Dave’s been incredibly quiet. Usually you can’t get him to shut up, and you would have enjoyed the silence if you weren’t so worried. Dave was a tough, independent kid, but suddenly your parental protectiveness has come back from hibernation.
It all started a month ago when you were just lounging in your room, doing updates on the site and sorting some payments out. Usual work stuff. But you had flinched when you heard him yell your name. It couldn’t have been anything serious, so you yelled back, “What?”
He didn’t reply. Instead he rushed into your room and you spun your chair around to face him.
“I thought we agreed that knocking was a courtesy we practice in this household,” you said.
He looked exhausted. He was panting lightly, and his knuckles were white as they held the doorknob on your bedroom door. His shades weren’t even on, which was a huge surprise, because you couldn’t remember a time that he wasn’t self-conscious about his eye color. Right then they had been wide in shock.
The only thing he said was “Bro.” He didn’t yell it, didn’t say it with a question mark. He just spoke it, not quietly, but not loudly. Just… Bro.
“You okay, kid?” you asked. Dave was good at keeping his cool, and it was almost, almost scary to you to see him like this.
You saw him visibly gulp and then release a sharp breath that seemed to kick start him into getting a normal breathing pattern back. His chest rose and fell more slowly and his white knuckles turned into his normal pale color. His eyes closed tightly for a brief moment and he ran a hand back through his hair, but you saw him grip his hair more harshly than you would have liked, as if he was intentionally harming himself in front of you. You were honestly getting nervous about him here. Had he been doing drugs or some other weird teenage shit?
“Dave.” You said his name seriously, but not too sharply.
It did cause his eyes to open again. You raised your eyebrows lightly, waiting.
“I…” is the first thing that came from his mouth. But he didn’t continue off of the “I” and rather asked, “Do you remember?”
His hand started tightening in his hair again and you really wanted him to stop that. Sure, you kicked each other’s asses on the roof, but it was different to see him actually hurt himself. If you had the guts you would have stood up and reached out to grab his wrist and stop him.
At the same time, you had no fucking clue what he was talking about. You guys played tons of games. Even card games on the stormy days when the lights went out. You played shitty racing games and Mario games and strifing games. Was he referring to one of those or to something else entirely?
“Are you okay?”
You hadn’t asked a question like that in a long time. Affection was allowed in the Strider household, but it wasn’t shown too often.
And then you saw the thing you had been afraid of seeing. His red eyes gleamed, proving that there was a moistness building there. Something weird happened with your stomach then, and you honestly considered standing and hugging him, because even though he was grown up and independent, he was still the kid you raised and dedicated your life to, and you sure as hell didn’t want to see him hurting.
Dave’s expression hadn’t changed at all even after the question. His lips were parted as if he was waiting for the words to roll out on their own, and he just couldn’t figure out how to make them work himself. So he closed his mouth and finally released his death grip on his hair, smoothing it down slowly and you were pretty sure you saw him shaking. You were positive you saw him shaking.
He shook his head no as a final answer.
“Sorry,” he said. His voice had suddenly turned into his normal tone of talking. “Sorry.”
He turned and you knew he was leaving, his hand tugging the door with him. You suddenly had the same problem as Dave had, your lips parting so that words could come out, but your brain realized it had no idea what to make them say.
So you let the door close.
It took a few minutes before you could turn around and face your computer again. You rested your chin in your palm, your fingers covering your mouth. You clicked and typed numbers absentmindedly, because you knew you couldn’t mess up with your math skills, and it allowed you to think about what had just happened, too.
You were worried and you didn’t know what to do.
Dave spends his days alone. He holes himself up in his room and only answers the door half of the time when you knock. He doesn’t say much. Dinners have suddenly become a lot more silent and you end up with a lot more leftovers now since he doesn’t eat much.
He doesn’t play video games with you anymore. When you come home from club gigs you sometimes find him awake, sitting on the futon and staring at the TV. But the TV will be on mute and it’ll be on something like the news or a talk show, something that you know he isn’t actually watching. When you say his name, he flinches, asks how work was, and then disappears into his room again.
