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I.

Your body knows how to put itself back together year after year.  How strange that your cells individually know how to find each other, how to reproduce themselves, how to make you continuously.  

Rick taught you that.  You were seven and Rick pointed out that you were a completely new set of cells from when you were born, but your new cells still understood how to make you, and how amazing was that?  

The first time you rode your bike without training wheels you more than skinned your knee.  Rick didn’t give you a band aid, he gave you a new skin.  Rick taught you how to make it while you were bleeding profusely, dermis layers split neatly right down to the bone.

Rick taught you how to jumpstart a man’s heart, how to read a brain like a book, how to be immortal.  

Maybe he was getting you ready for this moment: the moment where you try to twist his arms away from his face where they’re stiff with rigor mortis, the moment you see the long cold vomit trail crusted from his mouth to his stomach and know you can’t live without him.  

Rick taught you so many versions of reality, but never one without him, and you try to push back against the desperation whorling around your stomach as you let his body weigh too heavy against yours carrying it to the lab.  

You can do this.  Rick taught you everything he knew.  

x

You lose him after five minutes.  

You’re losing time.  His body is forgetting him.

There’s something wrong with his brain.

x

The scar on his mouth is from when he took you away for good.  Your family put up a fight.

“You can fix that, right?” you had asked, thumbing at the gash he didn’t have the time or care to cover up.  You had been so little.  You were remembering the time with your bike, your knee, ta-da, Morty, good as new.

“Chicks dig scars, Morty,” he had replied, talking through his own blood like spit, like you would know what he meant, or even understand.  “It’s uh a-a-another story, Morty, enigma one-oh-one: how to be a bad boy.”  

Chicks dig scars, Morty, you told yourself, a series of fine lasers pointed to cut right under your eye.  It still doesn’t make sense to you, still isn’t a motivation to hurt yourself this way.  He is, though.  

His body, still crooked and strange and unfamiliar.  His body, cold.  You’ve got a laser pointed at your face and a fist full of circuits.

He’s worth it.

x

He tries to pretend you didn’t bring him back from the dead.  He tries to pretend he isn’t more wires connected to synapses than brain matter now, that he’s not just a few installed brain scans being remotely operated by you.  He tries not to be proud that you’ve learned so much.  You’re so smart, you can see it in the way he smiles at you sideways sometimes when he thinks you’re asleep in the passenger seat of the ship.  He tries to be untouchable, unpredictable.  

He tries to pretend that you can’t read his mind now.  He tries to pretend you didn’t make his fingers tap against the diner table last Tuesday when you were eating the closest thing the horsehead nebula has to bacon and eggs.  

You fucked something up in your desperation.

Big time.

x

He loves you.  You know he does.  There’s something special about you that makes you more Morty than other Morties, maybe, or just less Morty enough to be interesting.  You haven’t met another Rick that looks at his Morty the way yours looks at you.  

x

The second time you lose him, it’s not because a hoard of you escaped and trampled his jumbled together body.  The second time you lose him is months earlier, when you pull away from him and your mouth tastes like stomach acid and sharp, cheap vodka.

“The fu-uh-ck was was that, Morty?” he’s usually a little more verbose when he’s being critical, but you seem to have shut him up pretty good this time.  

He tries to pull his hand away from where it’s climbed under the hem of your shirt and is resting against the soft of your stomach.  You won’t let him.  You’ve been curling up in the dark part of his head that wants to touch you every night since you found out you could hear his thoughts.  It didn’t take much digging to get there, and you’ve been growing hungrier for his attention ever since he choked back to life, stuttering, “h-h-h-ow long was I out, Mmmorty?” reaching for his flask; something dormant inside you sparked awake, a feeling coursing through the circuits underneath your eyes that needed, suddenly, urgently, for him to be reaching for you instead.

“You wanted it,” you tell him, because he did, and he does.  Your hands wrap around his wrist, and you move his hand up your chest instead.  He sucks in a breath.  

“Think real good about what you’re doing, Morty, think real fucking good.”  His hand is stiff from where he’s trying to resist you.  You let his thumb trace over your nipple though, and his entire body shudders.  

“I’m giving us what we both want,” you say.  You let go of his wrist and his hand stays, the warm tips of his fingers against your collarbone like a question, palm against your heart.  It reminds you that you’re both alive, and you cling to that thought, because something about his hesitation makes your stomach sink.

“You’re being a r-r-real,” he grits out, looking past you, “you’re being a real pain in my ass, Morty, you’re playing with fire here, don’t be stupid.”

“Don’t talk to me like I’m a child, Rick,” you tell him, because you’re not.  You turn fifteen next month, but as far as you’re concerned you’ve been an adult since Rick took you by the hand and told you to run, burnt your house to the ground and kept the scar on his mouth so you remember, the both of you, what you left behind.

“I don’t want this,” he tries again.

“You’re lying,” you say, tugging him towards you by his lab coat wrapped tight between your fingers.  His breath is warm on your face, and this close you can see how much he loves you in his eyes, the way they go soft, how badly he wants you.  You whisper this time, “stop treating me like a child.”

You can feel him giving up when you kiss him again, but you don’t know exactly what you’re losing until later.  After, you can’t hear him.  After, his movements are just your own, the things he does and says are an extension of you.  When you walk through portals with him at your shoulder, you feel more alone than you did when you were threading a series of wires into his brain and coercing nanobots to revive him.  Just like his hivemind ex, you’ve assimilated him with your will and desperation until nothing but the shell of him is left.

When you see his dead body again, months later, nothing feels different.  Your head has been quiet since you chased the taste of him, and short-circuited him with your selfish want.  You step over his body to follow the others who are leaving for God knows where.  

But this was part of the plan.  You found the Rick closest to your own, finally, and maybe him getting away is a hiccup, but you learned everything you know from Rick, and he taught you to always have a plan B.  

You pocket the drive of Rick C-137’s memories still hot and plugged into the console.  You won’t lose him again.

 

II.

You took karate lessons for approximately one week in middle school, until you came home in your gi, and Rick laughed so hard at you he threw up. 

“This is your idea of self-defense, Jerry?” Rick had asked Dad while wiping tears from his eyes and bile from the corner of his mouth.  You remember standing there, folding into yourself and not feeling very powerful at all when Rick pulled you by the shoulder over to Dad, his grip a little too tight.  “He’s wearing a goddamn ba-AH-athrobe, Jerry, you think this is gonna p-p-protect your kid from some, uh, some pissed off alien with a vendetta and laser pistol?  Get fucking real, Jerry, come on.”

