Three is Human
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They sit around the same woods thrice, share three secrets, and shed three tears. It's their magic number.
She crouches over herself, one hand digging on the dirt, the other gripping a faded photograph. Usually, the warmth of Luke's and Thalia's sleeping figures would calm her in a moment, but not now. Tonight, the picture she holds makes everything cold. A sob wracks through her small frame, and this time, it's heard.
Thalia is up in the limb of a second. She's put Annabeth behind her, Aegis and her spear ready. She snarls, skimming through the darkness. Luke holds her close, his sword pointed at the sinister trees of New Jersey.
"What is it, Annabeth? What did you see?" Thalia whispers.
Instantly, the blond girl feels silly. By putting up this childish act, she's agitated her family. She's made them think she was physically hurt.
"It's nothing," She promises, wrinkling her nose at the stench of the Hudson river. "I couldn't sleep."
"Are you sure?" Luke asks.
"But I swear I heard something." Thalia insists. "It sounded like—oh."
She stares at Annabeth's red, puffy face. Nothing alarms Thalia more than tears. She gets awkward, useless, and lost. Tentatively, she smiles sadly. A single thread of water makes its way around Annabeth's cheek.
But Annabeth is childish once more, and feeling no consideration for Thalia's efforts, she turns away brusquely. "Nothing. I'm sorry I woke you."
Thalia glances at Luke, who has now dropped his weapon. "What's that?"
The boy gently takes the old picture from her, and the moonlight shows her the reason for Annabeth's upset.
It's her in the picture. Perhaps a few years younger, but definitely a grinning, lively Annabeth. He smiles at her expression. Next to her, a furry creature is posing for the camera; a black Doberman whose neck is being held tightly by the little girl. It appears to be soaking wet, and its fur is as tousled as Annabeth's hair.
"That's a very cool dog, Annabeth. Is it yours?"
"It was mine." Annabeth sighs, reclaiming her picture. "I had to leave him when I ran away . We sent him to obedience school and everything."
Thalia scoots over, sitting next to Annabeth. "That's awesome."
"Mmm. He had this rubber ball…it was his favorite toy. I sort of took it with me, because it was a good memory, you know?" She reaches for her backpack and produces a bright red sphere. It's another piece of the secret life Annabeth slowly and deliberately shares with them. Luke and Thalia have learned to be grateful for that.
"Thanks for sharing." Luke puts a hand on her shoulder. "We know how much it means to you."
"No problem." Annabeth yawns, eager to avoid further conversation. "You can go back to sleep now."
"Okay," Thalia agrees, rubbing her bloodshot eyes. "I'm dead tired."
She goes back to lie on the ground, wrapping her jacket around herself and making a mental note to get some blankets at least. It takes two seconds and a half for her to start snoring. Luke walks over and places his jacket above her sleeping figure. Annabeth stares at him. He should know Thalia loathes to be taken care of. He has the experience and the bruises to prove it.
"I'll take it off before she wakes up," he promises. "She needs it more than we do."
Annabeth nods her agreement as Luke lies down beside her, hands folded over his stomach. "I'm tired."
"We're all tired," she reminds him.
Her hand twitches towards his, eager to take it. He seems to think of something, and turns his head to look at her. "What do you want for breakfast tomorrow? I was thinking waffles."
It's this niceties that make her enjoy the triviality of life. Making a monumental argument over the chosen bus routes, getting to watch Thalia vs. Luke fights over dinner from the front row, and even trying to sleep with the rain constantly pecking their faces with cold, goodnight kisses.
"Waffles sound great. With lots of syrup on them, right?"
"Oh, they'll be swimming in syrup, just the way we like it, don't worry." Luke promises, chuckling.
"Too bad Thalia doesn't like the syrup." Annabeth laments.
"Mmm. It's just you and me on that, kiddo. But we can have some milkshakes later, how about that?"
"Is that even a healthy breakfast?"
Luke seems to think about it for a moment. "Sure it is. Plenty of morning carbs for energy, and the milkshakes have milk. Milk's good, right?"
She shrugs. "Who cares? They taste good."
Luke ruffles her blond hair. "That's my girl."
She hopes it's too dark to notice her blushing, because right then, he absentmindedly grips her small hand and places it on his chest as if it's normal behavior. She can feel his heart beat steadily underneath his shirt. "Are you cold?"
"No," she answers. "I'm fine."
"That's a lie." Luke chides her, gripping her hand tighter. "Your hands are freezing."
"That's okay. Thalia needs it more than we do, you said it yourself."
So Luke turns around and traps her between Thalia and himself, hoping the warmth shall suffice. He knows Thalia'll zap him where it hurts the most if she ever finds out he took care of her instead of Annabeth. But Annabeth's never left unattended. Like she'll ever freeze to death while I'm here…
He's the last to drift away, because he has to make sure they're okay. He always does.
The next morning, the sweet smell of waffles wakes Thalia. She soundlessly stirs and stretches, noticing at once that she's warmer than usual. She pinches the blue and red piece of cloth, her mind slowly giving it a shape, a name, and an owner.
Luke's freaking jacket.
"Luke!" She roars.
Only then she notices the blond people sitting under a pine tree, having what looks like a drowning waffle. Annabeth eats nonstop, too used to Thalia not being a morning person. Despite a tiny worry in the back of her mind for Luke's well-being, she has a huge smile. This breakfast is too good. Luke turns on Thalia.
She glares at him.
"Okay." He agrees. "How about 'cloudy with a chance of showers'?"
