As owner, it is your prerogative to help yourself to your nightclub's bar after closing.
You're on either your fourth or seventh drink when you hear a tap at the door. You sigh and go to stand up - whoa. Take a minute to steady yourself against the counter (and wonder who the hell goes clubbing at four-thirteen in the morning?) before you begin to make your way to the door.
You trip over something you can't quite see in the half-darkness and catch yourself on the door frame. There's another tap at the door, and you heave another sigh. Why today, of all days? "We're closed. Go away."
"Dave? It's me, Jade." You freeze, blinking. Jade? That Jade? "Um, could you let me in? Please?" There's a tremor in her voice that says sooner would be much better than later.
You open the door, and with a burst of hot night air in your face there she is, looking exactly the same as always. Long dark hair, brown eyes peering out from behind enormous glasses, and that grin with just a hint of a cute overbite. "Hi, Dave! Can I come in?"
You blink again. "Uh, yeah. Sure. Come on in." You hold the door open, and she ducks inside. You notice the crack dealers and hobos across the street and feel a rush of anger - no wonder she was nervous standing out there. You tip down your shades and scatter them with a glare before slamming the door shut and locking it.
She's walking through the empty club, looking around with interest. "This is a really nice place. And it's all yours?"
"Yeah," you reply, still standing by the door while you wait for the room to stop moving. "I mean, my bro helped pick it out, and he fronted me about half the down payment, but I've paid him back so it's all mine. And there's a pretty sweet apartment upstairs, so I finally got away from his goddamn puppets. But how did you find m- it?"
She laughs, and the sound echoes in the large, empty space. "You named it 'Lohac'. Feeling uncreative that day?" she teases. She sits on a barstool, the one next to the one you were using. She notices your empty glass. "Drinking? Alone? Now we can't have that."
You smirk and slide behind the bar. "What'll it be? And don't knock the name. Didn't Rose name her third book 'Of Light And Rain'?"
"Just a Coke is fine." She keeps talking as you fill the glass. "At least Rose didn't use her real name for her writing. The 'Tales of the Seer' are by the reclusive award-winning author Theodora Thomson."
You set the Coke in front of her and pour yourself another scotch. "Yeah. Who'd she think she was fooling with that one, anyway?" The scotch doesn't burn going down anymore - just a warmth in the pit of your stomach.
Jade doesn't miss a thing, though. "How many of those have you had tonight?" Before you can stop her, she's leaning over the bar to count your empty glasses. "Eight?! Dave, what's gotten into you?"
You stare at the glass in your hand. With your extra abilities, losing count is more than a bit of a novelty. "Eight, really? Wow. New record." She whips around to glare, and you look away. "It's not that big of a deal, calm down."
"It's a huge deal. Dave, this isn't like you, what's going on? Are you drinking like this every night?"
"So what if I am? It's not your job to look out for me, Harley- "
"Well obviously you need it, Strider, or you'd probably be passed out on the floor by now- "
"It's my floor and my life, I can do what I want- "
"You're going to kill yourself!"
"Now she gets it!" you yell, and suddenly you realize the volume of your conversation has been steadily increasing. You take off your shades and set them down carefully, rubbing at your temples. "Do you even know what day it is?"
Her voice is hard. "Of course I do."
Your eyes are still closed, and you're facing away from her. "Ten years, Jade. Actually, nine years, three hundred and sixty-four days, eighteen hours, thirty-two minutes and twelve seconds since we started that game. In six hours, twenty-eight minutes and thirty seconds, it will have been exactly ten years. A decade, Jade. Almost half my life. And do you know how I've spent that decade? With this hypersensitivity to every single second that passes, every single minute, every single hour, every single day a constant reminder that I'll never be normal, that none of us will ever be anything close to normal again. Maybe we never were, I don't know. And even without that lovely gift from the Game, there's the nightmares. There's waking up in a cold sweat thinking Jackspers Noirlecrow has his sword at my throat or your throat or Rose's or John's, and not even being able to tell myself that it was just a dream because it wasn't, it was a memory, and I could have died and you could have died and we all could have died a hundred thousand times in that goddamn Game, and in another time you and John did die and someone had to fix that, and it's always me, why did I have to fix things and repair the timestream, I was just a kid, we were all just kids, and that Game twisted us and broke us and then just dropped us back into the real world like we're supposed to just go on with our lives like nothing ever happened- "
And her arms are around you, and there's something wet on your face, and when did you start crying and she's murmuring soothing nonsense and you suddenly feel like the world's biggest asshole. She didn't need this dumped on her, she doesn't need your problems, she's got her own shit to deal with, why the hell would she want to hear about yours?
You wrap your arms around her, trying to stop your hands from shaking, and you both just stay there for a while. And it's almost nice except that your head's fuzzy from the scotch and it kind of hurts from crying, and she's leaning a bit awkwardly from her barstool which can't be very comfortable, so you lean towards her but overbalance and almost fall yourself. And you catch yourself on the bar and laugh, and she laughs with you, because it's not funny but you need something to break that awkwardness after a tender moment. "I am way too drunk for this shit. Or not drunk enough," you mutter, almost to yourself.
But Jade hears and her face gets that determined look that always either meant victory or disaster was imminent. "Oh no you don't, Strider. You're going to bed to sleep off those drinks. Come on, up you get," and she hops off her stool and pulls you off yours, and you almost fall again and laugh because laughing is better than crying. She pulls your arm over her shoulders and together you make your way slowly up the stairs to your apartment. You fish your key out of your pocket but can't unlock the door because there are two keyholes, since when are there two keyholes, so Jade takes the key and unlocks the door and you stumble inside together.
