Rating: PG-13 I guess for violence, minor language
Warnings: None that come to mind offhand, apart from general mental instability
Summary: Jockey's the only one who knows what's going on. She's the only one who understands. And she's the only one who knows that everything is fine. Just fine.
Everything is fine. Everything is fine.
If it isn't fine, then it'll be fine, eventually. That's how it works. Jockey knows the rules, Jockey knows how it all works. She can see things that the others can't, see things and sometimes in more than one way but she doesn't tell them that part. It's only little things, little small things, things that are okay. Things that aren't bad. Little things. Little moving things, sometimes. Her mom. That was a dream, though. She's almost sure of that.
Everything is fine.
She knows how it works. She can see the lines that hold everything together, those invisible forces that guide them from place to place, that keep them safe. She can see those, she knows. Lorelei showed her just the other day, just yesterday, an hour ago, she showed her like she shows her all her games. Jockey lying behind her on her couch as she would talk and explain and talk and explain and put things into little categories, explain it all. These things happen because they have to, these items are here because they are meant to be here. This level is this length because it is supposed to be, at the end of this corridor is the treasure chest that has the item that will beat the boss. Everything has a purpose. Everything has a point, everything works. It all makes sense, and once you know how it works, there's no need to be afraid. You'll always know what to do.
She knew how it worked. She knows how it works. Everything is fine, she can see how it all slots into place, how it all makes so much sense and they are heroes, they are survivors, this was made for them. This was all made for them, this is their world and it's tailored for them, everything they find found for a reason, there's no reason to worry. Everything is fine. Every ammo cache is planned, every blocked off route intentional, every sudden encounter accounted for, every health pack inevitable, every safe room meant for them, health and rest their reward for surmounting the assigned challenges. Jockey remembers Lorelei explaining it. When you step outside and look in, everything makes more sense. She steps outside a lot.
She remembers Lorelei talking to her, telling her about her games, telling her about her music, telling her about a lot of things. She remembers sitting in her house during the summer when it was so hot. She remembers how she looked when she laughed and the color of her skin. She does not remember finding her dismembered body and her intestines were strewn across the pavement. She does not remember that.
Everything is fine.
The others don't understand but that's okay. They don't see things the way she does. They're inside, and she's outside. They don't see the wires around them, outside them, the screen. How it all falls into place. How they're going to win eventually, how everyone they're looking for is just waiting for them, out there. Somewhere. They don't see it. "It's no problem," Lorelei would tell her, "if you run out of lives. There are always continues."
Everyone has continues. Even everyone they loved who died- who looked like they'd died. It's temporary, it isn't real. They'll be back, it's okay. Everyone always comes back. Continues. That made sense. Everything is fine. They don't understand, but that's okay.
Everything is fine. Sometimes she wakes up covered in blood.
Everything is fine.
Her friends don't see things the way she does. That's okay. Everything is okay. There's nothing to worry about. Even if she forgets, someone out there is keeping track, is keeping score for her, is waiting for her to reach the right point and then she'll find everyone again. Mom, Dad, Travis and Lorelei, they're all waiting for her somewhere up ahead. So she keeps going, because she can't quit now. They need her. Everyone needs her to keep going.
The others don't quit either. Sometimes they want to, she can tell, but she tells them to keep going. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they don't. She tells them about how it all works, the game they're in and they just look at her and shake their heads, or Smoker swears at her, and maybe it's easier for them not to focus on the goal. Maybe they don't want to be distracted. Maybe they want to be more immersed.
She can see things they can't. She can see the outlines of the world around them. She can see things they can't, and Charger has to pry her hands off her gun so she stops shooting the wall. But it's okay.
It's all okay. Really. It's all okay.
She doesn't like sleeping very much. None of them really do, so that makes her feel a little better. Even though Hunter and Smoker sleep on top of each other, hug each other like they're big stuffed animals, they have nightmares. Charger has nightmares. She has nightmares almost constantly. She claws at the air, and she gasps out what might be words, but they never form.
Jockey wishes David would just show up again already.
Jockey dreams that they all die. She dreams that it's not a game. She dreams that Lorelei is going to come back and eat her. She dreams that Travis is shoving his hand into her chest. She dreams that she is falling, falling, falling, and there is no one there, and she is alone, and it doesn't end. She dreams that the world is on fire, nothing but ash and noise, and Charger yanks her out of the way of a falling beam, and sometimes it gets hard to tell.
