I wrote this for another prompt but it kind of worked for this as well. Unfortunately I've been very busy this week so I don't know how good it is, but I'm posting it anyway.
Thea wasn’t always a nervous wreck. It was because of the trauma of losing her parents, having to drop out of college to take care of her little brother, and then watching her brother quite literally fade away in their living room, reaching out for her as he screamed for help. Such a shame that her indecision had only gotten worse from there. Five years later Thea found herself living by a strict schedule. It was easier to have a paper think for her than to force herself to make choices. She would wake up at the same time every day, go to work, come home for online classes, eat dinner, and go to bed. She had a wheel she spun when she wanted to order food out but didn’t know where to get it from, but that was all the adventure she had in her life. Her hair was cut the same way every time because she didn’t know how to change it, she wore similar outfits because she didn’t know what style would fit her, and she avoided all conflicts at work. If she were a meal she’d be a slice of white bread and a glass of water. She was fine with that, because it meant she was coping. Then something happened that threw her routine out the window and left her scrambling for some sense of normalcy.
Someone was in the kitchen. That someone was mumbling to themself about quinoa and an ice cream shortage. Thea grabbed a baseball bat she kept for intruders and made her way down the hallway, avoiding the spots on the floor that creaked. She didn’t recognize the person, as their back was turned and the only light in the room was from the fridge, so she lifted the baseball bat.
“Turn around slowly.” She ordered, doing a fantastic job at keeping the tremor out of her voice. The person froze, then shut the fridge and turned with their hands up.
“Two years and this is how you greet me?”
Thea turned on the lights, blinking rapidly against the deluge of bright in the kitchen. The person in front of her was a man with his arm in a sling. He beamed at her as if they were old friends meeting at a cafe. She tightened her grip on the bat, “How’d you get in?”
“Picked the locks.” He said, one hand on his hip, “You changed them.”
Thea changed the locks every few months, starting after a guy from her job followed her home. It didn’t give her any clues on who the man in her apartment was.
“How’d you get this address? Or have you been breaking into any apartments you come across.”
“You really don’t know who I am?” He frowned, “That’s not… they promised I wasn’t being erased from reality. Really, Theodora, I’ve only been gone for a couple of years, give or take.”
There was something about his face that was familiar, and only her family knew what Thea was short for, but Thea dared not hope.
“Are you claiming to be Quinn?” She asked, shifting so the bat was poised to strike if he tried to approach her, “Because that’s not funny. He’s been gone for five years and he’s never coming back.”
“Five-” The man’s eyes widened, “Five years? No, I’ve been keeping count, it’s only been two-” He trailed off, pulling a journal out of his coat pocket and flipping through it, “No, see, right here, seven hundred and thirty days. That’s two years.”
Thea took a step back as he held the journal out for her to read.
“You still don’t believe me.” He muttered, holding the journal against his chest, “Okay, my name is Quinn Noble of House Noble, I was seventeen when I disappeared, I play oboe and guitar, I have a scar on my knee from the time we were riding our bikes and I fell into a ditch in the park and the bike fell on top of me, and I took seven years of fencing classes.” He paused, tapping on the cover of his journal, “Um, we used to listen to old records in the family house while Grandma and Grandpa took care of us after school. Your favorite was Gershwin, mine was Glenn Miller. I never learned how to drive a car, but I got a boating license when I was sixteen on a whim. You got arrested because you stole it and went for a joyride with Grandpa’s boat. We had a cat growing up and you named him Bonk-”
“Stop!” Thea dropped the bat, “Just shut up! You can’t be Quinn because he’s dead!”
“Hey, that’s a little rude.” The man who was most definitely not her brother took a step forward, tucking the journal away into one of his many pockets, “Thea, I’ll leave if you want me to, but I need to know some things first. Just some simple questions, can we do that?”
“No, no I have to go back to sleep. I have work in the morning, I have to be there by eight.” Thea’s schedule was falling apart around her and she wasn’t handling it well. Quinn frowned, “Okay, yeah, I get it. I can come back tomorrow. What time do you get off work?”
“I’m busy, I have classes. I can’t help you. I’m sorry.”
She was crying. Why was she crying? The man in front of her couldn’t be Quinn. Certainly not after five years. No, her brother had to be dead, and this imposter had to be a trick.
“I’ll be back tomorrow at five.” Quinn promised, “I’ll bring dinner. Write it into your schedule.”
Without giving her any time to respond, he walked past her. The apartment door shut, and Thea was alone.
Her schedule was a mess. Thea didn’t fall asleep until two in the morning, she ended up being late for work, and when she got there, the floor supervisor sent her home because she looked ill. She felt ill, but she wasn’t going to acknowledge that because it meant acknowledging him. By the time she managed to convince herself it was just a dream (despite the fact that her fridge was disorganized and the baseball bat was still on the kitchen floor), it was half past four and the anxiety came back in waves, because if he walked through that door, she would have to face the fact that he had been alive and missing for five years. Five years in which she could have done something. She left the door unlocked, and at five sharp it opened. Thea didn’t move from her seat in front of the computer.
It could just be a nosy neighbor, she reassured herself, or someone trying to rob me.
She never knew that the thought of being the victim of a B&E would be comforting. All thoughts stopped when a bag dropped onto the table in front of her.
