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So [ profile] rajkumari905 asked for commentary to Still Standing over at my fic commentary meme, and since what Pri wants, Pri gets, here it is! :D It feels like the right time for it, too, what with [ profile] ciudad posting her epically fantastically brilliant remix of it just a couple of months ago. The original fic (sans commentary) can be found here.

Still Standing

My memories from this one are a little fuzzy, considering it was written over two and a half years ago, but! I do remember that it was one of my first pieces in the fandom, and I'd seen a lot of talk about the power of Archie's smile. So I started toying around with the idea of what would happen if it wasn't Archie's smile so much as it was what happened when he didn't that was his real power. Honestly, though, this is one of my least favourite things I've written for Cookleta just in terms of the technical aspects of it. I always think this should have been done better - and now it has!

There's talk of fierce competition this season - Randy's typical, "this is the best group of talent we've seen on this show", Paula's effusive, "the contestants are all amazing, it's going to be so impossible to choose" and Simon's droll, "we've been spared any caterwauling so far" (so, okay, maybe Simon doesn't say that per se, but it's a pretty close thing) - and Cook's still trying to absorb everything when he meets it.

Not my strongest paragraph ever, and every time I come back to it I still wish I'd fine-tuned the dialogue a little more. I do like how it sets things up for Archie in the next couple of lines, though.

The stiff competition.

Otherwise known as David Archuleta.

Cook's first thought is, wait, seriously? and then, that kid doesn't look old enough for this. Because Jesus, the kid smiles a lot, and it makes him look all of twelve.

In general I remember this entire introduction bit being a bit of a bummer. I just couldn't power through it and I bugged [ profile] starafar about it a couple of times, especially this paragraph in particular, because Cook's voice was just not working for me, and eventually Pat helped me take him from obnoxious asshole to regular disbelieving guy.

"Um," the kid says. It's almost shy. "Hey. You're David, right? I, um, I'm David, too." He laughs, then, a little awkwardly, looking like he's on a particularly painful date with his orthodontist, and Cook can't resist taking his outstretched hand. "So this is going to be weird, huh? Like, having three Davids on the show. Who - you know, how are we going to know which one of us they mean? They could be like, 'David!' and we'd be, like, which one?"

Cook's startled into a laugh at that, and he grins when David looks at him uncertainly. "How about you call me Cook?" he says easily. "You can be Archie, and we'll let Hernandez stick to boring old David."

"Oh, yes!" Archie nods, enthusiastically, then falters. "But, um. Archie?"

"Well," Cook replies, mouth still quirked. "Archuleta's kind of a mouthful."

Archie huffs out a quiet, little laugh at that. "Yeah." He hunches in on himself a little, like he can make himself smaller if he tries hard enough. "Um, I guess it's better than 'the kid'."

It sounds so resigned that Cook says, "hey, better the kid than ancient like Michael Johns, right?" and slings a friendly arm around Archie's shoulders.

This whole first conversation bit is just so. awkward. I don't think the quips work, and the back-and-forth is really stilted, and there's just so much unnecessary detail here that clogs up the rhythm of natural dialogue. Which is a thing for me. If I had a do-over, I'd delete this entire thing and have them briefly nod at each other in the corridor or something instead.

Archie looks up at the contact. "Oh," he says, like he's surprised, and his smile fades a little. Cook's mind goes blank for a second, but then he gives in to Archie's subtle attempts to extricate himself, and doesn't even reach to muss Archie's hair.

He doesn't think about how weird that is till he's back in his hotel room, later that night.

I've realized that I tend to do this a lot; I like to not put all my cards on the table when I set a story up, just to keep things interesting. A lot of the time I don't even allude to the fact that I am keeping an ace up my sleeve, and that can work in my favour, but I think in this fic I dragged it out too long, and it just made things too confusing for the reader.

For the most part, Cook doesn't hang out with Archie. It's not that he doesn't like the kid - despite the fact that Archie's blowing everyone out of the water pretty much consistently, even in rehearsals - but Cook's got MJ, Luke and Yeager, the four freaking horsemen (and yeah, he finds the title hilariously appropriate), and they have a good time drinking out of the matching set of nipple mugs that MJ bought the first week of Idol, trading dirty jokes and secrets over shots, and socializing with other people takes a backseat.

Besides, between those three, rehearsals and all the other serious Idol business that comes with being on the show, there isn't much time to. The phrasing of this last bit reads so awkwardly to me now, haha.

Things change when the first elimination night rolls around. Yeager's the first one out. And then, as if that doesn't suck enough, it's the first - and, though he doesn't know it at the moment, last - time Cook sees Archie cry. Cook doesn't even see it, technically, because Archie's face is pressed into Luke's blazer, but he can feel Archie shaking when he leans over to clap him gently on the back.

Archie only looks up for a brief moment, his eyes still red and watery. That's when Cook's thoughts turn mysteriously fuzzy, and for a wild, crazy minute he needs to get up on that stage and give Alexandrea the warmest hug of her life. Then Archie swipes at his face, schools his expression into a smile and turns back to watch Alexandrea perform, and the irrational urge fades.

Still. It takes a while for Cook to shake the feeling off.