Thalia holds up the jacket for him to see. Luke barely bothers to shrug. "It was cold last night."
"Exactly." She agrees. "I don't suppose you had an extra wool blanket up your sleeve, did you?"
"I do have a jacket, you know." Annabeth points out. "A really big jacket."
"And I slept just fine." Luke holds his arms out, showing her. "See? No frostbite or anything."
Thalia rolls her eyes. "What's for breakfast?"
"Waffles." Annabeth's mouth is full. "Any kind you want."
"Help yourself. I saved some with chocolate chips for you." Luke hands her a Styrofoam plate.
"How'd you pay for all this?"
Luke smiles wickedly. "I didn't. I'm such a handsome homeless kid, the hostess ordered some waffles immediately."
Annabeth snorts. "That's not true. I went in and looked miserable, and they gave me the food."
"Now that I can believe. I bet you widened your eyes pleadingly and everything, Annabeth."
The girl smiles at Thalia. "I can't say it doesn't work."
" 'Handsome homeless kid'…." Thalia mutters. "What do they put in that syrup?"
She easily dodges the waffle that flies at her.
At night, they're back on their camping place, ready to drop dead.
"Ow," Thalia complains, dropping to the damp dirt. "Freaking hellhound."
Luke falls into place beside her. "At least we got rid of it before it could warn its pack."
"Annabeth did." Thalia reminds him. Her tone has lost temperature, because she knows they could've avoided the monster, but Luke was only too eager to fight it. "Great job with that knife."
The battered girl crimsons, settling between the two. "Thanks."
"It was pretty amazing. You're getting better, Annabeth." Luke agrees.
"Aren't you tired enough?"
The older demigods both laugh and immediately wince in pain. "Yeah, but the ground is wet. We really won't be able to sleep here." Thalia concludes.
"I've got an idea." Luke's voice comes out triumphant. "Look at the trees. They have boughs we could sleep on."
"Or slip on….." Thalia mutters. "We can't. What if we fall?"
"Oh, come on, Thalia. It's like five feet high." Luke chides.
"More like nine, actually." Annabeth corrects. "But it's unlikely we'd fall. The bark looks steady and wide enough."
"No, I—I can't. I'll take the watch for tonight. You guys go ahead."
Annabeth frowns at the fear in Thalia's voice, suspicion slowly lurking around an idea. She swears her friend is turning green. "But you're too tired. Maybe I can—"
"No." Thalia snaps, and immediately her voice takes on a soft tone. "It's okay. I—I can do it."
Annabeth glances at Luke, who's staring at Thalia intently. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong. Why would anything be wrong? No, I'll just sleep down here. The rain probably left the bark even damper."
There's a long silence in which they both stare at the blue-eyed girl. They don't miss the pale tone her skin has acquired, nor the clammy complexion. Something clicks audibly inside Annabeth's mind.
"You're afraid of heights."
"Of course not. Don't be stupid."
Annabeth scoffs, crossing her arms and raising an eyebrow. 'Stupid' is not an adjective that goes with her. Not at all. Her small lips press into a line, demanding her credit.
"…maybe a little."
Luke raises his eyebrows. "A little?"
Thalia throws her hands up in the air. "A lot, okay? I hate high places. I just didn't tell you before because I know it's silly—and yes, it's ironic, too, Annabeth—and I knew you guys would make fun."
She wipes a stray tear furiously.
"We're not making fun." Annabeth says. "We're all afraid of something."
"Yeah. Don't worry about it, Thalia." Luke shrugs. "We'll use the blankets we bought today, and we'll wash them tomorrow. It's not that big of a deal."
Thalia's nod is so small, only Annabeth notices. "Thanks."
"No problem." Luke yawns, knowing the bond of all three grows at a nice rate. He can only imagine how hard it is for them to open up.
An hour later, three pairs of eyes have closed for the night. Gone to a place where their secrets become tired of the insincere, and so they're given away to the people who matter the most.
Wreckage dances ahead of the two girls as they run, desperate, towards their safe point in the woods. Luke leans heavily on both of them. His eyes are half-open, and he's battered, bruised, and bleeding.
"Get me the bandages, Annabeth." Thalia orders.
Wrapping the white cloth around Luke's arm, Thalia frowns at him. "What the hell were you thinking? You knew that lady was a monster!"
Luke coughs. "We could've taken her, easy. I know we could've, Thalia!"
"What is your problem?" She yells at him. "You want to pick a fight with every monster that crosses our path. You're reckless. You're moody. You told us to hide in that closet instead of running!You thought the monster would just pass by? She was trying to find us, Luke! You almost—"
"That's enough, Thalia!" He roars at her. Annabeth steps back instinctively. "I know what I did, okay? I'm sorry. I really am. You both could've gotten hurt. I told you to get in that closet because….because that's what I used to do."
They both stare at him, unable to provide comfort.
"When my—mother was having one of her…..episodes, I used to crouch in the broom closet, gripping the mop. I'd put a bucket over my head so she wouldn't be able to hear me. I knew she'd come find me with those….those eyes if she did. I was nine years old, I—"
He is interrupted by a pair of small arms wrapping around him. "Thanks for sharing."
He's too shocked to reply.
"Yeah," Thalia agrees with a sincere smile. "we know how much it means to you."
The tear that runs down Luke's face is quickly forgotten in their hug. The three demigods sit there, lost in their embrace, promising things they can't promise in words.
Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.
And there's no better trio than them to prove this point, because they're somewhat human.
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