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Alone No Longer

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When consciousness returned to him, he was lying flat on his back in the darkness. Or... not the darkness, but it was dark. He couldn't see anything, anyway, and it felt like he had bandages covering his eyes. Wherever he was, he seemed to be in some kind of bed. The quiet, regular beeping of a heart monitor and the scent of antiseptic told him he was in an infirmary, and straining his ears further, he could hear the sound of a muffled argument. It was far off in the distance and behind several walls, but whoever was yelling was yelling loud. It was a woman's voice, and Nelson did not envy whoever made her mad.

Unexpectedly, the door to the room burst open as what sounded like two people stormed in. Uncertain of his surroundings or the identities of the newcomers, Nelson decided to lie still for the moment.

"-they needed us!" Manny's words were angry, but quiet enough they wouldn't have woken Nelson were he not already awake. After a deep breath, amending his statement, Manny continued, "They still need us. Even when we had nothing left, we still had each other. Now they don't even have that."

"Be that as it may, there was nothing we could do at the time. We had to make a choice between seeing to the wounded and finishing a fight we weren't prepared for. Potentially sacrificing the lives of everyone on the rescue team and everyone rescued from their fears simply wasn't an option," Sasha's tone was clipped and defensive, clearly this was an argument he'd had several times already and he was tired of justifying his actions.

"If anything's happened to them, out there all alone, I'm holding you responsible. Personally." Manny sounded nothing short of murderous, and as Nelson slipped back into sleep he could hear Sasha's footsteps retreating back the way they came.

When next he awoke, it was to the familiar feeling of paws on his chest. A wet nose poked him in the cheek experimentally, and sniffed at the bandages over his eyes. Ruby… Petting her gently between the ears, she gave an excited yip before licking his cheek and then settling down across his lap. They stayed like that for awhile, Nelson idly petting his loyal support dog while she rested, before he woke up enough to want something to do. Gently, he unclipped the Rubik's cube from her collar and started twisting the sections in no particular order or direction. He didn't quite know what was wrong with his eyes, but they hurt and taking off his bandages didn't seem like a good recovery plan. He couldn't solve the cube like this, but it was better than nothing.

After he'd been fiddling with the cube for some time, Ruby unexpectedly nosed it out of his hands. Cursing, he felt around for it on the bed unsuccessfully. He hadn't heard it hit the floor, so it had to be around here somewhere. Suddenly, Ruby was putting it back in his hands again, then nudging him to continue playing with it. This cycle repeated itself a few more times; at some point, Ruby would decide he'd had enough time twisting the cube before, apparently, playing fetch with herself. Then she'd go back to relaxing while he fiddled some more. This gave him some time to think.

What he'd overheard... assuming it hadn't been a dream - and Ruby's presence suggested that it wasn't - he was likely in the Psychonauts' infirmary. Manny and Sasha were on-site somewhere, or had been at some point, and Manny was angry. Someone- no, multiple someones were left someplace inconvenient, and apparently Sasha was to blame somehow. Think... Think... Thinking was hard. Normally the answers were so apparent. His head felt stuffed with cotton, and his thoughts were sluggish and basic. It was odd. Normally he had better concentration than this.

His quiet contemplation was interrupted when the door swung open, and this time several people walked in. None of them sounded particularly angry though, just a bit annoyed.

"-really Mr. Calavera, you must stay in bed," said one of the nurses. "Your body needs to rest-"

"Yeah, Manny, you oughta be in bed!" Max's cadence was, as always, irreverent, and it was clear he'd been harassing this particular nurse for a while now.

"You need to be in bed too!"

"Yeah, we'll be in bed. His bed. With him. This ain't rocket science, lady," Max said, unimpressed.

"That's not-"

Sam cut her off, "You would deprive a patient of his beloved support animals? For shame. Ford Cruller would cry if he could see how far this agency has fallen."

"He can see it, Sam, he's not dead. You wanna make Ford Cruller cry, lady? 'Cuz that's what you're gonna do."

At this point the harried nurse had had enough, and decided it was better to let the freelance detectives do as they pleased. Giving up on preventing whatever plans they had for Manny and his bed, she turned to Nelson.

"Good morning Mr. Tethers, how are you feeling?"

It took him a few moments to collect his response. Forming the sentence felt like slowly putting together a jigsaw puzzle - each piece had to be carefully contemplated to make sure it fit into the empty space provided. "I'm... fine, I suppose. Aside from my eyes, I guess." In truth, his eyes were really beginning to pain him. Whatever medication they may have had him on, it was obviously beginning to wear off.

"I'm also not entirely sure what's going on."

The nurse seemed more interested in tending to his eyes than filling him in on current events. She left after changing his bandages and giving him a dose of painkiller, but that was fine he supposed. His friends would probably fill him in if he waited long enough.

His patience was rewarded. As soon as the door clicked shut behind the nurse Max had jumped off Manny's bed and hopped up onto Nelson's. If Ruby found him particularly interesting, she gave no sign, and Nelson continued to pet her gently.

"Heard you went blind. Can I see?" Max was, as always, straight to the point. That was… not what he'd expected.

"I… I'm blind?? " Once again his world had been turned on its side, and he was scrabbling for any solid surface he could grab onto. Guybrush . No matter what, he could count on Guybrush. "I… Max? If I… If I let you see my eyes, would you do me a favor?"

Max seemed to contemplate the offer for a moment, before shrewdly responding, "Depends on what it is."

"It's nothing too difficult. Would you mind helping me find Guybrush's room?" If Nelson was injured, and the detectives and Manny were injured, there was an almost infinitesimal chance that Guybrush hadn't also found some way to get hurt right along with them. He should be somewhere in the infirmary, and having Max locate him was one of the fastest options available. 

Max had stiffened.

"...'Fraid I can't do that pal… We've already looked for him, and he ain't here."

Ears drooping, he hopped off Nelson's bed and returned to Manny's to sit right next to Sam. 