She gets you to your room and helps you out of your jacket, and you fall onto the bed and she pulls off your shoes, and tucks you in, and takes off your shades and puts them on the bedside table, and it's all really nice. But then she moves toward the door and something that's not quite panic makes you ask, "Jade?"
She turns. "Yeah?"
"Will you still be here when I wake up?" The question seems to startle her, and she takes a moment before she answers.
"Do you want me to be?"
She smiles softly. "Then I will. Goodnight, Dave."
And for the first time in years, you sleep without dreaming.
You wake up to the smells of coffee and something unidentifiable but mouthwatering, and the sound of someone moving around your kitchen, For a minute you're confused as all hell, and then you remember - Jade - getting drunk - spilling your guts - being pathetic. And then she promised to be here in the morning.
That last thought makes you smile, but then you push back the blankets and sit up and your head remembers exactly how much you drank last night. You groan and lean forward, clutching your head to keep your skull from cracking open. What you need is some hair of the dog.
As if to purposely contradict that idea, Jade appears in your doorway. For a moment you forget your headache and just stare. She's in an apron. An honest-to-god apron, And she has a breakfast tray. You didn't even know you owned a breakfast tray, let alone an apron.
"Good morning!" she chirps in a singsong voice, and that's enough to set your head off again. You groan and fall back against the pillows. She bustles into the room and sets the tray on your lap, sitting at the foot of your bed. "Well, technically good afternoon, since it's- "
"I know what time it is." You open your eyes again and lean up. There's a vase on the breakfast tray. And a flower in the vase. You don't even notice the food, you're so thrown by the flower and the vase and the tray and the apron and what the hell has gotten into Jade?
She's chattering cheerfully while you stare at the tray like an idiot. "I got up around nine, but you were still out cold so I went out for some groceries, man can't live on cup noodles and frozen dinners alone, Dave. So I got a few staples, eggs and bread and milk and such, and I figured some bacon for breakfast would be nice. But when I got back you were still asleep, so I figured I'd cook so it would be there when you woke up, and you'd better eat all of it, Dave, or you'll live to regret it, I promise," and there's that determined look that you're not sure you find adorable or terrifying.
You pick up a fork and put some eggs in your mouth to keep her happy, and what do you know she's actually a pretty good cook. Soon the eggs are gone and so's the bacon, and you drink half the cup of coffee as you eat your toast. The caffeine seems to help your headache, and you're feeling a lot less like shit than you're used to after one of those nights.
But you're still a bit confused, because you're not used to this anniversary being a happy occasion. You're not used to having anything to remember how you spent it - just a timeless, drunken blur. You're not sure you'll like being sober today.
But if sober means having Jade and coffee and breakfast in bed, you think as you push your tray away, then maybe it's not so bad.
"So," you ask as you finish the last of the coffee, "how are John and Rose spending the anniversary?"
She blushes a bit and looks away - not nearly the reaction you were expecting. "Actually, Dave, I have a confession to make. I had an ulterior motive for coming here last night."
You set down the mug. "What's that?"
She presses her lips together nervously, then blurts "John and Rose are getting married."
Okay, that's it. This day officially cannot get any weirder. "Wha... but... since when?!"
"Since he asked and she said yes. About two months ago, I guess. I just found out last week when Rose asked me to go dress-shopping with her."
Suddenly you're feeling just a bit left out of the group. "And when was I gonna find out about all this?"
She smiles placatingly at this. "Well, that's the whole point. We've been trying to find you. John wants you to be his best man."
Your head is spinning, and you really wish you had a drink, if only to blame it on. "Me? But... why me?"
She snorts. "Gee, I dunno, maybe because you're his best friend?" She gives you a friendly shove. "Come on, is it really that huge of a surprise?"
"Yeah, kinda." Your headache is coming back. You reach for your shades. "Did they set a date yet?"
"It's gonna be in September, at Rose's new place. She's got this huge house out in the woods, it's gorgeous. I guess writing pays pretty well."
You sigh heavily, and put on your shades. "Okay."
She bounces at the foot of your bed. "Was that 'okay, I understand' or 'okay, I'll do it'?"
"Okay, I'll do it." Jade squeals and throws herself across the bed, hugging you around the waist. "Alright, jesus, calm down, it's not like it's your wedding."
"Come on, get up, we have to go tell them!" She tugs on your arm, impatient and so very like you remember.
"Jade, for fuck's sake, calm down already! And get out of my room, I need to get changed." You're suddenly aware that you've been in the same shirt and pants for over twenty-four hours. "And maybe a shower."
"Well, hurry up!" she says, gathering up the tray. "I'm gonna go call Rose and tell her. Twenty minutes, got it?"
"Got it." She shuts the door behind her, and you lean back against your pillows for just a moment. Best man, huh? Best friend... it's more than worth being sober for once to see Jade's face light up like that. And it's been what, four, five years since you've talked to John or Rose, even over Pesterchum. You've got some catching up to do.
You throw off the covers, lurch out of bed, and prepare to face the day.
Seventeen minutes and forty-seven seconds later, you're a new man. Well, not really, but at least you're clean and in fresh clothes and you spent four minutes and thirteen seconds making sure your hair has exactly the right "I-don't-really-care-I'm-just-naturally-this-good" tousle, and that's close enough to being a new man. You're still hung over and completely baffled by the fact that you won't be spending this anniversary alone with a bottle, but there's no helping that.
Jade's cleaning up from breakfast, and you feel the slightest pang of guilt. "Here, let me help." And as she hands you a dishtowel with a smile and thanks, you're struck by the most bizarre feeling - normalcy. This is what normal life is like, when normal people help their normal friends put their normal dishes and silverware away, and then go to spend time with their other normal engaged friends, because what's more normal than being in love and getting married?
