Smoke on the Horizon

II. Jason

II. JASON

Camp Half Blood had never been cleaner. Or emptier.

It had been two weeks since the Romans had departed, having taken care of their wounded and assisting the Greek campers with clean-up, and the absence of their encampment and weaponry now made the area feel…abandoned.

Jason wasn’t sure why he felt that way. Maybe it was the toll that the battle with Gaea had taken on the camp, or maybe he was homesick for New Rome. Not that he’d ever admit that.

He was home here as well, after all. He had friends here, a girlfriend, a family. He’d had all that at Camp Jupiter too, well, minus the girlfriend, but somehow Camp Half Blood made him feel whole in a way that Camp Jupiter never could.

He wandered around the grounds, surrounded by the relative quiet of the afternoon. He knew Piper would be looking for him, but at the moment he just needed some time to himself.

Jason headed for the top of Half Blood Hill. He hadn't been up here since the Earth Mother had been blown out of the sky by a massive fireball of Imperial Gold ammunition, taking Leo and Festus along for the ride.

The Athena Parthenos towered over the hill, protecting the camp now from monsters and acting as a symbol of newfound friendship between the Greek and Roman demigods. She radiated power.

Jason remembered all they'd gone through to get her here. She was a peace offering, a sacrifice, and the key to defeating Gaea all rolled into one. She provided strength to those around her when they needed it, but otherwise, she just put Jason on edge. He felt too jittery around the statue, like someone was running an electric current through his body and it was all he could do to contain it.

Scars covered the hillside from the Roman’s onagers and the shrapnel from the battle several weeks prior. Many of the deep gashes in the ground were already beginning to grow over with grass and a variety of flowers thanks to the dryads’ and satyrs’ magic, and the naiads had begun to stop finding stray weapons and armor at the bottom of the lake.

Everything was beginning to return to normal.

Jason however simply couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that Leo wasn’t there with them. It wasn’t right. He’d made it possible for them to make their voyage to the Ancient Lands at all. Without him, there was no way they would ever have succeeded with their quest. And then, to top it all off, he had given his life to make sure they did.

Jason felt like he’d failed. He had let Leo go through with his plan, and now his friend was dead.

“It’s not your fault.” Piper walked up the hill behind Jason and stood next to him. He smiled.

“What’s not?” he said, but she wasn’t fooled. He had started to wonder if she could in fact read minds as well as influence them.

She gave him a sad smile. “You know. Leo?”

Jason sighed and his smile faded. Piper took his hand. “You couldn’t have done anything. You know him, when he’s got his mind set on something, nothing can change it. He knew what he was doing. The best we can do now is remember that.”

He nodded. “It’s just not fair.” In the distance, the gong sounded at the dining pavilion. Campers started pouring out of their cabins and rushing to find their seats.

“Let’s go,” Piper said, nudging him along. Jason took one last look up at the Athena Parthenos and turned back to the camp with Piper.

They were two of the last to walk through the columns. Piper kissed him softly on the cheek and made her way through the throng of campers to the Aphrodite table.

Jason watched her go, then headed over to his own table. He was the only one, son of Jupiter, much like Percy or Nico at their own lonely tables for Poseidon and Hades.

He plopped down on the bench and waited for Chiron to announce the start of the meal.

He glanced around the length of the pavilion and realized for the first time just how many empty seats there were. Every cabin had been effected, losing campers in the battle against Gaea.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. The ceremony for the dead had been long and difficult. Jason didn’t know many of them, but he still felt a sharp twang of pain and sadness at the sight of all the shrouds burning in the firelight.

But now, seeing everyone together at dinner, the Romans no longer filling the holes, it struck Jason just how much they’d sacrificed to stop the Earth goddess.

Percy knocked Jason out of his dreary thoughts as he sat down next to him on the bench.

“How’s it going?” he asked casually.

Jason shrugged. “Fine, you?”

“Hey, can’t complain.”

They returned to silence and Percy shifted uncomfortably in his seat, like something was on his mind but he didn’t quite know how to talk about it.

Jason was about to ask what was bothering him when Chiron, his horse half confined to his wheelchair so he could actually sit at the table, cleared his throat loudly enough to get everyone’s attention and waited for silence.

“Good evening, everyone,” he began. “I’m sure you’re all anxious to get to your dinner, but I do have a few words for all of you before we start.” A few of the younger kids sighed in disappointment, but they were quickly shushed by the older campers at their tables who looked back to Chiron expectantly.

“We have endured much in recent weeks, and lost much.” He paused. “But we have persevered and done what was necessary. And we have succeeded. By now, many of you may have heard rumors from Camp Jupiter in regards to our oracle, Rachel Elizabeth Dare. You should know that those in charge know just as much as you, or rather, just as little, and we should make no assumptions as to the verity of these rumors.”

There was silence. Many campers looked at each other in confusion, others in annoyance, some with looks of relief as they realized there might not be anything to worry about after all at present.

“That is not to say we should simply dispel them, but for the moment at least, hopefully some peace may be kept. Now, everyone off.”

Campers jumped up from their seats with their plates, racing to form a line behind the hearth and make their offerings to their godly parents so they could finally sit down to the food themselves.

Jason and Percy got up together and waited patiently for their turns.

When they returned to their seats, Percy glanced up at the head table. Mr. D, who had been recently reinstated as Activities Director, eyed him as he sat with Jason at the Zeus table. The wine god scoffed and averted his gaze again. He apparently either didn’t care that they were breaking the rules or was too lazy to do anything about it.

Percy smirked and began tearing into his blue crusted pizza, complete with navy tinged cheese.

Jason was about to cut into his meal too, but he had the feeling that someone was watching him. He turned, only to find Nico di Angelo sitting at the Hades table, alone as usual.

“I’ll be right back,” Jason said as Percy was picking up a second slice of pizza. The son of Poseidon nodded, his mouth full of crust.

Jason approached the Hades table and dared take a seat next to the raven haired boy. Nico flinched and for one awful moment Jason wondered if he was about to be pulled into the ground by the skeletal warriors he’d seen the younger boy summon so many times before.

Nico looked up from his plate and feigned surprise that Jason was there.

“Come on over?” Jason said, nodding to where Percy sat, now inspecting his Coke as if trying to decide if it was blue enough for him.

Nico hesitated, suddenly taking great interest in the rim of his plate, before nodding once and standing from the table. “Sure.”

Jason smiled, leading the way back across the pavilion.

Percy looked up as they approached, his smile nervous as he noticed Nico trailing Jason.

Nico took a seat across from Percy and nodded hello.

“Hey,” Percy said, glancing from Nico to Jason.

“What?” Nico asked. Percy’s smile disappeared.

“Nothing,” he said slowly. “I just - we didn’t think we’d get you to come over.”

The son of Hades smiled and turned his attention back to his plate.

Percy looked at Jason in surprised confusion, to which Jason simply picked up his cheeseburger and took a large bite.

Percy shrugged and picked up his pizza.

Soon the campers began to file out of the dining pavilion and head back to their designated cabins.

Annabeth trotted over from the Athena table, weaving her way impatiently through the crowd.

She took Percy’s hand and looked seriously between him, Jason, and Nico.

“We need to talk.” The three boys exchanged a look that said something like Gods, what is it now? and nodded in unison.

They followed Annabeth around the side of the pavilion and across the lawn to the Big House where Rachel Elizabeth Dare was waiting for them.

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