For a moment, Nelson feared the worst. "He's not-"

"We don't know." Manny said, and the deadly edge was back in his voice. It wasn't directed at Nelson. Abruptly changing the subject, he asked, "What do you remember?"

Nelson started fidgeting with the cube again. He scoured his brain for any shred of memory or context that could help him fill in the blanks. All he could find were small snapshots Manny could hopefully string together for him.

"I… remember… an eye. Constantly searching for something… anything… I remember a boat. We were… together? All of us, sailing around the world." The more threads he found, the more his memory seemed to weave them together, until he'd caught up with his recent past. "The fears… Manny, how did we escape the Fears?"

"The kids showed up to try and knock some sense into us. They were successful, for the most part, but they couldn't save everyone. Our partners got left behind by Sasha and Milla's rescue mission." Manny's summary left him reeling. Guybrush was still an avatar? Eddie too?? This was unacceptable. If his world was on its side before, now it was slowly rotating and pulling away from him. He was dizzy and disoriented and one of the few anchors he'd felt was a constant was just… missing. Sensing his distress, Ruby rubbed her head into his hand, doing her best to try and comfort him.

"W-Well then, we have to go get them! We can't just leave them out there… where's Elaine? She'll want to go get him too, right? Is she okay?? She can- She can authorize the mission, and- and- and-,"

"We're all under observation for at least a few weeks, maybe more," Manny cut off Nelson's rambling to fill him in on their situation, "Elaine isn't in any condition to walk right now, and honestly, neither are we. I'd be surprised if you could go more than a couple steps. But mark my words," Manny said, with absolute conviction, "We're getting them back."

&&&&&&

Over the next couple of days, various doctors, psychiatrists, Psychonauts, and even a few specialists from agencies they'd never even heard of were in and out of their rooms to keep an eye on their recovery. Being rescued from the grasp of a Fear, it seemed, was utterly unheard of. But then again, Raz was known for being unheard of. At this rate, they ought to see if they could throw the kid at problems like world peace; he'd probably have them solved within the week.

Elaine had been in and out of various surgeries to make sure her arms and legs would heal correctly. As soon as Nelson was able to walk without assistance from Manny, it was increasingly common, to the orderlies' neverending frustration, to find the entire group convening in her room to talk. Sometimes they talked about what had happened, like a Fear Survivor support group. More often they were plotting a way out of the Motherlobe and back onto the Party Boat. And sometimes, very rarely, they talked about their missing friends; what they were doing, how they might be coping with being alone, and what they would do when they found them again.

They had refused to talk to any of the people who'd been assigned to report on them. Not the Psychonauts, not the people from the outside agencies, not even the therapists, really. Any answers they gave about how they were doing were vague and focused on immediate problems, like how they felt in that moment. The past, at least to the outside world, was buried and not to be discussed.

The first time Raz and Lili had sheepishly peeked around the doorway of their room, Manny had greeted them warmly. Those two had done nothing but try to help them; what had happened wasn't their fault. The kids, it turned out, had only been kept in the infirmary overnight before being released. Any injuries they had sustained were minor or, for the most part, mental, and after a good night's rest, a few bandages, and some therapy of their own they were good as new. After that first visit, the two came back as often as they could.

Adjusting to being blind was, initially, a bit rough for Nelson. Mostly because every time he learned a new skill for doing something without sight, he, without fail, wondered what Guybrush would think about the technique. Sure, being unable to see had its own unique challenges, but the day the bandages were removed and he was presented with dark sunglasses to replace them, he'd put them on and his first instinct had been to ask Guybrush how they looked. He was already anticipating his response when reality caught up to him. He'd tried to hide his disappointment as best he could, but he wasn't fooling anyone. 

He was also having some strange dreams. They weren't nightmares, per se, but they were definitely unsettling. Maybe it was a side effect of whatever was going on with his eyes, like his brain adjusting to being blind or something. In the dreams, he was floating in the middle of a void. Except… it wasn't a void, not really. It was hard to explain. There was nothing all around him, but that nothing was every color and texture at once. As soon as something became recognizable as 'blue' or 'polka dot' or 'lumpy' it would shift to be something, anything else. There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to the nonsense he was seeing, and then he'd wake up with very little recollection of what had happened. Or not happened. Brains were weird.

&&&&&&

It had been a week and a half since the Wildcards were brought into the infirmary, half-dead and mentally devastated, when Milla decided it was well past time to pay them a visit. She had no other motive than just to see how they were doing, but to be honest she was a little nervous about how they might react to her presence. That night she and Sasha had done what they thought was necessary at the time, and she still stood by their decisions, but she'd also seen how inconsolable they had been firsthand. If they blamed her and Sasha, she wanted to try to make amends. As she signed in as a visitor she noticed Raz and Lili's names were already on the log. The children…?

What were they doing here? It wasn't like they weren't allowed to visit, far from it in fact, but the longer she thought about it the more suspicion grew in the back of her mind. Looking further up the log, she found their names on several more occasions. Why so often? What were they up to…?

After speaking with one of the nurses about where she might find them, she was directed towards Elaine's room. Quietly, she approached the door and began listening, invisibly. She could hear the group discussing plans of some sort. It wasn't the most noble way to find out what the children were up to, but those two had a bad habit of getting into trouble without telling her or Sasha. If they were about to go running headfirst into danger again she wanted a warning this time.

Straining her ears, she could just pick out Manny's voice.

"-not using Glottis again. I don't wanna put him in danger."

"Then how're we getting out there?" Lili's question confirmed exactly what Milla had feared.

"We can still take a boat. I'm pretty sure I remember how to sail," Manny offered.

"And I've been out with Guybrush enough to fill in whatever you've forgotten," Elaine said.

"Alright, then what do we do when we get there?" Nelson was, as always, looking ahead.

Whatever Raz had said, Milla was no longer paying attention. Not only were the Wildcards plotting to return to that awful ship, it appeared they'd agreed to take Raz and Lili with them. There was no way they'd be able to get that approved on such short notice, even with Elaine's status as a high ranking agent, which meant this was a rogue mission into a dangerous situation with no backing from the Psychonauts. She missed Eddie and Guybrush too, but to go to such extreme, potentially unsafe lengths?

