Categories > Cartoons > Class of the Titans > Teammate Down

Stepping on Eggshells

by RavenChild 1 Reviews

Now that the team knows Neil will live they just need to know what type of day he had before their encounter with Cronus

Category: Class of the Titans - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama - Characters:  - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2007/04/23 - Updated: 2007/04/24 - 6385 words

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/A/N: Hey, I'm back...Sorry for the delay. I have been busy with other projects. Keep your eyes open for updates to my 'Vengeance: A Dish Served Cold' fanfic coming soon. This story will be updated more as well in the next couple of weeks. I always love to hear from you in what you think of the story so far...enjoy./


Chapter 5: Stepping on Eggshells



Jay and his team are now sound asleep in the cots the Gods had just set up for them. It certainly has been a long, emotionally draining night for them...and as a result they were more exhausted, mentally and physically, rather than simply tired. The fact they had nearly lost a teammate is quite a scary experience neither of them wishes to go through again. Of all the people, especially in their own team, how could it have been Neil who nearly ended up taking the trip to the Elysian Fields? It is very fortunate he survives, thanks to his sheer luck as well as his teammates' quick thinking and speed. Otherwise he would be gone forever!

Several hours ago, after the six young heroes had left Aphrodite's room, it gradually dawned on them that this traumatic incident may just have changed their lives. They aren't sure yet how this might change Neil, though. Nevertheless, Jay and the others are just glad he is still alive. One thing is for certain; from now on they won't look at Neil as an annoying, useless person anymore, but a valuable friend who is very much a part of the team. While they are trudging down the hallway, absorbed in their own thoughts, a satyr steps out and silently guides them back to the gym where the laid-out cots are waiting for them. That's when the heroes collapse into them, and allow themselves to slip into the dreamless slumber.

They had been sleeping for four hours now, and the dawn is slowly approaching. As the sunlight filters into the gym Jay is the first to open his eyes. At first he blinks a few times, wondering whether what had happened last night was just a horrible dream. It certainly feels that way. As he lifts his head off the pillow to take a look around his surroundings, he realizes it isn't a dream after all. If anything, what happened to Neil is more like a real life nightmare! Just then, he is seized with a sudden, enormous headache. He groans and lowers his head gingerly back into the pillow, figuring it is probably caused by the stress and his emotional outburst during the entire time of bringing Neil back to the school.

He put his hand to his forehead and massages it, hoping the pain will subside. Eventually, he decides to get up and walk out of the gym. Absently, he walks towards Aphrodite's room. Just as he is about to reach up and knock on the door, Chiron opens it, apparently about to walk out. The aged centaur stops in mid-step and looks at Jay in surprise; he was not expecting to see one of the teenagers up so soon.

"What are you doing up so early, dear boy? You should be resting." Chiron speaks kindly.

"I-I couldn't sleep." Jay stutters, unsure of what to say. "I just came by to see how Neil is doing."

The young hero looks down and realizes that Chiron is holding a syringe. The young leader worried a bit on what was in that syringe, and if Chiron had used it on Neil.

Chiron notices Jay's expression and replies gently, "Neil is resting. I just gave him something for pain and nausea. He will be sleeping for at least four hours." It doesn't take much for the half-horse, half-man god to see how exhausted the young man still looks. "I advise that you should go back to the gym to rest some more with the others." Chiron instructed, making a shooing movement with his free hand.

Jay shakes his head. "No, I'm not tired." He lies. Slowly he lifts his face to peer at the white bearded centaur with pleading eyes. "Perhaps I can just sit with him...please?"

Chiron gives a heavy sigh and replies again, "I don't see why not, but you need to ask Miss Aphrodite first."

"Of course," Jay nods in agreement. As the young man enters the room he is greeted by the Goddess of Love herself. By the expression on her face she has overheard the young hero talking to Chiron.

