This time of night, the only lights that are on are in the kitchen.
It’s almost strange, just how easily Sasha’s stepped into this routine- the inherent domesticity of knowing how everything goes, like she’s lived in this apartment her entire life instead of just visiting way more often than she needs to. Marcy’s either asleep or pretending to be, Anne’s favorite snacks are held in the top cabinet that she thinks that only she knows about, she has to be careful around the shelf with the froggy knickknacks, and there’s a creaky floorboard between the couch and the kitchen that is possibly the loudest thing now at 1am. And she always manages to step on it, every single time.
But Anne doesn’t look over from where she’s bathed in artificial light.
She’s got her chin propped in both hands, bare elbows against that freezing granite counter Marcy hates because of the sound it makes when you put ceramic plates on it- leaning over, staring at nothing, undoubtedly losing sleep. There’s a number of things Sasha could do right now- go over, rub her shoulders, maybe do the same thing as her and wait until she notices what Sasha is up to- but she’s seen this before, and it’s one of those things about Anne as she’s grown older that has Sasha grasping at the threads of what exactly she missed during the 10 years of little communication between them.
The Anne that Sasha knew during Amphibia was so fearless and brave- the Anne today is just the same, but there’s bags under eyes and a subdued calmness that wasn’t there before, and its all Sasha can do to wonder what’s going on behind that composed surface. It’s as if she’s got a deadweight attached to her ankle, and she’s treading water for a very, very long time.
“Anne?” Sasha calls, her words rippling softly against the shadows of the kitchen and the dark window that reflects nothing from outside. She pads over, the tiles creaking under her feet, protesting like weary bones. “You alright?”
She doesn’t respond until Sasha touches her shoulder, and suddenly she jumps back, blinking hard. There’s a moment of silence where she looks at Sasha, and rubs her eyes, and then crosses her arms, fingernails digging into her skin, hard. Sasha’s brain, hardwired by too many psychology lectures, goes among many grounding techniques, some of the most common ones are pressure and/or pain, monotone and straight to the point like it’s straight out of a textbook. But she’s not about to take that information into her own hands just yet.
“What’re you doing up?” Sasha asks, nonchalantly as if she hasn’t noticed this happening for the last week and a half.
“Oh, just… thinking I guess. Spacing out,” Anne says, with a shrug that’s a little forced and then a tired half-smile that makes Sasha soften from the inside out. “You?”
“Well, I was…” Sasha fumbles, forgets for a moment why exactly she’s here, and then it clicks for her why she stumbled out here in the dark in the first place. “I was looking for you. Y’know, since we went to bed a couple hours ago, and I figured you’d be home from work, but I never really heard you…”
“Is Marcy asleep?”
“Good- she needs it. The other night she stayed up drawing until 3am and somehow conked out in the middle of making coffee this morning,” Anne says, laughing a little and waving her hand around. She turns from Sasha, and reaches for the coffee maker. “By the way, do you want some?”
“What, coffee? At 1am? Isn’t it a little bit too late?...”
Anne runs a hand through her bangs, and honestly, it probably wouldn’t take that much effort to pick her up and carry her to bed, right? Sasha’s still got muscle, and she looks so tired… but that’s not what she’s supposed to do. Maybe in an ideal world, where they didn’t need as much communication and lived in a sitcom, but for now all she can do is bump into her shoulder and ask: “What were you thinking about?”
Anne pauses, hesitating. When Sasha usually asks this question, the answer is something along the lines of I wonder if we could use the biochemical processes of wood frogs and replicate them in humans in order to send people to parts of space lightyears away without taking up much resources, or one of my co-workers almost touched one of the poison dart frogs with his bare hands today and yet we don’t have any active antidotes in immediate supply or why is called a driveway when you park there? Tonight, she isn’t so sure.
Anne’s lost expression deepens for a moment, and Sasha takes her hand in hers, covering it with both of her own. It’s still calloused from past farmwork, and present fieldwork, and sometimes Sasha mistakes the creases in her knuckles for tiny cracks, and her heart nearly leaps out of her chest with fear. It’s a silly mistake to be made after 10 years or so, but sometimes not even a psych degree and physical presence can get rid of the memory of your best friend turning to ashes right before your eyes.
“It’s… I don’t know if it really makes sense,” Anne whispers. Her voice still gets a little raspy sometimes from the damage her lungs sustained from an accident a year ago- she blinks hard, as if she’s trying to reset her vision. “It doesn’t feel real sometimes.”
“Well, I’m listening anyways,” Sasha promises. There’s a lot of things that don’t feel real nowadays, and even if there weren’t, she wouldn’t discredit Anne a bit. Isn’t this what she wanted? To hear her as she is? “What’s up?”
“...I only have 67 years left, and then… I have millions of years more, but none of it is with you,” Anne says, her voice shaking as she bows her head. Sasha steps closer, lets her lean against her shoulder, all soft edges and thrumming warmth. “Leaving was easy when I thought it was all the time I had left. But…”
Sasha brings a hand up to Anne’s back and starts to rub gentle circles between her shoulder blades, a silent invitation for her to continue. She closes her eyes, and pays attention to Anne’s voice- and tries not to think about how Anne had let go of herself so easily.