She needed to talk to Sasha.

&&&&&&

The following day, in the middle of another of their impromptu planning sessions, the group was interrupted by the arrival of Sasha and Milla. The two of them, after a lot of deliberation, had decided to authorize the rescue mission. In one week, when they were released from the infirmary, the Wildcards, Raz, Lili, Sasha, and Milla had clearance to take a jet in search of the Philadelphia Experiment. Once there, they were to locate and subdue the rogue agents, and return them to the Motherlobe to be rehabilitated. 

There were some conditions, however. To start with, all insubordination had to stop. This meant the Wildcards needed to stop dodging questions, stop disobeying the infirmary staff, and especially stop planning out half-baked rescue schemes. In order to be cleared for duty and allowed on the mission, they also had to conform to the doctor's orders, recover their strength, and pass a physical when they were released.

Additionally, Raz and Lili were on strictly intern duties; making coffee, filing reports, and obeying the orders of their superiors to the letter. Any disobedience, and they were off the mission.

"But Sasha-"

"No, Razputin. It doesn't matter how successful you were, you and Lili still went off alone on a highly dangerous mission without permission or backup. You could have been killed, or worse, possessed by one of those things." Sasha said, sternly.

"He's right, kid. We appreciate you coming after us, but we wouldn't have been able to stop ourselves from hurting you two if you failed." The other Wildcards nodded in agreement with Manny.

"We just want you to be safe, darlings."

From that moment on, everyone was on their best behavior. All those confined to bed rest put their full energy into recovering, and the children did their duties with minimal grumbling. At long last, some cursory reports about their time as avatars and their eventual rescue were filed, and the strange agents from the Usher foundation were invited back for a proper interview.

&&&&&&

Nelson's strange dreams came to a head the night before the mission. They started as they always did, in the strange void-less void, but then the dream shifted. The granules of texture began to stretch, squash, and coalesce into actual scribbles, and stopped endlessly shifting in color. The longer he watched, the clearer the image became, until it was like looking at an impressionistic painting of... something. It was actually still pretty unclear what was going on, but it was definitely something alright. The squiggles wriggled around, but they stayed within the bounds of whatever it was each was supposed to be portraying. As the larger shapes began to change dimension and start to move past him, it hit him - it was a hallway. He was walking down a shadowy hallway, and it felt so familiar; it was like a forgotten playground from childhood, or the last paragraphs of a story heard years ago. It was itching at the back of his brain, always just beyond his recall.

With no warning, as if someone had switched on an ancient transistor radio, loud noises assaulted him out of the darkness. The noise was harsh, coated in static, and sounded like it had been heavily compressed through cheap audio equipment... but it was familiar as well. It had recognizable segments, and the changes in pitch were very regular... almost like someone was humming. Or maybe they were singing; the distortion made it impossible to tell. It kind of reminded him of an old sea shanty. The repetitive yet simple bars made up exactly the sort of tune some drunk, tone-deaf sailor would have come up with 200 years ago.

Nelson followed the music down the hallway, until he came to a closed hatch in the paneled metal wall. He wasn't sure how he was supposed to open it, what with the formless squiggles everything was made of and his apparent lack of hands, but that problem was solved for him when the dream shoved him through the barrier. That's when his recollection hit him with all the subtlety of Guybrush singing a pirate's drinking song. Literally. He was standing in the kitchen of the Party Boat, listening to Guybrush sing. Looking around, he could see a headache-inducing explosion of blue writhing over near one of the prep-tables, and a large black mass was looming over one of the stoves. Eddie

With this sudden clarity, he could feel his grip on the dream start to slacken. He'd be waking up soon, but he could spend his last few moments trying to learn all he could. Guybrush appeared to be fine; it wasn't like there was much that could really hurt him, and if he was singing then he had to be in high enough spirits. Eddie however... There was a large splash of purple across the left side of his face with, no pun intended, smaller eddies of green and yellow around the edges; it was a deep, healing bruise that spread from his cheekbone up to his forehead. The black eye combined with some deep bags made him look like he hadn't slept in a week, but he was smiling as Guybrush's singing warbled even further off-key. More importantly though, he was alive. They both were. There was still a chance.

Nelson woke with a strangled gasp that had Manny by his side almost instantly.

"What is it, what's going on?"

"I saw them, Manny! I saw them!" Nelson was grinning broadly and panting in excitement. His empty eyes were wide open, and the shadowy sockets were unsettling in the darkness.

"Saw who? When?"

"Just now, on the boat! They're alive, Manny, do you get it?! They're both still alive!"

Manny didn't respond, likely stunned into silence. After a long pause, he quietly started chuckling in relief.

"Then I guess we'll see them soon enough."

&&&&&&

That morning, the infirmary was buzzing with energy as the Wildcards filled out their discharge paperwork as quickly as possible and submitted to their physicals. Everyone was back in top condition, and they were eager to get going. If all went well, they'd be reunited with their missing friends before sundown.

Reporting to the hangar, the jet was boarded and soon took off with Sasha and Milla at the helm. They weren't exactly sure where the Party Boat might be, but they figured the best place to look first would be where they'd last seen the ship. As Milla turned the jet a few degrees to the left, heading back towards the boat's last known coordinates, Nelson suddenly spoke up.

"No, no, don't turn yet. It'll take us further away."

"Uh, Nelson buddy, how do you… know that?" Max, along with most of the plane's passengers, was confused.

Nelson… didn't know. He didn't know quite how he knew, but when Milla had started to fly off course he'd felt a tugging at the back of his mind pulling him in the other direction. The more he examined the urge, the more his thoughts drifted towards his dream from last night. Towards Guybrush.

"Its… its Guybrush. Its gotta be. Whether he realizes he's doing it or not, he's guiding us back there, through me." He hadn't been certain when he began his sentence, but saying it out loud it just sounded right . From that point on, Milla course corrected only when Nelson spoke up to point her in the right direction. If they needed any more confirmation that the directions came from the avatar of the Spiral, every now and then the path took them in a complete circle before setting them back on the trajectory they'd just been on.