“Why,” Dad had replied very seriously, hands on his hips, “would my son be around some, excuse me, what was it? Some ‘pissed off alien with a vendetta and laser pistol’?”

“Well, I mean he w-w-wouldn’t be, Jerry, laser pistols went out of fashion like, five centuries ago, but the multiverse is a dangeERRRRous place,” Rick replied, and as your father tensed up to say something that would no doubt only embarrass himself, Rick cuffed you on the ear and started walking backwards to the garage.  “Come on, Mmmmorty, let me show you how to not die when some she-demon from Gazorpazorp tries to suffocate you with her thighs.”

Rick taught you everything worthwhile that you know--not like, third period science class crap, but you know, he taught you how to fight your way out of a corner, how to compress coal into diamonds to fuel a ship stranded in deep space, how to absolutely devastate a crowded karaoke bar fifteen minutes to last call with a killer rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”  

You owe Rick your life, because he’s the reason that you sleep light enough to know when someone else is in your room.  (Maybe, in retrospect, you wouldn’t have to be a light sleeper if it weren’t for Rick’s influence in the first place, but--well, whatever, you’re living with it, and who knows what could happen in the future.)

“Wha--?” You groan into the darkness, shifting up on your elbows about two seconds before a knife embeds itself right where you had been drooling into your pillow.  “Shit!”

Your training kicks in before your brain is fully back online, sleep still in your eyes while you fight off your assailant in the dark.  You can’t see him, but he seems about your size, definitely human, limbs thinner and knuckles sharper, but he’s not as scrappy, so you have the advantage.  You get a few good punches and a knee in his solar plexus before you can grope your way over to the light switch.  

You should be surprised to see yourself when you turn on the light, but you aren’t--it’s almost a relief, because something in you thinks you can reach him as long as he isn’t some confused android version of you, or that asshole Morty from the dimension where you and Rick are militant vegans.  

He’s breathing heavily and wipes at his nose where you clocked him good enough to make it bleed, but he seems unimpressed and stares you down dead-eyed.  “If you cooperate, this will hurt a lot less,” he says, and it comes out in a cool, confident monotone that sounds uncomfortably familiar.

You bring your hand up in front of you to block out his right eye, and then you see it--Evil Morty, Eyepatch Morty, that one.  “I-I-I really uh, don’t wanna die today,” you tell him, backing into the wall when you see him reach for his pocket.  The plasma gun that Rick got for your birthday this year is tucked into a pair of dress shoes that Dad got you, and they’re both in the closet on the opposite side of the room.  You’re in your boxers and a t-shirt, and it’s pretty obvious that right now your fists are your only weapon.

“Don’t worry,” he says ominously, pulling out his own plasma gun and knocking the safety off with the palm of his hand.  “I hear being incinerated is painless.”

He takes aim too quick for you to react and pulls the trigger, and all you can do is close your eyes and wince.  There’s no crackle though, and you feel perfectly fine.  After a second you open one eye to look at him.  He’s staring puzzled and somewhat afraid at the gun.  

“Did you uh,” you stutter, shoulders relaxing a little bit, “did you forget to charge it?  Tho-tho-those things require like, six hours minimum, man.  I, I, uh, Rick’s always getting on me for forgetting to charge mine, which uh, I mean it almost cost us our lives last week.”

He’s grimacing at you again, absolutely furious, the same look you see in the mirror after Brad’s made you look like an ass or when Rick’s abandoned you at some grungy rest stop three galaxies over.  You have no idea why you’re trying to talk sense into the guy who just attempted to fry your ass--maybe you’re trying to stall him, wait for Summer to hear the commotion, or Rick?  Rick always has your back, at least when he hasn’t passed out drunk, or stayed up five nights in a row working on a new particle accelerator, which--fuck.  You’re fucked.  You need to figure out how to get to your plasma gun on the other side of the room.

“Look, uh,” you stammer, sliding yourself casually across the wall to make your way around him towards your closet. “I, well, gee, I don’t know what those other Morties told you about me, but--is this about me being the One True Morty?  I’m not, I swear.  You really don’t have to kill me if this is like, part of a prophecy or whatever.”

“The One True Morty is a lie,” he says, still hitting the back of his gun like it’s a TV remote.  He’s his father’s boy.  “I made him up.”

“Keep the masses under control, huh,” you suggest, or try anyway.  

“Don’t think I don’t realize what you’re doing,” he says.  The thing is, he sounds so calm, doesn’t stutter once, speaks like he’s breathing.  You stop moving against the wall, palms slipping sweaty where they’re pressed against the plaster.  “This would be easier for you if you just told me where the gun was.”

“Wh-wh-who said uh, a-a-anything about a gun?” It sounds like a lie coming out of your mouth, a really bad one.  “Listen, man, I, I, I’m not really sure why you’re trying to kill me, but you know, I feel like it might be um, unnecessary?”

He doesn’t say anything.  

“I mean, well, what problem are you trying to solve by-by-by killing me?  Is this just like, a revenge thing, or?”

He keeps looking at you.  There are bags under his eyes, and his shooting hand is shaking a little bit.  He looks hungry, and tired, and lonely.  He looks like you did on Valentine’s Day in the sixth grade when you got the stomach flu and threw up on Jessica when you tried to give her the card you made--just miserable.  

“Or, or, I don’t know what it could be, but look--I want to help, okay?  Let me help you,” you say.  Something in him seems to crack and fall apart when you say it, you can see it cross his face, and he nods to himself a little bit and sets down the gun.

x

Okay, so he sets the gun down and then kicks it at your face to distract you when he lunges for your jugular with a knife he had hidden in his sock, and you end up scuffling for a half hour until Summer knocks hard three times on the wall to let you know that whatever you’re up to, it’s keeping her up too.

He looks up and around suddenly, skittishly, which means you have the opportunity to flip him off of you and get his hands away from your neck where he’s been crushing your windpipe for the past twenty seconds.  You elbow him in the stomach and kick him down at the knees when he stumbles backwards.

“No, no,” he chokes out when you get on top of him fully intent on knocking his lights out.  “Did you hear that?  There’s someone else here.”

