It was everything, and It was nothing. It was eternal and timeless. It was year one million, one hundred and forty-three thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine. James Talloran woke up in bed, comfortable, content. The sun was barely peeking in through the window, the sound of the shower was running, and James was content.
It felt strange. Everything felt strange. Like there were eyes in the walls, like their actions were being studied, like they were in a sitcom or a fanfiction or a horror television show or a book. James sat up slowly, carefully, not wanting to disturb the peace but knowing well enough to play along.
Who knows, maybe it was real this time?
Yeah, right. Like they would get so lucky.
The shower turned off. James listened, and heard their boyfriend humming, sounding… Just like they remembered. Voice soft and sweet, a light baritone that gave way to small hints of voice cracking when nervous, or when trying to hum tunes higher than his vocal range allowed. The song was familiar, something James had heard before, something on the tip of their tongue but it was all so distant, so blurred together and faded and it felt like a dream. It felt like nothing, and It felt like everything. James gingerly pulled back the blanket draped across them and stood up, feet hitting something akin to carpet or tile or hardwood floor or sand or water. They turned towards the bathroom and knocked once, twice, three times before opening it.
Draven was in the bathroom (of course), a towel wrapped around his waist and usually bouncy curls lying limply over his forehead. A toothbrush jutted from between his teeth and he grinned (it was wrong) at James, beckoning them in.
James’s hand grasped onto the handle of a knife that hadn’t been there previously.
Against their will (or was it?), they walked into the bathroom, sneaking to wrap their arms around Draven’s midsection. Draven hummed, as if oblivious to the obvious glint of the blade as James pressed it to his sternum, sinking it through bone with a sickening crack. There was no blood. Draven didn’t even look hurt, didn’t even seem slightly inconvenienced as he slumped forward, limp in James’s arms.
James held the body for a second, cold dread filling their chest even as they didn’t outwardly react, simply closed Draven’s eyes and muttered a small “I love you” as reality turned to sand and then to dust and then It was everything and It was nothing.
It was nothing, and It was everything. It was a void, It was a claustrophobic room, It was sanity and insanity. It was the year one million, three hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and twenty-two. James Talloran (or something like them) shifted on the couch. There was a show playing idly on the television, and yet they couldn’t help but feel like they were the one in the TV instead. They flipped the page of a book that hadn’t been in their hands previously, as Draven (was that his name?) sat in the kitchen.
The peace was broken after thirty seconds.
Draven was suddenly standing in front of them, a gun pointed to right between their eyes. Eyes that widened ever so slightly, but why? They should expect this by now. And yet their heart still thrummed in their chest, beating faster and harder and louder and they were worried for a second that it wouldn’t be a bullet, but a heart attack that killed them. Wouldn’t that be ironic? No, not really.
“Get up,” Draven said. His voice was low and demanding and James felt a shudder of fear (and pleasure?) run up their spine. They stood, slowly, setting the book down and not noticing how it crumbled into liquid the second it hit the floor.
Then, Draven was hitting them on the head, the gun now a fist as it swung, over and over and James couldn’t talk, couldn’t ask him to stop, couldn’t feel anything as Draven was pinning them, and they weren’t in their dorm but in a parking lot, and it was Draven but not Draven (who?), and there was the sound of bones crunching from both face and fist. Blood was hot on their face as they laid there, limply, and idly thought about how they were probably dead, probably already dead because there was no heartbeat anymore, no more panicked drumming as Draven-Not-Draven (was that Benjamin, suddenly? No, too young, but…) grabbed a fistful of their hair and yanked their head up, looking in their eyes with such hatred and such love and such anguish that it burned hot in their own skin.
“I love you, bun.”
And then everything stopped.
It was nothing. It was nothing. It was nothing. It was everything that hurt and It was everything that caused pain and It was death, It was death, It was death. It was year it-didn’t-fucking-matter (1,654,369), and they were kids on a beach, suddenly.
The sand was cold between their toes, and the water was hot, and it was all backwards but James didn’t mind. Draven was next to them, and they were both young and innocent and James’s mom was talking to Benjamin Kondraki, farther up on the shore, but there was something wrong with Benjamin’s head that James couldn’t place, couldn’t grasp, so they ignored it. Instead, they sat with Draven, building a sandcastle.
Draven seemed injured. Not severely, just… Sick. Something was wrong with Draven, but James was young and they were small and their mind didn’t process any of this so they sat on the beach, all innocence and smiles as they built sandcastles that the waves would wash away with vigor. Draven’s laugh was high and sweet and made the sun seem to shine brighter, and it was the brightness of the sun that blocked out the shape circling over head, something akin to a hawk or a vulture or a seagull.
With a deafening screech, it swooped, talons sinking into Draven’s little shoulders as it lifted the crab into the sky that was red and the beach smelled like death and all James could think was ‘no, bring him back’ and ‘I love him,’ and ‘I guess so’.
“I guess so.”
“I love you,” James thought, their words piercing through the dark nothing that surrounded them, “I love you. Please don’t go, I love you.”
And yet Draven left, over and over again. As if each death was to wipe him more and more from the frantic researcher’s memory. At first, he died in a car accident, flying through the windshield. Then it was electrical shock. Then it was a skip, decked out in his uniform that kept him safe from nothing. With each death, Draven’s face become more obscure, his voice less clear, his behaviors more robotic and planned.
“I love you. Please don’t go, I love you.”
