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The mailbox conundrum

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It was Sunday and there shouldn’t have been a letter in the mailbox, but there was.

In fact, scratch that, there shouldn’t even have been a mailbox at all.

It was camp half-blood not your favorite neighborhood. Lipton stared at the mailbox and the letter in it feeling, slowly, the resignation settling in.

He looked around and noticed no other mailboxes, so somehow the Athena’s cabin was special enough that they deserved one. Nice. It was a pretty thing too: in the shape of an owl and you have to lift one wing to access the inside. Nice work. Probably from the Hephaestus’s cabin. Which could possibly mean that Skip had done this.
Which meant that everything was possible: it could explode, set itself on fire, start an alarm or a trap. Or nothing could happen too.

No one seemed to be lurking around so maybe he was just analyzing things too much. Maybe it was just a simple mailbox with a simple letter.

Right.

With a quick prayer to his mother he took the letter. Nothing happened. He let out a sigh he hadn’t really realized he was holding in.

He went back inside to open it. If this letter was full of glitter or confetti let them rest on his bed.

He opened it and once again nothing.

The letter was quite short:

Lipton,

I will not be able to come this month we had some trouble on the roman camp.

Ronald Speirs Praetors of the Jupiter Camp.

Lipton’s feelings were mixed. On one hand he was glad Ron had took the time to warn him on the other hand… How did he manage to get a mailbox installed? During the night? His mother was the goddess of war (for the Roman) not the Goddess of Mailbox. Was there even a God for that or did it fall under the jurisdiction of Hermes? Probably Hermes.

It wasn’t the moment to worry about that. He wanted to answer back. But he had no idea how. Surely if Ron had been able to, he would have sent an Iris message. If he hadn’t… Well there were a number of reasons for him not to. Mainly he didn’t want to. Ron wasn’t much the talking sort so he probably was more comfortable sending letter. (Still didn’t resolve the mailbox mystery.)

Anyway Carwood wrote back:

Ron,

Thank you for the notice. What kind of problem are you running into? I hope it’s not too important.
Thank you for the mailbox (if it’s you) and how did you do it?

Carwood.

Then following his instinct he put the new letter in the mailbox. When he checked a few seconds later the letter had disappeared. Well that was efficient.

“What the hell is that?”

Luz, followed by Perco -thank the gods- and not the other terrors, eyed the mailbox critically.

“Since when cabin can receive their own mail?”

“I’m pretty sure, we don’t. It’s a gift.”

“From your rich Roman boyfriend?”

“He’s not my boyfriend.”

“Sure, keep telling yourself that.”

Carwood sighed. It was an old argument: since Ron’s first visit at camp half-blood and the fact that Lipton was the only person who wasn’t scare to death by Ron –well neither was Dick but he had one of the terrors in his group which involve a lot of keeping an eye out, running after and making sure no one died, so little time was left for making friends with Roman missionary- Luz had been convinced that there was something else between the two of them. No matter how many times Lipton had denied it, nobody had ever listened.

The mailbox thing wasn’t there to arrange things in the slightest.

“I’m kind of jealous! As a son of Hermes I feel slightly cheated that we don’t have mailbox! Our father is the God’s mailman! We should have one! “Turning towards Lipton –he had examined the mailbox under every angle- and putting his hands on his hip he proclaimed “Tonight while doing my offers I’ll complain loudly about that. I want one too. We should all have one.”

Lipton prayed silently to his mother to not let this happen. He could only imagine the Chaos it would bring on the camp if the terrors had the possibility to harass people via mail.

At this rhythm Chiron was going to go postal far more sooner than planned. (Not that Chiron was really supposed to go crazy at any point, but it couldn’t be an easy job the one he had. Supervising a bunch of super energetic kids with weapons in hands, and worse, who knew how to wield them. Worse what would Mr.D do if that happens? Turned them all into dolphin?)

“I don’t know how it arrived here and even if I knew I won’t tell you. If you father had any common sense he would hopefully not let you having one of these. Ever.”

“Oh! Lip! How mean of you! How I’m supposed to write you long letter about my love for you if you won’t let me having my own mailbox?”

“Because it stopped you before?”

The voice was Lewis who had apparently just stumbled out of his cabin and looked still half asleep. Since it wasn’t summer (officially) yet Dick wasn’t back. He would arrive today, but it explained the fact that Lewis had the biggest bags known to humanity under his eyes. Lipton had been lucky enough to be able to come a week early in camp. As far as he knew the only reason Dick wasn’t here yet was because he wanted to help his father with the farm as much as he could.

(The whole camp knew where Dick spent his night yet, somehow, none of the adult had done something to stop it. Not even Mr.D. But then Mr.D seemed to like Dick. Or as far as liking someone not related to him could go. He only messed up his name once in a while.)

“What the fuck is this thing?” He said pointing to the mailbox. “Is this a gift from your boyfriend?”

Luz made a gesture of “Tadam” 

“See even Nix, one of your closest friend calls him your boyfriend!”

“Since when Lewis is a model to follow?”

“Hey! I heard that! But seriously… it’s from Speirs isn’t it?”

“I think so.”

“How did he manage that? Did Bellona have power that we didn’t know about?”

“Well” Perco said –he finally seemed to have finished with his teeth- “if one of your power as a goddess was to make mailbox appeared, I don’t think you would tell anyone. Especially if on the other hand you’re the goddess of war.”

As Lipton left his hand up to make the discussion came to an end they heard a soft “plop”. They all turned toward the mailbox. Time seemed to freeze for a second and then they all scrambled to get the letter first.

Luz managed to get it.

“Luz I won’t repeat myself: gives it back.”

“No way! I bet it’s a poem! A dirty one!”

Nixon snatched it from behind;

“It’s a not a toy, kid.”

He went to hand it to Lipton –Nix wasn’t completely an asshole- but Perco snatched it, George tried to steal it –to read it first- but Lipton tackled him to the ground.

“Nix!” he shouted as Nixon started to run after Perco. Perco however stumbled, fell and Nixon fell on him. The letter floated a bit before falling a few feet ahead and they all started to crawl to get it.

That how the whole of Athena’s children found them while they stepped out to go to eat: a pile of humans crawling on the ground to try to catch a sheet of paper. The arrival of new people seemed to surprise the others enough for Lip to actually get his hands on the letter.

