For all the DxC fans everywhere.
This takes place immediately following 'Greece's Pieces'.
"This ain't a silly little moment. It's not the storm before the calm. / This is the deep and dying breath of this love that we've been working on.
Can't seem to hold you like I want to—just to feel you in my arms./ Nobody's gonna come and save us; we've pulled too many false alarms"
-Slow Dancing in a Burning Room, John Mayer
Contrary to what Chris and the team named after him often insinuated, Cody was still a guy. And as a guy, the smallest total drama boy still had in his masculine genome a deeply ingrained aversion to crying girls.
However, with a dreaded 10 hour flight in front of them and enough intra-team tension to make first class actually feel crowded, Cody was seriously starting to consider overriding his genes for the sake of his frayed nerves.
"Maybe someone should go talk to her," he whispered to Heather when Courtney's crying in the bathroom started shredding the very last of his shredded nerves. Sierra was sleeping beside him—using his earplugs, his eye cover and his blanket from home—and all the blinds were pulled down for a pseudo-night effect to convince them to rest through the changing time zones. This was made infinitely more difficult and confusing by the bright and blazing sun outside.
Heather lifted her eyes from the magazine she'd been reading by overhead light and glanced behind her to where Gwen was sitting with her headphones on, hugging her knees to her chest in the dark. She was staring at the toes of her boots with half lidded eyes, looking dismal. Not quite sleeping but not completely aware either.
"I'm not talking to Weird Goth Homewrecker, thank you very much," Heather replied, leisurely turning a page of her tabloid, returning her attention to the glossy pages. "You are free to carry your torch for her until it eventually lights you on fire but do not expect me to assist."
"Not her," Cody corrected, casting a quick glance at Gwen and then away before his stomach twisted into too many painful knots. Leaning a little across the row to Heather in front of him, he whispered a little lower, "I meant Courtney. She's been in there for hours now. Don't you think someone should go…talk to her? Or something?"
Now the queen bee drew her gaze to Cody, a critical and withering look she had perfected over many years that made Cody feel very small and his question sound very idiotic. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but last I checked you were still Team Gwen, weren't you? Or are you switching sides faster than the dickweed delinquent?"
"Huh? No! I mean—it's not…" Cody scratched the back of his neck, glancing away uncomfortably as he struggled for a way to present his point without sounding like a guy. Or like Duncan. "I just thought…she and Gwen were really buddying up before London and…well, now she doesn't have anyone to talk to and…um," He faltered for a moment.
"…You're a girl too, right?" he finished awkwardly, not actually wanting to say what he was thinking. That if he and Courtney's positions had been reversed (and in a parallel timeline, they easily could have been), he would have wanted someone to talk to. But not acting like a guy was one thing; admitting that he would have wanted to talk about his feelings was the kind of emotional cannon fodder people like Heather knew how to use best—and Cody knew better than to just hand it over.
Heather was still giving him that razor sharp glare that made it very difficult for him to talk with her. "Last I checked, I wasn't a guy if that's what you were asking," the girl across from him replied sharply, sarcastically. A moment later though, to Cody's great surprise, she dropped her eyes hastily to her pages and held the magazine up to herself in a manner that looked almost—defensive. "And I'm not exactly an expert in girl heart-to-hearts," she added, voice lower than her usual pitch.
"I'll go talk to Courtney!" Sierra said suddenly, startling Cody. He jumped and turned to his personal stalker who was wide awake, earplugs out, and eye cover holding her loose hair back like a headband. "I don't really like her all that much—especially since she keeps making fun of my Cody," she added fiercely, shaking a fist in the general direction of the confession can (and Courtney).
"Buuuut," she went on a moment later, touching a finger to her lips and giving Cody a coveting look, "If my Cody can forgive her, I can go talk to her for him!"
"I thought you were asleep!" Cody exclaimed in a hushed voice reflexively, even though there wasn't anyone sleeping anymore.
"The sound of your voice has been my alarm clock for two and a half years," Sierra gushed proudly, crushing Cody's head to her chest enthusiastically and almost yanking him out of his seat.
"Fine, it's settled then. Sierra will go deal with Courtney," Heather announced without looking up from her magazine.
The super-fan let out a small squeal and released Cody to unbuckle herself and head over to the airplane bathroom where the crying could still be heard.
"Wait! Wait!" Cody hissed, waving his arms before Sierra made it a row in the direction she was going. The purple haired girl stopped in her tracks immediately, turning back to the love of her life; Heather's eyes darted back up to him, plain annoyed now.
He realized he was still whispering, even though he knew Gwen was wearing earphones and their voices couldn't carry past the confession lavatory to the economy class. It was more the nature of his words that he didn't want to say too loud. Cody exhaled a huge sigh. He couldn't believe he was saying it at all, but…
"I'll go talk to her," he said decidedly. Then, unbuckling his own seatbelt and dusting off some of Sierra's hair glitter that had rubbed off on him, Cody walked the few steps over to the girls, hoping that his excuses would be enough to stave them off.
"I appreciate you offering, Sierra," he explained, holding his palms out and picking his words carefully to not upset and/or enrage his biggest fan, "but you're just so, uh, energetic and…" –be tactful, be tactful— "full of life," he complimented, "that Courtney might not appreciate the gesture as much. I think this calls for a more subdued approach, okay?"
Sierra looked thrilled at the high praise for all of about four seconds before Heather, eyeing Cody suspiciously, slowly lowered her magazine and commented pointedly, "You sure seem awfullyconcerned for the well-being of the newly single enemy of the girl who won't give you the time of day."
It took Cody a moment to catch Heather's meaning. After a brief moment of processing (and mercifully before Sierra caught on), Cody immediately began shaking his head and hands rapidly in an attempt to wave off Heather's accusation. "No! What? No! Naw, it's nothing like that!" he insisted, still shaking his head vigorously then clutching at his hair. "I just can't stand the crying anymore! I can't bear another minute of it, let alone another nine hours!" Admitting the partial truth, he decided, was way better than having Heather and Sierra think he was making a move on any part of that Total Drama Love Triangle. (Uh, any part that wasn't Gwen, that is.)
"Honest!" he added, when Heather's gaze didn't waver and Sierra's was still trying to decipher Heather's accusation. Cody then went on to explain, "Guys are prone to avoid crying girls at all costs. And on a planelike this, where we can't go anywhere, it's just—"
"All right then," Heather said suddenly, slapping her magazine shut and tossing it into the seat next to her. "You go talk to Courtney," she instructed smoothly as she unbuckled and stood up, "and I'll keep watch at the door." She sent another look his way, implying a dual purpose to her offer that was meant to slide by Sierra who was still trying to process something in her head. I'll be keeping an eye on you, it said. "Sierra, sit. Stay."
Looking at Cody instead of Heather as she sat compliantly, Sierra called in a low voice, "Go be chivalrous, my knight in shining armor! And if she makes a move on you, let me know and I'll hack her to pieces in her sleep!"
"Um, okay…" Cody muttered as he and Heather headed to the confessional/bathroom, brushing by Gwen who didn't move or react in any way to say that she had noticed them at all. She could have already fallen asleep for all he knew.
In the two seconds it took them to pass by her, however, Cody briefly entertained the thought of resting a hand on her shoulder, just for a moment. Maybe petting her head, asking her what was wrong, offering her water; he imagined her gratitude at his compassion, imagined him holding her in his arms as she cried. Then a second later he realized that doing so would only escalate his main problem by adding another crying girl to grate on his nonexistent nerves. So he passed by unnoticed. But he let his gaze wander as he passed her, at the colored strands of her hair as they fell down her neck and over her face like waves on the dark ocean of her mind. (Oooh, that was a good line. He had to remember to add that to the Drama Brothers song he was writing for her.)
