If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Theresa's given Atlanta an impressive essay to consider. A/A
Spoilers: The Nature of Things, The Odie-sey, Little Box of Horrors and Make-up Exam are all referred to explicitly, as well as snippets from other episodes. If you haven't seen those four, you have been warned, although you should be safe for the rest.
I awoke suddenly, anxiety twisting my stomach and insisting that something was /wrong/. Rolling onto my side, my view shifted from that of the wall to the clock that proclaimed 5:27 in bright green numbers and Theresa's empty bed beyond it. One hand reaching instinctively for my laser crossbow, I scanned the room: Theresa's rumpled, empty bed; open window letting the still-cool air; and, much to my relief, the closed bathroom door. It was a rule we had established within a few days of moving into the brownstone: Unless you're in there, leave the door open. If, for some reason, only she had been kidnapped, no one could have known to close it. Even if she was hypnotized, as I had been, she wouldn't have closed it. Would she?
The faint splashes from within soothed me; I'd heard her morning routine often enough that I could practically guess what would be coming next. Face first, then teeth, then hair. A bit strange, though, since she was rarely awake before me. I through back my sheets and dressed quickly, searching my cluttered dresser for the hairbrush.
"Did I bother you?" Theresa asked as she returned to the room, still brushing her long hair. "I just couldn't get back to sleep."
"Not really. I'd have been up in a half hour." I tossed her her PMR. "See if you want any of those."
It was a habit the two of us had in common. Back home, whenever I'd gone on a trip with a group of friends or the school, I'd always traded my camera with a friend so that I would be in the pictures I had developed later. Oftentimes, when we weren't out on a mission, the two of us would trade PMRs, it simply being easier to have it when I saw a shot I knew she would want later. Did any of the others do it? I didn't know, just that the guys I had known rarely did.
"There are a few new ones for you too. On the night table."
I sat back on the bed and flicked the PMR on to the last viewed picture, one I'd taken before remembering that I still had my own, not Theresa's. Jay, smiling coaxingly, was attempting to convince her to join him on the sailboat, while she insisted that motorboats were much safer and less at the wind's mercy. Cronos had proved the lie of that, leaving Archie and I stranded until Jay arrived to rescue us, but it had been an entertaining argument at the time. The picture provoked another memory, of Odie going to ask Jay when they would be leaving, and Neil grabbing his arm, warning him, "I wouldn't do that."
"Right. He'll probably start acting like Archie around Phil." That earned smirks from both of them.
Turning it so that she could see the picture, I grinned at the faint blush that stained her cheeks before she stubbornly returned to her pictures. I might not have been Aphrodite's protÃ©gÃ©, but if she was going to insist on trying to convince me to start talking about boys, then I was going to continue to flash pictures of what was going on right in front of her face, whether she liked it or not.
I returned to flipping through the pictures. Myself, racing Archie on the track in one of our many competitions. Six of us laying on the lawn near the school, Theresa as conspicuously absent in this shot as I was in the one on her PMR. At the beach, just as we were packing up, Archie still grumbling about my idea of team play in volleyball. A picture of the Seithr that I'd taken myself, probably for reference, although it seemed unlikely that I would be forgetting the tentacled purple creature anytime soon. Though not even the faintest trace of red remained on my arm from over a week before, I rubbed it all the same, feeling uneasy about a disease where I couldn't remember any of the details.
"How did I get back here, anyways?" I asked. "I thought Chiron said that anyone could have caught it fairly easily."
"Pretty much just luck," Theresa admitted. "Which is why we keep Neil around. Archie caught you, and he's immune. After, we just took care not to touch any infected part."
Luck? It seemed a little unlikely, but a lot of things about Neil were rather unlikely. So I returned to the pictures, the next one Odie trying to teach me not to lose at chess in less than seven moves. In the background I could see Archie, paying far more attention to the game than to the television before him. I frowned-I remembered that day quite well, and it had been the reverse before. A quick search through the pictures made me flop onto my back, thoughtful. Almost every one had Archie somewhere in it; in the background, beside me, off to the side, just behind me. Running my fingers through my hair and staring up at the cream-coloured ceiling, I turned off the PMR on the last picture; myself target shooting, Archie smiling strangely at something in the distance.
Then I thought, and thought hard. Since the time we'd faced off together against the Typhoeus, it seemed that whenever there was a fight he was nearby. Didn't matter where: The sound I now associated most with a fight, aside from Jay's warning of danger, was the snap of the Hephaestus whip just over my shoulder. It had gotten to the point where all I had to do was see the flash of a golden leg brace or purple hair and I knew that I could safely turn my back. Strange how habits developed so quickly...
I opened my mouth to ask Theresa, and then closed it again, just as quickly. I wasn't an idiot; I could see the hints in my pictures and memories quite clearly. But hints were on a very different level from Theresa and Jay's easy affection, or Neil's obsessive self-love. Yes, we were together most of the time, but when we weren't feuding, we made a good coup-/team/. Might as well accuse Campe and Herry of a romance. Yet Theresa would automatically assume just that...
I tried to compare it to how I'd felt around Phil and failed. That had been... different. I never thought about how I felt, and when Theresa had asked I'd felt awkward, unable to explain. Knowing that he was a demi-god helped to explain that. Archie? I felt... comfortable around him. I didn't know if that meant anything, though. "Like Archie around Phil," Odie had said, I remembered once more, just as Theresa's retelling of my stay with Arachne had noted, "It was like the second he started talking, a bit of you stopped listening to Arachne."
I fitted my crossbow onto my arm and stuffed my PMR into my pocket, not sure just where I intended to go but knowing that I needed to go nonetheless. Having seen me take my PMR, Theresa didn't bother asking where I was going; simply waving before returning to the shot of her and Jay sprawled on the lawn out back and pointing out stars. I couldn't help it; I grinned as I left the room, making her pull a face.
After a moment's hesitation, I knocked on the door nearest me, only to have it opened barely before I finished. Archie looked down at me with that same strange smile, which was quickly hidden. "Yeah?"
"I'm going for a run," I told him matter-of-factly. "Wanna come?"
"Just let me get my brace."
I leaned back, considering. Maybe someday not too far away I'd really ask Theresa and her treasure-trove of wisdom on such matters, or have an epiphany of my own. But for now-
"Last one to the track has to try Ares's new set-up," I informed him cheerily.
"Then I'll be sure to let you get there first, since you're so scared of it."
"I am not!" I protested, quietly as not to disturb any of the others, and we fell into good-natured bickering as we left the dorms.
For now, I at least had a friend and sometimes rival who would always have my back.
Somehow, I really couldn't see Atlanta declaring her love to Archie at 5:30 in the morning. In fact, I'm fairly sure that he'll probably be the one to do it.
So, my first fanfiction in a long time. Any comments?