About two weeks after the first Incident, you were getting your snooze on, and that’s when his nightmares started. He woke you out of a pure dead sleep with a loud yell. It wasn’t a shriek, just a yell of fear, or pain, as if he had been suddenly burned or stabbed.
You were tired and your real instincts took over then. You threw your legs out of bed and didn’t run, but walked quickly towards his room. You only ran when you heard his voice continue yelling, “FUCK!”
Your hand slammed against the door, throwing it open. The moonlight from his window was enough to light his room up and you found your younger brother sitting up in bed, his back pressed to the wall. He was heaving heavily, almost gasping as one hand gripped the sheets and another was practically scratching the wall.
“Dave.” You said his name sharply, almost loudly. It did make him look at you though.
He looked terrified. If someone needed a definition of what terrified was, it was his expression right then.
The longer he looked at you, the quieter the situation became as a whole. His hands moved slowly to hug his knees and he gulped a few times until he wasn’t struggling to breathe.
The room brought a hum with pure silence, the hum made from hearing your own blood rush through your body.
“Nightmare,” he said almost awkwardly. He looked fine now. Almost embarrassed. He fidgeted with the blanket, looking at his knees and then back at you. “Sorry.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” you asked, and your own heart rate was decreasing. You looked less like you were ready to pounce and more relaxed as you began taking a step back and out of his room.
He nodded to your question, and it was obvious he wanted you to leave.
So you did. You muttered an “okay” and then closed the door and left. You stopped halfway down the hallway when you heard him hiccupping. You knew he would never cry in front of your face, and it pained you that he had to do it alone. It pained you even more that you didn’t turn around to comfort him or see what was really going on. He wanted to be alone. So you just went to bed.
His next nightmare was scarier for both of you. You had gotten home around four in the morning from another club gig and was hanging up your jacket, just settling down after the long night. You headed towards the kitchen to get yourself a snack.
Then you heard him choking.
You moved slowly to listen closely, making sure you were actually hearing what you thought you were hearing. The closer you got, the more your fears were confirmed and you rushed to his bedroom like you had before.
You found him shaking and twisting in bed, his nails clawing at his neck as he choked. He almost looked like he was choking himself. What was scarier was that his eyes were opened wide, and you weren’t even sure if it was a dream. Your heart was racing and you realized you were panting because you were actually scared and you didn’t know what to do.
You made your voice sharp and loud for attention. But he kept choking, his back arching as if he was possessed.
Nothing changed and you moved quickly into the room. His neck was red and scratched up, so you grabbed his wrists, yanking them away from his skin. His eyes were beginning to roll back and you were on the brink of calling the police, or an ambulance, or maybe a priest for an exorcism.
He blinked, and his back dropped back down to the bed. He lightly fought your grip on his wrists, his breathing turning into loud wheezes and gasps, but you were just glad he was actually breathing.
“It’s slit,” he said, and you felt his hands pulling against you, trying to grip at his neck.
“It’s not slit,” you said. You were surprised by the way you sounded. You in no way had any idea what was going on, but you tried to sound like you had control of the situation. As if you knew what to do. It’s how you had gotten by for sixteen years. Pretending you knew what to do when things were bad so that your little brother wouldn’t be scared.
“You’re not bleeding,” you replied immediately, and you almost yelled it. You wanted this all to stop. You wanted him to go back to normal.
His hands stopped fighting you so you released them. He didn’t scratch his neck, but he just touched the red marks and rubbed, looking for something and not seeming to find it. His gaze was going a little wild, checking every detail and object in the room to make sure he knew where he was.
Then he looked at you, still lightly wheezing.
“What is going on?” you demanded.
His hands covered his eyes, refusing to look at you and probably making sure you didn’t see him cry, just like last time. “I’m okay,” he whispers, trying to make you believe he was actually “okay” so that you would leave him alone.