I've always tried to abide by show, don't tell, so I was trying to drop little hints about a) Archie having powers and b) how their relationship developed without coming right out and saying it, but I think that may have backfired here. To be honest, this whole scene isn't necessary at all.

That night, combined with the fact that Luke's eliminated the next week, seems to solidify friendships all over the Idol camp. By the time it's down to the top eight, the group is downright incestuous. Cook still doesn't spend as much time with Archie as he does with MJ, but it's a pretty close thing.

But then Michael leaves, and it's unexpected and totally fucked up, and spending time with Archie becomes pretty much Cook's only thing. Again with the awkward phrasing as I try to connect one idea from the previous paragraph with an idea in this one (another (bad) habit!).

It's a little weird at first, how weird their friendship isn't. Reading this over now, I really like the phrasing of this; this, to me, is where the fic should have begun.

Cook spends an entire afternoon telling Archie all the worst jokes he can think of, which Archie takes in his usual, good-natured way, but when Cook wakes up the next day, there are a trail of paper arrows leading from the foot of his bed to the sitting area, where Archie's laptop is propped up on the coffee table. The browser is open to a knock-knock joke website, and there's a note stuck to the side of the touchpad: um, you kind of need funnier material, cook, ha ha.

Cook laughs so hard that Jason ends up retreating into the bathroom to try to get more sleep.

I enjoy this moment so much! This is the essence of what I was trying to do in the beginning few sections but never quite achieved. Simple little moments that would show an evolving dynamic without ever spelling out that the Davids were staring to ~bond~

Other nights, when Archie's too wired from rehearsals for bed, or when Cook can tell he doesn't want to be alone, they hang out in the music room, Cook on the guitar, Archie on the piano, making their own brand of music. It's surprisingly good.

In fact, hanging out with Archie becomes so routine that, when KLC gets voted off the show the next week, Cook heads over to Archie's room after the farewell dinner without even asking. Archie lets him in with a tired smile, and they spend the next half hour sitting side by side, just breathing.

"That was really nice of you," Archie says, eventually, when Cook passes him a bottle of water. He's fiddling with the label, awkwardly, not quite looking up. Sometimes Cook forgets how young Archie really is.

"Uh," he says, raising an eyebrow bemusedly. "Okay. If you were thirsty, you could've just said--"

Archie shakes his head. "No, I mean - onstage. Before. You know, um. When I was..."

Cook rolls his eyes a little, and nudges Archie's shoulder. "Yeah, you're right. I should've thrown you under the bus. Eliminated my fiercest competition and all that."

Archie flushes. "Aww, no," he says. "I'm not--"

Cook nudges him again, harder. "Aww, yes, you are," he says, firmly. "Too bad I'm one of the good guys."

Archie flushes some more, but he starts singing a little as he ducks his head. "It doesn't pay to be the good guy."

Cook cracks up.

One of my favourite things about writing fanfic is that you can be lazy! You share fandom-wide inside-jokes and knowledge of events, which, considering how much I hate describing things, is a huge plus for me. I think I took it a little too far here, though, just expecting everyone to get that this was referring to Cookleta sitting onstage together the night KLC got voted off.

Cook doesn't head back to his room till well past one in the morning, when Archie gets a sudden call from home. "Um," he says, with a weak, apologetic smile, when his cell phone starts buzzing. "Cook, I have to--"

Cook just waves him off and lets himself out, and he doesn't realize till he's already halfway down the hall that his own phone is still in Archie's room. He snorts a little, because honestly, and he can't even blame it on alcohol.

SUCH a weak excuse for this moment happening, and I always wish I'd done it differently, and also expanded on the phone calls Archie was making home at least a little bit more. Again, my choosing to keep Archie's powers of projection secret too long hindering my storytelling here!

He turns around, then, but he's barely taken a step when he sees Archie slip out of his room. Cook blinks. "Uh," he says. "I think it's a little early for Halloween, Archie."

Archie freezes, then turns, very slowly, to look at Cook. He frowns--

And suddenly Cook realizes how exhausted he is. It's been such a long day, gosh, and he really needs to rest. He makes an about turn and heads back to his own room, and doesn't think too deeply on why Archie would be wearing a mask and a cape.

I do love this bit, though! I remember this as the moment I decided Archie would need a superhero outfit, and I cracked myself up picturing it. He sees Edna Mode for his fittings, in case anyone was wondering. :D

Cook wakes up still feeling groggy the next morning, and he ambles into the breakfast area ten minutes late. He feels a chill touch his spine the moment he enters the room. It's more somber than usual, and when he slides into the empty seat beside Archie, he gets an eyeful of the bank robbery that's splashed across the front page of the paper Brooke's reading. Three Die in Heist Crossfire, the headline proclaims.

"Jesus," Cook breathes. "Three people, jesus."

"Yeah," Jason says. He sounds a little out of it, but that's nothing out of the ordinary. "It's messed up, man. The bank's right down the street."

Archie flinches, then, and makes a strange, strangled sound. Jason goes quiet. Archie's head is ducked when Cook glances over. "Hey," Cook says quietly. "You okay?"

"Yeah," Archie replies dully, without looking up. His voice is small. "Just tired."

It's about as convincing as Ryan and Simon's animosity on TV.