“Well he said” to the people surrounding him “it’s time to go eat breakfast right?”

**

He had to wait for breakfast to be over and to be back in his cabin to actually read the letter. It was as short as the other one which shouldn’t surprise him much. Ron was not the kind of person to beat around the bush. Straight to the point that was his method.

Lipton,

Some of our recruit seems to have trouble understanding the word “orders”. The mailbox comes from me, someone owned me a favor.

Ronald Speirs, Praetors of the Jupiter Camp.

Lip could only sympathize with him. He knew very well what some overexcited and eager kids could do. He hoped to the gods that Ron’s ones weren’t as terrible as theirs. One day they probably were going to get them killed with their pranks and general bad ideas. Or that was what Harry said. Lip tried to have a more optimistic outlook on all this. Besides if something were to happen to the kids he would do his damnest to save them. No matter how much of a pain in the ass they could be they were still his friends and he cared about them.

And sadly they knew that. This was why when he remerged later on the way to go see the Pegasus he was not surprised to have Luz coming out of nowhere and following him, an eager look on his face.

“I won’t tell you.”

“Oh! But come on Lip!”

“No.”

“You know, the less you tell the more I’ll assume it’s something very dirty.”

“Why does your mind always go to the gutter? And I told you already there is nothing between me and Ron”

“You’re the only one calling him like that, you know.”

“Dick also calls him like that.”

“Dick doesn’t count.”

Lip raised an eyebrow looking at the younger boy:

“On what grounds?”

“He is already married to Nixon. They’ve been married forever.”

“You do realize they are not together either?”

“Yeah. But let’s be honest? It’s going to happen very soon. Or I hope it does because I bet on it, so this summer would be ideal.”

Lip only sighed knowing that trying to stop the kids from betting was just going to push them to bet even more. He just hoped Nixon never heard of it. The boy could be terrifying when he wanted to be.

“And anyway, I don’t see why the fact that Dick is… Close to Nixon a reason that him calling Ron “Ron” doesn’t count.”

“Because you only give nickname to people you care about. A lot. And Speirs is called by his nickname by only two people: you and Dick.”

“Can I maybe bring to your attention the fact that Camp Jupiter is way bigger than here? With way more people? For all I know he has a girlfriend over there.”

“And he wouldn’t even tell you?”

“Ron is not the kind of guy to talk about intimate stuff like that.”

“You do know him very well.”

When he looked down, Luz was smiling at him.

“Luz?”

“Yeah?”

“Shut up.”

He made his way to the stable ignoring the sound of Luz’s laughter.

**

Despite Ron not being able to come to the camp, he was not idle for a moment. Summer was here with all the kids returning to camp and all the Chaos that ensue. The arrivals of new kids all confused and lost, and all the taking care of them that it involved.

Then they were the announce of Nixon and Dick being finally together -and Luz apparently gaining a lot of money- that put the camp in some sort of festive mood as it somehow was a victory shared by all the campers.

So really Lip had no time to think about one Roman praetor. Except that he did. Mostly because they kept writing letters to each other. Ron’s missives were still short and to the point, but it still made a strange feeling of warmth spread out in Lip’s chest every time he saw that there was a letter waiting for him.

Somehow Luz had stopped trying to read them. Saying that “These dirty poems would taint my pure soul, I cannot look at them, my innocence would be touched!” which was his way of saying that he would leave Lip alone.

But then the month passed and suddenly he started getting nervous. It was completely stupid really. It’s not like those letters were love letters. There were… informative letters. Letter from a friend to another. Nothing more.

Maybe it was the fact that Ron did take the time to warn him through a letter. Maybe it was the fact that he had gone out of his way to find a solution that would make himself comfortable but let Lip be able to choose to answer or not.

Maybe Lip wasn’t simply used to Ron being that considerate and gentle. Not that the boy was mean, but he was reserved and liked things to have an order. He was after all a Praetor and that title come with a lot of responsibilities.

Lip just had to stop being nervous it was ridiculous really. He was atop of the hill near what used to be the Talia tree and was waiting for Ron to show up. They usually made sure that it wasn’t always the same that travelled but despite Lip’s pleas Ron was more often than not seen in the Greek camp that Lip at the Roman. Ron told him that he felt less pressured when he came that when he received so Lip supposed it was okay to let this happen.

Of course it just meant that all of their discussions were being watched and analyzed by half the camp, who once again was too interested in their relationship for their own good. (There was probably a bet existing on them, Lip knew it. He just hoped Ron would never find out. He didn’t think he would be able to save his friends if that was the case.)

He got caught out of his thoughts when he noticed the taxi stopping and Ron exiting, wearing his praetor’s robe. The drivers probably assume that there was a fair or a reconstruction being done nearby. Or at least Lip hoped that was all and that none of them would actually tried to look deeper into this.

 Finally the taxi departed, and Ron walked out to him. They greeted each other, and Lip was feeling a bit awkward, but he told himself it was just because he hadn’t seen Ron in a long time, that was all.

Ron didn’t mention anything and they talked about mundane things as they made their way to the villa. It was where Ron slept when he came to visit. His visits rarely lasted more than two days anyway, and when he was here, he usually spent most of his time walking around with Lipton, and actually very few moments in his room.

And today was no different. But Lipton was on edge. He felt more accurately the eyes of the campers as they walked around. He managed to keep a straight face and to have an actual conversation with Ron but his mind was over-analyzing everything.

They finally arrived in front of the Athena Cabin and they just stayed silent as they looked at the mailbox.

“Do you like it?” Ron asked sincerely.

Lip looked again at the owl. “It is very pretty. You still haven’t explained to me how it came to be.”

“I did. I told you someone owned me a favor.”

Lipton laughed

“Okay, but who? And how? You do know this camp is protected by a barrier? How did you manage?”

Ron just frowned.

“Is that really that important? It is not a threat. I thought it would please you.”

“And it does” Lipton knocked their shoulders together. “It really does.”

“I’m not good at face to face conversation” Ron blurted out and Lipton bit his lips to not say something insensitive like “Really?”

“But writing is okay. So I thought it would be easier for us to communicate like this.”

Lipton pondered on that for a moment.

“Would you rather we cancelled those monthly visits and replaced them by letters?”