During the first few moments neither of them spoke a word. Finally Aphrodite nods with a small smile. She lifts her hand up to point at her shell bed where Neil is resting comfortably.

"Go on up and sit with your friend," She adds with a quiet warning, "Just don't disturb him; he hasn't been feeling well this morning."

"Thanks," Jay replies with a sigh of relief. He was hoping she would say that, although he is concerned at the part about Neil not feeling too well.

Tentatively the young leader climbs up the stairs towards the shell bed. As he makes it to the top step, Jay peers down into the bed to see how Neil looks. The blond teen still has a pale complexion from last night; however, his breathing is a lot steadier now than it was when he was carried into Aphrodite's room hours ago. Jay instantly notices that Aphrodite, or one of the other gods, had brought Neil's green monogrammed pajamas for him to wear. Seeing Neil clothed in those does indeed make him appear more comfortable.

It is hard to believe that just hours ago Neil was fighting for his life while Jay and Odie tried everything they could to help stop the bleeding. Just when everything seemed hopeless they arrived at the school and were able to place Neil in the care of the Gods. Thankfully Neil lived; they had made it just in time, apparently.

Carefully, Jay sits down on the shell-shaped bed beside Neil, being careful not to disturb his blond friend because of the warning Chiron and Aphrodite both had given him. As Jay looks at Neil with concern, the pain of guilt begins to bubble up from the pit of his stomach once more. How could Jay let this happen? Even Neil doesn't deserve this!

"I'm sorry you got hurt." He mutters in a regretful sigh.

"You shouldn't let guilt run your life, Jay. It causes worry lines, which makes one so young very unattractive." Aphrodite's soft, bubbly voice warbled from behind.

Jay turns around. The beautiful Goddess is gracefully waltzing up the stairs towards him, her long, blond hair almost floating behind her.

"But it was my fault," Jay begins to argue, "If I was more aware of my surroundings..."

Aphrodite holds up her hand, cutting him off in mid-sentence. "I know," she nods somberly, "But I can't help having this feeling that something extraordinary happened that may have affected Neil's performance when you all encountered Cronus."

"What do you mean...?" Jay asks, sitting up with great interest of what the Goddess of Love is saying.

"Well, most of Neil's luck is based on his confidence. If something had happened to him that my have bruised his ego in some way, that may have played a big part on why he got hurt."

"Really...? What do you think may have caused that?" The young leader wondered.

"Well, I'm not too sure, but he did tell me earlier before feeling really sick that he was having a bad day yesterday." The lovely goddess whispered soothingly.

"What did he say," Jay asked, hoping it might shed some light.

"Hmm," Aphrodite paused for a moment as she tries to remember Neil's exact words. "I am not too clear on what he said exactly, but something about the unthinkable happening with his modeling agent."

Jay pondered what she is saying for a moment. A low moan causes both the young hero and the Goddess of love to look down at Neil.

"Perhaps the guys and I should go over to the modeling agency later this week and talk to the photographer. If Neil is scheduled for a shoot anytime this week, the photographer should know that he won't be able to make it." Jay announced. Aphrodite simply just nodded in agreement, while keeping a steady, nurturing watch over her beloved student.



OoOoOoOoOoOo


MID MORNING...


As Neil slowly approaches conciseness his eyes are the first to stir. It takes a few tries before they are able to blink open. At first his vision is blurry, as he tries to remember what happened to him. The sight of a shell shape, almost reflective, with a pattern on it comes in clear view. He remembers now. He's in Aphrodite's room. Thankfully, the medication Chiron gave him is still in an effect or he may be waking up in extreme pain around his stomach still. Neil moves his eyes to glance up at the ceiling. As he studies the marble tiles placed beautifully in a pattern of a swan, he wonders how his life will become of this experience. Something moving beside him catches his attention. Once again he moves his eyes to his left and sees a familiar figure with lavender hair and wearing a blue hoodie.

