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A Boxcar Feels Jam

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Another night, another new worry.

You watch as string after string of blood rolls off your arm and onto the dirt below. The inside of your jacket is completely soaked from your frantic attempts not to leave a trail and your sleeve is ripped. You went and got yourself torn up pretty good tonight. Damn Lucids, making you roll right off the rafters and into sharp machinery.

On the bright side, your ankles are intact for once and you think you're a whiz at basic first aid now.

After a grueling god-knows-how-long of gritting your teeth and applying every stolen antibiotic cream you could find hiding around the boxcar, you're all wrapped up and throwing yourself into the beanbag in the corner, setting your dirty jacket over your lap. It's weirdly cold tonight and you still have to sew this thing up. Luckily, Claire had the bright idea to keep a sewing kit under the table by the beanbags for just such an occasion. She's adorable AND a genius. The stinging in your arm is making it awfully hard to hold the needle, though.

"Hey Sophie!" You hear a bright, familiar voice to your right as the sleeper car slides open.

"Hey Archer. What's up?" You say quickly, trying to hide your arm behind yourself. You don't know how you forgot that Archer doesn't know about your arm yet, but you sure did forget that detail. He's going to panic, you just know it--

"How was the mi...ssion..." He stops just within sight of your arm. And sure enough, he immediately makes that noise he makes (the one that sounds like a panicking hamster) and points. "What happened?! Are you okay?" You wince as you glance at your arm with him. Your blood is still blossoming through the bandages, red and ominous, and making you wish the doctors weren't all bought and paid for by Chorus.

"Lucids. Are. Assholes. That's what happened." You mutter, grabbing the jacket and trying to cover your arm up with it. Unfortunately, you can't hide the big blood spots on the inner lining of the jacket. So much for not making Archer worry, you think as he makes a noise well outside of human frequencies.

"What did you do?" He gasps out, kneeling down next to you. Your face flushes and you awkwardly try to hide your arm again.

"Nothing! I mean! Lucids! I fell into some machines, that's all. Don't panic, I'm fine-"

"You don't look fine!" He insists and you swear he's tearing up a little. A knot of guilt coils in your chest and you shrug uncomfortably as you look at his face, filled with concern, before he starts rattling off statistics about infection and blood loss, his voice cracking as he does. Great. The only true friend you've got and now you're making him cry AND go into a terrified nerd lecture. Bonus points for the fact that he's making you panic now too. Good job, Sophie. Good job.

"Hey, hey! Look!" You put on your best brave face and rummage in the pocket of your jacket until you pull out a new bandage. "I'll just put a new bandage on it, okay? It'll be fine, I promise! Just trust me a little!" You try to smile at him, but it's hard when it hurts just to move your arm for a second round of bandages.

"A second bandage won't..." He trails off and sniffs, shaking his head and reaching out to help you wrap it without another word. The extra set of hands is nice, but the look on his face is the opposite of great.

"Archer?" You ask, your voice soft and hesitant. "Are you okay?"

He sniffles again, lifting his glasses and wiping at his eyes with the back of a sleeve.

"Sophie, what if..." He starts and you can feel his body going tense. You reach out, gently rubbing his shoulder.

"What if what?" You prompt, though you have a feeling you already know what he's going to ask. He trembles and you're fighting one heck of an urge to reach out and straight up hug him. If you start looking too soft, it'll just make everything worse.

"...What if you didn't come back?" He finally chokes out, his tone so quiet that you barely heard it. You feel a cold wave wash right down your spine and you swallow hard, your mouth dry. That's exactly what you were afraid of him asking. "What if we go out there one night and neither of us comes back? What if they get us and we turn into, into--those!" He points towards the door and you follow his finger, not even needing to ask what he's talking about.

"Sophie, what if we died down there? What if they just found what's left of us on the maze floor-" His voice is getting more frantic and the mental image of the two of you laying there, blood running out of your ears, is too much. You let out something akin to a sob and grab his shoulders to shake him.

"Archer, stop it!" You say a bit louder than you intended, making him flinch. You wince, patting his shoulders instead.