"Hey," Cook says, gently. "Enough of that. It sucks that it happened, but it's not like you could've saved them."

Archie's face turns a funny shade of grey, and his smile falters.

Cook's mind goes startlingly blank, and suddenly all he wants is a - a plate of eggs and a side of bacon. And pancakes.

When he looks up from his food two minutes later, he's just in time to see Archie slip out of the room, alone. For the first time, Cook realizes the room is dead silent. Heads are bent, people focusing intently on their breakfasts instead of their usual conversation partners. Then the door swings shut behind Archie, noiselessly, and it's like something shifts in the air.

Cook draws a deep breath despite himself.

This moment was meant to showcase just how strong Archie really is, and I think it's one of the few (only?) times we see Archie consciously using his power on people other than Cook. That was partly because I wanted to stress how not cool that is to do, and partly because I suck at writing action. It's not really alluded to here, but there's a whole outtake I wrote for [ profile] ciudad explaining the heist and the fallout between Archie and his dad that is essentially the reason Archie starts pulling away from the group a little more after this. I should probably have included more of that detail in the actual fic itself.

Across him, Carly pokes suspiciously at her plate. "Okay," she says. "Why the hell am I eating pancakes?"

This was supposed to be another hint towards Archie's powers, but I doubt it really came across like I wanted it to.

The thing is, Cook's gotten pretty good at reading Archie. And even though Archie isn't smiling any less than he used to when they first started out, Cook's starting to suspect it's all a ruse. Because the kid is clearly still upset (though Cook isn't sure why, exactly). He's starting to worm his way out of spending time with the rest of them, especially at breakfast, and he's always on the phone, eyes downcast, one hand cupped around the mouthpiece, whispering fervently about - well, Cook can't be certain, but still. He figures he has a right to be worried.

It definitely doesn't help that Carly's sent home that week.

The leaving contestants was supposed to be one of the things anchoring the story from start to finish, but again, technically I don't think I was able to make that work for me.

"Hey," Cook says, slinging a friendly arm around Archie's shoulders after they've said their goodbyes. He knows how the kid gets on elimination nights. "You up for that guitar hero rematch tonight?"

"Oh," Archie says. He smiles as he slips out from under Cook's hold, and Cook narrows his eyes. "I can't. I have, um - there's this thing, with my family, and--"

"Archie," Cook says. His skin is prickling with concern. "Is there something going on at home? You've gone all MIA on us, man."

"Oh," Archie repeats. He sounds a little desperate. "Oh, no, everything's okay, I'm just--" And then his phone starts ringing, and Archie practically beams. "Sorry, I, um. I really do have to take this."

There isn't much Cook can do but watch him leave.

It's a couple of days after that when Cook stumbles in on Archie having a private moment (if by 'stumbles' he means 'inadvertently listens in on under the guise of playing a prank on', but semantics are of no concern to him). Besides, the door isn't locked, and Archie should know better than that.

"Oh, I'm--oh," Archie's saying, when Cook peeks inside. He sounds kind of breathless, and Cook's eyebrows go up before he realizes what he's intruding on. He debates walking in with a loud, "SURPRISE!" but finds himself nudging the door open another inch instead. Archie's head is tilted back against the wall, eyes closed, and his voice is a low hum in the quiet room. For once, there's no trace of that sunny smile. "Oh, gosh, um--"

"Huh," Cook says loudly, barely squelching his smirk. The kid's as articulate as always. Go figure.

Archie startles, eyes flying open to meet Cook's. There's panic written all over his face, but then he smiles - he actually smiles - and ducks his head almost immediately. Even from the door, Cook can see how flushed his neck is. "Cook!"

"Right, right, sorry," Cook says, utterly unapologetic. He's out and out grinning now, though; he can't help it. "Nothing to see here, moving along."

"Wait!" Archie repeats, without looking up. "Wait, you're going to - please don't tell Brooke and Syesha--"

"Hey, girls!" Cook calls, as he all but prances out of Archie's doorway. "Did I ever tell you about the time I walked in on Archie maaaa--"

"Oh my gosh, Cook!"

So THIS whole scene was really just an excuse for funtiems. :D That and also I wanted to show how difficult/awkward it can be for Archie to deal with his powers, because he does have to deal with them, no matter the circumstance. At the same time, in my head he's not doing anything except talking his dad down from pulling him out of the competition. Again, I wish I'd done it differently - more effectively, anyway.

So Cook is pretty pleased with himself, after.

If for no other reason than he's sure that Archie will have to start turning up for their little bashes so no one gets the wrong idea about what he's doing in his spare time. Not that there was ever any chance of that actually happening.

Unfortunately, the plan seems to backfire. Archie disappears straight after rehearsals. He's in and out of the showers before Cook's even undressed, and he's not around when Cook goes down for dinner that evening. "He said he had a family thing," Brooke explains, when Cook brings his absence up (casually) at the table. She looks anxious. "I think it's his dad."

That's how Cook ends up outside Archie's room, five minutes later. He's a little miffed that Archie hasn't told him anything, all things considered, but he can hold off the lecture for now. Archie's door swings open. "So remember the time we had the 'that's what friends are for' talk?" Cook says.