You haven't been normal in years. You're not sure if you remember how.
You push that thought away as Jade shuts the drawer. "Alright, let's go," she says. "I called Rose - we're gonna meet at her place. You're driving."
"And why is that? I don't even know where her place is, remember?"
"Because I don't have a car and don't you dare try to deny the fact that you're dying to show off the Ferrari I saw parked out back."
You grin, part sheepish and part smartass. "Yeah, she is beautiful, isn't she? And what do you mean you don't have a car? How did you get here?"
"Public transportation. Some of us care about the rapidly deteriorating environment." Jade grabs her bag - you didn't even notice it last night, you were so mentally and emotionally out of it - and slings it over one shoulder. "Your car is a 'she'? What's 'her' name, if you don't mind me asking?"
You feel your cheeks start to get red. Damn, why did you have to say "she"? Why couldn't you say "it" like a normal person? "None of your business, filthy hippie." She pouts, and you tilt your shades down and grin to let her know you're kidding. "Ready to go?"
"Dave, I've been ready for hours. It's your lazy ass that wouldn't get out of bed." You blink - you'd forgotten that Jade can give as good as she gets sometimes.
You grab your car keys from the shelf by the door. "Well then, let's go already."
And that's how you find yourself, just slightly hungover, driving to Rose's with a human GPS in your passenger seat, giving directions. "Take a left in seventy-two feet, and follow that road for exactly one and a half miles until you get to a three-way intersection, where you'll go right."
You glance over and, yep, her eyes aren't even open. She'd fiddled with the radio as soon as you started the car, and found some classical station. She's smiling as she listens, her hand making little conducting motions in the air.
You smirk and turn your eyes back to the road, making the left. "I'm guessing this is some sort of 'Witch of Space' thing?"
Her eyes open, and she grins back. "Uh-huh. I literally can't get lost, even if I try. You could drop me blindfolded in the middle of the Sahara and I'd be home in three days."
"Sounds useful. More useful than what I've got, at any rate." As soon as the words are out of your mouth, you regret them. You were hoping to avoid this subject of conversation.
The awkward pause lasts for one minute and four seconds when she asks, "Dave, how long have you been drinking?"
Twenty seconds later, you pull over and shut off the car. "Now? You really want to do this now?"
"It's either with me now or with Rose in twenty minutes, and do you really want to be psychoanalyzed to within an inch of your life?" Her words are light, but something in her tone of voice means business. "Answer the question, Dave. How long?"
You rest your arms on the wheel and lay your head on your arms. "Off and on since I was seventeen. I had a beer at some party, I don't even remember who was there or what it was for, just that the more I drank the less I could hear the ticking in my head." You replay that last sentence in your head, and laugh harshly. "God, I sound like a lunatic."
Her hand is at the middle of your back, rubbing in small circles, and it's soothing enough to get you to continue. "After that, I started sneaking my bro's. If he noticed, he didn't care enough to say anything. It was just a drink or two, once in a while, when things were really bad. But then things started getting really bad all the time, and so it was a few more drinks. And a few more." You turn your head towards her. "Pretty soon the only time I was sober was when I made music. I know it's not okay, but it's the only thing that helps."
You lean back against the seat, and Jade removes her hand. "I don't know how to deal with this any other way."
She laces her fingers through yours. "Who said you have to do it alone?"
Rose's hair is longer than it used to be.
You and Jade get out of the car and start walking toward her. She steps off the porch to meet you halfway. You notice the longer hair and the fact that her face is totally blank and emotionless. You crack an awkward smile. "Hey, Lalonde. Been awhile since-"
The force of the blow whips your head around, and your cheek is on fire. You lift one hand to feel your face - did that ring of hers draw blood? - and slowly turn back to her.
Now she shows some emotion. Her eyes are hard, and her mouth is twisted into a crooked line. "Where the fuck have you been, Strider?!"
You're still agape from the slap. "You hit me."
"You're damn right I hit you! Do you have any idea what we've been going through?! Searching the globe for you, you pretentious, overconfident piece-of-shit excuse for a friend." Now you know you're in deep - the number of curses goes up with her blood pressure. It's something you used to keep track of in the old days. "John's dad, my mom, Jade's god-only-knows-what resources, all looking for you, and in the meantime we didn't know if you were in some drugged-up haze somewhere, or broke and living on the streets, or in a coma, or dead or-" her eyes have gone all shiny, oh fuck please don't let her start crying, you can't deal with your own issues, let alone hers.
You try to lighten the mood a bit. "Gee, Rose, I didn't know you cared."
Bad move. Her eyes get hard again, although the force of her anger is somewhat lessened when she sniffles and rubs her nose (just like she used to, when you always pretended not to notice). "Of course I care, you dumbshit. You're my sort-of brother and my fiancé's best friend. Don't make me hit you again."
You do the only thing you can think of, which is to open your arms. Apparently it's the right move this time, because she steps into your hug and squeezes you tight. You mutter into her too-long hair "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," over and over like a mantra.
Three minutes and thirty-one seconds later, she steps back, eyes and nose red. You pull a handkerchief out of your pocket - hell yes, you're that suave - and hand it to her. She dabs at her eyes and blows her nose like a trumpet, fisting the silk up in one hand. "I don't have any excuses," you say, "just apologies. And promises to never disappear again." You glance over at Jade. "I think Harley's made it her personal mission to make sure of that." That at least gets Rose to chuckle a bit. Point to you.
Jade steps forward, slinging her bag over her shoulder. "Yup - I ain't letting you out of my sight," she quips. She moves to give Rose a hug. "Where's John?"
