It all started so well… You had met him through the internet, after requesting if you could have a personal design of a smuppet. He had loved the idea you sent in, and it was much to your surprise that he’d showed up at your door to discuss your proposal, to see if you’d had anything else he could turn into a new line of them. The two of you hit it off instantly—of course you did: you, the shy, stubborn, and compassionate woman, him the upbeat, creative, and lonely man. He introduced you to his lifestyle, to his brother, and saved you from the downward spiral your life had been headed before you even realized what had happened… It was a modern day fairytale, really, something you’d always wanted to believe in but were too afraid would crush your hopes if given the chance. He persuaded you to stay with him and his brother, and life was everything you’d ever wanted it to be. And it wasn’t long after you’d met him in person that Dirk confessed his desire to be with you, and of course you said yes, even with that small, pessimistic voice in the back of your head telling you it couldn’t last. You didn’t want to believe.
But life isn’t a fairy tale.
And nothing is ever so simple and happily-ever-after…
It is late one night, a couple years later, when you realize not everyone is happy in your little world. You and Dirk’s brother, Dave, are staying up late and watching movies as you wait for him to come home from his errands. It’s normal, even comforting, to sit beside the younger Strider brother. He’s closer to your age, just a year older, and like his bro too handsome for his own good. You remember blushing furiously when you’d first met him, certain you’d be suffocated by the attractive force of both men in the same room. His usual poker face is in place, but you’ve been long here enough to be able to sense something is wrong with the blonde man, even behind his aviator shades.
Suddenly he tenses, taking a deep, fortifying breath—as if he is about to face some great danger and has only a flimsy sword to protect himself from that fire-breathing monster. The movie pauses, and he sets the remote on the table in front of you, pulling one leg up under him as he turns in your direction. “____, there’s something I need to tell you. Before I lose my nerve and talk myself out of saying this, and before it’s too late to do anything about it.” His mouth opens for the next sentence, but he can’t seem to get anything out for a moment. You wait for his statement, brows drawing closer together the longer he takes. Just as you open your own to question him, a feeling of worry settling like a stone in your stomach, he finally speaks.
“I’m sorry…” he whispers, then leans down and presses his lips to yours. You go limp from the shock of the action, surprise loosening your limbs. His mouth is warm, and soft, and for a single guilty moment you want nothing more than to close your eyes and sink into the promises his kiss silently imply… But soon enough he’s pulling away, breathing nervously against your mouth for a second before standing up and facing away from you. You touch your fingers to your lips, disbelief coloring your features.
“I’m not asking you to leave him, you know,” he quickly interjects before you can speak. “To choose me instead. I wouldn’t do that to either of you. But…you just needed to know. You have that right. And I just wanted to tell you…you have options, okay? And if you ever need someone, you can still come to me. I’ll always be here for you, I promise. And if I’m not, I’ll come to you.”
“Dave…” The shock slowly wears off, and your chest clenches in sympathy and uncertainty.
He makes a slashing motion through the air, silencing you gently. “It’s alright, ____. You don’t have to say anything. Nothing has to change. You can even forget this ever happened. But at least I didn’t just give up and cowardly let you go, right? And that counts for something, doesn’t it?” He runs a hand through his hair, walking toward his room.
“I’m sorry…” you whisper.
He pauses outside his room, hand gripping the door, and turns his head in your direction—though he still doesn’t look at you. He knows what you mean, that you’re apologizing for not being able to return his feelings, that you don’t want him to have to go through something this and that you wish you could help. “Don’t have anything to be sorry for, ____.” He shuts the door silently, the quiet noise somehow more unnerving that if he’d slammed it closed in frustration. You wince at the soft ‘click’ of his lock, pulling your knees to your chest and pressing the fingers of one hand to your mouth. You shouldn’t really be so surprised—the two of you have been close since the beginning—but you guess…you just never knew how close.