“Dave, what the fuck is going on?” you demanded a bit louder. “Answer me.”
He rolled on his side, curling up and shutting you out. You had never seen him like this before. You had never seen him even close to this.
“Dave, please,” you pleaded.
His face was covered, and he was like an object. He was as unmoving and unresponsive as a decoration in the house. He didn’t respond to the way you touched his back or the way you practically begged him to explain himself.
Even when you waited a whole ten minutes, just sitting there, you got nothing. You had no choice but to leave.
When you slept that night, you had a weird dream. You had a dream you were meeting Dave, as if it was your first time meeting him. He was sixteen and you were the same height as him, and you’re pretty sure it must have been night out because you only remember space and stars in the skies.
He was wearing a cape and standing next to another lady and his expression didn’t change much. You don’t remember saying anything to him. You just stared at him and held someone’s hand. You don’t know whose. You know you cared about them and refused to let that hand go and you knew that Dave was there and seeing him like that felt shocking for some reason. As if you missed him and hadn’t seen him in years. Like he was someone you knew, even though he was your brother.
You tell Dave he should see a doctor and he tells you to fuck off and hides in his room. If you say the wrong thing, he hides. You choose your words carefully these days. It’s like a fucked up Façade game, and you’re trying so hard not to piss Trip off.
But he keeps hiding.
If he doesn’t hide, it’s because you don’t mention his behavior. You ask him how his music is and what he did while you were away and what he wants on his pizza. He starts playing video games with you again, but he doesn’t speak and there’s no trash talking. He doesn’t care if he wins or loses, and he’s the one that decides when you’re both done playing.
He takes extremely long showers. You’re rich, you don’t care how much the water bill comes out to, but you try asking him what he’s doing in there and you try to make a masturbating joke, because Dave loved dirty jokes and you’re hoping you’ll see him smile again.
“I just sit there,” he replies. Then he hides for the night.
You don’t like the thoughts he leaves you with. The thought of him sitting alone in a shower in the dim light, just sitting there. Sometimes for hours.
You wonder if it’s depression. Your computer is full of Google searches. “What to do when your kid is depressed”, “Depression symptoms”, “Kid having night terrors”, “Symptoms of demon possession”, “Am I a horrible parent?” and so on.
You’re so fucking frustrated. You try to remember where you went wrong. But suddenly, whenever you think about Dave’s teenage years… it’s blurry. You remember when he was thirteen and you strifed him on the roof, something about a computer game, and then… you guess he grew up? You don’t remember main events like school shows or puberty or any past girlfriends or boyfriends. You just know he’s suddenly sixteen.
When it becomes August, six weeks after Dave burst into your room and began all of this, he initiates a conversation with you, which is rare because he usually needs to be coaxed into talking these days.
He comes out of his bedroom like a frightened animal and hides halfway behind the wall of the hallway, watching you sew on the futon and listen to the news on TV.
“Bro,” he says.
You glance at him and try not to stare, because in a way, he is a frightened animal. You have to be careful with your words and approach to keep him near you these days.
“I want to go to school online.”
“Why? You already got your classes for next year. A big high school junior.”
The way he says it causes you to look up from the needle you’re sewing with and meet his eyes. Kind of meet his eyes. You’re both wearing your shades, so it’s just a piece of blackness covering whatever emotions you’re both really feeling.
“I really want to go to school online,” he repeats. “Please.”
“I just… I don’t want to be around all those people.”
“You don’t have to talk to them, Dave. I agree that the American education system is complete shit, but—”
“Please,” he whispers, and even though it’s so much softer than your previous tone of voice, it sounds louder in what he’s asking.
You sigh through your nose, your lips pulling into a thin line. You just want your normal Dave back, so you nod. “Okay. I’ll see what I can find.”
He turns around and hides again. You accidentally stab your finger with the needle.
You have a dream that night, a weird one that really sticks with you. You can’t move and you’re on the ground and you see galaxies all around you, and there are colors close to you, soft mist just overhead.