“That’s Summer, moron,” you say, as he frantically pushes away at you and looks all around.  He looks like a scared rodent, fists close to his face, and ten hundred times more like you see yourself than he has since he woke you up.

“Summer?” he repeats, voice breaking on the last syllable.  

“Yeah, you know,” you say, trying to pull his arms to his sides so you can pin him by the wrists, “your sister, Summer.”

That doesn’t seem to calm him down at all.  His breathing gets deeper and faster, his chest heaving violently underneath you.  You manage to get his shaking hands pinned under your knees.

“Do you have a sister?” you ask.  His eyes flick in every direction except for up at you.  The more panicked he gets, the more of yourself you see in him and it hurts to watch.  He shakes his head.  So no Summer, and no Rick anymore, you know that much.  “Do you have anyone?”

“I don’t need anyone,” he says like he’s offended.  “I just need Rick.”

“Okay, you know what, you-you-you’re really messed up man,” you tell him.  “You do need people, a-a-and I know that Rick pretends to not give a-a-a, uh, pretends to not give a crap, but he does, okay, at least mine cares about me anyway, and I can’t let you kill him.”

“Kill him,” he repeats back to you.  He’s still breathing too deep to be considered anywhere near calm, but you can feel the fight leaving his body.  He’s no longer struggling.  “I wasn’t going to kill him.”

“Oh,” you say.

“I was going to kill you and take your place,” he continues, which, oh, whatever relief you felt for a half second there completely fades away.  “I need--I need a Rick.”

“I think they have an exchange program or something with the council, like, you don’t have to kill me,” you tell him, frankly a little offended.  

“You don’t think I know that?  You think I want some factory brand Rick reject?  It’s--your Rick.  He’s the closest thing I have to mine.”

“L-l-look, just because my Rick isn’t a-a-a saint or anything, doesn’t mean he’s evil,” you say, remembering.  

“My Rick did what he had to do to keep us alive,” he says, jaw jutting out defiantly.  It looks a lot less impressive with his nose still bleeding everywhere and a shiner forming.  You probably look just as bad.

“Yeah, well I think the uh, the uh Morty forcefield he had set up was a little overkill, alright,” you say.  This other you, he’s crazy, and you don’t know how to be delicate about it, about any of this.  “You’re just gonna be disappointed, man, my Rick isn’t like that, he’s better.  My Rick is good.”

“I don’t care,” he says.  “I don’t care if he’s good or if he wants to watch every light go out in this universe, I just--.”

Before Rick came back for good, you remember Mom crying some nights worried about him, and it was only worse when he’d show up for a day or three before taking off without a word again.  The fights your parents have now are just overworn territory from the fights they used to have back then, Dad trying to say it was okay, Rick was a terrible influence, and Mom saying, Jerry, that’s my father and he’s all I’ve got, and Dad saying, well, Beth, what about me--they screamed themselves hoarse about it, but you just learned young that Rick’s absence in your family’s life is a heavier weight than him drunk at two am leaning on you, arms around your forehead as you navigate him from the couch to his cot in the garage.  

“You miss him,” you find yourself saying.

“I forgot you had a f-f-family,” other you is saying, and the stutter sounds unnatural out of his mouth.  “It’s easy to forget sometimes, in most verses, you do.”

“They’re pretty great,” you say, which you believe, even when they’re fighting, even when Summer ignores you at school and your parents can’t see outside of their own problems to realize you’re old enough to have your own.  

“Well, you can keep them,” he tells you, like he’s being diplomatic about this.  “I can’t exist in a universe where they do.  They--the only family I have is Rick.”

“Oh,” you say. “Well.”

x

He sets your nose in the upstairs bathroom.  You try to protest, because you have nanobots that will do that for you.  

“It’ll be quicker and less painful,” he says, making clumsy grabby hands for your face.  You don’t trust him.  He does a good job though, and wipes away at the crusted blood on your face with an old, threadbare beach towel covered in Looney Toon characters before he takes care of himself.  

“Where did you learn how to do that?” you ask.

“Oh uh,” he says.  He is shyer than you, and less proud. “Rick taught me.”

x

You feel weird handing over Rick like he’s a pair of car keys, but it keeps you alive, and it means you get to spend more time with your family, catch up at school, and are less likely to die in some intergalactic disaster.  Maybe things will be easier if there are two of you around to do everything at once.  Maybe you’ll be in math class for longer than five minutes before you get pulled out, maybe you’ll be there long enough to write Jessica a note and see her face when she reads it.  The trick is not letting anyone find out.

“Y-y-you’re not nervous enough, if you keep talking like that--”

“Like what?” the other you asks.  You’re on the floor of your bedroom, side by side on your stomachs, so you can show him the alien spores you’ve been growing in a shoebox under your bed for the past three months.  

“You know, like, all uh, um, disaffected, I guess?  You sound kind of like a robot, I mean, I’m just saying, this wouldn’t be the first time that Rick’s been dealing with a, um, I guess ‘imposter’ is the wrong word, but you get what I’m saying, right?”

He pokes one of the spores and it explodes in a plume of purple and gold dust all over his knuckles.  “Yeah,” he says, shaking the dust off his hand where it sprinkles back down into the shoebox.  

“Well uh, let’s hear it!” you say, and he looks at you like you’re crazy for just a second, before clearing his throat and propping himself up on one elbow. “Come on, let’s hear you be Morty for five seconds.”

He scrunches up his face and puts a dramatic hand to his forehead, closing his eyes.

“Awww gee, Rick!  I, I, I dunno if I like this place, these aliens all look like uh, deviants, and i-i-it smells weird, Rick!” he mimics, his voice getting pitchier to reflect your own.  His stutter sounds a little too practiced, but overall it’s a solid impression and maybe just a little embarrassing.  

“Wow, not bad!” you say to be encouraging, rubbing his shoulder with your hand.  He grimaces at it until you back off.  

“Well,” he says, returning his attention to the spores, “I’ve had years of practice.”

x

You don’t tell him that the Morty forcefield was your idea.  He doesn’t need to know.

x

This dimension’s self goes downstairs to distract his parents so you can sneak into Rick’s garage.  He’s nice like that.  It’s the kind of niceness that gets multiple versions of you killed across different timelines, but you aren’t going to be the one to tell him.