Archie is sitting at the edge of the shell-shaped bed and hunched over a book. He appears so fixated on what he is reading to notice Neil moving slightly to look up at him. Half a moment later, Archie finally turns his head slightly to glance at his wounded blond friend. Seeing Neil looking up at him nearly took the young warrior off guard. He'd almost expected the former model to still be asleep.

"Oh, you're awake." Archie says in a tone that sounded more of relief then shock.

"Yeah..." Neil attempts to speak in a gruff, hoarse voice. He also still feels very groggy thanks the medication Chiron gave him.

"Um, h-how are you feeling?" The young warrior asked, not knowing what else to say. He reaches up to scratch the back of his head.

"Tired," Neil answers plainly with his voice still sounding rough. He as he glances around the room and the first thing he notices is that he and Archie are the only ones here. "Where is everyone?"

"Oh, um, Jay and Odie had to go see Hera and Hermes. Herry went to check up on his truck. Atlanta was hungry, so she went to the cafeteria. And Theresa went to see Persephone...saying along the lines of toning her skills as a clairvoyant...or something like that..." Archie trailed off.

Neil paused for a moment with a look of slight disappointment on his face. "Oh," He managed to utter. He had hoped that Aphrodite, at least, would be still sitting here as well as all of his friends. Speaking of which, he wondered, "Where's Aphrodite...?"

"Ah, Aphrodite stepped out for just a moment. She said she'll be right back, though."

Not knowing what to say to that, Neil just lets out a grunt. He looks up at his friend. Archie appears to be searching his mind for something to say next. Not that Neil could blame him much. Neither of them has actually sat down to talk about anything, except maybe the odd insult at one other's expense. He can feel the awkward tension between them. Neil knows he has to do something, or both of them might go stir crazy with heavy silence. It is at this moment Neil really takes notice of the book in Archie's hand.

"Whatcha reading...?" He asks, in a half curious manner, and half to just having something to talk about between them.

"Huh...?" The question took Archie slightly off guard. "O-oh, just some old poetry...it's nothing, really." He says with a hint of shyness in his tone as he places the book behind his back.

Neil makes a half smile in seeing the way Archie shies away from the question. It's really not the first time Neil has noticed his young tough friend as a somewhat sentimental closet poet. He even sometimes expresses his shyness around Atlanta when it comes to the subject of 'love'. Neil ponders if the two of them would actually, in some miraculous way, make it as a real couple. Just thinking about that suddenly caused him to realize something. He starts to frown as an ach in his heart causes him to feel lonely inside. The part of himself that he loved; the one that was filled with confidences and charisma no longer seems to be there. It feels like someone close to him had died. There would be no way for him to recover from this at all.

Again there is an awkward silence as both boys once again are trying to think of something to say to each other. Archie glances down at Neil and bits his lower lip in guilt. He had never seen his blond friend so sad before. There has to be something he can say to him...anything.

Finally, a thought comes to him.

"Say Neil, you want anything? Something to eat...?" He asks desperately.

Neil, now a little distracted from his own thoughts, stirs uncomfortably as the queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach resurfaces. This is the same feeling he woke up to very early in the morning. It felt so bad that Aphrodite had to get Chiron to give him something that helped to settle it down. Something told him if he were to eat something that it probably wouldn't want to stay down. He starts to shake his head as he replies, "no."

"Well, how about something to drink? Juice...? Tea...? Water...?"

The blond teen refuses the juice and tea, but pauses for a moment when Archie suggested the last one. 'Perhaps the water can help wash down this metallic taste in my mouth?' He though. Neil looks up at his friend with the purple mullet, "Maybe water." He says, his voice still sounding a little hoarse.

"Great," Archie chirped. "I'll be right back with some water then."