Heather's shove snapped him out of his Gwen obsessing. "Let's just get this over with," she hissed at him, herding him towards the lavatory, "so I can try to get some sleep tonight. Today. Whatever."
"You do know you don't have to come," he reminded her as they shoved into the little hallway where the plane's only bathroom was with a broken door and a crying Counselor in Training behind it.
Heather scoffed. "Yes I do," she shot back. "This team doesn't need any more drama than it's already getting and since I'm the only sane person on it," she stressed, "it's my responsibility to keep it that way."
"Well, uh, since you're here anyway…" Cody hedged, grinning sheepishly as he asked, "could you talk to her?" He was clinging to the smallest hope that he could still find a way out of his awkward predicament.
"No," Heather said simply, glaring again. "I told you, I'm not good at—" she started, then faltered, backtracked, and changed her argument. "Her crying isn't bothering me, now is it?"
It was a lie simply by the fact that Heather had slipped up because otherwise, the words flowed sleekly past her lips in a practiced manner. The thought that Heather could lie so well concerned Cody but was nowhere near the matter at hand.
"Now go in there and do whatever it is you plan on doing," the queen bee commanded, pointing to the busted door. "I'll keep watch in case Team Chris is a Douchebag tries anything."
Cody really looked at the door for the first time: light was spilling out into the dark hallway all around the edges and through the busted door lock which was stuck between the green 'Vacant' and red 'Occupied' signs. Courtney's crying was actually a lot louder up close than he thought it was. He sure hoped for Courtney's sake that the economy class was all asleep.
Plucking up his nerve and swallowing hard (while still wishing for any near-death scenario to either save him from what he was about to do or get the girl inside to stop crying), Cody knocked lightly on the door. Before he could identify himself or ask anything, there was a BANG! on the side of the door that made both Cody and Heather jump. "I don't care who you are or what number you need to do! Go away!" Courtney's voice yelled angrily from inside, thick with tears and breaking on every other syllable. "I have pepper spray and unless you want me to use it, pee in your pants!"
"Um, hey Courtney. It's Cody," the boy outside said meekly because he couldn't think of another single thing to say. Oh dear. This wasn't going to be as easy as he hoped it would be. "Are—uh, are you okay?"
"No!" the voice from inside spat out in between two heavy sobs. "Leave me alone," she reiterated miserably, the full fledged crying commencing once more.
At a loss for what else to do to remedy his problem, Cody looked to Heather whose gaze only narrowed as she indicated to the door with her head. The buck-toothed boy sighed. "Just—just don't go too far," he implored her, eyes pleading for backup he knew he would need.
"Wouldn't dream of it," was the raven head's reply, eyes sharp as glass.
Very quietly and very slowly, Cody started to pull the unlocked door open just enough that he could see a little inside the bathroom bathed in white by a florescent light bulb. He couldn't see the crying girl; though her presence was obvious in the ocean of tear filled tissues and toilet paper littering the floor. "I, uh, kinda need to wash my hands, Courtney," he tried again, scrambling for an excuse to be there and finding one. "Can I come in without being sprayed?"
"I don't CARE!" her voice replied, jumping up a pitch with the 'care' before crying even harder.
He stepped into the small bathroom (small in general; it was large as far as airplane bathrooms went) and to his surprise saw that Courtney was sitting on the floor instead of on the toilet. She'd removed the wastepaper basket and was huddled in the tiny corner, wedged between the wall and the toilet itself, hugging her legs to her chest, pressing her face into her knees, in a way that was so familiar that in Cody's mind's eye, her brown hair briefly flashed to teal.
He noted that she was decidedly out of view from the confession camera. Above him, the mike that usually hung low to record their voices was a frayed mess of wires.
Not knowing what to say or how to say it even if he did, he shuffled through the small flood of tissues to the sink and turned the faucet on full blast. If fate felt like being favorable on Courtney, maybe the roar of the plane's engines plus the roar of falling water would be loud enough to drown out the crying from Heather and the cabins outside. Cody took his time to wash his hands, lathering slowly as he listened to Courtney crying wretchedly, blubbering something to herself every few seconds. He was begging his brain to think of something to say. Anything would have done at that moment. Maybe he should have just let Sierra come talk to her because he really wasn't getting anywhere.
Another thing he'd never admit aloud was that he had a fair share of friends in his high school of the opposite sex—girls who had in one way or another shot him down nicely, agreeing to the cursed "just friends" contract which, while disheartening at first, actually turned into the advantage of having a pretty decently stocked reservoir of X chromosome advice. Most of which he did not, would not, and could not understand (no matter how many ways it was kindly rephrased for him) and the remainder of which he had never managed to employ successfully.
He sighed and turned slowly, drying his hands on his pants and not turning off the faucet. He had something that might have maybe resembled a comforting sentence in mind when he caught sight of something in Courtney's grip that froze the blood in his veins.
"Whoa, uh, wow. Courtney? Um, hey…" he started nervously, taking a step towards her with his palms held out. "Look, I get that Duncan turned out to be a total creep and everything, but we make mistakes all the time! You know, we, uh, all make mistakes. Often! And, um—a lot." Cody inched towards her a little more, "This isn't something that requires such—such drastic action. Kay?"
Courtney lifted her head from her knees. He hadn't really noticed that Courtney wore eye makeup until he saw it streaking down her cheeks. She stared at him through red, puffy eyes, hiccupping for a second before replying with an earnestly confused, "What?"
"We can…we can talk about this! Okay?" Cody insisted, panic propelling him another small step closer to her. "There's no need to do anything we…might regret later—right?"
Courtney looked to him a moment longer as he gestured for her to give him the switchblade, then at the folded knife itself. When her gaze returned to Cody, she'd somehow managed to throw him an extremely irritated look while still looking pathetic and miserable at the same time.
"I'm not going to use it, you idiot," she snapped, her voice sounding insulted (but surprisingly even). She gripped it tighter and looked at it again when she sniffled and said, "It's—It was, Duncan's."
"He gave it to me. At the end of TDI, when we were leaving Playa de Losers. He said…" For a second it looked like she wasn't going to be able to finish because the tears were going to overpower her but she rushed, "He—He said he wanted me to have it because—because he wasn't always going to be there to take care of me and—and—and—!"
"And I'm not always gonna be around to be watching your behind. Fine as it is."
"Well, you sure have an interesting taste in…gifts…" she hedges, putting down a suitcase to accept the folded blade cautiously.
He huffs, looking annoyed, maybe exasperated.
"C'mon, cut me some slack here! We're stuck on an island in the middle of nowhere. It's not like I can go out a buy you something decent. It was this or the tiny shampoo bottles in my bathroom."
"You really are hopeless, aren't you?" she sighs, rolling her eyes at this. He manages a smile, mood brightened, more at her response than anything else.
Turning the folded knife in her hands, she weighs it and asks, "Don't you need this? What if you come across a convenience store and just have to break into it? Or what if you come across some tree you must defile?"
"Ha ha," he snarks, shoving his hands deeper in his pockets. "Don't worry about it. I've got like six more."
He pulls out another one and twirls it in his hand like a baton, smirking. "We notorious criminals are always prepared."
For a moment, her face falls, the significance of the gift decreased, before she forces the smile again and goes to put the blade away.
She readies a nonchalant comment but he quickly stalls her hand and takes the blade back from her.
Her face shows more than she knows because he goes on to explain, "But I've always been partial of My Girl Friday."
An eyebrow hikes. "You name your switchblades?" It was such a guy thing to do.
He sends her a playful 'Who doesn't?' smirk that leaves her wanting to kiss him.
"See, Friday's a little heavier than my other blades, kinda temperamental too." He twirls her. "Never does anything I tell her to and when she does, it's never when I want it."