"On his way. He had to deal with something, for work or his dad. Or both." Rose sighs, absently fiddling with her ring. "I didn't tell him you were coming. I didn't want to get his hopes up, in case you-" she blushes, and all of a sudden things are awkward again.
"In case I bailed, or made an ass of myself and you threw me out." You smile, and hope she doesn't notice it's forced. "It's okay, Rose. I did some dumb shit. I'm gonna stop. And I'll be clean and sober for the wedding."
Oops. "Clean and sober? Exactly what kind of 'dumb shit' are we talking about, here?" She's got her therapist face on. Shit.
You turn to look at Jade. "You said you told her!"
Jade's smiling, but also backing away slowly. "I told her we were on our way. You made assumptions. Not my fault you like jumping the gun."
Rose grabs you both by the hands. "Inside. Now. Group discussion time."
"Well, you know there's a problem, and you're resolved to fix it. Congratulations, you've taken your first steps on the road to recovery."
"Whoopee. Is there any more coffee?" You gaze forlornly into the bottom of your empty mug. "Coffee helps, you know, that whole recovery process. Thing."
Rose sighs, leans back in her chair and closes her notebook. Thank god - this "session" is over. "You have working legs, go get your own coffee."
You pout. "Why are you so mean to me? This is a very vulnerable time - I'm very emotional about all this. I might cry." You attempt to make your lip quiver.
Backfire. Rose snorts and one hand flies to her mouth, trying vainly to hide her laughter. It almost works - until four and a half seconds later, when she splutters, then guffaws with laughter, clutching her sides and rocking back and forth in her chair.
You rise from the couch as haughtily as you can, and give her your best glare. It probably would have worked better if she hadn't been tearing up and gasping for air. "You, Rose Lalonde, are the bitchiest excuse for a sister or a therapist on the planet. I'm gonna go drink my coffee with Jade - at least she doesn't laugh at my suffering." You stalk out of the room -
And almost bump into Jade. Apparently you were wrong about her laughing - she's got her lips pressed together in a way that suggests she's holding in giggles, and her cheeks are very red.
You throw your hands up in exasperation. "What ever happened to privacy?! Or doctor-patient privilege!" That sets her off, and no amount of glaring will shut either girl up. You stomp down the hall and into the kitchen, calling over your shoulder, "I guess I have to go drown my sorrows in caffeine, all alone, because my friends hate me..." You shoulder the kitchen door open, and freeze.
John's leaning against the counter, his own cup in his hand. He doesn't seem to be drinking, though - just watching the steam rise from the cup. He looks up and gives a halfhearted smile. "Hey."
"Hey," you reply. He sets his cup on the counter, and you follow suit. As you pull your hand away, he clasps it and pulls you into a hug.
And fuck, now you might actually cry, and the only words that bubble up from your throat are the same ones you gave to Rose. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." His hand is warm on your back and you close your eyes and squeeze, because what kind of shitty best friend are you, to disappear, and what kind of amazing is he to take you back...
When you pull apart twenty-four seconds later, his eyes are a bit misty too, behind his glasses. "I'm glad you're back, Dave. I missed you."
You're suddenly grateful for your own shades. "Yeah... yeah, missed you too." You cough a bit, trying to dislodge the lump in your throat. "Even if you are the stupidest sonovabitch I've ever met."
He laughs. "Yeah, and you're the most arrogant douchewaffle. So we're even."
And that breaks the awkwardness for a moment, but then it comes rushing back, and you need to say "John, I-"
He holds up a hand. "Stop. I don't want to hear it." His expression softens a bit. "It doesn't matter. You're here now, and you're gonna be my best man when I marry the most amazing girl in the universe." He frowns. "You are gonna be my best man, right?"
You grin, now that the worst is over. "Yeah, I'll be there. As much as I think you're making the biggest mistake ever - she may be my kind-of sister, but have you noticed that she can be such a-"
"I'd avoid finishing that sentence if I were you, David." Rose and Jade are in the doorway. Jade grins, and Rose steps forward to John's side. He wraps an arm around her shoulders, and she smiles. "Hey sweetie, how are things?" And then, oh god, they're doing that disgustingly cute thing just like they always used to.
You pantomime hanging yourself when you're sure Rose can't see, and Jade giggles. Rose snaps out of her saccharine state to shoot you a look that could melt steel. And now she's back to all business. "Alright, Dave, you need to take John out to get his tux. Me and Jade will go look at floral arrangements and table settings. Got it?"
John snaps a salute. "Yes, ma'am!" You roll your eyes behind your glasses and grab his arm, dragging him away.
"Come on, Egbert, let me introduce you to Anita." You freeze, and replay that sentence in your head. Fuck.
"You mean - that cherry convertible out front? That's yours?! Epic!" "Anita?! Oh my god, that's hilarious!!" "Who's Anita?" You resume your dragging of the groom-to-be and try your hardest not to blush. You're doing the right thing - at least, that's what you keep telling yourself...
All the way home, you and John talk about everything and nothing. He's working for his dad's company now. You're club's getting okay business back in the city. Anita the convertible is the best car on the planet.
The top's down, and he leans his head back to enjoy the breeze. You roll your eyes. "Hey jackass. The turn's up here, right?"
"What? Oh, no. Next right." You switch off the turn signal, and keep going straight. "Seriously, Dave, this baby's fantastic. You're so lucky to have her."
"Aren't you the one who's supposed to be getting married? Most people would say you're the lucky guy here, not me."
He chuckles. "Yeah. Guess we're both pretty lucky." You glance over, and the look on his face is stupidly happy. You're not sure if you should smack him or go "aww".
"How long have you two been... you know, together?"