“No.” he answered very quickly. “I like coming here… I feel… Calmer with you around. Also for one or two days I don’t have to supervise hyperactive kids and that’s just… nice.” He finished and Lipton smiled.

“I’m glad you feel this way.” And because he knew that if Luz were to see them right at this moment –gazing in each other eyes, shoulders touching, Lipton smiling, Ron looking less murderous than usual – he would have no ground to stand to defend himself on the “he is not my boyfriend” debate, he hastily added :

“Are they really this terrible, your kids?”

Ron expression immediately turned into one of suffering.

“I had this kid, amazing, listened to order very well, bright as hell, son of Mars. A really brilliant element.  Hell, he became a chief of one of the cohorts. Then come this… other kid. This son of Mercury. And I don’t know how but he turned one of the most perfect elements of our camp into…well… A kid I guess.”

He seemed to lose his spirit on the last sentences.

“Well” Lipton said after a bit of silence “we are kids. Sometimes they need to express that. I’m not saying that your way of handling thing is wrong. But having fun and letting off a bit of steam is quite nice too.”

It was true, he thought to himself. The terrors probably gave headaches to most of the cabin leaders, but they also brought life and laughters to the camp. They were kids that faced dangers and monsters all their lives. If they managed to find fun in something then let them enjoy it.

“I know. It’s just… “ Ron sighed. “It’s tiresome looking after them. That’s all.”

Lip put a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“I know.”

**

“So, huh, how is it going with the boyfriend “luz asked him while they were waiting in line for the offerings.

“He is not-“

“Yeah, yeah, sure, whatever you tell yourself.” Luz replied, cutting him off. Lipton felt a sense of lassitude washed over him.

“He’s fine. His camp is fine. Everything fine.”

“Wow there, mister, no need to be grumpy with me.”

“You have a bet going on this don’t you? I’m allowed to be grumpy about it.”

Luz stayed silent.

“I don’t though.”

“What.”

“I don’t have a bet going on it.”

Lip turned fully toward him, surprise evident in his face.

“You don’t?”

“No. You’re my friends and I don’t want to make money off that.”

“That didn’t bother you for Dick and Lewis.”

“It’s different.”

Lip wanted to ask more but it was his turn, so he thanked his mom, and went to his table. Ron was eating as the main table next to Nixon.

What was the difference between him and Dick & Nixon?

It was true that he was closer to Luz but… was it all? He wondered.

He couldn’t help but let his eyes flickered between Luz –chatting loudly with the multitude of kids at the Hermes table- and Ron –lifting his head from time to time to answer Nix’s questions probably-.

The thing was he liked to know things. And right now he really wanted to know why Luz didn’t bet on him and Ron. And why couldn’t he help thinking of Ron. Over-analyzing everything about him. They were friends he knew that. And he supposed that Ron was not… You know… Ugly. And he was nice to Carwood and he understood what it meant to take care of people. They shared the same burden.

But so did Dick, and he didn’t feel for Dick what he was feeling for Ron. And he was not completely sure of what he actually was feeling for Ron.

It was infuriating. It made him sick. He wished he could just stop thinking. He couldn’t.

He barely ate as a result and he felt a headache coming.

He apologized to Ron after dinner explaining that he didn’t feel well so he would rather try to get some rest. Ron seemed worried but just nodded at him.

Even if he were to sort out his feelings, he thought to himself, and if those feeling happened to be more than… platonic, he still couldn’t grasp what Ron was thinking. He was not even sure Ron did things like loving people. He cared and he could be friendly – on some extent- but there was a coldness to him sometimes.

Maybe it was just because he was awkward but Lip was not so sure about that.

**

He spent the next day with Ron. He had barely slept at all, head spinning with questions and half-answers and he was exhausted. They discussed in the penthouse with the other cabin leaders the exchange program. It had been something they really tried to put in place. They thought it would be good if the Greek kids could experience the life in the Roman camp and city, and the Roman kids could experience a bit of their camp lifestyle. There were already some people moving between the two but it was off the records, unofficial, and it was always bringing trouble –Roman gods were not completely the Greek Gods, and how do you reconcile the two sides of them? – So Lipton would like to implement some sort of official … thing.

Also another item –brought by harry- was the discussion of festival:

“You must have some in your city, and we have some. What if we were to try to organize a party together? And we could alternate the place one year to another.”

Ron nodded, thoughtful. “It could be a good idea. And it could help reinforce the exchange program? And maybe we could learn somethings from the others.”

At the end, Ron said that he would communicate those ideas to the other praetor –a woman by the name of Lena- and that he would contact them –Lip- when they would have discussed more about it.

“You may wait a bit for an answer” Ron told him as he escorted him to the edge of the camp as a taxi was waiting for him “We’re probably gonna need to discuss this with the people in charge of the city.”

Lip smiled “I get it. It’s fine. I’ll be coming next month, that way if they have questions, I may be able to help answer them.”

Ron looked grateful and he put his hand forward. For a shake. They had never shake hands before and Lip felt awkward.

He did it anyway because he didn’t want to be rude but felt strange about the whole thing.

He watched Ron going down the hill, praetor robe still on, his toga floating behind him. Lip felt a bit sad at him going but again: was he sad because he wouldn’t see Ron – his friend- before next month; or was he sad because he wouldn’t see Ron – the boy he was in love with -  before next month? He couldn’t tell the difference, and with a sigh he trekked back to his boys.

**

Luz was avoiding him. It was very apparent: not that Luz was stuck to him a lot before but... Yeah he was definitively avoiding him. He only saw the other boy when they ate; otherwise he was being completely invisible.

If Dick were telling him that Joe and Muck and Skip were hard to see too, he would be worried that some prank was in preparation. But the other terrors didn’t do anything suspicious. Or, well more suspicious than usual, the level of mayhem in the camp was still more or less the same.

Luz was avoiding him personally. And for the life of him, Lipton couldn’t guess why. He didn’t remember any things he might have said to upset the boy, and he couldn’t remember any reasons for him to be mad at Luz –which would explain the avoiding on a certain measure-. He just ended up blanking out when he thought about it.

He knew he couldn’t just let Luz avoided him. They were friend and he’d rather stay friend with him. So he was well determined to discover the why.

He needed help:

“I don’t know, Lip, he didn’t seem different lately. Seemed happy. I certainly didn’t notice anything.”