You know everything is going to change now, despite what he’s said, and spend the next hour staring blankly at the wall behind the television until Dirk gets back. He knows something’s up as soon as he sees you, and he immediately pulls you into his arms. You just shake your head at his inquiries, unsure how to answer, and bury your face in his chest. You don’t care that there’s nothing you can do, that it isn’t your fault. You feel awful anyway. And for that one night, at least, you indulge the emotion while Dirk lets you hug him close and rubs soothing circles into your spine. You feel so confused…
A few weeks later you stare at the suitcases by the door in shock, barely taking note of the voices in the other room. Ever since the kiss happened, Dave has been avoiding you. For the first week you tried to talk to him, to sort things through so everything could go back to normal between you—to make him understand that you want him to stay, because you were afraid you would lose him, and that thought scares you. You love him too, though not, you believe, in the same way you love Dirk…
Although, with the pain you’re feeling at the thought of his absence, you’re no longer too sure about that… But it isn’t possible, is it? You can’t love them both—it’s selfish, and cruel, and unfair, and…and wrong. It’s frustrating, and heartbreaking…and you’re so confused. When did things turn so off course? What force has conspired to lead to this unhappiness? It isn’t fair for Dave—or Dirk. You can’t make them both happy, when that’s all you want to do, and the knowledge of that is enough to shatter your heart.
The boys appear from the kitchen, both pausing at the sight of you with your arms over your belly, staring sadly at the bags by the door. You lift your eyes to smile weakly at Dave, who has a much better poker face than you at this moment. “You’re leaving?”
He gives you a little smile, then reaches out to ruffle your hair playfully. “Yeah, I’m off to Cali for a while to try and get my movie off the ground. It’s gonna be so fuckin’ sweet when I do—I’ll even come back afterward to treat you poverty-stricken losers to a nice dinner for once.” You know he’s trying to lighten the mood—Dirk’s business brings in plenty of money on mass market sales alone—but you can only bring yourself to just hold your sad smile in place for him.
“Why don’t you emotional panty wearers say your teary goodbyes while I put this stuff in the car?” Dirk shoves Dave out of the way to grab the suitcases.
“Bro, no, I can get my own shit.”
“Shut the fuck up, Dave. You’ll be carrying all your own bags for the next few months. I got this.” He snatches the small case Dave had managed to grab and absconds through the door, slamming it shut in his brother’s face with his foot. You watch him silently as he glares at the door, seeing his shoulders rise as he takes a deep breath and turns to you.
“Are you leaving because of me?” you whisper.
He shakes his head, but you don’t believe it. “I really do want to get my film in the works, you know. And, well, now’s as good a time as any.”
You sigh, looking away. “Are you coming back?”
“Eventually, but probably not for a while.” He pauses, letting out a deep breath. “Honestly? … As stupid and pathetic as it makes me, I don’t think I could stay away forever. Not from my Bro…and not from you. So I’ll be back—I promise.” You are nearly overcome by a strong desire to hug him, but you hold back, unsure whether you should or not. He seems to sense your hesitation, though, and so stands there as awkwardly as you do before reaching for the door. “See ya later, ____.” The door once again shuts quietly behind him, and a warm tear escapes from your eye before you can stop it. You hurriedly wipe it away, inhaling a shuddering breath to get yourself back under control.
Dirk finds you in the kitchen, watching Dave leave through the gauzy curtain of the window. His heavy arm settles comfortably on your shoulders, holding you close to his supportive warmth as the knot of tension eases from your body. You don’t love him any less, but you can’t but feel a little guilty as well.
“Don’t worry, hun. He’ll visit often—I’ll see to that personally,” he tries to assure you, misreading your mood. You nod, acknowledging his reassurances. He stands there with you silently for a while as you try to organize your thoughts, to tell him what’s been plaguing you for so long now, but before you can find the words he presses his lips to your forehead and pulls back. “Come on, ____. Let’s go for a walk, alright?” You nod, agreeing easily. Maybe it will do you both good.