It takes him a moment - about seventeen seconds - to respond. "Honestly, it started with the Game. I mean, I've had a thing for her forever, you remember-"
"Yeah, you were kinda pathetic back then, bro-"
"Shut up. Anyway, this one time we took down like a hundred imps together, it was so awesome, and when we were done she looked over at me and just... kissed me." He's got this tiny little smile on his face, it's almost adorable. "But everything was so crazy back then - well, you know - and after, it was just too much to even contemplate. Just wanted to get back to normal.
"About three, four years ago, we met up in person again - first time since. And it was like nothing had changed. We dated for a few years, I got her a ring, and here we are."
He sighs. "I still can't believe she said yes. I mean, she's so amazing - she's gorgeous, she's the smartest person I've ever met, she's so funny - in that subtle, smart way, yanno? - and she's really in love with me. Me, just some average guy, some working stiff, nothing special-"
You reach over and slap him on the back of the head. "Ow, hey!"
You shake a finger at him. "If I ever hear you talking like that again I'll beat the shit out of you. I don't want to, but it's my duty as your best friend."
"What do you-"
"Yes, she's awesome. She's my sister, it's in the genes. No, you don't deserve her one bit. But sometimes, the universe stops being a heartless bitch and actually gives you something amazing that you don't deserve by mistake. And you're just a big enough idiot to stand around questioning it rather than holding onto her and never letting go, which is what any sane person would do, because the kind of thing you two have comes around maybe once in a lifetime. You are the luckiest bastard son of a whore I've ever met, and don't ever forget it." You pause for a moment, then add, "And if you ever do anything to hurt her in any way, I will personally track you down, and the things I will do will make the Reckoning look like an episode of Squiddles. Got it?"
You sit back, satisfied with your rant. John gives you a look like you just sprouted a third arm from your forehead. "Have you been hanging out with Jade or something...?" he mutters.
"Yup. She's a surprisingly good influence in the area of lovingly kicking the asses of those who need it."
Time passes, as it always has. But the last decade has made you forget - there's more to time than just its inevitable passage. The seconds and minutes and hours each have a memory and a meaning, and those are important too. And the people who make those memories with you are what make them meaningful.
John is scared shitless about the wedding. It's your job, as best friend and best man, to distract him. You find that his taste in music is still the same as his taste in movies - that is, complete bullshit - so you introduce him to some of your newer stuff. The girls often find the two of you spread out in the living room, vinyl and iPods in equal measure, arguing about rap.
He still gets self-depreciating sometimes, but all you have to do when he gets into one of those moods is look him in the eye and say, in your most serious voice, "Squiddle Reckoning". That usually gets him to either laugh or look terrified, often both at once.
Once, when you're flipping through your respective playlists, he suddenly looks up at you and says, "So, you and Jade. What are your plans there?"
You're just taking a sip of coffee, and you splutter and try not to choke or get it on anything. "What the hell, man?! You don't just spring something like that on a guy!"
"I want to know. Where is this thing with you two going?"
"Okay, first, what the hell are you, her dad? And second, there is no 'thing'! Nothing's going on - we're just friends!"
"I'm not her dad, I'm her brother, and if you get to kick my ass about Rose then I get to kick yours about Jade. And do you want there to be a 'thing'?"
You dab at a stain on your shirt. "I don't know, John - maybe? But definitely not right now, with the wedding and the fact that I'm all fucked up in the head... she deserves better than I can give her for the immediate future."
He stands, and puts a hand on your shoulder as he passes into the kitchen for some paper towels. "Good answer."
Rose has you over at least once every week, usually for a couple hours at a time. Sometimes you talk about the alcohol, sometimes about the nightmares, sometimes about what actually happened ten years ago. It still makes your hands shake and your mouth go dry, to think of what happened - what they did - what you did - but Rose just listens. She doesn't judge as you pace restlessly around the office, doesn't let her emotions show when you ramble about the thousand times you watched yourself die, watched everyone die, watched Jack win again and again and going back to fix things because that's all you can do, rewind and try again, and it never seems like enough, never seems like it's making a difference, and all you can hope is that this time, maybe it'll change something, maybe you won't watch Jade bleed to death with a regisword in her gut, maybe you won't have to listen to John scream as the denizen drags him down, maybe you won't see Rose take her own life at the end of her needles-
You pause mid-rant, and look over at Rose, still diligently taking notes. "I'm sorry. You didn't need to hear that. I-"
She sets down her pen and looks at you over folded hands. "Doesn't matter what I need to hear or not hear, what matters is what you need to say. Why didn't you ever mention any of this earlier? Even when it was happening, you'd just say 'don't do that, it's a trap' or 'do this or we'll die'. You were always so vague-"
"Because no one needs to know all the maybes. No one needs to know the million different ways they could die - had died - how I watched them die and couldn't do a thing but try again-"
"Maybe that's it. No one needs to know all the maybes, and yet here you stand. Knowing every possible outcome of every possible action. It's amazing that you've coped as well as you have, considering."
You snort. "Yup, you know me, bounce right back with a bottle of booze. Hey, that could make a pretty good rap-"
"Later, Dave. But you see, none of that matters. This timeline is the one that matters - the one where we won, the one where we're alive and well and with real lives of our own, lives beyond Sburb. You may never forget everything that happened, but you don't have to let it control you either. You don't have to give those memories that power over your life. And if talking about it gives you the power, then talk all you want. That's why we're doing this."
"Yeah, I get it. Really, I do. But it just seems so wrong to inflict this on you-"
"This isn't about me and my delicate psyche, it's about getting you closure. Trust me, I'm a big girl, I'll be fine. Now, how have you been sleeping lately? Any nightmares?"