The family is going to be an issue you’ll have to adjust to somehow.  They clearly aren’t bad here, they aren’t something you ever needed to be saved from, and this beautiful, hopeful Morty doesn’t seem to be afraid of them in any way.  You can hear them asking simple, harmless questions--did you finish your homework?  How is your science project going?--while you sneak around the corner toward the other side of the house.  

The garage is not familiar territory for you.  Rick didn’t live with your family ever in your reality, but you know he was keeping an eye on you--he was there to steal you away when the punishments started to get too severe.  Sometimes you didn’t think he was real, so disconnected from the pain in your everything to acknowledge he was actually there, reaching his hand out, slapping you awake, spitting in your face saying, c’mon Morty, let’s get the fuck outta here, we got five minutes tops.  The garage in your reality kept a car, some old seed packets, and a tool set nailed to the wall that your Dad used to scan for the right thing to fix a cabinet or smack you across the face with when he thought your mouth got too smart.

It’s weird to see it look like this--it’s a place you haven’t been in years already, restored and new, boxes of science projects you recognize from your own timeline that Rick kept unfinished lining hallways, because he wasn’t ready to admit he would never get around to them; they’re all here in cardboard, lazy black marker scribbles detailing what’s inside.  You trace over his letters with your fingers, grab a few things inside.  This Rick, he’s finished a few things your own Rick never did, but he’s left a lot of projects undone that you think you could complete, easy.

“Someone looks awfully comfy with a matter defibrillator,” you hear Rick say behind you.  It has been roughly a year since you’ve heard Rick say anything without it being filtered through you first.  It has felt like a lifetime since you’ve heard him at all.  

“Oh  I just, uh,” you say, “uh,” meeting his eyes.

“‘Uh,’” Rick mimics, holding out an impatient hand for the gun you’re holding. “Gimme that.”

You let it go speechless.  It’s almost second nature to try and impress your will on him at this point, to dig around in his head and burrow into the worst thing you can find, and the fact that you can’t right now is all at once unsettling and a huge relief.

“What, do I--what?  Do I have something on my face or something? What?” he asks, agitated, using the matter defibrillator to scratch at his face warily.  “Listen, I, I, I’ve got a guy I need to see about a thing on the wrong side of alpha centauri, and I need you to drive.”

He tosses the car keys at you, and you’re so busy trying to reach him in any way, too engrossed in the fact that you can’t, the keys hit you in the face.  He groans, shrugs, pulls a flask out of his chest pocket and takes a deep swig while walking toward the ship, adam’s apple bobbing defined.

You’ve piloted the ship hundreds of times before though, so.  As long as you don’t let yourself get distracted, as long as you get a hold of yourself, you should be fine.

x

The space ship in this dimension is made out of garbage and scrap metal, and you are suddenly impressed and surprised that this Rick and this Morty are still alive.

x

And Rick is, oh. He’s rough around the edges in a different way, no scar on his face, but same calloused hands, same hesitance. He isn’t the same. He doesn’t belong to you. But he’s beautiful in his own terrifying way that reminds your painfully of home.  Your heart hurts where it beats too strong in your chest.   

x

You are almost disappointed that no one realizes there are two of you running around.  You could almost expect it from Mom and Dad, honestly, but--Summer, okay, fine, you like to pretend that she’s got your back, but if you’re honest with yourself, you think there are five of her at any given second based on her mood swings.  Rick-- you’re not sad about it.  You’re conflicted.  

You wanted to go back to living life at a normal pace, but honestly, you wanted Rick to maybe notice that another version of you has taken your place--what you want is to be missed.  You want someone to realize that you aren’t replaceable, and you want to feel like you’re special and--and maybe you aren’t.  Maybe there are infinite versions of you, and the lines between you and the rest of your selves fade until you’re no longer discernible as an individual.  Maybe the only difference between you and these other selves is that you’ve outlived half of them, or maybe in one of those realities Jessica actually likes you back instead of that douchehat, Brad.  Maybe there’s a reality out there where you are replaced, and missed, and people start asking questions, people hold you by your face and kiss your forehead and tell you they missed you.

This is what you dream about in math class.

x

You go to the Himiko cloud on Monday to help Rick harvest some space fauna prized by glip-glops and worth about twenty-five million in their currency.  

You survive a black hole on Thursday, but wind up inside-out for approximately ten seconds before your body re-orients itself.  It is extremely unpleasant.

You watch one of the six suns in the Castor system go supernova on Saturday, your hands pressed against the cool glass of some ship deck in an interdimensional rift twenty-five million light-years away.  Rick doesn’t seem as interested as you though, distracted by something else.

(You--he’s distracted by you, won’t take his eyes off you the entire time.  You feel like you did two years ago, faking sleep in the passenger seat of his ship while his eyes slipped in your direction every few seconds, before you knew why.  You catch yourself rubbing at your arms when they’ve turned bright red.)

x

It isn’t any surprise when your grades improve after you’re able to attend school regularly and Rick isn’t keeping you out late to help him smuggle alien seeds or challenge you to five rounds of Roy 2: Dave.  All of your grades go from abysmal to above average, except for chemistry, which is an easy A now that you’re getting eight hours of sleep every night.  It’s a small comfort to hold onto and distract you from the insecurities that have been building in your chest about being indiscernible from your other timelines, a certain kind of existential crisis you don’t think the school counselor would understand.  The good marks help remind you that you made the right choice by giving up on adventures with Rick, or at least that’s what you tell yourself.  

You don’t really believe it though, not until the day that your chemistry teacher drops the stack of tests he’s returning and you see Jessica’s test land face-up next to your desk with a red, angry 58% circled at the top and a “see me” at the bottom.  It’s like a sign from God--or whoever, you aren’t really sure anymore.

After class you find Jessica by her locker talking to Beverly and Sarah and looking a little put out.  You swallow back your anxiety, make sure Brad isn’t about to lurch around the corner to kick your ass, and then walk up calmly to tap her on the shoulder.

She hums at the touch and turns around, her perfectly manicured eyebrows shooting up in surprise when she sees you.  She doesn’t look thrilled that it’s you, but not disappointed either, which honestly calms you a little.  Her friends seem less impressed, but really, fuck them.  “Hey, Morty, what’s up?”

It always takes you a few seconds to compose yourself when she remembers your name.  Shit, you think, shit!! “I uh,” you stammer, and Beverly turns away to hide the fact that she’s trying not to laugh at you. “I, look, I didn’t mean to, but I saw your test score in class today when Mr. Harrison dropped them.”

