Chapter warning: graphic depiction of death
>Dave: Leave the nest
The ride to the airport, like the rest of the week before it, is uncomfortably silent. You didn’t apologize, because you know Bro wouldn’t accept it, and you don’t try to explain, because as long as you refuse to admit there is a problem, it doesn’t exist. You know Rose would have something to say about that, but you are definitely not consulting her. You’re chill. It’s not like you and Bro have ever been chatty Kathies with each other. That’s more the Egbert shtick. Even if Bro had started avoiding you and stopped leaving notes, you weren’t going to cry about it like some overdependent teenage girl whose lame-ass sparkly boyfriend won’t call her back.
He ruffles your hair, though, as he sees you off, and you can practically hear an “I’m proud of you, son” in the gesture, true DadEgbert-style. It’s an acceptance of the apology you couldn’t give, and you offer him a fist bump to show you got the message and convey everything you know other people would just say. “I’m sorry. Thanks. I’ll miss you… I love you.” And maybe it’s not ironic to not tell someone something they already know, but you think maybe the irony is in that you don’t always know these things.
You land in O’Hare airport in Chicago to find the three stooges waiting for you, and your summer issues melt to the background. This is your family before you, and they are alive. Visibly alive. And you’re not going to lose them again. No one is going to take them from you. You all pile on the bus and settle in for the three hour drive to your college.
>Dave: Settle in
One month later, things are going smoother than a baby’s ass. You and Egbert are better roommates than even Miss I-see-all Lalonde could have predicted. You haven’t decided on a major yet, but you and John both decided to get some of your generals out of the way and planned matching schedules accordingly. The only differences lying in the English course you share with blondie and the calculus course he has with Jade. You haven’t had any attacks, blackouts, etc. and even the nightmares have eased.
You’re taking in the college life, complete with frat parties that you and Egbert both attend. Kid’s more popular than you expected with how geeky he is. You suppose it’s sufficiently ironic. You approve. Sometimes you attend as a guest, others as the DJ, but you generally leave stone cold sober. You don’t need to wake up in another town next week, and no one needs to see you like that.
John Egbert is always happy. Always. Like Jade’s do— like Lalonde’s cat with a yarn ball. Like everything in the world is peachy-keen, hunkydory. Hello world, I’m shining so bright, a new day’s here, it’s really dynamite happy. And you think you’re pretty okay with that… even if he wakes you up at ungodly inhuman fucking disgusting hours of the morning with that suicide homicidal rage inducing Folger’s commercial. (You think maybe you know how Makara felt over the ICP thing now, but you’re not thinking about that.)It’s hard not to enjoy these times when you’re surrounded by that kind of eternal optimism.
>Dave: Deal with meddling ecto-sister
“Don’t you think you’re possibly relying on John a little too much?”
“Fuck off, Lalonde.”
“Very mature, Strider.”
“I’m the fucking epitome of maturity. If I was any more mature, I’d be decaying.”
“Ah, I see. Too mature. That must be the issue. Many apologies for offending your obviously overripe sensibilities.”
“Obviously you’re a little too aged yourself or you would have heard me the first time. Fuck. Off.”
“Very well. Just…”
“I’m here, you know. If and when he disappoints you. You can come to me.”
“Yes, yes. ‘Fucking off.’”
The first time John goes somewhere and doesn’t invite you along, you’re thrown for a loop. You don’t splutter or anything stupid like that, you just sort of stare at him for a minute, and he gives you this apologetic look, like he feels sorry for you. Like he knows thinks you’ll be lost without him towing you around. It’s ridiculous.
>Dave: Nod off.
You’ve gotten complacent. Whatever would Bro say? (Probably nothing, he’d just beat your ass strifing ‘til you got the message.) You’re entirely unprepared for what’s waiting for you when you fall asleep.
It starts, as it so often does, with a splash of red and the smell of blood. You watch as your insides decide they don’t want to be inside anymore and escape through the gash in your abdomen. You fall forward, but you don’t hit the ground. Instead, you’re in a giant pot, red crocodiles nakking around you, and you can feel the boiling water scalding your skin. You try to get out, but the metal of the cauldron is too hot to touch, and when you reach out too far one of the reptiles sinks his knife-like teeth into your arm… except those aren’t teeth, they’re the spikes you’ve been impaled on.
One after another, the deaths cut you to pieces and peel off your skin, burning you to a crisp. You half expect to be served to the horrorterrors on a silver platter. But you’re not. That never happens, because it never happened. You stumble through and each death becomes clearer, more painful, more real as you go from the ones that would have happened given extenuating circumstances to the ones that you almost died yourself. You, instead of every dead you you had ever had to sidestep. And then come the worst, the impact of the bullets sends you tumbling backward, and there you are, drifting before the bomb that will create the Green Sun, staring into the eyes of your sister, knowing you’re going to watch her die.
Your world explodes in a wave of emerald, and you can’t look away as her flesh and muscle and organs are burned from the bone, which soon crumble to ash and disappear.
You wake up sobbing to an empty room.