The sky outside is overcast, an unusual sight for Texas. The streets are actually slick from the rainfall, and the park nearby is almost deserted as you and your boyfriend traversed its wet walkways. Your fingers are intertwined loosely, and already his presence is soothing your emotions. He needs you, more than Dave ever would, which is one of the reasons why you know who you’d choose first. He needs you, this strong man with a heart of gold and a loyal, sensitive spirit. So you decide to let it go, and accept the fact that there are some things you can’t control, no matter how unfair they seem.
You halt in your path, letting your interlocked fingers tug at Dirk before he stops to look back at you with a smile. “Are you ready to head back, then?” he asks. You nod and he turns back wordlessly, stepping closer to you and wrapping his arms around your back. You place your loose fists on his chest as he leans down, taking your lips softly in his own. You melt, finding a great measure of happiness and security in his kiss. The action is slow, and chaste, and sweet, and you feel a balance of rightness at the press of his mouth. In that moment you know you’d never let him go.
But it isn’t always up to you, now is it?
It is all too quick as it happens, just as such things are. When time seems to be sped up by fate, to a speed where you can’t do anything to prevent what’s going to happen. Where all you can do is watch the events unfold, unable to stop them, unable to cry out and intervene until after the damage has been done.
It started with a small boy, probably around five years old, who ran out into the street after his tiny red ball. You slowed as the shiny toy was reflected in the lights of the huge blue sedan, bouncing once, twice, nearly three times before you realized what was happening. Fortunately for the boy, Dirk wasn’t so slow. His reflexes have always been superb, the best, but even then he’s only human. The young child flies backward, having been pushed out of the way by your love’s protective arms, and the expression of shock you catch on the boy’s face right before it is blocked by the car’s bulk will always haunt your nightmares as he lands just on the other side of the double yellow lines.
The sedan keeps moving, swerving into a wall as it unsuccessfully tries to avoid the new body in front of it. Its tires bounce over the curb, and the vehicle seems to ricochet off the concrete and rear back before settling with a shattering hiss. But you don’t even glance up as the driver crawls free, your eyes wide in horror and fixed on the crumpled body lying under the car. Your mouth opens, a small whimper escaping alongside the disbelieving tears in your eyes, before an agonized scream is ripped from your throat. You finally find your legs and rush forward, skidding to a stop on your knees beside the spikey blonde hair you know so well. You gently pull off the pointy shades hanging from one of his ears and expose his face, a sob shuddering into your lungs as they expand after your shrill scream. You place your hands on either side of his face, careful not to move him, and gently pat his cheek to get him to respond.
“Dirk. Dirk, baby, please, open your eyes. Come on. Please, Dirk, open your fucking eyes—I can’t, I need you to stay with me now. Come on, baby, please, listen to me.” Your voice raises an octave as you grow more desperate, wobbling through your sobs of terror. “Dirk, come on. Open your eyes Dirk. Say something, please. Tell me you’re alright. Oh, god, you have to be alright, you have to be! Come on, Dirk, please! Don’t you dare give up on me! Dirk!” You sob, eyes wavering and watery, fluid dripping from your nose as you panic. Scarlet blood has begun to color the ground beneath him, washing into the cracks in the pavement. “Dirk,” you chant, using the litany as a prayer. “Dirk, Dirk, Dirk, no… Dirk, no. Please. Oh my god, no, please.” You feel hands trying to pull you away, but you violently shrug them off, blinking through the wetness streaming from your eyes. “Dirk…” Your breath catches as you see his eyelid flicker, pulling in discomfort. The beautiful orbs open slowly, bright orange focusing on your face as he forces a smile to his lips.
“Hey, baby, why’re you cryin’? Don’t you know Striders never cry?”