“Oh my god,” Sarah says behind Jessica, “what a creep.”

Jessica doesn’t pay attention to Sarah, but she pulls her Chem book to her chest a little tighter.  “Okay?”

“Look, it’s just uh, this semester has been a lot easier for me, alright, and uh, I just wanted to know if--well, I could help, if you wanted, I’ve got an A in that class, if you wanted to ever like, you know, study after school?”

You don’t think she’ll say yes, but when she does you think you’re going to explode, just delirious with it.  You’re not even phased when you walk away to Sarah and Beverly whispering about you behind your back, snickering, and Jessica softly saying, “stop it, you guys!”  You don’t care that she tells them, “he’s so weird, but he’s cute in a puppy dog way, right?”  just within earshot.  You don’t care when she kicks her locker closed and says even softer, “And can you imagine how pissed Brad will be?”  

You’re on top of the world.

x

Usually if you’re not halfway across the multiverse with Rick when this dimension’s Morty is at school, you’re in his room looking through his shit, catching up on your sleep, or maintaining a sketchbook of plasma gun prototypes and dark matter harnesses.  Sometimes you plug in the USB of Rick’s memories and watch them on repeat, even though it makes you feel more than a little nauseous; whenever his mind’s eye turns to Morty on screen you feel your mouth get sticky with spit the way it does right before you puke your guts out.  You try to ignore what this means.

You think you’re going a little stir crazy maybe, especially when this universe’s Jerry is unemployed and constantly moving around downstairs.  You don’t want to be heard.  You don’t want to be seen.  You never want his eyes to look at you again.  You’re less afraid of hurting this Morty’s family if they find you, and more afraid that you’ll be powerless against them if they try to hurt you.  You hate feeling this helpless.  

It gets worse when this Morty starts staying late after school every day doing whatever the fuck average versions of you get up to in Rick-less worlds.  You run out of pages in your scrapbook, and the reel of Rick’s memories begins to make you shake with cold sweats, because they don’t have sounds, you can’t hear his thoughts, you don’t know why this Rick looks at you the way he looks at you--it’s not the same as the way yours stared at you, it isn’t longing, you don’t think?  It’s something you can’t define, it’s something you don’t know, and it scares you and feels like a relief all at once, because you’re starting to think maybe you don’t want Rick to look at you like that anymore.  

You don’t regret coming here, you don’t regret finding a new Rick, and you feel complete when you’re running away from certain death by his side in a way you haven’t felt since the first time he died.  You thought you would need more to feel this way, but now it feels like too much just thinking about it, makes your dick soft when your mind goes there lazily jerking off in other Morty’s bed for the third time today to pass time.

You don’t know what it means, but it makes you anxious and restless and you find yourself pacing loudly enough that Jerry comes up to investigate in the early afternoon.  There isn’t enough time between the second he knocks on the door and then opens it to calculate the best way to jump out your bedroom window without hurting yourself.  

“Morty?” he says in an easy way unfamiliar to you.  You’re in some flannel pajama pants and a t-shirt, but you might as well be naked.  You’re exposed.  You’re paralyzed.  “Did you skip school today?”

Your heartbeat is in your throat and you can’t speak around it.  A very small, young part of you wants to cry.  

“Bud, I know you’re out late with your grandpa sometimes, but, well, you can’t stay at home when you feel like it,” he says.  He sounds concerned, but his words are coming out soft, and you’re so, so confused.  This isn’t your father, you remember, you don’t know him.  He says “Morty?” again when you don’t answer, steps forward with his hand stretched out and you can’t move and you are frightened, you’ve been on the wrong side of his hands before and you thought you never would be again, but you had to come to this stupid fucking universe, didn’t you.

His hand comes down palm-first on your forehead.  “Oh wow, kiddo, you’re a little warm.  Did mom call in for you today?  Don’t know why she wouldn’t tell me you were sick.”

“N-no,” you hear yourself stammering out a lie, anything to keep him from touching you.  “Grandpa Rick did.”

He rolls his eyes, pulls his hand away. “Of course he did.  You know, between you and me, I know he doesn’t like me, but I wish he would respect me in my own house.”  

You say nothing.

“Anyway,” he says, trying to laugh it off, and you are still so confused.  “Did you want soup or anything? You used to like chicken and stars when you were little, but I understand if you’re a little old for that now.  Or if you’re not hungry--”

You don’t know what chicken and stars are.  You are hungry.  You’ve been subsisting on midnight fridge runs and alien junk food for the past month now.  “I’m hungry,” you say, not even thinking about it.  “Chicken and stars sounds good.”

“O-okay,” this dimension’s Jerry says a little uneasily.  “I might need to make a store run, but we can do that.  Feel free to watch whatever you want downstairs, by the way, you don’t have to stay cooped up in your room.  Unless this is some alien sickness and you’re in a quarantine.  I didn’t break into a quarantined area, right?”

He looks panicked, and you don’t know why, but you want to reassure him.  “No, i-i-it’s fine.  Just normal human sick,” you tell him, and he still looks concerned, so you punctuate it with, “dad.”

He smiles and rubs at his elbow the way you do when you’re nervous.  “Alright then, uh, I’ll be back in twenty--unless there’s anything else you want when I’m there?  Do you want some 7-Up, or something?”

“I’m fine,” you tell him, because you just want him to leave.  He nods, and ruffles your hair and you do your damndest not to wince.  When he trudges back downstairs and after you’ve heard him pull out of the driveway, it’s everything in your power to make it to the bathroom before you throw up.  You put your head against the toilet bowl and more dry heaves pulse through you, and you feel like you’re crying, but no sound comes out of your mouth beyond the retching, and your eyes don’t make tears, and you shake there in silence for longer than you know.  You’re still there when Jerry gets home, and you try to control your breathing to the sound of him whistling some song downstairs that you’ve never heard.

He finds you still in the bathroom.  Your face is red, but you’ve regained composure and flushed all the sick away.  “Soup’s ready downstairs, champ.  I can put it in the fridge for later though, if you’re not feeling too hot.”

“No,” you say through all the bile in your mouth.  It reminds you of Rick, your Rick, distantly.  Your stomach flip flops again.  “I’m fine.  I’ll be right there.”

He makes a pinched expression and nods, but he doesn’t look angry-- he looks as lost as you do.  You try to smile at him.  It takes effort.  He knocks on the doorframe a little uncomfortably and says, “whenever you’re ready,” and leaves you alone.  

