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for five more minutes, we're six

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Ace thought he'd see everyone cry at graduation, when Deuce would cry so hard his makeup would get smudged and Jack or you would take pity on Deuce and help him wipe his tears and makeup. When Sebek would congratulate everyone while trying to not show his own tears. When Ace would tease Epel for crying and then get his ass swiped onto the floor by a crying, red-face Epel, and Grim would laugh as you help pick him off the floor while scolding him with a smile. 

You're not helping him up or scolding him, but you are smiling. You smile at him as your hands squeeze his shoulders. Ace's grip on your shoulders loses strength, his hands falling at his sides. He wants to speak, but there's too much hysterical yelling from Deuce and Sebek, agitated scolding from Jack who tries to calm them down, and accented threats from Epel. Distantly, Ace can feel his mind translate the thickly accented words: It's not funny to say that! You better shut up! Stop lying!

Ace knows you're not lying though. Deny it as much as he wants, he can't. Ace knows--knew--you can't--couldn't--stay here in Twisted Wonderland, but...

He wished you could.

He wished you could stay and help Deuce with math.

Wished you could stay and sigh in sync with Jack when the rest of the group would get in trouble.

Wished you could stay and stare with sparkling eyes with Epel when Ace or the others did something cool.

Stay and squabble with Sebek over the most mundane shit that day.

Stay and smile with Ace for the rest of your lives.

Ace realizes he's crying when he sniffles in the short silence that's fallen over the group. 

"Ace--" "So it's like this, huh? You're gonna leave us now that the Headmage's found a way for you to go back to your own world," Ace says, anger leaking into his voice as he ignores Deuce. You stare at him with wide eyes until they soften and pity floods your expression. No, stop. Stop making him sad. "Aren't we better than your world? Twisted Wonderland has magic! Has talking animals! Has fucking millions of books you have never, ever read before, and music you've never listened to, and--" Ace chokes on his words here, the roaring anger pounding in his ears losing out to the heavy sadness in his chest. He doesn't wipe at his eyes though, trying to glare as furiously as he could at you.

You just...keep smiling. You keep smiling in that way Ace knows is pity, knows is sadness and pain, and knows it's because of him. He hates it on you.

Your hands drop from Ace's shoulders to pull out something from your bag--Ace remembers him and Deuce pooling money together to buy it for you--and oh, it's a handkerchief. He can tell by the flowery design on it that it's from Sebek. You lift it up to his face and wipe his tears. 

"I can't stay here, Ace, you know this. I don't have any records here besides my NRC student ID."

"We can forge you some! Those Octavinelle guys can probably make up something, or Kalim can pay someone to make an ID. Just give us time to contact them! Riddle would be fine with helping, I think, and Trey and Cater-- You would be leaving so many of us behind! You can't be okay with that! Give us time!" Ace knows his argument isn't sound. He knows he's pulling at thin strings that can't hold his weight and will let him fall. He knows that you know, and still your smile and pitying look doesn't leave your face.

"I can't stay," you say, and Ace feels himself stagger. "But I can give you time."

Ace falls onto you, pulling you close and squeezing you so, so tight. There are more hands going around him, around you, and much more tears and words aimed at you. Ace can't hear them though, because he's trying to soak up this moment, this moment with you, you in his arms and still smiling and laughing. 

"Maybe we'll see each other again," you say when the words die down and the tears still flow. "Maybe I'll fall back into Twisted Wonderland. You guys, stick together, okay? It'll be harder to have a reunion if you all split up." You push at everyone then, pushing Sebek, Epel, Jack, Deuce, and Ace away from you. Ace already feels like grabbing you again. "We should...We should take some pictures, right? I won't forget about you guys, not even if I tried, so y'all better not forget me either!"

Ace sniffles, wiping at his eyes and smearing his makeup with the sleeve of his jacket. "Alright alright, no more crying! Everyone put on your best smiles for the Prefect."

Your shitty, tear tracks-stained, ugly red-faced group photo stays as Ace's phone homescreen for years to come.