Chapter 1: night one
Ryoga jolts upright in his bed, scrambling back to the wall. He stares at the teenage boy perched on his windowsill, face lit by teeth that shine in the moonlight.
A wolf's grin.
He’s slight, his hair burns orange as the moonlight catches it, gleaming so much it appears transparent. A backpack lies at his feet, unzipped, suspiciously full of unidentifiable things.
He sees metal and fabric amongst them.
He looks slowly at the boy in the window.
If he weren’t smiling, Ryoga is sure he’d look sweet, but as it was, his face is warped, contorted by his lips into gnarled edges.
His eyes, though.
He has childlike eyes.
He recognises him, and that’s the bad part.
“Go away. I want a different dream now.” He says, ignoring that it barely surpasses a whisper.
Using his feet, he removes his socks and slips back beneath his covers, tugging them over himself and closing his eyes. He lies with his back to the window.
Something small hits his back, followed almost immediately by what is clearly a finger poke to the neck.
“Why don’t you want to have fun with me, Shark?”
Because you aren’t real. He thinks, because I cried when they told me I should try not to see you any more and Rio got so upset to see me upset and it made her cry too. Because I’m too old for an imaginary friend. Because I’m on medication that should be decreasing delusions.
He feels the fingers poke at his neck until he’s pretended to be asleep for long enough to bore his guest. His ears catch an irritated little huff before one last poke comes.
For good measure, he assumes.
He doesn’t remember falling asleep. Instead, he pretends, listens to the quiet sounds of breath and life in his bedroom. Sounds that belong to a person who doesn’t, and has never existed.
Chapter 2: night two
“I’m sleeping.” He says, before his new companion can speak. His eyes snap open as a hand reaches for his nose.
“You used to be way more fun.”
“That’s not even true, you always called me a party pooper.”
The face splits into a grin again, but this one less ghoulish. Instead of shaping his face into sharp edges and pointed teeth, it rounds his cheeks, his eyes grow kinder, softener.
“You do remember me.”
Fuck. Ryoga swallows and sits up.
“Sort of? I shouldn’t be talking to you.” He shifts his casted arm with his other hand and watches his (only) childhood friend take a seat on the bed.
“Do you remember my name?” He asks with an excitement that catches, and Ryoga hadn’t, not until now. Not until hope shone in the eyes while his mouth smiled like that.
He remembers. His name, if nothing else.
His eyes widen further, so Ryoga spoke more, for some reason unable to curb his desire to maintain the happiness in him, to stall time and preserve the elation in his face.
“You were my best friend. You really, really liked birds, and rabbits, and mice, and I told my dad that I liked them so that he would buy me books that I would give to you.”
Vector’s smile softens into an easy, small one, hopeful and affectionate. He feels like he’s seeing something rare, unbridled sweetness.
“Yes! I loved the books!”
Ryoga nods, “I remember. But vector?” He tilts his head, places a hand on his shoulder.
(He isn’t sure if he’s surprised to find out he can touch him)
“You were my imaginary friend. You need to leave, because I’m seventeen and too old for that and I’m working really hard to be happy.”
Delighted eyes fade as Vector’s lips press together.
“Do you remember other things?” He asked.
Ryoga nods, “You practiced how to skip rocks with me and accidentally hit me in the head with one. I had to get stitches-“ he pauses, raises a hand where he thought they had been, frowning. That didn’t track.
“How’d an imaginary friend give you stitches, Shark?”
He furrows his brow. “You don’t get to make good points.”
Vector pouts which, frankly, was fairly good proof Ryoga hadn’t invented him, because it made something primal want to hit him, “Why not?”
Ryoga sighs tersely. “Because one, you’re imaginary. And two, you’re Vector.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means… shut up. I have school in the morning.” He lays back down, wrapping his pillow around his head.
He feels the prescence on his bed shift, but not leave.
A hand comes to rest on his shoulder, “I know you can still hear me… listen… If you tell me you don’t want me to come back, I wont. If not, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Ryoga clenches his jaw to stop from telling him he didn’t want to, something tugging in his chest, some melancholy or loneliness, something sincere and hidden that pulls him toward Vector by unseen means.
Vector’s hand squeezes his shoulder a little harder than was probably kind to, and Ryoga could swear he hears the sound of sniffing. “It’s okay if you don’t think I’m real. I never did either, remember? You used to laugh at me for that.”
The hand leaves and the bed shifts, and Ryoga hears the window slide open a few seconds later. “I kinda… You don’t laugh a ton now, huh?”
Ryoga stares at a wall he can’t see through the dark and lets the pillow fall from his head. He angles his body up and looks at the open window. Shivers at the cool air that pours in.
He doesn’t feel like wrestling with trying to shut it with a broken arm, not in a house this old.
He inhales softly, and lays back down.
Chapter 3: night three
Ryoga turns to glare at the boy climbing in his window.