There’s this bird there. It’s gorgeous and huge and it flows with a gentle, whisking tail. You still can’t move and there’s something wrong with your chest. It hurts, but it doesn’t. But you know it’s supposed to hurt.
You reach out for the orange bird that’s still flying gently above you, hoping it can help heal you and stop the pain. It disappears for a moment, leaving you with the cosmos.
Then the bird is inches from your face. He’s your brother and he’s crying and you wake up in a cold sweat, clutching your uninjured chest.
You enroll Dave in an online school before his junior year starts, so he spends just as much time in his room doing the work and watching the lectures. He comes out for dinner and sometimes you bring it to him, but most of the time he won’t eat it. He stopped strifing when this all began. You asked him a few times or teased him to try and get him going, but he brushed you off and hid in his room like usual.
This is kind of the way of life now. You never stop worrying, but you can’t figure out a solution. His behavior isn’t getting better or worse. He gets less nightmares now, but that doesn’t make you feel entirely better. You miss your brother.
He asks you for homework help sometimes, and you obliged a little too excitedly, because you’ll take any chance you can to just converse with him and give him attention and remind him that he doesn’t need to hide.
Of course he still hides.
His room is his sanctuary and you’ve taken to not entering it as much anymore. You want him to feel safe in there. If he feels safe, he can heal in there, and come out to see you more often.
One day he agrees to go shopping with you because you promised you’d buy whatever he put in the cart. He puts on a hoodie and sweatpants, just wanting to feel comfortable, and you catch his eyes before he puts his sunglasses on. He stares at you, then slides them up his nose as if you hadn’t seen the deep bruises under his eyes from lack of sleep.
You don’t mention it and you both head to the car together. Dave sits with his feet on the dashboard, hugging his knees with his temple against the window.
“’Heard you making music last night,” you try to say.
He makes a soft hum to show he heard you, probably just trying to be polite and not leave you completely in silence.
“We should jam something out sometime, something I can use in a gig.”
He doesn’t hum. He looks out the window and lightly taps the glass where a leaf is stuck on the other side. “Maybe,” he replies.
At the grocery store, he always keeps one hand on the cart, as if he’s a child that might get lost. You don’t try to make conversation in the store because you’re just glad he came out of the apartment for once and got some good sunlight for that skin of his that seems to be growing paler every week.
In the freezer section you’re trying to decide between Tombstone or Jack’s pizza and you hear Dave say beside you, “They had better Alternian food on the meteor.”
You pause and look at him, the two pizzas freezing against your fingers. “What?”
He looks back at you and then at the pizzas he’s looking at through the freezer doors. “Nothing.”
He doesn’t speak. You put back the Tombstone and set the Jack’s in the cart. Dave walks with you as you continue down to the next aisle and watch as he drops different snacks into the carts. He’s looking at the price tags first, getting cheaper things even when he knows he has free reign to get whatever he wants.
“What’s Alternia?” you try again.
“It’s a planet,” he answers. A real answer. No silence, an honest answer.
“Did you learn that in your lecture?”
“No. I met friends from there when I played the game.”
You don’t act like he’s crazy, even if you’re hella confused. You’d rather keep learning about what’s going on in that head of his.
“If these friends are from Alternia, does that mean they’re aliens?”
He nods and pulls out some frozen fries, dropping them in the cart.
“Like, the green kind?”
“Yeah. They don’t look too different. Their customs were fuckin’ weird.” He stops to look at ice cream sandwiches and then continues on to the next aisle. “I miss them.”
It’s the most you’ve gotten out of him in a long time. You’re almost scared to keep going.
“Do you talk to them still?”
“You think I’m crazy,” he says, his voice soft now. You’re scared you’ve lost him.
He picks out some chips and sets them in the cart. Then he picks out some juice boxes. Then some apple juice. You’re eyes are only on him though, watching and waiting and praying he keeps talking to you.
“We still message each other,” he says after a while. “I just wish I could physically hang out with them.”