You shake your head, releasing more tears. “Dirk…” You lean down to softly press your lips to his, only pulling away when he starts coughing. You’re panic doubles at the thin trail of red leaking from the corner of his mouth, but you try your damnedest to keep from showing it. “I’m not a Strider, you oaf. I’ll cry all I want.” You sniff, wiping away a few drops of the flow from your cheek. “I have every right to.” Your voice breaks on the fourth letter, sounding out your pain for him to hear.
He takes a deep breath, coughing a bit more before resuming his tight smile. “Now don’t be like that. I was hoping, one day, you would be. Have to get in practice you know…”
“Oh, god Dirk…” You know he’s in bad shape, the fact he isn’t trying to move saying a lot…if he can even move at all. His arms lay awkwardly lifeless at his sides, unmoving from where they’d landed after the accident.
“____, listen to me.” You blink at his suddenly serious tone, focusing on his eyes. Your hand smooths over his brow shakily and he takes in another strangled breath. “Take care of Dave. Be happy, okay? And cut the poor kid a break.” He briefly stops talking to clear his lungs with more coughing, and then wheezes for more breath. “He really cares for you. More than he wanted to. And you feel the same. So don’t leave him to go through this alone, ‘kay? He’s gonna need you more than ever…”
“Dirk, no. You’re not going anywhere, don’t talk like this.” Your throat is tight from his words. He knew. He’s always known, and he doesn’t judge his brother. Or you. But you don’t care. You just want him to live, and you’ll happily take the rest.
His hand lifts weakly, but his grasp on your palm is strong. “Promise me. You’ll care for him.” You open your mouth to speak, but nothing comes out. Instead you bring his knuckles to your mouth and press your lips fiercely against them, sniffling again.
“I promise,” you squeak. “I promise. But you have to promise me you’ll get through this, okay?” He exhales a shuddering breath, lips twitching into another smile.
“Sorry, darlin’. I’m not in a position to make any such promises. But I’ll try. For you, I’ll try.” He squeezes your hand and you grip him back, desperate.
“Dirk, no. You have to promise me.” He smiles sadly, shakily stroking your cheek with the back of his knuckles.
“Love ya, ____. I’ll do the best I can.”
“Dirk…” The hands pulling at you return, this time more insistent. It’s the paramedics.
“Ma’am? We need you to step aside, please. We’re here to help.” You nod, giving his hand one last squeeze.
“I love you too, Dirk. Always will.” You’re finally pulled away from him by one of the EMTs, and a bystander kindly drapes his coat over your shoulders as you helplessly watch them work on your injured boyfriend. You pull the item closer, chilled to your core. The world around you blurs to nothing, all your focus on the dimming orange eyes fixed on you. When they finally get the stretcher under him, lifting him into the ambulance, one of the men escorts you into the front seat. You keep your body twisted the entire time, watching the commotion in the back of the vehicle and uncomprehending of the burning tears wetting your cheeks. The blaring siren clearing the area is nothing but white noise against the fearful thump of your heart, the unsteady rasping of your lungs. The only sound that gained your attention was the ringing scream of the heart monitor, indicating a loss of function, but thankfully the two times it sang it’s heartfelt cry the paramedics were able to return it to its regular rhythm.
Suddenly the back doors are opening and he’s being wheeled away, and you’re throwing open your own door to rush after them. A few voices call out to stop you, but they could have been the whisper of the wind for all their deterrence. Eventually someone catches you up and carries your struggling form to the ER waiting room. They hold you there until you understand you have to stay put, and then leave someone by the door just in case you need anything.
You stand where the man had left you for a few minutes, in the middle of the room. You look around you blankly, trembling hands clasped to your chest in an effort to slow you rapid heartbeat, your shallow breathing. It isn’t long until a nurse appears and coaxes you out of the way, checking your pulse and breathing. She says something about shock, but you aren’t really tracking. You ignore her attempts to get you to lie down, instead just leaning back against the wall. She says something more, but you feel she wasn’t talking to you, so you ignore it. A blanket is wrapped over you, carefully tucked around your shoulders and neck. Your shivering only becomes apparent to you when you nearly bite your tongue off, and the pain finally sends a jolt of actual awareness into you again.