As if to demonstrate, he tries to flick the blade out but it stalls. Scowling at it, he bangs it a few times against the wall beside them to no avail.
She can't help but giggle at the look on his face.
"So yeah, she's got something of a personality. Kind of a bitch," he adds, smirking at her glare in response to that comment.
He hands the blade back to her. "She's my second favorite of them all."
"So the gift isn't just a switchblade. It's a defective switchblade?" she clarifies testily even as she accepts it back from him, eying it wearily.
But his next words are all he needs to say to win her over. "She helped me carve your other gift. The skull?"
Examining first the boy across her and then the jammed switchblade again, she flicks it near the base. The blade immediately flips out.
"Aw, she likes you," he croons, his eyes playful. She rolls hers as she grabs her suitcase and pockets the knife.
"I expect jewelry and/or makeup when we're back on the mainland. Got it?"
"Yes, your majesty."
Now Courtney resumed crying, worse than even before Cody had arrived. He cringed, every reflex he possessed begging him to get the heck away, but he forced himself to creep a little closer to pat her head, ever so gently. He tried to say something comforting but only managed a meek, "Um, there, there…"
"I hate her!" Courtney shouted, body shaking with sobs even under Cody's (not very helpful) hand. This wasn't new, though. Cody had been hearing that statement pepper her tears for almost the entirety of the evening. What was new, however, were the words that followed. "I hate him! I—I hate me! I hate me…"
She forcefully buried her face in her knees again, looking like she was trying to will the universe to swallow her whole. "It's all my fault!" she screamed, the sound muffled by her legs.
Cody pulled his hand back quickly, startled by the sheer volume of the exclamation. But also to some degree because he never expected condescendingly confident and prissily proud Courtney to somehow be remotely capable of self loathing, even with all things considered. "C'mon, Courtney. You, ehm, you know it's not your fault," he attempted to console as he slowly lowered himself down onto the seat of the toilet just beside her—albeit, on the furthest end possible from Courtney and the nerve-frying crying.
"It is!" she sobbed. "I—I knew it!"
Cody sighed. He knew for a fact (because he'd tried) that he was incapable of finding it in himself to hate Gwen. Or be mad at her. Or even look upon her with anything other than adoration, under any and all circumstances. But he had more than enough animosity for Duncan, and for a kaleidoscope of reasons outside of these most recent developments, and had no qualms about pinning the entire mess on him.
He was unable to get any further as Courtney talked over him, seemingly forgetting Cody was even there.
"I mean, I never even knew why he liked me in the first place! He…he never should have liked me in the first place! If he hadn't, I never would have—have cared about him at all!" she sobbed.
Burrowing her face further into her legs, she was making it difficult for Cody to make out what she was saying. After catching a few words here and there and feeling unreasonably guilty about it, Cody realized he probably wasn't meant to hear what she was saying at all. Which made his situation all that more awkward…
But as Courtney went on rambling to herself, Cody scrambled through all that useless girl advice he'd received to find something to say to remind her of his presence. That would hopefully get her to stop crying too. And maybe lift her spirits. Also make her forget about Duncan. (Though in the state Courtney was in, he knew he would be lucky enough just to remind her that he was sitting next to her.)
"I mean, I know I'm not the kind of girl guys date!" she was blubbering, voice muffled. "I'm too headstrong and—and pushy and a perfectionist at everything! And I know boys abhor that in a girl!" Then, an octave lower, she mumbled miserably, "I'm not even all that pretty."
"Eh, um, look," Cody started half heartedly as Courtney took a pause to breathe and cry some more. He was rubbing the back of his neck nervously as he struggled to find some non-cliché words of comfort. "I, uh, guess this probably doesn't mean much coming from me and all but, um," he checked the door, hoping against hope that Sierra had gone back to sleep or that his sink water diversionary tactic would drown out his voice. He choked down his male pride, feeling the blood pooling in his face, and said in a low voice, "you really are. Pretty, I mean! Not, un-dateable or…whatever it was you were saying before. Because I kinda missed some of that…"
Instead of being cheered up by the stumbling words of praise, or flattered—or at least appreciative enough to stop crying so much—Courtney huffed at the comment through one of her sobs, sounding like a ghost of the prideful person she'd been yesterday. "No I'm not," she spat angrily, like Cody had insulted her. "I have freckles everywhere. And my hair is different shades of brown all over the place. And one of my boobs is bigger than the other, and—"
Cody stopped her there, the blood really pooling in his face now. He lied, "Guys—hehe—guys don't really care about those sorts of things. It's, um, who you are that really—"
"I'M A SHREW!" she wailed, throwing her head up and startling Cody so badly, he fell off the other end of the toilet seat. "I'm a bitch and a horrible person! I fight with people on purpose to keep them off their f-feet so they don't get close to me because if—if they did, they'd hate me!"
Courtney released the death grip she'd had on her legs, her forearms red and marked with the fabric of her capris in testament to her strength, and pushed her fisted hands, one still holding the switchblade, against her eyes. She stomped her feet, exclaiming as she cried, "And I knew this would happen! I—I knew it! The second he really saw me, he was going to—to pack up his bags and hightail it! So I had to push him away! Oh, don't give me that look!" she said abruptly, yanking her hands from her face to glare viciously at a confused and slightly frightened Cody who was peeking up from the other end of the toilet seat where he'd fallen. And he honestly hadn't been giving her any look at all. "I had that defense mechanism up and running long before he came around!"
"But…I don't…get it," Cody hedged slowly, fully aware that he treaded in the deep, untested, and possibly lethal waters that were the currents of Courtney's unpredictable temperament. No matter how he tried to descramble her words in his mind, his brain just wasn't wrapping around the thought. He decided to take a chance as he so very slowly pulled himself up from the floor, suggesting as carefully as he could, "You were…mean to him…so that he wouldn't see how…mean you were?"
"No!" Courtney shouted at him, reprimanding and he flinched at this, ducking back behind the toilet. But then, she whimpered as her anger evaporated as suddenly as it had flourished and the sorrow seemed to rush in on her again. She started crying again, curling in on herself once more. Like if she was small enough, she would disappear entirely. "I was—I was mean to him so he would—oh god—so he wouldn't see that I wasn't—worth it! That I wasn't—oh god!—w-worth his time or his inexplicable dedication or worth—worth him!
"And that's not even the worst part," she went on, the crying slowing to a stutter and a hiccup as Cody looked on, absolutely at a loss for words (but secretly grateful to the powers that be that Courtney seemed to be running out of energy to cry all by herself—because he surely hadn't been getting anywhere.) "The worst part was that he convinced me! It took two whole damn seasons and three breakups for him to convince me that maybe he wasn't completely crazy. Crazy in…"
Courtney trailed off, running a hand through her hair but leaving it buried in her auburn tresses. Cody thought he should have said something then since the available pauses in their conversation (if it could even be called one) were few and far between, but Courtney finished her thought a moment later, and in a low voice, whispered, "Crazy in loving me."
Here she closed her eyes dejectedly, hiccupping one more time, before adding, "I should have never told him I loved him too."
Though it should have been impossible, hearing her say those words surprised Cody more than anything else Courtney had said to him (or yelled at him) since he'd intruded in on her wallowing. As a result, he couldn't stop himself from just…staring at her a bit. Like he'd never seen the girl across the toilet seat from him before.
Because, yeah, sure, he knew Courtney and Duncan had been on and off, and hot and cold, and flirting, and dancing around each other since day one on Wawanakwa, but he'd never stopped to think at any point that the two might have actually loved each other. In fact, he actually felt slightly naïve for it. All he, all anyone ever saw was the arguing and the bickering and the oddly fitting animal magnetism between them. But anything else?