“That’s because it’s a heart matter” Kitty said matter-of-factly.

He had asked help from Harry, Dick, Nix and Kitty. He stared at her:

“A matter of heart?” he asked, dumbfounded. Nix, to his right, shrugged, seeming as lost as him. Dick’s face reflected nothing on this and Harry was looking at Kitty like she hung the moon which was… the norm for him.

“He is in love.” Kitty added.

“What does it have to do with me?” he asked and Kitty fixed him with a glare that could put Chiron running away, tail between his legs.

“Oh” Nix said behind him, and even Dick was arching an eyebrow.

He was about to ask when an idea came to him but-… No.

“No.”

More glaring.

“I don’t believe you”

“He is always saying that he does love you.” Dick said calmly

“Yeah, remember the mailbox? He said he wanted to write you love poem.”

“That’s a joke!” at the really, thought? Stare he get he added “Beside he is the one who started the whole me and Ron thing. Or at least he was one of the more vocal about my supposedly relationship to him. Why would he do that if he… If he liked me?” he finally said.

Kitty tilted her head to the side.

“Loving someone doesn’t necessarily mean to want to be with them. Ideally you would want that, but sometimes knowing they’re happy is enough. Beside he is one of your closest friends; it is always harder in those cases. “At that last remark she casted a meaningful glance toward Nix who crossed his arms over his chest, defensive.

“Yeah. She got a point.” He conceded. Still Lipton couldn’t reconcile with the idea.

But he pretty much had no idea why Luz would be avoiding him. In fact he still didn’t.

“Why would he be avoiding me, now, because of this?”

“You seemed awfully cozy with Ron last time. And there is the letters.” Dick added “It’s one thing to want the person you love to be happy with someone else; it is quite different to see it happen.”

Was I? He wanted to ask about him and Ron but shut his mouth. Kitty threw him a look though as if she knew. Sometime it seemed like she could read into their minds and that was mildly terrifying.

“I need to talk to him.” He looked at Harry “Help me?”

“Hell yeah” Harry said, smiling brightly “After all what are friends for?”

**

It was during catch the flag that they put the plan in place. Well, if you could call that a plan. The Hermes and Athena cabins were in the same team and Luz was charged to look over the flag and Lipton self-appointed himself for the same thing, letting some of his other siblings to handle the strategy. It was good to not always have the same one doing it, as it kept their adversaries on their toes.

He waited a bit after the beginning to sidle up to Luz, who was resolutely looking ahead of him.

“You haven’t talk to me in days” he said as an opening and saw Luz’s hand twitching on his weapons.

“Are you okay?” he asked, because they were friends and he was worried about him.

Luz was thinking, he could tell, before he deflated and he looked so vulnerable now, despite the armor and the weapon in his hand.

“I’m fine. I’m sorry. I wanted to think… on my own.”

“And did your thinking lead you to an answer?”

Luz casted him a quick glance before returning his attention to the forest:

“Can we talk. After the game?”

“If you promise to not run away, sure.”

Luz nodded and Lipton went back to his place. He felt relatively confident that Luz wouldn’t try to escape at the end of the game. He wasn’t that sort of person.

They won –not really thank to their strategy but thanks to the Hephaistos cabin and their weird creations- and while they all made the trek back to the campfire –except joe who seemed to be in a pretty intensive argument with Webster- he made sure to follow luz so that the other boy wouldn’t bolt.

Luz didn’t and waited for him a bit away from the merry chanting and general rowdiness that came with catching the flag night.

“So” Lipton started.

Without looking at him –which hurt a bit, Lip was not going to lie- luz said:

“I had a crush on you.  Maybe still have. I just really, really like you.” He blushed and ducked his head “But I didn’t want to tell you because you’re my friend and I don’t want to lose that, and I know you don’t like me back because you like Ron even if you’re in denial and I just….”

And then looking hurt –which Carwood felt mortified and angry because he had never seen Luz looking hurt and it was the last thing he wanted to see in the world – Luz added:

“You thought I would bet on you Lip and you really seemed surprised that I didn’t… And it’s not just that you don’t like me back it’s that you don’t know me. We’re friend and I sometimes thought that perhaps you knew but didn’t tell me because you were too nice. And didn’t want to break my heart. But you assumed-“

Lipton cut him off and hugged him. He knew that he was sending the wrong signal here but he couldn’t stand the thought of Luz, his friend, looking so hurt, so lost and knowing that it was his fault –albeit unintentionally-.

“I’m so sorry George. I’m sorry. “He repeated. He wasn’t pushed away or hit or anything. George just sagged in his arms. They stayed like that a bit before finally George lightly pushed him away.

“It’s fine.” he said, voice raw and eyes suspiciously wet, but Lipton didn’t point out those issues.

He wanted to say he was sorry again but George held up his hand again.

“Don’t... Just don’t. I know it wouldn’t work out. I told you, I know you are in love with the Roman Boy.”

“How do you know that?” When I didn’t know myself?

“It’s the way you look at him Lip. I looked at you the same way.” He smiled faintly “I also knew you would never acknowledge it so I teased you with it because… I’m not really sure why.” He sighed.

Lipton looked back at the fire. Thought of what he had been told.

“Are you going to keep avoiding me?” he finally settled for asking

“For a while. I mean you just rejected me” Lipton cracked his neck with how fast his head swiveled to look back at Luz and protest “You did, you know it. So, huh, yeah. Maybe for a bit. But I do still want to be friend with you. So I’ll come back. Don’t worry.” He patted Lipton on the shoulders and left, letting Lipton alone, apart from the general crowd.

He felt sad but also thankful for George who had answered the question he had asked himself all summer long.

He was apparently in love with Ron Speirs and it didn’t feel awkward or weird to think that. It just felt very natural.

Finally, he knew.

**

The summer ended and it was time for the kids to decided what would they do? Stay in camp or return to their family. Luz still wasn’t talking to him but he wasn’t intentionally avoiding him anymore and sometimes he would even smile at him from afar.

They weren’t like they were before and Lip wondered if they ever would. It was true that he was friend with Dick and Harry and Nixon but… His friendship with Luz meant a lot. Luz was different, a breath of fresh air, always making him laugh and smiled.

He missed his warmth. He wished he could return the other boy’s feelings, but he couldn’t imagine himself in a romantic relationship with George. He couldn’t be the one that would make George happy.