With Nelson's guidance, it wasn't too long before they came upon the Philadelphia Experiment out in the middle of the ocean. Milla skillfully put the plane into its descent and landed on the deserted main deck.

As soon as the plane's hatch was opened, Sam and Max were off like a shot, disappearing into the depths of the ship almost immediately. The remainder of the expedition were more cautious; despite their familiarity with it, the ship was now enemy territory. Guybrush and Eddie might be their friends, but the Fears they were beholden to certainly weren't. They'd need to be careful.

Carefully, they headed belowdecks. It was weird to be back. Before they'd been freed, the ominous atmosphere of the boat had been familiar - even welcoming. Now it just instilled a low level feeling of unease and disorientation, like everything had been moved two inches to the left in their absence.

The further on they pushed into the bowels of the Party Boat, the longer and more winding the passageways became. Eventually the walls themselves began to warp, twisting the doorways into crumpled shapes and curving around until they were thoroughly lost in the maze. Finally they were forced to a halt when the path came to a dead end.

It was eerie; logically, Nelson knew it was a large ship, and Guybrush and Eddie could be anywhere, but they hadn't seen or heard a single sign of life since they had begun exploring. As they turned around and headed back towards where they came from, a creeping paranoia began to pervade the search party, like something out in the darkness was watching them, waiting to strike.

With no warning, Nelson was suddenly seized around the waist and his arms were pinned to his sides. Whatever had grabbed him was squeezing him tight, almost unbearably so, and something was pressing into his shoulder. After a few moments, when he hadn't been unceremoniously murdered, he realized the thing on his shoulder was moving slightly... nuzzling him . "Guy.... Guybrush ? It's g-good to see you too buddy, but you... you're kind of crushing me." Immediately the arms loosened.

"NEeeelSooOnn... iiI'm soo hAppppY to ssEe Youu!" Guybrush's hands were still on his shoulders, and he could feel it as Guybrush drifted around to stand in front of him. 

As Guybrush noticed Nelson's dark sunglasses and his wife's newly shortened limbs, his face fell. When he began to fuss over Elaine some of the distortion began to disappear from his voice - worrying about his friends seemed to be grounding him.

"WhhaAt oon earth happened?" he asked, concerned.

"Leaving a Fear behind has consequences, dear. Couldn't be avoided, I'm afraid," Elaine said. Guybrush was floating just over one of her shoulders, inspecting one of her arms to see the damage himself.

"In my defense, I didn't know that would happen," Raz chimed in.

"No, I suppose you didn't…" Guybrush said, distantly, still studying his wife's arm. After a moment, Raz and Lili's presence finally seemed to register in his mind, and he energetically turned to greet them as he had Nelson. The loops of his arms coiled around empty air as Milla and Sasha levitated them quickly out of the way.

Guybrush's appearance seemed to be putting Sasha on edge. The warping of the walls, Guybrush's twisted form, and the general aura of madness that was diffusing off of him at all times was unfamiliar to the senior agents and affecting them more heavily than the children or the other Wildcards. The official Psychonauts policy in the wake of the incident was to avoid and evade any former agents who were provably of unsound mind as there was no real way to stop them other than trying to kill them.

Guybrush looked very put out that he hadn't been able to greet Raz and Lili properly, and his annoyance with the situation seemed to grow as he registered Sasha's presence.

"ThaAt wAasn'T neeCesSaaarY… I juusT wanTed to saaY hiii…."

"Ah, sorry darling, we just didn't want anyone to get hurt. Your form right now is a little, ah, unwieldy… we just wanted to avoid an accident, that's all." Milla was trying to be tactful, although it was a weak excuse even to her ears.

"Ooh Iii'D neVeer HuurT sooMeoNe wHo diiDn'T dEserVe iT… WhiicH rEminds me Sasha, I saw what you did to Eddie... it wasn't very nice of you, now was it?" Guybrush had thrown his long arm out to the side and twisted it around Sasha's shoulders, pulling him close.

"Wait, what happened?" Nelson asked, confused.

"When Eddie saw the jet taking off he tried to follow you, and our Master Marksman here hit him across the face from 20 paces." This revelation had almost everyone within earshot looking at Sasha incredulously. The only one who seemed unsurprised was Milla - no doubt because she had watched him do it.

"It's alright though... he's fine. And you know Eddie... not the type to hold a grudge..." Pulling his arm free, Guybrush spun Sasha around in circles before drifting closer to his friends.

"He's only fed once, in all the time you guys were gone. It's not good for him, one of you should talk to him and convince him to go out with me when we get to the coast..."

Milla looked alarmed by Guybrush's words. "What do you mean by fed, darling? Surely Eddie's been eating?"

What with all their misdirection when the Psychonauts had been looking for answers, it seemed none of them had ever actually described their lifestyles in detail to her. Shifting uncomfortably, Nelson spoke up.

"Uhm, well, you see, ahh.... it's a little more complicated than that. I'm sure he has been eating, but what Guybrush is referring to, is, uh, is fulfilling the purpose of the Fear Eddie is governed by. Usually that means finding some poor soul to burn alive, and Eddie.... weeellll, let's just say he tries to avoid it a little too often. Going too long without fulfilling your purpose is a little like starving yourself, but with more severe consequences."

Milla's eyes widened in horror. Paling a little, she spoke.

"You mean all this time, the only way for Eddie to survive was to..." She trailed off, unable to finish the thought.

"Yep. Unfortunately, that still hasn't changed, and it looks like his habits haven't changed either," Hoping to change the topic, Nelson asked, "Guybrush, did anything else happen while we were gone that we should know about?"

Guybrush seemed to consider the question for a moment, the tails of his coat slowly curling while he contemplated, before his face tightened in apprehension. Wringing his hands, Guybrush began to speak.