Falling, falling, falling. But she always wanted to fly, right?
Everything is fine.
The lights go out in their building. They scramble for flashlights in the darkness, the scrape of metal against the floor, her eyes trying to adjust and there's no one there, alone and something breathing on her neck, claws around her face and she's on her back and Charger is staring at her and shouting her name. Hunter is behind her and the look on her face makes her laugh. Actually she doesn't remember starting, just becoming aware that she was doing it. Smoker shouts at her to just stop for once, just fucking stop it. Stop being so goddamn crazy.
Everything is fine.
There's always meaning. There's always some kind of structure, something she can see. She can see around things, she can see the big picture, that this all isn't real. Not how the others see it. Maybe that's why she can't remember chunks of time very well, maybe that's what it takes. Maybe that's the cost of being able to see it all, to know how things will work out, to know that at the end of the game, they'll all be okay. Everyone will be okay.
She wakes up and she's stabbing something in the chest over and over again. Someone's arms wrap around her, pull her backwards and hold her tight, and she tries to breathe and remember where she is. Who she is. What's going on.
"Jockey, Jockey, just stop. It's dead, it's dead. It's okay." Hunter is breathing hard beside her ear, and she starts laughing.
"I know." Of course.
Everything is fine.
They don't give her adrenaline, not after the first time, but sometimes she finds it. Sometimes they need it. Sometimes she blacks out and when she comes back things are okay again. They're there, and they're okay. Or they're not okay, but she can do something about it. She saves them, over and over, from the endless horde of monsters and they thank her but sometimes they seem nervous around her.
She doesn't know why. She can see things, connect things they can't, relate things back to reality, to how things really are, and that's not that strange. Anyone can do that, if they want to. She can remember the real world they left behind for this game, she can remember all the songs she used to know. She can remember who gave them to her. She can remember when she found them. She can remember the words. It's all real. They're trapped in whatever this is, whatever this thing is, surrounded by monsters and trying to reach the ending, but she can remember the real world, how it works, what it's like. She can remember the world waiting for them, where everyone's waiting for them to wake up. To reach the ending and wake up and find them again. Where her Mom and Dad and everyone are waiting for her. They're in the real world, and they're almost there, but not quite, and she can see it. She can see how fragile it all is as it holds them together.
Sometimes she can't though. Sometimes she loses sight of it, she gets tired or scared or hurt or Smoker screams at her to stop hurting everyone, and she isn't doing that, and sometimes she loses track of what's going on, what it all means. Where they are, who they are, what they're doing. She loses sight of reality, and she is falling, and she is alone.
Hunter is trying to tell her to stop crying. She isn't crying, because everything is fine, but sometimes it's hard to remember that. Sometimes it's really hard to remember that, and Hunter holds her and she keeps falling.
Sometimes she doesn't want to play anymore. She wants to quit. She wants to go home. It's been nice at your house Lorelei but I want to go home now. I want to go home. But she wakes up with her friends, and she is not home. They're always there. Sometimes it's hard to remember there was anything else.
But melodies come to her, words thread through her mind, and she can remember there was something else. The other world, so nearby and so real. Waiting for them. So close sometimes that she can almost touch it, and one time she saw Travis standing at the edge of the building, holding his arms out to her. Their worlds were so close sometimes, they were so close to each other. They were so close.
She was so close before Smoker caught her braid and yanked her back from the roof edge.
Everything is fine.
She loses time. Not always the same amount, not always the same way. She loses time, but sometimes she finds it again. Usually when she sleeps, and it finds her again and she can remember. She can remember when that thing pinned Charger to the ground, began tearing at her with its claws, and she can remember how everything in her snapped into a thin straight line, how all the noise and music stopped and went silent, how there was nothing else. How she knew with perfect clarity what she had to do, how to do it, as she drove the blade into its chest. She could remember how the only thing she felt as she ripped her knife out to sink it in again was how warm its blood felt on her hands. How nice that felt since it was such a cold day, and it screamed and screamed and screamed. She remembered pinning it down with one knee and stabbing it again and again and again, and there was nothing but that thin line. There was no feeling, no remorse, no sadness, no hesitation. She kept stabbing it until it stopped moving, and the blood on her hands was getting cold, and that was too bad. The warmth had been nice. It was dead, and she stood up and looked back at her teammates, and they were staring at her. It was silent, everything was quiet, there was no connection to anything. She stood alone, blade in hand, she listened for other threats, and there was nothing else. She killed and there was nothing, and she waited for the next victim, and there was nothing for that one either. Her body moved, her mind analyzed, she could smell the blood and rot as she tore him apart, and there was nothing. Mind drawn down to a focused pinpoint, to only one thing and one purpose. She killed and killed and killed, until her friends called to her. They called to her, and they sang to her, and the faint melody grew stronger in the nothing of her mind, and she slowly followed it back, and time began again.