You force yourself up and downstairs five minutes later.  Jerry’s turned some cartoons on TV, and is typing away at something on his laptop, drinking coffee from a chipped mug that has “DAD” painted on it in a clumsy script you recognize as your own.  There’s a bowl of soup still steaming on the dining room table, and a can of 7-Up with condensation running down the side on a coaster.  The soup has little star-shaped noodles, and smells amazing.  It tastes even better.

x

You jump this dimension’s Morty when he’s walking up the driveway late past dusk.  

“Your dad caught me,” you tell him, pressing him hard into the slatted sides of the house away from the window where no one will see the two of you together.  “He thinks you were home sick from school all day, so sneak through your window and fake a cough, alright?”

“A-a-alright,” he says, one eye closed as he winces away from you.  You don’t know how he’s made it this long, honestly, until you see him scale up the side of the chimney onto the second story roof to swing back into his open window.  

x

You get sick a week after the evil asshole version of you fakes sick, which means your parents don’t believe you and Mom makes you march back upstairs to put on some clothes, and don’t you have a test today?  You do, and there’s no saving you from geometry in this state, you’re screwed.  You trip over evil asshole you still asleep on the floor in your elementary school Scooby Doo sleeping bag on your way to the closet for a pair of pants.  

“You look like crap,” he says, muffled from where his blanket is tucked over his nose, but his eyes are awake and open and staring at you.  You hadn’t even noticed.  If you felt less like shit right now, you probably would have jumped.  

“Yeah-yeah, well I feel like crap, okay,” you croak out, miserable.  You want to crawl back into bed right now and sleep for a thousand years and maybe just die already.  

He’s silent while you stumble into your jeans one leg at a time, leaning against the wall just to pull up your fly.  You feel about as pathetic as you used to on adventures with Rick, when he used to stare down at you expecting answers to fly out of your mouth only to get nothing instead.

“I could go,” he says, after you slide down the wall to roll on your socks.  You stare at him dumbly for a few seconds.

“What?”

“I could go,” he says again, which, that’s what you thought he said but you weren’t sure, because why would he offer to go to school for you?

“I have a test today,” you say feebly.  You don’t even know if you can write your name right now, you feel like such garbage.  Maybe you’ll die before math class.  

“Yeah, well, I’m smart,” he says.  He sounds so sure of himself, and you want to know what happened different in his life that makes him so much more confident than you.  Even worse, you believe him.

“Okay, well, uh, be my guest,” you wave a lazy hand at him.  “The-there’s an index card with my class schedule on it in my binder.  My locker combination is 32-5-11.  Number uh, number 445.  Please, Morty, please don’t fuck anything up for me.”

He doesn’t promise you anything as he gets out of the sleeping back and rolls it up, before stepping over you to throw it on the top shelf in your closet.  He grabs the shirt you were going to wear and his own pair of pants, underwear, socks.  You watch him through glassy eyes as he pulls the sneakers out from under your bed and ties them one by one.  He’s about to step out of the room, when you grab him by the ankle, because,

“I really can’t have you mess up,” you say, and you feel like you’re going to cry, you feel so weak right now, “I’ve worked so hard to get my grades back up, please--”

“Yeah,” he says.  He puts his hands under your armpits and drags you up back to your bed.  “Fine.  Go back to sleep.  God.  It’s going to be fine.”

You fall asleep thinking maybe it will be.

x

The test is easy.  No one sits with you at lunch, but that’s okay.  You can fake being Morty around Rick, because you know Rick--but you don’t know this life.  You’d be out of your depth.  

One of the girls in your math class tries talking to you at the end of seventh period though when you’re shoving your books back into your backpack at your locker.  She looks shyer alone than she does with her friends, who always seem to be directing mean stares and soft laughs in your direction.

“Hey Morty,” she says, hands folded together behind her back, ankles crossed as she leans in next to your locker.  “Were you going to help me with chapter six homework tonight?”

So this is why Morty is always coming home late.  He’s probably convinced himself that this girl likes him, which is--you’re not sure what happened differently in his life that makes him so much more pathetic than you.  Even worse, you don’t know what makes him pathetic over this girl, who is objectively beautiful and smells nice and seems to fake kindness well.

Maybe you’re broken after all.  You don’t want Rick anymore, and you don’t want this girl, and maybe you’re broken.  

“Not today uh,” you say, trying to remember her name.  “Jennifer.  I-I-I’ve got something at home today with my parents and it’s uh, really important, so I have to go now.”

“Oh,” she says, wilting a little.  She looks down to her feet.  “Tomorrow then?”

You have no idea what this dimension’s Morty is sick with, so you don’t know which one of you will be here tomorrow.  “Maybe, I guess.”  

She looks back up at you and smiles, hesitant and genuinely seems a little hurt because you probably said something wrong.  You need to get out of here.  You pat her twice on the shoulder and push past her to go home.  It sounds like she kicks the locker behind you.  You don’t turn around.

x

“Is there a girl with red hair in your math class you like?”

You spent the day trying not to violently puke into the garbage can you snuck out of the upstairs bathroom and trying not to stress out between sweaty fever dreams about evil asshole you at school, poisoning teachers, kissing Jessica with tongue.  You roll over to face him, where he’s kicking your sneakers off back under your bed.  

“Yeah?” you say, pulling the covers up like it will protect you from whatever he says next, whatever he does.  You’re pretty sure he wouldn’t kill you now if he didn’t this morning, after he tucked you into bed when you were delirious with a fever.

“I think she likes you too,” he says, staring at his socks.

“W-w-why, did she uh, kiss you or something?” you ask. If he says “yes,” you imagine it will be worse than him actually killing you.

“No! No.  She uh.  Just seemed sad you weren’t helping her with homework today,” he says, rolling his eyes coolly.  He lets your backpack slide off his shoulder with a whump next to the bed.  “Look, you could probably ask her out, and she’d probably say yes.”

“She has a boyfriend,” you say, even though you think her and Brad are technically on a break this week.  You’re trying to remember what she told you over chemistry homework two days ago, when she showed you her first A-grade assignment.  She’d wiped a tear out of her eye with her thumb and said, I don’t even care, Morty, I won’t let him get to me today, because look! Look, she had said, and she had been laughing through her tears.  