Neil watches Archie leave the room. The moment the door closes tears swell up in the former model's eyes. Normally, having his friends do things like getting him a glass of water would appease him. Sadly, in this case, it makes him feel more helpless, especially for the team. What if Cronus attacks? He thought. What use is he practically paralyzed in this shell bed. He feels like such a loser for getting hurt like this. Neil finds the urge to try and sit up at least, not only to prove to his friends, but to him as well, that he is not a pathetic useless moron.

Aphrodite finally returns to the room in time to catch Neil struggling as he forces his upper body up from a comfortable lying position. The goddess of love instantly reacts frantically.

"Neil, you are not supposed to be moving, darling. Chiron specifically told you that you need to rest."

"I just want to sit up," Neil cries out in frustration as his mentor forces him back down against the cushions.

Aphrodite studies her young student's pleading eyes. His breathing appears heavier like he has just run a marathon. The goddess of love thinks for a moment. She has come to the conclusion that probably sitting up is alright.

"Ok," Aphrodite says with a nod of her head. She reaches over to grab an extra red satin cushion before helping Neil lean forward to place the pillow behind him.

"I can do it..." Neil whined, taking back his arm and pushing himself up from a lying position. He falls against the raised cushions while he catches his breath. Neil closes his eyes tired eyes for a moment as he takes in deep breaths, but to be careful not to stretch the stitches on his stomach.

Aphrodite smiles lovingly at her beloved student. She reaches up to stroke his beautiful golden locks. Her touch is comforting. It instantly relaxes Neil. Aphrodite smiles wider seeing her young hero being so independent in wanting to sit up on his own. She finds it impressive; especially after nearly dying do the lack of blood.

"Better...?" She coos at him.

Neil nods his head 'yes'. He leans his head in towards Aphrodite's hand. Her touch is so warm against his cold cheek.

It didn't take long for Aphrodite to realize something is missing from this room. She could have sworn she had left Neil with one of his friends. The beautiful Goddess wondered where he had gone too.

"Where is Archie?"

"He's gone to get me some water." Neil answers softly.

"Oh, that's nice of him." Aphrodite chimes as she continues to stroke his hair.



OoOoOoOoOoOo



Archie steps out of the kitchen with a glass of cool water with a straw and a few ice cubes floating in it. He pulls out his PMR and with a push of a button he is able to reach the other five members of the team.

"Hey guys, guess who finally woke up." He smirks at the little blue wakkie-talkie.

"Really...? That's great!" Jay's excited tone echoes through the little speaker.

"Yeah, I'm just bringing him some water." Archie says with a bit of a sigh at the end.

"Is there something wrong, Archie?" Theresa asks, sensing a little distress in his voice.

"Well..." The young warrior paused for a moment. The right words have to come out. He takes a deep breath before continuing. "It's just that he looked kind of depressed."

There is a pause before someone responds on the PMR.

"I guess that is understandable, considering what he's been through." Odie's voiced a little wisdom into the conversation.

"Try to cheer him up somehow. We will be there soon, ok." Jay adds before everyone turns off their PMR's.

Archie again lets out a sigh before turning off his PMR. He opens the door to Aphrodite's room and is surprised to see his blond friend sitting up at talking to his mentor as she strokes his hair.

"Gee, I thought you didn't like anyone touching your hair...?" The lavender mullet hair warrior joked. Seeing Neil frown as he pushes Aphrodite's hand away from his face made Archie feel bad for even opening his mouth.

"I'm sorry; I didn't mean anything by that." He apologizes in a desperate manner.

"It's ok," Neil shrugs. Although, by the look on his face suggests that it isn't ok. He appears very hurt by Archie's harmless comment. Aphrodite wrinkles her brow in concern. It's not like Neil to be affected so easily.

Archie bits down on his lower lip and looks down at his feet. 'Wait a go, dummy,' he cursed himself, 'instead of cheering him up, you made him feel worse.' Archie thinks of what he can say to smooth out this situation as he climbs the steps towards the shell shaped bed. Looking down at the glass in his hand, he remembers why he had left Aphrodite's room in the first place.