Cody eased himself up from the floor, taking his seat on the far end of the lid once more, and tapped his forefingers together as he thought of something to say to counter the unanticipated news and the even more unanticipated quiet. He tried to focus on the feeling of his finger pads touching briefly and lightly as Courtney, finally silent at last, stared off into space. The same way he knew not to reveal his thoughts to Heather earlier, his 'Common Sense' Sense told Cody that he was in the worst situation to voice aloud what he was really thinking now: That he actually found it hard to believe that Courtney had honestly thought she and Duncan, with all their innumerable differences, were ever going to make it at all. Because apparently, everyone else had seen it coming.
Even Duncan. And Courtney hadn't.
"You…loved him?" Cody asked at last. The words sounded like a different language coming from his mouth.
"Of course I do," she snapped in present tense, with her signature ire. "I mean, I didn't get around to actually telling him until we were on that cross country, rat-ass race to the Orpah Studio and our bus landed in the ravine where we had to spend the night, but yeah," she amended, not even sparing a glance at to the boy beside her. Cody noted that she conveniently skipped over the part where she was the one who drove them into the ravine in the first place but wisely decided not to bring it up.
Courtney was staring at her exposed toes in her wedges when, after taking a deep breath, she whispered, "I honestly thought we were going to die. Really die. Die in a way so horrible, so grousomely real, Chris McLean would've been spitting mad he didn't think of it himself…and there would've be no contract on earth that could save me from it.
"But I'd kissed him," she added oddly, smiling a little. Very little. Kind of sorrowfully. But enough that Cody noticed. "And we were together again. And the last thing we were going to remember about each other wasn't going to be the other's face screaming across a courtroom. So while we camped out in the freezing desert that night next to the useless bus, I told him how I was going to call off my sharks, and how happy Britney was going to be to have us both together again, and how I really, really, really believed—"
"—we can honestly make it work this time. As long as you think about doing something with your wardrobe, like washing it occasionally."
"Uh-huh," he replies monotonously. His voice betrays no emotion but she feels the rumble of his baritone across her pillow which is his chest.
"And refrain from eating in any place people might be able to see you," she adds, voice testy.
Even then, she snuggles herself closer to him. "And try to keep a better lid on your hormones when we're places where there are adults present. Yes?"
His reply is distracted, unimportant. "Yup."
And she's trying not to pay attention to the little circles he's rubbing over the small of her back.
She tries to ignore how amazing it feels to have his skin on hers again, to find herself back in his arms again, after so long a war.
The happiness scares her; she presses on.
"And don't think I've forgotten that you promised me you were going to try and get a part time job before the school year and/or the next season, whichever comes first. Got it?"
This time, the response is delayed by a heavy sigh. She rises with it and falls with it just the same, revels in it. And she wishes, illogically, that he do it again.
She dreams that she never again has to be anywhere he is not breathing beneath her.
His voice sounds a hundred years older and a million kilometers more tired when he replies, "Yes, your majesty."
More than the joyous contention does, more than the few seconds of free fall ever did, his resigned submission frightens her.
It's unnatural and unexpected when she wants an argument, is trying to pick a fight with him. When all she needs is a guarantee that they've returned to the status quo.
Despite the objections of her soul and heart, she pushes herself up off him, hands on either side of him, though his hand stays just where it is on the smallest of her back.
The glare is on her face before she can even see past his chin.
"And furthermore—" she starts. But she stops at the sight of him. He's not even looking at her.
Staring up at the sliver of night sky visible above them between the canyon walls, a perfect sky without a single city light to disrupt the endless dark peppered with lights, he is lost in thought.
She thinks of that video clip, the last one she saw on the last studio show she was a part of. The only other time she ever saw that look in his eyes.
You think Courtney might be looking at the stars now?
She thinks that she hadn't allowed herself to think about him.
Thoughts of him either only clouded her judgment of the show or fueled her envy towards Gwen. She'd wanted to tell him, then, that she never had a chance to see the stars because she was stuck in the stupid studio half of her time and pacing her hotel room on the phone with her lawyers the other half.
But she can look up at the stars now. Tilt her head right up. There is nothing to stop her. Nothing at all.
Except she can't take her eyes off his face.
"I love you."
The words are simple, said lowly, so much so that for a second she believes she only imagined herself saying them.
The circles on her back stop. In the span of a single blink, his eyes are fixed on hers, and she swears they make the rest of him look infinitely more beautiful in the distant lights.
Irises so ice blue. Like how the sky would look on the best day of your life.
She can't even begin to imagine what her own face looks like. "You…know that, though. Right?"
Still he stares at her though she can't make out his exact expression. Regret wriggles to life inside of her but she beats it down mercilessly before it does more than hatch.
"I mean, I just assumed you weren't completely dense and would be able to figure it out," she adds, her voice picking up its natural tone, and picking up speed with her sudden anxiety.
The words keep coming, her defenses triggered. "Not that I'm always so lenient, mind you. Most of the time I can't even figure out if you have working brain capacity let alone—"
Then, her rambling all he needs to confirm the authenticity of her words, he smiles. It's little, but a real smile. A really happy grin. It's more than she expected.
"—and most days I…What?" she snaps, interrupting herself.
He trails his hand up from her back, over her shoulder, brushing past her throat to cup her face.
In the near-nothing light of the stars, she sees a dark shape under the yellow sleeves of his shirt and her heart flips on itself.
Because he'd never gotten rid of his tattoo.
In the same place on her arm, a scar tingles uncomfortably.
He leans up on his other arm slowly, smoothly, and she swears he secretly feeds off the suspense.
Pulling her face to his when he can't stretch any further, he places a kiss on her brow and the spot burns like a brand.
Unsatisfied, she tilts her face up, against the push of his hand, languidly capturing his lips with hers.
And though she knows it's physically impossible, she swears the Earth stops moving beneath them when he kisses her back.
Soon, it's over. He settles back down, both hands behind his head this time. A moment delayed, she decides to do so as well, one hand wrapped around him like he was a stuffed animal.
It takes her more effort than she expects to keep her mouth shut and let the moment live. She tangles her legs with his, deflecting her mind's immediate excuse that it's just to stave off the cold.
No objections arise from his end. The sigh he makes now is content, though his torso shakes a little at inhaling all that cold air.
Laying there on his chest, she can't imagine why she hadn't insisted on doing this every waking and sleeping moment they spent together.
Finally, Duncan speaks. The words rumble in his chest, in her ears, as he articulates the words. She finds herself wanting to purr in response as she drifts to sleep.
"I've been waiting a long time to hear you say that, Princess."
Cody looked much like he had when he'd been handed the extremely detailed coded blueprints to disable a time bomb under pressure. Back when he when the world was far less complicated and he'd just started to acquire a bitter taste for being on a reality show which was nowhere near real. "What on Earth was that supposed to mean?"
"I don't know, okay?" Courtney shouted defensively, whipping her head to him and glaring daggers.
Cody threw his hands up, scrambling to try to appease her. "Hey! No, I know that! I didn't mean it, like, like that, or anything! I was just, um, it was an honest question…I was just talking aloud to, eh, you know, myself…since you were kinda being… rhetorical-ish…yeah…"
Courtney's eyes were incensed for another second as Cody stammered his apology before she seemed to realize, for the first time in the entire conversation, exactly who it was she was she was talking to. That Cody's words were sincere. Voice narrowed, wary, she went on stiffly. "I told myself it wasn't anything important. That it was just what he meant it said, but…"
She didn't start crying again, which Cody, while grateful, found strange. Instead, she drew her hand through her lanky strands of hair again, the tears brimming on the corners of her eyes but not overflowing. "I'll swear on—on anything. I swear: that was the last time he ever looked at me like that. It's been 'Courtney' since then too, not 'Princess'. Never…anything. 'Courtney'. Like I'm just anyone."
