One of these days, the rain would turn to snow. Proper snow, not that slushy mess that made walking miserable and driving impossible (not that Thomas owned a car, but he had seen vehicles sliding dangerously all over the road more times than he cared to count). One of these days, Thomas would also buy some sweatpants and not have to endure the driving needles of icy rain against his bare legs as he walked to Me's apartment. But he was walking to Me's house, and he had groceries, and he hadn't waited until he'd gone a day or more without food to convince himself to leave the house and go to the store this time, and that mattered.
One of these days, she'd look at him when he brought her groceries in, tease him for how he'd become her errand-boy, look at him and smile like she used to. Or at least notice that he'd walked all the way across town in the freezing rain in shorts and worn-through tennis shoes and say something about it. One of these days, he wouldn't silently stock up her kitchen while she sat in front of the computer and then only hear the strains of her strange, psychedelic music drifting through the closed door after he left.
One of these days.
There is a plate with a slice of cake and a fork on the table in front of him.
When he scoops up a bite with the fork, it screams and bleeds.
He eats the whole slice.
What is the worst season, and why is it winter? Moreover, why is Thomas outside during the winter when he isn't in need of groceries and he hasn't yet been able to psych himself up to go to the mall and get some sweatpants? Moreover, why is he standing outside Me's apartment complex? As far as he knows, she hasn't left in it in the last few weeks. The only time she goes outside is when she goes to her balcony.
The balcony makes Thomas nervous. He can imagine her hands gripping the railing, cold and slippery from the freezing rain, and the shivers wrack him inside and out. Maybe it's better that she doesn't go outside.
She doesn't appear on the balcony that afternoon anyway. He stays outside until it gets too dark for him to make out anything beyond the light from behind her sliding glass doors, and his exposed legs are numb by the time he returns home.
The rest of the cake has things growing from it.
They appear to be vines, maybe ivy, but they are waxy and bluish-green in color, and they move. Not appetizing. As he watches, they grow longer, curling over the table's edge and winding around one of its legs.
At first he thinks they might be reaching towards him, until he sees them spreading towards the room's single door. A new bud protrudes from the end of the longest vine, but instead of unfurling into a leaf, it splits open and reveals a perfectly-formed eye with a deep red iris. It focuses on him and the bud closes again momentarily, as if blinking.
The vines curl up towards the door, stopping just short of the doorknob. Leading him to it. The eye on the end of the vine blinks at him again, as if to say, what are you waiting for?
He stands and reaches for the doorknob.
Venturing outside of his own volition three days in a row is a record, certainly, but Thomas still feels aimless. His lack of direction isn't helped by the fact that Me doesn't leave her bedroom again today. If he strains, he can just make out the sounds of her music drifting down and the bass throbbing as if in the very structure of the building; it must be deafening inside, but the neighbors never complain that he knows of. If they did, Me surely wouldn't care.
He crosses his arms and tucks his hands against his sides as the wind drives a stinging gust against him. He could move around the corner of the building to escape it, but then he wouldn't be able to see the balcony without leaning way over, and that would draw suspicion. If anyone bothered to look outside, anyway. Just based on the activity that he's seen on his visits to Me, it almost seems that no one lives here but her anymore.
An empty apartment complex seems so much colder than an empty house. He wonders if he should purchase some Christmas decorations to liven up both their homes.
Maybe they would start to actually feel like homes again if he did.
The vine-covered door opens onto a hallway that stretches into darkness. As he steps through the doorway, all of the dozens of hundreds of eyes that line the walls and floor swivel to fixate firmly on him.
He cannot avoid stepping on them as he walks. They squish under his feet, leaving gooey footprints in his wake.
When he gets close enough to the end of the hall, he sees a figure standing there, almost imperceptible in the darkness.
By the time he recognizes it, it is too late to run.
"That's your problem, Thomas," W.T. says, reaching out to him. "You both have such a hard time seeing what's right in front of you."
