Duncan's eyes shot open, and he drank in the darkness. Shadows flitted across the walls and disappeared into the crack in the ceiling. He felt the chill, starting somewhere deep inside of him, and then crawling up his spine, trying to escape but unable to find an outlet, and instead just taking his body hostage.
Terrified, still in that place where he was neither asleep nor awake, where he couldn't quite distinguish fantasy from reality, not that he ever seemed to be able to, he stretched out his hand and found another, bound in a leather glove, to clamp onto. Bridge stirred. "Duncan?" There was a rustle, then the lamp switched on, bathing the pale walls in orange light, making Duncan wince. Bridge rolled over on his side, propping himself on an elbow, eying Duncan with concern. "Are you okay?"
"She was here." The chill centered itself between his shoulder blades, then spread to all points in his body at once, making him shudder.
Bridge frowned. "Lilly?"
"She was here." He'd never mentioned it to Logan or Veronica. He knew what they would have said. Logan had staunchly removed all traces of Lilly from his life, and drank away what he couldn't physically erase. Veronica couldn't stand to be in the same room with Duncan half the time, and just when they'd worked their way back to a tentative friendship, she'd accused him of rape, and he'd let it slip that it was worse than that. It was bad enough that he had their hatred and disgust. He certainly didn't want or need their pity. He had only told his parents once about Lilly, convinced that they, of all people, would understand why. But they'd upped his dosage, and his psychiatrist visits, and did their very best to pretend that their only son, their heir, their future president, was just grieving and not insane.
But Bridge had seen more weirdness in his corner of the world than Duncan could ever dream up even after a marathon of the Sci-Fi channel while he was on the strongest of his pills. Bridge hadn't blinked when Duncan had confessed one night that sometimes he saw his dead sister.
"Here here, or here," Bridge tapped his head, "here?"
"I don't know. She was sitting in the chair, and she was talking to me, but I don't know if I was awake or not. Does it matter?" Of course it mattered. There was a world of difference between things you saw when you were asleep, and things you saw when you were awake.
"Well, it makes it easier if she was here," Bridge said. He swung his legs out of bed, and Duncan sat up in alarm.
"Makes what easier?"
Bridge was already peeling off one of his gloves. He stood in front of the chair and held up his hand, waving it around. Duncan couldn't see what Bridge saw, but his husband was trying to do the opposite. He squinted in concentration, moving his hand slowly in what Duncan realized was a pattern. After a moment, he returned to his side of the bed and arranged himself Indian-style on top of the rumpled covers, staring at Duncan with the most seriousness that could ever be seen in his dark eyes.
"Her aura is sort of... I couldn't quite pick a color. Maybe because she's dead, I don't know. It was moving. Shifting. Like she couldn't sit still."
Duncan smiled slightly. The only time he could ever recall Lilly sitting still for longer than a five minute span was when she'd been too drunk to move after a few parties. He'd gotten late night calls to his cell phone, had to sneak out of the house and go and pick her up from Logan's or Dick's or Madison's. It was weird, the things that Duncan took for granted. The only late night calls he'd gotten in the months since Lilly's death were from reporters, cops, and occasionally a plastered and surly Logan. Then he'd gotten married, moved, and hadn't told anyone in Neptune where to locate him. The phone didn't ring too much at the apartment, unless it was from the department store needing one of them to pick up a shift, and Duncan liked the quiet bubble.
"I don't know what she said to you," Bridge continued. "But she was here, Duncan. It's not your imagination. You're as crazy as I am."
Bridge wasn't exactly the pinnacle of 'normal', even in Duncan's messed up life, but somehow, the words were comforting.
"What'd she say?" Bridge asked quietly, picking up one of Duncan's hands and folding it between his.
"She said thank you," said Duncan. "I don't really understand what for, though. Thanks for not killing her?"
Bridge hefted a shoulder. "I'd thank someone for that."
"They don't really make greeting cards for that particular situation," agreed Duncan. He knew he was falling back into that facade, joking and bantering and hiding the fact that he had a very loose grasp of the reality around him. He also knew that unlike his '09er friends back in Neptune, Bridge could see right through that.
Bridge pressed his lips to Duncan's decisively. "She loves you. She wasn't angry. I think she wanted to come say goodbye."
Duncan wanted to believe it. Needed to believe it. For weeks, he had the content of that video playing on the backs of his eyelids. He'd sat stiffly through a trial, looking across the room at the father of his best friend, someone who'd always met Duncan with friendly (though more likely than not insincere) greetings, someone who had looked heroically into the camera in film after film, someone who turned out to be a stone cold killer.
But Duncan had no memories. That video, the testimonies, his own hard knowledge of Lilly's behaviors and mannerisms ingrained into his brain, those were the best anyone could offer him. It wasn't enough. It was like having a CD, but one of the songs was missing, so someone at the last minute did a karaoke version and stuck it into the album. Duncan could never get those three days back, would never know what really happened, would never know for absolutely certain that it wasn't him that killed Lilly.
Bridge knew this. Bridge had stuck by him through many wasted afternoons, watching as Duncan drank his liquor and choked down his pills and lost his mind. Bridge didn't need his powers to see the black spots on Duncan's soul. But Bridge, for whatever reason, didn't seem to care that Duncan was damaged goods. He loved the things that he loved, and embraced faults because it never occurred to him to do otherwise.
Duncan's father thought he was a killer. Duncan's mother thought he was a nutcase. Duncan's best friend thought he was a loser. Duncan's girlfriend thought he was a rapist. It didn't matter what Duncan's sister thought of him, because she was dead. For the past year, Duncan had been floating in a pool of darkness. Neptune was the sea god holding his head underwater. So he'd left. Bridges had been mended, bridges had been burnt, and in the end, there was only Bridge.
She'd shown up in a pink dress, not the pep club outfit that she'd died in. Her hair was straight and not matted, her face was bright and not crusted with a bloody wound. She was the Lilly that he knew, the Lilly that he remembered, and not the gory image that haunted him for months, taunting him about the three days that he couldn't recall. Just because the packaging changed didn't mean that the present wasn't as important.
It had been the only thing that Lilly had said to him. A (too short) lifetime of ceaseless chatter, narrowed down into two simple words. And Duncan finally understood. Thank you for moving out. Thank you for moving on. Thank you for taking that serious and submissive sibling and stepping out of its shell. Thank you for being unafraid. Thank you for finally being yourself.
Duncan leaned into Bridge hungrily, curling his fingers around the back of Bridge's neck. There was a surge of light searing away the last traces of that undead chill, and he wanted to share that. He pressed his body against his husband, trying to embrace Bridge into this newfound warmth, only to discover that Bridge had it, too.
Thank you for waking up.