"Way back then?" Cody asked, shocked. He quickly did the math in his head, unaware that he'd moved a little closer to her since her sorrowful revelation. "But…that was, like, a month before even the beginning of the season!"
"I know," she mumbled, miserable.
Reflexively, thoughtlessly, Cody asked, "And you're sure?"
Her eyes fixed on him again, and expecting her signature 'Kill You Where You Stand' glare, Cody threw his hands up again and got ready to apologize for his stupid (in retrospect) question. But his train of thought was derailed when her sad brown eyes touched his, holding him where he sat, as she explained, "Cody, a girl always knows when a guy is looking at her and thinking of someone else." She hugged herself tighter, chin on her knees, eyes straight ahead, and went on sorrowfully, "We know because it's the most god-awful feeling on the face of the Earth. And there's nothing more any of us want to do than wish it away even though we know it's im—impossi—"
Courtney couldn't make it through the four syllables before she broke off in a whine and buried her face in her knees, consumed with gut-wrenching sobbing once more.
"Oh crud…" Cody sighed beside her. This was way more than what was advertised to him in the travel brochure. Fully aware that she could flip the switch to 'Wrathful' at any time, he scooted a little closer to her and put a hand on her shoulder. "Look, Courtney. You, uh, don't have to talk about this anymore if you—"
Again, it was as if he was invisible. "I mean, I t-tried! Really, I tried for us!" Her voice sounded weird, rising and falling and writhing through tones, breaking in different pitches like she couldn't decide whether she wanted to be furious or despondent. "I did try!Now that I knew, now that he knew, I just—I thought it would be worth letting things slide, here and there! I went back to my list, right? A-And I cut out, like, more than half of it! So many things didn't seem so—so important anymore, you know? I mean, I loved him, dammit! AND THEN THIS!" Courtney slammed her fist into the wall beside her, denting it. "I can't believe I ever wanted to get that stupid tattoo back! I can't believe I blinded myself this badly! I can't—I…I hate her!" she screamed into her legs suddenly, louder than anything she'd said yet. Repeating the phrase again and again, she rocked slightly as she cried heavier. "I hate her! I HATE her!"
Now Cody was thoroughly confused, totally thrown off by the change of targets. He wisely withdrew his hand of comfort in order to keep it attached to the rest of his body. "But…you just said—"
"I should've—We—No, she!—" Courtney blubbered, "She! Of all people—We should have been better than this!" she yelled at last, clutching both hands in her hair.
Her fury unbridled, she continued uncensored as Cody watched helplessly, "Three seasons! Three whole fucking seasons of this same bullshit and we're still not—not above this, we—we should've been better than fucking this! For the love of God," she whined, dropping her face pitifully back onto her knees again, "I see more of you people than I see of most of my own g-goddamn family. You're the only other 23 people in the whole world that get what it's like to be—be prostituted like this for entertainment value and we still—we still can't find…find something to…" her voice trailed off into incoherent mumbles and scattered half-sobs as she struggled between her sorrow and righteous indignation.
Cody was slightly sidetracked by trying to figure out which 23 people she was talking about, then realized she was talking about all the campers that had ever been on the show (he hadn't been counting impossibly-happy-to-be-here Sierra or glory-hound Alejandro into his original equation). Scratching the back of his head shyly, he offered his theory meekly, "Well, uh, it just ends up being the same thing season after season, doesn't it? We're all the same people, we just…keep reacting to each other the same way, right? It's why Chris does it like this, right? 'Same drama, different name' and all that…"
Courtney pulled her face up to him and for a second, he thought she might explode and rage at him again. She just kinda sat there, though, her gaze pulling away from him and staring off, lost in thoughts Cody imagined he couldn't even fathom.
A full minute later, however, the awkward silence truly set in. It made Cody's skin itch.
Outside the bathroom door, he could hear snippets of noises so indistinctive beneath the roar of the plane and running water, they could've just as easily been a hushed conversation as the shuffling of luggage in compartments. His paranoia told him they were the former though and signaled his cue to exit while still in the calm of Hurricane Courtney. "So, uh, yeah. Good…talk. You're, um, going to be okay then?" he asked hesitantly, slowly standing, keeping an arm partially extended towards Courtney in case she broke into spontaneous crying again.
She didn't. He'd shuffled slightly towards the door, trying to suppress his urge to bolt for first class to get as far away as was feasibly possible from the lavatory. Eyeing the door handle from the corner of his eye, he offered a final, "Um, if we're done…I should probably go back to trying to sleep, sooo…"
"Thank you," she said out of the blue, her voice small, like she didn't want anyone to hear her say the words. "By the way."
Surprised, Cody's head snapped back up to look at her. The 'Huh?' was halfway out of his mouth when she explained without prodding. "For punching him. In Greece," she clarified unnecessarily before glancing away from his eyes, self conscious. "I know I haven't really been…I mean, we haven't actually had…any…" Her voice trailed off, unsure of how to continue. "Thank you," she repeated finally. "You didn't have to and…you did." She sniffled, looking at him fondly for the first time ever in the three seasons since he'd met her. "So thank you."
He caught her eyes for just a moment, little broken black pupils in puffy red eyes, before she averted her gaze. Embarrassed at showing weakness. After listening to her crying about love so earnestly there on the floor of the dirty bathroom, Cody couldn't bring himself to correct Courtney that in reality, he'd punched the boy who'd shattered her heart for selfishly stealing Gwen's heart, the only heart Cody had ever wanted so badly, and breaking Cody's own heart in the process. Cody wasn't sure he had the heart left inside of him to belittle her so rare appreciation and correct her that his actions had nothing to do with her at all—that he'd punched Duncan for Gwen. In truth, he wasn't even completely sure he still had a heart left inside him period.
Then against all instinct, logic, and just baseline reason, the first boy Amazon in the history of the world turned away from the door.
"Look, is…Is there anything I can do?" Cody asked earnestly, squatting down beside her to be on her same level. "Anything at all? Something I can get for you? I know girls like ice cream when they're sad…" he offered but she ever so slightly shook her head 'no', gazing far away in front of her.
"Is there anything you want?" he asked again, just to be sure.
It took a moment, but at his words, her eyes seemed to solidify—like ash being compacted into coal being pressurized into diamond. Something feral gleamed to life inside them. She stared past the boy in front of her, to the door behind him, and the world beyond it. It struck Cody as so bizarre that seeing her volatile like this was what felt like Courtney being normal to him.
"I want him to hurt like this," she whispered darkly, voice just as hard, just as smooth and even as the precious stone. "I want everyone to hurt like this."
And though he wasn't sure how to respond to this at first, Cody found, strangely enough, that an honest answer came to him when he didn't try looking for one. It was another of those answers he knew better than to say aloud. But he felt the honest words slip by his grasp before he could stop them this time.
"…I hurt like that. Sometimes," he offered softly, rubbing his arm self consciously. His heart ached as he thought of Gwen again; as he thought of Gwen and Duncan—together. As he imagined the way she must have been looking at him all along, of the glance that would only ever touch everyone but him.
Courtney looked at him then, the diamond gaze softening, saddening. But only a little. "I'm sorry, Cody, but it's just not the same," she replied softly, turning from his questioning eyes to the folded knife in her palm, her thumb rubbing over it tenderly like it was someone's skin. Like it was something that could love her back.
Then, in a broken whisper so low it was a decibel away from being drowned by the sink water, "You can't miss something you—you never had."
It must have been instinct, an automatic reaction, because Cody had a ready answer that time—he and Gwen did have something, something small granted, but he'd been working on it since way back in the island and he was sure she felt some of it too—but he never got the chance to say it. Because with the abruptness of a shout that made both Courtney and Cody jump, those indistinct noises from outside the lavatory suddenly became very, very distinct.
