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And it's a long way back from seventeen

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It was not the memory of your own death that punched through you when your eyes fell on your pollen-covered car in the middle of a magic forest, although there was certainly that. It was other, equally disturbing memories of a time you were inattentive and gullible and thought the best of everyone. Disturbing now, because the instant of his betrayal has overshadowed the years of friendship you shared, but not disturbing then, when you called him your best friend and he called you his, even though he was seeing your girlfriend behind your back and pretended like you didn't know about it.

You also called him Barry, but only in your head, because he hated being addressed with anything other than his last name, which you thought was boring, because everyone did it, but you respected his preference, calling him by his last name like every other douchebag out there, although you were sure you two had something special, what with your mission to find that king of his and all. You remember wishing he would use your given name, because family names create a distance you don't want and because you were interested to hear if his voice would make your name sound like magic, the way it did with Glendower. It must be pretty neat to be a mystical king and have people pronounce your name like it's something holy, like it's an incantation, like they could raise you from the dead just by saying it right.

Those are the things you remember when you think of him, the easy things, joyful and painful, but never boring. He was a good roommate, even if he had too many arbitrary ground rules which you ignored, or complained about your music, or kicked you out when he wanted to get frisky with his newest girlfriend. But he let you talk about the crazy ideas that came to you in dreams, even if you suspected he wasn't listening, and he never told on you when he caught you smoking weed. Sometimes, he would join you and those quiet moments of chilling out with your best friend were your favorite.

The things you don't remember are the difficult ones, the things you were blind to, the things you didn't want to acknowledge, the things that were better not thought about.

You're reliving them in the forest, on fast-forward, really re-living, as if you're still alive, as you're right there, as if you're suspended in the presence and diving back into another consciousness, another old body of yours, although it's all happening simultaneously and there's nothing you can do to stop it.

It punches through you and you double over and you retch.

 

There is no escaping this, is what you think, seven years back. You're, like, doomed or some shit. You must be –

how else would you describe that creepy-crawly feeling that overcomes you whenever he's in the room, like when your heart's going bumpity-bump, your palms are breaking out in sweat and your breath is getting stuck somewhere on its way to your mouth, because you want to say something to ease the tension but cannot trust your tongue to actually form phrases that make sense to anyone but you (Adele says you think too fast for your mouth to catch up with and so you cause traffic accidents of word strings and sentence fragments – screech! crash! kersploosh! there they went, alas, poor souls! – that tumble over each other in their haste to get out because there's a thought inside you you cannot wait to share)

how else would you describe the excuses you come up with just to catch a whiff of his cologne under his starched uniform, like when he's at his desk studying and you nearly climb on his back in search of cell reception that's spotless at Aglionby, but hey, maybe your phone's fried or something, who knows, or like when you pretend you didn't hear him in the bathroom just so that you could walk in on him shaving or washing his face – about the only times he leaves the door unlocked – or like when you're ditching skateboard practice to hang out with him even though you barely understand what he's talking about because you're too busy watching his lips move, nor do you care that much if you're being honest, but you like seeing the fever that drives his search and you become infected with it

how else would you describe the guilty hand that slips beneath your waistband at night, imagining him crowding you against your Mustang or into a deserted corner of the library, imagining his mouth against your neck, his breath in your ear, his baritone vibrating around the syllables of your name, while another hand stifles the inevitable giggle that is born of the horrible pun you're making in your head, and you're curled on your side, knuckles between your teeth, shaking, hoping he doesn't hear you, although part of you does hope he hears you, hopes he'd come over to your side of the room, sit on your mattress, and touch your bare shoulder – you wouldn't know what you would do about that, him touching you intimately, brush his fingers along your collarbone your neck your chin, and you're losing yourself in that wishful thinking, it's easier than making it a reality; it's only one of many possible realities, but possibility pleases you more than certainty – as long as there are adventures for you to explore, you don't have to settle for anything and that's freedom.

 

In the end, you were doomed. It was your unquestioning heart, your lack of vigilance and your thirst for adventure that doomed you. You were selfish and you didn't bother with news and so you didn't consider the consequences his family's scandal would have for him. You were too stoned to care.

Even if your sunny personality could not have thawed out the darkness in his soul, you still weren't a good friend to him at the time.

You come back to the moment of your death after it has been unlocked, brought painfully to the forefront of your mind by the reappearance of your Mustang, and your reenactment of it serves as an antidote to grief.

You tell yourself you shouldn't have trusted him.

You tell yourself you couldn't have known.

You tell yourself you should have been there for him.

It's easy, in retrospect, to revise your opinion of someone. Your opinion of yourself. But you're dead and your opinion no longer matters.

All that matters is that you regret having been so naive, but what you regret even more than trusting him is not taking your chances.

You should have told him how you feel. He might have rejected you, might have thrown your friendship back in your face, might have laughed about you with your girlfriend he was banging, and while all of that sounded worse than anything at the time, you're sure of one thing: nothing could have been worse than the circumstances of your death.

If you had the chance, you would do it over. You would tell him. You would face the consequences, no matter how soul-crushing.

You would live, fully, no regrets this time.