Naima was eleven the first time she made the biggest mistake anyone, as she had been told, could ever make. She left her home without a light.
She hadn’t done it on purpose, but she hadn’t turned around either, once she’d noticed. It was okay, right, as long as she stayed with her best friend? Baba had a light with her, and they always were together anyways.
But as she tugged on her wide-rimmed hat, pulling it further down her forehead, her granny’s voice sounded relentlessly in her ear, so much Naima almost expected her to be standing right behind her if she turned. ‘Never be without a light,’ the voice said, as it always did. It was a greeting and a farewell on the Edge, the parts she called her home; it always had been. Even before she was born, even before her granny was born. For a child of eleven, anything that came before their own life seemed barely tangible or thinkable, let alone a life in which there were no grannies.
Eleven was also an age where any child deemed themselves wiser than they were: they no longer believed everything they were told, they asked and doubted and noticed. And so Naima wasn’t at all convinced that it was really bad to be without a light. It was just something nobody ever did – but maybe they had never tried? Maybe it wasn’t so bad to be without a light. Any maybe, if only she’d finally get her own wand, she wouldn’t have to remember to take that stupid old lamp with her all the time!
Naima was stomping now, her lips puckered in defiance.
They were all just scary stories, the kind that adults told children. She knew that with all the certainty of an eleven year old. (It was a lot of certainty, at least in that moment. The certainty of eleven year olds has the tendency to change by the second.)
“Naima,” came the exasperated voice of her best friend, “What are you just standing there for, come on! We don’t have all day! Remember the plan?”
I don’t think I could face you long enough to say this out loud, and I’m not sure if you could listen to me without giving me a well-deserved punch in the face, so written form it is. Here we go.
I’m sorry that this is the handwriting you had to look at in the principia for eight months while I was missing, and I’m sorry that I went missing at all. Granted, it wasn’t exactly my fault or choice, but maybe if I’d heeded your warning on that last night when you dragged me away from Octavian things might have turned out differently. I’m not sure.
I’m sorry that for those eight months, you had to run the camp on your own on the verge of a brewing war. I know I meant a lot to you - as much as you meant to me - and doing that with your colleague and best friend missing must have been hell.
But most of all, I’m sorry for New Rome. I’m sorry for acting like our friendship never existed, as if our praetorship never extended beyond the boundaries of a shared burden, because it did. I remember. It’s blurry, sure, almost dreamlike, but I remember the hot chocolates and the movies and the times you patched me up and the times I did the same for you. I remember our friendship and I treasure those memories, though I acted selfishly and put romance before that friendship and never looked at myself from your point of view.
Basically? I was a dick. By hiding behind my pen and caving to my reluctance to apologise to you in person, I’m proving to myself that I still am. But I can’t let you live anymore with that pain or its ghost - I loved you, Reyna, and even if I’m starting to see past my obliviousness and suspect that it wasn’t in the way you wished it was, I have to say something.
So yes, Praetor. I’m sorry for abandoning you and the place that was my home for twelve years. I’m not going to be arrogant enough to ask for forgiveness; asking anything more of you after what I’ve done would be a new low for me, and I’m now aware that that’s a hard record to beat. But, if you’re up to the challenge of raising a phoenix from the smouldering ashes I’ve left, you’re always welcome to come to Camp Half-Blood for a bit.