"AS IF, you no good, scum-faced low-life!" Heather's voice rang out, with all the venom and icy clarity Cody had come to recognize. "AS IF I'm letting your insufferable carcass go on all accounts just because you think this has nothing to do with me!"
The reply to that was inaudible, nowhere near as loud as Heather, and lost under the crashing from the sink. Cody looked to Courtney, found her staring at the door petrified like a deer in headlights, and he hopped up to speedily shut off the water so they could hear. The gesture was unnecessary though because Heather's voice picked up again in response to the words they hadn't heard, biting and spiteful.
"Well I already knew you were a soulless bastard, but I didn't think you were brainless too!"
"Heather, mi amor," Alejandro's silky smooth accent slipped to them through the door (and from the corner of his eye, Cody saw Courtney relax a decibel), "you're completely overreacting to something which is, quite frankly, an absolutely normal request. It's completely natural for a man to want to—"
"You know damn well that's not what I'm talking about!" Heather shot back, voice rising in rage. "Rest assured that I will personally chuck you out of this plane—parachuteless!—if you so much as blink near this lavatory right now! Because if you think you can get away with the kind of crap you pulled off today, you've got another thing coming, buckos! I'm going to be sitting around laughing my head off when karma comes back around—and it will come back around!—and bites you in the ass for this!"
There was a pause as Heather recollected herself, then asserted in a deceptively even voice, "I don't know how you 'Chris'es operate," and she said the word like she tasted something foul, "but we Amazons stick together on all accounts."
Cody could do nothing more than stare at the door, stunned, convinced that Tyler or someone had perfected the art of ventriloquism. Because while that sure sounded like Heather's voice, the words being shaped by it were as impossibly foreign as words in the languages of Earth came. He turned back around to get Courtney's opinion on this really bizarre occurrence and found her shakily getting to her feet, wiping at her straggling tears with fisted hands and trying to compose her expression as Heather and Alejandro continued arguing outside.
"Don't you think you can sweet—"
But then a third voice interrupted the pair, a voice both Courtney and Cody knew far too well, and the sound froze the blood in their veins.
"I hate to break up this little lover's spat but can I finally use the fucking bathroom or are we going to have some interesting tasting orange juice tomorrow morning?"
Cody's eyes flew to the girl behind him the second his brain processed the voice. She'd processed faster, apparently, because suddenly all the insecurity, all the hurt, all the infinite sorrow he had seen flew from her eyes, leaving behind that solid marble-smooth look, fury blazing behind the icy façade.
Courtney flipped open her switchblade. And that one simple little click sounded louder to Cody's ears than the combination of Katie, Sadie, and Sierra's squealing combined and even Heather's shouting the moment before.
"Courtney, hey! Hold on a—" He tried to stop her because he knew he should've but she was too swift for him. She pushed him aside with her free hand and was at the door in a single stride. The shove wasn't rude but inevitably brusque; he was invisible to her, unimportant, and in the way. His imagination working a mile a second, Cody saw dozens of scenarios play before his eyes of what was about to happen the second Courtney opened that door, more than half of them dealing with great amounts of bloodshed and the other half dealing with an equally expansive flood of tears. He figured, best case scenario, he'd be charged for accessory to murder and spend the next few years of his life in prison. So wrapped up was he in his apocalypse scenarios in the split seconds it took Courtney to reach the door, by the time she finally opened it, Cody was braced for the onset of World War III.
Courtney roughly pushed open the door to see the trio still engaged in heated argument. Their words, insults, died in their throats at the sight of her, but Courtney's eyes were only for Duncan, a step beyond the newly mute Alejandro and Heather. From his vantage point, Cody couldn't see how long she held his gaze, could hardly see Duncan's expression from the blindness that came from the drastic change of bright bathroom light to the dim hallway outside.
It must have only been a moment, a fraction of a fraction of a second, because the next thing anyone knew, Courtney's stabbing hand swung out like a viper, jamming the switchblade into the lock of the door. There was a resounding crack! similar to the shattering of ice and a thousand times louder as the bolt of the door split in two.
And Cody recognized the sound of something breaking irreparably.
While everyone else jumped at the sound, Courtney didn't so much as flinch, never tearing her eyes off Duncan. Then the CIT smoothly turned to Heather and said, very simply, very primly, "Lock's broken," then brushed by the trio to first class without a backwards glance.
Cody took a timid step towards the door to watch her go, feeling lightheaded as he exhaled a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. Stepping out of the bathroom completely as he thanked his lucky stars a dozen times for this outcome, he risked a glance at the others to see Alejandro sighing, Heather scowling (at Alejandro), and Duncan—of all things!—rolling his eyes at his ex-girlfriend's retreating figure.
The boy Amazon was pretty sure he had never tasted hate before, but he was pretty sure he was growing to know what it would have felt like.
Cody threw a glare at him, filling it with enough animosity for himself as well as Courtney and was positively stunned when Duncan, noticing the look a second later, flinched. At him! It was more than he ever expected and at first, Cody had no idea, couldn't fathom, how such an impossible thing had come to be—how someone like Duncan had actually found scrawny little him cringe-worthy. Until he remembered his KO punch and realized, with a huge ego boost, that he could now be considered intimidating.
Duncan recovered quickly, throwing his own glare at Cody, a glare far more threatening and better tuned over years of practice, but it did little to deter Cody's feeling of accomplishment. Grinning perhaps a bit too smugly at his own personal Olympic gold medal, he strode away from Duncan and Alejandro too with his head held high, fighting the urge to push his luck for a second glare. Heather was last to leave, Cody distinctly hearing a raspberry being blown behind him in the direction of a certain Latin ladies man. Then there was the sound of the busted bathroom door trying to be shut and a few muttered curses in English and Spanish.
By the time he made it to the still immobile Gwen's row back to first class, the sounds from the lavatory were starting to die out. Cody was still riding his high at being deemed fearsome and was relieved to see Sierra still sleeping through the spectacle. He couldn't tell any better now than he could before if Gwen was sleeping or not so he decided not to bother her in case she was already off in dreams. But Courtney, however, was nowhere he could see. Cody stored away his personal ego party for later as he glanced around their compartment for any sign of the girl. After a second of listening and taking a few inquisitive steps towards the back of the plane, he was about to call out to her when he distinctly heard some stifled soft sobbing coming from behind the first-class airplane bar, hidden from view.
He sighed, deflating, and examined the well stocked airplane bar with all nonalcoholic beverages, a blessing in disguise considering Courtney's state. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Heather standing beside her previous seat, staring at him with those piercing eyes of hers, egging him on. It was unnecessary though—Cody's feet were already going towards the bar.
"Courtney?" he asked, very softly as he peeked over the edge of the tabletop, only seeing the CIT's mass of brown hair as she curled herself over her legs.
"I'll try to keep the—the volume down so you can sleep." Her voice came muffled from beneath the hair and engulfing sadness. Sniffling, she added, "I won't be so loud as t-to interrupt you trying to sleep. Counselor's Honor."
"You know, uh, that was pretty awesome," he told her, voice low and as sincere as he could manage it when he could feel Heather breathing down his neck. Cody felt in his gut that she needed to hear someone tell her that. Needed someone to remind her of the person he remembered her as. "What you did back there was pretty…brave of you, I guess. It probably wasn't easy…so I just wanted you to know. That I thought it was pretty wicked."
He'd expected a smirk, a small smile, a look at the very least from her at the comment. That was the Courtney he was accustomed to seeing. But she didn't do any of these things. She didn't even lift her head. She only hugged her legs tighter (Cody noticed she was even shaking) and when she spoke again, her voice was even softer, even more fragile than before. It might have been the most delicate thing he'd ever heard.
"It doesn't matter," she whispered mutely. "It doesn't even. None of it matters now."