“And… this game allowed you to go see them?”
“Yeah. Lots of portal shenanigans.”
This time you hum to respond.
You both exchange brief words, discussing what’s on sale and convincing Dave that wine was not on the list of “getting whatever you want.” He doesn’t speak at the register and hides behind you in the shy way he did when he was young.
He at least helps carry the groceries when you get home. And he actually eats. You both eat dinner together and he agrees to play some old and shitty Naruto games on the Wii. He actually says goodnight to you when he disappears into his room for the night.
When you get to your own room later, you take to Google again.
“Kid talking about aliens”, “What is Alternia?”, “Gray aliens?”, “Symptoms of schizophrenia.”
You regret the last one, but you aren’t taking chances. Dave’s symptoms don’t line up with it, though. And you can’t find anything about gray aliens on Alternia. You try one more thing: “Kid depressed from a game.”
You find some stuff about how violent video games are bad for kids and you mentally scoff at them, scrolling through. You find some type of forum or chat group, maybe something like ask.com where anyone can post and get answers from anyone else.
my baby girl has been hella sad lately. i mean we don’t talk much anyway but this is like suuuper different. shes writing a lot and i know its like WRONG to read ur kids diary but im a worried mommy. she says she misses her friends and the trolls and her girlfriend and she cries a lot and wont talk to me bout it. i didn’t know she had a gf, she didn’t tell me. i keep having sad dreams about her. i caught her burning a computer game of sburb. maybe it was hella shitty idk but it was odd of her. she spends all day on the computer talking to her friends across the country and only wants me to homeschool her. her last text message was “this doesn’t feel like winning.” i think shes been stealing my drinks too. it all started bout two months ago. is it cause im a bad mom? im trying rly hard i swear. i just want my baby girl back. Anyone out there know whats going on?
Your fingers move to start a reply, but then they freeze.
You have no advice for this woman. But you recognize her last name. It’s the same as Dave’s friend that he talks to online, one of his three Pesterchum friends.
You stand from your desk and head to his room, determined for answers. You knock lightly at first, not wanting to intrude on his area. But you don’t get a reply. He’s most likely sleeping already so you gently push the door open and let your eyes adjust to the darkness. His bed is empty.
The bathroom door is open, so he’s not there. You call his name out, but get no response.
You’re only a bit worried as you head up to the roof. The doorknob gets stuck sometimes so you give it a good hard wretch to the side and shove it open, met with the cool night air and the bright stars above.
You see your brother standing on the edge.
You run and he flinches at your sudden voice. You yank him down from the edge and pull him a good five feet away from it, then hug him close. You haven’t hugged him in so many years, and you had no idea it’d take something like this to make you do it again. He feels warm and too skinny and one hand is tapping at your side.
“Bro,” he says gently.
“You fucking fuck, why would you—”
“I wasn’t going to jump. Stop.”
You’re panting as you pull away, holding his shoulders. “What?”
“I was watching the stars.”
“What?” you say again.
You thought he was going to kill himself and he was just… watching the stars.
He steps away from you, heading towards the edge again, as if you totally didn’t just flip your shit about losing him. You’re still controlling your heartbeat and breathing as you watch him sit down on the edge, his feet dangling and his hands resting in his lap.
You gulp and follow. You sit on the edge next to him, not looking down at the street below but rather at the stars above.
“You can see some of the zodiac signs,” he says. Then he points, drawing a line between the stars that you can’t see, but you pretend to. “There’s one. Aries. Aradia’s.”
“One of the trolls. Aliens. She was creepy. I liked her.”
“Each troll has a constellation?”
“They made us.”
You look up and you see it without needing him to point. He seems calm out here, a different type of calm than he was at the grocery store. So you sit quietly and stargaze with him for a while, thankful for how tall your building is so that the city pollution doesn’t block out the great view you both have.
You think about the post you saw online and you clear your throat, trying not to be too loud about it.