"I brought you water," he says handing Neil the glass as if it is a peace offering.

"Thanks," Neil softly says, accepting the glass and bringing it up to his face.

"Remember to take slow sips, Neil." Aphrodite warns.

"Ok," he nods before sipping slowly on the straw.

"Look Neil, I am really sorry for what I said..." Archie again pleaded.

Neil shook his head before he could finish.

"Don't worry about it."

The door opens. Aphrodite, Archie, and Neil look over to see Jay and the others entering into the room. Instantly the team smile at the sight of their injured friend looking slightly better then he did last night. However, Neil still does look very pale compared to his usual well tanned complexion.

"Wow, he's even sitting up. I'm impressed." Atlanta whispers to Theresa. The strawberry blond teen nods her head in agreement.

Jay is the first to reach the top of the stairs and sits down beside Neil.

"Hey, Neil, how are you feeling?"

The wounded teen takes one last sip through the straw before pulling the glass of water away from his face. He hands the glass to his mentor and she puts it on her little table stand beside the shell bed.

"I've been better." Neil responds honestly. His voice sounding not as hoarse as it did when he first woke up. The water has helped a bit. He had thought by seeing all of his friends here it would make him feel happy, but instead it just makes him feel guilty.

"I'm sorry," he says, nearly chocking on his words.

The others quickly gave each other a worried glance before turning to face Neil again.

"Neil, why are you sorry, man?" Odie asks, leaning forward slightly with his hands resting on his shoulder.

"Yeah, you didn't do anything wrong." Atlanta agrees.

"But I got hurt...I nearly broke the prophecy." Neil whined. His tears started to swell in his pure blue eyes once more. He quickly glances up at his six friends, but turns away feeling embarrassed for acting like a fool in their presence.

Again, Jay and the others look at each other. They can feel and understand Neil's pain, both physically and mentally.

"Neil, don't worry about right now, alright." Herry says in a gruff, but soft tone.

"Yeah, we are just glad you are ok." Theresa adds in a nurturing voice. She sits down beside Jay and places a reassuring hand on Neil's knee.

"Herry and Theresa are right, Neil. We will catch Cronus and make him pay, I promise." Jay says, trying to sound convincing. He clasps down on his shoulder to show that he won't let what happen to him go unpunished.

With a sniffle, Neil replies, "sure...if you say so..."

Sensing Neil's distress, Aphrodite pulls him close to her and wraps her arms around him. Feeling very weak still, the blond teen has no choice but to accept the hold and leans his head comfortably on her shoulder.

The others can tell it might take some time before Neil could recover from this. Without a word spoken, each of them knows that it will take all of them to help him bring his confidence back. In the meantime, they will do what they can to cheer him up.

"Is there anything you want us to do for you?" Theresa finally speaks up.

Neil blinks heavily before looking at her.

"Actually, I'm kind of tired." He says with a deep breath. "I think I would like to lie down again."

"So...I take it you want us to leave then?" Archie asks.

Neil pauses for a moment before nodding his head and replying, "Yeah..."

Aphrodite takes this opportunity to assist Neil by taking one of the extra pillows out from behind him and helping him as he gently leans back into a lying position.

"Alright, we will go." Jay says, placing his hand onto Neil's. "But we will be back later. That is a promise."

Neil looks up at his leader. He can see the sincerity in his eyes. The former model forces a half crooked smile on his face, "Ok." He says softly

With a nod Jay gets up and leads the team down the steps and towards the door. They each pause to glance once more up at Neil. The young injured blond blinks his tired eyes before turning his head away from the others. From where they stand, Jay and the others aren't able to tell if he is already falling asleep, or if he is just hiding the hurt on his face. Atlanta and Odie both look up at Theresa in hopes she might be sensing something. The long strawberry blond haired teen shrugs her shoulders, stating that she doesn't sense anything. With a round of heavy sighs, the young heroes leave the room.