Jade is always over at their place or yours - you're sure she has her own apartment somewhere, but she insists on helping out everywhere she's needed, and some places she's not. You eventually break down and get her a key, because otherwise she either picks the locks or climbs the fire escape. Somehow, you adapt to sort-of sharing the apartment - making sure there's always a pillow and blanket on the couch, waking up to the smell of the coffee she makes. Nothing ever really happens between you, mostly because you're both so busy making this wedding happen. John and Rose are disgustingly saccharine, but sugar and rainbows can't arrange catering or argue with florists. You can't remember how many times you and Jade have spent all day on the phone, and all night flipping through magazines.
One night you say, only half-joking, "When it's our turn, what do you say to Vegas?"
She doesn't respond right away, and you look over to see her eyes widen and her cheeks turn red. "Dave... did you just propose?"
You take off your glasses, cleaning them on your shirt. Nervous habit - you don't meet her eyes. "Depends... is that a yes?"
"It's not a no."
"Hey, I can live with maybe for now." You stand, and as you pass her, lean down and give her a peck on the cheek. You can practically feel her blush as you head for the kitchen. "Want some more coffee?"
Her stammered "uhh, yeah, sure..." puts a grin on your face.
And suddenly it's the day of the wedding.
You wake up groggy and confused, and confused as to why you're confused. Then you remember - Jade spent the night at Rose's, and John's crashing on your couch. Some stupid tradition or something, he's not supposed to see her until she walks down the aisle or some kind of bullshit like that. All it really means is that you have to make your own coffee today.
You haul yourself out of bed and shuffle towards the kitchen, filling the coffeemaker and flipping the switch. John's curled into a tiny ball on one end of the couch - you flop down at the other, and when that doesn't wake him, you yank off his blanket. "Wake up, Egbert. Time to get married."
John grumbles for a moment, then his eyes snap open. "Holy shit." He sits up, hair even more of a mess than usual. "Dave... I'm getting married. In a couple hours."
You tilt your head back. "Yeah." It's way too early in the morning for you to try and deal with his nervous breakdown. "So you'd better do something about your hair and get your ass in a suit."
"Haha, yeah." He runs a hand through his hair, and winces. "I barely slept a wink. You?"
"Slept like a baby," you quip, "woke up every half hour crying and shitting myself. Go get all prettied up, Mister Lalonde."
The pillow hits you square in the face. "You are the worst best man ever. That's not how it works and you know it."
"In this case, hell yes it is."
"... Maybe." He stands and stretches, yawning hugely. "I'm gonna use your shower, if you don't mind."
"Hey, more coffee for me." You're a little faster at dodging the pillow this time - it only clips you on the ear. "Alright, alright! Yeesh, no sense of humor."
"Not on my wedding day." And he stops and his eyes go blank for a moment. "Dave-"
You're up and pushing him bodily into the bathroom. "Uh-uh. No flipping out until after the service when it's Rose's problem. Go get your shower."
You and John pull up to the house with an hour to spare, at least. So why are there so many people here? And why are so many of them gray... with... horns?
The nearest one turns to you. "Dave?"
There's a flash of red and suddenly a pair of skinny yet strong arms are wrapped around your midsection. "Dave! I thought I smelled something cherry-red besides me!" You look down at a pair of short, pointed horns sticking out of a head of black hair.
The head tilts up to reveal bright red glasses and a grin full of fangs. "Who else, Coolkid McDumbass?" She sticks out her tongue, then sniffs curiously. "But... you're not the cherry-red... it's..."
She starts gravitating towards Anita, and you pull her back by the collar of her red dress. "Oh no you don't. There is no way in hell you're getting tongue-marks on my car."
"But Daaave! It's so pretty! Just one lick, pleeease?"
"Absolutely not. What the hell are you doing here, anyway?"
She pouts. "Magic. Kanaya and Jade worked something up to get us all here. Did you really think we'd miss the wedding of two of our favorite aliens?" Someone else is approaching - Karkat, looking extremely uncomfortable in a suit.
"Yeah, and Miss Meddlesome decided we all needed new outfits for the occasion too." He tugs at his dark bluish-green tie. Something's niggling at the back of your mind - then it hits you, and you grin.
"Vantas, you dog."
A reddish flush rises in his gray cheeks. "What. It's nothing! Kanaya made me wear this!"
"Yeah, and I'm sure it's totally a coincidence that she put Terezi in red, isn't it." All this time, and he's still as easy to rile up as ever.
"Yeah! Terezi likes red! Tell him, Terezi!"
The troll girl at your side grins and saunters over to him. "It's true, red is my very... favorite... color." She licks his cheek, from chin to temple, then kisses it.
You're afraid you'll laugh yourself sick. "I knew it! How long have you two been together?"
Terezi wraps herself around Karkat's arm. "A sweep or two, I guess? Right, Karkat?"
He's very red now, and mutters, "Sweep and a half. About three of your years."
"I don't get why you're so embarrassed about this, Karkat. Are you ashamed to be seen with me? Is that it?" Her lower lip quivers, and you know she has to be working up a good set of crocodile tears behind those glasses.
"What?! No! Of course not! It's just-"
You clear your throat. "As much as I'm enjoying this lovely example of domesticity, did either of you notice where the groom wandered off to?" You haven't seen him since this conversation started.
Terezi shrugs, and Karkat points over to the side of the house, where the ceremony's going to be. "I think he went that way."
You thank him and head in that direction, only to be intercepted by Jade. "Dave, finally!"
"Hey, Jade." You cough a bit. "You look really pretty." Damn, what are you, ten?
But she just blushes and smiles, looking down at her pale purple dress. "Thanks. It's more Rose's color than mine, but-"
"You still look gorgeous." That's a little better, but also causes both of you to blush and avoid each other's eyes for seventy-two seconds.