“Do you feel like you won?” you ask, remembering the last text this mother read in her daughter’s phone.
“No,” Dave replies. Then you see his brows furrow in confusion and he looks at you without his shades on. “Won what…?” he asks slowly, obviously perplexed as to why you suddenly know about what he’s going through.
“The game,” you guess.
“Do you… remember?”
He’s still confused. He looks at the street, then up at Aries.
“What’s after Aries?” you ask.
He points somewhere near Aries, but you have no idea what kind of star shape he’s trying to make, but you pretend to see the drawing in the sky as he replies, “Taurus. Only talked to Tavros a few times. He was a weird guy. Kinda liked him.”
He put his hands by his head to symbol something really big. “Huge horns,” he says.
“They had horns?”
“So there’s twelve constellations. Does that mean—”
“Twelve trolls,” he confirms. He continues a moment later, “Only really knew three or four, the ones I got close to. The rest were mostly dead.”
“Everyone died a lot.”
You’re highly considering a doctor in your head. You should call a shrink and force Dave to go and rattle off this story, because it’s way too crazy. But if your kid was actually crazy, it’d be a slow progression. You can’t remember seeing any symptoms in him like what you read online, it was just a sudden overnight change.
You don’t think he’s crazy. And if you don’t think he’s crazy, that means what he’s saying is… true. God, can you honestly believe that? Alien trolls and a game that became reality? It’s kind of freaking you out.
“I had a dream about an orange bird,” you share.
His head whips to look at you. His eyes aren’t wide, but you can tell what you said has sparked something inside him. Both of your attention has come off the stars and he’s only staring at you, or he diverts his gaze, his eyes showing that he’s thinking hard, trying to make sense of what you’ve said.
The air is chilly and you’re thinking about the bird with the tail. It’s still freaking you out that he’s recognized what you’ve said.
“Did it look like me?” he asks. His voice is quieter.
Oh god, you’re so freaked out. “Yeah.”
He shifts to face you better, completely focused on you and only you. “What else do you dream about?”
“What? I don’t know. I don’t remember much. I dream I’m a superhero, I dream about sex, usual dude stuff.”
“Bro, come on. Stuff like the bird dream. Stuff where I’m there.”
“Um… There was one. I was holding a floating girl’s hand. You were there. You had a cape.”
He’s still shocked. So are you.
“Dave. What’s going on?” you ask.
“You’ll think I’m crazy.”
“I think it’s crazy that you know what I’m dreaming about. I think it’s crazy that I’ve lost my little brother. I don’t know what you’ve become.”
He sighs heavily and leans back on the palms of his hands, probably staring at Aries again. His eyes are gleaming again, and you don’t want that, because he hides when he’s about to cry. He refuses to let you see a tear come down that cheek.
The second he shifts again you reach out and grab his arm.
“Don’t hide. Tell me what’s going on.”
“You’ll think I’m crazy,” he repeats, and his hand grabs your wrist, trying to get you to let go. You’re still stronger than him, taller and bigger, and he knows he can’t make you let go and that causes him to look scared.
“I don’t think you’re crazy. Just tell me.”
“Swear you won’t call a doctor.”
You do, because you trust him to stay. He rubs his arm where you held him and then he holds himself lightly, but you can tell he’s trying not to completely curl up and shut himself out to you. He looks kind of shaky, but his tense muscles hide it.
“I played Sburb.”
“I remember that game,” you say. You want it to be like a conversation. Then he might not get scared and hide. “You fought me to get the copy from me.”
He nods. “You don’t remember the years after that, do you?”
You don’t, but you try to remember right then. It doesn’t work. “It’s blurry,” you admit.
“I played the game. With John and Rose and Jade. And it was reality. You saved me from a meteor. And I had to get through these portals to get to the next level in a way. We had to ditch the way it’s actually played because everything started going wrong. I had these… time powers. I kept going back, over and over again, and all my copies would die, and I’m stuck with those memories, and I remember Davesprite, the bird you dreamed about. You were in the game. You saved me from one of the villains. You got stabbed and you died and I was too weak…”
He hasn’t cried, but there’s still a gleam against the bright red of his eyes. You still don’t think he’s crazy, but you hate how it sounds familiar. The bird, the dying. You touch your chest, remembering how you were injured in your dream.