The last thing he feels is cold metal fingers digging into his eyes and squeezing.
Thomas does not leave the house today.
He only gets out of bed to use the bathroom a few times, before immediately returning and cocooning himself in blankets. The warmth does nothing to stop his shivers.
He half-hopes that Me will somehow intuit that he is not outside her apartment today and call on him.
There is a plate with a slice of cake and a fork on the table in front of him. The silverware has long since tarnished, the cake all but collapsed into dust. A maggot briefly emerges from the spongy surface before tunneling elsewhere.
He wonders if maggots would actually eat cake. He has only ever known them to eat flesh.
The bigger cake that the slice was cut from is long gone, or maybe it was never there. In its place is a single, budding flower. As he watches, the bud splits open to reveal a deep red eye.
Hello again, the Eyefruit seems to say.
Thomas gets three steps from the front door before it gets to be too much and he has to rush back inside to vomit. He has nothing in his stomach - he couldn't bring himself to eat anything yesterday and has had no appetite this morning - and the bile that comes up burns his throat.
Shaking from cold or weakness or something else, something deeper and stronger, he returns to his bed.
No word from Me today either. If something happened to him, he doubts that she'd even think of it until far too much time has passed for it to be of any use.
He glances around the room, but the vines have grown over the single door, almost completely concealing it. There's no way to get to it but to tear through them, and he doesn't care to venture back down that hallway anyways.
The Eyefruit watches his deliberations, weaving lazily back and forth. It is strange, true, but he feels no malice from it.
"What do I do now?" He asks it finally, unable to determine any other course of action.
It simply blinks at him again.
Thomas manages to do laundry before forcing himself out of the house today, and he is even able to mostly ignore the static flickering in the corners of his vision as he sloshes through the puddles on the sidewalk on the way to Me's apartment. He hopes that she hasn't run out of food yet; he can't bring himself to go to the supermarket today. It's a small miracle that he's gotten himself outside again so soon after the last episode.
He regrets not being able to face the supermarket, both for the lack of a food offering and because the idea of Christmas decorations has planted itself in his mind and refuses to let go. He can very clearly picture a little Christmas tree in the corner of Me's bedroom, strung with twinkling lights and crowned with a smiling angel. There has never been any such thing in Me's apartment that he knows of, but he can picture it all the same. The image of it fills him with a warm sort of longing.
Seeing as he has no food to bring, he opts to wait outside the building again. The rain has lightened somewhat from its usual downpour, and it coats him in a fine sheen rather than driving at him as if trying to break through his skin. He waits until the light outside has faded from its daily gray to a deep, bruised blue-black, and it isn't until Me's balcony door slides open that he realizes how he'd unconsciously resigned himself to not seeing her again today.
She doesn't seem to have any particular aim in going out to the balcony. She spends only a few minutes outside, glancing out over the railing and pacing from end to end a couple times before turning and retreating back to her room.
Even with the lack of any kind of accomplishment, it is enough to add a little more fuel to the dying fire in his heart.
He paces around the room, but no exit aside from the overgrown door presents itself. The Eyefruit continues to watch, swiveling to follow his movements. It seems curious.
He runs his hand along the wall as he circles the room again and again, letting his attention wander from the vines that now stretch all across the door and the wall it is embedded in, to the table with its maggot-ridden slice of cake and the undulating Eyefruit, to the surprisingly unremarkable ceiling. Not even a light fixture to brighten the place, though he has no trouble seeing. Such is the way of dreams, or what seem to be dreams.
He is so focused on being unfocused that he almost doesn't realize when his fingertips catch an unevenness in the surface of the wall. He turns and starts to pick at it, suspiciously at first and then with vigor.
The Eyefruit seems to bob approvingly as he begins chipping away.
He doesn't know how long he labors at it, but eventually the wall crumbles and gives way. Beyond it, only darkness. No eyes, no shadowed figure.
