The drive home is near silent, save for Vivi’s light snores. Mystery lies sleeping in the back of the van, and Arthur stares tiredly at the road home.
Their most recent case had been far, a small haunting in the southern corner of Louisiana. He’s not really sure why they went, the ghost wasn’t malevolent in any way, didn’t have any ill intentions towards the people in the house. But the home-owners were insistent, and the group was low on cash.
The van passes the sign for Tempo, and a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding comes out in a rush.
As he nears their apartment, Arthur spares a glance at Vivi. She looks incredibly peaceful, and he doesn’t want to disturb that. Her memory’s been getting worse, and it’s hard to find a time when she’s not focusing on a picture that she can’t see the other person in.
It’s his fault and he knows it.
He nearly misses their exit and swerves into the correct lane. No cars are there to honk at him at three in the morning, and for that, he’s thankful.
The small apartment complex they live in glows in the headlights as he pulls the van to a stop.
“Vi, wake up. We’re back.” He nudges a gentle hand on her shoulder, and the only response he gets is a muffled groan and the turning away of her head.
Mystery sits up groggily and gives a questioning turn of his head. Arthur resigns himself and opens the door. Mystery hops out after him as he walks to the other side to pull Vivi out.
He does this too much, he idly thinks as he picks her up. She’s not his to hold. He doesn’t want her like that, and yet, guilt nags his insides every time he so much as looks at her.
It’s his own fault.
He sets her on her bed and pulls off her glasses and shoes. She’s not so much as opened an eye the entire time. Mystery curls up next to her as he whispers a small goodnight.
The futon beckons as Arthur shuffles into the living room. He pulls out his laptop and looks at the map he’s created to find Lewis.
He’s damn near positive the ghost they saw was him. Something felt the same, not to mention the giant purple pompadour. The want to kill him certainly makes sense too.
Shoving someone off a ledge onto hundreds of spikes doesn’t really earn anyone brownie points.
He sighs and closes the laptop. He’s not sure why he even bothers with the map. He knows the ghost was Lewis. Mystery knows the ghost was Lewis. The only one who doesn’t is Vivi, and that’s because he was too much of a coward to face his actions and dragged her away at the last second.
She doesn’t even remember. No one remembers. The Peppers’ are confused by the random man in their pictures, the extra spot at the table, the unoccupied room, and Arthur feels like vomiting every time he walks by the restaurant.
He feels like vomiting right now.
Instead, he puts in his headphones and tries to forget that he exists.
He holds his head high as he walks to Lewis’s house. It’s raining and he’s soaked and bleeding. There’s no one at the Pepper house right now. He knows it for sure. The sisters are at a field trip and his parents are at a food convention.
He wouldn’t show up like this if he wasn’t absolutely positive that only Lewis was home.
Arthur knocks with his good hand and waits patiently.
Lewis sounds happy. He should just leave while he can. He turns and steps-
Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.
“What are you doing out here? You know you can just come in.”
His back is towards Lewis so he can’t see the damage and he should just leave. Don’t ruin the friendship like this, just go.
He takes a breath and turns.
Something breaks when he sees Lewis’s face and he starts dropping apologies like they’ll save his life. He can’t see anything and he can’t breathe and he’s shaking in his too big clothing and he wants to disappear.
Somehow he gets to the couch and oh god he shouldn’t be on the couch he’s wet and bleeding and why did Lewis let him sit on the couch?
“eathe. Can you do that for me? Just breathe, Arthur. Look at me. Stay with me.”
He looks at Lewis.
He almost loses it again. But he doesn’t.
He can feel the pain radiating off of his hand and his face and his arms and bites his lip to make it stop.
There’s arms around him and he melts into the touch. It’s warm and familiar and feels so much like home that it hurts.
It feels like his lungs are collapsing and maybe he’s crying again, but not a lot, it just feels like he’s dying.
“What happened to you?” There’s anger, but not at him.
“Mom didn’t- Dad- they- I tried to tell them that I… Arthur didn’t go over well-” he cuts himself off and bites his tongue.
Everything hurts and his hand is probably broken and the way Lewis is looking at him all couples into one big unnamed emotion.
“I should leave, I shouldn’t have even come here, fuck I’m so sorry.” He stands and tries to leave, but Lewis grabs his hand and he has to bite down a scream.
He lets go immediately, but not before grabbing the other hand to hold him there.
As Lewis inspects his hand, he can feel his world go fuzzy. His bones are shifting and there’s nothing there. He’s not there. SHE’S not-
“We need to go to the hospital.”
There’s blood on his fingers and Lewis has Arthur’s shirt sleeves rolled up and he looks like he’s going to cry and he’s cradling Arthur’s broken hand so gently.
“I’m not gonna die,” he whispers to no one.
“These are bad and your hand is broken, a- and you’re still bleeding I don’t…”
Lewis looks scared and Arthur feels like shit.
“They’re not gonna kill me, Lew.”
“You need stitches! And I can’t do that!”
He’s silent in response, eyes screwed shut as he tries to control his flight reflex.
“Just… Just wrap it. It’ll be okay. I promise. I know.”
It makes him sick to say that, because Lewis is smart and Lewis will catch on and Lewis has caught on as he swallows harshly and goes to get the medical wrap.
“Don’t apologize,” he says as he wraps his arms and hand. “It’s not your fault, Arthur.”
He files the words away for another time, when he feels like believing them.
The next time they see ghost Lewis, it’s at the cave. Arthur’s gone to fuck over his emotions by visiting on his death day, and he brought Vivi along in hopes that she’d remember.
Lewis is waiting for him, more powerful than last time, and if he dies here, it’s his own damn fault.