"I need you to disappear now, Cody," Courtney said suddenly, her voice louder, clearer, more clipped than the words that proceeded it. The total opposite, in fact. It was an unmistakable command from a girl holding onto authority.
"But are you—?" he tried in concern but was cut off by Courtney a second time.
"Right now I—need to be alone," she said sternly, never moving from her position. Never looking at him. "Thank you. But go away, Cody."
Surprised but more than happy to have been given an out of his pseudo-psychiatrist role, Cody started tapping his fingers together again (nervous habit) as he slowly began to inch away from the bar. "Okay, uh, sure. Yeah, that was...If you need any—"
"Cody," she reiterated. The word could cut steel.
"Gone!" he replied immediately, picking up the pace as he briskly walked back to where Heather and Sierra were, giving Courtney as much privacy as could be allotted to her, given the circumstances. He decided to take the seat beside Sierra. His back would be to the airplane bar to be close to Courtney but he was still able to keep an eye on Gwen from his position. She sat two rows beyond Heather who was cleaning the chair across from him of hair glitter to settle into it for the evening.
Behind him, Cody heard a sob escape from the airplane bar before it was choked, muffled, as Courtney tried to shove it back down her throat.
Cody felt what was left of his empathy sink into his feet.
It seemed the bathroom door wasn't the only thing in pieces.
"You know, you didn't really have to do that. Stand watch," he whispered as Heather took her seat across from him, "so we wouldn't get interrupted."
"I had to make sure you weren't going to try anything and screw up this team over any more than Duncan already has," was the queen bee's reply as she reached into her travel bag to grab her nightly face cream.
Again, as before, the words were smooth and sleek and made every bit of sense considering it was Heather Cody was talking to, but something seemed out of place with what he'd heard outside the bathroom. She'd gotten mad at Duncan—mad in the claw your heart out, scream your lungs out way that Heather was particularly prone to get—even though he hadn't technically done or said a single thing to her since getting back. There existed, quite frankly, no personal bone to pick against him.
After a second of pondering and replaying the words she'd said a few times in his head, however, Cody realized something. In his wonder, the words slipped out of his mouth of their own accord. "You stood up for her."
"…So?" Heather asked brusquely, where he couldn't see her expression. "We're on the same team."
"You've never cared about anyone on your team before," Cody reminded her. Now it was his turn to be suspicious of motives. "Heck," he went on in a steadily hardening voice, thinking of a teal haired girl stuck in this mess, "you pulled this same thing on Gwen and Trent way back in season one, didn't you? Why would you—?"
"That was different," Heather interrupted unexpectedly, gaze cutting fast to Cody, defensive.
"I really don't get how—"
"That was tactical. Manipulative. Logical," she went on to explain like Cody hadn't spoken, placing special emphasis on the last word. Her eyes were relentless as she spoke. "Not one of you really thought for even a fraction of a second that I actually liked Trent, did you? That—yuck!—we were ever even remotely going to end up together. This?"
Heather's gaze rose from Cody to the little airplane bar behind him where Courtney's muffled sobs were becoming much less frequent as she succumbed to the exhaustion. In the dim light, Cody could've sworn he saw Heather's obsidian eyes thaw out just a little around the edges. "This is different," she repeated, voice lower. It almost sounded like she was talking to herself. "No one deserves to hurt like this. Not Courtney. Not me—especially not me," she felt the need to reiterate. "Heck, not even Chris. Maybe. And I would damn a lot of things on Chris. But this?"
The Queen Bee brought her arms around to hug herself unconsciously. Staring off past the airplane bar behind him, jar of face cream still in hand, Heather suddenly looked very far away, very vulnerable, and very human to Cody in the pseudo night.
"This ruins you," she finished.
Cody could only stare at her, unable to process the words coming from Heather's mouth. Heather, who had blackmailed or bullied every single person on this show at least twice in their three seasons together. Heather, who was bold and bald and colder than the Yukon ice water he'd almost drowned in. Heather, who broke hearts in boredom. The same Heather who'd sounded ready to tear out Duncan's heart not five minutes ago.
"Um…uh…" He struggled for something to say. Every single male hormone inside him was screaming at him to ask the questions he knew Heather would never answer. What was there to say? Biting down on his lip to keep from continuously mumbling, he forced himself to fiddle with his thumbs and wait, hoping maybe Heather would give him answers on her own. Answers that would explain a lot.
But Heather had said her piece, had her moment, and she seemed to notice Cody across from her a moment later; her eyes went back to black ice.
"I had to keep my eye on the team," she reiterated simply, like the conversation had never deviated from that topic. She started applying her face mask. "Really, I'm like the only one who isn't caught up in this stupid Total Drama Disaster and still has her eyes on the prize. The rest of you guys are so easily distracted."
She had every reason to leave it at that; she'd given Cody every reason to believe she would. But just as he'd resigned himself to the hanging end of their cryptic conversation and grabbed one of the dingy airplane-issue blankets from under his seat (Sierra still had his), setting his chair to recline for sleep, the Queen Bee finished with her cream.
And in a strangely pitched tone of voice neither sorrowful nor merciless that traveled too fast in the darkness, Heather added simply, "Anyway: Courtney always knew the score."
Then she flicked her dim light off, plunging the cabin into darkness, sans the sunlight peeking in through the tiniest slivers in the window covers. The crying behind Cody had succumbed to the weariness of a broken heart so the only sound left to him was the never-ending yet somehow comforting rumble of the plane's engines in flight and the (somewhat) reassuring deep breathing of the members of his team.
Still Cody didn't sleep for a long time, trying to decipher the things he had heard.
Girls always know…no one deserves this…should've been better than…something you never had...karma comes back around…lock's broken…ruins you…alone…knew the score…
Not for the first time in his short life, Cody despairingly puzzled why girls had to be so complicated.
"Maybe there's beauty in goodbye / There's just no reason left to try / You push me away, another black day
Lets count up the reasons to cry / Look what you missed, living like this / Nobody wins"
-Nobody Wins, The Veronicas
Next morning (a few hours of daylight later, really), Cody bolted awake to the sensation of someone touching his feet. Sierra merely giggled as she removed his second sock and skipped to the back of the plane to do heaven knew what with his footwear. He needed to set up his bell system again.
Rubbing his eyes wearily, he glanced around the cabin and was surprised to see that Courtney had replaced Heather in the seat across from him. Her hair was arranged, her clothes pressed and makeup flawless from the lip gloss on lips that weren't trembling to the eye liner on eyes that were no longer puffy. The CIT was partially hidden behind and intently reading a newspaper heralding the latest trends and changes to the Toronto Stock Exchange.
The transformation was so shocking that for a second, Cody actually entertained the idea that he had imagined the entire conversation in the bathroom and all the events surrounding it. Beside Courtney, Heather slept in the reclined position, avocado facemask still in place, still looking as fierce and tense and ready for anything as she did when she was awake. It was hard to reconcile the memory he had of her defending Courtney—and him—outside the lavatory with the person that slept diagonal from him now.
But Gwen looked the same. Two rows behind Courtney and facing the same way, Gwen still hugged one of her legs to her chest, scrolling through her music player with the other hand, staring at it without really seeing it, her headphones untouched from the night before. The poster child for misery.
"Good Morning, Cody," Courtney across from him said evenly, derailing Cody's train of thought on whether or not now would be a good time to talk to Gwen. She didn't look up from her paper. "Did you sleep well?"
"Uh, yeah. Kinda did." He looked her over again to make sure she wasn't an illusion. "You look like you're…better?" he said, the last word rising in a question.
Unlike Heather or the Courtney he knew, her eyes didn't flash to annoyance or displeasure at his failed words of comfort. They did glance to his fumbling expression but their content didn't change; it looked like she was reading him as casually as she read her newspaper. "I do feel better today, thank you. Our talk last night really helped me see some things clearer. I even learned something from it."