OoOoOoOoOoOo



TWO DAYS LATER...



The six young heroes walked down the street, heading for Neil's modeling agency. As they an intersection, and as they did Theresa sensed a moment of rush. It felt as if someone was nearly hit by a car. This puzzled the strawberry blond teen. She usually senses things in a present and near future time, but this sensation she is sensing is set in a past-tense. The others are walking up ahead and do not see her experiencing this vision.

Theresa continues to catch up with the team when she passes the coffee shop. Again another vision hits. Someone had been carrying a freshly cup-to-go of hot coffee and a familiar image of a blond teen running into him. He soon began wearing the coffee stains all down his shirt.

"Well, that explains the coffee stains." She mutters.

"Did you say something, Theresa?" Odie asked being the closest to her. He turned to face her. The others stop as well to face their clairvoyant member of the team.

"Well," she paused for a moment in order to think of the right words to explain this strange phenomenon of seeing past-tense. "I'm not sure, but I think I can see images of some things Neil went through the morning before we met him at the park."

"Really...? What kind of things do you see Theresa?" Jay asked, stepping up to her with great interest in what she is saying.

Theresa turned away from her teammates and stared at the intersection in which they had just crossed. With a deep breath she raised her hand and pointed to the street.

"As we crossed that street, I sensed a car nearly hitting someone. I think it might have been Neil."

"Wow," Atlanta gasped.

"And just now, right in front of this coffee shop, I sensed someone with a hot beverage in their hand and accidentally spilling it onto Neil." Theresa continued.

"Oh," Herry winced, "maybe Neil really did have a bad day."

"Yeah, and the incident at the old factory was the icing on the cake, I'm sure." Odie added, also feeling a sense of regret for their blond team member.

"Come on guys the modeling studio is just a few blocks away. Let's hurry before Neil's boss breaks for lunch." Jay ordered.

The others follow suit as they continue their journey towards a tall brick building down the street.



OoOoOoOoOoOo




One by one, the six teen heroes walk through the door of the agency building. They are instantly greeted by the sectary at the information desk in the front lobby.

"May I help you?" She offers with a slight snobbish attitude.

"Uh, yeah," Jay responds as he steps up the desk. "We are here to see Frankie Dewitt. He's a photographer from the modeling agency our friend is in."

"I know who he is," the sectary replies, rolling her eyes skyward. "Do you have an appointment?"

"Well, no, but..." Jay was about to explain before being cut off.

"Then I'm afraid you cannot see him." The snobby blond from behind the desk snaps. She instantly lifts her had up to check her perfectly painted red nails.

Atlanta instantly lets out a growl. She is using up all her self-control to refrain from attacking the bimbo that just dissed her and her friends.

Theresa steps up to the desk beside Jay.

"Please, it's very important we see him." She asks desperately.

"I'm sorry, but if you do not have an appointment you may not go up to see him. He's in the middle of a very important shoot." The sectary instantly says as she picks up a nail file to perfect one of her nails that seemed out of place.

"I got your important shoot right here..." Atlanta growls hotly under her breath.

Archie instantly takes notice that Atlanta is about to lose it, so he clasps his hands tightly down on her shoulders in order to hold her back just in case.

"Uh, thank you ma'am, sorry for taking up your time." He says politely while he struggles to pull his fiery red-haired friend back.

"Now what are we going to do?" Herry asks as soon as they are out of earshot from the sectary.

"I don't know," Jay replies, almost in defeat. "Any suggestions...?"

"Well, we could defiantly use some of Neil's luck right about now." Odie noted out to everyone.

"That's for sure," Archie nods in agreement.

"Maybe we can sneak by somehow?" Jay throws in as a suggestion.

Almost instantly, Theresa receives a vision.

"Wait, Jay, maybe we don't have to go up to see Neil's photographer." She chirps.

"Why's that?" The team's leader inquired.