"That night.... Eddie almost lost himself..." As he said those words, Guybrush looked sadly down at his arms before twining them around himself in a protective self-hug.

"He thought he was all alone, he couldn't bear the idea, and the only thing that stopped him from taking a swim was me... and my own two hands...." Guybrush began to drift downward into a loose pile of limbs and misery.

"We thought you'd left us for good. We thought we'd never see you again... whhY Diid yoOu leeaVvE us?"

As Guybrush was talking, Manny's face had slowly turned to simmering rage. With this last heartbroken question, he took two brisk steps across the room and promptly drove his fist into Sasha's gut before storming off - presumably to go find his partner.

Elaine lifted her husband up off the floor and into a tight hug from behind, quietly whispering into his ear.

"We didn't have any choice, love. Breaking the curse took a toll on all of us, and no one was conscious enough to realise what had happened until it was too late. But we're here now, and we're never leaving you alone again. Never."

Listening to his wife's reassurance seemed to lift Guybrush's spirits a bit. He turned his head nearly backwards to look at her, and despite his twisted visage, the love he felt for her was clear to everyone who could see the smile on his face. Carefully, he wrapped his arms around her and looped the rest of his body over her shoulders, giving off the illusion that Elaine was now wearing a Guybrush-Threepwood-stole. If he weighed anything, Elaine gave no sign, and his quiet contentment was almost infectious.

&&&&&&&

The long walk through the ship's dark hallways gave him some time to cool off. Manny didn't quite want to murder Sasha anymore, but the thought of having come so close to losing his partner without even knowing about it made him sick. Eventually he found him in an old, unused room Manny had converted into a smoking lounge, strumming a quiet tune on an old acoustic guitar. Mindful of Eddie's perimeter and not wanting to scare him, Manny slowly walked into view.

When he looked up from the guitar, Eddie startled badly enough he almost dropped his cigarette. He wasn't wearing his helmet or his gloves - both were unnecessary, Manny supposed, when your only roommate was immune to being burned. Eddie was looking at him like he'd seen a ghost. They stayed like that, staring at each other for a few moments, before Manny broke the silence.

"Got a smoke?"

&&&&&&

After filling Guybrush and Eddie in on their purpose for coming back, it quickly became apparent that the plan needed to be amended. Eddie had adamantly refused to get into the plane; the chances of accidentally touching someone in such a small enclosed space were way too high. Guybrush, likewise, was also on the no-fly list.

The other Wildcards absolutely refused to leave the ship without them, and so the plan was thus: Sasha, Milla, and the kids would fly back to the Motherlobe to file the report and prepare for their arrival. The rest of them would set sail for a port near Psychonauts HQ and, hopefully, begin to come up with a plan for performing the exorcisms.

As he listened to the jets engines fade off into the distance, Nelson couldn't help but feel something was bound to go wrong.

&&&&&&

They were driving him insane. If he had to stand in the presence of all his now-mortal friends at once, he would go mad trying to resist the temptation to touch them; to throw an arm around someone's shoulders; to hug one of them and show them how happy he was that they were back… of course he knew he couldn't do any of that, that this was the Desolation pulling him in the wrong direction, but it had been just him and Guybrush all alone for a while now and he was so hungry.  

It didn't help that they kept standing too close to him. He couldn't tell if they were doing it on purpose or not, or if his mind was playing tricks on him and telling him they were closer than they really were, but one way or another it seemed like every time he turned around one of them was at his elbow or standing just behind him. It was fine when everyone was an avatar, because even though he could have hurt them they weren't a viable source of fear. Now, however, he could burn them all alive and be fulfilled by it.

Eventually he had fled to the kitchen under the guise of putting lunch together, but Elaine had followed him to try and help. He couldn't really turn her down without explaining how much he really, really wanted to set everyone on fire, so instead he set her up at the prep table while he worked as far away as possible at the stove. He'd nearly jumped out of his skin when he bumped into Guybrush, believing he'd lost track of Elaine and stumbled into her on accident.

Ultimately he'd ended up locking himself in his room until the ship had pulled into port and the Psychonauts came to get them. By the time Guybrush and Manny had properly brought the ship into the harbor and docked in the space provided by their employers, Eddie was beginning to feel twitchy. Jumpy even. Some might even say tense. He was itchy and yearning and desperate but he was also willing to immolate if it meant keeping his friends safe.

Sasha and Milla were waiting for them at the dock. Nelson and Manny had started talking to them, probably discussing what to do next, but Eddie couldn't really hear them over the pounding of his own heart. He was zoning out listening to the rushing of blood in his ears when Guybrush finally got his attention by wrapping an arm over his shoulders and tilting his head around to let Manny look him in the eyes. Whatever he saw in them, it wasn't what he'd wanted to see, because after he'd finished studying Eddie's face he shook his head and turned back to the senior agents. 

Clawing his way back to reality was almost too much effort to bother with, but when he could focus on the words people were saying to him he was told that most of the Wildcards would be heading back to the Motherlobe in a car with Milla and Sasha. He and Guybrush, however, would be traveling in their own Psylirium-plated armored transport vehicles. Like the kind they used to move only the most dangerous psychic criminals.

Whatever apprehension he felt climbing into the back of the truck was drowned out by relief when the doors swung shut and locked behind him. He couldn't hurt anyone in here, and he couldn't sense anyone nearby through the walls of the truck. He settled into the corner, trying to shake off his stupor so that he'd be ready to talk to his friends back at the base.

&&&&&&

"Well, Raz, Lili, you guys are the resident experts in exorcisms, is there anything you can tell us about what our strategy should be?" Nelson asked.

"Hmmm…" Raz appeared to think for a moment, "Once we get in there, we need to look for a vulnerability of some sort, or a weak spot. Freeing you guys mostly involved trying to beat you at your own game or fighting you to a standstill."

Since they'd first seen him waiting for them at the dock, Sasha had appeared to be fighting with himself over a decision of some sort; only now did he cautiously began to speak.

"If we need to weaken him to be successful… I believe we may have a chance to give ourselves an edge before the battle even begins." All eyes were on Sasha as he explained his strategy.