“We met up with another timeline,” Dave continues when you don’t stop him. “I met you from another dimension. One where you were the younger brother. We were the same age. He had your eye color and everything. He had a big brother named Dave, though. He died too. I think your other dreams are from him.
“We won the game in the end. We got everyone god tier. We beat the bad guy and saved the world.” He in no way sounds enthusiastic about this. “It took us three years, but we won, and I was dying in the end. I was so… fucking bloody. And so many were dead. And it hurt so fucking much, and I just wished I was dead and never had to exist for any of that bullshit. But we won.
“I remembered everything was white and it was quiet but it sounded like a shriek, all at the same time. Maybe it wasn’t white. It was everything. And then I was in my room.”
He shrugs, aware that it’s not much of an ending.
“John and the others said they experienced the same thing. Rose died in the ending battle, but she was back. They all remember. Her mom doesn’t, though. She died in the game too. So did John’s dad. He doesn’t remember. We’re all just… back.”
He lets out a sharp breath and looks at your unblinking eyes. “I’m not crazy,” he whispers.
He looks at the street and you’re scared you’ll have to reach out and grab him. You trust him, but you’re so scared he’ll tip off and disappear.
You don’t talk about everything he’s said. You have a million questions, but three years holds a lot of details, and it explains why his teenage years are so blurry to you. It explains your dreams. It explains his behavior.
It explains everything and you believe him and that’s what’s got you afraid.
He hides that night. He had left the roof, leaving you alone, and went straight to his room without dinner or a shower. You knew he wouldn’t come out for a while.
You dream of the meteor that night. You remember having no idea what was going on. You just knew you saw it outside of the window and you knew you had to save your little brother, you had to keep him safe from this thing.
You have another dream about the ocean. You’re sitting on the apartment rooftop, you know that, but the city isn’t there. There’s no tall buildings around you and no honking cars below. There’s just pure ocean to the horizon and seagulls flying around you.
You dream about a boy with green eyes and he’s so happy and he holds your hand as he talks to you, but you can’t hear him. You just clutch his hand and don’t want to lose him. You know only of his green eyes through the black lenses of a gasmask he’s wearing, but nothing else. You hold his gaze in the same way he’s staring at you. As if he’s dreaming about orange eyes behind a gasmask, trying to figure out who it is.
In the morning you’re exhausted. Your movements are sluggish and you keep your shades on to block out any harsh sunlight. Dave stays in his room, but you grow worried around noon. You stop thinking about all the dreams and head towards his room.
Your hand raises to knock, and you hear the hiccupping. You know crying is alone time, it’s an unspoken Strider rule. He doesn’t want to be seen crying, and you should respect that.
But you’re so tired of just listening to it.
You open the door and look towards the bed where you expect him to be crying. He’s on the floor, in the far back corner, curled into it to try and block everything out. You think your heart honestly breaks. Something breaks, whatever it is. He’s been broken and you’ve done nothing but listen from behind a door.
You walk across the cables on the floor and let out a small sigh as you crouch down next to him, unable to see his face since it’s hidden against his knees and his hood is up to keep him all the more hidden.
His voice is tiny and broken, trying not to sound like he was just sobbing. Is still sobbing.
You don’t reply. You put a hand on his back and pray you’re doing the right thing. You’ve spent your whole life not knowing what to do and trying to step back and let him grow on his own. But you know what you’re doing right now is actually right. It’s probably the first time you’ve been confident about your parenting skills.
He doesn’t protest. You feel him shake under your palm as he cries. You don’t shush him or hold him. You just rub his back, a touch to let him know you’re sitting there and that it’s okay that you’re listening to him. You’re so tired of him hiding. Even if it hurts you to hear him cry, you’d rather you were there to hear it as opposed to being blocked out.