She speaks first. "I came looking for you because Rose wants to talk to you. She's up in her room with a couple of the others."
You nod. "I'll talk to Rose if you find John and smack him for me. He's kind of nervous."
She grins. "Can do. See you back here for the ceremony? You still have to walk me up the aisle."
"Wouldn't miss it for anything."
You climb the stairs and stand awkwardly outside the door for a moment before knocking. "Rose? It's me, Dave."
"Come in!" a voice - not Rose's - calls.
You step into the room and shut the door behind you. "Hey, Kanaya. Vriska."
Vriska, lounging on the bed, raises her head. "Hey yourself, Strider." She flops back down, kicking her feet up. She's wearing a black suit, with a purple rose pinned at her lapel. But her tie and vest are both dark emerald green. She's still wearing her bright red sneakers, which are now getting dirt on Rose and John's sheets.
Kanaya sighs. "You're going to wrinkle, dear." At Vriska's snort she shakes her head and smiles a little. She's in the same purple dress Jade was wearing, but with bright blue bows at her waist and in her hair. She's standing behind Rose, who's seated in front of her mirror. The troll girl is arranging her veil, and you can't see your sister's face.
"What's with the suit, Vriska?"
"I'm John's - whadaya call 'em? Groom's man. Even though I'm a girl. Because I'm his faaaaaaaavorite, he just looooooooves me, didn't you know?"
"And I'm a bridesmaid. I hear you're his best man?" Kanaya smooths Rose's veil delicately. Your sister still hasn't said a word.
"Yep. Now, if you two don't mind, could I have a minute alone with the bride?"
Vriska hauls herself up from the bed, and Kanaya picks up her bouquet of blue and purple flowers. As they reach the door, Kanaya turns back. "Now Rose, you know I love you dearly, but if anything happens to that dress I will eviscerate you." Vriska rolls her eyes, grabs Kanaya's hand, and pulls her out the door, shutting it on the sound of their laughter.
You take Kanaya's place, at Rose's back, and place your hands on her shoulders. She smiles, a bit thinly, behind the veil, and one hand reaches up to touch yours. "It really is a beautiful dress. Kanaya did an amazing job."
"Yeah. You look gorgeous." Rose turns in the chair, and you move to sit at the foot of the bed.
"And you and Jade, arranging everything - it's all perfect. Thank you so much."
You squirm just a bit. "It wasn't a problem at all. You two deserve it."
"Thanks. I'm just worried - something will screw up, in the ceremony, or after - there'll be a fight at the reception, or-"
"Hey, hey now, it's okay." You decide to risk it, lifting her veil so you can see her face clearly - and yup, those are tears welling up. "What's wrong? Really wrong, not just this nervousness thing."
She takes a deep, shuddering breath. "I'm just worried that... that I won't be good for him. I've seen the way bad marriages turn out, I've seen how bitter and cruel my mother can be, and I can't do that to him, I'd never forgive myself if I hurt him, oh God..."
You pull out your handkerchief and dab gently at the tears spilling down her cheeks. "Hey, calm down. You two are great for each other - do you think I'd let you get married if you weren't?" She snorts inelegantly, taking the handkerchief with the most quavering smile you've ever seen. "You are two of the three most important people in my life, and you make each other happy. That's enough. And I don't think either of you could hurt the other even if you tried - you're that annoyingly perfect for each other, okay?" Another giggle - you seem to be on the right track. "It's a little disgusting, the way you two are so damn cute all the fucking time." Your tone turns serious. "You've got everything going for you, don't throw it away in a moment of indecision. I know you guys will be amazing."
She takes a deep breath. "Thanks, Dave."
A soft "aww" comes from the direction of the door, and you both whip around to look. Kanaya, Vriska and Jade are peering around the doorframe, one on top of another like a totem pole. Kanaya and Jade have both clapped their hands over Vriska's mouth, so it's clear who made the incriminating sound.
You and Rose look at each other and burst into half-hysterical laughter.
You're standing by the back corner of the house, waiting for the ceremony to start. John's lurking around still, and finally you take his arm and bodily drag him to the arch where he and Rose will do their thing. "You stay here," you say, "and me and Rose will come to you. And for fuck's sake, calm down already. It's a wedding, not a fucking firing squad."
There's an awkward cough, and you turn and grin sheepishly. "Uh, hey Reverend."
He gives you a mildly disapproving look. "If we could begin." It's not a question.
You glance around - everyone's in their seats, the girls are waiting around the corner for you. "Uh, yeah. Just give me a minute to take my place." You almost bolt back to the safety of the other side of the house, and the wedding march starts to play.
Rose has come down, and she looks amazing. You tell her so, and she smirks. "Thanks to Kanaya. You'd never know I was crying my eyes out fifteen minutes ago."
Kanaya blushes, and tugs Vriska's arm. "It's our turn." They turn the corner and start down the aisle, but not before Vriska presses a kiss behind her girlfriend's (matesprit's?) pointed ear.
You turn to Jade. "Huh. Always thought so." You hold out your arm, ever the gentleman.
Jade rolls her eyes and takes the arm you offer. She turns back to Rose. "You ready?"
"No, but don't remind me of that. Go on, get." She makes a feeble shooing motion with her bouquet. You turn and walk down the aisle.
It's a bit awkward, to say the least. Everyone's staring with these smiles pasted on their faces, and Terezi mouths "Hi Dave!" as you pass. She, Karkat and the rest of the trolls are sitting together in the front row of one side, while John's dad, Rose's mom and your bro have the other. You know that your families know about the game, but have to wonder what John and Rose's colleagues think of these strange horned gray people at a wedding. Hopefully they'll just think it's some bizarre fashion statement and leave it at that.