"The cars Eddie and Guybrush are traveling in are plated with Psylirium, and are meant to transport dangerous criminals. Mostly the Psylirium is there just to block the prisoner's psychic influence, and the occupant of the vehicle is protected from the mineral's direct influence. There is, however, a fail safe built in should they attempt to escape. We could… expose them, to the Psylirium, in the hopes that it would weaken them."

That was… dirty. It was underhanded, and mean, and if the situation wasn't so dire it would be completely out of the question. But Manny had seen the desperation etched into Eddie's face; he couldn't hang on for too much longer, and now that he was in Psychonauts custody it was unlikely he'd be able to fulfill himself anytime soon - or ever again.

They sat in contemplative silence, before Manny spoke, "Assuming we do this, and that's still up for debate, what could this do to Eddie?"

"Psylirium is known for disrupting psychic powers and, in high enough exposures, causing vivid hallucinations. The dosage we would be using should only be enough to disorient him, and in his confusion detangling him from his fear might be easier. There would be very little risk to him, if that's what you're worried about."

Whatever their decision was, they needed to make it soon. The Motherlobe was getting closer and if they were going to use the transport vehicles to their advantage, it had to be when they pulled into the garage.

He didn't like it. But they had to succeed, and if this would help, then they had no choice. After another moment's deliberation, Manny finally made up his mind.

"Let's do it." The other Wildcards stared at him incredulously. "Think about it; we need every advantage we can get. If doing this will give us the edge we need to succeed… if it'll help us get them back… then we have to ."

It was decided then. Despite their uncertainty, Manny's argument was convincing, and freeing their friends was their highest priority. Sasha radioed Guybrush's driver and told him to drive in circles until further notice; they needed time to deal with Eddie and Guybrush might notice something was up if he was kept waiting.

At long last, the convoy pulled into the Motherlobe's garage. They gathered around the back of the truck, standing in formation at a safe distance as Sasha sent the driver away and took a remote control from him.

All eyes were on the transport vehicle. Sasha pressed a button on the remote. Almost immediately, the truck lurched to the side as, it seemed, Eddie threw himself bodily into the wall. As the thrashing continued and increased in force, it became clear that they had gravely miscalculated. Quickly, disturbed, Sasha jabbed the buttons necessary to stop the exposure and open the back.

As soon as the lock clicked over, the doors on the back of the truck burst open and Eddie fell hard to the floor. Struggling to his hands and knees, Eddie heard someone call his name. Snapping his head up to fix whoever it was with a death glare, his face a potent mixture of rage, pain, and betrayal, he realized the psychoportal was already in the air, and it struck him solidly in the forehead. He was helpless to stop the sudden invasion as his supposed friends began the exorcism.

&&&&&&

It was dark. Which wasn't exactly new to Nelson at this point. What he wasn't expecting, however, was that out of the darkness he could see fires burning in the distance. He could... see…? You don't need eyes in the astral plane, dummy. How many dreams have you had?

They had entered the Brütal Realm at Bladehenge's concert stage, and were standing in the open area where the audience would have been. There was nothing and no one around for miles, as far as Nelson could see, though the darkness that blanketed Eddie's mind wasn't helping. This place, normally, had its phases and weather patterns, but now the sky was just an inky void of oppressive nothingness. No sun, no moon, no stars; just empty. The only light sources were the fires that blazed on the scenery; on the trees, on parts of the stage, and on the mountains and monuments off in the distance. The air was thick and heavy with humidity, and combined with the suffocating heat the environment was almost unbearably uncomfortable.

The stage itself was in shambles. The set was cracked and damaged such that Ormagödden was missing a few horns and a large crack ran through his face. Loose, disconnected cables hung from the scaffolding alongside lights that had blown out a long time ago. The fabric covering the front of the large speakers at either side of the stage was torn, but otherwise the equipment looked serviceable. 

Sitting center stage was a black figure, broad-shouldered and hunched over a guitar. It was very faint, but his quiet strumming could just be heard over the crackling of the flames. He was facing away from them, but the silhouette of his motorcycle helmet was still recognizable. Eddie.

Raz approached the stage calmly and with confidence. He wasn't scared of these Fears; after all, they'd been defeated four times already. He was a little scared, however, of what he knew was coming. This fight had been too overwhelming for him all alone, but now he had backup and they weren't going to accept defeat.

"I thought I told you to leave and never come back." Eddie had spoken without turning around.

"You did. But you never said I couldn't come back with reinforcements."

Eddie glanced over his shoulder to see the gathered crowd of Psychonauts watching him. Waiting. With a sigh, he hauled himself to his feet and hefted his guitar. Facing them now, he rang out a power chord that vibrated deep into their bones and echoed off Mt. Rockmore in the distance.

All at once, they were closed in by a circle of fire that sprang up from the earth itself. It looked like a simple wall of flames, but Raz knew from experience that they would never find anywhere to land that wasn't a raging inferno should they try to leave the arena.

"I'm warning you. Leave. While you still can."

"No."

"So be it." Eddie began to play his guitar, and the sheer volume of heavy metal noise roaring out of the speakers was almost deafening. Raz had started running for the front of the stage, but when he was within range the speakers let out a shockwave that blasted him back out onto the field.

"Uh, hey guys? I think we've got company…" Max was looking out into the valley of Bladehenge, where shapes seemed to be clawing their way out of the ground. They shambled out of the darkness, responding to Eddie's endless solo, and as they walked through the barrier the thick, black tar they were coated in ignited. The creatures were slow but well muscled, and what they lacked in intelligence they more than made up for in strength and numbers. As they closed in, the group of Psychonauts drew their preferred weapons and prepared for battle.

This was unlike any stage battle Manny had ever fought in. He swung his scythe through the onslaught of attackers, but no matter where he turned there were two more ready to take up the fight.

This wasn't a battle - this was a massacre. They had nothing to defend but themselves; no stage, no territory. Sam yelped as one of the sludge beasts landed a blow squarely in the center of his back. Its concussive headbutt left behind a layer of burning tar, and he only escaped his own ignition by abandoning his coat.