It sucked.

He kept writing to Ron but now, it felt awkward, hesitating over each turn of sentences, each word, wondering if Ron could tell his feelings from the way he conjugated his verbs, by the adverbs he used, by his punctuation.

It was getting ridiculous and he was tired of it. Was being in love always this exhausting? How could people like being in this state he wondered? But then he would receive a letter and felt happy and strangely giddy and he would be like “oh. That’s why!”

He sent a last letter before leaving for home, to give his real address to Ron. He suddenly realized that the system they had didn’t require things like stamps or the postal services. He knew that Ron lived in the Roman city (why would he not, they had everything over there, school, university, gymnasium, theatre.) but did the normal postal services disserved the Roman Camp? He was pretty sure that it was a resonant “No.”

He felt himself regretting his decision to go back home for a wild second at the idea that he would have to stop his correspondence with Ron. But then he felt silly for this. He loved his mother and his brother and he would be more than happy to be back in Virginia.

He grabbed his suitcase, said goodbye to his siblings staying behind –with a promise to send text or to call if they needed anything- and then went to where Dick was waiting for him – they shared the car to go to the train station together-.

“No Nixon?”

“We already said goodbye. And we don’t like showing too much affection in public.”

It was only as Dick uttered the words that Lipton noticed the purple-reddish mark on Dick’s neck. He just raised one eyebrow.

“But I made him promise to come visit me soon.” Dick looked particularly proud of this fact and Lipton supposed that he could understand: Dick had wanted to invite Nix over since their first meeting probably.

They went up in the car and Lipton watched through the rear window as the camp-Halfbood disappeared from view.

**

As soon as he get-off the train he was swept in a hug by his little brother. Robert had grown up since the beginning of summer and he would soon catch up to Carwood.

“You’re finally here! I felt like I waited an eternity!”

“Oh come on! The train was just slightly delayed.” Robert huffed and puffed but helped him carry his bags as they made their way to the bus.

“How is mum?”

“She is okay. We had quite a lot of people this summer that was nice! We still have some guests and I supposed we will be quite busy up until October hit.” Robert shrugged “but we managed.”

Lipton always felt bad about leaving them alone while he went to camp half blood, but while he didn’t attract monsters often he still liked spending his summer surrounded by the other kids, by people that understood him in a way few people could.

Not that Robert didn’t get him. But he was normal. He didn’t have troubled reading, he didn’t feel like sitting for hours on-end was torture, and he certainly didn’t see the appeal of a nice iron sword.

On the other hand he knew his favorite baseball player, knew how he liked his burgers, was friend with the same neighborhood kids, and knew the teachers in his school. Which he supposed other half-blood kids didn’t.

They rarely talked about their life outside if they had one. Some kids didn’t have one, or it wasn’t happy, for the most part. He thought briefly of Nix, surely alone in his cabin now that Dick had left.

The ride in the bus was uneventful, Robert trying to catch him up on what had been going on in town. Lipton listened, gaze fixed outside trying to see if he could found anything dangerous lurking around.

He finally arrived at the guesthouse and felt at home the moment he entered and could smell the perfume of lavender and dry wood that characterized their hallway.

His mother arrived then, a plaited blue quilt on her knee. A book on astronomy was wedged on the side of her wheelchair, a new book that Lipton didn’t recognize, but already slightly bend as books do when someone read them a lot in a short time.

“Hi mom” he said while bending over to hug her.

She looked good, lively as always and smiling.

“Hope you had a good summer. Take some time to rest but I’d like you to help us prepare dinner tonight.” Lipton just nodded and went upstairs. He could hear muffled conversation as he passed some room, knowing that guests were there and he would have to meet them later on.

Barely arrived and he was already recruited to help. He shook his head, not necessarily unhappy but he wished sometime that he could find some rest.

**

Dinner had gone well and the guests were pleasant, though they did ask a lot of question on his summer camp, one couple explaining that they had a nephew that would probably enjoyed it there for next summer and Lipton smiling politely trying to find a way to rebuke them without sounding too mean.

How do you tell people “Sorry, but it is a camp reserved for children of Greek Gods and Goddesses. More Salad?”

As he went up in his room, he found himself finally relaxing, rubbing a hand on his neck trying to work the bundle of nerves there. He hated the train but it was way cheaper than plane and his family didn’t have a lot of money to spend on.

It was only once he sat on the bed and that he looked around that he noticed it.

There plain as sea, on his desk, sat an identical mailbox as the one that stood in front of the Athena Cabin back in Camp.

He felt himself laugh, unprompted at the ridicule of the situation hit him.

“I can’t believe this.” He dragged himself up and looked inside. As he expected a letter was waiting for him.

Lipton,

I hope this will not trouble you and that the letter finds you well arrived at home. I thought you might like to keep in contact despite not being in camp, and beside it would be easier to arrange out meeting like this.

I admit that I have not read any of the hunger games books but surely if you recommend them I should try to get my hand on a copy, to at least give it a try.

I would be all the more delighted if you could help me find a book explaining how to curb a 12 years old who see authority as a challenge. I find myself imagining drowning him and that would surely put me in a bad position. Any ideas?

Ronald Speirs Praetors of the Jupiter Camp.

He smiled at he read on, and chuckled at the mention of the kid. Ron didn’t said any name but he mentionned the kid frequently as he was apparently way too fond of causing mischief and pranks and generally disturbing the order of things.

Lipton thanked the Gods that he landed in the roman camp. He didn’t think camp half-blood would have survived another kid like the terrors.

Hell, he could imagine Mr. D just packing his bags and leaving them after one too many pranks and Chiron transforming back into a hermit in the mountain.

He had to search in his backpack a bit before he found a notebook and his pencils and started writing back. He felt giddiness rise in him now that the only thing that he would have missed back home was resolved, he felt ready to enjoy the new school year.

Dear Ron,

You really need to tell me how you get all those mailbox this is getting crazy.

Happy to know about the book, I would also urge you to read….

**

School was going well, the guesthouse was going well, but Lipton found himself stressing. He had to cancel the September visit at the roman camp because of school –and more importantly academic bowl club- related stuff.

And now October was approaching, way too fast and Lipton realized that he would actually see Ron, face to face, for the first time since he realized his feelings and he didn’t know if he could hide them.