A sudden need grips you, and you start patting your pockets, looking for your phone. But you can’t find it, and the frustration you experience blinds you with more weeping. Your anxiety brings back the attention of the nurse, and they kneel down to see what you need and whether they can get you calm again.
“I have to call him.,” you whisper.
“Call who?” They motion someone to get the phone ready. “What’s their number?”
You prattle off Dave’s number and clutch the receiver to your ear desperately when they give it to you. The ringing tone seems to go on forever, and you nearly think he isn’t going to pick up. Maybe he’s turned off his phone…
“Strider here.” The sound of his voice is the sweetest noise you’ve ever heard, and you nearly sob in relief as you close your eyes, grounded once again. “… Hello? Who is this? I swear to god, if this is a prank call it had better be ironic or—”
“Dave…” you whisper, making him pause.
“____?” he replies warily. “____, what’s up? Why are you calling from this number?”
“Dave, I… Oh, god Dave, I need you… Please, come get me.”
“What’s happened? Where are you?”
“Hospital,” you choke out.
“Oh, shit. ____, what happened?” His voice is forceful, commanding, and you hold the phone closer to your ear in response.
“Dirk…” You sob, the sound of his name from your mouth shattering your heart further. “He’s… Dave, he’s…” You can’t seem to get any more out, as if the lump in your throat is substantial enough to kill your voice.
“Shhh, ____, shhh. It’s okay—everything is going to be okay, alright? Just hang on. I’m almost there. Just hold on for me.”
“Yeah.” You shiver, pulling the blue, sterile blanket closer to your neck, seeking protection. The material is damp from your tears, cold against your skin.
“Are you still there?”
“Yeah… Yeah, I’m here.”
“I’m at the doors now. You hear me? I’m here.”
“Okay.” The doors slam open, revealing Dave from the other side. His phone is to his ear, and until the moment he spots you it stays there. You don’t move, even when the dial tone is screaming into your ear. His long strides bring him over quickly, and Dave carefully extracts the receiver from your hold and sets it on the counter near your head. The frazzled medical staff that had followed in the wake of his unauthorized entrance flutter about for a while until they determine just who he is, and then tell him what happened. Dave watches them go in shock as they finally leave the two of you alone in the sterile, hopeless enclosure of the waiting room to await news of Dirk’s status.
Dave sits down beside you, wrapping you safely under his arm. You lean into him desperately, hiding your face in his chest as he soothingly rubs your back in small circles. You can feel him trembling beside you, and lean closer. You stay huddled like that for hours, slowly moving closer and closer to each other until you’re huddled pitifully in his lap, face buried in his shirt even as his shades are buried in your hair. You feel sick, head pounding from your weeping and stomach churning from the lack of food you aren’t interested in.
Time passes slowly, the minutes an endless, churning motion, yet the passage of it is nothing to note or mark as significant. It seems like it could have been seconds before the physician steps from the doorway, glancing at many of the other additions to the room before calling for you. Funny, you didn’t even notice you weren’t alone. Where had these people come from?
Dave refocuses you as he stands, pulling you with him. His face is strained, lips pressed into a tight line. You follow his gaze to watch the doctor, who’s calm face seems out of place in your emotional turmoil, and yet right at home in the cold environment of the hospital room. You strain your ears to hear him tell you that Dirk is fine, that their just letting him recover for a few nights and that you can go home and come back tomorrow. But the blood pounding through your ears mutes him, and you stare, uncomprehending as he shakes his head.
But Dave’s quiet noise of pain drifts through all of that, stopping your own heart in agony. No…
No, no, no.
No, oh god, no… Dirk.