They were being overrun. Eddie hadn't stopped playing or even acknowledged the carnage. All they could hear were the aggressive chords he was tearing out of Clementine to keep the battlefield burning and his troops marching. 

Lili was being cornered; her primary offense, pyrokinesis, was useless against the creatures and her psi-blasts weren't powerful enough to take on four at once. She and Raz had gotten separated, and through the gaps between monsters she could see he was having just as much trouble on the other side of the circle. She had closed her eyes, preparing to meet her astral death at the foreheads of the tar beasts, when suddenly she was lifted into the air on a burst of pink psi-power and set down next to Raz in a clearer area. Milla.

The Senior Agent was hovering twenty feet off the ground across from the stage, and as she looked down on the battlefield the fire in her eyes rivaled their surroundings in its intensity. No one - no one - would burn on her watch. From her vantage point she could see all the best places to move the Wildcards to, and occasionally Sasha would telepathically point out strategic weak points in their enemies' ranks. The Mental Minx's specialty was in Levitation and her skill was unmatched by almost anyone else in the agency; she could keep an eye on every one of her allies and juggle them through the air almost effortlessly. Quickly, they got used to being moved around to wherever they were needed.

They were surviving, barely, but it wasn't enough. All they were doing was delaying their defeat.

Sasha was the first to land a blow on Eddie himself. The pent up frustration and rage he was feeling - at the battle, at the situation, at the way every decision he'd made on this rescue mission had seemed to make things worse and earned the ire of the Wildcards, all of it - was potent enough to send a psi-blast to the stage from the center of the battlefield. The shot shattered Eddie's faceplate and knocked his helmet clean off, unbalancing him and momentarily putting a stop to the music.

Eddie put a hand to his face - the left side - as though he'd faced Sasha's attack unprotected. When he took his hand away, and faced the audience once more, what Manny saw made his heart clench.

Eddie's astral form had changed. His red demon's skin was cracked through with veins of molten metal, each glowing a drippy, burning gold. As Manny watched he could see black tears slowly and constantly leaking from his fiery golden eyes, trailing down his face and steaming wherever they touched the lines smelted into Eddie's skin. He was coming apart at the seams.

They weren't going to get anywhere fighting the undead hordes of Bladehenge, Manny realized, they were just a distraction. They had to finish the job and dismantle Eddie the rest of the way, as much as it would pain them to do it. 

Nelson, meanwhile, had decided to put his psychic energy to good use by guarding Milla and cooling the battlefield with a broad application of his cryokinesis. The frigid landscape of his own mind was more than capable of producing enough chilly thoughts to stop his comrades from dying of heat stroke. Milla kept him hovering nearby so he could spot and deflect any projectiles the creatures tried to throw at her. Speaking of the creatures, they didn't take too well to the cooler climate. As the temperature dropped to a reasonable level their tarry exteriors began to thicken, slowing them down and starting to stick them in place.

Eddie was forced to stop spawning new troops and instead focus on preserving the ones he already had. Amid the chaos, he hadn't noticed Manny Levitating up high enough to clear the truss hanging over the stage, circumventing his speaker-based defense system. As Manny took a swing at him from behind, the only thing that saved him was the fact that Manny's shadow telegraphed the attack. Sidestepping, he turned to face his partner.

"Drop the guitar!" Manny demanded. He hadn't expected it to work, but he had to start somewhere.

Eddie ignored him and kept playing. He kept his eyes on the skeleton, but being shouted at was the least of his worries at the moment. 

Manny tried again, "It's us, Eddie! We don't want to fight you!" This time he punctuated his statement with a swing towards Eddie's left side, almost instantly proving himself a liar; once again, Eddie just stepped backwards out of his range.

"So what, you're just going to keep running? Keeping us at arm's length, just like you always do?? " Manny was trying to jab Eddie anywhere he could think of. Any place that might give him a foothold in his psyche. "Let us in, Eddie, we just want to help." Another swing, another dodge, and still Eddie refused to answer him.

"C'mon mijo, you really wanna do this? You wanna keep destroying everything you touch?"

For a moment, Eddie's playing faltered. The sadness on his face was clear: no, he didn't. The moment was brief, however, as in the next moment his expression turned to one of grim acceptance. This was his fate. He had no choice.

In the moment that Eddie had let his grip on his guitar slacken, just a little, Manny had taken his chance and swung his scythe at him. Unfortunately, Eddie recovered faster than Manny expected, and the slash that was supposed to cut him in half from shoulder to hip simply tore open the front of his jacket and t-shirt.

With his chest exposed, Manny could see that the veins of molten metal webbing Eddie's skin were originating from a gaping wound in his ribcage - exactly where his heart should have been. The deep hole was an empty pit of fire and constantly weeping his metal blood.

Now it was Manny's turn to narrowly avoid being chopped in two, as Eddie had swung his guitar like an axe aimed directly for Manny's head. Retreating off the stage, Manny called out to Raz, "Hey kid, you said you were looking for a weak spot?"

"I see it Manny!"

As Eddie had begun to play again with a renewed desperation to keep the combat off the stage, Raz began to needle him with icicles. Many of them melted before ever getting close, and the remaining few that reached Eddie were dodged or else deflected off his arms. He needed a clearer shot.

"I can't hit him from this range! We gotta get in close!"

Almost as one, Sasha and the freelance detectives attacked the speakers on either side of the stage, weakening Eddie's ability to keep the arena burning and preventing him from pushing back their approach. Nelson stopped radiating his cryokinesis in the general direction of everywhere and instead focused it around Eddie in a 10 foot circle. The intense cold forced Eddie to stop playing his solos to kindle the battlefield and instead focus on staying warm. 

Without the chief roadie's guidance the army of tar monsters started to lose its focus, and the production of reinforcements had ground to a halt. They had him on the ropes.