If he could pretend that nothing had changed.

He was not sure he wanted to.

And in the mist of all that one day his phone pinged and when he looked at it, here on the screen, in inky black was written “1 unread message – George Luz”.

The message arrived during lunch on a Tuesday and Lipton looked at it, frozen. Slightly shaking, he finally decided to open it as a second and then third message also arrived:

From George Luz:

Sorry to have not try to contact you sooner. As I said before I needed some time.

From George Luz:

So, How you doing? Is school okay this year?

From George Luz:

And how is it on the Roman front?

Lip laughed a bit, getting a curious look from some of his school friend.

To George Luz :

I’m glad you contacted me again.

To George Luz:

Is it really okay to talk about Ron?

From George Luz:

Yeah, it is of course. I’m fine. You’re still my friend.

To George Luz:

Well then I could really use your help.

From George Luz:

Oh? Heart trouble? Can I call you later though? It might be easier

To George Luz:

Sure! I’ll send a text when I’m free

From George Luz:

*kissy face*

Lipton felt himself relieved of a great weight. He had one of his best friend back and to talk to. Suddenly everything seemed easier to deal with. He could do it.

He smiled back at his school friends and tried to ease back into the conversation feeling considerably merrier than five minutes before.

**

He finally send a quick text after dinner to Luz hoping it was not too late –he doubted that George was in bed early but he might be busy with other activity. Lip knew that George was back at home, but he had no idea on how he was entertaining himself during the evening. For all he knew George was a party goer.

However George immediately called him back:

Lip hey!”

His voice sounded a little bit weird over the phone, but it was still so comforting.

“George. I’m really happy to hear from you!”

Yeah… I’m happy too. I have missed you but … yeah.”

There was a bit of silence before George started again:

So like, what’s the matter?”

“Well… Hum. I have a mailbox in my room.” He decided to start with that.

Wow. Seriously what is it with Ron and mailbox? Is it like a Roman thing?”

“I have no idea. It just appeared.”

It is kind of freaky. I mean…”

“Yeah… I’m perplexed about it.”

Is it all though? Do you only have a mailbox problem?”

“Um… No. I am scheduled to go to the Roman camp for the October meeting and I just. Don’t know if I can pretend that everything is … Well, that nothing changed. Like before you made me realize my feelings for him.”

He stuttered and felt a bit bad to bring the last conversation between him and George but he also needed to point out that he was comfortably living in denial before.

I don’t see why you worry so much. I mean of course things are going to be different. But isn’t it great? Maybe you can see if Ron has feelings for you too. My take on that would be yes. But I don’t know him as much as you do.”

“But what… What if he doesn’t like me that way?”

“Well, Lip, I’m glad to tell you that camp half-blood have a lot of kids that I’m sure could take the role of intermediary between the two camps over.”

Lip… Hadn’t actually thought of that. He didn’t like it though. The idea of someone else doing this, meeting Ron, on one on one meeting. Awful.

He made a face, knowing that George couldn’t see him and thus cannot judge him on this.

“I guess so.”

Wow. You don’t sound happy about that at all.”

“It’s just… I mean… It is a lot of responsibility.” He settled for.

That’s a terrible lie and you know it.”

“No, it-“

Lip, we are sent to life-threatening quest sometimes as early as twelve years old. We are pinned down with responsibilities early on. Any of your half brother or sister could take care of those meetings if it went sideways with Ron. But right now, you’re just being jealous.”

Lip had a mind to argue- if only because being sent to save the world didn’t mean you knew how to be responsible – but let it go because George was right.

“I am. I just… I don’t know what to do.”

First watch him. Watch his reaction. Honestly it might be enough for him to ask question. Tell him how you feel.”

“I don’t… What if-“ And then he cut himself. No need to talk about possible rejection with George, whom he had rejected himself.

If he rejects you?” trust George to understand him though “You’ll live. It’ll hurt, I’m not gonna lie, and you’ll feel bad, but you’ll get over it. Meet someone new maybe.”

“Did you?” he asked, and then elaborated “meet someone new?” there was a humming from the other side of the line.

Not exactly new. I just… I got good friends.”

Lip was curious but also realized that he didn’t have a right to beg for information so he respectfully settled for that. Good friends uh?

“Well… So If I understand I should not change my attitude too much, observe closely and decide on my action based on that?”

Yep! Use that smart brain of yours to analyze things! You will be fine! Especially since now you finally have stopped being oblivious!”

Lip couldn’t help a chuckle escaping at that.

“Yeah... I guess I see things more clearly now.” And then sighed.

“Thank you again George! You really didn’t have to do any of that… But I’m glad you helped me…”

You’re my friend Lip. I don’t… I don’t want that to change.”

“Me neither.”

Another silence, but it didn’t feel uncomfortable and Lip was so relieved.

Well I guess it’s my cue to leave you! Good luck on your quest.”

“Don’t call it like that, please!”

Oh but I really should! It will help focus!”

Lip groaned but wished him a good night and hanged up. He hold the phone close to his chest for a moment, took a deep breath. His gaze settled on the owl mailbox on his desk.

“Well I guess… I’ll know soon.”

**

The taxi's ride had been pretty awful. It hadn’t been that long as he had used magical means to get as close as possible to the West coast, but he had to finish the last part in the taxi. And the taxi driver had been closed off but a fan of country songs. Awful country songs. That he liked to sing along to.

Finally he got out and walked the few meter separating him from the entrance of the roman camp. And there, in his praetor robe stood Ron, still as a statue.

Lip smiled at him, feeling his heartbeat increased just at the mere sighting of him. By the Gods, I’ve got it bad.

He managed however to have a normal conversation with him without his voice faltering or anything as they made their way toward the city Centre.

Lip was always so surprised every time he came here. The city was so big, and so old and yet still so shiny and vibrant with life. He always discovered new things, new shops, new cafes to try. He wished that he could spend more than two days from time to time here, to spend a real week, to try some university classed later on.

Well, technically, it was in this optic that he was here. So that any Greek kids could come and enjoy the sheer diversity and explosion of life that the Roman Camp offered.

Ron seemed somewhat tensed through their walk and Lip remembered what he had said two month ago –only two month ago. He felt like an eternity had passed since then-.

“Stressed about your kid?”