You tear away violently to find him. He can’t be gone, the doctor has to be lying. But strong, warm arms hold you back, holding you to Dave as you thrash wildly. You note that your throat hurts, that your jaw aches, that everything is wavering into a blurred nothingness. You’re screaming, the mournful cry turned into a deafening white noise through the thick agony fogging your mind. You don’t notice the shocked glances of the other bystanders, waiting for their own news. Not the sorrowful, misty eyes of the staff who, for once, take note of your pain. Not the change in scenery as they are forced to bring you to a separate room to calm down.
Soon you feel a sharp pain in your shoulder, and a cooling sensation. The world slows again as the drug takes effect, slowing your heart rate and forcing a false calm over your limbs. Dave covers your eyes with a hand, pressing your ear to his chest and his lips to your head. His breathing soothes you further, his heartbeat giving your own organ a steady rhythm to follow. Once you quiet down Dave says some grateful words to the doctors and picks you up, carrying you away from the sterile environment. The last thing you remember is being loaded into the side seat of Dave’s car, the familiar scent and feel of the leather comforting, and lulling you into a thankful, dreamless sleep…
You crack your eyes open, blinking uncomprehendingly at the light shining mutedly through your filmy curtains. The angle shows its sunset, but that can’t be right. Why would you sleep all day? That isn’t normal…
But something in the back of your mind doesn’t want to remember, and the feeling of dread you experience is enough to make you drop the mental excavation. But it comes anyway, the memory so much worse now that you’re coherent of the magnitude. You try to keep your sobbing quiet, not wanting your pain to echo about the seemingly cavernous room and torture you, or to have Dave hear on the off chance that he’d stayed.
Striders don’t cry, you remind yourself.
Never have you both loved and hated such a statement, wanting to scream and rampage your pain away while simultaneously longing to be a Strider, as Dirk had wanted. But you do nothing, staring blankly at the darkening window as its rays of light move along the floor due to the sun falling from the sky, hot tears pouring silently down your face while your emotions roil dangerously under your skin. The door creaks open, and you look up to see Dave. He’s disheveled in appearance, hair mussed and no shoes on, his clothing wrinkled. His shades are off, hanging around his neck, and you can see his eyes are red—though not due to his irises. But you don’t say anything.
He comes over and sits next to you on the bed, staring at the same wall you had been. After a moment you take his hand, giving it a light squeeze. He returns the gesture, his grip tighter than yours, but he doesn’t stop clutching your palm. You’re sure your grip is just as desperate. After a while he pulls away to set his glasses on the bedside table and then lay behind you, wrapping your cold frame in his arms and holding you with that same sorrowful desperation for comfort. Your eyes close, feeling guilty for the ease of which you accept the embrace. He feels your tension and presses his face into your back.
“I’m not asking for anything,” he reassures you. “Just…let me have this. If nothing else, just for tonight…” His voice is rough, husky with tears. You shudder, sniffling, and nod. He breathes a sigh of relief, most of his form relaxing against you. His arms stay tight, though, as if it’s his strength holding you together, and it’s…nice. You don’t want to be strong. Not now. Maybe not ever again. You bite back another sob, hiding it unsuccessfully from the Strider in the room.
“It’s alright, ____. You can let go,” he whispers. “Striders may not weep, but heaven can cry. So let your angel tears flow for the both of us, alright?” His voice breaks on the last word, and he takes a second to compose himself. You shudder once more, turning your face into your pillow, and do as he says. “That’s it, ____. We’ll be okay. Tomorrow you can sort through all this, but for now don’t hold it back. You don’t have to. Because I’m here, I promise.” He presses his face harder into your skin, voice muffling a little, and you feel your shirt grow slightly damp against your back. Your sobs grow more powerful, and you ride them out for a long time, believing they’ll never end.
But eventually they do, and you turn around in Dave’s arms to hide in his chest like a small, fearful creature. He pulls you close, wrapping himself protectively around you, his arms perfect steel bands still holding your splintered self together. The feeling protective, and cathartic, and caring. And despite the corner of your mind screaming for another set of arms, this…this is exactly what you need.