The first time they shared a bed was at about 2:00 AM after they all got back from Santa Prisca. It was a late mission, ending as the sun was making its way down and the sky had somehow become this conundrum of pink and purple and orange that can't really be recreated even in the most beautiful paintings. In that light, he swore she was glowing like a billion fireflies resided under her skin. He'd never forget how she looked at that moment, nor the mixture of a gratitude and pure loathing in the look she gave her dad who was stuck in that Atlantean mud.
Sleep felt so distant again, like trying to reach up and grab Sirius out of the night sky and hold it in his hand. His clothes felt like an alien covering him, and even his skin felt like a thousand caterpillars were crawling all over it. His hair soaked his pillow case, making his face wet whenever he turned over, pushing sleep even further away. His brain was cloudy. Usually, he always had something to say, but lately he was this blank page waiting for words to fill him up again.
Finally, he was lost in his lack of thoughts and fell asleep until he felt something tickle his nose and pressure on the right side of his bed as if someone was leaning against it.
"Mm?" He was still thinking incoherently and groggy.
"Can I sleep here tonight? I mean, it's just... I can't go back to sleep." And before he knew it, his body scooted over and she was in bed beside him. Her hair was wild and it was on his hands and arms and somehow that smell he couldn't really place shook him awake. It made him realize that she was actually beside him in his bed trying to sleep.
"So why are you up?"
"Nightmare. Can't sleep."
He blinked a few times, trying to get the scum out of his eyes. He turned to look at her closely and saw her silhouette, the curve of her nose and her prominent chin and thick lips, her thin neck and flat stomach. She looked so small, so fragile, like a single sigh could shatter her and leave glass shards in her place beside him. He didn't realize how close they were, sharing the warmth the quilt his mom made him that he deemed 'uncool' as soon as he got it. Now, though, it felt like home, comfort when he just couldn't function.
Artemis sniffled like she had just been crying, but she was Artemis Crock, the tough, untouchable archer with skills he couldn't begin describing. He readjusted how he was lying down so his shoulders faced up.
"Do you wanna talk about it?"
"Not really, but thanks anyway."
But he still had a million questions swimming through his head. For some reason he thought they had some unsaid friendship full of trust and arguments and teasing, but it's like she was some absent shell of a person until recently, and like she caught on fire when she saw her dad finally stuck beneath her.
"What was he like as a dad?"
Her eyebrows shot up, lips pursed. "Awful. Goddamn awful."
"What was it like?"
She gulped, pulling her arms out of the covers and rubbing her palm with her thumb in a circular motion. They were covered in calluses, he noticed, especially on the last three digits of her right hand where her fingers pull the string of her bow back. He didn't know if it was the time or just her need for comfort, but he grabbed her hand in his, somehow flicking a switch and getting her to spew out words. He listened as she spoke of her vigorous training since she was six and a half. He listened as she spoke of the numerous beating she took for being too slow or too weak or too hesitant. He listened as she spoke of learning first aid from healing her stab wound given to her by her father after he found out her sister left. He listened as she spoke of barely passing the easiest classes because she was out late killing instead of studying. He listened as she spoke of the glorious day her mother came home and in a quiet, calm voice forced her father out of the house.
"It's kind of funny, right? How much I hate him but I can't because without him I wouldn't be me? Wouldn't be able to shoot and arrow or knock people out with a single kick?"
He wasn't sure if it's because it was so early in the morning or if it was this unequivocal need to comfort her, but he brought her hand to his chest and pressed it down just hard enough for them both to feel his heartbeat. His hands were clammy and she could probably tell, but he could never say that out loud. The pulse was something constant when everything else seemed to come and go and arrive and leave. Maybe she could think back to his pulse whenever she remembered anything, and maybe it would make her feel like something irreplaceable too. That's what he hoped she'd think. But the dug-dug of his heart kept getting faster and faster like he was mid battle with someone who could match his pace for once. It was cold- late December- and they both knew it, making them both get closer, skin to skin and cloth to cloth. Somehow it made the openness in the bed and the snow outside the windows that was still falling more bearable.
"Why? That's pretty much all you need to know and more," She scoffed.
"Was it really all that bad?" He sounded too full of pity for her; she didn't want pity, but somehow she let it slide.
She thought about it for a while, then answered "no" and proceeded to talk about when Jade "borrowed" a pink bike for her and the time she and her mom made the Nguyen family's special fresh spring rolls after her father gave her a big bruise with a slap at her cheek. She recalled punching some boy named Andrew after he kissed her during some game of spin the bottle in the first and only party she'd ever attended in sixth grade.
"The only really good moment with my father was learning archery." Something in her eyes changed, he noticed, like somebody lit a sparkler up and threw it into her eyes at that exact moment. "Hitting my first bullseye was honestly the most amazing moment of my life. Learning the pulleys and mechanisms and feeling my growing calluses just made it more amazing." She smiled, rubbing her fingers together in her free hand.
"I know the feeling," he said, remembering the first time he realized he could run faster than most kids on the track team, the wind hitting his face and his eyes dry and starting to tear up to rejuvenate themselves.
"He didn't say anything like 'well done' or 'good job,' but I could tell that's what he meant when he looked at me and nodded. Is it stupid and sad and pathetic to say that I was really happy I was finally able to do him proud?" She laughed again, making Wally realize how beautifully raspy and somewhat melodic her voice was. In all honesty, it made him want to stay where he was and listen to her talk for hours, but he'd never tell her that; she'd have his head.
"It's alright. I'm pretty sure I'd think the same if I were you." He tried to send her a reassuring smile and squeeze her hand comfortingly, but made him feel awkward and tense, things he definitely wasn't used to. Their eyes connected, green with grey, and somehow it wasn't awkward anymore. Their hands still felt his quickening heartbeat, keeping them grounded.
"Good night." And she pulled back her hand, closed her eyes and turned on her side, facing him. She looked so peaceful, her thought, and her body heat was radiating toward him and under the covers. He didn't remember being so cozy and at peace, just looking at her face as she tried to get some sleep. He scooted closer to her, leaving only a span for space between them.
He could get used to this.