his comrades would meet and he still sent them to meet their deaths while he got lucky and escaped with only a few hours in the infirmary and two months of treatment. And still, everyone licks their wounds and no one looks at him with anger and contempt. Sometimes, he wonders whether it would be easier if they did.

He is doing his best to help the camp restore its usual dynamics but he cannot honestly say he would have succeeded without Reyna. He might be the glue that keeps them together, but she is the one who can give them reassurance. The two of them are a good team. Too bad it's true only about the camp work.

For a while, he thought that maybe… She certainly wasn't indifferent to him, but then, after coming back from a quest for four in which he wasn't included, she changed. He doesn't know what happened and he doesn't really want to but when he sits in his honorary – and solitary – cabin – he sometimes wishes for having someone to whom he is what Dakota is to Reyna. Someone to hold him the way she did with Dakota that first day after the battle, when he had been falling apart. Sometimes, he wishes for not being the leader, at any time, at any place. For not being alone, apart from everyone else.

He is Jason Grace. He is the son of Jupiter. He has always wanted more than he was allowed to and has always pretended not to.

And he has always had a high tolerance for pain.

II

She was born a misfit.

It started immediately after her birth, when the pale midwives didn't dare show her shocked mother the newborn who lacked a left hand; below the wrist, she only had a lump of flesh in which no palm or fingers could be identified. Of course, the mother had more than one reason to be shocked, but the baby would learn about it years later.

She vividly remembers the mocking that was her constant companion through her early years. She was beautiful but it was not her beauty that stood out but the empty space where her left hand should have been. Children can be so cruel. Now, she would gladly teach them their place, but then, she could do nothing but accept their verdict. Being shunned for something that was not her fault. Her only comfort are the fairytales where love ensures the happy end and conquers all.

After arriving in the camp, things change. She is no longer ignored or mocked. Instead, she finds friends who care about her and protect her. And that makes her feel obliged to prove herself worthy. Having once found love and acceptance she doesn't think she could live without them any more. She lives on love, on giving and receiving it. She fights for her right to stay, to prove herself a true warrior more than any other camper. Sometimes, Bobby jokes that clearly a mistake had happened at her claiming – she was so obviously not a Venus child but a Minerva or a Mars one. Venus was never too warlike, after all. The thing is, neither is she. She doesn't love fighting and when she joins the battle at Mount Tam – no, Mount Othrys; Holy Jupiter, she shudders to think what must have happened to the poor mortals who were guilty only of having decided to have a hike at Mount Tam in the wrong day – she doesn't do it out of love for battles. She does it out of love – love for her friends, love for the things that were right. She has always loved the beautiful things – the lovely clothes, the work of arts – and she thinks that without them, the world would be bereaved. In her mind, she cannot reconcile Saturn with preserving any kind of beauty. He'd rather destroy everything. But most of all, she does it for her friends. She cannot help but stay by them and die for them, if needed. That's how love works. That's just how she is.

When she sees Bobby lying on the ground, his lower half smashed under the black marble wall that had collapsed, she does not hesitate: she falls to her knees and joins the others who are doing their best to dig him out. There is one major difference, though: they all best her in physical strength, but she has the power of Venus. The power of love. She doesn't even have the time to pray to her mum, but she feels the blessing of Venus surging through her blood and bones, while, bending her back under the pressure, she lifts the rock and Bobby is able to crawl aside… at least after Lily White, daughter of Apollo, ministers to him. The bad news it that the healing completely wipes her out and she collapses directly across Bobby, who is trying to stand up, and there is no one around who can fix her… so Dakota grabs her and carries her as far away from the battle as possible and lays her hidden under a rock.

Miraculously, Lily makes it out despite the monsters charging near her, the snake woman who is shot next to her head – after that, Michael Carey almost has a breakdown, convinced that he has killed Lily; the arrow does, indeed, pass through her hair, but the lessons in archery taught by the Apollo cabin are well paid off and she isn't hurt, - and the fire just a few feet away… and those are only the things that she knows about. But so many others are not so lucky. So many pyres, so many empty seats at the dinner tables. She can barely stand to think about it but she has to live it. She has no other choice.

She is Hazel Valentine. She is a daughter of Venus and she has to accept that love does not necessarily conquer all.

III

He was born a prankster.

He is charming, persuasive, easygoing. He can convince anyone into anything. Oh he has to learn to control this trait of his after he makes it to camp. Romans are all about discipline and they are not fond of jesters, or so is he told. It is certainly true about Lupa. The old mother wolf warns him in that some things are not to be tolerated and his fellow campers make it clear-cut as early as his first day with them. It seems that they have some experience with the likes of him and they are aware that he is not to be trusted. He isn't – not about the small things like wallets and chocolate. But he can be pretty serious when it comes to serious stuff and his friends know it. Everyone knows it. A part of him will stay a mischievous kid forever, but he knows what is important. And he can feel when someone likes him. Sometimes, he thinks it must be a blessing from his father and other times, he attributes it to his own cool persona, but the fact is, he can always say when someone likes him and many of his strict fellow campers do. And most people around here do need some serious cheering up. Come to think of it, the camp is a pretty unlikable place, all about rules, discipline, self-control and respect to authorities. It clearly needs him and his likes. But for all its faults, it is home. It is for him and people like him – the ADHD, dyslexic, restless, weird kids that are hardwire for battle and has 'Trouble' for a middle name. To stay here, he is ready to put up with discipline, as much as it offends his inborn sense of order. And little by little, it starts to rub off him. He wants to gain the others' respect, he finds himself believing in the values they preach and finally, he has to grow up. The Titan war is a battle for adults. He stills does some of his tricks but half-heartedly. The situation is too bad. Sometimes, he thinks it cannot go worse.

At Mount Othrys he finds out how wrong he was. For weeks afterwards, he wakes up screaming in terror, dreaming that he is under that rock again and this time, there is no Hazel, no escape. He dreams about everyone they lost, about the burning lake and the screaming demigods falling into the water, about the blood pouring over Gwen's face, half-eaten by a telkhine, before Reyna restored her with nectar and a hymn to Apollo, and the fear that she would not make it. It makes sense: why would she survive when everyone else in the world was either dead or going to be? He dreams of that dragon that they fight and how they are not even concerned with being careful, because they are going to die anyway, so what difference does it make? The least they can do is take it with them. Maybe it is that neglect for their own safety that helps them kill it, after all.

When it's daytime, though, when he's with Gwen, he can think about the positives. The falling palaces of black marble as he watches with Gwen's hand in his and her head against his shoulder, her relief mingling with his. The end of the threat. That brilliant smile of hers, a smile that he hasn't seen in ages. The first time he smoothes an auburn curl away from her face and she flinches – she hates it when he touches her scar, but he strokes it and kisses it, making her smile. She finds the imprint of the set of teeth embedded in her skin ugly and disgusting. He sees it as a mark of honour.

And still, and still... Sometimes, he thinks of the insidious glistening line that separates being spared from being rejected. Sometimes, he thinks of the ancient practices in Rome and Greece that the people chosen for sacrifice should be both fearless and physically flawless, and wonders whether the Fates who have decided to cut the thread of life for Mark, Jerry and so many others have not decided that he wasn't good enough.

He is Bobby Ringling. He is a son of Mercury and he no longer jokes.

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