He steps through the opening, and the world dissolves into static.
Instead of the supermarket, Thomas slogs his way through the mess on the sidewalk to a corner store and grabs a few bags of beef jerky and chips. The walk is shorter, the people fewer. Junk food is an acceptable trade-off for that, even if his stomach might try to get back at him for it a few days down the road.
His fingers, clutching the bags, are red and numb by the time he reaches Me's apartment. He hesitates outside the door. There is silence within, no music from her stereo or beeps from that one computer game she had been obsessed with a few years back. They'd had a playful fight about it, he remembered. He tried to convince her it was pretentious indie garbage, but she was having none of it. Yuukoto, of course had sided with Me-
Thomas jerks when he hears someone inhale sharply, only to realize a moment later that it was himself. How long had it been since he'd consciously thought of Yuukoto? A year? Once the initial shock faded, once the funeral was over, everyone seemed to try and bury him metaphorically just as they had physically. Only Me had held onto him, held so tightly that it was almost as if she was trying to pull back the part of her that he'd taken when he went over the balcony railing that night.
Thomas cannot bring himself to knock at her door, feeling that somehow she'd be able to sense his swirling thoughts. That they might tempt her out to the balcony again, and not just to pace.
He trudges back home, focusing on the sting in his cold hands and letting it remind him that he, at least, is alive.
There is a plate with a slice of cake and a fork on the table in front of him. Both the slice and the whole cake on the platter next to it are a chalky gray, like it is not a real cake at all but ash sculpted into the shape of one.
The room around him is gray. There are curving lines along the walls and floor, fainter spaces that seem to indicate that something used to be there but has long since decayed away. He follows the vine-like patterns with his eyes, tracing them to the spot on the floor where they all seem to converge.
Yuukoto sits with his back to him, knees drawn up to his chest and arms wrapped around them. He says nothing. It is unclear if he is even breathing, though the state of living is a subjective one in this place.
He stares at Yuukoto and Yuukoto stares straight ahead at the wall, and all is silent.
The silence presses in on them, an almost physical weight. He doesn't know what he is waiting for.
The longer the quiet stretches on, the more his skin begins to crawl. Yuukoto says nothing, does nothing. He might well be a mannequin or sculpture, in his concrete-gray stillness.
He doesn't know what Yuukoto is waiting for either.
Something compels him forward. He needs to break the silence, the stillness. He already endures it so much in his waking hours; why must he also be tortured here, where he used to be safe? Even as he thinks this, he knows that he hasn't been safe in his mind for a long time.
It wasn't Yuukoto or the sudden lack of him that broke Thomas, the way it had broken Me. The cracks had been inside him from the very beginning, just waiting for the strain, the proverbial daily grind, the inevitable chipping away until they gave. Some people are just like that, his therapist had told him before he stopped seeing her or she stopped existing. You can't control how you're made.
He hadn't accepted that when she said it. Didn't accept it still. What good did it do him, to tell him that he had been broken as soon as he was made?
"You can't control how you're made, Thomas." He is not surprised at W.T.'s sudden appearance at his shoulder (or maybe he'd been there all along and just now spoke up). "You can't control how you're flawed."
Yuukoto has no eyes anymore. Where they used to be are just black markings, a scribbled X across each blank space in his face. He could be a child's cartoon of a corpse, eyes marked over to spare everyone from the blank, broken stare of someone who sees no more.
"That's everyone's problem," W.T. says. "None of you can see anymore. Not him. Not her. Not you, Thomas. You can't control how you're made, but none of you tried to improve what was already there either. You just wallowed in your brokenness, and now look where you all are."
"What's the point of trying to change if the cracks will always be there?" The sound of his own voice is muffled, foreign. Or maybe it's not his voice at all but Yuukoto's, echoing back through time to him, his last hopeless words to a world that never saw him either.
"She is trying now. The cracks are still there, but she is trying. Is she so terrible to you for it?"