“I got Chinese.” Quinn said, “I don’t know if you’re a fan, but I’ve been craving egg rolls for the past five months.”
Thea tried not to stare. In the light, she saw how much taller Quinn had become. The sling his arm was in was dirty and torn, and part of it looked like a plastic bag. He wore a blue trench coat with more pockets than necessary, some looking hand sewn on. His hair was pulled into a ponytail, and he grimaced when he saw her looking at it.
“I haven’t really had much time to get to a barber’s.” He explained, “And I couldn’t cut it myself because of my arm.”
“What happened to your arm?” Thea asked, voice tight.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
All of Thea’s reservations about the situation were pushed out of the way by her instinct to protect her little brother.
“Quinn Noble, I need you to answer my questions or I can’t help you.”
“I don’t need your help, I just need you to, you know, be here. Believe that it’s me.” He pulled out a carton of egg rolls and sat down across from Thea at the table.
“So… five years over here, huh?” Quinn mused. He took a bite of an egg roll, prompting Thea to continue the conversation.
“Yeah, five years…” She trailed off.
“You’re staring again.” Quinn pointed at her with his half eaten egg roll, “Do I have something on my face?”
“It really is you, isn’t it?” Thea gestured vaguely, “You look different, but you have the same eyes.”
“Yeah, it’s a little hard to fake the Noble gaze.”
Heterochromia ran in the family. Every so often it would reappear in the bloodline. Their grandmother had it, so Quinn’s brown and blue eyes were a dead giveaway. He looked at Thea and smiled.
“You look the same.”
“Remember when we were kids and you wanted to dye your hair blue?” Quinn asked with a small laugh, “Mom and Dad wouldn’t let you, so you went out and got the dye by yourself and did it in the upstairs bathroom. The sink was stained blue for weeks.”
“Where were you?” Thea shot down his attempt at reminiscing about better days. She needed to know what had happened to him. Needed to know if she could have stopped it.
“That’s… not a good topic to start with.” Quinn said, staring down at his egg roll like it had offended him. At Thea’s prompting look, he sighed.
“When Grandma used to say the gods looked favorably on House Noble… she wasn't lying. A few other people and I were sent to another dimension to prevent something they called WorldFall. Apparently the old families are supposed to send their fittest members or something to prevent a planet from collapsing in on itself."
Thea watched as Quinn's hand clenched involuntarily. She thought about telling him that he didn't have to talk about it, since it clearly bothered him, but if she had to live one more night thinking about the what-ifs, she'd lose her mind.
"So, this planet was definitely aware of the gods, and some of the people were fine with us, others hated us, and some…" Quinn shuddered, "Some used our blood to create Godslayers. Think giant monsters bent on destroying everything that got in their way."
Oh, now things were dipping into dangerous territory.
"Things ended up okay!" He hurried to amend, noticing the expression on Thea's face, "I just… I thought we could wipe this organization out, but someone died because I was too impulsive."
"Oh Quinn…" Thea reached across the table and took his hand, "It wasn't your fault."
“It was. I didn’t listen to the others, and I thought that I could lead us to victory. I made some stupid decisions, and someone I cared about died.” Quinn waved his hand dismissively, “It’s in the past. I’m home now, that’s all that matters.”
Thea looked down at the table, “When you disappeared, I spent years agonizing over the thought that I could’ve done something. Maybe if I had grabbed you, I could’ve stopped them from taking you. Or I could’ve gone with you. I just froze, and I’ve always regretted it.”
“Well allow me to ease your conscience. You couldn’t have done anything.” Quinn picked up his egg roll again and took a bite. He used to cram food in his mouth when he didn’t want to talk. It was so familiar that Thea could almost pretend things were normal.
“What a pair we are.” She chuckled, “You’re impulsive, I’m indecisive.”
“Maybe I’ll have to move back in with you. Together we might make a functional human being.” Quinn added, the tension draining from his shoulders as the topic of conversation moved to lighter things. Thea grabbed a carton of fried rice, “When you’re ready to tell me everything, I’ll be here.”
“I know.” Quinn shrugged, “I’m just not ready yet.”
“Things will get better.” She was really slipping into big sister mode now. Quinn rolled his eyes.
“You sound like a motivational poster.”
“We can get better together.” Thea was on a roll, and she wouldn’t let Quinn’s sarcastic comments throw her off, “That’s what family’s for. House Noble protects its own.”
Quinn snorted, “House Noble protects its own. I’ve been thinking, next time some gods decide to pluck me from my life and make me fight their wars, I’m just going to say no.”
“That’s the spirit.” Thea smiled, and for the first time in five years her smile reached her eyes. Quinn smiled back, “So I take it you believe me now?”
“Why not? This isn’t the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard.”
He ran a hand across his forehead and gave an exaggerated sigh of relief, “Good. You’re terrifying when you’ve got a baseball bat. I don’t think I want that to be the last thing I ever see.”
“Well now I really believe it’s you.” Thea teased, “Only you could find humor in me threatening you with a baseball bat.”
The peace they had forged was fragile, and both Thea and Quinn knew it wouldn’t last long. Both of them had too much emotional baggage for things to ever go back to normal again, but for the moment, they were happy to pretend that nothing was wrong. Quinn had come home, and Thea knew that they could start recovering together.
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