“Whatever, don’t uh, don’t be such a bitch,” he says.  “Anyway, Rick wants me to go help harvest some magnetar radiation, but I just wanted to let you know.”

“Hey,” you say weakly, your insides having been compromised hours ago before you were told you might have a fraction of a chance with Jessica, “thanks.”

He doesn’t say anything else, just leaves you lying there in your own sick sweat, but you feel better than you have all day, all year, because Jessica maybe likes you.

x

She says yes.  

x

The night of the high school winter formal you find yourself trapped in an alien robot space prison after you and Rick get caught manipulating their satellites for reasons unknown to you.  

“These android shitheads might r-r-really have spent too much time trying to understand human weaknesses,” Rick grumbles, feeling around the cool steel walls that seem to go up endlessly.  “I can’t believe those assholes made an anti-magnetic chamber that also smells like bacon, like, who are these sick fucks, right, Mmmmorty?”

You’ve been feeling the seam between the floor and the wall for about thirty minutes trying to find a weak spot, with no results, and it’s making you anxious and pissed.  “Will you shut up while I try to get us out of here, Rick?”

“Ugh,” Rick says, pulling out his flask and taking a big swig before capping it and leaning against the wall.  “Look, it’s been a great few months pretending, buUHHHHt I think we’re gonna need to call my Morty in for this one.”

You freeze.

“What, you thought I didn’t know?  That way you pretend to stutter, and get all fucking weird around everyone else?  Look, you know what my Morty would be doing in this situation, Morty?” He waves his flask at you, and you can feel yourself biting your lip hard enough to break skin. “He would be freAAAKing the fuck out, Morty,  He would be losing his mind and pr-r-r-obably pissing himself, let’s be real.  You think I don’t know my own goddamned grandson?”

You stand up slowly, leveling a glare at him.  He angrily twists the cap off of his flask again with the side of his hand in a practiced way you don’t want to think about.  He doesn’t seem amused by whatever bravery or defiance you’re trying to display, but you don’t care.  “So--so you want some Morty who would be pissing himself, peeling back his eyes with fear? I, I, I’m trying to get us out of here, Rick.”

“Yeah, but look, M-Morty is at his best when he’s uh, in a state of total panic, and you--you’re just too calm, it uh, kind of freaks me out, no offense,” Rick says, taking another big gulp.  “I mean, you’ve been great, but you’re just another Mmmorty, and at this point, not even useful to me, so.”

You open your mouth to say something else, but he raises his hand to shush you.

“Save it.  Really, don’t embarrass yourself,” he says, before dialing his dimension’s Morty on his wristwatch.

x

You’ve got your hands on Jessica’s waist and are looking up at her and she’s looking down at you.  She’s wearing a lavender dress that’s a little on the short side, and you’re trying not to think about it and just look up into her eyes as you sway to the first slow song of the night when you feel your wrist buzzing.against her back.

“Uh?” she laughs a little, trying to twist around to see what is buzzing.  Against whatever desire you have to do otherwise, you find yourself pulling apart on the dance floor.  Rick’s face pops up on your watch.

“Mmmorty! Morty.  Me and your evil doppelganger are stuck in some shitty robot prison that smells like breakfast, Morty.  You need to come get us,” he says, somehow audible over the sounds of some nineties R&B.  “I’m not fucking around, I don’t know how this is gonna get worse, but I bet it is and fast.  TheEEre’s a spare ship under the garage, Morty, I need you to plug in these coordinates and come get us.”

“Is that your grandpa?” Jessica asks, a little confused, watching over your shoulder.

“Y-y-yeah,” you say a little angrily.  

She leans her chin on your shoulder.  “Do you have to go?”

Yes,” Rick screams from your watch, “Stop thinking with your dick, Morty, or so help me, I’m gonna haunt your ass--hey,” he says off screen, to someone else, “come talk some sense into yourself.”

The screen on your watch whirls around until you’re looking at the angry, wordless face of your other self.

“Uh,” Jessica says, taking a few steps back away from you.  “Is that another--you?  What’s going on, Morty?”  

“Yeah,” you say, resigned.  You turn around, and Jessica looks afraid and worried and completely out of her depth, but if there’s anything you’ve learned about her in the past few weeks, it’s that she’s completely unpredictable.  She did say yes to coming to this dance with you after all.  She even drove you here.

It makes you think.

“Hey, Jessica,” you say, “have you ever wanted to go to outer space?”

x

You’re rescued two hours later when Morty crashes through the wall of the prison in another piecemeal garbage ship with Jessica in the passenger seat.  They’re both screaming loud enough to hear as the nose of the ship peels the wall back, and Rick shelters you from the crash with his body just in time.  

“I think I’m gonna be sick,” you hear Jessica say, as the ship’s doors hiss open.

“Oh man, it does smell like breakfast here, what the hell,” you hear this dimension’s you say a little less startled.  

You’re worried that Rick is dead for a second, until he pushes himself off of you hastily.

“Knew we could count on you, Mmmmorty, thanks for getting us out of here,” he’s saying, pushing past both Morty and Jessica to get into the ship.  You rub your eyes and push yourself up to see Jessica staring googly-eyed at the other you.

“You crashed the ship into the robot prison on purpose?” She says, dusting off her skirt, blushing a little. “Wow, Morty.  That’s so impressive.”

“Whatever, losers, get in, let’s get the fu-u-u-uck outta here!” Rick shouts from the open door, the ship humming back to life under his fingers already.  

Morty jogs over to offer you a hand up, which you begrudgingly take.  Jessica smiles at you shyly--you know what she’s thinking, and you don’t want any part of it.  It looks like spineless, normal you is the champion of everything tonight.  Hoo-fucking-ray, you want to go home.  And not just the bedroom floor of this dimension’s Morty, but to your own dimension, where you’re rightfully alone and love no one, and no one loves you.  You get into the back of the spaceship and try to make yourself as small as possible, but Rick catches you staring menacingly into the black of space on the drive home like he knows exactly what you’re thinking.

“Cut the shit,” he says, catching your gaze in the rearview mirror. “We’re going home, we’re telling Beth and Jerry what you two have been up to, and the both of you are helping me break into a Braxlaxi mine to steal some diamonds next Saturday.”

x

You watch Jessica kiss other Morty on the cheek before driving off into the night, him swooning and going noodle legged in the doorway as soon as her car goes around the corner.  He's bleeding from a huge cut on his jaw that he hasn't tended to once tonight and seems to still not notice even now.