He can feel panic rising in the back of his throat and squashes it down. Now is not the time.
Lewis deserves revenge.
Lewis deserves to live.
Arthur does not.
The both of them know that.
One more than the other.
Vivi screams, he thinks, as he’s engulfed in purple flame.
It doesn’t hurt.
It’s warm, and familiar, and feels like home.
If he’s going to die, he wants it to be like this.
Then something happens, probably something to do with acceptance and the fact that he’d been possessed before, and there’s another person in the back of his mind.
He feels sick and scared all over again, and there’s rummaging, just like last time, of emotions and memories and he’s clutching at his head and there’s no more purple his vision is coated in purple his brain is covered in purple.
He’s reliving Lewis’s death and all the pain and hurt that came with it and he’s screaming because he locked that away, doesn’t look at it, reminds him of who he is, what he’s done, why he’s so weak and susceptible, it’s his FUCKING FAULT.
Then it’s done, and everything is normal, and Vivi is holding him up and shaking him and calling his name and Lewis is behind her with an unreadable expression on his face.
“I’m sorry,” Arthur says, to which one he’s not sure.
“So am I,” says Lewis.
And for the first time in almost two years, Vivi’s eyes clear up, and she looks behind her.
The first month after the cave, Arthur started smoking.
Lewis hated smoking, so, Arthur thought, it was the perfect way to make Dead Lewis hate him even more.
It burned his lungs and he hated himself for it, but what else was he gonna do, kill himself?
Which he tried to do later, but discreetly, quietly, without letting his uncle or Vivi know.
Which ultimately failed as Vivi walked in on him surrounded by a puddle of blood and his own vomit.
And then he was in the hospital even longer. For the suicide and the arm and the depression and the smoking and the trauma and there were so many reasons.
It took a while, a long, long time, for Vivi to trust him on his own after that.
Even longer for Uncle Lance.
He busied himself with the arm issue. He drew it first, checked online to see if it would work, said fuck it because everything said no, and made it anyway.
It hurt, putting it on for the first time, and he tried to ignore how proud Lewis would have been of him.
He smokes more.
He becomes a productive member of society again.
He goes on cases with Vivi again.
He ignores how blind she is and what she doesn’t remember and what nobody remembers.
He chokes on his guilt in the middle of the night when she won’t hear him.
He smokes in the dark where they can’t see him.
He bleeds under covers and long sleeves and hides his shame in bad jokes and mechanics.
He comes face to face with Lewis and drags Vivi away from him because he couldn’t face the guilt he kept under wraps.
He stops sleeping.
Stops smiling, and Vivi starts noticing.
He smiles again.
If only to stop her from prying.
He accepts his guilt, makes it a part of him, shoulders the pain of his death for the entire world.
Arthur didn’t expect Lewis to forgive him so easily.
He didn’t expect to be forgiven at all.
He didn’t want to be forgiven, he wanted to die.
There’s a lot of talking, that day, when Vivi and the entire damn world gets their memories back. A lot of guilt shared between the three of them.
Lewis repeats the words he said when they were teenagers and Arthur files them next to the originals right in the back of his mind.
It’s an awkward couple of months trying to integrate Lewis back into their lives and explaining what happened to family.
Arthur hides more. He doesn’t deserve this.
He doesn’t deserve home.
He lights a cigarette, puts his sleeping pills in his bag next to a water, and walks.
And walks and walks and walks.
There’s nothing but water below the abandoned bridge he ends up on. Usually, there’s teenagers making out or doing drugs, but today it’s raining, and there’s no one to be found.
The air around him feels thick, and he stops trying to feel real.
The pills are in his stomach and the water is drowning his lungs as he drinks and drinks and vomits and drinks and cries and drinks.
He calls Vivi.
He ends up in the psych ward again, and no one can visit him, and he feels so lonely.
He deserves it and it’s his own fucking fault.
Lewis is there, because he’s a ghost and he can do that. Make himself visible to certain people and not to others.
He sits with him and apologizes over and over again.
“Don’t apologize. It’s not your fault,” Arthur says, and Lewis gives him this look and asks if he can look in his brain.
Arthur’s jerk reaction is no, a very firm no, and Lewis back pedals.
“I didn’t mean, shit, why would you say yes, that’s not what I want, I just want to know why.”
He actually thinks for a second, and then he says yes. Because it’s Lewis. And maybe if he kills his brain he’ll feel less guilty.
Lewis is quieter this time. It’s less invasive. He’s not hyperventilating around purple vision this time. He’s not reliving anything, he can just kind of feel the emotions attached to the memories.
He draws up his knees and rests his head on them. It’s quiet, and he’s comfortable for the first time in years.
He knows Lewis knows he tried to kill himself before this. He can feel the fear and confusion connected to that one. It was very specific. Everything was red and blue and blurry and loud.
And he can feel his emotions from the cave, fear and betrayal of himself. And guilt. So much guilt.
And then there’s home and pain and love.
He doesn’t even have to think about that one.
The time he showed up bleeding and broken to Lewis’s house.
And he tried so hard not to show anything.
And he’s trying now.
But it’s warm and fuzzy and sad, and he still doesn’t talk to his parents.
And then Lewis is solid against him, holding him steady as he cries silently into his knees.
He’s let out of the hospital a week later and Vivi slaps him across the face.
He holds his head high, whispers and apology, and hugs her tightly.
“Don’t scare me like that again,” she says angrily. He’s done it twice now, promised he wouldn’t after the first.
Lewis stays by him the whole time, arms around the both of them, and Arthur finally feels like he’s home again.
It’s warm, and loving, and it feels like he has a real family.
And it’s only partly his fault that they took so long to get here.