"You—You did?" Cody asked, flabbergasted. (He hadn't intended to teach anything.)
Courtney hummed an affirmation in the back of her throat as she resumed her newspaper. In an even tone of voice that sounded as detached from her expression, she explained, "I didn't realize it as much as I remembered it but the fact is I know it now. And I've promised myself I won't forget it again."
Smoothly, so slowly that Cody's eyes almost missed the motion, Courtney turned her head slightly to glance at Gwen behind her. Her eyes cooled and froze and when she spoke again, this time the words did match her tone did match her expression.
"So Gwen can have Duncan," she said a little louder, almost commanding the sound carry through the Goth's headphones or to the economy class. "I've decided he's not worth fighting for after all. Fighting with? Most definitely." Here, her eyes blazed dangerously. "For what he did, I plan on making his life a tortuous living Hell so infinite, he's going to wish he was safe behind bars back in Juvie.
"But I'm done fighting for him," she explained, her eyes returning to the pages in front of her, though Cody could tell she was really seeing something else entirely. Her voice hadn't changed back. "Because eventually—because it will happen—Gwen's going to realize that if a guy will cheat on some girl to be with you, then, when he gets bored with you," and those words carried a sound that twisted Cody's gut, "he will cheat on you to be with some other girl. She's going to learn the same lesson you helped me see. A lesson it took me three seasons to finally learn. And she's going to learn it the hardest way feasibly possible."
Searching his memory for anything in their talk last night that might be misconstrued as a lesson, Cody came up totally short. "What's that? The, thing you learned, I mean. Not the vengeance bit…" he started to clarify but stopped when he looked to Courtney again.
She looked so odd, torn between wanting to hold something inside her even if it killed her and wanting to let it go to keep it from poisoning her. Courtney took a deep breath, her eyes anywhere but on Cody's. With her next words, it was as if she was blowing out half of her heart.
"People don't change, Cody," she reconciled at last, voice wavering under the words. "No, not even that: It's they won't change. Not for anyone but themselves. And they might not have any reason to do so, even then. It doesn't matter how much you try, or how much you love—…
"Loved them," she corrected, the waver now audibly vanished from her voice. "They'll never change."
Courtney stopped pretending to read her magazine then. She stopped pretending she was the calm and collected A-Type Counselor in Training who didn't care. She became a fellow broken heart. She looked him in the eyes—sad onyx on curious blue—and for the first time in his entire invisible life, Cody felt like he was really being seen.
"Better you learn that now…before you get hurt," she told him firmly. "Hurt more than—you—"
She sniffled sharply, water overrunning from her lined eyes. With a tiny, "Oh, crap…" Courtney threw down her newspaper and bolted for the bathroom again, a hand covering her mouth, her sobs, and what remained of her dignity.
More reflexively than anything, Cody unfastened his seatbelt and got to his feet. He'd started to follow her steps more than halfway to the lavatory before he realized what he was doing. By the time he did realize it, however, he was more preoccupied with the realization that he was now in the isle beside Gwen's seat. She hadn't seemed to notice him at all, however, still staring off while sluggishly clicking through her MP3 player, dead to the world in thought.
Cody glanced around at the rest of the cabin; Sierra was near the pilot's door doing some sort of arts and crafts with Cody's shoe and several colored pieces of construction paper; Heather he couldn't see, but saw her cross her long legs and for a moment feared she was awake and had overheard. But her breathing didn't change, and Cody exhaled in relief.
Turning back to Gwen then, he realized that they were essentially alone together. As he started combing through his extensive list of pick-up lines to see if he had any suitable for the moment, some half-formed thought in him made him halt.
Hunched over herself there, Gwen's posture screamed 'Leave Me Alone!' louder than Courtney's verbal lashings had the night before (and that said something). He cautiously examined her face again, at the long ago long gone look she carried in her blank yet still incredibly gorgeous dark green eyes—eyes that never seemed to quite see him—and the half-formed finicky thought flourished into a sad truth he'd been trying to blind himself to.
They weren't alone together. They were just alone. He was alone. She'd somehow managed to fall into another's arms without seeing that he'd been there to catch her from the start.
The thought made him uncomfortable, mostly because of how true it really was. But he shoved it away as he usually did; piled up on it high hopes and promises of 'fortieth try's the charm!' and set forth to continue in his attempts to win her over. Cody wanted to try again, regain his train of thought, maybe this time… but his fervor had been slayed and not just by the thought he couldn't ignore.
Now the thought had a voice to speak its piece. It had a heart shaped face and piercing black eyes that tore through the things he could live with to the things he could never change.
People don't change, Cody, it echoed. No matter how much you love them, they'll never change. Better you learn that now before you get hurt.
Looking to Gwen again, he felt his confidence, felt his heart shrink and hiccup. He focused on her hair instead as he rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably—though she'd never noticed him standing there to begin with.
Next time…he'd talk to her. He'd take the next try, when Courtney's words (and Heather's words too, for that matter) stopped playing 'ring around the rosie' in his head. When talking to Gwen, now, didn't feel like a monumentous act of betrayal to a loyalty he didn't actually have.
"So yeah, uh, I'll be seeing you around…then. Gwen," he mumbled awkwardly, shuffling away from the girl who didn't so much as take her eyes off her MP3.
Not wanting to go back to sleep but unsure of what to do for the remainder of their flight, Cody glanced around the elaborate cabin. His eyes landed on a long splash of purple hair decorating his shoe with tiny stars and rainbows.
Her head snapped up immediately, grinning at just the sound of his voice. Cody couldn't suppress a cringe. Even while he knew—totally felt it in his gut—he was going to regret what he was about to do, he was just hoping it would keep him entertained and distract him from the drama around his cabin and in his own head until they landed in…wherever. "You know how you're, uh, always wanting to show me your…website about—?"
He didn't need to get any further than that. Sierra shrieked in joy, startling Heather awake (who cursed), as she jumped to her feet, screaming, "LET ME GET MY LAPTOP FROM ECONOMY!" and bounded down the aisle full speed.
Cody couldn't resist a facepalm at his own expense.
"I'm all right. Don't I seem to be? / Aren't I swinging on the stars? Don't I wear them on my sleeve?
When you're looking for a crossroads, it happens every day / And whichever way you turn, I'm gonna turn the other way"
-Before It Breaks, Brandi Carlile
If the previous night had gone differently, if Sierra hadn't been completely consuming Cody's attention at that moment…
He might've looked back to Gwen when Sierra passed her as he was always prone to do.
If he'd paid more attention to where she was sitting instead of just how, he might have noticed that she was in the second to last row on the starboard side of the plane…
A single row away from the lavatory that divided the sections.
If Heather had been more forthcoming the night before, if she'd admitted to Cody that his running water cover-up wasn't as effective as he'd thought it had been…
He might have had more reason to double check on Gwen, lost in the music of her MP3 player.
As it was, he forced himself to keep his eyes away from her, just for the day.
Just for his own peace of mind.
But if Cody had looked to Gwen just then, he might have noticed just how obviously, just how badly her hands had started shaking.
try as she might,
Because her MP3 player had died hours ago.
"I'm certain that I've given / And oh, how you can take / There's no use in you looking / There's nothing left for you to break
Baby, please release me / Let my heart rest
-Pieces, Rascal Flatts
A/N: Thanks to Kagome-Inu5 aka Bella44Swan for proof reading 'pieces' of this for me.
Thanks to Contemperina for understanding like no one else possibly could.
Thanks to the DxC community for being an awesome community and never giving up its hope or dedication.
I only hope I did justice to everyone's sentiments regarding TDWT.
Questions, comments, rants, and reviews are welcome.