Each time, James was powerless to do anything.
“I love you. I love you. Please stop dying.”
It was death. It was year one million, seven hundred and forty-six thousand, six hundred and sixty-six. The sky was raining ash and fire and it was the apocalypse, the radioactive downpour from some cataclysmic event falling around James Talloran like toxic snow, burning their skin and causing blisters and welts and sores.
Someone was holding their hand, pulling them forward. Their eyes weren’t seeing, weren’t processing, everything was hazy and painful and they coughed and yet the person kept pulling them forcefully. It was a man, his hand larger than James’s wrist as he shoved both of them into a small concrete shelter.
“Where’s my boy?” the man asked, but James didn’t know who he was, who he was asking for, who was his boy? Where was his boy? Where was Draven? And their stomach lurched as they doubled over to throw up but the man grabbed them roughly by their shoulders and shook and shook and shook until James was sure their head would roll off of their scorched shoulders.
“Where is my BOY?” Benjamin screamed, voice frantic and all James could think was “I don’t know, I don’t know, I’m so sorry, I don’t know” as Benjamin shouted expletives at him and sounded like their own father, so much so that for a moment James couldn’t tell the difference.
“I told you,” Benjamin began, his hands grabbing the lapels of James’s shirt with more strength than they would have expected from a dead man, “I TOLD you to [REDACTED]. It was the last thing you heard from me, James, and you let me down, and now he’s DEAD and it’s your fault, James, I shouldn’t have trusted you with him, I should have killed you, I should have-” But James wasn’t listening anymore, the ringing in their ears from the nuclear dizzying and confusing and there was another flash, another bomb, more screeches and Benjamin threw James down next to a body with curly hair and a familiar face, eyes wide in death and skin covered in ash and James sobbed, they sobbed as they fisted their hand in lifeless curls and muttered “I love you” over and over until another bomb dropped and then there was nothing.
It hurt. It hurt and It hurt and James Talloran was so tired, so fucking tired of all of this. They sat at the kitchen table as Draven cried next to them, sobbing and begging for them to talk about this, to talk about what was going on and to talk about anything but James had been down this road before, so many times and they were so tired of this.
They grunted, not responding to Draven’s pleas that only became more desperate with each passing moment, his hands gripping at James’s shirt as they sat there and stared blankly ahead. The sobbing was getting on their nerves. The first few hundred times it was depressing, it was stressful and anxiety inducing and made their stomach churn but there was only so many times they could relive the same moment, over and over before it became tiring.
Draven seemed to notice, finally. The sobbing stopped almost instantaneously and he looked up at James, a small smile on his face as he shook his head sadly. James tensed as they felt their brains blow out of their skull, somehow still conscious enough to hear Draven say “I’m sorry, bun. I thought it would work this time. I love you.”
James Talloran was lying in their bed. The blanket was draped haphazardly around their ankles as they sat there, the feeling of something bigger than themself watching, waiting, laughing. Their shoulders shook with anxiety as they waited and waited for something to give. It had been too long, hadn’t it? Time wasn’t real, and they remembered killing It but had they? Had they really?
Draven was sleeping peacefully on the bed next to them, his chest rising and falling as he breathed. Something overcame James, some sort of horrible urge that pushed into their mind and gripped at their chest and flooded their veins. As quietly as possible, they stood up, making their way to the kitchen.
Then, they were back by the bed, a knife that hadn’t been there previously grasped in their hand. That had to prove this was fake, right? They didn’t remember going to the kitchen, they didn’t remember grabbing the knife, it was just there which meant none of this was real. (The doctors called it dissociation, but they knew not to trust the doctors anymore, either.)
With a shaky breath, they looked at Draven’s sleeping form. They had done this so, so many times, and it worked every time without fail. Draven’s death leading to another reset, and why hadn’t they thought of this sooner? They could have tested the waters a month ago, when they first came back- they’d done it in shorter time before, after all. What was so different about now? Yet, still, they couldn’t bring themself to.
Maybe this was real, this time.
Sighing heavily, they went back to the kitchen and set the knife back into the block. They leaned on the counter and counted their breaths, clenching their fists a few times as they tried to reorient themself. This was okay now. Everything was fine. Things were back to normal, even if it didn’t feel it sometimes, even if James doubted everything very often, things were okay now. Draven was asleep in bed, they were back home finally, It was dead and gone and things were okay.
Things were finally okay.
James stood up, turned, and saw Draven standing in the doorway. A bit startled, they smiled shakily, waving a hand as they rubbed the back of their neck. “Hey, hun,” James started, “Sorry, couldn’t sleep, so I thought I’d get some water.”
There was no response from Draven. His curly hair fell in his face ever so slightly and his shoulders shook and James thought ‘oh no, he had a nightmare again, oh no, I need to help him, he’s crying, things are okay, it’s okay hun, don’t worry, things are fine now’ but those thoughts were cut short when Draven lifted his head and James saw that he wasn’t crying, no, he was laughing. A cold panic seized their chest.
“Sorry, bun,” Draven said as he lifted a gun to James’s forehead, “I really got you this time though, didn’t I?”
And then there was a gunshot, and then there was blood and brain matter splattered on the countertops and all James could think was ‘I guess so’ and then It reset. As things shifted back to nothingness, all James could think about was Draven waking up in bed in a cold panic, sobbing and muttering “I love you’s” to the James that wasn’t there, a broken glass on the floor by the nightstand.