She loses time. Sometimes it's better that it stays lost. Sometimes she can't tell when something is a dream or when it's real, and once she brought that up to them. That she couldn't tell, and they furrowed their brows in concern and exchanged glances with each other, as they often did, and Smoker shrugged.
What difference does it make anyway, she'd said. It's all a nightmare now.
And Hunter had changed the subject.
She struggles with it, and she doesn't know if they struggle with it like she does. Maybe that's the cost of knowing, of being aware of their situation. It's not like she wanted it to be this way. She didn't want any of this. She didn't want any of this to happen, she didn't want to sleep and know that she was the kind of person who could kill something and not feel anything. Like a robot.
She can't tell what's worse; when she remembers how she killed something and didn't feel a single thing, or when she killed something and she couldn't stop laughing as she tore it apart.
She's not that person, she doesn't want to be that person, she doesn't want any of this, she doesn't want any of this to be real. It isn't real, she knows it isn't, but sometimes it really feels like it is and it's really hard to tell. She doesn't want to be that person. She doesn't want to be this way.
She'd said that once, after she'd killed the conversation over their meager dinner four times, and Charger had looked at her, and when she blinked her left eye closed slightly slower than her right, and she sighed.
"We know you don't."
Smoker's expression made it clear they didn't all agree with that.
She can see the world around them, she can remember the real world and whatever it is they're in now, and sometimes it doesn't seem to make a single bit of difference. She's still here.
Everything is fine.
When she sleeps sometimes it's hard to tell. Sometimes it's really hard to tell, but she wakes up and she sees things, the reality around them, the replenishing supplies, the triumphant crescendo as they succeed, the finality of the door closing behind them. The power of the empty rooms they found sometimes.
When she sleeps sometimes she opens those doors and finds people inside. Not all the time. Not the same people. But she finds people. Her friends.
Sometimes it's hard to tell.
It rains and the sky grows dark, the air cold, she huddles into her sweater and looks upward. The word rain revolves and circles in her head slowly, each loop around with a new line of words attached like a school of little fish, each lyric slowly completing itself, rising a melody out of her mind and Charger taps her shoulder and interrupts her. She picks the first one that stays, and Hunter knows it so she's not alone this time. It's cold and miserable, and the rain builds in puddles in streets pocked with huge holes from the Tanks and mortar shells, in the empty ruins of buildings and cars. Broken lights flicker, Charger warns them away from places where electric currents could be running through the water, the city looms around them empty and alone.
Everyone around you running on autopilot. Saying the same lines over and over. You're the only one that's real.
Charger takes her hand and pulls her away from the pile of debris she'd been climbing, and Jockey looks up at the sky. It's cold and dark and miserable, and maybe she's the only real person left.
She knows that can't be right though. Her friends are real. Her family is real. They aren't here right now, but they're out there somewhere. And the song in her head is real. That she can remember. She sings, and Smoker rolls her eyes, and Hunter doesn't know this one, so she sings alone. Charger never sings.
She holds her hand, though. She sings, and Charger holds her hand as they thread their way through the wreckage of the world they once knew, and eventually Smoker taps her knuckles against the top of her head.
"Breathe, kid." And she doesn't remember when she started crying either. She doesn't remember a lot of this world.
She remembers the old one though. She remembers that one.
Everything is fine.
They strike a small fire when they reach their safe house, their safe room. Clearly marked, as she knew it would be, as the forces above dictated. Just when they needed it. They strike a small fire and struggle to warm themselves in the dark and cold. There's no electricity where they are, there's no heat aside from the weak flames close to guttering out on the floor. Charger struggles to keep it going, and Hunter tries to keep Smoker warm as she shivers and shivers and curses.