"Because he is just coming out of that elevator right now," Theresa proudly states as the sliding door opens and the redheaded man in the pink fluffy shirt steps out.

"Great let's go." Jay cheers as he leads the others to run up the photographer. "Ah, Mr. Dewitt...? Can we talk to you, please...?" He hollers to him.

Frankie stops and lets out an exasperated sigh.

"If you don't have an appointment then you may not talk to me. My time is quite valuable, you know." He says as he continues to walk towards the main doors outside.

"But It's important. It's about one of your models." Jay calls out to him before he is too far to hear them.

Frankie stops with mild interest to what these teens have to say.

"Really...? Which one...?" He asks.

"Neil," Odie bluntly replies.

The photographer scoffs and rolls his eyes.

"Please, don't waist my time with that dead-beat." Frankie says, sticking his nose up in the air and waving his hand at the teens.

"Excuse me...?" Theresa asked puzzlingly.

Frankie paused for a moment, looking at the teens in a suspicious manner. "Wait...? Did he put you six up to this? I told him if he wasn't going to take this business seriously then I didn't want him here. It was one of the toughest decisions I had to make, but I'm afraid I had to let Neil go. I mean, come on, family emergencies...? That is not an excuse to miss so many shoots, or being late for them."

"Are you trying to tell us that you fired Neil?" Jay asked, feeling sick to his stomach with what he is hearing. The family emergencies must mean those times they had gone up against Cronus.

"Hey, he shows up late, again, on Saturday what else am I supposed to do? I've given him plenty of warnings. Oh well, you know what they say... That is how the cookie crumbles, I suppose. Show yourselves out, ok." Frankie shrugs. He instantly walks away from the young six heroes and walks through the door leaving Jay and the others with their mouths hanging open.

"Unbelievable," Archie finally utters.

"Yah, no wonder Neil seemed so depressed and moody when we picked him up at the park." Herry says after finding his voice.

With a heavy sigh, Jay adds, "Come guys we should get back to the school."

As soon as they walk out of the building, Archie looks up.

"Hey guys look," He says, pointing up at something on the side of a tall building.

The others look up to where Archie is addressing and their mouths drop. They watch, stunned at what they see. The big billboard poster that Neil's picture as been on for the past year and a half is now being taken down. In its replacement, another male model with brunette hair with red highlights posing for a jeans ad.

"That's totally unfair!" Herry cries out in disgust.

"Yeah, I was just getting use to seeing Neil's face up there. Now they got some other doofus to pose for those stupid ads." Atlanta growls in annoyance.

"How are we going to explain this to Neil?" Odie wonders.

"Maybe he won't notice?" Herry suggests, shrugging his shoulders.

"Guys this is no time for jokes." Jay snaps.

"Who's joking...?" Archie inquires.

"Let's just go..." Jay sighs once more, leading them back to the school.


OoOoOoOoOoOo


The Goddess of love has just accepted a plate with a half eaten muffin on it from Neil. He leans up against the raised pillows as he finishes chewing the contents in his mouth. Aphrodite places the plate on the small table beside the bed and reaches to touch Neil's hand. Hearing knocking on the door instantly causes her to stand up with glee.

"We have visitors," she claps her hands excitedly before getting up from her shell bed and rushing to the door.

Neil, however, frowns. He is not sure if he wants visitors at this moment. The former model is confused why he feels this way. When his friends are not around he worries about where they've gone. As soon as they are here he is depressed. He slowly slides down from a sitting position to a more lying down angle. Somehow he just doesn't have the strength to sit up anymore.

"Come in, come in...! We are so excited that you are here." Aphrodite cheers. She quickly glances up and her prodigy with a worried look. He doesn't seem too enthusiastic of the arrival of his friends. As the door opens, she instantly smiles warmly towards her visitors.

"Hi, Miss Aphrodite...how's Neil doing today?" Herry asks politely.