He can’t stop for another five minutes. You can tell when he stops trying to stay still and quiet and just lets go, not caring that you’re there anymore. It still hurts. But you’re glad you’ve become part of his safe zone.
When he just breathes deeply, in and out, your hand moves to the back of his neck, remembering when you used to cradle his head as a baby. When he was tiny and was the same size as your arm.
“You weren’t born,” you suddenly say.
Your eyes are wide and he peeks a single eye up to look at you. “What?”
“I can’t remember… any parents. I thought we had… parents. You weren’t born.”
He doesn’t say anything, but he’s watching you closely.
“I found you in a fucking hole,” you mutter.
You rest your head back against the wall with a light thump. Dave rests his cheek on his knees after pushing his hood back, his jeans wet from tears and the whites of his eyes red, the skin underneath lightly puffy. He’s still controlling his breathing.
“You wanna visit your friends?” you ask quietly.
“John. The others. They feel as shitty as you, kid. We should go visit them. I think it’ll help.”
He shoves his face against his arm and nods. “Thanks.”
“No problem, kid.” Your hand moves to cradle the back of his head, even if he’s a big kid who doesn’t need cradling. He’s not a kid at all. He’s been through so much that he’s a scared adult, just like you. You believe everything he said last night.
“You know I love you, right?”
“Your gay is showing.”
It’s the first time he’s made a joke in over two months. You scoff and the pain in your chest is replaced by something nicer. You smirk, your thumb moving against the back of head, smoothing his hair. You’re not sure if he’s smiling, but you think you see a crinkle at the corner of his eye that comes from a smile.
“I know,” he whispers. It’s a better answer than “I love you too.” Because you’re glad he knows that you care without you having to say it. The fact that he’s accepting your help is a way of saying he loves you back without having to actually sleep.
“Let’s have some pizza and look at some plane tickets. Okay?”
He nods and slowly unfolds himself. You help him up.
You have a dream that is so vivid. You have them almost every night now, and each one is easier to remember and clearer than the last.
You usually dream about your apartment, but it’s different than the one you have now. It has different possessions and you see robots walking around it, a small square one and sometimes a very tall one in a robe.
You dream of the ocean and the seagulls. You dream about the boy with green eyes and a girl with pure pink eyes who always looks so happy to see you and she hugs you so tightly, and you feel the same protectiveness for her as you did the time you held her hand in your first weird dream.
You dream of light blue eyes that make you feel warm and loved.
Tonight, you live the vivid dream. You can fly, and you come to an odd surfaced planet. There’s lava on the ground and there’s sparkled space filling the sky. It blinks behind you as you watch all hell break loose below you. You see the green-eyed boy that you care so much about. You see the two girls you care so much about.
And then you see your brother. He’s flying like you can, chasing something. With all the chaos going on, you know you have to keep him safe, so you rush after him. It’s so easy to move in this dream, it’s as if you’re really there, but somehow you know you’re dreaming, yet you know what you’re supposed to do.
You call your brother’s name and he suddenly stops flying and lands to the ground, turning to face you quickly. You land hardly a foot away from him, and you can hear all the horrible stuff in the distance, but right then you’re just holding your brother’s gaze through shades.
He looks like another bro. The brother from this dream person you’re being. You miss him even though you know him, as if he’s been gone all your life, and all you want to do his hold him because you thought he was dead.
He calls you Bro. He says it softly, just once. Then he says “Dirk” right after with a tilt of his head.
So you say “Dave” just as softly and simply.
You both move for a mutual hug. It’s fast, because you know he’s busy, but it’s tight, because you both know who the other is and you both know you’re not the real bro you’re looking for, but it’s as close as you’re going to get.
And then you wake up with a gasp. You think you yell Dave’s name.
Your head hurts. You remember everything. You remember everything.
There’s a sound down the hall from Dave’s room as he comes out of hiding.