Chicks dig scars, you remember faintly.  

You feel sick.



III.  

“I was wondering why we were going way over on our grocery budget,” Dad says, looking the two of you down sternly at the table.  Evil asshole you shrinks lower in his seat than you do, and you put an arm over the back of his chair for solidarity or something, you’re not sure, but it looks like he needs it.  

“I just thought Morty finally hit puberty,” Summer says bored, not even looking up from her phone at the dining room table.  “He’s been jerking it all over the house like a cat in heat, and it’s freaking me out.”

“I hit puberty like, three years ago, Summer, what the hell!” you say.  

Mom winks at Summer over her glass of bargain world red blend.  “Don’t tease your brother, Summer, or I’ll tell everyone about how you begged me to buy a detachable showerhead for your thirteenth birthday.”

“Oh my God, mom!” Summer shrieks, slamming her phone on the table and going as pink as her shirt.  She doesn’t look anyone in the eye as she pushes her chair back with her heels to leave.  “I hate everyone in this family!”

You turn to other Morty, as if to say, can you believe it?  As if to say, we’re in this together now.  But he won’t meet your eyes either.

x

This dimension’s Morty is at school, and you’re at home one day bored out of your mind when you decide to watch Rick’s memories again.  You haven’t in awhile, but you get this sick craving for it every now and then.  You still want to know what he’s thinking about when he looks at you.  It makes you anxious and shaky when you see what he sees without hearing his thoughts, because you remember the inside of his mind with such clarity, and the older you get-- you’re starting to wonder if it wasn’t his thoughts influencing you, instead of visa versa.  He was always smarter than you, even after you pieced him back together.

You feel so fucking stupid.

You’re halfway through a well-worn part of the recording--Rick is being put to bed by other you, and other you is small but still experienced enough to put a towel on Rick’s pillow and a trash can by his bed and a glass of water on his nightstand--when Rick walks into the room.  

“Are you watching my thoughts Morty, what the fuck,” he says behind you.  Rick on-screen is waving his hand for the glass of water, knocks it over.  Quieter, he says, “Turn that shit off, Morty.”

You hit the pause button, and turn around to face him.  You’re still on your stomach on your--other Morty’s--bed.  You try your hardest to not look like a guilty dog that’s gotten into the trash, but you can tell by his wary expression that you’re failing spectacularly.   You try your hardest not to look vulnerable.

“I was gonna see if uh--well I was gonna make you come with me to steal back some jet boot prototypes that a colleague of mine stole in the sixties, because they’re worth a fortune now and you’re the only one who can fit through the ventilation shafts in his complex, but uh, I might just fly this one solo,” he says, putting his hands up and slowly backing out of the room like he’s the scared one.

He stops when you, thinking out loud, ask, “Do you love me, Rick?”

“Do I love you?” Rick repeats, face reorienting itself a little perplexed and almost disgusted.  “Are you a third, gayer alternate dimension version of my grandson?  Because listen, one was already too many.”

“I’m trying to be serious, Rick,” and you can’t help yourself from stammering, “do-do you love me?”

“I don’t answer stupid questions,” Rick says, staring you down. “And this is about as dumb as the time you asked me if God is real when you were six.  Well, I guess that wasn’t you-you, but you catch my drift.”

“What do you think about,” you try again, “when you look at me.”

“I think ‘how am I gonna get this little shit to help me steal back my jet boot prototypes,’” Rick spits out, folding his arms over his chest completely unamused.

“Do you think about--do you think about touching me?” you say, your voice cracking halfway through the sentence, and you do sound stupid, you should stop.  

Something switches gears in Rick’s eyes though, and he backs into the door more, his whole body compressing a little bit like what you said lashed out and stung him.  He’s silent for a second, sucking in a deep breath.  “Are you--are you from that patriarchal dimension where grandpas fuck their grandsons as a rite of passage?  No--no, I’m serious, Morty, it’s a real dimension, haven’t you seen them at the council?  They’re always tongue-fucking each other and dry humping on every goddamn thing.  They’re worse than the Rick and Morty from the universe where we aren’t even related, and they just met in a university coffee shop and decided they wanted to bang all over space and time together.  D-d-don’t look at me like that, Morty, it’s not my fault there are infinite realities where sometimes we fuck each other.  And no, this isn’t one of those realities.  Are you disappointed or something?”

You look back to the video, where you see yourself trapped in some gelatinous organism trying to assimilate you, while Rick stands by and watches.  You’re not sure how to feel.  “No,” you say unsteadily.  “I’m glad.”

“Good,” Rick says.  “B-b-because that, at least here, Morty, in this universe?  That’s not what love looks like.  That’s not what love is.  And I’m not some fucking authority, okay, if you’re gonna aAAAsk me about love, you’re gonna get a disappointing answer.  Love is the way that you--my version of you looks at his dopey girlfriend after they crash land a spaceship into a robot prison and miraculously don’t impale us on shrapnel, Morty.  Love--love is the way your mother--Beth, my daughter--gets into bed with her loser husband every night and doesn’t wake up screaming.  I can’t begin to understand--” his fingers make quotation marks, “love, Morty, so don’t fucking ask me, alright?  Okay, Morty, you happy?”

You aren’t, but you are cautiously less afraid.  You close the laptop, and unplug the USB drive, tossing it to him.  

“Wow, thanks,” he mutters sarcastically, putting it in his chest pocket.  “What I really wanted, a reminder of every dumb fucking thing I’ve ever done.  I drink to forget, you know?  But don’t tell uh, you that, or anyone else.  Hey, you wanna uh, come help me steal back some jet boots?  Now that this shitty conversation is over?  I could really use your help, I’m not as spry as I used to be, Morty.”

“Fine,” you say, breathing it out with a whole lot of other shit at once.  “But I’m driving.”

“ThaAAAt’s my grandson, come on,” Rick says.  You get off the bed and step into your shoes, his hand pushing you forward out the door between your shoulder blades.  

x

It’s when you’re flying back in his junk bucket rocket ship with a pair of jet boots in your lap and fiberglass burns up your neck that you realize you’re really going home, to this house you share with another you, a family that accepts you despite what you are, a Rick that is selfish and cruel but completely transparent at the end of the day--and you’re not going to lose them, you won't let yourself.  You're going to be okay.