He drops the tissues into the trash, “no.”
“Why the tissues then? And why are you already awake?”
“You left the window open.”
Vector looks genuinely confused, and Ryoga thinks that should delight him but it doesn’t. Weird.
“Have you gotten so pampered that you can’t function like a normal person? You used to be normal…ish.”
Ryoga angrily raises his broken arm, which, in hindsight. “Ow!” he cries out, reflexively grabbing it with his good arm and cradling it to his chest.
Vector looks pleasantly amused, his thumbs hooking through his belt loops. “Fair point,” he snickers. “So you got sick? You’re still so delicate.”
“Says the one who cried when he fell off the monkeybars.”
Where the fuck was this coming from? How did he remember all of this?
Vector’s smile drops instantly. “You told me you didn’t see! It was windy- the sand-”
“Dude, I knew you would hate if I aknowledged you crying. I was being nice.”
“Someone nice wouldn’t have brought it up.”
God, Vector could be bratty, and that was also something he’s remembering. It hurts his head, everything so familiar yet… distant. Escaping him, slipping through his fingers as he tries to catch it. There was a word for that, but he had enough going on without trying to think of that.
Seeing Vector sulk stirred uncomfortable feelings in him that he couldn’t quite place, so he retaliated. “We were seven. I think the statute of limitation’s is out on that particular offense. Elev– Were we seven?”
Sharp eyes look up at him, lips parting. “You really don’t remember?”
“Have you told anyone else I’ve been here?”
Ryoga blinks. “Who would I tell.” Durbe had asked at lunch if he was okay. He’d lied. He would only worry, and he didn’t need him hovering when he already had an imaginary friend coming over for midnight visits.
He frowns. “Good point. Maybe I will.”
“Will you tell me what she says?”
He pauses before nodding.
Vector’s posture relaxes again, that easy, lazy stance. He’s catlike as he perches on the bed.
“Do you want to ask me anything? Maybe we can figure out if I’m tangible or not.” He winks.
Ryoga squints at him. He reaches over and raps his knuckles against his head before he could stop himself. “Seems like unfortunately, you do posess a physical form.”
Vector rubs at his head and scowls. “Asshole.”
“But, yes, I do have questions.”
Vector nods, fixing his hair while looking into the mirrored closet doors.
“So… if you’re real. We knew each other for, awhile. A couple years, if my memory can be trusted. And we were friends. And… you used to be covered in freckles.”
“None of these are even close to questions.”
Ryoga ignored him. “So. I remember you but I didn’t until I saw you. And, you honestly don’t seem all that surprised I wasn’t happy to see you–”
Vector nods, “You want to know why im not surprised?”
“Can you not interrupt.” Ryoga bristles. “I want to know who you are and where you’ve been for the past eleven years.”
“I’m legendarily invisible– Relax, gods, my family moved. They dragged me a few hours south.”
He nods. “Makes sense.”
They sit in silence for only a moment before Vector rolls dramatically onto his knees. He crosses his arms, then drops them, then brings one up to frame his chin. “Are you just too stubborn to ask why im not surprised now because I predicted it?”
Ryoga ignores him, watches him shift his position with the kind of restlessness that felt like a force of it’s own. “How’d we meet?”
The sheer force of Vector’s grin splits his face in two, the monstrous one again. “You pushed me off the playground.”
He narrows his eyes.
“You had a reason.” There’s a challenge in the statement, daring Ryoga to remember on his own merit.
He studies Vector’s face as he tried to recall, memory fuzzy around the edges. He can think of orange hair and a loud voice, feeling a need to shove him, and– Rio being there, in a short blue dress, her hands on her hips.
He frowns, “Something about my sister? You…” his mind fills in the gap. “You kissed her.”
Vector’s grin gives way to a fit of laughter that can only rightfully be called giggles. “It absolutely physically pains me to say this, but you’re incredible.”
Ryoga narrowed his eyes. “Why.”
“I kissed both of you. Still gay?”
Ryoga sort of shuffles his shoulders in a vague response. “You?”
Vector nods. “Oh hell yeah. Dudes. Love em.”
Ryoga remembers now.
He’d met Vector on the climbing net. Vector had said he knew where birds nests where and he hadn’t believed him, so they’d climbed a tree together, too young for any caution or hesitation.
Perched in the branches, he’d pointed out his sister on the monkey bars, said she’d probably think Vector was cute, because she was in a stage where any boy her age was cute, and Ryoga didn’t have much to talk about except her, and Vector had turned to him, all freckles and missing teeth and excitable eyes, and asked if Ryoga thought he was cute.
He couldn’t remember the kiss itself– could guess it was probably as unremarkable and uncomfortable as most first kisses, but Vector had grinned at him afterwards like they were sharing a huge secret, exciting and new, and jumped from the tree, rolling as he landed.