So, not so much with the holding off the lecture.

Archie smiles, lightly, but he looks a little bewildered. "Uh."

"Don't give me that," Cook says. "Because friends are generally supposed to be around for things like this, and I gotta say--is that a cape?"

"What? Oh. Um." Archie waves a hand. "Cook--"

Cook shakes his head. "Okay, I'm either crazy, or I've seen you dressed for Halloween before."

To be fair, I hadn't decided at this point whether Archie's powers wore off a little after some time, or if Cook was ~special. I don't actually think I ever decided on an option, though!

"Um," Archie says again. He sounds desperate, and a little pained, and then he frowns and Cook blinks. He barely has time to think, 'so, okay, this feels kind of familiar too' before he's back in his room, and his head touches the pillow, and he goes right to sleep.

His head is pounding when he wakes up, and he can't shake the feeling that he's forgetting something really important.

It doesn't help that Cook spends the next couple of days in this crazy cat-and-mouse game with Archie. Every time he thinks he's finally going to get Archie alone, something crops up. A phone call, Brooke, an extra hour of rehearsals, Nigel. It takes very careful maneuvering on Cook's part to finally corner Archie one night, right after they film their bits with Neil Diamond, to barricade Archie's only exit back to his bedroom and then herd him into the empty recording studio. "So we need to talk," Cook says. And then, when he's locked the door behind him, "I know what's up."

One thing I did in this fic that I don't generally do when I write is that I worked a lot of it around canonical dates and events. I'm terrible at canon, so even when I did try, I was pretty loose with it. I like the groundedness that that can add to a story, though, just having little inside details that flesh out the world I'm building.

Archie pales a little, at that, which makes Cook feel bad. But Archie's been shooting him these weird looks all week, like Cook's going to break out in hives or something, so. Desperate times. "Cook," Archie says, weakly. His smile is starting to fade. "Can we maybe just--"

"No," Cook says flatly.

"I'm," Archie says, then pauses. He rubs a hand uncomfortably over the back of his neck. He's still smiling. "Cook," he says, through clenched teeth. "I'm - it's not on purpose."

One of the reasons I chose to write this from Cook's POV in the end - a decision I struggled with for a while - is that I could toy with his view of Archie in a way that would make it obvious to the reader that Archie's power can be quite a burden, because seriously, he has to smile all. the time..

"Sure, David," Cook says. And, okay, yeah, he's a little pissed off. "Yeah."

"I'm not," Archie repeats, with a small wave of the hand. "I just - I've always been, and this - V and my dad, they're sort of my HQ, and they don't think it's safe for me to -- and there's my family, too, so if anyone finds out I'd be -- the media would go crazy, I know that, but I can't give up singing, and I'm really sorry I had to, like, whatever, use it on you, but I didn't want you to think I was some crazy person." He sounds more miserable by the minute, and Cook still has no idea what he's talking about. "But I mean, obviously that isn't going to help anything now that you already know."

"Uh," Cook says, completely mystified. "Okay."

"And, I mean, I'm really, really glad that I can help people and stuff," Archie continues, earnestly. "It's just, you know, it's kind of tiring."

Uh. "What?" Cook says, blankly. This isn't the conversation he was expecting.

"Smiling," Archie clarifies, with a little sigh, like he's been dying to get this off his chest. "I can't - it's, when I frown at people, they... they, like, do stuff."

"Yeah," Cook says intelligently. "Right."

"And I mean, sure, that's kind of useful when you want to stop the bad guys and stuff, but it's really, I mean, I get so tired, because I can't - I have to -- like, I can't stop. Because when I do I might accidentally, like, kill a cat or something, I don't know. Sometimes I can't really control what I'm thinking and stuff, which is sort of why V kind of got in trouble with the cops that one time with the museum burglars--um, Cook?"

Cook's pretty sure he's staring.

Archie pauses, then, to study Cook carefully. Cook notes absently that he's still smiling. "Oh my gosh!" he says, eventually, eyes going wide as he flounders. "Cook! You totally hadn't figured it out!"

Cook is reeling. "You mean that you had super powers?" he demands. "Yeah, that would be a no."

Archie puts his face in his hands. "Oh my gosh," he says, in a very small voice. Then he clears his throat, and looks up, and Cook snaps a hand up on reflex. Archie sounds surprised. "Um."

"Yeah," Cook says. "I don't know where that came from, either. My reflexes are just that good."

I still think this could have worked if I'd tweaked it some more. Again there's that stiltedness in the dialogue, Archie hem and hawing too much, Cook maybe not responding as intelligently as he could be, yadda yadda yadda, but I did have it figured pretty much from the start that this would be how the reveal scene went.

Archie sighs.

"So," Cook says, hesitantly. "A superhero, huh."

Archie wets his lips. "I know it's - I know I sound crazy--"

But then something kind of clicks in Cook's head. "So that morning, the bank heist..."

"Oh," Archie says, morosely. "That. Yeah, um. It was pretty difficult for a while."

Cook doesn't really have anything to say to that. "So," he says, instead. "You gonna show me how this mind control thing works?"