“The… Unruly one that I told you about had learned about your visit. Not that I try to hide it. But I thought that if he didn’t know anything, then he couldn’t plan anything-“

“Are you worried that he may prank us?”

Ron gave him a flat stare:

“Yes.”

Lip laughed: “If it’s just that don’t worry! I have plenty of experience surviving pranks. I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

Ron didn’t look convinced at all. “What if he should hurt you?” 

“One of my daily activities is to climb a lava wall.”

“Fair enough.”

They finally reached the Bed and Breakfast that Lip would stay in. Usually he should stay in one of the big mansions made for special guests, overseeing the city but Lip hated it there. The bed and breakfast was nice enough, had this homey feel to it, and it kept him from being homesick.

Ron waited for him outside while he put his bags in the room and talked a bit with the owner. When he walked back outside Ron was looking somewhere in the street, gaze lost. The sun reflected on his hair and face. The city was so white that light seemed to come from every side and he looked a bit like and angel standing there. A warrior angel with the way he held himself, back ramrod straight, toga falling from his shoulder -almost dramatically-, his arms close to his chest.

He snapped back to attention toward Lip: “Ready?”

“Sure.” Then they walked back to the praetor’s palace where they would hold the reunion with the other praetor and all the cohorts’ chiefs.

Lip still only knew them by name and rarely interacted with them as usually his time would be taken up by Ron. He suddenly wondered if there were rumors about them as there were in the Half-Blood camp. He wondered if Ron had to fend off any questions about their possible relationship.

Maybe he should try to be friendlier to the other people at the meeting. Surely, if he could, he might learn more about possible gossip. It might be easier to make a move if he had a slight idea of what the answer would be.

Satisfied with his plan he followed Ron into the room. The others were already there waiting for him. There was an air of formality that he usually didn’t feel in the meetings, back at his camp.

He recognized Vera, Nate, Brad, Pappy –weird nickname but he respected it- and Patterson –he refused to tell Lip what his namewas, but since Lip had presented himself as Lipton, he couldn’t really press the issue-.

The other praetor Lena was a brunet girl with one of the sweetest smile. She was also possibly one of the deadliest of them all. (Though this description could fit so many kids). He knew that some of them were legacies and not demi-gods but it didn’t bother him. He liked the idea of legacy, if only because it proved the demi-god could have a life, a love, a family, survive all the shit the Gods decide to throw at them.

He gave a general nod at the table before sitting.

“Well, now that everyone is here, I do believe it is time to start…”

**

The exchange program was likely to be finalized before the end of this year and Lip was really excited about that. As for the idea of a festival the Romans seemed to like the idea –as well as the City responsible- but couldn’t decide whether they should create one or use one already existing.

Lip himself stayed silent on the issue knowing that he hadn’t discussed that part enough with his friends, and, more importantly, knowing that Harry would probably have an idea –if not a date to propose- so he just took a mental note to ask him later.

When they exited the meeting, Lipton tried to engage conversation with the least scary of them all: Vera. He was sure she could kill him in a multitude of ways, but she had a nice smile and general friendly disposition that took the edge of this knowledge.

He asked about recent quest, about daily life in New-Rome. Soon Lena was joining them and even Pappy listened to their conversation though he remained somewhat silent.

Ron was turning is back to them talking to Nate and Brad, thought the last one was standing slightly behind them, arms behind his back.

“Don’t worry about them.”

“Probably still talking about Person.”

“What else there is to talk about?” Vera asked with a smirk.

“Person?”

“The bane of Ron’s life. I don’t mind the kid too much -mostly because Ron decided to take care of this personally- and Brad is overly sweet on him.”

Something clicked on his mind:

“I do think I have heard of this boy before. Never by his name though. But I know some of his… exploit.”

“He had a strong imagination.” Vera supplied.

“He could a very fine soldier if he were to use all this energy into his training “Pappy added, and Lip was reminded of his own terrors, back at camp, planning pranks after pranks.

“But then I’m sure you would be bored” he said and he was met with curious glances. Then Lena snapped her fingers: “Oh! I do recall now that Ron once suggested that you seemed to have that kind of kids too… How do you deal with them?”

“As long as they don’t really hurt anyone we let them do. It’s less painful to let things be that to stop them. Also… “ and again his mind went back to an earlier conversation with Ron ; “We are kids. It’s not fair that we should always be wary and ready to die. If it makes them happy to play pranks and do silly things then I’m fine with it.”

Vera had a deep look of consideration on her face. “I hadn’t thought like that. The rules here are… stricter if I say. I guess? We rarely have someone like Person. “

She smiled at him though “But I guess you’re right in one thing. We are kids. Sometimes just living is enough.”

“There was a part about not harming anyone. I mean Person is close to that limit.”

“The only one harmed is Ron’s sanity. His pranks have been huge at time but no one had been harmed. Except maybe people’s Ego.”

Lip chuckled at that. Yeah that sounded familiar.

He felt a presence in his back and Ron was standing there straight and rigid, more than usual. The little group dispersed and Ron waited for the other to be gone before asking:

“Is there anything you want to do?”

“Well, I would love to visit the city; it is so big, I feel like I could still discover things even after months living there!”

“Well, to be fair it is growing. Slowly but it is.”

They walked slowly back to the city, they passed through the military camp and Lipton wondered if he would catch a glimpse of the prankster, but all he saw was a bunch of kids, in uniform, milling around.

He felt tempted to ask Ron where Person was but noticed the somber expression on his friend’s face. He assumed that his previous conversation with Brad and Nate was the reason for his mood.

“What happened ? Is something wrong?”

Ron frowned “No. Why?”

“Well you look clearly unhappy.”

Ron threw him a quick look and Lip couldn’t believe what he saw. There was a blush –faint but there-on his cheeks. Heck, with the way he looked away Lip might be tempted to call him flustered.

“So? Is it… Person? Did he do another prank?”

“He is always doing another prank” Ron huffed “but, Um, no. That’s not. That’s not him.”

Lip was more and more intrigued. It was probably the first time he saw Ron this… Off-guard. He reached out and put a hand on his wrist, half trying to stop him from fleeing what was no doubt an uncomfortable situation, and half because he just wanted to.

Ron stopped dead in his track and looked at the hand on him, disbelief evident on his face. He was opening his mouth ready to talk when a voice came from behind:

“Praetor Speirs” and they both turned around.