Ryoga had fallen less gracefully, and less than 10 minutes later, saw his sister kissing Vector on top of the platform that fed into the slide.
He’d climbed onto the platform and glared at Vector as he turned to him with a wide smile.
“Ryoga! I did some research to see if you or Rio is a better kisser!”
Rio had planted her hands on her hips and scolded both of them in one way or another, and Ryoga knew he should do the same but something in him was waiting to hear what Vector thought.
“I thought I’d be able to make a decision buuuuuuut, I can’t, because Ryoga kisses with his teeth and Rio kisses like a girl. You both suck.”
“I am a girl.” Rio had protested, to which Vector had nodded somberly.
“I know, right? It’s gross.”
Ryoga had stepped closer. “You’re rude, Vector.”
Vector stuck his tongue out at him and bent forward. “And you kiss like a shark. I hope nobody else ever has to kiss you.”
Ryoga didn’t recall too clearly pushing him, just that he did, and that he watched Vector giggle to himself even after hitting the ground, tears springing to his eyes even so.
He’d had a brace around his shoulder and chest the next time he came to the playground.
He remembered asking Vector why he was still allowed to play when he had broken his collarbone, and Vector had hoisted himself, one armed, onto the top of the structure they were climbing, and cushioned his chin in his palm. “My parents don’t give a shit, Shark. It’s a good life.”
“Don’t curse.” He’d snapped back. “And that sounds really bad actually.”
Vector had looked away from him, swinging his legs. “Yeah, well, you wouldn’t know what it’s like.”
Ryoga pulled himself onto the top beside him, sitting with their backs together, he’d glanced over to make sure Rio was still in sight. “You’re right, I wouldn’t.” He’d paused for a moment. “I’m sorry I broke your collarbone.”
“S’okay. Sorry I kissed your sister.”
“That was really gross and also shitty.” He’d thrown the curse in hoping to make Vector smile, unable to hold back his own when Vector had laughed triumphantly and linked their arms, still back to back. He’d never had a friend before, and he was sure this wasn’t quite how it was meant to happen, but he’d take what he could get if it meant being around the boy who laughed even when he cried.
Now, he stares intently at Vector.
“Why are you in my room so late every time?”
“Got anywhere to sleep?”
Vector says nothing.
“You can sleep on the floor. If you ever try to kiss me again in your entire life I’ll sock you in the stomach.”
Vector smiles, and Ryoga doesn’t know how to interpret the sincerity in it.
He tosses a pillow onto the floor and gets up to retrieve his spare comforter.
“Does this mean I have to listen to you sniffle and cough all night?”
“Be grateful I’m offering anything.”
He hears Vector shuffling around for a moment before he settles.
“I’m still not convinced you’re real. Jury’s out till I speak to Rio.”
“You know, I’ve never actually been sorry for kissing her.”
Chapter 4: day one
He wakes up because he can’t breathe. Coughing desperately, he sits up and grabs the box of tissues, clearing his throat painfully.
“Good morning, sunshine.” He hears from across the room, and glares over through his watering eyes. Vector looks so fucking chipper and he hates it, watches as he guzzles down an energy drink.
“God, you’re awful.”
“What did I do now?”
“How are you drinking that first thing in the morning.”
Vector laughs and shrugs, twisting the can tab in circles until it snaps off.
“You’re awful. I’m going to shower so I get a moment of piece before dealing with you. Don’t leave my room.” He grabs his towel and heads for the bathroom.
“Have a wet one!” Vector calls before he slams the door.
Ryoga lets water rush over his face, closing his eyes and trying to understand. Part of him had hoped Vector’d be gone when he woke up, part of him had been glad to find he wasn’t, and he doesn’t know what the fuck that means. He washes his hair before climbing out, towels off while looking at himself in the mirror. Showering with a broken arm feels so useless, but it was his own damn fault for breaking his arm. He needs to talk to Rio, he knows, pulling the plastic sleeve that protects the cast off, he glances at the floor.
He hadn’t had someone stay over in… years. He forgot to bring clothes in with him. He pauses for a long moment to consider his extremely limited options. Well, his only option, really. Mostly, he just stares down his reflection and dares it to flinch away first. When it doesn’t, Ryoga sighs heavily. He holds the towel around his hips, and enters the bedroom.
Vector is kneeling in front of his bookshelf, a stack of already examined novels by his side. He looks up. “Getting some mixed signals here.”
Ryoga sighs once again and ignores him. He retrieves clean clothing from his closet, changing into them with his back to Vector, until–
He groans in defeat. “Vector.”
“Wh–” The pause feels like it lasts forever, the tone of utter delight that follows leaves Ryoga wishing he and Vector both were dead. “Are you stuck, Shark?”
He exhales through tightly clenched teeth. “Yes. Can you please help.”