"Then why not try as well?"
He has no answer for that. Never has, never saw anything but the impossibility of his own mind trying to fit into a reality that it didn't understand, that couldn't contain it.
"I'm tired of fighting you, Thomas. Both of you. I'm tired of doing this over and over again."
"You're not even real."
"None of this is real. Or maybe it's the outside that isn't real. But look - the world."
"What about the world?"
"It just is, Thomas. Whether it's real or not, it is."
The room is flaking, peeling, flakes of ash curling in and falling around them. Static flickers in the corner of his vision.
"I'll still be there if you try, Thomas. If you need pain to stay alive, I'll provide. But she'll be there too, as long as you keep trying. That is all I can promise."
"The world," Yuukoto says, and begins to crumple in on himself.
He reaches forward to grab Yuukoto's shoulder as the world comes apart, like no one was there to do that night. "The world," Yuukoto whispers again, voice carried away like smoke, before he spasms and his head sloughs off his shoulders.
There is a plate with a slice of cake and a fork on the table in front of him. He dips a finger into the icing and tastes it. Finding it much too sweet, he leaves the rest untouched.
"You never did know how to take care of yourself," The Eyefruit says disapprovingly, weaving about on its vine.
He really is in no mood to argue with a plant, but he is glad to see it back.
"I know, Me. I'm trying to change."
"I'm trying to change."
"You almost died from malnutrition." The flat response comes from his bedside, and he is suddenly aware that he has a bedside. The world comes into focus around him. White, not gray. Sterile. Not home. But it is there, and he is there.
And Me is there with him. It is a herculean effort to turn his head to see her, but there she is. Here in the stark white room, mouth curved into a frown, eyes hidden behind her bangs so that it is impossible to discern her true mood. The sight of her still makes him giddy.
"I-" He cuts himself off with a fit of coughing, suddenly aware of how dry his throat is. Me uncaps the bottle of water she is holding, evidently prepared for this, and muscles him into a sitting position so that she can hold it to his lips.
Thomas isn't quite sure how to react to her, to the abrupt return of real interaction. Fuzzy scraps of dreams, or memories, or illusions, cloud his head. One thing pushes to the surface, more important than the rest.
"I'm trying to change. Just like you."
She hesitates. Then, "That's what he told me."
There is no need to ask who.
He takes the water bottle from Me and she folds her hands in her lap, studying them for a minute. When she looks up at him again, one red eye is visible through her bangs.
"It doesn't end the same way every time. You can't change how you're made, but you can change how it ends."
He nods. There is nothing he can add to that, nothing to do but put his trust in her and actually try.
Me has never been one for holiday cheer, but she insists on exchanging gifts in Thomas's hospital room, since he won't be discharged in time for them to do it at one of their homes. Never mind the fact that he has no way of getting her anything; she's already said quite frankly that this hospital visit is the worst Christmas gift he's ever gotten her. There is no true bite in her words, though, and she does show up with a wrapped box, and he has never known her to go to any kind of trouble for someone she was truly ready to give up on.
The snowglobe sits heavily in his hands, playing a slightly off-key tinkling little melody when he turns the key in the bottom. The globe on the inside might have been meant to be a miniature of the Earth, but the colors are all wrong and the molding is done in such a way that the continents are unrecognizable swirls. The water has a slight bluish tinge and the whole thing is full of glitter that stirs up such a cloud when shaken that you can barely see the globe in the first place. It is like looking into a small pocket of the night sky of some alien planet.
"I don't have anywhere to put this. I'll have to buy a shelf when I get home."
"Serves you right," she says, in a way that promises she'll be there to support him through his stumbling attempts at human interaction at least this one time.
It is not the right time to try and say everything that he feels, to ask of her everything he wants to know.
But for the first time in a long time, he feels like he can wait for the right moment. Because for the first time in a long time, he thinks that they might both be around to see it.
But look - the world!