The kid was young, in armor –but they had now entered the city, were on the verge of it so Lip was pretty sure that the kid should not be here- dark haired, warm brown eyes – that made him think of George- and a small smile –smirk even- on his lips.

Lipton already knew who he was without a doubt.

“Person” Ron said, tensing up a bit.

“Oh! You must be the Greek envoy, Carwood right?”

“I’m… Yes that my name. I didn’t know everyone would know it.”

“Oh! If you listen to our Praetor Speirs you will know it. He only talks about you!”

“Person.” Ron said quickly, terse.

“Like every day it’s “Carwood did this, Carwood say that”

“Person!” more intimidating, more threatening. Person finally stopped but didn’t look as frightened as he should. Lipton caught someone else running toward them and recognized Brad.

He stopped next to Person, nodded at Ron:

“I’m sorry if he had inconvenienced you. This little brat here had apparently run away without telling anyone.”

“I’m just trying to be nice, and diplomatic” he smiled at Lipton “After all we might see a lot of each other soon!”

Lipton made a note to carefully consider any demand on Person part to come to camp Half-Blood. It would make for poor relationship if the camp half-blood was reduced to ashes because of a new prankster in their mist.

Brad grabbed the collard of Person and growled:

“Ray…”

“Fine, fine! I was really just trying to help” and his last sentence was clearly directed at Ron if his insistent look was to be understood. Ron actually flushed and Lipton felt his eyebrows rise. Holy Molly!

Brad bowed slightly before dragging Ray –apparently- back toward the military ground.

“Ignore everything he just said” Ron said, looking at the ground.

Lipton didn’t even need to think his answer:

“I don’t really want to though.” One disbelieving look in his direction “I .. I like the idea that you talk about me a lot.”

He smiled sheepishly at Ron. Then Ron decided to talk:

“You know… During one of my first visit to your camp I talked a bit to the other cabin leaders. And it was clear that they all had a great respect for one of them, who apparently was wonderful at handling the other kids. They all spoke so highly of them that I decided to learn as much as I could by spending as much time as I could with them.”

Lipton stood there racking this brain. The only person Ron had spent any time with was himself. There was possibly Nix during meals but really…

“You have no idea who I’m talking about. Hell, it was you Lip! You are amazing at your job, you are a great friend, you are a patient man and I wanted to be … better. So I spent a lot of time with you. You are clearly a model for me… I try to follow your guidelines. With more or less success.”

He threw a look toward where Brad and Ray had disappeared.

“Oh” Lipton was trying hard to not sound disappointed. But it was hard. George though had told him to observe and analyze and… They had a heart-to-heart and Lipton decided that there would probably be no better time than right now.

“I wished I wasn’t just a model for you. That you thought of me because you liked me.” His throat was dry and he cleared it, trying to keep his voice even. “I thought about you a lot. Especially these last few months. And it wasn’t just the letters.”

He didn’t say anything else hoping that it was clear enough. They were still standing there and Lipton kept his gaze fixed on the paved street, not regretting but waiting for something to happen.

“Oh” was all Ron said and Lipton finally looked at him. His eyes were wide and he had an awed expression on his face. He suddenly looked his age, so much younger and Lipton felt glad, instantly knowing that this was a face few were privy too.

“I don’t just think of you as a model.” Ron said and immediately turned all serious. He grabbed Lipton hands: “I really like you too.” And Lipton looked at his face, serious, but also anticipating his reaction, hands gripping tight and he smiled “Yeah I really like you too.”

And then because he wanted to see the awed expression again he leaned forward and kissed Ron.

**

I’m going to make my own match-making agency I think.”

“Please, don’t.”

Oh! Come one! Without me you would still be pining without really knowing that you are indeed pining.”

Lip rolled his eyes, and made his pencil twirled.

“I’m pretty sure you can’t take all the credit for this relationship-“

Please!”

“I’m serious! I do think that kid from the Camp Jupiter was a deciding factor… He was the one who gave me enough information to push me to do something.”

Oh! So now a random kid from Camp Jupiter is better than me?”

“George, come on! Besides, I think you would like him if I was ever inclined to let you meet him.”

What does that even mean?”

“That he will never see camp Half-blood as long as you live” Lipton told him in his most solemn voice. A lot had happened after that kiss. First they had just wandered in the streets holding hands and resumed their ordinary chatter about their daily life. Once Lipton had gone back home the letters had returned, but now ended up with a “Yours, Ronald Speirs” which always sent a thrill to his spine.

Then he had a meeting with the other cabin leaders to really finalize the last details to their exchange program. He also had made them promise to never accept Ray Person on their side. They had enough terrors as it were. Of course, it wasn’t’ t like it was going to be written but seeing as each exchange had to be reviewed by one of the cabins’ leader he had wanted to be sure that they were…. Safe.

“That doesn’t sound nice at all! Lip, how cold can you be to other people? Why do you don’t want this kid in our mist?”

Lipton elected to completely ignore this question:

“How’s school going?”

“Oh! Don’t you dare change subject!... You know what? Fine he will not come here… But I will go there and meet him!”

On one hand Lipton worried for the camp Jupiter leader if George ever really applied and got accepted to spend some time with them, on the other hand they were considerably stricter and less easy-going than camp half-blood. It could do George some good. And besides having one terror out of the camp might do some good to them too.

“Oh! Well George! I hope you’ll get accepted!”

I don’t like you tone at all-

A soft plop could be heard and Lipton smiled at he looked at the letter box.

“I’m really sorry I should go, I have some mail to read!”

Don’t you hang-“

Lipton put his phone away and reached for the new letter from his boyfriend Ronald Speirs, who offered him many, many things, things he wished for and things he didn’t know he wanted. But his most unexpected and yet the most loved gift he gave him was a beautiful mailbox, finely shaped as an owl, popping up in place where it definitely should not pop up.

(Even after years and years Ron would refuse to tell him how he got the mailbox and after a while it just become this sort of camp mythology going around, each stories more extravagant and eccentric than the last, while betting were wild, and supposition were made. Lipton made his peace with that, but he couldn’t say that he didn’t enjoy how some of the campers seemed to be so mad to not know how it came to be. That never stopped to be amusing. Even after many years.)