"Besides feeling a little moody, he's fine." She assures the brawn teen. "Neil, Neil darling...Wakie, wakie...your friends are here." The beautiful Goddess calls out the injured teen.

Neil opens his eyes to look over to where Aphrodite and his friends are standing.

"Hey," he says while managing a forced smile on his face.

Odie is the first to walk up the steps to see Neil. "Hey man, glad to see you're awake." He grins. He looks down at the small table beside the shell bed and smiles when he sees a half eaten muffin on the plate. "And your eating too, that's great!"

Neil turns his head to look up at the half eaten muffin, then back at his dark skinned genius friend. "Yeah, I'm trying too." He says in a mild, but still very tired, tone.

Odie is concerned for his blond friend. His usual vibrant attitude is now replaced with a depressed expression on his face. He looks over to the others, whom all have just joined him beside the shell bed. Odie turns back to his blond friend and leaned forward towards him.

"Are you alright, Neil?"

Neil slowly responds with a nod of his head. "Yeah...just tired." He is in no particular mood to discuss his personal feelings right now with any of his friends. Instead, he wants to distract them on a different topic. "What did you guys do today?"

"Oh, um, we walked and, ah...did...stuff..." Atlanta nervously tries to explain. Obviously she is trying to dance around the subject of seeing his former boss at the modeling agency. "What did you do?"

With a frown, Neil shrugs before answering, "I slept, woke up, ate half a muffin...now I'm lying here talking to you...what else am I suppose to be doing?"

"Hey, well at least you are starting to eat now. That is a positive step in getting healthy and strong quicker, right?" Theresa says to him in a cheerful tone.

"I guess..." Neil sighs. Once again, he feels he should change the subject again. "Where did you guys go...?"

"What...?" Herry asks, scratching his head in confusion.

"Your walk... Where did you go?" Neil interjects.

"Oh, uh, across town..." Archie stutters.

"What did you do there?" The blond teen can sense his friends are trying to avoid this topic for some reason, but his curiosity is growing stronger.

"Um, well, this...that...and other things..." Atlanta attempts to explain, but fails.

With a defeating sigh, Jay sits down beside Neil and looks right at him. "Look Neil, we have a confession. We went to your modeling agency." He admits.

Neil's eyes instantly widened. He didn't like where this topic was heading.

"...And you couldn't get in...?" He asks hopefully.

"Actually, we ran into your photographer downstairs." Theresa winced slightly. "He, um, told us about letting you go, Neil."

Unable to even look up at his friends, Neil turns away. He can feel the sting of tears threatening to escape from his eyes. 'How can they do this to me...they're supposed to be my friends!' He wonders. Eventually, he would have told them, but not like this.

"Guys, I don't want to talk about this right now." Neil tells them just above a whisper. He carefully moves his body to his side, showing his back to his friends.

"Come on, man, don't be like this. We are on your side here." Odie pleads.

"Please just leave!" Neil says forcefully with a hint of emotional distress.

Jay and the others glance at each other with puzzlement. They felt as if they had unwittingly just opened up a can of worms. Unsure of what to do next, they turn to face Aphrodite. She still wears a shocked expression on her face with the news that Neil had been fired from his modeling career. In someway, it makes sense now on why her precious student had been a little moody lately. Realizing that the young six heroes are looking at her for answers on what to do about Neil's bizarre reaction, she decides it would be best to follow his request.

"As much as I love your visits, children, I think you should leave and let Neil rest now." She says as she addresses the door. With a regretful sigh, the six young heroes step down away from the shell bed and heads in the direction the Goddess of Love is pointing.

Neil waits to hear the door out of Aphrodite's room close shut, indicating that his friends left, before letting out a low sob. Aphrodite hears her young protégé crying and heads up to the bed so she could sit with him. Even the soft comforting strokes of his mentor's touch don't seem to help calm him. Without any words being exchanged between them, they just sit until Neil slowly cries himself to sleep.
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