“Of course, anything for my friend.” He closes his eyes and curls his fingers into fists then back again while Vector approaches. He thinks he’s being slow on purpose, but eventually feels his body close. Vector reaches into the mess of fabric guides the cast through the sleeve with detrous fingers. He feels his arm start shifting and pushes it through the sleeve on his own, the shirt slipping down his body easily.
Ryoga looks at Vector, face was inches from his own, smiling at him, his chin tilted forward, the tip of his tongue caught between his own teeth. Unfortunately, it’s sort of cute, and he can’t get that thought out of his head. He sort of shoves at Vector’s shoulder.
“Thanks.” He tries to play it off, tossing his towel into the hamper and using his hands to fix his hair.
“I can’t believe you just blushed.”
Vector laughs. “But you did.”
“Shut up. Take a shower. You stink.”
Ryoga just blankly looks at him. “There’s a spare toothbrush under the sink.”
He watches Vector closely until the bathroom door shuts, then retrieves clean clothes for him. Vector is shorter than him, but Ryoga is thinner, so he does his best for an appropriate fit. He leaves them folded on the end of his bed and hesitates for a moment, before remaking the bed, smoothing over the covers and positioning the pillows. He leaves the room before he can think about why he did that.
Chapter 5: day one (cont.)
Rio sits on the counter in the kitchen when he comes downstairs, wrist deep in a box of cereal.
“Pig.” He sneers, grabbing the box and eating a fistful himself.
She kicks at his stomach. “Hypocrit.”
He flips her off and eats another helping before sliding the box back into the cupboard, ignoring Rio’s protests. (She jumps down and retrieves it immediately, complaining loudly.) He puts bread in the toaster and gets out supplies, pouring himself juice and pointedly not looking at the source of loud crunching as Rio happily enjoys her ‘meal.’
“Do you r– ha.” He falters while slicing a tomato. “Do you remember your first kiss?”
“That’s a really weird thing to ask your sister, Bro.”
“Shut up. We’ve discussed weirder. Do you?”
He hears her place the box down and looks up. “Yes. Why? Don’t you?”
He grimaces. “I do… now, I mean. It was Vector for both of us, right?”
The silence parts the kitchen like a chasm. Rio is the first to break the silence, speaking carefully.
“You haven’t mentioned Vector in a long time…”
“What… Was he…” he turns away so she won’t see him bite his lip, retrieving the toast and buttering it. (He remembers vaguely Vector never liked it very brown, so he had put it on the highest setting, a charred mess.)
“Was he what?”
Ryoga tapped his fingers on the edge of the knife anxiously. “Uh– real?”
His sister doesn’t react as if that’s a completely insane thing to be asked at eight in the morning. “Yeah.” Her voice is quiet. “Yeah, Ryoga, he was real.”
“I thought he was an imaginary friend. My memory is all… messy, when it comes to him.”
“We were young.”
Ryoga climbs onto the counter by her side and looks at her. “Why did we stop hanging out with him?”
“He moved after… the accident?”
That was usually how they referred to the day their parents died, but he’s certain by her tone that this isn’t about that. Ryoga can’t quite grasp what she’s referring to, and watches in confusion as Rio raises her knee. She twists her ankle around to show him the scar there, and he remembers, of course; she’d had a vertical scar up her calve for as long as he could remember.
“Your shoulder, too. It was him.”
He frowns, instinctively reaches back for the area in question. He’d had stitches there too, he can remember having them removed.
“What did he do? You said accident.”
Rio shrugs. “Do you really need to know? Why are you thinking about Vector? He’s a waste of time.”
Ryoga frowns. “Just tell me.”
He jumps off the counter, looking up at her. “Rio, tell me.” He grabs her wrist.
“Ryoga, no. Stop thinking about him.”
He glances towards the toast on the counter, and frowns, wonders what Vector is doing in his room all alone. “I saw him the other day.” He said, after a moment, studying Rio’s reaction for a hint of understanding.
“Oh.” She says softly, and just looks back at him for a moment, before sliding off the counter, and starting down the hall.
He falls into step behind her. “What are you…”
She throws open his bedroom door, planting her hands on her hips.
Ryoga peered over her shoulder at Vector, who has returned to investigating and shedding his entire bookshelf apparently, stacks piled by his side. He looks up at them from a worn copy of The Great Gatsby.
His eyes widen. “Merag!” (God, Ryoga hasn’t heard anyone call her that in a long time.)
“What’s wrong, Vector? Get kicked out of another hotel lobby?”
Ryoga looks at his sister in surprise. “What?”
“We ran into each other a few weeks ago. That’s how I knew you were still living here.” Vector explains, and Ryoga hates that he’s grateful for it.
“What do you want, Vector?”
Vector closes the book and springs to his feet, Ryoga yet again appalled by the energy he has. He walks closer, takes up Rio’s hand, again when she yanks it away. “I need your help.”