"Sorry! But don't talk like that! If we start going all gloom and doom, then we're screwed!" You insist. He doesn't look convinced, so you continue. "I mean-if you're going into the maze thinking 'hey, we're gonna die!' then you're actually going to die, probably! It's that reverse psychology mumbo jumbo, or whatever you call it!" It's after you done that you realize your own voice is cracking. How humiliating.

Archer sits there, looking down before he speaks again.

"How do you do it, Sophie?"

"What do you mean?"

"You get down into the town and the maze and you always seem to know what to do. And you're saving me all the time! And now you're hurt and-- How aren't you scared completely to death?" He stares you in the face, his brows furrowed together, and you look away. Is that really what he thinks? wish you could say you were that much of a badass. But you aren't.

"Wanna know a secret?" You start, looking around in case another kid is hiding in the boxcar somewhere. "Tell anyone and I'll totally never speak to you again by the way. But...honestly, I'm crapping my pants, like, 24/7." Man, you hope Thee-I-Dare isn't judging you somewhere if he's tuning into this. You don't think he is, but you never really know with anyone in this family.

"I mean, look at it. We're trapped in Redacre, our own parents want to kill us, and we're getting stabbed in the back at every turn. Have you even SEEN the kids who are tripping all over themselves to serve old Speaks-As-Shit? Thee-I-Dare is the only one giving us any straight answers, we're blacking out and waking up on the train tracks or full of bird parasites, and every escape plan keeps getting a wrench thrown in it. I don't know how much we're helping by putting up posters and signs with secret messages on them, we're under quarantine which means we'll have to figure out how to get the quarantine lifted if we want to have any chance of escaping, AND-" You huff, your lips curling into a snarl. "If the Lucid ramblings are anything to go by, we've got state patrol to deal with too! It feels like we're all trapped and waiting to die here and like everything is waiting to kill us the second we have our backs turned. If I'm being honest, Archer, I'm scared to death and I don't know if there even IS a way out!"

"I just." You sigh, your shoulders slumping as you feel yourself deflating. That was a bigger feels jam than you meant to drop on him. "Sometimes I feel like we're in hell, Archer. Like we're dead and this is hell and I don't even know what we did to end up here." What you expect is the sudden drop in your mood. So much for trying to tell him to stay optimistic. What you didn't expect, however, was Archer grabbing the front of your shirt and yelling at you. You blink dumbly as he raises his voice.

"If we were dead, Sophie, it wouldn't hurt to jump off of houses!" He says, his eyes shining with tears and wobbling like jello. That's a look you don't see from him often. You huff, grabbing his wrists and narrowing your eyes back at him.

"It could hurt to jump off of houses in hell, Archer! That's why it's called hell! Eternal suffering, all that stuff? Hello? What would you call this if it isn't the fiery fucking depths of who knows what circle of hell?" He growls a bit, gritting his teeth as he lets you go.

"IF THIS WAS HELL-" His voice raises then lowers again. "If this was hell, we wouldn't be together, Sophie. Because hell would be going through this alone." You pause, staring at him. Here comes that urge again. That urge to just run right into Archer and hug him like you'll never get a hug again. Tears prick at the corners of your eyes and you take a deep breath to stop them. You can't go getting sappy now. Sappy is a sign of weakness.

So you punch him in the arm instead. It's not a hard one, of course. It's just one of those friendly little play taps like you've seen in the movies. That sure doesn't stop Mr. Glass-Bones-And-Paper-Skin from going 'ouch!' all the same.

"Hey, that hurt!"

"We're in this together, Archer~!" You giggle despite yourself. The mood's heavy, you shouldn't be trying to make something fun of it. But there you go.

"Then you can get a punch too!" He exclaims, hitting you in your undamaged arm. He hits like a particularly soft bunny rabbit, honestly. You laugh, grabbing a marker from the table and brandishing it with your good arm like a sword before you poke at him.

"Oh, it's war now!"

And this, you think as Archer picks up a second marker to duel with you. This is why you keep going when everything seems hopeless. Not because you're some badass straight out of the movies, but because you've got people counting on you to be stable. Archer counts on you, the other kids in the club count on you, Thee-I-Dare is counting on have a lot riding on your shoulders. If you can't be brave for them, what can you be brave for?

You do it for them. Even when it's painful and scary.