Archie looks surprised. Then he seems to realize Cook is serious, and he kind of flails and panics a little bit. "Oh," he says. "Oh, no, I can't, I'm not - I don't really know how to control it yet. I mean, because people just - they kind of, when I frown or whatever, they just--"

Cook drums his fingers on his thigh. "You do it almost every night you head out," he points out thoughtfully.

"That's different!" Archie protests. "I mean, those people aren't - they're the bad guys. Of course I want them to get caught. It's not like, they're not my friends and stuff!"

"You know," Cook says pensively. "Suddenly a lot of things are starting to make sense."

"Yeah," Archie replies, uncomfortably. "Sorry about that. I try not to use it too much, but you just have, like, the worst timing ever."

Cook snorts. "So how does this work?" he says. He feels a lot calmer than he thinks he should be. "If I don't tell the press you're out fighting crime every night, you'll stop messing with my head?"

"Um, I guess so," Archie says. "V says the alternative is, like, wiping your memory of me totally and I kind of don't want to do that?"

"Right," Cook says. "Yeah, let's work on avoiding that."

I'm a lot more comfortable with the banter from after the reveal, it just sounds more organic in my head. Also, fun fact about V: that wasn't her original name! Though it became endgame, for various reasons. :D

Archie's smile brightens. "Okay," he says. "So--"

"So we're good now," Cook says. "You're going to stop avoiding me?"

"Yeah," Archie nods, a little too quickly. "Yeah, I'm - that's totally out of the way now."

"Good," Cook says, as he turns to unlock the door. "Oh, one more thing? That cape is kind of ridiculous."

"Oh my gosh," Archie says, miserably. "I know."

I'm not sure this whole exchange works as a set-up for Archie-has-feelings-for-Cook-oh-my-gosh! but the last two paragraphs are some of my favourites of the whole thing.

Cook spends the rest of the week in a sort of secret alliance with Archie, decidedly not freaking out. He checks the newspapers every morning, when he gets to the breakfast area, and he texts Archie things like coast is clear, wonderboy or stay put, headlines are huge, I'll bring you a sandwich later or so what will it be this morning, superstar?

It's a system that works.

He starts hanging out in Archie's room again, even on the nights Archie has to work, and Cook spends the hours alone talking on the phone with Veronica - V, who's sort of, like, Archie's manager when it comes to the saving the world thing, and then spends the next couple of hours talking to Archie about music when he gets back.

He spends a lot of time hugging Archie, and ruffling his hair, and whispering, "fucking superhero," in his ear every chance his gets. He does it twice as often now that he knows there isn't a lot Archie can do but smile and go with it.

It starts to feel like he's found their balance again.

Except he hasn't, not really, but Cook doesn't even realize it till the night America sends Brooke home. Michael sends him a text after the show: Stop bloody brooding and go out for a drink, mate! Because apparently the next day is Labor Day in Australia - or May Day, whatever they're calling it - and it's tradition.

This following bit is my favourite scene of the whole fic, but I wish this introductory paragraph had been better-written. I can tell I was forcing a link because I wanted to get to the rest of the scene; I was just so excited for it to happen.

Truth is, Cook's kind of glad for a reason to escape the four walls of his room. "I'm in," Jason says, with a grin, when Cook tells them all that they should sneak out for a couple of hours after rehearsals. Syesha doesn't need convincing, and Archie is surprisingly amenable to the idea ("Just, um, I don't have to drink or, like, dance or anything, do I?") so it's eight o'clock and they're all hanging at a small, low-key bar near the studio.

The unfamiliar faces are a nice change, and Cook's been flirting casually with a waitress with a warm, slow laugh and a killer rack for the past fifteen minutes when he spots Archie headed in his direction. He grins and waves a little, which is when Michelle puts a hand on his cheek and tilts her head like she's going to lean in. Archie's smile kind of flickers then, just for a second, and something flips a switch in Cook's head as his stomach gives a surprisingly harsh tug. Michelle's in the middle of saying something when he walks away, but he doesn't even hear her as he walks right over to Archie and fists his hands in the collar of Archie's jacket.

He barely notices Syesha staring as he manhandles Archie into the bathroom. Archie's skin is hot beneath his hands, and he stumbles a little as Cook pushes him into a stall, then backs him up into a wall. Cook barely even pauses, hands going straight for the buttons on Archie's shirt, and he can feel Archie's heartbeat at his neck, Cook's palm a stage for its own private tap dance. "Jesus Christ," Cook breathes. He's wanted this so long, oh gosh--

The hints of Archie's voice in Cook's head were one of my pet tools for showing when Archie was projecting, heh. And I especially enjoyed using them in this moment.

Cook finally gets the shirt open, halfway, and he's scrabbling with the rest of the buttons, already leaning in, when Archie's eyes go wide. The corners of his mouth tug a little, like they can't decide which direction they want to go in.

Cook falters. Blinks.

Archie seems to have a second, a brief second where he considers - where he's thinking about maybe frowning some more, (maybe it wouldn't really be cheating, maybe he wants this too, maybe--) and Cook's mouth goes surprisingly dry.

But then Archie tears his gaze away, and drops his eyes to the floor.

It's like getting run over by a truck. The realization that they're - his hands are still on Archie's skin -- Cook jerks, a little, and takes a step back. "David," he says.