“It all felt like a dream. But I’ve been living with the worry of messing up horribly for the last time- mistakes are different when you’re next in line to become god, or whatever it was that deity was. And sometimes I think, I’m gonna die when I die, and age 13 was just one of those funky memories I misinterpreted more and more over the years, but then I have Sprig in my hands, and my entire career is about frogs, and my entire life has been formatted around the fact that I can never go back to Amphibia, ever. So maybe it was real. And how am I supposed to deal with that?”
Sasha thinks back to a conversation she had with Marcy some time ago, sitting on the beat-up couch of her apartment.
“...I mean, it all sounds crazy, right? Something I just made up out of the blue, another one of my fantasies or some silly plot I made up for my webcomic,” Marcy says, waving her hand dismissively. “I mean, seriously? Getting impaled? Possessed? Dying and coming back to life? That’s not something that happens in real life! Get it together, y’know? But then…”
She sits back against the cushions and sighs, twirling her digital pen between her fingers. She’s smiling through all of it, just like she always has. It still amazes Sasha to no end, even today, because the worst of her own emotions have always turned into anger, no matter what. She’s never found the time to smile when there’s always something to fight.
“I’ve still got the huge scars to show for it, and the chronic pain flareups too,” she says, gesturing to her chest, and the tip of knotted tissue peeking out from under her shirt. “You’ve seen me on those days- it’s so bad I can’t even get out of bed because everything hurts. And it’s not surface area either, it’s my entire torso . Like my body’s actively reliving what it was like to be burned from the inside out. My blood stopped being green a long time ago, but I still have the documents from when I was 13 and nearly gave my doctor a heart attack. My legs don’t work sometimes. How are you supposed to explain that any other way?”
“You don’t. Unless you want to pretend a whole other part of your life just never existed.”
“Exactly!” She exclaims, accidentally throwing her pen behind her. “You’ve got a back tattoo now, but it’s not like the scar isn’t there. You’re even in the same boat as me sometimes. Sorry about that by the way.”
“We’ve been over this, Marcy- it wasn’t your fault. You don’t need to apologize.”
“As if you don’t needlessly apologize to Anne on daily basis-”
“Okay you got me there. But still. Shh… Also do you want me to get your pen for you?”
“Wait what?... ah sh-”
“It’s going to be so lonely. And that doesn’t even cover half of it. What if I really never get to see Sprig, the real Sprig, ever again? Not even when I’m… up there, controlling fate or destiny or whatnot? What if it’s all for nothing? How did I get myself put into this? I’m 24, I work at a museum and I come home and cuddle with my best friends and I do the dishes and I still hate pineapples on pizza, why does this have to be real ?”
Anne clings onto Sasha’s shirt with one hand now, the other intertwined and held tightly with Sasha’s, desperate. Sasha whispers a chorus of it’s okay, I’m not leaving, we’re not leaving, it’s all okay for now, just focus on me, but it’s not enough to stop the tide that’s been building up for over a decade now. The waves are too loud; they drown out her words.
“Sometimes, just to test it, I wonder about trying to die on purpose. It said, 78 more years like my fate was set in stone, but if that’s real, then we tested fate in itself! And fates not real! So every time I do something dangerous, I wonder, did I actually dream it? Is this fire going to kill me at the ripe old age of 23? But then it doesn’t, and I just end up in the hospital with a breathing tube up my nose for a week!” Anne’s nearly shouting by now, and Sasha gasps with the realization of what her medical scare last year was really about. Back then, there had been no explanation- just that she had gotten caught in it, that firefighters had to drag her out while she was barely breathing. “It’s been 10 years, and it’s inevitable, and I wanna stop living my whole life trying to remember the family I left behind and the things I’m apparently destined to become! I wanna go back! I never asked for this! I just- ”
Anne cuts herself off, amidst the way her voice has gradually become higher pitched, her airway constricting with the weight of tears.
They all have days like this, sometimes.
When Anne buckles, Sasha buckles with her. It’s practically instinct, the way Sasha hugs her and holds her and lets her cry into her shoulder, guiding her through breathing exercises when starts to hyperventilate.
I know, I know, I know, Sasha whispers, and she’s not sure what part of it she’s referring to, but she understands there’s some truth to it anyways, somewhere between leaves and towers and scars that never completely fade. Maybe she should have expected it from the beginning, watching Anne float away on the breeze even while she was right in her own kitchen. Anne would have done the same for her.
Of course, the question still stands, even as the clock ticks on, and tear tracks turn to ice cream speckled across her face and warmth when Marcy finally enters, wondering what the heck they’ve been up to for the past hour or so.
How exactly are they supposed to deal with all of this?
Well, Sasha thinks, watching fondly as Anne and Marcy argue over the classification of newts and salamanders, one with a herpetology degree and the other with way too much internet access, guess we just have to go one moment at a time.