Jockey watches the flames rise and fall, edges burning their way up the sheets of music in her mind, sparks and heat all slowly spreading in every direction, connecting and connecting in a sprawling firestorm of words and notes. This is real. These words are real, these melodies are real.
She talks to herself, to remind herself that she's there. She sees Charger glancing at her, and she tells her everything will be fine. Things will be okay as long as they keep going. Charger doesn't say anything and returns to her work. Jockey tells her they'll find her husband. She's made it her personal mission to find him, because she loves her and wants her to be happy. She loves all of them so much. She wants them to be happy. She wants this to be over.
Charger keeps working. Smoker tells her to shut up. This is real. This is all real. She starts laughing, looking up at the ceiling where the smoke trail vanishes into the darkness, where she can't see anything clearly, and she laughs at the absurdity of it all. Of all of this. Of everything. That she's the only one who can see what's going on. She's the only one who understands how it works. Who knows how to play. Her friend Lorelei explained it all to her just yesterday, it wasn't long ago at all. She explained to her how games worked, and this had to be a game because if it wasn't
if it wasn't
if it wasn't
if it wasn't
She wakes up shivering and Hunter is holding her. Hunter asks her if she feels okay. She doesn't tell her what happened. No one tells her what happened. They look at her, when Hunter gets her up and brings her to breakfast, like they're concerned again, but they don't say anything. They don't explain what happened during her blackout.
Maybe they're used to it. It happens all the time. Maybe it's okay.
Maybe it's okay, as she eats, and Hunter rubs her shoulders. Maybe it's okay, as she loads up her gun and they all set out. Maybe it's okay as she hacks a zombie to pieces, or rather, she's standing next to pieces of what was a body, and they are singing to her, and she follows the sound back to them. Maybe it's okay as she sits down with Smoker and bandages up her arm and gets blood all over her hands, and Smoker's cursing but it probably isn't at her, but she bandages up her arm and the white turns red and she feels something this time, and maybe it's okay when she gets up and they head out again because they can't stay still for very long.
Another safe room, another safe house, another home from home from home from home. She's cold and wet and tired, and to conserve energy and fuel they all huddle beneath the space blanket she keeps packed in her bag, and she curls up in the midst of them, her friends on each side of her, all around her, surrounding her. She closes her eyes, and she focuses on them, on each of them beside her, always there. She thinks about the structure of the world around them, what the force pushing them forward wants, what they should do, what it means and the real world and this fake world, and she pushes it all away for a second and just tries to lose herself in them, instead. In only them as they are, right now, and nothing else, surrounding her and quietly breathing and trembling occasionally, and it's just... easier.
They make this so much easier, and Hunter pats her hand in acknowledgment, and she didn't mean to say that out-loud. She doesn't know what she'd do without them, and Smoker says she'd off herself no doubt, you crazy broad and Hunter punches her. Jockey didn't intend to say that either.
Kill yourself. The thought echoes in her head, back and forth, and nothing attaches to it, and she shudders. Hunter punches Smoker again and Smoker says she's sorry but obviously doesn't mean it. Charger tells them both to knock it off, and they quiet down.
Charger says she's glad she met all of them too. In so many words. No one says anything to that for a while. All Jockey can do is feel for a few intense moments. She laughs and hugs her, and Smoker sighs and asks if she can skip the lovefest this time. Hunter punches her again.
You're my best friends, and those words explode in a star burst in her mind, words flashing into looping trails, long lines, a huge spider web of sparkling light and the hundreds of songs that interweave and intertwine around the concept, the feeling, a beautiful explosion of music that's almost blinding. To the point where it's all she can see.
I love you all so much. You make me blind. They don't understand that, not that she meant to say it, and the tone in her voice makes Hunter ask her what song that was from. It sounded familiar.
I don't know where I'd be without you. She doesn't say it out-loud this time. She clings to them tighter, Charger letting out a quiet huff of air as she squeezes her, and she feels Hunter pat her shoulder again, and Smoker grumbles. She can hear them, she can feel them near her, she can feel the warmth slowly growing underneath their thin protection, she can think of nothing else, just them. Losing herself, and falling. Flying.
Maybe it's okay.
They'll keep going. She'll keep going.