Archie doesn't look up. "I'm sorry," he says, finally, voice small, and when he does lift his head he's all stiff smiles despite the blush creeping up his neck. "Oh, gosh, Cook, I'm - I'm so sorry. I didn't - I wasn't -- it's not even..."

That's when Cook finally pieces it all together. "Archie," he says, then stops. Archie wanted him to - and he would have, for a second he'd actually hoped--Cook shakes his head. Jesus fucking Christ.

"I'm sorry," Archie says, backing up a couple of steps, towards the door. His jaw is clenched, smile fixed firmly in place, and for a long, unbearable moment, Cook thinks he's going to cry. Then he says, "I'm sorry," again, and ducks outside.

Cook doesn't know what to say to stop him.

I'm always going to think I could have written this better somehow, just tighter or sparser or something, but it's one of the few things I've written that still makes me feel a pang of actual D: when I read it, so I count that a win. Also, this scene is probably at least half the reason I knocked this fic out at all!

Archie's gone by the time Cook can make himself go back to the table.

"Hey, so Archie took off," Jason says. It doesn't sound like an accusation, but the look Syesha shoots him makes Cook feel a little sick to his stomach.

"Yeah," Cook says. "You guys up for another round?"

There's just something about this scene that I liked. When I start out in a new fandom, every story is about the dynamic between the characters instead of, say, the fact that they have superpowers. Which is probably why I feel like if I'd waited to write this - till, say, now - I'd be readier to tackle a story about the difficulties of having a superpower and how that affects your whole life, versus just using it as a why-they-can't-hook-up-right-away trope.

It's not even that Cook's not interested in guys. His theory is that you don't say no to love, ("Or a good round of shagging," Michael likes to say), and that can come in all kinds of packages. So Cook's - well, he's a little flattered, but--

Things are more or less normal between them after that, but he makes sure to give Archie a little room, and doesn't comment when the kid starts spending more time with Jason.

The thing is, now that he knows - and he really does know, he even remembers Archie's thoughts bouncing in his head like some kind of craptastic, off-the-wall basketball - he can't stop thinking about it. Archie's skin (warmed by his touch, and then feverishly hot), his eyes (bright and clear and too hopeful), his mouth (jesus fuck).

He thinks about the way Archie never stops smiling at him - half shy, half unnerved - and the way Archie leans into him, when they hug, and how he always pulls away a beat too early. Now Cook understands why.

Jesus, he'd never even thought Archie was capable of - that is, he's a kid, and he's always been embarrassed about these things. He's pure like the driven snow, never been kissed, all that jazz. Except he clearly isn't, and Cook has no idea how the fuck he missed that memo.

He doesn't mean to, but he starts watching Archie more after that. Noticing him. The way he leans his forehead against the windows on the bus, so he doesn't have to look at the rest of them, so he can stop smiling, just for a second. The way he laughs at a joke just a fraction of a second too late. The way he gestures when he's talking about something he's really excited about (because obviously smiling isn't going to do anything to accentuate that). The way he ducks his head when he realizes Cook's caught him staring. Again.

It's all kind of... ridiculously endearing.

I just needed more from this section, I think. It's just not enough for me, coming out of that raw moment with Archie in the bathroom. AND CAN I JUST SAY I AM SO SORRY THIS COMMENTARY SUCKS PRI, MOSTLY I AM JUST CRINGING AT EVERYTHING AND WISHING I COULD REWRITE AND FIX IT

Cook doesn't try to apologize till after Jason's eliminated that week. They're down to three now, and Cook's sick of feeling that guilty flutter in his stomach every time he and Archie have to be in the same room. He knocks on Archie's door, later that evening, and steels himself against the urge to leave. "Hey," he says, when Archie swings the door open.

Archie's expression flickers, only for a second, but it's enough for Cook to be hit by an impulse to walk away. "Hi," Archie says, carefully.

"Look," Cook says. "About the other night, I just wanted to, uh."

Archie's smile is painful to look at. "So you're not--"

Cook tries again. "David, it's - it's not you, okay? If that's what you're thinking. It's got nothing to do with--"

"No, I know," Archie interrupts. He drops his head. "I'm sorry. I totally overreacted. It's not like - you didn't mean... that night wasn't - it's no big deal, right?"

Cook thinks what? because it is, it is a big deal, and sweeping it under the carpet isn't going to make it go away, but then Archie frowns at him and he says, "of course," on autopilot instead, before turning around and walking away.

He's halfway down the hall when he hears the soft click of the door being shut behind him, and remembers that that wasn't what he meant to say at all.

This scene, though, this scene I did enjoy. I felt like I was able to make Archie a lot more emotionally "real" than I did Cook in this story, just because I wasn't writing from Archie's POV, and I could just show how he was feeling through his actions or his dialogue or how he looked at Cook, versus feeling like I had to inject his thought process with those same overtones.

Things are no less awkward by the time Syesha goes home the week after. They say their goodbyes, and Cook can tell, even from across the room, how shaky Archie is as he stumbles off the stage. He never stops smiling, though, not once, and for a second, Cook's irrationally angry.

It's crazy, it's plain fucking crazy, to have to take on all that and not--it's crazy.