You (finally!) reach the arch, and separate. You stand next to Vriska and slightly behind John, while Jade takes her place by Kanaya. The wedding march changes tempo, and Rose rounds the corner.
You hear a soft gasp, and look over. It's John, and he looks... enthralled. Like the sun just came out after weeks of rain. Like his first breath of fresh air after spending years trapped and slowly choking. His eyes are glued to Rose, and at any other time you'd never let him live this down.
But... fuck it, he's happy, you're happy, everyone's happy. Let's have a wedding.
The ceremony is simple and sweet, but still on the stressful side. Your part could be performed by a severely retarded chimp, and yet there's still the thrill of fear as you're asked for the rings and reach into your pocket. Oh god please don't let them have fallen out or been forgotten at home and of course they weren't.
Two simple bands of white gold, the larger plain, the smaller with a subtle floral engraving. But it's what's inside that's special. Inside John's ring is carved "You are my Light", and inside Rose's is "You are my Breath". So sweet even thinking about it is giving you a toothache.
Rings are exchanged, and even the woods are quiet as the couple say their vows.
"I, John Martin Egbert, take you, Rose Marie Lalonde..."
"I, Rose Marie Lalonde, take you, John Martin Egbert..."
"To be my spouse, to have and to hold..."
"To honor and cherish..."
"For better or worse..."
"In sickness and health..."
"All the days of my life."
Friends and family erupt in cheering and applause. There is absolutely nothing even remotely like a tear in your eye, as such a thing would be pathetic and uncool to the highest degree.
You catch Jade's eye, and mouth, "Vegas?" She giggles and buries her face in her bouquet, brown eyes sparkling.
Five years later...
You're bowled over by two rather sticky cannonballs. "Uncle Dave!"
"Hey, brats. Where's your parents?"
"Mama's inside, Daddy's out back." Josie, four years old and utterly independent, flips her dark hair over her shoulder. "But who cares! Aunt Jade was supposed to bring us presents!"
"Yeah, presents!" Ron agrees, mumbling around his thumb - he's two and a half, agreeing is his favorite thing to do.
"Where is Aunt Jade, anyway?"
"I'm right here." Your wife shuts the car door with her hip, as her arms are full of bags. "Who wants presents?"
"Me! Me! Me!"
"Well then," you say, prying tiny hands from your pant legs, "go get Mom and Dad and we'll meet in the living room. Deal?"
The children race off to their parents, chanting "presents, presents!" You sigh and put your arm around Jade's waist. "Every time you mention kids, I almost say yes - and then we come for a visit."
"You love them and you know it, you just like to complain. Here, carry this one, it's heavy." You obligingly take the bag, and nearly drop it.
"Jesus! Is this the-"
"Yup. From Equius. He's surprisingly good at kids' stuff, despite being... well, you know. Him."
"Well next time, tell him to make it a little lighter. God-"
You reach the living room, where the kids are bouncing excitedly on the couch between their parents.
"-in heaven, this is a big present!" You set it down on the table, and pull out two small robots. The larger one has Josie's pigtails and a metal facsimile of her favorite dress, and the smaller has its thumb in its mouth and a tiny metal bunny, just like Ron's. "Programmed by Uncle Solly and build by Uncle Ecky. They say they hope you like them!"
Josie pokes hers curiously. "What do they do?"
"Well, remember when I told you about the dreambot I had when I was little?" Jade says. "These are kinda like that, except you can play with them when you're awake too. Try it - imagine her turning her head or raising her arm."
Josie squints at the robot for a minute, and then, ever so slowly, it lifts its arm and waves at her. The real girl grins and claps her hands. "I did it!"
A sudden noise makes you all turn to look at Ron and his robot. It's flying in circles around his head, arms out like Superman. He's giggling and rocking back and forth, watching the robot's circles intently. He reaches up to touch the rocket exhaust, and John snatches the robot out of the air.
"He actually put rockets on these things? Is he insane?!" John tosses the little metal robot between his hands. "Holy cow, that's hot!"
Ron frowns, and the robot ignites again, The boy mentally maneuvers it back to the table, setting it down gently. "Sorry, Daddy."
Rose hugs her son. "It's okay. I think, as long as you two promise to never ever touch them with your hands, and always wait until me or Daddy are watching, then you can play with them all you want. Okay?"
"Kay!" The kids are too enthralled by their new toys to object to any restrictions.
John sticks a burnt finger in his mouth. "What else you got?"
"The usual, clothes from Kanaya, movies from Karkat-"
"Beep beep, meow!" the family choruses. That one annoys the hell out of him, even now.
"- a couple games from Vriska, nothing deadly. Oh, Terezi threw in a few dragon plushies and scales."
"Dragon scales, can I see?" Terezi is Josie's favorite aunt at the moment - she swears she's gonna grow up to be a dragon tamer, but you're pretty sure she's just in it for the shiny things. You fish out a scale and she oohs and aahs to her little heart's content.
You finish unpacking the bags and stand aside, watching the kids play with their new toys. Jade comes up beside you and wraps her arms around you, smiling a little fondly.
"Sure you don't want kids?"
"Weeell," you drawl, the hand at her hip creeping down slowly, "I'm always up for trying."
You get a halfhearted smack for your troubles. "David! Behave."
"Yes ma'am. Whatever you say." Your grin turns lecherous. "Anything you say." You dodge the second smack.
Time passes, as it always has. The ticking in your head never goes away, but now it marks out the intervals that you cherish. Time is more than its inevitable passage and life is more than just what brought you to this point.
It's what you do with it - your time and your life - that matter.
You haven't touched a drink in five years.
You never will again.