In a last ditch effort, Eddie began to play a solo none of them had ever heard before; not directly, at least. Nelson could vaguely remember hearing something like it back before this mess even began, when Guybrush had been telling him about the time he'd been surreptitiously spring cleaning in Eddie's mind...

Nelson's eyes snapped open, "Stop him, STOP HIM! If he finishes the solo-"

As Eddie tore out the final riff, Nelson's warning was rendered useless when the forecasted flaming zeppelin lit up the star-less sky, falling out of the inky clouds and crashing into the center of their makeshift arena. 

The resulting explosion obliterated anything unable to make a shield in time. Most of the corrupted headbangers were left in pieces, still burning as their tarred skins provided fuel for the flames. Nelson's warning may not have been able to prevent the Bring it on Home solo, but it had given his allies enough time to protect themselves. Everyone was still alive.

He wobbled in the air, and, looking over at Milla, it was obvious the disaster had shaken her. She was holding it together, but as the flames on the ground cleared she lowered the two of them back down to the charred grass.

Ormagödden's broken set piece had finally collapsed onto the stage, seemingly crushing Eddie beneath a mountain of wood and plaster. As the Wildcards carefully approached the wreckage, Eddie managed to shove the debris aside enough to crawl free and stagger to his feet.

The smoldering ore laced through his body had started to cool to solid steel. It didn't seem to hinder him, but little by little the glowing rivulets were replaced by streaks of chrome. The glow was fading from his eyes, and his skin was abandoning the red tint in favor of Eddie's fair complexion.

Cornered, Eddie attempted to defend himself with the Facemelter solo, but Manny's hand closed around his on the fretboard. "Enough."

Reacting on pure instinct Eddie tore the guitar out of Manny's grip, protecting his partner from the feedback of the failed performance. The built-up psychic energy had to go somewhere, and the only path available was through Eddie. Lightning surged through his body, arcing between his heavy metal stripes and electrocuting him.

At long last, Eddie dropped the guitar and fell to his knees, defeated. He didn't want to do this; he never did. But what other choice did he have? Hanging his head in shame, Eddie's shoulders sagged as the gravity of his situation began to suffocate him.

On his knees, hopeless, with all his wounds and sorrows in full view of the people he cared about, Eddie finally raised his head to look Manny in the eyes, his own still streaming black tears. 

Help me. Please.

In that one moment of complete vulnerability, Raz seized his chance and drove a plug of ice directly into the burning cavity of Eddie's missing heart. In the same moment, Eddie's body in the real world had caught fire and burned for all of 30 seconds. Before anyone could even think to try to extinguish him, the flames went out and the burns healed over into melted scar tissue. He collapsed to the ground, spent in every way possible.

He'd thought he'd known pain before, but it was nothing compared to this. The feeling of the Desolation burning off of him was like every one of his cells had spontaneously combusted while the ashes of his heart collapsed into nothing. Eventually, after what felt like years but was probably only moments, the fires died down to leave Eddie with nothing but a cauterized numbness. Lying there helplessly on the floor, he could see his friends cautiously approaching as the world faded out around him.

&&&&&&

When consciousness returned to him, the sunlight coming in through the window was hitting him almost directly in the eyes. Eddie shifted and rolled onto his side, trying to escape the evil morning rays. He'd been hearing whispers in his periphery, and when he'd moved they'd stopped for a moment before they started up again in earnest, louder this time.

He only got a few more moments of almost-quiet rest before the oddness of the situation caused him to crack open his eyes. The sunlight was strange… the Party Boat didn't have windows down in the sleeping quarters, and, probably more importantly, he didn't usually have an audience in his bedroom. Max also usually wasn't peering over his bedside 2 inches from his face.

"Hey, he's alive!" Max said, at full volume.

Eddie swore loudly and bolted upright. As he tried to calm his now-racing heartbeat, he took in his surroundings.

Looking around the room, it was clear he was in the Psychonauts infirmary. He could see Guybrush sitting up in the bed to his right, and the rest of their friends had set up camp in chairs they had pulled from various conference rooms and offices. Finally, his gaze came to rest on the melted-looking scars that covered his hands and forearms.

His hands… his hands… there was something significant about his hands, but his sleep-addled mind just couldn't connect the dots. Guybrush… infirmary… hands… The room had gone quiet when he'd started contemplating his arms, and the longer he sat staring the more worried glances were exchanged between the remaining Wildcards. Something had changed...

"Eddie…" Guybrush said, finally breaking the silence, "You're free."

What?? Looking up from his hands, Eddie fixed him with a confused stare. Then, with no warning, he suddenly burst off the bed and lunged for a tray of food someone had left on a counter.

He picked up an apple in one of his shaking hands and started staring at it intensely, waiting for any sign of the scorching heat that had plagued him for so long. When it began to smolder under the full weight of his anxiety the shaking in his hand turned into tremors that ran up his entire arm.

Sensing Eddie's rising and misplaced panic, Elaine did the only sensible thing and seized his free hand with her own. Instantly he dropped the now-blackened fruit and tried to shake her off, attempting to back away and isolate himself again, but Elaine had an iron grip on him and wasn't letting go. After a few moments, when Elaine hadn't started writhing in agony or burst into flames, Eddie's eyes widened in hope. When he seemed calm enough to think rationally, she withdrew her hand and showed him its front and back, proving she was unharmed. His expression morphed into one of awe. For a moment, he was smiling and laughing in relief.

In the next moment, however, he had crumpled to the ground, hugging himself and brokenly sobbing. He was free .

He felt a tap on his shoulder. Manny had come to kneel beside him, and Eddie could see the rest of the Wildcard crew standing around him. When Manny spread his arms and invited Eddie in, Eddie instantly seized him around the waist and continued crying into his shoulder. He could feel each of his friends- no... his family join in on the hug until they were all piled on top of each other on the infirmary floor.

Sitting there on the floor, with all of his family touching him - touching him - at last, Eddie felt an overwhelming joy the likes of which the Desolation could never hope to substitute. They'd found him. He was fixed.

And he'd never have to be alone again.