Syesha finds him, then, and wraps her arms around him in a quick hug. "Good luck," she murmurs, before kissing him on the cheek, and he doesn't need to ask to know she's not talking about the competition. This is about so much more than that.

"Take care," he says, and squeezes her hand.

Syesha and Cook share some of my favourite interactions in this story, for serious, and I don't even like her that much. It's very odd.

He finds Archie bent over the toilet later, fingers clenched into white-knuckled fists as he gags. Archie doesn't look up. Cook sinks into a crouch beside him, and when he touches his hand to Archie's forehead, it's as warm as he remembers it being. Before.

"It's just us," Archie says, faintly. "I didn't think I'd get so far." And then he says, "Oh, I think I'm going to be sick again."

Cook just nods, and puts a hand on the small of Archie's back. "It's okay," he murmurs, when Archie sags against him, minutes later. "You're okay."

I feel as though my characters have default methods of coping that I tend to fall back on when I need a sort of comforting/reassuring scene to happen between them. But I still feel like it works, so I guess I'll worry about that if/when it doesn't anymore, heh.

When they get back to his room, Cook wipes a towel over Archie's face, and tucks him into bed. "I didn't think it would be so hard," Archie whispers, as Cook dims the lights.

Cook reaches over him, and pulls the covers up. "I know," he says. "Go to sleep."

Archie's eyes flutter shut almost immediately and, as Cook bends to tug the blanket up a little more, there's this weird moment where he nearly - where he thinks about leaning over and--

But then he blinks and shakes himself, takes a couple of cautious steps away from the bed, from Archie's insane projection abilities.

Another moment that I really, really like. It was important for me, I think, to show that Cook's interest went beyond friendship and/or curiosity. And I feel like this moment achieved all of that exactly the way I wanted it to.

Except Archie's already asleep, breathing even and heavy, one first curled loosely in the sheets, and Cook doesn't think his powers are quite that awesome.

Archie's already in the breakfast area when Cook gets there the next morning. "Thanks," he says quietly, with a wan smile, and Cook catches himself grinning back. Things between them get a little better, after that.

At least until the night before the finale.

Again with the trying too hard to bridge the time lapse between scenes. It just feels weird and choppy and I would like to rewrite it, kthx.

Cook's been walking around with butterflies in his stomach all evening, and he's still pacing at two in the morning, too wired to sleep, when he catches Archie sneaking out of his room. Even with the ridiculous mask, Cook can tell that Archie's face is pinched, and his skin is pale against his cape.

He jumps when Cook calls his name.

"Where the hell do you think you're going?" Cook demands. "Archie, the banks aren't going to--"

Archie tugs his arm out of Cook's grip. He's shaking, and he won't look up. "It's V," he babbles. "My dad said, and I have to - they didn't know there was a gun, and she can't, she shouldn't be... I don't know what happened, but she's not - if she's hurt I have to, I can't... I have to do something."

Cook stares at Archie, wordlessly. It takes a second, but then he shakes his head. "You're not doing this alone," he says. "I'm coming with you."

"But Cook!" Archie objects.

"I'm scared shitless here," Cook says, through gritted teeth, "But if V's hurt, I'm not letting you do this on your own. Let's go before I change my fucking mind."

As it turns out, though, V's fine. Cook's foot is practically on the floor from the second they get into the car, and they're halfway across town before the police radio that Archie's tapped into reports that three armed robbers have been apprehended, with no casualties, and the police are locking down the scene to check for further damage. Archie lets out a long, shuddery breath, then, and bows his head when Cook glances over.

And watch me quickly extract myself from having to write an action scene!

Cook slows to a stop, and pulls them over by the curb. "Archie," he says, lowly.

But Archie's too busy scrabbling for his cell to reply, and he punches at the keypad, keeping his head down as he holds the phone to his ear. Cook can see the way his shoulders slump, a second later, and then Archie says, violently, "You're not - V, you can't do that. Don't do that!"

And then he lets out a muffled sob, and Cook has to pry the phone gently from Archie's fingers as he bends over to press his head between his knees. V's silent on the other end of the line. "Hey," Cook says, gently. "He's gonna have to call you back."

He tosses the phone over into the backseat, then, and touches a hand to Archie's back. Archie shudders, a little, and Cook says, "Hey, hey, David, it's okay," and then Archie's trembling, for real, and Cook rests his forehead over his hand, his cheek nestled warmly against Archie's neck, and stays there, silent, till Archie stops shaking.

Still, I really like how this scene turned out overall. I just needed something to make the situation more real, or at least more immediate, and even though I don't think anyone ever believes there's the possibility that V will be harmed, I needed a push for Archie to be completely vulnerable and unguarded and for once - the only once - not thinking about his powers.

They don't get back till late, and Cook's a total wreck the next day - they both are - and Cook can tell his performance suffers because of it.

He's not even surprised by Simon's comments, truth be told, but Archie's clearly upset, and he keeps trying to apologize once they step backstage like any of this is his fault. Like freaking out because his would-be superhero partner almost died trying to save the fucking world is his fault.

Cook just laughs, tiredly, at the fifteenth apology, and nudges Archie's shoulder. "Archie. Shut up. It's okay."

Archie worries at his lower lip. "But I could - when I go out, I could--"

Cook doesn't even need to hear it to know what Archie's offering, and he shakes his head firmly and claps a hand over Archie's shoulder and says, "I swear to god, Archuleta, if I see you frown onscreen, I'm going to demand a recount."

"Oh, but - but maybe if I just--"

Archie looks completely fucking earnest as he says it, his heart practically hanging off his sleeve, and Cook thinks fucking screw it, and leans in and cups Archie's face in his hands. Archie's eyes go wide, and for a second his smile melts right off his face--

And then there's a moment where Cook's brain fogs up completely - he has no idea what he's doing here; oh gosh, can they just kiss, just once, he can't keep saying no; this is a terrible idea, he should just leave - and then Archie pulls away, head ducked, and says, "oh my gosh, Cook, you can't just..."

Cook tips a hand under Archie's chin, then decides against it and reaches to grip Archie's shoulders, instead. Archie won't look up. "I'm kind of an asshole," Cook says, finally. "So you totally don't have to make out with me if you don't want to. But you need to hear me out."

Archie does look up at that, eyes wide, eyebrows knit, and Cook raises a hand to shield his eyes. "Without any of that voodoo mind trick of yours," he adds.

"Sorry," Archie says, and when Cook tentatively lowers his self-imposed blinders, Archie's flushing and looking at his feet. It's kind of - Cook wants to hug him. It's surprising how unsurprising the impulse is.

"Tonight was supposed to be the craziest night of my life," he says, instead. His fingers flex against where they're folded over Archie's shirt. "But I don't know, Archie, I'm pretty sure you've taken care of that."

Archie's laugh is as wobbly as Cook's pulse.

There is so much I enjoy about this confession, and this line in particular is one of them. I just needed to make sure it was anticlimactic, but still believable and kind of sappy - it's Cookleta, come on - and cute, with elements of humour in it. I think - I hope! - I managed to hit all of those notes.

"And whatever happens tonight," he adds, "I'm pretty sure you've taken care of a couple of other things, too."

Archie looks up at that, but Cook's already got his eyes closed, and his grip on Archie's shoulders tightens as he leans in, fast, and kisses him. On the nose.

Archie squawks. "Cook!"

"Just so you know you're not projecting," Cook explains. Despite himself, he grins. "But you're gonna need to guide me, here. I'm flying blind."

Archie laughs a little, but Cook feels him tense, and when he moves in again, Archie's tilts his head to meet him, and - yeah. Things work a lot better this time, especially when Archie kind of - sort of mewls a little, and falls into Cook, fingers clenched in his shirt, mouth hot and pliant and willing beneath Cook's. Jesus.

"So I may have thought about this for a while now," Cook admits, as he kisses Archie breathless.

"Oh," Archie gasps. "Oh, um--"

"And it's not exactly a secret what you think about it," Cook adds, against Archie's mouth.

"Nnnngh," Archie pants.

Funny story: I stressed over the right filler for Archie to say at this point for so long, and then Pat came along and was like, "oh, well, how's nnnngh?" and--yeah, I will be forever ashamed that I did not just think to do that myself.

"So I'm thinking we should talk about doing this long term," Cook finishes.

Archie pauses, briefly, in his attempts to lean up into Cook. "Oh," he says. "Oh, but - but what if - I don't know. Cook, I could just, like, frown at you, and--"

"True," Cook concedes, as he fights the urge to tug Archie back in. He slips a hand under Archie's shirt, runs a finger down the grooves of Archie's spine. "Could come in handy, though."

"Oh," Archie says again, and Cook's stomach bottoms out at the hushed, little noise he makes. "But - but, Cook. Long term?"

"Mmm," Cook hums, as he nips the underside of Archie's jaw.

"Oh," Archie breathes, as he tips his head back and folds into it. God, he's intoxicating. "Um."

"Yeah," Cook says, laughing despite himself. It doesn't matter what happens after this; it doesn't fucking matter. "That's what I thought."

So that's a wrap, guys! :D There were initially plans to expand this into a 'verse where Archie was kidnapped and/or hired by the CIA/FBI/some other governmental body and made to work for the country, but the planning just became such a huge undertaking that I gave up. /o\ Who knows, though? Maybe one day!

kay so first of all

Date: 2011-08-13 08:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

or maybe it's pri gets what she wants but she doesn't always not get what she doesn't want.

Re: kay so first of all

Date: 2011-08-14 10:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
exactly this

Date: 2011-08-13 08:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think I spent the entire reading of this disagreeing with the purple text.

Date: 2011-08-14 10:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

Date: 2011-08-14 10:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

Date: 2011-08-15 08:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]


Date: 2011-08-13 08:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I like the parts you like and the parts you hate and all of it.

Date: 2011-08-13 08:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
the fun facts and funny stories are my favorite.

Date: 2011-08-14 10:57 am (UTC)

Date: 2011-08-14 01:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

Date: 2011-08-14 10:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

Date: 2011-08-14 06:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
...i may have been drunk when i left that comment, because i don't remember leaving it?

v's my favorite character. neat OC!

Date: 2011-08-15 08:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
lol i feel like i should at least pretend to be surprised by this.

and--ikr. i am still amazed by how i came up with such an amazing character ♥

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